Natalie Solent

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

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

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

The Old Comrades:

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Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Guilty, guilty, guilty. I've been too busy to blog for the last few days. Hope to be back tomorrow, but I'm not actually promising anything.

Friday, November 25, 2005
Responsibility for rape is not a pie chart. I see that Amnesty has out a report deprecating the suprisingly high proportion (up to one third) of survey respondents who think that a woman who wears skimpy dresses, is drunk, promiscuous or flirts is partially responsible if she is then raped.

The first thing I thought when I saw this report was what I always think when I see Amnesty issuing reports on things unrelated to prisoners of conscience. I remember that when I joined, decades ago, prisoners of conscience were practically its whole reason for being. (It's true that I do remember it opposing the death penalty back then, as did I, but that issue was always treated as an afterthought. I always thought it was a distraction.) Amnesty built up a vast expertise on the subject of campaigning to free or at least mitigate the sufferings of prisoners of conscience. It has no particular expertise on the subject of helping victims of rape, or any of the other causes it has espoused since it decided to become a sort of watered-down political party, patron of audio-visual artistic "imaginings" and whatever else it does now. I look at these multifarious causes and I remember an old Jewish joke. Want to hear it?

In the East End - or it could be New York - an old shopkeeper lay dying. His sight dim, he said tremulously, "Sarah, are you there?"
"Yes, my beloved, I am here with you."
"Benjamin, are you there?"
"Yes, father, I am here."
"Sarah? Little Aaron?"
"Fear not, father, all your family are here."
"So who's minding the store?"

So I think: who's minding the store? Amnesty do still seem to have letter writing campaigns, but it seems to be losing its mastery of that trade in its efforts to be jack of all others.

Judging from this statement, Amnesty has not mastered the "trade" of contributing usefully to the debate on how to reduce the incidence of rape and help rape victims. In fact Amnesty seems to share some of the same faulty and worrying assumptions about responsibility for rape with those whose responses to the survey caused such concern. The questions asked in the survey (asking whether a woman was "partially or totally responsible for being raped" in various circumstances) pushed the respondents into assuming that responsibility for a crime works like settling the liability for costs relating to a road accident: a pie chart where the responsibility is split between the two sides, where for instance Driver A has to pay 75% and Driver B 25%.

Amnesty's view is that the rapist should get 100% liability - but it still implicitly accepts the framework that the more the woman is blamed the less the man should be. Here is the view of Amnesty's Kate Allen:

"This poll shows that a disturbingly large proportion of the public blame women themselves for being raped.

"It is shocking that so many people will lay the blame for being raped at the feet of women themselves and the government must launch a new drive to counteract this sexist 'blame culture'."

In some ways I agree with Ms Allen. Long ago I was shocked by a case (I think this happened in Oxford in the late eighties) in which a woman was raped after accepting a lift from a lorry driver late at night. I was outraged - still am outraged - to read that the rapist got off with a fine because of the woman's "contributory negligence." Are we animals, I thought, that anyone who makes themselves vulnerable becomes fair game? Are the laws suspended because a crime is easy to commit? It angered me that that this way of thinking seemed confined to rape. If a rich old woman is murdered by her daughter because the daughter wants to inherit no one says the old woman was guilty of contributory negligence because she foolishly trusted her daughter. If a rich old woman is murdered for her purse by a stranger who calls at the door no one says she was guilty of contributory negligence because she foolishly lived alone.

So the misogynist view denounced by Amnesty certainly does exist. However I am not convinced that this view is nearly as prevalent as Amnesty is claiming.

Before I explain why I think that, let me state my opinion: there is no pie chart. I see no contradiction between holding that the guilt of rape is not one whit lessened if the victim was drunk, or dressed in skimpy clothing, or has had many sexual partners - and at the same time holding that the woman in the case I mentioned was foolish. Being drunk in a city centre at three a.m. while wearing a miniskirt does increase your chances of rape, predictably so. We should work towards a world where women were as free in fact as they are in law to go where they like, when they like and dress as they like - but that world does not exist at present. One way of working towards it is to have severe penalties for rape and to denounce the view that rape can be excused.

I think my "there is no pie chart" opinion, or something like it, is fairly common. When doing surveys it often happens that none of the choices match what I think, so I just have to choose the least bad match.

I note that the Amnesty press release spoke of "blame" whereas the poll questions quoted spoke of "responsibility." There is a distinction. Personally, I don't think it's the right distinction to make. I don't like the "pie chart" model for responsibility or blame, but many of the respondents may have been trying to get across the point that in one perfectly defensible sense of the word "responsible", women should be responsible when it comes to the risks they take. If I am right these respondents are now saying angrily, "But I'd have answered differently if they had talked about blame."

Another point is that Amnesty's questions spoke of women being "wholly or partially responsible." The word "partially" covers a lot of ground. As I said, I don't think that woman can be even 1% responsible for her own rape in the sense they mean, but a respondent who thinks she is 1% responsible is saying something very different from a respondent who thinks she is 80% responsible.

Nowhere in the discussion in the Amnesty press release concerning the prevalence of rape did I see convincing evidence that Amnesty knew any better than the respondents how frequent rape is. (The rising number of calls to the South Essex Rape and Incest Crisis Centre cited as evidence might just as easily reflect a welcome decline in the once-common attitude that to be raped brought shame upon the woman) There is no logical link between thinking rape very bad and thinking rape common. Some misogynists who wish to make light of rape might want to play down the frequency in order to suggest society need not make a strenuous effort to deal with a crime that affects so few - others might want to play up the frequency in order to suggest that anything so commonplace is really quite normal. Likewise two people who think of rape with equal horror might honestly hold opposite opinions as to how common it is. (I do not know how common it is, or whether it is increasing or decreasing.)

Nowhere in the Amnesty press release did I see evidence that what the organisation calls the "dreadfully low" conviction rate for rape actually represented injustice. If guilty men are getting off, that is bad - but if innocent men are getting off that is as it should be.

In fact the whole Amnesty statement failed to engage at all with the possiblity of false accusations. That is a serious omission. Many people, including many women, will suspect the organisation of being irrationally unwilling to admit that there are indeed women who make false accusations.

I had wanted to talk about that more, and about cases where consent was doubtful - but I've run out of time.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Heirs of Hammurabi is a new blog similar in concept to Arthur Chrenkoff's Good News from Iraq. The author says he didn't have to look that hard for good news; he just picked up a few stories that floated by. (He obviously knew another secret of appealing to me: historical parallels. Scroll down for a great Lincoln anecdote, in which Lincoln sounds just like Churchill.)

I am glad to read that the coming election is shaping up to be more about issues and less about identity politics.

For some reason my computer is showing some HTML-style instructions that I presume are not meant to be visible as visible. Never mind; it didn't stop me reading.

Sex, disease and blogswarms. Michael Jennings writes:
"We are all document experts," says John Weidner:......

