Natalie Solent

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

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

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

The Old Comrades:

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Saturday, January 31, 2004
"... Before dispatching them with the KAVALKAD aluminum non-stick saucepan..." In this IKEA first-person shooter you can finally give those hostes humanis generis who inflicted wardrobes called BRA and desks called JERKER on the English-speaking world the treatment they deserve.

For some reason the author seems to have neglected WORLD SIX: THE WITLESS PARKING AND LOADING SYSTEM and denied me the great and good pleasure of feeling those barriers that stop you actually taking your products to the car like you can in every other bleeding furniture shop in the world crunch like matchwood beneath my wheels.

I bet the stupid way that IKEA put the product names in CAPITALS gave the author of the game the idea. They always used to put RELEVANT ITEMS IT WOULD BE WORTH NICKING in caps when I last played computer games. This was back when they were all TEXT ("You have reached a secret underground LAVATORY used by gnomes") and the aspiring tunnel jock had to make a lightning-fast decision between typing L and R.

(Via Live from Brussels and, ultimately, Instapundit.)

Friday, January 30, 2004
A seething mass of pirhana-bloggers are clustered round a tender, juicy essay called "I am Your Public School." Feel free to join the frenzy.

If you want to empathise with the root causes of pirhana anger, just scroll down to this.

Israel should learn wisdom from the Klingons. I hope there is a secret reason for this apparent folly. The Israelis have freed 400 Hezbollah prisoners in exchange for the dead bodies of three of their soldiers and a kidnapped businessman.

My my, kidnapping Israeli businessmen is a profitable business. And we all know that profitable businesses attract new entrants, don't we?

This rate of exchange is so skewed that I must assume there is more going on than we are being told and that Israel had some reason to think that it would be a good idea in its own right to free its Hezbollah prisoners. Reports say that many of them were due to be released anyway, but it still seems grossly stupid; a repeat of the Western weakness of the 1970s that made hijacking such a successful policy.

In one of the Star Trek novels (I have forgotten which one, but it might have been The Final Reflection) someone asks an honourable Klingon what is his race's policy on dealing with hostage-taking. He answers, "A dead thing has no value." He isn't referring to swapping live bodies for dead ones as in this deal, either.

Yes, of course I'd feel and speak very differently if it was my relative held hostage. Do you think I'm made of stone? But what is that to the purpose?

There's definitely something murky going on about the businessman, Elhanan Tannenbaum. The caption to the seventh of the pictures says he might be facing criminal charges. What charges? Well, this Prophecy Today website, which seems to be connected with US Televangelist Jimmy DeYoung, says (scroll down) that Shin Bet is involved and the word "treason" has been mentioned.

At the top of the same webpage is a link to graphic footage of the human results of the recent bus bombing. I have not viewed it but you can if you feel it necessary. You might be seeing more of the same, courtesy of those released today.

Thursday, January 29, 2004
John Weidner:
"God made the 20th Century to teach us that the notion that things work better when experts plan them is a fallacy. It's a pity that a hundred-million or so had to die to illustrate the lesson. But now we got it. Right?"
Sheesh, that just has to be a Samizdata Quote of the Day. Excuse me while I go off and make it one.

Turning to what the post is actually about, it's not just the Soviets who ingeniously make things out of other differently-intended things. I recently made one of those pulley-operated clothes airers out of dowelling and wooden coathangers whose hooks had fallen off. I'm very proud of it. See, it does so pay to keep old broken wooden coathangers. The difference between here-and-now and the old USSR is, I could have bought a jolly nice clothes airer from Argos. That and the hundred million.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004
Hutton, schmutton. I know I ought to comment but I don't feel like it. Milksop that I am when the BBC stops being the judge and starts being the accused I go all namby-pamby. "That poor Gilligan boy, badly raised you know, and subject to the most apalling peer-group pressure. You must understand that in that culture it's very difficult to avoid turning to crime." Cue violins...

My fellow posters at Biased BBC are made of sterner stuff.

Retribution is good. Remember this? The second installment of Charles Murray's article on justice I was waiting for is out now. (Once again the link comes via Iain Murray - who has his own post about crime trends just below.)

Charles Murray has produced a strange but invigorating article. In places it reads like it has been edited with a scythe; I suspect there is a much longer and smoother version in his disk drive.

Reading it, I saw that I had misunderstood what he was saying in the first part. I had thought he was saying that there should always be punishment A for crime B. Twenty years for all murders, for instance. That wasn't quite right, although in his programme all murders would get much more similar sentences than they do now. Now I think he 's saying that the only criteria for punishment should be how bad the crime was. This still leaves scope for the sentence to be lessened in the light of extenuating circumstances to do with the crime itself. So a plea of provocation might get you somewhere but not one of poverty or a broken home. We are so used to thinking of deprivation as an extenuating circumstance that it is difficult to pull the two types apart. What! Not to consider the broken home? No allowance to be made for the prisoner's remorse - even if sincere? No weight to be given to the fact that we have good reason to suppose prison will make the defendant worse? It seems almost indecent, especially when the reader remembers that Charles Murray is not merely saying judges should be less gullible but that they should disallow certain arguments even if they are factually correct. In other words Murray does not just think that false claims of remorse, desperate circumstances or that prison will make the offender worse should be ignored but that true claims should be also.

