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

Cowardice is the main and the worst sin on Earth. Betrayal is a personal form of cowardice… All of your propaganda is working excellently. Most of the Russian population believes what they are saying: Putin is great. There are fascists in Ukraine. Russia is never wrong. There are enemies everywhere… But I also understand that there are people who are smarter—such as you, for instance, here—who support the government. You perfectly well understand that there are no fascists in Ukraine. That Crimea was annexed illegally. That your troops are fighting in Donbas… These are facts that are on the surface… the troubadours of your regime… know everything as it is, but they continue to lie. Just as you continue your work, finding some sort of rationalization within yourself. Probably, they also rationalize to themselves: “We have to feed our children; we have to do something.” But, guys, what is the point of raising another generation of slaves?

Oleh Sentsov

“Giving offence is good”

Bravo Brendan.

Over the years I have gone from being deeply sceptical of Brendan O’Neill, into finding myself rarely disagreeing with him.

“He is not allowed his small reprieves”

I don’t usually find much to sympathise with over at the Bella Caledonia blog. This account by Jonathan Rowson, whose brother has been committed to a psychiatric ward, was an exception:

Smoking and the Forbidden Garden – a Dereliction of Sanity?

Defending the rights of the mentally ill to do something that harms them is not a popular cause, but this much needs to be said: preventing psychiatric patients from smoking on hospital grounds is inhumane.

I am responding to the situation in a particular ward in a hospital in NHS Grampian region. At the time of writing my forty year old brother Mark is there, as he has been before. He is surrounded by other adult patients, many of whom are thought disordered, dysfunctional, and up to their eye balls in medication. Mark has given me permission to write publicly about his situation, but he is not well enough to grasp the full context. I am taking the liberty of making the following case on his behalf.

Many psychiatric patients are habitual smokers, but at the moment they are strictly not allowed to smoke anywhere on hospital grounds. Smoking has been banned in hospital buildings for about a decade, but in the hospital in question secure gardens adjacent to the locked wards and smoking shelters within the general grounds of hospitals were available to smoke. This arrangement seemed to work until the authorities decreed that the shelters should be knocked down and the secure gardens should be smoke free. Some psychiatric patients, staff and visitors now face the mild stigma and hassle of having to escape the hospital to smoke, but if you are sectioned under the mental health act it’s not so simple. The hospital ward is your de-facto home, and also your de-facto prison, so where do you go?

The ruling is unenforceable. In fact most staff feel they have no choice but to turn a blind eye. Patients are now smoking in their rooms or in the bathrooms; anywhere where the staff can have plausible deniability of not seeing them. Alas, the collateral damage of this necessary open secret is that none of the patients can now go to the outdoor area assigned to the ward. The small secured gardens are the most humanising place on the ward and a vital source of fresh air, but they lie unused due to the risk, not that patients will smoke, but that they will be seen to be smoking, and get staff into trouble as a result.

Most of the comments are supportive, but not all. This one by Clive Scott was notable for its self-righteousness:

What about the employer’s responsibilities to provide a safe working environment for employees and the rights of non-smokers for wholesome air? It would be ridiculous to permit the mentally enfeebled to flout regulations for the common good simply because of their illness. Smoking is a disgusting foul habit and addiction and every step possible should be taken to eliminate it from society.

Samizdata quote of the day

The Royal Society for Public Health is suggesting that unusual, unhealthy or minority pursuits should be criminalised in order to set a good example to others. They want people to be arrested, fined and possibly even imprisoned for being poor role models. In a liberal society, the only appropriate response can be made with two words or two fingers.

Chris Snowdon

The EU’s Memory Holes

The European law gives individuals and institutions the right to demand that search engines such as Google must de-list postings containing ‘outdated’ or ‘irrelevant’ information. The Euro authorities insist that this cannot be construed as censorship, since the material will not actually be removed from the internet – it will simply not be linked to by Google and Co anymore. When plans for these regulations were first announced in 2012, the European Commission’s vice-president said: ‘It is clear that the right to be forgotten cannot amount to a right of the total erasure of history.’ That sounds like rewriting history. If material is not listed by search engines, it is effectively invisible to most online and ceases to exist as public information.

No, no, say the authorities, of course we are not banning this controversial book! We are simply ordering all libraries and bookshops to remove it from their shelves and websites forthwith. You will still be at liberty to read it – if you can find a copy anywhere, or even spot a reference to its existence…

Mick Hume

Samizdata quote of the day

While it is perfectly reasonable to expect companies to obey the law in the countries in which they operate, the rage against Uber highlights how stifling regulation of economic life can be. Prior to the emergence of Uber, complaints of never being able to get a cab during peak times were common in every major city in the world. Uber’s sidestepping of licensing laws and other regulations that limit enterprise has enabled it to increase supply and meet demand.

