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]

Three cheers for the European Super League!

Nothing official yet but it would appear that there are plans for a European Super League. Yes, I know you’re thinking, “Don’t we already have one of those?” Sort of, except that the Champions League is not a league let alone one of champions. This, on the other hand, would be a proper week-in, week-out competition to determine who – really – is the best team in the world.

Shockingly, some people don’t seem to like it. UEFA doesn’t like it. FIFA doesn’t like it. The British Government – you really would have thought that Boris Johnson would have bigger things on his mind right now – doesn’t like it. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “If *a**e*s like FIFA and the British government are against it, it must be a good thing.” And you know what? you are absolutely right. But there are other reasons to like it. What it means is that ordinary people will be able to watch the best football in the world on a weekly basis. It also means that the footballers who people actually want to watch will get their just rewards. In many ways it is just as revolutionary as the creation of the Premier League in 1993 or the creation of the world’s first league in 1888 or the decision to ban handling and kicking people in the shins. Frankly, it’s about bloody time.

Of course, it is bad news for rubbish teams. But who cares about them? As it happens, I do. I support one of them, well, when they’re not promoting communist thuggery (but that’s another story). But I don’t expect the world to be discombobulated just so I can watch them pulverise the best team on the planet every once in a while. I will still be able to support them – subject to semi-permanent Covid restrictions, of course. They’ll just have to cut their coat to suit their cloth that’s all. Who knows, maybe the competition will stir the game’s organisers to improve it. Perhaps, we’ll see an end to the ridiculous offside rule or sin-bins instead of bookings or even the re-introduction of handling and kicking people in the shins.

Similarities between today and Ulster in 1969

  • Riots
  • Claims of discrimination
  • Calls for the police to be abolished
  • Involvement of communists
  • The media taking the side of the rioters
  • The creation of no-go zones for the police
  • Calls for the army to be used
  • Attempts to appease the rioters

I need hardly remind readers that over the following 30 years some 3,000 people were killed and that even though now the killing has stopped the enmity remains.

The similarity is intentional.

Samizdata quote of the day

About half the patients have managed to recover sufficiently to ‘earn’ a tracheostomy and be weaned off the ventilator. The damage to their lungs makes us all wonder if any will avoid being respiratory cripples. Despite this recovery, COVID is also leading to profound neurological dysfunction. Some patients are agitated and confused but for a significant proportion, the lights are on but no one is home. We wonder how families will react to their loved ones being different people.

Dr Smith at the Adam Smith Institute’s Despatches blog. Smith is an ASI supporter who has gone back to the NHS for the crisis and is reporting from the front line. We are lucky to have a reliable source of information at a time like this.

Japan and Coronavirus

As you know, despite being right next to China – or perhaps because it is right next to China – Japan is having a good coronavirus outbreak. Despite getting it earlier than Western European countries it has had fewer cases and fewer deaths (349 at time of writing). Why is this? I’d had it down to mask-wearing which as anyone who has ever been to Japan will know is very common.

But I wasn’t quite sure, so when the other night NHK (that’s Japan’s equivalent of the BBC. Think bad, but not that bad) had a documentary on the subject I thought I’d take a look. So, what did they say? The first thing that struck me is that they are bricking it. They – meaning the team that has been set up to study the outbreak – can see this killing a lot of people. They in no sense feel that they have turned a corner. They look enviously at the South Koreans and Singaporeans who had far better testing capacity. That’s not to say they aren’t proud. “I had every faith in the Japanese people.” says one.

Another aspect is the way that Japanese government is formally powerless but informally quite the reverse. There is no legal lockdown in place in Japan because – they say – they don’t have the powers. So why doesn’t the government grant itself those powers like they did in Britain, one wonders? They don’t say. But it would appear that the government “requesting” that people stay away from bars and other crowded places has had the effect of law.