Startling. I'll have to think about this one.

I did correctly predict one or two of his points: that progressive justice supports the self interest of its practitioners and that one of the virtues of retributive justice is that it reinforces the badness of crimes in the public mind. I was rather surprised that he didn't include one of mine, or rather of C S Lewis's, namely that non-retributive coercion has no natural limit.

One strikingly practical point Murray made that had never occurred to me is that there is just no time to practise progressive justice. You have to know someone for years before you can speak with confidence about his family, history, personality and chances for reform. Twenty minutes on the case notes and whether the guy in the dock looks good and contrite won't hack it.

Murray then veers off into discussion of the rules against self-incrimination and disclosure of previous crimes. He seems to be slightly against the former and very much against the latter. Here I disagree: having praised the traditional conception of justice as practised in these isles until the late 1950s he should remember that these rules were an integral part of the old system; the system, remember, that did deliver one of the lowest crime rates of any human society ever. The reasons for both rules are as practical as a 13-amp fuse. Without the no-self-incrimination rule it's too tempting for the police to use force to get a conviction and without the no-disclosure rule it's too tempting for them to use fraud. A copper's boss gets off his back if, when there's a spate of burglaries, he pulls in a known burglar and frames him. We don't have to imagine the copper is corrupt in a self-aware way for this to happen. Most probably he would just think, oh hang it all, Nobby is certainly guilty of something. But after enough Nobbys were framed the system really would be corrupt.

An amazing fact about a book. The book concerned is called "The Worlds Most Amazing Battle Facts For Kids". It is part of a series which also contains books of similarly amazing Animal, Crime, Inventions and Monster Facts. It is published by Egmont Books Limited of 239 Kensington High Street. So what's so amazing about it? It's not the fact that General "Stonewall" Jackson used to walk around with his right hand in the air because he thought it balanced the blood flow in his body,because although that certainly is amazing, it is an amazing fact in the book, not about it.

OK, I'll get to the point now. The book was printed and bound in the United Arab Emirates. It is the first Arab product I have ever seen.

A tiny good omen.

ADDED A BIT LATER: D'oh, of course I've seen other Arab products, some of them very beautiful. But they were all either souvenirs or handicrafts or both. What was new to me about this little book was that it could have been physically put together anywhere (unlike a pyramid paperweight or a stuffed toy Bedouin camel, which are both morally obliged have been made in the same country, at least, as the places they are souvenirs of) but someone chose to print and bind the book in the UAE due, presumably, to some competitive advantage the UAE offers. That's hopeful. I'm fond of the little camel but the world needs only so many toy camels. Of the making of books, however, no less an authority than the prophet Ecclesiastes tells us there is no end.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004
It had to happen one day. A Gary Younge column full of good sense. It's about religion and militant secularism.
Take France. The French government's motivation appears to be twofold. It says it is defending the secular nature of its republic and, in so doing, facilitating the integration of minority groups. It is wrong on both counts, essentially for the same reason.

Its secular traditions were secured after the revolution. The monarchy had held absolute control with the active assistance of the clergy, but in 1789 the monarchy was abolished and the church sidelined. However, a lot has happened in 215 years. After a brief spell, the French decided the universal rights of man did not apply to non-white people. Instead they built and lost an empire, and millions of former subjects came to the metropole to make their home as citizens. In the meantime there was the Dreyfus affair, the Vichy regime which collaborated with the Nazis and of course the Holocaust.

So today the target of these secularist ideals in France, and in much of western Europe, is not a section of the ruling class (the US is an entirely different matter) but groups who are ethnically and racially marginalised.

Sunday, January 25, 2004
Unfairnesses of Life #1658: The Way No One Empathises With Unfashionable Crimes. Normblog asks why Jenny Tonge is willing to walk a mile in the moccasins of a suicide bomber but not in those of a child abuser or a racist thug.

This afternoon I was imagining, as is not my wont, the circumstances in which I, had I grown up in the Soviet Union of the 1930s, would have done as 12 year-old Pavlik Morozov did and informed on my own father to Stalin's secret police.

I took no harm from this process. I was only doing what many have done before me: putting imaginative form to the great and terrible question of how people turn to evil.

