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

“Capitalism” is a Marxist epithet for the condition that normal people call “liberty”.

– Commenter ‘Zero Sugar’ over on Guido Fawkes.

Samizdata quote of the day

Woman who no-one had heard of until she married a royal “set out to prove that women don’t need men to give them status”. I mean I agree but she’s got her work cut out.

– Rob Fisher, commenting on this.

A little phrase to look out for

The Times Saturday magazine features the latest of its series of quick interviews in which a famous person tells the readers “What I’ve learnt”. This one is with that fine actor, Jared Harris. Among the things that Mr Harris has learned and wants to pass on to the reader is that,

“We don’t have another planet. This is it. We’ve nowhere else to go. We’re going through a crisis of denial over climate science. A very small group of people are frustrating the political will to tackle it head on. But when people’s homes become uninhabitable, they will move somewhere else. If you think it’s awkward with tens of thousands of people at the southern border of the US or with a couple of hundred thousand at the borders of the EU, what are you going to do when a couple of hundred million are on the move?”

Very stirring. But I could not help noticing that the little potted biography of Mr Harris at the top of the page says this:

The British actor Jared Harris, 57, played Lane Pryce in Mad Men, King George VI in The Crown and Valery Legasov in Chernobyl, for which he has been nominated for an Emmy. He is one of three sons by the notorious hell-raiser Richard Harris and his wife Elizabeth Rees-Williams. He splits his time between New York and Los Angeles with his third wife, Allegra.

New York and Los Angeles are 2,790 miles apart by road, and 2,450 miles apart by air. It’s a fifty-hour drive, so I think we can safely assume that Mr Harris travels between his two bases by air. Compared to most people’s, his personal carbon footprint is more like a personal carbon Tunguska crater. It must be hard to juggle the claims of a far-flung family and a demanding acting career, so I do not begrudge Mr Harris his air miles. But going from what he said, he begrudges me mine.

When reading the views of celebrities on the environment it is always worth looking out for the words “splits his time” or “divides her time” or equivalents thereof. I first saw this pointed out on a Biased BBC post back in November 2009, about a model called Helena Christensen who held an exhibition of pictures she had taken to document climate change and divided her time between Copenhagen and New York, with occasional side trips to Essex to see her agent.

Terrible arguments excusing what is going on in Hong Kong

On social media I have come across this sort of “argument” used to justify Beijing’s attempt to put its boot fully on the face of people in Hong Kong:

Britain has no right to interfere in any way, even to protest. That’s because the evil British conquered Hong Kong in the 19th Century, got the locals hooked on opium, and ran it as a colony. Colonies are evil, even if they have the benefits of the English Common Law, reasonably non-corrupt officialdom, and all the rest of it. So it is better that Hong Kong be taken over and turned into the rest of China, with all its charming qualities.

If I wanted to engage in “whataboutery”, I could respond (and did, to wind up a couple of particularly nasty interloctors) with the following points:

China has conquered places of its own. Its treatment of Muslims, Christians and others in different parts of China, including the use of internment camps, etc, has been a disgrace. If today’s Chinese want to play the imperial victim card about Scotsmen taking over Hong Kong and turning it into a capitalist dynamo, they might want to look in the mirror a bit first.

China is a repressive state – and while by far from being unique in that regard, its practices (organ harvesting, internment, intense state surveillance, etc, etc) makes it an egregiously bad place by any sort of pro-liberty metric. Whatever the real or alleged sins of the British Empire, what is happening now is clearly a threat to liberty, and we should judge it on its merits.

There is also a curious sort of moral inversion one sees here. A place (Hong Kong) is a former colony and another place (China) takes it back from said former imperial power. Hong Kong is gradually squeezed; there are protests, and the fears of protestors are widely discussed. And the best that those who try to defend China is to say “oh, but Opium Wars!”

Of course, there is a distinct possibility that some of the people making the Opium War point are in fact bots produced by the Chinese state, or trolls working for Beijing. That point cannot be ruled out.

Samizdata quote of the day

A new update issued by watchdog groups on climate change indicated this afternoon that we only have 12 seconds left until climate change destroys the planet.

We previously thought we had just 12 years, then 10 years, but the latest update indicates that we have well under a minute.

“The earth will be totally destroyed in the next, oh, 12 seconds,” said Beto O’Rourke at a rally. “If you don’t give the government a bunch of money and power, it will happen. Trust me.”

“So hand over the cash, guys,” he said. “Like, now. I’m super serious.”

This tragic development means that humanity won’t have time to correct climate change, and our writers probably won’t even have time to finish thi…

The Babylon Bee

If you want Pride you must allow the cry of “Shame!”

