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 government that does not wish to steal everything it can…. step forward India

The endless scamming of NGOs seems to be a plague on the World, but the Federal Government of India is resisting claims from an NGO, I understand it to be the All India Human Rights and Social Justice Front (but what’s in a name?*),that it should seek to obtain the Koh-i-Noor diamond from Her Britannic Majesty.

Ownership of the famous gem is an emotional issue for many Indians, who believe it was stolen by the British.
However, the solicitor-general said was “neither stolen nor forcibly taken”.

Ranjit Kumar said the 105-carat diamond had been “gifted” to the East India company by the former rulers of Punjab in 1849.
The case is being heard by the Supreme Court after an Indian NGO filed a petition asking the court to direct the Indian government to bring back the diamond.

Oddly, despite its secession from India at independence, a lawyer in Pakistan has claimed the Koh-i-Noor for Pakistan, presumably on the basis that it was the property of a ruler of the Punjab.

The Pakistani petition, lodged with a court in Lahore by Javed Iqbal Jaffry, names Queen Elizabeth II as a respondent.
“Grabbing and snatching it was a private, illegal act which is justified by no law,” he told Reuters.
He is quoted as saying that he has written 786 letters to the Queen and Pakistani officials about it.

Thankfully, most of Mr Jaffry’s fellow citizens do not seem to share his enthusiasm. And a cheer for them too.

There has never been a popular debate or campaign to get the Koh-i-Noor diamond returned in Pakistan, our correspondent adds.

Now will India’s sensible example be enough for Greece to shut up about the Elgin Marbles? After all, they named a whole musical film after the place, and yet they complain about Macedonia daring to speak its own name.

* This group appears to have some form in litigation, without it being immediately clear that Human Rights were foremost in their consideration, trying to get a Bangladeshi lady kicked out of India.

The bench was hearing the appeal filed by NGO ‘All India Human Rights and Social Justice Front’ seeking cancellation of Nasreen’s visa alleging that she has been violating the Foreigners Order of 1948 and the Foreigners Act of 1946 by airing her views on every issue without prior permission.

UPDATE: as Tim’ points out, it appears that another element of the Indian government seeks to maintain the claim, despite the concession made by the Right Honourable and learned Solicitor General in open court. So perhaps the attitude of those bothered is to maintain the ‘learned grudge’ that we find in Greece, Argentina and other delightful places.

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Elton John knows Barbra Streisand, so…

With that in mind, it seem positively hilarious that he appears to be unaware of the Streisand Effect!

You’d need a heart of stone not to laugh :D

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War on Sugar

Mars, owner of Dolmio and Uncle Ben’s food brands, is labelling its products to tell people which ones they should only eat once per week. It is something to do with trying to get people to eat less sugar, for some reason.

Nutritionist Jenny Rosborough from Action on Sugar told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme: “It’s great that they are pushing forward this responsible labelling and raising awareness. “But the challenge we have with it is that only the health conscious will look at the labels in the first place, therefore it’s not going to hit the people who need it the most.”

By which she means poor people who are too stupid to be allowed to make their own decisions. And who are Action on Sugar anyway? The writer of the blog Hemiposterical has found that they are the same people as Consensus Action on Salt and Health, funded largely by the mysterious Marcela Trust. What motivates them, I wonder? (Incidentally, even the NHS is very lukewarm about the harmful effects of salt, when pressed.)

And where did this new war on sugar come from? There is a sugar tax. There is even an app. Made by a quango. It is like a conspiracy of very boring illuminati. And even evil multinational corporations are going along with it. Very strange.

Perhaps it originates from inside the World Health Organisation, who last year urged “countries” to reduce people’s sugar intake by half to 25g per day for adults because sugar causes bad teeth, obesity and diabetes. Yesterday I drank a 330ml bottle of lemonade containing 33g of sugar. I am not obese, do not have diabetes and still have all my teeth.

