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]

Caving in to blackmail

One of the lead stories on the UK national news today is a report that a hacking attack on Sony has led to a satirical film at the expense of the brutal regime about North Korea being pulled from Western cinemas:

Sony is canceling The Interview‘s planned theatrical release in response to all major US theater chains deciding not to show the film after attacks were threatened. “In light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film The Interview, we have decided not to move forward with the planned December 25 theatrical release,” Sony says in a statement, reprinted by Variety. “We respect and understand our partners’ decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers.”

“We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression.”

The hackers who stole data from Sony threatened attacks on screenings of The Interview yesterday afternoon. In the time since, around half of all movie screens in the US declined to show the film.

Sony’s statement continues: “Sony Pictures has been the victim of an unprecedented criminal assault against our employees, our customers, and our business. Those who attacked us stole our intellectual property, private emails, and sensitive and proprietary material, and sought to destroy our spirit and our morale – all apparently to thwart the release of a movie they did not like. We are deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees, and the American public. We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome.”

It is hard not to see the decision by some cinemas to pull screening of the film as anything other than a dangerous capitulation to threats of violence, although one appreciates that the owners of the cinemas think they have a legitimate issue in protecting staff and audiences. But still, this sort of move is bound to encourage other criminals to target any film, of whatever stripe, that they dislike and wish to close down. A few years ago we had the Danish cartoon episode. So what next, one wonders? I wonder what would happen if someone in the West produced a film taking the piss out of the bare-chested leader of Russia?

Meanwhile, in a weird case of life imitating art, the hackers have also allegedly grabbed an early script of the newest James Bond movie. You almost wonder whether this is clever pre-publicity, but it appears this is not.

All this stuff about how clever Putin is needs to be re-thought

A few months ago, Nigel Farage, the grinning leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, in one of his many contributions to the gaiety of nations, said – about the time of the annexation by Russia of Crimea – that he “admired” Vladimir Putin. Farage said that he did not admire the goals of VP, oh no, but he did have a sort of admiration for the ruthless determination of the man. (One wonders whether Farage rather liked the idea of having the power to bump off opponents and over-inquisitive journalists. Politicians who grin as maniacally as he does make me nervous.) Those who must abide by the messiness and compromises of Western liberal democracy can sometimes, no doubt, dream of the sort of ruthless power wielded by a Putin, Stalin or a Mao. (We tend to forget, by the way, that even a supposedly tough politician such as a Reagan or Thatcher were more hemmed in by circumstances and debate than some of their more fervent admirers and detractors care to admit.)

Alas, it appears that the image of Putin as this ruthless, chess-playing genius wrongfooting silly old Cameron, Merkel, and the chap with the funny moonface from France is not quite standing up to scrutiny. Here’s a report by Bloomberg:

“The foundations on which Vladimir Putin built his 15 years in charge of Russia are giving way. The meltdown of the ruble, which has plunged 18 percent against the dollar in the last two days alone, is endangering the mantra of stability around which Putin has based his rule. While his approval rating is near an all-time high on the back of his stance over Ukraine, the currency crisis risks eroding it and undermining his authority, Moscow-based analysts said.

In a surprise move today, the Russian central bank raised interest rates by the most in 16 years, taking its benchmark to 17 percent. That failed to halt the rout in the ruble, which has plummeted to about 70 rubles a dollar from 34 as oil prices dived by almost half to below $60 a barrel. Russia relies on the energy industry for as much as a quarter of economic output, Moody’s Investors Service said in a Dec. 9 report.

Now might also be a good time to remind ourselves of the “curse of natural resources”.

It would be worth wondering what are the odds that Putin can last a lot longer in power. That said, a sobering thought is that when regimes are in deep trouble, they can do desperate, crazy things, as Argentina did in 1982 by invading the Falklands. If I were a planner for NATO right now, I’d be having a nervous Christmas and New Year ahead of me.

