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]

Brexit – the argument from confusion

A common complaint made by Remainers is that Brexiteers constantly say wrong things about what the EU actually does and actually demands. I recall an entire round of the TV quiz show QI, presided over by the lordly Stephen Fry, devoted to exposing such fabrications. Bendy bananas, rules about rubbish disposal, that kind of thing. I can’t recall what all the alleged EU meddlings – there were about half a dozen of them – were. But I do clearly recall the QI verdict that came at the end of the round. Which of these claims is true, and which false?, asked Fry, with a tremendous air of impartiality. All, he subsequently announced, were false. The Brexiteers just do not get their facts right. They are wrong about bendy bananas, etc. etc. Therefore, the clear implication followed, the Brexiteers are wrong about everything, and Britain should Remain, in the EU.

I don’t trust QI about things like this. At the very least, I suspect that several of these situations were more complicated than Fry said, but that is not my central point here. Even supposing that QI had got all its facts right, I assert that this sort of confusion, rampant on both sides of this argument rather than just on the one side, is a major fault of the EU itself, at least as much as it is a fault of those who criticise, or for that matter who praise, the EU. Such confusion is built into the very way that the EU operates.

Someone proposes some new EU rule or regulation. If it is vehemently objected to, the proposers pull back, often claiming as they retreat that they “never intended” what they intended and will have another go at doing later when the fuss has died down. If, on the other hand – as is much more usual – nobody objects, the rule or regulation goes through, with no discussion. No wonder nobody knows what the hell all these rules consist of. They consist of mostly of those rules that have never been objected to by anyone, and hence never even talked about by anyone, except those who proposed the rules and who will profit from them in some way.

The Remainers say that us Brexiteers should become better acquainted with all these rules, that have never been discussed.

I say that all this confusion, inherent in the nature of the EU and ineradicable, is yet another reason for Britain to (Br)exit.

Discuss. And while discussing, note that any disagreements concerning the facts of what the EU does will only serve to confirm how right I am.

New uses for copyright law

Much as I like to jeer at the Guardian, sometimes it does a good deed in bringing sinister developments to the public’s attention. For instance:

Revealed: How copyright law is being misused to remove material from the internet

As soon as the DMCA takedown request had been filed, Google de-listed the entire thread. All 126 posts are now not discoverable when a user searches Google for BuildTeam – or any other terms. The search company told Mumsnet it could make a counterclaim, if it was certain no infringement had taken place, but since the site couldn’t verify that its users weren’t actually posting copyrighted material, it would have opened it up to further legal pressure.

In fact, no copyright infringement had occurred at all. Instead, something weirder had happened. At some point after Narey posted her comments on Mumsnet, someone had copied the entire text of one of her posts and pasted it, verbatim, to a spammy blog titled “Home Improvement Tips and Tricks”. The post, headlined “Buildteam interior designers” was backdated to September 14 2015, three months before Narey had written it, and was signed by a “Douglas Bush” of South Bend, Indiana. The website was registered to someone quite different, though: Muhammed Ashraf, from Faisalabad, Pakistan.

Quite why Douglas Bush or Muhammed Ashraf would be reviewing a builder based in Clapham is not explained in “his” post. BuildTeam says it has no idea why Narey’s review was reposted, but that it had nothing to do with it. “At no material times have we any knowledge of why this false DCMA take down was filed, nor have we contracted any reputation management firms, or any individual or a group to take such action on our behalf. Finally, and in conjunction to the above, we have never spoken with a ‘Douglas Bush,’ or a ‘Muhammed Ashraf.’”

Whoever sent the takedown request, Mumsnet was forced to make a choice: either leave the post up, and accept being delisted; fight the delisting and open themselves up to the same legal threats made against Google; or delete the post themselves, and ask the post to be relisted on the search engine.

“Although we understood the user’s argument that something odd had happened, we weren’t in a position to explain what – our hope was that by zapping one post we might ensure that the thread remained listed.”

Mumsnet deleted the post, and asked Google to reinstate the thread, but a month later, they received final word from the search firm: “‘Google has decided not to take action based on our policies concerning content removal and reinstatement’ which (it turned out) meant that they had delisted the entire thread”.

Interesting though it might be to read about BuildTeam meeting the Streisand Effect, I do not assume they are in the wrong. But someone has found a clever new way to censor comment on the web. I can see this strategy might prove popular. How could it be fought? A related question, also unrelated to this particular case: how can companies protect themselves against dishonest bad reviews?

“We should all know by now”

Bernard Thompson, in a piece for the pro-independence Scottish website Newsnet.scot, makes the case for repeal of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act of 2012: Offensive Behaviour: the case for the SNP repealing their own act.

He writes,

Opponents of the Act – none more so than the campaign group Fans Against Criminalisation – have been vociferous in their condemnation of the legislation.

