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 Anti-Saloon League is back

“Prohibition showed bans can be good for us”, writes David Aaronovitch in the Times. Unironically. He means it. He thinks Prohibition was good and wants it back. I suppose it was ever thus; it is like the way that when the people who remember the last banking crash die the banks start crazy lending again.

Mr Aaronovitch writes,

Your mental charge sheet against prohibition may well include the accusation that it didn’t get rid of drinking but sent it underground; that the resulting appetite for “bootlegged” liquor led to the rise of organised criminal syndicates, Al Capone, the mob and the St Valentine’s Day massacre; that it helped to make corrupt hypocrites out of public servants; that the rich were able to indulge while the poor were criminalised.

Why yes, it does.

And after just a few years the Americans saw what a disaster it was and repealed it. It may not improve your view of it to know that the Ku Klux Klan were very much in favour of prohibition.

That does not surprise me.

Strangely though, the one question that almost no one seems to ask of this epic public health measure is whether or not it actually improved public health. Yet it doesn’t take much digging into the available statistics to discover that it did — quite a lot, in fact.

Excessive alcohol consumption is linked to all kinds of adverse health conditions. The most obvious is alcoholic cirrhosis (or scarring) of the liver. In 1911 the death rate for cirrhosis among American men was nearly 30 per 100,000. By 1929 that had been reduced by more than 30 per cent. Registered admissions to mental hospitals for psychosis linked to alcohol more than halved. Even by 1933, when Volstead was revoked, alcohol consumption had gone down by a third since pre-prohibition. Whatever Mark Twain may have written, prohibition saved many, many lives.

The commenters made several good points to contradict that assertion. Some pointed out that in the same period alcohol consumption also went down other countries, including the UK, where alcohol continued to be legal. Bryan Dale said, “If prohibition reduced alcohol consumption by a third that can hardly be called a success. It was supposed to eliminate it entirely after all. With 2/3 as much alcohol being illegally consumed as had been done legally before prohibition, the impact on respect for the law must have been dreadful.” Others described well-stocked drinks cabinets in modern Saudi Arabia, or the way that the type of alcohol consumed shifts from beer to spirits when it must be sold and transported illegally.

I expect readers of this site can supply many other historical and factual arguments. All I will say is that there is a void at the heart of the passage I quoted above. Mr Aaronovitch never even questions the assumption that it is for him and people like him to decide what other human beings may or may not put in their own bodies.

Goats save the Reagan library

News comes to us that creatures more commonly associated with destruction, a herd of goats in California, have helped to preserve the Reagan Presidential Library by the simple act of eating scrub, thereby clearing brushwood, as the BBC put it:

In May, the library hired the goats to clear flammable scrub surrounding the complex as a preventative measure.
The goats ate the brush, creating a fire break that slowed the flames and gave firefighters extra time to react.
The library near Los Angeles was threatened by the Easy Fire, the latest in a spate of fires causing evacuations and power cuts across the state.
The caprine contractors included Vincent van Goat, Selena Goatmez and Goatzart. They helped save exhibits including an Air Force One jet and a piece of the Berlin Wall.
We were told by one of the firefighters that they believe that fire break made their job easier,” Melissa Giller, a library spokeswoman, told Reuters.

Well at least the firemen in California recognise the worth of a fire break, and some act prudently to preserve property using forward planning.

Perhaps these caprine fire fighters will become the go-to contractors for those Californians who don’t wish to be incinerated? How long before Sacramento regulates goat use (more than it probably already does, I have no idea?) lest something be left of the Goaten State?

Personally, I’d put them in the State Legislature with some statute books and whatever laws they eat are repealed, surely that would be an improvement? Then they could move on the State Supreme Court.

A question about the racial experience at Harvard

A recent post looked at the hypocrisy of Harvard’s racist admissions policies. I want to look at what it teaches – not at what Harvard says but at what the actual experience it gives to its students teaches them.

1) Harvard invites students to attend a university – one of the halls of academia. By presenting itself as elite, it invites its students to think that academic ability, academic ways of thinking, are hallmarks (the hallmarks!) of an elite.

