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]

O Good Green Earth, swallow me up

Play the audio in this story and see if you can suppress an involuntary wince of sympathy: Incredibly Awkward Interview With Natalie Bennett. (Ms Bennett – a Samizdata commenter – is currently leader of the Green Party of England and Wales.)

Kudos to Nick Ferrari who can evidently do what so many media folk cannot: order-of-magnitude mental arithmetic.

Life is unfair. If The Boris had been on the hot seat he’d have said, “Oh cripes, you’ve ker-splonked me there!” and everyone would have loved him all the more.

“If Britons want to join Isis, let them go”

So argues Mary Dejevsky in the Guardian. Her piece could have done with a clearer separation of the several different issues involved; freedom of speech, freedom of movement, state surveillance of all travellers, targeted spying on individuals, and above all the question of what difference it makes when the potential recruits to ISIS are minors. Nonetheless I broadly agree – the British state should not seek to prevent adult citizens leaving the UK merely because it suspects they wish to become members of ISIS – or to kill members of ISIS. Whether state assistance in the form of weapons or subsidy should be available to the latter admirable group, or whether any of the former group seeking to return should be allowed to do so in exchange for cooperation with MI6, are questions that even the purest of libertarians might find worthy of debate.

The crimes of ISIS have been so flagrant and atrocious that the world is entitled to see any adult, male or female, volunteering to live under its standard (let alone bearing arms) as hostis humani generis and to exterminate them without any fuss about human rights – but wait till they get there. It is the burnings, beheadings and rapes that are the crimes, not getting on a plane to Turkey.

S-s-s-samsung’s listening to you . . .

Samsung’s latest model Smart TV is the real deal.

Users of Samsung’s Smart TV devices have raised concerns over the device’s privacy policy, which seems to suggest that they should not discuss any sensitive topics in their living room while the television is plugged in.

The warning relates to the product line’s voice recognition services, which lets users control their television with voice commands input through a microphone on the set’s remote control.

Samsung privacy policy warns: “Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of voice recognition.”

Get it now before the rush; the word is that this technology soon really will be a “must-have”. Because it isn’t just Samsung or the company that provides Samsung with voice-recognition software that you need to worry about. As the Boomtown Rats put it back in ’79:

And when the place comes ablaze with a thousand dropped names
I don’t know who to call.
But I got a friend over there in the government block
And he knows the situation and he’s taking stock,
I think I’ll call him up now

This is what they call a whinge-whinge scenario

Tesco come, Tesco go, John Harris whinges either way. Here he was writing in the Guardian in August 2011:

Supermarket sweep

In Britain a new Tesco, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s or Asda opens every other day. But across the country people are battling the relentless march of the ‘Big Four’. John Harris, who has taken up the fight himself, reports

And here is John Harris writing in the Guardian in February 2015:

‘We feel betrayed': the towns abandoned by Tesco

Tesco’s profits crisis means that plans for 49 shiny new stores have been ditched. Where does that leave places such as Kirkby, Bridgwater and Wolverhampton, where regeneration schemes linked to the supermarket chain now lie in ruins?

There is a fair point to be made relating to the bad effects on a town of endless shilly-shallying about whether a supermarket will be built, but John Harris isn’t making it. One of the commenters, DrRic55, is:

Seems this is less about Tesco, and more a grubby and poor quality class of local politicians.

I know from my old line of work how eyes light up at the mention of Section 106 agreements, and all manor of pet projects appear to be funded – sometimes assisting and enabling the development, sometimes nothing to do with it.

If we didn’t have such ridiculous planning laws the private sector would get on and build where there was demand. Instead we have a system not far off bribery of the local bureaucrats, and endless consultations that drag on forever. If you want to see another effect, look at the state of housebuilding in the UK.

Tesco has obviously failed in some pretty big ways, but I can’t help but see the dead hand of local government all over these disasters.

Why is the National Health Service in crisis?

This post was written by my regular correspondent “ARC”, who has several family members working in the NHS. – NS

I’ve been discussing the NHS A&E issue that’s been in the news of late with the medically knowledgeable and NHS-aware members of my family and thought you might be interested in their background information, so have written it up while the conversations are still fairly fresh in my mind. I summarise, then give my own thoughts at the end.

The immediate cause of the NHS A&E issue being such a story in the media at this time (other than the upcoming election, of course) is simply that at Christmas a great many staff take holidays. The resulting shortfall exposes long-term trends in an area under pressure. There is no other immediate cause, as distinct from long-term trends: these problems have been growing for 15 years and more as follows.