How come I'm allowed to do that without censure yet Jenny Tonge isn't allowed to do the same for suicide bombers? Because this debate isn't really about what most people say it is. It certainly isn't about free speech; Ms Tonge is more free to speak off a party Front Bench than on it. Nor is it about the moral legitimacy of imagining how it feels to be a mass-murderer; eminent thinkers have been doing that for centuries, with particular intensity in the wake of the spectacular crimes of the one just ended.

Even though many of Tonge's critics attacked her on the wrong grounds - i.e. they claimed that it was illegitimate per se to imagine oneself as a suicide bomber, or they claimed that suicide bombers were utterly unpredictable kooks - I think they correctly sensed that she was condoning them, whatever she says.

There are two ways in which a person can say, "I'd do the same myself." One way, the most common one in conversation, is to say it as a defence of whatever act is being discussed. You are implying that you yourself are a reasonable person (this assumption may or may not be true) and that a reasonable person would, could or should act in that same way under that same stimulus. For example, "When she saw the two of them snogging, well, she had to tell his wife. I'd have done the same myself."

The other way assumes, not that the speaker is as reasonable and virtuous as the common run of humanity, but that he or she shares humanity's weakness and/or propensity to sin. Example: "I'd have gone a bit mad myself if I'd suddenly become world famous the way Diana did."

Jenny Tonge is now claiming that her comments were the latter sort but, if so, where is the acknowledgement that these acts are not merely "desperate" (a weasel word; good acts can also be desperate) but wrong? Her words are woefully unclear, but all that trading on her nurturing status as a mother and a grandmother doesn't read as a condemnation to me. And why does she say, "Many, many people criticise, many many people say it is just another form of terrorism, but I can understand" if not to set up herself in oh-so compassionate opposition to those who criticise?

There is another, even more serious lack. When I imagined myself betraying my father, a crucial part of my imagining was the unceasing barrage of lies, censorship and twisted values to which young Pavlik had been subjected. In other words I didn't just imagine my actual self (an educated product of Western tranquility, as is Jenny Tonge) I imagined the profoundly ignorant and brutalised self I would have been if I had grown up in a totalitarian state convulsed by one of the bloodiest purges in history. Judgement of the culture that produced Pavlik Morozov is more important than judgement of his own scarcely-formed character.

If Jenny Tonge's words had acknowledged that the society that produces suicide bombers is presently in thrall to twisted values then I'd have not merely defended her but cheered her. I can allow her view that his or her past experiences must be considered when you judge a terrorist - but why must the salient experiences always be assumed to be those imposed by the West or Israel?

National Car Parks fake photographic evidence. I'm surprised that this story isn't getting more play. Never mind his five hours of wasted time, the victim of NCP's attempted peversion of justice ought to sue for libel.

That's cleared that one up then. A reader of the Corner observes:
Mr. Goldberg:

To say Christ was killed by Jews is akin to saying Lincoln was killed by Americans or Gandhi was killed by Indians. Gandhi was killed by Indians because he was an Indian living amongst Indians. It would be difficult for him to be killed by a Papua Guinean. Just a thought.

Pity the point wasn't made earlier.

Saturday, January 24, 2004
Dwang! Yes, I know I said I was going to bed, but I just had to put in this bit. Andrew Duffin writes:
You might care to note that up here in Scotland (In the Lands of the North, indeed), what you call a noggin is known as a DWANG.

Now there's a wonderful word for you.

Indeed. But dwang it, do you mean the head, the drink or the joist or... um... the other meaning I have heard from time to time? Or even something obsessive, compulsive and Dutch?

UPDATE: Aha, joist it is, and no I do not mean dewang, buzz off Google. And buzz off me, I'm getting even more dewanged than usual.

Friday, January 23, 2004
"I believe in simple, retributive justice, which has its roots in the dawn of human history. I will explain why next week."

Thus says Charles Murray, found via his namesake.

Do I believe in simple retributive justice? I'm not sure. Can't wait 'til next week.

While wondering what Murray will come up with I came up with a few thoughts myself. In his survey he called people who had a preference for a "rules is rules" attitude to the law, "cops." Like Iain Murray, I find this label confusing in a debate that will necessarily include many real cops. Instead I will call this group Automators. They favour a justice that automatically dispenses punishment B to crime A.

The first thing to notice is that under an Automatic system judges and lawyers would be de-skilled. Indeed it might be possible for them to be automated in the other sense of the word. While a certain amount of judicial de-skilling would be the Clean Air Act to scrub good British air clean of accumulated pollutants of cant and legalese, a judge that has no scope for mercy (or cannot feel it at all) is to be feared. Still, let's notice one thing: much of the support of the legal establishment for progressivism can be explained by simple self interest. Nuanced, complex, multi-faceted justice requires nuanced, complex and multi-faceted justiciers with salaries to match.

