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]

President Bush will soon bring Gilead to America!

Some time ago a striking article by Fiona Maddocks appeared in the London Evening Standard. The link that Google gives you to the Evening Standard’s own site is dead, but I found a working one on Questia. Here it is:

A Twist in the Tale; Margaret Atwood Is Dreading the UK Premiere of the Opera of Her Novel the Handmaid’s Tale – It Will Be a Shocking Theatrical Experience

THE question all readers of The Handmaid’s Tale want to ask its Canadian author, Margaret Atwood, is: “How did you know?” Her 1986 best seller, set in a futuristic totalitarian regime called the Republic of Gilead, formerly the United States, has chilling prescience: Christian fundamentalists have seized control and imposed repressive laws, brainwashing women and depriving them of all the rights they have spent the past 1,000 years securing – education, property, freedom to give birth when and via whom they choose.

(I commented at the time, “I don’t know why poor old Dubya does hold off from imprisoning all the women and depriving them of their names so that the top men’s personal concubines are called “ofdonald”, “ofjohn” and “ofdubya”, according to the system described in the book. That’s obviously what he wants, as proven by the fact that he sometimes goes to breakfast prayer meetings, and it’s not like he gets any credit for restraint.”)

The book, already translated into 35 languages and a regular A-level and university set text, was turned into a film starring Natasha Richardson, with a script by Harold Pinter. Tonight an operatic version of this dark fable, by the Danish composer Poul Ruders and British librettist Paul Bentley, receives its first UK performance at the Coliseum, having been premiered to rapturous reviews in Copenhagen three years ago.

[…]

To underline contemporary parallels, English National Opera’s publicity material shows a woman, naked and heavily pregnant, prone on an unfurled Stars and Stripes, observed by a helmeted soldier.

“There’s nothing new in The Handmaid’s Tale,” Atwood says. “One of my rules was that I couldn’t put anything into the novel that human beings hadn’t actually done. Stories exist within the world. They’re not on some other planet called literature or the moon.” Small, droll, benignly austere, Atwood hardly strikes you as a Cassandrine figure. Only her startling eyes, clear blue, slightly exotic and almond shaped, hint at some farseeing otherness.

[…]

The general critical response was ‘what a jolly good yarn’, and that was the end of the matter. You’d had Oliver Cromwell and religious war. You wouldn’t expect it to happen again. In Canada, instead, people asked, ‘Could it happen here?’

“Well, no, probably not, because of Canada’s history and its disparate elements. Only in America did people ask, in utter seriousness, ‘How long have we got?’ They realised that they were closest of all to the real thing, especially compared to Europe, which is now so much more secular a place than the States.

“How long did they have?” asks the narrator, in an epilogue written long after the events described. Since that article was dated April 3rd 2003 and the Gileadification of America is not yet upon us we can safely answer “a minimum of 16 years, 5 months and 8 days”. But do not be deceived. Gilead is coming. Real soon now.

“The Handmaid’s Tale increasingly rings true”, writes Alice Thomson in today’s Times.

They walked, heads bowed under their white bonnets, red capes trailing along Piccadilly, past men in Lycra ogling on their bikes and into Waterstones. “Don’t let the bastards grind you down,” women shouted at the fertile handmaids as they joined the midnight celebrations for the publication of Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments. There were green drinks and talks on how to embroider feminist wall hangings. Then the 79-year-old prophet spoke, warning that her characters had a new resonance in her dystopian sequel because of threats to women’s rights.

She wasn’t just talking about President Trump boasting of grabbing women “by the pussy” and curtailing their reproductive rights but about any country trying to force women back into the “unnaturally cramped spaces” from which they had so recently emerged.

[…]

We pretend that women’s rights are still progressing, with more jobs for the girls and in some areas more equal pay, but in many ways Britain feels increasingly like Atwood’s theocracy of Gilead where women are expected to know how to cook a quiche, the man is master and only the sisterhood saves them. #Silenced, which started trending yesterday, seems to be about so much more than the proroguing of parliament: it’s about vulnerable groups, women, gays and ethnic minorities once more feeling excluded from the hierarchy. “Are we to be silenced like little mice,” as the handmaid Offred says in Atwood’s novel.