And they have been joined by a host of academics and media figures. Human rights group Liberty have expressed concern that: “the broadly framed offences in this Act will unnecessarily sweep up individuals exercising their right to free speech who have no intention to commit or incite a criminal offence and in the event do not do so.”

And

The Act does not simply ban “the singing of sectarian songs” but also: – “other behaviour that a reasonable person would be likely to consider offensive…

“…behaviour [that] would be likely to incite public disorder”, even if ‘persons likely to be incited to public disorder are not present or are not present in sufficient numbers’.”

We can offer all sort of examples of behaviour that might offend a “reasonable person” but, for brevity, we may note that the Act banned Frankie Boyle (or recordings of his material) from being played wherever a tenuous connection to a football match could be established. Not so rugby matches.

In defending the Act, after someone wearing a tee-shirt supportive of Palestine drew police attention, SNP MSP John Mason even went so far as to say that wearing a Yes badge should be considered unacceptable while watching football.

“We should all know by now expressing political views is no longer acceptable at football matches.”

Mr Mason was apparently not questioned on whether wearing a poppy could be considered to be expressing a political view, and we can only speculate as to how objecting to a poppy might be viewed.

When reading that quote from John Mason MSP the old cliché about the “Nanny State” came alive again.

Samizdata quote of the day

Trigger Warning began by identifying two phenomena of the modern age. One is the free-speech fraud, whereby every politician and public figure makes ritualistic displays of support for free speech ‘in principle’, before adding the ‘buts’ that allow them to attack and undermine that priceless freedom in practice. These double standards were on graphic display across the Western world after the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January 2015.

The other is what the book calls ‘the silent war on free speech’. It is silent not because its proponents are quiet – they are anything but. This is a silent war because few people (outside the online IS supporters’ club) will openly admit that they are against free speech. Instead, the silent war is posed not as an attack on freedom of speech at all, but as a worthy assault on the evils of hate speech and incitement. It is presented not as a blow against liberty, but as a defence of rights. For example, the right of students to feel comfortable in a campus Safe Space. And, most importantly, everywhere from the internet to the universities, the right to be protected from offensive words and images.

Mick Hume

A Tale of the Sea

This anecdote was sent to me by a correspondent – NS.

*

I chanced to be speaking to a chaplain who works with a mission to seafarers in a British port, and had the following tale from him.

One of the seamen he knows is a guy – let us call him John Smith – who is fine provided he remembers to take his meds but not so fine if he forgets. On a working ship, daily life is structured and John reliably remembers to take his meds, and if he did not, the captain would look into it, or John would be given medical evacuation. However the control regime is different in port.

Recently, John’s ship was sent to port for several months awaiting a new cargo or scrapping. Presently the chaplain was summoned by port security. When you are asked to the main security point, things are serious. When they offer you a cup of tea, things are really serious. Security told him that John had clearly not been taking his meds, was doing things that were not dangerous in themselves but “violated security protocols”, so they’d have to act in a way that they would prefer to avoid, unless the chaplain could make something better happen.

The chaplain contacted the Port Health authority and was told, “Well, you know, a seaman has rights. If we get involved and the result is to say he’s unfit or whatever, he could sue for loss of earnings or whatever …”

He contacted the company that contracts John’s labour. “Oh well, we’d like to help but seamen these days have a lot of rights. If we get involved and it’s later ruled we did not respect all of them …”

He contacted the union rep, whose first words were “You do know John has rights, don’t you?” and who then pointed out that John’s ship “is not my flag state, so I can’t come aboard uninvited.”

The chaplain solved that one by saying pointedly, “I’m inviting you to come aboard with me.” So, with the union rep in more or less literal tow, the chaplain went aboard, and was told by the captain, “Do whatever you can and I’ll back you.” He had a long and sometimes very strange talk with John, at the end of which John swallowed his meds, whereupon a very hyper man swiftly became calmer.

This example was in the context of the chaplain’s explaining to me how much of his job these days was doing what none of the jobsworths dared to do, even when some of them were not such creeps as not even to want to help. As he put it, “Sometimes the one with no formal power is actually the only one with any remaining power to act.”

Discussion point: Is the Klingon language copyrightable in US law? Should it be?

As linked to by two different posters at Instapundit and semi-reformed Trekkies everywhere, Paramount Pictures, in the course of a claim against the makers of a film set in the Star Trek universe, are claiming to own the copyright on the Klingon language. Thirty years ago linguist Marc Okrand was hired to take the snatches of made-up Klingon dialogue in the early Star Trek movies and flesh it out into a useable language. This he did. The idea took off and all sorts of people since then have learned Klingon to some degree for fun and intellectual stimulation.

