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]

New uses for copyright law

Much as I like to jeer at the Guardian, sometimes it does a good deed in bringing sinister developments to the public’s attention. For instance:

Revealed: How copyright law is being misused to remove material from the internet

As soon as the DMCA takedown request had been filed, Google de-listed the entire thread. All 126 posts are now not discoverable when a user searches Google for BuildTeam – or any other terms. The search company told Mumsnet it could make a counterclaim, if it was certain no infringement had taken place, but since the site couldn’t verify that its users weren’t actually posting copyrighted material, it would have opened it up to further legal pressure.

In fact, no copyright infringement had occurred at all. Instead, something weirder had happened. At some point after Narey posted her comments on Mumsnet, someone had copied the entire text of one of her posts and pasted it, verbatim, to a spammy blog titled “Home Improvement Tips and Tricks”. The post, headlined “Buildteam interior designers” was backdated to September 14 2015, three months before Narey had written it, and was signed by a “Douglas Bush” of South Bend, Indiana. The website was registered to someone quite different, though: Muhammed Ashraf, from Faisalabad, Pakistan.

Quite why Douglas Bush or Muhammed Ashraf would be reviewing a builder based in Clapham is not explained in “his” post. BuildTeam says it has no idea why Narey’s review was reposted, but that it had nothing to do with it. “At no material times have we any knowledge of why this false DCMA take down was filed, nor have we contracted any reputation management firms, or any individual or a group to take such action on our behalf. Finally, and in conjunction to the above, we have never spoken with a ‘Douglas Bush,’ or a ‘Muhammed Ashraf.’”

Whoever sent the takedown request, Mumsnet was forced to make a choice: either leave the post up, and accept being delisted; fight the delisting and open themselves up to the same legal threats made against Google; or delete the post themselves, and ask the post to be relisted on the search engine.

“Although we understood the user’s argument that something odd had happened, we weren’t in a position to explain what – our hope was that by zapping one post we might ensure that the thread remained listed.”

Mumsnet deleted the post, and asked Google to reinstate the thread, but a month later, they received final word from the search firm: “‘Google has decided not to take action based on our policies concerning content removal and reinstatement’ which (it turned out) meant that they had delisted the entire thread”.

Interesting though it might be to read about BuildTeam meeting the Streisand Effect, I do not assume they are in the wrong. But someone has found a clever new way to censor comment on the web. I can see this strategy might prove popular. How could it be fought? A related question, also unrelated to this particular case: how can companies protect themselves against dishonest bad reviews?

“Wherever this is”

The Shadow Europe minister, Pat Glass, has had a bad day. According to “Politics Home”:

A Labour MP has apologised after branding a voter a “horrible racist” while campaigning for Britain to stay in the European Union.

Pat Glass, the Shadow Europe Minister, also said she was “never coming back” to Sawley in Derbyshire, after an exchange with a member of the public about immigration.

According to BBC Radio Derby, the unnamed voter had referred to a Polish family living in the town as “scroungers”.

Ms Glass told the station: “The very first person I come to was a horrible racist. I’m never coming back to wherever this is.”

Following criticism of her remarks, the MP said: “The comments I made were inappropriate and I regret them. Concerns about immigration are entirely valid and it’s important that politicians engage with them.

“I apologise to the people living in Sawley for any offence I have caused.”

The row has echoes of Gordon Brown infamously being caught during the 2010 election campaign branding Gillian Duffy a “bigoted woman” after she challenged him on immigration from Eastern Europe.

Echoes of Gordon Brown’s encounter with Gillian Duffy it might have, but this was not a case of an “open mic”. Ms Glass did not have Gordon Brown’s excuse: like Emily Thornberry, she chose to say what she did to a mass audience. [Later edit: Commenter Cal has pointed out that accounts differ on that point. She may have thought the interview was over. But as Cal also says, it’s revealing that she felt free to express herself in those terms to BBC reporters.]

I would guess that the insult to Sawley, and by extension to all those places like Sawley that parliamentarians never visit except when a vote draws near, is a bigger vote loser than insulting one man. She made it clear that the stops on her campaign trail mean so little to her that she could not even be bothered to remember their names. Anyone who has been embarrassed by forgetting a name might have some sympathy with that, until Ms Glass compounds the offence by making it clear that she regards her presence in such a place as a privilege that can be withdrawn as a punishment.

