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]

Heresies of our time: that children should be taught to read music

As Trotsky never said about war, and only maybe said about the dialectic, “You may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you.”

Richard Morrison is the music critic of the Times and writes for BBC Music magazine. A man at the heart of the arts establishment, one might reasonably think. But he had an unsettling experience not long ago:

Do I talk rubbish? The thought crosses my mind frequently, but with particular force as I chaired a discussion at the annual conference of the people who run Britain’s orchestras. The talk turned to education and I expressed my fervent belief that teaching children to read music is the key that opens up everything.

First jolt: the music director of Arts Council England (ACE), no less, vehemently disagreed with me. Musical literacy doesn’t matter much, she declared. Second jolt: in the ensuing discussion not a single person spoke in my favour. More than 100 people were in the room, all engaged in running orchestras that depend on instrumentalists who can sight-read to an incredible level, and not one agreed that teaching children to read music was a good idea.

After the event I had coffee with someone in the audience. “Of course nobody sided with you,” she claimed. “Everyone here depends on ACE subsidy. Nobody will contradict publicly what the ACE music director says.”

This was not a singular event. As Mr Morrison writes in his Times article, “The arts world is tolerant, as long as you’re left wing and anti-Brexit”,

I wouldn’t recount this small personal trauma except that it suddenly seems so relevant. Today the excellent website ArtsProfessional published Freedom of Expression, a report based on a large survey it conducted last autumn into censorship and self-censorship in the cultural sector. By promising anonymity to participants, it has lifted the lid on a shocking state of affairs.

Here’s a sector that prides itself on tolerance and free speaking. In reality it seems that the opposite is true. Nearly 80 per cent of participants agreed that “workers in the arts who share controversial opinions risk being professionally ostracised”. You can speak freely within your arts organisation, it seems, only if you conform to a narrow set of political and social views.

Take Brexit. I knew that most arts people were fervently against it, but I didn’t realise how much pressure was put on pro-Brexiteers working in the arts to, basically, shut up. One participant claimed that “in our organisation those who voted to leave the EU have been ostracised”. Another noted that “17.4 million voted for Brexit”, but that “most of the opinions of these people, on many subjects, would lose them employment in the publicly funded arts sector”.

The “ArtsProfessional” survey he mentions was introduced here and the findings can be read here (subscription required).

I did wonder why teaching children to read music has come to be regarded as a bad thing. I suspect it is part of the same phenomenon that has caused the Oxford Classics faculty to propose dropping Homer and Virgil from the first part of an Oxford Classics degree.

The Oxford Student newspaper reports that it

…has been notified about a proposal by the Classics faculty to remove the study of Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Aeneid from the Mods syllabus, a decision which has surprised many across the faculty.

This proposal forms part of a series of reforms aimed to modernise the first stage of the Classics degree, known as Moderations (Mods), which take place during Hilary term of second year for all students taking Classics courses across the university.

The Mods course, which is assessed by a set of ten exams at the end of Hilary, has been increasingly criticised in recent years, due to the attainment gaps found between male and female candidates, as well as between candidates who have studied Latin and/or Greek to A-Level (Course I) and those who have not (Course II).

The removal of Virgil and Homer papers, which take up two out of the ten Mods papers, have been marketed as a move that will reduce the attainment gaps and thus improve access to the subject.

Educational “attainment gaps” between the official oppressors and the officially oppressed are to be avoided at all costs, except that of providing teaching of a high and even standard to all. What are they afraid of? When the Victorians saw an attainment gap between the upper and the labouring classes they did things like build a University for working people, funded by contributions from the meagre paypackets of quarrymen and farmers. When the early feminists saw an attainment gap between men and women they attained to such effect that the gender gap in the universities is now the other way round. They closed educational gaps by pushing upwards. We don’t even have the honesty to openly push downwards.

Samizdata quote of the day

The fact that British Indians have been so successful and have integrated into society should be celebrated by the left. Here is a story of migrants, refugees and their descendants making notable contributions to British public life – in business, politics, media, entertainment, sport and more.

However, the identitarian left is much more interested in keeping ethnic minorities locked into a perpetual state of victimhood. The values of personal responsibility, individual initiative and self-sufficiency, which run deep in British Indian communities, challenge the left’s grievance-driven narratives. The fact that British Indians have managed to thrive also calls the widespread notion of ‘white privilege’ into question.

