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The White Swan Four

In 1915 regulations on drinking were introduced on a town by town basis up and down the country. These regulations included restricted opening hours and the banning – I kid you not – of buying a round. The ostensible reason was to get munitions workers to show up for work on time.

One of the very first – if not the first – hostelry to fall foul of the new regulations was The Swan in New Lane. Annie Hives, the landlady and three customers were all charged and found guilty of various breaches of the regulations. She had committed the heinous crime of serving alcohol after 9.30pm – without demanding payment, I might add – and they, the heinous crime of drinking it. Mrs Hives was fined 35 guineas in total which by my reckoning was about half a year’s pay for a working man on a good wage.

New Lane is now known as New Row and The Swan appears to have been renamed The White Swan. That’s good enough for me and it’s good enough for Michael Jennings. We’ll be revisiting the scene of the crime to toast the memory of the White Swan Four – as they weren’t known – at 9.31 (or thereabouts) on Monday. Please feel free to join us.

The Times 8 January 1916 p3

The Times 8 January 1916 p3

Samizdata factoid of the day

During the 15 years before Hitler came to power, there were more than 200 prosecutions based on anti-Semitic speech.

Mark Steyn quoting from his book Lights Out.

In which I fill out an online “consultation”

I had some incoming from Uber yesterday. The TFL consultation on their proposals to bugger-up-all-competition-to-the-cossetted-black-cab-mafia is underway. I am usually rather sceptical about these things but Uber is such an obviously Good Thing that I participated anyway. You never know, it might make a difference.

When was the NHS created?

Here is a chart of average life spans for women from the Office of National Statistics with the dates replaced with letters. At some point on the X axis the National Health Service was created. Can you guess where? Answer below the fold.


→ Continue reading: When was the NHS created?

Joseph McCarthy was right

Let’s do some word association.

McCarthyism: Senator Joseph McCarthy, witch-hunts, reds under the bed, blacklists, Hollywood, the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Or to put it another way: it was a Jolly Bad Thing. Hey, the term “McCarthyism” still gets used to this day, so it must be true.

Not so fast. We can dismiss a few of those things straight away. McCarthy had nothing to do with either Hollywood or blacklists. His focus was Soviet sympathisers in the Federal Government, initially the State Department (the US Foreign Office) and, later on, the Army Signals Corps. And as a Senator he could have had nothing to do with a House committee, un-American or otherwise.

But what about the rest? Is it true? Did he hound entirely innocent people or was he on to something? The vast majority of books and articles written on the subject claim that he made it all up. M. Stanton Evans begs to differ. In Blacklisted by History: the Untold Story of Senator Joseph McCarthy and his Fight Against America’s Enemies he argues that in the vast majority of cases those accused by McCarthy of being communists were exactly that. Some were out and out spies. Some were agents of influence. Some were happy to help in the running of communist front groups. But the argument still stands: they were aiding a power that was hostile to the United States.

Evans comes to this judgement mainly by leafing through the files that have become available. These include the FBI files and what have become known as the Venona transcripts: Soviet messages de-crypted by the US military in the 1940s.

It is important to realise that these weren’t just spy games. Communist activity had a real impact. In the early 1940s, for instance, John Stewart Service, the State Department’s man in China produced a string of reports. In them he praised Mao’s Communists to the hilt claiming that they were democrats and successfully fighting the Japanese while condemning Chiang Kai Shek’s Kuomintang (KMT) for being incompetent, corrupt and uninterested in prosecuting the war. This was a travesty of the truth. Reports like this led to the KMT being starved of money and weapons which may well have tipped the balance in the Civil War leading, in turn, to the misery that was subsequently inflicted on the people of mainland China.

So, if he was right why has he been condemned and why does he continue to be condemned by history? Some of it appears to have been McCarthy’s own fault. He puffed up his war record. He over-stated his case. He bullied witnesses. He made the odd mistake. He criticised revered war heroes. Some if it was snobbery. McCarthy was from the wrong side of the tracks. There was no Ivy League education for him. He left school early but through hard work still managed to become a lawyer. He was also a Catholic. But most of it was because he was up against the combined forces of the communists and the establishment.


