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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Tuesday, November 21, 2006
 
Oliver Kamm vs Neil Clark. Ever wonder how that was going? Now you know. It was nice of Oliver Kamm to take pity on the lad.


Monday, November 20, 2006
 
Milking allergy for all its worth. I accidentally posted a Biased BBC post over here. You can still read it over there.


Sunday, November 19, 2006
 
Ed Thomas on recent US politics:
It's been one long fillibuster, and its effectiveness in lulling the Right has been taken as evidence of political know-how. In the sense that the political vacuum has made idle hands of Republicans, the Devil has made use of them.


 
Owe my soul to the company store... Hugo Chavez wants to force people to use local scrip in Venezuela. Not only would these tokens only be valid in one valley, they would lose their value over time. (Via No Pasaran's Joe Noory, who describes the proposal as, "making currency into a kind of neighborhood food-stamp that expire, and useless outside of your own ghetto. What this accomplishes is to make financial self-improvement impossible through savings [or] anything.")

AFTERTHOUGHT: "Owe my soul to the company store" comes from this miners' song.. The third link gives you audio: a tune so catchy that even I can carry it.



 
Britblog roundup - here within about a minute of it being posted.

Had time to read a few now. Try Stroppyblog for a telling criticism of the much-quoted Matthew Taylor that does not even mention the famous line about the citizenry being "not yet ready for self-government" that so riled everyone else.



Saturday, November 18, 2006
 
Burqa bans. If you want my take, it's here on the comments to this Samizdata post.
The burqa is obviously bad. Where it is not oppressive it is arrogant. The situation ought to be
- you want to wear it in the street? OK, if you must.
- you want to wear it in my shopping centre? Sorry, against company policy. OR Welcome inside. Depends on the company.
- you want to wear it in an airport? Ha ha, most amusing madam. This nice gentleman will now escort you to the exit.

I very much agree with this part of what TomWright wrote: "We are no longer allowed to respond to such a perceived threat in any meaningful way. We can not refuse service if someone enters our store in such attire, due to anti-discrimination laws, nor can we verbally complain to those wearing a face covering for similar reasons. We will either be accused of being intolerant or, in the case of Britain, and the US in some places, possibly arrested and/or accused of a crime or civil rights violation. ( I may be misunderstanding recent laws, but not by much). I will cease to care about someones choice to wear a face covering when I can freely refuse service to someone that wears one, or demand they leave my property, or be able to respond to such a perceived threat in the traditional way: By a direct verbal warning, followed by an ounce or so of buckshot if they fail to heed that warning."

However I draw the opposite conclusion from his. If we admit the government's right to control people's clothes we strengthen the very forces that have stopped us using the voluntary, individual social pressures that are the best defence against creeping surrender. Where coercive institutions are strong a fanatical minority is well placed to capture them and turn them to its own purposes.

Er, when I said "I very much agree", I trust the bit about the buckshot was rhetorical.


Friday, November 17, 2006
 
My work / life balance is all wrong at the moment. There is work in it.

Light posting for a while.



 
The guilty man. JEM writes, regarding Milton Friedman:

Natalie,

Now I feel guilt about wishing him a long life [as did I - NS] less than a month ago.

Silly, but I do,

JEM

Whenever I get back from holiday and discover that a war, disaster or atrocious crime has stained the earth while I was not paying attention to the news I know in my heart that if I had been looking after things properly it would never have happened.

Odd creatures, humans. But most of them are quite nice once one gets to know them.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Wednesday, November 15, 2006
 
EU Warning: this barometer is not to be eaten. Cleanthes of Select Society fisks an MEP called Linda McCavan. Little Linda does not appear to have paid attention in her physics lessons. Or her counting lessons.

This page from her website, "What Does an MEP Do?", tells us:

Labour's European Members of Parliament ensure that Brtian's voice is heard at the heart of the European Union.
Brtians never never will be slaves...

You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Brussels.



 
Is democracy like sex? asks Glenn Reynolds, master of the teasing headline.


 
Cold war winners. Dunno why something this intriguing was buried in the Times business section:
Spy who soaked up London life with his KGB mates

... Some in Moscow say that Mr Lebedev “went native” while working as a spy in London, developing a taste for English manners and ideas. He is a member of a Moscow club called the London Spies, made up of former espionage agents who were based in London, who meet occasionally to drink Scotch and remember the good old days.



 
Radio Solent hates the old! Andrew at Biased BBC explains.


 
So long as we tick the box marked input who cares about the output? Alex Singleton of the Globalisation Institute criticises the Millenium Goals view of foreign aid.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006
 
The divine right to free speech. JEM writes:
I hold the BNP in contempt.

But I hold attempts to suppress free speech in even greater contempt.

For that reason, and that reason only, I would suggest to the BNP that it turns itself into a religion -- the "British National Church"?

If that makes the coming law against religious hatred look like an ass, that is because it is an ass, and those who forced it through are even bigger and far more dangerous asses

I wrote in this Samizdata post:
The conclusion that free speech promotes racial harmony is not obvious at first sight. Words lead to deeds, one might think, and so, obviously, harsh words will lead to harsh deeds. Nonetheless you may make some headway among sceptics if you ask them whether in their own lives they think it better to bottle up resentments or to voice them before they become explosive.

Do a little mental scan now of those countries where freedom of speech has reigned longest and is most secure - aren't they also the countries that people of all races are desperate to get into? Partly that is because free countries are rich (riches being consequence of freedom) but it is also because they are the places where race conflict means a riot not a massacre.



