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]

So, Iran, what was all that about really?

A suggestion I have heard, made almost in jest but it might be true, was that Iran launching more than three hundred drones and missiles at Israel might have been intended as some weird form of de-escalation. The reasoning behind this theory is Iran knew perfectly well that the main effect of its attack would be to demonstrate just how good Israel’s air defences are, but that the expensive gesture would satisfy their own hawks without giving Israel any emotional reason to strike back.

I read somewhere that in nineteenth-century France most professional men could expect to be challenged to a duel at some time in their career. To refuse meant dishonour. To accept meant the prospect of death or serious injury, or the lesser but still significant unpleasantness of inflicting it on someone else. To deal with this problem the custom arose that by silent mutual agreement the splendid-looking duelling pistols used would have been made in very small calibres and taking only a tiny amount of black powder. When fired they produced a reasonable bang which carried with it enough prospect of doing harm to satisfy the honour of the duellists – but in practice wearing a thick woollen overcoat was usually enough to deflect the slow-moving ball.

Perhaps Iran was, or thought it was, acting like one of those duellists. If so, we shall have to see whether Israel is on board with the “silent mutual agreement” part of the analogy.

What do you think?

The placard was right

When I saw the headline of this article in the Independent, “Sending climate protesters to prison shows the law is an ass”, which you can also read on MSN here, I put the ignition key in the snark machine.

I read the strapline “A pensioner is facing two years in jail for holding a placard outside a court. It is a worrying case that casts a shadow over our jury system of justice”, said, “Yeah, right”, and turned the key.

I saw that it was by Alan Rusbridger, former editor of the Guardian, and powered up the mighty engines.

I read the following, “Trudi Warner is, in many ways, an unlikely rebel. The 69-year-old former child mental health social worker is, in her retirement, a keen organic grower, and last year spent part of the year looking after sheep on the Isle of Eigg” and, toes twitching with anticipation, moved my foot over the go-pedal. Far from being an “unlikely rebel” Trudi Warner is as conventional a rebel as ever picked a caterpillar off an organic lettuce and took it out to start a new life in the garden. I was about to push the pedal to the metal when…

I realised that Alan Rushbridger was right.

I had been waiting for the half-line in the eleventh paragraph where this “lovable pensioner” was revealed to have harassed travellers or vandalised a work of art. It never came. Trudi Warner really is being prosecuted solely for standing outside a court and holding up a placard saying,

JURORS

YOU HAVE AN ABSOLUTE RIGHT TO ACQUIT A DEFENDANT ACCORDING TO YOUR CONSCIENCE

That’s it. That’s all she did; hold up that placard near a courtroom. And as Mr Rushbridger says, the statement on her placard correctly states a precedent that goes back to a famous case of 1670, in which a jury stubbornly refused to convict two Quaker preachers of preaching to an unlawful assembly despite being imprisoned for two days without food.

One may or may not agree with Trudi Warner’s opinions on the “climate crisis” (I do not), but it is bizarre that reminding jurors of what was once a revered legal principle should become a crime merely because the reminder took place near a courtroom, the very place where such a reminder is most necessary.

Since a reminder evidently is necessary to the legal authorities, here is a picture of the plaque in the Old Bailey commemorating that case:

Photo credit: Paul Clarke, Wikimedia Commons

The plaque says,

Near this Site WILLIAM PENN and WILLIAM MEAD were tried in 1670 for preaching to an unlawful assembly in Grace Church Street This tablet Commemorates The courage and endurance of the Jury Thos Vere, Edward Bushell and ten others who refused to give a verdict against them, although locked up without food for two nights, and were fined for their final verdict of Not Guilty The case of these Jurymen was reviewed on a writ of Habeas Corpus and Chief Justice Vaughan delivered the opinion of the Court which established The Right of Juries to give their Verdict according to their Convictions

Discussion point: Russia’s destruction of the Trypillya thermal power plant

“Key power plant near Kyiv destroyed by Russian strikes”, the BBC reported yesterday.

There are several different English spellings of the name of the power plant and the place where it is situated. I have seen Trypillya, Trypillia, Trypilska and Tripilska. However one spells it, the thermal power plant was the largest electricity provider for three regions including Kyiv.

I’m not going to sugar-coat it: this is a heavy blow to Ukraine. What happens next? Given that it has worked well for them, we must assume that the Russians will repeat the same tactic. But two can can play at that game – if they are allowed to.

“You know what, forget it.” Another small business closes in San Francisco.

“Beloved San Francisco burger joint will close after 40 years after wheelchair user sued over obstacles that stopped him entering, with owners saying they’re too poor to build a ramp”, the Daily Mail reports.

