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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Saturday, May 29, 2004
Subversive Candy. Alex Bensky writes:
I'm just curious--how many of the people who are appalled that Kellogg's has promoted candy by a campaign that flies under the parental radar approve of allowing underage girls to have abortions without parental consent?Reminds me of the point made by Eugene Volokh and picked up by Instapundit that people who'd choke on their muesili rather than recommend "abstinence only" sex education are happy to recommend "abstinence only" firearms education, or self defence education. Of course this applies to the US, where firearms education is at least on the radar. Over here Eddie the Eagle means him.
Thursday, May 27, 2004
Because they know it teases. The Guardian is shocked to learn that Real Fruit Winders were successfully marketed to the bairns by a campaign that made a virtue of "not letting mum in on the act."
...the agency says it "spread the word about the brand virally" - by word of mouth - following an "initial underground communication" campaign.In other words what made these sweets popular with children was that they were linked in their minds with cocking a snook at authority.
Most authorities think we should counter this dastardly strategy by involving parents, teachers, youth leaders, advertisers and the government in presenting a unified message to children that they should eat more healthily.
UPDATE: The Daily Ablution comments on the same Guardian story.
This searchlight does not illuminate. Wednesday's Indy contained an article by Johann Hari (not available online so far as I know) warning us against voting UKIP because some of the candidates have racist connections. Some of his charges struck home, but I was surprised to see him quote as an authority the "anti-fascist" magazine Searchlight.
I remember Searchlight when it was mimeographed, yes mimeographed, on yellow paper. Like Oliver Kamm (scroll down to see why the link is relevant) I used to go to Anti-Nazi League demonstrations in the late 1970s and early 80s, and I often picked up a copy from the vendors who moved through the crowds. I thought the tone was a bit odd, even then; sort of messianic. If I didn't immediately figure out that it was an unadmitted organ of the Socialist Workers Party that's only because I was a sweet little kid who didn't dream of such sneakiness.
Let me put it this way. I have it from sources at least as authoritative as Searchlight itself* that the only members of Searchlight's staff who can spell are the MI5 agents. While it ought to be reassuring that the extreme left, like the extreme right, is heavily penetrated by the sterling boys and girls of our intelligence and security services, I can't help remembering that Hitler first joined the Nazis to spy on them on behalf of the Weimar authorities.
A LATER THOUGHT: I went home from those Anti-Nazi League demos more sceptical than when I arrived. My desire to be anti the Nazis was unshaken, but I couldn't help noticing that nearly all the posters were made by the Socialist Workers Party, and what I read of the literature that the ever present SWP members handed out did not impress. Northern Irish issues were big then, and they were into redefining the Irish as "Black", on the grounds that they were oppressed. Naive though I was I had a feeling that neither real blacks nor real Irishmen would see this analysis as a useful contribution to debate. In addition, at these demos people would pass round buckets collecting for various causes, including pro-IRA organisations. Most people did not contribute but the buckets were not empty, as I damn well thought they should have been. These days the Stop The War coalition fills the same role as the ANL did then. The effect of the vast anti-war demos may not be quite what the organisers expect.
*Perhaps it'll keep me out of the libel courts if I concede that that ain't saying much.
Wednesday, May 26, 2004
Bismark sunk, Britain doomed. On 24 May 1941 the Bismark sunk the Hood, before being herself sunk on 27 May. Photon Courier imagines how today's media might editorialize upon these events:
All of these disasters and failures were a foreseeable consequence of the policy of military adventurism pursued by Mr Churchill..a policy very different from the diplomatically-based policy that had been recommended by Lord Halifax. It cannot be stressed enough that this is a unilateral policy--other nations do not seem to share Mr Churchill's obsessions. The United States, although happy to sell us military supplies, has been most unwilling to commit forces. Even the Communists in Russia have had the sober judgment to come to a diplomatic modus vivendi with Germany, rather than pursuing a military solution.
