We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

In terms of the massively deluded concerning economics as we all know John McDonnell is one of life’s winners. Anyone who can possibly observe the past 40 years and decide that capitalism as failed is clearly, obviously, either nuts or ignorant. True, he saw through the Senior Lecturer but still. He is though insisting that a Labour victory, with those associated policies of uncompensated nationalisation, yet more of the country’s investment running through government, will raise the value of sterling.

This might, you know, not happen.

Tim Worstall

There is nothing new under the sun

“What has been will be again,” as it says in Ecclesiastes, “what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

Yesterday – to my shame I did not spot it until today – the Times reprinted a letter to the editor that was a century old to the day. I wish I could say that it was merely of historical interest.

From The Times July 15, 1919

To the Editor of The Times

Sir, Will you permit an elderly man, who is not a politician nor a public character, but merely an individual among millions of honest, sober persons whose liberty is attacked by a moral tyranny, to state an opinion with regard to the crusade against moderate drinkers? It is not needed even in the cause of morality. When I was a child excess in drinking was patent in every class of society. Now, in my wide circle, I do not know of one man or woman who is ever seen “under the influence of liquor”. Why not leave the process of moderation, so marked within 60 years, to pursue its normal course? It is untrue to say that a reasonable use of alcohol is injurious to mind, body or morality. My father, whose life was one of intense intellectual application, and who died from an accident in his 79th year, was the most rigidly conscientious evangelical I have ever known. He would have been astonished to learn that his claret and water at his midday meal, and his glass of Constantia at bedtime, were either sinful in themselves or provocative to sin in others.

There is no blessing upon those who invent offences for the pleasure of giving pain and who lay burdens on the liberty of others. We have seen attempts by the fantastically righteous to condemn those who eat meat, who go to see plays, who take walks on Sundays. The campaign against the sober use of wine and beer is on a footing with these efforts, and should be treated as they have been. Already tobacco is being forbidden to the clergy! The fact that Americans are leading the campaign should be regarded with alarm. We do not express an opinion, much less organize propaganda, against “dryness” in the United States. It is not for us to interfere in their domestic business. If Englishmen went round America urging Americans to defy their own laws and revolt against their customs, we should be very properly indignant. Let crusading Americans be taught the same reticence.

The propagandist teetotaler is active and unscrupulous. He fights with all weapons, whether they are clean or no. We must resist, without fear of consequences, the cruel and ignorant fanaticism of these apostles.

I am, Sir, your obedient servant,

EDMUND GOSSE

Spin off site: The Great Realignment

Samizdata is a site that writes about things from a primarily libertarian perspective (which means different things to different people, of course). But the issue firmly wedged in the minds of many people here is not a libertarian/non-libertarian issue, it is political, and it has split the samizdatistas much as it has split the UK.

Brexit.

Samizdata needs to get back to writing the kind of things it has always done, and will continue to do, but that does not mean the overtly political stuff is not worth saying… just not here. Not on samizdata. After much pondering, I have decided it just isn’t what this site should be about.

And that is why we now have The Great Realignment, an overtly political site in its very early days for all the various things that do not really fit on samizdata. It is not a replacement, it is a fork in our particular road. I believe that we are now entering a period in which many of the assumptions that have underpinned the UK’s political order are no longer true, but the politics we see have not yet adjusted to this uncertain half-glimpsed future. This is what we will be discussing, with a UK focus, but we may well look at similar realignments elsewhere.

Check it out.

Ulster for Beginners – Part I

A few months ago Karen Bradley, the Northern Ireland Secretary, revealed that she knew precious little about the unusual conditions that exist in Ulster. With the recent killing of a journalist by some version of the IRA and with the 50th anniversary of the beginning of “The Troubles” coming up, it would be useful to be in possession of a concise explanation of why Ulster is the way it is and how it got that way.

Fortunately, just such an explanation exists. In 1998, the Friends of the Union published an excellent little pamphlet entitled Ulster for Beginners. I know all about its excellence largely because I was responsible for writing it.

Luckily – or unluckily? – I have kept a computerised draft all these years. It’s a bit too long for a blog posting so I have broken it up into chunks. What follows is the first chunk along with comments [in square brackets] by my older – and hopefully wiser – self. I will put up further installments assuming there are not too many objections.

→ Continue reading: Ulster for Beginners – Part I

Tears before bedtime

“Widdecombe’s ‘outlandish’ EU speech leaves Green MEPs ‘in tears'”, reports Somerset Live.

A Green Party MEP has said that some of her colleagues were left “in tears” after a speech by Anne Widdecombe.

Widdecombe, Brexit Party MEP for the south west, stood up in front of the EU Parliament to give a speech today (July 4) as proceedings got underway following the appointment of Italian left-centre MEP David Maria-Sassoli’s as president.

The speech, branded “outlandish” and “shameful” by the Green Party, was cheered by fellow Brexit Party MEPs and others in the European Parliament.

Related posts: “Noooooooo!” and “Let’s get thrown out of the EU!”

If you can bear to watch the speech in question, Guido has video (TW).

Two takes on the decline of foreign languages in British schools

“Brexit ‘hitting foreign languages in schools'” says the BBC, quoting its kindred spirits in the British Council – which for those that don’t know is the Muggle Wizengamot a worthy body formed in the 1930s, a decade after the BBC, in order to promote British culture and the teaching of the English language abroad and of foreign languages in the UK.

Brexit is causing poorer children to fall further behind in learning foreign languages, says the British Council.

Parents in disadvantaged areas are telling teachers languages will be less useful after Brexit, it says.

The graph that comes with BBC story gives no support whatsoever to the claim that Brexit is hitting foreign languages in schools.

It is true that the number of English, Welsh and Northern Irish pupils taking a foreign language at GCSE level is in apparently inexorable decline. Why? Because of the rise of English as a world language. However the inexorable decline is, er…, exored at two points.

The first break in the downward slope of the graph comes about half a year after the introduction of the English Baccalaureate in 2010. Despite its name the Bacc is not an educational qualification. It is a performance measure that the government imposed on schools. The aim is to stop schools gaming the system by putting the pupils in for lots of easy exams. To this end schools, not pupils, are marked on how many pupils get decent grades in proper subjects, including foreign languages. “That which is measured, improves”, as the saying goes – and that explains the uptick after 2010. But by 2013 or so (the unmarked horizontal axis of that graph is an abomination) the downward trend returns.

The second, lesser pause in the decline happens about six months after Brexit. The line flattens. Allowing for the same time lag as followed the introduction of the English Baccalaureate, Brexit if anything seems to have stemmed the decline in numbers of British pupils studying foreign languages. Perhaps some kids calculate that if there will be fewer native speakers of those languages around to compete with after Brexit, then any linguistic skills they might obtain will be more in demand.

OK, OK, correlation is not causation. But at least that hypothesis actually has some correlation to wave a hand hopefully at, unlike the preferred hypothesis of the BBC and the British Council:

The British Council report also describes a shift in attitude, with some parents saying languages are “little use” as the UK is due to leave the European Union.

Teresa Tinsley, the report author, says secondary schools in poorer areas are reporting a very definite Brexit effect, which could lead to an even sharper decline in language learning.

Brexit has superpowers: it could do almost anything.

Scattered at random among the single-paragraph sentences of this BBC report there are two that point to a more likely possible culprit than Brexit-bourne viral xenophobia:

It warns that GCSEs and A-level languages in England are seen as being hard subjects in which to get a good grade.

and

It warns of growing concern that GCSEs and A-levels in modern foreign languages are seen as harder than other subjects.

That, unlike Brexit, is something they really do talk about at the school gates.

But why are the grade boundaries in language exams getting harsher? That is the point that the Times has chosen to focus on in its piece on the same British Council report: “Bilingual pupils distort results in language exams”

Schools are enabling pupils to take foreign language exams in their native tongue, making it harder for everyone else to get the top grades, a report has found.

