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]

Blue remembered hills, 2022 version

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

– Blue Remembered Hills by A.E. Housman, from the collection A Shropshire Lad, published in 1896.

We do blue hills so much better in 2022:

Hot news

Honestly, I kind of like The Rings of Power. It’s slow, and the evident fact that there must have been an episode of ethnic cleansing in the Shire at some point between the era of TROP and that of The Hobbit is sad to contemplate. But whether the mind-wiped stranger will turn out to be Gandalf, Sauron, or someone new has caught my interest, and oooooh the fabrics. Trust the elves to develop the Jacquard loom early and then not bother with the rest of their industrial revolution.

Oh, and Liz Truss will be the next prime minister.

“Little by little the truth of lockdown is being admitted”

A retired and now ennobled supreme court judge writes in the Times that the decisions of the government during a crisis were wise and good and that if, perchance, any slight errors were made, fear not, lessons will be learned.

Bzzt. Click. System error. Commence program reset.

A retired and now ennobled supreme court judge – Lord Sumption – writes in the Times that “Little by little the truth of lockdown is being admitted: it was a disaster”.

In a remarkably candid interview with The Spectator, Rishi Sunak has blown the gaff on the sheer superficiality of the decision-making process of which he was himself part. The fundamental rule of good government is not to make radical decisions without understanding the likely consequences. It seems obvious. Yet it is at that most basic level that the Johnson government failed. The tragedy is that this is only now being acknowledged.

Sunak makes three main points. First, the scientific advice was more equivocal and inconsistent than the government let on. Some of it was based on questionable premises that were never properly scrutinised. Some of it fell apart as soon it was challenged from outside the groupthink of the Sage advisory body. Second, to build support, the government stoked fear, embarking on a manipulative advertising campaign and endorsing extravagant graphics pointing to an uncontrolled rise in mortality if we were not locked down. Third, the government not only ignored the catastrophic collateral damage done by the lockdown but actively discouraged discussion of it, both in government and in its public messaging.

Lockdown was a policy conceived in the early days by China and the World Health Organisation as a way of suppressing the virus altogether (so-called zero Covid). The WHO quickly abandoned this unrealistic ambition. But European countries, except Sweden, eagerly embraced lockdown, ripping up a decade of pandemic planning that had been based on concentrating help on vulnerable groups and avoiding coercion.

At first Britain stood up against the stampede. Then Professor Neil Ferguson’s team at Imperial College London published its notorious “Report 9”. Sunak confirms that this was what panicked ministers into a measure that the scientists had previously rejected. If No 10 had studied the assumptions underlying it, it might have been less impressed. Report 9 assumed that in the absence of a lockdown people would do nothing whatever to protect themselves. This was contrary to all experience of human behaviour as well as to data available at the time, which showed that people were voluntarily reducing contacts well before the lockdown was announced.

I find myself in the odd position of being slightly more in sympathy with the government than is a former supreme court judge. Frightened men make mistakes. I also find myself slightly more in sympathy with Rishi Sunak than I was yesterday. However, I have to ask why he did not voice his doubts at the time.

Discussion point: the car bomb that killed Darya Dugina

On 20th August 2022 a car bomb near Moscow killed Darya Dugina, the daughter of the Russian ultra-nationalist Alexander Dugin, who was probably the intended target.

I am away from home at the moment and cannot easily link, but the story is everywhere.

Here are some of my reactions to the killing. I list them roughly in the order that I had them, rather than making any attempt to list them in order of importance.

My first thought was that this killing was ordered by the Ukrainians and was both a crime and a blunder. The rules of war exist for a reason. The fact that Mr Dugin has, and his daughter had, abhorrent views is not the point. Assassination of civilians is several steps along the way to making it a case of “they’re as bad as each other”. Along with many others I support Ukraine in this war because the two sides are not remotely equivalent: Russia is the aggressor, Ukraine the victim. Ukraine squanders that moral capital at its peril.

However, with their usual stunning incompetence at propaganda, an organ of the present Russian government reminded the world that they are quite happy to send assassins to other countries to murder their political enemies, and without the excuse of being at war. Margarita Simonyan, head of the RT television channel, formerly known as Russia Today, said that if the Ukrainians did not hand over the person allegedly responsible, a woman called Natalia Vovk, then Russia ought to send a hit squad to “admire the spires around Tallinn” – a clear, gloating reference to the 2018 Salisbury poisonings. If Putin’s methods are used against Putin’s supporters, why should anyone else in the world care?