Tuesday, May 25, 2004
No nipples, please, we're Scots. Concerned about increasing brazeness and immodesty in our society? All is not lost. These sun-worshippers buck the trend.
Scroll up for lots more recent stuff about the ever-entertaining saga of the Scottish Parliament building, too.
Be careful what you wish for. You might get it.
Cast your mind back. When the schools' league tables of raw results were introduced by the Conservatives the big beef against them was that they did not measure value added by individual schools as they took no account of what sort of intake a school had.
Now these New Labour tables claim to do exactly that. And, surprise, surprise, head teachers have called for the "value added" league tables to be scrapped.
What absolutely terrifies state schools is not that the tables will fail to measure school performance accurately but that they will succeed.
I rather think that the line of argument in the initial complaints, back in the days of raw results, was selected in the confident expectation that, for reasons of politics or technical difficulty, no one would ever work out a metric for value added. That made it safe to complain that the tests were unfair while not looking as if you were objecting to being assessed per se. Teachers rightly sensed that your average salesman or bank employee isn't going to weep over teachers having to undergo performance assessment when it is routine in his or her own job. Anyway, now it turns out that it was not a safe line of argument. Someone has bothered to work out a means of measuring value added. Oh sheesh kebabs.
The slower-moving members of the teaching establishment have not cottoned on and are still complaining that the tests are insufficiently "contextual." The brighter sparks are saying, shut up you fools or some git in the DfES will contextualise us where the sun don't shine.
Don't get the impression from this that I am in always favour of testing or publication of league tables. All the arguments against tests are true sometimes. In my ideal world each school would decide for itself - and parents would draw their own conclusions if a school declined to state its results. These conclusions might be positive or negative.
Perhaps it's my criminal tendencies coming out, but I often find myself thinking not "why are criminals so wicked?" but "why are criminals so stupid?"
(Explanatory Note for non-British readers: it's currently Hate The Post Office Week in the British media. All media, left, right, tabloid and quality. Fine by me. Bring on privatisation.)
The Telegraph's contribution to HTPOW is this story about an elderly couple who received a card to thank them for giving a talk to a church group. Upon opening the card they discovered that it had been opened by the postman who had added an abusive note complaining that the card did not have money in it for him to steal and then helpfully sent it on.
The Royal Mail. Getting the job done.
A spokesman said,
"Tampering with mail is a criminal offence and every appropriate action will be taken against those responsible if identified."If identified - How can he not be identified? Surely the field of suspects is small?
What intrigues me is why the postie didn't just throw the letter away. It's not like anyone would have been particularly amazed to learn that a card had been sent but not received.
Framing the discussion.
"We are particularly interested in views on whether any other types of firearms should be moved into the prohibited category."
Views on whether any types of firearms should be moved out of the prohibited category do not interest the Home Office and are not sought.
(There claims to be a link to the Consultation Paper here but I can't make it work. Send off for a copy if you're interested.)
Monday, May 24, 2004
For various reasons I ended up taking an unscheduled break from blogging and the internet last week. I'm back now, but I have a lot of catching up to do.
Email is French for enamel. I am very highly enameled.
Friday, May 14, 2004
The natives are restless. Damian Penny observes that The Muskeg Lake Cree Nation are seeking to arrange their own lives in a different way from the rest of Canada. The Toronto Star doesn't like it.
So what's the problem? Don't the tribes have considerable self-government and isn't that considered right and just by all enlightened Canadians, seeing as they were the original inhabitants? Furthermore do not all enlightened Canadians respect the fact that the aborigines may have their own beliefs and ways, not always in agreement with those of the white majority?
Nope. As far as Enlightened Canada is concerned all that guff only applies to spirit guides and dream catchers. When the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation want to do something that seriously impacts on their own lives and health (and might make the way the Enlightened do things look bad), such as open a for-profit clinic on their tribal land all that acceptance-of-difference spiel isn't worth a handful of beads.