Samizdata quote of the day

We are in the midst of a war on rape. From American campuses to British courthouses, from newspaper op-ed pages to the weird world of online petitions, ‘zero tolerance’ of rape has been declared. And who could possibly be against it? No one is ‘pro-rape’. So surely everyone will cheer a war on rape. Not so fast. Wars on rape have been declared before, and often for deeply reactionary reasons, having the effect of harming society rather than helping women. Consider the ‘war on rape’ declared in America’s Deep South in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when the KKK and other racists likewise declared zero tolerance of rape – rape committed by black men, that is – and signalled their determination to wipe out this ‘ultimate transgression’. There was little positive in that crusade. And here are five ways in which today’s non-racist feministic ‘war on rape’ echoes the lynch-mob logic of yesteryear’s racist ‘war on rape’

Brendan O’Neill

Samizdata quote of the day

OK, Russell, so if you don’t like representative democracy, what’s your alternative? Anarchy? Fascism? Monarchical absolutism? An Islamic Caliphate? Because you can’t have a functioning democracy without politicians; and politicians, in every parliament, tend to group themselves officially or unofficially into parties.

Daniel Hannan

El Sistema in Venezuela probably is not that much harsher than most musical education

The moon is blue, so I shall defend a socialist prestige cultural project. East Germany had its shotputters, the USSR its grand masters of chess, Venezuela has “El Sistema” – a much lauded system of musical education. Now, however, there is a discordant note:

Author exposes ‘tyranny’ behind musical miracle for poor children

Over 40 years, El Sistema, Venezuela’s music education system, has given a million children the opportunity to play in an orchestra, enriching, they say, the lives of youngsters from the barrios.

Its methods have been emulated in 60 countries, notably Scotland, where a Sistema-style operation was pioneered on a tough housing estate in Stirling with support from the classical violinist Nicola Benedetti.

The mood music has changed, however, with the publication of El Sistema: Orchestrating Venezuela’s Youth, by Geoffrey Baker.
Aghast at the book’s claims of corruption, mismanagement and nepotism within Venezuela, a Conservative politician has questioned whether El Sistema should extend its reach any further. Yesterday, Alex Johnstone, MSP for North East Scotland, said that plans for a Sistema orchestra in Dundee must be halted while the claims are investigated.

“This book gives the impression that the system is much more authoritarian and intolerant than some were letting on,” said Mr Johnstone. “Not so much a new idea, as back to the Victorian habits of teaching piano by rapping them across the knuckles.”

Corruption, mismanagement and nepotism in a socialist show project would astound me only by their absence. But authoritarianism is the norm when teaching children to play musical instruments the world over, and has been since forever. The exception is the namby-pamby modern Western middle classes, and not all of them. The common opinion of that portion of mankind that gives music lessons or pays for them is that you won’t be going anywhere until you have done your quota of scales, sweetums, and if your name is Wei or Xiuying, these days that quota is likely to be big.

Do not misunderstand me. I like namby pamby. I’ve been uncomfortable with compulsion in education for decades now, and if not convinced that it can be dispensed with altogether for the very youngest children, am certainly convinced that it can be phased out at a far younger age than most people think. In most contexts I am convinced that education without force is immeasurably better education.

But how do you get them to practise – or don’t you? Given that it takes unfailing hours of daily practice to make a great player, and that for most instruments the great players invariably start young, would the price of freeing children from the slavery of music practice be no more great classical musicians? If so, would it be worth it?

I hope that Al Qaeda is right

Thomas Friedman has written a piece for the the New York Times called “How ISIS drives Muslims from Islam”.

