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]

Mock the anointed at your peril

Then:

Laws protecting a nobleman’s “honor” illustrate the importance which the noble attached to his person. Preservation of honor (i.e., reputation) was a serious matter, essential to ensure that society would respect noble rank. Honor was a distinguishing mark which set nobles apart from commoners, since townsmen and peasants were not thought to possess it. Offences against honor included insulting the noble personally, charging him with a crime, or calling into question his own or his mother’s legitimate birth. If the antagonist could not prove his charges, he was punished at law. According to King Casimir III’s statute for Little Poland, a person who impugned the honor of a noble had to pay a fine and retract his insult in court, repeating “with a dog’s voice” the words: “I lied like a dog in what I said.”

– from East Central Europe in the Middle Ages, 1000-1500 by Jean W Sedlar.

Now:

Portland State University Says Hoax ‘Grievance Studies’ Experiment Violated Research Ethics

Peter Boghossian, a professor of philosophy best known for his involvement in the “grievance studies” hoax papers, is now in trouble with Portland State University’s Institutional Review Board (IRB), which has accused him of violating its policies regarding the ethical treatment of human test subjects in the course of his experiment.

“Your efforts to conduct human subjects research at PSU without a submitted nor approved protocol is a clear violation of the policies of your employer,” wrote PSU Vice President Mike McLellan in an email to Boghossian, according to Areo.

This charge makes Boghossian sound like Dr. Frankenstein. But the “human subjects” in question are the peer reviewers and journal editors who accepted Boghossian’s hoax papers for publication. Their reputations may have suffered as a result of being duped—and they were indeed unwitting participants in the experiment—but their physical well-being was not compromised. Moreover, it may not have been obvious to Boghossian and his co-conspirators that research conducted outside his field, bearing no formal connection to Portland State University, was still subject to IRB approval.

Nevertheless, the professor could face sanctions for his conduct, including possible termination.

– Robby Soave, writing for Reason magazine.

A couple of surprises in the Human Freedom Index for 2018

The Cato Institute has published its Human Freedom Index for 2018.

The jurisdictions that took the top 10 places, in order, were New Zealand, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and Denmark (tied in 6th place), Ireland and the United Kingdom (tied in 8th place), and Finland, Norway, and Taiwan (tied in 10th place). Selected countries rank as follows: Germany (13), the United States and Sweden (17), Republic of Korea (27), Japan (31), France and Chile (32), Italy (34), South Africa (63), Mexico (75), Kenya (82), Indonesia (85), Argentina and Turkey (tied in 107th place), India and Malaysia (tied in 110th place), United Arab Emirates (117), Russia (119), Nigeria (132), China (135), Pakistan (140), Zimbabwe (143), Saudi Arabia (146), Iran (153), Egypt (156), Iraq (159), Venezuela (161), and Syria (162).

The positions of Venezuela and Syria were about as surprising as a [insert your preferred metaphor of complete unsurprisingness here], but I did not expect to see Canada listed as more free than the United Kingdom and the United States as less free.

Samizdata quote of the day

Admittedly it’s a low bar, but Trump is without a doubt the most conservative and most libertarian present of my lifetime, notwithstanding that he’s not really a conservative or a libertarian by instinct.

Glenn Reynolds

He told them what they wanted to hear

It turns out that one of Germany’s best-regarded reporters, Claas Relotius, has been doing for Der Spiegel what Jayson Blair did for the New York Times.

I have given this post the tag “Deleted by the PC Media”. That’s because we don’t have a tag called “Invented by the PC Media”. Like Blair before him, if Mr Relotius could not find the right juicy detail to enliven a story his custom was to make one up. He was at it for years. This article about the Relotius case in Der Spiegel by Ullrich Fichtner has not yet appeared in English, but the miracle of Google Translate allows me to make a guess as to how Relotius got away with it so long:

In his story about Fergus Falls, Relotius, in a hurtingly haughty way, is styling contemporary history. To have a hearty prelude, he tells us that at the entrance to the village right next to the welcome sign, a second sign was set up, “half as high, but hard to miss … On this sign, driven from thick wood into the frozen ground, stands in large, painted letters: ‘Mexicans Keep Out’ – Mexican, stay away. ”

The shield, which gives the whole story the keynote, never existed, it was only in the imagination of the author. Nevertheless, he passed the invention on as a matter of fact to hundreds of thousands of readers, just like that. And he insulted the inhabitants of Fergus Falls. It seems so, in the overall view, that people who are no longer children tell him nothing. There are exceptions, but Relotius gives the inhabitants of Fergus Falls false biographies that fit him as if he were a puppeteer. He also goes along with grotesque lies, such as that the children of the John F. Kennedy High School painted their models for the American Dream as follows: “They painted,” writes Relotius, “not a single picture of a woman. One class painted Barack Obama, two painted John D. Rockefeller.

