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]

Samizdata quote of the day

There is an argument, I think, for having people who want “a strong leader” shot immediately on the basis that it will save the dictator time later.

– David Aaronovitch, discussing these findings by the Pew Organisation in The Times (£). Unlike Pew, neither Mr Aaronovitch nor I find it very comforting that only – only! – 26% of the UK population thinks “a system in which a strong leader can govern the country without interference from parliament or the courts would be a good way of governing this country”.

“Bringing that choice into the equation”

“Ban smoking at home, say Scots campaigners”, reports the Sunday Times. This headline is followed by the breezy standfirst,

Move to save kids from second-hand exposure

That’s “kids” like wot the Times is down wiv.

Anti-smoking campaigners in Scotland are seeking to stop people lighting up at home as part of a drive to reduce the harmful health effects of inhaling secondhand tobacco smoke.

Last week, Dr Sean Semple, an academic from Aberdeen University, said restrictions on smoking at home may have to be imposed to protect children.

Odd how campaigners against passive smoking so often seem fond of the passive voice. Dangerous things, these restrictions imposed by nobody in particular, you can breathe them in without realising it and then you get cancer.

Meanwhile, Ash Scotland, the charity that helped to bring about a ban on smoking in public places in 2006, believes more could be done to protect residents in social housing.

There is concern that despite existing laws, hundreds of thousands of people in Scotland are still at risk from exposure to secondhand smoke in their homes.

Each week, dozens of children across Britain are taken to hospital through inhaling secondhand smoke, which is known to increase the risk of asthma, as well as ear and chest infections.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Failing that, as the Times does, any evidence at all for the claim that “dozens of children a week” are taken to hospital through inhaling second hand smoke would be nice.

Sheila Duffy, the chief executive of Ash Scotland, said the charity was seeking a meeting with the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations to discuss the possibility of a smoking ban.

A smoking ban in social housing has proved immensely popular in the US, in California and cities such as New York and Philadelphia.

So a ban on Group X getting the limited supply of rent-controlled social housing proves immensely popular with social housing tenants not in Group X, not to mention potential social housing tenants for whom the chances of getting it have just increased. Colour, or as they say in the US, “color”, me surprised.

“Tobacco companies often talk about choice in smoking. However, for many people the choice to live free from breathing in tobacco smoke is just not there,” said Duffy.

“The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies, the Ministry of Love with torture and the Ministry of Plenty with starvation.” One day soon we will have a Ministry of Choice so Sheila Duffy can concern herself with giving everyone the choice to live in a world free from choice.

“We are keen to explore ways of bringing that choice into the equation for new social-housing tenants and increasing protection for those living in buildings with shared common spaces.”

But nationalisation is about control, not making things ‘better’

Complaints about the water industry, meanwhile, are at an all-time low and, according to the independent water consumer watchdog, satisfaction with the industry is at record levels.

If there ever was a time when water customers were ripped-off it was when water was state-owned and millions of households were sometimes paying for a service that had been cut off.

Ian King

But I do think King is making a fundamental error by assuming the motives for nationalising has anything whatsoever to do with about producing better value, or improved management 😆, or in any way yielding more of the thing an industry does. Yes, I know what they say, and I can say I am a hippopotamus with opposable thumbs (I am, of course). Nationalisation is about a total world view, in which the state is all, and nothing must be beyond the reach of its unfettered power: the state is an end in and of itself. Quoting facts about the water industry at Corbyn supporters is not just an exercise in futility, it indicates a complete failure to understand the enemy. Indeed, the only reason to talk to them at all is for the benefit of third parties who may be listening.

Thanks for letting us in on the joke, but why now?

This story has been quite widely reported in the British press:

‘Special relationship’ was seen as a joke by US diplomats, claims former Presidential adviser: Aide also admits slipping Malvinas references into press conferences in bid to ‘spoil it’

Barack Obama and his aides regarded the idea of a special relationship between Britain and the US as a joke, it was claimed last night.

Jeremy Shapiro, a former presidential adviser, said the special relationship was ‘unrequited’ and he revealed he would insert references to ‘the Malvinas’ – Argentina’s name for the Falklands – into Press conferences.

He must have been cross when Obama couldn’t even get that right.

