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.

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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.

China’s hardware hack: massive implications if true

Bloomberg is running an utterly astounding story about a massive Chinese hardware hack that if true will have considerable political impact but truly enormous economic implications.

This will have a long-term bearish effect on China’s hitherto unchallengeable position as the overwhelmingly dominant manufacturer of computers, phones and high tech IT component.

And yet… I hesitate to immediately take this entire story at face value, precisely because the geo-political/economic implications are so dramatic that I can hear the sound of a great many axes grinding.

Still, it is certainly something I can well believe the Chinese government would do, even with the associated risk to China’s IT marketability. But then the same is probably true of the US government, I would not put such a thing past them either.

It was a GOOD day for justice

Of the many stories of science fiction, fantasy and horror that I have read in my time, the one – I think the only one – that for years afterwards I wished I had never seen was It’s a Good Life by Jerome Bixby. That Wikipedia link contains spoilers, obviously, but it is a story some of you might prefer to have spoiled. If not, the full text of the story is here. It is, of course, one of the greatest science fiction/horror stories ever written. If it were not it would not have had such an effect on me when I came across it concealed like a tarantula among sweet fruit in an anthology of science fiction stories for and about children that I got from the library.

Most of the horrors described in the story belong solely in the realms of nightmare. But there is one aspect of life in Peaksville, Ohio, that like all the best fantasy tropes, derives its power from the way it resonates with certain situations in real life. They, the forty-six inhabitants of Peaksville who might or might not be the last remnants of the human race, dared not be unhappy. “Oh, don’t say that, Miss Amy … it’s fine, just fine. A real good day!”

This is the first paragraph of an article by Hugo Rifkind in today’s Times:

Besides the red face, and the shouting, and the hurt indignation, and the mad howls about still liking beer, one thing was very obvious last week about the US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. With a litany of legal achievements behind him, this was not a man who had expected, at 53, to be answering for his behaviour as a teenager.

They really do want to extract the last drop, don’t they? It is not enough to demand that Kavanaugh prove where he was thirty-six years ago when he was seventeen. Correction, approximately seventeen, since Christine Blasey Ford cannot even specify the year in which the alleged crime took place. It is not enough to demand that he defend himself against a baying claque who joyfully proclaim abandonment, not just of the presumption of innocence, but of the very possibility of innocence when the accusation is sexual assault and the accused is male. (Just one example via Instapundit: Students demand professor fired after he champions due process, says ‘Accusers sometimes lie’). That does not sate them. They also demand that the man in the dock must suppress his emotions as utterly as must the slave of a cruel master. Indignation is not permitted him. His voice must remain low and humble. And woe betide him if the involuntary reactions of the body send blood rushing to his face.

Perhaps too much science fiction has addled my brains, but when I read that I really did think of the scene in It’s a Good Life where poor Dan Hollis suddenly can’t find it in him to be happy any more. And I also thought of what followed soon afterwards, not in the context of Judge Kavanaugh this time, but in the context of all those “liberal” journalists like Hugo Rifkind who once upon a time would have been all for due process and the presumption of innocence, but whose courage nowadays – though tested infinitely less than that of the people of Peaksville – stretches only to not being the loudest in the mob:

Some of the people began mumbling. They all tried to smile. The sound of mumbling filled the room like a far-off approval. Out of the murmuring came one or two clear voices:

“Oh, it’s a very good thing,” said John Sipich.

“A good thing,” said Anthony’s father, smiling. He’d had more practice in smiling than most of them. “A wonderful thing.”

The feminist movement denies rape victims justice

Simple question: when reading about any accusation of rape or sexual assault, compared to five years ago, have you become more or less likely to believe the accuser?

To ask the question is to answer it. I can remember a time when if I saw a rape trial reported in the newspaper I had as few preconceptions as I now have in a case of murder. Stop for a minute and think how strange it is that in cases of murder nearly everyone would still say that the guilt or innocence of the accused is the very thing we have a trial to decide, and with the onus being on the prosecution to prove it.