The brief era of freely commenting on British newspaper websites draws to a close

Bye bye, Telegraph comments. It was not always that nice knowing you but I shall miss you anyway. Er, I am right about Telegraph comments being abolished, aren’t I? Or have they disappeared for me alone due to my browser being full up or something?

For its part, the Guardian has drastically cut back on the number of articles open to comments, particularly in the section of the paper previously known as “Comment is Free”. The paper has run a dozen self-pitying articles by its columnists lamenting that their efforts to be “edgy”, “sassy” and “provocative” have worked and pleading for safe spaces where they can escape their readers. This piece by Joseph Reagle is a cut above the rest, but it is chiefly memorable for the most recommended reader comment by “Random Libertarian”. I am not this person, but feel I have a lot in common with them:

I’m not addressing this author in particular, but the whole Grauniad pushback against “abusive” comments.

Suggestion: Maybe you should stop writing abusive columns.

Don’t use a word deliberately chosen to portray climate-change skeptics as Nazis.

Don’t call people “rape apologists” when they question interpretations of statistics that show U.S. colleges to be more dangerous than war zones.

Don’t write stuff that assumes that all white people are racists, unless you can prove this to be true without Humpty Dumptying the meaning of the word.

Don’t write as if your political opponents are either eeeevil neoliberals or fat, pathetic dupes of the Murdoch media.

Try it. It might work

To comment on the Times requires passing a paywall, a moderator, and several years of your life.

The Daily Mail is the last, best hope for freedom to comment. But it gives you cancer.

On feminists objectifying women and male versus female styles of trolling

Hillary Clinton objectifies women by reducing them to mere body parts:

Mrs Clinton, meanwhile, said that she would win the nomination and unify the party. She gained perhaps her biggest applause of the night for taking on the moderators of this and past Democratic debates.

There had been “not one question about a woman’s right to contraceptive health care”, she said. In spite of attempts in some states to impose limits and “a presidential candidate, Donald Trump, saying women should be punished (for abortions)” it had not been discussed. “It goes to the heart of who we are as women,” she said.

So Secretary Clinton believes that the core of a woman’s identity is decided by her stance regarding contraception or abortion (as if all women had the same stance), or, more limiting yet, decided for her by the stance of her local jurisdiction regarding contraception and abortion. Time was when feminism was about refusing to define women by so-called women’s issues.

While I am on the subject of the decline of feminism, Guardian Clickbait-profiteer Jessica Valenti says in an article for which comments are closed,

I’m tired of having to explain, over and over again, why the tone of the comments under my pieces is indeed sexist

I strongly agree that the Guardian moderators have the right and are right to delete insults and ban those uttering them. When it comes to threats they should contact the police in any case where it appears that the threat might be credible.

But I’ve read many, many Guardian feminist articles and their accompanying comments and observed a few things.

The typical insult thrown at a woman writing online by a male troll is vile by convention. He will either denigrate some aspect of her physical appearance or sexuality, or will call her by the name of a body part. Conventions matter. These insults still hurt because all sides know they are meant to hurt. But looked at objectively, they are meaningless. The things referred to are not actually bad things. I am a woman who writes online and I have had a few such insults. I mentally sent them back to their originators with knobs on, then turned to other matters.

The typical insult thrown at a man writing online by a female troll (the Guardian sub-species of which is usually found writing above the line) is to accuse him of something that, if true, would actually be vile. She will typically call him a “misogynist”, a hater of women. That really is a bad thing to be. Worse still, she might call him a rape-apologist, a rape-enabler, or a would-be rapist. To truly be any of these things is evil. Yet such terms are frequently thrown around very casually at targets who have done no more than act in what the feminst writer sees as a sexist way, behaviour which may even be acknowledged by the writer to be unconscious, or at those who have simply expressed disagreement with her version of feminism.

I’ve had a few of this type of insult too, in the days when I used to comment on the Guardian website using a screen name that did not clearly indicate my gender. They made me far more angry than the body-part type of insult. What did I do to get me called a rape-apologist? I argued that not every claim of rape is true.

The Times smears Cruz, to his advantage

By now I should have got over my bemusement at how “[a] feature of British reporting on American affairs is that even newspapers that sell themselves as right wing or too grand to take a side in US politics take their tone straight from the Democratic party”. I haven’t. It’s still weird. It has almost stopped working but they haven’t stopped doing it. A case in point: this article in this morning’s Times by or posted from a person or place with the delightful name of “Boer Deng” will not displease the Ted Cruz campaign team.

