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

Just today I learned (via Hans Bader) that Oberlin, supposedly one of the great liberal arts colleges in the world, has been in a tizzy because of a speech by the rather mainstream conservative feminist Christina Hoff Summers, which supposedly made students feel “unsafe” well in advance. And so on. In no examples that I have seen has there been any actual threat or prospect of violence against the students complaining that they feel “unsafe.”

This is a huge threat to the future of free speech nevertheless. Today’s college students are going to be tomorrow’s judges, and if they truly believe that “safety” means “never having to deal with opinions that disagree with one’s cherished beliefs,” then censorship has a good chance of gaining the upper hand over freedom of speech. After all, public safety can be a justification for suppressing speech, as with the “fighting words” doctrine.

David Bernstein

Because today I just cannot bring myself to write anything profound…

… so here is a cautionary tale. Continuing the topic of interspecies communication, when you see a monkey just sitting there minding his own damn business (note there are two people quite calmly sitting next to him), it is most unwise to get in his face and then impolitely flip him off.

What caused the First World War? Part IV – right and wrong

[This is the text of a talk I gave on 20 March to the 6/20 Club in London. See also Part III and Part V.]

Part of the reason the origins of the First World War are so controversial is that for a long time the history itself was a matter of contemporary politics. After the inclusion of the War Guilt Clause in Article 231 of the Versailles Treaty, the German government spent a great deal of effort in attempting to vindicate its predecessor’s actions. In a similar vein the communist movement spent a great deal of effort trying to prove that it had something to do with capitalism and imperialism.

The very fact that the debate is still ongoing and still so confused makes me think that there must be something missing.

One thing that tends to be missing from the debate is morality (although as I will explain that’s not going to do us an awful lot of good.) What I mean by that is a sense of right and wrong. What is reasonable for a state to do and what is unreasonable.

This poses some pretty obvious difficulties for libertarians. Violence is wrong. States are the institutions that claim a monopoly of violence. Therefore states are wrong. But, so what? they exist. And not all states are the same. Some states do more violence than others and some states act more reasonably than others. Secondly, you are allowed to defend yourself and others. (At least, I think you are.) The problem is that if you are British in 1914 and wish to defend Belgians the only way you can do that is through the British state.

I should point out that Belgians were attacked in 1914. Whatever, you make think of the tales of German atrocities – I tend to think they were substantially true – German rule still meant all sorts of restrictions on every day life, a vast decline in living standards and the taking of hostages.

Another way of looking at it is to look at states’ liberalness. In 1914 the UK and France were the most liberal states in Europe, Germany and Austria slightly less so and Russia a long way behind (but still a long way ahead of what followed it). In 1917, America, a very liberal state, joined the allies and Russia exited the war. So, from a libertarian point of view the good guys, or at least the less bad guys won.

But were the good guys acting justly? Or less unjustly might be a better way of putting it. To the best of my knowledge, while the UK may have had the largest navy in the world it was not using it to deprive anyone of their freedom. Similarly, Belgians and Frenchmen were under attack and Britons had the right to come to their defence.

What about the French? Pretty much their only concern was Alsace-Lorraine. But from a libertarian point of view the only thing that matters is the freedom of the people of Alsace-Lorraine.

This takes us more or less immediately to the Zabern Affair. The Zabern Affair began when a German officer based in Alsace said some rude things about the locals. The locals got to hear about it and there were riots. It revealed to Germans that the army had a legally privileged position and that the Reichstag was toothless and to Frenchmen that their countrymen were, well oppressed is perhaps too strong a word – looked down upon might be better.

So what about Germany? In the Christmas truce of 1914 some British and German soldiers got talking and the conversation turned to the subject of the war. The German explained that they were fighting for “freedom”. To which the Briton replied, “I’m terribly sorry but we are the ones fighting for freedom.” You wonder how the German could think such a thing. I think it was related to the idea that to be a serious state you had to have an empire; a place in the sun. Whatever, it is it is not freedom as we know it.

As for the rest of them Russia was not going to be liberating anyone and if Germany was really worried about the Russians then first it should have made up with Britain and France and secondly, it should have waited to be attacked.

And then we’re left with Austria and Serbia. It’s difficult to pick a libertarian winner but my money’s on Austria. On the plus side it’s got waltzes, schnitzels, fancy uniforms and Ludwig von Mises. On the down side it’s just closed down the Bohemian Parliament. As for Serbia, the Balkan wars of 1912 and 1913 as with the 1990s had seen their fair share of ethnic cleansing but on the plus side in July 1914 they were holding an apparently free and fair election.

Marco Rubio just struck out

As time goes on we learn more about the possible GOP candidates and which ones might be satisfactory to libertarians.

