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]

Samizdata quote of the day – Eurovision Song Contest and Israel edition

“Israel placed fifth this year, due to low support in the jury voting. But it came second to Croatia in the popular vote. Though Ireland’s entrant, a “nonbinary” satanist named Bambie Thug, had called for Israel’s expulsion, Irish voters put Israel in second place. Israel topped the popular vote in Britain, Spain, Germany, France, Finland, Sweden, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, Portugal and Italy. Europeans may struggle to tell good tunes from bad, but they know the difference between good and evil.”

Dominic Green, Wall Street Journal ($)

For more coverage on the rather satisfying result of this admittedly silly competition, see here.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Warhammer edition)

“When even Warhammer nerds leave the battlefield, isn’t it time the anti-woke mob laid down their arms?”, writes Jasper Jackson in the Guardian Observer. Mr Jackson starts by introducing himself as a Warhammer player. I shall likewise declare my interest by introducing myself as a former payer of mighty sums to buy Warhammer kits for a member of my family. I was aware enough of the game to smugly chide the Observer sub-editors for failing to distinguish between Warhammer 40K and proper Warhammer. (I was promptly de-smugged by the discovery that someone has gone and changed the Eldar into Aeldari without telling me. What brought that on, then, an attack of elite T’au copyright lawyers?)

I digress. Mr Jackson continues,

But in recent weeks the sprawling Warhammer fandom has been enveloped in a dramatic controversy – or at least you would think so, from some news headlines.

“It’s Wokehammer! Games Workshop engulfed in gender row with fans after it said Warhammer squadron that was previously thought of as men-only has ‘always had females’,” screamed one MailOnline headline. What had prompted these claims of outrage was Games Workshop introducing a new female character into one of its science fantasy games, Warhammer 40,000. The character in question was part of a group of genetically engineered warriors called Custodes, which had, so far, not had any women models in it – but, according to Games Workshop, had always been included in the weighty narrative “lore” of the game.

The Mail had seen a number of tweets complaining about it, such as one from a games designer saying that Games Workshop was “‘gender flipping’ characters for ‘woke points’”. This was portrayed as a widespread backlash from fans. But, as a fan who frequently browses message boards for tips on playing and painting, or to look at interesting bits of background dug up by people who have bothered to read the many books published about the various Warhammer universes, my experience has been quite different.

If you actually look at the online spaces where fans of the games discuss the hobby they love, most don’t seem very bothered.

I commend the Mr Jasper’s eschewal of sensationalism. But as a pitch for an Observer piece, “most don’t seem very bothered” has its limitations. Eight paragraphs to learn that Reddit slumbers. What, I started to wonder, is this article for? In the ninth paragraph, I found out:

But where once those getting angry about changes bringing greater inclusivity might have been the overwhelming majority, this time they seem at best a vocal minority. That this is the mood on Reddit is even more surprising, given that the social network was once one of the primary breeding grounds for Gamergate, the toxic online movement of 2014-15 that spewed hate towards women with the temerity to create, play, enjoy and critique video games.

Despite not being a Warhammerer myself, I do have an alternative hypothesis to offer Mr Jackson as to why Gamergate exploded and Custogate fizzled: it is that people react differently to things that are different.

BONUS OVERNIGHT MUSINGS: The reason why the Warhammer community finds the retconning of the Custodes order to include females to be, at most1, slightly annoying in a “Put a chick in it and make her gay” kind of way, is that “Custodian Calladyce Taurovalia Kesh” is just one new character in a sprawling fictional ‘verse. Warhammer clearly were jumping on a bandwagon in the Orwellian way that they intoned “Since the first of the Ten Thousand were created there have always been female Custodians” despite never having previously mentioned this in the 37 years since the game was released. In addition, as someone quoted in the Daily Mail article suggested, the Sisters of Battle have a right to feel slighted2, especially given their feminist origin story: the order was created to circumvent a rule that the Ecclesiarchy was not permitted to maintain any “men under arms”. But in the end, allowing for the two nitpicks I mentioned, Warhammer’s adverts offering the Calladyce product line for sale would get four stars on eBay for the honesty of their product description.

