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]

How regulation created a banking mono-culture

I agree with Mr Quotulatiousness that this, from a posting at the Coyote Blog from July 7th of last year, deserves to be made much of:

One of the factors in the financial crisis of 2007-2009 that is mentioned too infrequently is the role of banking capital sufficiency standards and exactly how they were written. Folks have said that capital requirements were somehow deregulated or reduced. But in fact the intention had been to tighten them with the Basle II standards and US equivalents. The problem was not some notional deregulation, but in exactly how the regulation was written.

In effect, capital sufficiency standards declared that mortgage-backed securities and government bonds were “risk-free” in the sense that they were counted 100% of their book value in assessing capital sufficiency. Most other sorts of financial instruments and assets had to be discounted in making these calculations. This created a land rush by banks for mortgage-backed securities, since they tended to have better returns than government bonds and still counted as 100% safe.

Without the regulation, one might imagine banks to have a risk-reward tradeoff in a portfolio of more and less risky assets. But the capital standards created a new decision rule: find the highest returning assets that could still count for 100%. They also helped create what in biology we might call a mono-culture. One might expect banks to have varied investment choices and favorites, such that a problem in one class of asset would affect some but not all banks. Regulations helped create a mono-culture where all banks had essentially the same portfolio stuffed with the same one or two types of assets. When just one class of asset sank, the whole industry went into the tank.

Well, we found out that mortgage-backed securities were not in fact risk-free, and many banks and other financial institutions found they had a huge hole blown in their capital.

I remember having all this explained to me at the time, although I do not now recall who by. I do recall the word “Basel” coming up a lot.

My title above is in the past tense, but I presume problems like this have since got worse rather than better. What will be the dates of the next financial crisis, I wonder?

The BBC at its very worst on the issue of freedom of expression

Allen Farrington drew my attention to this steaming pile of a BBC opinion piece entitled: What are the limits of free speech?

Read this bit and let it sink in:

Because what is becoming clear is that the fundamentalism of this new generation of radical Islamists risks provoking an extreme reaction from some of those espousing the cause of unlimited freedom and liberty.

Allen’s retort was so perfect I will just quote it entirely:

…which is so ridiculous as to require no further commentary, but I would nonetheless suggest: those radical Islamists make me so damn angry that one of these days I might just commit an act of drawing!

Indeed, Allen. Apparently sober opinion at the BBC holds that drawing opinionated cartoons and writing what you think constitutes an “extreme reaction” to radical Islam. I think nuking Mecca with a high yield air burst during the Hajj would be an “extreme reaction”, but personally I do not think explaining why someone might regard Islam (or indeed anything) as preposterous or the ‘mother lode of bad ideas‘ is an “extreme reaction”.

But alright, if saying what you think is what passes for an “extreme reaction”, then I would be honoured to be called an extremist by the BBC. I believe Barry Goldwater had something to say on that subject.

Extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue

Not that I would expect anyone at the BBC to understand that, at least not without simply redefining what ‘liberty’ and ‘justice’ means in a way a certain well known chap wrote about in 1949.

In the spirit of the Guardian…

I think it is safe to say that the first Social Justice Warrior to be spaced has already been born.

(For non-spacers, that means “tossed out of the airlock… without a space suit.”)

Bravo Norway!

In a direct response to the mass murder of people at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo last January, Norway has abolished its blasphemy laws. This is a development of sheer magnificence!

Samizdata quote of the day

Our message today is very simple: we will never allow barbarism, never allow Islam, to rob us of our freedom of speech.

Geert Wilders

Samizdata quote of the day

Just today I learned (via Hans Bader) that Oberlin, supposedly one of the great liberal arts colleges in the world, has been in a tizzy because of a speech by the rather mainstream conservative feminist Christina Hoff Summers, which supposedly made students feel “unsafe” well in advance. And so on. In no examples that I have seen has there been any actual threat or prospect of violence against the students complaining that they feel “unsafe.”

This is a huge threat to the future of free speech nevertheless. Today’s college students are going to be tomorrow’s judges, and if they truly believe that “safety” means “never having to deal with opinions that disagree with one’s cherished beliefs,” then censorship has a good chance of gaining the upper hand over freedom of speech. After all, public safety can be a justification for suppressing speech, as with the “fighting words” doctrine.

David Bernstein

Self defence

I am certain it comes as no surprise to Samizdata readers that States are interested in penetrating your computers and stealing private communications without bothering about the legal niceties of search warrants issued by judges whom they do not own. But some things come as a surprise to even those of us who watch such things. I had not heard of this particular attack before. Spoofing, in conjunction with other attacks to pin down the real source while the spoofer gets in, have been around awhile. Some were dependant on analysis of the generated packet sequence numbers to allow a complete hijack.

