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]

BBC quote of the pandemic

What’s changed is not the evidence – of which there is none so far to prove either scenario – but the politics. The lab-leak theory, born into an environment poisoned by disinformation, was undermined not so much by China’s denials, but by the fact it was being pumped by former US President Donald Trump.

Media organisations everywhere gave it the cold shoulder. My own attempts to look seriously at the lab-leak theory in May last year ran into long and fraught editorial discussions before it finally made it to publication.

Thus says the BBC’s China correspondent in a story linked from the BBC’s front page today. When Trump raised it, it was poisonous disinformation. Now Biden is raising it, the BBC is treating it with more respect.

What the Bashir story revealed about how far the BBC would go should not have surprised me – but did. By contrast, the only surprising thing about this revelation is that they admit it. (So give a little credit where a very little credit is due. Others in the MSM will pretend that “new evidence now indicates what only an absurdist like Trump would believe last year”, or take the even easier line, already much used with masks, of silently implying that Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.)

Meanwhile, of course, ‘our’ BBC will continue to insist that just because they forge bank statements to pretend their fake news is true, that doesn’t mean that we can forge bank statements to pretend we’ve paid their licence fee. And while the beeb take the lab-leak theory seriously now that Biden does, I think that even if Biden were to come out with another gaffe-boast about having

“the most extensive and inclusive voter fraud organisation in the history of US politics”

the BBC would not become a jot less derisive of Trump’s theory about that. No experience of the failure of their reporting seems to shake the BBC’s faith in its essential excellence.

The Streisand-Challenor effect

On the evening of the 22nd March, visitors to the main UK politics subreddit, /r/ukpolitics found a mysterious message saying that the subreddit, which has nearly 400,000 members, had been set to “private” by its own volunteer moderators.

It was the beginning of a cascade. The lights are going off all over Reddit! Subreddit after subreddit was set to private in sympathy with /r/ukpolitics. Most of them dealt with topics unrelated to politics. At its peak the wave of protest closures affected subreddits collectively having tens of millions of members all over the world.

To understand why this protest against Reddit by its own users gained such traction, we need to go back to the 8th of March when the Spectator published an article by its unlikeliest new writer, the radical left wing “gender critical” feminist Julie Bindel, called “The Green party’s woman problem”. It contained the lines,

The formidable feminist author and journalist Bea Campbell, a former Green party candidate, resigned from the party last year after being disciplined, in part for refusing to keep quiet about the shocking and disturbing Aimee Challenor case.

That brief reference to “the Aimee Challenor case” was to have dramatic consequences. A hyperlink on the word “case” linked in turn to this Independent article dated 13 January 2019:

Aimee Challenor: Green star failed to properly alert party of father’s child rape charges Independent investigation found transgender activist only alerted two colleagues in ‘informal’ Facebook message

Having parted ways with the Greens, Aimee Challenor joined the Liberal Democrats. Once again her association with the party ended as a result of child safeguarding issues related to someone with whom she lived. This time it was her fiancé Nathaniel Knight. He claims his twitter account was hacked.

A point to note: these events were widely reported. Given a prompt about a person who had left both the Greens and the Lib Dems under a cloud, anyone who follows UK political news would probably be able to dig up her name in half a dozen keystrokes.

Getting back to the main story, at about quarter to eleven on the morning of the 23rd, the ukpolitics subreddit reappeared. It now carried the following announcement:

→ Continue reading: The Streisand-Challenor effect

Why do so many Americans get their news from British newspapers? This is why.

Today’s Daily Mail:

“Nothing to see here: How most of the left-leaning US media totally ignored Biden’s Air Force One stumble – while the foreign press did their job for them”

The Mail’s Keith Griffith writes,

Major left-leaning U.S. press outlets are largely avoiding mention of President Joe Biden’s repeated stumbles as he boarded Air Force One, while many foreign publications are devoting prominent coverage to the incident.

As of Friday afternoon, the homepages of MSNBC, CBS News, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and New York Times had no mention of Biden’s stumbling incident earlier in the day at Joint Base Andrews.

and

In contrast to the lack of interest in Biden’s stumbles, mainstream U.S. outlets heavily covered an incident last year, in which Trump took mincing baby-steps down a ramp at West Point, which he later explained was ‘very slippery.’

