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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Jane's Blogosphere: blogtrack for Natalie Solent.
( '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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Thursday, December 25, 2003
Tuesday, December 23, 2003
"My first ever Instalanche - and it's about my dress sense. " First there was this. Then there was this. Michael Jennings talks about it here and Brian Micklethwait talks about it here, and down in Brian's comments Michael utters the lament that makes the title of this post. Got all that?
Joking apart, I was there and I can testify they were both wearing perfectly nice guy clothes from reputable shops. Both signaled "intellectual sort of chap" with admirable efficiency. Since the photo was posted and the caption written - or at least approved - by Michael Jennings himself, it's safe to assume that he was successfully signalling, "I have self-confidence enough to not bother slavishly following fashion because I know damn well I am an intellectual." Indeed (as he might say himself), Glenn Reynolds wasn't just signalling an explicit compliment ("you have substance") but also an implied one ("it is safe for me to joke about your style because you know and I know that you are intellectuals.")
I know I've been claiming lately that it's becoming harder to tell what class people are from their clothes; in other words that nearly all of us now send out the message "I am not out to dominate you" or, perhaps "I'm not out to stand out from the crowd." Even so, within this large message of democratic sameness most of us are very good at reading and sending out minor differentiating messages by details of dress - even if the signal is, "My mind is on higher things." We are so habituated to self-revelation by clothing that any attempt at re-branding dare not go too far from the original. I have seen some makeover TV programs where the made-over person looks not so much dressed up as lost in their new togs.
Random thought: has human evolution still been going on since most of the species took to covering themselves with skins or cloths? I suppose it could, proceeding by differential reproductive success rather than deaths.
All very interesting, this style versus substance stuff. Probably Virginia Postrel has dealt with everything I've said by page four.
Incidentally, at the same gathering, Brian asked me "how are you?" then answered himself, "I know how you are. I read your blog." Is this true? Discuss.
Weather Report. The winds of the blogosphere have blown the much-missed It Can't Rain All The Time to a new location. After a long break from blogging, made necessary for sad reasons, Myria is back.
And like many people she is wondering why they even bother with these Bin Laden audio tapes. Bin Laden is like a UFO. UFO fans never can give a really convincing explanation as to why their little green friends choose to make themselves known in Lesser Pifflington-in-the-Bog or Dead Sheep Gulch, Arizona. Don't these people have publicists? What's actually stopping them from landing on the White House lawn, or on the helipad of the United Nations building if you insist, and saying, "take me to your leader" in the traditional manner? (And don't say the United States Air Force: aliens who can cross interstellar space are not bothered by F-16s, not even when they have a spiffy new mux loadable data entry display set, whatever that may be. )
Yup. The UFOs and Osama share a common problem, namely existence-deficiency syndrome. But I must disagree with Myria when she says his legend will grow without proof of death or capture. I say, let the audio tapes keep coming. A few little disputes between Arab TV stations as to authenticity are joy to my ears. (Hey, maybe the CIA could make a few deliberately unconvincing tapes of their own, if they haven't already.) Let the realisation that they were duped grow in the minds of his followers, all the stronger for its slow genesis. The knowledge that they fell for one specific deception will carry with it the seeds of a greater doubt.
Monday, December 22, 2003
Peter Cuthbertson has gone postal. I've always wanted to do that.
I wonder how he'd get on with his colleague from across the pond who wrote this? The writer, an American postal worker, has eleven suggestions to defeat the dreaded neocons, whom he appears to think are likely to be religious fundamentalists. (And there I was thinking they were all recovering Trots.) The best parts, however, are not divulged for "political security reasons".
11th. Sex. .The 2000-pound gorilla. Once again, too important to post online or in hard copy. I have a few good suggestions; if you want to know more, contact me. Serious inquires only.You heard the man.
Instaconspiracy theory. This photoshopped image of Saddam Hussein, created by a guy called "happydogdesign" in the Free Republic, was praised by Glenn Reynolds. Is that why it appeared uncredited in the Saturday 20th December 2003 edition of the Scottish tabloid the Daily Record? It's on page 21 of the print version, illustrating this Bob Shields column. Unfortunately the online version doesn't show the picture, but I've kept the clipping. Do you think we should tell someone?
Saturday, December 20, 2003
Don't push your luck, health-wowsers. Is it usual to publish private correspondence supplied as evidence to House of Commons Select Committees? The reason I ask is that the BBC gleefully reports that derogatory comments about smokers made in internal memos by the staff of advertising agencies working for tobacco companies have been published on the internet under the title "tobaccopapers.com". What surprised me was the source of the evidence: the "tobaccopapers.com" press release says that "The Committee [referring to the Health Select Committee - NS] demanded that the tobacco industry's top five UK advertising agencies release all relevant internal documentation relating to their advertising and marketing activities on tobacco accounts."
So far as I know Select Committees have always had and used wide powers to demand evidence. But the publication of that evidence for propaganda purposes seems to be new.
If I am wrong, and this is all quite usual, what does that do to the incentives for honesty on the part of those who submit evidence?
I hope the law on privacy and breach of confidence was followed. Or don't those who make the law have to follow it? Somehow I'm not convinced that Simon North, contemptuously quoted (and quite possibly quoted out of context - his remark could well refer to an ordinary workplace crisis) here, gave his full informed consent. It seems something of an abuse of position that Her Majesty's Government as represented by the National Health Service should jeer at the inflecities of expression of one of the citizens it is meant to serve. Does Mr North get a right of reply, I wonder?
The "Tobacco papers" website was funded by NHS Scotland and the charity Cancer Research UK. Next time either body earnestly laments how desperately short of vital funds it is, remember what it did have the money for.
