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]

On the false choice between Privacy and Security

Many commentators are referring to the current fracas over strong encryption and other security technologies, including especially Apple’s refusal to provide the FBI with hacking tools for the iPhone, as a trade-off between privacy and security.

Even people who feel that strong security technologies are a good thing often position things as a trade-off of this sort.

I would like to reiterate something many of us already know: this is an entirely false dichotomy.

Backdoors in security systems don’t just eliminate privacy, they also make systems insecure.

The current fight isn’t just to make sure that the government cannot learn that you’re reading dissident publications or to make sure the government cannot automatically find everyone who has opinions it doesn’t like, although those are certainly worthy things to want.

The current fight is about whether we will impose a technological infrastructure which will be exceptionally vulnerable to attackers in order to provide nothing more useful than some very, very short-term advantages to people investigating crimes.

This pits the interests of everyone in society who depends on technology for their safety, which is to say, more or less everyone, against a tiny group of law enforcement officials who find their jobs somewhat more difficult.

We should remember that the damage caused by insecurity in our critical systems is not theoretical — it is pervasive problem even today. We saw only this last week a hospital forced to pay ransom to restore its computer systems. We’ve seen instances in the last year of the US federal government losing data on literally everyone with a recent security clearance to enemies unknown who presumably are very, very interested in knowing who all those US government agents might be. Untold millions of dollars are stolen every day in various sorts of computer fraud — everything from credit card fraud to fraudulent IRS e-file refunds. We already know that you can do horrible things to SCADA systems and the like that could potentially kill people, and whether you believe that’s already happened or not, it is clearly only a matter of time before people die that way.

All of this is because of lack of security in computer systems — a lack of security that the FBI, Cyrus Vance Jr., and other special interests propose to make dramatically worse on a permanent basis, in order to make their jobs somewhat easier for the short term. Imagine what things will be like in a world where Cyrus Vance has a slightly easier job but maniacs who have stolen US government master crypto keys can cause thousands or millions of automated cars to crash, killing their occupants.

So, please stop making it sound like it is merely the right to privacy that is at stake. Certainly the right to privacy is crucial for our society, but even those who do not agree with privacy should understand that back doors are not about making a trade-off in favor of increased security but in favor of pervasive insecurity.

This is not about security vs. privacy. We’re talking about nothing less than deranged short-term thinking that privileges the convenience of a small part of the machinery of law enforcement over the safety of almost everyone in our entire society.

Huge gun hoard found in Suffolk, England

The now, sadly deceased Chairman of a Parish Council (a toothless level of government in most cases), in Suffolk, the late James Arnold has been found to have had the largest ever gun hoard found in England, says the Daily Mail, reporting on a linked case involving a living firearms dealer.

This is the terrifying collection of nearly 500 guns and 200,000 rounds of ammunition which was seized from a parish council chairman who collected firearms ‘like stamps’.

There seems to be no suggestion that the arsenal was intended for any other purpose than to be hoarded, and from the pictures a lot of the ammo appears to be inert, and none of the weapons have been linked to any crimes.

(The police) revealed that, had the weapons fallen into the wrong hands, they would have been enough to arm nine coach-loads of terrorists. Chief Superintendent David Skevington said: ‘James Arnold never offered any explanation for what he did; he simply said he had come by the weapons years ago and kept them safe to stop them causing any harm.
‘We have asked every question and followed every line of inquiry and have found no evidence of a criminal or terrorist motive.

Well quite, in Suffolk, there is little terrorist activity. Although historically, Saint and King Edmund was martyred somewhere not too far away, and the Danish culprits appear to have escaped justice. Mr Arnold was arrested 3 months before his untimely death from pancreatic cancer, aged 49. The Mail notes, almost chafing, methinks

After the 49-year-old’s arrest in 2014, Arnold died of pancreatic cancer, meaning he could never face prosecution

I don’t know, these days being dead is no bar to a police investigation, even if you were the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Plod are to devote a year to going through Sir Edward Heath KG’s papers, and they aren’t even considering treason charges for bringing about the UK’s entry into the EEC, which could at least lead to a reprise of Cromwell’s posthumous fate.

I note that on the OP, commenter Big George says

Big George, Michigan, United States, 2 hours ago
This is known as a “starter set” in Texas.

Just when you think he cannot get any crazier

Hussein didn’t “make a living off killing terrorists.” He was a terrorist — an evil mastermind who worked every day to try to kill Americans, kill Israelis, and destabilize the Middle East. He was one of the prime financial supporters of a suicide-bombing campaign that caused greater relative casualties in Israel than 9/11 did in the United States. He funded Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. He plotted to kill a former president of the United States. He gave one of the world’s most wanted terrorists, Abu Nidal, access to a government office. He sheltered Abu Abbas, responsible for the hijacking of the Achille Lauro, and Abdul Yasin, a co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

David French, examining Donald Trump’s latest.

It is worth reading the whole thing. I know that a lot of libertarians, probably most who describe themselves thus, are on board with the “Iraq war was disaster and we should have left Saddam in charge” school. But the scale of the crimes SD committed, his sheltering of Islamist killers, encouragement of Islamist killers, acquisition and use of WMDs, breaking of UN resolutions/treaties, invasion of neighbours, etc, together constitute such a crushing case against his regime that I don’t regret, at all, his overthrow by external military force. It is also worth pondering the point that even if his regime had collapsed without the Coalition giving it a shove, we might still have many of the issues that grip Iraq now, although arguing over counterfactuals is always a bit of a mug’s game.

That Trump thinks that Hussein was good at dealing with terrorists is, in some ways, his must delusional statement yet and a scary insight into his view about the sort of regime he likes. For those in the US who plan to vote for this charlatan, the buyer’s remorse is going to be epic and on a scale that will make the anger about Obama look like child’s play.


