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]

Right, you heathens, us Christians are going to make you observe Lent.

True to its promise to leave no strategy untried that might help alleviate the coronavirus epidemic, Her Majesty’s Government, in accordance with the advice of the Lords Spiritual, has decreed that in penance for the sins that brought this plague upon us, all persons will now strictly observe the Lenten fast. Effective immediately, all confectionery, sweetmeats, and similar indulgent and luxurious foods will therefore be removed from sale in shops upon penalty of law. In particular the pagan custom of consumption of so-called “Easter eggs”, being a false admixture to the strictures of true religion, is henceforth prohibited.

It will be good for your souls.

OK, in case you were worried, what I just said was not true. Neither I nor the Bishops seek to use the law to deny the British public their choccy eggs. That’s the job of your local council.

Convenience stores are wrongly being told to limit the items they sell to just “essentials”, a trade body has warned.

Local newsagents, which are allowed to remain open under the Government’s guidelines, are facing interference from officials that are trying to restrict the range of goods they sell under lockdown measures.

Some shops have been told by police and local councils that Easter eggs are considered non-essential goods and must therefore be removed from shelves.

The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) blamed “overzealous enforcement and a misreading of the rules”.

Ridiculous as it was, with the drone-assisted “lockdown shaming” of walkers in Derbyshire, I could at least see what the police thought they were trying to achieve. But I really can see no motive other than reflex puritanism for trying to prohibit the sale of “nonessential goods”, particularly as they were on the shelves anyway. What good would it do anyone to make the shopkeepers lose a packet by being forbidden to sell stock they had purchased in happier times? This isn’t World War II. Britain’s food is not coming in by convoys subject to torpedo attack. In fact, if you can afford luxury foods, should you not buy them in preference to plainer things in order to leave more staple foods available for those who cannot afford anything else?

Derbyshire police droning on

Drones are fun. I understand that. But people do need to use them responsibly.

The BBC reports: Coronavirus: Peak District drone police criticised for ‘lockdown shaming’

Derbyshire Police filmed people in pairs rambling in the Curbar Edge area of the beauty spot on Wednesday.

In pairs. Not mobs, pairs.

Officers said travelling to remote areas for exercise did not count as “essential travel” as permitted under government lockdown rules.

But travelling to remote areas and flying your drones there, that’s essential.

UK civil liberties group Big Brother Watch branded the move “sinister” and “counter-productive”.

The 90-second clip, shot by the force’s drone unit, showed people walking their dogs and taking photos.

It said “the message is still not getting through” about stopping the spread of coronavirus, despite government guidance and several police posts.

One Twitter user called it “the worst kind of nanny policing” while others pointed out that the walkers were away from crowds.

Here is the tweet in question. I am glad there was some pushback. This response from “miroirdufou” was polite but effective:

Hi. Please explain (in terms of epidemiology) exactly what harm these people are doing, taking quiet exercise away from crowds, in small numbers? And if they’re doing no harm, leave them alone?

Oh-oh

Gordon Brown says world leaders should create temporary global government

A little thing you can do to help businesses struggling due to the quarantine

You could pay now for a session with a business such as a hairdresser, gym or restaurant that has been forced to shut during the quarantine, the voucher to be redeemed whenever the establishment re-opens. The appointment could be for your own use, or as a gift for someone else. It might be a way that someone who has been in isolation can thank whoever did their shopping, while helping the proprietors of the business get some cash coming in when they need it most.

What joining a union can do for you

In Laurence Fox’s case, get you Officially Denounced – and then a payout for being denounced.

In the midst of a pandemic, this story, comparatively trivial but not without consequences, may have passed you by.

Laurence Fox is an actor and musician. Two months ago he caused rather a stir on the BBC political panel show Question Time. I posted about it here: Has the BBC stopped putting bromide in its actors’ tea?

As I said in that post,

The actors’ union Equity helped spread the story by calling on actors to “unequivocally denounce” their fellow. Yes, those exact words. Equity has now backtracked, but it went to prove Mr Fox’s point.

