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]

To knock on the door is better than booting it in

Debbie Hayton has written an article in the Spectator in which she describes herself as a transsexual who has “undergone a meaningful gender transition supported by medical interventions.” In the article she argues against change to the Gender Recognition Act.

I do not wish to argue either for or against changing that Act. I said my piece on all that two days ago. However, I would like to highlight one particular point that Ms Hayton made:

There is danger, too, to transsexuals – albeit one which is less obvious. As a transsexual woman, I have lived alongside women for many years. My acceptance has been based not on legal mechanisms, but on trust and confidence. When transsexuals like me transition gender, most women assume we have done so to preserve our mental health and usually respond with acceptance and kindness. We have been helped by excellent role models – like Jan Morris and April Ashley – who have engendered a sense of decency and decorum.

Sadly, some campaigners in the current climate have projected a sense of entitlement and recent events – whether it be a convicted rapist sexually assaulting female prisoners or transgender athletes sweeping aside female competition in women’s sports – have inflamed the debate. If this carries on, trust and confidence will lie in tatters. Even if the government does introduce self-declaration it will be worthless if our acceptance is the collateral damage.

I have no doubt that Ms Hayton will be roundly abused by more militant transgender activists for having sought the acceptance and friendship of cisgender women. Why, it’s almost like she thinks they have the right to refuse! Like some warrior cultures of old, the grievance culture holds getting what you want by asking or peaceably trading to be fit only for slaves. The superior person does not ask for what they want; they demand it.

Added later: “Demand” is putting it mildly for some transgender activists. By following a chain of links I have come across a website called “TERF is a slur”. Its strapline is “Documenting the abuse, harassment and misogyny of transgender identity politics.” The website consists simply of screenshots of social media posts by transgender people expressing their hostility to “TERFS”, i.e. Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists. The tweets are astonishingly violent. I don’t for a moment think that this behaviour is typical of transgender people, but nor do I see this stream of threats of death and rape coming from the other side.

Edit and save?

While we follow the soap operas at Westminster, Brussels and Washington other things happen in the world. Some of them will have effects that may still reverberate when the names “May” or “Merkel” or “Trump” have become no more than answers to pub quiz questions. Harry Phibbs, writing in CapX, has depressing news:

Anti-scientific EU rules are hindering work to save millions of lives

Let us consider another EU imposition. It is a rule that inhibits our contribution to the fight against malaria. According to UNICEF this disease is “the largest killer of children” on the planet. That agency estimates that malaria kills one child every 30 seconds, about a million a year. Most of those children are under five years of age, with 90 per cent of cases occurring in sub-Saharan Africa. Research suggests that while the number of deaths has fallen since 2010, in the last couple of years progress has stalled.

The good news is that a gene editing application has been developed which could eradicate malaria. It is called CRISPR — Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats — and is considered “cheaper, faster, and less error-prone than any gene editing technology that came before it”. It could help preserve endangered species, improve welfare for farm animals — and save the lives of millions of children. The idea is to make mosquitoes immune to the disease.

But

In July, the BBC reported that the “European Court of Justice ruled that altering living things using the relatively new technique of genome editing counts as genetic engineering.” It added that “scientists who work in the areas of gene editing and genetic modification warned that the ruling would hold back cutting-edge research and innovation.”

Denis Murphy, professor of biotechnology at the University of South Wales, said the EU rules would “potentially impose highly onerous burdens on the use of genome editing both in agriculture and even in medicine, where the method has recently shown great promise for improving human health and well being.”

I must be honest here. As I read that article, mixed in with the genuine sadness and anger I felt about the way the EU’s restrictions look likely to hinder the development of a technique that could have alleviated large amounts of human suffering, I also felt a certain ignoble exhilaration. The European Union is being as bad as I always said it was. I had found a devastating answer to “Name me one bad thing the EU does, then!” It is possible that partisan passion is blinding me to the good reasons the ECJ might have had for caution. Ecosystems are complicated. Messing about with them has a habit of going wrong. Think of the introduction of rabbits to Australia or Mao’s attempt to eradicate sparrows from China.

One of the skipped-over paragraphs from Mr Phibbs’ article that I covered with the word “But” is this one:

“The team began with just two edited males, designated mosquitoes 10.1 and 10.2, into which the drive was inserted. After two generations of cross-breeding with hundreds of wild-type mosquitoes — and in mosquitoes, two generations can pass in less than a month — they produced 3,894 third-generation mosquitoes, of which 3,869 (99.5 percent) had the resistance gene. Just two mosquitoes were able to spread the trait to thousands of progeny — and malaria resistance along with it.”

The speed of that geometric progression scares me. Once started, the spread of these gene-edited mosquitoes could not be easily reversed.

But maybe it does not scare you, and you know more of genome editing than I do. My knowledge of biology is that of an attentive reader of pop science. Can any of you tell me more about this subject? Is the EU being as bad as I always said it was?

