A hundred years ago the British Army may not have been fighting a major battle on the Western Front but it was still taking casualties.
The Times 4 May 1916 p4
I make that 187 deaths. It represents the typical daily rate for the Western Front. How did these men die? Most would have been killed by shelling, or in trench raids or in machine-gun strafes while erecting barbed wire entanglements in no-man’s land. Others would have been killed by snipers. An unlucky few would have been killed in motor accidents or when shells exploded prematurely causing guns to explode or when grenades went off prematurely or in gas attacks or underground fights between tunnelers. Most of the Canadians would probably have been killed in German counter-attacks at St Eloi.
By the way, you will notice that some of the casualties are listed as suffering from shell shock. Obviously, this had become a recognised condition by this stage of the war and presumably didn’t incur the death penalty.
A fresh instalment in the case of the man, the heroic Jon Platt, prosecuted for taking his chid out of school in term time for a holiday, but was acquitted by Magistrates. Scandalously, bureaucrats on the Isle of Wight appealed against the decision of the Magistrates to throw out the case, only to find that the High Court has found ‘no error of law’ in the Magistrates’ decision, so the acquittal remains. This has now blown back in the face of the bureaucrats, as this decision sets an unwelcome precedent with two High Court judges giving a ruling on the law, and meaning that for years, bureaucrats have harassed parents and got many to pay fixed-penalty notices on what was likely, in most cases, to be a wholly wrong interpretation of the law. As Mr Platt put it:
“Is there really 100,000 parents who are so criminally incompetent that it warrants dragging them to court?”
It appears that the scale of the problem is vast:
According to local authority data, almost 64,000 fines were imposed for unauthorised absences between September 2013 and August 2014.
And are the bureaucrats saying ‘Oh well, the law is the law, we must respect it’? If they are, I can’t hear them.
This is, of course, great news for parents in England and Wales who may now take their children on holiday in term-time without a realistic prospect of a prosecution. It also means that the old and absurd complaint about prices and supply-and-demand, ‘Oh look, holiday prices go up at half-term, how exploitative blah, blah, blah, regulate the holiday industry…‘ will be less easy for buffoons and villains to make out, and there will be a more economic use of resources in the holiday industry, taking use one more step away from the Stone Age.
What’s not to like when the light of freedom flickers more brightly?
What most of us would like is for the Government to spend less and leave us with more of our own money. If Messrs Cameron and Osborne now get caught up in a tidal wave of popular resentment against the avariciousness of the rich they will only have themselves to blame for playing footsie with the Left’s analysis that wealth creation is to be despised, inheritance is evil and judicious tax planning is immoral. Rather than mount a robust Tory defence of the virtues of material success backed by lower or flatter taxes and affordable public spending, they have burnished their so-called One Nation credentials to avoid being portrayed as out of touch, privileged and posh. There may well be activities exposed by the Panama Papers that will warrant criminal investigation. But this story has been hijacked by anti-capitalist campaigners who think all our earnings should be handed over to the state to be redistributed by Jeremy Corbyn and his followers. They simply cannot understand the aspirational instincts that drive most people, and they never will.
– Philip Johnston, one of the many who are writing about the Panama Papers affair.
As an aside, one issue that hasn’t been directly faced in the commentaries is this: if it is appalling for journalists to hack phones and steal private, confidential data in pursuit of politicians, celebs, etc, why is it noble and good to do so when this involves leaking millions of account details, many of which are about people who haven’t committed any crimes? Ok, it is in the public interest, will be the retort. But who gets to decide this?
In recent years it has become fashionable to hail changes and technologies that are “disruptive”. The example of Uber, the business that Brian Micklethwait of this parish and others have saluted, being a classic case in point. Of course, just because something is disruptive doesn’t make it good for the consumer. Blizzards and earthquakes are disruptive, for example. (Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur, has pointed out that disruption can be a painful, if not always desirable part of the process of reaching a destination, not the desired destination as such.) Even so, it seems to be highly fashionable to praise technologies if they are “disruptive”; in my daily work-related reading it is hard to avoid seeing this or that business model as “disruptive” with the strong implication that this is a Good Thing.