In contrast, the whole point about Gamergate was industry-wide dishonesty in product descriptions. Jasper Jackson, who seems a nice Guardian-reading boy, thinks Gamergate was about male gamers hating female gamers, and also thinks, not entirely logically, that male gamers who hate female gamers would also hate female fictional characters appearing in their games. With those assumptions it would make sense to be pleasantly surprised that the number of woman-hating male gamers had gone down since 2014-15. The problem with that line of thought is that conclusions drawn from wrong assumptions are worthless. This summary of Gamergate given by commenter “bobby b” in 2017 was rightly praised as being far more accurate than anything you’ll find on Wikipedia:

I still get a chuckle out of how it all started – one guy who, discovering that his game-designer girlfriend was spreading her charms widely, wrote a long blog post about it, letting out the secret that her paramours were writers in the game-critique industry who were giving games high ratings for factors unrelated to the actual games (wink wink).

And then he got piled on by people defending her right to lie to him and sleep around because she was a poor repressed woman, and then they got piled on by guys saying, no, she’s a whore and so are these game critics, and then the SJW types decided all gamer-guys were nerdy neanderthals who hated women, and the fun began.

1 Or not annoying at all. In the comments below, “Agammamon” puts forth a satisfying in-universe justification for the existence of female Custodes.

2It is not wise to slight a member of the Adepta Sororitas.

A review of: Scattershot: Life, Music, Elton and Me

Douglas Young gives us an even-handed review of Scattershot: Life, Music, Elton and Me.

As a life-long Sir Elton John fan, it was exciting to see that his lyricist, Bernie Taupin, had penned an autobiography, Scattershot: Life, Music, Elton and Me. Whereas Beatles John Lennon and Sir Paul McCartney were the 1960s’ top composers, two of their disciples, Elton and Bernie, would be the 1970s’ reigning songwriters. This is all the more notable since the duo’s wordsmith was only in his early-to-mid-twenties when Captain Fantastic ruled FM radio with an incredible run of hit singles and albums from 1970 through 1976. Indeed, Taupin wrote the lyrics for “Your Song” as a nineteen-year-old virgin. The pair have continued to produce plenty of hits over the decades, and Taupin has occasionally written the words to songs for other performers, such as Alice Cooper, Starship (“We Built This City”), Heart (“These Dreams”), and Willie Nelson.

But as outrageously public as melody maker Sir Elton has been, his lyrical partner has generally stayed stubbornly backstage, making his memoir somewhat of a revelation. Though reared in rural England, Taupin was always in love with America’s music, movies, pop culture, and Wild West. These influences saturate his lyrics and, as soon as he could afford to, he headed for Hollywood: “I left because I wanted an alternate lifestyle and was driven by an Americanism that was always in my soul. I excommunicated myself from a culture that I didn’t feel I belonged to or was terribly interested in and embraced one that had inhabited my imagination since I straddled a broom and galloped across my old front lawn.”

By far Taupin’s longest love affair has been with America, and it is touching how grateful this immigrant remains. Of his SiriusXM program, “American Roots Radio,” he explains that “Preserving the heritage of consequential Americana had always been of the greatest importance to me,” crediting how “it served me well as an inspirational arsenal.” Taupin has no patience for fellow expats who ridicule American culture, bluntly telling them, “Don’t pillory the fabric of a nation that has invited you with open arms and p*$% on its pastimes.” Instead, having lived the last three-plus decades in a rural part of southern California, Taupin displays deep affection for his adopted homeland: “The Santa Ynez Valley is still quintessentially small-town America… They still wash your windows and pump your gas at the local Chevron, the coffee shop knows what I want without asking, and I know everyone on a first-name basis at the local market. I’m indebted to it and its inhabitants for giving me a stable and concurrently ordinary life. Everyone knows who I am, yet no one panders or fawns. I might garner a little extra attention, but in every other way I’m just another neighbour. They’re hardworking, good-natured people intrinsically patriotic in their respect for American tradition.”

