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]

The ‘soft bigotry of low expectations’ is getting harder

Idea that 2+2=4 is western imperialism

Fifty years ago, the BBC screened a dramatised documentary series about the fight to abolish the slave trade. Even a year of the virus limiting new series, at a time of great BBC eagerness to talk about racism, has not made them screen it again.

– I see one reason why they have not: the series displayed sleazy white slave traders and abusive white slave owners prominently, but it also showed white people eager to end the slave trade and (much worse) black people eager to continue it. It included the king of Dahomey’s threat: “if you do not allow me to sell you my slaves, their fate will be a great deal worse” (a very brief scene of the Dahomey murder spectacle lent meaning to his remark). After abolition was voted, it showed a white slave trader assuring the Dahomans, as a drug dealer might his suppliers, “It is one thing for parliament to pass a law …”, hinting at the Royal Navy’s long and hard campaign to enforce it.

– Only recently did I spot another reason why they would not want to show it again – the scene in which a corrupt old white slave trader warns his young colleague that “it’s more than your life’s worth” to doubt the ability of their slave-selling hosts to count very accurately the quantity of trade goods being handed over in exchange, and to assess their quality knowledgeably. The traders well knew that Africans counted two plus two as four, just as they did. Any trader who imagined that black ability to add diverged enough from white to enable an attempt to short-change them had learned otherwise long before the 1780s.

– The southern Confederacy thought the same. Until its death throes, it forbade enlisting a southern black as a Confederate soldier because, as one Confederate senator put it, “If blacks can make good soldiers then our whole theory of slavery is wrong.” (Perhaps also because even southern white Democrats realised that southern black desire to fight against blacks being freed was likely to be a very minority taste.) But there was one exception. Every regiment had its regimental band, which played to set the pace at the start and end of marches, used trumpets to signal commands in battle – and fought when other duties did not supervene. From its start to its end, Confederate law said any black could enlist as bandsman, with the same pay and perquisites as a white – a very rare example of formal legal equality. (Playing music requires the ability to count time. For the woke, ‘dismantling the legacy of the Confederacy’ apparently includes dismantling its realisation – shared by the Victorian composer Dvorak – that blacks often excelled in music so much as to overcome prejudice against black ability. Today, it’s ‘racist’ to value instrumental skill.)

‘Politically correct’ has meant ‘actually wrong’ ever since the first commissar explained to the first party comrade that it was neither socialist nor prudent to notice a factual error in the party line. ‘Structurally racist’ is PC’s modern companion. No longer are the woke content merely to imply (“mathematics is racist“, “punctuality is racist“, “politeness is racist“) that blacks can’t count, can’t tell the time and can only behave crudely. They’re starting to say it in words of fewer syllables.

So how does one avoid being a racist when cancel culture calls it ‘racist’ to expect any black man you meet to be able to add? First, decide which you would rather oppose: ‘structural racism’ or actual racism. If the latter, then decide whether you have the courage to do more than dislike it in the privacy of your own mind. The BBC series showed the voyage of the Zong, when the captain threw many slaves overboard to check a pandemic onboard – or was it just to convert them into insurance losses? The scene was directed to imply that some officers did not entirely like doing this – but it would not have helped anyone’s career to have refused. Only in a metaphorical sense will white intellectuals today throw overboard an off-message black colleague. Perhaps the Zong’s crew consoled themselves that, after all, it was only black people being thrown overboard. Perhaps woke whites today console themselves that, after all, as Joe Biden put it, if you don’t vote Democrat then “you ain’t black”. Besides, if

“Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.” (George Orwell, 1984)

then clearly it is the duty of Critical Race Theory to ensure that is not granted.

