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 slap in the face becomes a kick in the balls for the Education nomenklatura

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?

German border controls – things ain’t what they used to be…the ‘Dodendraad’

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.

‘No offence’ – in Northern Ireland…

Thirteen members of a Loyalist marching band, the Young Conway Volunteers, have had their criminal convictions for ‘doing a provocative act likely to cause public disorder or a breach of the peacequashed after the Public Prosecutor agreed not to oppose their appeals.

The non-offence occurred after the marching band found themselves marching in a circle outside St Patrick’s Church (Catholic) in north Belfast, whilst playing (allegedly aggravated by hostility) a tune alleged to have been ‘the Famine Song’ with the presumably catchy refrain ‘The famine’s over, why don’t you go home?‘, but what they said was the Beach Boys ‘Sloop John B‘ (reportedly an easy mistake to make, the basic tune is widely used). How this was proved at the original trial when they presumably were playing a tune on instruments and not singing was not made clear.

Although now acquitted, the band members agreed to be bound over to keep the peace for 2 years (not a conviction but a promise of good behaviour, breach of which could lead to a 7 day jail term).

Whilst this acquittal in the face of ‘hate legislation’ is certainly a good thing for liberty, I note the apologetic tone of the response of the Orange Lodge, which presumably has some connection to the band:

In a statement, The County Grand Orange Lodge of Belfast welcomed the successful appeal.

“We are glad that justice has finally been achieved for these band members who had been wrongly vilified by the media and nationalism,” it said.
“There never was an intent to cause offence.”

One might ask what on Earth were they marching for if not to ‘cause offence‘ (in the subjective sense) on 12th July by their celebration of the lifting of the siege of Londonderry? To say that there was ‘no intent to cause offence‘ appears to concede that offence was caused, rather than taken or even perhaps rejoiced in as an opportunity to throw the legal machinery of the State at the band.

Why not say that this legislation is oppressive, tyrannical and makes the law itself a politicised weapon, a sword, not a shield?

To me as an Englishman, the whole shebang seems utterly alien, the intolerance and fanaticism on both poles of the Ulster divide mark them as having more in common with each other than with insipid, fundamentally apolitical England. Whether or not that is a good thing for Northern Ireland, or for England, may in the long run be another matter.

A welcome slap in the face from the Magistracy for the Education nomenklatura

A gentleman living on the Isle of Wight took his school-age daughter on holiday to Florida in term time. The child’s absence from school was noted…

The Local Education Authority issued him with a fixed-penalty notice for £60, for failing to ensure that his child attended school regularly. He refused to pay this ‘penalty’ (a bureaucratic alternative to prosecution). The ‘fine’ was doubled (by the bureaucrats) to £120, he refused to pay, so he was summonsed to the Magistrates’ Court by the authority to face a charge under Section 444 of the Education Act 1996 (from John Major’s time).

Sure enough, he argued, my daughter wasn’t in school, big deal. The offence was not made out. Here is the wording in question.

Offence: failure to secure regular attendance at school of registered pupil.

(1)If a child of compulsory school age who is a registered pupil at a school fails to attend regularly at the school, his parent is guilty of an offence.

So, for those (many) parents harassed, threatened and fined by bureaucrats, they have been acting as if the law required total attendance at school.

The rule of law has prevailed, the offence was not made out, on the prosecution’s case, the case failed. What troubles me is that I find that, in England in 2015, refreshing.

But as Mrs Thatcher once said ‘Just rejoice at that news!‘.

Another year…

Police powers last changed significantly at the turn of the year when the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act came into effect, along with a new ‘Code of Practice’–delegated legislation in effect–under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

That’s almost seven weeks ago, so obviously it is time to add to them. Enter the government today with yet another new police bill, the Police and Justice Bill empowering Community Support Officers in some interesting new ways.

Let’s not forget meanwhile the gentle, undisturbed, unnoted, progress of the Powers of Entry Bill which will create a common (low) standard for search and seizure warrants to be issued to officials of all kinds in relation to their functions under around 200 Acts, ranging from adoption to zoo licensing. (And including some long-forgotten items such as the “horror comics” legislation of the 1950s.)

The power wedge

There is a gap that is rarely acknowledged between the nominal powers of officialdom and their actual powers in practice. Unless we are vigilant, and the rules are tightly drawn powers will be (not may be, will be) used for broader purposes than those for which they are granted. What’s more ways will be found to use the leverage of one power to enhance another. New police powers do not merely add to the force of those that already exist, they multiply and magnify them.

Last night an example of systematic police intimidation was proudly displayed as PR for the police on the most popular British TV channel (ITV1, not the BBC).

The program (“Inside Crime”) was one of those encouraging people to assist with current investigations and appealing for witnesses to various murders and robberies. Fine. I don’t think I have a problem with that: seems like a genuine public service. But of a 25 minute programme something like a fifteen minute segment was devoted to cameras accompanying police in Dartford as they “cracked down” on drugs and illegal working on one evening.

A sergeant swaggered around in a head mic proudly demonstrating how new technology allows the detection of traces of cocaine in pub lavatories. It was then revealed that “with the cooperation of landlords and managers” that night everybody wishing to enter a pub or club in the centre of Dartford had to submit to police swabbing their hands for drugs as a condition of entry. Those who tested postive were then formally searched under “reasonable suspicion”.

