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]

A press gang there I chanced to meet

“Conservatives want to bring back mandatory national service”, reports the BBC:

Twelve months of mandatory national service would be reintroduced by the Conservatives if they win the general election.

Eighteen-year-olds would be able to apply for one of 30,000 full-time military placements or volunteering one weekend a month carrying out a community service.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he believed bringing back compulsory service across the UK would help foster the “national spirit” that emerged during the pandemic.

Back to the good old days:

As I walked out on London street
A press gang there I chanced to meet
They asked me if I would join the fleet
On board of a man-o-war, boys

They said that a sailor’s life was fine
Good comrades and good pay I’d find
They promised me a bloody good time,
On board of a man-o-war, boys

Traditional sea shanty

The press-ganged sailors of the Napoleonic wars often did fight well. That might have been due to their national spirit. Or it might have been due to the disciplinary methods detailed in the next two verses of the song:

But when I went, to my surprise
All they’d told me was shocking lies
There was a row and bloody old row
On board of a man-o-war, boys

The first thing they did, they took me in hand
And they flogged me with a tarry strand.
They flogged me till I couldn’t stand,
On board of a man-o-war, boys

The Home Secretary is already rowing back:

James Cleverly has insisted that “no one is going to jail” if they refuse to take part in National Service, but that the Tories would “compel” young people to participate.

Rishi Sunak last night vowed to create a mandatory scheme where school leavers will either have to enrol on a 12-month military placement or spend one weekend each month volunteering in their community.

But Mr Cleverly said that young people would not face any criminal sanctions if they did not take part.

Asked what would happen if someone said they didn’t want to engage, the Home Secretary told Trevor Phillips on Sky News: “There’s going to be no criminal sanction for this. No one’s going to jail over this…

“We want to make this compelling, we are going to compel people to do it, but also we want to make sure that it fits with different people’s aptitudes and aspirations.”

He added that “we force people to do things all the time” when pressed by the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg about whether he was comfortable as a Conservative forcing teenagers to do something.

He told the BBC: “We force 16-year-olds who, as a society, for example, we recognise are not fully formed, and they still require education. So the decision was made that they remain in education or training.

“So we force teenagers to be educated. No one argues with that.

I argue with it.

The Occupy Paradox is back, this time at Northwestern U

“Which is it? Do you want to occupy the public space to express your dissent and invoke your absolute right to speak? Or do you want to beat on anyone who then exists in that same space and invokes their absolute right to document it?”

– a tweet from David Simon referring to a video posted by Logan Schiciano with the accompanying text “Unfortunately some protesters at Northwestern’s newly-formed encampment weren’t too thrilled with us reporting” in which a masked protester assaults the person filming them.

Remember the “Occupy” movement? The Occupy Paradox is this: “Upon what basis can an Occupy protest ask someone to leave?”

… because “This is private property” or any other version of “You have no right to be here” are open to some fairly obvious ripostes.
“We were here first” – “Er, not quite first. The actual owners of the space were there before you.”
“We are the 99%” – “We’re poorer than you, you middle class ****-ers”
“We represent the 99%” – “Who voted for you, then?”
“We are the official accredited Occupiers” – “We refuse to be defined by your oppressive structures, and hereby declare ourselves to be Occupying this Occupation!”

Missile defence thoughts

Those who claim they are anti-war, and for peace (inverted commas stand ready for use), have in the past often had a rather curious hostility towards anti-missile defence systems. I remember that when Donald Rumsfeld was Defense Sec. in the US in the early noughties, his support for anti-missile defence (I am using the British spelling of defence, okay?) was seen as somehow problematic, a sign of what a fool he was, etc, etc.

Well, how the world turns. From the Wall Street Journal on Monday this week:

It’s no small irony that President Biden is hailing the success of missile and drone defenses over Israel. In the 1980s there was no more dedicated foe of missile defense than Sen. Joe Biden. Democrats have resisted or under-financed missile defenses for decades on grounds that they’re too expensive and too easily defeated by new technology.

