Natalie Solent

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

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

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

The Old Comrades:

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Friday, January 31, 2003
I disagree with Turkeyblog's view that the existing coalition should keep struggling to get France and Germany on side. But Geoffrey Barto puts forward some good arguments, and I agree with his underlying political world-view 100%:
The problem is that the world isn't standing against it [i.e. Iraq]. That a nation ever so proud of its Declaration of the Rights of Man has renounced the Enlightenment notion of universal principles and decided that Gallic pride trumps the rights of men whose oppressors cut good oil deals and get France back in the newspapers. That a country that provoked two world wars in the last century is incapable of seeing the need to contain another power that, having brought on a regional war, agreed to disarm as part of its surrender but didn't do so (should we be scared that Germans are so wary of taking action against a socialistic dictator?). That an organization created to secure world peace and justice is more attendant to the whims of its most miserable members than to the ideals upon which it was founded and the need for these to be taken seriously.
Personally, I think it's too late for the UN in its present form. Never forget that the UN has put Libya in charge of human rights and Iraq in charge of disarmament.

UPDATE: Enough. Finis. Be done with them.

The living faith of the dead vs the dead faith of the living. An excellent string of posts from Eve Tushnet on what tradition is and is not. Here is one from the middle of the string.
"...there's a big difference between a living tradition and a series of reversals, rejections, and capitulations to fleeting cultural fads, even if the series maintains some superficial elements of similarity."

A useful tip for driving in snow: if your wheels spin when you try to start, change up a gear quickly. Don't speed up, just change up while still moving very deliberately. Maybe only 0.78 of a reader did not know that already, but 1.00 of the writers of this blog didn't until yesterday.

Snow everywhere. No school, either at my kids' establishment or the one where my husband teaches.

As usual there will be much throwing up of the hands in horror at the way England closes down under four inches of snow. Actually it's perfectly rational. Heavy snow doesn't happen very often. We shouldn't waste much time and money preparing for a natural phenomenon that happens once every three years and is, with sad exceptions, much less harmful to life or property than floods or storms. Furthermore since driving in snowy conditions is much more dangerous than staying home in snowy conditions closing down the country for the odd day might be a net benefit. It snows more in Scotland, still more in Austria, still more in Canada, so naturally they prepare for it more and make arrangements for business to continue.

My husband is, of course, deeply traumatized at being separated from his work and made to build a snowman.

Deutsche Welle has this take on the split in Europe over what to do about Iraq. Later on the article talks about what Schröder might do to jam up the works:
Many Germans, including Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, also oppose any war on Iraq. And on Thursday, they learned of a possible way that their country could slow any U.S. military action. A report issued by a parliamentary lawyer said Germany could prohibit the United States from using its bases in Germany if it launched a war against Iraq without U.N. authorization. Such a prohibition could present a major obstacle for the United States, which relies heavily on air bases in Germany and has thousands of soldiers stationed throughout the southern half of the country.

A Regular Correspondent writes: ...interesting list of European countries backing action.

- The Iberian peninsula and Italy: I've no particular explanation of why these three are on-side unless the Franco-German axis scares them. One may allow the possibility that the idea of an atom bomb in Saddam's hands also scares them, and they accept that he could one day have one.

- Denmark: one of the less corrupt political cultures in Europe to my way of thinking. Past Danish governments have played the 'vote again and this time get the answer right' game on their populace but they may be on-side simply through being (more) rational and honest on this one. The significant point is they're usually not very bellicose (c.f. WWII: the best record in Europe re saving Jews but nothing to write home about re resisting the initial German invasion; to be fair they were in a militarily hopeless position and the same king who ordered resistance to cease slightly earlier than his general thought suited the military decencies later informed the Germans that he would be the first to wear the yellow star if it were introduced).

- Poland and Czech Republic: tend to like us and dislike Germany for obvious reasons. Also they, with Hungary (and now Slovakia has signed-up too, I see), have living-memory experience of being under a totalitarian regime.

It will also be interesting to see who else signs the rival Franco-German letter of opposition to action that will be sent soon (assuming the slight hints that France is preparing her escape route when it all happens anyway do not blossom so far they they don't sign it either). Doubtless it will get much support from those who are too cynical to believe Tony Blair's warnings - and so implicitly assert that they believe Saddam Hussien's denials instead. I am not given to placing great credence in Tony's remarks in general, but when the choice is between believing him and believing Saddam, I question the sincerity of those who choose the latter.

Thursday, January 30, 2003
Just for fun, let's look for references to sanctions against Iraq that seem curiously reluctant to mention that the holy UN had anything to do with them. To start you off, here's Seamus Milne in the Guardian today.
"What changed after 1991 was that the greatest suffering endured by Iraqis was no longer at the hands of the regime, but the result of western-enforced sanctions which, according to Unicef estimates, have killed at least 500,000 children over the past decade."

LATER: Actually, this game might be too easy to be any fun. A Google search for the phrase "US-led sanctions" gave me 1,710 entries.

The sanctions came about as a result of UN Security Council Resolution 681. It was the usual hodgepodge, nominally about Israel, but it was a bona fide UN resolution, or at least as bona fide as UN resolutions ever are. If you want to say that this organization is the font of legitimacy then the sanctions were legitimate.

While I'm at it, here once again is Matt Welch debunking the 500,000 dead babies figure in March 2002, but not denying that the sanctions have caused hardship.

A cure worse than the disease. Junius blogs about a threat to academic freedom. He says, "A report into Mona Baker's decision to sack Israelis from the editorial boards of journals she edits has recommended that British universities should take on extensive powers to regulate the external activities of their staff. As regular readers know, I thought Mona Baker's actions were wrong, repellent and stupid, but this rings alarm bells..."

Not a dethronement but certainly a disappointment. I have done a bit of reading to catch up on the controversy concerning whether John Lott did or did not do a survey in 1997. First things looked like a Bellesiles re-play: little or no evidence that the survey was done. Then along came someone who remembered participating. Then it was revealed that this person was pro-gun activist, so not an impartial source. Then it was made clear that this person had made clear he was a gun activist all the time, and said he had only heard about the doubt about whether the survey was done because he was a gun activist. Other academics do remember talk of a survey, and a computer crash, but the tax and other financial records seem unsatisfactory.

This obviously has the potential to be a Bellesiles scandal with the sides reversed - well, smaller, since the disputed survey covers one specific claim rather than the whole book, but still on the same lines. I am gradually reading (in an irregular pattern, as is my wont) Lott's book More Guns, Less Crime, and I'm still very impressed by it. (Its main argument is unaffected, and it will stay that way until you start reading in the papers about a bloodbath in the US states that allow concealed carry, instead of the reduction in crime you do read about.)