The prime minister thinks nothing of using femininity as an insult, calling Jeremy Corbyn “a great big girl’s blouse”, associating masculinity with power. The journalist William Cash wrote an article this week about having a relationship with a former girlfriend of Boris Johnson as though she were some vassal, and volunteering to bring his illegitimate child up for him. David Cameron’s “calm down dear” now seems relatively benign.

Good, so you won’t mind if I say “Calm down dear” to you.

Planned obsolescence

Leaping from link to link like a young gazelle – part of the appeal of the internet is that it is the only place where I get to do the gazella arabica thing nowadays – I came across an interesting article by Ernie Smith called “The Many Ways Planned Obsolescence Is Sabotaging How We Preserve Internet History”.

He writes,

The world of technology has a problem, and it’s not something that we’re talking about nearly enough. That problem? We keep making old stuff significantly less useful in the modern day, sometimes by force.

We cite problems such as security, maintenance, and a devotion to constant evolution as reasons for allowing this to happen.

But the net effect is that we are making it impossible to continue using otherwise useful things after even a medium amount of time. I’m not even exclusively talking about things that are decades old. Sometimes, just a few years does the trick.

A quick case in point: Google has a set date for every type of Chromebook architecture to fall into an “end of life” status, where it will no longer be developed or updated, despite the fact that it’s effectively the modern version of a dumb terminal.

And the timeframe is surprisingly short—just 6.5 years from the first use of the architecture, the machine will stop auto-updating, despite the fact an equivalent Windows machine will still be usable for years after that point.

Like many people, I find the whole phenomenon of planned obsolescence infuriating. Unlike many people, I do not believe that my feeling of fury should be assuaged by forcing other people – in this case software companies – to do my bidding. But I would still like it if planned obsolescence were less of a thing.

It’s Tom’s Diner for computers, and you are most welcome to discuss the political and ethical issues involved.

But if you did enough of that yesterday, just wallow in the computer nostalgia. Here’s a website: http://textfiles.com/. Not “https://textfiles.com”, just “http://textfiles.com”. It has stuff like Alien vs Predator. Wallow.

A reminder to Conservatives of why they should not abridge the right to keep electronic communications private

Boris Johnson’s aides say they’ll ignore a vote ordering them to hand over WhatsApps and Emails

Buzzfeed have been quick; the vote in Parliament to which the story refers took place only a few minutes ago. It may all be theatre: according to the Guardian‘s Andrew Sparrow, the government will probably say it does not have the legal power to comply with the vote even if it wanted to. It could reasonably cite the European Court of Human Rights (and before you ask, that court is not part of the European Union, though as Paul Marks is fond of observing, the two are intertwined).

What a farrago. I did consider posting this in Samizdata’s sister blog, The Great Realignment, but although this vote is part of yet another Parliamentary scheme to stop Brexit happening, its implications for civil liberties are what interest me most. In the era of the Twitter flash mob, it is within the realms of possibility that even obscure folk like you and me could be the next targets of public rage, and the Right Honourable Members are not averse to putting themselves at the head of the crowd. How would you like it if a fishing expedition by a bare majority of MPs could force you to turn over your emails and WhatsApp messages?

Discussion point: compulsory vaccination

Stop return of measles by making MMR jab compulsory, say GPs.

The Guardian headline makes it sound as if all GPs (General Practitioners) have said this. In fact only four named doctors are quoted, and when one reads the article the “compulsory” of the headline is not fully justified, but I think most GPs would agree with the government moving from a “nudger” to a shover on this issue.

The MMR jab should be compulsory for children before they are allowed to start primary school to stop the resurgence of measles and mumps, leading GPs are demanding.

Schools should ask all parents to prove their four- or five-year-old has had their two recommended doses of the vaccine before they can attend, they say in a letter to ministers seen by the Guardian.

They want school entry procedures toughened so that the only exceptions made to the new rule would be for children whose parents have registered a conscientious objection to the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine or those whose health means they cannot have it.