This story is not so much news as confirmation of what everybody had guessed anyway. The interesting question for me is why admit it now? Shapiro was speaking at the Cheltenham Literary Festival. That’s nice and all, but is impressing that audience enough to make it worth losing your reputation for discretion, which ought to still matter to someone who now works at the European Council on Foreign Relations?

Mr Shapiro is following in the footsteps of Obama’s former political strategist David Axelrod, who admitted in 2015 that Obama’s 2008 change from supporting to opposing gay marriage was completely cynical:

Axelrod: Obama Misled Nation When He Opposed Gay Marriage In 2008

Axelrod writes that he knew Obama was in favor of same-sex marriages during the first presidential campaign, even as Obama publicly said he only supported civil unions, not full marriages. Axelrod also admits to counseling Obama to conceal that position for political reasons. “Opposition to gay marriage was particularly strong in the black church, and as he ran for higher office, he grudgingly accepted the counsel of more pragmatic folks like me, and modified his position to support civil unions rather than marriage, which he would term a ‘sacred union,'” Axelrod writes.

Safely in power, and needing to appeal to rich white donors rather than poor black voters, Obama modified his position right back again two years later. Anyone who had observed the timing of Obama’s switches as related to the US electoral cycle will scarcely be bowled over by Axelrod’s revelation. What is still unrevealed is was the benefit to Axelrod in finally saying this?

The modern idea of a university

Anger as Oxford college bans Christian group from freshers’ fair

A University of Oxford college banned Christian Union representatives from attending its freshers’ fair over concerns at the “potential for harm to freshers”.

Balliol Christian Union (CU) was told the college’s student body, the JCR, wanted the freshers’ fair to be a “secular space”, according to Oxford’s student newspaper Cherwell.

Eventually the CU was told that a single multi-faith stall would be allowed to display leaflets, though no representatives would be allowed to staff it, according to leaked emails seen by the paper. Balliol CU boycotted this option.

[…]

In an email exchange, JCR vice-president Freddy Potts, on behalf of the JCR committee, reportedly told a CU representative: “We recognise the wonderful advantages in having CU representatives at the freshers’ fair, but are concerned that there is potential for harm to freshers who are already struggling to feel welcome in Oxford.”

Harm? Think of it as toughening ’em up for their first tutorial. It used to be said that the fierce, personal engagement with ideas engendered by the tutorial system was what set Oxbridge apart. I had to check, but apparently they do still hold tutorials despite the risks. The University website tells potential students that at tutorials they will need to be ready to present and defend [their] opinions, accept constructive criticism and listen to others. And Freddy Potts ain’t gonna be there to hold your hand.

The solicitous Mr Potts continues:

According to the paper, he added: “Christianity’s influence on many marginalised communities has been damaging in its methods of conversion and rules of practice, and is still used in many places as an excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neo-colonialism.”

At one time the idea of a university was a little less protective:

As universities face an estimated £4.2bn in spending cuts and increasing pressure to become more “market driven”, the recently beatified John Henry Newman would have had something to say about the possible impact on higher education. The clergyman, Oxford academic and famed convert to Catholicism gave a series of lectures in 1852 reflecting on the university’s purpose that were published as The Idea of a University in the same year.

The author of this article, Sophia Deboick, was naive to think that pressure to become more market-driven was the main threat to the concept of the university as a place of broad learning, but she writes well on Newman’s contribution to that idea:

For Newman, the ideal university is a community of thinkers, engaging in intellectual pursuits not for any external purpose, but as an end in itself. Envisaging a broad, liberal education, which teaches students “to think and to reason and to compare and to discriminate and to analyse”, Newman held that narrow minds were born of narrow specialisation and stipulated that students should be given a solid grounding in all areas of study. A restricted, vocational education was out of the question for him. Somewhat surprisingly, he also espoused the view that universities should be entirely free of religious interference, putting forward a secular, pluralist and inclusive ideal.

Two years after the publication of The Idea of a University the Oxford University Act 1854 “opened the university to students outside the Church of England, as there was no longer a requirement to undergo a theological test or take the Oath of Supremacy.” That is what Newman meant by “religious interference”: the power to compel those attending the university to conform, or pretend to conform, to a particular religion and to exclude those of different beliefs.

