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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Government to ban Uber in London

In 8 days time.

Fuckers.

Lots of people – including some Uber supporters – saying stupid things.

Talking of which, I see Sargon of Akkad – he of This Week in Stupid – has been “unpublished” on Facebook.

What a shit day.

The ghastliness of the weak state

Bear with me on this.

I give you two examples from 1917.

Exhibit A hoarding:

The Times, 1 September 1917 p3


And now for the grim tale of Exhibit B (from The Times 8 September 1917 p3). To cut a long story short: a German gets served with a deportation order, doesn’t want to go and commits suicide instead. Oh, and he tries and fails to take his family with him. The suicide note is heartbreaking.

In the First World War, the British state started off weak and only acquired greater powers on a case by case basis.

In the Second World War, the British state was much more comprehensive and consistent. As a consequence neither of these two outrages would have happened. There would have been no hoarding because the ration system would have made it more or less impossible and there was no deportation because all German citizens were interned.

I would much rather this wasn’t the case.

On the idle hill of summer (1917 style)

On the idle hill of summer,
Sleepy with the flow of streams,
Far I hear the steady drummer
Drumming like a noise in dreams

A. E. Housman

Now, in 1917 you might not be able to hear the drums but you might – depending on the proximity between your ear and the ground – be able to hear the drumfire:

The Times 24 August 1917 p9. Right click for full article.

Just in case you were wondering 24 June was in the “lull” between the Battle of Messines and the Third Battle of Ypres or Passchendaele as it is better known.

The truth about Mother’s Day

Things I know about Mother’s Day: correctly Mothering Sunday, early in the year, ancient celebration, all about being nice to mothers and appreciating their efforts.

Wrong.

Mother’s Day is not Mothering Sunday. Mothering Sunday is ancient. Mother’s Day is modern. And American. Mothering Sunday has nothing to do with mothers. Mother’s Day does. Mother’s Day only really came to be accepted (in Britain) in the 1950s when it got commercialised. Confusingly, the British have chosen to hold both celebrations on the same day.

The first modern (British) Mother’s Day was held on 8 August 1917.

I always had my doubts.

Samizdata quote of the day

This kind of clotted nonsense could only be generally circulated and generally believed in England, where newspapers claiming to be conservative and reliable are the most utterly untrustworthy of any on earth. In apology for these newspapers it may be said that their untrustworthiness is not always due to intention, but more frequently to ignorance and prejudice.

– W. R. Hearst in a telegram to The Times printed on 2 November 1907. In it he denies ever using the words: “You provide the pictures and I will provide the war,”. Hat-tip W. Joseph Campbell Getting it wrong: ten of the greatest misreported stories in American journalism.

Samizdata quote of the day

Yesterday I said the British police had hit rock bottom and started to drill. Last night they shipped in some dynamite:

Tim Newman

Samizdata quote of the day

The ADC is a fire-eater and longs for the fray.

– Douglas Haig, Diary entry for 20 July 1917 commenting on a meeting with American Commander-in-Chief Pershing and other members of his staff.

And the name of this fire-eating ADC?

George S. Patton.

German cyclists competing at this year’s Tour de France

Those with French-sounding first names:
Marcel Kittel
André Greipel
Simon Geschke
Emanuel Buchmann
Marcel Sieburg

Those with first names that could be either French or German:
Paul Martens
Christian Knees
Robert Wagner
Marcus Burghardt

Those with British-sounding first names:
Tony Martin
John Degenkolb
Rick Zabel

Those that don’t seem to fall into any of the above:
Nikias Arndt
Nils Politt
Jasha Sütterlin

Those with out-and-out, no-question-about-it, traditionally German first names:
Rüdiger Selig

Update: As of this afternoon both the Marcels are out. There is a lesson in there somewhere.

Samizdata quote of the day

Finally, on both sides of the Atlantic our citizens are confronted by yet another danger; one firmly within our control. This danger is invisible to some but familiar to the Poles: the steady creep of government bureaucracy that drains the vitality and wealth of the people. The West became great not because of paperwork and regulations but because people were allowed to chase their dreams and pursue their destinies.

