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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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:
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Sunday, February 27, 2005
Friday, February 25, 2005
Many observers in Nigeria believe that the roots of the violence across much of the country are not religious or cultural.So writes the BBC's Dan Isaacs in this article. The bold type was added by me.
I wonder whether Mr Isaacs is aware that what he is saying is an argument for free markets and against a large public sector. I really can't tell.
Imagine a different Nigeria in a happier timeline. One where oil wealth never went to the federal government in Abuja in the first place, and hence where capturing power there was not the ticket to riches. Imagine a Nigeria that had been like that since Independence... "Caught off guard by reporters at the 2005 Kano Computer Entertainment Show, where he had addressed the All-Nigeria Software Developers' Association, President Obasanjo admitted that he had considered offering his resignation after the shock revelation that an official in the Finance Ministry had taken a bribe. "Nigeria's reputation for probity is one of our biggest assets," he said.
In a country where the government is in bed with everybody, once the government is infected soon everybody else will be too.
An email about Holocaust Memorial Day. Trailing through some of the email I missed earlier in the month I found this:
as-salaamu 'alaykum everyone,"Unspun" is a mailing list connected with the Muslim Council of Britain. NB: So far as I know it is not connected with the all-but-openly pro-terrorist Jihad Unspun. These people are the moderates.
Wednesday, February 23, 2005
"Your skullcap is slipping." Here is a fascinating article by Johann Hari on his own experience of anti-semitism. (He isn't a Jew - but some think he is.) There is much to disagree with in the article and the comments, but read it anyway.
Not widely known. Did you know that the Spanish Prime Minister says that if the EU constitution is passed all the British embassies worldwide will be closed, along with those of other nations? He also says that Britain and France will lose their Security Council seats.
Wherever you go, there they are. Blithering Bunny is worried that Iain Duncan Smith's confidence in blogging may be misplaced.
So if we couldn't see how bad heavy-duty socialism was when it was staring us in the face - if it took the ruin of several countries before we acknowledged it - what chance do we have against the more subtle applications of socialism that are going on now?Dead right about the way that the National Curriculum was taken over by the very trendy-teacher establishment it was designed to curb. That is the Murphy's Law of centralised official bodies. Or centralised bodies of any sort, really.* One of my big fears about ID cards is that any mechanism intended as a security lock can, once it is taken over, become the skeleton key. This "taking over" is most usually pictured as being technical, and of course it could be. But it could also be institutional. That's how military coups work.
Any time someone starts talking about an official initiative to help and reward bloggers, run for the hills and blog from there.
*Let's all evolve into dispersed vapour-cloud creatures. Really, it's the only safe way.
The Home Secretary has backed off a bit. Good. But not good enough.
The prosecution of the War on Terror frequently reminds me of the behaviour of school authorities regarding parents who take their children out of school during term - or of the way the police go for women eating apples in the car rather than burglars.
The authorities make a big parade of cracking down in one way so that they can avoid cracking down in another way that is more painful but also more useful.
Tuesday, February 22, 2005
So it seems to be spies' day. Let's draw the threads together. There were some notable injustices carried out at the behest of MI5 during World War II, one of them detailed in today's first post - but heaven knows the threat was real. The Campaign for Nuclear disarmament are angry at the way they were spied upon - staying silent about the fact that there were real enemy spies among them, as alluded to in the last post - and yet CND might justifiably retort that the case officers who cut their teeth bugging them are now gnawing away at everyone's civil liberties. The vast majority of CND members were perfectly law-abiding and patriotic. Me, for instance.
The trouble with talking about spies is that there's always a "but".
Which brings me to an email written by my regular contributor A Regular Contributor, or ARC as he is familiarly known. He writes:
saw your B-BBC post on McCarthy, which gave me a number of thoughts. As you say, there are two messages any discussion should convey.ARC then apologises for the fact that, being separated from his sourcebooks on all this at the present, he is vague on precise dates and names. Hence also all these "IIRC"s. He continues:
OK, Teach, we get the message.