I find this web page amusing. It is devoted to pointing out historically inaccurate typography in period movies: link

While on that, I know one or two people who could be described as "typography geeks" myself. These are normally techies who responded to the invention of the laser printer and home typography software that goes with it by becoming amazingly obsessive about getting their fonts and spacing absolutely right. (It's also worth observing that this stuff was pretty much entirely invented at Apple in the 1980s. Possibly the big reason why Macs are popular with creative types to this day is because beautiful typesetting was possible on Macs about a decade before it was on PCs. The commencement address that Steve Jobs gave at Stanford recently (link) is interesting in that he tells some of how he became interested in it). The truth is that there are guys out there on the internet with amazing amounts of expertise, who could tell you a document was forged just by looking at it even if the forgers had gone to some trouble to get the fonts historically right, use old paper etc etc, rather than just printing something with Microsoft Word and photocopying it a few times. Even if the forgers of the memos had gone to some trouble, we would still have known conclusively that the documents were forged within hours, and this would have been the case without any conspiracy.

But would we have been able to get the media to accept our conclusive knowledge? Remember that even as things stand, with the crude forgery done in the default setting of a modern word processing program, Mary Mapes got a large advance and some favourable coverage for her book saying that it was all true after all.
This is assuming that they still used a computer. Why they didn't find a 1970s typewriter and use that I don't know.

Or perhaps I do. I suspect that the forgeries were possibly produced by someone who doesn't remember typewriters and believes that fonts were ulways proportionally spaced. This is making me feel old.

Actually, I think the lead pick for forger was old enough to remember. The real mystery is why neither he nor Mr Rather thought of it. My pet theory is, as I said earlier, that the forger published his forgery before it was ready. As for poor Dan, hope distorted his judgement. He was too excited to think, hey, documents just didn't look like that in those days. Or maybe he did think it for a moment then quickly snatched an explanation out of the air: maybe the Air National Guard had specially fancy typewriters because it was part of the military-industrial complex or something like that.

Buckhead could have done what he did with far less knowledge than he had. What all his extra knowledge gave him was confidence to act quickly to raise the initial alarm.

I didn't rehash all this now purely to relive vicarious blogospheric triumphs. I was also thinking about sex.

I was trying out various analogies to see if I could shed a little light on how a blogswarm worked, and it occurred to me that bloggers are like sperm and and breaking a big story is like fertilising the egg. In part it's a matter of luck, but the lucky sperm had to be strong enough to make the journey first.

That analogy isn't quite right. For one thing, the egg doesn't care which sperm connects but we definitely do want to connect a story with the right expert to confirm or deny it. A key part of the blogswarm is our knowledge that the right expertise is out there somewhere, probably in multiple locations. The problem in the past was that one couldn't find the experts quickly, or get them heard, or get them talking to each other. Now the experts find the story. Another way in which the sex analogy does not quite work is that it has no place for cooperation between sperm. Cooperation is a key part of the blogswarm... er, now I think about it the idea of a swarm is, of course, also an analogy. It was just too obvious for me to notice. I sympathise with Mr Rather!

Anyway, my second go at an analogy was that of the antibody. The various wrongnesses of the memo in Mary Mapes' story came into the infosphere like an invading toxin into the body. Lots of antibodies fling themselves at the invader. By chance some of them have the right shape to lock onto it and neutralise it. The body "sees" what works and makes more of the successful type.

That is better. As a good analogy should, this one leads to new thoughts. The body can become too good at making antibodies; becoming over-sensitive to certain harmless or near harmless proteins that would have been better left alone.

Should we be worried by the equivalent possibility in blogging? Nah. As the saying goes, kill 'em all and let God sort them out. It just gave me the excuse to say that blogging is more like having an allergy than sex.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005
"We are all document experts," says John Weidner:
We are ALL experts in some sort of document. There is some type of paperwork we handle so frequently that a crude forgery would be blatantly obvious to us. "Document examiners" are widely knowledgeable, but every one of us is more knowledgeable than them on something.
John's line of thought was started by a post from Power Line that linked to Buckhead's own explanation of how come he knew so much about typefaces. His detailed explanation ought to, but won't, see off all the conspiracy theories being peddled by Mary Mapes and her supporters. But I liked his quickie version too: "The short answer is that I am 47 years old and I am not a blithering idiot."

I followed Rathergate in real time plus six hours. I knew something was up at the first mention of proportionate spacing. I immediately thought of the documents I had seen when I was in the Officer Training Corps while at university in the early eighties: typewritten, the lot of them.

Monday, November 21, 2005
I have been saving the world with these guys. Allegedly, there are pictures, including at least one of me, but I can't make the link work.

UPDATE: the link to Brian's photos works now. I am top left.

This computer is getting up my nose.

Not really. Perish the thought.

Thursday, November 17, 2005
Greetings, bitter foes! That's what Angie Schultz said when she was in the Guardian, and what's good enough for Angie is good enough for me, starting with her jokes. (I don't want to be picky, Angie, but are your frogs endangered? Common frogs upset the lining of my stomach.)

Nice Guardian-being Oliver Burkeman says I am much-read. I do not see how he can tell, seeing as my hit-counter has gone the way of all free hit-counters, but come the Day he shall be spared.

Monday, November 14, 2005
Muslim servants of the Crown. Read this post at Albion's Seedlings by Helen Szamuely arguing that Muslims once had "an honoured place in the narrative of the British Empire and Commonwealth" that has been supressed for different reasons both in the Indian subcontinent and in the UK, read the essay by Mihir Bose it links to, and above all read this comment by David Billington:
The role models for the majority of young Muslims in Britain should be the non-conforming religious minorities who played such a powerful role in the British industrial revolution. It is true that these people were mostly Christian but they suffered formal discrimination until the 19th century. They were imbued with Enlightenment ideas about nature, science, technology, and progress and they played vital roles in the abolition of slavery and a raft of other reforms while leading lives of modesty and probity. Although they were active in proselytism abroad, they did not seek religious confrontation at home and tried instead to bear witness to their faith by example.
As I said in the comments there, this type of role model offers something more positive than merely fitting in.

Would you believe that when I started writing the post below I had intended to apologise for its brevity? I may be too busy to blog much or deal with email in the next few days. However I must say one thing: Never give up! There is always a way!

Yes. If however you twiddle the dials the tension on your seam just won't come out right because the fabric is too fine and slippery, do not despair and give your party trousers to the dog for a chew toy. Just sew it all by hand while watching The Two Towers on TV.

Internment and alternatives - Patrick Crozier responds.
My central point was that internment is essential when dealing with terrorist groups who can find refuge in unassimilated populations such as the Ulster Irish or (as may turn out to be the case) British Muslims. In the case of Ulster the rule seems clear enough; if you use internment (resolutely) you win: if you don’t you lose.
Read the whole thing. No one could say that Patrick allows conventional wisdom to dictate his thought. The proposal he makes later in his post reminds me of those divorces one hears of where one partner screams, "I want a divorce!" as an opening salvo before presenting a list of demands and then is taken aback when the other says, "Righty-ho." As such it has a certain immediate appeal. However I see difficulties. What about the non-Muslim population of those areas? What about the assimilated Muslim population, who would be put under the most frightful pressure? Once these enclaves were established how would their borders grow or shrink? The prospect of moving the borders by intimidation might appeal to both those inside and out.

It's not going to happen. However there is something about this idea that could be used in dilute form: obliging people to choose, to declare where they stood.

For the last few decades the PC ethos has meant that there was no social penalty for British Muslims (and others) if they loudly announced their disloyalty. Meanwhile any member of an ethnic minority who said he was British and proud of it was mocked as a naive fool in the Guardian or Independent or scorned as a sellout in the ethnic press. In this atmosphere Hamza and those like him thrived. The thing that rankled most was that at the very same time there were severe social penalties for anyone who made the slightest suggestion that any British Muslims were less than whole-hearted in their patriotism.

I approve of the introduction of citizenship ceremonies and oaths, even if the written test is a load of statist gibberish, as Michael Jennings (who is to take it soon) observed. People who have declared their loyalty tend to feel more of it. Of course these ceremonies only affect new citizens. However seeing new citizens take them is likely to have a good effect on some of our shakier old citizens, especially if the new citizens are the old citizens' relatives.

The difficulty arises when I ask myself exactly what level of obligation I had in mind when I spoke of "obliging people to choose, to declare where they stood." A structure that explicitly differentiated between Muslims and non-Muslims would be an outrage. I don't care if it has a differential effect on Muslims; assuming it was the right effect that would be the system doing its job. After the London bombs there is no point denying that a cloud of suspicion hangs over British Muslims at present. They would be the first beneficiaries of a system that dispersed the cloud. Alas, in this metaphor, cloud-dispersing and cloud-generating machines come in boxes that are hard to tell apart.

ADDED LATER: Drat. Re-reading this I can see it sounds too much like I'm advocating compulsory pro-government rallies or something. Not what I meant. I don't really know exactly what sort of loyalty-inducing structures I'm looking for, but they would come in two types or families. One would simply be increased social unacceptability for extreme anti-patriotism.

The other type of measure would work in a way akin to the way that sales of council houses moved the political centre. People who had bought their council house damn well were not going to vote for anyone who proposed to take it away from them. Or the way (effective politics, much as I loathe it) that the growth of the public sector has created a new class of public employees who will not vote for anyone who proposes to shrink the state. Although in this context I'm not talking about changing the way people vote, that is the sort of mechanism that might work: creating a constituency of self-declared Muslim pluralists.

YET ANOTHER ADDITION: ... and/or making it easier, safer and more beneficial for the existing Muslim pluralists to self-declare.

Scroll up to see some more optimistic thoughts about Muslims in Britain, courtesy of a link to Albion's Seedlings.

Saturday, November 12, 2005
"Collar the lot." In this post regarding the recently defeated proposal to allow detention without charge of terrorist suspects for 90 days, I said that if we didn't need those powers in 1940 we don't need them now. Partrick Crozier writes:
We did need (well, certainly use) internment in 1940. Enemy aliens were interned. When asked whether to include Jews and opponents of the Nazi regime, Churchill replied: "Collar the lot".

We also used it against the IRA in the 1940s and again during the Border Campaign of the 1950s and early 1960s. It was also used in Malaya and Kenya and for all I know half a dozen places in the Middle East.

If a terrorist enemy can find refuge amongst the native population or a significant part of that native population then internment is an essential (though not by itself sufficient) component in eventual victory.

I would be delighted if you or your readers could find a compelling counter-example but I suspect they will be searching in vain.

The general question of whether internment has or has not worked in our various wars is too big for me to discuss on a Saturday morning. I will stick to World War II.

I distinguish between the World War II internment and current proposals for the suspension or dilution of habeus corpus in several ways.

(1) There was a war on in 1940. Hitler was in the process of conquering Europe and had the serious intention of conquering us. I am a supporter of the War on Terror, but it isn't the same.

(2) Those interned in 1940 were foreigners, enemy foreigners to boot, not British citizens. Glenn Reynolds is always going on about how much more likely the US is to start falling down the slippery slope when it dilutes the rights of citizens, and he's right. This is not to say that non-citizens are intrinsically less valuable human beings; it is a matter of the implied contract between government and citizens.

(3) Apart from Churchill's bad-tempered outburst the British government never denied that most of those interned in 1940 were innocent. Contemporary propaganda was at pains to stress this point (I can't remember it exactly, but I think that the scene towards the end of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp where the nice German, Theo, is interviewed by what we would now call an immigration officer who says something like "these measures are for your protection as well as ours" is an example of the arguments used. Not that Churchill liked the film!)

(4) Did WWII internment actually do any good? Many of the accounts written nowadays are infected by a politically correct desire to make the British (or US) governments look bad in any circumstances, and take no account of the real dangers Britain faced or of the fact that the British authorities, being neither telepathic nor clairvoyant, could not know which dangers were real and which not. However, as I'm sure you know, the British policy of general internment of enemy aliens was eventually dropped, partly as a result of the torpedoing of the Arandora Star taking internees to Canada. The fact that the British government did not pursue the policy implies that they concluded that on balance it was not assisting the war effort. The German espionage network in Britain was never very successful anyway, but the accounts I have read do not suggest that it was much disrupted by internment.

Friday, November 11, 2005
Can anyone supply the author and title of a history book for kids we have heard about? It was written quite recently by a father who became concerned that his children knew plenty of historical factoids but but had no sense of what happened after what. So this book is strongly chronological. As an extra bonus at the back of the book there are the lyrics of all those patriotic songs that everyone is supposed to know but doesn't any more.

Talking of blegs, Michael Jennings has enquired what "modern studies" is, although not in those exact words. To my gloomy prediction of "Little in-passing anecdotes about slavery and witch-burning" he adds, "I am sure the beastliness of the Industrial Revolution will be in there somewhere, too."

UPDATE: Tim Worstall (who is tons better looking than Paul Krugman) names the book.

Adloyada blogged about the huge demonstration in Morocco against al-Qaeda.
There's an even more extraordinary back story, which is that the protests themselves have come out of a wider awakening of yearnings for freedom, democracy and human rights which commentators argue was started off by the Casablanca bombings of 2003.

And those were bombings which were primarily targeted at the small remaining Jewish community of Morocco. Now imagine a demonstration by English trade unionists for the synagogue that got torched and the Jewish cemetries that got desecrated like that. Imagine a demonstration in Argentina for the justice that still eludes the victims of the Islamist bombing that killed so many when the Buenos Aires Jewish Centre was bombed. But this was a demonstration just a few days ago by Muslims in an Arab country.

UPDATE: Read the comments discussion about when and if countries should attempt to integrate Islamist political parties into the body politic, too. And read the post above about narratives. Avoid the one about mannequins.

"The real difficulty which besets the philanthropist in his endeavour to exorcise the spirit of war is caused, not by the vices of this spirit, but by its virtues. In so far as it springs from vainglory or cupidity, it is comparatively easy to deal with. In so far as it is base, there is room for a bargain. It can be compounded with or bought off, as we have seen before now, with some kind of material currency. It will not stand out for very long against promises of prosperity and threats of dearth. But where, as at most crises, this spirit is not base, where its impulse is not less noble, but more noble than those which influence men day by day in the conduct of their worldy affairs, where the contrast which presents itself to their imagination is between duty on the one hand and gain on the other, between self-sacrifice and self-interest, between their country's need and their own ease, it is not possible to quench the fires by appeals proceeding from a lower plane. The philanthropist, if he is to succeed, must take still higher ground, and higher ground than this it is not a very simple matter to discover."

- F S Oliver, Ordeal by Battle, quoted by John Terraine in The Smoke and the Fire.

Thursday, November 10, 2005
A Jacobite plot. Today is Buy Joanne Jacobs' book day. I did. It's all part of a plot to drive up the Amazon rankings. I bought Tim Worstall's Blogged too, but not as part of a Timmite plot.

Ancient liberties. Here is Nick Cohen writing on the un-Englishness of torture.
Sir Edward Coke, Bodin’s English contemporary, was adamant that “there is no warrant to torture in this land”. [Quoted elsewhere as "no law to warrant tortures in this land" - NS] He meant in the common law courts. It could be authorised by the monarch or the privy council, and practised under the royal prerogative by the Court of Star Chamber. James I had to sanction the torturing of Guy Fawkes personally. If his interrogators did put him on the rack, they would have done so in the Tower, which held the only rack in England.
I found this article via Google. The author is concerned to defend King James for reasons linked to the King James Bible. He makes the valid point that whatever the common law said, the "exceptions" authorised by Royal Prerogative or Star Chamber were not in fact that exceptional, and that Sir Edmund Coke himself authorised at least one of them.

Nonetheless "no law to warrant tortures in this land" is a tradition worth preserving and celebrating, and the celebration will help the preservation. But Cohen's article is honest. He also says,

If the Lords go against the government, all evidence from, say, Egypt will be inadmissible because the Egyptians may have used torture. The result will be a paradoxical inversion. The authorities will be able to deport a harmless Egyptian cabbie who came to Britain as an economic migrant, for breaking immigration rules. But they won’t be able to send back a member of Egyptian Islamic Jihad as he “may” be tortured on return. If there is evidence from Egypt that he is plotting an attack on the Underground, they won’t be able to use that against him either because it “may” have been collected by torture. In other words, the greater the alleged threat a foreign suspect poses to the country, the harder it will be to deal with him.
It seems to me that the problem lies in the way that whole countries are either declared free of torture or declared to be torturing countries. Judges must do their job and judge individual cases.

On a similar theme, the MPs whose votes defeated government's proposal to grant itself the power to hold terrorist suspects without charge for 90 days are worthy of their predecessors.

Many observers, including plenty of bloggers who I generally agree with, say that the length and complexity of terrorism investigations that must cover several continents and deal with foreign languages and information held on computers are so great that ninety days is needed. To them I say

  • Cliché it may be, but if we let the terrorists erode our liberties they will have won. I don't mean "have won spiritually" or anything wishy-washy like that, I mean that it is the conscious aim of terrorism to make the authorities repressive.
  • If we could do without this in 1940 with Hitler at the door we can do without it now.
  • 90 days? We can't afford to go that slowly. Parkinson's Law would apply here: if the police had ninety days to play with, ninety days they would take.
  • I'd give it a week before such powers were used against supporters of the BNP, a month for the drug dealers and a year for hecklers at party conferences
Still, I recognise there are dangers. Brownie at Harry's Place describes one possible scenario well. If anything could have persuaded me, that would have.

Perhaps I can suggest a compromise? A great deal of my opposition to this proposed measure stemmed from the fact that it could and would be applied far beyond its original purpose. My husband suggested that if we must take extraordinary measures it would be better policy to revive the Act of Attainder. At least the accused was allowed to present evidence, provide witnesses, and speak before both Houses during the proceedings.

UPDATE 12 Nov: Patrick Crozier raised the issue of the internment of enemy aliens in 1940. Scroll up to see my response.

I see them here, I see them there, I see yankee war crimes everywhere.

Yankee war crimes in the Independent - read Scott Burgess on the White Phosphorus Scandal that rose into the sky like an illuminating flare, appropriately enough, and just as quickly sank. [Added later: I did not make quite clear enought that Scott's role in all this was to supply the gravity.]

Yankee war crimes in the Guardian - see this column by George Monbiot called "The media are minimising US and British war crimes in Iraq"

What struck me most about this article when I had stopped laughing long enough to read it was its reliance on cheap stunts. It starts with the line "We were told that the Iraqis don't count." Because by means of a wearisome pun on two possible meanings of the word "count", Monibot could give you the momentary impression that the Americans have said that the Iraqis are worth less as human beings .... yawn, you guessed right, Monibot does give you that impression.

He doesn't keep it up because he can't. With a certain reluctance he turns to his actual, quite different complaint in the next few lines. He writes:

"Before the invasion began, the head of US central command, General Thomas Franks, boasted that "we don't do body counts". His claim was repeated by Donald Rumsfeld in November 2003 ("We don't do body counts on other people") and the Pentagon last January ("The only thing we keep track of is casualties for US troops and civilians").
But then do you know what those warmongering Pentagon scum did? (Sensitive readers may prefer to look away at this point.)

They made a bar chart. Yes, a bar chart. In a report to Congress. It was labelled "average daily casualties - Iraqi and coalition. 1 Jan 04-16 Sep 05".

Sternly, Monibot says, "The claim that it kept no track of Iraqi deaths was false." First point: two of Monbiot's supposedly damning quotes (by Franks and Rumsfeld) date from before the beginning of the offending bar chart. (The first of them dates from before the war itself, and pretty clearly was talking about battle casualties among Saddam's army.) If someone claims not to be on a diet in 2003 it doesn't make her a liar if she then starts one in 2005.

Second point: who cares? So someone came out with a bit of bravado designed to lay the ghosts of Vietnam (a war in which "body counts" of enemy dead were widely condemned both for their dishonesty and because they can act as an incentive to massacre) and then the Pentagon changed its mind about its record keeping? Big deal.

Third point: if you look very, very carefully you will see that the unnamed Evil Pentagonian quoted third said, "The only thing we keep track of is casualties for US troops and civilians." And then if you look equally carefully further down the page you will see Mr Monbiot says,

The report does not explain what it means by casualty, or if its figures represent all casualties, only insurgents, or, as the foregoing paragraph appears to hint, only civilians killed by insurgents.
It's all very vague, but it looks to me as if the Evil Pentagonian and the Evil Bar Chart might have been talking about the same thing.

The next bit of the article is about Iraq Body Count and the Lancet study. Now, the internet isn't exactly short of discussion of the Lancet figures. For the record I think that they are way too high to be credible for that sort of war and that the source of error will turn out to be exaggeration by survey respondents for political reasons or in the hope of getting compensation.

Given that the phrase "two independent news agencies" impresses me very little when I consider possible pairs, my guess is that the Iraq Body Count estimate will also turn out to be too high. But I don't want to attack Monbiot here for believing differently. The point is that even on his own account, so far the article has had practically nothing to do with its stated subject of British and American war crimes. First he talked about, at worst, the US keeping records it had said it didn't keep. Then he talked about how to count numbers of deaths due to the war. He is of course aware that the Lancet and Iraq Body Count figures include things like higher incidence of disease, not to mention* the victims of the spectacular and unashamed war crimes committed by Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Finally he claimed that the US foolishly assumes all the people it blows up are insurgents.

The last two issues are important (the first isn't), but I can't help feeling sorry for all those Guardian readers who clicked the link hoping for some juicy US war crimes action and this is all they got. False advertising, I call it. Still, I suppose it sells papers.

*As indeed Mr Monbiot doesn't.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005
I greeted all the other self-antonyms (or synantonyms) that I have posted on this blog as old friends whom I had not seen for a while. But the one Alex Bensky has provided is entirely new to me. He writes:
Well, some years ago, after I managed to pass the Missouri bar examination, I went to the state capital, Jefferson City, where I stood up with the others and solemnly promised to "demean myself in a manner befitting an attorney and member of the bar."

When I joined the line to pick up my certificate, it was all I could do to keep from pumping the hand of the state's chief justice and assuring him, "Your Honor, I have every intention of demeaning myself as a lawyer."

Why you should never, ever have a national curriculum. I was directed to this story from Scotland by Freedom and Whisky.
A radical review of the curriculum could see history disappear as a separate subject to avoid "overloading" pupils in the early secondary years.

[Scottish Executive] Education Minister Peter Peacock favours teaching history as part of other subjects such as modern studies.

The value that he gives history can be assessed by the fact that sees no irony in making the study of the past a part of "modern studies." No piece of information must be allowed to reach the pupil without being filtered through the prism of modernity - which means, in practice, the prism of the views of the current Scottish educational establishment, a fairly narrow sect even within the Left. The article also says:
But it is believed that history would be taught "in passing" when elements of other subjects touched upon issues of historical interest.
"In passing", as one would speak of something embarrassing. History is like uranium to "progressive" educators: the last thing they want is for people to bring the separate pieces together. So long as the proles have no opportunity to perceive either that people of other times had quite different assumptions than those of today (a perception that inevitably suggests that current obsessions may be wrong or unimportant), or that they could be the equals or the superiors of moderns when it came to intelligence and virtue, so long as both these dangerous extremes are avoided a peppering of isolated historical grotesqueries serves the progressives very well. Little in-passing anecdotes about slavery and witch-burning briefly thrill the child while confirming the idea that nothing could possibly be learnt from people who said "thee" and "thou". It takes a deeper study to say anything coherent about, say, the role of Protestant or Enlightenment values in Scottish history, and that is why the Peacocks of this world would prefer no such study be made.

I blame Margaret Thatcher. She was enraged by excessively trendy schools churning out PC semi-literates who knew about whale song but not Waterloo. "I'm not having this," she said to her officials, "Get out there and make me a national curriculum." She imagined it as being written on one side of a piece of paper: reading, writing, 'rithmetic. A key point was always to include major kings-n-battles. Stories of spectacular historical ignorance on the part of schoolchildren were a major factor motivating supporters of the national curriculum.

Inevitably, this mildly repressive tool turned in her hand. Sure as eggs is eggs the national curriculum was taken over by the educational establishment, made monstrously detailed, and suffused with its values. Thatcher herself later admitted that the nationalisation of the curriculum was one of her biggest mistakes.

Time went on. Maggie went, the Conservatives went, Scotland was devolved. The idea of a national curriculum stayed.

And because of that if this proposal comes to pass it won't just affect a few of the most faddish Scottish schools. History will be shunted to the sidelines in schools all over Scotland.

UPDATE: Stop the presses! Mrs Thatcher not to blame after all! Andy of Don't Hold Your Breath writes:

I was interested to read your comments on teaching history in Scotland on your blog.

However, I think it's worth pointing out that the National Curriculum has nothing to do with Scotland. Scotland has always had an education system separate from England and Wales, and has no national curriculum. Thatcher's reforms only applied to England and Wales.

I hope that's of interest.
It is. But I take it there is some sort of Scottish national curriculum, or else how come the views of the Education Minister of the Scottish Executive carry any weight? The news story I quoted did not gave me the impression that Mr Peacock's "radical review of the curriculum" was purely advisory.

Sticking with the subject of education, having taken a look at his blog I am happy to say that Andy's views on truancy are sound:

In my experience (and I did go to school, so this is not some airy-fairy theoretical analysis based on consumer utility functions and labour supply curves), the pupils most likely to play truant were the same pupils who, when present, would be most likely to knife the teacher. A class full of truants is, when the truants are doing their truanting, a peaceful class. When the truants weren't there, we would discover that the teacher would often have interesting things to say. I am firmly in favour of truancy. It is a much under-rated educational innovation.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005
(A) Legislative Creep. On the Adam Smith blog Tim Worstall warns that Blair hasn't even unwrapped his shiny new anti-terrorism powers yet and already he wants to use them to go after not terrorists but pimps and Yardies. Worstall writes:
Quite seriously the Prime Minister has proposed that the law should be changed so that every suspected pimp in the country can, at the instigation of the police, be locked up for three months without being charged or convicted of anything. Again, you may say this is just fine, exactly what they deserve. But what happens when there's another crime that the new law is applied to? Tax dodging? Dangerous driving (which after all kills far more than terrorism or drugs each year)?

He [Blair] told the Sunday Telegraph: "I don't think you can deal with crime in the way we used to deal with it."

"The way we used to deal with it" was successfully. Part of the reason for this success was that the generality of policemen, politicians and ordinary people gave their proud consent to the rule of law. Once that rule ceases to apply to anybody it ceases to apply to anybody.

Random thoughts (on the Sowell model)

I like cheese.

Expect to hear a lot about how the French riots are a result of their policy of laïcité or secularism - refusing to label a French citizen with any other category than "French". There will be many calls to get down to the work of giving everyone a religious or ethnic group tag so that an army of survey takers, equal opportunities trainers, race equality officers and lawyers specialising in discrimination cases can get to work - and get work.

The tranzis claim that they are deeply attached to laïcité. I doubt this is anything more than a bargaining ploy - all that stuff is too much wrapped up with embarrassing Gaullism and La Republique and those diagonal tricoloured sashes that French mayors wear to appeal to a modern European. They just say they like it in order to pretend they are giving up something of value in exchange for not having their cars burnt. Anything rather than give up something they really value, such as the European Social Model.

When exchanging beads for Manhattan one pretends to value the beads.

It's not jobs for the racism co-dependents that France needs, it's jobs for the fighting cocks - the young men on the dole who take on the role of warrior to give their lives meaning.

I am a wikid woman.

Only one-third of Britons see benefit in continued EU membership, says the Eurobarometer survey as reported by Fraser Nelson in The Business.

Unfortunately every time I try to call up the PDF of the Eurobarometer survey it gets stuck on "2 items remaining", so I can't read it. I'll have to go on the Business article and this post in EU Referendum (which is where I got the story). Richard North comments:

For the Tory leadership contest, the report has some considerable significance. Compared with the tentative steps suggested by the candidates to effect a selective withdrawal from the EU, the survey shows that public opinion is way ahead of what is on offer. Arguably, the two Davids are misreading public opinion and risk missing the boat.

Anything that brings the day we get out of the swamp closer is good news, including evidence that might convince politicians that getting out is good politics. However the survey does not, alas, give me the impression of either a Europe, or even a Britain, of suppressed free marketeers and liberal internationalists. Um, nooo. One of the paradoxes of debate about the EU is activists for withdrawal are usually far less prone to security-blanket nationalism than the general public.

Although The Business says:

The survey had much to support Blair’s theory that voters are ripe for liberalism. Of all various words tested, “monopoly” solicited the most hostile reaction (69%). Next came “protectionism” (49%) and then “globalisation” (46%). Concern for unemployment was he highest in its 30-year history. Some 47% of respondents said the EU should prioritise fighting unemployment. Blair wants the EU to liberalise to meet this goal.
I fear that the first and last sentences of the paragraph above are wishful thinking on the part of The Business. Hostility to the word "Monopoly" may signal hostility to corporatism, rent-seeking and big business in bed with the State to the sophisticated writers of business-oriented journals but to most people it signals hostility to capitalism; hostility to "globalisation" needs no further explanation; and I have a feeling that when they say the EU should prioritise fighting unemployment they are more likely to mean the introduction of a compulsory 35 hour week than its abolition.

Still, it was nice to see "protectionism" in the list of hostility-arousing words. I wish I knew the overlap between those respondents who didn't like protectionism and those who didn't like globalisation. If large, it means there are a lot of idiots out there who oppose globalisation in the same way that Defoe said the country fellows of his time opposed popery - without knowing whether popery was a man or a horse. If the overlap is low it tells me that there are some right-minded and some wrong-minded folk: a more optimistic scenario. However this next set of figures from Eurobarometer did not dispel my gloomy feeling that the ideology that will really capture the hearts of Europeans is one that will allow them to support both Naomi Klein and Jean-Marie Le Pen:

The 440-page Eurobarometer report offers several other insights on the EU, especially the growing hostility towards the United States, which a majority of 55% consider to be a “negative force” for peace. Only 25% consider it a “positive force”. Britain is found to be little different, with 47% seeing the US as a negative force, and only 23% disagreeing.
Seeing or not seeing the US as a "positive force for peace" is code for "Do you support the Iraq war?" While I am sorry to see so many of my countrymen would prefer tyrants to stay in power, I suspect this opposition does not, especially in Britain, translate into growing hostility to the United States per se.

(Tried to see the actual survey again. Nope. Still jams up.)

Never mind, never mind. Dank November it may be, but Spring is in the air when I read words such as these:

Particular dismay with the EU was found in Britain, where a majority – 42% to 40% – believe the UK has not benefited from its 30-year membership and only 36% of those questioned considered membership “a good thing”.

Of the 25 members, only 10 countries say they have a “positive image” of the EU. Again, Britain is at the bottom of this poll, with only 28% regarding Brussels in a positive light. Ireland records the highest satisfaction, with 68%.

All 10 new EU members are shown to be going cold on the euro, with a marked drop in those believing it would be good for their countries, the fugures falling to 38%, from 44% and interest in the single currency is now a minority issue, at 48%.

Monday, November 07, 2005
Britblog roundup! Also I gotta gotta gotta buy Tim's book and put myself in that wiki thing. Trouble is, no kidding, I hate doing things online that I don't know exactly how to do.

Here is an admirable post on the French riots from Helen Szamuely at Albion's Seedlings. She bounces her ideas off a much-linked column by Francis Fukuyama that places some of the roots of Islamofascism in Western Europe. Among many other things she argues that because national European identities "cannot be articulated [at least not by European governments - NS] they cannot be offered to those at the margins of society."

I am more in agreement with Helen Szamuely's post than with that of her fellow Albion's Seedlings contributor Verity just below it, but read Verity's post too.

Verity also comments on this Samizdata post that quotes this post of mine from Friday in which I said, "One way in which consensus opinion changes is when scattered individuals become aware that many others share their opinions." (I hope you are taking notes, as there will be a test on who said what after class.)

I saw the post I made on Friday as being more a tentative sociological observation about the way the average tone of comments to the BBC changed (when what had been an editor-selected "letters to the editor" page became a forum) than an endorsement of the majority opinion on the forum. In fact I do endorse the majority opinion that the grievances of the rioters do not justify riots, but I didn't do it there. What led me to post that time was the possibility that the BBC might be educated about its audience - and its audience be educated about itself - by means of the change to a more open forum.

A legal penumbra. The New York Times has every right to its opinion that Samuel A. Alito is not its choice for the US Supreme Court. However the reasons NYT writers Adam Liptak and Jonathan Glater give for this view come close to saying that Judge Alito is bad because he does not find for the right sort of people often enough:
Judge Alito dissented more than 60 times, often taking issue with decisions that sided with criminal defendants, prisoners and immigrants.

He frequently voted in favor of the government and corporations in these dissents. He generally deferred to what he called the good faith judgments of other participants in the justice system, including police officers, prosecutors, prison wardens, trial judges and juries.

This passage was among those highlighted by Bilious Young Fogey in a fisking of the NYT article called Law-Lite. As usual, one reason that I liked the post was that it said exactly what I had been thinking vaguely.

You will note that I said the reasons Liptak and Glater give "come close" to what I called a legally indefensible view, namely that judges should be swayed for or against a particular plaintiff or defendant because he, she or they belong to some category liked or disliked on political grounds. Some readers may think my vague "come close" is a smear. Anyone's defensible opinions, these readers may say, might "come close" to other indefensible opinions.

But I don't think it is a smear. I think I am unavoidably vague because the thing I am criticising is deliberately vague. I really don't like the way they say, "He frequently voted in favor of the government and corporations" or the mention of immigrants in the paragraph above. What's that all for, if not to trigger certain political neurons in the minds of NYT readers? If the New York Times thinks that Alito has violated his oath of office by letting prejudice against immigrants or a wish to curry favour with the government or corporations affect his decisions, then come out and say it. The NYT just hints it. Incidentally, one can tell that the Times itself thought this was an important factor by the tag line it uses to encourage online readers to go ahead and access the article.

Continuing the theme of legal exactitude, elsewhere in his post the Fogey commented:

"Deciding properly does not mean reversing the decision, and it certainly does not mean imposing the court's own decision. Once again, pretty basic and mainstream stuff, unless you happen to believe that unelected judges should usurp the functions of all other arms of government.

There were aspects that I did like to Liptak and Glater's article. For instance,
Judge Alito was appointed by the first President Bush. Academic studies of dissenting opinions generally predict that judges appointed by Republican presidents will dissent more often in cases in which both of the other judges on three-judge panels were appointed by Democratic presidents.

But Judge Alito does not follow that pattern: he dissented in 4 cases in which both of the other judges were appointed by Democrats and in 26 in which they were both appointed by Republicans.
This factoid does contain real information that helps the reader to place Alito ideologically.

A scholar to the end. This Samizdata post by Findlay Dunachie on the subject of Trafalgar was the last he ever wrote. He knew that his life had only days to run when he wrote it. Read these words of farewell from Brian Micklethwait - and then, taking your time, peruse the "book reviews" category of Samizdata (Findlay Dunachie wrote most of them) and learn much.

Saturday, November 05, 2005
Trick or penny for the guy? Post about Halloween versus Bonfire Night over at Biased BBC.

Friday, November 04, 2005
Italians have demonstrated against the Iranian president's threats to Israel. I started to chug my way through what I thought was an account of the demonstration in La Repubblica:
Together. For the first time, mixed up under the banner "Ahmadinejad proposes: shall we erase Israel?" The "No" - written in three dimensional [?] letters will be bipartisan. To articulate it this evening, illuminated by five thousand torches in front of the Iranian embassy in Rome, there will be...

Then it belatedly dawned on me that the report was in the future tense and was written to explain what was due to happen that evening. Never mind. It said that half the Berlusconi government, opposition parties, trade unionists, a delegation of ex-deportees, and Jewish and Muslim community leaders would be present to demonstrate contro l'odio, "against hate". And so they were, and so they did.

Michael Leeden writes on the same topic, and in English so it's easier for me. Note the name of Magdi Allam, the Muslim deputy editor of the Corriere della Sera. I will try to make my next attempt at translation from Italian the editorial quoted by Leeden, in which Allam argues that if the Muslim world had recognised Israel's right to exist the Palestinians would have their state by now.

Is this reaction to the French riots typical? I found out about this one from "Ritter" in the Biased BBC comments. The "underprivileged youth" angle that the BBC took regarding the riots was predictable, but of equal interest to me was the very different reaction from readers of the BBC website.

Some background: the BBC website's Have Your Say feature, which used to function like a newspaper letters column, has now moved over to a forum structure. Readers can send in comments and recommend those of other people. My impression is that now that the published comments are no longer selected by editors (although they are still moderated) their average character has changed.

When arranged in order of numbers of recommendations, the most recommended comments were overwhelmingly hostile to the rioters.

I am well aware that comments fora can become skewed by a vociferous minority. (This is not necessarily good or bad in itself - that all depends on the minority concerned.) This is particularly true when the forum is fairly new and may not yet have been discovered by a wider public. Another reason for questioning whether this response is typical is that being in English it will be skewed towards Anglophone respondents. There were quite a few Americans comparing, some with good grace and some with ill, the French view of the exaggerated accounts of mayhem in New Orleans with last week's hitherto downplayed events in France. Furthermore it seems likely that more white than North African-descended Frenchmen and women will speak English well enough to wish to comment to the BBC.

All good reason to wonder it if means anything at all. And yet ... just look how far you have to read before you come to any suggestion that the grievances of the rioters justify riots. One way in which consensus opinion changes is when scattered individuals become aware that many others share their opinions.

UPDATE 7 NOV: Also see this post.

Thursday, November 03, 2005
Jim Miller:
And Americans should take no satisfaction in the French predicament, for there are close parallels here to all these phenomena. We learned the hard way that, first of all, our cities need law and order and that talk and dialog must wait until riots have been suppressed. We have learned, also the hard way, that welfare corrupts those who receive it. But we have still to grasp the danger of that combination of Islam and crime that afflicts France — and is beginning to appear here.
And here.

That was from yesterday. In today's post he links to an account by Viking Observer of similar riots in Denmark.

I liked the urbane reply that commenter "zeppenwolf" made to an inflammatory remark by "CP".

Squander Two writes:
Self-antonym"? Wouldn't "synantonym" be better? You probably have readers fluent in Greek who can point out what's wrong with that, but, damn it, it sounds better.
I could tell you more news too : Marullus and Flavius, for pulling scarfs off Caesar's images, are put to silence.

Incidentally, if you follow that Squander Two link instead of just gawping you can read about an entertaining nutter who thinks he is God. (The nutter is not Squander Two, I hasten to add for the benefit of anyone who still hasn't clicked the link. As I recall S2 is an atheist even when contemplating himself, a rare thing among bloggers.) Anyway, the divine Mr Christopher Roller is suing David Blaine and David Copperfield for siphoning off his godly powers.

"Making it real" doesn't always help. This post from Joanne Jacobs links to a report in Science Daily that says students were
"more successful in applying what they learned to new situations when they were taught with abstract symbols rather than concrete objects." In one of the experiments the subjects "were separated into four groups, each of which learned from a different set of symbols, from very abstract and simple to intricate photos of real objects. In general, even though the learned material was otherwise identical, students who used the most intricate, concrete symbols did poorer on testing than those who learned using the most simple, abstract symbols."

The report suggests that the almost instinctive educational practice of helping children understand by making the abstract more concrete or "human" might not be such a good idea after all. However one of Joanne's commenters makes the good point that the subjects for the experiment were college students, and things might be different for young children.

Yet I must say that as soon as I saw Joanne's headline, it seemed intuitively convincing (with caveats, including the distinction between younger and older learners). The whole usefulness of numbers comes from their being abstract. We are intrigued by but do not envy the pointillist vision of the man described in Borges' Funes the Memorious.

In place of seven thousand thirteen, he would say (for example) Máximo Perez; in place of seven thousand fourteen, The Train; other numbers were Luis Melián Lafinur, Olimar, Brimstone, Clubs, The Whale, Gas, The Cauldron, Napoleon, Agustín de Vedia. In lieu of five hundred, he would say nine. Each word had a particular sign, a species of mark; the last were very complicated. . . . I attempted to explain that this rhapsody of unconnected terms was precisely the contrary of a system of enumeration. I said that to say three hundred and sixty-five was to say three hundreds, six tens, five units: an analysis which does not exist in such numbers as The Negro Timoteo or The Flesh Blanket. Funes did not understand me, or did not wish to understand me.

Locke, in the seventeenth century, postulated (and rejected) an impossible idiom in which each individual object, each stone, each bird and branch had an individual name; Funes had once projected an analogous idiom, but he had renounced it as being too general, too ambiguous. In effect, Funes not only remembered every leaf on every tree of every wood, but even every one of the times he had perceived or imagined it.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005
In, out, in, out, you shake it all about. A private and very cynical act led to David Blunkett's second resignation, says Stephen Pollard. I can't keep track of the whether Blunkett is in the Cabinet or out of it any more. And the man seems to have given himself over to women in nightclubs and to have a positive obsession with DNA testing. What is Tony Blair running, a government or a round of the hokey-cokey?

Poor old Mandy must be asking himself if his European job is safe.

"A public but not a cynical act" was how I described Nelson's last prayer in this post. In this Samizdata review of several books on naval history in the time of Trafalgar, Findlay Dunachie discusses Nelson's paradoxical character. He quotes an extract from an account by the Duke of Wellington (as he then wasn't) of his only meeting with the other great British commander of the Napoleonic wars, a meeting that happened by chance in a waiting room of the old Colonial Office in Downing Street...
He entered at once into conversation with me, if I can call it conversation, for it was all on his side, and all about himself, and, really, in a style as to surprise and almost disgust me. I suppose something I happened to say may have made him guess that I was somebody,
"I happened to say," indeed! I yield to few in my admiration for the old buzzard, but he cannot seriously have expected anyone to believe that Arthur Wellesley would let any man alive go long under the misapprehension that he was not somebody. But we were talking about the Admiral rather than the future Duke. Wellington's description of his meeting with Nelson continues:
and he went out of the room for a moment, I have no doubt to ask the office-keeper who I was, for when he came back he was altogether a different man, both in manner and matter. All I had thought was a charlatan style had vanished, and he talked of the state of this country and of the aspect and probabilities of affairs on the Continent with a good sense, and a knowledge of subjects both at home and abroad, that surprised me equally and more agreeably than the first part of our interview had done; in fact he talked like an officer and a statesman.

Brian Micklethwait's site seems to be only intermittently available at the moment, but it is worth your while to keep trying. He recasts Nelson's instant transformation in modern terms.

Tony Blair is a lot more like Nelson than like Wellington.

Yes, I'm going to try to pull modern politics into it. Lightly, dear friends, only lightly. Napoleon was only somewhat like Saddam Hussein. They had being vicious, blood-soaked tyrants who got a ridiculously good press in common, but Napoleon's relatives whom he raised to brief power were a lot nicer than Saddam's. (Poor Joseph Bonaparte, who would have liked to have been a reforming monarch, died an exile in the States, but he did get to see the Jersey Devil before his time was up. Not everyone can say that they have been King of Spain and seen the Jersey Devil. Uday never managed it.)

There are better parallels with the modern day when one looks at the eloquent revolutionary aristocrats who gave Napoleon that ridiculously good press and who have had a ridiculously good press themselves. Call yourself a radical and you can get away with anything.

I dunno. Perhaps I am making the same mistake that Findlay Dunachie indentifies in one of the books he reviews. Some writers at the start of the twenty-first century unconsciously try to pull people living at the start of the nineteenth century into a very twentieth century pattern.

Nicolson [one of the authors reviewed] ignores upper-class "Napoleonists", such as the Hollands, Fox, Whitbread, Byron et al, but makes much of ineffective proletarian unrest, to some extent fuelled by millenarian fantasies. Unmentioned are the Christian Evangelicals, more middle and upper class, a far more sober lot, the founders of what became Victorian morality, concerned rather with individual than mass behaviour, their social goals piecemeal, such as the abolition of the slave trade and boy chimney-sweeps and other ameliorations, rather than utopian. But religion seems to be rather marginalized in historical studies, perhaps as an unacknowledged, or even unconscious legacy of Marxism, whose believers could not credit that people meant what they said, but were "really" motivated by other, economic reasons.

Perry de Havilland rang to remind me that my secret child is four years old today. His own offspring (and mine, although that child has many parents) is also four today.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005
Up to the minute news commentary can be found elsewhere. I have up to the century news commentary. Nearly. Around the middle of the last century - 1944 to be precise - the Directorate of Army Education published the following work:

The British Way and Purpose
Consolidated Edition of B.W.P. Booklets 1-18

Appendices of Documents
of Post-War Reconstruction

In these days of rediscovered official interest in promoting an ideal of Britishness, it seems appropriate to see how our grandfathers tackled the job. All human life is in there, from "You and The Empire" to whether separate sculleries are a good idea. More on this illuminating book in future posts. Some of it is tosh, some of it is splendid and some of it is splendid tosh.

As is usual when I get back from being away I have a pile hundreds of electrons thick of individually fascinating but collectively intimidating emails. One reader says she likes my blog and can show me images of herself and her friends having fun. Thank you, dear lady, but I must decline. By the way, despite your familiar greeting, I must state that I do not recall ever making your acquaintance.

But there were several emails from people I genuinely did know (even if only internetally) on the subject of self-antonyms. (I knew that word really.) One reader writes:

I see you've discovered self-antonyms, a word type I've tried to collect but have found only a few examples. One you might particularly like is the verb "dust", which means both "remove small particles" and "add small particles". One might also consider "bad", which now also means "good" in certain slang dialects, but I don't think the usage is sufficiently common.

An archaic choice is "let", which used to mean "hinder" as well as "permit", although the former has fallen in to disuse.
Not entirely into disuse. My proper blue British passport with its reassuringly stiff cover may have been replaced by a floppy, burgundy-coloured (how suitable those two adjectives are) euro pseudopass but the inside front cover still contains, if only in mockery, the following words:
Her Britannic Majesty's Secretary of State Requests and requires in the Name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance, and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.
I don't know whether Michael Greenspan (who gave his address as "Bronx, NY, The Colonies") knew that I had to be afforded assistance because my passport says so, or whether he just wrote out of the goodness of his heart, but he too has a self-antonym to add to my collection. He wrote:
"Possessed." It can mean "calm" or "frenzied."
Now that I have been reminded of the word "self-antonym" I could just Google it. But I won't. That's cheating. I shall stand... fast.

No luck this year. My pumpkin patch was not quite sincere enough, evidently. Perhaps a little more existence would help.

It's odd to think that when I first read Charlie Brown cartoon books at the age of seven or so, I was equally ignorant of the customary vigil in honour of the Pumpkin and of the (now entirely Anglicized) practice of trick-or-treating. For a little while I was not clear whether either of these pieces of Americana existed outside the fictional Brown and Van Pelt households.