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]

Samizdata quote of the day

I’m surprised – I didn’t think we would see these calls for more unchecked government surveillance until the start of the new week. But hats off to Dan Hodges – by publicly freaking out in his newspaper column and calling for the Investigatory Powers Bill to be passed, he has opened the door for Theresa May, David Cameron and a parade of GCHQ ex-chiefs to hit the TV studios and make the same demands.

Of course, what Dan does not do is explain how new government surveillance powers would a) have prevented the Paris attacks of 13 November, or b) might realistically prevent any future attacks. And if you pushed him, I doubt that he could explain the scope of current surveillance laws in any detail, or describe the ways that the British security services currently do or do not make use of those powers.

Samuel Hooper

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The NHS is considering ‘blacklisting’ homeopathy – and saving £4,000,000

News reaches us that the NHS is considering blacklisting homeopathy in England, albeit at a glacial pace (with a consultation planned for 2016), by banning General Practitioners from prescribing homeopathic remedies.

I am tempted to suggest that the NHS merely dilutes the funding so much that it becomes more effective, but that would be facetious.

We are told that

…Drugs can be blacklisted if there are cheaper alternatives or if the medicine is not effective…

I am wondering how there could be a cheaper alternative to nothing?

And the Health Secretary, Mr Jeremy Hunt has chimed in, saying:

“when resources are tight we have to follow the evidence”.

One might hope that all clinical practice would follow the evidence whatever the state of resources.

Not all is lost (as it were) for adherents of homeopathy, as the proposal is limited to GP prescribing.

The result of the consultation would affect GP prescribing, but not homeopathic hospitals which account for the bulk of the NHS money spent on homeopathy.

What on Earth is a ‘homeopathic hospital’? A cemetery?

Could this be a small start in the battle against pointless government activity?

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What Christopher Snowdon says about the anti-smoking lobby

Christopher Snowdon’s Velvet Glove, Iron Fist: a history of anti-smoking does not make comfortable reading for libertarians. Although there were anti-smoking movements in the past by the beginning of the recent part of the story (roughly 1950) two principles reigned supreme: freedom of speech and personal responsibility. By the end both lay in tatters.

Snowdon comes from the position that smoking cigarettes is dangerous. This is a refreshing approach given that some libertarians are wont to deny this. Take, for instance, my good friend, the late Judith Hatton. In Murder a Cigarette, co-written with Ralph Harris of IEA fame, she argued that smoking is perfectly safe. Many was the time I would go round to her place for a free meal and be plied with cigarettes (as well as some food). Snowdon, on the other hand, is having none of it. Smoking is dangerous. It produces a chemical, benzo[a]pyrene, which messes around with DNA and causes lung cancer. He also has little time for the tobacco companies whom he regards as little better than scoundrels.

However, accepting that smoking is dangerous and that tobacco companies have been less than honest is his last concession to the anti-smoking lobby. As he says “the dose is the poison”. Heavy smokers are in trouble but light smokers not so much. Of all smokers, 10% will get lung cancer.

If I have a quibble it’s here. While Snowdon has plenty to say about smoking and lung cancer he has little to say about smoking and heart disease although he appears to accept the link there too. Given that heart disease is another big killer of smokers that is a bit of a shame. But anyway, adults should be allowed to make their own decisions for better or worse.

Sadly such appeals to individual choice cut little ice with the anti-smoking lobby. Over the years, they have campaigned for every type of restriction they can think of from advertising bans, to warnings on packs, to smoking bans in pubs and restaurants. One of the ironies is the ineffectiveness of the government violence they so cherish. Although research is sketchy, most restrictions, such as the ban on smoking in bars have had no obvious effect on the rate of smoking and in many cases seem to have increased it – at least initially. Another example is the ban on television advertising where again, initially, sales rose. The unintended consequence was to set in stone the market makeup at the date of the ban. Hence, while beforehand brands rose and fell, ever since Marlboro has been on top. Although Snowdon doesn’t say this as such the implication seems to be that the decline in smoking over the last 50 years has had little to do with government.