 
"Kind of a weird combination." Mark Steyn has said some nice things about this blog in the past, but that won't stop me saying that the most piercing quote in his interview with John Hawkins was from John Hawkins:
Europeans, from what I've seen, have a generally more dim view of the Middle East than Americans - like they think it's futile to try to build democracy in Iraq. You know, everywhere that you talk about -- well, democracy in the Muslim world just won't work. Yet, they're bringing in all the Muslims you could possibly imagine into their own home countries, and they're building them up to such a percentage that....if you get up to where 20%, 30%, 40% of your population is Muslim and you don't think Islam is compatible with democracy, that's kind of a weird combination. How's that happening?


 
Ask the experts. I don't know who wrote this piece appearing on "Sokwanele", a Zimbabwean opposition website. If the author still lives in Zimbabwe he or she is probably happier to forgo the pleasure of a byline. The seventeen months that have gone by since it was written have not, unfortunately, made it any less relevant. I don't necessarily think Chinese economic influence in Zimbabwe or Africa generally is a bad thing. Perhaps - never thought I'd write this - the voice of the People's Republic of China speaks with the nearest approach to economic wisdom that the government of Zimbabwe is willing to hear. But if you'd ever wondered why Mugabe should seek advice from the nominal Marxists who rule China, wonder no longer:
On becoming a Chinese colony

But the Chinese government is also perhaps the only one that succeeded in destroying their own economy while yet remaining in power. They reduced their own economy to ruins during the "Cultural Revolution" of the 1960's and 70's, when they subdued all ideas outside the accepted party line through extreme brutality and deliberate breakdown of society. As communism collapsed in the Soviet Union, they prevented the same from occurring in China by the brute force symbolised by the massacre of hundreds in Tienanmen Square in 1989. They probably understand what ZANU PF are trying to do, and are quite prepared to help them do it.

And
They will assist ZANU PF to gain total control of all information that circulates in the country so that people may remain in ignorance. They even know how to depopulate cities and send "unwanted elements" to the countryside for hard labour.
Yes, the Chinese would know about that.


 
Coming soon: Tesco Value bustles. The November/December edition of Tesco magazine contains an article by Dr Miriam Stoppard called "12 health-hazards of Christmas."

The advice for the Ninth Hazard begins ...

If the sheer stress of Christmas causes someone to faint:

  • carry them to a cool, quiet place and hold smelling salts under the nose
  • I don't think Tesco has sold smelling salts since Jack Cohen "decided to invest his service man's gratuity of L30 in NAAFI surplus groceries to sell from a stall in the East End of London." (My browser is seeing it as "L30" anyway. Given that the business has grown a little since then, I think the Tesco website could afford proper pound signs.)

    Mind you, I'm sure someone still makes 'em. Yes, they do. Perhaps they've come back in since I last had cause to swoon. In a world where there is, they tell me, a good remake of Battlestar Galactica no reinvention is too strange to be possible.



    Monday, November 13, 2006
     
    But only right wingers could sink so low as to share a talking point with the BNP, as my correspondent does below and my Biased BBC colleague Laban Tall does here? Not so.

    Lib Dems & extremists: an on / on relationship.

    (Via Drinking From Home and Fib Dems)



     
    Horrified because not horrified. ARC writes:
    ...waiting in a Heathrow flight gate late on Friday I could not avoid catching a long session of BBC news that was showing on a huge screen. But (while their coverage balance could have been better) this is not material for a biased BBC post (their coverage balance could also have been worse).

    The lead story was the acquittal of Griffin on charges of hate speech. They described the acquittal, showed the discussion outside the courtroom and then showed an excerpt from the covert BBC film of his speech at a BNP meeting that had been the cause of his prosecution. Then they showed the chancellor demanding new laws to ensure that such acquittals would not occur again. After some discussion, they moved to their next item; the MI5 warning of the number of plots and the rate of radicalisation among the moslem young.

    The speech horrified me. Let me rephrase that: the excerpt from the speech, shown in that context, horrified me, because the speech itself did not. I had been expecting something crude in language, viciously offensive in tone and wildly inaccurate in fact; something that would not have lessened my belief in free speech or my contempt for laws against it, but would have made the temptation understandable; something that would leave me willing to discuss whether its form, if not its content, should be moderated. The part the BBC showed failed - massively - to live down to these expectations (and I have a hard time seeing the late-night BBC choosing to suppress Mr Griffin's worse indiscretions and show only his milder remarks). In the excerpt, Mr Griffin asserted, in no very exceptionable language and tone, that many verses in the Koran assert the rights of Moslems engaged in Jihad to the loot and slaves so conquered. I am not given to reading the Koran but I know the history of both the byzantime empire and its moslem successor states very well and the moslem conquest was run along such lines; they were not of course unique in this among armies of their time and place.

    My first thought was that free speech is in real danger in this country; we have come very far in a few short years when that particular speech can be prosecuted. My second thought was that anyone capable of being tempted to old-style (as opposed to PC-style) racism would have that tendency sensibly increased by watching that news bulletin; the government's strategy seems a good deal worse than useless in its own terms. My third thought was that the 'safety fascist' culture of fear has its analogies elsewhere. The police have had 'racist' insults thrown at them a lot by the government and others for years; quite apart from political appointments, it may be that senior police officers are now tremblingly eager to provide evidence of their anti-racist credentials.

    The chancellor asserted that public opinion would be behind his call for further laws. One can only hope it will not be so.

    UPDATE: After I posted this, my correspondent contacted me to say that he had misremembered the name of the BNP leader. I didn't spot that at the time but I have now corrected the post.


     
    Mythbusting all round. Whittle on the right, Wardytron of Harry's Place on the left. (Scroll down to "we armed him".)