As it happens, I see what the scornful ad-men meant. My apologies to all the cultured smokers I know are out there, but in my brain the neural pathways linking the concept "smoker" and the concept "downmarket" are pretty well-worn, particularly if I picture the smoker as a woman. Those who wish to discourage women from smoking should accept with gratitude the tremendous help given to their cause by the low social status of the habit and stop there. If they carry on pushing they may find that nicotine re-acquires the rebellious glamour that helped popularise it among women in the first place. This may already be happening: did you know that the number of young women smokers is going up?
There's yet another update, or a clarification at any rate, to the 'More on cakes and famines post' below.
In the land of Mordor, where the lawyers lie... Even the Dark Lord is subject to legal scrutiny. (Via The Volokh Conspiracy.)
Thursday, December 18, 2003
Nothing to see here, move along. The chalk outline you see on this space marks the place where I killed a post linking to Chris Bertram talking about the Irish Famine. Don't be sad for it, it was resuscitated and reincarnated as an update to my "More on cakes and famines" post yesterday.
Were YOU left out of the capture of Saddam Hussein? Call Happy Fun Pundit. No laugh, no fee.
Wednesday, December 17, 2003
Poison is worse than a big stick. I can't get my head round the latest proposals from the Home Secretary. He wants to remove social security benefits from asylum seekers. In some cases that would have the effect of putting the children of failed asylum seekers into care.
I can't quite figure out whether Blunkett sees the bit about putting children into care as a problem his policy must and shall deal with or as a desirable part of the policy, the part that gives it teeth. Probably Mr Blunkett has his own reasons for being unclear on this point.
For the moment, let's forget all my wild see-saws on the subject of immigration. Let's also forget that I support the removal of social security benefits from everybody in the country. Can we just assume for this post that the consensus view, "welfare OK - legal immigration OK - illegal immigration not OK", is the correct one. Then it's the job of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate to decide who stays and the responsibility of the courts and the rozzers to throw out those refused entry, if they won't go of their own accord.
Full stop. That's it. Do your job.
Meanwhile it is the job of the social workers to decide which children go into care. (Again, I leave aside all consideration of whether this is an ideal state of affairs.) Proper grounds for putting children into care are such things as cruelty, neglect or incapacity on the part of the parents, or because the children are orphans.
Full stop. That's it. Do your job.
The fact that the parents are in breach of the Immigration Act should have nothing to do with it. Thousands of parents all over the country are in breach of thousands of our many laws. Their children aren't taken. (The criminals may be taken from their children and put in prison, but that's another matter.) Never before have I heard a minister defend the idea that children who were not at risk should be taken into care merely because having them there might be a useful tool to get the desired behaviour from their parents.
As I said, my own opinions on immigration are divided. But Mr Blunkett's aren't. If he's going to eject someone, better that he send men with truncheons and get on with it. Almost anything is preferable to stooping to make the poisonous threat "we can take your children, you know."
It is typical of the way one failed part of the system tries to pass the buck to another part that hasn't failed yet.
A 'Lunch On Shoes' Moment From Cherie. Scott Burgess of The Daily Ablution comments on the way Cherie Booth (Mrs Tony Blair) is sucking up to the Saudis. She tells the Saudi Ambassador that it's sad that so many Westerners have got it into their silly little heads that Saudi women are not treated as equals.
Maybe she doesn't see it as a problem that Saudi women are not pemitted to drive cars because she and her female peers don't drive their own cars either. "Qu'elles emploient des chauffeurs."
Jackie D doesn't fisk often. She has to be in the right mood for it to work properly. She was in the right mood.
More on cakes and famines. Peter Cuthbertson of Conservative Commentary suggests two more links, both from National Review: this one by Jonah Goldberg on Marie Antoinette (it's very funny, contains some good points, but is so bitchy that it actually had me feeling that Goldberg had been unfair to liberal movie stars) and this much more serious one on the Irish Famine. Also, there are some updates to my earlier posts. Scroll down.
UPDATE, Thursday 18th: More on the Irish famine from Chris Bertram in Crooked Timber.
This is really a separate subject, but you may notice that Chris Bertram deleted some of a comment by Dan Hardie referring to the views on World War II held by Paul Dunne of the Shamrockshire Eagle. I'm not arguing with his editorial decision that going so far off-topic is not allowed in Crooked Timber comments - but I am under no such restriction. If you are curious, "The Shamrockshire Eagle" is the same pro-IRA blog that Oliver Kamm had an argument about with Ryan in Manchester, as a side issue to the well known debate about the Red Army Fraction. Dunne's opinions float somewhere in the space where anti-imperialism of the Chomskyite sort stretches out tendrils to the extreme right. He isn't a Nazi. He just doesn't think the Nazis were strikingly worse than the Allies. For instance he says that "Hitler's economic policies (or more accurately those of Schacht) were classic Keynesianism, and quite similar to those pursued by Roosevelt in the same period, up to and including agressive war as a means of curing domestic problems." He also holds that being in the German sphere of influence following a Nazi victory would have been no worse than being in the British sphere of influence. He regrets that so many Irishmen volunteered for the British army in WWII, saying "This is shown by the tens of thousands of Irish volunteers who fought for the crown (including, I am sorry to say, members of my own family)". He praises Seán Russell and Frank Ryan, two IRA men who joined forces with the Nazis, on the grounds that at least they fought the English.
Does all this make his other opinions, about the Irish famine, for instance, wrong? No. But it is relevant to assessing them.
FINAL UPDATE/CLARIFICATION, Saturday 20th Dec. I had an email from Paul Dunne. It was private, so I won't quote from it or argue with it. However I think I can legitimately correct two misunderstandings that stemmed from my own lack of clarity in Thursday's post, since others may also have been misled.
1) In "...not strikingly worse than the Allies" I should have said Western Allies. I had in mind the quote about Roosevelt immediately following, as well as the mention of British vs German spheres of influence.
2) Regarding the same Roosevelt quote, I should have made clear that to me the damning part came after the second comma. I only quoted the earlier part about economic policies so that the whole sentence would make sense to the reader.
