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]

April fool, suckers! It was me all along!

French literati embarrassed after Marxist hero admits to murders

An anguished debate has erupted among French intellectuals after an Italian Marxist whom they lionised as a victim of oppression and injustice confessed to being a murderer.

Cesare Battisti, 64, a former member of the Armed Proletarians for Communism…

Who could have guessed that a member of Armed Proletarians for Communism might have been violent?

…embarrassed the French literati who were his most ardent defenders when he admitted last week to a series of killings and knee-cappings in Italy in the late 1970s.

Battisti lived openly in France for 14 years from 1990 despite having been convicted in his absence in Italy of carrying out two murders and aiding and abetting two others. He earned a living as a crime writer, a television scriptwriter and an occasional contributor to Playboy.

When a French court upheld an Italian extradition request in 2004, authors, artists, philosophers and politicians sprang to his defence. They denounced Italian justice as biased, proclaimed his innocence — even though he refused to do so explicitly for many years — and said that he should be able to live freely in France.

Battisti fled to Brazil then Bolivia.

…but was arrested there in January and extradited to Italy. Under questioning he not only admitted to the crimes but said that he had “never been a victim of injustice”. He went on to say that his backers had been interested only in his ideology and not in his innocence or guilt.

Ho ho, what a joke. Except for the people he murdered and their families.

Samizdata quote of the day

Forty-one were killed at the Dean Ave. mosque, the first one that was targeted, where the murderer had plenty of time and at one point returned to his vehicle to reload. There were only seven killed at the Linwood mosque because one of the worshippers was armed.

– John Hinderaker, Observations on Christchurch, referencing this article in the New Zealand Herald. (Via Instapundit.)

Edit: When I read the NZ Herald report quoted by John Hinderaker it said the following:

A second shooting happened at a mosque in the Linwood area of the city.

One Friday prayer goer returned fire with a rifle or shotgun.

Witnesses said they heard multiple gunshots around 1.45 pm.

A well known Muslim local chased the shooters and fired two shots at them as they sped off.

He was heard telling police officers he was firing in “self defence”.

However as Hinderaker said in his very next sentence, “Early reports of catastrophic events like these always turn out to be wrong in some respects” and several later accounts such as this one in the UK Telegraph say that a worshipper, Abdul Aziz, grabbed one of the killer’s own abandoned weapons, tried to fire it but found it empty, but then used it to smash Tarrant’s windscreen. (Tarrant had gone back to his car to get more weapons or ammunition.) The Telegraph and other sources quote Mr Aziz as saying that it was because the windscreen shattered that Tarrant got scared. I presume Tarrant thought the gun had been fired and could be used against him, since I cannot see why the threat of being hit with a blunt object would cause an armed man in the middle of a murder spree to break it off and flee.

Thanks to SkippyTony and John Galt for pointing this out. As John Galt says, “Presumably the now disarmed New Zealand public should go looking for guns dropped by active shooters in future events.”

True but not the point

“Police waste too much time over silly spats”, writes Clare Foges in the Times. (Paywalled, but I will quote all the bits that matter.)

But perhaps the most time-sucking of new developments has been the resources spent on hate incidents and online crime. Last year it was reported that in 2015-16, 30 police forces dealt with 11,236 hate incidents which were too trivial to be classed as crimes; one every half hour. Among those lodging complaints were a man who claimed a tennis umpire had made racist line-calls against his daughter, a woman who was told that she looked like Peter Griffin from the cartoon Family Guy, and a person who felt a man had stood “intimidatingly” close because she was “a non-conforming gender-specific lesbian in a wheelchair”.

Instead of realising the folly of all this, the National Police Chiefs’ Council responded by restating that “those feeling vulnerable should report any incident of hate crime to the police”. The trouble is that hate crime is astonishingly subjective. The official definition is “any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice”.

The College of Policing states that “for recording purposes, the perception of the victim, or any other person, is the defining factor in determining whether an incident is a hate incident . . . Evidence of the hostility is not required.” In other words, any crackpot or attention seeker who feels victimised, regardless of the “offence”, may go to the police.