    Someone in the comments nails another one. This was started by "resistor", who says:

    For those who still deny that the Americans supplied Saddam

    From that famous Stopper journal USA Today

    Report: U.S. supplied the kinds of germs Iraq later used for biological weapons

    WASHINGTON (AP) — Iraq's bioweapons program that President Bush wants to eradicate got its start with help from Uncle Sam two decades ago, according to government records getting new scrutiny in light of the discussion of war against Iraq.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent samples directly to several Iraqi sites that U.N. weapons inspectors determined were part of Saddam Hussein's biological weapons program, CDC and congressional records from the early 1990s show. Iraq had ordered the samples, claiming it needed them for legitimate medical research. (Related story: A look at U.S. shipments of pathogens to Iraq)

    The CDC and a biological sample company, the American Type Culture Collection, sent strains of all the germs Iraq used to make weapons, including anthrax, the bacteria that make botulinum toxin and the germs that cause gas gangrene, the records show. Iraq also got samples of other deadly pathogens, including the West Nile virus.

    The transfers came in the 1980s, when the United States supported Iraq in its war against Iran. They were detailed in a 1994 Senate Banking Committee report and a 1995 follow-up letter from the CDC to the Senate.

    The exports were legal at the time and approved under a program administered by the Commerce Department.

    Resistor quotes more of the article - including the bit where Senator Robert Byrd, whose opinions have moved on since he was in the Klan without ever stopping anywhere near sense, questions Rumsfeld on the matter.

    Stonking good reply from "DocMartyn":

    No [I think this is a typo for "Not"-NS] the "American Type Culture Collection" again. Look, the American Type Culture Collection, is a not-for-profit organisation that holds and supplies micro-organisms to researchers all over the world. In the early mid-80's when I started my M. Sc. in biochemistry/microbiology I used to flick through their catalogue and lokk [look] at all the nasties you could order. It would supply pathogens to ANY RESEARCHER in any INSTITUTION in ANY NATION.

    With twenty-twenty hindsight this was perhaps a bit silly, but it cetainly not racist. Moreover, the supply of these pathogens does have a public health role as they are used to investigate the exact nature of an outbreak. The American Type Culture Collection was nothing to do with the US Government, and the CDC is dedicated to eradicating dieases, not spreading them.

    "It sent samples in 1986 of botulinum toxin and botulinum toxiod — used to make vaccines against botulinum toxin — directly to the Iraqi chemical and biological weapons complex at al-Muthanna, the records show."

    That what it does. You can get small amount of botulinum toxin to this day. It has a number of uses, for raising antibodies, for vaccination or antidotes, has been used to paralyse specific muscles in some disease states and more recently in cosmetic's. The amout sent to Iraq could not be used to make weapons.

    "[T]he American Type Culture Collection, sent strains of all the germs Iraq used to make weapons, including anthrax, the bacteria that make botulinum toxin and the germs that cause gas gangrene, the records show. Iraq also got samples of other deadly pathogens, including the West Nile virus."

    The point is what? I could go outside now and dig up a spade full of earth and isolate anthrax spores in a couple of days, botulism is easily contracted and the bug can be obtained from the same source. West Nile virus is not common in the us and enter the country in a consignment of car tyres. You need slides and antibodies to it if you aregoing to test for it.

    Microbiologists need miro-organisms, they get them from a catalogue. The best collection is the American Type Culture Collection. If the American Type Culture Collection refused to deal with third world countries the US would be treated as a bunch of racists. Biological weapons are more than bacteria cultures. To weaponize a mirco-organism you need many more things which the US and UK NEVER supplied. So cut the crap and write about something you understand.



     
    Crib sheet for the argumentative warmonger, courtesy of Bill Whittle, who argues against some of the commoner bumber-sticker slogans. Here's one of his replies:
    There are millions of people – actually, probably billions now – who genuinely believe that the wealth of the US was stolen from third world countries. This is one of the great perks of living a life free of the ability to think critically and do a little research. I have heard this slander repeated so many times I decided to look into some actual numbers to see if there is anything to this charge. This is a perfect example of how critical thinking allows you to see the unseen. That attitude, Google and ten minutes is all you need to shoot lies like this down in flames.

    Okay. The US Per capita income is $41,300. That of a poor, third world country –Djibouti, say -- is $2,070.

    Now it gets interesting. The US gross domestic product – the value of everything we produce in a year -- was last measured as $12 trillion, 277 billion dollars (hundreds of millions of dollars being too insignificant to count in this economy).

    The GDP of Djibouti is 1 billion, 641 million US dollars.

    A little basic arithmetic shows me that the US has a GDP 7,481 times greater than Djibouti. A 365 day year, composed of 24 hours in a day, yields 8,760 hours per year. Hang on to that for a sec.

    Now, let’s suppose the U.S. went into Djibouti with the Marines, and stole every single thing that’s produced there in a year…just grant the premise and say we stole every goddam thing they make. If we hauled away all of Djibouti’s annual wealth, how long would it run the U.S. Economy, which is 7,481 times greater?

    Well, 8,760 hours divided by 7,481 gives you an answer of 1.17 hours. In other words, it takes the U.S. 1.17 hours to produce what Djibouti produces in a year.

    If the US really did go in and steal everything that the bottom thirty countries in the world produce, it might power the US economy for two or three days.


    Saturday, November 11, 2006
     
    If you kill, tell me. Casting around on Google News I have just doubled what I know about the Gambia. It seems the country's president, Yahya Jammeh, was recently reelected.

    And this was a speech he made to his assembled ministers, chiefs of the civil service and members of the press:

    This one thing that I cannot forgive is hypocrisy and pretending. If you are sincere and honest I will be a friend to you. Even if you kill a person, tell me that you have killed a person, I will understand. I am a human being.
    An editorial in The Gambia Echo says,
    In sum, sitting Cabinet Ministers and their hirelings are at liberty to kill innocent citizens as long as they inform President Jammeh later.
    It could be that Yahya Jammeh's enemies are worse than he is. The sort of points that one could make in his favour are that the Gambian press seems uncowed enough to dare call him a murderer, and journalists are killed in mysterious circumstances so rarely that the casual Googler soon learns one name, Deyda Hydara. It could be that his "kill but tell me" is a metaphor (for the President, as for the leader-writer of the Gambia Echo, English is obviously not a first language) or a rhetorical exaggeration, and that his political enemies are affecting to take it literally in order to slander him. Or it could be that he is as flagrantly ruthless as his words suggest.

    I was struck by how small is the fraction of the events in the world that any one person can ever understand.



     
    "By democratic decision, thank goodness!"

    Tim Blair quotes joyful advocate of democratic values Simon Jenkins of the Guardian rejoicing that -

    At this point the insurgency knows it has won, however long it takes the occupying power to go. Retreat in good order is the best hope. An era of ill-conceived, belligerent interventionism has come to an end - by democratic decision, thank goodness.


     
    The guardian of our liberties. Our next Prime Minister speaks.
    In the wake of the BNP pair's acquittals, Chancellor Mr Brown said: "Any preaching of religious or racial hatred will offend mainstream opinion in this country.

    "We have got to do whatever we can to root it out from whatever quarter it comes.

    "And if that means we have got to look at the laws again, we will have to do so."

    (Cross-posted at Samizdata.)


     
    But what about the trains?
    "For all his faults Saddam Hussein’s Iraq imposed order. The water, the electricity, the oil wells faltered but largely kept going. The roads and streets were safe."
    - Kevin Toolis writing in The Times.


    Friday, November 10, 2006
     
    The stuff you really need to know. If you search for "the" on Google you get five billion three hundred million results and the top result is The Onion. That's because it's The Onion.


    Thursday, November 09, 2006
     
    Washed in the blood of the Lamb. The BBC reports:
    A Christian lobby group says the wearing of red poppies is "politically correct" and stifles debate.

    The director of Ekklesia, Jonathan Bartley, says people should be able to choose between red or white ones.

    He told the BBC: "The red poppy suggests the idea that our soldiers died for freedom but that's not a value-free position."

    "Not a value-free position." When I heard that the director of a Christian lobby group had said that, I was taken aback. "Take up thy cross and follow me" is not an invitation to take up a value-free position.

    Having read Ekklesia's statement it now seems to me that the value-free bit was stunningly inept phrasing rather than what it first sounded like. I can go with "If you believe that those who serve in the armed forces are defending freedom, then freedom to consider alternative perspectives is surely part of what you stand for". Fine, sure, apple pie. I can also go with a consistent opposition to having any specific political position smuggled into Christianity. Or vice versa.

    Such consistent opposition is not what Ekklesia offers. If you had signed up for the Ekklesia news feed for the 8th November the three stories you would have got are "New style Sandinistas regain power in hopeful Nicaragua", "Bush panics as US religious right fails to stem Democrat tide" and "Church support for report condemning Government policy in Nicaragua." The Ekklesia website is full of deeply political statements such as "the language and imagery about ‘fighting for freedom’ and ‘the glorious dead’ which often accompanies war remembrance reinforces a belief that violence is redemptive."

    The red poppy has never claimed to be a Christian symbol. Many Christians wear it proudly, but it is also worn by people of all faiths and none to honour the dead of all faiths and none. The facts that we have Remembrance Day services in Britain that are primarily Christian (other faiths do also hold them) and that our prime means of commemorating the dead is a Christian service is in a sense accidental; a result of our history and culture. No one thinks for a moment that all those laying wreaths or observing the silence are necessarily Christian.

    What they overwhelmingly do believe is the part Ekklesia don't like: that the glorious dead died for freedom.



     
    Tired of talking about American stuff. Yet reluctant to talk about anything else. I'll put off posting your emails about the history of the dollar until I'm in a better mood.


     
    So much for my prediction that there would be scarcely any change in the US Senate! I gave too much weight to all those claims that it was getting harder and harder to unseat an incumbent. Pollster Jay Cost, in an article engagingly entitled "Why I jumped the shark" says,
    Theoretically, the mistake I made here was to presume that the incumbency advantage that obviously exists (this year's incumbency reelection rate is still about 95.2%) is automatic. Incumbents are in a good position to insulate themselves. But they are not automatically insulated. They must actually do the insulating.
    For America, that's cool. While the specific policies the Democrats will now foster over there are mostly bad, incumbents ought to run scared.

    For the rest of the world, Iraq in particular... pity.

    Pity is both a noun and a verb in the imperative mood.

    Via Clive Davies, I found this depressing prediction from Frederick Kagan of the likely results of a withdrawal from Iraq.

    Snappier version by Daryl Herbert in the Volokh comments:

    The disaster that would follow an American pullout--collaborators would be tortured/murdered on a massive scale and no one would ever cooperate with Americans again--would be a tremendous benefit to al-Qaeda. America would never again be taken seriously in the Middle East or elsewhere as more than a tornado: we can temporarily pass through and smash anything that's out in the open, but in short order we're gone.

    Liberalism would be discredited among Arabs. It would be seen as a great way to get killed: best case scenario, if your political movement succeeds, the liberal conditions you create will be fertile ground for a terrorist insurgency.

