Today is 17th November, the day when the Velvet Revolution began 18 years ago. Since then there have been years when I did not ‘commemorate’ the event and there were years when I did. A couple of weeks ago I was visiting Eastern Europe and despite the trickle of bandwidth available where I was staying, I found myself watching old clips from the communist era on YouTube. The most surreal was not the absurdity of their content, the ridiculous gravitas of the communist propaganda but the memory of this rubbish being taken seriously and accepted as the norm.
I have written about 17th November 1989 already and what it meant to me. This year I prefer to share some images, which as usual, speak a thousand words. To those, let me add music and words of Karel Kryl whose songs used to be a constant companion in the years before the revolution. I was old enough to understand his bitter humour and lyrical cynicism. There is nothing soft or simple about Kryl’s songs, they are hard hitting, harsh and without hope.
When armies of Warsaw Pact occupied Czechoslovakia on August 21, 1968 to suppress the democratization movement of Prague Spring, Karel Kryl released album BratŠ™íÄku zavírej vrátka (Close the Gate, Little Brother), full of songs describing his disgust over the occupation, life under the communist rule, and rude inhumanity and stupidity of the regime. The album was released in early 1969 and was banned and removed from shelves shortly thereafter. This work became an icon of the anti-communist movement for years to come — when he returned from exile in 1989 during the Velvet Revolution, almost every little child in Czechoslovakia knew the lyrics of these songs by heart.
One of his most famous songs has been superimposed on video clips of the two historical events in Czechoslovakia – August 1968 and November 1989.
[Quick and dirty translation] Little brother, don’t sob, it is not a banshee
Don’t be frightened, it is only soldiers,
Who arrived in sharp-edged metal caravans
Through tears caught on eyelashes we look at each other
Come with me little brother, I fear for you
On the uneven roads, little brother, in children’s shoes
It rains and it is getting dark
This night will not be short
The wolf has a yen for the lamb
Little brother, have you closed the gate?
Little brother, please do not sob
Do not waste your tears
Hold back the curses and save your strength
You mustn’t blame me if we do not make it
Learn the song, it is not so hard
Lean on me, little brother, the road is rough
We will stumble forth, we cannot turn back
It rains and it is getting dark
This night will not be short
The wolf has a yen for the lamb
Little brother, do close the gate!
Please close the gate!
November 17th, 2007 | 17 comments - (Comments are closed)
A notorious extremist group says it has tampered with more than 250 items containing the antiseptic, which is mainly used to treat children suffering from cuts and grazes, as part of a long-running campaign against an animal testing laboratory.
The group, calling itself the Animal Rights Militia, said it targeted Savlon in a “clear and uncompromising” manner because it believes its Swiss manufacturer, Novartis, to be a client of the research centre Huntingdon Life Sciences.
And it warned its campaign would continue unless the pharmaceutical firm ends its links with HLS.
The Telegraph article seems to serve as a platform for their statement and agenda instead of a report that these criminals have been arrested and appropriately dealt with.
August 31st, 2007 | 23 comments - (Comments are closed)
The more important the story, the more incidental our opinions become. Something larger is needed: the patient sifting of fact, the acknowledgment that assertion is not evidence and, as the best writers understand, the depiction of real life. Reasoned argument, as well as top-of-the-head comment on the blogosphere, will follow soon enough, and it should. But what lodges in the memory, and sometimes knifes us in the heart, is the fidelity with which a writer observes and tells. The word has lost its luster, but we once called that reporting.
Who’d have guessed that he’s describing journalism in the above?! Skube reads like an old journalist pro (and I use that word in the loosest possible sense) who bemoans the fact that his hard-earned ‘right’ to be published is being trampled upon by the barbaric hoards of bloggers. Well, the Big Editor in the Sky is no longer, there is just the internet with the online equivalent of printing press. With distribution bundled in. The bargain of the millennium. But the likes of Skube want to convince the world (or what’s left of those who haven’t taken to blogging) that this is bad for the luxury brands of MSM. We already know that, Michael. The real luxury is not having someone like you misrepresent what people are, do and mean by your selective ‘fact-sifting’, out of context quoting, and sloppy reporting. I am not accusing Michael Skube of such practices here, I’ll leave that to Ed Cone, I am targeting the entire profession here. I am an equal opportunity ranter.
It always amuses me – right after it annoys me – how his type (Andrew Keen et al) only trawl through the bad stuff online and construct their argument around the worst they can find. Granted, nowadays they find a parenthesis or two to reluctantly admit that bloggers have some influence.. but no matter, if things continue this way, we are all dooomed. DOOOOMED! Well, yeah, dude.
