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]

Steal Labour’s clothes, look like Labour

Britain’s electricity supply is in peril. On Monday (20 Sep) the Financial Times reported,

Peter McGirr wanted to modernise the British consumer energy market when he founded Green three years ago, building a customer base of more than 250,000 households. Now, with the sector in meltdown, he says it is “incredibly unlikely” the Newcastle-based supplier will survive until Christmas without government intervention.

Five smaller suppliers have collapsed in the past six weeks, with four or five more expected to join them in the next 10 days as the industry is battered by unprecedented surges in wholesale electricity and gas prices.

Observers are predicting as few as 10 suppliers will make it through the winter, implying 40 could go bust. Some executives have privately suggested the sector could go back to a big four, five or six companies.

How did this happen to us? I know who to blame for setting the UK on this disastrous course. On Tuesday 24 September 2013, eight years ago tomorrow, the then Leader of the Labour party, Ed Miliband, gave his big speech to the Labour party conference in Brighton. One item was particularly popular:

“If we win the election 2015 the next Labour government will freeze gas and electricity prices until the start of 2017. Your bills will not rise. It will benefit millions of families and millions of businesses. That’s what I mean by a government that fights for you. That’s what I mean when I say Britain can do better than this.”

The response from the Tories was immediate and scathing:

As the Guardian reported,

Energy minister Greg Barker attacks Labour’s plan to cap energy prices

In response to Ed Miliband’s announcement, the energy minister says capping energy prices would have catastrophic consequences for investment in the UK

Figures from the gas industry chipped in:

The lights could go out if Labour introduces its 20-month freeze on energy prices, Ian Peters of British Gas said. “If we have no ability to control what we do in the retail prices” and wholesale prices suddenly go up within a single year “that will threaten energy security,” he said. Asked if that meant the lights would go out, he replied: “I think that is a risk.”

But Mr Miliband’s policy had equally vigorous defenders. On 25 September 2013, the day after Mr Miliband’s speech, Alex Andreou of the New Statesman thundered:

Ed Miliband’s critics think his energy pledge will make the lights go out. They are wrong

The critics were wrong. Ed Miliband is innocent OK! It was not his pledge that a Labour government would limit energy prices that has brought us so near to having the lights go out.

The Conservative manifesto of 2017 included energy price controls, duly introduced by Prime Minister Theresa May on 1st January 2019.

And here we are.

Ctrl-F “frack” 0/0

The government has published this UK gas supply explainer.

There has recently been widespread media coverage of wholesale gas prices, and the effect this could have on household energy bills. The impact on certain areas of industry, and its ability to continue production, has also attracted attention.

This explainer sets out the background to the issue and the action the government is taking to protect the UK’s energy supply, industry, and consumers.

Natural gas prices have been steadily rising across the globe this year for a number of reasons. This has affected Europe, including the UK, as well as other countries around the world.

Later, the author of the “explainer” reassures us consumers that energy prices may not go up as much as one might expect:

The high wholesale gas prices that are currently visible may not be the actual prices being paid by all consumers.

This is because major energy suppliers purchase much of their wholesale supplies many months in advance, giving protection to them and their customers from short-term price spikes.

The Energy Price Cap is also in place to protect millions of customers from the sudden increases in global gas prices this winter. Despite the rising costs of wholesale energy, the cap still saves 15 million households up to £100 a year.

Isn’t it nice that the government protects consumers by stopping energy firms passing on price rises?

Completely unrelated: Four more small energy firms could go bust next week, the BBC reports.

Some of you may remember that the Bishop Hill blog used to cover climate and energy issues in a moderate and well-informed way. Unless I missed the announcement of a move, that blog does not seem to have been active since 2019. However I recently found that the Bishop is on Twitter, one of the few reasons left to visit that horrible place.

Why have a US government at all?

Mark Steyn wrote the other day,

Indeed, what difference would it make if it closed down its military? Obviously, it would present a few mid-life challenges for its corrupt Pentagon bureaucracy, since that many generals on the market for defense lobbyist gigs and board directorships all at once would likely depress the going rate. But, other than that, a military that accounts for 40 per cent of the planet’s military spending can’t perform either of the functions for which one has an army: it can’t defeat overseas enemies, and it’s not permitted to defend the country, as we see on the Rio Grande.

So what’s the point?

Good question. But why only ask it about the army?

While many here are distrustful of governments in general, most agree that if a government must exist at all it exists for the purposes listed in the preamble to the Constitution of the United States:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

I wish I could say “President Biden is failing at all these objectives”. Mere ineffectiveness would be so nice. He is worse than useless on every one of them. He is worse than the British government on every one of them, which is quite an achievement. ‘America is back’, all right, back to 1975. That affects us, too. Sharks attack when they smell blood in the water.

In a spirit of open-mindedness I invite American readers more familiar with their local situation than I am to suggest any mitigating factors which might raise Mr Biden’s score to zero on any of: forming a more perfect union, establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defence (Yanks could spell in those days), promoting the general welfare (promoting welfare dependency doesn’t count), and securing the blessings of liberty to himself and his posterity… on second thoughts, I must grant that he is doing OK at keeping Hunter Biden out of jail.