The story about Natalia Vovk is odd in several respects. She is alleged to be an agent of the Ukrainian secret services. She is also alleged to have spied on Ms Dugina from a Mini Cooper. Surely a trained secret agent would not choose such a noticeable vehicle? Even more strangely, she is alleged to have taken her eleven or twelve year old daughter along on her deadly mission. While it is not unknown for terrorist groups to use children because children are less likely to be suspected, in these particular circumstances what would she have gained by bringing any child, let alone her own daughter?

If not Natalia Vovk, then who? Some say a Russian anti-government group called the National Resistance Army. Others say an internecine struggle between different factions of the FSB. Or the Russian mafia – not everything has to be political. Of course the Ukrainian government could be still be ultimately responsible even if the actual killing was carried out by any of these.

Can you see the parallels between Saigon and Kabul now, Mr President?

Reporter #1: “Is the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan now inevitable?”

President Biden: “No. It is not. Because you have the Afghan troops have 300,000 – well-equipped- as well equipped as any army in the world – and an air force – against something like 75,000 Taliban. It is not inevitable”

Reporter #2: “Mr President, thank you very much. Your own intelligence community has assessed that the Afghan government will likely collapse.”

Pres. Biden: “That is not true.”

Reporter: “Is it – Can you please clarify what they have told you about whether that will happen or not.”

Pres. Biden: “That is not true. They did not reach that conclusion.”

Reporter: “So what is the level of confidence that they have that it will not collapse?”

Pres. Biden: “The Afghan government, the leadership, has to come together. They clearly have the capacity to sustain the government in place.”

Reporter: “Do you see any parallels with this withdrawal and what happened in Vietnam? With some people feeling…”

Pres. Biden: “None whatsoever. Zero. What you had is entire brigades breaking through the gates of our embassy. Six if I’m not mistaken.”

“The Taliban is not the South – the North Vietnamese army. They’re not remotely comparable in terms of capability. There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of a embassy of the United States from Afghanistan. It is not at all comparable.”

– President Joe Biden, press briefing, 8th July 2021. Kabul fell on 15th August.

From Guido Fawkes’ post of 16th August 2021, “Biden’s tragically optimistic Afghanistan press briefing shows lack of intelligence”

Salman Rushdie stabbed on stage in New York, condition unknown

“What’s on your mind?” asks the WordPress dashboard at the top of the little box where you put your content. This. This is on my mind. Salman Rushdie getting stabbed. Back in the 1990s I bought a copy of The Satanic Verses as a contribution to his security costs. I’ve read it, and Midnight’s Children, and found them memorable but they were not books to which I wished to return. I thought all that stuff about the Iranian fatwa had faded away. I guess not.

Edit: “I’m literally a communist” Ash Sarkar sinks to the occasion:

Don’t have anything particularly clearheaded to say, but the stabbing of Salman Rushdie (though it has decades-old origins) alongside the campaign of threats and intimidation against drag queens in the US makes it feel like a very grim, dangerous time for artistic expression.

Should we be obliged to register a death?

When I first saw this story, “Daughter who buried father in illegal woodland pagan funeral avoids jail”, my outrage-meter went off the scale at the apparent violation of religious freedom. Unnecessarily, it turned out. Eirys Brett was not in court for conducting a pagan funeral. She would still have been in court had the funeral service been the Order for The Burial of the Dead from the Book of Common Prayer. She was in court because she did not register her father’s death and because she buried him in a place not set aside for that purpose:

Merthyr Tydfil Crown Court heard that frail Mr Brett made last requests that he wanted to be buried in woods in a medieval non-Christian style near his farmhouse home, in Aberedw, near Builth Wells.

The judge was not without sympathy. He said,

“Everybody’s entitled to their beliefs and make no comment about yours. But you should have gone about it in a different way.

“You could have achieved the same objective by following the law and that is not simply where you think or where he thinks is appropriate but where you are permitted to bury him and to register the death – those were the two things you failed to do.”

It is not clear to me whether the woodland area where the late Mr Brett was buried was on his own land. If it was, I can see no reason why he should not be buried there. However, if the vaguely specified “woods” were not his woods, I do see a problem. If I found out that someone had buried their dead relative in my garden I would be disconcerted, however well they cleared up afterwards.

It is the second charge that interests me more. She failed to register his death. In the UK it is a criminal offence not to register a death.

Why?

As an inveterate reader of detective stories, I can think of some good reasons for this law. But as a libertarian, I feel obliged not to simply accept it because it is a law that goes back to the days when the State laid fewer burdens on us than it does now.

What do you think?