‘Hypocrite’ Cruz hounded out of the Bronx by pupil protests

He was forced to cancel an appearance at a high school in New York on Wednesday when pupils threatened to walk out if the event went ahead. The same day, a rally was disrupted by protesters who called him a “hypocrite only looking for money and votes”.

Politician looking for votes – shock horror! Peaceful political rally disrupted – yay wonderful! Times readers are not likely to think either of these things. The recent redesign of the Times website seems to have wiped out all previous reader comments ever, but, trust me, previous stories like this one about protesters disrupting Donald Trump’s rallies called forth a stream of comments along the lines of “I am no fan of Trump, but this is thuggery”. Getting back to Cruz:

His win in the Midwest on Tuesday has paved the way for a challenge to Donald Trump at the national convention this summer. However, the limits of his staunch, right-wing brand were laid bare as he was practically chased out of the Bronx, a diverse borough that is home to many Hispanic and Asian immigrants.

Some of whom might have wanted to hear the views of one of the candidates for the office of President of their country. Tough.

In the past, he has made remarks about women that many have found misogynistic.

Any chance of a link to the exact words of these remarks so that readers could judge for themselves whether that oft-quoted expert “many” is correct in this assessment?

Mr Cruz had hoped to gather at least some support from socially conservative ministers in some Bronx neighbourhoods, but was overwhelmed by animus from the locals.

Or rather, some of the locals. The ones who got to decide that the likes of “socially conservative ministers in some Bronx neighbourhoods” who might well have not shared their animus and wished to hear Mr Cruz speak were the wrong sort of locals so their wishes didn’t count.

This may come as a surprise to paramount leader Deng, but it is possible for a politician to still gather support despite being “chased away” or even by the fact of being chased away.

His campaign team quickly retreated to the whiter, more conservative northern part of the state, where he received a warmer reception yesterday morning.

If the category “white hispanic” had not already been invented for George Zimmerman it would be necessary to invent it for Ted Cruz.

Fooled ya!

The Daily Mail reports:

April Fools is no laughing matter, China’s official news service intoned Friday, saying the Western tradition of opening spring with a gag is un-Chinese. The official news agency Xinhua’s stiffly worded post on micro-blog Weibo declared: “Today is the West’s so-called ‘April Fools'”. The occasion “does not conform with our nation’s cultural traditions, nor does it conform with the core values of socialism“, it added.

“Don’t believe rumours, don’t create rumours and don’t spread rumours,” it said, capping off the note with a smiley emoticon. A cartoon accompanying the post showed two phones “spreading rumours.” A finger pointing at them is accompanied by a word bubble that says “breaking the law”. Spreading rumours online can be a violation of Chinese law.

But the country’s Internet users met the reminder with a collective guffaw, suggesting that in China, every day is April Fools. “You speak lies every day, use government policy, data, to trick the people in every way. What’s up, what’s down? What’s wrong? What’s right? We’re on to you,” one Weibo commenter said. Other users likened the post to the satirical American newspaper The Onion. “The most amusing ‘April Fools’ news is that Xinhua is seriously saying ‘don’t believe rumours’,” said one.

One has to admire Xinhua’s deadpan delivery, but didn’t including the smiley rather give the game away?

Djokovic serves up an ace… fault called

The World no.1 mens tennis player, that well-known Scots-Irishman Jock O’Vitch, has caused some ripples in the usual areas with his remarks over the ATP (Mens) tennis tour being the bigger draw than the WTA Tour in terms of ratings and therefore being deserving of more prize money.

Of course, in a free world, it doesn’t quite work like that, as it depends on the contract that you have, and the comments of the CEO of the Indian Wells tournament, a Mr Moore, appears to have led to the usual media ‘storm’ and to his resignation in a bout of pseudo-Maoist self-criticism.

Moore said female players “should get down on their knees” in thanks to male counterparts such as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. The South African – a former player – later apologised for his “erroneous” remarks.

In this Holy Week, should we not remember the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, the only bit of the Bible that resonated with me at school (apart from Balaam’s Donkey, for other reasons), as being an obvious statement of what is right and wrong.

12 Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.
13 But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?
14 Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.
15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?
16 So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.
17 And Jesus going up to Jerusalem took the twelve disciples apart in the way, and said unto them,
18 Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death,
19 And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again.
20 Then came to him the mother of Zebedee’s children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him.

We shall know that there is progress in the cause of liberty when those who protest against the perfectly reasonable comments of the World No. 1 are laughed at and ridiculed, and those who speak as they see things shall not cower before those who scorn reason and liberty.

