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]

How long will the doctors be in loco parentis?

Thirty years? Women of childbearing age should not drink – WHO

How about forever? Face masks should continue ‘forever’ to fight other diseases, says Sage scientist

“Classics Won’t Be the Same Without Latin or Greek”

The classics department at Princeton University recently decided that the idea that classics majors ought to know Latin or Greek has been a mistake. Old-fashioned, perhaps. Until now, undergrads who wanted to major in the study of classical texts needed to come into the concentration with at least an intermediate level of Latin or Greek. But those students will no longer even have to learn either language to receive a degree in classics. This is a typical example of a university rushing to make policy changes under the guise of promoting racial equity that are as likely to promote racism as to uproot it.

“Classics Won’t Be the Same Without Latin or Greek”, Professor John McWhorter writes in the Atlantic. He goes on to argue that

Crucially, you often must go through a phase of drudgery—learning the rules, memorizing vocabulary—before you pass into a phase of mastery and comprehension, like dealing with scales on the piano before playing sonatas. The Princeton decision is discouraging students from even beginning this process. Professors may think of the change as a response to racism, but the implicit intention — sparing Black students the effort of learning Latin or Greek — can be interpreted as racist itself.

Being interested in languages, I bought Professor McWhorter’s The Language Hoax a few years back. I recommend it. It is something of a riposte to Professor Guy Deutscher’s Through the Language Glass and I love a joust between academics. In the course of reading The Language Hoax I found out that Professor McWhorter is black. In a sane world I would have been only mildly interested in this fact, in the way that one is mildly interested to see an author’s photo on the dust jacket and to learn that he or she has two cats with amusing names. Or in the way that I was mildly interested but not at all surprised to learn that Professor Deutscher is an Israeli. We do not live in a sane world. Black American academics in fields that do not have “Black” in the title are rare. There are many reasons for this, including racism of the old and the new kinds.

If Princeton has its way they will soon be rarer still.

The Princeton classics department’s new position is tantamount to saying that Latin and Greek are too hard to require Black students to learn. But W. E. B. Du Bois, who taught both Latin and Greek for a spell, would have been shocked to discover that a more enlightened America should have excused him from learning the classical languages because his Blackness made him “vibrant” enough without going to the trouble of mastering something new.

When students get a degree in classics, they should know Latin or Greek. Even if they are Black. Note how offensive that even is. But the Princeton classics department’s decision forces me to phrase it that way. How is it anti-racist to exempt Black students from challenges?

Related: “Heresies of our time: that children should be taught to read music” – a post from 2020 in which I mentioned the proposal from the Oxford Classics faculty to reduce the “attainment gaps” between male and female students and between those educated at state schools and private schools by dropping Homer and Virgil from the first part of an Oxford Classics degree. So far as I can tell this proposal has not been implemented yet, so maybe the petition worked. But the engineers of the human soul are nothing if not patient.

Readers’ poll: what on earth did Boris mean?

Sky News on Twitter: “Boris Johnson has suggested the world’s leading nations should support a more ‘gender-neutral and feminine’ way of post-COVID economic recovery.”

“Gender neutral and feminine”? Click on the words below* that in your opinion best match what was going through Boris’s tousled head as he said these words.

(a) Pay up, Matt, I did it.

(b) Hey, if Joe can get away with “Those RFA pilots”, I can get away with this.

(c) You’re looking awfully pretty today, Carrie.

(d) You’re looking awfully pretty today, Ursula.

*Nothing will happen when you click. But you will feel better for having expressed yourself.

A flinching depiction

A Google search for the words “unflinching depiction” got me 57,100 hits. Not so long ago “unflinching” was only just edged out by “edgy” as a term of praise for a work of fiction. Novelists prided themselves on their willingness to probe the depths of the human psyche. No criticism by a reviewer stung more sharply than to say that the characters in a novel were “sanitised” or “bowdlerised”.

We know better now. And how uplifting that our modern novelists submit to the judgement of the people and engage in spontaneous self-criticism!

“Elin Hilderbrand asks for Anne Frank reference to be cut from novel after complaints”, reports the Guardian.

It features a short passage in which Vivi, as a child, is planning to stay in her friend’s attic. “‘You’re suggesting I hide here all summer?’ Vivi asks. ‘Like … like Anne Frank?’ This makes them both laugh – but is it really funny, and is Vivi so far off base?”

Judging from the extract quoted, I will not be rushing out to buy Ms Hilderbrand’s latest even after it is cleansed of the fictional depiction of one child making a tasteless joke and another child laughing at said joke. There are some things one cannot forgive. The novel appears to be written in the present tense.

