Natalie Solent

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

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

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

The Old Comrades:

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

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Saturday, March 30, 2002
Er... you know that promised internet cafe? The one from which I planned to send holiday postcards has devolved into a mere supplier of food. (I suppose everyone is now connected up themselves. An interesting economic parallel to the demise of the launderette.) By dint of great cunning I have found this terminal at a public library. The State supplies where the market fails - how embarrassing. However the family seem strangely lacking in enthusiasm for me spending my day attached to a computer.

Thanks for the e-mails. The American Civil War seems to be quietly re-running itself in a virtual arena inside my e-mail cache. Have fun boys, let me know when you get to Pickett's Charge, and I'll borrow Mike's Remington.

I'm going to run away now and play at the seaside. Back Saturday.

Sunday, March 24, 2002
One guilt trip and one real life trip. The guilt trip is over my e-mail, which is piled up so high in the computer that I'm surprised it doesn't start leaking out of the speakers. What with the mind-devouring jigsaw yesterday and it being Palm Sunday today (a bunch of us walked to church accompanied by a real life donkey) and kids and life and washing and packing and stuff I haven't got round to answering it, although I have read it all. And now my eyes grow heavy with sleepzzz. Sorry, I will try to catch up in the next few days, although...

... that will be difficult, as we plan to visit family over the Easter period. I'm hoping to check into an internet cafe on at least some of the days. But posting will be erratic, unless someone cares to drop the price of a laptop into the tips jar, not that I'm hinting or anything.

"Doctor, doctor, I've turned invisible."

I was on the floor over this one. There's this chap, see, and he writes an opinion piece for the Telegraph. And it's all about how no-one takes any notice of him when he sounds off about crime and immigration. I dunno why he wants to go on about that stuff all the time, who does he think he is, Home Secretary? Anyway - this'll kill ya, oh it really will - then the Telegraph totally forgets to put his name or job on the article.

The (US) South saved civilization, according to both Mark Byron and Possumblog. Mr Byron, who admits to exaggerating slightly, argues forcefully that the gifts of the South to the world in the century just past are military expertise, political and Biblical conservatism and an example of a peaceful and in large measure successful struggle for racial equality. Mr Possum (who is really called Mr Oglesby, but no one can have such a cute blog name as Possumblog and then expect to get away scot free) has a slightly different hypothesis.

Mr Byron says he picked up the idea for the post from a book which describes how the Irish monks kept the flame alive in the Dark Ages. And so they did, say I with pardonable pride in my forbears. Only my Welsh husband says it was the Welsh, and St David was the teacher of St Patrick.

Many people in Britain have a very quaint idea of the South. About twelve years ago I was in a wannabe writers' circle, and while reviewing another member's story I recall questioning whether a government employee in modern Mississipi would really get away with saying to a subordinate, "smart for a nigger, aintcha?" (In fairness to the writer, who was quite young at the time, I should say that he immediately took the point, and furthermore it was a good, menacing story.) For my own part, I only found out that so many of the mayors of the cities in the South were black through newspaper stories concerning the series of murders of young boys in Atlanta.

Perhaps British ignorance can be excused, though, on the grounds that there don't seem to be many US films or TV programs that feature the South just as background. There's almost always a plot line involving racial tension. Or maybe it's just that BBC and ITV won't buy any show that features Southern accents unless the plot features racial tension.

Be that as it may, Southern visitors to the UK may be taken aback to find so many Britons taken aback to find them fashion-conscious or internet-connected or law professors or even rich enough to afford the flight. Black visitors may undergo mixed feelings on being the object of concentrated sympathy over their choice of abode. Poor old Matthew Engel, whose snapshot of the American soul as revealed by a diner at the Olive Garden in Alabama was driven right off the Guardian's web record by ridicule from and others, was really no worse than many. (Did anyone else notice that his next column name-dropped Senators and Congressmen like mad?)

There remains one Serious Issue that I simply must resolve. It's hot over there, right? So when you people wear dungarees and no shirts, don't the metal clips get hot against the skin?

I forsook the lot of you yesterday, and for what? To do a fiendishly difficult Harry Potter jigsaw. It's in the form of a circle covered with distorted images that only resolve into an actual picture when reflected in the shiny plastic cup that comes with it. I do one jigsaw about every five years, and when I'm not doing one I am quite clear that they are a complete waste of time. All that work, and then the end product clutters up your living room for two weeks until someone kicks the bit of hardboard it's lying on. I wish the Labour Theory of Value were true, for if it were I would surely get thousands for that tricky solid black area at one edge.

Saturday, March 23, 2002
This letter struck a heavy blow against my self-image. I always thought I was Mol-ra's evil twin. Now I find out she's mine. Waah, boo-hoo, I want to be the baddie and get all the best lines. Here's the letter:
Your post All Must Have Prizes caused me to think of this post by your Evil Twin, Ms. Breen: [link refers to an article by one Shawna Gale who went to Yale and is cross because she's unemployed - NS] What is the connection? That the letter writer is following the same theory you belabor in your post: she spent a lot of time and effort on her degree therefore it must be worth a lot, only the stupid society around her won't recognize that fact.

Alan M. Carroll

Indeed so. The same phenomenon was observed by Samizdatan David Carr. During his time in the entertainment industry he developed the theory that the reason why actors, directors and so on are so left-wing was that they all worked their socks off to produce something frightfully meaningful for the Edinburgh Fringe and then played it to an audience of their mothers. If only, they dream, society was so arranged as to ensure them an audience. They worked for it, didn't they?

Sailors and librarians. Christopher Pastel replies, neatly drawing together several lines of discussion:
"I have my doubts about removing paint to make the ships less flammable. Perhaps that was true for a short time in the aftermath of the Battle of the Coral Sea, but the ongoing reason for removing old paint is to remove the rusty spots before applying a new coat of paint. Have you ever been to sea for an extended period of time? The salt eats away at everything, and only constant cleaning (swabbing the decks) and constant repair (chipping and painting) keep the ships from becoming floating rustbuskets. Yes, it's also important to keep the troops and sailors busy (I was a Marine serving on a ship when enlisted as part of Ship's Company and when an officer as part of the Embarked Troops), but it's even more important to keep the equipment in good shape.

"MCJ brings up a good point, which I can relate to because of my experience as Chief Clerk for the Court. I almaost started a revolution when I began by saying that our purpose was to serve the public. As the librarians know, the public can be downright rude at times. I had an incident where a customer became surly and rude. I could see that my clerk was becoming closer and closer to losing her temper, so I went to the window to handle the problem. There was absolutely nothing we could do to solve the problem without having the state hire 2 or 3 more people for the office (fat chance!), so all I did was smile and agree with the customer that yes, it was a shame that we didn't have more people and that we wished we could help him. He finally left feeling really disgruntled because he never had the satisfaction of a nice row.

"What surprised me was the reaction of my clerks who witnessed the interaction. They were unanimous in their feeling that I should have ripped the customer up one side and down the other because of how obnoxious he was being. I had to call each of my clerks into my office one at a time and explain how what I did actually made the obnoxious guy feel worse. I then told them that they had two choices every time they dealt with a customer. One was to deal with the customer even after the customer became rude. The other was to come and get me to deal with the customer after the customer became rude. By having a choice, my clerks were able to keep their cool even when dealing with rude and obnoxious customers, because they were empowered by me not to have to deal with them if they didn't want to. Too many public servants feel they have no choice but to put up with the rudeness of customers, and that can't help but affect their attitudes.

"P.S. It's much more fun being a patent attorney.

Genocide studies is a deeply weird field. Well, it would be. Whenever I have dipped my toes in those waters I've whipped them out again quick, not just in recoil from the horrific nature of the subject - I would scarcely have opened a web page with that word in the title had I not had some idea of what the contents were likely to be - but also in instinctive revulsion from the schools of demented little professors and "educators" who scavenge in the wake of the pirhanas.

Emmanuel Goldstein of Airstrip One has caught in his net a document produced by just such people. And it's "Approved by the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education on September 10th, 1996, for inclusion in the Holocaust and Genocide Curriculum at the secondary level." He thinks that shows the moral bankruptcy of the Anglosphere. It certainly shows that American Irish historians of the famine are frequently far shallower than their Irish Irish equivalents. But we all knew that anyway.

However, does Mr Goldstein really think that the authors of this course of study have any less hatred for America than for Britain? So long as they are listing an oddly-chosen rag bag of British crimes spanning the last four centuries (to view, try Control F and "British Colonial Policies") then they are full of patriotic anger regarding the treatment of American prisoners in the Revolutionary War. But just wait till next term (semester) when the class does the Indian Wars and see what they say then.

The fact is that there is a whole class of minor academics who were once moved and outraged by the suffering of the Irish at the hands of the British, or by the suffering of other races at the hands of whites. But that motivation has long ago ceased to interest them.

They'd hate Ireland too, if they stayed there long enough to hear the church bells ring.

Friday, March 22, 2002
The librarians have not yet begun to fight. Christopher Johnson of MCJ defends the honour of his much maligned tribe.

Potemkin China. The Washington Post pierces China's Economic Facade.