Put yourself in the position of the head of a government agency. You have an amorphous blob of population and you can poke it with various sticks (such as advice, regulation and taxes) and observe the effects (such as the amount of money spent on certain medical treatments). You can vary the pointyness of the sticks and the amount of poking and get different effects. You keep doing this until you get the effect you want. The truth of the stick is irrelevant. Individuals have no reason to think that there is any truth in government advice. It can be ignored (ignoring taxes is harder). What surprises me is that I observe people making some attempt to follow the advice and berating themselves for failing.

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The brief era of freely commenting on British newspaper websites draws to a close

Bye bye, Telegraph comments. It was not always that nice knowing you but I shall miss you anyway. Er, I am right about Telegraph comments being abolished, aren’t I? Or have they disappeared for me alone due to my browser being full up or something?

For its part, the Guardian has drastically cut back on the number of articles open to comments, particularly in the section of the paper previously known as “Comment is Free”. The paper has run a dozen self-pitying articles by its columnists lamenting that their efforts to be “edgy”, “sassy” and “provocative” have worked and pleading for safe spaces where they can escape their readers. This piece by Joseph Reagle is a cut above the rest, but it is chiefly memorable for the most recommended reader comment by “Random Libertarian”. I am not this person, but feel I have a lot in common with them:

I’m not addressing this author in particular, but the whole Grauniad pushback against “abusive” comments.

Suggestion: Maybe you should stop writing abusive columns.

Don’t use a word deliberately chosen to portray climate-change skeptics as Nazis.

Don’t call people “rape apologists” when they question interpretations of statistics that show U.S. colleges to be more dangerous than war zones.

Don’t write stuff that assumes that all white people are racists, unless you can prove this to be true without Humpty Dumptying the meaning of the word.

Don’t write as if your political opponents are either eeeevil neoliberals or fat, pathetic dupes of the Murdoch media.

Try it. It might work

To comment on the Times requires passing a paywall, a moderator, and several years of your life.

The Daily Mail is the last, best hope for freedom to comment. But it gives you cancer.

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My Number

The new unified identification system with its associated up-to-the-minute database will streamline government, reduce fraud and tax evasion, make it easier to stop people “falling between the cracks” of different government departments, provide a convenient single means for citizens to prove their identity, and protect us all from terrorism. If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear.

What will bring about all these benefits? It sounds very like the UK Identity Cards Act 2006, but that cannot be since various malcontents forced the Act’s repeal in 2010. While it is true that for the British Civil Servant no setback is ever permanent, for now the torch has passed to Japan, where the latest version of the Eternal Scheme is called “My Number”.

Even in such a cooperative and law-abiding culture as Japan there are the inevitable troublemakers:

More Japan citizens sue gov’t over My Number system

Around 30 citizens in central and southwestern Japan filed lawsuits Thursday with regional courts, demanding the government suspend the use of identification numbers under the newly launched My Number social security and tax number system.

The lawsuits are the latest in a string of cases in which residents and lawyers argue that the right to privacy is endangered by the system, which allocates a 12-digit identification number to every resident of Japan, including foreign nationals, to simplify administrative procedures for taxation and social security.

Mitsuhiro Kato, who heads the lawyers’ group in the lawsuit with the Nagoya District Court, said at a press conference, “There were cases in which personal information was (illegally) sold and bought. Once the use of My Number expands, the state would come to control individual activities.”

According to the lawsuit, the action to collect citizens’ personal information without their consent infringes on their right to manage their own personal information. The plaintiffs are also worried about the risk of their personal information being leaked given the insufficient security measures currently in place.

My Number legislation has been enacted to make it easier for tax and other authorities to discover cases of tax evasion and wrongful receipt of welfare benefits.

But public concerns have grown over the government’s handling of personal information under the My Number system following massive data leaks from the Japan Pension Service in the wake of cyberattacks in May.

Here is a little more about that massive data leak from, or rather hack of, the Japanese pension system: 1.25 million affected by Japan Pension Service hack.

