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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Thursday, September 30, 2004
A damned shame. My parents gave their time and money to support Christian Aid. As a child I delivered Christian Aid collection envelopes door to door and helped my father collect them a few days later. I also helped count the money. Though there was always a depressing crop of halfpennies, pfennigs and centimes, many more people were kind enough to give a reasonable sum. Three hundred pounds we had one year; I remember looking at the pound notes stacked in wavy air-filled layers like filo pastry and thinking ... there may be a Hell and if there is then people who take food from the mouths from the starving go there.

Read this from Stephen Pollard and think on what Christian Aid has come to.

Tony Blair says, speaking of the kidnappers of Kenneth Bigley, "If they made contact with us, it is something we would immediately respond to." He also says that his government will not negotiate. I don't understand. If they won't negotiate - as they should not - then what form of response had they in mind?

We've already had pleading. I do not blame anyone for trying it. But if the terrorists would not soften their hearts in response to the pleas of the captive's family, are they likely to bend for Tony Blair? It might be enjoyable for them to listen to the Prime Minister of Britain pleading, of course, but if he is not going to give them what they want, as Mr Blair himself says he will not, then I don't think the loss of dignity is worthwhile. And it adds to the suffering of the Bigley family to raise false hopes.

This Times editorial, quoted by Oliver Kamm, says why Blair is correct not to negotiate.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004
Bush: The Missing Years. Now that the truth is known can he put his past behind him?

Next question: did David Aaronovitch at the Guardian read a summary of this article (rather than the whole thing as a conscientious quoter should) and get the impression that it was deluded but sincere investigative journalism?

Scott Burgess says it appears so. I say, hmmmnnnnah. Nah. Nope. Don't think so, anyway. Here's what Aaronovitch said:

I have to report here that - according to GQ magazine - all this is wrong. They published an article claiming that Bush was seen in Saigon at the same time he was supposed to be wetting the Mustang and swinging on the light-fittings in Alabama, and that he was really a member of a covert and courageous outfit, the Special Undercover Missions Service (Sums). And presumably it was so secret he was never, ever allowed to talk about it, and I am the lost czarina of All The Russias.
Something about that "I have to report" whispers to me that Aaro gets the joke.

Correction & Apology. Never let it be said that this blog does not promptly put errors right. In a post of yesterday I wrote, "... if I had been born a cat I would be able to jump eleven times my own height."

In fact I would not be able to, because I would have been a dead cat for at least the last fifteen years.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004
Squander Two, Laban Tall and Dumbjon (links within) are debating whether watching or linking to videos of terrorist murders is legitimate.

Somehow the way I wrote that sounds rather as if the debate is mere entertainment, a display of verbal fireworks. It isn't. All the parties know it isn't.

I can see the force of Laban Tall's argument - that it's like watching a snuff video, that we are doing what the terrorists want them to do, and that we are encouraging more on-camera killings - but I find still greater force in Squander Two's:

The more we hide the true nature of the enemy, the less we challenge the Huggers. [There was an earlier reference to Hollywood types who wanted to win over Osama bin Laden through love and hugs] And they need to be challenged, because there's no way we can lose this war through military inferiority but every chance of losing it through public resistance. Gradually, people who used to want to appease terrorists are coming round to James Woods's point of view: witness the Israeli Left. The reason they're changing their minds is that they're coming face-to-face with what the enemy are really like.
It can happen in war that, temporarily, both sides want the same thing, both believing it will contribute to their eventual victory. One side is wrong.

Past the margin. Finding this blog, "Marginal Revolutions" made me sad. Why? Because there isn't time left in my life to study any subject deeply enough to become expert. If I had chosen economics in 1982 I could have been like these guys...

And if I had been born a cat I would be able to jump eleven times my own height. I wasn't remotely interested in economics then. Now is what counts. The marginal cost in time of reading Marginal Revolutions is amply compensated by the enlightenment you will receive.

Via the same blog, I found this post from Jane Galt on smart growth. Why haven't I been reading Jane Galt for as long as I've been aware of her? Dunno. Not being into economics in 1982 permanently blighted my brain. Here she is:

Smart growth is great if you can afford to have everything you buy delivered, or are in excellent physical condition with a physically undemanding job; it is not so great if you have to come home from your shift at the nursing home to lug groceries a quarter-mile down the street, and then up three flights of stairs. Smart growth is great if you can afford to eat in the plethora of restaurants; it is not so enjoyable if you have to scrape up an extra 20% for the ingredients in tuna casserole. Smart growth is great if you have a nanny to take the kids to the park during the day; it is not so terrific if you have to choose between wasting several precious hours standing around the playground, or letting your kids languish inside.

Needs must when the devil drives. Over at Samizdata I have a post arguing proper libertarians can so support the war in Iraq. It all got started by a series of posts in Crooked Timber of which this is one.

Monday, September 27, 2004
Life's too short. Literally. Yet more wisdom from the Guardian. Following a link from Public Interest I found this article by Joanna Moorhead. Just look at the title and wonder: 'For decades we've been told Sweden is a great place to be a working parent. But we've been duped.'

In the article Ms Moorhead quotes approvingly (as will I in a moment) an London School of Economics. sociologist called Catherine Hakim. Yes, A lioness hath whelped in the streets; And graves have yawn’d and yielded up their dead and I am about to cheer on a sociologist from the LSE. A quote:

What has happened through the years of family-friendly policies, she says, is that private companies have reduced their number of female employees because they can't afford the cost of the generous maternity packages.

That, of course, is exactly the argument being voiced angrily this week by employer organisations, in the midst of claims by Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt that a third Labour term would see an enhanced commitment to better parental rights (and hence, more emulation of the kinds of policies that have already been adopted in Scandinavia). Hakim, for one, can see precisely where they're coming from: as far as she's concerned, the story of Sweden over the past two decades is the story of a country whose small industries couldn't foot the bill for the ideological parental-rights packages being embraced, and who have largely taken avoiding action when it has come to employing women of childbearing age.

When the bloke from UKIP said something like this he was pilloried. There's more. This is one clear-headed woman.
The unpalatable fact, she says, is that there are only so many hours in the day and only so many days in the week and whatever else we expect of the UK and EU the one thing their legislation cannot give us is the one thing that working mothers so desperately crave: more time. "The bottom line is that as far as investment in a career is concerned, policies actually don't make that much difference," she says. "The major investment required is one of time and effort: if you are seriously interested in a career, you don't have time for children and if you are seriously interested in bringing up more than one child, let's say, you don't have the time, effort and imagination for getting to the top of a career.

"The fact is that children are a 20-year project and a career is a 20- to 40-year project and there is an incompatibility there." Over the past eight years, Hakim has written six books and she says, "There's no way I could have done that if I had had children."

As the Spanish proverb has it, Take what you want and pay for it, says God.

Friday, September 24, 2004
Still in the Guardian, Polly Toynbee says
So Lib Dem university-fee subsidies will go overwhelmingly to middle England families; the few of the poor who go to university already get their fees paid. Manual workers will pay taxes for lucky middle-class kids to go free.
Interesting that this true and excellent libertarian meme has reached Polly Toynbee.

Hostages. The day before yesterday, when I first read this BBC "Have Your Say" piece, in which readers are invited to state their opinions on hostage taking in Iraq, I was struck by the number of readers who appeared to give countenance to xenophobia against Westerners. I wondered whether all those who made comments on the lines of "They are only there for the money" or "All foreigners should* get out of Iraq" would be say similar things if, God forbid, some criminal or fanatic gang started taking foreign workers in Britain hostage.

I don't think that's likely. Our society is too tightly organised. But it is likely that if the tactic works, it will spread - but to other parts of the Third World rather than here. Much of the world's migrant labour leaves one poor country to work in another slightly less poor country nearby. Tensions run high where surpluses are small.

If the tactic works. It did for hijacking

(Since I first looked at the forum it has changed. The average of the comments has shifted in a direction more hostile to negotiation with the terrorists. I can no longer see some comments I thought I remembered. I may have been unduly depressed by early statistical outliers. The forum also includes criticism of the BBC and other media outlets for giving the terrorists so much publicity. )

*I phrased this sentence badly. "Should" can either express the idea that a course of action would be prudent or that it would be morally good. Some people saying that all foreigners should get out of Iraq mean that the risks of staying outweigh the benefits and it would be prudent for them to get out. Agree or disagree, that's fair comment. However other comments (seen on the BBC forum mentioned and elsewhere) either approved or excused the struggle of the Iraqi resistance to expel foreigners and infidels. Add scare quotes to taste, but that is a view that would rightly be treated as abhorrent if expressed by the BNP. Possibly the BBC noticed this and that's why they deleted some comments from the forum that appeared earlier. (Amendment added September 27th)

Heartwarming. Jonathan Steele writes in the Guardian:
In Gaza and the West Bank, for all the chaos and confusion of authority caused by 37 years of Israeli occupation, Palestinian leaders and Palestinian society remain far-sighted, civic-minded, and secular enough to keep out these kinds of Islamist soldiers of fortune. Al-Qaida and its followers are unknown in Palestine. Foreign aid workers and western journalists have never been kidnapped. They are more likely to be killed by the Israeli army than by gunmen on the Palestinian side."

