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]

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?

John Lewis Gaddis on good versus evil in the Cold War

One of the particular pleasures of twenty-first century life is that it is now easy to purchase interesting books which have been around for quite a while, cheaply and easily rather than expensively and complicatedly. I recently bought, from Amazon, We Now Know, by John Lewis Gaddis, which is about the Cold War and was published in the 1990s. I’ve been meaning to acquaint myself with this book ever since I first heard about it, which must have been well over a decade ago.

I have so far only skimmed We Now Know, but I have already encountered a rather striking passage, towards the end. (Skimming usually involves looking at the end, doesn’t it?)

The Cold War, says Gaddis, was not decided in the Third World, but rather in such places as Europe and Japan. And why, asks Gaddis (pp.286-7 – his italics in bold), did “Washington’s empire in those pivotal regions”, generate so much less friction that Moscow’s:

One answer may be that many people then saw the Cold War as a contest of good versus evil, even if historians since have rarely done so.

Let me focus here on a single significant case: it has to do with what happened in Germany immediately after the war as its citizens confronted their respective occupiers. What Stalin sought there, it now seems clear, was a communist regime in the east that would attract Germans in the west without requiring the use of force, something the Russians could ill afford given their own exhaustion and the Americans’ monopoly over the atomic bomb.

Obviously, this is not what he got. Germans first voted with their feet – fleeing to the west in huge numbers to avoid the Red Army – and then at the ballot box in ways that frustrated all of Stalin’s hopes. But this outcome was not fore-ordained. There were large numbers of communist party members throughout Germany at the end of the war, and their prestige – because of their opposition to the Nazis – had never been higher. Why did the Germans so overwhelmingly welcome the Americans and their allies, and fear the Russians?

→ Continue reading: John Lewis Gaddis on good versus evil in the Cold War

Samizdata retort of the day

Mr Putin said people living in Donetsk and Luhansk who considered themselves Russian were entitled to Russian passports.

On Saturday, he said: “We’re considering providing a simplified procedure [of obtaining Russian citizenship] to all the residents of Ukraine.”

How did Ukraine respond? Mr Zelensky said a Russian passport provides “the right to be arrested for a peaceful protest” and “the right not to have free and competitive elections.”

I am starting to cautiously warm to Mr Zelensky.

Samizdata quote of the day

“But though feted and exploited by questionable allies, Solzhenitsyn should be remembered for his role as a truth-teller. He risked his all to drive a stake through the heart of Soviet communism and did more than any other single human being to undermine its credibility and bring the Soviet state to its knees.”

Michael Scammell, on a writer and survivor of Soviet brutality, and who was born on Dec 11, 1918. So on a day after what would have been his centenary birthday, let’s celebrate his birth.

Zaha Hadid Architects thrives

One of the more significant libertarians on Planet Earth just now is Patrik Schumacher, whom I have mentioned here before, several times.

Until recently Schumacher was the Number Two at Zaha Hadid Architects. But following the death of Zaha Hadid, he is now the Zaha Hadid Architects Number One. So, an important question for libertarians is: Can Zaha Hadid Architects keep going successfully, without Zaha Hadid herself, under Schumacher’s leadership? Given the dominant political attitudes within the architecture-and-design world these days, there are surely a lot of people now hoping that the answer will turn out to be: No.

A report, complete with dramatic pretend-photos, that you can read and see here, courtesy of the Daily Mail, of a new concert hall that Zaha Hadid Architects will be building In Yekaterinburg, give cause for optimism.

With concert halls, everything depends on the acoustics. It can look like the Palace of Versailles, but if it sounds wrong it’s a turkey. But acoustic science is now such that I am optimistic that this will be judged a successful concert hall, sounding good as well as looking stylish in a Zaha Hadid sort of way:

The point of this posting is that if Zaha Hadid Architects continues to thrive as it seems to be thriving now, that will be a win for libertarianism, because it will be such a very big personal win for Patrik Schumacher. Comment away all you like, of course – can’t stop you, wouldn’t want to. But whether you personally like the look of this new concert hall is beside my main point here.

As the late Chris Tame used to say: we need our people everywhere, and architecture-and-design is an important somewhere. Schumacher reminds me of the late Peter Bauer. Bauer was in a minority of about one in the world of foreign aid, back when he was alive and arguing. Schumacher is likewise something of a lone voice in his world in an equally significant way.

“I’ve long said that capitalism without bankruptcy is like Christianity without Hell.”

A quote attributed to USAF Colonel Frank Borman, the oldest living astronaut, businessman, one of the first men to orbit the Moon. He sounds like a splendid chap. This ‘b’ word is of course, is anathema to many in the political elite, as RBS limps on after a decade of State support, and many of the forecasting errors of a decade ago remain unliquidated. As others have noted, just as when a tree falls the light let in through the canopy allows new blooms.

But coming back to our hero, he has recently given an interview on his impressions of his time as an astronaut. He seems to be have set a high bar to be impressed.