[ADDED AFTER WRITING THIS POST: Curses! The mighty Ablutionist got in before me. Read his post here.]
This Education Guardian lesson plan about nuclear proliferation by Lyndsey Turner has no less than four separate links to CND as a source of facts and timelines for the students to work from. There is also one link to www.tridentploughshares.org/. You can safely assume that every member of this organisation is also a member of CND. Ditto for the Come Clean WMD Awareness Programme.
There are more links. There's one to Nuclear Berkeley, Nuclear World, one to the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and one to a CNN history of the cold war dating from 1999. Lyndsey Turner also points the student to numerous Guardian articles, although it might have avoided giving the impression that the way to get published in the Guardian is to keep mentioning the wonderfulness of the Guardian had she also mentioned the excellent material available in rival newspapers.
Are they all like that? No, not quite. www.nuclearterror.org/ and www.armscontrol.org/ seem moderate, non-partisan organisations with information-heavy websites. The Nuclear Terror website particularly advocates that the priority of the US government should be control of fissile material ahead of the war against terrorism, and this media advisory from the Arms Control Organisation "Applauds Lawmakers' Move to Cut Funding for Costly and Counterproductive Nuclear Weapons Projects". These two are bodies within the establishment, then, but not, shall we say, quite in sympathy with the current US administration.
Finally the US Department of Energy sneaks in somewhere to provide a timeline: this is as close as Turner's lesson plan lets us get to hearing from those who disagree with the CND view, though judging from the column space and indignation the timeline authors give to Watergate they are certainly not Republican patsies.
A child following this lesson plan could certainly learn quite a lot from following the suggested links, including the links to the CND website. (They won't learn about Vic Allen, though. Forgive me, I digress.)
But what is missing?
Any attempt at letting the other side speak in their own words, that's what. The funny thing is that Lyndsey Turner probably sees nothing odd about this at all.
Paid by MI5 for each person he entrapped. A letter in today's Telegraph gets to the...
Heart of the matter
This five year old Guardian article says that Public Record Office files relating to Ben Greene's internment have been closed under Section 3(4) of the Public Order Act 1958. The author, former MI5 agent David Shayler, was himself imprisoned for six months for disclosing secret information to a newspaper. (It was accepted that he did not act for money.) Although Shayler should never have been imprisoned I remember thinking at the time I was not convinced by all his allegations. But I see no reason to doubt his basic sincerity, nor the purely factual statement about Greene.
It is typical that my quick Google follow-up on the story of Ben Greene also led to an account of the abuse of power. That is the end result of rule by discretion of the Home Secretary.
"Yes, Miranda, this is the most disturbing carrot I've seen in quite awhile." Rob Hinkley directed me to the museum of food anomalies.
Monday, February 21, 2005
Two things we did know last week. (1) postal voting makes fraud easy and (2) an eavesdropper sees the same G W Bush as the rest of us do.
Although the White House condemned Mr Wead for publicising the tapes, they reveal a private Mr Bush almost identical to his public persona: tough, confident, conservative, with a genuine belief in God, a distrust of the United Nations and a loathing of the press.Happy the man.
Habemus internetiam. On second thoughts, my husband thinks that may be "habemus interrete." Or on third thoughts "interreticulum." Habemus somethingam, anyway.
Wednesday, February 16, 2005
The old computer is bust. The new computer, the new computer purchased yesterday, the new computer that was the repository of my hopes, vehicle of my dreams... the new computer won't connect to the internet.
But the steamed milk flavoured with coconut-syrup at this internet cafe is nice. I may not be online but at least I am cool.
Thursday, February 10, 2005
I could have been a contender. Before this royal thing broke the big story was the release of the government papers relating to our departure from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism.
I never really understood all that, despite working at the Treasury at the time. All I know is that it was this dreadful, ignominious national humiliation and everybody got a little richer after it happened.
