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]

“A resumption of normal service”

The Telegraph has a scoop. This might not go down too well in the working class areas:

Exclusive: Philip Hammond tells business chiefs MPs will stop no-deal Brexit

Philip Hammond told business leaders that the “threat” of a no-deal Brexit could be taken “off the table” within days and potentially lead to Article 50 “rescinded”, a leaked recording of a conference call reveals.

The Chancellor set out how a backbench Bill could effectively be used to stop any prospect of no deal. He suggested that ministers may even back the plan when asked for an “assurance” by the head of Tesco that the Government would not oppose the motion.

He claimed next week’s Bill, which could force the Government to extend Article 50, was likely to win support and act as the “ultimate backstop” against a no-deal Brexit, as a “large majority in the Commons is opposed to no deal under any circumstances”.

A recording of the call, passed to The Daily Telegraph, recounts how the Chancellor, Greg Clark, the Business Secretary, and Stephen Barclay, the Brexit Secretary, spent nearly an hour talking to the leaders of 330 leading firms.

They included the heads of Siemens, Amazon, Scottish Power, Tesco and BP, all of whom warned against no deal.

The disclosure reveals the close nature of the relationship between the Treasury and some of Britain’s biggest businesses, and how they appear to be working in tandem to block a hard Brexit. It will also add to suspicions that Mr Hammond has been orchestrating attempts to soften Brexit.

Mr Hammond assured the business leaders that the Government would stop spending money on no-deal preparations “as soon as we know we are not going there” and give businesses “a resumption of normal service”.

So the Chancellor of the Exchequer sees himself as serving the heads of Siemens, Amazon, Scottish Power, BP and Tesco, among others. Perhaps I am reading too much into one ill-chosen word, but that is not a good look. If he had not used that word it would still not be a good look. The whole conversation, the whole meeting, reeks of the sort of black-tie cronyism that gives capitalism a bad name.

Death to English!

As part of my homework for this, I read, and have carried on reading since, a book by David Crystal entitled English as a Global Language. I’m enjoying it, and I especially enjoyed this (on page 90 of my paperback edition):

International politics operates at several levels and in many different ways, but the presence of English is usually not far away. A political protest may surface in the form of an official question to a government minister, a peaceful lobby outside an embassy, a street riot, or a bomb. When the television cameras present the event to a world audience, it is notable how often a message in English can be seen on a banner or placard as part of the occasion. Whatever the mother tongue of the protesters, they know that their cause will gain maximum impact if it is expressed through the medium of English. A famous instance of this occurred a few years ago in India, where a march supporting Hindi and opposing English was seen on world television: most of the banners were in Hindi, but one astute marcher carried a prominent sign which read ‘Death to English’ – thereby enabling the voice of his group to reach much further around the world than would otherwise have been possible.

Crystal dates the rise of English, from a merely big language among other big languages to its current status as the clear front-runner for global linguistic hegemony, from the immediate post World War 2 period. I recall noticing the phenomenon some time in the 1960s, when, in Youth Hostels in continental Europe, I observed conversations between groups of Europeans (not all of them Scandinavians, by the way) in their teens and twenties, not one of whom (I have a pretty good ear for accents) was speaking English as his or her first language. Interesting, I thought. And having become interested in where English seemed to be going, I became interested also in where it had come from.

The global English story is more complicated than just the matter of educated non-Anglos communicating by means of standard English, and Crystal seems to me to tell it very well, with lots of maps and historical details of how English spread in this or that particular place.

Crystal himself is anything but an English linquistic triumphalist. He lives and works in Holyhead, in North Wales, North Wales being the part of Wales where the Welsh language is strongest. Although Crystal is a major figure in linguistics and in English teaching, I have been unable to discover how fluent he is in Welsh. But as an academic whose basic tool is the English language, he entirely gets why English has gone global. It’s just so useful, for communicating with other people.

Zimbabwean currency basket (case)

A visit to Africa a few months ago produced many, many pictures of wild scenery and wilder animals – and this picture of civilisation after socialism.