    I don't despair. Perhaps the horse will learn to sing. But I can't help remembering that the irrepressible thief who said that was under a suspended sentence of death.


    Wednesday, November 08, 2006
     
    I got troubles. Too much work, too little time to blog, VRWC Central won't answer the phone for some reason and a mysterious and lrming stickiness on my keyboard's letter "A".

    But here is a fine new blog:

    Nep Nederland

    This blog's title needs some explaining: I am a British expat living in the Netherlands, and all things considered, I rather prefer it to the land of my birth. I try very hard to integrate, speak the language, and not be identified as an expat: as such, I consider myself a "nep Nederlander", a "fake Dutchman". Aside from when it is being congratulated in the press for being trendy and right-on in a way that it just isn't, Holland is largely ignored. Since I am now able to follow Dutch language news to a good degree, I intend to discuss it on here in English, in amongst other topics of interest.

    Also via Nep Nederland, I came across a headline on The People's Cube (look on the top right of the screen):
    Dems take house. Also car, salary, portfolio, and whatever else you got they can tax.


     
    Republicans, cheer yourselves up with this one from Scrappleface.


    Tuesday, November 07, 2006
     
    Busy day today. Thanks to all those who sent replies to my question about the dollar. I'll tell you all about it tomorrow. Don't even think about trying to escape.


    Monday, November 06, 2006
     
    Tomorrow's headlines today.

    If the Democrats win:

    Bush pays the price for the Iraq War.

    If the Democrats lose:

    America has a long tradition of local issues dominating mid-term elections.



     
    A pictoral reminder. Saddam Hussein did not order 9/11 - true. Saddam Hussein had no links with Al Qaeda - untrue. Saddam Hussein was very happy that 9/11 occurred - true.

    This mural glorifying 9/11 was found by invading US marines in an Iraqi army headquarters in Nasiriya. I think it's safe to say that an army headquarters was not a place where you would find art displeasing to the leader.

    The caption does not say where soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division found this mural of a smiling Saddam next to a picture of the plane hitting the twin towers, but I think it's safe to say that anywhere in Saddam's Iraq was not a place where you would find art displeasing to the leader.



     
    Delayed dollars. Following this post in which I asked, "Wasn't it the case that it took decades for the same dollar to be in use all over the US?" I had an email from JEM on the subject of the dollar, which after touching on its European origins as the joachimsthaler said,
    In the form of the Spanish colonial 8 real coin it was once also known as the 'piece of eight'--a lovely detail, don't you think?

    Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury, persuaded Congress to establish the US Dollar as the basic unit of account of the United States under the Coinage Act of 1792. Acceptance was essentially immediate, although it did live alongside the British pound for a few years. George Washington submitted his expenses to Congress in pounds, shillings and pence, for example, but even then that was considered quaint and old-fashioned.

    His main point was, "Pounds, euros, dollars, pieces of eight... they are all just units of account. Tools."

    I'm not necessarily disagreeing, but in fact the point I wanted to make was more relevant to the troubles of the euro, although I concede I did not make myself clear. Second go: I think I read somewhere that for decades different US states had different dollars, presumably issued by local mints, and the exchange rate between these different dollars was not 1:1. Anyone know if I am right?



     
    Take a break, catch a spy According to the Korea Times,
    A yearly event for school children in the 1970s was learning how to distinguish North Korean spies from ordinary people and memorizing the phone number they had to dial when they found people behaving suspiciously.

    Frequently found on vending machine cups, admission tickets for theaters and in public facilities such as toilets were posters warning people about spies and telling people how much money they could get if their tips led to a successful capture.

    The Korea Times article talks as if all this were long-gone Cold War arcana, but this article about the Korean subway system says that similar posters are still up on the trains. Future Perfect has a picture. The number to ring is 111, in case you ever need to know. How quaint - er, wait a minute. North Korea really was inserting spies and assassins into the South. It really was kidnapping both Japanese and South Korean citizens to train their spies.

    There are times when one must reassert that "just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you" is an impeccably logical statement.

    I meant to post something worthy about how South Korea, in a less well-publicised way than China, is increasing its economic links with Africa. But I was distracted by the the thought that those vending machine cups ought to be collectable.



     
    Laughter is not a panacea. In 2003 I laughed at the way that the Charity Commissioners were trying to "modernise" the Panacea Society. The Society believe that if a box allegedly left in their keeping by seventeenth century prophetess Joanna Southcott is opened in the presence of 24 bishops of the Church of England the apocalypse will arrive (in a good way), remaking all of Earth except Bedford, that being the site of the Garden of Eden. I thought it terribly amusing that "Commission staff had been concerned for some time that this unusual religious charity was not putting its assets to effective use."

    I laughed too soon. It seems that the Charities Commission is no longer content to just be "concerned" when a charity is not putting its assets to what the Commissioners think is effective use. Read Tim Worstall about the Charities Bill.

    We've really come to this? That a bureaucracy can confiscate the assets of a charity? Think of this for a moment. There are those who think that SPUC (or whatever it is called now) is actively evil because it campaigns for what some think of as a restriction of women's rights. There are other charities (Marie Stopes for example?) who actively campaign on the other side of the same question, insisting that, as some would have it, children are being killed to maintain those same women's rights.

    It doesn't take all that much imagination to think that we might at some point in the future have a government or bureaucracy that is more extreme than the one we have, coming down firmly on one or other side of this particular thorny question.

    And we're going to give the bureaucracy the right to take the money of one and give it to the other?



    Sunday, November 05, 2006
     
    Offspring #1 said that this incredibly irritating little video about a unicorn called Charlie was the funniest thing she had seen in her life. I'm waiting for her to deduce from that that she was hatched from a cloning-vat last Wednesday.


     
    One door closes, another door opens, eh, Saddam?

    (That headline is mine by right of bagsy.)



    Friday, November 03, 2006
     
    We r stuk hear n Irak - but our message isn't. Jim Miller posts about the routes by which the image of the now famous banner reached several million screens.

    I am rather sorry for Mr Kerry in that it was a gaffe, not a deliberate insult. However they that live by the sword will die by the sword: the media has feasted well on George Bush's slips of the tongue, and I didn't hear John Kerry complaining about it then.

    The story also was given extra oomph by the fact that Mr Kerry made a big deal about his own military service in Vietnam. One example: he started his acceptance address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention by saluting and saying, "I'm John Kerry and I'm reporting for duty," and finished up that speech with a reference to his Vietnam service too. The previous day he had made a river trip with his "band of brothers", former comrades from his Swift boat days, a major feature of his campaign.

    There are many things about US politics that I don't get. One of them is how anyone ever convinced themselves that was a good idea.

    I'm not talking about the counter-claims made by his less brotherly former brothers in arms, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. I haven't looked into all that. Leave them out of the equation. Assume that his service in Vietnam was as admirable as it is possible to be. Kerry was still only in Vietnam for four months. Afterwards he joined the anti-war movement, chucked his military decorations over the Capitol fence and said that loads of American soldiers had committed atrocities. Maybe he had defensible reasons for doing all of these things - but given that he did, all that "reporting for duty" stuff looks most odd.

    What a low opinion of Republicans Democrats must have if they thought that throwing them this little crumb would be enough to gain their votes. Look, he's a soldier. You like soldiers.



    Thursday, November 02, 2006
     
    An ASBO for the Archbishop. Not quite, but not so far off, either: Cathedral bans Carey as a 'divisive force'

    The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey of Clifton, has been banned from one of the oldest cathedrals in Britain after accusations that he has become an “instrument of disunity”.

    [snip]

    The Dean of Bangor, the Very Rev Alun Hawkins, is understood to have imposed the unprecedented ban because he feels that Lord Carey has become a “divisive force” and has been “disloyal” to his successor, Dr Rowan Williams, who was born in Wales.



    Wednesday, November 01, 2006
     
    Means of control or delusion of control? JEM writes:
    Your correspondent (whom I shall call 'C' for convenience if I may) who writes...

    JEM ... does not appear to understand that a currency is also a means of control by a state over its subjects.

    ... does not seem to understand that this is a delusion. A state may attempt to control via its currency, but in actual truth it can't. That's why the British currency problems basically went away, not when we fell out of the ERM, but when we stopped trying to politically control the pound and handed the technical side of the matter over to the Bank of England: result, happiness--at least, relatively.

    As for...

    ... putting control of something ... under the control of a foreign, corrupt and generally useless bunch of bureaucrats...

    ... indeed. That's just what the citizens of 25 Typical Street would say about the Typical Street Groat. So C's point is... what? Indeed, does (s)he have a point?

    Doesn't (s)he feel we should warn our American friends that their silly continent-wide single currency idea will never work and soon reduce their economy to the level of Upper Volta?

    If one is not prepared to trust other people, whether at the end of the street, in Threadneedle Street, Frankfurt, or Mars, to manage the currency, then money itself is not a valid concept and serves no purpose.

    Is that what C is proposing? Or is (s)he just being xenophobic? I think we have a right to know--especially since, in the real world, it's actually these 'dirty foreigners' who determine the fate of our, and all the other, currencies anyway.

    JEM

    Wasn't it the case that it took decades for the same dollar to be in use all over the US? I don't know what this proves, if anything.


     
    The king is (not quite) dead. Long live the king! There are times when it is more proper to vomit than to debate:
    Fidel announced that because of an intestinal operation, he was signing power over to his brother, who would be acting president. In Miami, there were celebrations in the streets, with shouted assurances that this meant the end of the Cuban Revolution. As one celebrant put it: "We'll all be home within a month. The Cuban people will never accept Raul!"

    But accept him they did. The Cuban people took Raul's promotion in their stride, with calm maturity. They had always expected that if Fidel were for any reason incapacitated, Raul would take over. Now he had. He does not have his brother's charisma, but is known to be an excellent administrator. The armed forces, which he commands, are without doubt the most efficient and respected institution in the country. Three months on, Raul is running the government effectively.
    - written by Wayne S. Smith in the Guardian. Emphasis added by me. Also spotted by Tim Worstall.


    Tuesday, October 31, 2006
     
    A post about Torchwood, placed on Biased BBC for old times' sake.

    Contains spoilers. Now you really can't resist.



    Monday, October 30, 2006
     
    Non-Europhile blogs. Very non. The EUsceptic roundup is hosted in his kitchen by the Devil himself. His language is about what you might expect from the Devil, but I feel sure he's a good boy really.


     
    Beautiful musical geometrical dots rotating thing. Try the hand-cranked "version 17", too. Your and my time pleasantly wasted via Crooked Timber.


     
    Excuses for absence. Better than most!
    Hello Natalie,

    I hope all is well.

    I just wanted to drop you a line and say thank you for helping me maintain my reading habits while here in Iraq. Six months down and sixish months to go.

    All the best,

    George

    currently not blogging at EU Rota

    I know you're not blogging, mate. Look at your referrer stats. That's me, that is.

    In the comments to EU Rota's most recent post announcing that for the present he would continue to refrain from disturbing the repose of the enlightened classes, I found

    ... Europhile blogs.

