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]

I predicted this, it didn’t happen. I predicted this, it didn’t happen. I predicted this, it’s happening.

European MPs targeted by deepfake video calls imitating Russian opposition

Three cheers for the European Super League!

Nothing official yet but it would appear that there are plans for a European Super League. Yes, I know you’re thinking, “Don’t we already have one of those?” Sort of, except that the Champions League is not a league let alone one of champions. This, on the other hand, would be a proper week-in, week-out competition to determine who – really – is the best team in the world.

Shockingly, some people don’t seem to like it. UEFA doesn’t like it. FIFA doesn’t like it. The British Government – you really would have thought that Boris Johnson would have bigger things on his mind right now – doesn’t like it. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “If *a**e*s like FIFA and the British government are against it, it must be a good thing.” And you know what? you are absolutely right. But there are other reasons to like it. What it means is that ordinary people will be able to watch the best football in the world on a weekly basis. It also means that the footballers who people actually want to watch will get their just rewards. In many ways it is just as revolutionary as the creation of the Premier League in 1993 or the creation of the world’s first league in 1888 or the decision to ban handling and kicking people in the shins. Frankly, it’s about bloody time.

Of course, it is bad news for rubbish teams. But who cares about them? As it happens, I do. I support one of them, well, when they’re not promoting communist thuggery (but that’s another story). But I don’t expect the world to be discombobulated just so I can watch them pulverise the best team on the planet every once in a while. I will still be able to support them – subject to semi-permanent Covid restrictions, of course. They’ll just have to cut their coat to suit their cloth that’s all. Who knows, maybe the competition will stir the game’s organisers to improve it. Perhaps, we’ll see an end to the ridiculous offside rule or sin-bins instead of bookings or even the re-introduction of handling and kicking people in the shins.

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.”

Portugal has a socialist education policy

“Portugal blocks remote lessons at private schools to help state pupils”, the Times reports.

Portugal has blocked private schools from offering remote learning for at least a fortnight amid fears that more privileged children will gain an unfair advantage over their poorer counterparts after the closure of state schools.

The minority Socialist-led government of António Costa, the prime minister, had said this month that schools would remain open. However, political pressure over soaring Covid-19 infections forced it to announce last Thursday that schools would be closed from the next day.

A decree forced all schools to take a two week holiday, with the government saying that allowing private institutions to teach remotely would put state-school pupils at an unfair disadvantage.

As a commenter, “Mr N D” says, “The headline is misleading. This isn’t helping anyone at all, it’s making sure that everyone is held back.”

Ursula von der Leyen speaks about creating a “truly global common good”

When a politician says the words “common good” it is usually with a very specific meaning, and this use of the phrase by Ms von der Leyen is no exception:

“The EU vows to force firms to declare what vaccines are being exported to the UK as Ursula von der Leyen says she ‘means business’ about getting bloc’s ‘fair share’ – despite warnings a blockade to help shambolic rollout could ‘poison’ relations”, the Daily Mail reports.

Ursula von der Leyen today vowed to make firms declare what vaccines they are exporting to the UK as she scrambled to contain a backlash at the EU’s shambolic rollout.

The commission president said a ‘transparency mechanism’ is being introduced as she insisted that the bloc ‘means business’ about getting its fair share of supplies.

The sabre-rattling from Brussels, which comes amid growing chaos and protests across the continent, has incensed senior MPs, with warnings that the EU could ‘poison’ relations for a generation if it blocks some of the 40million Pfizer doses the UK has bought ‘legally and fairly’.

But “Is the EU to blame for AstraZeneca’s vaccine shortage?” asks Robert Peston in the Spectator.

Short answer: yes.

The important difference between AstraZeneca’s relationship with the UK and its relationship with the EU – and the reason it has fallen behind schedule on around 50m vaccine doses promised to the bloc – is that the UK agreed its deal with AstraZeneca a full three months before the EU did. This gave AstraZeneca an extra three months to sort out manufacturing and supply problems relating to the UK contract (there were plenty of problems).

Here is the important timeline. In May AstraZeneca reached an agreement with Oxford and the UK government to make and supply the vaccine. In fact, Oxford had already started work on the supply chain.

The following month AstraZeneca reached a preliminary agreement with Germany, the Netherlands, France and Italy, a group known as the Inclusive Vaccine Alliance, based on its agreement with the UK. That announcement was on 13 June.