The Navy Lark. Reader Jim Miller said that Myria's experiences in a semiconductor plant, and the general discussion of mindless and mindful adherence to Policy put him in mind of The Caine Mutiny.
"In the book, a cynical, experienced officer explains to a new one how the US Navy worked. It is a system, he says, designed by geniuses to be run by idiots."
As ever policy sometimes lagged behind reality:
"...the WW II Navy systems drove the new competent people nuts when they encountered them. And many had to be altered to cope with the actual war conditions. My favorite example: For years, to keep the sailors busy, the Navy had had them paint everything on the ships, over and over. This turned out to make them much more flammable, as they learned at the battle of Coral Sea, and so the sailors were then set to scraping off the paint they had applied earlier."
Yet I read this (and I have no reason to suppose that Mr Miller thinks otherwise) as more than just another "top brass are all twits" story. "Keeping the sailors busy" was not such a bad objective - the evil consequences of idleness in an army or a navy are well known.. Just so long as the bull does not become a substitute for readiness and ability to fight.

All I need are clicks, clicks. Clicks are all I need. With a little help from my friends the hit-counter should hit forty thousand today. But will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm sixty four?

Link to this. Google caves in to pressure from the Church of Scientology. However Instapundit, where I found this Microcontent News story, later reports that Google has got back its nerve.

Ethnic politics: don't play with fire. And that's about all I know of the rights and wrongs of the conflict in Sri Lanka, but these lines from an editorial in the ColomboPage: Sri Lankan News and Daily Reports struck a chord:
"....It is a reasonable point of view, considering that the US has itself declared a war on terror and has banned the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] within its shores. It is, in any event, almost unprecedented for the US to issue a warning while a peace process is in progress. Obviously there is a change of heart in the US as far as its policy on the LTTE is concerned. The US government did not raise a whimper when there was LTTE aggression of much meaner and destructive proportions several years back into the conflict. There have been several documented instances where the US government issued statements that the Sri Lankan government should “enter into a negotiated settlement” soon after the Tigers had carried out bombings in Colombo city, for instance."

The witchunt. Let's get one thing clear. The child's torso found in the Thames was all too real. The police are working with grim seriousness to find those who murdered and dismembered a child for purposes of witchcraft. So such things can happen. That said, I welcome this blast of cold reason on the subject of Satanic abuse from Damian Thompson in the Telegraph. (A pound to a penny the panic-mongers are reading hideous mystic significance into the fact that he's called Damian. You know, The Omen.) In truth, Thompson is too restrained. He writes:
"...village gossip about satanic practices led to the removal of nine children from their homes; after a £6 million inquiry, all charges were dismissed and social workers criticised for planting ideas in children's heads."
Stuff the six million pounds. Some of those children were removed from their homes as toddlers and kept by the State for five years. Parents, think about that.

Transcripts of the original interrogations - no other word will fit - show not merely leading questions, but a remorseless verbal pummelling of the children from which only one answer would free them. We are so used to seeing the word "witchunt" as an allegory for McCarthyism that we forget how the word arose, how it came to be feared. The widening circle of denunciations that fuelled the frenzy followed a pattern already old before Salem.

Thursday, March 21, 2002
All must have prizes. My dears, such a quaint letter has appeared in the Times Educational Supplement. It quite brings back old times.
Where therefore, has the idea come from that only C grade and above is "good"? To imply therefore that those who are below the "norm" are "failing", is to decry the effort they put into achieving their D to G grades.
Breathe it in, my loves, breathe it in. That Marxian whiff of the Labour Theory of Value. That Eau de Staffroom 1970, tinctured with patronage. The children of the workers may not be able to read, write or add up, but the poor lambs did their pitiable best.

Who is this Stupid White Man Moore anyway? Lileks knows. Great thing about blogging, it gets you kulcha. Had I not blogged I might very well have lived and died in ignorance of the works of Ted Rall, Michael Moore and Elizabeth Wurtzel.

Remind me, why do I do this?

Expect more of this. Peru car bomb kills nine in an act of terrorism connected with the forthcoming visit of President Bush.

The Minstrels' song. I've had a couple of e-mails from those wandering troubadours of the internet (note totally inoffensive metaphor this time, which as an additional bonus makes me a sort of chatelaine who doth invite the noble bard to singeth a new lay unto this right worshipful company. Cool and I dig the wimple), Alex Bensky and Myria.
Alex writes, regarding yesterday's lion & oryx story:
On the other hand, when I lived in Israel I heard the following story:

An American minister is touring Israel and happens to pay a visit to the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo. There he is astonished to see a lion and a lamb in the same enclosure.

Unable to contain himself he rushes to the zoo director's office. "Sir," he exclaims, "this is the most remarkable and hopeful thing I have ever seen. Here in this holy land that is torn by hatred and conflict I see a lion and a lamb sharing the same enclosure. How have you accomplished this wonderful thing?"

"Easy," says the zoo director, "every morning we throw in another lamb."
Now I ask you, is that nice? Turning to the Lileks-inspired discussion of "it's company policy", Myria writes:

I used to run a semiconductor plant. For obvious reasons we had policies, lots and lots of policies - two big thick books full of them, to be exact. Most of these covered manufacturing issues. You did X, Y, and Z at step such-and-such. If something deviated from the norm you did H, I, and J. But of course no policy can be written such that it allows for every possibility, not to mention that semiconductor manufacturing can sometimes
be as much a black art as a science. The people following those policies by and large had no idea why they were doing the things they were doing. You could tell them to sit in front of a machine that tested Ir, for instance,
and look for a number on the display between X and Y, but good luck trying to teach them what Ir even was or why it was important. To even begin to understand the "whys" would require a background in math, semiconductor physics, and electronic theory that one could simply not reasonably expect out of a high school graduate making $10 an hour to sit in front of an Ir tester all day.

So they were supposed to do a job following a policy, they had no idea why the policy was what it was and you could not expect them to learn. Inevitably things would happen that were not covered in the policy or were sufficiently outside the norm, even if they were covered somewhat in the policy, to cause them to be suspect. They could, if that happened, continue to blindly follow the policy no matter what. That would be the easy answer, but mistakes could end up costing thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on how many lots were involved, or, worse yet, could result in bad product getting shipped to customers. Neither of those things we could afford, so everyone was trained from day one to, if something didn't seem to be covered by the policy or flat didn't seem right, to go alert their supervisor who would then go to someone who was qualified to make a determination of whether there was a real problem or not and how to fix it if there was. That usually meant me, and it was a massive pain in my behind because it meant that I had to deal with a lot of little problems that really didn't matter. But that was why they paid me the big bucks and it also meant that a lot of big problems were caught before they could become big problems.

Now obviously we weren't dealing with the general public at all and not directly with customers that much (we had an outside sales department for that). But frankly I don't see how the principle is any different.

You go into a bank or a library and there's a problem. The teller or librarian has a policy but you're saying things aren't correctly covered under the policy. Your correspondent says that you should then go to someone who is qualified to make that determination, but my feeling is that responsibility should not be on you. The bank teller or the librarian should be the one to *automatically* go to someone who is qualified to make that determination, not sit there and stonewall you till doomsday. It's their policy and their responsibility to not blindly follow it no matter what, putting the burden on the customer. The uber-policy should be that if there is a problem with a policy you should go and find someone who can resolve it, not just set it aside or try and ignore it.

The whole problem comes down to one of attitude. When something went wrong in the plant I ran it could cost big bucks. If it resulted in bad product being shipped out the door it could cost millions in lost orders at worst and loss of customer good will at best. But we were dealing with a physical product and obvious consequences to mistakes created by blindly following policies. When dealing with people those consequences are less obvious and you may even have the feeling that they're near nil. If you're a bank teller and you anger a customer by blindly following policy, so what? Likely you already have their money anyway. If you're a librarian or a civil servant it's even worse. You're virtually immune to any consequence so blindly following a policy - in reality, using it as a shield to any kind of thinking - becomes very attractive.

When I ran a plant our policies were designed to be guides for people who didn't really know why they were doing things to know what to do. They were not substitutes for thought, and they were not excuses not to try and resolve problems by saying "well that's the policy!". That's the problem, in both Lilek's bleat and your bank example the policy is used as a shield, as an absolute. If the bank teller or the librarian is not capable of resolving a problem with the policy, that's fine, neither were most of the people who worked for me. But the people who worked for me were trained to then find someone who was capable of resolving the problem, not just blow it off.

EU yet more sneaky evil alert. David Carr at Sammy's Data* should drop a line to Christopher Booker on this one. Or write the Telegraph column himself. Any way you want, man, but make people listen.

*This is what my kids call it. Who is the mysterious Sammy?

I found this Washington Post editorial via The Corner, which also ran a hilarious selection of results from their "Define 'Oprahfication'" competition. The editorial, however, wasn't funny at all: They Died for Lack of a Head Scarf

Wednesday, March 20, 2002
The door of the animal rescue centre opens. Out comes a cute little moppet, NATS, and bounding at her side is a loveable doggie, BLOGWATCH. Suddenly a little boy, TIMMY, rounds the corner. He appears to be basically a fine, manly little chap, but shows signs of having fallen into bad company lately, perhaps even that of editors.

