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]

Came for tea, stayed for the rape: a beloved children’s classic re-analysed

They’ve come for the tiger.

“Children’s book ‘The Tiger Who Came To Tea’ could lead to rape and harassment’ because it reinforces gender inequality that causes violence against women, campaigner claims”, reports the Mail.

It may have delighted generations of children, but The Tiger Who Came To Tea reinforces gender inequality which causes violence against women and girls, a campaigner said yesterday.

Rachel Adamson, of Zero Tolerance, a charity working to end men’s violence against women, said Judith Kerr’s 1968 classic was ‘problematic’ because of its ‘old fashioned’ portrayal of women and family dynamics.

The book sees an uninvited tiger join a young girl and her mother for tea before eating all the food in the house, drinking everything, running the taps dry and leaving.

The girl’s father then comes home and takes her and her mother to a cafe.

Miss Adamson did not call for the book to be banned but said it could be used to ‘raise a conversation’ in nurseries.

She told BBC Radio Scotland: ‘We know that gender stereotypes are harmful and they reinforce gender inequality, and that gender inequality is the cause of violence against women and girls, such as domestic abuse, rape and sexual harassment.’

Adamson questioned the tiger’s gender and why he was not female or gender neutral.

Um… would this campaigner against violence inflicted on women and girls, whose organisation specifically defends its focus on men’s violence against women really want to see a children’s book in which the enormous, physically dominant predator who blags its way into a space which a woman and a girl had thought their own and abuses their hospitality was female or transgender?

Sigh. As the Mail article points out, Judith Kerr knew a thing or two about prejudice leading to violence. Her father was a well known German Jewish writer who had to flee with his family when the Nazis came to power and put a price on his head. They only just escaped. She wrote a lightly fictionalised account of her family’s story in When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. Nonetheless, she always resisted attempts to claim that the tiger was a metaphor for Nazism. It was just a big hungry but affable tiger who ate all the buns and drank all the water in the tap.

→ Continue reading: Came for tea, stayed for the rape: a beloved children’s classic re-analysed

Here we go again

BBC News 17:16 BST: Taliban take over Presidential Palace – reports

Conveniently, Afghanistan has had its own Samizdata tag for nearly twenty years. It is interesting, if depressing, to look at the old entries.

Why were there so few spree killings in the UK in the early twentieth century?

The day before yesterday a man called Jake Davison murdered five people in Plymouth. In a pattern common with many spree killers he first murdered his mother and then went on to kill random strangers, including a three year old girl and her father.

The three major “spree” or “rampage” killings in British history were carried out in Hungerford in 1987, in Dunblane in 1996 and in Cumbria in 2010.

There was also a spree killing of five people in West Bromwich and Nuneaton in 1978.

There have been other mass murders following different dynamics, such as serial killers targeting particular categories of victim such as prostitutes or homosexuals, or medical murderers like Dr Harold Shipman, who may have murdered hundreds over his lifetime. There have also been other spree killers who were stopped or killed themselves after claiming fewer victims than those listed above.

Many years ago I wrote a pamphlet for the Libertarian Alliance about the Dunblane Massacre called “Rachel weeping for her children”. I wrote,

… in Britain there was almost no control of guns before the 1920 Firearms Act and widespread ownership of pistols for self defence until the 1968 Act and yet there was one of the lowest murder rates of any society in human history. In Britain, as gun laws have got stricter, gun crime has got worse. Everyone then would then say, unencumbered by any shred of evidence, “Aha! But crime would have been yet worse if the laws had not come in!” This was my first introduction to the enormous inertia of a failed policy.

Other than quoting that passage I will not repeat here any of the arguments about gun laws that I made in that piece.

I simply wish to pose the question at the top of this post. Why weren’t there any British massacres of that type, the rampage killer who attacks random people, early in the twentieth century? It cannot have been that guns were unavailable: the world wars flooded the UK with guns. So far as I know spree killings were rarer in the US during that period too. Not that there was an absence of mass murders during this time – there were several political/racial pogroms such as the Tulsa race massacre, but random killings seem to have been less frequent than in the decades before or afterwards.