Here we go again

BBC News 17:16 BST: Taliban take over Presidential Palace – reports

Conveniently, Afghanistan has had its own Samizdata tag for nearly twenty years. It is interesting, if depressing, to look at the old entries.

Why were there so few spree killings in the UK in the early twentieth century?

The day before yesterday a man called Jake Davison murdered five people in Plymouth. In a pattern common with many spree killers he first murdered his mother and then went on to kill random strangers, including a three year old girl and her father.

The three major “spree” or “rampage” killings in British history were carried out in Hungerford in 1987, in Dunblane in 1996 and in Cumbria in 2010.

There was also a spree killing of five people in West Bromwich and Nuneaton in 1978.

There have been other mass murders following different dynamics, such as serial killers targeting particular categories of victim such as prostitutes or homosexuals, or medical murderers like Dr Harold Shipman, who may have murdered hundreds over his lifetime. There have also been other spree killers who were stopped or killed themselves after claiming fewer victims than those listed above.

Many years ago I wrote a pamphlet for the Libertarian Alliance about the Dunblane Massacre called “Rachel weeping for her children”. I wrote,

… in Britain there was almost no control of guns before the 1920 Firearms Act and widespread ownership of pistols for self defence until the 1968 Act and yet there was one of the lowest murder rates of any society in human history. In Britain, as gun laws have got stricter, gun crime has got worse. Everyone then would then say, unencumbered by any shred of evidence, “Aha! But crime would have been yet worse if the laws had not come in!” This was my first introduction to the enormous inertia of a failed policy.

Other than quoting that passage I will not repeat here any of the arguments about gun laws that I made in that piece.

I simply wish to pose the question at the top of this post. Why weren’t there any British massacres of that type, the rampage killer who attacks random people, early in the twentieth century? It cannot have been that guns were unavailable: the world wars flooded the UK with guns. So far as I know spree killings were rarer in the US during that period too. Not that there was an absence of mass murders during this time – there were several political/racial pogroms such as the Tulsa race massacre, but random killings seem to have been less frequent than in the decades before or afterwards.

The two major exceptions that I can recall, the Bath School massacre and Pacific Airlines Flight 773, were both carried out by means other than guns.

I may be wrong about the US. That list on Wikipedia omits what I would have thought was the progenitor of the modern type of random mass shooting: the University of Texas clock tower massacre in 1966.

I may be wrong about the whole thing. Perhaps there is no pattern to be discerned from what are, fortunately, very rare events. Yet it seems to me that there is just enough of a pattern there to make the question worth asking.

Stealthing

Olivia Petter has written two articles for the Sunday Times about her experience of being “stealthed” that have generated much discussion. She explains the term as follows, “What happened to me, and the other women I heard from, is known colloquially as “stealthing”. It’s a term used to describe the act of removing a condom without a partner’s consent.”

The first article was published on June 27th: “I saw the condom on the floor – and realised I’d been ‘stealthed'”

Extract:

That’s when I noticed the condom lying on the floor. “Oh yeah, I wasn’t wearing it when I came,” he said, strolling back into the bedroom naked. “You should probably get the morning-after pill.”

I was sexually assaulted that day, though I didn’t know it at the time. Stealthing, as it’s colloquially known, is a crime in England. It is recognised by the Crown Prosecution Service as an example of a “conditional consent” case, whereby consent is granted under conditions that are then vitiated: I had consented to having protected sex with Sam, not unprotected sex.

Her second article appears in today’s Sunday Times: “Recognising being ‘stealthed’ as rape is shocking. After my story, women wanted to talk”

Discussing the reaction to her earlier article, Ms Petter writes,

There is nothing ambiguous about sexual assault – consent is either violated or it isn’t – but I’ve found that there tends to be a lot of ambiguity surrounding it. There are currently more than 260 online comments underneath my piece, and they’re mostly between people debating what does and does not constitute rape. One woman explained she felt that referring to stealthing as rape “dilutes” the experiences of others who may not have consented to any form of sexual contact. Others concurred that it “diminishes” other people’s experiences, while one person wrote that Sam deserved “a good sound thrashing”, but that calling his actions “rape” devalued the word’s definition.

I felt the above passage was a fair reflection of the two main strands of opinion in the comments, two strands that are not entirely in opposition to each other. All agree that as described, the behaviour of “Sam” was despicable and did violate Ms Petter’s consent.

But was it rape?

It depends what you mean by rape. That answer is not a cop-out. It is the only possible answer to that sort of definitional question, which is why that sort of question will be debated forever. It would do more good to ask something more specific like “Should it fall under the definition of rape in law?”

By the way, another question that can never be settled is whether transgender women really are women. It depends how you define the word “woman”. It often seems to me that there would be more scope for respectful compromise if people could agree to differ on the definition and get down to questions of what to do in difficult cases.