The Tydings Committee – a special sub-committee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – was established to get to the bottom of his initial 1950 claim that there were 57 communist agents working in the State Department. It did no such thing. In fact it didn’t even try.

According to Evans it was a cover up from start to finish. There was almost no attempt to get at the facts. Often a denial from the accused was sufficient. At one point they even asked the leader of the US Communist Party if certain people were members. He had to be prompted to say “no”. Most of the hostile questioning was not aimed at the accused – who were often evasive – but McCarthy himself. An inordinate amount of time was given over to attempting to prove that McCarthy had initially claimed a figure of 205 rather than 57 – as if it mattered. There was a definite suggestion that State Department personnel files had been tampered with. It was no great surprise when the official report concluded that McCarthy had made it all up.

You would have thought that even Democrats might have been interested in whether the State Department was full of communist moles. But no. Were they communist sympathisers themselves, or attempting to save the reputation of their side (in Truman, they had their man in the Whitehouse)? Probably the latter but you do wonder.

The Tydings Committee established a pattern for the McCarthy era. McCarthy would make a claim and then the establishment would investigate McCarthy while obstructing the investigation of his claims at every turn.

One of the surprising things for me is how poor Congress was (and probably still is) at holding the Executive to account. More than once the Executive showed utter contempt for Congress’s attempts to get at the truth. This included, as mentioned earlier, tampering with files but also making witnesses unavailable. But this never led to any consequences. Whenever, a confrontation got serious, Congress backed down.

There is a tendency amongst libertarians to imagine that there was some golden age when politicians were decent and honest. If there was, early 1950s America wasn’t it.

If there is one organisation that does come out well out of this it is the FBI. They were onto communist subversion at a very early stage and were responsible for producing most of the evidence that McCarthy later used. This may explain the extraordinary lengths communists and others have gone to over the years to tarnish the reputation of J. Edgar Hoover.

You’d would have thought that with the election in 1952 of Eisenhower as President things would have been different. After all why should a Republican Cold Warrior have any qualms about removing communists from the government especially when he had no need to defend the decisions and practices of a previous administration? Sadly, as it turned out, Eisenhower was every bit as bad as Truman. With Republicans divided between McCarthy and Eisenhower and the Democrats an anti-McCarthy bloc, the Senate voted to censure McCarthy. That was the end of the McCarthy era. He died a few years later, ignored, if not forgotten. He was 48.

Blacklisted by History is an extraordinary achievement but it is not without its faults. One gripe is that it is not particularly well-written – frequently I’d find that I had read several paragraphs without really understanding what was going on. I it is also not particularly well-organised. The same topics seem to crop up again and again often many hundreds of pages apart. And it is also worth bearing in mind that this is not a biography: it is an examination of McCarthy’s claims. McCarthy, himself, doesn’t really appear until 200 pages in and we get very little sense about what he was like. But it makes its case: Joseph McCarthy was a hero.

The British army gets steel helmets

In late 1915 steel helmets were introduced on the Western Front.

The Times 8 November 1915 p7

The Times 8 November 1915 p7

They were not, as The Times correspondent claims, there to protect the wearer from rifle or machine-gun bullets. Indeed, as I understand it, even modern helmets are not always proof against high-velocity rounds. What they were there to do was to protect soldiers from shrapnel. Shrapnel, in case you didn’t already know, is the collective noun for steel balls being expelled from an air-bursting (or Shrapnel) shell. It was a huge killer in the First World War and the steel helmet did a great deal to save lives.

One of the good things about the Brodie helmet – as it sometimes known – is that it had an internal harness. This meant that if the helmet was dented the dent was not necessarily reproduced in the wearer’s skull.

On the shape, however, with a wide brim and no neck protection, I have always been in two minds. On the one hand, if the threat is from above you would have thought the shape was a good thing as it covers a large part of the wearer’s body. It is also easy to make. On the other hand, British helmets over the last 100 years have progressively given more neck protection which sounds like the British Army’s way of saying they got it wrong.

