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

“Governments over the years have ruined many successful domestic industries. Interference in football could well have the same doleful effect. We have enough problems for the government to sort out before it interferes in yet another area of economic and social life.”

– Professor Len Shackleton, IEA Editorial and Research Fellow, and author of the report Red Card. The quotation came from a press release I received today from the IEA.

This brings a whole new meaning to “brigading” on social media

What is the 77th Brigade for? According to its own website, the mission of this unit of the British Army is to CHALLENGE THE DIFFICULTIES OF MODERN WARFARE. Despite the capital letters I do not feel hugely better informed. It continues,

We are a combined Regular and Army Reserve unit. Our aim is to challenge the difficulties of modern warfare using non-lethal engagement and legitimate non-military levers as a means to adapt behaviours of the opposing forces and adversaries.

Um, okay. I would not want the difficulties of modern warfare to go unchallenged. I would even be up for them challenging the easy bits of modern warfare while they’re at it. However, before I give my wholehearted support to “adapting behaviours of the opposing forces” I would like to know what adapting-without-a-to means in normal English. Is it us changing them or them changing us? The question is pertinent because according to a whistleblower who contacted the civil liberties organisation Big Brother Watch, the last part of the line about the target of the British Army’s behavioural adaptation squad being “opposing forces and adversaries” seems to have been quietly dropped.

This link allows you to download a Big Brother Watch report called Ministry of Truth: the secretive government units spying on your speech.

The key findings are:

  • Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, Conservative MPs David Davis and Chris Green, high profile academics from the University of Oxford and University College London, and journalists including Peter Hitchens and Julia Hartley-Brewer, all had comments critical of the government analysed by anti-misinformation units.
  • Targeted speech included public criticism of the government’s pandemic response – particularly lockdown modelling and vaccine passports – as well as journalists’ criticism of the withdrawal from Afghanistan and MPs’ criticism of NATO
  • Soldiers from the Army’s 77th Brigade, tasked with “non-lethal psychological warfare”, collected tweets from British citizens posting about Covid-19 and passed them to central government – despite claiming operations were directed strictly overseas
  • A counter-misinformation unit pressured the Dept. of Health to attack newspapers for publishing articles analysing Covid-19 modelling that it feared would undermine compliance with pandemic restrictions.
  • MPs and journalists were featured in “vaccine hesitancy reports” for opposing vaccine passports
  • Contractors paid over £1m to trawl social media for perceived terms of service violations on selected topics and pass them to government officials
  • Counter-disinformation units use special relationships with social media companies to recommend content be removed
  • Front organisations aimed at minority communities were set up to spread government propaganda in the UK
  • BBW have provided a jolly little template that allows you exercise your legal right to find out if you personally were having your social media posts monitored. However that does seem to involve giving the government the real name behind your twitter handle, which in the circumstances…

    Telling people they are not welcome, then being surprised that they leave

    “Private rents in Glasgow rocket as landlords exit market” What brought this on? The report from the Glasgow Evening Times quotes Colin Macmillan of Glasgow Property Letting as saying,

    Whilst the reality of the Scottish Government’s sanctions and actions are filtering through the private rented sector, many traditional landlords have had enough and are exiting the market.

    “With an oversubscription of university places, we find ourselves in a perfect storm.

    “Fewer properties available with unprecedented demand equals hyper-inflated rents.

    “We also find ourselves in a cost of living crisis at probably the worst time of the year, with energy costs rising as the temperature is falling, and subsequent worries that rent arrears may increase also.”

    The situation the Scottish Government created got so bad that even the Scottish Government noticed. The Negotiator, a site for residential agents, reported yesterday that the Scottish Government had U-turned, replacing a rent freeze with a cap on rent increases.

    The Scottish Government has dropped its planned rent freeze from April in a major U-turn.

    Ministers are now proposing a 3% rent cap for six months, with higher increases up to 6% allowed in exceptional cases.

    Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, led on the announced rent freeze in September, but left housing minister Patrick Harvie to reveal the climbdown.

    Harvie said the Government now accepted a rent freeze would hit landlords too hard: “While the primary purpose of the legislation is to support tenants, I recognise that costs have been rising for landlords too.

    Well, “disastrous” to “bad” is an improvement. But unless and until the Scottish government realises that both rent freezes and rent caps are very nice for tenants already in place but very bad for anyone trying to rent a house or flat from the day they are announced onwards, times will be hard for those seeking to rent in Scotland.

    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

    Samizdata quote of the day

    “A reasoned case can be put that the NHS, the education system, welfare state, housing stock and even our transport infrastructure cannot cope with a rapid and relentless growth in the number of people living here. However, these are all areas run or heavily controlled by the state. It’s rare to hear Tesco complain that there are too many customers wanting to buy groceries or cinemas that too many wish to watch movies.”

    Mark Littlewood.

    Brief reflections on Paul Johnson

    Paul Johnson, one of the great figures of post-war British journalism, has died at the grand age of 94. He was the author of about 50 books, and I read several of them in my youth. Of all the books, the one that stands out for me is Modern Times. That was a one-volume study of the 20th century. Johnson was unafraid to challenge stereotypes. He defended US Presidents Harding, Coolidge and Nixon from the reputational shade cast upon them and was unsparingly hard on the likes of F D Roosevelt and JFK. He slammed the United Nations, lauded the NATO alliance, and pointed out how so many “third world” countries went disastrously wrong in embracing Fabian socialist ideas after the Western empires ended. In that sense, he gave every impression of enjoying how he trashed one Received Wisdom notion after another.

    Johnson was a deeply religious man – a Catholic – and an awareness of God’s wrathful judgement on sinners was never very far away. I don’t share his faith but can respect how, at its best, the English Catholic tradition in the West has produced writers of great insight (GK Chesterton is another outstanding example). And he anticipated the “culture wars” in many respects. His insight that much of the New Left had given up on the idea that there is such a thing as objective truth stuck in my mind. He regarded one of the big disasters of the 20th Century was how scientific concepts such as relativity morphed, wrongly, into the idea of moral relativism, and all the horrors (communism, fascism, etc) that stemmed from it. His was a theological analysis, with a fair sprinkling of Aristotelian common sense (he was a great admirer of Thomas Aquinas).

    In the first part of his journalist life this man, easily recognisable with his mane of reddish – later gold – hair, was a man of the Left and despised the Tory establishment of Eden, MacMillan and the like, although he was also a liberal in the sense of valuing free speech and democracy (the sort of Left that gave us George Orwell, for example). He worked as a young writer in France, and later became editor of the New Statesman magazine.

    In the 1970s, as trade union strikes raged, inflation accelerated and old certainties crumbled, Johnson shifted to the Right, and became a fan of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. He was a champion – with some caveats – of free market capitalism, mass prosperity and individual liberty. He admired Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore and people like that. He was unafraid to attack high-profile intellectuals’ reputations, however grand, such as JJ Rousseau, Sartre, Brecht, Ibsen, Hemingway, Mailer and Marx. His heroes were people such as JW Turner (the painter), Churchill, Eisenhower, De Gaulle and Adenauer. In later life, Johnson took up painting, and wrote intelligently about art. A man of varied tastes and enthusiasms.

    He was one of those writers, such as the late Auberon Waugh, P J O’Rourke and Roger Scruton, where I read everything they wrote, whatever the quality. More often than not, I learned something valuable, even if I disagreed with what Johnson wrote. Like other political “converts” to the liberal free market point of view, he had a certain zeal of one who has forsaken old nostrums. His writing output was prodigious.

    I think the Christian in him thought that he was put on this Earth to write and that there was no time to waste. I understand that the final years of his life were blighted by Alzheimer’s. For such a brilliant man and polymath to be afflicted seems particularly cruel.

    Anyway, I am sure that I will revisit his books and glean fresh insights. May he rest in peace.

