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]

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?

Samizdata quote of the day

But another story provided a fun distraction from all the hard work campaigning for tax cuts: it is the thirtieth anniversary of the first NOW! That’s What I Call Music album. There’s no bigger ‘Now’ fan than our Political Director Jonathan Isaby who has a complete set of all 86 albums! He spoke to Sky News and other TV stations about his collection.

- Matt Sinclair of the TaxPayers’ Alliance provides a little light relief, in the latest TPA mass email. (Link in the quote added.)

A culture of economic failure

I realise that the sums of money that get spent on “culture” are very small potatoes indeed when set beside other sorts of government extravagance.

Nevertheless, I can’t help thinking that there is a connection between this report about France’s “new wave of culture-focused building projects”:

A Napoleon III villa in a Parisian suburb, squatted by artists and musicians; a cathedral-like hangar, the vestige of Dunkirk’s naval industry that used to define the life cycle of the entire city; a new, 240m-long bridge in the French Alps. This is just a sample of France’s recent crop of architectural projects, and they have at least one thing in common: they are all cultural facilities that offer a draw both through their content and their site.

… and reports like this one from the BBC about French economic pessimism, or this one entitled Is France the new Italy?

Hollande’s Socialist administration faces protests over taxes and burdensome regulation not just from business leaders, as you might expect, but also from farmers, shopkeepers, teachers, truck drivers and soccer players. …

Leaning heavily on higher taxes, the government has been slow to get public spending under control. France’s ratio of public spending to gross domestic product is now 57 percent – the highest in the euro area.

As Instapundit likes to say, what can’t go on forever won’t.

What, I wonder, will those new culture palaces end up being used for?

About time

Although I am only posting this at midday, I wrote most of it at three o’clock this morning.

I did this because I am now suffering from severe Ashes Lag (The Horror! The Horror!), and also because it is in the spirit of the news I am passing on, which is that soon, London will be experiencing (no doubt some would prefer to make that “enduring”) all night underground train service at weekends:

For better or worse, London is on the way to becoming a city that never sleeps, leaving other British cities even further behind.

Not the District Line, though. That’s one of the lines I often use late at night, and I would have liked that one also to be going round the clock. The other line I use, but less often late at night, is the Victoria, which will be all round the clock at the weekend.

But this is only a start. And it is only at the weekend. What has long puzzled me is why London has not, for the last several decades, been a city that never sleeps, but is instead only groping slowly towards one day becoming such a city. London always comes near the top of those lists of the world’s greatest cities, yet for much of the time London is almost entirely asleep, unlike one, in particular, of its most famous rivals (immediate music warning – don’t click on that if you wish to go on listening to something else). All that frighteningly expensive office space, basically doing nothing for about a third to a half of every day, and nothing at all at the weekends, since for ever. Why? Modern electronics means that there is always someone wide awake to be doing business with, somewhere in the world. So, why no big night shift activity in the City? It can’t take all night just to keep those places clean.

Maybe there is lots of City of London night shifting going on already, and I merely haven’t been told about it. After all, night shifters mostly only need transport when they start and when they finish, which they already have. I can see why they are starting this at the weekend, for people for whom the difference between getting home at 4 am rather than at 8 am is all the difference.

Talking of London staying awake all night, there was a time, in about 1941, when a lot of it did just that, for quite a while. This was when London Pride got itself written. Take that, Sinatra. Someone (can’t find who – anyone know?) once said something like: there are many more tunes to be written in C major. I don’t know the key of London Pride, but it is one of my favourite tunes ever, and it always makes me think of that remark.

Samizdata quote of the day

Don’t buy cheap gates.

- On a Top Gear repeat on Dave TV this afternoon, the celebrity guest was Sir Cliff Richard. Sir Cliff talked about the difficulty of driving out of the gates of his London estate onto the main road outside. Clarkson asked about these gates because, he said, his didn’t work properly. The above was Sir Cliff’s reply.

Wise words.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Whenever you listen to musicians of a certain age, they’ll always tell you how much better and more real everything was in the old days. This is only natural – because that’s when they were younger, with more energy and more dexterous fingers and a greater vocal range than they can manage today. And it’s also because if there’s one thing that obsesses them above all else, it’s authenticity: a quality, of course, that was abundant in the days when they were playing to two men and a dog in toilet venues, but which no longer applies when you’re filling stadiums.”

- James Delingpole.

Pretentiousness is one of the besetting sins of some music folk. I occasionally like to wind up my more earnest friends by pointing out that one of my favourite albums is Thriller, by Michael Jackson. This is particularly effective among more ostentatiously “conservative” types.  Just watch those paleocon jaws hit the floor.