– Donald Trump speaking in Warsaw today.

Some observations about death and dying

Someone close to me died recently. Here are a few of the things I learnt:

  1. Diagnosis is far worse than death.

  2. Sort out your will. Also: sort out a lasting power of attorney, a potted biography, who is going to do the eulogy and what music, hymns and readings you want at your funeral.

  3. Dying people like visitors.

  4. You can’t be sad all the time.

  5. Not everyone wants to die at home.

  6. While this is not the occasion to indulge in NHS bashing, let us say it did not exactly cover itself in glory. Honourable exception: district nurses.

  7. Downturns can happen very quickly.

  8. It sounds obvious, but medical professionals have to be, well, professional. They cannot afford to get emotionally involved. This means that sometimes you don’t pick up on the gravity of the situation.

  9. Pain control is not as simple as you might think.

  10. Brace yourself when you hear the word “Midazolam”.

  11. Most people don’t get a chance to utter dying words. And they’re probably not that profound anyway.

  12. If death is swift, if there is time to talk, if caring is not a burden, if there was nothing anyone could have done, then you are lucky. You won’t think it of course.

  13. A lot of the stress and exhaustion comes from not knowing what you’re doing. Give yourself a break. You’re probably doing much better than you think.

  14. The dead look quite different from the living and the change takes place instantaneously.

  15. If you can, try to close their eyes and mouth.

  16. Some of you may be thinking that if someone is dying it would be a hoot to borrow their car and drive like a loon safe in the knowledge that the points would end up on their licence. This would be illegal. And very, very naughty.

  17. When someone dies there is so much to do you don’t have time to grieve.

  18. Everyone wants a death certificate. Everyone.

  19. You can talk to the grieving but steer clear of jokes or flippancy.

  20. Undertakers are useful. There is a lot that goes into a funeral.

  21. I am glad I went to the Chapel of Rest. I have no idea why.

  22. Pallbearers can be hard to find in England.

  23. It’s the day after the funeral that really hurts.

  24. Most of the deceased’s things will end up in the bin.

1917: Britain alone (sort of)

In an earlier post I said that things were looking good for the Allies in late 1916. In essence, they were getting stronger and their enemies were getting weaker. In early 1917, things got even better. America joined the war while Russia became a republic with a democratic constitution. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, as we know, lots did. First, while America may have been a rich country with a large population it suffered from exactly the same problems as Britain did in 1914. Its army was small and not prepared for war against similarly-armed opponents. It would take time to become effective and it’s debatable whether it ever really did.

Second, the French launched the ill-fated Nivelle Offensive. Although it was far from a total failure, Nivelle had made extraordinary claims for it. When the hopes founded on these claims were dashed French morale collapsed. What happened to the French army at this time is still shrouded in mystery. The rumour is that far more French soldiers ended up getting shot for mutiny than was admitted at the time or even subsequently. It’s possible we’ll get to find out a little more this year when a few more of the archives are opened.

One of the odd things was how this affected Haig’s standing. In February, there had been an attempt to subordinate him to the French High Command. By May, the French government was asking his opinion on who should head that High Command. He didn’t give it.

Third, the February Revolution failed to stick. The Russian army had ceased to be an effective fighting force well before the Bolshevik take over in November.

So by late summer 1917 Britain’s only effective ally was Italy. While I am tempted to crack jokes Italian “effectiveness” the truth is that I don’t know enough about Italy’s contribution in the war to comment with any great authority. And, anyway, after the defeat at Caporetto, in November, they were in much the same position as the French.

Worse still, in February, the Germans launched unrestricted submarine warfare. This sent shock waves through the British high command. At one point, Jellicoe, the First Sea Lord, claimed that Britain had only a matter of months left before its food supplies ran out. The only thing that could save it was the British army capturing the Channel ports where most submarines were based.

