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:

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Friday, September 30, 2005
I often like to muse on how vastly superior I am compared to those younger and older than myself. Compared to the rising generation I am better educated, have better morals and more elevated pleasures, and am more honest and peaceable. Compared to the old I have fewer grey hairs and smoother skin. And I can do sit ups, which a lot of them can't, you know.

Despite my evident superiority I do try to see these crumpled-looking creatures as fellow human beings (fellow citizens, even!) with the same rights and duties as the rest of us.

Do you think I am over-optimistic? Would it be more realistic of me to think that, like toddlers, old people should be ignored when their bellowing disrupts social functions?

Along with half the country, the leadership of the Labour party seems to think so. I didn't see, either on film or in person, Walter Wolfgang being ejected from the Labour conference, so I don't know if the amount of force used was reasonable or not. (Perhaps I still wouldn't know even if I had seen it; like sporting fouls these things are difficult to judge from outside.) If the fulsome apologies coming from the Labour leadership are for excessive force used upon an elderly man then apologies are right and proper. However from what I have heard they are apologising for the ejection itself.

Why? Surely the Labour party is entitled to set the rules for its own conference. If the rules specify "no heckling" then hecklers old or young must expect to be ejected - although the stewards should be careful to use no more force than is absolutely necessary, and be doubly careful if the heckler is old or frail.

But that wasn't the only way in which the apology seemed misdirected. Buried in the story and not, at first, attracting much comment was one thing that left me flabbergasted. For this Tony Blair and his entire government should get down on their knees and humbly beg forgiveness, swearing at the same time not to rest until the harm they have allowed to flourish is undone:

Police later used powers under the Terrorism Act to prevent Mr Wolfgang's re-entry, but he was not arrested.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005
I am amazed to discover that the WRP still exists. Years ago they were the outfit Bernard Levin always used to call "Vanessa's Loonies." The party had a brief moment of tabloid fame in the mid-eighties when its onetime leader, Gerry Healy, was denounced after one of its innumerable splits for activities that gave a whole new meaning to the phrase "revolutionary congress". In one of the columns in his collection Now Read On, Levin speculated that
"if a quarter of the conquests attributed to Mr Gerry Healy (Vanessa's chef de cabinet) were real, he must have spent very considerably more time at, er, bonking than at planning the expropriation of the capitalist hyenas, which may account for the fact that the capitalist hyenas are still unexpropriated."

History repeats itself, first time as tragedy, second as farce. So said Karl Marx. A fine saying - pity about the rest of his legacy. He would not have intended it to cover such a frivolous sort of history as the doings of playwrights and players, but it does, and the little bit of repeated history I would like to post about features some of his most loyal devotees.

The BBC has cast Corin Redgrave's Marxist wife as Margaret Thatcher according to the Telegraph.

In what could be seen as a perverse insult to Lady Thatcher, the BBC has cast Kika Markham, a member of the Left-wing Redgrave dynasty and supporter of the Workers Revolutionary Party, as Britain's first female prime minister.
I think we can dispense with the "could be seen"; of course it is an insult, although not a particularly peverse one. Who cares? Political insults are the stuff of life, and books and plays. For all I know the results will be splendid. Ms Markham is saying the right things:
Markham said: "I think portraying someone like this can be more difficult if you are a socialist because you have such strong preconceptions and views about her. As an actor, however, you have to wipe those away. You have got to be as truthful and objective as you possibly can."
Then again, if she's a supporter of the Workers' Revolutionary Party she may have an idiosyncratic view of the meaning of the words "truth" and "objectivity."

Perhaps Ms Markham could go for advice to her sister in law.

In 1980 I watched a TV movie called Playing for Time, written by Arthur Miller. The film told the story of Fania Fénelon, who played in the infamous camp orchestra at Auschwitz.

Vanessa Redgrave played Fénelon. (Vanessa's brother Corin is Kita Markham's husband.) Her performance was widely praised, and I remember it as being excellent.

Yet I also remember catching one of those short "personal view" programmes where someone talks direct to the camera about some issue dear to his or her heart. The speaker was an old woman, Fania Fénelon herself. She described how hurt she was that her life story, that of a Jew persecuted for being a Jew, had been depicted on film by a woman who said that the remaining Jews had no right to find refuge in Israel.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005
"Cooing should be a thing of the past," says a newly famous ward sister at Calderdale Royal Hospital, where visitors to the maternity wing have been ordered not to fuss over babies lest the babies' right to privacy be violated.
Staff in one of the wards have put up a display of a doll in a cot with a message saying: "What makes you think I want to be looked at?"
Since you ask: the custom and practice of all cultures past and present; the massed opinions of psychologists, paediatricians, doctors and midwives; and the instinctive and joyful reaction of every new parent that I have ever met.

The hospital is now backtracking like mad and saying it's all to do with avoiding infection. Fair enough, I can see that might be a problem for premature or sickly babies. But the slogan on the doll didn't mention infection.

Monday, September 26, 2005
If you do not read the Britblog roundup you will die!


"Students' writing skills have worsened so dramatically that lecturers at some of the country's most prestigious universities are calling for undergraduates to gain literacy certificates before submitting coursework," reports the Independent. The article continues:
Despite ever-improving A-level results, academics at universities such as Birmingham, Liverpool and Glasgow complain that school-leavers arrive ill- equipped to perform the most basic essay-writing tasks. To deal with the growing problem, institutions are now being forced to offer remedial classes in English, and lecturers want students to prove they have reached a certain level of competence.
It is a teensy bit unfortunate that the next paragraph begins:
With drop-out rates risisng...

Sunday, September 25, 2005
The Blackboard Jungle - wilder in Suffolk than Glasgow

JEM writes:

My wife used to teach in one of the worst comprehensive schools in one of the worst sink estates (Drumchapel) in Glasgow.

Nowadays she teaches in a so-called specialist technical secondary school in rural Suffolk, not far from Cambridge.

Admittedly, she ceased teaching in Glasgow some twenty years ago when we moved here, but nevertheless she keeps in touch with her old teaching colleagues and so still has a pretty firm finger on the pulse of the educational situation up there as well as in East Anglia.

She is quite certain that discipline, quality of teaching, and educational outcome is far worse here than in Glasgow.

Pupils are not models of good behavior up north, but those in Suffolk are distinctly worse, with far higher levels of serious classroom disturbance and violence, suspensions and incidents requiring police intervention.

Teachers in Scotland are on average more professional than in England. This is because in Scottish secondary schools only honours graduates can teach, and then only the subject they graduated in.

A number of Scottish secondary pupils do not know the alphabet or cannot tell the time, but that's much more common here. And examination results have not been nearly so devalued in Scotland; 98% pass rates remain unknown.


Friday, September 23, 2005
Disaster strikes - massive death toll - fissures in society revealed.

According to the BBC the World of Warcraft has been hit by a virtual plague.

The digital disease instantly killed lower level characters and did not take much longer to kill even powerful characters.

