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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Monday, June 30, 2003
Odious of Odious and Peculiar suggests a new meme. (Peculiar is having a lie down at the moment.)

It isn't stepping out of your area of expertise that's the problem. It's stepping out of your area of expertise but still acting like you own the place.

P.S. It's not Dumbledore. He's joking. It's Harry.

"Press on with the wounded. I'll keep the savages at bay." I'm reading "The Happy Warrior" - the life of Sir Winston Churchill in picture strip as told in Eagle magazine.

They really, really don't write them like that any more.

Quick thought: we didn't invent embedded journalists. Churchill's life hung by a thread as a bunch of irritated Boers held a five minute confab to decide whether they ought to shoot their prisoner, a war correspondent who had taken part in the fight. They let him off, according to the comic strip, because you don't catch the son of a lord every day. See, the aristocratic principle saves the world again.

[UPDATE: Val Dorta reminds me that Churchill was an embedded journalist in the Cuban War of Independence, too. As well as reporting it, he fought in it, on the Spanish side. The comic strip, like the young Churchill, cheerfully ignores the rights and wrongs of that war, regarding it as nothing more than a "good scrap." Churchill changed along with the world.]

"It seemed a good idea at the time" is a valid argument. So argues Blugle:
"Sambrook is implying a distinction between being justified in taking a certain action at a certain time, given the available information, and that action subsequently seeming to have been the correct one, given how things have turned out. It is a distinction I heard Dr Reid attempting to articulate on the radio a few weeks ago.

So, perhaps he (or, rather, the Prime Minister) would like to return to the question which Campbell's BBC bashing has effectively diverted attention from: Does the Government stand by its decision to attack Iraq? That is, does it still consider the initial decision to have been justified and does it consider the action to have been the correct one? Given what they now know, would they make the same decision?

We should not blame people for justified decisions that subsequently turn out to have been bad ones because the information on which they were based, and which was honestly believed to be reliable, turns out to have been false. The disputants in this case clearly suspect each other of dishonesty and so do not think this distinction is relevant."
Fair point. But what's a blugle?

Soul sister.

Saturday, June 28, 2003
I had a little joke about US right-wing TV pundit Michael Savage a few posts down. Over at Biased BBC a reader spotted that a speech by a BBC bigwig, reprinted in the Guardian, had misrepresented something Savage said in a way that wasn't funny at all. Basically, he was wrongly portrayed as having advocated genocide.

A coroner in New Zealand has said that the NZ agency responsible for health and safety in the workplace was partially responsible for the suicide of one of its own employees. Work-related stress drove him to it. The agency has sued itself for corporate manslaughter and the agency bosses face jail.

I made the last sentence up. It would never happen really. You knew that.

Friday, June 27, 2003
Find and replace justice. As the re-launched Public Interest said, this is a superb satire.

[The post below was another one that "just growed" like Topsy as I added new thoughts. It has changed quite a lot since I first posted it. You might want to read it again if you're following the topic.]

Dean Esmay likes 'bright'. Most of his commenters don't. Good analogy from David Foster of Photon Courier:
If Dawkins wants to present arguments for his worldview, that's fine. But it's not intellectually honest to associate a word with positive associations ("bright") with a topic it has nothing to do with. It is if the religious people adopted the word "honorable" to mean "belief in God," and went around saying "I'm an honorable."
Dean Esmay himself raises a fair point:
Does that [the use of the word "gay"] mean that heterosexuals are "gloomies? I think not."
I think the answer to that one is that nobody else thinks so either. Perhaps because 'gay' was once a code for an unpopular and at that time illegal minority the question of what was its opposite did not come to the forefront for a long time. They were just "everybody else" or "normal people." The origin of the term we now use as the opposite of 'gay', namely 'straight', reflects this. I assume it had its origin in a denunciation of homosexuality. Both terms are now overlain with multiple layers of irony, not to mention history, and are no longer fighting words. But imagine if 'straight' were to be coined new today, as a non-ironic term for heterosexuals to describe themselves. Then it would be quite close in intention to 'bright.'

Thought experiment. 'Bright' has been in use for decades. 'Straight' is new. Excerpt from newspaper article promoting the 'straight' meme:

"Oh, I get it. [says your imagined interlocutor at a dinner party] It's a bit like 'bright'. So, what's the opposite of a straight? What would you call a homosexual person?"

"What would you suggest?"

Obviously, words like 'bent', 'twisted' or 'crooked' would immediately come to mind, and that's the whole idea. OK, some of you reading this are going to say, we can go with the analogy. Many Christians do indeed object to homosexuality on religious grounds and might well use exactly those words. The Anglican Church is likely to schism on this very issue. Why do I act as if pointing out that 'straight' (used un-ironically) follows the same pattern as 'bright' discredits 'bright'?

To answer that, I'd like to explain exactly what would I would find objectionable in the behaviour of the guy who introduces this new word 'straight' at your party. It is not his opinions per se. (In real life I know, socialise with and respect people with drastically different views on this question.) You can allow for openly held opinions. One strategy is not to mix incompatible people at all if it's going to generate more heat than light. Another is to make clear whether yours is the sort of gathering where vigorous argument is encouraged, like a political salon, or the sort where it's verboten, like your grandparents' Golden Wedding party. What is objectionable is that this word new word 'straight' is used, and is intended to be used, to slip in a highly contentious assumption over the canapés at the Golden Wedding, when those with differing views are going to be too 'thrown' or too polite to fight back, or, worse, too naive to spot what's being done. I hope it's clear that this objection actually goes wider than just parties - it's the same thing that so harmed the New York Times: editorial comment hiding in the news stories. It's the same reason, come to think of it, why I get so vastly more riled by the snide bias of the BBC than the open ideological commitment of the Guardian.

Getting back to the real world where 'bright' is the issue rather than 'straight', if you want an wide-ranging, self-chosen, positively-defined neologism for "non-supernaturalist", fine, but coin one that isn't deceptive. (And please don't co-opt 'freethinker'; it means 'rejects authority in matters of religion' rather than 'has no religion', and the distinction is useful.)

For those interested in what has become quite a widespread blogging debate, there's another post about 'bright' immediately below this one, and my first one from Wednesday can be found here.

A bright new law of politics.
"In the modern world, there is no minority group so oppressed, so marginalized, that the creation of an advocacy group cannot worsen their plight."
- A. Schulz, 2003. That's for starters. For the main course the Machinery of Night grinds up a dawkinsburger.

At that point I had yet to meet an atheist who wasn't narked by the whole thing - Chris Cooper had certainly not been impressed. However Google opens all doors, and Craig Ceely liked the idea, as did But a commenter called "N" on Reason magazine's blog trumped us all with this intriguing suggestion:

You folks are missing the point: this "bright" thing is just a way of testing the meme theory of idea propagation. They know the source, and they have all the tools (thanks to modern technology) to track the spread of the term, making this an ideal scenario for lazy scientists.
For the record, I was more nearly sympathetic to the first part of Dawkins' article, where he objected to the phrases "Muslim child", "Christian child" etc. than to the bright idea. It's no bad thing to remind oneself that children are not appendages of their parents. Only I won't be taking up the habit of saying "how dare you!" when I hear the phrase "an XYZ child", any more than I will leap up to defend the identity rights of millions of baseball-indifferent Americans every time someone says "the Americans play baseball." Unless the speaker has given evidence that he or she is culpably neglecting the possibility of exceptions to the shortcuts of common speech, it is better to refrain from being a schoolmarm to your dining companions.

[Like I ever have any. Can't get the babysitters. We're due to go to one of those murder mystery parties and every teenager in town is booked, I tell you, it's driving m-]

Where was I? Oh yes. Dawkins, no less than his opponents, can be accused of lacking respect for the autonomy of children. Firstly, even an uneducated assent is still assent. The description "Muslim" or "Christian" will, for most Muslim or Christian children, be simply true. They believe in those religions. They may not be well-informed about them, or about the alternatives, but neither are many adults. Or many atheists. An atheist child may be only an atheist because he has never heard of God, but that doesn't make him not one. It doesn't seem quite respectful to say that a Buddhist girl, for example, cannot be described by the term she uses to describe herself just because she hasn't yet attained a full adult understanding of the Eightfold Way.

Secondly it runs counter to all observation to assume that a child is incapable of independent religious belief (or atheism). For a fourteen year old that is downright insulting and even an eight year old may have plenty to say on his or her own account.

Some of it in their prayers.

Happy Smoking Fun. Liberty Log's Christopher Berry has discovered the antidote for the increasingly strident "Smoking Kills" / "Smoking Causes Fatal Lung Cancer" / Smoking Gives Satan The Victory In The Coming Apocalypse" warnings they stick on ciggie packets these days.