This too shall pass. Years ago, the left decided that Stalin in Russia was “not real socialism”, nor Mugabe in Zimbabwe, nor Chavez in Venezuela – but only long after Orwell, and the year 1984, and the Soviet Union itself, had died. One day, the woke will decide that it is “not real anti-racism” to claim that black people have open minds on whether 2+2=4. Later still, they might decide it was “not real anti-racism”. But for now, just as it was once an insult to “the workers’ state” to mention how many workers Stalin killed, so we are still well into the period when asking how many black people were murdered in Ferguson or Minneapolis by the riots, or since the riots, is as ‘racist’ as classical music, mentioning the holocaust during a class discussion of racism, skiing, cheese, advising persons of colour to exercise, camping, quantum theory, acronyms, alfresco seating, grammar, beer, snow ploughs, evergreen trees, praising the fund-raising efforts of Captain Tom, individualism, interracialmarriage or questioning the existence of structural racism.

I had a very much longer list of increasingly bizarre things that exemplify structural racism – none of them repeated from my last list – but as I typed links to the structural racism of such innate features of the human condition as time and sleep, I reflected that the first was passing, and soon I should start doing the second.

Buy Large Mansions

1909: “Socialism … It’s a grand scheme. You work for the equal distribution of property and you start by collaring all you can and sitting on it.” P.G.Wodehouse (comic author), ‘Mike and Psmith’.

2021: “I practice Marxism by getting rich and supporting my family.” Patrisse Khan-Cullors (BLM co-founder), TV Interview

Buy Large Mansions‘ was not something I expected to see added so soon to ‘Black Lives Murdered‘, ‘Bullshit Marxist Lies‘ and other clarifications of the acronym. It was obvious from the start that Chavez and his family would become stinking rich as Venezuelans starved, that Mugabe’s wealth would grow as his country’s vanished, but usually the socialists themselves say it openly only a good many years after seizing all power, not just a few months after stealing an election.

I think it was de Toqueville who said of nineteenth-century French revolutionaries: “I had the impression they were play-acting the French revolution much more than continuing it.” The same impression led Karl Marx, echoing Hegel, to write that history happens twice: “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” In that sense, Patrisse is indeed realising Marx’s vision.

She is also embodying P.G.Wodehouse’ joke. Foreseeable, avoidable tragedy is farcical. National Socialism conquered Germany, then Europe, before being pulled down by almost all the combined strength of the remainder of the world – and that was shameful, Hannah Arendt pointed out, because it was also ridiculous. The current state of the western world is less grave (as yet), but it is already shameful – because it is already ridiculous.

Courage in Comedy

Courage is not just a virtue; it is the form of every virtue under test. For a kindness or honesty which is only kind or honest while it is safe is not very virtuous. Pontius Pilate was merciful – till it became risky. (C.S. Lewis)

It’s not just virtue that needs courage. Jokes can need a little courage too. On one of Prince Philip’s visits to Australia, a virtue-signalling politico decided he would be asked the same questions as any immigrant.

Border Official: “Do you have a criminal record?”

Prince Philip: “I had no idea it was still a requirement.”

Witty remarks need wit – and timing (the worthlessness of ‘l’esprit d’escalier’ – that clever retort you think of whle descending the starcase after the party – has been proverbial for centuries). Humour cannot survive a too-timid inner censor (“Can I really say that? Dare I really say that?”) stealing the moment.

I’m not just talking about the overt courage some jokes need. That can be very real of course. Christabel Bielenberg fell in love with a German in 1932 and married him in 1934.

‘There can’t be many weddings in which the father of the bride stops the car on the road to the church and says to his daughter, “You can still call it off.”

In the very last days of WWII in Europe, she walked into the mayor’s office in the German community where she lived and noticed that the picture of Adolf Hitler was missing from the wall. Seeing her glance, the mayor explained he had put it in the fire the day before. Christabel thought of a joke about Adolf and his picture, automatically reminded herself not to say it out loud – and then realised with delight that for the first time in many years she could say it out loud, she no longer had to think first whether everyone present was ‘safe’. In the joke, Adolf muses to his picture, “I wonder what will happen to us after the war?” The picture replies, “I don’t wonder – I know: you’ll be hung and I’ll be unhung.” The mayor, like the vast majority of Germans, had never heard it – and till the day before would not have dared laugh at it. He spent the rest of the aftenoon suddenly guffawing and murmering, “hung – unhung”. Despite everything, the new freedom to laugh seems to have been a relief to him too. He – unlike Christabel but like too many Germans – had not had the courage to remain aware of his inner censor during the Nazi years; it had become part of him.

