Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

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( 'Nother Solent is this blog's good twin. Same words, searchable archives, RSS feed. Provided by a benefactor, to whom thanks.
I also sometimes write for Samizdata and Biased BBC.)

The Old Comrades:

November 2001 December 2001 January 2002 February 2002 March 2002 April 2002 May 2002 June 2002 July 2002 August 2002 September 2002 October 2002 November 2002 December 2002 January 2003 February 2003 March 2003 April 2003 May 2003 June 2003 July 2003 August 2003 September 2003 October 2003 November 2003 December 2003 January 2004 February 2004 March 2004 April 2004 May 2004 June 2004 July 2004 August 2004 September 2004 October 2004 November 2004 December 2004 January 2005 February 2005 March 2005 April 2005 May 2005 June 2005 July 2005 August 2005 September 2005 October 2005 November 2005 December 2005 January 2006 February 2006 March 2006 April 2006 May 2006 June 2006 July 2006 August 2006 September 2006 October 2006 November 2006 December 2006 January 2007 February 2007 March 2007 April 2007 May 2007 June 2007 August 2007 October 2007 February 2008 April 2008 May 2008 June 2008 July 2008 September 2008 October 2008 November 2008 December 2008 January 2009 March 2009 May 2009 June 2009 July 2009 August 2009 October 2009 January 2010 March 2010 May 2010 June 2010 July 2010 August 2010 September 2010 October 2010 November 2010 December 2010 January 2011 February 2011 April 2011 June 2011 August 2011 September 2011 October 2011 November 2011 January 2012 February 2012 March 2012 April 2012 May 2012 June 2012 July 2012 August 2012 September 2012 October 2012 November 2012 December 2012 January 2013 February 2013 March 2013 April 2013 May 2013 June 2013 July 2013 August 2013 September 2013 October 2013 November 2013

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Saturday, August 31, 2002
Swarms of souls, reprise: Iain Murray replies:
I have often used myself the argument that we mortals cannot hope to comprehend the workings of an omnisicient, omnipotent, infinite mind (although "mind" seems to me too little a word to describe what's going on), and so I see your point, although the same argument also applies to your argument about baptism and hell. How can we be sure that we know what is just and unjust? (But that's a quibble, and I'm pretty sure you're right on that issue.)

What's the point of theology? I think it is that the debate helps us to see God's love in all things. However, if we argue that the innocent will experience God's love automatically if they die still innocent, then that's a pretty good argument FOR abortion, it seems to me. No worries about aborting, or even about infanticide, because the soul is assured of heaven. I seem to remember someone positing that the Islamic version of this argument is why their terrorists don't mind blowing up babies. I'm not sure that we adequately discern God's love by following this course of argument.

All very complicated. And then I look at the eyes of my daughter and see God's love there. That's normally the point when I give up worrying about the issue and read her a Thomas the Tank Engine book instead...

My reply (and Ian's, I am sure, had he cared to pursue it - the whole debate is well-known) to the argument sometimes put forward by terrorists and wacky cults both Christian and Islamic that it is OK to kill babies because they die innocent and go straight to heaven is that God has made it clear by scripture (as the Onion put it, "Which bit of thou shalt not kill don't you understand?' "), by tradition, and by providing the vast majority of mankind with instincts to cherish life and protect infants that it is very much not OK.

The cliché-monger in me now wants to say, "From the sublime to the ridiculous" and start talking about Thomas the Tank Engine. But the transition is not so ridiculous as all that; theology is useless if it does not lead to and reinforce the perception that love (exemplified by child and parent sharing a storybook) is good and hatred and malice bad.

I am suffering cruelly from Thomas withdrawal systems. Time was when I knew every cranny of the Fat Controller's realm like the back of my hand. I knew what number Boco was. Man, I knew what number Bear was. The Thomas duvet cover passed from older to younger child in the manner of the Olympic torch. Then a dreadful day came when even the youngest said firmly, "I'm too old for Thomas now." And we came unto Pokémon and Power Rangers. O tempora! O mores!

Rice among the skyscrapers. Jim Bennett writes:
No discussion of eminent domain is complete without reference to Japan. Basically, they have no almost no eminent domain or planning and zoning. They deal with hold-outs by paying them more, or in extreme cases by building around them. Read Tokyo: The City at the End of the World, by Peter Popham (1985) for a discussion of this and a great photo of a tiny rice farm surrounded by skyscrapers -- a holdout resolved in the Japanese manner. How they dealt with railways, the book didn't say."
Japan, the great anomaly. It's a pity that my knowledge of Japan has focussed the quaint at the expense of the relevant. Did you know that there is a single Japanese word meaning "to try out one's sword by taking the head of a passing stranger"? No, neither did I know it, because it is just the sort of cutsey anecdote that is likely to be completely fraudulent.

But Japanese accomplishment is not fraudulent, for all their recent troubles. I will track down that book! If the Japanese have managed to raise mighty cities without denying the rights of the holders of the land then they are an example to us all. I do hope they managed the same trick with their famously efficient railways. However I recall violent struggles in the 60s and 70s over the building of Narita airport, which, if I have correctly understood this 1999 statement by farmers in the area, do seem to have involved government force. The smell of government force was in the air in '99, too, as another runway was planned, though the wording suggests the use of it is not so accepted among the Japanese as among us.

A second "temporary" runway was indeed built in time for the World Cup this summer. My fellow-feeling for the farmers of Toho hamlet is so acute that not even the fact that their plight was sympathetically recorded by Palestine Indymedia can diminish it.

Friday, August 30, 2002
Why doesn't the Labour party behave the way that they want Oxford University to? They would oblige the University to take on a candidate because she has coped admirably with her disability. But this disabled woman is suing the Labour party for discrimination.

For once, my sympathies are with Blair and his team. The woman sounds a drip. Given that she spent five years in a state of nervous prostration because she didn't get the job she wanted, then just how likely is it that she would have been up to facing Matthew Parris on a roll? (Alas the full withering blast of Parris's article on Blair's visitation to St Saviour's and St Olave's Primary school is muffled by the fact that the Times demands a subscription to read it. But it contained lines like this: "When the Prime Minister told them that he had come to win not just votes but hearts, one girl, drawing her blouse up at her midriff, placed the collar over her head. It was an eloquent response.")