Guess which category of persons you can indiscriminately slaughter without losing your Guardian approval rating for being far-sighted, civic-minded and secular.

LATER: Also spotted by Norman Geras, and he makes other good points I missed.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004
Lost at sea. A friend told me the story of yachtsman and would-be circumnavigator Donald Crowhurst's last voyage and I can't get it out of my mind.

I'd never heard of it, but it seems to be quite well known. Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall wrote a book, The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst and it was also recently covered in a Channel Four programme, Force of Nature. Here's a quote from the C4 website:

Crowhurst had decided to cheat. Knowing that his boat would never survive the rough Southern Ocean, he had contrived to sail across the Atlantic to the coast of South America where he would lay low and wait for the other eight competitors to catch up. Meticulously, he kept two log books, one recording his actual journey and the other his fabricated one. He spent hours each day carrying out complex mathematical calculations to maintain the deception.

He ceased all radio communications for 111 days and waited until he was sure the other competitors had cleared Cape Horn. In mid-April 1969 he learnt that Robin Knox-Johnston had completed the race, earning himself first prize – the Golden Globe trophy. But the second prize of £5000 was still up for grabs.

Crowhurst knew that he couldn't afford to win even the second prize because this would expose his log books to the scrutiny of the judges and the world's press and he would be found out.

By now, Nigel Tetley was the only other competitor besides Crowhurst in the running for second place. When Tetley learned that Crowhurst was just three days behind him, Tetley pulled out all the stops to ensure he won the second prize. But on 21 May, to Crowhurst's horror, he heard that Tetley had pushed his boat too far and had sunk. Crowhurst's strategy had been blown apart, he was now in the lead.

After spending months in solitude working on his log books, Crowhurst's sanity gave way as he faced the certain prospect of being found out and disgraced. He stopped racing and spent 150 hours in a writing frenzy, poring out his soul in a 25,000-word revelation of angry gibberish. By the time he finished he'd lost all touch with reality. 'I am what I am. I see the nature of my offence. It is finished. It is finished,' he wrote. Then, taking his ship's clock, he stepped into the Atlantic and disappeared.

As the sidebar says, it couldn't happen now. Modern GPS technology ensures that no competitor nowadays could sustain such a fraud, and, one hopes, that no competitor is likely to crouch in the hundred-plus days of awful isolation that drove Crowhurst to suicide.

Ironically, Crowhurst himself invented an early hand-held navigational aid called the Navigator. It allowed the user to take bearings on radio beacons.

The 1968 Golden Globe race seems to have been ill-starred; this account says that Tetley, the competitor who came second, never got over the breakup of his boat and himself committed suicide shortly afterwards. Yet another competitor, Bernard Moitessier, gave up the lead position and the race itself so that he could sail on to Tahiti where "you can tie up a boat where you want and the sun is free, and so is the air you breathe and the sea where you swim and you can roast yourself on a coral reef."

The same sun still shines and the air is still free. But these days you'd roast yourself on the coral reef while knowing your position to the inch ... and having it known.

Men in Tights again. (Yes, I do seem to have lost the knack of thinking up new titles. Again.) I am glad to see that Mark Steyn is defending "tradition and a well-sheathed leg."

Monday, September 20, 2004
Atomicity again. David Gillies writes:
Like you, I have no idea what 'atomicity' is intended to signify in this context, but if we're talking activity then the calculations are trivial. The nuclear decay equation says N(t)=N_0 Exp[-lambda t], where N_0 is the quantity of radiactive substance at time zero, so rate of change dN/dt = -lambda N_0 Exp[-lambda t], where lambda is the decay constant and is equal to ln(2) divided by the halflife.

