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]

Another reason why the Internet is so useful

As it appears to be fashionable these days for those in some quarters to denounce modern technology such as social media (ironically, usually doing so via social media, or the internet), let’s take some time out this holiday season to shower praise onto that platform, Youtube. It it is sometimes stated that the younger generation of adults knows little about DIY around the home, lacking the upbringing or training to do anything more challenging than change a light bulb. Sometimes factors such as the decline (in relative terms) of home ownership, or the supposed waning influence of DIY enthusiast Dads and the inadequacies of those much-maligned Millennials, are mentioned. While there is some truth in that, it is also worth noting that it has never been easier to find out ways to learn how to fix problems by firing up the internet and looking for demonstrations on how to solve an issue, such as sorting out a Kindle problem (which I did the other day and trouble-shot a problem), strip wood floors and revarninsh them (same) or clean old antique furniture with boiled linseed oil (ditto). When a gizmo goes wrong, chances are that a guy (it seems to be a man thing) has done a Youtube item about it, and shared it.

Here is an example from a person under the brand name of MrFixIt DIY.

Crowd-funded cyber-policing

In what I like to describe as anarcho-capitalism in action, the pseudonymous Jim Browning is investigating, reverse-hacking, harassing and disrupting people engaging in tech-support fraud. His work is made possible by YouTube advertising revenues and Patreon donations.

Just a few days ago, with help from YouTuber Karl Rock who makes videos about life in India, he was able to shut down a call centre that was robo-dialling people and convincing them to pay for non-existent security software. Typically, they then call back a few months later and perform a refund scam, which involves offering a refund, pretending to refund too much money, and fooling people into returning the difference.

In his softly-spoken way Browning is also performing the service of educating people about how these scams operate so that they might better avoid falling foul of them.

It is not just him: there has emerged a network of people who are working in various ways to disrupt this sort of crime. BobRTC is a way for people to phone up the fraudsters and waste their time. Scammerblaster is a group of people who take reports of phone numbers being used for fraud and use a network of servers to bombard them with enough calls to render the number inoperative.

All this can be more effective than state policing. Indian authorities can be slow to act on reports of crimes where the only victims are in foreign countries. Jim Browning speaks of one occasion where he was listening in to a call where the American victim had been sent to buy gift cards so he called the local police who were not interested in taking action because the crime had not yet taken place.

Nonetheless state authorities do sometimes take action when they are sufficiently embarrassed, as in the case of a call centre raided after it was featured in a Canadian TV programme.

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.

Matt Ridley speaks with authority to Julia Hartley-Brewer

Yes, I’ve been watching and listening to this conversation, between climate anti-alarmist and all-round rational optimist Matt Ridley and broadcaster Julia Hartley-Brewer. If you like hearing things talked about as well as merely written about, I recommend this conversation, which lasts just under an hour.

Today here seems to be the day for denouncing Extinction Rebellion, and Ridley does that very persuasively. But there is a lot more. I’m just hearing Ridley say that climate change policies now kill far more people than climate change. … Now he’s talking about how much greener the earth is becoming. The idea that we need to be planting trees to make the earth greener is absurd.

My one mild disagreement with Ridley came about a third of the way in, when he says that science never involves arguments from authority. I know what he means. But, arguments from authority abound in the wider debate about climate science. Ridley makes sure to strip away the authority of whichever climate catastrophist he talks about. And he also makes sure to speak in a suitably measured manner himself, thereby enhancing his own authority.

For the truth is that people like Ridley have proved very authoritative. Many of the idiot children of the governing classes seem really to believe that climate catastrophe is imminent. Many more of the governing classes like climate catastrophe, because it is a fine excuse for them to do more governing. But people generally seem to remain unconvinced in their millions.

Certainly today’s foolishness from Extinction Rebellion, in the form of people climbing onto electric trains, really does seem to have been an own goal, as Natalie explained. Screwing with public transport really does undermine any authority these people may now have.

