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]

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.

Samizdata quote of the day

And then Bond just skis off the edge and as he drops down through the sky he kicks loose his skis and pulls the cord and his parachute opens – a massive Union Jack chute, which is a bit of a giveaway for a secret agent in deep cover but, as Christopher Wood noted with pride, elicited huge cheers from audiences in the decrepit strike-ridden hellhole of pre-Thatcher Britain.

Mark Steyn on the late Roger Moore.

“Of course people change what they do when this stuff happens. That’s why it happens.”

Stefan Molyneux on the Manchester bombing.

Some thoughts on The Prisoner

In case you didn’t already know The Prisoner is a TV series starring Patrick McGoohan, originally broadcast in 1967. Lots of libertarians get very excited about it. It was recently re-shown on True Entertainment. [Indeed the very first episode is being re-shown this very afternoon.]

1. The set-up is superb. The numbers, the clothing, “Be seeing you”, Portmeirion, the upbeat public address messages, the font, Number Two, Mini Mokes, Rover, the surveillance. Superficial pleasantness and concealed malice. Brilliant.

2. Many of the episodes hinge on the idea that medical science can manipulate and control the human mind. This is very Sixties but oddly enough doesn’t seem all that dated.

3. Number 6 is very grumpy. Yes, I suppose being kidnapped and imprisoned might get on anyone’s goat but does he have to be quite so testy when dealing with his fellow inmates?

4. Taken as a whole it is a mess. It can’t make up it’s mind whether it is spy drama (Arrival), microcosm (Free for All) or allegory (Living in Harmony). Some episodes e.g. Dance of the Dead seem beyond characterisation.

5. Although as a whole it is a mess, the individual episodes all stand up. Writing, acting, direction. All good. In this regard it rather put me in mind of Antonioni’s “Blow Up”. That has a succession of brilliant scenes that in my estimation don’t add up to a row of beans. It was released a year before The Prisoner. Coincidence? I think not.

6. Did I say all the episodes? It’s time to talk about Fall Out, the finale. When it was first broadcast viewers jammed the broadcaster’s switchboard with their complaints. And it is not difficult to see why. They were promised a logical, rational spy mystery in which the clues would lead to a solution and they were given a clunky allegory with lots of people behaving very oddly. If there is a moral to The Prisoner it is to know how the story is going to end before you start writing it.

7. When I first watched it my interpretation of Six being One was that we are our own jailers. McGoohan himself argued that One is the evil side of all of us that we have to keep in control. This would appear to imply that to be good you have to be grumpy. Hmm.

8. How libertarian is it? The late Chris Tame thought “very”. I am not so sure. Sure there’s a great speech at the beginning about not being “filed, indexed, numbered. I am a free man…” etc. But other than that the only episode where individualism is really present is Change of Mind. This is the episode which introduced us to the word “unmutual”. Even so Number Six only survives because he is too valuable to be lobotomised, can spot when he is being drugged and knows how to hypnotise people. It is not so much the individual against the state as the exceptional individual against the state. And by the way, Number Six does get filed, indexed and numbered.

9. I am far from the first Samizdatista/Libertarian Ally to have written on the subject. See here, here, here and here.

The masks conceal the lack of a proper resolution. From here

Samizdata quote of the day

He [Trump] appears to be entertaining the horrible idea that the people who buy cars ought to be free to decide for themselves how much fuel economy matters to them – since they will be the ones paying for both the car and the gas. And – oh my god! – that this is really none of the business of the “concerned” scientists and other professional busybodies who regard their opinions and preferences as holy writ enforceable at gunpoint.

Eric Peters