Irresponsible? Scroll up one post for a restatement of libertarian principles on smoking that's very responsible.

In an astonishing move, the former Ain't No Bad Dude has become a Michael Savage tribute blog.

Our reporter, Blayson Jair, interviewed a slightly bashful Brian Linse on his porch overlooking the tobacco fields and cattle pastures of Los Angeles yesterday. "I know it seems odd," said the well-known liberal blogger, "But I just can't keep quiet about my admiration for this marvellous man any longer."

An Asian man, a retired London Transport Engineer, a widower and a father, was kicked to death in Walthamstow, where I used to live.

This report says that two men have been arrested.

"Blowback". We hear a lot about how the Arab street is angry with us. Why so angry? Our riches, our Coca-Cola, our free women, our racism, our support for Israel, our failure to give them enough money, our not being Muslim, our meddling intelligence agencies, and past colonial oppression are all cited as causes with varying degrees of truth. One you will not have heard much about until now is our denial of the right to bear arms. The Independent reports, with a surprising degree of sympathy, that the attempts to disarm the Iraqi population may have had a role in starting the riot that ended with six British Mililtary Policemen dead.
There is acknowledgement among defence staff that a lack of understanding of the local people contributed to the fatal confrontation on Tuesday in which six members of the Royal Military Police died.

The people of Majar al-Kabir deposed the local Baath regime without help from the British or Americans and there is a tradition of independence in the area. Some senior British officers believe this was not taken into account in attempts to disarm the population.

The British commander in Iraq highlighted the resentment about the disarming process when he said that the violence might have been sparked by people believing they were about to be searched.

Maj-Gen Peter Wall said: "The townspeople expected searches for weapons to be conducted by our patrols. That was not our intent and this had been explained to the town council at a formal meeting earlier in the week, when the strength of resentment to searches had become clear."
A defence source said: "There is a realisation that asking people to give up their guns while the law-and-order situation does not improve is impractical and has led to a great deal of dissension. The idea of removing guns from the population is a sound one, but this has affected ordinary people who are not criminals, and we need to look at this whole matter very closely."

Fine. I still want the people who slaughtered our troops to be found and punished.

Have pity on this old grey head. Poor old Comical Ali now looks about ninety. What did for his youthful good looks? The stress of a sudden inrush of reality, or was he just unable to send out for his usual supply of Grecian 2000 while under the floorboards?

Should we care? This man had Goebbels' job.

Thursday, June 26, 2003
Blogs of War has a new site.

Inappropriate Response and Hell In A Handbasket have both commented on the atheism/"bright"/Dawkins meme-cluster.

I hereby announce my belief in James Rummel's newly-mown lawn. Now if I could only believe in mine....

Sad to say, Mrs Lileks was sacked suddenly. Given that she was the spouse who went out to work and he the one who looked after their daughter during the day, I get the impression that they have suffered a big financial blow. Worse yet, various hints in yesterday's column suggest that her dismissal might have had something to do with her husband's writing. As you can imagine, this has ushered in a period of worry and disruption for the Lileks family, just as a similar situation did for the Murray family when Iain was sacked for blogging a few months ago.

(On a happier note, congratulations to Kris and Iain. All being well their second child will be born in a few months' time.)

Wednesday, June 25, 2003
A bright shining lie. I was rather surprised to see Instapundit quote approvingly (I think it was approvingly) a lady who has adopted this deliberately created meme whereby the word "bright" equals "non-religious". Not that Reynolds gives any indication of being a believer, but he's not usually explicitly hostile or, one would think, an admirer of Richard Dawkins, who has been pushing the meme in the Guardian.

Steven Chapman certainly isn't an admirer of Dawkins.

Nor was Dr Frank, talking about an earlier article:

"Yet more supercilious Bush-whacking blather from Richard Dawkins. As Jeff Jarvis points out, Dawkins appears to be putting his own sentiments in the mouth of Osama bin Laden."

Still, let us be logical. One could despise Dawkins' Chomsky-lite quagmirism and admire other aspects of his work. I did. Man, I got The Blind Watchmaker in hardback - this is cheapskate me we're talking about! And I turned the pages of The Selfish Gene until three in the morning on first reading. I distinctly remember that one of the minor pleasures of his books on evolution was the way that he had imaginative sympathy with some of the people whose ideas he was arguing against. Somewhere he said that if he'd been a Victorian he too would have believed the Argument From Design, and you felt he believed it. So convincing was The Selfish Gene that I ended up as an amateur Assistant Hammer of the Group Selectionists, and so I have remained.

It took a while for me to realise that my idol had feet of mush. When I first read a letter from him in a newspaper that, ridiculously, condemned some religious group for thinking that they were right and other people were wrong, as if the same claim were not part and parcel of every opinion that ever was, I convinced myself that I was reading the clumsy hand of some sub-editor rather than the man himself.

But as the years went by, evolutionary biology dropped right off the radar. Now he's, what is it, the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of How To Land a Guest Column. Like blogging really, but makes more money, and most bloggers try to maintain a wider repertoire than an unvarying 85% the awfulness of religion, 5% the stupidity of America and 10% the unique wickedness of Israel. (To be fair, Dawkins backed off from the racist boycott of Israeli scientists - but he drove into that swamp before he backed out of it.)

Anyway, returning to the "bright" meme. It's meant to be like "gay," sort of allusive and self-chosen and cool. But whatever you think of "gay" (and I can't help regretting, as does Dawkins, the loss of an old and useful word) one thing it does not do is include in itself a derogatory description of heterosexuals. The whole point of "bright" is the sneer within it against the "dull" or "stupid" or "dark" religious people. It cannot be used without signing up to that agenda.

"Oh, I get it. [says your imagined interlocutor at a dinner party] It's a bit like 'gay'. So, what's the opposite of a bright? What would you call a religious person?"

"What would you suggest?"

Ker-lunk. Yes. We get it.

Dawkins might reply, well, so he does sign up to that agenda. That's what his figure about 93% of top scientists being atheists is all about. (Did he ever wonder if the pressure to conform in order to be elected to the US National Academy of Sciences might be at least as great as the pressure to conform in order to be elected to the US Senate or Congress? Probably greater: the electorate is less diverse.) But the word "bright" doesn't honestly argue for the opinion that atheists are clever, it sells it by the colloquial association of the word "bright" with cleverness, the way a sexy woman on the bonnet sells a car.

In the abortion debate it's a cliche that "pro-choice" and "pro-life" are propaganda-in-a-pan, just shake out the package and you get a whole plateful of attitudes in one go. Yet both are true. I am pretty firmly pro-life but I can see why the English words pro-choice do express why some people think that abortion should be allowed. I would like myself to give women that choice if only I didn't think that her interests cannot override another life. Likewise a pro-choice person can probably see what I'm on about with the pro-life mallarkey. They do not deny the foetus has some sort of life, they just don't think it has enough to override the woman's right to choose. "Bright," in contrast to "gay", is intended to deceptively gain acceptance for an idea by other means than argument, and in contrast to "pro-choice" and "pro-life", its emotional sugar-coating has no redeeming core of explanatory power.

(May I note here that even if you accept the "atheists are cleverer" argument you are miles away from proving atheism true. It is, I suppose, a sort of indirect argument from authority, the collective authority of clever people... a militant atheist turning to argument from authority: it has its funny side. The fact that the "bright" meme is to be used in a sneaky fashion to bolster what was a poor argument in the first place makes it doubly removed from intellectual honesty.)

The first people to use the word "gay" did not intend to cut off the modern reader from appreciating many lines of poetry and phrases from literature; the people who spread the word "bright" boast that their meaning will take over. Worse, Dawkins makes a big joke of how "we" will at first scrupulously insist that it is a noun not an adjective, hoping and expecting all the time that the adjectival and propagandist meaning will take over. In other words, hoping and expecting that others will do the dirty work for you. Elsewhere in the article Dawkins makes a telling point that we should challenge language that presumes too much; how odd then that he advocates a term that presumes an unproven superiority in order to spread an opinion by snobbishness. "Bright" is not illuminating.

(I pressed "publish" too soon on this post. Some of you will therefore have seen it evolve. Hope you enjoyed the process.)


New one on me. In my first post today I linked to this list of happenings in 1955 in order to make the point that it was a long time before the Soviets let their German POWs go.

But look at the item two lines above:

July 27: An Israeli plane is shot down over Bulgaria killing 57 people.

I'd never heard of this. Google isn't helping much but I did find this account and this one.

Er - come to think of it, this post isn't going anywhere. I just felt odd that this rather large number of people were blown out of the sky in time of peace - at best a colossal blunder, at worst mass murder - and I'd never heard of it. I'd heard of KAL 007 shot down by the Russians in 1983, the Iranian civil airliner shot down by an American warship in 1988 and the downing of a Russian airliner by a stray Ukrainian missile in 2001 but not this.