But the EU then insisted that the Inclusive Vaccine Alliance could not formalise the deal, and the European Commission took over the contract negotiations on behalf of the whole EU. So there were another two months of talks and the contract was not signed until the end of August.

What is frustrating for AstraZeneca is that the extra talks with the European Commission led to no material changes to the contract, but this wasted time that could have been spent making arrangements to manufacture the vaccine with partner sites. The yield at these EU partner sites has been lower than expected.

UPDATE: It’s hotting up: The Daily Mail reports, “Now EU wants our vaccines: Brussels demands Covid jabs made in Britain are sent to EUROPE as one lab warns banning exports from the bloc will mean NO more doses are made”

A land battle and a sea battle – in a book about Beethoven

I’ve been reading a three-volume fictionalised life of Beethoven, by, of all people, John Suchet, whom most people probably know only as a television newsreader.

The way Suchet tells the story, Beethoven was an oddball from the start. I recall doing a posting here about how Beethoven’s deafness prevented him from having a normal life, as a star pianist, but Suchet’s Beethoven was always set on getting shot of being merely a talented performer, and on becoming a great composer.

Beethoven’s friends and supporters had to put up with a lot at the hands of the irascible genius. They took all the angry insults and demands because, when it came to it, they shared Beethoven’s high opinion of his musical genius, and because they knew also what miseries Beethoven himself had to contend with.

Beethoven’s deafness was no mere inability to hear all the sounds he was surrounded by. It was also the presence of other often very loud sounds inside his own head, often painfully so.

And just to put a tin lid on everything, throughout a lot of Beethoven’s adult life, he had to contend with the consequences of war. Napoleon’s armies took possession of Beethoven’s city of birth, Bonn, and then of the city where Beethoven was based for most of his adult life, Vienna. Quite aside from the usual deaths and disruptions this inflicted upon the Viennese, this played havoc with Beethoven’s various plans to get rich and thereby achieve the freedom he yearned for to just compose his music.

In connection with some of this fighting, Suchet, like the journalist he is, quotes a couple of stories that the Wiener Zeitung published, on a particularly black day for Vienna, in October 1805.

The first concerned the disastrous battle of Ulm:

OUR BRAVE FORCES FACE IGNOMINY!

On 20th October 1805, outside the city of Ulm in southern Bavaria, some twenty thousand of our brave Imperial soldiers, fighting for the honour of His Imperial Majesty, stood and faced the forces of the French imposter Bonaparte, His Excellency General Mack von Leiberich in command.

By an entirely dishonourable manoeuvre, against all the rules of war, the French succeeded in surrounding the Imperial Austrian army.

It is our sad duty to report that General Mack was forced to surrender his army of twenty thousand to the French, handing over the illustrious colours of our brave forebears. The French have taken forty-nine thousand prisoners, whose release His Imperial Majesty is making strenuous efforts to secure.

The latest intelligence from the battle front is that the French are marching east towards our border.

We call on all able-bodied citizens to make preparations to resist the army of the French. The same Bastion which resisted the Turkish invader a century and a quarter ago is being made secure and our civil forces are drilling on the Glacis in readiness to repulse the invader.

John Suchet then adds that at the bottom of this one page, that being all that the Wiener Zeitung could manage on this particular day, there was, in considerably smaller print, a briefer item, which was, Suchet says, “largely ignored by the people of Vienna”. This concerned an insignificant sea battle, somewhere or other off the coast of Spain:

One day after the ignominy suffered by our forces at Ulm, a Franco-Spanish fleet was defeated by a British fleet under the command of His Lordship Nelson off the Cape of Trafalgar.

So, good news, surely. But the Wiener Zeitung cannot force itself to deceive its readers:

This victory for the allies, inglorious and shameful as it is for the enemy, will have no effect on the progress of the war on land.

There you have it. The Continental European attitude to the relative importance of sea power and land power. It took quite a while for that little sea battle to result in the undermining of Napoleon’s power, but it definitely had consequences.

The Samizdata world view is more than a mere preference for navies over armies. But that contrast is definitely part of the story.

I don’t think a German or Austrian author, writing about Beethoven, would have pointed up this particular contrast the way Suchet does. And does, I think you will agree, rather gleefully, despite him ending his chapter with that second quote.