What’s more, Uber’s cheaper fares have saved customers money, expanded our transport options and provided a source of income for a whole new sector of drivers. While the debate about Uber drivers’ pay and employment rights rumbles on, it is clear that banning the service, and forcing these drivers to go through the same costly licensing systems as everyone else, does no one any favours.

It is the competition that Uber provides that is driving its popularity with drivers and customers. But this is precisely what is enraging licensed taxi drivers.

Rob Harries

Samizdata quote of the day

Everything on [the Internet] is changing minute by minute, and the idea of establishing a level playing field, as if all bandwidth is homogeneous, is just ludicrous.

George Gilder

Automotive security bill

I was somewhat surprised to learn about the possibility of taking complete control of a Jeep Cherokee using a laptop and a mobile phone. It seems as if the car makers have added software features to their cars without properly understanding how to make them secure. I work with embedded software that merely has to prevent movies from being copied. If the hacking methods described by Wired are accurate, there are some quite obvious precautions we take that the makers of Jeeps appear not to. I am glad not to be working on life or death software; I expect more from people who do.

Nonetheless, this should all be fixed soon.

Carmakers who failed to heed polite warnings in 2011 now face the possibility of a public dump of their vehicles’ security flaws. The result could be product recalls or even civil suits, says UCSD computer science professor Stefan Savage, who worked on the 2011 study. Earlier this month, in fact, Range Rover issued a recall to fix a software security flaw that could be used to unlock vehicles’ doors. “Imagine going up against a class-action lawyer after Anonymous decides it would be fun to brick all the Jeep Cherokees in California,” Savage says.

Free speech and free markets seem to be working, then. Which makes this seem unnecessary:

It’s the latest in a series of revelations from the two hackers that have spooked the automotive industry and even helped to inspire legislation; WIRED has learned that senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal plan to introduce an automotive security bill today to set new digital security standards for cars and trucks, first sparked when Markey took note of Miller and Valasek’s work in 2013.

As an auto-hacking antidote, the bill couldn’t be timelier.

Meh. It sounds to me more like the government has come along after the problem is already being solved to take the credit. I suspect such a bill will end up protecting car makers from civil suits if they merely have to show they have complied with inevitably flawed regulations.

Canada, land of sturdy self-reliance

I was sceptical when I read this story:

British man kicked out of Canada for helping girlfriend with DIY at her flat

A young British man is being kicked out of Canada for helping his girlfriend decorate her flat.

Tom Rolfe, 24, is accused of “doing a Canadian out of a job” because he did a bit of DIY.

He was locked up by immigration officials who found photographs of Tom and girlfriend Sam filling up cracks in the walls of her flat.

Tom was in Canada on a tourist visa and the pictures were used to prove he was working illegally.

Angry Tom said: “It is just ridiculous, I was just helping Sam to tidy up her flat before she sold it so we could get a place together.

“I was treated like a criminal and told I have eight days to get out of the country – it has wrecked our plans.”

Oh come on, I thought. This can’t be right. Don’t Canadians have DIY? Or was there something being suppressed by the Mirror journalist – that Rolfe was an illegal immigrant, or a Jihadi, or had a string of criminal convictions? Or was it simply “Blame Canada” day at the Mirror?

None of the above, it seems. Or at least the Edmonton Sun tells the same story:

A young British man in Edmonton on a tourist visa was kicked out of Canada by immigration officials for helping his girlfriend spruce up her apartment

As does the Toronto Sun:

Brit booted from Canada for helping girlfriend spruce up apartment

The presumably Canadian commenters seem to have no trouble believing it.

It is quite inspiring. Left-wing and right-wing lobbyists must have worked together to get this result. The Right demands tough enforcement of immigration rules. The Left demands that jobs be protected. The immigration officials find it makes for an easier life to expel people who want to start dog sanctuaries than to try to expel hardened criminals familiar with every legal trick. Everyone wins!

What could possibly go wrong?

Nice to see the ‘conservative’ government’s attempts to drive the financial industry out of UK is continuing apace.

Bonuses could be clawed back for as long as a decade under new rules published by City regulators today. The Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) and Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) confirmed they were pushing ahead with rules for a wider seven-year claw-back period but that an added three years is being considered for senior managers.

if HSBC and others do not make good on their threat to leave the UK then they must be out of their bloody minds. Just move to Hong Kong or Zurich. And if you get a bonus in the UK, plan on leaving the UK and working somewhere else at the first sign of trouble in your company, taking your dosh out of the country with you of course, because otherwise some regulator looking to justify their existence might want to take a bite out of your account.

Raised in the fashion of their tribe

Tonight four terrified children are going to sleep among hostile strangers, torn away by force from their homes and their families because their parents committed the crime of living differently.

Tonight four children rescued from imprisonment and abusive parenting are able to take their first wondering look at the the wide world that had been denied to them.

