Monday 16 November 2020

Magna Carta

 . . . a funny name for a girl. I got myself  caught in a vortex of covidiotology and almost went under. But I Bobbed up and lived to tell the tale. From the public discourse, you'd think that me-exceptionalism is a symptom of Covid-19 but that's just ascertainment bias. All but the saintliest of us think that "I'm just popping in" allows us to park in the disabled parking spot (it's always empty, innit?). But we'd have the grace to be mortified if we found someone unloading a wheelchair in the roadway when we just popped out

A peculiar coven of scofflaws has arisen in England who are a) not about to be stopped going about their business by an invisible virus b) are familiar enough with medieval Latin to cherry-pick a clause from The Magna Carta to assert their rights over any rules, regulations and laws which it suits them not to obey. Here's the owner of a softplay area in Liverpool who is protecting his clients [and their grandparents] from SARS-CoV-2 with a magic text pinned to the door. That text is from Clause LXI which sets out the mode of redress if King John failed to adhere to the strictures laid upon him by Clauses I through LX. I believe we could all benefit from sight of Clause LXI so we know of what we treat:

Cum autem pro Deo, et ad emendacionem regni nostri, et ad melius sopiendum discordiam inter nos et barones nostros ortam, hec omnia predicta concesserimus, volentes ea integra et firma stabilitate (in perpetuum) gaudere, facimus et concedimus eis securitatem subscriptam;

videlicet quod barones eligant viginti quinque barones de regno quos voluerint, qui debeant pro totis viribus suis observare, tenere, et facere observari, pacem et libertates quas cis concessimus, et hac presenti carta nostra confirmavimus; ita scilicet quod, si nos, vel justiciarius noster, vel ballivi nostri, vel aliquis de ministris nostris, in aliquo erga aliquem deliquerimus, vel aliquem articulorum pacis aut securitatis transgressi fuerimus, et delictum ostensum fuerit quatuor baronibus de predictis viginti quinque baronibus, illi quatuor barones accedant ad nos vel ad justiciarium nostrum, si fuerimus extra regnum, proponentes nobis excessum, petent ut excessum illum sine dilacione faciamus emendari.

Et si nos excessum non emendaverimus, vel, si fuerimus extra regnum, justiciarius noster non emendaverit infra tempus quadraginta dierum computandum a tempore quo monstratum fuerit nobis vel justiciario nostro, si extra regnum fuerimus, predicti quatuor barones referant causam illam ad residuos de illis viginti quinque baronibus, et illi viginti quinque barones cum communa tocius terre distringent et gravabunt nos modis omnibus quibus poterunt, scilicet per capcionem castrorum, terrarum, possessionum et aliis modis quibus poterunt, donec fuerit emendatum secundum arbitrium eorum, salva persona nostra et regine nostre et liberorum nostrorum; et cum fuerit emendatum intendent nobis sicut prius fecerunt.

Et quicumque voluerit de terra juret quod ad predicta omnia exequenda parebit mandatis predictorum viginti quinque baronum, et quod gravabit nos pro posse suo cum ipsis, et nos publice et libere damus licenciam jurandi cuilibet qui jurare voluerit, et nulli umquam jurare prohibebimus. Omnes autem illos de terra qui per se et sponte sua noluerint jurare viginti quinque baronibus de distringendo et gravando nos cum eis, faciemus jurare eosdem de mandato nostro sicut predictum est.

Et si aliquis de viginti quinque baronibus decesserit, vel a terra recesserit, vel aliquo alio modo impeditus fuerit, quominus ista predicta possent exequi, qui residui fuerint de predictis viginti quinque baronibus eligant alium loco ipsius, pro arbitrio suo, qui simili modo erit juratus quo et ceteri. In omnibus autem que istis viginti quinque baronibus committuntur exequenda, si forte ipsi viginti quinque presentes fuerint, et inter se super re aliqua discordaverint, vel aliqui ex eis summoniti nolint vel nequeant interesse, ratum habeatur et firmum quod major pars eorum qui presentes fuerint providerit vel preceperit ac si omnes viginti quinque in hoc consensissent; et predicti viginti quinque jurent quod omnia antedicta fideliter observabunt, et pro toto posse suo facient observari.

Et nos nichil impetrabimus ab aliquo, per nos nec per alium, per quod aliqua istarum concessionum et libertatum revocetur vel minuatur; et, si aliquid tale impetratum fuerit, irritum sit et inane et numquam eo utemur per nos nec per alium.

Wusses without a classical education can find a modern English translation. The base-line is that the rights which are transgressed by regal malfeasance will be vindicated by 25 barons of the country. But actually the message is hidden in plain sight in lines 3-6 of the Latin. I edit to make this clear

facimus et concedimus  de regno quos 
   I       can            do
voluerint,  totiviribus suis observare, tenere
vot            I            vont

Similar appeal used in Australia invoking Universal Declaration of Human Rights. One tweet: "Don't mistake inconvenience for oppression". Because successful politics is the art of the possible and you had better choose the hill on which you are prepared to die. Rohin Francis [on vaccines], a cardiologist from London and my current favorite health commentator, is pushing Dunning-Kruger single malt: for the man who has everything but doubt.  

But science is hard: policy is hard: fairness, even if an aspiration, is hard; integrating noisy data and drawing correct conclusions is hard. Clipping a snippet off the internet and laminating it is a cinch. But really, would you use that sheet of paper to stop a bullet? Nope? Same thing with the virus. And here's Eleanor Janega, a qualified, articulate medieval historian in why you're deluded to put your trust in a charter which has long since been formally repealed and which cobferred zero rights upon proles like you and me and Mr Softplay. And a legal-eagle view. All this triggered by MeFi post with added commentary.

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