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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Tuesday, September 30, 2003
I've dot a gold so not much bloggig. But here's an odd thing. I was reading The Hotspur Book for Boys published in 1937 and came across a story called "2+2=5 in Hickey" by one Arthur Radcliffe that is either quite mind-bogglingly implausible or very revealing about bygone educational methods. In the story an upright young schoolmaster, Bill, goes to teach at the school of an extremely isolated rural village in Arkansas. He soon discovers that in Hickey there are four feet in a yard, twenty inches in a foot, twenty pounds to a stone and twenty articles to a dozen. This isn't meant to be comedy. It turns out that the local evil trading company has controlled all schooling ever since the coming of free education to Hickey (see where relying on the state gets you), and has been systematically deceiving the people so as to diddle them out of the rightful price for their produce.

So far, we have a very interesting premise for a kids' story. I doubt anything like it could really have happened in 1937, when radio was at its height, but since it is only a kids' story, never mind. There was however one thing that made my willingly suspended disbelief come crashing down on top of me: the benighted inhabitants have also been misinformed about the multiplication table and firmly believe that three times four makes fifteen. When Bill says, no it doesn't, his charges proudly show him printed tables (produced by the Company, natch) that say in black and white: 3 x 4 = 15.

My point is, not that this deception wouldn't work - of course it wouldn't ; someone would have fiddled around with piles of pebbles in the two generations the scam is meant to have been running and figured out that three piles of four pebbles is twelve pebbles - but that it so obviously wouldn't work that even the schoolboys reading the story ought to know it wouldn't work.

Oughtn't they? Or was rote learning really so big in those days that the story does in fact meet the modest standard of semi-plausibility required?

Avalon rediscovered. But no King Arthur?

(Hat tip: J M Heinrichs.)

UPDATE: The link doesn't work. I can't figure out why. Which is a pity, because it was about the rediscovery of one of the oldest European colonies in the New World, old enough that some Royalist chap had his estates there confiscated after the English Civil War. It was also the the first European settlement to proclaim religious toleration.

And now this link does work. Let's see if I remembered the story right...

Monday, September 29, 2003
Tennis champion Althea Gibson died yesterday. She won the women's singles and doubles at Wimbledon in 1957. Only six years earlier, in 1951, she had been the first ever black player to take part in the tournament. I can just remember the tennis commentators of my teens (when I knew much more about tennis than I do these days) mentioning her occasionally, but she seems far less known now than Arthur Ashe - yet she really was the first, the trailblazer.

"By supporting renewed war against Napoleon, Lord Grenville split the Whig party between his faction and the Foxite Whigs under Earl Grey. Pro-Napoleonic publications such as the Statesman - whose editor was relieved from debt in May 1815 by a roll-call of anti-war grandees such as Samuel Whitbread MP, the Duke of Bedford, Sir Francis Burdett MP, Lord Holland, the Marquess of Tavistock and Earl Grey - argued that Napoleon was 'legitimate' and had been called to the throne of France by the 'universal voice, or consent, at least, of the people'. So incorrigible were they in support of Britain's enemy that, if anything, Napoleons's fall sent him yet higher in the Radicals' esteem and a (post-Waterloo) letter of August 1815 published in Cobbett's Register claimed that his regime had been 'one of the grandest instances of legitimate government that ever was proposed and adopted for the welfare of a country.'"

- Andrew Roberts, Napoleon and Wellington.

Had I more time, historical knowledge or guts about facing a libel action what fun I could have scattering hyperlinks over that passage. Some would refer to the way Tony Blair opting for renewed war with Saddam Hussein has split the Labour party, some to the way Geoffrey Robinson keeps the New Statesman going out of his own pocket, and some (ideally taken from the letters page of the Guardian or Independent) to claims that Saddam Hussein was 'for all his faults' popular, pro-feminist, ran a nice welfare state etc.

Trouble is, I couldn't find a really juicy post April-9 Saddam-was-progressive letter. I do remember seeing one or two, but it's a vague thing to search for. (George Galloway did famously say to Saddam Hussein "Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability," but that was while SH was still in power so it doesn't quite fit the parallel. ) Now, as then, we have a roll-call of rich grandees who play at radicalism. Now, as then, they are incorrigible in support of the most blatant tyranny so long as the tyrant once made the right progressive noises. But in these decadent days the grandees tend to preface their support for tyranny with an "of course it's not that we support tyranny". Who now has the consistency of Samuel Whitbread MP, who topped himself after getting upset by the result of the battle of Waterloo?

P.S. About that libel action: I have no reason to suppose that New Statesman editor Peter Wilby is in debt personally, OK.

P.S.S. One part of my analogy doesn't fit: Grenville's Whigs were not in power in 1815. One of the oddities of our time is that Tony Blair went to war backed by a united party that stood four-square behind him... only trouble was, it wasn't his party.

Sunday, September 28, 2003
Le Blog Québécois has the ultimate news roundup.

"...A nation marching single-file like geese through the darkness. The land of limitless opportunity was shut off by a couple of exploded fuses. A world power between perception and reality."

A few weeks ago, I noticed that even my new disimproved and downgraded hit-counter (what's the betting Bravenet are getting out of the free counter business?) was registering regular hits from a dual language German/English blog, Davids Medienkritik. I've been meaning to link to it for a while. Now the author has sent this plum about the Italian power blackout. Der Spiegel reported the US blackout in the marvellous purple prose at the top of this post. But the Italian blackout? Oh, that was just the unfortunate result of a storm.

I hope. It is a little strange that this keeps happening to countries that supported, whether with troops or words, the recent war in Iraq. And they've got Glenn Reynolds.

Saturday, September 27, 2003
Building peace, Palestinian style. Reuters excels itself in describing two murders, including that of a two month old baby, as... well, you read it.

Millions of people have read and shaken their heads over the famous line from Vietnam, "in order to save the village it became necessary to destroy it." The same millions read things like this daily and see nothing wrong, nothing odd.

Reuters' hands are not clean. They have made the payoff for murders like these that bit bigger.

Friday, September 26, 2003
A challenge from Michael Moore. Peter Cuthbertson says, answer it. I strongly agree with Peter's stance that individual, reasoned e-mails are much better than a firestorm of anger.

Though by now I know plenty about it from both attackers and defenders, I haven't seen Bowling. That makes me reluctant to answer on my own account. I was, however, very impressed by the David T Hardy critique mentioned within Peter Cuthbertson's post. What was so good about it? The way that most of it was independent of the politics of the matter. Somewhere on Biased BBC I once said that the ideal B-BBC post would be one that would make even a staunch supporter of the BBC nod and say, those guys have a point here. That's what Hardy's piece does.


The Panacea Society

Notice to Sealed Members and Water Takers

Should a State of Emergency arise whereby communication with Headquarters is interrupted or becomes difficult, continue to fill your bottle with Water as required and repeat the Blessing.

Sprinkle your Houses



This advertisement appeared on page 5 of the Daily Express on the first day of World War II. It is a large advertisment, taking up a quarter of the page, and must have cost a substantial sum. The Society are still with us, although they seem to have declined in importance. Perhaps this will change when and if Joanna Southcott's Box is opened in the presence of 24 bishops of the Church of England and all the world's ills are solved and/or the Apocalypse finally comes (sparing only Bedford, the original Garden of Eden).

Very odd folk. But in a way, not half so odd as their interaction with the Charity Commission. The sterling efforts of this Commission press release to fit the Panaceaists into the very model of a modern charity border on the heroic.

"Commission staff had been concerned for some time that this unusual religious charity was not putting its assets to effective use..."
Kidnap those bishops!
...and they have worked with its trustees to revise the constitution, laying the foundations for significant modernisation and a broadening of its activities.
How, exactly, do you 'modernise' bringing about the apocalypse (ex. Bedford) or 'broaden' solving all the world's problems? I suppose you could broaden the apocalypse bit by sparing Biggleswade too.

The Charity Commission works extensively both on updating the legal and accounting framework within which charities must operate as well as with individual charities, large and small, to keep their constitutions effective and up to date.
Kidnap the bishops by helicopter.
Simon Gillespie, Director of Operations commented:

"Charities come in many forms. What matters is that they are not only charitable in the definition of the law, but also that they are effective and efficient in achieving their aims in the modern world.

Hello? Hello? Anyone home? We are talking about opening a box left by a prophetess - possibly reincarnated in the form of Princess Diana - in order to bring about the apocalypse, sparing only Bedford. Is effectiveness and efficiency in achieving these aims really part of the remit of the Charity Commission?

"The principle of charity is ages old. But times change, and charities must modernise to continue to be effective. That's where we can help."
Your tax money at work.

You know, if pressed, I'm probably more receptive to the notion of an apocalypse than most of the people I know in this irreligious age. But in the struggle of the Charity Commission to corrall these sublime visionaries into the world of mission statements and P.A.Y.E. I honestly don't know which side were nuttier.

