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]

What inflation now looks like

I like those elongated cakes with raisins in them referred to on the package as “finger madeleines with raisins”. A few days ago I purchased another stash of them, from the Afghan-run corner shop nearest to me.

They looked like this:

Sorry about the strange blue reflections of something blue in the transparent but shiny packaging, but it is important that you realise that this is a photo of these finger madeleines before I opened them.

Same sized package. Same price. But, six empty spaces where there used to be six finger madeleines. Twenty four finger madeleines instead of thirty finger madeleines.

We are seeing quite a lot of this in the UK just now. Soon the packages and/or the prices will change, but meanwhile, the quickest way to adapt in the short run is just to reduce the amount in the package.

Brexit is not proving to be an economic catastrophe, and I remain very optimistic about it in the longer run, that being why I voted for it. But it is proving something of a dislocation in the short run, if only because the sort of people whose job it was to foresee it mostly did not foresee it. I don’t blame them for this. I did not foresee Brexit either. I merely voted for it.

The changing face of war in the air

Earlier this week, Brian Micklethwait of this parish gave an excellent talk about sport and how it sometimes has taken the place of military activity as far as -mostly- men are concerned. Brian will want to perhaps go into this issue in a lot more detail on his own but one question that came up is how such an issue relates to women. Well, a recent trend has been the rising involvement of women in front-line combat operations. They are not yet doing so in the UK infantry, although that could change soon, but in the Royal Air Force of the UK, that is now the case:

A woman who has become the first to command an RAF fast jet squadron is expected to lead bombing missions over Iraq this summer.

​Wing Commander Nikki Thomas​, who took charge of the newly reformed No 12 Squadron at RAF Marham in Norfolk​ ​yesterday (Fri)​, flew a daring low mission to help foil a deadly rocket attack on a UK base in Afghanistan.

​​The 36-year-old is a weapons system operator with extensive experience of combat operations, clocking up more than 35 missions in Afghanistan within three months alone.

This is a woman with a lot of guts. Consider the fact that she knows that, in the event of her aircraft being hit, she might have to eject over land run by Islamists who are not going to be amused at being bombed by Western, feisty women. But then women in the Kurdish regions have already been showing that when it comes to dealing with these thugs, there are no real differences between the sexes when it comes to courage and skill.

There is also a broader point. With professional, volunteer forces, there is a premium on young, fit, smart people who have the ability to do a challenging role. Flying a fighter plane is not the sort of thing anyone can do. Given the ruthless process of selecting for flight training, it is pretty clear that a person who can reach the rank of this RAF officer and do what she is doing must be top-class. The pool of talent is finite. So if a woman is good enough to do this, well fine by me.

And this has nothing to do with PC nonsense, by the way. There is no room for Political Correctness in flying a supersonic jet.

Arguments about drone-killing

I have been paying almost zero attention to President Obama’s campaign of robotised aerial execution, beyond noting that it has been happening. I didn’t know if this drone-killing was doing good, or harm, or what, besides the potential harm of causing governments maybe later to incline towards drone-killing or drone-harassing their domestic enemies, when foreign enemies have run out or have negotiated a truce. I still don’t know what I think about drone-killing, but recent Islamo-American dramas made me wonder slightly more than usual.

I was raised by an Anglo-Saxon trial lawyer (himself the son of another Anglo-Saxon trial lawyer) and by the daughter of yet another Anglo-Saxon trial lawyer. Barristers, we call these creatures over here. This was the mental and conversational equivalent of being raised by wolves. My father was eloquent enough to present very good arguments. My mother was eloquent enough to stop him ever pulling rank to win such arguments. We all had our turn.

Which may be why I understand things best by watching people argue about them. Only when there is disagreement do the experts feel the need to try to persuade the humans of their own rightness and of the other experts’ wrongness, and thus to speak in clear English rather than in very unclear Expert. And only then do I have much of a chance of getting a handle on things.

Today, the indispensable Instapundit pointed me towards just the sort of drone-killing arguments I had been keeping about a quarter of any eye out for.