When the pot is boiling over, try turning down the heat

I am told that one of the ways Libertarians irritate normal people is by their attitude that there is a simple answer for so many of the political dilemmas that vex society.

Suck it up, normies, there is. There is certainly a simple answer for the political dilemma about which the Times is asking in this Readers’ poll: “Should everyone who identifies as female have access to women-only spaces?” The rubric says,

The government is consulting on a reform of the Gender Recognition Act. Currently the law allows people to gain legal recognition for a change of gender, but some transgender groups say the process is bureaucratic and intrusive and are pushing for a change that will allow anyone to freely choose their gender.

This is opposed by a number of women’s rights groups, which say the change would give men access to female-only spaces such as lavatories and changing rooms, putting women in danger.

The equalities minister, Penny Mordaunt, will consider whether to reform the law after the consultation ends on October 19 — but as The Sunday Times reports, many Conservative MPs are opposed to any change.

What’s your view?

You doubtless want to hear the result of the poll. I will tell you by and by, but for now I will exercise my freedom to irritate, and reiterate that the simple answer to the political dilemma is to take politics, in the sense of laws voted into existence by MPs like Penny Mordaunt and then enforced by the police and the Equalities Commission and suchlike, entirely out of the equation. Freedom of association for all! But what about bad people? What about Nazis? Yes, them too. If Nazis own or legitimately hire a space to do their Nazi stuff in, leave them to it. Don’t want to hire your hall to Nazis? Then don’t. Want to boycott any premises that lets Nazis in – or any that keeps Nazis out? Then do so.

Between groups of people who are not bad but among whom there are differences of opinion, try negotiation. It doesn’t have to be a million separate negotiations for every individual village hall or public lavatory, or for every women’s sporting competition or Brownie pack; there are such things as organisations and organisational policies. Not that there is anything wrong with having a great many separate local deals. This is called “subsidarity”.

Many fear that this radical strategy would give free rein to the worst instincts of the people. I don’t get it. To get into the habit of settling disputes by meeting the other party and peacefully trying to reach a compromise sounds a great deal more likely to give free rein to the best instincts of the people. Humans are nicer when not being threatened. Conversely when they suspect that in their relations with another group that, as the saying goes, “if you give them an inch they’ll take a mile” – then they won’t give an inch.

The other day I read this post from Econlog entitled “Tradeoffs Between Immigration and Reduced Freedom of Association”. Key quote:

The more that people’s freedom not to associate with others is reined in, especially when those others are people of different races, the less likely they are to favor immigration and, even if they never favored immigration, the more likely they are to be outspoken opponents of immigration.

Race is not the only category this applies to. Have you noticed how people who five years ago would have thought a transwoman was a lady from Transylvania now see transsexuals and/or transgender people as a threat? Have you also noticed how discussion of this issue is another pot beginning to boil over to use the metaphor of my earlier post. So far the lid is being held down. One word out of place on this topic can get you into trouble. But the pressure keeps rattling the pot, with jets of steam coming from such unlikely members of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy as users of Mumsnet, members of the Labour party and Lesbians at a Pride march.

I voted “No” in that Times poll. As so often with me and polls I did not agree with the premises of the question. Other people freely choosing the gender is none of my business. I do not support or oppose a change in the criteria for legal recognition for a change of gender; I support tearing up all the laws on this subject and setting them on fire. Still my answer to the question “Should everyone who identifies as female have access to women-only spaces?” was closer to “No” than “Yes”.

5,068 votes have been cast so far in the poll. 97% of them were “No”. Of course it is a self-selecting sample from readers of one newspaper. Do not read too much into it. But you probably should read something into it. That is a strikingly high level of disapproval of a Conservative government’s proposed policy from the readers of a Conservative-leaning newspaper.

The Guardian takes the lid off the pot

I avidly followed the coverage in the British press of the the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court. In this post I will look at one paper in particular, the Guardian. When it was founded as the Manchester Guardian in the nineteenth century, this newspaper’s name was meant to indicate that its role was to “zealously enforce the principles of civil and religious Liberty”, which included an earnest concern for legal protections such as the presumption of innocence. The modern Guardian published many, many news and opinion pieces describing how to tell that Kavanaugh was a bad ‘un. I was more interested in the readers’ comments.

The Guardian used to allow readers to comment on practically every news article and opinion piece. Sometimes this meant that its editors and writers would be made painfully but usefully aware that many of its readers were not “with the program”. That changed under the current editor, Katharine Viner. Throughout most of the Kavanaugh saga comments were firmly closed. There was at least one story that I cannot now find for which comments were opened in error and then quickly slammed shut again. Then on 5th October came a story in which comments were intentionally opened: “Trump and Kavanaugh claim we live in a meritocracy. Don’t believe a word of it” by Arwa Mahdawi. The tone of the piece is that of a shared joke: “… Brett Kavanaugh. You know, the judge who really likes beer and seems to hate women having autonomy over their reproductive systems”. I think the writer may have been surprised at the trend the comments took. The top rated comment was by “SpringinAmsterdam1” and said,

Arwa can I ask, how would you feel if an event someone else felt had happened, had no issue was raised at the time, and when it was raised and people know there is no proof of the event, but thousands of people had decided through the court of social media, believed you to be guilty?

How would you deal with that, and can you see how this could be used to assassinate a persons character? Lastly, do you believe in innocent till proven guilty?

October 8th saw the breaking of a tiny little Berlin Wall: two pieces which acknowledged that all was not well with the narrative. For Jessa Crispin’s article “Women aren’t united against Kavanaugh. That’s a dangerous myth” the top comment came from “HarSingh” and said,

It might be because women are sensible? There was no corroborating evidence, she can’t recall if he was there, or even where it happened. She listed 4 people who could provide evidence but none of them decided to.

The timing of the allegation points to a witch hunt and a political hatchet job. It backfired, male or female, the majority realise this

Also on October 8th came this article by Cas Mudde putting forward the novel argument that Kavanaugh’s confirmation might boost the Republicans. The most recommended comment was by “Truewordshere” and said,

The Republican senator Susan Collins once again broke the hearts of many naive liberals

True liberals should watch her speech explaining her choice. A calm and reasoned explanation based on deeply-ingrained liberal principles. “Liberals”, however, branded her a “rape apologist”.

Comments were pre-moderated for “Trump sees only his own victimhood as he apologises to Kavanaugh” by Gaby Hinsliff on 9 October. The top one came from “HappyExpat50” and started by quoting Ms Hinsliff,

For a moment, as Donald Trump spoke of the “pain and suffering” endured by one noble individual in his wretched supreme court nomination process, you almost wondered if he might find some gracious way to acknowledge Christine Blasey Ford.

HappyExpat50 then went on,

Has he been charged with anything ?

Has he been convicted of anything ?

I would have thought that the Cliff Richard fiasco in the UK would have at least taught some people that people are innocent until proven guilty.

The lid is off the pot and there is something bubbling up within.

Thinking outside the box

According to its website the responsibilities of the Scottish government include the economy, education, health, justice, rural affairs, housing, environment, equal opportunities, consumer advocacy and advice, transport, taxation, and ensuring that Shetland only appears on maps of Scotland as an indecipherably tiny smudge in the top right corner.

Ban on putting Shetland in a box on maps comes into force

New rules barring public bodies from putting Shetland in a box on official documents have come into force.

Islands MSP Tavish Scott had sought to change the law to ban the “geographical mistake” which “irks” locals, by amending the Islands (Scotland) Bill.

The bill’s “mapping requirement” has now come into force, although it does give bodies a get-out clause if they provide reasons why a box must be used.

Mapmakers argue that boxes help avoid “publishing maps which are mostly sea”.

A couple of points: (1) Tavish Scott MSP is a Lib Dem, proof that the Scottish National Party is not the only one in contention for a Holyrood Comedy Award. (2) the “ban” only applies to public bodies, so no need to get outraged about free speech. Yet. These “bans” do have a way of being trialled in the public sector before being unleashed on the actual public. For now, however, I think a more appropriate reaction is gratitude for the good laugh Mr Scott is giving us. And his comedy routine is not over yet:

Mr Scott said it was “ridiculous” that he had to change the law to close the box

True, but not in the way that he means.

He said: “There is no excuse now for the Scottish government, its agencies or others to put Shetland in a box. The box is closed. It doesn’t exist, whether that be in the Moray Firth or east of Orkney. Shetland is now in the right place.

This box is no more. It has ceased to be. It is … an ex-box.

A renowned Democratic Senator opposes the nomination of a judge to the Supreme Court

To remind us all that the opposition of the Democrats in the Senate to the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh (or Justice Kavanaugh as he now is) to the Supreme Court of the United States is in accordance with the traditions of that party, allow me to quote the words from thirty years ago of that great defender of women, Senator Ted Kennedy, as he spoke out against the nomination of Judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court:

“Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is—and is often the only—protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy … President Reagan is still our president. But he should not be able to reach out from the muck of Irangate, reach into the muck of Watergate and impose his reactionary vision of the Constitution on the Supreme Court and the next generation of Americans. No justice would be better than this injustice.”

Bork was not confirmed, and the verb “to bork” entered the dictionary.

This is not terrorism

A bunch of lefty protesters are on trial at Chelmsford Crown Court.

