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]

Breaking News: New Covid variant found down the back of PM’s sofa

The spokesman continued, ‘If everyone could keep an eye out for new variants and send any new ones to the Ministry for Scaremongering, Whitehall, that would be very helpful. We still hope to completely unlock the country by 2050.’

Fitzrovia Circle

Buy Large Mansions

1909: “Socialism … It’s a grand scheme. You work for the equal distribution of property and you start by collaring all you can and sitting on it.” P.G.Wodehouse (comic author), ‘Mike and Psmith’.

2021: “I practice Marxism by getting rich and supporting my family.” Patrisse Khan-Cullors (BLM co-founder), TV Interview

Buy Large Mansions‘ was not something I expected to see added so soon to ‘Black Lives Murdered‘, ‘Bullshit Marxist Lies‘ and other clarifications of the acronym. It was obvious from the start that Chavez and his family would become stinking rich as Venezuelans starved, that Mugabe’s wealth would grow as his country’s vanished, but usually the socialists themselves say it openly only a good many years after seizing all power, not just a few months after stealing an election.

I think it was de Toqueville who said of nineteenth-century French revolutionaries: “I had the impression they were play-acting the French revolution much more than continuing it.” The same impression led Karl Marx, echoing Hegel, to write that history happens twice: “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” In that sense, Patrisse is indeed realising Marx’s vision.

She is also embodying P.G.Wodehouse’ joke. Foreseeable, avoidable tragedy is farcical. National Socialism conquered Germany, then Europe, before being pulled down by almost all the combined strength of the remainder of the world – and that was shameful, Hannah Arendt pointed out, because it was also ridiculous. The current state of the western world is less grave (as yet), but it is already shameful – because it is already ridiculous.

Courage in Comedy

Courage is not just a virtue; it is the form of every virtue under test. For a kindness or honesty which is only kind or honest while it is safe is not very virtuous. Pontius Pilate was merciful – till it became risky. (C.S. Lewis)

It’s not just virtue that needs courage. Jokes can need a little courage too. On one of Prince Philip’s visits to Australia, a virtue-signalling politico decided he would be asked the same questions as any immigrant.

Border Official: “Do you have a criminal record?”

Prince Philip: “I had no idea it was still a requirement.”

Witty remarks need wit – and timing (the worthlessness of ‘l’esprit d’escalier’ – that clever retort you think of whle descending the starcase after the party – has been proverbial for centuries). Humour cannot survive a too-timid inner censor (“Can I really say that? Dare I really say that?”) stealing the moment.

I’m not just talking about the overt courage some jokes need. That can be very real of course. Christabel Bielenberg fell in love with a German in 1932 and married him in 1934.

‘There can’t be many weddings in which the father of the bride stops the car on the road to the church and says to his daughter, “You can still call it off.”

In the very last days of WWII in Europe, she walked into the mayor’s office in the German community where she lived and noticed that the picture of Adolf Hitler was missing from the wall. Seeing her glance, the mayor explained he had put it in the fire the day before. Christabel thought of a joke about Adolf and his picture, automatically reminded herself not to say it out loud – and then realised with delight that for the first time in many years she could say it out loud, she no longer had to think first whether everyone present was ‘safe’. In the joke, Adolf muses to his picture, “I wonder what will happen to us after the war?” The picture replies, “I don’t wonder – I know: you’ll be hung and I’ll be unhung.” The mayor, like the vast majority of Germans, had never heard it – and till the day before would not have dared laugh at it. He spent the rest of the aftenoon suddenly guffawing and murmering, “hung – unhung”. Despite everything, the new freedom to laugh seems to have been a relief to him too. He – unlike Christabel but like too many Germans – had not had the courage to remain aware of his inner censor during the Nazi years; it had become part of him.

It’s not just the comedian who needs a little courage. The audience can also use a little of it. Prince Philip once joked to a British student in China that if he stayed there too long he might acquire ‘slitty eyes’. Thinking people (people not too scared to think) know that a joke does not mean what it literally says (and that Prince Philip did not imagine that the facial features of other nationalities could be caught through proximity, like a disease). Imagine that, back in 1937, visiting a family funeral in Germany, he had told a British student there to beware staying too long lest his head become squarer. The alleged ‘squareheads’ of native Germans in the first half of the 20th century betokened the too ordered, too obedient, too constrained thoughts within them, as the alleged ‘slitty eyes’ of native Chinese in the second half betokened the deceitful propaganda of the CCP. It should not be hard to get the joke’s point – unless of course, the very idea of thinking about an ethnic slur before condemning it is too terrifying to contemplate. “Do not trust China. China is asshole.” as a chinaman in Hong Kong more recently put it.

