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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Sunday, March 30, 2003
Yes, I know. Said I wouldn't be blogging for a few days, but this took me by surprise.

Iraqis, says a war correspondent, are so terrified of the massacre that would follow if Saddam's rule were to return to their area that they chant pro-Saddam slogans despite having very different thoughts in their hearts. He says he heard the same sentiments many times.

Where's the surprise in that, you ask?

The source: the story comes from Arab News. Yes, that Arab News.

Kudos to their war correspondent, Essam Al-Ghalib, for reporting things that will make him very unpopular at home. His willingness to do so is a good sign for the future of the Arab press.

Link found in Joanne Jacobs' blog. (If that permalink bust, try the general link here.)

Saturday, March 29, 2003
Reflections from a regular. I will probably be too busy to blog for the next two or three days. However my friend A Regular Correspondent ("A.R.C.") has written a wide ranging email-cum-article to fill the gap. He is a shooter, and his line of thought got started when he received a poster from the police on the latest gun amnesty with a request he display it on the club premises. "Does this," he asked, "show a contrast with our current foreign policy or a reflection of it?" His answer follows:

The contrast to our foreign policy is that abroad, requests that Saddam disarm having failed, we rationally use force on him while at home, as gun crime soars, we ask holders of illegal guns to hand them in while doing very little to force them to do so. (I suppose, to fully reflect the aburdity of sending such posters to holders of legal weapons, we should imagine Blix et al spending half their time touring the British countryside looking for illegal arms to avoid the appearance of bias).

The reflection of our foreign policy is that we spent 12 years asking Saddam to disarm before coercing him, announcing ineffectual sanctions and other pressures on him the while. Perhaps 12 years will elapse here before any government goes beyond announcing ineffectual 'crack-downs' and 'new initiatives' on armed crime.

This in turn sets me thinking about the contrast between Tony Blair's spin-laden vote-chasing domestic style and his current foreign policy. Edmund Burke, noting that England's fundamental political structure took less damage from the period of Cromwell's dictatorship than it might have, remarked that, 'Cromwell was a man in whom the sentiment of ambition had not extinguished but only suspended the operation of conscience' (quoted from memory). Is Blair a man in whom political ambition had suspended but not extinguished knowledge of principles, so that when confronted by a very important moral issue he rose above his domestic level?

It is ironic (and perhaps also just, but those who do it are not just) that he now finds himself the target of much spin. Leaving aside the grosser aburdities (e.g. 'War for oil' when even such a sceptic about Blair's honesty as myself can see at a glance that he could be trusted to administer the oil fund correctly and hand it to the successor Iraqi regime, even if under less political pressure to do so than he is), today one hears on every channel that, "They told us it would be easy but ...". Maybe there were such remarks that I missed but what I clearly remember in the days before it started was, "Weeks not months", from Rumsfeld and consistent warnings against overoptimism from Bush and Blair. Depending on how you define the phrase, the 'weeks not months' deadline will expire sometime between May 20th and June 20th, with either the war decided or Rumsfeld and others exposed as too optimistic. Meanwhile, I always assumed that 'weeks not months' also meant 'weeks not days'. Many people expressed a hope that there would be a sudden Iraqi collapse but a hope is not a statement of probably outcome.

There is also intermittent silliness; bias in the correct sense of semi-willful ignorance. This morning I heard a pundit on BBC1 damning coalition strategy because "it's basic to war that you don't allow your flanks to be attacked and you don't allow your supply lines to be threatened". Since WWII and blitzkrieg, this, if applied in a simple minded fashion to mobile operations as he was doing, has simply been untrue. A common remark in histories of WWII panzer operations is, "At times we were not sure whether we had surrounded the enemy or they had surrounded us", and they are always full of accounts of bypassed enemy forces trying to break-out, threatening lines of communication and generally causing trouble.

These rules of war were worth breaking even earlier. In the U.S. Civil War, general Grant abandoned his supply lines, in an area garrisoned by a larger confederate force, to take Vicksburg in a key campaign without which the war might not have been won. His subordinate, Sherman, warned him that, "You are placing us in a position the enemy would be glad to maneouvre for a year to achieve", but events proved Grant right. However Sherman was also right that, at that time, Grant was 'breaking the rules', albeit by showing they were not always right. My point is that since Guderian and Fuller invented blitzkreig, these are no longer rules unless understood in a much subtler sense than the pundit grasped. Obviously, the coalition should be somewhat concerned if a motivated Iraqi corps is poised to sieze all its roads back to Kuwait; mere pressure from bypassed forces is the norm for mobile operations.

(My 'somewhat' in the sentence above reflects the fact that the coalition prefers to engage Iraqi forces in the desert rather than in cities, and exposing apparent weakness is one way of persuading them to go there. It's clear that they intended the U.S 4th Divison to be there at the start; Turkey's non-cooperation is why it is not yet on the front line. As regards the extra forces coming from the U.S., we will doubtless learn after the war what the truth is between the general's explicit "always part of the plan" and the media's implicit "they were not merely hoping for but actually relying on less resistance".)

I am struck by the way that war, always the province of rumour, is made more so by continuous reporting so that more media attention actually tells us less.

"Turkey has invaded northern Iraq - no they haven't - 40,000 Turkish troops are in Northern Iraq - no they're just in the border zone - no, it's only 1,500 Turkish troops and they were there all along - ... ."

"We hold Basra - no, we've stopped near Basra - no, we've isolated Basra - there's an uprising in Basra - no, the regime is killing people in Basra - no, there's an uprising in northern Basra - no, people are fleeing Basra ..."

I sometimes feel that a short summary at the end of each day would tell us more. It's quite understandable that reporters encounter many rumours; what they need to do is spend more time checking them out and less rushing to tell us. The news has always had this vice but it used to work on a daily basis. The war has given us a chance to see what news on an hourly basis is like. This relates to another effect. When you're told to talk about the war for hours every day and only a finite amount happens in a day, you tend to exhaust rational remarks and reasonable questions and, after doing all you can with repetition of the obvious, must ask unreasonable questions and explore less likely contingencies. In this mental state, prejudices are apt to come more to the surface as the commentator's mind searches for something else to say.

I was struck by the way that coverage of the suspected Iraqi murder of two British prisoners spent most of its time discussing the British government's failure to inform the families of this suspicion before announcing it and little (none that I saw on the day the story broke) on the Iraqi government's failure to discipline its troops that makes such an incident likely.

That is not to say that the secondary issue is not important or does not deserve coverage and rectification. I don't know whether Tony's mentioning of the suspicion before the families were told was desire for swift PR (culpable) or merely error, e.g. he was told 'the families have been informed of their deaths' and failed to realise that an old army tradition (dating back to WWI at least) is always to imply a clean quick death (e.g. the Canadian sergeant bayonetted to a door by German's in 1915 whose family were only told the facts much later by private initiative, although it too got into the public domain earlier).

But the ratio of coverage of this compared to coverage of the primary issue was more than odd. I was reminded of the way that coverage of the HMG report on Iraqi methods of fooling UN inspectors spent disproportionate time on its failure to credit a US academic whose work it used.

Comparison with the 1991 Gulf war is interesting, albeit tricky in details. It lasted 5 weeks or three days depending how you count, which makes it hard to say whether this one is going quickly or slowly. In 1991, Saddam held back his republican guard forces for a final showdown with his own people (just as Stalin did in WWII) and left conscripts in Kuwait, all of whom knew they had somewhere to run to (Iraq). Now we encounter republican guard formations who have, in a sense, nowhere to run.

What most frustrates me about the coverage is that they don't seem to have enough understanding to ask the questions of interest. So far (with sensible exceptions, e.g. a BBC reporter on the ground last night who noted that while each casualty was tragic for the family involved, the overall numbers were in military terms slight), they have described as a campaign with battles what seems to me to have been mostly an advance to contact with skirmishes. With the partial exceptions of the Medina Divison at Nasiryah and the swiftly-destroyed column from Basra, the Iraqi forces described in fighting seem to be small - a hundred here, a thousand there, and likewise with casualties. Instead of talking them up (phrases like "fierce fighting"), they should be talking them down and asking "Where is the main body of the enemy?". [My ten year old daughter's] remark "But in World War II, hundreds died every hour" shows more grasp than much I hear.

Take a moment to re-read one particular paragraph from the article above that does describe very well the processes that have led some journalists and commentators who are not usually so flighty into unwontedly foolish pronouncements during the last week:
When you're told to talk about the war for hours every day and only a finite amount happens in a day, you tend to exhaust rational remarks and reasonable questions and, after doing all you can with repetition of the obvious, must ask unreasonable questions and explore less likely contingencies. In this mental state, prejudices are apt to come more to the surface as the commentator's mind searches for something else to say.

