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]

Kann Union wirklich Meister werden?*

Well over a decade ago fellow Samizdatista Michael Jennings and I walked into a bar in Berlin. There was a game of German Second Division football on the telly between Ingolstadt and Union Berlin. Union scored and the place went nuts. Other than ourselves and the bar staff there were 3 other people in the bar. Clearly, this was no ordinary team.

Indeed it wasn’t. Union had been reasonably successful in the East German league – although – perhaps wisely – not as successful as Dynamo Berlin who were backed by the Stasi. Now you might have thought with reunification teams from the East would have been welcomed with open arms. Not so. West German teams didn’t really fancy the competition. If you have ever wondered why Celtic and Rangers don’t play in the English Premier League much the same reasoning applies. So Union found themselves playing in a regional league. They almost went bust. At one point fans gave blood to keep the club in business. At another they found themselves rebuilding the stadium.

Just to get into the German Second Division was an achievement. A few years later they got themselves into what the Germans call “Relegation”. This is where the third best Second Division club plays the third worst First Division Club to decide who gets to play in the superior league. Usually, the First Division team wins but on this occasion – inspired by the club song written by Nina Hagen no less and one of the most fanatical sets of supporters to be found anywhere – the boys from Köpenick – yes, that Köpenick – triumphed.

Of course, it is one thing to be promoted to the top division, quite another to stay there. It is not as if Union is overburdened with advantages. Berlin is not a particularly rich city. Their ground has a capacity of a mere 22,000. Their Berlin rivals (Herta) get the Olympic Stadium – yes that Olympic Stadium – to call their home. Union’s utter refusal to depart from the fan-owned system means they have no sugar daddy to spoil them. And yet, at the time I started writing this post this was how the table looked:

Oh, I don’t think this will be how it looks at the end of the season. I suspect they’ll fall away in much the same way I suspect the EPL’s own temporary over-achievers will fall away over the next couple of months but even so, given where they’ve come from this is a hell of an achievement.

*Headline in Bild.

Challenger tanks are no panacea

Like many Brits the fact that we were the first to promise to supply Ukraine with modern main battle tanks was a source of tremendous pride. And Jingoism. Let Putin eat British lead, depleted uranium, HESH etc,. Rule Britannia, Britannia rule the steppes etc,.

Luckily, the YouTuber Matsimus has come along to pour a bucket of cold water – mixed in with a few unpleasant substances that one wouldn’t want to mention on a family blog – over any triumphalism that might be in the air. Sure, the Challenger 2 can be a very capable tank, but it is not invulnerable – especially in the configuration that the Ukrainians will receive – and keeping it in the field will be no cakewalk.

Samizdata quote of the day

It was generally known [the Inspector-General said] that great quantities of opium were grown up-country and smuggled into the wealthy cities in violation of the law with the connivance of the provincial and military officials. The illicit growth, transport, and consumption had become a serious problem, and the question arose whether the Chinese Government should not recognize an evil that seemed ineradicable from China, create a monopoly of the drug, and license users at rates, of course, as nearly prohibitive as practicable.

– Sir Francis Aglen, The Times, 25 January 1923 as dredged up by yours truly for this week’s episode of What the Paper Said.

The truth about private fire brigades

Long ago – I think it was at primary school – I was told that in the dark days of freedom there were private fire brigades owned by insurance companies. You paid the insurance company a premium and if your house caught fire they would send their fire brigade to put it out. They knew you had paid because you put a marker on your property bearing the insurance company’s logo.

However, if your house caught fire and you had another company’s marker, or weren’t insured at all they would just stand there and let your house burn down. And that [missing step here possibly involving magic] is why we have state-owned fire brigades.

Since becoming a libertarian I have both believed this version of events and taken the view that it was probably the best arrangement available. It probably ensured the best fire-fighting at the lowest cost.

