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:

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Wednesday, July 30, 2003
No, I don't know why there's a big and growing blank above the top post on my blog, or what I can do about it. Do you? Send me an email with "Solution to the blanketty blank" in the title if you do.

UPDATE: Ha! The problem has now apparently been solved. I used the oldest method known to man: magic. Immediately I mentioned the problem it disappeared. This works on cars too, "Honestly Fred, it was rattling fit to burst before I took it in for you to look at."

FINAL UPDATE OK, I know what's wrong and I'm going to cure it. Thanks to all those who wrote in.

Val-e-Diction has provided what amounts to a short course in Chile's recent history, drawing on works by right wing and left wing authors. One of the comments describes it as 'epic.' Allende's continuing role as an icon of the left gives this post particular relevance.

Coincidentally, this post from Normblog mentions Allende. "That earlier September 11" he calls it, which coming from a writer who is quite clear about the evil of September 11 2001, shows how strong the Allende icon is. Norman Geras is committed left winger, a man who can address his readers as 'comrades' without any irony that I can see, but despite the gulf between us, I felt his defence of the Iraq war was strong and to the point - particularly in its healthy elevation of the moral above the legal.

Incidentally, we libertarians claim, with some justice, that we are unfairly ignored in mainstream political discourse. Conservatives make the same claim, and it is often true for them too. But the two groups who really have cause to complain about neglect by the media are Ulster unionists and the internationalist left. I mean internationalist in the Spanish Civil War sense; I can't think of a better term at this late hour.

Just to make clear, and getting back to the Chile issue, I have no sympathy with that torturer Pinochet. I don't think his support for capitalism had much to do any love of liberty or trust in human beings to be the best judges of their own interests - though I will grant that as I learn more about Allende I have no choice but to regard Pinochet as less culpable than I once did. Less culpable, but still culpable. As far as I'm concerned it's a testimony to the correctness of free-market policies that they work even when bad men operate them

The Speculist is a new blog with an interest in the cutting edge of science, and nice and nasty stuff we might be getting in the future. The little slogan under the blog title is just so cool.

Remember I praised Tony Sewell's contribution to the Guardian debate on black youth, where he was arguing with Lee Jasper? Well, reader Kevin Richardson has heard him speak:
...One particular point: he reckoned that black children as young as seven start to realise that their teachers are a bit afraid of them, being reluctant to act firmly in response to bad behaviour for fear of being labelled racist. This possibly contributes towards the culture of
underachievement among black boys.

This and other points he made struck me as highly plausible, and yet they are ones which a white person might be reluctant to make.

It's very belated e-mail night at this blog. Back on 22 July a sharp-eyed reader wrote:
To answer your question
>How long you reckon before someone who didn't give a flying f*** about
>leaving them in power to torture and murder thousands of Iraqis starts
>moaning about due process?

Less than 12 hours

Rangel: U.S. Acted Illegally in Killing Uday and Qusay
Incidentally, I try to quote reader's names as they sign themselves within the body of the message. In other words even if I know their name from pressing the "Details" bit in the header, I don't use it unless they do. This caution is because the results of quoting someone's name when they wanted it kept secret are worse than the results of not quoting it when they wanted it quoted. Obviously, if I get it wrong, let me know.

Getting back to my original question, Robert Hinkley suggested this link if you wanna see hearts bleed for Uday: BBC Talking Point.

Damian Penny said that he couldn't bear to excerpt any one paragraph from this survey of anti-semitism by Jack Schwartz, it was all so good. I can, just:
The critical tactic in carrying out an anti-Semitic agenda is to attack the Jewish people at its strong point — where, ironically, it is both most exposed and most vulnerable. In the Middle Ages and beyond, the target was the Court Jew who had the ear of the ruler; during the Inquisition it was the Cristianos Nuevos — the Spanish Jews who had thrived after their conversion to Christianity. Under Hitler it was the entrepreneurial and professional classes who were the first victims of Nazi boycotts and exclusion. And today it is Israel, the most powerful symbol of Jewish national resurgence in two millennia.
But like the man said, you simply must read the whole thing.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003
A rusty bicycle has appeared in our local pond, plus a whole load of other junk. Why? Here's one possible reaon.

OK, I'm really sorry about the mail. I never did catch up after my illness. If you are wondering why I have not responded to your e-mail, it's almost certainly just my general disorganisation, plus the summer holidays and the stern yet joyful challenge of learning about my new overlocker.

Or it could be because I hate you and this is the first step in my master plan for your destruction.

Someone thought up an innovative and low-cost way to combat terrorism. So they axed it.

Iain Murray has uncovered an unelected cosmopolitan cabal, linked by ties of shared ritual and common history, and engaged in ceaseless activity to gain disproportionate influence on the political life of this country.

I'm a member.

