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]

The mask slips

In today’s Sunday Times Camilla Long has a slight but amusing piece called “Jeffrey Toobin is caught with his pants down and he’s the victim? That’s a touch too much”. I realise that this audience would have little interest in the doings of the titular Toobin-

Oh, all right. Here it is:

If you thought the weak, the poor, the sick and the elderly had it bad during Covid, you might like to consider a new and extremely vulnerable and at-risk minority group: bored, rich, horny alpha males between the ages of 50 and 70 who have been shut away in their luxury triplexes with not a single sexy secretary or waitress to perve over.

In normal times these poor and lonely red-blooded millionaires wouldn’t go five minutes without putting their hands down their own pants or someone else’s — but now they must do everything for themselves, including, disastrously, setting up and managing Zoom calls.

My heart goes out, for example, to “the Tiger Woods of legal journalism” — Jeffrey Toobin — who was reported to have suffered some kind of extreme trouser event at his computer during a Zoom session with his colleagues at The New Yorker. During an “election simulation” — easy, fellas — with a radio station in which journalists assumed various roles, the 60-year-old writer — famous in America for his coverage of the OJ Simpson trial — apparently forgot to turn his camera off while his co-workers enjoyed a “strategy session” in “their respective breakout rooms”.

Toobin seemed to be “on a second video call”, said witnesses; when the groups returned, he had lowered the camera and was “touching his penis”. He then left the call, came back and, in the manner of someone who’s rarely been held accountable for anything — a boomer for whom life just falls into place — he seemed oblivious to the fact he’d destroyed his career, literally at a stroke.

Though as Ms Long points out later in the piece, working two jobs at once has not destroyed his career, because

…if there’s one group even more protected than a rich white alpha male in our society, it’s the rich white alpha male who hates Donald Trump.

All very amusing, but the last two paragraphs spoilt my mood:

It is true that the desperate scramble to shore up the hopeless Biden has reached extraordinary levels of deceit and manipulation — accounts are locked, reporting is pulled, likes and retweets seem to be managed.

Three months ago I myself got on the wrong side of Twitter’s political posturing by questioning whether masks worked — and my account is still down, with no response to appeals. If you think it’ll censor over that tiny issue, why not the presidential election?

My opinion is that masks probably do almost nothing to protect the wearer from Covid-19 and similar bugs, but they do confer significant protection to others. Feel free to discuss this question if it interests you, but I will not be participating in that particular debate. My uninformed opinion would add no value. And in any case the processing power that is available inside my head to think about any topic related to masks is entirely consumed by trying to deal with the revelation that Twitter censorship goes that far. I was naive. I did not know. Ms Long is quite wrong to call it a “tiny issue”. As with climate change, my now rather shaken belief in the “scientific consensus” was based on thinking it was a scientific consensus. I think it was Sir Peter Medawar in Advice to a Young Scientist who said that the dominance of the dominant hypothesis should be like that of a champion prizefighter: he is the champ because he has taken on and beaten all comers, and because he extends an open invitation to the whole world to displace him if they can.

But when people begin to suspect with good reason that the dominance of the dominant hypothesis is more like that of the champion golfer Kim Jong Il, it is no wonder that conspiracy theories spread like wildfire.

The bonfire of the vanities comes to Wales

I know Wales sometimes has been partial to a medicinal drop of puritanism – some areas prohibited the sale of alcohol on the Sabbath as late as 1996 – but I struggle to see what conceivable benefit this brings to anyone other than Jeff Bezos:

Wales lockdown: Supermarkets told to sell only essential items

Supermarkets will be unable to sell items like clothes during the 17-day Covid firebreak lockdown in Wales.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said it would be “made clear” to them they are only able to open parts of their business that sell “essential goods”.

Many retailers will be forced to shut but food shops, off-licences and pharmacies can stay open when lockdown begins on Friday at 18:00 BST.

Retailers said they had not been given a definition of what was essential.

The Association of Convenience Stores and the Welsh Retail Consortium have written urgently to the first minister, expressing alarm over the new regulations.

Sara Jones, head of the Welsh Retail Consortium, said: “Compelling retailers to stop selling certain items, without them being told clearly what is and what isn’t permitted to be sold, is ill-conceived and short-sighted.”

Welsh Conservative Andrew RT Davies tweeted: “The power is going to their heads.”

Samizdata quote of the day

“In the first week of October, there were 91,013 cases of coronavirus reported in England and Wales, and 343 Covid-related deaths. That same week a total of 9,954 people died from various causes. Of those, just 4.4 per cent of the death certificates mentioned Covid-19.”