As Damian comments, "Y-y-you m-mean 'self-government' means they can do things we don't like? No one told us that!"
What is this, a poem for our times? No, it came via Instapundit from a blogger called Jeff Quinton whose site I can't access at the moment. It shows the top ten internet search requests in the wake of... you can guess what. It is a glimpse into the collective mind of the newsbeast. Forgive me for bringing the comic fantasy writer Terry Pratchett into this grim subject*, but I when I see averages of search engine results I cannot help thinking of the attempts made by certain wizards of the Discworld to read the mind of the Great A'Tuin, the turtle who carries the elephants who carry the Discworld. The difficulty was that A'Tuin's thoughts were alien, quite possibly banal and very slow. For our world's great beast it is different - banal its thoughts may well be, but slow they are not. Usually it won't stay thinking any one thing long enough for us to catch the drift. But sometimes it does. In the aftermath of Nick Berg's murder it made a sort of chant of his name.
Yet, as Instapundit points out, you'd never know what was in the collective mind of the English speaking world from the headlines on most of the US and British press. Have a look now and check that out for yourself. The wizards charged with reflecting A'Tuin's thoughts back to the people have their own agenda.
*I rather think Pratchett might forgive me. He is no friend to religious fanaticism. I have sometimes criticised him for tending to paint all religion as fanatical, but he has mellowed over the years.
Wednesday, May 12, 2004
Queen Isabella of Spain is said to have vowed not to wash until the Reconquista was complete and the last of the Moors was expelled.
Quite apart from the hot-potatoness of that particular political analogy, I would prefer not to go quite so far as that. But I will be glad to start my Daily Ablution once more.
A Godwinocorollasceptic speaks. I don't believe in the corollary to Godwin's Law. Godwin's Law itself ("As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches unity") is obviously right up there with general relativity and quantum chromodynamics as part of the basic functioning of time and space. However its usual corollary, "the party invoking the Nazis as a debating tactic in any argument where there is not some direct relevance automatically loses the argument", I will not accept. Partly this is because for many of us the history of WWII is the history we know best, so if we wish to learn from the past at all, that is the bit of the past we are most likely to learn from. It was vast enough to permit many lessons, some of them contradictory.
The other reason is that the position of the Nazis at one extreme of human collective behaviour means that they are the best test case for many propositions even if they are not "directly relevant" in the sense of previous discussion in that thread having been about Nazis or totalitarianism. It's like only way to really be sure a bridge is strong enough is to send the greatest possible weight it will ever have to bear across it. If you believe in free speech even for Nazis, for instance, then you really believe in free speech. If you believe in free speech even for Liberal Democrats the proposition is not so clear.
That said, I'm happy to accept the Godwin corollary in a Sturgeonesqe statistical version: "90% of people citing the Nazis are crap-artists and are deemed to have lost." Here is an example of one such, observed by Iain Murray in an article for TCS called Adolf Lomborg. He quotes Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as saying, "What is the difference between Lomborg's view of humanity and Hitler's?"
The relationship between the terrorists themselves and those in the West who are so desperate to see Bush or Blair defeated that they would even agree to give terrorism a free ride reminds me of the fable of the scorpion and the frog.
One day a scorpion arrived at the bank of a river he wanted to cross, but there was no bridge. He asked a frog that was sitting nearby if he would take him across the river on his back. The frog refused and said, "I will not, because you will sting me."
Tuesday, May 11, 2004
Two pictures. I just found out about the latest Al-Qaeda beheading. I haven't seen the video. Probably I never will.
I thought of Daniel Pearl. I wondered how and when the murdered man's family learned of the manner of their son's death. I wondered if he himself knew what was about to happen, as Fabrizio Quattrocchi did.
And such is the unalterably tactical nature of the human mind that mixed in with all that I thought:
Thanks for the reminder, Hellspawn. No thanks for the killing; we've had enough of that, but thanks for the reminder. In all this agonized talk about what we are, we were beginning to forget what you are. What you stand for.