Yet so much of the book is dominated by anecdotes about a huge variety of famous artists and entertainers Taupin has met, including John Lennon, Sir Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Katharine Hepburn, Stevie Wonder, the Rev. Al Green, Bob Marley, Billie Jean King, Freddie Mercury, and loads more. Many vignettes are quite revealing and fun. For example, surrealist painter Salvador Dali referred to himself as “The Dali,” doodled a delightful drawing on a restaurant napkin, and tossed it to a grateful Taupin, only for his hotel maid to mistakenly launder it.

→ Continue reading: A review of: Scattershot: Life, Music, Elton and Me

I knew who Dominic Frisby was before I knew who Elon Musk was

I only really cemented in my head which of those Billionaires Having Something To Do With the Internet Elon Musk was in February 2018, when he sent his Tesla Roadster into space. I loved him for that, but fell out of love a few months later over Musk’s behaviour towards Vernon Unsworth. Since then, my regard for Mr Musk has crept up again. It’s nice having freedom of speech on the internet back. I now – and I do know how sad this is – follow him on Xitter or whatever it’s called these days.

In contrast, I have been reading about Dominic Frisby on Samizdata as an financial writer, economist, film-maker, singer and comedian since early 2014.

Elon Musk has finally caught up with us.

Seth MacFarlane: An Apology

Dear Mr MacFarlane,

In general, I am a fan of “The Orville” the soft science fiction series of which you are the creator and star. The other day I watched Episode 5 of Season 2, “All the World is Birthday Cake”. During the course of my viewing I said some things about your work as the writer of that episode that I now regret.

I said that the crew of the Orville had no cause to sneer at the inhabitants of Regor 2 for their unscientific beliefs, given that their own protocol for First Contact with an alien species seemed to be to sashay in to the welcome banquet and start quaffing, without having done the five minutes of research necessary to find out the basic organising principle of the aliens’ society. As this reviewer said, despite possessing advanced computers and translators and all that, the crew “blindly go in, interfere in their culture and cause animosity between the Orville and a first contact species”. Not just animosity towards the Orville, either, the Regorian species is now hostile to the entire Union.

I also said that there was no way that two supposedly elite officers of the Planetary Union like Bortus and Kelly Grayson could be so stupendously foolish as to try to escape from that prison camp where they were being held. What on Earth or off it were they trying to achieve? Where did they think they would go? Both of them were visibly aliens, the only two aliens on the planet! How did they think being outside the camp would improve their situation? Surely they would have known that by far their best chance of freedom was to sit tight and wait for Captain Mercer to get them freed by diplomatic means or by the use of the Orville’s superior technology. And after all that gushing about what a joy it was to welcome a new species to galactic society, Grayson and Bortus straight-up murdering a bunch of prison guards came as a bit of a surprise. Yes, they had been unjustly imprisoned and treated badly, but (I asked sarcastically) would Mr MacFarlane recommend that Americans unjustly imprisoned in foreign jails today should grab a gun off a guard and start shooting to kill? Bang goes the last chance of ever persuading the Regorians to reconsider their rejection of contact. The Regorians were perfectly justified in sentencing Bortus and Grayson to death. In fact they should have gone ahead and executed them both even after the “new star” appeared, to save the Union the trouble.

Mr MacFarlane, I admit with shame that I insulted your skills as a scriptwriter. I made remarks to the effect that it was completely implausible that people who were depicted as having gone through a rigorous selection process to get the positions they occupied could be so lacking in forethought, so stupendously arrogant, so utterly stupid.

I humbly apologise and withdraw that untrue statement. In that respect your script was entirely plausible. Elite people at the top of their profession really can be that stupid.

Take those highly educated, highly paid software engineers working for Google, for instance. The “most powerful company in the world” created and launched an AI called “Gemini” that would produce images of people in response to text requests. Imagine the ingenuity that goes into creating such a marvel. But because they are woke, Google told Gemini to make sure that the people it portrayed were anything other than white males. All that concentrated intelligence, and they still didn’t see what would inevitably happen next… → Continue reading: Seth MacFarlane: An Apology

A New Beginning Begins Anew

This is, well, epic: Every Epic Quest.

