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]

Samizdata cobbled together quote of the day

It’s official: every cyclone or hurricane these days is the worst, strongest, most powerful [insert hyperbolic untruth of your choice] EVER!

Hurricane Irma has been no different.

Of course, the reality is far less sexy…

…when it comes to 1-minute sustained wind speed, Irma ranks tied for second place (with four others) when it comes to North Atlantic hurricanes. In terms of intensity (the lower the air pressure the higher the intensity), Irma doesn’t even crack the top 10 in the North Atlantic (it’s 12th).

How does the mainstream media get away with this?

– Marcus over on Catallaxy Files.

Another Daily Telegraph quote for Guido

The only time I ever read anything in the Daily Telegraph nowadays is when Guido Fawkes quotes some particularly ridiculous thing in it, and has a good old sneer.

Well, just in case Guido missed it, here is another choice item of ridicule-worthy Daily Telegraphy, spotted earlier today by 6k:

Expect the GCSE pass rate to dip some more.

Samizdata quote of the day

I found the reasons various people gave for choosing sides in the American Civil War fascinating, but the complexities of each choice have largely been ignored in contemporary discussions on the subject. I guess the BBC and their ilk prefer to stoke the flames of a race war by implying Lee was fighting to preserve slavery.

Well, they’re getting what they wanted, aren’t they?

Tim Newman

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


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.

Blasts from the past

Last weekend I had a nice little surprise. Guido, in his Seen Elsewhere section, linked to a piece by Carl Packman entitled Of course I Remember When Ian Hislop was Eurosceptic. I clicked on Packman’s piece, because I too remembered when Ian Hislop was very EUrosceptic indeed. In particular, I remembered an amazing diatribe which erupted from him on BBC TV’s Have I Got News For You, way back in early 2003. I recalled this Hislop eruption because I wrote a piece for Samizdata about it at the time. Hislop is now a Remoaner, but he certainly wasn’t then, as I then noted, and as Packman recalls and records. What I did not anticipate, when I began reading Packman’s piece, was that Packman would include in his piece a quote from that same Samizdata posting of mine. Very pleasing. What goes on the internet stays on the internet, provided only that someone is curating it capably, and even if it was posted way back in May 2003.

It is no big criticism of Carl Packman to say that he seems to have read that one Samizdata posting, but not any other EUro-postings here, and maybe not any other postings here at all, apart from that one. (Fair enough. I have only read this one piece of his.) And Packman seems to have got the idea that we Samizdatistas were not then at all happy about the fierceness of Hislop’s EUro-scepticism. But I for one was delighted by it, and most of our commenters on that posting, and most Samizdata writers and commenters from that time until now, have been very critical of EUrope. It was just that in that particular posting I was concentrating on what Ian Hislop had said and on why it mattered, rather than including a lot of other stuff about why I personally agreed with him, which I did, and was delighted that he had said it, which I was. Indeed, having done some digging back into my other EUro postings here from around that time, I have been surprised by how early and how vehement my personal hatred of the EU and all its works was. Trust me, there’s plenty more EUro-detestation from me in the Samizdata archives. Not everyone who has written for Samizdata hates the EU, but it seems that I have hated it from way back. What is more, this hatred, from me and from others here, might actually have had consequences.

The other thing that occurs to me about Ian Hislop’s apparent volte face over EUrope is that there is one way in which he was and is being entirely consistent. Hislop, I believe, really does believe in speaking, if not always truth exactly then at least insults, to power, unlike a lot of the people who merely say that they do. Well, now, thanks to the Brexit vote in the EUro-referendum, Brexit is a dominant political orthodoxy. And Hislop is now determined to keep the argumentative pot good and stirred about the wisdom or lack of it of that attitude.