Orwell explained that putting the mind in a politically-correct box kills a writer’s creativity. Such cowardly conformity also hurts the sense of humour – the sense of humour.

The courage to joke also helps if your position tends to make others nervous:

“I realised afterwards that all his so-called ‘gaffes’ were quite the reverse. They were masterclasses in putting people at their ease. If he’d kept the royal drawbridge up and encouraged deference, all he would have had in his 73 years as the Queen’s husband would have been a series of terrified, tongue-tied people to talk to at a thousand events. For a serious, curious, clever man, that would have been agony. What he wanted was information, and perhaps a few laughs.” (The Truth about Prince Philip’s Gaffes)

And facing your death with courage will often mean facing it with humour. When the brilliant Oxford mathematician Sir Michael Atiyah (not so long before his own death) told Prince Philip how sorry he was to hear he was standing down from official duties in late 2017, Prince Philip replied:

‘Well, I can’t stand up much longer!’

The freedom to make a joke. The freedom to take a joke. Freedoms worth tending in the garden of your mind.

Samizdata quote of the day

“The people of Crete unfortunately make more history than they can consume locally.”

Saki (aka Hector Munro). I just liked this quotation. Yes, it has nothing really to do with anything current, which for my mental balance is a blessing. If anyone needs a mental health break from the Zombie Apocalypse, I recommend all of Saki’s stories.

And now for something completely different

This joke-post is the kind of thing that should normally appear on The Babylon Bee satire site or similar, alongside such stories as “CNN calls Arizona 2024 for Biden” and “Trump locks himself in Oval Office, Swallows Key” (and I’d be only too pleased if they used any or all of mine gratis). However I felt we could all do with a little humour in these endlessly uncertain times. 🙂

=== BREAKING === BREAKING === BREAKING ==== BREAKING ===

Breaking: Biden broke Benford’s Law

In a controversial ruling, the US Supreme Court has found that Biden vote totals in key districts violate Benford’s law, which states that numbers the American people can be required to believe should start with 1 more often than 2, 2 more often than 3 and so on.

US liberals were not slow to denounce the court’s ruling. “The crucial vote came from Amy Coney Barrett – the NINTH justice!”, raged Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “By Benford’s law, she should forbid us to believe herself.” Replying, Justice Barrett said that 5-4 rulings were more in accord with Benford’s law than 9-0 ones, pointedly adding that she looked forward to many more such.

In a more nuanced version of AoC’s argument, a trio of California-based federal judges urged the decision be left to Justice Roberts (whose balanced, middle-of-the-road submission weighed the statistical improbability of the vote totals against the statistical improbability of orange hair in a president), on the grounds that Benford’s law should weight the first justice far above the ninth. However it was then put to them that, since they themselves served on the ninth circuit, these judges’ argument also overturned itself. Advised that the analysis of self-referential statements belonged to another, yet more abstruse, branch of mathematics than Benford’s law, one of the judges promptly shot himself in despair, while the other two endorsed Kamala Harris’ statement that the size of the supreme court must immediately be raised from the unacceptable number 9 to a more Benford-friendly total.

President Trump immediately went on televison to boast of being “number one” – but took the fifth when a New York Times reporter claimed that Trump’s true wealth violated Benford’s law. “You tell the American people you are worth ten billion dollars, but I know from my secret IRS source that the true value is only nine billion!” Meanwhile, Joe Biden also appeared on TV to explain that Benford’s law had no relevance to elections but, despite help from both his wife and the teleprompter, became hopelessly confused – which caused many Americans to say he was a good representative of the average guy, since Benford’s law confuses them even more than lockdown rules. (Later, professors at the University of California presented a statistical analysis demonstrating that counts of Biden’s gaffes obeyed Benford’s law, which therefore showed that whatever he had been trying to say was the truth.)

Elsewhere in academia, Professor Lawrence Tribe, expert in constitutional law, pointed out that there was no mention of Benford’s law in the constitution or any amendment. “I find it disgusting that biased justices feel they can casually re-‘interpret’ the constitution to suit modern ideas. This law was not even suggested until a century after the constitution was ratified, and not given a mathematical proof till over a century after that. The founding fathers never even imagined such a thing!”