1) Flow-though is crucial to A&E: you must get people out the back-end of the process to maintain your rate of input to the front-end. However ever-increasing regulations mean a patient without family cannot be released until a boat-load of checks have been done. This is clogging up the back end. It may be preventing the release of a few who had better not be sent home yet (not much and not often, is the general suspicion) but it is definitely delaying hugely processing the release of all others who could be. All this admin takes time and effort – delaying release and also using up time of staff in non-health work – and costs money.

This effect needs to be understood in the context of the 15-years-older story of the destruction of many non-NHS nursing homes by galloping regulation. These homes were mostly owned and operated by senior ex-NHS nurses and provided low-grade post-operative care. The NHS relied on them as half-way houses to get patients out of NHS hospitals when they no longer needed intensive care but were not yet recovered enough to go home. These nurses did not want to spend time form-filling instead of caring for patients, and for each home there was always one of the 1000+ rules that was particularly hard for that given home to meet without vast expense or complication. So they died one by one. The ‘waiting times have increased’ story of Tony Blair’s early-2000 years – “If the NHS were a patient, she’d be on the critical list” – was caused by this and the resultant bed-blocking more than any other one cause.

A more recent context is over-regulation of local councils’ social services leading to declining throughput, unrealistic expectations for their visit times, etc., and there have also been some social services cuts by said councils. These also have an impact on a hospital’s ability to get people out of the back-end to free up beds for A&E incomers.

2) The new 111 service is sending many more patients to A&E.

2.1) The service’s advice is very risk averse. The people who set up the process were afraid of the consequences of the statistical 1-in-a-million time when anything other than mega-risk-averse advice would see some consequence that would become a major news story blaming them.

2.2) Thanks to the post-1997 reforms, GPs work less hours on-call but the doctors are not just slacking off and doing nothing. The huge growth in regulation means they are in effect putting in as many hours as before, but on form-filling and admin to provide all the info the NHS and other government demand, to ensure they tick every box, etc. The out-of-hours on-call time they used to have is now swallowed by this work. So they are not in fact working less; it is the balance of what they are working on that has changed: less on healthcare, more on admin. Thus 111 must send people to A&E, not an on-call GP (and, of course, fewer on-call GPs mean more people phone 111).

3) Regulation prevents fixing the problem as well as causing it. A Birmingham hospital (Queen Elizabeth in Edgebaston IIRC), said to be very efficient as such things go, tried to create a low-level care unit precisely to solve the problem. Because of the regulations, the attempt had to be abandoned – they just could not tick all the boxes.

4) Back in the early-80s, when my sister (a doctor) did her elective in A&E, she loved it. Now, doctors are avoiding A&E as a speciality because they know how brutal is the pressure there. So the problem is beginning to compound itself.

There is a great deal more one could say, but the above are what my informed relations see as the key immediately-relevant causes. So far my summary. Now some thoughts of my own.

What I observe has most changed in the last two decades in these either left-leaning or were-left-leaning people is firstly their belief that “No party can fix it”. (This I heard from a previously definitely-left individual who would probably still cut her hand off before it voted Tory and whose heart wavered between Labour and [Scots] Nats although her head despises Nats ideas and despairs of Labour.) There is an expectation that no likely government will do anything other than talk of reform while actually causing yet more regulation. Some of this in some of them might be a reluctance to think that the side of politics they’ve loved to hate in the past might be the place to look for an answer (I am reminded of Gore Vidal in 1979, “I feel the despair of coming to think that the Soviet Union may be as despicable as the U.S.” – quoted from memory) but it also reflects their opinion that the Tory-led coalition has failed to reverse any of the above trends, and this opinion I fear is not mere prejudice but has a basis in their experience of the last three years, just as much of the above reflects their experience of the last 15 years.

Secondly, they report a widespread belief within the health service that this time “a bit of money can’t fix it”. There is no expectation of an ocean of money (and – I sense – awareness that the NHS already consumes an ocean of money, so can hardly demand another ocean of money even as a righteous goal, however impossible to arrange).

Lastly, I know that behind all this inefficiency of regulation, there lurks a compounding problem of looming social trends. The number of patients who have no family ready to help is rising. The promise that the state will look after all has led more people to lead lives that make no other arrangements. But these long-term trends are not the reason the NHS operates much worse now than two or three decades ago.

Eject, eject, eject!

