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]

EU “chat control”

Let me start by saying that I am no techie and I do not understand exactly what the EU are proposing with this law. Perhaps I am getting steamed up about nothing. But it sounds horrible. I first read about this topic via a link from Reddit Europe to a post from the blog of a Swedish VPN service called Mullvad. The original Swedish version first appeared as an article in the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet. The English version follows: “Stop the proposal on mass surveillance of the EU”

The European Commission is currently in the process of enacting a law called Chat control. If the law goes into effect, it will mean that all EU citizens’ communications will be monitored and listened to.

This text was originally published as a debate article in the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet and it calls on Swedish politicians to vote against the law proposal. In order for the law to not become reality, more countries need to vote against it. Therefore, we encourage journalists and citizens in all EU countries to question their governments and urge them to vote no.

Right now, the EU Commission is intensely working on a legislative proposal that would monitor and audit the communication of all European Union citizens. The regulation is called Chat Control, and it really does include all types of communication. This means that all of your phone calls, video calls, text messages, every single line that you write in all kinds of messaging apps (including encrypted services), your e-mails — yes, all of this — can be filtered out in real time and flagged for a more in-depth review. This also applies to images and videos saved in cloud services. Basically, everything you do with your smartphone. In other words, your personal life will be fully exposed to government scrutiny. So, why is it that almost no one is talking about this?

The previous day the same Mullvad blog had warned that an unintended consequence of the bill might have been to ban all open source operating systems, although an update says that “Open source OSes might be saved from being covered depending on the interpretation of EU regulation 2019/1150 2.2.c.” Well, that certainly puts my mind at rest.

Samizdata quote of the day – not a conspiracy theory

The media have taken umbrage at some of the rhetoric of the [15 minute city] schemes’ critics. Some opponents have referred to the scheme as akin to a ‘climate lockdown’, which The Times dismisses as an ‘outlandish claim’. While some conspiracy theorists may take this term literally, others will no doubt recognise it as a polemical line. After all, while Oxford residents will not be forced to stay indoors, they will be encouraged not to drive and to remain as much as possible in their 15-minute district. It’s hard not to see at least some parallels between this green-inspired scheme and the Covid ‘Stay at Home’ mentality. (Indeed, the term ‘climate lockdown’ was coined by the green movement itself, which marvelled at the supposed ecological benefits of the Covid lockdowns.)

Laurie Wastell

A speakeasy for archaeologists

“Stone Age Herbalist” is a pseudonym adopted out of necessity by someone who wants to practise an activity condemned by respectable society: scientific archaeology. Their piece for Unherd is called “The Rise of Archaeologists Anonymous”.

Why do these academics seek to do in secret what they used to do openly in the universities? Because academic archaeology has changed:

Historian Wolf Liebeschuetz and archaeologist Sebastian Brather, to pick on just two, have both firmly insisted that archaeology must not, and cannot, be used to trace migrations or identify different ethnic groups in prehistory. To quote from Liebeschuetz’s 2015 book, East and West in Late Antiquity: “Archaeology can trace cultural diffusion, but it cannot be used to distinguish between peoples, and should not be used to trace migration. Arguments from language and etymology are irrelevant.”

At a stroke, this line of reasoning would essentially abolish several centuries of work unravelling the thread of movements and evolution of the Indo-European peoples and languages, not to mention the post-Roman Germanic Migration Period, Anglo-Saxon invasions, Polynesian and Bantu Expansions and almost all major changes in the human record.

and

This became clearer than ever following the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, which saw archaeology departments and professional bodies across the world fall over themselves to pledge curriculum “decolonisation” and an explicit commitment to politicising the discipline. To quote from the “’The Future of Archaeology Is Antiracist’: Archaeology in the Time of Black Lives Matter”, published in American Antiquity:

“Consequently, Black archaeology has been and must remain purposeful in practice. It rejects research and practices defined in sterile, binary terms of objective-subjective positionality. Archaeology at historic Black sites must be conducted with an explicit politics… To the field of archaeology, it serves as a moral guide with the potential to elucidate historical wrongs and explore forms of contemporary redress.”

