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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Tuesday, January 08, 2002
It was Athena, not Venus, who sprang fully formed from the head of Zeus. I knew that. A lady called Carol Bloyd has written me a nice e-mail with gory detail, but it'll have to wait until tomorrow because this computer is going out of action while my husband (a chap far more handsome and much sounder in every respect than Oliver Letwin) murmurs strange incantations over it.

Ben Sheriff thinks I have a "thing" about Oliver Letwin. A scandalous libel! I am above Things. I commentate, Mr Sheriff, and I observe. I observe, among others, the next man to hold the post of Her Majesty's Secretary of State for the Home Department. Nah, I can't make myself believe it either. Here's the blog.

Also, flip down to Saturday's post about the Brian Toohey on Aussie fireys (firies?) article panned by Tim Blair. The point I want to make explicitly is why on earth shouldn't a free market fire service include volunteers? I'm a rampant capitalist lunatic, and I'd volunteer in like circumstances. The important point about this freedom stuff, as far as I'm concerned, is no coercion. Ain't nothing free about a law against giving. [Quick thought later: indeed there ain't. Tips jar is on the left!] Whether money changes hands is up to the people on the ground.

Has the Indy fixed the problem whereby once you link to them you can't go back? Let's see with this story about female US fighter pilot McSally resisting the abaya. Here goes! No. They haven't. Obviously they don't want to have the keen AB1 audience of Blogland read their stuff. Fine. See if I care...

Trial By Jury. Another good Guardian comment piece, this time by Hugo Young on, you guessed it, Trial By Jury. I would once have looked at that phrase and thought only of Gilbert and Sullivan. I thought it was a done deal, an acknowledged achievement of British and Western culture, the cornerstone of law. Now I am actually, genuinely afraid.

"Hunh?" sayeth Jim Henley of Unqualified Offerings about a Washington post piece on tax cuts. He sayeth also many more educational things.

I got that via AintNoBadDude. Twice in the last few days Brian has participated in really, meaty, important debates (guns and God) just made for me to jump in and splash around in. Yet I haven't, to my shame. Now I've figured out why: it's because I feel I must have something deep and impressive to say and I'm waiting for a masterpiece to spring, like Venus, fully grown from my forehead. I promise to just come out with my usual happy piffle in future, and you can mine from within what nuggets of non-piffle there may be.

Heartwarming scenes of wet Australian firefighters frolicking in the long-awaited rain were on the TV news last night. I saw one fireman dunking a firewoman in a puddle. Everyone seemed to be having fun, amply deserved, but I was a little bit worried that some busybody would leap in and start screaming about "inappropriate physical contact." Then I remembered that that sort of thing never happens in Australia, where men are real men and wombats are real wombats.

On the same bulletin we also heard that Yves St Laurent was retiring. If he's such a fashion genius, take a look at the third picture down (YSL between the two models) and tell me how come his Sixties self was clearly the inspiration for Austin Powers, Man of Mystery?

Sadly, not all the news stories were happy ones. Baby Jennifer Jane Brown died in her parents arms after just ten days of life. The contrast between the Chancellor's happiness at her birth and what he and his wife must be feeling now is really heartbreaking. This Guardian leading article expresses what I and many people feel.

Breen Haiku. Isn't this little poem profound?
Working to
discover why
some eat and
some starve
is not an
exercise in
In fact it is part of a sparky debate between Ms Breen and Mihir Sharma, the latter defending Roger Owen's article comparing - or refusing to compare - the Islamic world with South East Asia. The poetic layout is the heartfelt cry of an emerging computer consciousness, trying to express its deep artistic yearnings in the only way available to it. Sometimes it seeks to communicate with me, as well as Moira, hoping to reach out to my soul by employing a ballad form, where every second line is one word long, in which to give plangent extra meaning to my stolid re-postings from other fora. My crude human fingers shatter its careful efforts, cursing as I go.

Seriously, I'm glad to see Innappropriate Response has come back in the last two days, because an awful lot of my links seem to have gone off skiving. I was beginning to think sinister thoughts. Was the word going round: "Link to Natalie Solent and you... disappear!" I had better re-package it as "Link to Natalie Solent and you... get a life!" Now, somebody send out a press gang and get back Dawson, Pellerito and Zilber.