In 2003, on the other hand, when Prime Minister Tony Blair was riding high, very few people indeed would have then have foreseen that Brexit would eventually happen. (I certainly didn’t expect it. I didn’t expect that we would be allowed a vote about it, and until the Brexit vote actually happened, I didn’t think that it would happen.) Which means that, then and now, Hislop was and is aligning himself against the dominant orthodoxy of the time. It’s just that this orthodoxy changed. Yes, on the mere EUrope issue, Hislop is now revealed as a turncoat. But he turned his coat for a very respectable reason.

Packman, in his piece, ruminates upon what Hislop really thinks. I think that what Hislop really things is that raspberries and rotting vegetables and brickbats and mockery should always be thrown at whoever and whatever, politically, happens to be in charge at any given time. If only to keep alive the principle that this can be done. Compared to that principle, Hislop’s supposed principles about the mere details of this or that political argument are, to him, relatively unimportant.

(See also this posting by me here, also from way back, ahout John Gray, another man who has often been accused of being inconsistent. Gray is presumably even now ruminating about how the hopes now being placed by the likes of me in the benefits of Brexit will be dashed. Because: doom, doom, doom. I couldn’t find any Gray stuff yet along these lines. He seems so far to have confined his EUro-pessimism to the future of EUrope rather than the future of the UK. But once Brexit is sorted and the optimism over here really starts to kick in, trust me, Gray will be heard saying that it will all end in ruin and despair. In Gray world, everything that people think might be really good always ends in ruin and despair, regardless of whether it actually turns out like that for real. And the good news is that he is usually wrong.)

“Why is Venezuela on the brink” asks Sky News

Dominic Waghorn has written an article for Sky titled ‘Oil rich but sliding into anarchy: Why is Venezuela on the brink?

Economic mismanagement and kleptocratic rule have led to tumbling living standards but the regime still has a grip on power […] Like the government of Hugo Chavez that it followed, the Maduro government claims to be on the side of the masses. But its kleptocratic rule has been disastrous for every level of society. The poor just have less to lose. […] But the Maduro government’s mismanagement of the economy has been breathtakingly irresponsible. […] Nationalisation, price controls and rampant corruption have added to the witches’ brew poisoning the economy.

Nowhere in the entire article does the word ‘socialism’ or ‘socialist’ appear. I wonder why? The mainstream media are a joke.

Trying to argue with a socialist about Venezuela

Samizdata quote of the day

This kind of clotted nonsense could only be generally circulated and generally believed in England, where newspapers claiming to be conservative and reliable are the most utterly untrustworthy of any on earth. In apology for these newspapers it may be said that their untrustworthiness is not always due to intention, but more frequently to ignorance and prejudice.

– W. R. Hearst in a telegram to The Times printed on 2 November 1907. In it he denies ever using the words: “You provide the pictures and I will provide the war,”. Hat-tip W. Joseph Campbell Getting it wrong: ten of the greatest misreported stories in American journalism.

Dog biots Mon

Sam Dumitriu of the Adam Smith Institute has written a piece called “Fake news in the Guardian.

Oh dear, how embarrassing. The Guardian’s George Monbiot appears to have fallen hook, line and sinker for Nancy Maclean’s poorly (dishonestly?) researched book Democracy in Chains.

Democracy in Chains smears Nobel Laureate James Buchanan (amongst others) with deliberate misquotes and pernicious accusations of racism. It asserts that Buchanan sat at the centre of an elaborate academic conspiracy to undermine democracy and replace it with ‘a totalitarian capitalism’.

Yeah, I know, the presence of fake news in the Guardian is not news. It’s a “Dog bites man” story if ever there was one. But Mr Dumitriu’s article is still well worth a read. With terrier-like tenacity (I had to justify the “dog” bit of my title somehow) he worries away at the arguments made in George Monbiot’s article and by extension at the arguments in Nancy MacLean’s book. Dumitriu backs up his claim that MacLean misrepresents Buchanan with copious supporting links to Buchanan’s actual words, demonstrating that he has actually read the books concerned. Monbiot usually prides himself on providing references to enable the reader to check his sources but appears to have taken MacLean on trust.