It appears that Marco Rubio is not going to be amongst that number if this report from CATO is correct.

Self defence

I am certain it comes as no surprise to Samizdata readers that States are interested in penetrating your computers and stealing private communications without bothering about the legal niceties of search warrants issued by judges whom they do not own. But some things come as a surprise to even those of us who watch such things. I had not heard of this particular attack before. Spoofing, in conjunction with other attacks to pin down the real source while the spoofer gets in, have been around awhile. Some were dependant on analysis of the generated packet sequence numbers to allow a complete hijack.

None seem as practical as the web page substitution technique discussed in this Wired article. It is somewhat technical but useful reading if you want to keep up with what the enemies of liberty and rule of law are up to. Even more importantly, the article shows there are ways of keeping the bad guys out of your computers. The method may not be as satisfying as dropping a nuke on the SOB’s, but hey, you work with what you got.

Chimpanzees as legal persons

The Guardian reports:

Chimpanzees granted petition to hear ‘legal persons’ status in court

Wise’s argument in this case and others is that chimpanzees are intelligent, emotionally complex and self-aware enough to merit some basic human rights, such as the rights against illegal detainment and cruel treatment. They are “autonomous and self-determining”, in Wise’s words.

You can probably see why this post bears the “Self-ownership” tag. Many of the people arguing for legal personhood for animals are twerps like this one, who claims that she finds “discrimination on the grounds of species as distasteful as discrimination on the grounds of race or sex.”

However the arguments put forward by the Nonhuman Rights Project do not seem obviously wrongheaded to me. For instance they do discriminate on grounds of species, between higher and lower animals. This comes from their Q&A page:

Your first plaintiffs are chimpanzees, and you are also talking about elephants, whales and dolphins. What’s next after that? Dogs and pigs?

Our plaintiffs will be animals for whom there is clear scientific evidence of such complex cognitive abilities as self-awareness and autonomy. Currently that evidence exists for elephants, dolphins and whales, and all four species of great apes. So, for the foreseeable future, our plaintiffs are likely to come from these three groups.

Here is a fact I find disturbing to contemplate: some severely mentally disabled human beings are less intelligent than chimpanzees. If our society does start to act on that fact in its laws I hope and pray that it does so in the direction of granting more rights to animals, not taking rights away from disabled humans.

Earth Day! Another golden marketing opportunity!


God bless Capitalism! And do not forget, turn every light in your house on to celebrate!

So my American chums, answer me this…

You guys have the Second Amendment. Guns, you has ’em. I am told it is the ultimate bulwark against tyranny. At least in principle I agree completely that an armed population is a good thing, which is sadly not the situation here in disarmed Britain.

Then why is this possible?

Cindy Archer, one of the lead architects of Wisconsin’s Act 10 — also called the “Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill,” it limited public-employee benefits and altered collective-bargaining rules for public-employee unions — was jolted awake by yelling, loud pounding at the door, and her dogs’ frantic barking. The entire house — the windows and walls — was shaking. She looked outside to see up to a dozen police officers, yelling to open the door. They were carrying a battering ram. She wasn’t dressed, but she started to run toward the door, her body in full view of the police. Some yelled at her to grab some clothes, others yelled for her to open the door. “I was so afraid,” she says. “I did not know what to do.” She grabbed some clothes, opened the door, and dressed right in front of the police. The dogs were still frantic. “I begged and begged, ‘Please don’t shoot my dogs, please don’t shoot my dogs, just don’t shoot my dogs.’ I couldn’t get them to stop barking, and I couldn’t get them outside quick enough. I saw a gun and barking dogs. I was scared and knew this was a bad mix.”

So a politically motivated raid by armed police in Wisconsin is conducted against a political rival, and… well… and what?

As news of what happened belatedly spreads, are militia’s urgently forming in the ‘Land of the Free and Home of the Brave’ to meet this use for political armed force with opposing armed force? Is there a hash tag #NewMinuteMenMuster calling armed civilian enemies of tyranny in the USA to take up those 2nd Amendment blessed arms yet? Or at least are folks coming up with SOPs for an en-mass armed response for the next time this happens?

Clearly it would be wholly justified to start putting up NO POLICE ZONE signs backed up with lethal roadside IED’s to be used against the thugs who did this, so why in the land of the Second Amendment are such things not happening?

This is not a slide towards tyranny in the USA, this is tyranny. The tree of liberty is looking mighty parched right now.

Damn, I thought things were bad here, where all we have to defend ourselves with is pointy sticks, bottles full of soap flakes & petrol, and creative imprecations.

The US Navy is celebrating Earth Day… is this some kind of joke?

The US Navy, who job it is to, well you know, kill people when directed to, it proudly celebrating Earth Day.

