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]

Armed neutrality in the gender-neutral pronoun wars

There has been much huffing and puffing recently about gender neutral pronouns. In principle, I rather like the idea. The fact that I dislike some of the other people who like the idea ought not to affect that. Not, I hasten to add, that I feel any animus against anyone purely on the grounds that they prefer to be referred to by one sound rather than another, or that their gender is difficult to specify externally, or that they feel that neither “he” nor “she” describes them, or that they advocate for lexical change. While it is true that the set of people currently talking loudest about gender-neutral pronouns would, if displayed on a Venn diagram, have considerable overlap with the set of people who wish to get others arrested for using the wrong word, that is a symptom of the addiction of our society to the use of force rather than persuasion, not a logical necessity.

The cause of the gender-neutral pronoun is ill-served by many of its current advocates. But in itself, it would be handy. That’s “it” as in “having a third person singular pronoun available to use to describe human beings without specifying gender”, not “it” as in “it”. It (as in the situation, not a person) tends to get an itty-bit hairy when one person refers to another (by which I mean another person, not another situation) as “it”. Thus, if I may reiterate, using “it” (as in “‘it'”) as a gender-neutral pronoun to refer to a person would put the user in a bad situation, even if they (here used in the singular) were not a singularly bad person. Wouldn’t it?

OK, I got drunk on words there. Sobering up, I am not seeking perfect “representation” for every one of Facebook’s 71 gender options. They can represent themselves. I just think it would be nice to have one more option, and to settle on one. That way those prone to being easily offended, and the subset of them that resort to bullying, could be kept from unhappiness and the occasion of sin.

I do think that the traditional use of “he” and “man” to include the female is a little, y’know, presumptuous. I am not one to go through old documents cutting out every offending “he-including-she” with a razor, but I would just as soon have some more inclusive style in new documents. It is tedious have to write “he or she” every time.

Singular “they” sounds all right when the subject is indefinite (e.g. “If anyone wants more details, give them a brochure”) but sounds wrong if the gender is known. At this point someone usually pipes up to say that Shakespeare used it in their plays. Only they don’t say their plays, they say his plays, unless they (gender unspecified here: no problem) are making some sort of claim that Shakespeare was a collective, a Borg or a woman.

The distinction between singular and plural third person is useful. We feel its lack in the second person. The singular/plural distinction keeps trying to creep back in “youse” and “y’all”. In some dialects spoken in Northern England, “thou” never went away, merely faded a little into “tha”. If making no difference between singular and plural is sometimes confusing when talking to people, it is a swamp when talking about people. Imagine an action scene in a novel where all the characters including the protagonist were referred to as “they”.

This link takes you to a piece called “The Need for a Gender-neutral Pronoun” which lists some of the leading contenders for a new pronoun. By clicking on the suggested pronoun itself (or the title of the set in the case of the Spivak pronouns named after their creator), you can read an extract from Alice in Wonderland using that set of pronouns. The author also rates the proposed words by ease of pronunciation, distinctiveness, and how truly neutral they are. The author prefers the set of pronouns based on “ne” in the nominative case. If you agree that a gender neutral pronoun would be desirable, which option would you like to take hold in the language? If you object to the whole idea, what would you like to see become dominant – strict use of “he” (or “she”), or “they”, or “s/he” and variants?

The thing is, I will not be the first in my circle of acquaintance to start writing “xe” or “ne” in any other context but science fiction for the same reason that I will not be first in my circle to start taking a daily stroll in the nude.

I would if you would, but I know and you know, neither of us will.

In retrospect

It is reported in the Guardian that the career of a noted creative artist is coming to an end.

… the offences of Phil Shiner, the human rights lawyer who has just been struck off by the solicitors’ disciplinary tribunal, are worse even than they appear at first sight. It is hard to comprehend the nightmare faced by British soldiers he wrongly accused of torture and murder in Iraq. But he did not only fail those he traduced in court. He failed Iraqis who believed they had a case; he failed genuine victims of abuse who will face a harder fight in future. And his dishonesty and deception, and the bringing of baseless cases, risks tainting the whole case for human rights.