I do not know whether what he claims is true, though it would accord with the experience of Europe after the Wars of Religion. I hope it is true, and I hope even more that a lot of Muslims come to believe it to be true. That applies equally to peaceable Muslims and to bloodthirsty Muslims. I hope the peaceable Muslims are pushed into differentiating themselves from the savages both in public and in their own minds. Even Al-Qaeda appears to believe that ISIS barbarity loses more for Islam than it gains; it has been pushed by Muslim public opinion into reining in its own penchant for headchopping. Repentance on the part of Al-Qaeda is too much to hope for even for a hopeful person like me, but self-interest can sometimes penetrate where morality cannot.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Context matters—everyone agrees about that. And it’s the context that distinguishes the ordinary kinds of communication, protected by the First Amendment, from those kinds of statements, like threats or defamatory comments, that are crimes. The law recognizes that a threat is a kind of injury, over and above the language in which it is communicated. If I were to move my hand swiftly toward your face, and you flinch, that’s an assault because you’ve been made to reasonably fear for your safety. When exactly the same act is carried out through language, the protection that communication normally receives should not cover up the criminality of the underlying assault. Holding Elonis responsible for his actions threatens no serious threat to the First Amendment.”

Timothy Sandefur, making an argument about how threatening messages issued via social media, etc, should be regarded from the point of view of free speech. I need to reflect a bit more about what I think about the cases he’s cited, but the whole article is worth reading.

Anton Howes on the Golden Age that never stopped

One of my favourite up-and-coming libertarian intellectuals is Anton Howes, who manages to combine being both a hugely effective libertarian activist and a very promising academic. He, along with a great gaggle of others, runs the very impressive Liberty League, and he is doing some very interesting historical research.

The particularly good Anton Howes news, from the point of view of the sort of people who read Samizdata, is that Anton Howes now has a blog, Capitalism’s Cradle. It reflects Anton’s research interests. He is studying the origins of the British Industrial Revolution by studying the biographies of several dozen of the key industrial innovators who set that Revolution in motion and who then kept it in motion. I first learned about this blog when Anton himself told me about it at the Adam Smith Institute Christmas Party last week. Anton is the rather solemn looking guy in the third row down, on the right, in this selection of photos that I took at that event.

Below is a quote from the very first posting on Capitalism’s Cradle, entitled Why Capitalism’s Cradle? I take this posting to be both an explanation of why the Capitalism’s Cradle blog is called that, and a question about why Capitalism’s Cradle did its stuff where it did and when it did. The question Anton is trying to answer is: What was it about the British Industrial Revolution that caused it to do better than various other “Golden Ages” that had preceded it in earlier times and in other places? Because it was indeed very special. It didn’t just happen, and then revert back to business as usual. This particular Golden Age never stopped. It spread, and it is still spreading. Why?

Innovation existed before the Industrial Revolution. Of course it did – you need look no further than the invention of agriculture, writing, bronze, crop rotations, horse collars, windmills, gunpowder, printing presses, paper, and bills of exchange to know that innovations have occurred throughout history before the IR.

The difference is that these were few and far between. Some of them, often grouped together, resulted in Golden Ages, or “Efflorescences” as Jack Goldstone likes to call them. The 1st Century early Roman Empire; the 8th Century Arab World; 12th Century Sung Dynasty China; the 15th Century northern Italian city-states; and 17th Century Dutch Republic are all good examples.

Britain could have been just like any of the other Golden Ages. It could have had Abraham Darby’s coke-smelted cast iron, Thomas Newcomen’s steam engine for pumping mines, John Kay’s flying shuttle to allow weaved cloth to be wider than the length of the weaver’s arm-span. Perhaps we would have had Lady Mary Wortley’s inoculation against smallpox, some canals much like the Romans’ or Medieval Chinese, and Jethro Tull’s seed drill.

But like every previous Golden Age, that would have been it – until the next Golden Age, wherever and whenever that would end up being.

But the British IR was different. It started off as a ‘mere’ Golden Age in the 18th Century, but the pace of innovation was maintained and then quickened. And it hasn’t stopped for the past 250 years or so. Despite the occasional downturn, we still expect at least 1-2% GDP growth. Anything less than that is considered stagnation.

That isn’t the answer to the question. It merely restates the question in somewhat greater detail. But I particularly like this elaboration, because I have heard Anton refer in passing to these Golden Ages, these efflorescences, in various talks that I have heard him deliver, but I didn’t make a note of what they all were. Now, I have this blog posting, and this blog in general, to enable me to chase up such notions, and also to help me ponder all the other notions that will be needed to get towards an answer to the question that Anton is posing.