No doubt this is a strategy to cause the ships of the Chinese Navy to collide, their captains unable to issue orders due to tears of mirth and uncontrollable fits of laughter.

If anyone doubted the western world’s political class and their retainers have been utterly debased … well, here we have proof positive… I can only hope we snap out of it collectively, before it is too late and the congruent cultural decline leaves us with the future prospects of Carthage. And no, I do not accept that it is already too late, and will ignore the usual wailing suicide note comments that suggest otherwise 😉

On the history of death and taxes

I have recently been suffering from one of those annoying state-of-the-art flu bugs that made me properly ill for only a few days, but which then hasn’t allowed me to get truly better for another month. I still await full functionality.

When in such a state, I find serious writing difficult. (I can still manage unserious writing.) But what I really like to do when thus semi-incapacitated, is to read. And there is nothing, I find, like reading well-written history about long-ago times to make me count my modern blessings and cheer me up.

I recently began what looks like being a very good book about King Edward I. (A short excerpt from this book, on the subject of medieval historical evidence, can be read here.) Edward I was the English monarch who won the Battle of Crécy, and who soon after that presided – if that’s the right word – over the Black Death. You want a bug? That was a bug.

But I haven’t got to the Black Death bits yet. …

(LATER: And I won’t ever. I’m muddling Edward I up with Edward III, see commenter number one below, to whom thanks, and with apologies to everyone else. Edward III was the victor of Crécy, and I will wait in vain for anything about the Black Death in this book. I will be learning about such persons as Simon de Montfort. But the Black Death was, as I have read elsewhere, very nasty.)

… In the bits I have read so far, Edward is still a teenager, and his dad, Henry III, is fretting about how to crush a rebellion in his French possessions, and in particular (p. 16), how to persuade his English subjects to foot the bill for that enterprise:

The obvious solution was to impose a general levy on everyone – a tax – and Henry’s immediate predecessors had on occasion done just that. King Richard and King John had found that they could raise huge sums in this way – England, it bears repeating, was a rich and prosperous country – but such taxes proved highly unpopular, …

It is always worth keeping an eye out for a use of the word “but” when it would make more sense to have encountered the word “and”, or “therefore”. The unpopularity of taxes in England on the one hand, and on the other, the fact that England was a rich and prosperous country sound to me a lot like a cause and an effect. But the way that modern-day author Marc Morris phrases it, if your country is rich, it can accordingly afford to pay higher taxes without its richness being in any way disturbed.

It was this next bit that made me laugh out loud:

… but such taxes proved highly unpopular, and were regarded as tantamount to robbery.

Ah those medieval fools, so lacking in our modern grasp of the obvious and fundamental differences between taxes and robbery!

Here is a way in which things – things that in general are so much better now than then – have actually got worse.

I do not want to single out Marc Morris for criticism here. He is only describing matters in a way that most of his readers will immediately understand. Taxation? Of course. What he personally thinks about the idea of there now being higher taxes, to pay for such things as foreign wars, now, I do not know. As for me, although I will not live to see it, I look forward to a time when both taxation and death (at the sort of age that I will in due course be encountering it) are thought of in the same kind of way that we now think only of such things as the Black Death.

How on earth could those blundering and miserable twenty-first centurions not understand such obvious ideas?

Heroes and cowards

Over a period of years we at Samizdata have noted cases of cowardice in those who are paid to rescue fellow humans in mortal danger. At least one organization maintains that level of bravery. The US Coast Guard motto is: “You have to go out. You don’t have to come back.” This is why I have no sympathy whatever for those who follow ‘regulations’ and hide behind them rather than do their jobs. If they did not wish to put their life on the line to save others, they should have found a different line of work.

If you want to see what real courage looks like, watch the early part of this documentary about an airline crash in DC. It was caught on camera and it shows a standard to which all rescue personnel should aspire.

Incidentally… I was working on a job in Falls Church at the time and I believe I had been across that bridge earlier the same day.


Why would HSBC… indeed any international bank… wish to remain in London?

Is this not rather predictable?

HSBC will look into upping sticks and moving its headquarters out of London once the regulatory environment becomes clearer, its chairman said today.

“We are beginning to see the final shape of regulation, the final shape of structural reform and as soon as that mist lifts sufficiently we will once again start to look at where the best place for HSBC is,” Douglas Flint said.

He was speaking at an informal shareholder meeting in Hong Kong. This comes as a recent hike in the special tax levied on banks in the UK makes it increasingly costly to do business, people familiar with the situation told Reuters.

And this under an supposedly ‘conservative’ Prime Minister 😀 The Stupid Party indeed. If Labour wins, I imagine this will become a stampede as businesses bolt for the exit.