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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Wednesday, August 18, 2004
I will be away for a week. See you next Wednesday-ish. I have made a mighty vow, the execution of which is conveniently far distant in the future, to have sorted out my email problems by then.
Tuesday, August 17, 2004
It's only a game. In Saint-Exupéry's book Flight to Arras describing his experience in 1940 as a pilot fighting a losing battle against the advancing Germans, he somewhere observes that if the only weapon one had to fight a raging forest fire was a glass of water, then, yes, one would throw the glass. There are cases like that; as desperate as that - may the Lord have mercy on us all.
And there are cases not like that. There are cases when, really, the best thing to do is to sip a cooling drink and enjoy the spectacle of the flames.
Drugs in the Olympics are an example of the latter type. The athletes who take drugs to gain a secret advantage over those who obey the rules are cheats and scoundrels. Individually they deserve to be punished for breaking the rules they freely agreed to. But as scandal after scandal shows, the incentive to cheat is so great that they keep on doing it. Very sad, but, guys, guys, this one's not worth fighting over. It's all only a game.
When a mere game has unenforceable rules, you can just change the rules with no great loss to your honour. Who remembers now that there was once a time when the notion of amateur status was taken so strictly that an Olympic athlete such as Jim Thorpe could be stripped of his medals for taking having played some minor league baseball at $2 a day? All that proved unenforceable, so it was dropped. Do the same with drugs.
I am not here arguing in favour of ending the prohibition of drugs generally, though I do believe it should be ended. Very few of the performance enhancing drugs are illegal in normal life. Many of them are not even on prescription. What a relief it would be if extracting the urine from athletes could be restricted to the pages of satirical magazines. Instead commentators could learnedly compare A's training regime of pheno-ployxl-plasmasteroids to B's of speedilex buzzboosters.
It's true that some of these drugs might cause harm in later life. This bears watching, but it is no overwhelming argument in favour of banning them. Ordinary participation in sports might and often does cause harm in later life. Rugby players break their necks. Gymnasts get arthritis. Horseriders and rock climbers fall off horses and rocks and die. Boxers get brain damage. There are busybodies who want to ban those dangerous sports that are practised by men (they are oddly quiet about the ones, like riding, practised mainly by women) but that won't wash either - sitting in front of the TV refraining from dangerous sport will also cause you harm later in life.
Anyway, it's not as if a world where athletes are not harmed by performance enhancing drugs is a realistic option. All the rules and tests and punishments against drug-taking are evidently not enough to stop people doing it. The severity of that harm will be lessened if information on the drugs and their effects can be exchanged and assessed openly.
Perhaps, under my proposed dispensation, there would still be scope for "all natural" competitions where the present regime of drug testing would still apply. Given the smaller field of competitors the sports authorities would have a better chance of catching the cheats; and given that drug use would be legal for those athletes who wanted it, fewer cheats to start with. If there was a demand for that, fine. However I suspect that most of the appeal of athletics lies in watching people run fast and jump high irrespective of what they put in their bodies to do it.
Let's save our intransigence for battles that really matter.
Sunday, August 15, 2004
Lest I forget and repeat my "disappearing act" of earlier this month, please note that I am going away to visit family for a week on Wednesday. I have until then to read the email from last time I was away. Yes. You heard right. Your lovingly composed words are still crouching there, unread, impatient, threatening yet enticing, prowling like pumas through my dreams...
Normal people do not get this worked up about unread email.
Friday, August 13, 2004
This man is a deceiver who should be issuing a few retractions of his own. Read this hammering of a self-selecting survey on GM food that was widely reported as being The Voice of the Nation. I demand an answer: is this blither? It is not. I also suspect - though I cannot yet prove - that he is not and has never been a bunny.
Thursday, August 12, 2004
The rapist won his money fair and square. There is nothing on a lottery ticket that says, "criminals need not apply" or "criminals will have their winnings taken off them." It is - or was - a basic principle of justice and law that a man should be punished under the law as it stood when he comitted his crime. To add an extra punishment (confiscation of winnings) afterwards is a dangerous precedent. Next stop, retroactive punishments for acts that are not crimes now but might become crimes in the future. A British court sentenced this man to a specific punishment. He can lawfully be given that punishment and nothing else.
Nor should the law be changed to forbid criminals from claiming lottery wins in the future, although that would be less outrageous than what is being proposed now. Where would that stop? Denial of the right to buy lottery tickets to people with parking tickets? To adulterers? Let's just keep things that should be separate separate, shall we? On one side we have the justice system, so much a bedrock of what makes a state a state that even half the libertarians I know allow it to be legitimate. On the other hand we have a gambling game. There may be times when I think the one has a damn sight too close a resemblance to the other, but there's no reason to make it official.
It's not fair, you say? Of course it's not fair. It's a lottery, stupid. Ten million people pay their money and get nothing. A few hundred people pay their money and get a completely undeserved something, ranging from a tenner to several million. Those few hundred weren't chosen for their virtue. Random, spectacular unfairness is what you sign up for when you buy a lottery ticket. If you think (as I do) that the justice system is too soft on rapists and other violent criminals, then change that. Politicians shouldn't fool around with something unrelated because they haven't got the stomach to reform what needs reforming.
