Natalie Solent

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

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

Back to main blog

RSS thingy

Jane's Blogosphere: blogtrack for Natalie Solent.


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

The Old Comrades:

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

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

Tuesday, October 31, 2006
A post about Torchwood, placed on Biased BBC for old times' sake.

Contains spoilers. Now you really can't resist.

Monday, October 30, 2006
Non-Europhile blogs. Very non. The EUsceptic roundup is hosted in his kitchen by the Devil himself. His language is about what you might expect from the Devil, but I feel sure he's a good boy really.

Beautiful musical geometrical dots rotating thing. Try the hand-cranked "version 17", too. Your and my time pleasantly wasted via Crooked Timber.

Excuses for absence. Better than most!
Hello Natalie,

I hope all is well.

I just wanted to drop you a line and say thank you for helping me maintain my reading habits while here in Iraq. Six months down and sixish months to go.

All the best,


currently not blogging at EU Rota

I know you're not blogging, mate. Look at your referrer stats. That's me, that is.

In the comments to EU Rota's most recent post announcing that for the present he would continue to refrain from disturbing the repose of the enlightened classes, I found

... Europhile blogs.

Meet the EU Patriot. Read his comments on President Bush. I think they could be best described as "quintessential".

We Europeans abolished the death penalty long time ago, because we listened to sociologists, psychologists and experts on the field of death penalty. We Europeans believe in science, not in ancient books like the bible. During his legislative period, Gov. Bush signed not less then 152 death sentences. This means for me that he killed 152 human beings. This is a sad statistic which shows his barbarity. It’s the same thing with his wars: He is the reason for these wars, not anyone else. He is guilty. For me and many Europeans, he is comparable to evil guys like Stalin or Hitler. His cheating during the election (according to US film-maker Michael Moore) makes him a kind of dictator.

And via EU Patriot's comments, meet Kirsty of Down (and out) in Amsterdam. Here's her review of The Wind that Shakes the Barley:

The lads are lined up against the wall, the women are screaming. The Black and Tans demand to know the name and occupation of each of the men. Most comply readily. All except one - Micheail; who refuses to say his name in English. The others give him pleading looks, yet he still refuses. He is taken into the chicken coop and beaten to death with a rifle butt.

Simply because he said his name in Gaelic. It is a fictitious event. Micheail was not based on any historical figure, he was of no great importance - nor did he feature in the film for more than five minutes. Yet this is what makes the scene so poignant.
She obviously read the review in Time Out magazine: ("It’s not an historical event. Nor is Micheail a politician, a particular hero, or even a character with whom we’ve spent more than five minutes. Instead he’s a fictional, anonymous rural labourer invented by Loach and his regular screenwriter Paul Laverty...") In true Time Out style, Kirsty continues:
He was simply one of the many, many anonymous farm labourers who suffered wreckless brutality at the hands of the English.
Er, didn't you say he was an actor, acting out a fictitious event?

Sunday, October 29, 2006
Britblog roundup. Why not try out Philobiblon, reviewing a book on the English Civil War?
Purkiss also maintains the often-buried genuinely radical elements of this English Revolution and explores the failure of imagination that meant these ideas of equality - of the participation of the ordinary man in politics - could establish only shallow roots. She finds a wonderful example of the Levellers finding an image of what they could only grasp at from a foreign culture.

"A Leveller newsbook The Kingdomes Faithfull and Impatriall Scout described two American Indians displayed in France by merchants as objects of curiosity. But the Indians are not only observed: they also do their own observing, and they are ’stood amazed’:

"That so many gallant men which seemed to have stout and generous spirits should all stand bare, and be subject to the will and pleasure of a Child [Louis XIV]. Secondly, that some in the city were clad in very rich and costly apparel, and others so extreme poor, that they were ready to famish for hunger; that he conceived them to be all equalised in the balance of nature, and not one to be exalted above another."

UPDATE: Twit that I am, I forgot to put a link to the Britblog roundup around the words "Britblog roundup". There is in fact a roundup of interesting posts from British blogs that you can go and look at here where it says, "Britblog roundup."

The post by "The Englishman" about country wisdom regarding the employment of rabbit catchers and how this relates to speed cameras is very informative and rather funny.

Saturday, October 28, 2006
The creator of Dilbert lost the ability to talk. He could still sing, or lecture to large audiences. (No, this isn't a joke, even though it does come via IMAO.)

Friday, October 27, 2006
Attack ads incoming! When presented with the contrast between the scurrilous political attack ads common in the US and the more decorous and infinitely less expensive political advertisements exhibited in Britain, Americans react in the same way British people do when presented with the contrast between the hard-bitten, smut-sniffing hounds of Fleet Street compared to earnest US journalists: they are barely able to conceal their pride. We play for real. You people do up the top buttons on your shirts.

When reading this article in the Times by Tom Baldwin deploring the attack ads in US politics ("candidates are plumbing new depths of taste and duplicity"), I felt inwardly sure that any one of our boys could drink any American j-school graduate (j-school, pshaw!, graduate, pshaw!) under the table and still get an exclusive interview with Heather Mills' other leg in time for the morning editions. This warmed my soul.

Thursday, October 26, 2006
Bush League. Alex Bensky writes, quoting this post:
"Those who think that a clueless idiot can get and keep the office of President of the United States may well be good children or pleasant neighbours but there is no need to take anything they say about politics seriously."

You know, Natalie, I am not an admirer of George Bush. I didn't vote for him either time and I guess I probably still wouldn't if I could do it over again. (I used to call myself a member of the Joe Lieberman wing of the Democratic Party. Now what?) But I never cease to be irked by the liberal trope that Bush is an idiot.

