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]

Dominic Cummings on how rational arguments don’t (but actually sometimes do) have consequences

I have finally got around to reading this notable blog posting by Dominic Cummings. I recently watched the Channel 4 DocuDrama about Brexit. This was fun to watch, but if you are a Brexiter like me, you might also want to read this denunciation of it. Upshot: I wanted to know what Cummings himself had to say.

And one of the things Cummings says, right near the beginning (this being as far as I’ve got so far) might well serve as the rationale for political blogging generally, and for Samizdata in particular:

I’ve learned over the years that ‘rational discussion’ accomplishes almost nothing in politics, particularly with people better educated than average. Most educated people are not set up to listen or change their minds about politics, however sensible they are in other fields. But I have also learned that when you say or write something, although it has roughly zero effect on powerful/prestigious people or the immediate course of any ‘debate’, you are throwing seeds into a wind and are often happily surprised.

It’s actually not complicated. People read things like Samizdata when they are making up their minds, or because they have made up their minds that Samizdata is right and like reading about how right they are. They make up their minds as intelligently as they can, but when they have made up their minds, their intelligence is then almost entirely applied to acting in accordance with whatever political principles they have made up their minds to follow, rather than in listening seriously to anyone who wants to explain why these principles are mistaken. Critics are only attended to in order themselves to be criticised.

Samizdata quote of the day

The logic of socialism is to look at someone in a wheelchair and punish the able-bodied by breaking their legs.

The Academic Agent, talking about The Problem with the BBC. The whole thing lasts just under ten minutes, and that little nugget comes about a minute before the end.

Thank you Instapundit.

Two stars from the Guardian

Here’s Lucy Mangan’s review of Brexit: The Uncivil War:

Brexit: The Uncivil War review – superficial, irresponsible TV

In an era besieged by misinformation, it was the duty of the makers of this Cumberbatch referendum drama not to add to the chaos. They did not succeed

And here’s the “inflatable boy” joke from the Vicar of Dibley.

Update: Four stars from the Times. The review by Carol Midgley is paywalled, but here it is without the boring bits:

Brexit without the boring bits is a blast

… James Graham’s drama was rollickingly good entertainment, in a heart-sinking “oh, but this is still our real-life car crash” kind of way.

It wasn’t really the story of the Leave and Remain campaigns, it was the story of DC — that’s Dominic Cummings, not David Cameron, who didn’t even merit a part, so boring and irrelevant did Graham consider him to be. Cummings, I imagine, will be pretty flattered by his portrayal, brilliantly done by Benedict Cumberbatch, save maybe for the balding forehead he donned to play him and the fact that Craig Oliver (Rory Kinnear) called him “an egotist with a wrecking ball” and a “f***ing arsehole”.

True, the political adviser was presented as unhinged (at one point he literally lay in the road with an ear to the ground), with sneering contempt for politicians. But he was also seen running rings intellectually around MPs and old-guard Brexiteers, basically delivering the Leave victory through vision and data mining to tap invisible voters. Oh and putting that £350 million for the NHS claim on the side of the bus. It wasn’t true but, hey, who cares in “war”, eh? It was he, evidently, who devised the “Take Back Control” slogan, inserting the word “back” after reading a parenting book next to his sleeping pregnant wife (this feels unlikely).

And did you notice that in neither Leave’s nor Remain’s campaign was there a single mention of the EU divorce bill or the Irish border? This was an accurate (and painful to many) reminder that while Leave bent the rules, Remain was complacent, lacklustre and fatally out of touch with a forgotten demographic.

If you want the non-fiction TV version, this talk by the real Dominic Cummings is it. And this post from Cummings’ own blog, later turned into a Spectator article, was probably the inspiration for the whole drama: On the referendum #21: Branching histories of the 2016 referendum and ‘the frogs before the storm’

Relentlessly mocking the SJWs

Blogger David Thompson suggests that his round-up of the year might be of interest to Samizdata’s readers.

His email to me quoted how this roundup begins:

The year began on a highbrow note as the University of Denver’s Professor Ryan Evely Gildersleeve informed the world that laziness is a “a political stance,” a way to “combat the neoliberal condition,” and a “tool for contributing to social justice.” Half-arsed incompetence is, we were assured, both radical and empowering. The professor also shared his belief that plastic is sentient. Inanimate objects also troubled Dr Jane Bone, a senior lecturer at Monash University, Melbourne, who specialises in “feminist post-structural perspectives” and the political implications of problematic furniture. Dr Bone’s research involves quite a lot of “embodied knowing,” i.e., visiting IKEA and sitting on chairs. Her work, she revealed, is “not necessarily logical.” Further feminist insights came via Phoebe Patey-Ferguson, whose feminist fight club is “a mode of resistance,” because the spectacle of unhappy ladies body-slamming each other and breaking each other’s ribs is an obvious way to “destroy the Conservative government” and “bring down the patriarchy.”

