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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Tuesday, February 28, 2006
News? You want news as well? Sorry. There isn't any. The Times front page today was about fat kids. That's the modern equivalent of "Two of the clock and all's well."

I will now blame myself for every awful thing that does happen.

"Nanoscale replicators already exist." Our other debate was on nanotechnology. Kent Peterson does not agree with JEM's views as expressed in the second half of this email.

Mr Peterson writes:
Nanoscale replicators already exist. The surface of this planet is thoroughly infested with them, the oceans are soggy with their gunk, and their byproducts have effected permanent changes to the climate. They accomplish surprising tasks in timeframes of a few days. That reference to geological timescales is just completely wrong.

The existing models are not necessarily the only way to build nanoreplicators - radically different styles with designs focused on accomplishing specific tasks instead of reproduction may be (probably are) possible; no one knows because no one's had reason or ability to try yet - but they do prove the basic concept can be done, and if nothing else, modifications to the existing plans with specific goals in mind will yield surprising results.

[Because this email was fairly short I left it on the main blog. Why, oh why, does Blogger oblige me to manually remove every line break if I try to post some emails? It happens for about 40% of the emails I get. If the answer is at all complicated, kindly regard the question as rhetorical.]

Strange to think that when Johnson was writing there would have been nothing unusual about meeting people who remembered being a slave.

Regular readers will be aware that several of my regular correspondents have been continuing a debate here on what factor killed slavery - was it moral decisions, or economic and technological developments?

I have three emails from readers that I think you will enjoy. However, as these mega-debates can rather break up the flow of the blog, I have dug out the password to my old Tripod website and re-invented it as "Natalie Solent Extra." It now has a page called

Some sample paragraphs to tempt you in.

ARC writes:

France and Britain were not the areas worst affected by the black death even in Europe, still less in the world. Italy and the Byzantine empire were worse affected in Europe. That they had more and larger cities at that time may have been a factor. Another was the greater speed and volume of maritime communications in the Mediterranean; it's a commonplace of epidemiology that epidemics tend to strike hard along lines of communication.

JEM writes (under a most apt title):

Excepting Blitzkrieg-like situations--Germany's invasions of Poland, France, etc., Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, and similar events-- what seems to decide the outcome of longer wars--at least conventional ones--is ultimately the relative economic strength of the two sides.

In the case of the American Civil War, in these terms the Confederacy really hadn't a chance against the North. And despite what "Time on the Cross" may say, an important part of this was due to slavery, as we can show ...

And Jim Miller writes:
So it [manumission] was rare, but not as rare as winning a lottery. And, since it was cumulative, over 20 years, assuming the 1850 rate is typical, a little less than one percent would have gained freedom, either through grants or their own work.

"Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man." Via Mitch Townsend in Chicago Boyz I found this astonishing story from close to a hundred years ago, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. My eyes slid past the part where Mitch Townsend said it was a piece of fiction, so at first I thought it was fact. It is not, but it is still a fascinating document. The author was James Weldon Johnson, a major figure in the Harlem Rennaissance.

Even before I reached the note at the end saying it was a work of fiction, I began to feel that too much happened to the narrator to be entirely plausible, and too much of it seemed illustrated to make political points - albeit political points that desperately needed to be made. James Weldon Johnson was field secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and I assume that his work was written to advance that organisation's work. I don't know whether the Autobiography was initially presented as fact; but a great deal of fiction of that era was written in the first person and there would have been nothing unusual about something called "Autobiography of ..." being understood by all to be fiction.

Never mind. The Edwardian conventions (such as the treatment of the narrator's courtship, his marriage, and the eventual death of his wife) add to the interest. I found myself seeing the scenes described with three pairs of eyes, those of the narrator (a fair-skinned black man who could "pass" as white, at a time when almost imperceptible distinctions of skin colour regularly blighted lives), those of the author (an educated and politically aware black man writing at the nadir of black fortunes between the US Civil War and the Civil Rights movement) and my own.

While on the subject of that book, I would like to highlight a quote from it that is far from being the most important topic discussed, yet did grab my attention because of its prescience.

As yet, the Negroes themselves do not fully appreciate these old slave songs. The educated classes are rather ashamed of them, and prefer to sing hymns from books. This feeling is natural; they are still too close to the conditions under which the songs were produced; but the day will come when this slave music will be the most treasured heritage of the American Negro.
That was written in 1912.

Monday, February 27, 2006
Perfect, in its way. I commended this post by the American Expatriate over at B-BBC. Here I'd like to take a moment to admire the one comment it has garnered so far.

Anonymous said...

Too bad for the fetus-humpers' argument that there's no such thing as a "partial-birth abortion." It's called a D&X, and contrary to what the anti-choice crowd says, it's only ever done in the case of a severely deformed baby that wouldn't survive, such as an anencephalic one. And, contrary to the right's opinion that all women who have abortions are chyuld-hatin' sluts who go get scrapes as easily as they order takeout (I guess that includes their own womenfolk), any woman who has remained pregnant well into the ninth month obviously wanted a baby.

But, oh, that's right...gotta keep that sucker on life support at taxpayer expense for 20+ years until it expires on its own, because "GAWWWWWWD IS TEH AUUUUUTHOR OF LYYYYUFFFF!!!" Even if it doesn't have a brain. Well, I guess it could always go to work for NewsMax or WingNutDaily or something...

6:46 PM

Admit it. This one is a perfect ten.
  • It has the bizarre ("fetus-humpers'");
  • the illogical (five points for every reason why "any woman who has remained pregnant well into the ninth month obviously wanted a baby" might not always be true and extra points for reasons that are usually advanced by pro-choice activists);
  • the you-people-all-think generalization ("the right's opinion that all women who...");
  • the CAPITAL LETTERS often REPEEEEATED for subtle effect;
  • it features Disproof By I Don't Like Your Accent, in its even more refined version, Disproof By I Think I Wouldn't Like Your Accent If I Knew What It Sounded Like;
  • it has the off-target abuse, denouncing the ignorant religiosity of a man who has said, "when it comes to a divine being, I myself am a skeptic";
  • it has that elusive quality of irrelevance that marks the best internet discourse. Scott wrote about US legal history, our unknown hero saw "abortion" in there somewhere and let rip with a Pavlovian howl about the proper terminology for partial-birth abortion.
  • After all that it didn't even bother to explain what "D&X" was. (Dilation & Extraction, if you're interested.)
  • It even - oh, be still my beating heart, it even has the mention of WingNuts.
  • It employed all the aforementioned techniques in an apparent attempt to persuade right wingers and opponents of abortion to change their minds.

I had better not say what this piece from Dash Riprock is actually about. If you need to know you already do.
And so, our Eye wandered towards new projects. After sitting on the sidelines for a while, most of us were flush with new ideas, bubbling with excitement over the possibilities. After all, with unlimited funds, absolute control of the world media and every government on earth dancing like puppets on our strings, the problem was thinking up something we couldn't do.

We had gone through all the usual standbys - plagues, earthquakes, financial catastrophes - and were actually starting to get bored again when some guy in the back, who later turned out to be Brother Damien (sorry - "Dammann") just said quietly "cartoons." Well, you can imagine how well that went down with the other Brothers (I think the Velociraptor almost choked on his braised Christian baby shank), but eventually the room quieted down, and Damien laid out his plan.

Incidentally, guys, where's my cheque? I've given up on the satrapy now but I do need something to cover my expenses.

You lucky people. Via Britblog Roundup I found "Liberty? You have no idea how lucky you are," a post from deconstructing Tony Blair's article in the Observer.
The prime minister also seems to believe that liberty is a zero-sum game: you can’t have more of it, you can only shift it around. In his view, it’s all about achieving the right ‘balance’.

Waiting for a good time to speak. Certain European newspapers have put their British counterparts to shame by publishing The Cartoons. But the European Union, as represented by Freedom, Justice and Security Commissioner Franco Frattini, true to form, appeases.
It was 'unwise' for European papers to republish the cartoons just three days after the victory of the militant Islamist group Hamas in Palestinian elections and following recent remarks about Israel and the Holocaust by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
But don't get the impression that Mr Frattini is not in favour of free speech, no sir! In fact we learn that:
The former Italian foreign minister also made an impassioned plea for the right to free speech and expression, saying they were non-negotiable.
All Mr Frattini wishes to negotiate about is when would be a good time to exercise this non-negotiable right. We mustn't recklessly do it within days or months of anyone on earth doing anything fanatical.

EU Serf says that when free speech is threatened, that's when you must most defend it, stupid.

Surely the time when freedom to discuss the threat to our way of life from extremists is most important is when the threat seems to be growing. It is precisely because the Iranian President is a psychopath and The Palestinian Government is a group of terrorists, that this issue of free speech is so important.

Saturday, February 25, 2006
Planetary Autarky: Planetary Autocrat Annoying Old Guy responds.

I have a few good emails on that topic lined up. But transcribing them is too much like work for a Saturday.

You guys are an embarrassment even as enemies. Damian Penny links to a MEMRI translation of an the views of a "cultural advisor" to the Iranian education ministry. Professor Hasan Bolkhari thinks that Tom and Jerry was made by Walt Disney (!) as part of a Jewish conspiracy to improve the portrayal of mice.

As a commenter, Rick McGinnis, says:
I don't know what's worse - that a regime this ignorant very nearly has nukes, or that this sort of metastasized stupidity is what we have to fight. Or, worst of all, that it's actually possible to lose, in real world terms, against this sort of monstrous inanity.

Who are the masters, the bureaucrats or the electorate? Tim Worstall argues against the suspension from office of Ken Livingstone, a politician whom he "dislikes intensely".
Should Ken be suspended because he breached the "code of conduct"? No. There shouldn’t be such a code of conduct in the first place. That’s giving far too much power to the bureaucracy that writes said code and far too little to the people who are allowed to elect anyone they damn well please. "Allowed" may be too weak a word there.

Friday, February 24, 2006
"The limits are one's own integrity and one's own beliefs." The speaker is Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell. (Bush having relations with a camel symbolising Iraq, yes. The Prophet Mohammed, no.)

Let Mr Timothy Blair guide you through a garden of elevated sentiment, as (in Mr Blair's apt words), "British cartoonists reflect on their courage and decency."

Bush-friend Hughes: "A wonderful Führer." Davidsmedienkritik discusses what appear to be politically-motivated discrepancies beween the English and German versions of an interview in Der Spiegel with US Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes. The title of this post is the caption Der Spiegel gives to a photo of Hughes in the German version. The English version has a different photo and a different caption.

Some of the commenters say, hey, "Führer" is the German for leader.

So it is. I barely speak German but I know that much. And I also know that the German for "Der Spiegel respects its readers' intelligence" should be prounounced as "eye-ner grow-sir shy-sir."

UPDATE: Well, I was told it meant "a load of crap" and wasn't so bad in German. Rest of world: do not write in.

"I hope to God they all stay safe" - Damian Penny on Iraqi bloggers reporting the violence after the bomb at the Golden Mosque.

The tragedy is that if destroying shrines is what gives the destroyers what they want, they will do more of it.

Do I hear the dam breaking?

Logic Times quotes General Georges Sada, late of Saddam's army as saying that WMD were moved to Syria.

Pajamas Media has a whole WMD blog. I've never quite figured out - possibly because I have only given three seconds thought to the subject - how that PMJ aggregation thing works. Does a machine or a person select what goes in? However it works, the subject of WMD is probably an ideal one for the treatment. Having had their noses rubbed in their own mispredictions once, many people who are now beginning to think that WMD were there after all don't want to stand up on their ownsome and say so.

This cocky so and so Andrew McGuinness goes and recommends himself for the Britblog Roundup on the strength of this post. (Emphasis added.)
Therefore, the effect of this bill [the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act] is not absolutely to hand over legislative power to the executive; instead it is to give Parliament the same role as the European Parliament has in the EU - the role of an observer whose aquiescence, rather than approval, is needed for laws to be passed.

Indeed, the bill seems to model the government of Britain very closely on EU structures. The Law Commission takes on the law-drafting role of the European Commission, putting forward rules - through the Cabinet (like the European Council) - that automatically come into force unless prevented by Parliament. Anyone who thinks that Brussels is the ideal role model for structuring a democratic government should support this bill.

In the long run, the distinction between this bill and the Enabling Act is not likely to be very significant - a Parliament whose own law-making powers are stripped or made irrelevant is only likely to decline in authority, until occasional nuisance-value opposition to the government of the day is seen as a curious anachronism, and the last safeguards are removed.

See thou to it, Tim.

I've never seen the point of simpering, "Oh, this old thing?" when someone admires my dress at a party.

Gary Cruse of The Owner's Manual liked my Dorothy Parker joke.

You know what? So did I.

"Time on the Cross." As he promised, Jim Miller emailed me the summary of conclusions from a book called Time on the Cross by Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman
The following are some of the principal corrections of the traditional characterization of the slave economy:

1. Slavery was not a system irrationally kept in existence by plantation owners who failed to perceive or were indifferent to their best economic interests. The purchase of a slave was generally a highly profitable investment which yielded rates of return that compared favorably with the most outstanding investment opportunities in manufacturing.
2. The slave system was not economically moribund on the eve of the Civil War. There is no evidence that economic forces alone would have soon brought slavery to an end without the necessity of a war or some other form of political intervention. Quite the contrary; as the Civil War approached, slavery as an economic system was never stronger and the trend was toward even further entrenchment.
3. Slaveowners were not becoming pessimistic about the future of their system during the decade that preceded the Civil War. The rise of the secessionist movement coincided with a wave of optimism. On the eve of the Civil War, slaveholders anticipated an era of unprecedented prosperity.
4. Slave agriculture was not inefficient compared with free agriculture. Economies of large-scale operation, effective management, and intensive utilization of labor and capital made southern slave agriculture 35 percent more efficient than the northern system of family farming.
5. The typical slave field hand was not lazy, inept, and unproductive. On average he was harder-working and more efficient than his white counterpart.
6. The course of slavery in the cities does not prove that slavery was incompatible with an industrial system or that slaves were unable to cope with an industrial regimen. Slaves employed in industry compared favorably with free workers in diligence and efficiency. Far from declining, the demand for slaves was actually increasing more rapidly in urban areas than in the countryside.
7. The belief that slave-breeding, sexual exploitation, and promiscuity destroyed the black family is a myth. The family was the basic unit of social organization under slavery. It was to the economic interest of planters to encourage the stability of slave families and most of them did so. Most slave sales were either of whole families or of individuals who were at an age when it would have been normal for them to have left the family.
8. The material (not psychological) conditions of the lives of slaves compared favorably with those of free industrial workers. This is not to say that they were good by modern standards. It merely emphasizes the hard lot of all workers, free or slave, during the first half of the nineteenth century,
9. Slaves were exploited in the sense that part of the income which they produced was expropriated by their owners. However, the rate of expropriation was much lower than has generally been presumed. Over the course of his lifetime, the typical slave field hand received about 90 percent of the income he produced.
10. Far from stagnating, the economy of the antebellum South grew quite rapidly. Between 1840 and 1860, per capita income increased more rapidly in the South than in the rest of the nation. By 1860 the South attained a level of per capita income which was high by the standards of the time. Indeed, a country as advanced as Italy did not achieve the same level of per capita income until the eve of World War II.
Having sent me that, Jim Miller added a note of his own:
My own caveats: I am not an economist, much less a cliometrician, as Fogel and Engerman like to call themselves, so I can't easily judge the quality of their work. I do recall that "Time on the Cross" received enormous praise and criticism when it was first published. I haven't followed the controversy since the late 1970s, so I don't know the status of the debate.

That said, everything I know about the beginning of our Civil War is compatible with their conclusions. It is a fact that southerners, by and large, were quite positive about their prospects. In fact, one could argue that it was their surge in prosperity that made them risk seccession. And it may have been the growing belief that slavery would not vanish for economic reason that made opponents of slavery less willing to tolerate the "peculiar institution".

If Fogel and Engerman are correct, then economic explanations of the demise of slavery in the United States are nonsense -- though they may have become true eventually. Instead, what ended slavery was a change in beliefs, especially the changes in the beliefs of some denominations, such as the Quakers.

Like you, I don't want to believe their results. But I would add something you might like: Apparently the southern plantations got results from their slaves in part by using market incentives, principally cash bonuses and allotments of land. The cash bonuses were important enough so that [a] few slaves bought their own freedom. And a few men were even able to free their families with their earnings.

I found this review of Time on the Cross by Thomas Weiss informative. Some of the book's conclusions have been knocked awry, others remain standing.

All this remains quite a challenge to the views I expressed in a piece for Samizdata a while ago: Life is still tough for the owners of lazy slaves. In order to get to a certain conclusion about AIDS research I quoted Seneca and various Victorians to the effect that slave work was ill-done and inefficient. When visiting the antebellum South the British writer William Makepeace Thackeray said, "In a house where four servants would do with us ... there must be a dozen blacks here, and the work is not well done." When searching for quotes for that piece I found others I could have used as well. Such quotes are also evidence.

Well, I guess it's another book to add to my reading list.

Thursday, February 23, 2006
Huffing and puffing. The Times has a roundup of how politicians reacted to the Prince's letters.

Technically, I agree with the first few. Impartiality of Head of State, et yadda cetera. But c'mon. He wrote a few letters to ministers - who cares? Long ago I used to draft replies to certain letters sent to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, those that concerned our little tentacle of the Treasury's octopus-like body. It was always a pleasant break from real work. My boss would have a good loud laugh as he deleted all my best sarcastic quips, his boss would have a gentle chuckle as he deleted those few that my boss had left in, and no doubt the FST smiled slightly as he wrote out the insipid missive that was actually sent.

"Now these are the questions we want answered. It is important to remember that we need a technical / legal answer to these. A mere assurance that it wouldn't be used in a particular way is worthless."

Via Tim Worstall, who calls it the "Abolition of Parliament Bill", Right Links has a page you should visit regarding the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act.

Do more than just visit.

Squishy killer

Via Odious and Peculiar

Rather desperate. Bill Adams of Idler Yet examines a disingenous attempt by Tim Noah in Slate to claim that there is still room to doubt that the Rathergate documents were forgeries.

I watched that one unfold almost real-time, and feel a proprietorial interest.

Keith Windschuttle writes about the results of the intellectual fashion for Western self-loathing. Hat tip: Mark C at Daimnation.

Stand Well Back. Here is the email from JEM that I promised. I've added titles to each of the two sections for ease of reading. He is referring to this post.

The Auschwitz complex: a holocaust denier takes one part for the whole.

JEM writes:

"Before I move on to nanotechnology, I fear I cannot just "ignore the author's more outre political opinions" as you put it.

"He is almost but not quite denying the Holocaust. That cannot go unremarked, especially as his central piece of 'evidence' seems to be that there was no gas chamber at Auschwitz. It is clear that by 'Auschwitz' here he means Auschwitz-I, the main camp, where no Jews were kept prisoner and no mass exterminations took place. Prisoners there were mostly Poles and Russians, and it was a work camp. Many died--between 50,000 and 100,000, it is reckoned, but of starvation or illness or overwork rather than gassing.

"He concedes the possibility of gas chambers (as I understand his ramblings) at Birkenau, as if it was another camp far away and unconnected to Auschwitz. In fact, the full name of that camp was Auschwitz-Birkenau, and it was built specifically to be the extermination "department" within the whole Auschwitz complex. Four gas chamber and crematorium units were part of the design of this camp from day one (the engineering drawings and equipment procurement orders and construction contract paperwork is all preserved: these people were bureaucratic Germans, after all) and these facilities went into "business" as soon as the camp opened its doors in the spring of 1942. Exact numbers are not known, but it's now reckoned between 1 and 1.5 million Jews died in these "non-existent" gas chambers of Auschwitz.

"There was also an Auschwitz-III to provide slave labour for an IG Farben factory in the complex, but that was not an extermination camp either.

"I do agree that jailing holocaust deniers is counter-productive now. Yet I'm afraid it's difficult to avoid allowing Lyle Burkhead's more-than-just-outre views on this topic to colour one's views on what he says on other topics, but I will try.

Nanotech and the Second Law

"I think much of his reasoning on nanotechnology is interesting. Some of it may be wrong, other bits right. But he misses out on what I suspect is an even more fundamental flaw in the Drexler vision as set out in his "Engines of Creation", and indeed any other nanotechnological vision that comes anywhere close, including his own.

"It is the overlooking of (I almost hate to say this once more) the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

"One of the most fundamental problems facing chip designers today is keeping more and more densely built CPUs from melting. The reason they face this danger is that in the process of doing their calculations, they have to move electrons around, and like every other machine, the process is less than 100% efficient -- that's what the Second Law tells us is inevitable. The electrical energy that does not end up translated into repositioned electrons ends up as heat. This is a very serious difficulty and may well be what eventually brings Moore's Law to a stop.

"Now consider a nanoscale replicator, Drexlerian or not. Here we are moving around not electrons but entire atoms. Even a hydrogen atom, the lightest there is, has a mass roughly equivalent to one thousand electrons. But we would not be moving around hydrogen. Carbon (12 times the atomic mass of hydrogen), or silicon (28 times), or iron (56 times) or many other elements are vastly more likely candidates. So each individual nanoscale "operation" could be from 12,000 to 56,000 or more times more energy intensive than each individual electronic "operation" in a CPU. And assuredly the process would be less than 100% efficient.

"Thus, even if a nanoscale replicator were as efficient as a modern CPU, the energy required to run it at the same speed (in operations per second) as the CPU would be many thousands of times greater. Not a problem in itself, perhaps, but it's very doubtful it would be more efficient. So the waste heat would also be thousands of times greater.

"Such a machine would not be in danger of melting so much as exploding. Very violently too: more powerfully, mass-for-mass, than TNT.

"You might think to avoid this problem by running your replicator slowly. But there are going to be trillions upon trillons of "operations' to perform. To run slow enough to avoid explosion would, I suggest, have to be geologically slow. A few hundred thousand years to replicate a can of Diet Coke, say? Can you just hang on please?

"No, it's full-speed or not at all.

"Stand well back."

Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Tonstant Gardener Fwowed Up. The director Don Boyd is ever so cross that The Constant Gardner didn't get nice prizes! Nasty Americans got prizes instead.

"But as it came to its conclusion I realised what I had been seeing in microcosm: the triumph of American cultural imperialism. A sad reminder that we live in the modern equivalent of a Roman-occupied Britain."

"Deary me," says Stephen Pollard. All sympathy, him.

So sad. Yes, the dome can be rebuilt as the human lives destroyed by the same evil cannot be. But you don't have to be a Muslim, or even a theist, to feel the sacrilege.

When I said "getting back to the 'what killed slavery debate'" I didn't necessarily mean "everyone get back to the 'what killed slavery' debate." Apart from anything else there is a whopper email from JEM coming up on something else entirely! (Hint as to contents: I wondered why the name Lyle Burkhead, who wrote the 'Nanotechnology without Genies' piece quoted in a previous link was familiar, but just assumed it was part of the cloud of half-remembered names that buzz in my brain.)

You may have noticed that other people are writing my blog for me at the moment. Atishoo, atishoo, you get the idea.

No more of this isolationist nonsense! Doug Sundseth writes:
JEM wrote: "So long as humanity is confined to one planet, planetary autarky is economically feasible right now. In fact there is no alternative."

I submit that if we don't import quite a bit of energy from extra-terrestrial sources (well, at least one extraterrestrial source, anyway), it will presently become coolish. Now, I like winter as much as most people, but enough is enough. Let's have no more of this isolationist nonsense. 8-)

Getting back to the 'what killed slavery' debate, Jim Miller writes:
Natalie - I was following the discussion on your site for some time before I remembered that I have a pair of books that treat the question directly, Fogel and Engerman's "Time on the Cross". (The first volume has the exposition, the second the evidence and the math.) Here's the 4th conclusion (of ten) from the introduction to their economic study of slavery in the pre-Civil War American South:

"4. Slave agriculture was not inefficient when compared with free agriculture. Economies of large-scale operation, effective management, and intensive utilization of labor and capital made southern slave agriculture 35 percent more efficient than the northern system of family farming."

The books were terribly controversial when published in 1974. I don't know what the status of the debate is now.

I haven't seen this book, but I would guess that the apparent greater efficiency of slavery may have been an unsustainable effect of specific improvements.

The test that David Irving set me: do I really believe in the power of truth? There is a powerful article in today's Times by Daniel Finkelstein. "Must-read" is an overworked description, but you must read this.
Yesterday my mother told me of the day, as a young girl in Westerbork concentration camp, she said goodbye to her aunt and uncle and to her 14-year-old cousin, Fritz. These much-loved family members had been listed for the Tuesday transport train to Auschwitz. My mother still has the pitiful letter from her aunt promising that “we will meet again”. But, of course, they never did. David Irving presumably thinks that Fritz and his parents survived and are living in Israel. In which case, the joke is over: they can come back now, don’t you think?

With her own eyes, my mother saw Anne Frank arrive in Belsen (she knew the family), yet still Irving and people like him contend that Frank’s story is fake. And I have been to countless meetings, met dozens of people, who saw the Nazi crimes themselves, lost relatives, were scarred for life, only survived (as my mother did) because of unbelievable moments of good fortune.

It is difficult, even for me now, born in safety, free to bring up my sons as Jews, sitting at a desk typing my article in civilised Britain, it is difficult not to feel anger, rage at Irving. It is difficult not to wish him behind bars. And I do feel rage. But I do not wish him behind bars, not for giving his opinion, not for delivering a lecture, however warped and horrible his opinion is. I still believe in the power of truth. And my belief in truth is what separates me from Irving.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006
"Your children will have a library card that is close to the one the angels have in their wallets." When I saw it, this post from ChicagoBoyz in which Mitch Townsend remembers going to his local library as a kid, and discusses Coase, transaction costs and the joys of the internet seemed so relevant to the end of trade stuff that I marked it up. Maybe it isn't relevant. Read it anyway.

Food isn't free, hence neither is nanotech. Jamie Young also had thoughts on the End of Trade.
Dear Natalie,

You might be interested in this, given that you ran the 'end of Trade' post on your blog and like science fiction.

For the reasons why autarcky is unstable, even in a Drexlerian nanotech replicator world, see:

Nanotechnology without Genies

Ignore the author's more outre political opinions, it's an excellent rebuttal of 'Drexlerian' nanotech (as opposed to actual nanotech), and of the presumed 'post-scarcity' economy that would result. Remember - nanotech is just agri-business, and if food isn't free, why should the products of other forms of nanoscale-replicator manipulation be?

In the original. JEM writes:

You pays your money and takes your choice...


You know, the press release from the Abteilung für Bildung und
Wissenschaft would sound so much more impressive in the original.

So let's talk about Kindersministerin Beverley Hughes and her
Allgemeiner Fähigkeitskern und Wissenkern, and her
Kindereinsatzsgruppe Strategie.

Why not?

It must make about as much sense to the typical 'English' voter.

Of course it is a relief to see that this press release does not
apply to 'Scotland'. Presumably. Yet.

Today 'England', tomorrow the 'World'?


So long as humanity is confined to one planet, planetary autarky is
economically feasible right now. In fact there is no alternative.


On your experiences in France, the Bard has already said it all, as

... gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap while any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

I'm sure that's how you must have felt at the time. No?


Actually, I had a splendid time and everyone I met was very nice. You just didn't meet any people doing service jobs at odd hours.

UPDATE: I just had another grin at "planetary autarky is economically feasible right now", and thought I ought to record that fact.

This blow struck true. Amygdala writes:
I've despaired of hoping many bloggers will blog much on Darfur. It's only genocide.

If it's not of use as a political football, either against or for G. W. Bush, it's of insufficient concern to blog about. And if one's fellow pack-members aren't blogging about it, aren't swarming about it -- and there are no blog-swarms absent a news hook, or a created campaign (and mostly the latter don't work) -- it's not really news, anyway.

Bloggers aren't the least bit better than the dread "MSM" in their pack-journalism. If anything they're worse, save that there are more bloggers and thus more outliers. But if the leading blogs of Your Side aren't saying "this is important, here's the news, here's the outrage," few bloggers notice.

It's only genocide.

So, in my despair, I offer this.

Gary Farber then offers sample partisan reasons for pro- and anti- Bush bloggers and other political groups to mention Darfur.

As I've said before, despair is indeed the reason for silence. It's not just that there seems to be no partisan advantage in talking about it, it is that there seems to be no advantage full stop.

Normblog also posts on Darfur. If many people keep talking, keep thinking, maybe useful thoughts will come.

My hopes rose when I found a press release on the website of the Department for Education and Science that began
Children’s Minister Beverley Hughes today set out the next steps in delivering a world-class children’s workforce, including the development of an integrated qualifications framework.
At last! Get the little blighters out of the box and back to work as God intended. Have we not mines? Have we not chimneys? OK, fewer than we did in both cases, but still, a world-class children's workforce ought to be able to manage some job-sharing so that every child got to have a go.

The rest was a bit of a let down. For one thing it appears to be about social workers. For another it's in German. No, really. I can tell because all the nouns have capital letters. There's the Common Core of Skills and Knowledge, something called Options for Excellence, something else called the Children’s Workforce Strategy, the Early Years Professionals, and, most wondrously, the Transformation Fund that will transform the bog standard Early Years Professionals that appear throughout most of the document into the much classier Early Years' Professionals-with-an-apostrophe that appear once the Fund is mentioned.

The thing ends oddly.

This press notice relates to 'England'
Why the scare quotes?

The end of trade. AOG of Thought Mesh writes:
My recent post on the ChiComs dilemma of accepting destabilizing technology made me think more about autarky and interstellar trade (two things I am sure sprang in to your mind as well).
But of course.
As nano-tech advances and we become ever more a society which manufactures information while our robots deal with the physical world, the need for actual trade will decrease. At some point, probably within the next century, robotics and nanotech will be even cheaper than overseas sweatshops. This is bad enough for planetary trade (what happens to that when autarky becomes economically feasible?), but one wonders what exactly would be traded between star systems. One might say information, but if progress remains possible, I expect that a local star system would generate it about as fast it the society could handle it, the the limits would be the ability of the society to consume information, not acquire it.

Monday, February 20, 2006
So David Irving has been jailed. He should not have been.

I can see why laws against Holocaust denial in Germany and Austria seemed like a good idea to the occupying Allies in 1946. The metaphor I use is that of a man who has just managed to fight off a maniac. After a dreadful struggle the citizen has finally wrestled his assailant onto the floor and held him down. It must have seemed like madness to even consider letting him rise again.

I use that metaphor to understand the motivations of those who passed that law, not to say that they were correct. When I start to type the numerous reasons why Irving should not have been jailed a great weariness comes over me, but here they are again. Freedom of speech is indivisible: the fact that an odious man is free to say odious things protects those who wish to say things that are not odious but are unpopular. Lies should be fought with truth, not manacles. Once the precedent is set that wrong historical opinions can be criminalised, it becomes easier for the powerful to censor historical opinions that are inconvenient to them. Even where jail is never mentioned there will be a chilling effect on historical debate. Jailing Irving will make a martyr of him and give credence to his theories. Islamofascists will say that if Holocaust denial can be criminalised why not depiction of their prophet? Their fellow-travellers among the EU hierarchy will be happy, for their own reasons, to agree.

How ironic if the very forceps made ready to kill one evil ideology in the womb before it could be reborn to trouble Europe were to be used to assure a safe birthing into Europe for another.

Back from France, land of cheese, wine and self-service petrol pumps that don't like British credit cards. Heading back towards Calais early in the morning we thought it would be clever to get off the motorway and fill up cheaply at an Auchan in one of those industrial estates that my children think make up most of the French landscape. But the heirs of Citizen Chauvelin were wise to that one: not only did a little screen flash a message that our card was not acceptable, a robot speaker said it aloud as well, alerting any passing Frenchmen to our shame. They didn't have a human being at the kiosk because all the kiosk attendants were expelled from France in the great purge of 1292.

We were well used to having our weary feet turned away from French credit-card operated doors. At a late hour the previous night Formule 1 had declared the Solents unfit to enter. However this turned out to be because my husband had booked the wrong date. Ah, but then we were between two beautiful sheets! as the French really do say. Except that our problem was that we weren't. No chance of asking the concierge if they were really truly complet or just pretending because trying to type in "pretty please" to those machines doesn't work; they are as a class truculent and supercilious to a regrettable degree.

But we were not long dismayed. "Your father was a hamster and your mother smelt of elderberries," that is what we say to Formule 1. For down the road we discovered Mister Bed. By some mistake of officialdom there was a nice young man with a job in a little office by the door. Shall I say that he was of immigrant descent? Yes I shall. He sold us a room for not many francs, as I still like to call them, and all was well.

Thursday, February 09, 2006
After this I really am signing off. But this you had to see: Squander Two and Andy have some sewing news.

See you in two weeks.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006
The economics of slavery. PJ's email, which I reproduce below, is, I think, deliberately provocative but makes some good points. PJ writes:
"Maybe a little late in coming in on the end of slavery issue but:

"Think economics. Unless you're getting your slaves free as a by-product of war you either have to buy your slaves or breed them. Slaves are perishable goods and attract either considerable costs in transporting them to market or an acceptance that a high proportion will succumb on the journey and the survivors will be in poor condition.

"Breeding slaves, likewise, carries considerable overheads. Humans have small litters (ie usually1) after a relatively long gestation period followed by a lengthy maturation. In effect they don't reproduce much faster than the slaveholders. Nobody is going to get rich breeding slaves although a family might if the economics remained stable over a multi-generational timescale.

"All in all then, a strong slave is a considerable investment. And a considerable financial burden because slaves have to be fed, quartered and constrained irrespective of their productivity. If there's a slackening in demand for whatever they're being used for -say sugar or cotton production- the overheads don't go away. The slaves have to be looked after all the same. Selling's difficult because they'd be selling into a depressed market and if they're simply slaughtered then a replacement workforce is a couple of generations away. Slaves just can't compete with hired labour in anything else but a totally static economy. Hired labour requires no initial outlay, breeds itself, needs no guards and if no longer required, can be fired.

"Incidentally, don't confuse slaves with serfs. Serfdom was a response to the anarchy following the collapse of the Roman Empire and the serfs got as much out of it as the lords did. That's why so many freemen became serfs voluntarily. What's the point in raising crops and herds if the mob up the road can just come and take them away from you whenever they feel like it? Better to put yourself under the protection of the local hardman who'll keep them off of your back for a share of the produce. The going rate was about two fifths which, when you think of it, was a bit less than our government takes off of us in taxes.

"And what ended serfdom? Money. Feudal Europe had essentially no money supply and that produced some really weird economics. The local lord might have the income from all his lands but that income was made up of boon labour and crops and hides. Consume it or lose it. You get anomalies like the rent on an entire farm being 30 shillings per annum yet a meat pie in the town costing 3 pence. (1/120 if you've forgotten how pre-decimal coinage worked.) Enter capitalism and repeat last line of preceeding paragraph.

"Just one more shot at slavery. Slavery as the humanitarian alternative.

"If you're a community of people living an agricultural subsistance lifestyle things are damned precarious. Every year you get in just enough crops to carry you through to the next harvest. Now let's say you have a dispute with the bunch the other side of river. You have yourself a little war and by luck you win it. Now you've got yourself a bunch of prisoners and wounded. What do you do with them? You can't just let them go or they'll come back next year and do it all over again. You've got enough problems feeding yourselves, bearing in mind that you lost some of your workforce in the battle, so you can't just keep them penned up under guard. Best thing is to kill them and just to make sure of things you nip across the river and slit the throats of their women and children who'll be starving to death soon anyway. Tidiness is a virtue.

"There is an alternative. You make some fetters and you put them on the prisoners and their families and you put them to work. Now you've got enough labour to farm their lands as well as yours and even have a little surplus left over. So you get time to invent the wheel and writing.

"Oh and civilisation whilst you're about it. Return to start."

It's true that the Romans considered themselves enlightened because they enslaved their defeated enemies, rather than sacrifice them in the sacred groves as Arminius did to the legions of Varus.

But civilisation a result of slavery? Hmmm. I don't like that idea, but ... Discuss it among yourselves. I won't be blogging for the next couple of weeks.

Of some relevance to our current debate is the recent vote by the Church of England to apologise for the slave trade.

I can see why the Church of England ought to apologise for slavekeeping on the part of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, which I take from the context to have been an Anglican society. The article says:

The organisation owned the Codrington Plantation in Barbados, where slaves had the word "society" branded on their backs with a red-hot iron..."
The irony of a society obstensibly dedicated to spreading a gospel of "love thy neighbour" burning and mutilating its captives jars and should jar.

But the entire slave trade? Plenty of Anglicans were involved, it is true. Although there were also Anglicans who fought for its abolition, Nonconformists were more prominent in the abolitionist movement.

If it were the case that modern Anglicans tended towards complacency or denial about the evils of the slavery, then an apology would be a good thing. They don't, though. I haven't read a full account of this conference, so I might be wrong, but this is looking worryingly like just another example of Anglicans compulsively apologising for everything. Like, really everything. Dr Williams says:

"The body of Christ is not just a body that exists at any one time, it exists across history and we therefore share the shame and the sinfulness of our predecessors and part of what we can do, with them and for them in the body of Christ, is prayer for acknowledgement of the failure that is part of us not just of some distant 'them'."
I've met the idea before now that your sin "helps drive the nails into the body of Christ." More Catholic than Anglican, I'd have thought, and unfashionably intense - not that that has any bearing on whether it is true. But Dr Williams seems to be saying that your sin is shared by other people. Is this a carefully thought out doctrinal pronouncement on original sin, the sins of the fathers being visited on the sons, or some other issue that theologians debate - or is he just winging it? Could be either. The Archbishop is a genuinely clever and good man [UPDATE: now I've said that nice bit, don't start me on this because when I grind my teeth it gives me earache] who does not always think before he speaks.

[ADDED LATER: Since first pressing "publish" I have made several changes to the wording of this post to accomodate the fact that the more I thought about what the archbishop said, the more confused I got. The conference has focused on us inheriting the "the sinfulness of our predecessors" but the first part of the archbishop's forumulation does not privilege either direction of time. Our predecessors could equally well inherit our sin. Or could they? God outside time, I can go with that, but human action - including sin and repentance - does privilege later time over earlier time. As I said, I wish I knew whether what he said was at all thought out.]

Deep waters, Watson. I do hope it's clear that if we are to have this cross-temporal sharing of sin it must be universal. Otherwise it is going to pan out that the whites inherit the sins of all whites, which means the blacks inherit the sins of all blacks, and we're halfway back towards slavery being justified by the curse that Noah laid upon the descendants of Ham. I'm not happy about this focus on descendants. One has a feeling that the next step might be to start talking in terms of "bloodlines".

The debate heard from descendants of the slave trade including the Rev Nezlin Sterling, of Ealing, west London, who represents black churches. She told the synod that commemorations of the 200th anniversary would revive "painful issues and memories" for descendants.
No one now living remembers the enslavement of Africans by Europeans. Memories cannot be inherited.

How do you keep 'em down on the farm, after they've seen Paree? JEM writes:

"The deeper one look into this matter of the death of slavery, the more one sees that the reasons are complex, but nevertheless relate most clearly to matters of social change and economics rather than morality.

"And your readers have certainly presented some interesting new suggestions:

"(1) I don't like to do down my old sparring partner Jerry Pournelle, but horse collars? Well perhaps, but... It sounds good, except that when you stop to look you find they were invented in China about 100 BC without noticeable improvement in the conditions of slaves/serfs there, and had become pretty much universal in Europe by about the 8th century, which is far too soon to have ended slavery.

"What they DID do was make the proper agricultural development of what is now Germany possible, a task beyond Roman agricultural technology quite apart from their legions not being made welcome by the locals, as Publius Quinctilius Varus and the three legions he commanded found out the hard way at the Teutoburgerwaldschlacht (Battle of Teutoburg Forest) in 9 AD. Years later, Caesar Augustus would still call out in his sleep, "Quintili Vare, legiones redde!" ("Quinctilius Varus, bring back my legions!") Sorry; I digress.

"(2) General Sherman and the Royal Navy? They certainly had a lot to do with defeating the Confederacy, but that is not what we are discussing here. The US Civil War was part of the dying process of slavery, not the cause of it being doomed. The war may have speeded the end of slavery in the United States, but it would have happened eventually in any case. It, and Sherman, and the RN, were an effect and not a cause.

"And the story of the cotton mill is exactly in line with what I had said earlier; that in the first instance the industrial revolution may have lead to a temporary rise in the numbers of slaves, but in the end it did the opposite.

"(3) The Little Ice Age? This is more plausible. In fact it's very plausible; indeed I wish I'd thought of it first!

"Just a couple of caveats: I don't think the Little Ice Age came upon the world quite as suddenly as all that, although it did happen at the right time, and quickly. (So much for the contention that climate change today is too fast or too big to be natural; this 14th century climatic event was much faster, a greater change, and 100% natural.) And then, I don't quite see what the self-serving eating propensities of the New World had to do with the demise of Medieval European slavery/serfdom.

"So, on with the Black Death.

"First, a slight time-line adjustment, folks. On deeper investigation, it seems that in western Europe at least, the Black Death and the rise of modern banking and capitalism both came alone at about the same time, during the 14th century. Simultaneously England and France, the two nations worst-affected by the Black Death, (as I understand it: NOT the least, as ARC says) were engaged in the Hundred Years War at a time when the whole overpopulated region was in deep economic depression. What's more, government (to use the term loosely) restrictions on the export of basic foodstuffs like grain in response to the plague added famine to the rest of the depredations visited upon the population. (Here the official response was counter-productive in a manner not unlike the reactions of governments to the Wall Street Crash, which greatly deepened the subsequent Depression.) In the case of England, for example, it's known that at least half -- perhaps up to 60% -- of the population was wiped out by the Black Death alone. And now add in the Little Ice Age....

"All in all, not a fun time to be around. Yet in the end, and out of all this suffering, more hopeful developments emerged.

"The power of the Roman Catholic Church was greatly weakened, leading in the short term to anti-Jewish pogroms and attacks on unfortunates such as lepers accused of causing the plague, but in due course to the Renaissance (partly) and the Reformation.

"The feudal system collapsed. The Peasant's Revolt and similar unrest elsewhere in Europe were symptomatic of these problems, but in the end, at least in England, it was collapsing land prices and the soaring cost of labour that did the system in; it become just too expensive to keep people in serfdom. They could basically just walk away... "How do you keep 'em down on the farm, after they've seen Paree?"

"Meanwhile, in eastern Europe, the Black Death was not so severe, there was no current economic depression, and the powers-that-be increased the heavy hand of suppression upon the serfs. Indeed it took until the late 19th century for serfdom to be abolished in Russia, and many believe this different history had a lot to do with the relative backwardness of the region.

"In China, the Middle East, etc., the reaction seems to have been broadly similar to eastern Europe.

"So I suggest that a unique conjunction of events, especially in north-western Europe, brought about a different reaction to the Black Death from that experience elsewhere. Perhaps we should say the Black Death was the catalyst for changes that were possibly coming anyway for other reasons, as described above? Who knows?

"But whatever the cause, it clearly was nothing to do with an outbreak of moral rectitude. I think the evidence is that the asserted moral basis of the change, and even more of that around the Industrial Revolution are fine examples of non causa pro causa, a common logical fallacy defying the principle of causality. Understandable in these instances from their perspective, but false.

"Yet none of this should be taken to be a disparagement of morality, or moralist, or religion. It's just that they tend to be the followers of historical-moral events, not the leaders -- subject to fashion, like most of humanity*. Nor should it be seen to be in any way a moral defence of slavery. Certainly not; that is indefensible. But until James Watt's inspirational game of golf on Glasgow Green in 1765 it was economically inevitable. There will always be enough people out there who put profit before principle. - JEM."

JEM adds as a footnote:

*There's a wonderful future theme, Natalie : The impact of fashion on religion and morality in history.

Slavery killed slavery. Luke Lea writes:
"I know this may not make sense, but servitude killed servitude, at least in the West. Nietszche was right when he called Chrisianity a slave morality. But it was also a plan to escape from slavery by doubling the effort. Resist not evil, if a man steals your shoes, give him your shirt also, etc. Machines are of course what make us free because they do the work slaves used to do. But where do machines come from? From capital, which our ancestors quite literally dug out of the ground starting with their bare hands. This stuff -- most of it is stuff -- is the accummulated crime and sacrifice of centuries, plus interest. Or, if you prefer, it is a kind of stored servitude."

The cotton gin helped make slavery pay. Russ Kuykendall of Hamilton, Ontario (the Burkean Canuck) writes:

"In his History of the American People (pp. 307ff), Paul Johnson spends considerable time dispelling the myth that the Industrial Revolution ended slavery. Johnson points out that Eli Whitney's invention of the cotton gin -- a key invention of the early Industrial Revolution -- allowed for the processing of much larger quantities of cotton, and increased demand for production of cotton on the big plantations of the deep South in the U.S. This, in turn, led to a much higher demand for slaves on the cotton plantations. When the importation of slaves to the U.S. was banned even before the American civil war, demand was increasingly supplied by the tobacco plantations of Virginia. The "production" of slaves became so lucrative for the Virginia planters that they shifted their efforts to the despicable practice of breeding more and more slaves for the cotton plantations of Georgia, Alabama, and east Texas."

Tuesday, February 07, 2006
What ended slavery? The horse collar.

Tim Worstall writes:

"Re the earlier dying out of slavery in Europe. Jerry Pournelle (of all people) has pointed to the adoption of the horse collar. Pre such while horses were more productive than oxen and men in farming they ate just as much more. With the collar they were more productive per unit of food consumed as well. Thus horses replaced coerced labour in the fields.

"Not entirely sure that I have enough information to back that all up but that's as I remember it."

Tim's name at the base of the email reminds me that I clean forgot to flag up last Sunday's Britblog roundup, despite the fact that it had my ineffable wisdom in it. Not to mention other people's effable wisdom. Toffee Womble made a very good point about an entirely practical reason for the reluctance of the British press to print those cartoons, but Diamond Geezer ("This rather defeateth the point of the exercise thus far") was funnier.

What ended slavery? General Sherman and the Royal Navy.

A reader writes:

"Here is an awkward fact about slavery I picked up while at the University of Georgia, in Athens. Athens, GA is an old town, and had a fair amount of water-powered industry before the civil war. Howell Cobb, one of the great men of the Confederacy and secession lived there before the Civil War. He was freed up for public service when he inherited a failing plantation, and sent his (money-losing) slaves to work in a textile mill in Athens.

"The mill made tons of money. He bought more slaves, and leased them to the mill owner, a personal and political friend. Only the end of the war put an end to the arrangement. So dark satanic mills and the peculiar institution went together nicely. The university's data processing facility was in one of the old buildings, back in the days of punchcard computing.

"My personal observation--Sherman ended slavery, greatly helped by the Royal Navy, and British emancipation. Otherwise, it might have continued on for decades."

Monday, February 06, 2006
They said it for Nixon. I say it for Briffa. Four more years! Four more years!

Or was it the Little Ice Age? John Costello writes:

"If Serfdom in Europe was done away with by the Back Death, then Serfdom in Europe was done away with by the Little Ice Age. [This reads to me as if either "serfdom" or "Europe" in the second half of the sentence is a typo and should be replaced by something else. Nonetheless, John's argument is still quite clear - NS]

"The world's climate from around 200 BC to around 800 AD was similar to the 1950s'. Then came the Medieval Cliamactic Optimum, where the world's temperature rose about 2 degrees C. In the New World this led to the fall of Teotihuacan in the Valley of Mexico -- a high pressure zone kept the rains away, and the city of the gods died in warfare and cannibalism. The survivors moved north out of the Valley of Mexico and settled around Tula or Tollan (and became the Toltecs.) Although one suspects they were munching on each other well before then. In the Old World you Brits were growing grape wines in Northumberland. The architecture of the Medieval Castle came about -- not at all drafty, but rather airy towers. Oh yes, there would have been record harvests in Scandanavia, which caused a flood of Scandanavian tourists --the Vikings. Iceland and Greenland could be settled. In north Africa, the increased temperatures produced another high pressure zone over the Sahara which increased desertification (although the depredations of the Arabs didn't help.)

"Eight weeks after Easter in 1315 all this came to an end. Rain, murrains, famine, and physical exhaustion set the people of Europe up for the Black Death. The world's temperature dropped at least 4 degrees C. Charles II would later ice scate upon the frozen Thames and help found the Hudson's Bay Company because Europeans were freezing and needed furs to keep warm. It stayed cold until well into the 1880s.

"All this is well described in Brian Fagan's _The Little Ice Age._

"However, one must point out certain things. The Aztecs who resettled in the Valley of Mexico practiced human sacrfice, cannibalism, and slavery, and thought nothing at all wrong with it. The same climatic diasters that befell western europe affected Eastern Europe and Central Europe and they came very late to both the end of Serfdom and Capitalism.

"As a former anthropologist I trained in a field devoted to materialistic explanations for human behavior. I find such inadaquate. Ideas are just as real and as hardedged as any sword or cottin 'gin. Most of the time we can look at the diasters they produce -- Naziism and Marxism are two good examples, and I won't attract bombthrowers from the Religion of Peace to your site or by adding several others -- but they can have positive results as well. - John Costello"

"What killed slavery" - the debate so far, and one more from ARC.

I'm going to give this debate until midnight on Wednesday night (that's midnight Greenwich Mean Time), because I'm going away on Friday and I need to pack and stuff. OK?

To recap, as part of the big Science vs Religion debate, my correspondent ARC brought up the nineteenth century campaign against slavery as an example of a good thing motivated by religion. Then what had been a sub-debate took on a life of its own. (That's cool. What blogs are for.) My other correspondent, JEM, replied that the industrial revolution was real cause of slavery's demise. He added more here. Then ARC responded that slavery had already died out once in Christendom before the Industrial Revolution was ever thought of. By this time the Religion vs Science debate was officially over, but JEM took the What Killed Slavery debate one step further by discussing the role of capitalism and the Black Death.

Before I go any further, I'd just like to mention that I suspect that there is considerable overlap between all three* participants concerning the superior desirability and productivity of free markets. (I first got to read Milton Friedman's Free to Choose by borrowing ARC's copy some time in the mid-1980s.) I also suspect that there is less difference between ARC and JEM as to the order of events than they seem to perceive; I think they are talking at cross-purposes in a way that it would take too long to describe exactly. Can we all broadly agree that, although slavery in most of the world continued as it always had, strict slavery died out in Britain by the time of the Plantagenets, and serfdom was gone by the start of the Tudors, before (alas) restarting again once the enslavement of Africans became practical?

ARC apologised for giving his reply in a slightly bald bullet-point style. Then he said,

"- That slavery existed in areas not in significant contact with 1500s England is not relevant to my point.

"- Though one would not wish to be either, serfdom _is_ significantly different from slavery, but that's also irrelevant, mid-millenium England having eliminated both.)

"- Re the new argument: true, the black death had a great impact on the death of serfdom. However it was not worse in these islands than elsewhere - rather the reverse. Thus you must explain why it helped the cause of freedom sufficiently in England while leaving that cause in other massively-affected areas still needing more help.

"Suppose you grant that the black death had much to do with the fact that in the UK during the 1700s the idea of a society without slavery was the practical experience of ordinary people, and so left them free to see its existence elsewhere as an anomaly instead of as the norm. They still had the choice of whether to fight it or profit from it. Unless you go far down the path of denying free will in general, the fact that English people discovered (long before the industrial revolution) that a society without slavery was _possible_ does not force them to make a particular choice. It only gives them choices. - ARC."

*John Costello has also contributed. As soon as I do the Annoying Format Thing, you'll see his letter.

Police priorities, as described by Messrs Photoshop and Drinking from Home.

For those not up to speed with the nuances of modern British police practice, the news stories the picture is referring to are this one and this one.

"The defence of a free society is the defence of its procedures, not its output." Obviously the reason that I couldn't find the right words to express that thought was that Oliver Kamm had just found them.

I've posted that line as a Samizdata Quote of the Day, but here I will say a little more. Over the last few days I've often found myself wishing that in order to make its original point (the newspaper wished to publicise the way in which the threat of Muslim violence had made a publisher unable to find an illustrator willing to picture Mohammed for a factual book about the Islamic faith), Jyllands Posten had chosen merely to depict Mohammed in a naturalistic style, rather than mock him. How much easier the task of defenders of freedom of speech would be if we could concentrate on defending the right of non-Muslims to breach the Muslim taboo on representations of the prophet Mohammed without having to deal with the question of insult, too.

It seems that the original intention of Jyllands Posten was indeed to simply depict Mohammed. See this Q & A page from the BBC on the affair. I don't know how it ended up with mocking cartoons. One can imagine a junior employee being told to commission some quick pictures, getting his instructions garbled, and, er, starting something. Maybe the Danes sometimes use the word "cartoon" in a way that is closer to its original meaning than we do, and that caused an ambiguity.

[ADDED LATER: A post by Jim Miller reminds me that one of the cartoons was just a straight depiction.]

So I wish the cartoons had just been pictures. But that ain't the way the cookie crumbled. That should be no surprise: cookies tend not to crumble neatly. Over on this Crooked Timber thread I quoted Bernard Levin's clear-headed statement that it is those whose free speech is actually being attacked whose free speech rights must be defended. The Jyllands-Posten cartoonists are the ones in hiding. That is why their cartoons should be on the front page of every newspaper in the Western world.

One urgent reason for doing this is that every new paper that publishes the cartoons reduces the personal risk to the cartoonists and other staff of Jyllands-Posten.

A more fundamental reason is that the dangerous belief is spreading that free speech rights are all very well right up to the moment when you actually use them. When held by the people this belief is nonsensical. When held (or purported to be held) by the governing classes it is nonsensical and repressive. When enemies of freedom see that the governing classes spout this belief (whether sincerely or not) they will use it as a lever to end our liberties.

Saturday, February 04, 2006
We three kings of Orient are;
Bearing gifts we traverse afar,
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.

Star reporter of th'Independent
Fisk with royal beauty bright
Heart so bleeding, Bin Laden heeding
Guide us to thy pefect light

Born a King on Bethlehem's plain
Gold I bring to crown Him again
But I can't find Him, 'cos - Hell's bells!
Fiskie led me somewhere else.

- In his book The Great War for Civilisation, Robert Fisk placed Jesus' birthplace as Jerusalem.

Sheesh, anyone can make a mistake. Let's just be grateful that it was made by the seven-times winner of the British Press Award for International Journalist of the Year. If someone less deeply immersed in the history and culture of the peoples of the Middle East - George W. Bush, for instance - were to make such an error, the Independent would never let us hear the last of it.

(Via this review by Efraim Karsh, found via Instapundit. The original We Three Kings words and tune can be found here.)

On discussing this with a friend of mine, she reminded me that she had earlier suggested that maybe aliens were putting implants into the ear. I did not remember her saying this. Although it made sense - if they put them in the nose, why not in the ear?
(Found by Rob Hinkley and recorded in his Sporadic Chronicle.)

Friday, February 03, 2006
The Battle Cry of Freedom. As promised, JEM takes the debate on this blog about the industrial revolution and slavery forward another step. He writes:

"ARC thinks my industrial revolution explanation for the demise of slavery is chronologically impossible.

"The short answer is that ARC's thesis is even more chronologically impossible than mine, as after the supposed medieval end to the practice, it was still there hundreds of years later for the industrial revolution to terminate. In any case, the distinction between slavery and serfdom is more in the name than the actuality, at least so far as the serf/slave is concerned. And serfdom/slavery never died away among our Medieval African, Middle-eastern and Slav neighbours in any case -- all of whom we did indeed have considerable contact with. Incidentally, in these days Europe was not roughly comparable but far behind China in technology. And China did not lack serfs/slaves either.

"But the clincher is that the reason for the demise of serfdom at least in western Europe is well-known: it was the black death. That was the event that at the time, led to such a drastic shortage of labour and hence increase in its value that it made the medieval feudal system, with its serf-cum-slave based economy, untenable. Yet another example of an unintentional father of moral events, if I may say so.

"The black death, and then the industrial revolution: twice now, slavery has been destroyed by accident. The first time it was locally, the second it was ultimately globally or almost so.

"ARC mentions capitalism. I did not until now. But that is an interesting path not yet followed here: the place of capitalism and socialism in this matter. Not for nothing did Hayek call his classic work on the dangers of socialism, "The Road to Serfdom". You see, I would add as another unconscious nail in the coffin of slavery, the development after the black death of the first modern banking system, leading to accumulation of vast private and corporate wealth and the emergence of capitalism as we know it, leading in turn to the triangular trade...

"Let 'Lorenzo the Magnificent' be the Battle Cry of Freedom!

"But I did mention economics. The point of both the black death and the industrial revolution is that they caused slavery to cease to be economically viable. It is of course wrong to imagine that slavery is some sort of free good to the slave owner, any more than running an animal farm is cost-free to the farmer. Slavery died away when the cost of owning and feeding and housing and controlling and working a slave became more expensive than employing a free man or using a machine.

"It was and is as simple as that. Morality, I'm afraid, had nothing to do with it. That was bolted onto an inevitable event by immoral(?) moralists, quick to see an opportunity to make a fast morality buck... no, that's not fair either. They were simply reflecting the reality of the world they lived in. Morality, in this context, had become a sort of fungible good. - JEM."

'Let them google "luxury car" and the Chinese revolution will come.' I, like many other bloggers, have slagged off Google's decision to cooperate with the Chinese censors. Turkeyblog presents the contrary case very persuasively.
The Soviet Union didn't fall because people were angry that they couldn't read the Declaration of Independence. It fell because the people couldn't find decent food or housing but had been exposed to the idea of a world where these were plentiful. Where poor people often still had cars and everybody expected at least three choices of each item in the supermarket. Where rich people might be evil or terrible, but at least they didn't haul away your family and stuff in the dead of night (usually).
I can't go all the way with this. The... background knowledge? unstated premise? paradigm? that the principles behind the Declaration of Independence had something to do with all that abundance also played a role. Where people see the abundance without cottoning on to that paradigm, what you get is not liberation but envy. Nonetheless Mr Barto is on to something:
In every way, Google is about creating a world where the individual at the keyboard makes choices and comes to expect that the things he or she wants will at least in the internet domain probably be available. As I say, I don't care if you can't use Google in China to find out how bad the government is. If you can find out about the stuff Americans, Europeans and the Japanese take for granted, you can figure that out.
In a similar vein Brian Micklethwait argued that blogs allowed China to develop and celebrate a "private" tone of voice.

A rare and beautiful quality. The late Sir John Cowperthwaite was a man who did great good in the world by not messing about with things he did not understand.

"Arise, Sir Rowan, defender of our liberties." Unlikely, I grant you, at least while Mr Blair compiles the Honours List, but he'd deserve it better than three-quarters of those that get it.

Git your dirty gummint fingers off of Aye-ran's nukes!

- says CND.

Thursday, February 02, 2006
Test case. I push the uttermost limits of free speech over at Samizdata. Once I had thought of that post I felt compelled to write it.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water...

Norm of That Blog on the good and harm done by religion.

Sorry. Sorry. Couldn't stop myself. I'm off that stuff really, you know that.

But JEM says,

"The correspondence is closed." Accepted, in general.

But can I say more on slavery? Please? This is more interesting and fruitful as a discussion, don't you think? Science v religion debates never get anywhere as I'm sure you know, even if fun for a while.

Awww, since you asked so nicely...

JEM's email then goes on to offer some new arguments in that debate. I can't post them now because it would take too much time to do that annoying business with the lines and right now I have to surrender this computer to a rival user. But stay tuned.

Stakhanovite schools. Patrick Crozier has some thoughts about government lying about school league tables an' stuff. He writes:
  • This is just typical. The state is forever massaging the figures
  • This is a fudge on top of an existing fudge. Government exams have been getting easier for a long time
  • Mind you, you always have to be careful about what the statistics are measuring in the first place. GCSEs are not necessarily a good thing
  • If it were up to me I'd scrap GCSEs, the statistics and state education.

Read the rest. My thought: why am I not reading TheWelfareStateWe'reInBlog every day?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006
Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? (1 Corinthians 1: 20)

Not everybody's going to like that as a final word but it's my blog, so tough. "This correspondence," as the editor of the Times used to say, "is now closed."

Religion and Science reference post. The date on this is false. I have moved it a few days into the future so that it stays at the top. So keep scrolling down, there may be new stuff since you last looked.

[Added later: the debate having caught up with the "future", I've now put in a final CLEARANCE SALE, EVERYTHING MUST GO!!!! timestamp onto this reference post of one minute to midnight (GMT) on Wednesday 1 February. In the broader sense this debate will go on to until either the heat death of the universe or the Last Trump, but this corner of it will take a break at 11.59pm Wednesday. Getting this much mail is intimidating. I feel the need for less weighty thoughts. I shall, however, order What Is Good? from Amazon - but I'm hoping it mostly says, "Cheesecake."]

Professor Grayling's Times piece from Feb 2004, The Reason of Things.

My post from two days later, criticising it.

My Jan 2006 post containing Prof. Grayling's email that he sent me when a correspondent alerted him to my old post, and my thoughts in reply.

ARC on Gottglaubigers, and Burke's view that the perpetrators of evil use whatever pretext "sells" at that time.

"Massive and systematic falsity" - Prof Grayling's reply, which contains several points I'd like to take up later.

Reader A on question-begging the wrongness of religion as one its evils.

JEM on technology as the unintentional father of moral events (a quotable line!) and the industrial revolution as the cause of slavery's demise.

Reader B says history is everything that ever happened including unrecorded acts of religiously-inspired benevolence or forebearance.

The failure of religion to control evil is the root problem, Randy argues.

Moira Breen says that deleting religion won't debug human nature, and is concerned for my Martian readers.

There are yet more emails waiting in my in-box, but I haven't the time to post them now. Are you guys sure you wouldn't rather discuss Stressful Events in Sewing instead? The world has not yet heard the full truth about my upside-down net curtain.

Yet more added on 30 Jan, and more to come.

Two more from JEM, one answering a possible objection to his views of what ended slavery, and one replying to Reader B.

With only a few hours to go I have added a few more emails, including a big one from ARC. For some computer reason I cannot yet see my most recent posts on the web, even though I know from experience that most of you can. So no permalinks yet. UPDATE: Here is ARC's reply. European slavery had died out for the first time before the industrial revolution was ever thought of, he says.

"One God Further." I checked back over the last Britblog roundup, which took place while I was hating my computer. I found that Talk Politics had issued a polemical defence of Richard Dawkins' recent polemical attacks on religion. There is plenty relevant to our present debate. (53 minutes remaining.)

One thing I learned there was that one Dr R. David Muir from the Evangelical Alliance told Channel Four that the Christians ought to get a "substantial right of reply." Get real, man. You have plenty more to lose than Channel Four does if ever that "right" becomes enshrined in law, as our masters would love it to be. They'd love to put a price on "free" speech; the price being paid in being forced to use your printing presses and your pulpits to propagate replies containing messages you find wrong or evil.

The surrender monkeys are on this side of the channel. So far as I know no British newspaper has imitated the courageous action of France-Soir.

UPDATE: That didn't last long. (Bad news via Samizdata comments.)

Repeated humiliating surrenders can sometimes have the paradoxical effect of stiffening the will to resist in the long run, by making the situation clear. The question is, how long is the long run?

I'd call it the Munich Effect, had not the torch of free speech in this case been taken up by a German newspaper. Go Die Welt.

A shorter reply to Reader B is offered by JEM, who quotes, Matthew 7:20 in the King James Authorised Edition: By their fruits ye shall know them. He adds, "I tend to agree with the old fellow I once met in Texas who reckoned if the King James Bible was good enough for Jesus to use himself, there was no call for any fancy new version."

A very apt quote, and it was used aptly by Professor Grayling in his original article, but if one agrees with ARC's argument that Reader B was playing a cover version, so to speak, of that article (i.e. saying that if one can define science as only the pursuit of truth then one can equally define Christianity as only the imitation of Christ)... then I think we're back where we started. Whose fruits have fallen where?

That old fellow in Texas had a British cousin who once offered a museum a coin from the time of Julius Caesar. You could tell it was genuine because it bore the date 55BC.

Hegemonic discourse. Random Jottings says that the debate on this blog is couched wholly in secular terms. Things that render life more worth living and more beautiful are, he says, being excluded from the argument.

Slavery had already died out once before the industrial revolution was ever thought of. ARC responds...

1) To JEM:

"JEM's contention that the industrial revolution, not a conscious campaign, destroyed slavery, is a common idea but I think it is chronologically impossible. As I remarked in my first post, "the idea that slavery was wrong all over the world was only able to be propounded because it had already been abolished at home by a long historical process within a Christian culture." Strict slavery vanished from England circa 1100. Its milder cousin, serfdom, died over the next three centuries or so. Thus by the middle of the past millenium - 1500 or so - you have a society that

  • is without slavery (and serfdom) at home

  • is roughly comparable to China, technologically - a little ahead in some fields but still behind them in others, e.g. porcelain chemistry.

  • is not yet engaged in the African slave trade, or in significant contact with anywhere practicing slavery (adjacent areas of Europe still had serfdom - but in those days the degree of interaction for ordinary people was not great)

  • has not yet begun the industrial revolution

"In this society, the majority of the people were living at a technical level that would not have surprised their counterparts in the Roman empire (the central heating arrangements would certainly have seemed inferior, probably also the baths) but nonetheless functioned well enough without slavery. The steam engine, and the whole technical apparatus it represents, appears far too late to be the cause of this absence of slavery. Several authors (I recall that Thomas Sowell is one) have pointed out that western society did not become free because it was rich. It became rich because it was free.

"At the other end of the timeline (as JEM has noticed in his second post, but does not, I feel, draw the correct conclusions), capitalism certainly coexisted with slavery at times. The abolition of the slave trade was certainly not in the UK's economic interest at the time it happened and the antebellum south fitted very well into the mid-Victorian economic system. You can argue that economic trends would eventually have created economic arguments for sweeping slavery away. A conversation held just before the war started between Judge Campbell (southern) and Seward (northern; he was Lincoln's rival for the Republican nomination and later his secretary of state), reached agreement that slavery would reach its maximum extent in the US in 25 years and be on the way out for economic reasons within 50 years, therefore there was no need for a war over it. Even if you accept their long-term analysis (and their assumption that the slaves can just be patient for two generations in the general interest of avoiding war!), the conclusion is that slavery was not against the _immediate_ economic interests of capitalism.

"Thus I think that both the order of events and the economics indicate that capitalism is the servant, not the master here. It gives the western world the power to enforce its view of slavery on the world. It does not give the western world its view of slavery. If slavery had not become unknown in England long before technology began to make a real difference to the lot of ordinary people, then it would never have occurred to them that it was wrong elsewhere - _and_, I am also arguing, they would not have had the industrial revolution and so that technology. In this sense, thefore, there _is_ an incompatibility between slavery and capitalism - but an incompatibility in which cause and effect are reversed. Slavery could (and did) exist happily for millenia, quite untroubled by its theoretical incompatibility with a capitalist system that could not be until slavery was removed.

2) To Prof. Grayling:

"Re the professor's response, "The massive and systematic falsity of views to the effect that supernatural agencies operate in the universe with express reference to the lives of human beings on this planet, given in addition that they are so often and widely invoked to direct, dominate and often distort those lives, is scarcely describable in so offhand a way as 'one more tick on the bad side of the scoresheet.'

"He _appears_ rather to be missing the point, stated be me and others, that there _is_ no point in including the truth or falsity of a given religion, or a given atheist philosophy, in a debate on the helpfulness or harmfulness of either. That which is false is innately harmful, as I think we all agree. We either then go on to debate its truth or falsehood, or we agree to differ on that and debate whether, in the course of human history, one or another has done more harm in its effects, _apart_ from the fundamental issue of the wrongness of the belief in itself. To give an example, I think Buddhism quite wrong, but I might be persuaded that it has done relatively little positive harm in the large-scale historical sense criticised by Reader B (one might argue for the harm of political inaction - and of couse I agree with Reader B that the personal effects - characters formed, personal principles and happiness acquired, and ultimately souls saved - are important though large-scale history largely ignores them). I also dissent from Islam. That I would find it easy to argue for its having done more harm in the large-scale historical sense is not very relevant to the dissent; maybe on points of fundamental philosophy I dissent more from Buddhism. Your original post critiqued his original argument for the religion having done great harm relative to science, the difference between your views being taken as read.

3) To Grayling and JEM::

"Grayling states that, "The argument that _Communism, an ideology officially dedicated to scientific atheism, has killed more people than all the holy wars and holy tortures ever made_ is a canard that itself deserves the full Natalie Solent treatment of forensic deconstruction. Was it the _scientific atheism_ aspect that prompted the massacre of Kulaks or the starvation of Chinese peasants in the Great Leap Forward, or might it have been the ideology of class war, theories about collectivisation, and the like? Where did Communism learn its lessons about prophets and holy books, orthodoxy and conformity, the putting to death of heretics, and the like again?"

"And JEM states that Reader B "contends that the principles of Christianity are more important than their practical application. This is like saying that a scientific theory is perfect but the experimental results don't agree with it, therefore the experiment is wrong. This part of his argument is worse than the first. It does not just get us nowhere, it leads us deeper into the quagmire."

"In fact, Reader B, in line with your original reversal of the professor's original argument, was rephrasing his "Science labours towards an understanding of things, testing itself vigorously..." as a similar statement of the abstract purity of Christiantity as defined by its precepts. If one can _define_ science as only the pursuit of truth, and claim that communism was 'really' religious, despite its very vehement claim to be anti-religious and pro-scientific, then one can equally _define_ Christianity as only the imitation of Christ, and dismiss every crusade, every inquisition as 'really' atheistic. There is indeed a sense in which communism looks like a religion, jsut as there is a sense in which the extreme puritans of the 17th century look like atheists, but there is no sense in participating in this argument while taking one view but not the other.

"Thus I feel that the professor justifies Reader B and JEM's critique should really be directed at the professor. - ARC"