A beloved San Francisco burger joint has closed its doors after a wheelchair user sued the restaurant over a ‘high threshold’ that prevented him from entering.

After 38 years of operation, the Great American Hamburger & Pie Co.’s Post in Richmond, California, bid farewell to its longtime customers on Thursday, with the lawsuit being the final blow.

‘Two harsh years of COVID, high food inflation, and a recent ADA compliance lawsuit have taken a toll on our small family business,’ owners George and Helen Koliavas announced the closure.

COVID, high food inflation and a ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliance lawsuit: the last five years in America illustrated in three snapshots. Change the name of the disability “rights” law, and the same story could be told a thousand times for small businesses in the UK and the EU. The article continues,

A paraplegic man filed suit against the Koliavas and their landlord in January after encountering a ‘high threshold’ on two visits to the burger joint last year.

On both occasions, the threshold blocked his wheelchair from entering the restaurant, prompting him to hire an ‘accessibility expert’ to conduct an informal investigation.

According to the lawsuit, the expert found a lack of wheelchair access throughout the space.

‘It’s frustrating, and you get to a point where you say, ‘You know what, forget it,” said George.

When I read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged many years ago, I could see why people admired the book, but the portrait of Mr Thompson’s America never quite gelled with me. Perhaps I needed to see America led by a man such as Joe Biden.

“A Palestinian writer”

The above tweet from Amnesty International is still up. In case it disappears, here is the text:

Amnesty International
@amnesty
The death in custody of Walid Daqqa, a 62-year-old Palestinian writer who was the longest-serving Palestinian prisoner in Israeli jails after 38 years of imprisonment, is a cruel reminder of Israel’s disregard for Palestinians’ right to life

From amnesty.org
Last edited
6:39 PM · Apr 8, 2024

The tweet calls Walid Daqqa “a Palestinian writer”, as if he had been imprisoned for his writings – as if he were the sort of prisoner of conscience on whose behalf I used to write letters on that special blue Air Mail paper, back when I was a member of Amnesty International.

To be fair, although you would never guess it from their tweet, the linked article by Amnesty does make perfunctory mention of the non-literary crime that caused Walid Daqqa to be put in prison:

On 25 March 1986, Israeli forces arrested Walid Daqqah, then 24, a Palestinian citizen of Israel. In March 1987, an Israeli military court sentenced him to life imprisonment after convicting him of commanding the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)-affiliated group that had abducted and killed Israeli soldier Moshe Tamam in 1984.

Perhaps concerned about her wordcount, Amnesty’s writer, Erika Guevara-Rosas, did not say much about Moshe Tamam. She cited Walid Daqqa’s youthful age at the time, 24, but did not see fit to say that his victim Moshe Tamam was just 19. And she skips over some relevant details in that brief word “killed”. Daqqa and his PFLP comrades did not just kill Moshe Tamam, they tortured him to death. They gouged out his eyes and castrated him. Then they murdered him.

But Ms Guevara-Rosas found space in her article to write most eloquently about Walid Daqqa:

During his time in prison, Walid Daqqah wrote extensively about the Palestinian lived experience in Israeli prisons. He acted as a mentor and educator for generations of young Palestinian prisoners, including children. His writings, which included letters, essays, a celebrated play and a novel for young adults, were an act of resistance against the dehumanization of Palestinian prisoners. “Love is my modest and only victory against my jailer,” he once wrote.

Walid Daqqah’s writings behind bars are a testament to a spirit never broken by decades of incarceration and oppression.

How to get a PlayStation 5 under socialism, explained by a socialist

“Final question to you, Professor Wolff. Under your system of worker cooperatives, would I still get my PlayStation 5?”

“Absolutely. You’d have to struggle a little bit for it, you’d have to talk to your fellow workers, you’d have to talk about the distribution of income. You’d have to compare your desire for a Playstation against all the other interests of all the other people. It wouldn’t be something you worked out on your own with your particular boss, ah, in any way. It would have to be a democratic decision. You’d have to come to terms with that, the way you do with democratic decisions now in our society, to the extent that we have them.”

The professor shown speaking in the clip is Professor Richard D. Wolff, but I do not know the name of the interviewer, nor when the interview took place. I know it was more than eleven months ago from this Reddit post, but for some reason several tweets about it popped up in my feed over the last few days, including this one from Dylan Allman. The transcription is by me. I often transcribe what was said on videos into writing in order to make it easier for people to search for and cite the relevant words later.

