Natalie Solent

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

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

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

The Old Comrades:

November 2001 December 2001 January 2002 February 2002 March 2002 April 2002 May 2002 June 2002 July 2002 August 2002 September 2002 October 2002 November 2002 December 2002 January 2003 February 2003 March 2003 April 2003 May 2003 June 2003 July 2003 August 2003 September 2003 October 2003 November 2003 December 2003 January 2004 February 2004 March 2004 April 2004 May 2004 June 2004 July 2004 August 2004 September 2004 October 2004 November 2004 December 2004 January 2005 February 2005 March 2005 April 2005 May 2005 June 2005 July 2005 August 2005 September 2005 October 2005 November 2005 December 2005 January 2006 February 2006 March 2006 April 2006 May 2006 June 2006 July 2006 August 2006 September 2006 October 2006 November 2006 December 2006 January 2007 February 2007 March 2007 April 2007 May 2007 June 2007 August 2007 October 2007 February 2008 April 2008 May 2008 June 2008 July 2008 September 2008 October 2008 November 2008 December 2008 January 2009 March 2009 May 2009 June 2009 July 2009 August 2009 October 2009 January 2010 March 2010 May 2010 June 2010 July 2010 August 2010 September 2010 October 2010 November 2010 December 2010 January 2011 February 2011 April 2011 June 2011 August 2011 September 2011 October 2011 November 2011 January 2012 February 2012 March 2012 April 2012 May 2012 June 2012 July 2012 August 2012 September 2012 October 2012 November 2012 December 2012 January 2013 February 2013 March 2013 April 2013 May 2013 June 2013 July 2013 August 2013 September 2013 October 2013 November 2013

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Friday, June 30, 2006
Here is a Guardian article on women political bloggers.
"The internet is an unfriendly place for women wanting to write about politics. Ros Taylor asks why - while we profile the British bloggers daring to speak out."
I was nearly in. Exchanged emails with Guardian beings. But in the end I was not worthy.

Begone, hideous capitalist hellbound hellbeasts of hell!

Because why not say it?

A hideous capitalist hellbound hellbeast of hell might be passing.

Sure you can open up shop. Just don't dare sell anything. Via a blog called Education in India, I found this article in the Hindu from a couple of months back.
Call to ban commercialisation of education

NEW DELHI: Even as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is seeking more private investment in higher education, educationists want privatisation to be restricted "to the minimum desirable level." Also, they have called for a tax on the industry to raise resources for higher education.

Such is their angst against privatisation and commercialisation of higher education that the majority view at a recent meeting on the issue — organised by the National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration — favoured a law banning such commercialisation. "All commercialisation of education, which should be unambiguously defined, should be banned by a suitable act of Parliament." This was one of the recommendations of the meeting of 64 eminent educationists here earlier this week.

The author of the Education in India blog, Satya, comments:
The State has, over the past 58 years, been unable to create enough opportunities to provide higher education for all through state funding alone and has pretty much abdicated its responsibility to the private sector. How many new state funded higher education institutions have been set up in the last ten years when compared to the number of new institutions set up in the private sector in the same period? Why should privatisation be restricted to a minimum desirable level, when the State is unable to meet the demand?
I think I detected a certain irony of tone in the next paragraph of the Hindu's account of the educationists' views.
However, they are not closed to the idea of private participation. "Private investors in education may be encouraged. However, it must be made clear that this cannot be for profit-making purposes, in however disguised a form.
Thanks, guys. Now you've made that clear, why not just say, "Begone, hideous capitalist hellbound hellbeasts of hell" and have done with it?

Thursday, June 29, 2006
It ain't as simple as just walking away.

JEM writes,

While not resiling from Tim Worstall's concerns about the EU, or yours, it really has to be pointed out that our present entirely home-grown government is doing a pretty effective job of ending or debauching "... our juries and the rights bequeathed to us through 800 years of evolution of the Common Law..." in any case, without any help from our continental neighbours. Indeed you could reasonably argue that one of the few constraints that prevent our even more rapid descent into a new dark age is the restrictions on UK domestic legislation imposed by the European human rights conventions.

It is also worth pointing out that differences in legal systems are not necessarily a fatal flaw. For instance, the law of the State of Louisiana is based on the French legal system [Hey, that's my factiod! - NS] but nevertheless works well enough within the United States, as does the French-based system of Quebec within Canada. Indeed, the legal system of Scotland, which is not Common Law but Roman Law, works well enough inside the UK context.

In short, to coin a phrase, the present arrangements here and with the EU are not fit for purpose.

However there is no simple or quick way to fend off these serious dangers to our liberties. Departing from the EU might even make things worse, and it is in fact possible to live with different legal systems within a larger entity. In my view one of the fundament problems with the EU is that despite being a much less homogenous collection of nations and peoples, it attempts to bind them much more closely together in so many ways than does the United States does with its individual states.

I have come to the personal conclusion that the only answer to Britain's real problem is a written Constitution, Bill of Rights and Supreme Court that cannot be over-ruled by Parliament. And a second chamber (which I would rename 'Senate' so that people would take it seriously) that is entirely elected, probably by proportional representation and on longish fixed terms such as six or eight years, and has the power to veto the Commons -- just as the Commons should have the power to veto the Senate.

Paralysis, you say? Laws would not get passed? Government would be less powerful, less effective? Power would pass from whips to individual MPs and Senators? You have a problem with this?

But this would... could not... happen quickly or easily. It would take time.

And it ain't as simple as just walking away from the EU.


I too wish we had a written constitution - but I am frightened to get one now. If our Constitution had been written when the Americans wrote theirs it would be, as theirs is, a tightly drawn specification for an arena in which politics can take place. If our first few amendments had been made when the Americans made theirs, British schoolchildren would recite sentences beginning Parliament shall make no law ...

A constitution written in these dismal times would be, as the proposed EU constitution was, an attempt to set managed social democracy in stone. The right to a job. Freedom from offensive speech. The right to be protected from yourself.

Basically, I only want a constitution if it can be old. In fact old and dead. Pretty much dead, anyway, the way the captain is in Dark Star, only woken up for important stuff. A "living constitution" is no constitution at all. If I want something that will grow, change, exhibit volition and excrete all over my floor, I'll get a puppy.

Drunken post from Brian Micklethwait.
I know, you don’t care about cricket. I respect that. I despise it, but I respect it.

Weird eh? Unlimited overs: Surrey brilliant. Twenty overs: Surrey brilliant. Fifty overs: Surrey crap. I’m baffled, and presumably they are too.
I put it in italics because they look more drunk.

Mine eyes have seen the hell that awaits argumentative bloggers. Via Joanne Jacobs, I found this account of a trainee maths teacher's experience at an American school of Education: "There are no wrong answers"
The problem could have many answers, a concept beloved by ed school types who believe that problems with only one correct answer limit students’ critical thinking skills. “Open-ended” problems with many answers, on the other hand, reduce math anxiety because it relieves the pressure to produce THE correct answer. Students are thus liberated to be creative and use “higher order thinking skills”. I pointed out that the problem was not so much open-ended as it was ill-posed.

“Yes, it is ill-posed,” he agreed. There were no arguments in this class; only insights, discussions, and agreement. This is ed school: there are no wrong answers. Just the “greater truth” which will eventually prevail.
Had I been there you'd have heard a fizzing noise: my guts working their way from Uranium to Thorium ...
No such epiphanies occurred that night, however. One student said that the scratch-on-the-floor problem actually made her more anxious because she wasn’t sure what she was doing wrong. The teacher said “Yes, I agree,”
... Protactinium ...
and concluded that perhaps the best way is to tell the students at the outset that there is more than one right answer.
... Radium, Polonium, Bismuth ...
I suggested asking the students what additional information should be provided to make the problem well defined. “I agree,” he agreed again.
... and all the way down to Lead.
There were no comments from the class as the professor told this tale. The future math teachers said nothing and showed no emotion, not even a grimace.
Because they were having a good day.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Quote of the day.
Bringing down the cost of things is one of the things the free market system is great at doing. Socialists used to claim that socialism was more efficient and better at cutting prices than capitalism. Now that has been totally destroyed as an idea, they say that capitalism's cutting of prices in unfair. Whatever.
- Alex Singleton.

As you know, I have no shame about re-posting my comments on other blogs here. Waste not, want not.

I am a tad ashamed of my comment to this post of Tim Worstall's though. Not the words but the typos. Here's the corrected version. I was replying to an earlier commenter called Alex.

Alex writes, "Or we could just vote against this proposal."

And the next similar proposal. And the next after that, which is also similar but they will assure us is quite different. And the next after that, which comes at a difficult time for the British premier when he wants EU goodwill over some other issue. And the next after that, which is smuggled in as part CCLXVII of something else entirely. And then maybe there's a referendum, and we do vote against it, and so then there's another referendum - only this time round the opposition are right out of money, volunteers and energy, having spent it all campaigning for the last one; while the EU campaign chest is magically refilled by taxpayers' money.

With the EU "voting against it" is not allowed to be final; voting for it is final. I think we need to leave.

Posted by: Natalie Solent | Jun 28, 2006 1:39:56 PM

What was this proposal that all the fuss was about? Oh, only the end of our own laws, our juries and the rights bequeathed to us through 800 years of evolution of the Common Law. Worstall writes:
Indeed, most of those protections were introduced entirely to protect us from that State: something many forget, that the limitations on evidence and trials are not to protect criminals, but to protect the innocent from being proclaimed criminals for political reasons.

Our continental friends have very different legal systems. Very different indeed. No juries, to start with. So if we are to have EU wide criminal law, clearly there will be harmonisation. And it doesn’t take intelligence of the genius level to see that when the UK and Eire are on one side, with our own distinctive systems, and 23 are on the other, with their, which way the harmonisation is going to go.

Now we are to have this without a national veto, now it will be the result of majority voting. That will be the end of it, one of the two great inventions of these Isles. The English language will survive but the Common Law legal system will not.

Interesting picture from "Elder of Ziyon". He writes:
Remember when Israel first mentioned the possibility that the Gaza family had been killed by a Hamas bomb buried on the beach? Pro-terror Hamas supporters scoffed that Hamas would never do something like that - bury explosives in areas that Palestinian Arab children might play.

Thanks to the AP photographers/terrorist groupies, we see that perhaps they would

- Hat tip, Archduke of The Devil's Kitchen in Biased BBC comments.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Bleeding-heart New Statesman style twaddle on page 20 of today's Times from a column by John Kampfner:
That we have one of the highest per capita incarceration rates in the developed world seems lost on the bellicose "prison works" lobby.
It's not lost on them. They know and they don't care. The per capita incaceration rate in Britain relative to some other countries is a matter of indifference to them. Kampfner is trying to say - or rather jumping straight over saying - that if prison is so great how come Britain has a high incarceration rate and yet still has quite high crime? But his assumption that those who disagree only disagree because they have failed to understand is annoying in a way I associate with Mr Blair. Scarcely anyone in the "prison works" lobby can have got as far as being in a lobby without meeting that argument and getting over it. Getting over it is not hard. "Prison works" is a more modest claim than "incaceration rate x will result in crime rate y." "Prison works" merely says that crime rate y would be higher if prison were not used. It says nothing about the multifarious causes that can make crime rate y high or low to start with.

Incidentally, something I've never understood is why the "prison does not work" lobby never seem to come out and advocate that all the prisons be dismantled. You'd think it would follow.

Populist Daily Mail style twaddle on page 21 of today's Times from a column by Valerie Grove:

And it is good to hear Lord Falconer of Thoroton recognising the “aching” pain of murder victims’ families, and promising to allow them to make statements in court about how their loss has affected them. Perhaps he has forgotten that he (and Mr Blair) belong to the profession that has always turned the knife in bereaved families’ wounds by mouthing murderers’ defences, traducing the characters of murder victims, while their families have listened helplessly.
Because everyone accused of murder is guilty. Because never in all history has anyone been had up for murder through mistaken identity, or when all they were trying to do was defend themselves from attack, or when the killing was accidental. Nor has there ever been a justified defence of provocation or manslaughter or extenuating circumstances in legal history. Furthermore even if by some impossible chance any person ended up in the dock for murder who was not fully a murderer then obviously all he has to do read a few law books and jolly well speak up for himself. Who could possibly be so ignorant or inarticulate as to need some steenking lawyer to tell him what the law is or to "mouth" his defence? These things being so, we should only have prosecution lawyers. On second thoughts, why bother with trials at all?

Polly Toynbee's columm on Jerry Springer the Opera is right to defend the freedom to insult religion. If you read the column you will find such admirable sentiments as:
Meanwhile, free speech is increasingly squeezed by the demands of Muslims for more religious protection, silencing most of the usual voices who should defend the right to cause offence. The Jerry Springer story is small potatoes in comparison - but it's the harbinger of a cowardly culture shift that lets religious intimidation win.
Of course an elderly couple of evangelicals shouldn't have had the police summoned by the council for expressing homophobic views. Of course Sir Iqbal Sacranie should be allowed to say homosexuality is harmful without getting a call from police under the Public Order Act: thanks to Blunkett, if a public-order breach is "religiously aggravated" it can get a seven-year sentence. Not satisfied with blasphemy laws, the Vatican wants a new offence of Christianophobia. Sikhs want the right to ban the play Behzti, militant Hindus want naked pictures of a goddess banned. At a free-speech rally recently, an Iranian dissident was charged for holding a placard with one of the Danish cartoons.

Unfortunately one does have to duck a barrage of cheap shots to get to the good stuff. The first paragraph says:
It will have made a hefty loss for its producers, who toured it despite knowing that trouble would dog it and that it would lose money. But they were determined not to let the evangelicals win.
There are hundreds of millions of evangelicals in the world. The percentage of them that were not picketing outside British provincial theatres (although that is a legitimate exercise of free speech) is high. The percentage that were not sending death threats or performing other acts of criminal intimidation over the issue is found by typing nine nine dot nine and then having an episode of narcolepsy with your finger still in place. Ms Toynbee goes to some lengths to say that the show is not mere "schlock and shock", citing good reviews in the Church Times and the Catholic Herald. I myself don't know and don't much care whether the show is good or bad, but it clearly has convinced many that it has merit in itself. So why describe performing the show in such a limited, carping way as "not letting the evangelicals win"?

This will be the last chance to see it, as its co-author Stewart Lee says glumly that he doubts it will ever be performed again. It shows how insidiously the tentacles of religious zeal invade every sphere of national life, despite the very small number of religious practitioners in this most secular of nations.
I started to quibble about this "very small number", then had a biscuit. It's irrelevant. Unless Ms Toynbee wishes to argue that "religious practitioners" will gain the right to tentacular invasion should they ever again become a majority, she should not have brought their numbers, or their tentacles, into the discussion.

There were other bits best ignored, such as the silly boasting about how "only the National Secular Society doesn't blench". But if you value your liberties, believer or atheist, don't ignore this:

The tour was planned for 39 cities, but the furore panicked many venues, especially those run by local councils. Christian Voice wrote to every theatre, warning of prosecution if they put the show on. If it wasn't the blasphemy law then it would be the new, untried "incitement to religious hatred" bill then progressing through parliament.
Note that the Christian Voice organisation didn't have to win any prosecutions in order to get its way. It didn't even have to launch them. In the case of the incitement to religious hatred bill it didn't even need to have the law actually pass Parliament. The mere existence of a hazily defined legal apparatus to suppress free speech that someone might use was intimidating enough.

ADDED LATER: Sometimes I like to come back to my own stuff and argue with it. I imagined myself up a reader who said, "What right have you to say that numbers are irrelevant? You yourself went on about the large number of evangelicals and the small number of protestors and even smaller number using intimidation. That's numbers, isn't it?" "Aha," I answered the upstart, "but the cases are different." When Toynbee spoke of keeping Jerry Springer the Opera going in order not to let "the evangelicals" win, it was disproportionate and petty. Disproportionate because the vast majority of "the evangelicals" were unaware of or indifferent to their alleged participation in any contest, and petty for the same reasons that it is petty to support the right to publish the Danish cartoons merely or mainly to stop "the Muslims" winning. Incidentally, here in Britain "evangelical" has usually just meant the Low Church party of the Church of England. I gather that Evangelicals in the US lay more stress on the inerrancy of the Bible. Polly Toynbee seems to use it in the US sense.

Numbers really are irrelevant, I maintained to my imaginary self, when defending concepts like state secularism (which Britain has, a few relics notwithstanding) or freedom of speech. These concepts attempt to provide a neutral framework in which incompatible views can coexist, so you sell the pass if you concede that numbers of adherents are what count. The whole idea is that you should refrain from imposing the will of the majority.

Will these slanders against the son of Sweyn Forkbeard never end? The latest traducer is Adam Sage, writing in the Times:
However, M de Villepin’s determination to buck the markets is proving futile and damaging — futile because he does not have the power to do so and damaging because it prevents his compatriots from accepting the reality of globalisation.

After the French Government announced its opposition to Mittal’s offer, ministers realised their powerlessness. The decision lay not with them, but with Arcelor’s shareholders. They were acting like King Canute.
Canute commanded the waves knowing they would not obey, as a rebuke to flatterers. I suppose it could be that M. de Villepin is engaged in a self-abnegating campaign to persuade the French that even an énarque and a poet cannot buck the market, but I doubt it.

Sunday, June 25, 2006
"How many Moslems are there in India?" asks John Weidner.
There are two other "fronts," on both of which we have made substantial and fairly measurable progress. First, the roots of most of the terrorism are found in the despotism and hopelessness that exist in many Moslem countries. When people don't have personal opportunities, and can't vote out bad leaders, this combines with certain other frustrations common in the Moslem world into a dangerous brew. It is easy to assess this by asking: How many Moslems are there in India? (about 130 mil.) And how many have joined al Qaeda? None that I've heard of.

Hence the second front, the Administration's push for democracy and better government in the ME. It's not only a good thing, it is an effective war weapon. (Unfortunately our efforts have been sabotaged and undercut by people who claim to want "peace," and many a brutal murdering tyrant is digging in his heels and "waiting Bush out," hoping for his friends to gain the White House.)

But none the less, we are making clear progress. It is important to remember that, in its capacity as a weapon, democratization does not have to work very well. It doesn't have to be like New Hampshire town meetings. Even if the political battles get murderous, they still mean that the focus is internal and political. Even with the violence in certain parts of Iraq, we don't hear of Iraqis heading off to terrorist training camps or madrassas elsewhere. They are focused on their own political scene. And thanks to our friends at al Jazeera, the whole Arab world is watching. This movement isn't going to stop.

Rape, Hamas and development funding. I have a post up at Biased BBC that discusses this paragraph from a BBC story:
Sexual violence has also been linked to development funding. Cases in Gaza and the West Bank have increased significantly since the EU and the US cut funding after January's election of Hamas, Luay Shabaneh of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics says.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006
"You need a roof, a "krisha", to do anything." Tim Worstall, who has lived in Russia, on Anglo-Russian intergovernmental cooperation to prevent overfishing and the sale of black market cod:
You what? Asking the Russian State to police such activities is ludicrous. You think they’re not up to the elbows in the trade themselves? Does no one in Government actually understand how business works there? You need a roof, a "krisha", to do anything. Such a roof is, as often as not, the Ministry supposedly policing the system. Sending the stats only back to Russia will have one effect: the Ministry will be able to check that it’s getting the correct rake off from the illegal fishing.

Or are we so enamoured of The State that we simply won’t believe that foreigners could do that?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Because it works. Captain's Quarters quotes today's Times story about how Taliban in Afghanistan have used women and children as human shields, and says,
This has two purposes for the Taliban. First, it keeps Western forces from firing on them, as they know that Coalition troops will try to protect civilians where possible. Secondly as just as importantly from a strategic point of view, any women and children killed in the battle will almost certainly be blamed on the Western forces by the Western media.
Well done the Times for explicitly highlighting this despicable tactic. The only thing wrong with Captain Ed's post is his description of it as the Taliban's "latest defensive tactic." There's no latest about it. The Taliban and other Islamists have been able to behave like this without penalty for too long. Did I say "without penalty"? Better to say that they have been rewarded for doing it. Behaviour that is rewarded is repeated.

Can't you just give us the answer? Back in March I found, via Joanne Jacobs, one of the most depressing accounts of education (or a procedure given the name of education) that I have ever read. The writer has taken over a science class from another teacher.
It was and is honestly offensive to me how negligent this teacher was. There was no learning occuring. None. Not even that most basic, fact memorization-and-recall! These kids would have been better off just reading all period -- at least there would have been some modicum of mental stimulation!

There would be times when I would have a student read the paragraph with the answer, read the paragraph with the answer myself, then ask the question which directly referenced the paragraph with the answer, and be met by a classful of blank stares. Usually followed by the delightful incantation:

"This is whack! Can't you just give us the answer like our teacher always does?"

I'm distressed, I'm disappointed, and I'm angry. I've never experienced educational deprivation like that, never dreamed it could possibly exist to that degree in this day and age. You want to talk about accountability? Any accountability system which doesn't instantly peg this classroom as deficient isn't worth its weight in mud. Yet I have a desparately sad idea that when all is said and done, the school will find some way to herd the kids through the SOLs, or else the state will find some way to hide them away.

The comments to this post are also worthwhile but not enjoyable reading.

I first read this in March. Why post about it now? Because while I was walking the dog with Immature Zygote A recently, I sermonized mightily on the benefits to my education that arose from the fact that some of my teachers were useless. It forced me to take my destiny in my own hands, I said. Made me stand on my own two feet. I may even have said that it was my useless teachers that made the British Empire great.

The latter hypothesis may not stand up to detailed historical scrutiny, yet I think there's something in it.

Only you need to have been properly educated past a certain threshold first.

Friday, June 16, 2006
"Ever wondered what our schools are teaching children about terrorism?" Mick Hume asks in the Times.
To judge by some of the material in an education pack being used in my London borough, the questions might include: could al-Qaeda poison your burger? Did the American Government stage the September 11 attacks? And what lessons for the Middle East can you learn from arguing with your mum?
Hume writes that this story was first reported by the Walthamstow Guardian.
When the Walthamstow Guardian asked if the 9/11 attacks should be used as a teaching tool, one educationist said the pack was not about “preaching” to children, but about providing “impartial and unbiased information” and “letting them make sense of it”.

That would be information such as: “The terrorists had shown that, despite America’s size and military power, careful planning and complete faith could defeat them.”

So al-Qaeda defeated America. Or did it? After all, according to this impartial pack, “it is not known whether Flight 93 was taken over by passengers or shot down by the military”. The only people to whom this should be “not known” are conspiracy theorists. You might as well tell kids it is not known whether men really landed on the Moon.

From Hume's article I had the impression that the Walthamstow Guardian had expressed concern about the contents of the pack. However if this is the story Hume saw, I was wrong. It is almost as bland as this press release covering the launch of the pack.

There is one oddly defensive sentence in the press release, "The images used are those that have been published in reputable newspapers and magazines." Another oddity turns up at the end of Naomi Wright's article for the Walthamstow Guardian. The last sentence says, "Ms Wilson said the design on the front of the pack had been changed to the current picture shortly before the packs were printed." The oddity about this is not the words themselves, but the way this sentence is stuck on the end with nothing leading up to it. If I were not the idle wastrel that I am, I would go sniffing around for some earlier controversy about a picture used in the pack.

Thursday, June 15, 2006
Nigel Sedgwick writes on ID cards:
I'd like to support you in parts, but not all, of your posting.

Rob Hinkley's comment is a delight: "It seems strange that the government resisted the disclosure request: you'd have thought that if they had nothing to hide they'd have nothing to fear."

Given the recent track record of the UK Government, one must also be concerned that "the scheme will be hugely expensive". However, not all IT systems introduced by the Government have been disasters at first; several have also been OK at the second or third attempt. The underlying problem is, rather too often, that the Government does not really know what it wants or the extent to which that is practical; and "[critics] have questioned what benefits it will bring". On this, some of my thoughts can be found at Presentation on Technical Aspects of the National Identity Card.

Concerning improving the Parliamentary bill on the balance between civil liberties and utility (through an improved service of identification to the public, business and government), suggestions can be found on Samizdata comment on 30 March at 10:39 AM.

We then move on from cost-effectiveness to your own particular point: "... weighing cost versus benefit is only half the story".

I'm not keen on this sort of approach. Whether we admit it or not, when we make a decision, we do end up balancing apples against pears according to some weighting, stated or implicit.

The Scotsman article remembers Dame Stella Rimington, from last November. However, I recollect being certain that she was wrong on the major issue of ease of forging of ID Cards, as I told the BBC.

Baroness Park claims two things.

Firstly: "The very creation of such an enormous national identity register will be a present to terrorists; it will be a splendid thing for them to disrupt and blow up, ..."

Now there are a great many databases that are prime targets for terrorists, and also many potential targets that are not databases. It's not possible to protect them all, beyond any possible vulnerability. Accordingly, the adding of one more to the large set possible targets is not (or is barely) relevant. Furthermore, databases are relatively easy to protect (by replication and backup). Nowadays, this is always done for critical infrastructure, by government and by large businesses (eg banks and insurance). I see this issue as little more than scare-mongering, even if that was not the intention.

Secondly, Baroness Park claims: "It will also provide valuable information to organised crime and to the intelligence services of unfriendly countries. It will be accessible to all of these, ..."

There is a risk. However, the damage from exposure is not quantified. Perhaps it could be explained why and to what extent access is more damaging than to telephone directories, the electoral register, Passport Office and Inland Revenue records, etc. Also, perhaps it could be explained why and to what extent the risk is greater with the National Identity Register (NIR) than with these other things, including those that we currently use to identify ourselves.

In my above-referenced technical presentation, these risks (an others deserving more concern) are identified. They exist; they matter; they do not strike me as making anywhere near an overwhelming case against the NIR.

Two things I argue are important:

- to provide improved certification of (a single or known multiple) identity, for each citizen/resident to use as and when they choose, to confirm their identity to business and government and other individuals, if this can be shown to be cost-effective (and it will be later if not now);

- to prevent, by the Government and others, unnecessary invasion of personal privacy and prevent reduction in other civil liberties, to the maximum extent consistent with the valid and useful functionality of a National Identity Scheme.

I hope all this is of some interest and use.

Best regards
Nigel C Sedgwick

Tuesday, June 13, 2006
ID cards: government hypocrisy and irresponsibility. Rob Hinkley makes the definitive comment on the government's reluctance to disclose its deliberations on the ID card project.

The BBC story Rob links to says, "Critics of the controversial identity cards say the scheme will be hugely expensive and have questioned what benefits it will bring." Those who criticise the scheme on grounds of cost make a fair point. Cost overruns on government projects, particularly technology projects, are so notorious that when I reached the scene in Ark Angel where Nikolei Drevin tells the captured Alex Rider all about his dreadful plans, and breaks off to moan about how collaboration with the British government on a hi-tech project has nearly exhausted even his billions, I found myself almost hoping that Alex would offer the poor chap a Kleenex and an apology.

However, we were talking about the government's plan to introduce ID cards, not the schemes of villains...

I take your point. I'll try that again. When talking about the government's plan to introduce ID cards, weighing cost versus benefit is only half the story.

My old college principal, Daphne Park, is not asking where the final benefits will fall on a scale starting at zero. She thinks that the ID card scheme will do actual harm to national security. My reasons for thinking that she ought to be listened to on this issue are not limited to the fact that I have drunk of her sherry.

A NATIONAL identity card scheme will be a "present" to terrorists, criminal gangs and foreign spies, one of Britain's most respected former intelligence agents has told ministers.

The warning from Daphne Park, who served for 30 years as a senior controller for MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service, came as the parliamentary power struggle over the identity cards bill dragged on.

Baroness Park, who was made a peer by Margaret Thatcher, passed a withering verdict on the proposed cards, ridiculing ministers' suggestions that the system will make people safer. In fact, she said, the complete opposite is true.

"The very creation of such an enormous national identity register will be a present to terrorists; it will be a splendid thing for them to disrupt and blow up," she said.

"It will also provide valuable information to organised crime and to the intelligence services of unfriendly countries. It will be accessible to all of these," she said.

Saturday, June 10, 2006
First in line with the Fisking boots.

My place in History is secure. And I don't mean 29th out of a class of 31. I didn't go to that sort of school.

I mean that I - I, Natalie Solent, - I as in me - inspired the the first recorded use* of the word "fisking". Me - as in I - discovered this pivotal event in the destiny of nations while reading this post by him. He - you know, him, as in Tim Blair - him first used Mighty Word of Power in this post on December 19, 2001.

... I think Solent will agree I was entirely too fair on the fame-hungering, fact-distorting, God-bless-idiots children’s book writer. He deserves a righteous kicking, and I think Natalie might be first in line with the Fisking boots.
As the astute reader will observe, Mr Blair's great inspiration came to him after reading this post of mine from December 18, 2001.

I did indeed return to the subject of Mr Ansary a day or two later, only to muff my chance at immortality.

But no, Blair, I won't efiskerate him: I have other fish to fry. Namely, you.
Alas, "efiskerate" did not catch on. It's sort of like being the fifth Beatle.

Never mind. I'd like to thank my friends, my family and my agent who all helped make this wonderful journey possible.

*David M is a virtuous and worthy chronicler. But I have to point out he is wrong to say that Tim Blair's post was the first use of "fisking" as a verb. I rather think "fisking" in this sense is a participle. Bet you all thought I was going to say gerundive!

Friday, June 09, 2006
Blighted by regeneration. Here is a telling quote from a recent Observer article about violence between (South) Asian and Somali schoolchildren in Birmingham:
'This issue arises because it is a high density area,' said Farrukh Haroon, a project worker at the YIP. 'Communities are scrapping for scarce resources ...'
Here is another:
'It is complicated - there is not one pattern, not one trend and not one answer,' said Simon Blake from the National Children's Bureau. 'But we have to bust these myths about who gets the best housing and how resources are allocated.'
Sorry, Mr Blake, but myths with a core of truth are hard to kill. Communities will always "scrap" for government resources because they are correct in their belief that if group A gets more of the pie then group B gets less. Scrapping, with or without bricks and broken bottles, is an excellent way to get more pie. Nor is it wise to hope for a day when resources are no longer scarce; in most of the country the economy is more sovietised than many countries that not so long ago were actually part of the Soviet bloc. If you will forgive an earthy metaphor, an economy based on drinking one's own urine can only go on so long.

Laban Tall, commenting on the same article, congratulates the Observer for having finally discovered that not all racism is white on black. I am a good deal more optimistic than he that multi-racial - and even, to some extent, multi-cultural societies can be made to work. Just not where there is socialism.

God help us if the world ever becomes one multi-cultural society under socialism, as it looks as if it might. I forsee a future of low-level suppurating conflicts that never heal because the reason for their existence never goes away.

We have had a forteaste. A recent report that examined the causes of the riots in Burnley five years ago says that the government handing out "regeneration" money in the 1990s created rivalry and anger that helped create the conditions for the riots.

"Positive regeneration had an unintended side effect," the report says. "Ironically, it contributed to social fragmentation by increasing neighbourhood rivalries ...
You know what they say: first you screw up. Then you screw up again in the same way again to prove that it really was a screw-up first time round. You guessed it: Burnley's problems in 2006 are to be dealt with by handing out regeneration money. But fear not!
Regeneration programmes now cover wider areas and are based on themes, rather than simple ward boundaries.
Themes. Assuredly these themes will make all well and no one will whisper that some communities are more thematically challenged than others and hence are getting more than their share.

However, never let it be said that government always screws up in the same way. Sometimes government screws up in new ways.

Elevate East Lancashire, one of the government's nine housing market renewal pathfinders, is working - sometimes in the face of opposition from furious homeowners - to demolish inner Burnley's too many terraces and provide sites for commercial builders to create new homes.
It does not say whether those "furious homeowners" are black, white or brown. It does not matter. Whatever colour their skins they will be embittered by having their homes taken from them for the greater good - the greater good of other people - and in a place blighted by regeneration it takes but the weight of the feather to tip the balance from general bitterness into racial bitterness.

[Cross-posted to Samizdata]

Tuesday, June 06, 2006
Not crazy about bat. Via Tim Worstall I learn that
in order to evict bat squatters from areas of human habitation, you will have first to prove that it is in the overriding public interest to do so, and then to apply for a licence that will take 30 days to issue.
The comments are quite funny, including mine.

Reminiscing a little further back to the 70s, the newspaper columns and books articles around when I was a precocious brat child were full of hints and asides that suggested revolutionary violence was justified. This tendency showed itself even in publications that were not explicitly of the left. Can I prove this? Not in this blog post. Maybe not in this life. Am I sure of it? Yes. I was too young to deceive myself. I kept on seeing these remarks and thinking, why are they saying that revolution stuff again?

There were also endless in-passing remarks to the effect that punishment did not deter.

Poppies, omelettes and apples.

Mark Steyn writes:

Anyone who supports the launching of a war should be clear-sighted enough to know that, when the troops go in, a few of them will kill civilians, bomb schools, torture prisoners. It happens in every war in human history, even the good ones. Individual Americans, Britons, Canadians, Australians did bad things in World War II and World War I.
I owe my decades-old realistic appreciation of this fact to the left wing press. For years the newspapers I read kept telling me that there was no such thing as a good war. In the early 1980s I knew more about Allied atrocities in World War II than Allied victories.

This post reminisces about trends, so let me say at once that trends are not absolute. In the period I am talking about, the Guardian, the paper I read most often, also provided quite a few articles about World War II from another perspective, written by the sort of left wingers who were just about willing to be told by Studs Terkel that their Good War wasn't all it was cracked up to be, but, dammit, not by any lesser man. Having been designated by fate as the last human being in South London to adopt every trend, I was that sort of left winger until I stopped being one at all and defected back from the Guardian to the Times. But in my Guardian days I had had a bad feeling. My sort of left wing view of WWII was definitely being edged out.

There were different strands of opinion present in the advancing forces: some thought that World War II was the biggest capitalist sham of all, others that it might have been just barely justified, but if so was the only justifiable use of military force in all human history. Unlike these two factions a third, smaller faction got to a similar end point via harking back to a pre-WWII left-wing attitude towards violence, to a time when the slogan "You can't make omelettes without breaking eggs" was not used ironically. This group felt that the Western Allies were lent a temporary respectability by being on the same side in WWII as the Soviet Union, and the war itself, with all its undesirable uniforms and generals, was lent a temporary respectability by having included quite a lot of guerilla warfare that occasionally resembled revolution.

The advancing school of thought concerning WWII disagreed among itself on some issues but all factions agreed that any tendency to national pride in the victory over Nazism must be slapped down immediately. The red poppy should give place to the white poppy, worn to commemorate "all the victims of war". In the Guardian and other papers I read there was a constant stream of articles and letters to the editor saying that Churchill was concerned only to continue to oppress the Empire, the Americans were only in it for the chance to supplant the British in this function, that the alleged "spirit of Dunkirk" or "spirit of the Blitz" were mere phantasms created by propagandist newsreels, and that the atomic bomb was dropped on an already-defeated Japan purely to scare the Russians, And, most relevant here, that allied soldiers had killed prisoners and noncombatants without much compunction.

There is some truth in all these arguments. Churchill was indeed an imperialist; few Britons born in 1874 were not. Nations do not cease to seek national advantage just because they are allies in war. You never did hear on newsreels about the black marketeers and looters. By 1945 the Americans and the Russians were jockeying for best position in the post-war world, and Truman probably did include that factor in his caluclations when deciding to drop the bomb. Surrendering - putting yourself at the mercy of those whose friends you might have killed minutes earlier - was a dangerous business for German WWII soldiers, as it has been for soldiers in every war.

But I knew perfectly well that the line being pushed was that the West never had the right to feel proud of itself. I got so worried and annoyed that when I noticed that there was some controversy about the author of The Destruction of Dresden, a chap called David Irving, being a guest at an SS reunion dinner, I squirrelled that fact away for use in later debate. I had heard that book cited so many times that I was glad of a chance to supply even an ad hominem argument against it.

So the Guardian, the Observer and the odd New Statesman gave me a skewed but not false course of education in the worst deeds of the Allies. Now that I think about it the Times wasn't much different on this issue. I think it was more left wing then. The Telegraph was different, but it had its own distortions. It is as Steyn says. "Individual Americans, Britons, Canadians, Australians did bad things in World War II and World War I." (I haven't dealt with World War I here; the view of the left wing press then as now was that it was undifferentiated slaughter.) Even so, I thought and think, the difference between the sides in WWII was very great - and the need to fight was very great.

I wrote above that there was a time when the phrase "You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs" was used without irony by revolutionary communists. What discredited the communists' use of that metaphor was the increasingly obvious fact that they cared no more about cracked human skulls than cracked eggs and the other increasingly obvious fact that their omelette was poison from the very start. Nowadays even the most devoted revolutionary keeps his culinary wisdom separated from his politics, and it's certainly a good thing that the inhuman ruthlessness of the communists has been generally recognised. But as for the metaphor itself, I submit that there are only two political groups who do not subscribe to it in some form: absolute pacifists and those libertarians who say that men and women must never be means but always ends in themselves. Both of these groups are marginal because when wars come along most of their members ditch their teachings and declare for one side or the other. Nearly all of us are willing to crack eggs if the omelette will feed enough people. We may want different omelettes and have different views as to which eggs should be cracked. If we have any humanity we try to always remember that the eggs matter. But to pretend that either side in our present dispute between those who supported and those who opposed the Iraq war are above making calculations in human lives is foolish. I calculated that war deaths were worth it. Others calculated that deaths due to leaving Saddam in power were worth it or that deaths due to "letting the Iraqis fight it out among themselves" would be worth it.

One factor in those calculations was that, to take up another metaphor that is hardly ever used unironically these days, there are a few bad apples in every barrel. Some men in an army of thousands will commit atrocities with the guns they are given. We will hear soon the official verdict as to whether an atrocity was committed at Haditha; but whether it was or it wasn't, there will be atrocities by our side.

This sort of talk makes people angry. When he was secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Reginald Maudling said that he hoped that eventually there would be "an acceptable level of violence" in the province, and Northern Irish people are still angry about it more than thirty years later - but if human behaviour in Northern Ireland or anywhere else is examined it is clear that there are prices (e.g. total clampdown on civil liberties) we will not pay to be free of violence, even if one had any confidence (I don't) that paying the various suggested "prices" would deliver that result.

There are many philosophical discussions of this type of situation, where one's actions, though intended to do good in the end, will have secondary bad results that are forseen but not intended. I started to dredge up memories of what I had read about things like the doctrine of double effect and collateral damage and so forth, but shied away. There is too much to say.

There is no course of action in the case of the Iraq War that delivers the result that there no atrocities. If Saddam had been left in power, there would have been no atrocities by our side. But his atrocities would have gone on. If the Coalition were to leave Iraq tomorrow there would be no future atrocities by our side - but groups with a proven record of exulting in atrocities would have free rein.

Friday, June 02, 2006
Fecklessness and power. John Weidner, Betsy Newmark and Eugene Volokh have all posted about the following definition of "Cultural Racism" put out by the Seattle public schools administration:
Cultural Racism:

Those aspects of society that overtly and covertly attribute value and normality to white people and Whiteness, and devalue, stereotype, and label people of color as “other”, different, less than, or render them invisible. Examples of these norms include defining white skin tones as nude or flesh colored, having a future time orientation, emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology, defining one form of English as standard, and identifying only Whites as great writers or composers...

Following media attention this definition has been removed and replaced by less obviously offensive blather.

The policy decision that "emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology" constituted racism came to my ear like a little echo of the draft European Constitution: an attempt to build in a left-wing position without going to the trouble of arguing for it. Under this definition pretty any student daring to defend Republican ideas could have been accused of racism. And that was the idea. It was all about power.

The idea that "having a future time orientation" constituted racism was a little more interesting. The stereotype of blacks as being feckless goes back to the era of slavery. I would guess that the slaves probably did tend to fecklessness, as a rule, although not as much as the masters thought they did. This relative lack of a future time orientation among the slaves was not because they had black skin but because they had no power. There is less point in making plans for your old age when you know that when your strength starts to fade you can be literally "sold down the river" . There is less point making plans for your children when you know they may be taken from you as soon as they are old enough to work. Even for those slaves who were allowed to earn and save those savings were insecure. Defenders of slavery made another point, which remains true despite the source: that a slave did not have to worry about where his next meal was coming from or where he would sleep that night. It was all organised for him.

Slaves did make plans, of course, but they tended to be secret. Plans of escape and rebellion were secret for obvious reasons. But most slaves did not escape and did not rebel. Their plans had to be secret because they involved manipulation of their masters, cajoling them, bringing them round - and people do not like to be manipulated. To some extent I would imagine that the slaves kept their plans secret even from themselves, "compartmentalized" as we would say now: it is human nature to pretend to oneself that one does not dream of a better future when the chances of the dream coming to pass are low.

Naturally, the white slaveowners preferred to think of their slaves as childlike creatures, living for the moment, incapable of making decisions for themselves. I dare say that there were social penalties imposed on any white who talked too long about instances of thrift or self-discipline he might have observed among the blacks.

And there still are, in Seattle schools. How odd.

ADDED LATER: When writing the last line above, I slightly misread - or understood at the wrong angle - the Seattle "anti-racism" policy. I was thinking of it as narrower than it is; as saying that it was racist for whites to favour having a future time orientation (in blacks or whites, presumably) when in fact it says that simply having a "future time orientation" is, in itself, racism. (It says elsewhere in the policy that only whites can be racist.)

I doubt if the slaveowners liked to see evidence of determined long term planning on the part of their chattels. The parallel may seem extreme, but I'm not the only one to make it.

ADDED LATER YET: I really shouldn't've had that beer. These days I seem to have the alcohol capacity of, well, a pint glass. I keep getting that parallel slightly wrong. The desire on the part of those in authority to punish those under authority for making long term plans does indeed suggest that they wish to train them to be less than fully independent citizens. But in this case the victims were white, not black, so bringing Mason Weaver's book into it, as I did in the link, wasn't as relevant as I thought it was. Then again, we're all human beings, and I bet these guys find ways to infantilize blacks as well. The very obscurity of these speech codes is part of their power: you can never be sure you aren't breaking some rule you've never heard of.

Thursday, June 01, 2006
I always said that radical chic needed to be put down the toilet of history. The new Nintendo games console formerly known as the "Revolution", giving rise to a million headlines saying "The revolution is coming", is now to be known as the...


Wi? We don't know. All we know is that somebody must have spent a pretty penny coming up with that one.

This Wikipedia entry is rather muted in describing the reaction to the new name. My children think it's the most sublime name since Atari's Pong.

Incidentally, the French name for Noddy is Oui-oui and it is a myth that the Vauxhall Nova didn't sell in Spanish-speaking countries because no va means "it doesn't go". If I had more time I would have found a better way of integrating these interesting but tenuosly connected facts into the rest of the post, but right now I have to go and make revolution.

I am delighted that Ken Loach has won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival for his film lauding the IRA of the '20s, which he himself says is to be read as a parallel to the British in Iraq today. You may recall that Michael Moore won the Palme d'Or last year with Farenheit 9/11.

Let all three of them, Loach, Moore and the Palme d'Or itself, drag each other's reputations down. I hope that the judges in future years continue to make it obvious that the award is given for having the right opinions to play well with the luvvie crowd. Eventually having won the Palme d'Or will bestow about as much credit as having won the Lenin Prize for Literature. Don't worry about Loach, in his case that is probably quite a lot of credit. It's tough on winners from earlier years who may have had different political opinions or none, but one cannot allow the sufferings of individuals to stand in the way of advancing the cause of art.

Loach himself certainly didn't. Until two days ago I had never heard this:

In Kes, probably Loach's best-known film, which tells the tale of a boy who befriends a falcon, the actor playing the boy believed the bird used in the filming had been killed for the final scene in which he discovers its death. In fact, a dead kestrel had been substituted for the live bird.