This is the context in which Passchendaele – or the Third Battle of Ypres as it was officially known – was fought.

A thought experiment on how private road owners would deal with the threat of terrorism

When dealing with complex political issues I often find it useful to ask myself what would happen in the absence of the state. This is not because I think that the glorious libertarian revolution is just around the corner but because such an exercise can at least give us some clues as to what the state should be doing in the here and now.

So, what do I mean by private roads?
Roads where the owners may decide who uses them, under what circumstances and have the means to enforce their decisions. The type of ownership could include purely commercial enterprises – out for a profit, individually-owned roads and – what I think will be the most common form – club-owned roads.

A lot would depend on people’s propensity to tolerate acts of terrorism. My guess is that this would be pretty low but I could be wrong. But that’s the great thing about the free market: it is a wonderful way of finding out what people really want. If the propensity is high then I would guess the outcome would be very similar to what we have now. Terrorism would simply be something that people would have to get used to. But let’s assume that the propensity is low. A commercial road owner would therefore have a very strong incentive to prevent terrorism.

Why?
Because, if a competitor was better at preventing terrorism then more people will want to use his roads.

But what of a road owned by a club?
This is an important example if I am right that most private roads would be in this form. The governance rules might be in the form of one frontage one vote. But it may be that the number of votes is proportional to the fees charged.

Now a road club will not have the same incentives as a commercial road – they would not exist to make money. But they would have incentives enough. The principal one would be that their members would want to preserve the value of their properties and one factor in that would be how likely it was that their properties became subject to terrorism.

Individual road owners, we can assume, would be in much the same position as clubs.

So, assuming there are strong incentives to prevent terrorism how would road owners go about it?
Obviously they would want to stop the terrorists. But they would also want to make it as easy as possible for non-terrorists to go about their business. And they would want to keep the costs down.

A key moment is what happens when someone enters the road – or road network – from one of the inevitably large number of frontages. You could have a guard on every frontage searching every person entering the road. However, this would be expensive. Not only that but it would be unlikely to be effective. Guards would get bored and become inattentive and would themselves become likely targets.

Another approach might be to deny access to anyone suspected of being an active terrorist. But this is fraught with difficulty. How would you know who is who?

Far simpler and more effective would be to ban anyone harbouring any terrorist sympathies whatsoever. Effective terrorist campaigns can always rely on a sea of sympathisers who are not themselves terrorists to aid and abet those who are. These sympathisers are usually easy to identify. Exceptions might be granted for children and members of the older generation. Or maybe there would be a system of vouching for people, guarantees of good behaviour or even the taking of hostages. The chances are that if private roads came about tomorrow terrorist sympathisers would wake up to find their properties surrounded by barbed wire.

The next issue would be those seeking entry from another road i.e. a road owned by another entity. What you would probably see is a system of guarantees. One road owner would guarantee the non-terrorist nature of their road users to other road owners. Obviously, there would be some fairly hefty compensation should one road owner’s users engage in acts of terrorism on another road owner’s territory. That would mean that road owners would be very careful who they let out.

There is a precedent for this – sort of. Those familiar with the movie The Day of the Jackal will recall that the idea that they might be letting a terrorist loose on foreign soil scared the living daylights out of the British government.

So, what would happen to the terrorist sympathisers?
It is difficult to see how terrorist sympathisers would be allowed to use non-terrorist-sympathiser roads. They would therefore only be allowed to use terrorist-sympathiser roads. As terrorist sympathisers tend to be poor and geographically concentrated, they would have an immediate problem over what to do for an income especially in the absence of a welfare state. Faced with poverty some would choose to leave for terrorist-sympathiser majority countries while others would choose to change their beliefs. Of course, there is the issue as to whether such conversions would be genuine. I have no answer to this.

But what if the terrorists engaged in acts of terrorism from their own roads?
They could for instance mortar bomb non-terrorist-sympathiser roads. My guess is that they would get mortar-bombed back. Just to greater effect.