Particularly revealing is the search for technological solutions. Over the years the tobacco industry has introduced filters and low tar cigarettes. Whether these make much of a difference is unclear partly because little research has been carried out. Another brand experimented with palladium (just as you might find in a catalytic converter). Unfortunately, the advertising ban made it difficult for them to get the word around.

There were other problems with safer cigarettes. If the tobacco company marketed a safer cigarette as a safer cigarette that would imply that all the other cigarettes they had been selling were dangerous. That would be the sort of admission that could lead to them winding up in court. The tobacco companies were reluctant to admit this not least because, up to then, they had never actually lost a court case.

More recently we have seen the rise of vaping which is vastly safer. This has provoked a split in the anti-smoking lobby with some of them coming to the conclusion that if it comes to a choice between regulations and public health they are in favour of public health. This has not, however, prevented the introduction of a bunch of EU regulations which will make vaping more difficult.

But that is the exception. Generally speaking, the anti-smoking lobby has opposed these developments. They don’t want technological solutions. They want people to change their behaviour. It matters little to them whether lives are saved.

I can shed some personal light on this. A long time ago I was a green. (I know, I know, I was young and foolish.) Back then I utterly hated the idea of technological solutions to environmental problems. Quite why this was I really don’t know but to my green mind the only correct solution was for people to consume less.

Having proved that smoking was dangerous, the anti-smoking lobby then set out to prove that passive smoking was also dangerous. You can kind of see their point. If benzo[a]pyrene is dangerous then it should be so to any consumer of the smoke in which it is present. Snowdon looks at the studies in great detail but, as he shows, again and again they don’t prove anything of the sort. If anything, passive smoking is good for you. One study even suggested that children brought up in smoking families were less likely to get lung cancer.

But the anti-smokers weren’t about to let the facts get in their way. Repeatedly confronted with research that found no link between passive smoking and lung cancer they simply claimed the precise opposite. They were not even above smearing anyone including scientists who dared to point out that the facts were telling a different story. Any similarity between this and any other science which has been perverted by political chicanery is entirely coincidental.

But the campaign rumbled on and continues to rumble on regardless of the facts. My pet theory is what did for smoking is that it went from being an air freshener to being an air unfreshener. A hundred years ago, people’s nostrils would have been exposed to the foul odours caused by horse manure, industrial pollution, filthy rivers and coal dust. In such an atmosphere, cigarette smoke was at worst insignificant and in many cases an improvement.

The anti-smoking lobby has been so successful that recently it has had to start branching out. Alcohol, gambling, meat and sugar are now all on its radar screen of puritanical ire.

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Taranto – a kick in the balls for Mussolini – 75 years ago tonight

I doubt that many realise that it was on 11th November 1940 that the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy struck a blow at Royal Fascist Italy’s Navy that may well have slowed the march of the Axis powers in the Mediterranean and marked the first check on their advance after the fall of France. The operation, called ‘Operation Judgment‘, involved two waves of Fairey Swordfish biplanes (almost certainly the slowest surprise air attack of WW2 apart perhaps from the springing of Mussolini) attacking the Italian fleet at Taranto harbour on the ‘heel’ of Italy. The outcome was that the Italian surface fleet was severely reduced in capability, and the remnants moved further up the peninsula to Naples, thereby limiting their capability to interfere with British shipping in the Mediterranean and to re-inforce North Africa. British casualties were 2 aircraft lost, 2 men killed, 2 PoWs. The Italians lost one battleship, and had 2 battleships and 2 cruisers heavily damaged.

The raid had been planned for Trafalgar Day, 21st October, but was put back due to a fire, fittingly enough to Armistice Day. A Swordfish also went on to cripple the Bismarck, and later in the War they accounted for 22 U-boats. Not a bad record at all.