Which is true? Search me. In my post of a month ago, “The morality of not teaching your child English”, I asked at what point the right of parents to raise their child according to their values must give way to the right of a child not to be cut off from the world. Language is not an issue in the real life story of the recent raid by the French police on the community variously known as the “Twelve Tribes” or “Tabitha’s Place”, but many of the other elements of my thought experiment, such as a self-isolating group not permitting their children to watch television or use the internet, are – allegedly – in place.

The Times reports:

Christian cult’s ‘racism, violence and child abuse’ leads to ten arrests

Police raided a fundamentalist Christian community that seeks to follow a 1st century lifestyle, arresting ten people and placing four children in care amid allegations of maltreatment.
The raid came following the launch of a criminal inquiry after a former member told prosecutors of the corporal punishment meted out by the Twelve Tribes community in southern France.

The group’s communities in France, Germany, the United States and elsewhere have long faced accusations of racism and of violence. They deny the claims and say they are misunderstood.
Jean-Christophe Muller, the state prosecutor in Pau in the Pyrenees, said 200 gendarmes accompanied by doctors had intervened at the group’s French base, a château in the hamlet of Sus, on Tuesday.

He said officers had been tipped off by the former member, but were stunned to discover a community of about 100 people cut off from the modern world.

“The children have never seen television or the internet and do not know what football is,” he said.

The Times story is quite similar to other reports in the French media. The sect has its own website, which has an English version. The existence of this website suggests that the Times may be wrong to claim that this sect prohibits the internet. Or the prohibition may not be absolute, or it may be applied to ordinary members but lifted for the elite or… any number of possibilities. One does not know which account to trust. No, make that “one does not know which account to distrust more”. Cruel and abusive cults do exist, but so do cruel and abusive governments.

The Twelve Tribes website gives their account of an earlier occasion when some children had been taken away from their parents by the German authorities in this link:

The parents of the children who were taken away permanently by the OLG Nurnberg are appealing the decision to the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe. There are a number of constitutional violations in the OLG rulings that must be heard by the honorable court. Here are some of them:

The court in its ruling admits that there is no evidence of abuse in the children. However, they reason that the mere beliefs of the parents are enough to justify taking away permanent custody.

In its reasoning the court takes the position that all spanking is abuse. The Jugendamt handbook says that all spanking is not abuse which supports what Parliament made clear in 2000 that the intent of the law was not to criminalize parents who spank

Ambitious police chiefs love operations like this. In 2008 David Friedman wrote a series of posts about the time when Texas police raided a ranch belonging to a group of fundamentalist Mormons and took large numbers of children into custody. Few of the dramatic initial claims of abuse were substantiated and the vast majority of the children were later returned to their parents, but only after many prevarications by the authorities that seemed motivated by a wish to deflect criticism of their heavy-handedness rather than out of any concern for the children. In “Taking Children from their Parents: The General Issue”, Friedman wrote,

Which raises the general question: Would it be better if governments had no power to remove children from their parents? It is easy to imagine, probably to point out, particular cases where such removal is justified. But in order to defend giving government the power to do something, you must argue not only that it can sometimes do good but that, on net, it can be expected to do more good than harm. Judging by what we have seen in Texas over the past two months, that is a hard argument to make.

This leads to a second question: Are there alternative way of protecting children from abusive parents? One obvious answer is that even if the state cannot take children away from their parents, it can still punish parents for the crime of killing or injuring their children. In my first book, I suggested a different approach: shifting power away from parents not to the state but to the children. Weaken or eliminate the legal rules that make it possible for parents to keep control over children, especially older children, who want to leave. Make it easier for adults who care about the risk of child abuse to offer refuge to runaways.

The UK’s Labour government will ban e-cigs

The UK Labour government mentioned is that of Wales. One of the advantages of devolution is that it allows people to compare the results of different laws in the various constituent countries of the UK. The Welsh Government wants to promote and protect the health of Welsh people in the same way that it has promoted their education since devolution. Very badly.

Wales to introduce e-cigarette ban

Electronic cigarettes are to be banned in enclosed public spaces and workplaces as part of a raft of radical health plans announced by the Welsh government.

The law would be the first such restriction in the UK and would be hugely controversial among thousands of users, producers and campaigners who believe the use of e-cigarettes can help smokers of conventional cigarettes quit.

Other measures proposed by the Labour-controlled government is the creation of a compulsory national licensing system in relation to acupuncture, body-piercing, electrolysis and tattooing.

Weirdly, or perhaps not so weirdly, the archetypal fake charity ‘Action on Smoking and Health’, which gets less than 2% of its funding from public donations, is actually on the side of health:

Action on Smoking and Health a charity that works to eliminate the harm caused by tobacco, said it did not support the sort of ban proposed by the Welsh government.

It said there was emerging evidence that e-cigarettes helped people quit smoking and there was little evidence they encouraged “never smokers” to take it up. A spokesperson said: “We think they should be appropriately regulated. That does not include banning in public places.”