Robert Wright, commenting on an article by Micah Zenko, concludes thus:

If this is a strategy for eliminating terrorists, what would a strategy for creating them look like?

This story, as Zenko and Wright tell it, reminds me of the classic counter-terrorism movie The Battle of Algiers. In this movie, the French soldiers spend almost the entire movie winning, by torturing and then killing all their enemies. And then in the final seconds of the movie, they lose. More enemies, enraged by the injustices suffered by their predecessors and clever enough to avoid suffering the same fate as them, have sprung forth out of nowhere. Hearts and minds are not, said this movie, won merely by the most hostile ones being blown to pieces. You have to win the argument.

The good news is that England did achieve total domination over Afghanistan, just two days ago. But, alas, this was only at twenty overs each way cricket.

LATER: Cricket? Sorry I mentioned it.

“Nothing can touch cricket as a force for good in Afghanistan …”

From a Cricinfo piece by George Dobell, about the one day cricket international between Afghanistan and Pakistan, played in the United Arab Emirates yesterday:

A spokesman for the Taliban contacted the Afghanistan Cricket Board on the morning of the game to wish the team well and assure them they would be remembered in their prayers.

Pakistan won at a canter, but the Afghans did not disgrace themselves, in their first ODI against a top ranked, Full Member, test playing nation.

Afghan minister of finance Dr Omar Zakhilwal:

“The event appears to have united the entire country. … There is nothing that can touch cricket in popularity or as a force for good in Afghanistan. There is absolutely nothing else that mobilises our society in the same way. Not politics, political events or reconstruction.”

Cricket, says Dobell, is booming in Afghanistan:

Not only is the international team now full time, but there are league teams in 28 of the 34 provinces …

However, Dobell goes on to report that:

… the sport will be made compulsory as part of the school curriculum.

And you get the definite feeling that Dobell thinks that’s good. I am a rabid cricket fan, but I say that nothing puts many people off a sport more completely than being made to play it against their will. For sport, read: anything.

I remember school contemporaries who would have preferred being in the Taliban to playing bloody cricket.

Samizdata quote of the day

This might be the only measurement you need to judge the Afghanistan War. Vendors in Kabul are doing a brisk trade in Taliban ringtones. Because Afghans report that the Taliban kill travelers at clandestine checkpoints if they don’t hear one of their messages on someone’s phone.

– The opening sentences of a Wired piece by Spencer Ackerman entitled Either Your Phone Plays Taliban Ringtones, or You Die

Samizdata quote of the day

We’ve already killed all the dumb terrorists, so all that’s left are the smart ones.

– I heard an American voice saying that, in connection with the ongoing war in Afghanistan, while I was transferring a recording I had made of a show called The World’s Deadliest Arms Race (shown in the UK about a month ago on Channel 4 TV) from my TV hard disc onto a DVD.

One of the best things about recording TV shows, as opposed to merely watching them, is being able to wind back and find out exactly who said something of particular interest, and exactly what it consisted of. The above words, I quickly learned, were spoken by a big, tough guy in a black T-shirt by the name of Marine Staff Sergeant Jack Pierce. They come right near the end of the show, which lasts just over forty five minutes.

Ssgt. Pierce was reflecting on how he and the rest of the crew of the vehicle they were all in were subjected to attack with an I(mprovised) E(xplosive) D(evice). Six of the crew were badly wounded, including Ssgt. Pierce who is now paralysed from the chest downwards. The other two died instantly.

Is the Afghan War lost?

I am not a consistent non-interventionist – as some people are fond of reminding me.

For example, I am no friend of the Slave Empire (sorry the “Slave Holding States of America” popularly known as the “Confederacy”), and I consider the struggle against the Axis Powers (National Socialist Germany, Fascist Italy, and the Empire of Japan) and the struggle against international Marxism, as two great achievements of the United States and Britain (and their allies) in the 20th century – not as shameful statism which should be condemned.

