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]

The weirdness of the modern world

The Chinese People’s Daily features an article called “The miracle called Communist Party of China”.

With uncensored comments.

All hail the Bob Crow Brigade

Middle East Eye reports:

Bob Crow brigade ’30 miles’ from IS-stronghold of Raqqa in Syria

The Bob Crow Brigade (BCB), a group of British and Irish volunteers fighting in northern Syria named after a famous British trade union leader, are edging closer to the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa.

A spokesperson from the BCB told Middle East Eye that the group was based on the “Raqqa front” around 30 miles from the IS group’s de facto capital.

The BCB is named after the late leader of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT), who was known for his down-to-earth combative style and a staunch supporter of left-wing causes. He died in 2014.

I must confess that when I first heard of a brigade named after Bob Crow I thought it was a joke. It seems not. They are real, and they are really fighting some of the worst people in the world. Good luck to them.

Added later: Sure, they’re commies. And they support the strikers on Southern Rail. But they are doing it from Northern Syria while fighting Daesh. As Winston Churchill said during WWII, “if Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.”

An unhappy tune in Venezuela

Do dooo doo-doo. Right! Do you remember David Cameron’s happy little hum after announcing his resignation? A Venezuelan composer and pianist, Gabriela Montero, improvised upon that theme in the Baroque style. ‘Then, adding humour to creativity,’ reports the Times, ‘she closes the keyboard-lid with a crisp “right!” — exactly as the former prime minister did as he closed his front door.’

Sadly the rest of the article is not so jolly.

Montero has expressed her views in music as well as on social media. Five years ago she poured her vitriol into an astonishingly explosive 13-minute composition for piano and orchestra, significantly called Ex Patria. Described by her as an “unapologetic vision of Venezuela’s accelerating civic collapse and moral decay”, it comes across as a vivid musical portrait of a traumatised country. The BBC should have had the courage to ask her to play it at the Proms rather than Grieg’s anodyne Piano Concerto.

Last year there were nearly 28,000 murder victims and those are just the reported ones
“You know, it’s even worse now,” she says. “I wrote Ex Patria in 2011 and dedicated it to the 19,336 people who were murdered in Venezuela that year. Last year there were close to 28,000 victims, and those are just the reported ones. Imagine how many deaths are unrecorded. Then you will understand that, unfortunately, Ex Patria will have a long life. I always hoped that one day I could put it away and never play it again because I wrote it as a cry of anguish during the darkest times for Venezuela, but that day seems far away.”

[…]

Since composing Ex Patria, Montero’s website and live performances have become rallying-points for Venezuela’s expatriate dissidents. “Yes, the concerts are far more than musical events now,” she affirms. “So many Venezuelans come and speak to me afterwards about their children who have been murdered, or their parents who have been kidnapped, or their homes that have been taken away, or their lives fractured by forced exile. Even my Facebook page has become a pharmacy directory for people in Venezuela who are desperate to get medicine.”

Montero will not be the only Venezuelan musician at the Proms. A separate Times article says,

He is simply The Dude, arguably the best-known conductor in the world. The superstar product of the famed Venezuelan music project El Sistema, his appeal crosses continents, generations and even genres: a close friend of Chris Martin, he appeared with Coldplay at the Super Bowl half-time concert.

Gustavo Dudamel, the artistic director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, can seemingly do no wrong.

However, the 35-year-old star, who once conducted what was described as “the greatest Prom of all time”, has come under blistering attack from a fellow Venezuelan musician, the pianist Gabriela Montero.

She has denounced him in the strongest possible terms in an interview with The Times for failing to speak out about the economic collapse facing their home country, where inflation is running at 200 per cent and people cross the border into Colombia just to buy household necessities.

“I don’t care how well he conducts,” Montero said of Dudamel, who has failed to dissociate himself from what is happening in Venezuela. “What he has and hasn’t done as a human being invalidates everything else.”

Having read this I was on fire with sympathy for Montero and anger at Dudamel. Yet Dudamel does have a defence. It is scarcely heroic yet I find it hard to condemn, given that I have never lived under anything but a liberal regime. It’s just the usual thing – the usual justification for collaboration with the powerful offered by artists in somewhat repressive regimes. That is, artists of around the average level of courage among humans living in regimes of around the average level of badness in history.

A product of El Sistema, the state-funded music project that mentors 300,000 children at a time, many of them from the country’s poorest slums, Dudamel is the most successful individual to have emerged from the programme.