Emphasis mine. Before signing off, A.R.C. added a word about an oddly appropriate juxtaposition of words that he hit upon by accident:

BTW, I tried to type Medina and found I had typed Media - the Media division of Saddam's Republican Guard. :-)

Friday, March 28, 2003
Six year old expelled after reign of terror. This sort of thing is ineradicable from state education. It comes from the obligation to pretend to educate every child, whatever the real harm done to other children such as the rest of the class in this disturbing story. Some children should be abandoned by the education system.

I take a certain angry pleasure from writing things like that. What usually happens is that people make hesitant criticisms of the cult of "inclusivity" or of "no fault" programmes that purport to deal with bullying and then a representative of The Blob lashes out and says, "Ooooh, riiiight, you are willing to just abandon children, are you, just do nothing for the most vulnerable members of society?" and the wimps backtrack. So I might as well short-circuit the outrage. Yup. Abandon them. You think that's unethical? You educate them, then: I'm not stopping you.

In fact, while you're at it, why not make a profit doing it? Earlier I was thinking about private education for children who are thick through no fault of their own. There ought also to be a large and growing market for private education for difficult and indeed outright psychopathic children. Perhaps there already is: a surprising number of special schools are wholly or partly fee paying.

But, just to make things clear, if a child is so vicious that no one is willing to take him on whatever the fee, then yes, he should just not be educated. Abandoned by the system.

Test. Test. Oh flip, this is really annoying. I've been trying to put in a very funny image. It's proved beyond me, and either for that or for some other reason, I am having trouble publishing.


An inquiry says that Zimbabwe land seizures were marked by brutality and corruption. "This they call news?" I said, at first. But the surprising thing is that the inquiry seems to have been carried out by one part of the Zimbabwean government.

Thursday, March 27, 2003
No arrests were made. Rioting, vandalism, theft, assault all caught on camera - but no one seems interested. Guess why.

LATER: I forgot to say when I put this post up that I do admire the principled stand made by those anti-war people in Barcelona. As John says, it is the only decent thing about what happened.

Me and a Babelfish had some fun over at Biased BBC.

Parachutes? Just the other day I explained to my daughter how they had no place in modern war, hadn't been used since Suez, response to logistical challenges unique to era between invention of aeroplane and that of helicopter, blah blah. I have failed as a parent. Little remains for me now but to eat a peanut butter sandwich.

No wonder that Adam Swift article in the Guardian I posted about earlier was so logical (but still wrong.) Apparently Swift is widely known in the field of political theory. My late father, well-respected in the family lawyer line, was once introduced at a party to another chap with some words from his hostess along the lines of "Come and talk to Tom, he's in the law too." He was always rather relieved that he didn't take the opportunity to sound off as Tom turned out to be Lord Denning.

Some legal bigwig like that, anyway, and I'm sounding more like Bertie Wooster every day. The point being that Chris Bertram certifies that Swift is the biz though adding, with Jeevesian hauteur, that his opus is "aimed at a somewhat broader audience."

This line of thought, such as it is, was kicked off by a post in Political Theory, a heavyweight new blog about rabbits, sunspots and traction engines of the early twentieth century.

Common Sense and Wonder expresses both while asking why it took so long to figure out "kids that learn in English are much more proficient in English."

Wednesday, March 26, 2003
Saddam's forces fire on queue of Iraqis seeking food aid. If you get the main Sky page rather than the individual link, scroll down to the eighth item shown and click to read the whole story. (Pointed out by reader "Rich" who speculates that we won't hear much more about it: "I don't believe that the Beeb would suppress or even dismiss this story, I just think it doesn't fit with the tone of the news bulletin I'm watching right now and so won't get mentioned.")

Saddam Fan Gets Clue? Ceefax is reporting that a man from Manchester who went off to fight for Saddam has given himself up to the Irish Guards, saying he wants to go home. Ceefax attributes the story to the Scottish Daily Record.

I have my doubts about this story. For one thing I can't find it on the Daily Record website. For another I would have expected the army to put the guy on TV double quick; his surrender might persuade others to do the same, and would be good PR generally.

Still, the story may be true. If it is, then the man might just now be waking up to the fact that it is still treason to bear arms for the Queen's enemies whether or not you have fired those arms. I would, however, soften the penalty quite a bit in recognition of his surrender.

UPDATE: So much for my deductive genius: now Sky has the same story. It adds that the captive taunted the Irish Guards with the thought that he would be back home receiving social security benefits before they were. Given the well-known phenomenon of the "welfare terrorist" he might have grounds for thinking so. Maybe we shouldn't soften the treason penalty after all.

Samizdata's back.

It's private education breastbeating day at the W...indy today as well. Philip Henscher said private education was for thickies, many outraged, this column written from Westminster School results.

Henscher and his attackers miss the point. Why shouldn't private education be aimed at thickies - not just the Timothy Nice But Dims of this world but at those who really, tragically are way below average mentally? They need it more.

Just in case any readers were in tears over my poverty, I would like to say that a kind donor hit the tips jar most generously over the weekend. Thank you.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Not to mention unto you Guardian-reading parents who send your offspring to the private schools you think should not exist. But the charitable Adam Swift argues such people are not necessarily hypocrites.

A startling argument. I am tempted to say, "I refute it thus!" and kick Michael Moore in the leg, but he isn't available.

Another reason for keeping my twitching Doc Martens under control is that Swift does make some very logical points. I might make some use of them myself, seeing as I am the mirror image of his rich socialists, a poverty stricken enthusiast for capitalism. I send my children to a state school funded by extortion - that's "taxes" to the non-libertarians among you. Even if I could afford the money for any of the fee paying schools in the area or the time to home educate I would still send my kids to their present school because they like it most of the time and we can walk there. It would be nice if our village school were once again funded by voluntary contributions, but that's not likely to happen for decades.

Oops. You know I just mentioned "affording the time"? That's reminded me that I can't afford to spend much more time at this today. I had wanted to say more about why it is factually wrong to say that the existence of private schools makes state schools worse (quite the contrary) and to track down some very cutting remarks of Milton Friedman's concerning redistributive socialists who hold their riches in trust for the masses while awaiting the Glorious Day. Instead I'm going to cut straight to the climax. When it comes to judging those who want to ban private schools their frequent hypocrisy is a side issue. What I condemn them for is their support of tyranny. Allowing only state schools is as bad as allowing only state newspapers. The temporary and conditional authority of any parent or school over any child is susceptible to abuse. Yet these arrogant people plot to control every child in the country and kill off the very possibility of experiences of education other than the one they favour. How dare they.

The war, in the unlikely event that anyone comes to this site as their first source of news, is going worse than I hoped and better than I feared. I'm worn out from talking about it. Perhaps I should have taken a hint from the lesson last Sunday:
Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?

(1 Corinthians 1:20)

Tuesday, March 25, 2003
Uprising reported in Basra.

Blair gets Big Brother Award. Saint abroad, devil at home.

Transport blog is on a roll. What else would it be on?


Glad I'm not the only one. Bigwig is a news solipsist too. Or he would be, if he existed. Here's what I imagine him saying: I tried to affect the course of the war by sucking down ever larger portions of the information ocean, much I used to try and affect a Carolina free throw by holding a cigarette in my left hand.

I stopped smoking, and the Carolina basketball program collapsed. I go to bed early one night, and the next day's news is full of casualty counts and captured American soldiers.

The universe really starts going to pot when I go on holiday. Be assured (in so far as you can, figments) that this time I am not going anywhere. My hand is firm upon the tiller.

Monday, March 24, 2003
How to make friends and influence people. It's been a bad day for a bunch of Swedish celebs, who thought they were getting paid around 300 pounds to put their names to a pro-Euro article by an organization called "Foundation Yes to Europe" - certainly a nice little earner for a minute's work. The story implies that the recipients were under the impression that their payments were to be secret. Boy, were they wrong about that.

A Wallop in the wrong place? Soldiers of the Black Watch found British-manufactured military equipment in a captured arsenal, according to The Scotsman. Wallop Defence Industries (NB: that name is for real - the company is named after Middle Wallop in Hampshire) are best known for making anti-missile decoys. It's not necessarily their fault that their stuff turns up stockpiled for use against British soldiers, among others. But there is going to be a difficult paragraph or two to write in their Annual Report.

The Guardian has discovered Salam Pax.

ADDED LATER: Concerns have been raised that all this publicity may place him in a dangerous position. It is almost certainly absurd to suppose that my few hundred hits will make any difference, but I have nonetheless removed the link.

