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]

No place to lay my head

“These anti-homeless spikes are brutal. We need to get rid of them”, writes Leah Borromeo in the Guardian.

So we decided to do something to neutralise it. A group of friends and I laid a mattress and a bookshelf stocked with tomes on the housing crisis, inequality, gentrification, place-hacking and poverty atop some particularly vicious spikes on London’s Curtain Road. In the 1990s, it was the epicentre of a burgeoning artistic community that would eventually emerge as tastemakers in the visual and performing arts. We’re all aware that an artistic scene that gains any sort of appeal or traction is eventually leeched on, Death-Eater-like, by “property developers”. We saw these spikes as a direct assault on everything that makes us human. Anyone, for any reason, could end up on the streets with no home, no friends, no support. Sometimes you feel so unsafe where you are that sleeping on a ledge in east London comes across as the better option.

If some developers had their way, they’d commodify oxygen. To stop us having a society where it is acceptable to do that, we’ve decided to help out the best way we know how. We’re a loose collective of artists, journalists, academics, graduates and performers. We’re cultural producers. And with that comes the responsibility that what we make and share with the world highlights injustice and offers alternatives.

Many comments ask whether Ms Borromeo, a journalist and filmmaker, has made her own doorstep – or her own bedroom – available to the homeless. It is an obvious question. This does not stop it being a good one. I would imagine her own bookshelves are well stocked with “tomes on the housing crisis, inequality, gentrification, place-hacking and poverty”, so she could offer the free use of these as an additional incentive to make her own property a “more inclusive space where misfortunes of circumstance such as homelessness aren’t banned.”

On the other hand the capitalist vipers who own the Curtain Road premises probably regard the reading material left on their doorstep by Ms Borromeo and her preening chums (“The only good thing about living in austerity Britain is that through pushing us into a corner, the government and the money that controls it is unwittingly training up a generation of fighters. Some of us will kick and scream. Others will be by the ringside healing the wounded”) as a more effective deterrent than the spikes.

OK, this woman is a poseur. She isn’t a healer of the wounded, she just plays one in her own mind. I would give her a little more respect if I learned that her good deeds to the homeless included volunteering at homeless shelters or accompanying those charity workers and street pastors who make the rounds of those places where rough sleepers go every night. Or if I thought that she had spent even a moment thinking about the plight of the shop owner who sees her sales plummet because customers don’t want to push past the dosser on the floor to enter, or the premises manager who has to clean up the urine and needles every morning.

Yet it is possible to acknowledge the right of those put up these spikes to do so, and also have sympathy with the homeless. Ms Borromeo’s statement that “anyone, for any reason, could end up on the streets with no home” is the usual hyperbole (she need not worry about the chances of it happening to her), but it is true that things can go wrong for a person with surprising speed. There is probably at least one of your classmates from primary school who has lost everything, usually via drugs or alcohol. There are ways to help, but all of them have downsides. Homeless shelters, whether run by true charities or government funded, must themselves exclude some people. I would not be surprised or angered to learn that they make use of “access control” spikes themselves. If the shelters don’t exclude anyone – if they allow people to sleep there who are violent or predatory – then they destroy their own function as a refuge. The one sentence in Ms Borromeo’s article that rang true was “Sometimes you feel so unsafe where you are that sleeping on a ledge in east London comes across as the better option.”

Who are you and what have you done with the real Guardianista?

“Bring back self-defence classes for women – it’s the feminist thing to do”, writes Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett in the Guardian. That’s right, Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, more typically to be found writing such gloriously quotable effusions as “Why it’s OK to cry about this election”, is writing kick-ass pieces about kicking ass in the Guardian. This is strange but good.

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.

When the going gets tough, the tough brush up on their rifle skills

Israel and the fallacy of the “immaculate conception” of states

Tim Stanley has excellent comments to make on the ire that Israel generates and asks why this small country, bordered by far larger ones, attracts such ire. He is writing about a conference at a UK university that seems to raise the question as to whether Israel should exist at all:

It is true that Israel was a state created where no such state had existed before. But so was Iraq, Syria, Uganda and Togo. They were all products of decolonisation, all lines drawn on a map by a bureaucrat with a pencil and ruler. Why, pray, does no one debate the legal foundations of the existence of Nigeria? It is controversial enough. It comprises various tribes and religions with terrible unease, so much so that a near genocidal war was conducted to subjugate its southeastern portion. Yet no one questions its legality.

