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]

To err is human, to fisk divine

Tim Newman does a fine job of fisking at length an article by Rachel Nuwer on the BBC (natch!) titled: How western civilisation could collapse.

Spoiler alert:

Tim is not impressed…

Here’s my suggestion: allow British citizens to keep their money in their pockets instead of forcing them to shell out £3bn per year for the BBC to publish garbage like this. A more humane gesture I cannot imagine at this juncture.

Read the whole thing.

The end of the rule of law in Turkey… and the perils of political labels

After reading an unrelentingly grim article by Suzy Hansen, describing the collapse of the rule of law in Turkey in the aftermath of the failed coup in July 2016, I noticed one problem with what had been written.

I recalled a dinner in Istanbul with a couple bon vivant UN diplomats, less than a week before the abortive uprising. During our congenial discussions, fuelled by some excellent Turkish craft beer, the three of us realised that we were using terms like ‘right’, ‘left’, ‘nationalist’ and ‘conservative’ to mean rather different things as we were British, Turkish and Czech respectively. By Turkish definitions, as I was neither religious nor nationalist, I was automatically on the left, regardless of the fact I am a laissez faire free trader. The Turkish chap ‘assigned’ me to the centre-left, to differentiate me from socialists or communists… it seemed vastly amusing at the time (of course that might have been the beer laughing).

Although Suzy Hansen’s linked article in the New York Times is not without merit, this made me realise how unwise she was to bandy about terms like ‘left’ and ‘right’ when describing Turkey to an American readership: the bad guys of the article are on the right, so perhaps some US readers might conclude Erdogan’s AKP are something like the Republicans? Er, not really. In fact not in the slightest. Given the radically different cultural, political and historical frames of reference between the USA and Turkey, there are simply no meaningful analogies to be made other than at the far fringes.

It is rather hazy what ‘left’ and ‘right’ mean in Britain or America these days, let alone what they mean elsewhere. Comparing political labels in different countries is always fraught with risk and more likely to confuse than enlighten. Michael Jennings of this parish often becomes exasperated when folk in London try to compare UK and Australian political parties, as the attempt usually falls at the second fence… and this is between two countries with vastly more shared history.

Call that an attack on the press? This is an attack on the press

In 1917, as this cutting shows, the German navy shelled Margate and Broadstairs. Nothing strange in that, you might think, they had done much worse to Scarborough and Great Yarmouth.

The Times 27 February 1917 p6. Right click for the whole article.

However, this raid was a bit different. Far from causing general mayhem and tweaking the tail of the Royal Navy, on this occasion the target was one man: Lord Northcliffe, proprietor of The Times, The Daily Mail and – I kid you not – The Daily Mirror. Not that you would know it from this heavily censored report.

Northcliffe had attracted the ire of the German government by – apparently, I get little impression of this from The Times itself – being the main cheerleader of anti-German and pro-War sentiment in Britain. In 1918, doubtless aided by the Kaiser’s ringing, if unintentional, endorsement, Northcliffe became Britain’s Director of Propaganda.

I appreciate that in writing this article I may be giving the God-Emperor some ideas. So, Donald, if you’re reading, just remember: sailing a battleship up the Hudson, shelling the New York Times building and turning it into a smoking pile of rubble just so you can wipe the smile off the faces of a bunch of smug, arrogant, conceited, snobbish, self-satisfied, aloof, out-of-touch, blockheaded, group-thinking, bubble-dwelling, histrionic, paranoid, lying, devious, dissembling, childish, cry-baby, bitter, vindictive, divisive, conspiratorial, freedom-hating, progress-denying communists… is not nice.

It may even be wrong.

Samizdata quote of the day

This is what the British Broadcasting Corporation considers front page news.

Rather, who was for decades one of the best known and most trusted figures in US journalism, said in a Facebook post: “Watergate is the biggest political scandal of my lifetime, until maybe now.”

What the BBC doesn’t tell us is that this “most trusted figure” saw his career come to an abrupt end when he was fired by CBS for pushing a false story about George W. Bush’s service record which was based on forged documents.

Tim Newman

Samizdata quote of the day

“Ministers are regularly put under pressure for not spending enough. It is very rare to hear Ministers under pressure for spending too much, for presiding over government waste, for failing to find cheaper and better ways of doing things. There is nearly always an automatic assumption that spending a lot in any specific part of the public sector is good, and spending more is even better. There is little probing behind the slogans to find out what the real numbers are, and to ask why in some cases so much is spent to so little good effect.”