Schoolchildren in 2018 are so enchanted by the example of John D Rockerfeller that they choose him to represent the American Dream? It seems unlikely that they would even have heard of this capitalist except as a bogeyman. But evidently it did not seem an unlikely thing to happen in Trump’s America to Der Spiegel‘s readers. Relotius told them what they wanted to hear.

Update: In the comments Rob Fisher pointed out this “Fisking” of Relotius’s article by two residents of Fergus Falls:

There are so many lies here, that my friend Jake and I had to narrow them down to top 11 most absurd lies (we couldn’t do just 10) for the purpose of this article. We’ve been working on it since the article came out in spring of 2017, but had to set it aside to attend to our lives (raising a family, managing a nonprofit organization, etc.) before coming back to it this fall, and finally wrapped things up a few weeks ago, just in time to hear today that Relotius was fired when he was exposed for fabricating many of his articles.

The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed

Had Samizdata or the internet existed on this day in 1933, Presidential Proclamation 2065 would undoubtedly have been Quote of the Day, and probably Quote of the Year as well.

Prohibition of alcohol in the US only lasted thirteen years. Of course that was time enough to give the Mafia their start, corrupt thousands of policemen and judges, and turn millions of previously law-abiding Americans into criminals, but in retrospect I stand in awe at how quickly the America of eighty-five years ago acknowledged and corrected its mistake.

Pity the same was not true of the ongoing and equally disastrous prohibition of drugs.

Justin Trudeau’s finest hour

It wouldn’t kill us to give credit where credit’s due:

Canada becomes second country to legalise recreational cannabis, reports the BBC.

I expect crime to fall – and the sky not to.

I also expect that some Canadians have already got over-excited and done some stupid things over the last couple of days, and more will follow.

One of the many bad effects of prohibition of cannabis and related drugs was that it led users to wrongly deduce that because these substances are not nearly as harmful as was claimed in order to justify the ban on them, then they must not be harmful at all. One of the saddest experiences of my stint as a teacher was to watch a colleague use soft drugs to slowly paddle himself towards dementia in his mid-thirties.

Prohibition of drugs did not stop him getting them, did it? When something does not work it is good to stop doing it as America did in 1933 and Canada has now. Let us rejoice at an outburst of sanity.

Why the US Pulling Out of the UPU is a Big Deal

Yesterday, the US initiated the process for pulling out of the Universal Postal Union (UPU). This 144 year old institution is responsible for multilateral negotiation which sets rates at which packages approximately 5 pounds or less can be shipped. In age where government postal services competes in the market with companies like FedEx and Amazon, it seems absolutely absurd that a UN specialised agency is responsible for shipment rate setting in the 21st century.

While this might seem like a very boring and mundane situation, it is in fact a big deal. This has nothing to do with Trump and how the US is dealing with foreign affairs. This has to do with the US signalling that it is finished with institutions, which have been captured by certain countries with special interests, which use international organisations to legitimise their national agendas. In a statement, the US Chamber of Commerce said that the system is “exploited by a handful of countries.” Unfortunately, this trend occurs widely across the UN system and multilateral organisations. Take a look at the WTO and the UN Human Rights Council, for example.

Another case in point is the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Like the UPU, the ITU was founded over 150 years ago in order for international negotiations of telegraph exchanges to take place. Currently it is responsible for global spectrum harmonisation, satellite orbital assignment and telephone numbering. However, in the 1980s a majority of member states agreed to use the ITU to set call termination rates between international calls. The US opted out of this process because telecommunications was liberalising and competition among telecoms companies as well as governments allowed for lower termination rates and a market based system. Arguably, this allowed for the dial up days of the Internet to emerge and develop rapidly.

I can raise many issues with multilateral institutions in the 21st century. Most of these institutions have a number of national members of the dictatorship persuasion that wish to control new and emerging technologies primarily developed and run by the private sector. I have written about this here, for example. However, the point that I wish to make here is that old institutions that are no longer fit for purpose need to die so that new institutions and organisational arrangements can emerge, as Douglas North noted. Within the UN, nothing ever dies.

Even unto the 10th generation (depending on what the meaning of ‘is’ is)

Elizabeth Warren helped her academic career by claiming benefits available to members of a minority group – in her case, native american. Later it turned out she had no evidence of this. One of her ancestors was a soldier who guarded native americans on the ‘trail of tears’ but there was no traceable first nations ancestry – just (she said) a family legend.

Some people suggested it was fraud and hypocrisy to take minority benefits when you had no evidence you were one. And Donald Trump said he’d pay $1 million to any charity she chose if she could show she was.

