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 monument of collective hysteria and folly

When I ventured to criticise them in a BBC interview for acting beyond their powers I received a letter from the Derbyshire police commissioner objecting to my remarks on the ground that in a crisis such things were necessary. The implication was that in a crisis the police were entitled to do whatever they thought fit, without being unduly concerned about their legal powers. That is my definition of a police state.

Lord Sumption

The Scottish Justice Secretary says that hate speech in people’s own homes ‘must be prosecuted’

Sometimes I try to think of a funny or attention-grabbing way to introduce a news report that I will link to in a Samizdata post. The following report from the Times grabbed my attention without artificial aids, as it should grab yours. It is not funny.

Hate crime bill: Hate talk in homes ‘must be prosecuted’

Conversations over the dinner table that incite hatred must be prosecuted under Scotland’s hate crime law, the justice secretary has said.

Journalists and theatre directors should also face the courts if their work is deemed to deliberately stoke up prejudice, Humza Yousaf said.

The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill has been condemned by critics including the Scottish Catholic Church, police representatives, academics and artists. It will introduce an offence of stirring-up of hatred against people with protected characteristics, including disability, sexual orientation and age.

The bill is loosely based on the Public Order Act 1986, which outlaws threatening, abusive or insulting words and behaviour but includes a “dwelling defence” that states the threatening language cannot be prosecuted if it is spoken in a private home.

Mr Yousaf said that there should be no “dwelling defence” in his bill. He told the Scottish parliament’s justice committee that children, family and house guests must be protected from hate speech. He told MSPs: “Are we comfortable giving a defence to somebody whose behaviour is threatening or abusive which is intentionally stirring up hatred against, for example, Muslims? Are we saying that that is justified because that is in the home? . . . If your intention was to stir up hatred against Jews . . . then I think that deserves criminal sanction.”

Mr Yousaf said theatre directors and journalists should not be exempt from the bill, to prevent activists stoking tensions under the cloak of dramatic licence or freedom of expression. He said: “We wouldn’t want to give the likes of Tommy Robinson a defence by saying that he’s ‘a blogger who writes for The Patriot Times so my reasonable defence is that I am a journalist’.”

The bonfire of the vanities comes to Wales

I know Wales sometimes has been partial to a medicinal drop of puritanism – some areas prohibited the sale of alcohol on the Sabbath as late as 1996 – but I struggle to see what conceivable benefit this brings to anyone other than Jeff Bezos:

Wales lockdown: Supermarkets told to sell only essential items

Supermarkets will be unable to sell items like clothes during the 17-day Covid firebreak lockdown in Wales.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said it would be “made clear” to them they are only able to open parts of their business that sell “essential goods”.

Many retailers will be forced to shut but food shops, off-licences and pharmacies can stay open when lockdown begins on Friday at 18:00 BST.

Retailers said they had not been given a definition of what was essential.

The Association of Convenience Stores and the Welsh Retail Consortium have written urgently to the first minister, expressing alarm over the new regulations.

Sara Jones, head of the Welsh Retail Consortium, said: “Compelling retailers to stop selling certain items, without them being told clearly what is and what isn’t permitted to be sold, is ill-conceived and short-sighted.”

Welsh Conservative Andrew RT Davies tweeted: “The power is going to their heads.”

Definitions of what is shameful differ

A human interest story from the Daily Record:

‘Kalashnikov councillor’ running for seat in Scottish Parliament after machine gun shame

A shamed politician – dubbed the Kalashnikov councillor after being captured on video coaching his young children how to use a machine gun – is campaigning for a seat in the Scottish Parliament.

Former SNP councillor Jahangir Hanif was forced to apologise after footage emerged of him training his young children to fire an AK-47 assault rifle during a visit to Pakistan.

The SNP condemned his “inappropriate conduct” and suspended him for two months while his his own daughter wrote to the party demanding his expulsion, claiming she had been terrified on the gun-toting trip.

On the ukpolitics subreddit, where I saw this story, a commenter called “ragnarspoonbrok” says,

No ear defenders isn’t a good start. Only one hand on the rifle as someone else is holding the fore grip. Rifle not shouldered correctly. No one has their eye anywhere near the sight meaning it’s not aimed correctly with their bugger hook on the bang switch.