I do not think I will be the only Samizdata reader who will also be a regular reader of Capitalism’s Cradle.

The Senate’s Report on the CIA’s Torture Program

A few hours ago, the heavily redacted 500 page executive summary of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program, a.k.a. “The Torture Report”, came out.

Here are just a few things I’ve learned from it.

In November, 2002, a man named Gul Rahman, who was totally innocent of any crime so far as we can tell, was being systematically tortured by the CIA at a top secret site named COBALT in an unnamed foreign country. It was felt that he was being “uncooperative”, probably because it is hard to even convincingly lie about having information when you were arrested for no reason and have no basis on which to spin a story. To make him “more cooperative”, he was shackled naked in his unheated cell 36ºF cell. The next morning, his jailers found his body. He had died in the night of hypothermia.

This is just one of the literally hundreds of horrors to be found in the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA’s crimes against humanity. It is described on page 54 of a 500 page summary of a 6,000 page report we will never see.

Gul Rahman’s murderers will never be brought to justice. Indeed, the man responsible for this, known in the unredacted portion of the report only as “CIA OFFICER 1″, received a $2,500 spot bonus four months later for his “consistently superior work” [page 55 of the report.]

Page after page after page recounts things like this and far worse. You can go almost anywhere in it and find things that beggar the imagination. Picking at random, for example, page 50 informs us: “One senior interrogator told the CIA OIG that “literally, a detainee could go for days or weeks without anyone looking at him,” and that his team found one detainee who, “‘as far as we could determine,’ had been chained to the wall in a standing position for 17 days.””

Oh, and the full 6000 page report’s creation was hampered by systematic destruction of evidence by the CIA and by their deliberate attempts to infiltrate, disrupt and harm the investigation, almost the least of which were deliberate lies made to Senate investigators, the CIA’s Inspector General, and other authorities. Hell, they even hacked the committee’s computers to try to disrupt their work and spy on them. The Director of the CIA also lied repeatedly to Congress. (See the report.) Who knows what sort of things are recounted in the evidence that was destroyed or never seen?

Anyway, back to our modern oubliette. Gul Rahman was just one of many, another statistic, another “oops” in a series of “oopses”. A man chained to a wall standing up for 17 days? Also an “oops”. We’ve all become so hardened to this that it doesn’t even shock us or surprise us that the State tortured an innocent man and froze him to death and never even considered punishing anyone for it. It no longer shocks us that someone might be chained to a wall standing up for 17 days. It no longer shocks us that a CIA interrogator killed a man he was torturing but was none the less allowed to continue working. It doesn’t shock us that two psychologists with no real qualifications were paid $80m to consult on how to torture people more effectively, not that a lick of useful information appears to have been uncovered, and it doesn’t even shock us that the CIA systematically lied to make it seem like brutal torture was producing intelligence when it came up empty.

Oh, yes. That too. All this sadism, much of which was bizarre, vicious and extemporaneous, yielded nothing. Yes, I’m sure there will be counterclaims, as the CIA has been busy lying about that for years, but the report’s authors, who had all the right clearances, examined all the evidence in detail and found nothing of value was produced — absolutely nothing.

Anyway, this sort of outrage is now just part of the background we live under — pervasive digital espionage, censorship, “extraordinary rendition”, force-feedings at Guantanamo, and all the rest. It is routine, uninteresting, not worth your trouble. Move on. There’s nothing to see here. This is just the way the world is. Nothing will happen even if you get angry, so why waste your time?

O tempora, o mores.

Just when I was beginning to think the European Court of Human Rights might not be so bad

Via Jim Miller on Politics, I found this:

EU court orders France to pay thousands to Somali pirates

The EU’s top human rights court on Thursday ordered France to pay thousands of euros to Somali pirates who attacked French ships for “violating their rights” by holding them an additional 48 hours before taking them before a judge.

