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]

Public Health Wales keeping themselves in work

E-cigarettes could be banned in Welsh public places to protect children, reports the Telegraph.

E-cigarettes could be banned in public places where children are present in a landmark vote in the Welsh Assembly.

The Labour-controlled government in Cardiff Bay is hoping to pass its Public Health (Wales) Bill in the Senedd on Wednesday.

If passed, the Bill would become a UK first and would restrict the use of nicotine inhaling devices in certain public places – such as schools, places where food is served and on public transport.

The move has been criticised by opposition parties and even divided opinion among health charities.
However, Health Minister Mark Drakeford insists the legislation will protect people from harm – and the curbs on e-cigarettes would make smoking less appealing to youngsters.

He said: “The Bill will help us to respond to a range of public health threats in Wales, including the risk of re-normalising smoking for a generation of children and young people who have grown up in largely smoke-free environments.

But if smoking could by some strange magic – some ingenious invention, let us say – be supplanted by a process that gave similar satisfaction but was much less dangerous, why would normalising that be bad? “Think of the children” is not an intrinsically bad argument. Hard-core libertarian though I am, I do concede that it would be better not to smoke around the kiddies. But making it harder for smokers to quit involves the consequence that the children of those smokers will not grow up in smoke free environments when otherwise they might have. I would have thought that the health of the children of smokers, the children we are told are being harmed with every breath they take, should be prioritized over the purely theoretical health problems that might or might not arise for a future generation after something that looks like smoking has been “renormalised”.

Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation, a couple of medium-fake charities that I would once have expected to join in the chant of “ban it” are showing surprising sense. No such weakening and deviationism is seen from Public Health Wales. Nothing will sway this “health body”, whose austerely modernist Three Random Word name is purged of all extraneous prepositions, from its work of protecting itself from evidence-based policymaking:

And health body Public Health Wales’ added: “We cannot sit around and wait a couple of decades to see whether or not the conclusive evidence that people might like to see is available before making a judgment.”

UPDATE: Mr Ed tells me that the measure failed to pass by the narrowest of margins after a considered and principled change of mind by Plaid Cymru. Nah, not really. It failed after a Labour guy called Plaid a “cheap date” and Plaid got into a huff. “Oft evil will shall evil mar”, as Theoden said about Wormtongue, a bloke almost as prone as the members of the Welsh Assembly to throwing his toys out of the pram.

Indirect advertising

Academies are paying comprehensive schools to take troublesome pupils, a study claimed yesterday, indicating that schools are finding stealthy ways to be selective.

It was suggested that thousands of children are being pushed out by schools desperate to improve their results. Some failing schools are closing and reopening with a smaller intake as a way of excluding difficult pupils, according to the Centre for High Performance, run by Oxford and Kingston universities.

I expect there to be a storm of outrage.

And a rise in applications to those academies so named and shamed. One “difficult” child can ruin the education of dozens of others. Parents know and fear this. If the elite truly wanted to improve the education of the masses, they would give comprehensives the power to exclude as well. But then what would happen to those children no school would take? That would happen. No school would take them. They would not be educated, by their own choice.

Revealed: papering over the cracks does not actually repair them

More than 50 years of education reforms ‘have not helped social mobility’, “reveals” the Guardian

That is because the reformers’ response to observing the problem of underachievement among poorer children was not to cure it, nor even to explain it, but to conceal it.

Try not lying

Another story from Der Spiegel International caught my eye: Lying Press? Germans Lose Faith in the Fourth Estate. It says it is by “Spiegel staff”. Someone would rather not put their name to this.

This comment from a reader calling themselves “wildberry” summed it up well:

“How can a woman who has been reading SPIEGEL, Süddeutsche Zeitung and Badische Neueste Nachrichten for years hit upon the idea that the journalists writing for these publications are trying to manipulate her, their reader?” This sentence encapsulates the problem. This air of injured innocence betrays the utter refusal of the journalists and their employers to understand why they are mistrusted and seen no longer as telling the truth to the world and holding the establishment to account. Instead they are more and more regarded as no more trustworthy than this same establishment. In fact, as with the latest example of (at best) partial and belated attempts to confront reality, they are seen as culpable, partial, and biased. That they cannot understand their own shortcomings and their own unconscious bias is at the root of the problem. When the press is seen, not as having a slight political preference – that has ever been the case and is widely accepted and understood, but as being complicit in the deliberate twisting of news-facts, one has to recognise that newspapers have dug their own graves and cannot complain when no-one believes them any more.

