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]

Galileo reborn

“This week Short, probably Britain’s greatest-ever chess player, suggested that women were biologically worse at chess and that “rather than fretting about inequality, we should just get on with it.” The reaction has been predictably bitter.”

[…]

“I like Nigel Short. I went to see him play his 1993 world championship game against Kasparov. But I’m dismayed he said this — even if it turned out he was right — because it can become self-fulfilling.”

- Tom Whipple, who writes on scientific matters for the Times.

*

“Eppur si muove!” (“And yet it moves!”)

- Some say these words were muttered defiantly by Galileo Galilei after he was forced by the Inquisition to recant his theory that the Earth goes round the sun.

*

“I want more women to do computer science, not because of my views on gender equality but because I want more people in general to do science. The chess debate will make that harder. It takes enough courage as it is to decide you want to become the only girl on your computer science course. Hearing that you are also hard-wired to be worse at it is not going to help.”

- Tom Whipple, who writes on scientific matters for the Times.

*

“In matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration”

- Thomas Henry Huxley, known as “Darwin’s Bulldog” for his robust defence of Darwin’s theory of evolution in public debate.

*

“Whatever biological influence on mathematical ability there may or may not be, there is indisputably a far greater influence: culture. Publicly debating biology directly influences that culture — for the worse.”

- Tom Whipple, who writes on scientific matters for the Times.

Chimpanzees as legal persons

The Guardian reports:

Chimpanzees granted petition to hear ‘legal persons’ status in court

Wise’s argument in this case and others is that chimpanzees are intelligent, emotionally complex and self-aware enough to merit some basic human rights, such as the rights against illegal detainment and cruel treatment. They are “autonomous and self-determining”, in Wise’s words.

You can probably see why this post bears the “Self-ownership” tag. Many of the people arguing for legal personhood for animals are twerps like this one, who claims that she finds “discrimination on the grounds of species as distasteful as discrimination on the grounds of race or sex.”

However the arguments put forward by the Nonhuman Rights Project do not seem obviously wrongheaded to me. For instance they do discriminate on grounds of species, between higher and lower animals. This comes from their Q&A page:

Your first plaintiffs are chimpanzees, and you are also talking about elephants, whales and dolphins. What’s next after that? Dogs and pigs?

Our plaintiffs will be animals for whom there is clear scientific evidence of such complex cognitive abilities as self-awareness and autonomy. Currently that evidence exists for elephants, dolphins and whales, and all four species of great apes. So, for the foreseeable future, our plaintiffs are likely to come from these three groups.

Here is a fact I find disturbing to contemplate: some severely mentally disabled human beings are less intelligent than chimpanzees. If our society does start to act on that fact in its laws I hope and pray that it does so in the direction of granting more rights to animals, not taking rights away from disabled humans.

Loss of nerve: “just standing there watching”

Another one:

Hampstead Ponds constables ‘failed to help’ drowning Moshe Greenfeld because of ‘dangerous and murky’ water

The City of London has admitted that its health constabulary officers had not entered A Hampstead Heath bathing pond to try to save drowning teenager.

Moshe Yitzchok Greenfield, 19, a prominent rabbi’s son, began to struggle after going for a dip in the pond in north London on Wednesday, 15 April, the hottest day of the year so far, when temperatures in London hit 25C (77F).

[…]

James Eisen, a 43-year-old freelance journalist, told The Times: “I was walking past and I could see a lot of commotion going on over the far side of the pond. The guy’s friends were going in and out of the water and holding their breath and diving under frantically.

“There were police officers and paramedics and firefighters on the bank just standing there watching while the boys dived under. There were at least seven police officers on the side.

“It was a chaotic and surreal scene. I heard one of the boys shouting to one of the ambulance crews and asking how long someone could survive under water without breathing as they continued swimming around in a panic. I’m guessing the emergency services are told not to go into the water but if that’s the case they probably shouldn’t have let the boys carry on swimming about.”

If you want to know the sort of incentives that create such men of steel, look at the story of fireman Tam Brown, whose courage in risking his life to save a woman from drowning was rewarded with the threat of disciplinary action for “breaking procedure”, or at the three unarmed policemen similarly rebuked for daring to try and save William Pemberton’s life while their armed colleagues huddled outside waiting for orders.