None seem as practical as the web page substitution technique discussed in this Wired article. It is somewhat technical but useful reading if you want to keep up with what the enemies of liberty and rule of law are up to. Even more importantly, the article shows there are ways of keeping the bad guys out of your computers. The method may not be as satisfying as dropping a nuke on the SOB’s, but hey, you work with what you got.

Chimpanzees as legal persons

The Guardian reports:

Chimpanzees granted petition to hear ‘legal persons’ status in court

Wise’s argument in this case and others is that chimpanzees are intelligent, emotionally complex and self-aware enough to merit some basic human rights, such as the rights against illegal detainment and cruel treatment. They are “autonomous and self-determining”, in Wise’s words.

You can probably see why this post bears the “Self-ownership” tag. Many of the people arguing for legal personhood for animals are twerps like this one, who claims that she finds “discrimination on the grounds of species as distasteful as discrimination on the grounds of race or sex.”

However the arguments put forward by the Nonhuman Rights Project do not seem obviously wrongheaded to me. For instance they do discriminate on grounds of species, between higher and lower animals. This comes from their Q&A page:

Your first plaintiffs are chimpanzees, and you are also talking about elephants, whales and dolphins. What’s next after that? Dogs and pigs?

Our plaintiffs will be animals for whom there is clear scientific evidence of such complex cognitive abilities as self-awareness and autonomy. Currently that evidence exists for elephants, dolphins and whales, and all four species of great apes. So, for the foreseeable future, our plaintiffs are likely to come from these three groups.

Here is a fact I find disturbing to contemplate: some severely mentally disabled human beings are less intelligent than chimpanzees. If our society does start to act on that fact in its laws I hope and pray that it does so in the direction of granting more rights to animals, not taking rights away from disabled humans.

So my American chums, answer me this…

You guys have the Second Amendment. Guns, you has ’em. I am told it is the ultimate bulwark against tyranny. At least in principle I agree completely that an armed population is a good thing, which is sadly not the situation here in disarmed Britain.

Then why is this possible?

Cindy Archer, one of the lead architects of Wisconsin’s Act 10 — also called the “Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill,” it limited public-employee benefits and altered collective-bargaining rules for public-employee unions — was jolted awake by yelling, loud pounding at the door, and her dogs’ frantic barking. The entire house — the windows and walls — was shaking. She looked outside to see up to a dozen police officers, yelling to open the door. They were carrying a battering ram. She wasn’t dressed, but she started to run toward the door, her body in full view of the police. Some yelled at her to grab some clothes, others yelled for her to open the door. “I was so afraid,” she says. “I did not know what to do.” She grabbed some clothes, opened the door, and dressed right in front of the police. The dogs were still frantic. “I begged and begged, ‘Please don’t shoot my dogs, please don’t shoot my dogs, just don’t shoot my dogs.’ I couldn’t get them to stop barking, and I couldn’t get them outside quick enough. I saw a gun and barking dogs. I was scared and knew this was a bad mix.”

So a politically motivated raid by armed police in Wisconsin is conducted against a political rival, and… well… and what?

As news of what happened belatedly spreads, are militia’s urgently forming in the ‘Land of the Free and Home of the Brave’ to meet this use for political armed force with opposing armed force? Is there a hash tag #NewMinuteMenMuster calling armed civilian enemies of tyranny in the USA to take up those 2nd Amendment blessed arms yet? Or at least are folks coming up with SOPs for an en-mass armed response for the next time this happens?

Clearly it would be wholly justified to start putting up NO POLICE ZONE signs backed up with lethal roadside IED’s to be used against the thugs who did this, so why in the land of the Second Amendment are such things not happening?

This is not a slide towards tyranny in the USA, this is tyranny. The tree of liberty is looking mighty parched right now.

Damn, I thought things were bad here, where all we have to defend ourselves with is pointy sticks, bottles full of soap flakes & petrol, and creative imprecations.

Loss of nerve: “just standing there watching”

Another one:

Hampstead Ponds constables ‘failed to help’ drowning Moshe Greenfeld because of ‘dangerous and murky’ water

The City of London has admitted that its health constabulary officers had not entered A Hampstead Heath bathing pond to try to save drowning teenager.

Moshe Yitzchok Greenfield, 19, a prominent rabbi’s son, began to struggle after going for a dip in the pond in north London on Wednesday, 15 April, the hottest day of the year so far, when temperatures in London hit 25C (77F).

[…]

James Eisen, a 43-year-old freelance journalist, told The Times: “I was walking past and I could see a lot of commotion going on over the far side of the pond. The guy’s friends were going in and out of the water and holding their breath and diving under frantically.