The four London GPs, who include a former government adviser on health policy, have urged the health secretary, Matt Hancock, and the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, to embrace the proposed change in policy.

Many a libertarian shuffles their feet when questions of herd immunity come up. The ghost of Typhoid Mary laughs. What do you think?

You’ve heard of precrime. Meet preantipathy.

The concept of “Precrime” was introduced to the world by the science fiction author Philip K Dick, whose dystopian 1956 short story Minority Report became a film in 2002 and reality in 2020 according to precogs working for the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change.

“New law needed to take on far-right extremism, says Blair thinktank”

A new law allowing for hate groups to be designated and punished before they turn to violence is needed in order to tackle far-right extremists, according to a report by Tony Blair’s thinktank, which also seeks powers to ban marches and media appearances.

Generation Identity, a racist movement that promotes a conspiracy theory that white people are being replaced by non-whites in Europe, would be among the groups targeted by new legislation, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change report said.

The law could sit alongside proscription powers, banning groups concerned with terrorism, but would not be directly linked to violence or terrorism. Rather, it would designate hate groups as organisations that spread intolerance and antipathy towards people of a different race, religion, gender or nationality, the report said.

Antipathy? They want to introduce laws that “sit alongside” the laws (sinister enough themselves) that ban groups suspected of plotting acts of terrorism before they have actually committed a crime, including the crime of conspiracy. Only these new laws would pre-emptively ban groups who might want to spread a strong feeling of dislike before they did anything about it.

The authors acknowledge that the issue of linking violent and nonviolent extremism is contentious and steps would need to be taken to protect free speech.

Very droll.

Discussion point: which little Guardian to believe?

Cartoons depict a character wrestling with his conscience by placing a little devil on one shoulder whispering sweet temptations into one ear while a little angel urges rectitude from the other side.

The Guardian says,

The Guardian view on 16-year-old soldiers: armies are for adults

But as Guido points out, the Guardian also says,

The Guardian view on the voting age: time to lower it to 16

Which little Guardian is the angel, which the devil?

I could have just asked you at what age you think children should become adults, but the two little Guardians united to demand their moment of fame. Perhaps both of them should be ignored and there should be no fixed age of adulthood. History provides no guide. From the twelve year old boys who served as “powder monkeys” during naval battles in the age of sail, to the Roman man who remained under the authority of his father for as long as the latter lived, every extreme of custom has seemed natural to those that lived under it.

Are there any oddities of law relating to the age at which young people can first do a given activity that particularly annoy you?

Can you see any way in which fourteen year olds could be stopped from buying hard drugs without the use of law? Or do you dispute that they should be stopped at all?

How we are saved from limiting ourselves

“First ads banned for contravening UK gender stereotyping rules”, reported the Guardian some days ago.

Two television ads, one featuring new dads bungling comically while looking after their babies and the other a woman sitting next to a pram, have become the first to be banned under new rules designed to reduce gender stereotyping.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned the ads for Philadelphia cream cheese and Volkswagen, following complaints from the public that they perpetuated harmful stereotypes.

The new rules, introduced at the beginning of the year, ban the depiction of men and women engaged in gender-stereotypical activities to help stop “limiting how people see themselves and how others see them and the life decisions they take”.

… by limiting what they are permitted to see and making their life decisions for them.

Mercedes benz with the prevailing wind

The Mail can be a little sensationalist sometimes. I am hoping that some of our well informed and technically aware commenters will tell me that the following story is ridiculous:

How ALL cars could spy on you like Mercedes by 2022: EU plan could see location-tracking devices fitted in new vehicles despite privacy concerns

All new cars could be fitted with devices to track down drivers that are speeding, driving irresponsibly or have fallen behind on finance payments, under controversial new plans.

From 2022 the EU wants all cars made inside the Union to feature location-tracking devices so they can monitor speed, driving behaviour and whether motorists are using safety features properly.

The black boxes have sparked a privacy row with drivers concerned they are ‘being watched’, as trackers can be activated without their knowledge.

Yesterday Mercedes was at the centre of the uproar after bosses admitted all new and used cars sold by them are fitted with trackers.