“Islamophobia from the likes of Boris Johnson must be punished”

“Islamophobia from the likes of Boris Johnson must be punished – and this is how to do it”, writes Dr Suriyah Bi in the Guardian.

How do we properly punish Islamophobes? As a lecturer in cultural geography at Oxford University, I have used my research skills to draw up an index of Islamophobia to help police, prosecutors, victims and analysts work out when to take legal action and how to map out the routes towards such action. Importantly, this is the first time an index to measure a hate crime has been proposed and it remains an open project. It is inspired by the way crimes such as domestic violence are processed, placing victim testimony and experience at the heart.

Published last week, this index of Islamophobia is accompanied by a pathways-to-prosecution form, which helps identify the laws breached and scores each hate crime on the basis of intensity, intention, impact and recklessness.

How might it work? Let’s look at some flagrant examples of Islamophobia, including Boris Johnson’s infamous comments on burqa-wearing Muslim women as “letterboxes”, the distribution of violence-inducing “Punish a Muslim Day” letters, a headscarf being torn from a Muslim woman, and being called Shamima Begum in the workplace.

The middle two of those would be crimes by any definition (incitement to violence and assault), and the final one is a verbal insult which should not be a crime but which would and should be considered unacceptable behaviour in any decent workplace.

The first one consisted of Boris Johnson making a less than reverential quip about the appearance of women wearing burkas in the process of defending their right to wear them.

When someone suffers from a fear of flying, the usual strategy to help them overcome it is to educate them about how planes work and how safe air travel is, combined with getting them to experience flight in a supportive and friendly environment, so that they can come to realise that their phobia is irrational.

Given that Dr Bi is a lecturer at Oxford, one would think that, as a Muslim herself and an educator at one of our most prominent universities, she would be ideally placed to advise and promote a similar strategy of education and familiarisation in order to dispel Islamophobia. However she appears to think that a strategy of punishment would be more effective.

I was going to stop there. Nice bit of snark, that. I could rely on the reader to supply the conclusion that the correlation between knowledge and fear of flying is negative while the correlation between knowledge and fear of Islam is positive because flying is actually safe while Islam is actually dangerous. But in the spirit of Chr…, er, “the holidays”, let’s look a little deeper.

→ Continue reading: “Islamophobia from the likes of Boris Johnson must be punished”

Samizdata quote of the day – the venal fallible state is vastly too powerful edition

As far as Hancock was concerned, anyone who fundamentally disagreed with his approach [to Covid] was mad and dangerous and needed to be shut down. His account shows how quickly the suppression of genuine medical misinformation – a worthy endeavour during a public health crisis – morphed into an aggressive government-driven campaign to smear and silence those who criticised the response. Aided by the Cabinet Office, the Department of Health harnessed the full power of the state to crush individuals and groups whose views were seen as a threat to public acceptance of official messages and policy. As early as January 2020, Hancock reveals that his special adviser was speaking to Twitter about ‘tweaking their algorithms’. Later he personally texted his old coalition colleague Nick Clegg, now a big cheese at Facebook, to enlist his help. The former Lib Dem deputy prime minister was happy to oblige.

Such was the fear of ‘anti-vaxxers’ that the Cabinet Office used a team hitherto dedicated to tackling Isis propaganda to curb their influence. The zero-tolerance approach extended to dissenting doctors and academics. The eminent scientists behind the so-called Barrington Declaration, which argued that public health efforts should focus on protecting the most vulnerable while allowing the general population to build up natural immunity to the virus, were widely vilified: Hancock genuinely considered their views a threat to public health.

[…]

Hancock, Whitty and Johnson knew full well that non-medical face masks do very little to prevent transmission of the virus. People were made to wear them anyway because Dominic Cummings was fixated with them; because Nicola Sturgeon liked them; and above all because they were symbolic of the public health emergency.

Isabel Oakeshott, laying out a damning narrative of the government’s response to Covid. Strangely, the linked article’s very feeble final paragraph seems at odds with the listed litany of woe Matt Hancock and his ilk were responsible for.