And just as we can all see these Extinction Rebels doing their rebelling, and especially when it looks very silly, we can also listen to the likes of Matt Ridley saying what he has to say. For all the biases and bullying of Facebook, Twitter and the rest of them, they can’t silence all of us anti-alarmists, all the time. And the difference between hearing some anti-alarmism, every so often, and never hearing any anti-alarmism at all from one decade to the next, is, when it comes to shaping public opinion, all the difference. The climate alarmist camp has spread a lot of climate alarmism in the last few years. But millions remain stubbornly skeptical, this being an important strand in the rising tide of what is called “populism”. (“Populism” means popular opinions that the people who don’t attach sneer quotes to the word populism don’t like.) Given how much governing class plugging climate extremism gets, it’s amazing how little it is talked about when elections come around.

Like Ridley, I am an optimist, not only about the state of humanity in general, but about the possibility that the foolishness now being spread by Extinction Rebellion may soon find itself in retreat.

LATER: Several people have also recommended to me this interview, which lasts a mere ten minutes.

Stackoverflow and pronouns

Stackoverflow is a website so focused on getting good technical answers to good technical questions that thank-you notes are removed because they are noise. And yet somehow there is now a 17 point FAQ about the gender pronoun rules recently added to the code of conduct. Says one response:

I am all in favor of wanting to be respected, I really do, but this is the most overhead to “don’t be mean” I have ever seen.

Another takes aim at the people who run the web site:

Putting identity politics front-and-center in what is supposed to be a neutral, objective Q&A environment promotes division and strife, not inclusion, and more importantly, it distracts from the primary mission of these sites: getting good answers to good questions. Our values reject it.

If you truly value your community, that means respecting the community’s values, not attempting to impose new and incompatible ones by fiat. Your values are out of alignment with the values of the community you are supporting. Please fix them.

Another points out that too many rules do not help:

I would very much like if we could all get along. We have rules and moderators because in a big community, there’ll always be a few participants who can’t get along. But increasingly, getting along is against the rules.

One of two things is going on.

  • This is just people on the Internet arguing because they can and anyone with things to get done will simply ignore them.
  • This is an example of an attempt to infiltrate and change a community, and the resistance to this attempt.

See also: Linux and its code of conduct.

Planned obsolescence

Leaping from link to link like a young gazelle – part of the appeal of the internet is that it is the only place where I get to do the gazella arabica thing nowadays – I came across an interesting article by Ernie Smith called “The Many Ways Planned Obsolescence Is Sabotaging How We Preserve Internet History”.

He writes,

The world of technology has a problem, and it’s not something that we’re talking about nearly enough. That problem? We keep making old stuff significantly less useful in the modern day, sometimes by force.

We cite problems such as security, maintenance, and a devotion to constant evolution as reasons for allowing this to happen.

But the net effect is that we are making it impossible to continue using otherwise useful things after even a medium amount of time. I’m not even exclusively talking about things that are decades old. Sometimes, just a few years does the trick.

A quick case in point: Google has a set date for every type of Chromebook architecture to fall into an “end of life” status, where it will no longer be developed or updated, despite the fact that it’s effectively the modern version of a dumb terminal.

And the timeframe is surprisingly short—just 6.5 years from the first use of the architecture, the machine will stop auto-updating, despite the fact an equivalent Windows machine will still be usable for years after that point.

Like many people, I find the whole phenomenon of planned obsolescence infuriating. Unlike many people, I do not believe that my feeling of fury should be assuaged by forcing other people – in this case software companies – to do my bidding. But I would still like it if planned obsolescence were less of a thing.

It’s Tom’s Diner for computers, and you are most welcome to discuss the political and ethical issues involved.

But if you did enough of that yesterday, just wallow in the computer nostalgia. Here’s a website: http://textfiles.com/. Not “https://textfiles.com”, just “http://textfiles.com”. It has stuff like Alien vs Predator. Wallow.

How to hand in your resignation

I thought about putting this in The Great Realignment, but the link to politics is slight. This is more about fantasy fulfilment. Have you ever dreamed of telling a bad boss what you think of him? Have you ever dreamed of telling the world what you think of your bad boss, shortly before making him your ex-boss? Meet Gareth Arnold, who until today seems to have handled the Twitter account for Jared O’Mara MP, regarded by all sides as the most useless MP in Parliament today. Actually as of now (20:36 BST) Mr Arnold still is handling Mr O’Mara’s account but Mr O’Mara may not be entirely happy with that.

