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]

Why is Russia trying to influence other countries’ elections by means of targeted advertising wrong?

“Nick Clegg denies misuse of Facebook influenced Brexit vote”, reports the Guardian.

Umm, okay. A lot of people are saying “Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?”.

Sir Nick Clegg, for those readers who have forgotten this rather forgettable chap, used to be leader of the Liberal Democrats and was Deputy Prime Minister for a while, back when the Lib Dems were in coalition with the Conservatives. He lost his seat in the 2017 election, which made him sad. Then he got a “communications” job with Facebook at a salary that probably made him feel better.

So nine years after Cleggmania, here he is back on our TV screens again. The Times report on the same story says,

The former Liberal Democrat leader said that social media could not be blamed for the vote to leave the European Union.

He said: “Much though I understand why people want to reduce that eruption in British politics to some kind of plot or conspiracy — or some use of new social media through opaque means — I’m afraid the roots to British Euroscepticism go very, very deep.”

Sir Nick added: “Yes, Facebook has a heavy responsibility to protect the integrity of elections from outside interference. I also think we have a duty to explain fact from some of the allegations that have been made.”

Calling for greater regulation of the internet, he said: “We forget that though these companies are huge and affect every aspect of our lives — our social lives, our business lives — nonetheless it has all happened in such a short period of time.

It is no surprise to find Nick Clegg “calling for “greater regulation of the internet”. Not only was more regulation of corporations his schtick when he was a politico, it also suits his current employers very well. Facebook can buy another twenty floors of lawyers whenever it needs them; struggling new startups cannot.

But to hear such a lifelong Europhile admit that the roots of British Euroscepticism go deep was a surprise. He is right. Russia’s puny efforts to interfere in the EU referendum were the equivalent of the eternally slandered King Canute calling the tide forward.

But in all this debate about how effective or ineffective Russia’s “outside interference” in the referendum was I have not yet heard a convincing explanation of what exactly is wrong with “outside interference” anyway.

I need not list the real crimes – waging unjust wars, murders, domestic repression – that can be laid at Putin’s door. On an infinitely smaller scale, making use of harvested data that people did not agree to make available is a bad if commonplace thing. But what is bad in principle about Russia trying to persuade British people to vote a particular way by advertising? Where did this idea come from that only British ideas are allowed to enter British brains during an election or referendum campaign? In a democracy you are allowed to vote on any criteria you like. You can vote for a candidate because you carefully researched his or her voting record and found that it best aligned with your political beliefs, or because your family has always voted for the Reds or the Blues, or because you think the candidate has nice eyes, or because your imam told you which way to vote, or because Vladimir Putin did. They all count equally. If we were to operate a system of Juche when it comes to political thought, would that not also exclude political ideas originating in the European Union?

The choice before us

The weekend papers have been dominated by the story of how Boris Johnson and his partner had a screaming row. Their neighbours called the police (defensible, possibly admirable), recorded the row (defensible – it might be required for evidence later)… and sold the recording to the Guardian.

The Times reports,

Revealed — the neighbours who taped Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds’s quarrel

The neighbours who called police about a row between Boris Johnson and his partner are Tom Penn and Eve Leigh, a left-wing dramatist who boasted only a few days before that she had “given the finger” to the former foreign secretary.

Penn, who broke cover after questions from The Sunday Times, voted against Brexit but insisted last night that he and his wife had not acted because of politics. He said they felt “frightened and concerned for the welfare of those involved”. Johnson’s partner, Carrie Symonds, was heard screaming, “Get off me” and “Get out of my flat.”

Penn said: “With my wife, [I] agreed that we should check on our neighbours. I knocked three times at their front door, but there was no response. I went back upstairs into my flat, and we agreed that we should call the police.”

However, he admitted that even after officers called back “to let us know that nobody was harmed”, the couple decided to pass a recording they had made of the incident to The Guardian newspaper.

Penn said: “I felt that it was of important public interest. I believe it is reasonable for someone who is likely to become our next prime minister to be held accountable for all of their words, actions, and behaviours.”