This paragraph shows how little she deserves that trust:

This wasn’t Maclean’s only ‘mistake’. David Henderson at EconLib highlighted a particularly egregious misquote.

Maclean writes

‘People who failed to foresee and save money for their future needs’, Buchanan wrote in 2005, ‘are to be treated as subordinate members of the species, akin to . . . animals who are dependent.’

Contrast that with what Buchanan actually wrote

The classical liberal is necessarily vulnerable to the charge that he lacks compassion in behavior toward fellow human beings – a quality that may describe the conservative position, along with others that involve paternalism on any grounds. George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” can be articulated and defended as a meaningful normative stance. The comparable term “compassionate classical liberalism” would approach oxymoronic classification. There is no halfway house here; other persons are to be treated as natural equals, deserving of equal respect and individually responsible for their actions, or they are to be treated as subordinate members of the species, akin to that accorded animals who are dependent.

Maclean doesn’t just get this quotation wrong—she edits it so that it says exactly the opposite of what Buchanan actually wrote.

This isn’t an aberration. It’s not a sloppy mistake in an otherwise well-researched book. This is Maclean’s modus operandi.

Added later: Gene in the comments has pointed out this detailed and damning analysis of MacLean’s book by Professor Michael C. Munger. It begins,

This essay is a response to the recent book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, by my Duke University colleague, Nancy MacLean, a professor in our distinguished Department of History.

It is, let me say at the outset, a remarkable book.

He makes very clear that he does not mean “remarkable” in a good way. It is indeed remarkable that the Professor of Political Science, Economics and Public Policy at Duke University is willing to say the following about a colleague he might meet on campus:

The misuse of the cut-and-paste feature of MacLean’s word processor is not accidental, and it is not intended ironically. MacLean knew perfectly well that the main points of Public Choice are that checks and balances are actually crucial, and that “social consensus in favor of the Constitution” is good, not bad, for Public Choice scholars. Thus, it is not “fair to say” that Cowen was writing a handbook for fifth-column subversion. But the truth is rather boring, and that just wasn’t the story she wanted to tell here. As you read the book, you may notice that when something like “fair to say” is used for a paraphrase, that paraphrase is destructive of the meaning the person being quoted actually intended.

Why Labour lies about crime in 2017 succeeded where similar Tory lies failed in 2010

BBC Radio 4 puts out a well-regarded programme on statistics called “More or Less”, in which presenter Tim Harford looks at uses and abuses of statistics. The most recent episode was a topical one covering the general election just past.

Here’s a link to the “Post-Election Special” on BBC iPlayer: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08wr7ss

That link won’t last long and may not be playable outside the UK. Downloads of this and other episodes will be available indefinitely here.

If you cannot or prefer not to listen to the programme, I have transcribed the section I wanted to post about below. Typing it all out was slow work. I bothered doing the work for two reasons.

One, the BBC came much closer than it usually does to saying out loud that that the Labour Party knowingly lied on an important matter during the election campaign. We can tell with unusual clarity that Labour knew they were lying because they were lying in exactly the same way that the Tories had lied in 2010, only then the Tories were called out on it.

Two, that there has been an interesting change in the chances of such a lie being challenged before it is too late. When the Tories were telling this particular lie in 2010, they were doing so in the pages of the press and on TV, seen by millions all at once – and talked about all at once. But when Labour told their equivalent lies in 2017, they did it on Facebook posts that are passed between individuals. Though a great number may eventually see the original video, they do so as individuals. If they find it convincing, they pass it on to other individuals, and there is no reason why the recipient should be any better informed than the sender. Compared to a broadcast or news article, or even a blog post, it is less likely to come to the attention of those who know enough to rebut it. Even if it does and they do, the rebuttal is less likely to ever come to the attention of those who saw the original.

