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 lost chord, correction, TUC booklet

Seated one day at the organ
I was weary and ill at ease
And my fingers wandered idly
Over the noisy keys

I know not what I was playing
Or what I was dreaming then;
But I struck one chord of music
Like the sound of a great Amen

The Lost Chord was an immensely popular song of the late nineteenth century. It described how the singer had found, then lost, a chord played on the organ that seemed to bring infinite calm.

I have sought, but I seek it vainly
That one lost chord divine
Which came from the soul of the organ
And entered into mine

In like fashion did I, my friends, linger in the library of Her Majesty’s Treasury in my lunchtime many years ago, seeking to put off the moment when I would have to go back to my humble office and do some actual work. Like the fingers of the weary organist upon his instrument, thus did my skiving fingers wander idly across the spines of the publications the Treasury thought might help its minions control public expenditure*. By a chance equally slim did I find the booklet issued by the Trades Union Congress that I am going to talk about in this post. And by a fate equally tragic did I fail to take note of the title, author, year of publication or even the colour of the cover, and lost it again forever.

Which is a bit of a bummer really. This post would have been a lot more convincing if you guys didn’t just have to take my word for it that the damn TUC book ever existed. Then again, it was nice to be reminded of The Lost Chord which was the favourite song of an old chap I once knew who fought in the First World War.

This booklet. For anyone still reading, it was about “Technology in the Workplace” or summat. I got the impression that it had been published in the last years of Callaghan’s government. (This story takes place during Thatcher’s premiership.) It did not bring me infinite calm. It brought me a Hard Stare in the Paddington Bear sense from another patron of the library, because I was going “mwunk” and “pfuffle” from trying not to laugh.

The booklet was all about how when the bosses tried to introduce new technology, workers could use the power that came from being a member of a trade union to block it. It did not go so far as recommending that all new devices such as “word processors” and “computers” should be rejected out of hand, but it made quite clear that no such new-fangled gadgets should be allowed in if it meant the number of jobs for typesetters or stenographers should go down. The power of the unionised worker to resist such impositions was, of course, greatest in our great nationalised industries.

The pages of the little book were clean and perfectly squared off. I do not think anyone other than me had ever read it. Yet it seemed to come from a long-ago time or a foreign country, probably East Germany, so great were the changes that had come to Britain in those few years since it was published.

Yes, Britain changed. And now it’s changing back.

Jeremy Corbyn promises free broadband under Labour.

Labour’s proposal seems very popular, although, hilariously, support drops steeply when the question moves from “Do you like Labour’s plan to give you free stuff?” to “Do you like Labour’s plan to nationalise BT Openreach?” – but even then a solid third of the country hear Jeremy Corbyn say, “we’ll make the very fastest full-fibre broadband free to everybody, in every home in our country”, and also hear that the Labour manifesto is to reiterate the radical 2017 commitment to ‘sector-wide collective bargaining’ – and seriously believe that the “very fastest full-fibre broadband” is going to be brought to them by the unionised workforce of a nationalised industry.

*Or as the Treasury Diary handed out free to staff members one year described it, pubic expenditure.

Samizdata quote of the day

“I came here to die with you. Or live with you. Dying ain’t so hard for men like you and me. It’s living that’s hard when all you’ve ever cared about has been butchered or raped. Governments don’t live together–people live together. With governments, you don’t always get a fair word or a fair fight. Well, I’ve come here to give you either one or get either one from you. I came here like this so you’ll know my word of death is true, and my word of life is then true. The bear lives here, the wolf, the antelope, the Comanche. And so will we. Now we’ll only hunt what we need to live on, same as the Comanche does. And every spring, when the grass turns green, and the Comanche moves north, you can rest here in peace, butcher some of our cattle, and jerk beef for the journey. The sign of the Comanche, that will be on our lodge. That’s my word of life.”

Josey Wales, played by Clint Eastwood in the movie, The Outlaw Josey Wales. Context: the film is based in the aftermath of the Civil War, and Wales is on the run and took refuge in Indian territory. I rather like the libertarian sentiments in part of this quote (such as his line about governments), and Clint Eastwood, by the way, has always struck me as one of the more intelligent men to have worked in Hollywood. His movies are famously delivered on time, and on budget.

The Outlaw Josey Wales is, in my view, his best Western. Terrific supporting performance from Chief Dan George.