I am a good deal less impressed by Lott's showing in this latest controversy. I have skimmed the various accounts rather than read them deeply - like all such controversies they delve deep into who said what when and have multiple layers - so don't take my conclusions as the last word; but the wrap-up seems to be that he probably did do the survey, but in what a sloppy and disorganized manner. It had far too small a sample size for him to claim it proved what he said it proved. He has been much more evasive than I would have expected. Also he has admitted that he pretended to be a woman called "Mary Rosh" on the internet and defended that nice Mr Lott in comment-room flame wars. There's nothing wrong with using a pseudonym (Disclosure: I do my political writing under one name and non-political work under another), and I gather that pretending to be the opposite sex is very commonplace, but to review your own books favourably is just laughable. Perhaps it started out as just a laugh.

Julian Sanchez writes about it all here. (His angle? Libertarian, disappointed in Lott.)

Tim Lambert writes about it here. (His angle? Anti-gun, serious contender, longtime foe of Lott.)

James Lindgren writes about it here. (His angle? He is a law professor who was appointed ( I'm not sure by whom, but seems respected by both sides) to write a report on the affair. It's a long piece, containing lots of footnotes and quoted e-mails.

Marie Gryphon writes about it in several posts, including a long e-mail from Lott himself. Scroll up and down from here. (Her angle seems broadly similar to Sanchez's.)

In my more optimistic moments I dare to hope that the current divisions over what to do with Iraq could crack open the European Union as well as the United Nations. It would be absurd as well as immoral to want a war because of its side effects on international organizations. But there is no harm in observing that some of the side effects could be good.

It still astonishes me that until about four years ago I was neutral on the EU and rather pro the UN. (I still think a humbled UN could do some good in providing a face-saving way for belligerent countries who are sick of war to get out of fighting any more.) True fact: my husband has a UN tie in his wardrobe.

Public Interest says Pilger's gone mad. His latest piece in the Mirror says that "The current American elite is the Third Reich of our times."

Wednesday, January 29, 2003
I'm going to stop feeling guilty about missing my chance to vote David Janes in the Bloggies and just post this.

Not that I understand a word of it, mind. It feeds your blog RSS or something. I hope the blogs don't get fat rsses.

Sorry. I wish I had the strength of will to delete that, and generally not be such a silly rss.

Good Lord, it's working. Better post this quick before Blogger goes balooey again. Have you ever wanted to spot the moment when a historical trend swung into reverse? Maybe Patrick Crozier has.

Blogger is being evil today. I was going to fiddle with the template and put in a new Janes' Blogosphere button, but judging from my success rate so far I shall be lucky if I get to post this.

A missile hits a House of God. Christopher Johnson of MCJ predicted that the Anglican bishies would have much to say about the recent damage to a church in Israel caused by a IDF missile that went astray. Boy, was he right.

He's right about the correct response, too. (Though Monte Cassino would be a better WWII parallel than Coventry.) What they should be saying boils down to "It’s war. Very sad, but these things happen. Be glad it was only a building."

Such phrases cause a lot of anger amongst some people, who think them callous and overly accepting of war as a natural state. I'm not in the business of causing unecessary anger (er, not in my better moments, anyway) so perhaps it would be better to state the underlying point. It is, or should be, that some wars save lives in the long run relative to the other options, such as surrender. And you don't always even have that much choice in war - if the enemy are sufficiently genocidal you may not even have the option of surrender. A great many Palestinians and other Muslims have said openly that all the Jews should be killed, enslaved or driven out. If you don't believe me spend an hour or so here. The upshot is, sometimes you can't get out of war. And war breaks things. The accidental breaking of a building is among the least of its evils.

I love old churches. Some of them are, literally, the most beautiful works of man, made even more beautiful by contemplation of the piety of those who built them and of the generations who worshipped in them. And the man who would wantonly desecrate the temple of any religion, whether the building is old or new, ugly or beautiful - well, that man is scum. But even the House of God is still only a building. Look, if you believe in any of the Judeo-Christian religions at all, including Islam, then you believe that God – and you! - will outlast not only these stones but the whole earth, the galaxies, the universe, and time itself. From the way some bishops talk you’d think that when a House of God gets knocked down He is in need of emergency housing to be provided by the UN.

By the time that you have been abducted and are fighting for your life as your kidnapper beats you about the head with a wooden bat, it's superfluous to consider the "risks" of self-defence. But they don't think so in New Zealand, so they are considering whether to prosecute some sixteen year old girl for not lying down to die like she ought. Did the anti-social little beast have no conception of her wider responsibilities? How dare she act as if her miserable little life is more important than maintaining our trust that the police will always be there for you?

Original story from NZ Pundit. Add me, please, to the "I hate these people" list.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003
David Janes has spotted a story in the Register about Iain Murray getting sacked for blogging.

While I'm on my R&R, I meant to link to this a while ago and put it in a special "Action" filing cabinet to make sure I remembered.

OK, so you can write the rest of the story yourself. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea twittisha culpa.

Never mind me, click it, click it, click it. The man has done more strange and wonderful things to his blog tracking software. (See "Janes' Blogosphere link in column on left.) I always take a while to absorb these things, and I have to be off now, but I will put in the upgraded version tomorrow. Vote Janes in the Bloggies for best update monit... oh drat. It's too late. I'm really sorry about that.

I'd given up poor old Briffa for dead. Poor chap, either the carnivorous mice had come up from the sewers and got him or he'd died of apoplexy amid the copies of Socialist Worker piled high in Camden Public Library. Not yet, as this link proves. Click on his link to see why it's funny.

Advice to Bloggers: Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes. That way you're a mile away, and you have their shoes, too.

--- Michael Powell, The Little Book of Crap Advice.

[Please excuse lack of posts while new clone is accelerated.]

But let's get serious here. The awful truth about Meryl Yourish's washing machine. Sure, she tells it like it is when it comes to cat fur. But can she really be trusted? Is she being entirely frank with us? No. She admits it herself:
"I'd tell you what girls do in high school locker rooms, but then the Sisterhood would have to kill me, and then who would write this weblog, hm?"
I fear no so-called sisterhood. Let me tell you, when I first was on the internet, circa 1995, I joined a cat forum where nice American ladies told all about they saved up the feline combings to knit mittens. But that was only the beginning. They also said that

Supreme Court spurns Barbie suit. Glad to hear it. The justices would have looked silly in pink.

The trustees of the Finsbury Park Mosque, where a recent police raid picked up an NBC suit, CS gas and several suspects, say it will be closed for three months while it is "cleansed of physical and spiritual filth."

Good stuff. But some people have asked why they didn't talk this way earlier. It seems that at least one of them did. I didn't know until now that one of the trustees had tried to serve an injunction on Abu Hamza*:

"Mr Burkatulla himself had been bundled out of the building by Abu Hamza's supporters while trying to serve an injunction on the preacher."