The Journal of Comparative Fisking. Marxist relic Eric Hobsbawm hasn't had so much attention paid to his delusions in years. This is what Nelson Ascher (backup general link here) made of a Guardian article he committed the other day. Ascher's fisking inspired Angie Schultz to produce her own (backup general link here) in which she finally puts a name to the philosophy behind all those die-hard believers in the overthrow of all existing power structures who have so suddenly discovered the joys of international law: Revolutionaries for the Status Quo.

(Ruddy confusing, that Europundit site. I originally had Ascher's piece down as being by John Chappell, since he posted it.)

Burgled Pensioners die earlier. To be precise, they are twice as likely to be dead within two years as people of a similar age who have not been burgled. This finding "took researchers by surprise."

I wonder how that burglar is getting on in his legally-aided case against Tony Martin?

Boobs want to ban boobs. The Telegraph, with a fine eye for what will catch your attention, has chosen the example of Page Three grils to show what will have to go if a Euro-directive against sexual stereotyping becomes law. One trusts that the Telegraph is not appealing to the concerns of its own gentlemen-readers in this instance. One trusts.

I rather think the Telegraph is being public-spirited. Their aim is for other newspapers with a different demographic to pick up the story. Never mind if our competitors pinch our headline, says the Telegraph, the threat will be publicised and that's the main thing.

Whatever. It's not really that funny. There used to be a story like this every month or so. Now there are one or two each week. Is this what it feels like as a country begins to slip down into repression? There's no law of nature that says it can't happen to us because we speak English.

The Americans speak English, yet over there an alliance of religious kooks and tranzis already have control of textbooks.

(Yes, I know I said "grils". Figure it out.)

UPDATE: A reader from Florida by the name of "erp" writes to ask, what are tranzis and Page Three? and to say:

"You may be sure that anything, and I mean anything having to do with the ed biz is in the full control of teachers' unions which are themselves fully controlled by people who are far to the left politically and bent on making public education conform to their ideology.

Religious kooks are so far down food chain they don't even rate an asterisk and control nothing regardless of what you may have seen in the liberal media who like to make bugaboos out of the religious right. "

Too true. The National Educational Association, a collection of Luddites who make our own dear National Union of Teachers shine in comparison, are a subset of tranzis. The abbreviation is blogger slang rather than British slang, was coined by David Carr and is itself short for a term coined by John Fonte in an essay for the Hudson Institute: "transnational progressives".

As for page three - oh, it's all quite harmless really. You click on the "page 3" link and see what you see.

In the cavern of the lost-emails there were quite a few saying that I was wrong in saying that the Japanese themselves must find it confusing to refer to the late Emperor Hirohito as "Showa". A work deadline bore down on me and I quite forgot to post them. Mark Sloboda's was typical:
You wrote that 'now that he is dead the Japanese refer to Emperor Hirohito his "reign name" of Showa' and posited that this must be confusing.

Actually, it isn't so confusing. "Tennou" is the word for emperor. While he was alive, he would be referred to in conversation as "tennou heika"
(roughly, his royal majesty). Never never never by name. It felt really
strange for me, after several years in a Japanese environment, suddenly having to refer to him as Hirohito while speaking English. It seemed sacreligious somehow, or at least extremely rude. If one absolutely had to refer to him in a context in which it wasn't clear that you were talking about the current reigning monarch, you'd say "Showa Tennou". Just as the current emperor is "Heisei Tennou". I don't even know the guy's name.

Dead emperors are normally referred to by their era names because there are so many: hence, Showa Tennou, Meiji Tennou, etc.

So, six British soldiers were killed by a mob in Iraq. There's an argument that says we're doing this all wrong and Iraq should be more clearly occupied. All the Ba'ath party in prison, only letting out the POWs in dribs and drabs, and so on. Hey, the Soviets kept some German prisoners until 1955.

I don't think so. I think that the more relaxed berets-not-helmets strategy is more or less the right one. The Iraqis didn't have anything like the complicity in Saddam Hussein's crimes as the Germans did in Hitler's. We owe them for not fighting. Sadly, even the best strategy available isn't proof against everything.

I don't want to make too much of the fact that the violence started as a result of weapons searches. The most devoted supporter of the right to bear arms might still cavil at the thought of arms caches under the beds of active enemies.

UPDATE: Patrick Crozier does want to make something of it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003
I must say, if the picture at the top of the refurbished and re-addressed Harry's Place really is Harry's Place then socialism pays better than I thought. No wonder he has changed his background from austere grey to a sunny yellow colour.

Doesn't stop him showing a red rag to the Samizdata bull, though.

Iain Murray has an article in the New Republic Online. Subject: the EU constitution.

It starts off quiet and ends by calling Valery Giscard D'Estaing the Benedict Arnold of Europe. Do not get into a fight with this man.

Most scary three words? "It [the proposed constitution]... enumerates rights." Think about that. The US constitution enumerated the powers of the federal government. In other words it gave the federal government those powers and no others. The EU constitution enumerates not powers, but rights.

CORRECTION: The National Review, not the New Republic Online. John Thacker, who spotted my boo-boo, very charitably writes, "Yes, it is confusing having two of the big policy mags as NRs. You're not the first and nor will you be the last to make the typo."

George Monibot has changed his mind. He would no longer impose economic sanctions on every country in the world, as the Green party still would. That change is welcome. He still wants every country in the world to run a protectionist regime until it is "ready" - an adulthood that will never come.

Monibot claims in the article that it is the "founding myth" of developed countries that they built their wealth on free trade. That's nonsense. Our founding myth was that Britain was settled by a band of Trojan exiles who landed at Totnes, fought the giants until the last and wickedest of them, Gogmagog, was thrown off Plymouth Hoe, and married the surviving giantesses.

Much more fun. And at least as true as Monibot's own myth that developed countries built up their wealth behind tarriff walls. As Milton Friedman pointed out, the Japanese had low tarriffs imposed upon them (to their great benefit but also to their great annoyance at the time) during their crucial years of moving onto the world stage. The actual history of, say, the German versus the British chemical industries involves many policy zig-zags, but let's not fail to see the wood for the trees. Trading countries are rich. Non-trading countries are poor.

I can quote off the top of my head many examples of countries that have got much richer in my lifetime through trade. Just think "East Asia." I can quote off the top of the head many countries that have been "building up" their industries through protection for forty or fifty years now and are scarcely further along than the day they started. Think India, East Africa.

UPDATE: My first paragraph was over-snarky. I should have made clear that the insight that the economic policy he once supported, "localisation", was equivalent to economic sanctions came from Monibot himself, not me. It's a good one.

Why the Third World stays poor. A Bangladeshi man waited 27 years for the state-run telephone company to install a phone. He wouldn't pay the customary bribe. Serves him right for stubborness - if he had paid the bribe he might have had to wait only ten years. Still, at least Bangladesh seems to be free of those rapacious multinational mobile phone companies.

Monday, June 23, 2003
You want C S Lewis quotations, Google has plenty. You want C S Lewis quotations integrated into modern dilemmas better than I do it, go to Photon Courier. Funnily enough, this time that wasn't what he e-mailed me about. He asked whether I was interested in project to restore the Medway Queen, a paddle steamer that had its day of glory at Dunkirk and is of historical interest besides. Well, why not? After all, we had a wonderful time going round the gleamingly restored Victorian behemoth HMS Warrior, which my husband remembered seeing as a hulk at Milford Haven, and the only action that old lady saw was when the clapperboard slammed shut and the cameras rolled for another historical drama.

Returning to Dunkirk, many people have observed that if World War II had never happened, no one would believe that some of its real episodes could be so, if those who fought in it could forgive the phrase, dramatically appropriate. Operation Dynamo is one of those, yet Photon Courier is right to say it is not as widely commemorated as it should be. I suppose it is inevitable that the very good little "Museum of Remembrance" on the quay at Dunkirk, should be buried in a godawful post-industrial port zone, since that is where the evacuation had the bad taste to occur, but it is poorly signposted and publicised, and with some of the material not yet translated into English. (That said, perhaps the fact that I had to work my limited French to the utmost in order to talk to the volunteer custodian, an older man obviously devoted to keeping the memory alive, was one of the factors that made our visit so memorable. To men like him, "Anglo-French friendship" clearly meant something important and I feel a little stab now when I think what our two nations have come to.) I wonder the fiftieth anniversary of Dunkirk had so much less publicity than the fiftieth anniversary of D-Day four years later? Admittedly D-Day involved forces many times greater, and was a victory rather than a successful retreat, but one would think that the story of ordinary people, from yachtsmen to stokers pitting themselves against the all-conquering Nazi war machine would have enduring appeal. One might almost theorize that the times are not favourable to remember a story of non-governmental war...

