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]

If Corbyn had won we’d have had free broadband by 2030

As in we would have had it.

15 November 2019:

General election 2019: Labour pledges free broadband for all

Labour has promised to give every home and business in the UK free full-fibre broadband by 2030, if it wins the general election.

The party would nationalise part of BT to deliver the policy and introduce a tax on tech giants to help pay for it.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell told the BBC the “visionary” £20bn plan would “ensure that broadband reaches the whole of the country”.

28 May 2020:

No more free petrol, Maduro tells Venezuelans

Venezuela’s socialist government says it is ending its policy of allowing motorists to fill up with free petrol as the country confronted an economic meltdown.

“Petrol must be paid for,” said President Maduro in a state TV address. He described the change, euphemistically, as a “normalisation and regularisation plan.”

Everyone’s a winner

The Times reports,

A civil servant who was branded a racist for claiming that it always rained in Wales has been awarded more than £240,000 at an employment tribunal.

Anne Giwa-Amu won her race and age discrimination case after being mocked for complaining about the cold, wet weather, which a colleague referred to as her regular “weather reports”, and accused of stealing ice cream.

Reading the Times account, it does seem that Ms Giwa-Amu was bullied by her colleagues:

The tribunal was told that Ms Giwa-Amu felt Ms [Daisy] Cartwright was trivialising discrimination by calling her racist for moaning about the weather.

In front of colleagues, Ms Cartwright also repeatedly accused Ms Giwa-Amu of stealing ice cream. The tribunal found that while this may have started as a joke, Ms Cartwright carried on bullying Ms Giwa-Amu after others asked her to stop.

Ms Cartwright also sprayed deodorant near Ms Giwa-Amu, knowing that she hated it, and span around on a chair while sitting next to her to try to make her feel sick.

Another co-worker, Robert Lewis, “humiliated” Ms Giwa-Amu, the tribunal was told, when he accidentally touched her bottom. He said, in front of a large group: “I touched [Anne]’s bum. I touched her bum.” Ms Giwa-Amu said that the experience was horrible and that she felt Mr Lewis was laughing about how unpleasant he found it to have touched her.

The full Times story is behind a paywall, but this report in Personnel Today tells the same story.

But fear not, it all worked out OK for everyone in the end.

Mr Lewis is still an administrative officer at the Caerphilly office. Ms Cartwright was promoted to a job in another part of the civil service.

As for Ms Giwa-Amu, Personnel Today says she joined the Department of Work and Pensions in February 2017. The Times says she went on sick leave in March 2017 and never returned to work. At an Administrative Officer’s salary it would have taken around ten years to earn the quarter of a million pounds she was awarded.

So, everyone wins. Except for one group of people who are financially involved but whose interests can safely be ignored.

Please, gentle Nicola, will you bless a little child?

Please, gentle Eva, will you bless a little child?
For I love you – Tell heaven I’m doing my best
I’m praying for you, even though you’re already blessed

Please, mother Eva, will you look upon me as your own?
Make me special, be my angel
Be my everything wonderful, perfect and true
And I’ll try to be exactly like you

Santa, santa Evita
Madre de todos los ninos
De los tiranizados, de los descamisados
De los trabajadores, de la Argentina

Why try to govern a country when you can become a saint?

*

STV’s deleted ‘Thank you, Nicola’ video

Cute kid A: The children of Scotland…
Cute kid B: …would like to say thank you…
Cute kid C: …to Nicola, our First Minister of Scotland.
Cute kid D: We are so grateful, thank you for always…
Cute kid E: …keeping us safe,
Cute kid F: working so hard,
Cute kid G: for being strong for us.
Cute kid H: Thank you for caring for every individual life…
Cute kid I: …and for always thinking about the children of Scotland.
Cute kid J: Thank you Nicola.
Cute kid K: Thank you.
Cute kid L: Thank you.
Cute kids M & N: Thank you.
Supremely cute toddler: Dank yoo.

STV launches inquiry into ‘North Korea’ children’s video

STV has launched an internal investigation after the broadcaster released a video of children praising Nicola Sturgeon for “keeping them safe” during the coronavirus pandemic.

A series of clips from the video were posted on Twitter yesterday before being taken down following a number of complaints.

Some compared it to the sort of brainwashing media typical of totalitarian countries such as North Korea.

(Want to see what these complaints are getting at? Here are a couple of examples: “North Korean children sing ode to Kim Jong Un”, and “Tearful schoolchildren salute Kim Jong-un in North Korea”.)

Apparently reading from a script, they say: “The children of Scotland would like to say thank you to Nicola, our First Minister of Scotland. We are so grateful, thank you for always keeping us safe, working so hard, for being strong for us. Thank you for caring for every individual life and for always caring about the children of Scotland. Thank you Nicola.”