Progressives oppose defenses because they think vulnerability somehow makes war less likely. On nuclear arms, the Union of Concerned Scientists and others prefer the doctrine of mutual-assured destruction to being able to shoot down enemy ICBMs.

Israel’s defenses proved how wrong this view is, displaying their practical and strategic value. If the more than 300 drones and ballistic and cruise missiles had reached their targets, Mr. Biden wouldn’t be able to say, as he told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday night, “take the win.” The mass casualties would have all but guaranteed a large-scale military escalation.

It seems to me that, if you are a small/minimal state sort of person, hostile to foreign interventionism (as much as of the domestic kind), and purely in favour of using force in response to the initiation of physical force, then having the ability to shoot down armed drones and ballistic missiles, fighter jets, etc, is in the same moral bracket as having locks on doors, or the freedom to carry concealed firearms, pepper spray, noise alarms, having a guard dog, a scary spouse, etc.

Here’s an item about the Iron Dome anti-missile system that Israel uses.

This article asserts that President Biden’s sceptical, even hostile approach, to missile defence goes back decades. In 2021, the Biden administration reportedly pullled a bunch of Patriot anti-missile systems from four Middle East nations.

The UK’s Royal Navy has a Sea Viper system to knock down drones. Here is an official release about such technology in the UK. The British Army has something called a Sky Sabre system.

So, Iran, what was all that about really?

A suggestion I have heard, made almost in jest but it might be true, was that Iran launching more than three hundred drones and missiles at Israel might have been intended as some weird form of de-escalation. The reasoning behind this theory is Iran knew perfectly well that the main effect of its attack would be to demonstrate just how good Israel’s air defences are, but that the expensive gesture would satisfy their own hawks without giving Israel any emotional reason to strike back.

I read somewhere that in nineteenth-century France most professional men could expect to be challenged to a duel at some time in their career. To refuse meant dishonour. To accept meant the prospect of death or serious injury, or the lesser but still significant unpleasantness of inflicting it on someone else. To deal with this problem the custom arose that by silent mutual agreement the splendid-looking duelling pistols used would have been made in very small calibres and taking only a tiny amount of black powder. When fired they produced a reasonable bang which carried with it enough prospect of doing harm to satisfy the honour of the duellists – but in practice wearing a thick woollen overcoat was usually enough to deflect the slow-moving ball.

Perhaps Iran was, or thought it was, acting like one of those duellists. If so, we shall have to see whether Israel is on board with the “silent mutual agreement” part of the analogy.

What do you think?

Discussion point: Russia’s destruction of the Trypillya thermal power plant

“Key power plant near Kyiv destroyed by Russian strikes”, the BBC reported yesterday.

There are several different English spellings of the name of the power plant and the place where it is situated. I have seen Trypillya, Trypillia, Trypilska and Tripilska. However one spells it, the thermal power plant was the largest electricity provider for three regions including Kyiv.

I’m not going to sugar-coat it: this is a heavy blow to Ukraine. What happens next? Given that it has worked well for them, we must assume that the Russians will repeat the same tactic. But two can can play at that game – if they are allowed to.

“A Palestinian writer”

The above tweet from Amnesty International is still up. In case it disappears, here is the text:

Amnesty International
@amnesty
The death in custody of Walid Daqqa, a 62-year-old Palestinian writer who was the longest-serving Palestinian prisoner in Israeli jails after 38 years of imprisonment, is a cruel reminder of Israel’s disregard for Palestinians’ right to life

From amnesty.org
Last edited
6:39 PM · Apr 8, 2024

The tweet calls Walid Daqqa “a Palestinian writer”, as if he had been imprisoned for his writings – as if he were the sort of prisoner of conscience on whose behalf I used to write letters on that special blue Air Mail paper, back when I was a member of Amnesty International.