It’s not just the comedian who needs a little courage. The audience can also use a little of it. Prince Philip once joked to a British student in China that if he stayed there too long he might acquire ‘slitty eyes’. Thinking people (people not too scared to think) know that a joke does not mean what it literally says (and that Prince Philip did not imagine that the facial features of other nationalities could be caught through proximity, like a disease). Imagine that, back in 1937, visiting a family funeral in Germany, he had told a British student there to beware staying too long lest his head become squarer. The alleged ‘squareheads’ of native Germans in the first half of the 20th century betokened the too ordered, too obedient, too constrained thoughts within them, as the alleged ‘slitty eyes’ of native Chinese in the second half betokened the deceitful propaganda of the CCP. It should not be hard to get the joke’s point – unless of course, the very idea of thinking about an ethnic slur before condemning it is too terrifying to contemplate. “Do not trust China. China is asshole.” as a chinaman in Hong Kong more recently put it.

Orwell explained that putting the mind in a politically-correct box kills a writer’s creativity. Such cowardly conformity also hurts the sense of humour – the sense of humour.

The courage to joke also helps if your position tends to make others nervous:

“I realised afterwards that all his so-called ‘gaffes’ were quite the reverse. They were masterclasses in putting people at their ease. If he’d kept the royal drawbridge up and encouraged deference, all he would have had in his 73 years as the Queen’s husband would have been a series of terrified, tongue-tied people to talk to at a thousand events. For a serious, curious, clever man, that would have been agony. What he wanted was information, and perhaps a few laughs.” (The Truth about Prince Philip’s Gaffes)

And facing your death with courage will often mean facing it with humour. When the brilliant Oxford mathematician Sir Michael Atiyah (not so long before his own death) told Prince Philip how sorry he was to hear he was standing down from official duties in late 2017, Prince Philip replied:

‘Well, I can’t stand up much longer!’

The freedom to make a joke. The freedom to take a joke. Freedoms worth tending in the garden of your mind.

The logic of absurdity

The authorities police their lockdown laws as if the virus was reliably woke and as reliably anti-Christian – as if PC protests had a mysterious immunity but a church service was sure to be a superspreader event.

In Canada, a Polish priest showed how to say ‘no’ to PC Karen and her colleagues (video) when they tried to halt an Easter service. When a London PC Karen did the same, the response was less forthright, but maybe the London Polish Christians will learn from their Canadian cousins’ example. Meanwhile, sympathisers advised the Londoners to celebrate Easter outside Batley Grammar School, since the police are loathe to obstruct religious gatherings there.

Interrupting a Polish church’s Easter Friday and Easter Sunday services in London (that appear to have been legitimate under current lockdown rules) while overlooking a “killthebill” protest in Bristol (that appears to have been as clearly in violation of them) allows an unfortunate interpretation: that PC Karens will bite the hand that feeds them and kiss the foot that kicks them; will bully those who defer to them and defer to those who bully them.

(For the benefit of non-UK readers, ‘the bill’ refers to a policing act before parliament. ‘The Bill’ – a.k.a ‘The Old Bill’ – is also a UK idiom for ‘the police’. The chosen hashtag of these protests could thus be seen as regrettable, as regards some of those involved, and unpleasantly appropriate as regards others.)

I think there are those in the police who do not like this message – but someone in authority in London thought it a great idea to invade an Easter service on the same weekend as the latest Bristol protest was being ‘light-touch’ policed.

If I’ve learnt one thing from my years of programming, it is that the computer does what you actually told it to do, not what you thought you were telling it to do. Humans are not computers – we often begin by hearing the propaganda, decoding the intent and doing that instead – but when the actual message is this obvious, it can cut through. If it cuts through to the extent of inspiring more churches to follow the example of the Canadian Polish priest, I’ll be a happy man. It could go beyond that.

Corpses to the people said,
“You’ll be racists when you’re dead.”

Death in America is acquiring new terrors.