I don't think Mr Dunne necessarily expected a reply to his email, but in case he did, I had better state that, having limited time and energy, I don't often get into private debates at all, and when I do it is with those with whom I share some common ground. Given the bitterness towards the IRA which I have inherited from my Irish Catholic family the necessary common ground is not present in this case.
Tuesday, December 16, 2003
Someone* - the email address is familar, and I feel I ought to know who it is but I don't - someone writes:
Oh, about the Russian pun you mentioned vis a vis aromatherapy and 'aroma terrorism,' it does work in Russian because Russian transcribesI smirk. I swank. Knowing no Russian, I only guessed it was a pun from the tone, and I guessed right.
*It was John Costello. Born 1948. Degrees in Anthropology/Archaeology.
A grim bit of historical info I didn't know from Michael Jennings:
The brutality [in Belgian Congo under Leopold] was exposed by a passionate English advocate of free trade named Henry Morel, who founded the Congo Reform Movement after observing that the ships sailing into Antwerp were full of rubber and other things of great value. The ships going out contained nothing of value, except for some firearms and ammunition. From this Morel (correctly) deduced that the only explanation was slave labour.There might be modern equivalents to this deduction. Not North Korea - the place is full of slave camps, yes, but nothing of value comes out as well as nothing going in. But has anyone looked into whether anything much goes into certain parts of China from which streams of electronic gadgets and soft toys certainly do flow out? I'm sure 90% of the fluffy bunnies with MADE IN CHINA stamped on their backsides are made by comparatively free people and represent steps on the way to making that "comparatively" obsolete. The other 10% I worry about.
Diana Dlugash writes:
"I just started reading your blog and, thus far, I am really enjoying it. But I saw David Gillies' explanation of the "Let them eat cake" quote. While it is a more interesting explanation than some others (not to mention more in tune with Libertarian sympathies by displaying Marie Antoinette as a misguided person with liberal values whose belief in government supported good deeds leads to bad consequences), the lady in question never actually said it. As explained in Straight Dope she was 10 years old and not in any position of power when that line was first recorded.
"...diversion from finals..." Look, just keep reading. I might just be able to save you from having the qualifications to get an extremely well paid job. Instead let me direct you into a life of wholesome frugality and blogging.
UPDATE: David Gillies writes:
OK, I admit I boobed on the Marie Antoinette let-them-eat-cake thing. But the ordinance was a real one, although sadly this is all I've been able to turn up as evidence: link.
Tim Blair and Peter Briffa have both flown off the handle about the same engagingly loopy article by Mr Monibot. Personally I blame the Sumerians.
Jim Bennett writes:
"Gary Farber seems to be conflating the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, which were passed more or less at the same time. The Civil Rights Act overrode what was left of the state segregationist laws that were still standing by 1965, and carried additional civil and criminal remedies for discrimination in the public marketplace. The Voting Rights Act overrode the de-facto practices of Southern states that had the effect of making it impossible for black people to vote in most parts of the South. Without having read the Murray piece in question, but being familiar with his general arguments, I believe he is pointing out that de jure segregation as practiced from 1895 on was already a dead duck; courts had already begun overturning the laws after Brown v. Board of Education knocked down the "Separate but equal" argument of the Supremes in Plessey v. Ferguson. Meanwhile pressure on nationwide chains was ending segregation in most major facilties in the South. On the other hand, the Voting Rights Act triggered the real revolution in the South; black voters, black office holders, and white politicians who had to start paying attention to blacks, like Thurmond and Wallace.
"With the Voting Rights Act, I think almost all of the change that did happen would have happened even if the CRA had not been passed; conversely, without the VRA, the CRA wouldn't have been nearly as effective.
"Perhaps this is what Murray meant."
Big killers. Good post from Marcus at Harry's place on killer ideologies, left and right. There are some interesting if vituperative comments on the origins of Nazism.
When taking a break from blaming all the world's mass murders on leftists I like to blame all the world's famines on them. Chris Bertram writes:
An overdogmatic post on famines IMHO. The BBC report you link to reports on Sen's views but misrepresents them. Sen's central finding on the causes of famine is that famines don't happen in democracies. Sure, Marxist or "Marxist" dictatorships are vulnerable to them, but so are non-Marxist dictatorships and any regime where the government can ignore mass starvation with impunity. Your emphasis on property rights doesn't convince: where colonial administrations have been undemocratic but rigorous in their enforcement of private property and the market famine has not been avoided - the classic cases being 19th century India and Ireland.(This is actually a comment to a Biased BBC post. I'm posting it here because the subject of discussion is no longer even tangentially the BBC. )
Hmm. Well I did say property rights were a cause of famine, not the cause of famine. Unlike Chris I haven't read Sen and I don't know much about Bengal - but my impression of the story of the Irish famine is that although much is made of the laissez-faire objections raised at the time to state aid, much less is made of the malign effect of all the tariffs that Britain imposed on Ireland to stop the Irish competing with us. For instance the Irish linen industry arose because British textile barons sucessfully lobbied to kill the Irish cotton industry. Britain put the kibosh on Ireland diversifying, leaving it as a producer of primary resources i.e. vulnerable. Behind, above and all round that, of course, was the fact that Ireland was not free. The property rights of Catholic peasants were not nearly so rigorously enforced as those of higher station. In that respect Chris Bertram's and my opinions coincide.
I found This essay, "Learning the Wrong Lessons: Governments, Hunger and the Great Irish Famine" by Gareth G Davis on Google. There's a note at the top saying Do Not Quote, so I won't. But it argues that the reason such large numbers died was that (a) the potato blight is a devastating disease, (b) state efforts to help in the first year were counter-productive, in that they disrupted the normal mechanisms of importing food, and (c) the Irish were already poor, and it's poor people who die in famines.
