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 great party is in danger…

…A charismatic politician – once a supporter – is now it’s greatest foe. It’s members have abandoned the beliefs that made the party an electoral force. It’s enemies smell blood. Annihilation beckons.

I am, of course, talking about 1924. The party is the Liberal Party. The politician is Winston Churchill. The beliefs are liberal beliefs: property rights, low taxation, low regulation, sound money.

At this point the similarities with anything more modern start to end. The great shift in politics over the previous quarter of a century had been the rise of the Labour Party. Helped by the socialist take over of the trade unions and the extension of the franchise, Labour found themselves in government albeit as a minority administration.

The Liberal response to the rise of the Labour Party had been to steal its clothes. Hence, Lloyd George’s People’s Budget of 1909. This introduced state pensions, a state-run GP service and a limited unemployment benefit scheme. Worse still, a lot of the Liberal Party’s members gave up on the very idea of liberalism. Hence Lord Haldane, one-time Liberal Minister of War could became a Labour Lord Chancellor.

Churchill’s role in this was to identify socialism as the great threat. His argument was that Liberals and Conservatives (or Unionists as they tended to call themselves in those days) needed to put aside their differences to fight the greater enemy. As I write this, a hundred years ago Churchill is inching his way towards becoming a Conservative but – Churchill being Churchill – his first step in that journey is to fight a by-election against an official Conservative candidate.

Can Abdul Ezedi beat this?

A week or so ago I posted about the case of Abdul Ezedi – the corrosive liquid attacker – and compared it with a similar case from a hundred years ago. Ezedi would appear to have been found in Mayor Khan’s makeshift morgue otherwise known as the River Thames. Meanwhile, a hundred years ago Ezedi’s counterpart’s case has reached a conclusion. This is from The Times of 29 February 1924:

At the Central Criminal court yesterday, EDITH LOUISA BASSETT, 30, was found Guilty of throwing corrosive fluid upon Arthur William Thompson, and upon three other persons, with intent to do grievous bodily harm to Thompson. MR. JUSTICE SHEARMAN sentenced her to three years’ penal servitude.

Only three years? But there’s a bit more to this woman:

After the jury had found the prisoner Guilty, Inspector Aldridge said she had a remarkable history. Throughout her life she had been of a violent disposition. In 1905 she was sentenced to 12 months’ hard labour for wounding with intent to murder. She had made the acquaintance of an omnibus driver and one night after he had stated that he wished to have nothing more to do with her she went on the top of his omnibus and cut his throat with a razor. In 1910 she married a man named Bassett. The marriage proved a unhappy one and the husband joined the Navy. She next met a wealthy young man, and saying that she was the daughter of a retired doctor, persuaded him to go through the ceremony of marriage with her. She was charged with bigamy and bound over. Later she went to Scotland and assaulted a gentleman whose son, she said, had failed to carry out his promise to marry her. The prisoner in 1914 was sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment with hard labour at the Central Criminal Court for perjury in the name of Melville. In that case she had borrowed a person’s baby to obtain an affiliation order against a man. In 1915 she made the acquaintance of an Army officer, and told him that her father was a ranch-owner in Mexico, and induced him to marry her. She also married another officer, and in that case borrowed a baby to work on the generosity of the officer’s parents. For that bigamy she was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment.

I make that 4 weddings, 4 assaults and 3 jail sentences. The women of today yesterday…

Seeing the world through vitriol-tinted glasses

One of the big stories over the last couple of week has involved an attack involving a corrosive substance. The fact that the perpetrator appears to have been an illegal immigrant has not gone unnoticed.

Here’s another case:

After being five weeks in hospital, Arthur William Thompson, an omnibus inspector, attended at the Westminster Police Court yesterday to give evidence against EDITH LOUISE BASSETT, alias Mabel Young, 31, of Fentiman-road, Lambeth, on the charge of throwing corrosive acid in his face in the vestibule of the Court with intent to do grievous bodily harm.

But – as you’ve probably guessed from the presence of the word “omnibus” and a hyphenated road name – this isn’t recent. In fact it’s from The Times from Thursday 14th February 1924. And it’s far from an isolated case.

