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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Sunday, November 24, 2013

'Refusal will result in a Racial Discrimination note being attached to your child's education record, which will remain on this file throughout their school career'

I have only one thing to add to this Telegraph blog post by Daniel Hannan. It is this: I am glad that Mr Hannan and other newspapers have not followed the usual timid practice when reporting stories of this type and obscured the name of the culprit. A storm of public anger is about the only weapon we have against the likes of Mrs L Small, head teacher of Littleton Green Community School, Colliers Way, Huntingdon, South Staffordshire WS12 4UD. And if "our R.E. coordinator Mrs Edmonds", she being the one with whom parents are invited to "discuss this further", does not wish to join her boss in the stocks, she should direct her further discussion towards disassociating herself from the literally fascist tactics Mrs Small uses. The L stands for "Lynn", by the way. Lynn Small, head teacher of Littleton Green Community School, the one who coerces parents by threatening to harm their eight year old children.


Loving the Aussies even more

At first I thought that Tim Blair's account of the outrageous behaviour of the Australian delegates to the Warsaw UN climate conference was written for laughs. I duly laughed. Then I followed the links. It's all true; the snacks ... the T-shirts ... the pyjamas. Then of course my laughter was replaced by profound sorrow at the disgrace brought upon a once-respected nation by its so-called representatives*.

*While acknowledging the limited validity of concerns about health and safety of delegates in late night negotiations.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The superior virtue of the oppressed

It’s no coincidence the MPs found guilty of fiddling are all Labour, writes Peter Oborne.

The book can at last be closed on The Daily Telegraph investigation into the MPs’ expenses scandal. More than 300 Members of Parliament have paid back wrongly claimed expenses. Several of the worst offenders have stood down from Parliament. Now that the former minister Denis MacShane has at last pleaded guilty to fraud, no further prosecutions are planned, and all criminal investigation is reported to have ceased.

But one puzzling question remains. Why is it that only Labour MPs have been found guilty of expenses fraud as a result of the Telegraph revelations?

His argument that there is "only one chance in 64 that Labour’s score of 6/6 was a coincidence" should be saved as an Awful Example for the probability chapter in a GCSE mathematics textbook, with calculation of the precise odds that he has let the Tories off far too lightly left as an exercise for the student.

This part of his explanation, however, is accurate:

It is especially perplexing because the party in general strongly feels itself to be the embodiment of decency and morality. Indeed Labour has always insisted that the Conservatives are the party of venality, greed and selfishness. How baffling it is, then, that only Labour MPs have been sent to jail as a result of the Telegraph revelations.

Paradoxically, I believe that it is Labour’s belief in its own higher morality – what Bertrand Russell called the “superior virtue of the oppressed” – that has led to its downfall.

Many Labour people cannot believe that anything done by the oppressed classes or their champions can ever really be wrong, not when there are Bullingdon-educated toffs who were in the Eton club out there for comparison. The jailed MPs and their supporters know in their hearts that their very sentences are part of the oppression. They take comfort as the prison gates clang behind them from the thought that when they hear that sound they join the company of heroes.

Stanley Kurtz described a similar persecution envy burning in the breasts of greens and climate change activists in The Wannabe Oppressed:

What do America’s college students want? They want to be oppressed. More precisely, a surprising number of students at America’s finest colleges and universities wish to appear as victims — to themselves, as well as to others — without the discomfort of actually experiencing victimization. Here is where global warming comes in. The secret appeal of campus climate activism lies in its ability to turn otherwise happy, healthy, and prosperous young people into an oppressed class, at least in their own imaginings. Climate activists say to the world, “I’ll save you.” Yet deep down they’re thinking, “Oppress me.”
And deeper yet, "Oppress me a little bit so that I can resist you with visible heroism safe in the knowledge that you will not actually hurt me."

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

If you like your health plan you can...

An entertaining story from the Guardian:

Obamacare website developers rush to fix bug suggesting hacking methods

Flaw in Affordable Care Act site records hack attempts through its search box and re-presents code as autocomplete options

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Fools and their futile appeals

White Sun of the Desert writes on Obamacare.

Parallels between the soft evils of the modern UK or US and the monstrous twentieth century dictatorships do not usually appeal to me for reasons I need not rehearse. However I think that in this post Tim Newman has made an acute psychological comparison.

Time to appeal to the vozhd.

