Jotting – Protect Duty

Lightbulb Moment

The Government is committed to improving the safety and security of public venues, as outlined in its 2019 manifesto. This consultation considers how we can work together to develop proportionate security measures to improve public security. It also considers how those responsible for publicly accessible locations are ready and prepared to take appropriate action, were a terrorist attack to happen.


As a historian I am deeply conscious of the inertia that government has exerted over the past half millennia. A centralising tendency which has gone well beyond a Hobbsean utopia, or dystopia depending on your preference, and created a near universal sentiment of ‘what is the government doing about this?’ What this is varies, but today this is anti-terrorism initiatives.

While I am not keen on the idea of self-policing, lest we go the way of some American states, I do wonder if society may not be better able to protect its citizens if its citizens were more involved in that self-same protection. Be it physical, intellectual or cyber.

If society, in reaction to recent calls to ‘defund the police,’ does take such bold and original action, something will, unless you are a committed anarchist, need to be put in its place. Perhaps the Protect Duty initiative might stimulate some solutions.

If not, then maybe it will be able to add some responsibilities to match the rights many of us demand in a democracy.

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Scribble, Scribble, Scribble

Page from Pushkin's manuscript

I think it was the George III who is reputed to have said to the great historian Edward Gibbon: “Another damned, thick, square book! Always scribble, scribble, scribble! Eh! Mr. Gibbon?” Apocryphal or not, the sentiment is the apologetic title of another great historian’s book: Scribble, Scribble, Scribble: Writings on Ice Cream, Obama, Churchill & My Mother by Simon Schama. It is a glorious read that, like all of his work, lives up to John Clive’s assertion: ‘historical wisdom only deserve[s] to endure if it ha[s] a proper quotient of wit, force and literary power.’ No matter your predilections, there … Read more

Jotting – WHO

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ON FRIDAY, APRIL 30, the WHO quietly updated a page on its website. In a section on how the coronavirus gets transmitted, the text now states that the virus can spread via aerosols as well as larger droplets. As Zeynep Tufekci noted in The New York Times, perhaps the biggest news of the pandemic passed with no news conference, no big declaration. If you weren’t paying attention, it was easy to miss.


To err is human, and thus we are often making choices with less than the full facts. But when these decisions have lasting implications for life and property, we do well to both call out and own the mistakes and emendations.

Not because we should scapegoat or publicly whip those guilty of transgressions, as is even more popular in this grotesque age of ‘cancel culture,’ but because only by naming but also explaining why we got it so badly wrong can we create a safe space for analysis and improvement.

In such a safe space it is probable less time would be spent defending an incorrect position. The concomitant effect is we would then have more resources to improve our world.

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