2) Having implied the importance of academic talent in overt and subtle ways, Harvard creates an artificial racial reality: it selects its asian-american students to average 140 Scholastic Aptitude Test points more that its white-american students. It selects its white-american students to average 130 SAT points more than its hispanic-american students. And it selects its african-american students to average 180 SAT points less than its hispanics, 310 SAT points less than its whites and 450 SAT points less than its asians.*

Thus Harvard gives members of each of these easily-distinguishable racial groups the routine experience of encountering a consistent, marked discrepancy between their group and other groups in precisely the area that the whole essence of being at Harvard implies is important, not just for gaining some academic degree but for being worthy to decide on politics, social mores, life in general. Day by day, the experience of being at Harvard teaches its students that, in the quality that matters, asians are typically superior, whites are typically normal, hispanics are typically inferior and blacks even more so. Harvard is a university – a pillar of academia, a place that implies academic is everything – and they chose the racial mix of their students to incarnate academic racial inequality.

3) Harvard also teaches that it is the most appalling sin, unspeakably evil and harshly-punished even when the evidence is slight or non-existent, for any student ever to refer in the slightest, most micro, most indirect way to this routinely-experienced reality that Harvard admissions has created. Students must not in any way betray that they have noticed any aspect or even distant side-effect of the artificial reality Harvard has created for them – and this of course compounds the artificiality of the Harvard reality.

So my question is: what does this experience in fact teach Harvard students?

In the early 1930s, workers in Kiev and similar cities frequently had to step over starving people and corpses in the streets as they walked to catch their trams for the daily commute, on which they could read newspaper articles about the “new, happy life” that collectivising agriculture had brought, or look at posters proclaiming “Life has become better, life has become more joyful – Stalin”. (The NKVD swiftly removed the man who, by adding a letter, changed the Russian to mean: “Life has become better, life has become more joyful – for Stalin.”) The few trustworthy reports of the time say the bizarre contrast between experienced reality and official propaganda (that one did not dare question) produced strange mental dislocations.

Harvard (thank God!) is a far lesser evil, but similar in this respect: students are immersed in an artificial reality – and then told it is a vile crime to betray the smallest symptom of having noticed it. Does anyone know anecdotes, or studies, of what the psychological effects of this are?

—-

* That the differences are large is not open to honest dispute – which excludes many a PC commentator. Back in the 1990s, when this situation was less developed, Thomas Sowell (in e.g. “Race and Culture”) reported that the black-white discrepancy was well into the three-figure range while asian-americans had to average 50+ points above whites to have the same admission chances. Admissions discrimination against asian-americans, and for those minorities the PC like, appears to have grown since then. My figures above come from this article. The effect and its scale are clear; the precise SAT point values are debatable and vary (rather growing than diminishing) over time.

This is the country Dems wish an open border with ???

Then the coup de grace: as the Chapo sons’ forces engaged in direct combat with their own national military, kill squads went into action across Culiacán, slaughtering the families of soldiers engaged in the streets.

The report is from an (understandably!) anonymous informant, h/t instapundit, who comments,

This is getting very little coverage in the US

(The BBC covered it yesterday but it’s off their website frontpage today and searching ‘Mexico’ doesn’t find it – you have to know the story specifics to find it.)

We want a less open border with the EU, but I have to admit this kind of thing makes the Calais camp, and even Merkel’s million, look tame by comparison.

What did Trump just do in Syria?

The New York Times is scathing about President Trump’s decision to pull US troops out of Syria and let the Turks invade:

President Trump’s acquiescence to Turkey’s move to send troops deep inside Syrian territory has in only one week’s time turned into a bloody carnage, forced the abandonment of a successful five-year-long American project to keep the peace on a volatile border, and given an unanticipated victory to four American adversaries: Russia, Iran, the Syrian government and the Islamic State.

Rarely has a presidential decision resulted so immediately in what his own party leaders have described as disastrous consequences for American allies and interests. How this decision happened — springing from an “off-script moment” with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, in the words of a senior American diplomat — likely will be debated for years by historians, Middle East experts and conspiracy theorists.

But this much already is clear: Mr. Trump ignored months of warnings from his advisers about what calamities likely would ensue if he followed his instincts to pull back from Syria and abandon America’s longtime allies, the Kurds. He had no Plan B, other than to leave. The only surprise is how swiftly it all collapsed around the president and his depleted, inexperienced foreign policy team.