There was very little in the government’s response to Covid that was in any way new

In 1923 they are dealing with a highly infectious but not particularly deadly disease. It has even made the editorial pages of The Times of 14 December, parts of which I quote below. I have made some redactions to emphasise the parallels with a more recent epidemic but – so help me – I have done my best to retain the meaning. See if any of it sounds familiar.

The return of the disease… is extremely disappointing.

…during the present crisis the regulations based on [a government inquiry’s] conclusions have been scrupulously observed. Every possible precaution, in fact, has been taken. Everything that knowledge and experience can suggest has been done to stop the ravages of the disease, and yet so far none of the measures adopted appears to have produced any tangible result.

In view of the gravity of the situation, it is not, therefore, altogether surprising that the suggestion has been made that, since in this particular instance the policy… has proved ineffective, it ought to be dropped.

Fortunately, however, there is not the least chance that such a suggestion will be carried out. The whole weight of the [expert] opinion of the country is against it.

The real alternative, as [a member of the Great and Good] said yesterday, “is… between [the draconian policy] and letting the thing rip.”

…In thirty-one years, up to last March, [the] disease has only cost the country £1,000,000, whereas the loss every year… in Holland is two-and-a-half times as large…

In case you were wondering the disease in question is foot & mouth disease – a disease that affects livestock. While it is tempting to claim that the government during the Covid era was treating us like cattle… or sheep… or pigs, I am not sure that is true; they weren’t actually sending round squads to do us in. Even so the similarities are remarkable.

When universities were “conservative”

Johnathan Pearce writes about the disaster that is modern higher education; the implication that once upon a time it was better – a lot better. So, being the guy who does that YouTube channel can I confirm – or indeed deny – this?

The first thing to say – something that for most Samizdata readers is a statement of the bleeding obvious – is that a hundred years ago very few people went to university and, consequently, there were far fewer universities than there are today. They were also wonderfully archaic. For instance universities elected their own MPs, Cambridge did not allow women to take degrees and the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford had the final say on what plays got staged in the town.

But not everyone is happy. The Independent Labour Party which acted as a party within the Labour Party held a summer school in 1923. A Professor Lindsay, according to The Times of 30 August:

…freely admitted that universities had a Conservative bias, to some extent unalterably so, for the academic mind naturally tended to find reasons why things should not be done…

That sounds like a Good Thing.

…he considered that if universities were not so exclusively devoted to training middle-class people for the professions…

They were? Because how can you hope to do double-entry book keeping without a thorough knowledge of Ancient Greek? Even so, good to see they got over all that training middle-class people stuff.

…if they undertook more political and social teaching and research,

Oh this doesn’t sound good.

bringing them into contact with the life of the working classes,

No fear of that.

the objectionable aspects of this Conservatism would disappear.

Well, you certainly can’t claim that the modern university is a bastion of big-C conservatism.

So, how is this to be done?

Give them a great deal more money

I wasn’t aware that the government in 1923 was giving them any money at all.

use them a great deal more, and leave them alone.

Well, Professor Lindsay, it would appear you got what you wanted. I hope you are happy.

A G. B. Grundy has a rather different view:

Just after the war there came to Oxford a number of men who had served in the Army. In more than thirty years’ experience of teaching in Oxford I do not remember any generation of undergraduates which proved itself more earnest or more able in its work. But that generation has passed away ; and now Oxford is getting the products of the new ideas in education as practised in the public schools. Compulsory Greek has been abolished in order that (sic) more time may be given to modern languages. Judged by results—and we see them in Oxford on a large and comprehensive scale—the average public school boy is, as far as languages are concerned, learning little or nothing at all. Hardly any offer Greek. In Latin examiners are hard put to it to find pieces of prose and unseen such as will make it possible to pass a fair percentage of candidates without a positive outrage to decency… Many cannot write a single sentence of French correctly.

