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.)

Back to main blog

RSS thingy

Jane's Blogosphere: blogtrack for Natalie Solent.


( '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

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Fighting the last war. The Bunster himself - to whom I denied a link in that last post on the grounds that too many links would spoil the aesthetics - has a neato quotable line:
I also expect that many leftists have had the psyches shaped by the battles of their teenage years, and for many of them hard-core Christianity was the enemy in those days, whereas Islam hardly figured, and they’re still fighting those battles
Talking of old battles¹, I have been thinking recently of all the harm done to Iraq by French Resistance movies. Go back one generation further than the one mentioned by Blithering Bunny, and you find teenagers who grew up in the shadow of WWII. The fact that their fathers saved the world² naturally put them in a bad mood, but they didn't go so far as to wish the Nazis had won. The next best thing was thinking that the uncool Dad-like way of fighting Nazis was to do it in itchy uniforms. The cool way was to wear neckerchiefs and excitingly tight black sweaters and ambush German patrols.

(Don't take this as slagging off the French Resistance. France did have to pass through a period of reassessment in which the myth of a nation united in defiance was exploded. However I think the cynicism has gone too far, and we are in danger of forgetting real heroism.)

The end result was that all the soldiers vs irregulars movies made after 1945 have uniforms on the bad guys. All very understandable, but the effect on the impressionable minds of our intellectual class has been deleterious.

On the subject of world affairs³, Normblog writes:

I think many who say they think better of China than of the US wouldn't put their money where that part of their mouth is if it was a matter of where they had to live, or if they had to seek redress for an injustice done to them, or if they were to be tried for something they didn't do, or in terms of their opportunities for free expression and political association, and so forth.

¹This phrase was awarded an Honourable Mention in the 2005 Golden Paperclip Award for Most Tenuous Connecting Text.

²Does not apply to Germans.

³First Prize.

"How much are you paying Steyn?" asks Blithering Bunny.

Six hundred quatloos.

Monday, June 27, 2005
What's wrong with compulsory purchase? US bloggers are up in arms regarding the Kelo case which appears to allow local governments to use compulsory purchase, or eminent domain as they call it in the US*, to grab land not for roads or railways but to increase tax revenue. Crooked Timber's Kieran Healy had a post up that quoted Marx in an almost entirely irrelevant way.

So what is wrong with compulsory purchase? After all, the householders are paid, aren't they? I was impressed by the explanation in the comment to Kieran Healy's post made by "g":

It’s not exactly theft (or the abolition of property) either, though. Perhaps it might be illuminating to consider other cases in which (1) sometimes someone does X to someone else and pays for it, and that isn’t a crime; (2) sometimes someone does X to someone else uncompensated, and that is a crime; and see how it looks when (3) someone does X to someone against their will but compensates them (presumably at what some third party determines to be the market rate).

– X is “having sex with”. Case 1 is prostitution, which is less clearly acceptable than (other?) commerce but generally regarded as a matter for the consciences of the individuals involved. Case 2 is rape. Case 3 looks a lot more like rape than like prostitution to me.

– X is “demanding labour from”. Case 1 is employment, which few seem to mind much. Case 2 is kidnap and slavery, or something of the kind. Case 3 is, I suppose, kidnap and indentured servitude of some sort. Again, seems much nearer to 2 than to 1.

Anyone got an example where 3 isn’t much nearer 2 than 1?

*I fail see to where eminence comes into it.

Read Tim Worstall's Britblog roundup or you won't have read it. Staying with TW, yes, this is better.

Friday, June 24, 2005
They are not even ashamed. Damian Penny writes:
Didymus Mutasa, head of Zimbabwe's secret police, quoted in the Weekly Standard: "We would be better off with only six million people, with our own people who support the liberation struggle."

Zimbabwe has ten million people (down from 13 million a few years ago). And they mey get to six million sooner than expected: in addition to bulldozing homes and businesses in the major cities, the Zimbabwean government is also preventing those left homeless from growing food.

Boycotts are OK. First Norman Geras posts under the heading "Bigotlist" about "the activities of right-wing Christian organizations in the US who are boycotting companies that advertise in gay magazines and on gay websites, and on 'TV shows the Christian right considers pro-gay or salacious.'"

Then Laban Tall says that

He has every right to disapprove - just as Christians have the right to organise boycotts. This is IMHO the best, most democratic kind of activism - where the decisions of large numbers of ordinary individuals are what's important.
However Laban then himself purses his lips ("First they came for the Christians") at the actions of the Co-op in closing the bank account of Christian Voice on account of that organisation's anti-homosexual line.

Neither Norman Geras nor Laban Tall has said that anyone should be forbidden to boycott, so I am not specifically arguing with them. I just felt the need to say once again that both individual and corporate boycotts are legitimate activities. No one is obliged to buy from those they disapprove of, and no business is obliged to provide services to those it disapproves of. ("It" in the Co-op's case being the majority vote of the stockholders or whatever they call them in Co-op land.)

That does not mean I want any particular boycott to succeed. Boycott-ignoring and counter-boycotts are equally legitimate. I sometimes gleefully scoop up Israeli avocados rather than those from other countries. In normal circumstances it wouldn't occur to me to support Israel's economy, or anyone else's economy, by buying their stuff. However anti-Israel boycotts annoy me just enough that they spring to mind as I pass the avocado display. "Hah," I say, tipping the avocados into a bag and looking daggers at the kiwi-fruit fan and probable terror-apologist in the next bay. "HAH!" She looks disconcerted. My campaign is working.