Andrew Sullivan thought the same way, evidently:
And they [Al-Qaeda] are as stupid as they are evil. Iraqis now have contrasting images. Do they want to be run by people who cut innocent people's throats at will or by people who have removed a dictator and are investigating unethical abuse of prison inmates? Zarqawi has now done something for our morale as well as his. He has reminded us of the real enemy; and he has reminded the Iraqis. One simple question: will CNN now show these video stills?
LATER: Though I really want to go to bed I'm going to take a few minutes to cross-post the above post on Samizdata first. Brian Micklethwait had innocently signed off for the night there with a cheerful collection of photographs he'd taken in London. I feel a compulsion not to leave things on that note given that a lot of American readers will be accessing the site now with the "execution" uppermost in their minds.)
Splash in. I found this blog via Instapundit. I'm reading it. See ya later.
Agamemnon's dream. The former editor of the Telegraph, Charles Moore, has written a long and important opinion piece on Iraq.
... what is needed above all is consistent political and military willpower, publicly demonstrated and explained. Without this, the media will create the future. Mr Bush and Mr Blair need serious speeches about why it matters so much to get it right and what getting it right means.
On the Iliad theme, I hope Moore does not prove to be a Cassandra. Correction: I hope he is, since her prophesies, though fated never to be believed, always came true, and Moore is prophesying eventual victory.
So Bush is Agamemnon and Blair is Nestor. Saddam had better be Priam (despite the libel to the old king) so that Uday can be Paris. But who would be Hector? Iphigenia? Helen?
Some mild SATs paranoia. My daughter took her Key Stage 2 Writing Test today. (I was almost certain it was really called something posher than "writing test"; "literacy task graded functionality assessment" or something like that, but my husband says, woman, it's just a writing test.
Where was I? My blogging functionality self-assessment is dysfunctional owing to a mind/new Blogger interface adjustment timelag situation. Oh yes, I remember now: SATs.
The children were asked to write their opinion on a proposal to have the school day shifted earlier. Luckily for my daughter she had seen an item on the Children's BBC programme Newsround making the same proposal a few days ago and had sounded off about it then. This meant she had no trouble thinking of things to say in the test.
However she has advanced a theory about why this topic was chosen which at first I pooh-poohed in the way of a parent ever anxious to portray the world as full of Nice People (remind me - why do we do that again?) but which has begun to seem more believable as the hour grows later. It is this: the government are using the SAT test as the world's biggest unpaid focus group. She didn't put it quite like that, but you get the idea. And you know... it begins to add up. Consider:
The main arguments that I put to my daughter against her theory were, "Why should they bother for such an unimportant issue?" and "Why bother with eleven year olds who are years away from being able to vote?" - but now as she sleeps I've come up with the answer to both: it's a trial run.
So if she's right we should expect to see future public examinations for near voting-age students asking questions about Europe or Iraq.
Incidentally, my campaign to convince my daughter of near-universal worldwide benevolence does not seem to have worked.
Friday, May 07, 2004
Zimbabwe arrests heads of private schools. The dragon is eating its own tail: 90% of the children in these schools are black, and include the children of members of the cabinet, including Mugabe himself.
More on "What were they thinking of?" Jeffrey Murphy writes from Australia:
I'm reading Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners at the moment. He often mentions and discusses the delight with which German death-march personnel photographed their vile deeds. They had an attitude to this that almost resembled a hunting party's joie de vivre. These were not regulars, nor were they engaged in front-line responsibilities. Many, if not most, were ill suited for regular soldiering because of age or other factors.I agree with every word, except perhaps the last line. I suspect that people often live in several different worlds, each with its own ethos, and keep boundaries between them. Hence the phenomenon of the ruthless criminal who is also a devoted family man. For some, if not all, of those who carry out brutal acts in the heated camaraderie of a military unit "gone bad", when the boundary round the little world of that unit is ripped open and the bad air let out then they will suddenly see themselves as the world sees them.