The Somali pirates were apprehended on the high seas by the French army on two separate occasions in 2008 and taken back to France for trial.

(The report is incorrect to call the ECHR an “EU court”. Judgements and precedents may mesh with EU law in ways I do not fully understand; but the ECHR is the creation of the Council of Europe, not the European Union.)

I sometimes think that this sort of judgement can only be the result of a deliberate strategy to discredit the words “human rights” in the eyes of the peoples of Europe. But why would anyone want to do that? Perhaps because it suits the immediate self-interest of the individual “human rights professionals”, and the future be damned.

By the way, it is possible to defend the Somali pirates on quasi-libertarian grounds; that they only do freelance what states regularly do without arousing condemnation. One of the commenters to the MSN piece appears to take that view. I don’t, although I do accept (make that “passionately proclaim”) that states continually get a pass on evil deeds just by calling themselves states. Even so, states that have acted as the pirates do – kidnapping and murdering passing holidaymakers – do not escape condemnation, and nor should anyone else.

Samizdata quote of the day

Pornography is the canary in the coal mine of free speech. It is the first freedom to die.

Myles Jackman

Quoted at the end of this Adam Smith Institute blog posting by Charlotte Bowyer

If you don’t care whether a rape really happened, you don’t care about rape

So, Rolling Stone magazine have rolled back on Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s University of Virginia gang rape story.

A typical reaction when that story first came out came from CNN Political commentator Sally Kohn: “Stop shaming victims in college rapes”. I quote:

Will Drew and UVA get off easily while Jackie’s life — and other college women like her — is shattered?

If UVA has any sense of moral rightness and wishes to remain a great university, it should conduct a thorough investigation into these and similar allegations and mete out appropriate punishment for the perpetuators [sic].

A more senior colleague might like to take Ms Kohn aside and teach her the proper meaning of two words, “allegations” and “perpetrators”. The spelling correction alone does not put right what is wrong with the way both of them combine in that last sentence.

A typical reaction now that the story has been semi-retracted came from Guardian columnist and Feministing founder Jessica Valenti. “I trust women,” she tweets. She disavows the idea that her choice to trust a person is made on the basis of any assessment of individual trustworthiness; she simply trusts the 50% of the human species who belong to the same group as she does. It is group loyalty. On the same grounds, given that she is white, she might as well say, “I trust white people.”

Kohn, Valenti and their like present themselves as the friends of rape victims. There is such a thing as toxic friendship. Before the retraction of the story, I read this account by Liz Seccuro in Time magazine. Ms Seccuro was raped, at the University of Virginia, at the same Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, thirty years ago in 1984. “Do you believe me?” she asks. The answer to that is yes. A man was convicted and jailed for her rape, though she says that there were others who escaped any punishment. But observe that I had to make it very clear that she really was raped. Because after the Duke University lacrosse team affair and this recent one, “rape at frat house” stories (including that of Jackie as described by Erdely, which will now be entirely dismissed by most even though some of it could still be true) provoke an involuntary twitch of doubt even in observers wishing to remain impartial.

Not that the feminists I’ve read on this story ever had any such wish. They said, very clearly, that unquestioning partiality was exactly what they wanted. “I trust women.” They said, as they have been saying for years now, that even the attempt to judge any rape claim on the evidence was to be a “rape apologist”, as Rachel Sklar was quoted as saying here, or was an instance of “rape denialism”, as Amanda Marcotte tweeted here, adding for good measure that it was equivalent to Holocaust denialism.

It is they who are the rape denialists. Or perhaps “deniers that rape matters” would put it better. If you don’t care whether or not a rape actually occurred, then you don’t care about rape. It is a tautology, and a separate point to the one about the trauma faced by real rape victims who seek justice being intensified by the additional scepticism with which their account will now be met. If you think that the moral force of a claim of rape cannot be diminished by evidence that it is false, then in the same act you believe that it cannot be added to by evidence that it is true.