...But no, I must contain myself. Scroll up one post in Photon Courier and you will see some hard-hitting remarks against our - and my - modern tendency to fit everything into an overarching theory. Just to show I can disagree with C S Lewis sometimes, I must remember to write a post saying what a wonderful, liberating thing theory can be...

Here's another picture of the Medway Queen. Couldn't fit it smoothly into the post above. Posting it anyway.

Stephen Pollard's blind spot. Strange to tell now, upon the first occasion that Stephen Pollard's name came to my attention I called him silly. It was because he wrote that The Lord of the Rings was a book fit only for children. Things change. These days, dozens of columns and hundreds of blog posts later, while it would be an exaggeration to say that I worship the ground he walks upon, I will admit to holding any paving stone touched by the Pollard shoe in the greatest respect. And ditto with knobs on for almost any newspaper column touched by the Pollard hand.

It's very odd, though. You'd think a man with his volcanic anger against those who whimper and equivocate when a clear issue lies before them would feel a particular affinity to some of the emotions expressed in epic literature. He doesn't, though, and I felt a twitch (just a twitch) of my old reaction returning as I read this column which claims that the Harry Potter series are books fit only for children. Of course, he has a better case with regard to JK Rowling's books than Tolkein's - for all the vigour of Rowling's books, it doesn't do to kick the scenery of her world too hard, whereas Tolkein's world was the product of decades of meditation by a man steeped in Western culture. A better case, but still not good. The blog review a few posts down was right (I was joking when I said not to read it), and right for grander reasons than its support of a particular political position I support also. Just as history lets you out of the prison of your own time, fantasy lets you out of the prison of your own actuality. Harry Potter lets you look at the clash of good and evil unencumbered by baggage about whether supporting Tony Blair on reform of the NHS might be taken to imply support of his position on the threat of WMD (or reform of the WMD and the threat of the NHS if you prefer): a high-level activity worthy of the human mind. And you get to play Quidditch, try on other people's bodies and face dreadful agents of evil power.

The last bit is important. Fantasy is not allegory: the One Ring was not the Bomb and Voldemort is not Bin Laden, or George Bush either. Yet when the grown-ups say, "There are no monsters," they lie. Nowadays, it's difficult to write stories on courage outside the fantasy genre. True, there are always inspiring adventure stories and historical stories; but not every good storyteller is a good observer or a good researcher. More than that, there is a positive pleasure in an intricate, sweeping and self-consistent act of creation. This pleasure need have no connection with age at all.

It's difficult to say anything about this subject that was not said better decades ago by C S Lewis:

"You will notice that I have throughout spoken of Fairy Tales, not "children's stories". Professor J.R.R. Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings has shown that the connection between fairy tales and children is not nearly so close as publishers and educationalists think. Many children don't like them and many adults do. The truth is, as he says, that they are now associated with children because they are out of fashion with adults; have in fact been retired to the nursery as old furniture used to retire there, not because the children had begun to like it but because their elders had ceased to like it."
He was making the point that most cultures tell fantasy stories to adults without any embarrassment. Elsewhere Lewis observed that there is nothing so childish as a preoccupation with appearing grown-up. It seems to me that the new openness of adults about that fact that they read books from the children's section may be, not part of our modern western infantilism (and I do agree with Stephen Pollard that there is such a thing), but part of the reaction to it.

Finally, repeating a point I have made before, much of the actual action in fantasy stories is very far from wish-fulfillment. All Frodo's courage and goodness was not enough stop him finally giving in to the power of the Ring; it was not his agency that defeated evil but that of a despised, mad creature. I don't know how the present Harry Potter book pans out, but on the evidence of the last one all his courage and goodness - and magic - may simply not be enough to stop the coming war and the deaths of many good people. My final example of non-self-indulgent moralising is Snape. Snape is still a mean, spiteful git despite being on the right side. My husband said that he thought it implausible that a man faced with such awful danger could keep up the animus against an ally, but history furnishes any number of examples. I predict that he'll still be a mean, spiteful git when he dies heroically in Book Seven.

The motto of the EU is to be "United in its diversity." Hmmm, not bad. But isn't that one already taken?

Hall of mirrors. I was checking out this morning's chicken entrails and I saw a mighty portent that the NHS is doomed.

This story from the St Albans Observer is completely incomprehensible. That's the portent. One bit of the NHS owes another bit 50 million quid. What for, you ask? Who knows, who cares, answers the waving grass. The debtors, it seems, have owed the creditors 50 mil for years but believed, with a Christian trust rare in these degenerate days, that they had been forgiven the debt. Now, however, it emerges that the creditors have not fully absorbed the message of the eighteenth chapter of Matthew. Although they do not propose to sell NHS staff in St Albans into slavery to pay the debt, they do propose to only let them off the first half, leaving £25 million to be paid. This unmercifulness is "prompting anger from Hertfordshire's PCT's and hospital trusts." NHS bureaucrats, like the rich, are different from us. If my bank manager were to forgive only £25,000,000 of my debts I would consider a little gratitude more appropriate than anger.

Anyway various dreadful and frightening consequences await. What consequences exactly, you ask? Who knows, who cares, answers the waving grass. Or "The spokesman was unable to specify what services might face the axe," as the article put it. Earlier the same spokesman had been quoted as saying, "There are several options which we are looking at. One is carrying on regardless and another is a reduction in services but obviously neither of those are preferable." Strange indeed is the message (and the grammar) of the oracle: why is "carrying on regardless" even an option? And if it is, the obviousness of its lack of preferability to - er - whatever it is obviously not preferable to is not obvious to me.

I dunno what's going on. And clearly the guy who wrote the article, a Mr Staff Reporter, doesn't either. But don't blame poor old Staffie, because this is only the latest and by no means the largest of a long, long line of stories describing incomprehensible money wrangles between different parts of the NHS, and no one could follow them all. Doomed, I tell you, doomed.

As promised, my considered advice on what steps to take regarding the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

First, do no harm.

What, not good enough for you? It should be. Similar advice made him famous, even though he probably never said those words. It is a testament to the merit of the sentiment that its uncertain parentage has been no bar to its acceptance in the best society. Googling the quotation, I came across this account, fairly old but still shocking, of a medical trial in Seattle where the testers appear to have been so mad keen to get a result that they quite forgot that the subjects of their trial were human beings. It made me see the initiatives for peace in the Middle East as a dodgy clinical trial: great words, great hopes - but the patients did not give their informed consent.

Naomi Klein is horrified that US NGOs were told that they were an arm of the US government.

I sympathise. How galling to be told that you have been bought and paid for! Especially when it's true.

Fortunately, dear NGOs, I have the solution: give back the money to Bush, then he can give it back to the US taxpayers from whom it was extorted. Then you will be able to walk non-vertically challenged again, knowing that you are non-governmental in fact as well name.

Next problem: Israel-Palestine.

Sunday, June 22, 2003
Publisher's hype: department of total surrender. Instapundit reports that the Instadaughter is on page 60 of the latest Harry Potter book. Perhaps assisted by the time difference, my similarly-aged daughter has nudged ahead at page 128, despite having had a pit stop in the neighbours' paddling pool. My husband, working in secrecy at night, shamelesssly violated the Reading The Last Page of Books (Prohibition Of) Act 1876, but has promised not to tell. Anyway, Instapundit links to this blog review which you can't possibly read because, as well as talking about libertarian themes in JK Rowling's work, it gives away minor bits of the plot like some people give away plastic toys in cornflake packets. It may not say Who Dies, but you still mustn't read it.

Naughty! Hands away!

If you absolutely must score a dose of analysis of libertarian themes in HP, I can help. Proudly reissued from my first days of blogging, I hereby re-present: Harry Potter and the Libertarian Subtext.

Friday, June 20, 2003
Aw, Marduk, one little swerve more and you'd have got the cute furry animal hat trick.

(Also featured, if I have the count right so far, on Tim Blair, Damian Penny, Andrea Harris and anywhere else where there be found sickos who probably thought, "yummy, saddle of venison!" when they shot Bambi's mother.)

I always said the EU was wet. Dr Duncan Cadd writes:
One does not often gain entertainment from EU Directives, but Directive 2002/96/EC may prove to be an exception.

Quote page 4 paragraph 7:

"The amount of WEEE generated in the Community is growing rapidly."

No shit.

See: link

One of its objectives is banning lead-based solder by 1st July 2006. The electronics hobbyists are going to love this. Presumably, lead in all formswill be harder to find as time goes on. I just wonder if there might be some future knock-on effect for shooting?

Not that I subscribe to conspiracy theories...

This almost looks too silly to believe. You taking the weee?