By the way, in my limited experience both steel and more modern Kevlar helmets are a pain in the arse to wear. You either can’t see anything from a prone position or you can’t see anything from a prone position and get a headache.

This was one of many changes to frontline equipment during the course of the war. Others included the introduction of the Mills bomb, the Lewis gun and the Stokes mortar.

What Christopher Snowdon says about the anti-smoking lobby

Christopher Snowdon’s Velvet Glove, Iron Fist: a history of anti-smoking does not make comfortable reading for libertarians. Although there were anti-smoking movements in the past by the beginning of the recent part of the story (roughly 1950) two principles reigned supreme: freedom of speech and personal responsibility. By the end both lay in tatters.

Snowdon comes from the position that smoking cigarettes is dangerous. This is a refreshing approach given that some libertarians are wont to deny this. Take, for instance, my good friend, the late Judith Hatton. In Murder a Cigarette, co-written with Ralph Harris of IEA fame, she argued that smoking is perfectly safe. Many was the time I would go round to her place for a free meal and be plied with cigarettes (as well as some food). Snowdon, on the other hand, is having none of it. Smoking is dangerous. It produces a chemical, benzo[a]pyrene, which messes around with DNA and causes lung cancer. He also has little time for the tobacco companies whom he regards as little better than scoundrels.

However, accepting that smoking is dangerous and that tobacco companies have been less than honest is his last concession to the anti-smoking lobby. As he says “the dose is the poison”. Heavy smokers are in trouble but light smokers not so much. Of all smokers, 10% will get lung cancer.

If I have a quibble it’s here. While Snowdon has plenty to say about smoking and lung cancer he has little to say about smoking and heart disease although he appears to accept the link there too. Given that heart disease is another big killer of smokers that is a bit of a shame. But anyway, adults should be allowed to make their own decisions for better or worse.

Sadly such appeals to individual choice cut little ice with the anti-smoking lobby. Over the years, they have campaigned for every type of restriction they can think of from advertising bans, to warnings on packs, to smoking bans in pubs and restaurants. One of the ironies is the ineffectiveness of the government violence they so cherish. Although research is sketchy, most restrictions, such as the ban on smoking in bars have had no obvious effect on the rate of smoking and in many cases seem to have increased it – at least initially. Another example is the ban on television advertising where again, initially, sales rose. The unintended consequence was to set in stone the market makeup at the date of the ban. Hence, while beforehand brands rose and fell, ever since Marlboro has been on top. Although Snowdon doesn’t say this as such the implication seems to be that the decline in smoking over the last 50 years has had little to do with government.

Particularly revealing is the search for technological solutions. Over the years the tobacco industry has introduced filters and low tar cigarettes. Whether these make much of a difference is unclear partly because little research has been carried out. Another brand experimented with palladium (just as you might find in a catalytic converter). Unfortunately, the advertising ban made it difficult for them to get the word around.

There were other problems with safer cigarettes. If the tobacco company marketed a safer cigarette as a safer cigarette that would imply that all the other cigarettes they had been selling were dangerous. That would be the sort of admission that could lead to them winding up in court. The tobacco companies were reluctant to admit this not least because, up to then, they had never actually lost a court case.

More recently we have seen the rise of vaping which is vastly safer. This has provoked a split in the anti-smoking lobby with some of them coming to the conclusion that if it comes to a choice between regulations and public health they are in favour of public health. This has not, however, prevented the introduction of a bunch of EU regulations which will make vaping more difficult.

But that is the exception. Generally speaking, the anti-smoking lobby has opposed these developments. They don’t want technological solutions. They want people to change their behaviour. It matters little to them whether lives are saved.

I can shed some personal light on this. A long time ago I was a green. (I know, I know, I was young and foolish.) Back then I utterly hated the idea of technological solutions to environmental problems. Quite why this was I really don’t know but to my green mind the only correct solution was for people to consume less.

