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:

November 2001 December 2001 January 2002 February 2002 March 2002 April 2002 May 2002 June 2002 July 2002 August 2002 September 2002 October 2002 November 2002 December 2002 January 2003 February 2003 March 2003 April 2003 May 2003 June 2003 July 2003 August 2003 September 2003 October 2003 November 2003 December 2003 January 2004 February 2004 March 2004 April 2004 May 2004 June 2004 July 2004 August 2004 September 2004 October 2004 November 2004 December 2004 January 2005 February 2005 March 2005 April 2005 May 2005 June 2005 July 2005 August 2005 September 2005 October 2005 November 2005 December 2005 January 2006 February 2006 March 2006 April 2006 May 2006 June 2006 July 2006 August 2006 September 2006 October 2006 November 2006 December 2006 January 2007 February 2007 March 2007 April 2007 May 2007 June 2007 August 2007 October 2007 February 2008 April 2008 May 2008 June 2008 July 2008 September 2008 October 2008 November 2008 December 2008 January 2009 March 2009 May 2009 June 2009 July 2009 August 2009 October 2009 January 2010 March 2010 May 2010 June 2010 July 2010 August 2010 September 2010 October 2010 November 2010 December 2010 January 2011 February 2011 April 2011 June 2011 August 2011 September 2011 October 2011 November 2011 January 2012 February 2012 March 2012 April 2012 May 2012 June 2012 July 2012 August 2012 September 2012 October 2012 November 2012 December 2012 January 2013 February 2013 March 2013 April 2013 May 2013 June 2013 July 2013 August 2013 September 2013 October 2013 November 2013

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Wednesday, July 21, 2004
Why raggy pages? Offspring A recently received a gift edition hardback book. "It's very nice," she said, "but I think they didn't make it right. The pages are all raggy at the edges."

"They do that with posh books sometimes," I said.


"Ah," I said, "the answer to that is, um, is a terrifying yet exciting Mystery of Adulthood that will be revealed to you in a secret ceremony on your eighteenth birthday."

So I have a few years to find out. Why is it posh to have the edges of the pages uncut? Is it meant to suggest handmade paper?

Tuesday, July 20, 2004
Gary Farber writes:
Understanding that the following are not your words, but wuzname's, but since you did praise them:

[Here Gary quotes this post from "God Save the Queen" (the blog, not the national anthem) which I commented on here. Gary's words are in normal type; Mr GSTQ's in italics. What a lot of quotes-within-quotes I seem to be having.]

"1 - full colonisation (America, Australia);

2 - partial colonisation (South Africa, Algeria);

3 - prolonged imperial rule (over a century, say) without settlement
(India, Phillipines, Sri Lanka, Indonesia);

4 - brief imperial rule (a few decades only) without settlement (Nigeria,
Egypt, Burma);

5 - no European rule (Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, Thailand).

The correlation between present-day democracy and the level of colonial/
imperial experience is striking. Countries in category 1 are overwhelmingly
free. Categories 2 and 3 are mostly free."

[Back to Gary's opinion now:]

One -- meaning "me" -- feels a need to note that this "overwhelmingly free"
experience didn't work out too well for many of the already-there inhabitants nor their descendants, in category one, nor did matters do much better, until the last few seconds of history (comparatively speaking) in category 2.

It seems at least worth noting in passing.

I liked the calm understatement of the last line. Any extended treatment of the subject of empire that does not give full weight to the fact that human beings do not want to be ruled by foreigners is worth very little. Yet there is no inconsistency between thinking conquest a bad activity and observing that it may, through the diffusion of improved technology, institutions or ideas, have good consequences for the descendants of those conquered. May have. In the worst cases the conquered didn't leave any descendants.

The wheel makes some strange turns. The descendants of Africans captured by slavers and taken to servitude in America are on average better off than the descendants of their neighbours who evaded capture. Arguably some of that differential was caused by the devastating effects of the slave trade*, but that does not make the observation invalid.

*I'm trying and failing to remember/Google a quote about regions of Africa where no white man had ever been being convulsed and blighted by slave-taking wars.

Semiskinned semi-skins the increasingly strange A L Kennedy. Here's an excerpt. Rob's bits are in ordinary type, Alison K's in italics:
...Only 3 sentences in and we already have Tony Blair slithering, words being put in his mouth, "demonic" foreign policies and describing people as "evil enough to provoke spontaneous vomiting in small children". Way to build a solid platform of rational argument, Alison.

Now, like many British citizens, I'd rather not think about our ghastly leader, but Bush is rather harder to blot out. It's that whole terror thing. I've been waking up screaming since I was five, so I find I am slightly susceptible to terror. Not the $60bn-earmarked-for-next-year, civil-rights-dissolving, Orange Alert type of terror - I mean real terror.

Aha, you mean the murdering-3000-people-in-one-morning type of terror?

And it's not as if the genuine terror of Bush is hard to notice.

No, I thought that wouldn't be the sort of terror you meant.

Within hours of coming into office, he'd started approving oil exploration in national parks, cutting support for disadvantaged children, raising the levels of arsenic in drinking water...

The man can change the chemistry of drinking water? 

Sorry for my unexpected absence since Thursday. First one offspring was sick, then the other. Not very sick, which is a relief, and probably not the same sick, which is also a relief as we're going camping the day after tomorrow. But enough to put me all at sixes and sevens.

Thursday, July 15, 2004
Unravelling the delicate balances on which freedom and democracy depend. David Green of Civitas writes on how a law against incitement to religious hatred would encourage extremism. (Via Iain Murray.)

I think Green, like Hume before him, is unecessarily harsh to religious leaders. Not that many are cynical frauds. Some are honest bigots (and need to be argued against on that account); but these days most Christian leaders - including much of the hierarchies of the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England - are merely "professionalised" in a bad sense. Their desks are covered with action plans and mission statements. They spend too much of their time talking to and reading the words of people very much like themselves in politics and class origin and hence erect unconscious barriers to entry for those of different politics and class. They don't get out enough. They don't think out enough.

Don't let that caveat put you off. It's a fine article.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004
Read this detailed, link- and quote-filled post on "Iraq Body Count" from David Adesnik of Oxblog.
However, the prize for total absurdity goes to entry 'x344' which includes upwards of 1600 deaths described as "violent deaths recorded at the Baghdad city morgue". For details about the morgue reports, see this AP report [link in original], cited by IBC. To be fair, IBC notes (see above) the Occupying Authority is responsible for maintaining law and order. Still, what IBC is basically doing is holding the US responsible for street crime.

Do all that many Telegraph readers want to eat insects? One of the little mini-adverts on the Sunday Telegraph leader page for 11 July took me to a teachers' resources website selling insect candy and snacks. It says:
One of the highlights of our new bug products is Genuine Farm-Raised Bug Candy. That's right campers... there are real insects in those lollies. Now before you turn up your nose, take a moment to think about teaching the most unforgettable earth science, food science or cultural lessons imaginable! Educational Innovations is very proud to introduce our new line of incredible edibles. Keep reading! All of our insect candy and snacks are hand made with great care, using only completely edible, farm-raised insects (no, we do not catch them ourselves). Try them! If you don't love'em, your students will!
The advert below offered Quality Dried Butterflies.

Somewhere in the house I have a reprint of a Victorian book called "Why Not Eat Insects?". You can read it here.The philanthropic author is persuasive almost to the point of persuasion in urging all classes of society to eat insects:

...I foresee the day when the slug will be as popular in England as its luscious namesake the Trepang, or sea-slug, is in China, and a dish of grasshoppers fried in butter as much relished by the English peasant as a similarly treated dish of locusts is by an Arab or Hottentot. There are many reasons why this is to be hoped for. Firstly, philosophy bids us neglect no wholesome source of food. Secondly, what a pleasant change from the labourer's unvarying meal of bread, lard, and bacon, or bread and lard without bacon, or bread without lard or bacon, would be a good dish of fried cockchafers or grasshoppers. "How the poor live!" Badly, I know; but they neglect wholesome foods, from a foolish prejudice which it should be the task of their betters, by their example, to overcome.
but, rightly in my opinion, draws the line at spiders:
Even Spiders have been relished as tid-bits, not only by uncivilized nations, but by Europeans of cultivation. For Reaumur tells of a young lady who was so fond of spiders that she never saw one without catching and eating it. Lalande, the French astronomer, had similar tastes; and Rosel speaks of a German who was in the habit of spreading spiders, like butter, upon his bread. This taste I do not in any way uphold, for the preying spider, which devours his fellow-insects, whether foul feeders or no, should be avoided, as are carnivorous beasts in our animal diet.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004
Something NOT so rotten in the state of France. Remember that awful story about the Frenchwoman who was beaten up for looking Jewish while the passengers watched? Well, it seems she made it all up. Stupid lying cow. Antoine Clarke directs me to this story. Headline and first paragraph says
The young woman admits to having lied.
Heard a second time by the investigators on Tuesday afternoon the young woman who said she had been attacked in the RER D (French railways) has admitted having invented it all. Since Monday the numerous contradictions had led the investigators to be cautious.

She has a history of hysterical fantasizing; Antoine compared her to that woman who claimed to have been raped by Neil and Christine Hamilton.

Kalahari Bushmen, New Age Travellers and the paradoxes of state welfare. I have a gigantic post bearing that title up over at Samizdata.

Monday, July 12, 2004
Something rotten in the state of France.
[CORRECTION ADDED 13/7 - The woman whose ordeal I describe below turns out to be a liar and a fantasist. Scroll up to read more. I hope the general comments about bystanders and criminals are still of interest. ]

This, from Gene at Harry's Place, is particularly disturbing (as Gene says) because of the passivity of the onlookers. Politically the reaction of passerby to a crime is often more significant than the crime itself. I do not imply by this any lack of sympathy for the actual victim; for her, the devastating thing is the assault and the lack of help merely a depressing coda to it. What I mean is that the behaviour of the non-criminal onlookers is likely to better correlate to social or political trends than the behaviour of the criminals. There are more of them and they are more typical.

In a similar way I find the success of Thierry Meyssan's 9-11 conspiracy book in France more damning to the reputation of France as a whole than the wave of anti-Semitic violence there. Being a racist thug or an arsonist is a much worse thing morally than buying a foolish book, but the wave of violence could conceivably be the result of the actions of a few highly atypical fanatics. (On a related subject I gather that many terrorist campaigns affecting whole nations involve mere dozens of operatives. Much is made of the need for passive support among the people for terrorism, but surely technology has made the need for such support less than it was.) In contrast getting onto the bestseller list can only be the result of broad support among the people.

Anti-semitism is not the same thing as believing in 9-11 conspiracy theories. But I suspect the Venn diagram of the two sets would be mostly overlap.

"Colonialists against imperialism." "Who," asks Laban Tall, "is this erudite blogger at God Save The Queen? Posts about the Saxon kingdoms, the differences twixt empire and colony - and he doesn't seem to be a Robert Fisk fan. If s/he keeps up the opening standard none shall be happier than I."

Seconded. Here are a great many lines from the anonymous author (I started by saying "a few lines" but found myself unable to stop quoting):

But consideration of the different levels of imperial activity leads one on to a curious phenomenon. If we sort the countries of the world by their imperial experience we can see five levels, not that these have strict boundaries:

1 - full colonisation (America, Australia);
2 - partial colonisation (South Africa, Algeria);
3 - prolonged imperial rule (over a century, say) without settlement (India, Phillipines, Sri Lanka, Indonesia);
4 - brief imperial rule (a few decades only) without settlement (Nigeria, Egypt, Burma);
5 - no European rule (Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, Thailand).

The correlation between present-day democracy and the level of colonial/ imperial experience is striking. Countries in category 1 are overwhelmingly free. Categories 2 and 3 are mostly free. Algeria is arguably the first major Arab country to hold a meaningful election: it was also the only Arab country to experience prolonged European rule, being run by France from 1830 to 1962, and the only one to experience large-scale European settlement - when the French army pulled out 800,000 civilians went with them. Category 4 is struggling towards freedom and category 5 is the least free of all.

I've chosen this sample rather crudely, of course, and one could easily find countries that don't fit. Zimbabwe, for example, is rather a special case - a short period of rule but with substantial colonisation. Likewise Japan and Korea are peculiar, since both owe their democracy to American military occupation. But most states do fit the model roughly, and the sample covers most of the world's larger nations. A rough fit is the best anyone can ever hope for in these grand historical models.

So what's going on? The best answer I can come up with is to invoke Max Weber, who said that there are three broad types of authority: traditional (obey me - your ancestors did), charismatic (obey me, I'm great) and rational-legal (obey me - I can run things fairly and well).

Democratic countries require the rational-legal or bureaucratic mentality. Tribal and clan loyalties, on the other hand, are the default setting of human organisation, historically: even the ancient Greeks and Romans, thought of as hyper-rational and urban, identified themselves that way (the name 'Julius' in Julius Caesar refers to the Julian clan, etc.). Colonisation, and imperial rule to a lesser extent, destroy the traditional authority of tribes and clans, by a variety of means, for instance by killing or discrediting tribal leaders and promoting urbanisation and academic education. Colonialism is more destructive - it's a form of sociological slash-and-burn - because the level of intrusiveness is inevitably greater.

That means that when the guys in solar topees go home newly independent countries have to choose between charismatic and bureaucratic rule. Being only human, they tend to be suckered by whatever bighead has the loudest voice or the biggest militia: over time they learn the disadvantages that come from the Holy People's Will, and start to reflect that 'appen a bit of bureaucracy wouldn't be so bad.

But pity the countries in category 5.

I'm not entirely convinced. Iran is a sort of cruel half-democracy and Thailand is no hell-hole. I think Mr - er... What do we call him? (It can't be Mr Save-the-Queen because that would make his first name disconcerting. Him, anyway. (Or her, but I don't think so.) I think he should bring the effects of rule by non- or half-European ruling powers such as China, Japan, or Russia, or even the Zulus into the equation.

May I recommend Sowell's Conquests and Cultures, if he hasn't read it already?

I have a couple of posts up over at Samizdata, if you're interested. One silly, one serious.

Saturday, July 10, 2004
It's not every day I cheer on anti-corporate direct action. But doday I will. Go, Rob! Show those presumptuous capitalists the limits of their power.

The unorganised doily-making militia. Odious of Odious & Peculiar spends a flight contemplating how to commit on-board anti-terrorist mayhem with his crochet hook. I'm surprised they let him in with a crochet hook; I don't think they would at Stansted. The Stansted/Charles De Gaulle tendency appears to have kiddies in costume and wielders of craft yarn more to the forefront of their minds than actual terrorists as the sort of person they wish to thwart and annoy. Given the real peril, what an astonishing example of the human tendency to elevate doing something easy over doing something useful.

Mind you, if I may say so without offence, I can see why Mr Odious might appear to the jaundiced eye of a security man as being a teeny bit closer to the statistical profile of the average terrorist than a silver-haired granny half way through a baby blanket. He thinks things like this:

Am I the only one who, as I shuffle forward in my socks, waiting to retrieve my belongings, dreams of challenging them all to an iaijitsu duel? "Taste my watered steel, you dim-eyed troglodyte! I shall send you to the Land of Wind and Ghosts, that your intestines may be eternally devoured by wild boars! Yes, I have two forms of ID."

Friday, July 09, 2004
Short-term future. There is much controversy and confusion over whether Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who said:
“Israelis might have nuclear bombs but we have the children bomb and these human bombs must continue until liberation.”
is to speak at a forthcoming educational conference sponsored by the Metropolitan Police.

The title of the conference? Our Children, Our Future.

Every time a child says, "I don't believe in fairies" there is a little fairy somewhere that falls down dead. They certainly have grown up at Charles de Gaulle airport. Stay away, Tinkerbell. These guys would shoot you down for violating French airspace.

Shall I be very, very naughty? I shall. I don't believe in officious airport security.

Thursday, July 08, 2004
Eat my thread tail, Babylockers! The preliminary checks had been done. Tension, balance, position - all were perfect. Time to go.

With a practised touch of her foot on the pedal, Solent eased the mighty machine into action. This was not the gentle Sewland that she had trained on; the hard-pumping Janome engine could spew out twenty yards of thread in ten seconds. Five, ten, fifteen, twenty: the pattern repeats flashed by like milestones. Now she was flying, the knife cutting through the fabric with slick, contemptuous ease, the upper looper a blur. Yet some instinct warned of trouble ahead: external corner coming up. A curse escaped her lips, but already she was adjusting to the threat, reining in the plunging needle. At that, habits learned and honed from hundreds of hours on a conventional machine almost let her down with this beast and its different ways. She almost stopped too soon, the way she had learned in the old days, needle still in the fabric. Somehow, though, her first teacher seemed to be by her side speaking directly to her mind: Go further. Right outside the fabric. Don't be afraid. In that instant she regained control and cooly brought the needle to a halt that crucial three stitches on. In a fraction of a second the presser foot had been flicked up and the fabric yanked round by ninety degrees. Once more the pedal moved beneath her foot. Once more the MyLock motor gave voice. "Okay, honey," Solent muttered through clenched lips, "let's see what you can do." This time there was no holding back. Blades and needles seemed less to cut the surplus fabric than to vapourise it. Solent was no novice but it was all she could do to hold the seamline flat as the twin HA-1 SP needles ate up the yards. There was no time to wonder at the marvels of engineering that kept loopers, needles and blades dancing without a misstep even as the speed hit maximum.

Yet the end was in sight. As the pressure on the pedal eased the roar of the machine dropped to a purr. She gently brought it to a halt a precise two centimetres past the end of the seam. Presser foot up - thread on the cutter - snap! Securing the thread-tail could wait. For now the job was done.

"Coffee?" said a voice. Her trusty groundcrew was at her elbow.

"Coffee," she confirmed, flicking closed the power switch and leaning back. "Shaken, not stirred."

Tuesday, July 06, 2004
Alice Bachini is back! And in Texas, planning to stay there. And I didn't know, until she commented on one of my posts and sent me a courtesy note.

I've OD'd on WWII references recently. But the fixed quantity of bombing hypothesis did get a trail of thought started about the way British Intelligence deceived the Germans into thinking that their bombs were falling north and east (or was it south and west? I can't remember) of where they actually were falling. This involved getting people killed in Walthamstow who wouldn't have been killed without the deception. But fewer people.

No time to search out links now. Gotta go to a riding lesson.

Naming Names. Black Triangle points out an inconsistency of policy over at the Independent.

What next, Mr Fisk? Revealing the names of people on Witness Protection programmes to demonstrate the futility of the War On Drugs?

Someone else can bring up Valerie Plame. I'm too disgusted to raise the energy.

Dic Lit. Jo Tatchell writes an interesting piece in the Guardian about fiction and poetry by dictators, concentrating on Saddam's romantic oeuvre. It says at the bottom that the article is abridged from a longer one in Prospect. I hope the Prospect version includes mention of "The Hundred Days," a play about Napoleon written by Mussolini and someone called Giovacchino Forzano. I seem to recall it was reviewed - favourably - in Signal magazine.

Jim Bennett writes:
Yes, I have had that thought myself over the last few years when I see websites with a profusion of typefaces, colors, etc.

Whenever people get new technologies that enable them to do things they couldn't before, they go through a period of exuberant excess trying out all sorts of things that really, when one thinks about it, are better left undone. So it was with Victorian typography (and interior decoration, for that matter) -- and so it is with web design today.

As for the poster, it wasn't really aimed at black people, who knew very well what the Fugitive Slave Act meant. It was intended to shock to white population into seeing what was going on.

Saturday, July 03, 2004
John "Hessians" Costello writes:
Yes! It is PROPER and ACCEPTED to refer to 19th century Americans as
Victorians, since the term defines the era and sets of attitudes which were even more prevalent in the US than in Britain.

Did British chairs and tables have 'limbs?" That four letter word, ahem, 'legs,' was simply, simply far too risque!

In fact British commentators of the time, Mrs Trollope among them, commented on American prudishness.

As to the poster, I'd say it was standard fare for the day. In fact, I've seen it before in a history book (as well has having to read Frederick Douglass's exerpted memoirs during college. Much more interesting than Eldridge Cleaver's meanderings. Douglass captured the psychological traumas of the slave owners, the incessant guilt, etc. The multiplicity of fonts was normal for the time as well-- they were all put together by hand, and you made do with what you had.

As well necessity, exuberance. You know how neophyte webpage-designers or poster-makers will have six fonts on one page? I think that the whole society was like that; still thrilled with this printing thing.

Eldridge Cleaver is an interesting figure. I don't know whether this is true in the case of Mr Costello's college, but I suspect a great many colleges quietly removed his memoirs from the syllabus when the one-time Black Panther icon became an anti-communist, Republican and born-again Christian.

Friday, July 02, 2004
Child's play. Kids do this sort of thing the world over. Not all adults put it on video for the world to admire.

"Somebody upstairs cares." Black Triangle isn't too amused by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, and still less so by Seamus Milne, who unlike Yasmin Alibhai-Brown doesn't even have the decency to be ashamed.
"...the media and commentators still carry a responsibility to the society they live in, and to those they report on. In the highly connected world we inhabit, news spreads quickly. For example, a Michael Meacher column in The Guardian was quickly propagated onto extremist websites, and used to re-enforce their ideology.
Quite. We live in a milieu where if I were to criticise a writer on the grounds that what he or she wrote is bad for morale the response would be a refusal to believe that I could mean it anything other than ironically. If I were to say that a piece of writing was bad for the morale of the troops the response would be peals of laughter.

Prediction: if this carries on, we won't live in such times for long. There is a familiar pattern whereby the inability of pseudo-pacifist Western liberals to admit that war can ever be legitimate makes war when it comes longer and all the more terrible.

"The will to win, to continue through periods of intense crisis, stalemate or defeat, to keep the prospect of victory in sight and to mobilise the psychological and moral energies of a people under threat, proved to be inseparable from the ability to fight better. There is no doubt that at times in the war moral confidence was badly dented; in each Allied state enthusiasm for war had to be actively maintained."
- Richard Overy, from the chapter headed Why the Allies Won in the book of the same name.

I'm not joking. John Ashcroft was right. One should think before one speaks. Note to my fellow libertarians: this is not a call for censorship. We of all people ought to be able to tell the difference between moral suasion and compulsion. Nor do I want crimes by our side such as at Abu Ghraib to be supressed - reporting of crimes by each side in proportion to the frequency with which they occur would be just fine, thank you. Note to left-wingers: before you assume that any appeal to watch what you say is absurd, remember you have already accepted that similar appeals have moral force in the case of racism, sexism and homophobia.

Heigh-ho, Seamus Milne is going to step back from the abyss when he reads me (as he does daily) quoting stuff about WWII, yeah, right.

[ADDED LATER: Re-reading what I wrote, and the last sentence from Richard Overy that I quoted, I think I have come across as wishing to see more active government propaganda in favour of the war. I don't. We have quite enough of that on the subjects of smoking and obesity. Better if the government were forbidden by custom from making any public pronouncements at all outside the Houses of Parliament. What I am saying boils down to the rather banal statement that individuals who basically support Western values shouldn't fixate on the motes in our eyes to the exclusion of beams in non-Western eyes. And I will say that some of my writing and linkage on this blog has been done with the conscious intention of raising my own morale and that of others, and I see nothing wrong with that. One example is when I have tried to use examples from history to show that the struggles of previous generations seemed as arduous and uncertain to those living through them as ours does to us. Every word is meant, every word is my best guess at the truth, but it is written to propagate a more positive or resolute emotional state, and to that extent is propaganda. What a hostage to fortune that sentence is. Over to you, Seamus.]

Changing the subject from the WoT, but staying with "Somebody upstairs cares", many rifle shooters of my acquaintance have noticed that pretty well any planned change of technique, be it position, breathing, focussing or trigger-pull will temporarily improve performance. In other words if the coach persuades half the team to place their bodies at a steeper angle to the rifle and half the team to line up more nearly parallel to the rifle both groups may well find their scores increasing at first. It makes deciding which changes of technique have intrinsic value a long term project. You mustn't jump the gun.

The "any change helps temporarily" effect can be attributed to the fact that any change of procedure increases concentration. Thinking back to the days when I shot for university teams I do remember that happening, but another factor almost certainly is that the shooter's morale is raised because of the extra interest and care shown by the coach.

Jump goes my grasshopper mind to the way that so many pilot schemes show promise that is not fulfilled. I have blogged about this before but had not until now come across such a neat phrase to explain it.

Thursday, July 01, 2004
In defence of Yasmin: everybody does it. In this post Norman Geras censures Yasmin Alibhai-Brown for wishing for more violence in Iraq in order to prove to herself and others that the war was wrong.

I have to admit that I have found myself doing the same thing as Yasmin quite often. Not about the war, obviously. Being a supporter of it, my passion to be proved right (the Grand Vizier of passions, always present, always powerful but content to let others seem to rule) and my desire for peace in a liberated Iraq could run in tandem. In fact so strong was my desire and so weak my ability to do anything to bring it about that I reverted to a childhood habit and wished for magic powers.

When I was a kid there was a TV series called The Invisible Man starring David McCallum. I used to fantasize about getting a similar superpower, then sneaking on to an aeroplane heading for some unhappy land, and once there freeing captives and killing tyrants. My ideas as to the exact means of tyrannicide were distinctly vague. Indistinctly vague. Whatever; fast forward to the aftermath. "But Minister, I swear," the terrified chief of police would wail, "No one - absolutely no one, was in the room with the Maximum Leader. Aieee, surely it is They Who Walk who have done this!" Then the two confrères in evil would flee by helicopter (with me in the back seat, did they but know it) from the top floor of the Presidential Palace as the jubilant mob broke down the door and stormed up the stairs.*

Er, yes. Back to the point. Entering now my fifth decade, I find myself wishing for minutes at a time that I could broadcast a loving tolerance ray from a secret base in Baghdad and make all the suicide bombers go home and hug their mothers.

If you wish to laugh, do so quietly or you might just find your knicker elastic being pursued by a floating pair of scissors. The morally troubling case is when one is proved right, as Yasmin Alibhai-Brown thinks she is, not by the repentant tears of a terrorist but by the success of horrible deeds. I have sometimes thought that, by gum, the history of the last three years would have been very different if Osama's boys had actually attacked whatever EU building it was that they originally planned to blow up. True, I do not entertain this thought seriously or for long. If - having visitied La-la land once this post, I might as well stay there - if I had a time machine that put me in a position to stop or allow the EU attack, I'd stop it. But, oh hang it all, says a little voice in my head, it's so important that we win this one, and if it wasn't just Yanks getting killed but European bureaucrats too then the chances of that might be improved... save lives in the end...

Next stop, Yasmin's country.

Traditional morality is very hard on all this. It is a sin to wish evil in order to puff up your own pride. Traditional morality is right.

Still, my guess is that similar feelings are common all over the political spectrum. Now that Yasmin Alhibai-Brown has seen her own inner demons I wish her strength in controlling them.

*That git Ceausescu set the dogs on me, but they got him in the end.