“When asked if it was ‘cool’ to fly around weightless, Colonel Borman replied: ‘No.’

He said it was interesting to watch ‘maybe for the first 30 seconds, then it became accepted.’

And Colonel Borman denied ever saying he thought a poet should have been on board.

He said: ‘No, I didn’t- if I did, I didn’t- the last thing I would have wanted on our crew was a poet.’

Mr Cassius Clay, you were not the Greatest. As for the Moon:

He described the Moon as ‘devastation’ and said it was: ‘Meteor craters, no color at all. Just different shades of gray.’

And Colonel Borman revealed he had no desire to step foot on the Moon, as Buzz Aldrin did seven months later.

He said: ‘I would have not accepted the risk involved to go pick up rocks. It doesn’t mean that much to me.’

‘Somebody else wanted to do it. Let them take my place. I love my family more than anything in the world.’

Well, perhaps NASA could ask him to compare the Moon with Detroit?

As he said, he loved his family.

‘The dearest things in life that were back on the Earth- my family, my wife, my parents.’

‘They were still alive then. That was, for me, the high point of the flight from an emotional standpoint.’

‘The dearest things in life that were back on the Earth- my family, my wife, my parents.’

‘They were still alive then. That was, for me, the high point of the flight from an emotional standpoint.’

And the mission itself?

Lovell was mesmerized by space and exploration, and wanted desperately to explore the moon. I was there because it was a battle in the Cold War.

‘I wanted to participate in this American adventure of beating the Soviets. But that’s the only thing that motivated me- beat the damn Russians.’

Would he run in 2020?

On This Day

On 3 September 1939 the United Kingdom and France declared war on Germany. But we are in no danger of forgetting that.

When did you last think about Beslan?

Samizdata quote of the day

There has been, as we know, much fuss over how Russian Twitter ‘bots backed both Brexit and Donald Trump. This is an interference with our democracy which just cannot be lived with, something must be done. You know, regulate Twitter so that nothing so appalling as anyone ever using it to support non-progressive causes can ever happen again. That not being quite how free speech nor freedom of the press is supposed to work of course.

Expect some of this to die down a little now that we know that those same Twitter ‘bots – from Russia, you know – backed Jeremy Corbyn at the last General Election.

Tim Worstall

So, what do we think about Syria?

Some questions:

Was there a chemical attack?

If so, who was the perpetrator?

More to the point, do we care? Yes, I know there is a treaty and all that but is chemicalling someone so much worse than shooting them? And is it worth fighting a war over?

The Gullibility of Cynicism

Under these conditions, you could make people believe the most fantastic lies one day, and if the next day they were presented with irrefutable proof that their leaders had lied, they would take refuge in cynicism: they would protest that they had always known they were lies, and admire their leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.     (‘The Origins of Totalitarianism’, Hannah Arendt)

Arendt states that ideology and terror are two sides of the same coin, preparing people for their two-sided role as persecutor or victim in a totalitarian state. She never quite says – but it is close to the surface in several remarks – that cynicism and gullibility are likewise two sides of the same coin, not opposites at all, preparing people for their two-sided role as liar or dupe in enforcing political correctness.

Jeremy Corbyn does not trust the UK’s forensics and wants the nerve gas sent to Russia for their analysis. Mr Ed may be right that Corbyn’s reported statement – that “the nerve agent be sent back to Russia” – reveals his true opinion, but the boy who came from a posh-enough background and attended a grammar school, yet still managed to leave it with two Es, is quite thick enough both to reveal an unconscious assumption and to believe his conscious words. Jeremy is too cynical to credit UK forensics – so he wants Putin’s people to examine the evidence and announce whether Putin did it or not. (One might guess he likewise thinks reports of Russian athletic doping are western lies – after all, Putin’s experts say so – and be even more sure he thought that in the days when the ‘peoples republics’ won many an olympic medal. But perhaps even Jeremy is not rash enough to say so – there are voters who ignore politics but understand sport well enough. 🙂 )

Scepticism can be very healthy (this blog has always had a very healthy number of eurosceptics 🙂 ). But when you want to believe the forensic analysis of the Russian state because you are too cynical to believe the forensic analysis of the British state then you have indeed demonstrated Arendt’s point: cynicism and gullibility are not opposites. The precise evidential value of the UK’s ongoing forensic tests can be debated. The evidential value of anything announced by Russia, were Corbyn’s idiot demand acted on, cannot be.

Samizdata quote of the day

[Corbyn’s] Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry and his Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith both saw that briefing and agreed there was “prima facie evidence” and said the party “fully accepts that Russia is responsible”.

Corbyn said he didn’t trust British scientists and British intelligence services, and suggested samples of the nerve agent be sent back to Russia because he DID trust them and Russia had asked to see the evidence.

Fleet Street Fox

The article is ‘all over the place’ regarding the USSR (to be charitable) but it does make this rather good point.