The Daily Mail shows a video in which

Muslim woman wearing a niqab shouts ‘shame on all of you despicable people’ in shocking homophobic rant at Pride march in London

This is the shocking moment a Muslim woman spits homophobic abuse at a reveller on a Pride march in east London.

The niqab-wearing woman was filmed screaming ‘shame on you’ to a woman draped in the LGBT rainbow flag during the rally on Hoe Street, Walthamstow, yesterday.

She screeches ‘God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve’ while a marshal in a high-vis jacket moves in to shield the clearly shaken Pride marcher.

The video was shared on Twitter by Yusuf Patel who wrote: ‘Disgusting homophobic abuse at those on Waltham Forest Pride today.

The report continues,

The Walthamstow arm of the Metropolitan Police said officers are investigating and branded the abuse a hate crime.

The force tweeted: ‘We are aware of footage circulating on social media of abuse directed at those taking part in the Waltham Forest Pride event and enquiries are underway.

‘Abusing someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity is a hate crime.

Put aside the question of the direction in which your first impulse of sympathy might fall, and consider whether there is any objective reason to say that the Muslim woman is aggressing against the Pride marcher rather than vice versa – or neither. The Mail writer says that the Muslim woman “spits homophobic abuse” at the Pride marcher, but she does not literally spit. It cannot have been pleasant to have been on the receiving end of that tirade, but all she ultimately did was vehemently tell the marcher that she thought they ought to be ashamed of their sexuality. The very purpose of the Pride parades, as the name indicates, is for the participants to declare that they are not ashamed of their sexuality. To that end the Pride marchers went – proudly wrapped in their rainbow flags – down Hoe Street, Walthamstow, where they knew full well that many of the inhabitants would deeply disapprove of them. (I used to live in Walthamstow, just off Hoe Street. It is not a “Muslim area” as such, but there are many Muslims there.) The law allows Pride parades to do this, just as the law allows Orange Order parades in Northern Ireland to carry their flags through Catholic areas.

The current Establishment would like to ban the Orange Order march and arrest the Muslim woman for protesting against the LGBT Pride march. In my childhood it would have been the other way round. I would not be surprised to see the cycle return to something like its starting point (although perhaps with the roles of the protected national causes and religions played by different actors) before I die. Or, just a thought, we could let everyone speak.

Ulster for Beginners – Part VI

The Republic of Ireland

While people will usually accept that the majority of Ulster’s citizens object to a united Ireland many still find themselves wondering why. After all, they say, the Republic seems a very pleasant, friendly sort of place and it is a modern democracy and a member of the European Union.

One might as well ask why Southern England doesn’t unite with France. After all it’s a modern democracy and a member of the European Union etc. The simple truth is that the people of Southern England have no desire to become French. To them the idea is simply absurd. The same holds for the British people of Ulster.

Another example is that of Canada and the United States. There, with the exception of Quebec, both peoples share the same language, a similar culture and a similar constitutional tradition. And yet, there is absolutely no desire on the part of Canadians to become Americans. Although a union between those two countries would almost certainly work there is something about being Canadian that Canadians wish to preserve.

Let’s, for a change, put the boot on the other foot. Why doesn’t the Republic of Ireland put an end to all this bother and rejoin the United Kingdom? After all, the two countries share similar geographies, languages and culture. Once again, to the vast majority of the citizens of the Republic of Ireland the idea seems absurd. But if union with the United Kingdom seems absurd to them why should union with the Republic of Ireland seem any less absurd to Ulster unionists?

All this does not bring us any closer to a rational explanation of the resistance to a united Ireland. Maybe there isn’t a rational explanation for national feeling. But the fact that something is not rational does not mean it does not exist.

In addition to what might be described as “national feeling” there are practical, real-world reasons why Ulster’s majority oppose a united Ireland.

One of these is the influence of the Catholic Church which plays the dominant role in administering the education and health systems of the Republic of Ireland. It does not like mere politicians interfering in that role. In 1952, Noel Browne, Irish Minister for Health, proposed a modest set of health reforms, known as the Mother and Child proposal. This was condemned by the Catholic Church and the proposals were dropped.

[Well, this is out of date!] → Continue reading: Ulster for Beginners – Part VI

Samizdata quote of the day

Are they really such idiots to poison you in a place where suspicions point only at them? It’s a good question. For now I can say one thing with certainty: the people in power in Russia are really quite stupid guys. It seems to you that in their actions you need to look for secret meaning or a rational purpose. But in fact they are just stupid, malicious and obsessed with money.

Alexei Navalny

Ooh, can I be poor too?