Having proved that smoking was dangerous, the anti-smoking lobby then set out to prove that passive smoking was also dangerous. You can kind of see their point. If benzo[a]pyrene is dangerous then it should be so to any consumer of the smoke in which it is present. Snowdon looks at the studies in great detail but, as he shows, again and again they don’t prove anything of the sort. If anything, passive smoking is good for you. One study even suggested that children brought up in smoking families were less likely to get lung cancer.

But the anti-smokers weren’t about to let the facts get in their way. Repeatedly confronted with research that found no link between passive smoking and lung cancer they simply claimed the precise opposite. They were not even above smearing anyone including scientists who dared to point out that the facts were telling a different story. Any similarity between this and any other science which has been perverted by political chicanery is entirely coincidental.

But the campaign rumbled on and continues to rumble on regardless of the facts. My pet theory is what did for smoking is that it went from being an air freshener to being an air unfreshener. A hundred years ago, people’s nostrils would have been exposed to the foul odours caused by horse manure, industrial pollution, filthy rivers and coal dust. In such an atmosphere, cigarette smoke was at worst insignificant and in many cases an improvement.

The anti-smoking lobby has been so successful that recently it has had to start branching out. Alcohol, gambling, meat and sugar are now all on its radar screen of puritanical ire.

1915: the story so far

I haven’t been blogging as much as I would have liked to from 1915. It’s not as if nothing has been happening so I thought I’d outline the main events of the year so far.

The big story of 1915 is that it has been a disaster for the Russians. They have been continually pushed back and have lost Warsaw and most of their forts. The Tsar has made the fateful decision to assume direct command of the Russian Army. It is a fateful decision – at least, people say it’s fateful – for two reasons. Firstly it means that any Russian military failures are his personal failures. Secondly, it means he is not in Petrograd to keep an eye on the domestic situation. At least, that’s the theory. There’s every chance he would have been every bit as useless in Petrograd as at the front.

In the west, the French have launched numerous offensives, none of which have been particularly successful. The Germans are inflicting two casualties on the French for every one the French inflict on them.

Their allies, the British have one problem: lack of everything. For instance there was recently a spate of correspondence in The Times on the subject of the manufacture of sandbags. If something as basic as sandbags are in short supply what isn’t? Not much. They don’t have enough men, shells, rifles, grenades, binoculars, periscopes, huts or gas masks. That’s just the things that are in short supply. Lots of other things they don’t have at all. For instance, they don’t have any tanks, gas shells, 106 fuzes, rifle grenades, Livens projectors or Sopwith Camels. And they lack knowledge and experience. Make that two problems.

In September, at Loos, the British used their 1914-recruited “New Army” formations in an offensive for the first time. They were able to employ a much larger barrage than before but it was still not big enough and they had to use gas to make up the difference. As it turned out they didn’t have enough gas either so they had to use smoke to make up that gap. Gas did, however, have an interesting side-effect: it corroded the enemy’s rifles and stopped them working. Still, the results were disappointing and the British lost twice as many men as the Germans. In other words they were no better – and to be fair, no worse – than the French. Most importantly, Loos was the moment the British Expeditionary Force (to give it its official, if rather odd title) lost confidence in the command of John French. Douglas Haig would succeed him in December. If you are looking for a detailed account of the battle have a look here.

On the home front gold is disappearing from circulation although there are still one or two banks that continue to issue it. I am not quite sure why this is but if there is anyone out there who can explain why – it’s disappearance is officially encouraged – I’d love to know. My guess is that it has something to do with fractional reserve banking but I am far from sure.

The round has been banned. In many parts of the country it is a criminal offence to go into a pub and buy someone a drink. There is a blackout in London due to Zeppelin raids. Well, more of a greyout in fact. Some street lighting remains. Ireland seems quiet. Too quiet perhaps.

Elsewhere, after getting crushed by the Russians – yes, the Russians – in the Caucasus, the Turks have started massacring the Armenians and are making little attempt to keep it a secret. Germany has put out some peace feelers. They involve the loss of French and Belgian colonies and – implausible as it may sound – freedom for the Jews. I presume this is a way of humiliating the Russians. The Germans, Austrians and their new ally Bulgaria have just invaded Serbia. Gallipoli continues to rumble on.