Whether you are pro- or anti- gun control Ain't No Bad Dude has spotted an important story. The NAACP are bringing a case against gun manufacturers that centres on whether dealers knew that some of their guns were going to criminals but hushed it up. A gun-industry whistleblower is going to testify for the NAACP.

The post below, about Robert Fisk, is hilarious.

The curtain falls. Jim Bennett writes on the end of the tranzi illusion.

Almost in passing, Bennett makes an important point about the way too broad a tent tends to sag:

It's worth considering, however, that exactly these features of the first Gulf War [i.e. the features that "world opinion" liked, such as a very broad coalition] contributed to the need for its successor. In particular, the fatal pause before Baghdad and the survival of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein were to some degree the result of the broadness of the coalition, some of whose members preferred a strong leader in Iraq because of fear of its fragmentation.

I've started Napoleon and Wellington by Andrew Roberts, a study of the two leaders' attitudes to each other. I came across a painfully apposite quote from Wellington which just cried out to be a Samizdata quote of the day. So it is one.

Peter Cuthbertson's Conservative Commentary has left Blogspot and can now be found at And if you want to test out whether his permalinks work, this one about the consequences of appeasement for the future of Israel would be a good place to start.

It's getting tougher. Most of the stories I saw on Fox News when I checked the headlines a minute ago were pretty grim; a stray missile hit a bus in Syria killing five, US prisoners paraded on Iraqi TV, a faked surrender disguising an ambush that killed nine.

The whole thing still wouldn't add up to a dull hour in Word War II though. Please don't think that I wish the most dreadful conflict in history to be my habitual standard for judging human affairs - but we should be aware that our little patch of space and time is so safe compared to other places and other times that our hopes and fears are absurdly swung by minor fluctuations of fortune.

By "our" hopes and fears I mean my hopes and fears. My husband is much cooler about it, presumably the result of studying military history. He calmly observed this morning - referring to Iraqis treacherously slipping out of uniform and then continuing to fight - that "it does show the usefulness of a militia."

Saturday, March 22, 2003
Two interesting posts from Tim Blair. In one a former human shield has his eyes opened and in another Pilger shows his are still tight shut. He's taken to yelling insults at his fellow journalists now, an astonishingly bad career move. The Nee Naw Nee Naw Nee Naw you hear in the distance is the sound of the padded van from the funny farm approaching.

Nastier. A suicide bomber has killed four, three Kurdish fighters and a journalist, near Halabja. Presumably that is the same Halabja where Saddam's chemical weapons killed thousands. It happened in an area controlled by Islamists, though whether the bomber was one of them or acting against them is unknown.

Nasty. Anti-war protesters tried to trash Rumsfeld's home in New Mexico. It's one of several places he owns, which I suppose very slightly softens the nastiness of the act. I say this not because I think it bad to have several homes but because the sense of violation will be less. Police and neighbours stopped them doing worse than they did. The account speaks of "children's clothes" being scattered about the land. I don't know whether this refers to clothing belonging Rumsfeld's own children (I don't know if he has any, come to that, but surely they'd be older) or whether the protesters brought along their own in order to make some sort of reference to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children they all seem to believe have been/ will be killed by the bombing of Baghdad.

I do know that this is the sort of protest that is sometimes called "imaginative" but which actually shows an inability to imagine how those outside their own mindset will see it.

Turkish troops have entered Iraq, saying that they wish to secure Turkey against terrorism and prevent a flood of refugees. Couldn't you do that from your side of the border, guys?

However, there seems to be no actual fighting between them and the Kurds. This situation bears watching.

I had never before realised how ignorant I was of certain basic facts about the rest of the world. This morning, for instance, I learn that faraway Knoxville has green sky at night. And we all know now that Iraq at night has not only green sky but permanent fog. Wonders of nature, indeed.

Us in Essex don't have that there stripe across the the top of the world with writing on, neither. We be simple folk.

Baghdad in flames, Iraqi division surrenders says - well Agence France-Presse really, according to a discreet AFP next to the dateline, but don't hold it against them.

The bombardment of Baghdahd still seems far from general to me, which is good for the people there. The big news is the negotiated and orderly surrender of the division. That tells us that the lines are open between our forces and theirs. Good for everybody.

I worry about the families of that division's commanders, as the Iraqi authorities must know where to find them. Let us hope that the agents of Saddam's regime are too disheartened - or too aware that their own turn may be next - to take any revenge on them.

Friday, March 21, 2003
Polly Toynbee writes in today's Guardian:
The irony is that this topic has for the first time truly galvanised a popular European identity. As Europeans pour out in their millions on demonstrations, there is a worthwhile common purpose - not dreary directives, but a sense of Europeanness. It is an identity built on deep difference from Bush's America.
Yes. It is. And what a piss-poor basis for an identity that is. Excuse the vulgarity, but that's what it makes me think of. Think of France - our ancient enemy, its history entwined with ours - as like old, strong wine; rich, heady, the incomparable product of centuries of tradition, managing to combine a springlike pleasure in life with a hint of world-weary cynicism. What does that make an identity built on (built on for heaven's sake?) deep difference from one particular man heading one particular government in a foreign country that the populace happen, rather ignorantly, to dislike at the moment? Something like brackish water from a rusty old cistern - no make that a plasticcy new cistern - that you think might have something nasty leaking into it somehow, only you'd rather not know, thank you.

Any identity built on hostility to others can change the object of its hostility as easily as a man changes his coat.

During the Falklands war I would rush downstairs every morning to check Ceefax. My first thought would be, please don't let any ships have been sunk in the night. I knew that men could die in large packets that way, and it was only the unceasing defensive efforts of the Navy and the RAF that stopped even more of Lami Dozo's determined attacks from getting through. It is - or was - just about possible that our ships could go down in this war, too. Fortunately with the capture of Umm Qasr the chances of that happening seem remote.

Alas for my hopes in the post below. Eight Royal Marines and four US crewmen were killed in a helicopter crash overnight.

As was the case when fighting Iraq eleven years ago, enemy fire seems to be a lesser threat than the haste and confusion inevitable in war.

Thursday, March 20, 2003
How I wish I could arrange things so that only bad men would die in Iraq and Kuwait tonight.

Ten years ago today two IRA bombs exploded without warning among shoppers in Warrington. Two children were killed, Jonathan Ball instantly and Tim Parry after unsuccessful attempts to save his life in hospital. Jonathan Ball was twelve and Tim Parry was three years old.

Janes' wizardry for news junkies. Updates every fifteen minutes.

Harry has a steele-tipped post about the Liberal Democrats.
So we really shouldn't be surprised at this sudden alliance of the Lib Dems with the far left. The truth is that the anti-war movement is a largely southern middle class movement - it is the natural home for both Trots and Lib Dems.

Both factions contain people unable to take tough, difficult discussions, people who are never able to translate their much vaunted 'internationalism' into any form of concrete action, people who never actually have to take responsibility for anything other than trying to block any meaningful reform of the public services they are paid by the working people of this country to deliver.

I don't use the phrase 'Guardian-readers' lightly and I shall not do so here.

BTW I assume Peter Cuthbertson is well able to fight his own corner. Once again I am plagued by "Internet Explorer Script Freaking Error" when I try to visit his site so I can't tell how he's doing it. Why don't they change the script?

Telic like it is. "Operation Iraqi Freedom", eh? We are to take it, I suppose, that that name just pipped the post ahead of Operation Saddamayaface and Operation Scrag The Towelheads?

I believe the Yanks do this just to annoy the hacks. It's an awkward spot for your average BBC reporter who has been sternly instructed by his boss not to let warmongering assumptions take control of the semantic dialogue yet still has to say the disgustingly unsophisticated words Iraqi Freedom so that the listeners will have some idea of what General Franks is talking about. The best our reporter can do in these difficult circumstances is to roll his eyes ironically and waggle his lips while trying to pronounce quote marks.

The proper British operation name, dear friends, picked from a list of randomly chosen words in a professional military manner, is Operation Telic. It does not matter in the slightest that "telic" means "expressing purpose", nor that is the antonym of the word "ecbatic", nor that it turned up on this blog only days ago....

Good Lord, so it did. It's the Telegraph crossword of May 2nd 1944 all over again. I expect MI5 will come calling any day now.

Don't mention the J-word. Over at Biased BBC you can read a disturbing letter from Sally Foster, who noticed a curious omission from a CBBC newsround report.

'Attack Illegal, Experts Say.' The experts were a bunch of Canadian law professors and, wait for it, "a member of the Liberal government caucus." Do you think we ought to tell somebody?

The freedom of the seas. 'Mike', a reader of USS Clueless, argues in an e-mail to that blog that the US and its allies are maritime powers; its enemies and the fainthearts are continental land powers.

Steven Den Beste himself adds something about the reasons why maritime powers tend to be liberal:

Nations which rely on navies usually build them to support and defend world trade; it represents a fundamentally different attitude about the world.

As it happened we were talking about maritime powers in the car last night, a friend having observed that Holland, a country that is usually lumped in with Belgium politically, is surprisingly supportive of the present war. Holland certainly fits the profile of a politically liberal maritime power. (It still has a respectable navy.)

In fact my recollections of that stage of our in-car conversation and a conversation between me and my husband this morning have now become entwined with Den Beste's post. The thoughts that follow run in a wobbly but approximate parallel course with it, banging against it here and there rather than responding to it directly.

On picking your battles with care: my husband commented that a great maritime power can only choose its battles when confronted with a minor adversary. When faced with a great land power a maritime power can only triumph *in war* either in coalition with another land power (e.g. Britain in coalition with Russia in 1812, or the coalition between Britain, the US and the USSR in 1945) or by transforming itself into a great land power (Britain 1916-1918, USA in mid 1940s). If you want to defeat millions of men on the Western Front, it has to be by means of millions of men on the Western Front. You can't get round it. (The Bomber Command offensive can be seen as a way of trying to get round that iron law - but was in itself a mass offensive. Although it had some successes it should never be forgotten that the bombers had a comparable officer/NCO casualty rate to that of the Battle of the Somme, and the lack of those educated men did similar harm to the rebuilding of the country - and in the end the war still had to be won on the ground.) As John Terraine pointed out, if you are going to triumph, you must find a way of defeating the main body of the enemy's strength.

However the conflict need not always be carried out in blood. The West was able to triumph against the "mass" of the USSR in a flood of computers, grain, and Hollywood movies. In a sense we were bringing battle to the main body of Soviet strength. Communism was meant to feed the people, bring about technological development and release the creative energies of the people. That was what it was for. And here was the capitalist enemy doing all that better: a long, slow bombardment of the spirit.

In all that talk of economies, Den Beste's post comes back into the story. He writes:

These wars for global dominance had a strong financial element. As I mentioned already, maritime nations have used their navies to protect the economic systems on which their power rests while attacking the land-based nation's economy. The United States has already adopted this strategy. The administration actively destroying our enemy's financial system by freezing bank accounts, putting Islamic "charities" out of business and prosecuting known financial supporters to terrorist groups. At the same time you could argue that the slow pace of the war has more to do with preventing the severe dislocations to our economy which could be produced by a faster-paced war.

I'd argue that the economic war against Islamofascism has to be more than that, and will be more than that, almost unconsciously. The strategies above are like the incursions into France during the Napoleonic wars: useful demonstrations of ability to project force, but they won't bring the enemy down. The correct strategy has to be somehow matched better to what we are fighting; dispersed, soaking in, ineradicable. Obviously the main weapon is freedom, including freedom to trade, just as it always was.

That's why it worries me that so much of our government strategy on economic war is "continental" (that is, centrally planned and information-controlling, the various attempts to control the internet being the prime example.) I wish we had something more like halawa - and they didn't.

Wake up, you slacker! Don't you know there's a war on?

"Be dead, be dead, be dead." Silflay Hraka was in "robot wisdom mode" as the war began - virtually circling the globe, picking up information and rebroadcasting it. And sending out thought-waves to Saddam, hence the headline to this post.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003
Anyone remember Protect and Survive? This is funnier.

Zimbabwe's general strike enters its second day, with a certain amount of violence that sounds more like terrorism than resistance to tyranny.

Sorry for lack of posts today. I have been firing vast quantities of high powered ammo and quite forgot about the war.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003
Just saw the vote on the no-war amendment. 217 rebels. Bit up on the previous rebellion, but Tony lives another day. While we're waiting for the vote on the actual government motion, can I reassure you that Our Boys will go to war with some delicious sort of ginger-cum-Garibaldi biscuits in their rations. I have been sampling a 24-hour rat pack for various obscure reasons. It's a vegetarian one. Vegetarian military rations. They didn't have that option when I was in the OTC, I can tell you. You wanted to be a veggie baby-killing tool of the hegemonic forces of world capital in those in those days, you just had to be a hungry veggie baby-killing tool of the hegemonic forces of world capital and put up with it.

The hour finds the man. Dave Farrell writes:
I don't think I admire Clare Short so much as feel a bit sorry for her for acting silly and then getting a second chance and having to try to put a good face on it all. Is it my imagination or did the fearsome Ms Short look a bit tremulous and tearstained after making up with Tony? I daresay you will roast me as a sexist boor, but there, I've said it.

I do admire Blair, a politician who had always made me uneasy -- because he seemed glib and facile and oversincere -- for completely confounding me today by making one of the most magnificent speeches in defence of freedom and against tyranny the House can have heard since the second world war.

It was an impossible act to follow, and the sallies of his foes were made to sound childish and petulant and unworthy. With the honourable exception of John Denham, who made a simple and dignified statement of his position entirely lacking in self-aggrandisement.

Blair has proven the man of the hour; he now has the honed and steely look of a man who will not flinch when required to put his hand in the fire. And I am not a Labourite.

The speech does seem to have made an impact. Earlier in the afternoon I walked round to pick up my son from the house of the friend he had been visiting. It's been a fine day and many windows were open. I heard something I don't think I have ever heard before. From the house I was visiting and from several other sources came Tony Blair's voice speaking at length: multiple radios or TVs were tuned into the debate. I know from blogging that Americans (at least political ones) will make time to hear the president speak live. But over here that sort of collective interest is hardly ever aroused by anything other than sport.

What to do if this blog upsets you. Childrens' BBC has advice for worried kiddies, cabinet ministers etc who can't sleep for fear of the news. But what to do about those awful blogs?
Lots of blogs are upsetting and at times can be quite frightening, particularly the way bloggers spell.

Auntie Nat has spoken to the Uranian space angels who regularly give her guidance and put together tips for the modern child about what you should do if something you've seen or heard in the blogosphere is worrying you or giving you nightmares.

  • Always check the facts if you read a nasty post - it might not be true or it could be exaggerated, or even written by a Republican!
  • Remember that things on the internet are often put on the internet because the people who write them don't get out very often and have no other outlet for their bizarre fantasies.
  • Discuss the news with your friends or chat about it on a message board. You'll be reassured that you're not the only one worried. You will know that the consensus of informed opinion is that, yes, you, your family and your household pets are indeed about to die writhing in a plague-induced mass of suppurating sores but at least you are a normal teenager.
  • You could also talk to your teacher about it - maybe you could have a class discussion which would help you understand the issue better. And she will put you on the at-risk register so you will know that you are safe.

    If you're having nightmares or trouble sleeping because of something you've heard in the news:

  • Damn straight you should have sold your shares in Total Fina Elf. I'm sorry, there's not much I can do about this one. Your broker has already committed suicide.
  • Tell your mum or dad - reassurance from them will make you feel much better, as all proper children love to see their parents squirm while repeating fatuous clichés in a tone of barely concealed disgust that any child of theirs could be such a wimp.
  • Try talking about your nightmare or even drawing it. This will help you to confront your fear, and might make you a bob or two from the Tate Modern besides. Best not be too explicit about exactly why you see Uday Hussein as a voracious female spider, though, as some surprisingly Victorian clauses of the Mental Health Act are still in force.
  • Surround yourself with things that make you feel secure at night - even if it is your old teddy bear that you keep hidden from your mates! Dad's whisky bottle also has a certain traditional appeal. (Don't let Teddy try any, he's too little.)
  • Try to balance the blogs you read. If you read a scary or overstimulating blog then try and read a happy one before you go to bed.

Clare Short has saved Tony Blair's bacon by not resigning in circumstances where she had quite clearly said she would. Unlike the BBC's Nick Assinder, who seems disappointed in love, I don't know whether to admire her or not - but she's certainly taken the wind out of the sails of a lot of her former admirers.

Blair himself gave out a veiled threat to resign if the House didn't support him. I don't know whether to admire that or not either.

Oh dear. The world is no doubt anxiously awaiting word as to what other things I might not know whether to admire. "Natalie Solent", your one-stop dithering blog. Come here for all your indecisiveness needs! The one thing I do know is that it's nice to see Parliament mattering again.

Agur. Captain Heinrichs writes:
The words of Agur the son of Jakeh, even the prophecy: the man spake unto Ithiel, even unto Ithiel and Ucal...

And so it was.

When is it allowable to sail under false colours? Pro-war in Manhattan, Jane Galt is lonely.

