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]

Samizdata quote of the day

And frankly, a lot of what DARPA did was crap, like SDI. They had successes, but if you spend decades doing research projects some are going to work. The question is whether this works better than leaving money in the pockets of the likes of Dyson and Bezos, or whether the government should take a shot.

The UK version doesn’t have a government customer. It’s being led by the department of business, energy and industrial strategy who are some of the most worthless of all bureaucrats in government. People like Amanda Solloway are going to pick the person to lead this. Do you want someone who thinks HS2 is a super great idea selecting the person who is going to pick where to direct blue sky research?

Tim Worstall

The European Digital Identity is born

The Executive Vice-President for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age loves the idea:

Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age said: “The European digital identity will enable us to do in any Member State as we do at home without any extra cost and fewer hurdles. Be that renting a flat or opening a bank account outside of our home country. And do this in a way that is secure and transparent. So that we will decide how much information we wish to share about ourselves, with whom and for what purpose. This is a unique opportunity to take us all further into experiencing what it means to live in Europe, and to be European.”

However Laurie Clarke of TechMonitor is not so keen:

“The EU digital ID scheme could be a boon for SMEs but a security nightmare”,

Today, the EU announced plans for a bloc-wide digital identity scheme that will allow citizens to use public and private services online. The digital wallet would store payment details, passwords and digital ID cards, and be interoperable across the 27 EU member countries. But the scheme is yet to settle on technical standards, and could be besieged by privacy and security concerns before it gets off the ground.

The EU will reportedly force a structural separation preventing companies that use the system from repurposing customer data for other commercial activities, such as marketing. It also stressed that users of the digital identity solution will be in control of their data. But the melding of public and private services could pose privacy concerns in future. Privacy advocates have repeatedly warned about the potential for digital ID cards to erode civil liberties – particularly when data collected by the scheme ends up being used for immigration control or policing purposes.

On the security side, “This puts an awful lot of sensitive data in one place,” says Marcus. Cybersecurity threats have been growing over the years both from commercial and government-sponsored hackers, which could threaten the digital ID scheme. “This is a high-value target, both for criminal gangs and for governments. If this data gets out in the wild, it would be bad.”

Some of the responses to Ursula Von der Leyen’s tweet are less enthusiastic still. Someone called “Tom” says,

This would sound like an impending Orwellian nightmare if not for the inevitable certainty that the Commission will find a way to f*** it up.

The point is that anyone can do this to anyone

Don’t like what someone says on social media? Don’t worry, with just one phone call you can arrange for whoever said it to have to tell their autistic kids that mummy has to go away and doesn’t know when she’ll be allowed to come back.

“I can’t sleep, says accountant Marion Millar in trans tweet row”, reports the Times.

Marion Millar, an accountant from Airdrie, North Lanarkshire, was told to report to a police station over allegations that she had posted “homophobic and transphobic” tweets.

Her account of her ordeal has been viewed by millions of people on social media. Millar, who works for For Women Scotland (FWS), a feminist group, wrote: “On April 28 I received a call from a PC Laura Daley from Police Scotland requesting I attend an interview under the malicious communications act. She told me I had to attend East Kilbride police station so I could be then transported to Cathcart station in a police car because I would have to go to a station where there are holding cells.”

Millar was told that social workers would be sent to look after her young twin boys, who are autistic, while she was questioned.

“This nonsense has been hanging over my head for a month,” she said. “I still don’t know what the offending tweet is. Anyone who knows me knows I am not homophobic or transphobic. ”

A spokeswoman for Police Scotland said: “We received two complaints regarding comments made on social media, enquiries into this are ongoing.”

To comply with human rights legislation interviews have to take place at a station with custody suites, which East Kilbride does not have.

I cannot but admire the elegance of using the supposed protections offered by human rights legislation into a vehicle for twisting the knife a little more. Shame if you aren’t allowed to return home, love. But don’t worry, we have a nice custody suite.

Some of you might think this is an example of what a oppressive place Scotland is becoming now that the Hate Crime (Scotland) Bill has been passed. If so, you are wrong. It is an example of what an oppressive place Scotland already is under existing law. Ms Millar was summoned for offences under the Malicious Communications Act. And before English, Welsh or Northern Irish readers feel superior, let me say that as far as I know that same 1988 Act applies to the whole of the UK. As I said in a post from 2012 called “The kraken wakes”, despite its obvious potential for oppression, for the first twenty years or so of its existence the Malicious Communications Act 1988 did not seem to do much harm … but you are not safe just because a monster sleeps.