In the end Equity had to do more than backtrack. On March 13th the Guardian reported,

Equity apology to Laurence Fox sparks string of resignations.

The entire race equality committee of Equity has resigned in protest after the actors’ union apologised on its behalf for criticising Laurence Fox’s views on race and paid an out-of-court settlement to the actor after he threatened to sue them for libel.

I am sure they will be greatly missed.

The former star of the detective drama Lewis also used his appearance on the BBC discussion show to insist it was “racist” for an audience member to call him “a white, privileged male”.

“We’re the most tolerant, lovely country in Europe,” he said at the time. “It’s so easy to throw the card of racism at everybody and it’s really starting to get boring now.”

In the aftermath of his appearance, minority representatives of the actors’ union made a series of accusations on Twitter against Fox, saying he wanted to “berate and bully women of colour attempting to discuss issues of race and gender discrimination”.

Narrator’s voice: he didn’t really.

On Friday, the actors’ union issued a carefully worded statement apologising for the comments, with sources saying a payment had been made to the actor: “We are sorry that in the tweets he was called a ‘disgrace’ by Equity. It was a mistake for Equity as an organisation to criticise him in this way. Nothing in Equity’s later statement was intended as a slur on his character or views, or to suggest that he should be denied the ability to work. We would like to make that clear. Equity and Laurence Fox condemn prejudice unequivocally in all its forms.”

Daniel York Loh, the former chair of the race equality committee, said he and his eight other colleagues on the committee, elected by the union’s minority ethnic members, felt forced to resign as a result of the decision to apologise to the actor.

I think that should read “as a result of the decision to apologise to their own member”.

He tweeted: “Equity and La*rence F*x can issue as many joint statements and apologies as they like. It’s nothing to do with me and I apologise for nothing.”

If Mr Loh says that Equity’s apology is nothing to do with him, I assume that means that he has not just resigned from the union’s race equality committee but from the union itself – which in practice would mean that he has resigned from being an actor. A principled decision indeed.

Fox, a member of a well-known acting family, previously said he was concerned he would not be able to work following the intervention from the Equity race equality committee. A source close to Fox said a particular concern was its call for him to be “unequivocally denounced” for his comments on race, which could have reduced his ability to earn money from roles and make a living to enable him to look after his family.

Having lost its race equality committee, Equity might like to see if it can manage without replacing this expensive luxury.

Samizdata quote of the day

There are no limits to our commitment to the euro.

Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank. The linked Guardian article in which I found the quote is titled “ECB U-turn shows it fears coronavirus could destroy eurozone project”.

In France you now have to download a permit to go for a walk

At first I thought this was une blague pratique. Apparently not, unless Tim Worstall’s denial is merely evidence that he is in on the joke. He writes in today’s Times:

Among the measures introduced in France to deal with the coronavirus is a requirement to fill in a form before going out for a walk.

No, really, this is not a joke. As part of the lockdown it is necessary, before leaving the house, to complete and sign a download from the Ministry of the Interior. Name, address, what you think you’re doing and so on.

This is not filed with anyone, nor registered. It must simply be carried during the errand. Absence, if caught, will lead to a €135 fine. A new form is required for every exit from the house. And yes, there’s a box to tick for “aux besoins des animaux de compagnie” which my memories of exchange visits have as “for the needs of our furry friends”.

The solution to a global pandemic is a form for walking the dog. Of course, it is easy to mock the French but there is an important point here, for this is an example of a pernicious worldview. That we, the people, are only able to cope if we are told what to do, what we may do. All must be decided and enforced by the clever people in power and nothing left to ordinary folks to get on with.

Our own tradition is vehemently different. I have surprised people in a number of countries by pointing out that a British policeman isn’t actually allowed to ask — or at least not to insist upon knowing — what it is that you are doing. If accosted, a cheery “Going about my lawful business, constable” is all that is required. Such liberties might not apply in moments of crisis but they are indicative of a different manner of thinking.

A similar restriction is being applied in Italy, according to The Local.it:

Now that justification is required simply to be on the street, you’ll need to have a copy ready as soon as you leave the house.

If you have access to a printer, you can download the form here.