Many online discussion sites were buzzing with reports from the disaster zones with some describing seeing "hundreds" of bodies lying in the virtual streets of the online towns and cities.

The first place hit was the Orc capital, Ogrimmar. (My local expert tells me that Orcs are by no means necessarily bad guys in Warcraft.) Some say the plague was started deliberately. I blame G W Bush.

It would be interesting to see if the virtual plague mutates into a less instantly lethal form, as in the real world syphilis did. The hypothesis is that a disease that has a long incubation period has an evolutionary advantage, in that the carrier has years of life in which to infect others. The experiment will not take place: those in charge of the game don't want to lose vast swathes of their customer base and are trying to edit the disease out of the software that runs the game. Deus ex machina indeed.

UPDATE: More on this story from Black Triangle.

My daft dog. Enough politics, on to the important questions in life. I often take my dog for walks down the old railway track in the company of a friend of mine and her dog.

On the outward leg of the walk the two dogs get along fine. On the return leg, however, my dog gets embarrassing. He, um, exhibits dominance behaviour. I don't need any explanations about the behaviour itself, but why does it only happen on the return journey?

Unbelievably stupid. Thanks to EU-imposed "safety" restrictions on the use of MRI scanners some of us - perhaps you - will be denied potentially lifesaving treatments or early diagnosis. Read The Scotsman and EU Serf for more.

Another thing: children will be exposed to more X-rays.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005
More bishop-bashing from A Progressive Viewpoint. (Hat tip: Laban Tall). The writer, Paul Dennett, concentrates on the report of the working group itself and leaves the apology stuff as a coda. He says he's read all one hundred and one pages. Strong man. So far I have but skimmed it.

It isn't so bad. Much of it I would praise if it came served in bite-sized chunks from some liberally inclined blogging collective. One wouldn't want to make them lose confidence... What? Curse that Dennett knave, he has already bagged the absolute prime bit of nonsense that I had reserved for myself. The bishops said:

The Strategy emphasises providing security for the American ‘Self’. This ‘Self’ should not be compromised either by institutional arrangements, or by ‘Other’ states’ understanding of security. This policy of American exceptionalism reserves for itself the right to determine who are its friends and enemies.
Dennett writes:
It is truly remarkable how a statement wreathed in academic and quasi-psychological terminology can be so completely facile. If the right to determine America's friends and enemies does not reside with America, then with whom precisely does it reside? What about the UK? Who gets to choose our friends and enemies? What about Russia? What about any other country in the world? But no, let's single out America.
All he's left me with is that bit from page 13:"Although the Church has no direct contribution to make in the field of intelligence..." You don't say? Father Unwin won't be on the case, then?

The teacher's tale. Ah, I had heard of "Shuggy's blogspot" after all, just yesterday. Laban Tall linked to this tale from the trenches. It seems that Shuggy's colleague, "Fred", who like him teaches in a school in Glasgow...

Stop right there! Just because you heard the words "school in Glasgow" you needn't just assume you know how the rest of the story is going to go. OK, in this case your assumption would be right, but I'm sure it isn't always.

(Outraged Glaswegians, do feel free to write in with examples of why "school in London" is about as good a bet that a tale of mayhem unpunished is about to start.*)

An update gives the flavour:

The offender hasn't been excluded but simply shifted from one section to another. The reason? Fred has been informed that this is because the allegation concerning the swearing cannot be disproved since there were no witnesses! Fred said to his head of department, "So that means I can give you a slap and get away with it if I claimed you swore at me afterwards?"

*Come to think of it, I'll save you the trouble. When I taught at a school in London I remember the headteacher (an energetic man who had considerably improved the school) frankly confessing that there was little point in excluding pupils as they would only be shunted off to another school, and that other school would then take revenge by shunting its troublemakers our way. Sometimes, just sometimes, the mere move would improve the child's behaviour but that was unusual.

How pirates really talked. Odious of Odious and Peculiar has posted what I think is the constitution of a pirate company.
XI. The musicians to have rest on the Sabbath Day, only by night, but the other six days and nights, not without special favour.
I am glad that the musicians' need to have an acceptable work-life balance was respected to some extent. Not to mention the Sabbath.

Article VI suprised me.

At least it brought people together. Folk of many faiths and none agree what twits bishops can be:

Midwest Conservative Journal,
Normblog, Normblog again,
Leading article in the Telegraph,
Stephen Pollard (appeared in the Times),
Harry's Place,

That was just a morning's surfing; skewed, naturally, towards my blogroll. But I thought it was significant that so many of these posts were not triggered by other bloggers. Quite a few people independently saw reports of the bishops' proposal for an apology to Muslims for the Iraq war and were annoyed enough to write about it.

Added later: I expect more commentary as bloggers do pass the story on. The interest this has generated is of interest in itself. Some more posts follow. I may keep adding to the list for a while:

Talking Hoarsely,
UK Commentators,
Shuggy's Blogspot (a blog new to me, kindly pointed out by a reader),
A Progressive Viewpoint (more about that here),
Social Affairs Unit blog (Hat tip: Laban Tall),
Nick Cohen (Ditto)

Tuesday, September 20, 2005
All this business in Basra is very odd. Stuff is going on. Some of this story seems ominous (the reported infiltration of the Iraqi police by the Mehdi army) and some of it, frankly, is funny. That wall coming down will be in a film some day.

I suppose I shouldn't say that if reports that two or three rioters were killed are correct. If. They seem curiously nameless.

Many people were shocked by TV pictures of the riot that showed soldiers in burning uniforms abandoning their Warrior fighting vehicles (sort of APCs with knobs on.)

The rioters paid the British Army quite a compliment: they relied on the basic decency of the people they were attacking. My husband talked for forty-two seconds on the stuff for killing people that a Warrior fighting vehicle has on it. Can't quite recall it all, but stuff like "30mm RARDEN cannon" and "7.62mm chain gun" was in there. Not that they needed it; they could have escaped by pressing the accelerator if they had been willing to drive over a few human bodies to do it. Instead they got out and ran. Doesn't look as cool but doesn't kill anyone either. Since as far as I can tell that section of the rioting crowd threw stones at them but didn't try to kill them, their judgement call was vindicated.

Not killing people is nearly always a good idea, if one can decently avoid it.

I denounce them and curse them! Blogger people!

Here are some bloggers I have been jealous of recently:

Bilious Young Fogey. He has the ability to coin aphorisms. See here ("Special treatment always backfires - equal treatment never does") and here ("Transcending one's own nature to do something is admirable, but transcending human nature to do something is heroism").

Tim Blair documents the explosive memoirs of Mark Latham. Scroll up down and sideways for more and more and probably more to come. I am rather glad Mr Latham did not become the Prime Minister of Australia in the recent election. So is nearly every member of his own party with whom he has ever had dealings.

