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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Thursday, December 27, 2001
Cold Turkey. Not only is that what I get to eat for the next month, it is also my Blogging Recovery Program for the next few days. I'm off on a family visit to my in-laws, which is lovely in all respects but one... no computer! See you all in 2002, and a happy new year to all.

Wednesday, December 26, 2001
The Guardian calls for profiling? Not exactly, but this story reports on calls for profiling without endorsing the usual comment that it is racist. One day, maybe, the Guardian et al will bring themselves to admit two things. The first is that, yes, in the strict meaning of the word, profiling is racist - but that it might have saved thousand of lives in the US and might yet save hundreds more, including many of the same Arab and Arab-looking people who would have been inconvenienced and annoyed by it. Secondly the day may finally come when the Chattering Classes will bring themselves to observe that what actually brought down the unsavoury "Mr Reid" was not any sort of screening system but the fists and belts of crew and passengers.

Alas, I've lost the reference, but I noticed one of Mr Reid's subduers had the first-name "Kwame". Now it's a reasonable bet that Kwame is a black man, and has suffered racism in his life. Still, if asked, I rather think he might say that life is still worth having - that's why he successfully fought for his own life and that of others.

In this BBC News 24 article on the same subject, Oliver Letwin loses his reputation as the Great IBISIOK* Hope of British politics by copping out. He thinks we must all put up with the queues and the intrusion in order to spare the feelings of the "profiled" group. To some extent we must indeed submit on pragmatic grounds; no doubt from now on terrorists will select non-Arabs where possible. (It seems that Reid was no sort of Arab; he had a part-Jamaican background and was a convert to Islam. Whether he was working alone is not clear.) But do I really have to spell it out? When Mr Letwin says
"I wouldn't like to see groups of people segregated as one goes through the departure lounge because they happen to come from whatever is that month's risk category - being deeply frisked in the way that everyone else isn't."
he is kidding himself. (Or attempting to kid the voters.) Most of the terrorists in the world are Moslem Arabs. That is not a fad of this month or last month; it has been the case for thirty years. Looking harder at them makes it much harder for Al Qaeda to carry out mass killings. It is my day for lost links, but soon after Sep 11 an Arab American from one of the universities wrote a superb article saying he would have traded profiling for those thousands of lives any day.

Enough of race. Back to fists and belts - and the penknives and nail clippers that weren't available. Most people on the plane want to live, right? Compared to a gun, a blade isn't much of a force multiplier. Fifty men and women with box cutters beat five men with a box cutters, and live to tell the tale afterwards. So issue them.

*I'm Being Ironic So It's OK.

Of all the pathetic excuses. Christopher Pellerito of Libertyblog wants to shut up shop for no better reason than he has to earn a living. I ask you! Does the man not know his duty? Dulce et decorum per blogia fame confici. This excuse is scarcely better than that given by Tim Blair when I told him to swap bodies with the Prime Minister; all he could come up with to excuse his sloth and inactivity in the matter was some mutterings about not wanting to put up with Cherie. I am slightly mollified to note that Mr Pellerito will write for Samizdata in future, although that, since the hacker struck, is no longer the exclusive privilege it once was.

Bet I got a bigger slice of paranoid Christmas-present guilt than you did, na na ne-na naa. This message to Random Jottings in particular. Bet you didn't lose a present in the loft and have to give it unwrapped at 8pm. And even that's better than the time I lost a present and had to give it eighteen months later as an emergency birthday present to another person entirely. Or the time I...

Oh no. No, please no. What have I done....

Remove your hats. Dust off your black suits, your armbands and your mourning weeds. Compose your eulogies. In a minute I must go downstairs and admit that we totally forgot to use the Harry Potter Crackers.

Tuesday, December 25, 2001
When the attack came, the watchmen were awake at their posts. The watchmen in this case being whoever designed big stairwells at the World Trade Centre and whoever put in place and practised evacuation drills. I got this grimly fascinating "USA Today" account of who lived and who died, and how that was related to where they were when the planes hit from er....this is embarrassing. I've forgotten. Drat. I read the story in someone's blog, then, when called away to wash up Christmas dinner, I posted but did not publish the link to store it in Blogger until I could come back. Thank you, whoever you are. I'll credit you eventually.

Yes. I am a sad, obsessive geekette who posts to her blog even on Christmas Day. But I'm a happy sad obsessive geekette because it's Christmas. I hope you are too.

Monday, December 24, 2001
Twenty one years ago, a searing expose was written. Only now can the story be told. I would have liked to have posted this on the exact anniversary of the day I wrote it, namely 30th December 1980. However I can't because I will be off on a family visit on 27th Dec, and won't be back until the New Year. Would like to have posted what? you ask. Well, hiding in a cupboard, having accompanied me on several moves, I found this little notebook with a picture of a kitten on the front. Inside is a diary kept by me and my sister recording all the British villains we kept seeing on American TV shows. This is it, spelling and punctuation as in the original:
Tue 30th Dec 1980
'Paris' ITV
British mother* connections in Scotland
"weak, wimpery, influenced by son, lying

Towering inferno.
British dishonest architect causes entire collapse (not entirely his fault).

Dukes of Hazard
-con man betrayed daisy duke. Ended up in humiliating car crash with tree

Pelham 1.2.3.
"OK he was cool but also v.evil

Fantasy Island 31 Dec...... [This entry written upside down for reasons lost in the mists of time.]
Nasty Br Cookery judge calls everyone 'peasants'

There follow no less than seven entries for "Hart to Hart", including:
2 British dog food manufactures ended up in cauldron of dog food - one in wheelchair, woman looked 'exceedingly evil'
And this mysterious and surreal entry:
Pseado beatles in chips stole
A damning indictment, you will agree. Although some would say that if my sister and I of our own free will chose to watch "Fantasy Island" and at least seven episodes of "Hart to Hart", then any mental anguish caused should be regarded as self-inflicted. Also anyone using quote marks for emphasis deserves to suffer.

But this is still a relevant social document, my dear American friends. You know why? Because I've just been watching "Rush Hour", and you're still at it. Have you people ever heard of "profiling?" Huh? Huh?

Heinlein. The Puppet Masters. Serialised in Galaxy in 1951. Made into a not-great film starring Donald Sutherland. Here's an interesting question: all of Google and Lycos and Altavista to choose from, so why did I, without even thinking about it, ask you guys instead of searching myself? And why were so many of you happy to answer? Human beings just like dialogue.

Let's crucify Tinkerbell. Bad taste? Not half so bad as what prompted it. Beat the new year rush, get your puking done now. The best order to read what I'm talking about is, first, Tim Blair's intro, then Stephanie Salter's mind-bogglingly presumptuous original column (where are lightning strikes when you need them?), then James Lileks' beautiful rebuttal.

Sunday, December 23, 2001
Armed Liberal on the prowl. Brian Linse at Ain't No Bad Dude has exploited an evolutionary niche in blogland by turning round the obsessions of the more common right-wing subspecies and presenting them back to us. Here he is on Enron:
...the more troubling comparison is between how little is being done to investigate possible unethical behavior on the part of government officials in the Enron case as opposed to the massive investigation triggered by Whitewater. A shitty little land deal in Arkansas versus a 60 billion dollar fiasco with the aroma of influence peddling at the federal level.