    Meet the EU Patriot. Read his comments on President Bush. I think they could be best described as "quintessential".

    We Europeans abolished the death penalty long time ago, because we listened to sociologists, psychologists and experts on the field of death penalty. We Europeans believe in science, not in ancient books like the bible. During his legislative period, Gov. Bush signed not less then 152 death sentences. This means for me that he killed 152 human beings. This is a sad statistic which shows his barbarity. It’s the same thing with his wars: He is the reason for these wars, not anyone else. He is guilty. For me and many Europeans, he is comparable to evil guys like Stalin or Hitler. His cheating during the election (according to US film-maker Michael Moore) makes him a kind of dictator.

    And via EU Patriot's comments, meet Kirsty of Down (and out) in Amsterdam. Here's her review of The Wind that Shakes the Barley:

    The lads are lined up against the wall, the women are screaming. The Black and Tans demand to know the name and occupation of each of the men. Most comply readily. All except one - Micheail; who refuses to say his name in English. The others give him pleading looks, yet he still refuses. He is taken into the chicken coop and beaten to death with a rifle butt.

    Simply because he said his name in Gaelic. It is a fictitious event. Micheail was not based on any historical figure, he was of no great importance - nor did he feature in the film for more than five minutes. Yet this is what makes the scene so poignant.
    She obviously read the review in Time Out magazine: ("It’s not an historical event. Nor is Micheail a politician, a particular hero, or even a character with whom we’ve spent more than five minutes. Instead he’s a fictional, anonymous rural labourer invented by Loach and his regular screenwriter Paul Laverty...") In true Time Out style, Kirsty continues:
    He was simply one of the many, many anonymous farm labourers who suffered wreckless brutality at the hands of the English.
    Er, didn't you say he was an actor, acting out a fictitious event?


    Sunday, October 29, 2006
     
    Britblog roundup. Why not try out Philobiblon, reviewing a book on the English Civil War?
    Purkiss also maintains the often-buried genuinely radical elements of this English Revolution and explores the failure of imagination that meant these ideas of equality - of the participation of the ordinary man in politics - could establish only shallow roots. She finds a wonderful example of the Levellers finding an image of what they could only grasp at from a foreign culture.

    "A Leveller newsbook The Kingdomes Faithfull and Impatriall Scout described two American Indians displayed in France by merchants as objects of curiosity. But the Indians are not only observed: they also do their own observing, and they are ’stood amazed’:

    "That so many gallant men which seemed to have stout and generous spirits should all stand bare, and be subject to the will and pleasure of a Child [Louis XIV]. Secondly, that some in the city were clad in very rich and costly apparel, and others so extreme poor, that they were ready to famish for hunger; that he conceived them to be all equalised in the balance of nature, and not one to be exalted above another."


    UPDATE: Twit that I am, I forgot to put a link to the Britblog roundup around the words "Britblog roundup". There is in fact a roundup of interesting posts from British blogs that you can go and look at here where it says, "Britblog roundup."

    The post by "The Englishman" about country wisdom regarding the employment of rabbit catchers and how this relates to speed cameras is very informative and rather funny.



    Saturday, October 28, 2006
     
    The creator of Dilbert lost the ability to talk. He could still sing, or lecture to large audiences. (No, this isn't a joke, even though it does come via IMAO.)


    Friday, October 27, 2006
     
    Attack ads incoming! When presented with the contrast between the scurrilous political attack ads common in the US and the more decorous and infinitely less expensive political advertisements exhibited in Britain, Americans react in the same way British people do when presented with the contrast between the hard-bitten, smut-sniffing hounds of Fleet Street compared to earnest US journalists: they are barely able to conceal their pride. We play for real. You people do up the top buttons on your shirts.

    When reading this article in the Times by Tom Baldwin deploring the attack ads in US politics ("candidates are plumbing new depths of taste and duplicity"), I felt inwardly sure that any one of our boys could drink any American j-school graduate (j-school, pshaw!, graduate, pshaw!) under the table and still get an exclusive interview with Heather Mills' other leg in time for the morning editions. This warmed my soul.



    Thursday, October 26, 2006
     
    Bush League. Alex Bensky writes, quoting this post:
    "Those who think that a clueless idiot can get and keep the office of President of the United States may well be good children or pleasant neighbours but there is no need to take anything they say about politics seriously."

    You know, Natalie, I am not an admirer of George Bush. I didn't vote for him either time and I guess I probably still wouldn't if I could do it over again. (I used to call myself a member of the Joe Lieberman wing of the Democratic Party. Now what?) But I never cease to be irked by the liberal trope that Bush is an idiot.

    There are two widely taken standardized tests in the US that are relevant--the SAT or Scholastic Aptitude Test that until recently was taken by most university-bound high school students (it's still administered widely it's not the sole such national test anymore) and the Graduate Record Exam, required for graduate school applications in most situations. They are both considered rough-and-ready IQ tests, too. Bush slightly outscored John Kerry on both. They went to the same universities and although I can't find the references on the internet, I think their grades were roughly similar.

    One of the many, many reasons I am a disaffected and former liberal is the widespread idea that those who oppose liberals are either stupid or evil. I don't know; I live in the city of Detroit and all around me, although not in my immediate neighborhood, are some indications that liberal social policy wasn't entirely effective. There are plenty of reasons to oppose Bush and his policies, but the smug and self-satisfied "he's an idiot" seems to be enough for a lot of people and pointing out, as I have done, that Bush's IQ is probably a tad above Kerry's generally does not provoke a thoughtful or reasoned response.