Sporadic Chronicle reports on how Robert Fisk in the Independent has switched from saying a civil war in Iraq was imminent due to American machinations to saying that a civil war in Iraq is unthinkable and anyone who says different is an American puppet. The Chronicle also knew that I needed to see a picture of a cat stuck to a wall and linked to the supremely funny reaction to Team America from which I took the title of this post, although the person quoted, a correspondent to a pro-North Korean forum, did not actually say "blogger."

Monday, September 19, 2005
Not with a bang but a simper is the way the Church of England will end. I learn from the BBC that a new report is out in which some Church of England bishops suggest that Christian leaders should apologise to Muslim leaders for the war in Iraq. The BBC story says:
A report from a working group of bishops says the war was one of a "long litany of errors" relating to Iraq.

As the government is unlikely to offer an apology, a meeting of religious leaders would provide a "public act of institutional repentance", it said.

Here are my objections, in no particular order.

  • Let's face it, the bit of the apology addressed to the Iraqis would be ticklish to write. "Dear Iraqis, we are so sorry we in the West didn't spend even longer leaving you to the care of Saddam Hussein. [Look at the size of those body bags.] In our ethnocentric arrogance some of us failed to realise that massacres like this and this and this have to be allowed to continue in order to preserve world peace. Had we truly, humbly listened to those who speak for you we would have realised that people in your culture accept being treated like that and that you consider democracy an imposition."

  • OK, forget all that. Let's shovel all those dead Iraqis back into the sand and imagine for a moment that I and everyone else whose backside ever warmed a pew have unanimously decided that the bishops are right: the war was a bad thing.

    The bishops making a public apology for it would still be deeply dishonest. They didn't support the war. Everybody knows they didn't and they know everybody knows it. It's a fine bargain - you pay in a penny's worth of pseudo-repentance for someone else's alleged sins and get back a pound's worth of plaudits for your humility. Even better than that, you get to jab at your political enemies in circumstances where they can't jab back.

    Perhaps I am being too harsh. When in 1940 C. S. Lewis wrote a still relevant essay called "Dangers of National Repentance", he was kinder. (This post from Photon Courier describes how the essay came to be written.) Here is a quote from it:

    The first and fatal charm of national repentance is, therefore, the encouragement it gives us to turn from the bitter task of repenting our own sins to the congenial one of bewailing - but, first, of denouncing - the conduct of others. If it were clear to the young penitent that this is what he is doing, no doubt he would remember the law of charity. Unfortunately the very terms in which national repentance is recommended to him conceal its true nature. By a dangerous figure of speech, he calls the Government not 'they' but 'we'. And since, as penitents, we are not encouraged to be charitable to our own sins, nor to give ourselves the benefit of any doubt, a Government which is called 'we' is ipso facto placed beyond the sphere of charity or even of justice. You can say anything you please about it. You can indulge in the popular vice of detraction without restraint, and yet feel all the time that you are practising contrition.

  • Have these "working groups" of bishops no other work to do? Is the Gospel so widely followed in this realm that the Lords Spiritual can spare the time to waffle on about matters about which they are no better informed than the average middle manager? "The harvest is plenteous but the labourers few." Yea verily, and the few we have can't be with us at the moment because they are discussing sustainable energy, or the Ghanaian agricultural subsidy regime, or whether Jacksonian nationalism is a good influence on American foreign policy.

  • Which brings me to the next one. It's not obvious, guys. Even leaving out every other question about the Iraq war, it's not obvious that the deaths caused will outnumber the lives saved. It's not obvious that the Christian Aid/Oxfam line will actually help the world's poor. It's not obvious that the Kyoto accords matter. Not everyone agrees. Quite often, you know, even people of great goodness and wisdom disagree on this sort of thing. Quite often, looking back after a few years have gone by, propositions that seemed obvious to almost the entire educated class turn out to be wrong. I suspect, my lords, that sixty years ago a majority of the bishops of the Church of England believed in the nationalisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange. I suspect that a few centuries earlier the vast majority of your predecessors believed in winning souls to Christ by force. I am pretty sure none of you hold the latter proposition now.

  • "Not in my name" is a slogan we hear much. Now it's my turn to use it. Jesus gave almost no specific guidance on politics. Christians are obliged to assume that He didn't just forget, He knew what He was doing when He left us to figure out what loving your neighbour as yourself meant in practice. The particular guesses some bishops make shouldn't dress themselves up as the voice of the church. With every pronouncement the bishops make in support of sectional and temporary currents of opinion a few more Christians decide that the bishops don't speak in their name and walk out through the doors of their local Anglican church for the last time. Some of them might find another church to go to; others won't. Is the faith of the latter group weak, that they drop away for such a peripheral reason? Yes. But where faith is weak the Church should be in the business of strengthening it, not weakening it further. This aspect would be as bad if the sectional opinion the bishops happened to hold was in perfect agreement with mine.

  • Be warned. This institutional repentance stuff is dangerous. When you proffer your apologies to the Muslim leaders (which ones, by the way?) for things that other Christians did, are you going to ask them to apologise for things that other Muslims did? If not, why not?

    I do not say there is no place for institutional repentance. It was a good thing, as the report says, that the Catholic Church apologised for the Inquisition and for pogroms against Jews and others, because these acts clearly were evil, were done in the name of Christianity, and in many cases were ordered by the direct predecessors in office of those giving the official apology. By all means say that a special duty falls on Christians to keep their religion free of inquisitions and pogroms in the future, just as a special - and presently more urgent - duty falls upon Muslims to get and keep their religion free of terrorism.

    But if you set a precedent of apology for acts not your own you also set a precedent that apologies can be demanded for acts not your own. You will encourage people to demand that their Muslim co-workers and neighbours must not merely disavow but apologise for 9/11 and 7/7 and whatever other pairs of numbers the Islamofascists are yet to give the world. Group repentance implies group guilt. That could get ugly.

ADDED MONDAY EVENING: I have added one or two connecting sentences to the post above. And here is a story in the Guardian about the same report. It said the working party consisted of four diocesan bishops, all from the liberal wing of the C of E.

Later post here.

Sunday, September 18, 2005
The Britblog roundup awaits you here.

Just explain already! The lesson in church today was the parable of the workers in the vineyard. For years I didn't understand that parable, until someone explained to me that it meant that people who have striven to be good their whole lives have no right to say to God, "Hey, you owe me first-class heaven after all I've done for you! That reprobate over there who repented on his deathbed should only get eighth-class heaven."

On the subject of needing to have things explained, someone sent me a very angry email about this post. I shot them back a reply just saying "read the last line again." However, while still under the good influence of church, I have reflected that if I didn't get this famous parable until it was explained to me, despite millions of others having understood it without difficulty, maybe it would be better if I simply stated what I was trying to say in my possibly rather obscure post in explicit terms.

So here's the explanation. The post was intended to use irony and understatement to lead the reader to the opposite conclusion to the meaning the words held at first sight. The intended moral was that one should judge by other criteria; that to be an innocent person who dies in agony, or to be a brave person who dies in an unsuccessful attempt to help others, is infinitely better than to be an evil person and triumph in your goals.