Although Trump did not stumble during the incident, it sparked rampant speculation about his health and criticism over his capacities, including from Biden himself.

‘Look at how he steps and look at how I step,’ Biden said in September 2020, in a clip featured on CNN. ‘Watch how I run up ramps and he stumbles down ramps. OK? Come on.’

If you want to follow Mr Biden’s own advice and compare Trump to Biden on Trip Advisor, the indefatigable New York Post is one of the few US papers with clips of both.

Spread the word

“Second translator of Amanda Gorman’s Joe Biden inauguration poem dumped”, reports the Times.

A fresh controversy over translations of the poem read out at President Biden’s inauguration has erupted after a Catalan man said that his version had been rejected because he had the wrong “profile”.

Amanda Gorman’s five-minute poem, The Hill We Climb, was initially commissioned to be translated by Victor Obiols, a 60-year-old Catalan poet and musician. Five thousand copies of the version by Obiol, who has translated works by Oscar Wilde and William Shakespeare, were set to be brought out by the Catalan publishing house Univers by April 8.

However, Ester Pujol, of Univers, told the Catalan newspaper La Vanguardia that the author’s US agency had subsequently expressed a preference that the translation be done instead by “a woman who is young, an activist and a poet, with experience as a translator and, preferably, African American.” Gorman is 23 and black.

How many African-Americans speak Catalan – at all, let alone to the level required of a professional translator? How many Americans speak Catalan? Most translation agencies insist that their translators work into their native tongue because it is very rare for anyone to gain a command of a second language equal to that of their first. Why do Ms Gorman’s US agents value the nationality of their translator above their having Catalan as their mother tongue? Even if we assume that the only reason Gorman’s agents specified “African-American” was that they have set their autocorrect with that as the replacement for “black”, there still cannot be many people who fulfil all those criteria. There are not many black Catalans. Experienced translators of any race are not likely to be young.

The Dutch writer Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, 29, resigned as translator of Gorman’s work in the Netherlands after criticism that she was not black.

Despite the precedent, the Catalan poet was taken aback by the publisher’s decision. “If I cannot translate a poet because she is a woman, young, black, and a American of the 21st century, then I cannot translate Homer either because I am not an eighth-century BC Greek,” he said. “Nor could I have translated Shakespeare because I am not a 16th-century Englishman.”

Banned from Twitter

I just got banned from Twitter, which I do find hilarious to be honest, given the things they tolerate. Have no intention of pressing that ‘remove’ button. Wotevah…

On Gab.com from now on, was moving away from Twitter anyway as more and more of the interesting people have been banned.

I foresee a steady division process in which Twitter only tolerates what Kristian Niemietz describes as “high status opinions”, with platforms like Gab, Minds and Parler etc. becoming the home for contrary views. In short, social media will be more of an echo chamber, much like it was during the ‘golden age of blogging’ 2001-2009, when you knew exactly what to expect from a given site (such as this one for example). I always saw the whole point of platforms like Twitter as being where things get mixed up and people spar across the divide. But that will increasingly not be the case, so not sure what Twitter et al are really for.

Parler is back

Twitter competitor Parler is back after having been de-hosted by Amazon, a salutary lesson om how unwise it is to make your business dependent on people who hate you.

Seems a good time to introduce a new Samizdata category: culture wars

George Monbiot comes out in favour of censorship

“Covid lies cost lives – we have a duty to clamp down on them”, he writes in the Guardian.

