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]

A survivor speaks

Eagles of Death Metal frontman: ‘Everybody has to have guns’

The frontman of the Eagles of Death Metal, the band that was performing at the Bataclan theatre in Paris when 90 people were murdered by terrorists last year, has remembered his terror at encountering a gunman backstage – and argued for universal access to guns.

The Californian rock band was performing in front of a crowd of around 1,500 on the night of 13 November when three terrorists armed with assault rifles entered the room and began shooting and throwing hand grenades.

It was part of a series of terrorist attacks in Paris that night, that Islamic State later claimed responsibility for.

Vocalist-guitarist Jesse Hughes, who is a long-time advocate for access to gun ownership, told the French television station iTélé in a 19-minute, at times tearful interview on Monday that restrictions on guns in France had helped to enable the terrorists.

Asked if his views on gun control had changed after the terror attacks, he said gun control “doesn’t have anything to do with it”.

“Did your French gun control stop a single fucking person from dying at the Bataclan? And if anyone can answer yes, I’d like to hear it, because I don’t think so. I think the only thing that stopped it was some of the bravest men that I’ve ever seen in my life charging head-first into the face of death with their firearms.

“I know people will disagree with me, but it just seems like God made men and women, and that night guns made them equal,” he said. “And I hate it that it’s that way. I think the only way that my mind has been changed is that maybe that until nobody has guns everybody has to have them.

A survivor of a mass shooting makes an appeal for more gun control? Even the politest disagreement is held to be vile.
A survivor of a mass shooting makes an appeal for less gun control? Well, take a look at the Guardian comments.

There should be room in our hearts for pity…

for the striking London black cab drivers whose hard won skills have been rendered obsolete by Uber and Addison Lee, just as we should remember with pity the thousands of drivers of hansom cabs whose hard-won skills with horses were rendered obsolete by the coming of the internal combustion engine. I am not being flippant or sarcastic. To lose one’s accustomed livelihood to new technology is a tough spot to be in, and there will be many reading this, some of them highly paid at present, who should look at Trevor Merralls’ situation and tremble.

But that pity should not extend to offering to keep Mr Merralls forever in the style to which he has become accustomed simply because he was born working class, or to stifling the opportunity for self-employment that Uber offers to its drivers (also working class), or to depriving Londoners who could not afford black cabs of the ability to take a cab at a reasonable price at any time day or night, and which will, as one of the Guardian commenters put it, “actually go to exotic destinations like Lewisham”.

A government gag, you say? I hope they tie the knots good and tight.

The Times reports:

Charity lobbying rules are ‘government gag’ say critics

Attempts to stop charities using taxpayers’ money to lobby ministers have been branded draconian and are an “attempt to gag organisations raising concerns about policies”, it was claimed today.

A clause has been inserted into new and renewed charity grant agreements, stipulating that money must be spent on improving people’s lives and on good causes rather than lobbying for changes to regulations or for more funding.

While the government insisted that the clause would not prevent charities from using privately-raised funds for lobbying campaigns, others were not convinced.

Matthew Hancock, cabinet office minister, said: “Taxpayers’ money must be spent in improving people’s lives and spreading opportunities, not wasted on the farce of government lobbying government.

“The public sector never lobbies for lower taxes and less state spending, and it’s a zero sum if Peter is robbed to pay Paul.

“These commonsense rules will protect freedom of speech – but taxpayers won’t be made to foot the bill for political campaigning and political lobbying.”

Good. This incestuous relationship between the government and what were once charities has corrupted both.

Peter Tatchell changes his mind

Contrast this recent Guardian comment piece by Peter Tatchell:

I’ve changed my mind on the gay cake row. Here’s why

Like most gay and equality campaigners, I initially condemned the Christian-run Ashers Bakery in Belfast over its refusal to produce a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan for a gay customer, Gareth Lee. I supported his legal claim against Ashers and the subsequent verdict – the bakery was found guilty of discrimination last year. Now, two days before the case goes to appeal, I have changed my mind. Much as I wish to defend the gay community, I also want to defend freedom of conscience, expression and religion.

with this one from 2010:

Chris Grayling reveals the real Tories

… the right of B&B owners to turn away gay couples is an echo of the bad old days when some landlords used to stipulate: “No blacks, Irish, gays or dogs.”

The equality laws exist to protect everyone against discrimination.

But Grayling apparently believes that some people – homophobic people – should be above the law. Why this exception? After all, he does not agree with B&Bs refusing accommodation to black or Jewish couples. If race discrimination is wrong, why is Grayling saying that homophobic discrimination is right?