The NeverTrumper ‘Lincoln Project’ denounced the ruling’s indirect endangering of the 9th amendment (which says that the enumeration of certain rights in the consititution shall not deny or disparage others retained by the people) as a typical example of the way in which Trump’s “pyrrhic” victories were defeats for true conservatism, and promised to spend the vast sums they raised in this election cycle on overturning the result.

LATE UPDATE: The New York Times has published a special insight article on Benford’s Law, explaining that mainstream media’s calling of the election for Biden came first, so outweighs the USSC ruling, which came second. It is rumoured that social media giant Mark Zuckerberg tried to agree – but was censored by the Facebook algorithm he put in place days ago to suppress any mention of Benford’s law. Here in the UK, media concurrence was marred by a Guardian article’s repeated references to ‘Bentham’s law’, suggesting they thought the USSC had ruled that Trump’s re-election would made for the greater net happiness – which, Guardian commenters said, was not the case for them.


So much for satire. Anyone who would rather have had a serious discussion of Benford’s law can start with this intuitive example, then look at this application of it to huge amounts of data. (The really keen can download these Excel-oriented DIY instructions.) FWIW, my earlier comment on the story that prompted this is here.

[ADDED LATER: for those who read the comments and follow their links, it is worth being aware that Benford is normally used on the first digit of the data, but Mebane used it on the second digit (different ratios, as 0 is now included) and uses the more demanding ‘false discovery rate’ test, not just ordinary chi-squared (I agree with checking the higher bar of the FDR). The issues of the technique’s value at various granularities, and usefulness beyond identifying some places to look further at, are prudent to be aware of. (Returning to humour, it is also ‘prudent’ to be aware that Mebane himself was swift to go on the web and deny everything the moment the question arose of applying this to the Trump 2020 election instead of to the Bush elections of 2000 and 2004. The man holds an academic post, which he would doubtless rather retain – another thing it might be prudent to be aware of. 🙂 )]

Woke media takes the fifth (from us)

So, er, what about this Biden laptop thing?

We have the right to remain silent (and to help Biden remain silent).

Excuse me, but doesn’t Biden’s Laptop Matter?

You have the right to remain silent. Very silent. In fact, it’s more like an order.

Can we be silent when Antifa visit?

You have no right to remain silent. Silence is violence. Agree with us!

And if we don’t feel like talking?

“It is time to go after the silent ones.” (Stalin in 1938, initiating the final stage of the Great Terror, which purged people who hadn’t been enthusiastic enough about purging people)

New York Times quote of yesteryear, Victorygirls quote of today

Donald J. Trump refurbished the Central Park skating rink two and a half months ahead of his own speedy six-month schedule and $750,000 below his own projected $3 million budget, having taken over the project after the city spent six years and $12 million unsuccessfully trying to get the job done. …

Mr. Trump did the project free of charge, saying it irritated him just watching the fiasco, although he has reaped torrential publicity and much good will.

I owe my knowledge of the 1986 NYT article to victorygirls, who comment:

Sounds a lot like his presidency. A thankless, and for him salary-free job. He came in as his typical larger than life persona, didn’t ask for thanks, didn’t ask for followers to believe he was a messiah. He recognized a problem, and worked to fix it, but didn’t seem to worry that people who disliked him would also skate on the rink.

I read the old article myself and extracted one more quote.

“He built the most fabulous rink I have ever seen”, said Vera Banchet, watching her daughter skate. “I saw Trump on TV again last night. If I may say so, he is not one to hide his light under a bushel.”

That too is a lot like his presidency.

We can thank the New York Times and friends for making a world in which one is either loud enough to be heard over them or else one is silenced – a world in which not letting his light be hidden under a PC bushel has become simply another of the Donald’s virtues! 🙂

Unwitting Comedy Quote of the Day

Local Anarchists Miffed By Trump’s Designation Of NYC As Anarchist Jurisdiction

… The Metropolitan Anarchist Coordinating Council, an active NYC-based anarchist group, condemned the move … The group … said NYC had a long way to go before it could claim the mantel of full anarchism. (h/t instapundit)

I sure hope they are right about that.

I guess they might concede that New York City has less far to go now than, say, the year before de Blasio became its mayor.

I suppose anarchism is like socialism: in hindsight (but never in foresight), the kind that happened was never the ‘real’ kind – unlike the death and destruction it left behind.

(I appreciate that for any reader in New York, the comedy of this may be a bit on the grim side.)