To be fair, although you would never guess it from their tweet, the linked article by Amnesty does make perfunctory mention of the non-literary crime that caused Walid Daqqa to be put in prison:

On 25 March 1986, Israeli forces arrested Walid Daqqah, then 24, a Palestinian citizen of Israel. In March 1987, an Israeli military court sentenced him to life imprisonment after convicting him of commanding the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)-affiliated group that had abducted and killed Israeli soldier Moshe Tamam in 1984.

Perhaps concerned about her wordcount, Amnesty’s writer, Erika Guevara-Rosas, did not say much about Moshe Tamam. She cited Walid Daqqa’s youthful age at the time, 24, but did not see fit to say that his victim Moshe Tamam was just 19. And she skips over some relevant details in that brief word “killed”. Daqqa and his PFLP comrades did not just kill Moshe Tamam, they tortured him to death. They gouged out his eyes and castrated him. Then they murdered him.

But Ms Guevara-Rosas found space in her article to write most eloquently about Walid Daqqa:

During his time in prison, Walid Daqqah wrote extensively about the Palestinian lived experience in Israeli prisons. He acted as a mentor and educator for generations of young Palestinian prisoners, including children. His writings, which included letters, essays, a celebrated play and a novel for young adults, were an act of resistance against the dehumanization of Palestinian prisoners. “Love is my modest and only victory against my jailer,” he once wrote.

Walid Daqqah’s writings behind bars are a testament to a spirit never broken by decades of incarceration and oppression.

Cold machines versus hot blood

“The machine did it coldly: Israel used AI to identify 37,000 Hamas targets” – that is the title of a Guardian piece on Israel’s use of the “Lavender” AI-assisted targeting system.

The Israeli military’s bombing campaign in Gaza used a previously undisclosed AI-powered database that at one stage identified 37,000 potential targets based on their apparent links to Hamas, according to intelligence sources involved in the war.

In addition to talking about their use of the AI system, called Lavender, the intelligence sources claim that Israeli military officials permitted large numbers of Palestinian civilians to be killed, particularly during the early weeks and months of the conflict.

Their unusually candid testimony provides a rare glimpse into the first-hand experiences of Israeli intelligence officials who have been using machine-learning systems to help identify targets during the six-month war.

Israel’s use of powerful AI systems in its war on Hamas has entered uncharted territory for advanced warfare, raising a host of legal and moral questions, and transforming the relationship between military personnel and machines.

“This is unparalleled, in my memory,” said one intelligence officer who used Lavender, adding that they had more faith in a “statistical mechanism” than a grieving soldier. “Everyone there, including me, lost people on October 7. The machine did it coldly. And that made it easier.”

The article, by Bethan McKernan and Harry Davies, contains several howlers such as a reference to “the shockingly high death toll in the war”. Even if I believed Hamas casualty figures, which I do not, the death toll in this war is shockingly low. The Allied bombing of Dresden probably killed more people over three nights than have died over six months of the current Israeli-Hamas war.

Nonetheless, as the quoted passage shows, the authors have pointed out that one of the benefits to humanity of AI targeting in war is that it takes the immediate decision to kill out of the hands of humans.

And puts it… where exactly? I am all in favour of targeted killing, if the alternative is untargeted killing. I am in favour of the decision to kill being made according to rational military and legal criteria agreed openly in advance, if the alternative is the decision being made in a split second by someone who is angry and afraid. But I share the writers’ disquiet at the idea of the process of war becoming detached from human control entirely.

What is your view?

This is a real Police Scotland campaign aimed at adults

Have you met the hate monster?

Have you met the Hate Monster?
The Hate Monster, represents that feeling some people get when they are frustrated and angry and take it out on others, because they feel like they need to show they are better than them. In other words, they commit a hate crime.

The Hate Monster loves it when you get angry. He weighs you down till you end up targeting someone, just because they look or act different to you.

When you’re feeling insecure or angry, the Hate Monster feeds on that.

Why do some people let the Hate Monster in?
We know that young men aged 18-30 are most likely to commit hate crime, particularly those from socially excluded communities who are heavily influenced by their peers.

