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]

50 Things on the radio

Recently a friend who works for the BBC asked if I knew of any good general interest but topical stories coming up any time soon, and I said that when they finally finish London Gateway, the new container port now being constructed and even already slightly used, on the north bank of the Thames Estuary, that will be made a big fuss of.

She then told me about a series that the BBC World Service is doing about 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy. I said that the Container certainly should be one of these Things. She later determined that the Shipping Container does indeed feature in this series, and she sent me that link. Amazing what a difference an email with a link makes to your willingness to attend to something.

This piece about the Shipping Container lasted under ten minutes, and, although I had heard most of the story before, I liked it. So I then sampled a couple of the other Things, about which I knew less and nothing, namely: the Barcode, and the Haber-Bosch Process. The latter is for turning the nitrogen in the air into fertiliser.

The next Thing I listen to will be Concrete. I already know what concrete is, but I expect to learn a lot more, about it, and about what it did to and does for the world. Made life a lot easier for farmers, apparently. Which, to a townee like me, is one of those many things which is obvious, but only if someone makes me think about it.

Recommended. An economist and economic historian by the name of Tim Harford has done a number of these Thing broadcasts, including the ones about the Container and about the Barcode. He is already very well known, but not so well known to me. But, I can already tell you that he also is to be recommended, going only by how he talks about these Things.

LATER: See also this earlier posting here, about similar Things.

Puzzle time!

Oh dear! Sir James Munby has had ever such a clever idea. His friend Frances Gibb has written a story about it for the newspaper. But they have both forgotten something very important. Can you help them find it?

Family courts chief calls for ban on abusers cross-examining victims

Abusers should be banned from cross-examining victims of domestic violence as a “priority”, says England’s most senior family judge.

Sir James Munby is pressing ministers to legislate to stop such cross-examinations, which still happen despite efforts by senior judges to prevent them.

The president of the family division, who raised the issue in 2014 amid concerns over the stress that such questioning puts on victims, is dismayed at the lack of action. He argues that the family justice system “lags woefully behind the criminal justice system” where cross-examination of an alleged victim by the defendant is not allowed by law.

In a statement today Sir James said that he would welcome a ban, adding: “Reform is required as a matter of priority.”

He added: “But the judiciary cannot provide this because it requires primary legislation and would involve public expenditure. It is therefore a matter for ministers.”

Senior judges are in talks with Women’s Aid, a charity that helps victims of domestic violence, to try to have the practice banned.

A spokesman for the judiciary added that Sir James, who is president of the family division of the High Court, was “disappointed by how slow the response to these issues has been and welcomes the continuing efforts by Women’s Aid to bring these important matters to wider public attention.”

Judges and women’s groups are discussing the workings of the existing rules, contained in a practice direction which has been reviewed by a senior family judge, Mr Justice Cobb. Cross-examination by violent partners has continued, despite the practice direction.

A survey by Women’s Aid found that a quarter of victims of domestic violence had been cross-examined by abusive partners.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Women’s Aid, told The Guardian: “When we talk to judges about this they say that this never happens. But it is happening, that is clear, and it seems fairly difficult to get this across.”

Concerns about cross-examination of vulnerable witnesses were raised by Sir James more than two years ago, prompting the setting up of a working party to deal with what was described as a “pressing need”.

The working party reported in 2014, condemning procedures for taking evidence from alleged victims as inadequate and pointing out that one High Court judge, Mr Justice Wood, had drawn attention to the issue as long ago as 2006.

Research by an all-party parliamentary group on domestic violence found that 55 per cent of women had no access to special measures in family courts, where 70 per cent of separation and child contact cases involve some form of domestic violence.

The group’s report, in April, called for an end to abusers cross-examining victims and was backed by two MPs, Jess Phillips and Maria Miller, who launched a joint call for action. The all-party group said it had launched its inquiry after becoming increasingly concerned concerned about the safety of women and child survivors of domestic abuse within the family courts.

F4BF

I wanted to believe that Hillary Clinton would lose the recent US presidential election, so when I started reading Scott Adams saying that she was indeed going to lose, to Trump, I kept on reading him. Like so many others, I like to read within my bubble, as well as outside it. That means I also now read Scott Adams on every other subject he deals with in his blog. I am now digging back into his archives for more wise and witty verbiage. I am surely not the only one doing this now.

Scott Adams has a girlfriend called Kristina Basham, who, it would appear, is working and working at becoming one of those people who is famous for being famous. This is one of those labels that most people seem to assume is an insult. But being famous is a skill and a job, like any other skill and job. Your basic skill is that you know how to attract attention, and you basic job is that you sell this ability and live with the adverse consequences of it as well as the benefits. Scott Adams describes very well the sort of work that goes into becoming one of these F4BF people, as I will call them from now on. Kristina Basham is not, you see, outstandingly good at anything in particular. She is just pretty good at a whole “stack” of things, which, when you combine them, are making her into someone F4BF.