In The Los Angeles Times last September he wrote: “To those who believe I have been silent too long, I say this: do not mistake my lack of political posturing for a lack of compassion or beliefs. If I aligned myself with one political philosophy or another then, by extension, I could also politicise El Sistema. That might turn a revered and successful program into a political punching bag and make it much more vulnerable to political whims.”

Brian Micklethwait has twice speculated on this blog that repression is good for music, citing the example of Shostakovich dodging the murderous caprice of Stalin. I have speculated that, while a morally dubious amount of familial pressure may be often be applied to children to create a classical musician, El Sistema seems no more coercive than most other musical education. Venezuela itself is a remarkably clear demonstration of how socialism turns an up-and-coming country into a dump, but comes far down the list of tyrannies of the world. If (piling impossibility upon impossibility) I were Venezuelan and a great, or at least very good, musician which would I be, a Montero or a Dudamel? Which ought I to be? Is the answer different if I were citizen of the democidal Soviet Union rather than Chavista Venezuela and/or an indisputably great composer, like Shostakovich?

As time goes by

People vote for socialist policies. Time goes by. Things get worse. Time goes by. People vote out the socialist policies. Time goes by. Things get better. Time goes by. People forget what it was like before. Time goes by. People vote for socialist policies. The fundamental things apply…

Here’s why renationalisation won’t make the trains run on time

When Owen Smith was asked at his Labour leadership launch about his stance on railways, he replied, “I would re-nationalise our railways tomorrow.” Needless to say, this went down well. In August last year, a YouGov poll found that 58% of the British public support renationalising the railways compared to just 17% who oppose it. The irony will not be lost on followers of the Labour party who may remember that renationalisation of the railways was Corbyn’s first official policy as Labour leader. Recently, Corbyn has thrust this issue back into the spotlight, jumping on the recent troubles of Southern Rail.

To set the scene, until 1994, the railway network in the UK was operated by the Government-controlled and owned British Rail. The Railways Act 1993 started the break-up of British Rail and the privatisation process concluded in 1997. The operation of passenger services is now contracted out under a system of franchising.

“They like to fill out forms”

Boy, the Guardian‘s commenters are not happy with this offering: “The secret life of a trade union employee: I do little but the benefits are incredible”. My respects to the paper for printing it. For all its faults the Guardian does present a variety of opinion.

Many Libertarians and like-minded folk are reflexively against trade unions. I am not. I believe that any two people, or any two groups of people, should be free to come up with whatever deal suits them, and it is nobody else’s business to tell them they cannot operate under those conditions. A single union workplace? Fine, so long as you do not impose it by force or threats. (A comment from Laird below prompts me to add that perhaps the most common sort of imposition by force is the use of law. Neither employers nor unions need hire goons any more – they hire legislators instead.) Free competition between unions will in the long term raise the general standard, just as it does between companies or nations. If they are wise, trade unions will not simply compete to provide the highest wages or the best services for their members. They should also compete to promote the prosperity of the industries in which their members work. Militant trade unions have killed whole industries – ask the old men who used to be printers or dockers in the 1970’s – and smart workers know this. It looks like the anonymous writer of this piece is dimly aware that the union for which he or she works is beginning to pay the price for featherbedding:

There are disadvantages to these perks though, as nobody feels they can leave until they retire or are offered a fantastic redundancy package. Even that doesn’t work sometimes, as people realise they are on to such a good thing that they refuse the redundancy offer and stay here to do little more than open the post for the rest of their working lives, while still picking up the same salary.

As a result we have an ageing workforce with no fresh ideas. The activists are computer illiterate, preferring to print out emails instead of send them on electronically. I was once scoffed at for suggesting that we try to have a paperless office instead of killing rainforests. “We have too many old members. They like to fill out forms,” I was told.

A delaying action

The SNP’s majestic advance to state surveillance of every child in Scotland has been slowed.

The Guardian reports:

Scottish plan for every child to have ‘named person’ breaches rights

Judges at the supreme court have ruled that the Scottish government’s controversial “named person” scheme for supporting children risks breaching rights to privacy and a family life under the European convention on human rights, and thus overreaches the legislative competence of the Holyrood parliament.

The supreme court has given the Scottish government 42 days to correct the defects in the legislation, which has been described as a snoopers’ charter by family rights campaigners, but said that it recognised that the aims of the scheme were “unquestionably legitimate and benign”.