Monday, January 07, 2002
Grim history There's a post about gun massacres in Random Jottings. You may recall that in late September there was a gun massacre in Switzerland. This is what I posted to the Libertarian Alliance Forum at the time:
It's been on the news that a lone gunman has killed 14 people in a Swiss regional parliament, and then himself. The killer fitted the now-familiar profile of a disgruntled isolated male taking revenge on those he thought had persecuted him.

It would be a callous thing to look at the deaths of 14 people who wanted to live solely in terms of how they affect an argument - however it is inescapable that Switzerland has, until now, often been cited as an example of a society that was heavily armed but not violent.

What I really, really want to know is why DIDN'T this sort of massacre happen for decades after the invention of the revolver.

So far as I recall the beginning of the grim series was the "clock tower" masasacre at a US university in the 60s. Subsequent massacres are a series of imitations obviously, but why did it start then and there? Pure chance or something to do with the sixties? Is there any way we can go back to a state of innocence?

I re-post this now not because it particularly adds to the debate, but because the idea being put forward by the Weidners and others offers some, not much, but some, hope of returning to that "state of innocence." I also think that in past times we would have been much more likely to fight back against killers; this passivity is modern. I think.

Wrong and weird. I was wrong when I said that the twelve mystic stars in Captain Euro refer to the countries actually converting to the things. The true answer is much, much stranger. It was revealed to me by Emmanuel Goldstein, acting as a an intermediary for, by one interpretation, God, or by another, the Whore of Babylon.
Natalie Solent asks why "when there are 15 members of the EU, were there only twelve mystic stars". The version I heard was that it was supposed to represent the woman with twelve stars around her head in the Book of Revalations, which the predominantly Catholic architects of the European Union would have seen as representing Mary. In fact the design is based upon the window in Strasbourg Cathedral, but they started at six until they got to twelve, and then said stop. (Source Catholic Information Network).

I remember when I heard Ian Paisley put this view forward, and I thought that it was mad (he gets a wee bit agitated about the Holy Mother Church), but much to my shame I found out that Fr Paisley was right.

Cute but wrong. A subtle analysis of that Jonah Goldberg article I mentioned yesterday by Bjorn Staerk. (Look down until you reach 3 January, posted 18:26.) I should say that it's me that thinks JG is cute, not Mr Staerk. To be fair to the fair Goldberg, his article had a dinner-table debate tone to it, and I don't think it was ever meant to be a rigourous statement of his beliefs.

The Fugitive, updated. The New York Times has this story about a Saudi princess living in Orlando who is accused of beating her Indonesian maid, and perhaps even holding her against her will. Instapundit and Rand Simberg have commented on the slavery issue. I think they are all being very unfair to the poor Princess. For one thing, let's have some cultural sensitivity here! After all, slavery was only abolished in The Kingdom in 1966. We must not impose our white liberal notions on other cultures. For another she has not been tried and may be innocent. Just because Saudi women frequently beat up their skivvies, in London as well as Orlando, it doesn't mean Princess Bunniah did in this case. Rather than comment on a case which is sub judice I prefer to express my admiration for what the Sheriff's office seems quite happy to state as fact. Is this woman cool or what? When this multi-millionaire (I only meant "poor" metaphorically, you understand) decides to steal from her own servants and flee with hopefully-untraceable bundles of cash raised thereby, does she do as common mortals might and check into a crummy motel? No way! She is captured three days later in the $525-a-night Hyatt Grand Cypress Hotel. Sheer style. Maybe that was her idea of a crummy motel.

On. Off. On. Off. On. Off. if I were to attach some electrodes to my brain, wire them up to a light bulb and somehow fix things so that the circuit included my opinion of Oliver Letwin then I could sit me down in an art gallery and make a fortune. The circuit is "off" at the moment. Despite his own experience of chasing robbers the other day, our Ollie has gone soft on the right to self defence.

Sunday, January 06, 2002
A nice straightforward description of the Law of Unintended Consequences from the Illuminated Donkey. This link is really a coded message to anyone out there who is cross about me supporting the right to discriminate in the "Transgendered rights" post below. I'm ready for ya!

Jonah Goldberg is cute. Yes he is. Look at his picture. Quite a few good lines in the column, too, such as "the only responsible way to pursue one's interests is to be realistic about how the world actually works." But hasn't he got a nice smile? Can he really be the heartless butterfly who spurned the pageviews of a good woman just because they came to him via Samizdata?

Transgendered rights. I was struck by the opening line of this column in the St Petersburg Times (St Petersburg, Florida, not Russia in case you were wondering!) It must be all the empty space in that brain of mine that allows quite incongurous attitudes to this sort of thing to share the same skull without mixing very much. Part of me just sees it all as an opportunity for funny remarks. Remember that post where I picked up - with no more motive than getting a laugh - on a story that talked about shooters in "Western drag", where drag could have two meanings? I had quite forgotten that I know of at least one British shooter who was not merely a cross-dresser but had changed sex to female. To put it mildly that is not part of the usual cultural repertoire of the shooting community, although it would not raise nearly so many eyebrows among my SF* acquaintance.

Well, columnist Robyn Blumner, makes some fair points and is sensitive to both transgendered employees and their employers. But I think she - and most modern thought on the subject - is on a quest for the wrong holy grail. Although she recognizes that the world is complex, she's hasn't given up on her aim of finding a way to outlaw bad discrimination and allow good discrimination. So far as I'm concerned that's like outlawing bad speech and allowing good speech. It's not that I want the discrimination, any more than I want people to fill the airwaves with foolishness and hate, it's just that freedom of association comes as part of our God-given rights as social beings.

Having got this far down the column and radiated nobility in all directions, my high-mindedness battery then ran out. I got to the bit about how, in the March issue of Vanity Fair
'an article on "furries" described a community of people (men, mostly) who feel they are animals trapped in a human body. They attend conferences where dressing as a fox, raccoon or wolf is an act of self-identity. "I am a tiger in a human body," said one conferee, expressing the views of many.'
and I just fell about. There's a hyena in me, baby.

*That's Science Fiction, Ken, not San Francisco. Though from what I hear.... Oops. Went into silly remark mode again. Consider it an illustration of my complexity.

Good news. Doomsday postponed.. That headline was so good that the US Daily Report picked it up, but the story came first from our very own Telegraph. What story? The fact that the Earth will not now be eaten by the sun. When I say "now", I mean in about seven and a half billion years, of course. Which is all well and good - but what I want to know is have they checked for mutant star-goats?

The Chancellor's nine-day old baby daughter looks near to death, if I have understood the coding on the statement I heard on the radio. How terrible it is when the shadow of tragedy looms over those not-quite-real figures in the papers and on TV. Suddenly we're reminded: they are real people after all. I pray that Jennifer Jane may recover.

Saturday, January 05, 2002
This is the voice of the Eurotons! We know you can hear us, Earthmen. We will be avenged.
A reader who will remain nameless to spare his blushes (Hi, Ben!) asked why, when there are 15 members of the EU, were there only twelve mystic stars. The answer, of course, is because the Eurotons have not yet managed to Eurotonize Captains Krone, Krona and Sterling. The rest of the brave Spectrum crew, including Colonel Mark, Captains Franc and Guilder and even poor Peseta Angel and Lira Angel have been all been killed and remade into Euroton duplicates, varying in their outer appearance but with their motivations centrally controlled from the mysterious Euroton base in Brussels. Is Captain Scarlet, sorry, Sterling really indestructible? Can he save Cloudbase? Only time will tell.

Captain Euro! Captain Euro is a European superhero. He battles Dr D Vide (dee-vide, geddit?), of whom we are told:
"Ruthless speculator, curator and collector of ancient curiosities, DAVID VIDERIUS is a former financier. He is a multi-millionaire, used to making money no matter if it might involve the suffering of others."
In contrast his noble opponent is an archaeologist in civilian life. Together with his father and a chick called Europa he uncovers "three messages from the gods of Europe." They find a magic axe which splits into twelve stars. Quite stirring stuff, actually, but dreadfully slow to read. When do we see our man's battle with the evil Captain Sterling? Or his wicked paymaster, Colonel Dollar?

And a brief discussion of plain old lust. I am mentioned, most kindly, in the Midwest Conservative Journal as part of an ongoing debate involving the Fly Bottle, Christianity and pornography. Unfortunately, I just can't make the link to the MCJ work, perhaps because the Journal is that strange thing, a non-Blogger Blog. But my cunning in the cause of my own advertisement knows no limits. What you can do, my lambs, is pop over to The Edge of England's Sword and track down the link to the MCJ nestling 'neath the heading "Recommended." While you're there you can see how Iain Murray beat me to it in linking to the same BBC News 24 story about gun crime that I had had my eye on.

More blood lust, this time from me. This time directed against wood pigeons. Shoot a wood pigeon today. They are driving out all the song birds, according to a program on Radio 4. Why is this happening now? Fewer hunters, larger fields. Why are there fewer hunters and larger fields? PC and EU.

'Blood lust' leaves 'roo to die. is the panting headline of the top "National" story in Australia's Daily Telegraph. Look, it's not that I'm happy about an animal killed inhumanely, but... one kangaroo. Count it. One. And if you look past the headline you discover that it probably isn't even dead. Though let us not make light of the situation: after all, as Melbourne Zoo's Dr Michael Lynch breathlessly informs us, "'Even though she's mobile now, she can expect complications. Infections are going to be a problem." Goodness me. We're all very concerned. I hope the Sydney papers don't try and distract people with less important stories.

Friday, January 04, 2002
Sailing on a Zilber sea... Do you remember that amazing USA Today article about who lived and who died in the WTC towers? Remember how I forgot where I got it from? It was under my nose all the time, at Jay Zilber's Mind Over What Matters. (Look under Dec 21.) A little further up the column there is a piece about the changes in the graphic design and printing business. Back in the late 80s I used to be a staff artist at a Prontaprint franchise, so that brought back memories. When I plied the old scalpel suffused in the rich aroma of spray adhesive, I was struck by how little things differed from the picture painted by Dorothy L Sayers in Murder Must Advertise. The main difference between an office supplying commercial art in the nineteen-eighties and its equivalent in the thirties was the absence of office boys. Yet who now does paste-up, makes borders with Rotring pens, or applies Letraset to do headings? Gone, gone are the jobs of yesteryear. Curse these computers (and use a computer to do it). Please, Mr Zilber, tell me there is yet some call for actual drawing....

Psyops strike! That man Reynolds gets everywhere. It's obvious he wrote this leaflet dropped in Afghanistan for a start. Ignore his denials.

Talking of Instapundit, I have belatedly added a link at the side. Since it was thirty seconds after first seeing Instapundit that I decided that "one of those blog things" took second place in the must-have list only to "oxygen", I can't imagine why it took me so long. Still, the way the Professor gamely struggled on without my help is an example to us all.

Supervillains reprise. That's reprise, not reprisal, get out from under the chair. A lady with the beautiful name of Myria has responded to my chiding of American TV for always having British villains. She wrote before I went waffling on about that Moria/Moira thing, so now I feel even guiltier. Not only do I insult women in my links column, I insult my female readers too. Sorry. Anyway, I thought this was perceptive:
"To paraphrase Bill Murray in "Stripes" - We Americans are mutts, the
wretched refuse, our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country there is". But, he goes on to say, "We've been 'kicking ass' ever since". There is much to that little speech for those who wish to understand how Americans tend to view themselves.
All sorts of aphorisms spring to mind. All right, if you insist, here's one: OK guys. You won the war of Independence. Deal with it. Just kidding. I am on safer ground with Myria's final observation:
To an American audience a cultured British accent means someone who's brighter and classier than we are - if weaker and just as vulnerable to a 9mm slug between the eyes.
Classier yet weaker. Both sides of the picture are are essential for it to work. We have to be credibly in the lead for the first 35 minutes at least.

I am at least two thirds of the way towards my career aim of becoming a Supervillain, having acquired the right sort of cat, namely a Birman. Unfortunately I don't have the right accent. Despite origins rooted in impeccable middle class threadbare-sofa-but-lots-of-books-land I emerged sounding distinctly estuarial. (In other words, should I have cause to say "forty thousand feathers" it would come out as "fawty fazand fevvers") I was finally taught to say the "th" sound by a fellow student at Oxford University. And just to add to the comedy, the girl who taught me sounded middle class despite being working class.

"Back in the Golden Era of Warblogging, last month," says AintNoBadDude. "Ye-esss?" you ask. "And then what?" Then you click the link, you lazy so-and-sos. I just thought it was a neat line. Arrr, last month, them were the days, them were. Actually the Dude has plenty of erudite stuff all about gun laws and the US constitution. I know I ought to be participating but am obliged to fight for computer time with Pokemon fanatics. Talking of which:
POLITICAL JOKE: free to good home equipped to develop it as it deserves.

What would Osama Bin Laden be, considered as a Pokemon card?

Letwin proves his mettle. Maybe I do like Oliver Letwin after all, if he's the sort of chap to chase thieves down the street in his dressing gown. Letwin's story of "having a go" had a happier ending than this one, where a man was killed trying to prevent the theft of his wife's parents' car. Am I reading too much into the absence of the usual comment from policemen that members of the public should not attempt to tackle criminals? The policeman in this case gave an impression of fellow-feeling, rather than the usual line that the police monopoly is sacrosanct. You could say that "having a go" killed this man. But you could equally well say that he was killed by being born into a time where most people don't. The hue and cry is gone from the world. Most people leave it to the police, or, as a natural maturing to the habit of delegation, to no one. Let's hope times are changing.

Thursday, January 03, 2002
Good fairies clustered round Moira Breen's cradle. "You shall be amusing," said one. "You shall be passionate," said another, "You shall be graced with every civilized accomplishment from skill in watercolour to knowing what to do with fish-forks," said another (the benevolent Allpurposia). Alas, a bad fairy called "Me" was also present. She had sneaked in at the back. And, with an ugly cackle, this bad fairy said, "and the nice name your parents gave you will forever be associated, in the minds of persons who read The Lord of The Rings at a young age when only shakily literate, with that dark and terrifying place where the Octopus-thing grabbed Frodo, and Gandalf fell fighting the Balrog."

As well as my Moira/Moria problem I have my Slytherin problem. Everybody else in the world thinks it's obvious: you say it "Slitherin." Snakes are the house emblem, snakes slither, obvious innit? Except to the bad fairy Me, and I no longer have the excuse of youth. I managed to read the name as Sly-therin, to rhyme with spy-therin, and I do spy therein an echo of "sly", which is what Slytherin people are. Confused? You won't be after this week's episode of...

That was a reference to popular culture. I do so know about popular culture. Up to about 1985, anyway. The Milton is but borrowed clothes, alas, mostly from my husband. Press his button (like I just did; it's somewhere just above his pectoralis major) and you get, "His pride has cast him down from heaven with all his host of rebel angels by whose aid aspiring to set himself in glory above his peers he trusted to have equalled the Most High if he opposed...". The difficult bit is getting him to stop.

He came out with all that just from memory. Guaranteed. Not checked by any means, electronic, print or psychical. And here, equally guaranteed to be the pure product of my mind without artificial aids, is something from my memory, by which you can judge the tenor of its contents: Klaatu barada nikto!

A sleepless night for Dawson. As many people will know (but I didn't, due to the obligation to share computer time with holiday-maddened kids and spouse), has been hacked. My sympathies to him. I bet the hacker squeals like a stuck pig when his social security comes late, but congratulates himself on his daring acts when he can ruin someone else's week.

Life imitates Blog was the header of an e-mail from Eric Bainter. He pointed out this Damianation! story about... Well, let's use his own words:
I CAN'T UNDERSTAND WHY WE LAWYERS HAVE SUCH A BAD REPUTATION: a paroled prisoner is suing Canada's National Parole Board for $1.6 million, saying he never should have been released from jail.

I had not seen Damian's story when I posted mine. The fact that a real-life example pops up on the same day is, unfortunately, not surprising.

And a surprisingly pro-American account of the war in Afghanistan. Cor! Think of the amount that Guardian sub-editor must have knocked back to leave him still comatose when this floated over his desk: "Villagers protested afterwards that the raid was unjustified because they harboured no foreigners such as Bin Laden. They did not mention harbouring Afghan Talibs."

A monarchist at the Guardian. What price the job of the sleepy sub-editor who let this article by Hugo Young through the net?

Wednesday, January 02, 2002
The Blog That Would Not Die. We all saw it, did we not? Before being subsumed into Samizdata, that skiver Christopher Pellerito wrote a message of farewell. To dust thou had returned, O Libertyblog. OK, so he said he would write for both in the next few weeks, but I thought that was on a level with promising to keep in touch with people you meet on holiday. There I was, asking myself gloomily whether it was time to remove the sidelink, and then I saw the blog move... Eerie stuff. This time he was saying, stop homelessness in NYC, end rent controls now. Now it's not that I disagree with this fine sentiment. And I admit that Mr Pellerito, who gets his hands dirty with the stuff, knows more about economics than I do. But I think he's wrong on this:
Price controls create excess demand. In the housing market, excess demand equals homelessness.
The trouble with that as currently phrased is that when the dear compassionate peepul read it they think "'excess demand?' Is that what you call the human tragedy of homelessness, you heartless capitalist scum?" So, unless there is a mystic economics reason why one cannot, I submit that a better phrasing is that price controls create reduced supply.

Do you want to see something really scary? Remember that moment from the Twilight Zone movie? Perhaps you feel that a Telegraph story about the Health and Safety Executive being sued by a rail company does not really compete. But if you go to work by rail this should scare you witless. OK, why? Well, remember how we are always hearing from the bien-pesants how the dreadful thing about the setup of Railtrack-and-train operating companies-and-shareholders and Uncle Tom Cobbley and all divides responsibility and hence compromises safety? Let's face it: this is a true and reasonable complaint; though you never hear them say that it can be answered as well or better by privatization as by nationalization. But if you really want to see how division of responsibility degenerates into absence of responsibility, just introduce those beloved friends of the public, safety regulators. The train company are suing the Health & Safety Executive because the HSE did not police them, the train company, well enough to prevent the Paddington disaster.

As ridiculous and offensive as a burglar suing the police for not catching him, you say? Yes, and you can expect that to happen - if it has not already. I once personally dealt with a case where a person who tried to kill himself with broken window glass in a Social Security office sued them for "lack of care" in not fitting safety glass. All are natural extensions of the idea that the State is responsible for everything that happens. For a brief moment, as the writ lands on some official desk, the State appears to be the victim. In fact the slight wounds it suffers then are no more than the pathetic scratches inflicted on a grizzly bear by its struggling victim as the bear crushes the life out of its prey. The prey is all of us.

Tuesday, January 01, 2002
By the way, I'm back. You probably worked that out independently. Happy New Year.

What, though the field be lost? All is not lost; th' inconquerable will, And study of revenge, immortal hate.... No, I'm not talking about my feelings regarding the spawning of the Euro. On second thoughts, yes I am - but what actually put John Milton into my mind was an e-mail from reader Ed Bush. After running through various trial answers to the issue raised in my earlier post, such as resentment of King George, the ruling class and the letter "u", he came up with this, definitive answer:
Just why do we so often give our bad guys
English accents?

I quickly worked through the obvious answers:

1) residual resentment of George III

2) Americans associate English accents with wealth and so the villains are proxies for the ruling class and evil corporate executives who rob the common man on a daily basis.

3) Feelings of inferiority because we don't use the letter u as aften as you do. Und so weiter.

Then it hit me. It is all John Milton's fault. Writers for tv and movies are frequently former English majors who labored over Paradise Lost and its star, Satan. In addition to being evil, he is sophisticated, complex, tortured, and interesting. And of course Satan speaks with an impeccable English accent. He is the template. Mystery solved.

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.