I am glad to see Mr Tatchell go from being wrong to being almost right. I am glad and surprised to see most of the Guardian commenters agree with me as to which is which. (I say “almost right” because he is still of the opinion that “Discrimination against people should be unlawful, but not against ideas”. One day I hope he will acknowledge that the distinction is meaningless. The former behaviour is as much an inherent human right as the latter.) I do not think it is coincidence that the older article was, as well as being wrong, badly argued. There were two howlers in the first three sentences. The article started with reference to the ‘the bad old days when some landlords used to stipulate: “No blacks, Irish, gays or dogs.”‘ It is difficult to prove a negative, but… nah. Never happened. Signs saying “No Irish” and “No blacks” certainly did exist. Signs saying “No xxxx or dogs” turn up everywhere on internet discussion boards but not so much in photographs. As for signs saying “no gays”, it would never have occurred to anyone in the bad old days to specify homosexuals as a group against whom one could wish to discriminate. By the time things got to the stage that anyone could think of gays as unwelcome – rather than as criminals – it was practically the good new days. A couple of lines later Mr Tatchell says, “But Grayling apparently believes that some people – homophobic people – should be above the law.” You would think that he of all people would be aware that peacefully advocating for legal change is the opposite of wanting anyone to be above the law.

And to be fair, it now looks as if he is.

Open borders; open carry

c7NJRa2

A new ‘recruit’ to the Anti-Sex League

A man who has been acquitted of rape, after a retrial, (spot the insinuation) has made subject to an ‘interim sexual risk order’ by Magistrates in York.

It requires the man disclose any planned sexual activity to the police or face up to five years in prison.

The order – which was drawn up by magistrates in Northallerton, North Yorkshire, and extended in York – reads: “You must disclose the details of any female including her name, address and date of birth.
“You must do this at least 24 hours prior to any sexual activity taking place.”

A further court hearing in May will decide whether the interim order should be made into a full order, which has a minimum duration of two years and can last indefinitely. Sexual risk orders were introduced in England and Wales in March last year and can be applied to any individual who the police believe poses a risk of sexual harm, even if they have never been convicted of a crime. They are civil orders imposed by magistrates at the request of police.

This is an interim order, pending a full hearing, and the court’s power is wide:

(3)The court may, if it considers it just to do so, make an interim sexual risk order, prohibiting the defendant from doing anything described in the order.

The Full Monty, as it were, is below in section 122A of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, with a broad discretion for the order to be made. So now this chap must manage his affairs so that he pops down the police station, queues at the desk with the people reporting lost wallets etc. and then reports the details of his intended ‘conquest’ at least 24 hours before he gets frisky, sexual ‘activity’ not just intercourse, is covered. It is not clear what Plod will do in the meantime, but I expect that the lady concerned may face some questioning.

Well George Orwell’s Anti-Sex League appears to be taking shape here. Can anyone remember this being discussed by candidates at any General Election? Did the Stasi even dream of doing this sort of thing?

Sexual risk orders (England and Wales)

122A Sexual risk orders: applications, grounds and effect

(1) A chief officer of police or the Director General of the National Crime Agency (“the Director General”) may by complaint to a magistrates’ court apply for an order under this section (a “sexual risk order”) in respect of a person (“the defendant”) if it appears to the chief officer or the Director General that the following condition is met.
(2) The condition is that the defendant has, whether before or after the commencement of this Part, done an act of a sexual nature as a result of which there is reasonable cause to believe that it is necessary for a sexual risk order to be made.
(3)A chief officer of police may make an application under subsection (1) only in respect of a person—
(a)who resides in the chief officer’s police area, or
(b)who the chief officer believes is in that area or is intending to come to it.
(4)An application under subsection (1) may be made to any magistrates’ court acting for a local justice area that includes—
(a)any part of a relevant police area, or
(b)any place where it is alleged that the person acted in a way mentioned in subsection (2).

Banning the messenger

Andrew Rawnsley has joined the crowd round the cadaver at the pollsters’ post mortem for the May 2015 General Election:

“Now if only I had followed my own advice about opinion polls…”

At 10pm on 7 May last year, Martin Boon, the head of the polling company ICM, spoke for his entire industry in a two word tweet: “Oh, shit.”

There follows some discussion of what went wrong, and then it gets to the part that really interests me:

It might even be paradoxically true that by forecasting a hung parliament, the polls helped to produce a Tory majority government. I think there is something in this, but the trouble with the hypothesis is that it is just a hypothesis. Since we can’t rerun the election with accurate polling, it can’t be proved.

That hasn’t stopped some voices from responding to the polling failure by demanding a ban on their publication in the days before an election. That is a rotten idea. It would be anti-democratic, unfair and it wouldn’t work anyway. In a free society, it should not be illegal to collect opinions and publish the results. Another objection to a ban is that it would be partial. A privileged minority, commercial interests and the political parties themselves would still conduct and have access to private polls. In any case, a ban looks highly impractical because it could not prevent websites abroad from publishing polls.