Ironically enough, however, one of the most disruptive events that may occur in the next few months is if British voters elect to leave the European Union. This will, so critics of such a “Brexit” claim, create uncertainty and be clearly a very disruptive event. All kinds of assumptions of how things are will be turned upside down. My goodness, we poor little moppets might have to learn about how to negotiate trade deals, repeal, replace or cut down on legislation, or have to recalibrate our relations with other nations. There will be a lot of disruption.
And yet apart from a few isolated examples, I see few signs of the pro-Brexit camp saying that this disruption will be a positive good thing; if anything, I sense they want to play this down, although senior Telegraph journalist Allister Heath has argued that the shock effect of Brexit will be positive for the rest of the EU (such an argument is likely to be lost on the existing EU elites barely able to conceive of life outside the comforting embrace of what they have known). It would be good if the pro-Brexit campaigners could argue two things: 1, that Brexit will be disruptive and interfere with the tranquil world of certain people, and 2, that this disruption is good, healthy, necessary and likely to trigger a run of reforms and changes that otherwise are unlikely to happen.
Libertarian Home holds speaker meetings on the first Thursday of every month. The most recent of these meetings featured a talk by Tim Evans. You can watch and listen to the whole of this talk, which lasts 33 minutes, here. At the other end of that link you can also read a summary, by Libertarian Home’s Simon Gibbs, of the first big chunk of the talk, which consisted of Tim’s take on Jeremy Corbyn. Since that posting went up, Simon Gibbs has done another summary, of what Tim Evans said in the same talk in connection with tomorrow’s Budget.
Videos play to the strengths of human beings as communicators. We have evolved with the innate ability to talk, provided only that we start out hearing others talk, and most of us are pretty good at talking. But we have to learn reading and writing, especially writing, and even the most fluent and practised writers struggle to write down every worthwhile thought that they have ever had.
An extreme case of this is the libertarian historian and IEA apparatchik Stephen Davies, whose movement-building activities cruelly cut into his history-writing time. But: good news, there is a video of an excellent talk given by Davies to Libertarian Home in June 2013 about The History of Individualism, in which he says many of the things that he has not had the time to write about. Better yet, follow that link and you will also encounter a summary by Simon Gibbs of what Davies said. There are many other videos of Steve Davies talking and I recommend all of them. But if you want to learn quickly about a particularly good talk by Davies, follow that link.
Quite aside from their excellence at getting things said that otherwise might not be said, it’s good to see and to hear people whom you are interested in, rather than merely to read what they have written. You get to see what they are like, and something of how they feel about the world as well as how they merely think about it. When speaking, people are often able to say things, of an elusive yet true nature, with a sense of just how sure they are or are not about it all, and in a way that sometimes even surprises them a little. (I sure I am not the only one who sometimes feels that I don’t know what I think until I hear what I say.) You don’t usually receive as much information by watching and listening to someone on video as you would if you had actually been been there, although you sometimes see and hear more, rather as watching sport on television can often be more informative, in some ways, than actually being there. But the point is that video is good in the same kind of way that face-to-face contact can be.
All of which is part of why videos now abound on the internet. They communicate a lot. (The above also explains the popularity of programmes like Skype.)
The trouble is, a lot of videos can take their time, especially videos like the ones I have just been linking to which are simply videos of talks. Take their time? What I mean is: they take your time, often in large gobs.
→ Continue reading: Libertarian Home video talks summarised
Why I’m an engineer: I decided long long ago that I wanted to avoid any field where the measure of success was a subjective judgement by some authority.
– Samizdata commenter ams, explaining why I am happy I became an engineer (of sorts) even if I was not consciously doing it for that reason at the time.
A valiant group of Russian activists, the Last Address project, have been commemorating some of Stalin’s many victims with plaques, the BBC tells us.
The rectangular plaques are small and simple. Etched into the metal there is a name, date of birth and occupation: radio technician, journalist, student.
Then come the dates of arrest and execution.
Fixed to buildings across Russia, the nameplates are gradually restoring the memory of some of the hundreds of thousands of victims of Joseph Stalin’s political repressions.