Now she has taken a DNA test. As she supported the recounts in some states after he won, so likewise I would not in the least blame him for demanding a confirming second test supervised by agreed experts. Let us assume, however, for the sake of argument, that, just as those recounts did not change the outcome, so a second test gives either

a) a minimally-similar result: Senator Warren has a single tenth generation native american ancestor

or

b) an even better result: suppose, for example, that a more detailed check shows she has a single fifth-generation native american ancestor

Two questions arise.

The first, as a man once said, depends upon what the meaning of ‘is’ is. For the purpose of claiming minority benefits and status in today’s identity culture, does being a minority extend unto the fifth generation? How about unto the tenth generation? (And if, as the NYT reported in 2014, the average european american is 0.18% native american, are they all entitled to these benefits?)

The second is: did Trump just win a bet or lose it? I guess that would depend on what exactly he said and whether he later clarified it. If he said ‘any’ amerindian ancestry, I think he just lost. If he said ‘is’ amerindian, I think he just won. If he’d ever clarified it to, “Has a proportion of native american descent that is at least a full standard deviation’s worth above the mean for the US population” – then I’d think he (was being advised by a statistician and) may have won, but if he’d said “mode” instead of “mean”, could Warren’s charity be in with a chance? Should Trump pay a percentage of $1 million equal to her percentage of first-nations ancestry – or that percentage divided by the percentage that US universities typically demand when handing out minority benefits?

In this time of polarisation, I’d like to think at least a political bet could be settled. It would be a pity if, unlike presidential elections in the US constitution, this one proves not to have been well-enough defined beforehand.

The NYT article was about the difficulty the old south had defining exactly who was black and who was not. Everything old is new again.

The Guardian takes the lid off the pot

I avidly followed the coverage in the British press of the the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court. In this post I will look at one paper in particular, the Guardian. When it was founded as the Manchester Guardian in the nineteenth century, this newspaper’s name was meant to indicate that its role was to “zealously enforce the principles of civil and religious Liberty”, which included an earnest concern for legal protections such as the presumption of innocence. The modern Guardian published many, many news and opinion pieces describing how to tell that Kavanaugh was a bad ‘un. I was more interested in the readers’ comments.

The Guardian used to allow readers to comment on practically every news article and opinion piece. Sometimes this meant that its editors and writers would be made painfully but usefully aware that many of its readers were not “with the program”. That changed under the current editor, Katharine Viner. Throughout most of the Kavanaugh saga comments were firmly closed. There was at least one story that I cannot now find for which comments were opened in error and then quickly slammed shut again. Then on 5th October came a story in which comments were intentionally opened: “Trump and Kavanaugh claim we live in a meritocracy. Don’t believe a word of it” by Arwa Mahdawi. The tone of the piece is that of a shared joke: “… Brett Kavanaugh. You know, the judge who really likes beer and seems to hate women having autonomy over their reproductive systems”. I think the writer may have been surprised at the trend the comments took. The top rated comment was by “SpringinAmsterdam1” and said,

Arwa can I ask, how would you feel if an event someone else felt had happened, had no issue was raised at the time, and when it was raised and people know there is no proof of the event, but thousands of people had decided through the court of social media, believed you to be guilty?

How would you deal with that, and can you see how this could be used to assassinate a persons character? Lastly, do you believe in innocent till proven guilty?

October 8th saw the breaking of a tiny little Berlin Wall: two pieces which acknowledged that all was not well with the narrative. For Jessa Crispin’s article “Women aren’t united against Kavanaugh. That’s a dangerous myth” the top comment came from “HarSingh” and said,

It might be because women are sensible? There was no corroborating evidence, she can’t recall if he was there, or even where it happened. She listed 4 people who could provide evidence but none of them decided to.

The timing of the allegation points to a witch hunt and a political hatchet job. It backfired, male or female, the majority realise this

Also on October 8th came this article by Cas Mudde putting forward the novel argument that Kavanaugh’s confirmation might boost the Republicans. The most recommended comment was by “Truewordshere” and said,

The Republican senator Susan Collins once again broke the hearts of many naive liberals

True liberals should watch her speech explaining her choice. A calm and reasoned explanation based on deeply-ingrained liberal principles. “Liberals”, however, branded her a “rape apologist”.

Comments were pre-moderated for “Trump sees only his own victimhood as he apologises to Kavanaugh” by Gaby Hinsliff on 9 October. The top one came from “HappyExpat50” and started by quoting Ms Hinsliff,

For a moment, as Donald Trump spoke of the “pain and suffering” endured by one noble individual in his wretched supreme court nomination process, you almost wondered if he might find some gracious way to acknowledge Christine Blasey Ford.

HappyExpat50 then went on,

Has he been charged with anything ?

Has he been convicted of anything ?

I would have thought that the Cliff Richard fiasco in the UK would have at least taught some people that people are innocent until proven guilty.

The lid is off the pot and there is something bubbling up within.

What’s going on with Facebook?