*An interview with Hamza where he says that "everybody was happy when the planes hit the World Trade Centre" can be found in the second half of this link.

His great grandfather was executed in the Tower, and died like a gentleman so I've heard, although the link says nothing about that. His grandfather, on fire to punish England, helped run Cicero and would have had the date of Overlord if his masters had believed him. His father successfully put the lusts of the capitalists to the service of the People's Republic for forty years, a triumph of inflitration never equalled in the annals of espionage.

And what does our modern German Secret Agent do? He slips into that old haunt of the Abwehr, Mesopotamia. He walks by secret ways through souk and palace, tent and barracks, seeking, always seeking. Finally he returns, travel stained but triumphant grasping a tiny, dirty scrap of paper close-written with hurried Arabic script. He has it! A really nifty recipe for masgouf, and a baklava to die for.

Monday, January 27, 2003
I have been powering through most of the back numbers of David Foster's Photon Courier, which I discovered yesterday. The last blogger to whom I paid this compliment was Gary Farber of Amygdala.
I particularly liked Foster's mix of ethics, engineering and pragmatism, shown in this post about the costs and benefits of an anti-terrorism apparatus and this one about arming pilots as a microcosm of educational, legal, technical and cultural problems of our day.

Lots of C S Lewis quotes, too.

Ha ha, fooled ya! During the foot and mouth agricultural crisis, the Mad Cow Disease agricultural crisis, the this agricultural crisis and the that agricultural crisis, the one constant factor has been government admonitions to farmers to diversify. Some of them did. And now the tax men will try to stop their kids inheriting the farm.

Note the vague and subjective nature of the criteria by which the officials make these decisions - "Is the farmhouse character-appropriate?" "Is the residential aspect in balance with the farm?" If one has high taxation one needs a complicated regime of rules to allow wealth to be created at all. Once the regime of rules becomes sufficiently complicated it collapses under its own weight and becomes a regime of the personal judgement of officials. And personal judgement must frequently mean personal whim, personal caprice. We are edging back to the lord administering justice as he pleases in his own demesne.

UPDATE: The discussion is taken in a surprising direction here. I do have a brain the size of a planet, but I also have this terrible pain in all the diodes down my left side.

Sunday, January 26, 2003
Photon Courier linked to my post on Robin Page, and has posted an invitation to carry discussion further.
For several hundred years in the West, the right of free speech has been (with local exceptions) steadily increasing. But in the last 15 years, freedom of speech is under attack everywhere. And intellectuals--historically the defenders of free speech--today are often numbered among its most dedicated opponents.

What is behind this reversal? I have some thoughts, which I plan to write about in the future. I'd also like to hear your ideas: photoncourier (at) yahoo (dot) com.

Saturday, January 25, 2003
O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us / To see oursels as others see us / It wad frae mony a blunder free us, / And foolish notion.

- Robert Burns, To A Louse. And with that thought, readers and fellow bloggers, I wish you all a happy Burns Night.

Put not thy trust in princes. It is safe to assume that the Iraqi who naively tried to claim the sanctuary of a UN Weapons Inspector's vehicle is now dead or longing for death.

Sectarian Worker is one seriously cool blog, as the dauntless Dave Dudley would undoubtedly not put it. Go there for comradely fun. Cannonites, Vyshinkskyites and other soi-disant anti-sectarians excepted, of course.

One thing you can say about Den Beste is that he isn't afraid to lay his bets on the table. He says when he thinks the war will begin, and how it will go. Reading a whole bunch of his posts one has a sense of a great, heavy machine being powered up. As one who fears the whimper more than the bang I found it reassuring and ominous at the same time. Some fine Macchiavellian observation in the asides, too: "...we don't need anyone else and quite frankly don't really want many others either because the cost of their cooperation would be too high."

Wrestling with Islam. Over the last few months three or four different bloggers recommended this essay by David Warren and I still didn't get round to reading it until today. Don't you wait so long.

Or, as Lileks puts it,
"But it’s time that the newspapers of the world just say no to the latest chunk of recycled fatuity just because it’s penned by a recognizable name. Better a thoughtful disemboweling of the post-Saddam strategy or lack thereof by Herbert Z. Nobody than another bloody gout of half-digested Quiche Cliché by someone whose name we remember from a tired trawl through an airport bookstore."

Friday, January 24, 2003
When AaaaahhK-tors attack. "I really shouldn't be surprised at their ridiculous leftism. I SHOULD remember they are only AaaaahhK-tohrs." - spoken by Sharon, proprietoress of the Brazos de Dios Cantina, referring to the all too human humans behind the hobbits.

Sharon reports that Orlando Bloom's elvish charm wasn't enough for Greenpeace; Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd have also answered the call to ride out in the service of the great cause of our time. Ooh, just like the book innit, except could we not stress the fact that yer actual hobbits were small but doughty warriors and not averse to a pipe of baccy after the battle.

It is a mystery to me why anyone should think that one's skill at reading words written by someone else, while pretending to be someone else, while pretending that all those men with cameras are somewhere else counts as evidence that one's political opinions are congruent with reality.

Like, this is kinda sweet -

"Billy and I realized that these press tours are kind of a stage for us to talk about whatever issues we think are important. And with this movie, being Merry and Pippin up a tree, and a tree eventually doing his bit to save mankind, we think that it would be a good thing to get into the world's psyche through the media that we need to save the trees. "
- but it's not exactly transcendental wisdom, is it? Follow the link within the Brazos de Dios Cantina for the whole interview.

Now I'm not saying that actors don't have a right to voice their opinions. An actor at the peak of his or her powers represents one of the great flowerings of the human spirit. And like all great flowerings, if you rip them up out of the ecosystem that allowed them to flourish and transplant them into an artificial environment to which they are ill-adapted it only takes a week to turn them into rotting green mush.

Re: does ne one agree orli is gettin uglier


I have to agree with you on one level. Orlando has definately gained weight, which is not in itself a bad thing - he was very skinny before. I am not sure that he is less good looking, but I haven't seen any particularly flattering pictures of him lately. The greenpeace picture was simply terrible - he looked fat and had seriously greasy hair, bleugh! And that picture at the EA games how much had those guys had to drink?!

You know, bar a few quibbles about pointless plot changes, I loved both the LOTR films. I was thrilled, moved, exalted. But when actors begin to believe that their capacity to thrill, move and exalt an audience extends to every word they say off the set, then they might care to remember what a hard-bitten director once said when the real work was done and the shot was set up: "Bring on the meat."

Alan K Henderson has beat me to it on the Telegraph-watching front and spotted that Robin Page is launching a counter-suit.

And scroll down for a scholarly discussion of Roe v. Wade which as an aside has a fascinating link to an account of the notorious frontier Judge, Roy Bean, who when menaced by friends of the accused, showed his devotion to the law by saying, "Gentlemen, I find the law very explicit on murdering your fellow man, but there's nothing here about killing a Chinaman. Case dismissed."

Did I hear that right? Just caught the end of a news item on the BBC1 lunchtime news. It seemed to be saying that this student who heckled Tony Blair at a speech last night had been invited to Downing Street to come and have a little heart to heart with Tony. Has Mr Blair ever heard of the term "peverse incentives", or does he just love being heckled? As a father himself he should know that it is bad for a child's character to reward attention-seeking behaviour. Here is a sample of young Iain Wilson's opinions:
Asked about Mr Blair's comment that such he would not have escaped with such heckling in Iraq, Mr Wilson replied: "I did not get away with it there.

"You can see them [refers to film clip] dragging me out and pushing me out. I do not see there being that much of a difference.

"I wasn't able to freely express myself."

I am very glad we do live in a relatively free country and the boy, having been escorted from the premises with no more than reasonable and necessary force, still has his eyeballs and genitals.

Meanwhile, back to Tony Blair. After a strong start with the line about the results of free speech in Iraq, Mr Blair has lost the plot completely. If he really has invited Wilson to a little fireside chat as a reward for his heckling then it will be months before he next gets to finish a sentence when speaking in public.

I would assume that I had misheard or misunderstood the whole thing, for no successful politician could possibly be so naive... except that I do seem to recall him doing this sort of thing before. Aha, gottit! Thank you Google. Back in 1999 he was going walkabout (cringe, cringe) on the Tube. A secretary on her way to work found it all a bit much when the great man approached her, and retreated into her Walkman. Instead of shrugging and moving on, Blair responded to this challenge to his own estimate of his importance in the world by inviting the woman to Downing Street. Better briefed this time, the lass responded as per the script and the unbearable breach in reality was healed.

Fascinating juxtaposition of posts on Turkeyblog. First comes this jab at the French ("for once France isn't boasting about the longevity of its society" - and that's just the nice bit, I'm too kindhearted to repeat what he says about the origins of the Third Republic) then straight on to God, snails and speed of perception.

Did you know that "Chopra notes that snails take three seconds to process neural events, so if one is looking at an apple and you grab it, it will appear to the snail that the apple just vanished into thin air. Chopra says the same is true of us..." Me, especially. Finally there is a poem, modestly described by Geoffrey Barto as one "which I like to think Billy Collins might have written if he had a lot less talent and a lot more time on his hands," but which made me put one hand on another to test my own solidity, surely not a bad test of a poem.

Radio 4's Today programme this morning reported that they had received a handwritten note in Arabic, presumably from an Iraqi opposition source, saying that Iraqi units in forward positions have been issued with nerve gas protection suits and atropine.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003
And if the last post mystified you, think how much more it must have mystified all the readers of Biased BBC, where I posted it by mistake.

Bene Gesserit sayings. Many from "Chapterhouse of Dune", a few from "Children of Dune", none from "Dune" itself. The opposite of how it should be. But as the great Mother Superior Hasta Laveesta Bebi said, Is not an opposite a deeper reconciliation?

Speak not to me of syllogisms, you literal-minded dolts. That was a rhetorical question. Speak not to me of the mystery of beer, either.

Tuesday, January 21, 2003
Adventures on the Internet. I found this useful site about toys for rabbits via Instapundit. Really - scroll down.

Die, evil waste paper bin! Know the wrath of my claws, human-thing. Midnight, the Killer Bunny, is happy.

Good news from Africa and India. Small, cheap private schools are educating actual majorities of the children in some cities. If this keeps going, in a generation or two the stereotype of the wretched, illiterate African or Indian will survive only in Guardian editorials. So why can't we have this good magic over here?

Monday, January 20, 2003
A reader, Nick, writes, regarding the post about Robin Page two down:
"I've just seen your blog and agree 100% with you. I'm a Londoner, vote Labour and am not pro-hunting.

It's unbelievable! The police are always saying how stretched they are yet have time to do this."
I replied:
"Yes - a point that needs to be made to both right and left-wingers is that "what they do to the people you don't like today they'll do to the people you do like tomorrow."

As for your very true point about how odd it is that the police have spare time for this sort of thing, I suspect that they sometimes prefer the easy, safe, unimportant task to the difficult, dangerous and important one. In that they are only human, but it is a human tendency which should be fought against."

Then I thought, if the point needs to be made, why don't you make it on the blog. So there you are.

The stupid Telegraph computer won't let me register. If you are more favoured and want to see a sad story, buy the paper or scan the UK "other news" section for the story of a lecturer, Richard Browning, who was fired from his job as a photography lecturer at Doncaster college. Why? Not drunkeness. Not idleness. Not drug addiction. Not sexual indiscretions with students of the opposite sex, nor indeed the same sex. None of these things.* His offence was that he allowed a student to bring in and use a completely harmless toy plastic rifle - it didn't fire anything whatsoever, not so much as plastic ball bearings - as a prop in a photography assignment.

I feel so much safer now he's gone.

*He'd be well advised to claim to have done any or all of them and to be a victim of persecution on that account.

UPDATE: Thank you, Momma Bear, for supplying me with a link to the story mentioned above. (I still can't get in to see it myself - anyone know what I ought to be doing? I don't mind registering, and have even resisted the temptation to put myself down as a three year old male residing in Western Samoa. And I thought I'd done that "enable cookie" thing. My cookies, I said with pardonable pride, had self-esteem as high as any biscuit in the Home Counties. Alas they still seem to be, uh, differently-abled cookies who can't do the job I bought them for but do nonetheless have many meaningful skills and competencies not sufficiently valued by patriarchal and oppressive computer environments.)

Robin Page gives his account of what happened to him after he was called in for police questioning after speaking at a country fair to urge support for the upcoming Countryside Alliance march.

Readers who think that far too much has been made of this, that Robin Page is bit of a troublemaker, that no one who rights for Right Now! magazine can possibly be deserving of sympathy, that really the police were just doing their job, responding to complaints and all, might like to consider this, the text of an advert in placed in Frampton's local paper by the police:

"Claims that Frampton Country Fair earlier this year was hijacked by the pro-hunting lobby are being investigated by Stonehouse Police. Countryside campaigner Robin Page was accused of bombarding visitors with pro-hunting propaganda during his commentary at the Country Fair in September. Sgt. Geoff Clark of Stonehouse Police would like to hear from anyone who was offended by the commentary. He can be contacted on 0845 090 1234."

Well. The first point I'd like to make is that country fairs are, in fact, pro-hunting. That's what they are for, and often what they were founded for centuries ago, to celebrate country amusements including those some consider barbaric. Like that or hate it there is no "hijacking" there. But that is a minor point. What astonishes me is that Her Majesty's Police are placing adverts in the paper trawling for informants to nail a named individual for... for what, exactly? For politicising an event that the other people think should not be political? That's not illegal. It happens all the time on the left; "the personal is political", as they rightly say. For bombarding people with propaganda? That's not illegal either. Happens all the time on TV, with the government and the police themselves propagandists-in-chief. Dammit, are you getting how annoyed I am by this? Some copper sits down at his desk and takes as his task for today in the battle against crime the initiation of an official police investigation of the possiblility that pro-hunting lobby might be getting too much influence at a country fair. (About this "hijacking" - the organisers of the fair must have known Page's views when they picked him as a commentator, and presumably picked him for the job because of them - did they complain of any "hijacking?" If not, then that word, placed on record in an official communication by the police, is close to libel.) Then the copper whips off a little advert looking for narks to come forward over this purely political offence. And the local newspaper, that exemplar and defender of our ancient liberties, prints it, yes Officer, thank you for your custom, Officer, always glad to help the boys in blue, that'll be £17.56 including VAT. And no one very much thinks that this is odd, this is new, this is not what Britain used to be.

UPDATE: I am reminded that it was not so many years ago that we did not even have "Wanted" posters in Britain, for fear that the presumption of innocence might be violated. And now the police ape the tabloids by asking, in effect, for any dirt readers can supply on a named individual. Funny how they don't do this for burglary, isn't it? It's almost as if the political offender has fewer rights than the old sort of criminal we used to bother about.

Sunday, January 19, 2003
Buy, yes buy, a paper copy of the Mail On Sunday today. They have a story about some TV chick the German Chancellor is shagging. You care not about the paramours of foreign potentates? Buy it anyway. The point is that it's a test case about whether British courts are supreme or whether the EU can over-rule them. Apparently Lover-boy Gerhart has got an injunction to suppress the story in Germany and is claiming that under EU law that means he can suppress it here too.

Friday, January 17, 2003
Your HOT SEXY blog topic of the week. Belgian Trade Unions. According to these guys, one of the confederations concerned, it's not three permitted unions exactly, more three permitted confederations of unions. Not a lot better. How much of Europe thinks this a model for the future, I wonder?

Why should I care? Here's why. I have no particular brief for Vlaams Blok, the Flemish nationalist party. They appear to have some racist and anti-semitic currents flowing in their river, and some accounts i have read of their origins are disturbing. (Not that the Socialists can think themselves any better in the murky past department; their then leader De Man called the Nazi victory of 1940 "a deliverance."*) But whatever you think of the party, there is much to cause unease in this account in "The Flemish Republic" of moves by the Belgian state to suppress them.
The Belgian trade unions exclude everyone who is known to be a Vlaams Blok member. However, in Corporatist Belgium the unions hand out the unemployment benefits (a task for which the government pays them), so the consequences of such exclusion can be severe. The party is also denied access to the government-owned networks. The Flemish Broadcasting Corporation (VRT) has adopted a charter stating that it does not provide a platform for “opinions that propagate exclusion.”
Italics mine. I don't believe in state unmemployment benefits at all. But if you are going to hand them out to anyone, then hand them out to everyone who has no job. The idea of who gets the dole being decided on political grounds is really scary.

The article speaks elsewhere of there being only three trade unions allowed in Belgium: a Christian one, a Socialist one and a Liberal one. I was not clear if this is still true or refers to the past. But that pattern is something to fear - the very European pattern of a particular set of permitted opinions being set in stone by vested interests.

And that's not all. Some 15% of Belgians are, it seems, in danger of being forbidden to vote for the party of their choice.

On 10 September new judicial proceedings against the party were started in Brussels. Because Belgian judges are political appointees, the Belgian regime of Louis Michel and Guy Verhofstadt hopes to succeed in its aim to designate the party as an illegal organisation, so that it can be prevented from participating in the next general elections, which are due at the latest in June 2003.

(Article found via the Libertarian Alliance Forum)

*I was sceptical of this claim. But I found chapter and verse in, of all places, this Stalinist website.

Iain Murray is in the Spectator, saying that burglars burgle unless they're in jug. Although one Spectator article won't compensate financially for his being sacked for blogging, it does serve as a reminder that that it's hard to keep a good man down.

Hey, just noticed something about the story below. It was a little neglectful of Ackland not to mention that he himself was presenter of Media Watch in 1998-99. Tim Blair once opined that Ackland was the only semi-tolerable presenter the programme ever had. Or is Media Watch so well known that everybody in Australia knows the history of who fronts it without being told?

"Plagiarism is to journalists as pedophilia is to the general community." Thus said Richard Carleton who made a documentary on Srebrenica for an Australian TV series called 60 Minutes. He said it in court while trying to sue the pants off the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Media Watch, personified by former presenter Paul Barry.

The Sydney Morning Herald's Richard Ackland tells the story. Briefly, Carelton made his documentary about Srebrenica. Media Watch said (or came close to saying in an airy-fairy keep-the-lawyers-happy way) that it was plagiarism of an earlier BBC documentary. Carelton sued.

The judge agreed with Carelton. He said that his doc was not plagiarised. He said that ABC's Media Watch, the self-appointed guardian of virtue was itself unfair and lazy - and he's not the first or the only one to say that, either. Nonetheless the judge found for ABC. Essentially he found in favour of free speech even while granting it was unfair speech. The right decision... I think.

The rest of the article talks about sloppy reporting of a was-it or wasn't-it paedophilia case to which I do not know the background, but writer Ackland does manage to slip in the cruellest aside I have heard in a long time: "Journalists believed they had sufficient evidence to support an accusation that the Campbelltown solicitor was a pedophile, which you'll appreciate is akin to calling a journalist a plagiarist." (Italics mine.)

Thursday, January 16, 2003
"...So there’s Richard, walking east on Q Street, N.W., carrying a massive framed photograph of Miss Dietrich under his arm and toward his home just six blocks away.

Despite having been busy at work all day and being behind the curve on the day’s headlines, Richard, when confronted by a pedestrian walking in the other direction who said, “You know, she died today,” quickly gathered his wits and said, “I know, isn’t that sad?”

- Jim Capozzola of The Rittenhouse Review, reminiscing about his friend and hair stylist, who died recently.

It is one of life's underrated pleasures to progress down the public street carrying, pushing or rolling some bizarre item with an air of nonchalance. The spirit of the thing requires that there is some perfectly sensible reason for for your behaviour. Armed with that reason you can muster the right air of courteous puzzlement at being addressed by a stranger when someone asks about the dalek.

I was shocked to learn this morning that Iain Murray of The Edge of England's Sword has been sacked for blogging.