There is quite a bit to agree with in this editorial, but the insouciance of the writer takes my breath away. Will the Guardian, so long his leading patron and publicist, be holding a retrospective exhibition of its own extensive Phil Shiner back catalogue?

New materialism, old feudalism

Ruth Potts, writing in the Guardian with a quill pen, says that,

…a deeper understanding of humankind’s place in a living world of materials suggests the need and opportunity for a different kind of love affair with “stuff” – a long-term relationship of appreciation, slow pleasures, care and respect.

Instead of abstinence and austerity, embracing the New Materialism could have profoundly positive effects. Inverting classic expectations of productivity in which fewer people produce more stuff for consumption, the New Materialism points to an economy in which, in effect, more people produce less stuff for consumption.

and

There are other steps we can take to accelerate this healthier relationship with stuff: a minimum 10-year guarantee would help end the scourge of built-in obsolescence. Community Supported Agriculture reconnects communities with the people who grow food. The same approach could be applied to more of the objects we use: Community-supported potteries could deliver tableware, gradually, by subscription. The same could apply to clothing and furniture. A culture of repair and re-imagining would create ample skilled employment; high street making and mending hubs could bring life back to the hearts of our towns and cities.

Speaking as the last woman in England who can properly darn a sock, I know well the pleasure to be had from “make do and mend”. Darning is quite satisfying. By plying my darning needle I have kept going heirloom socks knitted by deceased great aunts. I have been known to darn a hole in a beloved Fair Isle jumper in multiple colours of antique darning wool, which I acquired from an eBay seller in France. Don’t think I don’t see the appeal of caring for a dear old thing rather than buying a rubbishy new thing.

But that appeal is strictly contingent on it being a hobby not a necessity. For generations of women, darning was the most wretched of tasks, ruining their eyes and wasting their lives trying to eke out a little more use from a garment that was certain to “go” again almost on the next wearing. Men had it no better. George Orwell wrote in Homage to Catalonia of seeing the type of tools in use in 1930s Spain:

A broken ploughshare, for instance, was patched, and then patched again, till sometimes it was mainly patches. Rakes and pitchforks were made of wood. Spades, among a people who seldom possessed boots, were unknown; they did their digging with a clumsy hoe like those used in India. There was a kind of harrow that took one straight back to the later Stone Age. It was made of boards joined together, to about the size of a kitchen table; in the boards hundreds of holes were morticed, and into each hole was jammed a piece of flint which had been chipped into shape exactly as men used to chip them ten thousand years ago. I remember my feelings almost of horror when I first came upon one of these things in a derelict hut in no man’s land. I had to puzzle over it for a long while before grasping that it was a harrow. It made me sick to think of the work that must go into the making of such a thing, and the poverty that was obliged to use flint in place of steel. I have felt more kindly towards industrialism ever since

That’s because Orwell, though a Socialist, had trained himself to the habit of opening the door when reality came knocking. Ms Potts has not. Every pretty vision she describes, the minimum ten year guarantee, the “Community supported agriculture”, the idea that “Community-supported potteries could deliver tableware, gradually, by subscription” (sounds lovely, all the family sharing one plate while waiting for the rest to arrive); they all boil down to deliberately making things more expensive and people poorer.

One (rubbish) reason why Wales voted Leave

From Wales Online:

Burning rubbish, begging neighbours and driving miles to a tip – how families are dealing with monthly bin collections

Families are being forced to burn rubbish in one of the first areas to move to once-a-month waste collections.

People living in Conwy have spoken of their four-weekly collection “nightmare”.

While all the recycling, food waste and nappy bins are collected weekly the black bin is only taken once a month.

Even after a month, any black bags that won’t fit in residents’ wheelie bins will not be taken away.

Residents, in particular those with children, say they have to beg older neighbours to take their waste and even have to burn their rubbish to get rid of it or stand in the wheelie bin to help create room for more waste.