Annabel Fenwick Elliot, writing in the Daily Telegraph about the UK experience.

The “envy of the world”

As the Daily Telegraph points out in its sharp (behind paywall) takedown of the UK government’s lockdown enthusiasm, the argument that we need to crush what is left of the UK economy to “protect” the National Health Service is based on the idea that the NHS will be overwhelmed by Covid-19 (despite the UK having had the late spring and summer to prepare for now). As the newspaper points out, the NHS is always “overwhelmed” this time of year because of flu and other winter-related bugs and diseases:

“But this is a perennial crisis. The NHS struggles under normal conditions in the winter because the system is completely dysfunctional. The Prime Minister needs to be honest about all of this and admit that not everything has gone according to plan. He needs to explain exactly why he is shutting down so much of the economy again and why he believes that drastically reducing social and family contacts is a price worth paying. He obviously wants to buy more time, but he needs to tell us how much and what for – and to explain convincingly why isolating the vulnerable (a strategy which seems ever more attractive by the day) while allowing the rest of the country to move on isn’t a better way forward. He needs to sell and explain his vision, not simply expect the rest of us to accept it automatically. Above all, he needs to spell out his Covid exit strategy. Britain’s economy and society cannot face another six months of the current madness.”

I occasionally read that the current “Tory” (yup, the scare quotes are there for a reason, folks) is moving away from all that ideological Thatcherite stuff about freedom, markets, scepticism of Big Government, to a more “pragmatic”, paternalistic approach. And yet the past few months have surely rammed home the message that the State does a lot of things very badly, while private enterprise, given the opportunity and freedom, does things rather better. The contrast between the ingenuity of supermarkets and their inventory management, on the one hand, and the NHS and its clunky, Soviet-style resource allocation, on the other, is harder and harder to ignore (example: cancer patients). And yet a vast swathe of UK public opinion, reinforced by all those cute rainbow symbols about “our NHS”, buys into the idea that this creation of late 1940s socialism and central planning is one of the high points of Western civilisation. We want to erase the very “problematic” Lord Horatio Nelson from Greenwich, apparently, but woe betide anyone who so much as suggests the NHS isn’t one of the Good Things of UK history. Remember the 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony where, just before Daniel Craig as 007 did his skit with the Queen, we had a whole choreographed display honouring the NHS?

Sentimentality, Charles Dickens’ besetting vice as a novelist, is, I fear, shared by much of the UK public. It is an illness every bit as bad as that of COVID-19.

(As a corrective, I can recommend The Welfare State We’re In, by James Bartholomew. The book challenges many of the founding myths around the NHS, such as the idea that only the very rich got medical care before the late 1940s).

Onchocerca volvulus and freedom of speech

There is a horrible disease prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa called onchocerciasis or “river blindness”. The black flies that live near rivers carry a parasite, a tiny worm called onchocerca volvulus. When the fly bites a human the parasite worm is injected into the human’s body. Then…

Within the human body the adult female worm (macrofilaria) produces thousands of baby or larval worms (microfilariae) which migrate in the skin and the eye.

Sometimes sufferers can see “tangled threads or worms in their vision, which were microfilariae moving freely in the aqueous humor of the anterior chamber of the eye”. This will be one of the last things they ever see before they lose their vision altogether.

I have been haunted for years by one account of how people come to be infected with this disease. It goes like this: a fly lands on a child. They swat it away, like they’ve been taught. Another fly lands. They swat it away again. And so on, thousands of times. Until one day the child is too tired or too excited or too distracted and they fail to swat away the fly. Then they get the disease, right? Actually, no: it usually takes several bites before they are infected. So there is a period when they think, well, a fly bit me but nothing has happened to me so far – the grown ups must be exaggerating. You can no doubt predict how the story ends. Once infection does occur it is irreversible.

Today’s Sunday Times reports,

Prosecutor criticises ‘sinister’ Met for investigating Darren Grimes over interview

Scotland Yard’s criminal investigation of a conservative activist over his interview with the historian David Starkey is “sinister and foolish”, according to a former director of public prosecutions.

Lord Macdonald of River Glaven said the Metropolitan Police’s pursuit of Darren Grimes, a pro-Brexit campaigner, was “deeply threatening of free speech”. Mr Grimes, 27, has said that police want to interview him under caution over a controversial interview uploaded to YouTube in the summer, in which Dr Starkey said that slavery could not have been genocide as there are “so many damn blacks” still around.

Mr Grimes is facing investigation for an offence of stirring up racial hatred, which falls under the Public Order Act. The offence carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison.