I simply don't know what to say, except that Edge's many loyal readers will share my acute sympathy for Iain's situation. Now would be a good time to hit the tips jar, too.

Wednesday, January 15, 2003
The most surprising BBC story of the year is covered by me over at Biased BBC.

Who cares about care workers? In today's Guardian Polly Toynbee has a heartfelt piece about working in an old people's home. She eloquently describes the sad sights of old age: incontinence, drooling, paralysis, dementia. She then asks, passionately:
"The standard week here was 42 hours. That earned just £203.70. Of all the jobs I did, none made me so outraged at the pay. How could such good work be worth so shamefully little? Whenever anyone accuses me of naivety in imagining that these things can be changed, if anyone lectures me on the immutable laws of the market, I just ask them how they can justify paying £203.70 a week for work such as this?"
Well, she'll never read this and so she'll be spared my lecture on the immutable laws of the market. And you, reader, can get away from my lecture with just a click. But for anyone still listening, here goes. One short answer to why such good work can be worth so shamefully little is because if it was worth more (by which she means "if it was paid more") then fewer bums would get wiped. Old ladies stuck on the loo would go longer calling and calling for the nurse. Old men who had lost control of their bladders would go longer without their catheters being changed.

What Ms Toynbee wants, I assume, is for the minimum wage to go up. If it does, care homes take on fewer staff. (Market, immutable laws of: No. 1) She'd have an answer for that, of course: what she really wants is for the state to run care homes and/or for the state to raise a special or general tax the proceeds of which would go to paying care home staff, so just as many could be taken on and all would be well. But the bad news is fewer bums would still get wiped. Because truth will out. If it costs more to hire staff at Government Care Home #35409 then one way or another fewer staff will be hired, and the fact that the employer is the state makes no difference to that at all. Except, perhaps, to how honest the employers are about their motives. They'll call it "budget constraints". They'll call it "reassignment of priorities" and just by coincidence they'll discover that their priority this year is A&E or preventative medicine, and anyway the latest medical research reveals that bums don't need to be wiped as often as once thought - "it's called Just In Time Care Management, doncherknow." This will happen because a whole bunch of bureacrats' jobs will depend on targets being seen to be met, so it makes sense for them to move the targets. They have the power to arrange these things. The care workers, still less the ex-care workers now unemployable at the new rate of pay, do not.

Another short answer, one that Ms Toynbee has heard and didn't like, judging from the fact that she demanded of those who gave it, "how they can justify paying £203.70 a week for work such as this?" is that a great many people can do the job. A care worker needs a kind heart, patience, common sense, the conscientiousness to stick to procedures and maintain standards, a certain amount of physical strength and the ability to overcome physical distaste. These qualities are admirable but not rare. Ms Toynbee's wording implies that confronted with her "how can you justify..." everyone falls silent in shame. I don't see why. Rarity does influence price. Polly Toynbee gets a high salary as a Guardian correspondent because the skills needed (of writing to time and theme, research, eloquence and self-promotion) are comparatively rare. If she thinks that is so outrageous, will she voluntarily reduce her pay to that of a care worker?

Rather than the hated supply and demand, Ms Toynbee blames low pay on "the low value society places on women's work." The qualities I have listed are indeed more often found amid women than men. And, unlike many of my readers, perhaps, I quite agree with her that society does place an unfairly low value on women's work. I gather that in nearly every society, whatever the women do is valued less than what the men do. In some African tribes the women do all the farming while the men hang around the village and talk local politics, and guess which they regard as important. All very regrettable - but where best to look to defeat this deep-seated trend common to all humanity: state bureaucrats as deeply imbued with it as anyone else or the impersonal market? I'd go for the market. In the long run it plays no favourites as to race, class or sex. The market nowadays says that the humble plumber, a working man, is paid more than a university lecturer: a transformation to amaze and delight any nineteenth century socialist. The market says that an honest and reliable cleaning lady can choose her own customers once her reputation is established, and nothing about the low value placed on women's work by society stops this happening. In the ruthlessly capitalist world of sport, black athletes rise to the top whether white sports officials like it or not.

There's another side to the question, one that is rarely made explicit. Many women and some men would rather work in a care home than be a company director, or, more accurately, start the long process of self-education and jockeying for promotion that might result in being made company director and certainly would result in promotion to lower or middle management. It is considered outrageous to even suggest that anyone who works in a low-paid job has any choice in the matter, but they do, and, please note, I am not criticising their choice. There are good things about working in a care home. You have the satisfaction of being useful, and, in many cases, of being loved. Your hours may be long or inconvenient, but you don't take the job home with you. You don't have to sack anyone. You don’t have to give anyone a telling-off. You don’t have to give presentations in public. You don’t have to wade through reams of reports or write them yourself. You don’t have to travel. You don’t have to understand National Insurance or company law. You don’t have to do any maths. You don't have to sell anything or put yourself forward. (You reading this! Which would you rather do today, change an adult nappy or cold-call five households in your area and try to flog them double glazing?) You have access to free meals and to an enormous industrial washing machine and tumble-dryer. (Don’t knock it: one care-worker I know hasn’t done a wash at home in years.) Finally, everybody thinks that you are a good person by virtue of your job. All in all, I'd rather work in a care home than be a swanky company director. Before you ask, no, I've never done either. But I have had personal experience of the sometimes distasteful jobs involved in looking after old and confused people, and I've lived on as little as a care worker does.

I haven’t even covered the question of state control versus the market in deciding whether old people go into care homes at all – and how long they stay at one institution. Many, perhaps most, old men and women, would have preferred to grow old in their own homes. There could have been scope for literally millions of people to be employed as carers for them. The terrors and indignities of old age would be softened by a personal relationship and familiar surroundings. There is evidence that the onset of senility is actually delayed for those old people who live in their own homes. Of course a raft of government regulations make this impossible for all but those with well above average incomes. So we send ‘em to care homes, and even then, the government can’t keep its paws off. Many, many private care homes have been closed down in recent years when the cost of complying with absurd “safety” regulations and “standards” became too much. So the old people are shoved into the hospitals at the age of eighty-five and die, disoriented and miserable, by the thousands. Some safety. Some standards. But why wave their shrouds in front of Ms Toynbee’s face - what's she got to do with all that? Because it was brought about by people of exactly her cast of mind; well-meaning, passionately caring people who wanted the best standards for our old people. They decided that the (yes) immutable law of the market that if you make running something one long hassle and expense then people won’t do it anymore could be overridden by mere act of benevolent will.