Care ye not? You should. I have been banging on a lot about the degradation of norms of justice and law that had once seemed securely established. One particular aspect of these protesters’ trial is a disgrace. See if you can spot what it is:

Activists accused of blocking Stansted flight go on trial over terror charge

Fifteen activists who locked themselves together around an immigration removal charter flight to prevent its departure from Stansted and displayed a banner proclaiming “mass deportations kill” have gone on trial charged with a terrorist offence.

Jurors at Chelmsford crown court heard how the members of the campaign group End Deportations used lock-on devices to secure themselves around the Boeing 767, chartered by the Home Office, as it waited on the tarmac at the Essex airport to remove undocumented migrants to Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone.

The activists have said they acted to prevent human rights abuses from taking place and have received high-profile political backing. However, they are accused of putting the safety of the airport and passengers at risk and causing serious disruption to international air travel. If convicted, they could face potential life imprisonment.

Oh, poot, I forgot to hide spoilers. Never mind. You’d have guessed it anyway. Come to think of it, the title of this post was a bit of a clue.

Protesters who mess around with airport security do not immediately gain my sympathy. Not only do they screw over blameless travellers, many of whom will have had to scrimp and save for their holiday, the prosecuting counsel made a decent point when he said,

“In order to deal with this incursion, a number of armed officers already at Stansted had to down-arm, thus reducing the capacity of police to carry out their duties at the terminal,” he said. “Had another major incident occurred at the terminal at the same time, the police resources able to respond to it would have been reduced.”

But to pretend that to give an (imaginary) terrorist attack that might have happened that day (but didn’t) an infinitesimally higher (but still purely theoretical) chance to succeed is terrorism … that is indecent.

Anyone else remember the expulsion of Walter Wolfgang from the Labour party conference in 2005? They chucked him out for heckling Jack Straw. Then it sunk in that he was old and emerged that he had come to this country as a Jewish refugee from Hitler, and Labour fell over themselves in their haste to apologise. I said at the time that I saw no reason why they should apologise for ejecting a heckler. The thing they needed to apologise for was far more serious than that:

Buried in the story and not, at first, attracting much comment was one thing that left me flabbergasted. For this Tony Blair and his entire government should get down on their knees and humbly beg forgiveness, swearing at the same time not to rest until the harm they have allowed to flourish is undone:

Police later used powers under the Terrorism Act to prevent Mr Wolfgang’s re-entry, but he was not arrested.

There was a wee fuss about the role of anti-terror powers against Wolfgang at the time, but the point about the blatant abuse of powers that we had been assured would only be used against dangerous fanatics out to commit mass murder was lost amid all the other issues. Because this tactic was not challenged strongly when it was first tried, it became widespread. We have reached a point where half of councils use anti-terror laws to spy on ‘bin crimes’. I don’t recall that possiblity being mentioned in the Parliamentary debates about the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.

Now this bloated definition of terrorism threatens life imprisonment to people who are not terrorists.

It was a GOOD day for justice

Of the many stories of science fiction, fantasy and horror that I have read in my time, the one – I think the only one – that for years afterwards I wished I had never seen was It’s a Good Life by Jerome Bixby. That Wikipedia link contains spoilers, obviously, but it is a story some of you might prefer to have spoiled. If not, the full text of the story is here. It is, of course, one of the greatest science fiction/horror stories ever written. If it were not it would not have had such an effect on me when I came across it concealed like a tarantula among sweet fruit in an anthology of science fiction stories for and about children that I got from the library.

Most of the horrors described in the story belong solely in the realms of nightmare. But there is one aspect of life in Peaksville, Ohio, that like all the best fantasy tropes, derives its power from the way it resonates with certain situations in real life. They, the forty-six inhabitants of Peaksville who might or might not be the last remnants of the human race, dared not be unhappy. “Oh, don’t say that, Miss Amy … it’s fine, just fine. A real good day!”

This is the first paragraph of an article by Hugo Rifkind in today’s Times:

Besides the red face, and the shouting, and the hurt indignation, and the mad howls about still liking beer, one thing was very obvious last week about the US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. With a litany of legal achievements behind him, this was not a man who had expected, at 53, to be answering for his behaviour as a teenager.

They really do want to extract the last drop, don’t they? It is not enough to demand that Kavanaugh prove where he was thirty-six years ago when he was seventeen. Correction, approximately seventeen, since Christine Blasey Ford cannot even specify the year in which the alleged crime took place. It is not enough to demand that he defend himself against a baying claque who joyfully proclaim abandonment, not just of the presumption of innocence, but of the very possibility of innocence when the accusation is sexual assault and the accused is male. (Just one example via Instapundit: Students demand professor fired after he champions due process, says ‘Accusers sometimes lie’). That does not sate them. They also demand that the man in the dock must suppress his emotions as utterly as must the slave of a cruel master. Indignation is not permitted him. His voice must remain low and humble. And woe betide him if the involuntary reactions of the body send blood rushing to his face.

