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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Thursday, October 30, 2003
In law and in politics the adversarial system is a well-tailored garment that decently covers raw human nature while not disguising its essential form.

It is not nakedness. The most beautiful bodies can go unclothed as they did in Eden but when ordinary people go naked they often look ugly and even more often look undignified. At the same time, uncontrollable passions are aroused. The most beautiful natures are above the need for an adversarial system but when ordinary people attempt to do without its formalities they often act basely and even more often act chaotically- and, again, uncontrollable passions are aroused.

It is not an exquisitely embroidered yet bulky robe, such as an emperor might wear. The form of the man or a woman under the robe might be sublime or hideous - you'd never know under all that brocade. Systems of law and government that affect to be beyond self-interest are like that: beautiful but stiff and impersonal.

Oliver Kamm's defence of the adversarial system got me thinking these thoughts. You will gather I agreed with him. And even if you don't agree, dear reader, you will surely give thanks that here finally, finally is a man who says 'highest common factor' when he means 'highest common factor' and not 'lowest common denominator' like all the other innumerate crudbrains.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003
I D best
Said I D S
But all D rest
Said that's B S.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003
Stay cool. I'm still in the land of the living. In fact, according to my loving family, in whose company I have been spending this half term, I am taking a brief vacation in the land of having a life. Whatever can they mean?

The upshot is that I am even worse at answering emails than usual.

Friday, October 24, 2003
IRA apologises for grief caused to the families of the "disappeared." DNA tests have confirmed that the body found on a beach in Ireland August was indeed Jean McConville, a Catholic woman abducted and murdered after she tried to help a fatally wounded British soldier in 1972. Apparently the IRA has issued a statement apologising to the families of Jean McConville and the other "disappeared". It's not clear from the BBC whether the IRA are apologising for repeatedly giving the wrong locations for the secret graves, which resulted in a trail of holes all over Northern Ireland and the Republic as the authorities tried and failed to exhume the victims, or for, you know, actually killing them in the first place. I suppose I ought to go and search for the exact words of the IRA statement but the idea does not appeal.

Pleasing people vs improving them. Ms* Robin Burk writes on the subject of Secure By Design vs New Urbanism:
"...Your blog comments reminded me of a discussion I once had with the late Herman Kahn, founder of the Hudson Institute. He described a session in which he presented senior urban planners with detailed statistics about housing preferences in the US. Overwhelmingly, US residents prefered single-family homes or at most, townhouses if they lived in large cities. The planners, who had invested years of academic and competition energy in other models (especially very tall apartment buildings with green space and mass transit nearby), had only one question: 'How can we get them to change what they want?'

"A telling vignette!"

Indeed. As well as the point about social engineering, it is well worth noting the point about how the planners frequently can't afford personally to backtrack on a stance they have held for years. In housing debates we hear a lot about the greed of developers - and there is no doubt they are greedy, particularly when they sniff a chance to get by force what someone doesn't want to sell them - but the fact that other lobbies also have their own self-interest to pursue is seldom mentioned.

*I include the title to signal to British readers that like most Americans by the name of Robin, Ms Burk is female.

Thursday, October 23, 2003
The disingenuous Ms Ridley. Damian Penny calls Yvonne Ridley, once captured by the Taliban, now working for Al-Jazeera and soon to convert to Islam a case of Stockholm Syndrome. Maybe, but I think there's something more going on than that.

The article about her forthcoming conversion appeared in a journal called "Muslim Uzbekistan" but is credited to IslamOnline. It says:

Regarding any previous knowledge about Islam, Ridley said she knew “[n]othing more factual than would fill the back of a postage stamp. Of course I’d subscribed to all the myths about women being subjugated and how it was an evil and violent religion full of fanatics.”

It it surprising to hear from IslamOnline that she knew very little of Islam before her encounter with the Taliban. Don't they look in their own files? According to this earlier IslamOnline article she was married until five years ago to a Palestinian, Daud Zaarur a.k.a. Abul Hakam (also sometimes transcribed as Dawood Zaarora and Abu Al Hakam ), who is "a former military commander of the Palestinian Fatah movement in Lebanon."

Of course he may for all I know have been secular in his personal beliefs, but didn't he ever even talk about Islam? Surely during her marriage she would have met his family and his friends, or in some other way have learnt more than a postage stamp-worth's about the religion of most Palestinians.

Now, don't mistake me. There is nothing wrong in itself in the fact that Ms Ridley's first husband was a Palestinian, any more than in the fact that her second husband was an Israeli. There is something wrong about being a Fatah commander but that isn't really relevant here.

Nonetheless Yvonne Ridley's pose as a simple Sunday School teacher who first met Islam as a naive journalist-adventurer surprised by the humanity of her captors is frankly incredible.

(Incidentally the Ridley-Fatah link is fairly well known as gossip but under-reported. The British press protecting one of its own number?

CORRECTION: I had wrongly put down that Ms Ridley was married for five years to the Fatah guy. On re-reading I see that it is five years since her divorce. The duration of the marriage is not mentioned.

Why are you Brits so uptight about it all? asks Michael Blowhard in a comment to the Crooked Timber branch (ha-ha) of the New Urbanism/ Secure By Design debate. Those weren't his exact words, but I think he correctly senses that we are all much tenser than seems justified by a debate about bollards and built-in garages.
"I confess that I’m a little baffled — I don’t really know what’s being discussed here. Is it something along the lines of “SBD good, NU bad?”


"First, please excuse a brief moment of exasperation: I mean, have any of you people actually visited a New Urbanist development? FWIW, I‘ve spent a little time in about six of them — they’re modest, tiny little things. There is no Big Brother who’s trying to impose New Urbanism on the nation at large."

Actually, I think he's not quite right about the absence of Big Brother. Still, I can sympathise with his exasperation. So what are we all so uptight about?

Class, my dear boy, class. New Urbanism favours street life. Street life is working class. Dead quiet past 6pm is middle class. Not having cars is, or was, working class. Cars are middle class. Shops among the houses is working class. Residential streets are middle class. "The world and his wife comes through my street" is working class. The ability - or even the suggestion - of the power or desire to exclude non residents that a cul-de-sac gives is middle class.

I doubt whether the creators of either NU or SBD intended this. Probably they never gave it a moment's thought - but still, there it is. In a British context NU feels working class (and slightly continental). SBD feels middle class.

Now I am tempted to gently call for us all to rise above these petty, outdated concerns - only I won't succumb. Class, like other markers of identity, has a way of confounding those who declare it outdated, and the consequences of the wrong choice of offical guidance on how to design new housing are far from petty.

I wish there were no official guidance so that the two philosophies we are talking about - and many more - could all flourish or fall depending how people liked them in various different situations. (As I said, I am sure that a substantial minority would choose to live in the New Urbanism style; the more so after reading the sensible quote from a leading practitioner of NU that Mr Blowhard includes in his comments.) That won't happen. In the current situation the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister or some similar body will exert pressure to impose one philosophy or another. The only practical question is, which one.

I think that because of its measures to reduce permeability, Secure By Design would be better for the majority here in Britain, and particularly for the most crime-ridden areas. I think they won't get it because the current government instinctively recoils from the middle-class flavour of SBD. Quite a few more working-class people will be victims of crime thereby, and that's a shame.

This article had an interestingly boring headline. As if there had been a small but definite chance that he would say, "Oh hang it all. You be president, Dick. I'm going walkabout."

Wednesday, October 22, 2003
She be a witch! Angie Schultz, I mean. My thumbs are pricking like hedgehogs as I write. How do I know? Well, it wasn't that she wrote:
Are these the sort of pueblos you were looking for?

I also found a few pictures, not as good, by searching on "canyon de chelly" and puye pueblo.

That was interesting - they were the sort of pueblos I was looking for - but not decisive enough evidence of witchery to get me reaching for my trusty copy of Malleus Maleficarum. Nope. But this did:
As for the How and Why Wonder Books---we couldn't afford very many of them back then, which is why I've taken to collecting them voraciously as an adult.

This Australian fellow:


does likewise, and he's put scans of his covers on that web page. He has both the US and UK versions of "Caves to Skyscrapers" (which probably the book you remember, [It was. - NS] unless it was "Building") on his site. Those seem to be identical. The pueblo picture you remember was probably inside.

I love these books for their beautiful illustrations. I particularly remember the drawings in "The Human Body", and the day I realized that the fibers in my pot roast dinner were muscle fibers, as illustrated in that book. Mmmm, muscle.

I commend to you especially the cover of "Chemistry", in which what seems to be a retort is actually a
spherical gas tank in the background. Also, "Atomic Energy" is an interesting perspective of a swimming pool type atomic reactor.

It's very interesting that there was a book on "Ballet", when almost all the others were sciences of
one sort or another. I presume this was a sop to supposed female interests (there was also a "Florence Nightingale", likewise).

In the late '70s and early '80s, these books were put out with different, inferior covers, as seen on the
Australian page. Compare the photos of cheap plastic dinosaurs to the beautiful illustration on the earlier

Don't miss the UK edition exclusive---"The Spoilt Earth".

Uncanny powers! No doubt about it. There were 76 of 'em. She named all my favourites, only leaving out "Stars" probably because it was so obvious. ("Ballet" was my sister's but I always kind of liked it as a glimpse into a totally alien world.)

Angie, could you get your familiar to tell you where there was the bit about how if a nucleus was as big as a strawberry it would be so heavy that it would fall to the centre of the earth? I used to lie in the bath worrying that my atoms might start unaccountably growing in size and mass so that I would become enormous and fall to a fiery end in the earth's core. It was tough being me.

Squander Two writes:
I've just finished Night Watch, too.

I'm writing to express my surprise at your surprise at Terry Pratchett. You thought he was a left-leaning Guardian reader? You're surprised that he might be against gun control? I'm shocked, honestly. Pratchett is one of the most libertarian writers ever, up there with Robert Anton Wilson. How could you have read his books and missed this?

You mentioned Men At Arms, and the gonne. But think of the end of the book: Carrot, who is the epitomy of heroic goodness, kills the head of the assassins mid-sentence. He doesn't give the man a chance to explain himself, he doesn't try to arrest him, he just cuts him in half, first chance he gets, unhesitatingly -- and this is offered as explicit proof of the fact that Carrot is a good man. This is hardly an anti-weapon book. Look at the two killers in the book who use the gonne. They're monarchists. Both of them believe that society's ills can be fixed by putting the right man at the top to make laws and crack down on the wrong people. And it is this attitude that makes them bad guys.

Look at Ankh-Morport itself, and Vetinari. The only really successful patrician the city's ever had is the one who doesn't try to rule the city. He ensures the city runs smoothly by interfering as little as possible. It's not just weapons that he doesn't ban: crime itself is legal.

In Lancre, the King's job is to be the King and pass laws and every citizen's job is to get on with their life and ignore the King, and particularly to ignore any laws that he passes.

At the end of Small Gods, the Great God Om suggests to the Prophet Brutha that "Thou shalt not kill" might make a good commandment. Brutha explains that, just because killing is a bad thing, that doesn't make an anti-killing commandment a good thing. And Brutha pointedly becomes the first prophet in the church's history to pass no commandments at all. This is clearly offered as proof of Brutha's great wisdom. And, in later books, we see that Omnianism has become more successful and more prolific than ever before since it abandoned authoritarianism and started schisming all the time. Less authority leads to more success.

In fact, throughout the books, anyone who tries to rule other people is a bad guy. Every time. And the good guys are always the people who fight authoritarianism. Think of the fairies in Lords And Ladies, or the vampires in Carpe Jugulum: what made them so evil? Their authoritarianism. And who's the greatest of the History Monks? Lu Tze, the one who always disobeys the rules and always disobeys his abbott. The only good guy who obeys authority is Carrot, but even he knows he is the King of Ankh-Morpork and has decided not to take back his throne.

I have observed that the type of Guardian readers who like to read politics into every little part of their lives (you know, the really irritating ones) hate Terry Pratchett with a vengeance. Trust me: Britain's greatest novelist doesn't just see where we libertarians are coming from; he's at the vanguard. And kids love his books. There's hope yet.

If you really hadn't seen this before, I beseech you to reread the books.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003
Chris Bertram has joined the "Secure By Design" debate in this post. More comments by your faithful servant are to be found by scrolling down.

UPDATE: Oops! To get the comments and the post that prompted them try this link instead.

The urban dream and the suburban one. (Subtitle: Another Bleeding Example of Government Messing Things Up.) Iain Murray has a fascinating account of a study sponsored by the police in Bedfordshire on how housing and street design can affect crime rates - and although Iain does not stress this aspect, how the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is industriously seeking to undo the limited improvements in street design we have seen over the last few years. Scroll down Iain's post to find the link to the study, "Operation Scorpion".

I added a comment to Iain's piece plugging Dr Alice Coleman's book on the subject, "Utopia on Trial". As I say there, I saw her speak about ten years ago. She wasn't that great as a speaker, actually. Too quiet, too diffident. Nonetheless I became an instant convert; sometimes speakers who are not particularly fluent can actually be more convincing because they come across as people who aren't there for fun; they are there because they have an important message to convey.

Her message was what you might call, if it's not too much of a paradox, intuitive at second glance. Read Iain Murray's list of the key points of "Secure by Design" and you will see it set out. (I am pretty sure her work was one of the source materials there.) A key point is that space should be owned and supervised, literally and metaphorically. It's curtain-twitcher heaven in other words and that's the idea. Curtain-twitching old grannies call the cops when they see someone nicking your car. And they know it's your car because they know you and they know you because your street is a cul-de-sac and strangers have little reason to walk through it.

Despite the fact that the two competing philosophies described in the report are associated with urban versus suburban environments, there is no particular reason why the "Secure by Design" ideas cannot be followed in a city centre. I believe Dr Coleman once advised a local council to make an estate of flats safer by blocking off most of the connecting walkways: the loss in convenience for the residents would be more than made up for by the gain in safety.

Yet the association of "New Urbanism" with urbanism is more than just a name, and the association of "Secure by Design" with the suburbs is more than just a coincidence. There are two - no four - dreams here.

The first is the dream of the city. The second is the dream of "moving up" to the suburb. And the last two are our old friends, public versus private.

The suburbs, as it happens, were built by speculators. That's why suburban houses look like the houses kids draw: kids grow up and then they buy houses like they always wanted, with a fence and flowers and a path leading up through the front garden to the newly-painted front door. Successful speculators know this and design houses that people actually want. By some process of instinct these desirable houses also seem to discourage crime - the more so when instinct is supplemented by intelligent design.

In contrast, most British residential blocks of flats were built by local authorities in the 1950s - 70s. They might, when new, have looked better than the slums they replaced, but no one chose them for themselves.

Which is not to say that flats are bad per se. Although I, like so many people with kids, deserted London for the suburban/rural option I am not deaf to the call of the city. I am not even deaf to the appeal of living in a skyscraper and seeing for miles; there is room in my utopia for different tastes. Our present association of suburban with private and urban with public is an accident of history. Perhaps even our association of the city with crime is an accident of history - a very big and very grave accident that will take a long time to clear up.

As a child my parents kept me well supplied with those "How And Why" books, including one on architecture. I was very attracted to one particular picture, showing centuries-old "skyscrapers" hollowed out of the cliffside in a South American pueblo. A quick internet search while writing this post didn't yield me any pictures of such dwellings from South America, but by a process of convergent evolution these buildings from the Yemen look very similar. And similarly appealing, like really interesting sandcastles. I gather that these types of ancient buildings had a lot of influence on architects from the 30s on.

Be that as it may, it's generally agreed that the best thing about most blocks of council flats built in Britain is the merry sound of high explosive ripping them to bits, as is invariably found to be necessary thirty years after the architect got the award. (One hopes the architects then have the decency to remove the award from the mantelpiece.) Maybe you need the sunshine of Yemen or Arizona to make the skyscraper thing work. Or the tribal society of the builders. Or perhaps they, too, were full of adolescent wanabee warriors hanging around the intersections and were horrible to live in.

I'm running out of time, and I haven't yet got to the bit about the harm done by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. OK, slum clearances on balance bad, all agree. Blow up all estates named after living local councillors, all agree. Build boxy, twee but still lovable houses as your cheap housing option instead, all agree. Design new estates and/or modify old estates according to Alice-Coleman-like ideas and stem rising crime, all agree? Er, sorry, no, not any more. For a few years the Official State Advice on how to build estates was actually quite good advice. But, as I've observed in the context of education, good emperors are followed by bad ones. That's why it's better not to have emperors or modern equivalents thereof. Just when you are getting used to Wise Imperial Decree Number So And So, some new faction gets influence at court and all the good is undone.

It seems that some academics agreed with me that government-built blocks of flats ended up destroying the community spirit that redeemed the squalor of the slums they replaced. Only these guys took the moral as being that you can get the community spirit back by making nice versions of the slums, with loos and bathrooms and everything, but keeping the same sort of street plan. They sought to replicate the community spirit of an 1850 mill town, mixed in with an arty Paris arrondissement. Café society. Bicycle routes. Bustling street life. Make it difficult to own cars by building lots of bollards but no garages. It's called "New Urbanism", only I call it "old social engineering back again."

Excuse my prejudices showing, but I bet most of the guys who thought up New Urbanism are men, a scandalous number of whom have beards and corduroy jackets. The ghosts of the women of the 1850s mill town could tell them that your arms hurt fit to fall off when you walk home with the shopping. The mothers of those Paris arrondissements could tell them that vibrant street life means dragging your kid past condoms on the street come morning. I like cafés. I like bicycles. I even quite like Paris. I am sure a substantial minority of people would freely choose to live in something like the New Urbanism environment. But, given the chance, most people in Britain prefer to replicate Surbiton rather than Paris in their personal domain, particularly when it comes to having a nice garage built in with the house so their car stays clean and unvandalised, and that choice should be respected.

UPDATE: Here is the Deputy Prime Minister's statement regarding the infamous "Planning Policy Guidance 3 (Housing)". I vaguely agree with it over some issues such as brownfield vs greenfield sites, but nonetheless most of the parts that aren't apple-pie sentiment are misleading. I'm no defender of the Conservative record in housing policy, seeing as that until they had the stroke of genius about selling of council houses they were frequently statist, blundering Tweedledees to rival Labour's statist, blundering Tweedledums - but the attempt to label the quintessentially socialist philosophy of "predict and provide" as a specifically Tory approach was a nice bit of cheek, probably invented by the same minds that describe hard-line communists as "conservatives".

And I can think of no motive for his saying that the housing of the last 20 years has been wasteful and poorly designed except political point scoring. Compared to what and judged by whom? If it were compared to the housing of the last time Labour were in power and judged by most ordinary people of this country even Mr Prescott might shudder at the verdict.

Water batteries. Dr Daniel Kwok and Dr Larry Kostiuk of Alberta have come up with a new means of generating electricity from water that could change the world. It's to do with separating out the positive from the negative charges by forcing the water down tiny channels.
"The inventors are particularly excited by the fact the electricity is produced cleanly and involves no moving parts.

"The discovery could in a matter of years lead to batteries for everyday items such as cellphones and calculators being powered by pressurized water."

A more detailed explanation can be found here.

UPDATE: Brian Micklethwait linked to this post in Samizdata, and if you go over there you can see many erudite comments. In a shameless piece of self-promotion could I just mention to any Samizdata readers that have dropped by that if you generally like Mr Micklethwait's stuff you may also like the post above this one, which has a sort of Micklethwaitian flavour? It's about architecture.

Monday, October 20, 2003
Ken Livingstone says he will seek to suspend private tube contracts if privatisation is shown to be the cause of this weekend's derailments.

Mr Livingstone added that, in the interests of consistency, if metal fatigue is shown to be the cause he will seek to suspend the periodic table and if lustful daydreams on the part of the driver are shown to be the cause he will suspend sex.

OK, I made that last bit up. Mr Livingstone is not interested in consistency at all. We know that because later in the article we learn that if problems dating back to state ownership are shown to be the cause, our beloved Mayor will not be seeking to rush through an emergency programme of privatisation. No siree! As he says, dimly aware that it might be prudent to cover his nether regions in the event that the accident report doesn't support his political prejudices:

"It could be that we have just had 19 years of under-investment in the underground - and in many areas, since we have had it transferred to us in July, it looks like it has just been held together by tape and a bit of string.

You see, the actual way state-ownership operated for nineteen years is not evidence against state ownership per se because Mr Livingstone can imagine ways that he would have done it better, i.e. giving the tube more money. However the actual way partial privatisation of maintenance operates for however-many months is decisive evidence against privatisation. You do see that, don't you? It doesn't count that I or Patrick Crozier can imagine ways of doing privatisation better because I am not Mayor of London and neither is Patrick, alas.

Oh, and I was tickled pink by this:

" could be the first indication that the privatisation of underground management is not working out as we would have hoped it would. "
Yeah, sure. Mr Livingstone so hoped privatisation would work well. On his knees every night, he was, humbly petitioning the good Lord to bring the task Mrs Thatcher so nobly began to a glorious conclusion. And Bob Crow, the general secretary of the RMT union was kneeling right there next to Brother Ken, speaking the responses with particular fervour.

The Jewish flowering. Chris Bertram has a post at Crooked Timber asking why the Jewish renaisssance from Napoleonic times on? As ever with Crooked Timber, the comments are fascinating.

Saturday, October 18, 2003
Samuel Vimes and the Libertarian Subtext, Correction Make That Straight Down The Line Anti-Gun Control Propaganda. I have just been reading Night Watch, Terry Pratchett's twenty-somethingth Discword Novel. (It has Rembrant's painting on the back and a Discworld parody of it on the front.) I found this on page 125. Vimes is the hero, yer basic battered, cynical but still honest copper. Swing is a baddy in authority.
Swing, though, started in the wrong place. He didn't look around, and watch and learn, and then say. This is how people are, how do we deal with it?' No, he sat and thought: This is how the people ought to be, how do we change them?' And that was a good enough thought for a priest but not for a copper because Swing's patient, pedantic way of operating had turned policing on its head.

There had been that Weapons Law, for a start. Weapons were involved in so many crimes that. Swing reasoned, reducing the number of weapons had to reduce the crime rate.

Vimes wondered if he'd sat up in bed in the middle of the night and hugged himself when he'd dreamed that one up. Confiscate all weapons, and crime would go down. It made sense. It would have worked, too, if only there had been enough coppers - say, three per citizen.

Amazingly, quite a few weapons were handed in. The flaw though, was one that had somehow managed to escape Swing' and it was this: criminals don't obey the law. It's more or less a requirement for the job. They had no particular interest in making the streets safer for anyone except themselves. And they couldn't believe what was happening. It was like Hogswatch every day.

Some citizens took the not unreasonable view that something had gone a bit askew if only naughty people were carrying arms. And they got arrested in large numbers. The average copper, when he's been kicked in the nadgers once too often and has reason to believe that his bosses don't much care, has an understandable tendency to prefer to arrest those people who won't instantly try to stab him, especially if they act a bit snotty and more expensive clothes than he personally can afford. The rate of arrests shot right up, and Swing had been very pleased about that.

Admittedly some of the arrests had been for possessing weaponry after dark, but quite a few had been for assaults on the Watch by irate citizens. That was Assault on a City Official, a very heinous and despicable crime and, as such, far more important than all these thefts that were going on everywhere.

It wasn’t that the city was lawless. It had plenty of laws. It just didn’t offer many opportunities not to break them. Swing didn’t seem to have grasped the idea that the system was supposed to take criminals and, in some rough and ready fashion, force them into becoming honest men. Instead he’d taken honest men and turned them into criminals. And the Watch, by and large, into just another gang.

I've heard Terry Pratchett speak at SF conventions, and exchanged a few words with him. He always struck me as a pleasant and approachable person but politically I always had him down as a Guardian reader, albeit the sort of Guardian reader I can get along with. An earlier book, "Men At Arms" seemed to me to be saying that guns have a sort of power to make people who are not yet very bad become bad; though my husband says he didn't read it as being guns generally, just the particular and singular "gonne" in the story. Anyway, whatever interpretation one places on the earlier book, it is very striking that in this one Pratchett has put this admirable summary of the pragmatic case against gun control, weapons amnesties and the like, in the mouth of Samuel Vimes. I suppose Pratchett might say that Vimes' opinons are not his own, but, even so, Vimes is not just a one-off hero but a much loved character who stars in several books: this shows at the very least that Britain's best selling living novelist sees where we're coming from.

Friday, October 17, 2003
The internet was being bothersome today, so I went away and did something else.

Thursday, October 16, 2003
Wot, no SF? Colin MacLeod of The Whole Thing asks, why isn't there more science fiction? Well, I do have little bursts, but the fact is that truth is stranger than fiction. When I told my daughter that I had spent most of the day gardening she said, "the mum I used to have has been abducted by aliens." Note to controller: possible latent telepathy in immature zygotes of target species.

Two contrasting views of Spanish/Catholic treatment of the Indians in the New World. Can they be reconciled? Possibly - firstly there might be a gap between the humane pronouncements of the Church and what people, including Church people, did in the field, and secondly the transport difficulties of the time must have meant mores and customs did not even out to the extent they do now.

ARC writes:

I've heard it too but it's not true. There were admirable Spaniards as well as cruel: the film, 'The Mission' is based on one historical incident demonstrating both in considerable degree, and the famous penitent letter of 'the last of the conquistadores' to the king is also fact (and Spain's monarchs sometimes attempted to pass good laws). However 'the black legend' as some revisionist historians have dubbed the idea of Spain's greater cruelty, remains far more fact than legend. The English had less to keep quiet about.

One reason for the difference was the different societies from which the colonists came. Christine Wdgewood has a throwaway line in her history 'The King's Peace' that in early 17th century England, if the daughter of a great house ran off with the footmen, she might be cast off by the family 'but it would be inconceivable for the family to seek their lives as a matter of honour, unlike the situation in contemporary Spain'. It was a different society and this was reflected in its colonial behaviour.

Another partial reason may have been that many of the natives the Spaniards encountered were themselves startlingly cruel beyond all European experience and this must have affected the latter. However the same point applies to many of the more northern tribes the English encountered. when were less organised in their cruelties but of whom Burke remarks that their habits of warfare 'are such as to disgust all civilised persons'; read Parkman to see what he means.

Jack Swartz writes:
... Your Tuesday October 14th article on Father Fransisco de Vitoria struck a resonant note. While doing research for a project, I came across this interesting information that the Catholic Church argued the same thing.

Pope Paul III writing in , Sublimus Dei, affirmed that the Indians in the new world were not dumb brutes but are "truly men and that they are not only capable of understanding the Catholic Faith but, according to our information, they desire exceedingly to receive it."

He then goes on to state "We define and declare by these Our letters, or by any translation thereof signed by any notary public and sealed with the seal of any ecclesiastical dignitary, to which the same credit shall be given as to the originals, that, notwithstanding whatever may have been or may be said to the contrary, the said Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ; and that they may and should, freely and legitimately, enjoy their liberty and the possession of their property; nor should they be in any way enslaved; should the contrary happen, it shall be null and have no effect.even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ;

The Pope also stated that those who proposed and advocated the debasement and enslavement were working with "the enemy of the human race, who opposes all good deeds in order to bring men to destruction, beholding and envying this, invented a means never before heard of, by which he might hinder the preaching of God's word of Salvation to the people: he inspired his satellites who, to please him, have not hesitated to publish abroad that the Indians of the West and the South, and other people of whom We have recent knowledge should be treated as dumb brutes created for our service, pretending that they are incapable of receiving the Catholic Faith."

If this is true, and I have no reason to believe it is not, the Catholic Church was on the right side in the matters concerning the rights and priviliges of the indiginous peoples.

Thanks to both correspondents for their insights into an area of history that is, for me, almost virgin territory.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003
Steven Chapman is back.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003
Spanish enlightenment. I confess I had never heard of Father Francisco de Vitoria, a sixteenth century Spanish priest who argued that the Paganism of the American Indians was no bar to their possessing natural rights. However I had heard that the widespread view that the English in America were much more humane than the Spanish came in no small part from the fact that many Spaniards expressed remorse for deeds that the English did without regret.

UPDATE: Val Dorta sent me this astounding article on Christianity's free market tradition. The author, Stephen W Carson, is reviewing a book by Alejandro A. Chafuen on the pre-Enlightenment Scholastics, and doesn't hesitate to make some startling assertions:

"In fact, they cannot be fairly considered by economists as "only moralists". Their brilliant economic analysis earns them a place as founders of economics. One might be tempted to call them the true "Adam Smiths" except that their economic analysis was superior to the confused Adam Smith of The Wealth of Nations."

Yes, Mr President! Under your wise guidance our scientists have built mighty weapons with which to deal death to the infidel!

ARC writes:

Re recent analyses of what WMD's Saddam had, should we assume that it's a comment on a bureaucratic state? They had all manner of administrative effort related to creating WMDs, consuming much time and money of the regime, but the actual production was not proportionate. Could it be that, like other command regimes that have no real understanding of what their grand initiatives are like at the sharp end, Saddam simply did not know that he didn't have that much to hide?

Anne Cunningham is an American of Northern Irish Catholic ancestry. Read her thoughts on Macaulay, Imperialism and the Immaculate Conception Theory of History at One Sided Wonder

What German children are hearing. Davids Medienkritik has up a post about a toe-curlingly propagandist German childrens' radio programme. I have once or twice had some fairly strong criticisms of editorial comment disguised as reporting in Children's BBC programmes, but nothing as bad as this. The typical flaw of the BBC is to assume that everybody except a few cartoon nutters thinks the way BBC people do. (What Sean Gabb, quoting Gramsci, calls in this essay "hegemonic discourse".) In contrast, this German programme, "Lilipuz", gives the impression of conscious political manipulation.

Monday, October 13, 2003
Matthew Turner has made his latest move in our ongoing blog war here.

Here's my reply to his reply.

On “will” – the point was “will” is used as an indicator of customary or habitual behaviour as opposed to universal behaviour. So a statement that group X will do Y does not necessarily mean that all X’s will do Y on all occasions, only that they often will.

On affirmative action you say that I am going to have to explain more what I mean by "half consciously believe."

On a micro level Solen'ts argument doesn't work either. When she blathers on about 'The point is that they think or, what is harder to cure, they half-consciously feel, that it won't make much difference what they do', then she really needs to explain this 'half-consciously' thing a little more -- I cannot believe half-consciously or other young black men believe society rejects or refuses to reward their talents because of affirmative action.

You can picture it now, in Solent-land a young, black man aged 25 enviously watching his similarly-aged white neighbour who went to private school, Oxford and now works in the City, thinking 'If only affirmative action hadn't half-consciously flattened the incentives to my being successful I could be like him'.

You imply, scornfully, that I think this is what regularly happens. But I think it is as unlikely as you do. I cannot see why your pouring scorn on the idea that a black youth is likely to make that particular conscious political analysis of his own situation is even relevant to my beliefs about unconscious or half-conscious assumptions.

In fact, I am astonished that my assertion that there are half-conscious obstacles to success presents such a stumbling block to a left-winger. (For those new to Matthew Turner’s blog, all that stuff about him being a Tory is a joke. He joined the Conservative party to point up what he saw as the absurdity of pro free-market types like Stephen Pollard and Oliver Kamm describing themselves as socialists.) The harm done by an attitude of fatalism has been a standard, and broadly correct, part of the standard left- wing analysis of inequality for the last seventy or eighty years – no, make that a hundred years; it’s in George Bernard Shaw and Chesterton.*

But if it does need more explanation, let me do so by looking at the history of feminism. Fighting for the vote and against laws that denied women political rights was only half the battle. Feminists saw early on that they also had to disprove the assumption, held by both men and women, that women were delicate creatures who had to be protected from the harsh male world. This task was all the harder in that the belief in female incapacity was only held half-consciously or unconsciously. That is why feminists talked about “raising the consciousness” of women: once you got to the stage of explict political argument, the battle was half won.

In a similar way, socialists sought to replace the age old vague resentments of the poor with a thought-out political analysis that included criticisms of working class passivity and explanations of how it came about. I don’t agree with their analysis of what we should do about either poverty or poverty-reinforcing attitudes but I do agree that one was needed.

I also agree with the socialist view that the inequalities within a society don’t just happen. They have causes and cures, complex though they may be.

Looking at the progress of blacks in the US or UK over the last half century three phenomena need to be explained. (a) There was great progress after WWII as colonialism fell away and the apartheid of the old US South was dismantled. (b) Then black progress began to sputter out in the 70s. Now there is a black middle class that does OK but for great swathes of the black poor things seem not much better, if at all. In terms of violence and education things are worse. (c) Other minorities, such as ethnic Koreans in the US or Indians here, have overtaken blacks and often whites, too.

I think there is a very good case that what went wrong was in part the imposition of affirmative action with its associated model of black incapacity and permanent victimhood. (Welfare also had a huge role, but I won’t deal with it here.) Simple race prejudice doesn’t explain (b) or (c) but the rise of an anti-achievement attitude among blacks does. I can think of nothing more likely to create such an attitude than to ensure by law and practice that achievement really does matter less. Even within the black middle class the educational achievements of parents don’t replicate themselves in the children as much as they do for whites.

That’s my explanation for the stagnation in black progress over the last few decades. What’s yours?

(Incidentally a correspondent called “Guessedworker” wrote me a an email saying that the explanation was that blacks were less intelligent and quoting various studies and figures that, he says, proves this is so. I have been meaning to reply for a long time, but haven’t got round to it yet. My regrets to Guessedworker, but I haven’t got the energy to fight a war on two fronts now.)

You assert that I am just making it up when I say that crimes committed by Muslims are downplayed in the press.

First off, it’s not as if the media downplaying crimes comitted by groups they feel are oppressed is unprecedented behaviour. This report by Walter Williams describes, quoting evidence, how hate crimes by blacks against whites are downplayed in the US relative to hate crimes by whites against blacks. This account by Armstrong Williams tells a similar story. This report from the Washington Times compares the much greater coverage of the murder of a homosexual student, Matthew Shephard, than of the murder of a boy called Jesse Dirkhising by two homosexuals. Andrew Sullivan writing in the New Republic described the discrepancy between the coverage of the two stories as "staggering" (subscription only). I have cited reports by black (Williams and Williams) and gay (Sullivan) writers particularly to make the point that some members of the downplayed groups acknowledge there is skewed reporting, and want it to stop.

Both these examples are from America rather than Britain, but why should it work any differently in Britain? The media culture is similar.

I think this habit of downplaying is extremely short-sighted. Quite apart from the intrinsic virtue of the truth, nothing breeds a climate of paranoia and hostility quicker than the belief that they are lying to us. History shows that countries where the media is censored are rife with rumour, including racist rumour. (I haven’t backed this assertion up either, but presumably I don’t have to.) Such rumours, typically about rape or poisoning, are often the flashpoints for riots. Once trust in the press is lost, it will be to no avail that the media repeat calming statements that the rumoured crime did not happen, or if it did, that justice will be done.

We are not quite at that stage yet. The media are not usually deliberately lying to us, but they are misleading us through suppressio veri. It would be good to break the habit while it is still breakable.

OK, on to crimes by Muslims. Are they downplayed or no? Here’s an example involving two news stories that happened within a few miles and a few months of each other. Both involved themes of descecration. Both must have been very traumatic to those who witnessed them but undeniably evoked the sort of ghoulish interest that, you would think, editors would jump at. Yet one story was reported in all the British newspapers and many others round the world while the other, so far as I can tell, was fastidiously ignored in the quality press, and only briefly covered in two tabloids.

Story 1: In January 2003 a British Muslim woman, Habiba Mohammed, died of cancer. Her body was laid in the mortuary of Hillingdon Hospital. When her grieving family came to view the body they discovered to their horror that someone had laid slices of bacon (considered unclean by Muslims) all over the body. Two mortuary workers have been arrested and bailed.

Story 2: On 8 April 2003 a group of primary schoolchildren from St Andrew’s primary school were attending a service at St Margaret’s Church, Uxbridge. A man burst in, carrying his one year old son. He laid the child on the altar and attempted to kill him with a knife. Before he could do so he was disarmed by bystanders. The man has been identified only by his age, 41 and his religion, Muslim.

Story 1 was reported worldwide. A Google search for any combination of “Hillingdon” - “mortuary” - “bacon” will give hundreds of results.

Story 2 was reported in the Sun (“Fiend’s bid to sacrifice baby on school altar – kids scream in horror at knife ordeal”) and the Daily Mail on 10 April. The story can be found in the Sun archive for that date but you'll have to subscribe. It also appeared as an in brief item in the Fortean Times. I can’t find any other mentions.

I don’t understand why not, unless it’s that many journalists and editors separately made the decision that the story was a hot potato due to the religion of the attempted killer. It's certainly not that tales of child sacrifice are uninteresting or humdrum. It can’t be that the case is sub judice; the man was sectioned under the Mental Health Act rather than coming before a court at all. It could be argued that 10 April was a busy day for news being the day after Saddam Hussein’s regime collapsed, but the papers that day did cover other things than Iraq.

For comparison a similar story about a sword-wielding madman invading St Andrew’s RC Church in Thornton back in 1999 was reported worldwide.

I was left wanting to know more – for instance, why, if the man was a Muslim, did he go into a Christian church to sacrifice his child? It would be ironic if all the delicacy of the editors was unecessary in their own terms, but the statement of his religion in the Sun story might have the effect of depressing repetition of the story even if the Sun was wrong and he was a Christian wacko.

*Added later - Clarification: Chesterton was no socialist. He was a distributivist who wanted a chicken in every peasant's pot with emphasis on the "peasant", and said that he admired the cheerfully unprogressive attitudes of the poor. But he talks about the idea of self-defeating attitudes as if he were quite familiar with it, so his writings do furnish evidence of it having been around a long time.

UPDATE & CORRECTION: the Telegraph did have that child-sacrifice story, also on 10 April. I don't know why I didn't find it first time; probably something daft like mis-spelling one of the search terms. No mention of the would-be killer's religion though. So rather than the tabloid/quality split I mentioned before we have a left/right split.

Saturday, October 11, 2003
The Blogging Iceberg
Blogging is many things, yet the typical blog is written by a teenage girl who uses it twice a month to update her friends and classmates on happenings in her life. It will be written very informally (often in "unicase": long stretches of lowercase with ALL CAPS used for emphasis) with slang spellings, yet will not be as informal as instant messaging conversations (which are riddled with typos and abbreviations). Underneath the iceberg, blogging is a social phenomenon: persistent messaging for young adults.

An iceberg is constantly dissolving into sea water, and the majority of blogs started are dissolving into static, abandoned web pages. Right now, though, this iceberg is moving so quickly into arctic waters that it is gaining mass faster than it is losing it. The key is that an iceberg is never what it appears, and so it is with today’s blogging community.

These guys did a big survey. Lots of facts & figures.

Friday, October 10, 2003
Busy, busy, busy but I just had to post this:
"Baudrillard described the final stage of "simulation" in culture as one in which the model of a thing no longer even claims to bear any relation to the thing itself. A simulated education, therefore, is one that no long even refers to the process of learning. It refers only to itself, an endless hall-of-mirrors full of self-reflecting concepts that is increasingly remote and disconnected.

"At my university, for example, we hear much of "outcome assessment measures" these days. Do you have such measures, they asked me? My response was to say that I thought "grades" constituted the assessment. No, I was told: learning consists of "skills" that can be measured, tabulated, reckoned up.

"I realized then that in a university consumed by grade inflation, as mine is, one could not possibly speak of learning anymore. But we can speak of "outcome assessment" because it refers to the idea of learning, rather than to the thing itself. In fact, the "thing itself" can cease to exist altogether, since the outcome measurement -- now defined as "skills" -- is different, graspable, and uncontaminated by critical thought.

"Moreover, one can busy oneself almost endlessly in talking about measurement and assessment. All that talk stand in for talk about learning, and ultimately takes its place. Who cares?

"Not the professors, certainly, because they will be simulated, too. The math department hardly even uses them anymore. They use computers to teach math. Tests are given on-line; outcomes assessed; measurements made.

"It is all a great simulation. Of course its consequences are very real. The trouble is, no one will be left to point that out, once the simulated education is fully in place.

"It won't be long."

- posted by Charles W. Nuckolls in the Liberty & Power blog

The injustice of mercy. The whole compassion debate links in very nicely to a series of posts on the morality of amnesties by Norman Geras.

Links in nicely, but it's not a nice subject. The whole thing comes to a sharp point in Rwanda. I dunno. The world's a wicked place, my masters, a wicked place.

More on compassion from Chris Bertram at Crooked Timber. I'll reprint my comment here since I worked quite hard on it, but you really ought to read the whole discussion. I'll cry if you don't. Here's what I said:
Micha Ghertner and Iain Murray have already made the two main points I would have made (respectively ‘coercive compassion isn’t really compassion’, and ‘there is a distinction between “tempering justice with mercy” and compassion as an organising principle’) - which is my excuse for the bitty nature of the points that follow.

1) Compassion as a motive for action is a great and good thing. But it cannot of itself tell you what to do for the best, and the pretence it can is dangerous for the reasons already covered. Let me use the analogy of love. Love is good yet people who love each other can still do each other harm. I would even go so far as to say that there are certain sorts of harm that specifically happen when people think love absolves one of having to act sensibly or fairly. “I’m only doing this because I love you” can be said legitimately but is frequently abused. There’s a whiff of power there, too, that also comes into compassion interactions if you aren’t careful.

2) …which brings me to my next point. If I’m an ordinary person dealing with government it is much more dignified for me to claim my rights rather than ask for compassion. Note that this point could be made by people with very different ideas of where rights end.

3) Modern welfare states try to have it both ways. They want to be admired for being compassionate yet also want the recipients to feel that they are only claiming their rights. This makes for oleaginous “givers” and graceless recipients.

4) When it comes to welfare, compassion is one of my main reasons for opposing it. I think in the long term it gives people horrible, violent, futile lives. So I see no contradiction between that and my view that compassion for the Iraqi people was a legitimate motive for going to war. Of course in both areas, war and welfare, policy decisions must also take into account factors of prudence and justice.
Incidentally I think it is a great and rather neglected virtue to be able to both give and receive charity gracefully.

Thursday, October 09, 2003
Certain people - they know who they are - have been asking for more Essex Girl jokes. There is a reason why none have appeared, and you will find it out if you type "Essex girl joke" into Google. In fact I think the great era of the EGJ has passed. The phenomenon depended on one's sense of surprise at rampant promiscuity and boundless ignorance and now that both are pretty well compulsory there doesn't seem much point.

However, I did recently unearth the last cache of clean Essex Girl jokes in the world. Accept no substitutes! This one, for instance, is obviously nothing but an old Irish joke with a paint job:

A builder was speaking with a woman about her decorating job. In the first room she said she would like a pale blue. The contractor wrote this down, went over to the window, opened it, and yelled out "GREEN SIDE UP!"

In the second room she told the painter she would like it painted a soft yellow.

He wrote this on his pad, walked to the window, opened it, and yelled "GREEN SIDE UP!"

The lady was somewhat curious but said nothing. In the third room she said she would like it painted a warm rose colour. The painter wrote this down, walked to the window, opened it and yelled "GREEN SIDE UP!"

The lady then asked him, "Why do you keep yelling 'green side up'?"

"I'm sorry," came the reply. "But I have a crew of Essex girls laying turf across the road".

As a female citizen of this ancient county with four grandparents born in the Emerald Isle I reject such things with scorn. (Crew of Essex girls laying turf, indeed! They'd split their nails.) These next two, however, are the real thing:

Q: What's an Essex Girl's favourite wine?

A: I want to go to Lakeside.
HAHAHAHA! SLAPS THIGH! Lakeside, geddit? - hahaha - wine and whine and... mmm-kay. It's an Essex thing. You wouldn't understand. This one may have slightly more universal appeal:
An Essex Girl crashes her Ford Ka [EGJs always specify the car with great exactness - NS] on the way back from an evening at the disco dancing round her handbag. She manages to reach down for her pink Nokia and dials 999. Within ten minutes the ambulance is there.

Paramedic: "It's OK. We're here. What's your name?"

Essex Girl: "Sharon."

Paramedic: "And where's your bleeding coming from?"

Essex Girl: "Romford."

Ya hafta say it right. Here's another:
Q: How do you drown an Essex girl?
A: Put a mirror at the bottom of the pool
Finally, here is my last ever Essex Girl Joke. Really last ever, unlike the last last ever one. Enjoy.
Q: How does an Essex girl get pregnant?
A: And I thought Essex girls were dumb!

Dave Farell writes
I am going to have to take you to task for claiming your version of Wordsworth's lines "scans better". No it don't. It removes the declamatory emphasis of the first line and is two syllables short of an evocative climax in the second, not to mention the bathos of your reversal. Say them as if you were doing a Shakespeare speech, I think you will get what I am on about.

Apropos the Churchill quote, what's most telling for me is that the bowdlerised version now beloved of copy hacks and political grubs is that they actually omit the word "toil" altogether. Just don't mention the work, eh?

"No it don't?" No it don't? I ain't taking none o' that declambulatory amanuensis stuff from nobody. My way has a sort of surprisingness about the last word. "And very heaven to be..." "Yes, yes...?" "And very heaven to be young." As opposed to French, or there or something.

UPDATE: David Farrell writes:

That "no it don't" was satirical, innit? Imagine John Cleese saying it with
a see-through plastic mac on and brandishing a parrot. In fact imagine the whole sentence said by John Cleese with a see-through etc.

PS: It's Farrell, a great Irish name (we were kings of County Clare you know).
I knew it was satirical. That is why I nailed it to the perch. If I hadn't nailed that joke down, it would have nuzzled up to those bars, bent 'em apart with its beak, and VOOM! Feeweeweewee!

Talking of environmentalism, and talking and talking and talking...

Seriously, this is one very impressive comments thread. Global warning meets the nature of evidence meets the legitimacy of ad hominem attacks meets Bayesian probability theory. My own fave guy was "mgl."

Environmentalism Harms Birds And Other Living Creatures. Iain Murray led me to an article in the Observer about the way wind farms chop eagles to bits by the dozen. If wind power were going to solve all our power problems I might say, "never mind, have some eagle fricassee" - but they're next to useless on a still day. As somebody says in the article:
'Wind farms are an expensive dead end... Ten years down the road they will have to concede that wind is not the answer they thought it was, and we will have a lot of tall white elephants all over our hills.
Indeed. Bet they'll find a way to blame it all on capitalism and "deregulation", too.

Two education stories from Poland. In this one a video was taken of the sustained humiliation of a teacher by pupils at a technical school. The Poles must like this sort of thing, because they plan to raise the school leaving age to 18 so as to force more resentful older boys to stay in school. This, we are told, is part of a scheme to reverse the deterioration of education that has come about since the end of communism.

Dream on. There was one particularly clear reason why communist countries could and did have pretty effective schools: the prospect of seriously bad things happening to delinquents. The teachers themselves didn't have to be that nasty because everyone knew that in the background there were people who, if push came to shove, would beat you with lead-filled hoses.

Nowadays it's different, but education bureacrats design their systems as if they still have savage force to back them up. Poland's education system, like our own, is one of ineffective compulsion. It was said (I think by Macchiavelli but I can't find the quote) that there is nothing so dangerous as to harm a man enough to make him hate you, yet leave him the strength to get his revenge. That is exactly what imprisoning young men in school does.

No, I don't want the lead-filled hoses back to keep them in order, thank you. I would much prefer education to be a matter of mutual agreement between teacher and pupil, in Poland and everywhere else. I want that so much I could howl like a dog for sheer longing. But, let's face it, perhaps one ten-thousandth of the world's population agree with me. That story reflects the usual opinion all over the developed world when it simply assumes that extending compulsory education for another two years is doing pupils a favour. But even if the consent principle is seen as utopian, you might think that advocates of "realism" might take a lesson from the famously realistic Macchiavelli. The prince must consider ... how to avoid those things which will make him hated or contemptible.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003
Improving Wordsworth. A few posts down I quoted Mr W. on the storming of the Bastille: ""Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven!" I had misremembered this quote as being "Bliss it was that dawn to be alive, And very heaven to be young." I must say, I think my version scans better.

On similar lines, Churchill said in a speech to the Commons in May 1940, "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat," which isn't nearly as good as the way it is usually quoted, "blood, toil, sweat and tears." It may be true that, due to the primitive nature of recording at the time, Churchill had to read the speech several times on several occasions; so perhaps he fine-tuned the wording.

What is not true, however, at least according to this, is that he got the Larry the Lamb actor to read them for him. Apparently the claim he did comes from the actor himself, who was a bit of a scallywag, and was popularised by David Irving. Yeah, him. Enough said.

You can always spot an arrogant ruling power by the way it hates old buildings. From eighteenth century earls forcibly ejecting whole villages so as not to spoil their classical gardens to twentieth century slum clearances that cleared social cohesion along with the slum, there is nothing a power-freak likes better than replacing a muddle with a slab. China is busily smashing the Uighur quarter of the city of Kashgar. The ghost of Nicolae Ceausescu is cheering them on. Unlike his, this is one "modernisation plan" that is unlikely to be cut short by an uprising against the moderniser.

That said, however, any billionaire philanthropists reading this need feel no hesitation in experimentally testing the effects of sudden moderate wealth on this blogger. Tips button to your left.

Proverbial wisdom. Whenever I say anything along the lines of "money doesn't buy happiness, you know," as I did in the last post, someone chirps up with an offer to field-test this assertion. (On themselves, not me.) On occasion I myself have been known to selflessly volunteer as an experimental subject for a scientific test of the effects of great riches. I needn't bother, though. The experiment has already been done. The family of Kim Jong Il, the "Dear Leader" of North Korea, are worth $4bn, worshipped as gods and utterly miserable.

Imagine Michael Jackson with power of life and death.

You can stick yer filthy compassion... Harry quotes, with implied disapproval, the following passage from some Tory called Barry Legg:
"I believe compassion is a very fine virtue and characteristic for an individual, and many in the Conservative Party show their compassion by working for voluntary organisations and helping people in need.

"But governments should not express compassion. The amount of pain is unlimited - governments cannot create happiness and if you pursue the agenda of compassion in government you are pursuing unlimited government.

I don't know enough about Mr Legg to know if I would agree with him about much else, but I agree with him on this. The emotion of compassion has no little beeper to tell you when it's cooked enough. I am sorry for the suffering people in Liberia and the family of that woman murdered in the jewellers shop and ugly people who despair of finding a lover and parents whose kids die and homeless people in B&B whose lives seem like a dead end and that woman I saw in Waitrose who smelt of pee and the boy down the street whose rabbit ran away and the little nest of baby mice squeaking for their mother who got eaten by an owl so they're going to die now.

The emotion of wishing to do justice does come equipped with a beeper. Harry and I might disagree strongly on what governments ought to do in order to be just in their dealings with homeless people, say, but we can both agree that the demands of justice can in principle be known and met.

In contrast, as Mr Legg observes, there is no limit to what you would have to do to take away someone's pain. A new mansion wouldn't do it; many a lottery winner is miserable in his new mansion. More subtly there is no limit to what you'd have a right to do once pain-removal is accepted as an overriding good. A homeless person tranquilised to the eyeballs would also not be suffering.

I was playing around with the idea that compassion on the part of government is unwelcome as compassion in a referee. Poor little Middlesbrough. It must have hurt when Chelsea won the match. I feel your pain, Middlesbrough! Here, I award you an extra goal to make up for it. However that analogy drags in distracting questions of egalitarianism. The point I wanted to make was not "life's no fun without winners and losers" (that's a matter of taste), but that compassion can harm even its objects if it subverts an agreed framework of rules.

UPDATE: read the comments to Harry Hatchet's post to see a post from Oliver Kamm that probably unconsciously influenced me. Also there's this from Stephen Pollard, and, if you scroll up, Harry himself responds.

Monday, October 06, 2003
Raised from mediocre to fascinating by a lack of research. John Costello emailed in an example:
Another story might be of the British mystery writer who also did some westerns, but got confused. At one point a character is lost in the desert, dying of thirst. Overhead, holding themselves aloft on the thermals, the coyotes circled....

'"We live in a post-clubbing era", apparently. Well thank God for that. Leave the seals alone.' - Peter Briffa

Sunday, October 05, 2003
A reader* writes:
I spotted this story on the BBC website this afternoon (Saturday). It's the first section of their report on the latest suicide bombing.

A suicide bomber has killed at least 18 people and injured up to 50 in an attack at a restaurant in the northern port of Haifa, Israeli police say.

The explosion occurred in the Maxim restaurant near Haifa's beach promenade on the southern edge of the city.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing, which comes on the eve of the Jewish Yom Kippur holiday.

"There was a security guard outside but the attacker managed to enter and blow up," Israeli police chief Shlomo Aharonishky said.

"There was a very big explosion, which blew out the windows. It was horrible," a witness told Israeli TV.

Three children are reported to be among the dead.

It is the first such attack since 9 September, when 15 people were killed in twin suicide bombings in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Is it just me, or do others also find that headline misleading? Notice too, that the "P" word is missing from this part of the report. I suppose the Beeb cannot bring itself to admit that its Hamas, Islamic Jihad and al-Aqsa Martyrs' heroes could even contemplate harming Jews. Even in the final paragraph, which discusses the back-to-back suicide bombings in August, they omit to mention that they were carried out by Palestinians. With any other organization, I'd attribute this simply to bad journalism. In the case of the BBC, however.....

*Let us know if you want your name used.

UPDATE: Okay. Kudos to any reader who spotted that this post belongs to Biased BBC yet for some mysterious reason ended up duplicating itself on this site. Consider it a free sample.

Saturday, October 04, 2003
Iran says it "is committed to its responsibilities to protect foreign diplomatic missions in the country."

You don't say. We'll be expecting the repudiation, arrest and extradition to America of the Iranians responsible for the kidnap and false imprisonment of 52 US diplomats any day now, then.

They need that fence.

Yoseph Malkin writes:
At the risk of sounding like people I wish not to sound like, I must say that the British did fight on the reactionary side, and that it is hard to see on what basis, other than that of the divine right of kings', was
Napoleon's rule illegitimate. Britain, Russian and and Prussia were certainly concerned about the prospects of Napoleon conquering Europe, but also about the popularity of the ideals of the French Revolution he carried with him.

The British did not set out, as in Iraq, to save the French from a ruling tyrant, or else they would not have reinstated the Bourbons, but were fighting for the preservation of the status quo. I am no expert, but I don't think Napoleon was more of a tyrant that the average Louis, certainly not more than a pre-revolution one.

I'm no expert either, but my impression is that Boney was much worse than the Bourbons, corrupt as they were. He waged what we would now call "agressive war" all over Europe for one thing, murdered 2000 Turkish prisoners at Jaffa, conscripted a generation of French youth and got an awful lot of them killed, shot hostages in Russia and helped put down the peasant uprising in the Vendée* with proto-Stalinist efficiency. The ideals of the French Revolution had been drowned in the Terror long before. There was precious little left of Egalité or the Rights of Man by the time that Napoleon gave the throne of Spain to his brother and provoked the prototypical guerilla war in response.

It is true that that the British government had no intention of bringing universal democracy to France (or, indeed, Britain), but they did stand for the rule of law and relative liberty. To my mind all their many transgressions then and later do not change that conclusion.

Despite my earlier post comparing Napoleon and his British fan-club to their equivalents in 2003 I think the real parallel is with all the apologists for Stalin. (Of course some of the statesmen of the anti-war movement are old in sin, and were themselves defenders of Stalin in their youth.) By 1815 you had to be wilfully blind not to see that the hopes for the Revolution that had caused Wordsworth to write "Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven!" had not, to put it mildly, been met.

*The link I found about the Vendée actually says that Napoleon wasn't nearly as bad as some others. I had thought he'd done something ruthless in the artillery line there, but I may have been mixing it up with the siege of Toulouse. Nonetheless it remains a crime of the Revolution even if not one of Napoleon Bonaparte.

David Carr has a truly radical and decisive policy suggestion on ways to cut British gun crime.

UPDATE: Another day, another shooting.

Friday, October 03, 2003
James Rummel came across my post about the story in the 1937 boys' annual, and writes
...My own ability to suspend disbelief ended even before I started to read the book. See, we don't use "stone" as a measurement of weight. In fact, if you said that someone weighed "15 stone" while you were here in the US the natives would probably think you're some sort of marijuana smuggler, and you were using bundles of weed as a system of measurement.

I remember that I once had to use a dictionary to prove to a buddy that people actually used stone to measure weight, and that it was equal to 14 pounds. Heck, the only reason that I know about it is because I'm fond of those novels by Patrick O'Brian, and he won't shut up about stone. It's "He weighed 14 stone" this and "The staysail alone was 10 stone" that.

But I expect it's understandable considering that the story was set in a foreign country. After all, the publisher is based in Scotland.

Ah, for the freewheeling days when hungry authors never had to bother their heads with research... Now, that is a cultural change. I've often noticed that old childrens' stories, particularly, scarcely even pretended to be accurate. Early on in life I started to wonder why Rupert the Bear's Chinese friend Tigerlily never mentioned the communists who had taken over her country. Later on in life I wondered why she never mentioned she was surrounded by talking animals.

Oh, stop it, Natalie. You know perfectly well that is not an example of what you are trying to talk about.

Yeah, but now I've found that picture of Tigerlily I'm not taking it out. Remember the blunderpuss, eh?

Where was I? Oh, yes. Research, childrens' books in, lack of. In the good old days if you wanted to send Jack to the Arctic and the plot required him to make friends with penguins - poof - there they were, instantaneously transported from the other end of the world, complete with a passing missionary in case Jack wanted to marry the professor's daughter.