Saturday, September 17, 2005
""The Crown's case amounts to her assertion that, since he was in the car, it must be him. They have not asked why no traces of his DNA were found in her body or on her clothing, but that of another man was."
That was the judge talking.

As Tim Worstall says:

Oh, and by the way, this is the system where the Home Secretary wants the power to lock up anyone at all whenever he likes without a presentation of evidence in court.

Friday, September 16, 2005
An uppity Australian has been defying my edicts. Under one "redirection" I commented
I think your redirections are very nice. There is no need to be ashamed of having to buy second-hand directions.
I republish it here because who the hell looks at the third comment under a post labelled "Redirection"?

Try looking up. Laban Tall writes about a historic first in artistic depictions of disabled people.

I felt a little pang of guilt about the last post. He's now a very rich little pang; I had to settle out of court.

OK, start again. I regretted that in the last post I had not stressed more that the trouble with that Telegraph article on workplace bullying and the survey it described was that both assumed that respondents' own assessments of how badly they had been treated should be taken at face value. It is sometimes difficult to know if one is being treated badly. One can be wrong in either direction. Sadly, some children grow up thinking that beatings and neglect must be what they deserve since that is what they get. Nearly everyone has seen, and all too many have experienced, marriages, "friendships" or workplaces where someone literally doesn't know enough to complain.

On the other hand... well, let me tell you a story. I was once done for misuse of power myself. But in the first minute of the hearing it became obvious that this chap hadn't told his own union rep anything whatsoever about certain events central to the case. I mentioned them. The union rep started to turn to face his client, then his brain visibly countermanded the order to his neck muscles. From then on he did his best but it was obvious that the meeting couldn't be about what he had thought it was going to be about. It trailed off, and later events made the whole business moot.

Afterwards I wondered why on earth my opponent had failed to tell his union rep the whole story. If the rep, who was good at his job, had known the weakest point in the case he had to make he could have prepared defences.

My guess (and it's only a guess) is that my opponent had wiped various painful memories from his mind. In their absence his memory presented him with a history that showed him as hard done by. People do that sometimes.

Perhaps he blogs the story differently. But that's the point. One's own assessment cannot be the only measure.

Thursday, September 15, 2005
Bully for you. In the Telegraph's Money section there is an article about bullying in the workplace.

Bullying in the workplace has extended into the boardroom, according to the results of a research study.
But has it? The next paragraph says
More directors are standing up and admitting they have been the victims of bullying either by colleagues or insulting behaviour from subordinates.
More directors admitting they had been bullied is not necessarily the same thing as more bullying. Men cry more now.
Almost one in three directors involved in the research said they had been subjected to some degree of bullying. The main complaints were verbal abuse, misuse of power, being squeezed out of discussions and threatened with the sack.
Bullying exists, I don't doubt that. However the same terms "verbal abuse", "misuse of power" or "being threatened with the sack" might describe intolerable cruelty in one instance and, er, management in another. The trouble is telling which. And, c'mon, being squeezed out of discussions? Every workplace from Lands End to John O'Groats has one person in it who simply has to be squeezed out of discussions if any work is to be done.
The way bullying has spread wider and deeper into the business hierarchy is one of the key results from a survey charting an increase in offensive behaviour.
Bullying may have spread wider and deeper. But I would need a lot more discussion of other possible explanations than this before I was sure. It might be that what has spread wider and deeper is whininess.

Companies are urged to adopt training programmes and an anti-bullying culture.

Blessed are they that have not seen and yet believe. Letter writers to the Guardian say the full impact of Sure Start cannot be measured.

Yesterday was a dreadful day in Iraq. The Scotsman reports that "more than 160 people were killed and hundreds wounded in the country's bloodiest day since the United States-led invasion in March 2003." No pretence is made any more that the bombs are targeted at men under arms:
In the worst attack yesterday, at least 114 civilians were killed and 160 injured by a suicide car bomber in a Shia district at 6:30am. Many of the dead were labourers who had gathered to find work.

...The bomber drove a van into an area where men were looking for jobs. After attracting their attention by offering employment, he detonated his device, causing carnage.

Apart from those whose husband, father or son did not come home yesterday, the world receives these accounts with a kind of numbness. Iraq fatigue. And in terms of news values, in terms of what will be mentioned in the history books, the Scotsman is correct not to lead with the numbers of the dead but with this statement:
AL-QAEDA'S leader in Iraq declared all-out war on Shiite Muslims
That's all Shiite Muslims everywhere, not just Iraq; the Scotsman's headline is belied by the text of the story.

Although for a long time Zarqawi's actions had suggested that his motive is to promote religious war between Sunni and Shia I had not heard that he had said so explicitly before. In the past I have sometimes thought of him as being like Charles Manson in more than sadism. (Manson sought by the murders of Sharon Tate and others to start a race war in America. His cult "family" were instructed to leave false clues suggesting that Black Panthers were the murderers. Manson belived that he and his group would emerge to rule over the ruins.) If these reports of an open declaration of war on the Shia are true then the parallel is not as close as I thought.

Is it definitely true? This account from the BBC is hesitant:

In a statement on a website, the group al-Qaeda in Iraq said it acted after US and Iraqi forces attacked insurgents in the northern town of Talafar.

In a separate development the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, purportedly declared "war against Shias in all of Iraq" in an audio tape released on the internet.

I think that when it describes the statement by Zarqawi as a "separate development" it means that the first statement, the one linking attacks by Al Qaeda in Iraq to Talafar, was made on a different website to the one that released the audio. There seems to be room for doubt that the audio was really Zarqawi.

These accounts from Al-Jazeera and the SITE institute also say that the identity of the speaker was probable but not certain.

I hope that it is true. If it is, I share a hope with Zarqawi: may his words be heard worldwide. I hope thus because I hope for his defeat. He has made his defeat more likely. Each time the message is repeated a few more Sunni in Iraq and the wider Arab world will recoil. Perhaps even a few more of our western supporters of the "resistance" will recoil.

Much of my parallel with Charles Manson still stands. Zarqawi doesn't wish to make war on the Shiites to benefit the Sunni. He didn't make all those women widows and take fathers from all those children yesterday so that other husbands and fathers should live. He wants his group to rule over the ruins.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005
The common weal. We are often asked to make sacrifices for the common weal. Angie Schultz, writing in Biased BBC comments, wants to bring us to a greater affection for and understanding of what it is we are asked to help.
Obviously the common or garden weal is a species of weal distinct from the yellow-bellied sap-sucking weal, or the ruby-throated hummingweal, or the ferocious saber-toothed weal of the Pleistocene.

The common weal is often found in BBC cubicles, Labour functions, and Guardian pages, not to mention meetings of the Socialist Workers of the World. Many wealologists forecast a mass extinction of the common weal when its Communist habitat was drastically reduced, but there has been little actual evidence to bear out these predictions.

On your left there is a new RSS thingy, as demanded by readers. It is that thingy labelled "RSS thingy" on the left.

The nature of the enemy. Just a reminder: Taleban 'kill voters in ambush.'