Nonetheless the crisis was the occasion for me to suffer a significant loss. On that day, having finished a hard day's work of national unimportance in Government Offices Great George Street, euphoniously known as GOGGS, I came out of the side entrance. And as I stepped into the light a whole bunch of reporters leapt to their feet. Cameras were yanked to the ready position, boom mikes swung to meet me, a few flash lights went off. Then they realised that I wasn't Norman Lamont.
The wonderful thing was that for once in my life a really great line had popped into my head at just the right moment. "Actually," I could say, sweeping past, "I am the Chancellor. I knew you reptiles would never penetrate my cunning disguise." I had the line, I had the situation: a funny spot at the end of the six o'clock news was assured. The only thing stopping me was that between one step and the next I had realised I was wearing a nightie.
This could have happened to anyone. Well, anyone female. I was fairly pregnant at the time and my cousin had recently passed on to me a whole pile of pregnancy clothes. I had been working my way through the pile and that morning I had put on a comfortable, simply cut pull-on dress with a soft collar like they have on rugby shirts. I had wondered whether it was not a little informal, but I didn't have enought pregnancy clothes to turn one down. Anyway something about being the focus of the concentrated attention of the world's press suddenly made it obvious to me that it was probably obvious to everyone else that I was walking the corridors of Her Majesty's Treasury in poly-cotton sleepwear. In the circumstances the headline would be not "Sassy Treasury Girl Trades Jokes With Journalists" but "Mad Woman Stalks Whitehall, Believes Self To Be Chancellor."
So my quip un-quipped I shuffled past the cameras and the cables and went disconsolately home and to bed. At least I was dressed for it.
Wednesday, February 09, 2005
A common fallacy about the nature of teaching. Every so often a certain claim is made by a teacher, usually in a Letter to the Editor denouncing the impudence of the non-teaching laity, which has long annoyed me. A version of it came up again in yesterday's Guardian. This article by Peter Hyman describes how he, a former speechwriter for Tony Blair, fares in an inner city classroom. Interesting stuff. I'm sure he is, or is becoming, a good teacher. But here it is again, right at the end of the article.
One day it all works: the students are focused; I think they are understanding the point, thinking for themselves. The next time - perhaps because I have done less preparation, perhaps because the students have had a bad day - the lesson is lacklustre, the students less sparky.I added the italics. The usual version of the complaint refers to airline pilots rather than surgeons. I mentioned both in an article I did for Right Now magazine. I said,
Every year or so this comic [the magazine of the National Union of Teachers] features an outraged letter on these lines: "Would you have your appendix removed by an unqualified surgeon? Would you cross the Atlantic in a plane with an unqualified pilot? Why, then, would you permit an unqualified teacher to instruct your child?" To which I answer (1) No, (2) No and (3) Why ever not? Anyone trying to extract an appendix by instinct alone will be up for manslaughter the following morning. Anyone trying to fly a 747 guided only by his Inner Light will soon be one of several hundred corpses bobbing along with the waves. Both these skills are failure-critical and arbitrary, in the sense that one cannot deduce from first principles which blood vessels to snip or buttons to press. Teaching is neither.It is obvious why teachers want to be placed in the same bracket as surgeons or pilots: it's to keep out competition from classroom assistants, home educators and other riff-raff. The irony is that there is a profession that resembles classroom teaching much more closely than either that of surgeon or airline pilot, and in which good performers are often much better paid than either.
That profession is sales. A teacher must get a sceptical audience to share his view of the desirability of what he is offering, as must a salesman. A good teacher must know his subject as a good salesman must know his product. For both there is more to success than product knowledge; enthusiasm and empathy are also involved. Both are born not made, although experience and training can help. For both the constant human interaction can be exhausting. Both will be rejected and insulted every day. The best love their jobs anyway.