Returning to Olivia Petter’s article, I felt she lost her way in the next paragraph after the one I quoted above. She writes,

This debate highlights one of the key problems with regards to how we talk about sexual assault: that there is a spectrum of experiences, with “extreme” stories on one end, and ones that are somehow “lesser” on the other. It perpetuates the idea that some assaults are more worthy of our attention than others. Not only does this ignore the fact that sexual trauma of any kind can have lasting consequences for survivors, but it’s the very thing that stops people like Jess, Sally and myself from feeling like they have the right to say they’ve been raped when, under UK law, they have. And, as I know all too well, grappling with that feeling alongside sexual trauma can be incredibly isolating and, in some instances, means that the perpetrator is more likely to be vindicated, which may enable them to assault someone else.

Of course there is a spectrum of seriousness. Of course some experiences of sexual assault are extreme and some lesser – while still bad. Of course some assaults are more worthy of our attention than others. The most serious sexual assaults are most worthy of our attention, and the police’s attention, and the attention of judges, and the attention of those who provide support to victims, and the attention of lawmakers, and sociologists, and teachers, and parents, and media commentators, and of the public… and none of this in any way excuses the perpetrators or disrespects the victims of less extreme but still despicable violations of consent.

“The background and motive of yesterday’s attacks were unclear”

The above is a quote from a Times article with the title

“Three dead after knifeman goes on rampage in Bavarian city of Würzburg”.

At least three people were killed and several more injured in an apparent spree of stabbings in the Bavarian city of Würzburg.

A 24 year-old man from Somalia

There is more, but I have quoted the part relevant to what I want to say in this post. Almost every comment to the Times piece (those that have not been replaced with the phrase “This comment violated our policy”) sneers at the evasion. Journalists, please stop doing this “motives unclear” thing. It dos not decrease hostility towards Muslims, it increases it.

They have been playing this stupid game for a long time. I often find it illuminating to link back to old Samizdata posts that share a common theme with whatever I am posting about now. Here is one from 2011: “Two contrasting articles by Michael Tomasky on spree killers”. It feels like yesterday. For one mass-murderer Mr Tomasky wrote,

You don’t have to believe that alleged shooter, Jared Loughner, is a card-carrying Tea Party member (he evidently is not) to see some kind of connection between that violent rhetoric and what happened in Arizona on Saturday.

For the other,

We have much more to learn about Hasan before we can jump to any conclusions.

and

We should assume until it’s proven otherwise that Hasan was an American and a loyal one, who just snapped, as Americans of all ethnicities and backgrounds and political persuasions do.

To call it “Project Cassandra” was hubris

As soon as I saw it I thought of psychohistory. I was not alone, judging from the most recommended comment to this fascinating Guardian article:

‘At first I thought, this is crazy’: the real-life plan to use novels to predict the next war

An extract:

In one of his last reports to the defence ministry, towards the end of 2019, Wertheimer had drawn attention to an interesting development in the Caucasus. The culture ministry of Azerbaijan had recently supplied libraries in Georgia with books carrying explicit anti-Armenian messages, such as the works of poet Khalil Rza Uluturk. There were signs, he warned, that Azerbaijan was ramping up propaganda efforts in the brewing territorial conflict with its neighbouring former Soviet republic.

War broke out a year later: 6,000 soldiers and civilians died in a six-week battle over Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave of Azerbaijan populated by ethnic Armenians. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan used the war to bolster his strongman image, hailing Armenia’s defeat in December as a “glorious victory”. Russia, traditionally allied with Armenia, successfully leveraged the conflict to consolidate its influence in the region. Germany and the EU, meanwhile, looked on and stayed silent: being able to predict the future is one thing, knowing what to do with the information is another.

Ribbons tied in a bow

Eight days ago I posted about Marion Millar of Airdrie, Scotland, who was summoned to a police station for a compulsory interview over allegations that she had posted homophobic and transphobic tweets.

She has now been charged.

“Activist Marion Millar charged with sending homophobic and transphobic tweets”, reports the Times.

Marion Millar, 50, from Airdrie, was charged under the Malicious Communications Act for tweets published in 2019 and 2020. If convicted she faces up to two years in prison.

The messages investigated by officers are understood to include a retweeted photograph of a bow of ribbons in the green, white and purple colours of the Suffragettes, tied around a tree outside the Glasgow studio where a BBC soap opera is shot.

It is one at least six tweets reported to Police Scotland. The nature of the others is unclear. Millar, who owns an accountancy business, was bailed to appear at Glasgow sheriff court on July 20.

Her supporters said that the prosecution was an attack on the rights of women to express themselves.

Added later: The Times has turned off the comments to its account of the Marion Millar case, presumably for fear of committing contempt of court, so the readers have taken to making veiled allusions to it when commenting on other stories in the paper’s Scotland section.

A couple of the Scottish papers have also reported on the case:

Feminist campaigner charged with ‘hate crime’ – Tom Gordon in the Herald.

Woman charged with malicious communication over ‘transphobic’ tweet – Gina Davidson in the Scotsman.

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.

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.

How pausing the world leads to catastrophe

Well worth your time: