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]

Samizdata quote of the day

Due to come into force in August 2016, the Named Person initiative is truly dystopian. Once, it was only abandoned or orphaned children who became charges of the state; now, all Scottish children will effectively be wards of the state under a new, vast system of, in essence, shadow parenting. In an expression of alarming distrust in parents, and utter contempt for the idea of familial sovereignty and privacy, the state in Scotland wants to attach an official to every kid and to keep tabs on said kid’s physical and moral wellbeing.

There’ll be a state spy in every family. In Scotland, Big Brother is not only watching you (it was recently revealed that Scotland has 4,114 public-space CCTV cameras and “camera vans,” which drive through towns filming the allegedly suspect populace); he’s also watching your kids.

Brendan O’Neill

What was child labour like?

The Times 11 April 1914 p4

The Times 11 April 1914 p4

It would appear that the busy-bodies of a hundred years ago have it in for child labour (or “half-time” working, as it was then known). Luckily, there are some willing to defend the practice:

I worked for nearly 20 years in the same factory. Contrary to the opinions expressed by some people, my health never suffered as a result of the half-time system, and I was never at home for more than a few days during the whole of my factory life. Again, I never had any trouble to pass the required “standard” at school, and I certainly cannot remember to have fallen asleep over my lessons, or even to have felt inclined to do so.

Love the scare quotes.

So, why do we have child labour?

To speak generally, the half-time children belong to parents of the unskilled labour class, where every shilling earned makes a difference at the week-end…

Unfortunately, our correspondent then makes a serious error:

In my estimation the half-timers employed in the factories are far better off than the unfortunate children who work in barbers’ shops, hawk newspapers in the streets, run about mornings and evenings on milk rounds, card hooks and eyes or make match-boxes.

Don’t give them ideas!

I had to laugh at this:

In these progressive days parents almost invariably allow their children to sit up until their own bed hour: the children have just what they fancy for supper, not what is most suitable…

Plus ça change…

Some people fall for it every time

This is an April Fool:

Scotland to switch to driving on the right if independence given green light

This is not:

‘Cinderella Law’ to stop emotional abuse of children: Parents who fail to show love could face prison

Children of the night

President of the Adam Smith Institute Madsen Pirie is recruiting them even younger than Brian suggests in his previous post — in a way. He has written children’s books. I recently read Children of the Night.

My older son is only three, but I am keen to fill the house with books that he might like to discover when he feels like it. Whenever I read novels I worry about how the author’s worldview infects the fictitious world he has created. With Madsen Pirie I can relax, confident that his fictional universe will have sensible laws of economics and will not subconsciously implant socialism into my children’s heads.

Not only that, it is a very good adventure story. In genre it is a kind of steampunk — it has an outward appearance of fantasy but is really science fiction, which is the best kind of fantasy because it leads to an internally consistent and believable world. This leads to consistent and believable politics, which are never spelled out in exposition but form the backdrop to the action. And it is nearly all action, as makes sense for a children’s book, but there are many lessons.

On the origins of political power:

Shocking though the violence was, he was used to it. That was the way the world seemed to work. Those on high bullied and terrorised those below them.

On class and ambition:

“I do know this,” Quicksilver thought back, “that a wagoner’s son is destined to become a wagoner, and a nobleman’s son is destined to become a nobleman. But those with special talents can break free of this destiny and achieve things their parents could not dream of. Extraordinary things.”

In fact the protagonists are a poor orphan, a nobleman’s daughter who would rather be a pilot than a nobleman’s daughter, and an engineer dwarf, who all end up friends because of their differences.

On the intersection of economics and politics:

“It’s partly the cost,” Calvin replied. “There aren’t many places where people need to go up a mountain, and it would cost too much to lay miles of track and cable across open country.” He shrugged before adding, “And of course the Church limits the number of dwarf machines allowed into the Realm. They don’t want anything to upset the social order. That’s fine by us. We make the machines, not the decisions.”