The swabbing itself didn’t count as a search because it was “voluntary”. Thus is the law perverted by those who are supposed to uphold it. The programme was silent on what happened to those who got as far as the entrance to a bar but refused the entry procedure. I’d be interested to know.

→ Continue reading: The power wedge

Building walls

The War on Terror, like any war, provides the opportunity for certain technologies to be developed at an accelerated pace. The problem is that we seem to depend on the rather glib assertion that without freedom there is no prosperity. This is fine so long as government is concerned with prosperity. But how long do people have to wait in societies where an élite puts the power to rule ahead of prosperity? As George Orwell put it in Hommage to Catalonia: “We don’t grasp it’s [totalitarianism’s] full implications, because in our mystical way we feel that a régime founded on slavery must collapse. But it is worth comparing the duration of the slave empires of antiquity with that of any modern state. Civilisations founded on slavery have lasted for such periods as four thousand years.”

With this thought in mind, from Tech Central Station:

Chemical detectors may provide, by the way, the greatest advance in counter-insurgent capabilities. Biochips will make it possible for self-directed UAVS to seek out explosives, including those used in small arms, and chemical and biological agents. They will also enable the identification and tracking of thousands or even millions of individuals in a monitored area based on their “smell.”
→ Continue reading: Building walls

Bush Bans Bad News

The Washington Post reports that the Bush administration has banned news organisations from reporting the dead bodies arriving home from Iraq.

The policy has in fact been in place for several years but was never enforced. Bush has now decided that the US public should not be allowed to see the realities of war.

Putting aside the rights and wrongs of the war, there can be no security implication of showing such footage. It might be distasteful, but that is a judgement for the broadcasters to make. This ban on media coverage appears to be for simple political purposes.

Once again the First Amendment is being quietly eroded.

Mr Blog asks the right question but gets the wrong answer

Cards on the table. The bosses of this blog are out of town, and although they may be able to stick stuff up here from time to time, they may be distracted. I’m one of the people they hope will keep things buzzing in their absence. So I googled a few obvious things like “surveillance” and “privacy” and got little that was new, and then I tried “Freedom versus Security”, and got to this piece at Mr Blog, from way back in August.

Mr Blog has this to say on the matter:

Defining the debate as “freedom versus security” circumvents the question of whether the various proposals, in fact, improve security. Where is the evidence for this assumption that any of these measures can help ensure security?

He then attacks various supposed US security measures on cost effectiveness grounds. This critique is good as far as it goes. Indeed we do not want to hand on to our grandchildren a society bankrupted by a million futile security measures which weren’t. That’s true.

But I think Mr Blog is making a fundamental error of omission here. The really big consequence of framing things as “freedom versus security” is to smuggle past you the notion that “freedom” can never ever be any good for “security”. Yet plainly it can.

If the populus is numbed into a state of brainless inertia by laws that take away their freedom, and which simultaneously promise to create security, then a major source of security, in the form of individuals protecting themselves and each other, may be switched off, and by the very measures which were supposedly going to make us all more secure. The “cost” of “security” measures isn’t only that they cost us a ton of money, or even that they cost us freedom. What if, by costing us freedom, they also reduce security? That’s the biggest problem with framing this argument as “freedom versus security”.

As I have probably said here before, this debate reminds me of the Economic Calculation debate of a hundred years ago, and Mr Blog is just like one of those anti-economic-planning grumblers of days gone by who complained that planning would be more of a muddle and less of a spur to prosperity than pro-planners fancied, and that it would eat up our freedoms to insufficiently good effect. But that was to miss the vital point about prosperity, which was that in order to get it, you had to have freedom. No freedom, no prosperity.

What if security is the same? No freedom, no security. I think it is, and I think that’s true. And I want some latter day Von Mises to write a huge book which proves it.

Mr Blog’s error is all the more distressing because he frames the question so clearly.

Mr Archer – retrospectively

Madsen Pirie at the newly launched Adam Smith Insitute Weblog, and Andy Duncan at Samizdata both comment unfavourably on the retrospective nature of the law that has been crafted to strip Lord Archer of the Lord bit of his name. Both link to this Telegraph piece. And I’d like to think that there are many other bloggers who have commented in a similar manner, to whom apologies for the neglect.

Dr Pirie also links to his own year 2000 Guardian piece, entitled Sweeping Away Our Liberties, which is well worth a complete read. He lists all the important elements of what is meant by the phrase “rule of law”, and notes that all of them are (i.e. they already were three years ago) being eroded in various ways.

Last two paragraphs:

The pattern emerges quite clearly: government is making laws out of particular cases and eroding the general principles in order to secure a particular aim. It wants to bring to justice the people none of us have any time for: financial swindlers, racist thugs, paedophiles, war criminals, drug dealers and terrorists. Others might include rapists, petty professional criminals who are “obviously guilty”, and multiple offenders whose record will be known to magistrates, but not to juries.

In the interest of bringing these low lifes to justice, the principles which protect the liberties of all of us are swept away. The precepts which have guarded society are destroyed to target particular groups of offenders. After all, we do not want them getting off, do we? In some cases, though, we might accept that, preferring a few unsavoury individuals to walk free rather than compromise the foundations on which our liberties depend. We give the devil himself the benefit of our laws, for how could we otherwise claim it ourselves?