We have not quite come full circle yet, but give it time.

Samizdata quote of the day

Opt-out organ donation expands the state’s power over the individual. There may be a shortage of donors, and doing more to encourage people to sign up is no bad thing. But a person should never have to opt out of state control. It is individual rights and choice that should always be the default position.

Emily Dinsmore

Samizdata quote of the day

It’s as if the Conservative Party no longer believes in itself. Or better still, it no longer knows what there is to believe in. No market-based economics; no law-and-order ideal; no sense of tradition. And it is this ideological lack and its accompaniment — complete political incoherence — that fuel the open, petty infighting we have witnessed over the past few months, with every over-promoted non-entity loyally lining up behind May, knife in hand. After all, who can blame them? In the modern Tory Party, there’s nothing – no idea, no principle – to be loyal to, apart from one’s own career. Hence the endless interventions from foreign secretary and leader-always-in-waiting Boris Johnson.

Tim Black

As the Stupid Party is all that stands between us and the Evil Party, the Tories desperately need to get rid of Theresa May, a woman who should not be a member of the party, let alone leading it. This needs to happen without delay.

The bleeding obvious

Frances Ryan’s Guardian article, “Period poverty is leaving women such as Kerry isolated and ashamed” started off with a call for sympathy which I can answer. It described how a woman called Kerry, bringing up three children (two of them autistic) alone and unwaged, sometimes found herself without even £2 for a box of tampons, and could not bring herself to ask the people at the food bank for them. That is sad. Let us be aware that women can find themselves in this position, and help them in a sensitive way.

Then it got stupid.

It isn’t hard to see why sanitary products are often out of reach. Research shows pads and tampons cost women around £13 every month. Add another £8 for new underwear, and then almost a fiver for pain relief. That means women need to find more than £300 each year for periods – or the equivalent of a fortnight’s rent.

The “pads and tampons” link takes you to that well known scientific journal, the Huffington Post. It claimed that respondents to a survey (I saw no mention of who carried it out or how the sample was selected) on average spent the following “on different areas relating to their period”:

· Pads/tampons/panty-liners/menstrual cups – £13

· New underwear (due to spillages) -£8

· Pain relief – £4.50

· Chocolate/sweets/crisps – £8.50

· Other (magazines/toiletries/DVDs etc.) – £7

Honestly, I could have filled up the remainder of this post without moving my finger from the ? key. “Research shows”?? Chocolates?????? Yeah, I do kinda see that a new DVD, a glossy magazine and a box of choccies can be a comfort when suffering from period pain, but really, we are not talking about desperately needed sanitary essentials here. I also fail to see exactly why one needs new underwear every time there is a spillage. Every time and every month? I mean, sorry to be icky, but things can be washed. Even if there is a substantial group of women who find it unbearable to do anything other than bin bloodstained underwear (heaven knows how they toilet train their kids) they don’t have to spend £8. Tesco sells four pairs of knickers for £4.50. That’s just over a quid a pair.

While we are at Tesco’s, let us look at some of those other prices.

Pain relief £4? Pain relief thirty pence, actually.

Pads/tampons/panty-liners/menstrual cups £13? A “Feminesse” menstrual cup was fairly pricy at £17.10, but the whole point is that it is reusable and lasts for years. When it came to the tampons and pads or towels most women use, and for which Tesco sell their own-brand products, the prices were as follows: Tesco regular tampons 20-pack: 95p. (A pack of twenty is usually enough for one period.) Tesco super tampons 20-pack: also 95p. Maxi regular sanitary towels 10-pack: 23p. Twenty-three pence. Cheap as chips, as the saying goes. Cheaper.

Tesco is not uniquely benevolent. The other major supermarkets and chains like Superdrug are much the same, or even cheaper.

Frances Ryan is supposed to be the Guardian‘s expert on the deprived, the disabled, those failed by the system. I am not one to demand that politicians or journalists know the price of everything in a shopping basket, but you would think she of all people would have looked at that claim of £13 per month as an average for sanitary products and £4.50 for pain relief, and thought, that’s obviously wrong.