That sounds very bad to me. I support two entities in the Middle East (and am deeply suspicious of all other entities): Israel, and the Kurds. Has Trump just shafted the Kurds? If the above is right, it would seem so.

I seem vaguely to recall being told that “the Kurds” come in two varieties. There are the Bad Kurds who are Marxist idiots, and who are fighting Turkey (also bad) rather idiotically. And then there are the Good Kurds, further east, who are fighting other religious fundamentalists and who are far more sensible. That could be drivel, either because it was drivel to start with or because I have remembered it all wrong and turned it into drivel. But if not drivel, might something like that have a bearing on what Trump has just done? Or on what he thinks he has done?

My earlier posting re the Kurds was an exercise in libertarian fundamentalism. Now I am asking about the rights and wrongs of an actual foreign policy decision, in an imperfect world, but a world capable of being made horribly worse. It’s one thing to regret a bad situation, caused by previous bad decisions made earlier, by others. It’s quite another to make that situation far worse, with yet another bad decision, to just turn the clock back, come what may, in circumstances where it actually can’t be turned back. “You wouldn’t start from here? Welcome to the world, Mr President. Here is where you now are and you must play the ball where it now lies, rather than from where you say you would have landed it.” Etcetera.

To put all this another way, is Trump as “impulsive” as his critics have long been saying? Until now, he has impressed me a lot. His “impulses” have seemed, on the whole, rather smart. He has, as we often like to say here, at least been making all the right enemies. But as of now, this Syria decision seems dumb. So, is the NYT just doing fake news, again? If not, can what Trump just did be persuasively defended?

Comments please.

The Students For Fair Admissions Case

Lionel Shriver, writing in the Spectator:

For American schools, the sole purpose of turning ‘diversity’ into a crowning educational asset has been to disguise the affirmative action that these same universities once openly pursued and now can legally enforce only by calling the practice something else. Fifty years ago, the notion took hold in the US that racial equality would never evolve naturally, but had to be socially engineered by giving historically disadvantaged groups an active leg up, especially in higher education. Bald racial quotas and substantially lower admission standards for minorities became commonplace. Yet using racism to combat racism obviously doesn’t sit easily with the 1964 Civil Rights Act, so multiple previous cases of this nature have ended up in the Supreme Court — whose rulings on the matter have been, to use a technical jurisprudential term, a big mess.

She goes on to explain:

What makes the Students for Fair Admissions case different is that it’s not white high school students with excellent records objecting to being shafted. Asian applicants to Harvard with dazzling grades and perfect test scores, who play the violin, speak four languages, volunteer for the Big Brothers programme, captain the volleyball team, adopt rescue dogs and memorise the value of pi to 31.4 trillion digits have still received rejection letters in droves.

Asians are doing too well and have to be stopped. They work too hard. They are too disciplined. They are too willing to make short-term sacrifices to reach long-term goals. They are too inclined to obey their parents. They stay up too late studying and get up too early to resume studying. Obviously it’s not fair.

The author goes on to point out what a clearly absurd situation this is. Asian-Americans remind us that culture counts, a point that economists such as Thomas Sowell have repeatedly pointed out.

One thought that occurs to me is that Asian-Americans who are denied entry for reasons of “positive discrimination” (towards African Americans, to be blunt about it) are increasingly likely to attend places more open to them, just as Jews, who fell foul of Harvard’s admissions prejudices for being “too focused on their studies” ended up forming institutions such as New York University (NYU), one of the greatest American universities. At the same time, this saga reminds me of the insight at which US economist Bryan Caplan arrived that much of the value of a university degree – in terms of the bump to earning power – from some places hinges around its “sheepskin” effect rather than because of the knowledge acquired by a student.

As an aside, I recall reading a few years ago this renowned book about the “Tiger Mom” phenomenon. And there is story about the rigour of mathematics education in Singapore.