The decision to pursue the publisher of an interview has resulted in widespread criticism and concerns about the threat posed to freedom of speech. The force has confirmed that it began an investigation on September 25 after seeking advice from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

Lord Macdonald, head of the CPS between 2003 and 2008, told The Times yesterday: “Dr Starkey was roundly condemned for his remarks and has since lost all his academic positions.

“But offensiveness is not a crime and for the police now, weeks later, to target the journalist who interviewed him is both sinister and foolish. It looks like they are letting themselves be used as part of a political stunt — and, what’s worse, a stunt that is deeply threatening to free speech.”

For most of his career Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, better known as Ken Macdonald, was the very model of a left wing liberal activist lawyer. It is good to see that the flies can still be swatted by the left hand of the British body politic. In fact the police investigation is being swatted from several sides, and may soon be quietly shelved. Even so, as Brendan O’Neill writes in an article on the case for Spiked,

And yet, even the existence of this investigation is worrying, even if it does soon fall apart. We should keep the champagne on ice if the Met comes to its senses and drops its pursuit of Grimes, because we will still need to ask ourselves how this could happen. It strikes me that it is the natural result of the slow-motion decay of freedom of speech in this country, of the past few years of Leveson inquiries into the free press, police arrests of trolls for making offensive comments, the arrest of comics and feminists for saying ‘incorrect’ things, the use of public-order legislation to punish controversial opinion and the extraordinary growth of informal clampdowns on free speech too, from the cult of safe spaces on campus to Twitterstorms against anyone who questions the illiberal ideology of wokeness. Too many people have been cavalier about the demise of freedom of speech and the result is this: the police investigating someone for having a discussion.

The darkness in my vision might just be approaching old age, but sometimes I think I see tiny threadlike forms twist and writhe.

Discussion point: can children consent to puberty blockers? What about other drastic treatments?

Before you weigh in, please read both the Guardian articles.

“UK court hears children cannot consent to puberty blockers”, reports the Guardian today.

In a statement in the submission, Bell said she had been left with “no breasts, a deep voice, body hair, a beard, affected sexual function and who knows what else that has not been discovered”. She had to live with the fact that if she had children in the future, she would not be able to breastfeed. “I made a brash decision as a teenager (as a lot of teenagers do) trying to find confidence and happiness, except now the rest of my life will be negatively affected,” she said.

On the other hand, the abstract of this medical study published in the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics records that the study found that

There is a significant inverse association between treatment with pubertal suppression during adolescence and lifetime suicidal ideation among transgender adults who ever wanted this treatment. These results align with past literature, suggesting that pubertal suppression for transgender adolescents who want this treatment is associated with favorable mental health outcomes.

Another Guardian article published on 28 September raised similar issues of principle regarding a treatment that must be given to children if it is to work at all:

‘There is a fear that this will eradicate dwarfism’: the controversy over a new growth drug.

Two extracts:

Samuel Gray is very brave about his daily injections. At six-and-a-half, confident and happy, he was a boy who knew his own mind and made a big decision about his future. His parents had asked him if he wanted to take part in a clinical trial for a drug that could improve some of the conditions associated with achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism, with which Samuel was born.

[…]

In 2015, BioMarin Pharmaceutical, the company that developed vosoritide, released the results of phase two of its study. At the time, Leah Smith, a spokeswoman for Little People of America (LPA), the largest organisation in the US for people with dwarfism, said: “People like me are endangered and now they want to make me extinct.” Recently, the actor Mark Povinelli, who is president of the LPA, told the New York Times that the drug “is one of the most divisive things that we’ve come across in our 63-year existence”.

2020 like it ought to be

Jet suit paramedic

Modern slavery

At CapX, James Bloodworth writes,

And yet, left-wing politicians and activists still flock to anything emitting a whiff of revolution “like bluebottles to a dead cat”, as George Orwell once put it.

The much-vaunted Cuban healthcare system is a case in point. Throughout the six months of the Covid pandemic, we’ve seen various stories emerge that have highlighted Cuba’s so-called medical diplomacy. Jeremy Corbyn himself has praised the “inspirational” efforts of Cuban doctors who have been sent by their government to help other countries treat coronavirus patients.

And yet this week it was reported that 622 doctors have joined a case against the Cuban government at the International Criminal Court, accusing their overseas medical program of being a form of slavery. Hundreds of Cuban doctors have testified that the dictatorship has forced them to live abroad without knowing where they are going, has confiscated their passports, controlled their movements and expropriated most of their wages. Yet none of this widely available information seems to have filtered through to left-wing politicians and activists who continue to bovinely sing the praises of Cuba’s “health internationalism”.