In Order Not to Forget. I was pleasantly surprised - and given the unmitigated horror of the subject of this story I should make it clear that I mean "pleasantly" in an extremely specialised sense - to see that the Guardian has given the bulk of its front page to a story about the mass grave of Saddam's victims being excavated in the Iraqi town of Hilla. It is an honest and powerful article. The title of this post came from something described halfway down: In Order Not To Forget is the title of a secret Ba'ath party book extolling the 1991 massacre and singling out for praise those men who carried out the mass murder. The title of their book has come true in a way the Ba'ath didn't expect.

Children threatened with being taken from their home for refusing to take a test. Chris Tame posted a story in the Libertarian Alliance Forum. I can't make the link to the newspaper in which it appears work, but here are one or two highlights. I have added emphasis to passages that particularly shocked me:

Home-schooling standoff in Waltham
By Melissa Beecher / CNC Staff Writer
Friday, June 13, 2003

WALTHAM -- A legal battle over two home-schooled children exploded into
a seven-hour standoff yesterday, when they refused to take a
standardized test ordered by the Department of Social Services.

George Nicholas Bryant, 15, and Nyssa Bryant, 13, stood behind their
parents, Kim and George, as police and DSS workers attempted to collect
the children at 7:45 a.m. DSS demanded that the two complete a test to determine their educational level.

..."We have legal custody of the children and we will do with them as we see fit," DSS worker Susan Etscovitz told the Bryants in their Gale
Street home.
"They are minors and they do what we tell them to do."

...The Bryants contend that the city and state do not have the legal right
to force their children to take standardized tests, even though DSS
workers have threatened to take their children from them.

...Both sides agree that the children are in no way abused mentally,
physically, sexually or emotionally, but legal custody of the children
was taken from Kim and George Bryant in December 2001.
The children will remain under the legal custody of DSS until their 16th birthdays.

The parents have been ruled as unfit because they did not file
educational plans or determine a grading system for the children, two
criteria of Waltham Public School's home schooling policy.

Pontes said that a possibility exists that the children will be removed
from their home, but that was a last course of action.

"No one wants these children to be put in foster homes. The best course
of action would for (the Bryants) to instruct the children to take the test," said Etscovitz.

The Bryant family is due in Framingham District Court this morning, to
go before a juvenile court judge. According to DSS, this session will
determine what their next course of action will be and if the children
will be removed from the Bryants' home.

"These are our children and they have and always will be willing
participants in their education," said Kim Bryant.
UPDATE: Frank DiSalle emails to say the situation has eased somewhat.

Sight unseen I'll bet that Australian universities, like universities all over the developed world, are amply supplied with professors who advocate every variety of Marxism, Communism, Trotskyism and Maoism - systems that have slaughtered hundreds of millions of human beings. I'll also bet that Australia suffers from no shortage of anti-globalisation, anti-capitalist and "deep green" academics who beaver away to ensure that the world's poor starve in GM-free misery, or die from malaria to keep us safe from nasty DDT.

It's a pity that so many academics advocate these deathly doctrines, but, of course, that is their right. It's the cornerstone of the system of academic freedom. A university that curtails academic freedom starts to sicken from that moment; if not stopped, the plague of dishonesty will first cripple obviously controversial departments like politics and economics, and then, so virulent is it, it will go on to infect the teaching of every subject.

So, given that academic freedom is a great and good thing that protects the rights of Australian professors to agitate for any doctrine, however wicked others may think it, how does that rare voice, an Australian professor who thinks that more guns means less crime, fare? The Volokh Conspiracy describes how Gun Control Australia are trying to suppress the right of an Australian professor to oppose gun control. Note I do not mean "argue vigorously against", I really do mean "suppress."

Wednesday, June 18, 2003
Sorry. My promise to be back Tuesdayish slipped to Tuenesdayish then Thuridayish. Alas, I. Have. To. Work.

While I think of it, be sure to update your links to include Iain Murray's new site. It's still in cut-n-paste latin at the moment, but great things are promised.

Hah! Originally this post said almost the same as the one above. After disappearing for hours, obliging me to re-write it, it reappeared to embarrass me. So now I shall embarrass it. Nyah nyah who's a silly post then!

Thursday, June 12, 2003
Peter Cuthbertson, making a comment to Nick Barlow's blog takes the lightbulbs out of several bloggers, ranging from Iain Murray to the Green Fairy.

This seems as good a point as any to mention that I won't be posting for several days. See you Tuesday-ish.

Irritating internet practices #2,523,009. Sheesh. You know that Joyce Marcel piece in the American Reporter that I've been so taken up with? You know how it had today's date in the top left-hand corner? Turns out that The American Reporter uses a misleading template that puts today's date on top of all their articles, however old. The Great Purge of the Poets took place in February. Lileks was on the case. Solved it before I even saw it. Yes, I'm having a Lileks jag.

i wrote a blog
dead after a day
all your fault gw bush

Bloodthirsty Literatteurs. Turkeyblog has a post about those warmongering French poets, in which he adds The Song of Roland to the roll-call. He writes:
What this is about, of course, is that poets are supposed to see revealed truth, so if you can find a pacifist poet, ta da, you've your proof that peace is the way to go.

Sigh. I'm a free speech absolutist. I don't lament the decline in deference to politicians. And I have no time for Plaid Cymru. Nonetheless, as I read this story about how a Plaid Cymru politician died in a massage parlour, the arguments in favour of a press "gentlemen's agreement" to keep quiet about such things suddenly didn't seem so bad. There's no hypocrisy issue; so far as I know neither the dead man nor his party had a strong public line on sexual morality. There's no anything issue. He is dead, so the relevation that he went to massage parlours cannot affect his showing at the next election. Nothing is added to my understanding of Welsh Nationalism by showing a photo of the very establishment where he died and labouriously giving its name, street and district. (The more I think about it, the weirder it gets. Since when did Auntie provide publicity for houses of ill repute? The BBC is certainly not alone in doing so, but it seems an odd use of my taxes.)

In any case, the BBC would once have waited a few months to give his widow and children a chance to let their emotions settle down.

I posted last July about the unequal treatment by the press of the sexual embarrassments of Conservative and Labour politicians, taking as my examples the death from auto-asphyxia of Stephen Milligan and the adultery of Stephen Byers. I suppose I should be grateful that the BBC seems now to be impartially salacious about all of them. I'm not grateful.

UPDATE: Here's Lileks writing on what could be, you know, a core libertarian subject: the decline of public decency. For anyone who didn't get it: what I want is for our customs to change, not our laws.

About war, but not poetry. The Telegraph reports that Hirohito wanted to apologise for his role in the war. It was an apology directed at the Japanese people, rather than the apology to the Chinese and Koreans that has been so notably unforthcoming, but it makes me think somewhat better of him all the same.

Following the links to Japanese reports of the same story, I was reminded that now that he is dead the Japanese refer to Emperor Hirohito by his "reign name" of Showa. This practice must be very confusing, even to the Japanese. I noticed that the writers did trouble to insert a little note of explanation, which makes me wonder whether the custom is dying away.

Blank Verse Blogging.

Rosie Bell writes:
It was Wilfred Owen whose subject was the pity of war, not Rupert Brooke.
Good Lord, was it? I carefully checked the spelling of "Aeneid" but it never occurred to me to check that, so certain was I that it was Rupert Brooke.
We were taught in my school to compare and contrast Rupert Brooke's patriotic sonnet If I should die with Owen's intensely bitter Dulce et Decorum Est. Rupert Brooke died though before that war was fixed into a bloody stalemate.

However, you are right to say that of the war poems in existence many celebrate soldierly virtues (Kipling, Horace, Virgil, Homer). One of the
most touching in that line is The Burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna byCharles Wolfe. And of course battles make exciting stories, as witness the popularity of Lord of the Rings, Braveheart and Star Wars (where wars are hell if your side loses but great if it wins, naturally).

Joyce Marcel - was she not brought up on Louis Untermeyer's Golden Treasury?

It's stuffed full of poems celebrating the American War of Independence - Paul Revere's Midnight Ride, a poem about Bunker Hill battle - don't have the volume to hand but in my memory of it there are plenty of illustrations of smoking cannons tended by American heroes.

And Louis Untermeyer - I have just read on the net - was one of the victims of the House for Un-American Activities Committee!

Culture vultures flash crowd? Just checked my stats. I saw not so much a spike as a mound, and a glimpse at the referrer logs showed diverse addresses rather than one big-name link. I think that finding pro-war poets has become a parlour game.

"Shakespeare" says Brian Micklethwait (I thought of him too, particularly Henry V, but hesitated to call it poetry. Does blank verse count?)

Joanne Jacobs writes:

The last verse of John McCrae's "Flanders Field" is quite pro-war.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you with failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders Field.

And that was World War I.