Thompson adds:

That’s January. There’s another eleven months to get through.

You can read all twelve months here.

This piece by Thompson has already been noticed by Instapundit, as have quite a few of his pieces in recent months.

Nico Metten on the we-dont-want-short-and-shitty-lives lobby

I like this:

… A lot of people have this strange idea that the only thing preventing us from going off fossil fuels is the oil lobby. But it is not the oil lobby that is doing that. It is the we-dont-want-short-and-shitty-lives lobby that is behind it. In other words it is all of us. …

This is from a piece by Nico Metten for Libertarian Home, published in October of this year. That I only just gave it any serious attention is because I have been having a breather from libertarian polemics, either written by others, or doing them myself. I still haven’t properly read through this one, but already I recommend it.

It’s not that I have been entirely ignoring Nico. He is a friend of mine, and this is a photo I took of him and some of his mates in the Blackheath Halls Orchestra, at a concert of music by Debussy and Sibelius that I attended in November. The Sibelius (Symphony No. 7) was particularly good:

Nico is the guy at the back who played those big drums. Some instrumentalists can hide in an orchestra. By which I mean that they can still do some damage, but without you knowing that it’s them doing it. But the man on the big drums cannot hide. Nico was very good.

The Libertarian Home piece quoted above is also remarkable for the scathing way that Nico writes about Germany and its government. Pioneers in badness basically, once upon a time, and still. But being a German himself, Nico is allowed to say such things.

A Poirot for our times

Sarah Phelps is the writer of The ABC Murders. This TV drama starring John Malkovitch is the BBC’s newest interpretation of the character Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective created by Agatha Christie. Here she is – Ms Phelps, not Mrs Christie – talking about her creation:

“For a long time Britain was caught up in the wave of righteous sentimentality and sympathy for poor little plucky Belgium. Then the times start to pinch. It’s the Thirties. There’s less to go around. People start to be cruel. They want someone to blame and it’s really easy to blame the people who arrived. So he’s being scrutinised now. People are asking questions. ‘You make us look like halfwits and you’ve got a foreign accent.’ English police for English crimes.”

Are there parallels with Brexit Britain? Of course there are.

“I really wanted to think about who we were in that decade and who we are right now. How have we gone from the optimism, the look-at-us-we’re-brilliant spirit of 2012, from celebrating this glorious, inclusive, generous country, to suddenly this place? How quickly something toxic can take hold! When we talk of the nationalism roaring across Europe in the Thirties, we forgive ourselves and think, ‘Well, that never happened here.’ It did, and the language was very much the same as the language that has been developing in our politics over the last four or five years.”

It will indeed be a Poirot for the second half of 2018 and the first three months of 2019.

Recommendations rarely come much higher

Public Eye was made from 1965 to 1975 and contains adult themes, outdated attitudes and language which some viewers may find offensive.

– Warning message put up by Talking Pictures TV prior to its re-runs of the series. For those unfamiliar with Public Eye, think Colombo meets The Rockford Files in the English suburbs.

Fiction that stinks like Bernie…

Hector Drummond has some views of the rotting state of popular culture…

Dr Who actually died in 1981, although that fact wasn’t apparent until much later. He died when Tom Baker was replaced by Peter Davidson. Davidson was clearly an inferior actor, at least in that role, but Doctor Who fans thought that the show would rise again. Of course it didn’t, with more and more unsuitable actors taking on the role, and the writing got more and more left-wing to the point where even the ordinary viewers could see that the show was essentially about politics rather than science-fiction.

Some Dr Who fans are still very upset that the BBC killed it off in 1989, but the show had become an idiotic waste of money, and had to be put out of its misery. It had become obvious that Dr Who was no more. He was an ex-Doctor.

When Russell T. Davies revived the show in 2005, it seemed like the good Doctor was reborn, especially when the unsuitable Christopher Eccleston was quickly replaced by David Tennant’s more traditional interpretation. But the show went gradually downhill, and then politics started to take over again. The best episode of those years was Blink, the first weeping angels episode, but it was noticeable that that hardly featured the doctor.