Perhaps I’ve said more than enough about care workers. In the latter half of her article, Ms Toynbee turns to social anomie among her neighbours in her block of flats. (I'm a little surprised that she appears to live in a council block. Surely she can't qualify for a council flat herself? Perhaps it's one of those mixed blocks where some of the flats have been bought from the council under Right To Buy legislation and some haven't. Quite a few journos live in surprisingly tough areas for the easy access to London.* - see explanatory update at base of this post.) Once again she should ask herself which is crueller, “the immutable laws of the market” or her preferred system, government control. It seems one of her fellow residents, “Mr B”, is is a drunk and worse who consorts with crack dealers. She mentions other disreputable and violent neighbours who have made life a misery for the decent people around them. She mentions, all innocent of the implications, how hard it is to evict people. The rest of the tenants really thought they had seen the last of Mr B after one episode, but, no, he was given yet another warning and remains in place. She should ask herself how long would that situation be allowed to last in a privately run building, unencumbered by Rent Acts and other meddling? And how much of Mr B’s behaviour was caused by the fact that he has always known that little short of murder would get him thrown out. Ms Toynbee laments the fact that society ignores the decent people living in council flats, striving to maintain respectability amid the decay. Society does indeed ignore them. The market doesn’t. That's why what the market provides for the respectable black family she mentions - clothes, furniture and so on - is so much better than the housing the government provides.

*UPDATE: Peter Briffa has explained, "the reason she's living among the hoi polloi is that this is an excerpt from a forthcoming book whereby she leaves her capacious house in Clapham to slum it with the underclass, George Orwell-style."

Tuesday, January 14, 2003
Friends of Bill. If The Hindu is right about Bill "Zipper Problem" Clinton's rivals for the Oxford top job being Shirley Williams, Hezza and Chris Patten, then I'm all for Bill. After all, "a woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke."

But Boris thinks it should go to him. So do I.

Hullo Pot, meet Kettle. Once upon a time there was a thing called "The Language of Flowers". The sight of ambrosia in your beloved's nosegay would tell you that, yes, your love was returned. Some of the citizens of Northern Ireland have their own equivalent, the Language of How Everything But Everything Reduces To Our Favourite Conflict. In this language "Muslim" = "Catholic" and "Jew" = "Protestant". That is the most likely intepretation I can find for the events in the story relayed here by Slugger O'Toole. He quotes the Times as saying that some Unionists in Northern Ireland are worried that a (small) proposed mosque will be a source of "wailing noises" and be a breeding ground for extremists. Er, while I'd be the last to deny that we should all keep an eye on Muslim extremists - where there is actual evidence of extremism - just listen to yourselves, guys. The rest of you, keep your eyes peeled for Catholic objections to a proposed synagogue.

Another left winger not overly impressed by Bowling for Columbine The author, a Canadian, says that Moore has preferred to romanticize Canada rather than do the hard work of research. Ah, what entertainment this film has given me. I really ought to be more grateful.

The justice system: a car no-one is driving. Layman's logic puts some numbers to the Met's abrogation of its duty to investigate crime.

"Now this is a S U V !!! And it's ALL MINE !!" Momma bear discreetly lets it be known that she is fond of her car. I am told it's a 1999 Dodge Ram 2500 Quad-Cab Pick-up with a 5.9l Cummins Diesel, 8' bed, 6.2m long, but I confess these technical details don't mean much to me. I think a rough translation would be "big tough car."

Monday, January 13, 2003
How To Win Friends And Influence People A one-day teachers' strike in Olympia (in Washington State) in order to demand more funds for public education prompted this response from a reader:
"Every time I need new equipment, my medical goes up or my IRA goes down, I go to my clients' houses with a bullhorn, some big signs, my kids and dog and all my neighbors. But it's funny how ineffective it is."

- From Jerry Moore's School Talk.

Sunday, January 12, 2003
Nuke the whales. I went to Greenpeace's website and read this:
"Morality and what's deemed acceptable behaviour by states and their leaders is also a perception, and one which changes over time. As we move toward a globalisation of civil society, we need to build a world-wide moral deterrence against the possession of nuclear weapons. The cornerstone of any state's claim to moral authority, and any leader's, must be based on their accountability to civil society. They must abide by global agreements for the global good, they must conform to the most global definitions of acceptable behaviour."
There were several expressions in that that had me thinking wistfully of how cool I'd look as a Mom from Hell scattering peons before me as I sat impregnable at the wheel of my SUV. This, for instance: Morality and what's deemed acceptable behaviour by states and their leaders is also a perception, and one which changes over time. As Peter Briffa would say, "Discuss." But the bit that really had me reaching for the phone to order it with extra lights and a bull-bar was this: They must conform to the most global definitions of acceptable behaviour. Huh? Did I hear you right, greenpea? Five thousand years of thought and argument about morality, and you think that what's right is whatever the biggest gang says is right.

Scrolling a little further down Clayton Cramer's blog and you will find something about the latest controversy concerning John Lott, author of More Guns Less Crime. Is this a mirror to Bellesiles? Probably not, as, if I have correctly understood the account given on Instapundit, even the person raising doubts about a survey Lott carried out thinks it peripheral to the main argument.

I'm back. First I was busy, then more telephone line trouble then yadda yadda you really want to hear my troubles don't you? I will just say that, come Der Tag, "Mike" of the AOL helpdesk will be spared.

Here's a place where no-one's busy. North Korea is dark. Found via Clayton Cramer.

Thursday, January 09, 2003
Sorry for the dearth of posts. I've been running around like the proverbial fly with a blue derrière. And now I'm going to do it some more, much as I'd prefer to be blogging. I hope to be back with you in a couple of days.

Friday, January 03, 2003
Do you ever worry about homeschooled Muslim children being indoctrinated? Even some homeschoolers do, let alone mere fellow-travellers such as I. In this post Brian Micklethwait offers cogent reasons why homeschooled Muslim children are less likely to be taught by extremists than state-schooled children.
But look at it this way. If Muslims don't get - or are somehow not allowed to exercise the right to – home education, then they are more than ever likely to insist on having Muslim schools. And what is more likely to be taken over by Wahahbi maniacs? Muslim families or Muslim schools? I'd say Muslim schools. And I'd especially say publicly funded Muslim schools, in which consumers (i.e. parents) can be kept at arm's length and lorded over by the externally-funded producers, the people running the place.

Also, if the only way to get a Muslim education is to send your kids to a Muslim school, that might reinforce the tendency of Muslims to live in separate communities, in order to get into the right school catchment area. But if they are the masters of their own houses, no need for them to move house to get the sort of lives they want for themselves and their children.

"Ease up on Nasser!" I had a well-argued e-mail from David Yule.
I've been reading your weblog for a while now, enjoy your comments and generally find your posts interesting and well informed. I nearly sent you an email about your original comments on Nasser Hussain and Zimbabwe (link),
and so after your followup (link), I thought I would try to defend Nasser.

I can understand your desire for people to make their own moral decisions, and not to abdicate responsibility to the government, but in this case I feel it is the government's responsibility.

