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]

Scott Adams catches a video being used to lie by being edited lyingly

I just watched the first twenty minutes of this speech to camera by Scott Adams, about a piece of CNN fake news. Kudos to Adams who, having dug himself into a bit of a hole by believing some fake news, stopped digging and climbed out, and then filled in the hole by deleting his earlier and wrong interpretation of the story.

This is part of a much bigger story, I think, about how the media are now fragmenting into … well, fragments. Time was when (a) CNN might have valued their reputation for impartiality enough not to be this brazen and this fake in their “news” presentation, and when (b) if they had been this brazen and this fake, nobody else would have been able to do anything much about it. As it is, each part of the shattered ex-body politic now has their own version of these events. Mine is what you’ll see if you watch that second Scott Adams wideo, the one I just watched. If I encounter someone this evening who thinks CNN got this story right, and the event I will be attended means that I very well might, the polite version of how I might respond is: That’s not how I see this. The ruder version might also happen and here’s how that will go: You’re wrong.

Don’t call … them the “mainstream media” because they are not this any more. They’re (we’re) all just media – CNN, Scott Adams, Uncle Tom Cobley on YouTube, me and my pals posting and maybe you commenting on Samizdata – churning out stuff for the kind of people who see things the way they (we) do, and want the kind of news – true, false, dazzling, daft – that they (we) want to offer.

It used to be that you only discovered what liars and nincompoops journalists were capable of being when you were in the middle of one of their stories and actually knew what lies they were telling, if they were. Now, we can all see this whenever we want to, by whistling up a contrary opinion more to our own tastes.

This is a very important change, which has already given the world Trump and Brexit and much else besides, such as, most recently, here in Britain, that already famous Question Time Roar, and all the sort of people who regret Trump and Brexit and The Roar are intensely aware of this. They are fighting back vigorously.

But here is a big opinion about that fight-back, very hastily expressed because I must soon be out. No amount of censorship or bias – by Google, by credit card companies, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and the rest of them – can even seriously reverse these liberalising (in the true sense) developments, let alone put any sort of complete stop to them.

There should many more links in the above paragraphs, and another page of explanation of that big opinion, but I am out of time. Also, maybe I could be persuaded that free expression, in countries like mine, really is seriously threatened, if anyone can convince me that the fight-back is going to be savage enough. But, gotta go.


Hobbs mania: How a cartoon depiction of Mohammad provoked Muslim outrage – in 1925

I have begun reading Leo McKinstry’s book about Sir Jack Hobbs, whom he describes in his book’s subtitle as “England’s Greatest Cricketer”. So, greater than W.G. Grace then? That’s what McKinstry says, and he emphasises this by telling, at the beginning of his book, on pages 5 and 6 of the Introduction, about how Hobbs surpassed Grace’s record for the number of centuries scored by a batsman in top class cricket (“first class” cricket as we cricket people call it), and of what a sensation this caused in England. This happened several decades before cricket was toppled by soccer as England’s greatest sporting obsession.

Hobbs began the 1925 county cricket season scoring heavily, and the centuries piled up, a century being a personal score of a hundred or more runs by the one batsman. But as Hobbs neared Grace’s record of 126 centuries, and as press and public interest grew, the nerves cut in and started affecting the performances of the usually nerveless Hobbs. The centuries slowed to a trickle. Once, when he got out for 54 (which would normally be rated a decent score), Hobbs walked back to his home pavilion at Surrey’s Oval cricket ground in complete silence, so deep was the gloom and disappointment of the spectators.

But, Hobbs having got stuck within one century of the Grace record, Hobbs’s team, Surrey, were playing Somerset at Taunton. On the first day of that game, August 15th 1925, Somerset were dismissed cheaply and Hobbs reached 91 not out, just a handful of runs short of reaching the record. And the next morning, he inched his way to century number 126. Equality with Grace was apparently what mattered, rather than doing one better, and with the pressure off, Hobbs’s first class century number 127 followed in the second Surrey innings of that same game.