Sunday, July 27, 2003
Das Überlocker. Enough of politics, I have got me an overlocker. It cost more than my last car but two. These beasties are to proper sewing machines what the microwave oven is to a proper oven - the quote comes from Jan Saunders of Sewing for Dummies fame, and it's true. An overlocker can't do some things that a proper sewing machine can but it does its more limited range of tasks much faster and, once you have one, the change in the relative cost in effort of each action inevitably changes the whole style of cuisine, sorry, sewing. For benighted readers who do not know what an overlocker is, take off your T-shirts. Yes, very nice. Now turn the T inside out and look at the seams. They were sewn, bound and cut in one operation by an overlocker. The fluffy, softer thread used is distinctive, and overlockers are better at not distorting stretchy fabrics than an ordinary sewing machine is. In the opposite direction, they are also better at not puckering up thin, fray-prone "brittle" fabrics. I have already had the guts to make a child's dressing-up cloak from some ridiculous shiny stuff that I had kept for years waiting for the day when I got my Black Belt.

This machine - a Janome MyLock 644D for the hordes of sewing-geeks who infest this blog like swarming locusts* - is actually my second machine. My first one cost twenty five quid second hand for a machine that would have cost sixty new. Counting twenty-five quid as the cost of a lesson in what not to buy, that was money well spent. Where my first machine was plasticcy this one is heavy and even the plastic is posh heavy plastic.

My husband has kindly translated sewing geek language into Engineering: the overlocker is to the ordinary sewing machine what the vertical mill is to the lathe; you can do almost anything on a lathe including vertical milling - but a mill does the job so much better.

*but not in the swarming season. I.e. one or two mildly curious locusts might happen to amble by.

Friday, July 25, 2003
No one seems to have paid much attention to the fourteen year old son of the late Qusay who died along with his father and uncle.

I don't blame the US troops who killed him. In that culture, boys become men early, and I can well believe that he was firing at them - and bullets from a fourteen year old can kill you quite as dead as bullets from an adult. Furthermore it is, sadly, probable that he was trained to ruthlessness and quite possible that he was a murderer in his own right. (They say that Caligula's daughter was a monster of cruelty by the age of five, and no one is recorded as having mourned when a legionary bashed her brains out against a wall in the first hours of Claudius's reign.)

Still, it is a pity that he had to die too. Somewhere C S Lewis notes that the smallest act of kindness, or restraint from cruelty, on the part of a person raised to vice may count as much in the final reckoning as great heroism on the part of someone raised to virtue. I hope that in his short life he was not quite as bad as his family wanted him to be.

Greetings, Samizdata readers: if you've come by while following Brian Micklethwait's link to me, the post of mine you are looking for is headed "If an opinion can't be shouted from the rooftops it will sure as hell leak out through the gutters" and can be found here.

Private prison a success - even the Guardian says so..

I didn't even know that US states had bond ratings. But the discovery that California's is two notches above 'junk' doesn't surprise me.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Robert McNally has the mother of all links compilations on the subject of "the Brights". It's called "Tracking the Bright Idea", and it does what the name says. He writes, "The purpose of TTBI is to collect commentary both supporting and criticizing the Brights movement." Look here.

John Costello writes:
Surely you are not going to allow the French to determine the pronunciation of English words! Are you going to say 'Par-ee' as well? Non! Non, madamme! The proper pronunciation in English -- both the British and American dialects -- of Niger, both river and country, is"Nigh-gher." Stess on the first syllable.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003
Read this fascinating debate between Dr Tony Sewell and Lee Jasper about black underachievement. Both are black; Sewell is an academic and Jasper a professional anti-racist. (Strictly accurate description.) I was really cheered by Tony Sewell's contribution - I think I had heard of him before, but had mixed him up with Thomas Sowell. I'm glad to discover that at least one British black writer is arguing passionately for a culture of responsibility: until now I'd only really come across American equivalents. Here's something he said:
The real poverty that our children face is a poverty of aspiration - they have linked themselves with the prevailing anti-learning culture of their white working class counterparts. The sin that you commit is to give this "mentality" credence by reducing it solely to white racism.

I was struck by one startling admission in Lee Jasper's response:
Tony, Levels of racial inequality have grown in education, health, criminal justice and public sector employment over the last 20 years. This indicates that racism has increased over this time. The greatest weapon in the hands of an oppressor is the mind of the oppressed, and your blind refusal to correctly assess the impact of racism lets all white people off the hook.
So after twenty years of vigorous coercive anti-racism, racism has increased. Maybe one day Lee Jasper will make the connection between his own daily work and its results.

My husband's impression from schools is that racism of the crude kind is decreasing among children. Partly this is the result of the good use of anti-racist propaganda (please note that both adjectives and the noun in that sentence were chosen deliberately: racism is bad, being anti it is good and propagating that meme effectively is good - however much the anti-racist fanatics debase the coinage), and partly because more white children and more black and brown children share the same playgrounds and find that they get along OK, after all. People often do.

Yet racial inequality is increasing, according to Lee Jasper, who ought to know. I think the hook he is so keen to keep white people collectively skewered on has something to do with it. People on hooks are apt to be bad-tempered. People who consciously hold other people on hooks are apt to neglect opportunities for self-improvement.

Yup. Gottem. How long you reckon before someone who didn't give a flying f*** about leaving them in power to torture and murder thousands of Iraqis starts moaning about due process?

As I exulted my husband quoted John Donne with a hint of reproof in his voice. Any man's death diminishes me. Hum. Yeah. I really ought to hope that the murderous pair repented before they died. OK. I hope it. I just don't think it's terribly likely, and my mind is more on the suddenly improved prospects for the healing of Iraq.

And when I think of the brides raped on their wedding day... No man is an island, but some men are extremely exposed peninsulas, and they dug the channels themselves.

Just die already! I couldn't find a link for this one either, but on Radio 4's News Quiz yesterday it said that some safety officer at an old peoples' home had forbidden the residents to grow pot plants on safety grounds. Ostensibly he was worried they'd constitute a "tripping hazard", or maybe he thought the Venus flytrap would develop a taste for human flesh - but who cares about the official reason? The real reason is that it is pleasant to control other peoples' lives, the more so when one can reassure oneself that one acts from the most benevolent of motives.

Pity the institutionalised old folks, though. Already forbidden dogs, cats, and sex as a solace for their declining years, now they cannot even care for a plant. Protected from dangerous flowering shrubs they can get on with staring at the wall undisturbed. Conveniently, their premature deaths from boredom and uselessness will not show up on anyone's safety statistics. This is our future.

Zipp-a-dee-doo-dah, zipp-a-dee-day,
My oh my, we got Uday...

.... Or maybe it's all just another rumour. No link, 'cos my readers can click Google news all on their ownesomes.

I say tomayto,
Qusay... nothing 'cos you're dead.

Monday, July 21, 2003
I'm back. And I have a pile, a teetering, intimidating pile fully two hundred electron-widths high of unread and undealt-with e-mail. I shall ignore it for now - and much of it forever - and get on with saying something.

Just let me think a moment.

I suppose it's this. I missed the David Kelly suicide story, and now it has the insubstantial feel common to news that has the effrontery to exist without my validation. All I can think of to say now is: suicide is nearly always wrong. I'm sure the BBC behaved badly, just as I'm sure the Labour government spin machine behaved badly, but neither of them killed him. He killed himself. I'm sure the poor man felt harassed, pressurised, slandered - but he still had a choice and he made the wrong one. Several wrong ones, actually, starting with the decision to give "confidential" briefings to journalists at all. Nothing that could conceivably have happened to him had his leaks been made public in the normal way was worth killing himself over or causing that amount of pain to his family.

Friday, July 18, 2003
Sorry for the gap in posting. Turned out that the lack of energy that I simply put down to the heat might actually have been caused by some sort of lurgy creeping through the defences of my immune system. I'm still a bit below par and suffering from earache and sinusy disgustingy thingies.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003
Too hot to blog. But worse weather is forecast.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003
More French perfidy. In Touch, a radio programme for the blind and partially sighted, reported earlier tonight that the French blind football team are accused of fielding a sighted player.

The 1960 Penguin Dictionary of Quotations - reprinted 1961, 1963, 1964, 1967, 1968, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977 (twice), 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982 - and for all I know umptillion times after that - gives four quotations for Harry:
- breed again such a king H. 154:254
- but H., H. 323: 17*
- H. the King, Bedford and Exeter 324:24
- H. with his beaver on 321:31

and one for Hatchet:
- did it with my little h. 410:7

...and not a single one of them are any good for this. Unless he put a beaver on to write the article, of course. Or has been chopping up his fellow Guardianistas. He might have been; anybody might be provoked by Hugo Young on a day like this. Especially if wearing a beaver.

*That Shakespeare. Overrated, I reckon. I tried saying "but H., H. 323: 17" in all sorts of dead dramatic voices and none of them sounded any bloody good at all.

Long, long ago I was reading my new Brownie handbook. There were pictures of Brownies and Girl Guides from countries around the world engaged in helpful deeds. I enthusiastically told my mother (who, it belatedly occurs to me, perhaps did not fully attend to my constant stream of Junior One wisdom) all about one picture, of an African girl pounding grain. "We. Don't. Say. That," came her response in a very odd voice. I was confused. Why didn't we say that the picture showed a Niger Brownie?

OK, so later I figured out that I had innocently said something bad. What I didn't figure out until - er, today, as it happens, was that even my corrected pronounciation of the word Niger was wrong. Being a Francophone country it's said Nee-zhair. Sometimes news junkies, who get their news from text, don't know stuff that ordinary people who watch the News at Ten do

Mugabe to go. Pity it's not at the point of a bayonet, but anything's better than him staying.

Saturday, July 12, 2003
Jim writes:
Natalie, I love your column, but when you quote at length Angie Schulz on Fred Hoyle's 'Black Cloud" (one of the seminal sf works of my youth) and I find myself reading her remark, "Hoyle's astronomy stinks in this book, too." ...well, that's just a bit too much.

Sir Fred Hoyle was Plumian Professor of Astrophysics and Natural Philosophy at Cambridge University and founded the Institute of Theoretical Astronomy there.

Read more on one of the few truly _great_ 20th Century astronomers here.

This post by by Oliver Kamm was written to defend his decision to attack Lib-Dem leader Charles Kennedy, and is part of an ongoing argument between him and Nick Barlow. But along the way it has the clearest defence of the recent war that I have ever read.

Thursday, July 10, 2003
If you are one of the bunch of people who wrote me such erudite and deeply-felt e-mails about much weightier subjects than how Lucky fooled the Sirians...

...then you, as a serious person, will be above childish impatience.

'Night 'night.

The Dark Avenger (His real name, though he sometimes employs a much more mundane one outside the real world of the Blogosphere) writes:
I'm afraid to inform you that not only did Asimov know some scientists, but that he was had a Ph.D in Biochemistry, so he knew something about research and how science was practiced. He even wrote a fictional paper about a chemical that had a relationship with time so that if you went to dissolve it in water, it got wet before the H2O had gotten to it.

As for the Lucky Starr series, please keep in mind that it was written as a juvenile, which meant that it was written for younger readers, so it has that kind of thrilling breathless quality that one associates with '20s and '30s SF. To measure Asimov by this work is like judging R. Heinlein's political thought using Podkayne of Mars as a reference work.

Uh... is there a problem with doing that?

Finally, if you read the passage you cite through the eyes of a SF reader who lives in 1950's America, the tattoo reminds one of the Lens in E. E. Smith's The Lensman Series, and it would bring to mind an FBI Special Agent badge, which would have the same power as a KGB ID minus the fear and terror that the latter would induce in a citizen of the USSR.
Yep. Kimball Kinnison would be in the Council all right.

In fact I did know vaguely that Asimov was a scientist, having read with great pleasure many collections of his factual articles, and a clearly 'from life' non-SF novel of his about a murder in the chemistry department. What I got wrong was how old Asimov was when he wrote the "Lucky Starr" books. I had thought they were written when he was little more than a a kid. Turns out it was the classic (excuse me while I privately address one particular reader here: I DON'T CARE. SAY WHAT YOU LIKE. I STILL LOVE 'EM) robot stories that were produced when he was still setting out on his career. In the Lucky Starr series he was just enjoying writing for kids.

Meanwhile, urgent Council business awaits! Angie Schultz writes:

Your proposed essay sounds very interesting. If you have not done so already, may I recommend reading Fred Hoyle's _The Black Cloud_? I read this for the first time a couple months ago, and was frequently moved to throw it across the room.

In the book, an interstellar dust cloud moves into the sun's neighborhood. Since it may cause profound climate changes on earth, the British government sets up a scientific institute in the countryside to study it. The scientist-hero of the story then begins throwing his weight around, bending ministers to his will.

At one point, he orders the whole place locked down so that no one can leave, including the PM, who has come to talk to him in person about his increasingly autocratic ways. And this works! The guards, apparently, never think of disobeying the scientist in favor of the PM. This works on his scientific colleagues too; occasionally they raise faint objections to his schemes, but never dream of revolting.

It's possible that Hoyle thought that people---even his fellow scientists---were such sheep that if only someone would Lead, all would naturally follow. But I think it's more likely that he believed that his hero was winning them over by sheer force of intellect and personality.

This happens a lot in those "Council of Science" type stories. The hero is always the Best of the Best (usually in several fields). He keeps coming up with brilliant ideas and daring plans, and soon no one thinks of questioning him (and, of course, he's always right in the end). This is a very adolescent (generally adolescent *male*) way of looking at the world, the idea that there is ONE Best of the Best whose brilliance and fitness to lead will be recognized and acknowledged by all.

Sigh. I love that sort of stuff. This is what I thought science would be like (a lot easier than it is). In reality, having better ideas just means people work harder to shoot you down (mind you, I don't have first hand experience of that).

Anyway, rather than regarding scientists' power-fantasies as being secret totalitarian daydreams, maybe we should regard totalitarian societies as the incarnation of adolescent male wish-fulfillment.

(Hoyle's book is also interesting because it addressed global warming, decades ago. There's a charming---I should say quaint---passage where the first hint of global warming is fine, sunny weather (perfect for tomatoes) in the British late spring. In a few sentences Hoyle acknowledges that, you know, there were floods 'n stuff in other, unimportant parts of the world.)