But is that true? A couple of years ago, the YouTuber, Tom Scott, repeated this story and much more recently someone commented that there was a minor discrepancy in the video. So, Scott decided to investigate. Or rather he decided to get someone else to investigate. It turned out that what generations of us have been taught is untrue. Brigades fought any fire that they found. This was partly because a fire at an uninsured property might spread to an insured one and partly because there were government rewards for showing up.

Scott, to his credit, has stopped promoting the old video and issued a correction.

I looked at his researcher’s work and found that far from there being dozens of fire brigades in London when the state took charge there was, in fact, only one. They’d all merged.

Private fire brigades fought fires at uninsured properties – even this one.

Introducing the Samizdata Awards!

It’s that time of year. Everything slows down and between the overeating, disappointing presents and family rows we have the opportunity to take stock and reflect on the year that has (almost) been.

And that means an opportunity to give a thought to those who have done the most in the fight against evil and communism. To this end I am introducing – on no one’s authority other than my own – the Samizdata Awards.

I propose the following categories. But please feel free to propose your own. We are libertarians after all. We believe that growing the awards pie is more important than how that pie is distributed. So:

  • Second-best Man of the Year
  • Post of the Year
  • Meme of the Year
  • Comment of the Year
  • Fascist of the Year

I was going to have a “Man of the Year” but I think that one’s has been taken. “I need ammunition not a ride” may not have the poetry of “We’ll fight them on the beaches” but its galvanising effect was – and is – identical. But I am expecting some keen competition to be runner-up. My nomination is Toby Young. He does Daily Sceptic. He does the Free Speech Union. He does a podcast with James Delingpole. Indeed, he is still on speaking terms with Delingpole which shows unusual fortitude or possibly unusual greed.

Come to think of it I think “Fascist of the Year” is also spoken for. But who is the Reichsmarshall to Putin’s Führer? Nominations include Nadine Dorries, the FBI, anyone fired by Elon Musk and the University of Cambridge. But I am sure you can think of some of your own.

In the Post of the Year – and I apologize for the lack of levity – I propose this. It changed my mind on something and at my age that is a rare pleasure.

I think it only fair to point out that there will be no glitzy awards ceremony. There will be no tacky, gold-plated statuettes. There will be no expensive clothes, hairdos or coke habits. There will be very little vapidity or hypocrisy – deaths due to nuclear power little. At best we’ll have some recognition for those who’ve done some good; at worst an ever more fractious comment thread involving Paul Marks on some completely unrelated subject – probably Bitcoin.

Shameless self-promotion

I have recently started a YouTube channel. It is called What the Paper Said and – as I say every week in the introduction – involves me skimming through The Times from a hundred years ago, picking out some of the articles and commenting on them.

So, if you are into fascism, communism, socialism, hyperinflation, genocide, civil wars, kangeroo courts, unemployment, deadly diseases, non-deadly diseases, smog, alcohol prohibition, cocaine prohibition, compulsory vaccination, dirty old Clerks to the Privy Council, the Ku Klux Klan, American spelling, imperialism, railway statistics, rent control, aging battlecruisers, some bloke called Hitler, and Oxford commas; this may be the channel for you. Until it gets banned.

Also available as a podcast.

A soldier returns Part I

Lindybeige (1.2m YouTube subscribers) hardly needs our endorsement but this interview with a British member of the Ukrainian Foreign Legion is excellent. Organisation, disorganisation, treachery, office politics, death, Walter Mittys, mess tins, big bangy things, tea; it’s got it all, apart from Part II.

Samizdata quote of the day

In the 1480s, complaints lodged by Casimir’s envoys accumulated in Moscow: “thieves” from Muscovy were raiding across the border, burning, and pillaging villages, sowing terror. Ivan professed ignorance and claimed innocence, but clearly the raids had his backing. They were part of a systematic strategy for destabilising the border. Towards the end of the decade they escalated outrageously. In 1487, one of Ivan’s brothers occupied a slice of borderland on the Lithuanian side, and Ivan appointed a governor in districts traditionally part of Lithuania. A raid in 1488 carried off seven thousand of Casimir’s subjects.

