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]

A good article by a Marxist about “safe spaces” for women

I found this article by Yassamine Mather in Weekly Worker, which describes itself as “A paper of Marxist polemic and Marxist unity”. The “safe spaces” policy put forward by Felicity Dowling to which Yassamine Mather refers is described here.

Comrade Mather writes,

The idea that women in leftwing organisations need ‘protection’, as opposed to ‘empowerment’, is what is patronising. No doubt Felicity Dowling’s extensive work in dealing with child abuse cases and fighting for children’s rights is commendable. However, time and time again when she speaks about safe spaces she starts with abused children, before moving swiftly to the need for safe places for women, gays, blacks in society and, by extension, in the organisations of the left. I disagree with such a classification of women, gays and blacks as weak creatures – actual and potential victims who constantly need ‘protection’ from the rest of society.

And

In an echo chamber nobody learns anything new or expands their perspectives. Similarly if women, blacks or LGBTQ activists refuse to confront their opponents, ‘safe spaces’ risk becoming ‘echo chambers’. A 1998 study by Robert Boostrom questions the ‘safety’ aspect of ‘safe spaces’ in universities as counterposed to the mission of higher education to promote critical thinking. If critical thinking is desirable in higher education, it is essential in a political organisation of the left.

Any group has the right to exclude people or behaviours it does not like. It tends to be self-marginalising politically, though.

“I helped shut down an abortion debate between two men because my uterus isn’t up for their discussion”

So Oxford student Niamh McIntyre writes in the Independent. She says,

The idea that in a free society absolutely everything should be open to debate has a detrimental effect on marginalised groups. Debating abortion as if its a topic to be mulled over and hypothesised on ignores the fact that this is not an abstract, academic issue. It may seem harmless for men like Stanley and O’Neil to debate how and if abortion hurts them; it’s clearly harder for people to see that their words and views might hurt women . . . In organizing against this event, I did not stifle free speech. As a student, I asserted that it would make me feel threatened in my own university; as a woman, I objected to men telling me what I should be allowed to do with my own body.

Oxford Students For Life (OSFL) originally planned to hold the debate in Christ Church college. The Oxford magazine Cherwell quotes the Christ Church JCR Treasurer, Will Neaverson, as saying:

“I’m relieved the Censors* have made this decision. It clearly makes the most sense for the safety – both physical and mental – of the students who live and work in Christ Church.

A blog post by OSFL (see link above) indicates that Niamh McIntyre’s pleasure and Tim Neaverson’s relief that debate had been shut down were not spoilt by anyone finding an alternative venue. You can, however, read what Tim Stanley had planned to say had the debate taken place in an article in the Telegraph.

Hat tip: Instapundit and Eugene Volokh.

*The two Christ Church Censors are the equivalent of college deans and only occasionally censors in the other sense.

“I’m a politician . . . get me out of here!”

As reported in most entertaining style by the Guardian, Ed Miliband had rather an ordeal at the hands of Myleene Klass.

Looking at the picture Guido has up, the converse is also true.

UPDATE: Second link seems to have collapsed. Here’s the Twitter post (including the [ADDED LATER: fake] relevant photo) from Mark Flanagan’s twitter feed that Guido linked to.

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: In fairness, a lot of people, including Mark Flanagan himself and many who are no friends to Ed Miliband, are saying the picture has been maliciously photoshopped. The transition between hand and wrist does look odd. The more I look at it the more sure I am it’s fake, made by manipulating this picture here. Guido’s link has changed, and the picture no longer appears on his post.

NHS Kremlinology

Back in the bad old days, Kremlinologists used to try to figure out what was going on in the leadership of the USSR by observing signs and portents.

During the Cold War, lack of reliable information about the country forced Western analysts to “read between the lines” and to use the tiniest tidbits, such as the removal of portraits, the rearranging of chairs, positions at the reviewing stand for parades in Red Square, the choice of capital or small initial letters in phrases such as “First Secretary”, the arrangement of articles on the pages of the party newspaper “Pravda” and other indirect signs to try to understand what was happening in internal Soviet politics.