Ther’s also now an application able to generate an electronic version of the ‘autocertificazione’ form as many times as needed, to keep handy on your phone with a digital signature.

Police at checkpoints (such as those at train stations) should also have a stack of paper forms available, and you can ask to take a few.

But what if you do not have access to the internet?

Alternatively you can copy out the whole thing by hand: make sure to write everything exactly as it appears on the form, in full.

and Robbers

The games of children, we are told, enable them to learn about how the adult world works and practise its ways. In my childhood we played a game called “Cops and Robbers”. In our innocence we thought we were imitating the grown ups. Perhaps we were, in the 1970s. But in 2020 the grown up coppers have tired of that game and gone off to do something else.

The Times reports,

Boots makes legal history after police let thief go

It was no surprise to anyone who knew Nicholas Richards, a career criminal with 25 convictions including 18 for shoplifting, that his motives were not entirely honourable when he walked into Boots.

Witnesses described him stealing £170-worth of Gucci perfume; CCTV footage recovered from the chemist’s flagship branch in Piccadilly showed him putting the goods in his bag; and cameras worn by private security officers who detained him recorded him admitting the offence.

So staff at Boots, which loses between £10,000 and £12,000 a week to shoplifting, were upset when police officers arrived on the crime scene, decided the case was a “civil” matter and released Richards, who was already on a suspended sentence for theft. Boots was furious about the failure to dispense justice and decided to take part in what is believed to be the first private prosecution for shoplifting supported by a corporate victim.

The case is being brought by TM Eye. Set up by two former Metropolitan police officers, it is the parent company of My Local Bobby (MLB), which provides neighbourhood policing to residents, firms and shops. Its 30 “bobbies”, who wear red vests and caps, provide 24-hour cover. They are mostly former police officers and soldiers.

Richards has pleaded guilty, so it all seems to have worked out all right in the end. This time. This is the nice version of what happens when the state justice system fails and private individuals must step in to fill the void. There is also a less nice version.

Samizdata quote of the day

Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!

Be embraced, Millions!
This kiss to all the world!

– Friedrich Schiller’s Ode to Joy, Beethoven’s setting of which is the Anthem of Europe.

Sing all the way through this while washing your hands to help avoid the spread of coronavirus. Other songs recommended for this purpose include Stairway to Heaven and Another One Bites the Dust.

Everybody gets to be racist eventually

The latest newly discovered racist is Trevor Phillips.

Trevor Phillips, the former head of the equalities watchdog, has condemned Labour’s decision to suspend him from the party over alleged Islamophobia, while defending his view that the UK Muslim population is “different”.

Phillips, a pioneering anti-racism campaigner who previously chaired the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), has been suspended from Labour pending an investigation and could be expelled.

To me, the remarks in question seem to have an honest attempt to engage with the fact that the attitudes of the Muslim population do differ sharply from the UK average – surely a matter of public interest. Some here, remembering Mr Phillips’ previous role as head of the Commission for Racial Equality and his lifetime of commitment to the ideal of enforced equality, will speak of karma and say “what goes around comes around”. I disagree. As a matter of policy and humanity, when someone starts to move in the right direction we should not rebuff them.

No more cheap cars

In the Continental Telegraph, Tim Worstall points out that electric cars ain’t cheap. So when all cars must be electric, no cars can be cheap.

This is where “trickle down economics” is actually true. New tech is expensive, toys for the rich. It takes a number of manufacturing iterations for it to become cheap enough for the masses. The iPhone started at $700, you can buy better landfill Android now for $30. ABS was only for top end cars, a couple of decades later everyone has it. That’s just how it works.

But we’ve now got government insisting that only electric cars by 2035. Which is rather before those cheap ones are going to be available – an iteration of technology in a car is measured in years, up to a decade. So, the poor get screwed.

And this gets worse. Batteries don’t last forever. And a significant portion of car transport for the poor is provided by the £500 beater. An older car, mechanically reasonable enough, that another few tens of thousands of miles can be got out of. Battery powered cars won’t do that. Because at some point you’re going to have to replace the battery pack, something that will be a substantial portion of the cost of a new car.

