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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Thoughts provoked by a photo of Lenin

Earlier today, at the Historic Photos Twitter feed, I encountered this photo, of Lenin:

Here is how Historic Photos describes the state Lenin had arrived at, when this photo was taken:

What is believed to be the last photograph of Vladimir Lenin, taken in 1923 by which stage he had suffered three strokes and was paralyzed and completely mute. Next to him are his sister and his doctor. He died on January 21st 1924 aged 53.

I have read many things, including many books, about Lenin and his sayings and doings, yet I have never come across this photo until now. That could be me, just not having noticed it. But I think there’s a reason why this particular piece of Lenin imagery has not done much circulating.

There is still fierce disagreement about Lenin and his impact upon history. Many still revere him, as the man who set in motion the most serious attempt to overthrow capitalism that has so far happened on this planet, and many others detest the man for the same reason, and for the disgusting brutality with which he set about doing this. Some think Lenin (good) was “betrayed” by Stalin (bad). Others, such as I, think that Lenin (bad) started what Stalin (bad) carried on doing. But what all of us, on all sides of such debates, agree about is that Lenin was a very important and very consequential figure, who had a lot to say for himself and who did a lot to shape the course of history, for good or for bad.

However, in the above photo, we see Lenin in a state of utter impotence, looking downright comical.

And that’s surely why this photo doesn’t get out much. Either Lenin had immense power and did hugely important and noble things or he had immense power and did monstrously evil things, but whatever he was he was certainly not a joke. If those of us with things to say about Lenin, one way or the other or yet another, wish to decorate our judgments about Lenin with a photo of the man, the above photo is not going to be the one that any of us would choose.

To generalise, images of historic figures get circulated a lot, or not, depending on whether they illustrate how we already think of them. The world’s cameras spit out a daily torrent of portraits of the great, the good and the bad, and it is in the editorialising process, when the “best” images are selected and the rest put aside, that the camera is made to tell a particular sort of story. This is surely an important way that cameras lie, or at the very least mislead, although there are of course others.

Image googling confirmed my hunch. If you go here and keep scrolling down, you will scroll down in vain if you wish to see the above “historic” photo, or any others resembling it. No, all you will get are pictures and graphic recreations of Lenin being anything but “paralyzed and completely mute”.

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

Well in that case…

When I read this zinger:

“It is absolutely clear that climate change is a threat to our collective security and the security of our nations,” said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who presided over the meeting.

I thought it was perhaps the most succinct summation of why (1) the ‘Conservative’ Party should be prosecuted under the Trade Descriptions Act (2) I will never vote for them again.

It is bizarre to think we can thank Russia (an enemy state run by gangsters) and India for providing the voice of sanity.

Russian internet is ablaze

A couple days ago, Russian internet caught on fire, and it is still ablaze. Although Alexei Navalny was already under arrest, instantly judged by the ad-hoc court assembled right in the police department, his team published a 2-hour investigation into Putin’s past, present, connections and all his assets.

Here it is with good English subtitles. As of the time of writing, it racked up just under 40 millions views and 2.5 million ‘likes’.

No wonder the powers that be everywhere, and not just in overtly repressive places like Russia, want to control what can be said on the internet.

The anti-Watergate

Did you ever watch All The President’s Men? It was a true story about two heroic journalists doggedly tracking down and bringing to light a scandal at the heart of American politics. “The list is longer than anyone can imagine. It involves the entire US intelligence community. FBI, CIA, Justice. It’s incredible.”

There won’t be a sequel any time soon.

Gerard Baker, the sole Times regular who is not rooting for Biden, writes,

Anti-Trump censorship threatens democracy

For all the media hysteria about the existential menace Donald Trump supposedly represents to American democracy and western liberalism, there’s a softer but more pervasive authoritarianism that poses a greater threat to the freedoms on which our way of life rests.

Suggestions that four years of Trumpian oppression have left America’s journalists and news organisations cowering in fearful submission to the iron fist of a repressive regime would be hilarious if they weren’t so widely believed.

There can’t have been a better funded, more vocal, less suppressed “Resistance” in all of human history. Flick through the TV channels any evening and watch “pundits” and “entertainers” loudly mouthing uniformly expressed complaints about the condition of the nation. Media companies that were dying a quiet, unmourned death from sheer tedium and obsolescence before Bad Orange Man came along have sprung back to life on a saline drip of Trump-hatred. Online, search and social companies play host to every conceivable form of critique, ridicule and denunciation of the president, his administration, his party and anyone associated with them.

And good luck to them all. If liberty means anything, to paraphrase the man, it means the right to tell me things I don’t want to hear. But that’s the problem. It’s not Trump-loathing that the people with the best access to the public square don’t want us to hear. It’s everything else.

The much larger threat to the sort of free and challenging debate about issues of public importance is socially enforced ideological conformity to the prevailing orthodoxy of our cultural leadership.

and

Typically, such a story from one of the nation’s most well-known newspapers would have birthed a frenzy of follow-up reporting to confirm, expand or clarify the original reporting. Not in today’s media.

