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 Power of the Daleks – a correction

In a previous blog posting I may have given the impression that the rediscovery of the missing episodes of the Power of the Daleks Doctor Who serial would be about as welcome to the BBC as a new series of Jim’ll Fix It.

Of course, the impression that I meant to convey was that the BBC would in fact be delighted to be once again be in possession of the telerecordings and failing that would be quite prepared to go to the effort of animating the entire thing and making it available online from 5 November onwards.

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?

4,367 Miles to Wall Drug

Free Ice Water. It brought us Husteads a long way and it taught me my greatest lesson, and that’s that there’s absolutely no place on God’s earth that’s Godforsaken. No matter where you live, you can succeed, because wherever you are, you can reach out to other people with something that they need!

So said Ted Hustead, founder of the Wall Drug store. He bought the store in 1931 in the “godforsaken” town of Wall, North Dakota. He and his wife decided to give it five years to make something of. There were not enough customers. In the final year his wife noticed the increasingly heavy traffic on the nearby highway and hit upon the idea of putting up signs enticing travellers with ice water. They started putting signs further and further along the highway. Now there are signs everywhere.

I imagine this story is well known to Americans. I first heard of Wall Drug from chapter 30 of the serialised web novel Unsong, a review of which I promise when it is finished.

After the sky cracked, the Wall Drug coordinate system started to impose itself more and more upon the ordinary coordinate system of longitude and latitude. Worse, the two didn’t exactly correspond. You could be driving from New York to New Jersey, and find a billboard promising Wall Drug in only thirty miles. Drive another ten, and sure enough, WALL DRUG, TWENTY MILES. Drive ten more, and you’d be promised a South Dakotan shopping center, only ten miles away. Drive another ten, and…who knows? No one has returned from Wall Drug in a generation. It’s become not only an omphalos, but a black hole in the center of the United States, a one-way attraction and attractor fed by an interstate highway system which never gives up its prey.

It is by Scott Alexander of the fascinating blog Slate Star Codex.

Billions

What have I done wrong, really, except make money; succeed? All these rules and regulations: arbitrary. Chalked up by politicians for their own ends. And these fines you’re always going after: where do they go? The poor? No. The treasury; the government. It’s taxation by other means. […] I make the system run. I have contributed hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes and philanthropy. I employ hundreds of people directly. Thousands indirectly. What do you do? Nothing besides suck from the municipality; feed off of it. And in exchange what? Keep order? You’re a traffic cop hiding in Federal robes.

So says hedge fund manager Bobby Axelrod to U.S attorney Chuck Rhodes in the finale of the TV series Billions. It is worth a look. The government officials end up looking more like the bad guys than the business people.

Rhodes’ response: “You’re sure to become president of the libertarian club of Danbury Federal prison, ’cause no matter what you say, that’s where you’re ending up.”

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.

Samizdata quote of the day

Here’s a newsflash for Marvel: race-baiters and gender warriors who complain endlessly about the “lack of diversity” in comic books don’t buy comic books. They’re interested in identity politics, not fun. When your customers — lifelong comic fans — pick up the latest issue to find a smorgasbord of irrelevant, hectoring social and pop culture commentary, they probably won’t buy the next issue. Not because they’re sexists and racists, but because the stuff you are publishing sucks.

Charlie Nash at Breitbart.

PS. I haven’t yet seen the latest Captain America film but it is on the list of ones I do want to see. Any recommendations?

Dominic Frisby takes on the Edinburgh Fringe

Today, I am in my usual last Friday of the month tizz, because this evening I have an event in my home, and I am, as usual, behind in my preparations. This particular event is more than usually tizzual, on account of it being not a sit-down talk but a stand-up performance, by Dominic Frisby. Frisby is honouring my home with an early dry run of his forthcoming Edinburgh Festival show, Let’s Talk About Tax, which he will be performing in Edinburgh from Aug 3rd until August 28th.

DFrisbyEdinburghShow

I am not doing this blog posting because I need more people to come to my home this evening. I can fit in a few more, but I already have a decent number of acceptances. Nor am I doing this blog posting to tell you what a brilliant show this is. It is being done by the always entertaining and always thought-provoking Dominic Frisby, so I expect it to be entertaining and thought-provoking. But meanwhile, I haven’t yet seen it.