It’s not a small caliber it’s a 7.62

Wouldn’t really class that as safe.

Are lockdowns and government missteps “teachable moments” for libertarianism?

Like a number of other readers of this blog, I have wondered how or whether the COVID-19 disaster, and the government responses to it, might actually lead to a sort of “libertarian moment” when people wake up to the insight, which this blog likes to make from time to time, that “the State is not your friend”. It might be too early to know whether the clampdowns will have this effect on people, but they might. During the 1940s the policy of food rationing, continued through the decade, and only ended by the time of the Queen’s Coronation in 1953, became hated. Churchill, with his gift for a phrase (I hope Boris Johnson remembers this), said his party would “Set the People Free”; he also talked of a “Bonfire of Controls”. If Mr Johnson has any sense, he will embrace such a move as soon as possible.

The failures so far of government over issues such as test and trace, and the chopping and changing of direction, with the current 3-tired restriction system, are surely examples of the folly of state central planning. As I have noted before, the National Health Service in many ways demonstrates the weaknesses of 1940s-era central planning. FA Hayek’s point about the “fatal conceit” of socialism, and of the hubristic idea that planners can run a society so much more intelligently than through the extended order of a free society, is truer than ever. On the other hand, those parts of the economy able to work more or less freely, such as supermarkets, delivery services and internet-driven communications channels, have more than risen to the challenge. That point needs to be rammed home over and over.

One of the problems with the 2008-09 financial crash was that a false narrative was allowed to take root that the cause was “evil bankers”, “greed” and laughably, “unregulated capitalism”. The cause was in fact more about state-influenced imprudent lending, too-big-to-bail promises of bailouts, years of underpriced money, and unwarranted confidence in risk management models. (See this excellent analysis in the book Alchemists of Loss, by Kevin Dowd and Martin Hutchinson.) We are arguably still paying the price for not pushing those insights hard enough. So I’d argue that one important lesson of the current shit-show is that it is vital to point out that it is free individuals, able to act on their initiative and through voluntary co-operation, and not the hubristic powers of a State, that holds the key to getting us to a better place.

Addendum: Here is a good point made by Sam Welsh in the Sunday Telegraph today:

I am not surprised that, among friends of all ages, I increasingly hear the question: why can’t we be trusted to judge the risk for ourselves? I had originally thought the pandemic would push society to the Left. But there is something morally offensive about a virus strategy that devalues all that makes life worth living, and which hinges on the incompetence of the Government and the state’s chronic inability to foresee the demands that will be placed upon it. That it then blames its failures on the very individuals it claims to serve only compounds the outrage.

Scottish ‘Government’ latest assault on private property rights

This proposes to make it illegal to take in a lodger/paying guests unless you have a licence from the local council. To get a licence you’d have to make sure your house met state-approved ‘standards’.

It’s intended as legislation to clamp down on noisy AirBnB flats in cities, but is also being used as a vehicle for ScotGov to meet their targets for eco-friendly homes: Any opportunity is used to force private owner-occupiers to “upgrade” their homes to be more energy-efficient (and have the right number of smoke/fire/heat detectors).

Deal or No Deal?

Amazingly I appear not to have yet used that headline.

The BBC reports,

Brexit: Trade talks with the EU are over, says No 10

Talks between the UK and EU over a post-Brexit trade agreement are “over”, Downing Street has said.

No 10 argued there was “no point” in discussions continuing next week unless the EU was prepared to discuss the detailed legal text of a partnership.

UK chief negotiator Lord Frost said he had told EU counterpart Michel Barnier there was now no “basis” for planned talks on Monday.

Number 10 said the two sides had agreed to talk again next week – by phone.

So talks are not quite over after all.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Two bad things have happened at once. The first is that the phrase itself has been captured. “Safe spaces” for students are used to justify the “no-platforming” of thinkers who warn against the oppressiveness of “woke” doctrines. The Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson is only the most famous of the victims: he was offered a visiting fellowship at Cambridge but then, in March last year, was denied it after protests that his views might upset students. The second is that British universities, craving cash and students from foreign countries, have become dangerously uncritical of the terms on which they accept them. This is particularly true in relation to some Arab countries and even more so in relation to China.”

