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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Heresy at the Royal Court Theatre

Remarkable developments are in train at London’s Royal Court Theatre, in the form of a play that is about climate science, but is not Watermelon propaganda. In a guest posting at Bishop Hill, Mr and Mrs Josh (Mr Josh also does the cartoons at Bishop Hill) provide a fascinating and enticing review of The Heretic, a new play by Richard Bean:

Book your tickets now, this play is a must-see comedy.

It has everything – more accurate climate science than a BBC documentary (ok, that’s not exactly hard), brilliantly funny and wonderfully staged.

The drama centres on university climate scientist, Dr Diane Cassell, played superbly by Juliet Stevenson, whose research on sea levels in the Maldives shows no rising trend in sea levels.

This puts her at odds with Professor Kevin Maloney, Head of Dept Earth Sciences, played by James Fleet (sinisterly morphed from Hugo, in the Vicar of Dibley) whose main aim is to attract more funding to the department by toeing the consensus line on Climate Change.

When she publishes her research and expresses her skeptical views, notably on Newsnight to Jeremy Paxman, she becomes the focus of some very direct persecution.

Add in Phoebe, her daughter, and Ben, her carbon-obsessed first-year student, plus an ex-marine security guard and the stage is set. Pure comedy ensues as Ben follows the logic of his beliefs, refusing to keep warm, travel in any petroleum-based transport, and considering suicide since his vegetarian diet causes excessive methane production. Phoebe is ahead of him; severely anorexic she is at real risk of not making it. Both characters are played with worrying fragility that conveys lives overshadowed by fear, battling to understand the issues or find a set of rules to live by. Their plight is all too similar to that of Diane, struggling to work out if the death threats from environmentalists should be taken seriously.

In a feat of Montfordian proportions nearly all the major recent climate change stories are woven into the play: the lack of sea level rise, the politicisation of science by the IPCC, Glaciergate, the logarithmic effect of CO2 (in a way you will never forget), the misanthropy of some environmentalist groups, the ‘one-tree’ hockey stick, and, of course, Climategate. But the issues are put on the table, without arm twisting, encouraging the audience to go out and do their own research.

Maybe I am reading far too much into this, but this sounds like it could be something of a cultural turning point in Britain. For decades now, there has been a self-reinforcing feedback loop shutting out anything but left wing friendly dramas from the live theatre in Britain, or so it has seemed and felt to one of those who has felt shut out. No anti-lefty dramas – e.g. praising Thatcher or heroic entrepreneurs or working class vigilantes, or denouncing bossy social workers or manipulative communists or ridiculous civil servants or psychotic and tyrannical Islamists, or pointing at the state itself as the prime mover in the banking crisis – have made sense to the theatres, because the audience for such things hasn’t been there, and because writers have been disinclined even to bother writing such things. What’s the point? And because there is no non-lefty drama, the audience for such things never comes. It stays at home surfing the net or watching its preferred telly shows and movies. If it is like me, it blogs.

Crucial to the willingness of another audience to show up to see this play is that it can be urged to do so on the internet, despite the major official organs of British theatre publicity, notable the BBC and the Guardian, apparently trying, just as they have tried with Climategate itself, to be very sniffy and dismissive. If a new audience does show up in strength at the Royal Court to see The Heretic, then that could result in Britain’s theatres saying: hey, I wonder if there are other non-lefty-friendly “issues” out there that we haven’t done before, because the BBC and the Guardian haven’t allowed us to?

Never forget that theatre folk love a big row, provided only that the row isn’t too big, as it would be if they took at serious whack at Islam. They love to push the boundaries, not too far, but just that little bit beyond what is entirely safe. They love to make mischief, to get everyone shouting at each other. They love to take the piss out of whoever happens at any particular moment to be the pompous and hypocritical elite, because, potentially, maybe, that will sell tickets, contrive bums on seats. Okay, most British thesps are lefties themselves, but many of those lefties are theatricals first, lefties second, and in quite a few other cases, on the quiet, so I surmise, not actually proper lefties at all, really, even though they dress like lefties and talk like lefties.