And get to know George Galloway in his own words. (The latter link ultimately comes from Christopher Hitchens' website. I can't quite recall the chain of bloggers that brought it to me.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2005
Don't panic! I've no strong opinions about this fuel protest, or rather I have conflicting opinions. Taxes are bad. So is stopping people from going about their lawful businesszzz. See how I gamely try to get myself interested, but fail.

Much more important is that all parties come together to denounce slovenly use of words. So pay attention.

Nine times out of ten, people who go out now and attempt to fill their tanks before everyone else does are not "panic buying." On the contrary, they are demonstrating their ability to think ahead and modify their habitual behaviour in the light of the likely behavior of others. They are perfectly well aware that if everybody restrained themselves all would be better off. "Unfortunately," they say, "that's not what is going to happen in the real world and I don't intend to be last in the queue. Some would call this coolly rational behaviour selfish, others prudent, but the one thing it is not is panic.

A man learned in strange arts has told me that good tidings will follow if I do certain things. Therefore have I clicked Settings and Site Feed, changed Publish Site Feed to Yes, changed Descriptions to Short, clicked Save Settings, and for good measure walked widdershins three times round the computer.

And sure enough, I looked into a basin of water and saw my husband's face. He said, "Use the other bathroom, I'm shaving."

Monday, September 12, 2005
Get your priorities right. Squander Two, having seen the riots in Belfast from close to, has a question.
The Orange Order need to ask themselves how important parade routes really are. Sure, they're right: people in the rest of the UK can organise marches without having them vetoed by political pressure groups, so why shouldn't they? But they well know that their uncompromising insistence on certain routes leads to rioting, and that rioting, especially in the light of the IRA's "ceasefire", makes the rest of the UK think that Northern Irish Protestants are an insane bunch of violent foreigners that the country could do without. That way lies Unification.

So what's it to be? Do you want to live in the UK and have an irritating politically stacked sectarian quango tell you where you can or can't march? Or would you rather be free to march wherever you like in the United Irish Republic? This is not a trick question.

UPDATE: Squander Two writes:
I should say that I haven't seen the riots close to. All I've seen is a traffic jam. It's like when I was brought up in Peckham in the 80s: didn't see the riots there, either. I should become a war correspondent.

Photon Courier republishes his post from a year ago on the heroism of Noor Inayat Khan, executed in Dachau on September 11 1944.
Selwyn Jepson, the man who recruited Noor into SOE, never forgot her. "...not only in the dark hours of solitude, but at unexpected moments of daytime activity, it is as though a shutter opens in a familiar wall which I know has no shutter in it, and she is there, briefly, the light filling my eyes. She does not haunt me, as do some of the others...she is simply with me, now and again, for a little moment."

If. You know how alternative world stories usually start with just one tiny change and then follow its repurcussions as they spread out until the whole world is a different place? Damian Penny does it differently. He describes an alternative timetrack that starts out with one whopping difference from ours and ends up, in one respect at least, scarcely distinguishable from it.

This one is perhaps the least significant difference. It caught my eye because I had thought of something similar myself:

Imagine if President Bush, upon being told that his country had been attacked, had abruptly stopped reading to these schoolchildren and leapt into action. Maureen Dowd and Heather Mallick would have sneered that, at long last, this chickenhawk man-child had the chance to play cowboy, regardless of how the schoolchildren might have been traumatized. Michael Ruppert's "9/11 timeline" would say this proved he had been tipped off about the attacks, because if he hadn't known about them he would have been too shocked to move.
- Although my version had them sneering at the panicky way Bush jumped out of his seat and scurried off, and adding that what a true combat veteran such as John Kerry would have done was calmly finish the story.

Go on, surprise me.
ANDY Kerr, the health minister, was forced to admit yesterday that the billions of pounds in extra funds going into the NHS in Scotland have not led to a corresponding increase in the treatment of patients.

- says The Scotsman. Later in the article we hear from the deputy leader of the SNP:
Citing the late Robin Cook in an apparent effort to embarrass the Labour Party, she added that the commercial culture of the private sector could undermine the public-sector ethos of the NHS.
It's not often I agree with either deputy leaders of the SNP or the late Mr Cook, but I have to admit they might be right.

Sunday, September 11, 2005
Failure and success.

I got to thinking about all those New York firemen who went up into the doomed World Trade Centre four years ago today. Sure, they meant well, but what good did it do? As it turned out they didn't save any lives and lost their own trying. They failed.

That led me on to thinking about all those people who jumped out of high windows. All those future achievements they had thought lay within their grasp - varying from promotion to CEO of the company to being home in time for a child's birthday party - never came to anything, did they? Their field of free action narrowed down to taking the hand of a colleague, or a stranger, before death. If sucess is achieving your goals, face it, that's failure.

There were those who didn't even achieve that much. People who found themselves alone when the floor collapsed or the air ran out. What can words like "bravery" or "dying well" mean in such circumstances? Even supposing their last thoughts were any more sophisticated than mere animal horror, there was no one there to be edified.

Compare that to the success of their killers. Happy is the death of the shaheed, triumphant in the knowledge that his goals are now certain to be achieved! Furthermore their actions brought pleasure and inspiration to many.

There you have it. Failure and success, clear and indisputable. Unless you decide that for some reason it is better to judge by other criteria.

An account of rescue work in New Orleans. Kerry Buttram, who I know as one of my fellow-contributors to the Biased BBC blog, writes:
I rarely forward emails but thought that you might find this of interest as you discuss the breakdown of civil order in New Orleans. I have no doubts about the genuineness of this email (see below) but have no way of verifying it. I do not know either "Eric" or "Rhonda".

Despite the best efforts of agenda-driven journalists paint the bleakest of pictures, many good things are happening here in Katrina's wake. Millions of dollars are being raised as reported, but mostly through non-governmental channels. Many people in our community here (upstate South Carolina) are seeking to house refugees. Our congregation of 1,600 received an offering this past Sunday which came to $74,000USD. One of the men in our church was on a trip to Houston, TX the other day. He invited a family he met in the hotel to come to stay in his home so they could look into the job market here since they've nothing to return to in New Orleans. This is being multiplied from coast to coast.

The next part of the email was this introduction:
The following message comes from a Louisiana State Patrol officer who also serves in drug enforcement with the FBI. He is writing to his sister Rhonda in Maryland who attends the same church as our son, Daniel. His sister shared it with us in order to help others understand what's really happening on the ground. It speaks volumes to the heroism of those who are doing the work instead of talking about it. They deserve our prayers and support because the hardest work is still ahead.


This is the account itself:

I just returned from an operation in New Orleans and thought I would pass this information on to you to give to your friends. I worked the area between Causeway and Canal/Carrollton, and area between Veterans Blvd. and Airline. I do not remember seeing the church, but I can tell you that everything in that area is covered with 5 - 15 feet of water, depending on the block. As of now deceased persons are being left in place, due to the mission being the recovery of the living. Estimates on the death toll are a guess as of now, but will probably be in excess of 10,000. I'm making a guess based on the amount of live persons we are pulling out. I spent the last three days there and only found 5 deceased persons. Our fear is we will find a majority of the fatalities in the attics of homes once they are able to start pumping water out. The situation is like nothing I have ever seen. The devastation is something I am unable to explain.