Sucking up police time on “hate” incidents in the offline world is bad enough, but in the past couple of years the police have been expected to protect us online too. In 2017 the Crown Prosecution Service announced that online hate crimes should be treated as seriously as those committed face to face. This has led us to ludicrous cases like that of Kate Scottow, who last December was arrested in front of her children by three police officers and detained for seven hours. Her crime? Calling a transgender woman on Twitter a man.

In 2017 this paper reported that police were arresting nine people a day in the fight against web trolls, a rise of nearly 50 per cent in just three years. The arrests were made under the Communications Act 2003, which makes it illegal to intentionally “cause annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another” with online posts. Annoyance? Inconvenience? Given the cesspit of spite that social media has become, we can only imagine how many are being arrested today.

Commissioner Dick was criticised when she said that focusing on violent crime must be the over-riding priority for police, over misogynistic abuse, over fraud, even over catching those who view indecent material online. “We can’t go on increasing the scale of the mission, unless we are given more resources, or the public is prepared for us to do some things not very well.” No one wants to give a free ride to certain offenders. But in a world of finite resources there cannot be a bobby on every corner as well as bobbies to guard the good name of the Duchess of Sussex and bobbies to police every spat on social media. There aren’t enough resources for this and never will be.

I do not disagree with any of the arguments Ms Foges makes. But I think she is missing something rather important…

Update: I have decided to stop being coy and just say what I think the problem with Clare Foges’ piece is. She talks as if the main thing wrong with the police “increasing the scale of the mission” (as Commissioner Cressida Dick puts it) to encompass the policing of spats on social media is that it wastes police time. So it does, but the scandal of the arrest of Kate Scottow for calling a transgender woman a man on Twitter did not lie in the time wasted by the three officers who bravely took on that mission. It lay in the violation of Kate Scottow’s liberty.

Due process of law is just so 19th Century

As some in the US will know there have been moves to ensure that when a university/college student (usually male) is accused of rape or some other form of sexual assault, the matter must be handled by a court of law, not simply for the accused to be put in front of some sort of academic panel and, without even hearing from an accuser or with a chance to challenge the version of events, can be expelled, and hence ruined for life. (Here are comments from a while ago from Tim Worstall.)

UK journalist and documentary-maker Louis Theroux thinks that when a person is acquitted by a court of law, that’s not the end of the matter. Perhaps he is a bit fuzzy on his understanding of the law of libel. When I trained as a reporter, I distinctly remember that articles about a person who was acquitted of sex assault must never imply that somehow the verdict was, you know, not the end of the matter and that X or Y was probably a bit dodgy, to be shunned and avoided, etc. (In reality, of course, social ostracism is still a factor and people who are thought of as “having got away with it” might find their lives get more difficult. To some extent that’s inevitable.)

Anyway, here he writes:

“There are two different standards. There’s a criminal standard in which you go to prison, but just because you haven’t been found guilty of a crime doesn’t mean that you haven’t done anything wrong – that you haven’t made someone very uncomfortable and possible committed a gross violation.”

Theroux says that just because a person has been acquitted by a jury does not mean there aren’t problems. Well, up to a point. The reason we have juries, due process, burdens of proof, etc, is because it is considered better to avoid innocent people being wrongly accused of crimes, even if it means a criminal goes free. Given how emotions can and do run high, risks of mistrials are large. (This is arguably even more so when public figures are implicated.)

The fact that universities and other entities hold less onerous tests of guilt than courts is not something to celebrate and at the very least, a student who joins a university should be made aware that they could be accused of bad conduct, expelled, and so on, even if their case does not go to court. That’s unlikely to encourage people to go to these places, particularly in the current climate where men are presumed to be “toxic”. (It is worth adding that recruits to the armed forces can go to a court martial that holds slightly different standards to a civilian court, at least under the English Common Law, and that recruits are to some extent waiving due process protections by signing the dotted line. Maybe a student should be asked to do the same.)