No, what I want to do here is simply to praise Frisby for the fact of this show. Even if – worst case – it flops in Edinburgh, which I don’t think it will, but even if it does, … well played sir! The fact that Frisby is sallying forth to the Edinburgh Fringe, one of the key facts of British showbiz life where would-be upwardly-mobile entertainers all vie with one another to make their mark as writers and performers, and that he will there proclaim the sort of pro-free-market notions and crack the sort of pro-free-market jokes that seldom get spread or cracked in this arena or similar arenas, is cause for praise in itself. The way to get anything started is to start, and this is a start. In the illustration above, Frisby is wearing a hat. Were I now wearing a hat, I would take it off to him.

I did an earlier posting here, praising Frisby’s excellent book Life After The State. Today is, see above, a busy day for me, so to save me the bother of making the same point in different words, please allow me to quote myself and make a point I made in that earlier posting, in the same words:

If we think that showbiz people typically proclaim bad political ideas, then our task is to persuade such people to think better and to proclaim better ideas, rather than us merely moaning that such people somehow have no right to be heard opining at all, about anything except showbiz. Maybe it is in some ways true that celebrity opinion-mongers shouldn’t be paid attention to, as much as they are. But they are, if only because being paid attention to by lots of people is the exact thing that these people specialise in being very good at. Maybe people are foolish to get their foolish political ideas from politically foolish showbiz people. But many do. Whether we like it or hate it, recruiting at least a decent trickle of showbiz people is a precondition for us achieving any widespread public acceptance of our ideas.

I rather think that this show marks a new moment in Frisby’s career. At his website, he describes himself as a Financial writer, comedian, actor of unrecognized genius and voice of many things. The “voice of many things” bit concerns his voice-over work, often to be heard on British TV. But note the “financial writer, comedian” bit. Hitherto, Frisby has tended to keep these two activities distinct from one another. As a speaker and writer on libertarian friendly matters he is always witty and entertaining, but he hasn’t, when doing that stuff, gone straight for laughs. He has basically been arguing and informing. Yes, with a smile on his face and plenty of reader and audience amusement as well as thought-provocation. But basically, he has done comedy for laughs and when being serious he has been serious. This Edinburgh show, on the other hand, looks like it may mark the moment in Frisby’s career when he seeks to combine his financial thinking and talking and writing with comedy.

I wish Dominic Frisby all possible success in this enterprise, and hope that others follow where he is leading.

A meeting of minds

Famous actor Mel Gibson said, “Fucking Jews. The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world”, but give him a break, he was drunk at the time. And he was sorry afterwards, like he always is.

Famous director Ken Loach was presumably sober and certainly unapologetic when he said, “If there has been a rise [in anti-semitism] I am not surprised. In fact, it is perfectly understandable because Israel feeds feelings of anti-Semitism.”

What a wonderful coming-together this ceremony yesterday must have been:

Cannes 2016: Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake wins Palme d’Or

Accepting the festival’s top prize from actor Mel Gibson, Loach said: “We must give a message of hope, we must say another world is possible.

“The world we live in is at a dangerous point right now. We are in the grip of a dangerous project of austerity driven by ideas that we call neo-liberalism that have brought us to near catastrophe.”

Gibson to present, Loach to receive this prize: the judges’ choice at the world’s leading film festival.

A BBC journalist is detained in brotherly North Korea

The BBC’s Japan Correspondent, Mr Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, has written about his (thankfully brief) detention in North Korea after covering the visit of three Nobel Laureates. Working for the Socialist Monster clearly did not impress the North Koreans.

He tells us that he was asked if he thought that Koreans spoke like dogs, after he wrote that a North Korean official ‘barked’ at him. He was asked if he thought Koreans were ugly, as he referred to an official as ‘grim-faced’. He could not have known that he would only be detained for 10 hours, which is a shorter time than some get in jail for not paying the TV licence and a resultant fine.

His ordeal developed with an ominous introduction:

Two of our old minders now appeared at the door.
“We are taking you to meet with the relevant organs,” they proclaimed. “All will become clear.”

It did not become clear, as his surreal interrogation showed (emphasis added).

“Do you think Korean people are ugly?” the older man asked.
“No,” I answered.
“Do you think Korean people have voices like dogs?”
“No,” I answered again.
“Then why do you write these things?!” he shouted.