On taxes:

“This stuff isn’t for sale anyway. It’s the share we have to pay to their high mightiness.” There was a real bitterness to his voice as he said it. “Who’s that?” inquired Mark, puzzled. “A far-off fat bishop who never set foot out of his abbey, and a far-off lazy lord who never did a day’s work in his life.” “You mean tithes,” said Mark, “a tenth for the church.” “A tenth?” Anderson laughed bitterly. “Round here it’s a sixth. And another sixth in taxes for using the land and sea which some noble calls his own.” Gene uttered a low whistle. “That’s a third gone before you start! Do they take a third of everything?” “Everything.” The word was spat out in bitterness.

On changing the meta-context:

We spread stories and provoke people to see the injustice of their rule, and to resent it.

There is also a problem with a fuel source that is mined by slaves. Many an author might have his characters fight against the slavery, and Madsen does, but he also has them realise the importance of the fuel, the suffering that its increase in cost would cause, and the possibility of a technological solution. This is a world in which technology offers hope and improvement despite its problems, rather than simply causing problems.

And there are murder mysteries, exotic flying machines, chase scenes, narrow escapes and double-crossings aplenty. It is all good, wholesome fun.

Thinking about children, their safety and liberty

Over at the CATO Institute, there is an excellent discussion of a topic that often divides libertarians as much as it does anyone else: children, their safety, and liberty. It looks interesting.

Such a happy crowd are we

D-MYST was formed by young people in the city who were concerned that they were being targeted by tobacco companies in their favourite films. They launched a campaign called ‘Toxic Movies’, to put the spotlight on the issue, and have gained international publicity for their cause.

D-MYST members say that taking smoking out of youth-rated movies is not about censorship – but is about asking film-makers to think again before they make films which young people can see, which contain smoking.

the SmokeFree Liverpool “youth group”, D-MYST (Direct Movement by the Youth SmokeFree Team).

Inspiring is it not, the young people spontaneously coming together in their milk bars and discothèques to defend the innocence of their favourite films that they love to watch of a Saturday morning? Perhaps one could even make a film aimed at the “youth market”, as I believe it is called, depicting the kids’ plucky struggle, interspersed by lively songs and numbers from some popular beat combo. It would show how they damn darn well went out there and got funding from a Quasi Autonomous Non Governmental Organisation called SmokeFree Liverpool who in turn got funding from an NHS Primary Care Trust who in turn got funding from the Department of Health who in turn got funding from the taxpayer.

A nasty, cynical man called Christopher Snowdon wrote a report called Sock Puppets that said “D-MYST is the very model of an astroturf group”, and that the story of it being formed by the youth of Liverpool was “slightly implausible”. Wrong-O. It is very implausible indeed. However it did lead me to the wonderful ABC Minors Song, which goes:

We are the boys and girls well known as

Minors of the ABC

And every Saturday all line up

To see the films we like and shout aloud with glee

We like to laugh and have our sing-song

Such a happy crowd are we

We’re all pals together

We’re Minors of the ABC.

I bet that crazy D-MYST gang would love it as a theme song!

School dinners

I came across the nine-year-old girl blogging about her school dinners a few weeks ago. Now the local council have banned her from taking photos of her meals because they did not like the attention she generated. I think this amounts to a freedom of speech violation because the school canteen is not private property, it is controlled by the state. The council has annoyed the Internet; The Streisand effect looms over them.

Blocking porn by default

David Cameron, who clearly does not have enough to do, has pledged to consult on campaigners’ proposals to force internet service providers to block porn by default. I am against the proposals because of the force. I also agree with Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group that non-porn will get blocked by mistake. There will likely be other technical problems. And it will make the perceived problem it is trying to solve worse because parents will have a false sense of security while savvy children figure out how to work around the filters. And I am not convinced that porn harms children.

But mostly I want the government to stop messing with my internet.

Environmentalism in education

A post at Climate Lessons reminded my of my own childhood experiences of environmentalist indoctrination at school. It could have been any post – the whole blog is about how children are frightened and mislead by environmentalists in the classroom.

The topic is closer to home now that I have my own two-year-old son, and it cropped up sooner than I expected. Someone bought him a book about Noah’s Ark. It is perfectly charming: thick cardboard pages; bright colours; but on the last page:

Noah helped save the animals of the earth hundreds of years ago by building an ark. Now we must help to save them too — not from floods, but from human beings who are hunting them, and cutting down the forests where they live.

I mean, come on! It is a story book for toddlers. A silly story from the Bible I can handle, but children should not be worried about this nonsense.

At the turn of the nineties I was at secondary school putting up with some of this. Most of it came from geography class. Deforestation was the big one. An area the size of Wales was destroyed every so often, we were told. Apart from all the extinct animals, the rain forests were needed to turn the carbon dioxide into oxygen. They are the lungs of the planet. These days the rain forests still seem to be there and I am fairly sure that, carbon going round in a cycle, the rain forests are only the lungs of the rain forests. The plants that I (and the animals I eat) eat produce enough oxygen for me.

We also learnt about acid rain and the hole in the ozone layer. Both these problems seem to have gone away, arguably as a result of timely state intervention but more likely because the problems were not so bad in the first place and now they have been replaced by more urgent and dire concerns.

Assuming the BBC exam revision guide is a good proxy for what is taught in GCSE geography lessons in schools, acid rain and the ozone layer are gone from the curriculum. Deforestation is still there, and now we have to worry about climate change, pollution and (oh no!) globalisation. If you follow that last link you will learn about Thomas Malthus and Esther Boserup but not Norman Borlaug.

I remember another strange lesson: not geography; possibly personal social health and flim flam studies or whatever it was called. I can not imagine why but we were made to watch a video that included abattoir footage and there was a class discussion in which we were asked whether the video made us want to be vegetarians. Some of the girls became vegetarians on the spot. I wonder what their parents made of it.

GCSE Double Science was a mostly sensible affair involving the Carnot cycle and electrons apart from one odd day when a guest speaker came in to tell us that more oil was used in the last ten years than in the entire history of humanity before that. The lesson was that this was because oil use doubled every ten years (or whatever the number was). I recognise it now as the standard limits-to-growth spiel, but what was it doing in a fourth year science class? Some organisation must have bribed the school or something.

What harm did it do? Here I am after all, not believing a word of any of it. At the time I believed it, but I was more interested in tectonic plates, magnetic fields and playing Elite on my computer. Most of the rest of the class was only interested in who was snogging whom. We were bombarded with doom and gloom but it was boring and irrelevant.

But I bet a lot of it stayed there, in most of the rest of the class, deep down, in a way that causes them not to question it when they see it on the news. They are not interested: they think about it when they are forced to; they give money to charity when they want to look like nice people or feel good about themselves; they moan about the taxes and they forget about it and get on with their lives. They do not write to their MPs or vote and they do not rise up.

Teachers and legislation

Teachers hate legislation. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers is a British teaching union. In 2010 its then president Lesley Ward said:

What was being debated in the 1970s is pretty similar to what is being debated four decades later. I am onto my 15th secretary of state for education and my 29th minister for education. I have lived through, endured, survived, call it what you like, 54 pieces of education legislation since I started teaching. One more and it would be one for each year of my life.

Clearly she wants to get the government out of education and her life. “Trust us and leave us to do our job,” she concludes. Good for her!

Then yesterday:

A motion at the [ATL] conference called on ministers to introduce “stringent legislation” to counter the “negative effects some computer games are having on the very young”.

I imagine that most teachers have no difficulty holding both of these views. Most people would like government to leave them alone and stop other people from annoying them.

Read the whole thing

And then ask yourself: What is to be done? What can I do? How far am I prepared to go?

John Osimek reports for The Register:

The government obsession with collecting data has now extended to five-year-olds, as local Community Health Services get ready to arm-twist parents into revealing the most intimate details of their own and their child’s personal, behavioural and eating habits.

The questionnaire – or “School Entry Wellbeing Review” – is a four-page tick-box opus, at present being piloted in Lincolnshire, requiring parents to supply over 100 different data points about their own and their offspring’s health. Previously, parents received a “Health Record” on the birth of a child, which contained around eight questions which needed to be answered when that child started school.

The Review asks parents to indicate whether their child “often lies or cheats”: whether they steal or bully; and how often they eat red meat, takeaway meals or fizzy drinks. […]

How did children ever manage before ‘alchohol educators’?