Tuesday, August 10, 2004
"Additions of feign'd Circumſtances" Over at Samizdata I've posted a media ethics statement from 1702.
Let's think this one through, shall we? A female City type, currently unemployed, is very upset because she was advised by the jobcentre to delete the line mentioning her sixteen month old daughter from her CV.
Last month Ms Winship began receiving £56 a week Jobseeker's Allowance which will last until January 2005.I sympathise with Ms Winship's unemployment, stress and marital difficulties. Really, truly, non-sarcastically. But I fear that Ms Winship has yet another disappointment in store.
If you wanted them to do that getting your story into the national press was a bad idea.
But maybe I am dead and this is the afterlife... Squander Two was worried. Um, I did say a couple of days before that I was going camping. Scroll down and look. Got to admit, though, that I didn't actually post to say I was off. That was because of the divorce I didn't want to have. If, after finally having filled every crevice of the car with assorted tents, camping gaz stoves, sleeping bags, and children; and having turned off the taps, set the timer, locked the door, fed the key and posted the goldfish through next door's letterbox, if after all this one says, "Stay! I must commune with my audience," then one is rather likely to have one's holiday destination diverted to Messrs Squeeze & Pipsqueak (Family Law Our Speciality).
Monday, August 09, 2004
Here I am, home again and seated at this keyboard once more. I plonk myself down on the old swivel chair almost reluctantly. It's like picking up the threads of a soap opera you haven't been watching: you know that you will be sucked in after five minutes and don't quite want to surrender your hard-won indifference. What brought me back this evening was learning of the death of Bernard Levin.
I remember our old gas fire we had in the 70s. It's a mercy it didn't kill me, that fire. It certainly gave me some memorable headaches when I lay too long on the rug next to it, as I used to after breakfast, reading the Times, having recently discovered that there was a point to this paper-reading my father did. My favourite bit was the double page in the middle where the Times people didn't just say what had happened but what they thought about it. It gradually dawned on me that the columns that made me most joyfully indignant (children love being indignant) about the evils of communism or of apartheid all had the name "Levin" on top of them.
A year or two ago I re-read a column (was it one of several?) that had particularly entranced me when I first read it in front of the fire. It had featured the adventures of a character called "John Cheekykaffir" and, with a sarcasm pretty and poisonous as liquid mercury, parodied the official pronouncements of the South African government regarding the death of Biko. Perhaps some PC virus has germinated in my soul, but second time round it wasn't quite as good as I remembered - or perhaps my desire to believe that having half my life behind me involves some gain as well as loss does not permit anything that appealed so much to my childhood self to appeal equally now. But this holds up gloriously. The chap who provides the link seems to have come across it by way of a discussion of the best flooring for operas, and that is indeed what it is all about.
"The Theatre Royal in Wexford holds 440; it was completely full. . . so there are, allowing for a few who have already died . . . hardly more than four hundred people who now share, to the end of their lives, an experience from which the rest of the world, now and for ever, is excluded. When the last of us dies, the experience will die with us, for although it is already enshrined in legend, no one who was not an eye witness will ever really understand what we felt. . .Most of those four hundred must be gone now, including the author, who did, despite what he says, a very good job of sharing the experience with us.
Here's some vintage Levin abuse of trendy artists who whip off a production-line caricature of some disliked political leader and then call themselves "dissidents" because not absolutely everyone oohs and aahs like their own circle.
Here he is on the family of his favourite composer:
With the possible exception of the House of Atreus, I cannot think of a line more dreadfully cursed, from generation to generation, than the family Wagner ... To the hideous warp in his own personality he then proceeded to ally the rancid blood of Franz Liszt...On Anton Webern's Six Orchestral Pieces:
... an average for each item of five plinks, two plonks and a grrrrrr.On Peter Brook's Mahabharata:
Heroes abound, their heroisms subtly differentiated; beauty draws men with a single hair; miraculous births and magic powers abound; great vows are sworn; honour is honoured; noble renunciations are made, indentities are uncertain; hate and love, lust and chastity, blood and earth, cruelty and forgiveness, faith and treachery - all these clash and mingle, exchange roles, reveal new meanings.
And on dogs:
... a loathsome spaniel (not that there is any other kind of spaniel)...
And here's how I got into blogging before I knew what blogging was:
A few months before I first heard of blogs I went to a careers counsellor. He asked me what I dreamed of doing. I said, "I want to be like Bernard Levin used to be in the Times." Levin used to have a near daily column where he wrote about whatever took his fancy: politics, opera or whatever. "Can I do that and get paid for it?" I asked. His answer boiled down to "Yes and not much," which was spot on...
I won't ever have Bernard Levin's job, but my desire to be like him is undiminished. I wish it hadn't been Alzheimer's that took him.