They may have deep-rooted feelings of being socially and economically disadvantaged, combined with ideas about white-male entitlement.

Hurt people, hurt people
Committing hate crime is strongly linked to a range of risk factors including economic deprivation, adverse childhood experiences, substance abuse and under-employment. Those who grow up in abusive environments can become addicted to conflict.

Don’t let the Hate Monster rule your life
If you have committed or feel you are at risk of committing a hate crime, remember, it doesn’t make you feel better. Maybe for a moment, but in the end, you feel worse. The hate lingers. It can really mess up your life in other ways too, like when it comes to things like finding a job. A police record for hate crime is not a good look on anyone.

Go on, be good to yourself. Don’t feed the Hate Monster.

Watch award-winning stand-up, Liam Farrelly, lead a discussion about the impact of hate.

What to do if you see the hate monster
If you experience hate crime, report it.

If you are a witness to hate crime, report it.

Find out more about the different ways you can make a report.

The official hate monster video would have been perfectly acceptable for primary schools to show to pupils in their PSHE lessons. But if Police Scotland’s idea of a message for adults is “The Hate Monster loves it when you get angry”, I dread to think what the kids’ version is like…

I tawt I taw a hatey monster!

I did! I did! I taw a hatey monster!

Hatey watey monster said hatey tings. Hatey monster said bad tings ’bout all lotsa peepuw coz of pwotected kawactewistic. Hatey monster said, “They may have deep-rooted feelings of being socially and economically disadvantaged, combined with ideas about white-male entitlement.”

How will you be celebrating International Women’s Day?

The name of the woman being led into captivity in this picture is Naama Levy. The photo was taken to celebrate her capture.

What happens when a “social contract” breaks down?

In political theory, an idea that got going in the 18th Century was that of the “social contract”, and to this day, writers can sometimes raise the idea that there is an implicit/explicit “deal” that we enter into (stay with me, dear reader) to give up certain qualities or freedom of action in return to some greater overall result. An example used to justify the “Nightwatchman State” of minarchist dreams might be the “contract” in which citizens give up the ability to go after criminals, or those they think are criminals, and instead submit to the powers of policemen and women to do this, or to sub-contract this role to approved private police, etc, and with all the due process of a legal system (details don’t matter, it could have juries, or not, investigative magistrates, or not). The police, so the argument goes, go after suspected wrongdoers and also deter wrongdoing, and the citizens pay a tax to the police, and the territory in which this operates is safer and more tranquil than would otherwise be the case. (Not all liberals/libertarians like the social contract theory, such as Jacob Levy. Robert Nozick did not show much time for it in his Anarchy, State and Utopia, if I recall.)

Well, like all contracts, there can be a point at which one side has so abandoned its side of the deal that the contract loses its legitimacy.

Example from today’s Daily Telegraph (£):

Police have failed to solve a single burglary in nearly half of all neighbourhoods in England and Wales in the past three years despite pledging to attend the scene of every domestic break-in to boost detection rates.

It’s unsurprising that those who can afford it are buying more elaborate security, that domestic household insurance rates are rising fast, and so on. As with the dysfunctional National Health Service, I wonder at what point the penny drops on a lot of the public that they are being defrauded on this “contract”, and demand change?

Here is an explicitly libertarian take on policing.

Slightly off-topic from policing, is a reminder of this book from more than a decade ago, by Joyce Lee Malcolm, about the UK, US, and the very different approaches to handguns and self defence over the decades.

Another reminder of why anonymity is sometimes necessary, this time from Sweden

I missed this article when it came out in the Observer (the Guardian‘s Sunday sister-paper) three weeks ago: ‘People are scared’: “Sweden’s freedom of information laws lead to wave of deadly bombings”

In a night in September, as summer was turning to autumn, Soha Saad dozed off on the sofa as she stayed up late studying. The 24-year-old, who lived in a quiet village near the Swedish university town of Uppsala with her parents and siblings, had recently graduated as a teacher, a career she was passionate about, and had big dreams for the future.