Other areas are also moving to a longer period between each bin collection, including Anglesey which will see their waste collection stretched to three weeks.

The very unpopular reduction in frequency of bin collections is widely seen as being a result of an EU target that 50% of household waste must be recycled by 2020. It is actually more complicated than that because the good boys and girls in the Welsh and Scottish governments had separately set their own “more ambitious” reycling targets. But those targets aren’t popular either, certainly not in Wales as their practical effects begin to show.

As reported by today’s Daily Mail,

Councils dealt with nearly 900,000 incidents of illegal dumping in 2014/15, with nearly two thirds of cases involving household waste. In Bury, Greater Manchester, where three-weekly collections were introduced two years ago, fly-tipping rose by 53 per cent in 2014/15 – compared to an average increase in England of 6 per cent.

Janet Finch-Saunders, Conservative assembly member for Aberconwy, north Wales, said: ‘There is a fly-tipping epidemic looming – it is only going to get worse if this four-weekly collection continues. North Wales is an area with seaside resorts and towns that rely on tourism.

Nor did it make the EU target any more beloved when it was reported that, perversely, the UK could face millions of pounds in EU recycling fines because it has reduced consumption of paper and cardboard and so produces less paper waste to recycle.

Discussion point: porn on the bus

Here are two contrasting articles from the Guardian:

Watching porn in public is not OK. It’s harassment – Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett

Pussy Riot celebrate the vagina in lyrical riposte to Trump – Luke Harding

It is no discredit to the Guardian that different writers for the paper have said contradictory things, although none of the dozens of comments I read to Ms Cosslett’s article brought up the the difference between the views of old and new feminists on whether it was liberating or deplorable to shock the public.

Many Libertarian-ish people would say that incompatible preferences across different groups of people regarding what should be seen in public could be solved by property rights and competition. Each shopping mall and bus company could set its own rules, some catering to the puritans, some to the libertines. That would be nice, but until we find the door into Libertopia we must deal with the major regulator of such things being the State.

What do you think? How should people behave here and now? Do the existing laws come first or ten millionth on our list of things to oppose – or should we support them? Is there more of a problem than there used to be, now that people can watch R18 movies on their Kindles on the bus while a twelve year old sits next to them? Or is this just another moral panic that could be solved if people kept their eyes to themselves?

By the way, consider this blog post to be a a venue where, as they say on the cinema screens, “Strong language may be permitted, depending on the manner in which it is used, who is using the language, its frequency within the work as a whole and any special contextual justification”.

A triumph of world culture

A few years back one of my children introduced me to the glory that was Star War The Third Gathers: The Backstroke of the West.

Now I see that Mark Liberman of Language Log has flagged up this piece by Patrick Shanley for the Hollywood Reporter:

‘Revenge of the Sith’ Dubbed With Bootleg Chinese Dialogue Is a Fan-Made Masterpiece

YouTuber GratefulDeadpool has done the unthinkable: He’s made Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith cool.

Using the original Chinese subtitles, which feature multiple lost-in-translation misinterpretations, GratefulDeadpool redubbed the prequel trilogy’s final installment — with hilarious results.

Entitled Backstroke of the West Highlights Part 1 (Star War: The Third Gathers), the recut features such memorable lines as “I has been hating you,” from the villainous Count Dooku, and “The front is a lemon avenue flying straightly,” spoken by Obi-Wan Kenobi while piloting a careening starship.

Dorkly explains the bizarre translations likely “began with a machine translation of the Chinese script to [Revenge of the Sith], which attempted to literally translate from Mandarin to English, despite the multitude of barriers between the two languages.” The end result was great quips, such as “Smelly boy” from General Grievous to Kenobi and “Your dead period arrived, teacher” from a rebellious Anakin Skywalker during his fateful lightsaber duel with his master on Mustafar.

You can view either edited highlights of this semi-accidental masterpiece or the whole thing by following the links in the Hollywood Reporter piece. Back at Language Log, one of the commenters, Jonathan Smith, rightly says that, “This latest editor’s genius was to get voice actors to read it with straight faces.”