A silly and alarmist piece, right? What is being proposed is beyond the capacity of current technology, surely? Not to mention legally out of the question, irrespective of whether Britain is in or out of the EU. That’s right, isn’t it, guys? Guys?

Perils of alternate history wargaming

A father and son duo run a YouTube channel about historical tabletop wargaming called “Imperator Vespasian”. They run through demo games, talk about making and painting models and so on. Recently they were offline for about six months. They explain why in the following ten minute video:

“Unexpected side affects of Gaming! Channel update”

The two of them were creating a game called “A very British Civil War” set in an alternate-history 1938 in which Prime Minister Oswald Moseley was fighting to put down an anti-fascist rebellion. The British Union of Fascists was a playable faction. Here is a video they made about this game from six months ago.

Then the son’s school reported him to the police as a potential terrorist. Note that the father and son both say that the police were quite quick to realise that this case was not the best use of their time, and reserve their criticism for the school.

I am a little more sympathetic than are the “Imperator Vespasian” duo with the dilemma faced by schools over whether or not to bring the police in when they suspect a pupil is involved in crime as victim or perpetrator or both. The pair of them did make one unwise decision. Apparently their standard practice in their YouTube shows is to make announcements of what is happening in their games while “in character” for the various factions, with appropriate props as the backdrop. Fine when your prop is a medieval helmet, not so fine when it’s the lightning flash emblem of the BUF.

But was there really no one among the school staff who had ever wargamed? Or whose kids had wargamed, or whose kids’ friends had wargamed, or who was simply enough in touch with the lives of their male pupils to know that playing the Tyranids in Warhammer 40K does not mean you seek to literally devour all life? Given the nerdiness of historical tabletop gaming, I would have guessed that gamers were just as likely to end up as teachers as in the police force. So why did the police quickly get that this was fictional while the teachers did not?

Don’t think of it as a “power cut”, think of it as an “electricity holiday”

The BBC reports that the National Grid will “learn the lessons” after nearly one million people across England and Wales lost power on Friday.

But what lessons will those be?

The power outage happened at about 17:00 BST on Friday, National Grid said, with blackouts across the Midlands, the South East, South West, North West and north east of England, and Wales.

Industry experts said that a gas-fired power station at Little Barford, Bedfordshire, failed at 16.58, followed two minutes later by the Hornsea offshore wind farm disconnecting from the grid.

The National Grid director of operations quoted in this BBC article, Duncan Burt, has said that “he did not believe that a cyber-attack or unpredictable wind power generation were to blame”.

I do not know whether to disbelieve his disbelief. Those concerned with managing the UK’s power supply might have good reasons to keep mum about our vulnerability to cyber attack, and less good reasons for playing down the unpredictability of wind power.

Tim Worstall speculates,

One reading could be……wind farm closes down immediately as wind speed is too high. Gas plant on idle can’t spin up for some reason. Drax is low capacity because it’s burning wood chips, not coal.

On the cyber front, even if this power outage was entirely an Act of God in the insurance sense, the next one might not be. The bad guys have seen how much more damaging power cuts have become now that we are so reliant on the internet. As cashless payments become more common it will only get worse. I love cashless payments! What bliss to no longer have to worry about finding change when you’ve just found the last space in a crowded car park, manoeuvred into it with incredible difficulty while holding up the rest of the traffic, and only then remembered that you have to pay for the damn thing. But an entirely cashless society, as they seem to be moving towards in Sweden, might turn out to have its Orwellian nature tempered only by its lack of resilience.

A final observation: I have read a lot of comments from supporters of remaining in the European Union along the lines of “You think a few hours delay on the railways was bad? Just you wait until we leave the EU without a deal.” However, just as with the chaos caused by the Gatwick drone shutdown, that argument cuts both ways. All their frantic efforts to say “No Deal” must not be allowed to happen because it will cause vast queues at the ports and airports start to look a little silly when the same consequences seem likely to arise every time the wind surges or a cyber attacker gets lucky.