Perhaps too much science fiction has addled my brains, but when I read that I really did think of the scene in It’s a Good Life where poor Dan Hollis suddenly can’t find it in him to be happy any more. And I also thought of what followed soon afterwards, not in the context of Judge Kavanaugh this time, but in the context of all those “liberal” journalists like Hugo Rifkind who once upon a time would have been all for due process and the presumption of innocence, but whose courage nowadays – though tested infinitely less than that of the people of Peaksville – stretches only to not being the loudest in the mob:

Some of the people began mumbling. They all tried to smile. The sound of mumbling filled the room like a far-off approval. Out of the murmuring came one or two clear voices:

“Oh, it’s a very good thing,” said John Sipich.

“A good thing,” said Anthony’s father, smiling. He’d had more practice in smiling than most of them. “A wonderful thing.”

You had me worried there for a moment, CERN!

We girls do get ourselves in a tizzy sometimes. Even me, and I’m an unusual girl, being into boy things like science. As a sixth former my dream was to become an astronaut, or, failing that (edit: or in addition to that), a particle physicist who would unlock the secrets of the universe at CERN. Those dreams weren’t so crazy, either. I did go to Oxford to study physics, and I did make some use of my degree in parts of my subsequent career. I never made it to CERN but I know people who did. For these reasons I have a motherly concern for the future of science, with particle physics being particularly close to my heart. When my old college and the Oxford Department of Physics send me their respective begging newsletters I throw them both away but I never fail to commit the physics one to the depths of the recycling bin in a respectful manner.

That is why I was so worried when I read this report from the BBC:

Cern scientist Alessandro Strumia suspended after comments

A senior scientist who said physics “was invented and built by men” has been suspended with immediate effect from working with Cern.

Prof Alessandro Strumia, of Pisa University, made the comments during a presentation organised by the European nuclear research centre.

Cern issued a statement on Monday suspending Prof Strumia pending an investigation.

You can see why I was worried for a moment: there was no accusation of scientific misconduct by Professor Strumia. It seemed almost as if CERN were punishing unconventional political beliefs. But then all became clear. Why did I not see it before? Like true scientists, CERN proposed to investigate the Professor’s hypothesis. He has said, “People say that physics is sexist, physics is racist. I made some simple checks and discovered that it wasn’t, that it was becoming sexist against men and said so.” Obviously CERN would dispassionately examine the relevant data and draw conclusions as to how well it aligned to his hypothesis.

What a relie…

It stated that his presentation was “unacceptable”.

How do you know in advance whether it was acceptable or not, CERN? OK, I was being a sarcastic cow as per usual when I pretended to think that you ever had any plan to investigate whether what he said was true, but you haven’t even done your wretched little thoughtcrime investigation yet.

And so it goes on:

“Cern always strives to carry out its scientific mission in a peaceful and inclusive environment,” the statement reads, calling the presentation “contrary to the Cern Code of Conduct”.

The organisation said it was “unfortunate” the views of the scientist, who works at a collaborating university, “risks overshadowing the important message and achievements of the event”.

Prof Strumia, who regularly works at Cern, was speaking at a workshop in Geneva on gender and high energy physics.

He told his audience of young, predominantly female physicists that his results “proved” that “physics is not sexist against women. However the truth does not matter, because it is part of a political battle coming from outside”.

He produced a series of graphs which, he claimed, showed that women were hired over men whose research was cited more by other scientists in their publications, which is an indication of higher quality.

He also presented data that he claimed showed that male and female researchers were equally cited at the start of their careers but men scored progressively better as their careers progressed.

Carelessly, the BBC let us see a glimpse of a graph of one of his slides which did seem to kinda sorta suggest that… I will say no more. He may well be wrong. When scientists make confident pronouncements about matters outside their area of expertise they often make fools of themselves. But fair play to him, he did put the ball in his opponents’ court by publishing his data. In an older tradition of reporting this might have been the prompt for the BBC to provide an analysis of the figures. But the modern BBC prefers to outsource its analysis to semi-random people on Twitter. Some woman who must be listened to because her twitter handle is “DrSammie” tweets, “I don’t even have any rage left for the whole CERN sexism thing because, truth is, I’m not at all shocked or surprised knowing some of the attitudes of people I have met. It aint unique to any one scientific discipline.” I do hope she is able to find a new supply of rage soon; a modern female scientist must never be without rage.

Just to top it off, the BBC finishes by this charming little lie of omission. The article says:

In 2015, Nobel laureate Prof Tim Hunt resigned from his position at University College London after telling an audience of young female scientists at a conference in South Korea that the “trouble with girls” in labs was that “when you criticise them they cry”.

Way to go, BBC. Don’t let the readers know that the next words Hunt said were,

Now seriously, I’m impressed by the economic development of Korea. And women scientists played, without doubt an important role in it. Science needs women and you should do science despite all the obstacles, and despite monsters like me.”