A friend suggests Col. Richard Lovelace's To Lucasta, Going To The Wars

Tell me not, sweet, I am unkind
That from the nunnery
Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind,
To war and arms I fly.

True, a new mistress now I chase,
The first foe in the field;
And with a stronger faith embrace
A sword, a horse, a shield.

Yet this inconstancy is such
As you too shall adore;
I could not love thee, dear, so much,
Lov'd I not Honour more.

The final sentiment, though dulled by repetition of that over-famous line, is a pyschological truth. Dickens, writing about slavery in the southern states of the USA, observed the other side of the coin: that the great evil subtly corrupted every human relationship. Not that I think or Dickens thought that it was impossible for slaveowners to be virtuous or loving, but that, for instance, a man's devotion to his wife could not be unaffected by the knowledge that he could brand and rape other women if he pleased.

I digress. Or do I? There's something there that is on-point, something about what is separable and what inseparable in the human personality, being as it is the valley into which so many streams called "culture" and "environment" and "genetics" flow. It's coming, it's coming.... Aha. Character is sort-of separable into packages. That's why people can surprise us, when suddenly the wrapper of a different package from the one we usually see is torn and we glimpse what is inside. But the packages aren't what you think they are. They certainly aren't separable enough to put the "anti-war" bit in the same package as the "poetic impulse" package. It's a parochialism of the last 150 years to think that there's an "artistic temperament" at all, let alone an "artistic" political platform. I think it was James Burke in Connections who pointed out that many of the great visual artists of the Renaissance were notably orthodox sons of the Church (except Caravaggio, a time traveller from from 1930s Bloomsbury) and Clive James who wrote that the old Carlsberg beer ad that showed Schubert never finishing his symphony because he went off for a pint was a thousand times truer to what the man was actually like than a film that showed him as a tormented rebel.

Elmer goes hunting. (Via Random Jottings.)

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

The world echoes with praise for righteous war. Laura Bush, it seems, told some poets they weren't welcome to insult her in her own home. Off the poetasters went, pleasantly aggrieved, and had their group hug-cum-poetry reading somewhere else. Joyce Marcel was there. And deeply, deeply moved, so much so that she was inspired to ask this rhetorical question:
Throughout the ages, blood in the streets has inspired poets to write passionately against war. Does Mrs. Bush know of any poets who have written enthusiastically in favor of it?
Dunno about her, but I do. Try Tennyson (Charge of the Light Brigade - read the last verse if you think it's an anti-war poem, Riflemen Form! and, oh, boy, Ballad of the Revenge will not be reprinted in Peace News any time soon.) Try Macaulay (Horatius at the Bridge). Try Homer. Try the author of Beowulf. Then there's the anonymous Anglo Saxon scribe who wrote The Battle of Maldon. Or Kipling, in some phases (although to say that he was blind to the cost of war, which killed the last of his children, is to traduce him.)

Notice that I have strictly adhered to her request for enthusiastic writing about war. However the enthusiast for war is a straw man when it comes to describing the opinion of those who supported the recent war in Iraq. Our position is closer to that of Rupert Brooke. Contrary to popular opinion the fact that he took as his theme the 'pity of war' did not stop him supporting the one he fought in. Almost his last words were the hope that his work would "survive Prussia." Brooke wasn't the only poet to take that position; so did Walt Whitman. In the article Marcel says, "It seems especially odd that Mrs. Bush would honor Whitman, a born rebel." Not if you've read Ethiopia Saluting the Colors, where an old black woman stands to honour her liberators, it doesn't. In fact, the anti-war movement will draft the memory of any poet who mentions that war is horrible (though not the worst of horrors) irrespective of whether said poet showed by his life or words that he sometimes supported it nevertheless.

Frankly, I haven't read more than a fraction of the work of the poets I have named. But that is the point: even a person with my mediocre knowledge of English-language poetry and near to nonexistent knowledge of the poetry of other languages knows that "From the dawn of history down to the sinking of the Terris Bay, the world echoes with the praise of righteous war," as C.S. Lewis put it, in Why I Am Not A Pacifist. He went on, "To be a Pacifist, I must part company with Homer and Virgil, with Plato and Aristotle, with Zarathustra and the Bhagavad-Gita, with Cicero and Montaigne, with Iceland and with Egypt." (OK, so not all those mentioned are poets, but you get the idea.) Now Lewis was Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English Literature at Cambridge - but you don't have to be a professor, or to have got very far in your Virgil, to know that the first big name poet in Latin wasn't a conchie: the very first line of the Aeneid is "I sing of arms and the man." And I don't think, somehow, that the Norse sagas were in praise of peace at any price.

OK, so Joyce Marcel is startlingly limited in her knowledge of poetry. It wouldn't surprise me to find that Laura Bush knew more than she does. But maybe she's a woman of wide mental horizons in other respects? Let's see what she says about one poem she does appear to have read:

The poetry reading and President Bush's casual dismissal of the anti-war protests brought to my mind Shelley's poem, "Ozymandias of Egypt," about an ancient statue found in pieces in a lonely desert.

When Shelley describes the ancient despot's "wrinkled lips and sneer of cold command," it was not too great a mental leap to the arrogance of President Bush. "I am Ozymandias, king of kings. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair," the despot says. But, as Shelley points out, "Nothing beside remains."

Despots die and their wars are read about in history books; we cluck our tongues, shake our heads and wonder at their evil. But, as Auden says, time "worships language and forgives everyone by whom it lives." Words live. Poetry lives.

Riiight. Shelley wrote about a absolute ruler... who once ruled over a desert country of the east and caused its enslaved people to raise monuments to his own glory... who called himself by vainglorious titles designed to show his might and power... whose statue was cast down... whose fate serves as a warning to tyrants everywhere.

The poets know how difficult it can be to break out of an obsession, but perhaps if she really, really concentrates she might think of someone in the news recently who fits that profile better than George W. Bush.

UPDATE. A reader points out (see above) that the "pity of war" quote was not from Brooke. The point remains.

French academics discuss France. You probably think it's a bunch of Post-Coital Debobthebuilderists plugging each other's anti-globo books. Think again.

Yes, the Iraqis did have Scuds in residential areas.
"After the first marketplace bombing we heard there had been a hit and we were able to go there in our own vehicle. We got lost and a couple of blocks from where the two missiles had hit there was a Scud missile launcher with a Scud on top.

"We then realised the Iraqis were hiding Scuds in residential areas. If I'd said that I think we would have been thrown out the next day," she told a Media Society event last night.

With these words, Channel 4's diplomatic correspondent admits self-censorship.

Read. I've just discovered Oliver Kamm's blog. "Oh my, oh my, oh my," as Mole said when he came out into the sunshine. Here are some quotes:
[quoting Clare Short] ..."The current administration has shown its disrespect for the UN throughout the Iraq crisis." Exactly. Respect is not an entitlement: it is something you have to earn....

...The dire Fergal Keane School of Emoting On-Camera, with its many recent imitators, is the product of this culture...

...The party she [Shirley Williams] left Labour in order to found has long since merged and mutated, leaving consistent liberals – those who believe the UN has an obligation to implement its own Security Council resolutions rather than allow bellicose tyrants to mock them – with a recurring ideological obligation that is yet also a pleasure: tactical voting to defeat the Liberal Democrats.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003
Redbridge museum - serving the people of the London Borough of Redbridge since AD 503.

And don't you just love that "it's keep". The Wanstead and Woodford Guardian needs to shoot it's prufereeder's.

"Knock, knock."

"Who's there?"


"Helena who?"

"Helena handbasket."

...has moved. Update your bookmarks.

Continuing the theme of 'how much clearer do the lessons of history have to be', Winds of Change has up a good post on the how the EU is not a tyranny but has put into place many of the mechanisms to become one. Few of the links were new to me, but they are assembled in a useful and logical package. One to bookmark if you often get into arguments about this.

"The Czech Agression against Nazi Germany" is the title of an anonymous pamphlet from 1969 possessed by Jerusalem Post writer Sarah Honig. No, it isn't a piece of German revisionism. It's a very apt piece of satire that takes some of the world reactions to the 1967 war and transposes them to an alternative history where the Czech forces hurled back the Nazi attackers. Ms Honig describes it thus:
The brilliant Czech campaign lasted six days. Chunks of Germany were occupied. Wrathful condemnations were rained upon the aggressor by British prime minister Neville Chamberlain, the French Quai d'Orsay, the Soviets, and the League of Nations.

The Czechs were raked over the coals for firing the first shot, winning a war without permission, and damaging international commerce. Their willingness to contract a peace in which Hitler would recognize their country's independence and integrity did no good. The world pitied Nazi refugees and accused the Czechs of inhumanity. Thus began the period of unjust occupation.