There are two widely taken standardized tests in the US that are relevant--the SAT or Scholastic Aptitude Test that until recently was taken by most university-bound high school students (it's still administered widely it's not the sole such national test anymore) and the Graduate Record Exam, required for graduate school applications in most situations. They are both considered rough-and-ready IQ tests, too. Bush slightly outscored John Kerry on both. They went to the same universities and although I can't find the references on the internet, I think their grades were roughly similar.

One of the many, many reasons I am a disaffected and former liberal is the widespread idea that those who oppose liberals are either stupid or evil. I don't know; I live in the city of Detroit and all around me, although not in my immediate neighborhood, are some indications that liberal social policy wasn't entirely effective. There are plenty of reasons to oppose Bush and his policies, but the smug and self-satisfied "he's an idiot" seems to be enough for a lot of people and pointing out, as I have done, that Bush's IQ is probably a tad above Kerry's generally does not provoke a thoughtful or reasoned response.

Well, as I get older I begin to think there was something in what someone told me long ago: "Politics is like baseball. They're both very complicated. You have to be smart enough to understand them, and dumb enough to think they're important." I am a baseball fan, by the way.

Euron Eurown. In this post regular commenter JEM wrote
After all, if it's better for each country in Europe to have its own currency, how much better it would be if each county in the United Kingdom had its own currency too... or each town... or each street... or each house... After all, why should the Central Bank of 25 Typical Street hand over control of the 25 Typical Street Groat to the Central Bank of Typical Street and their Typical Street Groat?
Another correspondent is critical:
JEM, who writes, does not appear to understand that a currency is also a means of control by a state over its subjects. The main argument against the Euro is not that Sterling is a pround patriotic icon, as JEM appear (rather unobservantly) to think, but that putting control of something so fundamental to our life under the control of a foreign, corrupt and generally useless bunch of bureaucrats is probably a very bad idea. Perhaps JEM would also like to see centralised control of the water system, gas and electricity from Brussels?

However Squander Two (who will be much too busy today to read this - best wishes to his wife and soon to be born child) quotes JEM approvingly and makes a proposal of his own:

Those people who hate the Euro wouldn't have to use it. Those who love the Euro could use it as much as they liked. The rest of us — which I reckon would quickly become most of us — could just use whichever was the most sensible at the time. We'd get lots of the economic advantages of having the Euro, with few of the disadvantages (I reckon — I'm not an economist). The public would generate money out of nothing as they'd start to watch interest rates closely and switch currencies whenever profitable. And everyone in the country would get much much better at mental arithmetic. Lord knows the schools aren't teaching it to them.
The comments touch on John Major's "hard ecu" idea and the distinction between legal tender and legal currency. One of them came from Tim Worstall who continues on the same theme in this post.
The various countries within the euro zone simply are not an optimal currency area. You can quite happily argue that the UK itself is too large and diverse to be one as well but the problems of tying most of a continent into one are of course greater than the one we have here.

Why have I given this post the title it has? Mostly, of course, because I could. But also because I have to admit that I will be unable to accompany you too much further into this debate; even supplemented by what I can scavenge, my store of knowledge of these issues will not last long.

Monday, October 23, 2006
Totem or medium of exchange? JEM writes:
It is one thing to believe that the euro will 'break' and so we are better out of it. It is another to hope it will break, even when we are out of it anyway.

I confess I have always found much of the argument against the euro faintly puerile anyway.

The euro may have been assembled in a flawed way--I agree--but that is not to say that the idea of a common currency is of itself wrong in principle.

After all, if it's better for each country in Europe to have its own currency, how much better it would be if each county in the United Kingdom had its own currency too... or each town... or each street... or each house... After all, why should the Central Bank of 25 Typical Street hand over control of the 25 Typical Street Groat to the Central Bank of Typical Street and their Typical Street Groat?

Absurd? Yes. Of course. That's my point.

After all, what is money? A national totem? No, it's just a medium of exchange: a tool. There is nothing especially patriotic about pounds, and it is a delusion to suppose that we, here, determine its worth; that is actually determined exactly and precisely by what foreigners (Johnny Foreigners, mark you!) will pay for it. Full stop.

And I hope Milton Friedman lives on for many years.

"Fundamentally, they are looking for magic." D-Ed reckoning summarises that paper on constructivist education I mentioned earlier.

To me, the title of "popularizer" is one of high honour. You will enjoy reading this. Includes entertaining tests and examples that will slip into your conversation five years hence. Not to mention a sentence incomprehensible to British readers.

When the political becomes the personal. Yesterday I failed to flag up another - indeed the very first - post featured in Britblog roundup for a reason that is rather typical of me. I had already copied the bare link into Blogger for myself, but hadn't yet made a post of it. Now I have. Squander Two, about to become a father at the time of writing, has more than the usual fears common to his position. His wife is diabetic.
What this means, for those of you who don't know much about insulin, is that a heavily pregnant diabetic woman is injecting herself four times a day with what would usually be a lethal dose. As soon as she gives birth — within minutes, in fact — the required dose goes back down, not only to what it would be usually, but, as sugar is now being converted into milk instead of stored as fat, even further down that that.

So, you have nurses who know sod all about diabetes and are arrogant enough to overrule the instructions of diabetic consultants and the protests of experienced patients, in charge of giving insulin to a diabetic whose required dosage was about thirty-six units a couple of hours ago but who would now be killed stone dead if injected with even twenty units, whose ideal dosage is far lower than anything that has ever been recorded in her medical records, and who, on a drip and having just given birth, is in no condition to resist being given the medication. Really, it's amazing only two people have been killed.

So it was a great relief to us when, earlier this week, Vic's diabetic consultant told us that he has "an arrangement" with the nurses and midwives at our hospital whereby his patients are allowed to medicate themselves. He says they're all under strict instructions to allow his patients to inject their own insulin and to bow to their expertise over what dosage they should be taking. If there's any argument, we're to tell the nurses to call him, and he'll tell them that the ideal dose is whatever Vic says it is. Which is great.