However I cannot endorse Mark Liberman’s view when he writes, “I’m skeptical of the machine-translation idea, because I seriously doubt that there has ever been an MT system that rendered “the Jedi Council” as “the Presbyterian Church”.

Doesn’t he know what happens when you say things like that about Star Wars?

“I find your lack of faith disturbing.”

That’s how the cookie warning crumbles

KitGuru reports:

The European Union proposes law to stop browser cookie pop-ups

Back in 2012, the European Union passed a law requiring websites to give visitors a warning regarding browser cookies. These pop-ups or banner warnings are now common place across the web and were initially intended to protect user privacy but for the most part, they are just seen as an annoying box getting in the way of whatever content you are trying to access. It seems the European Union now also agrees with that and has proposed new regulations to do away with cookie pop-up warnings.

We initially saw a drafted version of the proposed law back in December but this week, the European Commission officially unveiled its proposal. The plan is to essentially remove website banners that provide disclaimers on browser cookies. A user’s browser preference in regards to cookies will automatically apply to sites they visit instead.

See, Brexit is doing them good already.

It’s a ruddy hate crime, that’s what it is!

The Times reports,

The home secretary’s party conference speech proposing that companies compile lists of foreign workers has been declared a “hate incident” by police under crime recording policies that she has supported.

Amber Rudd’s remarks about tougher rules for immigrant workers and foreign students attracted fierce criticism at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham last October.

She said that the government would be “examining whether we should tighten the test companies have to take before recruiting from abroad” and ensuring that foreign workers were “not taking jobs British people could do”.

Joshua Silver, a physics professor at the University of Oxford, was so concerned that he reported the speech to police.

“I felt politicians have been using hate speech to turn Britons against foreigners, and I thought that is probably not lawful,” Professor Silver said.

Once he reported the speech, police were required to investigate.

West Midlands police have now written to the professor stating that the inquiry is concluded and the matter “has been recorded in line with the National Police Chiefs’ Council manual as a non-crime hate incident”.

The policy of blanket recording of all hate incidents was set out in 2014 by the College of Policing and backed by Ms Rudd last year.

I do not know whether Professor Silver’s motivation for reporting Rudd to the police was serious or satirical. Either way, it gave me a laugh.

Update: Apparently he was being serious. There is humour to be derived from his bout with Andrew Neil on BBC2’s Daily Politics, though I prefer my comedy to be less cruel. Kinder souls will hope that Professor Silver is remembered as the inventor of a type of low-cost user-adjustable eyeglasses – devices which might help millions of people – than for today’s embarrassing performance.

By the way, next time you read of the post-Brexit surge of reported hate incidents, remember the surge includes this.

Some things I will miss about the now defunct Bella Caledonia web magazine

Bella Caledonia is, or was, a magazine style website devoted to a far left vision of Scottish Independence. I lurked there often and commented seldom. When I clicked on the link http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/ this morning I saw a message abruptly announcing its closure, and when I visited it again just now I saw the “404 Not Found” message. (Update: the site is now back up, though its future is still in doubt.)

I hope that was just a glitch and they haven’t really taken the whole site down. However far from them I am politically, I can have nothing but sympathy with someone who has been writing for or commenting at a website for a decade and then finds it has all been wiped. I would cry if that happened here.

As someone interested in languages, I shall miss the writing in and about Scots. I shall miss the commenters. Some of them were refreshingly, some worryingly, far from the mainstream of politics. A feeling of kinship… I shall say no more. Above all I shall miss their clarity about what they wanted for Scotland.

Three years ago I was so struck by an essay by regular Bella contributor Robin McAlpine, director of the Common Weal thinktank, about his desires for press regulation in a future independent Scotland that I copied it to my clippings file. The title alone was an Orwellian masterpiece. It originally appeared at this url: http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2013/03/19/real-freedom-sounds-like-many-voices/. Since that piece now seems to have vanished along with the rest of the Bella Caledonia archive, and since it is a mirror to the latest efforts by a Conservative UK government to end press freedom, I shall preserve it by posting it below.

I have put the phrase “Above all, this would require that titles other than the franchised ones would be banned” in bold, but other than that have made no changes. Here it is:

Real Freedom Sounds Like Many Voices

by Robin McAlpine 19TH MARCH 2013

“What we are actually having a debate about is the right of very, very rich people to control our society outside of any oversight or regulation …”

I have unburdened myself of the frustration I feel at the way I feel about how the media regulation debate has been covered in the Scottish press (here). Since then I’ve been contacted by a number of people who share my frustration but who want to know if there are other options for media regulation or other possibilities or arguments that are being censored in this debate. Yes there are – all of them.

→ Continue reading: Some things I will miss about the now defunct Bella Caledonia web magazine

Sign here to protect both the freedom of the press and the integrity of the courts

I meant to write in more detail about the grotesque perversion of natural justice embodied in the proposed Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act earlier, but I was ill so I didn’t. Never mind. Guido Fawkes has covered the essentials here. That link takes you to a post on Guido’s site which contains a petition to the government. If you are from the UK, please consider signing it.

For an explanation of why I say that, see this from Michael Gove in the Times:

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is considering whether or not to implement section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 and the period of consultation ends next week. If implemented, section 40 would require newspapers either to register with an approved regulator or face active discrimination in the courts.

The one regulator the government has so far approved, Impress, is funded largely by the former Formula One boss Max Mosley, a determined campaigner for restrictions on the press ever since a Sunday tabloid published disobliging details about his private life. Mr Mosley has assembled a team to run Impress who could never be mistaken for carefree libertarians.

Three of his board members support a campaign to starve The Sun, the Daily Express and the Daily Mail of advertising revenue. One board member has expressed his sadness that the Mail cannot just be banned, and the CEO of the organisation has shared social media posts comparing the Mail to Nazi newspapers and has decried its work as fascist. One does not have to admire every aspect of the Mail to recognise that its crusading journalism played a huge part in bringing the racist killers of Stephen Lawrence to justice. Nazi newspapers tend not to be big on opposing racist violence.

Gove too right wing for you? Try this article from the left-liberal David Aaronovitch in the same paper, which I quoted in this Samizdata post and unapologetically quote again:

Which brings me to the most important thing being considered by Ms Bradley. It goes by the tedious name of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 and is something that can be invoked, or not, by the government. It is, in essence, the stick that could be used to get newspapers and publications to sign up to the new state-approved press regulator, Impress.

What it says is that any publication not agreeing to be regulated by Impress will be subject to the costs of a legal action — even where it wins. Really. That’s what it says. Call the next Lance Armstrong a drugs cheat and even if he loses the case it will cost you hundreds of thousands. Well, no one in those circumstances would take the risk of running the story. These are not days in which newspapers make much if any money and the fastest way to bankruptcy would be to fall foul of Section 40.

Perhaps you are inclined to oppose the views of anyone writing for one of the Murdoch papers? Then read this piece and this follow-up from Roy Greenslade in the Guardian. There is no paywall at the G, so I will just link rather than quote any more than this:

In so doing, its [the lobby group Hacked Off] ideologues have placed their faith in the political establishment. They believe the charter is safe in the hands of MPs and peers and that the conditions that might lead to it being altered are highly unlikely.

But my lack of respect for what they call the media establishment (which, incidentally, is itself a mythical construct) is nothing like as great as my lack of respect for the so-called political establishment.

Added later: The Daily Mirror is another left wing paper opposing this measure: Do you want to gag the truth? Why new law will silence the free press.

In too much of a hurry to read all that? Guido’s earlier posts on this topic provide a quickie crash course. Here are enough to be going on with: (1), (2), (3), (4).

One last point. Quite apart from the danger to the freedom of the press, Section 40 would also set a precedent for using the attribution of court costs as a political instrument to apply pressure on bodies and individuals to do the government’s will. That corrupts the justice system itself.