I will skip the bit where I tell Samizdata readers why censorship is morally bad. You already know. Once upon a time Mr Monbiot knew, too, but it no longer surprises me to see that yet another left winger has succumbed to the modern McCarthyism. You would think sixty-five years of fantasising about how they would have stood up to Senator McCarthy or his equivalents in the House Un-American Activities Committee would have strengthened their spines a little more. But I can still be shocked at how much of a betrayal of the scientific method Mr Monbiot’s attempt to defend science by means of forbidding the publication of opposing hypotheses represents. As a commenter called “tomsmells” says,

This is quite an astounding agenda, considering how new this virus is and how frequently the experts in control have been wrong. Perhaps we should have considered banning talk of encouraging mask wearing when it was very much not considered a good idea by the experts in charge? Or when loss of taste and smell wasn’t considered a symptom? I’m not sure it would have been helpful for the understanding of what works and what doesn’t. It probably won’t be now either even though you seem to suggest we apparently we know exactly how to deal with this virus, despite the bodies piling up around the world. In circumstances when you clearly don’t have all the answers, it can’t be a good idea to ban ideas your consistently wrong scientists disagree with. That is essentially how freedom of speech functions within a democracy, ideas get talked about, hopefully the best prevail.

And on top of that, surely you can see how this approach is wrought with danger? It’s always easy to do the censoring, but bugger me is it difficult when you are the one being censored. Bear that in mind when you advocate this level of censorship, particularly in a debate when you have no doubt been wrong about plenty of things – which may I add is no shame, this is a complicated and evolving problem whose solution won’t be found any faster by banning discussion.

I do not usually recommend that you read the publications of the Socialist Workers Party

The Socialist Workers Party (Glad you asked, comrade: apostrophes are a bourgeois affectation!) are a bunch of Trotskyist goblins with admittedly good organisational skills. Back in 2011, I reminisced about how you could turn up at any demonstration for any left wing cause in Britain over the last forty years and find that their lank-haired activists had been there handing out posters since 4 a.m.:

Three quarters of the posters, and almost all of the printed ones, were produced by the Socialist Workers Party. Busy little bees, they were. They still are: it is an astonishing fact that this tiny and fissiparous Trotskyist sect has twice dominated massive popular protest movements in my lifetime; the Anti-Nazi League / Rock against Racism movement of the 80s and the Stop The War Coalition of 2001-2008. Sorry, 2001-present, only they stop wars much more quietly now that Mr Obama is president. They were also big in CND.

Their literary output is not usually enticing. But I would recommend you read this press release of theirs while you still can.

Press release: Facebook shuts down major left wing group in Britain

January 22, 2021

Press release: Facebook shuts down major left wing group in Britain

For immediate release.

Facebook has shut down the accounts of one of the biggest left wing organisations in Britain, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) (1). The Socialist Workers Party Facebook page – as well as account of local pages – have been removed from Facebook with no explanation given. Those targeted say it amounts to a silencing of political activists.

Facebook took the action on Friday, shutting down the Socialist Workers Party page and removing dozens of leading SWP activists from the platform.

The SWP Facebook page regularly posts in support of Palestine, Black Lives Matter and against Boris Johnson’s Covid policies. It also hosts dozens of online events every week that activists across the country take part in.

The SWP say they have been silenced for speaking out on these issues and that the action taken by Facebook amounts to an attack on political activists to organise. They are demanding to be reinstated immediately.

Bye, bye Swappers. You were a presence in British politics for nearly half a century, British as damson jam from Jeremy Corbyn’s allotment. And now you are gone from one platform, just like that, and soon you will be gone from the others.

Incidentally, that nine year old post of mine contained a link to this Guardian story that I expect has had more clicks in the last two weeks than in the nine years before that:

Student protester jailed for throwing fire extinguisher:

A student who admitted throwing a fire extinguisher from the roof of a central London building during the student fees protests has been jailed.

Edward Woollard, 18, from Hampshire, was among protesters who broke into the Tory party headquarters and emerged on the roof on 10 November.

He was jailed for two years and eight months after admitting at an earlier hearing to committing violent disorder.

Police said his actions “could have resulted in catastrophic injury”.

And so it could. Mere chance that it didn’t.

The student, who hoped to be the first member of his family to go on to higher education, was filmed throwing an empty metal fire extinguisher from the seventh-floor of 30 Millbank as hundreds of people gathered in a courtyard below.

The canister narrowly missed a line of police officers attempting to protect the looted and vandalised building from further damage on a day when 66 people were arrested.

Yet John McDonnell MP, later to become Shadow Chancellor, thought Woollard was hard done by.

  • Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has faced criticism for allegedly supporting student Edward Woollard, who was jailed for throwing a fire extinguisher off a roof during student riots
  • Uncovered: John McDonnell Praises 2010 Riots

    Look at Niall Kilmartin’s post of January 15th. That and other accounts of the death of Officer Brian Sicknick from injuries sustained at the riot at the US capitol provide an interesting comparison.

  • Strange goings on in Scottish politics

    First Minister Nicola Sturgeon ought to be riding high. The Mirror reports, “Nicola Sturgeon’s coronavirus handling has won over swathe of voters with support for Scottish independence hitting 57 PER CENT, poll finds”. There have been something like seventeen polls in a row showing majority support for independence. For myself, I would be enormously sad to see Scotland leave the UK, but that is not the point of this post.

    The point is to ask what the hell is really going on? Something must be. Go to the leading pro-Independence blog Wings Over Scotland and the message from the bloggers and the commenters is one of fury with Sturgeon and despair over the prospects of independence. Compared to 2014 it is a different world.

    I do understand the outline of the events that led to the convening of the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints, and which have led the Herald to report,

    ALEX Salmond has cast further doubt on appearing in person before the Holyrood inquiry into his legal fight with the Scottish Government in an escalating war of words with its convener. The former First Minister’s lawyer said his client feared that telling the whole truth to MSPs under oath would leave him “in jeopardy of criminal prosecution”.

    What stumps me is how it comes about that the reporting by Scottish newspapers (most of whom are anti-independence) seems to support Nicola Sturgeon and speak as if independence is all but inevitable while the leading pro-independence blogs seem sure her resignation and disgrace are imminent and that she has put back the prospects of independence by years. What is not being said? Who is not saying it?

    The second most popular pro-Independence blog is probably the far left Bella Caledonia. Or maybe it isn’t any more – much can change in six years and much has. In 2014 Wings and Bella were in lockstep, fighting for the same goal. Now they oppose each other bitterly.

    All the more surprising, then, to read a guest post on Wings, to find myself moved by its patent honesty, then to get to the end of the post and find (a) that it was by someone who until a year or so ago was one of the leading lights of Bella, and (b) that someone is Robin McAlpine. He is the left wing authoritarian (I do not completely repeat myself; there are some points where the two circles on the Venn diagram do not overlap) who wrote an Orwellian piece for Bella called “Real Freedom Sounds Like Many Voices” in which he proposed to institute a system for newspapers like that which supports the BBC: there would be a compulsory newspaper subscription payable by all Scots (the supposed sweetener for this was that the newspapers so funded would be “free” – as in free of charge, not politically free), a handful of approved newspapers would be given government franchises, and, in his own words, “this would require that titles other than the franchised ones would be banned.” Mr McAlpine’s “Real Freedom” post dates from 2013. I wrote my Samizdata piece about it in 2017 when it looked as if Bella Caledonia might have collapsed. I wanted to preserve the memory of just how authoritarian Mr McAlpine’s views were.

    The piece dated 14 January 2021 by Mr McAlpine that so surprised and moved me is called “The Integrity of a Nation”. It begins,

    This time almost exactly two years ago I sat in a cafe close to Holyrood in a state of what I can only call shock. The enormity of what I’d just heard was sinking in; over the preceding nearly three hours I’d been introduced to all the gory detail of the plot against Alex Salmond. The last two years has at times been surreal for me as a result.

    Added later: For me, the key part of Robin McAlpine’s post was this:

    I believe that it started when a complaints procedure was created and designed to target a specific individual and pushed through over strong objections from the UK civil service.

    In a position of power, you should never create laws or procedures for a purpose related to the pursuit of an individual; it represents a gross misuse of those powers.

    Emphasis added. The manipulation of the law to target political opponents should concern anyone. The “specific individual” is of course Alex Salmond. He is not a nice man. His own defence lawyer does not think much of him. But there is a hell of a difference between having wandering hands and being a rapist. The prosecution had every chance to prove him a rapist and could not do it. A mostly female jury at the height of the #MeToo movement found him innocent of all thirteen charges. Before anyone chimes in, yes, one of them was “not proven” – that is still an acquittal. What a spectacular failure. Almost as if the case should never have been brought at all. Perhaps this failure resulted from the plague of memory loss that has afflicted many of Scotland’s top civil servants, Nicola Sturgeon herself, and her husband Peter Murrell, who happens to be Chief Executive of the SNP yet displays Biden-like levels of incuriosity regarding meetings of burning importance to that party that take place in his own house. For details see his Wikipedia page, though what it says now may not last the hour.