On a similar 'let's tease the warbloggers' theme he has a very funny link to a site new to me called The Illuminated Donkey. Is author Kenneth Goldstein related to, or a rebel alter ego of, my favourite antiwar blogger Emmaneul Goldstein (who has a great snippet about the Euro and lessons its supporters could learn from Argentina)?

Let's fly naked! So says Ken Layne. This is his strategy to defeat people who get on to planes with explosive buried in their shoes. (For anyone who hasn't heard, I am not making this up. See this BBC story.) I'm happy to say that the unorganised militia saw to the problem and kept their trousers on.

Somebody help me out. Was it Eric Frank Russell or Heinlein who wrote the cold war SF story where the mind-controlling aliens attached themselves to your back, and the only defence was for the entire Free World to strip off before entering a public building?

Year Zero, Afghanistan. I was joking about Year Zero, but of course in Cambodia it was no joke. Iconolausts have arisen in many times and places. In many English and Scottish churches you will find that the the statues in alcoves are headless. This is no accident; they were smashed during the Reformation. It is said that one particularly zealous breaker of idols used a rope to link the heads of a line of ancient statues representing the Apostles and thus was able to decapitate the lot with one big pull. His spiritual cousins were at work in Afghanistan until recently, according to this story in yesterday's Telegraph. 50,000 years of history destroyed by the Taliban.

10:46 AM

What a difference a day makes. Yesterday I glowered upon the world with a Quindlenesque and dyspeptic eye. Fairy lights - Bah! Shoppers - Humbug! Guy in red suit - Have we no poorhouses? But this happy morn, all but one of the tickboxes on the Great Christmas List of Guilt and Stress are checked off, snow has fallen, and the street rings with the merry cries of infants falling off tea-trays and commiting aggravated assault with compacted water. As a result I have decided to shelve yesterday's plan to post to Samizdata that I have seen the light, dropped all this libertarian flim-flam and started work on instituting a Year Zero of exiling the entire population to live on pillars.

Saturday, December 22, 2001
"What sort of sycophant are you?" "Er- what sort would you like me to be?" That's a line from my self-defining movie, 101 Dalmations. Sounds like the owner of OK is my kinda guy. I tried to link to the story in the Independent, but, as usual, Indy links put you into a loop like that Next Gen episode where they play the same poker game six times. So here's the story spread out with that strange formatting glitch that makes it look like an advanced form of poetry.
Desmond finds his birthday coverage isn't OK!
By Louise Jury Media Correspondent
22 December 2001
Richard Desmond may have made millions by giving C-list stars the OK! treatment. But the nine pages of soft-focus sycophancy the magazine dedicated to its owner was just not good enough for him.

Having graduated from Asian Babes to OK! and then to the Express newspaper titles, Mr Desmond is anxious to be taken seriously as a media baron. Hence his concern over the spread that appeared in OK! to mark his 50th birthday party at The Roundhouse in north London which showed him mingling with daytime television stars and ageing disc jockeys. He was not pleased with what he saw.

Now it appears that the OK! journalists deemed responsible for undermining their proprietor's new image – Jim Maloney, the magazine's deputy editor, and four others – have paid with their jobs.

One source said: "Basically he didn't communicate how he wanted his birthday to be covered and he wasn't happy with the final lay-out and complained to the editor. He wanted to look more like a media baron."

Another said: "He was unhappy with it, and his reaction whenever he's unhappy is to say 'There are too many staff here'."

Mr Maloney, who was not even involved in the coverage of the party, has been dismissed in what the company is describing as a "private contractual dispute". Four other members of staff have found themselves redundant.

A spokeswoman for Richard Desmond gave a succinct "no comment", though sources at the magazine point out that there has been a wide review of costs across his media interests with job cuts as a consequence. OK!'s editor, Nic McCarthy, has survived.

The OK!-five may have been better off had they followed the example of a colleague from another part of the Desmond empire.

The Daily Star columnist Jono Coleman, another guest at the birthday bash, wrote of his proprietor: "Boy does he know how to throw a party!"

He is still in work.
Oh. It didn't have the glitch. Never mind, got to go and get into a Christmas frenzy. Bye.

Friday, December 21, 2001
Unbending Virtue. I wish I had not made two separate links to Instapundit in one paragraph earlier this afternoon. Not that the stories linked were uninteresting, but in juxtaposition with the discovery that my name has appeared in the Prof's left hand column, my two mentions look so... I don't know... grovelly. I didn't know, honest guv. Being a regular visitor to Instapundit I don't usually have cause to scroll down that far. Curses! I've gone and done it again. Reynolds eats babies. Take it from me.

I am a cat. I send a purr and one of those endearing head-butt nuzzly things to a certain person. Thank you. Prrrrrrrrrr.

The Emperor Caligula, in the early years of his reign when he was still sane and fairly popular, lay ill unto death with the fever. Fervent protestations of devotion being then the custom, leading citizens of Rome hastened to the temples and publicly beseeched great Jove to take, if he would, their humble lives, in exchange for that of the Emperor. Caligula recovered. Some years later, by now being completely mad, Caligula remembered that the men who had offered their lives were still untidily walking around. He became nervous that the Gods might think this an affront and take his life after all. Therefore he sent round a polite note thanking each man who had so patriotically offered his life, and inviting him to make good the pledge and kill himself sharpish.

I just thought that was a nice anecdote. That tips jar does work, you know.

"Where are the brain police?" asks Little Green Footballs regarding the Kenneth Hearlson case. Also cited by Instapundit and scornful and incredulous bloggers worldwide. Smile, Orange Coast College. We gonna make you famous.

Talking of Instapundit , the Prof has a word of thanks to us Brits for loyally visiting New York in order to boost its economy and morale. Perhaps it is my customary pre-Christmas depression, but I can't help wondering if the surge in visitors merely means a good many of my countrymen are ghouls.

Stop it, woman. That was grumpy even for me. It's true that the best of friends can have make room for a bit of the ghoul intermixed with their benevolence; as La Rochefoucauld said, "We are easily consoled for the misfortunes of our friends if they give us the chance to prove our devotion."

Remember, elitist lackeys of the ruling class: NuLab is not going to like you now or ever. Oxford and Cambridge better look out, according to this Indy article telling them off for having the lowest drop-out rates and recommending that some more tax money be spent to reward institutions who lose more of their students, thus creating employment for needy writers of editorials. The article asks,
Is it time for a homily on the need for the feckless lower orders to knuckle down to some serious hard work? We think not.
Dear brothers and sisters, I think so. "Feckless" is an indelicate phrase, but if anything it is too mild to describe those trained since infancy that dependence will be cosseted, violent outbursts praised, and hard work mocked. Have you ever taught in a school in a deprived area? I have, and I shiver to recall that the kids in my school were by no means the worst. By now a small subset of my charges will be at University and no doubt dropping out the minute their Media Studies minder gives them anything less than a B. Poor souls. Their teachers, including me, were so pathetically grateful that they did any work at all, that the kids were accustomed to be praised to the skies for merely putting pen to paper.

But rather than slag off those who have made some effort to educate themselves, even if they never did look beyond the warm fug of "entitlement", which will rarely fire the heart enough to keep anyone going when things are tough, I'd rather denounce their masters and trainers. Deep breath, get ready, and.... aah, no. I've said it all before.