It was already understandable if a dying Republican feared rising from their grave to vote Democrat, like a vampire harming what their life valued. (A democrat who voted “early and often” could anticipate this too, of course, but without dreading it – their undeath would echo their life.)

But now, even the politically correct must wonder what very different character they will acquire after death.

– In the 1940s, Dr Seuss author Theodor Geisel urged writers to avoid racist stereotypes, but the dead Geisel has been resurrected onto the public stage in the 2020s as a racist. His book ‘If I Ran the Zoo’ shows two visiting Africans in native African garb! What racism!!! (?) Everyone knows it is terribly racist not to portray Africans in culturally-appropriated western garb because African dress is so inferior to western, er, um, what I mean is because it’s so hurtful to remind Africans of their pre-colonial, er, well, er, that is, um, maybe I should avoid trying to explain the subtle critical race theory involved lest I travesty it – or, worse offense still, summarise it more clearly than the original.

– Sidney Poitier spent many of his 94 years defending his race – and had better cling to life because he is scheduled for resurrection as (too) white. He looked pretty black to me in ‘Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner’ but Critical Race Theory makes it hard to be black enough.

– Adam Smith wrote that slavery was ‘cruel’, slaveowners ‘contemptible’ and blacks in the Americas not innately inferior to their white owners – and taught the economic superiority of free enterprise over slavery. But his grave is the resting place of an appalling racist who despicably recorded that slavery in his day was almost universal, being absent only in the British Isles and parts of western and central Europe.

I’ll let readers decide which is the worst fate – and which of Smith’s writings, Sidney’s films or Seuss’ cartoons represents the most extreme case of “Who you gonna trust? Wokeness or your lyin’ eyes.” The doctrine that you must confess racism but can never be absolved of it no longer has a “this side of death” exit clause – and it seems to be getting more inclusive. In the old song, the corpses warn the living that no matter what they do in life, they will all look like the dead when they too are dead – just as rotting and skeletal. Likewise, no matter how hard people serve the cause or cringe to it in life, when they are dead, they will all look like racists to the next generation of woke, as past generations do to the current one – because this PC war on the past, on past authors like Geisel and past actors like Poitier and past thinkers like Smith, isn’t about the past. It’s about the future – who gets to rule, and under what terms. As ‘1984’ put it:

He who controls the present controls the past.
He who controls the past controls the future.

A decade ago, Orwell would have been unpersonned for not saying ‘She or he who…’ but that wouldn’t have saved him for not saying ‘Ze who…’ today.

‘Time’ to neutralise the truth

That many men were undone by not going deep enough in roguery; as in gaming any man may be a loser who doth not play the whole game. (Henry Fielding)

The temptation to go just deep enough but not too deep is very understandable. If Hillary had won in 2016, there is much we might never have suspected, let alone known, about how she was helped. It was a great surprise to the deep state to learn they had not gone deep enough.

This time round, they went deep enough. But history teaches us that that too has its problems. When you have to go deep indeed to go deep enough, even the most determined propaganda denial may have to ‘evolve’ over time.

For example, in December 1934, Stalin arranged for Kirov, head of the communist party in Leningrad, to be assassinated – and over the next few years convicted millions for being part of the ever-expanding conspiracy accused of the murder – but the story of how it happened kept changing.

Finally, in 1938, the Soviet view took the form it was to keep until 1956: … the assassination … had been facilitated by Yagoda, head of the Soviet secret police. … This change of line, which contained elements of the truth, was designed to mask or neutralise the real version, which began to circulate in the secret police within weeks of the crime … (Robert Conquest, The Great Terror)

It’s an old propaganda technique – but a risky one – to confirm a half-truth to mask the truth.

‘Time’ magazine is taking the lead in ‘evolving’ the MSM’s election narrative. As late as a week ago, it was “baseless” to claim that 2020’s huge increase increase in vote-by-mail (“the largest source of potential voter fraud) had other suspicious characteristics. But now, the “safest election ever” was in fact “fortified” by a elite cabal.