– Former minister, and Conservative MP, John Redwood. He is talking about the different biases of the BBC. His point about how BBC journalists and programmes routinely take a pro-public spending line in questions to government ministers, lobbyists and the like is very true. Watch any regular news show, either national or regional, and note those times when a minister is given a hard time for spending too much, or spending on X or Y at all. They don’t happen very often.

In retrospect

It is reported in the Guardian that the career of a noted creative artist is coming to an end.

… the offences of Phil Shiner, the human rights lawyer who has just been struck off by the solicitors’ disciplinary tribunal, are worse even than they appear at first sight. It is hard to comprehend the nightmare faced by British soldiers he wrongly accused of torture and murder in Iraq. But he did not only fail those he traduced in court. He failed Iraqis who believed they had a case; he failed genuine victims of abuse who will face a harder fight in future. And his dishonesty and deception, and the bringing of baseless cases, risks tainting the whole case for human rights.

There is quite a bit to agree with in this editorial, but the insouciance of the writer takes my breath away. Will the Guardian, so long his leading patron and publicist, be holding a retrospective exhibition of its own extensive Phil Shiner back catalogue?

Samizdata quote of the day

After a brief pause, he relayed a recent anecdote, from the set of a network show, that was even more terrifying: The production was shooting a scene in the foyer of a law firm, which the lead rushed into from the rain to utter some line that this screenwriter had composed. After an early take, the director yelled “Cut,” and this screenwriter, as is customary, ambled off to the side with the actor to offer a comment on his delivery. As they stood there chatting, the screenwriter noticed that a tiny droplet of rain remained on the actor’s shoulder. Politely, as they spoke, he brushed it off. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, an employee from the production’s wardrobe department rushed over to berate him. “That is not your job,” she scolded. “That is my job.”

The screenwriter was stunned. But he had also worked in Hollywood long enough to understand what she was really saying: quite literally, wiping rain off an actor’s wardrobe was her job—a job that was well paid and protected by a union. And as with the other couple of hundred people on set, only she could perform it.

This raindrop moment, and the countless similar incidents that I’ve observed on sets or heard about from people I’ve met in the industry, may seem harmless and ridiculous enough on its face. But it reinforces an eventuality that seems both increasingly obvious and uncomfortable—one that might occur to you every time you stream Fringe or watch a former ingénue try to re-invent herself as a social-media icon or athleisure-wear founder: Hollywood, as we once knew it, is over.

Nick Bilton

Samizdata quote of the day

The difference of course, is that in the US, they have a choice of who to watch and listen to, but in the UK, the massive public subsidy kills off any commercial competition to the BBC. So they (and the clone like politics in public subsided Channel 4) have a virtual monopoly on “intellectual” programming. Indeed, “intellectuals”, meaning a few politicians and academics have a channel devoted to brainwashing them: Radio 4. The result is that our “elite” (as they see themselves) are so completely brain-washed by the BBC hate filled bile, that they just inherently adopt the attitudes of the BBC and cannot fathom why anyone could complain when they parrot the brainwashed propaganda.

Scottish Sceptic

Samizdata quote of the day

Trump knows that the press isn’t trusted very much, and that the less it’s trusted, the less it can hurt him. So he’s prodding reporters to do things that will make them less trusted, and they’re constantly taking the bait.

They’re taking the bait because they think he’s dumb, and impulsive, and lacking self-control — but he’s the one causing them to act in ways that are dumb and impulsive, and demonstrate lack of self-control. As Richard Fernandez writes on Facebook, they think he’s dumb because they think he has lousy taste, but there are a lot of scarily competent guys out there in the world who like white and gold furniture. And, I should note, Trump has more media experience than probably 99% of the people covering him. (As Obama operative Ben Rhodes gloated with regard to selling a dishonest story on the Iran deal, the average reporter the Obama White House dealt with “is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns.” In Rhodes’ words, “they literally know nothing.”)

Glenn Reynolds

Thoughts on an open letter to Trump

Instapundit just linked to something calling itself An open letter to Trump from the Press Corps. I clicked on the link, because I thought it might be a masterpiece of self-parody. It is.

No comments allowed on the open letter itself, but I clicked on the Instapundit comment thread, suspecting that there might be some entertaining and quite well crafted abuse to enjoy. Again, I was not disappointed.