For the information of younger readers, rape trials used to be like that. Of course I had heard that in some far-off times and places a woman accusing a man of rape was automatically believed. Everyone thought of this as an evil we had outgrown. The usual example cited was the southern states of the United States during the era of racial segregation. In those days a black man accused of rape by a white woman was presumed guilty. Anyone who even raised the possibility of his innocence was denounced as being indifferent to, or even wanting, the rape of white women.

One of the books I studied for English O-Level was To Kill a Mockingbird in which an innocent black man is accused of rape by a white woman. One of the books I studied for English A-Level was A Passage to India in which an innocent Indian is accused of sexual assault by a British woman. The lesson was clear: beware the human tendency to let rightful outrage at how evil rape is overwhelm rational assessment of whether a particular accusation of rape is true. Although I believe that To Kill A Mockingbird is still fairly popular as a set book, that lesson is no longer fashionable. I write this just after Professor Christine Blasey Ford has finished giving her testimony. Until a minute ago the Guardian headline was that “Christine Blasey Ford has been hailed as a hero”. And unless I’ve missed it, you will not find any hint in its pages that anyone other than pantomime-villain Republicans has failed to join the acclamation. In this the Guardian is, as ever, copying the US press.

And thus the #MeToo movement died. It did some good while it lived. Some sexual predators were exposed, some rapists brought to justice. We should not be surprised at how many of them were left wing icons: they were the ones who were being allowed to get away with it. Remember how Harvey Weinstein’s first reaction when it came out was to try to buy off the anger by saying he would “channel his anger against himself” by fighting the NRA and President Trump. He tried that trick because it had always worked before.

But it’s over now, though the corpse may kick for a while. Senator Dianne Feinstein killed it off by sitting on the letter that accused Kavanaugh all through the nomination hearings only to release it at the last minute. That is not the action of someone who has a disinterested concern for justice. Frankly, it is not the action of someone who actually believed in the accusation they were passing on.

Whatever the results – whatever the truth – of the testimonies of Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, from now on half the US (followed after a short delay by the rest of the developed world) will assume until it is proven otherwise that similar accusations in the future are just another tactic in Dems vs Repubs. Even those who strive not to assume anything, those whose horror at the way Kavanaugh has been treated is rooted in a belief in the old fashioned principles of impartial justice, will find it almost impossible to avoid that fatal twitch of cynicism. The burned child fears the fire.

If nothing else, we are getting a show. There have been so many weird developments in this case today that I cannot keep up. I gather that someone else accused Kavanaugh of rape and then recanted, and that two separate men have accused themselves of being the person who assaulted Christine Ford.

We in the UK blazed the trail. Read about Operation Midland for a demonstration of how once the idea of “believe the victim” is in the air it inevitably attracts liars and fantasists from miles around. Never forget that in addition to bringing misery to those they falsely accuse and their families, liars and fantasists such as “Nick” are parasitical on genuine victims of rape.

Is to the disgrace of the feminist movement that it insisted that rape victims should no longer be entitled to justice.

Instead they have the dubious privilege of being forced into the same category as “Nick”. Their testimony will be heard all right, but only on the understanding that it doesn’t matter. Its hearers are forbidden to believe it, because they are forbidden to assess it at all.

The injunction to believe the “victim” – that is, the accuser – in all circumstances cannot be obeyed. Belief does not work that way. If you are forbidden to even consider the evidence in an accusation then you can never come to believe it. Oh, you can be made to say you believe it. You can be made to scream that you believe it. You can be made to scream that you believe it so loudly that you can no longer hear yourself think, which is the aim of the process. But that is not belief.

Related post: If you don’t care whether a rape really happened, you don’t care about rape.

Grooming gangs in Rochdale and Rotherham raped with impunity and you won’t believe why!