(Blame Lileks talking about the small ads in 1939 newspapers for inciting me to write this.)

Thursday, September 25, 2003
Two quick notices. Alice Bachini is unable to blog at the moment because of some problem between Blogger and her new domain. I think there might be something interestingly paradoxical about a statement containing a hyperlink that will falsify itself when the blog starts working again... but I'm too tired to really work it out.

And, while I'm on self-falsifying statements, non parlo Italiano. Ho dimenticato tutto! Quasi tutto, anyway, especially when my eyelids are drooping, which is why I won't yet try reading Enzo Reale's blog "1972." But the links list and the key words I recognize do suggest much of interest.

Jobs you don't see anyone doing any more. I feel some regret for the loss of the rag and bone man, having happy memories of rushing out to see the horse clop down the street. Still, a society so poor that old bones are tradeable items is not, in general, preferable to our own. The vanished profession of my mother's generation was less picturesque: the kitten-drowner. She had unhappy childhood memories of running away to hide while it was done. But what else could you do? A healthy cat might have twelve kittens a year, and all the other female cats in the area were doing the same, in geometric progression if unchecked. The idea that vets might one day do surgical operations - with anaesthetic and masks and everything - on cats would have been considered bizarre. I mean, this was in the days when "cat food" meant "mice".

When the conversation turns to rag and bone persons my thoughts naturally turn to the Green Party. What calling could be more local, more ecologically sound? It certainly fits in nicely with Green policy #EC945: "introduce import and export controls on a national and/or regional bloc level, with the aim of allowing localities and countries to produce as much of their food, goods, and services as they can themselves." (I do like that "allowing". The effect of the import controls is to forbid them to do anything else.) But if all is to be done at a local level, I think the party must reconsider the kitten-drowning angle. Current policy AR409 calls for subsidized spaying and neutering of 'companion animals'; but could - indeed should - the local economic unit really support operating theatres for pets? Wouldn't a big bucket of water be a lot kinder to the earth?

UPDATE: I am so happy that absolutely everyone who reads this blog knows the meaning of the word "irony".

Wednesday, September 24, 2003
Flash crowds on the internet. Although his blog (see below) may be new to you, you have almost certainly seen one of Antony Cox's creations. If you've ever wondered what it's like to have one of your posts go round the world on the crest of a word-of-mouth tsunami, read this.

Medical error, errors of justice and premature systemizing errors. Anthony Cox of, a blog specialising in pharmaceutical and medical safety issues, has been following the case linked to yesterday, in which Dr Feda Mulhem accidentally killed cancer patient Wayne Jowett by injecting Vincristine into his spine instead of into a vein. Mr (or should that be Dr?) Cox's original comments made in June are here and a quick update from yesterday is here. He argues, linking to two reports, that it was a complex amalgam of factors that killed Wayne Jowett.

That's no fun! Let's jail someone instead.

I cannot blame Wayne Jowett's parents for thinking that way in their pain, but it's not a sustainable paradigm. Some people have much less excuse for their desire for one-sentence solutions. Here's an example: one particular mad meme that gained currency in the late eighties and early nineties and ruined many lives before it ran its course, was: "children never lie about accusations of sexual abuse."

You'd think that no one could possibly mean that "never", wouldn't you? You'd think that it was merely an aphoristic or melodramatic way of saying children rarely lie in their accusations, or that accusations should be taken seriously. But I looked into it then, and I've looked into it since, and there truly were influential people in the fields of child medicine and social work who said at length and in terms impossible to misconstrue that never meant never.* It was almost as if they fled in horror from the pain and effort of having to think about case by case justice.

Difficult as it is to decide about questions of justice, even they are more fun to think about than questions of specific improvements to systems. We all can speak about what's fair, but before you put your reputation on the line with a detailed recommendation to change the way doctors or engineers do things you must (a) have immersed yourself in the day to day practice of oncology or bridge-building or whatever and (b) habitually detail off some of your brainpower to maintain the duties of an observer even in the thick of a crisis.

The appropriately-named Professor James Reason, linked to here by Anthony Cox, clearly does have the right sort of mind to both observe and participate. The link takes you to a fascinating lecture on why we all cock up, always will cock up, and what doctors and health administrators should do about it. He specifically mentions Vincristine. I'm not just being polite with that 'fascinating' - the talk very much reminded me of certain types of blog post by Brian Micklethwait or Steven Den Beste where they try to tease out why exactly people can half-listen to some music but not other music or [can't think of a Den Beste example about how engineers really go about their work, but he does do them occasionally].

Jumping back a topic, although I talked with scorn about the desire for "one sentence solutions", it is equally dogmatic to deny that they ever exist. When me and my brother and sister were teenagers we used to have lots of quite bitter arguments that started off with a dispute over what TV programme to watch. We would then pick up, in the usual way of arguments, any other bones of contention that happened to be lying around and hit each other with them. (This happened in the days when VCRs were an exciting new gadget on Tomorrow's World.) You could have written a whole thesis about what our rows revealed about sibling rivalry, clashing inter-family dynamics, unresolved resentments etc., etc., etc.

Then one day my mum went out and got a portable. Click. 90% of the arguments switched themselves off just like that. Our problem had been a shortage of TVs.

Fortunately none of our family had any vested interest in claiming that Star Trek vs Young Musician of the Year was a deep and knotty problem needing its own government minister.

You never get away from having to think somewhere along the line. The solutions to our problems (assuming they exist at all) are either simple or complex. If they are complex, they are complex and that's a bummer, and if they are simple it's still complex to figure out whether you dare apply them.

*One or two of them eventually changed their minds overnight. Guess why.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003
Once is happenstance.

Twice is coincidence.

Three times is enemy action.

(The quote originally comes from Ian Fleming's Goldfinger.)

Doctor jailed for making a culpable but unintentional mistake that caused a death.

Teacher jailed for making a culpable but unintentional mistake that caused a death.

Slot in your own example of "vicious criminal carrying out premeditated act of evil let off lightly because he or she gained the sympathy of the judge or let off entirely because of a legal technicality" here.

My own candidate for the slot dates back to about 1996. I cannot find a link about it but it made me angry enough that I am pretty sure I have remembered the outline right. (If you know more, please email me.) A woman was having an affair with an army man, a sub-aqua instructor if memory serves. She feigned friendship with his wife, suggested a walk in the woods to her and strangled her when they reached an isolated place. She was let off a custodial sentence because the judge thought she was not likely to kill again. Damn right she wasn't - would you go unarmed within twenty feet of her? I remember there being some bitter comment from the murdered woman's parents. Well they might be bitter. Their daughter had done nothing whatsoever to deserve to lose her life. She cannot even have known in her last minutes why a woman she called friend was attacking her. Yet her stolen life was treated as a written-off cost, a bad debt given up upon, spilt milk not worth crying over. Hey, the important thing is that we move on, and put the past behind us!

That's what happens when the justice system is concerned with doing good to society and not with nasty, primitive individual retribution. The prison sentences handed out to the doctor and the teacher and all the corporate manslaughter prosecutions the public so revels in are an attempt to do good to society by increasing the costs of carelessness. (And, of course, a much easier way for cops and politicians to look good and justify their salaries than actually catching criminals. You can look up the address of a negligent teacher or a company director; a rapist is not so cooperative.) While I don't claim that negligence should never result in jail, I very much doubt as to whether this attempt to skew the incentives often works. The careful reader of this blog will notice that I am far from sentimental about teachers and doctors - yet there can be scarcely a teacher alive so callous as to think before going off on a school adventure holiday, "not that I'm bothered if the brats die, but I don't want to go to jail so I will take some precautions after all." Nor are there many doctors so insouciant as to be untroubled by the possibility that they might misread a label and forever have the death of a human being on their conscience - but who nontheless wake up in a sweat for fear they might go to jail for it. Yet these sentences only make sense if they change the incentives acting on doctors and teachers.

UPDATE: Mike Zorn writes,

Meanwhile, farmer Tony Martin is still in jail for shooting a robber in his home. It's unlikely he'd still be there if only he had "regretted his actions". The arguments for keeping him in jail included "he is a danger to burglars."

ANOTHER UPDATE: Antony Cox of, commented on the "doctor jailed" case here - but please scroll up to Wednesday's posts to see more.

Bookmark this. It is an excellent, highly structured summary of the arguments against ID cards. The main headings, argument by argument, are in the grey panel on the right. It also has one of the quickest links in history - to my Samizdata post mentioned below - but, I assure you, it's so good that even having a bit of me in it doesn't make it significantly better.

(I know, I know. My modesty is but one part of what makes me so wonderful.)

Does God go planet-hopping? Read O&P on the redemption of extraterrestrials, when moral stictures are universal and when particular, genetic predispositions to eat whole bags of chips, etc.

