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]

Showbiz folk can talk economics, but cannot expect to be free from pushback

“I’m thinking of making T-Shirts for Guardian readers and Progressives. The first one would say: I GET MY OPINIONS FROM MILLIONAIRE ROCK STARS AND ACTORS.”

Taken from a comment by someone called Stuck-Record at Tim Worstall’s blog. Tim was describing how he left a comment on an article by the actor, Bill Nighy, in defence of a “Robin Hood Tax”; Tim’s comment – which he said was entirely civil - was deleted. The Comment is Free site of the Guardian clearly cannot take dissent from some pro-marketeers. (I expect Tim drives them mad with his dissection of their views on a daily basis.)

The red lights on the mental dashboard go on in my head when the words Robin Hood come out. The false assumption of the tax proponents is that you can tax an activity – such as bank trading – without the impact in any way being felt by us ordinary folk. More cynically, politicians might like the idea because the actual cost impact will not be easy to see (wider bid/offer spreads for exchanging money, lower returns to investors, cuts to service and jobs in banks, etc.)

Of course, not all actors and music folk have collectivist, interventionist views on things like economics, or other things. The US actor Rob Lowe seems pretty intelligent, ditto Clint Eastwood, Michael Caine, etc. I don’t have a problem as such with actors/others talking about such things – we should not fall into the ad hominem fallacy of saying that non-specialists on subject A cannot talk about it (democracy is based on such a position, is it not?). However, actors, singers or whatever who want to get into the arena cannot expect to be treated any more gently than an economist or other specialist in an area of controversy. Being a luvvie doesn’t get you special favours.

One commenter managed to get past the CiF “checkpoint Charlie” to leave what I thought was a pretty good point:

The whole flaw is laid bare in this one sentence – a tax can be tiny or it can raise billions, it is unlikely to do both. Those billions you claim can be raised are a powerful incentive for organisations to circumvent the tax; on something as ephemeral as financial transactions that’s quite easy to do. It would merely hand volume to New York, Hong Kong or Singapore.

Of course France, Germany et al are in favour of it. It would be a EU wide tax that would fall most heavily on the UK and you even point out that a whopping 50% of the money raised could be spent on domestic causes – oh fantastic, we adopt a tax that could be damaging to one of our major industries and get to spend half of the proceeds on our own country. Do you honestly believe that Germany would accept a similar deal in relation to a green tax on luxury motorcars or France on farming?

Frank Turner chats to a student newspaper

As I often like to say and to write, if I don’t regularly quote me, who else will? And once upon a time, I wrote (on page 4, left hand column, of this), in a paragraph about the many different ways there are to be an effective libertarian, this:

Or perhaps you contribute crucially to the cause simply by (a) calling yourself a libertarian when asked what you are but not otherwise, and (b) being a nice person in all other respects. By merely proving that libertarianism and decency can cohere in the same personality, you will be a walking advertisement for the cause, as I might not be.

Now I don’t want to accuse Frank Turner of regarding himself as a member of any sort of political team, any sort of promoter of a “cause”. He is first and last a musician and an artist, not “a libertarian”. But the more I learn about this man (and thanks to Google sending me emails whenever anyone mentions him I have been learning quite a lot about him lately), the more he strikes me as the living embodiment of the above notions. It’s not that he is incapable of arguing his political corner. Merely that, on the whole, he prefers not to, and just to get on with his work and his life.

Consider this Frank Turner interview piece by Anna Burn, published today by Cherwell.

Near the beginning, Burn writes of the “clear tension” between Turner’s “old, anarchist politics and his new libertarianism”. And at the end of her piece, she writes this:

“People have historically been quite rude about rock and roll as serious art,” he says. “To me rock and roll is proper art, but it’s also disposable art, it’s adolescent art. What’s great about rock and roll is that it’s music about being young and pissed on a beach and getting your first kiss and then dancing until dawn. Sometimes people want to make rock and roll into this high art and I love it because it’s low art. It’s almost a sort of Liechtenstien thing. It’s pop art.” He grins wryly, seeming pleased with the pun. “All my influences are rock and roll.”