But fear not:

The hacked computers were not connected online to the fund’s core computer system, which keeps financial details of the pension system’s members, officials said. No illicit access to the core system, which contains the most sensitive information, such as the amount of premiums paid by and the amount of benefits paid to each individual, has been detected, they said, adding that they are still investigating the incident.

It is remarkable how when we read about these government data security breaches in any country, the most alarming possibilities always seem to have been avoided. Some special providence must protect government databases.

The public face of My Number is provided by popular actress Aya Ueto and a rabbit-like mascot with numbers in place of eyes called “Maina-chan”.

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Benevolent Laissez Faire conference on May 14th

I am being nudged by Simon Gibbs, who is organising it, to say something here, now, about this Libertarian Home event, about and against taxation.

This event will happen on the afternoon of Saturday May 14th, in Holborn, London. The speakers (see the list here) will include: Yaron Brook; Anton Howes; and a couple of new names to me, “Janina Lowisz, BitNation and Julio Alejandro, Humanitarian Blockchain”. Sounds intriguing, in a twenty first century and good way. I’m guessing that the gist of what they may say will be that the internet makes it possible for things to be crowd-funded and micro-financed and generally supported in ways that not long ago were impossible, and that modern life thus offers even greater opportunities to chip away at and to improve upon the tax-and-spend state, both ideologically and in practice. You could sum those speakers up by saying that there is no need for high taxes in the future (Lowisz, Alejandro), there was no need for high taxes in the past (Howes), and there is no excuse for high taxes ever (Brook).

That nudging I mentioned at the start of this posting is worth emphasising. Based on how a similar event in October 2014 went, which Simon Gibbs also organised, Simon will do whatever he needs to do, having already lined up some good speakers for May 14th, to get also a good throng of people to listen to them and to mingle with and to network with one another. The cost of a ticket is, if you book now, £12, and there is a basic sense in which attenders will be paying their £12 for all that nudging that Simon is now doing, to ensure that this event is a success. The most helpful way that you can support Simon and his nudging would be, if you now know that you want to attend, to book your own ticket, now. To tell Simon, now, that you will be attending, go here, and click on the bigger and lower of the two red rectangles saying: “Join us!”

I could expand, on the wrongs of taxation, on the particular excellence of Anton Howes as a speaker and as an up-and-coming libertarian historian and intellectual, on how interesting and how well organised and welcoming that October 2014 event was (at which Yaron Brook also spoke), and how many attended it, and so on and so forth, but Simon wants the word on this latest event on May 14th to spread now, and he wants this posting to go up now. So, up it goes, now.

Taxation is of course a very topical subject just now. If you want more tax talk here, try this.

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On feminists objectifying women and male versus female styles of trolling

Hillary Clinton objectifies women by reducing them to mere body parts:

Mrs Clinton, meanwhile, said that she would win the nomination and unify the party. She gained perhaps her biggest applause of the night for taking on the moderators of this and past Democratic debates.

There had been “not one question about a woman’s right to contraceptive health care”, she said. In spite of attempts in some states to impose limits and “a presidential candidate, Donald Trump, saying women should be punished (for abortions)” it had not been discussed. “It goes to the heart of who we are as women,” she said.

So Secretary Clinton believes that the core of a woman’s identity is decided by her stance regarding contraception or abortion (as if all women had the same stance), or, more limiting yet, decided for her by the stance of her local jurisdiction regarding contraception and abortion. Time was when feminism was about refusing to define women by so-called women’s issues.

While I am on the subject of the decline of feminism, Guardian Clickbait-profiteer Jessica Valenti says in an article for which comments are closed,

I’m tired of having to explain, over and over again, why the tone of the comments under my pieces is indeed sexist

I strongly agree that the Guardian moderators have the right and are right to delete insults and ban those uttering them. When it comes to threats they should contact the police in any case where it appears that the threat might be credible.

But I’ve read many, many Guardian feminist articles and their accompanying comments and observed a few things.