TIMMY: Hey! That's my dog!

NATS: Not any more. You wuz crool to Blogwatch. You left him shut inside while you went off places.

TIMMY mutters something about having a living to earn and then says, "I'll prove he's mine. Here Blogwatch! Here boy!"

BLOGWATCH bounds forward... but then stops. He pauses, looking back and forth. His tail thumps the floor once. Then he turns and scampers off to join NATS. The two new friends go off into the sunset without a backward glance. TIMMY turns for home, shedding bitter tears of remorse. "If only," he sobs brokenly, "if only I had taken him out more when I had the chance..."

Could this scenario (which is of course purely fictional) ever really come to pass? Watch this space.

Am I so shameless? Here is an example of a blog even more tightly focused than Patrick Crozier's UK Transport Blog. It is UK Shamed Again, a site entirely devoted to newspaper stories wherein the UK is revealed as the 'worst' in Europe at this and that. The quote marks round 'worst' are mine, for around five-eigths of the supposedly shocking facts revealed leave me indifferent or actively cheering (So French workers are hard to dismiss? Yes, and does anyone sane fancy being a French employer? Thus the poorest section of French society, the unemployed, pay the price for the featherbedding of their richer neighbours.)

The motto of the blog is "learning from our cousins in Europe." The entries for which I have most sympathy are those on health. Here we could learn from Europe, but not, I suspect, in the way the author of the blog wants us to. My husband was in and out of a French casualty ward in about fifty minutes, including X-ray. (Let me propose a bargain: don't tell me the stories of your families' awful experiences in British hospitals and in return I won't tell you mine. Let this courageous article by Observer Health editor Anthony Browne, which I will keep posting at regular intervals, stand for all our horror stories.) The secret of this efficiency? A bill.

Yet I cannot leave without saying that the author is dead right on cooking. No great cook myself, even I am depressed to see that kids these days do "food technology" and design a pizza on a computer rather than handle real cheese and real mushrooms. "Yeuch, Miss, we don't fancy that."

In defence of policy. Chris Pastel writes so reasonably as to quite take the wind out of my sails.
"I used to feel the same way as you and James Lileks until I became the Chief Clerk for a court here in the States (before I became a patent attorney). I discovered early on that I did NOT want my clerks varying from policy, simply because they had no understanding of why the policy existed and therefore could not be trusted to deviate from the policy only when appropriate and in a manner that did not violate the reasons for the policy in the first place. Only my deputy chief clerk and I could authorize deviations from policy, which we did whenever the circumstances made such an approach the right thing to do.

"There is a place in every organization for the lower level people who simply follow directions. Believe me, I have seen enough potentially catastrophic situations occur when someone tries to be accommodating regarding a policy without understanding the underlying reason for the policy.

"So, what to do? The answer is take the request for deviating from "the policy" to someone who has the authority to permit the deviation. In a library, that person is the head librarian. At a bank teller window, that person is the head teller or possibly the branch manager. Just as every organization has people who only can follow policy, every organization has a person who can authorize deviating from policy.
The nearest thing to a little puff of wind to keep my rant moving is that bit about "not understanding the reasons." The fine point of my whinge about banks was that the tellers said, "it's our policy" and implied "and that's that, now go home." I shall come clean and admit that on one of my complaints the bank was actually being quite reasonable, had I but known the reason. So the moral is, tell her about it. (Cue Billy Joel song of same name (and sub-cue 245 e-mails saying that the song was actually written by The Dinosaurs in 1956, vocals: Fred Flintstone.))

Tuesday, March 19, 2002
A friend wondered aloud yesterday whether the end-time has arrived. No, not the usual apocalyptic fears. But the lion has lain down with the lamb - or at least a lioness has lain down with an oryx calf. We are inured to the daily cruelties of the animal world, but this story is both sad and strange.

So true. Lilek's Bleat today has a librarian bleating "but it's policy." Been there. You ever tried complaining to a bank? No, of course not, like you never tried breathing. The last three times I did it the first response was always some version of "but that's what we do." And nothing else. Just "it's standard procedure" or "following our normal policy." Nothing on the lines of "and the reason for this, of which you may not have thought, is so-and-so." So I'm meant to say, "Oh, pardon me do. Now I know that you mess about another 3.2 million people in just the same way as you do me, I am restored to happiness."

The Blood Libel, and a little surprise. As was widely reported everywhere but the newspapers, the Blood Libel was calmly and lengthily reported as fact in a Saudi newspaper, which necessarily means a Saudi government newspaper. One of the best views of this I read was to be found in Electrolite. Apparently the Saudi article was a bit much even for the State department smoothies in the US. Hence this, found in Ken Layne's blog.

Well and good. But one little word surprised me. See if you can spot it here: "...helps to make her lies sound credible."

See, there are opportunities for employment and public position for women in Saudi after all. It's just what you have to do to get 'em.

Why is there so little interest in the Marines being sent to Afghanistan? This is a war we're in. It is a big step up from peacekeepers at Bagram airbase, or strolling round Kabul with an Afghan chum the way they used to have those four-man English/French/Russian/US patrols in post-war Berlin. I think the war is just and necessary, but it is disconcerting to see so little discussion.

No comment. Patio Pundit has taken away his comments facility. No, this is isn't because he wants to rename his patio "Zimbabwe". Some computer glitch meant that I couldn't link to him at all and several others also reported problems. They are problems no longer, and you can always send him an e-mail. Oh, and be sure to read the bit that comes after this intro. It starts by disclaiming any intention to make a habit of takedowns. But...
...former State Department sophisticate Dennis Ross has written an op-ed [on Arafat etc.] in the Washington Post that is just begging for a Fisking. I am not in Lileks' league by any means, but I'll do my best. Here goes:
And go he does. Read it.

"Blair, stuff your bribe," says Gibraltar, according to this report in The Scotsman.

For no particular reason I wondered what the New York Times made of the moves towards a hunting ban over here. It had this straightforward account. Although I don't suppose your average NYT reader is a hunter or likes hunters, there were a suprising number of purely factual hunting stories. In my youth I would have been on the side of the hunt sabouteurs, although I was never much bothered over the issue. Now I see the ban as Blair throwing a crippled victim to the hounds on the left of his party. Unsporting. All the same people who oppose hunting in Britain go into a swoon of admiration at the thought of say, South American Indians, having a mystical relationship with the animals they hunt.

No, no, not the comfy chair! A few years ago it was common for members of the chattering classes to praise France's inquisitorial system of justice, usually for no better reason than to show off that they knew that the word "inquisitorial" did not necessarily refer to the tortures of the Spanish Inquisition. Here is a more considered Indy leader which, as well as illustrating the saying "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence", looks at the defects and benefits of the two systems.

Monday, March 18, 2002
Welcome to the war. A bolt from the blue: Tony Blair has announced that 1,700 Royal Marines are to be sent to fight - none of your peacekeeping - in Afghanistan. This is what I thought the British Government were going to do in late September; given that they did not do it then I am taken by surprise to see them doing it now. The troops are trained in mountain warfare.

Brit Blogs. Dan Hartnung writes:
One of the very first (ca. 1999) Brit blogs: Bifurcated Rivets - Which is definitely left wing, although his style is a link with a comment of rarely more than a short sentence, and less than 10% political. Mostly it's what another blogger calls "shiny things". And Interconnected which has been around since 2000. So has which is occasionally political as well.

Plenty more here: GBLOGs. As usual 90% will be mainly personal journals, not punditblogs.

[Note from NS: the last one seems to be a listing of Brit Blogs of all types. Very interesting.]

Martin Devon a.k.a. Patio Pundit quotes me as saying "... the fact that Google does this [can be googlebombed, shows Tim Blair as ruler of the galaxy etc.] shows its deficiencies as a search engine." and then goes on to respond thus:

It pains me to disagree. A search engine looks for web pages that are most relevant to a given set of words. The fact that due to a googlebomb Marc Herold's article comes up 2nd, after the googlebomb is not a deficiency in google. In order for the googlebomb to work, many independant bloggers have to conclude that a given googlebomb is relevant to his/her readership. Additionally, the weblogs that participate have to have a significant readership. I participated, but my meager readership would not have made any difference in the google results.

Finally, what gogglebombing does in practice proves my argument. Iain Murray's article debunking Herold is totally relevant to anyone researching Afghan civilian casualties. Herold can still be found as the 2nd link. If the google user is getting better, more relevant information how is that a deficiency of google? May all my tools be as deficient.

If Blogger is working properly, my original post on the topic should be here. [Update: link to blog generally (see above) now works fine. Specific link to this post doesn't, but, hey, you can read it below. - NS]

In case it isn't I've reprinted it below.