I say: good for her.

The claim that people who are F4BF contribute nothing to the world is the latest iteration of that very old and very bad idea that there is a “real” economy, consisting of work that people are used to doing and which their ancestors even did, like farming and then after that factory working; and then there is the “unreal” economy, consisting of silly things that add nothing to the “real” economy, but instead just leach off it, like financial services (which actually make farming and industry massively more productive by telling farmers what to farm and industrialists what to industrialise), and more recently jobs like being F4BF. (Even being a factory worker was once upon a time denounced as being unreal.)

Being a celeb, and in particular being nothing but a celeb, an F4BF, which is to say being good at attracting attention to oneself but for no single and obvious reason, but still being good at it, is a vital part of the modern economy. Celebs, including F4BFs, enable attention to be diverted away from major economic investments, while the work of creating or building them is being done and needs not to be disturbed, in the secure knowledge that when attention is finally demanded, and you need to attract a lot of business very quickly or else a lot of money will be lost while the word spreads by mere unassisted word of mouth. For that grand opening of whatever it is that you have been quietly working on for however long it has been, you hire a bunch of celebs. Including maybe some of that particular sort of celeb who are F4BF, pure and distilled celebs who are nothing but celebs.

Discuss.

The New York Times, on the Minimum Wage

Back in January of 1987, about thirty years ago, before it opposed economic theory on principle, The New York Times wrote an editorial against the minimum wage.

In a short piece provocatively entitled: “The Right Minimum Wage: $0.00”, they said, among other things:

[…]It’s no wonder then that Edward Kennedy, the new chairman of the Senate Labor Committee, is being pressed by organized labor to battle for an increase.

No wonder, but still a mistake. Anyone working in America surely deserves a better living standard than can be managed on $3.35 an hour. But there’s a virtual consensus among economists that the minimum wage is an idea whose time has passed. Raising the minimum wage by a substantial amount would price working poor people out of the job market.[…]

The newspaper was hardly expressing the sort of fully libertarian view I would prefer — the editorial suggests wage subsidies and state sponsored job training as an alternative to minimum wage laws. However, it is still noteworthy that thirty years ago, the New York Times’ editors still possessed the fundamental understanding that raising the price of something lowers demand, and that labor isn’t an exception.

It is worth reading, if you can, if only to remember how far the terms of the debate have slipped over the decades. Today, the editorial board of the same newspaper strongly favors doubling the minimum wage, to $15 an hour, which, in inflation adjusted dollars, vastly exceeds any level it has had in the past. No serious consideration is given in the more recent editorials to the notion that doubling the price of low skill labor might result in unemployment. This is quite a change, and not one for the better.

What the Russians saw

Samizdata commenter Niall Kilmartin has sent the following observations about the claim that the Russians “hacked the US election”. – Natalie Solent

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve read quite a bit in the slew of articles kicked off by the Washington Post‘s claim that the Russians ‘hacked the election’ – everything from supportive articles through ridiculing ones, from articles focussed on the mechanics of the Podesta phishing attack – was it actually spear-phishing! – through articles focussed strictly on the politics of it all, or on the comedy of hardened lefties’ new-found faith in anonymous CIA assessments.

One thought occurred immediately to me but I have never seen it raised; understandably never raised by left-wing supporters of the theory, but also never raised by vehement libertarian or right-wing opponents.

The argument is that the Russians hacked both the DNC and the RNC, then revealed their evil Trump-supporting agenda by releasing documents only from the DNC. Let us, just for the sake of argument accept everything up to the comma – that it was the Russians, and they had access to both DNC and RNC servers. (Others have argued intelligently against accepting all that with the unquestioning credence of today’s MSM, or indeed even thinking it likely, but that’s not my point; let us, for now, presume it’s accurate.)

Clinton was the DNC’s candidate. There would of course be evidence of their preference for her on their servers. And since even the BBC’s correspondent could not keep a straight face when reporting her 6 successive coin-toss wins in the Iowa primary, it should be no surprise this evidence included acts beyond what was fair, even by the low public standards of politics, so was damaging to her and to the DNC.

Trump was not the RNC’s candidate. Nor was runner-up Ted Cruz. From early in the race, it became clear it was between these two, with the RNC having a hard time deciding which of them it disliked more. When Trump won, the most insider RNC people were the most openly appalled, right up until the convention. After it, some remained nevertrumpers, and others had grave doubts he could win (the more they were RNC insiders, the more doubts they had). So what would the RNC’s servers have shown?