Sir Keir Starmer takes the knee: a case study in the perils of seizing the moment

A year ago today, the leader of the Labour party knelt in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Here is how it was reported at the time:

The Independent: Black Lives Matter: Keir Starmer takes knee in solidarity with ‘all those opposing anti-black racism’

The Sun: ‘WE KNEEL WITH YOU’ Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer takes a knee in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and George Floyd protests

Sky News: George Floyd death: Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer takes a knee in support of Black Lives Matter movement

Sir Keir himself, on Twitter: We kneel with all those opposing anti-Black racism. #BlackLivesMatter

The Daily Mail: Labour leader Keir Starmer ‘takes a knee’ in solidarity with Black Lives Matter protesters as Parliament holds a minute’s silence in memory of George Floyd

I had forgotten about Parliament as a whole holding a minute’s silence for George Floyd, yet the BBC report has that as the headline and leaves mention of Sir Keir Starmer until far down the page.

And that is the point of this post. Heaven knows, I detest the BLM movement as it actually is: an engine for manufacturing racial hatred founded by self-described “trained Marxists” whose goals are, not surprisingly, Marxist. But if you got your news from the BBC or the Guardian in June 2020, you would not have heard about all that “We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family” stuff. Come to think of it, you probably still won’t have heard about it from those sources in June 2021.

It must have seemed a reasonable move at the time. The day before hitting the carpet, on June 8th 2020, Sir Keir had participated in a radio phone-in hosted by LBC’s Nick Ferrari in which he talked about the toppling of the statue of Sir Edward Colston and said,

“It shouldn’t have been done in that way, completely wrong to pull a statue down like that,” he said. “Stepping back, that statue should have been taken down a long, long time ago. We can’t, in 21st century Britain, have a slaver on a statue. A statue is there to honour people.

“That statue should have been brought down properly, with consent, and put, I would say, in a museum.”

This nuanced line had gone down rather well. Most of the callers were polite. In the press, many of the comments on his performance were favourable, even in outlets like the Mail or the Sun that are traditionally hostile to Labour.

How natural, then, to balance out that right-wing law ‘n’ order talk with a harmless gesture to show he was still on-side. Everyone else was doing it: the UK Parliament as mentioned above, a bunch of senior Democrats in the US, the Metropolitan Police in London and many others worldwide.

Yet Sir Keir kneeling is now widely seen as a political disaster. Looking at the trendlines of Sir Keir’s performance as Leader of the Opposition as measured by YouGov, “doing badly” is not much affected but “doing well” flattens out there and then, and, crucially I think, the numbers saying they “don’t know” suddenly decrease. There were quite a lot of people who started to have an opinion about Sir Keir as a potential prime minister when they saw him on his knees.

A dastardly personal attack

I thought it was a photoshop prank when I first read Matt Walsh’s tweet, but this does appear to be a genuine Independent headline: “Rightwing blogger launches gofundme for AOC’s Puerto Rico grandmother in latest personal attack”

In an attempt to shame Ms Ocasio-Cortez, Mr Walsh then started a gofundme to raise money for the congresswoman’s grandmother’s home repairs, paying just under $500 into the fundraiser himself.

Ben Shaprio, another conservative commenter who regularly attacks the congresswoman, also donated $499 and called on other conservative media personalities to do the same.

The fundraiser’s goal of just under $50,000 was met and exceeded by Friday afternoon, currently sitting at just under $60,000.

“Hi @AOC, we are raising money to help your abuela. It’s been inspiring to see the response so far. Can you send me a DM so that I can get the necessary information to ensure that this money makes it to your grandmother? Thank you!” he wrote on Twitter.

So long as the money is transferred as promised, and is transferred without strings attached so that Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s grandmother can turn right round and give it to her granddaughter’s re-election campaign if she wants to, I felt that the Independent‘s description of this as an “attack” was… incomplete.

Just as a discussion point for the libertarian argufiers out there: in what circumstances would giving someone money, or giving their relatives money, actually violate the non-aggression principle?

Ribbons tied in a bow

Eight days ago I posted about Marion Millar of Airdrie, Scotland, who was summoned to a police station for a compulsory interview over allegations that she had posted homophobic and transphobic tweets.

She has now been charged.

“Activist Marion Millar charged with sending homophobic and transphobic tweets”, reports the Times.

Marion Millar, 50, from Airdrie, was charged under the Malicious Communications Act for tweets published in 2019 and 2020. If convicted she faces up to two years in prison.

The messages investigated by officers are understood to include a retweeted photograph of a bow of ribbons in the green, white and purple colours of the Suffragettes, tied around a tree outside the Glasgow studio where a BBC soap opera is shot.

