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]

Don’t get cocky, kid

You know you are a nerd when you are avidly googling the name of the author of a series of erotic novels all of which feature the word “cocky” in their titles because of the interesting legal issues the “Cockygate scandal” has brought up.

Dale L Roberts vlogs about self-publishing. In this video published on May 7th he explains that Faleena Hopkins, the author in question, wrote a slew of “Cease and Desist” letters to other indie romance authors on Amazon using the word “cocky” in their titles. Amazon, with typical cowardice, removed these other authors’ books as soon as Hopkins asked them to. Worse yet, Faleena Hopkins’ letter to the other authors included the phrase “My attorney at Morris Yorn Entertainment Law has advised me that if I sue you I will win all the moneys you have earned on this title plus lawyer fees will be paid by you as well.” I suspect that Morris Yorn Entertainment Law are not entirely happy with this summary of their advice.

I came across this story via the fantasy/SF author Chris Fox. His nine minute video dated May 11th explains well why this incident should and did arouse the anger of the community of authors who self-publish on Kindle and similar platforms – but he also spares a thought for Hopkins herself. In the four days since the earlier video, the situation had changed dramatically – and the trouble with internet shaming is that even when some punishment is deserved, there is no off switch.

Brendan O’Neill offers a handy guide to the language of the virtual left

This is a recent Spiked tweet. And that’s all it says, so no need to follow that link, unless to you want to chase up other Spikednesses. As well you might.

While we’re at it, why not gas the dog?

Mark Meechan a.k.a. “Count Dankula”, the man who imperilled us all by making a funny video of a little dog lifting its paw like a Nazi salute, has been found guilty of a crime under the Communications Act 2003 at Airdrie Sheriff Court.

If we are handing out punishments to obvious non-Nazis for doing stuff that reminds people of Nazis I don’t see why that Seig-Heiling pug should get away scot-free.

Friends versus Followers: A latecomer’s personal experience of joining Facebook and Twitter

I remember the moment when I had to get plugged into email, some time in the mid-to-late 1990s. I was on the phone and he asked me: What’s your email? I had no answer. He said: oh. It was the way he said it. I knew I had to get an email address sorted immediately.

With social media it was much more gradual. For about a decade, the social media were sold to me as mechanisms for me to influence the world. But during that same decade my desire to influence the world slackened, and a rule of mine is: do not unleash solutions upon circumstances which are not a problem. So, no social media. But as time passed, I realised that I wasn’t just not changing the world, I was ceasing to understand it. The more I read things, the more I heard echoes of social media conversations and dramas of which I had no direct knowledge, which had been going on for a fortnight or more before I even heard rather confusing reports about whatever it was. I was losing touch. (In particular I failed to understand the last two US Presidential elections.)

So it was that, finally, years after most others of my acquaintance, I have now plugged myself into Facebook and into Twitter.

Not that this was easy, mind you. They kept asking me to type in bits of code which I had just asked them to send to me and which they claimed that they had just sent to me but which they never did send to me. But, with help, I eventually got it all sorted. Having waited a decade, the further wait wasn’t a problem.

First impression: I greatly prefer Twitter to Facebook. Indeed “greatly” doesn’t communicate the gulf. Twitter is, for me, now, very useful. Facebook is, for me, not useful, at all, not yet and maybe not ever.

The basic reason for this disparity of usefulness is that whereas I think I am pretty sure that I understand what Twitter means by the word “follower”, I have no clear idea at all of what Facebook means by the word “friend”.

As soon as I got connected to Facebook, a hoard of total strangers sent me emails (or Facebook sent me emails about them) referring to “notifications”, which said something along the lines of: let’s be friends. Who were these people? They didn’t seem like “friends”. More like email spammers. And what would it mean for me to be a “friend” of them? If I shared a home with a Facebook veteran all this would no doubt have been explained to me in about half a minute. But, I do not.

Some of the names involved in these Facebook “notifications” I recognised. These were the names of actual friends. I now have three Facebook “friends” who are also real life friends. But frankly, I am learning a lot less about these Facebook-and-real-life friends than I thought I would. I do, after all, possess and make use of: a telephone. And given how little I have learned about these genuine friends from their Facebook postings, I am not inclined to venture further into the great, for me, confusion that is Facebook.

It is always pleasing to see one’s immediate personal reactions seeming to be echoed by others, and I am pleased to note that Facebook is being criticised by others who know much more about it than I do. In particular, it is being accused of deranging rather than enhancing people’s social lives, crucially their friendships, and even, to some extent, driving them a bit mad. Perhaps this is just the usual moaning whenever you get a new technique of communication springing upon the world, but I’d be interested to hear what others say about these sorts of complaints.

Twitter, on the other hand, is a new friend.

“Follower” is a concept that made and makes, to me, immediate sense. No doubt the way that Twitter defines “follower” has ramifications and subtleties of which I am unaware, but the basic idea coincides with reality in a way that Facebook’s notion of “friend”, to me, absolutely does not.

My arrival on Twitter coincided almost exactly with the explosion into something resembling mass celebrity of Jordan Peterson, author of the current best seller 12 Rules For Life. This is a man whom I had already noticed, but whom a whole new slice of humanity is now noticing. And I too am now “following” Jordan Peterson.

But there is no suggestion, from Twitter or from anyone else, that Jordan Peterson is “following” me, and certainly not that he and I are in any sense “friends”. To Jordan Peterson, I am but one tiny blip in a cacophony of new-found celebrity. The concept of me being Jordan Peterson’s “follower”, in other words, precisely describes what is going on and, equally importantly, what is not going on. I am following him. He has no idea of my existence.

Twitter, in other words, makes sense to me because it separates two utterly distinct concepts: me paying attention to you, and you paying attention to me. Twitter also makes sense because attention is just that and only that, attention. It is the lowest form of human relationship, and anyone can start doing it, to anyone they learn about, whenever they please.

There are many more things to be said about Twitter and Facebook, and perhaps commenters on this will say some of these things. (I’m thinking of such matters as the ongoing debate about how and how much Twitter and Facebook are politically biased, and how much that matters.) But for now, instead of speculating about things that others know a lot more about than I do, I will instead turn my attention to concocting further Samizdata postings concerning the things which Twitter has told me about. And which Facebook has not.

One final point. Some of my favourite Tweets have come to me courtesy of this excellent man. No pressure was put upon me to say that, but say it I do. This elephant doing some tidying up, which this man retweeted a few days ago, is particularly wonderful. Jordan Peterson would surely approve.

The pitchforks are out for Count Dankula

“M8 Yer Dugs A Nazi.” That link takes you to a video in which a man who wished to annoy his girlfriend trained her cute pug to lift its paw in a “Nazi salute” in response to Nazi slogans. Well, it used to. At present for me it takes me to a video of a black screen saying “This video is not available in your country”. Mark Meechan, the man who made the video, is from Scotland and I am in England, but I do not think that explains it.

From the Telegraph‘s account and even more from a swing round Mr Meechan’s “Count Dankula” YouTube channel, it does sound as if his humour tends towards the crass and tasteless. But do these words from the beginning of the video sound to you like the voice of a man committed to the triumph of Nazism?

The court heard that at the start of the clip, he said: “My girlfriend is always ranting and raving about how cute and adorable her wee dog is so I thought I would turn him into the least cute thing I could think of, which is a Nazi.”

In the video, the dog is seen perking up when it hears the statements and appears to lift its paw to the “Sieg Heil” command in the video, which has now been viewed more than million times.

Mr Meechan is currently on trial at Airdrie Sheriff Court for committing a hate crime. If convicted he faces up to a year in prison. The verdict was due two days ago but has been delayed for reasons unknown.

One of the more detailed reports on the case came from the Washington Post:

The dog is also seen watching a Hitler rally during the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. The dog appears to raise its paw when Hitler proclaims “Sieg Heil.”

“Who’s a good wee Nazi?” Meechan praised the dog.

The video ricocheted around the Internet and has now been viewed more than 3 million times. Some found it amusing; others feel it was crude and anti-Semitic, including a woman who Meechan says confronted him, then spread dog feces on his front door.

Prosecutors say it’s a hate crime.

That April, soon after the video was posted, police knocked on Meechan’s door in Coatbridge, a town in North Lanarkshire, Scotland, he told Alex Jones. The officers told him that he was being charged with a hate crime and that the video could be seen as promoting violence against Jews. They told him to change his clothes, took pictures of his apartment and hauled him off to jail.

He spent a night there and is now on trial for violating the Communications Act of 2003, which prohibits using public telecommunications to send discriminatory religious messages.

Samizdata quote of the day

In effect, Google is telling the world that unmoderated, no-holds-barred exchanges are not welcome in cyberspace. Playing censor, playing government – both made possible by Google’s market power, which, in its turn, makes it susceptible to government regulation.

Susceptible and even vulnerable as they might be, I don’t expect anti-trust proceedings anywhere in the world to put an end to Google’s and Apple’s dominance in certain markets. If I have hope – if never too much – it’s for new technology and know-how both to dislodge the oligopolies and defang government censorship.

The Dilettante’s Winterings

The fired Google employee

Recently dismissed Google employee James Damore posted a document on an internal Google mailing list entitled Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber about Google’s diversity policy and the difficulty of criticising it. It was originally reported by Motherboard (labelled an anti-diversity manifesto) and later by Gizmodo (labelled an anti-diversity screed). Here are some quotations from the document:

I strongly believe in gender and racial diversity, and I think we should strive for more.

I hope it’s clear that I’m not saying that diversity is bad […] . I’m also not saying that we should restrict people to certain gender roles; I’m advocating for quite the opposite: treat people as individuals, not as just another member of their group

Meanwhile the very headlines of the article call this an anti-diversity document, establishing a narrative.

Here is a reaction from Laura Shortridge, a prominent commentator on Twitter:

Many users responded that he had not called for anyone to be fired. A response to this objection may hint at where differences in opnion about the document originate:

The personality differences section talks about such things as “openness directed towards feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas”. It also contains more controversial-sounding statements such as “Women on average are more prone to anxiety”. It cites a section of a wikipedia article about sex differences in psychology, though this may not have been known by commentators external to Google as the version of the document containing hyperlinks has only become available more recently. The Wikipedia page says, ” Females were on average higher than males in extraversion, anxiety, trust, and, especially, tender-mindedness (e.g., nurturance).” It cites “Gender differences in personality: a meta-analysis” by Feingold, A. (1994-11-01). The section is in the context of coming up with suggestions to improve the work environment for women without resorting to discriminatory practices such as training courses only available to women.

The Guardian columnist Owen Jones says:

Damore’s assertions about gender are, frankly, guff dressed up with pseudo-scientific jargon: not just belittling women, but reducing men to the status of unemotional individualistic robots.

On the general subject of differences between men and women, Scott Alexander has an interesting article comparing meta-studies on the subject and statistical approaches which lead to different results. He finds that:

[Author of a meta-analysis Hyde] does a wonderful job finding that men and women have minimal differences in eg “likelihood of smiling when not being observed”, “interpersonal leadership style”, et cetera. But if you ask the man on the street “Are men and women different?”, he’s likely to say something like “Yeah, men are more aggressive and women are more sensitive”. And in fact, Hyde found that men were indeed definitely more aggressive, and women indeed definitely more sensitive. But throw in a hundred other effects nobody cares about like “likelihood of smiling when not observed”, and you can report that “78% of gender differences are small or zero”.

In his document, Damore explains that he is talking about small differences between men and women across a large population, and not making generalisations.

I’m not saying that all men differ from all women in the following ways or that these differences are “just.” I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership. Many of these differences are small and there’s significant overlap between men and women, so you can’t say anything about an individual given these population level distributions.

This is difficult to reconcile with reactions from fellow employees, such as, “That garbage fire of a document is trash and you are wonderful coworkers who I am extremely lucky to work with.”

The first official response from Google was from Vice President of Diversity, Integrity & Governance, Danielle Brown.

I found that it advanced incorrect assumptions about gender.

It is understandable that someone might hold this view, though the document mainly summarised information on Wikipedia.

The CEO later said:

portions of the memo violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace. Our job is to build great products for users that make a difference in their lives. To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK.

This seems to misrepresent the document, which is mainly talking about why women who do not work for Google do not work for Google. It says nothing at all about the ones who do work there.

He continues:

At the same time, there are co-workers who are questioning whether they can safely express their views in the workplace (especially those with a minority viewpoint). They too feel under threat, and that is also not OK. People must feel free to express dissent. So to be clear again, many points raised in the memo — such as the portions criticizing Google’s trainings, questioning the role of ideology in the workplace, and debating whether programs for women and underserved groups are sufficiently open to all — are important topics.

It is clear the the offending portion of the document is the part that summarised Wikipedia’s summary of the state of the science on the subject. I wonder whether, as a matter of debating tactics, it might have been possible to make the same points in safety, while omitting this section. On the subject of tactics, there are a couple of interesting comments about this on ESR’s blog:

You can make the work environment more hostile for lots of people by saying true things. It is reasonable to fire someone who creates negative value for the company in this manner

and

if you loudly challenge the principles or initiatives which have been handed down and spearheaded by upper management, you’d be a damn fool to expect to keep your job for very long.

To the extent that these comments are true it does not speak well of the environment at Google or in Silicon Valley, but it is interesting that Damore’s firing was predictable and indeed somewhat predicted in the very document that led to it.

I’ve gotten many personal messages from fellow Googlers expressing their gratitude for bringing up these very important issues which they agree with but would never have the courage to say or defend because of our shaming culture and the possibility of being fired.

Perhaps comments which sound inflammatory out of context can be avoided. For example, “Women, on average, have more … neuroticism” or “the Left tends to deny science”. But taken as a whole the document has been treated unfairly by some.

I wonder how easy it is for Google to hire more women, given that “According to the American Association of University Women, in recent years only 20% of Advanced Placement computer science exam takers in high school have been female.”.

Finally, I should like to draw everyone’s attention to the Norwegian television documentary series “Hjernevask”, or “Brainwash” in English, which is on this very topic, and is quite worth watching. I’ve linked to the first of the seven parts below:


Please make sure you enable subtitles, unless you speak Norwegian that is.

Samizdata quote of the day

British prime minister Theresa May has boasted that she is ‘working with social-media companies to halt the spread of extremist material and hateful propaganda that is warping young minds’. She also wants corporations to ‘do more’. Indeed, the leaders of the US, Japan, Germany, France, Italy and Canada have, along with a host of social-media companies, agreed to measures to censor the web. And German chancellor Angela Merkel is way ahead of the curve. In 2015, Merkel notoriously prevailed upon Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to do his bit and take down posts critical of her controversial immigration policy.

Apple’s craven obedience to Beijing’s autocratic demands typifies the general stance of the West. From the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 to Beijing’s abduction of Hong Kong booksellers today, Stalinist repression in China has never really sparked uproar among Western leaders. Yes, British foreign secretary Boris Johnson greeted the 20th anniversary of Chinese rule over Hong Kong with the limp hope that it would ‘make further progress towards a more democratic and accountable system of government’. But Western IT firms and politicians can hardly pose as guardians of internet freedom.

James Woudhuysen

Samizdata quote of the day

Noting the “unintended but disconcerting” link between nation-state activity and criminal activity, Smith adds that governments need “to consider the damage to civilians that comes from hoarding these vulnerabilities and the use of these exploits”. The “Digital Geneva Convention” Redmond recommends would therefore require governments “to report vulnerabilities to vendors, rather than stockpile, sell, or exploit them”.

Richard Chirgwin

Unintended? Not so sure about that.

How not to be a victim of computer malware

[A slightly unusual topic for this blog, but I was assured by the powers that be that it was of interest.]

For my friends who don’t know much about computers:

I do computer security work professionally. People always ask in the wake of yet another internet attack “what should I do to protect myself.”

The advice is always the same. Do what computer professionals do. Don’t do what you imagine computer professionals do, because you’re probably wrong.

  1. Always run the latest version of the OS and software.
  2. When security updates appear for your operating system or software, apply them as soon as possible, meaning that day. Configure your system to automatically apply updates if possible.
  3. Back up your computer frequently. Since normal humans cannot remember to do that, get software and/or a service to do it for you.
  4. Don’t use the same password with two different services, period. Since you cannot remember hundreds of different passwords, use a password safe, and remember only the password for it.
  5. If a web site offers two factor authentication (that is, you can set it up so it both requires a password and a code your phone generates), turn that on.

Every professional security person does those things.

If you ignore my advice, you’re going to get screwed one day, period. You might still get screwed even if you do follow my advice because the world is dangerous, but I can guarantee you’ll get screwed if you don’t.

Every organization that got infected recently by the ransomware worm was ignoring (1) and (2). Their suffering was avoidable. Do you want to suffer like them? Those that forgot (3) are really suffering because they have no way to recover. Why do you want to suffer? Every day, people get badly, badly screwed because the password that they use everywhere gets stolen and it is de facto impossible to remember every place you use it. Why set yourself up to suffer?

As to the question “who would attack me? No one is going to attack my computer, I’m unimportant”, the answer is that it isn’t individuals doing the attacks, it’s machines that are programmed to try to attack other machines by the hundreds of millions. You’re not being personally targeted, but that hardly matters when everyone on earth is being attacked. Your obscurity will not protect you. Even if you think there is nothing for the attacker to gain by taking over your machine, they’ll want it anyway, so they can set up a botnet to send spam from it, or use it to bring down other people’s web sites, or to take over yet more people’s machines.

And some corollaries:

1a. If your machine is too obsolete to run the latest OS, replace it. Quit being the jerk who won’t replace their eight or twelve year old computer and complains that the manufacturer “owes” you updates as you shake your fist at heaven. It isn’t even possible for them to support everything they ever made forever, let alone sane. Stop being that person.

1b. When Microsoft kept offering to give you Windows 10 for free, and you got angry at them for offering to give you a much more secure system FOR FREE, and when you got onto Facebook to post “stop bothering me, Microsoft, I don’t want to get a free, much more secure update to my buggy older OS”, you were the one who was being annoying and stupid, not Microsoft.

2a. When you get upset that the phone or computer that asked you to update is asking you to update, and you refuse to update because you find it “irritating”, what you’re basically saying is “I find it irritating that the manufacturer is trying to protect me from getting my machine taken over and all my work destroyed. I’ll show them, I’ll refuse so that some asshole in Kazakhstan can steal the contents of my bank account. That will teach Microsoft a thing or two!” Quit being an idiot. If someone pulled you out of the way of an oncoming car you wouldn’t get angry with them for it, so don’t get angry with the vendor for doing the equivalent for you.

3a. Backing up your computer can be done automatically. It isn’t even painful to get going. If you find this irritating to set up, imagine how irritating it will be to have none of your data after you have lost everything.

4a. No, your really clever password is not actually unguessable to a machine that can check tens of millions of passwords a second.

And finally, every once in a while, I hear from someone, generally an older person, that they’re just unable to keep up with new software and the like. “The new version looks different. I don’t want to update because the buttons might be in different places.” My advice, my sincere advice, is that if you can’t keep up with small changes like that, or if you can’t figure out how to use two factor authentication for your bank account and the like, get rid of your computer. It’s not safe for you to use one. Really. People still can live good lives without them. You can get the news by newspaper, you can talk to your grandchildren on the telephone. Not being able to keep up with this stuff is kind of like not being able to safely drive a car. If you’ve got a problem with your eyesight and can’t drive safely, the answer isn’t that you keep driving and kill people on the road, the answer is you stop driving.

And 100% of people who drink water eventually die

Ah what a gem this is:

A photo showing the suspect – named by police as Marcel Hesse – bragging about the killing was circulating on the so-called darknet, which is invisible on the open internet and used by criminals.

Unlike the not-so-dark net, which is never used by criminals?

F4BF

I wanted to believe that Hillary Clinton would lose the recent US presidential election, so when I started reading Scott Adams saying that she was indeed going to lose, to Trump, I kept on reading him. Like so many others, I like to read within my bubble, as well as outside it. That means I also now read Scott Adams on every other subject he deals with in his blog. I am now digging back into his archives for more wise and witty verbiage. I am surely not the only one doing this now.

Scott Adams has a girlfriend called Kristina Basham, who, it would appear, is working and working at becoming one of those people who is famous for being famous. This is one of those labels that most people seem to assume is an insult. But being famous is a skill and a job, like any other skill and job. Your basic skill is that you know how to attract attention, and you basic job is that you sell this ability and live with the adverse consequences of it as well as the benefits. Scott Adams describes very well the sort of work that goes into becoming one of these F4BF people, as I will call them from now on. Kristina Basham is not, you see, outstandingly good at anything in particular. She is just pretty good at a whole “stack” of things, which, when you combine them, are making her into someone F4BF.

I say: good for her.

The claim that people who are F4BF contribute nothing to the world is the latest iteration of that very old and very bad idea that there is a “real” economy, consisting of work that people are used to doing and which their ancestors even did, like farming and then after that factory working; and then there is the “unreal” economy, consisting of silly things that add nothing to the “real” economy, but instead just leach off it, like financial services (which actually make farming and industry massively more productive by telling farmers what to farm and industrialists what to industrialise), and more recently jobs like being F4BF. (Even being a factory worker was once upon a time denounced as being unreal.)

Being a celeb, and in particular being nothing but a celeb, an F4BF, which is to say being good at attracting attention to oneself but for no single and obvious reason, but still being good at it, is a vital part of the modern economy. Celebs, including F4BFs, enable attention to be diverted away from major economic investments, while the work of creating or building them is being done and needs not to be disturbed, in the secure knowledge that when attention is finally demanded, and you need to attract a lot of business very quickly or else a lot of money will be lost while the word spreads by mere unassisted word of mouth. For that grand opening of whatever it is that you have been quietly working on for however long it has been, you hire a bunch of celebs. Including maybe some of that particular sort of celeb who are F4BF, pure and distilled celebs who are nothing but celebs.

Discuss.