But in the early hours of the morning, all of that hope came to an end. An explosion ripped through their home, removing the windows and walls, and ending Soha’s life.

She is not thought to have been the intended target of September’s bomb attack – reports at the time said it could have been a neighbour related to a gang member – but was an innocent victim with no connections to gang violence.

With typical cowardice, the Observer article does not mention that the sharp increase in violence in Sweden is almost entirely driven by immigrants, mostly from the Middle East, and to a lesser extent from the Balkans. How does anyone think a problem can be solved if it cannot even be mentioned? In other respects, Miranda Bryant’s article was a good piece of journalism, highlighting how something that was for centuries considered a valuable freedom in Swedish society has become dangerous for many:

In recent years, Sweden has been caught in the grip of escalating gang conflict involving shootings and explosions – largely driven by drug trafficking, involving firearms and bombs. September was the worst month for fatal shootings in Sweden since 2016, with 11 deaths, and 2023 saw the most explosions per year to date.

The Moderate party-run coalition – supported by the far-right Sweden Democrats – have pledged to take action by sending more young people to prison and giving police more powers to search people and vehicles. But with younger and younger people being pulled into crime, turning them into “child soldiers”, the violence is showing little sign of stopping.

The explosions – usually targeting rival gang members and their families – often contain dynamite or gunpowder-based substances, according to police. Hand grenades have also been used.

In most countries, tracking down the address of a potential victim could be a laborious process. But not in Sweden, where it is possible to find out the address and personal details of just about anybody with a single Google search. Experts say criminals are being greatly helped by a 248-year-old law, forming part of Sweden’s constitution.

The 1776 freedom of the press act (tryckfrihetsförordningen) – a revered feature of Swedish society that gives everyone access to official records – marked the world’s first law regulating the right to free speech; the documents are protected on Unesco’s Memory of the World register.

“Public access to information is a fundamental principle in Sweden’s form of government,” according to the Swedish Institute for Human Rights (SIHR). “One of the fundamental laws, the Freedom of the Press Act, contains provisions on the right to access official documents. According to this rule all documents available at an authority are in principle open for the public.”

I can see why Swedes want to keep their traditional tryckfrihetsförordningen. My previous post mentioned the “Streisand Effect” with very little sympathy for Barbra Streisand’s famously counter-productive effort to keep information about her residence out of the public domain. Maybe I should have shown more. Being a libertarian does not oblige me to defend to the hilt everything which has the word “freedom” on it, and it does seem to me that, given how much easier it is for a criminal to track down a victim nowadays than it was in 1776, the freedom not to have one’s name appear in public government records ought be given more weight in Sweden and elsewhere.

The condition of New York’s subway system is not the price of freedom, it is the price of voting for left wing Democrats

“I hate this framing because the “freedom” vs “order” tradeoff is not real. Russia has a higher homicide rate than the US. life there is shorter and more violent. if you’re choosing between freedom and order autocracy will get you neither”

Seva Gunitsky is referring to Jon Stewart telling Tucker Carlson that the reason why the US ‘can’t have clean functioning subways or cheap grocery prices like they do in Moscow is “the literal price of freedom”‘.

I am sure Jon Stewart would decline with horror an offer to work as one of Putin’s worldwide army of propagandists. But Putin does not need to make the offer when Stewart and many others are spreading his message for free.

Many working people who currently have no choice but to endure the aggressive begging, foul smells, and frequent violence in the subway systems in New York and other U.S. cities run by progressive democrats would count freedom (a political abstraction that they are constantly being told is an outdated white patriarchal construct) as an acceptable price to exchange for getting to go to work in something more like the gleaming Moscow Metro.

Sure, they would eventually realise that they made a poor bargain. A Professor Gunitsky says, the cleanliness and order of the Moscow subway is like one room of a generally filthy house that is obsessively kept clean in order to impress visitors. → Continue reading: The condition of New York’s subway system is not the price of freedom, it is the price of voting for left wing Democrats