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“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.

Cotswold Bloke: ‘No one would ever believe that world leaders would behave like that …’

Cotswold Bloke writes, in a series of tweets which I have merged together into a piece of writing with paragraphs and added punctuation and whatnot instead of it being divided up into tweets, this:

Got a great idea for a thriller – the plot will knock your socks off.

So there’s a shadowy Global Elite, yes? Davos, yachts, private jets. They used to need the masses to work in factories, till the fields, and do all the menial stuff, and, now and then, for an army.

In my fictional world, big standing armies are a thing of the past. There’s no appetite for invasions any more. Rapid advances in AI, robotics and mechanisation also mean that The Global Elites will soon no longer need peasants toiling away in the factories and fields, causing deforestation, extinctifying species etc. Plus they’re mostly fat, stupid and ugly. (Sounds like the real world here.)

My novel is set when the world population is 7 billion, but heading for 10 billion. Worse, those extra three billion people are not going to be three billion poor people living a subsistence life – they’re aware, through smart phones and the internet, of a better life, and their demand for food, for environment-destroying power generation, and for bling and cars and general ‘stuff’, is going to be a lot higher than was their parents’, thirty years ago.

In my novel, the imaginary Global Elites – many of whom have openly talked about the urgent need to depopulate the earth – start thinking. ‘Hmmm,’ they think. ‘Ten billion of them is going to really destroy the environment and kill all the snow leopards and the blue whales – who’ve done nothing to deserve any of this, and are after all just as intrinsically valuable as any human, and much more valuable than certain humans of the lumpen proletariat variety. ‘Anyway,’ they think, even if we didn’t hate them for killing the blue whales and being fat and stupid, there’s no way the world can support an essentially middle-class lifestyle for seven billion people, much less ten billion. ‘And where does that lead?’ they say. ‘Old-fashioned resource wars! So actually, if we could help five or six billion people shuffle off this mortal coil in a relatively peaceful way – as opposed to via decades of small nasty wars, or even one or two really big ones – we’d be doing them a favour, really. Not to mention, the snow leopards, the blue whales, and ourselves, obviously.’

In my novel, they start off by releasing a virus.

Now, obviously, they have to be careful. A real killer virus is unpredictable and chaotic, and it might get you and yours, or wipe out a disproportionate number of, e.g., tech nerds politicians, and top chefs, whom my main characters will need in future, while sparing too many fat old checkout workers and labourers, whom they won’t need, and the panic and chaos as millions of people start dropping dead in the street is going to have unforeseeable second-order effects in which my Global Elites might find themselves entangled. That’s what unpredictable and chaotic means, see. No, they need something controllable.

So they decide to release a virus that is just bad enough to terrify people – helped along with a major dose of propaganda from the news outlets, governments, supranational bodies and social media organisations that are controlled (in my fictional world) by my imaginary Global Elites.

And then they announce a vaccine. (Plot twist: they announce loads of them, even though it’s untried technology, created by supposedly competing companies. Too implausible? Not sure.) Despite this novelty, my plot cleverly has them scaring/boring people enough that they’re queueing up for jabs ‘to get to the pub’. Obviously they can’t nail them all with the vaccine – too big and sudden, with all that scary chaos and unpredictability – so what my characters do is they say, ‘There are lots of variants, and you will need regular re-ups with slightly adapted vaccines!’

I haven’t yet decided whether they then slip something in there at a later date, or release a new virus which reacts with the vaccines, but the key thing is they take out 10%, 20% or maybe (if I can make it plausible) 40% of the ‘herd’ – and the right 40%, because they’re controlling the vaccine distribution.

Obviously, my survivors wonder what’s going on, but they’re terrified, grieving and demoralised – I might have them starving, too? – so they can’t do much. In fact, they’re so grateful to have been spared to work in the remaining factories that they sing the praises of the Global Elites.

To create the fear needed to drive vaccination, the baddies lock loads of countries down – bit implausible, it’s never been done before, and goes against all the previous the advice on the WHO’s own website, which (in my novel) said ‘don’t lock up healthy people’, though (in my novel) it turns out they removed that advice just before the pandemic began and changed it to ‘do lock up healthy people’ hoping no-one would notice. The baddies force people to wear masks, stress the death figures every day – after inflating them beyond all logic, and they absolutely never mention that far more people recover. If anyone mentions recovery, they shout about ‘long virus’.

They demoralise people by banning them from attending their parents’ funerals. They close the pubs – where people might swap ideas and foment revolution. They arrest people for sitting on park benches (though they wave through anyone spray painting rude words on statues). Lots more of that. It’s all good stuff. Very dramatic.

They have to be careful though because locking down economies, even in novels, creates that chaos and panic which might spill over into their gated compounds. (My protagonists are guarded by armed police 24/7, and they go everywhere in armoured cars, but they’re still vulnerable if the balloon ever goes up.)

So to avoid that they introduce ‘furlough’ (in the US I have them mail big cheques to people, which might stretch the credulity of my readers a bit). Millions are starving in the third world but the journalists in my novel don’t notice or care (or ask questions about the thousands of cancer patients and others who will die because of the lockdowns in advanced economies), and – given that the whole plan is to eradicate unneeded people – they’re just a bonus anyway.

So my villains borrow (create) vast amounts of money – way too much to make any sense, like the kind of money you’d spend on a world war, not a virus that is taking my fictional UK back about a decade in the mortality stats – to spend on bullshit. ‘Doesn’t matter what’, they cry. (Temporary hospitals are one possibility I’m thinking of.)

‘All we need to do is keep the show on the road long enough! The money’s not going to be paid back, because the old days of an economy set up to keep a world of 7 to 10 billion people turning won’t be required when there aren’t 7 to 10 billion people any more.’

I must admit, I was struggling a bit with their motivation. Yes, they hate the people, and yes, they love the snow leopards. But why now? Well, turns out the tech isn’t all one way. The lumpen masses themselves are not far off being able to print their own plastic firearms and fly hordes of slaughter bots onto billionaires’ yachts in the harbour at Monaco, and livestream it, so my baddies have decided now is the time.

Was talking to my wife about this idea for a novel over lunch, and she thinks no-one would buy it.

‘There’s no hero,’ she said. ‘And no-one would ever believe that world leaders would behave like that. I mean, yes, a few have. But not ours. Who do you think you are? Tom Clancy?’

A heretic speaks, the mob… cheers?

“Boris Johnson will be branded a Covid serial killer but no one will lay a glove on our bloated NHS”, writes Jeremy Clarkson in the Sunday Times.

Jeremy Clarkson that Jeremy Clarkson – is rich and famous and has a well-established persona as an opinionated loudmouth. He can get away with saying things that the ordinary man or woman could not get away with. Nonetheless, I wonder if he did not take a swig of liquid courage before typing this heresy:

All those things contributed to our high death toll, but none to quite the extent of the biggest problem. And this certainly won’t be raised in the inquiry. That the NHS is useless.

Oh I know you’re all flying those rainbow flags and that every night last year you went out and banged your saucepans together. So you don’t want to hear it. But you were clapping a big, stupid, expensive monster.

I’m not talking about the doctors and the nurses, of course. Many of them are far from useless. But the organisation they work for? Dear God in heaven, it’s so far past its sell-by date, you’d die from taking a single whiff of it.

The problem is simple. Unlike every successful entity, it does not exist to make money. It exists to spend it.

If he did, he didn’t have to. The Times commenters loved it. Here are the first sentences of the most recommended comments:

“Bullseye Mr Clarkson, and whilst the vast majority of care staff are acceptable, good or excellent, there is a significant minority who shouldn’t be in the job. Laziness being the main problem.”

“You are omitting the elephant in the room – hospital hygiene.”

“Clarkson is spot on. Abolish the NHS, it’s useless.”

“Nailed it. My heart sank the other day when I saw a survey which suggested that the NHS was the thing which made most Britons most proud.”

“JC is spot on. The NHS is a sacred cow and no politician would dare to challenge its behemoth incompetence as they’d be unelectable.”

“As a doctor of over 25 years I can sadly recognise this theme. The are a whole raft of people I work with that I can’t help but think “if their job didn’t exist it wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference”.”

As ever, remember that Times commenters are not representative of the nation. They are not even representative of Times readers. But I do not think you would have seen that response from Times commenters to the opinion that the National Health Service is a “big, stupid, expensive monster” before the pandemic.

By the way, many of the comments go out of their way to express gratitude to NHS staff, and several of them say that the vaccine rollout has shown the NHS at its best. But in all the praise there is something reminiscent of the way Britons spoke of the British Empire in 1945. The Empire’s extent was never greater than in the year of victory. But they knew in their hearts it had to go.

“Adam Smith was on the side of the angels …”

The following is the text of an email that I and all the many others on the Adam Smith Institute email list received today, from the ASI’s Eamonn Butler:

Today marks 245 years since the publication of The Wealth of Nations, one of the most important books ever written.

Smith revolutionised our understanding of commerce. He explained how trade enriches our lives and his works laid the foundations of a whole new field of study: economics.

Today though, Adam Smith’s legacy is under threat from those that would rewrite history.

Smith’s grave and statue have been linked to “slavery and colonialism,” according to Edinburgh City Council.

The grave and statue are being reviewed by the SNP-Labour Coalition Council’s Slavery and Colonialism Legacy Review Group. Their claim rests upon a quote by Adam Smith that said “slavery was ubiquitous and inevitable but that it was not as profitable as free labour“.

This is an extraordinary mischaracterisation.

Smith not only argued that slavery was morally reprehensible, but also provided intellectual ammunition to the abolitionist movement. The link Adam Smith has to slavery was as one of the authors of that vile practice’s destruction.

Smith, writing in the 18th century, thought slavery would continue. He could not have foreseen humanity’s subsequent liberal turn.

But it is abundantly clear that Smith thought slavery was grotesque. Smith wrote, in no uncertain terms, that slave owners’ “brutality, and baseness, so justly expose them to the contempt of the vanquished.”

Smith also argued that slaves are inefficient workers, because they cannot keep the fruits of their labour. His arguments against slavery were used by abolitionists.

Smith was on the side of the angels, holding humanist views well ahead of his time.

The links, all in the original email, are well worth clicking on.

As Eamonn Butler says, it was liberals, which then meant people who prized liberty, who put slavery on the defensive. It never completely went away, and socialists, national and otherwise, gave it a whole new lease of life in the twentieth century, although lease of death might be a better phrase. And in doing this socialists provided several more mountains of evidence that Adam Smith was right about slavery’s inefficiency, as well as about its brutality and baseness.

A land battle and a sea battle – in a book about Beethoven

I’ve been reading a three-volume fictionalised life of Beethoven, by, of all people, John Suchet, whom most people probably know only as a television newsreader.

The way Suchet tells the story, Beethoven was an oddball from the start. I recall doing a posting here about how Beethoven’s deafness prevented him from having a normal life, as a star pianist, but Suchet’s Beethoven was always set on getting shot of being merely a talented performer, and on becoming a great composer.

Beethoven’s friends and supporters had to put up with a lot at the hands of the irascible genius. They took all the angry insults and demands because, when it came to it, they shared Beethoven’s high opinion of his musical genius, and because they knew also what miseries Beethoven himself had to contend with.

Beethoven’s deafness was no mere inability to hear all the sounds he was surrounded by. It was also the presence of other often very loud sounds inside his own head, often painfully so.

And just to put a tin lid on everything, throughout a lot of Beethoven’s adult life, he had to contend with the consequences of war. Napoleon’s armies took possession of Beethoven’s city of birth, Bonn, and then of the city where Beethoven was based for most of his adult life, Vienna. Quite aside from the usual deaths and disruptions this inflicted upon the Viennese, this played havoc with Beethoven’s various plans to get rich and thereby achieve the freedom he yearned for to just compose his music.