Rakib Ehsan

“The real will of the people”

“A citizens’ assembly on climate is pointless”, writes Stephen Buranyi in the Guardian, “if the government won’t listen”.

Perhaps a better person than I am would not have split the quotation at precisely that point. But no one who uses the phrase the “real will of the people” has any call to complain about misrepresentation.

This is what Mr Buranyi says a “citizen’s assembly” is:

Its conceit is that it offers direct access to the real will of the people: 110 citizens – chosen to be representative of the British population – attend sessions where they are briefed by experts on the issue; they then come up with a set of policies to solve it.

“Conceit” indeed. Mr Buranyi’s complaint is that the elected government does not obey this body. I would complain if it did. I do not see why the very atypical 0.00016% of the UK population who agreed to participate in this Citizen’s Assembly lark have any better claim to mystically represent “the real will of the people” than 110 customers of your local Wetherspoons who turned up last Thursday for the Curry Club.

I hope so

Harry Miller: “This is a warershed moment for liberty”

The police response to an ex-officer’s allegedly transphobic tweets was unlawful, the High Court has ruled.

Harry Miller, from Lincolnshire, was contacted by Humberside Police in January last year after a complaint about his tweets.

He was told he had not committed a crime, but it would be recorded as a non-crime “hate incident”.

The court found the force’s actions were a “disproportionate interference” on his right to freedom of expression.

In a separate story from the one I quote above, the BBC goes on to report that

Mr Justice Julian Knowles said the effect of police turning up at Mr Miller’s place of work “because of his political opinions must not be underestimated”.

He added: “To do so would be to undervalue a cardinal democratic freedom.
“In this country we have never had a Cheka, a Gestapo or a Stasi. We have never lived in an Orwellian society.”

I did not know we still had judges like that.

Edit: This is the text of the judgement: Miller -v- College of Policing, 14 February 2020.

Samizdata quote of the day

The wise & incorruptible state can be trusted to decide what people are allowed to watch, read & listen to, no way would they abuse such capabilities once they are in place


– Perry de Havilland in response to this.

Bringing a criminal to justice at the cost of telling their victims what they would rather not have known

A horrible thought occurred to me while reading press accounts of the recent trial and conviction of Reynhard Sinaga, who may have been Britain’s most prolific rapist.

Sinaga’s modus operandi was as follows:

He would wait for men leaving nightclubs and bars before leading them to his flat, often offering them somewhere to have a drink or call a taxi. Giving them a drugged drink, believed to have been spiked with GHB, Sinaga would then assault the victims while they were unconscious and video the attack with a mobile phone.

In this fashion he got away with more than a hundred rapes because his victims did not know they had been raped. Finally,

In June 2017, his last victim, an 18-year old, regained consciousness during the rape, fought off his attacker, and reported the incident to the police. Sinaga was badly beaten and was taken to hospital, while police initially arrested his victim on suspicion of grievous bodily harm. Subsequent examination of Sinaga’s iPhone by the police led to the discovery of more than 3 terabytes of digital video evidence of his assaults and rapes. Many of his victims were traceable because Sinaga kept their phones, watches, ID cards, etc., and he had used social media to reach his unknowing victims online.

Note the word “unknowing”. The horrible thought that occurred to me was this: some (not all, but a substantial number) of Sinaga’s victims have said that their lives were seriously damaged by the police tracing them and telling them that they had been raped while drugged and unconscious. They would have preferred not to know. More painful yet, the fact that they had been raped became public knowledge at the trial. But if the police had not traced Sinaga’s victims and marshalled the evidence against him for the judge and the jury to see, he would have been able to continue with his crimes indefinitely.

In the end, I would say that in Sinaga’s case the public interest had to take precedence: he had to be stopped. Yet I think that situations could occur where it might be justifiable to let a criminal go unpunished in order to save his or her unknowing victims from the pain of discovering that they had been wronged.

Samizdata quote of the day

The reason John Bercow doesn’t deserve to be honoured isn’t because he picked the wrong side. It’s because he picked a side.

Toby Young

Bercow is the recently removed Speaker of the House of Commons. The Speaker is supposed to be a referee, not a player. Bercow says there’s a conspiracy to keep him out of the House of Lords. I hope that there is, and that it succeeds.