Kind Regards,

Martin Devon

But why would they want to
Stephen Green asks if Googlenews can be Googlebombed. Jeff Jarvis (scroll a down a bit) worries that perhaps Googlebombing could be used by for evil, and not just for goodness and niceness. He also links to a slashdot post explaining that the Goggle engineers have factored the technique into the search engine by examining breadth of a link circle.
I don't worry about this at all. I don't think Googlebombing is a nefarious tool, and I don't believe it can be misused. Google is measuring how widely read a web page is. If Instantman or LGF or Megan decide to link to something, I may or may not do so myself. I decide what my reader(s) will see. So if I want to help debunk Marc Herrold it is my choice. The extra 2 people (hi mom and dad!) that see my post are added to Glenn's 10,000* readers, Megan's 3,000* readers and Stephen's 2,500* readers who actually learn about the issue. The fact that goggle finds a post that 15,502* people have actually read is not bogus. It is a good thing. Since all this plays out within our own little Bloggeritaville, we think -- oh it is only us, it is not "legit." But it is.

* I made those numbers up. Seemed like the thing to do when discussing old Marc, even in passing.

Speedblog championships: shock result. Here is a chance for some raw young blogging talent. Mighty front-runner and hot favourite Natalie Solent has crashed into a writhing knot of blogs and e-mails all requiring intelligent responses. It is all too much. She has limped off the field to get some retail therapy. Now is your chance to zoom smoothly past and claim the gold.

UPDATE: ... but before I go, what has Lancashire ever done to deserve this terrible fate? It has not got me in it. I don't know, first Ken Layne puts me in San Francisco, and now this. On mature consideration though, perhaps those black puddings of theirs count as weapons of mass destruction and merit a pre-emptive strike.

Sunday, March 17, 2002
A declaration of non-intent to injure Benjamin Kepple! There I was, reorganizing my links column and deciding to have a list of twenty old standbys at the top, the numerical limit being chosen arbitrarily. And into my mind popped this sweetly appropriate bit of Browning, despite the fact that it is years since I read the whole poem - I had to check the quote. I'll leave it there for a bit because I like it, but it'll have to go in time because it does rather give the impression that I want to stone Benjamin Kepple.

I do not. His name begins with "B", that's all. Amygdala would be in that slot if it hadn't squeaked into the twenty for reasons alluded to in an earlier post. I have several reasons for wishing naught but good to Mr Kepple. For one thing, getting serious for a minute, it seems that he has had rather too many brushes with death already. For another he runs a good, thoughtful blog. But I might just "stone" him with something embarrasing but harmless, marshmallows or celery for instance, for getting libertarianism so wrong in "Libertarians crack smile."

1. There's little I'd like better than to see the planet, and other planets one day, covered with many different societies, each with its own code of law. The one common rule would be, "you are free to leave." Certainly I would then expect them all to evolve, stimulated by competition and example, but always retaining diversity because that's how human beings are.

Meanwhile, the world is as it is. There is no state that I know of unambiguously better than the one I'm in now, flawed as it is. Nor am I indifferent to the ties of history and family. Nor am I indifferent to the suffering that happens because my own country's laws are so stupid sometimes, which makes me want to change them. Nor have I a green card. These motivations for staying put (well, not the last) would, of course, always apply even in my micro-states but it wouldn't be nearly such a wrench to leave freewheeling Norlonto (=North London Town, a Libertarian in-joke) for the Godly Enclave of Islington (London in-joke).

2. There was a (2), (3) and (4) but they'll have to wait for another time.

Thinkers versus feelers. There are two deeply-considered posts in Mind Over What Matters. The first gives Jay Zilber's response to the question "Israel vs the Palestinians - why should we care?" Much of the practical argument is spot on. But I'd quarrel with the titles he gives to the two eternal factions. He appears to put the intellectuals indisputably on the side of good, which, to put it mildly, has not always been the case. It is, of course, true that our side is the intelligent side. But, to take his Star Trek analogy further, the Vulcans sometimes have something to learn from the humans, and even, eventually, the Klingons.

The post immediately below "Thinkers versus Feelers" was its inspiration, I'd say. He wonders why, when Bush had called some action of Israel's that had killed innocents while not being aimed at them "counterproductive", no one had the guts to ask the President, "When will America's forces end [their] own "counterproductive" assault on Afghan civilians who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time?"

Plenty of people holding a quite opposite opinion as to what should be done in Afghanistan and Israel to Mr Zilber's would make exactly that parallel. This post made me realise that the mere making of the parallel does not tell you anything as to what you should do next - a fact that both sides should note.

Returning to "thinkers" and "feelers", though, the inadequacy of those titles is shown by the fact that Zilber reproaches Bush Senior for "callous indifference" to Israel. Surely, that is the sin of the Thinker.

There is vanishingly little that is good to say about affairs in Zimbabwe. I can't bear to read any more about Mugabe celebrating his victory. The thief gloats over his spoils. The nearest to good one can see in the situation is that at least the cowardice and cronyism of most African leaders stands plain for all to see.

Can't they think more than a few years ahead? Mugabe is old. Even if he does die in bed rather than in a noose, his last day is not far off. Then the people of Zimbabwe will turn round and ask, where were you? Now, it's arguable whether faraway countries such as Britain should do anything active regarding Zimbabwe. Perhaps it's even arguable whether their next door neighbours should. But, by God, it isn't asking much that they should refrain from giving the oppressor aid and comfort.

Saturday, March 16, 2002
Trek Follies. Amygdala, the russet-coated captain, knows his Star Trek and loves what he knows. Here he discusses the work of a woman who doesn't do either.

Also, it seems (scroll up) there is a discussion going on about what we all did before blogs. Let's see, I do seem to remember sometimes going to this weird place where there was this really big yellow light in the roof and an intermittent fault in the sprinkler system, but I, like Mr Farber, also remember zines. A slightly closer parallel to blogs were the Amateur Press Associations or "APAs", a sort of paper version of a team blog, in that they usually incorporated comments on the offerings of other members. Once every two months, ours used to come out. Strange days.

Engel takes a train Bring on the cricket season when we might hear Engel discuss a subject he actually knows something about. While we're waiting, Patrick Crozier takes him on in his new UK Transport blog.

Note to anyone just in from the left shore: I do not spend all my time sniping at the Guardian. Sometimes nuclear weapons yield a better tactical solution.

In every day and in every way my links column will get better and better. The best solution to links stress around is that found by Moira Breen. She invites a different selection of guests to dine at her table every week or so. But to be a society hostess takes work, my dears. One must keep thinking of new and felicitous combinations. Have I really the strength of will to apply myself to this? I think not.

At the other extreme, to hold complete open house certainly makes you popular, but a decent conversation becomes impossible in the crowd. Until now the best I compromise I could make has been to perma-link to a bunch of hard-drinking, battle-scarred veterans from the pioneer days of blogging (ah, the glorious days of last November) plus the odd lucky soul who got in by virtue of having a url that is near-impossible to type. (Sort of a reverse Ellis Island.) And I still will do this, because scallywags and tellers of tall tales though some of 'em may be, them's my buddies.

But there are friends as yet unknown out there. And indeed enemies to battle. Furthermore there are a whole bunch of admirable blogs that I have linked to occasionally but whom the winds of chance did not send to my perma-link shore. All these will now find safe harbour in my New Model Army, which in a Cromwellian spirit of efficiency will be listed alphabetically by title. Having done an army metaphor and a navy one in the same sentence, can I work in the Air Force? Piece of cake, old chap. Chocks away!

(I'll put more NMA links in over the next few days, months and millenia and as I remember them. The requirements for entry are kept deliberately vague. Basically, if your name keeps turning up, in you go.)

Revolution is kicking in an open door. Ben Sheriff has been hard at work google-bombing Marc Herold, with success arriving surprisingly soon. But how long before the googlefascist reactionaries strike back with repressive countermeasures?

Wherefore art thou Nielsen Hayden? The mysterious Electrolite writes:

No, what I said was that my name isn't "Patrick Hayden," apropros of both Nick Denton and Oliver Willis referring to me that way in the last few days. I'm certainly a Patrick. For silly reasons explained at [this compulsory link, don't you dare not click - NS], my last name is Nielsen Hayden.

You're right that Avedon Carol isn't a Brit, but she's married to one, she's lived in London for seventeen years, and she's one of the founders and managers of a British civil-liberties organization, Feminists Against Censorship. So her blog probably qualifies at least in part a "British left wing blog," even if she is a "left-winger" who's happy to ally herself with libertarians on a whole range of issues. (If I recall correctly, a couple of her essays have been published as pamphlets by the (British) Libertarian Alliance.)

Welcome, stranger to Junius, the first British left wing blog I have ever seen, although that may just be my ignorance. Blogster Chris Bertram doesn't let any consideration of party stop him flaming the Guardian's George Monibot.

Junius links to Electrolite which is a US blog with a similar liberal (US sense) but anti-idiotarian perspective. (Although the author* has just said that "I'll certainly never again vote for a Democrat who supports the SSSCA or anything like it. Which raises the very real possibility that there won't be a Democrat I can vote for in 2004.") Anyway, Electrolite cites lots of liberal (may the ghost of Adam Smith haunt you until you give us back our stolen name!) US bloggers such as Ted Barlow, Avedon Carol, Charles Dodgson, Gary Farber, Avram Grumer, Glenn Kinen and Ginger Stampley. But Mr Betram is the only Brit in the list. I'll look a right twit if it turns out he's from Elk City, Oklahoma.