Theroux takes what I think is a rather odd turn in arguing that maybe sex assault/rape should not be such serious offences so it would be okay to bypass the courts and still get the perpetrators. I think I have got that right:

“If you define rape very, very narrowly – as it was, someone being dragged behind a bush – it kind of gives license to anyone who sexually assaults someone in a way that’s not as bad as that to sort of say ‘Well, I’m not a rapist’.

One of the signs that we live in mad times is the way that the bar is being lowered, it seems, as far as accusations of ill conduct are concerned and over how traditional checks and balances over this are being eroded. The erosion is being called for in plain sight. And scarily, there appears to be relatively little objection to this.

Discussion point: the fate of the ISIS bride

What do you think should be done with her?

Former MI6 director says schoolgirl who joined Isis should be ‘given a chance’

Although Shamima Begum has shown no remorse, Richard Barrett says Britain should be strong enough to reabsorb her

A pregnant British teenager who fled to Syria with two schoolfriends to marry an Islamic State fighter should be “given a chance” and allowed to come home, a former director of global counter-terrorism at MI6 has said.

Describing Shamima Begum as “a 15-year-old who went badly off the rails”, Richard Barrett said British society should be strong enough to reabsorb her, despite her lack of contrition. By contrast, he said the immediate reaction of the British government “has been a complete lack of concern for her plight”.

Begum fled her home in Bethnal Green, east London, with two schoolfriends to join Isis fighters in Syria in 2015. Interviewed this week in a refugee camp in the north of the country after fleeing Isis’s last stronghold, she told the Times that she was nine months pregnant and had fled the fighting after her two other children had died. “I’ll do anything required just to be able to come home and live quietly with my child,” she said.

Those words do get my sympathy. The next ones, less so:

She did not regret going to Syria, she told the newspaper, and expressed support for the murder of journalists, whom she said had been “a security threat for the caliphate”. Seeing a severed head in a bin “didn’t faze me at all”, she said, adding that her husband had surrendered to a group of Syrian fighters.

You and whose army?

Here is my cunning plan to avoid a hard border in Ireland.

Don’t build one.

The UK doesn’t want it, Ireland doesn’t want it. Problem solved, I’d have thought, but the EU does not agree:

No-deal Brexit would mean hard Irish border, EU confirms

The EU has injected further pressure into the Brexit talks by confirming it will enforce a hard border on the island of Ireland in the event of a no-deal outcome, despite the risk this would pose to peace.

It will enforce? Er, with whose… personnel will that be done?

A crime control measure from the new president of Brazil

PJ Media, quotes the Wall Street Journal, to the effect that in Brazil, the new far-right (meaning: not-left) President is going to crack down on gun crime by allowing the law-abiding citizens of Brazil to have guns too, to defend themselves. At present, Brazilian citizens are defenceless against armed criminals.

This news did not surprise me. I had the pleasure of hosting an excellent talk about recent political dramas in Brazil, given last November by Tamiris Loureiro and Bruno Nardi, Brazilian libertarians who now live and work in London. They flagged up this policy then.

It will be interesting to see how this defiance of conventional expertise will work out. Experts say: badly. But they would, wouldn’t they? Root causes of gun crime, blah blah. My prediction is: well.

Discussion point: what to do about drones being used to disrupt air travel?

According to the BBC, ‘persons of interest’ have been identified as responsible for flying the drone or drones that shut down Gatwick airport. As it gradually became clear that this was going on too long to be the work of careless hobbyists or malicious pranksters, the profile of the crime (it disrupted air travel but did not kill anyone) made me think that “climate justice” activists might be responsible. The BBC article says that is indeed one of the lines of enquiry being pursued. Still, let us be no more hasty to jump to conclusions or to blame every environmentalist in existence for the possible crimes of one of their number than we would like them to be next time someone loosely describable as “on our side” commits a crime.