A lot of politics consists of politicians doing one of these two things

Here.

In case the video at the other end of that link disappears, what we see is a guy on a railway platform bringing a train to a halt, with great effort. And then he gets it going again, with even more effort. (Except that the train was doing all of this anyway, under its own steam.)

Tyler Cowen says Joker is an anti-egalitarian film

I read so many scathing — forgive me long and thorough and scathing — reviews of this one that I figured something had to be up. And indeed there is. However unpleasant and disturbing this movie may be, it is excellent along all major dimensions of cinematic quality, including drama, script, characterization, performances, cinematography, color, music, and more, not to mention embedded cinematic references. But here is the catch: it is the most anti-Leftist movie I have seen, ever. It quite explicitly portrays the egalitarian instinct as a kind of barbaric violent atavism, and it is pointedly critical of Antifa and related movements, showing them as representing a literal end of civilization. Only the wealthy are genteel and urbane and proper. On crime and law and order, it is right-wing in a 1970s “Death Wish” sort of way, though anti-gun too.

I really respect Tyler Cowen’s views, so I might give this a look. I suspect I am going to see this on my own because my wife probably will hate it. It’t not a date night film, if that does not sound patronising (although the missus loves thrillers).

If people want to comment, please no spoilers, merci!

South Park says sorry

Yes, South Park grovels:

Some background here:

After the “Band in China” episode mocked Hollywood for shaping its content to please the Chinese government, Beijing has responded by deleting all clips, episodes and discussions of the Comedy Central show.

South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone probably saw this coming, and to their credit, simply didn’t care.

From the point of view of the Chinese government there are far too many people now paying quite close attention to them, whom they do not control. The people presiding over Communist despotisms are always touted as strategic geniuses, but I sense a change in the world. Or then again, it could just be that I attended an excellent talk about Hong Kong last night, and will be attending another talk about Hong Kong on Wednesday, at the ASI. That link may not last, so I note here that a lady called Denise Ho will be speaking.

That second link is to a report in the Guardian, which it makes a nice change for us here to be agreeing with, assuming most of us do. The Chinese government is now making enemies all across the political spectrum. They will surely “win” this battle in Hong Kong, one way or another. But are they now stuck in a Cold War that they might end up losing? Could well be. As the above non-apology from these South Park guys illustrates, to say nothing of events in Hong Kong, things are not now going entirely to their script.

Also, now that masks are no longer allowed in Hong Kong, how about a new hair-do?

Ars longa, vita brevis

The Guardian reports, “Sculptor Antony Gormley plans Brexit giants off the French coast”:

Now, on the eve of Britain’s potential departure from Europe, Gormley is planning a new and dramatic intervention on the beaches of northern France. He wants to erect a group of seven huge sculptures, made from iron slabs, on the coast of Brittany. They will look towards Britain, the lost island of Europe.

There is something in that image that can appeal to both sides. I think Mr Gormley might make better art than his predictable opinions might lead one to suppose:

Gormley describes Brexit as “a stupid moment of collective fibrillation” and argues that such an imposed separation from the rest of Europe will be damaging and false. “We belong to Europe, geologically as much as anything else. We were only separated five thousand years ago. The whole idea that somehow we can go it alone by making greater relationships with the former Commonwealth and with our friends and cousins in America is just ridiculous,” he tells Wilson.

Mind you, it will take about thirty seconds flat for some wag to call these figures standing on the coast of France as they wistfully look towards Albion “the illegal immigrants”.

National anthem of Libertaria

The excellent Dominic Frisby is crowdfunding a music video for his National Anthem of Libertaria. He is very much out there spreading good ideas, including in such unfriendly territory as the Edinburgh Festival. I applaud his efforts.

Arise libertarians
Above totalitarians
Our guide is the mighty invisible hand
Reject state controllers
Collectors and patrollers
Our choices are better than government plans

Taxation is a form of theft
Free markets and free trade are best
Free speech, free movement, free minds and free choice
Our actions are all voluntary
Not coerced or compulsory
War we abhor, socialism does not work

No debt or inflation
No stealth confiscation
No pigs in the trough at the gravy to drink
No state education
To brainwash our nation
No experts dictate what to do, what to think

We scorn your fiat currency
Gold and bitcoin is our money
We own ourselves and we live and let live
We take responsibility
Life, love and liberty
Leave us alone, let a thousand flowers bloom

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.

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.

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?

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.