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]

HMS Audacious sinks

On 27 October 1914 HMS Audacious, one of the Royal Navy’s newer battleships hit a mine and sank. The government censored the story and the loss wasn’t officially admitted until after the war had ended. This is about as close as readers of the Times got to hearing about it officially:

The Times 6 November 1914 p4

The Times 6 November 1914 p4

The point being that the Olympic (sister ship of the Titanic) helped in the rescue operation. Many of its passengers were Americans and some even took photographs. As there was no censorship in America news of the sinking slowly filtered across the Atlantic. There’s a good discussion about the sinking here:

So, why the secrecy? Partly this was because of where the Audacious sank. The fleet was supposed to be in Scapa Flow in the Orkneys guarding the North Sea. However, due to the state of the submarine defences there it was thought prudent to move it to Lough Swilly off the northern coast of Ireland. The navy did not want the idea to get out that the North Sea was an open house.

HMS Audacious sinking

HMS Audacious sinking

But there may have been another reason. The early months of the war had been a disaster for the Royal Navy. The German battlecruiser, Goeben, had evaded the British in the Mediterranean and went on to play a large part in bringing Turkey into the war. Three cruisers, the Hogue, Aboukir and Cressy had managed to get themselves sunk by the same submarine in the Channel in the space of an hour and a half. At the battle of Coronel a British cruiser squadron had attacked a superior German force with disastrous results. In the southern oceans the commerce raider Emden was making fools of its pursuers, seemingly able to pop up out of nowhere to shell ports and destroy wireless stations. There may have been a desire not to admit just how badly things were going.

In situations like this questions are bound to be asked about the man at the top – or the First Lord of the Admiralty to give him his grand, official title – but it would take another year and more disasters before he would finally be sacked. The chap’s name? Oh yes, Winston Churchill.

NHS Kremlinology

Back in the bad old days, Kremlinologists used to try to figure out what was going on in the leadership of the USSR by observing signs and portents.

During the Cold War, lack of reliable information about the country forced Western analysts to “read between the lines” and to use the tiniest tidbits, such as the removal of portraits, the rearranging of chairs, positions at the reviewing stand for parades in Red Square, the choice of capital or small initial letters in phrases such as “First Secretary”, the arrangement of articles on the pages of the party newspaper “Pravda” and other indirect signs to try to understand what was happening in internal Soviet politics.

To study the relations between Communist fraternal states, Kremlinologists compare the statements issued by the respective national Communist parties, looking for omissions and discrepancies in the ordering of objectives. The description of state visits in the Communist press are also scrutinized, as well as the degree of hospitality leant to dignitaries. Kremlinology also emphasizes ritual, in that it notices and ascribes meaning to the unusual absence of a policy statement on a certain anniversary or holiday.

Brian Micklethwait has often written of the “sovietisation” of various parts of the British State such as state schools and the NHS. To illustrate this process, take a look at the way a “major incident” at Colchester Hospital has been reported.

What major incident you ask? My point exactly: you ask, they don’t answer. Likewise “safeguarding” is repeatedly mentioned. Something needs to be safeguarded.

Late last night or early this morning there were oracular bulletins from the Telegraph and Times, all chock-full of unspecified “incident”. From the Times:

On Wednesday, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspected Colchester Hospital’s accident and emergency department and emergency assessment unit and told trust it had concerns over “safeguarding” there.

The major incident is likely to last for a week, and the trust has reminded members of the public to only visit A&E if they have a “serious or life-threatening condition”.

A spokesman for the hospital said the inspection was not the sole reason for the major incident being declared, although it played a role.

All clear now? There was a similarly opaque article on the AOL homepage. It has been updated since, as has the Telegraph one, I think, but the Times, like a good horror movie, is delaying the big reveal.

The BBC followed suit: “Colchester Hospital declares major incident.” The BBC did tell us what sort of general thing might constitute a “major incident” but not about this major incident. As a result everyone thinks it’s ebola and as I write this it’s the most looked-at article on the BBC website.

Stand down. It’s not ebola. The Guardian was slow to get the story but does actually tell it:

A major incident has been declared at Colchester hospital after a surprise inspection this week found patients being inappropriately restrained and sedated without consent and “do not resuscitate” notices being disregarded.

The ward concerned has been closed to new admissions, an emergency control centre has been put in place to address capacity problems, and patients are being urged to go to A&E only if they have a serious or life-threatening condition.

Inspectors from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) found that the Essex hospital is struggling with “unprecedented demand”, but the Guardian understands concerns were also raised about safeguarding issues relating to inappropriate restraint, resuscitation and sedation of elderly people, some with dementia.

Oh dear, what a let down. Just as it used to in the days of Pravda and Izvestia the secrecy concealed mundanity. It’s just the NHS in crisis again. Can’t they do anything right? The zombies they make aren’t even dead yet.