The first indication that something was up came at 8:03. A tweet allegedly from Mr O’Mara said,

Jared O’Mara
@jaredomaramp

Comms Team signing off… forever: Jared, you are the most disgustingly morally bankrupt person I have ever had the displeasure of working with. You do not care about your constituents. You do not care about anyone but yourself.

Thick and fast they followed:

I cannot and will not defend you and your vile, inexcusable contempt for the people who voted you in. You selfish, degenerate prick.

*

My fear is that now (as I quit) the rest of the staff will leave and once again you will close your office and stop helping anyone but still take your wages until you have the decency to call a byelection.

*

Leaving constituents desperate for representation again. No matter if they are having their homes taken away, their liberaties disgraced or being deported because of your inaction.

*

Sheffield Hallam deserves so much better than you. You have wasted opportunities which people dare not to even dream of.

*

Consider this my resignation.

Thanks

Gareth Arnold
– @garetharnolduk

“GnasherJew” has archived the thread to keep it for posterity.

P.S. In other news, Boris Johnson will be made PM tomorrow.

Why is Russia trying to influence other countries’ elections by means of targeted advertising wrong?

“Nick Clegg denies misuse of Facebook influenced Brexit vote”, reports the Guardian.

Umm, okay. A lot of people are saying “Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?”.

Sir Nick Clegg, for those readers who have forgotten this rather forgettable chap, used to be leader of the Liberal Democrats and was Deputy Prime Minister for a while, back when the Lib Dems were in coalition with the Conservatives. He lost his seat in the 2017 election, which made him sad. Then he got a “communications” job with Facebook at a salary that probably made him feel better.

So nine years after Cleggmania, here he is back on our TV screens again. The Times report on the same story says,

The former Liberal Democrat leader said that social media could not be blamed for the vote to leave the European Union.

He said: “Much though I understand why people want to reduce that eruption in British politics to some kind of plot or conspiracy — or some use of new social media through opaque means — I’m afraid the roots to British Euroscepticism go very, very deep.”

Sir Nick added: “Yes, Facebook has a heavy responsibility to protect the integrity of elections from outside interference. I also think we have a duty to explain fact from some of the allegations that have been made.”

Calling for greater regulation of the internet, he said: “We forget that though these companies are huge and affect every aspect of our lives — our social lives, our business lives — nonetheless it has all happened in such a short period of time.

It is no surprise to find Nick Clegg “calling for “greater regulation of the internet”. Not only was more regulation of corporations his schtick when he was a politico, it also suits his current employers very well. Facebook can buy another twenty floors of lawyers whenever it needs them; struggling new startups cannot.

But to hear such a lifelong Europhile admit that the roots of British Euroscepticism go deep was a surprise. He is right. Russia’s puny efforts to interfere in the EU referendum were the equivalent of the eternally slandered King Canute calling the tide forward.

But in all this debate about how effective or ineffective Russia’s “outside interference” in the referendum was I have not yet heard a convincing explanation of what exactly is wrong with “outside interference” anyway.

I need not list the real crimes – waging unjust wars, murders, domestic repression – that can be laid at Putin’s door. On an infinitely smaller scale, making use of harvested data that people did not agree to make available is a bad if commonplace thing. But what is bad in principle about Russia trying to persuade British people to vote a particular way by advertising? Where did this idea come from that only British ideas are allowed to enter British brains during an election or referendum campaign? In a democracy you are allowed to vote on any criteria you like. You can vote for a candidate because you carefully researched his or her voting record and found that it best aligned with your political beliefs, or because your family has always voted for the Reds or the Blues, or because you think the candidate has nice eyes, or because your imam told you which way to vote, or because Vladimir Putin did. They all count equally. If we were to operate a system of Juche when it comes to political thought, would that not also exclude political ideas originating in the European Union?

Katie Jones is the face of the future

“That LinkedIn connection could be a spy using a fake, AI-generated face”, warns Raphael Satter of the Associated Press in the Tampa Bay Times.