I even supported going into Afghanistan. It seemed the correct response to 9/11 and the other attacks by Bin Laden organization, to hunt him down and to hunt down his ally Mullah Omar, the creator of the Taliban – contrary to popular propaganda the Taliban was not created by the CIA to fight the Soviets.

However, it soon became clear that the Bush Administration was not making the hunting down of Bin Laden and Mullah Omar their top priority – which is most likely why the two men remain un-captured almost a decade after 9/11. Instead the Bush Administration fell in love with the Woodrow Wilson style “nation building” agenda of the “neo-cons”.

My attitude to the neo-cons is more nuanced than the attitude of most libertarians – in that I do not despise all of them. For example, I regard Frank Gaffney as a professional, I do not share some of his political opinions, but he is not a fool. Unlike most of the leading neo-cons who lined up to list the mistakes of the Bush Administration in Iraq and Afghanistan (mistakes often directly connected to their own wildly optimistic assumptions – a “detail” they tended to leave out) for Vanity Faire magazine in 2004 – in return for a promise that the article would not be published till after the election. That they were genuinely surprised when the magazine promptly broke this promise indicates a level of stupidity bordering on mental retardation. → Continue reading: Is the Afghan War lost?

Koran burnings and their consequences.

Koran burnings predictably lead to murders.

So what. Free speech kills, we knew that. The lack of it kills more. Blame the murders on the murderers.

It should be allowed, but is it, or can it be, right to burn the Koran? In general I have contempt for those who deliberately insult what another holds dear. The fact that I uphold the right to say anything should strengthen, not weaken, my willingness to judge what is said. I despise Pastor Jones. I despise the members of Al-Muhajiroun whose insults to dead soldiers gave birth to the English Defence League.

However now that Jones has burned his Koran, and it has led to murders by Muslim fanatics as he must have known it would, I now see an argument that further murders will be made less likely by further burnings. If they keep happening it will have a desensitising effect.

Yet I still think burning someone’s holy symbol is a contemptible act. To hurt a group (and hurt feelings are a form of hurt) because some of its members are bad people is just another instance of the collectivist error. I would not do it. I suppose what I am saying is that given that it will happen somewhere in the world fairly regularly, this fact should be publicised. Eventually the mobs will get tired of assembling yet again.

Tuesday morning replay

Today’s Times has the headline:

Allies at odds over death of hostage in bungled rescue

The story is behind a paywall. It does not matter. I am only interested in the headline and whoever wrote it.

Do these people have any idea at all of what life-or-death fighting is actually like? I do not demand that they have actually done any before writing about it; little would ever be reported about war if that were the test. But they could at least have read a few memoirs, or talked to their grandfathers. Reading about the Dieppe Raid might put things in perspective.

Hint: it is not like planning a dinner party. With that sort of thing if you make a careful list of Things To Do and do them all in good time you generally can be reasonably confident that it will work out OK and if it does not work out OK, say the soufflé does not rise or the wine was too sweet, it probably was because someone bungled.

Military small group operations – by which I mean small group killings of people who can also kill you – are not like that. They always hang on a knife edge. The most skilled soldiers in the world frequently die young and frequently fail. A hand is a fraction of a second too slow on the trigger – a human mind is a fraction of a second slower than another, hostile, human mind to make sense of the confusion – and a comrade dies, or a hostage dies, and a lifetime of agonized mental replaying of that moment of failure begins.

Six hours later a headline writer in an office far away expresses his displeasure.

USA defeated by Afghanistan

Read about it here. Victorious Afghan Hamid Hassan blogs about it here:

After the match, I had to go to do a post-match media conference and they all wanted to know how it felt to beat USA, but the opposition didn’t matter to me. I was just happy to win another cricket match.

I love getting the chance to play against different countries and this was the first time we had ever played USA in an international match. I could never have dreamed when I was young, that I would one day play them in a cricket game.

I am a big fan of American television and movies and my favourite film is  Rocky  – I vividly remember watching it when I was growing up – and one of my heroes is Sylvester Stallone.