I'd also heard (OK, I know "I'd also heard" is not very impressive - perhaps readers will educate me further) that well-intentioned efforts of the part of government and gentry to promote the potato, so ideally suited to Ireland's climate, had meant that Irish farmers concentrated on that one crop. Then along came the Blight.
Monday, December 15, 2003
Gary Farber writes to take issue with this quote from Charles Murray, that was up here the other day:
"...that the various Civil Rights Acts had little to do with the eventual dismantling of segregation."Actually, I am not so far from agreement as one might think. If I'd been thinking straight I'd have put more context around the quote. Murray's book Losing Ground isn't really about the earlier tranche of Civil Rights Acts that did what the name says: enforced equal protection of the laws and equal rights to vote. What it is about is the way that despite the reforms of the early sixties designed to help them, life seemed to have got worse for the poorest Americans from the 1960s to the 1980s when the book was written. Food stamps, Medicaid, Aid to Families With Dependent Children, not to mention the court decisions that from 1965 onwards enshrined various preferences designed to help blacks... all that, but a decline in hope. Eventually one has to ask whether the 'despite' shouldn't be a 'because of'.
Here's another good quote, from near the end of the book:
It seems that those who legislate and administer and write about social policy can tolerate any increase in actual suffering so long as the system does not explicitly permit it.
Not for the likes of us. MPs getting special VIP treatment under the NHS can use aliases to protect their privacy. Handy. When "The People's Avenger" passes his parliamentary pair "Righteous Dude" in the clap clinic corridor they can both avert their eyes and pretend not to know the other.
Ach, that was a bit mean. I should try to avoid reflexive cynicism about politicians. One job I had required me to skim-read Hansard every day. I came away with more respect for MPs, not less. They are not usually corrupt. An ordinary MP's life frequently combines stress, drudgery, tiredness, conflict and, by definition, lousy job security. Even a Cabinet Minister attending a glittering dinner party in Belgravia will frequently be the worst-paid person there. You know and I know that 95%of "lawmaking" is either pointless or harmful - but they don't. They think they are doing good.
But one sign of a bad system is that it insulates people from the evidence that they are not doing good. In this case politicians (not just Labour ones) lumber us with a command economy in health. The inevitable result of that is queues. Then they jump the queues.
The Labour and Lib-Dem MPs quoted who are criticising the scheme are right to do so.
Sunday, December 14, 2003
What to do with Saddam? I don't know, but it's a luxury problem.
I have another reason for happiness closer to home. The boy I mentioned in this post, who nearly died from his injuries after being hit by a car, has passed the crisis point and is making good progress.
Are you sure it was Saddam, Mr Bremer? Because the guy looks an awful lot like Fidel.
UPDATE: Yes. Mr Bremer is sure. Bet Saddam really regrets (a) telling the pizza delivery man his home address and (b) going for the 'Fires of Hell' Xtra-Hot Chili Topping.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Not Fidel. Not Karl Marx. Get the awful truth from David Janes.
Friday, December 12, 2003
France is wrong to ban the veil. Marjane Satrapi's argument is inconsistent in places (if it is wrong for France to ban the veil now, surely it was also wrong for Reza Pahlavi's father to ban it decades ago) but is fundamentally correct and convincing, particularly when she relates her own experience of being forced to wear the veil to the experience of French Muslim schoolgirls forced not to.
BTW the Guardian's subediting is of the standrad that made it famuos, and the translation from French looks as if it could do with better hand-finishing after going through Babelfish. In "Now these schoolgirls are going to wear the viel just because it will be forbidden," for example, we must draw a viel over the way that "it will be forbidden" is put in the future tense in the French fashion rather than in the present tense as seems more natural in English.
Nice line from Freedom and Whisky.
I note that Network Rail says that: "Looking to apportion blame helps no-one." Nonsense. Apportioning blame is just what's needed.
There's a post by me about Africa's past and coming famines over at Biased BBC.
Thursday, December 11, 2003
LBJ, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today? I'm too young to remember that taunt of the Vietnam protest era. I don't know much about the rights and wrongs of the Vietnam War and don't intend to comment on them here. It's safe to say, though, that most of the protestors of that time, like today's anti-war protestors, had as their motivation a sincere horror at the slaughter of war. Then as now, one might challenge the protestors as to whether war was really the worst of evils or whether certain types of peace might be worse than fighting - but one would do so within a common understanding that the death of innocents is sad.
Imagine what it would say about our society if those words had been chanted not to reproach Lyndon B Johnson for the deaths they held to his account but to accuse him of not having killed enough kids?
Imagine if his response had been to say, "I have so killed a lot of kids. Just check my record and see."
That is the degraded state of Palestinian society today. In this article, by a Muslim, please note, the author describes the student elections at Bir Zeit university. We learn that:
At a debate, the Hamas candidate asked the Fatah candidate: ``Hamas activists in this university killed 135 Zionists. How many did Fatah activists from Bir Zeit kill?''For a while, there, I had a flicker of hope over this Geneva thing. Not that an unofficial peace treaty negotiated without the backing of the majority of either Israelis or Palestinians was ever going to solve the issue, but it did seem to speak of a willingness to live together. But who can set that flicker against the raging fire of race-hate?
I've been reading (in secondary school textbooks as it happens) about another great struggle in which Lyndon Johnson played a role: the battle for black Civil Rights. I've come round to an opinion put forward by Charles Murray and quoted here by Peter Cuthbertson: that the various Civil Rights Acts had little to do with the eventual dismantling of segregation.
That does not change the distaste I feel when seeing photographs of the white anti-Civil Rights protestors of that time. Pretty girls in swirly skirts have their faces contorted by hate as they scream at the bespectacled Elizabeth Eckford walking to school in Little Rock. Crew-cut young men jeer as they pour food over the stony-faced black protesters and their white allies who dared to sit at segregated lunch counters.