Trouble comes to the EU from three directions

“The EU is a divided house”, writes John Keiger at the Spectator:

A 2019 German think tank report, entitled ‘20 Years of the Euro; Winners and Losers’, costed the single currency’s impact on individual states. From 1999 to 2017, only Germany and the Netherlands were serious winners with the former gaining a huge € 1.9 trillion, or around €23,000 per inhabitant.

In all other states analysed the Euro has provoked a drop in prosperity, with France losing a massive €3.6 trillion and Italy €4.3 trillion. French losses amount to €56,000 per capita and for Italians €74,000. Without fundamental reform the nineteen-member single currency’s divide between high-debt, high-unemployment southern states and their low-debt, low-unemployment northern counterparts will widen. The next crisis will come as the ECB’s quantitative easing programme ends and southern debt ceases to be sucked up by the Bank.

“The EU’s China deal is bad for democracy”, writes Edward Lucas at the Times:

The deal itself is quite narrow. It replaces and amplifies multiple existing agreements, with the aim of protecting investors against arbitrary treatment. Their bugbears include mandatory joint ventures, which China uses to steal technology and other secrets, and subsidies for local competitors. China has also made a mealy-mouthed commitment to make “continued and sustained efforts” to ratify International Labour Organization conventions that underpin free trade unions and prohibit slave labour.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) may have given away a bit on this front but has gained far more on others. Hopes of a global stance against Chinese bullying are dashed. Australia, the subject of ferocious pressure, is left marooned. Countries mulling how far to stand up to China will draw their own conclusions: Europe talks about values but self-interest trumps solidarity.

The deal exemplifies the gap between the EU’s foreign policy aims and reality. The European Commission claims to be “geopolitical”. In 2019 it deemed China a “strategic rival”. Yet the mercantilist influence of big business, particularly in Germany, steamrollers ethical and security concerns.

“EU’s coronavirus vaccination strategy in chaos as supplies run short”, write Oliver Moody and Charles Bremner, also in the Times:

The European Union’s vaccine strategy has been criticised as “clearly inadequate” after a first week of inoculation on the continent was marred by logistical mishaps.

President Macron reprimanded his ministers over France’s sluggish start after only 400 people received the Pfizer-Biontech jab in the first six days.

A senior German minister and the German-Turkish scientist who developed the Biontech vaccine questioned why the EU had not amassed a sufficient stockpile of the only vaccine it had licensed. Brussels has ordered up to 300 million doses of the jab — barely enough to cover a third of the EU’s 450 million residents — but turned down an offer of an extra 500 million doses, according to Der Spiegel magazine. This has left the bloc dependent on a range of vaccines that have yet to be licensed, including those from Sanofi and Curevac, which are not expected to be available until at least the second half of the year.

But the EU has survived many predictions of its demise, and it is not the only union of nations under strain. “With Brexit, the UK may be bolstering the EU and seeding its own disintegration”, writes Andrew Hammond in the South China Morning Post:

Within the EU, for instance, there are several key debates about the 27-member bloc’s future well under way, including rebalancing the union given the new balance of power within it, and whether the EU now integrates further, disintegrates or muddles through.

For instance, with the UK no longer in the Brussels-based club, the EU 27 has already made significant steps last year towards greater federalism. One example is the new €750 billion (US$825 billion) coronavirus recovery fund, a major political milestone in the post-war history of European integration, which saw the continent’s presidents and prime ministers commit for the first time to the principle of jointly issued debt as a funding tool.

What do you think will happen to the EU? What do you want to happen? Views from citizens or residents of EU countries would be especially welcome.

This proves what I always said about Brexit!

Says absolutely everyone.

UK faces Brexit limbo after talks deadline missed

Britain risks weeks without trade transition plans from 1 January after missing EU parliament Sunday deadline

– The Guardian last night.

Europe shuts door on Britain over fears of mutant virus

• Countries ban UK travellers as Covid cases rise by 50% in a week • Health secretary admits new strain is ‘out of control’

Britain’s border with France was closed last night with all travellers and lorry drivers blocked from leaving and the EU ready to ban all arrivals to the bloc.

Fears were mounting of gridlock on roads in Kent as the Channel Tunnel said that its services would be suspended at 11pm yesterday amid an international scramble to quarantine Britain over a faster-spreading variant of coronavirus.