As you know, the lore demands that every Samizdata post has a political point hidden in it somewhere.

Your quest is to find it.

“My third leg can be flexible and unbending”

This catchy Chinese-language song “People of the Dragon” by Malaysian filmmaker and recording artist Namewee has had 7.5 million views since it was posted two weeks ago. For centuries the Chinese have used puns and wordplay to poke fun at the powerful, and it seems Namewee’s song is so full of coded uncomplimentary references to Xi Jinping and the CCP – in addition to completely uncoded ones – that there are whole videos devoted to explaining them all, many of which have received tens or hundreds of thousands of views in their own right.

I think I might just possibly have guessed that it was being a bit rude about Xi Jinping, and a bit rude full stop, from the number of references to long thin intermittently rigid things, one of which forms the title of this post.

The fun begins in the very first second. Up pops a green screen with official-looking writing on it, which I gather resembles the CCP censor’s certificate that is shown before every film. Look hard at the head of the dragon. Look, too, at the number 8964 which seems to be the number given to this particular film. 89-6-4, the fourth of June 1989. A day in Chinese history when, famously, nothing happened. Fourteen seconds later, the ugly splotch that appears at the top left of the first Chinese character in the video’s title seems to let down the fine calligraphy of the rest. One would have expected someone to catch something looking like that before it all went viral… oh, wait.

I first heard of this song from this post by Victor Mair at “Language Log”, who says that the AI replication of Xi Jinping’s voice at the beginning and the end of the video is uncannily good.

Hugone awry

I felt old reading this article by Adam Morgan of Esquire magazine. For a while some thirty years ago, the terms “Worldcon” and “Hugo” were part of my daily life. What happened to them?

Inside the Censorship Scandal That Rocked Sci-Fi and Fantasy’s Biggest Awards

That evening in Chengdu, in a massive auditorium shaped like the belly of a whale, Dave McCarty—a middle-aged software engineer for an Illinois trucking company and lifelong sci-fi fan who was chosen by the convention’s leaders to oversee last year’s Hugo Awards—walked onstage to thundering applause. Within the WorldCon community, he’s nicknamed the “Hugo Pope” for serving on so many awards committees over the years.

“With the help of fans from all over the world, including many fans here in China participating for the very first time, we identified a ballot of 114 deserving finalists,” McCarty said behind a podium, wearing a black tux over a white waistcoat and bow tie. “We then asked the community to rank those choices as they saw fit.”

But that’s not what happened. Something had gone horribly wrong.

Three months later, the truth came out when McCarty shared the Hugo nominating statistics on Facebook: Someone had stolen nominations from The Sandman legend Neil Gaiman, Babel author R. F. Kuang, Iron Widow novelist Xiran Jay Zhao, and fan writer Paul Weimer. All four of them earned enough votes to be finalists—and therefore eventually winners—but for unknown reasons, someone had secretly marked their works as “ineligible” after the first rounds of voting.

Among sci-fi and fantasy fans, the uproar was immediate and intense. Had government officials in the host country censored the finalists? Did the awards committee make a colossal mistake when tallying the votes, then try to cover it up? Or did something even stranger occur?

Samizdata quote of the day – dull UK “satire” edition

“Banksy is a billboard, promoting a product, and a set of ideas, that are as ubiquitous as Coca-Cola and as dangerous as Greggs. We need a new set of discordant voices, able to articulate ideas that challenge the consensus view of the new Establishment of the Banksies and Cold War Steves. Voices from neither the left nor the right, but coming from a place of originality, united by a desire to reveal the ludicrousness, and moral bankruptcy, of those who refuse to see it in themselves. And perhaps, in 2024, the most subversive voices would be offering us hope, not despair.”

David James, CapX.

For non-British readers, Greggs is a purveyor of meat pies and other marvellously unhealthy food.

Samizdata quote of the day – woke and anti-woke

Too often the culture war is misconceived as a conflict between Left and Right, with “woke” aligned with the former and “anti-woke” with the latter, but “wokeness” carries with it the kind of clout that transcends the political binary. In their 13 years of government, the Conservatives have presided over the worst excesses of this identity-obsessed ideology and the havoc it has wrought on society. Far from fighting a “war on woke”, they have been actively enabling it.

Andrew Doyle

Marvellously melodic but mercurial: a review of Philip Norman’s George Harrison: the Reluctant Beatle

Douglas Young reviews George Harrison: The Reluctant Beatle

How swell to at last have a major biography of that most aloof of all rock stars, George Harrison: The Reluctant Beatle, by respected pop music historian Philip Norman, and how sobering to learn that the reclusive rocker’s feet were all too completely made of clay. Though this book is quite detailed and very well written, I now know far more information about Harrison than his underlying motives. Alas, what is still a worthy biography could have been splendid if not for several shortcomings.

Perhaps the book’s top theme is George Harrison’s remarkable cornucopia of contradictions, something he alluded to in the “Pisces Fish” song on his superb last album, 2002’s Brainwashed:

Sometimes, my life it seems like fiction,
Some of the days it’s really quite serene,
I’m a living proof of all life’s contradictions,
One half’s going where the other half’s just been.

Massive contrasts define Harrison’s story. With bomb craters from World War II still decorating his neighbourhood, he grew up in a crowded little Liverpool apartment with no bathroom, whose only heat came from a “small coal fire,” and where the weekly bath was in a backyard bucket. But massive musical success would earn him enormous wealth. Harrison was the Beatle most in the background whose growing songwriting abilities were largely ignored by the group’s leaders, John Lennon and Sir Paul McCartney. But after the Fab Four’s 1970 breakup, the lead guitarist would stun everyone with his astonishing All Things Must Pass triple album to become the most critically and commercially successful Beatle of the early 1970s.

It is comforting to learn how Harrison was usually kind, caring, and giving. Not only did he co-write “It don’t come easy” and “Back off Boogaloo,” two of Beatle brother Ringo Starr’s biggest solo hit songs, but he did not even ask for a (quite lucrative) songwriting credit for either. Even when sick in bed dying of cancer, he offered to visit the drummer’s ailing daughter. But Harrison was a stubborn loner who was often moody and brutally blunt. As Ringo put it, “There was the love and bag-of-beads personality and the bag of anger. He was very black and white.” Indeed, when Beatle brother John Lennon queried his bandmates on what they thought of his girlfriend and future wife, Cynthia Powell, Mr. Curt remarked she had “teeth like a horse.” While the second Mrs. Lennon, Yoko Ono, conceded “George was very nice,” she still complained how “very hurtful” his caustic comments could be, to which John would shrug, “That’s just George.” And on a long flight when a stewardess asked the softly chanting Hindu convert if she could get him anything, Harrison snarled, “F#%& off, can’t you see I’m meditating?”

The supposedly most spiritual Beatle who publicly sang warnings about “Living in the Material World” privately luxuriated in a 25-bedroom gothic mansion, and the Beatle purportedly most at peace as a devout Hindu nevertheless smoked lots of marijuana, drank loads of liquor, snorted copious quantities of cocaine, and chain-smoked French cigarettes. He was also an inveterate adulterer who cheated in his own house when his first wife was home and even with his closest Beatle brother Ringo’s wife. This was a conquest too far even for licentious Beatle brother John who denounced it as “virtual incest,” and the affair led to the Starrs divorcing the next year.

Surprisingly for the superb composer who wrote so many beautiful love songs, including the classic “Something,” George did not appear to be all that passionate or romantic. He not only routinely betrayed both of his spouses but did not seem to mind losing his first wife to his closest friend, Eric Clapton – who remained his best buddy. While enjoying most of his time in the world’s biggest band for all the easy camaraderie with his bandmates and being too shy to perform on his own, by the latter 1960s Harrison firmly rejected any more concert tours and had grown deeply bitter that more of his compositions were not allowed on Beatle albums. Later calling himself “the economy-class Beatle,” he felt liberated when the group finally broke up and would never seek a reunion. Asked to help Sir Paul perform
“Let It Be” at London’s 1985 Live Aid Concert, George’s typically tactless retort was that his Beatle brother “didn’t want me to sing on it ten years ago, so why does he want me now?”