The more urgent problem is that now whoever it was has demonstrated the method, anyone can copy it.

Technically and legally what can be done to stop a repetition? What should be done? What should not be? If you are one of those who have enjoyed flying drones in a responsible manner, or who is developing ways to use drones for emergency or commercial use, start work on your arguments now, because, trust me, the calls to BAN ALL DRONES NOW are going to be loud.

Always wait for the police

“Police need public support to arrest violent offenders”, says Ken Marsh, the chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, effectively the trade union for London police officers.

[Marsh] spoke out after video footage appearing to show two officers locked in a violent struggle as they tried to make an arrest was shared thousands of times on social media.

The footage, taken in south London on Saturday, appeared to show a male officer being dragged around in the road as he tries to stop a suspect in a white tracksuit running away.

A second man, wearing a grey tracksuit, seems to take a run-up before aiming a flying kick at a female officer, who then lies dazed in the road clutching her head, feet away from a passing bus. She appeared to have tried to use incapacitant spray on the pair but to no effect.

A member of the public wearing a motorcycle helmet helped the male officer in the struggle, but several cars went past without stopping.

“Are we now in a society where, if we think we can’t detain somebody, we just let them go? It’s just not worth it,” said Marsh, who represents thousands of police officers in the capital.

Yes. Yes we are. And if anyone wonders how we got to this pass in which the public do not step in to help police officers when the latter attempt to restrain lawbreakers, try repeating Mr Marsh’s question without the implication that “we” refers only to the police:

“Are we now in a society where, if we think we can’t detain somebody, we just let them go? It’s just not worth it,” said the public.

This state of affairs was a long time a-growing. Though I do not know Ken Marsh’s own views upon this issue, how many times have prominent police officers and other figures of authority deprecated, failed to support, actively condemned, arrested or otherwise punished members of the public who “took the law into their own hands” – or even just looked like they might? That last link takes you to a post from 2011 by Perry de Havilland in which a female victim of crime got “quite the life lesson” about police priorities. That lesson will not only have been taken in by her.

Longtime Samizdata readers might recall a little ditty I made in 2007 about a celebrated interview between the radio host Jeremy Vine and Tony McNulty MP, then a Home Office minister. Here is the BBC’s transcription:

Jeremy Vine: You see something happening in the street. Do you step in?

Tony McNulty: I think the general line must be to get in touch with the authorities straight and make sure that if things are as bad as you paint the police will be there as quickly as they can.

Jeremy: You see a young man looking aggressive, shouting at an old woman, what do you do? You retreat and ring the police?

Tony McNulty: I think you should in the first instance. It may well be the simply shouting at them, blowing your horn or whatever else deters them and they go away.

Jeremy: He’s now hitting her and the police haven’t come, what do you do then?

Tony McNulty: The same the same, you must always …

Jeremy: Still wait?

Tony McNulty: Get back to the police, try some distractive activities whatever else.

Jeremy: What jump up and down?

Tony McNulty: But I would say you know sometimes that that may well work.

Even if someone is being battered right in front of you, you must always wait for the police. That was the advice of a Minister of the Crown. Having drilled us in passivity for at least ten years (in fact much longer; that example is only one of many I could have cited), why would anyone expect ordinary citizens to suddenly rediscover the duty to defend a victim of assault just because that victim is a police officer?

Update: Here is some more recent advice from the police themselves: “Taking the law into your own hands – a warning from Derbyshire police”

That article does at least acknowledge that it is possible to make a citizen’s arrest and – mirabile dictu – records that Judge Jonathan Bennett awarded £400 from the Derbyshire High Sheriff’s fund to a man who made a citizen’s arrest of a burglar in recognition of “public spirited behaviour”. But note the response of the only police officer quoted:

Sergeant Graham Summers, of Derbyshire police, said: “We would never encourage anyone to take the law into their own hands by carrying out a citizen’s arrest. Instead, we would urge people to call us on 101 for non-emergencies, or 999 in an emergency.”