Set t=0 in dN/dt to get the activity of N atoms of a radioactive substance = -lambda N_0. Put in the halflife of DU - 4.51 billion years, and the number of atoms of U238 in 800 tons of DU (800,000 x Avogadro's number/mass of one mole of U238) and you get a figure for the activity of about 26 Curies. Spread over the whole of Iraq that's a negligible radiological hazard.

BTW, your other correspondent is incorrect when he says U235 is much more radioactive than U238. It's not - their halflifes are both very long, and they only differ in radioactivity by a factor of five or so. The difference is that U235 can sustain a chain reaction and U238 can't.

Green hair. A reader (I recognise the email address but in line with my usual policy haven't said his name because it's not included in the body of the email) writes:
Why does Koizumi Junchiro have green hair? A number of possibilities:

1) He is one of the survivors of the Muvian empire which was destroyed by Atragon¹ many years ago. Alll of the Muvians were Japanese with Blond wigs.

2) It's his Irish/Greek ancestry.²

3) It's bad lighting.

¹ "Kaitei gunkan," or "Flying submarine Atragon." the movie was a lengthy thank-you-note to Hirohito by the writers and producers for not forcing them to fight to the death 18 years earlier.
²Koizumi Yakumo is the adopted name of Patrick Lafcadio Hearn, author of "In Ghostly Japan," etc. I doubt that the current PM is his great-great grandchild, but, who knows? Advertisement: Capricorn Publishing's POD edition of "In Ghostly Japan" is now available both in the US and UK for only $14.99 or L 9.99 through Unlike our competitor (ahem) it has all he illos, footnotes, diacritical marks, etc. A book doesn't have to be a plain whitebread download from Project Gutenberg.

James Rummel of Hell in a Handbasket writes:
Would you define yourself as a citizen of Britain or a subject of the Crown? And how do you think many of your fellow countrymen would answer? (I realize that yours might not be the typical reply.)
I is a-thinking.

I know how I want to answer: subject. But that's mostly because in British (as opposed to American) political discourse the sort of people who raise this question all want to make Chris Patten President of Britain. Such people think citizen is a nicer word than subject because citizens are democratic but subjects have their heads chopped off. It's no use talking to them about all the citoyens who had their heads chopped off in the the French Revolution either, because that sort of Frog-bashing talk is just the sort of archaic baggage a foward-looking European nation needs to drop.

But what do I think really? Does it matter? In law and daily life the two are pretty much the same. Google for "subject or citizen" and most of the hits you will get refer to legal procedures for gaining or renouncing British citizenship. It seems the lawyers mention both in the same breath to avoid trouble. Then again, that implies there is a "trouble" to avoid...

I gather from my friend (and occasional correspondent on this blog) "ARC" that Edmund Burke wrote much that is relevant to this question. However to claim to be a Burkean on the basis of what my mate said he said is a little desperate. (But if - not that I'm hinting or anything - ARC would like to summarise what he said in writing, my pages are ever open.) I shall just note that if I allow another year to go by without my having read Reflections on the Revolution in France I shall eat my Golden Jubilee commemorative plastic hat.

Back to the point. Consider the following dialogue:

Husband: Will you still love me when I'm old?

Wife: Yes, beloved. 'Till death us do part', that was the deal.

Husband: Would you still love me if I lost my job and all my savings?

Wife: You bet, honey. 'For richer, for poorer'... I trust this conversation is purely rhetorical?

Husband: Of course, sweetling. Would you still love me if I became a serial killer?

Now it's getting awkward. Part of the reason why the wife loves the husband is that she is quite sure he won't take to serial killing. His non-serial-killerness is part and parcel of what makes him him. When we do hear of a wife who finds out her husband is a serial killer we don't blame her for seeking a divorce. There is something admirable as well as tragic about a wife who would say her husband is her husband no matter what his crimes, but to keep our admiration of her we have to stipulate that she expresses her steadfast love for his higher self, you might say, by turning him into the police.

This analogy has got off the point. I should have specified a less extreme crime but don't want to go back and change it now. The point I was trying to make is that in national as in wifely loyalty the object of loyalty changes, both in itself and by external circumstances, yet still retains a continuing identity. Some changes may be so extreme as to break the notion of continuing identity, but they are rare.

Past history is part of that identity. If the husband were to ask, "Would you still love me if I had been born Japanese, instead of, as I am, Kenyan?" the question is not really answerable. The wife may have nothing but friendly feelings to Japanese people generally. But the fact is that the husband she loves would be someone else without his Kenyan upbringing, appearance and culture. Seeking to be other than Kenyan would be a serious step.

Subject was the deal history gave me. If I felt my head was in danger I might feel differently, but it isn't - in fact the subjects of the Crown do rather better in terms of liberty (despite my many fears and complaints on that score) than do many citizens of other countries whose constitutions sound a lot better. It isn't necessary to claim that we do better on all counts against all other countries in order to feel that constitutional monarchy is a good flag to follow.

ADDED LATER: Time for a little libertarian metacontext, as they say at Samizdata. The debate is framed so that one chooses between subject or citizen - but one could say, neither. Actually I wouldn't. But I'd like the choice.

Saturday, September 18, 2004
Words of wisdom from a reader. Mark writes:
You wrote:
We expect all our children to grow up

I thought:
Maybe by the time they turn 40, but even that's probably wishful thinking.

Then I figured out you meant live past childhood...

How many atoms make five? Rob of the Sporadic Chronicle writes:
If "Professor Yagasaki calculated that 800 tons of DU is the atomicity equivalent to 83,000 Nagasakis" then I think "atomicity" is being used to mean "number of atoms", not radioactivity.

The Hiroshima bomb contained approximately 10kg of uranium, and I suppose the Nagasaki bomb contained a similar weight of plutonium. Plutonium atoms weigh about the same as uranium atoms, so let's say the Nagasaki bomb had about as many plutonium atoms as there were uranium atoms in the Hiroshima bomb.

83,000 x 10kg = 830,000kg = 830 tonnes. So about 800 tonnes of uranium is about "equivalent to 83,000 Nagasakis" if all we're doing is counting atoms.

But counting atoms really isn't good enough, because not all atoms are created equal. U-235 (the uranium in bombs) and plutonium, and their decay products which would be found in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki fallout clouds, are much more radioactive than U-238 (depleted uranium).

And all this assumes that hundreds (or thousands) of tonnes of uranium have actually been used anyway. I don't know what the sources for those figures are, but if they're anything like "a cruise missile [contains] as much as 800 pounds of the stuff" [link to Bob Nichols article in Online Journal] then I would be inclined to doubt them.

I'll write a bit more about this (summary: depleted uranium is bad for you, but not remotely as bad as the Demonic Devil Poison it is often made out to be) soon.

Yep. Warmongering scumbags don't like depleted uranium because it's radioactive - it's not very, hence the "depleted" - but because it's dense.

More debunking from the Sporadic Chronicle here. This time the bunk-purveyor (bunker?) is Naomi Klein.

No, I do not want the next lot of protestors who invade the Commons to get skewered by swords or have their stupid heads blown off by Sig Sauers. Unless they are terrorists. Then I do. And it's sometimes difficult to decide "terrorist or disgruntled daddy" in the first half second, which is when the decision has to be made, know what I mean?

Friday, September 17, 2004
Gorbachov and Yeltsin have both criticised Putin's power-grab, the Globe and Mail reports. Yeltsin said, "Only a democratic country can successfully resist terrorism and count on standing shoulder to shoulder with all of the world's civilized countries."

His statement is, as they say nowadays, "false but accurate."

Ways in which modern people differ from all past generations.
  • We expect all our children to grow up.
  • Reliable contraception.
  • Worldwide conversation. Not communication, conversation.
  • Worldwide casual visitability.

The last one in particular could be better phrased.

Important Issue of the Day. Why does the Japanese Prime Minister have greeny-blond hair?

Thursday, September 16, 2004
Men In Tights. the Guardian says, "The Commons staff, dressed in black tights and armed with ceremonial swords, were useless at protecting MPs yesterday." A similar anti-tights line was taken by Sheffield Today: "A grown man dressed in stockings and tailcoat, jaunty cravat and ceremonial sword slung at his side, rugby tackles a long haired protester to the ground as bewildered middle aged men look on. No, not a French farce, but an actual scene from the most extraordinary breach of security seen since Michael Fagan broke into the Queen's bedroom."

Why blame the tights? Nowt wrong with a Sig Sauer and tights; fetching combination. And don't worry about buckled shoes, either. They don't stop the bullets working. Come to think of it, nowt wrong with a sword if you get it out and use it.