And with that last declaration, we’re done. As we’ve been talking he’s been putting his coat back on so that he can dash down to catch a train to London and film his tribute to Pete Seeger for Newsnight. For a man who’s on his longest break from touring in seven years, he’s still remarkably busy, and yet he can still spare a few minutes to chat to a student newspaper.

As he runs down the stairs, I realise that this is why he is a true folk singer – he’s open to everyone prepared to engage with his work, and he makes it worth their effort.

Note the Pete Seeger reference. This is not a man who allows a thing like politics to get between him and an admired fellow musician. See also Billy Bragg.

A television hymn to individualism, made almost half a century ago

A few weeks ago, when the weather was crap – as it still is – and I knew I’d be spending some evenings at home, I opened a box-set of DVDs to watch that classic Sixties TV series, The Prisoner, starring Patrick McGoohan. Many things have been written about this series, which in my view represents one of the best such shows ever made. Chris R Tame ,  the late UK libertarian activist, mentor and friend of mine, wrote a fine essay about this show in the early 1970s and I agree with every word of it. The show is intelligent, profound, thought-provoking, and now thanks to the wonders of digital remastering, looks as fresh today as when it was first produced. (So much so that it seems almost better than if it were made now.) I was born in 1966, roughly time the show was conceived, written and shot. Some Sixties series can look very dated today, however much fun they are (like the old Avengers with Diana Rigg, etc) but The Prisoner doesn’t.  And boy, is it on-target now. In the age of surveillance cameras, nanny statist health campaigns, the Leveson recommendations on state regulation of the UK press, unaccountable quangos, the NSA, and the like, much of what is lampooned in The Prisoner is all too believable.

Some time after he made The Prisoner, and had gone back to live in the US, the country of his birth (he spent a large amount of his adult life in the UK), McGoohan had these thoughts about the show and why he made it. I wonder what actors are as emphatic in stating such a viewpoint today:

“I tried first of all to create a first-class piece of entertainment. I hope it rings true because here, too, I was concerned with the preservation of individual history….If I have any kind of drum to beat in my life it is the drum of the individual. I believe that to be truly an individual, mentally clear and free, requires the greatest possible effort. And I seek this individuality in everything I do – in my work and in my private life. It is not easy.”

It isn’t. The other day, I had a bash at UK journalist and controvertialist Peter Oborne for his claim that a game such as cricket should not be primarily about people having a fun time, of doing something that makes them happy as individuals, but because it helps obliterate the self, that is about a “duty” to a nation, or some Other. I don’t know much about McGoohan’s explicit political views, but something tells me he would have regarded Oborne’s bullying anti-individualism about something like a ball game with bemusement, if not contempt.

A point that has to be made again and again about high profile sexual abuse cases

For every type of crime there are false victims as well true ones, suggestible and forgetful witnesses as well as witnesses whose recall is accurate, scam artists digging for gold as well as honest people bravely speaking out to bring monsters to justice. The existence of cynical liars, fantasists, and well-meaning but tragically mistaken people is part of the human condition and always will be. That is why any half-way civilised society has trials and rules of evidence instead of just declaring people guilty or innocent by category.

Coronation Street star Bill Roache found not guilty of rape and assault, reports the Telegraph.

and in a separate article,

Bill Roache not guilty: high-stakes gamble backfires for CPS

Accusations that the Crown Prosecution Service has indulged in a “celebrity witch-hunt” gather strength as Coronation Street actor found not guilty of all charges

Two comedians on government trying to do good things

Last night, I was half listening, not watching, a repeat of the TV comedy quizz show “8 Out Of 10 Cats” on some late night digital channel like E4 or Pick TV or some such thing. And I heard a comedian called John Richardson having a go at Nick Clegg, the leader of Britain’s Liberal Democrat Party.

Richardson was sneering at the Lib Dem Conference of whatever year it was when this show first went out, because so many of the things said at it, said Richardson, were boring and banal and obvious.

As an example, Richardson cited a pronouncement proclaimed with great solemnity by Nick Clegg which went something like this:

“It is not enough for governments and politicians to stop bad things. We must do good things.”