Whatever Nasser Hussain decides to do, he would be making a political decision on behalf of not just himself, but also the English cricket team, and by extension the whole of England. To put it another way, if this was the football world cup (instead of the cricket world cup), would you really want David Beckham to be responsible for the most visible foreign policy decision of England on Zimbabwe?

Aside from that, his job is a professional sportsman - and as such he is being ordered by his employers to go there and play (and could even be held in breach of his contract if he doesn't). If his decision only affected him, then fair enough; he would have to weigh his moral position against the possibility of it terminating his career as anyone else would. However, I would expect anyone making a decision on behalf of his country to be balanced and unbiased; how can he be that when one option has the possibility of being career ending, while the other has the possibility of being the highlight of his whole career.

You mention a "... society where people were no longer in the habit of delegating their moral reactions to government". It seems to me much more of a case of the government delegating its moral reaction to one person.

Incidentally, I believe the situation reflects very badly on the two bodies whose jobs are to make policy decisions like this: the English Cricket Board, and the Government. Both of them have known this will be a problem ever since the Zimbabwe situation got worse (the cricket matches have been scheduled for over a year now), and done nothing. They are now both complaining loudly to the media about how terrible the situation is - and blaming the other. The idea that they could sit down together, and agree a policy jointly doesn't seem to have occured to them.

A final point (I've already written more than I intended!): the situation is more complex than the South African apartheid sports boycotts in the 80s. Then, the South African sports teams were part of the problem; in Zimbabwe, the cricket team is healthily multi-racial (with a disporpotionate number of players from white farming backgrounds), and they want England to visit.

So, please ease up on Nasser. He's currently facing the hardest job of his career, and really doesn't deserve criticism for asking the people who employ him to do their job properly.

My twenty year old Penguin English Dictionary tells me that "Boxing Day is the first weekday after Christmas, on which Christmas-boxes are traditionally given." Makes perfect sense, of course; one wouldn't be giving the between-maid her box on the Sabbath. Yet in all my life I had never even heard of Boxing Day ever being anything other than Dec. 26th whatever the day of the week.

Thursday, January 02, 2003
John Weidner is working to redeem himself for the crime of befuddling my brain by publishing an explanation of why that Dean Esmay brain bamboozler thingy works out the way it does. Dean Esmay himself suggests that there is no proof so effective as personal experience: "Don't feel bad. This puzzle nails mathematicians, engineers, computer programmers, etc. all the time. And it nailed me the first time.

The easiest way to prove this to yourself is to get a friend and play the game with them. You be Monty. Play with an open-minded friend, and just get your friend to agree to either always switch or never switch. Within 20 iterations or so of the game, the light will go off in your head, I guarantee. ;-)"

The power of positive thinking. Capt. Heinrichs writes, Well done: 0C today. Please hold on to those warm thoughts for tomorrow as the weather report is making noises like '-17C'.

On the garage roof front, though, I have to report that your collective mental efforts were completely ineffective. It had to be done by tedious physical means.

Junius has his libertarian instincts tested when reading about what some sicko will do under the pretence of it being art. Me, too, my old son, me too.

It does imply a challenge to opponents of censorship. Two points in reply - (1) I would expect and hope that in a society where people were no longer in the habit of delegating their moral reactions to government (e.g. Nasser Hussain seeking "guidance" from the government as to whether he should play cricket in Zimbabwe*) that social disapproval would regain much of its lost force. C S Lewis wrote somewhere that the decline of the custom of houding a cad and a bounder out of decent society was not because of any increase in charity: wretched, poor disgusting sinners are still as scorned as ever they were in Victorian times, but nowadays successful, rich disgusting sinners are lionized.

(2) So far as I know the "artist" in this case is not publicly funded. But Channel 4 certainly is. I do think there is a link between the whole idea of shock value in avante-garde art and state funding. The usual fault of popular art, art people pay for, is sentimentality not brutality. (I even think that some of the extreme war-type violence of typically capitalist types of art like computer games is validated by the cult of épater le bourgeoisie which is itself sustained by state funding. Victorian popular war fiction was full of little drummer boys dying heroically; why isn't ours?)

*In fairness to Mr Hussain the whole 'guidance' thing may have been a coded plea for state money to pay the cancellation fee. The fact that he has hopes of being bailed out in this way is also not a desirable state of affairs, but does absolve him of being unable to make his own moral decisions.

Well done Muslim News. They too sometimes publish contrarian stories. For instance they have re-published this Telegraph story about the massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics - an crime of which a few of their readers will approve, but of which the more peaceable majority will not even have heard, seeing as crimes against Israel are rarely mentioned in the Muslim press.

(Foreign readers may be asking themselves why this decades-old story is news now. The explanation is that in Britain certain official papers are classified as secret for thirty years. Then they are released by the Public Record Office to be pounced upon by historians. Thus we are now seeing records of, for instance, cabinet deliberations in 1972 for the first time. Some even more sensitive records will not be revealed to the public for a hundred years after their creation.)

I was going to write what a revelation it is of the ambivalent, etiolated, excuse-making decadence of certain Foreign Office mandarins, effete themselves yet finding a secret delight in abasing themselves before men of violence.

But I knew all that anyway, so it isn't a revelation at all.

Well done the Guardian. Sometimes they do give an airing to views very different from their own. Six months ago, for instance, they published this article about the futility of the British gun ban and now they have rep-published it as part of their special report on gun violence. Calling this a "Special Report" is something of a cheek; it is more a compilation of previous articles than a report containing new material, but perhaps an overview of just how many gun violence stories there have been recently is what we need.

Wednesday, January 01, 2003
Many a true word said in jest. Minutes after making my little quip about convenience being the world's favourite guide in assigning blame, I came across this essay by Larry Elder. Seems my joke wasn't original: Elder writes
Aristotle once said, “Anyone can become angry — that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not easy.”

Don't blame me for this. Blame John Weidner. Uh, no, blame Dean Esmay. And he says, don't blame him, blame Jerry Pournelle - but since his original link is long gone, I think I'll blame you, John, after all, since you're available and convenient.* It's all your fault that my brain is going round and round like a fairground horse. I still can't quite accept it. Are you penitent yet?

*The world's favourite reason for choosing whom to blame for anything.

You know you're getting old when you get all stroppy about the mistakes on the karaoke lyrics for "Grease". Happy New Year.

Think warm thoughts at Captain Heinrichs in Canada "Current temp is -6C; 30cm snow; last night was -20C) Of course I am hard-done-by, and looking for sympathy outside the dictionary (between 'sin' and 'syphilis').

While you're at it, think 'repair the hole in the garage roof' thoughts in our direction. Also some 'neighbours don't get mad at us for the fireworks' thoughts would be good.