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]


What Patrick Crozier called the First World War War continues. Although the trenches have long been dug, the conflict can revert to being a war of manoeuvre with surprising speed, and sometimes evidence leaks out of mutiny among the troops of even the most committed belligerents.

From the BBC of all people: Lions and donkeys: 10 big myths about World War One debunked

Here are the ten myths debunked by the article:

1. It was the bloodiest war in history to that point
2. Most soldiers died
3. Men lived in the trenches for years on end
4. The upper class got off lightly
5. ‘Lions led by donkeys’
6. Gallipoli was fought by Australians and New Zealanders
7. Tactics on the Western Front remained unchanged despite repeated failure
8. No-one won
9. The Versailles Treaty was extremely harsh
10. Everyone hated it

I am surprised and heartened to see this article from this source, particularly because it is by Dan Snow, a popular programme maker. I am also glad to see these points made because they are true.

ADDED LATER: The outcome of the First World War War matters to the cause of liberty now. Discuss.

The globalisation of trifles

Screen Shot 2014-01-05 at 23.04.50

I have also just watched the latest Sherlock. If you live in the UK, the chances that you watched it as it was first broadcast are approximately one in seven. Despite the fact that this is a simultaneous British television watching event of the first order, the percentage of people who watched it is less than half what it was for peak television events of the 1960s to 1980s. That said, I want a set of those beer glasses. Oh Lord, I want a set of those beer glasses.

If you don’t live in the UK, torrents are appearing right now and you will be able to watch it shortly. If you live in China, you are able to watch it on the legal Youku Tudou streaming service right now. If you want to watch it legally in most other places, you will have to wait a few days to a few weeks. I suspect, though, that most of the people who really want to talk about it will have watched it by this time tomorrow. Versions with strange, semi-accurate hacked on subtitles will be out there any moment now. Then they will talk, and talk, and talk, in various languages and through various translation tools.

Things weren’t always thus. I am a middle aged expatriate Antipodean fogey. Watching film and television while growing up in Australia in the 1970s and 1980s in Australia was a strange thing.  Inevitably, most of the movies we watched came from America, and most of the television we watched in Australia came from America. In America, television seasons start in October, run through the winter months, and then end in about April. The biggest blockbuster movies are released between May and July. In Australia, though, the summer movie season started on December 26, and the television season went from February to September. This means that movies that had been hits in the American summer would often be held over for more than six months, and television seasons that had started in October in the US would not commence showing in Australia until February of the following year.

Even by 1982 this had become tiresome with movies. I remember reading about a movie called “E.T.” that was supposed to be wonderful, and waiting endlessly. (I found it vaguely disappointing. Some of this might have been the wait). Even the existence of VHS was enough to break this down. By the 1990s, Hollywood had found that it was best to open movies as close as possible to simultaneously around the world as possible, both for reasons of piracy prevention, and because of the simple fact that publicity campaigns and other buzz could not be stopped from crossing borders.

Television was a little more odd, though. For one thing, there was less realisation that there was a problem. Television had certain peculiarities – for instance Christmas episodes of foreign series always aired in May – but this was no more peculiar than eating an enormous Christmas dinner of ham and turkey in 40 degree heat, or watching live major sporting events on TV in the middle of the night, as Australian sports fans are known to do on a weekly basis. In any event, local print media – mostly owned by the same companies that owned the television stations – would play ball, and there would be no discussion of new episodes of television series until the television series aired locally.

But of course, modernity (by which I mean the internet) eventually happened. It became trivially easy to watch any programme almost as soon as it was aired. Those people who wanted to talk about television with other people on the internet (in Australia and elsewhere)  found it imperative to watch at the same time, and they did.  And they do. (Okay, I admit it. And we did. And we do). Piracy of music and of first run movies seems to have declined, because the legal options for listening and watching at the same time everywhere are now pretty good.  Piracy of programming from regular series television seems to have gone way up, though. Television networks around the world are getting closer to airing things on the same day, but they are still probably not good enough for people who want to watch the next day, without spoilers. (In Australia, the same old television networks are still rather tilting at windmills to stop piracy, even with the help of a US Ambassador who believes an important part of his job is to discourage Game of Thrones piracy). National television moments have declined, however it feels when watching Sherlock in the UK. Global television moments have grown spectacularly. The industry is yet to catch up by giving global audiences legal ways to achieve these moments.

Except that in China, piracy is feared to such an extent that the purveyors of legal streaming have actually chosen to give viewers what they want when they want.  The rest of the world may follow soon. I hope so.

Also, with Sherlock being such a big hit in the manufacturing capital of the world, I will hopefully be able to order the beer glasses on ebay any moment now.

The observation of trifles

I have just watched the latest Sherlock. The chances are good that if you live in the UK, so have you.

You know how first videos, then DVDs, then the multiplication of channels and on-demand telly internet replay thingummies killed off the simultaneous collective experience of television?

It’s back. Not, I hasten to add, that I would know anything about Twitface from personal experience, but there are plenty of people nowadays who simply must watch Sherlock or Dr Who live so that they can talk about it on the internet the minute it is over.

Samizdata quote of the day

That’s the counterintuitive thing about totalitarian systems. They herd people into Borg-like collectives, yet every individual is savagely atomized.

I never felt so alone in my life.

- Michael Totten writes about the “total surveillance police state” that is Cuba.

It isn’t “counter-intuitive” to me, and probably not to Totten either, but I guess it still is to many. I worked out long ago that totally nationalising society totally destroys society, and that the greatest freedom of a free society is the freedom to choose what company you keep, both when you work and in your time off working.


The headline above Allister Heath’s latest over at City A.M. reads as follows:

America is slashing spending – but its economy is still growing

By “spending” Heath, or Heath’s headline writer in the event that it’s not Heath, means government spending.

We’ll know we’re really winning when headlines like that one replace the “but” with an “and”.

Another huge step in the wrong direction

The Guardian is nothing if not dependably incoherent. They rightly decry their freedom of the press being threatened by politicians

… and then support the asinine Royal Charter that creates the tools for politicians, and anyone else, who wants the Press to STFU by making it harder for the Press to actually do their job.

I really hope many publication tell the state where to stick their ‘Royal Charter’. But then the history of these isles has many chapters featuring the struggle against state control of the media.

Adding the word ‘social’ as a prefix negates whatever follows…

British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Monday his government was likely to act to stop newspapers publishing what he called damaging leaks from former U.S. intelligence operative Edward Snowden unless they began to behave more responsibly.

“If they (newspapers) don’t demonstrate some social responsibility it will be very difficult for government to stand back and not to act,” Cameron told parliament, saying Britain’s Guardian newspaper had “gone on” to print damaging material after initially agreeing to destroy other sensitive data.

- from Reuters

So now it seems even the pretence that the likes of Cameron do not wish the UK to be a police state is felt unnecessary. I may dislike the Guardian for oh so many reasons but I hope they tell the state that they will indeed do the ‘responsible’ thing… which is to say they will continue to publish Snowden’s revelations. And for added kudos, they should invite Cameron to stick his ‘action’ somewhere dark and damp.

Samizdata quote of the day

If we had state regulation of the press, the BBC would be free to carry on recycling its establishment clichés. But newspapers would find themselves having to answer to the same sort of grandees that preside over the BBC. Is that really what we want to see?

- Douglas Carswell

How cool is this?

Oh what fun… two loathsome newspapers representing thuggish authoritarian corporatist right-statism and thuggish hypocritical kleptocratic left-statism respectively, slug it out. More and faster please!

Samizdata quote of the day

The truth may set you free, but since the media is firmly on the side of serfdom, I doubt we will ever hear truth about socialism from big media. The recent attempts to define “journalist” in the US may indicate that the system realizes that the internet has made the ability to control internal news more difficult.

However, international reporting is where the legacy media still has a lot of power and it has been and will be used to protect their ideological partners (like Cuba and Venezuela) from responsibility for their failures. The media watches socialists ‘create a desert and call it prosperity’ over and over again and lies about it. This has been going on since Duranty and the NY Times won Pulitzers for lying about ‘Papa Joe’ and the early USSR.

- Gary Poteat, commenting here on Samizdata.

A talk by Richard Carey and a present for Patrick Crozier

Next time I meet up with Patrick Crozier, I will be giving him a present.

I hope that the next time we meet will be if he drops by at my place tomorrow evening. Then, Richard Carey will be giving a talk about “The English Radicals: 1640-1660″, but I believe that work commitments may prevent Patrick from being at that.

Richard Carey will be talking about:

The use and abuse of history; the period 1640-1660 as a crucible of political philosophy; Libertarianism and Republicanism and their respective myths; Those great heroes to all honest Englishmen, the libellously-labelled “Levellers”, what they stood for, their impact and influence on the development of politics in this country and America, likewise the Republicans.

As always with these talks, I expect to learn a lot. To find out more about them, click where it says “Contact” here.

The present for Patrick Crozier is this:


That’s twenty one ancient copies of The Times. I saw a great stash of these in a local charity shop, and, knowing Patrick’s interest in the past of this newspaper, especially when world wars are involved, I purchased one, dated May 24th 1940. I asked Patrick if he’d like this copy, and more. He expressed enthusiasm. So, yesterday I went back and bought all the rest. Originally these copies were sold for 2d. These same copies each cost me exactly as much as a copy of The Times would now cost, £1. Someone else had also had a go at the pile by then, but there were plenty left. The dates of the copies I now have are: 1939 – October 2; November 18, 20, 22, 24, 25, 27, 29; December 5, 13, 15, 19, 27; 1940 – March 27, 28; April 4, 6, 13, 17; May 24, 30.

Giving gifts to one’s friends these days is hard. Stuff worth having tends not to cost nearly as much as it used to. If a friend wants, say, some spoons, he just buys some spoons, of exactly the sort he wants. Why give him other spoons of the wrong sort? Besides which, the gift most of us would really like would not be more crap, but more space to accommodate all the crap we already have. So, when the chance occurs to give a friend a gift that they really might like, costing about the right amount in money or bother, it makes sense to grab that chance.

LATER: I’ve just discovered that what I thought was December 27th 1939 was actually September 27th 1938. Before WW2 began, in other words, which will please Patrick. There’s a big Hitler speech about Czechoslovakia.

The World in 1913 – Part I

What follows is based on a talk I gave at the end of August at one of Brian’s Fridays. See also Parts II, III, IV, V & VI.

In modern popular culture there seem to be two distinct images of the period immediately before the First World War. The first, exemplified by Upstairs, Downstairs [I believe Downton Abbey is the modern-day equivalent] is of well-dressed people being nice to one another; and the second, one of a rigid class system with the ruling class fighting a desperate rearguard action to preserve the vast differences in wealth and privilege between them and the poorest.

Libertarians have a rather different image of the period before the First World War. They tend to think of as a Golden Age of freedom, low taxation and low regulation; an age of constant improvement, where entrepreneurs could do their thing with the minimum of interference. A time when the pound was linked to gold and people didn’t have to worry about inflation or asset bubbles; a world that was swept away by war, never to return. The question is, is this true?

One of the ways I try to answer the question is to read the Times from 100 years ago. I can do this because a company called Gale Group scanned in just about every copy there has ever been and indexed them. They then made these digitised copies available online to subscribers. I am lucky in that my local library is one of those subscribers.

When I started doing this I think the reason was partly because I thought it was a great age to be alive and partly because I wanted to see if there were things that modern historians weren’t picking up on – parts of the story that would have been familiar to people living at the time but have long since been forgotten.

Trying to make sense of the world via the pages of the Times is a little like trying to look at the world through a pinhole. Perhaps another way of looking at it would be to imagine trying to understand the modern world with the BBC as your only source of information. You’re going to miss a lot of the routine of life, a lot of the unspoken assumptions and receive a biased viewpoint into the bargain. At the time, the Times, along with the Daily Mail and (would you believe it) the Daily Mirror was part of the Northcliffe Press and as such a Conservative-supporting paper. [I say Conservative but at the time they called themselves Unionists.] The Times tends to favour trade protection and spending on the armed forces while being opposed to Irish Home Rule. It is generally sceptical of state intervention.