Here's another relevant Chesterton quote, while I think of it: “Reason and justice grip the remotest and the loneliest star. Look at those stars. Don’t they look as if they were single diamonds and sapphires? Well, you can imagine any mad botany or geology you please. Think of forests of adamant with leaves of brilliants. Think the moon is a blue moon, a single elephantine sapphire. But don’t fancy that all that frantic astronomy would make the smallest difference to the reason and justice of conduct. On plains of opal, under cliffs cut out of pearl, you would still find a notice-board, ‘Thou shalt not steal.’”

Wadda we want? Sufficientarianism! Whenda we wannit? Now! With a better name, I think this could be the unifying ideology of the future. Read this interesting post from Chris Bertram at Crooked Timber with equally interesting comments from left and right.

Personally I think we must all beware the sin of envy.

A law-abiding person has nothing to fear? Over at Samizdata I have scribbled down some examples of wholly or mostly law-abiding people who do have something to fear from surveillance.

I'm still diligently sawing away - just hitting the tibia after getting through the fibula. Thank goodness for cloning, eh? Meanwhile, here are two letters pulled from my mailbag.

Mark writes:

After reading your fisking of Denis MacShane and the Finnish EU propaganda
unit I thought I ought to tell you I was the unsuspecting victim of EU propaganda myself the other day.

On Monday afternoon I was watching the a stage of the Tour of Spain bike race on Eurosport when an advert for the common agricultural policy of all things popped up during an ad-break. To say I was a bit taken a back would be an understatement. I've watched Eurosport for years and I've never seen anything like that before. They used to run a really annoying ad for a German beer all the time during the Tour de France 6 or 7 years back that got on my nerves but at least it wasn't on my dime.

Viewers were told that the CAP provides us with plentiful and high quality food yada yada yada. Humm, I thought. That food is too plentiful it ends up in butter mountains or dumped in the third world and undercuts local farmers. So far so bad. Quality. Oh yea ,of course, New Zealand with their laissez faire agriculture have all those awful apples and that un edible lamb. Er, not.

So it's bad enough we pay taxes for French farmers to sit about smoking Gauloises and playing boule and then payer over the odds in the shops for produce but now we have to pay to fed bullshit. But, hey, I'm Denis MacShane won't mind so that's alright then. Wanker!

James writes:

Practically every library service in the UK has an extensive and expensive EU information service. I know, because it was my misfortune to administer one for a while. Kensington Central Library turned a member of staff over to its administration and promotion full time for a while. Where this puts Denis MacShane's comments I'm not sure. He shouldn't mind, though. Until your blog told me otherwise, his name had me put him down as a footballer.
On another issue, James added some comments sympathetic to Peter Cuthbertson as he battles against a few people who really need to take two paracetamols and lie down. I commented, then realised that my comments were based on a misunderstanding as to which post he was talking about. So I shall just say, there's plenty of thought-provoking stuff at Conservative Commentary's temporary home.

Monday, September 22, 2003
Our Wonderful NHS. When Patrick "Paddy" Dunn repeatedly risked his life to do this do you suppose he ever dreamed the day would come when an ambulance crew from his grateful country wouldn't even risk bending down to pick him up as he lay injured on the floor? In case you are wondering, he weighs less than ten stone. In another similar case mentioned in the story some nurses, those modern angels, would not lift an eight and a half stone woman into her bed for fear of injury - theirs, not hers. So she slept in a wheelchair for a year.

Welcome to the future, Sir Patrick! Maybe you had to wait until your tenth decade to see it, but at least you have lived to see the logical end-point of a command economy in health: the command, the rule, is all and the health that really matters is that of public sector workers. True, some or even most of them still cling to outmoded notions of caring for the sick. But don't worry, we have Health & Safety inspectors to deal with that nonsense.

Friday, September 19, 2003
Don't send out a search party if there's only light to zero posting in the next few days.

I am perfectly capable of escaping this here bear trap by rubbing off my own leg with a nail file without outside assistance.

Go on, away with you. Read those other blogs.

Mark writes:
Check out:

Briefing on the Investigation of Antiquity Loss from the Baghdad Museum

For a report you won't see Robert Fisk EVER mention. 170,000 items down to 12-15,000.

Oppressor and penguin-fan Tim Blair asked me and several other bloggers for our views on carrot fondues. No, it wasn't that. It was ummm, thassright, blogging. The answers are here. I am the one who got my answers in too late for his newspaper article and then forgot to post this for several weeks.

Thursday, September 18, 2003
"Let's all try to get the Nietzsche quote right, shall we? The philosopher, who has gone beyond good and evil: he's the one who is strengthened by whatever does not kill him. The rest of us are just screwed."

- from Odious and Peculiar.

Also democracy, Melians vs Athenians, martial arts, and a Brief Defense of the Kantian Conception of Space as the a Priori Form of Outer Intuition. What, you mean your blog hasn't got one?

Denis MacShane, Minister for Europe asks "why can't we all just get along" when it comes to the Europe debate. Why not, indeed? I think one of the problems is that Europhiles like the Minister don't really engage with their opponents. As examples of Eurosceptic thought MacShane quotes the demented advocate of murder Lance-Watkins, some hate-mail and various ignorant (or prescient, see later) rumours. Yet there are peaceable and well-informed people in his own Parliamentary Labour Party who also oppose EU integration and could argue their case in terms likely to appeal to Guardian readers. Why doesn't he ask them to join the debate?

The European discussion is poisoned by hates that come from who knows where.

Yeah, all that abuse saying that if you don't want a European superstate you are therefore a xenophobe or a "Little Englander" gets on my nerves too.

Getting counter-arguments across is difficult. The great Boris Johnson asked me to do a Spectator diary... it never got used. I don't blame Boris but could it be because the Poles like Europe, voted "yes" to the EU...

The Spectator once rejected a submission of mine as well. Could it be that the great Boris was jealous of my genius?

It is not so much a democratic deficit but an information deficit that cripples Britain's outlook on the EU. In Helsinki, by contrast, I visit the head office of an EU information network which gives the Finns a chance to learn about Europe, undistorted by the Europhobe media. It costs about £1m and has stands in the libraries of all main Finnish cities and towns with information officers who tour businesses, schools and civil society outfits to explain the EU.

Who pays for this? Am I right in thinking that the Finnish taxpayer (whose free press, it seems from MacShane's account, is insufficiently respectful) must pay for state propaganda outlets in all the main towns and political officers to tour the schools and tell the kiddies their new duties? Someone tell me I'm wrong. Tell me that equal time is given to Eurosceptic views in these centres and I'll take back my view that they are are yet another good reason to fear and dislike the European Union.

Still on the subject of Finland:

this sturdy nation just blinks with surprise at the view that EU membership threatens Finnish independence in any way.

Look up "Finlandization."

...In fact, as I tell them, the European model was invented in Finland a long while before it became accepted in Europe... As a Labour MP and minister I want Finland alongside us arguing the case for Europe's social and environmental rules.

'Conservatives in Europe', please note.

But the Finns, like the French and Greeks and Irish and the rest of them are quite happy with the euro.

If he really doesn't know that there are large segments of the public in all these countries who are not he is even more out of touch than I thought.

En route to Finland, I spent some time is Oslo. I met businessmen who moan that every law and rule in Norway now has to be in full compliance with the EU. So they have all the obligations of EU membership but no voice in decision-making.

I can solve that one - drop the obligations of EU membership.

The myths being spread about the next constitutional treaty are hilarious. My favourite one argues that the Queen will be replaced by the chairman of the European council of ministers as head of state.

Once, I would have thought that the idea of humble market traders being prosecuted for not offering their produce in kilograms was equally absurd. If anyone had predicted that twenty years ago they would have been laughed at as scaremongers. Yet it happened.

Alice Bachini has a different take on the fire that destroyed the national motorbike museum.

This article by Iain Murray about the Kyoto protocol contains two particularly pointy points for debate. When discussing this issue with your progressive friends, never fail to mention the great debt the UK environment owes to Margaret Thatcher or the fact that France can easily abide by Kyoto beause of all its nice clean nuclear power stations.

Bush says there is no evidence of Saddam link to 9-11, says this report by Tim Harper, liberally mixing editorial comment in with the news.

Personally, I think it very probable that SH was informed in a general way about a plane attack on the WTC, so that he could know that his money was being "well" spent. And for the record I do think he had WMD - chemical weapons in particular.

Bush has a pendantic streak. He means what he says: he hasn't found any evidence, much as he'd like to have. He is also signalling that he is not about to apologise for the Iraq war even so.

'Why bother with Iraq?' has been a topic of debate in the Libetarian Alliance Forum recently. Below, slightly edited, are some of my posts. Bear in mind that they are only one side of a debate, but I think they stand quite well alone. Given that I want to talk on this blog about why I think the Iraq war was justified and useful, I prefer to re-post them here rather than think up new words to say the same thing again.

Sometimes politics is very simple.

Somalia taught the Islamofascists and their fellow-travellers that if you kill a few Westerners the rest run. My source: Osama Bin Laden.