Let's take a different tack. Does all this make any of you think I am a middle-class bloodsucker myself, whose selfish class interest makes me hostile to the poor getting an education? Then consider this. I think future lawyers, doctors and accountants should be ashamed to pay for their own education with money extorted by government force from their future cleaning ladies, hairdressers, and the men who will make their nice cars. Slightly less ashamed with loans than grants, but still ashamed.

Yet another Lord of the Rings review, this time from Simon Jenkins of the Times. It's a fine piece, but with one oddity, which Jenkins wisely attributes to a theoretical critic rather than himself:
A critic might protest at young people being told they need only rub the ring, summon the stone or touch the mark and the Wraith Riders thundering overhead will pass them by. Salvation lies outside themselves, if they will put themselves in the power of magic. Anthropologists hold that such beliefs lie deep in the cultural gene, periodically transformed into religion, to be ritualised and cleansed by social institutions. It is then welded to such humanist virtues as loyalty, bravery and companionship, much on display in these films. But what if religion fails and faith declines? The message is of a reversion to a darker, more primitive past, to the realm of magic.

Tolkein, a devout Roman Catholic, would never have made that mistake. Of course he would indeed say that salvation lies outside oneself, but never in a million years would it lie in the deathly ring - in fact the dreaded Wraiths home in on he who puts it on.

Al-Qaeda airlift. Samizdata had this ages ago, but now the rest of the world has caught up. This story was on the US Daily Report roundup, but originates from Debka. It's a pity so many of them got away (not that I entirely believe Debka's figures, or their tale of deep-laid plans, though you can bet the Guardian will), but perhaps it won't turn out too badly. The key difference - I hope - between this daring escape of defeated troops and Dunkirk is that those leaving Afghanistan will carry memories of being hated. The people who receive them will regard them as an embarrassment.

Thursday, December 20, 2001
Horribly burnt, thank you.The fish fingers, I mean. But carbon is good for the growing appendix. Tim Blair, Beast of the Night, just sent me an e-mail, concerning strange doings of the Blogavarian Illuminati that I cannot yet reveal. I asked him what he was doing up at five in the morning. He said it was only four a.m. not five at all. Poor man, if he's still chained to his keyboard in the small hours perhaps it's not surprising that he and the Quasipundit team are hoping to retire from writing blogs themselves in order to merely survey them. But we can't have that. Let us add one more to all the charitable appeals that are flying around in this happy season: The Let's Keep Blair and QuasiPundit In Miserable Servitude appeal.

Iain Murray confirms it was not The Edge of England's Sword that struck off the adverts from this blog. In actual fact it was a kind gentleman from New York. Although, since he heads his e-mail "Aw shucks, ma'am. Tweren't nothin'", perhaps he has some Southern ancestry too. Iain says he's going to go and purge the commercial dross from Libertyblog instead. Do you all mind just going to the side for the links, 'cos the kitchen timer's going.

War by other means. Momma Bear sent me this virus warning. Read the last paragraph.

Memento mori, and let's hope the Euro is mortal too. This rather upbeat Times article on why we should not necessarily lie down under the wheels of the Euro juggernaut is pretty good in its own right (though I did not see that the reference to Star Trek actually shed any light on the situation), but is a cause of embarrassment to me since it reveals that the fluid Peter Hain is actually Minister for Europe. Thank you, one and all, for your restraint in not correcting me immediately. So what was he doing talking about Afghanistan, then? Does he think it's in Europe? Were the rest of them drunk, and he was the best the Beeb could drag out into daylight for an interview? Was I drunk and the best the Beeb could drag out for an audience?

Returning hastily to the point, I'm just warping over to the day before yesterday's Guardian to see if they really do think that a poll saying 62% of Britains think the Euro is inevitable means that 62% of Britons are happy about it. TTFN.

Hi. Back again. Here's the Guardian story. If avoids by a whisker directly conflating "62% believe euro to be inevitable" and "62% believe euro to be desirable", but does talk blithely about a "new mood". Personally I am less optimistic than the Times writer. Few do rise up to fight what they believe to be inevitable. A little flicker of rage burns inside me that, after all their talk about decentralisation and democracy and empowerment, these people are quite happy when it suits them to steamroller over what even they admit most people want, but the little flame soon is extinguished. The cynical assumption in the Guardian story that people's beliefs simply follow the winning side is frequently true as well as cynical.

But the best hope may well be in the observation that, as the Times predicts, people will observe Britain outside the Euro and the sky unfallen yet. Then, like Chief Vitalstatistix who also feared the sky falling, they can come out from under their shields and get down to some serious feasting.

Finally, isn't the parallel currency idea reminiscent of one of John Major's sallies of many years ago? He proposed, to universal derision, that the Franc, the Mark and so on all be legal all over Europe and fight it out. It would be interesting to hear from him now.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus (just don't mess with him, OK.) Or he'll pull a gun on you according to this Reuters story from Brazil.

3:52 PM

Wednesday, December 19, 2001
Peter Hain, on TV the other night said "I find this claim incredulous." To think that once he was the darling of the Young Liberals and had cool stuff happen to him like being arrested for a bank robbery. This man is now Her Majesty's Secretary of State for Something Military. Incredible, I call it.

Caesar, thou art mortal. To make a few more echoes in a series of blogs about bloggers, I will just observe that
  • I have been counting the doubloons for several days now regarding the Nobel Prize, the Hugo, the Nebula, the Lenin prize for Literature, and the Pedigree Chum Challenge, all of which I regard as "in the bag" thanks to the efforts of Random Jottings. I know the convention in these things is to sail serenely on and pretend to be surprised at the ceremony, but, hey, y'know, the secret's out since I went to get measured for my glittery dress.
  • a benefactor whom I do not yet have authority to name says he, not Iain Murray, was the one who expelled the adverts from above my blog. Thank you, friend.
  • Now I can reveal all! I am really Jonah Goldberg, scourge of Sammy's Data. (This is not true. I am as mystified as everybody else.)

Ansary psyched out. Reader Richard Aubrey chimes in with several hypotheses as to the mental set up of Elf-Friend Ansary. This was the most interesting:
...just to pshrink a guy who's down, how about this?
He's a writer of children's books, right?
Do the protagonists of his books know all they need to know in advance of their needing to know it? And if not, what are the consequences? Betcha--although I haven't the slightest idea of checking this out--there are no negative consequences.
So, by combining his excessive mental time in the world of the blessed and virtuous ignorant to whom nothing bad happens from their ignorance, and the possibility he's absorbed the same view from the graying ex-campus wonders who went around proclaiming their innocence with wide-eyed "oh, wow" at yet another example of The System's horrors, Ansary believes there's such a thing as knowing too much.

Unfair? Based on no evidence? Yes, but no worse in either respect than the theory that Bush wants to take over the world.

[Later note: this came out sounding like I didn't like Mr Aubrey's theory. Actually I love it. Just the right note of creative extrapolation from the tiniest premises that Leo Abse MP struck when theorizing on Margaret Thatcher's Oedipus complex from the absence of information about her father in her entry in Who's Who. Judging from his name, Mr Aubrey is carrying on the tradition of his Norman forbears and hoisting the evildoers with their own thingies.]

As Cunning As A Cunning Fox That Holds The Chair of Cunning At Oxford University. That sneaky motherless so-and-so Obvious Who You're Related To, Sunshine set me up.
Being a wily (and unfair) person, I held something back from my original piece. I was storing it in case somebody accused me of being mean to Ansary, and of misrepresenting him as anti-American.