It is one at least six tweets reported to Police Scotland. The nature of the others is unclear. Millar, who owns an accountancy business, was bailed to appear at Glasgow sheriff court on July 20.

Her supporters said that the prosecution was an attack on the rights of women to express themselves.

Added later: The Times has turned off the comments to its account of the Marion Millar case, presumably for fear of committing contempt of court, so the readers have taken to making veiled allusions to it when commenting on other stories in the paper’s Scotland section.

A couple of the Scottish papers have also reported on the case:

Feminist campaigner charged with ‘hate crime’ – Tom Gordon in the Herald.

Woman charged with malicious communication over ‘transphobic’ tweet – Gina Davidson in the Scotsman.

The European Digital Identity is born

The Executive Vice-President for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age loves the idea:

Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age said: “The European digital identity will enable us to do in any Member State as we do at home without any extra cost and fewer hurdles. Be that renting a flat or opening a bank account outside of our home country. And do this in a way that is secure and transparent. So that we will decide how much information we wish to share about ourselves, with whom and for what purpose. This is a unique opportunity to take us all further into experiencing what it means to live in Europe, and to be European.”

However Laurie Clarke of TechMonitor is not so keen:

“The EU digital ID scheme could be a boon for SMEs but a security nightmare”,

Today, the EU announced plans for a bloc-wide digital identity scheme that will allow citizens to use public and private services online. The digital wallet would store payment details, passwords and digital ID cards, and be interoperable across the 27 EU member countries. But the scheme is yet to settle on technical standards, and could be besieged by privacy and security concerns before it gets off the ground.

The EU will reportedly force a structural separation preventing companies that use the system from repurposing customer data for other commercial activities, such as marketing. It also stressed that users of the digital identity solution will be in control of their data. But the melding of public and private services could pose privacy concerns in future. Privacy advocates have repeatedly warned about the potential for digital ID cards to erode civil liberties – particularly when data collected by the scheme ends up being used for immigration control or policing purposes.

On the security side, “This puts an awful lot of sensitive data in one place,” says Marcus. Cybersecurity threats have been growing over the years both from commercial and government-sponsored hackers, which could threaten the digital ID scheme. “This is a high-value target, both for criminal gangs and for governments. If this data gets out in the wild, it would be bad.”

Some of the responses to Ursula Von der Leyen’s tweet are less enthusiastic still. Someone called “Tom” says,

This would sound like an impending Orwellian nightmare if not for the inevitable certainty that the Commission will find a way to f*** it up.

A Cambridge education

“Cambridge professors fight plan to let students file secret racism denunciations”, reports the Times.

For David Abulafia, a distinguished professor of Mediterranean history at Cambridge, the launch of a university “reporting tool” encouraging students to denounce people for “micro-aggressions” was particularly sinister.

An ancestor, Samuel Abulafia, was arrested in the 15th century during the Spanish Inquisition for maintaining Jewish practices after Jews had been expelled from the country. The man eventually changed his name to Lopez so that no one would recognise his origins. Another Abulafia was one of the first to be burnt by the Inquisition for the same crime.

Today Abulafia, a bestselling author and historian, believes that the new tool allowing students anonymously to accuse members of faculty of “racism, discrimination and micro-aggressions” draws from the same well that gave birth to the barbaric Inquisition.

The list provided by the university of transgressions includes “raising eyebrows when a black member of staff or student is speaking” and making “backhanded compliments”

Professor Abulafia also makes the following point:

“As for reporting someone if you feel they have committed a micro-aggression against you, this may actually hinder minorities as lecturers could be apprehensive about providing them with one-to-one tuition in case they make a perceived transgression.

For the Woke, that is not a bug but a feature. The last thing they want is for minority students to flourish at Cambridge or any other British university. Where would the cadre come from then? The plan is for minority students to emerge angry and embittered at the way their tutors and lecturers never seemed to quite trust them.

The point is that anyone can do this to anyone

Don’t like what someone says on social media? Don’t worry, with just one phone call you can arrange for whoever said it to have to tell their autistic kids that mummy has to go away and doesn’t know when she’ll be allowed to come back.

“I can’t sleep, says accountant Marion Millar in trans tweet row”, reports the Times.

Marion Millar, an accountant from Airdrie, North Lanarkshire, was told to report to a police station over allegations that she had posted “homophobic and transphobic” tweets.

Her account of her ordeal has been viewed by millions of people on social media. Millar, who works for For Women Scotland (FWS), a feminist group, wrote: “On April 28 I received a call from a PC Laura Daley from Police Scotland requesting I attend an interview under the malicious communications act. She told me I had to attend East Kilbride police station so I could be then transported to Cathcart station in a police car because I would have to go to a station where there are holding cells.”