Instead of supporting their arguments about the plebeian nature of the blogosphere and the rubbish we are all inundated with, they merely demonstrate their lack of skill in navigating blogs and finding the daily gems. So Jay Rosen of PressThink put together a blowback that’s worth bookmarking – a collective effort of many to list examples of a blogger doing a journalist’s job. It has also been published in LA Times. For the record.
A rant warning! Last night Hugh and I were talking, amongst other things, about hierarchies and their impact on individual’s autonomy, or sovereignty as he calls it. And, predictably, how the internet has changed what has been long accepted as the balance of power between the individual and institutions. These things never far from my mind, a few thoughts struck me as I watched a couple of episodes of the series Rome.
Vorenus, the prefect of 13th legion runs into Pompey Magnus who is fleeing with his family to Egypt. He decides to let him go after Pompey begs for mercy for his wife and children. Upon return to the camp, he explains to Caesar that he didn’t feel the need to apprehend Pompey as he was abandoned, weak and dirty and bring him to punishment. Caesar gets angry and says “Remember I am the only one who dispenses mercy around here“.
Pompey Magnus is treacherously assassinated by a Roman soldier who serves an Egyptian master as he moors on the Egyptian beach and his head offered to Caesar as a welcoming gift. To the Egyptian’s shock, Caesar is appalled and storms out in anger at their barbarism and Pompey undignified death. (Talk about cultural clash.) When they protest: But he was your enemy? He angrily replies: He was a consul of Rome!
Vorenus is instructed by Caesar to find and free Cleopatra. He takes the opportunity to apologise for his ‘lapse of judgement’ regarding capturing Pompey. He says, if only I did my duty…
These are examples of how power, rules and resulting hierarchies create environments where individuals have no real autonomy by default. In the first one, Vorenus has his ability to make moral decisions (i.e. based on what he considers right and wrong) denied to him. In the second, Caesar’s outrage at the death of his enemy is not about Pompey but about the disrespect to the office that lent this particular wretch significance above other human beings.
The third is about duty. Duty is important, often deeply embedded in people to follow a particular rule that usually makes sense on some level – either evolutionary or social. It is however designed to protect the system, rarely the individual. I am not attacking the sense of duty that comes from individuals themselves but the kind of duty often invoked to subdue them, namely duty to follow orders. Without autonomy, that kind of ‘virtue’ is just another tool in the tyrant’s toolbox. It took a collectivist horror for the European societies to realise that it is morally inadmissible even for the armed forces to follow orders, abrogating humanity.
Hierarchical systems and institutions take over people and hollow out anything that is individual to replace it with their own trinkets – position, status, power, money, influence, resources. People are defined by what position they hold, by the family they are born into, by people with greater power than them and finally, if they are lucky, by their decisions. Such systems with centralised or unchecked power attract people who wield it enthusiastically and ruthlessly. Using that power, in exchange for perpetuating the system, they shape others to its rules. Nasty things become possible in the name of the system… It’s one of the ways power corrupts. → Continue reading: What is Rome for?
August 22nd, 2007 | 40 comments - (Comments are closed)
Evidence that East German borders guards had a clear ‘license to kill’ anyone who tried to cross the country borders. By the way, I just love how the BBC uses the communist term ‘defectors’. So leaving a totalitarian, communist hell-hole counts as ‘defection’? WTF?
But I digress.
Border guards in East Germany during the Cold War were given clear orders to shoot at attempted defectors, including children, a senior official says.
The seven-page document dated 1 October 1973, was found last week in an archive in the eastern city of Magdeburg, among the papers of an East German border guard.
I am sure it was not the only document in existence. At least there is some tangible evidence now. It reads:
Do not hesitate with the use of a firearm, including when the border breakouts involve women and children, which the traitors have already frequently taken advantage of.
This has not come as a surprise to me. What was a surprise is this has not been officially known, confirmed, understood before. It is as if the societies that went through (and were complicit in) the communist ordeal are reluctant to confront the full horrors, the corruption and destruction that were at their core for decades.
I whole heartedly agree with Marianne Birthler, director of the government office that now manages Stasi archives, when she says.
We have a long way to go in reckoning with the past.
A public service warning! You surf the internet at random using FireFox (which generally you should), you may stumble across a website, which could infest your machine with a virus. But this is nothing new, I have heard about these evil websites full of Trojans and other nasty viruses and I know better… I hear you cry. Apparently, this particular attack does not require a download. Which means that is unlikely to be trapped by your anti-virus software, certainly in the short-term.