The Scotsman has a slightly different, and I regret to say more realistic, take on the story:

Court rules against Scottish Government’s named person policy

The Scottish Government insists controversial new measures to appoint a named person for every child will still go ahead despite the UK’s highest court ruling the legislation at present is “incompatible” with European human rights laws.

[…]

The court ruled that information-sharing provisions proposed under the 2014 Act may result in disproportionate interference with Article 8 rights under the European Convention on Human Rights – the right to a family and private life.

Note that the European Convention on Human Rights predates the European Union and its predecessors and is adhered to by several states outside the EU.

The Eurocrats were nothing if not predicted

I found this post from eleven years ago while hunting around the internet for something else. It is quite strange to read it now. The author may have been on to something:

As several people have predicted would be the case, many of the EU’s ‘great and good’ are just continuing with the Great European Integration project as if the French and Dutch NO votes never happened. But it does seem that the shock to the system those votes administered to the torpid media has indeed woken up a few people. It seems that the insects have not noticed that someone has picked up the rock they were under.

Have they noticed even now?

A petal shakes upon the branch

“Japan reverts to fascism”, writes Josh Gelernter in the National Review. At first sight that seems excessive, but consider this:

This week, Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partners won a two-thirds majority in the legislature’s upper house, to go along with their two-thirds majority in the lower house. A two-thirds majority is required in each house to begin the process of amending Japan’s constitution. And amending the constitution is one of the central planks in the LDP’s platform. The constitution was imposed on Japan by the United States after the Second World War; it has never been amended. Why should it be amended now? As Bloomberg reports, the LDP has pointed out that “several of the current constitutional provisions are based on the Western European theory of natural human rights; such provisions therefore [need] to be changed.”

And this:

In just the last five years, Japan’s press freedom — as ranked by Reporters without Borders — has fallen from 11th globally to 72nd. The new draft constitution adds a warning that “the people must be conscious of the fact that there are responsibilities and obligations in compensation for freedom and rights.” These “obligations” include the mandate to “uphold the [new] constitution” and “respect the national anthem” quoted above. 

In the long run I am confident that a liberal order – “liberal” in an older and better sense than that currently in use in the United States – can be adapted to most human cultures. Where it can duly make them rich and not have massive infant mortality and massacres and stuff. But it is disturbing to see the bearer of that standard in the East falter.

“Et tu, Beetrute?”

I am not the only one who perceives a Caesarian theme to modern British politics. This portrait of political treachery chilled me to the marrow:

Entry into vegetable competition in summer fête in London

Venezuela: an evolving story

Misreporting Venezuela’s economy – Mark Weisbrot, writing for the Guardian in September 2010

Venezuela’s devaluation doom-mongers – Mark Weisbrot, writing for the Guardian in March 2013

Sorry, Venezuela haters: this economy is not the Greece of Latin America – Mark Weisbrot, writing for the Guardian in November 2013

For some reason Mr Weisbrot has not written much for the Guardian comment pages on the subject of Venezuela recently, but to its credit the Guardian has covered developments in that country in the news pages:

‘At least 35,000’ Venezuelans cross border to Colombia to buy food and medicine – a story from the Associated Press appearing in the Guardian on 17 July 2016.

Tens of thousands of Venezuelans poured into neighbouring Colombia to buy food and medicine on Saturday after authorities briefly opened the border that has been closed for almost a year.

A similar measure last week led to dramatic scenes of the elderly and mothers storming Colombian supermarkets and highlighted how daily life has deteriorated for millions in Venezuela, where the economy has been in a freefall since the 2014 crash in oil prices.

Act I, Scene II. A public place.

The Great Leader

Flourish. Enter CAESAR; ANTONY, for the course; CALPURNIA, PORTIA, DECIUS BRUTUS, CICERO, BRUTUS, CASSIUS, and CASCA; a great crowd following, among them a Soothsayer.

A hundred billion here, a hundred billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money

Bloomberg reports:

EU Banks Need $166 Billion, Deutsche Bank Economist Tells Welt

Europe urgently needs a 150 billion-euro ($166 billion) bailout fund to recapitalize its beleaguered banks, particularly those in Italy, Deutsche Bank AG’s chief economist said in an interview with Welt am Sonntag.

“Europe is extremely sick and must start dealing with its problems extremely quickly, or else there may be an accident,” Deutsche Bank’s David Folkerts-Landau said, according to the newspaper.