To study the relations between Communist fraternal states, Kremlinologists compare the statements issued by the respective national Communist parties, looking for omissions and discrepancies in the ordering of objectives. The description of state visits in the Communist press are also scrutinized, as well as the degree of hospitality leant to dignitaries. Kremlinology also emphasizes ritual, in that it notices and ascribes meaning to the unusual absence of a policy statement on a certain anniversary or holiday.

Brian Micklethwait has often written of the “sovietisation” of various parts of the British State such as state schools and the NHS. To illustrate this process, take a look at the way a “major incident” at Colchester Hospital has been reported.

What major incident you ask? My point exactly: you ask, they don’t answer. Likewise “safeguarding” is repeatedly mentioned. Something needs to be safeguarded.

Late last night or early this morning there were oracular bulletins from the Telegraph and Times, all chock-full of unspecified “incident”. From the Times:

On Wednesday, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspected Colchester Hospital’s accident and emergency department and emergency assessment unit and told trust it had concerns over “safeguarding” there.

The major incident is likely to last for a week, and the trust has reminded members of the public to only visit A&E if they have a “serious or life-threatening condition”.

A spokesman for the hospital said the inspection was not the sole reason for the major incident being declared, although it played a role.

All clear now? There was a similarly opaque article on the AOL homepage. It has been updated since, as has the Telegraph one, I think, but the Times, like a good horror movie, is delaying the big reveal.

The BBC followed suit: “Colchester Hospital declares major incident.” The BBC did tell us what sort of general thing might constitute a “major incident” but not about this major incident. As a result everyone thinks it’s ebola and as I write this it’s the most looked-at article on the BBC website.

Stand down. It’s not ebola. The Guardian was slow to get the story but does actually tell it:

A major incident has been declared at Colchester hospital after a surprise inspection this week found patients being inappropriately restrained and sedated without consent and “do not resuscitate” notices being disregarded.

The ward concerned has been closed to new admissions, an emergency control centre has been put in place to address capacity problems, and patients are being urged to go to A&E only if they have a serious or life-threatening condition.

Inspectors from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) found that the Essex hospital is struggling with “unprecedented demand”, but the Guardian understands concerns were also raised about safeguarding issues relating to inappropriate restraint, resuscitation and sedation of elderly people, some with dementia.

Oh dear, what a let down. Just as it used to in the days of Pravda and Izvestia the secrecy concealed mundanity. It’s just the NHS in crisis again. Can’t they do anything right? The zombies they make aren’t even dead yet.

Bubbles, lies, and buttered toast

What happens if each of those experts feels entitled, even obligated, to lie just a little, to shade his conclusions to strengthen the support they provide for what he believes is the right conclusion? Each of them then interprets the work of all the others as providing more support for that conclusion than it really does. The result might be that they end up biasing their results in support of the wrong conclusion—which each of them believes is right on the basis of the lies of all the others.

That is one of the reasons I am not greatly impressed by the supposed scientific consensus in favor of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming.

David Friedman

As I am fond of saying, it works like a stock market bubble. There is no need to posit a conspiracy. David Friedman’s view that this is a matter of a build up of many little lies rather than a few big ones is a more realistic as well as a more charitable picture of the mechanism at work.

I am yet more charitable than Professor Friedman. Though I completely agree with him that there are almost certainly many scientists shading their conclusions, it might well be the case that they are not doing so consciously at all. All it would take is for a lot of people with jobs to keep and mortgages to pay each to see which side their bread is buttered when the time comes round to apply for grants. As the American socialist author Upton Sinclair put it, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” On the unbuttered side of the bread, when a scientist observes that colleagues who raise doubts suffer for it, she would be acting much like the rest of humanity if she, while never aware of feeling fear, somehow finds herself more comfortable out of the intellectual proximity of these pariahs.

In a way the Rosetta scientists had it easy. All they had to do was hit a moving target half a billion kilometres away. Succeed or fail, there is no kidding yourself and no kidding others. Twenty-eight minutes later you and the world will know.

ADDED LATER: Fraser Orr comments:

“The answer to the CAGW people is simple: make a prediction that is falsifiable and can be measured in a reasonable length of time. Give me an example of a significant result where you predicted the future and it came true. Explain why your last fifteen years of prediction have been completely wrong, and if you have a wild ass explanation of something you didn’t factor in, give us a reason to believe that you didn’t forget something else.”