The British Council’s annual Language Trend Survey found that more than 80 per cent of schools now arrange for pupils to take exams for the language they speak at home, with the most common being Polish and Portuguese. Often pupils need only a few lessons in exam technique rather than any formal lessons in the language itself.

In the report teachers expressed disquiet at this growing trend. “In some languages, for example Italian, the number of native speakers taking the GCSE and A-level exams are skewing the grade boundaries hugely — why is this allowed?” said one.

The finding comes alongside a warning by the British Council that the newly reformed and tougher GCSE and A levels were putting pupils off languages, with many believing they stand a far better chance of gaining top grades in almost any other subject.

I do not see any easy way round this. Any attempt to make separate exams for native and non-native speakers will be bedevilled by edge cases. And there is a harsh logic to the idea that if you hold an examination to measure how well someone speaks Italian, for example, then if it shows Italians speaking Italian better than all but a few non-Italians it probably means that the examination is functioning correctly. I certainly do not propose that the government shove its oar in.

I was merely interested to see what very different structures the BBC and the Times built upon the same foundation of that British Council report.

Added later: The Guardian’s treatment of the same story, “Brexit ‘putting pupils off modern foreign languages'” , displays the same oddities in its structure and choice of headline as did the BBC article. It briefly mentions that far more of the teachers surveyed cited the difficulty of the exams as the cause of the reduced interest from pupils in taking GCSEs in foreign languages than had cited Brexit. Then it goes on at length about Brexit.

While more than two-thirds of teachers surveyed by the British Council said the difficulty of the exams was causing concern, one in four said Brexit had “cast a pall” over pupils learning any foreign languages, with some parents actively discouraging their children.

Teachers told researchers that they have seen a shift in attitudes since the Brexit referendum, with one reporting: “We have had parents mention that they do not believe their son or daughter should be studying a language as it is little to no use to them now that we are leaving the European Union.”

Another teacher noted comments from pupils, “obviously heard at home, such as now we’ve left/are leaving the EU you won’t need this any more”.

Samizdata quote of the day

British companies, pension funds may have to report climate risks – Did you vote Tory thinking this is what you were supporting? Keep that in mind next time you are tempted to vote for the people doing this

– Perry de Havilland, commenting on this.

If it saves just one life…

We have to do it, right? Politico reports,

Some U.K. lawmakers think they’ve found a way to reduce British smoking deaths: Brexit.

Large numbers of British cigarette smokers will switch to vaping once the U.K. leaves the bloc, they argue, if looser British tobacco laws replace tighter EU limits on nicotine advertising and packaging.

Why is Russia trying to influence other countries’ elections by means of targeted advertising wrong?

“Nick Clegg denies misuse of Facebook influenced Brexit vote”, reports the Guardian.

Umm, okay. A lot of people are saying “Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?”.

Sir Nick Clegg, for those readers who have forgotten this rather forgettable chap, used to be leader of the Liberal Democrats and was Deputy Prime Minister for a while, back when the Lib Dems were in coalition with the Conservatives. He lost his seat in the 2017 election, which made him sad. Then he got a “communications” job with Facebook at a salary that probably made him feel better.

So nine years after Cleggmania, here he is back on our TV screens again. The Times report on the same story says,

The former Liberal Democrat leader said that social media could not be blamed for the vote to leave the European Union.

He said: “Much though I understand why people want to reduce that eruption in British politics to some kind of plot or conspiracy — or some use of new social media through opaque means — I’m afraid the roots to British Euroscepticism go very, very deep.”

Sir Nick added: “Yes, Facebook has a heavy responsibility to protect the integrity of elections from outside interference. I also think we have a duty to explain fact from some of the allegations that have been made.”

Calling for greater regulation of the internet, he said: “We forget that though these companies are huge and affect every aspect of our lives — our social lives, our business lives — nonetheless it has all happened in such a short period of time.

It is no surprise to find Nick Clegg “calling for “greater regulation of the internet”. Not only was more regulation of corporations his schtick when he was a politico, it also suits his current employers very well. Facebook can buy another twenty floors of lawyers whenever it needs them; struggling new startups cannot.