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.

What are the risks that Hillary Clinton goes to jail before she could reach the White House?

This story has been around for such a long time that the cynics in the media and political world are inclined, perhaps, to roll their eyes at yet another article going on about how Hillary Clinton (who beat Bernie Sanders by a whisker in Iowa last night) allegedly put classified material through a private email account, including material considered so sensitive that the lives of CIA and other US operatives are potentially at risk. A full account can be seen at the Observer blog (not to be confused with the British newspaper.) From a reading of this tale, it seems to me that Clinton has misbehaved on a scale equivalent to say, a Bradley Manning or, maybe in some ways, an Edward Snowden (contrary to some people, I don’t regard Snowden as a libertarian hero, at least not consistently). And one effect may be that supposed allies of the US, such as the UK, may be asking very urgent questions indeed, right now, about all this. What UK intelligence material has been compromised? Have Brit agents’ lives been put at risk? And so on. And given that there is no love lost between the Obama and Clinton camps, it may be that Obama, with his Chicago-educated ruthlessness and malice, may absolutely love to torpedo the candidacy of this woman and try and get a hardline socialist into the White House (although that might be wishful thinking.)

There has been so much focus on Donald Trump’s extraordinary rise to political prominence that some of the media attention that could have been focused on the Clinton email affair has been diverted. Even allowing for media bias to the Clintons, there are enough liberal/left journalists, as well as more obviously conservative and libertarian ones, who loathe the Clinton dynasty, who are appalled by its corruption, to make a serious assault. I expect the next few weeks and months to be fascinating.

So a question for commentators on this blog is: how serious a risk does Clinton face of going down for this and are there precedents of a front-runner for a candidacy being brought down by criminal charges/investigation?


Ladies: if you fight off a would-be rapist…

…for goodness sake do NOT then go to the police and tell them how you did it!

So the only reason you did not get raped was that you used pepper spray on this violent thug? Don’t you know pepper spray is illegal?

It is far better in the eyes of the state for you to be raped than have effective means to defend yourself. Seriously, do you think the Boys-in-Blue are there to protect you? If you do think that, then let me disabuse you of that notion: they are there to maintain the power and privileges of the state and any time their actions coincide with your interests (such as catching a violent criminal), that is serendipity rather than design.

Police advice on how to react to a terrorist attack -run, hide and tell…

In the UK, there is now some police advice in a video on what to do in the unlikely event of getting caught up in a terrorist attack. The first tip is to run, the next is to hide, phone the police if you can and say where you are, and wait for the armed police to turn up, and when they do, try not to get shot by them by waving your hands around too quickly.

For those unfamiliar with hiding from armed killers, the video suggests.

“The best hiding place with protection from gunfire will have a substantial physical barrier between you and the attacker.”

Another handy tip is:

“Insist others come with you, but don’t let their indecision slow you down,” the video says.

A fuller version of the video is here.

Well that’s made it all fairly clear then. The video is pretty much what you might have expected. As Bob Geldof put it in ‘I don’t like Mondays‘ ‘…And the lesson for today is how to die…’.

Truth be told, the advice is realistic given the legal situation in the UK. Do our friends in Texas have a different take on what to do?

Samizdata quote of the day

In my book, Everything Has Two Handles: The Stoic’s Guide to the Art of Living, I argue that the values of the ancient Stoics can help us achieve personal happiness. I believe that these same values can help our children grow into strong, responsible, and resilient citizens. And what are Stoic values? It’s not just a matter of keeping a stiff upper lip, nor does Stoicism hold that you should tamp down all your feelings. Rather, Stoics believed that the good life is one characterized by virtuous beliefs and actions—in brief, a life based on duty, discipline, and moderation. The Stoics also believed in the importance of taking life on its own terms–what they would have described as “living in harmony with nature.” Stoics did not whine when they were passed over for an award, nor did they throw a hissy fit when they didn’t get their way. As the Stoic philosopher, Seneca (106-43 BCE) put it, “All ferocity is born of weakness.” Perhaps most important, Stoics understood the tremendous value of gratitude — not only for the gifts we have received, but also for the grief we have been spared. Maybe if more children were inculcated with these teachings, we would find our celebrities showing more gratitude and less “attitude.”

Ronald Pies.

In another article, the author of this item argues that narcissism may explain the recent spate of mass shootings in the US; he seems to acknowledge, which is to his credit, that overall violent crime in the US has actually fallen in recent years, however.


The state really really is not your friend

The Kenyan government didn’t play much of a part in ending the three-hour bloodbath, McConnell reports. By the time security forces arrived, the attack was mostly over thanks to an “unlikely coalition of licensed civilian gun owners and brave, resourceful individual police officers [who] took it upon themselves to mount a rescue effort.” While this little band of saviors would ferry dozens of people to safety, when Kenyan forces did arrive, “it was only to shoot at one another before going on an armed looting spree that resulted in the collapse of the rear of the building, destroyed with a rocket-propelled grenade. And there were only four gunmen, all of whom were buried in the rubble, along with much of the forensic evidence.”

– Tristan McConnell

Read the whole thing.

Samizdata quote of the day

A suicide-homicide is an act of ultimate rage. People who do these kinds of things feel like they’re the victims. Their acts of suicide and homicide are a way to make a point. Although they don’t live to see the results, they would probably like what they see: Millions of people not only being momentarily horrified, but agreeing with the murderer’s classification of him- or herself as a victim. Whatever the President and the Pope have to say about this, rest assured that the killer — if he were alive to hear — would be happily applauding.

Michael Hurd.

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.