Nasty. But largely gone, thank God, and not because the blacks started asking themselves "Why do they hate us?" either. It went because the blacks, or African-Americans as the usual American term now is*, demanded justice, and the whites started to ask themselves "Why do we hate so much?" It helped that the rest of the world was pushing in the right direction. I have read how American tourists in Europe didn't care to mention that they came from Selma or Little Rock for fear of seeing friendly faces go cold. Unfair, perhaps, since those particular tourists might have been sincere supporters of Civil Rights, and one should not blame the sins of a nation on an individual, but the knowledge of the world's disapproval did provide another impetus to reform.
Never despair, I tell myself. Change is possible, and the US South is an example. (I'm not saying they are all the way there yet.) But Palestinian society in 2003 is vastly more hate-soaked than the South in the 1960s and much of the rest of the world smiles at and flatters the visiting student from heroic Bir Zeit.
*It's good manners to call people by the term they prefer, so long as it isn't made into a stick to beat those who have no ear for changes of terminology.
Here is a plug for Last Night's BBC News. Read this blog.
UPDATE: This post appears here by mistake, having been intended for Biased BBC. It now does appear there. So I was just about to delete it from here, but, on second thoughts, I won't.
There's always time for important stuff like the names of the Asterix characters in lots of different languages. I never knew the US versions were different from the UK ones.
(Via Odious and Peculiar.)
Wednesday, December 10, 2003
I might not have time to post for the next couple of days. I'll leave you with this.
One mark of what Andrew Sullivan calls “eagles” (but I think are better called “coots”, because otherwise you’re falling in to the “bright” trap of propagandizing via an putatively neutral term) is respect for the fundamental of thrift while not worry so much about quotidian details of life. The coots are now a big factor in the rising political dominance of the conservatives.
In a quiet way it's beginning to be a little bit frightening the way minor miscarriages of justice don't seem to get fixed nowadays. I'm thinking of the fact that Michael Moore still has his Oscar despite the fact that someone must surely have made the Oscar-givers aware of the tricks he used. I'm thinking of some of those "zero-tolerance" cases you hear about in US schools where some kid is expelled and given an official record as a delinquent for obviously innocent acts. I'm thinking of the prison officer sacked for insulting Osama Bin Laden. I'm thinking of the Metric Martyrs. It used to be that you'd hear stories like that, sure, and everybody would have a burst of pleasurable outrage, but then a few days later you'd hear that the situation was "under review" or somesuch: code for "we know we boobed but we're putting it right, or at least settling out of court." One's very confidence that the chorus of outrage was doing some good was part of what made it pleasurable. These days I don't seem to hear those corrections so much. The Metric Martyrs case is still rumbling on somewhere. Scarcely anyone defends the use of vast quantities of public money to persecute two street vendors... yet no one actually seems able to stop it happening. I realise this is very vague. I realise that much worse things happen and have always happened than any of the cases I mention. (And I realise that I haven't put in any links. Sorry, no time.) Yet I do sometimes think that there our society's repair robots, the ones that say "hey, you can't do that," are beginning to break down.
You may be saying, my goodness, I knew about that from far more spectacular and violent evidence than Michael Bloody Moore or the Metric Bleeding Martyrs. I agree with you. Dreadful crimes go unpunished and serious miscarriages of justice abound. Even so, I think that the sort of example I have given is ominous. It's like the way a few broken windows left unfixed can presage the decline into squalor of a whole neighbourhood.
(Added later.) I've homed in a little on what all the examples I mentioned had in common which makes me more annoyed and disturbed by them than their apparent triviality seems to warrant. They all could be put right perfectly easily. There is a loud consensus that they should be. Only it seems they are not going to be.
It's like when you say to someone in a pub, "Excuse me, but your car is blocking mine - could you move it, please?" and they just look at you cooly and make no response.
Moore on deceit. Dot Comrade, one of the posters at Harry's Place first joined and then left the ranks of those taken in by Michael Moore's editing tricks in Bowling For Columbine. I think the comment by Peter Cuthbertson is right: Dot Comrade should put a correction in the main body of the post, since not everyone will read the comments.
If you haven't yet seen http://www.hardylaw.net/Truth_About_Bowling.html, it describes in painstaking detail how Moore took several film clips showing snatches of dialogue from the same speaker but which in reality originated from different parts within the same speech, or even different speeches, and then spliced them together so that "sentences are assembled in the speaker's voice, but which were not sentences he uttered." But which were, of course, sentences that appeared to reveal the speaker (Charlton Heston) as being a callous monster. David T. Hardy also documents other types of deception used in the documentary. Bowling For Columbine is a conscious fraud.
These, it seems, are the type of filmaking skills that are honoured with an Oscar.
Dot Comrade is far from stupid. Yet, as Alene Berk comments, "two of Moore's intentional misrepresentations are taken at face value by a viewpoint-sympathetic observer [i.e. Dot Comrade] and cited to prove a point." (Emphasis in original.) I think that shows how powerful and clever Moore's technique is, and how far it is from the harmless comedy that many allege. If you think it's harmless, imagine how you'd feel if the same techniques were used against your cause. Imagine if they were used against you.
A new home for Normblog at http://normblog.typepad.com/normblog/
Chomsky nailed. The Sporadic Chronicle reports other deceits besides the Owusu hoax. Rob Hinkley has published his email correspondence with Noam Chomsky. At issue was whether Chomsky did or did not predict a "silent genocide" of millions of deaths in Afghanistan. (Summary: he did, dodge though he may.)
As well as publishing his correspondence Rob links to this transcript from Counterpunch of the speech where Chomsky made the "silent genocide" prediction. You may have to scroll down past lots of spurious characters before you get to text you can read. Someone do one of those screen captures, will ya? I have a feeling that it may disappear. Even more tellingly Rob Hinkley also links to the streaming audio recording of the same speech at MIT. I'm listening to it now. You can skip the welcome speech by Amy McCreith. Move on to Chomsky. I have caught Mr Hinkley and the Counterpunch transcribers in one small error (which will no doubt be grasped like a lifebelt by some of Chomsky's disciples): Chomsky actually said "...looks like what’s happening is some kind of silent genocide." That's kind of silent genocide. Not sort of silent genocide.