The lack of leadership in New Orleans almost makes it non-existent. When we arrived over 100 New Orleans P.D. officers had already walked off the job. Rapides S.O. found other NOPD officers looting a store full of stereo equipment. The governor and mayor haven't tried to provide any leadership, they just constantly blame the federal government. FEMA was doing good about providing funds, but has failed to coordinate a true rescue mission. When my team arrived Wednesday we had to fight with everyone to get a boat in the water. That day we were only able to rescue 23 persons. On Thursday we arrived and were told we couldn't launch boats for a rescue because the local governments were saying the military was taking over. We had someone inform us there was about 300 persons trapped in Lafayette School, and the local authorities & FEMA still told us we were finished. I knew the military would be another 24 hours to muster so we decided to fight. We informed them that we were launching our boats to go get those people, and they would have to shoot us to keep us out. Luckily, my team of 12 was more heavily armed than they so we won the stand-off.

We traveled about 2-3 miles on Airline from the Causeway and began locating people; that was at 9 am. Eight hours later, we had rescued a little over 600 people from the Airline area. We rescued a 1 week old baby whose mother was in shock and refusing to bring the baby out. We were finally able to get them both out. We located approximately 700-800 more persons at Lafayette School and an apartment building. We couldn't get them out because the light was gone and we can't navigate a boat in this type of environment at night. We looted an abandoned store of all its food and water and took it to them. We promised them we would be back at sunrise.

That night we were ordered back to Monroe, because we were told we were needed there for all the refugees that were being bused there. They even sent a Captain to make sure we didn't ignore orders like we so often do. I believe there was probably another reason, because most of the law enforcement presence from around the state disappeared overnight. We offered to take our vacation time and stay, but the sheriff made us return home. My guys and I are crushed, because these people were counting on us. We made them a promise and their lives are reliant on that promise.

Pray for these people! These types of situations never disturb my guys, but this time is different. We all feel like we are responsible for these people. There was a lot of crying on the way home, and my guys never cry. We may head back Monday with our personal equipment and tell them we are taking our vacation now. Pray for these people! Pray for my guys! Pray that God will have a true leader rise up to help get the ongoing operation on track. There are probably 200 - 300 boats that never make it to the water every day because they are waiting for someone else to give them permission to save lives. Pray that men will stand up and be men!

I have added paragraph breaks to make it easier to read but not changed it otherwise. Of course I have even less means of verifying it than Kerry does, but I tend to think that there are fewer dishonest people making up stories of admirable behaviour than dishonest people making up stories of horrors.

Thursday, September 08, 2005
The SF author David Langford tells how he was once on a radio phone-in about UFOs. An earnest caller rebuked Langford for his sceptical attitude. Was he not aware, said the caller, that there existed a detailed first-person account of an encounter in 1871 between one William Loosely and an unearthly robot? "Yes," said Langford, "I wrote it." The caller flatly refused to believe him, denounced him for his shameless connivance in upholding the conspiracy and rang off.

I thought this was a complete hoot, although some might be offended. Then again, no better time to kick Australians Sheolians than when they're down or up, I always say.

But I do hope the author realises that his creation is going to be republished as fact all over the Arab world.

(Via Alice Bachini's Tea-tray in the Sky and Damian Counsell's Pootergeek. By the way, here is a bad language warning for the third and fifth links in this post when it's too late for you to do anything about it.)

Vaguely topical trivium. In this article by a much-travelled lawyer on his experiences plying his trade worldwide, he says he had heard that Louisiana "still bases much of its jurisprudence on remnants of the Napoleonic code" - rather than the Common Law. Drop that into discussions of reconstruction.

The writer, Eugene Wollan, also says that London is possibly the only truly civilised city left in the western world. As a Londoner born I am touched but a little surprised.

BTW, see if you can guess what I was searching for when I found this article on Google.

While taking a break over the last few weeks I missed the startup of Brian Micklethwait's new unified blog. I discovered it just in time to discover that he's thinking of breaking it up again into cultural and educational blogs.

It's sort of like Balkan history. One pro-independence faction of Culture Blog posts have formed an alliance of convenience with the Education Blog Juche Front to plot acts of sabotage against's HTML. In response, rumours say, fanatic Pan-Micklethwaitian posts (themselves, ironically, of Culture Blog origin) are attempting to infiltrate the Globalisation Institute blog and Adam Smith Institute irredenta.

Kipling writes better than Bill Whittle, says AOG from Thought Mesh.

True. But to damn as faintly as that is to praise.

A sure way to tell if someone is an economic illiterate - or a politician pandering to economic illiterates - is if he or she demands a law to stop "price gouging." Iain Murray explains the subject.

Let me add my own two pennorth. (Three pennorth now - special crisis rate.) Would you like to see thousands of people devoting vast amounts of time, ingenuity and effort into getting supplies to those who need them most? Would you like to see both heartless people who ignored appeals to donate and generous people who have already given all they could afford galvanised into useful action?

You would?

Then let them make stackloads of extra money from doing it.

"There is an appetite for parent power, born of desperation." Some excerpts from an article in the Times by Camilla Cavendish:
In Whitechapel last month, I met a Bangladeshi Tube engineer who had just got off the night shift and driven his children halfway across London to attend a two-week summer school. His own state education in London had been fine, he said, but his children’s was unacceptable. In a Victorian hall, two teachers were giving up their holiday time to teach almost 30 Bangladeshi children, aged from 5 to 15, with nothing more than poetry, flip-charts and high expectations.

... the average reading age of these children leapt by ten months in two weeks. What had they been doing for the other 50 weeks of the year?

Those parents would like to start their own school, if they could find a way to pay for it ... Planning regulations make it hard to find a site; health and safety regulations that demand state-of-the-art lavatories make it even harder; and two years ago Ofsted announced that it must inspect all new schools before they opened — a more draconian requirement than any on business.

Straight from the horse's mouth. Guardian correspondent Jackie Ashley writes:
Tell people day after day that the world is doomed because of a combination of George Bush and the motor car; or that the west is overrun by murderous nutters, furious about an illegal war that cannot now be sorted out; or tell them that modern life makes pandemics inevitable - tell them, even, that their jobs are doomed because of China and the rising economies of the east, and there is nothing that can be done. What will the result be? Not, as some naturally hysterical journalists hope, a general uprising against global capitalism.
(Bold type added by me.)

Poisoning the waters of debate. Never a site to keep us waiting for a juicy conspiracy theory, Daily Kos, in a post by Brenda, has the bald stated-as-fact headline "East side levee bombed by the Army Corps of Engineers." Apparently they did it so as to save the rich areas of town by drowning the poor. (Via LGF.)