Flights, ferries and trains from Britain are expected to be banned by Brussels after a wave of European countries including Italy, the Netherlands and Ireland implemented bans on arrivals. Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Poland, Germany and Sweden also announced travel bans. Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, said no flights from the UK would be allowed to land for 72 hours, a move which came into effect at midnight.

– The Times this morning.

“Hey, Brexshitters, Macron just proved that being a member of the EU does not mean you lose control of your borders. This just proves how idiotic your “sovereignty” argument was.”

“Hey, Remoaners, all the awful things you said were going to happen if we left the EU without a deal are happening anyway. Might as well make it official.”

P.S. This proves what I always said about Covid, too.

A change of tune

“Brussels moves to preserve access to London clearing houses”, reports the Financial Times.

Brussels is to adopt emergency measures to preserve Europe’s access to crucial UK financial market infrastructure after the country’s post-Brexit transition period expires, the bloc’s regulation chief said on Thursday.

Valdis Dombrovskis, the European Commission’s executive vice-president in charge of financial policy, said Brussels would adopt “time-limited” access rights to make sure that European companies could still access UK-based clearing houses after the end of this year.

“This decision is being taken to address the possible risks to financial stability related to the specific area of derivatives clearing,” Mr Dombrovskis said. “However, we would encourage all market participants to prepare for all possible eventualities, as we have consistently called on them to do throughout this process.”

Mr Dombrovskis did not specify when the access rights would expire, but the move will provide short-term certainty for traders in the specific area of clearing while Brussels continues to discuss future relations with the UK.

To be frank I have only the vaguest idea what a clearing house does. It sounds worryingly like tidying. But whatever it is, for the EU to adopt “emergency measures to preserve Europe’s access to crucial UK financial market infrastructure” seems a distinct change from its previous policy, also mentioned in the article:

Brussels has repeatedly urged the financial sector and companies to adapt to the fact that Britain is leaving the single market; the EU also adopted legislation last year to make it easier to force clearing houses to relocate to the continent. But progress has been slower than the EU had hoped and investors have kept their business in the UK.

I am not surprised at the investors’ decision. I do not need to be an expert in decluttered differentials to be able to work out that if the EU felt the need to pass laws to make it easier to force investors to move their business out of the UK that means they would be better off staying put.

Another reason why state funding of political parties is a bad idea

“Viktor Orban ruins his rivals with power grab”, the Times reports.

Under a regime described by critics as the “omnipotence law”, Mr Orban’s government is able to take sweeping measures to tackle the coronavirus epidemic without parliamentary approval.

Within days of the reform it announced that parties, banks, multinational corporations and local councils would be obliged to pay into a £3.3 billion national fund designed to cushion the blow to the Hungarian economy.

Political parties must hand over half of the grants they receive from the state, a total of about £2.8 million, Gergely Gulyas, one of Mr Orban’s closest ministerial allies, said. The measure will apply to all Hungarian parties, including Fidesz, the prime minister’s party, which is backed by businesses that have benefited from public contracts. Some of its struggling rivals, however, are heavily reliant on public funding. Jobbik, the largest opposition party in the National Assembly, is still reeling from a fine of nearly £1 million after auditors found that it had underpaid for billboard advertising.

Emphasis added. From what little I know of Hungarian politics, the Jobbik and Fidesz parties seem to have swapped bodies. I hold no brief for either. But I can sympathise with the plight of anybody – or any body – that suddenly has their financial support kicked away. Unfortunately that is what happens when the state pays your bills: what the state gives, the state can take away. Hence the “self ownership” tag on this post.

As I wrote the above, I remembered having written something very similar before. That post was about the last of the Kalahari Bushmen. The plight of the last opposition parties of Hungary is not quite as desperate as theirs, but give it time.

Is Italy heading for a (Terror-)Famine? Spanish press report

The ‘conservative’ Spanish newspaper/site abc.es. has a report about the food situation in Italy (in Spanish) which indicates the following, something our media seems to ignore, per my translation:

‘Increasing woe in Italy due to the coronavirus: almost 3,000,000 people need food aid’

There’s a 10% uplift there, as the report gives a breakdown with more details.

In Campania more than 530,000 people need food, almost 9% of the region’s population. More than 364,000 in Sicily, almost 283,000 in Calabria. Even Lazio has more than 263,000 people in need. One analysis says around 2,700,000 people need food aid.

