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 president offers his condolences, but that’s enough about you

The president of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, offered his condolences over the massacre of worshippers at a church in Owo, Nigeria.

News Letter reports,

Forty people were killed in the attack at the Church of St Francis in the Owo district in the Ondo region of Nigeria on June 5. Over 126 people also suffered injuries following the attack.

In a statement last week, President Higgins appeared to link the attack with climate change.

His comments have drawn criticism from the bishop of the Catholic Ondo diocese, Jude Ayodeki Aroguande, who acknowledged and thanked the president for his condemnation but said the “incorrect and far-fetched” link drawn between the slaughter and climate change was “rubbing salt to the injuries of all who have suffered terrorism in Nigeria”.

In his statement, President Higgins had condemned those responsible for the attack and cautioned against “any attempt to scapegoat pastoral peoples who are among the foremost victims of the consequences of climate change”.

The Labour politician also called for solidarity with “all those impacted not only by this horrible event, but in the struggle by the most vulnerable, on whom the consequences of climate change have been inflicted”.

The former president of the United States, Barack Obama, offered his condolences over the massacre of children at a school in Uvalde, Texas.

The New York Post reports,

The former president shared the message on Twitter Wednesday in the wake of the massacre at Robb Elementary School that killed 19 children and two fourth-grade teachers.

“As we grieve the children of Uvalde today, we should take time to recognize that two years have passed since the murder of George Floyd under the knee of a police officer.” Obama tweeted. “His killing stays with us all to this day, especially those who loved him.”

The Lady of Heaven did not stay long

It is a film that is “more interesting on paper than in practice”, according to this review:

This British-made epic earns a significant accolade: it is the first film to put the “face” of the prophet Muhammad on screen. No single actor is credited with playing him, or any of the other holy figures in his entourage. And, as a nervous initial disclaimer points out, their faces, often shown in dazzling sunbursts, are computer-generated. Presumably, this is enough to placate Islam’s prohibition on visual representation of the prophet, but this is a Shia-aligned film that is evidently a little more lenient on the issue.

The Guardian‘s reviewer underestimated the interest that the film would generate. UK cinema chain cancels screenings of ‘blasphemous’ film after protests, the same newspaper reports today.

Paul Embery tweets, “This is reportedly the manager of a cinema in Sheffield addressing a theocratic mob protesting at the screening of a “blasphemous” film (The Lady of Heaven). Thoroughly depressing to see him capitulate to their demands and confirm the film has been binned.”

“By refusing to take part in this collective operation”

Idrissa Gueye is a Senegalese footballer who plays for his country and for the French side Paris Saint-Germain.

On Sunday 15th May, Paris Saint-Germain played Montpellier. On that day, players in the French Ligue 1 were meant to wear football jerseys with the numbers in LGBT rainbow colours in order to commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. Unexpectedly, Mr Gueye did not play in that match. So far as I can find out with my limited ability to search news reports in French, he has not said why he sat out the match, but it is widely believed that it was because he felt that it would be incompatible with his religious beliefs to wear a shirt in Pride colours. He is a practising Muslim.

Via Paul Embery, I found this quotation from a letter that the FFF (Fédération Française de Football / French Football Federation) sent to Mr Gueye on May 17th:

“There are two possibilities, either these allegations are unfounded and we invite you to speak out without delay to silence these rumours. For example, we invite you to accompany your message by a photo of yourself wearing said shirt.”

“Or the rumours are true. In this case we invite you to realise the impact of your act, and the grave error committed. The fight against discrimination towards different minorities, whoever they might be, is a vital fight for all times. Whether it’s skin colour, religion, sexual orientation, or any other difference, all discrimination is based on the same principle which is rejection of the other because they are different from the majority.”

“By refusing to take part in this collective operation, you are effectively validating discriminatory behaviour, and rejection of the other, and not just against the LGBTQI+ community. The impact of football on society and the capacity for footballers to be a role model for those who admire them gives us all a particular responsibility.”

The report and translation come from the website Get French Football News. It says that it is quoting a story from the French sports paper L’Equipe. I believe the original L’Equipe story is this: “Le Conseil national de l’éthique de la FFF a écrit à Idrissa Gueye (PSG)” The headline means, “The National Ethics Council of the FFF has written to Idrissa Gueye (PSG)”.

One does not have to share Mr Gueye’s religious beliefs, or his (probable) opinions on LGBT issues, to see something sinister in this demand that he make a display of loyalty to prove his “innocence” of a charge that he did not participate in what is effectively the visual equivalent of compelled speech.

Why do they bother? They say Gueye must get himself photographed in a rainbow shirt because he’s a footballer and thus allegedly a role model. But such gestures of solidarity are inspiring only if they are known to be sincere. No one is going to be inspired to rethink their prejudices regarding gay people if and when Idrissa makes some obviously reluctant gesture of support.

If it is OK to hit someone who insults your wife, is it OK to hit someone who insults your religion?