Instead what we got was a fullbore effort by virtually every major media and company in America to discredit the reporting. Journalists dashed to social media and TV studios to defend the Bidens and condemn fellow reporters. Beating up on another news organisation is not unheard of. But this was more than that. The story was not just sloppy or biased, they claimed, it was the result of a campaign of Russian disinformation, planted by the Kremlin’s ubiquitous intelligence people.

So, Mr Dorsey and Mr Zuckerberg, how are your fact checkers getting on with that New York Post story about Hunter Biden?

“When will they be reporting? Surely not after the election?”
“What have they found out so far?” You know you could check on the veracity of the emails by asking other recipients – have you done that?”
“Have you liaised with the FBI regarding the progress of their no doubt rigorous ongoing investigation of the material found on the computers?”
“Why was the dissemination via your platforms of illegally obtained material not a problem for the New York Times when it released a ‘trove’ of Donald Trump’s tax returns at the end of September?”
“Why was the dissemination via your platforms of leaked material not a problem when someone leaked Christine Blasey Ford’s confidential letter to Senator Dianne Feinstein that accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault?”
“Oh, and about that whole Russian collusion story about which we heard so much on Facebook and Twitter but which turned out to be nothing…”

I would so enjoy seeing the Senate Judiciary Committee make the cool, hip founders of Twitter and Facebook squirm with a barrage of questions that laid bare their revolting left-wing billionaire hypocrisy, before swatting away the law they have been hiding behind to censor their political enemies while pretending to be mere providers of a means of communication. The Republicans are as mad as hell and they ain’t gonna take it any more. Yay! Go Republicans! And Go Democrats, too, because Joe Biden wants to revoke Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act too. So now that all sides agree, let’s do this thing!

Or perhaps not. All laws passed to acclaim from both sides of the aisle turn out badly. It is a law of nature, like Boyle’s or Murphy’s. Besides that, as Andy Kessler argues in the Wall Street Journal,

…if we repeal 230, we’ll end up with more censorship. Why? Because if platforms are suddenly liable for everything posted, the knee-jerk reaction will be to take down everything questionable, leaving us with giant receptacles of Baby Shark videos, which would diminish the channels small businesses use to reach customers. Then, say goodbye to competition. There are hundreds of smaller social media competitors that wouldn’t be able to afford the software, let alone the tens of thousands of humans, to take down posts.

There’s no simple way to “fix” Section 230 either. The feds could require nonpartisan, balanced views. But who decides what’s balanced? We’d be back to where we started. Any fix would open a can of worms of special interests, maybe even a new Digital Diction Department staffed by justice warriors deciding which phrases are no longer acceptable, like “master bedroom” or even “preference.” And then the law would get larded with special exceptions. The thinking would be, “Let politicians say what they want, for democracy’s sake, but protesters should also get a pass, depending on their grievances.” It would never end.

“We are reducing its distribution on our platform”

The New York Post has a big story. Very big.

Smoking-gun email reveals how Hunter Biden introduced Ukrainian businessman to VP dad

By Emma-Jo Morris and Gabrielle Fonrouge

Hunter Biden introduced his father, then-Vice President Joe Biden, to a top executive at a Ukrainian energy firm less than a year before the elder Biden pressured government officials in Ukraine into firing a prosecutor who was investigating the company, according to emails obtained by The Post.

The never-before-revealed meeting is mentioned in a message of appreciation that Vadym Pozharskyi, an adviser to the board of Burisma, allegedly sent Hunter Biden on April 17, 2015, about a year after Hunter joined the Burisma board at a reported salary of up to $50,000 a month.

“Dear Hunter, thank you for inviting me to DC and giving an opportunity to meet your father and spent [sic] some time together. It’s realty [sic] an honor and pleasure,” the email reads

An earlier email from May 2014 also shows Pozharskyi, reportedly Burisma’s No. 3 exec, asking Hunter for “advice on how you could use your influence” on the company’s behalf.

The blockbuster correspondence — which flies in the face of Joe Biden’s claim that he’s “never spoken to my son about his overseas business dealings” — is contained in a massive trove of data recovered from a laptop computer.

But the story of what is happening to that story is even bigger. The Daily Mail reports,

Outrage as Facebook AND Twitter throttle story about Joe Biden meeting son’s Ukraine partners until it’s been vetted by its third party so-called ‘fact-checkers’.

The Mail article describes how Sohrab Ahmari, an editor at the New York Post, tried to tweet about his paper’s story, and got this message:

Tweet not sent

Your Tweet couldn’t be sent because the link has been identified by Twitter or our partners as being potentially harmful. Visit our Help Center to learn more.

And Andy Stone, policy communications director at Facebook, has announced:

While I will intentionally not link to the New York Post, I want to be clear that this story is eligible to be fact checked by Facebook’s third-party fact checking partners. In the meantime, we are reducing its distribution on our platform.