A earlier key moment in British theatrical history happened in the late nineteen fifties. British live theatre was then the Conservative Party at play, watching third-rate Noel Coward imitations consisting of brittle, well-dressed upper middle class chat in implausibly opulent living rooms with big floor-to-ceiling French windows at the back, centre stage. That is a caricature but not that much of one. But suddenly, or so it felt, all that was smashed to pieces by John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger, and all that followed from it. Look Back in Anger was also, by the way, first presented at the Royal Court. Perhaps my view of all that is a bit myopic, because the nearest theatre to my home when I was a kid was the Windsor Rep, which, I seem to recall, showed third-rate Noel Coward imitations just about all the time. But I suspect I have it about right, even if those closer to theatrical happenings then had felt in their water that the Angry Young Man upheaval had been coming for some time and thus remember it as a somewhat more gradual thing. I’m not saying that The Heretic is in the same class, as a play or as a culturally explosive event, as Look Back in Anger. I haven’t seen The Heretic yet. But this new play may perhaps, with hindsight, come be seen as one of the bigger paving stones that paved the way for something that is more like Look Back in Anger.

Goodness knows, Britain certainly contains plenty of anger just now.

Conveniently for me, the Royal Court Theatre is in Sloane Square, which is only a longish walk or a short bus or tube ride from where I live. I’m giving a talk on Monday. As soon as that’s out of the way, I will pop around to the Royal Court and fix to see The Heretic for myself.

Samizdata quote of the day

I am, therefore I’ll think

John Galt

Will the mere truth get a mention?

From the latest Radio Times, concerning a Radio 4 programme entitled In Denial: Climate on the Couch, to be aired at 9pm this evening. I will listen, and I will set my radio recorder.

Radio Times blurb:

Jolyon Jenkins investigates the psychology of climate change efforts, asking why some people seem unconcerned even though scientists are forecasting terrible changes to the planet. He questions whether environmentalists and the Government have been putting out messages that are counterproductive, and whether trying to scare people into action might actually be causing them to consume more.

My suspicion is that what I and all others who listen to this programme will hear will be an explanation of the failure of the Greenists to convince that omits the crucial matter of the mere truth, and what is now sincerely believed to be the truth by more and more of the mere people. The phrase “In Denial” does strongly suggest this. And “On the Couch” suggests that they think that some people, presumably all who deny, are mad.

You know the kind of thing: People don’t think there’s anything they can do! – No wonder they’re being crazy! – We have not communicated successfully! – We have not got our message across properly!

It probably was rather a bad idea to make it look like they want to blow up children who disagree with them. But what if, despite such communicational ineptness, they have got their message across, but people just think it’s a pack of lies? If that is what people now think, then no amount of improved communicational expertise that doesn’t deal with the mere truth of things will make much difference.

But, my suspicions may prove to be unjustified. As of now, I live in hope that the truth, both what it is and what it is now believed to be, will at least get a semi-respectful mention, in among all the psychologising.


This programme isn’t about climate science so it’s going to assume that the scientific consensus is true.

And a moment later, someone described (it may have been Jolyon Jenkins) this consensus as “undeniable”. Which was an odd word to use, given the title.

Well, at least it has just been admitted that people sometimes say that it’s all being exaggerated, even if it is assumed that this is mistaken and evasive. That it might be an honest opinion is not up for discussion, because that would mean discussing climate science.

So, the early and pessimistic commenters here are right. It looks like being a long discussion of what a bunch of true-believers can do to save the world, given that a huge tranche of people has decided that the world doesn’t need saving, but will have to be convinced in the true-believer stuff is to even make sense let alone accomplish anything.

The elephant in their room is that they have lost this argument, in the sense that they need unanimity in this, but are drifting further and further away from unanimity. They are ignoring this elephant. They are behaving like that economist, stuck on a desert island with various other sorts of experts, who is wondering how to contrive a tin-opener. “Let’s assume we have a tin-opener.” This won’t work.

LATER: Thinking about this some more, I should perhaps stress that the people who sincerely disagree that CAGW is happening were not called mad, as I feared they might be. They were simply ignored. All were assumed to really believe in CAGW, but to be using some kind of psychological doublethink to evade what they knew they ought to be doing really. Like I say: let’s assume we’ve won.

Samizdata quote of the day

… Kenneth Clarke invariably supports anything with “european” in front of it. If they re-named ebola virus “european virus”, I expect he’d declare himself in favour of that, too.