*whose name is hidden somewhere in the funky graphics. It's not Patrick.

I am bemused to note that The New Light of Myanmar, being the official organ of whichever regime is in power there now (see below) as well as red-hot stories like "General Than Swe sends felicitations to Mauritius" runs a chat room. Various indications suggest it concentrates on fashion, which is only prudent when you don't know who is sitting in the big chair today. At the time of writing, however, it consists of a grey rectangle within a white rectangle. All you Burmese fashion fanatics let me know how you get on.

Voodoo in Burma. The Guardian relates the strange happenings in Zimbabwe's Asian equivalent, Burma. The moribund 92 year-old despot Ne Win has been detained not, unfortunately, by anyone much nicer than himself, but merely by a younger group of equally corrupt generals. Astrologers and practitioners of voodoo hover at his deathbed.

Told you he was the real Blair. Google admits bloggers are masters of the universe.

I wonder how well this story, and Ken Layne's gasp of awe on discovering that he was No. 1 Ken in the world are doing in Blogdex? Answer: not there yet, but I predict they will run.

Now I'm going to say something that will cause you all great pain. Sit down. Take a deep breath. Here it comes: we are all having tremendous fun here, but the fact that Google does this shows its deficiencies as a search engine.

Friday, March 15, 2002
Schoolgirls die in fire. Saudi Religious Police stop rescue.

Hit Market. Dawson got chicks. Hokie got chicks and cheesecake.

It needs to be said. Midwest Conservative Journal quotes a Buckley column on the evasive nonsense coming from an American Catholic bishop guilty of sex abuse, and the bland fudging of the issues coming from his superiors. Of painful interest to us Catholics. Sure, some of these accusations come from gold-diggers. But not all. Someone in the hierarchy must get a grip of the situation before yet more harm is done.

As well as carrying out the great work of bombing Marc Herold's rubbishy casualty figures for the war in Afghanistan, Iain Murray has no fear of controversy in other matters:
After winning some substantial victories (Savannah, Camden), Cornwallis made a strategic mistake and found himself besieged and outnumbered 2 to 1 by the Franco-American forces (you'd never know he was outnumbered from the way the victory is presented). I don't think General Washington would call the British troops during the Revolution "inadequate".

The War of 1812 was a draw (just take a look at the list of battles here). Our "inadequate" soldiers torched the US Capital (must do one of those tours one of these days), despite the fact that our best soldiers and generals were in Spain. If Jackson had had to face any of Wellington's decent commanders instead of Lord Longford's ancestor, then the Battle of New Orleans might have been a bit different.
Him. Him. Murray. Not me. Him!

Once upon a time a seat in the House of Lords meant something, even if it was only that one of your ancestors was a musclebound oaf capable of riding a horse in fifth gear while holding a lance the size of a telegraph pole. I have no idea whether the person calling himself Lord Lipsey has that sort of ancestry, or whether he is merely a creature of Tony Blair. But whichever, he's a patronizing git. This House of Lords Parliamentary Question on pro-Euro bias at the BBC shows why.

Lord Pearson (of whom I also know little, but he appears to think he has duties beyond that of tittering as he dismisses serious complaints, which is all Lipsey does for his money) spoke. He cites a series of media monitoring reports saying that the Eurosceptic case is shamefully under-reported by the BBC. He cites the length and detail of the reports with several damning numerical comparisons. He cites the eminence and experience of the writers, showing that they are not mere hacks but people with a reputation to maintain. He cites the charter of the BBC which promises that no significant strand of opinion should go unrepresented, and reminds his hearers that the proportion who wish to leave the EU has never dropped below 40% and has sometimes crossed the 50% line.

And how does Lord Liposuction respond? Hey, he has a good laugh at how all those 40% are old fogeys muttering in pubs, so they don't count. Then he says, yeah, well, people are always moaning about the BBC. Did it meself, mate. Finally he opines that any report Pearson commissions would say the moon was made of green cheese just to get the money. And that's it. That was Her Majesty's Government responding to a Parliamentary Question.

UPDATE & SKID MARKS. Actually, no it wasn't. I was wrong: I am informed that Lord Lipsey was not speaking for the government but for himself. Baroness Blackstone replied on behalf of the government. I still don't think much of Lipsey's manners, or his complacent assumption that his playing to the gallery constitutes a proper response. I assume it's Parliamentary immunity that allows him to claim that the media monitoring firm would say anything for money.

Put this blog in the slow-copiers class. A reader has e-mailed saying, "I generally download and read your blog off line. I have noticed that your blog copies to disk very slowly compared to other blogs and web pages. Is there anyone you could conveniently ask why this is so?" To be honest, guys, the ones I can most conveniently ask are the computer-literate among you. Anyone know the cause or cure of this phenomenon?

In my heart I'm still fifteen. Did I ever dream that the day would come when I would say "jolly good" to four Torygraph opinion pieces in quick succession?

But really I'm 37. That's 37, three-seven, Captain Heinrichs, not "36 and wants to be one year older" as you so mischievously suggest. Auspicious Echidna not Dubious Dingo. My true Blue Peter presenters are Valerie Singleton, John Noakes and Peter Purves and my lucky Dr Who is John Pertwee. (That last sentence can only really be understood by British readers, and the Dingos amongst you are already sharpening your crayons to press the heretical claims of Lesley Judd.)

DISBELIEVING, GOBSMACKED UPDATE ...and if at the age of fifteen I had entertained, as a joke, the possibility that I might praise an entire series of Telegraph op-eds, never, never would I have dreamed that I might praise a whole pageful of wise commentary from The Sun. But I do. (Link found in Peter Briffa's Public Interest.

Shock admission by Blair. No, nothing to do with Stephen Byers, it's the real one I'm talking about. I hardly know how to tell you this. No favoured Son of the Echidna he; he actually came into this world in 1965, the Year of the Dingo. Oh dear. The dingo. Lucky number: 3, lucky bodily organ: lower intestine. But as he says himself, "It could be worse. Imagine if I was born in 1967 -- the Year the Dingo Stole my Baby."

Oh, boy, now I've gone and annoyed everyone. Clearly few of you have been as deeply conditioned to accept a determinedly wholesome and comforting view of nature as I have. Didn't you go to Brownies and get your bird watching badges? Didn't you pore over the big round diagram in Our Wonderful World, the one with circular arrows showing the marvellous economy, interconnectedness and ingenuity of the animal and vegetable kingdoms? Didn't you wipe away a tear at the "Circle of Life" song in The Lion King? I meant it as unalloyed praise, O you stern and unforgiving children of the Enlightenment! Little birds really do eat the seeds in one place and excrete them in another and so contribute to cross-pollination and genetic diversity and hybrid vigour and all that stuff. They do, they do, they do! Without them each cluster of plants would become genetically isolated, inbred, diminishingly fertile and vulnerable to disease. Like a blog deprived of its flow of life-giving e-mails.

On second thoughts though, it would probably have been better to go on about bees carrying pollen in their furry legs. I just thought of the birds first. And the p-word followed naturally and was - repentant sniff - likely to raise a laugh. Not the sort of laugh that renders the whole thing ironic, you understand; just a pathetic little laugh that wrongly claimed to have merit by its mere presence.

Thursday, March 14, 2002
Telepathy? Mark Byron had almost the same thoughts about Mugabe's eventual fate (see Wednesday 13th, "Why should I give it back...") as I did. Also we both got the BBC Google bomb thing, and just about simultaneously if I've got the time difference right. But the whole point of that is - so did everybody. Still, one must keep an open mind. I'm now thinking very hard about lunch and if he suddenly starts wanting breakfast then That Proves It.

Blogging time nearly up and not a single serious story. And that's the way it's going to stay today, because I am not in the mood for the real world. Delve deep into the sweetest little Tim Blair teaser line you ever did see and you will discover that the man is 37. What a splendid age to be. It means he was born in 1964, the Year of the Echidna according to the mystic chronology of his tribe. Persons born in this auspicious year are handsome yet modest, courageous yet discreet, intelligent yet in touch with their inner Ferrari, sexy yet chaste, sexy yet sexy, bonny yet blythe, good yet not necessarily gay. Guess my age.

No, no, no! Moira Breen, apropos of something else says, "I note the presence of the excellent Myria, whom we should all harass into starting her own blog." On the contrary, the excellent Myria, along with Alex Bensky, Capt J M Heinrichs, Alan Freeman and a whole load of other indefatigable letter writers should be offered vast bribes to not blog. They are like the little birds flying from site to site, eating little seeds of wisdom at one and excreting seed-rich poo* at another. Forsooth, woman! Wouldst thou clip their little wings?

*this is an environmentally sound simile guaranteed 100% free of rude bits. Poo promotes fertility. Poo carries out mysterious but vital functions of cross-fertilization and genetic mixing. Poo is a Good Thing. What is it with me and toilets today? I feel fine, thank you. Don't write in.