Our old buddy, the law of unintended consequences

Hannah Thoburn has an interesting article on World Affairs called Putin the Unifier:

There’s nothing like an invasion to bring a country together. Ask any Ukrainian on any street and they’ll tell you the same thing, almost thankfully: Vladimir Putin has united Ukraine like never before. His actions in eastern Ukraine have proven a kind of catalyst that have forged a nation out of a group of people that once squabbled incessantly about politics, language rights, and tax dollars.

Southern Ukrainians who once sighed in exasperation at the “nationalists from the west” of Ukraine (as the common saying went) are now excited about the election to Parliament of a new, youthful, pro-European party, Self-Reliance, which hails from that region. Perhaps, one woman told me, they can teach us how to begin to “live in the European way.” Some in customarily Russian-speaking areas have taken to purposefully speaking Ukrainian so as to not perpetuate Russian soft power.

This pretty much squares with what I have heard from people I know or correspond with in the Ukraine. They tend to be deeply cynical about domestic corruption and local politicians generally, but all have told me hostility to the Kremlin and pro-western sentiments now largely transcends narrower political groupings, making for some eye widening collaboration amongst very unlikely allies. A guy I know also said much the same thing about many Russians becoming very vocally Ukrainian, with some going ‘deep nationalist’ as only Russians can these days, just not in the way the charming Mr. Putin might have expected.

The correct response to this is…

The correct response to this is…

“I should give a shit why exactly? But please leave your name, address and accomplishments so I can critique your sartorial style in the unlikely event you are ever involved in something never done before in human history.”

But Matt, listen to me buddy… never apologise. Seriously, your friends do not need it and your enemies will still hate you regardless, so either ignore your detractors, or better yet, tell them to shove it.

hat tip: Darryl Watson

Samizdata quote of the day

This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO did not score the mandate as taxes. If CBO [Congressional Budget Office] scored the mandate as taxes, the bill dies. Okay, so it’s written to do that. In terms of risk rated subsidies, if you had a law which said that healthy people are going to pay in – you made explicit healthy people pay in and sick people get money, it would not have passed… Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really really critical for the thing to pass….Look, I wish Mark was right that we could make it all transparent, but I’d rather have this law than not.

– Professor Jonathan Gruber, “one of the key figures in constructing the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare”, via Reason, via David Thomson.

Bubbles, lies, and buttered toast

What happens if each of those experts feels entitled, even obligated, to lie just a little, to shade his conclusions to strengthen the support they provide for what he believes is the right conclusion? Each of them then interprets the work of all the others as providing more support for that conclusion than it really does. The result might be that they end up biasing their results in support of the wrong conclusion—which each of them believes is right on the basis of the lies of all the others.

That is one of the reasons I am not greatly impressed by the supposed scientific consensus in favor of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming.

David Friedman

As I am fond of saying, it works like a stock market bubble. There is no need to posit a conspiracy. David Friedman’s view that this is a matter of a build up of many little lies rather than a few big ones is a more realistic as well as a more charitable picture of the mechanism at work.

I am yet more charitable than Professor Friedman. Though I completely agree with him that there are almost certainly many scientists shading their conclusions, it might well be the case that they are not doing so consciously at all. All it would take is for a lot of people with jobs to keep and mortgages to pay each to see which side their bread is buttered when the time comes round to apply for grants. As the American socialist author Upton Sinclair put it, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” On the unbuttered side of the bread, when a scientist observes that colleagues who raise doubts suffer for it, she would be acting much like the rest of humanity if she, while never aware of feeling fear, somehow finds herself more comfortable out of the intellectual proximity of these pariahs.

In a way the Rosetta scientists had it easy. All they had to do was hit a moving target half a billion kilometres away. Succeed or fail, there is no kidding yourself and no kidding others. Twenty-eight minutes later you and the world will know.

ADDED LATER: Fraser Orr comments:

“The answer to the CAGW people is simple: make a prediction that is falsifiable and can be measured in a reasonable length of time. Give me an example of a significant result where you predicted the future and it came true. Explain why your last fifteen years of prediction have been completely wrong, and if you have a wild ass explanation of something you didn’t factor in, give us a reason to believe that you didn’t forget something else.”

In case anyone wonders why I love Guido Fawkes

I only just spotted this on CapX and it does help explain why I have a high opinion of ‘Guido Fawkes‘, warts and all: he has been on the side of the angels for a long, long time.

Samizdata quote of the day

What is amazing is how the “Stab in the back” myth got going.