Hoyle's astronomy stinks in this book, too. I suppose I should cut him some slack because he was writing fifty years ago, but some of it is just too much.

Don't worry, my dear, when scientists achieve their rightful place as the benevolent rulers of mankind, I shan't forget the Little People. (Probably because I'll be one of them.)

A Canadian woman may have been beaten into a coma while being interrogated in Iran.

Yesterday was busy. I plain forgot to participate in the bloggers' day of coverage of the Iranian freedom movement, so I don't know whether this disturbing story has been widely covered or not.

Zahra Kazemi, 54, was grabbed by police after taking photographs of the Elvin prison facility in northern Tehran.

Although details of the incident remain sketchy, the Department of Foreign Affairs is investigating claims Kazemi was arrested on June 23, branded a spy and subsequently assaulted by her police interrogators.

Canadian officials are unsure of what, exactly, happened to Kazemi after she was taken into custody, but they know she was admitted to hospital under mysterious circumstances two days later. Her family alleges Kazemi slipped into a coma with a cerebral hemorrhage suffered during a violent interrogation.
Sad to say, the only unusual thing about Zahra Kazemi's story - should she ever recover to tell it - may be that as a Canadian national rather than an Iranian, she has a slightly better chance of ever getting justice.

Wednesday, July 09, 2003
This House believes that the influence of grieving relatives has increased, is increasing and should diminish.

I don't believe I'm particularly callous in saying this, but the causes that make a person worthy of sympathy and worthy of obedience may or may not coincide. Giving obedience when sympathy is all that is warranted may actually cost lives. After the Hatfield train crash - which everyone called a "disaster", although that word should really be reserved for a tragedy that kills scores or hundreds rather than four - Britain seemed to take a collective decision to prostrate itself at the altar of the god of safety. Millions upon millions have been spent on safety measures. Yet there was another multiply-fatal rail accident yesterday, I notice. Meanwhile an increase in the number of preventable deaths has gone unnoticed - because it occurred on the roads, where there is no corporate body to sue. Many former rail travellers have switched to the car because the safety measures on the railway caused delay and expense. The roads being more dangerous, a predictable number of them were killed who would not have been had the "safety" measures not been instituted. They died for safety but no survivors' group speaks for them.

Now we have this prosecution. No one thinks the six managers charged with manslaughter wanted to harm but not kill the victims of the crash, although that is what 'manslaughter' means. The prosecution will probably fail. Good. But what is not good is that certain rail positions are now known as "go to jail jobs". Now that's going to attract quality applicants to revitalise the rail network...

The other link is to a story about the views of a man whose son was among those murdered at Bali. Tragic, but his political opinions are still wrong, and indeed in so far as they gain influence will make the murder of other Australians more likely.

Marx had a point. About class interest, I mean. I grant you an ad hominem argument is never proof in itself, but homines being what they are it gets you in the right ballpark nine times out of ten. I've read a lot of 30s, 40s and 50s SF as well as a fair bit of expository science writing by British scientists of that period, who were usually Popular Front when they weren't outright Stalinists like Haldane. They all just love to posit a future world where The Scientist has taken his rightful place, directing the energies of mankind to peaceful purposes at last. Coupled with that aim is the most withering scorn for the selfish motivations of everyone else. This scorn isn't just a makeweight extra piece of abuse, it is a key charge. The romantics, the obscurantists, the reactionaries all only want what they want because of their class-interests. Only the philosopher rises above it all.

Anyway, I lapped up all that type SF for decades before I noticed that the gleaming steel towers of the brave new world seemed to include a suspicious number of vast penthouse offices for... scientists. They, like other men, want a world where they are top of the heap. (Perhaps it would be fairer to say "wanted" as that tendency doesn't seem common among modern day scientists, unless you count some gentle whingeing about money, although the power-lust is rising again among the scientist-bureacrats and health regulators.)

One day I'd like to write an essay called The Council of Science about scientists' power fantasies. I owe a great debt to Isaac Asimov, who widened my world and seems to have been a genuinely nice chap, but his pseudonymous Lucky Starr series (There's a fair-minded review here, if you scroll down, and this is about a comic strip version I'd never heard of) will provide the title and the opening examples.

As the author of the first link above writes:

David "Lucky" Starr is a member of the Council of Science, the most powerful branch of the government. (As a scientist, I find this idea rather amusing.) In practice, not only is Lucky an brilliant scientist, he's also six feet tall, extremely athletic, and is a great secret agent. (Perhaps Asimov did not know many real scientists.)

Now these books are fun. I bet you'd like to have a tattoo like Lucky's. By mental effort he can bring about hormonal changes that reveal a pattern on his wrist, if I've remembered right, proving his membership of the mighty and benevolent Council. The magic tattoo opens every door and obliges everyone to offer the bearer full cooperation. But there is just a bijoux little hint-ette of the effect of a KGB identity card in Leningrad circa 1955 about it all.