A press release from the Language Creation Society says,

We firmly believe that conlangers should receive credit for their work. Specific works describing a conlang, such as the Klingon Dictionary, Living Language Dothraki, or Ithkuil website are creative works in their own right, entitled to full legal protection. So are works that are in a conlang, such as Klingon Hamlet, Esperanto poetry, Ithkuil music, and Verdurian stories.

However, a constructed language itself is not protected, and should not be. Copyright law is simply too blunt a tool for this.
Allowing copyright claims to a language would create a monopoly on use extending far beyond what is needed to protect the original work or to claim credit for the language’s creation. The potential threat of a lawsuit for merely using a conlang, or creating new works to make it more accessible, has a chilling effect; it makes conlangers, poets, authors, educators, and others less likely to build on and enjoy each others’ work, to the detriment of conlanging in general.

We believe that everyone has the right to use any language — including conlangs — without having to ask anyone’s permission. We hope that our participation in this lawsuit will help to make this belief into legal precedent.

Marc Randazza’s diverting amicus curiae brief on behalf of the Language Creation society is here.

I’m not going to do it. I AM NOT going to do it. I am not going to say “Qapla’!”

Except I just did. You will have deduced that I am sympathetic to one side of the case. But there is another. Property rights matter. Why should a bunch of flakes and dilettantes reap what another sowed? Why shouldn’t they pay a fee, in person or under licence, for the privilege of using Klingon just as they pay, directly or indirectly, to use a computer program? Let’s discuss this like Klingons. Which need not necessarily mean with a bat’leth.

Erdogan Poetry

I think we need a Samizdata crowd-sourced entry to the Spectator’s Erdogan offensive poetry competition. Get to work, commentariat!

Edit: apologies for the slow moderation. Comments here seem to be triggering the smite bot a lot for some reason.

My Number

The new unified identification system with its associated up-to-the-minute database will streamline government, reduce fraud and tax evasion, make it easier to stop people “falling between the cracks” of different government departments, provide a convenient single means for citizens to prove their identity, and protect us all from terrorism. If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear.

What will bring about all these benefits? It sounds very like the UK Identity Cards Act 2006, but that cannot be since various malcontents forced the Act’s repeal in 2010. While it is true that for the British Civil Servant no setback is ever permanent, for now the torch has passed to Japan, where the latest version of the Eternal Scheme is called “My Number”.

Even in such a cooperative and law-abiding culture as Japan there are the inevitable troublemakers:

More Japan citizens sue gov’t over My Number system

Around 30 citizens in central and southwestern Japan filed lawsuits Thursday with regional courts, demanding the government suspend the use of identification numbers under the newly launched My Number social security and tax number system.

The lawsuits are the latest in a string of cases in which residents and lawyers argue that the right to privacy is endangered by the system, which allocates a 12-digit identification number to every resident of Japan, including foreign nationals, to simplify administrative procedures for taxation and social security.

Mitsuhiro Kato, who heads the lawyers’ group in the lawsuit with the Nagoya District Court, said at a press conference, “There were cases in which personal information was (illegally) sold and bought. Once the use of My Number expands, the state would come to control individual activities.”

According to the lawsuit, the action to collect citizens’ personal information without their consent infringes on their right to manage their own personal information. The plaintiffs are also worried about the risk of their personal information being leaked given the insufficient security measures currently in place.

My Number legislation has been enacted to make it easier for tax and other authorities to discover cases of tax evasion and wrongful receipt of welfare benefits.

But public concerns have grown over the government’s handling of personal information under the My Number system following massive data leaks from the Japan Pension Service in the wake of cyberattacks in May.

Here is a little more about that massive data leak from, or rather hack of, the Japanese pension system: 1.25 million affected by Japan Pension Service hack.

But fear not:

The hacked computers were not connected online to the fund’s core computer system, which keeps financial details of the pension system’s members, officials said. No illicit access to the core system, which contains the most sensitive information, such as the amount of premiums paid by and the amount of benefits paid to each individual, has been detected, they said, adding that they are still investigating the incident.

It is remarkable how when we read about these government data security breaches in any country, the most alarming possibilities always seem to have been avoided. Some special providence must protect government databases.

The public face of My Number is provided by popular actress Aya Ueto and a rabbit-like mascot with numbers in place of eyes called “Maina-chan”.

Thanks, Recep old boy. Cheque’s in the post. Yours, Boris.

The Telegraph reports,

Turkey demands Germany prosecute comedian for Erdogan insult

Angela Merkel is facing a political dilemma after Turkey demanded one of Germany’s most popular comedians face prosecution for insulting its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The row could jeopardise the EU’s controversial migrant deal with Turkey.

The German government confirmed on Monday it had received a “formal request” from Turkey over the weekend indicating it wishes to press charges in the case.