Fortunately, well over half the commenters have some grip on reality.

Damian Penny comments:

They might be on the other end of the political spectrum, but the Kossacks and IndyMidiots are the new John Birchers. (Heck, on globlization and Iraq, it's hard to tell them apart.)
Follow his links to see what he means.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005
"Thought you'd never ask", says JMH, who has been yearning to talk survival lists.

Do it now while it's still fun.

The floodgates of anarchy. I just now spotted that a little below Mr Lehman's letter on the Independent's letters page of 2 Spetember is the same letter from Simon Ferguson of Hatfield as appeared in the Times of 5 September. I can't put my finger on anything actually immoral about sending the same letter to all the papers, but the editor of the Times, where the letter appeared several days later, ought to wince at the duplication. Mr Ferguson's vision of American life once the veneer of civilisation is stripped off certainly has the knack of catching an editor's fancy.

I will spare you a duplicate of my post about the letter, but Moira Breen of Progressive Reaction writes:

Re Ferguson's "The speed of the breakdown implies that only the cursory removal of law and order is necessary for American society to descend into anarchy". Perhaps I am deeply misinformed because I do not have access to the BBC, but I was unaware that the social order had collapsed all across Katrina's huge swathe of destruction, rather than in a limited area of a city long notorious for its sleaze, corruption, and civic incompetence.

It's odd that he dwells on the famously law-abiding Japanese to try to make his point about the savagery of "American society". Is he suggesting that no other people - I dunno, say, no subset of Britons at all - would run wild under the duress of a Katrina-like catastrophe and the "removal of law and order"? (The crime stats do suggest that some Britons are fond of a bit of "looting" with the law intact and no natural disasters in sight, no?)

OK, so Ferguson is just being silly here. But the following statement - "...self-reliance, the right to bear arms and the pre-eminence of the individual over the State can be as destructive in times of social disaster as they are constructive in shaping the 'economic miracle'" - well, that just made my flesh crawl. "Self-reliance" is not the cause of corrupt, incompetent local government, and the decent folk trapped among the thugs in NO would have been a hell of a lot better off locked, loaded, and self-reliant.

I have read that the explanations the Japanese themselves give as to why they are so much more law-abiding than the rest of the world, in particular the Americans, have a disconcerting tendency to centre around Japanese racial superiority and/or homogeneity.

The homogeneity one I can just about accept. It's one less fault line to split along when a society comes under stress. That is not to say that there are not times when homogeneity can do harm; it made it psychologically easier for the Japanese to oppress other peoples during WWII, for instance.

Race was always there in the accounts of what happened in New Orleans. Some of the commentary of those slavering to finally reveal the awfulness of George Bush's America tended to parallel the commentary of those who believed that it all just showed that blacks were intrinsically irresponsible.

(ADDED LATER: Just because half the blogosphere has linked to this essay by Bill Whittle is no reason for me not to as well. It is long, but well worth your time.)

The videos of disorder, looting (including looting by policemen) and gang violence are indisputable. The first-hand accounts of racial harassment of stranded white tourists by black youths aren't going to go away either. However the more apocalyptic stories of mass rape and so on have not been confirmed. The Guardian's Gary Younge wrote yesterday:

New Orleans police have been unable to confirm the tale of the raped child, or indeed any of the reports of rapes, in the Superdome and convention centre.

New Orleans police chief Eddie Compass said last night: "We don't have any substantiated rapes. We will investigate if the individuals come forward."

I hope that the initial estimate of many thousand dead may also prove to have been an exaggeration. When there is a disaster in a developed nation casualty estimates peak after about two days then steadily decline as missing people finally manage to contact relatives. It's different for disasters in undeveloped nations, where days after the initial call relief workers can be confronted with whole wrecked villages they hadn't known about.

Mind you, this whole thing about parading the relatives of murder victims before the judge does have one argument in its favour. It would sure beat Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. "I am afraid, Mrs Jones," the judge would say with that agreeable air of commiseration perfected by Mr Tarrant, "you didn't quite manage to clinch the extra five year bonus sentence on the scum who killed your daughter. Not really sure about how to say 'atrocious', were we? Perhaps you should have phoned a friend! Still, cheer up, you are still going home having put little Julie's killer away for a WHOLE THIRTY-TWO MONTHS!"

Better yet, let's make it "double or quits." The adaptation of the principles behind The Weakest Link to multiple-defendant terrorism trials I leave as an exercise for the reader.

A hierarchy of murder. In the same edition the Independent there was a superb letter from one C. Lehman concerning the mawkish proposal to let the families of murder victims address the judge before sentencing.
The proposal that murder victims' families should be able to make direct appeals to judges before sentence is passed (report, 2 September) looks like more ill thought-out gesture politics from this Government and is one likely to lead to bad justice.

The losses and pain of crime victims certainly need to be recognised properly and there have been great improvements in the provision of support, for example by Victim Support, better liaison with criminal justice agencies so that the progress of cases is known to victims, and better provision of financial compensation.

But allowing victims or proxy victims to appeal directly to judges is a serious step too far. The criminal justice system represents the victim's interests and the interests of society in responding to criminal acts. In doing so, it has to operate more dispassionately and more proportionately than individual victims might wish. Sentencers already take a range of factors into account, including the general seriousness of the offence, individual circumstances and aggravating factors such as, for example, the age and vulnerability of a victim.

If we allow victims' families to speak to judges about the effects of someone's death, we risk creating a hierarchy of murder based on sentiment, the willingness of family members to speak and their fluency in doing so. Sentences should rightly vary according to the nature of the crime, but surely not according to whether a victim had a family who loved him, or whether the victim's family can speak fluent English.

And will victims' families really want this? Families already suffering from grief and guilt might feel that they have let their relative down if they either don't want to testify or find that testimony doesn't seem to have resulted in a longer sentence.

Grave crimes like murder and rape have grave consequences and it may be true that, in spite of the improvements that have been made in victim care, much more needs to be done to acknowledge the damage inflicted on victims and their families in these cases. Wouldn't this be better tackled by a rebalancing of sentencing principles overall than by allowing potentially unfair bias to enter in individual cases?


I had not thought of the point that if family members either could not face making an address or did yet failed to get an increase in the sentence it would add to their suffering. It had occurred to me that even as things stand today murder victims tend to be friendless or rejected by society: tramps, the mentally ill, drug addicts or prostitutes. Some killers correctly calculate that they are more likely to escape vigorous pursuit or punishment by going for victims in these categories. I don't want this calculation reinforced.

Pity the scapegoat. This account of the hysterical anger directed against the former headmistress of Beslan School No. 1, which I read on the ferry home, was displaced in my mind by Hurricane Katrina. But as the floodwaters subside it is worth another look as being another illustration that the human need to punish someone for an awful crime is a wave that will breach the barriers of reason unless we keep the walls in good repair. The full story in the Independent of 2 September is worth reading but requires payment, but you will get the general idea from this:
It was meant to be a sombre day of mourning and remembrance but the first anniversary of the seizure of Beslan's School No 1 was marked by a display of raw anger yesterday as the school's hated headmistress was forced to flee a mob intent on attacking her.