Samizdata quote of the day

Isn’t it time to tell our elites: “Enough!”

The battle for Brexit appears to have been won. The battle to save the internal combustion engine – and, more generally, to stop a regression to the eighteenth century – may be upon us.

– Schrodinger’s Dog

Samizdata quote of the day

If the non-internal combustion engine cars were to be wondrous by that point then there’d be no need to ban them. For everyone would be purchasing them as a matter of choice. The only reason to ban people from purchasing ICEs is because they would be chosen given how appalling the alternatives are all going to be.

The ban is thus an admission – and insistence – from government that non-ICE cars are going to remain pretty terrible. But we’re going to be forced to have them, aren’t we the lucky ones?

Tim Worstall

Hello, I’m Dr Google and I’m here to look after you

John Harris is one of the Guardian‘s best journalists. He is a left winger who wanted to remain in the EU, but the series of video reports by him and John Domokos called “Anywhere but Westminster” showed their determination to literally and figuratively move outside their comfort zone on the issue of Brexit.

Now he has turned his attention to a new subject: health apps and Big Data in the age of the Internet of Things.

Will having longer, healthier lives be worth losing the most basic kinds of privacy?

The deal has yet to be approved by the relevant regulators, but Google has got most of the way to buying Fitbit – the maker of wearable devices that track people’s sleep, heart rates, activity levels and more. And all for a trifling $2.1bn (£1.6bn).The upshot is yet another step forward in Google’s quest to break into big tech’s next frontier: healthcare.

Last month, in a Financial Times feature about all this, came a remarkable quote from a partner at Health Advances, a Massachusetts-based tech consulting company. Wearables, he reckoned, would be only one small part of the ensuing story: just as important were – and no guffawing at the back, please – “bedside devices, under-mattress sensors, [and] sensors integrated into toilet seats”. Such inventions, it was explained, can “get even closer to you than your smartphone, and detect conditions such as depression or heart-rate variability”.

Most people here will probably think that the article and even more so the comments give too much weight to the creepiness of private corporations monitoring your every breath and too little to the creepiness of the NHS doing it. But even the biggest fans of capitalism can feel unease at anyone having this level of knowledge of the most intimate aspects of our lives. (Time was it was only little green men from flying saucers who had such a probing interest.) Nowadays both the private and the public sectors are amassing data, and whichever of them gets a comprehensive health surveillance system working first will promptly sell it to the other.

Then again, before you declare that you will never allow the Internet of Things anywhere near your body, read this comment from “ID20857”:

A few months ago my Mum had a stroke. She is now paralysed down half of her body and confined to a wheelchair. I’m sure if she had the option of an early warning which could have prevented her stroke she wouldn’t give a f**k about her privacy.

Name me one good thing about Brexit…

Start with this:

Article 13: UK will not implement EU copyright law

Universities and Science Minister Chris Skidmore has said that the UK will not implement the EU Copyright Directive after the country leaves the EU.

Several companies have criticised the law, which would hold them accountable for not removing copyrighted content uploaded by users, if it is passed.

EU member states have until 7 June 2021 to implement the new reforms, but the UK will have left the EU by then.

The UK was among 19 nations that initially supported the law.

That was in its final European Council vote in April 2019.

This Samizdata post from March 2019 contains a list of links to other posts that give the background.

Has the BBC stopped putting bromide in its actors’ tea?

First it was Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes. Now actor-songwriter Laurence Fox has veered off the script as well.

A few days ago Fox appeared as the token sleb on the BBC’s political panel show Question Time. Whereupon…

Laurence Fox in racism row over Meghan Markle on Question Time (from the Daily Telegraph on YouTube)

Laurence Fox’s Best Question Time Moments: Climate, Markle, Racism and Labour Leadership (Guido Fawkes)

The entire episode of Question Time (BBC iPlayer)

It was fantastic for Mr Fox. He doubled his Twitter following overnight.

The actors’ union Equity helped spread the story by calling on actors to “unequivocally denounce” their fellow. Yes, those exact words. Equity has now backtracked, but it went to prove Mr Fox’s point.

Oh, and Lily Allen has told Fox to stick to acting “instead of ranting about things you don’t know about”.