Often this sort of campaign by social media ends up as “a tale told by an idiot; full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. People who already agree with each other are stimulated to agree ever more vehemently only to discover the morning after the election that the people who didn’t already agree weren’t listening. However when, as in this case, the video appears to be heavy with facts and to come from a non-partisan source, it can work very well.

Time I got round to talking about the specific claims at issue. The section of the election episode of “More or Less” that I’m interested in starts at 17:35 and lasts until 23:06.

Tim Harford, the presenter, says,

“It is widely believed that the youth vote boosted the Labour party and one of the things that may well have been influencing young people were viral videos on social media. In the last few days before the election, we were contacted by a loyal listener who had seen one of these videos. It was on Facebook and it was being promoted by the Labour party. And it had received 1.4 million views.

“Unfortunately we weren’t able to get to it before the election, but these elections seem to be a bit like buses; there may well be another one along in a minute. And in any case, there’s never a bad time to talk about the truth.

“The video in question featured an event where an official from the trade union Unison, Ben Priestley, was giving a speech. Mr Priestley represents union members who work for the police or as prison officers, and he was sitting next to Shadow Cabinet minister Keir Starmer.

“Here’s a clip from the speech.”

We then hear the voice of Ben Priestley saying,

“Since 2012/13 there’s been a 29% increase in possession of weapons. This is police recorded crime. These are the crimes that the police themselves, through a rigorous process, have deemed to be crimes. A 29% increase in possession of weapons. A 65% increase in violence against the person. A 38% increase in assault with injury. Sexual offences are up 97%. Public order offences are up 54%.

“Now, if those figures weren’t shocking enough, this government which has claimed repeatedly, and also claimed in the Conservative party manifesto, that crime is falling. But nothing could actually be further from the truth. The government relies on the Crime Survey for England and Wales, which is an opinion poll which disregards homicide, it disregards sexual offences, it disregards crimes against business. It is a very, very small proportion of overall crime.

“So the government relies on those figures to tell the electorate that crime is falling, whereas recorded crime figures tell exactly the opposite story.”

Then it cuts back to Tim Harford, who says,

“Strong stuff. And Jeremy Corbyn’s twitter account tweeted a link to the speech with the text ‘Watch: national police officer Ben Priestley destroys Tory lies on crime rates.’

(Here is that video: https://www.facebook.com/JeremyCorbyn4PM/videos/1707133912914014/. Note that Ben Priestley is not a “national police officer” in the sense of being a policeman himself. He isn’t even a trade union representative for police officers, who are forbidden to join ordinary trade unions. Mr Priestley is Unison’s National Officer for Police and Justice, dealing with the workplace rights of civilian employees of the police. Whether intentionally or not, the description of him as a “national police officer” in Jeremy Corbyn’s video stream was misleading.)

Hartford continues,

“But are they lies? The accusation here is that the government is ignoring police recorded crime statistics and relying on the Crime Survey for England and Wales and that this is a lie because police recorded crime is a better measure. But that’s wrong. Neither method is perfect, but most crime stats nerds will tell you that the survey is better.

“The UK Statistics Authority looked at police recorded crime statistics in 2014 and decided that they were so unreliable that they should no longer be counted as an official national statistic. On the other hand, the Crime Survey for England and Wales is an official national statistic. It is not a small ad hoc opinion poll, it’s a nationally representative survey that measures the extent of crime by asking households whether they’ve experienced any crime in the last twelve months. In 2016/2017 approximately 50,000 households will be selected to take part in this research.

“And it’s just bizarre to suggest that it covers a very, very small proportion of overall crime because it captures more than twice as many crimes as the police data.

“But what about the shocking figures that the video quotes from the police recorded crime stats? Is that a true rise in crime or just a rise in the recording of crime? Since the Statistics Authority criticised the police recording of crime stats there’s been a big rise in the reporting of crimes that the police were not recording properly, such as low level violence and public order offences. The Office for National Statistics is very clear. They say, ‘Due to the renewed focus on the quality of crime recording by the police, this crime series is not currently believed to provide a reliable measure of trends, owing to the ensuing efforts of police forces to tighten recording practice and improve recording processes.’