Hypothesis 1) The RNC ran a fair enough primary process, while publicising all the arguments against Trump (and Cruz) that they had. Occam’s razor makes this the most reasonable hypothesis, since two candidates they disliked became the front-runners early. (Variant Hypothesis: the RNC took seriously Trump’s promise not to run 3rd party if the primary process was fair. They therefore avoided any major unfairness, so they could hold him to his promise after his expected defeat.) After Trump won the nomination, they thought more about down-ballot damage-limitation than about helping him to an improbable (they thought) victory by any shameful-if-exposed tactic.

Hypothesis 2) The RNC cheated but not as much as the DNC, so failed to prevent Trump’s win (perhaps through failing to anticipate it till too late) and in doing so released all possible argument against Trump (as in 1 above) plus knowingly unfair or concocted opposition. If you have a hard time thinking a bunch of professional politicians could ever have run an honest process, you can mix what ratio you like of this with (1).

Hypothesis 3) Hardened lefties who believe that Republicans are evil and stupid may, without inconsistency, insist that the RNC cheated as much or more than the DNC but much more stupidly, so failed to achieve their end of stopping Trump win the Republican nomination, unlike the clever Democratic cheating done by the DNC.

Thus what do the Russian hackers find on the RNC’s servers?

In Variant 1, they find evidence that the RNC is more highminded than the DNC in how it runs primaries, and also that they have put into the public domain everything they know against Trump and every argument they can think of. Revealing this would praise the RNC relative to the DNC, and do no harm to Trump.

In Variant 2, the RNC is not so highminded; some of what they urged against Trump was offered in bad faith. Revealing this leaves the RNC looking bad, but still less corrupt than the DNC, and creates some sympathy for Trump.

In variant 3, the RNC looks as bad as the DNC, and outsider-candidate Trump benefits bigtime in public opinion.

So lets revisit the final part of the sentence above: “The argument is that the Russians hacked both the DNC and the RNC, then revealed their evil Trump-supporting agenda by releasing documents only from the DNC.”

Can anyone correct my impression that even if the first clause were correct, the last would not follow? Why would the hackers find secret anti-Trump information, or evidence of corrupt manipulation for Trump (or indeed, for Cruz)?

Samizdata quote of the day

That’s the New York Times which has been repeatedly asserting that higher minimum wages do not affect employment? It is indeed possible to have the most lovely arguments about how much a higher minimum affects whom but the assertion that there is no unemployment effect is simply an untruth.

Tim Worstall

Samizdata quote of the day

The case is very simple indeed. Do you believe in freedom of speech or not? If you do then Stormfront gets to have a website detailing whatever it is that it misunderstands about the world. As does every other vile and hateful group from left and right. There is no shortage of sites insisting that Stalin had nothing to do with the Holodomor, that it was disease not starvation, that the starvation was just bad weather, that there was no campaign against Ukrainians and anyway, it never happened did it?

Tim Worstall

Samizdata quote of the day

What is funny is to watch the media try to interpret [Trump] through their prism of politics. It is like trying to understand the workings of a nuclear reactor through the prism of deconstructionist feminist semiotics.

Fraser Orr

Parlez pas trop vite

Hollande and Europe are turning the tide. Where will it leave Cameron?

Labour gains from the triumph of the French Socialist leader with his intellectually cogent rallying cry for a new direction for Europe. Look how he won with a promise to tax the super-rich at a heart-attack rate of 75%, yet the French stock market actually rose slightly. Can he now turn the great liner of the EU’s disastrous economic policy?

– Polly Toynbee, The Guardian, 7 May 2012

François Hollande will not seek re-election as president of France

François Hollande, the least popular French president since the second world war, has announced he will not run for a second term in office.

With a satisfaction rating so low it recently dropped to just 4%, the Socialist president appeared shaken and emotional as he said in a live televised address from the Élysée palace that he would not attempt to run for a second term, conscious of the “risks” to the French left if he did so.

– Angelique Chrisafis, The Guardian, 1 December 2016

Samizdata quote of the day

Liberal columnists, wounded that so much of the public ignored their overtures first on Brexit and then on Trump, claim good, decent, supposedly ‘elitist’ journalism must now assert itself. Our role in ‘seeking the truth’ must be ‘harnessed with steely determination’, says one. CNN’s Christiane Amanpour says the ‘tsunami of fake-news sites’ is an affront to journalism and the thing that journalism helps to facilitate: democracy. We must now fight ‘hard for the truth’ in this world where ‘the Oxford English Dictionary just announced that its word of 2016 [is] “post-truth”’, she says. Numerous hacks have been despatched to Macedonia and Russia to confront the fresh-faced youths who run these fake-news sites for cash. ‘How teens in the Balkans are duping Trump supporters’, says one headline. ‘Russian propaganda effort helped spread “fake news” during election’, says another. The image we’re left with is of dastardly Easterners suckering stupid Westerners and undermining the democratic tradition, and now pain-faced, well-minded columnists must stand up to this foreign threat to reason.

It’s the fakest news story of the week.