I've been there. The chap who fixes my washing machine arrives promptly, fixes it mightily and charges littly. So I said "uh-huh" and "do you think so?" a lot when he was saying that Tony Blair should not "get us into war." Actually, it was a bit more complicated than that. His opinions were by no means unreasonable, nor were they expressed agressively, and in other circumstances I would have been willing to argue. As usual there were other factors in play: I was working to a deadline and just didn't have time or mental energy to establish my and his starting points adequately, let alone to take the argument through all the twists and turns. Add that to the potential high cost of getting into a row - namely, that I might have to track down another repairman as good - and it just wasn't worthwhile. Besides, I dislike verbal debates unless I know my interlocutor and am confident that he or she won't get angry. I am too much swung by emotion face to face, and have a tendency to conciliate and conciliate and then suddenly get irritated and strike like a viper.

Anyway, I'm saving it up for you guys. Pity to waste good viper venom on an audience of one.

(Link via Instapundit.)

Monday, March 17, 2003
Iraqis in the US are seen as an asset in preventing terrorism.

So Robin Cook has decided on a point of principle to stop putting his money in the great parking meter of government.

I shall always retain a certain fondness for Cookie, even if his ex-wife doesn't. Before he came along there really, truly, seriously were people who believed that New Labour MPs didn't do that sort of thing.

And talking of things theological... Moira Breen asks a question about what to do next now that eleven men and seven women have taken the sins of the world upon their shoulders, at least according to Kofi Annan, who clearly fancies himself as a prophet.

Talking of people believing rubbish, Steven Chapman had a debate with a Pakistani work colleague. An intelligent and educated man, he believed every 9/11 conspiracy theory in the book. Steven comments:
But it left me seriously worried that if he represents an educated person from a Muslim country, what must a comparatively uneducated person believe? I toyed with the idea of suggesting that the fabrications he believed in were peddled by the governments of Muslim countries in and around the Middle East as a means of diverting their people's attention and blame away from their own governments' failures, but decided very quickly that he really wasn't ready for anything quite as radical as that.
I am afraid that this man's views probably are fairly common. Years ago my sister got talking with the nice young Arab chap who had the room above hers at university. It emerged that he had no conception of how big the Holocaust was - oh, he knew that there had been some sort of pogrom carried out by Hitler, but he equated it in his mind with the minor (minor to all but their victims, I mean) pogroms that had happened quite recently in the history of his own country.

Sunday, March 16, 2003
That Mel Gibson film keeps turning up. Being generally uncool I had never heard of it until a few days ago. Then I read and commented on this post by Susanna Cornett. My interest in the post, however, centred not on the film but on the issues of theology and Jewish/Christian relations that it threw up. Then just now I came across this rather more disturbing take on the project from Michael Jennings.

So Mel Gibson's father is a nutjob. Holocaust denial, 9/11 conspiracy theories, you name your poison and Hutton Gibson drank it first. But as Mr Jennings points out, it would be unfair to assume Mel necessarily shares the views of his father. Although he does seem a bit .... hmmmmm. I don't really know enough to comment. (I suppose it would be trivialising the issue to say at this point that his anti-English bias has become rather a bore? Yes it would, and it would trivialise the issue even more to say that I don't see that he is so good looking as all that, actually.)

Pity. A film like this could have been wonderful. A Christian devotional film in two dead languages is so utterly contrary to the spirit of the age that I could wish it well on those grounds alone. Let's hope those aren't the only good things about it.

Succous and eximious letters, reflecting the sedulous study habits of my readers. Captain Heinrichs writes:
Being obtuse, I was taken aback by your unfamiliarity with 'cotillion' and 'terpsichorean'. The latter, I confess, is indoubtably limited to persons enamoured with viewing acrobatic feats performed by slender females (and males) clad in scanty or form-fitting garments with appropriate musical support. Others (ie, me) have learned of it while practicing for lucrative quiz shows.

As for the former, I am caught in stays; the word is used in the title of a novel by Georgette Heyer, and refers to the 'terpsichorean' complexities of social behavior in post-Regency England.

Dave Farrell writes:
How much more curious and quixotic than a radio station broadcasting in Latin is Mel Gibson's extraordinary decision to make a film about the life and death of Christ in Aramaic (I think with subtitles). Aramaic is far more deceased than Latin, as far as I know.

Apropos your list of words: logomachy is a war of words; alas, logomarchy is an incorrect spelling, however felicitous.

And I wrote "logomarchy" twice, so no claiming it was just a typo. Oh, the shaem, the shaem. Mr Farrell continues:

Cotillion is a dance, terpsichorean is still frequently used to refer to to the dance arts.

As for ecbatic, Webster's says:

Ec*bat"ic (?), a. [See Ecbasis.] (Gram.) Denoting a mere result or consequence, as distinguished from telic, which denotes intention or purpose; thus the phrase , if rendered so that it was fulfilled," is ecbatic; if rendered in order that it might be." etc., is telic.

Agur may be a misspelling, but it appears to be used in or for paragliding. I am not sure of its origin but Google turned up a Christian "Webbible" which says it means gatherer or collector and was someone's name (it certainly seems to be Middle Eastern in source). We're back to Mel Gibson again ...

I myself had found ecbatic in the Oxford English Dictionary. I also found out that succous means "juicy; possessing juice or sap" and that 'glay' is listed both as a variant of glaive which meant (at different periods) a type of sword, a type of lance and a type of halberd and also as an obs variant of "glee."

Still no glay on 'oreeses' though.

Saturday, March 15, 2003
Coffee is. What I was actually looking for when I found the list below... er, That for which I was actually looking... hey, whatever... was the website relating to new Latin words for stuff the Romans didn't have. I had solemnly believed that this was done by a conclave of cardinals. Not quite. According to Straight Dope it is overseen by the Vatican, but the actual work is done by one Carolus Egger who has produced a Latin-Italian dictionary of neologisms, Lexicon recentis Latinitatis. Alas, I couldn't find it online.

Oh, and I'll explain the title to this post when I'm good and ready.

(Talking of that Straight Dope article, isn't the idea of the Finnish radio station broadcasting in Latin fun? Let no one say the Finns are Icelanders without the sense of humour. Other common Finnish pastimes include motor rallying at high speed through dense forest and beating each other with birch trees after running naked through the snow to and from the sauna. And at this point let's try not to make a joke about the long winter nights, shall we? All letters from outraged Finns will be published if in correct Latin.)

Let logomarchy commence! A lady caled Elisa Martinez has, since high school, kept up this list of new and unusual words that came her way. 'Commination', 'cotillion', 'eleemosynary', 'eximious', 'intarsia', 'transudation' and 'terpsichorean' were completely new to me. 'Fiacre', 'nescience', 'sedulous' and 'strophe' were all words I had seen used somewhere but had forgotten. 'Calcimine' I would have recognized, but not its alternative spelling 'kalsomine'. My understanding of 'mulct' was incomplete and my understanding of 'cynosure' plain wrong. Given the context I might have been able to guess 'parhelion', and 'tramontane' - and as for 'logomarchy', that was a case of love and understanding at first sight.

The rest I knew, sometimes a little fuzzily.

Looking at the words for which she seeks definitions, 'agurs' seems likely to be an alternative or mistaken spelling of 'augurs' and isn't 'oreeses' something to do with Greek mythology? I'm going to look up 'ecbatic', 'glays', 'oreeses' and 'succous' in the Oxford dictionary-that-came-with-the-magnifying glass.

Friday, March 14, 2003
Radley Balko writes on what US college students find when they scrutinize the small print of their tuition bills. Somewhere near the bottom is a box already ticked to save them the labour of stating that they wish to contribute to the mysterious MOPIRG....

Eh, takes me back that does! When I were a lass the National Union of Students used to run that scam, or something like it. Anyone know if they still do?

Thursday, March 13, 2003
Don't wait around - read this. Brad deLong's post on buying places in a queue, together with its very erudite comments, is sure to become an instant classic. It'll be quoted in an economics textbook next year but YOU have the chance to go to the head of the queue and read it now. (Via, and inspired by, Junius)

Well, it makes a change from the UN doesn't it?

The Scotsman reports approvingly on a clutch of new EU laws. Among other effects,
"The new laws will also force older children under 4ft 11in to use booster seats to protect them from injuries from the impact of adult belts on the neck and stomach."

I always use a safety belt. So do all my family, and we always used child seats when the children were younger. According to this report there is "95% use of restraints for under-fives." That's good - though I note their use declined last year, which decline I do not hesitate to attribute to a surfeit of propaganda. Still - I must concede that, as wicked statist infringements of our rights go, the existing seat belt laws do seem to actually save quite a few lives. Although I feel I ought to oppose them on libertarian principle, they are waaaay down the List of Objectionable Things.