“So the video suggests crime is rising by using cherry-picked, unreliable statistics, while dissing the more reliable statistics that serious policy wonks pay attention to. The true picture? Well, I think we got that from the crime policy writer Tom Gash, earlier on in our series. ”

Tom Gash then speaks, saying,

” I think what we’ve seen over the last twenty five years is this very, very steady fall in crime. Over the last two or three years we’ve certainly seen a plateauing of that fall in crime in a number of areas, but particularly in terms of serious violence.”

Back to Tim Harford, who concludes,

“These videos are important. You often see them after your friends share them, so they come with a recommendation.

“What’s interesting about this claim of Tories lying about crime figures is that Labour politicians weren’t making it in debates or in political interviews. It was made in a Facebook video of a press conference, where it was far less likely to be challenged.

“In 2010, the then Conservative shadow Home Secretary, Chris Grayling, made a similar criticism about crime under the Labour government, using police recorded crime stats rather than the Crime Survey. But because his claims were made in a more public forum they were rebutted by the then Home Secretary Alan Johnson, and in a letter from Sir Michael Scholar, then Chairman of the UK Statistics Authority, who said, ‘I must take issue with what you said yesterday about violent crime statistics, which seems to me likely to damage public trust in official statistics.’

“But in the era of social media, all political parties can make claims that are far less likely to get properly examined – unless, of course, our loyal listeners put us on the case. ”

One might wish they had got round to following up on what their loyal listener had alerted them to before the election.

Remember it was mentioned that the man who was sitting next to Ben Priestley when he made that speech was Keir Starmer, or to give him his proper title, Sir Keir Starmer KCB QC MP? You can see him sitting on Mr Priestley’s right on the Labour video, looking at his hands and taking the odd note. Well, Keir Starmer isn’t just any old member of the Cabinet. He has specialist knowledge. Back in 2010 when the Tories made their false claims about crime statistics, he was Director of Public Prosecutions. Analyses of how the final figures for convictions were related to numbers of prosecutions and the underlying crime rates must have came across his desk almost daily. Here he is in 2013 writing for the Guardian about just these issues in relation to rape and violence against women. I find it hard to believe that as Sir Keir Starmer listened from two feet away to Ben Priestley’s claims about the National Crime Survey being merely an “opinion poll”, he did not know better, and that he did not also know that Mr Priestley’s claims about a 97% rise in sexual offences and so on were rubbish. I find it hard to believe that he did not remember from 2010 the cutting response made by the then Labour Home Secretary to similar hyped-up allegations when they came from the Tories:

Alan Johnson, the home secretary, said the British Crime Survey indicated that violent crime had fallen by 41% since 1997. “It’s one thing to make a slip-up on your figures – it’s quite another to deliberately mislead.”

Yet he remained silent. Is he happy to be associated with this video?

The uncertainty principle in violence blame mechanics

Sometimes one is privileged to witness the discovery of a law of science.

Δl Δm > M

Six years ago I wrote a post called “Two contrasting articles by Michael Tomasky on spree killers”. In that post I compared an article Mr Tomasky wrote in January 2011 after the attempted murder of (Democratic) Representative Gabrielle Giffords in the course of a spree killing carried out by Jared Loughner (“In the US, where hate rules at the ballot box, this tragedy has been coming for a long time”), to another article written by him in November 2009, just after the mass killing at Fort Hood by Major Nidal Hasan (“American, for better or worse”).

Regarding Hasan, Mr Tomasky was of the opinion that “We have much more to learn about Hasan before we can jump to any conclusions” and “We should assume until it’s proven otherwise that Hasan was an American and a loyal one, who just snapped”.