Yet this comparison is put forward a lot more often by salesmen than by teachers. Teachers don't like it at all. For one thing, salesmen are not seen as virtuous. This is not mere anti-capitalism, although there is plenty of that, but is more that teachers still cling to their traditional Automatic Professional Virtue Rating, not perceiving how much of that rating came from their low pay.
For another thing, any fool can be an unsuccessful salesman. Those wretches who mumble through a prepared script about double glazing - who would like to be compared to them? But compare I will: I pitied the worst teachers I knew even more than those individuals desperate enough to sign up for a job cold-calling.
The very best salesmen, however, can earn a fortune. A star performer can be the salvation of a failing company and, boy, do they know it when applying for a raise. Wouldn't it be strange if teachers played by the same rules? I don't necessarily put this forward as desirable for all: as Charles Murray pointed out in his book In Pursuit of Happiness, many teachers understandably value the feeling of collegiate harmony that comes from the worst-paid staff member at a school being paid an amount not too much less than the best-paid, and from the pay scales being fixed and known.
My analogy between sales and teaching is only analogy. It has its limitations. However Mr Hyman's colleague should accept that everybody can teach a bit, just as everybody can sell a bit. Not everybody can teach or sell well.
Tuesday, February 08, 2005
Peter Simple, thou knowest not what thou has wrought. In the late seventies my only opportunity to read the Telegraph (buying a copy was against my religion) was when copies of it were spread out to protect the tables in my O-Level art class. What sinful pleasure it was to slide my ongoing masterpiece Still Life With Adidas Trainers an inch to the side in order to sneak a look at Way of the World or Peter Simple. One of the two columns, I can't remember which, used to feature the "Ladies' Sewing Circle and Terrorist Society" who knitted hand grenade covers for the Khmer Rouge. I thought this was a very naughty right-wing joke.
Joke's on me. There really is such a body. In San Francisco's Bay Area, believe it or not. And it's on mugs and T-shirts and everything. Nostalgically, I wonder, was the whole "terrorist sewing circle" thing a widespread joke that I only saw through the lens of Peter Simple, or is it another case of an insult being taken up with pride by those it was directed at?
Ah, whichever. The late seventies. Those were the days. Days when you'd stick a safety pin through your lip and a nail through your nose and then snarl, "What are you ****ing staring at?"¹ at any bourgeois creep who looked your way.
Those days may not be utterly gone. Just the other week Scott Burgess had some fun with a glorious Guardian article on an exhibition of transgressive knitters who take on capitalism and war. (Do they win?) Instructions are provided by the Guardian for a knitted hand grenade.
Carrying on the grand tradition of doing all you can to shock and then complaining when it works, one Rachael Matthews says, "It seemed odd that you were allowed to read a book on the tube, but knitting was abnormal." Ms Matthews is a maker of knitted willies "with realistic head and veins." I'm sure her creative solidarity is much appreciated by the current leaders of resistance against US warmongering imperialism.
¹ Or rather, "What are you ****ink starink ab?"
Before I go, MMM writes:
If you are still looking for the Henry Ford story,I am!
it sounds a lot like the one from Napoleon Hill's "Think and Grow Rich" Chapter on Specialized Knowledge.He or she adds, "now it's back to Calculus II studying." This gives me the excuse to wheel out my favourite Calculus Profondity:
ſ t = deatht = birth existence dt = Life
HENRY FORD UPDATE: Captain Heinrichs sent me this link to Henry Ford's Time Machine, containing another famous Fordism:
"I don't know whether Napoleon did or did not try to get across there (to England) and I don't care. It means nothing to me. History is more or less bunk. It's tradition. We don't want tradition. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker's dam is the history we make today."As I said, the man had other skills. Good thing he did.
Incidentally, that article quotes the words at issue in the court case as "ignorant idealist" rather than "ignorant pacifist."
Hail and farewell. I'm back, after a bout of that awful affliction that's going around, "work", I believe they call it. Goodbye again for a bit: must hop down to the newsagent to buy a copy of the Guardian to get outraged about.