One wonders what these unfortunate lads are going to do for a living after they leave the University ; and one wonders, too, what the parents are going to do when they come to realize the returns on the heavy expenditure on their boys’ education. They will realize this soon, for these sons of theirs, these products of post-war ideas in education, will soon be coming back on their hands ; and then they will have to solve the question of getting employment for those whose ignorance renders them unemployable in the professions and in many forms of business.

Samizdata quote of the day – All revolutionaries become conservative

All revolutionaries become conservative in the very act of effecting their revolution. From the moment a change has been brought about their concern is to prevent it from being reversed. They seek means to guard the power they have taken into their hands against all possibility of a counter-revolution.

– Enoch Powell, Freedom & Reality, Paperfront, Surrey 1969. It appears to come from a speech made in Bognor Regis in November 1966.

Why is there such a fuss about F-16s?

Since Day One of Russia’s invasion, Ukraine and others have been demanding F-16s. Rare is the day that Garry Kasparov does not take to Twitter to condemn Joe Biden for withholding these supposedly war-winning weapons.

But are they potential war winners?

Many years ago I asked a military man why air superiority was so important. “Because you can see.” he said. Except in this war – where drones are ubiquitous – you don’t need fighters to see.

So, what can an F-16 do for you? To answer that question I have done quite a lot of binging and duckduckgoing and come up with very little. The best I could find was Ryan McBeth’s video. It’s not a long video but if even that is too long the TL;DR version is that an F-16 fires missiles that hit fighters, ships, radars and the ground.

Great. Except that it’s all missiles. Why not fire those missiles – or their equivalents – from the ground? I can imagine a couple of objections. I suspect that converting an air-launched missile into a ground-launched missile is not easy even if the Argies did pull off the trick in the Falklands. Also, physics would suggest that – all things being equal – an air-launched missile has a greater range than a ground-launched one.

Fine. So why do you need an F-16 to do this? Why not any aircraft that can get up to the right height? I suspect there are satisfactory answers to all these questions and that when F-16s do start appearing they will make a big difference. But I would prefer to rely on something better than suspicion. And there’s also the observation that big and expensive stuff i.e. planes, tanks and ships, have done almost nothing in this war apart from getting blown up. If the F-16 proved effective it would be something of an exception.

Update 1700. I said that it was a rare day that Kasparov fails to condemn Joe Biden and today was not one of them. Also, Ian recommended Justin Bronk. Here he is in The Spectator. F-16s are not easy.

Samizdata quote of the day – the reality of television

…and Piers Morgan is someone who literally his entire career is now fuelled by this sort of nonsense. And as you know I have been on Good Morning Britain four times now. I have always found it to be a deeply unpleasant experience even when I’ve “won”. Because the way it happens – and most people won’t know this – but when you are backstage they keep you separate from the guests that you are supposed to be debating. They try and psych you up. They try and say “You should feel free to interrupt as much as possible” and the one time I was on with Peter Tatchell who for all his flaws I deeply respect and I didn’t want to be a dick and interrupt him all the time they actually basically had a go at me afterwards and that clip was never even put on the internet because it was not seen as being inflammatory enough. So the whole purpose of these shows is to create conflicts and create soundbites and create all this nonsense and Piers Morgan is like a parasite feeding off the carcass of civil discourse.

– about 14 mins from the beginning of a Triggernometry “RAW” live stream from c. March 2021. Piers Morgan, of course, left GMB in a row over Meghan Markle. Earlier this year he appeared on Kissin and Francis Foster’s Triggernometry podcast.

Hoist by our own petard? Thoughts on the de-banking of Nigel Farage

In case you are not aware of this – and there is no way you would if you got all your news from the Sky website – yesterday we learnt that political entrepreneur, Mr Brexit, and all-round inconvenience to the Establishment, Nigel Farage, has had his bank account closed. No explanation has been offered. When he attempted to open an account at other banks (6 or 7 according to him) he was turned down in every case.

Wow! just wow.

It’s nothing new of course. Similar things have happened to Toby Young of the Free Speech Union and to the guys at Triggernometry. It comes at a time when any number of people have been kicked off social media or lost their jobs as a result of expressing the wrong opinion. I believe even The Boss once fell into the former category.