Cue the celebrations:

Across the nation, Hobbs was acclaimed as the greatest sportsman of his age. ‘Jack Hobbs has taken the sporting world by storm. In two days and the same match he has equalled and surpassed the greatest feat ever performed in the annals of cricket; declared the Daily Mirror. Even King George V, a monarch notorious for his gruff reticence, sent a fulsome message of congratulations from Balmoral via his secretary Lord Stamfordham, expressing ‘much pleasure’ at Hobbs’s ‘remarkable success, whereby you have established a new and greater record in the history of our National Game’. Nor could the non-cricket world ignore the event. ‘Britain welcomes a new cricket hero; the New York Times told its readers, explaining that, ‘England has been in something akin to ferment this summer.’ …

But then comes this:

… A ferment of a different sort arose in Britain’s Indian Empire in the wake of Hobbs’s triumph. On the day that Hobbs beat Grace’s record, the Star published a cartoon by the brilliant New Zealand-born illustrator David Low, later to be renowned for his savage depictions of the European dictators of the 1930s. This 1925 cartoon, which perfectly captured the Hobbs mania that had gripped Britain, showed the Surrey player, bat in hand, towering over a series of other historical figures, including Columbus, Lloyd George, Caesar and Charlie Chaplin. Fatefully, Low also inserted in the line-up the Prophet Muhammad, standing on a pedestal and gazing up at Hobbs. When the image appeared in the Indian papers, it caused fury in the Muslim population, not just because Islam regards any portrayal of the Prophet as sacrilegious, but also because Muhammad was placed in a position of inferiority to a mere cricketer. According to the Calcutta correspondent of the Morning Post, the Hobbs cartoon ‘convulsed many Muslims in speechless rage. Meetings were held and resolutions were passed.’ So serious was the problem that the Indian Viceroy, the Marquess of Reading, wrote to the Cabinet in London to convey the feelings of Muslim outrage.

I note with approval that the internet allows us to see what all this fury was about:

Google quickly showed me this cartoon reproduction, which is apparently to be found at the Mohammed Image Archive. There are many other depictions of Mohammed (that being the third version in this posting alone of how this personage is spelt) on view at the other end of that link, but I could not find the above cartoon, although presumably it is there somewhere.

Nor have I been able to determine whether Indian Muslims issued any death threats, against David Low or against anyone connected to or working for The Star. From the reference to “meetings and resolutions” I get the impression: not, or the death threats would have got a mention also. But I would love to know.

Lord Deben on how (not) to influence and work for a better world

I think that this is a very revealing Tweet about last night’s House of Commons EU vote, from Lord Deben, formerly John Selwyn Gummer, and not in a good way:

So we leave all decisions to others and remove our major opportunity to influence and to work for a better world. We decide we are indeed just a nation of shopkeepers whose customers and suppliers decide and we obey. That instead of being the driver of the EU. What a come-down!

Lord Deben thinks that “we” were “the driver of the EU”, to which I would say that this “we” was only … a very few of us, and that also other EUropeans did quite a bit of driving. And, Lord Deben thinks that the best way to “influence and work for a better world” is to do politics, and EU politics at that.

Does Lord Deben think that Britain leaving the EU is not going to have any “influence” upon the world? I put it to him, as my trial lawyer ancestors would say, that this will have a big influence, provided only that it does happen. Just not the sort of influence that Lord Deben will like. It’s a lot to hope for, but I really do hope that Lord Deben is, approximately speaking, right about the sort of nation that Britain will become. Although, I can’t remember ever having “obeyed” a shopkeeper, unless they were the kind that collaborate with people like Lord Deben to restrict me in what I can buy.

When I think of the good that has been done for the world by inventors and entrepreneurs, and yes, shopkeepers, I think that Lord Deben’s is a very restricted view of the world and its possibilities.