Ohh, Jeremy Corbyn

Remember this? “Glastonbury 2017: ‘Ohh Jeremy Corbyn’ chant sweeps festival as revellers get political”

Last year, it was the universal disdain for the Brexit vote, myself waking up to megaphones announcing David Cameron had resigned and Boris Johnson may take the PM position.

This year, though, the people of Worthy Farm have a new hero, one to bring everyone together: Jeremy Corbyn.

Barely a moment goes by without someone chanting the Labour leader’s name to the tune of ‘Seven Nation Army’.

I had forgotten the link to “Seven Nation Army”. The Glastonbury set are fine with army-themed song titles – armies that actually fight, not so much: “Jeremy Corbyn urges west to stop arming Ukraine”

Jeremy Corbyn has urged western countries to stop arming Ukraine, and claimed he was criticised over antisemitism because of his stance on Palestine, in a TV interview likely to underscore Keir Starmer’s determination not to readmit him to the Labour party.

“Pouring arms in isn’t going to bring about a solution, it’s only going to prolong and exaggerate this war,” Corbyn said. “We might be in for years and years of a war in Ukraine.”

Corbyn gave the interview on Al Mayadeen, a Beirut-based TV channel that has carried pro-Russia reporting since Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

“What I find disappointing is that hardly any of the world’s leaders use the word peace; they always use the language of more war, and more bellicose war.”

“The media could not be played”, and that frightens me even more

The video embedded in this tweet from Laurence Fox apparently shows someone being arrested for tweeting. I cannot see the video, but the top comment says,

“Chap shares a post by @LozzaFox and the police arrest the chap, even though Laurence is actually stood there 👀

This is disgraceful. People upset by hurty words need to turn the Internet off and remember the old children’s rhyme – Sticks and Stones.”

Apparently the arrest had something to do with that meme that shows four LGBTQ+ Progress Pride flags (my goodness, “Newsround” has changed a lot since John Craven presented it) arranged so that the triangular inserts form a swastika. Fox’s Wikipedia entry says, “In June 2022 Fox tweeted an image of a swastika made from the LGBTQ+ Progress Pride flag with the caption ‘You can openly call the [Union Jack] a symbol of fa[s]cism and totalitarianism on Twatter. You cannot criticise the holy flags’. This led to him being temporarily suspended from Twitter for a day.”

This tweet from Richard Taylor of GB News may show the same video.

As you can probably tell, I am not at all sure what is going on. Is my inability to play the video censorship by Twitter, or just my old computer not being up to the job? Some accounts seem to imply that that the threatened arrest was not carried through, although that reassures me very little. As we have all seen, making the process the punishment has been a very successful way for the police to chill free speech while avoiding having to defend their actions in court.

Both Sunak and Truss have the true knack of being suss

But which is least bad? We love to say that politicians “are all as bad as each other”, but that is very rarely true. There is nearly always some difference between them. Go on, make me care.

I am in a sulk because Kemi Badenoch is out of the running. She is my local MP. I have seen her in person a couple of times, and once, during the interminable Brexit crisis, I sent her an email. She replied, and although she did not agree with me, it was clear from the reply that she had read my email and was responding to the point I actually made, not the superficially similar point that a lot of people were making at the time. That is no small thing.

Discussion point – has the recent very hot weather in the UK made anyone reconsider their views on global warming?

I know the spectrum of views on this topic among Samizdata folk varies widely, from “Hell, yes” denialist to, well, me. That is, to someone who climate alarmists would call a climate denialist but who does not self-identify as such.

Anyway, on Monday and Tuesday it was hot. I mean really hot compared to the UK average. I remember 1976, and it was hotter than that. We have often poured justifiable scorn on predicting the climate by computer models and quoted versions of Groucho Marx’s line from Duck Soup: “Who are you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?” – or in this case, your own epidermal thermo-receptors. The evidence of my own senses said it was the hottest two days of my life and that’s still true even if the BBC said the same.

Thomas Sowell: The gun control farce

Professor Sowell wrote this article in 2016. Little has changed since then, except that I doubt that today’s Associated Press would dare publish it.

Surely murder is a serious subject, which ought to be examined seriously. Instead, it is almost always examined politically in the context of gun control controversies, with stock arguments on both sides that have remained the same for decades. And most of those arguments are irrelevant to the central question: Do tighter gun control laws reduce the murder rate?

That is not an esoteric question, nor one for which no empirical evidence is available. Think about it. We have 50 states, each with its own gun control laws, and many of those laws have gotten either tighter or looser through the years. There must be tons of data that could indicate whether murder rates went up or down when either of these things happened.

But have you ever heard any gun control advocate cite any such data?