Yeah, I know, so what. Forget the exact words. Listen to the whole broadcast if you can (there's quite a lot about Nicaragua and then how terrorism is really a weapon of the strong, then Nicaragua again, then something about US military aid making its recipients poor and Turkey and lots of other stuff), but if you are short of time, don't worry: the part about Afghanistan is only a few minutes in. Chomsky says more or less the same thing again and again. Phrases like "the [US] demand to impose massive starvation on millions of people" turn up repeatedly. He could genuinely be in doubt as to whether he had said the exact words "silent genocide"; he could not be in doubt that he had repeatedly claimed something of the sort was being inflicted by the US on Afghanistan.
Stupid liar. There is little in this world more pathetic than the stupid lies of a clever man. He could with little cost to himself or his cause have said, "Fortunately, I was wrong in that prediction, but the US is still wrong to act as it does because..." Instead he dodges and weaves. It's like watching a drunk making a fool of himself in public. Blessed with great gifts in the field of language, he writes tortuous screeds full of lines like "Note first that it is not what I said, therefore a terrible source. But OK here because it is quite accurate."
Last time I reported that an inhabitant of the Blogosphere was in acrimonious correspondence with Chomsky, I cited the wrong person. I checked more carefully this time. Noam Chomsky is really, truly in a ding-dong with our very own Rob Hinkley.
It appears that the blogosphere is coming to the great man's notice. Expect fireworks.
Phew! The only reason that I didn't write a post mocking Elsie Owusu for telling the Guardian that she was thinking of returning her MBE because she objected to the "vainglorious" celebrations over the rugby was that I forgot. Thank goodness for my poor... where was I? Oh, yes, according to the Sunday Times' gossip man she never wrote that letter.
The Guardian are always being hoaxed, but this time I don't really blame them (on the excellent principle that I fell for it too) What was the prankster's motive? The pursuit of a grudge against Ms Owusu, the Guardian or both, or sheer devilry? Both left and right fell for it and now look silly for different reasons.
(Via The Sporadic Chronicle)
Tuesday, December 09, 2003
Does anyone have the faintest idea what my web counter said when it stopped working? The only thing I can remember about it is that recently I joked that whereas Glenn Reynolds used to get more hits in a day than I've ever had, now Glenn Reynolds gets more hits on a good day than I have ever had.
Joanne Jacobs lacks soul. Philistine that she is, she doesn't see the beauty in things being hostile, coercive, distracting and dangerous.
I wondered what had been posted on One Sided Wonder lately but the internet won't let me see. Blogspot seems to have gone out for the day, so maybe Anne Cunningham is wondering what I've posted lately. That would make two-sided wondering.
UPDATE: It's come back. Thoughts on being hassled in Paris, why we accept that powerful men can have mistresses, and a post about a woman called Sally Hemmings who may have been both slave and mistress to President Jefferson.
I read somewhere a persuasive case that it may have been Jefferson's brother who slept with Hemmings.
Only Connect is a blog to watch. Stuff to entertain and sometimes annoy just about anybody. He has found an email address where you can ask UNESCO why they provide money to refurbish the Alexandria library so that its director can place a copy of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion next to the Torah and say that it's more important to the Jews than the Torah.
An Italian Muslim cleric who supports Israel is not something one reads about every day.
(Added later.) I gained from this interview a small but significant correction to my view of Islam. I have often heard quoted lines from the Koran and the hadiths that raised my hackles. One excerpt appears to forbid friendship with Jews or Christians. Another passage speaks of a time when the very rocks will tell Muslims to come and kill the Jews hiding behind them.
Since I am not a Muslim it would be presumptuous of me to say that the more agreeable interpretations that Shaykh Palazzi gives for these passages are the true Islam. However they certainly seem to make sense.
David Gillies writes:
Monday, December 08, 2003
Na Suwt? The teachers' union NASUWT used to be written NAS/UWT, the reason being that it was formed by the amalgamation of the National Union of Schoolmasters and the Union of Women Teachers. This fact is terribly hush-hush. I couldn't find mention of what the letters NASUWT stood for anywhere on the union magazine, "Teaching Today". There was one mention of the full name of the union on their own website, but it was buried in an official submission to the School Teachers Review Body.
I think they are embarrassed at their name, poor loves. "Schoolmasters" has the non-egalitarian word "masters" in it, besides being far too St Cuthbertsy, and Union of Women Teachers is an unpleasant reminder of the savage days before the Sex Discrimination Act when female teachers had to curtsey whenever a male came near.
It's not the only way that NASUWT, which used to be the union you joined when you'd finally had enough of hearing about the NUT's long love affair with the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, has gone PC.
There is an article in the October issue of "Teaching Today" called "What Lies Beneath". The article explains that NASUWT have commissioned a research study from a company called PRCI. The study is about violence and indiscipline in schools, an issue that worries many teachers sick (it also worries many teachers bruised, some teachers broken boned and quite a few right out of the profession.) Parts of the article are pretty thought-provoking from which I infer that parts of the study are pretty thought-provoking. For instance it is pointed out that mainstream schools don't always take enough notice of the accumulated wisdom of special schools. That sounds very plausible to me. But - you knew there was a but, didn't you? - but the study's claim to be "gaining a grasp of the myriad causal factors" rings hollow. This extract, quoting a co-author of the study, suggests that the researchers are not exactly digging deep.