Dominic Cummings on how rational arguments don’t (but actually sometimes do) have consequences

I have finally got around to reading this notable blog posting by Dominic Cummings. I recently watched the Channel 4 DocuDrama about Brexit. This was fun to watch, but if you are a Brexiter like me, you might also want to read this denunciation of it. Upshot: I wanted to know what Cummings himself had to say.

And one of the things Cummings says, right near the beginning (this being as far as I’ve got so far) might well serve as the rationale for political blogging generally, and for Samizdata in particular:

I’ve learned over the years that ‘rational discussion’ accomplishes almost nothing in politics, particularly with people better educated than average. Most educated people are not set up to listen or change their minds about politics, however sensible they are in other fields. But I have also learned that when you say or write something, although it has roughly zero effect on powerful/prestigious people or the immediate course of any ‘debate’, you are throwing seeds into a wind and are often happily surprised.

It’s actually not complicated. People read things like Samizdata when they are making up their minds, or because they have made up their minds that Samizdata is right and like reading about how right they are. They make up their minds as intelligently as they can, but when they have made up their minds, their intelligence is then almost entirely applied to acting in accordance with whatever political principles they have made up their minds to follow, rather than in listening seriously to anyone who wants to explain why these principles are mistaken. Critics are only attended to in order themselves to be criticised.

Samizdata quote of the day

The logic of socialism is to look at someone in a wheelchair and punish the able-bodied by breaking their legs.

The Academic Agent, talking about The Problem with the BBC. The whole thing lasts just under ten minutes, and that little nugget comes about a minute before the end.

Thank you Instapundit.

LG unrolls a new kind of TV screen

Blogs like this one have a tendency to get rather doom-laden with the passing of time. As the political disappointments pile up and are fretted about, it tends to be forgotten that things could be a hell of a lot worse, and that in the meantime that there is much to celebrate.

Things like new gadgets and inventions. The one that I noticed recently was this new roll-up TV screen. That’s a link to a bit of video of an actor of rather modest means pretending to be a rich guy, of the sort who early-adopts such things as roll-up TV screens, before they are really good and way before they are cheap, but who is so very rich that this really doesn’t matter. He is not so much an impatient and/or extravagant idiot. He is more like a patron, giving the techies who did this, and who still have another decade of improvements and price-reductions to graft away at, a bit of well-deserved encouragement, for having at least got the thing working, sort-of, to the point where their bosses are now willing to boast about it. Well done lads, keep up the good work.

Here is another bit of video showing off the same device.

Whether this particular LG version of the roll-up TV screen will ever work well I do not know. But some time soon, this gadget and other gadgets a lot like it will surely start working very well, and then ever more cheaply and compactly. Hurrah. I suspect that roll-up TV screens will be very popular, just like flat TV screens before them, and for very similar reasons.

The sales pitch offered in the first bit of video linked to above is that you will be able to roll the screen down into its small horizontal case, and then enjoy your expensive view through your expensively vast window. Or maybe the story here is that you are such a superior person that only you need know that you ever watch television at all. As for me, I am perpetually pushed for space in my little London home, and a roll-up TV might give me a further little bit of accessible CD shelf space. (Please spare me the anti-CD comments. I like them. If you can’t read that without telling me to stop with the CDs, well, the bit in brackets here.)

Another major plus that will follow from this roll-up TV screen being perfected is that a mobile computer would need then only be the size of its keyboard, because the screen could be the same width as that keyboard, but any old height you want, when you unroll it. Will the standard screen of a computer morph from smallish landscape, if you get my drift, to about-three-times-as-big roll-up portrait? In the age of mobile portrait-type phone screens, that might make sense. As might rolling them up only a little, when rolling them up a lot might be rather anti-social or inconvenient.

Roll-up TV screens will be both big enough to see from a bit of a distance, and yet also small enough to carry around with you without too much fuss. So they’ll be a godsend for people giving talks in unfamiliar surroundings, where they want to show computer imagery but don’t want to depend on their hosts to supply a working big screen.