The two major exceptions that I can recall, the Bath School massacre and Pacific Airlines Flight 773, were both carried out by means other than guns.

I may be wrong about the US. That list on Wikipedia omits what I would have thought was the progenitor of the modern type of random mass shooting: the University of Texas clock tower massacre in 1966.

I may be wrong about the whole thing. Perhaps there is no pattern to be discerned from what are, fortunately, very rare events. Yet it seems to me that there is just enough of a pattern there to make the question worth asking.

Stephen Davies on Brexit and political realignment

Writing books about “current affairs” is tricky. If you write your book while whatever you are writing about is not yet over, you are liable to be wrong-footed by later events, especially if you thought it was over.

But if you wait until you are sure that whatever it is has finally finished, your book is liable to be lost in a throng of rival books on the same subject, written by people all of whom, like you, know that it’s now or never, and at a time when whatever happened is now pretty much obvious to all. But what if you are spot-on about what is happening while it is still happening, but you wait until the dust settles? Then you miss your chance to have been “prophetic”. “That’s what I said!” works far better if you actually did say it, loud and clear, before it all became obvious.

Stephen Davies latest book, entitled The Economics and Politics of Brexit: The Realignment of British Public Life, is a rather cunning answer to this dilemma.

Davies has written a book about a process which still has a way to go, but also about one of the consequences of this process which is already very clear. The larger process is the political realignment which Britain is now still in the thick of. But one of the many consequences of this realignment has now been pretty much settled.

→ Continue reading: Stephen Davies on Brexit and political realignment

Samizdata quote of the day

“The truth is that China has come out of the lockdowns grimmer, stronger and more assertive. The world we knew has gone.”

– Daniel Hannan, Sunday Telegraph today (behind paywall).

He is writing on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party. An organisation responsible for the deaths of tens of millions and which continues to run a heavily authoritarian and dangerous place. It is nothing to celebrate – quite the reverse.

The future works, just as it is being stolen from us, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is now real

The future of the flying car is finally arriving, a flying car, the AirCar, has completed a test flight between two airports in Slovakia, reports the BBC.

This wonderful development brought to us by Professor Stefan Klein (the article has a short video showing the car flying etc.) is not yet licensed to fly, and given the caution around aviation, such approval may be a long way off, but it is technically possible now, almost a century after the English Electric Wren which was seen as a rival to the emergent motor car. To think that within around 31 years, English Electric would build the Lightning is simply mind-boggling.

However, this fantastic development runs on a petrol engine, has an airborne range of c. 1,000 km (625 miles) and can cruise at 170km/h (c.106 mph), at 8,200 feet (pressurisation not an option at the moment it seems). Imagine the liberty of flight, in your garage, the horror of unrestricted travel, no speed cameras, the Left’s (and the State’s) hatred of mobility and autonomy will shine like the fiery pits of Hell.

Two passengers, provided that they don’t weigh more than 31 stone. Let physics limit your weight, not the government.

Dr Stephen Wright, senior research fellow in avionics and aircraft, at the University of the West of England, described the AirCar as “the lovechild of a Bugatti Veyron and a Cesna 172”.

but there is obviously a cautionary note:

“I have to admit that this looks really cool – but I’ve got a hundred questions about certification,” Dr Wright said.
“Anyone can make an aeroplane but the trick is making one that flies and flies and flies for the thick end of a million hours, with a person on board, without having an incident.
“I can’t wait to see the piece of paper that says this is safe to fly and safe to sell.”

With a 600 mile range, a self-fly/drive break on the Continent would be a breeze. Short-haul aviation is pointless in such a world, as are inflexible trains (HS2 etc.), even car hire. Bring it on.

To call it “Project Cassandra” was hubris

As soon as I saw it I thought of psychohistory. I was not alone, judging from the most recommended comment to this fascinating Guardian article:

‘At first I thought, this is crazy’: the real-life plan to use novels to predict the next war

An extract:

In one of his last reports to the defence ministry, towards the end of 2019, Wertheimer had drawn attention to an interesting development in the Caucasus. The culture ministry of Azerbaijan had recently supplied libraries in Georgia with books carrying explicit anti-Armenian messages, such as the works of poet Khalil Rza Uluturk. There were signs, he warned, that Azerbaijan was ramping up propaganda efforts in the brewing territorial conflict with its neighbouring former Soviet republic.