In the Times comments to this story “savetheplanet” said,

Leaving aside the rights and wrongs.

I’m being offered a world run by Boris (fortunately lazy and delegates) or Corbyn and folk like Tom and Eve .

Not a great choice but Logic says Boris is the lesser of those evils.

“It’s about all of us”

There’s an interesting video story on the BBC website today:

Spearmint Rhino strippers fighting for the right to strip

Feminist[s] campaigners have secretly filmed at the Spearmint Rhino strip club in Sheffield. They claim the recording shows sexual acts taking place in the club, which breaks the licensing rules.

Ella, a stripper at the club, is furious with Not Buying It for secretly filming dancers naked and fears losing her job as the club may now lose their licence.

But Dr Sasha Rakoff who assisted the secret filming insists this was the only way to expose the dark side of the industry.

My immediate sympathies were with Ella, but I can see both sides. I support the right of women (indeed the right of all people) to do what they like with their own bodies. On the other hand, the Spearmint Rhino club agreed to abide by certain rules about what could be done on the premises, and it does seem to me as if the covert filming by “Not Buying It” made a good case that those rules were being broken. I did not find Ella’s argument that the investigators had misunderstood what they saw entirely convincing. And it won’t wash to say that the conditions of the club’s licence were merely another example of state repression; though it would be better if they were voluntarily entered contracts between private parties, zoning rules of that broad type would probably still exist in a libertarian utopia.

Still, I found this statement from Dr Rakoff problematic:

Feminism, kind of like the rest of society has been somewhat infected by these really neo-liberal, really dumbed down, simplistic, very selfish attitudes that it’s all about me, me, me and what I choose and if I choose something it’s my right. That’s not what feminism has ever been about, it’s about all of us. So even if these women do choose to be lap dancers, it’s not just about them, it’s about wider social attitudes which is breeding Harvey Weinsteins.

So, according to Dr Rakoff feminism has never been about women’s individual choices. I had heard otherwise but perhaps that merely reflects my ignorance of modern feminism. As I said in a recent post, ‘I’m still holding on to the idea that “what a feminist looks like” can include what I see in the mirror. But it is getting harder.’

I would also like to know exactly who is included in the “all of us” she mentions as having some right to override an individual woman’s choice to be a lap dancer. All of humanity? Just the female half of it? Self-identified feminists? Or just those feminists who meet Dr Rakoff’s standard of feminism uninfected with neo-liberal selfishness?

Katie Jones is the face of the future

“That LinkedIn connection could be a spy using a fake, AI-generated face”, warns Raphael Satter of the Associated Press in the Tampa Bay Times.

LONDON — Katie Jones sure seemed plugged into the Washington’s political scene. The 30-something redhead boasted a job at a top think tank and a who’s-who network of pundits and experts, from the centrist Brookings Institution to the right-wing Heritage Foundation. She was connected to a deputy assistant secretary of state, a senior aide to a senator and the economist Paul Winfree, who is being considered for a seat on the Federal Reserve.

But Katie Jones doesn’t exist, the Associated Press has determined. Instead, the persona was part of a vast army of phantom profiles lurking on the professional networking site LinkedIn.

So what’s new? Haven’t the Russkies been stealing people’s photos for years and using them to illustrate fake profiles on sites like LinkedIn? They have, but on this occasion it seems that the one thing of which they were not guilty was identity theft:

Several experts contacted by the Associated Press said Jones’ profile picture appeared to have been created by a computer program.

“I’m convinced that it’s a fake face,” said Mario Klingemann, a German artist who has been experimenting for years with artificially generated portraits and says he has reviewed tens of thousands of such images. “It has all the hallmarks.”

Klingemann and other experts said the photo — a closely cropped portrait of a woman with blue-green eyes, copper-colored hair and an enigmatic smile — appeared to have been created using a family of dueling computer programs called generative adversarial networks, or GANs, that can create realistic-looking faces of entirely imaginary people. GANs, sometimes described as a form of artificial intelligence, have been the cause of increasing concern for policymakers already struggling to get a handle on digital disinformation.