An odd thing about this open letter is that it seems so lacking in the very knowledge which you might expect the “Editor in Chief and Publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review” to know quite a lot about, namely how the technological context of journalism has altered in recent years. He says to Trump: You need us to say nice things about you! You need us to get your messages across! But everything that Trump has said and done since he first got into his stride as a seemingly long-shot candidate has said, right back at them: “No, I don’t.”

It will be interesting to see if Trump’s current anti-social media heckling of his Obama-worshipping media opponents keeps happening. I suspect that he’ll start being more polite to them, but only if and when they start being more polite to him. But that could just be wishful thinking on my part.

More generally, one of the things I notice about effective people, including me at those times in my life when I have been effective, is that effective people often do things that they “can’t” do, but which actually, they can do, and which if they do do will serve their purposes very well. “You can’t do that” actually only means that until now you couldn’t do that. And it often also means: Now that you can do that and now that you are doing it, we want you to stop.

Until recently, no President of the USA could tweet back at his media critics, very quickly and cheaply and easily, without in any way having to beg from them any right to reply to their criticisms, and without irritating anyone else who isn’t interested. Now, the President can. The claim that he shouldn’t, because “proper Presidents don’t behave like that” needs him to be persuaded of this claim. But if ignoring this claim is a major reason for his effectiveness, why would he be persuaded?

Part of the Western media are driven to madness by Trump

Rich Lowry, no great fan of Trump, writes what I think is a very astute column on the antics of parts of the media concerning recent “stories” about the man:

For all that Trump complains about negative press coverage, he wants to be locked in a relationship of mutual antagonism with the media. It behooves those journalists who aren’t partisans and reflexive Trump haters to avoid getting caught up in this dynamic. If they genuinely want to be public-spirited checks on Trump, they shouldn’t be more bitterly adversarial, but more responsible and fair.

This means taking a deep breath and not treating every Trump tweet as a major news story. It means covering Trump more as a “normal” president rather than as a constant clear and present danger to the ­republic. It means going out of the way to focus on substance rather than the controversy of the hour. It means a dose of modesty about how the media has lost the public’s trust, in part because of its bias and self-importance. None of this is a particularly tall order. Yet it’s unlikely to happen, even if it was encouraging that so many reporters opposed BuzzFeed’s decision. The press and Trump will continue to be at war, although only one party to the hostilities truly knows what he is ­doing, and it shows.

Sense can break out from unlikely quarters. This article by Piers Morgan, focusing on the absurd treatment of Trump, is right on target. Parts of the media, at any rate, does understand the self-inflicted mistakes the media is making, and that this must stop.

Some things I will miss about the now defunct Bella Caledonia web magazine

Bella Caledonia is, or was, a magazine style website devoted to a far left vision of Scottish Independence. I lurked there often and commented seldom. When I clicked on the link http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/ this morning I saw a message abruptly announcing its closure, and when I visited it again just now I saw the “404 Not Found” message. (Update: the site is now back up, though its future is still in doubt.)

I hope that was just a glitch and they haven’t really taken the whole site down. However far from them I am politically, I can have nothing but sympathy with someone who has been writing for or commenting at a website for a decade and then finds it has all been wiped. I would cry if that happened here.

As someone interested in languages, I shall miss the writing in and about Scots. I shall miss the commenters. Some of them were refreshingly, some worryingly, far from the mainstream of politics. A feeling of kinship… I shall say no more. Above all I shall miss their clarity about what they wanted for Scotland.

Three years ago I was so struck by an essay by regular Bella contributor Robin McAlpine, director of the Common Weal thinktank, about his desires for press regulation in a future independent Scotland that I copied it to my clippings file. The title alone was an Orwellian masterpiece. It originally appeared at this url: http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2013/03/19/real-freedom-sounds-like-many-voices/. Since that piece now seems to have vanished along with the rest of the Bella Caledonia archive, and since it is a mirror to the latest efforts by a Conservative UK government to end press freedom, I shall preserve it by posting it below.

I have put the phrase “Above all, this would require that titles other than the franchised ones would be banned” in bold, but other than that have made no changes. Here it is:

Real Freedom Sounds Like Many Voices

by Robin McAlpine 19TH MARCH 2013

“What we are actually having a debate about is the right of very, very rich people to control our society outside of any oversight or regulation …”

I have unburdened myself of the frustration I feel at the way I feel about how the media regulation debate has been covered in the Scottish press (here). Since then I’ve been contacted by a number of people who share my frustration but who want to know if there are other options for media regulation or other possibilities or arguments that are being censored in this debate. Yes there are – all of them.

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