Richardson’s complaint about this pronouncement was that it was banal and boring, but banal and boring because so obviously true.

But both Clegg and Richardson are wrong. The idea itself, as stated with such admirable clarity by Clegg, is anything but banal and boring. It is very, very bad. It is banal only in the sense that badness often is. And Richardson was wrong in objecting to it in the way that he did.

If governments and politicians the world over were to switch over to only stopping bad things and to abandon all attempts to do good things, the world would quickly – although admittedly only after a period of angry readjustment – become a massively better place.

Dominic Frisby, like John Richardson, is also a comedian, among other things. I especially like this rendition of the Twelve Days of Christmas. And I could have imagined it, but I think I also heard Frisby’s voice last night doing a pre-sell in between programmes, for some future BBC programme involving Business Dragons. Frisby’s career as an entertainer and performer, in other words, is motoring along nicely.

But guess what. Politically, Dominic Frisby does not sail with the prevailing comedic wind.

I have been reading Frisby’s recently published book called Life After The State, which I learned about earlier this week when I attended at talk given by Frisby at the Institute of Economic Affairs. As I later discovered when I began reading his book, Frisby’s talk was pretty much a spoken version of the book’s Prologue , which you can read here.

The next chapter in Life After The State, immediately after that Prologue, tells the sad story of Glasgow’s decline from world super-city to basket case. Glasgow, Frisby makes clear, has been a continuous and epicentric maelstrom of government attempting to do good things, year after year, decade after decade, to try to reverse Glasgow’s decline from economic and industrial glory to drug-addled welfare-dependency. And Glasgow’s problems have just kept on getting worse and worse. “And”, because to everyone who has been paying proper attention to the last century and more of human history, this would not be a surprise. Much of of the rest of Britain has followed Glasgow’s lead, if that is the right word.

Says Frisby, in the concluding sentence of this chapter:

The best way for government to help people is not to.


On reviewers

“I probably shouldn’t say this, since I have some good friends who are film critics, but I don’t think movie reviewing is a very high calling.”

Roger Simon, screenwriter and novelist. He’s writing about the Oscars, and the whole jamboree around films that seems to take place around this time of year. The focus of his article is about the film Lone Survivor, which he believes is likely to be overlooked on account of its celebration of US military bravery, which is unlikely to connect with the sort of folk that run Hollywood.

For what it’s worth, the films I have seen and enjoyed over the last 12 months or so in an actual cinema are Skyfall, Rush, Margin Call, Gravity and Les Miserables. Daniel Bruhl’s portrayal of Formula 1 racing driver in Rush is the best acting I have seen in years.

I wonder what Roger Simon makes of restaurant reviewing?

The globalisation of trifles

Screen Shot 2014-01-05 at 23.04.50

I have also just watched the latest Sherlock. If you live in the UK, the chances that you watched it as it was first broadcast are approximately one in seven. Despite the fact that this is a simultaneous British television watching event of the first order, the percentage of people who watched it is less than half what it was for peak television events of the 1960s to 1980s. That said, I want a set of those beer glasses. Oh Lord, I want a set of those beer glasses.

If you don’t live in the UK, torrents are appearing right now and you will be able to watch it shortly. If you live in China, you are able to watch it on the legal Youku Tudou streaming service right now. If you want to watch it legally in most other places, you will have to wait a few days to a few weeks. I suspect, though, that most of the people who really want to talk about it will have watched it by this time tomorrow. Versions with strange, semi-accurate hacked on subtitles will be out there any moment now. Then they will talk, and talk, and talk, in various languages and through various translation tools.

Things weren’t always thus. I am a middle aged expatriate Antipodean fogey. Watching film and television while growing up in Australia in the 1970s and 1980s in Australia was a strange thing.  Inevitably, most of the movies we watched came from America, and most of the television we watched in Australia came from America. In America, television seasons start in October, run through the winter months, and then end in about April. The biggest blockbuster movies are released between May and July. In Australia, though, the summer movie season started on December 26, and the television season went from February to September. This means that movies that had been hits in the American summer would often be held over for more than six months, and television seasons that had started in October in the US would not commence showing in Australia until February of the following year.