Samizdata quote of the day

It has been a well-known fact for the past hundred years that masks are useless against viral transmission. All one has to do is contrast the moon-suits used in virology labs with the “bandana across the face” to understand how actual protection works. I’ve designed military NBC (nuclear/biological/chemical) filtration systems (that I still cannot discuss) and the difference between those and the relatively simple gas turbine filter systems is enormous.

And yet the discussions in the lame-stream media all center on “when can we take our masks off”, rather than the central question of, “do masks perform any positive function in preventing or slowing the spread of viral diseases”. The Danish study alone (more than 6,000 people) of the ‘rona puts the lie to the latter. Every single study done has shown that non-rated cloth and paper masks have no positive effect, and have many negative effects. Hypoxia is only one of them; the negative effects also include higher rates of other infections, including bacterial and fungal. Major dental issues are also now arising from chronic mask use. Despite that, many of the government-funded studies conclude that, “masks should be worn anyway, mostly for the psychological benefit”. I guess that’s now considered “sciencey”.

This despite the fact that places that underwent lockdowns and mask mandates suffered higher infection rates and death rates than those without mandates.

– Commenter Blackwing1

CMV: the threat to liberty from mandatory voter ID is insignificant

“CMV” stands for “Change my view”. It is the name of a subreddit where people go to argue, expecting disagreement, as I expect it now.

In the most recent Queen’s Speech, Her Majesty told the Lords and the Commons that “My Government will invest in new green industries to create jobs”, but there were serious proposals as well. She also said, “Legislation will be introduced to ensure the integrity of elections”. This was a reference to the proposed Electoral Integrity Bill. You can read the Hansard account of the debate in Parliament here. Chloe Smith MP, who it appears is the Minister for the Constitution and Devolution, there’s posh now, said,

Asking voters to prove their identities will safeguard against the potential in our current system for someone to cast another person’s vote at the polling station. Showing identification is something people of all backgrounds do every day.

Northern Ireland has used voter identification in its elections since 1985, and expanded this in 2003 during the last Labour Government. In the first general election after photographic identification was introduced in Northern Ireland by the then Labour Government (2005), turnout in Northern Ireland was higher than in each of England, Scotland and Wales. Since then, the experience in Northern Ireland has shown that once voter identification is established as part of the voting system the vast majority of electors complete the voting process after arriving at the polling station. A wide range of countries, such as Canada and most European nations, require some form of identification to vote.

New research published yesterday on www.gov.uk clearly indicates that the vast majority of the electorate of Great Britain, 98% of electors, already own an eligible form of identification, which includes a broad range of documents and expired photographic identification.

And, um, that sounds fair to me. Note that the Northern Irish Electoral Identity Card is not required to be shown before one can vote. It is but one of several acceptable forms of ID, and is issued free of charge to those people who don’t have any of the other forms so that nobody will be unable to vote due to poverty. It is not the abominable high-tech integrated without-this-you-starve Identity Nexus proposed by the Right Honourable Tony Blair. My opinions on that have not changed since 2003. To look at, the Northern Irish Electoral Identity card is a poxy little photocard that looks like it was issued by your local library. This lack of sophistication, the fact that you only need the effing thing once every five years or so, and the fact that voters have been obliged to show ID before voting in Northern Ireland for years without any obvious bad consequences, lead me to not to fear the rollout of a similar scheme in the rest of the UK as the first step on the slippery slope towards a national ID card.

As to whether a legal requirement to show photographic ID before one votes is a thing good, bad or indifferent in itself, that is a separate debate. Dawn Butler MP, writing in the Times, says, “This, to me, is nothing more than a cynical attempt at voter suppression by our government — and it must be stopped. It mirrors some of the subversive tactics deployed in some states in America.” Jess Garland of the Electoral Reform Society writes in the Guardian that it would undermine democracy. Over in the US, where the state of Georgia has recently passed its own Election Integrity Act, President Biden said a thing about eagles.

The King can do no wrong

George Archer-Shee died at nineteen, in what might almost be called a natural death for a young British man of his class at that time – he was killed in the First Battle of Ypres. His name is inscribed on the Menin Gate but he has no known grave.

He shared the manner of his death with thousands of others, but, quite against his own wishes, his short life before that had taken an unusual turn. At the time of his death he had been famous for six years.