The typical insult thrown at a woman writing online by a male troll is vile by convention. He will either denigrate some aspect of her physical appearance or sexuality, or will call her by the name of a body part. Conventions matter. These insults still hurt because all sides know they are meant to hurt. But looked at objectively, they are meaningless. The things referred to are not actually bad things. I am a woman who writes online and I have had a few such insults. I mentally sent them back to their originators with knobs on, then turned to other matters.

The typical insult thrown at a man writing online by a female troll (the Guardian sub-species of which is usually found writing above the line) is to accuse him of something that, if true, would actually be vile. She will typically call him a “misogynist”, a hater of women. That really is a bad thing to be. Worse still, she might call him a rape-apologist, a rape-enabler, or a would-be rapist. To truly be any of these things is evil. Yet such terms are frequently thrown around very casually at targets who have done no more than act in what the feminst writer sees as a sexist way, behaviour which may even be acknowledged by the writer to be unconscious, or at those who have simply expressed disagreement with her version of feminism.

I’ve had a few of this type of insult too, in the days when I used to comment on the Guardian website using a screen name that did not clearly indicate my gender. They made me far more angry than the body-part type of insult. What did I do to get me called a rape-apologist? I argued that not every claim of rape is true.

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What’s in a name? Czechia this out

Reports reach me that the Czech Republic is thinking of adopting a new name for itself, Czechia. Perhaps lingering, but unarticulated resentment at the Velvet Divorce when, like certain types of yeast, Czechoslovakia split in 1993 has led to the Czech Republic hankering after a new, shorter name for itself* for everyday life, giving it a duality like ‘France’ and ‘The French Republic’.

When Czechoslovakia split, I recall one British comedian, iirc Paul Merton, quipping ‘Who gets the ‘o’?‘ at a time when less happy places were engaged in wars over secession, the lack of it, or issues arising. However the rationale for this is at once banal and quite engaging:

The Czech Republic is poised to change its name to “Czechia” to make it easier for companies and sports teams to use it on products and clothing.

How nice for a State (or perhaps a country) to actually want to make life easier for business. Will they start as they mean to go on?

Not all are happy, it seems:

Some have criticised “Czechia” as ugly, or too similar to “Chechnya”, the semi-autonomous Russian republic.

I doubt that the Chechens would lower themselves to the sort of ‘passing-off’ nonsense that we see from Greece over Macedonia.

Does a country’s name matter? I have no idea how the new name sounds to the locals, but to my ear it sounds distinctly odd and unnatural. Perhaps I should go there to see for myself.

* Yes, I know countries can’t hanker, only people, and dogs outside a butcher’s, can.

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A strategic steel reserve?

The recent controversy about the potential closure, by India-headquartered Tata, of the steelworks in Wales (formerly owned by Corus) has revived old memories of when the UK government (ie, the taxpayer) owned steelworks. It was an unhappy episode. The picture of middle-aged men, in “tight-knit communities” (the cliches write themselves) losing their jobs with not much immediate prospect of getting another job (such men are, apparently, incapable of doing this), is politically toxic. (Interestingly, the role that anti-carbon policies, enacted to prevent global warming, have played in hurting such industries isn’t getting all that much attention as far as I can see. Does. Not. Compute.) Never mind that tens of thousands of bank staff (not all “fat cats”) have been given their P45s in recent years – when steelworkers are given the bullet, it has a visceral effect on the public imagination of a kind that is very different. People can easily visualise the value of making steel, used as it is in many modern industrial products; they cannot so easily figure out the worth of people processing interest rate swaps transactions, for example. Also, the bank bailouts of 2008-09 mean that for a new generation of voters, the idea of bailing out a failed set of institutions, while unpleasant, isn’t off-limits. If we must bail out banks, so the argument goes, let’s bail out steel. (Just as, in the US, the same kind of logic was used to justify bailing out GM, shafting GM creditors in the process.)