– Owen Morgan commenting on James Kirkup’s Daily Telegraph blog

Interesting: a website providing a database of serial litigants

I am neither advertising nor criticising this site. The first I heard of it was a few minutes ago, in a comment by someone calling themselves “scrivens” to a Telegraph article called The Grievance Industry. I do not know any more about it than what it says. I just find its existence very, very interesting, as an example of a modern solution to a modern problem.


Searching for an opposing party can be an expensive and time consuming process as there is no readily accessible database of employment tribunal decisions. Serial-litigants tend to benefit from anonymity.
This is where our service can be of benefit to parties. By searching, and collecting, this information we allow parties, and their lawyers, to check if an opposing party is a serial-litigant. Armed with information about other claims, the opportunities for achieving a successful outcome (or even a strike-out without a full cost hearing) can be greatly increased. In our experience some serial-litigants simply drop their case once confronted with a clear picture of their claims.

These guys charge £99 to do a search of employment tribunal decisions for you, temporarily discounted to £50.That is practically free in comparison to the cost of defending – let alone losing – a case at an employment tribunal. But practically free is not actually free. I wonder if it would be possible within the laws of libel to do something similar that was both open to public view and literally free to use, because done by volunteer labour, in the manner of fakecharities.org (this blog, passim)? I do not say that would be better than a for-profit service such as this; on the contrary my instincts are that a leavening of money in this type of proceeding keeps the cranks at bay. But what an interesting development such a website would be. Of course the people who could be bothered to spend their own time to track down serial litigants for public exposure would be those who had been stung by them, or thought they had.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Oakeshott was an enchanting elfin figure, rather slight with a rather light but seductive voice. Men sometimes found him a little creepy, women never. He was married three times and was said to have various girlfriends scattered in boltholes in London and around the country. He was sceptical in his views, and not at all religious, thus conforming to my general theory that, as soon as British philosophers stopped believing in God, they started believing in sex. There is no more startling contrast between the celibacy, and indeed chastity, of Pascal and Locke and the insatiable appetites of Bertrand Russell and AJ Ayer and PH Nowell-Smith, the author of Ethics, who was said to have regarded it as a positive duty to sleep with other men’s wives.”

Ferdinand Mount, Cold Cream, page 273. Quirky, self-effacing and brilliant about its portrayal of Mount’s life as a journalist and Downing Street policy wonk and conservative intellectual, this is one of the finest autobiographies I have read in years. Among the details that startled me was Mount’s battle with a terrible asthma problem; I also loved his portrayal of his father and vignettes featuring the likes of Malcolm Muggeridge and Siegfried Sassoon.

I can also recommend Mount’s recent book about how we are becoming rather like the ancient Romans.

Samizdata quote of the day

A charity that relies in the main part on taxes is no more a charity than a prostitute is your girlfriend.

Guido Fawkes ruminates on how David Cameron’s idea of the Big Society differs from Big Government. Strongly recommended to all those who, like me, have to force themselves to listen to anything said by David Cameron, but who like to read Guido.

Doing this got me wondering how Fake Charities has been doing lately. Answer: it’s buzzing along very well, and is also strongly recommended.

Reasons for reading the Daily Mash, ctd

This is inspired from the Daily Mash satire site. Or is it satire?

Something for aviation and photography enthusiasts

We have a fair number of aviation and photography enthusiasts at this blog and readership, so here is a nice little “two for the price of one”, courtesy of that haven of wackiness, Boing Boing.

Something I bought at Heathrow Airport

I sometimes pick up quick-to-read paperbacks, either fiction or non-fiction, at airports to help pass the time during my flight. So, on a recent short break to Malta, I bought Dambisa Moyo’s How the West Was Lost, published a short while ago, which seeks to argue that for various reasons, good and bad, the West (essentially, Western Europe and North America) is in danger of losing out to the East. I was intrigued enough to pay a few quid for the book, but in the end I should have known better.