Tuesday, July 08, 2003
Sadly, both the Iranian cojoined twins died during surgery. They went under the anasthetic in the full knowledge of the risk they took. I am glad that their last conscious thoughts were hopeful ones.

They'll take away my wand from my cold, dead fingers. Layman's Logic has yet more on Harry Potter as libertarian-ish political commentary. The Philosophical Cowboy was kind enough to say that I helped put ideas into his head, although a good many others in the Blogosphere also seem to enjoy this pastime.

(Layman's Logic seems to be taking a long time to load, perhaps slowed down by the Instalanche. But it gets there in the end. Minimize it and do twenty adductor lifts while you wait, unless you're in a management meeting.)

Crooked Timber is a new politico-cultural group blog. One of its founder members is Chris Bertram of Junius, who has written a splendidly Victorian introductory post:
"Nevertheless, such lists, assemblages, diaries, complaints, lamentations, polemics and records of triumph and disaster are now so common and so diverse that new entrants into the field must perforce struggle to be noticed. Notwithstanding such difficulties, we believe that our new enterprise - combining as it does the skills, talents and intelligences of personages of experience and distinction - will assuredly meet with the approval of readers of judgment and taste."
And no doubt Crooked Timber will also supply, in the fashion of the best Cyclopedias and Concanetations of All Knowledge, Tables of Tides, Divers Gnomes and Apophthegms and Notes on Forms of Address to Persons of Rank.

UPDATE: Cornered your very first day! (The link sends you to a very funny double parody: Molesworth goes to Hogwarts. CURSES! i could hav ritten that if only the thought had entered into my grate brane.

Monday, July 07, 2003
4th July fireworks being let off in the comments box at Conservative Commentary. Peter Cuthbertson says that Britons shouldn't cheer Independence Day.

Dr Frank has added more on the case of the Cal Poly student in hot water for posting a flyer about C. Mason Weaver's book "It's OK to Leave the Plantation." One of the many good things about Dr Frank's account is that it does acknowledge that Weaver's title is intentionally provocative. Now, I don't object to it on those grounds; uncounted white left-wingers have been praised for provocativeness, so why not a black right-winger? What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Still, the fact that Weaver's title does press so many hot-buttons leads me to be more forgiving of the initial outrage on the part of the black students. They may genuinely not have "got" that it was a book title and that the black man shown on the flyer was the author of the book. Looked at in that light one could read the headline of the flyer as some sort of jibe, and think that the black man pictured on it was meant to be a generic figure showing that the jibe was directed at blacks.

For their part, perhaps it never even occured to the producers of the flyer that people wouldn't know their headline was a book title. Clearly they all knew about Mr Weaver being a writer and activist, or they wouldn't have invited him to speak in the first place, but perhaps his name and thesis are not universally known. (Incidentally, has the the planned speaking engagement taken place?) There is no more natural mistake than to assume that what is obvious to you is obvious to everyone.

So the whole thing could be an innnocent misunderstanding. If so, as so often, the attempted cover-up is far more culpable than the initial flaring of temper. The Cal Poly authorities could have said, "Oh, we get it now. Tut-tut, you Republicans, you really ought to have said 'Come and hear Mr Mason Weaver talk about his latest book entitled It's OK to Leave the Plantation' - why, if you had, we'd have avoided all this unpleasantness." Rather than do that they chose to come out with this distasteful and doubly-racist notion that the physical presence of a white male with opinions they didn't like constituted harm to the fragile pysches of his black fellow students.

Roy Hattersley says that "By definition, antisocial behaviour has to be prevented by society as a whole."

If one takes "prevented by society as a whole" to mean "prevented by passing a law against it", as it is clear that Hattersley does, there is scarcely any tyranny over speech, behaviour (including sexual behaviour), association or custom that this sentence would not justify.

Sunday, July 06, 2003
German Harry Potter fans are holding a group translation party on the internet, something in the style of a barn-raising. Lawyers are not invited.

[BTW - if you're looking for the post on Lord Puttnam, it's over here at Biased BBC where it should have been in the first place.]

"I knew that our African parachute had a chance to open." June Arunga is one of those pulling at the cord. In her first two decades of life she has watched her family's standard of living plummet under central planning, and couldn't understand why the care and benevolence of the officials always seemed to come to naught. Then her brother came home from America excited by some new ideas...

I don't presume to say whether the decision of two Iranian women, Siamese twins joined at the head, to risk probable death in an operation to separate them was wise or not. I only pray that the operation, which continues as I write, is a success. There are many pictures about that show Ladan and Laleh Bijani's current physical appearance, but none of them are as heartbreaking as this picture showing a friend of theirs kissing them for what might be the last time.

Last night I went to a blogger party hosted by the ever-hospitable Perry de Havilland. Pictures? You want pictures as well? Here they are.