LONDON — Katie Jones sure seemed plugged into the Washington’s political scene. The 30-something redhead boasted a job at a top think tank and a who’s-who network of pundits and experts, from the centrist Brookings Institution to the right-wing Heritage Foundation. She was connected to a deputy assistant secretary of state, a senior aide to a senator and the economist Paul Winfree, who is being considered for a seat on the Federal Reserve.

But Katie Jones doesn’t exist, the Associated Press has determined. Instead, the persona was part of a vast army of phantom profiles lurking on the professional networking site LinkedIn.

So what’s new? Haven’t the Russkies been stealing people’s photos for years and using them to illustrate fake profiles on sites like LinkedIn? They have, but on this occasion it seems that the one thing of which they were not guilty was identity theft:

Several experts contacted by the Associated Press said Jones’ profile picture appeared to have been created by a computer program.

“I’m convinced that it’s a fake face,” said Mario Klingemann, a German artist who has been experimenting for years with artificially generated portraits and says he has reviewed tens of thousands of such images. “It has all the hallmarks.”

Klingemann and other experts said the photo — a closely cropped portrait of a woman with blue-green eyes, copper-colored hair and an enigmatic smile — appeared to have been created using a family of dueling computer programs called generative adversarial networks, or GANs, that can create realistic-looking faces of entirely imaginary people. GANs, sometimes described as a form of artificial intelligence, have been the cause of increasing concern for policymakers already struggling to get a handle on digital disinformation.

Katie is telling us that the era of evidence is drawing to a close. What changes will this bring?

Samizdata quote of the day

In the internet age, for a political party to get their message out, talking to the Old Media is an option, not a necessity.

– Perry de Havilland

Putting names to the faces of a parcel of rogues

A month late, I found this video by “Change Britain”, a pressure group founded by leaders of the Vote Leave campaign:

Brexit Betrayal montage: “2 minutes of broken promises!”

The montage consists of politician after politician saying that the government would do whatever people voted for in the referendum, that there would be no second referendum, that the UK would leave the European Union on March 29th 2019, and so on and so forth, liars that they are.

It is very effective… if you know your politicians by sight. When it comes to spotting the Lesser British Politician in its natural habitat I would get my Brownie badge, but even I could not name all the distinguished lawmakers shown in this montage.

This matters. That effective video would be twice as effective at naming and shaming lying politicians if it, er, named them. This ties in to what I said in my earlier post, “Some examples of promises that Remainer MPs made to get elected and then broke” about the importance of having the damning quotes in written as well as video form:

I thought it was very useful that he [Tom Harwood] added subtitles to the videos, as that makes it easier to find and cite the most strikingly dishonest passages in the MPs’ speeches. By writing out the speeches and the contents of the election flyers and leaflets here in this Samizdata post I hope to make it still easier to spread the word of how these Remainer Members of Parliament are not to be trusted.

To that end, here are the names that I could provide, together with party and role:

0:01 David Cameron, Conservative, Prime Minister at the time of the broadcast
0:02 Nick Clegg, Liberal Democrat, then leader of that party
0:06 George Osborne, Conservative, then Chancellor of the Exchequer
0:09 Peter Mandelson (Baron Mandelson), Labour peer and former cabinet minister, prince of darkness
0:17 John Major, Conservative, former Prime Minister
0:22 Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party
0:25 Sadiq Khan, Labour, Mayor of London
0:30 George Osborne again
0:32 Philip Hammond, Conservative, Chancellor of the Exchequer
0:34 Anna Soubry, formerly Conservative now Change UK
0:36 Sir Keir Starmer, Labour, Shadow Secretary for Exiting the EU
0:43 Peter Mandelson again
0:50 Cameron
0:53 Is that Nick Boles? Assuming it’s him, he’s ex-Tory, now “Independent Progressive Conservative” Peter Kyle, Labour
0:55 A bloke. Labour from his red tie. Hilary Benn, Labour.
0:58 Chuka Umunna, formerly Labour now Change UK
1:01 Damn, I know who she is but the name won’t come to me Justine Greening, Conservative.
1:03 John McDonnell, Labour, Shadow Chancellor
1:11 Sarah Wollaston, formerly Conservative now Change UK
1:12 Is that worried looking woman Labour’s Yvette Cooper? She looks different without her lipstick on. General opinion is yes, it is Yvette Cooper.
1:17 Identified in the comments as Dr Phillip Lee, Conservative. He does resemble the former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron, but it isn’t him.
1:22 Heidi Allen, formerly Conservative, now Change UK
1:27 Theresa May again
1:31 Osborne again
1:32 Now identified as Sir Oliver Letwin, Conservative
1:36 May
1:43 Cameron
1:50 May
1:54 Cameron
1:57 May