“There were police officers and paramedics and firefighters on the bank just standing there watching while the boys dived under. There were at least seven police officers on the side.

“It was a chaotic and surreal scene. I heard one of the boys shouting to one of the ambulance crews and asking how long someone could survive under water without breathing as they continued swimming around in a panic. I’m guessing the emergency services are told not to go into the water but if that’s the case they probably shouldn’t have let the boys carry on swimming about.”

If you want to know the sort of incentives that create such men of steel, look at the story of fireman Tam Brown, whose courage in risking his life to save a woman from drowning was rewarded with the threat of disciplinary action for “breaking procedure”, or at the three unarmed policemen similarly rebuked for daring to try and save William Pemberton’s life while their armed colleagues huddled outside waiting for orders.

Now, there are one or two caveats before we add Moshe Yitzchock Greenfield to the list that includes the Colly family who burned to death while police actively prevented attempts at rescue, Edward Paul Brown, a baby who died within minutes of birth in a hospital lavatory while nurses refused his mother’s pleas for help because they did not have the proper training, and Alison Hume, whom the Strathclyde Fire Brigade left dying for six hours at the bottom of a mineshaft because, after all, “the fire service was only obliged to save people from fires and road traffic accidents.”

The first caveat is this: Moshe Greenfield and his friends were swimming in an area marked as out of bounds to swimmers, and chose to go into the water after the lifeguard had left. That was irresponsible, though practically everyone can recall doing something equivalent at that age and coming to no harm.

The second caveat is this: as an official spokesman said, “The heath constabulary officers are here to enforce bylaws in the park — they are not trained lifeguards and the water is dangerous and very murky, so they are advised they are not to go in until proper assistance arrives.” He has a point, although it would be a stronger one if the heath constabulary officers actually had enforced the bylaw forbidding swimming. Perhaps our society would be better off if it were made completely clear that once you step outside the law, even a park by-law, you are on your own. The state washes its hands of you. I could go with that. A fine big notice board with shiny black letters saying “PAST THIS POINT WE WILL WATCH YOU DROWN” and helpful accounts of the last six people to whom this rule was applied; that would at least be fair warning. No longer would the citizen be treated as a spoilt child, emboldened to folly by the knowledge that the parental State would never let the worst happen.

That might be a better world than ours. But it is not ours. In general our government insists on rescuing people from their own folly. And what Hampstead Heath Park Constabulary actually provided was the worst of both worlds: officers who will act neither as police nor as parents.

By the way, it was not an act of courage beyond what can be asked of men to make some attempt at rescue. The “dangerous and very murky” waters” weren’t the North Atlantic. It was the pond in Hampstead Heath, for God’s sake. And some men – boys, really – did try. As the witness said, “The guy’s friends were going in and out of the water and holding their breath and diving under frantically.” It was just beyond what can be asked in these enlightened times of the men we pay, train and equip specifically to do that sort of thing.

The trouble with blogging for fourteen years is that one runs out of fresh clean ways to express foul things. I am adding very little to what I said in 2007:

Let me say (before someone says it for me) that I do not claim that I would have the courage to go into a house where a killer might lie in wait, or that I would have jumped in the bitter, fast flowing waters of the Tay to save some stupid woman who wanted to top herself. But such were the traditions that were honoured in the police and fire services. In fact, when I talk about “gutlessness” and “loss of nerve” here I am not talking about individual physical courage. Fireman Tam Brown showed great courage. At least three of the policemen in the Pemberton murders did as well and all of them showed more guts than I would. But institutional gutlessness surrounded them, was embarrassed by them, and will kill off their like eventually. Poisoned soil does not long give forth good fruit.

Samizdata quote of the day

Due to come into force in August 2016, the Named Person initiative is truly dystopian. Once, it was only abandoned or orphaned children who became charges of the state; now, all Scottish children will effectively be wards of the state under a new, vast system of, in essence, shadow parenting. In an expression of alarming distrust in parents, and utter contempt for the idea of familial sovereignty and privacy, the state in Scotland wants to attach an official to every kid and to keep tabs on said kid’s physical and moral wellbeing.

There’ll be a state spy in every family. In Scotland, Big Brother is not only watching you (it was recently revealed that Scotland has 4,114 public-space CCTV cameras and “camera vans,” which drive through towns filming the allegedly suspect populace); he’s also watching your kids.

Brendan O’Neill

The French state owns women’s bodies

If you are an adult and want to work as a model in France, the French government will decide if the way you look is appropriate in their view. And if not, the people who hired you will be fined or jailed.