But to hear such a lifelong Europhile admit that the roots of British Euroscepticism go deep was a surprise. He is right. Russia’s puny efforts to interfere in the EU referendum were the equivalent of the eternally slandered King Canute calling the tide forward.

But in all this debate about how effective or ineffective Russia’s “outside interference” in the referendum was I have not yet heard a convincing explanation of what exactly is wrong with “outside interference” anyway.

I need not list the real crimes – waging unjust wars, murders, domestic repression – that can be laid at Putin’s door. On an infinitely smaller scale, making use of harvested data that people did not agree to make available is a bad if commonplace thing. But what is bad in principle about Russia trying to persuade British people to vote a particular way by advertising? Where did this idea come from that only British ideas are allowed to enter British brains during an election or referendum campaign? In a democracy you are allowed to vote on any criteria you like. You can vote for a candidate because you carefully researched his or her voting record and found that it best aligned with your political beliefs, or because your family has always voted for the Reds or the Blues, or because you think the candidate has nice eyes, or because your imam told you which way to vote, or because Vladimir Putin did. They all count equally. If we were to operate a system of Juche when it comes to political thought, would that not also exclude political ideas originating in the European Union?

The choice before us

The weekend papers have been dominated by the story of how Boris Johnson and his partner had a screaming row. Their neighbours called the police (defensible, possibly admirable), recorded the row (defensible – it might be required for evidence later)… and sold the recording to the Guardian.

The Times reports,

Revealed — the neighbours who taped Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds’s quarrel

The neighbours who called police about a row between Boris Johnson and his partner are Tom Penn and Eve Leigh, a left-wing dramatist who boasted only a few days before that she had “given the finger” to the former foreign secretary.

Penn, who broke cover after questions from The Sunday Times, voted against Brexit but insisted last night that he and his wife had not acted because of politics. He said they felt “frightened and concerned for the welfare of those involved”. Johnson’s partner, Carrie Symonds, was heard screaming, “Get off me” and “Get out of my flat.”

Penn said: “With my wife, [I] agreed that we should check on our neighbours. I knocked three times at their front door, but there was no response. I went back upstairs into my flat, and we agreed that we should call the police.”

However, he admitted that even after officers called back “to let us know that nobody was harmed”, the couple decided to pass a recording they had made of the incident to The Guardian newspaper.

Penn said: “I felt that it was of important public interest. I believe it is reasonable for someone who is likely to become our next prime minister to be held accountable for all of their words, actions, and behaviours.”

In the Times comments to this story “savetheplanet” said,

Leaving aside the rights and wrongs.

I’m being offered a world run by Boris (fortunately lazy and delegates) or Corbyn and folk like Tom and Eve .

Not a great choice but Logic says Boris is the lesser of those evils.

“It’s about all of us”

There’s an interesting video story on the BBC website today:

Spearmint Rhino strippers fighting for the right to strip

Feminist[s] campaigners have secretly filmed at the Spearmint Rhino strip club in Sheffield. They claim the recording shows sexual acts taking place in the club, which breaks the licensing rules.

Ella, a stripper at the club, is furious with Not Buying It for secretly filming dancers naked and fears losing her job as the club may now lose their licence.

But Dr Sasha Rakoff who assisted the secret filming insists this was the only way to expose the dark side of the industry.

My immediate sympathies were with Ella, but I can see both sides. I support the right of women (indeed the right of all people) to do what they like with their own bodies. On the other hand, the Spearmint Rhino club agreed to abide by certain rules about what could be done on the premises, and it does seem to me as if the covert filming by “Not Buying It” made a good case that those rules were being broken. I did not find Ella’s argument that the investigators had misunderstood what they saw entirely convincing. And it won’t wash to say that the conditions of the club’s licence were merely another example of state repression; though it would be better if they were voluntarily entered contracts between private parties, zoning rules of that broad type would probably still exist in a libertarian utopia.