Why, looking beyond this conference, is Israel the one country in the world whose critics so often conflate its government and its people – even seeking to punish the former by boycotting the latter? It is perfectly possible to dislike Benjamin Netanyahu and criticise the Israeli state’s actions in Gaza without assuming that Netanyahu speaks for all Israelis or that all Israelis approve of what happened in Gaza (indeed, it looks like he’s about to lose an election). No one would suggest that David Cameron’s austerity programme reflects the views of every Briton or that the British are constitutionally mean because the bedroom tax happened. And yet such obvious distinctions are often forgotten when talking about Israel. People chant that “Israel Must Be Stopped”, that “Israel Has Gone Too Far” and that “Israel is an Apartheid State” – as though its entire people had blood on their hands. When it comes to Israel, there is a unique enthusiasm to call into question its very right to exist. Strange, isn’t it?

And finally:

To challenge the right of Israel to exist is, therefore, morally obtuse. It is to forget the flames from which this Phoenix arose.

Damn right. By the way, one book that I regard as absolutely essential reading for anyone on this subject is The Case For Israel, by Alan Dershowitz. It is over a decade old, but still very good. Another is the Israel Test, by George Gilder. 

Gilder’s book is particularly good for noting that Israel, and for that matter Jews more generally, are targeted as much for their virtues – productiveness, educational excellence and so on – by rivals in the Middle East, as for any alleged shortcomings in foreign policy. Recent history suggest that any land-for-peace deals have been met with just more violence from the anti-Israel side, and most citizens of that country have grown weary of it.

Like Gilder, I take the view that broadly pro-liberty (with caveats, obviously), pro-modernity countries that are wealthy and non-crap such as this country deserve the support of anyone who takes liberty seriously, notwithstanding any specific disagreements on its policies. I have long gone past the point where I think that critics of Israel are in the main motivated by good thoughts. While some of them might be, most appear to be fools at best, and anti-semites at worst.

Security companies cannot be trusted due to national affiliations so…

As the world is ever more wired together, so too are the threats. So if Russian security companies like Kaspersky cannot be trusted when it comes to Russian state spying, and US companies like CrowdStrike and FireEye cannot be trusted when it comes to US state spying, seems to me that companies based in places like Finland, Switzerland or India might actually be able to parley that into a meaningful competitive advantage.

I anticipated something along those lines for quite some time myself.

Yet another reminder: the state is not your friend

The US government, working tirelessly to bring new opportunities to criminals worldwide:

Microsoft released a security advisory on Thursday warning customers that their PCs were also vulnerable to the “Freak” vulnerability. The weakness could allow attacks on PCs that connect with Web servers configured to use encryption technology intentionally weakened to comply with U.S. government regulations banning exports of the strongest encryption.

Thanks Uncle Sam!

The state is not your friend

Samizdata quote of the day

The Taliban child murderers in Pakistan are beyond the bounds of reason or common humanity just as much as the individual lunatic who flies their flag for a brief moment of glory in a coffee shop. Properly speaking, what Sony did, and what the political leaders who advise talking to the Taliban are suggesting, is not appeasement as we knew it in the 20th century. Terrorism is not international politics – and it is not war in any conventional sense. It is criminal insanity. There can be no pragmatic settlement, no negotiation and no dealing with these enemies. Their power will only be destroyed by mortifying defeat and that means defying their threats and their demands at every point. If that puts us at risk, so be it. No life worth living is without risk.

Janet Daley

Interestingly, Obama’s rebuke for Sony has led to some pushback. It is worthwhile speculating if such events will sour relations between Obama and many of those in the Hollywood establishment who have been among his most fervent supporters.

Just when I was beginning to think the European Court of Human Rights might not be so bad

Via Jim Miller on Politics, I found this:

EU court orders France to pay thousands to Somali pirates

The EU’s top human rights court on Thursday ordered France to pay thousands of euros to Somali pirates who attacked French ships for “violating their rights” by holding them an additional 48 hours before taking them before a judge.

The Somali pirates were apprehended on the high seas by the French army on two separate occasions in 2008 and taken back to France for trial.

(The report is incorrect to call the ECHR an “EU court”. Judgements and precedents may mesh with EU law in ways I do not fully understand; but the ECHR is the creation of the Council of Europe, not the European Union.)

I sometimes think that this sort of judgement can only be the result of a deliberate strategy to discredit the words “human rights” in the eyes of the peoples of Europe. But why would anyone want to do that? Perhaps because it suits the immediate self-interest of the individual “human rights professionals”, and the future be damned.