The Times 4 September 1915

The Times 4 September 1915

Who should we blame in the Volkswagen scandal?

By now, everyone knows about the Volkswagen scandal. VW have admitted installing software that cuts exhaust emissions when their cars are being tested and lets them spew death and disease every which way when they’re not.

So who is the villain here? To my mind there are two possible suspects: the US Environmental Protection Agency and the European Union. I know what you are thinking: why can’t we pin the blame on both of them? Well, cheer up because I think we can.

To my mind pollution is simple. The polluter pays the victim. I would like to find some non-state means for doing this and as I understand it in the days prior to environmentalism just such a mechanism – albeit involving courts – did indeed exist.

Of course, since then government has queered the pitch for everyone introducing two principles which it rolls out according to taste. One, that the polluter pays the government. Two, that the polluter becomes subject to government violence – or to put it in statist terms: pollution is regulated.

So, the government imposes regulations in which if you score below a certain number you are left alone and if you score above they send the boys round. Black mark against the EPA.

But meanwhile the EU has been promoting diesels like crazy over recent years. Whether this is a sinister French plot or the result of the global warming hoax, who knows. The really sad thing is that we have ended up with that abomination: the diesel-powered sports car. Oh yeah, and London’s air ain’t too great either.

Some diesel

Some diesel

Miscellaneous thoughts and questions

Why is that we are quite happy to use the term NOx but not the term COx? It makes no sense.

What were VW doing selling diesel cars in the US? Petrol (US = gasoline) is much cheaper there. So the market for diesel cars is much smaller. Come to think of it it’s probably because they were trying to make inroads into the market in the expectation that diesel taxes would come down making diesels more attractive. It is a tax issue isn’t it?

Why is it that cars are regulated in this way? I find it difficult to believe that a lorry or bus is in any way cleaner than a car. But I bet the latter two are not nearly as stringently regulated. To ask the question is, of course, to answer it. They do it because they can.

Did anyone else catch that excellent Mark Evans documentary about the diesel engine on BBC4 the other night? Comet swirl chambers, eh?

What Trevor Dupuy says about the German military

Trevor Dupuy was a US soldier and a military historian who took a statistical approach to evaluating combat performance. He paid particular attention to casualty statistics. Casualties – in case you did not know – include deaths but also include wounded, missing and captured. They answer the general’s question: how many men do I have who are able to fight?

Of course, statistics aren’t everything. For instance, the North Vietnamese took vastly more casualties in the Vietnam War than the Americans but they still won. But all things being equal, being able to kill more of your enemy than he can kill of you is a good thing to be able to do.

In A Genius for War Dupuy enquired into the nature of the German army. He found that the statistics told a remarkable story: the German army was very good and had been for a long time. From the Franco-Prussian War to the Second World War the Germans were consistently better at killing the enemy than the enemy were at killing them.

Now you may be thinking that such comparisons might be skewed due to the Russians and Dupuy found that that the Russians were indeed every bit as bad as you might think. But even when he removed the Russian numbers Dupuy found that the Germans still held a clear and consistent superiority over the French, British and Americans. This superiority existed regardless of whether the engagement was offensive or defensive.

Chauvinists might be surprised to learn that there seems to have been no great difference between the western allies. French and British performance was more or less equal in the First World War. British and American performance was more or less equal in the second. The Americans in the First World War and the French in the Second are special cases.

Having satisfied himself that the German army was indeed superior, Dupuy asked why this was. His key finding was that there seemed to be nothing inherent in being German. Dupuy found a number of historical examples where the Germans proved to be anything but good fighters. These included largely-German units in the American War of Independence and various battles between German mercenaries and the Swiss.

So, if being German didn’t make you a good soldier what did? Dupuy’s theory was that it was all due to the German General staff. So what was so good about the General Staff? Dupuy listed several criteria. These included selection by examination, historical study and objective analysis. In other words it was an institution that thought seriously about war.