The technology basically kills the £500 beater market.

A good point, though I would replace the word “technology” with “regulation”.

At which point, well, aren’t they noticing? Or is this the point? That the proles have to walk while the Comrades can use the whole road as a Zil lane?

Heresies of our time: that children should be taught to read music

As Trotsky never said about war, and only maybe said about the dialectic, “You may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you.”

Richard Morrison is the music critic of the Times and writes for BBC Music magazine. A man at the heart of the arts establishment, one might reasonably think. But he had an unsettling experience not long ago:

Do I talk rubbish? The thought crosses my mind frequently, but with particular force as I chaired a discussion at the annual conference of the people who run Britain’s orchestras. The talk turned to education and I expressed my fervent belief that teaching children to read music is the key that opens up everything.

First jolt: the music director of Arts Council England (ACE), no less, vehemently disagreed with me. Musical literacy doesn’t matter much, she declared. Second jolt: in the ensuing discussion not a single person spoke in my favour. More than 100 people were in the room, all engaged in running orchestras that depend on instrumentalists who can sight-read to an incredible level, and not one agreed that teaching children to read music was a good idea.

After the event I had coffee with someone in the audience. “Of course nobody sided with you,” she claimed. “Everyone here depends on ACE subsidy. Nobody will contradict publicly what the ACE music director says.”

This was not a singular event. As Mr Morrison writes in his Times article, “The arts world is tolerant, as long as you’re left wing and anti-Brexit”,

I wouldn’t recount this small personal trauma except that it suddenly seems so relevant. Today the excellent website ArtsProfessional published Freedom of Expression, a report based on a large survey it conducted last autumn into censorship and self-censorship in the cultural sector. By promising anonymity to participants, it has lifted the lid on a shocking state of affairs.

Here’s a sector that prides itself on tolerance and free speaking. In reality it seems that the opposite is true. Nearly 80 per cent of participants agreed that “workers in the arts who share controversial opinions risk being professionally ostracised”. You can speak freely within your arts organisation, it seems, only if you conform to a narrow set of political and social views.

Take Brexit. I knew that most arts people were fervently against it, but I didn’t realise how much pressure was put on pro-Brexiteers working in the arts to, basically, shut up. One participant claimed that “in our organisation those who voted to leave the EU have been ostracised”. Another noted that “17.4 million voted for Brexit”, but that “most of the opinions of these people, on many subjects, would lose them employment in the publicly funded arts sector”.

The “ArtsProfessional” survey he mentions was introduced here and the findings can be read here (subscription required).

I did wonder why teaching children to read music has come to be regarded as a bad thing. I suspect it is part of the same phenomenon that has caused the Oxford Classics faculty to propose dropping Homer and Virgil from the first part of an Oxford Classics degree.

The Oxford Student newspaper reports that it

…has been notified about a proposal by the Classics faculty to remove the study of Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Aeneid from the Mods syllabus, a decision which has surprised many across the faculty.

This proposal forms part of a series of reforms aimed to modernise the first stage of the Classics degree, known as Moderations (Mods), which take place during Hilary term of second year for all students taking Classics courses across the university.

The Mods course, which is assessed by a set of ten exams at the end of Hilary, has been increasingly criticised in recent years, due to the attainment gaps found between male and female candidates, as well as between candidates who have studied Latin and/or Greek to A-Level (Course I) and those who have not (Course II).

The removal of Virgil and Homer papers, which take up two out of the ten Mods papers, have been marketed as a move that will reduce the attainment gaps and thus improve access to the subject.

Educational “attainment gaps” between the official oppressors and the officially oppressed are to be avoided at all costs, except that of providing teaching of a high and even standard to all. What are they afraid of? When the Victorians saw an attainment gap between the upper and the labouring classes they did things like build a University for working people, funded by contributions from the meagre paypackets of quarrymen and farmers. When the early feminists saw an attainment gap between men and women they attained to such effect that the gender gap in the universities is now the other way round. They closed educational gaps by pushing upwards. We don’t even have the honesty to openly push downwards.