I start to object a little more strenuously, though, when I consider how big 4 ft 11 inches is. This will mean that children well into their teens are obliged to travel on booster seats. I only have to cast my mind back a few years to remember what a hassle that was if, for instance, a situation arose whereby a toddler was to be delivered to playgroup by the father and taken home by the mother - where was the car seat to be left in the meantime, given that there was not always space to store them? In the nature of things that sort of situation arises much more often with bigger semi-independent children who have a complex network of car-shares and lifts to get them to and from Brownies / football / discos; I predict that the practical requirement to have a clutch of booster seats in every boot or one in every rucksack will prove too much trouble for many people and the law will be widely ignored. It will also make things much more difficult for young families without cars, as they will no longer be able to accept lifts from friends unless, again, there are two or three booster seats provided in advance.

And there is one last oddity about all the reports of this law I have so far seen. A friend pointed it out to me. There is no mention of an upper age limit. As far as I can judge anyone of any age who is under the height of 4ft 11in will have to have a kiddie seat.

I hope we are mistaken and that the new laws do not demand that adult citizens be treated as children. Or it they do demand it, I hope that the lobby groups for "persons of restricted growth" that must undoubtedly exist earn their grants for once and denounce this discrimination.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003
The old cold warrior keeps his weapons bright. I nearly put this one in Biased BBC but decided on balance that it was an example of naivety, not bias, and there ain't no Naive BBC website. Of what do I prattle, you ask? Well, I was listening to the Today programme at 7am this morning and heard whatsisname say that Rumsfeld had said that the US could and would fight the war on its own if need be. This statement was described as "cutting the floor from beneath Tony Blair's feet."

On the contrary. I bet it made Tony Blair's day. It told the vacillating countries, "make all the fuss you want - the result will be the same." Now does that motivate them to oppose the war more strongly or less strongly? Does it motivate them to be nicer or nastier to Tony? ("Poor old chap, he did his best, but these Americans....") During the cold war, deterrence theory demanded that you continually offer proofs that your will was strong. Rumsfeld's character was made in those days. He knew what he was doing.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003
Across the street they've put up a new fence to separate their garden from the path to the little park. It's a very nice fence, with new orange wood. My daughter observed, justly, that it is like the fence in "Children's World" that surrounds the talking tree - a sort of proudly naive epitome of what a fence should be. It is, in a word, a very fency fence.

Yes, my brain will explode soon. James Lileks knows why. He says that "there is simply nothing to write about, because soon there will be everything to write about. We've been sitting at the top of the rollercoaster for about five months now. Today I saw a NEWS ALERT that suggested there might be another UN resolution that would extend inspections another three weeks, and I nearly shed my skin. No, please no."

Monday, March 10, 2003
Analyst at made this day by day prediction of how the war would go on March 5. He got March 7th's entry right, so that's 100% success so far.

Power-blocs, horsetrading and cynicism rule in deciding who gets European votes in a certain international forum. Who knew? There is an interesting post from Björn Stærk about the latest international incident. Don't miss the robust debate in the comments.

AfricaPundit quotes an story on the ongoing tragedy whereby starving people are denied the food aid that might save many lives on the grounds that it is genetically modified and might be bad for them. A group of African scientists have complained "that humanitarian groups such as Oxfam, Christian Aid and Save The Children, backed by EU funds, had frightened African governments into rejecting food aid."

Here's the permalink to that story, but bloggervitis has struck so it presently goes to a post about how Charles Taylor of Liberia is a war criminal, which I knew, and that he supports and trades with Al-Qaeda, which I didn't.

Sadly, the Maltese referendum resulted in a narrow YES vote for EU membership. Public Interest has taken it hard.

UPDATE: that link originally took you to the single word "aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagh" only longer, which linked to an account of the referendum results. Apparently it caused template problems, and had to be deleted. You can still go to the general Public Interest site for more about the result result and how some Maltese feel about it.

Much laughter in the blogosphere about how some Iraqi soldiers launched a pre-emptive surrender. I hope everyone keeps their laughter, though, directed at the incongruousness of the situation rather than at the Iraqi soldiers concerned. Those men were doing the right thing, as did their predecessors ten years ago. Right as in sensible and right as in morally right. There is no honour in fighting to let a tyrant keep his grip on your country, just as there was no honour in fighting to let him keep his grip on another country.

Saturday, March 08, 2003
Pretty good debate between that chap who did the Hitler leadership thing on the telly and another chap. (It's Saturday and I can do Bertie Wooster-type headlines if I want to.) Our chap Andrew Roberts gets the better of it, but not the last word.

Most eerie bits of his programme last night: the series of shots of Hitler smilingly patting kids on the head, interspersed with shots of modern political leaders of every political stripe doing the same, and the film of Saddam Hussein denouncing the "traitors" and roping in his top lieutenants to go outside immediately and shoot their former colleagues.

Going back to the Guardian debate, Roberts dug up this nifty quotation from Aneurin Bevan:

"There is only one motto worse than 'My country, right or wrong' and that is 'The UN, right or wrong'."

Dan Dare is back! Hey you, my one reader on Saturday morning - get to your TV right now.

Just the facts ma'am. David Adesnik of Oxblog has up three consecutive posts detailing his research on potential costs of the Iraq war, famine in Afghanistan and civilian casualties of the war in Afghanistan. It's the culmination of an excellent series of posts. Start here, scroll down, and bookmark.

Friday, March 07, 2003
Please, please let this be for real.

UPDATE: Aagh, there's more. Warning: Do Not Read Alone While Eating Biscuits.

A joke made up just now by yours truly:

Q: What's wrong with A-Levels these days?

A: They discriminate against other letters of the alphabet.

Go on, you know you want it. More about university admissions procedures! Read this post by Frank Sensenbrenner and this one by Iain Murray (the latter including an admissions tutor's view), both to be found at the Edge of England's Sword. Digest what they say and bask in the knowledge that you now know plenty more about the subject than most people. Now you can get back to reading about the war in peace.

Unless you are some sort of insatiable education policy wonk and want to hear my two pennorth on a related issue as well? You do? Cool, let us be weird together. Those sweetie-pies at the Demos think tank have suggested more assessment by teachers as their ideal silicone implant to beef up tired, saggy old assessment by A-Levels. There's a problem with this. It's a little-known fact that teacher assessments explode when the plane hits fifty thousand feet.

No. Not true. Sorry. Carried away by my own metaphor there. I made a little boob and it all blew up on me. The problem with this proposal from Demos is that teachers lie. My own husband, who is more realistic about his profession than most, gets a little shirty when I express myself so bluntly. But if it's acceptable to say "politicians lie" when what you mean is "it is frequently observed that some politicians lie when their interests are at stake, predictable that this phenomenon will continue and desirable that external checks exist to control it", then it's OK to say the same about teachers. A teacher's reputation, her merit pay and sometimes her very job might depend on the children in her charge doing well in exams and some of them, at least, getting into university. (True, the education establishment does all it can to dilute accountability but there are limits to even its power to fudge the facts.) Here's today's story about a teacher fiddling exam results. Another story like it will be along tomorrow. And if tomorrow the powers decree that a favourable teacher assessment is what gets a kid into university then "assessment inflation" will be the stuff of tomorrow's headlines just as "grade inflation" is the stuff of today's.

Of course I'm serious. Mother Shipton said so.
A house of glass shall come to pass

In England, but alas!

War will follow with the work

In the land of the Pagan and Turk

And state and state in fierce strife

Will seek each other's life

But when the North shall divide the South

An eagle shall build in the lion's mouth.
You see Saddam's a pagan, sort of ("secularist" wouldn't scan), the reference to Turkey is obvious, the house of glass is that gherkin shaped building (I nearly said "gherkin shaped erection" but decided against), and then there's the North-South divide, obviously. The eagle in the lion's mouth refers to US airbases in Britain, Lakenheath particularly. Now do you see, you fools!

I was my own 75,000th visitor (New Hit Counter Era) just now. When I reach 80,000 the New Era and the Old Era will be equal and the world will end.

Thursday, March 06, 2003
Laff of the week. Scroll right down to the bottom of this so-so Rod Liddle article to see it. (Warning: moles of a sensitive disposition may be distressed.)

The new Sodom. Peter Briffa is on a mission to reveal the rising tide of depravity in the Bishop's Stortford area. As if the parking situation wasn't bad enough.