Millar was told that social workers would be sent to look after her young twin boys, who are autistic, while she was questioned.

“This nonsense has been hanging over my head for a month,” she said. “I still don’t know what the offending tweet is. Anyone who knows me knows I am not homophobic or transphobic. ”

A spokeswoman for Police Scotland said: “We received two complaints regarding comments made on social media, enquiries into this are ongoing.”

To comply with human rights legislation interviews have to take place at a station with custody suites, which East Kilbride does not have.

I cannot but admire the elegance of using the supposed protections offered by human rights legislation into a vehicle for twisting the knife a little more. Shame if you aren’t allowed to return home, love. But don’t worry, we have a nice custody suite.

Some of you might think this is an example of what a oppressive place Scotland is becoming now that the Hate Crime (Scotland) Bill has been passed. If so, you are wrong. It is an example of what an oppressive place Scotland already is under existing law. Ms Millar was summoned for offences under the Malicious Communications Act. And before English, Welsh or Northern Irish readers feel superior, let me say that as far as I know that same 1988 Act applies to the whole of the UK. As I said in a post from 2012 called “The kraken wakes”, despite its obvious potential for oppression, for the first twenty years or so of its existence the Malicious Communications Act 1988 did not seem to do much harm … but you are not safe just because a monster sleeps.

Inclusion and diversity is so 2020

“Chicago mayor’s decision to only speak to journalists of color is commendable, not racist”, writes someone in the Independent. The apparent erasure of the author’s identity was the Independent‘s doing, not mine, but they – the author – describe themselves as a Black and Native American writer who finds Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s demand to only speak with journalists of colour commendable.

On libertarian principle, I support the right of Ms Lightfoot or anyone else to refuse to associate with people of a different race, but unlike this author I disapprove of racism.

CMV: the threat to liberty from mandatory voter ID is insignificant

“CMV” stands for “Change my view”. It is the name of a subreddit where people go to argue, expecting disagreement, as I expect it now.

In the most recent Queen’s Speech, Her Majesty told the Lords and the Commons that “My Government will invest in new green industries to create jobs”, but there were serious proposals as well. She also said, “Legislation will be introduced to ensure the integrity of elections”. This was a reference to the proposed Electoral Integrity Bill. You can read the Hansard account of the debate in Parliament here. Chloe Smith MP, who it appears is the Minister for the Constitution and Devolution, there’s posh now, said,

Asking voters to prove their identities will safeguard against the potential in our current system for someone to cast another person’s vote at the polling station. Showing identification is something people of all backgrounds do every day.

Northern Ireland has used voter identification in its elections since 1985, and expanded this in 2003 during the last Labour Government. In the first general election after photographic identification was introduced in Northern Ireland by the then Labour Government (2005), turnout in Northern Ireland was higher than in each of England, Scotland and Wales. Since then, the experience in Northern Ireland has shown that once voter identification is established as part of the voting system the vast majority of electors complete the voting process after arriving at the polling station. A wide range of countries, such as Canada and most European nations, require some form of identification to vote.

New research published yesterday on www.gov.uk clearly indicates that the vast majority of the electorate of Great Britain, 98% of electors, already own an eligible form of identification, which includes a broad range of documents and expired photographic identification.

And, um, that sounds fair to me. Note that the Northern Irish Electoral Identity Card is not required to be shown before one can vote. It is but one of several acceptable forms of ID, and is issued free of charge to those people who don’t have any of the other forms so that nobody will be unable to vote due to poverty. It is not the abominable high-tech integrated without-this-you-starve Identity Nexus proposed by the Right Honourable Tony Blair. My opinions on that have not changed since 2003. To look at, the Northern Irish Electoral Identity card is a poxy little photocard that looks like it was issued by your local library. This lack of sophistication, the fact that you only need the effing thing once every five years or so, and the fact that voters have been obliged to show ID before voting in Northern Ireland for years without any obvious bad consequences, lead me to not to fear the rollout of a similar scheme in the rest of the UK as the first step on the slippery slope towards a national ID card.

As to whether a legal requirement to show photographic ID before one votes is a thing good, bad or indifferent in itself, that is a separate debate. Dawn Butler MP, writing in the Times, says, “This, to me, is nothing more than a cynical attempt at voter suppression by our government — and it must be stopped. It mirrors some of the subversive tactics deployed in some states in America.” Jess Garland of the Electoral Reform Society writes in the Guardian that it would undermine democracy. Over in the US, where the state of Georgia has recently passed its own Election Integrity Act, President Biden said a thing about eagles.