Who in STV decided this was a good idea? Who made this video? Who wrote the script, who hired the children, who filmed it?

Who was paid to show it and who paid to have it shown?

Edit: Mr Ed comments,

“Someone please do a mash-up of all the women saying ‘Thank you‘ to Nicola’s predecessor, provided that reporting restrictions are not breached.”

Solving the problem of dogs stuck to the ceiling

A concerned citizen writes,

Little know fact: sometimes dogs float to the ceiling and get stuck there. It’s a serious problem and we should really start to talk about it more to find a solution.

I urge you to look at the pictures the blogger provides of dogs in this position. Few will remain unmoved. Except the dogs, they do remain unmoved, because they are stuck.

Although the writer did not try to make any political capital from this issue, it did lead me to wonder what other problems in modern society are conceptually similar to the plight of these dogs. I did think of one: as you no doubt recall from your perusal of page 61 of the 2019 Labour manifesto, the Labour Party pledged to tackle the insecurity of casual work by:

Ending bogus self-employment and creating a single status of ‘worker’ for everyone apart from those genuinely self-employed in business on their own account, so that employers can not evade workers’ rights; and banning overseas-only recruitment practices.
• Introducing a legal right to collective consultation on the implementation of new technology in workplaces.
• Banning zero-hour contracts and strengthening the law so that those who work regular hours for more than 12 weeks will have a right to a regular contract, reflecting those hours.

I think the gig economy might be a dogs-stuck-to-the-ceiling type of problem. Can you think of any others?

That this post is classified as “Hippos” is not an error. It was done firstly because that was the category that most closely matched the content, and secondly because we all need to be alert for hippos stuck to the ceiling.

Discussion point: Don’t lock me down, baby

It seems that the Mekon might be about to be knocked off his levitating chair. Dominic Cummings is in trouble for breaking the lockdown. He joins the epidemiologist Professor Neil Ferguson, for whom the lockdown was no obstacle to pantsdown, in the list of those caught violating the quarantine they urged others to obey. Oh and let us not forget Scotland’s (former) Chief Medical Officer, Catherine Calderwood, though I must admit I had.

Should Calderwood and Ferguson have resigned? Should Cummings resign now? Are there any principled reasons for differentiating between the three cases, by which I mean principles better than which political parties each of them are associated with?

Now, that’s what I call optimism!

“Council borrowed £1bn from taxpayers to bet on British sunshine”, report Gareth Davies and Charles Boutaud of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Among Thurrock’s rundown council estates and neglected public parks, typical of many towns after a decade of austerity, there is nothing to suggest that over the past three years the local council has borrowed and then invested hundreds of millions of pounds of other councils’ money.

Under the direction of a senior council officer Thurrock borrowed from about 150 local authorities across the UK with little public scrutiny. These loans were not for direct funding of council services, or investing in infrastructure – instead they financed solar farms more than a hundred miles away.

Now, let us not reflexively roll our eyes upon hearing the words “solar farms”. While there has been some reason for the widespread perception that investment in sunbeams has about the same record of success as investment in moonbeams, the technology of solar power genuinely has improved in recent years.

Sean Clark, Thurrock’s director of finance, oversaw the investment of £604m in the solar industry, investments he says were prompted entirely by intermediaries approaching him with money-making opportunities. In an extraordinary interview with The Bureau, Clark wondered whether he had gone too far. At last count Thurrock owed other councils an unprecedented £1bn.

OK, now you can roll your eyes.

John Kent, the former Labour leader of Thurrock council, called on the current administration to come clean. He said: “People absolutely need to be aware that the council has borrowed £1bn – that’s billion with a b.” He claimed that the council had declined to give elected members or the public adequate details of precisely how it invested the money.

As you might have deduced from that, Thurrock Council is currently controlled by the Conservatives.

Come to sunny Thurrock, where the Tories splurge on borrowed money and it is left to Labour to be the voice of prudence! Or come to sunny Britain, which is the same except for the bit about Labour.

Security against what?

“China proposes controversial Hong Kong security law”, reports the BBC:

China is proposing to introduce a new security law in Hong Kong that could ban sedition, secession and subversion.

And:

Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, which provides the territory certain freedoms not available on the mainland, does require its government to bring in a security law. It had tried to enact the so-called “sedition law” in 2003 but more than 500,000 people took to the streets and it was dropped.

I would have welcomed more information on this mysterious clause in the Basic Law that requires Hong Kong’s government “to bring in a security law”. On what timescale? Who is the judge as to whether a security law does or does not meet this mysterious requirement? Oh yes, and SECURITY FROM WHAT?