One final point, about all such developments. I vaguely recall doing a posting here about how a man I admire a lot, Steve Davies, has been arguing that we need different history dates, to celebrate the creative achievements of free people, and to replace the insignificant and frequently very destructive moments, individual or collective deaths mostly, associated with the doings of mere governments. Yes, here we are. But I now think that the whole idea of having alternative dates of this sort is a mistake. What does it matter exactly when the shipping container became the benign influence upon the world that it now is, or the Jumbo jet, or the communications satellite, or the personal computer, or the pencil, or the water mill, or the wheel? Or the roll-up TV screen? The way to identify these various gadgets is the way I just did, with words that allude to and label them. Searching for an exact date for each one is a waste of time.

Recently, I have been waving around the date that is May 24th 1844, this being exactly the day when Samuel Morse first publicly demonstrated his electric telegraph and his Morse Code. But it you want to say that the really important bit of that story happened a bit earlier, or for that matter a bit later, for this or that reason, well, fine. The point is: the electric telegraph and the Morse Code, some time around then. The whys and wherefores of these great steps forward are worth celebrating, by naming them. The exactly-whens don’t really signify. Approximately-when will do just fine. Just because we know exactly when some King died, or exactly when a particular and particularly bloody battle occurred, doesn’t mean we have to fret about exactly which bit of creativity was the most creative, in some quite long drawn-out stretch of creative endeavour, such as is now occurring with these roll-up TV screens. The point is: roll-up TV screens! Some time around … now!

Death to English!

As part of my homework for this, I read, and have carried on reading since, a book by David Crystal entitled English as a Global Language. I’m enjoying it, and I especially enjoyed this (on page 90 of my paperback edition):

International politics operates at several levels and in many different ways, but the presence of English is usually not far away. A political protest may surface in the form of an official question to a government minister, a peaceful lobby outside an embassy, a street riot, or a bomb. When the television cameras present the event to a world audience, it is notable how often a message in English can be seen on a banner or placard as part of the occasion. Whatever the mother tongue of the protesters, they know that their cause will gain maximum impact if it is expressed through the medium of English. A famous instance of this occurred a few years ago in India, where a march supporting Hindi and opposing English was seen on world television: most of the banners were in Hindi, but one astute marcher carried a prominent sign which read ‘Death to English’ – thereby enabling the voice of his group to reach much further around the world than would otherwise have been possible.

Crystal dates the rise of English, from a merely big language among other big languages to its current status as the clear front-runner for global linguistic hegemony, from the immediate post World War 2 period. I recall noticing the phenomenon some time in the 1960s, when, in Youth Hostels in continental Europe, I observed conversations between groups of Europeans (not all of them Scandinavians, by the way) in their teens and twenties, not one of whom (I have a pretty good ear for accents) was speaking English as his or her first language. Interesting, I thought. And having become interested in where English seemed to be going, I became interested also in where it had come from.

The global English story is more complicated than just the matter of educated non-Anglos communicating by means of standard English, and Crystal seems to me to tell it very well, with lots of maps and historical details of how English spread in this or that particular place.

Crystal himself is anything but an English linguistic triumphalist. He lives and works in Holyhead, in North Wales, North Wales being the part of Wales where the Welsh language is strongest. Although Crystal is a major figure in linguistics and in English teaching, I have been unable to discover how fluent he is in Welsh. But as an academic whose basic tool is the English language, he entirely gets why English has gone global. It’s just so useful, for communicating with other people.

A crime control measure from the new president of Brazil

PJ Media, quotes the Wall Street Journal, to the effect that in Brazil, the new far-right (meaning: not-left) President is going to crack down on gun crime by allowing the law-abiding citizens of Brazil to have guns too, to defend themselves. At present, Brazilian citizens are defenceless against armed criminals.