I think that there is a similarity in the story of Rocky and the Afghanistan cricket team – we both started at the bottom and gradually made our way up the rankings. …

Gradually? I thought Rocky did it with one fight.

Seriously though, it’s fun to see a guy so gripped by the American ideal of the common man excelling, and as a result … defeating America.

The way Hamid Hassan writes about Rocky and Silvester Stallone and so on makes me also think of this piece, about how the imminent decline into relative insignificance of the USA is once again being oversold, in which Joshua Kurlantzick says:

Most important, the United States is a champion of an idea that has global appeal, and Asia is not.

Although my part of the blogosphere is very anti-Obama just now, what with Obama seemingly hell-bent on ruining the USA’s economy, the rise of Obama to being President of the USA must look like a very similar kind of story to Rocky, if you are someone like Hamid Hassan.

Australian deserter in Afghanistan gets a free pass?

A member of the Australian military went missing in the middle of a deadly clash with the Taliban then, fourteen months later, she just wanders back into camp. Is a court martial convened to see if she is guilty of desertion? No, people just shrug their shoulders and start playing tennis with her. What madness is this?

What is the world coming to when a valued member of the armed services takes off under fire and leaves their comrades chasing their tails wondering what happened to her? And it should be noted there were persistent rumours that far from being held captive by the Taliban, she was sniffing around an area of Afghanistan notorious for opium production while her compatriots were risking their lives facing down the enemy. How can this not cause serious repercussions when she wanders back to base after being located by US soldiers (who reportedly said she was a real bitch)? Shocking.

Man’s inhumanity to taliban

Lynne Doucet, talking at the Edinburgh International Television Conference, gave a speech on the complexities of reporting in Afghanistan. She lamented that she was unable to convey the complexities of the conflict or the perspective of the Taliban factions. Whilst some may view this as a criticism of television reporting in general, snippets of her speech show the quest for impartiality. Let us consider what she says within that framework.

Doucet wishes to show the motives and perceptions of the Afghan population, yet uses the term Taliban rather than Afghan: her true target is those who resist, not those who support:

“What’s lacking in the coverage of the Afghans is the sense of the humanity of the Afghans.

“In the Prince Harry coverage for example, there were all these people out there you never really saw them.

“You knew that the bombs were dropping in that direction and the guns pointing in that direction but you never got a sense of how Afghans are as a people.”

In further detail, she notes the factionalism of the Taliban, yet does not move beyond her original goal of giving the opponents a voice or conveying their ‘humanity’. Doucet understands that part of her moral mission is to explain the complexities of the conflict, but her method is to give the mic to the other side.

Her impartiality is already flawed by her admission that journalists in Afghanistan support the troops through coverage of the Prince Harry mission:

Canadian-born Doucet said: “It probably did bring a lot of people to think about Afghanistan who normally wouldn’t ordinarily think about Afghanistan. If the Prince Harry story can bring more people to think about Afghanistan then that’s a good thing.

“There was a lost opportunity. There was hardly any mention of Afghans, even of Afghanistan … (just a) sense of ‘I went to a country far away’.

But she added: “Viewing figures went up, Prince Harry got a hero’s welcome and recruitment for the British Army went up so an objective was achieved. Did that mean people knew more about why Britain was there? I don’t think so.

Doucet wishes to be the gatekeeper for explaining the conflict: living up to her perceived concept of impartiality by maintaining a position of neutrality and providing access to all parties fighting in Afghanistan. But her freedom to report is bounded by the protection that the Western forces provide: the Taliban would neither respect her as a woman or as a non-Muslim. Without this understanding of her own limited freedom of movement, she is unable to provide a rounded understanding of the limits to reporting in Afghanistan.

Journalists find that they are unable to report voices where values are incommensurable and their own position is at risk, since they are viewed as the enemy. Underneath all the verbiage, Doucet’s unspoken lament is that the Taliban consider her the enemy too, when all she wishes to do is understand them. Poor lamb.