This was not news to me, of course, but the spin may be a bit of a whiplash for some. I agree with Neo’s take: it was going to come out in time, so better for the cabal that it come out in ‘Time’; someone had to neutralise the truth. It’s the past tense of the woke Law of Merited Impossibility – not “That will never happen (and you’ll so deserve it when it does)” but “That never happened (and what a good thing it did)”. As the deep state went abruptly from not existing to being the heroes a year ago, so ‘Time’ has replaced ‘baseless” with praise of this solid base.

However if I were Joe Biden, I would rather have seen this article after more than a year in the White House than after less than a month.

All who died on the 6th supported Trump. What else do we truly know?

Truth is the daughter of time. Meanwhile, what do we actually know about the events of the 6th?

Ashli Babbitt died because she was shot. Three protestors died of medical emergencies (it happens in crowds but still …). And Brian Sicknick, a Capitol policeman, a Trump supporter and no friend to the deep state died.

[BE AWARE: truth is indeed the daughter of time. The first sentence of the next paragraph now appears to be completely incorrect – evidence of how someone cautious of the MSM can still be deeply deceived by them. Read the final paragraph of this post for summary and links to better information about Brian’s death.]

Brian died because a man threw a fire extinguisher onto a group of policemen and it struck him. (The clear video hasn’t prevented some accounts, and even more comments, confabulating tales of his being beaten to death by a frenzied mob, but you can click the link to see what actually happened – a professional-looking strike by a man who approaches from the left of the video and then as swiftly retreats when the deed is done.) Throwing a fire extinguisher is no way to kill a specific targeted person, but it is a way to inflict death or injury on a random policeman. (Four years ago, in early 2017, the rioters threw concrete blocks at the police – luckily, IIRC, no-one was killed then.)

Andy Ngo said it did not look like Antifa to him. He was in England at the time, not Washington DC, so is working from videos of the event, but he has a great deal of experience of what Antifa in Portland look like. Michael Yon says in this video that it looked like standard Antifa false flag agent-provocateur tactics to him. He was there outside the Capitol and he has seen Antifa in Portland (and has seen many protests around the world). Michael Waller, another eyewitness, is very sure he saw agent-provocateurs, and that some were Antifa false flags – and is not so sure about others. The impeachers and the MSM remain in denial but gradually others – even the FBI – are deciding that the crowd listening to Trump’s split infinitive (“to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard”) were not first on the scene at the Capitol.

One thing seems clear. The US right believe in the second amendment – and in their right to shoot second, to shoot back. If last Wednesday had been a coup attempt, the shooting of Ashli would have been met with return fire. This was no coup attempt. Whatever the first-at-the-Capitol group intended, it was not that.

One thing is not yet clear to me. Who were they, really, and what was their goal? It is horrible to think that Brian Sicknick may have been killed by someone from the side he sympathised with. It is horrible – and dangerously consoling – to think he was killed by an enemy activist wearing a reversed Trump hat.

– On the one hand, the collusion investigation in the first two years of Trump’s presidency and the impeachement a year ago were both deep state operations. Both were designed to deflect and delay they themselves being investigated (for the FISA warrants / Fusion GPS stuff, for Biden’s exploiting US aid to get the investigator of his son’s employer fired). This could just be third time round – a false flag operation to enable a riot-justified impeachment to drown out discussion of election fraud.

– On the other hand, more than once since the election, I’ve seen posts note that people are so angry about the steal that ‘someone on our side’ might do something violent. In November 2012, Republicans felt disappointed but not cheated – everyone could see there had been some vote fraud but they could also see that Obama won anyway. It’s different now. Throwing a fire extinguisher onto a bunch of cops facing away from you, not at some politicians or deep staters, doesn’t fit my idea of what that anger would prompt, but in such volatile situations all sorts of things can happen, so who really knows. Remember also that pollsters before the election sometimes asked not, “Will you be voting for Trump?”, but ,”Will your neighbour be voting for Trump?”, knowing that cancel culture meant the latter question gave a more accurate answer to the former. The idea of political violence in the US is ugly. So is the idea of a blatantly stolen election being supinely endured. Did some people think these neighbours could become violent?

We may know more in time, but, as Natalie points out, we cannot trust the MSM to report whatever does not suit them. Meanwhile we must live in interestingly uncertain times.