– Felipe Fernandez Armesto, 1492, p164, 2009. Reminds me of something but I just can’t quite put my finger on it. Anyway, the Casimir mentioned was the head of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth – yes, there was such a thing. The Ivan was not Ivan the Terrible but a predecessor.

She isn’t f*****ing about

My Grandmother used to have a word. It began with “F” but it’s not that “F” word or even the slightly less bad Irish “F” word as popularised by Father Ted. It’s another “F” word but you will search your dictionary in vain to find it. It’s not in mine. In fact, I am far from sure it has ever been written down. If it were written down it would be something like “footer” with the “foo” pronounced like the “Foo” in Foo Fighters not the “foo” in foot. Well, I say that but that’s only about as close as an Englishmen can get. Monaghan pronunciation is not something that I would advise the typical Englishmen, Scotsman or, indeed, Irishman to attempt. Worse still for any cultural appropriators out there, “footer” almost never came without being preceded with another word. The word means “old” but it is pronounced like “aisle” but we can’t use “aisle” because people in Monaghan take their religion seriously. “Isle” also looks silly so I am going to go for “ail”. Anyway, it turned out that a lot of acquaintances of my grandmother turned out to be “ail footers”. In fact, at times it seemed – if my grandmother was anything to go by – that 90% of the population of Monaghan could be so categorized.

However, it turns out that “footer” is not just a noun but a verb. I say that but I’ve only heard that from the lips of one person – not my grandmother – a resident of Armagh who couldn’t pronounce the word but did at least understand it. So, it’s not in common use. But I can’t think of a better word in light of the mini-Budget announced on Friday. Whatever Liz Truss may be or may do she is not a “footer” and she is not “footering about”.

For Liz Truss to not be a “footer” is an achievement in itself. The last 12 years of Conservative or mainly Conservative rule has been government of Footers, by Footers, for Footers. Liz Truss herself has spent the last ten years as a Cabinet minister. That means 10 years defending policy most of which she must have thought was nonsense. How do you do that without the steady erosion of your sense of right and wrong? How do you do that without losing all sense of urgency? Anyway, she has and the speed at which non-footerish announcements on taxes, regulations, energy and Ukraine are coming out of government is astonishing. I have been burnt so many times by politicians that I have become reluctant to give them my whole-hearted support. I am not yet ready to do that in the case of Liz Truss but this is an extremely promising start.

There is little about Liz Truss’s appearance or demeanour to suggest (to me at least) a Thatcher-like determination. From Heaver News.

The Battle of Kherson: Somme or Amiens?

It would appear that the Ukrainians have begun a major offensive in the Kherson region. So, using my knowledge of the First World War, how do I think it’s going to go?

“Using your knowledge of a war that ended a century ago! What is this nonsense, Crozier?” Let me explain. I like history in and of itself but I also believe that it can teach us things. Or, to put it another way, part of an historian’s job is to stick his neck out and use his knowledge of the past to make predictions about the future.

So, what predictions am I going to make? I’ll try but first of all I’ll lay down my reasoning (you get marks for that in exams, don’t you?) beginning with the similarities between 1916 and today:

  • the aggressor is everywhere on enemy soil. The strategic imperative is to remove him.
  • the frontline doesn’t move much.
  • the main tool of exploitation is highly vulnerable.
  • the Ukrainian army is large, determined, unskilled and inexperienced.
  • the Ukrainian army is yet to have an offensive success. The battle of Amiens could not have happened without the successes (yes, there were successes mixed with the failures) of the Somme, Arras and Passchendaele.
  • the Ukrainian army lacks material. It is coming but (to the best of my knowledge) isn’t there yet.