“Greece versus Europe: who will blink first?” asks the Telegraph. I care not who blinks, or who wins this contest of braggarts. All that matters is that for Greece to be ejected from the Euro would be good for Greece, good for Germany, and a good example for all the peoples of Europe yoked together in this vainglorious folly. Go on Germany, give that Marxist fool Alexis Tsipras a demonstration that your gullibility is not endless. Go on Greece, plough your own furrow and while you are at it give the Eurocrats a demonstration that their most public and cherished commitments can fail. Remember “Black Wednesday”? Far from being a disaster for Britain, that was the day its fortunes began to recover.

“More than 400,000 schoolchildren being taught by unqualified teachers”

…does not appear to make the British state education system noticeably worse. Perhaps, you know, it’s not really a problem. Private schools are full of unqualified teachers and do fine. Despite Chris Husbands, the director of the Institute of Education, being quoted as saying that the dropping of the requirement for teachers to gain qualified teacher status in state-funded schools “flies in the face of evidence nationally and internationally”, no evidence is provided that teachers without a teaching qualification do any worse than their equivalents with one.

The Guardian commenters, waving their PGCE certificates in front of them as if to fend off vampires, come out with the usual “I would have soon had my children taught by an unqualified teacher as treated by an unqualified doctor.” I get so tired of that one. Commenter “latenightreader” replies:

I think you are being a bit melodramatic here. If your doctor is unqualified you can be dead within half an hour. If your mechanic has no idea what he is doing and you drive out of your garage and the brakes fail your whole family could be dead (plus pedestrians on the street, other drivers etc). If your teacher doesn’t have a formal qualification… well then your child might not end up as well-informed on a topic. Or they might as thousands of people leave private school yearly having got 3 As at A-level taught by unqualified teachers (that is why Gove borrowed the practice), and thousands more are homeschooled by parents who manage.

A commenter called “epidavros” also makes a good point:

They [compulsory teaching qualifications] also deter many from entering the profession who would be excellent. You are asking already qualified people, often with industry skills, to take a year with zero pay and added debt to change career.

Interview with a gay imam

Via the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), I found this interview with Imam Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed, who believes that “Allah does not speak against homosexuality in the Quran”. A transcript can be read by clicking the relevant icon below the screen.

El Sistema in Venezuela probably is not that much harsher than most musical education

The moon is blue, so I shall defend a socialist prestige cultural project. East Germany had its shotputters, the USSR its grand masters of chess, Venezuela has “El Sistema” – a much lauded system of musical education. Now, however, there is a discordant note:

Author exposes ‘tyranny’ behind musical miracle for poor children

Over 40 years, El Sistema, Venezuela’s music education system, has given a million children the opportunity to play in an orchestra, enriching, they say, the lives of youngsters from the barrios.

Its methods have been emulated in 60 countries, notably Scotland, where a Sistema-style operation was pioneered on a tough housing estate in Stirling with support from the classical violinist Nicola Benedetti.

The mood music has changed, however, with the publication of El Sistema: Orchestrating Venezuela’s Youth, by Geoffrey Baker.
Aghast at the book’s claims of corruption, mismanagement and nepotism within Venezuela, a Conservative politician has questioned whether El Sistema should extend its reach any further. Yesterday, Alex Johnstone, MSP for North East Scotland, said that plans for a Sistema orchestra in Dundee must be halted while the claims are investigated.

“This book gives the impression that the system is much more authoritarian and intolerant than some were letting on,” said Mr Johnstone. “Not so much a new idea, as back to the Victorian habits of teaching piano by rapping them across the knuckles.”

Corruption, mismanagement and nepotism in a socialist show project would astound me only by their absence. But authoritarianism is the norm when teaching children to play musical instruments the world over, and has been since forever. The exception is the namby-pamby modern Western middle classes, and not all of them. The common opinion of that portion of mankind that gives music lessons or pays for them is that you won’t be going anywhere until you have done your quota of scales, sweetums, and if your name is Wei or Xiuying, these days that quota is likely to be big.

Do not misunderstand me. I like namby pamby. I’ve been uncomfortable with compulsion in education for decades now, and if not convinced that it can be dispensed with altogether for the very youngest children, am certainly convinced that it can be phased out at a far younger age than most people think. In most contexts I am convinced that education without force is immeasurably better education.

But how do you get them to practise – or don’t you? Given that it takes unfailing hours of daily practice to make a great player, and that for most instruments the great players invariably start young, would the price of freeing children from the slavery of music practice be no more great classical musicians? If so, would it be worth it?

I hope that Al Qaeda is right

Thomas Friedman has written a piece for the the New York Times called “How ISIS drives Muslims from Islam”.