The initiative of a group of activists, it is also a direct challenge to the growing number of Russians who see the Soviet leader in a positive light.
Here is one example of a victim:
Gennrich Rubenstein was a manager on Soviet Railways, arrested as a “counter-revolutionary” in 1937 and then executed. The grainy, sepia photograph Anna holds shows a smart young man, hair carefully parted to one side.
She has just had a memorial nameplate fixed to his home.
“There are still people who don’t want to know about this,” Anna reflects, bitterly.
“Especially young people who are taught history in such a way now that these victims are justified.
“They say ‘Well, we leapt forward. We created a country of tanks from a country of ploughs. So there were victims? So what?'”
So what if after NKVD chief Gennrich Yagoda was executed, his dacha was used to dispose of 10,000 corpses?
Just a few steps into the forest off one of the main roads out of Moscow, there is an even starker reminder of why.
Kommunarka was once the summer house of Gennrich Yagoda, Stalin’s secret police chief.
After his execution, at least 10,000 purge victims were brought here by the truck-load and buried.
And should you think that Bernie’s supporters are bad, consider the disdain or hostility that these people face.
“People tell us they don’t want their buildings turned into cemeteries, that the plaques are depressing,” project-initiator Sergei Parkhomenko explains.
“Or they don’t want their children to see them, because it’s too gloomy.”But those we’re remembering are not just VIP victims. They’re ordinary people.”
And yet recent polls show that Russians increasingly see Stalin as an “effective manager” or war hero, rather than a tyrant.
Opposition activists are regularly labelled “enemies of the people” on state TV programmes and Memorial, the organisation long devoted to restoring the memory of the repressions, has been branded a “foreign agent”.
It is accused of blackening Russia’s image for Western paymasters.
They do not appear to be daunted either by that, or by the scale of the task.
But back in the city centre, the Last Address project has already installed more than 170 of their metal plaques on prominent buildings where they can no longer be ignored.
“Our aim isn’t just to put nameplates on every building in the country, although you probably could,” Sergei Parkhomenko says. “What’s important is to gather people around them. So that they explain what happened to those who don’t know, and tell their children.”
There’s hope for Russia yet, whilst there are people willing to commemorate the dead and remind the ungrateful living of what their forebears’ government did.
“Yes, you hear constant denunciations of institutions, parties, leaders, donors, lobbyists, influence peddlers. But the starting point of the bipartisan critique is the social, economic and geopolitical wreckage all around us. Bernie Sanders is careful never to blame Obama directly, but his description of the America Obama leaves behind is devastating — a wasteland of stagnant wages, rising inequality, a sinking middle class, young people crushed by debt, the American Dream dying. Take away the Brooklyn accent and the Larry David mannerisms and you would have thought you were listening to a Republican candidate. After all, who’s been in charge for the last seven years?”
Of course, for a certain type, criticising Barack Obama for presiding over the messes of the past few years is unthinkable. He was going to make the sea-level drop, remember. And anyway, what happened was all the fault of Dubya, or “bankers”, or the Chinese.
All this leads me to link to an excellent essay by Gene Healy of the CATO Institute, penned a few years’ ago, called The Cult of the Presidency. The office of President matters far too much than it should for the sanity of Americans, or indeed other parts of the world. It could and should matter a lot less. The very term “in charge” ought to be questioned: we should not treat a country as big and complex as the US, full of people with different aims and ends, as a single corporation under a CEO who is, allegedly, “in charge”.
As a key element in the samizdata-world interface has left London for a while, it is possible that there may be delays in unsmiting people whose comments get moderated by the samizdata SmiteBot.
Why? I am out of London in a strange place where taxi drivers have five phones powered by a cigarette lighter…
…the art is interesting and often very irreverent towards cultural icons and authority figures…
…oh, and William Gibson, please call your office…
Recent events in Germany may have led some to ask if Germany still controls its borders. Well of course the German Federation does, it had an entire Border Police Force, the Bundesgrenzschutz to do that, and it has quietly been building a Federal Police Force by merging the Railway Police with the Border Police. However, the German Federal State does not seem to regard border control as that much of a priority.