Moyo has a lot of things to say with which free marketeers might approve of: she denounces the way in which the banking system has encouraged over-use of debt financing, creating all manner of problems, culminating in the sub-prime mortgage disaster and associated asset price bubble; she also understands that modern Welfare States have created many problems. However, for all that she tries to accept that the rise of the former Third World nations from poverty is a Good Thing and to be applauded, I cannot help but feel that she does not really mean it very much. She’s a mercantilist who sees economics as a titanic fight between states and is hostile, or at least sceptical, about the capacity of people operating in markets under the rule of law. And she repeats the canard that the panic of 2008 demonstrated the dangers of unfettered capitalism, oblivious to the fact that the monetary policies of the Fed, etc, were policies of state institutions, as was the interference in the US and other housing markets by governments (Freddie Mac, etc).

In fact, she seems wedded to a sort of neo-Malthusian argument that says that the desire for prosperity and higher living standards in places such as China is unmitigated bad news for the West as there are finite resources in energy, etc, and that Eastern prosperity comes at the expense of the West’s. In other words, she is arguing that economics is, in some ways, a case of winners and losers. Indeed, she talks repeatedly about the idea of there being a race, often using the very word… “race”… to make her points.

Here is one typical paragraph in which she says the West is suffering from all that terrible selfish individualism and we should benefit from a bit more of that no-nonsense collectivism as seen in China (page 172):

“Frankly speaking, the constitutional framework that has defined the US for the past three centuries is not likely to be amended in order to hand over more power to the state. Yet arguably more power, more flexibility and fewer committees are exactly what is needed. What sense does it make in the depths of the financial crisis – a state of economic emergency by most accounts, which brought the country and the world to its knees – for the President of the United States to have to build consensus around a desperately needed fiscal stimulus package before he and his advisors can act?”

She seems curiously unaware of to what extent the powers of the Federal government in the US have already gone way beyond what was envisaged by the Founders – and that’s a bad thing – and that in other Western nations, such as the UK, the government of the day has considerable powers, or has yielded great powers to the European Union and its legions of unelected officials. And yet for Ms Moyo the problem is that is far too much of this pesky liberalism, checks and balances, and so forth. I hate to say it, but she’s coming close to flirting with a form of fascism.

There are other, equally poor, arguments. For instance, she argues that the vast majority of citizens in Western nations have only reaped a small share of the benefits of greater trade and so on because many of the profits earned are paid to shareholders. For instance: (page 178) “The only thing companies were interested in was the company’s profitability and therefore the shareholders’ return on capital.”

Wow, the owners of firms want to make a profit (as opposed to making a whacking great loss, presumably). But even this line ignores the fact that by “shareholder”, we do not just mean a few isolated fat, capitalist bastards in suits; no, we also mean all the millions of people – including people a bit like Ms Moyo – who have savings plans, 401K plans, mutual funds, pension pots, etc. This line of hers also does rather beg the question of what should happen to these profits – should they be taxed in “reinvested” by governments? In several instances, she praises the behaviour of governments, such as oil-rich states, and their massive “sovereign wealth funds”, arguing that these are used to benefit domestic populations. Well they may be in some cases, but even a cursory awareness of public choice economics should alert Ms Moyo to the dangers of corruption, mis-allocation of capital, political favouritism and faddism that often comes when government agencies disburse vast sums. The flashy public spending projects of the past have often brought dubious rewards.

And I just knew I had wasted my aircraft reading time when she scorned Ricardo’s Law of Comparative Advantage, arguing that unless all countries play “fair” (which never happens), then the argument for free trade that the LCA underpins is chucked away.

This argument – that free trade is only beneficial if everyone plays nice – has been demolished time and again. A good example comes from Deepak Lal, in his book, Reviving the Invisible Hand.

Here is a passage:

“a country will benefit from removing its own tariffs and import restrictions even if all its trading partners maintain theirs. For as long as the domestic prices of goods in our country under autarky differ from those at which they can be imported and exported under free trade, the country will be able to obtain the gains from trade both by obtaining imported goods at a lower cost than they are produced at home (the consumption gain) and by specialising in producing and exporting those goods in which it has a comparative advantage and importing the others (the production gain), irrespective of the tariff applied by their trading partners. For these trade restrictions only damage the protectionist country’s welfare, and it would be senseless not to improve one’s own welfare just because someone else is damaging theirs. There is no point throwing rocks into one’s harbour just because others are throwing rocks into theirs. Hence, there is an incontrovertible case for every country to unilaterally adopt free trade, irrespective of the protectionist policies of other countries – with one exception. Suppose that a country is the only producer of some good – say, oil.”