I started to gradually lose interest, especially after episodes where the moon turned out to be a giant egg, which made me hide behind the sofa, not in fear but in embarrassment. And when they started to overdo the historic episodes where the doctor turns out to be great buddies with famous historical figures. Plus the new episodes had relationships and romance in them, and that just wasn’t Dr Who. And they messed with things you shouldn’t mess with, like the Neil Gaiman episode where the Tardis turned out to be a madwoman. Oh, and the Doctor turned out to be married to the most annoying woman in the Universe, except perhaps for Polly Toynbee. It’s making me pissed off just recalling this stuff as I’d sort of repressed it.

→ Continue reading: Fiction that stinks like Bernie…

The First Man and the unfashionableness of optimism

A week or so ago I went to see The First Man at the cinema. At first it seemed to do a good job of turning historical figures into real people. The domestic lives of the astronauts contrasted with the bravery of their test flights. There were lots of scenes of worried housewives which seemed believable enough. Armstrong is portrayed as a serious engineer with good attention to detail. He makes some mistakes which his bosses put down to being distracted by his daughter’s ill health. After she dies, Armstrong is understandably never truly happy. He does not express his emotions, and tells one friend who tries to talk to him, “if I wanted to talk to someone, do you think I would be standing out here [away from everyone]?” I like that line: I have felt like that at times.

When the Gemini 8 flight has problems, his wife hears about it and she goes to complain that her audio feed has been switched off to protect her from hearing about what is going on. Don’t worry, she is told, we have everything under control. No you don’t, she retorts, “you’re a bunch of boys playing with balsa wood models.” There is a certain truth to that line which I enjoyed: it is hard to have complete understanding of a complex enough system, and there is a certain playfulness to engineering.

There is a montage about protestors complaining about the cost of the Apollo program and listing better ways of spending tax dollars such as by helping poor people. We see Gil Scott-Heron on stage reading his poem Whitey On The Moon. It made sense to portray these things in the movie.

A lot of Armstrong’s colleagues are killed. The Apollo 1 cockpit testing scene is hard to watch if you know what is coming. A lot of the movie is spent with Armstrong taking the deaths hard. There are a lot of funeral scenes. There is a scene where Armstrong’s wife makes him explain to his kids that he might not survive Apollo 13.

They fly to the moon. I have a big criticism of the cinematography: I am sure spacecraft do not vibrate that much. There must be other ways to portray speed and acceleration. They fly home. Once home, Armstrong’s wife visits him in quarantine. He seems sullen. She seems sullen. The End.

And then it hit me: no-one is happy about going to the moon. There is no pride, no sense of achievement, no celebration of the accomplishment whatever. All we learn is that we are doing it to beat the Soviets, it costs a lot of money, there is a huge human cost, people worry and suffer, relationships are strained. This is a joyless movie. It portrays no up-side. The closest we get to any kind of positive commentary on the Apollo project is when Armstrong first applies for the job. The superiors ask why he wants to go to the moon and he answers with a speech about mankind’s need to explore. The superiors seem skeptical, but pleased: the message is that this guy can be trusted to say the right things. Being happy about going to the moon is for the stupid masses.

On my bookshelf I have a couple of anthologies of the Eagle comic from the 50s and 60s.

Phosphates for The World

They feature cutaway drawings explaining wonders of technology, present and future, all of it wonderfully unapologetic. We are doing awesome things and we will do even more awesome things soon, kids are told. Today’s teenagers are bombarded with worry and pessimism. BBC Focus magazine is a science magazine that seems to be aimed at young audience and it features an article about climate change and how having children is bad. The Week Junior seems to be full of articles about endangered animals and banning plastic. If I did not know that most of the terrible problems are not terrible problems and that the world is in general getting better, I might be a bit despondent about all that. If I was an impressionable youth I might rebel against it; I hope they do.

Let’s save time and outlaw humour entirely

This video clip (which has English subtitles once you eliminate the advertisement at the bottom) shows the left wing French politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon behaving unpleasantly.

I know. The jokes write themselves. But I was a little surprised to see a man often called “The French Jeremy Corbyn” display such un-PC (and to be fair to Mr Corbyn, un-JC) contempt for a journalist, particularly a female journalist, merely for speaking with a less prestigious regional accent. Reuters has an account of the exchange here, and this is a slightly longer version of the video with some French subtitles that shows the build up to Mélenchon losing his temper with Veronique Gaurel, the journalist in question. His claim that he does not understand her question does not convince. It looks a lot more like he understood it all too well and was desperately casting around for any excuse not to answer it.