The moral of the story, according to Wright, is that attempts to tackle the problem late in a child's schooling is [sic] the educational equivalent of closing the barn door after a troop of horses has galloped to freedom. Set against rising inequalities in much of the free-market West - leading invariably to more pressure on schools to react to social problems - the challenge is to manage behaviour early as part of a concerted attack on the problem.Gosh. Judging from that passage a company hired to research the fundamental causes of violence in schools has discovered that the correlation between social inequality and violence is not merely positive but, judging from the use of the word 'invariably', is actually 100%. You'd think that would be huge news. Unless, of course, Mr Wright is talking through his hat. Here are some questions I'd like to ask:
Ironically, I think Mr Wright has touched on part of the answer to violence in schools himself, if only he knew. Instead of closing the barn door after the horses have galloped to freedom and grouching about the loss of your property... why not open the barn door and let them bound free? If they love you (metaphorically, Mr Wright, metaphorically) they will come back.
A daring stroke. Let this be a warning. Just today I found myself holding a bottle of milk in my hand but my cup of coffee, my nice hot cup of coffee that I was really looking forward to, had disappeared. "Socialism," I roared in fury, "Socialism, what have you done with my coffee?" (I blame Socialism for everything.) Eventually I discovered that Socialism had crept into my house, spirited my coffee out of my very hand and hidden it in the fridge. Having recovered my property, I shook my head, partly in rueful admiration and partly because cold coffee tastes disgusting. Friends, be vigilant. The Enemy's reach is long indeed.
Tony Blair smiled at the newspaper today. Two stories in the news today seem to have drifted out of a pro-war debater's wish-fulfillment dream. Both Ed Thomas of Biased BBC and Jim Miller have links to reports about the Iraqi soldier who says that he was the source for, and stands by, the contentious 'WMD in 45-minute' paragraph in that dossier, and about Czech Intelligence claims of evidence that Saddam Hussein really did have a hand in September 11.
If proven - and with cloak 'n' dagger stuff like this it's always a big if - these two developments will provide much scope for those who supported the late war in Iraq to say "told you so" to their anti-war opponents. I like saying "told you so" as much as the next gloating warmonger but I can't help feeling it would be as well not to push these ones too hard.
In the end I think the most important reasons for supporting the war were bigger: to depose a tyrant who had killed hundreds of thousands and to make damn sure that the attacks of Sep 11 visibly did not pay out well for the necrophiliac faction trying to take over Islam.
Sunday, December 07, 2003
Let them eat cake. Hamas leader says that there can be no two-state solution.
"Hamas founder and spiritual leader Ahmed Yassin has told a German magazine that a Jewish state could be established in Europe. In interview excerpts slated for publication on Monday in Der Spiegel, Yassin opposed a two-state solution in which a Palestinian state would coexist next to Israel. "One cannot complain that Yassin does not make himself clear. No over-tactful pussyfooting about from him. He says to a German magazine that the Jews should hop it back to Europe.
I wondered whether this admirable clarity would convince Reuters to change their tune. Back on 26 September Reuters were sure that all the Palestinians¹ wanted in exchange for peace was for the settlements beyond the 1967 border to go. So sure were they that in order to explain why a Palestinian went to the house of a family celebrating the Jewish New Year and opened fire on them, killing a baby girl, they could write this ever-memorable paragraph²: [Emphasis added]
"Palestinians regard Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as major obstacles to peace and have regularly attacked them."Has anything changed in the light of Yassin's remarks? Here's how Reuters reported it:
Another complication arose when Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual head of Hamas, a militant group that has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings, said he remained firmly opposed to Israel's existence in the region.This report gave me fuel for some sarcastic remarks. 'He suggested' - like Marie Antoinette with her suggestion about what those without bread might care to eat, he was just trying to be helpful. 'Another complication arose' - it arose, did it? It was just today, was it, and a big surprise all round, that Yassin took it into his head to eliminate the state of Israel? I must have been dreaming when I thought I'd read in Hamas's charter that "Israel will rise and will remain erect until Islam eliminates it as it had eliminated its predecessors."
Yet for all my sarcasm, Reuters did report it. Yassin's crack about a Jewish state in Europe was so striking in its contempt for the remaining shreds of German and international sensitivity about the Holocaust that it might, just might, have an effect he didn't expect.
¹ When first writing this post I echoed Reuters in speaking as if all Palestinians want the same thing. They don't. Whatever one thinks of the terms of the unofficial peace treaty being circulated, those Palestinians who put their names to it have risked their lives to show that they do want to coexist.
² Sorry no link for the first Reuters quote - I assume it's expired.
Today everything seems in shadow. When I first came across them, prayer requests in blogs seemed very strange. Certainly not bad or anything, just not something I had ever thought of doing.
Now I have one. A young boy we know has been seriously injured in a car accident. If you pray, please remember him.
Saturday, December 06, 2003
London, New York, Paris, Munich / Ev'rybody talk 'bout mmm Plain English Campaign don' make good music. When even the Guardian devotes a leading article to saying Rummie made perfect sense there ain't much more to say.
Except, possibly, "isn't it funny how some trivial little stories seem to resonate?" I have neglected to do that re-coding thing to my hit counter (given that Bravenet's free hit counter is, well, free, I really can't complain that they are obviously trying to hassle their free hit-counter subscribers into paying for an upgrade), so I don't know if I had a surge in hits but I was struck by how many blogs linked to the post that I dashed off in forty seconds flat. Nor was I the only blogger to comment unfavourably on the award. Beware the fury of the pedant!
(Incidentally, for a surreal mishearing of the lyrics of the "Ev'rybody talk about pop music" song, scroll down this website. I have one of my own. For years and years I thought "Smooth Operator" was "School of the Red Ants." )
Friday, December 05, 2003
How quaint. EU considers currency controls. (Via England's Sword.)
Have you told a doctor to get the **** out of your life recently? Perhaps you should. It's good for the heart.