Momentum is building for the current government to nationalise the steel factories, a prospect that no doubt would have appalled the late Margaret Thatcher. The present Business Secretary, sometimes billed as a future Conservative Party leader, has said that part-nationalisation is an option. One of the arguments used to make the prospect more palatable to people otherwise wary of the whole notion is that Britain needs a core capacity to make steel, because we need to be able to build weapons in times of war, for example. (A similar argument is sometimes used to defend protection for forms of agriculture; the UK imports many foodstuffs but has been vulnerable to blockades and attacks on shipping in previous world wars.)

But if this military-need argument really is as strong as is made out, then there is a case for saying that the most cost-efficient (from the point of view of free market economics and taxpayers’ interests) isn’t nationalisation, or the alternative of just shutting down plants, but a sort of strategic reserve. To some extent, in a free market where there are futures and options markets for commodities such as iron, etc, those much-maligned speculators will hoard steel/other during a market glut and wait for prices to rise before selling, and vice versa. If there is a more pressing military requirement that cannot be easily slotted into this market argument, then a “strategic steel reserve” might be an idea, as the investment advisor and former Comservative Party parliamentary candidate Douglas Hans-Luke says. (I don’t endorse all of his views, I should add.) It is an idea worth considering, and arguably, just as an individual should keep a first aid kit, flashlight, water purifier, set of knives, screwdrivers and fire-lighting items and other emergency tools handy, and learn how to use them, so should a country. It is, arguably, a basic requirement of even a minimal state to have that “emergency toolkit” in the cupboard, just in case. Even better, in a healthy civil society, the public should have these things, and be encouraged to learn how to use and store them. And of course that includes firearms and types of working knives, a subject about which the UK lost the plot years ago. It is, I understand, a crime to carry a Swiss Army knife in your pocket in the UK, for instance. Ironically, such things are made out of high-grade steel from places such as Sweden.

An emergency steel reserve sounds a lot easier to defend than nationalisation, not least because it is rational on its own merits. I’m ready to be convinced otherwise. How about every schoolkid gets taught how to make steel and weld during science class?

 

 

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Nick Cohen takes John Le Carré away for a spot of waterboarding

After writing his three great novels — The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Perfect Spy — it is easy to agree with the conclusion ofPrivate Eye’s critic, who said le Carré had become “his own tribute band”. You know now how his books will go. There is a decent Englishman. He comes across skulduggery. He is persuaded to fight it by an honest spy, who teaches him tradecraft, but instead finds he must fight Western corporations and governments whose cynicism knows no limits. In the case of The Night Manager, the reason, of course, why the British government is unconcerned by illegal weapons sales is that MI6 is in the pay of the villainous arms dealer.

– Nick Cohen, reviewing the recent TV adaptation of The Night Manager.

For what it is worth, although I like the George Smiley books and also enjoyed A Small Town in Germany, a lot of Le Carré’s other material is as Cohen describes it.

Here is a nice appreciation of the George Smiley books, which in my view are still riveting reading, all these years’ later.

 

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Samizdata tweet of the day


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Thanks, Recep old boy. Cheque’s in the post. Yours, Boris.

The Telegraph reports,

Turkey demands Germany prosecute comedian for Erdogan insult

Angela Merkel is facing a political dilemma after Turkey demanded one of Germany’s most popular comedians face prosecution for insulting its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The row could jeopardise the EU’s controversial migrant deal with Turkey.

The German government confirmed on Monday it had received a “formal request” from Turkey over the weekend indicating it wishes to press charges in the case.

If Mrs Merkel agrees to allow the prosecution, she will face accusations of limiting free speech to placate the authoritarian Mr Erdogan.

But if she refuses it could put the migrant deal with Turkey, which she personally brokered, at risk.

Jan Böhmermann, one of Germany’s most successful young comedians, faces up to five years in prison over a poem in which he referred to Mr Erdogan as a “goat-f*****” and described him as watching child pornography.

Insulting a foreign head of state is illegal under German law, but a prosecution can only take place if a foreign government requests it.

Any prosecution also requires the express authorisation of the German government — leaving Mrs Merkel in a difficult position.

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