Still, I found this statement from Dr Rakoff problematic:

Feminism, kind of like the rest of society has been somewhat infected by these really neo-liberal, really dumbed down, simplistic, very selfish attitudes that it’s all about me, me, me and what I choose and if I choose something it’s my right. That’s not what feminism has ever been about, it’s about all of us. So even if these women do choose to be lap dancers, it’s not just about them, it’s about wider social attitudes which is breeding Harvey Weinsteins.

So, according to Dr Rakoff feminism has never been about women’s individual choices. I had heard otherwise but perhaps that merely reflects my ignorance of modern feminism. As I said in a recent post, ‘I’m still holding on to the idea that “what a feminist looks like” can include what I see in the mirror. But it is getting harder.’

I would also like to know exactly who is included in the “all of us” she mentions as having some right to override an individual woman’s choice to be a lap dancer. All of humanity? Just the female half of it? Self-identified feminists? Or just those feminists who meet Dr Rakoff’s standard of feminism uninfected with neo-liberal selfishness?

Yes. But?

In the Spectator, Brendan O’Neill writes In defence of Jo Brand:

Brand’s comedy-crime was to say the following about the recent spate of milkshake attacks on politicians: ‘Why bother with a milkshake when you could get some battery acid?’ Boom-tish. Funny? I think so. I like Brand’s dry, deadpan wit, so to me it was funny to hear her jokingly propose something so wicked in her droll tones. Others will disagree. That’s subjective taste for you.

But what we surely cannot disagree on — unless we’ve taken leave of our senses, which I think we have — is that Brand was joking. We know she was joking for the following reasons: 1) she tells jokes for a living; 2) she said it on a comedy talk show; 3) she confirmed that it was a joke. ‘I’m not going to do it’, she said, clearly remembering that we live in humourless times in which people are constantly pouncing on someone’s words as proof of their violent intent. ‘It’s purely a fantasy’, she clarified.

And

Amazingly, people have been saying that in response to the Brand controversy. The same political figures, tweeters and tabloids who normally have a field day mocking soft leftists for crying over questionable jokes or edgy ideas are now demanding the censure of Jo Brand. You staggering hypocrites. What is sorely lacking in the free-speech debate today is consistency. The whole point of freedom of speech is that it must apply to everyone. If it doesn’t, then it isn’t free speech at all — it’s privileged speech, enjoyed by some, denied to others.

So here goes: Jo Brand must have the right to joke about throwing battery acid at politicians. Jimmy Carr must have the right to make rape jokes. Frankie Boyle should be free to make fun of people with Down’s syndrome. Boris is perfectly at liberty to say women in burqas look like letterboxes. People must be free to film their dogs doing Nazi salutes. Do you get it now? When it comes to mere words and ideas, no one should ever be censured, censored or punished for anything. Literally anything.

I do not hesitate to endorse the last paragraph (though I would delete the word “censured” from “no one should ever be censured, censored or punished for anything”) but in defence of the snowflakes of the Right who are making a fuss about this, could it not be said that they are only applying the fourth of Saul Alinsky’s famous Rules for Radicals, “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.”

A month ago the YouTuber and UKIP candidate Carl Benjamin a.k.a. Sargon of Akkad was investigated by the police for saying “I wouldn’t even rape you” to the Labour MP Jess Phillips. Someone called Steve on Twitter posted this clip of what Jo Brand said about Carl Benjamin then:

“I think it shocking that politics has been reduced to vile personal attacks… especially from a twat-faced beardy tiny-cocked tosser like him.”

She delivers the line rather well, but did not seem too concerned that Benjamin was being investigated by the police for making a crass but obviously not seriously intended threat to commit a crime. Technically it wasn’t even a threat; he said he wouldn’t rape Jess Phillips. Now the boot is on the other foot. If Carl Benjamin wants some quick brownie points he should ride out in Jo Brand’s defence like a non-rapey knight in shining armour.

I assume nearly everyone who reads this believes in free speech. In the present circumstances, what should we be doing to defend it? Should we take the high road, or apply Rule 4?