A little phrase to look out for

The Times Saturday magazine features the latest of its series of quick interviews in which a famous person tells the readers “What I’ve learnt”. This one is with that fine actor, Jared Harris. Among the things that Mr Harris has learned and wants to pass on to the reader is that,

“We don’t have another planet. This is it. We’ve nowhere else to go. We’re going through a crisis of denial over climate science. A very small group of people are frustrating the political will to tackle it head on. But when people’s homes become uninhabitable, they will move somewhere else. If you think it’s awkward with tens of thousands of people at the southern border of the US or with a couple of hundred thousand at the borders of the EU, what are you going to do when a couple of hundred million are on the move?”

Very stirring. But I could not help noticing that the little potted biography of Mr Harris at the top of the page says this:

The British actor Jared Harris, 57, played Lane Pryce in Mad Men, King George VI in The Crown and Valery Legasov in Chernobyl, for which he has been nominated for an Emmy. He is one of three sons by the notorious hell-raiser Richard Harris and his wife Elizabeth Rees-Williams. He splits his time between New York and Los Angeles with his third wife, Allegra.

New York and Los Angeles are 2,790 miles apart by road, and 2,450 miles apart by air. It’s a fifty-hour drive, so I think we can safely assume that Mr Harris travels between his two bases by air. Compared to most people’s, his personal carbon footprint is more like a personal carbon Tunguska crater. It must be hard to juggle the claims of a far-flung family and a demanding acting career, so I do not begrudge Mr Harris his air miles. But going from what he said, he begrudges me mine.

When reading the views of celebrities on the environment it is always worth looking out for the words “splits his time” or “divides her time” or equivalents thereof. I first saw this pointed out on a Biased BBC post back in November 2009, about a model called Helena Christensen who held an exhibition of pictures she had taken to document climate change and divided her time between Copenhagen and New York, with occasional side trips to Essex to see her agent.

If you want Pride you must allow the cry of “Shame!”

The Daily Mail shows a video in which

Muslim woman wearing a niqab shouts ‘shame on all of you despicable people’ in shocking homophobic rant at Pride march in London

This is the shocking moment a Muslim woman spits homophobic abuse at a reveller on a Pride march in east London.

The niqab-wearing woman was filmed screaming ‘shame on you’ to a woman draped in the LGBT rainbow flag during the rally on Hoe Street, Walthamstow, yesterday.

She screeches ‘God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve’ while a marshal in a high-vis jacket moves in to shield the clearly shaken Pride marcher.

The video was shared on Twitter by Yusuf Patel who wrote: ‘Disgusting homophobic abuse at those on Waltham Forest Pride today.

The report continues,

The Walthamstow arm of the Metropolitan Police said officers are investigating and branded the abuse a hate crime.

The force tweeted: ‘We are aware of footage circulating on social media of abuse directed at those taking part in the Waltham Forest Pride event and enquiries are underway.

‘Abusing someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity is a hate crime.

Put aside the question of the direction in which your first impulse of sympathy might fall, and consider whether there is any objective reason to say that the Muslim woman is aggressing against the Pride marcher rather than vice versa – or neither. The Mail writer says that the Muslim woman “spits homophobic abuse” at the Pride marcher, but she does not literally spit. It cannot have been pleasant to have been on the receiving end of that tirade, but all she ultimately did was vehemently tell the marcher that she thought they ought to be ashamed of their sexuality. The very purpose of the Pride parades, as the name indicates, is for the participants to declare that they are not ashamed of their sexuality. To that end the Pride marchers went – proudly wrapped in their rainbow flags – down Hoe Street, Walthamstow, where they knew full well that many of the inhabitants would deeply disapprove of them. (I used to live in Walthamstow, just off Hoe Street. It is not a “Muslim area” as such, but there are many Muslims there.) The law allows Pride parades to do this, just as the law allows Orange Order parades in Northern Ireland to carry their flags through Catholic areas.

The current Establishment would like to ban the Orange Order march and arrest the Muslim woman for protesting against the LGBT Pride march. In my childhood it would have been the other way round. I would not be surprised to see the cycle return to something like its starting point (although perhaps with the roles of the protected national causes and religions played by different actors) before I die. Or, just a thought, we could let everyone speak.