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]

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?

The silence of Shia LaBeouf

What to make of this?

Shia LaBeouf: I was raped during performance art project

In an interview with Dazed, the actor says that a woman ‘whipped my legs for ten minutes and then stripped my clothing and proceeded to rape me’ during his silent performance art work #IAMSORRY

My question “what to make of this?” is a real one. There is a whole slew of issues involved in this story, ranging from the double standard surrounding female-on-male rape (or allegations of rape), to the extent to which silence can be taken to be consent (particularly the absence of any appeal to bystanders when they were present), and including issues of fairness to the woman accused of rape and to the spectators implicitly accused of indifference to it, and the propriety of staging such an event “starring” a person whom all sides admit has mental issues, which leads us to the politically-charged question of how far one should question the testimony of one who is or may be mentally incapable . . .

Frustratingly, the Guardian story gives much more detail on LaBeouf’s philosophy of art than on what actually happened. A follow-up story quotes his collaborators in the art project as saying they “put a stop to it” as soon as they became aware of it. No mention is made of force being used; apparently she did stop when told to.

So why didn’t Mr LaBeouf say a word to stop her himself? As far as I can make out his reason was because the point of his performance was that he should sit still and not react. On its own, “I could not object because it would have spoiled my artwork” appears ridiculous. Yet people do sometimes freeze when subjected to sexual assault in a public place; it is a common reaction when women are groped on trains, for instance. Then again, what might the woman say in her own defence if these charges were put to her? Was not the whole point of this famous artwork that Mr LaBeouf consented to being humiliated? What did the spectators think was going on? If, as seems to have been the case, his artistic collaborators held that this was something to which a stop should be put, why was no attempt made to arrest the woman? In general I reject the blanket assumption that a person initiating sexual activity must obtain explicit and ongoing verbal assent before continuing. Such an assumption would only apply to creatures not human; the vast majority of all voluntary sexual intercourse takes place without anything remotely resembling such a procedure. But the vast majority of all sexual intercourse does not take place between strangers in public during performance art.

My bewilderment is genuine. All serious comments are welcome, and I would not be surprised to see serious disagreement among the comments. I do not expect to delete remotely as high a proportion of comments as the Guardian moderators did to the comments to the account in the link, but will not hesitate to delete any of which I disapprove.

Samizdata quote of the day

This, I think, is my main objection to Band Aid 30: it is all predicated on a belief that the British public are mean-spirited and uncharitable, when in actual fact nothing could be further from the truth. It’s time the likes of Geldof stopped asking us to give money, and like Adele, started donating some themselves. Charity, after all, begins at home.

Bryony Gordon

The whole article is a magnificent demolition of celebrity “charity culture” and the cant that is associated with it. Given how some people, such as that now-dead monster, Jimmy Savile, used charity as a shield to ward off questions about his behaviour, and given that at a less odious level, people with interesting personal tax affairs like to go on with charity efforts to get good PR, this sort of analysis is overdue. “Sir” Bob Geldof should perhaps tend rather more to his personal family affairs, which appear to be in a bad way, than making sneering remarks about someone who wants to get on with developing her career as a singer. How selfish of her!

“I’m a politician . . . get me out of here!”

As reported in most entertaining style by the Guardian, Ed Miliband had rather an ordeal at the hands of Myleene Klass.

Looking at the picture Guido has up, the converse is also true.

UPDATE: Second link seems to have collapsed. Here’s the Twitter post (including the [ADDED LATER: fake] relevant photo) from Mark Flanagan’s twitter feed that Guido linked to.

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: In fairness, a lot of people, including Mark Flanagan himself and many who are no friends to Ed Miliband, are saying the picture has been maliciously photoshopped. The transition between hand and wrist does look odd. The more I look at it the more sure I am it’s fake, made by manipulating this picture here. Guido’s link has changed, and the picture no longer appears on his post.

Understanding GamerGate

I had an e-mail asking if Samizdata had any views on the GamerGate issue, and where are the best places to read about it.

So… for those of you who do not know, it is a scandal about corruption in the games industry and the serious lack of journalistic ethics in sections of the games press. Indeed the sites who cover games in the Samizdata sidebar are specifically ones who actually have some notion of journalistic ethics like, you know, real journalists should.

If you do not see any of the large mainstream games sites linked, there is a very good reason for that: they are not worthy of your clicks so I sure as hell do not want to send traffic their way. IGN is actually a noteworthy exception to the ‘mainstream = corrupt’ paradigm, in that they actually accepted that yes, there is a problem. So kudos for that. The only reason I am not linking them in the sidebar is not that they are corrupt, it is that they are crap.

I do not actually propose to expound on GamerGate at length other than to say “I support the objectives of #gamergate” and link to various articles about it.

The TL:DR version: many games companies have been getting the best product reviews that money can buy, and also many of the reviewers are a networked coterie of far-left Critical Theory fans who sometimes do hatchet jobs on games for purely ideological reasons. This annoys the hell out of many gamers who are not interested in “does this game objectify women?” but rather just want to know if the cover mechanics work well and is the game-play fun?

Also part of the whole GamerGate thing is an attempt by the anti-GamerGate side to re-frame it all as being about misogyny. To wit, a number of the principal actors (actresses actually) have claimed to have received ‘death threats’ as part of a plot to “force women out of the games industry”. However there is, to put it politely, some speculation that some of these ‘threats’ may be part of a viral marketing campaign to sell stuff to the beta-male/feminist demographic.