Friday, November 15, 2013

A wrongheaded act

Syria al-Qa'ida rebels apologise for beheading the wrong man, reports the Irish Independent:

Syrian rebel fighters linked with al-Qaeda have begged for forgiveness from Allah after cutting off the head of one of their allies by mistake.

In a video posted on YouTube, fighters affiliated to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) were pictured holding up the head of a bearded man before a crowd in Aleppo, claiming that he was an Iraqi Shia fighting for President Assad.

Several people recognised the dead man and ISIS began an internal investigation and confirmed that the dead man was probably Muhammad Fares, a Sunni Islamist rebel whose group fights alongside ISIS.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Thirty pieces of nickel-brass alloy

Sometimes the Guardian justifies its name. This is worth knowing about:
Police tried to spy on Cambridge students, secret footage shows Officer is filmed attempting to persuade activist in his 20s to become informant targeting 'student-union type stuff'
Of this sort of thing is not new. A friend of mine was asked to spy on far-left groups back in the '70s. Perhaps it is inevitable; among the innumerable sects that split and reformed and split again to become the RCPBML and CPGB(ML) we all know and love this week, there were a few that really did need spying on, as do some of the Muslims who have replaced them. But "student-union type stuff"? Yup, MI5 really needs a deep cover mole in the the SUTS. And were they always such cheapskates?
The officer also suggested the man he hoped to recruit would be paid expenses or other sums. "You might go to a UK Uncut or Unite Against Fascism meeting one evening, you might get say £30 just for your time and effort for doing that. That's the sort of thing you are looking at."


Samizdata quote of the day

If you don’t own your own body, I shudder to think of the implications of the tragedy of the commons.

- Commenter "charles austin", here. Read about those implications here. The mills of incentives grind slow but they grind exceeding small.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

On this day let us commemorate...

... the victims of the French Revolution. Today is 20th Brumaire in the year CCXXII. On this day in in Year Two, 10th November 1793 in the former calendar, the Festival of Reason was inaugurated in the Temple of Reason, before and afterwards known as the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

When reading his description of the first Festival modern readers may find it difficult to share the outrage expressed by the highly partisan nineteenth century politician and historian of the French Revolution, denounced alike by Carlyle and Marx, Adolphe Thiers. The Catholic Church under the ancien régime was oppressive and parasitical, and the Festival can seem to modern eyes like nothing much worse than an embarrassingly amateur charity pageant run by the Women's Institute:

The first festival of Reason was held with pomp on the 20th of Brumaire (10th of November) It was attended by all the sections, together with the constituted authorities. A young woman represented the goddess of Reason. She was the wife of Momoro, the printer, one of the friends of Vincent, Bonsin, Chaumette, Hebert, and the like. She was dressed in a white drapery; a mantle of azure blue hung from her shoulders ; her flowing hair was covered with the cap of liberty. She sat upon an antique seat, intwined with ivy and borne by four citizens. Young girls dressed in white, and crowned with roses, preceded and followed the goddess. Then came the busts of Lepelletier and Marat, musicians, troops, and all the armed sections. Speeches were delivered, and hymns sung in the Temple of Reason ; they then proceeded to the Convention, and Chaumette spoke in these terms :

"Legislators ! Fanaticism has given way to reason. Its bleared eyes could not endure the brilliancy of the light. This day an immense concourse has assembled beneath those Grothic vaults, which, for the first time, re-echoed the truth. There the French have celebrated the only true worship, that of liberty, that of reason. There we have formed wishes for the prosperity of the arms of the republic. There we have abandoned inanimate idols for reason, for that animated image, the masterpiece of Nature." As he uttered these words, Chaumette pointed to the living goddess of Reason.

Whatever the semblance, nothing about the French Revolution was harmless. The Goddess Reason ascended her throne two months into the Terror. When the Catholic peasants of the Vendée were so ungrateful for the blessings of the Goddess as to attempt counter-revolution, Momoro, the man whose wife had played the role of the Goddess, was deeply involved in its brutal suppression. Chaumette, too, was one of the leading enragés, and soppy modern "liberals" inclined to praise the Cult of Reason as an ancestor of their own views might like to read more about its teachings regarding women. Neither Momoro nor Chaumette had long to enjoy their status as founders. By spring of the next year Robespierre decided to replace the Cult of Reason with the Cult of the Supreme Being. From then on it was the People's Front of Judea scene from Life of Brian with real deaths. The Committee of Public Safety sent Momoro to the guillotine on 24th March 1794 and Chaumette followed him on 15th April. Robespierre himself fell from power in June and was guillotined in July.

A few paragraphs later Thiers describes "restraints" being imposed on a people that he thought were unprecedented in all prior history. They were not, alas, unrepeated in subsequent history:

If then we survey the state of France at this period, we shall see that never were more restraints imposed at once on that inert and patient part of the population on which political experiments are made. People dared no longer express any opinion. They were afraid to visit their friends, lest they might be compromised with them, and lose liberty and even life. A hundred thousand arrests and some hundreds of condemnations, rendered imprisonment and the scaffold ever present to the minds of twenty-five millions of French. They had to bear heavy taxes. If, by a perfectly arbitrary classification, they were placed on the list of the rich, they lost for that year a portion of their income.

Sometimes, at the requisition of a representative or of some agent or other, they were obliged to give up their crops, or their most valuable effects in gold and silver. They durst no longer display any luxury, or indulge in noisy pleasures. They were no longer permitted to use metallic money, but obliged to take and give a depreciated paper, with which it was difficult to procure such things as they needed. They were forced, if shopkeepers, to sell at a fictitious price, if buyers, to put up with the worst commodities, because the best shunned the maximum and the assignats : sometimes, indeed, they had to do without either, because good and bad were alike concealed. They had but one sort of black bread, common to the rich as to the poor, for which they were obliged to contend at the doors of the bakers, after waiting for several hours. Lastly, the names of the weights and measures, the names of the months and days, were changed ; there were but three Sundays instead of four ; and the women and the aged men were deprived of those religious ceremonies which they had been accustomed to attend all their lives.

It was a straight road from Revolutionary France to Soviet Russia, but if you look carefully the twisty paths from there to nearly all the "political experiments" and other horrors of the twentieth century can be discerned, including the two great wars remembered today.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

"Now, gods, stand up for bastards!"

"Those French bastards. Will they never learn?", asks Joan Smith in the Independent. And answers. By the grace of the State and in the Most Holy Name of Equality, yes! Those bastards will learn. They will be taught a lesson.

There is a bunch of well-known "bastards" in France who are keen on having sex with prostituted women. Don't take my word for it: that's how they describe themselves in a declaration insisting on their right to buy sex. The "bastards" (salauds in French) are so cross about a proposed law which would impose fines on men who pay for sex that they've decided to out themselves in a monthly magazine. The "manifesto of 343 bastards" has been signed by writers, actors, and commentators who say they have used, or are likely to use, "the services of prostitutes" – and aren't ashamed of it.

The question of whether anyone (although it's mostly men) should be able to buy sex is shaping up to become one of the great battles of the 21st century. France's socialist government intends to follow the example of some Scandinavian countries, which have criminalised "punters".

If you believe in equality, it's hard to see why men should be allowed to pay to use women's bodies, especially against a background of alarming levels of domestic and sexual violence.

To my astonishment the most logical riposte from among the Independent comments to Ms Smith's last quoted non-sequitur comes from a man blogging from the bottom corner of the political diamond, conservative-socialist authoritarian David A.S. Lindsay. Mr Lindsay says,
Alike in Britain and in France, by all means let it be made a criminal offence for anyone above the age of consent, raised to 18, to buy sex. And, with exactly equal sentencing, for anyone above the age of consent, raised to 18, to sell sex. Are women morally and intellectually equal to men, or not?
So far as I can tell this is not sarcasm; he wants both buyers and sellers of sex criminalised. I differ, but one cannot fault his logic on the "both or neither" point.

Edmund from King Lear gave me the title of this post. It is mostly there because I am incapable of passing up a nifty lit ref. However it does occur to me that there is a way it might be made relevant. Many people will particularly want to cheer the way the salauds proudly snap their nicotine-stained fingers in the faces of their would-be oppressors:

Nous aimons la liberté, la littérature et l’intimité. Et quand l’Etat s’occupe de nos fesses, elles sont toutes les trois en danger.

Aujourd’hui la prostitution, demain la pornographie : qu’interdira-t-on après-demain ?

Hell, I cheered that, and I'll be in church tomorrow and I had to look up "les fesses" in a French dictionary. (By the way, does "quand l'Etat s'occupe de nos fesses" have the double meaning I think it might have?) But it would really be nice, and principled, and a bloody good strategy for those who do not cheer, for those godly folk and their secular equivalents whose skin crawls at the thought of prostitution, to also stand up for the bastards. Because as the bastards say, "Today prostitution, tomorrow pornography: what will they forbid the day after next?"

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Sunday night strangeness: why does an academic book about fruit flies cost $23,698,655.93 on Amazon?

Michael Eisen is a biologist, who studies the fruit fly drosophila with especial interest as nearly all biologists appear to do for some reason some of our learned readers will, I hope, explain to me. In his own words,

A few weeks ago a postdoc in my lab logged on to Amazon to buy the lab an extra copy of Peter Lawrence’s The Making of a Fly – a classic work in developmental biology that we – and most other Drosophila developmental biologists – consult regularly. The book, published in 1992, is out of print. But Amazon listed 17 copies for sale: 15 used from $35.54, and 2 new from $1,730,045.91 (+$3.99 shipping).
And the price was rising steeply almost as he watched. Why? I had often wondered this myself. Not that the development of the fruit fly has generally been my first choice for a riveting read, but I did once come gulpingly close to pressing the "Buy now with 1-Click" button for Connie Long's Easy Guide to Sewing Linings before noticing just in time that it was going for more than two hundred pounds. It is now down to a mere £86 new / £44 used. I was kind of hoping for under £10. I am an idle waster who noted the strangeness and passed on; Doctor Eisen is a research scientist. He duly researched and explained all.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

They move among us: paedophiles and Popish plots

Remember, remember the fifth of November Gunpowder, treason and plot
Today is the Saturday nearest to Guy Fawkes Night. In half an hour I will be off to a fireworks party to commemorate the foiling of a dangerous Catholic plot against the realm. My Catholic family never had the slightest compunction about burning the chief conspirator in effigy. The plot was real, feasible and evil. In the years that followed, many innocent Catholics were suspected and sometimes killed for plots that were imaginary. The cry of "Popish plot" retained its power to whip up the mob for generations afterwards.

The target changes. I do not usually link to articles behind the Times paywall, but this piece by Matthew Parris, "Our need to hate creates another victim", is so timely and true that I shall break that rule.

On Tuesday an item appeared on page five of this newspaper. Our treatment was typical of most of the national press: only The Independent put it on the front page. Fleet Street does not appear to have judged that readers would see this as a big story.

Our headline was: “ ‘Paedophile’ killed by neighbours was wrongly accused — Disabled man had photographed flower vandals”. Bijan Ebrahimi, who lived alone and had learning difficulties, loved tending to hanging baskets of flowers outside his Bristol flat. When youths vandalised them he photographed the incident, to complain. A neighbour decided he was a paedophile, the rumours spread, and an angry crowd gathered outside his home, chanting “paedo, paedo”.

Every reader will be familiar with the very great difficulty we face when the burden of our advice to an anxious friend is not that a problem is imaginary but that he or she has got it out of all proportion. You are not claiming his worry is groundless; you are not even trying to make light of it. You are really just trying to get the worry into some kind of perspective. How does one strike the balance between scaling an anxiety down to size and appearing to dismiss it?

I find myself in that difficulty now, when what I want to suggest is most emphatically not that the problem of paedophilia does not exist, but that as a society we have become unhealthily obsessed by it. A kind of madness is gripping our age: I felt that as I pictured the terrified Bijan Ebrahimi, the crowd chanting “paedo, paedo” outside his flat, and nobody daring to try to protect him. And this in my own country.

I suppose the obvious comparisons are with the 17th and other centuries’ waves of hysteria about witchcraft, and my fellow columnist David Aaronovitch once made those comparisons bravely and powerfully on this page. But (as David acknowledged) there’s a difference: the case is easier to make when the object of the public’s fears simply doesn’t exist and never did. Paedophilia does exist, and this generation’s better understanding of how widespread it can be and what harm it can do acknowledges truths that our grandparents’ generation overlooked or ignored. If we must go back centuries for our parallels in the English imagination, maybe French spies or Popish plots are better comparisons, for these were by no means always imagined. . . but those days seem so distant.

For a public panic that some who are alive today can remember, I’d suggest we cross the Atlantic and return to the 1950s. So poisoned has Senator Joe McCarthy’s reputation become that we tend to forget that the threat to the security of the West from the USSR was probably real. There really were Communist plots, there really was an extensive network of Soviet espionage, there really were unAmerican activities, and Moscow really did hope to foment revolutionary unrest in Western nations. It’s just that McCarthy whipped the American public into a state of disproportionate fear about it all and ruined many innocent lives.