Even by 1982 this had become tiresome with movies. I remember reading about a movie called “E.T.” that was supposed to be wonderful, and waiting endlessly. (I found it vaguely disappointing. Some of this might have been the wait). Even the existence of VHS was enough to break this down. By the 1990s, Hollywood had found that it was best to open movies as close as possible to simultaneously around the world as possible, both for reasons of piracy prevention, and because of the simple fact that publicity campaigns and other buzz could not be stopped from crossing borders.

Television was a little more odd, though. For one thing, there was less realisation that there was a problem. Television had certain peculiarities – for instance Christmas episodes of foreign series always aired in May – but this was no more peculiar than eating an enormous Christmas dinner of ham and turkey in 40 degree heat, or watching live major sporting events on TV in the middle of the night, as Australian sports fans are known to do on a weekly basis. In any event, local print media – mostly owned by the same companies that owned the television stations – would play ball, and there would be no discussion of new episodes of television series until the television series aired locally.

But of course, modernity (by which I mean the internet) eventually happened. It became trivially easy to watch any programme almost as soon as it was aired. Those people who wanted to talk about television with other people on the internet (in Australia and elsewhere)  found it imperative to watch at the same time, and they did.  And they do. (Okay, I admit it. And we did. And we do). Piracy of music and of first run movies seems to have declined, because the legal options for listening and watching at the same time everywhere are now pretty good.  Piracy of programming from regular series television seems to have gone way up, though. Television networks around the world are getting closer to airing things on the same day, but they are still probably not good enough for people who want to watch the next day, without spoilers. (In Australia, the same old television networks are still rather tilting at windmills to stop piracy, even with the help of a US Ambassador who believes an important part of his job is to discourage Game of Thrones piracy). National television moments have declined, however it feels when watching Sherlock in the UK. Global television moments have grown spectacularly. The industry is yet to catch up by giving global audiences legal ways to achieve these moments.

Except that in China, piracy is feared to such an extent that the purveyors of legal streaming have actually chosen to give viewers what they want when they want.  The rest of the world may follow soon. I hope so.

Also, with Sherlock being such a big hit in the manufacturing capital of the world, I will hopefully be able to order the beer glasses on ebay any moment now.

The observation of trifles

I have just watched the latest Sherlock. The chances are good that if you live in the UK, so have you.

You know how first videos, then DVDs, then the multiplication of channels and on-demand telly internet replay thingummies killed off the simultaneous collective experience of television?

It’s back. Not, I hasten to add, that I would know anything about Twitface from personal experience, but there are plenty of people nowadays who simply must watch Sherlock or Dr Who live so that they can talk about it on the internet the minute it is over.

JK Rowling and the Libertarian Sub-Text

Thanks to a recent Instapundit link, I found my way to an essay by Benjamin H. Barton, entitled Harry Potter and the Half-Crazed Bureaucracy, which deserves to be linked to for its title alone. It is about the decidedly libertarian and not very sub anti-government-bureaucracy sub-text that Barton finds in the Harry Potter books generally, and in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in particular.

The truly surprising aspect of The Half-Blood Prince is how effortlessly Rowling covers the questions of the nature, role and legitimacy of government in what is ostensibly a work of children’s literature. I must admit that when I sat down to reread the Harry Potter books in light of The Half-Blood Prince I did not expect to find the overwhelming skepticism of government that seeps through Rowling’s work.

Barton’s argument is that Rowling presents the Ministry of Magic as a classic Public Choice Theory bureaucracy, staffed by selfish power-seekers rather than by selfless servants of the public good. Barton further suggests that Rowling’s own experiences as a welfare-recipient might have radically lowered her opinion of state welfare as an actual purveyor of welfare.

I read the first Harry Potter book a long time ago but have read none of the subsequent Potter books, so I have no independent opinion about how right or wrong Barton is about these books, and in particular about The Half-Blood Prince, which I have in particular not read. Comments from libertarians who have read all the Harry Potter books would be especially welcome.

