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]

Plus ça change…

I’ve been rootling around in the Samizdata archives (more of which to come, perhaps) and I found this:

In the bubbled, hypocritical mind of some in Hollywood, the only reason Gervais crossed a line is because he went after them. Had he been as relentless in ripping apart Sarah Palin, her young children, Jesus Christ, or George W. Bush, today the comedian would be celebrated as “edgy” and “courageous” — because only in Hollywood is throwing red meat to a hard-left crowd considered “edgy” and “courageous.” But Gervais didn’t do that. Instead, he trained his satirical fire on Hollywood Power and today there’s serious talk about whether or not the comedian will be brought back to the Golden Globes next year as host.

As you can probably guess from the mentions of Sarah Palin and George W. Bush this is from a while ago – January 19th 2011, to be precise.

Ever got the feeling you’ve been cheated?

Samizdata quote of the day

You don’t go to a cultural war with the army you want, you go with the army you have.

– ‘Mary Contrary

Ricky Gervais, the best man at a wedding who shouts out “Don’t marry, mate!”

Ricky Gervais’s opening comments at the Golden Globes in Hollywood (I assume he is not doing them ever again) are rightly being lauded around the non-PC parts of the internet/media world for telling much of Hollywood how totally, eye-wateringly awful it is. Seems a tad harsh, though – he’s a bit like the guy who comes to a party, takes a lot of the decent wine, insults the guests and then leaves. Seems a tad boorish. But maybe I am being squeamish and boorishness in these times may be necessary. I get the impression that a high-water mark of PCness, or “wokeness”, to coin a term, may have been reached. Maybe even last December’s crushing of Mr Corbyn’s UK Labour Party was an indicator. (For anyone living on a remote desert island in recent years, here is a definition of “woke”.)

So what is the context here and how do we end with a situation where a movie industry reaches the point where a British entertainer hammers practitioners in this way?

One sign of what is going wrong is how famous franchises are “rebooted” – James Bond is getting older and being replaced, at least in terms of the person with the iconic 007 number, by a black woman who has his serial number (possibly); Terminator, Star Wars, Dr Who….the list of increasingly “woke” productions goes on. The accountants aren’t happy as far as viewing figures and box office takings are concerned, it seems.

Of course, as we have seen on discussions on this blog before, some business tycoons might be willing to see some of their revenues decline if it means winning a longer term war to change the “culture”, but shareholders’ patience has its limits. If Proctor and Gamble takes a hit by insulting men as toxic, well, even the most PC chief executives will be booted out eventually.

But for the penny to drop, so to speak, it appears necessary for unvarnished truths to be dished out, and quite possibly, Gervais is ultimately doing the sector a favour, even if swearing at guests is a bit, well, off.

I do think that the very fact that someone such as Ricky Gervais can stand up in front of Hollywood luvvies and more or less telll them they are a bunch of narcissistic, ignorant twats is quite something and suggests we have reached a sort of tipping point. It even got mentioned on the BBC this morning.

OK, I hear you cry, is Gervais’s intervention necessary? If “woke” films lose money and Netflix/other hoover up the market, that is capitalism in action in its most brutal and bracing way. That of course is all true. And there have been and will be films made that upset fans and conventional wisdom, whether from a traditional conservative or socially radical point of view. So long as it is a free market, that’s fine. (But when the State intrudes with subsidies, this becomes a big problem.)

But the benefit at times of having someone such as Gervais drop some bombs on an awards ceremony is that paradoxically, he highlights the place of awards events in business sectors. Industry awards ceremonies are marketing exercises, and there is, as with all types of business, a law of diminishing returns if there are lots of them: the more awards there are, the less each one matters over time. The decisions about who gets what gong and for what are subject to lots of political eye-gouging. A lot is at stake in terms of PR, contracts and connections. And in a slightly less venal way, awards are a chance for people to meet old friends, make some new contacts and have a glass or two in convivial surroundings (and there’s nothing wrong about that, by the way).

However, for all their annoying qualities and diminishing returns, awards events can also be a chance for an industry that is a bit under the cosh to put its best faces forward, to plead a case, to show it still counts. There are awards events for every sector under the sun, from architecture to IT.

Funnily enough some of the smarter Hollywood people (yes, they exist) probably know they have a problem with how the sector has been going, and Gervais touched on some of them: competition from new media; stale franchises and lack of originality, and yes, a liberal-left culture that alienates a large number of potential customers. The industry is vulnerable if actors and actresses lecture people about their carbon footprints or about sex, and then fly on private jets and hang out with the likes of Jeffrey Epstein. So awards ceremonies, even when someone like Gervais is nasty to the guests, have their uses, sometimes if only to tell a sector that it has a dose of the flu and needs to get better. They might even encourage change if the reaction is serious enough.

In my own industry of financial media, we have awards ceremonies too, and it is often quite a tricky point to know what sort of man or woman to nominate as the sort of warm-up act. A few years ago I went to a black tie gala evening run by an investment industry body. The bloke doing the warm-up gags was a hard-left socialist by the name of Frankie Boyle. It was like inviting Lenin to talk to the Institute of Directors. Boyle was disgusting and unpleasant, and people walked out. The Golden Globe audience, methinks, got off quite lightly.

Do read the Gervais speech. It is glorious.

I do think, reconsidering my article from a day ago, that Gervais was pretty out of order swearing at the crowd, and part of me wishes that he hadn’t done that, and that we could have a Hollywood that was classy and elegant. But rather as with Donald Trump, a vulgar, rough and no-nonsense person is necessary to burn down what exists before the rebuilding can take place. Or to use an expression from the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter, we need creative destruction.

The Attorney General reads “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”

Like it says on the tin, here is a video in which Geoffrey Cox reads ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas.

No political point is being made. I just thought he read it rather well. If the politics gig doesn’t work out, a more respectable career awaits him as a voiceover artist.

Happy [insert festival of choice here, including but not limited to Christmas and Wednesday] to all our readers.

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.