Two discussion points inspired by Stephen Wolfram

The first one is straightforward. The internet threw me a talk by the computer scientist and businessman Stephen Wolfram today. It lasts three minutes 21 seconds and is called “How humans can communicate with aliens”.The subject is one that has so often been used as the basis for fiction that we sometimes forget that when you look up at night, what you see is real. There is a whole universe out there. It might have intelligences in it. Mr Wolfram contends that we might have been seeing evidence of intelligences all the time without realising it.

Do you think he is right? And assuming we can talk to them, should we?

Alien contact sounds wonderful at first but then becomes terrifying as you think more deeply. The second topic for discussion I want to put forward sounds terrifying at first but then becomes –

Well, you tell me what it becomes. There is a very strange final paragraph to Mr Wolfram’s Wikipedia page:

Personal analytics

The significance data has on the products Wolfram creates transfers into his own life. He has an extensive log of personal analytics, including emails received and sent, keystrokes made, meetings and events attended, phone calls, even physical movement dating back to the 1980s. He has stated “[personal analytics] can give us a whole new dimension to experiencing our lives”.

One of my recurring nightmares is that as spy devices get smaller and the computational power available to analyse what they learn gets bigger someone – or lots of someones – will be able to analyse my life in that sort of detail, down to every keystroke I make. It had never occurred to me to think of it as something I might like to do to myself.

Does anyone reading this do anything similar? Would you like to?

Leadership in Elizabeth’s Britain

Recent testimony from a former Acting Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Sir Craig Mackey indicates that he was present as one of his officers was stabbed to death during the Westminster Bridge attack, and sat in his car and locked the doors, and took advice from his subordinates as to what, if anything, to do. Holding, in an acting capacity, the most important policing role in the UK, he did not get out of the car, in which he was a passenger, to intervene, nor, AFAIK, did he suggest that the car be used as a weapon. Of course, it is much easier for any one of us to sit as armchair strategists as to what we might have done, but would we continue in office and look forward to collecting pensions had we been in Sir Craig’s unscuffed shoes?

Sir Craig told jurors it was his ‘instinct’ to get out of the car, but was in a short-sleeved shirt with no equipment following (a) ministerial meeting. ‘I was conscious my two colleagues were not police officers. If anyone had got out, the way this Masood was looking, anyone who got in his way would have been a target,’ he said. ‘I think anyone who came up against that individual would have faced serious, serious injury, if not death.’

He is right, PC Keith Palmer, an unarmed police officer, was murdered in front of the eyes of his then ultimate commander. An armed officer who was co-incidentally nearby was then able to shoot and kill the terrorist Khalid Masood. Presumably Sir Craig did not see it, on balance, as his responsibility to intervene.

The inquest… …heard that Sir Craig, then acting Scotland Yard chief, and his colleagues locked the car doors because they had ‘no protective equipment and no radio’.

Some have criticised Sir Craig, alleging cowardice. The Daily Mail highlights the contrast with a junior Transport Police officer who fought the London Bridge attackers.

So it’s not impossible these days to find brave people in public service, but what rises to the top? Is the process like flatulence in a bath?

In the last summer of George VI’s reign, a relatively junior RAF officer, Flt-Lt John Quinton DFC gave away the only parachute he had to save a young Air Cadet he was training at the cost of his life: The ultimate zenith of courage and leadership. I am reminded of a quote I read about being a Lieutenant in the (IIRC Imperial) German Army.

To live your life as a Lieutenant is to life your life as an example to your men. Dying as an example is thus part of it‘.

Grim, but accurate. In living memory, examples such as the Royal Navy destroyer Acasta, turning to face the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau in June 1940, and earlier HMS Rawalpindi, whose Captain Kennedy reportedly announced, in the hope of delaying his attackers to let a larger force get them’We shall stand and fight them both, and we shall be sunk, and that will be that. Goodbye.‘. Chilling, but, in the overall scheme of things, better than surrendering and strengthening the enemy.