The Czechs "stood alone against world opinion... The British called them arrogant, willful, inhuman." The French deplored them for being "disdainful of world opinion, irresponsible, and not justifying the trust put in them."

To the Russians they were "hooligans, pirates, tools of imperialism, and agents of capitalism." The Nazi Germans branded them "murderers, assassins, criminals, rapists, gangsters, etc, etc." - just as the world and the Arabs brand Israel, whose so-called occupation of Arab territory began in self-defense, with every bit as much moral justification as Czechoslovakia would have had to strike at Hitler in 1938.

...Which takes us back to the storybook. Its Czechs insisted that their heroic stand saved "Britain and France from fighting Germany. That claim was considered ridiculous. Why should Britain and France at all have to fight Germany?"

The Czechs also asserted they prevented "a world war. This was considered typical of their inflated ego. The height of absurdity" was the Czech notion that, had they not acted, "20 million Russians would be killed in a war with Germany. But why would Nazi Germany attack Russia, considering their non-aggression treaty? snickered omniscient cynics. Another Czech argument was that they had averted the murder of six million Jews. This claim, though, was received rather indifferently because nobody really cared about the Jews."

Many readers might be surprised by how vague my opinions on what should be done in the middle east actually are. Is this 'road map to peace' going anywhere good? I don't know. What I do know is that millions of Arabs, especially Palestinians, say without equivocation that the Jews should be driven into the sea. The West persists in saying airily that it's "all just political hyperbole, old chap, not to worry, just be nice to them and they'll come round..." All of which was said about the Nazis too.

Once I would have thought the point above too thumpingly obvious to need making. No longer.

UPDATE: Interesting link to a presentation on the new anti-semitism found via Libertarian Parent ITC. (Backup link here.)

Monday, June 09, 2003

Cat magic and the European Union. Don't blame her for the regrettable use I made of her original insight, but just so you know, what follows was put into my mind by this post from Kris Murray in which she said:
The elitists of the EU beauracracy want to create a "superstate" just like the US but they seem perfectly clueless as to what makes all fifty of the US states one. These elites think it is just a process of merging tangibles. That all they have to do to make a unified Europe is create a single set of tangibles such as one monetary unit, one set of laws, one military, etc. and, ta da, Europe is one. But that's not going to work because the intangibles are more important.

I think that's quite right. In many cultures there is a ritual of blood brotherhood, where the mingling of blood symoblises a mingling of loyalties - but the EU acts as if you could make me feel that Jurgen Habermas, say, was my soul-brother by taking an ampoule of my blood from the blood bank and mixing it up with a good slosh of his. Sorry guys, but the thing that makes swearing blood-brotherhood meaningful is not the actual blood.

If you think the idea of a Solent-Habermas blood exchange was approaching the yukkiness limit, stop reading now.

"Middening" in cats means deliberate defecation in strategic places. According to this website on feline socialisation:

The motivation is a cat’s need to enhance its sense of security in its environment. A frequent feline response to stress or conflict is to distribute its scent.

There are two main categories of trigger factors :

Environmental change and challenge within the home.

E.g. House moves; new furniture; re-decoration; conflict or introduction with a person, dog or cat; visitors; challenging smells from shopping bags and new shoes.

Threats from outside the home.

E.g. Invasions through the cat flap; a narrow escape with traffic; aggression from other cats.

Another motive not mentioned in that passage is even more striking. Owners who go away for a day or two leaving neighbours to feed the cat sometimes come home to a nasty surprise. The cat doesn't just poo, it seeks out those places most impregnated with the owner's scent and poos there. Such as in the middle of the bed, or in your shoe.

It's cat magic. By mingling my humans' scent with mine, thinks Fluffy, I will mystically call their physical bodies home. The resemblance to the behaviour of the European Union will, I trust, be obvious to all cultivated minds. It explains why EU bureaucrats will sometimes provocatively trumpet some very unpopular measure at the worst possible moment for British Europhiles, just as the latter are trying to damp down resistance to the next step in their delicate schemes. The bad timing is no accident. The very delicacy of their situation is what provokes the attention-seeking behaviour.

Perhaps, however, we should not push the analogy too far:

The only treatment is to make your home more safe and secure. Identify the cause of the marking behaviour and, if possible, remove it or desensitise your cat to it. If your cat’s insecurity is caused by a rival cat outside, chase it away as often as possible, arrange a garden time share with their owners, keep external doors and windows shut, and block your cat flaps. If you are moving house, put your cat in a cattery during the move and then initially confine it to a small area of the house so making it feel secure. Increase access to the rest of the house slowly.
(P.S. No one will ever believe me in this, but this analogy struck me as being true before it struck me as being either insulting to my political opponents or funny.)

To be European is to be just like me and my friends: The philosopher Jurgen Habermas recently put out a statement or manifesto on what it means to be European. Chris Bertram analyses it here.

Those Canadians who use the grand phrase "Canadian Values" as meaning "those areas of public policy where Canada's government happens to be to the left of the last two Republican administrations in the United States" are making the same mistake as Habermas. Even if I agreed with every one of those policies I would warn against making them the test of Canadian-ness. Eventually people who do not share and will never share those values might start taking you at your word. Secessionist feeling is growing in parts of Canada, which I think is sad but understandable.

Saturday, June 07, 2003
That dry cleaning case. Letter-writers to the Sacramento Bee don't think much of Rose Fua's and the State of California's heartless and opportunistic decision to prosecute either.

Incidentally, I had never heard of Gray Davis eighteen months ago. But now I see without surprise that he's involved in this murky business too.

Dave Farrell writes:
The response by the noble nations of the UN to the massacres in the DRC would be laughable if it were not having bloodily grim results. The French have cobbled together not much more than a token force (a few thousand) and Kofi Annan is begging for substantial contributions for a follow-up force in, wait for it .. September. That's three months away. Yoy can get through an awful lot of genocide in three months if you're absolutely set on it.

Why does anyone think the UN is the answer to ANYTHING seriously wrong with the world? It is an impotent captive of demagogues who want to strut their hour upon the world stage.

It will be no satisfaction to me when the French find themselves in the middle of a war they cannot win, not without causing unacceptable casualties and being bogged down in the jungles of the DRC for a very long time. Firm intervention would require something like 30,000 well-armed, fully equipped troops. That corner of the DRC is a hostage to both ethnic factions and neighbours with territorial designs and plenty of greed.
Lord, the world has taken a turn for the horrible these last few days. I haven't even covered Burma or Zimbabwe.

Joseph Katzman writes about the Congo, giving brief case histories of why similar interventions succeeded or failed, not neglecting the fact that the US (and British) armies are overstretched, but concluding that a determined and sufficient force could turn the tide. Only it probably won't. He concludes:
I sense another turning point [in attitudes] on the way - but something tells me this one will owe more to the aftermath of tragedy than the afterglow of triumph.
I am not, in fact, that much of an interventionist. Intervention frequently breeds arrogance in those acting and resentment among those acted upon. It is often harder than we admit to simply tell who, if anyone, is in the right when dealing with an alien culture. But we're talking genocide here.

Environmental laws are there to help us all. I discovered Zogby blog via this interesting post about Jews flooding into Germany on Instapundit. Then, scrolling down I found a story that, although it involved nothing anyone could call an crime, sickened me. Do you have an elderly relative or neighbour who gets overly distressed at utility bills, official demands and the like? My late grandmother was terribly worried by even so uncontentious a thing as a circular letter from the council asking residents of her block of flats whether they wished to contribute towards having their "unadopted" access road upgraded. Imagine how such a person would feel about being sued by the state for millions. At the ages of 93, 87 and 83 that is the prospect that some elderly former owners of a dry-cleaning business must face thirty to forty years after an alleged pollution offence. The same stress is being inflicted on others who did no more than buy the building without knowing its history.

The California Attorney-General's office don't even pretend that the defendants have anything like that sort of money. They don't even pretend that the defendants had a criminal intent. The defendants claim, in fact, that they did not cause any pollution, but whether they did or not, for once I would say, "let the taxpayer pay." Given that we have taxes, that's what the government claim that they are for: to even out the injustices of life. I imagine that even a purely libertarian community might voluntarily pool together an insurance fund for this sort of thing.

There have been recent cases concerning prosecutions of very old people where I have said, throw the book at them. You know, war crimes. Or treason. But this? What did you put on your law school application, Rose, "I want to become a lawyer to serve the interests of justice and the people around me"? Oh, it's all right, she has sympathy for the defendants. One of whom has Alzheimer's disease, I note. Tell ya what, Ms Fua, concentrate on suing just him, he won't notice.