I’m watching a similar narrative unfold in Russia. The myth being propagated, and lapped up, is that Russia was strong and respected in the days of the USSR and then suddenly a handful of people (who naturally were nothing to do with Russia, really) gave it all up and surrendered unnecessarily. The West rushed in, led by the Americans, with the sole purpose of grinding Russians’ noses into the dirt and dismantling their country. They very nearly succeeded, but fortunately Putin descended from the clouds to save the nation, and is setting about restoring Russia’s place in the world and thanks to him Russia is strong again and will never again be subject to humiliation at the hands of the Americans.

Of course, the reality is that Russia persisted with an idiotic system of economic and political management despite the West telling them not to, and it inevitably collapsed around their ears. Rather than take the women and children as slaves, shoot all the men, and plough salt into the earth the West took pity on their former sworn enemies and offered them well-intended but hopelessly naive advice on how to build a market economy – naive because it failed to take into account the fact that far too many Russians would rather kill each other in order to get filthy rich than do some work and add some value. Having contributed to the almighty mess that Russia became, certain state-backed thugs rose to the top and accepted Putin as their leader who spent about 7-8 years providing some much-needed stability before the oil price rose, stoked his ego, and sent him into the delusion that he is some kind of Peter the Great figure who is destined to restore Russia’s place at the global top-table. Which is a fine aim, but thus far he’s managed to shoot down an airliner, ban the import of Lithuanian cheese, help himself to a peninsular he can only access in summer, and the traffic lights in most Russian towns still don’t work.

As with Germany, the second time around, the West might not be so charitable.

Jake Barnes commenting on a Samizdata article.

The European Space Agency may be loathsome tranzi-spawn, but this is so cool

Live: Rosetta comet landing

The Financial Times does what?

Simon Gibbs has an excellent article pointing out a ‘media worthy’ story that the media probably will not cover. Short version: the 2014 Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year award has gone to a book ripped into tiny bleeding shreds previously in… the Financial Times.

And lets not forget Piketty and the Shoe Event Horizon!

Farage thinks thousands of Brits should have died to save millions of Europeans, Guardian readers outraged

Nigel Farage: the armistice was the biggest mistake of the 20th century

Farage is quoted as saying,

“But had we driven the German army completely out of France and Belgium, forced them into unconditional surrender, Herr Hitler would never have got his political army off the ground. He couldn’t have claimed Germany had been stabbed in the back by the politicians in Berlin, or that Germany had never been beaten in the field.”

Most of the Guardian commenters take this as proof of Farage’s bigotry and ignorance.

“That’s because he wasn’t doing the fighting. Even if he was alive at the time, little silver spoon establishment posh boys don’t do the fighting anyway. They send others to their deaths,” says commenter “steemonkey”, getting lots more recommends than the reply from “FenlandBuddha”:

“Actually the upper classes suffered worse proportionally than anyone else because you were more likely to be killed as a junior officer than a private. The Prime Minister Asquith lost one son, the Conservative leader Bonar Law lost two.”

In memoriam: Sir Thomas Macpherson, CBE, MC and two bars

Sir Thomas died on November 6th and so just missed having his Times obituary appear on Armistice Day. He was 94. There will not be many more obituaries like this.

The Jedburgh team of which Major Macpherson was in charge, codenamed “Quinine”, was flown from Blida in Algiers and dropped near Aurillac, in the Cantal department, on the night of June 8, 1944. Accompanied by Aspirant (officer cadet) Prince Michel de Bourbon of the French Army and Sergeant Arthur Brown of the Royal Tank Regiment, Macpherson — a proud Scot — wore his kilt for the occasion. The attire caused some confusion and the first report to reach the local maquisards claimed “a French officer has arrived with his wife”.

In order to swell partisan numbers, Macpherson drove around in a car — still wearing his Cameron Highlander tartans — openly flying the Union Flag pennant and the Croix de Lorraine, much to the astonishment of his comrades

Whether through bravery or chutzpah, Macpherson won the surrender of 23,000 Wehrmacht troops by spouting a series of brazen lies. He presented himself to the commanding officer, Major-General Botho Elster, and assured him that heavy artillery, 20,000 troops and RAF bombers were waiting for Macpherson’s word to attack. In reality he had only the aid of another Jedburgh team. Surrender or die, he urged Elster; the bluff worked. Elster and his troops eventually passed into US Army captivity.

. . . Macpherson won an athletics Blue and could even boast a rare victory over Roger Bannister.

Oxford eased him back into civilian life — “Our life was finished, and then it started again”. For nearly 30 years he worked for the timber company William Mallinson & Sons, where he started as a personal assistant to the chairman and finished as managing director.

As children they recall their father beginning every day with a cold bath and an hour of exercise.

He published an autobiography, Behind Enemy Lines, in 2010. Once asked to name his proudest moment, he pondered and said: “It’s very often that one remembers the small things and forgets the big ones.”