The approach of the study team was – and it may well have changed since the documentary was filmed – to study in detail the outbreaks that occurred. They concluded that the big spreader was the 3 Cs: (En)closed; Crowded; Close Proximity. I must admit that I thought crowded and close proximity meant the same thing. But I guess that crowded refers to the number of people present. One of Japan’s hottest of coronavirus hotspots turned out to be a “Blitish pub” – whatever that may be. I was amused to see that their chief modeller spent time at – you guessed it – Imperial College. So there’s a very good chance that they’re using the same dodgy, secret code that we are. It’s not just viruses that get transmitted from human to human.

What they didn’t do was address why they are doing so well. Considering the size of Tokyo and the scale of commuting there you would have thought it would be far worse. So, I’ll stick with my original hunch. Masks work.

Masks work. Usually but not always. Two days later I was in hospital.

On the ethics of shouting at the help

Here in the UK the week began with shouting at tea and is ending with shouting at permanent secretaries. Home Secretary, Priti Patel is accused of doing the shouting and as a consequence there be ructions. Now this is probably not the time to offer an opinion on whether Patel is guilty of this non-crime, but it does raise the question of whether we should care or not.

Being shouted at is not a lot of fun especially by your boss. All things being equal bosses shouldn’t do it. But bosses are not paid to be nice they are paid to be effective. So, does shouting help? Or hinder? Or not make much difference?

Some examples come to mind:

Churchill. He used to have blazing rows – hours-long blazing rows – with Alanbrooke. But the shouting was both ways. Also – outside 1940 – was Churchill effective? Discuss.

Margaret Thatcher. Despite her fierce reputation rumour has it that she was nice towards her staff. Much the same used to be said about her colleague, Norman Tebbitt, the Chingford Skinhead.

Douglas Haig. Apparently he was very calm. As a subordinate you had to really push it get him angry. But was he effective? I have studied him for years and I am still not sure. Probably yes. Paul Marks, on the other hand, has no such doubts. Definitely not.

In my personal experience, the calmer bosses seem to be more effective but as an employee it’s often difficult to tell.

The Spoils of War

Frank Falla was a Guernsey journalist when the German occupation began in 1940. He became involved in the production of an underground newspaper and when he was eventually caught he was sent to a German prison (not – please note – a concentration camp). By the time the Americans liberated him he was little more than a bag of bones and close to death. The Americans put him up in a hotel so that he could recover. There he was served breakfast in bed by a German civilian. He writes:

I think her name was Trudi – and she was to spell trouble for some of the American boys. She was a young, attractive brunette who a week later had a pretty rough handling from some soldiers who found out where her bedroom was. Three of them took turns to sleep the night with her. Some of these boys were completely sex-starved after long training in England and fighting their way through France and Germany, and they took it out on this poor girl, who was a week recovering from the ordeal. Still, c’est la guerre!

And all this in an area that was later handed over to the Soviets.

What, if anything, should we be doing about Huawei?

There is a kerfuffle here in the UK over 5G. I can’t in all honesty say that I have the slightest idea what 5G is but I surmise that it is one better than 4G. The issue is around whether the Chinese company, Huawei, should be allowed to supply some of the equipment. Lots of people, including James Delingpole say, “no”. And very few people say, “yes”.

The first question that springs to (my) mind is, what has this got to do with the government? Which I suppose is bound up with the question of what is the threat? Assuming that there is a threat and that government should be “doing something about it”, what is that something?

About the only thing I know about China and telephony is that you should never take your phone to China.

Oh, and one other thing. Guido Fawkes observed that the real scandal is that Chinese technology should prove to be better than western technology. Is this true and is it a portent?

Plus ça change…

I’ve been rootling around in the Samizdata archives (more of which to come, perhaps) and I found this:

In the bubbled, hypocritical mind of some in Hollywood, the only reason Gervais crossed a line is because he went after them. Had he been as relentless in ripping apart Sarah Palin, her young children, Jesus Christ, or George W. Bush, today the comedian would be celebrated as “edgy” and “courageous” — because only in Hollywood is throwing red meat to a hard-left crowd considered “edgy” and “courageous.” But Gervais didn’t do that. Instead, he trained his satirical fire on Hollywood Power and today there’s serious talk about whether or not the comedian will be brought back to the Golden Globes next year as host.