BasketOfTenBillionDollarNotes

In times of inflation, you carry your money to the shop in a basket and carry your purchase home in your wallet. In times of socialist inflation, each note in the basket is for tens of billions. There is a rumour that Zimbabwe will imitate Venezuela and remove some of the zeros. (There is another rumour that says that this had already happened.) The socialist Mugabe is gone but socialism lingers on. I fear Kipling’s poem is not quite right:

But though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said, “If you don’t work, you die.”

Socialism doesn’t work but it also doesn’t die. Socialism is the modern name of an ancient evil that in every generation resurrects and must be slain again.

Was I gullible to believe in Tory cynicism?

Ever since Gove messed up the election of a leave leader, my confidence that the Tories would nevertheless deliver Brexit rested less on the belief that the parliamentary party contained more leavers than full-blown remoaners than on the conviction that it contained many who just wanted to win the next election. Cameron’s referendum to deal with the internal and external (UKIP) threat to Tory electoral prospects ended not as he intended, but it offered such MPs a very obvious path forward. Likewise, when May demonstrated her ability to reduce a poll-lead healthily exceeding 20% to a result just exceeding 2% (over Corbyn, of all people), my belief that the Tories would not risk another election under her leadership rested solidly on my faith in how many Tory MPs wanted first and foremost to win.

For now, it is all still to play for. Firstly, if there are as many letters written as rumoured, yet such as David Davis are still thinking about it, then Mogg’s “this week or next” remains on the table – and I quite see that the rule ensuring May a challenge-free year if she survives a vote is a very good reason for caution in the run-up to launching one. Secondly, when May’s incompetence made her dependent on the DUP for her majority, I thought it good for one reason; I now also think it good for another. Thirdly, if all else fails, reality could still prove wiser than parliament and deliver us a no-deal Brexit through their sheer inability to agree anything decisive in a timely fashion.

All that said, I am beginning to question my faith in the “focus on winning” cynicism of a sufficient majority of Tory MPs. It is one thing to think that enough Tory MPs to keep May as leader could betray their voters, their party, their principles and the most emphatic statements of their 2017 manifesto (and her leadership campaign), but it shakes me to the core to find myself wondering if they could choose the electoral death ride of May campaigning on this deal rather than follow a leaver. I’m glad that a majority of back-bench MPs seem to be interested in retaining the votes of the ‘swivel-eyed loons’ so derided by Cameron, Osborne, and now May, but just how many others would rather lose than be unfriended in SWI ?

Natalie once stated she would endure a Corbyn government rather than stay in the EU. I have always felt much sympathy for the wretched situation of Slavs who found themselves fighting for Stalin against Hitler as the only alternative to Hitler’s winning, and it is with similar feelings that I do see her point (if, that is, we could even rely on their being alternatives). However we should be able to do better than that.

The elephant with more sense than to be in the room

After the armistice centenary celebrations, Macron is hosting some kind of talking shop about ‘peace’ for his fellow European leaders. Wisely, Trump has decided not to attend. (He’s already done his bit for European peace by extorting from Macron a verbal acknowledgement that Europe should do more for its own defence. We’ll see whether that amounts to anything in practice.)

The chattering classes love the saying that generals prepare to fight the last war, not the next one. Sadly, they rarely ask whether they themselves are trying to avoid the last war, not the next one. After 1918, many western leaders tried so very hard to avoid WWI that they greatly helped Hitler bring about the very different WWII. (The UK had a pacifist prime minister and pacifist leader of the opposition during Adolf’s first three years.) Now Merkel and co. are trying to avoid yesterday’s wars by enforcing ‘hate speech’ laws on every questioner of the PC consensus they can mischaracterise as a blond blue-eyed lover of the nordic race. Even if we did not know how Weimar Germany’s similar use of similar laws worked out, it would still be a great way to avoid the problems of the past by encouraging the problems of the future.

At least Americans choose top judges in public

One thought that I have about the whole furore about the Supreme Court and Kavanagh (no, I am not going over the whole bloody thing now) is that the US system is so much more public than in other countries that have something such as a Supreme Court, or bench of wise men/women who get to opine or even rule on constitutional matters. We have our Law Lords in the UK, and indeed the House of Lords (chosen by the government as there aren’t hereditary peers any more). As far as I know Law Lords are appointed from within the legal system and it is not entirely clear who specifically gets to pick them or approve the Law Lords. As for France, it has a Constitutional Council, members of whom are senior retired political folk and others who must be approved by the French parliament. What is interesting in the French case is that I don’t recall much media coverage of the hearings, even allowing for the often lousy state of British coverage of French public affairs (you would think a country a few miles across the English Channel and with whom we have traded, and occasionally defeated or liberated in wars might get a bit more attention). Germany has a federal constitutional court, and the gift of membership to this body is held in the hands of the Bundestag and by the Bundesrat (this body represents the state parliaments at the federal level).

All these systems have their merits, quite possibly, but what is certainly striking to my eyes is that it is only in the US that the decision as to who gets on the bench or not seems to be a matter of great media and public interest. In part, I suspect, this is because of how membership is in the gift, at least in the initial proposed stage, of the President. The US Supreme Court has issued major decisions down the decades, as momentous as Roe Vs Wade, Kelo (a big eminent domain case) and Dred Scott, to name just three. It seems also a more public system, whereas I get the impression that when a judge takes his or her seat in a European country, it registers as much public response as the daily announcement of the shipping forecast. And that, I think, speaks much to the more vigorous temper of American public life. It may not feel like this at the moment, but at least the raucous nature of American public life speaks to a certain health. In Europe, by contrast, so much of what happens resembles one of those dull zombie films of the 1970s or 80s.

The EU really doesn’t like tech – can we leave yet?

“In an almost direct clash of intentions, the GDPR has effectively banned the use of blockchain technology in Europe because of its immutable nature. The GDPR offers the power back to the individual to edit and delete data which falls into the hands of centralized authorities, but when there is no centralized authority, there is no need for data to be moved around. This is the crux of the GDPR’s clash with blockchain. So, what happens to Europe and the next technological wave?”

Darryn Pollock, columnist for Forbes.

The “blockchain” technology is a distributed ledger that allows information to be securely transferred without the need for third-party authentication, which could mean that many of the settlement and custody functions provided by banks – the sort of “plumbing” of finance we take for granted – could be done far faster, and at less cost. Although the crypto currencies that sit atop of this technology have their fair share of sceptics, the blockchain tech. is seen by banks as a potentially revolutionary one. While people complain that some London-based jobs could leave London if the UK has a clean Brexit and leaves the Customs Union (not to be confused with access to the European market as such), I would wager that blockchain will be far more important in affecting financial employment overall.

And yet the EU, with its usual plodding, bovine way, has enacted data protection rules (GDPR) that could blight this new technology, as well – as we have already seen – add layers of costs to organisations of all kinds. Coupled with the recent vote by MEPs to impose intrusive and costly controls on the internet, I’d hope that all those Millennials whom we are told are full of so much love for Brussels might wake up. This doesn’t of course mean that British politicians aren’t capable of enacting plenty of daft laws, but it’s usually a sight easier to lobby for change at a national level than try to persuade hundreds of millions of voters in 28 countries to change.

So as Tim Worstall likes to argue: can we leave yet?

“A student at the preschool I work at is only being taught a fictional language”

That was the title of a request for legal advice submitted to Reddit by someone with the user name “HelpfulButterscotch2”. Here is the whole post:

[CA] A student at the preschool I work at is only being taught a fictional language

I’m twenty, and I work part-time as an assistant at a small daycare in California.

There is a four year old who speaks very very little and poor English. Knows the most basic of words but is at the level of maybe a two year old English-wise compared to the other kids, including several who are both native Spanish/English speakers. Basically knows “yes”, “no”, “juice”, etc.

He’s only been here for less than a month and I’ve seen his incredibly limited vocab double in that time. I’m embarrassed to say it but I’m very uneducated about this type of thing and I thought he was speaking Portuguese or something similar up until last week. The kids are split into small groups by age and I’m usually not in charge of his group unless it’s at the end of the day, in my defense.

The hosts of the daycare are very into nerd culture and some of the daycare is very decorated with (child friendly) sci-fi and fantasy stuff. I’m not too into it myself but I like listening to them and I (usually) like their passion.

One day I was curious what language the child was speaking so I looked up what Portuguese actually sounded like and realized it wasn’t that. Looked up a lot of languages and for the life of me could not identify it. The single dad who picked him up looked like a nice dude and one day he was one of the last people to pick up that day so I asked him what language his kid spoke.

The bosses of the daycare were there too when I asked and they all suddenly got big smiles on their faces and explained to me in depth that the guy was a linguistics hobbyist who was trying to recreate an experiment where he raises his kid to speak a language from the tv show Star Trek (klingon.)

He explained how at home he only has spoken Klingon (which is apparently a real full language) to the kid and that’s all he knows. My bosses LOVE that he is doing this and he does too, he told me to look up the experiment and read about it. My bosses even learned a small bit of the language themselves so that when they talk to the kid they don’t say it.

It sounded kinda cool at the time but I didn’t really think about it too much. When I looked it up I found out that the guy who did it taught his kid Klingon AND English at the same time. I assumed that this guy was doing the same and I just misunderstood but when I clarified next time he confirmed that the kid was ONLY being taught Klingon on purpose and he was going to try and continue the “experiment” for as long as possible.

He also told me about his blog and I checked it out where he describes this all and he basically states in it that he is fully aware that this will make it “slightly” hard for the kid to speak english later but that the experience is worth it. He even has limited the kids intake of media very severely so far to avoid shows with a lot of speaking/words.

The kid is fairly isolated and generally acts a bit socially “off”, if I can say that without being mean. Not like misbehaving but he clearly has small issues interacting with kids his age who all talk a lot already.

I’ve brought it up casually with my bosses but they basically love this dude and what he is doing and don’t see a problem with it. I feel terrible but I feel like I should report this? Is this child abuse? This guy basically is mispurposely not teaching his kid to how to interact with other people for the level of “it’s just a social experiment bro”, it’s nuts to me.

If I’m wrong and this isn’t dangerous I apologize. It feels awful to me though. I like my job otherwise but if I had to lose it for this i could find another one, have some savings, i feel too bad for this kid.

That is eerily similar to the scenario I imagined a couple of years ago in a post called “The morality of not teaching your child English”. I started by asking whether it would be wrong to raise your child to speak only Welsh. No, I answered. “Welsh has over half a million speakers and a magnificent corpus of poetry, literature and song. Speaking Welsh alone does not remotely count as linguistic imprisonment”. Then I asked the question again for languages with smaller and smaller numbers of speakers. 50,000? 5,000? 500? That last figure is about the number of Cornish speakers. I wrote:

Very recently the Cornish language has been revived. 557 speakers claim it as their main language, 20 young children are native speakers. Let me stress that in real life all of these children are being brought up to be bilingual in Cornish and English. But when you get down to a group of that size and imagine its children being brought up monolingually, the mental walls do begin to close in.

How small would the village be before it became a prison?

The specific example of Klingon was brought up in comments by William H Stoddard. He cited the fairly well-known case (also mentioned by “HelpfulButterscotch2”) of another child who was taught Klingon from babyhood by his father back in the 1990s, but – and this is a crucial distinction – that child’s mother spoke to him in English. As I said,

…when the child began to notice that the people he met outside didn’t speak this language he began to stop talking in it (a common way for attempts to raise bilingual children to break down, as I’m sure you know), and the father did not persist and risk damaging his relationship with the child. It was getting to be a pain for the father too, as Klingon doesn’t have equivalents for a lot of the everyday English words that the boy was meeting as his world expanded. Given that the child also learned English, the only ethical issue, and a much smaller one, was whether one should make one’s child mildly famous as an experiment.

At the time I had reservations about naming the child, but without need. The story of how d’Armond Speers tried to raise his son to be bilingual in Klingon and English is all over the internet. Stephen Fry interviewed him. The son is grown up now, speaks English normally, and has forgotten his Klingon.

But the child described by “HelpfulButterscotch2” has not been raised to speak a conlang alongside English. He has only been exposed to the artificial language and, if the post is to be believed, has been prevented from learning English. Though to be fair that isolation from English has now ceased, given that he now goes to a normal US preschool.

In principle it should make no difference whether the language the child is being raised in is a conlang or a natural language. Esperanto is a constructed language, but it has had quite a few native speakers, usually the children of parents from different countries who met at Esperanto conferences. Apparently Esperanto was the mother tongue of the financier George Soros. It does not seem to have held him back. However one problem with Klingon that d’Armond Speers mentioned in his interview with Stephen Fry is that, compared to Esperanto which has been going for well over a century and has several million speakers, Klingon is the work of one man and has a limited vocabulary. That point was made even by the conlanging enthusiasts who discussed this story when it was cross-posted to the subreddit dealing with constructed languages, /r/conlangs. The general reaction there was disquiet. The top comment is by “chrevs” and reads,

It’d be different if he was being raised as bilingual, but he’s stunting the kid’s ability to to get on where he lives. Not to mention that if things were to be going horribly wrong at home, like his father decides he also needs to be practicing the kind of ritual combat the Klingon do, the kid can’t express that he’s in danger to teachers or other trusted adults. It’s not okay

Another commenter called “Esosorum” says,

I worry that, from a biological perspective, this child’s brain isn’t experiencing language-acquisition the way it was meant to. I just don’t think conlangs have as much to offer as natural languages. I don’t disagree that conlangs can be wonderfully expressive and complex, but natural language is rooted in culture in a way that a conlang can’t be.

It could be that the post by HelpfulButterscotch2 is not to be believed. It was submitted under a pseudonym and the author joined Reddit one day before submitting it. That means that we are not in a position to get a feel for their sincerity (and sanity) by looking at their comment history. I find it curious that there is no link provided to the blog where the father of the boy is claimed to describe what he is doing. Some people do take an odd pleasure in passing off bizarre fictions as truth just for the buzz. On the other hand having joined Reddit one day ago is not inconsistent with a person not knowing who else to turn to for advice about a situation that worries them deeply. Equally, HelpfulButterscotch2 may be sincere but have misunderstood the situation. I hope so.

But assuming that this is really happening as described, it does raise some sharp questions for Libertarians. When do we get on the phone and send the state sweeping in to “save” a child from their parents?

The IEA’s prescription for Brexit

Some critics of Leavers from the EU like to claim that Leavers don’t spell out the details of what Leave would mean, although that always struck me as disingenuous. Even so, it is good that the Institute of Economic Affairs has issued a paper on what a pro-liberty, pro-free market Brexit will look like:

“We have looked at Brexit in the wrong way, and in so doing we have hampered our ability to get a good deal with the EU. We must execute an independent trade and regulatory policy in order to capture gains from this process, and also to ensure that we have a better framework for negotiations with the EU. This plan offers comprehensive approach which shouldn’t be considered a ‘Plan B’, but rather a ‘Plan A+’ for Brexit.”

So says Shanker Singham, the Director of the IEA’s International Trade and Competition Unit, and co-author of the new IEA paper.

There is a lot of detail to chew over, but this is pretty manageable and sensible from where I can see it. The proposals ought, surely, to be studied closely by government ministers and it would be indeed scandalous if they have not been before. And that, of course, is the worry: Theresa May has, perhaps only now, come to a realisation that a “Brexit in name only” fudge is electoral suicide and a no-go diplomatically.

As an aside, three separate people, all Remainers, told me over the weekend that they were so disgusted by the blank refusal of EU heads of state to even bother considering May’s Chequers plan that it has made them feel that, if a referendum were held again, they’d vote Leave. These views are those of Londoners who work closely with the City, and have been the sort giving the EU the benefit of the doubt in the past. They no longer do so. That’s important.