[CORRECTION (February 2021): I was made aware the day after I wrote this post that the fire extinguisher incident may have had nothing to do with Brian’s death. This has since been admitted so widely that I feel I should alert any late-coming readers to the fact. It appears that an extinguisher was thrown at some police by one man, but it seems this did not cause death, and Brian’s death is looking more like another medical emergency death. It also appears to have happened after the Capitol protest was over and in another location.]

That’s Niall Ferguson, not Neil Ferguson

North American academia is in the grip of a hideous mania, a cross between the early-modern witch craze and Mao’s Cultural Revolution, in which implacable zealots conduct grotesque show trials, innocent individuals have their reputations, careers and sanity destroyed, and everyone else cowers, terrified that they will be next to be ‘canceled’. (Niall Ferguson, blurb from Quillette book, ‘Panics and Persecutions’).

Now let’s be accurate here. The millions of victims of Mao’s cultural revolution had a very high tendency to end up dead. In early-modern England, you were vastly less likely to be suspected of being a witch, and suspected witches had far better odds: 60% of English witch trials ended in acquittal, and in fully half of those that convicted, the penalty was not death (and those statistics include the notorious brief episode of Matthew Hopkins under the puritans during the civil war, without which they would be noticeable less lethal still). But even an English witch faced greater physical danger than the modern western ‘cancelled’. Who was more cancelled than Mark Judge, but he is still alive and even earning money – washing dishes.

In short, Niall Ferguson’s comparisons, like Neil Ferguson’s pandemic models, exaggerate. What Niall describes is a vile change from academia a few decades ago (politically one-sided though that already was), but it could yet be very much worse – and maybe one day will be if we neglect Edmund Burke’s wise warning:

The only thing necessary for the victory of evil men is that good men do nothing.

A self-surpassing argument about the (‘not quite’) stolen election

Most attempts to claim the election was not stolen for Biden demand you ignore its blatant statistical oddities – so are wholly unconvincing. J. Christian Adams has been fighting voter fraud corruption since long before Eric Holder shut down his cast-iron case against the Black Panthers over ten years ago. Christian makes the statistical oddities a key part of his theory – that what happened is “sadly, generally legal”.

Two things happened in 2020. First, COVID led to a dismantling of state election integrity laws by everyone except the one body with the constitutional prerogative to change the rules of electing the president – the state legislatures.

Second, the Center for Technology and Civic Life happened. … left-leaning donors Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan gave $350 million to an allegedly “nonpartisan” nonprofit, the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), which in turn re-granted the funds to thousands of governmental election officials around the country to “help” them conduct the 2020 election. … billionaires made cash payments to 501(c)(3) charities that in turn made cash payments to government election offices. … It converted election offices in key jurisdictions with deep reservoirs of Biden votes into Formula One turnout machines. …

As far as it goes, this is sadly sensible. My sole but absolutely central criticism of the argument of Adams (whom I respect) is that it cannot go so far without going further. US politicians have been trying to build formula 1 turn-out machines for two centuries. The law of diminishing returns means that turning-out actual voters gets harder and harder as the percentage racks up. The obvious shortcut of just turning out votes is very much easier – and has also been practiced for two centuries. Adams provides a context for poll workers cheering as Republican observers are excluded – but that’s also the context for what happens after they are removed. Wealthy Dem donors can build this machine but there is a psychological improbability, which in today’s cancel culture becomes a psychological impossibility, that they could build a machine that would turn out inner city voters in such numbers while at the same time respecting their secret ballot choice, freedom from fear of its compromise, and so on.

This psychological impossibility is fully matched by statistical rebuttal of any claim that they did. Adams analysis provides a counter-argument to “the bizarre turn-out percentages alone prove fraud”. But by the self-same token, it provides a counter-argument only to “the bizarre turn-out percentages alone prove fraud”. The statistics of ratios and co-anomalies are just as telling as before. The machine did indeed go thus far and much further. It was criminal even in its own corrupted terms.

