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, February 04, 2003
Blogging hiatus coming up. I will be away from the middle of the month and have a lot to do in the next two weeks. No time for blogging, I'm afraid. Dry your tears. I will be back at the beginning of March.

Her vigilance never sleeps. Moira Breen has spotted Dr Frank who has the facts you need about unconscious irony from the LA Times, Julie Burchill on the road to Damascus and mistranslated subtitles to the Lord of the Rings.

BTW, no one is going to believe me on this, but I tell you it is uncanny how often I spontaneously go to link to someone, no checking of referrer logs or nuffink, and find the someone has linked to me. Then I have a dilemma. It looks so uncool to make the planned link since a cynical world is sure to think that I make it only so that the reader will see the bit that says, Natalie Solent is more wholesome than expensive unsliced bread with mysterious gritty bits in it and fuller of beneficial alpha-linolenic acid than oily fish. Yet if I don't link, my readers miss out on whatever wit or wisdom had caught my eye and I provide a peverse incentive for no one to ever say nice things about me.

That's a roundabout way of saying that you can skip the bit about me and go straight to the interesting discussion about the professor who refused to recommend a creationist student on Moira's blog. And she's looking forward to processing Oregon's poorest for wolf-chow, too.

Malta, according to my sister who went there on a school trip decades ago and so knows all about it, has nice people but basically "looks like a great big Digestive biscuit."

Be that as it may, among the many threads contributed by the island to the tapestry of world history are the Knights, the Great Siege of 1565, the second Great Siege of 1941 and Peter Briffa's stiletto.

So I'm already pro Malta. And if they help save Europe by their example for a third time I shall be still more so.

(Scroll up from that last link for some careful analysis of what's going on in Zimbabwe, too.)

David Aaronovitch in fine form, having snuck in on Tony Benn's interview with Saddam Hussein somehow.

Monday, February 03, 2003
Watched Austin Powers again last night. The scene where all Doctor Evil's ideas for catastrophes with which to threaten the world turn out to have already happened was pretty funny. And, let's face it, the toilet scene is a hoot, ashamed though I am to say it. But the absolute funniest line of all was when the UN spokesman said "It is not the policy of the UN to negotiate with terrorists."

A delightful irony. Hunting with hounds may be the only way to deal with mink, says a report by Alun Michael, rural affairs minister. It seems that unlike other pest control methods such as traps, mink hounds only go for mink, and leave otters and other animals unscathed. But why are mink wreaking havoc with the ecosystem of British rivers at all, given that they are not native to this country? Because animal rights activists released them from mink farms, that's why. Great CV line for an animal rights activist: I saved the hunts from being banned! Heeheehee.

"India, out of cheetahs, seeks to clone" says the New York Times. It's not a personal ad put in the paper by a rich animal-loving girl called India.

Turkeyblog has a response up to my earlier post:
"And the argument that I was making was not that we wait so we could enjoy their help, but that we are waiting - even as evidence against Iraq builds - so that we can either shame them into living up to their committments or leave an absolutely clear public record of their moral unseriousness."

First time round I didn't follow this link to an article on Developmentally Appropriate Practice while reading Joanne Jacobs. Something prompted me to go back to it, though. It's delicious. Just look at this smoothly cynical take on why this rather unsuccessful theory is still popular:
"The broader explanation is that NAEYC made a mistake common to groups that aim to help other people’s children using other people’s money: It assessed cost, risk, and benefit from its own standpoint rather than that of the taxpayers and intended beneficiaries. The result was unintended harm.

"NAEYC is comprised primarily of preschool childcare providers, and the DAP doctrine is attractive to them for a number of reasons: It is sufficiently distinctive to require training and certification, and thus serves to restrict entrance to the profession. It requires a cadre of NAEYC recognized experts—also NAEYC members—to screen, train, and certify individuals in DAP. It maximizes individualized attention to children and thus creates demand for trained practitioners. It rejects the notion of normative expectations for child development outcomes and thus minimizes accountability for results.

"DAP also has the virtue of being highly marketable to parents and policymakers. It promises to improve a child’s readiness for school in a fun and natural way, and without the purported danger of overly ambitious expectations for effort or accomplishment."

Saturday, February 01, 2003
I feel numbed by this news. There's a line from a Leslie Fish song written when Challenger went down: "You lived the dream I had dreamed..."

Rand Simberg has worked on shuttles. See what he has to say.

Dale Amon also knows a lot about the shuttle and is following the story closely.

As for the crew, may they rest in peace. And may we not rest, neither in peace nor in war. Mankind should be in space. Why?

For early warning of catastrophes that may strike our planet, and a chance to avert them,

for profit and for practical knowledge,

for raw materials and zero-g manufacturing,

for curiosity,

for health research and recovery from injury,

for the beautiful photos,

for a passion honoured by every age but ours: glory, be it personal, national or international,

for new places to live, eventually,

as proof of what human beings can do without that superstition about god - and to know the marvels of His creation,

and for sheer joy.

Space shuttle Columbia is feared lost.

Friday, January 31, 2003
I disagree with Turkeyblog's view that the existing coalition should keep struggling to get France and Germany on side. But Geoffrey Barto puts forward some good arguments, and I agree with his underlying political world-view 100%:
The problem is that the world isn't standing against it [i.e. Iraq]. That a nation ever so proud of its Declaration of the Rights of Man has renounced the Enlightenment notion of universal principles and decided that Gallic pride trumps the rights of men whose oppressors cut good oil deals and get France back in the newspapers. That a country that provoked two world wars in the last century is incapable of seeing the need to contain another power that, having brought on a regional war, agreed to disarm as part of its surrender but didn't do so (should we be scared that Germans are so wary of taking action against a socialistic dictator?). That an organization created to secure world peace and justice is more attendant to the whims of its most miserable members than to the ideals upon which it was founded and the need for these to be taken seriously.
Personally, I think it's too late for the UN in its present form. Never forget that the UN has put Libya in charge of human rights and Iraq in charge of disarmament.

UPDATE: Enough. Finis. Be done with them.

The living faith of the dead vs the dead faith of the living. An excellent string of posts from Eve Tushnet on what tradition is and is not. Here is one from the middle of the string.
"...there's a big difference between a living tradition and a series of reversals, rejections, and capitulations to fleeting cultural fads, even if the series maintains some superficial elements of similarity."

A useful tip for driving in snow: if your wheels spin when you try to start, change up a gear quickly. Don't speed up, just change up while still moving very deliberately. Maybe only 0.78 of a reader did not know that already, but 1.00 of the writers of this blog didn't until yesterday.

Snow everywhere. No school, either at my kids' establishment or the one where my husband teaches.

As usual there will be much throwing up of the hands in horror at the way England closes down under four inches of snow. Actually it's perfectly rational. Heavy snow doesn't happen very often. We shouldn't waste much time and money preparing for a natural phenomenon that happens once every three years and is, with sad exceptions, much less harmful to life or property than floods or storms. Furthermore since driving in snowy conditions is much more dangerous than staying home in snowy conditions closing down the country for the odd day might be a net benefit. It snows more in Scotland, still more in Austria, still more in Canada, so naturally they prepare for it more and make arrangements for business to continue.

My husband is, of course, deeply traumatized at being separated from his work and made to build a snowman.

Deutsche Welle has this take on the split in Europe over what to do about Iraq. Later on the article talks about what Schröder might do to jam up the works:
Many Germans, including Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, also oppose any war on Iraq. And on Thursday, they learned of a possible way that their country could slow any U.S. military action. A report issued by a parliamentary lawyer said Germany could prohibit the United States from using its bases in Germany if it launched a war against Iraq without U.N. authorization. Such a prohibition could present a major obstacle for the United States, which relies heavily on air bases in Germany and has thousands of soldiers stationed throughout the southern half of the country.

A Regular Correspondent writes: ...interesting list of European countries backing action.

- The Iberian peninsula and Italy: I've no particular explanation of why these three are on-side unless the Franco-German axis scares them. One may allow the possibility that the idea of an atom bomb in Saddam's hands also scares them, and they accept that he could one day have one.

- Denmark: one of the less corrupt political cultures in Europe to my way of thinking. Past Danish governments have played the 'vote again and this time get the answer right' game on their populace but they may be on-side simply through being (more) rational and honest on this one. The significant point is they're usually not very bellicose (c.f. WWII: the best record in Europe re saving Jews but nothing to write home about re resisting the initial German invasion; to be fair they were in a militarily hopeless position and the same king who ordered resistance to cease slightly earlier than his general thought suited the military decencies later informed the Germans that he would be the first to wear the yellow star if it were introduced).

- Poland and Czech Republic: tend to like us and dislike Germany for obvious reasons. Also they, with Hungary (and now Slovakia has signed-up too, I see), have living-memory experience of being under a totalitarian regime.

It will also be interesting to see who else signs the rival Franco-German letter of opposition to action that will be sent soon (assuming the slight hints that France is preparing her escape route when it all happens anyway do not blossom so far they they don't sign it either). Doubtless it will get much support from those who are too cynical to believe Tony Blair's warnings - and so implicitly assert that they believe Saddam Hussien's denials instead. I am not given to placing great credence in Tony's remarks in general, but when the choice is between believing him and believing Saddam, I question the sincerity of those who choose the latter.

Thursday, January 30, 2003
Just for fun, let's look for references to sanctions against Iraq that seem curiously reluctant to mention that the holy UN had anything to do with them. To start you off, here's Seamus Milne in the Guardian today.
"What changed after 1991 was that the greatest suffering endured by Iraqis was no longer at the hands of the regime, but the result of western-enforced sanctions which, according to Unicef estimates, have killed at least 500,000 children over the past decade."

LATER: Actually, this game might be too easy to be any fun. A Google search for the phrase "US-led sanctions" gave me 1,710 entries.

The sanctions came about as a result of UN Security Council Resolution 681. It was the usual hodgepodge, nominally about Israel, but it was a bona fide UN resolution, or at least as bona fide as UN resolutions ever are. If you want to say that this organization is the font of legitimacy then the sanctions were legitimate.

While I'm at it, here once again is Matt Welch debunking the 500,000 dead babies figure in March 2002, but not denying that the sanctions have caused hardship.

A cure worse than the disease. Junius blogs about a threat to academic freedom. He says, "A report into Mona Baker's decision to sack Israelis from the editorial boards of journals she edits has recommended that British universities should take on extensive powers to regulate the external activities of their staff. As regular readers know, I thought Mona Baker's actions were wrong, repellent and stupid, but this rings alarm bells..."

Not a dethronement but certainly a disappointment. I have done a bit of reading to catch up on the controversy concerning whether John Lott did or did not do a survey in 1997. First things looked like a Bellesiles re-play: little or no evidence that the survey was done. Then along came someone who remembered participating. Then it was revealed that this person was pro-gun activist, so not an impartial source. Then it was made clear that this person had made clear he was a gun activist all the time, and said he had only heard about the doubt about whether the survey was done because he was a gun activist. Other academics do remember talk of a survey, and a computer crash, but the tax and other financial records seem unsatisfactory.

This obviously has the potential to be a Bellesiles scandal with the sides reversed - well, smaller, since the disputed survey covers one specific claim rather than the whole book, but still on the same lines. I am gradually reading (in an irregular pattern, as is my wont) Lott's book More Guns, Less Crime, and I'm still very impressed by it. (Its main argument is unaffected, and it will stay that way until you start reading in the papers about a bloodbath in the US states that allow concealed carry, instead of the reduction in crime you do read about.)

I am a good deal less impressed by Lott's showing in this latest controversy. I have skimmed the various accounts rather than read them deeply - like all such controversies they delve deep into who said what when and have multiple layers - so don't take my conclusions as the last word; but the wrap-up seems to be that he probably did do the survey, but in what a sloppy and disorganized manner. It had far too small a sample size for him to claim it proved what he said it proved. He has been much more evasive than I would have expected. Also he has admitted that he pretended to be a woman called "Mary Rosh" on the internet and defended that nice Mr Lott in comment-room flame wars. There's nothing wrong with using a pseudonym (Disclosure: I do my political writing under one name and non-political work under another), and I gather that pretending to be the opposite sex is very commonplace, but to review your own books favourably is just laughable. Perhaps it started out as just a laugh.

Julian Sanchez writes about it all here. (His angle? Libertarian, disappointed in Lott.)

Tim Lambert writes about it here. (His angle? Anti-gun, serious contender, longtime foe of Lott.)

James Lindgren writes about it here. (His angle? He is a law professor who was appointed ( I'm not sure by whom, but seems respected by both sides) to write a report on the affair. It's a long piece, containing lots of footnotes and quoted e-mails.

Marie Gryphon writes about it in several posts, including a long e-mail from Lott himself. Scroll up and down from here. (Her angle seems broadly similar to Sanchez's.)

In my more optimistic moments I dare to hope that the current divisions over what to do with Iraq could crack open the European Union as well as the United Nations. It would be absurd as well as immoral to want a war because of its side effects on international organizations. But there is no harm in observing that some of the side effects could be good.

It still astonishes me that until about four years ago I was neutral on the EU and rather pro the UN. (I still think a humbled UN could do some good in providing a face-saving way for belligerent countries who are sick of war to get out of fighting any more.) True fact: my husband has a UN tie in his wardrobe.

Public Interest says Pilger's gone mad. His latest piece in the Mirror says that "The current American elite is the Third Reich of our times."

Wednesday, January 29, 2003
I'm going to stop feeling guilty about missing my chance to vote David Janes in the Bloggies and just post this.

Not that I understand a word of it, mind. It feeds your blog RSS or something. I hope the blogs don't get fat rsses.

Sorry. I wish I had the strength of will to delete that, and generally not be such a silly rss.

Good Lord, it's working. Better post this quick before Blogger goes balooey again. Have you ever wanted to spot the moment when a historical trend swung into reverse? Maybe Patrick Crozier has.

Blogger is being evil today. I was going to fiddle with the template and put in a new Janes' Blogosphere button, but judging from my success rate so far I shall be lucky if I get to post this.

A missile hits a House of God. Christopher Johnson of MCJ predicted that the Anglican bishies would have much to say about the recent damage to a church in Israel caused by a IDF missile that went astray. Boy, was he right.

He's right about the correct response, too. (Though Monte Cassino would be a better WWII parallel than Coventry.) What they should be saying boils down to "It’s war. Very sad, but these things happen. Be glad it was only a building."

Such phrases cause a lot of anger amongst some people, who think them callous and overly accepting of war as a natural state. I'm not in the business of causing unecessary anger (er, not in my better moments, anyway) so perhaps it would be better to state the underlying point. It is, or should be, that some wars save lives in the long run relative to the other options, such as surrender. And you don't always even have that much choice in war - if the enemy are sufficiently genocidal you may not even have the option of surrender. A great many Palestinians and other Muslims have said openly that all the Jews should be killed, enslaved or driven out. If you don't believe me spend an hour or so here. The upshot is, sometimes you can't get out of war. And war breaks things. The accidental breaking of a building is among the least of its evils.

I love old churches. Some of them are, literally, the most beautiful works of man, made even more beautiful by contemplation of the piety of those who built them and of the generations who worshipped in them. And the man who would wantonly desecrate the temple of any religion, whether the building is old or new, ugly or beautiful - well, that man is scum. But even the House of God is still only a building. Look, if you believe in any of the Judeo-Christian religions at all, including Islam, then you believe that God – and you! - will outlast not only these stones but the whole earth, the galaxies, the universe, and time itself. From the way some bishops talk you’d think that when a House of God gets knocked down He is in need of emergency housing to be provided by the UN.

By the time that you have been abducted and are fighting for your life as your kidnapper beats you about the head with a wooden bat, it's superfluous to consider the "risks" of self-defence. But they don't think so in New Zealand, so they are considering whether to prosecute some sixteen year old girl for not lying down to die like she ought. Did the anti-social little beast have no conception of her wider responsibilities? How dare she act as if her miserable little life is more important than maintaining our trust that the police will always be there for you?

Original story from NZ Pundit. Add me, please, to the "I hate these people" list.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003
David Janes has spotted a story in the Register about Iain Murray getting sacked for blogging.

While I'm on my R&R, I meant to link to this a while ago and put it in a special "Action" filing cabinet to make sure I remembered.

OK, so you can write the rest of the story yourself. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea twittisha culpa.

Never mind me, click it, click it, click it. The man has done more strange and wonderful things to his blog tracking software. (See "Janes' Blogosphere link in column on left.) I always take a while to absorb these things, and I have to be off now, but I will put in the upgraded version tomorrow. Vote Janes in the Bloggies for best update monit... oh drat. It's too late. I'm really sorry about that.

I'd given up poor old Briffa for dead. Poor chap, either the carnivorous mice had come up from the sewers and got him or he'd died of apoplexy amid the copies of Socialist Worker piled high in Camden Public Library. Not yet, as this link proves. Click on his link to see why it's funny.

Advice to Bloggers: Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes. That way you're a mile away, and you have their shoes, too.

--- Michael Powell, The Little Book of Crap Advice.

[Please excuse lack of posts while new clone is accelerated.]

But let's get serious here. The awful truth about Meryl Yourish's washing machine. Sure, she tells it like it is when it comes to cat fur. But can she really be trusted? Is she being entirely frank with us? No. She admits it herself:
"I'd tell you what girls do in high school locker rooms, but then the Sisterhood would have to kill me, and then who would write this weblog, hm?"
I fear no so-called sisterhood. Let me tell you, when I first was on the internet, circa 1995, I joined a cat forum where nice American ladies told all about they saved up the feline combings to knit mittens. But that was only the beginning. They also said that

Supreme Court spurns Barbie suit. Glad to hear it. The justices would have looked silly in pink.

The trustees of the Finsbury Park Mosque, where a recent police raid picked up an NBC suit, CS gas and several suspects, say it will be closed for three months while it is "cleansed of physical and spiritual filth."

Good stuff. But some people have asked why they didn't talk this way earlier. It seems that at least one of them did. I didn't know until now that one of the trustees had tried to serve an injunction on Abu Hamza*:

"Mr Burkatulla himself had been bundled out of the building by Abu Hamza's supporters while trying to serve an injunction on the preacher."

*An interview with Hamza where he says that "everybody was happy when the planes hit the World Trade Centre" can be found in the second half of this link.

His great grandfather was executed in the Tower, and died like a gentleman so I've heard, although the link says nothing about that. His grandfather, on fire to punish England, helped run Cicero and would have had the date of Overlord if his masters had believed him. His father successfully put the lusts of the capitalists to the service of the People's Republic for forty years, a triumph of inflitration never equalled in the annals of espionage.

And what does our modern German Secret Agent do? He slips into that old haunt of the Abwehr, Mesopotamia. He walks by secret ways through souk and palace, tent and barracks, seeking, always seeking. Finally he returns, travel stained but triumphant grasping a tiny, dirty scrap of paper close-written with hurried Arabic script. He has it! A really nifty recipe for masgouf, and a baklava to die for.

Monday, January 27, 2003
I have been powering through most of the back numbers of David Foster's Photon Courier, which I discovered yesterday. The last blogger to whom I paid this compliment was Gary Farber of Amygdala.
I particularly liked Foster's mix of ethics, engineering and pragmatism, shown in this post about the costs and benefits of an anti-terrorism apparatus and this one about arming pilots as a microcosm of educational, legal, technical and cultural problems of our day.

Lots of C S Lewis quotes, too.

Ha ha, fooled ya! During the foot and mouth agricultural crisis, the Mad Cow Disease agricultural crisis, the this agricultural crisis and the that agricultural crisis, the one constant factor has been government admonitions to farmers to diversify. Some of them did. And now the tax men will try to stop their kids inheriting the farm.

Note the vague and subjective nature of the criteria by which the officials make these decisions - "Is the farmhouse character-appropriate?" "Is the residential aspect in balance with the farm?" If one has high taxation one needs a complicated regime of rules to allow wealth to be created at all. Once the regime of rules becomes sufficiently complicated it collapses under its own weight and becomes a regime of the personal judgement of officials. And personal judgement must frequently mean personal whim, personal caprice. We are edging back to the lord administering justice as he pleases in his own demesne.

UPDATE: The discussion is taken in a surprising direction here. I do have a brain the size of a planet, but I also have this terrible pain in all the diodes down my left side.

Sunday, January 26, 2003
Photon Courier linked to my post on Robin Page, and has posted an invitation to carry discussion further.
For several hundred years in the West, the right of free speech has been (with local exceptions) steadily increasing. But in the last 15 years, freedom of speech is under attack everywhere. And intellectuals--historically the defenders of free speech--today are often numbered among its most dedicated opponents.

What is behind this reversal? I have some thoughts, which I plan to write about in the future. I'd also like to hear your ideas: photoncourier (at) yahoo (dot) com.