He writes good sense, but it does not stop many, many of the commenters to Mr Rawnsley’s article demanding that polls be banned in the run-up to an election. Many of these want polls banned simply because they think it would help the Labour party. Amusingly, a lot of the same commenters who now say that the pollsters conspired to exaggerate the chance of a Labour victory in order to frighten Conservative voters off their sofas were saying before the election that the pollsters were conspiring to exaggerate the chance of a Conservative victory in order to demoralize Labour supporters. And now they refuse to believe the recent polls that say Jeremy Corbyn is widely considered unfit to be prime minister.

The group above overlaps with those who want to ban opinion polls because fantasizing about banning things is one of their few pleasures in life, but there are also some calls for polls to be banned from people who do not give the impression of being quite such control freaks.

These less visibly freakish commenters often want a ban on polls specifically because – get this – voters might change their intentions if they know more about what other voters are likely to do. If you think about it, this is a very weird argument. For one thing, under this argument the case for a ban (such as it is) becomes stronger the more consistently accurate polling becomes. For another, the people making it generally rail against the voters for not bothering to inform themselves, but in this matter they demand that the voters be forbidden to inform themselves. Why that particular exception? Why should voters be encouraged to consider the effect their vote will have by looking at the party manifestos, or by using the results of the previous election to decide how best to place their vote tactically, but be forbidden to consider what their fellow voters are planning to do? If the protest vote I am considering making against Party X turns out to be rather more likely to propel the dreadful Candidate Y into the seat than I had previously thought, I want to know about it.

Triply good news about free speech in Northern Ireland

Why “triply”?

– This:

Pastor who said Islam was ‘doctrine spawned in hell’ is cleared by court

A born-again Christian pastor who denounced Islam as “heathen”, “satanic” and a “doctrine spawned in hell” has been cleared after a three-day trial in a verdict that upheld the right to offend under the principle of freedom of expression.

– this:

The National Secular Society said the verdict was a “welcome reassertion of the fundamental right to freedom of expression”.
Campaigns manager Stephen Evans said the society strongly disagreed with the tone and content of McConnell’s comments, but added: “At a time when freedom of speech is being curtailed and put at risk in any number of ways, this is a much needed statement from the judge that free speech will be defended and that Islam is not off-limits.”

– and this:

An Islamic academic spoke in support of McConnell outside the court on the grounds of freedom of expression. Muhammad al-Hussaini, a senior research fellow in Islamic studies at the Westminster Institute, said: “Against the flaming backdrop of torched Christian churches, bloody executions and massacres of faith minorities in the Middle East and elsewhere, it is … a matter of utmost concern that, in this country, we discharge our common duty steadfastly to defend the freedom of citizens to discuss, debate and critique religious ideas and beliefs – restricting only speech which incites to physical violence against others.

“Moreover, in a free and democratic society we enter into severe peril when we start to confuse what we perhaps ought or ought not to say, with what in law we are allowed to, or not allowed to say.”

Philosophy today

In an article called “The greens and the fascists” Bishop Hill linked to this paper by Trygve Lavik, Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Bergen:

“Climate change denial, freedom of speech and global justice”.

Bishop Hill did not use the word “fascist” inappropriately when he described Professor Lavik’s views as “unmistakably fascist”. Here is the abstract of the paper (emphasis added):

In this paper I claim that there are moral reasons for making climate denialism illegal. First I define climate denialism, and then I discuss its impact on society and its reception in the media. I build my philosophical arguments mainly on John Stuart Mill and Thomas M. Scanlon. According to Mill’s utilitarian justification of free speech, even untrue opinions are valuable in society’s pursuit of more truth. Consequently one might think that Mill’s philosophy would justify climate denialists’ right to free speech. A major section of the paper argues against that view. The main arguments are: Climate denialism is not beneficial because its main goal is to produce doubt, and not truth. Climate denialism is not sincerely meant, which is a necessary condition for Mill to accept utterances. Climate denialists bring harm, by blocking necessary action on climate change. Primarily they harm future generations and people in developing countries. Hence the case can be made in terms of global justice: Would future generations and people in developing countries support my claim? I think so, or so I argue. My argument from global justice is built on Scanlon’s distinction between the interests of participants, the interests of audiences, and the interests of bystanders. The climate denialists have participant interests “in being able to call something to the attention of a wide audience”. Audience interests consist of “having access to expressions that we wish to hear or read, and even in being exposed to some degree to expressions we have not chosen”. Future generations and people in poor countries are bystanders to the climate debate. If the debate postpones necessary actions, it is the bystanders who must pay the price. I argue that bystanders’ costs outweigh participants’ and audiences’ interests, and that this is an argument for a statutory ban on climate denialism.