I do not know whether what he claims is true, though it would accord with the experience of Europe after the Wars of Religion. I hope it is true, and I hope even more that a lot of Muslims come to believe it to be true. That applies equally to peaceable Muslims and to bloodthirsty Muslims. I hope the peaceable Muslims are pushed into differentiating themselves from the savages both in public and in their own minds. Even Al-Qaeda appears to believe that ISIS barbarity loses more for Islam than it gains; it has been pushed by Muslim public opinion into reining in its own penchant for headchopping. Repentance on the part of Al-Qaeda is too much to hope for even for a hopeful person like me, but self-interest can sometimes penetrate where morality cannot.

Just when I was beginning to think the European Court of Human Rights might not be so bad

Via Jim Miller on Politics, I found this:

EU court orders France to pay thousands to Somali pirates

The EU’s top human rights court on Thursday ordered France to pay thousands of euros to Somali pirates who attacked French ships for “violating their rights” by holding them an additional 48 hours before taking them before a judge.

The Somali pirates were apprehended on the high seas by the French army on two separate occasions in 2008 and taken back to France for trial.

(The report is incorrect to call the ECHR an “EU court”. Judgements and precedents may mesh with EU law in ways I do not fully understand; but the ECHR is the creation of the Council of Europe, not the European Union.)

I sometimes think that this sort of judgement can only be the result of a deliberate strategy to discredit the words “human rights” in the eyes of the peoples of Europe. But why would anyone want to do that? Perhaps because it suits the immediate self-interest of the individual “human rights professionals”, and the future be damned.

By the way, it is possible to defend the Somali pirates on quasi-libertarian grounds; that they only do freelance what states regularly do without arousing condemnation. One of the commenters to the MSN piece appears to take that view. I don’t, although I do accept (make that “passionately proclaim”) that states continually get a pass on evil deeds just by calling themselves states. Even so, states that have acted as the pirates do – kidnapping and murdering passing holidaymakers – do not escape condemnation, and nor should anyone else.

If you don’t care whether a rape really happened, you don’t care about rape

So, Rolling Stone magazine has rolled back on Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s University of Virginia gang rape story.

A typical reaction when that story first came out came from CNN Political commentator Sally Kohn: “Stop shaming victims in college rapes”. I quote:

Will Drew and UVA get off easily while Jackie’s life — and other college women like her — is shattered?

If UVA has any sense of moral rightness and wishes to remain a great university, it should conduct a thorough investigation into these and similar allegations and mete out appropriate punishment for the perpetuators [sic].

A more senior colleague might like to take Ms Kohn aside and teach her the proper meaning of two words, “allegations” and “perpetrators”. The spelling correction alone does not put right what is wrong with the way both of them combine in that last sentence.

A typical reaction now that the story has been semi-retracted came from Guardian columnist and Feministing founder Jessica Valenti. “I trust women,” she tweets. She disavows the idea that her choice to trust a person is made on the basis of any assessment of individual trustworthiness; she simply trusts the 50% of the human species who belong to the same group as she does. It is group loyalty. On the same grounds, given that she is white, she might as well say, “I trust white people.”

Kohn, Valenti and their like present themselves as the friends of rape victims. There is such a thing as toxic friendship. Before the retraction of the story, I read this account by Liz Seccuro in Time magazine. Ms Seccuro was raped, at the University of Virginia, at the same Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, thirty years ago in 1984. “Do you believe me?” she asks. The answer to that is yes. A man was convicted and jailed for her rape, though she says that there were others who escaped any punishment. But observe that I had to make it very clear that she really was raped. Because after the Duke University lacrosse team affair and this recent one, “rape at frat house” stories (including that of Jackie as described by Erdely, which will now be entirely dismissed by most even though some of it could still be true) provoke an involuntary twitch of doubt even in observers wishing to remain impartial.

Not that the feminists I’ve read on this story ever had any such wish. They said, very clearly, that unquestioning partiality was exactly what they wanted. “I trust women.” They said, as they have been saying for years now, that even the attempt to judge any rape claim on the evidence was to be a “rape apologist”, as Rachel Sklar was quoted as saying here, or was an instance of “rape denialism”, as Amanda Marcotte tweeted here, adding for good measure that it was equivalent to Holocaust denialism.

It is they who are the rape denialists. Or perhaps “deniers that rape matters” would put it better. If you don’t care whether or not a rape actually occurred, then you don’t care about rape. It is a tautology, and a separate point to the one about the trauma faced by real rape victims who seek justice being intensified by the additional scepticism with which their account will now be met. If you think that the moral force of a claim of rape cannot be diminished by evidence that it is false, then in the same act you believe that it cannot be added to by evidence that it is true.