Boris on the toilet. How can I be so low? How can I be so vulgar as to write headlines like that? I feel bad about it, I really do. Here's a sharp article by Boris Johnston slagging off the way the BBC is fast going down the pan.

The labours of Dawson. I've just noticed that as well as all the stuff about Watson (the DNA one and it seems a right little schemer, which I'd also heard elsewhere), Bruni, Coulter and not quite enough of yer actual Dawson, our man has the cutest little Sisy-you know who, greek chap eternally punished for cheating death-phean cartoon. Quite what poor Dawson regards himself as being punished for remains obscure, or perhaps he refers only to the rigours of the anti-idiotarian struggle.

(It may have been there a while unnoticed by me, since my computer window tends to chop off that bit of the page.)

So I was right. "Sure enough," writes Gary Wimsett, "Google bomb story and tipping blog story #1 and #2 on blogdex . . ."

Wednesday, March 13, 2002
So I was wrong. The Google-bomb story doesn't appear on the Blogdex front page at all. (Though it will, Oscar, it will.) But I did find this lovely story about the unexpected images produced by a digital camera fished out of a pond.

Everybody, but everybody must have linked to this BBC News 24 story entitled Google gets bombed. It quaintly mentions us "many hundreds" of writers of online journals. Perhaps the surge of links to this has something to do with the fact that I have not been able to see any site ending with all day. But I post on bravely, sending my messages into the unresponding dark. The spirit of Voyager lives on!

Skulduggery in TV-land. Teams of codebreakers. Secret laboratories... Murdoch company in $1bn TV piracy row.

One of Zanu-PF's legion of new members tells us what prompted his decision to join Mugabe's party. Trevor Ncube writes in the Guardian.

High praise is due the perceptive Times sub-editor who put these two letters about EU arrest warrants, one from a man whose parents came to this country from Nazi Germany, right next to the letter demanding that metrication be enforced by law that I posted just now. The point was subtly made, friend, but I got it and so will others.

Give 'em a centimetre, and they'll take a kilometre. There are matters of great moment on the Times front page today, most of them too depressing to blog. I can just about cope with the level of outrage I feel over this letter on the subject of metrication. Someone once said that men should fight for the law as they fight for their city wall. This jack-in-office has a slightly different conception of the law. It is to be a "support" for enforcing social change. The legal persecution of greengrocers who sell bananas in pounds is to be regretted (I suppose we should be grateful for that much), but only because it generates opposition and puts money in the pockets of lawyers. In other words the law is no more than a cattle prod to be used or witheld in so far as it is effective or ineffective in pushing men in the desired direction. And people wonder why the law is no longer revered, and why the law abiding citizen is regarded as a mug.

Tuesday, March 12, 2002
Yo, righteous brother! Stop blaming Oxbridge for each year's Laura Spences says Peter Jones. Only he doesn't go far enough. Why should the Oxbridge selectors - or the selectors for any university in any country - be obliged to make ludicrous speculations about which candidate might have been the best had they grown up in a fictional world. I see no difference in arbitrariness between that form of hunch and the traditional "Good Lord, are you old Binky Frobisher's boy? How time flies!"; except that modern criteria select for the louche and the self-pitying whereas the old criteria favoured those with virtues useful in time of war.

Strange but true: Ted Rall haunts my computer. When I become a management guru I shall coin a special term for facts independently discovered by a fair proportion of the human race yet held back from their destiny as bricks in the House of Knowledge because only mighty gurus like me think it worthwhile to communicate them. One example is that it is much harder to bury a dead cat than you think. Another is that almost any conceivable misspelling of the word "Ceausescu" gets you hundreds of search results. For instance "Caecescu" took me to a shitty (the word is merely accurate) but otherwise moderately amusing article by Ted Rall describing his adventures on the Silk Road. Next to it in Mr Rall's cupboard of goodies sat this oddity called "The Last Six Minutes of Flight 411". I am a shy and timid soul, unlike Jim Treacher. Though cheering on the hunters, I did not follow every turn of the chase as the hounds closed in on their prey. Thus I do not know whether everyone else has already linked to this and drawn enjoyably unfair conclusions from it, given that it must surely pre-date September 11 2001. Can I be the first, please? OK, so I don't want to declare air crash jokes verboten and never get to see "Airplane" again - but this article does show the way Rall's humour has been running for years.

Next stop, Algeria. When the expected wave of murder failed to materialise I began to think I had been too pessimistic about Zimbabwe. This Times article makes me think I was right first time. Mesdames and Messieurs, faites vos jeux! Which is it to be: Romania (Ceausescu lifts off from roof while mob break down door, captured and shot with wife a few days later); Philippines (Marcos retains last shred of humanity by refraining from opening fire on mob, legs it with wife and 0.0001% of wife's shoe collection, dies in bed.) Or - and this is the one I fear - Algeria. (Election result overridden. Civil war murderous even by the standards of civil wars. Ruling junta still in power, but don't bet on them dying in bed.)

Monday, March 11, 2002
Sunday bloggers not on the job. Airstrip One asks why haven't we noticed the courageous Observer article he links to? The article calls for the NHS to be scrapped. It says that the NHS is as irredeemable as the Soviet economy, and even blames them for letting medical mass-murderer Dr Harold Shipman get away with his crimes for so long. And the author is not some merc but Anthony Browne, the paper's own health editor.

I must have been nuts when I made the last post. Demented. Deranged. Did I really say that the Afghans had nothing worth stealing? They got rugs! I'd plunder them in a second if the present owners weren't so heavily armed. The good news, as Mrs Random Jottings reminds us, is that plundering investors are encouraging refugees to make more of them for sale so the refugees get richer and I get poorer. At least, though, I need not risk the AK-47s but can buy beautiful rugs at Liberty's as the good Lord surely always intended me to do.

Well, maybe not Liberty's. Not unless anyone really makes the tips jar ring. Little mutated salt-bags from IKEA maybe. A lesser destiny, but better than no rug at all.

We don't need no education. A Mr Martyn Clayton has written an article for The Teacher magazine (House mag for the National Union of Teachers) called "Learning for Life". One particular phrase expressed a certain mindset very well:
"Foreign investors are more concerned about plundering the vast cheap labour force than supporting public sector workers. Even if peace is maintained and promised foreign investment materialises, education workers face a long struggle."

Plundering. I like that. The procedure relating to the labour force that you are trying to describe, Mr Clayton, is expressed by those more widely versed in economics (i.e. anyone not actually a Stalinist) as "giving them jobs." Take it slowly now, and you'll understand in time. Plunder is when you steal people's stuff. Foreign investors do not come all the way to rat-infested Kabul in order to steal from the vast cheap Afghan labour force. If you cannot bring yourself to believe that this is because foreign investors are nice guys, believe it because the vast cheap Afghan labour force have nothing worth stealing, unless you have a taste for paraffin heaters adapted to work on goats' urine. The only thing the vast (is it vast? Pretty titchy, I'd have thought, even if you brought the women in) cheap Afghan labour force have that a foreign investor might want is their labour. And then the workers are so uneducated - as you yourself describe - and so unaccustomed to modern ways that it is close to being an act of charity to employ them at all. So they aren't paid what you are, only what you deserve to be.

Bizarre to record, after all that "plunder" talk he seems to think that "promised foreign investment" is a good thing, to be bracketed with peace and all. Perhaps he really does think foreign investment consists of, or ought to consist of, "supporting public sector workers." Wonderful what strange conclusions that mindset can bring about.

"Another damned, thick square book! Always scribble, scribble, scribble! Eh! Mr Gibbon?" Ken Layne muses on the writer's lot.

It's Russian oil that counts, not US steel says this Telegraph leader. Interesting.

Sunday, March 10, 2002
Pic of me over on Samizdata. I must with bowed head admit that I still haven't managed to extract that picture of Dawson. Who, by the way, is cracking open the champagne. Congratulations to Claire!

LATER: a helpful person has sent me the pictures from Quasipundit. Thanks, amigo! And here they are. Dawson himself had flagged them up earlier, but when I tried to look I got this Quasipundit forum which obviously makes reference to the pictures but seemed to be suggesting that certain well-respected bloggers were either hummingbirds, teddybears or near-naked ladies sprouting batwings. I did not dare to speculate who was which.

No news is good news? I haven't the heart to post the headlines from Israel this morning. But am I being over-optimistic in attributing the absence of reports from India to an improvement in the situation there? Or are the papers just bored of massacres?

Had lunch with Joanne Jacobs, her daughter and a bunch of Samizdatans yesterday. Ken Layne, Matt Welch, eat your hearts out.

"I don't do outrage," says Emmanuel Goldstein of Airstrip One, "detached cynicism is my affection." So try some outrage, baby. My favourite flavour is "wilfully keeping the poor of the world from making an honest living just to buy the temporary favour of voters in marginal states." I get it sent in from the Third World.


$%@#! I'm not doing this every morning. Look on the left.

