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 political challenge

From the Daily Mail:

Polish prince challenges Nigel Farage to a DUEL with swords over Ukip slurs on immigrants

And why not? Resort to the field of honour would be in accordance with prime ministerial precedent. Those were the days. The Sussex Advertiser of 23rd March 1829 blandly recorded, “His Grace was seen riding through the Horse-Guards at six o’clock on Saturday morning, and returned to Downing-street at eight.”

Kicking the state out of the bedrooms of Ireland, North and South

Sex worker to launch legal challenge against NI prostitution ban

A sex worker is using European human rights legislation to try to overturn a new law in Northern Ireland that makes it illegal to pay for prostitutes.

Dublin-born law graduate Laura Lee is launching an unprecedented legal challenge that could go all the way to Strasbourg, against a human trafficking bill which includes banning the payment for sex among consenting adults.

The region is the only part of the UK where people can be convicted of paying for sex. The law, which was championed by Democratic Unionist peer and Stormont assembly member Lord Morrow, comes into effect on 1 June.

[…]

Lee said she will fund the case partly via crowdfunding on social media networks and from sex worker campaign groups across the world.

Lee, an Irish psychology graduate whose range of services include S&M and bondage, said she was also taking the legal challenge to thwart an attempt to introduce a similar law criminalising the consumers of sex in the Irish Republic.

An alliance of radical feminist groups and a number of nuns from Catholic religious orders are lobbying southern Irish political parties to pass a Nordic-style law outlawing the purchase of sex.

I have no stupid puns to make. This legal case is an important challenge to intolerable state intrusion. I wish Ms Lee the best of luck.

What happened to this alleged eclipse, then?

Either astronomical phenomena don’t apply to Essex, or the guys doing the sacrificing to Huitzilopochtli were really hard at work.

What do the Maori and Welsh languages have in common?

Intrigued by the possibility of some hitherto unknown Polynesian/Celtic linguistic cross-fertilisation, I clicked on this YouTube video clip.

Watching it saddened me. Intrepid sailors though they were, the ancestors of the Maori people never made it to Wales. The Welsh did reach New Zealand, but in steamships rather than coracles. Bidding farewell to a pair of outré alt-hist scenarios was not the reason for my sadness, however. What depressed me about this video was that, like almost every other discussion of preserving minority languages that I have ever seen, it was fixated on compulsion.

According to the video, an excerpt from a New Zealand TV programme, what Maori and Welsh have in common is that they are only kept going by forcing people to speak them and ain’t that wonderful. One minute into the clip, the commentary says,

“Four New Zealand teachers on a British Council “Linking Minds” scholarship were given a chance to see how compulsion is helping to save the Welsh language, Cymraeg, from extinction.”

Just after that one of the teachers, Nichola McCall, says to camera,

“The Welsh people have used law to support the use of the language, used it to build its status, used it to change public opinion. I think the law has really encouraged or helped education to do what it’s doing with the language, to help with its revival, to help bring it equal status with the English language here.”

Later on Ann Keane, Chief Inspector of Education and Training in Wales says at 3:24,

“If you live in Wales then you are entitled to learn something about its culture, its history and to learn something of its language.”

Who could object to that? I could, because she is using the word “entitled” in an Orwellian sense that I first noticed being used among educational opinion-formers when I was a teacher a quarter of a century ago. In Educratese “you are entitled to do this” means “you are not entitled not to do this”. Ms Keane continues:

“The time was right in Wales to bring Welsh in as a compulsory, as a mandatory, part of the National Curriculum in 1990.”

The use of locutions such as “the time was right” or “the situation demanded” to describe how a law came to be passed is another trick of speech I have long hated. It makes it sound as if, rather than one more-powerful bunch of humans forcing another less-powerful bunch to do their bidding, it all happened by the irresistible pressure of some force of nature.

Just to reinforce that “entitled” is being used in this particular and deceptive sense, the commentator purrs approvingly:

“Ann believes all peoples living in Wales and New Zealand are entitled as citizens to learn the language of the land”.