Sinful pleasures. Andrew Duffin writes:
Tried to follow the link you provided today, and my company's web filter said that was blocked because it fell into the category of "Swimwear, Lingerie, and Nudity".

Gives a whole new meaning, doesn't it?

Thursday, June 23, 2005
The Fates reveal the destiny of a nation via bubble gum cards. It will be obvious from this story that ARC was fully literate quite early on in primary school.

ARC writes:
It has always helped my historical understanding that I first encountered the American Civil War when I was too young to know any history at all. During its centennial years, bubble gum cards on the American Civil War were popular: each pack had two cards describing battles, or occasionally other historical events, plus one Confederate dollar bill (and the gum, of course :-). Unlike the more recent U.S. TV series (Quote from friend who saw it while working in the States: "It was easy to tell who won.") the battle write-ups were not biased - this was early sixties, just before PC started to take off - and certainly did not reveal who won to my infant understanding. The 88 cards in the series were released more or less in historical order and when I first decided that I was backing the North, I had no idea whether 'my team' would win or not. Why I chose the North I can't remember; as I said, I don't think it was any special bias in the writing. Maybe I liked the colour blue better than the colour grey. Maybe my Scottish feelings made me assume that north was better than south. I can't recall.

It was many months of collecting, and of being downcast at cards describing victories of Lee or Jackson, before I began to wonder whether 'my team' mightn't win after all? An older child would have deduced something from the presence of Confederate, not Union, dollar bills with the cards, from the occasional mentions of slavery and so on, but I was very young, just starting school, trading cards only with others of my age who had no more idea than I did who won or what it was all about. When something is beyond their mental horizon, children don't even think of asking questions. Literally; the idea of asking my elders never occurred to me. I think I reached card 86 (Petersburg, if I recall correctly) before I felt sure of the outcome.

I had a great 'Aha' of recognition when I read Christine Wedgewood's account in Truth and Opinion of how she saw a play on the life of Lincoln when she was twelve years old. She was accustomed to good triumphing in plays and books, so, unlike me, she guessed well before the end that

"...the admirable ugly man in the funny top hat would ... win the war and liberate the slaves, but nothing had prepared me for the appearance and behaviour of John Wilkes Booth, and for me at least the dummy pistol shot in a London theatre ... came as a shock almost as horrifying as that experienced by spectators at Ford's Theatre in Washington on 14 April 1865.

In vain have I longed to recapture that blessed ignorance ..."

"In vain have I longed to recapture that blessed ignorance" - to see, for example, what the policy of William the Silent would look like without knowing that he would be assassinated, unlike Lincoln, with his work only half done. But her histories are better for having once known 'that blessed ignorance'. My historical thinking, likewise, is better from being able to remember what the American Civil War looked like to someone who, for months, cared about the outcome and did not know what it was.
I was particularly struck by the fact that ARC did not think to ask. It was as if the gradual release of information, in order, and and at a rate that, if not quite as agonisingly slow as the rate at which events really happened, was much closer to it than a two-hour film, made the long-dead conflict as real, and its outcome as unknowable, as the present.

War concentrates the mind. A little while ago I posted about Senator Robert Byrd's infamous statement just after WWII that he would rather die a thousand times and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt than serve in the military with a Negro at his side. When ARC and Mrs ARC visited us recently, we talked about changing racial attitudes in the Southern states of the USA, and we ended up talking about the American Civil War. Mind you, us four could turn a conversation on the price of geranium to the American Civil War.

I persuaded ARC to look me up some quotes when he got home. He writes:

The senator you quote seemed surprisingly out of touch with the attitudes of Confederate soldiers of eighty years earlier, let alone more recent views.

General Lee was at first very much in the minority when he told the president "often and early in the war" of the need for general emancipation and recruitment of negro soldiers; as he remarked, "Davis would not hear of it". But when he began advocating the idea in public at the end of 1864, it emerged that most Confederate soldiers were ready to agree with him:

"When in former years, for pecuniary purposes, we did not consider it disgraceful to labor with negroes in the field or at the same workbench, we certainly will not look on it in any other light at this time when an end so glorious as our independence is to be achieved." (Summary of attitudes of the men of the 49th Georgia infantry regiment).

"The officers and men of this corps are decidedly in favor of the voluntary enlistment of the negroes as soldiers. ... The opposition to it is now confined to very few, and I am satisfied it will soon cease to exist in any regiment of the corps." (Major-General John B Gordon, commander of II Corps, Army of Northern Virginia)

"What do you think of the question of negro soldiers now? It makes me sad ... to reflect that this time-honoured institution will be no more, that the whole social organisation of the South is to be revolutionized. But I suppose it is all right and we will have to be reconciled." (Walter Taylor, staff officer to General Lee, in letter to his fiancée).

You can easily find Confederates, more often civilians than soldiers, who would have agreed with the senator, but his had become the minority view by the start of 1865. Most Confederates had changed their views under pressure of necessity of course, but necessity also applied in WWII.

Defeat overtook the Confederacy before it could enact these measures for its main armies, although there were a few instances of black soldiers fighting for the South as part of militia units.

What motivated them is a fascinating question. Look out for a future post.

I find the American Civil War interesting because it was the first modern war, yet its cause was a revenant from the ancient world: slavery. (The most recent, although not the last, modern war also represents a conflict where archaic patterns of society look to modern weapons as their instrument of rejuvenation.) I never quite got over the suprise I had when I first twigged that chattel slavery had coexisted with steam trains. Either something on TV or a book made some mention of "slave carriages" and I thought, that can't be right! My childhood imagination could cope with the idea of slavery in association with togas and temples and chariots, but people who had trains and telegraphs and newspapers should have known. And so they should.

In the rest of his email ARC turned to the subject of the unusual way in which he became interested in the American Civil War as a child. That story touched on so many ideas that I want to talk about more that I felt it deserved a post of its own. Scroll up.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005
Name and shame II. Michael Jennings. He writes:

I have a piece on visiting Italian gourmet food shops and bringing cheese back from abroad over at gastroblog.

Well, unlike the criminal Worstall, at least he deigns to tell the reader what the post is about, but, I ask you, that title? "Redirection." As if we care what direction it is in! When one thinks of the riches on offer one could weep. He could have called it For Some Reason my Mind Started Thinking of Goats.

Both Worstall and Jennings are regular offenders. Anti-Social Blogging Orders have been applied for.

Name and shame bloggers who have totally boring redirection notices.

First culprit: Tim Worstall. He writes:


Piece up at Techcentralstation today.

Woop-dee-doo. This assumes that the reader, panting for Worstall wisdom as the hart panteth after the water brooks, will click the link no matter what the topic. I might, but why make it so hard?

Why not admit that the piece concerned was called Paul Krugman Needs to Buy Paul Krugman's Textbooks? Much more appealing. We all want to slag off Paul Krugman.

Long hours culture. Good letter in the Independent from a Mr John Scott:
"These proposals [Some state schools to offer childcare 8am - 6pm] will have two very harmful side-effects. The line between education and child-minding will be blurred, to the detriment of education. It is openly admitted that this is a policy driven by the fact that for many children both parents work full-time. Secondly, the state will control more of the upbringing of the children. Since the state is already failing to educate so many of these children adequately, the idea that it can now also socialise them is entirely unrealistic.

"Nearly all the education initiatives of the last 40 years have been introduced to help those who are gaining least from the education system. Despite this, all the evidence is that the educational gap between the two nations - correctly identified by Ms Alibhai-Brown - continues to grow. The group which achieves least in our education system is those young people "in care"; a group for whom the state takes total control."
Read the whole thing. And the one below on the reaction to the recent attacks on Jewish cemeteries.

Oh, great. This is just so great. A person who shall remain nameless but wasn't me uses downstairs loo. In haste to get to school, doesn't flush. Just as party leaving house, something goes CR-ACKK! All rush back in to observe that light bulb has spontaneously detached from socket and fallen straight down into toilet bowl, where lying smashed into pieces. In among the contents if you see what I mean. The not-so-bad-as-it-might-be contents but still pretty bad.

If I flush, little bits of glass released into sewage system. Even assuming mysterious filtration processes at the skank farm will protect humans, it will probably kill the useful little worms who eat stuff. I don't want the little worms to die!

Wubby-dubby-gluvvy time then. Joy. Be. Unconeffingfined.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005
For all I know she is a skilful doctor, but Margaret McCartney, a GP based in Glasgow who has written this Guardian article, comes across as goodhearted but too ditzy for serious punditry. Good thing it's only the Guardian. She writes:
Always easier to let folk pay tax and smoke rather than to deal with the nitty gritty problems of inequality that led them to buy fags for their "only enjoyment" in the first place. It sounds suspiciously like a let-them-eat-cake kind of argument, but with a shorter life expectancy instead of icing to top it off.
In these lines she seems to be saying that government reluctance to crack down on smoking is caused by a combination of an unworthy desire for tax revenue and a lack of stomach for the fight to enact controversial policies of redistribution. In other words, an anti-smoking crackdown would be a good thing, only the wimps won't do it. Yet earlier she says she resents being nagged about her hair and "feels strongly" that she doesn't want to have to start nagging her patients about their weight. These ideas can be reconciled, sort of, by saying that ending inequality would mean people no longer wanted to smoke, so the government wouldn't need to "let" them, but why that should be is never explained. Nor is it explained where the tax base would come from once the smokers and the rich were out of the picture.

A little later, after a smidgin of praise for the website of the smokers' rights organisation Forest, she says:

The idea that we all choose our poison with liberty and freedom is entirely wrong. Take a look at the figures on smoking and social class: the lower the social class, the more likely a person is to smoke.
And that disproves the idea that we choose our poison with freedom how? It seems that practically no one in Britain is too poor to smoke. Inspiring, really.

Dr McCartney continues:

In effect, no such freedom of choice exists. My job would be easy if people chose smoking from one of the many pleasures they had the equal choice to pursue.
Personally I've always wondered why the long-term unemployed spend so little time on macramé. They could spend the mornings wandering the streets looking for discarded string and the afternoons making useful and attractive pot-holders. Reading and fornication are other inexpensive pastimes.

Why the popularity of the former among the poorer classes has declined and that of the latter increased over the last century is an interesting question. It can't be absolute poverty and it can't be inequality. Both of these were greater in 1905 than now. It is also worthwhile to note that as our government has taken a more active role in redistributing income, smoking, once common across all classes, is now concentrated among those who receive state money.

Before I digress too far I must say that at this point in the article I had a pleasant surprise. The usual rule is that any statement that people are not really free is immediately followed by a call to give them even less freedom. (Ban macramé now!) Yet in this case the call never came.

I warmed to the doctor. However I simply didn't get the next bit:

But if you really wanted to make the opportunity to smoke equal, then you would have to start shoving free cigarettes through nice middle-class letterboxes.
Um, why? Middle class people already have more disposable income than poor people, right? So it's already easier for them to buy cigarettes, yet in general they buy fewer. Why does Dr McCartney consider (even in jest) that increasing the disparity in disposable income between classes yet further would be a good thing? We already agree that the middle class usually make better health decisions. Arranging for this to be illustrated by equalising the mortality rates across classes (by giving the usually-wiser class worse incentives) makes the point no clearer than it already is.

To be fair, in her conclusion she is inching closer towards the same destination as I am (and therefore, naturally, to being correct), although she starts badly:

In reality, we don't have equal access to fags,
Please drop this, Doctor. In so far as differing wealth gives us unequal access to fags, one would expect the middle classes to smoke more. You can argue that the experience of poverty gives people reason to smoke but that is not the same as access to fags. Some people get so used to defining poverty in terms of lack of access to computers, education, string etc., that they can't stop even when it does their argument no good. The root cause of this addiction is excessive access to the Guardian.

... and we have got so used to health scares that enormous black letters on cigarette packs warning that "SMOKING KILLS" are dismissed with the fatalism that is more rightly reserved for hair dyes and electricity pylons.
She is right there.
It's not just smoking in public places we should be thinking about; it's why the class divide about smoking persists at all.
I blame welfare.

Safety first. Zoe Williams writes amiably on a public information films.
Regular parents, randomly polled by the Sunday Telegraph, have received the video sceptically. The scenarios don't represent any recognisable exchange that might happen in any recognisable house. They take no account of human factors like personality and familiarity. Writing credible dialogue, it turns out, is really quite hard, and it becomes harder still when you have a proselytising message underpinning it. Plus, the pricey inclusion of Nesbitt pushed the cost of this exercise to 200 grand, money that could have been better spent on almost anything.

Even if it had been free, though, this film would have raised questions about the acceptable remit of public service broadcasting. Where this is directed at children, there's no tension at all. They are numbnuts. The youngest of them can't even tell the time. So green cross codes and cats called Charlie can say whatever the devil they like, and everybody's happy.

Where these things are directed at adults, it's always about driving or fire. Don't go too fast. Or drunk. Or, more sophisticatedly, don't be an amber gambler. Don't set fire to yourself. Don't set fire to things too close to your house. Don't set fire to other things, then smoke them. If you must smoke, don't go to sleep. If you must go to sleep, have a smoke alarm, then at least you'll wake everyone else up. This is also fair enough, since adults in charge of cars, or, for that matter, fire, are effectively children.

The last few lines quoted might give you a hint of where my sense of disquiet comes in.

Alcholic doctors: a thought. A telephone call from a friend who had some bad news to deliver just reminded me of one reason doctors take to drink: medicine can be a sad profession.

Monday, June 20, 2005
Surveillance over ordinary citizens. Dominic Fox wrote a letter to Sally Keeble MP about ID cards. He says, "I think the point raised at the end about coercion is actually the most significant."

Here is his letter:

Dear Sally Keeble,

I am writing to you because I am very concerned about the government's plans to introduce a nation-wide identity database, supported by compulsory fingerprinting, the tracking of individuals' movements and the issue of ID cards.

The implications for civil liberties of these proposals seem to me to be very much graver than their supporters in Parliament wish to acknowledge. While I do not share the fear of some opponents of ID cards that the UK is on the brink of turning into a "police state", I do wonder at the readiness with which our government is prepared to extend its own powers of surveillance over ordinary citizens who have neither been convicted, nor are suspected, of committing any crime. The potential abuses of such surveillance are many and alarming; the proposed safeguards of the personal information the government wishes to collect - and share, promiscuously, with an ever-widening circle of third parties - are inadequate and few.

I have two additional concerns. The first is over the technical feasibility of the scheme. In my professional life as a software engineer, I am often confronted with the shortcomings of large-scale database systems. A combination of human error and the inherent complexity of their own design makes such systems prone to severe degradation both in the quality and reliability of the information they contain, and in the readiness with which that information can be accessed, updated or - in the case of error, which arises frequently - corrected.

The proposed national identity database is more complex and ambitious by an order of magnitude than even the largest of the systems I have worked with. It will cost huge sums of money to implement - the costs seem to rise with each new estimate - and require the co-ordination of massive human and technical resources. Such a project risks becoming an expensive failure: a large-scale transfer of public money into the hands of IT contractors, with potentially little to show for it at the end. If the project does run to its conclusion, and the system is delivered, it is highly likely to be late, over budget, and functionally delinquent.

My last concern is over the kind and degree of coercion that will be required to implement the scheme. Those who refuse to sign up are to be heavily fined, as is anybody who fails to notify the authorities of a change of address. Possession of an ID card will be made a prerequisite for access to basic and essential services. It does not seem to me that either the moral or the practical case for such coercion has been established. Whom will those who refuse to be fingerprinted, registered and tracked have harmed by their refusal? What principle of social fairness will they have violated? By what right does the government propose to confiscate the property of those who disagree with it about the utility and acceptability of ID cards?

I intend to refuse to register for an identity card, and will not vote for the electoral candidate of any party that believes it has the right to compel me to do so.

Yours sincerely,

Dominic Fox

Bet she answers, "Society has been harmed."

Amnesty foolishness. I'm talking about the sort of amnesty mentioned in this story from The Scotsman.

Let's not jump to conclusions. Although, as Joel Rosenberg points out, there are many instances of prominent anti-gun campaigners packing guns, Sheila Eccleston's story could well be true: she did not want the shotgun for personal use; it had been handed to her by a repentant gangster and she was waiting for a gun amnesty to surrender it to the police. The fact that she herself told the police about the shotgun - albeit after she had had it for six months - is strong evidence in her favour.

Assuming her story is true, what does that tell us about her attitudes to the gun laws?

  • She thought they did not apply to her because she was a prominent anti-gun activist. ("If people see a person like me being arrested despite all the work I do...") The law demands that you hand in unregistered weapons immediately, amnesty or no amnesty.
  • She thought that weapons amnesties were like No.72 buses: another one along in a minute. Once that expectation is established, amnesties lose their purpose. In fact they become a means for gangsters to dispose of inconvenient evidence safely.

We'll see how this one pans out. She might be right in both assumptions.

ADDED LATER: I thought I'd just add an explanatory note. If you find your grandpa's old pistol in the loft you can hand it in to a Registered Firearms Dealer without penalty. You must sign his register when you do so, but he there is no onus on him to even check that your signature is real. The ordinary course of the law acts to make it as easy as possible to hand in an illegal weapon. That is the law on firearms as I understand it; I can hardly believe that the law for shotguns would be more strict. In other words Ms Eccleston did not need to wait for an amnesty to protect the guy who gave her the shotgun. Firearms amnesties administered by the police are presented as being a special, and usually a final, chance to legalise your position, but this is not true. Furthermore if your grandpa's pistol turns out to be worth a lot of money and you, being a law-abiding citizen, have given the dealer your true details, he can sell it for you on commission. Police amnesties do not publicise this fact. Quite a few widows have handed over their late husband's valuable property to the police, practically weeping with relief at being spared prosecution, when had the police properly advised them on the law they would have known that they were in no danger anyway and could have realised considerable sums from the sale of the guns.

"For none of woman born shall harm Macbeth." So said the Second Apparition - and every word was true.

The first link in Tim Worstall's latest Britblog roundup is to this article by TalkPolitics on ID cards. The author carefully analyses a Parliamentary answer given by Home Office Minister Tom McNulty, and demonstrates that the Minister said no untrue word.

MACBETH: Let fall thy blade on vulnerable crests ;
I bear a charmed life, which must not yield to one of woman born.

MACDUFF: Despair thy charm ;
And let the angel whom thou still hast serv'd
Tell thee Macduff was from his mother's womb untimely ripp'd.

Saturday, June 18, 2005
Lancing a boil. A bunch of eminent scientific johnnies have slagged off the Lancet for "desperate headline-seeking".

They do not appear to have included the famous Iraqi casualty study in their list of complaints. I don't know whether they didn't include it because they agreed with it, or because they had no opinion about it, or because the individual boffins had different views. However even if one agreed with every word there is no doubt that the timing of that article, and the way it was given an accelerated review process so that it would appear days before the US election, was indeed "desperate headline-seeking."

Friday, June 17, 2005
Physician, heal thyself. Making a trio of booze-related posts here is a BBC article asking, Why do doctors drink so much? They do, you know. In the same way, plenty of lawyers die intestate (they all think that they will get round to making a will sometime when not busy) and a financial adviser told me that the financial affairs of financial advisers are frequently a mess.

Michael Jennings writes, "Management consultancy firms are notorious for being badly managed, too."

The Enablers. Here is the Make Poverty History manifesto.

Some of it is good: the call for the EU to unilaterally put an end to its damaging agricultural export subsidies, for instance. There is room for doubt in my mind on debt cancellation (peverse incentives and loss of future creditworthiness versus the unfairness of making people suffer for the sins of their thieving leaders). Nor am I always against foreign aid per se; I see it as like opium for an injured person, addictive but sometimes a lifesaver. But when I saw this

... it ["trade justice"] means ensuring poor countries can feed their people by protecting their own farmers and staple crops; it means ensuring governments can effectively regulate water companies by keeping water out of world trade rules and it means ensuring trade rules do not undermine core labour standards.

We need to stop the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) forcing poor countries to open their markets to trade with rich countries, which has proved so disastrous over the past 20 years; the EU must drop its demand that former European colonies open their markets and give more rights to big companies; we need to regulate companies – making them accountable for their social and environmental impact both here and abroad; and we must ensure that countries are able to regulate foreign investment in a way that best suits their own needs.

I thought of the role of MPH as being something like that of the "enabler" in the household of an alcoholic.

An enabler is “a person who unknowingly helps the alcoholic by denying the drinking problem exists and helping the alcoholic to get out of troubles caused by his drinking” (Silverstein, 1990, p.65). The enabler will clean up the alcoholic’s vomit and make excuses to his or her boss, teacher, or friends. The enabler lies for the alcoholic, and thus enables the alcoholic to continue drinking.
For drinking read "ensuring poor countries can feed their people by protecting their own farmers and staple crops." You don't need two separate books to read about the history of agricultural protectionism and the history of famine! Over the last twenty years the countries that have followed (even imperfectly) what MPH calls the "disastrous" policy of opening their markets have suffered... unprecendented rises in prosperity. Those that have kept doing what MPH want them to do have stayed poor. (Added later: "want them to do" might be better phrased as "give them permission to do," in the same sense that an Enabler gives an alcoholic "permission" to carry on drinking.)

I was especially struck by questions two and three in this quiz called Are You an Enabler? But the metaphor resonates for all of them.

1. Have you ever "called in sick" for the alcoholic, lying about his symptoms?

2. Have you accepted part of the blame for his (or her) drinking or behavior?

3. Have you avoided talking about his drinking out of fear of his response?

4. Have you bailed him out of jail or paid for his legal fees?

5. Have you paid bills that he was supposed to have paid himself?

6. Have you loaned him money?

7. Have you tried drinking with him in hopes of strengthening the relationship?

8. Have you given him "one more chance" and then another and another?

9. Have you threatened to leave and didn't?

10. Have you finished a job or project that the alcoholic failed to complete himself?

Sign the pledge. Renounce the demon drink ID card.

Thursday, June 16, 2005
Only Nixon could go to China. I was aware that Lal Kirshnan Advani, the president of the BJP, was recently sacked and then re-instated for saying nice things about Jinnah on an official trip to Pakistan. What I didn't know was that Advani, the prime mover behind the razing by Hindu zealots of the Babri Masjid mosque in Ayodhya in 1992, now regards that day as "the saddest in his life." Or that for their part the Pakistani authorities are going to restore the Katas Raj temple, a Hindu sacred site in Pakistan.

Archbishop warns against "unpoliced conversation" peril. Peter Glover of Wires from the Bunker writes:
Dr Williams, who was speaking to an audience of media professionals, politicians and church leaders at his Lambeth Palace, London residence, went on to describe the atmosphere on the worldwide web as "a free for all" which produced something "close to that of unpoliced conversation."

He does not however say why he has come to believe (hardly a Christian or biblically sustainable belief) that "conversation" should be "policed".
Dr Williams' speech is reported in the Times: Archbishop hits out at web-based media 'nonsense'

In a moment of madness I had an unpoliced conversation with my husband only yesterday. It was about strawberries. The horror lives with me yet.

UPDATE: Peter Glover asks me to say that, having now seen the full text of Dr Williams's speech, he thinks that the Times report was not entirely fair, although the fact that Dr Williams did not make his meaning clear did not help. "Wires from the Bunker" does not have permalinks, but go to the main link above for more.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005
The blood of the Solents runs hot. I am meant to be attending to more urgent priorities than blogging - but when directly challenged in this post by Chris Bertram at Crooked Timber I had to respond.

Monday, June 13, 2005
Busy time coming up. So the world may just have to turn without me for a few days.

Before I go, let me recommend this. John Weidner pointed me in the direction of a fair-minded and touching article by David Asman, describing the experience of his wife, who unfortunately suffered a stroke, in both the British and US health care systems. Asman says:

Neither system is without its faults and advantages. To paraphrase Thomas Sowell, there are no solutions to modern health care problems, only trade-offs.
That is true, and in an emergency it can be a great blessing that under the British system one does not have to worry, or even think about costs (though one may have to worry rather more about outcomes because one doesn't have to think about costs). However, many of the disadvantages of the US system that Asman mentions are not inherent to private healthcare; rather they are the results of defensive medicine, itself the result of bad tort law. Thomas Sowell has good sense to offer on that subject, too, in The Vision of the Anointed. Excessive, unpredictable and illogical awards of compensation could as easily be associated with a public as with a private system - and the way things are going in Britain they soon will be.

Some of John Weidner's commenters mention the French system. Although it slightly spoils my free-market rant to say so, I must say that when my husband bashed his leg on holiday we were extremely impressed by the kindness and efficiency we saw. The doctor, who came out to the roadside where my husband was sitting unable to walk, refused payment. Not worth his while to do the paperwork, or just a nice guy? I don't know. Actually he was an exceptionally nice guy whatever. The hospital was clean and relatively uncrowded. Waiting time for an X-ray: twenty minutes. (Waiting time in Blighty for an X-ray of my daughter's broken arm: six hours. She had to go without food and water for all that time in case they had to operate.) After our return to England were billed by the French hospital for about £30. To be that low the fee must be heavily subsidised, but I suggest that the fact that there is some fee does great good. I paid it with gratitude.

Sunday, June 12, 2005
Britblog roundup at the usual place. Among the various posts there is a distinct theme of opposition to the Religious Hatred Bill.

Friday, June 10, 2005
Tories go nuclear. I have a post about their evil plans for your town over at Biased BBC.

Darth Vader, Republican. Meryl Yourish has the interview we have all been waiting for.

While I'm on the subject, why exactly didn't Obi-Wan just kill Anakin while he had the chance? Leaving him there lying on the lava wasn't prudent and wasn't even merciful either.

(Dr Who spoilers coming up. Presumably you had already figured out that Anakin survives.)

Just goes to show. Never let wimpy liberals into space. A trillion life-forms fried because Tom Baker wouldn't exterminate the Daleks when he had the chance, but does Dr Who learn from this? Oh no, Christopher Ecclescake is still at it with the Slitheen chick. Apparently the only options open to him are (a) to let this intermittently repentant mass-murderer and mayor of Cardiff skip away to wreak xenocide and municipal socialism without penalty, or (b) to take her back to Slitheeny Prime to be tortured to death in acetic acid in accordance with Slitheen folkways.

Yes, it's another Russell T. Davies fake dilemma. Davies is a good scriptwriter - there mere mention of his name lines our entire household up in front of the TV - but some kind friend needs to take him to one side and gently eviscerate him with a sonic screwdriver until he gets a grip on this issue.

There are other options, friend. One could call upon Jack whatsisname, for instance; the guy from the future masquerading as an American volunteer pilot with the RAF. Does he not have upon his person as part of the accoutrements of an officer a nice chunky Browning 9mm service pistol? Perhaps not, my husband tells me. It might be an Enfield .38 revolver. Let us not quibble. Enough rounds from either would extinguish life in a relatively quick and painless manner, even eight-foot tall green life. Failing that, the Doctor could have slipped her an avocado vinaigrette.

And since when has the Doctor been one for "we must obey the law no matter how cruel" anyway? If he's taking that line, Jack has deserted from the forces of the Crown in time of war. Foreign national or not, future national or not, it is the Doctor's solemn duty to escort him to officers of the military police so that he can be court-martialled and shot.

Thursday, June 09, 2005
Pablo Escobar's hippos.

I have a post up at Samizdata asking why G8 protestors don't give their all their spare money to the poor.

Self-regulation has not worked. The Guardian has still not yet reported that John Kerry had worse grades at Yale than George Bush.

UPDATE: Eventually.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005
I have been infected by a horribly contagious virus that ordinary medicine is helpless to cure. Yes, that one.

Number of books I own: Um, several thousand. I can't count properly because they are in complete disorder and half of them are in boxes in the loft.

Last book I bought: The Storage Book by Cynthia Innons. Because I know I have a problem. I got this at a garage sale for 50p. Now I have find somewhere to store it.

Last book I (re)read: 'Conciliation with America' by Edmund Burke. Despite sounding so swanky this is really true.

Five books that mean a lot to me: I assume it's like Desert Island Discs and one excludes the Bible and Shakespeare. Which leaves...

1) 'Free to Choose' by Milton and Rose Friedman. Obvious or what?

2) Wow. One of the choices of my source of infection would also be mine and for practically the same reasons. Scott said,
"'Godel, Escher, Bach - an Eternal Golden Braid' - After about 10 tries, I've never been able to read it straight through, but with every effort I learn a bit more. I'm trying again right now."
OK, unlike Scott I am not trying again right now. But I will.

3) Most of the books that mean the most to most people are books read in childhood. They have proportionally more effect. So one of my choices simply must be C.S. Lewis's Narnia Chronicles. I'm sure they have been published in one volume somewhere, so I claim they count as one book not seven.

4) Another (slightly later) childhood favourite that I shall defiantly count as one book is Asimov's Foundation Trilogy. The part about Arkady Darell starts when she was two days past fourteen - and I was two days past fourteen when I got to that point, having read like mad in every spare moment since opening the boxed set on my birthday.

5) The fifth one is really difficult. Whatever I choose, I will think of something better five minutes after pressing "publish." A science book? Something from the classics? A book about history? All of these are pipped at the post in terms of meaning a lot to me by the first collection of Bernard Levin's articles I ever bought, 'Taking Sides.' As I have said before, it made me heartily wish there was a way that I, too, could write my opinions about everything down and find someone to read them.

Tag Five More: Aagh, I like playing these games but I hate doing this. The process of choosing hits some social inhibition that probably dates back from childhood when I was always chosen second last for netball. As usual, I think I'll say that anyone who wants to play should just nominate me as having chosen them.

More snapshots of Zimbabwe from Normblog. My God, what will we be saying a year from now about these events? That they were just one more torment in that country's continuing agony - or that they were the darkest hour before the dawn?

Also read this post commenting on a Guardian article about foreign Jihadis in Iraq.

A stray thought: why do I talk more about Zimbabwe and Iraq than about Darfur or the DR Congo? Because there is more to say when, despite all the suffering, there is more hope.

A voice from inside the storm. I discovered The Zimbabwean Pundit via this comment at Samizdata. There are near daily posts on "Operation Murambatsvina", the ruthless government "cleanup" that Mugabe has ordered of makeshift homes and street traders.

Some people are so sensitive. Tim Worstall reports that he, along with Alex Singleton, has been accused of being a "reactionary individual" and peddlar of a "mixture of lies, stupidity and prejudice" by Owen of Owen's Musings who, oddly, says in the comments that he did not mean to insult TW personally.

Well, yeah, I can go with that. Owen actually says that a category of reactionary individuals are peddling the mixture of lies, stupidity and prejudice and names Worstall and Singleton as individual members of this category, adding for good measure that Singleton is "posing as an Institute". How anyone could take that as personal insult is beyond me.

ADDED LATER: I should have added that both parties' arguments about development are well worth reading. Not surprisingly, I agree with Tim Worstall's more, but, as I said in an earlier post Owen (whose surname I do not see stated) is a development professional who obviously knows the subject. Pity he shoots his mouth off.

STILL LATER: Owen has amended the post and appended a note saying that he wrote in anger and apologising to those he offended.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005
The fiscal theme park. Stewart writes:
In your Monday posting about VAT you quote the Telegraph as saying: "the Vat-men decided that a "profit" and a "loss" are the same thing".

Well of course they did.

The Telegraph goes on to state: "Mr Graham plans an appeal in the High Court, where he hopes to find a judge who lives in the real world."

Unfortunately VAT has nothing to do with the real world.

Mr Graham has clearly not come across this judgement by Lord Justice Sedley:

"Beyond the everyday world lies the world of VAT, a kind of fiscal theme park in which factual and legal realities are suspended or invented. In this complex paralleled universe… relatively uncomplicated solutions are a snare and diversion.”

- Royal & Sun Alliance Insurance Group Plc v Customs and Excise Commissioners [2001] STC 1476 at [54]

Messages of support have been coming in for my mission statement.

Graeme writes:
Power to your elbow, blog-babe!
Captain Heinrichs writes:
Well, one out of two can be considered an adequate level of achievement.
Gentlemen, I shall strive to be worthy.

Amnesty International. You gotta laugh. First they see a Gulag that isn't there. Then they puff an interview with the man who refused to see the genocide that was there.

Also see this post from Chicago Boyz. Oh, and according to Nick Cohen Amnesty aren't so much into prisoners of conscience any more. Anti-poverty campaigning must come first. (Via Stephen Pollard.)

Sheesh, I once volunteered for these guys. Spent the day licking envelopes. Give me back my spit!

Gordon waives the rules. Brett Taylor thought up that title and responded to yesterday's post on the waiver of VAT for the Live 8 concert with this email:
I have been wondering today whether our Charitable Chancellor has any right to waive VAT on an organisation. Even your good self seems to accept it readily. I mean, if he took a fancy to some floozie walking down the street could he waive her income tax? Could Lamont have waived the duty on his purchases from Threshers? I always assumed that all those details in the budget are written into each year's Finance Bill and guillotined through parliament, but maybe I'm mistaken and he does in fact have arbitrary power.
That's Lamont's alleged purchases from Thresher's, Brett. But seriously, does our present Chancellor actually have the legal power to exempt those he likes from VAT? Anyone know?

Monday, June 06, 2005
In contrast to Zimbabwe, Australia has been peaceful, prosperous and democratic for more than a century. Michael Jennings praises the Australian constitution, which combines elements from the British and American systems. Whether the "lucky country" is lucky because of its constitution I do not know.

Still on the subject of constitutions, JEM wrote:

In short, the fundamental difference between the American Constitution and virtually all others is that it was not attempting to change the status quo but merely to affirm it and set it in stone. Indeed the entire American Revolution/War of Independence (select title to taste) was not a revolution at all but simply a fight to retain the existing "rights of Englishmen", as the 'revolutionaries' themselves put it; really it was a civil war.

By the way, the American Constitution is not necessarily as unimpeachable as many suppose. The story is told of the day in 1940 when Einstein and his friend Kurt Gödel (of Gödel's Theorm and Douglas Hofstadter's monumental and brilliant metaphorical fugue on minds and machines, 'Gödel, Escher, Bach : An Eternal Golden Braid' fame) went from Princeton to the NJ state capital Trenton, to appear before Judge Philip Forman to be examined with a view to being inducted into US citizenship. The Judge turned to Gödel and began, "You have German citizenship up to now." Gödel interrupted him, "Excuse me sir, Austrian." "Anyhow, the wicked dictator! but fortunately that is not possible in America." "On the contrary," Gödel interjected, "I know how that can happen. I have discovered a logical and legal way of transforming the United States into a dictatorship." It took all Einstein's efforts to stop the discussion continuing in this direction, and turn it back to safer topics.

In any case, there have been imitators of the American Constitution. For example, when Bismarck came to create a constitution for the Kaiserreich in the 1870s, he followed the US example to the letter, except that instead of an elected President as head of state and chief executive there was an hereditary Kaiser. Stalin's constitution for the Soviet Union was a virtual word-for-word translation of the US original, and a lot of good it did too.

The point, I would suggest, is that things like constitutions only work if they do little more than confirm the existing way; they can, of themselves, change virtually nothing. And when the existing way is in general considered satisfactory, a formal constitution would make little difference. This is the argument against a written British constitution although I am not personally convinced by this line of reasoning, as a written constitution would be at least be some sort of bulwark against future erosion of rights.

But then remember Gödel...

Tim Worstall's Britblog roundup is rounded and up. Including the post about, ah, Parisian social history that everyone's talking about.

Zimbabwe's Year Zero. Perry de Havilland says violence is the only answer left. I read this and then sort of waited to feel shocked.

Still waiting. Perry quotes the Telegraph:

Across Zimbabwe, the United Nations estimates that 200,000 people have lost their homes, with the poorest townships bearing the brunt of Mr Mugabe's onslaught. "The vast majority are homeless in the streets," said Miloon Kothari, the UN's housing representative.

... the regime is also seeking to depopulate the cities, driving people into the countryside where the MDC is virtually non-existent and the ruling Zanu-PF Party dominates.

The Herald, the official daily newspaper, urged "urbanites" to go "back to the rural home, to reconnect with one's roots and earn an honest living from the soil our government repossessed under the land reform programme".

I have no doubt this policy will find its admirers in the West, as Pol Pot's forced exodus did.

That was really a roundabout way of saying that I've had a busy half term and I am not up with the news. I gather someone said something or other about the EU referendum. Fine, whatever. I also gather that the Chancellor has decided to waive the VAT for the Live 8 concert. How fine to be Bob Geldof and not have to pay tax on your charity concert because it is for a good cause! Less well-connected promoters of charity concerts aren't so lucky.
Hundreds of charities will learn with shock of the recent ruling by a VAT tribunal that HM Customs and Excise are right to demand up to £100,000 from a country house opera company, which thought it was exempt from VAT because all its profits go to charitable causes. The case arose because, in their interpretation of EC law, the Vat-men decided that a "profit" and a "loss" are the same thing. The tribunal has now agreed.
As a trustee of the charity, Mr Graham's mistake, in the eyes of the Vat-men, was to write a letter to his fellow-trustees confirming that, in the event of any losses, he would meet them out of his own pocket. HM Customs swooped on this to argue that this gave him a "financial interest" in the charity.
Perhaps the opera guys should threaten to call down a million-strong yoof swarm on little Longborough? That seems to be the way to get exemption from the law.

To succeed in the dog-eat-beetle world of the blogosphere, each blog must have its own unique "take" on the news. There's plenty of hot shots out there aiming to be first with the instant punditry. There are not a few who endeavour to supply more considered commentary after taking time to reflect. As I see it, my niche is to combine both these roles.

To be shallow-minded and late: that is my mission.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005
Fair Trade 4 Kidz Part II. I have a post up at Biased BBC about how Children's BBC treats trade issues.

Pedantry. John Band writes:
Now that the Routemasters have nearly all been scrapped or sold off to bus geeks, buses' "rear exits" are generally in the middle of the bus (link), so it's quite likely that first would still be foremost in the situation you describe...
Thanks for sharing, John. If we ever meet I'll leave you out for the bin-men in a carrier bag.