A distinct benefit of Automated justice is that the badness of crimes would be reinforced in the public mind, both absolutely and as a hierarchy. Murder gets you thirty years. Shoplifting gets you six months. We are all Pavlov's creatures to some extent: if the price of a crime is high and dependable we will soon learn to see it as highly and dependably bad. The benefit specific to Automated justice is the dependability. It seems to be accepted in the forensic field that what matters most is not the severity of punishment (though that does matter) but the likelihood of receiving it. Compare the spectacular yet ineffective public executions and tortures of Tudor times to the much more restrained and successful (because organised) late Victorians. Alas, even Automated justice doesn't automatically catch the criminals - but it does mean that a young man wondering whether to accept his mate's invitation to come with him on a "job" has before his mind the clear, graspable prospect of three years in the slammer and not some farrago of second-hand reports of what this or that judge has handed out to this or that bloke and "I read in the Mail as this other bloke got off entirely."

True, these are real benefits, but I am not quite an Automator yet. The grotesque 'zero tolerance' rules in US schools that have seen innocent children expelled as drug offenders for passing an inhaler to an asthmatic friend in distress should serve as a warning against taking the judgement out of judging. However, Murray is an intelligent man and he may have an answer to that.

Before I go, what the devil has happened to the Howard League for Penal Reform? Are they all as addled as one Frances Crook (sic and sick), quoted by Charles Murray as saying this:

You don't want to "punish" either one, says Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform. "Punishment doesn't heal the damage and help the victim, nor does it help transform the offender. What you get is more pain. By punishing the disadvantaged offender or the advantaged offender, you're just making things worse. You're increasing the world's experience of pain." Isn't there any value at all in linking bad behaviour to a punishing consequence? "Absolutely none." Things must be done to an offender, for his own good or for the community's, but punishment in itself has no purpose.
C S Lewis pointed out in That Hideous Strength and elsewhere that taking the notion of punishment out of what society does to criminals does not lead to gentler treatment of them. Far from it: once what the criminal getting what he deserves for his crime is taken out of the equation then there is no limit on what can be done to him. There is no point at which he can say, "I've paid for my crime, had my just deserts; now you must let me go." That decision lies entirely in the hands of those doing things to him for his own good. They will decide if he is 'transformed' enough for their liking.

When John Howard toured the stinking rat-infested prisons of the 1750s, denouncing the arbitrary powers of gaolers, did he envisage that a society bearing his name would campaign for those powers to be increased?

Nah, but I don't suppose the Howard League much cares. They'll trumpet their exemplar's views when he says too much gothic severity hardens the heart, but probably don't care to publicise such statements as this:

The decency, regularity and order that I observed in houses of correction in Holland, Hamburg, Bern, Ghent, Florence, etc., I am fully persuaded, proceeded in a great degree from the constant attention that is paid to impress the prisoners with a sense of RELIGION, by plain, serious discourse, catechizing and familiar instruction from the chaplains, together with a good example, both in them and the keepers.
I feel a whole new post coming on about the good and bad aspects of Muslim prison chaplains, but the hour is late.

"Root Causes version 2.0" I like that. From the caustic pen of David Carr regarding Jenny Tonge's sympathy for suicide bombers. Incidentally, I can't figure out how to show you the page but AOL's news headlines screen - the thing that comes up when you sign on - says, "Jenny Tonge sacked for sympathising with Palestinians." Not "suicide bombers", just "Palestinians."

Awful, dreadful, devastating, heartbreaking, funereal, unhappy and melancholic news. Not only is the parrot story dead but Black Triangle has already made the Dead Parrot Sketch reference.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004
The first question does not bode well but some of the others are interesting. You can post a question to Ursula Le Guin at the Guardian. She'll answer them in a couple of weeks. Hope and pray there isn't too much about Iraq. My great work All You Need is Profit: a Handbook for the Disgruntled Annaresti is in preparation, as it has been for the last twenty years.

Of noggins. I was laying flooring panels in the loft most of yesterday and didn't have time to blog. However I did rediscover one of the world's cutest words. Noggin. I always thought it was a person's head, and that is the only meaning given in the AOL online dictionary. However my 20 year-old Penguin dictionary holds that it is "a mug, cup; small quantity of liquor; (US) bucket." I sort of knew that one, too.

Yet a third definition, and one new to me, came courtesy of Kronoloft, those purveyors of chipboard panels to the well-appointed home. As they put it in their leaflet: "if the ends of the boards do not meet at the centre of the joist, please ensure that noggins (additional joists) are installed for support."

This last definition may not be known to the Secret Masters of AOL, but readers would be prudent to accept it even so. Without this knowledge the aspiring DIY-er might come across sentences like this one, from the "DIY Doctor" website: "... a noggin fixed in between the floor joists to stop the twister", and carelessly assume that modern loft-laying practice demanded that his own or another's head be fixed between the joists. The custom of strengthening a building's foundations by human sacrifice, though of respectable antiquity, is not in accord with BS EN 312-4 ['requirements for load-bearing boards for use in dry conditions'] and may jeopardise your BSI Kitemark if employed.

The true Nogginophile, though, knows a truer and more ancient meaning than any of these. For is it not said that "In the Lands of the North, where the black rocks stand guard against the cold sea, in the dark night that is very long, the men of the Northlands sit by their great log fires and they tell a tale..."

Monday, January 19, 2004
Three improbable, appropriate and delightful things before bed.

Did you know that -

  • Britain's oldest bird is a 104 year-old parrot.
  • It happens to be Winston Churchill's parrot.
  • And he taught it to say "*** the Nazis"?

True! All true, at least according to the Mirror.

Thinking about it, perhaps Charlie isn't really Britain's oldest bird, just the oldest bird whose age and provenance can be proved as a result of the fame of its onetime owner. I expect there are older parrots around, living out their longer-than-human lifespans unrecorded, having been inherited from seagoing uncles.

Parrots are, I gather, extremely intelligent birds; intelligent enough to go nuts if they have too boring a life. With an owner like Churchill that probably wasn't a danger Charlie ever had to face.

(Via Samizdata - and while you're there have a laugh at David Farrer's comment.)

Depressing. Details are scarce but this story reports that police are investigating an alleged assault on Professor Stephen Hawking. Since he is confined to a wheelchair by motor neurone disease this appears to be a crime contemptible even by the standards of the British thug.

Vanity, thy name is Woman. With this spectacular picture, Myria of It Can't Rain All the Time says, quite unjustifiably, that she has taken "vanity publishing to new lows."

Interestingly only a few posts down she mounts a defence of vanity while explaining her reasons for wanting cosmetic surgery. Her sister at A Little Sarcasm looks like her. Can you see the potential for conflict here?

Actually, the conflict doesn't happen and my last line was a shameless attention-seeking device akin to taking all the forty-three seconds where someone is shouting in a generally philosophical ninety-minute movie and putting them all into the promotional clip. Myria's Sister responds with an evolutionary take on why people are so down on those who want cosmetic surgery.

I don't myself. But to spend money on beautifying your own body to your own standards is no sillier than spending it on beautifying your house or on beautiful art for your walls.

It's funny how some ways of parting with your money in exchange for aesthetic pleasures are respectable when other ways aren't. A few years ago I was in the audience for a big free firework display put on by a bunch of SF fans including my husband. They paid for the fireworks themselves. Most people loved it, but one old woman was grousing away (while still watching, mind you) at all those hundreds of pounds being wasted. I was too polite to correct her "hundreds" to "thousands, actually" or to ask why the many luxury cars parked nearby (possibly including hers, as she appeared quite well off) did not arouse her ire.

Saturday, January 17, 2004
Prison governor 'not living in real world.' As the man says there is some justice after all.

David Janes is helping President Bush deal with his mail. Warning: not work safe for Turkish officers of general rank.

The Royal British Legion are supporting the pensioners' demo against council tax rises.

Why? What's it got to do with what the Royal British Legion is for?

I'm sympathetic to pretty well any campaign for lower taxes, though having seen it repeated six times on every single Liberal Democrat leaflet that comes through the door I really don't think I need to hear the phrase "a Council Tax system that takes account of an individual's ability to pay" from the Legion as well.

I can see why there might be plenty of overlap between the membership of the Legion and this particular campaign. So what? Why should ex-Servicemen qua ex-Servicemen have any better a knowledge of an economic issue than anyone else? Frankly, old age pensioners are probably worse judges of this than average, having grown up in an era that quite seriously thought that a nationalised industry was bound to be more efficient because its workers would have a purer motivation than mere moneymaking.

Come November I always have a poppy. That isn't going to change. But much more of this from the Legion and it will lose its identity as a Services charity and just become part of the background radiation emanating from assorted NGOs. Bip-bip-bip will go my pay-attention Geiger counter. Something that matters? Nah, it's just the Legion banging on about their theories of taxation again. Discount it.

Help the Aged are in on the act too, but I'd already given up on them.

Thursday, January 15, 2004
Just mucking about. It's not exactly clear what happened in the bus crash that killed this boy. What is clear is that while he was sitting on the top deck of the bus, a group of his schoolfellows were pushing, shoving and fighting in and around the driver's cab. One of them may have grabbed the wheel.

There are two possible political morals to this. One is, don't have schools. Children in large groups behave like troops of baboons. The other is, if you are going to have schools, have discipline.

Cargo cult regulation. On a more serious note, this post about regulation by Thought Mesh contains a whole bundle of profound truths.
... the gist was that our corporate customers cannot comply with their reporting and auditing requirements. There are so many and they are so detailed that compliance is apparently no longer possible.

... the requirement is now not actual compliance, but “improvement” over time ... It’s the “no child left behind” theory of corporate regulation. One is left to wonder if we shouldn’t be trying for a set of regulations that is actually possible to obey. The answer, of course, is that it’s best for the regulators if everyone is guilty of something. Then when bad things happen, there is a nice selection of the usual suspects to pin the blame on, all of them disarmed because they are in violation of some regulation.

A.O.G. is talking about commercial regulation here, but he could equally well be describing the sovietised British education system:
In another sense, it’s cargo cult regulation. Some good company is observed to perform some action. Therefore if every company is required to do that, they will be good companies. In fact, this kind of regulatory environment, with endless obscure rules and universal compliance failure, is perfect for the sophisticated con men. Not only does it provide a thicket of procedures to hide in, but it distracts everyone into watching the forms without time to worry about the results.

Can you feel the power coursing through you? Then take your finger out of the plug, stupid. I like success books, I really do. That's why I was so entertained by the product line of a company selling demotivational tools that I found out about via Thought Mesh.

For instance, is this not a profound truth?

Rob Hinkley's got a letter in the Guardian. Here it is. He says it's been slightly edited. He should count himself lucky; years ago a friend of mine wrote a letter denouncing equally censorship by fundamentalist Christians and by politically-correct socialists. By the time it had passed through the Guardian's digestive system it emerged as a denunciation of censorship by "Christian socialists."

Wednesday, January 14, 2004
I am worn to a ravelling, like the Tailor of Gloucester and for much the same reason.

Ten things I hate about cutting out pattern pieces:

  • You have to clear and clean the dining table before you even start. Unnatural, I call it.
  • It's the twenty-first century, the Mars mission has been announced and the pattern pieces are still made out of tissue paper. I hate cutting tissue paper. I hated it in Mrs Baker's class and I hate it now.
  • They fly all over the place on the breath of a curse.
  • If the dog gets one you're doomed.
  • I haven't even started on the fabric yet. First off, the cutting layout depends on the width of the fabric, the nap of the fabric, the size of the human being concerned, the pattern repeat of the fabric, whether you are making Dress A, Dress B or Dress ZZ Plural Alpha, whether you have or have not opted for the optional contrast trim, and whether Mars in Sagittarius opposes Jupiter in Gemini.
  • You have to think horribly hard about which way up everything goes. Pattern pieces can be right way up (white on the diagram) or wrong way up (spots); fabric can be right way up (stripes) or wrong (like I always get it). In other words the code for paper wrong way up is the same as for fabric right way. Or do I mean paper wright and fabric rong? Probably.
  • You get backache from leaning over the table for so long.
  • You forget that you weren't meant to have the fabric folded so you end up cutting out stuff you only need one of twice and have to go back to the shop to buy more fabric only they've discontinued it so you have to move your head around in silly directions in order to puzzle out a way to sqeeeeeze the pattern pieces into the remaining fabric.
  • Someone says, 'Mummy are you being a puppet?' during this process.
  • Alternatively, you forget that you were meant to have the fabric folded so you have to do everything twice over.
  • Make that three times. Mustn't forget the lining, must we?
  • During the whole horribly stressful process you have to be a goody-goody. What I mean by this is that you must, you simply must, put away each stage as you finish, carefully pin little labels saying "piece 6, lining x2" or something similar to each bit and do other soul-numbingly bureacratic things. Pfaugh!
  • The wretched tissue paper won't go back into the packet it came from. It is topologically impossible for the cut-out separate shapes to have a larger volume than the single sheet they came from, but they do, sister, they do.
  • Did I mention the backache?
So that's more than ten things? Sue me. I am undone and worn to a thread-paper, for I have NO MORE TWIST.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004
If you are looking for more Kilroy-Silk stuff, it can be found thataway.

'And exactly what do you suggest we do with all the students who are "got rid of" because of disruptive behaviour? So asked a correspondent to Freedom and Whisky after David Farrer said schools should be privatised, and free to eject troublemakers. Here's how David Farrer answered. I say: actually the private sector is already much better at educating and reforming disruptive children than the state for the excellent reason that their parents' money is collectively as good as anyone else's. Not as copious, sometimes, but as good: there is a market there. A private school that can take in a yob at yob-premium fees and then manage things so that he is no longer a yob (meaning the school does not have to bear yob-premium costs) stands to make a handsome profit. A parent that finds out that he or she must pay extra because of their kid's bad behaviour is highly motivated to start taking an interest in said behaviour.

However if a child is so horrible that no one wants to teach him, let him rot. I said the same thing at greater length - no, on second reading, at about the same length but with greater acrimoniousness - on March 28 last year.

Shock news just in: Bloggers are Real People, Live in Real World. Norman Geras knows famous folk. No, not him. My kids have never heard of him, unless it's from me, and if it was via me it doesn't count since as a parent I radiate a deadly fame-invalidating uncoolness field or something.

The properly famous person known (rather well, it appears) to Norman Geras is, as I have belatedly twigged after a child-centred rant about all those books on the living room floor, her.

Getting personal. It seems that the inspection reports on childminders are to go online. The confidentiality protections the story mentions are derisory.

We're all used to inspection reports on schools being made public. I have mixed feelings. On the other hand it gives absurd importance to the mouthings of yet another pack of government inspectors. It's a sad sight to see parents and teachers worrying about what the G-men think rather than what each other think - or what the children think. On the other hand one is inclined to welcome any incoming foot with a decent chance of connecting with the educational establishment's bloated backside, however ignoble the body the foot is connected to.

At least in the case of schools, though, the blow is softened by collective responsibility. Also Ofsted stay at a school for a week. It may make them the guests from Hell but at least the school gets numerous chances to show what it can do. In contrast a childminder's future will be made or broken by the opinion of one official having made one or at the most two visits. Just pray the inspector doesn't come calling when you are having a Bad Kid Day.

The solution isn't to have yet more or longer official visitations. I personally would find it difficult to welcome an Ofsted inspector into my home for a whole week, wouldn't you? Also the last thing you want is inspectors with too little real work to do; they will spend all their time instead of just some of it leafing through your Beatrix Potter books in search of unacceptable gender stereotypes.

Remind me never to become a childminder. Remind me never to become a child.

Friday, January 09, 2004
Giving away stuff for profit. Brian M. found a SF author who is offering free downloads of his books so he can make money off them. It's only paradoxical at first sight.

The author, Eric Flint, makes the tremendously good point that books have always circulated for free, when friends lend them to one another.

What's happened here? Has the author "lost a sale?"

Well. . . yeah, in the short run — assuming, of course, that said person would have bought the book if he couldn't borrow it. Sure. Instead of buying a copy of the author's book, the Wretched Scoundrel Borrower (with the Lender as his Accomplice) has "cheated" the author. Read his work for free! Without paying for it!
He then goes on to make the point that there is nothing an author with any sense should prize more than such word of mouth recommendation: the friend lent one book may buy a lifetime's supply of that author's work in years to come.

I wonder, though. The author endearingly says that 'most people are honest.' That's true, I think. I hope. Still, there's no denying that public ethics are influenced by what is convenient. Once a bad thing becomes convenient, especially if it isn't an obviously bad thing, a significant minority of people do it. Then they start arguing for their right to do it so they can feel good about themselves and be saved the trouble of concealment. Eventually they may convince most people and make the ones still holding out against temptation look like a bunch of fuddy-duddies. Pretty soon the bad thing is the custom of the country.

At the moment I'd far rather have a book-sized chunk of words as a book than a download. I don't even know what you do with a download. Read it online? Hurts the eyes, or the neck, and for many people you have to sit at a desk to do it. Print it out? Takes a week and probably costs the price of the book in ink and paper. How much nicer to have a snuggy little book that you can take to bed with you.

But come the day of the utterly portable 4" x 6" x ½" hand-held computer with a zero-glare screen, or the desktop machine that prints and binds a nice little paperback from a download, and of it being as easy to e-mail a friend and say, "hey, you simply must get yourself a download of X's latest, it's terrific" as to physically lend the book - then I dunno, mate, I dunno.

Thursday, January 08, 2004
The pressure-cooker effect. I have a post about Robert Kilroy-Silk's tussle with the Comission for Racial Equality over at Samizdata.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004
We need you to be our attack dogs. That's why we're going to keep you hungry and mean. One thing you may possibly have noticed is that I'm not the Palestinians' biggest cheerleader. However I wouldn't treat a dog the way that those who are the Palestinians' biggest cheerleaders treat their Arab brethren. Damian Penny summarises an AP report on how Arab states ensure the Palestinians within their borders cannot put down roots. Most Arab countries except Jordan deny Palestinians citizenship. In many countries they are banned from professional employment. They suffer restrictions on higher education, and when others get free healthcare Palestinians do not. Why? Because if they stopped being an underclass they might give up the dream of returning to Israel. "Hold on to your dream" is usually an inspiring message, but not when the unspoken coda is "...because slim as it is, that hope is the only one we intend to leave you."

And they call Israel an apartheid state.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004
We've all heard of thought control. Many are the grim examples of those in power who have attempted to extend their dominion even to the innermost thoughts of their victims. From the Holy Inquisition to the Consistory of Geneva. From King Il Jong of Korea to the Essex Wildlife Trust.

Monday, January 05, 2004
Mr Pound will go to the guillotine after all. He didn't originate the "bastards" quote, the bastard.¹

Captain Heinrich wrote to Brian Tiemann at with the following two links attributing "The people have spoken, the bastards" to either Dick Tuck, after losing the 1966 California State Senate race or Morris Udall in 1976 after failing to achieve the Democratic presidential nomination. He adds:

... perhaps you could forward this to Mr Pound to refresh his memory. What might also be of benefit to him on future occasions, would be the words of Edmund Burke to his Bristol constituents: "Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion."
That quote can be found on this website.² Arguably the Pound in the People's Pocket³ is being truer to Burke's advice now when he wriggles out of doing what he said he'd do than when he originally agreed to do it. But wriggling out is also a serious offence. It's like Vortigern offering Hengest anything he wanted if he could have his daughter's hand in marriage and then acting all taken aback when Hengest said, "thanks awfully old chap, in that case I'll have Kent." They never change, these people. Well, maybe they do: Vortigern ceded Kent in exchange for the nubile Rowena. To the guillotine with the lot of 'em, that's what I say.

¹January 5 and failed already.

²If the Edmund Burke link isn't working and you need to see it on a proper website before you're happy, try this one or the jumping-off point for the wonky link.

³I'm rather proud of that line. Would you mind standing back and admiring it?

Saturday, January 03, 2004
That said, "The people have spoken, the bastards" is a beaut of a line and Come The Glorious Day we shall spare Mr Pound on those grounds alone.

Tony Martin's Law: Update Stephen Pound, the MP who rashly said he would try to steer the Today listeners' choice of new law (whatever it might be) through parliament, had a painful interview on TV today. (Channel 5, I think.) His main strategy seemed to be to say that because the literal meaning of the words on the listeners' ballot would allow you to shoot dead a kid who stepped into your garden to retrieve a ball, that made every conceivable alteration of the present law self-evidently insane. Somehow I doubt that similar deficiencies in whatever unimportant words were chosen to identify the rival proposals would have proved insurmountable if the voters had gone for an option more congenial to him. If you are reading this Mr Pound, do try to remember that you are a Member of Parliament. Proposing, scrutinising and amending the text of new laws is one of the things you are paid for. To aid you in this task you can call on the services of skilled Parliamentary draughtsmen, not to mention the many barristers and legal scholars in your own party. I'm sure you'll manage something. Off you hop, then, and tell me when it's ready.

Friday, January 02, 2004
True in Toronto but false in Kispiox. Moira Breen tussles with a cold and the limits of science in a free society. Her long-running interest in the Kennewick Man case sparked the post.

Sometimes she's cruel...

If you've ever wondered how certain academic types manage to justify sneering at Baptists while honoring any other (non-European) spiritual belief - well, they don't manage to justify it. But this is as fine an example of an attempt to justify it as I've come across.
Sometimes she's kind....
It is also true that the engagement of non-Europeans with the troubling truths of science will be an experience distinct from that of Europeans - from whose culture, after all, contemporary science evolved, and who particpated in an intellectual tradition, extant for millenia, that truth is best approached by reasoned argumentation. But to state these truisms addresses nothing and settles nothing. Whatever the difficulties of that engagement (and they can be very harsh and painful indeed), science is not culture-specific, and all must eventually come to terms with what science has to say about the world - not only because that is a natural response of thinking, curious human beings ("how do I make all I know fit together coherently?"), but because no culture is static and sealed, and truth claims will inevitably contest.
But cruel or kind, she's on target:
I no more want "experts" ruling over our private lives, no matter how true their claims, than I want what are essentially anti-blasphemy rules limiting speech and free inquiry.

Thursday, January 01, 2004
Beyond parody. Jackie Ashley wants to nanny you. When I wrote all that guff about not wanting to "add to the profits of fat-cat Big Calendar shareholders" I was joking. But our Jackie was serious when she wrote this:
The crucial point which critics of the nanny state fail to mention is that individuals and families don't stand alone. None of us lives in a neutral social space, unharassed, and free to make wise long-term choices. Whatever the philosophical ideal, in the real world we are bombarded by corporate messages cajoling us and our children to consume and borrow. We are inhabitants of the more, now, spend-it, eat-it society, which - let us not forget - boosts the profits of the multinationals.

Get working on audience research. Radio 4's "Today" programme is the world epicentre for snobby progressivism, right? Maybe, maybe not. In some poll or other where Today listeners voted to choose the new law they would most like to see enacted, the favourite was a law allowing householders to use any means to defend their home against burglars.

Or if you think that ecologically sound bio-fuel belongs back in the horse, you could read Tim Blair on why Test cricket is like the free market.

And a Happy New Yea... on second thoughts, let us challenge the surrender to capitalist consumer-culture assumptions implicit in that wish. Quite apart from the ethno-centric and patriarchal Christian overtones implicit in the designation "2004", why does one have to have a new year every year? No doubt multi-national corporations are very happy with this planned obsolescence! But if you want to conserve the planet's dwindling stock of years, why not join with committed friends all over the world and recycle an old year? Many activists find it very satisfying to keep lovely vintage old years such as 1972 or 1968 running on ecologically sound bio-fuel rather than add to the profits of fat-cat Big Calendar shareholders. Happy old year.