Someone called Tara Parker-Pope in the New York Times has written about the use of alcohol in the latest Harry Potter film and I must say I find her article deeply… something…disturbing? No, not quite right… alien… yes that is it. It is deeply alien.

As Harry Potter fans crowd movie theaters to catch the latest installment in the blockbuster series, parents may be surprised by the starring role given to alcohol. In scene after scene, the young wizards and their adult professors are seen sipping, gulping and pouring various forms of alcohol to calm their nerves, fortify their courage or comfort their sorrows.
As the mother of a 10-year-old Harry Potter fan, I was taken aback by the reaction of the young people in the theater. They snickered at Hermione’s goofy grin and, later, guffawed when an inebriated Hagrid passed out. While I don’t think my daughter fully understood what was going on, I wondered how other parents, educators and addiction experts would react.

If she found funny drunk people funny, it sounds to me like her daughter understood just fine.

Liz Perle, a mother of two teenage boys and the editor in chief of Common Sense Media, which reviews books, movies and Web content aimed at children, said she was bothered by so many scenes showing alcohol as a coping mechanism.

“Hermione is such a tightly wound young lady, but she’s liberated by some butterbeer,” she said. “The message is that it gives you liquid courage to put your arms around the guy you really like but are afraid to.”
Alcohol educators say that they don’t want to ruin the fun, but that parents should be aware of alcohol’s role in the Harry Potter series, the books as well as the movies. Several studies suggest that movies influence teenagers’ behavior when it comes to drinking, drugs and tobacco.

So why is this alien? Partially because booze really is a quite effective ‘coping aid’ that people have used since time immemorial to pluck up their courage to put their arms around the object of their affections for the first time. Why? Because at the risk of stating the obvious, it bleedin’ works. Is this really shocking or alarming to “parents, educators and addiction experts”?

I rather doubt my folks would have found a drunk giant and some pie-eyed teenagers in a film all too perplexing. But then they were hardly puritans and came from a more robust generation who felt there was value in a child occasionally colliding with life’s sharp protruding edges. Nor did they get the vapours from the sight of their little treasure’s bumps and bruises or feel any need to call in ‘experts’ when I intermittently got rat-faced drunk.

And what exactly is an ‘alcohol educator’? Pointing out that drinking can make you drunk and being drunk can make you walk into lamp posts or crash cars requires a specialist ‘alcohol educator’? How did anyone reach adulthood before such people existed I wonder?

Well I learned that drinking has its downside too, not from an ‘alcohol educator’ but from puking my guts up rather too often. I recall a teacher seeing me once heaving miserably after a school event and did he send me to an ‘alcohol commissar educator’? No, he left and returned a while later to present me with a bucket and mop and rather unsympathetically said “clean up before you leave”. Quite right too. He also never mentioned it again, because what could he possibly tell me about the downside of drinking too much that I had not just taught myself?

Teachers and parents teach children many things. And many of those things are true, half true or pure unadulterated lies. And most children know when what they are taught is hogwash. As a consequence, they learn the importance of critical judgement in ways that were not really intended by the person doing the ‘teaching’.

So when we hear this…

“I hope parents can talk to their kids and tell them even though Harry Potter made that seem fun, that it isn’t O.K.,” said Dr. Welsh, the author of a 2007 article about alcohol use in the Harry Potter series, published in The Journal of Child and Adolescent Substance Abuse.

…any 100+ IQ child who has had a few beers learns something valuable: his parents, and Dr. Welsh writing in The Journal of Child and Adolescent Substance Abuse, are full of it, because for most people it really is okay and their own experiences confirm that. They sank a few brewskis, had a giggle and maybe made an ass of themselves, and 99.9% of the time, no one died, got pregnant or lost an eye.

And this is an important lesson we all learn when growing up: some of what we are taught makes sense and quite a lot of it is complete and utter tosh, and just because your parents tell you something, ain’t necessarily so. And when an ‘alcohol educator’ is trotted out to tell you something, it is because he is being paid to tell you that, and often there is quite a bit more to it than he is letting on.

There is only one kind of professional ‘alcohol educator’ worth listening to, and they are called sommeliers.