The doctrine that all this thinking led to might be summed up as bold plans tempered with flexibility. Perhaps the best-known example of bold planning was the invasion of France in 1940. No one on the allied side thought a tank-led thrust through the Ardennes was possible. But it was and France collapsed soon afterwards.

As many of you will know far from being an official General Staff masterplan the invasion of France was in fact dreamt up by Erich von Manstein in opposition to his superiors. But Manstein was still every inch the General Staffer.

Flexibility was also important. Contrary to the stereotype the German army did not want blind obedience. Not only did it allow subordinate commanders to figure out how to achieve their objectives but if opportunities arose which were unforeseen they were not only allowed to take advantage of them but expected to do so. “His majesty made you a major because he believed that you would know when not to obey his orders.” as Prince Frederick Charles put it.

I would like to thank Perry de Havilland for pointing me in the direction of Dupuy and his works.

What swots can do

What swots can do

People are ignorant about economics

Russ Roberts’s EconTalk is a wonderful thing, I have been listening to it on and off for a few years now. One of the great things about it is that despite being a libertarian, Roberts is always happy to expose himself to new ideas and challenge his assumptions.

I have recently taken to listening to some of the earlier episodes and found myself listening to what happens when you have price gouging laws – or “anti-supply” laws as I prefer to call them.

His interviewee, Mike Munger, explained how there was a hurricane in Raleigh, North Carolina. The roads were blocked, there was no electricity and there was a shortage of ice.

Ice may not sound that important but it is. Not only does it help to preserve food but it also helps to preserve some medicines like, for instance, the insulin needed by diabetics.

Some “yahoos” – Munger’s term – saw an opportunity to make money. They got themselves a truck, loaded it with ice and some chainsaws and proceeded to drive towards the centre of Raleigh. If they found the road in front of them blocked they chopped up the fallen trees and carried on.

When they got to the centre of town they started selling the ice. Usually, ice sold for $2 a bag. They were selling it for $12. Very soon a queue appeared. Then the police arrived. Citing price-gouging laws they arrested the men and impounded the truck.

And here’s the kicker: as the truck was towed away the people in the queue applauded the police.

So, here we have an example where the gap between cause – the price gouging laws – and effect – the lack of supply – is instantaneous. And yet people still support the law.

Words fail me.


Things are not always as they appear

Reports of company meetings are usually a bit dull – those from a hundred years ago even more so. So why I bothered to read this one I don’t know. It concerns Farrow’s Bank, a small bank that despite there being a war on seems to be doing just fine.

“So”, I wondered, “what happened to it?” My assumption was that it got swallowed up in one of the gazillion or so mergers that have taken place in the banking sector in the last century or so.

Well, not quite. Actually, in 1920 it went bust. Spectacularly.

It turned out that at no point in its 13 or so years in existence as a publicly-listed company had it made a profit. By the very time this company meeting was taking place losses were routinely being covered up by inflating asset values.

So, were there any tell-tale signs that all was not as it appeared? Obviously with accounts that were largely fictional it would have been difficult to tell from the numbers. But were there other clues?

It is difficult to tell from this distance but a few things stick out. The first is that, the chairman and founder, Thomas Farrow, prior to founding the bank wrote a book entitled The Moneylender Unmasked in which he criticized the methods of moneylenders. Was he, perhaps, a gamekeeper turned poacher? – someone who had worked out all the tricks of the dishonest and then applied them for his own benefit. I doubt it. More likely, I suspect, that his ideas were nonsense in the first place and the acid test of their commercial implementation simply proved it.

The second is that one of the depositors described the Chairman’s speeches as “sanctimonious” and “treacly”. Does this, perhaps, suggest a lack of attention to the business of making money?

The third, was his fullsome praise for the then Minister of Munitions, David Lloyd George. Businessmen don’t usually praise the government, far less individual government ministers. I could say a lot more about that particular minister but I’ll save that for another time.

The Times 5 August 1915 p2

The Times 5 August 1915 p2