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]

I seek a software or sporting metaphor to explain why a second referendum would be wrong

When discussing Brexit I am often asked, not always disingenuously, “What is so wrong with having another referendum? Is not another vote more democratic by definition? Now that we know more, isn’t a good idea to check if people really do want to leave the European Union?”

I have been trying to think of a metaphor to explain what my objection to a second referendum is. The non-metaphorical explanation is that the government solemnly promised in the pamphlet sent to every household that whatever people voted for in the referendum of 23rd June 2016, “the government will implement what you decide”. A so-called democracy that will not allow certain results is a sham democracy.

(“Buuut,” comes the cry, “we aren’t disallowing any results. We’re just checking.”)

It was the European Union’s habit of ignoring or repeating referendums that gave the “wrong answer” which more than anything else turned me against it. I can truly say that even when it was in its infancy I foresaw that the trick of making a few cosmetic changes then running the referendum again would work devilishly well because it is difficult to describe in one sentence what is wrong with it. One can point out that it only ever seems to work one way: results of which the EU approves never seem to need to be confirmed. But to do that requires that you recite a whole chunk of history about Denmark and Ireland and the difference (clue: there wasn’t one) between the European Constitution and the Lisbon Treaty. If your interlocutor is young, as a lot of Europhiles are, then this is a lot to take in and a lot to take on trust.

I wish there were a quick, engaging story I could tell to show what I mean. Two possible types of anecdote occur to me, one from the world of sport and one from the world of computers. Being ignorant of both fields, I would like to ask readers if they know of anecdotes or examples from sporting history or computery stuff which would fit the bill.

Computers first: it infuriates me when the efforts of Microsoft or Samsung to get me to adopt their proprietary software seem almost to amount to harassment. I have a Samsung phone. One day this crappy thing called “Samsung internet” appeared on the front screen or whatever it’s called. I don’t recall that I ever asked for it but I cannot make it go away. To be honest I probably did ask for it in the sense that I once, once, failed to reject it on some occasion when some damn prompt asking me to take it popped up and I had to get rid of the pop-up quickly in order to get on with whatever I wanted to do.

That anecdote is probably wrong in its terminology. I may have been overly harsh to Samsung or its internet. The point is that this type of situation, where the user has to keep rejecting something that the software company is pushing, and if they slip up just once they are deemed to have accepted it, is widely recognized to be a right pain. Can anyone give me the words to make this a metaphor for why “neverendums” are a bad thing?

Or what about an example from the history of sport? Little though I know about sports, even I can see that there can be few things more frustrating for an athlete than to run the race of your life – and then have it announced that, “Oh, sorry, old chap, that was a false start. We’ll have to run it again.” This would be even worse if it were suspected that the sporting authorities had applied the rules in a partial manner. For instance there may have been times when white athletics officials were more prone to declare that a re-run was necessary if a black athlete won than if a white athlete did.

I may have described a similar situation regarding football in an earlier post I cannot find now.

Has this scenario actually happened? Dates, names and places please!

And if you know as little as I do of those two fields, how do you make the argument against a second referendum?

Or, if you prefer, what stories, anecdotes or metaphors do you use to argue in favour of a second referendum?

British pushback against the problem of transgender athletes competing in women’s events

News of interest on the Transgender Athletes front, from the BBC:

Dame Kelly Holmes, Paula Radcliffe and Sharron Davies say they are going to write to the International Olympic Committee asking for more research on the “residual benefits” of being a transgender athlete.

I don’t quite get why these transgender athletes bother. When all the medals in some “Women’s” athletic event go to transgender athletes, these athletes can bully us all into not calling them fake winners to their faces, but that’s what most of us will go on thinking. And I bet Martina Navratilova hasn’t changed what she actually thinks. Which may indeed be that “cheats” is not quite the right word. After all, these transgender athletes all played by the rules as currently written. It’s the rules that need updating. Maybe there should be a distinct athletic category of competitions for Transgender Athletes, distinct from regular women.

For athletes who transgender from male to female anyway. As the BBC notes drily:

Athletes who have transitioned from female to male can compete without restrictions.

But maybe they too need a separate category?

But what do I know about this ruckus? My basic point here is that some British women athletes of great renown have begun what looks like a significant pushback against something that seems to me and to many others to be a very silly sort of competition.

Hobbs mania: How a cartoon depiction of Mohammad provoked Muslim outrage – in 1925

I have begun reading Leo McKinstry’s book about Sir Jack Hobbs, whom he describes in his book’s subtitle as “England’s Greatest Cricketer”. So, greater than W.G. Grace then? That’s what McKinstry says, and he emphasises this by telling, at the beginning of his book, on pages 5 and 6 of the Introduction, about how Hobbs surpassed Grace’s record for the number of centuries scored by a batsman in top class cricket (“first class” cricket as we cricket people call it), and of what a sensation this caused in England. This happened several decades before cricket was toppled by soccer as England’s greatest sporting obsession.

Hobbs began the 1925 county cricket season scoring heavily, and the centuries piled up, a century being a personal score of a hundred or more runs by the one batsman. But as Hobbs neared Grace’s record of 126 centuries, and as press and public interest grew, the nerves cut in and started affecting the performances of the usually nerveless Hobbs. The centuries slowed to a trickle. Once, when he got out for 54 (which would normally be rated a decent score), Hobbs walked back to his home pavilion at Surrey’s Oval cricket ground in complete silence, so deep was the gloom and disappointment of the spectators.

But, Hobbs having got stuck within one century of the Grace record, Hobbs’s team, Surrey, were playing Somerset at Taunton. On the first day of that game, August 15th 1925, Somerset were dismissed cheaply and Hobbs reached 91 not out, just a handful of runs short of reaching the record. And the next morning, he inched his way to century number 126. Equality with Grace was apparently what mattered, rather than doing one better, and with the pressure off, Hobbs’s first class century number 127 followed in the second Surrey innings of that same game.

Cue the celebrations:

Across the nation, Hobbs was acclaimed as the greatest sportsman of his age. ‘Jack Hobbs has taken the sporting world by storm. In two days and the same match he has equalled and surpassed the greatest feat ever performed in the annals of cricket; declared the Daily Mirror. Even King George V, a monarch notorious for his gruff reticence, sent a fulsome message of congratulations from Balmoral via his secretary Lord Stamfordham, expressing ‘much pleasure’ at Hobbs’s ‘remarkable success, whereby you have established a new and greater record in the history of our National Game’. Nor could the non-cricket world ignore the event. ‘Britain welcomes a new cricket hero; the New York Times told its readers, explaining that, ‘England has been in something akin to ferment this summer.’ …

But then comes this:

… A ferment of a different sort arose in Britain’s Indian Empire in the wake of Hobbs’s triumph. On the day that Hobbs beat Grace’s record, the Star published a cartoon by the brilliant New Zealand-born illustrator David Low, later to be renowned for his savage depictions of the European dictators of the 1930s. This 1925 cartoon, which perfectly captured the Hobbs mania that had gripped Britain, showed the Surrey player, bat in hand, towering over a series of other historical figures, including Columbus, Lloyd George, Caesar and Charlie Chaplin. Fatefully, Low also inserted in the line-up the Prophet Muhammad, standing on a pedestal and gazing up at Hobbs. When the image appeared in the Indian papers, it caused fury in the Muslim population, not just because Islam regards any portrayal of the Prophet as sacrilegious, but also because Muhammad was placed in a position of inferiority to a mere cricketer. According to the Calcutta correspondent of the Morning Post, the Hobbs cartoon ‘convulsed many Muslims in speechless rage. Meetings were held and resolutions were passed.’ So serious was the problem that the Indian Viceroy, the Marquess of Reading, wrote to the Cabinet in London to convey the feelings of Muslim outrage.

I note with approval that the internet allows us to see what all this fury was about:

Google quickly showed me this cartoon reproduction, which is apparently to be found at the Mohammed Image Archive. There are many other depictions of Mohammed (that being the third version in this posting alone of how this personage is spelt) on view at the other end of that link, but I could not find the above cartoon, although presumably it is there somewhere.

Nor have I been able to determine whether Indian Muslims issued any death threats, against David Low or against anyone connected to or working for The Star. From the reference to “meetings and resolutions” I get the impression: not, or the death threats would have got a mention also. But I would love to know.

Discussion point: what to do about drones being used to disrupt air travel?

According to the BBC, ‘persons of interest’ have been identified as responsible for flying the drone or drones that shut down Gatwick airport. As it gradually became clear that this was going on too long to be the work of careless hobbyists or malicious pranksters, the profile of the crime (it disrupted air travel but did not kill anyone) made me think that “climate justice” activists might be responsible. The BBC article says that is indeed one of the lines of enquiry being pursued. Still, let us be no more hasty to jump to conclusions or to blame every environmentalist in existence for the possible crimes of one of their number than we would like them to be next time someone loosely describable as “on our side” commits a crime.

The more urgent problem is that now whoever it was has demonstrated the method, anyone can copy it.

Technically and legally what can be done to stop a repetition? What should be done? What should not be? If you are one of those who have enjoyed flying drones in a responsible manner, or who is developing ways to use drones for emergency or commercial use, start work on your arguments now, because, trust me, the calls to BAN ALL DRONES NOW are going to be loud.

Glenn Hoddle was treated abominably for his religious views

The football commenter and distinguished former player and manager Glenn Hoddle suffered a heart attack two days ago while at a London TV studio. His life was saved by a sound engineer who knew how to use a defibrillator, though he remains in a serious condition. I wish him well.

I do not follow football, but those who do might enjoy the appreciation of Hoddle’s career written for the Times by its sports writer Matthew Syed, “Glenn Hoddle a visionary whose face did not fit in muscular English game”:

Ray Clemence, the goalkeeper, would pass out to Steve Perryman, who would feed Hoddle. A glance up, and then the ball was off, curving into the path of the wide players, the move already in full swing. As Hoddle advanced up the pitch, he was like a grandmaster in lilywhite, seeing four moves ahead, making passes into space, and daring his team-mates to think differently.

Hoddle’s different way of thinking extended to matters other than football. Syed relates,

His managerial career for England ended in acrimony after he expressed controversial religious views. I felt then, and still feel, that he was treated abominably.

Hoddle’s reported view that disabled people are paying the price for sins in a previous life struck me as no less ridiculous or offensive than the theology I had been surrounded by as a youngster at church. The difference was that his views were unconventionally whacky, which is why he was not granted the latitude that would undoubtedly have been offered a Christian or Muslim. Tony Blair, whose religious views are as off the wall as anybody’s, called for him to resign. Hoddle said that his beliefs had been misrepresented, but by that stage, it hardly mattered. By the time he was sacked, it had become a witch-hunt.

Mr Syed’s views about religion are not mine, but when it comes to the unfairness of a man being hounded out of his job for religious beliefs unrelated to that job, and the double unfairness of the Prime Minister joining the mob, we are at one. (Blair’s bad example was followed by Cameron who also disgraced his office by denouncing a private citizen who had broken no law.) The links are all dead in the blogpost I wrote in 2004 in response to an article by Simon Barnes that placed Hoddle in the same bracket as the then head coach of the Spanish football team who had made racist remarks, but my opinion has not changed:

But there was one part of his [Simon Barnes’s] article that I thought was unfair. I quote:

“Glenn Hoddle was dismissed as England coach because he said things about the disabled that provoked a heart-felt reaction across the country. The head of the England football team just can’t go around saying things like that.”

No, he can’t. And that has the unfortunate consequence, particularly for those who oppose racism as Simon Barnes does, that until things change we can never have a Hindu coach for our football team. Hoddle’s belief in reincarnation and that misfortune in this life is the result of bad behaviour in past lives may be unusual for a white Briton but is orthodox for thousands of Britons of the Hindu religion. I have no doubt that Hoddle’s sacking had a chilling effect on Hindus striving for public eminence in all sorts of fields, not limited to sport.

and

I wish more prominent British Hindus had spoken out about this at the time of Hoddle’s exit – but I find it hard to blame them for their silence, given that it had just been demonstrated that people with their beliefs could be sacked for them to popular acclaim.

Brexit Britain fails to play the game

But not quite in the sense that the Telegraph‘s Brussels Correspondent, James Crisp, thinks.

He has written a piece entitled “Terrible translations of Brexit White Paper make Britain a laughing stock in Brussels”

British officials botched the translation of Theresa May’s discredited White Paper into European languages, part of a UK strategy to win concessions from Brussels, and failed to translate the document into Irish, despite being locked in fraught Brexit talks over Ireland’s border.

The paper’s executive summary, which Britain hopes to use to help solve the vexed border issue, has been translated, poorly, into 22 languages. The full 100-page document has only been translated into one other language, Welsh, which, unlike Irish, is not an official EU language.

After The Telegraph contacted the British Government, an Irish version was published on Thursday afternoon, two days after the other translations but the damage was already done. A DexEU spokeswoman said the translations were being published as they were finished.

Basic errors and amateurish negligence has not only wasted an opportunity to win hearts and minds on the Continent but will confirm Brussels’ worst suspicions about the government. It exposes, once again, how poorly the Department for Exiting the European Union understands Brussels, its priorities and its culture.

When Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, travelled to Dublin he made a point of addressing reporters in Irish. The gesture was appreciated in Dublin and left some in tears. The EU-27 governments have made it clear they will back Ireland to the hilt with senior figures insisting “we are all Irish”.

In contrast the tin-eared Brits considered the common courtesy of an Irish translation an afterthought.

We saw so many palaces and temples during our visit to Japan that they have merged in my mind. But in one of them, probably the former Imperial Palace at Kyoto, there was a fine recreation of a great daimyo awaiting an audience with the emperor. Etiquette (the sort enforced with swords) forbade him to stroll in and say, “Your Majesty, we need to talk” – even if the emperor needed and wanted to hear what he had to say. No, he had to wait for hours on his knees in a beautiful but austere anteroom, contemplating the painted screens. I thought of that daimyo with his knees aching under his perfectly arranged silk robe when I read Mr Crisp’s line, “It exposes, once again, how poorly the Department for Exiting the European Union understands Brussels, its priorities and its culture.” The priorities and culture of Tokugawa-period Kyoto required that the emperor’s symbolic importance be reinforced by making everyone wait for hours before business could be done. None of the usual reasons or excuses for being kept waiting applied. The wait was the point.

The priorities and culture of European Union-period Brussels require that every document be translated into a couple of dozen languages. I will focus on Irish in particular because for that language the divorce from the usual point of translation, to enable communication, is complete. Not one Irish parliamentarian or official actually needed the White Paper translated into Irish in order to understand it. Probably no more than a handful of them are even capable of reading it in Irish. Like the deference to the emperor in Kyoto when real power lay with the Shogun in Edo, the laborious process of translation into Irish before business can be done is all just a symbolic obeisance, a court ritual, a game.

The UK was never very good at this languages game and will drop it with relief once out of the EU. In contrast Ireland is firmly in the EU and plays the game better than anyone. (Though as I will argue later, this may not be to the advantage of the long term survival of Irish.) Although Irish has been an official language of the EU since 2007, it was only in 2015 that the the decision was taken to upgrade the language to a full working language of the European institutions. By 2022 it is hoped that the “derogation phase” during which the EU was let off the obligation to provide full translation or interpretation services for every document to and from Irish will be over.

The way things are going, the apotheosis of Irish as a full EU working language will coincide neatly with its death as a native language.

Many of the English – and even some of the Irish – shrug their shoulders at the prospect, and talk of “efficiency”. From what I have written so far you might think I was one of them. You would be wrong. I see language death as a tragedy. Quite apart from the loss of beauty, I fear a world unified under one language for the same reasons I fear a world unified under one government. If that last culture falls under the sway of a tyranny, there is nowhere else to flee, no one else to keep the flame alive.

For many reasons I would love to see the apparently inexorable slide towards extinction of more than half the languages spoken on Earth reversed. Alas, that shows no sign of happening. Naturally those who love their threatened language are moved when they hear a visiting foreigner make the effort to speak it. (Really, though, there was no need to burst into tears just because Donald Tusk memorised a few phrases. It was a nice gesture, but if that’s all it takes to get the Irish political class to fall at one’s feet, Theresa May ought to reinstate Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary and get him to do one of his linguistic party pieces.)

Naturally, too, those who love their threatened language want to see it enshrined in an official position of parity with the other languages of Europe. But “enshrined” is the word. Shrines are not raised to the living. The question comes unbidden: who actually reads the endless streams of EU documents translated so dutifully into Irish? I have a horrible suspicion that the answer is no one, no one at all. Lurking on forums discussing the future of the Irish language I have read well-argued claims that the exodus to Brussels of so many of the best-educated native Irish speakers is one of the factors causing the Gaeltachts, the Irish-speaking areas, to decline. It cements the perception – and helps make the perception fact – that for a young person with talent and ambition there is no life to be had in the Gaeltacht. What a strange life these exiles must have. They grow up in one of the few remaining parts of Ireland where the ancient tongue is still spoken in the streets. Presumably inspired by a wish to preserve that inheritance they study for many years to reach the high standards required to be a professional translator or interpreter, and their voices are no longer heard in those streets. Off to Brussels they go (plus a monthly trip to Strasbourg), where they speak beautiful Irish into headphones tuned into another channel and write less beautiful Irish about Section 6, sub-section 13, paragraph 1(a)(iv) of the Directive on This, That and The Other that not one human soul will ever read.

Football news for people who aren’t really interested in football

I hear there is a footballing tournament taking place.

Apparently the English team is not doing too badly, and some people feel happy about this. Naturally, the Guardian is on the case. Steve Bloomfield writes, “If this England team represents anyone, it’s the 48%: the remainers”

My favourite comment came from DunstanMc:

‘If this England team represents anyone, it’s the 48%: the remainers’

God I hope not. They lost.

Time to get some strawberries and think of Wimbledon

As is customary on these occasions, I would like to express the hope that it will be over quickly, and that everybody loses.

Seriously, though, if the British were serious about Brexit, they would stop playing and following this ridiculous and offensive round ball game that is so beloved of continental Europeans and Latin American thugocracies, and which in recent times has sold itself to the highest bidders in Russia and the Middle East, no matter how odious and disgusting. If you actually understood and realistically wanted to join the Anglosophere, you would disdain it. Certainly we in the rest of the English speaking world would have more respect for you if you did.

(Yes, I know you invented it. That’s not remotely the point).

Fair play in the Scottish Parliament

In 2011 the Scottish Government Executive* passed the stunningly illiberal Offensive Behaviour at Football Act. Judge it by its defenders: a Scottish National Party Member of the Scottish Parliament called John Mason said, “We should all know by now expressing political views is no longer acceptable at football matches.”

He framed the issue as if the only thing required of citizens was that they should keep up to date with the inexorable increase in what is deemed “unacceptable” (to whom is never specified). Once they know the rules, they will of course comply, so politics becomes merely a matter of Filch hammering up new decrees on Hogwarts wall.

Earlier posts on the same topic were “New stirrings at the Old Firm” and “Free speech for all (neds need not apply)”.

But, for once, a Ministry decree has been removed from the wall.

The BBC reports:

MSPs vote to repeal football bigotry law

MSPs have voted to repeal Scotland’s Offensive Behaviour at Football Act.

The legislation was passed by the then-majority SNP government in 2011 in a bid to crack down on sectarianism.

But all four opposition parties argued for it to be scrapped, saying it unfairly targets football fans and has failed to tackle the problem.

Ministers argued the move was “foolhardy” but were outvoted by 62 to 60, meaning the Football Act will be taken off the statute book in April.

The legislation has deeply divided opinion from the start, with those who support it saying it was needed to fight the scourge of sectarianism within Scottish football.

But opponents say the law treats football fans as “second class citizens”, and is not needed as police and the courts already had sufficient powers to deal with offensive behaviour.

They also claim that the law is badly worded, and therefore open to different interpretations of what is and is not “offensive behaviour”.

*As Sam Duncan S reminds me, in 2011 it had not yet decided got permission to call itself a Government. Added later: apologies again, Duncan S, not Sam Duncan. This post is jinxed.

Time for a spot of toxic masculinity

As we have seen recently, Formula 1 has decided to ban the practice of young ladies parading in the grid at the start of a motor race, on the grounds that such behaviour no longer has a place in the sport. Come to that, why not just ban very attractive people from sports events and moments such as parading in front completely, just so to protect the feelings of those less fortunately endowed by Mother Nature? The US tradition of cheerleaders clearly has to go. And if a bunch of people want to lead out footballers at a cup final, make surethey are either very young, old, and preferably covered up completely.) A number of women have been angered by the move.

Well, since modern race cars use engines that make less of a noise, presumably as all part of the kinder, gentler age we are supposed to enjoy, this all makes sense. I personally think that this doesn’t go far enough: how about curbing speeds in F1 to, say, 30 mph, so as to encourage more responsible use of scarce resources? And should all motor racing fans be forced to attend some sort of self-awareness course about the need to not objectify people as sex objects, or even get a mild arousal from seeing attractive members of the opposite sex? (OK, sarcasm alert.)

In the meantime, for those like me who will be visiting Le Mans in France this June, here is reminder of what this raucous motor racing is all about. Check out this video of a Ferrari 312 PB works car, dating from the early 1970s. The sound it makes is simply fabulous.

I don’t know if Le Mans has attractive women parading near the cars this year (it has in years gone by), but this is France, and for all its faults, some old traditions linger on. But for how long? I cannot help but wonder whether, in the case of F1 (the endurance race series of which Le Mans is a part is not in the same category) cultural considerations have played a part. F1 has been held in places such as Malaysia and Abu Dhabi, and the Muslim populations, with oil-wealth in their hands, may have argued for a ban at least in their jurisdictions. UBS, the Swiss bank, is at the moment global sponsor of the sport, but I have no idea whether the Zurich-listed lender put pressure on F1, although it may have done, in keeping with its staid Swiss image.

We live in Puritan times, and part of why I think F1 is harming itself is that motor sport is meant to be a bit naughty; driving a car at 200+mph around a track, making lots of noise, and with all that danger and sense of life, is totally against the current do-gooder mood. As the US journalist H L Mencken has said, a puritan is someone who worries that someone, somewhere, is happy.

German cyclists competing at this year’s Tour de France

Those with French-sounding first names:
Marcel Kittel
André Greipel
Simon Geschke
Emanuel Buchmann
Marcel Sieburg

Those with first names that could be either French or German:
Paul Martens
Christian Knees
Robert Wagner
Marcus Burghardt

Those with British-sounding first names:
Tony Martin
John Degenkolb
Rick Zabel

Those that don’t seem to fall into any of the above:
Nikias Arndt
Nils Politt
Jasha Sütterlin

Those with out-and-out, no-question-about-it, traditionally German first names:
Rüdiger Selig

Update: As of this afternoon both the Marcels are out. There is a lesson in there somewhere.

Samizdata quote of the day

“When you stop judging men by the content of their character, eventually you’ll run out of men of good character.”

Stephen Green, known to some as “Vodkapundit”, writing about more identity politics insanity over at Instapundit. Here is a link to the original article.