I was confused. What could they mean? One of the articles was presented to me, the offending passage circled in black marker pen:
“The grim-faced customs officer is wearing one of those slightly ridiculous oversized military caps that they were so fond of in the Soviet Union. It makes the slightly built North Korean in his baggy uniform comically top heavy. “Open,” he grunts, pointing at my mobile phone. I dutifully punch in the passcode. He grabs it back and goes immediately to photos. He scrolls through pictures of my children skiing, Japanese cherry blossom, the Hong Kong skyline. Apparently satisfied he turns to my suitcase. “Books?” he barks. No, no books. “Movies?” No, no movies. I am sent off to another desk where a much less gruff lady is already looking through my laptop.”

It turned out that his interrogators construed his prose as ‘grim-faced’ = ‘ugly’ and took ‘barks’ literally. Odd really, as I assumed that they had eaten all the dogs in North Korea in the 1990s famine.

His theory as to why he was detained in quite simple:

Why did they choose to detain and expel me? My best guess is that someone high up decided my reporting had endangered the success of the Nobel laureates’ visit. Pyongyang yearns for recognition. Their trip was of great importance to the government. The three Nobel laureates were shown the very best of the country. They met its brightest students. Our coverage was a threat to that plan, and an example needed to be made.

He was very much luckier than any Korean and many Westerners detained in North Korea.

And those three Nobel Laureates’ visit? How smart do you have to be to better understand North Korea?

Oliver Stone: ouroboros re-imagined

Oliver Stone is like a weird version of ouroboros: not so much a serpent swallowing its own tail but rather a serpent with its head jammed up its own arse, a conspiracy theory propagandist for some of the vilest tyrants and thugs on this planet.

And I have never made any secret of the fact I regard Edward Snowden as a hero.

Therefore I am aghast to see that Oliver Stone, of all people, has made a movie about Snowden. Suffice to say I do not hold out much hope.

Discussion point: Is the Klingon language copyrightable in US law? Should it be?

As linked to by two different posters at Instapundit and semi-reformed Trekkies everywhere, Paramount Pictures, in the course of a claim against the makers of a film set in the Star Trek universe, are claiming to own the copyright on the Klingon language. Thirty years ago linguist Marc Okrand was hired to take the snatches of made-up Klingon dialogue in the early Star Trek movies and flesh it out into a useable language. This he did. The idea took off and all sorts of people since then have learned Klingon to some degree for fun and intellectual stimulation.

A press release from the Language Creation Society says,

We firmly believe that conlangers should receive credit for their work. Specific works describing a conlang, such as the Klingon Dictionary, Living Language Dothraki, or Ithkuil website are creative works in their own right, entitled to full legal protection. So are works that are in a conlang, such as Klingon Hamlet, Esperanto poetry, Ithkuil music, and Verdurian stories.

However, a constructed language itself is not protected, and should not be. Copyright law is simply too blunt a tool for this.
Allowing copyright claims to a language would create a monopoly on use extending far beyond what is needed to protect the original work or to claim credit for the language’s creation. The potential threat of a lawsuit for merely using a conlang, or creating new works to make it more accessible, has a chilling effect; it makes conlangers, poets, authors, educators, and others less likely to build on and enjoy each others’ work, to the detriment of conlanging in general.

We believe that everyone has the right to use any language — including conlangs — without having to ask anyone’s permission. We hope that our participation in this lawsuit will help to make this belief into legal precedent.

Marc Randazza’s diverting amicus curiae brief on behalf of the Language Creation society is here.

I’m not going to do it. I AM NOT going to do it. I am not going to say “Qapla’!”

Except I just did. You will have deduced that I am sympathetic to one side of the case. But there is another. Property rights matter. Why should a bunch of flakes and dilettantes reap what another sowed? Why shouldn’t they pay a fee, in person or under licence, for the privilege of using Klingon just as they pay, directly or indirectly, to use a computer program? Let’s discuss this like Klingons. Which need not necessarily mean with a bat’leth.

Any old Caravaggios?

Reports from France indicate that someone in Toulouse who went up their attic to fix a leak found an old Caravaggio worth a reputed £94,000,000 lying around.

The picture is rather grim, it shows the Jewish fighter Judith beheading Holofernes, an Assyrian general. It also seems rather close to the bone (as it were) for these times, I would ask Holofernes what he thought, but…

Sadly, the French State gets the first option on buying it.