Katie is telling us that the era of evidence is drawing to a close. What changes will this bring?

Samizdata quote of the day

“Socialism always begins with a universal vision for the brotherhood of man and ends with people having to eat their own pets.”

– Toby Young, found via Guido Fawkes, who has video.

Yes. But?

In the Spectator, Brendan O’Neill writes In defence of Jo Brand:

Brand’s comedy-crime was to say the following about the recent spate of milkshake attacks on politicians: ‘Why bother with a milkshake when you could get some battery acid?’ Boom-tish. Funny? I think so. I like Brand’s dry, deadpan wit, so to me it was funny to hear her jokingly propose something so wicked in her droll tones. Others will disagree. That’s subjective taste for you.

But what we surely cannot disagree on — unless we’ve taken leave of our senses, which I think we have — is that Brand was joking. We know she was joking for the following reasons: 1) she tells jokes for a living; 2) she said it on a comedy talk show; 3) she confirmed that it was a joke. ‘I’m not going to do it’, she said, clearly remembering that we live in humourless times in which people are constantly pouncing on someone’s words as proof of their violent intent. ‘It’s purely a fantasy’, she clarified.

And

Amazingly, people have been saying that in response to the Brand controversy. The same political figures, tweeters and tabloids who normally have a field day mocking soft leftists for crying over questionable jokes or edgy ideas are now demanding the censure of Jo Brand. You staggering hypocrites. What is sorely lacking in the free-speech debate today is consistency. The whole point of freedom of speech is that it must apply to everyone. If it doesn’t, then it isn’t free speech at all — it’s privileged speech, enjoyed by some, denied to others.

So here goes: Jo Brand must have the right to joke about throwing battery acid at politicians. Jimmy Carr must have the right to make rape jokes. Frankie Boyle should be free to make fun of people with Down’s syndrome. Boris is perfectly at liberty to say women in burqas look like letterboxes. People must be free to film their dogs doing Nazi salutes. Do you get it now? When it comes to mere words and ideas, no one should ever be censured, censored or punished for anything. Literally anything.

I do not hesitate to endorse the last paragraph (though I would delete the word “censured” from “no one should ever be censured, censored or punished for anything”) but in defence of the snowflakes of the Right who are making a fuss about this, could it not be said that they are only applying the fourth of Saul Alinsky’s famous Rules for Radicals, “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.”

A month ago the YouTuber and UKIP candidate Carl Benjamin a.k.a. Sargon of Akkad was investigated by the police for saying “I wouldn’t even rape you” to the Labour MP Jess Phillips. Someone called Steve on Twitter posted this clip of what Jo Brand said about Carl Benjamin then:

“I think it shocking that politics has been reduced to vile personal attacks… especially from a twat-faced beardy tiny-cocked tosser like him.”

She delivers the line rather well, but did not seem too concerned that Benjamin was being investigated by the police for making a crass but obviously not seriously intended threat to commit a crime. Technically it wasn’t even a threat; he said he wouldn’t rape Jess Phillips. Now the boot is on the other foot. If Carl Benjamin wants some quick brownie points he should ride out in Jo Brand’s defence like a non-rapey knight in shining armour.

I assume nearly everyone who reads this believes in free speech. In the present circumstances, what should we be doing to defend it? Should we take the high road, or apply Rule 4?

“Sometimes the apologising has to stop”

In a recent GCSE English examination set by the AQA exam board the “unseen” – a piece of writing new to the students upon which they must answer questions – was an extract from The Mill, a 1935 novella by H.E. Bates.

Some curious examinees looked up the story the extract was from after the exam. But when some of them found out that the story features the tragedy of a girl in service raped and made pregnant by her employer, instead of being grateful to have their horizons widened by the realization that authors tackling the theme of sexual exploitation of women in fiction did not start with their generation, they complained. About the existence of a rape scene elsewhere in the book than in the passage they were obliged to read. The scene, by the way, is not salacious. The main criticism of The Mill as a story is that it is unremittingly bleak and depressing. You know, like The Handmaid’s Tale.

“Sometimes the apologising has to stop,” writes Janice Turner Libby Purves in the Times. (Thanks to Rob Fisher for spotting that I got the author’s name wrong.)

This advice I offer to the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance, AQA, which sets GCSE, AS and A levels. Of course it should apologise for real mistakes, but it is not an examiner’s job to endorse the more whiny hypersensitivities of the age. At 15 or 16 GCSE candidates are moving into the adult world and are usually impatient to do so. Yet last week AQA, instead of a scornful “Hah!”, caved in to some ridiculous complainers, saying it was “sorry to hear” they felt that a text “inappropriate” and would “never want to upset anyone”.

It was about a short “unseen” in the English Language GCSE, asking them how language evokes sights and feelings. It came from a little-known 1935 story by HE Bates, The Mill — such excerpts are chosen to be unfamiliar. Nothing untoward is in the set passage, though online there is some disgruntlement about the word “chrysanthemum” (“Is it a plant or what?”). But someone looked up the whole story later — quite praiseworthy really — and discovered that as it develops, a serving maid is raped by her employer and becomes pregnant. Cue outrage, much pearl-clutching and demands for trigger warnings.

Complaints snowballed on social media, and a student, Hadiatou Barry, wrote a long letter to AQA saying she was “horrified” and deploring the “blunder” which “may have very well acted as a trigger for underlying mental health issues”. Not in her, of course, but in some imagined person. Much Twitter followed: “why did AQA think it was alright to use a book about rape?? wtf,” and “what the f— AQA what the actual —? How is this a remotely OK thing?” Adults weighed in: one “memoir writing” tutor cried, “Relevant? Useful for 15/16 year olds to glean anything from? Who sets this stuff?” A mother moans, “My daughter sat an exam about rape!” Even an English teacher joined in.

Online outrage is just froth, and many of the students’ posts are breezily unbothered and funny, or just furious at having to write out the baffling word “chrysanthemum”. But the horror of the row is that AQA should offer even the mildest “sorry” and acknowledge potential “upset”. Encouraging complainers to think they have a point is, in this case, not only stupid but deeply wrong. It’s another brick in the wall of hypocritical hypersensitivity.

Added 12th June: And there’s another one today: Calorie question upsets GCSE pupils with eating disorders

An exam board has been forced to defend a GCSE maths question involving calorie counting after being criticised on social media for causing distress to pupils with eating disorders.

At least one was so upset that she left the exam after seeing the question, according to the complaints, with others saying it affected their concentration.

The question required pupils to work out the total number of calories consumed for breakfast, with weights and calorific value provided for yoghurt and a banana.

“My sister is a recovering anorexic who had to leave the exam due to this,” one young woman posted.

Another criticised the board for posing a question about calorie counting to pupils of that age. “Can I ask what on earth you were thinking by having a question around counting calories? Your exams are primarily taken by 15 to 20-year-olds, who are also the age group most likely to suffer from eating disorders,” the post read.

Here is the question in all its evil:

There are 84 calories in 100g of banana. There are 87 calories in 100g of yoghurt.

Priti has 60g of banana and 150g of yoghurt for breakfast.

Work out the total number of calories in this breakfast.

Answer: 180.9

“Lock ’em up.” “Can’t. We need one of them to be Prime Minister.”

“Michael Gove is a man who invites a number of opinions, a great deal of them unflattering, even within the Conservative party, but I am yet to meet a Tory MP who sincerely believes that it would have been better for anyone had he spent a decent chunk of the early noughties in prison. Yet the official position of his party, and that of the main opposition, is that it would.

I do not always agree with Stephen Bush, the deputy editor of the New Statesman, but ain’t that the truth?

“That’s right: it is Tory party policy that they would have been better off if one of their most dynamic administrators and a near permanent presence on the frontbench since his entry into politics had been either imprisoned or working in a minimum wage job. That might be the private view of some teachers and some particularly committed pro-Europeans but it’s an odd look for a party that might yet make him prime minister.”

Even odder that the very suggestion that the leading candidate to be prime minister might not have taken cocaine on multiple occasions elicits laughter from all quarters. In fact according to the Sun, seven of the eleven candidates for the Tory leadership admit they have used banned substances in the past. The same article adds that Boris Johnson claims that he only did it the once, but hesneezedsoitdidn’tgouphisnose, and it mayhavebeenicingsugaranyway. Now, I do not deny that kind of thing can happen. I was first offered the chance to smoke some grass when I was at secondary school. Man, that was some real grassy grass. But the idea that, having left Oxford and achieved such early success as journalist that getting sacked by the Times for falsifying a quote was but the start of his career, the freewheeling young Boris was so chastened by his early experience that he never again sought to obtain the substances so widely used by his media colleagues convinces about as well as the idea that he stuck to icing sugar thereafter. Ladies and gentlemen: Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Stephen Bush’s article in the Guardian, “Michael Gove got high but his party champions a futile war on drugs”, continues:

The overwhelming evidence from around the democratic world is that countries which have legalised drugs have seen numbers of drug deaths fall and have taken billions out of the criminal economy.

An intersection

When I watched the by now viral video of a mob jeering at and throwing a milkshake over an elderly British Trump supporter, led by a screaming feminist called Siobhan Prigent, a number of lines of thoughts got like Ms Prigent, intersectional.

– Watching the video made me angry. A year or so ago my son asked me an interesting question, “Are you still a feminist?” He knew that I had previously described myself as one. Eventually I answered that yes, I was, but that my understanding of what being a feminist entails seems to have been abandoned by most of those who describe themselves as feminists. Is Siobhan Prigent what a feminist looks like now? I’m still holding on to the idea that “what a feminist looks like” can include what I see in the mirror. But it is getting harder.

– Talk of feminism leads me to the next thought. What did that frail-looking female police officer do that was any more use than a chocolate teapot? Would a more physically imposing male officer have been more useful, or was the lack of police action when the old man was assaulted a matter of policy and nothing to do with whether the presiding teapot was male or female?

The man also claimed he was kicked in the legs, and attacked with a banner with a stick on the end. The demonstrators also attempted to remove his Make America Great Again hat – which he eventually got back.

The Londoner told how police officers removed him from the protest on Parliament Square for his own safety.

He told police that he didn’t want to officially report what had happened as he knew ‘nothing would come of it’.

“Removed for his own safety”. “He knew ‘nothing would come of it'”. Modern policing in a nutshell.

– Intersectional feminist Ms Prigent has now intersected with the consequences of her actions. She has been forced to quit her job. She says that her friends and family have been threatened and abused alongside her. If the part about her family is true that is very bad. As for Ms Prigent herself, while she certainly deserves to suffer some public scorn for her bad behaviour, doxxing someone is like breaching a dam: once the wall breaks the situation is out of anyone’s control.

There was another feminist in the news today. The Scotsman reports that “Feminist speaker Julie Bindel ‘attacked by transgender person’ at Edinburgh University after talk”

“We had had a very positive meeting – I was speaking about male violence against women and never even mentioned transgender people – and when I came out this person was waiting.

“There had been a protest outside earlier, but that had gone so he was obviously waiting for me.

“He was shouting and ranting and raving, ‘you’re a f***** c***, you’re a f****** bitch, a f****** Terf” and the rest of it. We were trying to walk to the cab to take us to the airport, and then he just lunged at me and almost punched me in the face, but a security guard pulled him away.

“I got my phone out to film him to get evidence and he went for me again. It took three security guys at the stage to deal with him.

And

After the attack, it was revealed on social media platform Twitter that her attacker was a transwoman called Cathy Brennan, who it has been reported has previously advocated violence against women.

At this point I tried to research a little more about Cathy Brennan, but I’ve deleted what I said on the grounds of complete confusion. It seems that there are two people with the same name prominent on opposite sides of the debate. At least two. It doesn’t help in determining who’s who that half of the relevant Twitter accounts have now been deleted.