→ Continue reading: Marvellously melodic but mercurial: a review of Philip Norman’s George Harrison: the Reluctant Beatle

Any Sympathy for the Devil? A review of ‘The Stones and Brian Jones’ (2023)

Douglas Young asks “Any Sympathy for the Devil?” A review of the documentary The Stones and Brian Jones (2023)

With The Stones and Brian Jones, veteran English documentarian Nick Broomfield weaves a captivating collage of revealing film footage and candid interviews to paint a poignant portrait of the creator of pop music’s second biggest band. Though an idolized rock star, Brian Jones was so wracked by personal problems that he relentlessly pursued a path of self-destruction. In doing so, he became the founding member of “the 27 Club” of famous rockers whose excess killed them at age 27 (including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse). The movie also conveys the youth culture of 1960s Britain that flattered Jones and hastened his dissolution. Throughout, the rockumentary raises many questions about the powerfully seductive allure of fame and the dangerous ways it can enable people to act their worst, with disastrous results.

Despite its brevity, the whirlwind life of Brian Jones is shown to be one of dizzyingly dramatic contrasts: so musically talented, handsome, charming, successful, and idolized by millions, yet so tortured by insecurity, loneliness, and paranoia, all amplified by an accelerating, gargantuan intake of booze and drugs. It was certainly a life of enormous promise. Having grown up in a middle-class home, Jones would assemble and initially lead the Rolling Stones, the musical group whose massive impact only the Beatles would exceed. Jones was such a musical virtuoso that he was proficient on guitar, piano, harmonica, marimba, mellotron, saxophone, clarinet, and still more instruments. Can you imagine the Stones’ passionately pulsating 1966 hit song, “Paint It Black,” without Jones’s remarkable sitar contribution, or 1967’s hauntingly hypnotic “Ruby Tuesday” sans Brian’s beautiful recorder flute?

Though a fan of Jones’s music, Broomfield still pulls back the curtain to let us at least glimpse the man’s dark side as well, and how ironic that the acutely sensitive child who so craved love and affection from perhaps emotionally constipated parents would become a supremely selfish narcissist. In fact, Jones left a long trainwreck of abused young ladies and at least five (though I have read six) illegitimate children with as many women (mostly teenagers) for whom he seems to have cared and done nothing. Whatever Jones’s reserved, traditional parents’ faults, they at least gave him a stable family and an education. Like Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway, Jones is a poster boy for the maxim that we must “separate the artist from the man” to appreciate his art since, well beyond the typical hedonistic rock star, Jones exhibited a sociopathic streak seemingly devoid of the slightest pangs of conscience. He was not only unfaithful to his many girlfriends (surprise) but, despite his wealth, the film shows no trace of his ever providing for any of his many children. When one came with his mother to try to see his daddy, Jones and his latest conquest merely laughed at them from his upstairs window as they stood forlorn in the street. He also enjoyed secretly spiking people’s drinks with powerful drugs, flicking cigarette ashes in a bandmate’s hair, and posing in a Nazi stormtrooper uniform.

No matter how emotionally Dickensian the film hints Jones’s childhood may have been, who could excuse his utter indifference, casual cruelty, and even sadism toward those closest to him? Even if Jones was a victim of emotional neglect growing up, Dennis Prager warns that victims can become the most dangerous people of all because, if lacking a moral compass, they can pervert their victimhood to justify the unjustifiable. Unchecked, there is no end to what horrors can be explained away. But can any of Hitler or Stalin’s colossal crimes be excused because their fathers beat them so brutally?

→ Continue reading: Any Sympathy for the Devil? A review of ‘The Stones and Brian Jones’ (2023)