But that paragraph was a model of robust independent reporting compared to this one:

A mainland source told the South China Morning Post that Beijing had decided Hong Kong would not be able to pass its own security law and the NPC would have to take the responsibility.

That makes it sound as if Hong Kong’s parliamentarians were not clever enough to pass this law, or that they were dodging the “responsibility” of passing it the way a negligent father might dodge his maintenance payments. To be charitable, these are the words of a “mainland source”, that is, a man whose tongue is operated from a distance by a controller with a joystick, but why does the British Broadcasting Corporation let pass without challenge the Orwellian language of the Chinese Communist Party? We do not have to do that. We are not in the EU any more.

Covid-positive sex-mad Nazis and the Terminal Markets Act 1973

OK, the inclusion of the words “sex-mad” in that title was merely a desperate scheme1 to try and get you to read an article on a case brought against the UK by the European Commission in the European Court of Justice regarding the Terminal Markets Act 1973. However there really is mention of Nazis, and of the coronavirus, though not of the former being infected by the latter. In fact I would have preferred it if there had been less of the Nazi stuff2: the rather tasteless comparisons to World War II made me inclined to dismiss this “Briefings for Britain” piece on the case from two days ago, but I have a feeling that maybe it ought not to be dismissed.

In it, Caroline Bell writes:

This Thursday, the European Court of Justice delivers its verdict in the European Commission’s infraction proceedings against the United Kingdom for failing to impose VAT on transactions in the City’s multi-trillion-dollar derivatives markets. Launched during the murky days of the Brexit withdrawal negotiations in 2018, this judicial time bomb has the potential to blow up both free trade talks and the Withdrawal Treaty itself if the Court finds against the UK.

Which it did. The judgement issued today can be read here.

Caroline Bell speculates that a decision against the UK might have dramatic consequences:

In terms of trade talks, an adverse judgment would probably mean the City could kiss goodbye to any sort of enhanced equivalence (which Brussels is not willing to grant anyway) and even basic equivalence for financial services could be an issue. But for every blow the EU tries to strike here, the UK is in a position to retaliate much harder against EU financial institutions, so the outcome is again likely to be neutral. Does anyone even expect there to be a financial service agreement with the EU anymore? The EU’s action against the Swiss in this area to try to bring them to heel has badly backfired, and would do so if they applied the same tactics on the UK.

I know that quite a few of our readers work in the legal and financial fields. Is there anything to this story? What effect will the verdict on Case C‑276/19 have?

1I think it was the humourist Alan Coren who said that since the bestseller charts back then in the 70s always seemed to be topped by sex books, WWII books and golf books, his next book ought to be about sex-mad golfing Nazis. Edit: I had misremembered. Alan Peakall and Mr Ed have pointed out the existence of Golfing for Cats, pub. 1976. How many publishers would dare have that cover today?

2A wish shared by most of Planet Earth in 1945.

Of what crimes do the contents of your bookshelves convict you?

My mother was in her early teens in World War II. I once asked her what it was like not to know who would win. Alas, I cannot remember in detail how she answered, but among the things she said was that she did not speculate about it much because any such discussion would have been instantly quashed by her father, a former soldier, with some words along the lines of “There will be no defeatist talk in this family, young lady!”

Yet this atmosphere of stern patriotism did not stop her openly reading a translation of Hitler’s Mein Kampf on the principle of “Know thy enemy”.

“Owning a book isn’t a declaration of belief,” writes Janice Turner in the Times.

Journalists own a lot of odd books. Some are sent to us unsolicited, others we buy to illuminate a news story. That Michael Gove, a former Times columnist, has The War Path by Holocaust-denying historian David Irving nestling among Alastair Campbell diaries and Stalin biographies does not alarm me. But the online outrage at a photograph showing this book on Gove’s shelves does.

Because if I’d covered, say, the 1996 libel case brought by Irving I’d have bought his work, too. Why? Curiosity; the desire to quote from original sources; to hear Irving’s authorial voice; to understand how he magicked away mass murder. Later, my piece written, I’d have squeezed it in my unruly shelves with Mike Tyson’s Undisputed Truth and Naomi Wolf’s Vagina.

At this point I feel I ought to mention that the original Times article has that last word in italics.

Yet owning Irving’s book was to activist-journalist Owen Jones a window into Gove’s dark soul. On Twitter, people questioned why you’d read Irving rather than his many critics, as if they couldn’t trust their own minds not to be swayed. Gove was accused of “proudly displayed” antisemitism in his home. But books are not posters or cushions, mere expressions of personal taste.