Emphasis added. It was a joke. But it is not wise to joke against the dominant religion, as Sir Tim Hunt’s subsequent treatment demonstrated. Nor is it wise to put forward for discussion ideas contrary to that religion, as Professor Strumi’s treatment demonstrates. Perhaps it is a still too early to bring up Galileo Galilei’s dealings with the Holy Office. But when I read that the first reaction of some of the most prominent scientists in the world, endlessly lauded for their “scientific daring”, to new ideas from one of their number is to is to deem those ideas “unacceptable” – not “wrong for the following reasons” but unacceptable – I cannot help remembering that Galileo complained to Kepler that those who denounced him would not even look through his telescope.

Knavish tricks

The New European justifies its reputation as a great organ by running this story by Jonathon Read:

‘Snowflake’ minister Raab blocks anti-Brexit groups on Twitter after this photograph emerges

Brexit secretary Dominic Raab has blocked two anti-Brexit groups on Twitter after a photograph emerged of him with a campaigner wearing a sign saying “he has no idea what he’s doing.”

Raab has previously styled himself as a free speech champion, hitting out at the culture of offence in the United Kingdom, and claiming in an interview that “we’re seeing a salami slicing of free speech.”

The photograph was taken by a young campaigner from the anti-Brexit group Our Future, Our Choice and has been widely shared on social media.

The group’s co-founder, Richard Brooks, has hit out at the Brexit secretary for blocking the young anti-Brexit movement on Twitter and acting like a “snowflake.”

“Young people and students across the country are legitimately concerned about their future’s because of the disaster that is Brexit,” Brooks explained. “We were always told that young people should try and engage more in politics and debate, but obviously the Brexit secretary doesn’t want that to happen.”

There is nothing inconsistent between wishing to champion free speech and blocking people on Twitter. A belief in free speech does not oblige you to listen to everyone in the world, particularly not to those who have played nasty little playground tricks in an effort to humiliate. To claim that if you believe in free speech you must never block anyone on social media would be like claiming that if you believe in free speech you must never turn off the radio or the TV when a speaker you dislike comes on, or must keep it permanently tuned to a channel sponsored by your political enemies. Even the idols of Our Future, Our Choice in the European Commission have not demanded the compulsory installation of 1984-style Telescreens, though given the way the thoughts of the European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers, and Gender Equality, Věra Jourová, are tending perhaps I should not be giving them ideas.

Dominic Raab is in no need of me to defend him. Given that he is a successful politican who has achieved ministerial office he probably has a thick skin and given that he is a successful politician who has achieved ministerial office he probably only defends free speech after running it past the Chief Whip. However Richard Brooks’ pretence at the pretence of girlish innocence in the line “We were always told that young people should try and engage more in politics and debate, but obviously the Brexit secretary doesn’t want that to happen” is still revolting. European Youth is back to its usual more openly bullying form with the tweet from another “activist” approvingly quoted by Read: “You might not like listening to @OFOCBrexit or our friends @FFSake_ but it’s pretty clear you can’t keep hiding from us…”

The feminist movement denies rape victims justice

Simple question: when reading about any accusation of rape or sexual assault, compared to five years ago, have you become more or less likely to believe the accuser?

To ask the question is to answer it. I can remember a time when if I saw a rape trial reported in the newspaper I had as few preconceptions as I now have in a case of murder. Stop for a minute and think how strange it is that in cases of murder nearly everyone would still say that the guilt or innocence of the accused is the very thing we have a trial to decide, and with the onus being on the prosecution to prove it.

For the information of younger readers, rape trials used to be like that. Of course I had heard that in some far-off times and places a woman accusing a man of rape was automatically believed. Everyone thought of this as an evil we had outgrown. The usual example cited was the southern states of the United States during the era of racial segregation. In those days a black man accused of rape by a white woman was presumed guilty. Anyone who even raised the possibility of his innocence was denounced as being indifferent to, or even wanting, the rape of white women.

One of the books I studied for English O-Level was To Kill a Mockingbird in which an innocent black man is accused of rape by a white woman. One of the books I studied for English A-Level was A Passage to India in which an innocent Indian is accused of sexual assault by a British woman. The lesson was clear: beware the human tendency to let rightful outrage at how evil rape is overwhelm rational assessment of whether a particular accusation of rape is true. Although I believe that To Kill A Mockingbird is still fairly popular as a set book, that lesson is no longer fashionable. I write this just after Professor Christine Blasey Ford has finished giving her testimony. Until a minute ago the Guardian headline was that “Christine Blasey Ford has been hailed as a hero”. And unless I’ve missed it, you will not find any hint in its pages that anyone other than pantomime-villain Republicans has failed to join the acclamation. In this the Guardian is, as ever, copying the US press.