Never mind. The average prices claimed for period products in some silly survey and silly Guardian writers believing them are not my point; the actual prices in the most widely used supermarkets are. Period poverty is not worth bothering about. Capitalism has already solved it. When forty sanitary pads can already be purchased for a pound the money the government would have to spend to make them widely available for free is wasted. Worse than wasted; the salaries of umpteen Period Poverty Support Workers will come out of budgets that could – conceivably – have been used to help the poor. Let me put it another way: someone who cannot afford to pay for sanitary towels also cannot afford food. They do need help, urgently. However passing laws and setting up programmes to supply only that small fraction of the help they need that relates to a couple of packs of tampons is incredibly inefficient. If women in crisis need to be given sanitary products, don’t campaign for the government to launch an initiative, take the initiative yourself. There are charities who specialise in exactly that form of aid and will accept donations in kind or in cash.

As a matter of fact although most of the stories I have read on this subject, including the BBC link from Ryan’s article, have headlines that talk as if the problem is period poverty, when I read the stories below the headlines, the real problem far more often seems to be period ignorance or period embarrassment. But the steps needed to help women and girls with these issues do not generate column inches for journalists, photo opportunities for politicians, or outrage for activists.

The mask slips

The Guardian‘s Owen Jones asked the following question on Twitter:

How quickly should anti-LGBTQ rail tycoon and SNP donor Brian Souter’s assets be nationalised by a Labour Government?

Samizdata quote of the day

The satire writes itself these days. For the past 16 months, ever since voters said No to the EU, the supposed liberal set has been signalling its virtue over migrant workers. These Remainer types have filled newspaper columns and dinner-party chatter with sad talk about foreigners losing the right to travel to and work in Britain. Yet now these same people have chortled as London mayor Sadiq Khan and his pen-pushers at Transport for London (TfL) have refused to renew Uber’s licence in the capital. Which means 30,000 people will lose work. Many of them migrants. They cry over migrant workers one day, and laugh as they lose their livelihoods the next.

Brendan O’Neill

Uber petition breaks 600,000

The #SaveYourUber petition has, as of 10:45 pm in London, attracted 600,000+ names, and one of them is mine.

Of course the best way to save Uber is to get rid of Sadiq Khan and make the issue politically radioactive.

The Prime Minister has poorer housekeeping skills than a badger

This may seem a rather strange proposition, but in terms of ‘housekeeping’, there are various aspects to running a ‘household’, and I am comparing the financial discipline and general acumen of the First Lord of the Treasury (aka Mrs May) making the analogy to running the national ‘house’ to the practical but non-monetary skills of a badger, or rather, some badgers local to me.

The other day I found a badgers’ latrine on my morning walk, it was rather obvious, a ‘not-quite steaming’ pile and I immediately thought of the Prime Minister. I was struck by how careful the badger is to look after his household (or rather, his sett) and not to dump in it, instead using a carefully-dug latrine. This one was unusual in that it was very close to the roadside and highly visible.

Whereas it seems that the Prime Minister is quite happy to dump on the country a €20,000,000,000 bill for the privilege of leaving the EU and letting the UK run a trade deficit with them, and also dump a load of regulations on the UK. If you are going to make a payment, at the bloody least make it in Sterling, so the Bank of England can QE the money out of thin air (if this has to be done at all, which it doesn’t) and they can spend their nice pounds rather than HMG buy Euros. The good folk at Lawyers for Britain have debunked the case for any payment to be made for leaving. How about telling the EU that if your income falls, you cut costs, so that there are fewer than 10,000 in the EU earning more than the UK’s Prime Minister (which ought not to be an ‘office of profit’ under the Crown anyway).

The plan to graft into UK law all EU Regulations has at least the attraction of providing certainty, but why not plan a bonfire ‘On Day 1‘ to quote the Donald (yeah, it still hasn’t happened).

So if I have to choose between the two?

or

Having had to negotiate with a badger at 3 am one winter morning to get him to leave my garden, in my pyjamas and armed with only a garden fork for self-defence (this is England), I can testify that they do not give up a position easily, but my bluff worked.

To be fair to Mrs May, the badger seems to know instinctively not to foul its home, however, this is a skill that some of our politicians have yet to learn, and they are so very busy doing the opposite, it may take some time for them to lose their habits, but why?

Photo credits: Per Wikipedia, The Rt. Hon. T May MP, per Controller of HMSOOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Badgerhero.