Sheffield Today finishes by saying, "This latest incident may convince the authorities it is time to take the responsibility for security out of the hands of the men in tights and give it to the boys in blue." Good thinking, Batman!

I didn't think much of the Commons invasion. "Portly Tory" (as the Sheffield Today story describes him) Sir Michael Cormack, who tackled a protester, comes out of this story well. Nor do I think much of the Guardian's line "In the end, the majority must have the right to make laws, and the minority must accept the responsibility to obey them." Depends on the laws. Need I Godwinise? There's no must about it.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004
34567 accurate after all. Ken Dobson writes:
I read your thoughts that the forged memos might have been drafts. That thought has run through my mind as well. It very well may be true, but the PO Box 34567 is accurate. If you look at other documents preiously released (go to USA Today etc) that are known authentic, Bush addressed a letter to the TANG with that po box and zip that is in those doucuments. (I think I recall it is when he requested transfer to Alabama) anyway, as odd as it sounds, I think the PO Box is accurate. Thanks
Ken Dobson
I couldn't find a USA Today link dealing with this. However Power Line has a post that confirms what Mr Dobson has said.

Atomicity II. I wondered where A L Kennedy got the atomicity and the 250,000 Nagasakis thing from. So I googled. What follows is just my speculation, of course, but I'm pretty sure she got it from one of the sources below.

Searches upon most variations of "250,000" and "Nagasaki" or "Nagasakis" will take you promptly to this article by Bob Nichols. Bob Nichols is described as a a contributing writer for LiberalSlant, Democratic Underground, Online Journal, AmericaHeldHostage and other publications.

He says he got the 250,000 Nagasakis figure from this report (original PDF here) by Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat. Bhagwat is a former Chief of the Naval Staff for the Indian Navy, which sounds impressive and certainly impressed Bob Nichols. (I digress, but isn't it funny how people who have spent years proclaiming their oppostion to the military-industrial complex will sometimes swoon when a military man looks kindly upon them? CND used to be crazy about that German general who lived with Petra Kelly, until he killed her. And it is a very odd sight to see American Democratic activists raised on tales of protests against the Vietnam war so proud of Senator Kerry's medals from that same war.)

Admiral Bhagwat's report contains this sentence "The reported coming of an AIDS epidemic last year in India, down wind, may have a relationship to DU bombing in Afghanistan." Now you know how impressed to be.

Anyway, elsewhere the admiral says "Professor Yagasaki calculated that 800 tons of DU is the atomicity equivalent to 83,000 Nagasakis" and mentions a conference in Hamburg where this calculation was offered to the public. He implies that his own calculation is based on Yagasaki's.

So I googled Yagasaki. The paper Bhagwat cites must have been this one and the atomicity ur-document seems to be this one. Professor Yagasaki Katsuma (Yagasaki is the family name) really is a scientist with a position at the University of the Ryukyus. He seems to have served as an expert witness at the International Criminal Tribunal for Afghanistan which tried G.W. Bush in absentia for waging a war of agression against Afghanistan, and other war crimes. (Verdict: guilty.)

Professor Yagasaki's documents are badly translated from Japanese and I found them almost impossible to follow. However he seems to use atomicity to mean the total number of alpha radioactive decays taking place within the body. I cannot help feeling that his comparison in terms of Hiroshimas and Nagasakis is designed to scare rather than illuminate. I'd probably get it wrong if I tried to make a calculation, but I would guess that by this criterion living in a place built on or of granite (most types of granite contain naturally-occuring Uranium-238) would give you quite a few Nagasakis too, but the people of Aberdeen aren't dropping like flies.

This usage of the word "atomicity" seems restricted to campaigners against depleted uranium and people who report favourably on them. Nearly all uses of it cite either Professor Yagasaki or Admiral Bhagwat. I expect Yagasaki used a correct Japanese term, probably but not certainly the Japanese for "radioactivity", which was badly translated as "atomicity". The others just copied blindly. A search for "uranium" and "atomicity" will now reveal hundreds of entries: the meme is propagating outwards, and now it's reached the Guardian its survival is assured.

So that's what I found out about "atomicity." No big world-shattering point will be adduced from all this. I just thought you'd be interested in following one oddly translated Japanese word into the big wide world of internet ignorance.

Atomicity. In an article in the Guardian yesterday A L Kennedy wrote:
DU atomicity in Iraq is equivalent to 250,000 Nagasaki bombs, so simply by being there and breathing, reporters risk cancers and birth defects in their children.

By "DU" she means Depleted Uranium. But what on earth does she mean by "atomicity"? The meaning I was taught was "the number of atoms in one molecule of an element." In other words, as this encyclopedia entry says, a molecule of oxygen has an atomicity of 2. If there are Depleted Uranium molecules floating around Iraq each containing the same number of atoms as a quarter of a million Nagasaki bombs then I want one. Damn thing might be intelligent.

OK, not really. I gather atomicity had an earlier meaning about the degree of attraction between atoms, and also has a meaning in computer science - something to do with database concurrency control, whatever that is. But she couldn't mean either of those either.

I started to think, and indeed started to write, about the measurement of radiation; about Becquerels, milli- and micro-sieverts but gave it up in boredom. It's clear she's just copied a word she didn't understand, probably from someone else who didn't understand.

It's no big deal that Alison Kennedy got a scientific word wrong, or that others got it wrong before her. Nor is her concern about Depleted Uranium in itself the sign of a crank. One can't be interested in every issue, and I'm not particularly interested in this one, but here is an IAEA fact sheet and here's a report from the Royal Society for those who are.

It is a slightly bigger deal (a deal about the state of a major newspaper rather than the overturning of all chemistry and all physics) that this poor woman gets it into her head from somewhere that in some way or another depleted uranium shells are as bad as a quarter of a million Nagasakis and puts it all in a panic in her column - spliced with lots of desperate dashes - hamsters - herrings - intrinsicly comic animals great pre-emptive defence against accusations of hysteria - ricin in your crisps - obviously a joke, couldn't really happen - joking reference to self as delusional - acid etched nipples: the new chocolate - if you say so, Alison - self-deprecating pleas for freedom of information - freely expressed in major newspaper - this whole style great pre-emptive defence against having to back up your arguments -

- and no one at the Guardian even gives her a pill.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004
An email that stood out.
Although a helpful friend has reduced our computer problems, my email is still a mess. I'm ashamed to admit that I have almost given up on it as a means of communication. However I belatedly spotted a familiar name when doing a mass delete and managed to pull this one out of the group earmarked for deletion. I am very glad I did. "Glad" in a specialised sense of the word; for it adds to the horror of a horrific story.

Alex Bensky writes:
I was living in Israel at the time of the Ma'alot massacre and I remember gathering in the kibbutz lounge along with other stunned and horrified people to watch the outcome on tv. Something was nagging at me while I did, something out of order, and it wasn't until the next day that I figured out what it was.

You could hear the order for the soldiers to assault the building, see them running towards it, and hear the rattle of gunfire. The soldiers weren't firing on the move, lest they hit the children. Although the gunfire was audible none of the soldiers were falling and you couldn't see dirt being kicked up by bullets. The reason was that the terrorists at that moment weren't shooting at the soldiers, but spraying the children with automatic fire, their goal not to stop the troops or defend themselves but kill as many children as they could.

My reaction, as I mentioned to Meryl Yourish recently, shows what a naive and innocent chap I was at that age, because the next morning I thought, "Well, at least now the world will see what Israel is up against and cut it some slack." After all, I thought, the terrorists had deliberately targeted children and gave up an opportunity to kill Israeli soldiers so they could massacre the greatest number of children. Surely this will cause worldwide revulsion.

I believed that. Of course, I also believed in the Tooth Fairy.

Monday, September 13, 2004
My take on the forged Bush memos is that this was an early draft of what was originally intended to be a far better forgery. The writer composed them on his own computer at home, using the default fonts on his own computer. Hence the carelessness over sometimes using and sometimes disabling the superscripted "th"; he had spotted the need to avoid superscripts for when he would re-cast the memos into a semblance of typescript later, but hadn't quite finished going through the text to find them. Hence the "P.O. Box 34567": he was going to look up something plausible later.

Then, for some reason, the forger lost control. Perhaps he tried it out on a few friends, who showed it to their friends, one of whom took a copy. Or perhaps something triggered him to decide that if the memo wasn't released now it would be too late. The little bird had to fly on its own too soon.

P.S. I don't ever blog in pajamas. Pyjamas, maybe.

[UPDATE SEP 15: a reader, Ken Dobson, informs me that the 34567, odd though it looks, is real after all. Scroll up to see more.

Farce repeats itself as tragedy. I have a post comparing a headline about September 11 2001 in the Independent to one of the Carry On films over at Samizdata.

The dead sleep; the living move on. Dunblane teenager takes US Open
"A Scottish teenager who survived the Dunblane school massacre has won the US Open tennis junior title. Andrew Murray, 17, became the first British winner of the prestigious competition when he beat Ukrainian Sergei Stakhovsky 6-4 6-2 on Sunday."

For each person there comes an event that brings it home: there really is evil in the world. Dunblane was mine. Of course I knew about the great slaughters of history and about contemporary massacres in far lands. Knew but never quite believed. Dunblane brought it home.

As I wrote here I thought about Thomas Hamilton’s victims, or their families, or the surviving members of the class almost every day for two years or more. For the most part this was a useless procedure. When brooding became prayer perhaps it helped a little. (Do I mean helped them, in their great trauma, or helped me in my little shadow of it? Both.) I don't know whether I'll end up depressing myself in the same way over the Beslan massacre. I have thought of it every day so far, but the days have been few.

One thing I am grateful for is that the press stayed away from the Dunblane survivors as they grew up. Whether this restraint on the part of the press was in obedience to their consciences or to some sort of injunction I do not know, but it is good that the children were spared the shrivelling light of unending public attention. Human beings, particularly growing human beings, are not made to be stared at too hard. That is why I also hope that they were not over-counselled; eight years of in-depth counselling might be a longitudinal version of a year of worldwide fame.

I assume that Andrew Murray was not in the actual class that was massacred, as the article says he was eight at the time and they were four and five. The children at the epicentre are still children. In the next couple of years we may hear more about them. May it be in the context of their achievements, as it has been for Andrew Murray.

Saturday, September 11, 2004
Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.
Matthew 10:29-31

Friday, September 10, 2004
Department of smug. The Independent and the Guardian are both carrying stories about how newly discovered memos from Bush's time in the National Guard reveal he pulled strings to get out of his duties.

Because I read US blogs I knew hours ago that this story has, to put it mildly, moved on.


UPDATE: Spent most of the day wearing flip-flops specially but not one lefty gloated over Bush so I could say, "Oh, we -" (Honorary 'we' - I'm a blogger, aren't I?) " - we have already dealt with that one." Much annoyed.

Thursday, September 09, 2004
Big post here on Biased BBC on use/avoidance of the word "terrorist".

Tuesday, September 07, 2004
Read these posts by Norman Geras: The Evil Done and Terror Without Moral Limit.

The Jews are the canary, as always. Once it became acceptable to a broad section of Islam (and to Western apologists for terrorism) to select Jewish children as targets it was only a matter of time before non-Jewish children would also be selected. Children are the most convenient terrorist target as they are physically easy to control or kill, and because people will concede more to save them. The only thing that stops a Beslan happening every week is the shreds of morality that remain even in the minds of terrorists. Once the taboo was breached for Israeli victims it was breached for everyone.

I am surprised that there has been little mention outside the Israeli press of the massacre at the school in Maalot in which 21 children were killed by the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. This is how the Wikipedia entry linked to above describes what happened:

Palestinian terrorists broke into the high school in Maalot, a community in northern Israel. The terrorists immediately killed a security guard and some of the children, the remaining children and teachers were held as hostages.

In the morning, the terrorists were identified as members of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine who had infiltrated into Israel from Lebanon. They presented their demands: release Arab terrorists from Israeli prisons, or they would kill the children. The deadline was set at 6:00 p.m. the same day.

The Knesset, the Israeli parliament, met in an emergency session, and by 3:00 p.m. a decision was reached to negotiate, but the terrorists refused a request for more time.

At 5:45 p.m., a unit of the elite Golani Brigade stormed the building. All of the terrorists were killed in the assault, but not before they used firearms and explosives to kill 21 children that afternoon. All told, 26 people were killed and 66 wounded (not including the terrorists), including several people murdered by the terrorists on their way to the school the night before.

Computer problems. I'm having them. The sclerosis of this computer has increased, is increasing and should decrease. And don't talk to me about how many tries it took me to finally connect to the internet to post this. Really don't talk to me; the last time something like this happened I ended up wiping out all my email records to free up memory. What I've needed and haven't had over the last few weeks is an uninterrupted day or several to work out what to do. I shall bring to this task all the enthusiasm I usually bring to dentist's waiting rooms, but now that the school term has started it may finally get done.