It all started in 1908 when George Archer-Shee was thirteen and a cadet at the Royal Naval College, Osborne. He was accused of having stolen a five shilling postal order intended for another cadet. An elderly post office clerk said she remembered Archer-Shee as having cashed two postal orders that day, one of his own (which no one denied) and the stolen one. Archer-Shee protested his innocence to no avail; he was expelled without much ceremony.

That should have been that, a minor story of Edwardian disgrace, but his father refused to take it lying down. He engaged one of the most celebrated lawyers of the day – Sir Edward Carson, famous for many reasons, some of which are still controversial today, and determined to pursue the case to the highest court in the land. But there was a slight problem: if I have understood it right, at that time one could not sue the Crown.

Quoting a 1939 article in the Pennsylvania Law Review:

It was early recognized in England that while an action could not be brought against the King, yet as the “fountain of justice and equity” he would entertain petitions from his subjects for the redress of their wrongs; and it was established during the reign of Edward I that the subject might bring a petition of right, which, if approved by the King, would be heard in his courts. The King indicated his approval of the petition by writing on it, “Let right be done”. A petition of right, as distinguished from a petition of grace, asked “for something which the suppliant could claim as a right, if the claim were made against any one but the King”. Originally a petition of right was employed only to recover some interest in land, and there was doubt whether it would lie to recover chattels, but by the time of Henry VI it was settled that it would lie for the recovery of goods and chattels. It was not until 1874 that it was decided that the petition would lie for breach of contract. It would never lie for a tort, for the King can do no wrong.

At the time the petition of right was filed in the Archer-Shee case the law was clear that those in the service of the Crown, whether military or civil, could be dismissed at will and were without remedy by petition of right or otherwise.

Carson won in the end, as he usually did. Archer-Shee was exonerated. And the important precedent was set that the King can do wrong, and can be sued.

So far, so Whig history. The setting of that precedent is how I come to know about the case. I think I read a rather good account of it and why it mattered in Look and Learn magazine in the mid 1970s. Terence Rattigan wrote a play loosely based on the story called The Winslow Boy. It has been filmed at least twice.

But a more recent event also involving the Post Office – and the refusal of the Post Office to admit the possibility of error – and the refusal of the British State as a whole to admit the possibility of the Post Office being in error – and the blackening of the names of innocent people – made me think that we need to learn that lesson again.

Let the BBC tell the story:

Post Office scandal: What the Horizon saga is all about

A group of former sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses have seen their names cleared at the Court of Appeal after the UK’s most widespread miscarriage of justice.

It marks the latest stage of a computer scandal, and a long and complex legal battle, which could leave the Post Office with a huge compensation bill.

Between 2000 and 2014, the Post Office prosecuted 736 sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses – an average of one a week – based on information from a recently installed computer system called Horizon.

Some went to prison following convictions for false accounting and theft, many were financially ruined and have described being shunned by their communities. Some have since died.

Edit: In the comments Rudolph Hucker pointed out that the doctrine driving the Post Office’s reckless prosecution of so many of its own employees bore an even closer parallel to the doctrine, supposedly overturned by the Archer-Shee case, that “the King can do no wrong” than I thought. He linked to a piece from the radio station LBC called ‘The Post Office were mendacious in the way they denied justice’ The title is a quote from Nick Wallace, a journalist who has been covering the Horizon scandal for many years.

Due to its long legacy, the Post Office has a “proximity to state power that is almost unparalleled.”

Mr Wallis continued: “It was able to use its own investigation and prosecution units to bypass the CPS and the police force to prosecute its own employees to the tune of one a week for 14 years. There were 736 successful convictions just using Horizon IT evidence.”

He told Shelagh that when the Post Office found out its prosecutions may be unsafe, “they covered it up.”

“They went out of their way to say to campaigning MPs and the Justice for the Postmasters’ Alliance that nothing was going wrong with the IT system and there was nothing wrong with their prosecution.”

They then “threw tens of millions of pounds trying to deny the subpostmasters justice,” Mr Wallis said.

“They were mendacious in the way they went about denying justice and they colluded with the Government in order to do this, because the Government is 100% shareholder of the Post Office and it has skin in this game.

I predicted this, it didn’t happen. I predicted this, it didn’t happen. I predicted this, it’s happening.

European MPs targeted by deepfake video calls imitating Russian opposition

Discussion point: restrictions on elderly drivers

“Over-70s facing driving curfew in licence shake-up”, reports the Times.