Denial in the face of shame

I recommend this essay by Jack Staples-Butler for his “HistoryJack” blog, Starvation and Silence: The British Left and Moral Accountability for Venezuela.

DENIAL in the face of catastrophic failure of one’s ideas is a predictable reaction from a believer, as per Leon Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance reduction in response to the failure of one’s beliefs. Denial in the face of shame for one’s actions is an experience well-studied by psychologists and criminologists. One 2014 study summarises the role of ‘shame’ in creating both denial of responsibility and recidivism among offenders:

“Feelings of shame… involve a painful feeling directed toward the self. For some people, feelings of shame lead to a defensive response, a denial of responsibility, and a need to blame others — a process that can lead to aggression.”[1]

Combining both faces of the phenomenon of denial is the behaviour of the supporters, apologists and promoters of the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’, the late Hugo Chávez and the PSUV regime in Venezuela, and their response to the present state of the country. Humanitarian catastrophe of an apocalyptic scale is now unfolding in the most oil-rich state in the world. The magnitude of human suffering is indescribable. The scenes of bread queues and shortages familiar to Eurozone-crisis Greece are long since surpassed. Venezuela has become a ‘Starvation State’[2] which “today drowns in a humanitarian crisis”, with lawless cities and hunger for the majority.

And

The Chávez apologists are confronted with two cognitively distressing facts; that a favoured political project has failed, dragging millions into an abyss of hunger and despair in the process; and that they played an instrumental or even essential role in bringing this state of affairs about, whilst enabling the regime responsible to suppress and destroy its opposition by legitimising and even providing its conspiratorial narrative, pro bono. What is most striking in the Western socialist left’s response to Venezuela’s agony is the absence of response.

The vacuum of recognition or even acknowledgement in the face of disaster is followed by an absence of moral accountability. Knowing full-well that Venezuela is still there, suffering beyond measure, those who involved themselves intimately in the politics of a South American republic now conduct their lives “as if” nothing had happened. In a devastating article, the writer Paul Canning named this as ‘The left’s giant forgetting’[16]. Venezuela has become a collective unperson to those who formerly proclaimed it an example for humanity’s emulation; although tacit recognition of their previous behaviour is found in some of the apologists, as in Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s deletion of any reference to ‘Venezuela’ from his website in March 2016, after two decades of promoting the Chavismo ideology in articles, demonstrations and media appearances.

Bookmark the essay. It would take some time to follow all the many references and links provided by the author, but they are a resource in themselves. This one, about the ambiguous and contradictory testimonies given by two British Communist veterans of the Spanish Civil War decades later, caught my interest.

Is this true about the EU and the internet?

Julia Reda, a German Pirate Party MEP, has issued this list of 10 everyday things on the web the EU Commission wants to make illegal.

In a few days, scandal-prone Günther Oettinger will stop being Europe’s top internet policy maker – he’s being promoted to oversee the EU budget.

But before leaving, the outgoing Digital Commissioner submitted dangerous plans that undermine two core foundations of the internet: Links and file uploads. While Oettinger is going away, his lobby-dictated proposals are here to stay.

These proposals are pandering to the demands of some news publishers to charge search engines and social networks for sending traffic their way (yes, you read that right), as well as the music industry’s wish to be propped up in its negotiations with YouTube.

These proposals will cause major collateral damage – making many everyday habits on the web and many services you regularly use downright illegal, subject to fees or, at the very least, mired in legal uncertainty.

Not that the UK government needs the EU’s assistance to pass stupid and repressive laws about the internet, but if Ms Reda is correct about what this proposed law means, and it is ever enacted, that will be ten more things to paste into my “better off out” file. Quite possibly it would be the progenitor of many more “better off out” files created by angry internet users all over Europe. But I admit that do not know enough to judge whether these proposed measures are likely to come to pass, or would really be as bad as she says, or whether there is anything to be said in their favour.