Discussion point: changing people’s beliefs by physical means

No, I don’t mean torture. Torture will make people say they believe whatever will make the pain stop, but what I am talking about here is using physical mechanisms to make people truly believe something different by literally changing the manner in which their brains function.

“Disabling parts of the brain with magnets can weaken faith in God and change attitudes to immigrants, study finds”

“A joint team of American and British scientists have discovered that powerful magnetic pulses to the brain can temporarily change people’s feelings on a variety of subjects – from their belief in God, to their attitude to immigration.

The study, published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, saw scientists use a metal coil to create strong magnetic fields around certain parts of the brain.

The non-invasive practice is called trancranial magnetic stimulation, and has can be used to treat depression.”

Induced changes in belief do not all go in one political direction:

“Testosterone Administration Induces A Red Shift in Democrats”

“Summary: We tested the fixity of political preferences of 136 healthy males during the 2011 U.S. presidential election season by administering synthetic testosterone or placebo to participants who had identified the strength of their political affiliation. Before the testosterone treatment, we found that weakly affiliated Democrats had 19% higher basal testosterone than those who identified strongly with the party (p=0.015). When weakly affiliated Democrats received additional testosterone, the strength of their party fell by 12% (p=.01) and they reported 45% warmer feelings towards Republican candidates for president (p < 0.001). Our results demonstrate that testosterone induces a “red shift" among weakly-affiliated Democrats. This effect was associated with improved mood. No effects were found of testosterone administration for strongly affiliated Democrats or strong or weak Republicans. Our findings provide evidence that neuroactive hormones affect political preferences.”

(Links found via Wilfred Reilly and The Rabbit Hole on Twitter.)

What do you think about this? I make no specific point and ask no specific question, but it seems to me worthy of discussion that it would take only a minor advance on presently available technology to make a lot of dystopian science fiction into reality.

“Why aren’t China’s Covid lockdown measures working?”

“Why aren’t China’s Covid lockdown measures working?” asks Tom Whipple, Science editor of the Times:

The original R rate of the Wuhan strain was 3, meaning that each infected person passed it to three others. Estimating the R of Omicron is near-impossible — but we know it is vastly harder to contain. It has evolved to spread more effectively and infect more easily.

In the rest of the world, its spread, as well as the Delta variants, has given us “hybrid immunity”. People have been infected after being vaccinated, and the population has a soup of varied antibodies working against infection and serious illness.

In China, they have less a soup of antibodies than a single distilled flavour — from averagely-effective vaccines designed to repel a virus that no longer exists. Omicron has plenty of virgin territory to conquer.

Despite some of the debates we are having today, at a very basic level and on their own terms, lockdowns clearly work. China is proof of that; if people can’t meet each other they can’t infect each other.

But restricting people’s lives entirely is impossible. Eventually both the virus and human nature find ways to circumvent restrictions. Only a country with the state apparatus of China could have hoped to have maintained rolling lockdowns so strict, for so long, that it could persist with zero Covid.

Why is President Xi doing it? Western scientists are increasingly bemused. One answer is vaccination — the country isn’t where it needs to be. Although overall more than 90 per cent of the 1.4 billion Chinese have received two doses and a third booster shot, the rates tail off among the elderly. According to the latest statistics, only 40 per cent of the over-80s have been fully vaccinated. But this just leads to another question: why not?

Some Chinese speculate that the older population, especially, have been reluctant to get boosted and lulled into a false sense of security by strict measures and state propaganda that lauds the country’s lower cases and death rates compared to the West. Distrust in vaccine safety, inevitably, also plays a part.

But another reason China is still focused on prevention, not treatment, could be the lack of intensive care beds — less than four for every 100,000 people, according to the National Health Commission in Beijing, which means a large-scale Covid outbreak could have disastrous consequences. In Britain, the figure at the start of the pandemic was 7.3 critical care beds per 100,000 people, less than half the average in other European nations (15.9).