Afghanistan and Iraq taught them otherwise.

The Iraq war has made us safer (safety is not to be had) because every Arab leader now has a mental image of his own statues crashing down - and his own sons laid out on a slab.

The new lesson is: Beware. You can only push the infidels so far.

Again, ask Osama Bin Laden. "When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse."

BTW, in our civil society we are still in the Somalia stage.
There was then some debate about whether there was any proven link between Saddam Hussein and 9-11 and was the mere plausibility of such a link sufficient justification for going to war. Both are very legitimate subjects for debate, of course. I said:
One can agree or disagree with the hypothesis that Saddam directly knew about 9-11 but what is so stupid about the idea that [makes] anyone who holds it a hick? What's so unlikely about it? Was Saddam, the man who gassed Halabja, too gentle to hurt anyone? Was Saddam, the man who invaded Kuwait and Iran, too cautious to go for a spectacular and dangerous attack? Was Saddam, the man who tried to have the US president assassinated, too respectful of American power to try anything against them?

...Arab leaders are now much more scared about killing (OK, "financing the killing of" if you prefer) Americans and other Westerners. Good. And Iraq is out from under SH's heel. Good.
Saddam Hussein was killing thousands of people every month. With every month that goes by since his overthrow that's a few more thousand lives saved.

...Add to that that the "mere" plausibility that someone who HAD used chemical weapons to kill thousands, HAD tried to assassinate our leaders, HAD invaded other countries, HAD given practical support to terrorism left right and centre (do you think he didn't?) might do some more of these things, and probably already had a hand in doing them on Sep 11 2001, which he publicly greeted with enthusiasm - yes, sufficent justification.

Add to that the fact that the Arab and Muslim world broke out in delighted celebration at the slaughter (yes, I'm perfectly aware that this does not apply to every individual) and if nothing salutary had been done their entire culture, from rulers to the famous 'street' would have been emboldened to attack us repeatedly to get more of the same glory. Now the picture is very different. I speak not only of the leaders but also of the zeitgeist. I think there is now a chance for the more benign possibilities inherent in Islam and Arab culture to come back into their own.

Add to that the effect on the watching non-Muslim world, China for instance. I do not say that their present leaders are out to get us, but again, the zeitgeist would have turned very menacing against the West if we were perceived as so weak that we could be attacked with impunity.* You may say that's very vague, but looking at the rise and fall of civilisations, the patterns do come out. "Rome's failure to respond effectively to the incursion of the so-and-so tribe in the year so-and-so," the history books say cooly, "led inevitably to another larger invasion by other tribes in the next decade."

Finally, Saddam's failure to abide by his own surrender terms after the first Gulf war was sufficient for the legalist in me, but I prefer to see it as a failure to abide by the contract between him and his enemies rather than in terms of the UN resolutions, as I am not impressed by UN resolutions.
Thinking about it, my belief that the Iraq war was justified has to do with my view of human nature. It's like people and cultures have several different TV or radio channels available. That's why the same person or the same culture can be capable of friendliness, curiosity and goodness in one area and dedicated evil in another. Circumstances and events can switch us from one channel or another. Untrammelled power is one circumstance that switches people to the evil channel. Mob hysteria is another. What we have really been fighting over in the last two years is the selector dial for the Arab/ Muslim world. Great forces pull it towards the death-cult channel, other forces, God willing greater, yank it back towards the peaceful interaction channel.

*I'd add that China has cause to know from its own history vis-à-vis Japan and Europe that the vultures gather round a wounded animal.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003
No blogging today, as I have to work. Yeah, you say with a sigh, tell me about it. Before anyone ever complains about this hard fact again, however, take a look at this.

(Link to damnum absque injuria found via Boris Kupershmidt of the Libertarian Alliance Forum.)

Tuesday, September 16, 2003
Another Irish blogger, Gavin Sheridan of Gavin's blog, has cheered on the Swedes. A commenter points out that Ireland will have to have another referendum about the EU constitution. Don't you mean another two referenda?

Monibot, voice of reason. So says Oliver Kamm.

I think the tipping point on the globalisation / free trade issue was reached during the last month. Suddenly we have the Guardian blogging against agricultural subsidies and Monibot for free trade. I have put my hand firmly over the mouth of little devil at my shoulder who wants to say something sarca - ouch! Gerroff yer little - as I was saying my nice angelic friend here would like to - aagh - congratulate them on - I'll stuff your cute little tail down your throat if you do that again - on, as I was saying, this most welcome change of heart.

Things the internet will change. Here are two posts, one from Blog Irish and one from Bjørn Stærk, both recounting similar situations - the major newspapers of their respective countries decline to report uncomfortable facts.

Bjørn Stærk writes:

Here's a selection of articles written by Aftenposten's London correspondent Carsten Bleness about the Kelly investigation: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. [All numbers are links to articles -NS]You won't find a single article in this list - barely a sentence - that is critical of the BBC's conduct in the Kelly case. Accusations that the BBC, not Blair, sexed up its case, that it, not Blair, abused its powers, have simply not been reported in Norway's most important newspaper! Even the news that Andrew Gilligan will likely be sacked from the BBC has not been mentioned. Are the accusations true? I don't know, but they are credible, and Aftenposten is simply not doing its job when its man on the job refuses to even indicate to his readers that the BBC may have done anything more (or less) than textbook investigative reporting.
Bran of Blog Irish writes:
A few days ago, we were puzzled to discover that neither the Irish Times nor the Irish Independent nor the RT? 6.1 News had reported the fact that the UN Security Council had forced the resignation of Carla del Ponte as chief prosecutor for the International Court in Rwanda.
Feeding this reality avoidance is the selective lack of information provided by the Irish media. No one reported that the UN Security Council agreed with the pragmatic Kagame. Unlike Bertie, Kagame was brave enough to tell the sanctimonious intermeddlers seeking to prosecute a possible 800,000 murderers that it just couldn't be done. The UN Security Council agreed with him and fired del Ponte.

But the Irish public cannot be allowed to know that. The cognitive dissonance would be too great. So they are not told. They are permitted to live in a fantasy world where they can believe that blue-hatted Bobbies could have strolled into Afghanistan and arrested bin Laden and the Taliban.
The British media market is bigger and for various reasons fiercer, so I doubt you would get such extreme instances of suppressio veri here: no tidbit goes ungobbled for long when the ecosystem is big enough. More to the point, I doubt you will get this situation for much longer in Ireland or Norway either.

Biased Everybody. I did wonder whether to put this BBC commentary about an international education survey into Biased BBC, but decided the bias was too general to be visible. Why does everyone assume that spending your days at a desk being taught at - or spending your country's tax money on desks and teachers - is always and everywhere A Good Thing?

"The UK has a staying-on rate that is worse than many other developed countries." By worse they mean lower, ignoring the possibility that the youth of Britain may kick the dust of school from their feet with the greatest of pleasure; that is, if their youth isn't behind them by the time they are finally allowed to leave.

Then the survey worries that "these youngsters face poor employment prospects and a lifetime of low earnings." The solution: keep everyone in school until they are 25. Then all of us can be poets and the burgers will flip themselves. But, what serpent is this that has entered our Eden? Some cunning and determined elitists are staying in school until 35? This is the race which will rule the Sevagram!

I'm not ungrateful. I really like being able to read and I quite like knowing Schrödinger's equation too, or at least having once known it. But there are a few things the writers of articles like this need to know in order to complete their education:

Serious bit #1: Education is nice but not all of it takes place in school. #2: - or in the first half of your life. #3: - or at the command of a teacher. #4: Money spent on education is not education. #5: Pieces of paper saying you are educated sometimes lie. #6: - and when they do tell the truth, you poor deluded yoghurt-eaters, what people use them for is sorting the sheep from the goats, and the workers from the managers. #7: Half the time they're just keeping you in a box, frankly. #8: Plumbers make a fortune. #9: Not that we need self-flipping burgers anyway. There are always Arts graduates.

I added #10 later, and this one really is serious: Joanne Jacobs posts a link to a study that describes another reason why increased staying-on rates do not always add to the sum of human happiness. Her story refers to the US, but does anyone doubt the same could be said here? One of the nicer things about being a grown up is that for most of us the chances of being pushed around and insulted on a daily basis go down drastically once you leave school. I noticed an improvement in my quality of life once I hit the Lower Sixth and one or two of the more disaffected pupils had left - and I went to a fairly orderly girls' grammar, so my idea of what constituted "disaffected" was pretty mild. The improvement was nothing to do with academic selection (I really missed some friends who left to work in shops or have babies) and everything to do with all those who remained being volunteers.

There's a spectrum between a student who is fully committed to education and an utterly rebellious prisoner. Government targets to "improve" staying-on rates do not increase the number of prisoners (we are talking about 16+ year olds, after all, who could leave if they chose) but they do shift the spectrum in the prisoner direction. More young people are in school who would rather be elsewhere, and they tend to horse around.

Right Wing News has an interview with Milton Friedman.

John Hawkins: Are there any political websites you'd like to recommend to our readers?
Sudden wild hope...

Milton Friedman: No, I don't really follow any political websites. I think they'll do better reading the Wealth of Nations (laughs)...
Sound. Very sound. Some of these bloggers get very uppity. If Mark Steyn had paid similar attention to proper priorities he'd have a Nobel prize by now.

Monday, September 15, 2003
How to take the bread from the mouths of Africans while emoting sweet nothings all over them. Just "expose" the "hypocrisy" involved in the awful, shocking fact that socialist political parties trade with people poorer than they are. Read the whole story in Zambian roses. Fortunately in this case someone exposed the exposers.

Ching, chang, chong. Or "stone, paper, scissors" if that's what you called it in your school playground. Stone blunts scissors. Scissors cuts paper. Paper wraps stone. I thought of that game when I read this article by Mark Steyn. He asks why Anna Lindh's killer was able to chase her up an escalator while everyone stood and watched.

In mitigation of the conduct of those bystanders I could offer the plea of sheer disbelief. On the happily rare occasions when I have witnessed violence, I, like them, have stood there desperately trying to re-process what I was seeing into a misunderstanding.

Liberty breeds safety. Safety breeds docility. Docility destroys liberty. Stone, paper, scissors.

Politically I've woken up. In my personal reflexes I'm still asleep.

UPDATE: bad link fixed now. Thank you, David Janes. Who, incidentally, makes the good point that the Swedish government is technically allowed to join the Euro whatever the voters say. I almost wish they would. It would be so obviously contemptuous of the voters, and the resulting unpopularity would be so severe, that we might just see Sweden be the first to prove that the decision to join the Euro is not irreversible.

Random Jottings comments on this post.

I should not be blogging. Stuff to do. Stuff. Stuff. Stuff. Deadlines. Horrible. (I'm. Writing. In. One. Word. Sentences. Because. My. Mind. Feels. All. Jaggly. Because. of. THE PRESSURE.)

But first things first. Have a good read of Alice Bachini now at rather than her old amiable_but_tedious_to_type address. Also Stephen Pollard has a new, accessible format, though no change of address.

Sample Bachini quote:

The pathetic whiney year-zero lefty UK press is trying, as ever, to get us all to go back to the Dark Ages and reject our wonderful modern liberational inventions (note to those who don't like mobiles: DON'T BLOODY BUY ONE, THEN!) by telling us lots of stupid quack scare stories to spoil our fun and make us miserable.

Sample Pollard quote:

You read that right: Sweden. The most egalitarian people on Earth understand what British opponents of school choice do not: choice benefits, above all, the poor. Swedish councils are obliged to give a voucher representing 75 per cent of the average cost per student in municipal schools to any parent who wants one.
Talking of Sweden, allow me to emit a triumphant witch-like cackle of laughter. Estimates of the factor by which the Yes to the Euro campaign outspent the No campaign range between 5 and 50. You know how the Guardipendent is always going on about how much George W Bush spent on getting elected? Well, according to Medborgare mot EMU ("Citizens against the EMU"), more dosh per voter than that was spent on getting the Swedes to do their European duty. There was also the effect of a sympathy vote following the murder of Anna Lindh (though sympathy votes are illogical, sympathy was certainly due to her and her family. I hope her killer is caught.) All this, and they still said Nej.

Sunday, September 14, 2003
Why science fiction helps you think about the legacy of Martin Luther King. Once or twice I have opined that supporters of racial preferences have some nerve, waving the shroud of Dr Martin Luther King in support of their cause when he, in his most famous speech and elsewhere, expressed the hope that people would be judged by their deeds rather than their skin pigmentation.

So how might I defend myself against the charge that I, too, have an equal nerve, dragging in the King legacy when he also supported something that I consider to be economically illiterate and particularly harmful to the poor (which includes a high proportion of blacks), namely a minimum wage?

The simplest and most important answer is that he was right about the evil of racial discrimination and wrong about the goodness of a minimum wage. Read this summary from the National Center for Policy Analysis:

Government data show that black and white teenage unemployment rates in 1948 were about the same -- 9.4 percent black and 10.2 percent white.

But as the minimum wage rose in the 1960s and 1970s, the unemployment rate for blacks roughly doubled compared with whites -- to 37.7 percent for black teens by 1980, compared to 18.5 percent for white teens.

This is true, interesting and important, but doesn't make much of a blog posting. To put a different slant on the issue, I'd like to go back a few weeks to a post in which Kieran of Crooked Timber rather misunderstood the anthropic principle...

[Note to self: don't get distracted. This post isn't about the anthropic principle. Another time. Be strong!]

...although we won't discuss that subject right now, particularly as it was all covered in the comments. The bit I really liked in Kieran's post was when he speculated, possibly not entirely seriously, on the Nature of Alien Life: “I bet they also have homologues to non-fat vanilla lattes, frat parties and New Labour.”

Then a commenter called Mitch shot back with:"...A stimulant modified for reasons of health… a social gathering of a biologically distinct student subcaste… and a political association with a changing ideology," implying, of course, that Kieran's jokey list of trivia specific to Earth circa 2003 was not necessary unique to us or unexplainable to aliens after all.

And that's where the platform of the March on Washington comes back into the story. It seems to me that "I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character" could be explained quite easily to most of the aliens that I have met in my reading. (Yes, I know they aren't real. It doesn't matter. I'm talking about SF as a tool to explain real life situations.) You might have to replace "I have a dream" with "I wish in an ethical way", if the aliens either did not dream or did not use dreaming as a metaphor for hopeful visualisation, but getting across the essential principle that it is wrong to judge by arbitrary markers could be done. I'm not saying the Kzinti would agree, mind, but I don't think they'd be incapable of understanding.

What about a minimum wage of $2 an hour? When I started this post I thought I was going to say that it would be an untranslatable piece of Earth-centred arcana, but, not for the first time, I realised I was wrong half way through typing. It's a category of error - basically using force to bring about an apparently benevolent result without thinking through the consequences - that might turn up anywhere from Mote Prime to Gethen.

But I still think there's something to the idea that the call for beings to be judged ethically rather than by appearances is of a higher order than the demand that exchanges of labour for less than a certain number of value-storing tokens per time-interval be forbidden even if both buyer and seller wish them to take place.

There's more - on file sharing, I mean. James Rummel replies to his critics thus:
<throatclearing>ahem.ahem</throatclearing>"The music industry has screenshots of the crime. Evidence. That's what my arguement is based on, the facts. Not assumptions, which as you readily admit is the only thing your position has going for it.

"Let's not forget that the RIAA has literally millions of perps to go after. They have a target rich environment so they can pick and choose. They also know that they're going to be scrutinized by people who commit the crimes. That's millions of pairs of eyes watching their every move. It's naive to think that they'd do anything unless they have their ducks in a row.

"The main problem I have with the music industry is the proposed solutions to this problem. Forcing computer manufacturers to include spyware in the operating system so they can browse the hard drive of anyone they choose, for example. It's actually gotten so bad that some lawmakers here in the US are actually considering passing legislation that would require this.

"And what's fuelling this call to arms? What caused this alarming state of affairs? People who think that they're entitled, even noble, if they steal entertainment files."

Saturday, September 13, 2003
An unprivate death. Instapundit met with some opposition when he showed the famous photograph of a man falling to his death upside down, having leapt from the burning World Trade Centre.

You can't help wondering: did he know as he jumped that he'd turn in the air and spend his last seconds upside down? Mortal insult added to mortal injury. If he had known, would he have chosen the other death? I had a friend who died when both parachutes failed to open. I think of her when I see that picture. I don't know if she fell upside down. I hope not.

I say, show it. Show it often. I know all about hating to see it: like most of you I can remember first seeing that picture on September 11 - only in my case it was September 11 2002. Out of all the hundreds of hours of film and the thousands of photos taken of the slaughter on September 11 2001, I saw only a few seconds of footage until a year later. On that day I didn't want the children seeing people die on camera (though we talked about it, of course), particularly as I didn't know if there were more attacks to come. My fear of the children seeing it flowed from my fear of me seeing it. I've always disliked even fictional images of modern-day, realistic violence, the sort of violence that can happen to me and mine; and this dislike has hardened into almost a (controlled) phobia since I had children. It's a thousand times worse when the images are real. Yet my hunger to know more about what had happened was as primal, as voracious, as anyone's. That hunger is a survival trait. (Refined and systemised, it is also a victory trait: the defining victory trait of Western civilisation. It will win us this war, too - if a fatal squeamishness more sickly by far than my purely visual queasiness doesn't rot our guts first.)

Five years earlier it would have been impossible to combine finding out about a thing with hiding from pictures of it, but this is the age of the internet. I read, and read and read more. And a year later I was ready to look.

Hoo boy. Now we have several more correspondents writing in to turn my instant conversion on again. Most, for some reason, have disdained the glory of having their names quoted on this blog. "A" writes:
think you should reconvert. A couple of years on broadband with KaZaa following Napster? I don't find it at all implausible that someone might accumulate 1000 songs. And the way KaZaa is set up, they would automatically be shared unless you made a point of moving them out of the shared folder (which I've just done with the 793 tracks on our home PC!). And the girl wouldn't have to sit in front of the monitor, she'd just have to click the selection she wanted of songs in KaZaa and leave the machine on overnight.
Meanwhile "B" says:
Thought you might be interested in my reply to James Rummel --
Have you ever used KaZaa? Not that I have, of course, but the evil copyright thieves of my acquaintance assure me that downloading 1000 songs over a broadband connection is extremely easy, and could be done in the course of an evening. They also tell me that the default
setting for the program is to allow sharing, whether or not you're aware of it.

Come to that, do you seriously think there are no 12-year-old kids out there who listen to Frank Sinatra or give themselves grown-up-sounding Internet names? Particularly ones who are, err, maybe a bit geeky and fat and not so popular amongst their classmates...?

And if you were a single mom faced with an invoice of $100,000 per song (so a potential $100 million), settling for $2000 might well be a good plan even if you had a rock-solid case. $2000 would barely cover an attorney's advice on how to fight.


JR's argument seems to be based on the assumption that the music
industry knows what it's doing. This seems more naive than any of my assumptions above...

Friday, September 12, 2003
James Rummel says that the story about the 12 year old sued for downloading is seriously misleading. (Scroll down to "Why we love the music industry" for my initial post on this story.)

He says the Telegraph ignored important reasons to suppose that the girl, or more likely her parents, were not innocents abroad but downloaders on a big scale.

My goodness. I think my instant conversion is wearing off.

Thursday, September 11, 2003
As the anniversary of the mass murder in New York approaches to the very minute - the timestamp on these posts is wrong, it's now 1.44pm - I find it difficult to know what to say. This time two years ago thousands of innocent people going about their daily work did not know their lives were about to end, and hundreds of innocent people in planes did know. May they rest in peace.

As well as the innocent there were, of course, the guilty. The Enemy. Glenn Reynolds has linked to an extract from Lee Harris's "Civilization and Its Enemies: the Next Stage of History." It's well worth reading.

And read Winds of Change.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003
Sing free. On Radio 4 yesterday morning I heard the end of a discussion about cathedral choirs. Apparently a researcher has shown that pretty well no one can tell the difference between a boys' choir and a girls' choir: all the rivers of gush about the special quality of boys' unbroken voices were just that, gush.

So should we ditch all those boys' choirs in the cathedrals, then? No doubt there are some obvious arguments pro and con, tradition on the one side and equality of access on the other. You won't be surprised that I am for freedom of association and against social engineering, but it wasn't those arguments that caught my attention. That was done by a point that one speaker in the radio debate just managed to sneak in as the announcer closed the item. "If the girls come in," he said, or words to that effect, "the choirs will die. The boys won't sing with the girls."

Is that really true? On the face of it, no. My daughter sings in a very good mixed-sex choir. Yet I can't help noticing that the girls outnumber the boys at all ages, and by more as the children get older. I assume boys who sing get teased. One protection against getting teased is to be in an all male choir, and also to have a tradition of all male choirs. No one argues with the masculinity of three hundred Welsh miners, and English eleven year old boys can borrow some of that aura of protection when they put on a silly looking surplice to sing in church or when they have all the old dears cooing over them when they sing in an amateur concert. I think the speaker exaggerated, but he had a point.

Let me be clear about what I am and am not saying here. I haven't got anything against girls singing or mixed-sex choirs; as I said my daughter is in one and loves it. And some boys have so strong a desire to sing that they'll do it whatever flak comes their way. However a good many can't take the heat unless they are bolstered by being boys together.

That this is so is very regrettable. Anthropologists have observed that all over the world what men do gets the prestige and what women do doesn't. If men weave baskets, basketweaving is a vital part of our nation's economy and cultural identity. If women weave baskets it's just a little something the wives do in their spare time. It's not fair. I can get quite bitter about it, as my husband can testify.

Should we pander to this tendency? The answer is, of course, that we-as-a-whole shouldn't be doing anything. Those boys who want to band together should be free to do their thing, as should girls, and as should boys and girls who either don't care about mixing with the opposite sex or who revel in the prospect. Unfortunately I suspect that some busybody will not like this idea and will soon be busybodily issuing "guidelines" to demand that cathedral choirs open their gates to girls, and five hundred years of tradition can go join the wearing of wigs, trial by ordeal, hostage-fostering and other outmoded customs.

And that will be a pity, because some boys will thereby lose a pleasure that might have lasted them all their lives. They will also lose an opportunity to become better socialised. For though you can successfully forbid males from excluding females from their clubs and hobbies, what you cannot do is forbid males from excluding females from their gangs.

Although I don't want to pitch my argument too strong I think that one cause (among several) of the decline in civility among boys and men in recent years is that - er - they let the women in. Then, denied their respectable male bonding ceremonies, the guys went off and bonded in the oldest way of all: shared violence. Some of them, anyway.

I'm as embarrassed by that conclusion as you are. No, I don't want to roll back the twentieth century and restore legal barriers to women entering the professions - but I do want to run with the grain of human nature, not against it, and allow space for men to be men alone.

And we, dear sisters, can also have our own lodges and mysteries. Only no one much is stopping us, so it isn't a problem at the moment.

As for the injustice involved in the tendency for male activities to be admired and female activities denigrated; I do not know how to solve it. I do think attempts to impose a solution will breed men who are less likely to be sensitive to the injustice.

Why we love the music industry. They are going to sue a little girl of 12 for downloading "If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands." The article mentions fines of up to £95,000 per song. Brianna LaHara says "her stomach is all in knots," and I'm not surprised.

Out of the tens of millions of people who have downloaded music, who did the Recording Industry Association of America decide to go for? Just 261 individuals, including this child. The only explanation I can think of is that they want to make a show of reckless fury in order to terrify other downloaders into submission. "If they even go for a cute little kid," people are meant to think, "then they'll surely go for an unlovable hairy student like me."

I have never downloaded music. Don't know how, and even if I did know, wasn't tempted. My views on the issue of intellectual property in the age of effortless propagation were unclear: complex arguments on both sides, blah blah blah.

The effect on me of reading about this case has been to bring about an instant conversion. I hope that downloaders bleed the entire industry straight into a pauper's grave.

UPDATE: Dave Farrell writes:

The little girl has duly coughed up to the nasty man in the suit. I think her mother paid a couple of thousand dollars in a settlement. The reports I have read quoting Brianna (who says she feels better now) indicate she had no idea what she was doing was actually illegal. I suppose she would say that, but at her age it could be true. She also rather heartbreakingly said she wouldn't dream of depriving the pop stars she loves of a living.

It's very sad and leaves a nasty taste. I note that Universal has slashed the prices of CDs to around $10 to try to recoup its losses from
downloaders. They are apparently the last to know people turned to
downloading in large part because of the outrageous and unjustifiable
prices of CDs. If the record companies can afford to do this, why did they put the prices UP earlier this year, blaming downloading?

Long live Naxos.

UPDATE: For another update on this, which puts a very different complexion on what happened, scroll up to Sep 12th.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003
Local boy made good. Our very own Peter Briffa graces the pages of the Times. It's all about cinema, and very enjoyable. Now that he has appeared in the Times a second time, I feel free to say that in his first article he was a bit, just an eentsy bit, too overawed and respectable. In he reverts to the - how shall I put it? - Johnsonian robustness that so many know and love or loathe, as appropriate.
"And this is really what Mr MacShane is about, when he tells us, in that revealing phrase, that American culture is “reducing everything to consumption”. Which is liberal-speak for “giving the public what it wants”."
"But the sad fact is that if all the film cameras in Europe simultaneously combusted and no more films were made here for the next ten years, a bunch of paper- pushers at the European film councils would notice, but not those queueing for tickets on a Saturday night."

UPDATE: Peter Briffa writes:
Fair cop, guv. More like fourth time. See here and here.

Monday, September 08, 2003
I was saddened to hear that Warren Zevon has died at the age of 56. I am not very musical, and only really knew him as someone whose music was liked by people I like. But it is very striking how many people come into that category. This obituary by John Rogers has some great quotes.

"A magnificent plan, Baldrick, except for one slight difficulty..." Much discussion over at Harry's Place about Michael Meacher's attempt to fill the Cynthia McKinney slot for British politics: he is peddling 9-11 conspiracy theories in the Guardian now.

I liked this comment by "JZ":
If the PNAC people willfully ignored warnings over 9/11 then i must applaud Rumsfeld for having balls of iron. If i was to willfully ignore warnings over 9/11 i'd make damn sure that i wasn't sitting in my Pentagon office at the time.
For benighted readers not familiar with the true history of these islands, both Harry's heading and mine refer to a Blackadder catchphrase.

Over in California there's been a lot of fuss about gubernatorial candidate Cruz Bustamante's youthful membership of a militant Latino organisation called MEChA. It has a slogan "Por La Raza todo. Fuera de La Raza nada" that may or may not be racist. Brian Linse of Ain't No Bad Dude argues here for "Not" - or, more exactly "Not Proven."

Now I don't speak Spanish. I do speak some Italian, and must say that fuori, which is surely cognate to fuera, definitely does mean "outside." and Per la razza tutta. Fuori della razza, niente obediently Babelfishes into "For the race, all. Outside of the race, nothing." However I acknowledge that even closely related languages can differ in the meaning of cognate words. For instance regarder in French does not mean the same as "to regard" in English. My comparison to Italian doesn't really prove anything, though I'll leave it up because I like playing with languages and assume you all do too.

Getting back to the slogan, I offer this observation tentatively - but it does seem to me that even Brian's corrected translation suggests an undesirable attitude on the part of MEChA. It suggests that everything should be mediated through the prism of race.

If one wants to defend Bustamante, I can think of two better lines to take. One is to follow
Joanne Jacobs
who is no fan of Mr Bustamante but nonetheless argues that La Raza does not mean just the Latino Race but "the people." [Drat, I can't raise her archives on the net. But I'm sure she said something of the sort.]

The other is to say that if "twit" and "twenty" aren't cognate words they jolly well ought to be, given how many of us are twits at twenty.

Mind you, if Mr Bustamante is standing for office in the United States of America he ought to make clear if he has changed his views since the days when he belonged to an organisation that wanted to secede from that nation.

FRIVOLOUS UPDATE: I never can resist doing this. "For the race, all. Outside the race, nothing" taken through Japanese and back again gives, most unsportingly: "For competing, everything. Outside competition, what. " What indeed?

NON-FRIVOLOUS UPDATE: I've just discovered that Glenn Reynolds has commented on the Dude's post. Several other correspondents, some of them native Spanish speakers, have also said that the obvious translation is a fair rendering of the meaning.

Sunday, September 07, 2003
Peter Cuthbertson's Conservative Commentary site has a temporary home at while his server problems are sorted out.

Saturday, September 06, 2003
Atlantic Blog picked up the same story I did, about the pseudo-diagnosis of George W Bush by that fraud pretending to be a psychologist, Oliver James. But the author went one better than me by finding a previous article which denouces James. Now comes the funny part:
So who published Porter's attack on James? The Guardian. The Guardian attacks the Sunday Telegraph for using a fraud like Oliver James, and then proceeds to use the same old fraud for an attack on Bush. Is that irony or chutzpah?
Neither, mate. Sheer incompetence.

UPDATE: Here's the denunciation of James by Henry Porter. I found it by searching the Guardian archive. It hasn't stopped the Guardian from publishing a bunch of articles by James since then.

Friday, September 05, 2003
If you care about the worlds' poor , read this report EU Trade Barriers Kill. (Link takes you to the press release. From there go to the PDF file.)

I have met some of the authors - Stephen Pollard and Sean Gabb, and also Tim Evans, the head of the think tank that produced it. This factoid gave me a stab of naive pleasure - hey, look at me, I know people who write reports for think tanks. Then I remembered how grim the facts are, how depressing the current outlook, how hard-hearted the villains of the piece are.

His dad made all the cinema mirrors pink. Chris Bertram of Crooked Timber has posted about a marvellous-sounding architect called Cedric Price. He seems to have liked cracking jokes, blowing up buildings and campaigning against the preservation of his own work. And his dad, as the title of this post says, was the man who put in all the pink-tinged mirrors in the foyers of Odeon cinemas (because pink light makes people feel happy). Along with Paul Barker, the younger Price came up with the beautiful idea of the Non-Plan. Let people build what they like and see what happens. A dangerous man, obviously.

The article by Paul Barker in Open Democracy that inspired Chris Bertram's post is here.

By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept... Le Monde has published a fascinating account of the life story of marathon runner Asaf Bimro, an Ethiopian Jew (apparently the term "Falasha" is derogatory) who emigrated to Israel, although that orderly word "emigrated" does not quite cover his perilous journey. When reading this, missing the odd word that my French wasn't up to, I kept waiting for a snarky comment; having seen some articles in Le Monde that, shall we say, found anti-semitic ideas hovering in their general vicinity and took no steps to bat them away.

The snarky comment never came. This is a moving article. It describes the epic lengths that the Black Jews went to in order to reach the homeland they had never seen, and that the agents of that homeland went to in order to find their sundered brethren.

At the age of thirteen, in 1982, he asked his parents, farmers, for permission to accompany an uncle who was going to [go back to?] the Sudan in the hope of one day reaching the Promised Land.

For two months, Asaf and about 80 other Ethiopian Jews... ...marched by night and hid by day.

About ten of them succumbed and were buried by the road. "At the frontier, we said that we were going to look for work in the Sudan, certainly not that we were Jews," recounts Asaf Bimro.

He spent two years in the Sudan, in terribly precarious conditions. One day, a white man accosted him in the restaurant where he worked and asked him if he was Jewish. Frightened, the young Ethiopian responded in the negative. But the Israeli agent - for such it was - insisted. Asaf ended up by telling him his story.
I'd love to know more about this meeting. What language did the secret pilgrim and the agent speak as they whispered together - was it English, or had the Ethiopian Jews kept their Hebrew? - was that the password: "Im Eshka'chech Yerushalayim Tishkach Yemini"?

His interlocutor fixed up a rendezvous that same evening. A lorry came by to look for the future champion and some of his compatriots, and drove them to the nearest airport.
They placed their lives in the hands of a stranger met only that day. How many stories like this end up with a tale of betrayal, exploitation and squalor. But in this case the trust was not misplaced.
From there, they were taken as far as Khartoum, the capital of the Sudan, where they waited two days before being flown to Tel Aviv via Paris.


Asaf Bimro was fifteen when he finally set foot in Israel.
How shall we sing the LORD's song in a strange land?

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.

If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy

Railway fans, this could be the house for you. I like people like this. I like men like this. Once upon a time Britain was noted for having loads of them. Nowadays hobbyists are often called "sad" for quietly doing what makes them happy. Meanwhile the non-sad men drink lots of lager which makes them happy, for a while.

Thursday, September 04, 2003
Meanwhile, in an alternative universe... This is a link to 'Nother Solent which you will remember was set up by the mysterious "Annoying Old Guy" who I expect is really a charming 22 year old female with a sense of humour. It isn't exactly my new blog yet, but it may become so only there was this plan to really stand out with a Smalltalk blog and what about domain names should I get one and how do you go about paying for hosting space I've never had to do that before and what about Dean Esmay he offered to do the same and then again there's Typepad oh it's all so difficult but Blogger has gone mad it will murder me in my bed if I don't escape.

That really is the way I think. I need that brain enhancement fast.

Not all thy Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a line... I just made a dim comment to a Crooked Timber post about the economics of abundance in SF stories. My bit about how time will still be scarce even when you can replicate all the physical goods you want was intelligent enough, but I obviously didn't have enough coffee in me when I wrote: "The only SF way round that would be artificially enhanced brains, so that we could process information much faster." The only way? Now that the caffeine is is spreading its chemical wisdom though my veins I can think of half a dozen more.
  • Much longer lifespans is the obvious one.
  • Not so much enhancing as periodically editing our brains to remove extraneous material.*
  • Cloning copies of yourself and downloading a digest of their experiences so that your identity was expressed in all of them.
  • Quantum parallel processing so that 'you' actually live several versions of a chunk of time, again with some arrangement for an over-arching identity.
  • Arranging to go through a time loop with one corner of your brain in stasis.
  • Or how about editing and simplifying the entire physical universe? A little drastic, you may say, but that's SF.
*OK, so it's not original. There have been several stories asking whether it would be a good thing to edit out bad experiences, and the idea of editing out mere excess is so familiar that it even turns up in the admirable but unoriginal Harry Potter books.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003
I've been reading Suruj Dutta's site, Psychobabble. I wasn't sure if I agreed with all of his post about immigration, and on a factual point I would be astounded if the European Convention on Human Rights had really pre-dated WWII, but I was interested by his no-nonsense approach. It can be deduced that he is an immigrant himself, as his parents are still back in India, so he knows what he's talking about.

Have I said this before? Immigration is one of those dratted "you can't get there from here" issues. I want a society where anyone is free to try out any of a vast array of micro-jurisdictions spanning the earth and other planets, ranging from theocracy to communist to anarcho-capitalist. Only one common rule: you are free to leave.

Yes. Fine. And the action I will take tomorrow to help achieve this happy state is...?

In the end, as he says, until the poor countries have been given the chance to work and trade their way out of being poor, economic migration is a fact and must be managed.


Not one of my more decisive posts, I'll admit.

"Hi, my name is Shelley and I'm calling to ask if you'd be interested in a new service offered by British Orangecom."
[Very enthusiastically] "Yes!"
"Wo-? Um. It's about 'Friends & Family 2003', a new call tariff that--"
"Yes. Oh yes."
"Yes! Yes! Yes! Oh, oh, oh yes!"

See, it is quite possible to dispose of these creatures while maintaining an entirely positive attitude.

OK, I admit it. I have never actually done this. But Moira Breen has never actually killed a telemarketer, brought it back to life and re-killed it either.

Conservative Commentary is down, so Peter Cuthbertson has taken it to the Edge.

Two pundits compared. My comments about TV Chef Jamie Oliver came out snippier than I meant. I didn't mean to say that he was specially unintellectual, it was just a passing quip put into my mind by the contrast between his man-of-the-people persona and Oliver James's pretentiousness, and, of course, the fact that he and Oliver James are reverse namesakes. Sakenames.

Unlike Mr (Dr?) James, Mr Oliver makes his professional assessments (that such and such ingredients combined in a particular way will make a good meal) in the knowledge that they will be put to the test on thousands of separate occasions by a discriminating, vocal and highly critical group of people. If enough of them find his predictions true they will continue to buy his book, watch his programme and eat at his restaurants. And they do.

Do you think that if Oliver James were required to issue three separate public diagnoses of loonydom weekly and have them tested and replicated by other eminent nuttiness pundits as well as loads of ordinary people who diagnose loonies as a hobby and are often pretty good at it - do you think he'd be up to the test?

Weird Blogger stuff. I just had half a post I was updating replaced mid-sentence by someone else's . The screen image shook for a moment and there it was. The post before last now reads:
Authoritarianism was identified shortly after the second world war as pafed (insert snicker) us on Chapter 1 in the text. I then proceeded back to my dorm where I talked to a guy from Japan and had a nice convo and I looked at random things online before my next class. Before my class though, I had to call the Mitsuwa in SD to get the digits for the Mitsuwa in SJ because they haven't called me back yet. I called and it turned out that Thomas (the Supervising Manger) wasn't in and won't be until Thursday. Thus, I then went to my Rec 10 class and it turns out we had to do a little online testing training thingy. Good new, that means I don't have class with him on Thursday because half the class stayed for the training today, and the rest come on Thursday. I did mine today, so I'm done with that class for the week.

Moving on, I got back to my room after job hunting for a bit and began to talk to the nice Japanese man again (Toshi). Oddly enough, he wanted me to go traveling with him even though he only knows me like... today, but he's a pretty nice guy though. Turns out he likes para para, eurobeat, j-pop and all the stuff I like but... he's japanese, and in Japan. As far as this goes, i ono... nice guy but ah... I ono... I think I'd rather date a friend or something. I'm sick and tired of trying to talk to these random guys and just get nowhere, the only problems with friends is that you stand to lose a lot. Ugh... I don't wanna think about this now. NEXT~

I then went over to the gym after resting up a bit and burning an MD to work out to. Headed over there, played racquetball by myself for a half-hou

Don't know whose it is, will try to find out. Did she get my stuff on The Authoritarian Personality appearing in her blog? Did she get a date?

Various correspondents have been urging me to go to Movable Type. I was holding off for what seemed like good reasons, but this is getting ridiculous.

Excuse me while I rebuild the earlier entry.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003
Our psychologists are better than your psychologists. John J Ray plays the "psychoanalyse the enemy" game with much more flair. Unlike Oliver James he sticks to generalizations. There are times when generalizations are useful and legitimate comment and to particularize is the badge of a fool.

It ought to be possible to write a psychological critique of right-wingers (stick to them: we libertarians are, of course, the only perfectly sane people on the planet) from a left-wing standpoint without descending into thinly-disguised abuse. Although I wasn't impressed with what I heard about the recent Berkeley study, a modest version of the hypothesis that personality types correlate with political views is credible to me. When one of the authors of the Berkeley research says (scroll down) that his research was unbiased I don't believe him, but I'm willing to believe he believes himself.

UPDATE: Here's a fun fascist quiz where you can measure yourself on the Adorno F-scale. Adorno was the guy who started all this with "The Authoritarian Personality" in 1950. The author of the quiz Chuck Anesi, refers to Adorno as "producing a Freudian-Marxist melange of pseudo-scientific speculative foolishness that is now, thank God, thoroughly discredited."

ANOTHER UPDATE: Here's a whole big debate between Oliver James and Peter Watson on Why Psychology Has Failed. As if we didn't know why Psychology has failed! Because its mummy forgot to collect it from playgroup.

Continuing in a long and laughable tradition, pop psychologist Oliver James pretends to psycholanalyse George W Bush.

For this you need a PhD?

I honestly thought at first that it was a joke. Jamie Oliver taking a break from the cooking and deciding to do a pastiche of an intellectual, or something. So did the headline writer.

It's full of it, it really is. What 'it'? you ask, not realising what your innocent question has revealed about that time with the chicken. 'It' means, dear reader, what it usually means, which is crap.

Unprovable crap...
...deep down, Bush had a profound loathing for this perfect model of American citizenship whose very success made the son feel a failure. Rebelliousness was an unconscious attack on him and a desperate attempt to carve out something of his own.

Discredited research crap...
The outcome of this childhood was what psychologists call an authoritarian personality. Authoritarianism was identified shortly after the second world war as part of research to discover the causes of fascism. As the name suggests, authoritarians impose the strictest possible discipline on themselves and others - the sort of regime found in today's White House
James's own bathroom ruminations masquerading as diagnosis crap...
"His deepest beliefs amount to superstition. "Life takes its own turns," he says, "writes its own story and along the way we start to realise that we are not the author." God's will, not his own, explains his life.

Most fundamentalist Christians have authoritarian personalities."

And some of that scaremongering crap about saying in a deep dark voice, "we don't know that X does this" and then mentioning something guaranteed to raise the hackles of your audience:
Whether he specifically sees the battle with Iraq and other "evil" nations as being part of the end-time, the apocalypse preceding the day of judgment, is not known. Nor is it known whether Tony Blair shares these particular religious ideas.
Note the way his bagful of Deeply Ominous Ignorance about Bush is rounded up to the nearest pound by an extra spoonful of Deeply Ominous Ignorance about Blair.

I was amused by the horrified mention of the fact that Bush schedules his time to the nearest five minutes. I ignorantly thought that the reason Mr Bush kept an appointment book was because he's, like, president of the most powerful nation on earth at a perilous time in its history, and thus has quite a few demands on his time. I concede that one be a notable success as an American president without running so tight a ship. Reagan saw the Soviets go down without hurrying his golf, but betcha anything Oliver James thinks that is proof of the dysfunctional and infantile nature of conservatives. The great thing about this game is it runs on any platform.

As I said, James isn't the first to make a fool of himself this way. Leo Abse MP once wrote a whole book purporting to analyse Margaret Thatcher. I think it said she was a supressed bisexual on the evidence of her failure to mention her mother in her Who's Who entry. Here's a sample:

'When Thatcher was on the pot she was peremtorily required by her mother to do her duty... the same severe mother now denies her child pride in her own first creation, her faeces... (Thatcher's) urge to gamble lies in joyless masturbation and early, still unresolved bisexuality'.
So Abse was there by the potty, was he, taking notes? As for the 'still unresolved bisexuality' bit, some real bisexuals weren't amused.

Incidentally, in We and They, Robert Conquest mentions that when a bunch of Democrat-supporting psychologists took out an ad with some kind of at-a-distance diagnosis of Barry Goldwater as a nutter, Goldwater sued them and won.

UPDATE: Here's the exact Conquest quote from pages 198-199 of the book (pub. Temple Smith, 1980). As usual with Conquest it comes with extra food for thought, in the form of some other examples of intellectuals pontificating beyond their knowledge:
Again, a group of several hundred American economists signed a letter some years ago saying that to their knowledge Andrea Papandreou was not a conspirator. Does it really need to be said that their ignorance of the matter was compatible with both his ignorance and his guilt? When the millionaire Italian publisher Feltrinelli was found dead in suspicious circumstances (with a bundle of explosives by a pylon) a large group of Italian academics instantly signed a manifesto declaring his innocence. In 1964 a large number of American 'qualified' psychologists signed what purported to be a professional analysis of Senator Goldwater as a clinically unbalanced character. I remember the anger of a friend of mine, a professor of psychology at an American university and himself a strong opponent of Goldwater's, at this extraordinary breach of professional ethics and of scientific principle. (Goldwater eventually received heavy damages from them in a court action.)
The emphasis is mine. If psychology wants to be regarded as a serious discipline it's going to have to do better than this.

(Public Interest is also on the case.)