It is the Tamim Ansary Email of Total Shame, a follow-up to his original letter, and it appears (bizarrely) at the website of folk singer Rickie Lee Jones (which also features contributions from Jimmy Breslin and John Pilger).

So. This man Ansary pretends to be Gepetto the Toymaker to the world while really saying things like,
"I see people out on the street, it's like they are going to a football game. Hooray, honk for the flag. I wonder if they'll be honking when their kids, their neighbors kids, and peoples kids they don't know are laying dead on some rocks somewhere because Bush wanted to take over the world under the opportunity of attacking the elusive terrorists"

Gad, that's sickening stuff, and not just his taste in music. But no, Blair, I won't efiskerate him: I have other fish to fry. Namely, you. Since you're so flipping clever, since you're so ready with Plan B, why don't you...
Cue ominous music. Shot of good folk looking up from their drinks.

...why don't you...
Crescendo. Awful silence falls, broken only by dramatic counterpoint of happy burbling from one remaining oblivious drunk.

...why don't you come over here and...
Barkeep reaches under bar for pacifier. Will she say the fatal words? Tension unbearable. Close-up on hand reaching to concealed holster...


Winona why she was born. Borges wrote of a worthless and venal man, whose life was justified (had he but known it) by his being the inspiration for Shakespeare's Shylock. Last week I didn't know who this Winona woman was - but she has not lived in vain, having caused this inspired urine-extraction by Andrew Hofer.

Ever wonder what stirs up the most e-mails to this blog? Not gun rights. Not the European Union (spit.) Not Osama Bin Laden. Not even the sewing. No, it's the exact meaning of the word "petard". ALL RIGHT. Petard (n)= (1) small engine of war used to blow in doors etc., charged with powder and fired by a fuse. (2) a kind of firework that explodes with a loud report. (3) certain forms of cheating at dice.

I did not have the slightest idea of any of this. Now I have to put up with lectures from my nearest and dearest about the Churchill Petard, a spigot fired demolition mortar, deployed by the 79th Division during Operation Overlord. Haven't I suffered enough? Stop, please stop. And no more, pretty please about the exact meaning of the word "drag" in American parlance either.

The Edge of England's Sword has sheared the adverts from the head of my blog rather as one of Cromwell's boys might have sheared the gaudy head of a Cavalier from his shoulders. Though as a capitalist chick I raised no great objection to the ad, I must admit it looks more aesthetic without. Thanks.

Tuesday, December 18, 2001
Tamim Ansary and the real T. Blair. I still think he can come over here and oppress us any time, but Tim Blair is being unfair to Tamim Ansary, he of the September 12 e-mail that snowballed around the world. Mr Blair correctly points out that Mr Ansary was way wrong about a lot of things:

TA: "We come now to the question of bombing Afghanistan back to the Stone Age. Trouble is, that's been done. The Soviets took care of it already. Make the Afghans suffer? They're already suffering. Level their houses? Done. Turn their schools into piles of rubble? Done. Eradicate their hospitals? Done. Destroy their infrastructure? Cut them off from medicine and health care? Too late. Someone already did all that."

TB: There was never any intention to "bomb Afghanistan back to the Stone Age", nor to target schools or hospitals. The schools are now full of female students, for the first time in five years. Female doctors have returned to the hospitals. Wrong, Ansary.

And Right, Blair. It's true that Ansary's latest article in Salon suffers from a lack of proper perspective about how very much worse things so easily could have been - but, c'mon, the sentiments about letting change in the role of women evolve from within are decent enough. And it's not an article about precision bombing; it's about how Kabul differs from the Afghan hinterland. One can't just append "And finally, Thank You, United States Air Force" to everything you write, like a benign Delenda Est Carthago. When it comes to Ansary's original e-mail, though, it would be charitable to remember the date that he wrote it: September 12. On the night of September 11 I visited The Guardian's talkboard - yes, I did say the Guardian, where neo-Syndicalist yoghurt weavers go to die - and I saw stuff there that made my blood run cold. There was an entire thread headed "Extermination of the Afghani people". It was discreetly removed a few days later, but, believe me, it was there. Ansary didn't make up the widespread wish for the Afghans to be bombed into the stone age; he just heard it said any time he walked outside. To their credit, Bush & Co. never had any intention of mass slaughter; but we are in danger of forgetting that, by historical and worldwide standards, the relative restraint of modern democratic leaders is rare indeed. (My friends in Libertarian Alliance will be dusting out the bell, book and candle when they find out I said that. Not one of the three words "modern", "democratic" or "leader" brings out kind thoughts in a reactionary near-anarchist like me, but compare them to the kings of the past and dictators of the present.)

Also, remember the circumstances. Ansary did not expect to be famous. He expected, if I've understood right, less of an audience than I will get for this post. So it's not surprising he didn't hone every word and check every fact. So maybe he didn't have much of a clue about how accurate modern weapons can be; well I only began to get an idea of it during the Kosovo thing, and I'm interested in war. He was just one scared and miserable guy, who had just seen his country sink to being an instrument of Hitlerite evil and thought he was about to see it suffer the fate of Berlin.

It's been one of those days. One heir to the Solent millions - well the heir to the Solent overdraft, to be honest - has been sick out of school with ragingly communist tonsils, and has been dragged hither and thither 'twixt quack and apocethary. The other heir has set up a great cry unto heaven over the prospect of missing the Pedigree Chum Challenge, until quelled by stern parental action: i.e. abject surrender, change of travel plans, ceding Danzig et al. (For those who don't know, the Pedigree Chum Challenge involves Thelwellian infants shouting at ponies. I very nearly made a joke here about one possible link between Pedigree Chum and superannuated ponies, but ever-mindful of the Chum legal team, I restrained myself.) Hence the absence of all those stimulating and deeply thought-out blogs I was going to write.

Instead all you get is a very old Matthew Parris column called "Ministers Pander to a Misguided Populace." But it's well worth reading, and it will soon disappear from the Times archives because the excellent Mr Parris is retiring as Parliamentary Sketchwriter.

Did the CIA get Osama Bin Laden to incriminate himself on that video? When I saw the word "sting" in the headline I thought, huh. Might have known those Guardian self-hating twits are trying to make out its a fake, teee-yipical. I was being unjust. It's far more interesting than that, and looks plausible to me. So here's the story. If they're right, I wonder what Mr Al-Ghamdi's future prospects are?

Monday, December 17, 2001
Pora Tora Bora day. (Warning: clicking the Independent links in this post seems to get you into some sort of loop where the backwards arrow just takes you to the same story again. In order to escape the Independtoid Universe you have to press the X button top right. So only click the links if you wish to kick the dust of this blog off your sandals. Anyway the Independent has this story on how Tora Bora fell "with surprising speed." One of these days, before they disappear completely and we lose the opportunity, we must all get round to stopping being surprised at the speed with which Taliban/Al Quaeda fall. Hoo boy, that Rumsfeld doesn't mince words, does he? "Fortunately," he says with obvious relish, after saying that the WTC is still burning, "the caves and tunnels at Tora Bora are burning as well."