Over at Libertarian Home, Simon Gibbs (who is the proprietor of Libertarian Home) asks:

I’m asking you a question: have you been tuning into these pages and what do you think is going on? Are some of these legit targets based on some criteria of public safety that you feel is valid? Or are they legitimately operated venues of dissenting opinion which is being squashed?

“These pages” being a list of pages which a certain Justin Harvey (commenting on a Facebook posting) says have been taken down, by Facebook.

I have only very recently plugged myself into Facebook, and have so far only lurked. I have posted nothing. Facebook is useful to me for keeping track of the doings of a few actual friends of mine (this one in particular), but otherwise I find it confusing. They keep nagging me to stick up a picture, so that my “friends” can know that I am really me, but my actual friends know this already.

Besides which, whatever combination of rumour and fact it is that Simon Gibbs is asking about make me think that if Facebook really, really wants me “to take a few moments” to update all my info, they can take a hike. The regular question with which Facebook confronts me whenever I open it, “What’s on your mind?”, feels downright creepy, given what I am coming to believe about the utter duplicity of Facebook’s masters and commanders, wanting, as they seem to, all the privileges but none of the obligations both of a common carrier and of a freelance publisher.

But what does our Commentariat think? I am not so concerned about the mere experience of using Facebook. Nor am I now asking about privacy. It is Facebook’s political biases that I am asking about, as is Simon Gibbs. One of my biases being in favour of people being allowed to express political opinions that I don’t share. The way it looks, to me, now, is that Facebook will be delighted to convey whatever opinions I express on Facebook to the world, until such time as the world starts, in noticeable numbers, paying attention to those opinions, at which point those opinions, being what they are, will vanish from view.

It may well be that, as a freelance enterprise rather than a government agency, Facebook is entitled to behave as it pleases, and face the commercial consequences. But if that’s so, what sort of consequences should those of us who do not share Facebook’s biases be trying to contrive for Facebook, and how? Besides, which, maybe Facebook actually is now a government agency in all but name.

Libertarian Home is an enterprise I admire. I especially enjoy attending its meetings, which happily for me mostly take place a mere walk away from where I live. But the LH commentariat is not as impressive as the one here, and I would love it if our commentariat were to take a serious crack at the questions that Simon Gibbs poses.

At least Americans choose top judges in public

One thought that I have about the whole furore about the Supreme Court and Kavanagh (no, I am not going over the whole bloody thing now) is that the US system is so much more public than in other countries that have something such as a Supreme Court, or bench of wise men/women who get to opine or even rule on constitutional matters. We have our Law Lords in the UK, and indeed the House of Lords (chosen by the government as there aren’t hereditary peers any more). As far as I know Law Lords are appointed from within the legal system and it is not entirely clear who specifically gets to pick them or approve the Law Lords. As for France, it has a Constitutional Council, members of whom are senior retired political folk and others who must be approved by the French parliament. What is interesting in the French case is that I don’t recall much media coverage of the hearings, even allowing for the often lousy state of British coverage of French public affairs (you would think a country a few miles across the English Channel and with whom we have traded, and occasionally defeated or liberated in wars might get a bit more attention). Germany has a federal constitutional court, and the gift of membership to this body is held in the hands of the Bundestag and by the Bundesrat (this body represents the state parliaments at the federal level).

All these systems have their merits, quite possibly, but what is certainly striking to my eyes is that it is only in the US that the decision as to who gets on the bench or not seems to be a matter of great media and public interest. In part, I suspect, this is because of how membership is in the gift, at least in the initial proposed stage, of the President. The US Supreme Court has issued major decisions down the decades, as momentous as Roe Vs Wade, Kelo (a big eminent domain case) and Dred Scott, to name just three. It seems also a more public system, whereas I get the impression that when a judge takes his or her seat in a European country, it registers as much public response as the daily announcement of the shipping forecast. And that, I think, speaks much to the more vigorous temper of American public life. It may not feel like this at the moment, but at least the raucous nature of American public life speaks to a certain health. In Europe, by contrast, so much of what happens resembles one of those dull zombie films of the 1970s or 80s.

A renowned Democratic Senator opposes the nomination of a judge to the Supreme Court

To remind us all that the opposition of the Democrats in the Senate to the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh (or Justice Kavanaugh as he now is) to the Supreme Court of the United States is in accordance with the traditions of that party, allow me to quote the words from thirty years ago of that great defender of women, Senator Ted Kennedy, as he spoke out against the nomination of Judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court:

“Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is—and is often the only—protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy … President Reagan is still our president. But he should not be able to reach out from the muck of Irangate, reach into the muck of Watergate and impose his reactionary vision of the Constitution on the Supreme Court and the next generation of Americans. No justice would be better than this injustice.”

Bork was not confirmed, and the verb “to bork” entered the dictionary.