The deaf girl rejected from Oxford sounded a far more competent and resilient character. Even so, Labour dudes, irrespective of the merits of this particular case it looks as though you don't apply the principle that 'the best poster-child must get the position' to your own affairs. Thanks for getting sued in such a timely manner and making me look prophetic.

A swarm of souls. Iain Murray has a post about the scientific and theological aspects of abortion.

Abortion is one of the many subjects about which I may never fully sort out my opinion. I am broadly against it, certainly. Late term, and particularly "partial-birth" abortion is clearly murder, and will one day be classed with the Aztec sacrifices in the record of human barbarity. At the other extreme, the microscopic bundle of cells that is all there is in the first days after conception just does not engage my sympathy, potential human being or not.

That isn't what I want to talk about today. To me this post was most interesting where it touched on the nature of souls and heaven:

Yet this argument does not account for multiple births, as the individuals do not split until several days after conception. Is it one soul until the split? Or two souls attached to the single embryo? This is not an easy problem to solve.
All told, only about one-third of sperm-egg unions result in babies, even when abortion is not a factor. Do each of these embryos have a soul too? If so, then (using down and dirty simplistic renditions) heaven is going to be occupied by a lot of souls that have never heard Christ's teachings. That's pretty weird theologically speaking.
I have no idea what the actual answer is to either question. But it strikes me that both your worries hinge on what the human mind finds hard to imagine. The human mind is limited. A believer can rest assured that the Divine mind is not.

The question as to the souls of twins is fascinating, but not any more of an obstacle to belief than the question as to the point at which any soul begins. (That being the question, you will recall, that I could not answer.) God's book-keeping, however it is managed, does not slip up; he already sees the lives of those twins in their entirety.*

It may or may not be the case that heaven is full of the souls of embryos - but if so, the question it raises is not new to theology. We all already knew that in most ages up to half of all babies die before reaching the age of five. Such souls are not denied Christ's teaching; they are getting it direct! The real mystery is why God chooses to have some of us run the obstacle course of life first.

What happens to babies and/or embryos who are not baptised is a related issue. In olden times it was believed that they went to Hell. I find it absurd to suppose that God, the origin of all goodness, would be so unjust, or unjust at all.

This is all rather similar to recent debate as to whether God can cope administratively, so to speak, with people being revived cryogenically. Don't worry. He can.

*To see from a standpoint outside time is not to control. They still have free will.

One thing I love about the internet is the way that you can reach straight through the layers and get a response from the person you - er - referred to unfavourably in your blog this morning. Dawsonians versus Scoobie.

Thursday, August 29, 2002
Freedom and Whisky said, read this. And in turn I say it. It is an unflinching examination of terrorist motives from Cut on The Bias. Not one to read with the kids looking over your shoulder.

Words and deeds. Hokiepundit started thinking about languages and ended up discussing the the European/Anglo divide.
"...English solves the problem by simply appropriating or creating words to fill in the gap (English has over twice as many words as any other language, with second place going to German), while Latin tinkers with what's already extant. It then occurred to me that this can also be applied to the Anglospheric (I really would like a better term for that, by the way) and Western European ways of thinking (actually, I think that the Germanic people are still somewhat awkward in their acceptance of Romance thinking, but that could be a whole post in and of itself). Anglos value economy over conservation, though if conservation is efficient, it becomes economical. Europeans are more inward-looking and tend to go more by what they already know.
When I saw this, I thought, "Wow, yes, true!" Then I wasn't so sure. Mind you, Hokie himself might say the same. His style is to put down his thoughts as they strike him and then reconsider later if need be. I'm not complaining; it's a blog not a doctoral thesis.

UPDATE: A gentleman called Gene 6-pack (a name which surely must caused him some embarassment at school) wrote:

The Germans do not have a whole lot of words. They have just a few gutturals that they repeat and repeat.
That is a very naughty thing to say.

School's out. The Telegraph says let 'em go at fourteen if they want to. Dang. I should have written this one. It's right up there in my rant rankings at #3 or #4. I was a teacher for one strange year, and I well recall how one of the dull-eyed youths to whom I failed to impart any physics would suddenly become lively and talkative when he discussed his ambition to be a hairdresser. If he had been free to leave that day and commence cutting hair, he and I would have parted friends. Alas, I was obliged to hover over his shoulder nagging and threatening him. Pity.

Wednesday, August 28, 2002
BeSeen no more. Oh, frabjuous day. Not. They've closed down BeSeen free web counters. Does anyone, by any chance or mysterious working of caches, know where I'd got to on my counter?

And Blogger won't post.

Life's hard for us scroungers. Do I ask a lot out of life? All I want is air, warmth, food, water and effortless free access to marvels of technology unknown to even the emperors of yesteryear. And those incompetent multinational fat cats can't manage even that.

On the other hand a comforting burst of Google Self-abuse gave me 9,250 mentions. Go on. Make it ten thousand.

Quote of the Day: "Time and again, the Arabs spit in the face of the West, and the West pretends that it’s raining." - Joseph Alexander Norland, writing in Dawson Speaks.

"Exam success doesn't qualify you for any of the great positions. If you're very clever, the Treasury isn't obliged to take you on, whatever Gordon Brown has said about Magdalen and Laura Spence," was a marvellous argument-clincher from Simon Carr in the Independent.

I love turning the tables. Carr makes a good point that Oxbridge selection, like all personnel selection, is often and justly more concerned with how the selector will get along with the selectee than with actual cleverness. Let's insist that all Gordon Brown and Tony Blair's political advisers (with whom the politicians must rub shoulders daily) must be multiply-qualified, disabled, ethnic and sexual minorities, irrespective of any flair the candidates might have for the work.