The US lawsuit about Harvard admissions has gone to appeal and could end up in the Supreme Court. And that is where the debate is going to go full blast, because the ugly truth about “affirmative action” (aka, positive discrimination) will come out, and with it, the absurdity of the egalitarian idea itself. I remember a passage from Robert Nozick’s book, Anarchy, State and Utopia, where he pointed to the central fallacy of much egalitarian thinking, namely, the way that arguers for equality of starting points draw the false picture of athletes about to run in a race towards an end point. As the late Prof. Nozick argued, if life was like that, then anyone who came from a supportive, comfortable background would be forced to wear poor shoes or carry weights to give those from difficult backgrounds – such as those born in broken homes with no education stimulation – a “fair start”. (In real-life athletics, this desire for fairness explains the row about men who undergo sex-change operations and compete in women’s athletics events, benefiting from their higher testosterone levels. It also explains why drug abuse is a big deal in sports.)

But, as Prof Nozick said, life is not a race towards a fixed point. It is about people exchanging things with one another and transferring things/values to those whom they choose, such as parents encouraging children to read, or play a musical instrument, or play outside on their own and develop self confidence, etc. Only a person taking a zero-sum view of the world can object to such exchanges.

A final thought: there is no reason why a private organisation could not set out quotas or other, entirely arbitrary rules of admission. If it did so honestly, then it might for example have to say that “Hardworking Asian students from supportive homes might not get in because we have to ensure enough students from favoured group A and B who aren’t as capable and hardworking get a chance because of diversity”. Such a stance would, conveyed clearly, let everyone know that having a degree from such a place is compromised in such a way, and employers and others could judge such an institution accordingly.

Here is an article in the Wall Street Journal, saying that Asian-Americans are being treated as Jews were treated by US higher education more than half a century ago. (Behind paywall.)

Expelled from his profession, financially ruined, officially deemed to be a a sexual abuser

So what did the perp actually do?

Dental Hygienist Loses License, Labeled Sex Offender For Sleeping With Client – His Wife

Note that Alexandru Tanase’s story involves that modern equivalent of the Roman delator, the Facebook nark:

After one of the treatments, his wife, Sandi Mullins, posted a picture with Tanase. The former dental hygienist wrote on Facebook that in the “summer of 2016, a complaint was filed with the CDHO by a former friend and Facebook acquaintance of my wife’s, who saw a photo my wife posted, saying how happy she was with her dentist and what an amazing dental hygienist she had.”

A suggested compromise for helping the Kurds

Should American soldiers be fighting on the side of the Kurds, against Turkey? Yes!!!? No!!!? (Instapundit ruminations here.)

I suggest a compromise. All those Americans, and all those from anywhere, who think that there should be foreign soldiers fighting alongside the Kurds, against Turkey, should either (a) go there themselves and fight, or (b) themselves pay for other Kurd-supporting military enthusiasts to do the same. I’m too old for (a) and was in any case a rubbish fighter even when young. But for (b) I’d be willing to contribute, if persuaded that it is helping and isn’t a scam.

Discuss.

“People do not walk there if they can avoid it”

Emma Duncan has written a piece for the Times with which I ought to agree. It has the title “The city of billionaires is a vision of hell” and has the strapline “San Francisco shows what happens when rent controls are used to tackle a housing shortage”.

Her article starts with a vivid description of San Francisco’s woes:

… San Francisco and its environs have the highest density of billionaires on the planet. It is also the most visibly poor place of any I have been to outside India or South Africa, and the horrors on show hold lessons for London.

As Tom Knowles reported in The Times yesterday, there are more than 8,000 homeless men and women on the streets of what is, with a population of less than 900,000, a small city. Every time we stepped out of our city-centre hotel, we saw homeless people slumped on the pavements or wandering aimlessly. In the Tenderloin district, a formerly respectable area a quarter of a mile away, there are homeless encampments on most blocks and shit on the pavements. People do not walk there if they can avoid it.

In the four days we were there, I went into maybe ten shops. In three of them, homeless people walked in, took stuff and walked out. In Starbucks, for instance, a homeless man swept a lot of biscuits and chocolates from beside the till into a bag. I started to say something to try to stop him, then looked at the woman behind the till who shrugged her shoulders. I asked the manager how often this happened; he said seven or eight times a day. I asked him what he did about it; he said he filed “an incident report”.