What are we going to do about the universities, as they turn to a system of selection by competitive hard luck story? Boycott them says Tom Utley. I have had brewing a long time a long post about this. It has gone into the limbo of eternal preparation, in a way typical of these long-planned Platonic blog posts intended to consummate months of thought. Perhaps that's a good thing. Brian Micklethwait has not lost his power to surprise and has written a doozy of a post that takes all my initial starting points (that completely decentralised entry would be best but that's not going to happen any time soon; that compared to straightforward selection by academic merit these moves towards selection by class are likely to bring about peverse incentives for failure in schools; that there will be chaos and unpredictability in university admissions, a collapse in academic vigour and reputation for the universities, not to mention coronaries for admissions tutors) and comes to a conclusion that turns my worries on their heads. In short he says, "Let 'em go to pot; so much better for the rest of us."

Gosh. I'll have to think about that, as Samson said at Gaza. I can believe that there might be good effects were we to be less obsessed by qualifications. But what about the anti-achievement pressure on the schools in the twenty to thirty years before the good effects work through?

Yet another freakin' duplicate post, now deleted.

More about C P Scott. I had known that he was editor of the Manchester Guardian for some tremendously long time (59 years actually) and that he had said "Comment is free, facts are sacred" and that he had been a kind of Liberal patriarch.

What I hadn't fully taken on board was that he was a great friend and supporter of the early Zionists, as was the next editor, W P Crozier. They don't stress that much these days.

Photon Courier sees the Guardian's casual endorsement of Anne Gwynne's murderous views as being a small breach in the protecting wall of civilisation. He takes the view that the Guardian is capable, as an institution, of bearing some small but definite part of the responsibility for the next Palestinian mass murder. Which came, as it happened, an hour or two after he wrote the post.

But is that view really tenable? Can one seriously say that a newspaper should be seen as being an instrument of morality, and hence institutionally capable of immorality? Or should we stick with reporter Chris McGreal and say that we're all reading way too much into this - from which we can conclude that the headline written by the paper's own subeditors is 'not part of the paper's position' because it can't really have a position that matters?

McGreal would have not have had the agreement of C P Scott, the Guardian's legendary editor. He once wrote

"...But it [a newspaper] is much more than a business; it is an institution; it reflects and it influences the life of a whole community; it may affect even wider destinies. It is, in its way, an instrument of government. It plays on the minds and consciences of men. It may educate, stimulate, assist, or it may do the opposite. It has, therefore, a moral as well as a material existence, and its character and influence are in the main determined by the balance of these two forces."

Stirring stuff. If you want to read more you can find C P Scott's essay as an appendix to a PDF document I have been reading, namely the Guardian's Editorial Code.

Section 1 of the code, "Professional practice" lists alphabetically several areas where questions of ethics might arise. I found this entry ironic (italics mine):

Suicide Journalists are asked to exercise particular care in reporting suicide or issues involving suicide, bearing in mind the risk of encouraging others. This should be borne in mind in presentation, including the use of pictures, and in describing the method of suicide. Any substances should be referred to in general rather than specific terms if possible. When appropriate a helpline number (e.g. 08457 90 90 90) should be given. The feelings of relatives should also be carefully considered.

The part of the code that asks journalists reporting "issues involving suicide" not to encourage imitative suicides clearly went down the pan in the Anne Gwynne story, unless one wishes to argue that the code is vitiated when the suicide is also murder and the victims Israeli. To praise a woman who praises suicide-murder is to encourage the practice.

However there may be a get-out for the clause demanding consideration of the feelings of relatives. I suppose Messrs McGreal, Rusbridger and the unknown author of the "freedom fighter" headline could always argue that, while the code does not specify whose relatives it is talking about, the implication surely is that it is the relatives of the suicide. There is every reason to suppose that they were very happy with the "Welsh pensioner turns freedom fighter" piece. They could certainly argue that the relatives of a suicide's victims, should he also be a murderer, are not covered by the code.

Which is in any case not binding.

Phew! I am sure that is a relief to all concerned. All that matter to the Guardian these days, anyway.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003
Justice for Palestine? Be careful what you wish for.

Reaching across the referrer logs. Someone did a search for sewing blog last night, found mine, and was no doubt disappointed. Alas, it is too late to satisfy that person, but let me tell the rest of you about a really pleasing creation of mine. First you have to know that fur fabric has got awfully convincing recently. The expensive sort has every little hair gradated in colour just like the hairs of a real animal, sometimes with semi-random variations between individual hairs. It is also as soft and feathery as the last minutes of a dream. Anyway I made my daughter a pseudo-sable Cushion of Furriness and it was well received - but that was ages ago and not the subject of my story. The bit that really gladdens a sewer's heart didn't come until just recently when I was rummaging through my sewing cupboard, picked up the three foot by one foot rectangle of leftover fabric, folded it in half lengthwise, sewed it together to make a tube, finished the edges thoroughly (don't skimp on that stage with the feathery type of fur fabric or it'll shed worse than a real cat), turned it inside out and - bingo! - had a seriously expensive looking scarf just in time for the cold spell.

And I used up a remnant to the last square inch. Joy.

Continuing the education theme, Joanne Jacobs links to an essay by Thomas Sowell that argues against the cult of relevancy. Now as you know, I am really just an old pinko at heart. When I was a worthy socialist teenager I read worthy (if somewhat over-simplified) socialist accounts of how Victorian education strove to open the minds of upper class pupils yet aimed to keep the labouring classes ignorant of types of knowledge held to be unsuited to their lowly station in life. That's awful, thought I. I still think the same way. I didn't change, they did.

Comment number five to Joanne's post is particularly deep, meaningful and - yes - relevant. I shall leave the discovery of who wrote it and what it says as an exercise for the reader.

The proper study of mankind is man. Brian Micklethwait argues that training is seldom or never just about the skill being trained and gives us a portrait of an "aristocrat of labour" along the way. I rarely have the patience to read whole autobiographies but love to hear snippets.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003
Not a happy pussycat. I hadn't slurped any of Diana Hsieh's Noodle Food for a while. So I went there. I really ought to second her fine points on free-markets, take issue with her atheism, analyse her Objectivism or something like that. Instead I am going to link to this freaky picture.

"Class-based targets for university admissions... did I say that? " Higher Education Minister Margaret Hodge leaves skid marks all over the road.

Thirty years on. Read Israpundit's interview with James Welsh the man who says, in the plainest of words, that he heard Arafat's voice on intercepted communications, personally ordering the murder of two US diplomats.

UPDATE: I'm having a little trouble with that link to "Dawson Speaks". The same interview is cross posted at Israpundit.

What will those wacky protestors be up to next? Most of 'em, nothing out of the ordinary, I'm sure. But Gary Farber wonders whether that part of the crowd who know the ANSWER might go the way of the Weathermen.

Further down he quotes "a lion of the left", Leon Wieseltier. Here was a particularly thought-provoking line:

"There is imperialism, and there is assistance from the outside. It is not naive to maintain the distinction, unless one thinks that the imbalance of power is itself an evil; but then one has surrendered the discussion of politics."

Belated test entries are coming in thick and fast, piling into my mailbox in their ...pairs. Captain J M Heinrichs writes:
1. How about twelve? The Apple IIGS of the late '80's had 12-bit RGB colour which, as executed by the system, allowed for highly realistic colour on screen. At the time VGA was the rage with its 8-bit colour via a lookup table with the full spectrum of 254 colours (plus white and black).

No, I can't draw the requisite model. Just a personal limitation, you know.

This answer is elegant, ingenious, logical and wrong. The real answer is far stupider. Next bit's right though:

2. "Sir Donald Bradman possessed the technique and intelligence that took him to the very pinnacle of the sport. His Test record is the stuff of legends: 52 Tests, 6996 runs, 29 hundreds at
an average of 99.94." (BBC Sport Online)

David Yule also supplied the right answer to Question Two (adding that Bradman is probably the best-loved Australian which is wrong for I and many others will allow no rival to cloud my devotion to Skippy the Bush Kangaroo despite discovering that Skippies were disposable.) Mr Yule also gave the right answer to Question One:
The 'hypercubic root of 4096' is probably 8, but could also be 4 or 2. Hypercubic in general just means 'more than three', so the question is a bit unclear: 8 is the 4th root of 4096, while 4 is the 6th root, and 2 is the 12th root. Take your pick.

I am outclassed. I just meant 8.

Nonetheless, I hereby award you my second grand prize of up to one hundred thousand dollars, secure in the knowledge that you as a maths geek will not be able to deny that the phrase "up to one hundred thousand" obviously includes zero.

Anne Gwynne, 'freedom fighter'. Want to see what the Guardian had to say for itself? So did I. So did a correspondent of Stephen Pollard's, Oliver Kamm, who wrote to the Guardian and asked them. The correspondence that ensues actually borders on being funny. You just have to visualise it as a 50s cinema poster:

- See Alan Rusbridger, Editor of the Year, Man of Rubber!