And thus the #MeToo movement died. It did some good while it lived. Some sexual predators were exposed, some rapists brought to justice. We should not be surprised at how many of them were left wing icons: they were the ones who were being allowed to get away with it. Remember how Harvey Weinstein’s first reaction when it came out was to try to buy off the anger by saying he would “channel his anger against himself” by fighting the NRA and President Trump. He tried that trick because it had always worked before.

But it’s over now, though the corpse may kick for a while. Senator Dianne Feinstein killed it off by sitting on the letter that accused Kavanaugh all through the nomination hearings only to release it at the last minute. That is not the action of someone who has a disinterested concern for justice. Frankly, it is not the action of someone who actually believed in the accusation they were passing on.

Whatever the results – whatever the truth – of the testimonies of Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, from now on half the US (followed after a short delay by the rest of the developed world) will assume until it is proven otherwise that similar accusations in the future are just another tactic in Dems vs Repubs. Even those who strive not to assume anything, those whose horror at the way Kavanaugh has been treated is rooted in a belief in the old fashioned principles of impartial justice, will find it almost impossible to avoid that fatal twitch of cynicism. The burned child fears the fire.

If nothing else, we are getting a show. There have been so many weird developments in this case today that I cannot keep up. I gather that someone else accused Kavanaugh of rape and then recanted, and that two separate men have accused themselves of being the person who assaulted Christine Ford.

We in the UK blazed the trail. Read about Operation Midland for a demonstration of how once the idea of “believe the victim” is in the air it inevitably attracts liars and fantasists from miles around. Never forget that in addition to bringing misery to those they falsely accuse and their families, liars and fantasists such as “Nick” are parasitical on genuine victims of rape.

Is to the disgrace of the feminist movement that it insisted that rape victims should no longer be entitled to justice.

Instead they have the dubious privilege of being forced into the same category as “Nick”. Their testimony will be heard all right, but only on the understanding that it doesn’t matter. Its hearers are forbidden to believe it, because they are forbidden to assess it at all.

The injunction to believe the “victim” – that is, the accuser – in all circumstances cannot be obeyed. Belief does not work that way. If you are forbidden to even consider the evidence in an accusation then you can never come to believe it. Oh, you can be made to say you believe it. You can be made to scream that you believe it. You can be made to scream that you believe it so loudly that you can no longer hear yourself think, which is the aim of the process. But that is not belief.

Related post: If you don’t care whether a rape really happened, you don’t care about rape.

“A student at the preschool I work at is only being taught a fictional language”

That was the title of a request for legal advice submitted to Reddit by someone with the user name “HelpfulButterscotch2”. Here is the whole post:

[CA] A student at the preschool I work at is only being taught a fictional language

I’m twenty, and I work part-time as an assistant at a small daycare in California.

There is a four year old who speaks very very little and poor English. Knows the most basic of words but is at the level of maybe a two year old English-wise compared to the other kids, including several who are both native Spanish/English speakers. Basically knows “yes”, “no”, “juice”, etc.

He’s only been here for less than a month and I’ve seen his incredibly limited vocab double in that time. I’m embarrassed to say it but I’m very uneducated about this type of thing and I thought he was speaking Portuguese or something similar up until last week. The kids are split into small groups by age and I’m usually not in charge of his group unless it’s at the end of the day, in my defense.

The hosts of the daycare are very into nerd culture and some of the daycare is very decorated with (child friendly) sci-fi and fantasy stuff. I’m not too into it myself but I like listening to them and I (usually) like their passion.

One day I was curious what language the child was speaking so I looked up what Portuguese actually sounded like and realized it wasn’t that. Looked up a lot of languages and for the life of me could not identify it. The single dad who picked him up looked like a nice dude and one day he was one of the last people to pick up that day so I asked him what language his kid spoke.

The bosses of the daycare were there too when I asked and they all suddenly got big smiles on their faces and explained to me in depth that the guy was a linguistics hobbyist who was trying to recreate an experiment where he raises his kid to speak a language from the tv show Star Trek (klingon.)

He explained how at home he only has spoken Klingon (which is apparently a real full language) to the kid and that’s all he knows. My bosses LOVE that he is doing this and he does too, he told me to look up the experiment and read about it. My bosses even learned a small bit of the language themselves so that when they talk to the kid they don’t say it.

It sounded kinda cool at the time but I didn’t really think about it too much. When I looked it up I found out that the guy who did it taught his kid Klingon AND English at the same time. I assumed that this guy was doing the same and I just misunderstood but when I clarified next time he confirmed that the kid was ONLY being taught Klingon on purpose and he was going to try and continue the “experiment” for as long as possible.

He also told me about his blog and I checked it out where he describes this all and he basically states in it that he is fully aware that this will make it “slightly” hard for the kid to speak english later but that the experience is worth it. He even has limited the kids intake of media very severely so far to avoid shows with a lot of speaking/words.