Charles Moore, Daily Telegraph (£)

Samizdata quote of the day

The point of “public service obligations” were because costs were high and bandwidth was limited. Broadcasters, especially those chasing ad money might not make programmes for disabled people, or obscure arts shows.

When you solve costs and increase bandwidth, anyone can make a show and people do. You want stuff about Keynesian economics, the films of Andrei Tarkovsky. There are lots of blind people making videos on YouTube, people of nearly all varieties of politics from communists to libertarians, the history of corsetry, how to repoint a wall. There are few colour, sex or whatever bars because this stuff is cheap to make.

Some geezer on Tim Worstall’s site discussing the anachronistic dinosaur known as the BBC

The “envy of the world”

As the Daily Telegraph points out in its sharp (behind paywall) takedown of the UK government’s lockdown enthusiasm, the argument that we need to crush what is left of the UK economy to “protect” the National Health Service is based on the idea that the NHS will be overwhelmed by Covid-19 (despite the UK having had the late spring and summer to prepare for now). As the newspaper points out, the NHS is always “overwhelmed” this time of year because of flu and other winter-related bugs and diseases:

“But this is a perennial crisis. The NHS struggles under normal conditions in the winter because the system is completely dysfunctional. The Prime Minister needs to be honest about all of this and admit that not everything has gone according to plan. He needs to explain exactly why he is shutting down so much of the economy again and why he believes that drastically reducing social and family contacts is a price worth paying. He obviously wants to buy more time, but he needs to tell us how much and what for – and to explain convincingly why isolating the vulnerable (a strategy which seems ever more attractive by the day) while allowing the rest of the country to move on isn’t a better way forward. He needs to sell and explain his vision, not simply expect the rest of us to accept it automatically. Above all, he needs to spell out his Covid exit strategy. Britain’s economy and society cannot face another six months of the current madness.”

I occasionally read that the current “Tory” (yup, the scare quotes are there for a reason, folks) is moving away from all that ideological Thatcherite stuff about freedom, markets, scepticism of Big Government, to a more “pragmatic”, paternalistic approach. And yet the past few months have surely rammed home the message that the State does a lot of things very badly, while private enterprise, given the opportunity and freedom, does things rather better. The contrast between the ingenuity of supermarkets and their inventory management, on the one hand, and the NHS and its clunky, Soviet-style resource allocation, on the other, is harder and harder to ignore (example: cancer patients). And yet a vast swathe of UK public opinion, reinforced by all those cute rainbow symbols about “our NHS”, buys into the idea that this creation of late 1940s socialism and central planning is one of the high points of Western civilisation. We want to erase the very “problematic” Lord Horatio Nelson from Greenwich, apparently, but woe betide anyone who so much as suggests the NHS isn’t one of the Good Things of UK history. Remember the 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony where, just before Daniel Craig as 007 did his skit with the Queen, we had a whole choreographed display honouring the NHS?

Sentimentality, Charles Dickens’ besetting vice as a novelist, is, I fear, shared by much of the UK public. It is an illness every bit as bad as that of COVID-19.

(As a corrective, I can recommend The Welfare State We’re In, by James Bartholomew. The book challenges many of the founding myths around the NHS, such as the idea that only the very rich got medical care before the late 1940s).

Onchocerca volvulus and freedom of speech

There is a horrible disease prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa called onchocerciasis or “river blindness”. The black flies that live near rivers carry a parasite, a tiny worm called onchocerca volvulus. When the fly bites a human the parasite worm is injected into the human’s body. Then…

Within the human body the adult female worm (macrofilaria) produces thousands of baby or larval worms (microfilariae) which migrate in the skin and the eye.

Sometimes sufferers can see “tangled threads or worms in their vision, which were microfilariae moving freely in the aqueous humor of the anterior chamber of the eye”. This will be one of the last things they ever see before they lose their vision altogether.

