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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

My 2015 in pictures

Like Michael Jennings, I end my 2015 blogging efforts here at Samizdata with a clutch of pictures. Unlike Michael, I haven’t managed to do anything like this for every one of the last ten years. I did do something similar two years ago, but this time last year my retrospective attention was concentrated on the speakers at my monthly meetings, without any pictures of them.

I began my 2015 in France.

→ Continue reading: My 2015 in pictures

Samizdata quote of the day

“Fear not,” said the angel at Christmas, “for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” Indeed. There has never been a better time to be a human being.

– Dan Hannan writes in Conservative Home that 2015 was the best year in human history, and 2016 will be better yet.

Libertarians are now the optimists about the human future, and collectivists are the pessimists. Libertarians know how to make the world better for humans and are doing this, by resisting and (wherever possible) rolling back collectivism. Collectivists never did know how to make the world better for humans, but now not even they believe that they know how to do this. All they can now do is fabricate catastrophe and demand that keeping human progress going be made into a crime.

Hamster holiday!

The samizdata server hamsters will be on holiday on Jan 2nd as they sleep off their hangovers. We hope they will be back on their treadmills at some point on the 3rd.

Philosophy today

In an article called “The greens and the fascists” Bishop Hill linked to this paper by Trygve Lavik, Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Bergen:

“Climate change denial, freedom of speech and global justice”.

Bishop Hill did not use the word “fascist” inappropriately when he described Professor Lavik’s views as “unmistakably fascist”. Here is the abstract of the paper (emphasis added):

In this paper I claim that there are moral reasons for making climate denialism illegal. First I define climate denialism, and then I discuss its impact on society and its reception in the media. I build my philosophical arguments mainly on John Stuart Mill and Thomas M. Scanlon. According to Mill’s utilitarian justification of free speech, even untrue opinions are valuable in society’s pursuit of more truth. Consequently one might think that Mill’s philosophy would justify climate denialists’ right to free speech. A major section of the paper argues against that view. The main arguments are: Climate denialism is not beneficial because its main goal is to produce doubt, and not truth. Climate denialism is not sincerely meant, which is a necessary condition for Mill to accept utterances. Climate denialists bring harm, by blocking necessary action on climate change. Primarily they harm future generations and people in developing countries. Hence the case can be made in terms of global justice: Would future generations and people in developing countries support my claim? I think so, or so I argue. My argument from global justice is built on Scanlon’s distinction between the interests of participants, the interests of audiences, and the interests of bystanders. The climate denialists have participant interests “in being able to call something to the attention of a wide audience”. Audience interests consist of “having access to expressions that we wish to hear or read, and even in being exposed to some degree to expressions we have not chosen”. Future generations and people in poor countries are bystanders to the climate debate. If the debate postpones necessary actions, it is the bystanders who must pay the price. I argue that bystanders’ costs outweigh participants’ and audiences’ interests, and that this is an argument for a statutory ban on climate denialism.

Keywords: climate change denial, freedom of speech, global justice, utilitarianism, harm principle


So, as I regularly do, I read a recent posting at Mick Hartley, which is about what nutters the rulers of Saudi Arabians are, spreading the theology of bedlam and then griping when people do what the theology says, and all the while blaming the Jews for their own ridiculousness.

And then I read this comment underneath that posting, from someone called “Graham”:

Ironically, it’s the Israeli-Saudi alliance behind the QSD that’s defeating ISIS.

QSD? Quesque c’est?

I found my way to this piece (I love the internet):

These are Kurds, Muslim Arabs, Turkmens, and Syriac Christians. …

… which, to me: sounds good, sounds bad, sounds don’t-know, and sounds good …

… About two weeks after this EXTREMELY disparate group was created, it launched the most successful series of offensives in the entire five-year Syrian civil war. The US immediately began arming the QSD, and the Turks suddenly stopped complaining that the Kurds in this new army were up to no good.

This guy goes on to say (I think) that the “Muslim Arabs” are Tunisian special forces, the Tunisians having become very pissed off with ISIS for having recently destroyed their tourist industry. So those Muslim Arabs sound semi-sane, or as semi-sane as Arabs ever are.

And I also found my way to this piece of Kurdish Daily News (Kurdish Daily News, to me, sounds good) which says:

Syrian Democratic Forces (QSD) has released a six-day balance sheet of the operation they launched against ISIS gangs in the rural areas of south Hesekê on October 31.

During the first six days of the operation, an area of 350 square kilometers has been cleared of ISIS gangs; which involves 36 villages, 10 hamlets, 2 gas factories, 3 quarry areas and some guard posts near the borderline.

The operation has thus far left 196 members of the gangs dead, 99 of whom were killed by QSD forces and 79 as a result of airstrikes by jets of the international coalition.

Part of my daily reading these days consists of Instapundit, and people linked to by Instapundit, telling me that the Middle East is going totally to hell, and that US Middle East policy now has no redeeming features at all. But I am unpersuaded that the answer to the Middle East’s many problems is for the Middle East to be totally conquered and then micro-managed by the USA, with everyone else just standing around and either waiting for their chance and getting it, or else hoping for the best and not getting it. US policy now seems to have been to back off, wait for some Good Guys to emerge out of the mess, and then when they eventually did, to back them with a few guns and a few missiles and a few airstrikes, but not with a huge US army stomping about making friends-that-are (and then abandoning them following an election) or friends-that-aren’t and enemies-that-are, and generally crowding out the best local answers. Is that – “leading from behind” (i.e. not actually leading at all) – such a very terrible idea? It sounds like a rather better idea than earlier ideas have been. Whether President Obama started out wanted that policy, I really do not know, but that now seems to be what is happening.

This more recent posting at Mick Hartley says that if QSD beats ISIL, the big winner could end up being al-Qaida. But might not QSD first defeat ISIL, and then might not QSD, or something closely related to or descended from QSD, then turn on al-Qaida and defeat al-Qaida also?

But what the hell do I know? Comments anyone?

Ten of these

yir_toledo1Toledo, Spain. January 2015

yir_riga2Riga, Latvia. January 2015

yir_athens3Athens. Greece. February 2015

yir_baalbekBaalbek, Lebanon. February 2015

yir_parisParis, France. March 2015

yir_brusselsBrussels. March 2015

yir_liege22Liege, Wallonia. March 2015

yir_nm12Kelmis, Former condominium of Neutral Moresenet. March 2015

yir_ned33Vaals, Netherlands. March 2015

yir_aachen8Aachen, Germany. March 2015

yir_eupen7Eupen, German Speaking Community of Belgium. March 2015

yir_PomerolPomerol, France. April 2015

yir_krakKraków, Poland. May 2015

yir_slovRužomberok, Slovakia. May 2015

yir_lithuaNida, Lithuania. June 2015

yir_leipajaLiepaja, Latvia. June 2015

yir_szezSzczecin, Poland. June 2015

yir_hering3Heringsdorf, Germany. June 2015

yir_hamburgBad Segeberg, Germany. July 2015

yir_brussels2Brussels. July 2015

yir_antwerpAntwerp, Flanders. July 2015

yir_BaarleBaarle-Nassau/Barle Hertog, Netherlands/Belgium. July 2015

yir_bredaBreda, Netherlands. July 2015

yir_vvVama Veche, Romania. August 2015

yir_bulgDurankulak, Bulgaria. August 2015

yir_norwayVikøyri, Norway. August 2015

yir_targuTârgu Mureș, Romania. September

yir_ediEdinburgh, Scotland. September 2015

yir_berlinTempelhof, Berlin, Germany. October 2015

ir_iomRamsay, Isle of Man. October 2015

yir_stmalo2St Malo, France. October 2015

yir_istanbulIstanbul, Turkey. November 2015

yir_slov1Tatranská Lomnica, Slovakia.November 2015

yir_malmoMalmo, Sweden. December 2015

yir_copen1Copenhagen, Denmark. December 2015

yir_shang2Shanghai, China. December 2015

Oh, the horror of the darknet…

The New Scientist Christmas number carries an interview with Carmen Weisskopf of the Swiss group Bitnik who carried out an automated random shopping expedition on the anonymous (or anonymous-ish) ‘darknet’. A place that official propaganda would have us believe is a Mirkwood full of hidden horrors.

What about trust? Has the bot been scammed yet, and paid for good that haven’t been delivered?

No. And this shows the level of trust that is there. The people who sell on these markets are used to trusting people online, and want to get a good rating. Even the Swiss police who seized the ecstasy bought by our bot were surprised at its quality compared to that available on the streets.

Honesty is not a product of fear of the police and state surveillance – shock. Not of course news to anyone brought up before the 20th century, nor in any of the many present-day societies where official power is the leading source of corruption.

Calling all Russian-to-English translators: What does this say?

Ever since the universe obliged me by inventing digital photography, I have been taking a lot of photos (only click on that if you really want to see some of my photos and are willing to wait). One of the sorts of photos that I like to take a lot of is photos of other people taking photos. I particularly like it when they are holding something in front of their face, like a camera or a coat or a bag, so that I can then stick my photo of them photoing up on the internet without them being very recognisable, by which I mean face-recognition-software-recognisable.

And earlier this month, I took this photo, of a lady on Westminster Bridge, taking a photo of another lady. Well, that’s what I at first thought, but later I realised that she was almost certainly videoing the other lady. That’s because in addition to holding up her iPhone (over most of her face) she was also holding up a hand-made teleprompter, covered in text:


I did a few months of schoolboy Russian about half a century ago, so I am pretty sure that this is Russian. But what does it say?

Here it is closer-up and more easily readable, with the blueness removed:


So, is this harmless tourist guidance? Viciously mendacious Putinite propaganda, full of nonsensical lies about the Ukraine? Some kind of personal message? I have enjoyed wondering, but now I would really like to know.

I am sure that at least one of our most knowledgeable and obliging commentariat can knowledgeably oblige with the answer.

Discussion point (Christmas edition)

Christmas celebrations banned in Somalia, Tajikistan and Brunei.

Their gaff, their rules?

Samizdata quote of the day

“Libertarian men are the most romantic people in the world”.

– Priya Dutta.

Nico Metten on the tacit philosophy that must underlie David Friedman’s consequentialism

I am reading the latest piece at Libertarian Home by Nico Metten, a man whose thoughts and thought processes I am coming greatly to admire. I am only a tiny bit into this piece so far, but already I have read this very lucid observation, which I think is worth passing on:

A prominent libertarian advocate of consequentialism is David Friedman. Consequentialists argue that it is useless to deal with philosophy or morals, as these are very unclear and subjective. What matters are the outcomes of certain policies. As long as the outcomes are ok, the rest does not matter so much. People like David Friedman simply don’t seem to want to deal with philosophy and morals. They are uncomfortable with it. Because of that, they only deal with what they consider more objective, which in this case is economics.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with people getting into libertarianism through economics. Economics seems to play a major role in exposing the state and it can make a lot of converts. I myself have learned a lot from economists when it comes to questioning the state. Labelling this approach as consequentialist however suggests that this follows a distinct philosophy. And here I am not so sure.

To me it seems impossible to be a pure consequentialist. I would agree that results matter. However, how do we know which results are good results? It seems in order to evaluate results, one first will need an evaluation tool. This evaluation tool logically needs to come before the actual consequences and is therefore not consequentialist itself. If this is true, then consequentialism as a stand alone philosophy seems logically impossible. But how come intelligent people like David Friedman can think that they are consequentialists? Friedman clearly must have an evaluation tool. I think the reason for this is that his evaluation tool is completely tacit. It is there, but Friedman is not consciously aware of it.

Good point. I have certainly been vaguely aware of this point, rather as Metten says that Friedman must have been. But I have never read it spelt out quite so clearly and so explicitly. Or, if I have, I wasn’t paying attention.

I am now reading the whole thing.

You can take my plastic bag from my cold, dead hands

Today I visited the Click & Collect counter at Debenhams, a department store. This is an arrangement whereby one orders goods using a web site then visits the premises to collect them. “Sorry about the wait,” said the clerk when I reached the front of the queue. Later she asked if I wanted a bag in which to carry my purchase. “You have to pay 5p.” I did not have any change, and withdrew from my wallet a pristine £20 note. The Click & Collect counter must not be set up for cash payments, as the clerk looked slightly panicked but decided her job was to make me wait some more: “Could you join the queue over there to pay?”

At the front of that queue I declared, “I am to pay for this bag.” The look of confusion that was the reply made me wonder if, perhaps, the intention all along had been for me to shrug and walk away without paying. “You want to pay for that bag?” Yes, I did. The cashier slid the £20 back towards me and muttered something that I took to mean, “get out of here.” I thanked her and left.

The UK’s 5p “bag charge” is not a Pigou tax to cover the externality of disposing of the bag. Neither is it to raise money for charity. It is explicitly designed to change people’s behaviour. “We expect to see a significant reduction in the use of single-use plastic carrier bags as a direct result of the charge”, says the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, while looking sternly over the top of its spectacles, one imagines.

More than that, people who insist on continuing to use plastic bags are to be made to feel awkward and deviant. Like smokers, we are to be de-normalised.

The mechanics of buying groceries are tedious. I would prefer the transaction to go gracefully with the minimum of conscious thought. I do not want to be made to consider such philosophical questions as, “do you want a bag for life? We have to charge 5p for the other ones. You don’t? Oh well, I will try to use the minimum number of bags to save you money. What’s that? You don’t care? You want me to use the number of bags appropriate for secure and efficient carrying of the volume, mass and tessellation properties of the items you have purchased? What a strange customer you are.” I feel that social disapprobation every time.

A while ago, at a supermarket, I paid by credit card for my items before realising the cashier had not bagged them. “Can I have a bag?” Then I fumbled around for change until the customer behind me in the queue insisted on paying for me. I left haunted by the idea that he thought I had arranged this situation on purpose. When it happened again at a newsagent the other day, I insisted on paying even though the cashier offered to waive the fee. Partly to assure everyone in the vicinity that I was not a skinflint and partly because, like a feeble imitation of an Ayn Rand hero, I want to force Them to confront what They have wrought. Next time, to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt, and to make more miserable the lives of future shoppers, I might point out that they should be careful about waiving the charge as there are DEFRA agents in our midst, carrying out secret shopping operations. Yes, I will fight back!

I will continue to use single-use plastic bags for as long as I am able. Not just because I am too disorganised to plan my shopping jaunts in advance and ensure that I set out with the correct number of re-usable bags, but also as a service to you, dear readers, that you may from the safety of your laptops observe the abuse and ostracisation of a misfit; that you may know the nature of the state.