If you can supply the missing names, please let me know in the comments.

Besides naming the parcel of rogues, the other point of this post is that, while a video is better than text for making your point with emotional force, if you want to make that point spread far and wide, it pays to back the video up with writing. Subtitle it, caption it with the names of speakers, and write down significant timestamps as the “sticky” maker’s comment to the video so people can search for the clip most relevant to them.

For instance I was particularly interested in the words of Sir Keir Starmer that “The referendum is clear and has to be accepted. We can’t have a re-run of the question which was put to the country”. Sir Keir Starmer KCB QC (he got the knighthood before becoming a Labour MP and would probably now prefer it not to be mentioned) is the Great White Hope of the anti-Corbynite, Europhile section of the Labour Party. Sir Keir is spoken of as the next leader, and he is certainly more intelligent and in most matters less fanatical than its current leader. Even some socialists would prefer their party be led by a member of the Order of the Bath than by a man who looks like he needs one.

Do not welcome Sir Keir into your hearts just yet.

He was the Director of Public Prosecutions at the time of the Twitter Joke Trial. And, of course, a man who first said that “The referendum is clear and has to be accepted. We can’t have a re-run of the question which was put to the country” but weaselled out of that as soon as the wind changed.

Sir Keir Starmer’s weaselling should be widely known. I am grateful to Change Britain for bringing it to my attention. However I was only able to find out that Starmer had once said that “the referendum is clear and has to be accepted” because (a) I am the sort of person who watches two minute montages of politicians lying about Brexit, (b) I already knew that Sir Keir is currently one of the Labour party’s leading advocates of a second referendum, and (c) I am one of the 5% – make that 1% – of British people who can put a name to his suspiciously handsome face.

The remark in question is thirty-six seconds in if you want to check it for yourself without watching the whole montage. Seeing a certain short extract from a montage video is a thing people might often wish to do, so, makers of montages, make it easy for them. If someone reading this wants to send a Starmer-struck friend a clip of that video starting at that very moment, pause the video, right click, and select “Copy video URL at current time”.

Update: Thank you Alex, Mr Ed, Peter Briffa and Martin Keegan for all the names you have supplied. The one remaining name that I am not sure about is the chap at 0:53 (actually 0:52) who I tentatively ID’d as ex-Tory now-Independent Nick Boles. The name of Ed Balls of Labour has been suggested (he of the sacred Day) – unless I’m mixed up about which talking head Peter Briffa was indicating. But while I’ve lost confidence in naming the mystery man as Nick Boles, he doesn’t look like Ed Balls to me either.

Another update: Martin Keegan has identified him as Peter Kyle, Labour.

I created a YouTube channel for myself specifically in order to add this list of names to the Brexit Betrayal montage. If you are on YouTube and agree that putting names to faces for this montage of dishonest MPs is a useful thing to do, please consider liking my comment. It’s currently the most recent one.

A final thought: the only MP or ex-MP there whom I would exempt from the charge of dishonesty is David Cameron. He has many faults, including dishonesty on other matters, but so far as I know he has not tried to backtrack on the commitment to adhere to the result of the referendum he himself called, little though he liked the result.

Samizdata quote of the day

BBC should be abolished, not because of blatant bias but because the whole idea of a state broadcaster was a terrible idea on day 1 of the BBC’s existence. And in the internet age, it is now an anachronistic bad idea. Bin it entirely or at least make it voluntary subscription

– Perry de Havilland