But, Patrick, you are a libertarian. Surely, you believe in producer sovereignty? Surely, you believe that a bank or any other private institution has every right to decide who it trades with and more pertinently who it doesn’t trade with?

I do indeed. But cherchez l’état. Once upon a time there was such a thing as the Ecology Building Society. It took in deposits and lent it out to – as it would see it – eco-friendly projects. It wasn’t very big and was eventually closed down by regulation. More recently, some of you will be aware of the travails of Dave Fishwick. He didn’t think banks in Burnley were much cop so he tried to set up his own. Not an easy thing to do as it turned out. So difficult in fact that – IIRC – only one new bank had been established in the UK in the last 50 years. The bank in question was Metro Bank which I believe has also been involved in a bit of cancellation recently. Fishwick eventually got his way but only by a bit of creative loophole exploitation.

So, essentially, a bank is very much a creature of the state. It is subject to the arbitrary whims of a capricious master. All very medieval. What are the chances that all these banks have been lent on? High, I would say. This wasn’t always the case. A hundred years ago – where I spend a lot of my time – there were any number of banks. Some of them were not particularly well run but it would appear that if you were dissatisfied with the banks on offer you could set up your own.

But hang about, if Farage’s de-banking is all to do with state regulation how come all those people got cancelled on social media which has almost no regulation at all? Er…

Update 1/7/23 It would appear that the Ecology Building Society is very much still with us.

Beware the graduate

Mr Grundy, an Oxford academic expresses his doubts about the value of modern education:

One wonders what these unfortunate lads are going to do for a living after they leave the University ; and one wonders, too, what the parents are going to do when they come to realize the returns on the heavy expenditure on their boys’ education. They will realize this soon, for these sons of theirs, these products of post-war ideas in education, will soon be coming back on their hands ; and then they will have to solve the question of getting employment for those whose ignorance renders them unemployable in the professions and in many forms of business.

Now as you’ve probably guessed from words and phrases like “lads”, “on their hands”, reference to parents paying for education and the fact that this post has my name at the top, this is not a recent quotation. It is, of course, from a hundred years ago and formed part of the latest episode of that YouTube channel I do.

But the sentiments are familiar enough. Which causes me a difficulty. While I am quite happy to believe that many modern degrees are worth less than the cost – and indeed may have a wholly negative value – I am reluctant to believe the same was true a hundred years ago. So how do I tell?

Did this generation fail to find gainful employment as Grundy suggests? Not that I know of. Shift forward ten years and many did awfully well… in the KGB. Which brings me on to a worrying thought: this generation was bloody awful. This was the generation that gave us the 1945 Labour government with the horrors of nationalisaton, gun control, the NHS, the welfare state, the Town and Country Planning Act, council housing and the abolition of flogging. This was a generation whose arrogance was fortified by a point blank refusal to let facts get in the way of ideology.

So, maybe Mr. Grundy was right.

By the way, Grundy’s main complaint about post-war ideas in education – as far as I can make out – is that Latin and Greek are being dropped in favour of modern languages.

The meaning of the Coronation…

(…and at risk of annoying Natalie.)

I don’t know what it was like for other readers but I found yesterday’s coronation a bit of a chore – way too long, way too much God, way too much fancy dress. And I’m someone who likes fancy dress. Nevertheless I felt that I should at least make some attempt to understand it. So, here goes.

At some point human beings gained the ability to reason. And when they did they observed that life was pretty precarious. You could do your best, you could build something and yet all that could be wiped out by floods, storms, earthquakes, disease or pests. How to explain it? The star-gazers may have done some pretty clever things like work out when the next eclipse was likely to take place but they still haven’t cracked more down-to-earth problems (literally). No, you were going to have to go with God. He was a bit like you but a lot more powerful. And capricious. But if you did as he said – or what you thought he said – or what those blokes in fancy robes said he said – then maybe, just maybe, he’d spare you from disaster. Oh, and the eternity of hell.