Did you catch how he imitated her? Mr Mélenchon has shown a haughtiness that pokes a hole in his claim to represent the ordinary people of France against the elite. There has been an outpouring of support for Ms Gaurel, with many saying that his outburst was a reaction to her doing her job well and asking him a pointed question that remains unanswered. He will lose votes. That should be punishment enough.

But it never is enough for some people. France 24 reports,

French MP seeks ban on ‘glottophobia’ after Mélanchon mocks journalist’s accent

A French member of parliament has proposed that mockery of accents be outlawed, after an irate politician derided a journalist’s southwestern pronunciation before asking if anyone had a question in “understandable French”.

Laetitia Avia of President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling party said she was proposing a bill that would classify such mockery with other forms of prohibited discrimination such as on grounds of sex or race.

At this point we in the Anglosphere might be tempted to laugh in a smug way and say those Frenchies might submit to the abolition of a tradition of laughing at other people’s funny accents that goes back millennia, but we will never say goodbye to our ‘Allo ‘Allo!

Don’t count on it. How often have you laughed about the latest daft PC proposal from an obscure intellectual, a student union, or a minor politician, home-grown or foreign like Laetitia Avia – only to find five years later that it is a law you must obey?

Zaha Hadid Architects thrives

One of the more significant libertarians on Planet Earth just now is Patrik Schumacher, whom I have mentioned here before, several times.

Until recently Schumacher was the Number Two at Zaha Hadid Architects. But following the death of Zaha Hadid, he is now the Zaha Hadid Architects Number One. So, an important question for libertarians is: Can Zaha Hadid Architects keep going successfully, without Zaha Hadid herself, under Schumacher’s leadership? Given the dominant political attitudes within the architecture-and-design world these days, there are surely a lot of people now hoping that the answer will turn out to be: No.

A report, complete with dramatic pretend-photos, that you can read and see here, courtesy of the Daily Mail, of a new concert hall that Zaha Hadid Architects will be building In Yekaterinburg, give cause for optimism.

With concert halls, everything depends on the acoustics. It can look like the Palace of Versailles, but if it sounds wrong it’s a turkey. But acoustic science is now such that I am optimistic that this will be judged a successful concert hall, sounding good as well as looking stylish in a Zaha Hadid sort of way:

The point of this posting is that if Zaha Hadid Architects continues to thrive as it seems to be thriving now, that will be a win for libertarianism, because it will be such a very big personal win for Patrik Schumacher. Comment away all you like, of course – can’t stop you, wouldn’t want to. But whether you personally like the look of this new concert hall is beside my main point here.

As the late Chris Tame used to say: we need our people everywhere, and architecture-and-design is an important somewhere. Schumacher reminds me of the late Peter Bauer. Bauer was in a minority of about one in the world of foreign aid, back when he was alive and arguing. Schumacher is likewise something of a lone voice in his world in an equally significant way.

“The European Commission only has to win once”

Following on from Johnathan Pearce’s recent post about the EU Copyright Directive, I found this comment by a user called Ask_Me_Who in Reddit Europe. It dates from the first turn of the ratchet, back in June, but in the light of what has happened since it is more relevant than ever:

MEP’s can not create, amend, or reject proposals. They can act as a method of slowing them, requesting changes or rethinks of proposed policies, but if the other (unelected) parts of the EU want to force through a proposal they can just keep pushing it until it gets through in the knowledge that elected MEP’s will not have the power to propose future updates, changes, or abolition of legislation.

The European Commission only has to win once and it can never be repealed without the European Commission wishing it so. The people, as represented by elected MEP officials, have to win every time as they do not even have the option to vote in representatives to reverse a decision. This is the ‘democratic deficit’ that even pro-EU supporters widely acknowledge when they call for democratic reforms to the MEP system.

If you want to bring up the UK, the European Parliament works similarly to the House of Lords. The difference being that the Lord’s have been deliberately striped of much of their power specifically because they do not represent the people, while the MEP’s have never been given the power needed to actually represent the people.

EDIT- And if you think that’s depressing, since the Treaty of Lisbon (2007) lobbying has been an officially recognised and encouraged part of MEP’s decision process under the re-brand “European interest representation”. 30% of former MEP’s go on to work as lobbyists for major industries. Yeah, the people who only have to slip up once can accept weekly fancy dinners and then go on to make €€€ working for companies who give zero shits about what general public’s well-being.

Another example of the EU ratchet in action. No wonder they adopted the use of the neverendum so readily.