Now, there are one or two caveats before we add Moshe Yitzchock Greenfield to the list that includes the Colly family who burned to death while police actively prevented attempts at rescue, Edward Paul Brown, a baby who died within minutes of birth in a hospital lavatory while nurses refused his mother’s pleas for help because they did not have the proper training, and Alison Hume, whom the Strathclyde Fire Brigade left dying for six hours at the bottom of a mineshaft because, after all, “the fire service was only obliged to save people from fires and road traffic accidents.”

The first caveat is this: Moshe Greenfield and his friends were swimming in an area marked as out of bounds to swimmers, and chose to go into the water after the lifeguard had left. That was irresponsible, though practically everyone can recall doing something equivalent at that age and coming to no harm.

The second caveat is this: as an official spokesman said, “The heath constabulary officers are here to enforce bylaws in the park — they are not trained lifeguards and the water is dangerous and very murky, so they are advised they are not to go in until proper assistance arrives.” He has a point, although it would be a stronger one if the heath constabulary officers actually had enforced the bylaw forbidding swimming. Perhaps our society would be better off if it were made completely clear that once you step outside the law, even a park by-law, you are on your own. The state washes its hands of you. I could go with that. A fine big notice board with shiny black letters saying “PAST THIS POINT WE WILL WATCH YOU DROWN” and helpful accounts of the last six people to whom this rule was applied; that would at least be fair warning. No longer would the citizen be treated as a spoilt child, emboldened to folly by the knowledge that the parental State would never let the worst happen.

That might be a better world than ours. But it is not ours. In general our government insists on rescuing people from their own folly. And what Hampstead Heath Park Constabulary actually provided was the worst of both worlds: officers who will act neither as police nor as parents.

By the way, it was not an act of courage beyond what can be asked of men to make some attempt at rescue. The “dangerous and very murky” waters” weren’t the North Atlantic. It was the pond in Hampstead Heath, for God’s sake. And some men – boys, really – did try. As the witness said, “The guy’s friends were going in and out of the water and holding their breath and diving under frantically.” It was just beyond what can be asked in these enlightened times of the men we pay, train and equip specifically to do that sort of thing.

The trouble with blogging for fourteen years is that one runs out of fresh clean ways to express foul things. I am adding very little to what I said in 2007:

Let me say (before someone says it for me) that I do not claim that I would have the courage to go into a house where a killer might lie in wait, or that I would have jumped in the bitter, fast flowing waters of the Tay to save some stupid woman who wanted to top herself. But such were the traditions that were honoured in the police and fire services. In fact, when I talk about “gutlessness” and “loss of nerve” here I am not talking about individual physical courage. Fireman Tam Brown showed great courage. At least three of the policemen in the Pemberton murders did as well and all of them showed more guts than I would. But institutional gutlessness surrounded them, was embarrassed by them, and will kill off their like eventually. Poisoned soil does not long give forth good fruit.

A political challenge

From the Daily Mail:

Polish prince challenges Nigel Farage to a DUEL with swords over Ukip slurs on immigrants

And why not? Resort to the field of honour would be in accordance with prime ministerial precedent. Those were the days. The Sussex Advertiser of 23rd March 1829 blandly recorded, “His Grace was seen riding through the Horse-Guards at six o’clock on Saturday morning, and returned to Downing-street at eight.”

Kicking the state out of the bedrooms of Ireland, North and South

Sex worker to launch legal challenge against NI prostitution ban

A sex worker is using European human rights legislation to try to overturn a new law in Northern Ireland that makes it illegal to pay for prostitutes.

Dublin-born law graduate Laura Lee is launching an unprecedented legal challenge that could go all the way to Strasbourg, against a human trafficking bill which includes banning the payment for sex among consenting adults.

The region is the only part of the UK where people can be convicted of paying for sex. The law, which was championed by Democratic Unionist peer and Stormont assembly member Lord Morrow, comes into effect on 1 June.

[…]

Lee said she will fund the case partly via crowdfunding on social media networks and from sex worker campaign groups across the world.