"Murderer! Murderer!" the mob shouted at a frightened Lidia Tsalieva. "Why did you come here?" The Kremlin, which local people accuse of tragically mishandling the siege and its aftermath, was also targeted.

What did Lidia Tsalieva ever do to deserve this? Was she supposed to predict that her school would be overrun by terrorists and she herself taken hostage? Was she supposed to drill the classes weekly in what to do when faced with men who slaughter children while shouting "Allah Akhbar"? With a five minute quiz on snappy techniques for press interviews afterwards?

She is an ordinary woman whose heart has been broken. Perhaps she lost less than her attackers, merely (merely!) having her pupils killed rather than her own children, but she did no wrong. One would have to be superhuman to be prepared for what happened, or to react to it without fear and mistakes. We can try to sympathise with the storm of grief that prompted the mob to pursue Lidia Tsalieva, the real murderers having escaped them by death, but their suffering does not make them right.

Hard cheese if your name is Katrina.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005
All those Labour MPs who say that Ken Clarke is the Tory they most fear are lying their heads off, of course.

Cue smoke, drifting over cot wherein slumbers a little babe.

Panning shot follows the wisp of smoke to a half-extinguished cigarette resting on an overfull ashtray and presenting a fire risk. Next to it lies a newspaper with headline visible:

VOICEOVER: Kenneth Clarke is Deputy Chairman of British Allied Tobacco.

The baby begins to cough...

Two long-standing ambitions finally fulfilled.

1) To meet someone I didn't already know who had heard of me as a blogger.

2) To know why I saw so many single shoes by the side of the road.

Michael Jennings writes:
I am not sure the scale and suffering of the disaster in the Kobe earthquake actually was greater than Hurricane Katrina. In fact I think that horrible as it was, that one was a much smaller disaster. The death toll in that case was around 5000, which while hideous seems clearly less than the final death toll from this disaster is going to be. And that disaster affected a relatively small area rather than the massively widespread devastation of this particular disaster. Sections of Kobe were indeed devastated, but Kobe is in fact one small part of a large metropolitan area, that also includes Osaka and Kyoto, and which contains perhaps 15 million people in total. In that context, there were lots of other police present nearby for the maintenance of law and order. (In truth I think the cultural factors are indeed different in Japan, but the kind of disaster was so dramatically different that it is not really a fair comparison).

However, the "There were lots of emergency services in Osaka nearby" factor should have helped the rescue operation after the earthquake also, but in fact the response in question was an absolute debacle. In that instance, huge amounts of bureaucracy got in the way, and the various emergency services were so busy having turf wars that it took a long time for them to do any rescuing. Volunteers were prevented from providing assistance. The armed forces took days to deploy.

What Kobe and New Orleans did have in common was woefully bad preparation for quite a predictable disaster. However, in Japan a lot of this was caused directly by bureaucracy. Japanese building codes were very strict for reasons that were explicitely "earthquake protection" but in truth were entirely about protectionism. The Japanese construction industry (along with the rice farmers) basically controls Japanese politics and the favoured powerful interests do not want to face competition, from abroad or from the less well connected in Japan. "Earthquake codes" that both force prices up and prevent competition were in their interests.

(That said, a good thing that did come out of this disaster was that this state of affairs was publicly exposed, and Japanese earthquake building codes are now largely about making buildings that will actually withstand earthquakes).

Nikhil Bhat writes
I just thought I'd mention two other points our esteemed friend Simon forgot. First, gun control opponents here in the States see as their worst case scenario a land where guns are available only the criminals and to police...which is almost exactly what has happened in New Orleans. Second, if the preeminence of the state is superior in times of tragedy (which is what Mr. Ferguson implies), then such catastrophes as the Ukraine famine of the 1930s and the series of catastrophic floods in China in the 1960s should have had minimal effects.

Then there's the fact that southern Louisiana has a history of corrupt governance, rotten to its core. It's exactly because the state failed that put the once-dependent people in that situation. But Blithering Bunny touched on that.

Glad to have you back. Keep up the good work.

Your Loyal Reader,

Nikhil Bhat

PS--I'd be an even more loyal reader if you had an RSS feed of your own, and not one borrowed by someone else...wink, wink...

Thank you for writing, O loyal one. Award yourself the order of Heroic Forbearance of Long Absence, First Class.

I undertake to beat myself up mightily over the RSS issue and finally do something about it long after even my most devoted reader has moved on.

"If it saves just one life..." I have written a post about arguments over gun control, government pamphlets on being prepared for disaster, and advice that works sometimes. It's over at Samizdata.

Monday, September 05, 2005
People see events as confirmation of what they already believe. A writer to the Times, Simon Ferguson, says:
The speed of the breakdown implies that only the cursory removal of law and order is necessary for American society to descend into anarchy.

Such scenes did not accompany the tsunami or the earthquake in Kobe, Japan, ten years ago, despite the scale of suffering and disaster being greater in both cases.

The underbelly of the American dream is being laid bare — namely that self-reliance, the right to bear arms and the pre-eminence of the individual over the State can be as destructive in times of social disaster as they are constructive in shaping the “economic miracle”.

I have just come back from Switzerland, where there is not only a right to bear arms but a duty: every man is issued with his own assault rifle to take home after military service. Yet there was no breakdown of order there in the recent floods. I spoke to someone involved at quite a high level in organising rescue and relief. He said there were some instances of hysteria, but neither he nor anyone else I spoke to mentioned looting, let alone insurrection. True, the Swiss floods were nothing like as widespread as those in the US - but the experience of a small community whose homes are surrounded by the rising waters is similar.

So why are the responses so different? I doubt whether Mr Ferguson has any clearer idea than I do what really happened after the tsunami, an event that affected an appreciable fraction of the world's land surface. He must have missed the reports of a breakdown of order in Aceh, not that there was over-much there to start with. However he is right about Kobe.

Why did order break down in (some areas of) New Orleans? With my somewhat different perspective to that of Mr Ferguson, I blame welfare. Two or three generations of absent fathers due to the peverse incentives of a welfare system is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for a violent society; it is just a very likely bet. As well as the violence, I think the welfare culture also promoted fatalism. As Blithering Bunny writes:

How little resourcefulness do you possess if you can’t even get you and your little children away from what you know will be a flood zone when you have plenty of warning? If most of these people were on welfare, then doesn’t say much for welfare culture. I would have walked if nothing else was possible.

But of course there was another possibility that the BBC didn’t consider: maybe these people just decided to take their chances, not believing that the flooding would be that bad. The goverment always trying to scare you, they might have figured, this won’t be that bad. Why spend my money on a beat-up? It won’t affect me, anyway. I’d rather stay here and protect my house, etc. It is a wrench to walk away from your home knowing there’s a chance that it will be ruined and you won’t be there to try to protect it.