However Mr Murphy's general argument, and in particular his suggestion that the intended audience for the pictures was (looking up the status hierarchy) combat soldiers and (looking down) drinking buddies back home, strikes me as extremely convincing.
Thursday, May 06, 2004
What were they thinking of when they took those photos? There is a particular film image from World War II that will stay in my mind until I die. Yet, unlike many more famous segments of film, it does not show anything you could describe as an atrocity. Not exactly an atrocity. It was taken by a German soldier with his personal ciné camera; this wasn't as rare an occurence as one might think, as home cinema had been a popular hobby in Germany throughout the thirties. Also, surprisingly, German soldiers wishing to take their own cameras or ciné cameras with them were subject to fewer restrictions than their British counterparts. I'm not sure but I think cameras may have been forbidden to British troops entirely.
Anyway, the image I am thinking of shows a great crowd of Russian prisoners. The man filming them was obviously standing on a hill looking down at them. As was common practice of the German army on the Eastern Front, except for being penned in by a fence of some sort, their Russian prisoners were left to themselves to live or die. Here were no Stalags with ordered rows of huts, no shelter of any kind, no doctors - and no food. They ate leaves or grass or their boots or each other.
Then the viewer sees some object describe a trajectory down from the ridge where the camera is. Down, down it curves - the filmmaker doing a nice job of panning the camera to match the object's trajectory. It lands among the crowd. It is a lump of food. The Russians scramble for it, like - undeniably like - animals converging on a lump of food thrown by a man.
One can quite see why one German soldier of that era would think it amusing to do that and another to film him doing it. It suited the Nazi idea of Germanic masters and Slavic subhumans perfectly. One can also see (and this is a separate issue) why the soldier filming it had no worries about doing so. He thought the Nazis would win. He thought that no one would ever see the film who would possibly object to seeing Russians humiliated, or if some weakling did object, he would have no power to make that objection count. (I don't know by what chain of events the film eventually ended up on a British documentary, and whether the man who shot it was ever asked "what do you think now?" after the war. Nor do I know if any of the Russians shown ever came forward.)
You have probably guessed the question that is in my mind. When the prison guards at Abu Ghraib took humiliating pictures of Iraqi detainees, why did they think that those pictures would not come back to haunt them? I don't ask why did they do it - the reason they humiliated prisoners is the same as the reason for uncounted similar acts throughout history. Cruelty will ever be with us, as will the notion of adding to the victim's humiliation by recording it in permanent form; which is why the duty to make sure cruelty doesn't pay is so pressing. But the modern US isn't Nazi Germany - the pronouncements of idiots like Ted Rall notwithstanding. (Nor is modern Germany Nazi Germany, for all that prisoners are beaten and terrified there, too. The difference is that abuses in modern democracies are seen as abuses.) Getting back to the snap-happy guards at Abu Ghraib: why didn't they figure out that eventually someone would see who would object and would have power to make that objection count?
As you know, I've been out of it for a while. I may have simply missed the news story where the people who took those pictures were asked that question and gave their answer. In the absence of such an answer this is just my guess. I wonder if the sheer ubiquity and disposability of digital cameras has degraded the idea that photographs count. They are now seen as more like speech than writing. Adding to this effect may be the fact that everyone knows that pictures can be changed in minutes, as the multiple versions of the picture of the Iraqi boy holding a sign demonstrate.
And what of the future? We now have a situation where images flow like speech and are as mutable as memory. I am quite sure that legions of journalists are hard at work searching for similar true images, and legions of photoshoppers are hard at work making similar fake images. The jury is still out on whether the Mirror's photos showing British soldiers kicking a hooded Iraqi are fakes - most people I know do think they are fakes on the grounds that the equipment is wrong and the whole thing too clean and sharp, but no one can say "it cannot happen."