The European Space Agency may be loathsome tranzi-spawn, but this is so cool

Live: Rosetta comet landing

Farage thinks thousands of Brits should have died to save millions of Europeans, Guardian readers outraged

Nigel Farage: the armistice was the biggest mistake of the 20th century

Farage is quoted as saying,

“But had we driven the German army completely out of France and Belgium, forced them into unconditional surrender, Herr Hitler would never have got his political army off the ground. He couldn’t have claimed Germany had been stabbed in the back by the politicians in Berlin, or that Germany had never been beaten in the field.”

Most of the Guardian commenters take this as proof of Farage’s bigotry and ignorance.

“That’s because he wasn’t doing the fighting. Even if he was alive at the time, little silver spoon establishment posh boys don’t do the fighting anyway. They send others to their deaths,” says commenter “steemonkey”, getting lots more recommends than the reply from “FenlandBuddha”:

“Actually the upper classes suffered worse proportionally than anyone else because you were more likely to be killed as a junior officer than a private. The Prime Minister Asquith lost one son, the Conservative leader Bonar Law lost two.”

In memoriam: Sir Thomas Macpherson, CBE, MC and two bars

Sir Thomas died on November 6th and so just missed having his Times obituary appear on Armistice Day. He was 94. There will not be many more obituaries like this.

The Jedburgh team of which Major Macpherson was in charge, codenamed “Quinine”, was flown from Blida in Algiers and dropped near Aurillac, in the Cantal department, on the night of June 8, 1944. Accompanied by Aspirant (officer cadet) Prince Michel de Bourbon of the French Army and Sergeant Arthur Brown of the Royal Tank Regiment, Macpherson — a proud Scot — wore his kilt for the occasion. The attire caused some confusion and the first report to reach the local maquisards claimed “a French officer has arrived with his wife”.

In order to swell partisan numbers, Macpherson drove around in a car — still wearing his Cameron Highlander tartans — openly flying the Union Flag pennant and the Croix de Lorraine, much to the astonishment of his comrades

Whether through bravery or chutzpah, Macpherson won the surrender of 23,000 Wehrmacht troops by spouting a series of brazen lies. He presented himself to the commanding officer, Major-General Botho Elster, and assured him that heavy artillery, 20,000 troops and RAF bombers were waiting for Macpherson’s word to attack. In reality he had only the aid of another Jedburgh team. Surrender or die, he urged Elster; the bluff worked. Elster and his troops eventually passed into US Army captivity.

. . . Macpherson won an athletics Blue and could even boast a rare victory over Roger Bannister.

Oxford eased him back into civilian life — “Our life was finished, and then it started again”. For nearly 30 years he worked for the timber company William Mallinson & Sons, where he started as a personal assistant to the chairman and finished as managing director.

As children they recall their father beginning every day with a cold bath and an hour of exercise.

He published an autobiography, Behind Enemy Lines, in 2010. Once asked to name his proudest moment, he pondered and said: “It’s very often that one remembers the small things and forgets the big ones.”

Before the Wall fell down

The Berlin Wall was breached 25 years ago today. The New York Times has an article about those for whom it came too late: On Berlin Wall Anniversary, Somber Notes Amid Revelry

BERLIN — It was the morning after the best party ever, the tumult and joy that marked the fall of the Berlin Wall on Nov. 9, 1989. After 28 years, East Berliners were giddy with marvel that they could now visit the West.

Günter Taubmann felt different, as if, he said, “I am in the wrong movie.” Eight years earlier, his only child, Thomas, had been killed trying to cross the wall, one of 138 people who died at the barrier erected by the Communists in 1961 to stop Germans streaming out of the poor, repressive East.

ADDED LATER: Re-reading the New York Times article to which I linked above, something about the reference to one of those killed attempting to escape, Marinetta Jirkowski, being shot 27 times, triggered a memory. I dug out from our bookshelves a collection of Bernard Levin’s columns for the Times called Speaking Up. Here is what he wrote in a column dated 22nd January 1981:

For a week or so ago there was a report, so irrelevant to the world’s concerns that I could find no trace of it any newspaper other than the Daily Telegraph, where it was recounted in exactly fifty words, which tells a story often recounted by me in the past and no doubt even more often to be repeated by me in the future.