All this is probably not fair to what Adams actually meant when he said “sadly, generally legal”. Firstly, because he well knows that

fraud was a problem. …Mail ballots went to dead people. Mail ballots went to abandoned mines in Nevada. Mail ballots went to vacant lots in Pittsburgh. Mail ballots went in the garbage. Mail ballots were voted by people other than the voter.

Secondly because he probably just as well knows that a law on the books says that you cannot visit a Minneapolis minority suburb and burn down properties, but if the operation of the law means the perpetrators predictably evade penalty and the owners as predictably fail to gain remedy, then there is sadly a sense in which it is legal. Laws in various books say the secrecy of the ballot must be respected, and all and only legal ballots counted, but if ignoring secrecy sleeves carries no penalty even when seen, if poll counters (not just formula 1 turnout machines) act location-aware, and reported examples gain no remedy, then it could be said that, like some of Trump’s tweets, Adams “sadly, generally legal” should be taken seriously if not literally.

Walter Williams and Western Civ

thou was the meekest man and the gentlest that ever ate in hall among ladies. And thou were the sternest knight to thy mortal foe that ever put spear in the rest.

(Sir Ector, speaking at the death of Sir Lancelot, on the last page of the Morte d’Arthur.)

Holding a black belt in karate, Walter was a tough customer. One night three men jumped him — and two of those men ended up in a hospital.

The other side of Walter came out in relation to his wife, Connie. She helped put him through graduate school — and after he received his Ph.D., she never had to work again, not even to fix his breakfast.

Thomas Sowell’s obituary of Walter Williams, who died on December 2nd.

I tagged this ‘sui generis’, because Sowell also wrote:

Walter Williams was unique. I have heard of no one else being described as being “like Walter Williams.”

Good news! I can believe my eyes.

I’m not one to stay up late watching an election count – let alone stay up even later to watch a US one (and I discourage the habit in my nearest and dearest). I always tell myself (wrongly, as you shall see) that the result will look just the same in the morning whether I follow it overnight or not. So a month ago on Wednesday 4th, by the time we were up, had breakfast and started looking at how it was going across the pond, it was past 8 o’clock in my (Greenwich) time zone (much the same time of day as it was when the household first learnt we’d won the Brexit referendum four years earlier).

At that moment, Trump was the bookies’ clear favourite to win. Browsing the election map for five or ten minutes, I saw why they were giving him such strong odds. The cumulative vote total graphs for each candidate in the swing states were curving over towards flatness and the gaps below Trump’s lines, above Biden’s, were sufficient. I started to get on with the day’s business, still glancing at the electoral map at times.

Then I saw the one of the four anomalous data points analysed in this article*. That is, I looked away from my computer screen momentarily, drank some more tea, looked back – and wondered if my (rather good!) memory for figures had abruptly failed me. What it said simply didn’t fit what I remembered when I’d started sipping my still-very-hot cup of tea.

It was an astonishing thing to see.

That was in Wisconsin. While I was still trying to check my memory, Michigan did the same, as another of the paper’s four anomalies hit. By 9 o’clock UK time, the bookies were rethinking things – and so was I. I did some work, then went out for a walk and got back around half-past eleven, just in time to see the last anomaly take effect in Michigan.

The linked analysis of these four events is very easy to read – or so say I, but for five years my work was researching aspects of statistical anomalies, so here is my summary for anyone who feels differently.

Batches of counted votes can be very unbalanced towards either candidate or they can be large, but there is a strong inverse relationship between the two. The paper analyses a lot of data to show the improbability of both very unbalanced and very large. This is a good test because it tends to get past fraudsters, who are focussed on the raw margin of votes more than the ratio or the batch size.

A secondary tell – and this one is already well-known in fraud detection in third-world countries – is improbable ratios of the losing candidate to minor candidates, e.g. Trump getting little more than twice as many votes as the minor candidates in the second Michigan anomaly when the state’s average (calculated including that data point) was 31 to 1. The paper finds this combination of grossly-violated size-margin ratio and grossly-violated Trump-to-third-party ratio particularly suspicious (as do I). It also computes what happens if you pull these four data points in towards merely the 99th percentile of the size-margin relationship – leaving them still anomalous but not so wildly implausible. (Biden loses his alleged lead in all three states.) It also notes some related statistical oddities.