    Update: Here is an obituary from the WSJ ($).

    Samizdata quote of the day – offence taken edition

    Just because you’re offended, doesn’t mean you’re right

    Great Grass MCR Ltd 😀

    Rights – true and false

    There is a problem, so it is said, with hundreds of thousands of people leaving the workforce in their early 50s. Many of them are, I suspect, affluent and think they can afford to do this, although I suspect a number of them will need to return to work not just because their financial projections are mistaken but because they become bored and miss the sense of purpose that comes with productive work. The rising tax burden under the current “Conservative” government, increasing the marginal rate on top earners to around 60 per cent, is also arguably encouraging many to give up on work and do a “John Galt”. (UK GPs, for example.)

    In its own response to the issue of a shrinking workforce, the opposition Labour Party has come up with the idea of making working from home a “right” for those in their fifties.

    The “right” to work from home does not exist if you drive a lorry, put up scaffolding, mend radiators and air conditioning units, service cars, fly aircraft, tend to the sick and dying, coach football teams, weld oil rig installations, grow wheat, or serve in the armed forces. Interestingly, the vast majority of those who are able to work from home, such as those being targeted by the Labour Party in these cases, are the white collar middle class, and specifically, many of those working in big banks, civil service jobs, and the like. This is very much a play for the metropolitan, service sector middle class, and unlikely to mean much to the sort of folk I mentioned above.

    It also, as an aside, is an inversion of what the term “rights” means. A right, properly understood in my view, is a ultimately a demand for non-interference with my liberty as an autonomous human being; it is not about forcing others to give me things. Or, to put it in the words of the late, great P J O’Rourke, Labour is championing “gimme rights”, when what is needed is more respect for “get outa here” rights. To claim the “right” to work from home assumes that an employer or other party should be forced to accommodate themselves to this claim, even by coercive force. Now I have no quibble with those who negotiate a work-from-home arrangement by contract in a free market (I work from home for part of the week); what I do have an issue with is making this an entitlement, a claim that others must enable by having to transfer resources of some kind. Such “rights” aren’t compossible – they cannot exist without conflicts, claims and counter-claims. These are different from the “negative” rights of classical liberalism. My “right” to be left alone doesn’t require anyone to do anything or pay for anything; my “right” to healthcare, on the other hand, does.

    See this item on Classical Liberalism: A Primer, from the Institute of Economic Affairs.

    Samizdata quote of the day – national suicide pact edition

    Ending fossil-fuel consumption now would be a disaster. It would obliterate our already weak energy security, subjecting households and industry to exorbitant energy costs and unreliable supplies. Travel would be severely limited. The farming industry would be gutted by restrictions on fertiliser use and farm vehicles, threatening food security. Last year, we saw the devastating impact these kinds of green farming policies can have in Sri Lanka, where food production was devastated.

    Regrettably, for all the antagonistic posturing of Tory politicians and eco-activists alike, the political class and XR already agree on many issues. Britain is already committed to Net Zero. There are legally binding targets to decarbonise the UK by 2050. And the dire impact of this policy can already be seen in the persistent threat of blackouts and the broader energy-supply crisis. A further acceleration of Net Zero, as demanded by XR, would only accelerate the damage that is already being done.

    Lauren Smith

    British political tweeting

    Y’know, for a minute I hesitated to post this when I am feeling such sadness over Niall’s death. Then I thought, don’t be daft, woman, he’d have enjoyed it. In particular, as a lover of Scottish, English and British history and the complicated interactions between the three categories, he would have liked Gawain Towler’s comment to Lawrence Whittaker’s tweet: “Enough time to get married I guess.”

    Introducing the Samizdata Awards!

    It’s that time of year. Everything slows down and between the overeating, disappointing presents and family rows we have the opportunity to take stock and reflect on the year that has (almost) been.

    And that means an opportunity to give a thought to those who have done the most in the fight against evil and communism. To this end I am introducing – on no one’s authority other than my own – the Samizdata Awards.