Protecting yourself for now is fairly simple. You will need to make a trivial modification to your FireFox settings.
To do this, start FireFox, enter the URL “about:config”, scroll down, and for each of the following entries make sure it is set to “true”.
If it isn’t, right-click the line and choose “Toggle”, which will set the value to “true”
ZDNet opinion leader uses an excellent metaphor for the Conservatives’s attitude to things digital and online.
..when it comes to being digital, standing with the Conservative party is like dancing with a hippo on a bouncy castle. You’re not going to be in the same place for long.
I have heard George Osborne pontificating on open source and its use in public sector. It was a politician’s speech, after all he is one so no surprises there. I was not as impressed by it as others in the audience but agree that it was a Good Thing that a member of the opposition front bench was talking about open source positively. But as usual for political parties, the left hand does not know what the right one is doing…
We need you in the music industry itself to continue to innovate and make the sort of technological progress that makes pirating CDs more and more difficult.
Oh dear. It gets worse:
… it is only right that you are given greater protection on your investments by the extension of copyright term.” He went on to suggest that the industry could earn this increase in monopoly rights by providing “positive role models” for children. Regulate and legislate; tame and control.
Cameron may be telling the industry what it wants to hear, but it’s as nonsensical as curing alcoholism with whisky. If we have learned anything from the past decade, it is that the music industry — indeed, the old intellectual property-based industries as a whole — has grown lazy and defensive through being given too much control, by being allowed to write the laws to suit itself and then demand deference. Now that such an approach is technically impossible to maintain and the customers are in open revolt, merely demanding more of the same is beyond satire. It’s negligent, lazy and harmful — and in direct conflict with the facts.
Wholesale reform and new approaches are needed, not digging in to defend the ancient regime. The shadow chancellor affirms this. The leader of the opposition denies this. The rest of us have no idea what they think. Time to de-hippo that castle.
In the next 12 months, McDonald’s plans on creating enough fuel to power its 155 delivery vehicles while having enough fuel left over to sell into the public market. The fuel will be composed of 85% waste vegetable oil and 15% virgin rapeseed oil. So, while it will be 100% carbon neutral, it won’t be entirely waste oil.
It is all very well training executives in communication with the media. Somehow I have a feeling that if the guy was allow to talk normally instead of using the pseudo-technical press-release talk, this might have been avoided.
However, Matthew Howe, Senior VP of McDonald’s UK was quoted saying:”As we get better at the refinement we will be able to remove virgin rape from the process”, a line which we sincerely hope never gets taken out of context. [emphasis mine]
Now please excuse me whilst I clean the tea from out of my keyboard.
July 15th, 2007 | 4 comments - (Comments are closed)
A marvellous article by Antony Jay in today’s Daily Telegraph confirms what has been obvious for some time to anyone reading political blogs and pundits – the BBC is biased. And not only that, it has its own ideology that Antony Jay calls ‘media liberal ideology’. His article analyses impact of technology, history and perspectives on individual and institutions that defined the BBC and with it the chattering classes. A must read as it provides a solid backbone to our rants against the BBC politics. Here are a few morsels that should give you a taste of the piece.
Of people working at the BBC and particularly on Newsnight, which he produced for several years.
…we were not just anti-Macmillan; we were anti-industry, anti-capitalism, anti-advertising, anti-selling, anti-profit, anti-patriotism, anti-monarchy, anti-Empire, anti-police, anti-armed forces, anti-bomb, anti-authority. Almost anything that made the world a freer, safer and more prosperous place, you name it, we were anti it.
I disagree with the final sentence of the following quote. There is never too much freedom or too much variety, nevertheless the distinction is brilliant. Saying that there is too much freedom is like saying that there are too many notes in Mozart’s music… which ones would you like to remove? But I digress:
…there have always been two principal ways of misunderstanding a society: by looking down on it from above, and by looking up at it from below. In other words, by identifying with institutions or by identifying with individuals.
To look down on society from above, from the point of view of the ruling groups, the institutions, is to see the dangers of the organism splitting apart, the individual components shooting off in different directions, until everything dissolves into anarchy. Those who see society in this way are preoccupied with the need for order, discipline, control, authority and organisation.
To look up at society from below, from the point of view of the lowest group, the governed, is to see the dangers of the organism growing ever more rigid and oppressive until it fossilises into a monolithic tyranny. Those who see society in this way are preoccupied with the need for liberty, equality, self-expression, representation, freedom of speech and action and worship, and the rights of the individual. The reason for the popularity of these misunderstandings is that both views are correct, as far as they go, and both sets of dangers are real but there is no “right” point of view. The most you can ever say is that sometimes society is in danger from too much authority and uniformity and sometimes from too much freedom and variety.