The controversy on Will Smith hitting Chris Rock after the latter made a distasteful joke about his wife’s hair loss is interesting because it cuts across party lines. Though most politicians have made statements disapproving of Smith, some traditional conservatives and radical left wingers have both spoken in support of him. To take but two of many examples:

– Representative Ayanna Pressley (D) said, in a now deleted tweet “#Alopecia nation stand up! Thank you #WillSmith Shout out to all the husbands who defend their wives living with alopecia in the face of daily ignorance & insults.”

– Simon Hoare MP (C) said, “I’d just hope if someone thought it in good taste to make a joke at the expense of a medical condition of my wife then I’d get up and lamp him.”

Me, I support Rock. His joke was cruel. Smith had a right to be angry. But I would rather not set the precedent – or rather go back to the precedent – that words justify violence. For why, see the title of this post.

“The attacker was shot dead by a passerby”

“Four people killed in Israeli stabbing attack”, reports the Times:

At least four people were stabbed to death in southern Israel today before the attacker was shot dead by a passerby, in one of the deadliest such attacks in the country in years.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack in Beersheba, the largest city in the Negev desert. Israeli media reports identified the attacker as an Arab citizen of Israel, who is claimed to be a former high school teacher who had previously been imprisoned over alleged links to the Islamic State.

“It appeared to be a single terrorist who went on a stabbing spree,” Eli Levy, a police spokesman, said on Channel 13 TV. “A civilian took the initiative and shot and killed him.”

The presence of that armed civilian saved many innocent lives.

If a similar Islamist or other terrorist stabbing spree were to happen here in the UK tomorrow – and who is to say that it will not – then the odds for the defenders are much worse. If they are lucky there might be something like a narwhal tusk handy. If not… I have often thought of the brave last moments of Ignacio Echeverria:

At around 10pm on Saturday 3 June 2017, Echeverría, carrying his skateboard on his back, was skateboarding with friends in London. Near Borough Market, they saw a man attacking a police officer lying on the ground. When the man left the body of the officer and began to assault a woman (a French citizen who survived the incident due to Echeverría’s actions) Echeverría used his skateboard to strike the attacker, diverting his attention long enough that several people were moved to safety. He subsequently attacked a second terrorist who was also attacking a police officer. He was then stabbed twice in the back by two attackers, causing his death.

Does aid to evil regimes cement them in power? Should we do it anyway?

When I was young I read many earnest articles saying that international aid should be directed towards eradicating the long term causes of famine and poverty rather than short term fixes for specific disasters. Back then I was convinced by such arguments, but later I reversed my opinion. Give generously in emergencies, yes, but most government-to-government foreign aid was well described by development economist Peter Bauer: “Aid is a phenomenon whereby poor people in rich countries are taxed to support the lifestyles of rich people in poor countries”. The money from the sky is not merely wasted but counterproductive:

Governments embarked on fanciful schemes. Private investors, lacking confidence in public policies or in the steadfastness of leaders, held back. Powerful rulers acted arbitrarily. Corruption became endemic. Development faltered, and poverty endured.

Yet it remains true that when catastrophe strikes it is often only governments who have the power – the credit, the personnel, the ships and aircraft – to render aid quickly. In most such cases I unhesitatingly say, do it. Yeah, it might be nicer if we were not forced to pay taxes for any cause at all but when people are dying by the thousands don’t wait for Libertopia to evolve before helping them.

However it is at least arguable that one situation where even emergency aid can end up doing net harm is when the regime in charge of the country stricken by famine or disaster is so bad that perpetuating it (as the aid will undoubtedly do) is an even worse catastrophe.

Is Afghanistan such a case? This Guardian article does a fair job of presenting both sides of the dilemma, albeit from a starting point far more in favour of international aid than mine.

The Islamic Republic of Iran leads the way in getting more women into STEM

Campus magazine, a Singaporean publication aimed at students, published this article on 15th December 2021: The Paradox of Gender Inequality in STEM Education. It was one of many pieces that pointed out the odd fact that

In a nutshell, multiple studies have found that the lower the gender-equality in a given country, the higher the percentage of women studying STEM.

Simply put in numbers, before the pandemic, women made up 70% of engineering students in Iran, 42% in Morocco, 41% in Algeria, and 40% in Jordan, but only 29% in Norway, 19% in the U.S., and just 18% in Australia. Those are just some countries, but the pattern repeats itself almost everywhere.

The Global Gender Gap Report (GGGR) by the World Economic Forum (WEF) calculates global gender inequality based on a matrix, including health and survival, educational attainment, labour force participation, percentage of seats in parliament, and more. According to the 2021 GGGR, Norway was third globally. Iran was 150th. Yet Iran has double the percentage of women studying STEM.

Like almost every other article on the subject I have seen, the one in Campus spends several paragraphs explaining – and lamenting – how cultural factors push female eighteen year-olds away from science subjects. Note the scare quotes around “choosing”.

The unconscious bias may have different sources. For instance, it’s often cultural – the idea that “girls should play with dolls, while boys should build things” is still inherent in many households today. It may be observational – since women in STEM are already underrepresented, we assume that STEM is more a “guy thing.”