    I propose the following categories. But please feel free to propose your own. We are libertarians after all. We believe that growing the awards pie is more important than how that pie is distributed. So:

    • Second-best Man of the Year
    • Post of the Year
    • Meme of the Year
    • Comment of the Year
    • Fascist of the Year

    I was going to have a “Man of the Year” but I think that one’s has been taken. “I need ammunition not a ride” may not have the poetry of “We’ll fight them on the beaches” but its galvanising effect was – and is – identical. But I am expecting some keen competition to be runner-up. My nomination is Toby Young. He does Daily Sceptic. He does the Free Speech Union. He does a podcast with James Delingpole. Indeed, he is still on speaking terms with Delingpole which shows unusual fortitude or possibly unusual greed.

    Come to think of it I think “Fascist of the Year” is also spoken for. But who is the Reichsmarshall to Putin’s Führer? Nominations include Nadine Dorries, the FBI, anyone fired by Elon Musk and the University of Cambridge. But I am sure you can think of some of your own.

    In the Post of the Year – and I apologize for the lack of levity – I propose this. It changed my mind on something and at my age that is a rare pleasure.

    I think it only fair to point out that there will be no glitzy awards ceremony. There will be no tacky, gold-plated statuettes. There will be no expensive clothes, hairdos or coke habits. There will be very little vapidity or hypocrisy – deaths due to nuclear power little. At best we’ll have some recognition for those who’ve done some good; at worst an ever more fractious comment thread involving Paul Marks on some completely unrelated subject – probably Bitcoin.

    Arrested for her thoughts

    This video of a woman called Isabel Vaughan-Spruce being arrested for praying silently in Birmingham has gone viral. The version to which I link is from the Daily Caller. I have written my own transcription of the dialogue below. It differs from the subtitles provided by the Daily Caller in minor ways, mostly related to British police and legal terminology.

    *

    “Um, before I ask you any questions about what’s going on today, I have to caution you, which is just your rights, which is you do not have to say anything. It may harm your defence if you do not mention, when questioned, something that you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence. What are you here for today?”
    “Physically, I’m just standing here.”
    “OK. Why here of all places? I know you don’t live nearby.”
    “But this is an abortion centre.”
    “OK. That’s why you’re stood here – because you standing here is part of a protest?”
    “No. I’m not protesting.”
    “Are you praying?”
    “I might be praying in my head, not out loud.”

    “So, I’ll ask once more, will you voluntarily come with us now to the police station for me to ask you some questions about today and other days where there are allegations that you’ve broken Public Spaces Protection Orders?”
    “If I’ve got a choice, then no.”
    “OK, well, then you’re under arrest upon suspicion of failing to comply with the Public Spaces Protection Order, which is under the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014. Now, I caution you again, you do not have to say anything. You may harm your defence if you do not mention, when questioned, something that you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence. Do you understand the caution?”
    “I do, yes.”
    “Your arrest is necessary in order for a prompt and effective investigation
    into the offence. What that means is that I can ask you some questions [inaudible phrase]. I also have to protect vulnerable people, mainly service users, in the building. OK, so will you come please now to the police station. You’ll get booked in front of the custody sergeant, and then if you want a solicitor, you can have a solicitor [inaudible phrase]. OK? I don’t intend to handcuff you, but obviously my colleague will search you because we’re going to get into a police car and I need to make sure that you don’t have anything you could use to harm us or you could use to [inaudible phrase]”

    *

    She was then searched by a policewoman. I doubt the policeman was really that worried that Ms Vaughan-Spruce might harm him or his female colleague. To be fair to him, he was reasonably polite and even sounded a bit embarrassed. However he made it quite clear that the question he had to ask in order to decide whether to arrest her was whether she was silently praying, i.e. what was going on in her mind. He would not have had to ask if she had been praying out loud.

    → Continue reading: Arrested for her thoughts