I have been haunted for years by one account of how people come to be infected with this disease. It goes like this: a fly lands on a child. They swat it away, like they’ve been taught. Another fly lands. They swat it away again. And so on, thousands of times. Until one day the child is too tired or too excited or too distracted and they fail to swat away the fly. Then they get the disease, right? Actually, no: it usually takes several bites before they are infected. So there is a period when they think, well, a fly bit me but nothing has happened to me so far – the grown ups must be exaggerating. You can no doubt predict how the story ends. Once infection does occur it is irreversible.

Today’s Sunday Times reports,

Prosecutor criticises ‘sinister’ Met for investigating Darren Grimes over interview

Scotland Yard’s criminal investigation of a conservative activist over his interview with the historian David Starkey is “sinister and foolish”, according to a former director of public prosecutions.

Lord Macdonald of River Glaven said the Metropolitan Police’s pursuit of Darren Grimes, a pro-Brexit campaigner, was “deeply threatening of free speech”. Mr Grimes, 27, has said that police want to interview him under caution over a controversial interview uploaded to YouTube in the summer, in which Dr Starkey said that slavery could not have been genocide as there are “so many damn blacks” still around.

Mr Grimes is facing investigation for an offence of stirring up racial hatred, which falls under the Public Order Act. The offence carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison.

The decision to pursue the publisher of an interview has resulted in widespread criticism and concerns about the threat posed to freedom of speech. The force has confirmed that it began an investigation on September 25 after seeking advice from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

Lord Macdonald, head of the CPS between 2003 and 2008, told The Times yesterday: “Dr Starkey was roundly condemned for his remarks and has since lost all his academic positions.

“But offensiveness is not a crime and for the police now, weeks later, to target the journalist who interviewed him is both sinister and foolish. It looks like they are letting themselves be used as part of a political stunt — and, what’s worse, a stunt that is deeply threatening to free speech.”

For most of his career Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, better known as Ken Macdonald, was the very model of a left wing liberal activist lawyer. It is good to see that the flies can still be swatted by the left hand of the British body politic. In fact the police investigation is being swatted from several sides, and may soon be quietly shelved. Even so, as Brendan O’Neill writes in an article on the case for Spiked,

And yet, even the existence of this investigation is worrying, even if it does soon fall apart. We should keep the champagne on ice if the Met comes to its senses and drops its pursuit of Grimes, because we will still need to ask ourselves how this could happen. It strikes me that it is the natural result of the slow-motion decay of freedom of speech in this country, of the past few years of Leveson inquiries into the free press, police arrests of trolls for making offensive comments, the arrest of comics and feminists for saying ‘incorrect’ things, the use of public-order legislation to punish controversial opinion and the extraordinary growth of informal clampdowns on free speech too, from the cult of safe spaces on campus to Twitterstorms against anyone who questions the illiberal ideology of wokeness. Too many people have been cavalier about the demise of freedom of speech and the result is this: the police investigating someone for having a discussion.

The darkness in my vision might just be approaching old age, but sometimes I think I see tiny threadlike forms twist and writhe.

I thought they were better than this: recollections of how the London Times covered Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination

Two years ago the worldwide media furore over Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the US Supreme Court was at its height. Every second story in the British press seemed to be about Dr Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation of sexual assault against Kavanaugh. Some may find it difficult to cast their minds back to the fevered atmosphere of that time. In these enlightened days of 2020 we rest secure in the knowledge that American politicians of all sides respect the principle of the presumption of innocence, which is why a TV report about Tara Reade’s accusation of sexual assault against Joe Biden is only being shown in Australia.

The Times of London is the Times. It has been the voice of the British establishment for over two centuries. It is seen by many, including itself, as the standard bearer for serious journalism on serious issues for serious people. I have been a Times subscriber for many years, as my parents were before me. At several points over that time my faith in the paper wavered, but never enough to make me switch to another paper. Which one would be better? The Guardian? The Telegraph? The Daily Mail? So ingrained is my own habit of regarding the Times as at bottom a responsible newspaper that I had to spend some time checking that its coverage of the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh really was as bad as I remembered.

→ Continue reading: I thought they were better than this: recollections of how the London Times covered Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination