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]

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?

Olympics games at Dezeen

Now that Brexit has been and gone, the soon-to-be-upon-us Olympic Games are the new must-do design opportunity:


That’s going to get around. Although if you think it’s only Russians who are drug cheats I say you are being very naive. Nevertheless the above logo is all part of why I always enjoy all the they’re not ready stories which inevitably circulate around now in the Olympic cycle, before enough other people’s money is thrown at the various problems to make them go away, just in time.

This little flurry of bad Olympic news won’t last, alas. Drug doubts will get no mention from the television commentators. Bad Olympic news – i.e. proper Olympic news – will be submerged by a flood of good news, in the form of the various drugged-up competitors winning medals, and when it ends, it will all be declared a huge success. As of now, however, I can live in hope.

Venezuela: an evolving story

Misreporting Venezuela’s economy – Mark Weisbrot, writing for the Guardian in September 2010

Venezuela’s devaluation doom-mongers – Mark Weisbrot, writing for the Guardian in March 2013

Sorry, Venezuela haters: this economy is not the Greece of Latin America – Mark Weisbrot, writing for the Guardian in November 2013

For some reason Mr Weisbrot has not written much for the Guardian comment pages on the subject of Venezuela recently, but to its credit the Guardian has covered developments in that country in the news pages:

‘At least 35,000’ Venezuelans cross border to Colombia to buy food and medicine – a story from the Associated Press appearing in the Guardian on 17 July 2016.

Tens of thousands of Venezuelans poured into neighbouring Colombia to buy food and medicine on Saturday after authorities briefly opened the border that has been closed for almost a year.

A similar measure last week led to dramatic scenes of the elderly and mothers storming Colombian supermarkets and highlighted how daily life has deteriorated for millions in Venezuela, where the economy has been in a freefall since the 2014 crash in oil prices.

A verdict on Clinton – or on the USA?

A commentator on Breitbart, ‘Rob’, says of the decision by the FBI not to recommend charges relating to alleged violation of the law relating to the use and security of the Secretary’s private email server:

“Until this election, the corruption, coercion, and sleazy backroom deals were just that… backroom. The Clintons… AND Obama… have revealed who they are: criminals. IF in light of this clear abortion of justice this country elects Hillary, the United States DESERVES to collapse and disintegrate just like Rome. Shame on Comey. Shame on Lynch. Shame on Obama. And shame on that sleazy criminal hag Hillary. Disgusting… all of them, and I would love to watch Attorney General Chris Christie put them all in prison next summer.”

An un-convent-ional hiding place in Argentina for cash and a gun

Try as I might, I cannot but chuckle at news coming out of Argentina, of a lawmaker, Señor Lopez, from the Kirchnerite movement in Argentina being arrested in the alleged circumstances of hiding between 5-8 millions of dollars worth of cash and a gun in a convent.

An Argentine former secretary of Public Works with the Cristina Fernandez administration, Jose Lopez, and currently a member of the Mercosur parliament, was arrested on Tuesday in the Buenos Aires province locality of General Rodríguez while he was trying to hide bags full of money and an automatic gun in the garden of a convent.

The reason for the formal arrest was possession of a war weapon, a Sig Saguer rifle, loaded with 25 cartridges.

Lopez was arrested with six bags and a suitcase stashed with dollars, Euros, Yuan and Qatar currency as well as very expensive watches (Rolex, Omega). “We found 160 bundles of cash, 108 of dollars, and some of them still thermo-sealed with the stamps from China’s central bank”, revealed Cristian Ritondo, head of Buenos Aires province security. Ritondo said Lopez tried to bribe the police officers and went into shock when they did not accept, and later suffered a deep depression.