Refelections on wealth from City 17

Sometimes you do not quite appreciate a thing until you find you can not get it. In the game Half Life: Alyx (one of the best things you can do in virtual reality right now), the Earth is oppressed by totalitarian inter-dimensional rulers and the player must roam the deserted, alien biohazard-infested quarantined streets of City 17 as part of a resistance attempting to sabotage enemy super-weapons. Needless to say luxuries are hard to come by. It is all a bit close to the bone for a game that was in development for four years and released on March 23rd.

As Alyx, controlled by the player, has to make her way down a dark, slime-soaked, head-crab-infested passageway, she asks her friend Russ to talk about the past to provide some comfort. What was life like before the coro^H^H^H^H Combine? “Alyx, have you ever heard of a club sandwich?” Er, nope, not once.

Right. To make a club sandwich, you need to start with bread. Not from a bread line. From a bakery across the street, baked that day, okay? You add tomatoes, lettuce — not vegetable paste — fresh. Then you add bacon — that’s from an animal we used to call the pig. You toast the bread, and you put all that inside it.

You guys had all that? That’s insane.

It is! And I’m not done. Then you add a second sandwich on top of the first one. You put ham in it — also from a pig — and turkey, from an animal we used to call the “turkey,” and more tomato, more lettuce, and a bunch of other things I’m forgetting. It was six inches tall and weighed a pound and had a dozen ingredients from five different continents. It was the most impossible food item you could imagine in any age before ours.

Wow. That does sound pretty amazing. I am really going to appreciate my next club sandwich.

Samizdata comedy quote of the day

Clever Churchgoers Avoid Arrest By Disguising Themselves As Rioters

LOS ANGELES, CA—Religious people in Southern California have found a bold, creative solution for in-person meetings in spite of the continuing lockdown. This past weekend, several area churches attended church services disguised as righteously indignant rioters.

“We already have the righteous indignation thing down,” said one church elder. “Now, we’ve simply added black balaclavas, hoodies, Guy Fawkes masks, and baseball bats! We found that when we do this, we can meet in large groups without much interference from the local authorities. It’s been a delightful experience.”

It’s satire 🙂 – I think? 🙁

I feel like commenting that comment is needless – but don’t let that restrain you.

Solving the problem of dogs stuck to the ceiling

A concerned citizen writes,

Little know fact: sometimes dogs float to the ceiling and get stuck there. It’s a serious problem and we should really start to talk about it more to find a solution.

I urge you to look at the pictures the blogger provides of dogs in this position. Few will remain unmoved. Except the dogs, they do remain unmoved, because they are stuck.

Although the writer did not try to make any political capital from this issue, it did lead me to wonder what other problems in modern society are conceptually similar to the plight of these dogs. I did think of one: as you no doubt recall from your perusal of page 61 of the 2019 Labour manifesto, the Labour Party pledged to tackle the insecurity of casual work by:

Ending bogus self-employment and creating a single status of ‘worker’ for everyone apart from those genuinely self-employed in business on their own account, so that employers can not evade workers’ rights; and banning overseas-only recruitment practices.
• Introducing a legal right to collective consultation on the implementation of new technology in workplaces.
• Banning zero-hour contracts and strengthening the law so that those who work regular hours for more than 12 weeks will have a right to a regular contract, reflecting those hours.

I think the gig economy might be a dogs-stuck-to-the-ceiling type of problem. Can you think of any others?

That this post is classified as “Hippos” is not an error. It was done firstly because that was the category that most closely matched the content, and secondly because we all need to be alert for hippos stuck to the ceiling.

Keeping it long

Volume 9 of of the collected works of Kim Il Sung is now out, and Mick Hartley is having a hard job containing his excitement:

Let’s hope the book maintains the powerful tradition in Korean revolutionary literature of keeping sentences long, with plenty of clauses which further elaborate on the idea first mentioned in the opening clause, thereby ensuring that the original idea becomes ever more entrenched within the consciousness of the reader as the theme is expanded upon and elaborated, very much in the way that a piece of music takes an original theme which is then embellished and repeated in different formats and combinations, which serves to increase the power of the music and can similarly be a powerful device to increase the power of a revolutionary thought or indeed instruction from a Great or Dear Leader, even if there is a risk, among those perhaps insufficiently devoted to the drive towards a successful and dynamic socialist country, that the original thought that started the sentence may have been forgotten by the time the reader comes in, panting but nevertheless certainly wiser and also older, to the end of the sentence.

Hartley has also been very good on the lockdown.