And where are the complaints from the same horde that sponsorship deals for some women tennis players far outstrip the earnings of male tennis players?

A reminder: opposing the EU does not have to be about immigrants

Tyrannical EU threatens our liberal laws

“If Britain is at little risk of such tragic convulsions, it’s exposed to the EU’s progressive authoritarianism in more surreptitious ways. The jurist Sir William Blackstone articulated the presumption of innocence, a cornerstone of British justice: “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” The Napoleonic code that influenced much of continental Europe, and the EU, lacks that respect for individual liberty.

Take the European arrest warrant (EAW). Innocent British citizens have been subjected to Kafkaesque justice systems by a fast-track process that sidesteps basic safeguards. In 2014, Keith Hainsworth, an Ancient Greek tutor sightseeing in Greece, was wrongly accused of setting a forest ablaze. Arrested without a shred of evidence, a five-week nightmare saw him holed up in a notorious Athens jail. A Greek judge eventually released him, admitting a simple error that could have been cleared up with one phone call. The Hainsworths were left with legal bills approaching £40,000.”

– From a piece by Dominic Raab in the Sunday Times.

Update: There is an oddity in this morning’s edition of the Times. Under the heading “Understanding European Capital Markets”, which seems to be a series title, there is a little article that starts as follows,

What is the European Commission doing to improve the access to financing for start-ups and SMEs?

David Muxworthy is adamant that without the EU’s financial assistance, he would have been forced to give up more of the equity in his company to private investors. He is the chief financial officer of MyPinPad, a state-of-the-art technology company that specialises in authentication solutions for devices like mobiles and tablets.

According to this year’s European Parliament annual report, there are around 22 million SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) like Muxworthy’s operating in the EU, providing two thirds of private sector employment – around 75 million jobs. The International Monetary Fund describes these sorts of businesses – agile, innovative, entrepreneurial, job-creating and growing – as the “backbone” of the European economy. The EU is well aware of SMEs’ importance and has set up a series of financial organisations to help them fulfil their potential. Localisation is a key consideration, and focus is often given to geographical economic “clusters”.

Something in the tone struck me as a little off. The typeface was just very slightly different, too. Then I saw the discreetly placed logo at the top right corner. “In association with Goldman Sachs.” Ah.

Try not lying

Another story from Der Spiegel International caught my eye: Lying Press? Germans Lose Faith in the Fourth Estate. It says it is by “Spiegel staff”. Someone would rather not put their name to this.

This comment from a reader calling themselves “wildberry” summed it up well:

“How can a woman who has been reading SPIEGEL, Süddeutsche Zeitung and Badische Neueste Nachrichten for years hit upon the idea that the journalists writing for these publications are trying to manipulate her, their reader?” This sentence encapsulates the problem. This air of injured innocence betrays the utter refusal of the journalists and their employers to understand why they are mistrusted and seen no longer as telling the truth to the world and holding the establishment to account. Instead they are more and more regarded as no more trustworthy than this same establishment. In fact, as with the latest example of (at best) partial and belated attempts to confront reality, they are seen as culpable, partial, and biased. That they cannot understand their own shortcomings and their own unconscious bias is at the root of the problem. When the press is seen, not as having a slight political preference – that has ever been the case and is widely accepted and understood, but as being complicit in the deliberate twisting of news-facts, one has to recognise that newspapers have dug their own graves and cannot complain when no-one believes them any more.

Another one, this time from “Pryor Oak”:

I am amazed that Der Spiegel is suddenly allowing readers to post comments. That is a step in the correct direction to earn trust in the media. Regarding the events in Cologne on New Years Eve, the Chief of Police issued a press release on January 1, 2016, stating that it was a “peaceful New Year’s Eve”. Only after Germans posted eyewitness accounts on Twitter, Facebook and international media that people learned the truth. This event created a distrust of the German media, police and government because it appeared that these institutions wanted to create a wall of silence regarding crimes committed by migrants against German citizens.

Here are two posts from the Samizdata back catalogue with a similar theme: If you do not want to see the BNP vindicated, try not proving them right and Politically correct evasiveness fails on its own terms. And just to show that this isn’t me jumping on the latest bandwagon, here’s a depressingly similar Biased BBC post from ten years ago: Two Beaches.

