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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Wednesday, June 30, 2004
And this year's winner is... The Islamic Human Rights Commission has issued a press release stating the "winners" of its annual Islamophobia Awards. These awards, says the press release, are an "annual comedy event aimed at highlighting prevailing prejudices and subverting them using humour." A sure-fire starter for a Guardian article denouncing the stereotype of Muslims as dour and humourless, while getting in a few well-placed words about the institutional racism of Western society, you might think.

Well it's been four days since the ceremony on 26 June and no such article has yet appeared. I can't understand it. C'mon guys. Al Jazeera had the story the very next day (quoting Trevor Phillips, too.) Did the IHRC not properly name Nick Griffin, Ariel Sharon, the Daily Telegraph, the Metropolitan Police and George W. Bush as the leading Islamophobic persons and organisations? True, Jacques Chirac was in there too, which is awkward, but you must remember that the French ban on headscarfs in schools is a bit of an embarrassment, but still... Ah. Yes. Now I see.

Coming in ahead of Barbara Amiel and Daniel Pipes, the award for Most Islamophobic Media Personality went to... the Guardian's very own Polly Toynbee.

Polly's very much the infidel, and presumably that's what annoyed them.

(Via the Libertarian Alliance Forum.)

Tuesday, June 29, 2004
You are hereby respectfully cautioned and advised... to take a look at this poster. It was posted in response to the US Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Judging from the phrase "most unfortunate of your race" it was written by whites to be read by blacks. Blacks, moreover, who would for the most part have had little formal education. Yet the language used is complex, even florid. Now that may just have been a peculiarity of the times, like the OUTBREAKS OF CAPITALS and multiple typefaces. Those Victorians (can one call Americans Victorians?) did love a bit of bombast. Think of music hall posters addressed to a British working class audience that I doubt on average had many more years of education than was typical for free blacks in contemporary Boston. Odd though their style seems to us, the writers of these posters were not stupid. They wouldn't have gone on putting all those fancy words onto posters if scarcely anyone could read them and come and see the Infant Phenomenon or whatever. The fact of a taste for polysyllabic grandiloquence in posters addressed to the nineteenth century poor demonstrates that many of the poor could digest meaty words.

All they get is pap nowadays. As Thomas Sowell put it in a brief paragraph:

A recently reprinted memoir by Frederick Douglass has footnotes explaining what words like "arraigned," "curried" and "exculpate" meant, and explaining who Job was. In other words, this man who was born a slave and never went to school educated himself to the point where his words now have to be explained to today's expensively under-educated generation.
(Via Joanne Jacobs. And read the personal anecdote with which she finishes her post.)

Loospeak. I found this wonderful example of bureaucratese on the Uttlesford District Council website. There I learned that:
Uttlesford District Council Officers commissioned the East of England Tourist Board to produce a Mystery Shopper Audit in 2003.

The aim of the audit is to provide information useful to those involved in destination management and it covers areas under the control or influence of the local authority that are important to the quality of the visitor experience (a visitor may be a tourist on holiday, a day tripper, or even a shopper).

However, the audit does not assess the quality of the actual tourism product, rather the standard of amenities and infrastructure that visitors can expect when they arrive.

Categories are determined by the size of the population: Great Dunmow, Stansted Mountfitchet and Thaxted were assessed under category A (towns with populations up to 7,500) whilst Saffron Walden was assessed under Category B (towns with a population size of between 7,500 and 15,000).

The audit involved four visits to Saffron Walden, Stansted Mountfitchet, Thaxted and Great Dunmow at weekends and during the week at different times in 2003 and they were carried out by an assessor acting as a visitor. During the visits facilities such as toilets, car parks and the shopping environment were “experienced” and the quality of the ambient and built environments assessed. The assessor was required to mark each town on a range of indicators, based around the core criteria and best practice guidelines. For each indicator scores were provided based on their presence, quality and their suitability to the surrounding environment.

Et in Arcadia ego... I too have "experienced" the ambience of the public toilets of many of these fair towns, though if you're in Saffron Walden you'd be better off with the private sector. (Top floor, ladies, opposite the café.) What are those scare quotes doing around the word "experienced"? Do they imply that the secret agent only claims to have experienced the actual loo / car park/ shopping environment (a claim that Uttlesford District Council can neither confirm nor deny at this time), or that something other than mere experience was going on but that UDC is too polite to say what? I pay council tax to these guys and I say I have a right to know.

Monday, June 28, 2004
A bad week for British Jews. This morning's Thought for the Day was presented by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. (The transcript isn't yet available but you can listen.) It was about recent anti-semitic vandalism and violence. He says there has been rather a lot of it. I haven't heard much about it.

LATER: Correction (to my slight bout of anti-media paranoia)- the Guardian had this.

A cultural observation. Saw a big weatherbeaten builder-y sort of bloke in a pink sweatshirt today. (It was probably described in the catalogue as cerise but that's pink to you and me.) A few years ago the price for wearing such a garment - not that you could have purchased a man-size one at all easily - would have been getting beaten up every year or so.

I don't know or care whether the bloke was gay or not and I am very happy for him to wear any colour of sweatshirt he likes. The point is that so is he happy to wear any colour of sweatshirt he likes, whereas only a few years ago certain colours were forbidden.

Meanwhile kids' clothes and lunchboxes and stuff display ever more extreme sexual differentiation. My Little Fowever Fwiends Pink Pony for the little girls and Killer Ninja Football Deathbot for the little boys. Why?

Neat move.

Britain just can't do big public sector projects argues this Telegraph opinion piece by Neil Collins, in which he reminds enthusiasts that London's Olympic bid will, if successful, be built and managed by the same system that brought us the Millenium Dome. Collins' tone is one of good-humoured self-admitted incompetence, suggesting that the British public sector is full of the lovable bumbling daddies so often portrayed on TV commercials. I don't think that's quite right. Unlovable bloody-minded jobsworths is more like it, made that way by a system that rewards adherence to rules above all else. Collins himself gets nearer to the truth when he says that one reason that London is even less likely than Athens to have its Olympic Pillage completed to cost and to time is that British Health and Safety inspectors are not so amenable to political pressure as their Greek counterparts. The thought of the vainglorious authors of grands projets being stymied by the H&S brigade is pleasing to me. Let us feast as the villains bring each others' plans to naught.

So Britain just can't do big public sector projects? Banish all doubts: guardian angels do indeed sing Rule Britannia.

Grovelblog. That "normal service tomorrow" thing didn't really happen, did it? Sorry. I now really, truly, utterly have my computer back.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004
Speedblog. The front page pictures of the quality papers were utterly predictable today. The Times and the Telegraph led with the blindfolded captured British servicemen. The Guardian and the Independent didn't.

Thus I saw in Waitrose. That's all I have time for today, as I have to surrender the computer. Normal service tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004
Christopher Hitchens, repressed Brit. In a review of Michael Moore's new film Hitchens says:
However, I think we can agree that the film is so flat-out phony that "fact-checking" is beside the point. And as for the scary lawyers—get a life, or maybe see me in court. But I offer this, to Moore and to his rapid response rabble. Any time, Michael my boy. Let's redo Telluride. Any show. Any place. Any platform. Let's see what you're made of.

Talk about a clarion call. In a letter to the Times Miss Adrienne May writes:
Sir, The commitment to a referendum on the EU constitution is Tony Blair’s big mistake. The British delight in being different even from our closest neighbours. Most voters will have no basis of knowledge upon which to vote, other than prejudice.

In addition the freedom of action of an independent UK is overemphasised. We are subject to EU rules already in existence; we are restricted by the European Court of Human Rights; we have to answer to the US, the UN, the World Trade Organisation, the Geneva Conventions, trade conventions, collective foreign policy and world opinion, and are affected by world market fluctuations, especially concerning oil.

Against all this, the freedoms the Eurosceptics seek to preserve are minor, and would have little effect on the life of the average UK citizen.

Was this meant to persuade me to vote for the EU constitution? All it made me think of was a spider saying to a fly, "Don't bother wriggling, my dear, you are already stuck fast in the web."

Better to wriggle. If it tears the web you are free. If it does not, even a stuck fly gains a certain dignity by going down fighting.

Thursday, June 17, 2004
The twist in the tale is that the alternative world is our world. Via Instapundit I found a post by the Chicago Boyz that contained comments by Jim Bennett on headlines the US media could have used when covering the recent EU elections but very definitely didn't. Got all that? Oh never mind, just read.

It takes nerve to comment on church affairs when you're called Damian. Undaunted, Damian Thompson has written this excellent article about how the clueless English Catholic bishops have signed up to a predictably left-wing and ludicrously detailed political programme. Did you know that God wants us to extend Points of View? Also, God would prefer us not to talk about Mugabe's rape camps. Such is the collective view of the Roman Catholic Church in England, of which I am still officially a member.

Swimming Safety Give-Away. This is one of the headlines in the Essex edition of Primary Times, a magazine distributed to teeny citizens. Beneath these enticing words readers are promised the chance to win free squishy objects to protect infant heads from the sides of swimming baths. I do not actually object to the protection of heads, and have to admit that the squishy objects, tradenamed "LaBumpa", might well be of use to children learning backstroke and, better yet, do genuinely make your child appear as if its head is being devoured by an octopus. (Scroll down to see it.) What mother could ask for more?

My difficulty is not with the principle of patented cushioning craniophagic headwear, but with these words:

"No caring or sensible parent would send their child to play football without shin pads, hockey without a gum shield or the non-swimmer without armbands."
I always knew I wasn't sensible. Now I know I am uncaring too. I would send my child to play football without shin pads. I would send my child to play hockey without a gum shield. I would send my child to play the non-swimmer without armbands. As you no doubt know, "the non-swimmer without armbands" is a minor character in Beckett's masterly portrayal of wistful futility, Waiting for Swimming Lessons.

Monday, June 14, 2004
I gather that some folk are greatly anguished over the disappointing fortunes of their favoured team in a multi-national sporting competition that is currently taking place. The football result seems to have upset some people too.

Today I shall leave these things far behind. It's a school training day so I am off to Chessington World of Adventures with a ravening horde of birthday-maddened infants.

Sunday, June 13, 2004
How mainstream is Jew hatred in Islam? What can we do to make it less mainstream? David T of Harry's Place made the connection between the bland reports of how a famed Muslim preacher from Mecca spoke at the opening of the new East London Mosque and some savagely Jew-hating remarks that what appears to be the same man made when on home ground.

I've just posted something about this on Biased BBC. Over there I concentrated on the angle that the BBC (provides global picture, unrivalled depth of knowledge, blah blah blah) either failed to make the link or chose not to make it.

Here I'll just say that I still don't support preventing Sudais from speaking in Britain. On the contrary I support publicising him. One thing that has allowed extremism to flourish in British Islam is an over-polite silence. There are Muslim opponents of the Sudais line; one of them comments on the original Harry's Place post.

Friday, June 11, 2004
PET stands for "polyethyleneterephtalate, used to make clear plastic beverage bottles such as used for Coca-cola and most plastic-packaged bottled water," writes Greg.


And David Gillies writes:

as several of your readers have no doubt informed you,
PET (polyethylene terephthalate)
Thanks for the gap. I could do with that gap.
is the plastic they make coke bottles out of. It's also known as polyester, Dacron and terylene. The bottles are 'blown' by high pressure air forcing a billet of molten plastic into a mould. Hence 'PET blower'.

I used to love the 'let's go through the round/square/etc. window' segment on Play School where
they would show a production line making widgets. It's always been a source of fascination to me the variety of machinery involved in industrial production. Most fascinating from a philosophical point of view are the 'machines that make machines' (be it a spring winding tool or a semiconductor chip fab).

Aaaah, you too. The bottle factory. The squirty chocolates. Von Neumann went through the round window, trust me.

Thursday, June 10, 2004
Postal voting fraud and intimidation. Over several centuries Britain has developed well-oiled and trusted systems for for allowing people to exercise their right to vote, or not to vote, in a way free of intimidation and malpractice.

Can't have that.

Laban Tall has up two posts on the subject.

D-day intelligence failures. A reader writes:
In addition to your examples, the most significant intelligence failure concerning D-Day was probably the failure to detect the German 352nd infantry division in the Omaha Beach area. Unlike many of the units defending other sectors of the coast (“Osttruppen,” made up of east Europeans, including Russian pows, not surprisingly lacking motivation), the 352nd was made up of “real Germans.” That fact, combined with possession of the most defensible terrain in the invasion area, explains the near defeat of US forces at Omaha. Compare the easier time at Utah, only partly explained by different terrain.
BTW, despite being able to guess this reader's name I have kept to my policy of only quoting the name stated in the body of the email. This is because the possible consequences ("Surfing on company time? You're fired!") of stating a person's name when he or she wanted it kept quiet are worse than those of the opposite situation.

If the reader who sent this email is happy to have his name stated, let me know.

Used side pet blower sought. I got to this site while looking for a book on sewing machine repair. It's an internet trade site for used industrial machinery, based in India.

I had visions of a vast machine blowing clouds of dogs, cats and guinea pigs laterally over the landscape. However on closer inspection "side" turned out to be "Sidel", presumably a trade name, and "pet" turned out to be P for plastic, E for extrusion and T for Totally beyond me what it means. Never mind. In India businessmen (and at least one businesswoman, judging from the names) are using the internet to get tea bag packaging machines, dry milk production lines and knuckle joint presses from sellers to buyers. You don't have to know what a knuckle joint press is to know that you are watching India's poverty melt away.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004
A very belated correction. Probably I get about a five-hundredth of the mail that Instapundit gets but since I'm about a six-hundredth as good as coping with it, I have problems. I may perhaps possess a spam filter. I think someone said something about something being included with the upgrade. The fact that I don't know tells you all you need to know.

The only spam filter I'm really sure of is my deleting finger. The moving finger deletes anything in capitals from THE DESK OF Mrs Dead Dictator and having deleted, moves on. Not all thy piety or wit can lure it back to uncancel half a line, but fortunately AOL do have a box for recently deleted emails.

I was dismissing a whole pile of stuff from last month unread when some twitch of conscience made me go back and look at this one:

I think you've been misled by not being able to see Jeff Quinton's site - the terms he lists are terms that showed up in searches for *his* blog, not
"the top 10 search requests".

The fact that his site is a political blog that discusses Nick Berg extensively, and hits near the top in Google for most of the combinations he lists, is very relevant here - I'm sure people in general are still busy searching for (terms that I shan't list, thinking about it, as they'll
probably trigger your spam filter. Mostly relating to unclad pop and sports stars and/or free music, anyway).

John B
John B is referring to this post. I stand corrected.

Incidentally, when I'm on top of things I do read all the emails that look as if they are from normal people. In May I wasn't on top of things. I mean, except for the chair. And that was on top of the floor. I had to be on top of them or I would have fallen to the centre of the Earth. Nor can I guarantee to read all emails from normal people when on top of irrelevant things like Mont Blanc, although I will make every reasonable effort.

Bring me flesh and bring me wine, bring me pinelogs hither
Thou and I will see him dine when we bear them thither...

I could get all proper and start a lecture with the phrase, "It's all very well..." like all those people who go on about complicity in a system of underlying socio-economic injustice while explaining their conscientious objection to the carol singers giving a round of Good King Wencelas. But I won't. Good for you, Chirac.

Let's think "US subversion - works every time!" In a letter to the Guardian, Stuart King of London writes:
For Ferguson, the force that will bring the Iraqis to democracy is the US. Think of the 1940s, we are told - the restoration of democracy to Japan and Germany. Well let's also think 1950s - the US-supported dictatorships in South Korea, Taiwan and elsewhere in south-east Asia. Let's think 1960s - support for dictators like Somoza of Nicaragua. Let's think 1970s - support for Pinochet. Let's think 1980s - support for the Contras to overthrow the democratic government of Nicaragua. Let's think 1990s - support for the warlords, jihadists and oppressors of women in Afghanistan.

But at the heart of Ferguson's argument is the idea that the Iraqi people aren't up to running a democracy. We are told the only way they were going to get democracy "this side of the 22nd century" was courtesy of the US army. If the US and its allies pull out, we are likely to see "descent into chaos". Ferguson obviously thinks it's time we donned our pith helmets and picked up the white man's burden again.
OK, so the Awful Examples are South Korea, Taiwan, Nicaragua, Chile. Um... aren't all those countries now democratic? As you know, I'm fairly pro-US but even I think its a teeny bit irresponsible for the Guardian to provide a platform for quite such effective propaganda in favour of the more dubious activities of the CIA.

Normblog has a funny post about the sheer irrelevance of a Guardian article by Richard Norton-Taylor on why the Iraq war and D-Day were utterly, completely, different. It was 'cos D-Day intelligence was better, and the Iraq war had an unfavourable impact on the transatlantic alliance (don't see that one myself) and the EU project. Do read the original article. It really is as trivial as that. It's like me saying the Iraq War was so like WWII because it toppled a dictator with a moustache, and basing my defence of it around the moustache.

Never one to scorn sheer irrelevance when looking for something to write about, could I just also point out that intelligence for D-Day wasn't so always so hot.

"When they [US Rangers, having scaled the cliffs of the Pointe du Hoc as medieval soldiers once scaled castle walls] got to the casemates, to their amazement they found that the "guns" were telephone poles. Tracks leading inland indicated that the 155mm cannon had been removed recently, almost certainly as a result of the preceding air bombardment."

- The Victors by Stephen Ambrose

It is also sad to reflect that the epic struggle waged by Terrence Otway and his men for the Merville Battery would probably never have been launched had the Allies known that the guns there were not of sufficient calibre to really threaten the landings on Sword beach.

War's like that. Real bummer. Still, you do get to topple bad guys with moustaches.

On a more disturbing note Normblog also links to an article on the leaked (US) Justice Department Memo on interrogation and asks:

The Defense Department is denying that the memo had any influence on policy and practice. They need to be able to back that denial up. Can they?

All private land to be abolished in Zimbabwe. As Damian Penny says, "I hope there's a lot of grass in Zimbabwe, because that's all the people will have left to eat before too long."

God have mercy on Zimbabwe and let Mugabe die soon.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004
Transit of Venus - live. This page from Amargh Observatory updates every sixty seconds. As I write, at 9.46am British Summer Time, Venus is about halfway across.

The planets are real. Space, finite but unbounded space, is really out there, and that is what you see by looking up at night. I've been reading implausible fiction about space for three quarters of my life but that doesn't make it any less real. There may really be aliens.

Intruders alert! Intruders alert!
Ray from "Davids Medienkritik" and Erik from "¡No
and three French friends went along to the anti-Bush protests that took place in Paris on D-Day (truly, as La Rochefoucauld said, tout arrive en France) carrying signs that saying "Sometimes the cowboy is right" and "We are all Americans now."

They were arrested.

Monday, June 07, 2004
Twenty-five years ago I thought calling him "Ronnie Ray-gun" was the height of insightful political commentary. Sometimes I'm a slow learner. This complex and original assessment of a complex and original man, from Oliver Kamm, is the real thing.

"Our landings in the Cherbourg-Harvre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold..." I quote Eisenhower over at Samizdata.

Friday, June 04, 2004
UKIP 2004, Sinn Fein 1918. Somewhat apologetically may I point you in the direction of one of my own comments on another blog, not to mention the post itself. It's about situations when a "wasted" vote is not wasted.

I'm still not sure who to vote for. For the first time in my life I am split three ways:

1) UKIP for the reasons quoted in the comment. On the downside, UKIP is perpetually vulnerable to infiltration from the far right. On the upside to the downside, Labour is equally vulnerable to infiltration from the far left and I'm considering voting for them, too.

2) Conservative, to get the candidate who would be most likely to do the things I want a member of the European Parliament to do, in so far as I want them to do anything other than resign.

3) Labour, to support the Prime Minister. Did I really write that? Yes. I keep hearing that stacks of people who generally approve of his performance as Prime Minister are going to vote against him over the issue of Iraq. I wouldn't mind being a tiny counterweight. Can't stand the man as PM, admire his moral courage (I really wrote that, too) over Iraq.

I think I shall keep my vote secret the better to keep in with incompatible groups of friends and out with incompatible groups of enemies.

UPDATE or maybe this should be a separate post on the peverse incentive not to link to people who just linked to me. I just linked to Brian Micklethwait on Samizdata. I then read down a few posts and cursed mightily. Micklethwait, the villain, had just linked to me. It looks so embarrassing. Honest, Guv, I didn't know! (Yet it probably was no coincidence. For a few days my mind will often run in parallel to that of another blogger. That's the whole idea of this mutual exchange of ideas bit, innit.) Perhaps if I had seen the post where Brian linking to me before I wrote mine linking to him I would have half-consciously steered away from writing mine, for fear of it looking as incestuous as it does.

But I've written it now and it would offend against my sense of economy to delete it.

Brian, don't link to this.

UPDA... oh, why bother. Like no one guessed this was coming.

Thursday, June 03, 2004
Cheep! "All blogging is currently carried out to an accompaniment of cheeping." Quite right too. Ought to be a rule.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004
Why I oppose the EU, the UN and I'm not too thrilled by the WTO either. First a question for you. How do you know communism doesn't work? Because you saw it not working all through your childhood and early adulthood, right? (I'm assuming you are about my age and a citizen of a liberal democratic state.) But back then the communists had all sorts of extremely plausible alternative reasons for the repression, the queues and the greyness. World War II. The drought. The floods. World War III being planned by the Americans. Fraternal assistance to the comrades abroad. And anyway it is working, honest, a loaf of bread costs 0.3p.

After a while you, dear reader who approximately fits my profile, tuned all this out because you noticed that non-communist countries also had natural disasters and enemies yet still managed to feed their people and churn out impressive numbers of transistor radios and those amazing new calculator thingies besides. To help you along to this conclusion the goddess History primly laid out several countries split into communist and non-communist sections so that you could watch one half sink and one half rise and draw appropriate morals. Even without the lessons of divided Korea and Germany, you'd have got the point eventually though. The unfortunate people in the communist countries had got it some time ago. All the lies they were told weren't enough to black out the obvious greater prosperity of the other system, where even the toilet paper was better.

Communism versus liberal democracy was the biggest variable in the laboratory when I was growing up, but it's far from the only one that has been and is being tested. The laboratory procedure is shot to hell and the results are unclear, but they keep coming in. They say that an aerial photograph of two neighbouring states in the US will sometimes show the land changing colour at the state border as clearly as on a map; the difference being no manifestation of nature but the result of differing agricultural policies.

What I fear is that a time will come when there will be no significant examples of difference left in the world. That possibility is still far off but for the first time in history the technology is in place for it to happen. Think about that. We are always being told that this or that situation is without precedent when what the tellers mean is that they dislike the precedents, but this time there really is no precedent. We do not know how human beings do a single world society.

A relatively benign version is the one the anti-globos fear; the one where everyone obeys the WTO/World Bank/IMF consensus of managed capitalism under a polite fiction of democracy. Hey, nobody starves. But what Douglas Adams would call the long dark teatime of the soul continues until the sensible tenets of managed capitalism atrophy from lack of exercise.

That, dismal as it is, is the optimistic scenario. Another one, perhaps the degenerate successor to the first, or you could get there from here, is the world of the international elite. Orwell's O'Brien said, "If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever." Nothing so dramatic for this future: just imagine a bureacrat stamping "permission denied" on an application for a satellite dish - forever.

And it could come about so easily, so gently. All it would take is for the EU to continue its present course, and for other blocs to become more like the EU in its role as the UN's favoured son. I can imagine a future US administration deciding to differentiate itself from its predecessors by coming repentant back into the fold. Then the UN would put gradually put its warm, loving arms around the whole world, with international treaties and courts and protocols and constitutions. These bodies do so love constitutions, don't they? And the whole point of a constitution is to take some matters out of discussion. The French National Assembly has voted to embody the Precautionary Principle into the French Constitution. Voila! If they take it seriously (always a big 'if' in France), whole vast areas of variability and innovation have been swept forever off the table in order to get one week's good publicity.

All you have to imagine is stuff like that keeps happening on a world scale.

Read pretty well any account of how the British government responds to a threat to its sovereignty from the EU. First they say it is all a scare story. Then they say, well it has been proposed, but it will be resisted to the last gasp. Then they say that the new proposals, while maintaining the name, purpose and structure of the old proposals are in fact completely different than or at least heavily influenced by our tough negotiating stance. Then they swap whatever sacred principle it was for a deal on beetroot.

All you have to imagine is stuff like that keeps happening on a world scale.

I am haunted by the tale of the fleets of Zheng He, recounted in Guns, Germs and Steel. China's vast program of exploration, greater than anything Europe ever had, was turned off click! because of some otherwise obscure quarrel between two factions at court. The reason that there was only one switch was that China was unified.

All you have to imagine is stuff like that keeps happening on a world scale.

As Madsen Pirie says, a tax or regulatory regime does not like exceptions. If once we have a world government or close imitation thereof I think we might really see, not the end of history, but its asymptote.

Talk about sawing through the branch you're sitting on... This is kind of sad. OK, he was stupid. But does his stupidity really deserve to be punished by becoming nationally famous for being stupid?

I wondered if there were a patron saint of DIY, stupidity or stupid DIY that the poor man could call upon in his hour of travail. The answer appears to be no, but St Barbara does protect builders and St Jude Thaddeus desperate and lost causes.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004
Rident stolidi verba Latina. Latin is on the way back to the nation's classrooms according to the Independent. Probably this is an exaggeration, a little like the way the Liberal Democrats or their predecessors, the dear departed Liberals, would "prepare for government" after every good by-election result. Still, I can well believe Latin is coming back into fashion - partly because the very fact that it was such a minority subject has raised its status. There's another thing, too:
Dr Jones said. "Until the Sixties, people studied Latin because they were forced to do it. This had a spin-off in educators' attitudes towards it in the Seventies and Eighties. They remembered how they loathed it and did what they could to kill it off."

...But slowly the tide began to turn. Dr Jones said Latin hit its "year zero" in the Nineties, when the collective memory of enforced Latin was finally expunged and the Cambridge teaching technique began to pay dividends. Lunchtime clubs sprang up, Open University courses were over-subscribed tenfold, and other universities began offering starter courses.

Mutatis mutandis indeed. It's certainly true, and welcome, that Minimus the mouse is a creation of a time when no one is compelled to study Latin. Brian Micklethwait often mentions that education-by-persuasion is the coming thing and education-by-compulsion the going thing. I'm sure he's right in general, both factually and morally. Yet I don't think the decline of Latin can be blamed on the fact that it was forced on children until the Sixties. Until the Sixties people studied everything because they were forced to do it, not just Latin, and, now you mention it, not just until the Sixties. There has to be some other factor present that would work against Latin in particular.

I blame Socialism. Regular readers will know that I blame Socialism for everything - and it is a fact that International Marxism is responsible for 62% of unharvested human navel fluff - but seriously this time, I think the modernising egalitarian spirit of the twentieth century wanted Latin gone because it was old and elitist.

Incidentally, I don't speak Latin. I got the quote at the top here and checking the spelling led me here.