A brutal description of the media elite’s views and attitudes and how they got there:
The second factor which shaped our media liberal attitudes was a sense of exclusion. We saw ourselves as part of the intellectual élite, full of ideas about how the country should be run, and yet with no involvement in the process or power to do anything about it. Being naïve in the way institutions actually work, yet having good arts degrees from reputable universities, we were convinced that Britain’s problems were the result of the stupidity of the people in charge. We ignored the tedious practicalities of getting institutions to adopt and implement ideas.
This ignorance of the realities of government and management enabled us to occupy the moral high ground. We saw ourselves as clever people in a stupid world, upright people in a corrupt world, compassionate people in a brutal world, libertarian people in an authoritarian world. We were not Marxists but accepted a lot of Marxist social analysis. Some people called us arrogant; looking back, I am afraid I cannot dispute the epithet.
And here he spells out their anti-market bias:
We also had an almost complete ignorance of market economics. That ignorance is still there. Say ”Tesco” to a media liberal and the patellar reflex says, “Exploiting African farmers and driving out small shopkeepers”. The achievement of providing the range of goods, the competitive prices, the food quality, the speed of service and the ease of parking that attract millions of shoppers every day does not show up on the media liberal radar.
It’s an ideology!
For a time it puzzled me that after 50 years of tumultuous change the media liberal attitudes could remain almost identical to those I shared in the 1950s. Then it gradually dawned on me: my BBC media liberalism was not a political philosophy, even less a political programme. It was an ideology based not on observation and deduction but on faith and doctrine. We were rather weak on facts and figures, on causes and consequences, and shied away from arguments about practicalities. If defeated on one point we just retreated to another; we did not change our beliefs. We were, of course, believers in democracy. The trouble was that our understanding of it was structurally simplistic and politically naïve. It did not go much further than one-adult-one-vote.
We ignored the whole truth, namely that modern Western civilisation stands on four pillars, and elected governments is only one of them. Equally important is the rule of law. The other two are economic: the right to own private property and the right to buy and sell your property, goods, services and labour. (Freedom of speech, worship, and association derive from them; with an elected government and the rule of law a nation can choose how much it wants of each). We never got this far with our analysis. The two economic freedoms led straight to the heresy of free enterprise capitalism – and yet without them any meaningful freedom is impossible.
But analysis was irrelevant to us. Ultimately, it was not a question of whether a policy worked but whether it was right or wrong when judged by our media liberal moral standards. There was no argument about whether, say, capital punishment worked. If retentionists came up with statistics showing that abolition increased the number of murders we simply rejected them.
And the damning conclusion:
It is not so much that their ideas and arguments are harebrained and impracticable: some of their causes are in fact admirable. The trouble – you might even say the tragedy – is that their implementation by governments eager for media approval has progressively damaged our institutions. Media liberal pressure has prompted a stream of laws, regulations and directives to champion the criminal against the police, the child against the school, the patient against the hospital, the employee against the company, the soldier against the army, the borrower against the bank, the convict against the prison – there is a new case in the papers almost every day, and each victory is a small erosion of the efficiency and effectiveness of the institution.
I can now see that my old BBC media liberalism was not a basis for government. It was an ideology of opposition, valuable for restraining the excesses of institutions and campaigning against the abuses of authority but it was not a way of actually running anything. It serves a vital function when government is dictatorial and oppressive, but when government is ineffective and over-permissive it is hopelessly inappropriate.
I can’t deny that my perceptions have come through the experience of leaving the BBC. Suppose I had stayed. Would I have remained a devotee of the metropolitan media liberal ideology that I once absorbed so readily? I have an awful fear that the answer is yes.
I may not agree with everything Antony Jay says and believes but that does not detract from the value of his, well, confession. Aptly, the article is an abridged extract from ‘Confessions of a Reformed BBC Producer’ to be published tomorrow by CPS.
The Samizdata people are a bunch of sinister and heavily armed globalist illuminati who seek to infect the entire world with the values of personal liberty and several property. Amongst our many crimes is a sense of humour and the intermittent use of British spelling.
We are also a varied group made up of social individualists, classical liberals, whigs, libertarians, extropians, futurists, ‘Porcupines’, Karl Popper fetishists, recovering neo-conservatives, crazed Ayn Rand worshipers, over-caffeinated Virginia Postrel devotees, witty Frédéric Bastiat wannabes, cypherpunks, minarchists, kritarchists and wild-eyed anarcho-capitalists from Britain, North America, Australia and Europe.