- See him CLAIM not to get what the problem is!

- Watch him PRETEND to think that Oliver Kamm was objecting to the Anne Gwynne story being reported at all!

- GASP in AWE as Chris McGreal KEEPS A STRAIGHT FACE while saying that the Guardian was not even expressing a position at all!

This is the permalink but for some formatting reason it is much easier to read on Stephen Pollard's main site, though you may have to scroll down.

In the interests of strict justice I was ready to say that Chris McGreal should not be held responsible for the headline, as headlines are written by sub-editors not reporters. Then I saw that he had said, 'Neither the headline nor the views as expressed by Ms Gwynne are the "paper's position", as you put it.'

What the ....?

Whose position are they then?

Are the Guardian's subeditors not its employees? Are they not chosen, trained and bound by custom and contract to work according to Guardian rules and Guardian traditions? Is their performance not part of the paper's reputation and part of Alan Rusbridger's responsibility?

Or does the Guardian run an 'open house' in the headline department? If so, can I pop in off the street and have a go?

For reference, my earlier post on this subject is here.

Monday, March 03, 2003
Drug war indeed. Many friends of mine hold the view that the problem with drug prohibition is not its existence but its weak-willed and patchy enforcement. Nobody could accuse the Thai authorities of applying insufficient force; an astonishing 1,000 people have been killed in a recent crackdown.

All that, and it still won't work. That is the double tragedy.

Alex Bensky wins my test. He writes,
"Don't worry boys, they couldn't hit an elephant at this dist---" are the famous last words of Union general John Sedgwick. It was in 1864, I think in May, at the battle of Spotsylvania.

And I imagine Julie Burchill's colleagues will talk to her, if only to try to help her understand the error of her ways and realize that Harold Pinter and Julia Roberts are truly the moral arbiters of our times.

Why does he win a magificent prize with a value of up to $1,000,000, you ask, tears pricking at the corners of your eyes, despite not having got the one about the hypercubic root of 4096 or who scored 6996 runs in 52 Test Matches? Because, dear readers, his was the only entry.

Talking of telepathy and related phenomena, you are predestined to try this so you might as well get it over with. I know, I simply know that you will be amazed. (Via The Corner.)

I've gone green. No, not politically. With envy. Mark Steyn's latest column in the National Post mentions Peter Cuthbertson's blog Conservative Commentary.

Sunday, March 02, 2003
Can you see this post? If you can, could you e-mail me at and tell me so? [UPDATE: Someone just has - thank you, Mr Richardson.] The reason I ask is that although the FTP log is telling me that Blogger has published I cannot see my last few posts when I view my own weblog.

When I started Blogger nothing like this ever happened: I could see the new post as soon as I pressed "View web page". However in the last few months it has become increasingly common that there will be a delay of between a few minutes and a few hours until the new posts become visible TO ME on the blog. I have deduced that the posts concerned may well be visible to at least some other readers, since they send me e-mails on them. (Alternative hypothesis: telepathic readers.)

Usually I can establish whether the posts have truly been published or not by examining the FTP log. If there is lots of writing ending with the words "transfer completed", then it has worked. If there is only a modern poem sprinkled with worrying words suggestive of failure, then it hasn't.

If the latter, what I usually do is save the template and the archive template then press publish again. Sometimes I do this twice. This procedure still doesn't allow me to see my own weblog - that will only happen in its own sweet time - but it does seem to get those reader e-mails going.

The point, you ask? My latest period of inability to see my own stuff has gone on for longer than ever before. Following the links in my referrer logs (purely in a spirit of scientific enquiry, you understand) leads me to no mentions of any post of mine more recent than 9.50am on Saturday morning.
I'm getting paranoid. And sick of Blogger. It may well be that in the next few weeks or months the mighty resources of Google will solve all its server problems, but I don't think I can wait until then. Steps Are Being Taken.

Meanwhile.... is anyone out there?

LATER: Peter Briffa tells me (non-telepathically) that he is having the same problem.

After all that, here is a good article in the Guardian about the attempted suppression of dubious Flemish Nationalist party Vlaams Blok by means of the courts. It finishes thus:
Such policies should clearly solicit a robust response from mainstream politicians and must be challenged in the strongest possible terms. But pretending that such views do not exist would be foolish.

In a democratic society the Blok's detractors would do better to spend their energy and time demolishing the party's policies in the debating chamber and on TV instead of trying to suppress such views.

Or as one Flemish journalist wrote recently: "The battle against the Blok is not going to be won or lost in the courts but rather in everyday politics."

Perhaps it is time the Belgian establishment took note - before it is too late.

"Such lovely families and very proud of their sons." I urge you to read a post by Stephen Pollard. He links to a Guardian article headed, breathtakingly, "Welsh pensioner turns freedom fighter". Why do I say "breathtakingly"? Because the freedom-fighting of the woman profiled by the Guardian, Anne Gwynne, consists of the fact that she went to 'Occupied Palestine' the better to be chummy with the families of two suicide bombers who killed twenty-three Israeli civilians. Or who "went on the mission to Tel Aviv" as she winningly puts it, before adding, "They are such lovely families and very proud of their sons."

The woman herself is of a recurring though despicable type: the White Liberal Murder-Groupie. OK, you've seen her like before, swooning over the Khmer Rouge or the Black Panthers. We are up to about Mk VIII by now, with Improved Extra Gush Factor. Let us wash our minds of her and move on.

But the Guardian's commentary hits a new low, and the Guardian once had some honour to lose. Did you know that it was once the Manchester Guardian, provincial in the best sense, standing for a tradition of Nonconformist self-improvement? Think on that and then re-read that headline describing a woman who pants to to further help the killers in their bloody work: Welsh pensioner turns freedom fighter.

Then look at the first sentence: Anne Gwynne is conducting her own war on terrorism. Mrs Gwynne did not write that, the reporter, Chris McGreal wrote it. Probably didn't think about it much.

Did I say "the Guardian's commentary" just then? Silly of me, it isn't a commentary. The nearest it comes to an effort at any of that "dig deeper, ask the tough questions" stuff reporters and analysts are meant to do is this:

Twenty-three people died in those bombings in Tel Aviv in January, including many poor foreign workers. Was it wrong?

The answer given, pretty quickly, is "Nah, 'course not." Note how McGreal had to drag in that fact that many of the victims weren't Israelis in order to make even a debating-point case for sympathy. Beyond that one limp line there is no justification offered for the term "freedom fighter" or for calling Anne Gwynne's activities "her own war against terrorism." In contrast great detail is offered of the sufferings of the Palestinians (which is as it should be) - but not the slightest scepticism as to whether Anne Gwynne is telling the whole truth. Could McGreal not have made some interjection, asked a few challenging supplementary questions, for instance, when confronted with lines like this: "I used to think it was all excuses, but they [Israeli soldiers] actually believe this shit. We have nothing to kill them with, just a few AK-47s."? Perhaps he was never going to give the answer I would have given, namely, "Your pals with the bomb-belts seem to slaughter well enough, dearie," but one would think that the traditions of the Guardian would demand some note of distance, of qualification, of un-acceptance?

An apologia, even when desperately, heartbreakingly wrong, is a sort of bridge between evil and good, an acknowledgement that there is something here that needs explaining. But Chris McGreal saw no necessity for any elaboration. Tip-tap-tip went the swiftly typing fingers and out came the words "freedom fighter", "her own war on terrorism", praise as easy and insouciant as a local reporter putting in a good word for the latest charitable efforts of the Womens' Institute or Rotary Club. As Stephen Pollard concludes, "Ms Gwynne's evil views are not merely presented without criticism or proper questioning; they are endorsed. And that is, in its own way, also evil."

Saturday, March 01, 2003
Kim Jong Il of North Korea like his father before him is a snake. We know he is because he must surely be descended from a witch who could take the form of a snake; namely the Lady of the Green Kirtle, Ruler of Underland in C S Lewis's The Silver Chair. Consider the similarities. Kim kidnaps people and holds them in servitude for many years, binding their minds by strange charms. He tells his subjects that his realm is the only world, or the only world that matters. His slaves dig tunnels deep under the free lands from which they plan to launch an invasion. Those he has kidnapped are used as tools to make the success of this invasion more sure.

A friend suggested this parallel to me upon seeing the Telegraph story about the tunnels linked to above. It is fanciful. But fantasy can sometimes open the mind to psychological possiblities that would not otherwise be considered. If North Korea is so far gone in its descent into madness as to invade the South, would you find it so strange (in this saga that has already proved stranger than fiction) to see a brainwashed abductee at the head of the army?

Let us hope the Silver Chair can be broken in time.