My son said that the police have given up on property crime because they are short of resources, because this sort of crime is so common and because there is a certain sympathy for the perpetrators. We took two buses when I was there; on one of them, the man in the seat in front of us peed on the floor. My son said it was a regular occurrence.

It then offers two possible explanations:

When you talk to San Franciscans, many take the view that homeless people are sent there from cities whose welfare provision is less generous than California’s. That seems implausible, since there is little welfare on offer in San Francisco, and surveys of the homeless population show that the vast majority are local.

Those who have studied the problem say that the main explanation is the price of property. The tech industry is so big and well paid that demand for property has pushed prices to insane levels. Average rents are about twice what they are in London. To pay the rent on a one-bedroom flat in London you would need to work about 170 hours on the minimum wage; in San Francisco, you would need to work 300 hours. As rents rise, people get turfed out of their homes and end up on the streets; combine that with negligible health provision for the poor and you end up with a lot of mentally ill people on the streets.

The response to rising rents in San Francisco has been rent controls. Nearly half the homes in the city are now covered by them. But they have made the situation worse, not better, because they discourage people from letting out property and thus reduce supply, pushing house prices up further.

The Instapundit co-bloggers talk about San Francisco often. Though I would guess that none of them would be reluctant on ideological grounds to mention rent control as the main cause of San Francisco’s problems, as far as I recall they have usually cited the explanation that Emma Duncan rejects, namely over-generous welfare payments that act as a magnet to homeless people from other states. Beyond that they speak of general bad governance, often mentioning that the last Republican mayor of SF left office in 1964.

Of course both causes could be operating. If a single shop has homeless people walking in and openly stealing from it without fear of punishment seven or eight times a day, then bad governance most certainly is operating. But is that the cause or the symptom? My reasons for wanting a more precise diagnosis than “socialism sucks”* are not entirely disinterested. Rent controls are one of the most popular policies offered by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party. Apart from a few old fogeys who remember the deleterious effects of the Rent Acts, Brits love the idea of them. As Ms Duncan suggests, London may soon follow the example of San Francisco in re-introducing rent control. Lord knows the world is not short of examples that show this is a bad idea, but San Francisco might make that argument real to a British audience better than most places, as it is a city quite a lot of British people have visited recently and come away from with shit on their shoes. Do any American readers, particularly San Franciscans, have any observations to share?

*Two economists called Robert Lawson and Benjamin Powell, who seem to be more convivial than economists usually are, have written a book with this title that is currently nestling in my Kindle. My husband recommends it. He says it is about beer.

Justin Trudeau’s sorry face

“Justin Trudeau – not so much racist as slight and ineffectual”, writes Leah McLaren in an enjoyably caustic article. But good as it is, it misses the point.

When I was a kid there were a lot of cowboy movies on TV. I always rooted for the Red Indians, as the term then was. My brother had some books on the Old West and I was fascinated by such things as the Plains Sign Language and the custom of counting coup. Of course when the chance presented itself to dress up I grabbed it enthusiastically. I already had a kind of hippy top that looked vaguely appropriate. My mother and I sewed wool fringing down the sides of a pair of trousers. A headband, a feather, a tin of medium tan shoe polish, and I was all set up to enjoy the fancy dress party and be blackmailed forty-five years later had I been so foolish as to seek public office.

That is why I said Leah McLaren’s article missed the point. Justin Trudeau’s “mystifying youthful makeup choices” do not make him a racist. His only crime then was to be a year or two late to perceive that the party line had changed. His conduct as Prime Minister of Canada is less innocent. In all his many apologies has he ever apologised for using his bully pulpit to condemn others for equally trivial or unintended breaches of the ever-changing code?

President Bush will soon bring Gilead to America!

Some time ago a striking article by Fiona Maddocks appeared in the London Evening Standard. The link that Google gives you to the Evening Standard’s own site is dead, but I found a working one on Questia. Here it is:

A Twist in the Tale; Margaret Atwood Is Dreading the UK Premiere of the Opera of Her Novel the Handmaid’s Tale – It Will Be a Shocking Theatrical Experience

THE question all readers of The Handmaid’s Tale want to ask its Canadian author, Margaret Atwood, is: “How did you know?” Her 1986 best seller, set in a futuristic totalitarian regime called the Republic of Gilead, formerly the United States, has chilling prescience: Christian fundamentalists have seized control and imposed repressive laws, brainwashing women and depriving them of all the rights they have spent the past 1,000 years securing – education, property, freedom to give birth when and via whom they choose.