I really should not have laughed out loud when reading an article by regular Times columnist Jenni Russell entitled “Women victims still can’t get a fair hearing”. These are serious matters. Judge me not; this bit would get a laugh out of a stone:

Even men without high standing tend to be seen as more credible than the women they attack. That’s why grooming gangs in Rochdale, Rotherham and many other towns could rape girls with impunity over years, as police and social services dismissed it. “Believe the men,” has always been the instinctive, effective, protective response of the male-dominated power structure.

The grooming gangs in Rochdale and Rotherham had an “identity” trump card all right, one that sent the police and social services scurrying away with their tails between their legs. And it did begin with M. Perhaps Ms Russell could ask her Times colleague Andrew Norfolk what the following letters were?

The rest of the article is about US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, recently accused of attempting to rape Christine Blasey Ford thirty-six years ago when he was seventeen and she was fifteen. She made this claim a couple of months ago in a letter to Senator Dianne Feinstein (D). However it seems to have slipped Senator Feinstein’s mind to bring the issue up during the weeks of nomination hearings convened for the express purpose of assessing Kavanaugh’s suitability to be a Supreme Court judge. As this letter (Hat tip: Instapundit) from the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Chuck Grassley, says,

There were numerous opportunities to raise the serious allegations made in the letter during the course of this nomination process.They could have been raised in your closed-door meeting with Judge Kavanaugh on August 20.Sixty-four other senators also met with Judge Kavanaugh prior to his confirmation hearing. These senators could have asked Judge Kavanaugh about these allegations if you had shared the letter.

Your staff could have raised these allegations during routine background investigation phone calls in late-August. Questions about these allegations could have been asked of Judge Kavanaugh during his more than 32 hours of testimony before the Committee over the course of three days. You could have asked him about these allegations during the closed session of his confirmation hearing, where sensitive material can be discussed. But you did not attend the closed session. Finally, these allegations could have been addressed in one of the nearly 1,300 written questions issued to him after the hearing-more written questions to any Supreme Court nominee than all prior Supreme Court nominees combined.

Fortunately Senator Feinstein did eventually remember to bring up this allegation, just in time. Funny how that happens, isn’t it? It’s like the way I only just remembered to tell you about the rest of Jenni Russell’s article in the Times for the benefit of those who don’t have a subscription. It did make one point with which all should agree. Professor Ford has been subjected to harassment and threats. These should be treated like the crimes they are. Apart from that, well, let us say that the evidence for Jenni Russell’s instinctive, effective, protective response being “Believe the women” is a great deal stronger than the evidence that the Muslim grooming gangs in Rochdale and Rotherham raped with impunity because they were men. Russell writes,

Dr Ford’s life has been shipwrecked. She has had so many death threats that she has had to go into hiding, take leave of absence from work, send her children away and employ security guards. No such danger has troubled Kavanaugh, who has a security detail provided by the state and whose wife has been giving out cupcakes to the camera crews outside their house.

No such danger has troubled Kavaugh? Given how close left winger James T. Hodgkinson came to killing House Majority Whip Steve Scalise in his attempt to massacre as many Republicans as he could at a charity baseball game between politicians, I would not dismiss the danger so lightly. And of course, Kavanaugh’s wife handing out cupcakes shows how untroubled she is at having her husband accused of rape. Why should that trouble her? Why should it trouble him? How can they be treated unjustly? They’re Republicans!

In order of priority

“Comicsgate is the latest front in the ongoing culture wars”, writes J A Micheline in the… I don’t really need to say it, do I?

The results of both the Brexit referendum and the 2016 US presidential election relied heavily (if not, solely) on the narrative of white loss and the tears of the white working class – while conveniently eliding the needs of working-class people of colour and what they stood to lose.

How can such events be combated? How can they be undone? But these are the wrong questions. Merely combating or undoing Comicsgate, Brexit, and the flourishing of American fascism is not enough.

The great battles of our time.