Brendan O’Neill

Fake news – Putin has been pushing it for some time before Mrs Clinton noticed

From Observer (not the leftist UK newspaper, but another site):

The Washington Post reported this week that Kremlin-backed websites pushed “fake news” regularly portraying Hillary and the Democrats in a negative light. There’s really nothing new here for anybody who’s followed Russian propaganda for any length of time. Kremlin agitprop aimed at the West—properly termed disinformation—contains an amalgam of fact and fiction, plus lots of gray information somewhere in between which can be difficult and time-consuming to refute.

Back in the 1980s, when the KGB was pumping all kinds of outlandish conspiracy theories into Western media outlets to smear the Reagan administration, Washington got proficient at countering this sort of nasty deception (the Pentagon created AIDS, for instance). The Active Measures Working Group, an interagency entity stood up expressly to debunk Kremlin lies, became effective at its job, drawing on expertise from various government departments and agencies. With Cold War victory, however, it folded along with the Soviet Union.

By mid-2014, it was apparent that Moscow was up to its old disinformation tricks again, and it was obvious to anybody acquainted with the Kremlin that Washington needed to react to the torrents of lies filtering into Western media thanks to Russian intelligence and its friends in the West. Putin, that wily KGB veteran, is familiar with Active Measures, and his Kremlin has become more aggressive about employing it abroad than the Politburo ever was.

Nice job breaking it, Huffman

Amelia Tait, writing in the New Statesman, says,

Reddit’s CEO edited comments on a pro-Trump thread and everyone should care

Reddit CEO Steve Huffman has publicly admitted to editing comments on the pro-Donald Trump subreddit r/the_donald in a move he has described as “trolling the trolls”. Huffman – who goes by “spez” on Reddit – deleted comments from the pro-Trump community on the site, and also altered comments that insulted him. He replaced comments reading “fuck u/spez” with those of the users who moderate the thread. This meant the criticism directed towards him appeared to be attacking the thread’s own moderators.

[…]

Yet although this might seem like a small and temporary lapse in judgement, the implications are huge.

Normally when a comment is edited on Reddit – by a user or a moderator – a small asterisk will appear after the time stamp to indicate that it has been changed. In this instance, no such asterisk appeared, meaning Huffman ostensibly has the ability to edit comments without a trace. This is crucial because two months ago, a Redditor was taken to court for comments he left on the site. Huffman’s editing powers could clearly be abused to cause trouble for individuals.

Beyond this, however, Huffman chose the wrong Reddit community to anger. Those on r/the_donald are already deeply convinced by conspiracies, and, in a way, Huffman has now validated their claims.

I first came across r/the_donald when news was breaking of the terrorist massacre of 49 people attending a gay nightclub in Orlando carried out on behalf of Islamic State by Omar Mateen. I say “news was breaking”, but it was not breaking at r/news. As one Reddit user said, “They deleted EVERY other thread about the shooting”. Another said, “You know whats crazy? I live in Orlando and I had no idea this was going on. I depend on reddit for my news 100% since it can rapidly deliver news from many sources that I can validate or discard. I have literally been up all night on Reddit and due to the apparent thread lockings and deletions, this story took 9 hours to make it to me — I probably live within thirty minutes of this place.” Yet another said, “This situation has been unfolding for hours, it’s the deadliest mass shooting in US history, and the only evidence of it on the front page is stuff from /r/the_donald?”

The talk is all of “fake news” at the moment, with a presumption that the fakery is coming from the right. But many of those Americans who saw with their own eyes the main Reddit news page attempting to play down a major news story while the Donald Trump subreddit reported it freely will have concluded that those Trump guys were telling the truth and the other guys were fakers – and who can blame them? Some of them will have switched from r/news to r/the_donald as their first news source and will have gone on to vote for Trump as a result. It is always fun to watch the “Nice job breaking it, hero” trope play out in real life, but r/the_Donald is not itself a good news source. The comments that Huffman altered were the usual conspiracy rubbish that is thrown at any politician these days. I don’t believe that Hillary Clinton is running a paedophile ring for the same reason that I never believed that Ted Heath was. Apart from anything else, major political figures are too closely watched. Steve Huffman had the right and was right to ban the “Pizzagate” subreddit, which made claims absurd even by the standards typical of such things and had caused real harm to innocent people. As ever, the believers in the conspiracy took any opposition to their theories as PROOOOF that the opposer was in on it too. Mr Huffman would have been completely within his rights and acting in the interests of his company to have banned the people who were libelling him. Instead he chose to play games with his own site’s credibility. A few weeks ago I would have dismissed the idea that the Reddit CEO would personally hack the accounts of his own customers on the r/the_donald subreddit as yet more conspirazoid rubbish. As Amelia Tait said, Huffman has now validated their claim to be persecuted. He has also validated their claim to be important.