46% of British Muslims say they sympathise with Hamas

“Only one in four British Muslims believe Hamas committed murder and rape in Israel, report reveals”, reports the Telegraph.

Only one in four British Muslims believe that Hamas committed murder and rape in Israel on Oct 7, a major report has found.

46 per cent of British Muslims said they sympathise with Hamas, according to a poll commissioned by the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), a counter-extremism think-tank.

Later in the article Fiyaz Mughal, who has done as much as anyone alive to work against Muslim extremism, is quoted as saying, “The Government has got to provide better guidance for teachers, schools and education establishments.” He is not wrong as far as it goes but I don’t think sending even a really super government guidance circular to education establishments is going to be much help now:

Younger and well-educated Muslims were the most likely to think Hamas did not commit atrocities on Oct 7, with the proportions rising to 47 per cent among 18 to 24-year-olds and 40 per cent among the university-educated.

*

An Excel table giving the full results of the polling carried out by J.L. Partners for the Henry Jackson Society can be downloaded from this link. Two polls were conducted, one of British Muslims over the period 14th February – 12th March 2024 and one of the British public in general over 4th – 6th March 2024.

Cold machines versus hot blood

“The machine did it coldly: Israel used AI to identify 37,000 Hamas targets” – that is the title of a Guardian piece on Israel’s use of the “Lavender” AI-assisted targeting system.

The Israeli military’s bombing campaign in Gaza used a previously undisclosed AI-powered database that at one stage identified 37,000 potential targets based on their apparent links to Hamas, according to intelligence sources involved in the war.

In addition to talking about their use of the AI system, called Lavender, the intelligence sources claim that Israeli military officials permitted large numbers of Palestinian civilians to be killed, particularly during the early weeks and months of the conflict.

Their unusually candid testimony provides a rare glimpse into the first-hand experiences of Israeli intelligence officials who have been using machine-learning systems to help identify targets during the six-month war.

Israel’s use of powerful AI systems in its war on Hamas has entered uncharted territory for advanced warfare, raising a host of legal and moral questions, and transforming the relationship between military personnel and machines.

“This is unparalleled, in my memory,” said one intelligence officer who used Lavender, adding that they had more faith in a “statistical mechanism” than a grieving soldier. “Everyone there, including me, lost people on October 7. The machine did it coldly. And that made it easier.”

The article, by Bethan McKernan and Harry Davies, contains several howlers such as a reference to “the shockingly high death toll in the war”. Even if I believed Hamas casualty figures, which I do not, the death toll in this war is shockingly low. The Allied bombing of Dresden probably killed more people over three nights than have died over six months of the current Israeli-Hamas war.

Nonetheless, as the quoted passage shows, the authors have pointed out that one of the benefits to humanity of AI targeting in war is that it takes the immediate decision to kill out of the hands of humans.

And puts it… where exactly? I am all in favour of targeted killing, if the alternative is untargeted killing. I am in favour of the decision to kill being made according to rational military and legal criteria agreed openly in advance, if the alternative is the decision being made in a split second by someone who is angry and afraid. But I share the writers’ disquiet at the idea of the process of war becoming detached from human control entirely.

What is your view?

I knew who Dominic Frisby was before I knew who Elon Musk was

I only really cemented in my head which of those Billionaires Having Something To Do With the Internet Elon Musk was in February 2018, when he sent his Tesla Roadster into space. I loved him for that, but fell out of love a few months later over Musk’s behaviour towards Vernon Unsworth. Since then, my regard for Mr Musk has crept up again. It’s nice having freedom of speech on the internet back. I now – and I do know how sad this is – follow him on Xitter or whatever it’s called these days.

In contrast, I have been reading about Dominic Frisby on Samizdata as an financial writer, economist, film-maker, singer and comedian since early 2014.

Elon Musk has finally caught up with us.

In defence of all-{insert variable of choice} clubs

The Guardian is all a-froth because the Garrick Club, one of the historic gentlemen’s clubs of London, is still, well, a club for gentlemen as opposed to ladies.

In response, the Telegraph’s William Sitwell advocates for freedom of association:

“All-male members’ clubs reflect our natural tribal desires – get over it or get your own”.

… that central charge of archaic, sexist exclusion is nonsense. First because of the idea that there is something wrong with men wanting to be in the company of other men.

It is possible to be a decent male member of society – who champions equal opportunities in the workplace, changes nappies, generally strives to be a domestic god and is (joyfully) surrounded by women and small children at home – and, at the same time, enjoy a lunch with the boys. In the same way that others might want to hang out at the golf club, or in the snooker room. Or similarly how members of the LGBTQ+ community might wish to hang out in a club or bar or pub with their folk, or players in an all-female hockey team might wish to spend an evening with each other sipping champagne in a hot tub.