For his patients.

For this is sheer luck. If we had a different postcode, Vic would have a different diabetic consultant, who might not have decided to overrule NHS policy and whose patients would therefore have to run the gauntlet whenever they went to hospital.

Emphasis added.

Sunday, October 22, 2006
Britblog roundup time again. Take a particular look at the post from Adloyada on Putin's joking about allegations of rape laid against President Katzav of Israel. It's here.

Saturday, October 21, 2006
Hearing the echoes of Vietnam. I wrote two posts for Biased BBC about the BBC's reporting of President Bush's "admission" that there were parallels between the present situation and Iraq and the Tet Offensive. The BBC, of course, is neither the only nor by any means the worst offender among the media organisations that have seized on this.

Those who think that a clueless idiot can get and keep the office of President of the United States may well be good children or pleasant neighbours but there is no need to take anything they say about politics seriously. Whatever criticisms one might justly make of Bush, one thing he cannot be is a simpleton. For all that there is a kind of truth behind it: Bush is a simple man. As I wrote here, precisely because he is a child of privilege "in important respects his values are more normal than is normal in his milieu." Poor guy. Of course he had thought about the similarities to the Tet Offensive. Like some prince letting slip that there might be something to this Copernican system in front of his less enlightened bishops, he just forgot for a moment to keep one of the taboos that it is safer to observe when so many of the intermediaries between him and the populace are either ignoramuses or hostile.

He forgot that so many of them rejoice that the American media managed to turn that offensive, which General Giap viewed as a failure, into "proof" that the war could not be won. He forgot that so many of them view the conquest of Vietnam by a regime so detested by its own people that thousands of Boat People preferred the mercies of the open sea to enduring it any longer, and the deliverance of Cambodia into the hands of the democidal Khmer Rouge, to be their finest hour.

You know, thinking about it, his moment of forgetfulness might make a few people remember these things. It may not do him such harm after all.

(Cross posted to Samizdata.)

It's almost as if they like being different. This article from Peter Cuthbertson observes that
France and Germany have had no sustained period since the days of Charles de Gaulle in which their leaders represented the same side of their country’s political spectrum.


The possible resurgence of the left in France is happening as British Conservatives have seized their first sustained leads in opinion polls since the early 1990s. In turn, the revival of the British right in 2006 coincides with the defeat of the Italian right and the return to power of the left’s Romano Prodi.

Friday, October 20, 2006
Not seeing the joke. Humour from Stephen Pollard.

Thursday, October 19, 2006
And what of our own fair isle? After all this stuff about the Yanks and their troubles it is pleasant to observe that a Bill that will abolish trust between the generations is wending its way through Parliament. Just to show that British paranoia is the equal of any in the world.

More on Iraq. Read this from Thought Mesh, too.
I suppose one major difference is that I place the blame for all of the killing in Iraq on the people doing the killing, not those trying to prevent it. The USA has spent, bled, and died to minimize the deaths. I feel no shame on behalf of my nation because others are mass murdering scum and so I do not regret my support for the invasion at all.

Jim Miller posts about predictions for the forthcoming mid-term elections in the US.
... I have long thought that Republicans generally gain during a campaign, simply because some voters see their arguments for the first time.
Sounds likely to me. Also I'd guess that the way the Democrat-leaning media big up the Democrats' prospects is one reason that Republican "Get out the Vote" operations work so well: the press scares lazy Republicans out of their front rooms and into the polling station.

All things considered my prediction - tremble as I prophesy - is that the Democrats will gain control of the House of Representatives more narrowly than most people think. Scarcely any change in the Senate. I must admit, though, that what interest I have in this US election arises mostly from the fact that my interest-tank was filled so incredibly full in the 2004 election that it has still hasn't quite run dry even after two years.

Ah, happy memories. I've been to loads of parties that were less fun than that solitary night in front of a computer. In his post Jim Miller quotes Jay Cost extensively (from a most learned document with tables and percentages and little grey boxes in it) and it was to Jay Cost's Horserace Blog that I turned when the first reports in 2004 looked bad. Be of good cheer, he said, 'tis but the loss of a few stupid exit polls. He didn't just exhort, either. He wrote reassuringly hard-edged things like:

In North Carolina, the exit polls show the voting population to be 63 percent women. That is obviously far too large – and it explains why the exit polls have the President up by only one in North Carolina..
Then he and his flashcrowd of commenters got down to comparing the incoming Bush/Kerry results to the Bush/Gore results for individual counties.

Finally, as the dawn's new light dimmed my screen by comparison, I went over to Andrew Sullivan who linked to a real time counter of the Ohio vote spinning its way from possibility to certainty. I slipped downstairs to the TV to flick between ITV and BBC. How doggedly the presenters reported the Republicans' celebrations. The British stiff upper lip is not dead. As for me, it felt strange the next day, being boundlessly, secretly, sleepily happy about a result that depressed most people I knew, in so far as they cared at all.

Enough reminiscing. Though they may just contrive to get themselves into a position where they can manage a sigh of relief, Republicans are unlikely to do much partying after this election. One reason why I am not too unhappy about this - apart from the fact that it all matters much less - is that giving the Democrats a taste of victory might do something to cool down the conspiracy theories.

Just look at the comments to this BBC blog post by Justin Webb. I featured in Biased BBC under the heading "On the other hand..." because - seriously - I felt sorry for him.

While there are plenty of right wing conspiracists around as well, the left wing ones have been stoked to a frenzy by repeated disappointments. And by the media, of course.

Sterling's lucky escape. David Smith of the Sunday Times writes:
This chimes with my view that the euro will not survive in its present form for the next 10 years. I am glad, despite the irritations, that we are part of the EU. But when it comes to the euro, it is a case of better off out.
In 2002 Milton Friedman, then aged 90, said (jokingly, I think) that he expected to outlive the Euro. May he have the last laugh.