Another one, this time from “Pryor Oak”:

I am amazed that Der Spiegel is suddenly allowing readers to post comments. That is a step in the correct direction to earn trust in the media. Regarding the events in Cologne on New Years Eve, the Chief of Police issued a press release on January 1, 2016, stating that it was a “peaceful New Year’s Eve”. Only after Germans posted eyewitness accounts on Twitter, Facebook and international media that people learned the truth. This event created a distrust of the German media, police and government because it appeared that these institutions wanted to create a wall of silence regarding crimes committed by migrants against German citizens.

Here are two posts from the Samizdata back catalogue with a similar theme: If you do not want to see the BNP vindicated, try not proving them right and Politically correct evasiveness fails on its own terms. And just to show that this isn’t me jumping on the latest bandwagon, here’s a depressingly similar Biased BBC post from ten years ago: Two Beaches.

In the latter Samizdata post I asked (without, it must be said, any serious doubts as to the answer) the British press how it thought the strategy of silence and euphemism about the Muslim identity of the perpetrators of the crimes for which Rotherham is now world famous was succeeding. The same strategy was tried again in Germany with the same result. If the press of either country actually cares about diminishing the hostility between Muslims and non-Muslims it needs to try a new strategy. Try not lying.

Kofi Annan says it is time to legalize drugs

Somehow I did not expect this from the former Secretary General of the United Nations:

Lift the ban! Kofi Annan on Why It’s Time To Legalize Drugs

In my experience, good public policy is best shaped by the dispassionate analysis of what in practice has worked, or not. Policy based on common assumptions and popular sentiments can become a recipe for mistaken prescriptions and misguided interventions.

Nowhere is this divorce between rhetoric and reality more evident than in the formulation of global drug policies, where too often emotions and ideology rather than evidence have prevailed.

Take the case of the medical use of cannabis. By looking carefully at the evidence from the United States, we now know that legalizing the use of cannabis for medical purposes has not, as opponents argued, led to an increase in its use by teenagers. By contrast, there has been a near tripling of American deaths from heroin overdoses between 2010 and 2013, even though the law and its severe punishments remain unchanged.

This year, between April 19 and 21, the United Nations General Assembly will hold a special session on drugs and the world will have a chance to change course. As we approach that event, we need to ask ourselves if we are on the right policy path. More specifically, how do we deal with what the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has called the “unintended consequences” of the policies of the last 50 years, which have helped, among other things, to create a vast, international criminal market in drugs that fuels violence, corruption and instability? Just think of the 16,000 murders in Mexico in 2013, many of which are directly linked to drug trafficking.

Der Spiegel

The tone is condescending (“popular sentiments can become a recipe for mistaken prescriptions and misguided interventions”) and gently repressive (“The steps taken successfully to reduce tobacco consumption … show what can be achieved.”). Mr Annan makes no reference to questions of personal liberty. All the same, when the world’s former top tranzi starts talking this way it may be that, for the War on Drugs, this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.*

*With the slight difference from Churchill’s time that in this case the good outcome is surrender.

Wenn du sie nicht schlagen kannst, verbünde dich mit ihnen

GERMANY’S secret service spied on the EU’s British foreign policy chief and on the US secretary of state, it emerged yesterday.

The Bundesnachrichten- dienst, or BND, Germany’s equivalent of MI6, placed Baroness Ashton of Upholland under electronic surveillance when she was the EU’s high representative on foreign affairs and security.

It also tried to tap the mobile and office phones of John Kerry, the secretary of state, according to Der Spiegel magazine.

However, the attempt to listen in to Kerry’s mobile conversations failed because a bungling spy used an African country code by mistake. His other phones, including one at the American State Department, were successfully tapped.

The revelations are deeply embarrassing for Angela Merkel, who criticised the US over allegations the National Security Agency (NSA) monitored the German chancellor’s phone as part of a mass surveillance programme that included snooping on allies.

Speaking at the time, Merkel told President Barack Obama that “spying on friends is not acceptable”.

Particularly not those friends. To expose your poor spies to hours on end of Baroness Ashton or John Kerry is an unacceptable violation of the Framework Directive 89/391/EEC on Occupational Safety and Health.

Update: Niall Kilmartin adds, “Wow. They lose track of 130,000 immigrants from Isis recruiting areas but they can (almost) bug John Kerry. Is this a dramatic revelation of German government priorities, or does it merely indicate that the standard of electronic security set by Hillary was followed throughout her department and maintained by her successor?”

The Price

Armageddon approaches!