BANANA DOT COM. Iain Murray writes,
When I worked at the DOT, planning rail lines that needed compulsory purchase powers
Oh, so it was you, was it? Right mate, you'll be first against the wall when the revolution comes.
we called it BANANA -- Build Absolutely Nothing, Anywhere, Near Anyone.

I actually think the British idea of holding up projects for years on end to allow for full public inquiries and Parliamentary investigation is a pretty good system, far better than the French "grand projet a l'interet national" or the awful American "eminent domain" (which allows only for individual court challenges, normally based on technicalities). The rights of the individual are better protected by our system rather than the best available competitors.

I agree. Long ago I was chugging towards the Channel Tunnel with a bunch of Treasury guys. Someone (conceivably it was me in a foolish moment) made the then-commonplace observation that it was an absolute disgrace that the journey from Dover to London took however-many hours while that from Coquelles to Paris took three and a half minutes.

Yup," said one man proudly. "I did that." For the next half hour as we meandered through the leafy stations he would make such comments as, "That's one town that won't be ripped to bits. Saved three million pounds, too."

I saw a sad thing that day when we got over to France. Reaching into the French entrance to the tunnel is a vast loop of road. And sitting in the middle of the loop, just visible in the dip of a hill, is an untouched but half-abandoned village. There were then still some old people living there, surrounded by the roar of the road, looking as if their entire hamlet had been wrapped in a force-field by car-shaped aliens and transported to the See The Wild Humans safari park.

Thanks also to Robert Martin and David Gillies who also supplied BANANAs. Mr Gillies added,

As for the controversy of whether new airports are justified - that's classic Coase theory, which of course is neatly derailed by compulsory purchase/eminent domain, whathaveyou - one of the most (if not the most) pernicious measures in the power of government in supposedly free-market societies.

The trailing colon is not a medical condition but the result of some glitch preventing me from editing the previous post. What I wanted to ask was, how exactly does one get "duped", as Prince Ahmad bin Abdul-Aziz tactfully described the plight of our hapless military official, into firing an anti-aircraft missile? Did the Al-Qa'eda sympathiser pretend it was all a prank he was playing - "go on, press the button, I abjure you, for assuredly it will make much smoke and my American friend up there laugh so jolly!" - or did the Al-Qa'eda boy make out this nice box with all the buttons was the latest Nintendo GameCube, perhaps? After all, one can't expect a Saudi official to know the ins and outs of all those infidel geegaws strewn all over his office; what else are Pakistanis for?

Seems like everybody's so sensitive nowadays... Now the Americans have got in a huff just because a Saudi military official tried to shoot down one of their aeroplanes. Fuss about nothing, really. The poor chap was just an innocent sucker:

Tuesday, August 27, 2002
Wot, No Moppets? This is terrible. It seems the Palestinian authorities have gone and taken offence at the way not everyone likes the Moppets & Martyrs™ piccies and aren't going to let us see them no more. LGF reports. (If the link doesn't go straight there, scroll down to "Harming the Cause").

Bring back our Moppets! Write to your Palestinian Authority TV station now! C'mon guys, we did it for Star Trek!

Thanks for the thanks, Chris. Chris Bertram just dropped me a nice e-mail. So what am I going to do to maintain my reputation as the Wicked Witch of West Essex? Bash out a whole screed of argufying about an earlier post in which Prof. Bertram is a little unfair to Stephen Den Beste and to a libertarian subspecies, that's what. Here's the relevant quote:
"For what it's worth I see Den Beste's position as being a rather typical example of a rather unattractive ideology: libertarianism within borders, authoritarianism outside. Individual rights are to be protected against the coercive power of the state, just so long as the right-holders are fellow citizens. Outsiders are legimate targets for coercion so long as that suits "national interest".

"Libertarianism within borders" is a recognizable strand of opinion, but I doubt if any but its least thoughtful proponents hold it on the grounds described there. I am not quite sure whether I am or am not a within-borders Libertarian, but certainly some of my opinions end up with results that can sound rather similar, despite my firm belief that every human being has the same basic rights. Here's how I and some others end up where we do:

The key point for most would be that a world government - any world government - would be fatal for liberty. Liberty is kept alive by diversity of jurisdictions. Even if you can't physically flee to another, freer country, the mere knowledge of its existence keeps the flame burning among the oppressed and takes the heart out of oppressors. So we sort-of like borders, not because we like people being stopped from moving across them, but because we like the fact that no prince can extend his arm across all of them.

Competition among countries is good for scientific and cultural progress, too. A commonly cited example is the way that that Imperial China's ocean going fleets were mothballed as the result of some instantly forgettable power struggle at Court. Click! One bad decision in a unified state was enough to write China out of the "Winners of History" chapter in the textbooks of the next several centuries. Compare Columbus in fragmented Europe, going from king to king until he found someone to fund his voyage of exploration. We fear that the Chinese stagnation might overtake the whole world if the UN gets its way: without the competitiveness and mere difference provided by there being many different countries some ideas will never be taken up and some ideas will never even be conceived.

A third point is that you can be a messianic libertarian for all mankind, wild as a wolf and an inveterate enemy of every state on earth and yet still feel yourself rooted in history. If you are American that means that you will not merely observe from on high that this or that aspect of the US Constitution or American history generally has been benefical to libertarian ideals. You are much more likely to see the relationship between the American people and their Constitution as a something close to an epic of faith, with overtones of the Book of Exodus. I am not even American and yet I feel real outrage when the Constitution is (note the word) violated. Because of the special place in history held by the Constitution it really is worse, more dangerous, when it is violated than when other countries' less epoch-making constitutions are violated. This would be an easy attitude to mock, but I do not mock it. I share it (while thinking that Mr Den Beste overstresses the extent to which America is different and better.) I also hold to the British equivalent: I see the latest moves to end the double jeopardy rule not merely as bad in themselves but also as Blair betraying the hard-won rights of Englishmen, squandering his inheritance.

UPDATE: At the time of writing, Stephen Den Beste has not yet responded. But here's R Alex Whitlock's take on the same Junius post.

Just Read It. Afghanistan: A Just Intervention by Chris Bertram of Junius.

Advantage blogosphere! Disadvantage The Independent, and anyone who wants freedom of education. The Indy has an article today headed "Pioneers of education at home toast their 25-year revolution. I keep getting "gateway timeout" every time I try link to it. Those cursed Goa'uld, always plotting! When I do finally defeat the alien machinations you will see that it is a workmanlike article sympathetically reporting Iris Harrison's long struggle to be allowed to educate her children at home, as 50,000 UK children now are educated. A side panel describes, again sympathetically, a case history: "When Jan Price's bullied son tried to kill himself she knew school was not for him."

As soon as I saw the words "home education" I homed in. I assumed that the Indy had heard of the latest threat to home schooling, as described by Brian Micklethwait and was on the case. Not so. Blissful Indy ignorance suffuses the whole article. No doubt the letters column tomorrow will let them know that even such quintessential Independent readers as the average British home-schooler will not be left alone by Brussels.

The Ignorant. It is. Are you?

David Janes discerns the truth behind the headlines of progressive newspapers: it's all parody.

Monday, August 26, 2002
NIMBYs of the world, unite! Oops. My thanks to the 1,029,561 readers who pointed out that NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) is certainly heard all over the English speaking world, and probably originated in the US. I really should have guessed that it did not originate in the UK as we usually say "back garden", not "back yard", even if it clearly is a yard with not a blade of grass to be seen between the antique fridges and fashionably "distressed" Vauxhall Carltons left there For Display Purposes Only.

We have just acquired a Vauxhall Carlton. It does go, except when it doesn't.

NIABY (Not In Anyone's Back Yard), though, is my own coinage. Feel free to spread the meme.

More Catholic than the Pope. I preen. I adjust my whiskers with a self-satisfied paw as I bask in the sunlight of being more libertarian than the Libertarian Alliance's transport spokesman. The prolific Patrick Crozier (he of the three solo blogs, UK Transport, This Blog Has No Title and Croziervision - can he keep it up?) apologetically comes out in favour of compulsory purchase.

Patrick, have you been playing with those nasty statist kids down at that trainspotter's newsgroup again? You have picked up some very naughty phrases.

Nope, this line-of-joke is getting too snotty. Think I'll do the job seriously, as it deserves. Patrick, you correctly point out that our modern world was built by compulsory purchase - even going back to the canals and the pioneering railways - and incorrectly infer that we should therefore go on doing it.

Before I charge off on that argument, though, I must add one small historical note - you are no doubt aware of this, but I think it needs to be brought to the foreground. Although the the early railways were built on the strength of compulsory purchase it was a less bad sort of compulsory purchase than we have today. The initiative for the creation of railways came from entrepreneurs not from the executive, and there was no use of an executive power of purchase. The purchases were carried out by private Acts of Parliament and these were argued for and against in Parliament acting almost as a court in which the Bill finally enacted could be seen as a judgement in a court of law. (The Liverpool and Manchester Railway Act had to be presented three times before it was passed.) The same was true of the Enclosure Acts. I am far from admiring any sort of compulsory purchase, but at least in these days the arguments revolved around specific proposals rather than an amorphous and unarguable notion of "public interest".

Back to the main theme. Patrick writes:

With all but a few minor exceptions every canal, every railway and for all I know every road and every airport built in the UK was built with compulsory purchase powers.
True. And every country in the modern world was built upon conquest, yet we eschew it now.
Dr Benson does give the example of pipelines that have been built without compulsory purchase. Which is interesting. But I am forced to wonder if the only reason they succeeded is that pipelines can go from A to B via just about any route you like while roads etc have to go from A to B via C, D and E.
That "have to" is unjustified. Just as roads sometimes divert around physical obstacles such as mountains, or political ones such as national borders, or environmental ones such as the nesting sites of Great Crested Newts, so let them sometimes divert around people-obstacles. It is pleasant to dream about the world we would have had if they had always done this. Imagine, the nesting-sites of mere humans might be considered as sacrosanct as those of newts!

What I think this debate boils down to is this: I believe that railways, roads and airports are essential and if that means riding roughshod over a few libertarian principles then too bad. I did not enjoy writing that one little bit.
Even if I conceded that compulsory purchase was once necessary, there's a big difference between railways, roads and airports being essential and more railways, roads and airports being essential. We could very well live with what we've got. (I mean compulsorily-purchased ones; anything built without the use of force is fine by me.) Does the dividing line between a guilty past that can nonetheless be lived with and a sudden change in behaviour starting now sound arbitrary and self-serving? It's only the same dividing line that comes up in any discussion of morality; it's the present and the future that we can change. As I said before, all the world employs some sort of dividing line when talking about conquest. The Americans don't give back America to the Indians; but they don't - whatever some twits say about Iraq - go in for the conquest business any more. We don't have to start digging up the runway at Heathrow in order to move towards an ethical system of procurement of land for future airports.

(I haven't even started on the effects of the internet on transport, which I had intended as the second major rant in this post! Is Your Journey Really Necessary? More another day.)

Thursday, August 22, 2002
Nifty tow trucks those AA guys have. The extending bar thing is really interesting, as are the giant carabiners that they use to fix the front wheels of your car. And the real-life patrolman was as helpful and knowledgeable as any you might see in an advert. Yes, when it's not messing about appointing itself as a lobby group, the Automobile Association is a fine organisation.

Yes. I'm back. Our chauffeur-driven return was greeted with an enthusiasm not seen since the last time we broke down and, that time, delighted the neighbours by being driven home in a passing police car. But don't expect to hear much from me tomorrow. I have to unpack, and sort out a car.

Wednesday, August 07, 2002
The evil of compulsory purchase. I realise that I had unconsciously lifted the bit in the post below about the stubborn old lady from this Libertarian Alliance pamphlet on road pricing. It's PDF, alas. The relevant quote is at the bottom of page 8 and the top of page 9.

Incidentally, I try to be consistent. If a village "dies" (i.e. becomes no more than a dormitory) because no one thinks it profitable to run a bus service to it, my reaction is, "that's sad, but no one is obliged to subsidise my rural retreat." (Though as a matter of fact it might still be viable if roads were not subsidised. Fast transport links can take trade away as well as bring it.) If a village were to die because an airport developer bought out every single house, that too is sad, but, hey, have fun with the money pile, guys. But if a village or one single house is destroyed against the wishes of its inhabitants because the government wishes to convey some benefit to third parties, then that is not sad but wrong. It is a bit like punishing a few innocent people (so long as they are widely believed to be guilty) for the sake of an improvement in public order: however genuine and widespread the benefit, it is still wrong.

Ryanair chief blasts NIMBY Brits. NIABY Brit blasts Ryanair chief. For non-British readers, "NIMBY" is an acronym for Not In My Back Yard and refers to those who support development anywhere else but near them. The Ryanair head honcho says that Britain must get its act together to compete with the French and Germans.

Why? Why should we care what the French and Germans do?

The "development" concerned is in my backyard, near as dammit literally. But I can truthfully say that I have been a NIABY (Not In Anybody's Back Yard) since long before the fake "consultation" document, which purports to say that my objections have a meaningful chance of stopping the state destroying all the villages hereabouts, hit the mat.

Don't get me wrong. I like prosperity, international trade and travel and cool technological stuff including aeroplanes. But why the hell should I sacrifice so much that is important to me in order to "compete with France and Germany" (anyway, weren't they supposed to be our European Partners, scarcely foreign countries at all?), or in order to shave fifteen minutes of the average journey time to a holiday destination by persons unknown to me ten years hence? If Mr Ryanair wants to build an airport, let him buy the land for it, and let him pay off the people affected by noise with stacks of gold, and let him build his freaking runway in a curve if some old lady won't sell. Otherwise I'm inclined to think that the competition that really inspires him is between his greed and his love of power.

ON REFLECTION: I can't think what on earth I meant by that last sentence. A pointless rhetorical flourish. His greed and love of power, are of course, allowed to run in parallel by the laws of compulsory purchase. In a truly free market his greed could only be satisfied by pleasing people, i.e. running a good airline, rather than by earning my undying emnity and permanent boycott of his state-lackey airline, for all that the estimable Patrick Crozier says that he is cool. (Incidentally, clicking that link gives you all today's press comment on airport expansion.) Where was I? Oh, I have a letter. Andy Richards wrote the comment below and my replies are in italics. The italics get a bit frisky in places, but that's a risk you take in writing to me when I'm in a baaaaaaaaad mood.

"Interesting what you say. Seems like no-one wants more airports but everyone wants to fly more. I live in West London and a lot of people here don't want another runway at Heathrow, but they want more holidays and more fresh produce grown in Mozambique or Mongolia.

"I think there's no way round this. The airport for commercial reasons will be going to the south east. That's where the demand is.

What demand? Sure, everyone you know wants shorter journey times if offered them in isolation. But who except those who stand to profit by them lies awake lusting for more airports? Who do you know who would stand face to face with one of the several people known to me whose beloved homes will either be utterly blighted or destroyed and tell them, "I demand a shorter holiday journey time and cheaper pomegranates at the price - taken by force - of a major component of your happiness?" And if you do know any such selfish people, why should their demands be met? What makes their demands trump my friends' rights? The "demand" everyone speaks of is actually a product of government projections of airline activity. It is quite genuine, in the sense that the lines on the graph do indeed slope upwards, but the projection may well be mistaken (look at the history of the New Towns, and weep) and whether it is or not there is no moral reason why the diffuse un-priced wishes of one bunch of people should cause major violations of the rights of another bunch.
That demand will soon be even greater when a forecast extra 700,000 people move to London (most of them to the eastern part of town).

And that move is also state funded. Left to themselves the high house prices would be self-correcting. The lack of places for teachers, policemen, train drivers etc. to live would make the South East steadily less attractive for executives, too. South and North would even out, to the benefit of both. Of course, that won't happen because we are going to have a whole pile of subsidised housing.

And what if the forecasts are wrong? I say again, look at Harlow New Town, once forecast to have a population three times its present size, and take anything government forecasters say with a whole bag of salt.

"We do have a choice of course. We can decide not to build any more airports. We can let it go to France and Germany. We can choose less wealth.
Fixed quantity of wealth fallacy.
Any volunteers for that? Thought not.
All the people I know whose property and lives are blighted by the proposed runways would unhesitatingly accept lower wealth in exchange for their old lives back. Furthermore vast numbers of environmentally concerned people (sincere twits though most of them are) go out and demonstrate explicitly against wealth and against development . Actually, both groups, my admirable friends and the yobbish anti-globalization demonstrators, act in ignorance. The choice is not so stark. In the absence of government-forced development other and better ways of generating wealth (video conferencing, hothouse pomegranates) would arise. Many a poor country has a slick new empty airport and vast motorways dwindling into the sand.
"It does no good blaming all this on RyanAir or 'the state'. If there was no demand for extra airports then nobody would be wasting their time thinking about where they should go."
What faith! Faith that nobody would waste their time building vast white elephants... Ask the Egyptians driven out of their homes by the Aswan dam, or the Ghanaians pushed aside for the Akosombo dam (both now breeding grounds for malaria) whether such faith is justified. For that matter, ask any of the inhabitants of the crumbling, crime ridden modern estates in any British city, in their day touted as the answer to the "demand" for new housing, whether it is impossible that the planners' valuable time can turn out to be wasted.

Boycott Yahoo? Random Jottings suggests a boycott of Yahoo because it acquiesces in censorship by China. I am confused, having recently received this e-mail:

"in a computing newsgroup I monitor, discussion of a [computer] language variant led to a post from someone in mainland China remarking that "Yahoo groups where its newlist sits are forbidden here". The poster encouraged people to work on open-source projects implementing an idea that would let anyone bypass such limitations, while remarking

> >It's very useful technology that can be commonly used, I think.
> >And it does have its dangerous side if it is abused.

prompting this response from someone in Holland:

> To paraphrase a well-known quote: 'any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a gun' ;-)

If you haven't come across this paraphrase before, I thought it would interest you."
It does. If I have time I shall post it as a Samizdata quote of the day. But, returning to the original point, the wording suggests that it is the Chinese authorities who forbid the freewheeling ISP rather than self-censorship by a cringing Yahoo. True, the original poster could be misinformed, but surely the Chinese authorities would prefer to put the blame for censorship on Yahoo if they could, rather as the British government and the EU are always trying to say that it is the other who really pushes the most irksome regulations.

UPDATE AND SKID MARKS: I've read some more. It's cringing self-censorship by Yahoo. Scumbags. There are some thoughtful comments on John Weidner's site against as well as for a boycott, though, pointing out that drawing the oligarchs' attention to might be a bad move. See this post.

The last word on the Hidden Knot comes from Roscoe Ellis, who writes:
"...decades ago, when I was an athletically inclined "flat belly", I spent some time sewing together custom made rock climbing harnesses for myself. As a technical solo climber, my life literally depended on the sturdiness of my gear, and I took great care in its construction. Then, as now, I found that sewing with nylon fishing line rather than thread worked best for my needs. (You probably don't sew with heavy fishing line, do you?)"
Not every day, no.
"But I noticed early on the mysterious power of The Knot at The Last Stitch.

"I've come to accept this strange phenomenon as a mystery of nature. If an answer can ever be found as to why it is as it is, perhaps it will have a metaphysical basis: relating in some way to a scholastic formulation of truth and reality. Or perhaps it has a tie in to crop circles. When I go to see the new Mel Gibson movie, I'll have your question in mind. And if an answer presents itself, I'll let you know."

Mr Gibson is undoubtedly easy on the eye, but does he really have the answer? I once, for reasons that seemed good at the time, read close on a hundred of the 627 Amazon reviews of "The Patriot." By the time I had finished that lot I was into metaphysical speculation all right; I have always thought Purgatory a most logical doctrine.

My stats graph looks like a printout from the day they discovered pulsars. If you're here from The Corner, the post about anti-smoking zealotry is down here.

Tuesday, August 06, 2002
Just a reminder. I'm hoping to blog tomorrow, but no promises. Then I'm off for coupla weeks.

Group blogs seem to be all the rage now. Over time one needs to develop a team name, so to speak. While heartily welcoming Messrs Norland, Arenson and Sullivan to Dawson's blog, I have not yet settled upon what they should be called as a group. "Team Dawsi", by analogy with "Team Sami", perhaps? No, too cute. "The Dawson Four" sounds like they are on trial for something, although there is a nice hint of superhero status for comics fans. "The Dawsonians" sounds worryingly like a geological era or a nineteenth century sect, but has a certain straightforward solidity and is the best I can come up with so far.

But why has Dawson himself no byline? Not that it is hard to recognize his style, but he ought to have one for consistency. There's no rule that says it must include a first name!

Read This Now. Jay Zilber might disagree with the Biased BBC crowd about a lot of things, but his post about the nature and ramifications of bias is supremely relevant. But that was just the appetiser. He really gets going - and, more importantly, continues to walk the narrow way of truth - when he turns, as part of the same mega-post, to the subject of the Middle East. He makes the the harshest of judgements about the present culture and morals of the Palestinians without ever denying their humanity.
"They have been taught no trades, no skills, no expertise -- except for explosives and munitions. They would sooner themselves die than accept the relative success and durability of the Jewish culture, literally a stone's throw from the pit they have created for themselves."

And Silflay Hraka, too, (a) because I can spell it and I want you all to know that, and (b) in gratitude for the haiku. This one is actually rather moving:
Dividing the twins--

letting them see, at last, how

the other half grins.
Kehaar is in competition with Will WARREN, yes I got it this time, WARREN, okay now?

With great effort I have avoided making a rabbit joke. Mr Warren also offers us several haiku, including the atmospheric

At Homeland Security

Still: sunbeamed dust flits.

Bare wall echoes unheard call.

At a desk, Ridge sits.

(Just fooling. I knew it was Bigwig really. Kehaar hasn't posted for ages. Gone off to Pig Vater, maybe?)

Grab him quick! I had better hasten to induct Peter Cuthbertson of Conservative Commentary into the New Model Army, not least because he has grabbed me for his new Biased BBC group blog. Go over there to read my first ever post. Also see Conservative Commentary for a defence of the noble art of monomachy.

James Rummel of Hell in a Handbasket found it a useful tip to cite the Coriolis force as an excuse for shots going wide of the target. "...I've got to try that next time. I always just say that I suck or that I'm having a bad day. But you've found the REAL reason! The damn Earth is spinning and the target moved out from under the shot!". Remember, fellow sportsmen: the true shooter is focused. Centred. Possessed of an almost zen-like calm as he moves inevitably towards his goal... the perfect excuse. Never mind the shooting lark, are you man or woman enough to hack it afterwards in the bar?

Nothing new under the sun. The New Statesman of August 12, 1916 quotes approvingly another paper's editorial:
'"Does anyone suppose that railways will ever be allowed to revert to their former state of wasteful incoherence? In this way it is quite conceivable that we shall get Socialism imposed from above rather than forced on us from below. The changes brought about by the last two years have been so rapid that, in the rush of events, many men have failed to realise their full significance; but that things can ever be as they were in the summer of 1914 is impossible."'

The New Statesman adds: 'Another daily is indignant at the thought that the Channel Tunnel should be built for the profit of private people, and considers that it should be done by the French and British governments. So the world does move, after all.'

The reader who supplied this clip adds, "The passage chiefly made me reflect how inconceivable it was that socialism could ever have been forced from below rather than imposed from above."

Where I fail, Improved Clinch succeeds! Here's the Homeland Stupidity story, courtesy of the BBC rather than the Mail, but clearly the same story: Toy soldier disarmed at airport. But that is not all Improved Clinch has to offer. There's that title for a start, and the fact that Mr Venlet, the author, smokes a cigar. Say what you like, I think that's pleasantly out of step with the best modern health advice. But what I actually went to see was John Venlet's comments on a recent kidnapping case. These girls of 16 and 17 were kidnapped, and raped. Bad. They were found alive and the kidnapper is now dead. Good and good. But, as he says - why were they were out in the middle of the night with their parents having no idea of their whereabouts? It is not making excuses for crime to say that that is asking for trouble.

Secrets of the sewing room revealed. John Weidner of Random Jottings writes, as he lolls in the shade of Mt Fuji, or possibly Kilimanjaro, regarding The Last Knot,
You've given me a distinct feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment, because the trick of hiding the end of the thread between two layers ... I figured that out all by myself, long ago. I never mentioned it for fear someone who really knew how to sew would laugh at me!

Junius is back from being rained upon. So, in order to keep the perpetual rota of rain-sodden Brits on holiday going, I will stride forth and take his place. Not his exact place; the marvellous thing about the soggy Brits rota is that one can take part in this magnificent experience anywhere north of the tropic of Cancer.

The camper van is half way being packed. Like a sort of reverse cornucopia it swallows up vast amounts of our worldly goods. Am I the only person who hates getting ready for holidays? Bah, humbug, I say as I scrape the mould off the rubber window seals. Note the pronoun. I, I, I. When it comes to scraping window frames, the story is always about me.

In case you haven't worked it out, we will be away. Until the 21st to be precise. I should be around to blog tomorrow, but just in case I can't fit any blogging into the gaps between our packed schedule of blazing travel rows*, I thought I'd mention it now so that no-one assumes the worst from my silence and comes in to auction off my blog.

*Marked in my Filofax as:

10am: "You said last Christmas you'd book the cattery this time"

10.30 am: "But Charlene from the travel insurance company promised she'd ring back"

11am: "So where are the cats, then? I told you not to let them see the cat box"

Homeland Jobsworthery update: I still can't find a link that story I read yesterday (5th Aug) in the paper version of the Daily Mail about the two inch toy gun being confiscated at Los Angeles airport. But to more than make it up to you, here's an example twice as stupid. (One can derive the stupidity coefficient from the formula xy = constant, where x= "length of dangerous weapon" and y="Homeland Security stupidity coefficient") Yup, this poor guy's confiscated key chain in the shape of a gun was one whole terrifying inch long. As the author of "" put it himself:
"I doubt anyone would think that it could be a terrorist weapon, unless they were the size of a fraggle. Damn. I got that keychain at the best Mexican restaurant in Corpus Christi, La Iguana. That keychain was so ghetto, I just had to spend 25 cents to buy it. And now... I will never see it again. Goodbye keychain. I'll miss you."

Flop down in the dog bed. Shoot The Dog flops.

Monday, August 05, 2002
They want to extend anti-smoking censorship even to fiction. A government minister in Italy intends to flash a health warning on the screen whenever an actor lights up on film. The mindset of the minister who floated this proposal, Girolamo Sirchia, was revealed by this quote:
"There is no such thing as spontaneous social behaviour, every action is the result of influences."
John Stuart Mill had an answer to that one. When the secretary of the Alliance (an organization agitating for the prohibition of alcohol) said, "I claim, as a citizen a right to legislate whenever my social rights are invaded by the social act of another," Mill made this devastating response:
"So monstrous a principle is far more dangerous than any single interference with liberty; there is no violation of liberty which it would not justify; it acknowledges no right to any freedom whatsoever, except perhaps to that of holding opinions in secret, without ever disclosing them: for the moment an opinion which I consider noxious passes any one's lips, it invades all the 'social rights' attributed to me by the Alliance. The doctrine ascribes to all mankind a vested interest in each other's moral, intellectual and even physical perfection, to be defined by each claimant according to his own standard."
The italics are mine, put there in honour of Minister Sirchia.

(And the quotation is from Chapter IV of On Liberty, if you want to track it down.)

Homeland Security: Protecting Your Family... from two inch toy "Action man" guns. The link isn't up yet, but today's Daily Mail reports that the ever-vigilant security lads and lasses at Los Angeles airport showed their alertness by confiscating a replica gun. It came from a "GI Joe" Action Man toy, intended as a present for a British boy. That's right, the "replica" was slightly shorter than the finger that these people should be getting out, if you'll pardon the vulgar tongue. The baggage searchers then, in all seriousness, considered whether to go for any plastic toy grenades the size of peas that might be threatening the safety of the travelling public.

Just to show that zero-brain zero-tolerance is not confined to American shores, here's a story from yesterday's Mail: Children arrested, fingerprinted and names put on offenders' record for toy gun game.

Saturday, August 03, 2002
I am thirty eight years and several months old. I have a countable number of grey hairs. My size 10 jeans have gone to Oxfam years ago, and I'm wondering about my size 12's.

So how did I live this long and never figure out how to make sure the end of the thread is not visible from either side on a quilt, or anything with two layers meant to be seen? It works like this: when you've finished your line of sewing, do a couple of back stitches for strength. I knew that much. Then you do a final stitch way into the wadding, pull the thread taut and clip the end just above the surface. Once the tension is released the end pops back. Actually I knew that, too, though I've only been doing it for a couple of years. It usually works fine, but sometimes that last stitch works loose. So the final refinement, the thing that got me so excited is this: before making your final stitch you do the simplest possible knot near the surface of the fabric. It doesn't matter exactly where. Then you make your stitch and pull the knot into the interior. The fabric closes up behind it and it doesn't pop out. It's not quite true that I had never figured it out; I had read about it in sewing books, but it always seemed unsatisfactory somehow. Surely, I thought, if the knot can go in to the fabric it can fall out again. Well, it doesn't. Indeed it seems so strong that you could dispense with the back stitches if the line of sewing does not have to bear a load. Why doesn't it come out again, though? Hysterisis or chaos theory, most probably. Probably not Coriolis force, though that explains nearly everything else. After ascertaining that there are no scientists in the audience I always call upon Coriolis force to explain poor scores in shooting. I'd miss in the other direction in Australia.