It has been speculated that this raid inspired the Japanese to use air power at Pearl Harbor, but perhaps emboldened would be a better term, after all, it is not as if Japan wasn’t gearing up for something by this time. The anniversary of the raid has attracted some comment, a piece here in the American Thinker (an organ of which I know little), but pointing out that it actually makes sense to attack your enemies, not to wait for them to attack you. I particularly liked this part:

Third, fight to win, and winning means destroying the power of those who hate us. Had the Second World War been, instead of a continuous struggle, a series of peace talks and ceasefires and diplomatic pussyfooting, it is certain that Hitler would never have lost. Democracies naturally loathe war and yearn for peace, but evil regimes who control their subject peoples can maintain war fever indefinitely.

You might think that that author had some people from the present-day in mind.

And for those brave men of the Fleet Air Arm, flying in open cockpits at night against a major enemy harbour, I shall raise a glass of prosecco tonight, to sink something Italian.

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Why people keep paying to watch 007 do his stuff

Bond is driven by a lust for life — for adventure, for sleek luxury cars, for truffles and foie gras and martinis, and yes, for beautiful women. He is certainly out of place in our age of Neo-Puritanism. He probably eats processed meat, the scoundrel.

But this is not mere gluttony. Bond is a man of refined and expensive tastes. He manages to be both aggressively virile and suave and sophisticated. He’s a stone-cold killer in a tuxedo. The guy with the British accent and tailored suit is usually the villain.

That’s something that is missing from today’s movies, or rather something that has come to be associated with villains in American films. We’ve got plenty of knockaround blue-collar heroes (a Bruce Willis specialty) or wisecracking rule-breakers (the space now being filled by Chris Pratt). But the guy with the plummy British accent and the perfectly tailored suit? He’s usually the villain. Maybe this is the leftover reflex of a country founded in a rebellion against British aristocracy. When we see someone with the markers of aristocracy — fine clothes, expensive tastes, a posh accent — we instinctively distrust him.

Robert Tracinski

By the way, his analysis of why Daniel Craig hasn’t quite got the part down perfectly is very true. He tries too hard at the gritty realism and “I’m the tortoured soul” angle, which I suspect has a touch of PC “we are all victims of our environment/genes” point of view . That’s not what Ian Fleming, a complex character himself, created.

Of course, one thing that genuine liberals will point out is that 007 is a government agent.  But leave aside the ideological correctness for a bit (libertarians can be as big a pain in the butt about this as any socialist): the author of the quotes above absolutely nails why people like the James Bond character, quite as much as why social justice warriors and others don’t. He’s been attacked by the puritan left almost from the year when Fleming started bashing out his lines in his Jamaica home. Long may James Bond continue to give such folk a headache.

Right, I am in deepest Dubai, and heading off for an event which involves dressing in a tuxedo.

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The state has never been your friend. What about your friends (and others) who work for the state?

I came across an article titled The Public Sector: Standing In Our Way Until We Pay Up (browsing Catallaxy Files). Both are recommended reading. The article is written from an American perspective, but speaks of experiences both Americans and non-Americans would be familiar with. I have reproduced what I found to be the more thought-provoking parts of the article here:

…one popular theory of the state — one that is pretty well-supported by the historical evidence in the European context — is that this is where governments come from: protection rackets that survive for a long enough period of time that they take on a patina of legitimacy. At some point, Romulus-and-Remus stories are invented to explain that the local Mafiosi have not only historical roots but divine sanction.

The fundamental problem — the provision of services — never really goes away. It is even today a critical issue in places that are (or recently have been) ruled by crime syndicates such as the Taliban and Fatah. Hamas, especially, is known to put some real effort into the social-services front. There are some services that markets historically have not done a very good job of providing — these are called “public goods,” which is a specific term from political economy and not a synonym for “stuff the public thinks is desirable” — and their provision is the only real reason we have governments. Or, more precisely: Providing public goods is the only legitimate reason we have governments.

In reality, we have governments for lots of reasons, most of them illegitimate: That ancient instinct toward banditry is powerful, and the desire to make a living by simply commanding economic resources rather than earning them through trade or labor seems to be a fixed feature of a certain subset of human beings. Patronage and clientelism are very strong forces, too, and government can be used to create public-sector salaries or welfare benefits that are well in excess of the wages that political clients could expect to earn in honest work. In the United States, our swollen public-sector payrolls, particularly at the state and local level, are little more than a supplementary welfare state, providing a more dignified form of public dependency for relatively low-skilled and mainly unenterprising people.