Before you pile in, the headline is misleading. What is being proposed is actually a relaxation of existing regulations:

Over-70s in poor health may be allowed to continue driving if they agree to fit a tracking device restricting them to daylight hours near their home.

That could be liberating. Or it could be a Trojan horse. First elderly people with health problems, then elderly people in general and sick people in general… what other groups might the government decide need to be tracked?

Licences expire when drivers turn 70, and those wanting to keep driving must inform the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) of medical conditions such as dementia, Parkinson’s, epilepsy, diabetes — if it is treated with insulin — and any condition that affects both eyes or the total loss of sight in one eye. Reviews follow every three years.

Under the proposals discussed at a meeting this month between the DVLA and Driving Mobility, the official network of driving assessment centres, the over-70s could be eligible for “graduated driving licences”. These would potentially restrict them to a radius of 20 or 30 miles from home and bar them from night driving. They would apply only to those who would otherwise face losing their licence because of ill health.

Edward Trewhella, chief executive of Driving Mobility, said: “A lot of older drivers stick within their own locality — they go to the shop, the doctor’s surgery, go and see a granddaughter down the road, probably on minor roads with which they are familiar. This process would regularise that, and make it legal for them to do so as long as they didn’t take a trip outside of an area or outside of a time restriction. That would mean that they were driving safely within their familiar environment.”

For many elderly people, especially those who live where public transport is poor, the ability to drive is the difference between an active, sociable, productive life and imprisonment until death.

And yet –

Patricia Colquhoun, 69, lost her son, Neil, 28, when Turner Waddell, 90, a one-eyed retired GP with dementia, drove a mile the wrong way down a dual carriageway. Colquhoun, who lives in Hampshire, said the current system, which relies on self-referral, is flawed. “Nobody likes to say they’re old. They all say, ‘There’s nothing wrong with me.’

Eureka!

In 2012 scientists found the Higgs Boson. In 2015, after fifty years of trying, they finally found gravitational waves.

In 2021…

Leave camp turned Brexit into a religion to capture votes, study finds

Vote Leave turned Brexit into its own religion to capture supporters, a recent study by the universities of Birmingham and Warwick has found.

Researchers said slogans such as “take back control” used the NHS as the country’s Holy Grail that could be rescued from European forces threatened by Britain’s unique historical place in the world.

They also said Brexiteers focused on secular theological concepts such as sovereignty and nation to engage voters.

A study found it. It is Science.

A quote from a Tim Worstall quotulation

Tim Worstall was recently quotulated, and from that quotulation I extracted this much smaller quote:

The entire point of any form of automation is to destroy jobs so as to free up that labour to do something else. The new technology doesn’t create jobs, it allows other jobs to be done.

Well it’s a snappy quote, but I disagree. The entire point? Surely, part of the point of automation is, often, to make certain sorts of product possible that otherwise wouldn’t be possible, many of which products make other sorts of work both necessary and possible. The point of automation, to use a well-worn metaphor, is not merely to break eggs, in the form of existing jobs that it destroys; it is also to create new kinds of omelette in the form of new products previously unmakeable and new jobs previously undoable, by creating inputs and materials for these new jobs that used not to exist. Oftentimes, new technology does create new jobs, and often this happens on purpose. An often, that’s at the very least part of the point of the exercise. The new technology does not merely allow other jobs, jobs in general, to be done by those it throws out of their existing jobs. It creates particular new jobs that people must then be hired to do.

I think I get where Worstall is coming from. The grand aim of economic life is to create a world that requires us all to do less work rather than merely to remain on progressively more elaborate treadmills and still slaving away at the same old pace for the same old number of hours, for the same old money. But, he overstates that case. The “purpose” of any particular enterprise can be whatever may reasonably be expected to result from it. That can indeed be more freed up labour, but it can also be particular new kinds of labour, which are more fun, more significant, and better remunerated.

Also, the first impact of new technology is often to destroy existing jobs. But that is often only the beginning of the story, as those unleashing the new technology are typically well aware.

What Worstall says reminds me of that claim that you regularly hear that “the entire purpose of any business is to make profits”. Again, snappy, but again, in most cases, wrong. Any enterprise must stay solvent. One way or another, it must pay its bills. But the idea that all that matters to the people who run some particular enterprise is its profitability is, more often than not, just plain wrong. Often, what unites them is not the love of profit but the love of making whatever they make, doing whatever they do. They know that they must be profitable, and can’t be too wasteful, but that’s because that way they get to keep on serving up this stuff, stuff that they love to create for its own sake.

George Monbiot comes out in favour of censorship

“Covid lies cost lives – we have a duty to clamp down on them”, he writes in the Guardian.

I will skip the bit where I tell Samizdata readers why censorship is morally bad. You already know. Once upon a time Mr Monbiot knew, too, but it no longer surprises me to see that yet another left winger has succumbed to the modern McCarthyism. You would think sixty-five years of fantasising about how they would have stood up to Senator McCarthy or his equivalents in the House Un-American Activities Committee would have strengthened their spines a little more. But I can still be shocked at how much of a betrayal of the scientific method Mr Monbiot’s attempt to defend science by means of forbidding the publication of opposing hypotheses represents. As a commenter called “tomsmells” says,

This is quite an astounding agenda, considering how new this virus is and how frequently the experts in control have been wrong. Perhaps we should have considered banning talk of encouraging mask wearing when it was very much not considered a good idea by the experts in charge? Or when loss of taste and smell wasn’t considered a symptom? I’m not sure it would have been helpful for the understanding of what works and what doesn’t. It probably won’t be now either even though you seem to suggest we apparently we know exactly how to deal with this virus, despite the bodies piling up around the world. In circumstances when you clearly don’t have all the answers, it can’t be a good idea to ban ideas your consistently wrong scientists disagree with. That is essentially how freedom of speech functions within a democracy, ideas get talked about, hopefully the best prevail.

And on top of that, surely you can see how this approach is wrought with danger? It’s always easy to do the censoring, but bugger me is it difficult when you are the one being censored. Bear that in mind when you advocate this level of censorship, particularly in a debate when you have no doubt been wrong about plenty of things – which may I add is no shame, this is a complicated and evolving problem whose solution won’t be found any faster by banning discussion.

Ursula von der Leyen speaks about creating a “truly global common good”

When a politician says the words “common good” it is usually with a very specific meaning, and this use of the phrase by Ms von der Leyen is no exception:

“The EU vows to force firms to declare what vaccines are being exported to the UK as Ursula von der Leyen says she ‘means business’ about getting bloc’s ‘fair share’ – despite warnings a blockade to help shambolic rollout could ‘poison’ relations”, the Daily Mail reports.

Ursula von der Leyen today vowed to make firms declare what vaccines they are exporting to the UK as she scrambled to contain a backlash at the EU’s shambolic rollout.

The commission president said a ‘transparency mechanism’ is being introduced as she insisted that the bloc ‘means business’ about getting its fair share of supplies.

The sabre-rattling from Brussels, which comes amid growing chaos and protests across the continent, has incensed senior MPs, with warnings that the EU could ‘poison’ relations for a generation if it blocks some of the 40million Pfizer doses the UK has bought ‘legally and fairly’.

But “Is the EU to blame for AstraZeneca’s vaccine shortage?” asks Robert Peston in the Spectator.

Short answer: yes.

The important difference between AstraZeneca’s relationship with the UK and its relationship with the EU – and the reason it has fallen behind schedule on around 50m vaccine doses promised to the bloc – is that the UK agreed its deal with AstraZeneca a full three months before the EU did. This gave AstraZeneca an extra three months to sort out manufacturing and supply problems relating to the UK contract (there were plenty of problems).

Here is the important timeline. In May AstraZeneca reached an agreement with Oxford and the UK government to make and supply the vaccine. In fact, Oxford had already started work on the supply chain.

The following month AstraZeneca reached a preliminary agreement with Germany, the Netherlands, France and Italy, a group known as the Inclusive Vaccine Alliance, based on its agreement with the UK. That announcement was on 13 June.

But the EU then insisted that the Inclusive Vaccine Alliance could not formalise the deal, and the European Commission took over the contract negotiations on behalf of the whole EU. So there were another two months of talks and the contract was not signed until the end of August.

What is frustrating for AstraZeneca is that the extra talks with the European Commission led to no material changes to the contract, but this wasted time that could have been spent making arrangements to manufacture the vaccine with partner sites. The yield at these EU partner sites has been lower than expected.

UPDATE: It’s hotting up: The Daily Mail reports, “Now EU wants our vaccines: Brussels demands Covid jabs made in Britain are sent to EUROPE as one lab warns banning exports from the bloc will mean NO more doses are made”