The best overall explanation of the pro- and anti- side was written on TechRaptor. Other good sources are found on Niche Gamer. There is also good stuff on GamesNosh, also here. Breitbart Network has been covering this rather awesome soap opera. And there are the twitter hashtags of #GamerGate and #NotYourShield.

And for a rather, ahem, robust set of views, there is the vastly entertaining Internet Aristocrat.

Oh and Gawker takes an arrow to the knee over this. How cool is that?

The spectacle of the cultural left getting absolutely reamed over and over again by angry villagers with pitchforks in full view of anyone who cares, is something that really makes for compulsive viewing, even if you are not a self-described ‘gamer’ (I am, I might add).

Grab some popcorn and enjoy :-D

UPDATE: also some articles on Reason.com here and here.

Pro Bono

Ever since Rob Fisher wrote this post saying he was almost starting to like Bono, I’ve been wanting to write a post called Pro Bono. And now I can.

From the Observer:

Bono: controversial tax laws have brought Ireland the only prosperity it’s ever known

U2 singer says capitalism and commerce play a vital role in lifting people out of poverty and that Ireland’s tax policies benefit the country’s economy

The comments are mostly against him. I’m pro him.

Anti-racister than thou

Twice in the last few days artworks projecting a self-consciously anti-racist message have been removed from show – on the grounds that they were racist.

Council removes Banksy artwork after complaints of racism

Barbican criticises protesters who forced Exhibit B cancellation

Some Brittany holiday snaps

Earlier this week I got back from a week in Brittany. During the first few days of my stay, I and the friends I was staying with visited the island of Belle Ile. Their daughter is my god-daughter, and she was singing (very well) in a classical singing festival that happens in Belle Ile every year.

While in Belle Ile we also enjoyed other sorts of music making. In particular, at midday, in the fish market of Belle Ile’s biggest town, La Palais, we listened to a small beat combo called, as I later learned from the small print in some of my photographs, Les Gadgos. Les Gadgos are a bunch of blokes, but they have engaged a lead singer for their latest clutch of songs and their latest CD, a blond chanteuse named Mélody Linhart, who looked weirdly matter-of-fact in her days clothes. But she sang very well, in English. She did various venerable American standards, like St James Infirmary, and slightly more recent American movie tunes, including I Want To Be Like You. She made the latter piece of froth sound almost as profound and existential as St James Infirmary.

But take a look at this other Les Gadjos person, who I now know to be called Clément Lenoble:

Brittany01

A classic French type, I think you will agree. But that cigarette was actually quite a surprise, because Clément Lenoble was one of the very few people whom I observed during my week in France who was smoking. There were a few. He wasn’t the only one. But the basic news is, those Frenchies are no longer fumer-ing. Not the sort who live in or summer in Brittany, anyway.

Instead, this business is on the up and up:

Brittany02

That was just a clutch of e-cigarettes in the window of a shop that also sold other stuff. But later, I came across an entire shop devoted to this one product:

Brittany03

French smokers are a dying breed. No doubt, anti-smoking fanatics would reply that they’re a dying breed because smoking is killing them all off, and I do agree that this change of habit is probably a good thing. But even so, I miss guys like this, singing their gravel-voiced chansons in bars, with their whiskey glasses on the piano and their gauloises hanging down from their creased and lived-in faces. Or maybe I just miss the idea of such people, being around, in France.

Smoking is now illegal in most public places in France. I just wish les pouvoirs-that-be had been content to let the habit die away of its own accord. But that is not how such people think.

I also photoed many other more fun things.

→ Continue reading: Some Brittany holiday snaps

Samizdata quote of the day

Alternative comedy is for people seeking an alternative to being amused.

– Samizdata commenter Endivio Roquefort I

Samizdata quote of the day

Live and let live, be and let be
Hear and let hear, see and let see
Sing and let sing, dance and let dance
You like Offenbach, I do not
So what, so what, so what

Read and let read, write and let write
Love and let love, bite and let bite
Live and let live, and remember this line
Your business is your business
And my business is mine

Live and let live, be and let be
Hear and let hear, see and let see
Drink and let drink, eat and let eat
You like bouillabaisse, I do not
So what, so what, so what

Talk and let talk, quip and let quip
Dress and let dress, strip and let strip
Live and let live, and remember this line
Your business is your business
And my business is mine

– The lyric of one of Cole Porter’s slightly lesser known songs. Cole Porter is this week’s Radio Three Composer of the Week. Yesterday, Porter himself was to be heard singing this song.

But what’s with that “bite and let bite”?

Libertarians – rough and smooth

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to make too much of this. But here it is anyway.

In a report about successful pop entertainer Frank Turner meeting successful pop entertainer Josh Homme, Turner is quoted saying, about Homme, this:

“One of the other things about him which I really enjoyed was that – without going into too much discussion about it – I’ve obviously copped a fair amount of shit for being a Libertarian in the press, and he was aware of this and said ‘I’m a fucking hardcore Libertarian, stick to your guns and fuck them’. It’s not very often that people say that to me, so that was nice – I enjoyed that.”

Thanks to Turner and Gigwise, and google sending me an email about it, I get to enjoy it too.

The shit in question is referred to in this earlier posting here by me, and I wrote some more about Turner here.

Fountain of the Future

A story in The Telegraph has brought to mind the following quotation, which seems doubly apt:

“Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

– Karl Marx, writing in “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon”