Natalie Solent

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

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

Back to main blog

RSS thingy

Jane's Blogosphere: blogtrack for Natalie Solent.


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

The Old Comrades:

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

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

Tuesday, August 10, 2004
"Additions of feign'd Circumſtances" Over at Samizdata I've posted a media ethics statement from 1702.

Let's think this one through, shall we? A female City type, currently unemployed, is very upset because she was advised by the jobcentre to delete the line mentioning her sixteen month old daughter from her CV.
Last month Ms Winship began receiving £56 a week Jobseeker's Allowance which will last until January 2005.

Under cross examination she spoke of her horror that being a working mum could be frowned upon.

She said: "It never occurred to me that it could be a problem until recently when the job centre mentioned it.

I sympathise with Ms Winship's unemployment, stress and marital difficulties. Really, truly, non-sarcastically. But I fear that Ms Winship has yet another disappointment in store.

"I'm hoping that now I have removed it, though unfortunately a lot of people have got my CV with that information, they will now offer me a job because they think I do not have a child."

If you wanted them to do that getting your story into the national press was a bad idea.

But maybe I am dead and this is the afterlife... Squander Two was worried. Um, I did say a couple of days before that I was going camping. Scroll down and look. Got to admit, though, that I didn't actually post to say I was off. That was because of the divorce I didn't want to have. If, after finally having filled every crevice of the car with assorted tents, camping gaz stoves, sleeping bags, and children; and having turned off the taps, set the timer, locked the door, fed the key and posted the goldfish through next door's letterbox, if after all this one says, "Stay! I must commune with my audience," then one is rather likely to have one's holiday destination diverted to Messrs Squeeze & Pipsqueak (Family Law Our Speciality).

Monday, August 09, 2004
Here I am, home again and seated at this keyboard once more. I plonk myself down on the old swivel chair almost reluctantly. It's like picking up the threads of a soap opera you haven't been watching: you know that you will be sucked in after five minutes and don't quite want to surrender your hard-won indifference. What brought me back this evening was learning of the death of Bernard Levin.

I remember our old gas fire we had in the 70s. It's a mercy it didn't kill me, that fire. It certainly gave me some memorable headaches when I lay too long on the rug next to it, as I used to after breakfast, reading the Times, having recently discovered that there was a point to this paper-reading my father did. My favourite bit was the double page in the middle where the Times people didn't just say what had happened but what they thought about it. It gradually dawned on me that the columns that made me most joyfully indignant (children love being indignant) about the evils of communism or of apartheid all had the name "Levin" on top of them.

A year or two ago I re-read a column (was it one of several?) that had particularly entranced me when I first read it in front of the fire. It had featured the adventures of a character called "John Cheekykaffir" and, with a sarcasm pretty and poisonous as liquid mercury, parodied the official pronouncements of the South African government regarding the death of Biko. Perhaps some PC virus has germinated in my soul, but second time round it wasn't quite as good as I remembered - or perhaps my desire to believe that having half my life behind me involves some gain as well as loss does not permit anything that appealed so much to my childhood self to appeal equally now. But this holds up gloriously. The chap who provides the link seems to have come across it by way of a discussion of the best flooring for operas, and that is indeed what it is all about.

"The Theatre Royal in Wexford holds 440; it was completely full. . . so there are, allowing for a few who have already died . . . hardly more than four hundred people who now share, to the end of their lives, an experience from which the rest of the world, now and for ever, is excluded. When the last of us dies, the experience will die with us, for although it is already enshrined in legend, no one who was not an eye witness will ever really understand what we felt. . .
Most of those four hundred must be gone now, including the author, who did, despite what he says, a very good job of sharing the experience with us.

Here's some vintage Levin abuse of trendy artists who whip off a production-line caricature of some disliked political leader and then call themselves "dissidents" because not absolutely everyone oohs and aahs like their own circle.

Here he is on the family of his favourite composer:

With the possible exception of the House of Atreus, I cannot think of a line more dreadfully cursed, from generation to generation, than the family Wagner ... To the hideous warp in his own personality he then proceeded to ally the rancid blood of Franz Liszt...
On Anton Webern's Six Orchestral Pieces:
... an average for each item of five plinks, two plonks and a grrrrrr.
On Peter Brook's Mahabharata:
Heroes abound, their heroisms subtly differentiated; beauty draws men with a single hair; miraculous births and magic powers abound; great vows are sworn; honour is honoured; noble renunciations are made, indentities are uncertain; hate and love, lust and chastity, blood and earth, cruelty and forgiveness, faith and treachery - all these clash and mingle, exchange roles, reveal new meanings.

And on dogs:

... a loathsome spaniel (not that there is any other kind of spaniel)...

And here's how I got into blogging before I knew what blogging was:

A few months before I first heard of blogs I went to a careers counsellor. He asked me what I dreamed of doing. I said, "I want to be like Bernard Levin used to be in the Times." Levin used to have a near daily column where he wrote about whatever took his fancy: politics, opera or whatever. "Can I do that and get paid for it?" I asked. His answer boiled down to "Yes and not much," which was spot on...

I won't ever have Bernard Levin's job, but my desire to be like him is undiminished. I wish it hadn't been Alzheimer's that took him.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004
Why raggy pages? Offspring A recently received a gift edition hardback book. "It's very nice," she said, "but I think they didn't make it right. The pages are all raggy at the edges."

"They do that with posh books sometimes," I said.


"Ah," I said, "the answer to that is, um, is a terrifying yet exciting Mystery of Adulthood that will be revealed to you in a secret ceremony on your eighteenth birthday."

So I have a few years to find out. Why is it posh to have the edges of the pages uncut? Is it meant to suggest handmade paper?

Tuesday, July 20, 2004
Gary Farber writes:
Understanding that the following are not your words, but wuzname's, but since you did praise them:

[Here Gary quotes this post from "God Save the Queen" (the blog, not the national anthem) which I commented on here. Gary's words are in normal type; Mr GSTQ's in italics. What a lot of quotes-within-quotes I seem to be having.]

"1 - full colonisation (America, Australia);

2 - partial colonisation (South Africa, Algeria);

3 - prolonged imperial rule (over a century, say) without settlement
(India, Phillipines, Sri Lanka, Indonesia);

4 - brief imperial rule (a few decades only) without settlement (Nigeria,
Egypt, Burma);

5 - no European rule (Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, Thailand).

The correlation between present-day democracy and the level of colonial/
imperial experience is striking. Countries in category 1 are overwhelmingly
free. Categories 2 and 3 are mostly free."

[Back to Gary's opinion now:]

One -- meaning "me" -- feels a need to note that this "overwhelmingly free"
experience didn't work out too well for many of the already-there inhabitants nor their descendants, in category one, nor did matters do much better, until the last few seconds of history (comparatively speaking) in category 2.

It seems at least worth noting in passing.

I liked the calm understatement of the last line. Any extended treatment of the subject of empire that does not give full weight to the fact that human beings do not want to be ruled by foreigners is worth very little. Yet there is no inconsistency between thinking conquest a bad activity and observing that it may, through the diffusion of improved technology, institutions or ideas, have good consequences for the descendants of those conquered. May have. In the worst cases the conquered didn't leave any descendants.

The wheel makes some strange turns. The descendants of Africans captured by slavers and taken to servitude in America are on average better off than the descendants of their neighbours who evaded capture. Arguably some of that differential was caused by the devastating effects of the slave trade*, but that does not make the observation invalid.

*I'm trying and failing to remember/Google a quote about regions of Africa where no white man had ever been being convulsed and blighted by slave-taking wars.

Semiskinned semi-skins the increasingly strange A L Kennedy. Here's an excerpt. Rob's bits are in ordinary type, Alison K's in italics:
...Only 3 sentences in and we already have Tony Blair slithering, words being put in his mouth, "demonic" foreign policies and describing people as "evil enough to provoke spontaneous vomiting in small children". Way to build a solid platform of rational argument, Alison.

Now, like many British citizens, I'd rather not think about our ghastly leader, but Bush is rather harder to blot out. It's that whole terror thing. I've been waking up screaming since I was five, so I find I am slightly susceptible to terror. Not the $60bn-earmarked-for-next-year, civil-rights-dissolving, Orange Alert type of terror - I mean real terror.

Aha, you mean the murdering-3000-people-in-one-morning type of terror?

And it's not as if the genuine terror of Bush is hard to notice.

No, I thought that wouldn't be the sort of terror you meant.

Within hours of coming into office, he'd started approving oil exploration in national parks, cutting support for disadvantaged children, raising the levels of arsenic in drinking water...

The man can change the chemistry of drinking water? 

Sorry for my unexpected absence since Thursday. First one offspring was sick, then the other. Not very sick, which is a relief, and probably not the same sick, which is also a relief as we're going camping the day after tomorrow. But enough to put me all at sixes and sevens.

Thursday, July 15, 2004
Unravelling the delicate balances on which freedom and democracy depend. David Green of Civitas writes on how a law against incitement to religious hatred would encourage extremism. (Via Iain Murray.)

I think Green, like Hume before him, is unecessarily harsh to religious leaders. Not that many are cynical frauds. Some are honest bigots (and need to be argued against on that account); but these days most Christian leaders - including much of the hierarchies of the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England - are merely "professionalised" in a bad sense. Their desks are covered with action plans and mission statements. They spend too much of their time talking to and reading the words of people very much like themselves in politics and class origin and hence erect unconscious barriers to entry for those of different politics and class. They don't get out enough. They don't think out enough.

Don't let that caveat put you off. It's a fine article.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004
Read this detailed, link- and quote-filled post on "Iraq Body Count" from David Adesnik of Oxblog.
However, the prize for total absurdity goes to entry 'x344' which includes upwards of 1600 deaths described as "violent deaths recorded at the Baghdad city morgue". For details about the morgue reports, see this AP report [link in original], cited by IBC. To be fair, IBC notes (see above) the Occupying Authority is responsible for maintaining law and order. Still, what IBC is basically doing is holding the US responsible for street crime.

Do all that many Telegraph readers want to eat insects? One of the little mini-adverts on the Sunday Telegraph leader page for 11 July took me to a teachers' resources website selling insect candy and snacks. It says:
One of the highlights of our new bug products is Genuine Farm-Raised Bug Candy. That's right campers... there are real insects in those lollies. Now before you turn up your nose, take a moment to think about teaching the most unforgettable earth science, food science or cultural lessons imaginable! Educational Innovations is very proud to introduce our new line of incredible edibles. Keep reading! All of our insect candy and snacks are hand made with great care, using only completely edible, farm-raised insects (no, we do not catch them ourselves). Try them! If you don't love'em, your students will!
The advert below offered Quality Dried Butterflies.

Somewhere in the house I have a reprint of a Victorian book called "Why Not Eat Insects?". You can read it here.The philanthropic author is persuasive almost to the point of persuasion in urging all classes of society to eat insects:

...I foresee the day when the slug will be as popular in England as its luscious namesake the Trepang, or sea-slug, is in China, and a dish of grasshoppers fried in butter as much relished by the English peasant as a similarly treated dish of locusts is by an Arab or Hottentot. There are many reasons why this is to be hoped for. Firstly, philosophy bids us neglect no wholesome source of food. Secondly, what a pleasant change from the labourer's unvarying meal of bread, lard, and bacon, or bread and lard without bacon, or bread without lard or bacon, would be a good dish of fried cockchafers or grasshoppers. "How the poor live!" Badly, I know; but they neglect wholesome foods, from a foolish prejudice which it should be the task of their betters, by their example, to overcome.
but, rightly in my opinion, draws the line at spiders:
Even Spiders have been relished as tid-bits, not only by uncivilized nations, but by Europeans of cultivation. For Reaumur tells of a young lady who was so fond of spiders that she never saw one without catching and eating it. Lalande, the French astronomer, had similar tastes; and Rosel speaks of a German who was in the habit of spreading spiders, like butter, upon his bread. This taste I do not in any way uphold, for the preying spider, which devours his fellow-insects, whether foul feeders or no, should be avoided, as are carnivorous beasts in our animal diet.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004
Something NOT so rotten in the state of France. Remember that awful story about the Frenchwoman who was beaten up for looking Jewish while the passengers watched? Well, it seems she made it all up. Stupid lying cow. Antoine Clarke directs me to this story. Headline and first paragraph says
The young woman admits to having lied.
Heard a second time by the investigators on Tuesday afternoon the young woman who said she had been attacked in the RER D (French railways) has admitted having invented it all. Since Monday the numerous contradictions had led the investigators to be cautious.

She has a history of hysterical fantasizing; Antoine compared her to that woman who claimed to have been raped by Neil and Christine Hamilton.

Kalahari Bushmen, New Age Travellers and the paradoxes of state welfare. I have a gigantic post bearing that title up over at Samizdata.

Monday, July 12, 2004
Something rotten in the state of France.
[CORRECTION ADDED 13/7 - The woman whose ordeal I describe below turns out to be a liar and a fantasist. Scroll up to read more. I hope the general comments about bystanders and criminals are still of interest. ]

This, from Gene at Harry's Place, is particularly disturbing (as Gene says) because of the passivity of the onlookers. Politically the reaction of passerby to a crime is often more significant than the crime itself. I do not imply by this any lack of sympathy for the actual victim; for her, the devastating thing is the assault and the lack of help merely a depressing coda to it. What I mean is that the behaviour of the non-criminal onlookers is likely to better correlate to social or political trends than the behaviour of the criminals. There are more of them and they are more typical.

In a similar way I find the success of Thierry Meyssan's 9-11 conspiracy book in France more damning to the reputation of France as a whole than the wave of anti-Semitic violence there. Being a racist thug or an arsonist is a much worse thing morally than buying a foolish book, but the wave of violence could conceivably be the result of the actions of a few highly atypical fanatics. (On a related subject I gather that many terrorist campaigns affecting whole nations involve mere dozens of operatives. Much is made of the need for passive support among the people for terrorism, but surely technology has made the need for such support less than it was.) In contrast getting onto the bestseller list can only be the result of broad support among the people.

Anti-semitism is not the same thing as believing in 9-11 conspiracy theories. But I suspect the Venn diagram of the two sets would be mostly overlap.

"Colonialists against imperialism." "Who," asks Laban Tall, "is this erudite blogger at God Save The Queen? Posts about the Saxon kingdoms, the differences twixt empire and colony - and he doesn't seem to be a Robert Fisk fan. If s/he keeps up the opening standard none shall be happier than I."

Seconded. Here are a great many lines from the anonymous author (I started by saying "a few lines" but found myself unable to stop quoting):

But consideration of the different levels of imperial activity leads one on to a curious phenomenon. If we sort the countries of the world by their imperial experience we can see five levels, not that these have strict boundaries:

1 - full colonisation (America, Australia);
2 - partial colonisation (South Africa, Algeria);
3 - prolonged imperial rule (over a century, say) without settlement (India, Phillipines, Sri Lanka, Indonesia);
4 - brief imperial rule (a few decades only) without settlement (Nigeria, Egypt, Burma);
5 - no European rule (Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, Thailand).

The correlation between present-day democracy and the level of colonial/ imperial experience is striking. Countries in category 1 are overwhelmingly free. Categories 2 and 3 are mostly free. Algeria is arguably the first major Arab country to hold a meaningful election: it was also the only Arab country to experience prolonged European rule, being run by France from 1830 to 1962, and the only one to experience large-scale European settlement - when the French army pulled out 800,000 civilians went with them. Category 4 is struggling towards freedom and category 5 is the least free of all.

I've chosen this sample rather crudely, of course, and one could easily find countries that don't fit. Zimbabwe, for example, is rather a special case - a short period of rule but with substantial colonisation. Likewise Japan and Korea are peculiar, since both owe their democracy to American military occupation. But most states do fit the model roughly, and the sample covers most of the world's larger nations. A rough fit is the best anyone can ever hope for in these grand historical models.

So what's going on? The best answer I can come up with is to invoke Max Weber, who said that there are three broad types of authority: traditional (obey me - your ancestors did), charismatic (obey me, I'm great) and rational-legal (obey me - I can run things fairly and well).

Democratic countries require the rational-legal or bureaucratic mentality. Tribal and clan loyalties, on the other hand, are the default setting of human organisation, historically: even the ancient Greeks and Romans, thought of as hyper-rational and urban, identified themselves that way (the name 'Julius' in Julius Caesar refers to the Julian clan, etc.). Colonisation, and imperial rule to a lesser extent, destroy the traditional authority of tribes and clans, by a variety of means, for instance by killing or discrediting tribal leaders and promoting urbanisation and academic education. Colonialism is more destructive - it's a form of sociological slash-and-burn - because the level of intrusiveness is inevitably greater.

That means that when the guys in solar topees go home newly independent countries have to choose between charismatic and bureaucratic rule. Being only human, they tend to be suckered by whatever bighead has the loudest voice or the biggest militia: over time they learn the disadvantages that come from the Holy People's Will, and start to reflect that 'appen a bit of bureaucracy wouldn't be so bad.

But pity the countries in category 5.

I'm not entirely convinced. Iran is a sort of cruel half-democracy and Thailand is no hell-hole. I think Mr - er... What do we call him? (It can't be Mr Save-the-Queen because that would make his first name disconcerting. Him, anyway. (Or her, but I don't think so.) I think he should bring the effects of rule by non- or half-European ruling powers such as China, Japan, or Russia, or even the Zulus into the equation.

May I recommend Sowell's Conquests and Cultures, if he hasn't read it already?

I have a couple of posts up over at Samizdata, if you're interested. One silly, one serious.