A pregnant girl of eighteen – we even have her name, Marinetta Jirkowski – was shot dead by East German border guards while trying to escape to the West with two men. The two men survived, and got to freedom; Fräulein Jirkowski did neither, but fell dead with nine bullets in her.

[…]

We have supped full of horrors these past few decades, and the worst result of such a diet is not indigestion but loss of appetite. And yet it seems to me that even if we have to hold our noses and make a face as we swallow, sup we must. For what lies upon our plate is the knowledge that some things are evil – evil sans phrases – and that what was done to Marinetta Jirkowski is one of those things.

As you will have noted, Mr Levin had underestimated the number of bullets that struck Marinetta Jirkowski. Other than that his assessment was accurate.

Levin’s column continued,

And so I feel it necessary to bang my head against the wall again today, upon the strange death of Marinetta Jirkowski. I do not know how the filthy thing that killed her is to be destroyed, though I know that sooner or later it must be. I do know that there are people in this country who admire that thing, and wish it to rule us, too, and some of them are in our universities, and some in our press and television, and some in the councils of our trade union movement, and some in Parliament, and many of them hardly bother any longer to pretend that their beliefs are other than they are, which suggests that they think they are near their goal; and in so thinking they may well be right.

How strange it is to read those words in conjuction with Perry Metzger’s post above. The particular avatar of the filthy thing that killed Marinetta Jirkowski was nearer to its destruction than Levin had dared hope when he wrote that column. It is gone. But the intellectuals and the media “personalities” who admire it are still there. As Perry wrote,

There are, everywhere, professors who teach a Marxist interpretation of history, of literature, of economics and sociology, and not merely for some sort of historical perspective, but as an actual active ideology they would like their students to adopt. It is, indeed, an entirely ordinary sort of thing, so common it is not even worthy of note. There are people who wear Che Guevara T-shirts in the streets, never mind the people Guevara ruthlessly executed, including children, in the name of Marxism.

The Samaritan app – supportive or intrusive?

There is an interesting article on the BBC website about a controversial new app promoted by the Samaritans, a charity who provide a helpline and other support for people suffering emotional distress or considering suicide:

Once activated, the app tracks tweets from people you follow on Twitter, and emails you if any of them sound distressed. If one of them writes “help me”, “hate myself”, or any other phrase the organisation deems troublesome, you’ll receive an email from the Samaritans nudging you to take a closer look. The tweets are already public, and you might have spotted them anyway, so the service simply highlights things you might’ve missed. Right?

Not so, according to its critics, who have been tweeting and blogging about the service since its launch last week. The app is fraught with problems, they say. It raises major privacy concerns, and is all but tailor made for trolls. Stalkers and online bullies now have a tool that tells them exactly when their targets are at a low ebb, detractors suggest. Users aren’t notified when someone begins using the app to monitor their tweets.

Via the Guardian article on the controversy, I found two posts by Adrian Short, “Unethical uses for public twitter data” and “Samaritans radar must close”. His arguments mix calls for regulation by law, with which I disagree, and acute observations about the implications for privacy and whether this app will help or harm those who talk about their emotional problems on Twitter.

What do you think?

Eat your heart out, Yuri Gagarin

Richard Branson’s space tourism shows what today’s obscene inequality looks like

When rich people burn huge sums of money on fun, it wakes us up to the excesses of the free market

– Zoe Williams, writing in the Guardian.

This really does worry me

Imagine audio and video bugs get better and better. Maybe in the form of tiny physical cameras, maybe as viruses that will eventually succeed in penetrating any computer, phone or similar device, maybe as some kind of broadcast or field. There is parallel progress in the science of searching through audio-visual records. Eventually every house, every room, every human body is bugged – saturated with bugs. Of course most of the time no one is interested in you. But if ever you become interesting, they can watch you, not just now, but at any time going back years. What you were doing on any given day. Every time you sang along to your ipod, had sex, mentioned the word “government”. But “they” is not just the government; it is anyone.