We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

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

Samizdata 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

Dear UKIP, you’ve changed

“UKIP leader Paul Nuttall says UK should ban burqa”, the Independent reports.

In the 2015 election I was pleased to note that UKIP, the third most popular party in the UK in terms of number of votes, was also the closest to libertarian among the mainstream parties. Since then the United Kingdom Independence Party has both fulfilled and lost its purpose. Its new leader, Paul Nuttall, seems to want to achieve his aim of supplanting Labour as the main opposition to the Tories by outcompeting Labour in the field of authoritarianism. Just listen to the tail-wags-the-dog justification for banning the burqa that Mr Nutall gives in the video clip linked to by the Independent:

“Whether we like it or not we are the most watched people in the world. There’s more CCTV in Britain per head than anywhere else on the planet and for the CCTV to be effective you need to see people’s faces.”

Samizdata quote of the day

As to the position of intellectuals in Cuban society, it appeared that they had almost everything estranged Western intellectuals desired. There was, to start with, ample official recognition. They were taken seriously and, if loyal to the regime, given generous opportunities to share in power and the management of the new society. They were given responsibilities such as the visitors rarely enjoyed in their own societies. For the most part these were, in the words of Susan Sontag, “pedagogical functions,” and “a major role in the raising of the level of consciousness.” The jubilation on the part of the visitors, as they witnessed Cuban intellectuals moving into positions of power and responsibility, signaled their relief that at long last intellectuals could abandon their traditional roles as social critics and outsiders and could now joyously affirm, endorse, and assist an ongoing social system. At last the painful dichotomy between thought and action was dissolved; Cuban intellectuals were men of action, some actually fought as guerillas; others became revolutionary deans of universities, revolutionary officials in ministries of education, culture or propaganda, revolutionary writers, film-makers, academics. Most of them shared, from time to time, the manly burden of manual labor with the masses. Most importantly, they were fully integrated into society, there was nothing marginal about them.

Under these circumstances, it was possible to accept with a clear conscience the material benefits and privileges the regime bestowed on them, unlike in Western societies, where the material privileges and status advantages of estranged intellectuals often became a major sources of their bitterness, inner conflict, or self-contempt. Wishing to be severe social critics of the societies they lived in and half expecting some measure of retribution or mild martyrdom for their criticism, instead they often found themselves either ignored by the holders of power or, worse, in positions of influence or high social status despite their relentless castigation of the social system which continued, almost absent-mindedly, to feed generously the mouths that so regularly bit it.

Political Pilgrims: Travels of Western Intellectuals to the Soviet Union, China and Cuba, 1928-78, Paul Hollander, page 264.

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.

The Digital Economy Bill

The Bill’s intention is to create better data sharing gateways. The plans to digitise our birth, death, marriage and civil partnership certificates – which will be stored and shared in bulk – will make the sharing of our personal information as easy as clicking a mouse. There will be no requirement for them to consult you. You won’t be asked in advance, you won’t even be told after the event and you won’t have the chance to opt out.

Worried? You should be. Do you remember the ID card furore before the 2010 general election? The scheme was axed at great expense when public support for the plans plummeted after it was revealed that HMRC had lost personal information belonging to 25 million child benefit claimants.

Only then did the reality of how insecure our data is sink in. It’s worth noting the lost information still hasn’t been recovered almost 10 years later.

Don’t be fooled that things have improved. In 2014/15 government departments experienced almost 9,000 data breaches, according to a recent National Audit Office report.

Renate Samson

Samizdata quote of the day

Having failed to win the support of the Eisenhower administration, who knew exactly what sort of man they were dealing with, Castro adopted communism purely for opportunistic and practical reasons. He was about as much a socialist revolutionary as he was a democrat. Naturally, the Soviets fell over themselves to shower any third-world thug who paid lip-service to communism with money, weapons, and other support and they did just that with Castro – even though his adoption of their ideology came to them as a complete surprise.

Many people think the USA is responsible for Castro’s rise and continuation in power, but most of the blame lies squarely on Moscow’s doorstep: without their cynical support in those early stages, Castro’s brutal dictatorship would likely have been over much more quickly.

Tim Newman

The wicked and the wilfully blind reveal themselves

Nothing however beats the BBC’s coverage. They are reporting Castro’s death more favourably than Thatcher’s. No ‘controversial’. No mention of the thousands summarily executed after the revolution. No mention that he demanded the USSR nuke the USA. No mention of the decades of impoverishment and human rights abuse. No mention of his secret police rounding up homosexuals and putting them in concentration camps. Castro gets a free pass on democratic norms – “his critics accused him of being a dictator”. Does the BBC think that is only an allegation? Particular congratulations to the BBC News Channel, who interviewed “Cuba expert” Richard Gott, without mentioning he was a KGB agent of influence. Slow clap.

Guido Fawkes

Good riddance to a tyrant

Fidel Castro dies aged 90, but unfortunately his dynastic successor is still firmly in control. No doubt the shameless regressive left at the BBC and Guardian will sing the dead tyrant’s praises, but I suspect there will be some wild celebrations in Miami tonight.

Samizdata quote of the day

You might not have noticed thanks to world events, but the UK parliament recently approved the government’s so-called Snooper’s Charter and it will soon become law. This nickname for the Investigatory Powers Bill is well earned. It represents a new level and nature of surveillance that goes beyond anything previously set out in law in a democratic society. It is not a modernisation of existing law, but something qualitatively different, something that intrudes upon every UK citizen’s life in a way that would even a decade ago have been inconceivable […] As David Davis said, before being distracted by Brexit, this kind of surveillance will only catch the innocent and the incompetent. The innocent should not be caught and the incompetent can be caught any number of ways.

Paul Bernal. Good article, even if I was a bit bemused by the author’s surprise that a paleo-socialist like Jeremy Corbyn acquiesced.

Repeal the new surveillance laws (Investigatory Powers Act)

If you are in the UK, please sign the petition to repeal the new surveillance laws (Investigatory Powers Act). We are half way to getting a Parliamentary debate (maybe 🙄 ).

Too many see Orwell’s “1984” not as a cautionary tale, but rather a compendium of interesting policy suggestions.

Samizdata quote of the day

“A case of organised loot and legalised plunder.”

Manmohan Singh, referring the rapacious and extremely damaging ‘War against Cash’ in India.