He goes on to explain this case but says that in fact, retaliatory trade practices and other issues take the edge off this argument also.

It is all such a pity. She started well, but I really wish I had read that new Lee Child thriller instead.

David Cameron’s speech about multiculturalism – and the fact that we can all read it

I know this kind of thing has long been known about and talked about, but the single thing that I most like about David Cameron’s speech about multiculturalism, terrorism, and so on, which he gave in Munich on Saturday, is that I can read it, in its entirety. I don’t have to rely on a journalist, however conscientious he may or may not have tried to be, to pass on to me whatever small fragments of the speech he considers to be significant, along with hostile reactions to such fragments that he has got or read from various people with axes to grind, many of these reactions having probably been supplied by people who haven’t actually heard or read the original speech and are only going on what the journalist tells them it said. And then somebody else gets angry about one of these critical reactions, and it all spirals away from anything that actually got said in the original speech. And the bloke who gave the original speech says to himself: why do I bother? Time was when that kind of thing was all that most people had to go on. But those days are now long gone. Good riddance. Disintermediation, I think this is called.

As I say, hardly a blindingly original observation, but in the matter of this speech, I have never before felt this internet-induced improvement so strongly. The subject matter of Cameron’s speech is a minefield. Although I do not agree with everything that he said (see below), I am glad that he is at least talking about this stuff, at a time when many of our more thoughtful political leaders are scared to. The existence of the internet is the difference between a much-overdue, semi-intelligent public conversation about these vexed issues and mere mudslinging.

So, given that I am able to read it all, what did I make of it? Here are a few early thoughts.

One of Cameron’s most important points is that insofar as “multiculturalism” means double standards in how Muslims are treated by the British law, them being allowed to behave far worse than us indigenous ones, then multiculturalism is a bad idea. It is also a bad idea if it involves state support and encouragement for groups which encourage terrorism. Well said, and about time too.

He makes many other points, which I agree with rather less. He uses, for instance, the now established habit of curtailing the freedom of speech of racists and fascists to justify further curtailments of free speech, for Muslims. But if we all get to hear what they all have to say, fascists, Muslims, (fascist Muslims?), then we can take issue with such notions. And whenever something nasty happens that some nasty has said should happen, the police will at least know where to start looking. Free speech, quite aside from being a human right and everything, is actually quite a practical policy for maintaining civil peace. It helps a lot that most of us think that merely saying nasty things shouldn’t be a crime, and that in a world where people can say pretty much what they like, the police must confine themselves to chasing after those who actually do nasty things.

I also take issue with the way that Cameron muddles together two distinct, although related ideas. On the one hand there is the idea that Islam itself is a problem, rather than just “Islamic extremism”. And then there is the further idea that therefore Muslims ought to be deported, forbidden from speaking their minds, from building mosques, and generally from going around being Muslims. He opposes the second idea, but makes it seem like that necessarily means opposing the first idea also. I support the first idea, but not the second. I definitely think that Islam itself is a problem, but I believe that the answer (see my previous paragraph) is to argue with it, to tell it that it is a problem and why it is a problem, and to invite people who are wondering about it to leave or stay away from it, rather than stick with it or join it. If you must be a believer in something religious, let that religion be something like Christianity rather than Islam, because Christianity, although at least as odd from the merely is-it-true? point of view is, at the moment, so very much nicer than Islam.

Everything I observe in the reactions of the nastier kinds of Muslim tells me that they are acutely sensitive to such arguments, to the point where they would very much like such arguments to be banned, whether such arguments include deportation demands, mosque-banning and so forth, or not. To me, Cameron’s thinking says, first, that banning free expression for racists and fascists is absolutely fine, and that therefore banning free speech for “Islamic extremists” is fine also. But what next? Banning people from even saying (as I do not say) that Muslims should be deported and mosque-building banned? Or even from saying (as I do say) that Islam itself is a disgusting and evil body of thought and that the only absolutely morally correct thing to do if you are a Muslim is to damn well stop being a Muslim?