In its pursuit of zero Covid, China was not blessed by geography, it was instead blessed with a powerful state and fewer qualms regarding civil liberties. What is baffling to outside observers is that the same state that is so effective at imposing extremely severe restrictions on its people is so ineffective at getting all of them vaccinated, or providing enough hospital beds.

Don’t fixate on Mr Whipple’s use of the word “blessed” in “blessed with a powerful state and fewer qualms regarding civil liberties”; he clearly means it ironically. Alongside many others, he is finally beginning to understand. A pity it comes so late, but better late than never. One day it may no longer baffle him that a society that runs on lies cannot get science right, and that a society that runs on force cannot get anything right.

“Rare unrest in Guangzhou”

This video comes via the Guardian: “Rare unrest in Chinese city of Guangzhou as people protest over Covid restrictions”

Is unrest such as this really so rare? Would we know if it were not rare?

Related posts: “Riding the Covid tiger” and “Sci-Fi dystopia or real world?”

Watch thou for the TERF

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This photograph from today’s Times shows a sign put up at the Institute of Contemporary Music Performance in north London. The sign reads:

ZERO TOLERANCE
What is a TERF?
(Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist)
“Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist” ideology is a specific form of transphobia. The primary TERF assertion is that transwomen are not women, and accordingly have no place in women’s spaces.
This ideology also affects trans men, as TERF’s assert that people assigned female at birth, but indentify as male, shouldn’t be allowed into women’s spaces either.

Report + Support: icmp.ac.uk/report

An arrow points from the words “Report+Support” to a QR code where students can report instances of TERF ideology.

A fricking QR code. I wish this were satire.

“Music college accused of witch-hunt over QR-code transphobia alert”, reports Nicola Woodcock in the Times.

A college has apologised for displaying a sign asking students to report trans exclusionary radical feminist ideology, or Terf, using a QR code.

The Institute of Contemporary Music Performance in north London was criticised for the sign telling staff and students that it had “zero tolerance” of Terf ideology, which it called a specific form of transphobia.

The term is used as an insult to people who have so-called gender-critical beliefs that biological gender cannot change.

The article went on to say,

Paul Kirkham, chief executive of the college, said: “Our intention, following discussions with our student community, had been to communicate the definition of Terf to help clarify what we considered to be growing misconceptions around what the term means. We got it wrong. The signage is clunky and we can see how it can be misinterpreted.” He added that the sign had been removed.

“Clunky” is not the term I would have chosen. While I do have criticisms of the wording of the sign, I must defend whoever wrote it against the charge that it was easy to misinterpret. Its meaning was entirely clear.

Whatever term you would have chosen, an interesting question is how well does the “Scan here to report heresy” strategy work as means to reduce prejudice against transgender people?

The British Social Attitudes Survey is the gold standard for long term monitoring of, well, British social attitudes, like it says on the tin. In 1983, when the BSA survey started, 17% of respondents agreed with the statement “Same-sex relationships are ‘not wrong at all'”. In 2018 it was 66%. The responses over the last four decades to most of the BSA’s questions on issues of sexuality show a similar pattern: there are small fluctuations year to year, but the trend of acceptance is basically an upward-sloping straight line.

But not for all questions. According to Table 5 on page 14 of the report of the 39th and most recent iteration of the BSA survey, in the surveys of 2016, 2019 and 2021 participants were asked their views about whether transgender people should be able to change the sex on their birth certificate. In 2016, 58% thought that they should be. In 2019 it was 53% – a little surprising to see a decrease, but as I said, the lines always fluctuate a bit. In 2021 the proportion agreeing that transgender people should be able to change the sex on their birth certificate was…

Go on, guess.

32%.

“Little by little the truth of lockdown is being admitted”

A retired and now ennobled supreme court judge writes in the Times that the decisions of the government during a crisis were wise and good and that if, perchance, any slight errors were made, fear not, lessons will be learned.

Bzzt. Click. System error. Commence program reset.

A retired and now ennobled supreme court judge – Lord Sumption – writes in the Times that “Little by little the truth of lockdown is being admitted: it was a disaster”.