An article from last year written by Maria D. Garcia and Hugo Acha and published in the the Miami Herald tells an individual’s story:

Dr. Rodriguez recounts how she and her medical colleagues were forced to sign contracts giving the Cuban Ministry of Health power of attorney over their actions in Brazil. She was required to use a special Physical Person Card instead of her passport, and she was prohibited from going anywhere without permission of “advisors.”

She also explained that she was ordered to act as a support echelon for paramilitary operations, if and when necessary.

After many months considering the terrifying risks of escape, Dr. Rodriguez decided to take action. She drove 12 hours from a small town in the Amazon to Brasilia in 2014 with Cuban intelligence officials at her heels. After arriving safely at the U.S. Embassy, she applied for asylum under a special parole program that was terminated in 2016 under President Obama.

To put it plainly, Rodriguez was the victim of a human trafficking enterprise.

Rachel Johnson has a thought

“Do you know, I had a thought on the way here on the tube. Do you know what it was? I dunno, I can’t believe that I’m going to say this on national radio. I thought that – it would be so unpopular – but what if the government banned, not, you know, going out or seeing your gran in her care home or all the rest of it, but banned the sale of alcohol completely until we had a vaccine? I think that would do much more than ten thousand pound fines to halt the spread of the virus.”

Rachel Johnson is Boris Johnson’s sister, but has very different political views than the Prime Minister’s. She was a candidate for the short-lived centrist pro-EU Change UK party in the 2019 European Parliament election. At one time it was thought that this party, bringing together moderates from different sides of the political aisle to oppose Brexit, would sweep the nation.

Samizdata quote of the day

“According to this theory of leadership, convictions don’t count for much: politics is a science, and leaders are little more than vectors, conveying carefully calibrated versions of externally-validated truths to the masses in order to secure maximum support and compliance. Reports from the cabinet subgrouping in charge of Covid policy suggest that the new ‘rule of six’ was chosen instead of eight not for epidemiological reasons, but for purposes of “messaging clarity”. It was thought that, since the number six was already out there, it should be retained for simplicity’s sake; eight would only complicate things. And so the lives of England’s 55 million citizens are to be drastically altered “for the foreseeable future” according to the principles of campaign science.”

Freddie Sayers.

It is good not to be surprised to see articles like this in the Times

But it would be even better not to have to still see articles like this in the Times:

Cannabis failures show why we need to legalise all drugs

Ian Birrell writes,

Carly Barton is a former university lecturer who suffered a stroke at the age of 24. It left her feeling as if her bones had been “replaced by red-hot pokers”. Doctors prescribed opiates of increasing strength but they left her feeling “zombied” and still in severe pain.

In desperation she smoked a joint and discovered that cannabis dulled the pain, enabling her to live a productive life. But she did not want to be a criminal and could not afford to spend thousands of pounds on private prescriptions. So she came up with a simple idea: a “cannabis card” to show police officers that she used the drug for health rather than recreational purposes.

It is thought that another million Britons who endure conditions such as arthritis, cancer and multiple sclerosis self-medicate with this drug. This is why Barton’s concept has been backed by police officers fed up with wasting their time. “I did not join the police to arrest people who are unwell and trying to manage their symptoms,” Simon Kempton, a Police Federation board member, has said.

This is a significant step forward. But why does progress on drug reform depend on ordinary citizens pushed to the limit and police officers infuriated about squandering time and resources? The reason, sadly, is that politicians privately accept their war on drugs has failed yet lack the nerve to sort out the mess they created even as it fuels gang violence and inflames racial tensions.

He goes on to describe how the police in some areas are effectively giving up on enforcing the prohibition of other drugs as well. It will not be a surprise to you that I think the outcome is good, but I feel more than a twinge of disquiet about the law effectively being changed by the will of the police. Selective enforcement can as easily be a tool of the oppressor as of the liberator. To see what I mean, amuse yourselves by making a quick list of those who are and are not subject to the Covid-19 restrictions in your area.

Related posts:

  • There should be no law to forbid people parading in paramilitary uniforms
  • The equal oppression of the laws
  • Here we go again

    ITV News reports,

    Social gatherings of more than six people to be banned in England to limit spread of coronavirus

    Social gatherings of more than six people will be illegal in England from Monday as the Government seeks to curb the rise in coronavirus cases.

    Prime Minister Boris Johnson will use a press conference on Wednesday to announce the change in the law after the number of daily positive Covid-19 cases in the UK rose to almost 3,000.

    The legal limit on social gatherings will be reduced from 30 people to six.

    It will apply to gatherings indoors and outdoors – including private homes, as well as parks, pubs and restaurants.