In the latter Samizdata post I asked (without, it must be said, any serious doubts as to the answer) the British press how it thought the strategy of silence and euphemism about the Muslim identity of the perpetrators of the crimes for which Rotherham is now world famous was succeeding. The same strategy was tried again in Germany with the same result. If the press of either country actually cares about diminishing the hostility between Muslims and non-Muslims it needs to try a new strategy. Try not lying.

The Times , er, Independent, it is a-changin’

Today, we have heard the toll of the bell for the print edition of the Independent, a new-ish British newspaper founded in 1986 to fill the perceived gap between the sanctimonious Left-wing priggishness of the Guardian and the then-brash Times with, well, what appeared to be more sanctimonious Left-wing priggishness. Although it was mindful of the need to remain in profit to be independent, that rigour has meant that it has now decided to go online only from 26th March 2016, having been as Independent as any newspaper owned by a charitable former KGB officer. Its mini-Me version, the i newspaper, a thinned-down version, is being sold off, stc.

What use is a Lefty rag if you can’t even wipe anything with it*? A sigh of relief at competitors, or an unwelcome reminder that the end of the tunnel is the mountain (of debt)?

*Newspaper is great for making car windows really clear after a wash.

Is Donald Trump destroying Hillary Clinton?

Having here, as we do, lots of American commenters who are knowledgeable about the details of American politics means that it makes little sense for us Samizdatan Brits to be telling Americans about American politics. But it makes perfect sense for the likes of me to ask questions about American politics. And my question to all American readers who choose to care about it is: Is this true?

This being a Breitbart piece by John Nolte in which he claims that Donald Trump has, pretty much instantaneously and single-handedly, destroyed Hillary Clinton, by flinging at her the accusation that she is an enabler and political ally of a serial woman-destroyer. This mud has been floating around for decades. Everyone has known it. But thanks to Trump and his mastery of the social media, this mud has now, finally, been made to stick. For a quarter of a century the corrupt American mass media have been protecting the Clintons from all this. Now, that protection has been obliterated, by Donald Trump.

If that’s true, then good – very good – for Donald Trump. I have all the obvious doubts about this bizarre man that others have expressed, here and elsewhere. But, one of the basic rules of civilisation is that the rules made by big people, and indeed the basic rules of behaving decently, should apply to big people as well as to little people. The idea that the king is above the law is the very essence of lawlessness. And in the person of “The Donald”, says Nolte, this idea – that the rules apply to the big person that is Hillary Clinton – has finally being applied to and is having serious consequences for this appalling woman, if not in an actual court of law, then at least in the court of public opinion.

Nolte further argues – his piece is entitled “Bernie Sanders Rising Because Trump Annihilating Hillary Clinton” – that the rise of Bernie Sanders is not really a rise; it is merely the collapse of Sanders’s rival for the Democrat nomination, Hillary Clinton.

But: Is all or any of this true? I really look forward to hearing what our commentariat has to say.

Let them eat equality

The idea that there is a fixed amount of wealth is a pessimistic fallacy held by cod economists. The idea that there is a fixed amount of stupidity is an optimistic fallacy held by cod psychologists. New forms of stupidity are being generated all the time; and this process is not the least hampered by old forms of stupidity continuing to flourish and even spring up anew in places from which naive observers had thought that particular species of stupidity had been eradicated.

The Guardian newspaper is a sort of Rare Breed Survival Trust for economic and political stupidity. It works to secure the continued existence and viability of endangered falsehoods. Heartwarmingly, its labours often meet with success and stupid ideas once considered moribund can thrive again. Not thrive in terms of achieving anything worthwhile, of course, because the ideas concerned are stupid, but in terms of being loved.

Let’s look at a case study of a fallacy brought back from the brink of extinction to flourish once again in the pages of the Guardian. I refer you to an article by Zoe Williams entitled “Poverty goals? No, it’s extreme wealth we should be targeting”.

Furthermore, as Martin Kirk from the activist network the Rules pointed out, all the language of sustainable goals frames poverty as a disease: eradicable, no match for the ingenuity of mankind, but fundamentally nobody’s fault. It is a landscape where everyone’s a hero and nobody’s a villain; one in which unfair trade agreements, land grabs, structural debt relations, privatisation of publicly owned utilities and tax evasion never happened.

Poverty is not a naturally occurring germ or virus; it is anthropogenically created though wealth extraction. Any goal that fails to recognise this is not only unlikely to succeed, but can only be understood as a deliberate act of diversion, drawing attention away from what might work; in its place, the anodyne, fairytale language of hope, in a post-ideological world where all politicians just want what’s best and a billionaire is just a benefactor you haven’t met yet.