War broke out a year later: 6,000 soldiers and civilians died in a six-week battle over Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave of Azerbaijan populated by ethnic Armenians. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan used the war to bolster his strongman image, hailing Armenia’s defeat in December as a “glorious victory”. Russia, traditionally allied with Armenia, successfully leveraged the conflict to consolidate its influence in the region. Germany and the EU, meanwhile, looked on and stayed silent: being able to predict the future is one thing, knowing what to do with the information is another.

Brexitalgia

Posted to Samizdata by me on 23rd June 2016: “Well, I dunno”. The link to an image of the Daily Mirror‘s cover for that day showing a deep dark well with the slogan “Don’t take a leap into the dark – vote REMAIN today” seems to have died, but it can be seen in this collection of front pages from that day compiled by the Atlantic. I was not despairing but definitely a little pessimistic, as were many of the commenters.

But in the wee small hours of June 24th things began to look different: “Well, well, well”.

And in the bright fullness of day: “Now is the winter of our discontent, or perhaps just two very English words”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts provoked by a photo of Lenin

Earlier today, at the Historic Photos Twitter feed, I encountered this photo, of Lenin:

Here is how Historic Photos describes the state Lenin had arrived at, when this photo was taken:

What is believed to be the last photograph of Vladimir Lenin, taken in 1923 by which stage he had suffered three strokes and was paralyzed and completely mute. Next to him are his sister and his doctor. He died on January 21st 1924 aged 53.

I have read many things, including many books, about Lenin and his sayings and doings, yet I have never come across this photo until now. That could be me, just not having noticed it. But I think there’s a reason why this particular piece of Lenin imagery has not done much circulating.

There is still fierce disagreement about Lenin and his impact upon history. Many still revere him, as the man who set in motion the most serious attempt to overthrow capitalism that has so far happened on this planet, and many others detest the man for the same reason, and for the disgusting brutality with which he set about doing this. Some think Lenin (good) was “betrayed” by Stalin (bad). Others, such as I, think that Lenin (bad) started what Stalin (bad) carried on doing. But what all of us, on all sides of such debates, agree about is that Lenin was a very important and very consequential figure, who had a lot to say for himself and who did a lot to shape the course of history, for good or for bad.

However, in the above photo, we see Lenin in a state of utter impotence, looking downright comical.

And that’s surely why this photo doesn’t get out much. Either Lenin had immense power and did hugely important and noble things or he had immense power and did monstrously evil things, but whatever he was he was certainly not a joke. If those of us with things to say about Lenin, one way or the other or yet another, wish to decorate our judgments about Lenin with a photo of the man, the above photo is not going to be the one that any of us would choose.

To generalise, images of historic figures get circulated a lot, or not, depending on whether they illustrate how we already think of them. The world’s cameras spit out a daily torrent of portraits of the great, the good and the bad, and it is in the editorialising process, when the “best” images are selected and the rest put aside, that the camera is made to tell a particular sort of story. This is surely an important way that cameras lie, or at the very least mislead, although there are of course others.

Image googling confirmed my hunch. If you go here and keep scrolling down, you will scroll down in vain if you wish to see the above “historic” photo, or any others resembling it. No, all you will get are pictures and graphic recreations of Lenin being anything but “paralyzed and completely mute”.

The King can do no wrong

George Archer-Shee died at nineteen, in what might almost be called a natural death for a young British man of his class at that time – he was killed in the First Battle of Ypres. His name is inscribed on the Menin Gate but he has no known grave.

He shared the manner of his death with thousands of others, but, quite against his own wishes, his short life before that had taken an unusual turn. At the time of his death he had been famous for six years.

