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]

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 linquistic 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

Happy New Year!

Here’s wishing all who read and write here a Happy …:

I don’t know why this shop near where I live was proclaiming its enthusiasm for 2019 in the particular way that it was, but I made the necessary adjustments.

What are your rules for giving a good party?

It’s the party season, here in London and presumably all around Christendom. Speaking for myself, I attended a dinner party on Christmas Eve, had a quiet day on Christmas Day, but then held a party at my home on the 28th. I have just now got back from a party at the home of a fellow Samizdatista, and will be attending another get-together on New Year’s Eve, i.e. tomorrow evening.

All of which events, my own one in particular, make me wonder: How are such events best organised? Rather than elaborate on the imperfections of my own party (imperfections which – before, during and after – got me wondering yet again about this question), let me just ask the question, of anyone who is willing to oblige with an answer or answers. How do you go about laying on a good party? What particular and perhaps rather surprising or counter-intuitive rules or recipes do you find yourself needing to keep in mind? What things, in your preparations, matter the most? What other things that many would assume to be crucial do you consider not to matter nearly so much?

Also, and closely related: What makes a great party? What’s the greatest party that you personally have ever attended? What was so great about it?

I’m leaving all these question deliberately vague just because I am hoping to be delighted and surprised by the answers, as well as merely, as a future host, informed and improved.

There are few joys like the joy of choosing what you hope will be great company and then being delighted at how well your choice worked out. But how do you, or the hosts you most admire, contrive this particular kind of miracle? I hope that any parties you have recently attended or organised, or which you are about to attend or are in the process of organising, are a great success. And I’d be delighted to hear how you think that such joy is best contrived.

Being in somewhat of a rush to get this up this evening, before I stagger into bed, I am not including any links to www-places where questions like these are already persuasively discussed and answered, basically because I do not now know of any such places, that being because I have never until now even thought to look. But that need not stop commenters rectifying this omission.

Relentlessly mocking the SJWs

Blogger David Thompson suggests that his round-up of the year might be of interest to Samizdata’s readers.

His email to me quoted how this roundup begins:

The year began on a highbrow note as the University of Denver’s Professor Ryan Evely Gildersleeve informed the world that laziness is a “a political stance,” a way to “combat the neoliberal condition,” and a “tool for contributing to social justice.” Half-arsed incompetence is, we were assured, both radical and empowering. The professor also shared his belief that plastic is sentient. Inanimate objects also troubled Dr Jane Bone, a senior lecturer at Monash University, Melbourne, who specialises in “feminist post-structural perspectives” and the political implications of problematic furniture. Dr Bone’s research involves quite a lot of “embodied knowing,” i.e., visiting IKEA and sitting on chairs. Her work, she revealed, is “not necessarily logical.” Further feminist insights came via Phoebe Patey-Ferguson, whose feminist fight club is “a mode of resistance,” because the spectacle of unhappy ladies body-slamming each other and breaking each other’s ribs is an obvious way to “destroy the Conservative government” and “bring down the patriarchy.”

Thompson adds:

That’s January. There’s another eleven months to get through.

You can read all twelve months here.

This piece by Thompson has already been noticed by Instapundit, as have quite a few of his pieces in recent months.

Dr Stephen Davies on the wealth explosion unleashed by railways

I’ve followed the career of Stephen Davies ever since I got to know him in the 1980s. Here’s a photo I took of him in my home in January 2000, when he spoke at one of my last Friday of the month meetings.

Tonight, I photoed Stephen Davies again. Well, to be exact, he was on TV, and I photoed my TV:

That’s Davies doing a talking head job on the subject of Trains That Changed The World. Good to see the Institute of Economic Affairs also getting a good plug.

I’m watching these shows now, as I write this. The transformation of the lives of the great mass of working people and their families in countries like Britain and America in the nineteenth century is being well explained. Karl Marx, were he watching, would be cursing. Immiseration? Forget it. It was more like a wealth explosion, made possible by railways, probably more than any other technology.

During the last few years, it bothered me that Davies seemed to be doing so much – lots of educational outreach for the IEA, for instance – that he might not be finding time to write any books. Oh me of little faith. In April of 2019, this book will be published:

And oh look. It will be entitled The Wealth Explosion. If what Davies was saying on the TV is anything to go by, and it surely is, then railways will figure prominently in this book.

I just noticed that the Executive Producer of Trains That Changed The World was the famously anti-anti-capitalist Martin Durkin. That explains a lot.

Nico Metten on the we-dont-want-short-and-shitty-lives lobby

I like this:

… A lot of people have this strange idea that the only thing preventing us from going off fossil fuels is the oil lobby. But it is not the oil lobby that is doing that. It is the we-dont-want-short-and-shitty-lives lobby that is behind it. In other words it is all of us. …

This is from a piece by Nico Metten for Libertarian Home, published in October of this year. That I only just gave it any serious attention is because I have been having a breather from libertarian polemics, either written by others, or doing them myself. I still haven’t properly read through this one, but already I recommend it.

It’s not that I have been entirely ignoring Nico. He is a friend of mine, and this is a photo I took of him and some of his mates in the Blackheath Halls Orchestra, at a concert of music by Debussy and Sibelius that I attended in November. The Sibelius (Symphony No. 7) was particularly good:

Nico is the guy at the back who played those big drums. Some instrumentalists can hide in an orchestra. By which I mean that they can still do some damage, but without you knowing that it’s them doing it. But the man on the big drums cannot hide. Nico was very good.

The Libertarian Home piece quoted above is also remarkable for the scathing way that Nico writes about Germany and its government. Pioneers in badness basically, once upon a time, and still. But being a German himself, Nico is allowed to say such things.

Some Merry Christmas photos

Yes, a rather belated Merry Christmas to all my fellow Samizdatistas, and similar wishes and thanks to all who read us and comment on us and on each other.

I’ve been trawling through my photo-archives for Christmas-related imagery, and here are half a dozen photos that I liked, and which I hope you will like also.

I photoed these people, many of whom were seasonally attired, in December 2012, as they disported themselves down by the riverside here in London, at low tide:

Next up, something topical, which Maplins in Tottenham Court Road was trying to sell as a Christmas present in December 2014:

Sadly, Maplins is now bust, and Tottenham Court Road’s electrical business is now in steady retreat, in the face of advances by clothes and furniture stores.

Next, taken exactly two years to the day after that drone photo, some literature. In Foyles, under the Royal Festival Hall:

Next up, a typically discontented crop of Newapapers, again, December 2016:

And finally, a couple of snaps taken in January of this year, in Lower Marsh, which is one of my favourite London haunts, or it was, until Gramex closed its doors. Sign that you’re getting old: your favourite shops keep closing. Lower Marsh is the kind of place where the effort they put into their Christmas windows tends to linger on into mid-January.

First of these last two, a selfie in a shop window, a favourite photo-genre of mine, featuring some satisfyingly ancient technology in the foreground:

I never could be doing with photography until the digital version of it arrived just before this century did, but I still use a phone like that one.

Finally, this, taken minutes later:

I don’t know what that creature is. His expression suggests that something just went wrong with his Christmas cooking.

Here’s hoping nothing goes wrong with your Christmas or with your Christmas cooking, or for that matter with mine.