UPDATE: Read Madsen Pirie, too.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Standing aside. In this sad post Norman Geras says why he now feels that if he had known the human cost of the Iraq war he would have stood aside from supporting it.
Measured, in other words, against the hopes of what it might lead to and the likelihoods as I assessed them, the war has failed. Had I foreseen a failure of this magnitude, I would have withheld my support. Even then, I would not have been able to bring myself to oppose the war. As I have said two or three times before, nothing on earth could have induced me to march or otherwise campaign for a course of action that would have saved the Baathist regime. But I would have stood aside.
(To head off fruitless debate, he says that this change of mind predates the Lancet report.)

There's a subsequent, related post here.

Well, you can't get much more honest and heartfelt than that. But it seems to me that the course of action Norm now says he wishes he had taken founders on the difficulty of distinguishing between acts and omissions. "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

As for the rest, in which Norm touches (inevitably) on World War II, I have sometimes been haunted by the thought that the Holocaust would not have happened if appeasement had continued. Maybe a smirking, confident Nazi Germany would have been just another hateful dictatorship, making an accommodation with the British Empire eventually, and with the Soviets as they did, and expelling the Jews to Uganda. Maybe, if it makes any sense to assign a probability to a counterfactual, that is a fairly probable counterfactual.

But then I let my counterfactual imagination continue into the evolving future of a world where Hitler's aggression is rewarded and the democracies are humiliated (not least in their own eyes). In this world the dictators, not just Hitler, know that they have but to push and their fantasies can become real. When that is so, why not kill all who offend you? Why not conquer your neighbour? It worked before. And now those who might have stood against you are weaker. Part of that weakness is shame.

One of the few things differentiating the international structure of our world from from the early stages of that world is that the Iraq war took place.

(I slightly expanded and clarified this hastily-written post on Wenesday evening.)

Hatemonger's Quarterly reviews its mail.

"A little bit broken hearted." Does anyone know what's happened to the space cadets since?

The Tin Drum has up a post commenting further my post from yesterday on "constructivist instructional techniques". He writes:
By way of a final whinge about it, I remember very few, if any, taught sessions on the PGCE [Post-Graduate Certificate in Education] which actually followed the constructivist ideal. Most were good old fashioned "chalk and talk" sessions, in which we made copious notes and then afterwards went and learnt the notes. We were rigorously assessed, our learning was not "scaffolded", some of our tutors were very harsh, and we all worked damn hard, often doing a day at school and then four or five hours work in the evening, which might be preparing an assignment, doing the reading, or just preparing more lessons.

this have the HIT folk song Throw the Rock at the Jew!!!! Jagshemash! This is nice story even more funny than one about homosexual Uzbekh man. A Reuters camera-man has been caughtings on camera telling people how best way to throw rocks at Israeli vehicles. The accused, it say linking Arutz-Sheva, is heard on movie-film the shouting, "Throw, throw!" and later, "Throw towards the little window!"

On other hand says J-Post which I think name is suspiciously hiding JEWS, Reuters mans best ambition is NOT just tellings but really throw Rock.

But judea judge major Maj Dahan, feelings quite sorry for Reuters camera-man because he lives at home in same Village as Rocks. You now see the thing what judge writes in his descision:

"That village is a constant source of conflict and the respondent should not again be placed in such a dilemma, lest he again, Heaven forbid, disgrace himself."
Yes, sadly true, he might miss with rock with all wifes seeing.

Then judge wrotes that the criminal act in question may have perpetrate

"out of the desire to mollify the villagers who know him, rather than acting as he normally does, as has been preliminarily proven, as a purely objective cameraman."
Now joke really is FUNNY!!!

Arutz Sheva, what sound like Uzbekistan people to me althoguh they also do good deal cell-phone rental, give Reuters mans name as Boghnat. others in Jew-Post say his Name as... my goodnes! Borat like me!!!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Re-naming it every ten years hasn't made it work. Read Joanne Jacobs linking to Ken DeRosa linking in turn to an article in Educational Psychologist magazine called Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work by Paul Kirschner, John Sweller and Richard Clark.

These three links all have worthwhile stuff to read in them, so I'm telling you to read all three. OK, I'm also admitting that I have only skim-read the paper itself - but I've always said that "Do as I say not as I do" has a lot more going for it as a teaching strategy than it is given credit for.

Anyway. It's been called discovery learning, experiential learning, problem-based learning, inquiry learning and now (heaven help us) "constructivist instructional techniques".

Whatever you call it, it gives worse results for most people most of the time than just telling them. So why do people keep coming up with new discovery-learning programmes decade after decade? Why do they keep getting it wrong? (I'm not saying that getting students to discover stuff for themselves has no place in a teacher's repertoire of techniques. Ultimately, it is true, all teaching should give the student tools to discover things for themselves. I am saying that teachers should spend more time on direct instruction and less time on discovery learning than they currently do.)

My take: the sort of people who think these programmes up are unreasonably generalising from their own experience. Here are three reasons why they do this:

Reason #1: the sort of people who become teachers and devisers of learning programmes did well in school. Their own memories of learning are the memories of successful students. Geeks, nerds and brainboxes are the ones who are most likely to be able to make the leap, to discover the next step for themselves. They wrongly assume that what worked for them works for all. They forget that most students are less successful (or as we teachers like to put it, "thicker") than they were.

Reason #2: in one's study of any subject the times when one is most likely to learn by discovery come later, when one is already firmly grounded in the subject. (The section early in the paper on "Cognitive Architecture" deals with why this is so. See, I have read some of it.) When teachers and devisers of learning programmes remember their own experience of learning, their later, discovery-heavy memories are clearer than their earlier, instruction-heavy memories. They give the way they learned more recently too large a weighting compared to the way they learned in early childhood.

Reason #3(a): the moment of discovery is glorious. Remember? Of course you do. You laughed, you gasped, you punched the air. Unfortunately that was not, and could not be, how you learned most of the time. The people who devise these programmes give too much weight to the extra-memorable moments of discovery compared to the weeks and months of forgettable slogging that lay between. Furthermore, they are kindhearted. They want to multiply these happy "light bulb" moments. Sadly, in doing so they also multiply those "I feel completely lost, please God let the bell ring soon" moments. Or, conversely, those "hey, this is better than working" moments - see the section in the paper headed "Knowing Less After Instruction."

Reason #3(b): we humans like to flatter ourselves. When recalling (even after minutes rather than days) the moment of discovery we overestimate how much of that discovery was our own independent genius and how much of it was really the teacher telling us all but the last step. Teachers go along with the deception. How often, teachers, have you happily acquiesced in your pupil's pleasure at having "thought something out for herself" when you know perfectly well that your lips and tongue had practically formed the first sound of the answer? Don't discontinue this practice. Sugar helps the medicine go down. (On a related track, one of Ken DeRosa's commenters, "steveh", recalls that he had a light-bulb moment while being directly taught. So have I.)

However, having read over my list of reasons for the unshakeable popularity of discovery learning, all of which revolved around people drawing mistaken conclusions from their own memories, I can't help feeling that I have not covered something more basic. When physicists discovered that there was something more rock-bottom than any of the first, second and third laws of thermodynamics, they called it the "Zeroth Law". On the same pattern I shall have a Reason Number Zero.

Reason #0: they don't want to look bossy. They don't want to look authoritarian. As it says at the end of the paper, "current constructivist views have become ideological."

Monday, October 16, 2006
Back in the fold. Indy's main story today was How Government flights pumped out 1,000 tons of carbon dioxide.
Environmental groups went on the attack last night over the huge scale of the emissions. The figures starkly underline the fact that, although the Blair Government is talking ever more loudly about the problem of global warming, it cannot itself get to grips with its fastest-rising cause - emissions of greenhouse gases from aircraft engines.

This ties into a question from Paul Zrimsek, one of the commenters to the Tim Blair post linked to below, who asks:

Say, does this mean that instead of looking down on us Yanks as non-traveling rubes without passports, the Europinks are going to start looking up to us as non-traveling rubes without passports?
No. To the sugar caves with you.

I decline to post the various emails about climate change I have received following the Blairite Instalanche-at-one-remove I got from this post, yet I post this link to a discussion of climate change, Thomas Kuhn, and paradigm shifts in Freedom and Whisky. Why I am so horrible? It can't be from drinking kitten blood, that stuff is 100% natural.

(Afterthought: I don't actually know if I had a Blairite Instalanche-at-one-remove, having failed to resuscitate my BeSeen hit counter after its tragic seizure. It matters not. I, for one, welcome my alien overlords on the off-chance that they might exist.)

"Have terrorists struck the United States? I admit, I felt tickled." Damian Penny flagged up a sickening column by one Michael Downey in Canada's Western Star. Downey writes:
My first instinct is buried beneath subdued excitement. Have terrorists struck the United States? I admit, I felt tickled. Since it's clear that US paranoia over invisible terrorists and threats fabricated from the soiled material that is white trash ignorance aren't going to disperse anytime soon, then I may find an ounce of comfort if some of the US's fears are substantiated.
Unfortunately the Western Star site doesn't let you see individual articles without downloading the whole paper.

One door closes, another door opens. At first I thought I had me a post about the hypocrisy of rich socialists here. Today's Independent reports:
A former pit worker is to bring Cuban-style health care, administered by Arthur Scargill's daughter, to Grimethorpe ... The Oaks Park primary care centre, built at a cost of £3m, is the phoenix that has risen out of the ashes of the closure of the Grimethorpe colliery in South Yorkshire ... The Primary Oaks scheme is the brainchild of Jim Logan, Arthur Scargill's son-in-law and the one-time Grimethorpe colliery manager, who made a study of the Cuban health system.
Then the story finishes:
At the root of the project is a belief in uniting the provision of health and social care. Mr Logan suggested to Barnsley Health Service and Barnsley Council Social Services Department a proposal to amalgamate the two care sectors. But his ideas were turned down.

Undeterred, he went ahead and drew up plans for such a centre, deciding to fund the project himself.

Aha, I thought, as I added the bold tags fore and aft of the last three words, this admirer of Fidel Castro's "health reforms"* has £3m to spare, does he?

Alas for my hopes of a snarko-opp. This Yorkshire Post article dated 9 October tells the story a little differently:

At the root of the project is a belief in the need to unite provision of health and social care.

He took proposal [sic] to amalgamate the two care sectors to Barnsley Health Service and Barnsley Council Social Services Department. But this was turned down, department chiefs saying budgets must remain separate.

Undeterred, he went ahead and drew up plans for such a centre, deciding to field the project himself.

Throughout the development of the plan he worked closely with the six doctors and staff who were to work at the centre, including his own wife. Once it was complete he sought and won the funding.

Emphasis added by my own fair hand. Seeking and winning funding, presumably government funding, leaves one's socialist credentials untouched.

But I think I may still have something to post about. Look at the very similar wording of those two extracts, one from the Yorkshire Post and one from the Independent. The only significant differences between the two sections beginning "At the root of the project..." and ending "...the project himself" is half a sentence about separate budgets. And of course the fact that the Independent was wrong about the funding.

The Independent can't even copy out someone else's story right.

*Reforms? The only changes in the Cuban healthcare system that I have heard about recently are the ones that have led to allegations of "tourist apartheid" between foreign visitors and Cubans. Or is the Independent talking about Castro's health reforms vis à vis the healthcare system of the Batista regime, which fell in 1959, forty-seven years ago?

Friday, October 13, 2006
"... Each discovering in its turn that there are no checks on its ambitions ..."

Andrew Coyne:

That would be, by my count, the seventh such test the UN has undergone in recent years, all of which it has failed with flying colours: Kosovo, Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Iraq (17 times!), with Iran the next in line. Each time, the UN is warned it risks "going the way of the League of Nations" -- you know, after it failed to prevent Mussolini's annexation of Abyssinia. Huh? It's been one long League of Nations since the start, an endless series of Abyssinias.

We simply do not have the stomach for this fight. We will learn no lessons from this latest crisis, as we have learned none from those before. But be assured our adversaries will. In Iran, they are watching and learning from North Korea's example, as North Korea had learned from Iran's, each discovering in its turn that there are no checks on its ambitions, nor any world to stop it. And when, as the wisest heads advise, we abandon Afghanistan to the Taliban, and Iraq to al-Qaeda, the nuclear bazaar really will be open.

Still, I don't want to leave you with the impression that all is dark. It could be worse. Just imagine if Saddam Hussein was still in power.

(Via Daimnation)

Peverse incentives again. Via the Globalisation Institute, a sad post from Tim Hartford.
The view from my upstairs window in Hackney has changed a little now that the beautiful old neighbourhood church has been flattened. The church disappeared almost overnight despite attempts to preserve it - or, more accurately, because of attempts to preserve it. No surprise to an economist, but what's going on?

The story is simple. Hackney Council was discussing the possibility of extending a conservation area to include the church. Once that happened, it would be difficult to get permission to demolish the church and build something else. The developers weren't stupid, and knocked the old building down while they still could.

The heir to Mountbatten. I fear that these remarks by the Chief of the General Staff, Sir Richard Dannatt, have made it a little more likely that Iraq will suffer something like the horrors of the Partition of India:

In March of 1947 Lord Mountbatten was sent to take over the viceroy, and encountered a situation in which he feared a forced evacuation of British troops. He recommended a partition of Punjab and Bengal in the face of raging civil war. Gandhi was very opposed to the idea of partition, and urged Mountbatten to offer Jinnah leadership of a united India instead of the creation of a separate Muslim state. However, Nehru would not agree to that suggestion. In July Britain's Parliament passed the Indian Independence Act, which set a deadline of midnight on August 14-15, 1947 for "demarcation of the dominions of India." As a result, at least 10 million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs fled their homes to seek sanctuary on whichever side of the line was favorable to them. The ensuing communal massacres left at least one million dead, with the brunt of the suffering borne by the Sikhs who had been caught in the middle. Most of them eventually settled in Punjab.

He's now saying that the media blew his comments out of proportion to wrongly suggest there was a "chasm" between him and the government. No doubt they did. But he should have known they would.

Apart from that, Mrs Lincoln, I had a lot of sympathy with his views.

Thursday, October 12, 2006
Why terms like "climate change denialist" are very bad propaganda.

Brendan O'Neill writes

The demonisation of 'climate change denial' is an affront to open and rational debate.
He quotes someone who wants to make climate change denial an offence and someone else who wants "some sort of climate Nuremberg." The Nuremberger has since retracted it - see here - but there are plenty of other people about using the terms climate change "denialist" or "denier" in an effort to make them sound equivalent to the likes of David Irving. Those who use these terms generally say they don't intend to make this parallel. I don't believe them.

More to the point, I believe in climate change less because of them.

In case you're wondering, I do largely believe in climate change - but that belief is second hand. Nothing wrong with that, most of everybody's beliefs are second hand. We accept the consensus of experts. (I don't really want to get into a discussion of the role of consensus in science, or the issues of whether climate change is happening, is anthropogenic, or might actually be a good thing. Being able to spell "anthropogenic" is effort enough.) The consensus convinces because there is no good reason to suppose that so many eminent scientists are lying or deceiving themselves when they say climate change is happening. But if you give me cause to believe that departure from the consensus gets a person ostracised, then there is a good reason.

I wasn't proud of that. I am, however, proud to have played some role in inspiring this.

T'on n'y blé?

I could bring together the themes of the last two posts by saying that none of the British quality papers in their coverage of the latest Lancet study has mentioned that one of the authors, Les Roberts, recently ran for Congress as a Democrat. Until he dropped out of the race in May, he was one of the candidates in New York State's 24th congressional district. Here is his position paper on Iraq and here's an interview with him for a website supporting the left wing of the Democratic party called That's my Congress. Here's another interview, this time with Socialist Worker Online.

Three of the authors of the two general studies of casualties in Iraq (Les Roberts, Riyadh Lafta and Gilbert Burnham) are also the authors of The Role of Small Arms during the 2003-2004 Conflict in Iraq. It was produced by the Small Arms Survey. The Survey is a gun control organisation "dedicated to documenting the effects of small arms on social well-being and public health throughout the globe."

From the various links above, I think we can get a picture of Les Robert's politics. He is a transnational progressive.

His politics do not mean that his figures are wrong. [ADDED LATER: I think, however, that his politics make certain types of error more likely. LATER STILL: I keep not making myself clear. What I meant to say was that his politics are not in themselves a sufficient reason to suppose him wrong, although they are one factor contributing to my assessment that he is wrong.] But the fact that he, like me, is a political animal is something I wouldn't mind knowing, and something that we would hear a lot more about if the boot were on the other foot.

To me, Les Roberts comes across as somewhat more politically congenial - or less uncongenial - than the editor of the Lancet, Dr Richard Horton. In the Socialist Worker Online interview Dr Roberts doesn't sound particularly happy about it when he says that most of the interviews he has had in America were with "marginal" left wing magazines - a bit of an "ouch" moment for Socialist Worker's Joseph Choonara, perhaps.

In contrast Dr Horton appeared passionately happy to be on the same stage as Galloway and friends in Manchester last month. Harry's Place has up a couple of videos showing Dr Horton. The first was filmed at the Stop the War rally in Manchester on September 23. Horton tells the crowd:

"As this axis of Anglo-American imperialism extends its influence through war and conflict, gathering power and wealth as it goes, so millions of people are left to die in poverty and disease."
The second video is less moonbatty - being unashamedly to the left of the Labour party is not the same as moonbattery - but I am not sure how Dr Horton reconciles
"Values and ideas are, of course, worth defending"
"We have got to avoid the suggestion that we in Britain are somehow superior, better and more civilised; that our values somehow trump the values of other societies."
There is a paragraph near the end of the article from the Socialist Worker Online which says,
Speaking at a special lecture at London’s School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine last week, Les Roberts said that the Lancet was chosen because it was the most highly regarded medical journal in the world, with the tightest peer-review procedures.
Something tells me that another reason the Lancet was chosen was that Dr Richard Horton was its editor.

Talking of the US mid-term elections, somebody asked me how the Foley scandal was playing here.

Don't worry. We all know by now that he's a Republican. How standards of reporting have improved!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Good heavens, election time already over the Pond?

The Lancet has published a new study of deaths in the Iraq war.

My comments from last time stand.

I believe I am qualified to give you a satisfactory "hand-wavy" explanation of this latest scientific development: Quantum information teleported from light to matter. Leaving out some rather tricky mathematics, it's like this:

(Waves hands eloquently)

The article above prompted Glenn Reynolds to speculate on the effects of teleportation.

But as with many technological prognostications, this extreme example is really just a more exaggerated version of what's already happening. Virtual communities in some ways already mean more than real ones, and physical borders are increasingly overmatched by the porosity brought about by changes in technology and culture, well short of any matter transportation devices.

Leaving the realms of theory, here is some practical safety advice from Wired: How to dismantle an atomic bomb. (Via Dodgeblogium, who reminds us to dispose of waste bombs in an environmentally friendly manner.)

I don't like Daniel Davies' politics and I don't like his behaviour as a blogger or a debater. I like this article of his a good deal.
Obviously, the idea that enthusiastic laymen can bluff their way into an form of understanding of a subject that is equally as valid as that of experts in the field is so powerfully attractive to bloggers that it probably ought to be shot down simply on grounds of being too good to be true. But it's a question that's really worth thinking about: what, if anything, is it about gravity waves that Harry Collins doesn't really understand?

Monday, October 09, 2006
With one hand New Labour giveth, with the other hand New Labour taketh away. Samizdata's Thaddeus Tremayne reminds us that Jack Straw of the oh-so courageous comments about Muslim veils is the same Jack Straw who forced the adoption of the definition of a racist incident proposed by the Macpherson report. Officially a racist incident is
“any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person.”

When in December 2000 William Hague claimed that the effect of the Macpherson Report had been to lower police morale, Jack Straw called it "disgusting and disgraceful". Even a left winger like the late Hugo Young of the Guardian said that all Straw was doing was playing the race card in a different suit.

Back in the present, the Times reports that a male terror suspect evaded arrest by disguising himself under a Muslim veil. May I remind you again again that the government wanted to make it illegal to suggest that an Islamic veil might be used to conceal terror activities? That suggestion was the very example Home Office minister Paul Goggins gave, when arguing in favour of the Religious Hatred Bill, of speech that would be caught by the Bill.

The title of this post was inspired by this excellent comment to the Samizdata post.

The Anchoress posts about all abortion, free speech and school massacres. A man called Brian Rohrbough, whose child was killed in the Columbine school shooting, said that such massacres were caused in part by abortion diminishing the value of children. The Anchoress comments:
What I found interesting was that some on the left were very angry that Rohrbough dared “politicize this tragedy.” Well, I agree, sort of. I hate it when anyone uses a tragedy to advance their own agenda. But the folks on the left, so “appalled” by Rohrbough’s statement, indicate by their own comments that if only he’d talked about “gun control,” why…that wouldn’t be “politicizing” the event at all…that would just be talking sense!

Sunday, October 08, 2006
Squared up. Via the Britblog roundup here comes the Eurosceptic roundup.

Question: would there be enough pro-EU British blogs to manage a Europhile roundup? Being of the Ceterum censeo Unionem Europaeam esse delendam tendency myself, I'm not best placed to judge: my idea of a moderate is someone who would let an EU commissioner out of the Schandmantel eventually.

The wonderfully-titled A Fistful of Euros probably counts as one, although it doesn't exactly fizz with enthusiasm.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006
"Clouding debate" by providing a clearer picture. Tuesday's Times says that "New foetal scans 'clouded debate on late abortion'"
Sophisticated ultrasound scans that show foetuses as early as 12 weeks appearing to “walk” in the womb have had a dangerous impact on the public debate over abortion, leading doctors and scientists said yesterday.
I think we can assume that none of these leading doctors and scientists are Roman Catholics. But perhaps their discomfort with the availability of raw information to an ignorant and excitable public, unmediated by the explanations of a priestly caste, will give them a sympathetic historical understanding of the views of the Catholic hierarchy during the reign of Mary Tudor?

I jest. Mostly. Given that the Catholics themselves are so frightfully dull nowadays, I am sure that "leading doctors and scientists", progressives to a person, will not seek to imitate the robust methods of information control practised in the reign of Bloody Mary. However I will keep a lookout for efforts to make these scanner pictures not too easily available, or to ensure that they are only available with bucketfuls of commentary.

Senator Feingold, co-sponsor with the Twelfth or 'Hidden' President of what they called the reform of US campaign finance, would permit free speech without restriction ... to telepathic ghosts.
There have always been those who contend that regulating how money may be spent on speech is a far cry from directly censoring speech. But this would be true only in a fantasy world of telepathic ghosts, in which universal communication of any message to all parties were immediate and costless. In the real world, the one in which ends cannot be achieved without recourse to some means of achieving those ends, if a newspaper is prohibited from paying its bills, and/or all vendors are prohibited from providing the newspaper with any services -- well, the newspaper is just not going to be able to convey its news and views as it had done before.
(Via the Laissez-Faire Books blog.)

The internet brings us nearer to being telepathic ghosts capable of immediate, costless communication. So they'll reform that next if they can.

Monday, October 02, 2006
"You're better than Hitler," I told a friend of mine recently.

She was showing me her watercolours at the time, and this Times article about an auction of Hitler's paintings was open on the table. Here's a quote from the article:

Frank van Leemput, a lawyer who travelled from Antwerp for the auction, said: "These paintings are truly awful. If they are from the hand of the monster they explain some of the frustration that led to him becoming what he did. He wanted to be a painter, but had no talent. The result was one of the occasions the Devil truly did show his face on Earth."
It's quite possible that Mr van Leemput's vehemence was prompted by either he himself or members of his family having suffered terrible things at the hands of the Nazis - but he is still wrong. Hitler's hands did the Devil's work all right, but when he was signing orders for mass extermination, not when he was painting these unaggressive little pictures.

Hitler the watercolourist wasn't bad, writes Ross Clark.
The fact is that Adolf Hitler's artistic career followed the same trajectory of those of tens of thousands of perfectly ordinary people who have failed at the easel, and gives us absolutely no explanation for his subsequent deeds.
Is there some doubt about the evil of these deeds, such that a makeweight insult is needed to tip the scale downwards? I don't think so.

Count no man happy until he is dead. Sheridan 'confession' on tape

Two months after the socialist politician won libel damages of £200,000 from the News of the World over claims that he took part in orgies, fresh questions were raised about his courtroom victory yesterday when the newspaper published the transcript of a conversation in which he appears to admit to the allegations.
Far be it from me to comment on what really went on behind Cupid's pink-painted shutters, but I cannot help thinking that this latest development is a disappointment in terms of narrative structure. As things stood yesterday the whole drama oozed - er, given that this is all about a libel trial, I had better make that potentially oozed - tragic inevitability. Sheridan's star seemed set to traverse the arc that many have seen as the dramatic ideal. Sheridan's victory contained - potentially contained, I mean, like the oozing - the seeds of his eventual defeat. If only he could have quit while he was ahead! But the same law that gave him his victory would not let him quit: if he was telling the truth then the witnesses against him were lying. Lies in court are perjury. Perjury must be pursued in law. And that pursuit might lose him all.

This videotape reduces the plot to a mere reversal of fortune. Don't you see that to keep the proper form the dénoument must come in court? Short-circuiting the plot like this brings it down from Oedipus Rex to one of the later, tireder episodes of Tales of the Unexpected.

But the fat lady has not sung yet.

Britblog roundup is here again. You knew I wouldn't be able to resist the post by "Barbie's Worst Enemy" showing the first ever Barbie ad, didn't you?

As a child I rejected Barbie in favour of Sindy on the grounds that Barbie's boobs were too big. Then I rejected Sindy in favour of Daisy on the grounds that Sindy looked like a real woman whereas Daisy had an an enticing combination of neoteny and aspirational sex-appeal: an enormous head and teeny hands combined with a torso that looked like it had been passed through the machine that makes ice-cream cones. Three times in two different directions.

Nor should we forget that Daisy's oversized head popped off and rolled around the floor when she was upset. A little girl really bonds with a doll when that happens.

Sunday, October 01, 2006
Ask the people on one side of the story for their opinion. Report it as uncontested fact. When it comes to workplace surveys, that seems to be some newspapers' idea of ground-breaking reporting.

The Independent says that "Nearly half of pregnant women are treated unfairly by their bosses."

The survey, carried out by the Equal Opportunities Commission, in fact says in Section 2.1:

"It is worth noting that in all cases, these definitions arise from women’s perceptions of the ways in which they were treated and, sometimes, their view of what motivated their employer’s behaviour. The survey was not an objective assessment of their treatment. Nor does this treatment necessarily fall under the legal definition of discrimination. Only an employment tribunal can determine whether unlawful sex discrimination or unfair dismissal has occurred. However, the results indicate the widespread nature of what may be termed ‘pregnancy discrimination’, whether a narrow definition relating purely to dismissal or a wider, more inclusive, view of adverse treatment is accepted."
(Italics in original.)

The Independent is not the only paper to do this. Last year I posted about a Telegraph report of a survey on workplace bullying that likewise assumed every accusation was true.

"I have a problem with the language of 'yobs'. It sort of sets up and defines too much a 'self' and 'other'." Cindy Butts of the Metropolitan Police Authority wishes to become a yob.

That is what she said, isn't it?

That slippery slope to hell. Instapundit links to this thought-provoking comment by Tom Holsinger to a post about torture by Eugene Volokh.
Claims that torture is not an effective interrogation tool are often made but have no basis in fact. Rather it is an assertion of secular faith.

The real problem in use of torture for interrogation (coercion is not torture) is that torture is so effective at that, and easy to use, that there are powerful incentives to keep on using it in less and less important interrogation situations, followed by a drift to using torture for other purposes, first for intimidation and then to express personal and group power issues.

The French went all the way down that slippery slope to hell in the Algerian War of Independence. Their misuse of torture had strategic consequences.

I think Mr Holsinger may be overstating the ease and effectiveness of torture as a means to get information: surely many victims will say anything, true or false, to make the pain stop. But he is correct to say that the idea that torture is never or rarely successful is wishful thinking. Such is the temper of our times that some who really oppose torture on moral grounds feel the need to claim, or to believe, that it is ineffective as well as wrong. Would that it were so.

Those uppity Danes. "The question everyone is asking is has Denmark learned its lesson?" Someone should ask Thomas Buch-Anderson of the BBC exactly which lesson he had in mind. (Via Ed Thomas at Biased BBC.)