    REVEALED!

    Revealed: Tory MPs and commentators who joined banned app Parler

    Why do Americans think the media might be hiding things from them? Let’s try asking Tony Bobulinski on Twitter.

    “Why does the US fall for conspiracy theories?” asks Daniel Finkelstein in the Times.

    QAnon, the online conspiracy theory to which many Trump supporters subscribe, is like fan fiction, with endless riffs on Trump and increasingly bizarre plots about the skulduggery of his enemies. The contributors to this script have the pleasure of being the heroes of it, setting out to cleanse the nation. Like Matt Damon in The Bourne Identity, they have woken and are gradually peeling away layers of deception. The deep state behaves as it does in every film but will prove no match for the hero.

    The deep state behaves as it does in every film – As an aside, that, the endless stream of conspiracy thrillers put out by Hollywood, will do as Explanation No.1. The scriptwriters of these movies were unable to conceive of the cabal of senior people in the US government, the CIA, the FBI, and the military as anything other than right wing, but the imagination of the American people is not so limited.

    A personal best: I have digressed even before I began. The main point of this post is… ah, **** it, I already said it:

    By censoring the Hunter Biden story the MSM has destroyed its ability to convince Americans there was no vote fraud.

    By censoring the Hunter Biden story the MSM has also hampered its ability to convince Americans there is no “cabal of Satan-worshipping Democrats, Hollywood celebrities and billionaires” which “runs the world while engaging in pedophilia, human trafficking and the harvesting of a supposedly life-extending chemical from the blood of abused children.”

    It has also hampered its ability to convince Americans, and not only them, that they should be vaccinated against coronavirus. Hitherto the English-speaking countries plus the Nordics have been somewhat less prone to vaccine conspiracy theories than people in most of Western or Eastern Europe. I expect that to change, and that change will kill people. That is what happens when the boy cries wolf too many times.

    Lord Finkelstein (Note for foreign readers: I make no political point; he is a life peer) continues movingly:

    The second thing this analysis provides is a warning. Next week Granta will publish a book called The Fatherland and the Jews. It consists of two pamphlets published in Germany by my grandfather Alfred Wiener in 1919 and 1924. He alerts his readers to the danger posed by conspiracy theories, giving as an example the falsehood that the Kaiser had been a Jew because a (non-existent) affair between Queen Victoria and a doctor called Wolf allowed Jewish blood to enter the royal family. One day, he believed, such theories would lead to violence.

    In the same way, the blurring between fiction and reality is a terrible danger to Americans. As the Holocaust historian Timothy Snyder puts it, “post-truth is pre-fascism”. For years the mob shared conspiracy stories with each other and then, no longer able to distinguish between fantasy and reality, they used guns and violent incursion to provide their own denouement to the plot.

    Yes, false conspiracy theories are dangerous. One of the best defences a polity has against them is a reasonable level of trust in the authorities and the media. In the long run the only way to gain this trust is to be worthy of it, i.e. not to lie and not to hide the truth. By their promiscuous propagation of any story, however baseless, that might harm the Republicans and their enthusiastic censorship of any story, however credible, that might make the Democrats look bad, the American Woke Media, old and new, have lost this trust. As a result reality ensues, to quote TV Tropes. Or if you prefer the same truth in an older format, take your quote from William Caxton’s summary at the end of his retelling of the fable of the boy who cried wolf, “men bileve not lyghtly hym whiche is knowen for a lyer”.

    I am shocked, shocked to find that there has been a political riot in the US

    Biden victory confirmed after deadly attack on Capitol

    Note the convenient unidirectionality of the word “deadly” in that BBC report.

    A writing challenge for you: how would these events be reported if those who stormed the Capitol had been doing it in support of Black Lives Matter?