And if God could explain natural disasters maybe he could explain man-made disasters like war. Maybe he was responsible for choosing your chief warrior – or “king”. If so, then you’d better obey the “king” as well because he was God’s chosen one. If you happened to be king this was really good. You were no longer some thug who was just a bit better at killing than your rival thugs. You had divine authority. It didn’t mean you couldn’t get offed – as Edward II and Richard II found out – but people would think twice about it. On the downside you had to believe this stuff – or at least give the impression that you believed this stuff. It was also pretty good if you were an official of the king’s favoured religion. You got to swan around in fancy robes, you literally didn’t have to get your hands dirty and the general population was forced to pay for you.

And this brings us to yesterday’s coronation. What we saw was that ancient bargain being renewed. Unfortunately for the participants over the centuries the stargazers upped their game. They explained the motion of the planets and then of apples. They explained smallpox and diphtheria. And cured them. They led us into a world where peace was the norm not war. They led us into a world which didn’t need God to explain it. And because they did yesterday’s ceremony looked ridiculous. It will look even more so when the stargazers get around to issuing an accurate weather forecast.

But when we do find ourselves cavilling at the absurdity we should pause to remember that our ancestors were not fools and that for them it was very much a matter of life and death.

Donbass Devushka and me

In the beginning there was Perun. He referred to there being Russian “mil-bloggers” on Telegram. For those who don’t know Telegram is essentially Twitter without “community guidelines”. Seeing as I was on Telegram following Ukrainian “mil-bloggers” it didn’t seem such a great leap to include a few of their Russian counterparts. Coz balance is really good isn’t it?

I eventually found 3 Russian mil-bloggers to follow. The first I found was Donbass Devushka. This was maybe a couple of months ago.

And now she’s hit the headlines.

It is claimed that she claimed to be a Russian living in Luhansk when in fact she is an ex-US Navy sailor living in Washington state. I never saw this claim; at least not on the Donbass Devushka – DD as I shall now refer to her – channel. Jake Broe has a good video about this.

It is claimed that she solicits donations ostensibly for Russians affected by the war and the donations have not reached any Russians, affected by the war or otherwise. I cannot recall seeing any such solicitation. If solicitation there be it certainly isn’t a regular occurrence. And anyway, where would you prefer money donated by gullible pro-Russians to end up?

It is claimed that she was the first person to publish images – doctored images no less – of the US intelligence documents which have been such a big story in the last couple of weeks. I don’t recall seeing any such post. If it were posted and I didn’t see it there are good reasons why I might not have done. DD has a bad case of blogorrhea. Every day she – I say “she”, she claims the channel has multiple authors – posts something like 170 entries. Getting through that takes time. It is not helped by a bug in Telegram for Mac which means that page down doesn’t work. Fortunately it is helped by another bug in Telegram for Mac which from time to time will skip 50-100 entries.

Not that it matters much. Even if I had seen it I wouldn’t have paid a great deal of attention. The published images don’t look like an intelligence assessment to me. Colour! Flashy fonts! Large pieces of paper! In an intelligence document! Get away! And, anyway, I wouldn’t have had the skills to make sense of it.

So, if I managed to miss the big story what did I learn from following DD? A few things. I should point out that from the very beginning I was very sceptical about the things she said. I rapidly came to the conclusion that the channel was pure Kremlin propaganda. There was at no point any departure from the Kremlin line or criticism of Russia or Russian performance in the war. I was more interested in what sorts of stories she was promoting and what arguments she was making. Anything unverifiable – like a headling-grabbing intelligence report – I mostly ignored. So, a list:

  1. The “Ukrainians are Nazis” is an incredibly important line for the Russians.
  2. Syria – for some reason – is a big deal to the Russians
  3. …as is the idea of a “multi-polar” world
  4. Russia uses drones. Fewer than Ukraine but the best quality footage I have seen is Russian.
  5. While Ukrainians refer to their enemy as “orcs”; the Russians refer to their enemy as “Khokhols”
  6. There are occasional claims of Ukrainian brutality

How’s about that for an anti-climax?