Lee, an Irish psychology graduate whose range of services include S&M and bondage, said she was also taking the legal challenge to thwart an attempt to introduce a similar law criminalising the consumers of sex in the Irish Republic.

An alliance of radical feminist groups and a number of nuns from Catholic religious orders are lobbying southern Irish political parties to pass a Nordic-style law outlawing the purchase of sex.

I have no stupid puns to make. This legal case is an important challenge to intolerable state intrusion. I wish Ms Lee the best of luck.

What happened to this alleged eclipse, then?

Either astronomical phenomena don’t apply to Essex, or the guys doing the sacrificing to Huitzilopochtli were really hard at work.

What do the Maori and Welsh languages have in common?

Intrigued by the possibility of some hitherto unknown Polynesian/Celtic linguistic cross-fertilisation, I clicked on this YouTube video clip.

Watching it saddened me. Intrepid sailors though they were, the ancestors of the Maori people never made it to Wales. The Welsh did reach New Zealand, but in steamships rather than coracles. Bidding farewell to a pair of outré alt-hist scenarios was not the reason for my sadness, however. What depressed me about this video was that, like almost every other discussion of preserving minority languages that I have ever seen, it was fixated on compulsion.

According to the video, an excerpt from a New Zealand TV programme, what Maori and Welsh have in common is that they are only kept going by forcing people to speak them and ain’t that wonderful. One minute into the clip, the commentary says,

“Four New Zealand teachers on a British Council “Linking Minds” scholarship were given a chance to see how compulsion is helping to save the Welsh language, Cymraeg, from extinction.”

Just after that one of the teachers, Nichola McCall, says to camera,

“The Welsh people have used law to support the use of the language, used it to build its status, used it to change public opinion. I think the law has really encouraged or helped education to do what it’s doing with the language, to help with its revival, to help bring it equal status with the English language here.”

Later on Ann Keane, Chief Inspector of Education and Training in Wales says at 3:24,

“If you live in Wales then you are entitled to learn something about its culture, its history and to learn something of its language.”

Who could object to that? I could, because she is using the word “entitled” in an Orwellian sense that I first noticed being used among educational opinion-formers when I was a teacher a quarter of a century ago. In Educratese “you are entitled to do this” means “you are not entitled not to do this”. Ms Keane continues:

“The time was right in Wales to bring Welsh in as a compulsory, as a mandatory, part of the National Curriculum in 1990.”

The use of locutions such as “the time was right” or “the situation demanded” to describe how a law came to be passed is another trick of speech I have long hated. It makes it sound as if, rather than one more-powerful bunch of humans forcing another less-powerful bunch to do their bidding, it all happened by the irresistible pressure of some force of nature.

Just to reinforce that “entitled” is being used in this particular and deceptive sense, the commentator purrs approvingly:

“Ann believes all peoples living in Wales and New Zealand are entitled as citizens to learn the language of the land”.

This is immediately followed at 3:59 by Professor Mac Giolla Chriost of Cardiff University, who says that he thinks:

“the arguments for compulsion are much more powerful and convincing than the arguments against compulsion.”

We never get to learn what the arguments against compulsion are, so this claim is difficult to judge. The professor continues:

“There are very good arguments for making sure that all young people in New Zealand are allowed access to Maori as a part of their national identity . . . the only way of doing that, then, is compulsion.”

“Allowed access to Maori,” is another variant of “entitled to learn Maori” or “have the right to learn Maori”. All of them mean “will be forced to learn Maori”. It just sounds prettier if a pose is maintained that someone – probably an Englishman in imperialist headgear – is trying to stop eager pupils from learning Maori or Welsh, and the “right” or “entitlement” or “demand for access” is being asserted against such oppression. I do not know about New Zealand but that picture of Anglophone oppression was certainly true of Wales at one time, although most accounts of cruel practices such as the Welsh Not skirt around the fact that its use was supported by Welsh-speaking parents who saw English as the route to prosperity for their children. My late mother-in-law, for whom Welsh was the much-loved “language of the hearth”, confirmed to me that it was common in her childhood for Welsh-speaking parents to discourage the Welsh speech of their children. Few would have wished to punish Welsh in the home by means of the hairbrush or the belt, but plenty were happy to have the teacher do it in school, where they did not have to see their child cry. No doubt many African parents nowadays make the same calculation.