(I commented at the time, “I don’t know why poor old Dubya does hold off from imprisoning all the women and depriving them of their names so that the top men’s personal concubines are called “ofdonald”, “ofjohn” and “ofdubya”, according to the system described in the book. That’s obviously what he wants, as proven by the fact that he sometimes goes to breakfast prayer meetings, and it’s not like he gets any credit for restraint.”)

The book, already translated into 35 languages and a regular A-level and university set text, was turned into a film starring Natasha Richardson, with a script by Harold Pinter. Tonight an operatic version of this dark fable, by the Danish composer Poul Ruders and British librettist Paul Bentley, receives its first UK performance at the Coliseum, having been premiered to rapturous reviews in Copenhagen three years ago.

[…]

To underline contemporary parallels, English National Opera’s publicity material shows a woman, naked and heavily pregnant, prone on an unfurled Stars and Stripes, observed by a helmeted soldier.

“There’s nothing new in The Handmaid’s Tale,” Atwood says. “One of my rules was that I couldn’t put anything into the novel that human beings hadn’t actually done. Stories exist within the world. They’re not on some other planet called literature or the moon.” Small, droll, benignly austere, Atwood hardly strikes you as a Cassandrine figure. Only her startling eyes, clear blue, slightly exotic and almond shaped, hint at some farseeing otherness.

[…]

The general critical response was ‘what a jolly good yarn’, and that was the end of the matter. You’d had Oliver Cromwell and religious war. You wouldn’t expect it to happen again. In Canada, instead, people asked, ‘Could it happen here?’

“Well, no, probably not, because of Canada’s history and its disparate elements. Only in America did people ask, in utter seriousness, ‘How long have we got?’ They realised that they were closest of all to the real thing, especially compared to Europe, which is now so much more secular a place than the States.

“How long did they have?” asks the narrator, in an epilogue written long after the events described. Since that article was dated April 3rd 2003 and the Gileadification of America is not yet upon us we can safely answer “a minimum of 16 years, 5 months and 8 days”. But do not be deceived. Gilead is coming. Real soon now.

“The Handmaid’s Tale increasingly rings true”, writes Alice Thomson in today’s Times.

They walked, heads bowed under their white bonnets, red capes trailing along Piccadilly, past men in Lycra ogling on their bikes and into Waterstones. “Don’t let the bastards grind you down,” women shouted at the fertile handmaids as they joined the midnight celebrations for the publication of Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments. There were green drinks and talks on how to embroider feminist wall hangings. Then the 79-year-old prophet spoke, warning that her characters had a new resonance in her dystopian sequel because of threats to women’s rights.

She wasn’t just talking about President Trump boasting of grabbing women “by the pussy” and curtailing their reproductive rights but about any country trying to force women back into the “unnaturally cramped spaces” from which they had so recently emerged.

[…]

We pretend that women’s rights are still progressing, with more jobs for the girls and in some areas more equal pay, but in many ways Britain feels increasingly like Atwood’s theocracy of Gilead where women are expected to know how to cook a quiche, the man is master and only the sisterhood saves them. #Silenced, which started trending yesterday, seems to be about so much more than the proroguing of parliament: it’s about vulnerable groups, women, gays and ethnic minorities once more feeling excluded from the hierarchy. “Are we to be silenced like little mice,” as the handmaid Offred says in Atwood’s novel.

The prime minister thinks nothing of using femininity as an insult, calling Jeremy Corbyn “a great big girl’s blouse”, associating masculinity with power. The journalist William Cash wrote an article this week about having a relationship with a former girlfriend of Boris Johnson as though she were some vassal, and volunteering to bring his illegitimate child up for him. David Cameron’s “calm down dear” now seems relatively benign.

Good, so you won’t mind if I say “Calm down dear” to you.

Samizdata quote of the day

If you want to preserve a building, buy it.

Stephen Green, in a short Instapundit post, linking to this piece about an attempt to preserve a “Tom’s Diner” whose owner wants to demolish it.