In a remarkably candid interview with The Spectator, Rishi Sunak has blown the gaff on the sheer superficiality of the decision-making process of which he was himself part. The fundamental rule of good government is not to make radical decisions without understanding the likely consequences. It seems obvious. Yet it is at that most basic level that the Johnson government failed. The tragedy is that this is only now being acknowledged.

Sunak makes three main points. First, the scientific advice was more equivocal and inconsistent than the government let on. Some of it was based on questionable premises that were never properly scrutinised. Some of it fell apart as soon it was challenged from outside the groupthink of the Sage advisory body. Second, to build support, the government stoked fear, embarking on a manipulative advertising campaign and endorsing extravagant graphics pointing to an uncontrolled rise in mortality if we were not locked down. Third, the government not only ignored the catastrophic collateral damage done by the lockdown but actively discouraged discussion of it, both in government and in its public messaging.

Lockdown was a policy conceived in the early days by China and the World Health Organisation as a way of suppressing the virus altogether (so-called zero Covid). The WHO quickly abandoned this unrealistic ambition. But European countries, except Sweden, eagerly embraced lockdown, ripping up a decade of pandemic planning that had been based on concentrating help on vulnerable groups and avoiding coercion.

At first Britain stood up against the stampede. Then Professor Neil Ferguson’s team at Imperial College London published its notorious “Report 9”. Sunak confirms that this was what panicked ministers into a measure that the scientists had previously rejected. If No 10 had studied the assumptions underlying it, it might have been less impressed. Report 9 assumed that in the absence of a lockdown people would do nothing whatever to protect themselves. This was contrary to all experience of human behaviour as well as to data available at the time, which showed that people were voluntarily reducing contacts well before the lockdown was announced.

I find myself in the odd position of being slightly more in sympathy with the government than is a former supreme court judge. Frightened men make mistakes. I also find myself slightly more in sympathy with Rishi Sunak than I was yesterday. However, I have to ask why he did not voice his doubts at the time.

Ve’re askink ze qvestions!”

Last Wednesday, Jodi Shaw received a Hero of Intellectual Freedom Award – and got to rap on-stage in NYC, four years after Smith College told her she couldn’t because rapping while white was racist.

The freedom to rap while white is a form of free speech it has never occurred to me to pursue, but something Jodi said struck me.

“These terms are never defined … It’s just ‘social justice’.”

“And you’re afraid to ask,” she added, because “that might put a spotlight on you,” and people will think you are racist … According to Shaw, there was an “ever-present terror” at Smith “that any unverified student allegation of racism, or any other ‘-ism,’ has the power to crush our reputations, ruin our livelihood, and even endanger the physical safety of ourselves or our family members.”

It’s not the first time a movement has refused to define its central idea.

Himmler vehemently directed “not to issue any decree concerning the definition of the term ‘Jew’ … with all these foolish commitments we will only be tying our hands.” (The quote is from Himmler’s letter to Berger, July 28th 1942, Nuremberg Document No. 626.)

Identify a respected institution. Kill it. Gut it. Wear its carcass as a skin suit, while demanding respect. I’ve seen that spot-on description of how the woke operate applied so many times – to institutions. But it’s just as true of ideas. Totalitarians always gut the ideas they proclaim of all actual meaning. The woke wear the murdered carcass of words like racism (structural racism) or justice (social justice) as a skin suit, while demanding respect.

Really jump in

“Top Biden aide prods big tech to crack down on climate change misinformation”, Axios reports.

Gina McCarthy, President Biden’s top domestic climate adviser, said tech companies should do more to prevent the spread of inaccurate information about climate change and clean energy.

Driving the news: “The tech companies have to stop allowing specific individuals over and over again to spread disinformation,” she told Axios’ Alexi McCammond at a virtual event that aired Thursday.

“We need the tech companies to really jump in,” McCarthy said.

Who is “we”?

And what the [fossil fuel] industry is now doing is seeding, basically, doubt about the costs associated with that and whether they work or not.”

Expressing doubt about the cost of a proposed government measure, and whether it will actually work as promised? How dare they! Such dangerous speculation cannot be allowed.

Hat tip: Iain Murray.