This news did not surprise me. I had the pleasure of hosting an excellent talk about recent political dramas in Brazil, given last November by Tamiris Loureiro and Bruno Nardi, Brazilian libertarians who now live and work in London. They flagged up this policy then.

It will be interesting to see how this defiance of conventional expertise will work out. Experts say: badly. But they would, wouldn’t they? Root causes of gun crime, blah blah. My prediction is: well.

Alex Epstein on the 97% lie

Alex Epstein gives a well-deserved kicking to that 97% claim:

What you’ll find is that people don’t want to define what 97% agree on – because there is nothing remotely in the literature saying 97% agree we should ban most fossil fuel use.

It’s likely that 97% of people making the 97% claim have absolutely no idea where that number comes from.

If you look at the literature, the specific meaning of the 97% claim is: 97 percent of climate scientists agree that there is a global warming trend and that human beings are the main cause – that is, that we are over 50% responsible. …

But do the “97%” even say that? And are the actual percentage that do say that right? My opinion has long been: No; and: No.

I scroll down, and am pleased to discover that Epstein agrees with me:

But it gets even worse. Because it turns out that 97% didn’t even say that. …

Marxists used to believe that Marxist tyranny was needed to rescue the world’s economy from capitalists. But that excuse collapsed long ago. The biggest economic rescue acts that are now needed are to rescue the bits of the world’s economy that Marxist tyrants have been busy ruining. So, should Marxists abandon these methods? Yes. Are they abandoning these methods? Many presumably have, and have gone silent. But others, the ones we still hear shouting their nonsense, just fabricated a different set of excuses for those same old tyrannical methods.

Samizdata quote of the day

This is an amazing piece. To censor China’s internet, the censors have to be taught the real version of Chinese history so that they know what to block.

Mike Bird comments on this piece in the New York Times.

On human culture – and on how it got printed and then electrified

This coming Sunday, January 6th, I am to give a talk at my friend Christian Michel’s home in London, about the historical impact of the technology of information storage and communication. The somewhat cumbersome title I have supplied to Christian goes like this:

The difficulty and the ease of the making of and the distribution of cultural objects: A history of human civilisation in three layers

Yes, a bit of a mouthful, but it’s a complicated story.

The pre-talk blurb underneath that title, that I also sent to Christian, and some of which Christian has just emailed out to his list of potential attenders, went like this:

I love grand theories of history, and here’s another: history in terms of the storage and communication of what is dryly known as “information”. In more vivid English, in terms of all the cultural meanings we have created for ourselves and for each other (and also at each other, so to speak) over the centuries since humans first contrived to craft meaningful messages beyond what they merely said to one another.

There are three “layers” to the story I’ll be telling, divided into three by two history dates.

Layer One: Creating “cultural objects” is difficult and so is transmitting or communicating them.

Layer Two: Creating “cultural objects” suddenly becomes much easier, for those who command the means to do it, but transmitting them or communicating them remains difficult.

Layer Three: Both creating and communicating messages becomes easy.

Layer Two starts settling on top of Layer One with the printing of the Gutenberg Bible in the early 1450s. Layer Three starts to settle on top of Layers One and Two with the invention of the electric telegraph in the 1840s. (Morse code etc.)

Layers rather than “eras”, because the cultural habits and political institutions established during Layers One and Two – the civilisational divisions of Layer One and the nationalist passions (to say nothing of printing itself) characteristic of Layer Two – never went away and are still very much with us today.

Of course there’s much more to my story than that crude summary. I will elaborate on the above simplicities as much as time permits.

I’d be interested in what the Samizdata commentariat has to say about all or any of this.

For now, I will merely elaborate a little, as I will on the night, on the matter of those “civilisational divisions and nationalist passions”.

→ Continue reading: On human culture – and on how it got printed and then electrified

Samizdata quote of the day

Admittedly it’s a low bar, but Trump is without a doubt the most conservative and most libertarian present of my lifetime, notwithstanding that he’s not really a conservative or a libertarian by instinct.

Glenn Reynolds