At first he told the officers he was planning to donate the funds to the nuns monastery. In effect one of the nuns interviewed said that Lopez had visited them the previous day and “he was quite crazy”, saying he had stolen the money which was to help the monastery, “but today when he turned up and started dumping the bags, police arrested him. I told the officers he was a good man, he came once a year to visit us and would help us with donations of coffee and tea”

Corruption in Argentina is, at least, like a certain beverage, reassuringly expensive. The comments are quite good, especially the one about the nuns needing a good Rolex to time their prayers.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Lootings are becoming a common occurrence in Venezuela, as the country’s food shortage resulted in yet another reported incident of violence in a supermarket—this time in the Luvebras Automarket located in the La Florida Province of Caracas. Videos posted to social media showed desperate people falling over each other trying to get bags of rice. One user claimed the looting occurred because it is difficult to get cereal, and so people ‘broke down the doors and damaged infrastructure.”

Robert Tracinski

Brazil – To avoid the cops, join the government.

I’ve heard it said that Brazil is the country of the future, and always will be….

Well, we have reports that former President Lula da Silva, he of the Workers’ Party, having had his collar felt recently by police over corruption allegations, has found a way that might help him sidestep further investigations, by joining the government of his successor, Dilma, that ‘likeable’ former Marxist guerilla, who is herself facing calls to resign over corruption.

Joining the government would mean that only the Supreme Court could hear a criminal complaint against him, and the lower courts have no jurisdiction to hear a case against a Minister. Such is the respect for the rule of law in that country.

So at least in Brazil they are perfectly open, if the cops are after you, you are safe if join the government. Is it any wonder that the country is a mess? This is one way to defend a government against politically-motivated prosecutors, but it is also a way to shield criminals.

I suppose the tipping point comes when politicians join a government when facing indictment, rather than resign from it.

Venezuela – a role model for the man probably going to be the next leader of Her Majesty’s Official Opposition

“When we celebrate, and it is a cause for celebration, the achievements of Venezuela, in jobs, in housing , in health, in education, but above all its role in the whole world as a completely different place, then we do that because we recognise what they have achieved.”

Jeremy Corbyn

(For those who haven’t been on Samizdata before, this posting is designed to highlight the vileness of this man, not to imply approval.)

No one could have seen this coming

From the “it’s just a temporary emergency created by the need to suppress vicious anti-social elements, and we will restore things to normal after the crisis has ended” department:

Venezuelan farmers ordered to hand over produce to state.

I’m certain this new measure will finally end the reign of terror of the hoarders and restore food to Venezuelan homes.

Meanwhile, a word about toilet paper. The capitalist propaganda machine outside of the Bolivarist Paradise has been telling people that toilet paper is now largely unavailable for purchase in the country. But, does man really require toilet paper to be happy? A few centuries ago there was no toilet paper at all – indeed, mankind survived for most its history without toilet paper. The desire for toilet paper is simply a form of manufactured desire created by capitalist marketing and advertising – the production of a want in people for a product they don’t actually have a real use for. The creation of toilet paper despoils forests and the landscape, is unsustainable, and it is only to the good that Venezuela now leads the world in eliminating this scourge from our midst.

(See also: What Socialism Has Done To A Supermarket in Venezuela.)

Chávez’s Better World

Presented for your consideration, two quotations and a hyperlink:

“I am convinced that the path to a new, better and possible world is not capitalism, the path is socialism.”

-Hugo Chávez

“I have said it already, I am convinced that the way to build a new and better world is not capitalism. Capitalism leads us straight to hell.”

-Hugo Chávez

Venezuelan Bolivar now worth more as toilet paper than as money.


Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro given power to rule by decree

The Venezuelan parliament on Sunday approved a law giving the president, Nicolás Maduro, the power to legislate by decree for nine months in the face of what he described as threats by the US government.

The so-called “anti-imperialist” law will be in effect from the time it is published in Venezuela’s Official Gazette until 31 December.

Maduro requested the expanded powers in response to new US sanctions on Venezuelan officials accused of human rights violations. Critics of Venezuela’s government have called the move a power grab.

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?