In connection with some of this fighting, Suchet, like the journalist he is, quotes a couple of stories that the Wiener Zeitung published, on a particularly black day for Vienna, in October 1805.

The first concerned the disastrous battle of Ulm:

OUR BRAVE FORCES FACE IGNOMINY!

On 20th October 1805, outside the city of Ulm in southern Bavaria, some twenty thousand of our brave Imperial soldiers, fighting for the honour of His Imperial Majesty, stood and faced the forces of the French imposter Bonaparte, His Excellency General Mack von Leiberich in command.

By an entirely dishonourable manoeuvre, against all the rules of war, the French succeeded in surrounding the Imperial Austrian army.

It is our sad duty to report that General Mack was forced to surrender his army of twenty thousand to the French, handing over the illustrious colours of our brave forebears. The French have taken forty-nine thousand prisoners, whose release His Imperial Majesty is making strenuous efforts to secure.

The latest intelligence from the battle front is that the French are marching east towards our border.

We call on all able-bodied citizens to make preparations to resist the army of the French. The same Bastion which resisted the Turkish invader a century and a quarter ago is being made secure and our civil forces are drilling on the Glacis in readiness to repulse the invader.

John Suchet then adds that at the bottom of this one page, that being all that the Wiener Zeitung could manage on this particular day, there was, in considerably smaller print, a briefer item, which was, Suchet says, “largely ignored by the people of Vienna”. This concerned an insignificant sea battle, somewhere or other off the coast of Spain:

One day after the ignominy suffered by our forces at Ulm, a Franco-Spanish fleet was defeated by a British fleet under the command of His Lordship Nelson off the Cape of Trafalgar.

So, good news, surely. But the Wiener Zeitung cannot force itself to deceive its readers:

This victory for the allies, inglorious and shameful as it is for the enemy, will have no effect on the progress of the war on land.

There you have it. The Continental European attitude to the relative importance of sea power and land power. It took quite a while for that little sea battle to result in the undermining of Napoleon’s power, but it definitely had consequences.

The Samizdata world view is more than a mere preference for navies over armies. But that contrast is definitely part of the story.

I don’t think a German or Austrian author, writing about Beethoven, would have pointed up this particular contrast the way Suchet does. And does, I think you will agree, rather gleefully, despite him ending his chapter with that second quote.

On this day in 1951, Seoul fell for the second time

BBC On This Day: 1951: Communist forces to re-take Seoul

The Third Battle of Seoul

We in the West seem to have entirely forgotten the Korean War. President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China is keeping the memory alive, in his own fashion.

No true Gael

This sentence was written by a graduate student of Celtic and Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh:

Persecution of the Gaels only intensified in 1688 with the ascension of William of Orange to throne of the United Kingdom. It was under William’s regime that government forces of the UK orchestrated the massacre of the MacDonalds at Glencoe, and that occupying British soldiers erected Fort William in the Highlands in order to better subdue the region’s Gaelic inhabitants.

I am sure that several Samizdata readers will spot the historical error, but that ain’t the half of it.

It came from the second of a series of four posts (1, 2, 3, 4) under the heading “Gaelic Promotion as Social Justice” by Adam Dahmer, published in the Scottish Nationalist website Bella Caledonia.

Here is an extract from Part 4: Promoting Gaelic as an Anti-Racist Action

“So, in conclusion, I say to those who insist that promoting a British language in Britain is racist that I agree with them – but only if the language in question is English. The English language is, and has been for at least 300 years, a language of whiteness, empire, settler colonialism, and cultural genocide – not only in Britain, but throughout the world. English was the language of Indian Removal and Black slavery in North America; the military conquest, occupation, and resource depletion of much of Africa and Asia; and the murder, rape, and cultural degradation of the indigenous peoples of Australia and Oceania. ‘English-language-only’ was the explicit policy of the soul-destroying compulsory state schools to which indigenous people in every conquered land of the British and American Empires – including the occupied Scottish Highlands – were forced to send their children in order that they be divested of their ancestral cultures.

