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]

A question for our times

Anyone else watching Star Trek: Discovery? ‘Tis quite the novelty in Solent Mansions: my dear husband and I sit down and watch television. On the very day a new episode comes out, my dears, for we will not wait!

Now we all know that by the time the era of Classic Trek rolls around after about a quarter of a century, certain things must have happened:

– the Spore Drive will not merely have dropped out of use, but will have been erased from human and Klingon memory.

– same goes for the holodeck.

– and for standards of starship interior design.

– the Klingons will look like Kang from Day of the Dove, not like Face Paint Thingy or Girl Thingy who can scarcely move under all those bone ridges.

– miniskirts will be back in.

– Captain Lorca will be revealed to be bad and wrong. The Star Trek universe has “proving warmongers wrong” listed higher up in its job description than “entropy”. But it is OK to quietly relish their badassery à la Gene Hunt in Life on Mars while we wait for the inevitable.

The question is how will all that is prophesied come to pass?

The punchline

The New European thinks its cartoons are a selling point:

I disagree that Stanley Donwood’s cartoons are “fantastic”. The drawings are a tolerably executed pastiche of the style of 1950s cartoons, but there is no clever visual imagery; they merely depict one human being hitting another. Or try to depict it: in the first cartoon the chick’s arm looks too limp to have just knocked that big guy off his feet, but fear not, there is a flash to show that impact did indeed occur. In the second one the word SLAP performs the same function. If you like seeing pictures of your political opponents being hit and sworn at, you will like this!

As for the words, the “punchlines” are nothing but verbal supplements to the punches. Did I say “punchlines” in the plural? There is only one between the two of them. In “PUT THAT ON THE SIDE OF A BUS, FUCKWIT!”, the point is that upon the word “THAT” the woman returns the man’s Leave slogan back to him by hitting him, and in “HOW’S THIS FOR ‘WILL OF THE PEOPLE’ YOU EUROPHOBIC FUCK!”, the point is that upon the word “THIS” the woman returns the man’s Leave slogan back to him by hitting him. While the visual formula of a pretty young woman knocking seven bells out of a fat old man can be repeated ad infinitum, quite soon one is going to run out of Leave slogans and demonstrative pronouns.

Overall, I am not impressed. Nor am I that much bothered. I am confident that the readers of the New European will confine their beatings of Leavers to the realm of imagination; they have plenty of practice in living in a fantasy world after all.

To be honest, the claim made by Nigel Farage to Breitbart London that the cartoons are “glorifying violence against those who voted for Brexit” is a stretch. Both the initial hard-hitting cartoons and his pulling no punches in his objection to them are best seen as just part of the good old knockabout fun of politics. But, as the saying goes, those who live by the sword die by the sword. As it says in the Breitbart article, the New European has been having the vapours about stuff like “the direct correlation between political messaging and violence” since its foundation. In this very issue it has yet another piece saying that real world harm is done by images, in this case denouncing “the complicit culture of Lad’s mags”. It is entertaining to see it being slapped down for the very same offence.

Samizdata quote of the day

The news around Europe is that the Dutch have formed a government after a record 208 days of negotiations; Austria has elected an anti-immigration leader in a notable lurch rightward; and the Czechs have chosen a Eurosceptic as a prime minister (h/t Adam for the roundup). You’d have thought this would be a major point of discussion in the British media especially with the ongoing Brexit negotiations, but what was the BBC’s main headline yesterday afternoon? This one:

Widow of dead soldier hits out at Trump

Never mind European populations swinging to the right and voting Eurosceptic politicians into office, what is important is who is saying what about Trump on Twitter.

Tim Newman

Something’s very rotten in the state of Malta

Oh my beloved Malta:

An investigative journalist in Malta who exposed her island nation’s links to offshore tax havens using the leaked Panama Papers was killed in a car bombing on Monday, an attack that shocked Malta and was condemned by leaders of the European Union.

The journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia, 53, died when the car she was driving exploded in Bidnija, a hamlet in north-central Malta. Her final blog post, accusing the prime minister’s chief of staff of corruption, had been published about a half-hour earlier.

Even if, like yours truly, you don’t think that there is anything necessarily wrong with offshore tax havens (haven is a place of safety, and I am quite keen on being safe from the predations of the State), it is worth getting angry about politicians who talk a good game about compliance with taxes salting – allegedly – kickbacks in far-off locations and hoping no-one will notice. We live in a world where governments the world over, through pacts such as the Common Reporting Standard, are to all intents and purposes creating a global tax “cartel” in pursuit of high net worth individuals’ wealth. Assuming, for example, that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party wins power at the next UK general election, and imposes all manner of controls (including capital controls) then UK residents may now already be thinking of where to park their money. Global anti-tax avoidance/evasion efforts make those bolt-holes harder to reach. So on certain levels I don’t have an issue with Malta being a tax haven, or its citizens being wily about it. What I do, however, have an issue with is the double-standards, and furthermore, the tolerance of bribery and corruption that is not just a by-product of an expansive state, but part of a culture that has become too embedded in certain countries.

Malta wants to become an important financial centre; it is already pretty significant in that regard. But it is in competition with rivals such as Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Man, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Mauritius, Singapore, etc. All of these places have their faults, but the murder of a campaigning journalist by the use of a car-bomb in broad daylight in Malta represents a shock even to those wearily familiar with the nastiness of current affairs.

Final point: whatever her merits or faults, the journalist known to many as “Daphne” was rightly famed for her courage in facing up to some very dodgy people. Such persons have also paid a price in countries such as Russia.

If the Maltese were astronauts, they would be saying the equivalent of “Houston, we have a problem”.

 

 

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

and

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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.