As you can probably guess from the mentions of Sarah Palin and George W. Bush this is from a while ago – January 19th 2011, to be precise.

Ever got the feeling you’ve been cheated?

The forgotten defence of the Falklands

April 2, 1982 is a date seared into my memory, for that was the day that Argentina invaded the Falklands: British sovereign territory. (Or should that be European sovereign territory? Not quite sure.) Anyway, it happened and it was humiliating and doubtless felt just as keenly in Paris as in London.

As we all know the islands were soon recaptured but I’ve always been curious as to what happened in that initial defence on April 2. All I’ve “known” is that the defenders were massively outnumbered and it was all over pretty quickly, there was no defence to the last man and only one Argentine was killed. Was it really that perfunctory?

Well, according to Ricky D. Phillips in The First Casualty it wasn’t, not by a long chalk.

According to the Royal Marine garrison they (and, ahem, “others”) put up the best defence possible, despite being outnumbered 100 to 1. In doing so the defenders managed to kill 60 Argentines, knock out one tracked vehicle and one landing craft. All that for no British casualties which is all the more remarkable when you consider that there is an awful lot of talk in the book about incoming fire being “heavy and accurate” and that the Marines’ plan started to go wrong more or less immediately.

So, why haven’t we heard this story? Why didn’t we hear it at the time? And why the continuing confusion over something as seemingly straightforward as the body count?

Phillips tries to answer this. One of the problems is the fog of war. Perhaps that should be the “smoke of war”. What colour was that smokebomb he asks? One eyewitness says white, another purple, other answers include red, yellow and green. Multiply that sort of confusion over something so simple a few times and you end up with a lot of uncertainty. And this is a small engagement involving small numbers over a short period of time.

The Argentine dictatorship had no interest in publicising a story of substantial Argentine losses – a position that persists to this day. British officialdom, on the other hand, were in no position to count although Falkland Islanders saw plenty of “Erics”, as they came to term dead Argentines.

When it comes to why it has taken so long for the story to come out Phillips theorises that the British government wanted to curry favour with world opinion. I am not sure I buy that, surely a story of stout defence would indicate to the world that you care?

Perhaps a clue lies in the reaction of a fellow Samizdatista at the time. While I was incandescent with rage, he could not believe that Britain was attempting to retake the islands. For a lot of Britons – especially those at the Foreign Office – who had gone through the loss of Empire it must have seemed like just another chapter in a familiar story. For us younger ones, if felt like there was a principle at stake and an important one at that. Mind you, as Phillips points out Argentines felt just as strongly.

I suspect that the Foreign Office was all ready to dole out a story of capitulation. It took time for Margaret Thatcher to make it clear that that wasn’t going to happen and by that time there were bigger issues than the honour of the Falklands’ defenders.

The First Casualty is not without its lighter moments. For instance, Argentine troops were bewildered when it turned out that the “liberated” Falkland Islanders didn’t speak Spanish. More amusing is the tale of a wizened old Admiral being brought in to look at the invasion plans. “Fascinating,” he said, “now where are your plans for taking London.” They thought he was mad. He thought they were mad. And, as it turned out, he was right.

Some – mainly Wikipedia editors – have questioned Phillips’s credibility. All I can say is that if it’s a pack of lies it’s a good one. There is a lot of detail, a lot of thought and a lot of doubt.

Does Trump have a case to answer?

I have not been following the Trump impeachment hooha with any great interest but I can’t fail to notice that it is dominating Sky News’s coverage today. Some might say they are doing so to distract attention from their defeat in last week’s general election but I couldn’t possibly comment.

Anyway, I would be grateful if the commentariat could help to bring me up to speed on this. For instance, does Trump have a case to answer? Has he done anything illegal and – more to the point – has he done anything wrong? Perhaps even more to the point, has he done anything that other US presidents – Obama for instance – wouldn’t do?

I can’t help but notice that people I trust have been rather quiet on this.

Ulster for Beginners – Part IX

This is the final part and on a day when Ulster politics could have a big impact on British and by extension EU politics. I hope to put up a follow up post – Reflections 20 years on, that sort of thing – but I hope all sorts of things that I never get round to.