Friday, August 02, 2002
Warren Hastings A Good Thing? My regular correspondent, A Regular Correspondent, writes:
This one is trickier than most. I always feel that his prosecution was a very good thing both for the empire and for its subjects since it led to higher standards than would otherwise have prevailed. The punishment of his having to endure the prosecution for seven years was surely not unjust to him. It might have been more just if he had been at least convicted and fined at the end of it on some of the counts (he was wholly innocent on some counts, not morally innocent though perhaps legally innocent on others). On the other hand, he was no simple evil oppressor. One of the odd things about the whole case is that twenty years earlier Hastings was keen for reform of the East India company which the Whigs opposed for domestic political reasons (Burke disliked this policy, rebelled against it, was disciplined and eventually launched his own policy, to which he dragged his party almost as much as he dragged the Tories). Hastings' most effective defence would have been to ask, "Where were you when I wanted to stop these things?".

Psst! Wanna see my hit counter? Well, it's a hit counter, and I set it up myself all right. You will observe that there were four, count them, four hits in the month of July. Three of them occured on July 19th and were all me, checking to see that I'd set the thing up right.

So, out there somewhere, is the the person who, having visited this weblog on 20th July 2002, was destined to be the one and only soul on this planet to follow one particular shy little link and see my little joke. Who are you? Did you laugh?

LATER: Oh, all right. Click on the word "me" in the link above. Happy now?

Le Shampooing can now be called Shampoo. Contrary to popular belief I am not engaged in a crusade to get everyone to speak English. I have no particular lust to see English labels on French supermarket shelves. It is a victory for the freedom of speech of producers, the freedom to buy of consumers, and for the cause of anti-protectionism that the EU has obliged the French government to accept English or other non-French labels on products for sale, but my gratitude to the EU knows bounds. I don't concede the EU's right to dictate what goes on labels any more than the French government's.

A good day for some. Indepundit reports a surge in campaign contributions from Arab-sounding sources to the conspiracy theorist congresswoman, Cynthia McKinney. Some of you will be bridling at this. Some of you will be saying, "Getting a bit close to the knuckle, isn't it, looking at people's names on a list of donors and making insinuations based on their apparent race? Would you do this if they were Jewish names?" Actually, if the surge had happened on September 11 2001, as this surge did, yes I would. As Indepundit said, after saying how the attacks had an extra horror for him because September 11 is his birthday,
"Some people, on the other hand, decided after learning of the attacks that it was a great moment to make a political contribution."
Is this as bad as it looks? Here are some possible mitigating factors:

  • Is it possible that donations are actually made a day or two earlier and only show up on the website on September 11?
  • Is the proportion of donors that are Arab-Americans actually so very high?
  • What proportion of donors are non-American Arabs?
  • What is the usual seasonal profile for contributions from both categories? Could there be some innocent reason to do with tax or religious festivals that would result in contributions tending to bunch at that time?
  • No doubt all the donors would claim this one whether true or not. But it probably is true for many that the motive for the donations was fear of a backlash against Arabs. They were seeking the protection of their congresswoman.
Someone will look into it, no doubt. Since I got the link from Instapundit, make that lots of someones.

UPDATE: make that Jim Henley and then tha Atlanta Journal-Constitution. To see the AJC story, follow a link from Instapundit again. Why don't I link to them directly? Well, they didn't even have the courtesy to credit Indepundit.

Thursday, August 01, 2002
Do you think I'm getting a bit obsessed with the Guardian? Could be, could be, but I can't help wondering what they'll make of the UN saying there was no massacre in Jenin. The "blame both sides" bit is the usual moral equivalency verbiage - No! Wait! Wowee, look, progress: they do blame both sides!

The Litmus Test. I have only just found this Ian Buruma article on the boycott of Israeli academics. I found myself skimming with interest down the list of related articles at the bottom too, particularly the actual list of names of those academics who signed the boycott. Two points struck me: first that the Guardian's coverage of this issue is pretty fair - the academic connection brings out the best in the Guardian, and second that the actual wording of the boycott statement is not as extreme ("I will continue to collaborate with, and host, Israeli scientific colleagues on an individual basis") as Mona Baker's out-and-out racist actions suggest.

The boycott is still a disgrace. Reading history, certain issues serve as a litmus test for telling which characters to like and which not to. In the great dramas of the past the titles and slogans at the top of the banners first lose their power to stir the heart, and finally their power to even twitch the right neurons. It doesn't matter that much. Most of us can get through a dinner party conversation without knowing whether we would have been pro or anti the Corn Laws, the Jacobites or the House of York. Although I myself frequently wake up distraught that I can never remember whether Warren Hastings was a good or a bad thing, my affliction is rare. But I know I like Johnson better than Boswell, because Johnson knew slavery was wrong. There is scarcely any credit in my knowing that slavery is wrong when the whole world except for some barbaric outposts knows it too, but credit is due to Johnson and his contemporaries who discerned the evil when many did not. Even more credit is due to those further back in time, who first denounced slavery when the whole world thought it a natural institution ordained by God or the gods.

This piffling little boycott (with or without Mona Baker's embarrassing extension of it) is a far lesser evil than slavery, of course. The great conflict of which the boycott is a part may or may not equal slavery in the harm it does; time and geiger counters will tell. And one day many of the issues that divide us now will be essay questions for schoolchildren. "Would you have been a Whig or a Tory? Give reasons for your decision." "Would you have invaded Iraq or not? Explain in no more than 500 words." Gosh, hard to tell what to do for the best, isn't it? But sacking academics for being Israeli is, in one small respect, like slavery in Johnson's time: anyone ought to be able to tell that it is contemptible, and whether you let yourself see it or not is a filter that judges you. And the same goes for targeting civilians, old people and children. The Palestinians of these last three decades will leave behind them hardly any art, science, literature, political science, or testament of religious thought worth study, except to students of the bizarre in the case of religious thought, but they will be remembered for that.

UPDATE: ...and for the extent to which their society as a whole condoned and celebrated evil.

Equal before the law. Ain't No Bad Dude correctly points out that if a person is legally due government compensation, then he is legally due it no matter how rich or unworthy he is. I don't know about the specific case he mentions, that of a Mr William Clinton, but the principle is sound.