And now the differences:

  • Military communications are good. The great problem commanders had in the First World War is the moment troops left their trenches they had no idea where they were or what they were doing.
  • German army morale (certainly in 1916) was much higher than Russian morale today (or then for that matter).
  • German army skill was much greater than Russian army skill.
  • In the First World War, the equipment on both sides was of roughly similar quality. Western-supplied Ukrainian equipment is way better than anything the Russians have to play with. The big difference was that by 1918, the Allies had more of it.
  • The battle space is much bigger. I haven’t got out my tape measure but I am pretty sure that in both breadth and depth (think Saky) Kherson is much bigger than the Somme. Whether this makes much of a difference is another matter.

There is another element to this which is regime existence. This is not about the survival of Putin who seems to be a dead man walking. This is about what sort of Russia is going to emerge from the wreckage. In the First World War, Germany was a monarchy. Now, I’ve never heard anyone say this, but my guess is that just about everyone in the Kaiser’s regime knew that if they didn’t win it was all over. It wasn’t just Willhelm who would get the push but all of them. And, so it proved. Pretty much. That’s a pretty good incentive to keep fighting. Do the Russians have anything similar? They don’t seem to. The reluctance to call up and use troops from Moscow suggests that Putin is very worried about public opinion. Why this might be, I really don’t know. It does, however, suggest that he is fighting this war with one arm tied behind his back.

So, prediction time. The big factors to me are the lack of experience and equipment of the Ukrainian army and the fragile morale and incompetence of the Russian army. At some point it really will be a case of “Kick in the door and the whole building will collapse” as someone once said. I just don’t think it is going to happen in August 2022.

If we had…

…a free market in money then we wouldn’t have inflation. (Please note that with zero inflation prices can still move relative to one another.)

…a free market in housing then we wouldn’t have a housing crisis.

…a free market in healthcare then queues for cancer care would be much shorter, perhaps even non-existent.

…a free market in energy then – all things being equal – things would be looking a lot better for this winter. Of course, if we had a genuine free market in energy – all things not being equal – then polluters would be compensating their victims. This could lead to some very odd outcomes and I wouldn’t like to predict what they would be.

…a free market in education there would be a lot less wokeness and a lot less student debt.

…a free market in social media we would have pile-ons, doxing and cancel culture.

Thoughts on Spheres of Influence

Sean Gabb writes:

Sending money and weapons into the black hole of corruption that is the Ukraine is not a worthwhile cause. It is not worth defending in itself, and it is in the Russian sphere of influence. We have no business there.

There’s quite a lot in that paragraph but it’s this idea of “spheres of influence” – so beloved of Jonathan Mearsheimer – that I am going to concentrate on.

What is a “sphere of influence” I wonder? I suppose it is an agreement between powerful states that one of them gets to control a third state’s domestic and foreign policy. The key word here is “agreement”. Has the United States, or Nato or any Western institution ever accepted that Ukraine was part of Russia’s sphere of influence? I don’t think so, not least because I don’t think that the US has ever formally accepted the idea of “spheres of influence”. At least not for the rest of the world. It claims it for itself. In the 1980s, the Reagan administration used to refer to Nicaragua and El Salvador as being in “America’s back yard”. In other words those states were not going to be given a choice as to which path they took even if Cuba was for some reason. Of course, in that case there was no one able to seriously contest America’s contention. That does not apply in Ukraine.

But other than Central America, does the US have spheres of influence? Is Britain, for instance, inside America’s sphere? It doesn’t seem to be. If it was we’d still be members of the EU. And I’d have an SLR on my wall. And as for France and Germany they might as well be herding cats. So, no, the concept of spheres of influence does not appear to be one that the US recognises. What it recognises – however imperfectly – is self-determination, freedom, democracy, that sort of thing. If you are a democracy, and embrace freedom, the US will support you if it can. Or, as John F Kennedy put it – words that are carved in stone on his memorial in Runnymede, “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

So, if anything, the war in Ukraine is not a battle over spheres of influence but a conflict between two completely different concepts of international relations.

For what it is worth I think the American doctrine will win. The prospect of freedom means that the Ukrainians have sky-high morale. The fact that they are being aided by free(-ish) countries means they have – or will have – vastly superior equipment.