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 riding list

All twelve of the firefighters who were working in my husband’s firehouse died on 9/11. The “riding list,” handwritten in chalk, listing all the men who were on duty that day, still hangs on the firehouse wall, forever preserved in glass. Engine 40 Ladder 35 #NeverForget

– Janice Dean

A good death

Our ancestors, wiser than we, were not shocked by the idea of praying for a good death for oneself or others. Queen Elizabeth II’s health is clearly failing. I pray that she will have a good death, whenever it comes.

Nobody, least of all a libertarian, would invent the idea of monarchy if designing the world from scratch. But we do not design the world, we inherit it. Constitutional monarchy is like one of those very old houses which started to fall down centuries ago but somehow settled into an unexpectedly beautiful state of wonky stability. Elizabeth has been a very good constitutional monarch.

Update: She has died. May she rest in peace.

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.

Can you see the parallels between Saigon and Kabul now, Mr President?

Reporter #1: “Is the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan now inevitable?”

President Biden: “No. It is not. Because you have the Afghan troops have 300,000 – well-equipped- as well equipped as any army in the world – and an air force – against something like 75,000 Taliban. It is not inevitable”

Reporter #2: “Mr President, thank you very much. Your own intelligence community has assessed that the Afghan government will likely collapse.”

Pres. Biden: “That is not true.”

Reporter: “Is it – Can you please clarify what they have told you about whether that will happen or not.”

Pres. Biden: “That is not true. They did not reach that conclusion.”

Reporter: “So what is the level of confidence that they have that it will not collapse?”

Pres. Biden: “The Afghan government, the leadership, has to come together. They clearly have the capacity to sustain the government in place.”

Reporter: “Do you see any parallels with this withdrawal and what happened in Vietnam? With some people feeling…”

Pres. Biden: “None whatsoever. Zero. What you had is entire brigades breaking through the gates of our embassy. Six if I’m not mistaken.”

“The Taliban is not the South – the North Vietnamese army. They’re not remotely comparable in terms of capability. There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of a embassy of the United States from Afghanistan. It is not at all comparable.”

– President Joe Biden, press briefing, 8th July 2021. Kabul fell on 15th August.

From Guido Fawkes’ post of 16th August 2021, “Biden’s tragically optimistic Afghanistan press briefing shows lack of intelligence”

Discussion point – has the recent very hot weather in the UK made anyone reconsider their views on global warming?

I know the spectrum of views on this topic among Samizdata folk varies widely, from “Hell, yes” denialist to, well, me. That is, to someone who climate alarmists would call a climate denialist but who does not self-identify as such.

Anyway, on Monday and Tuesday it was hot. I mean really hot compared to the UK average. I remember 1976, and it was hotter than that. We have often poured justifiable scorn on predicting the climate by computer models and quoted versions of Groucho Marx’s line from Duck Soup: “Who are you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?” – or in this case, your own epidermal thermo-receptors. The evidence of my own senses said it was the hottest two days of my life and that’s still true even if the BBC said the same.

Thomas Sowell: The gun control farce

Professor Sowell wrote this article in 2016. Little has changed since then, except that I doubt that today’s Associated Press would dare publish it.

Surely murder is a serious subject, which ought to be examined seriously. Instead, it is almost always examined politically in the context of gun control controversies, with stock arguments on both sides that have remained the same for decades. And most of those arguments are irrelevant to the central question: Do tighter gun control laws reduce the murder rate?

That is not an esoteric question, nor one for which no empirical evidence is available. Think about it. We have 50 states, each with its own gun control laws, and many of those laws have gotten either tighter or looser through the years. There must be tons of data that could indicate whether murder rates went up or down when either of these things happened.

But have you ever heard any gun control advocate cite any such data?

The Queen indirectly honours Dr Shipman

HM The Queen today presented the George Cross, the UK’s highest award for bravery not in the face of the enemy, to the National Health Service, (for the response to the covid pandemic etc.), surely making the NHS Eisenstein’s ‘mass hero’ of our age. This is the third ‘collective’ award (one not to a real person – living or dead) in the history of this medal, founded by her father in 1940; the other recipients being the island of Malta for the bravery of the populace in what seems to me to have been ‘in the face of the enemy‘ as being bombed for years by the Regia Aeronautica and Luftwaffe wasn’t just that, what was it?; and the other was the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which was scrapped and given the George Cross as a consolation. However, one of the Palace bureaucrats celebrating the award is quoted as below:
Lt Col Michael Vernon, comptroller of the Lord Chamberlain’s office with responsibility for organising ceremonial events, said: “This award recognises all NHS staff, past and present, across all disciplines and all four nations.
So being snarky, that includes perhaps the most prolific individual murderer in British history, Dr Harold Shipman, a GP fond of polishing off his elderly patients, for free. And of course, this gushing tribute necessarily covers former nurse and convicted murderer Beverley Allitt, who also did not charge her victims. But of course, there have been systemic issues, like the Mid-Staffordshire Hospital scandal. But looking at it in the balance, it seems that the NHS deserves its honour, despite being a bureaucratic abstraction, and an expensive and ineffective one at that. I seem to recall the Army being drafted in during the coronavirus pandemic to (give the impression that the government could) do something about the appalling logistics in the NHS. And now the token medal is going on tour, a holy relic, as if a modern-day equivalent to the bones of a saint:
NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard paid tribute to those who worked on the front line and said the vaccine programme saved hundreds of thousands of lives. She told the Queen that the medal will go on a tour of the NHS before a permanent home is found.
Is it heresy to say that honours don’t really exist? That an honour is just a piece of cloth and metal, with a document relating to it? That veneration of medals is simply absurd, it is simply reflective of the opinion of a committee, the absurdity of it made evident here for all to see. And, if you are to think of honours, not deeds, as somehow noteworthy, let us not forget that the first time that the Queen awarded a George Cross, it was to the widow of Flight-Lieutenant John Quinton, who gave away his only parachute after a mid-air collision. If you wish to measure the decline of this nation under (but not, I say, due to) Elizabeth II of England, I of Scotland, compare the two awards and all that happened in-between. Can we please stop pretending that the State can make things not what they really are?