Not that Rose Fua's keen legal brain has made no attempt to grapple with the issues involved in prosecuting very old people decades after the alleged offence. "If somebody was 85 years old," she points out "and they killed somebody, does the law not apply to them?" The answer to that one was given by Lord Lester of Herne Hill, arguing in the House of Lords that while a change in the law - the passage of the (UK) War Crimes Bill in this case - might take the perpetrators of an actual crime by surprise, "it did not take them by surprise as to the criminality of their horrific acts." That is the difference. The law pursues alleged murderers even after decades because theirs is the most serious and obvious crime in existence. The law should not pursue those allegedly guilty of minor, inadvertent or technical crimes decades ago, because to do so is disproportionate and oppressive.

It is bizarre that I should have to put the inoffensive proprietors of a humble business who at most might be guilty of negligence in the same category as murderers even to defend them. How much more bizarre that a trained lawyer who has achieved public office (perhaps even elected office, since this is the US; I wouldn't know) should not see the eternal distinction.

UPDATE: I was fizzing with anger when I originally wrote this post, and so jumped over some steps of the argument. I have therefore slightly expanded and clarified it since yesterday.

Friday, June 06, 2003
Cars blocking drives. A correspondent, who wishes to remain anonymous for some reason, writes:
Friend had a similar issue, after making heroic and polite efforts to resolve this situation several times he bought a small amount of concrete blocks and borrowed a decent car jack.

10min energetic minutes later (in dead of night) the car drive wheels were not longer in useful contact with the road. And the car in a very stable position.

This caused enourmous pain and mental anguish to the owner of said vehicle. The police eventually showed up and showed remarkably little sympathy. (There were even rumblings of violations of local code against having cars up on blocks.)

I'd recommend a less tiring deflation of the the 2 passenger side tires
myself (No one has 2 spares), but I'm lazier than clever. A Couple of
treatments of this works wonders. I recommend someone with a bicycle to do it so that:
A. It isn't Joe Homeowner with obvious target of Revenge.
B. Quick getaway might be necessary for health reasons.

Encourage delinquency among minors!
I gloat. But, being a blogger and thus determined to moralise, I can't help feeling that it's a bad sign that people have to resort to these measures - and of course timid souls won't, and lose badly thereby.

John Daragon writes:
Hi. Greetings. Yo, Dude. take your pick...

You write all this important stuff and what do you get feedback on ? Trivia, that's what.

"FN FAL in 7mm-08 Remington" In *what* ?

.308 Remington or 7.62mm(x 51). Both the same thing (unless you're really picky and own a copy of the SAAMI spec).

It's heartwarming to hear about other people behaving like grown-ups on holiday. But this sort of interaction does throw up the odd moral dilemma :

On a pistol range in California last month, hearing my accent and
acknowledging my predilection for John Browning's 1911 masterpiece, the owner offered to swap Tony Blair for Gray Davis and 50 rounds of .45 ACP.

Should I have taken it?

I'm tempted to say that since you were being offered to give up one worthless object in exchange for another worthless object plus a whole 50 plump and shiny rounds then, like, how hard could the decision be? However Mr Blair did show determination over the Iraq thing, so... Hmm. This is hard. Were they new or reloads?

As for your other question, I haven't the faintest idea. I just shoot the things. I have what amounts to a mental block caused by overexposure to all those letters and numbers and calibres and diameters and brand names. I tell you, when I hear all these guys chatting away in Flemish interspersed with the names of various models of firearm, then I have some hope of understanding the Flemish.

Sweet FA. In the latest issue of the AA magazine (not online) the AA's legal adviser Iain Murray (moonlighting, Iain?) responded to this question put by John Wotton of Hertford: "If a parked car blocks my drive, is it true that I can't take any action against it?" Here is Mr Murray's reply:
It would be hard. Generally the police will not assist in moving it but they can issue a penalty as the parked car is an obstruction (an offence). Local authorities only have a right to remove such a car if it "appears to be abandoned" or is not displaying a current tax disc, but notice periods mean that could take some time. You could try civil law such as a negligence claim against the driver. If you have to arrange alternative transport for an unavoidable appointment but quite frankly, it's unlikely to be successfull and I've certainly never heard of it happening.
In other words, what you can do about it is the title of this post. Don't blame Mr Murray for this. He's only the messenger. Funny how legal aid is available at taxpayer expense to sue over every sort of trivial grievance, yet someone who is denied the use of their car has no practical redress.

Bjørn Stærk makes a good point:
Racism exists, but so does terrorism. I'm less worried about Norway's racists, who we know a lot about, than Norway's terrorists, who we know almost nothing about. We need to accept that Norwegians are smart enough not to be taken in by racists, but also that if there is anything that does contribute to a public perception of all Muslims as fanatics and terrorists, it is ignorance about who the real terrorists are, an ignorance anti-racism wants to preserve. When Muslim spokesmen themselves confidently claim that there are no al-Qaeda supporters in Norway, while it's obvious to everyone that al-Qaeda has support all over the world, it's easy for casual observers to conclude that the problem is much larger than it really is. Trust the people - give it the facts, not assumptions, and it will sort things out on its own.

Thursday, June 05, 2003
"The Hema. The Lendu. Cambodia. Rwanda. Bosnia. The Jews. The world watches. The world does nothing." Gary Farber of Amygdala makes a powerful plea for something more than the joke intervention currently planned in the Congo. Jeanne of Body and Soul says the same from a left-wing, pro-UN standpoint. I think the UN dirties good clean New York air, but I agree with her comments. 1,400 men is nothing. Worse than nothing, since it gives the impression that action is being taken when all that is being done is that they are arranging cover for when the foreigners have to run for the airport.
The Telegraph report is headed, with staggering optimism, "Euro-army force to stop Congo killing." Would it were so: Chirac looking good would be a small price indeed to pay for stopping the killing. The report also enthuses "They will start moving into action next week, with artillery and fighter jet support, ready to fight pitched battles if necessary." As a friend observed, they mean pitched skirmishes. And somebody tell the Telegraph that Canada and Africa are not in Europe.

All the complaining about the Telegraph is just my trying to distract myself from the grim truth of this situation.

Fraser Nelson writes in the Scotsman that the G8 fiddled while Africa bleeds. I'm not as great a believer as he is that Bush's billions of aid will do much good, given the lamentable record of government to government aid. But Mr Nelson is certainly right to say that throwing your money on the table and buzzing off was better than the vapidity of most of the debate:
"One Scottish charity sent a delegate to the G8 junket with leaflets stressing how the private sector must not be used to feed the starving. Heaven forbid that professional organisations are hired to bring medicine to the dying, was the implication - as if the starving cared who employs the hand that feeds them."
"Obstacles to helping Africa are written into European Union rule books. Take the moratorium on genetically-modified food research, which ranks our dietary preferences ahead of tackling world food shortage. But the worst single offender is the Common Agricultural Policy, which stops our farmers facing competition from Africa and - therefore - stops agricultural investment reaching sub-Saharan shores. "

So where're my archives then? And yes, I am asking in a <strong> manner. Or bold or whatever, but give me back my archives! <em>, what's with this <em>? There's no hestitation about it, pond life, I want my freaking archives!

UPDATE: they have reappeared.

Journey to Kimland. Scott Fisher, an American living in South Korea managed to wangle a rare visa to visit the North, and produced this travelogue. He speaks fluent Korean, which freaked out the guides and added to the interest of his account. In his place I'd have been tempted to keep secret his knowledge of the language so as to listen for mistranslations and unguarded comments. Still, he comes across as a straightforward sort of chap, taking a mischievous pleasure in sneaking a picture where it was forbidden, but not the type for sustained duplicity; certainly it would be a hard act to keep up.

Predictably, Mr Fisher saw and heard many fervent declarations of loyalty for the Great Leader, the Dear Leader and the Juche Idea. Less predictably, not all of them came from North Koreans:

The students we saw were part of a North Korea affiliated high school in Japan. While we talked and took pictures they took turns breaking into smaller groups to sing songs eulogizing the two Kims, North Korea, Juche, etc. The singing and, apparently very real, fervor were unbelievable. Even Mr. Baek was giving them some odd looks as they continued their emotional, non-stop singing. To grow up in a place as modern and open as Japan yet still subscribe to this ideology and regime . . . wow. The memory of those earnest young faces fervently singing away is one of the strongest of the whole trip.

...And one small point didn't surprise me at all:

Ever wonder why CNN seems to be the only Western news organization regularly allowed into North Korea? The next room perhaps offered a clue. In the 'Gifts from America' room a whole section of one wall is taken up by gifts from CNN. A few engraved plaques, a coffee cup (yeah, a freaking coffee cup!), a logo ashtray, etc. Probably at most a couple hundred bucks worth of crap that nonetheless get pride of place in the museum - for they reveal obvious signs of respect from a world famous news organization. The people at CNN are certainly using their heads and showing they know how to play the game. Though one wonders how that fits in with journalistic integrity . . .

(Via Sound and Fury.)