→ Continue reading: What do the Maori and Welsh languages have in common?

Surprise!

Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro given power to rule by decree

The Venezuelan parliament on Sunday approved a law giving the president, Nicolás Maduro, the power to legislate by decree for nine months in the face of what he described as threats by the US government.

The so-called “anti-imperialist” law will be in effect from the time it is published in Venezuela’s Official Gazette until 31 December.

Maduro requested the expanded powers in response to new US sanctions on Venezuelan officials accused of human rights violations. Critics of Venezuela’s government have called the move a power grab.

Eatless in Seattle

Via Twitchy, I came across this article asking “Why are so many Seattle restaurants closing lately?”

The writer, Sara Jones, goes through the possible answers to this question at some length. Ownership changes. “Concept switches”, whatever they might be. Premises too big. Ingredients too pricey. Menus too esoteric. Too loud. Too quiet. Managers who do too much. Managers who do too little. Many and various are the potentialities diligently listed by Ms Jones. It is a little hard to see why a plague of Managers Doing Too Much should suddenly descend on so many of Seattle’s eateries all at once, though. Could there be something else behind it all, some really strange and frightening phenomenon whose name no one in Seattle dare speak? It’s like in Jaws when no one wants to say the word “shark”.

Dim-dum dim-dum dim-dum dim-dum dim-dum dim-dum dimdum dimdum dimdumdimdumdimdumdimd-AAAAAAAGH!

Though none of our local departing/transitioning restaurateurs who announced their plans last month have elaborated on the issue, another major factor affecting restaurant futures in our city is the impending minimum wage hike to $15 per hour. Starting April 1, all businesses must begin to phase in the wage increase: Small employers have seven years to pay all employees at least $15 hourly; large employers (with 500 or more employees) have three.

In fairness to the author, she does discuss the effect of the minimum wage hike eventually, after having exhausted all other options. She’s doing better than many.

The unadulterated Sir Terry

Animals loose in a car are never a good idea. Goats are generally the worst, but until you realise there’s a tortoise stuck under your brake pedal you’ve never known the meaning of fear, and possibly not the meaning of ‘old age’ either.

– Sir Terry Pratchett, The Unadulterated Cat. Sadly Sir Terry never really got to know the meaning of ‘old age’ himself. I think he did know the meaning of fear when contemplating a particularly cruel death for a writer, but knew even better the meaning of courage. I would link to the famous “embuggerance” statement to illustrate this point but so many other people are doing that right now that it has melted the internet.

O Good Green Earth, swallow me up

Play the audio in this story and see if you can suppress an involuntary wince of sympathy: Incredibly Awkward Interview With Natalie Bennett. (Ms Bennett – a Samizdata commenter – is currently leader of the Green Party of England and Wales.)

Kudos to Nick Ferrari who can evidently do what so many media folk cannot: order-of-magnitude mental arithmetic.

Life is unfair. If The Boris had been on the hot seat he’d have said, “Oh cripes, you’ve ker-splonked me there!” and everyone would have loved him all the more.

“If Britons want to join Isis, let them go”

So argues Mary Dejevsky in the Guardian. Her piece could have done with a clearer separation of the several different issues involved; freedom of speech, freedom of movement, state surveillance of all travellers, targeted spying on individuals, and above all the question of what difference it makes when the potential recruits to ISIS are minors. Nonetheless I broadly agree – the British state should not seek to prevent adult citizens leaving the UK merely because it suspects they wish to become members of ISIS – or to kill members of ISIS. Whether state assistance in the form of weapons or subsidy should be available to the latter admirable group, or whether any of the former group seeking to return should be allowed to do so in exchange for cooperation with MI6, are questions that even the purest of libertarians might find worthy of debate.

The crimes of ISIS have been so flagrant and atrocious that the world is entitled to see any adult, male or female, volunteering to live under its standard (let alone bearing arms) as hostis humani generis and to exterminate them without any fuss about human rights – but wait till they get there. It is the burnings, beheadings and rapes that are the crimes, not getting on a plane to Turkey.