There is much discussion of raids on pharmacies and supermarkets, with police guarding them. This might be Southern politicians screaming for ‘pork’. Or perhaps the economy collapses when the State imposes lockdowns.

The Italian State has responded (to the problem it created)

Urgent response of the government

On Saturday night, the government responded urgently to this cry of alarm from the whole South of Italy, where there is a grave risk which some have called a ‘Social Bomb’ or ‘A Social Powderkeg’ which could explode if urgent solutions aren’t found.

The Prime Minister announced on Saturday night aid of 4,300,000,000 euros for families (Mr Ed. What type of family?) and another 400,000,000 euros in vouchers “to help the citizenry who have no money to buy basic necessities”

Or is this about something else? This paragraph caught my eye:

The challenge of the black economy

The ex-president of the National Anticorruption Authority, Raffaele Cantone, a prestigious Napolitan magistrate, has indicated that the true challenge is the black economy, with thousands of people who are now helpless: «It’s about the existence –says Cantone– of a parallel economy which everyone knows about, which some, and not only Southerners, exploit and many others tolerate, hypocritically pretending that they can’t see it.»

And how long here before our food supply chains might disintegrate, when people have to laboriously shop 2 meters apart, queueing to get in, queueing to pay, as the capacity of the shops to serve customers is throttled, whether or not the products are limited or in short supply. Is there any modelling of how long this can go on, never mind if it should at all?

Germany and Italian COVID-19 data – and why they’re so different

Is there something about being Germany which protects the body against coronavirus Covid-19? Probably not, I would guess. In which case why do the latest figures from the Robert Koch Institute show that the country has a case fatality rate (CFR) of 0.3 per cent, while the World Health Organisation (WHO) figures from Italy seem to show a CFR of 9 per cent? To say there is a vast gulf between those figures is an understatement. If nine per cent of people who catch Covid-19 are going to die from it we are facing a calamity beyond parallel in the modern world. If only 0.3 per cent of people who catch it die from it, this pandemic may yet turn out to be no worse than seasonal flu, which as I have explained here before is estimated by the US Centers for Disease Control to kill between 291,000 and 646,000 people a year without the world really noticing. According to John Hopkins University, which is collating fatalities data, 15,308 have died to date.

Ross Clark, Spectator (behind paywall).

A couple more:

Germany is almost certainly behind Italy in this epidemic. But the main difference between Germany and Italy lies in those countries’ respective attitudes towards testing. Germany has carried out far more enthusiastic testing of the general population – there does not seem to be a central figure for this, but the German Doctors’ Association has estimated that 200,000 people across the country have been tested. In Britain, it is 64,000 people. On the other hand, German hospitals do not routinely test for the presence of coronavirus in patients who are dying or who have died of other diseases. Italy, by contrast, is performing posthumous coronavirus tests on patients whose deaths might otherwise have been attributed to other causes.

It stands to reason that the more people who are tested, the more accurate a picture we will have of the mortality rate, the transmission rate and other metrics which will determine the eventual path of this pandemic. To underline the uncertainties behind the data from which policy is currently being made, the Royal Society of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine the other day estimated the number of people in Britain who already have or have had Covid-19 at between 6,000 and 23 million. That is a pretty broad spread with hugely different implications. If only 6,000 have the disease in Britain, socially-distancing the population or locking down society might have a purpose. If 23 million have the disease, it is pointless – it already has ripped its way through the population but without killing more than a tiny percentage.

What we really need is a huge effort to test a large randomised sample of the population to see how widespread the infection is. Hopefully, that will soon happen. But in the meantime, I am minded to think that the more accurate picture of Covid-19 comes from the country which has conducted the most tests: Germany.

The more I read, the more it seems to me that randomised testing, as Clark writes, is crucial, not least in reducing hysteria and the effects that hysteria is having, and will continue to have, on our society and business. The costs, in terms of stress, the destruction of businesses and so much effort, needs to be weighed.

I have come across a few comments on social media, of the passive/aggressive sort, that “it is so amusing to see all these experts all over social media on epidemics” – the implication being that the mass public should shut up, “stay in your lane” and let the men/women in white coats take charge. The problem with this however is what happens if the experts disagree, or if their policy advice causes so much damage, including to the liberties and welfare of the citizenry, that a democratically elected politician has to make a judgement call? We don’t, rightly, outsource vast coercive powers to everyone who claims to be an expert on something. That’s not how it is supposed to work.