When it comes to government, if you aren’t involved in the provision of actual public goods, you are involved in extortion. It may be legal. It may have the blessing of the mayor, the city council, and your union representative, but it’s still extortion. And you should be ashamed of yourself. If your only purpose is getting in the way until somebody hands you money, then you are part of a protection racket. And you might want to think about going into a more honorable line of work.

Prior to reading the article, I was familiar with the hypothesis that the origin of the modern state has its roots in criminal enterprise, yet it is always amusing attempting to reconcile this with the modern state’s increasingly matronly efforts to get its subjects to behave themselves. And it is certainly far from an implausible theory, when you consider how similar the objectives of a criminal enterprise and a state can be. The major difference is, of course, that the state functions within the law – hardly surprising since it is the major source of law – while criminal organisations operate outside of the law. But honestly, how could the activity of a crime gang that defeated a local rival in a turf war be described as anything other than a spot of localised gun control – in terms of ends, if perhaps not means?

→ Continue reading: The state has never been your friend. What about your friends (and others) who work for the state?

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Samizdata quote of the day

When Corbyn is challenged on his beliefs and his record, he tends to respond by characterising a political challenge as a personal attack. He treats it as intrusive, rude and vulgar. In so doing, he accomplishes three things. He paints himself as the innocent victim of unjust aggression; he avoids responding to the detail of the challenge; and he bolsters the distinction between the good people inside his tent and the bad people outside of it. Howard Jacobson writes:

There was something ‘How very dare you’, about Jeremy Corbyn’s recent temper tantrum in rebuttal of the charge that the company he kept reflected badly on him. ‘The idea that I’m some kind of racist or anti-Semitic person is beyond appalling, disgusting and deeply offensive,’ he said (Jacobson 2015).

‘Alarm bells ring when a politician stands haughty upon his honour,’ observes Jacobson. When Jeremy says he doesn’t do personal what he means is that he will not deal with criticism in the normal way. He will not respond to it by means of reason or argument; he refuses to enter into serious engagement over worldviews, over ideas or over his record. He is less interested in trying to persuade than in making criticism appear as personal insult. ‘Jeremy doesn’t do personal’ does not mean that he refrains from insulting others; it means that he refrains from responding to that which he is able to construct as insulting.

David Hirsh

My thanks to the invaluable Mick Hartley for flagging up Hirsh’s paper, entitled “The Corbyn left: the politics of position and the politics of reason”.

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Phone versus Zone (again)

Dan Hannan, in a piece about how Indians would like Britain out of the EU so that Indians can more easily do business with Britain, ruminates upon the irrelevance of mere geography in the modern world:

Two generations ago, when most business was localised and freight costs were high, regional customs unions had a certain appeal. But in the Internet age, geographical proximity has never mattered less. Culture and kinship trump distance.

Likewise, in many eyes, lack of cultural affinity and lack of kinship trump geographical proximity, or they should. The biggest reason why Brexit seems now to be winning in Britain is that we are now watching EUrope make a hopeless mess of mass immigration from its geographically near but culturally very distinct eastern neighbours.

Near the end of the same piece Hannan says:

Next year, Britain will have to decide whether we are defined chiefly by our geography. Must we merge with states which happen to be in the vicinity, or do we recognise that some values transcend continents, linking us to kindred peoples in more distant lands?

I was having similar thoughts here, a while back, when the internet was just getting into its stride as a mass experience.