It all started in 1908 when George Archer-Shee was thirteen and a cadet at the Royal Naval College, Osborne. He was accused of having stolen a five shilling postal order intended for another cadet. An elderly post office clerk said she remembered Archer-Shee as having cashed two postal orders that day, one of his own (which no one denied) and the stolen one. Archer-Shee protested his innocence to no avail; he was expelled without much ceremony.

That should have been that, a minor story of Edwardian disgrace, but his father refused to take it lying down. He engaged one of the most celebrated lawyers of the day – Sir Edward Carson, famous for many reasons, some of which are still controversial today, and determined to pursue the case to the highest court in the land. But there was a slight problem: if I have understood it right, at that time one could not sue the Crown.

Quoting a 1939 article in the Pennsylvania Law Review:

It was early recognized in England that while an action could not be brought against the King, yet as the “fountain of justice and equity” he would entertain petitions from his subjects for the redress of their wrongs; and it was established during the reign of Edward I that the subject might bring a petition of right, which, if approved by the King, would be heard in his courts. The King indicated his approval of the petition by writing on it, “Let right be done”. A petition of right, as distinguished from a petition of grace, asked “for something which the suppliant could claim as a right, if the claim were made against any one but the King”. Originally a petition of right was employed only to recover some interest in land, and there was doubt whether it would lie to recover chattels, but by the time of Henry VI it was settled that it would lie for the recovery of goods and chattels. It was not until 1874 that it was decided that the petition would lie for breach of contract. It would never lie for a tort, for the King can do no wrong.

At the time the petition of right was filed in the Archer-Shee case the law was clear that those in the service of the Crown, whether military or civil, could be dismissed at will and were without remedy by petition of right or otherwise.

Carson won in the end, as he usually did. Archer-Shee was exonerated. And the important precedent was set that the King can do wrong, and can be sued.

So far, so Whig history. The setting of that precedent is how I come to know about the case. I think I read a rather good account of it and why it mattered in Look and Learn magazine in the mid 1970s. Terence Rattigan wrote a play loosely based on the story called The Winslow Boy. It has been filmed at least twice.

But a more recent event also involving the Post Office – and the refusal of the Post Office to admit the possibility of error – and the refusal of the British State as a whole to admit the possibility of the Post Office being in error – and the blackening of the names of innocent people – made me think that we need to learn that lesson again.

Let the BBC tell the story:

Post Office scandal: What the Horizon saga is all about

A group of former sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses have seen their names cleared at the Court of Appeal after the UK’s most widespread miscarriage of justice.

It marks the latest stage of a computer scandal, and a long and complex legal battle, which could leave the Post Office with a huge compensation bill.

Between 2000 and 2014, the Post Office prosecuted 736 sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses – an average of one a week – based on information from a recently installed computer system called Horizon.

Some went to prison following convictions for false accounting and theft, many were financially ruined and have described being shunned by their communities. Some have since died.

Edit: In the comments Rudolph Hucker pointed out that the doctrine driving the Post Office’s reckless prosecution of so many of its own employees bore an even closer parallel to the doctrine, supposedly overturned by the Archer-Shee case, that “the King can do no wrong” than I thought. He linked to a piece from the radio station LBC called ‘The Post Office were mendacious in the way they denied justice’ The title is a quote from Nick Wallace, a journalist who has been covering the Horizon scandal for many years.

Due to its long legacy, the Post Office has a “proximity to state power that is almost unparalleled.”

Mr Wallis continued: “It was able to use its own investigation and prosecution units to bypass the CPS and the police force to prosecute its own employees to the tune of one a week for 14 years. There were 736 successful convictions just using Horizon IT evidence.”

He told Shelagh that when the Post Office found out its prosecutions may be unsafe, “they covered it up.”

“They went out of their way to say to campaigning MPs and the Justice for the Postmasters’ Alliance that nothing was going wrong with the IT system and there was nothing wrong with their prosecution.”

They then “threw tens of millions of pounds trying to deny the subpostmasters justice,” Mr Wallis said.

“They were mendacious in the way they went about denying justice and they colluded with the Government in order to do this, because the Government is 100% shareholder of the Post Office and it has skin in this game.