Brexit could bring an unhappy ending for UK’s Oscar nomination bonanza

At first glance, Carol and Get Blake! do not appear to have much in common. One is an Oscar-nominated period drama about sapphic romance set in the lush interiors of upper-middle-class 1950s Manhattan, the other a French science fiction cartoon about alien squirrels. And yet both might never have been made were it not for EU funding.

But while one can just about imagine surviving without Get Blake, which was the centrepiece of a tabloid row about dreadful Europeans wasting our hard-earned British money on pointless film and TV projects in August, it is doubtful whether many right-minded Brit cineastes would be willing to dispense with Todd Haynes’s treasured drama about a love affair between Cate Blanchett’s opulent housewife and Rooney Mara’s wide-eyed department store ingenue.

If Brit cineastes would not be willing to dispense with EU-funded dramas starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, that must mean that in the event of a Brexit the rest of us would have to dispense with Brit cineastes.

Sounds good. Armageddon outta here.

Free speech for all (neds need not apply)

Further to my earlier post about the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012, Kevin Rooney, a self-described fanatical Celtic supporter with a “deep loathing” of Rangers, wrote an article for Spiked in 2012 to which I can add little except to say that I had heard nothing about this case, which horrifies me and proves his point.

Football fans need free speech too

A man has been jailed for singing a song that mocks a religious leader, yet liberty campaigners have said nothing.

Imagine the scene: a young man is led away in handcuffs to begin a prison sentence as his mother is left crying in the courtroom. He is 19 years old, has a good job, has no previous convictions, and has never been in trouble before. These facts cut no ice with the judge, however, as the crime is judged so heinous that only a custodial sentence is deemed appropriate. The young man in question was found guilty of singing a song that mocked and ridiculed a religious leader and his followers.

So where might this shocking story originate? Was it Iran? Saudi Arabia? Afghanistan? Perhaps it was Russia, a variation of the Pussy Riot saga, without the worldwide publicity? No, the country in question is Scotland and the young man is a Rangers fan. He joined in with hundreds of his fellow football fans in singing ‘offensive songs’ which referred to the pope and the Vatican and called Celtic fans ‘Fenian bastards’.

Such songs are part and parcel of the time-honoured tradition of Rangers supporters. And I have yet to meet a Celtic fan who has been caused any harm or suffering by such colourful lyrics. Yet in sentencing Connor McGhie to three months in a young offenders’ institution, the judge stated that ‘the extent of the hatred [McGhie] showed took my breath away’. He went on: ‘Anybody who participates in this disgusting language must be stopped.’

Several things strike me about this court case. For a start, if Rangers fans singing rude songs about their arch rivals Celtic shocks this judge to the core, I can only assume he does not get out very much or knows little of life in Scotland. Not that his ignorance of football culture is a surprise – the chattering classes have always viewed football-related banter with contempt. But what is new about the current climate is that in Scotland, the middle-class distaste for the behaviour of football fans has become enshrined in law.

And

The other thing that strikes me is how anti-Catholic prejudice seems to be tolerated when it comes from our ‘national treasures’, like Stephen Fry or Richard Dawkins, but not when it comes out of the mouths of football fans. When the pope visited Britain two years ago, liberal campaigners lined up to accuse him of everything from hatred of women to paedophilia. To my knowledge, none of these words were deemed offensive enough to the UK’s Catholic community to prompt arrests or detentions, yet when a Rangers fan shouts of his hatred for the pope, that fan is locked up.

Hat tip: Rob Fisher

New stirrings at the Old Firm

The Herald reports: Rangers and Celtic fans to unite for football grounds demo over anti-bigotry law

RANGERS and Celtic fans are among those who are joining forces to are support a new campaign in grounds across Scotland for the scrapping of a controversial law designed to stamp out sectarian abuse at football matches.

The demonstration over Saturday and Sunday aims to show a united fans front in protest against the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 on the grounds that it is “fundamentally illiberal and unnecessarily restricts freedom of expression”.

Supporters group Fans Against Criminalisation say protests are expected at Scottish Premiership and Scottish Championship grounds featuring fans from Celtic, Rangers, Hibs, Motherwell, Kilmarnock, St Johnstone, Hamilton Academical, Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Greenock Morton.

Hibs fans unfurled an “Axe The Act” banner on Sunday during their 3-0 victory over Alloa at Easter Road.

One banner unfurled at Celtic Park on Saturday said: “Scottish football – not singing, no celebrating.”

Another banner containing a rude gesture and the words, “Recognise This”, appeared to be a stark objection to the Scottish Professional Football League’s bid to bring in facial recognition cameras. Some fans have warned they risk driving fans away for making them feel like criminals.