The gullible Metro freesheet claims that 14,300,000 people in Britain are living in poverty, quoting something called the Social Metrics Commission.

The current population of the UK is 66.87 million. According to the Office for National Statistics Labour market overview for July 2019, 32.75 million people aged 16 years and over are in employment, 354,000 more than for a year earlier. The unemployment rate is lower than at any time since 1974. I have no doubt that poverty still exists but this claim is not credible.

Boastful Boris’s big bad boondoggle

So, Boris wants to build a new railway line. Between Leeds and Manchester. He says he wants it to do “…what we did with Crossrail in London”. An interesting argument given that the only thing the still-unopened Crossrail has done so far is saddle the people of the South with some very big bills.

But that aside, there really is an awful lot of woolly-headed thinking going on here.

First of all there is the idea that the North should be as rich as the South; that “our” economy needs “rebalancing”, as the saying goes.

But should it? Maybe there are reasons the North is poorer than the South. There was a time – during the Industrial Revolution – when the opposite was the case. Probably due to presence of coal mines and ports. But historically, that was the exception. Historically, London has always been the richest part of the British Isles – doubtless due to its proximity to the Continent.

For how long have I heard politicians going on about doing something for the North? As long as I can remember. Surely, you get to a point when you realise that nothing can be done? Maybe the best option is rather than moving the jobs to the people to move the people to the jobs. Except you can’t because no one can afford to live down South because the government won’t allow anyone to build a house.

Western civilisation will end if anything is built on this land. Oh, it already has. OK, OK, some housing is getting built but very little.

Secondly, we have the idea that the government can do infrastructure. This is not completely stupid. A new rail line can make a profit. But typically it is the owners of land near the stations that gain and not the rail company. This is how Japan’s bullet trains got going with the first line being built between Japan’s biggest city, Tokyo, and its second biggest, Osaka. It was probably – I don’t think anyone was counting – a success. But the problem was that after that everywhere – from Nowhereyama to Nowhereshima – wanted a bullet train. And through the wonder that is that state, they got them. That’s a lot of debt.

Thirdly, we have the idea that railways are the answer to… well… anything really. Actually, I am being unfair. Nowadays, what railways are good at is moving large quantities of people or goods from one point to another. They are great for commuting in large cities. They are great for intercity travel [so long as the total journey time is less than three hours at which point aircraft are better]. They are great at moving huge quantities of grain from Saskatchewan and Manitoba to the St Lawrence. But for everything else they’re useless. There was a time when railways were the national transport. But those days are long gone. Nowadays they are niche players. Roads are better.

It occurs to me that it’s just possible – and I cleave to this hope – that Johnson’s announcement is part of the plan to cancel HS2. “HS2 is a marvellous idea but, zoinks! it’s expensive. Look at Leeds – Manchester. A much better bet. This shows this government’s commitment to rail, blah, blah, blah…”

Samizdata quote of the day

Perhaps the first blow to the technocratic mentality came with personal computers, pioneered not by bureaucratic think tanks, but by college kids and hobbyists. Then in 2000, the private firm Celera beat the government-run Human Genome Project in mapping the human genome, despite the government’s almost decade-long head start.

Today, the leaders in space technology are not at NASA but at private firms such as Virgin Galactic and SpaceX. True, these companies benefit from government subsidies — some of them shockingly wasteful — but nonetheless, they are demonstrating once again economic advantages of private industry over government management of technology. According to Ed Hudgins, an expert on space privatization, “as a government bureaucracy, NASA simply can’t be efficient. Every decision must be vetted and procedures followed that have more to do with protecting butts than protecting safety and keeping costs reasonable.” Private companies, by contrast, are not only faster at changing plans when necessary, but they have the incentive to do so, because they—unlike government entities—must bear the costs of their mistakes.

Timothy Sandefur

Samizdata quote of the day

Also back on the front page is world-famous self-improvement guru Tony Robbins himself, whose signature line may be: “There’s no such thing as failure. There is only feedback.” Well, Robbins just got some feedback from his publisher, which cancelled his book deal after BuzzFeed reported that he berated victims of rape and domestic violence, used racial slurs, and exposed himself to female staffers and fans. (The trifecta of professional suicide in today’s era of #MeToo and #BLM.)

The Robbins affair is the latest embarrassment for a movement that has seen its share of them since Tony became the Pope of Empowerment. But America’s obsession with incubating positivity and happiness has always amounted to less than meets the eye. For at least a half-century we’ve been putting the cart before the horse when it comes to aspirational thinking, and evidence suggests that individuals and society are both suffering for it.

Steve Salerno