Britain’s Role (continued)

Almost since the moment the Troubles began, British governments have been is search of what T E Utley described as the “mythical centre”. There is a belief that with just a few tweaks here and a few drops of the old diplomatic oil there, a solution can be found that can satisfy all. Thus Ulster has seen a succession of negotiations since 1973, all of which have ended in failure of greater or lesser magnitude. Ulster’s colonial masters simply cannot seem to get to grips with the idea that there are some disputes which cannot be resolved by compromise. The politicians might as well have tried finding a compromise between driving on the left and driving on the right. Or between a murderer and his intended victim. Or jumping out of a window and not jumping out of a window (elasticated ropes perhaps?). There is a reason for this. There is no compromise between going to war and not going to war. Or being governed by people you trust and people you do not trust. Or being forced to learn Gaelic and not being forced to learn Gaelic.

[Slightly overegging the omelette here but the point is clear enough: there is no compromise to be had.]

This belief in compromise has led to successive governments making all nature of concessions to nationalists. In the early stages this included standing down the B-Specials, disarming the RUC, permitting the creation of No-Go areas and generally taking a softly, softly approach towards terrorism. In more recent times the Government has sought to appease nationalism by introducing “Fair Employment” legislation, signing the Anglo-Irish Agreement and declaring that it had “no selfish, strategic or economic interest” in the Province.

[I should perhaps explain what a “no-go” area is. Or was. It is an area the police and the army do not enter. According to unionists this gave the IRA the opportunity to arm and organise.]

Such compromises might have been justified had they had the effect of reducing tension. Of course, they have done no such thing. The IRA had taken enormous comfort from government concessions, seeing them as a reward for their campaign of violence. Meanwhile nationalists, far from running out of things to complain about, have merely switched from demanding civil rights to demanding joint sovereignty.

Although government policy towards Ulster has, in many ways, been weak, there is one area where the Government has been right. Throughout the Troubles the Government has accepted the principle of self-determination and that the people of Ulster have the right to determine their own destiny. Credit where credit is due.

The Way Ahead

Ulster’s tragedy is uncertainty. For the best part of thirty years they have had to suffer a government whose actions have been contradictory and confusing. While Ulster’s people are unsure of their destiny and governments make little effort to put their minds at rest then there will always be those who believe that violence can pay political dividends. On the other hand, were there no doubt that Ulster was British and was going to stay that way then the IRA would soon lose support and melt away.

[Is this true? This question came up in a Samizdata post in its very early days. The best explanation I thought for the peace that had broken out was the collapse of the Soviet Union. All of a sudden, the supply of arms dried up. Which I suppose suggests that there is little fear of a resurgence in republicanism – unless that is a post-Brexit European Union gets into the arms-smuggling business.]

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI
Part VII
Part VIII
Part IX

Ulster for Beginners – Part VIII

Consequences of a British withdrawal

Many people on the mainland ask themselves why the Union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland should be preserved. Wouldn’t the world be so much easier if they just got out?

There can be no doubt that such a withdrawal would be a massive betrayal of a people who feel themselves to be British by a nation that used to be renowned for keeping its word [Why else would foreigners refer to “Perfidious Albion”?]. It cannot be in Britain’s interest to gain a reputation for selling out its friends.

In addition to the objections of principle there are a number of practical difficulties. First of all, Ulster would become a highly unstable area which would be bound to affect Britain in one way or another. Secondly, Britain would have shown that she allows herself to be pushed around by a bunch of terrorists. The lesson would not be lost on others. Running away from problems is no solution – they have a funny habit of catching you up.

Britain’s Role

“Despite the many attributes of the English, a peculiar talent for solving the problems of Ireland is not among them”. So said the Labour politician, Roy Jenkins. He was remarkably perceptive. There are a number of traits of British politicians that have undermined Britain’s ability to deal with Sinn Fein/IRA violence. One of the greatest of these is guilt.

[Quoting Roy Jenkins, Crozier? Bad move.]

→ Continue reading: Ulster for Beginners – Part VIII