Keywords: climate change denial, freedom of speech, global justice, utilitarianism, harm principle

Discussion point (Christmas edition)

Christmas celebrations banned in Somalia, Tajikistan and Brunei.

Their gaff, their rules?

You can take my plastic bag from my cold, dead hands

Today I visited the Click & Collect counter at Debenhams, a department store. This is an arrangement whereby one orders goods using a web site then visits the premises to collect them. “Sorry about the wait,” said the clerk when I reached the front of the queue. Later she asked if I wanted a bag in which to carry my purchase. “You have to pay 5p.” I did not have any change, and withdrew from my wallet a pristine £20 note. The Click & Collect counter must not be set up for cash payments, as the clerk looked slightly panicked but decided her job was to make me wait some more: “Could you join the queue over there to pay?”

At the front of that queue I declared, “I am to pay for this bag.” The look of confusion that was the reply made me wonder if, perhaps, the intention all along had been for me to shrug and walk away without paying. “You want to pay for that bag?” Yes, I did. The cashier slid the £20 back towards me and muttered something that I took to mean, “get out of here.” I thanked her and left.

The UK’s 5p “bag charge” is not a Pigou tax to cover the externality of disposing of the bag. Neither is it to raise money for charity. It is explicitly designed to change people’s behaviour. “We expect to see a significant reduction in the use of single-use plastic carrier bags as a direct result of the charge”, says the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, while looking sternly over the top of its spectacles, one imagines.

More than that, people who insist on continuing to use plastic bags are to be made to feel awkward and deviant. Like smokers, we are to be de-normalised.

The mechanics of buying groceries are tedious. I would prefer the transaction to go gracefully with the minimum of conscious thought. I do not want to be made to consider such philosophical questions as, “do you want a bag for life? We have to charge 5p for the other ones. You don’t? Oh well, I will try to use the minimum number of bags to save you money. What’s that? You don’t care? You want me to use the number of bags appropriate for secure and efficient carrying of the volume, mass and tessellation properties of the items you have purchased? What a strange customer you are.” I feel that social disapprobation every time.

A while ago, at a supermarket, I paid by credit card for my items before realising the cashier had not bagged them. “Can I have a bag?” Then I fumbled around for change until the customer behind me in the queue insisted on paying for me. I left haunted by the idea that he thought I had arranged this situation on purpose. When it happened again at a newsagent the other day, I insisted on paying even though the cashier offered to waive the fee. Partly to assure everyone in the vicinity that I was not a skinflint and partly because, like a feeble imitation of an Ayn Rand hero, I want to force Them to confront what They have wrought. Next time, to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt, and to make more miserable the lives of future shoppers, I might point out that they should be careful about waiving the charge as there are DEFRA agents in our midst, carrying out secret shopping operations. Yes, I will fight back!

I will continue to use single-use plastic bags for as long as I am able. Not just because I am too disorganised to plan my shopping jaunts in advance and ensure that I set out with the correct number of re-usable bags, but also as a service to you, dear readers, that you may from the safety of your laptops observe the abuse and ostracisation of a misfit; that you may know the nature of the state.

Defending free speech, making a name for yourself, and having a whale of a time

I like these people:

Free speech campaigners have secretly evaded a student union ban on two speakers who were deemed to have broken rules on causing offence.

The speakers, Milo Yiannopoulos, a self-styled men’s rights activist, and Julie Bindel, a feminist writer, were originally due to address the University of Manchester’s free speech and secular society in October to debate tensions between feminism and free speech until the student union stopped them.

Student leaders said that Ms Bindel’s views on transgender people were “transphobic” and that Mr Yiannopoulos was a “professional misogynist” and “rape apologist”.

However, Manchester’s free speech society proved to be made of sterner stuff. Its members created a new association, used a lecture hall as a venue and publicised the event only on the morning that it was to take place.

The Times, today.

Several aspects of this story lead me to wonder if I have slipped into a nicer timeline than the one I’ve been living in recently.

It was about students standing up for free speech against po-faced authoritarians. In 2015.

The university didn’t surrender. In 2015.

Better yet, it actually helped the good guys:

The university authorities themselves were part of the plot, agreeing to provide a lecture theatre as a venue for the rescheduled event and arranging for a large retinue of security staff.

More fun things to note include the fact that the process of nimbly outwitting the lumbering Students Union by adroit use of social media was obviously huge fun. These days if you want to build up a bank of happy memories of a rebellious youth to comfort you in your old age, you rebel against the Students Union. You could make a name for yourself that way. So could the Student Union apparatchiks make their names, as sour, whiny prematurely-withered prunes who couldn’t stop the music. No one will boast that they were part of Manchester Student Union in the good old days.

I have a personal grudge against Julie Bindel, and I could get irritated by Milo Yiannopoulos. Three cheers for them both for this.