My guess is that the idea of the US waking up to what I’d woken up to – Trump the heavy odds-on favourite – terrified his enemies. Their pre-election narrative was that Trump would at first ‘appear’ to win, after which ‘days and weeks of counting’ (Zuckerberg) would show he had lost. But while Zuckerberg promised to ‘educate’ America to believe in that, I think someone in the early hours of the 4th panicked that if the US electorate woke up to a bookies-call-it-for-Trump breakfast on Wednesday morning, that would never be erasable from the US mind, no matter how many votes they then ‘found’. So they made sure that didn’t happen. (You never know: it might yet be that what they did to prevent that becomes equally hard to remove from America’s consciousness. You don’t have to be a statistician to think a sudden step function in a smooth graph looks odd.)

So the good news is that my memory for numbers is working fine. The bad news is that I may lose a night’s sleep next election. The very first of the four anomalous points went into the Georgia vote totals soon after 6:30 AM my time – half-an-hour after the normal rising time of Donald Trump and Margaret Thatcher, I am told. (I guess the reason I’m not PM or president is that I’m usually asleep then.) When I first glanced at the results, I thought Georgia was surprisingly close given e.g. the Florida result, but if I’d missed the other three oddities as completely as Georgia’s, I’d have been far less cautious in reviewing the outcome.

*FYI: the linked paper was easy to access this morning in the UK, but sometime before 9 o’clock eastern US time, it became hard to reach via the link above. (Massive interest overwhelming server, DoS attack, both, …? – Your guess is as good as mine.) You can try here. Another summary of it is here. (I’ll arrange a robust link if the problem does not clear.)

Screaming at the sky versus sitting by the sickbed

Four years ago, rage at the election of Trump expressed itself in a lot of what looked like performance art: screaming at the sky, ‘the literal shakening’ and so on. The usual celebrities as usual did not keep their promises to leave the USA if it happened – but I know from personal contacts that not all of it was cost-free to its enactors. One west-coast guy decided he had to abandon a trip abroad “because Trump may not let me back in!” This guy was a US citizen. He was not even a muslim. In fact, he was the kind of guy some muslims throw off tall buildings. But he seemed genuinely to think the risk that Trump would (and could) not let people like him back into the country exceeded the risk of his meeting one of that sect of muslims (or similar) while out of it. Much calming talk was needed to persuade him that just maybe he could risk leaving his country and returning after the inauguration as arranged, rather than endure the non-zero inconvenience of staying put. If this was performance art, it at least presented as willing to pay a small personal price.

Today, people like Sarah Hoyt feel worried about the state of US democracy. As a poll watcher in Colorado in years past, she witnessed Democrat fraud and GOP spinelessness at close quarters. Born in Portugal, she knows another political culture as well as America’s, so she has a keener sense of what could be lost. She likens her feelings to sitting by a sickbed – something she has also experienced. Sometimes you are in the hospital room with the one you love – for whom you can do almost nothing. Sometimes you can’t be with them but must sit in the waiting room – and must force yourself to plan, to think, to use the time. Sometimes you are back home where there are things you must do, other people you must care for – or at work from which you must keep earning. There is no scope for the indulgence of screaming at the sky. You have to manage your feelings as best you can.

Another way of not letting yourself fret at moments when you have nothing relevant to contribute is to let your mind step back and reflect on – for example – what these different reactions say about the rival movements they represent. At the 10,000 foot level, there are some very broad psychological similarities between the state of some people in 2016 and others today. In 2016, many hoped that faithless electors, the emoluments clause, the clause about removing an insane president, Jill Stein’s recount or finding proof that Russians hacked the voting machines would make Trump vanish like a bad dream. Today, many hope that fraud of a more domestic and familiar kind, unusual mostly only for its scale, can be demonstrated. I think they do so with better cause, of course, but that is only secondarily related to the difference in how they manage stress. I think the decision to manage stress with (relatively) more self-discipline or more self-indulgence is the more basic fact – related to who adopted which politics in the first place.