The kid is fairly isolated and generally acts a bit socially “off”, if I can say that without being mean. Not like misbehaving but he clearly has small issues interacting with kids his age who all talk a lot already.

I’ve brought it up casually with my bosses but they basically love this dude and what he is doing and don’t see a problem with it. I feel terrible but I feel like I should report this? Is this child abuse? This guy basically is mispurposely not teaching his kid to how to interact with other people for the level of “it’s just a social experiment bro”, it’s nuts to me.

If I’m wrong and this isn’t dangerous I apologize. It feels awful to me though. I like my job otherwise but if I had to lose it for this i could find another one, have some savings, i feel too bad for this kid.

That is eerily similar to the scenario I imagined a couple of years ago in a post called “The morality of not teaching your child English”. I started by asking whether it would be wrong to raise your child to speak only Welsh. No, I answered. “Welsh has over half a million speakers and a magnificent corpus of poetry, literature and song. Speaking Welsh alone does not remotely count as linguistic imprisonment”. Then I asked the question again for languages with smaller and smaller numbers of speakers. 50,000? 5,000? 500? That last figure is about the number of Cornish speakers. I wrote:

Very recently the Cornish language has been revived. 557 speakers claim it as their main language, 20 young children are native speakers. Let me stress that in real life all of these children are being brought up to be bilingual in Cornish and English. But when you get down to a group of that size and imagine its children being brought up monolingually, the mental walls do begin to close in.

How small would the village be before it became a prison?

The specific example of Klingon was brought up in comments by William H Stoddard. He cited the fairly well-known case (also mentioned by “HelpfulButterscotch2”) of another child who was taught Klingon from babyhood by his father back in the 1990s, but – and this is a crucial distinction – that child’s mother spoke to him in English. As I said,

…when the child began to notice that the people he met outside didn’t speak this language he began to stop talking in it (a common way for attempts to raise bilingual children to break down, as I’m sure you know), and the father did not persist and risk damaging his relationship with the child. It was getting to be a pain for the father too, as Klingon doesn’t have equivalents for a lot of the everyday English words that the boy was meeting as his world expanded. Given that the child also learned English, the only ethical issue, and a much smaller one, was whether one should make one’s child mildly famous as an experiment.

At the time I had reservations about naming the child, but without need. The story of how d’Armond Speers tried to raise his son to be bilingual in Klingon and English is all over the internet. Stephen Fry interviewed him. The son is grown up now, speaks English normally, and has forgotten his Klingon.

But the child described by “HelpfulButterscotch2” has not been raised to speak a conlang alongside English. He has only been exposed to the artificial language and, if the post is to be believed, has been prevented from learning English. Though to be fair that isolation from English has now ceased, given that he now goes to a normal US preschool.

In principle it should make no difference whether the language the child is being raised in is a conlang or a natural language. Esperanto is a constructed language, but it has had quite a few native speakers, usually the children of parents from different countries who met at Esperanto conferences. Apparently Esperanto was the mother tongue of the financier George Soros. It does not seem to have held him back. However one problem with Klingon that d’Armond Speers mentioned in his interview with Stephen Fry is that, compared to Esperanto which has been going for well over a century and has several million speakers, Klingon is the work of one man and has a limited vocabulary. That point was made even by the conlanging enthusiasts who discussed this story when it was cross-posted to the subreddit dealing with constructed languages, /r/conlangs. The general reaction there was disquiet. The top comment is by “chrevs” and reads,

It’d be different if he was being raised as bilingual, but he’s stunting the kid’s ability to to get on where he lives. Not to mention that if things were to be going horribly wrong at home, like his father decides he also needs to be practicing the kind of ritual combat the Klingon do, the kid can’t express that he’s in danger to teachers or other trusted adults. It’s not okay

Another commenter called “Esosorum” says,

I worry that, from a biological perspective, this child’s brain isn’t experiencing language-acquisition the way it was meant to. I just don’t think conlangs have as much to offer as natural languages. I don’t disagree that conlangs can be wonderfully expressive and complex, but natural language is rooted in culture in a way that a conlang can’t be.

It could be that the post by HelpfulButterscotch2 is not to be believed. It was submitted under a pseudonym and the author joined Reddit one day before submitting it. That means that we are not in a position to get a feel for their sincerity (and sanity) by looking at their comment history. I find it curious that there is no link provided to the blog where the father of the boy is claimed to describe what he is doing. Some people do take an odd pleasure in passing off bizarre fictions as truth just for the buzz. On the other hand having joined Reddit one day ago is not inconsistent with a person not knowing who else to turn to for advice about a situation that worries them deeply. Equally, HelpfulButterscotch2 may be sincere but have misunderstood the situation. I hope so.

But assuming that this is really happening as described, it does raise some sharp questions for Libertarians. When do we get on the phone and send the state sweeping in to “save” a child from their parents?