Sometimes, it can even be well-intentioned. For instance, parents may assume that STEM is difficult and they fear their daughters won’t be as successful being in a male-dominated course – especially compared to sons who they ascribe different characteristics, like being more competitive.

Facing this litany of discouraging cultural and social messaging, it’s no surprise that young girls in more developed countries – where there are viable, non-STEM study options – are often pushed away from STEM. This is then wrongly interpreted as them actively “choosing” non-STEM subjects.

…but devotes far less attention to the reasons behind superior academic performance of younger girls compared to boys in STEM subjects. There is half a line of acknowledgement that, hey, eggheads argue about why girls do better, but not a word of what those arguments are. Female superiority at thirteen is not seen as a thing needing to be changed or explained:

Multiple studies in dozens of countries show that pre-teen girls outperform their male peers in standardised math and science tests. Psychologists and neuro-scientists may argue the specific reasons, but the result is undisputable. Preteen girls and boys also enjoy/prefer STEM subjects at roughly the same ratio.

If we want Iranian levels of female STEM university students, perhaps we should do what Iran does and embed the superior level of responsibility shown by females into law?

According to Iran’s Islamic law, in cases of murder and certain other capital crimes boys over 15 and girls over nine may be held as culpable as adults and, therefore, punished with the death penalty.

– from “Iran executes 100 young people a year, human rights group says”, the Times, 26th Dec 2021.

Why the tabloids are the choice of adults

The Daily Mail reports, EXCLUSIVE: Suicide bomber who died when his device blew up outside Liverpool hospital was pizza chef, 32, who fled Middle East and converted to Christianity at cathedral ‘he wanted to attack’ and was once arrested for carrying a knife

I was much taken by this comment from someone called “SorcerousSinner” on the normally left wing subreddit /r/ukpolitics:

The Daily Mail is the best news source for stuff like this because they have the least restraint and just publish all the info, and rumours. Footage of the killings. Fake news. Everything.

Broadsheet journalists are always concerned with carefully steering us, the dumb rabble, towards what they believe we should believe

So, the mail is the choice of adults who think they can handle the responsibility of getting all the info, possibly fake info.

The carers

I am not usually one for issuing trigger warnings, but this video of an unhappy two year old child is genuinely disturbing:

New York, where two-year-olds are forced to wear masks all day in nursery.

I have a single memory – a three second mental “video clip” of my brother’s fourth birthday – that I can confidently date as having happened before I was three. Humans do not seem to lay down recoverable memories of most of what happens to them before the age of four or so. Yet a child’s experiences in those early years have a profound effect on their later personality. That little boy will probably never remember that he tried again and again to push away the damp thing that made it hard to breathe but that his carers, with pitiless good cheer, always forced it back on. But he will have learned the lesson of the powerless. You are weak, they are strong. Crying and protesting do not help.

I am told that in Muslim societies where women must go fully veiled it is difficult to get the little girls into their coverings at first. But even they wait until the girls are at least five.

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.

In Lebanon, the leaves are falling off the magic money tree

This excellent article in the US Spectator by Paul Wood is two weeks old. That probably means all the prices he quotes should by now have an extra zero at the end. The vividness of his portrayal of Lebanon as the magic stops working is unaffected, so read it anyway: “What happens when your currency collapses?”

An extract:

The government continues to insist that for imports of some vital goods — food, fuel and medicines — the lira is worth the fictional rate of 1,500 to the dollar. What this means is vast government subsidies to import these goods.

This has had some perverse effects. For a long time, you could fill up your car for about five bucks. The gas station would charge you, say, 60,000 lira, which was $40 at the official exchange rate, except your lira would have come from the black market at a fraction of that. As any economist will tell you, if you don’t ration by price, you ration by queuing, as in the Soviet Union. So there have been long lines at gas stations and now actual rationing, a quarter of a tank per customer — and that’s if you can find a gas station open at all. A side effect of the fuel shortage is that the internet is slowing to a crawl, sometimes breaking down altogether. The commonly accepted explanation is that there’s not enough diesel to run the power plant belonging to the national phone and internet company.

It’s the same with medicines. We’ve just bought a year’s course of treatment for our daughter’s nanny, who has breast cancer. We went to the hospital with 225 million lira in cash. It filled a small backpack. Those lira cost some $15,000 on the black market but they paid for $150,000 worth of medicines at the official exchange rate.

Lebanon is temporarily the cheapest place in the world to have cancer. People are coming here for treatment; subsidized medicines of all kinds are being smuggled abroad. A hypertension drug named Atacand has turned up for sale in Kinshasa, at $20 a box. It was bought in Lebanon for $2 a box. Atacand is therefore unobtainable here now. One report about this absurd situation quoted a Lebanese expat in Kinshasa who was buying the drug there to send back to his village at home.

The human will to self-deception is strong. There are some who will read this article and only take in one line: “Lebanon is temporarily the cheapest place in the world to have cancer.” There are some in Lebanon living through these events who will only take in one thought: “Isn’t it great how fuel, food and medicine are so cheap now!” They will not ask themselves why they are so hard to get, or why, as Mr Wood mentions elsewhere in the article, half of Lebanon’s doctors have left to work abroad.