Sir Craig did what was, to him, undoubtedly the right thing, all his years of service and significant salary did not come with a payback clause, or if they did, it was binding in honour only. He did not breach health and safety law for himself or his companions.

Sir Craig did not take the substantive job of Commissioner, that went to the officer who managed the hunt for a terrorist that turned into the shooting of an innocent Brazilian electrician. This was found to be a crime, in terms of a breach of Health and Safety, but this was no bar to getting the top job, after all, it was a corporate failing, not anything that anyone was to be held responsible for.

Of course, in WW1, we had epic failures on land and sea that seemed to go unpunished. It’s just that these days, it seems almost to be too much to expect leadership by example from our public ‘servants’. What sort of descent has it been for the UK, when the Queen’s first Prime Minister was Churchill, and now it is May, with Corbyn waiting in the wings? Has this pattern set, or followed, the trend? If this trend is irreversible, surely the only answer is that this is yet another reason to reduce the public sector.

This is not terrorism

A bunch of lefty protesters are on trial at Chelmsford Crown Court.

Care ye not? You should. I have been banging on a lot about the degradation of norms of justice and law that had once seemed securely established. One particular aspect of these protesters’ trial is a disgrace. See if you can spot what it is:

Activists accused of blocking Stansted flight go on trial over terror charge

Fifteen activists who locked themselves together around an immigration removal charter flight to prevent its departure from Stansted and displayed a banner proclaiming “mass deportations kill” have gone on trial charged with a terrorist offence.

Jurors at Chelmsford crown court heard how the members of the campaign group End Deportations used lock-on devices to secure themselves around the Boeing 767, chartered by the Home Office, as it waited on the tarmac at the Essex airport to remove undocumented migrants to Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone.

The activists have said they acted to prevent human rights abuses from taking place and have received high-profile political backing. However, they are accused of putting the safety of the airport and passengers at risk and causing serious disruption to international air travel. If convicted, they could face potential life imprisonment.

Oh, poot, I forgot to hide spoilers. Never mind. You’d have guessed it anyway. Come to think of it, the title of this post was a bit of a clue.

Protesters who mess around with airport security do not immediately gain my sympathy. Not only do they screw over blameless travellers, many of whom will have had to scrimp and save for their holiday, the prosecuting counsel made a decent point when he said,

“In order to deal with this incursion, a number of armed officers already at Stansted had to down-arm, thus reducing the capacity of police to carry out their duties at the terminal,” he said. “Had another major incident occurred at the terminal at the same time, the police resources able to respond to it would have been reduced.”

But to pretend that to give an (imaginary) terrorist attack that might have happened that day (but didn’t) an infinitesimally higher (but still purely theoretical) chance to succeed is terrorism … that is indecent.

Anyone else remember the expulsion of Walter Wolfgang from the Labour party conference in 2005? They chucked him out for heckling Jack Straw. Then it sunk in that he was old and emerged that he had come to this country as a Jewish refugee from Hitler, and Labour fell over themselves in their haste to apologise. I said at the time that I saw no reason why they should apologise for ejecting a heckler. The thing they needed to apologise for was far more serious than that:

Buried in the story and not, at first, attracting much comment was one thing that left me flabbergasted. For this Tony Blair and his entire government should get down on their knees and humbly beg forgiveness, swearing at the same time not to rest until the harm they have allowed to flourish is undone:

Police later used powers under the Terrorism Act to prevent Mr Wolfgang’s re-entry, but he was not arrested.

There was a wee fuss about the role of anti-terror powers against Wolfgang at the time, but the point about the blatant abuse of powers that we had been assured would only be used against dangerous fanatics out to commit mass murder was lost amid all the other issues. Because this tactic was not challenged strongly when it was first tried, it became widespread. We have reached a point where half of councils use anti-terror laws to spy on ‘bin crimes’. I don’t recall that possiblity being mentioned in the Parliamentary debates about the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.

Now this bloated definition of terrorism threatens life imprisonment to people who are not terrorists.