An FAC spokesman said: “We have now been harassed, intimidated, filmed, followed, demonised and criminalised for four years and we have had enough.

It is interesting that fans from both the clubs in the Old Firm are among those involved in the protests. The series of pictures at the top of the Herald article shows banners being raised in protest at Celtic Park rather than Ibrox. Due to its association with Unionism the SNP government dislikes Rangers and would discount any protest coming from that quarter alone.

Approaching the event horizon

The black hole at the heart of the Out campaign is this. After all those years of demanding this referendum, they can’t agree on what the UK would look like if it chose to self-eject from the European Union.

– Andrew Rawnsley writing in the Observer.

For a real black hole, the event horizon is the boundary from within which nothing, not even light, can ever escape. As Wikipedia puts it “Once a particle is inside the horizon, moving into the hole is as inevitable as moving forward in time.”

The black hole at the heart of the In campaign, and of the European Union itself, is that it was agreed among the elite what the future would look like years ago.

So the Out campaign – a collective noun that must stretch to encompass George Galloway, Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson – cannot agree? Glory in it! They cannot agree what the future UK would look like because it wouldn’t be up to them. Outside the EU event horizon the future would not be predetermined. It would be decided by the electorate. For real, I mean, in elections that mattered. Those mad buggers might do anything.

Failing to understand

“Top universities are failing poor students”, said the Times headline. I was concerned. What exactly were the top universities doing to cause them to fail in their obligations to the poor students? If I had read that the universities were failing to process student loan applications in a timely manner I would have been distressed. A student finance screw-up is no joke if the family does not have much spare in the bank. If I had read that universities were disadvantaging poorer students by requiring that they pay for ostensibly optional but practically compulsory extras in order to complete their courses I would have been outraged. If I had read that the academic staff were marking down students for irrelevant attributes correlated with class such as accent I would have been sceptical – my experience of academics is that their biases tend the other way – but I would have certainly wished a stop put to it, if it were confirmed to be happening.

If, if, if. So many ways those smooth Oxbridge types could be letting down the young proletarians under their charge. Then I read the article.

The proportion of poorer students at Britain’s leading universities has stalled over the past decade and has even fallen at some institutions.

About a sixth of students from disadvantaged backgrounds started at Russell Group universities last year, compared with a third of wealthier students.

On average, students from poorer homes made up 20.8 per cent of new undergraduates in 2014/15 compared with 19.5 per cent a decade earlier.
Millions of pounds has been spent by universities to widen access and attract students from deprived neighbourhoods. Oxford and Cambridge took the lowest proportion of students from poorer backgrounds out of the 24 Russell Group universities, according to analysis of official data by the Press Association. At Oxford 10 per cent of students were from disadvantaged homes while at Cambridge it was 10.2 per cent. Ten years ago, poorer students made up about one in eight of Oxbridge entrants.

I should have guessed. “Top universities are failing poor students” is just one of those little in-jokes favoured at High Table. What it means is “State schools are failing poor students”.

A survivor speaks

Eagles of Death Metal frontman: ‘Everybody has to have guns’

The frontman of the Eagles of Death Metal, the band that was performing at the Bataclan theatre in Paris when 90 people were murdered by terrorists last year, has remembered his terror at encountering a gunman backstage – and argued for universal access to guns.

The Californian rock band was performing in front of a crowd of around 1,500 on the night of 13 November when three terrorists armed with assault rifles entered the room and began shooting and throwing hand grenades.

It was part of a series of terrorist attacks in Paris that night, that Islamic State later claimed responsibility for.

Vocalist-guitarist Jesse Hughes, who is a long-time advocate for access to gun ownership, told the French television station iTélé in a 19-minute, at times tearful interview on Monday that restrictions on guns in France had helped to enable the terrorists.

Asked if his views on gun control had changed after the terror attacks, he said gun control “doesn’t have anything to do with it”.

“Did your French gun control stop a single fucking person from dying at the Bataclan? And if anyone can answer yes, I’d like to hear it, because I don’t think so. I think the only thing that stopped it was some of the bravest men that I’ve ever seen in my life charging head-first into the face of death with their firearms.

“I know people will disagree with me, but it just seems like God made men and women, and that night guns made them equal,” he said. “And I hate it that it’s that way. I think the only way that my mind has been changed is that maybe that until nobody has guns everybody has to have them.

A survivor of a mass shooting makes an appeal for more gun control? Even the politest disagreement is held to be vile.
A survivor of a mass shooting makes an appeal for less gun control? Well, take a look at the Guardian comments.