Imagine you are a mother who has been stationary in a traffic jam for twenty minutes. It is 3.10pm. In ten minutes your rather insecure five year old will finish school - but you couldn't make it to the school gates in time even if the traffic started moving, which it shows no sign of doing. You own a crummy old mobile phone of traditional design. Do you (a) ring up the school and ask the secretary to have a word with the class teacher so that the teacher can offer specific reassurance ("Your mummy says she's stuck in traffic, but she's coming as soon as she can") or do you (b) obey the law. Leaving aside all the various intra-libertarian arguments about how to deal with road and traffic safety in the least coercive manner, the new law against using anything but a headset to talk while in traffic could so easily have been drafted so as to gain public acceptance. It is obviously dangerous to drive along with a phone jammed between your shoulder and your cheek; that could have been banned and most people would have thought, good thing too. But, oh no, they couldn't do it that way. They just had to make talking on a mobile even while the car is stationary and the engine off illegal as well. It makes me wonder if someone in the government has shares in a company manufacturing hands free sets.
When stuck in the sort of really bad dead-stop traffic jam that builds up behind an accident I have seen people get out of their cars and go behind the bushes for a pee. So far as I know, that is legal (it had better be) - but ringing up your worried family to say why you are three hours late isn't.
I was out with a bunch of ladies last night, most of whose political views are unknown to me. Without exception they said they would break this law if they felt it necessary - or convenient - or fun. They might get headsets, y'know, some day, maybe. Right now they had other things to do with their money, like manicures. And we wonder why respect for the law has diminished. Even the police don't seem to have any belief in it; they say that they will "use their discretion". Better than actually enforcing this idiocy, certainly - but so much for the principle of a government of laws rather than men.
I don't know exactly what I get out of blogging. It can't be pleasure. No one could get any pleasure out of posts like this one of Peter Cuthbertson's, where he imaginatively enters into the mind of a veteran who killed himself after being persecuted first by criminals and then by the police. Yet I would rather have read it than not.
Wednesday, December 03, 2003
Bulminic kitten cuteness overdose. You have been warned. Via The Sporadic Chronicle.
UPDATE: Okay, okay, so I can't spel "bulimic". And I like the kittens really. I am pro-kitten.
Quite right too. Britain is European Top Nation say the Germans; the ones answering a survey anyway. We only beat the Frenchies by 1% though.
There is more heartwarming news from the wacky world of surveys. 57% of 1,001 British adults (Why 1,001? Who was the 1?) surveyed by International Policy Network say, stuff Kyoto we want goodies! Among the nation's idealistic youth the proportion of Kyoto-stuffers is even higher. Who'd have thought it?
Harry Hatchet has been in the wars. Attacked by Noam Chomsky himself! Some people get all the luck. I did once get an email from Justin Raimondo. Actually it was rather nice, but, heck, at least I was noticed.
CORRECTION. Wasn't Harry. It was Hari. I'm very sori.
Tuesday, December 02, 2003
Life is still tough for the owners of lazy slaves. That's the title of a post I have up at Samizdata.
Monday, December 01, 2003
Let me make this very clear. The Plain English Campaign says that Rumsfeld talks gobbledegook. He got an award for talking gobbledegook. But the things he said to get the award weren't gobbledegook. His comments made sense. They were also funny. They were meant to be funny. If the Plain English Campaign can't see this then the Plain English Campaign are being stupid. That would not surprise me. It is not the first time that they have said that something was gobbledegook when it was not gobbledegook, just difficult. Some things are still difficult even when you use easy words. Epistemology, for instance.
The Scots were once a hardy people. When a Scot of olden time wanted to make his plaid wrap round him in the proper way he would simply jump fully dressed into the burn and let the sopping fabric dry - or freeze - round his body in the correct configuration. Times have changed. My Scotland Correspondent writes:
I happened to get The Telegraph today, and its Scottish edition at any rate has one or two plummy stories you might enjoy. I don't know if you've been following the farcical tale of the (totally unnecessary anyway) Scottish Parliament Building? I'm no expert on it myself, but essentially it's an unsurprising tale of catastrophic overspend. The Executive is now having its angst about it in public, with a big Public Inquiry into what went wrong. So far so boring. I quote the Telegraph's paragraph:
A post about e-mail guilt, Normblog, Blogger's oddities, and a concluding moment of sheer awe at the way people similar to me in some ways are suddenly different. I have run out of witty ways of saying that I completely lost control of my email stack. So I'll just say it. "I completely lost control of my email stack." So stern is my determination to avoid all attempts at levity that I refer to an "e-mail stack" rather than an "e-mail pile" and supress a joke about requiring an air-filled cushion. This is no time for jokes. Things are getting embarrassing. For instance, I have only just found out that Normblog has out a profile of me - despite the fact that it has graced his pages for days and days....
Now, utterly excise from your minds the fact that there is a profile of me in Normblog at the moment. This allows me to say that Normblog is so good it burns. Look at all those posts reading like they were tailored to my interests and obsessions. Chocolate. Julie Burchill. What makes a political cartoon acceptable. Non-paradoxes of democracy.
Due to some caprice of Blogspot I only get to read Normblog in bursts - six times out of seven the system will not let me scroll down beyond what is immediately visible, and the usual remedies like pressing f12 do not seem to work. So on the one try out of seven when the sky clears and I can finally scroll down, I gorge myself on good stuff like a pig who has hit the truffle mother lode. And like I said, it's all my sort of stuff.
Yet I think I am right in saying that Norman Geras is a committed Marxist. That, to me, is very strange.
If I've remembered it right, there's a bit in Jung Chang's autobiography Wild Swans where the writer describes how she chatted with a boy from her class while visiting her grandmother in hospital. The scene takes place during a grim period in Chinese history: Jung Chang's grandmother's last months have been made a misery by the Red Guards; the entire family have been persecuted and both her parents have been exiled to separate camps. Yet her schoolfriend speaks without artifice of his devotion to Chairman Mao. By this time, she comments, she had simply had to learn that some of her friends had come up with drastically different answers to life's questions than she had.