Humans are tribal, gravitating towards those whom they look, act, feel and sound like. But that is not incongruous with supporting positive discrimination in society, promoting the visualisation of minorities in fashion or policing or politics.

For the values that represent you formally are not necessarily jettisoned when you’re having fun. Which is what clubs are for.

Landlord MPs are about to destroy the Renters Reform Bill. Good for them.

Almost a third of Tory MPs trying to weaken tenant protection bill are landlords, the Guardian complained almost a month ago. Landlord MPs leave Gove’s rental reform bill ‘close to collapse’, the Telegraph reported yesterday.

Good for them for killing Gove’s Bill, and I care not a whit that they are doing it because killing the Bill would be good for them. Adam Smith explained all that in The Theory of Moral Sentiments:

“The rich only select from the heap what is most precious and agreeable. They consume little more than the poor; and in spite of their natural selfishness and rapacity, though they mean only their own conveniency,….they divide with the poor the produce of all their improvements. They are led by an invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution of the necessaries of life which would have been made had the earth been divided into equal portions among all its inhabitants; and thus, without intending it, without knowing it, advance the interest of the society, and afford means to the multiplication of the species.”

Gove’s so-called reform would have been very bad for tenants. The Telegraph article explains a few of the many reasons why:

Critics argue that it is not only landlords who stand to lose out. The black mark on a tenant’s record following a court judgment would prevent many from finding somewhere else to live, according to another landlord Tory MP backing the amendments.

He said: “An inadvertent consequence of abolishing section 21 [no-fault evictions] is the risk of tenants who fall into arrears getting a court judgment against their name and ending up on the streets.

“Local authorities won’t help them and this will only add to the homelessness problem.

“The advantage to tenants of section 21 is that it’s no-fault, so even if they haven’t paid that won’t get written down.”

Jessica Parry, a partner at law firm Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, said that as well as increasing the risk of homelessness, forcing evictions through the courts would end up costing tenants more.

She added: “Currently, landlords just write off arrears if they evict a tenant. Now landlords will claim arrears as they’re going to court anyway.

“[Going to court] will be slow. If a tenant stops paying it could take a year to get the property back. It’s a massive risk for landlords.

“From a tenant’s point of view, there are already supply and demand issues – not enough housing – and if you put landlords off it’s only going to make that worse.”

This is a real Police Scotland campaign aimed at adults

Have you met the hate monster?

Have you met the Hate Monster?
The Hate Monster, represents that feeling some people get when they are frustrated and angry and take it out on others, because they feel like they need to show they are better than them. In other words, they commit a hate crime.

The Hate Monster loves it when you get angry. He weighs you down till you end up targeting someone, just because they look or act different to you.

When you’re feeling insecure or angry, the Hate Monster feeds on that.

Why do some people let the Hate Monster in?
We know that young men aged 18-30 are most likely to commit hate crime, particularly those from socially excluded communities who are heavily influenced by their peers.

They may have deep-rooted feelings of being socially and economically disadvantaged, combined with ideas about white-male entitlement.

Hurt people, hurt people
Committing hate crime is strongly linked to a range of risk factors including economic deprivation, adverse childhood experiences, substance abuse and under-employment. Those who grow up in abusive environments can become addicted to conflict.

Don’t let the Hate Monster rule your life
If you have committed or feel you are at risk of committing a hate crime, remember, it doesn’t make you feel better. Maybe for a moment, but in the end, you feel worse. The hate lingers. It can really mess up your life in other ways too, like when it comes to things like finding a job. A police record for hate crime is not a good look on anyone.

Go on, be good to yourself. Don’t feed the Hate Monster.

Watch award-winning stand-up, Liam Farrelly, lead a discussion about the impact of hate.

What to do if you see the hate monster
If you experience hate crime, report it.

If you are a witness to hate crime, report it.

Find out more about the different ways you can make a report.

The official hate monster video would have been perfectly acceptable for primary schools to show to pupils in their PSHE lessons. But if Police Scotland’s idea of a message for adults is “The Hate Monster loves it when you get angry”, I dread to think what the kids’ version is like…

I tawt I taw a hatey monster!

I did! I did! I taw a hatey monster!

Hatey watey monster said hatey tings. Hatey monster said bad tings ’bout all lotsa peepuw coz of pwotected kawactewistic. Hatey monster said, “They may have deep-rooted feelings of being socially and economically disadvantaged, combined with ideas about white-male entitlement.”