This is immediately followed at 3:59 by Professor Mac Giolla Chriost of Cardiff University, who says that he thinks:

“the arguments for compulsion are much more powerful and convincing than the arguments against compulsion.”

We never get to learn what the arguments against compulsion are, so this claim is difficult to judge. The professor continues:

“There are very good arguments for making sure that all young people in New Zealand are allowed access to Maori as a part of their national identity . . . the only way of doing that, then, is compulsion.”

“Allowed access to Maori,” is another variant of “entitled to learn Maori” or “have the right to learn Maori”. All of them mean “will be forced to learn Maori”. It just sounds prettier if a pose is maintained that someone – probably an Englishman in imperialist headgear – is trying to stop eager pupils from learning Maori or Welsh, and the “right” or “entitlement” or “demand for access” is being asserted against such oppression. I do not know about New Zealand but that picture of Anglophone oppression was certainly true of Wales at one time, although most accounts of cruel practices such as the Welsh Not skirt around the fact that its use was supported by Welsh-speaking parents who saw English as the route to prosperity for their children. My late mother-in-law, for whom Welsh was the much-loved “language of the hearth”, confirmed to me that it was common in her childhood for Welsh-speaking parents to discourage the Welsh speech of their children. Few would have wished to punish Welsh in the home by means of the hairbrush or the belt, but plenty were happy to have the teacher do it in school, where they did not have to see their child cry. No doubt many African parents nowadays make the same calculation.

→ Continue reading: What do the Maori and Welsh languages have in common?

Surprise!

Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro given power to rule by decree

The Venezuelan parliament on Sunday approved a law giving the president, Nicolás Maduro, the power to legislate by decree for nine months in the face of what he described as threats by the US government.

The so-called “anti-imperialist” law will be in effect from the time it is published in Venezuela’s Official Gazette until 31 December.

Maduro requested the expanded powers in response to new US sanctions on Venezuelan officials accused of human rights violations. Critics of Venezuela’s government have called the move a power grab.

Eatless in Seattle

Via Twitchy, I came across this article asking “Why are so many Seattle restaurants closing lately?”

The writer, Sara Jones, goes through the possible answers to this question at some length. Ownership changes. “Concept switches”, whatever they might be. Premises too big. Ingredients too pricey. Menus too esoteric. Too loud. Too quiet. Managers who do too much. Managers who do too little. Many and various are the potentialities diligently listed by Ms Jones. It is a little hard to see why a plague of Managers Doing Too Much should suddenly descend on so many of Seattle’s eateries all at once, though. Could there be something else behind it all, some really strange and frightening phenomenon whose name no one in Seattle dare speak? It’s like in Jaws when no one wants to say the word “shark”.

Dim-dum dim-dum dim-dum dim-dum dim-dum dim-dum dimdum dimdum dimdumdimdumdimdumdimd-AAAAAAAGH!

Though none of our local departing/transitioning restaurateurs who announced their plans last month have elaborated on the issue, another major factor affecting restaurant futures in our city is the impending minimum wage hike to $15 per hour. Starting April 1, all businesses must begin to phase in the wage increase: Small employers have seven years to pay all employees at least $15 hourly; large employers (with 500 or more employees) have three.

In fairness to the author, she does discuss the effect of the minimum wage hike eventually, after having exhausted all other options. She’s doing better than many.

The unadulterated Sir Terry

Animals loose in a car are never a good idea. Goats are generally the worst, but until you realise there’s a tortoise stuck under your brake pedal you’ve never known the meaning of fear, and possibly not the meaning of ‘old age’ either.

– Sir Terry Pratchett, The Unadulterated Cat. Sadly Sir Terry never really got to know the meaning of ‘old age’ himself. I think he did know the meaning of fear when contemplating a particularly cruel death for a writer, but knew even better the meaning of courage. I would link to the famous “embuggerance” statement to illustrate this point but so many other people are doing that right now that it has melted the internet.

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.