An internal link from the story above leads you to this Bruce Anderson piece describes a new mood in the US of reluctance to wait around for their dear allies in Europe. It has a great anecdote about US foreign relations:
Once or twice I mentioned something which Julian Amery told me years ago. "Would you rather be America's friend or America's enemy?" he had enquired of one Arab ruler. There was a pause, and then came the answer. "An enemy. America often appeases its enemies. It always betrays its friends."

The Americans to whom I quoted Lord Amery's remarks always gave the same reply: "Do not worry. Those days are over."

Hoist by my own petard* Me and my big mouth. Of course the dude noticed. I only just noticed that all his links to "The Predator", "King Kong" etc. lead to well known blogistas. I know I'm as guilty as the rest, but this is getting out of hand. In accordance with the rules of war any links found flying false flags from now on will be taken out and Blairized like this poor sap D'Hage who has been masquerading as a military expert down under.

*It's a type of pulley, I believe.

The Instadude wars continue. Brian Linse of AintNoBadDude bravely surmounts the trauma of being forced to impersonate (though he may relapse once he notices that I had a sportive link to Thomas the Tank engine from his name the other day) and takes on the Prof again. This time the issue is a loophole in the laws about buying guns at gun shows: Mr Reynolds is for opening the loophole wider and Mr Linse for closing it. I have to say, Dude, that you might not talk so freely about "non-existent" slippery slopes if you lived in the UK. Another perspective that a non-American like me can bring to the gun law debate is... who cares what the Supreme Court or the US constitution says?

OK everyone, calm down. I didn't really mean it quite like that. The US Constitution is a magnificent document and has brought great benefits to mankind. The decisions of the Supreme Court obviously have a profound effect on what happens in the US and the rest of the world. But one reason that the best American writing in favour of the right to bear arms comes from blacks, Jews and women is that these groups don't even try to derive their rights from "nine old men" or a bit of paper, however admirable.

Sunday, December 16, 2001
A Hazlenut Alpen Krispie-pop for Teacher. I unaccountably missed Mr Pellerito's take on teacher certification in Libertyblog last Thursday - but don't worry, he put it in the fridge for us and it's still nice. I had my own rant about this in Right Now! magazine a few months ago. He also brings tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and jooouiy: the latest triumph of capitalism is here, and it's self-dial breakfast cereal.

Tony and Cherie Blair rub mud on each other's bodies, emit primal yowls and pray to strange gods. I had intended to take a Sunday off from blogging and devote the day to ironing used wrapping paper, panicking about whether I have inadvertently sent Christmas cards to dead people, and other wholesome family pursuits. But the propagation of stories like this cannot possibly be described as work; it is pure, pure pleasure.

Saturday, December 15, 2001
Boys, boys Tim Blair's blog roundup says Brian Linse but actually linkes to Lawrence Dawson. Expect fireworks.

This silly man, Stephen Pollard, writing in yesterday's Independent, thinks (a) that adults shouldn't read children's books and (b) that Lord of the Rings was intended solely for children. Give me strength. Far from "the film having created the craze," as he claims about Tolkein, The Lord of the Rings is regularly voted "book of the century". Fantasy writers and readers as various as W H Auden, C S Lewis and U K Le Guin discussed half to death the de-ghettoization of fantasy decades ago. Are there really people writing for national newspapers who don't know this? Yep. An idea just kinda pops into your head and the article is written before the coffee's cold. Must try that sometime. Not that I claim it is impossible to intelligently dislike fantasy or dispute the idea that it is fit for adults, but this man writes as if he has had a startling new insight.

It's a pity, because his concluding picture of the infantilization of society, crying Cabinet Ministers and all, has truth in it. That truth, however, is not illustrated by adult heads bent over a book that culminates in a terrifying moment of moral failure on the part of a hero tried beyond his strength, or anyone's.

By the way, the last kid I saw enjoying the LOTR was one of mine, last night.

The 10 Downing Street website has this vague and misleading account of Blunkett's anti-terrorism measures. Note "Tough Penalties for people seeking to exploit the events of September 11." Glad to hear that, Mr Blunkett. I look forward to seeing you in the dock.

Oh great. Just great. Momma Bear sends me this story about ex-Taliban hoping to find new homes in Canada. Truth to tell, immigration is one of the many subjects I haven't sorted out yet, but one can't exactly expect the US to bake welcome cakes for these new neighbours.

Friday, December 14, 2001
Collected grovelipoos. Let me get this over with all at once. There's been something or other wrong with nearly every post I've written in the last few days.
  • It should really have been Mater alma dolorosaque.
  • I was so incensed while reading about Osama Bin Laden's chortling over his victims that I quite misunderstood what he said: he himself claims he was surprised at the high numbers killed, rendering at least one of my points meaningless.
  • The "happier times" in my "Shooters in Western Drag - reprise" post referred to the days before the guvmint stole our guns - but actually they didn't steal that one because it's so old.
  • The phrase "Pity" after the bold-type bit "FBI arrests Jewish leader over bomb plot" means "it's a pity that the fine record of the US in the eschewal of revenge terrorism has been broken", not, thank you very much, "pity they were caught."
And finally,

An Apology.
In an earlier post I foolishly compared to the noted cultural commentator Edward Said to a "swamp thing of moral relativism." I now learn that the Swamp Thing was actually a noble creature treated harshly due to its alien appearance. Said may think that describes him, but it doesn't. Mr Thing, I apologise.

5000 and counting. Who was the man who saw the zeros line up?, of course. He also scored 14,000 on Samizdata. Is this man obsessive or what?

Mater alma et dolorosa. Now you can all write in and tell me my Latin is up the aestuarium. I never officially learned any, though I picked up words like some people pick up cigarette ends. I think I have the word order right because my copy of Fabula de Petro Cuniculo has "Flopsa, Mopsa, Cauda Linea qui erant cuniculae bonae et parvae" when relating the gender-differential socialisation outcomes of one parent families in the bunny community.

Er, what was I talking about? Oh yes, the troubles of the institution from which I just about managed to extract a somewhat embarrassing class of degree twenty years ago. Oxford falls to third in academic league tables. They're really worried because these rankings, decided by a government-appointed committee, govern the divvying up of the pork. The moral is simple, guys. Stop trying to appease NuLab. All that fiddling with the admissions procedures to try and get more working class and minority students has diluted your standards while doing nothing to assuage their hatred. Their hatred for you is precious to them because it is a cheap way to prove they have not utterly renounced their socialist youth. You have the richest alumni in the world. So cut loose! By all means give scholarships, as you always have, but cut those chains of gold and then taste the glorious wine of telling Gordon Brown to be fruitful and multiply next time he tries to tell you which students to take.

And do it in Latin. That little touch of elitism will really get up his nasus.

Everybody will blog some version of this story. Including me. Read The Times on Osama Bin Laden's favourite viewing: mass murder. Anyone still think this is a fake? Personally, despite what he says about having calculated how many would die, I think he did not expect as many deaths as he got. (It makes little difference morally; as observed by Stalin, who ought to know: "One death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic." But it does make a difference to the West's estimate of OBL's psychology, which is a military factor.) I know I've said it before, but the shilly-shallying over whether he was or was not responsible is strongly reminiscent of the Provisional IRA's vacillation over "claiming" the bombing of a Remembrance Day ceremony at Enniskillen.

He's right on one thing: people started to think about Islam. What they thought is another matter. Conscientious Moslems have work to do.

Thursday, December 13, 2001
Shooters in Western drag, reprise. Two correspondents - Edward Vitello and one who does not wish to be named - opine that "drag" does, after all, mean guys in girls clothes in at least some of the USA, and speculate whether the someone somewhere might be either making a Freudian slip or some sort of editorial meta-comment. I don't know, though. It would be a lot simpler to just not print a pro-gun story - isn't that the usual strategy?

My husband says that he has entered (in happier times) cowboy shooting competitions in this country using a 30-30 Winchester. Wearing conventional male attire, thank you.

FBI arrests Jewish leader over bomb plot. Pity. Until this, the US could have congratulated itself on the lack of revenge terrorism after September 11. According to this Guardian story some of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane's group were planning to blow up the main mosque in LA.

Of course, compared to most countries (for example, the massacres of Sikhs in India after her Sikh bodyguards treacherously murdered Indira Gandhi) the present-day US still is notable for the absence of vengeful mobs. One wonders what the reaction in India will be to the killings - presumably something to do with Kashmir - in their Parliament building. About which the BBC is up to its usual tricks: according to the Ceefax version of the story, the killers who stormed the Parliament of a country that, for all its flaws, is still democratic, were not your plain ordinary terrorists but our new potential friends and co-citizens of the world, "terrorists", snuggled up tight between nice clean quote marks.

Wednesday, December 12, 2001
That dratted Inappropriate woman has not only made the serious yet scathing analysis of Said's PEN lecture than I wanted to, but has also telepathically stolen one of my pet rants, namely #23c, on the cursed word "inappropriate" which is used these days for everything from child rape to incautiously telling the truth on the Today programme. Don't think I'm going to direct you there. Oh, all right.

A fascinating shooting competition is described in this article in WSJ OK, OK, so most of the article is an assessment of the effect of the last three months in making Americans value the Second Amendment - whatever the harm to their other liberties. But can this -
25,000 paying spectators turned out for the cowboy shooting world championships--an event that uses weapons made prior to 1900 and requires its participants to dress in appropriate western drag.
- possibly mean what I think it means? I mean, guys in flouncy dresses? There's nowhere to put the guns. Well, nowhere except.... Wow. No wonder 25,000 people turned up.

Just fooling. I have in fact deduced that "drag" does not mean to you people what it means to me. Another two nations separated by a common language thing is the mention of Eddie Eagle safety courses. Excuse me. The sublime Eddie the Eagle was a British ski jumper who was completely undaunted by the fact that we only get two days of snow most winters, and who came gloriously last in all the ski events for some Winter Olympics or other and ended up being personally asked to the White House and becoming far more famous than the boring actual winners. So now he's into gun safety training. Take cover. (He was, of course, objectively a far better ski jumper than anyone else you or I have ever met, just worse than people born to it.)

The view from the other side of the hill. I recommend Emmanuel Goldstein's Airstrip One blog for an eloquent libertarian anti-war commentary. Lots of argumentative letters from readers, given full weight. No hesitation about admitting mistakes, either. Oh, and good stuff on British politics (such as the risible and unlamented Pro-Euro Tories) that I can, at last, agree with.

This blog also repays technical study by feeble amateurs like me. Perhaps because it has been going for eons in blog terms - practically a whole year - It boasts envy-inducing features such as beautifully accessible archives. Mr Goldstein sent me a personal e-mail recommending these, and have I done anything about it? No I have not, through fear of this hostile and insubordinate computer.

There is a very sad and heartfelt piece by commemorating the three months that have gone by since the World Trade Center attacks. He calls it a rant, but that is not how I would describe it. Thinking how some people would describe his account of the ordinariness of the lives about to be cut short as "a crude appeal to sentimentality" or some phrase like that, I was led to muse about the ability to imagine yourself as another being the root of all appeals.

Looking back over the last months since I began this weblog, I have been very scornful of the general climate of culture in the Islamic world, and in particular of the Arabs. The reason for my scorn was that they seemed to have deadened themselves to feelings of common pity or humanity, while at the same time setting up a great wail of "nobody understands us." I make no apology, and I stand by my view, but it is about time I said that there are Arabs and Muslims doing their best to get back in contact with the world, and, in my view, God. (Libertarian Samizdata introduced me to for a start.)

Back to the main point. Someone writing to Instapundit proposed that film-makers from many countries tell the stories of the last hours of some of their own people destined to die that day, sharing the costs of the special effects between them. Certain critics would get angry at the idea that each country should concentrate on their own citizens. I don't, not any more. Of course in the eyes of God, race, nationality and language makes no difference, but they do in the eyes of men, and it is to men - and women - that we must appeal to make it harder for this sort of thing to happen next time.

So, let there be many reminders, in film or print or webpage, of the problems never solved, quarrels - in many languages - never patched up, confusions never cleared, messages never replied to, beds never made, bills never paid, goodbyes never said of 4,000 people who did not know that their chance was over.

Multi-cultural education in Bradford Remember Ray Honeyford? He was a headmaster forced out of office some years ago in a storm of protest, for saying more or less exactly what our Labour Home Secretary said the other day. Instead of crawling away to die, Honeyford decided to make a living as a columnist, and is ten times more influential than he ever was before. I hope, but doubt, that his persecutors will reflect on the phrase "unintended consequences."

It always makes me feel odd to cast my mind back. Once upon a time I was a conscientious socialist who did not like to see such "aberrations" as the fury against this man, and similar periodic outbursts of frenzy. What I once thought of as inexplicable fevers I now view as the normal boiling blood temperature of any system that supresses freedom of association - the bubbles just pop sometimes, that's all.

Oh, and another thing! "Johnny Walker," I ask you! What business did the man have being called Johnny Walker, heh? Talibanised. Terrible thing to happen to a brand of whisky.

Two takes on fundamentalism. Reader Brian Hoffman makes an interesting juxtaposition. First he cites my excerpts from Edward Said in the Guardian. Then he quotes Glenn Sacks in the San Francisco Gate (he did provide a link, but I can't make it work), writing on American Taliban Johnny Walker:
GS:Those willing to sacrifice for their beliefs deserve respect -- even if what they believe in is foolish. As a teenager, American Taliban fighter John Phillip Walker gave up a comfortable life in Marin County and traveled halfway around the world to put his life on the line for his religious convictions. How many of us are that courageous?

BH: So, which is it? What's your wager that if we go to Glenn Sacks' house, we find a copy of 'Orientalism', probably with marginal notes saying things like "yes, very true"? Let me guess: Christian fundamentalism is irredemiably dangerous and evil, BUT Johnny Walker's is just spiritual exploration, even though he was walking around with an AK and was six months or so in Afghanistan, where he went because it was cooler, you know, dude, more "Islamic." Did he beat women who showed an ankle? Did he collapse a wall on gay people, or was he more "moderate" than that, merely throwing them from a roof?

He is right. There is a bizarre double standard operating here. Mind you, I do take Glenn Sacks' point that courage is to be admired, but only in the sense that one can admire the courage of, say, the SS or the Khmer Rouge, preferably from a safe distance, or, failing that, from the happy end of a gunsight.

Tuesday, December 11, 2001
Questions of Deep Portent Part II: Back to Edward Said. I tried. I came back from the Nativity full of peace and goodwill to all men, even him. I had some success in feeling sorry for him because it must have been a horrible experience seeing, for the first time, angry faces amid the admiring crowds; and because he has leukemia, but the guy is just such a swamp-thing of moral relativism that any part of him you want to grab on to liquefies as soon as you reach out. How's this:
ES: Yes, they always want answers. In a certain sense you have to provide some answers, but they're different kinds of answers to different kinds of questions. I'm often asked about the Middle East - people always want to know what is going to happen. The other kind of question is, "Why don't you stop killing people?" Well, that's an American question.
Having several thousands of your citizens killed might prompt Americans to make a polite enquiry on the point, yes. But Said has better things to do than actually answer.
ES: I think it's important for an intellectual to steer discussion away from what passes for pragmatic things, things that require quick answers.

Note who does the steering. I can certainly see where the self-interest of the intellectual would lie. He has every incentive to portray non-intellectuals as simple-minded fools who must be led away, lest they come up with "quick answers" such as "murder is murder" or "the Emperor has no clothes." Said is proud of his ability to keep those questions coming:
ES: He [Huntingdon, who wrote The Clash of Civilisations]never thinks that cultures are about questioning, they really aren't watertight - they're made of jelly, they keep falling into each other and combining. The idea of fundamentalism is common to every one of them. It's really about literalism. That's what people like Huntington and Osama bin Laden are about: they take a text, which may be full of subtlety and uncertainty and incertitude, and they turn it into a clear pronouncement for action.

Someone remind me who it was made the definitive response last time Said went on about "interpenetration" of the modern arab and western cultures: "We build the planes and the skyscrapers. You arabs slit the throats of stewardesses and fly the planes into the skyscrapers. The dividing line seems clear enough to me."

Arma virumque cano but others have a different song. Tim Blair gives the deeply considered philosophy of Boondocks cartoonist Aaron McGruder an airing in "Just Go Broke Already". For ease of study Mr Blair divides his account of McGruder's nuggets of wisdom into subheadings such as:
On McGruder’s vast military scholarship: "You know what? World War II was fucked up. How many millions of people died good and bad? Could World War II have been fought differently? I don’t know. There are few wars where innocent people don't die."
I just love the 'Let Us End With Questions of Deep Portent' style, as taught to documentary makers everywhere. It serves to make you look thoughtful and leaves to others the tedious business of answering. If Mr McGruder did care to answer some of his own questions, we might discover which he thinks were the "few" wars where no innocent people died.

What Said said in the Guardian: It all starts off sweet as candy, little Edward's memories of growing up with a confused sense of identity and so on. You can tell the reporter wasn't going to get caught obsessing on September 11 too early. The interesting stuff starts five or six paragraphs down. And I have to be out of here in five minutes, so, while waiting to hear my views you can form your own. Here's the interview

From "102 Dalmatians" ...Cruella caught sight of the puppies. She rushed to pet them - but just then Big Ben chimed... At once, Cruella's hair sprouted wildly from her head, then she raced out into the street, shouting evilly, "Cruella's ba-a-a-ck! Hahahahaha!

And so am I.

Alas, I can't settle down to serious blogging this fine morning because I have a different treat in store, namely the school Nativity play. I want to enjoy as many performances as possible before they reclassify it as a Winter Festival With Pseudo-Historical Birth-Legend Elements play.

Anyone who sent me an e-mail over the last few days, be patient while I work through the pile. All except who gets a big snuggy hug* right now.

*Enjoy it while you can. Soon to be reclassified as a Non-Exclusive Platonic Solidarity Gesture.

Thursday, December 06, 2001
MY COMPUTER IS BROKEN! I'm sending this from an internet cafe. And at £1.50 a minute I'm not saying much more than, sorry, everyone for any irritation caused. I hope to be back online in two or three days. Now I know how a Betan feels on Barryar. Bye!

Wednesday, December 05, 2001
Blogs At Dawn. Brian Linse, of Ain't No Bad Dude has sportingly just sent me an e-mail to let me know he is about to join battle re my vaguely-sympathetic to Scientologists post below. If it wasn't past my bedtime I would leap into the fray, but it as it is past my bedtime I shall surrender abjectly instead. Not that painful really, as I don't disagree that the Scientologists are bad news, and he doesn't disagree that even they might get lucky and have a point about civil... uurgh, I'm going to bed before somebody starts talking about Waco.

Oops. I said the word. Nobody write in, I can't cope with that stuff.

Another reason for not writing in is that I won't be posting tomorrow, at least not in the morning, 'cos I have committed myself go first thing to a ghastly plastic "designer village" in Braintree, a place that has no other claim to fame except that of having voted for Teresa Gorman as its MP, or was that Billericay, it was but that makes it worse, how awful to be Braintree: a place that couldn't even attract Teresa Gorman, and fail at Christmas shopping.

It's very strange. My friend who's going with me knows quite as well as I do that the Freeport Designer Village ought to have its temples overturned and its fields sown with salt, yet still we go forward, sleepwalking, in search of the cut-price Musto shop, rather as the Conservative party goes forth in search of being in Europe but not run by it.

And So To Bed.

A public service message from Ken Layne: "Want a free videotape to record eight hours of Lakers games? So do I! Just send an e-mail to these people and ask for your free tape. You're supposed to send them five bucks later, but what is this, a police state?
This tape, sadly, will be used. It will have eight hours of speeches by Noam Chomsky, Ralph Nader, Mumia Abu Jamal's "new lawyer," etc. But still, an eight-hour videotape for free? That's a good deal. Order now. You can even record 76ers games on this tape ... it's that good!"

Saudi lawyers seek to redefine tobacco companies as "terrorists", according to this blandly written BBC News 24 article, Saudi hospital fights tobacco 'terrorists.' So, Mr Ahmad al-Tuwajiri. You're a Saudi lawyer. You want to fight terrorism. And this is how you spend your day?

You, a Saudi, from a nation so lousy with terrorists that you spawned most of the WTC attackers, are going to hire an American lawyer (hey, I can recommend some good firms in New York) to hijack the laws and sentiment against terrorism, for the purpose of ending the last freedom left your eunuchized people, that of cocking a snook at the powerlessness of their lives by poisoning themselves.

I've got to say it. "And even the ranks of Tuscany / Could scarce forbear to cheer." It is impossible not to feel a certain admiration for such chutzpah - to employ a term that you may not like. Mr Ahmad al-Tuwajiri, you will go far.

You know, perhaps you could go work in America yourself. A lot of those New York firms I mentioned have vacancies. Still, don't think you would be entirely without competition in the land of the free. All those lawyers representing health officials who have sought to get gunshot wounds redefined as an "epidemic" so that they can win by stealth policies rejected by voters, they'll be right on your tail.

Scientologists are people too. I have not the slightest belief in L Ron Hubbard's foolish and occasionally sinister made-up religion of Scientology. The Foundation for Religious Tolerance, the guys who sent out this newsflash, are a Scientologist front organisation. Nonetheless, as Bernard Levin pointed out, the people who need their free speech defending are those who are actually having it attacked and it is true that the French and German governments regularly persecute Scientologists. Here's what the Foundation have to say about a new law in France:

In response to the new French "anti-religious" law, the Church of Scientology in France has taken the lead in filing a legal action in the European Court of Human Rights to have it declared in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The law provides for the dissolution of religious organizations found guilty of two or more relatively minor offenses, either directly or by perceived leaders. For example, an entire church could face dissolution if a leader was found guilty of causing a traffic accident leading to bodily injury. Draconian penalties including heavy fines and prison sentences would be enforced on any parishioner who then attempted to reestablish the Church, even as a different corporation. The law's sponsors have made it clear that they intend to use the law to deny thousands of parishioners their right to practice their religion."
It's funny how the minute you say the word "cult" everybody thinks the cultists turn blue, grow an extra head and trade in their citizenship and humanity for a new status called "cultist." Christianity, my religion, was once a cult.

Tuesday, December 04, 2001
Looks like the public education system in my spiritual hometown of San Francisco is a black hole. Money goes in; nothing comes out. This according to the SF Chronicle.. Odd how one of the people cited as causing the mess, Cortines, went on to a new job in the New York public education system, and another, Rojas, came from the same system.

Better a happy Bart than an unhappy Socrates? Reader Hilder Hartling writes that her son informs her: "... that episode ... does indeed have a positive ending. Bart is indeed destined to be dumb because of the Simpson Gene, but he doesn't seem to mind too much by the end--as long as he can engage in a game with his male relatives wherein they put pots on their heads and run head-first intoeach other. :)

"I doubt that there was any anti-male agenda. Basically, Simpson men are genetically predisposed to being dumb (they throw themselves in front of cars for insurance money, they pretend to be rich people at parties, they cause 17 meltdowns over the course of ten years, etc.). Grandpa Simpson even goes so far as to say that Homer started out smart as a monkey (winning spelling bees and such), but "then his mind started
getting lazy" and he became as dumb as a chimp."

Er...this you call happy?

Education - how various countries score. This Guardian report claims that UK pupils move close to the top of world class, survey shows By gum, aren't the Koreans and the Finns clever! In contrast, pity poor Mexico and Brazil, solidly in the last two places in all three subjects: literacy, maths and science. On the other hand, perhaps those countries feel better to be in the bottom slot of the premier league than top slot of the minor divisions.

Estelle Morris claims the British move up the rankings is a vindication of "our" reforms. Since any government reforms that would seriously affect the educational achievements of teenagers must have been started years ago under different skies, I deduce she's a closet Tory. Go on, Estelle, come out, we've all known for years. I have mixed feelings about this. Yes, wave the little flag, it is nice to see our boys and girls do better than they used to. No, I still don't like the National Curriculum. It's just plain oppressive even if it does work. For the last ten years or so the great crude club of government power over education has been in fairly skilful hands. Very different people held it once, and might do again.

Still not worried by the EU arrest warrant? Here is a man who is - Not some blog-obsessed nobody but Norman Lamont, Chancellor 1990 - 1993. Read this Telegraph article, EU police could arrest you at home and jail you abroad. Norman was rather a cutie when Chancellor. One of his private office people once came into his office and found him under the desk looking for a dropped pen. "Hello," said he, "has anyone seen the economic recovery? I seem to have dropped it somewhere."

Monday, December 03, 2001
Nulab wants an end to inconveniences of jury trial. Read this New Statesman article by Nick Cohen, then pass it on. Sometimes I stop joking and start to be afraid. Instapundit makes some good comments about how this relates to disarming the people. Glenn Reynolds in turn got it from "The Edge of England's Sword" - link on the left.

I have just been reduced to tears by an episode of The Simpsons. It was the one where Lisa thinks she will turn stupid as she grows up because of the dreaded Simpson gene.* I could try claiming that it was the thought of real people with degenerative diseases that turned on the old waterworks, but that would be a lie. It was the imagined sufferings of bright yellow cartoon characters with big froggy eyes that successfully made me run away to make a completely unwanted cup of coffee. Maybe the mass slaughter of puppets in Captain Scarlet which is on next will cheer me up. Did you notice that they cancelled the first episode after the WTC attack? A little over-sensitive, I thought. Mind you, I'm not surprised they took it seriously: the quality of acting in that show is magnificent.

*BTW, did I detect an anti-male agenda in the way that only the men have the Simpson gene? The actual moment that propelled me into the kitchen was when they looked through Bart Simpson's school book and the little smiley faces turn to frowns as his marks went down. Having missed the last few minutes blowing my nose into a kitchen towel, I do not know whether the episode ends on a note of hope. Is Bart destined to be a nuclear physicist after all? Am I destined to die howling at the existential melancholy of The Clangers? Time will tell.

The best visuals I have ever seen on a blog, bar none, appear on Damianation. Obviously that old faker Mondrian was nothing but a leech on the bloated subsidy-driven modern art market. But to use his ideas as a backdrop for a Revolt of the Angry Canadians blog, now that is art. Read the stuff about Bobby Fischer by all means, but I do not recommend following the suggestion in the title line, as a lot of these broken-down old chess prodigies have picked up notifiable diseases from toilet seats in Bangkok.

Just a thought. If "Chairman Arafat" wants to play the game of statehood, someone better remind him of the rules. He's been having a lot of fun recently, what with the TV station and the chats with Tony and getting to call his thugs "policemen" - but all this comes at a price. If he can't or won't exercise the responsibilities of the leader of a state, he isn't one. The bottom line is will he or won't he turn his guns on Palestinian killers.

Whaaat? You mean the Erotic Computation Group isn't real? Oh, New York Times, say it ain't so.

Sunday, December 02, 2001
The Time's they are a-changing.
From the contents page of the website. I don't know if the same error appears in the print version.

A dusty Paris with palm trees


Tunis has smartened up without losing any of it's character.

...while The Times has dumbed down and lost all of it's subeditors.

In your supermarket today: the unorganized militia. There's a suggestion inRandom Jottings that next time a spree killer comes your way, instead of hiding you should throw things. Impractical? Suicidal? No. About fifteen years ago now shoppers and staff in my then-local Waitrose drove off a couple of thieves armed with shotguns by chucking cans at them. One peeved customer started it, and suddenly it was raining tinned pineapple on the poor old robbers. This wasn't in the script, and exeunt omnes PDQ. I grant you that cans won't always be available and that a suicidal spree killer is a tougher skull to crack - but then your motivation to throw good and hard is stronger, too.

Stoning works. Ask the Afghans.

Saturday, December 01, 2001
The dot-commies hiding in our midst: how you can spot them. Ever since Ken Layne psychically linked me to the fair city of San Francisco I have taken to visiting the SF Examiner, and have become a bit of a fan of regular writer Debbie Morse. Here she is being unsympathetic.

My obsession with relating Harry Potter to muggle politics appears to be general. Did you notice that both Ken Layne (no I won't do another link, there's one above) and Debbie Morse (oh, if you insist) have HP references?

Curse you, Red Baron! The tips button DOESN'T WORK. So a nice kind person who tried to use it informs me. Never mind that I have lost the chance of riches, do you realise that this has totally screwed up my comic timing? What are you all going to think? The post announcing what the surprise was was meant to rest there at the top of the blog, provoking rueful mirth. I had it all worked out. I could practically hear the groans, reminiscent of those heard when one realises that a short story turns on some appalling pun in the last line. Now this wretched and inferior post, evidence of my computer incompetence, has taken its place.

"Who steals my purse, steals trash. . . . But he that filches from me my good name, robs me of what not enriches him and makes me poor indeed." Note to Paypal lawyers: the "steal" was put there by Shakespeare, not me, so don't get excited. I know it's all my fault really.

Heigh-ho, I'll work on it. Anyone who wants to try it out in an experimental fashion and let me know the results is most welcome.