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]

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Ian Birrell in the Mail on Sunday asks,

What are they hiding? At the start of Covid many scientists believed it likely leaked from Wuhan lab – until a conference call with Patrick Vallance changed their minds. We asked for his emails about the call. This is what we got . . .

Redacted letters

Why have a US government at all?

Mark Steyn wrote the other day,

Indeed, what difference would it make if it closed down its military? Obviously, it would present a few mid-life challenges for its corrupt Pentagon bureaucracy, since that many generals on the market for defense lobbyist gigs and board directorships all at once would likely depress the going rate. But, other than that, a military that accounts for 40 per cent of the planet’s military spending can’t perform either of the functions for which one has an army: it can’t defeat overseas enemies, and it’s not permitted to defend the country, as we see on the Rio Grande.

So what’s the point?

Good question. But why only ask it about the army?

While many here are distrustful of governments in general, most agree that if a government must exist at all it exists for the purposes listed in the preamble to the Constitution of the United States:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

I wish I could say “President Biden is failing at all these objectives”. Mere ineffectiveness would be so nice. He is worse than useless on every one of them. He is worse than the British government on every one of them, which is quite an achievement. ‘America is back’, all right, back to 1975. That affects us, too. Sharks attack when they smell blood in the water.

In a spirit of open-mindedness I invite American readers more familiar with their local situation than I am to suggest any mitigating factors which might raise Mr Biden’s score to zero on any of: forming a more perfect union, establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defence (Yanks could spell in those days), promoting the general welfare (promoting welfare dependency doesn’t count), and securing the blessings of liberty to himself and his posterity… on second thoughts, I must grant that he is doing OK at keeping Hunter Biden out of jail.

Here we go again

BBC News 17:16 BST: Taliban take over Presidential Palace – reports

Conveniently, Afghanistan has had its own Samizdata tag for nearly twenty years. It is interesting, if depressing, to look at the old entries.

Deleting the weather report to make the rain go away

“Facebook axes team over far-right data”, says the Times.

Facebook has disbanded one of its teams after the data they produced suggested that far-right commentators outperformed all other users.

Facebook executives, including Sir Nick Clegg, the former deputy prime minister, became concerned that the CrowdTangle tool was being used by journalists to produce embarrassing evidence that right-wing content was read more than anything else on the platform.

The analytics tool is owned by Facebook but is available to the public. It is one of the only ways for users to measure how well a post is doing in terms of being shared, commented on, liked or receiving a reaction emoji.

Clegg, Facebook’s vice-president of global affairs, told colleagues last September that he was concerned “our own tools are helping journos to consolidate the wrong narrative”, according to The New York Times.

CrowdTangle’s data showed that in the US the links posted on Facebook to other websites which got the most engagement was to content by right-wing commentators such as Ben Shapiro and the Fox News host Sean Hannity, and to right-wing sites including Breitbart and Newsmax.

A commenter called LucasTheCat gave me the title for this post when they responded, “This is strange for two reasons – none of the commentators listed are what I would consider to be ‘far right’ and isn’t removing the report – the same as taking the weather report out of your paper – because you don’t like the weather – or am I missing something?”

By the way, the idea that Nick Clegg was released on the world deliberately is a fringe conspiracy theory that Facebook has rightly banned. The current theory is that he was accidentally leaked from an insufficiently secured British political system.

How long will the doctors be in loco parentis?

Thirty years? Women of childbearing age should not drink – WHO

How about forever? Face masks should continue ‘forever’ to fight other diseases, says Sage scientist

Readers’ poll: what on earth did Boris mean?

Sky News on Twitter: “Boris Johnson has suggested the world’s leading nations should support a more ‘gender-neutral and feminine’ way of post-COVID economic recovery.”

“Gender neutral and feminine”? Click on the words below* that in your opinion best match what was going through Boris’s tousled head as he said these words.

(a) Pay up, Matt, I did it.

(b) Hey, if Joe can get away with “Those RFA pilots”, I can get away with this.

(c) You’re looking awfully pretty today, Carrie.

(d) You’re looking awfully pretty today, Ursula.

*Nothing will happen when you click. But you will feel better for having expressed yourself.

Samizdata quote of the day

“It is one thing to compete with China. I firmly believe we need to do that in every domain, from artificial intelligence to Covid vaccines. But the minute we start copying China, we are on the path to perdition.”

Niall Ferguson, in the Spectator. He also writes about Prof. Neil Ferguson, the character whose modelling of pandemics has had such a baleful impact on our existence.

And the lesson for today is…

…from the Second Book of Kings, Chapter 20, Verses 12-19:

12 At that time Marduk-Baladan son of Baladan king of Babylon sent Hezekiah letters and a gift, because he had heard of Hezekiah’s illness. 

13 Hezekiah received the envoys and showed them all that was in his storehouses – the silver, the gold, the spices and the fine oil – his armoury and everything found among his treasures. There was nothing in his palace or in all his kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them.

14 Then Isaiah the prophet went to King Hezekiah and asked, ‘What did those men say, and where did they come from?’

‘From a distant land,’ Hezekiah replied. ‘They came from Babylon.’

15 The prophet asked, ‘What did they see in your palace?’

‘They saw everything in my palace,’ Hezekiah said. ‘There is nothing among my treasures that I did not show them.’