It wasn’t always thus for German governments, we all know about the Berlin Wall, or the ‘Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart‘, an example of German bureaucracy showing some resolve as to who crosses its borders. The Wall was of course, the weak point in the East German border, although technically it did not divide the Germanies, but the Allied Occupation Zones from the Soviet Zone and from the DDR, and for most of the time, there was no point fleeing to comradely Poland or brotherly Czechoslovakia, but that changed in the late 1980s. At the Berlin Wall, some 138 deaths have been recorded, there may have been many more.
But there was a more deadly border defence put in place by a German state, Imperial Germany, it was called the Dodendraad, a lethal electric fence, the implementation of which left, by one estimate, around 850 people killed, other reports say around 2,000 – 3,000 people were killed, including shootings etc. at the fence. You may well say ‘It doesn’t quite sound German‘, and you would be right. It wasn’t even ‘protecting’ Germany’s border, but someone else’s. The Dodendraad (Wire of Death) was put along the frontier between occupied Belgium and the Netherlands in the First World War, as a means of controlling movement over the frontier. A frontier that had two peoples with effectively one language joined by trade and family, and separated by murderous force. The Wire did not cover all of the Belgian/Dutch border, as the Kaiser did not violate Dutch neutrality by seeking to place it around Baarle-Hertog’s many borders with Baarle-Nassau.
The task facing the Imperial Army was demanding, there were no Belgian power stations to power the 2,000 Volt wires along the over 200 miles of the fence, as Belgium (we are told) had no power grid at that time.
Around the clock there was a guard every fifty up to one hundred and fifty metres. At nighttime the number of border guards was doubled, there were also more patrols. German soldiers were ordered to fire immediately after every unanswered warming. Yet they were not allowed to fire in the direction of The Netherlands. The soldiers walked from one switching cottage to the next one, returning when they met with a colleague halfways.
For the poor border Belgians, life was grim:
Placing the wire of death made it impossible to enter The Netherlands. Border traffic was reduced. For inhabitants of the border region this was a painful ordeal as their friends and relatives very often lived in both countries. All traffic to The Netherlands was forbidden or required a strict German control. Whether one could visit a relative or a friend on the other side of the border, depended on the arbitrary decision of the local commander who might – or might not – grant a written (and paid for) permit to leave the country for just a few hours or days. Belgians had to leave the country through a specific gate and had to enter again through the same gate, subject to scrutinous control and registration. If one failed to return in time from a visit to e.g. a sick relative, one simply risked having family members imprisoned or you were forced to pay a heavy fine.
So even before the Germans sent Lenin to Russia to found and then electrify the Soviet Union, they had built a model death strip that many a socialist thinking about the good old days of East Germany could have been proud of.
Autonews reports that programmers working on driverless cars have found that having made them perfectly law-abiding, unable to commit traffic infractions, the result is that they have double the accident rate of driven cars, as they cannot cope with the anarchic driving of humans.
They obey the law all the time, as in, without exception. This may sound like the right way to program a robot to drive a car, but good luck trying to merge onto a chaotic, jam-packed highway with traffic flying along well above the speed limit. It tends not to work out well.
As the accidents have piled up — all minor scrape-ups for now — the arguments among programmers at places like Google Inc. and Carnegie Mellon University are heating up: Should they teach the cars how to commit infractions from time to time to stay out of trouble?
“It’s a constant debate inside our group,” said Raj Rajkumar, co-director of the General Motors-Carnegie Mellon Autonomous Driving Collaborative Research Lab in Pittsburgh. “And we have basically decided to stick to the speed limit. But when you go out and drive the speed limit on the highway, pretty much everybody on the road is just zipping past you. And I would be one of those people.”
Undaunted by collisions with reality, the diagnosis is that the problem is human driving.
Driverless vehicles have never been at fault, the study found: They’re usually hit from behind in slow-speed crashes by inattentive or aggressive humans unaccustomed to machine motorists that always follow the rules and proceed with caution.
Or might it be, as a libertarian might say, that government rules setting arbitrary speed limits create conditions where collisions are more likely?
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?