By the way, it is possible to defend the Somali pirates on quasi-libertarian grounds; that they only do freelance what states regularly do without arousing condemnation. One of the commenters to the MSN piece appears to take that view. I don’t, although I do accept (make that “passionately proclaim”) that states continually get a pass on evil deeds just by calling themselves states. Even so, states that have acted as the pirates do – kidnapping and murdering passing holidaymakers – do not escape condemnation, and nor should anyone else.

If you don’t care whether a rape really happened, you don’t care about rape

So, Rolling Stone magazine has rolled back on Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s University of Virginia gang rape story.

A typical reaction when that story first came out came from CNN Political commentator Sally Kohn: “Stop shaming victims in college rapes”. I quote:

Will Drew and UVA get off easily while Jackie’s life — and other college women like her — is shattered?

If UVA has any sense of moral rightness and wishes to remain a great university, it should conduct a thorough investigation into these and similar allegations and mete out appropriate punishment for the perpetuators [sic].

A more senior colleague might like to take Ms Kohn aside and teach her the proper meaning of two words, “allegations” and “perpetrators”. The spelling correction alone does not put right what is wrong with the way both of them combine in that last sentence.

A typical reaction now that the story has been semi-retracted came from Guardian columnist and Feministing founder Jessica Valenti. “I trust women,” she tweets. She disavows the idea that her choice to trust a person is made on the basis of any assessment of individual trustworthiness; she simply trusts the 50% of the human species who belong to the same group as she does. It is group loyalty. On the same grounds, given that she is white, she might as well say, “I trust white people.”

Kohn, Valenti and their like present themselves as the friends of rape victims. There is such a thing as toxic friendship. Before the retraction of the story, I read this account by Liz Seccuro in Time magazine. Ms Seccuro was raped, at the University of Virginia, at the same Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, thirty years ago in 1984. “Do you believe me?” she asks. The answer to that is yes. A man was convicted and jailed for her rape, though she says that there were others who escaped any punishment. But observe that I had to make it very clear that she really was raped. Because after the Duke University lacrosse team affair and this recent one, “rape at frat house” stories (including that of Jackie as described by Erdely, which will now be entirely dismissed by most even though some of it could still be true) provoke an involuntary twitch of doubt even in observers wishing to remain impartial.

Not that the feminists I’ve read on this story ever had any such wish. They said, very clearly, that unquestioning partiality was exactly what they wanted. “I trust women.” They said, as they have been saying for years now, that even the attempt to judge any rape claim on the evidence was to be a “rape apologist”, as Rachel Sklar was quoted as saying here, or was an instance of “rape denialism”, as Amanda Marcotte tweeted here, adding for good measure that it was equivalent to Holocaust denialism.

It is they who are the rape denialists. Or perhaps “deniers that rape matters” would put it better. If you don’t care whether or not a rape actually occurred, then you don’t care about rape. It is a tautology, and a separate point to the one about the trauma faced by real rape victims who seek justice being intensified by the additional scepticism with which their account will now be met. If you think that the moral force of a claim of rape cannot be diminished by evidence that it is false, then in the same act you believe that it cannot be added to by evidence that it is true.

Russia legalises concealed carry

Via a mailing from Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, I was directed to this interesting development:

Vladimir Putin’s Russia Adopts Concealed Carry

Russia, which according to official figures has the fifth highest murder rate in the world, has relaxed its gun ownership laws.

Yep. The land of Vladimir Putin, run by an oligarchical collection of cronies and criminals, is about to relax their gun laws… And not by just a little. After the reforms, they’ll make some US jurisdictions look positively Soviet. While places like New York and Washington DC continue to make it (almost) impossible to get a permit for carrying a handgun, Putin’s Russia is about to make it easier.

Previously, Russians were only permitted to own firearms (subject to approval) for hunting or sporting. But under the new law they will soon be allowed to carry guns, open or concealed, for the purposes of self-defense. (Yeah… A background check and training will be a prerequisite.)

And let’s face it, having a gun for self-defense is probably not the worst idea in Russia. While America saw its share of homicides in 2011 (roughly 13,600), Putin’s homeland saw far more… Despite having a population that is almost half of the US, Russia recorded over 21,000 homicides in the same year. (Wow… So much for believing that gun control works, right Chicago?) The new laws aim to curb that trend, and add to Russia’s homeland defense against outside threats.

The report above is by Michael Schaus and links in turn to this report by Tom Porter in the International Business Times.