16 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, ‘Hear the word of the Lord: 

17 the time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your predecessors have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the Lord. 

18 And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.’

19 ‘The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,’ Hezekiah replied. For he thought, ‘Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?’

While I would not go so far as to claim this post was divinely inspired, 2 Kings 20: 12-19 actually was the lesson in a church service broadcast on Radio 3 on Wednesday morning. I caught a little of it while in the car heading down to Bisley to perform an activity that once would have been proudly described as contributing to national security. (Do not try this line now.)

Anyway, for some reason over the next few days I found myself paying a little more attention to news stories like this one from today’s South China Morning Post,

“US blacklists about 60 more Chinese firms including top chip maker SMIC and drone manufacturer DJI”,

…or to this one from the BBC two days ago, “Huawei: Uighur surveillance fears lead PR exec to quit”,

Or to any of a thousand others. But what is the lesson for today? What should we do about the threat from the People’s Republic of China? “War is the health of the state”, wrote Randolph Bourne, and cold war is its daily vitamin pill. It was not so long ago that people like me were enthusiasts for China’s turn to capitalism. I still am, mostly. Now that their rulers have cast off all but the fig leaf of communism, a significant fraction of the human race has been lifted out of poverty in my lifetime. The Chinese people are not free, but they are much more free than they were in the days when the Eight Revolutionary Operas were almost literally the only music allowed. I am happy for them.

Yet when I see that famous video of Joe Biden, the man soon to take up residence in the White House, jovially saying, “China is going to eat our lunch? Come on, man”, I cannot but remember the words of the prophet:

And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.’

‘The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,’ Hezekiah replied. For he thought, ‘Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?’

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.

I look forward to next week’s study on the superiority of male leaders in economic crises

The Guardian reports,

“Female-led countries handled coronavirus better, study suggests”

Countries led by women had “systematically and significantly better” Covid-19 outcomes, research appears to show, locking down earlier and suffering half as many deaths on average as those led by men.

The relative early success of leaders such as Germany’s Angela Merkel, New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, Denmark’s Mette Frederiksen, Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-wen and Finland’s Sanna Marin has so far attracted many headlines but little academic attention.

The analysis of 194 countries, published by the Centre for Economic Policy Research and the World Economic Forum, suggests the difference is real and “may be explained by the proactive and coordinated policy responses” adopted by female leaders.

[…]

“In almost all cases, they locked down earlier than male leaders in similar circumstances. While this may have longer-term economic implications, it has certainly helped these countries to save lives, as evidenced by the significantly lower number of deaths in these countries.”

[…]

She added that while female leaders “were risk averse with regard to lives”, locking their countries down significantly earlier than male leaders, that also suggested they were “more willing to take risks in the domain of the economy”.

Now that the Great and the Good (you can’t get much greater and gooder than the Centre for Economic Policy Research and the Word Economic Forum) have officially endorsed the idea that sex based differences exist and it is OK to mention them, and that stance has been warmly endorsed by the Guardian, I look forward to reading the follow-up report on the superiority of male leaders when it comes to protecting the economy. After all, 99% of the time we are not in a pandemic and the economy is the political issue that most affects people’s lives.

A change of tune

“Brussels moves to preserve access to London clearing houses”, reports the Financial Times.

Brussels is to adopt emergency measures to preserve Europe’s access to crucial UK financial market infrastructure after the country’s post-Brexit transition period expires, the bloc’s regulation chief said on Thursday.

Valdis Dombrovskis, the European Commission’s executive vice-president in charge of financial policy, said Brussels would adopt “time-limited” access rights to make sure that European companies could still access UK-based clearing houses after the end of this year.

“This decision is being taken to address the possible risks to financial stability related to the specific area of derivatives clearing,” Mr Dombrovskis said. “However, we would encourage all market participants to prepare for all possible eventualities, as we have consistently called on them to do throughout this process.”

Mr Dombrovskis did not specify when the access rights would expire, but the move will provide short-term certainty for traders in the specific area of clearing while Brussels continues to discuss future relations with the UK.

To be frank I have only the vaguest idea what a clearing house does. It sounds worryingly like tidying. But whatever it is, for the EU to adopt “emergency measures to preserve Europe’s access to crucial UK financial market infrastructure” seems a distinct change from its previous policy, also mentioned in the article:

Brussels has repeatedly urged the financial sector and companies to adapt to the fact that Britain is leaving the single market; the EU also adopted legislation last year to make it easier to force clearing houses to relocate to the continent. But progress has been slower than the EU had hoped and investors have kept their business in the UK.

I am not surprised at the investors’ decision. I do not need to be an expert in decluttered differentials to be able to work out that if the EU felt the need to pass laws to make it easier to force investors to move their business out of the UK that means they would be better off staying put.

The lasting impact of Wuhan coronavirus will be geopolitical

The report findings come as a group of Conservative MPs in the UK have written to the Trade Secretary to say that they plan to amend the Trade Bill currently before Parliament to legally require the Government to reduce strategic dependency on China. The letter — which cites the HJS report — is signed by 21 MPs including David Davis, Iain Duncan Smith, and Owen Paterson.

Click the link, read the report, interesting stuff.

Wuhan coronavirus, in terms of foreign political fallout for the Chinese Communist Party globally, is like Chernobyl was for the Soviet Communist Party, but multiplied by twenty.