The Times itself is, as you would expect, very different from its modern counterpart – at least I assume so – it is a few years since I last read the print version. For starters it is very big. It is a proper broadsheet being slightly bigger than even the modern-day Daily Telegraph. It has no photographs and precious few diagrams. The front page is a bit of a shock. It is entirely filled with classified adverts. This seems a rather odd arrangement until you realise that the idea is that you open the paper in the middle where there is an index (as well as the editorials) and you work out where you want to go from there. Classified adverts remained on the front page until May 1966. The paper is usually about 24 pages long. There are no colour supplements although occasionally you will get the odd special and there is an engineering supplement every week. At this time, The Sunday Times is an entirely separate publication not becoming part of the same stable until the 1960s and is not available online.

Don't hold the front page.  The Times 4 September 1913.

Don’t hold the front page. The Times 4 September 1913.

There are some display adverts for many of the things you would expect: fashion, railways, buses, some cars, books and magazines. Any manufacturer of any product that you might put in your mouth: drinks, foods, compounds, medicines etc will make an outrageous claim for its disease-preventing and health-inducing abilities. For example an ad for Allinson wholemeal bread claims that:

it is a cure for constipation and its attendant evils and will do more to maintain health than all the medicines ever sold.

About the only people who don’t claim that their product will make you live forever are the tobacco manufacturers who simply claim that their product is less bad. One even sells his product on the basis that it produces less nicotine which I thought was the whole point. In the classifieds you will often find adverts for hospitals along with the rather depressing line: “Funds urgently needed.”

The writing is turgid. Writers can take an age to get to their point. And scanning doesn’t help. With a modern newspaper article you can usually extract the useful information without going to the hassle of reading the whole article. In the case of the Times from 1913 you have to read the whole bloody thing and even then you may find yourself none the wiser. I can only imagine that our ancestors had a lot of leisure time.

And they must have paid attention at school. Every so often you will find a quotation in French, Latin or Greek without translation. And, less commonly, German.

The city pages are every bit as boring as you might imagine. Much of it is given over to government debt which given the size of that market seems reasonable. There is comparatively little space given over to quoted companies largely because there are so few of them. The majority of those that do exist are in the railway, oil, rubber or tea industries. I can’t remember many of the others although the Aerated Bread Company does stick in the mind.

One curiosity is that in those days, every week, the train companies would report their receipts. The Times then faithfully reports these receipts along with those for the previous week and the equivalent week in the previous year. Incidentally, the size of the British rail network peaked in 1912.

The hardest section to read is the page and a half given over to Parliamentary proceedings. I like to think Parliament gets this much attention because this is where all the great debates of the day are taking place. And I have found the odd nugget. Samizdata readers may remember me blogging about the debate on the Lee Enfield rifle and how contemporary opinion regarded it as grossly inadequate. It went on to see service as the British Army’s principal infantry weapon in two world wars. But for the most part Parliamentary debates of 1913 are every bit as dull as they are nowadays.

A surprising amount of space is given over to sport. All the important games: cricket, racing, golf, tennis, sailing, shooting and polo are covered. Football is not entirely ignored. The Times faithfully reports the results from the league championship – a competition dominated by northern teams. The printing of league tables is a somewhat haphazard affair. At the end of the 1913 season they printed the 2nd Division table but not the First. Sunderland won in case you were wondering.

The Times also supplies match reports on the important fixtures. If you want to know what happened in the big game between Eton and Charterhouse or Harrow and Westminster there’s no better place to go.

A lot of the place names have changed since then. Üskub became Skopje, Servia: Serbia, Adrianople: Edirne, Salonika: Thessaloniki, St Petersburg is St Petersburg but for most of the last 100 years it wasn’t. Singapore is part of the Straits Settlements and there is something known as the Shanghai International Settlement.