Which means that I was disappointed, but not surprised, that Cameron made no mention of the right of a person to stop being a Muslim, without being subjected to death threats and worse. Disappointed, but not surprised. For Cameron, being a “devout Muslim” (as opposed to an extreme Islamist) is more than sufficient, as far as he is concerned. As Prime Minister, he is not in the business of wanting anyone to convert this way or that, other than in the very feeble sense of wanting people to vote for him and for his political party. I see that. But he ought, I think to be ready to defend the rights of those who really do want to convert, from anything to anything else, and in particular out of Islam. Cameron called for “muscular liberalism”. So, when push next comes to shove in the form of a big ruckus (will this be that?) concerning someone who has stopped being a Muslim, will Cameron apply a dose of muscular liberalism to that argument, to allow such a person to believe whatever they want to believe, and to be as public as they like about it?

I confess that the phrase “muscular liberalism” did appeal to me when I first read it, and no doubt this phrase has tested positive with the focus groups. But what exactly will it mean in reality? Might it mutate into the government telling people like me that we can’t be rude about devout, law-abiding Muslims and the things that such people say they believe in? (“Muscular liberalism” in the USA would be a terrifying idea.) I am sure that many Muslims already fear – are being encouraged by each other to fear – that it may degenerate into a mere excuse for Muslim bashing, in the physical and wrong sense, by the government and its employees, and by many others. Perhaps (actually I’m inclined, as I read this through before posting it, to make that: probably), as we all challenge the phrase from our various different positions, muscular liberalism will degenerate into one of those mush phrases that mean whatever anyone listening wants it to mean, and then by and by, whatever the powers that be want it to mean. In other words it may degenerate into meaning nothing, just like the words “Big Society” have, in the minds of nearly everyone I meet or read.

But I want to end where I began, with the pleasure I feel that I and all others who choose to comment on this speech, here or anywhere else, are at least able, if we want to, to read the speech itself. Last night, for example, at the Christian Michel evening that I alluded to in an earlier posting, I got talking with an acquaintance about Cameron’s speech. After he had begun to opine about it, rather intelligently, I asked him: Have you actually read the speech? Yes, he said. Me too, I said. This exchange pleased me then and it pleases me still.

The big one

The commentary soundbite of the night so far, from the BBC’s coverage of Super Bowl XLV, from Tiki Barber:

Do not go to bed. Work is not as important as this game.

It’s Pittsburgh 25 Green Bay 28, in the fourth quarter, after Pittsburgh managed what I believe is called a “safety” “two-point conversion” (see comments), Pittsburgh having earlier in the game been down by 18 points. Nobody’s ever won a Super Bowl having been that far behind, but this looks to be anyone’s.

Mike Carlson, Britain’s ubiquitous American Football expert, commentates for whichever channel has the games, be it Channel 4, Channel 5, or, as now, BBC 1, and so he’s with the BBC tonight, as he has been throughout the play-offs. I seem to recall complaining here about the snide little political digs that Carlson has in the past indulged in, when commentating for Channels 4 or 5. The BBC seem to have told him to cut it out. Usually, whenever any player is called Bush (I seem to recall there being a Reggie Bush) Carlson calls him “the Bush you can support”. (Yes, I mention this in the comments here, in connection with something Carlson said during last year’s Superbowl.) George W. Bush himself is actually watching this game, as is Condoleeza Rice, or that’s who it looked like to me. They showed a whole row of such people. Whatever Carlson may have wanted to say about that he kept to himself.

Green Bay win the Vince Lombardi trophy, 31-25. The grandstand finish that Tiki Barber had been saying might, if earlier games were anything to go by, be contrived by Pittsburgh’s hobbling miracle worker of a quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, never happened, and it ended rather tamely, as American football games sometimes do, with guys kneeling down, and then … it was … over.

Now they’re saying that a play called Lombardi, about the great Green Bay coach of yesteryear that they now name the Super Bowl trophy after, just opened on Broadway. Blog and learn.

The Green Bay Packers are the “world champions”. Yeah. But now they are making a good point, which is that the Super Bowl has no exact parallel in British soccer. That has the FA Cup Final, but also the Premier League, and also a couple of European titles to shoot for. Every other year there’s either a European national tournament, or the World Cup. Only in the American version of football does the winner of the one big game win absolutely everything.