    Well, as I get older I begin to think there was something in what someone told me long ago: "Politics is like baseball. They're both very complicated. You have to be smart enough to understand them, and dumb enough to think they're important." I am a baseball fan, by the way.



     
    Euron Eurown. In this post regular commenter JEM wrote
    After all, if it's better for each country in Europe to have its own currency, how much better it would be if each county in the United Kingdom had its own currency too... or each town... or each street... or each house... After all, why should the Central Bank of 25 Typical Street hand over control of the 25 Typical Street Groat to the Central Bank of Typical Street and their Typical Street Groat?
    Another correspondent is critical:
    JEM, who writes, does not appear to understand that a currency is also a means of control by a state over its subjects. The main argument against the Euro is not that Sterling is a pround patriotic icon, as JEM appear (rather unobservantly) to think, but that putting control of something so fundamental to our life under the control of a foreign, corrupt and generally useless bunch of bureaucrats is probably a very bad idea. Perhaps JEM would also like to see centralised control of the water system, gas and electricity from Brussels?


    However Squander Two (who will be much too busy today to read this - best wishes to his wife and soon to be born child) quotes JEM approvingly and makes a proposal of his own:

    Those people who hate the Euro wouldn't have to use it. Those who love the Euro could use it as much as they liked. The rest of us — which I reckon would quickly become most of us — could just use whichever was the most sensible at the time. We'd get lots of the economic advantages of having the Euro, with few of the disadvantages (I reckon — I'm not an economist). The public would generate money out of nothing as they'd start to watch interest rates closely and switch currencies whenever profitable. And everyone in the country would get much much better at mental arithmetic. Lord knows the schools aren't teaching it to them.
    The comments touch on John Major's "hard ecu" idea and the distinction between legal tender and legal currency. One of them came from Tim Worstall who continues on the same theme in this post.
    The various countries within the euro zone simply are not an optimal currency area. You can quite happily argue that the UK itself is too large and diverse to be one as well but the problems of tying most of a continent into one are of course greater than the one we have here.

    Why have I given this post the title it has? Mostly, of course, because I could. But also because I have to admit that I will be unable to accompany you too much further into this debate; even supplemented by what I can scavenge, my store of knowledge of these issues will not last long.


    Monday, October 23, 2006
     
    Totem or medium of exchange? JEM writes:
    It is one thing to believe that the euro will 'break' and so we are better out of it. It is another to hope it will break, even when we are out of it anyway.

    I confess I have always found much of the argument against the euro faintly puerile anyway.

    The euro may have been assembled in a flawed way--I agree--but that is not to say that the idea of a common currency is of itself wrong in principle.

    After all, if it's better for each country in Europe to have its own currency, how much better it would be if each county in the United Kingdom had its own currency too... or each town... or each street... or each house... After all, why should the Central Bank of 25 Typical Street hand over control of the 25 Typical Street Groat to the Central Bank of Typical Street and their Typical Street Groat?

    Absurd? Yes. Of course. That's my point.

    After all, what is money? A national totem? No, it's just a medium of exchange: a tool. There is nothing especially patriotic about pounds, and it is a delusion to suppose that we, here, determine its worth; that is actually determined exactly and precisely by what foreigners (Johnny Foreigners, mark you!) will pay for it. Full stop.

    And I hope Milton Friedman lives on for many years.



     
    "Fundamentally, they are looking for magic." D-Ed reckoning summarises that paper on constructivist education I mentioned earlier.

    To me, the title of "popularizer" is one of high honour. You will enjoy reading this. Includes entertaining tests and examples that will slip into your conversation five years hence. Not to mention a sentence incomprehensible to British readers.



     
    When the political becomes the personal. Yesterday I failed to flag up another - indeed the very first - post featured in Britblog roundup for a reason that is rather typical of me. I had already copied the bare link into Blogger for myself, but hadn't yet made a post of it. Now I have. Squander Two, about to become a father at the time of writing, has more than the usual fears common to his position. His wife is diabetic.
    What this means, for those of you who don't know much about insulin, is that a heavily pregnant diabetic woman is injecting herself four times a day with what would usually be a lethal dose. As soon as she gives birth — within minutes, in fact — the required dose goes back down, not only to what it would be usually, but, as sugar is now being converted into milk instead of stored as fat, even further down that that.

    So, you have nurses who know sod all about diabetes and are arrogant enough to overrule the instructions of diabetic consultants and the protests of experienced patients, in charge of giving insulin to a diabetic whose required dosage was about thirty-six units a couple of hours ago but who would now be killed stone dead if injected with even twenty units, whose ideal dosage is far lower than anything that has ever been recorded in her medical records, and who, on a drip and having just given birth, is in no condition to resist being given the medication. Really, it's amazing only two people have been killed.

    So it was a great relief to us when, earlier this week, Vic's diabetic consultant told us that he has "an arrangement" with the nurses and midwives at our hospital whereby his patients are allowed to medicate themselves. He says they're all under strict instructions to allow his patients to inject their own insulin and to bow to their expertise over what dosage they should be taking. If there's any argument, we're to tell the nurses to call him, and he'll tell them that the ideal dose is whatever Vic says it is. Which is great.

    For his patients.

    For this is sheer luck. If we had a different postcode, Vic would have a different diabetic consultant, who might not have decided to overrule NHS policy and whose patients would therefore have to run the gauntlet whenever they went to hospital.

    Emphasis added.


    Sunday, October 22, 2006
     
    Britblog roundup time again. Take a particular look at the post from Adloyada on Putin's joking about allegations of rape laid against President Katzav of Israel. It's here.