Will all this be a brake on the next person who wants to photograph their victim while comitting a crime - or an encouragement?
(Link to Dorkafork post via Public Interest.)
That'll teach thee to think thou knowest it all, Natalie. In Poul Anderson's The Boat of a Million Years there's a scene set before the American Civil War in which some Quakers give shelter and aid to an escaped slave woman (who happens to have a rare gene that means she does not grow old, but that's irrelevant to this post.) I used to feel irritated reading this scene as the Quaker characters all say things like, "Hast thee eaten?" Grrr, I thought. Anderson thinks he can just replace "you" with "thee" and sprinkle a few hasts and dosts to get it right. Pah! I know better!
Pride goeth before a fall. I learn from Eugene Volokh who knoweth jolly nearly everything under the sun that Poul Anderson was right all along:
Quakers also use or once used "thee" (though for some reason they use it instead of "thou" as the nominative as well as in the objective, essentially the equivalent of using "me" both for "I" and "me") amongst themselves instead of "you"...
While swirling this post around on Google I found Quaker Science Fiction, a webpage that lists references to Quakers in SF. I love the internet. Following the pointer in that page I found http://www.adherents.com/, which looks to be a rich source of factoids about the world's religions. The author or authors seem to be SF fans. It's a splendid browsing ground for a blogger with my sidebar, but counting every single mention of Dizzy Gillespie in SF as being a reference to the Bahai faith is perhaps a little obsessive.
Wednesday, May 05, 2004
Hurrah for me! I can make libertarian propaganda out of absolutely anything. Think of it as recycling.
I haven't listened to the news much recently. Deprived of the hour-by-hour trickle of new developments, I perceive the news in a more compressed way than I usually do. It seems only the day before yesterday that a pregnant Israeli woman and her four young daughters were shot in cold blood one by one, and only yesterday that the stories of American (and possibly British, but that story seems more doubtful) abuse of Iraqi prisoners broke. As a result a certain contrast is clearer to me than it usually would be. The Western media is awash with outrage at the mistreatment of Iraqis by Westerners. So it should be, but -
Where was the Arab outrage at the murder by Arabs of Tali Hatuel and her children? Why does no one even expect there to be any outrage?
Re-read what David Warren wrote in his essay "Wrestling with Islam":
These are, still today, cultures of the "pre-Enlightenment"; people not incapable of sympathy, for their own, but not yet versed in the imaginative projection of that sympathy into people who are not their own. And at this level, it is not Islam, but the Enlightenment, that stands between East and West in these matters. For we have largely lost the category of an "infidel", and they still have it.To say that the Enlightenment has not yet reached the Arab culture is not to say that we enlightened ones are necessarily the good guys. No light of reason was bright enough to stop post-Enlightenment Europe slaughtering millions. It is to say that this whole business of apologies and shame over the mistreatment of enemy prisoners is not the human norm. In a sense that makes the Arab world's double standards less deserving of condemnation.
But not less deserving of being pointed out.
ADDED LATER: Why bother to point it out, since I am apparently claiming that the Arabs just don't get it? Because cultures change, and that takes place by means of individual changes of heart. And, thanks to modern technology those changes of heart can take place at a rate never before seen.
The prisons of Britain had been stinking hell-holes for centuries before John Howard denounced the abuses in them. They hadn't changed; the culture of Britain had. Civilians sympathetic to the enemy had been starved and maltreated by occupying soldiers for centuries before Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman denounced the British army for employing "methods of barbarism". That hadn't changed; the culture of Britain had.
The punishment for any soldiers found guilty of torturing prisoners must be exemplary.
Monday, May 03, 2004
Sorry for the long absence. I had hoped to get back to blogging last week, but a combination of other members of the household needing the use of the computer and a sick kid made it all too difficult. Besides, I haven't liked the look of the news lately.
Back in a couple of days, I hope. Apols to all those to whom I said exactly the same thing a couple of days ago.