I see that I also had some rather prophetic things to say in that piece (posted in 2002) about the recently concluded Rugby World Cup (2015). The point being that rugby is an activity that was then and still remains at the mercy of geographical proximity. Rugby tournaments that happen every year, all the time, need to be based in the same approximate locality. Northern Hemisphere rugby teams were in 2002, and remain in 2015, physically separated from their superior Southern Hemisphere rivals. England had a little moment of superiority in the noughts, just winning the 2003 World Cup and coming second in 2007. So when England recently got knocked out at the group stage of the latest Rugby World Cup in 2015, in England, it felt like a uniquely terrible failure. But come the semi-finals this time around, no Northern Hemisphere teams remained in the tournament, despite the event itself having been held in the Northern Hemisphere. In the quarter finals, New Zealand slaughtered France, and Argentina decisively defeated Ireland, France and Ireland having been regarded by many as the best Northern Hemisphere bets. Many had realised that Argentina, who now regularly play against the Southern Hemisphere big three (NZ, Australia, South Africa) have recently got a lot better, but many others, me included, were amazed, not just by the fact of Argentina’s victory over Ireland but by the manner of it. Wales and Scotland did better but still lost, to South Africa and Australia.

However, the fact that regular rugby tournaments are obliged to cluster geographically is no reason for political entities to attempt to do the same. Geographical proximity to weaker teams and separation from the strongest teams is seen by Northern Hemisphere rugby people as a problem, not as any sort of answer to their problems.

With Dan Hannan, I say: Brexit. And it has to be a good sign that this anti-Brexit guy, in an article with very high google visibility, is making excuses about why his team may be about to lose rather than even attempting to make persuasive arguments about why it should win.

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Samizdata non-quote of the day

I’d stick something on Samizdata if I wasn’t so worn out from laughing at these Million Mask March ‘anarchist’ wankers who want, well, government to do more stuff.

– Perry de Havilland

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Samizdata quote of the day

If the Conservative Party really still believed in national sovereignty, a strong defence, smaller government, less regulation and helping people to improve their own circumstances, they would look at the rise of Jeremy Corbyn and the return of political ideology and see it as license to start espousing their own philosophy instead of continually apologising for their beliefs.

That so many conservatives are desperate to stick to the centre ground and view Jeremy Corbyn as a clear and present threat to Britain says a lot more about the soft Right than it does about the Labour leadership candidate.

Samuel Hooper

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Samizdata quote of the day

Journos: UK officials don’t want to “ban encryption” — they want to ban encryption that *works*.

Edward Snowden

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The totalitarians politicise everything – even a passport

It takes a particularly obsessive mindset to politicise everything in life, but the UK media seem happy to report without scorn or derision that latest wails from totalitarian obsessives about the UK’s new passport design, which features humans (the previous one features various feathered friends).

Let us see some of the complaints reported:

The redesign focuses on UK figures and landmarks from the past 500 years.
Architect Elisabeth Scott and mathematician Ada Lovelace are the only women to feature.
Government officials defended the design, but Labour’s shadow employment secretary Emily Thornberry said it was “exasperating”, adding: “We exist.” “This is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women as well.
“We have had this fight about bank notes and now it’s about passports.
“I just feel as though we are here all over again.”

MP Stella Creasy also criticised the redesign, while gender equality campaign group the Fawcett Society accused the government of “airbrushing” women out of history.

It was Stalin who was the past-master of airbrushing. Why? To influence what people think, and what they remember. And those who regard a passport design as an opportunity to make a political statement are a lot closer to Stalin than they would probably care to admit. This is a passport, and it is there to get you through passport control and that is that.

And it is not as if all the men chosen are particularly outstanding, Constable and Harrison I would put forward, but that is what you might expect in these days:

The seven men showcased in the new passport are playwright William Shakespeare, artists John Constable, Anish Kapoor and Sir Antony Gormley, architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, computer pioneer Charles Babbage and John Harrison, a clockmaker who invented the marine clock.

Is no one going to call out these objecting people as (i) boring (ii) obsessive (iii) totalitarian* in their quest to ensure that a political agenda is rammed into every aspect of life? If you seek to control what I see, you want to control what I, and others, think? By what right? Why on Earth should what I see be determined by someone else’s political obsessions? Will no one rid us of these turbulent beasts, by laughing them into the dustbin of history?

* In the full sense, regarding everything, like Mussolini dentro dello Stato, and a matter for politics.

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