One of the big reasons why I have not read more than one of the Harry Potter books, aside from the fact of me now being a childless old man, is that there are so many other books that I want to read. However, I have long suspected that JK Rowling, while not exactly an overt libertarian, might well be some kind of quasi-libertarian useful not-idiot, so to speak. One of the many items on my current to-read list is Rowling’s own (non-children’s) novel, entitled The Casual Vacancy, which I already possess and which I did make a start on earlier this year, before other reading intervened. This seems to be a story about the interaction of politics with the welfare system, about the people who do the politics and who have the welfare done to them and about how these two groups interact.

If I had to guess, I’d guess that Rowling is one of those people whose understanding of state socialism is that it tends not to supply “socialism” of the sort she would like, rather than as any kind of root-and-branch opponent of state socialism as such. Which is a good start. Socialism is, among other things, a huge and hugely false promise. Realising that it comprehensively fails to achieve even its own declared objectives – never mind any other worthwhile objectives – is a huge step in the right direction.

But that is an ignorant guess, and I now definitely intend to finish reading The Casual Vacancy, and then maybe also Rowling’s new detective novel. She wrote this detective novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, under an assumed name, but was then outed, surprise surprise. The name that Rowling the detective novelist has assumed is: “Robert Galbraith”. This name was, as I have just learned by following the above link, “partly inspired” by the name of Robert F. Kennedy. This would suggest to me – summarising ruthlessly, as befits my ignorance of the matter – a lady who mostly wants government to do better rather than one who mostly wants government to do less.

Samizdata quote of the day

There something about politics that makes people mad.

- Doris Lessing looks back on her foolish Communist youth, while talking with Alan Yentob, during Yentob’s TV show about Lessing in his “Imagine…” arts series for BBC One.

She wrote science fiction. I did not know this.

Apocalypse. Saw. Oblivion. The NHS.

The Sanctuary

Visit the Alton Towers Resort from 16 March and experience The Sanctuary, a terrifying scare maze!

The Sanctuary has been closed to patients for almost 50 years, but appointments are now being taken at the newly opened establishment as a controlling force, known only as the Ministry of Joy launches a series of trials, recruiting advocates for its new 2013 project. What starts out as a rejuvenating check up at The Sanctuary soon takes a turn for the worse.

Will you make it out with a smile on your face?

I like the Festival of Britain style graphics on the first link.

What does it mean that a theme park horror ride takes its inspiration from the visual style of a public information film issued by the Ministry of Information circa 1946?

Is that fantasy world yours?

When I were a youngling, fanfic was a despised genre. The internet has made it less despised, more common and apparently more nearly legal in a “don’t ask, don’t tell” sort of way. To quote the link from TV Tropes above:

No statement on the legality of fanfic has ever been given in American formal law or in its courts. Some argue that it’s a form of copyright infringement; however, see “Legal Fictions: Copyright, Fan Fiction, and a New Common Law”, and note the above precedents.

Authors often have conflicted reactions to fan fiction set in “their” universe, which sometimes leads to a Fanwork Ban. J. K. Rowling has largely embraced Harry Potter fan fic, albeit with certain limitations, for example, and Tamora Pierce advises aspiring writers that fan fiction can be a good way to hone one’s writing skills. By contrast, Sir Terry Pratchett acknowledges it exists and is cool about it, pointing out that everything works so long as people are sensible about it. He adds two caveats: anyone doing Discworld fanfic shouldn’t even think of doing it for money, and authors should take care not to put it where he might see it. George R. R. Martin, author of the epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, expressed his disdain for the practice, saying that “creating your own characters is a part of writing.” He’s even gone so far as to threaten legal action should he become aware of any fan fiction set in the Westeros universe. In contrast, writer/journalist James Bow makes a rather firm case for supporting fan fic, pointing out that it forms a stepping stone towards creating your own characters and setting. As far as media businesses are concerned, reactions have ranged from Archie Comics demanding immediate removal to Paramount Pictures taking some of the better Star Trek fanfics and having them published in print books.

My impression is that fanfic has become like music downloads, a tide that washes past all breakwaters of law or justice. What do you think? What do you recommend? Come on, out with it! – what have you written?