“The promotion of Scottish Gaelic in Scotland is therefore not at all comparable to the promotion of English in Scotland. The former is an example of social justice activism, whereas the latter – if undertaken to the exclusion of the promotion of other languages – only furthers imperialism and cultural assimilation. Therefore, while the suggestion that Scottish children should be taught English in school and be encouraged to speak English on the playground ought to meet with grave misgivings and thoughtful caution, the idea that the same children should learn and speak Gaelic should be entirely uncontroversial – especially if the children in question are, in fact, Gaels. To deny the Gaels the right to use and propagate their own language in the country in which they live and in which that language originated – a country which was, historically speaking, wrested from them through coercion, and which was largely built on lands stolen from them by the state – is to actively will their destruction as a people, and to callously and unconscionably deny them the justice they are due. Conversely, to stand up for Gaelic and Gaelic speakers in Scotland is to strike a blow against global English-language hegemony and white supremacy – not only for the Gaels, but on behalf of minoritized communities throughout the world.”

Bella is a left wing site whose readers are sympathetic to “social justice”. The comments to Part 1 of Mr Dahmer’s four-part essay were admiring, but became steadily less so for Parts 2 and 3, and were mostly scornful by the time we got to Part 4, from which I quote above.

Much of the hostility from commenters arose because Mr Dahmer tries to have it both ways when it comes to defining who qualifies as a Gael. In Part 4 he is in anti-racist mode and proclaims that language is what counts and race has nothing to do with it:

…not all Gaels are white. Membership in the community of Gaelic identity has historically depended not on genetics or blood-quantum, but on being raised by Gaels in a Gaelic community. The child of a Gael, if raised with Gaelic traditions, is a Gael – whether born or adopted, and whatever the colour of their skin.

But that is spoilt by his having spent most of Part 1 saying that certain races have the right to forbid others to learn their languages:

Believers in social justice judge, rightly, that the Black community ‘owns’ those hairstyles, and can therefore decide who gets to wear them; just as members of the American Indian community have proprietary rights over their traditional regalia and any depictions, however caricatured, of their own bodies.”) The same logic applies equally well to all cultural artifacts, including languages, that make minoritized communities distinctive. If you belong to a cultural group which has been historically discriminated against, then you have a right to curate how members of more historically dominant cultures use your cultural artifacts, including the way you communicate.

After all that it was a surprise to learn that Mr Dahmer is from Kentucky. But it’s OK, he’s got a hall pass. In his LinkedIn profile he says, “I hope to help build a community of Scottish Gaelic speakers in Kentucky that will produce Gaelic-language-dominant households by 2050 and Kentucky-born fluent native speakers of Gaelic by 2060.”

I would be very happy if that happened. I am not holding my breath. I see no evidence that Mr Dahmer’s proposed strategy to bring Scots Gaelic back to life in either Kentucky or Scotland differs from the failing strategies being followed in Ireland, or in Wales or New Zealand.

The irony is that at one point Mr Dahmer does come close to thinking outside the paradigm that Gaelic will be saved by getting civil servants to translate the labels on the insides of the lids of council wheelie bins. In the passage I quoted at the beginning of this post, he said,

‘English-language-only’ was the explicit policy of the soul-destroying compulsory state schools to which indigenous people in every conquered land of the British and American Empires – including the occupied Scottish Highlands – were forced to send their children in order that they be divested of their ancestral cultures.

(Not just the conquered, old boy. Most of the conquerors’ kids got the same treatment.)

For a moment I thought he might be about to suggest that since compulsory state schools destroy souls and minority languages, we might consider no longer having compulsory state schools. It was a vain hope. All he wants to do is to arrange for his faction to decide the curriculum.

And the lesson for today is…

…from the Second Book of Kings, Chapter 20, Verses 12-19:

12 At that time Marduk-Baladan son of Baladan king of Babylon sent Hezekiah letters and a gift, because he had heard of Hezekiah’s illness. 

13 Hezekiah received the envoys and showed them all that was in his storehouses – the silver, the gold, the spices and the fine oil – his armoury and everything found among his treasures. There was nothing in his palace or in all his kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them.