Edit: Not knowing much about social media myself, I have two questions for readers. (1) What can people do to spread the New York Post‘s report about Joe Biden’s lies regarding Hunter Biden’s business dealings in the Ukraine? (2) What can people do to spread the even more important news that Facebook and Twitter are censoring this story?

Update: Via Instapundit, I learn that Sohrab Ahmari’s twitter account has been suspended. They are silencing the opinion editors of major newspapers.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Western governments may have strong words for the Russian president, but we’ve been here before. Every time a Russian opposition figure is assassinated, from journalist Anna Politkovskaya to MI6 informer Alexander Litvinenko to politician Boris Nemtsov, there is a chorus of international outrage and demands for action to rein in Putin. Yet little is done, as world leaders don’t want to jeopardise their business dealings with Russia – or face more hostile acts by the Kremlin – and Putin emerges emboldened. A few months after the Salisbury attack, for instance, Russia hosted the World Cup, and opposition activist Petr Verzilov was poisoned after running onto the pitch during the final wearing a police uniform.”

Sarah Hurst

I suppose you could say that Mr Putin has almost “normalised” the idea that when dealing with political opponents or any sort of perceived threat, the approach favoured is to kill them, lie about it, smirk a bit, and go back to undermining whatever particular nearby country or cause happens to be in play. And then hold a soccer tournament. Rinse, repeat.

What is so bad about Russian “interference” with UK referendums anyway?

“49% of voters believe Kremlin interfered in Brexit referendum”, reports the Guardian.

Almost half the British public believes the Russian government interfered in the EU referendum and last year’s general election, according to a poll. The latest Opinium poll for the Observer found that 49% of voters think there was Russian interference in the Brexit referendum, with 23% disagreeing. Some 47% believed Russia interfered in the December general election.

The poll findings come after the long-awaited publication of the report into Russian interference by parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee last week. It found that the government had not attempted to investigate potential Russian interference in the referendum. It said the UK had “badly underestimated” the Russian threat.

I am busy and must be brief. Vladimir Putin belongs at the end of a rope for his crimes: crimes like murdering his political opponents, sponsoring terrorism and waging aggressive war against neighbouring countries. But most of the events described in this hyped up list are technical crimes of a sort that should not be a crime at all. Most rules on election spending and use of data to target potential voters are nothing but political protectionism. We call it “interference” when the Russian government tries to influence the political opinions of British people and “outreach” when the British government or the European Union tries to influence the political opinions of Russian people. You hear the words “interference in elections” and are meant to think of stolen ballot boxes and forged votes. But Russians posting anonymous, dishonest and obnoxious opinions on Twitter and Reddit for money – who cares? They are lost in the crowd of Brits doing the same for free.

Epic trolling by the Czechs!

Prague renames square in front of Russian embassy after slain Putin critic Boris Nemtsov

Ok, that is pretty damn good. But this…

The Russian embassy in Prague did not respond to a request for comment, nor did the Russian Foreign Ministry comment on the move. Hřib said the embassy had not responded to an invitation to attend the renaming ceremony.

What if the Berlin Wall hadn’t come down?

I have always been interested in the What If? question that consists of asking how the world would have been different had the Berlin Wall not fallen and had the USSR just blundered onwards indefinitely, still being the USSR.

That’s a question that has long intrigued me, ever since the Wall in question actually did fall. As you can tell from how I phrase the question, I am damn near certain that the world would have been a far grimmer place than it now is, had that horrible structure not been trashed or turned into souvenir fragments. But, beyond noting with approval the way that various eastern European former Soviet possessions have become much freer and less poor, I have never taken the time to think through the details of this feeling. How might western public opinion have developed, had the Wall remained? How would the world as a whole have been different?

So, I was very interested to learn yesterday about an IEA event, which I have already signed up to attend, to be held at the end of this month:

This month sees the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, ushering in dramatic change across East and West Germany. But even now, East Germany still lags behind the West and the legacy of socialism has been hard to overcome.

So what would have happened if the wall hadn’t come down?

On Thursday 28th November, the IEA is delighted to host an intriguing discussion on that very premise. Professor Syed Kamall will chair the conversation with our own Head of Political Economy Dr. Kristian Niemietz, and historians Roger Moorhouse and Giles Udy.

Rather than just bang on with more guess-answers, I will keep this posting brief and await comments from others.

In particular, are there any ways in which the fall of the Berlin Wall has made the world worse? I’m not talking about how it has embarrassed Communists and (a tribe I particularly despise) anti-anti-Communists … like that’s a bad thing. Those are just two of many features. I’m talking about how life for regular people around the world, and perhaps also in Russia itself, may actually, in some weird knock-on effect ways, have been made worse. I can’t think of any obvious ways that anything like that has happened, but maybe someone else can.

Samizdata quote of the day

Are they really such idiots to poison you in a place where suspicions point only at them? It’s a good question. For now I can say one thing with certainty: the people in power in Russia are really quite stupid guys. It seems to you that in their actions you need to look for secret meaning or a rational purpose. But in fact they are just stupid, malicious and obsessed with money.

Alexei Navalny