Saturday, March 09, 2002
Damian, say it ain't so! Can it be true, or was it some scumbag of a hacker rather than the real Damian Penny who has said out loud in the company of warbloggers that he is in favour of gun control. Actually I am in no position to be rude about gun-controllers as for a large chunk of my life I was one. I was even unthinkingly in favour of quite a high degree of regulation after I first acquired guns. No doubt we'll return to the issue, but as a start can I direct you, Damian, to look at the experience of Jamaica and Britain regarding what happens after gun bans. The Corner reissued Joseph Olson and Dave Kopel's excellent 1999 essay on slippery slopes recently. It describes how the British right to bear arms was destroyed one sensible rule at a time. Somewhere near the end you'll see it noted, in quite small and modest letters, that gun crime has increased a hundredfold.

China isn't always like you think it is. Yesterday's Guardian had this surprising story describing how the banned Falun Gong sect briefly hijacked a Chinese TV station.

Friday, March 08, 2002
Painful in another way will be (when I finally get to read them; the internet is still being stroppy) will be Emmanuel Goldstein's latest comments on Zimbabwe. He is a tireless enemy of Mugabe, but no fan of Morgan Tsvangirai. My eloquence tank is running on empty when it comes to comment on that country. Saturday's election could go wrong in more ways than I care to describe. Personally, I'm close to thinking that Mugabe actually lost his mind when the February 2000 referendum on the constitution didn't go his way. Not that he was nice before - as they would tell you in Matabeleland, if dead men could speak - but he was competent to hold the country down. But something snapped when he realised that his ungrateful people could vote against him.

What to blog? Writes Mary Lacroix, "You could always make Nick Denton happy and say something about steel tariffs :-) Here's the link.

Trusting soul that I am, I'm going to post it now and read it later. So, Mary, I hope it's good. Must fly!

UPDATE: it was good, if harsh. I am in a mellow mood today and making excuses for everyone. (Except the leader of the free world, HAH!) So in defence of the warbloggers I shall say that, sure, it is a tad disingenuous of them to imply that their stories are chosen according to the degree of public interest - but it is perfectly accurate to claim that they pick them according to their own interests. And war is sexier than steel.

The best and most cutting weblog comments I've read so far on the steel tariffs came from an American abroad, Dale Amon* of Samizdata:
'Bush tells Russians: 'Yeah I know we are proping up your economy with aid on one hand and trying to wreck your steel industry with the other... so what? If you need money go sell nukes to Iran and stop bugging us'
Can I bear to look at what anti-anglospherical Airstrip One is going to say? Deep breath. Let's try it.

Phew. What a relief. Obviously my friendly enemy Mr Goldstein decided to spare my feelings and make a nice little "web site not responding" message just for me. The alternative explanation, that the world and his wife are clicking on some impassioned and justified denunciation of the worst decision Bush has yet made, is just too painful to complicate.

LATER: I think I meant to type "contemplate", but actually "complicate" is unintentionally rather good.
*Actually it was Perry de Havilland. Isn't he partly American too?

Billy Graham goes to Narnia. Or the island of the Dufflepuds to be exact, since I take this little anecdote from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which I have been reading to my offspring recently. In that book there is a scene where the child Lucy finds a book of spells, and naughtily says a spell which allows her to find out what her friends think of her. Bad move. One of the pictures in the book comes alive and she gets a nasty shock.
"And all at once she saw the very last thing she expected - a picture of a third-class carriage in a train with two schoolgirls sitting in it. She knew them at once. They were Marjorie Preston and Anne Featherstone....

'Shall I see anything of you this term?' said Anne, 'or are you still going to be all taken up with Lucy Pevensie.'
'Don't know what you mean by taken up,' said Marjorie.
'Oh yes, you do,' said Anne. 'You were crazy about her last term.'
'No, I wasn't,' said Marjorie. 'I've got more sense than that. Not a bad little kid in her way. But I was getting pretty tired of her before the end of term.'
'Well, you jolly well won't have the chance any other term!' shouted Lucy. 'Two-faced little beast.' But the sound of her own voice at once reminded her that she was talking to a picture, and that the real Marjorie was far away in another world."

If you missed the story, the Jewish friends of evangelist Billy Graham will have experienced a similar sense of betrayal when some tapes made (presumably without his knowledge) of a conversation he had with President Nixon in 1972 were released. No time now for me to pull up the link, but he said something along the lines of "these Jews are swarming all around me. They all think I'm their friend because I support Israel." He says now, rather lamely, that he doesn't remember but he's very sorry.

And the point of the post is that I'm inclined to let it lie. Let his own sense of shame (my impression is that he does have one) be its own punishment. True, like the fictional Marjorie, he was being a two-faced little beast. But if you've read the book you'll know that the lion Aslan (a figure who represents God) later says: "Spying on people by magic is the same as spying on them in any other way. And you have misjudged your friend. She is weak, but she loves you. She was afraid of the older girl and said what she does not mean." Likewise I can well believe that in the fevered atmosphere of what he thought was a secret conclave with the beleaguered President of the United States, Graham brought forth any rubbish lurking in his subconscious that seemed likely to impress. Of course the rubbish had to be there in the first place, but few of us would escape unscathed if a transcript were made of our every unsuspecting word. Anyway, it was 1972. That's thirty years. The statute of limitations on spiteful remarks has surely expired.

And if anyone thinks that I am letting my co-religionist off too easily, let me say that I'd extend the same qualified latitude to Hillary Clinton. 26 or 27 years ago now she is alleged to have made, in hot blood, an anti-semitic remark. Bad if so, but I am not motivated to examine it much further.

Quick! Blog something, anything, before it goes away again! Um, Um. Mind gone blank.

Monday, March 04, 2002
I will be away for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday making family visits and attending my father-in-law's funeral. See you Friday.

The Blogs of War covers Britain, France and the twists and turns of the new anti-semitism here. And if you want a good laugh to cheer yourself up, scroll up and get it from Ms Lewinsky. A laugh, not that sort of it.

(A minor note regarding the mention of me. In fairness to French newspapers, they may not have ignored Daniel Pearl's last words to the extent that Dr Frank thinks. I read French only with great labour and made next to no effort to keep up with the news. I can say that it was not highlighted, that's all.)

Guns, words and loony doctors. Ben Sheriff of Layman's Logic fills in the lacunae of my historical knowledge. He writes, "(a) "London proper" is presumably "the Square Mile", giving a very clear indication of how large it was, and b) "The Surgeon of Crowthorne", about a mad yankee doctor from the Civil War who shot someone, was sent to Broadmoor and contributed to the original OED, mentions that only some of the parts of London in C19th had bans on weapons (etc) and that different parts of the rapidly growing city were governed by different laws (at least, I think I'm right on guns, and am right more generally)."

On the same subject, John Weidner of Random Jottings points out that though Holmes may have been minor aristocracy, Watson was solidly middle class. You watch, any minute now some spoiler will start claiming that these people weren't real at all.

Every single post in in that part of Amygdala visible on my screen is either funny or bracing or important. Is it always like this? Via MCJ.

And I thought it was all over. But as we've been hearing over the weekend, the war in Afghanistan has a little while to run yet. The Telegraph reports on the battle in Gardez. Lot of caves they have in Afghanistan.

While at the Telegraph, visit this Barbara Amiel article asking, Are too many Muslims in denial about September 11?" Hope someone gives me a penny for every warblogger who posts that headline followed by the answer "Yes".

And what is it with Kuwait?

Muslimpundit, I'll get back to you - but it may take a while. There is a tremendous volume of new and densley-argued material to read and absorb. All sorts of ideas are spiralling around my head. I am a Christian not a Muslim. That, obviously, means that I do not believe certain things which are profoundly important to Muslims, just as they do not believe certain things that are profoundly important to me. Yet I think it fair to say that there are ideas on the status of Scripture and the sovereignty of God that are cognate to some of mine.

(BTW, I've decided to go over to the spelling "Muslim.")

Scary. links to something grim (and I hope wrong) from the Drudge Report.

Sunday, March 03, 2002
Talking of jobs, I have just had an application to join my vast and munificently renumerated staff.

Alex Bensky writes:
Please consider this my application for the historian's position advertised on your web site.

Once you tell me what conclusion you would like, I believe I am qualified to do the necessary research. I have an M.A. in history and a background in creative writing. I promise to do extensive research in all relevant archives. I propose to begin by an exhaustive search of probate and other relevant files in Christminter and other towns in Wessex. From there I'll move on to Everytown, and for comparative studies I shall examine thoroughly the public records in Brigadoon and all of the pre-earthquake San Francisco probate records.

As you can see, a report based on these sources might well win me the British equivalent of the Bancroft Prize.

Salary is negotiable.

Very truly yours,
Alex Bensky (Detroit, MI)

They must be getting desperate for readers at one of our local rags, the Herts & Essex Star Classified. (Not online.) The most recent headline reads "Triple Death Shock: Families hit by three days of horror." Mass murder! Beginnings of epidemic! No, it just so happened that over two counties there were three untimely deaths over three days. Gee Wow Whiz. The three deaths were all (of course) very sad for those concerned, but they were completely unrelated. And, "'there was nothing suspicious in any of the deaths,' said a police spokesman." Can I have a job at the H & E Star, please, 'cos I'd like to get paid for sitting in an office all day whoring for hits.