14 Then Isaiah the prophet went to King Hezekiah and asked, ‘What did those men say, and where did they come from?’

‘From a distant land,’ Hezekiah replied. ‘They came from Babylon.’

15 The prophet asked, ‘What did they see in your palace?’

‘They saw everything in my palace,’ Hezekiah said. ‘There is nothing among my treasures that I did not show them.’

16 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, ‘Hear the word of the Lord: 

17 the time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your predecessors have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the Lord. 

18 And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.’

19 ‘The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,’ Hezekiah replied. For he thought, ‘Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?’

While I would not go so far as to claim this post was divinely inspired, 2 Kings 20: 12-19 actually was the lesson in a church service broadcast on Radio 3 on Wednesday morning. I caught a little of it while in the car heading down to Bisley to perform an activity that once would have been proudly described as contributing to national security. (Do not try this line now.)

Anyway, for some reason over the next few days I found myself paying a little more attention to news stories like this one from today’s South China Morning Post,

“US blacklists about 60 more Chinese firms including top chip maker SMIC and drone manufacturer DJI”,

…or to this one from the BBC two days ago, “Huawei: Uighur surveillance fears lead PR exec to quit”,

Or to any of a thousand others. But what is the lesson for today? What should we do about the threat from the People’s Republic of China? “War is the health of the state”, wrote Randolph Bourne, and cold war is its daily vitamin pill. It was not so long ago that people like me were enthusiasts for China’s turn to capitalism. I still am, mostly. Now that their rulers have cast off all but the fig leaf of communism, a significant fraction of the human race has been lifted out of poverty in my lifetime. The Chinese people are not free, but they are much more free than they were in the days when the Eight Revolutionary Operas were almost literally the only music allowed. I am happy for them.

Yet when I see that famous video of Joe Biden, the man soon to take up residence in the White House, jovially saying, “China is going to eat our lunch? Come on, man”, I cannot but remember the words of the prophet:

And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.’

‘The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,’ Hezekiah replied. For he thought, ‘Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?’

History repeats itself: alcohol prohibition in Bihar

The Indian news channel News 18 reports:

On April 1, 2016, Bihar was declared a dry state. The JD(U)-led government enforced a five-year jail term for first-time offenders. In 2018, the law was amended to introduce a fine for first-time offenders. The sweeping victory in 2015 was attributed to the support of women who felt addressed by Nitish’s push for prohibition in Bihar.

In America a century ago women hoped that prohibition would stop so many wives being beaten by their drunken husbands. But National Geographic tells the story of how

Women campaigned for Prohibition—then many changed their minds

As then in the US, so now in Bihar:

However, the factor may have worked against him this time.

A female voter in Muzaffarpur said, “Liquor is still being sold illegally in the state. Those selling it are getting prosperous by the day and those consuming it are getting ruined. Alcohol is being sold under wraps and consumed in every other house. Families are being devastated. The police are party to this as well. They allow alcohol to infiltrate borders. My son earns and wastes all the money in drinking. There has been no alcohol ban.”

And

In a letter to the state government last year, the Confederation of Indian Alcoholic Beverage Companies quoted data from Bihar police, National Crime Records Bureau and ministry of transport and highway to press home the point that the liquor ban in Bihar has not reduced crime. The letter states that the ban has also boosted the sale of bootlegged alcohol, fetching profit margins of 400 per cent, while the lucrative opportunity has led to the rise of a powerful liquor mafia.

Half of rural women in Bihar are illiterate. I cannot blame them for not knowing the story of how prohibition turned out in a faraway country a hundred years earlier:

How Prohibition Put the ‘Organized’ in Organized Crime

Kingpins like Al Capone were able to rake in up to $100 million each year thanks to the overwhelming business opportunity of illegal booze.

Modern-day prohibitionists in the rich world have no such excuse. Nor do Indian politicians such as the aforementioned Nitish Kumar, Chief Minister of Bihar. They can read. They have the internet. They can easily find out how this story always ends.