Moderation is often not the best policy

“It’s a crowded space, this search for the so called moderate centre ground. It is defined as going back to Brussels, saying we are sorry for ever thinking of leaving, and accepting the full swathe of laws, taxes, budgets and common policies that characterise the modern EU. What ever is either moderate or democratic about such an agenda? How is it democratic for more and more laws to be made behind closed doors, drafted by officials we cannot sack or make accountable, and approved by Ministers from 27 countries under pressure not to rock the boat? What is liberal about the austerity policies of the EU’s budget controls, requiring higher taxes, lower spending and lower deficits from countries mired in unemployment in the south and west of the EU? How is the EU’s policy of helping pay for Turkey’s heavily defended borders with the Middle East moderate? What is green about the fishing discard policy or the dash for diesel and the reliance on coal for power by Germany? Why does everything proposed by the EU get through without a whisper of criticism? When will they apologise for the huge damage the Exchange Rate Mechanism did to the livelihoods and businesses of many in the UK, or for the revenge the Euro crisis visited on Cyprus, Greece, Ireland and Spain?”

John Redwood.

A very good article, even if you might not agree with all of Mr Redwood’s politics. His observation that “moderate” Labour MPs (they still want to seize private property, tax us up to the neck and so on) are caught between understandable loathing of Mr Corbyn, and their own foolish Europhilia, is very well made.

As Mr Redwood said, there’s nothing “moderate” about defending a creaking customs union, unaccountable bureaucracy, etc. But then what really does this sort of “moderation” really mean? I’m reminded of Ayn Rand’s excellent essay, The Wreckage of the Consensus, where she pointed to the foolishness of imagining that wisdom is to be found in some sort of “middle” between some sort of polar opposites.

Take another case: We are sometimes told to take “a moderate amount of exercise” when, in fact, what we might want to do for better health is high intensity interval training, for instance, or heavy lifting with barbells, rather than messing around by jogging a short distance (and buggering up one’s knees and back, by the way). Sometimes the “moderate” course isn’t really a course at all, but a sort of cop-out.

Back to the subject of Mr Redwood’s post, it reminds me that the voice of genuine political liberalism, to use that fine old word, has been quiet for a very long time in the UK. There appears zero chance of it being encouraged by the current Liberal Democrat Party, which even before its demise, was scarcely connected to the great traditions of Cobden, Gladstone or, even in a more recent example, the late Jo Grimmond.

No bible cake – fine; no trans cake – crime

Ironically, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission actually defended another baker who refused to bake a cake that would convey a message. In 2015, the commission declined to take up an appeal involving Azucar Bakery, which refused to bake Bible-shaped cakes with messages against homosexuality. The bakery’s owner, Marjorie Silva, said she refused to bake the cakes because the writing and imagery were “hateful and offensive.” Christian Baker Again Under Fire for Refusing Transgender Cake Despite Supreme Court Win

I’m all for there being as many articles as possible exposing the Colorado commission’s ongoing war on free speech, but I do not think the word ‘irony’ means what this article thinks it does. I see not irony but consistency. When the Colorado commissioners treat the supreme court’s ruling on them as a joke, but expect the bakery to treat their new case against it as no joke, they’re not being ironic. They are consistently pushing their freedom-hating agenda.

Now if this were to help Trump and the GOP in the midterms, that would be ironic.

(One other thought: the she-it-he person who demanded the bakery bake a trans cake has apparently also demanded that it bake a satanist cake, but AFAICS the commission has not taken action over that. Is the commission prejudiced against satanists?)

Samizdata quote of the day

“In relation to the Irish border, we need to be tougher and call the EU’s bluff. Currently a border already exists between the UK and Ireland – in currency, VAT, excise duties and security which do not present any problems at all. Using new technology as well as extending schemes such as the Authorised Economic Operator scheme means any post-Brexit customs checks can be done without a hard border. The EU insists on customs checks but in reality no UK or Irish Government would ever accept a hard border. Those making the case for the Chequers plan off the back of threats about the Irish border are simply playing into the EU’s hands.”

Ross Thomson, MP.