We ought to be grateful that they are desperate for news in Hertfordshire and Essex, I suppose. Plenty of the real stuff available in India and Israel.

That self-obsessed twerpette
Elizabeth Wurtzel
is not treated gently in this strip by Jim Treacher. (Biological swearwords appear in quantity.)

Saturday, March 02, 2002
An exchange of e-mails. James Lileks wrote
"Wha - you mean...

. . .I wasn't on your link list before?

And I'm supposed to be HAPPY now?

before going off to answer the 1,970,945th one saying "liked that Screed, man".

I replied:
Re: wha - you mean... weren't up at six every day, frantically checking, oh please, has she put me on the list yet????

Linka columna ew cwey arewaadul rhinfa

That was meant to say "Links columns are very stressful things" but my hand slipped to the left. It looks a bit like Welsh, doesn't it? I think I will preserve its alien beauty by posting it. Hope you don't mind.

My New Month's Resolution: I Will Be More Sloppy. The sun is shining. There are Worlds To Be Conquered out there, and indeed Garages To Be Tidied. So I resolve not to fact check any portion of anyone's anatomy in the following post, but merely to let the words pour out. Then I shall sternly go forth with a bin bag to a fate unknown.

First, go and look at Hell In A Handbasket, a new blog from James Rummell. (Found via Instapundit, as so often. I suppose new bloggers write in and announce themselves, or perhaps he sniffs them out by means of one of those airport security machines.) Scroll down. You will find:
"...One of the things that Dr. Watson had to do was haul the Webley around. A six shot handgun (some models for concealed carry had five rounds), the Webley was a massive chunk of iron. I can understand that Holmes had someone else carry the thing.
"What confused me was the fact that they were wandering around London with a gun. The city of London had been a gun-free zone for centuries. How did the consulting detective get away with such a blatant crime right in front of Detective LeStrade?
"Well, Holmes and Watson were members of the aristocracy, so such things as following the law was beneath them.

"It might have been good to be the king, but it was also good just to be distantly related to him."#

Comments [2]

The "Comments [2]" consist of a wail from me saying "Holmes and Watson broke no law..." and then a familiar rehash of the true (and important and serious) fact that pistols kept for self defence were commonplace in Britain at a time when the crime rate was very low. Back came Mr Rummel with an unexpected response:

Drat. It won't come up. I think he's online this minute, but I can't see an e-mail address to tell him to go away and pick up a coffee while I pull up his comments. You're all going to have to trust me. Mr Rummel said something to the effect that "London proper" had been a "charter city" and gun free zone since time immemorial, and that the Queen has to ceremonially ask permission to enter the city limits.

You learn something new every day. I had no idea of this fact but have no reason to doubt it. However I still think I'm right. Firstly, by "London proper" I suspect is meant "the City of London" which I do know retains all sorts of quaint customs. Now that phrase refers to the area within the almost vanished Roman walls - this being one of the facts I am not going to check, 'cos that garage awaits me - but at any rate the true City is very small, not much more than a village by modern or Victorian standards. As chance would have it the financial district sits there now, hence all that talk of stockbrokers being "something in the City". And Baker Street, dreary modern thoroughfare that it now is, lies within London but outside the City of London.

A second point is that if there was a law against firearms in the City, I am pretty sure that it was on a level with the law requiring males between the ages of fifteen and fifty to assemble for longbow practice after Church every Sunday, and the one demanding that every London cab keep an adequate supply of hay for the horse. For I have come across a good deal of anecdotal and some more respectable numerical evidence to suggest that within the lifetime of many still with us people from all strata of British society kept guns for self-defence.

Which brings me to my third and last point. Which is that this is a neglected field of enquiry. So here's a job advert:

An opening is available for a dedicated researcher to study probate records and so forth with a view to establishing the extent to which Britain was once an armed society. An examination of the comparative situation in America would also be of interest. References required.
I reckon some brash young chap could really make his name doing this, don't you?

Friday, March 01, 2002
While I was in France, Jim Bennett wrote this column about the French. So of course I missed it.

A possibly relevant-thought pops into my mind. I was struck, talking to a French lady at the next table (if only I wrote for the Guardian and could call this sort of anecdote "research"), by the note almost of jokey-but-meant-it-sort-of pleading in her voice. "You tell Tony Blair," said she, "to get in the Euro. You tell him." Alas, he and I have not been introduced, and the Euro is not an economic project at all. It is meant to be a marriage tie, as the Franco-German alliance was before it. Shotgun marriages rarely work well.

I spent a whole minute of irreplaceable life trying to work out what the bump in the bride's gown would be in that metaphor. A sign I ought to be in bed!

"As usual we straddle the fence" - or is it just the milk of Canadian kindness? Captain J M Heinrichs (a Canadian, natch) offers this explanation for all these Canadians getting so into the Milosevitch issue:
"The senior prosecutor is from BC and the senior advisor to Milosovic is from Ontario:
a. As usual we straddle the fence;
b. It demonstrates on of the usual divisions in internal politics here;
c. We are a kindly and non-judgemental people, unlike others."

Looks like Dawson is back but, um, experimentally sleeping, according to the graphic on his site...

Brian Linse asked me to guess what Dawson looked like, and I said, sort of gothic with long hair. I may even have said, long romantic hair. And he says, '"that's not a bad guess..."

That Stupid Simpsons Thing. Mail from Geoffrey Barto of Turkeyblog:
"The whole cheese-eating surrender monkey bit is, to my mind, not that different from the denunciations of an American cowboy foreign policy or the dismissal of an American society that's all money, no culture, etc. That is, the French have unfair, unnuanced caricatures of Americans, and the Americans have unfair, unnuanced caricatures of the French.

"I wouldn't get too worked up about this, you might have to take French leave to sort it out (or is that une congé anglaise?). Once upon a time (or so I'm told) the English made sure their ladies didn't have children by using a French letter; the French used une lettre anglaise. Neither set of expressions has much currency today; they counted for a lot more when all the world was waiting to see how the Anglo-French rivalry worked out.

"Vital and sophisticated nations take note of one another and they look for ways to get a leg up on their competitors on the world stage - including silly jokes (you'll notice that no one makes Botswana jokes or slings insults at the Hondurans). That France is a target of American jokes is just an affirmation that it has both a different worldview than the U.S. and enough importance that we care. The French will not really need to worry until we find someone else to make fun of."

A new peversion? Could Self-Blogdexing be even more addictive than Google self-abuse?

Waking up famous, further joy awaits James Lileks. Yeah, his Daily Bleat has joined my links column. To find space in my mystic groups of five I had to eject Libertyblog. The poor thing had not moved since December 27 and the Coroner's office had become insistent. Go on, have a good, last read. There was fine stuff there. Unemployment in New York. Kofi Annan and the Muppet Show.

Gotham on India. Instapundit also led me to Letter From Gotham, a new blog by "Diane E."

She, like me, thinks of Partition.
"The link to Muslim News is to Britain's biggest Muslim news site, allegedly. They do not cover the Muslim attack on the train that killed 60 Hindus, which ignited the current wave of communal violence. Am I the only person to notice some eerie similarities to the communal violence of Partition? (Not that I'm an expert, but I did see the Jewel in the Crown. I remember those train attacks.) Then there's an article about how the MCB--Muslim Council of Britain--boycotts Holocaust Remembrance Day in Britain, on the grounds that it pays insufficient attention to the Palestinian "nakba." Then there's a couple of articles about the India situation. What a frightening, tragic mess."
It is not quite true to say the train massacre that started the current round of violence is ignored - it is at least mentioned in this story. Far down the page. And, oddly, in a tone that suggests that everyone knew about that anyway - yet it sure wasn't Muslim News that told them. Look, here's their South Asia Archive. Note the big glaring gap for February 27. February 26 had the Hindus converging for their big, and it is fair to say, inflammatory, Ayodhya protest. Did anything untoward, anything worth reporting, happen after that protest? No, no, just another day - according to MN.

Sadly, this smarmy, discreetly vicious but oh-so-modern journal is indeed the biggest news source for British Moslems. It sets the tone for other Moslem papers of reporting crimes against Moslems in a big way, yet underplaying crimes by them. (Let me say explicitly that the savage mob-murder of innocent Moslem men, women and children at Ahmedabad must indeed be reported and condemned.)

One could charitably hope that some of the peculiarities of Muslim News's reporting stem from the fact that they make vastly more use of agency stories than material original to them. Only I don't feel very charitable. It was that magazine's female editor (usually described with star-struck admiration for her modernity) who reduced the US ambassador to Britain almost to tears on a BBC panel & audience programme called Question Time mere days after September 11. I do not like Muslim News.

There are Moslems in Britain who are not part of this. Their position is heartbreaking.

[Spelling note. I usually use the spelling "Moslem", as I did in my first post today. Obviously the journal I refer to here prefers "Muslim." In retrospect I'd have done better to stay consistent with one spelling throughout one post, but I just want to get this thing out.]

[UPDATE: Diane tells me that for complex Bloggeresque reasons you may not see the stuff I quoted when you click the link. But you will see it later.]