If Mrs Merkel agrees to allow the prosecution, she will face accusations of limiting free speech to placate the authoritarian Mr Erdogan.

But if she refuses it could put the migrant deal with Turkey, which she personally brokered, at risk.

Jan Böhmermann, one of Germany’s most successful young comedians, faces up to five years in prison over a poem in which he referred to Mr Erdogan as a “goat-f*****” and described him as watching child pornography.

Insulting a foreign head of state is illegal under German law, but a prosecution can only take place if a foreign government requests it.

Any prosecution also requires the express authorisation of the German government — leaving Mrs Merkel in a difficult position.

Samizdata quote of the day

Where did Mises stand on the issue of discrimination? He distinguished two kinds: that extending from choice and that imposed by law. He favored the former and opposed the latter. He went even further. He said that a policy that forces people against their will creates the very conditions that lead to legal discrimination. In his view, even speaking as someone victimized by invidious discrimination, it is better to retain freedom than build a bureaucracy that overrides human choice.

“In an unhampered market society there is no legal discrimination against anybody,” he wrote. “Everyone has the right to obtain the place within the social system in which he can successfully work and make a living. The consumer is free to discriminate, provided that he is ready to pay the cost.”

– Jeffrey Tucker quoting and discussing Von Mises in an article called Must a Jewish Baker make a Nazi cake?

Fooled ya!

The Daily Mail reports:

April Fools is no laughing matter, China’s official news service intoned Friday, saying the Western tradition of opening spring with a gag is un-Chinese. The official news agency Xinhua’s stiffly worded post on micro-blog Weibo declared: “Today is the West’s so-called ‘April Fools'”. The occasion “does not conform with our nation’s cultural traditions, nor does it conform with the core values of socialism“, it added.

“Don’t believe rumours, don’t create rumours and don’t spread rumours,” it said, capping off the note with a smiley emoticon. A cartoon accompanying the post showed two phones “spreading rumours.” A finger pointing at them is accompanied by a word bubble that says “breaking the law”. Spreading rumours online can be a violation of Chinese law.

But the country’s Internet users met the reminder with a collective guffaw, suggesting that in China, every day is April Fools. “You speak lies every day, use government policy, data, to trick the people in every way. What’s up, what’s down? What’s wrong? What’s right? We’re on to you,” one Weibo commenter said. Other users likened the post to the satirical American newspaper The Onion. “The most amusing ‘April Fools’ news is that Xinhua is seriously saying ‘don’t believe rumours’,” said one.

One has to admire Xinhua’s deadpan delivery, but didn’t including the smiley rather give the game away?

A reminder: opposing the EU does not have to be about immigrants

Tyrannical EU threatens our liberal laws

“If Britain is at little risk of such tragic convulsions, it’s exposed to the EU’s progressive authoritarianism in more surreptitious ways. The jurist Sir William Blackstone articulated the presumption of innocence, a cornerstone of British justice: “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” The Napoleonic code that influenced much of continental Europe, and the EU, lacks that respect for individual liberty.

Take the European arrest warrant (EAW). Innocent British citizens have been subjected to Kafkaesque justice systems by a fast-track process that sidesteps basic safeguards. In 2014, Keith Hainsworth, an Ancient Greek tutor sightseeing in Greece, was wrongly accused of setting a forest ablaze. Arrested without a shred of evidence, a five-week nightmare saw him holed up in a notorious Athens jail. A Greek judge eventually released him, admitting a simple error that could have been cleared up with one phone call. The Hainsworths were left with legal bills approaching £40,000.”

– From a piece by Dominic Raab in the Sunday Times.

Update: There is an oddity in this morning’s edition of the Times. Under the heading “Understanding European Capital Markets”, which seems to be a series title, there is a little article that starts as follows,

What is the European Commission doing to improve the access to financing for start-ups and SMEs?

David Muxworthy is adamant that without the EU’s financial assistance, he would have been forced to give up more of the equity in his company to private investors. He is the chief financial officer of MyPinPad, a state-of-the-art technology company that specialises in authentication solutions for devices like mobiles and tablets.

According to this year’s European Parliament annual report, there are around 22 million SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) like Muxworthy’s operating in the EU, providing two thirds of private sector employment – around 75 million jobs. The International Monetary Fund describes these sorts of businesses – agile, innovative, entrepreneurial, job-creating and growing – as the “backbone” of the European economy. The EU is well aware of SMEs’ importance and has set up a series of financial organisations to help them fulfil their potential. Localisation is a key consideration, and focus is often given to geographical economic “clusters”.

Something in the tone struck me as a little off. The typeface was just very slightly different, too. Then I saw the discreetly placed logo at the top right corner. “In association with Goldman Sachs.” Ah.