Friday, July 04, 2003

Geoffrey Barto writes:
I saw a mention of Bright's Disease in this morning's paper and couldn't help thinking that while Bright's Disease afflicts the kidneys, the Brights' disease leads to an excess of gall.

For sufferers of the former, I offer my sympathy. Not so for those who experience the latter affliction.
Incidentally, Mr Barto observes in his blog, while discussing Mr Berlusconi's comparison of a German MEP to a kapo, that "Interestingly, stereotyping is considered acceptable [among EU politicos] if you're typecasting Bush as a cowboy. "

Honey, it's worse than that. Stereotyping is considered acceptable if you're typecasting Bush as a Nazi.

Cool. And stupid, of course. But still cool.

British reticence from Brian Micklethwait:
"This is why the lower classes are called "lower". Because they watch this stuff week after week all the way through. Although, a simple "low" would make more sense. Everyone involved in this show is totally disgusting, including me for watching it and writing about it and thus Playing Into Their Hands."

"There are probably a thousand stupid websites I could go looking for to scatter over this posting. Do it yourself. And when you're there, stay there, and don't come back here. I despise you."

On this day... "American Top 40" made its radio debut 33 years ago. Oh, and something else happened as well...

To see what, check out this website: Independence and Its Enemies in New York. And if you think that the struggle for liberty in America ended in 1782, take a look at this post, which I'll call: Liberty and Its Enemies in California.

"I've done it," said the addict. I've been clear of that stuff for a week. Why, if you put some down right in front of me I don't think I'd even be.... tempted.

Thursday, July 03, 2003
Non sto ridendo. Perisca il pensiero! Berlusconi has certainly set the cat among the pigeons.

Improper glee isn't confined to the Eurosceptics. According to Liberation, quoted in the second link above, ""Outside, in the corridors, Romano Prodi didn't try to hide his delight. Pinching the cheeks of a Belgian journalist, he told him: 'You didn't believe me, did you? His first day will be his last.'"

(Like my foray into Babel Fish Italian. Let him {he?} who understands the subjunctive write to me and I will put all right. It has been a frighteningly long time since I was taught by an Italian lady married to a Scot who once became annoyed with a classmate by the name of Rosa. In tones of rising Scots-Italian outrage she flung out an arm and cried, "Rosa? Rosa! You ar-e not a rosa! You ar-e a nettle!")

Actually, I have better cause to be gleeful than Prodi. He can rejoice in the discomfiture of a political enemy. I can rejoice in the sight of a crack in Humpty's shell. The EU is held together by its claims of historical inevitability. Part of that seeming inevitability comes from its greyness, its decorum. Anything that widens the space of what might happen there weakens it.

Desirable real estate: They've found a solar system that closely resembles ours.

Moira Breen writes:
Re "acting like you owned the place". I seem to recall Dawkins (in Climbing Mount Improbable?) wittily mocking the pretensions of certain physical scientists who sprawl all over the sofas in Biology's living room and think their hostess is the maid: knowing themselves to be the cleverest fellows of all, they condescend to correct the biologists' confusions. They then proceed to throw out a biological howler or two before they're past the first couple of paragraphs of their tutorial.

It is odd that Dawkins is unable to connect this observation to a general principle.

Chirpily brightly, Moira

Let's hope the Blogger blug sends you to the right place for this Oliver Kamm quote. He says he's a left-liberal. He understands one aspect of conservative tradition better than many conservatives:
If I suffer emotional hurt, a democratic - but epecially a conservative - government ought to have no interest whatever in my emotional state. I do not want to live in a 'caring society': I would settle for one that disinterestedly sets the rules we live by and seeks equity (not compassion) through some measure of economic redistribution.
Personally, I don't want the redistribution or the compassion, but at the moment I fear the compassion more. Even in school I didn't like teachers being nosey. Leave pastoral care to the pastors.

I cannot agree, though, with Oliver's (if I may so call him) argument that Bush is really a left-liberal, though I hear that he has started spending like one. I would say that he has embraced anti-tyrannical and internationalist principles that have always had a left and a right-wing strain. At the moment left-wing internationalism is weak, so Bush is doing duty for both.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003
Oliver Kamm, writing on Oxford professor Andrew Wilkie's rejection of an Israeli student solely because of his nationality, says that....

Oh, blast Blogger! Read about Rachel Corrie instead.

This post from the Dissident Frogman is going round the world, sped on its way by outrage, denials, reassertions, claims of malfeasance, retraction of said claims and everything else that accompanies a story that perfectly captures the zeitgeist.

The facts are these: the American flag is absent from the collection of flags flying at the Bayeux Memorial Museum in Normandy. Smaller US flags are also not present where one would expect to see them on a display case and a pedestal elsewhere in the museum. This may be a result of anti-Americanism on the part of someone, at the museum or it may, it really may, have an innocent explanation.

Tuesday, July 01, 2003
The Thunderer speaks. And it's not just the thunder in Stephen Pollard's poor, aching head.

UPDATE: Oh, all right Americans: the Times is talking about this. What hopes for suffering humanity were raised, only to be dashed to the ground!

I've got about two minutes left to say that it's Canada Day. (Ignore the stupid timestamp below this post. I have withdrawn my whip from it and am not responsible for its mad pronouncements.) Damian Penny muses on his country's birthday, and in the post above remembers something that happened on this day in 1916.

Kevin of Lean Left has toothache. My sympathies, and I hope that 'has' has now become a 'had'. He gives a first person account of unsatisfactory treatment and denounces private medicine. On his comments I give a first person account of unsatisfactory treatment for a member of my family and denounce the NHS. And so it goes, each of us with our own worm's-eye view. However this man had a clear bird's-eye view of the NHS for two years, as part of his job as health editor for the Guardian's Sunday sister, The Observer. It convinced him that the system could never work. I said I'd re-link to this article every few months forever until the NHS goes away. It hasn't yet, so here it is again.

The Philosophical Cowboy has a few tart points to make about Berlusconi.
"It was at the liberty of the long post-war coalitions to free up media ownership. Berlusconi built a free media presence, the state didn't opt to offer competition, and now they're unfortunate enough to find themselves with commercial and state television in the hands of people they don't like."
He also links further down to this story, about the people marching in Hong Kong against the [quote heavy irony] normalisation [unquote heavy irony] of Hong Kong's law on subversion. The authorities want to bring HK's more liberal law down to the level of mainland China's. These protesters have something in common with the Countryside Alliance protestors: they are "virgins" who have never been on a demonstration before.

The political institutions that permit freedom are, historically, a western invention. No, that's not quite right. There has been freedom of speech inside happy families, among friends and among good neighbours of all nations since time immemorial. Nor do I mean to denigrate China's ancient legal system which had open hearings with every word recorded when we still practised trial by combat and ordeal. However the purely political concept of freedom is largely a western invention. But when you hear people say that it is irrelevant to Asians or Africans, think of these marchers. One of the nice things about the world of ideas is that you can adopt any one you fancy and make it your own, just as we did in the West when we copied our numerical system from its Hindu inventors via the Arabs. I hope that Hong Kong will keep and mainland China will adopt the laws that permit its people to discover new insights that the whole world can use. We already have a non-Communist China in all but name (and the habit of repression), and it is burning its way out of poverty in a generation. Imagine a free China. Imagine it.

"As long as we don't see how the foxes are killed, you're OK." Read the comment about 'lamping' to this Samizdata post on the hunting ban.

Not that I think 'lamping' is particularly cruel either. It's just necessary. The point is that the anti-hunt lobby are plenty more enraged by the red coats than by the actual deaths of foxes. An infallible test is to examine how the same activists react to the hunting lore of Amerindians or Aborigines; usually it's with a respectful word about how those peoples know and love the animals they kill, as if a high level of melanin in the skin were a necessary condition for any such emotion.

Mind you, I don't agree with the Countryside Alliance's view, expressed on Radio 4 at lunchtime today, that the Parliament Act 1911 is being misused. It's being used exactly as it was designed to be used: to force through the will of a Commons majority against Lords delaying tactics. The question is whether a Commons majority gives anyone a right to ban hunting.

And while we're on the subject of the Parliament Act, the question of whether a Commons majority gives anyone the right to take A's money by force in order to pay B a pension is also overdue for reexamination.

"As long as we don't see how the sausage is made, you're OK." Mark Steyn on the Supreme Court's message to America.

You know, I am easily embarrassed and I like things to be nice. That's why I will often defend the right to fudge, to blur harsh distinctions, to not rock the boat and to generally act like you are at a vicarage tea party for a congregation riven by schism. Mankind needs more vicarage tea parties.

Good thing I am not a judge solemnly charged with intepreting the laws according to the Constitution of the United States of America.

'Most everybody sends me bright stuff. Bloggers like all this because we're pedants and proceduralists and proud of it, and because, like Browning, "Our interest's on the dangerous edge of things, The honest thief, the tender murderer..." In other words both Atheist and Christian bloggers like exploring their own complicatedness.

Anyway, here's Andrea Harris and commenters and Val Dorta on the 'bright' meme, the latter quoting Jonathan Gewirtz.

Val Dorta is an American who used to be a Venezuelan. Read this post on racial discrimination to see an immigrant's view of affirmative action and the wider culture of grievance.

"The social-engineering mindset is infinitely creative and the last century saw worse things, starting with the war to end all wars. Think about it."

Talking of pedantry, I did a google search on "most everybody", thinking it was a quote from Uncle Tom's Cabin and found loads of entries showing that it is accepted American usage for "almost everybody." I had thought it was only used jokingly.