The Scotsman article continues,

“Brennan has previously tweeted in support of violence against women who believe that changing the Gender Recognition Act to allow people to self-identify as any gender, rather than needing a medical diagnosis, would endanger women’s rights to safety, privacy and dignity by doing away with single-sex spaces. One tweet read: “Any trans allies at #PrideLondon right now need to step the f**kup and take out the terf trash. Get in their faces. Make them afraid. Debate never works so f**k them up”

I have borne a grudge against Julie Bindel since she called me a rape defender about ten years ago. In the comments to an article she wrote for the Guardian I had brought up the possibility that not every claimed rape had actually occurred. Since then Ms Bindel’s version of radical feminism has been overtaken by another strand and she now finds herself on the receiving end of the denunciations she once handed out so freely. Still, I never heard she attacked anyone with anything other than words.

Discussion point: should you negotiate with crazies?

The Times reports,

North Korea’s senior negotiator with the United States has been executed by firing squad because of the failure of Kim Jong-un’s last summit with President Trump, according to a South Korean newspaper.

Some of these grisly stories about executions in North Korea have turned out turned out not to be true – although with a ruler who shares the penchant of so many tyrants for suddenly turning against those closest to them, any statement offered by the North Korean government that Mr Kim Hyok-chol has not been executed should probably be followed by the word “yet”.

How should we deal with the likes of Kim Jong Un? I noticed that President Trump was denounced for being incapable of diplomacy before the ill-fated summit, lambasted for cosying up to dictators when it seemed to be going well, and excoriated for having caused relations to break down now. Some commenters seem to blame Trump for the deaths of Kim Hyok-chol and his team.

On the other hand perhaps the denouncers, lambasters and excoriators have made a good point despite themselves: whatever Trump did vis-à-vis Kim was likely to go horribly wrong. Maybe it would be better not to talk to unstable nuclear-armed tyrants at all?

Edit (3rd June): Another Kim among those reported to have been purged, Kim Yong-chol, has reappeared. This is a different man from Kim Hyok-chol (Korea has a very small range of both family and personal names) but the presence of Kim Yong-chol at a concert in the company of the dictator, combined with the absence of any official report of executions among the other members of the team sent to America, suggests that the earlier report that Kim Hyok-chol was executed may have been a false alarm.

Correct priorities

Viewers upset as BBC One replaces Homes Under the Hammer with Theresa May’s resignation speech

Fans of Homes under the Hammer were upset after the BBC replaced the show to make way for Theresa May’s resignation speech.

Viewers of the popular home renovation and auction series said they were “furious” that the BBC decided to move the latest episode – scheduled for 10am on BBC One – over to BBC Two, in order to air Mrs May’s statement to the public.

The Prime Minister’s tearful announcement that she would be stepping down was met with sympathy and support by many on Twitter, but not by angry audiences of the morning show.

“I’m absolutely furious.. this news has ruined my day.. thanks to this event they moved Homes Under The Hammer to BBC2 and I didn’t know.. nearly missed it,” tweeted one user.

While another wrote: “Couldn’t you have done this at 11? I’m missing Homes Under The Hammer. #theresamayresigns. Worst PM ever.”

The trouble with “political theatre” is that life imitates art

“This Milkshake Spring isn’t political violence – it’s political theatre”, wrote Aditya Chakrabortty in the Guardian the day before yesterday.

From Nigel Farage to Tommy Robinson and Carl Benjamin, dangerous figures on the right are being reduced to ridicule

Today’s “dangerous figure on the right” was an elderly Brexit Party teller called Don:

Brexit Party teller attacked by milkshake

Don, A Brexit Party teller and 22 year army veteran in Aldershot described as a “popular man with the local community,” has been attacked by a man on a bike with a milkshake. Former Army Major Dominic Farrell described the scene…

“Bloke on a cycle passed by, saw his rosette, gave him the finger and abuse, then went to a shop, bought the milkshake and attacked him.”

How do people think this is acceptable..?