“Biting and hitting, overwhelmed around large groups of other children”

“Evidence grows of lockdown harm to the young. But we act as if nothing happened”, writes Martha Gill in the Guardian.

I had been beginning to forget that the Guardian occasionally publishes good journalism that expresses opinions outside the comfort zone of its readers. Ms Gill’s previous work had not led me to expect this example of exactly that to come from her. She writes,

Then there are the very young. During the pandemic, parents spoke heartbreakingly of having to tell toddlers to stay away from others and not to hug their friends. In May, research published by the Education Endowment Foundation claimed that lockdown had affected England’s youngest children worst of all. Four- and five-year-olds were starting school far behind, biting and hitting, overwhelmed around large groups of other children and unable to settle and learn.

It came of necessity, perhaps, but we need to admit it. From 2020 to 2021, we conducted a mass experiment on the young. In recent history, there is perhaps just one comparison point: evacuation during the Second World War. Only it’s the opposite experiment. In 1939, children were sent away from their parents. In the past two years, they have been shut up with them.

and

Lockdown Britain had all the aesthetics of fictional big-state dystopias – the empty city squares, the mass-testing centres, the tape around park benches, the twitching curtains of neighbours who would love the chance to report you to the police. It was easy to see then that something bad and lasting might be happening to us all. But the unworldly, futuristic atmosphere disappeared as infections cleared up – and life has mostly snapped back to normal.

But we have to remember what we did. Keeping a generation of children away from their classrooms and friends felt unnatural and harmful, because it was unnatural and harmful. We should at least be collecting far more data on the matter than we seem to be doing. We have, after all, done the experiment. Now we must bother with the results.

Samizdata quote of the day save draft publish

‘End Of Quote, Repeat The Line’: Biden Reads Teleprompter Instructions Out Loud During Speech

With Joe more voicemail than man and Boris only just clinging to the wreckage, at least the Anglosphere is demonstrating that it can get by without anyone in charge. Though we have much to learn before we can challenge the true masters of the art of doing without a government.

Banishing the demon drink from Wales

My late mother-in-law used to tell a funny story about how, when she was a child in Wales during the 1930s, she was taken to the doctor. Her mother feared there must be something terribly wrong with her because she did not like tea. Why, she wouldn’t even take a cup with when the minister visited!

Wales is a different place now.

Sale of coffee and tea to under 16s could be banned in Wales

Some thoughts on the Assange case

Julian Assange is on the verge (as he has been for ten years, but this time for real) of being extradited from the UK to the US. The question I ask is, has he done anything wrong?

If it were the case that he had supplied information that would have been useful to a hostile power then I would say hang the bastard. But that is not what the US government is accusing him of. The accusation is that he helped to steal the information. Now, if someone steals my stuff, I want them to have their hands cut off. Along with a few other appendages. But Assange “stole” information not stuff. And remember the US government is not claiming that that information would have been useful to a foreign power.

Which puts a rather different gloss on things. US government information is – if we are to take the US government’s own position seriously – owned by the US people. They have every right to see it. More or less. As well as military secrets there may be commercial contracts which – possibly – they don’t want to disclose. For instance, one of my frustrations in the UK was that you couldn’t inspect the contract of a Train Operating Company because it was deemed to be “commercially confidential”. Whatever, it doesn’t apply in this case.

So, it would appear that all Assange has done is to supply the US population with something it already owned and had every right to have.

Have I got that right?

Similarities between the Russia-Ukraine War and the First World War

  1. The aggressor was looking for a quick victory.
  2. When the aggressor failed to achieve that victory a stalemate developed.
  3. The principle mobile weapon system (then cavalry, now armour) was shown to be highly vulnerable.

Of course, there are significant differences. The German army, for instance, never suffered from massive corruption and incompetence. And this time there aren’t multiple belligerent powers.

But if the similarities hold does this mean that we can look forward to a stalemate that lasts four years, kills millions and doesn’t really resolve anything? Does it mean we’ll have to do it all over again in 20 years? Let’s hope not but there’s another similarity which may play a part here. As Perun has pointed out, Ukraine – believe it or not – can call on greater military resources than Russia. It already has a larger army and if the West supplies it properly it will have more and better military hardware to bring to bear. And morale will be no contest. This would make it much the same as the situation in 1918. It took the Western allies 3 years to develop the war industries they needed but when they unleashed their superior military resources, allied to an effective tactical doctrine, the Germans were powerless to resist.

To the best of my knowledge the Ukrainians are yet to enjoy any major offensive successes. So, for the time being we’re very much in the 1915 part of this analogy.