Regarding Loughner, Tomasky felt much more able to draw immediate conclusions. He wrote, “You don’t have to believe that alleged shooter, Jared Loughner, is a card-carrying Tea Party member (he evidently is not) to see some kind of connection between that violent rhetoric and what happened in Arizona on Saturday” and “So what particular type of nut is Loughner? We don’t have a full picture yet. But we have enough of one. His coherent ravings included the conviction that the constitution assured him that “you don’t have to accept the federalist laws”. He called a female classmate who had an abortion a ‘terrorist'”.

Forgive the lengthy prologue. I was prompted to write this post by the fact that Mr Tomasky has now added a third article to the series, concerning the attempted murder of Congressman Steve Scalise and other Republicans by James Hodgkinson: “One Left-Wing Gunman Doesn’t Make a Movement”. He is back to a state of unknowing.

We may never know about James Hodgkinson’s mental state in the days and hours leading up to his horrifying attack Wednesday morning, since he’s dead. We know that he was left wing, a comparative rarity for a political assassin in the United States these days.


But it’s my hunch that Hodgkinson was not part of any broader movement.

In quantum mechanics, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle says that “the more precisely the position of some particle is determined, the less precisely its momentum can be known, and vice versa.”

A similar principle may be discerned in the field of “violence blame mechanics”, an emerging field of political science. The complementary variables in this case are Δl, the uncertainty of left-protectnedness, and Δm, the uncertainty of motivation for violence. “Left-protectedness” can be manifested as actually holding left wing beliefs or as belonging to a group regarded as oppressed by the left, such as Muslims or dark skinned people.

In layman’s language, the more certainty there is that a perpetrator of violence held a left wing position or belonged to a left wing protected class, the less certain it is possible to be about his motives. Thus the very act of seeing that the Facebook page of James T. Hodgkinson included a Bernie Sanders banner and the words “Democratic Socialism explained in 3 words” makes it impossible to know his motives.

“Uncertainty of motive” can also be reformulated as “time before it is proper to speculate on motive” by a simple mathematical transformation, with tm tending to zero in the case of Loughner and infinity in the cases of Hasan and Hodgkinson. This explains the apparent contradiction of how it was improper to guess at Nidal Hasan’s motives before trial despite the widely reported fact that survivors heard him shouting “Allahu Akbar” as he fired, but that when it came to Jared Loughner Mr Tomasky felt that we had enough of a picture the day after the attack.

In tribute to the clarity with which his writings have demonstrated the concept, I had thought of calling this law “Tomasky’s uncertainty principle” but, as so often in the history of science, the same discovery has been made by several different researchers. It is a crowded field. To establish priority, readers are invited to submit examples where a particular author has demonstrated his or her understanding of the principle by citing multiple articles showing it in operation for different values of Δl and Δm.

Meanwhile, may I suggest that we should name the equivalent of Planck’s constant in a way that does justice to the collective nature of the development of this principle. Let us call it M, the Media constant. Thus the law can be stated in mathematical form as Δl Δm > M. I have added this equation to the top of the post.

Edit: I must draw your attention to the very cogent objections raised by Moore, L. (2017):

If “the complementary variables in this case are Δl, the uncertainty of left-protectnedness, and Δm, the uncertainty of motivation for violence” then the first variable isn’t really the degree of certainty that a perpetrator of violence held a left wing position or belonged to a left wing protected class, but the degree of certainty as to whether a perpetrator of violence held a left wing position or belonged to a left wing protected class.

And then of course the whole Tomasky uncertainty principle collapses in a heap, because if we know for sure that a perpetrator of violence is a right winger we have zero uncertainty about whether the perpetrator of violence held a left wing position or belonged to a left wing protected class. This should mean the uncertainty of motive is infinitely large. But it isn’t. It’s zero. If we know for sure that if the perp was a rightie, we know for sure the motive was rightiness.

I suspect what we have here is Tomasky’s exclusion principle, derived not from Heisenberg, but from Pauli. Left wing motives and violence turn out to be identical Graunions, which cannot occupy the same quantum state at the same time. They simply cannot co-exist in one event. The one excludes the other.

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.