What is the correct thing to do when you’ve read this book, in case some visiting fool concludes you’re a Nazi? Donating it to a charity shop risks further dissemination of evil. Well, you could burn it. That always goes well.

Here is Owen Jones’s tweet in all its glory.

Which of the books on your shelves would make you wish you had enabled the “blur background” function before turning on Zoom?

Apart from the obvious – a copy of Chavs by Owen Jones – I have three coffee-table books of reproductions of selected articles from the English language edition of Signal magazine, issued by the Wehrmachtpropaganda from 1940-1945. (It continued to publish an English language edition even after the US entered the war, ostensibly for the benefit of the Channel Islanders.)

How about you? Confess all and the tribunal will be merciful.

Kieren McCarthy criticises the proposed coronavirus contact-tracing app

Here is a link to yesterday’s article by Kieren McCarthy in the Register:

UK finds itself almost alone with centralized virus contact-tracing app that probably won’t work well, asks for your location, may be illegal

Is he right?

Update: Guido Fawkes is also on the case. He is engaged in a vigorous and very public debate with the government, specifically the Department of Health. Earlier he sent this missive their way: 10 Problems With the NHS’s New Coronavirus App. Fair play to them, they did respond, and he has now issued this: NHS App: Rebuttal and Response. (Hat tip to Niall Kilmartin, who independently mentioned this link in the comments.)

TIL: Tippex thinner no longer exists but the Oxford University Student Union still does

Back when I was clever, I went to Oxford. My time there was not wasted. I learned that the best place to get stationery was the OUSU* shop in Little Clarendon Street, or Little Trendy Street as it is properly known. There you could get jolly nice ring binders with the university crest on them for £3.50, I think it was, and, if memory does not fail me, bottles of Tippex for 70p. Proper Tippex with a cute little brush, not a silly foam applicator. Also available were bottles of Tippex thinner. Change and decay all around I see: apparently Tippex thinner is no longer a thing.

Buuut…

The Oxford University Student Union voted for a policy that transgender, working-class and female students needed more protection and urged the university to give faculties guidance and make more use of trigger warnings.

The motion, proposed by Alex Illsley, co-chairman of Oxford’s LGBTQ+ campaign, stated that there were multiple examples of “ableist, transphobic, classist and misogynistic content” on reading lists. He cited an article advocating that it should be a moral duty not to have disabled children, which was included on a medical law and ethics reading list, and one “advocating for the murder of disabled children after they have been born”.

Perhaps not all change is decay. In a departure from its usual policy of dignified pusillanimity, the University grew a pair:

The university issued a statement saying there would be no changes as a result of the motion. “[There are] no plans to censor reading materials assigned by our academics,” it said. It referred to its policy on free speech, adding: “Free speech is the lifeblood of a university. It enables the pursuit of knowledge. It helps us approach truth. Recognising the vital importance of free expression for the life of the mind, a university may make rules concerning the conduct of debate but should never prevent speech that is lawful. Inevitably, this will mean that members of the university are confronted with views that some find unsettling, extreme or offensive.”

Cambridge, take note.

*Back in those days OUSU stood for something. Though it always seemed a little odd that “The one that isn’t the Oxford Union” didn’t start with a T.

The Scottish National Party is at it again

I can think of little to add to what Andrew Tettenborn of Spiked has written about The SNP’s war on free speech:

In 2017, the SNP government decided this had to change. It appointed Lord Bracadale, a far from libertarian Scottish appeal judge, to review the matter. His spectacularly hardline report was published a year later. Based on this report, Holyrood now proposes leaving racial-hatred law largely alone while introducing, in effect, three new offences.

First: a general crime of doing anything, or communicating any material, which is threatening or abusive and is intended or likely to engender hatred based on age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, transgender or intersex identity. Second: a crime of merely possessing any such material, if you hold it with a view to communicating it – that is, in any way to anyone either in public or in private (such as showing a computer file to a friend over a dram). Third: criminal sanctions on anyone involved in the management of any organisation who fails to take steps to prevent any of the above. The penalty in all the above cases is up to seven years inside. And in addition to all this, the government proposes stiffer sentencing for hate crimes based on age.

There is so much wrong with these proposals. For one thing, the whole idea that hostility should aggravate an offence in relation to certain characteristics but not others needs reining in, not extending. To say that assaulting someone because he is old (and within the charmed circle of victim categories) deserves a heavier sentence than assaulting a teenager because he is the teacher’s pet (and therefore outside it) is discriminatory, grotesque and insulting. It is the hostility that matters, not whether the target falls within a group which has managed to persuade a government that it deserves victimhood status.

Read the whole thing.