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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Sunday, October 31, 2004
"KERRY'S NIGHT OF LUST" screams today's headline for the News of the World.

Make sure you follow the link if you want to find out the truth about Kerry!!!!!!

Saturday, October 30, 2004
Tim Worstall comments scornfully [ADDED 1 NOV: Tim Worstall has conceded that the statistical argument used in the article was wrong - scroll up three posts for more] on that article in the Lancet that alleged 100,000 excess deaths due to the Iraq war.

There is more unfavourable comment on the study from Fred Kaplan at Slate and "The Chef" at Ragout.

This is not the only recent example of a British medical publication allowing political warriors to launch attacks from a supposedly neutral ship. Blogger and medical man Anthony Cox recently wrote about an anti-Israel article in the British Medical Journal.

It's a clever strategy, actually. The general public doesn't ever read the original article, and wouldn't understand it if they did. All the public will remember is a one-line summary provided by the media along the lines of "'Iraq war killed 100,000', Doctors say." The authors of the study themselves were more forthright:

"I emailed it in on Sept. 30 under the condition that it came out before the election," Roberts told The Associated Press. "My motive in doing that was not to skew the election.
I do not believe you.
My motive was that if this came out during the campaign, both candidates would be forced to pledge to protect civilian lives in Iraq."
Protecting civilian lives in Iraq is a noble ideal. Personally, I think the US forces are motivated to do that anyway. But the incentives for them to do so are lessened, not increased, when they know that whatever they do they will have ever-more spectacular numbers of shrouds waved their way.

Some other thoughts:

-I expect this article to be withdrawn, corrected or in some other way apologised-for a few months down the line. Safely after the election.

-Sadly, many in the British medical profession will lap this up, revelling in the Lancet's (and, vicariously, their own) election-swaying moment of fame. Few of them will study the article that hard. This is because (a) busy professionals have trouble enough keeping up with the flood of literature on their own specialism, and (b) judging from the number of studies that have been revealed as fraudulent or wrong after decades of acceptance, an awful lot of studies are not, in fact, studied.
Spoon-benders and the like hate to perform their tricks in front of stage-magicians but are happy to do so for an audience of scientists. Expert opinion expects the world to be complex but does not expect it to be biased.

- When this strategy is used too often it stops working. No one pays attention to the political opinions expressed in teachers' or sociologists' professional journals since everyone knows what they are - a joke. It will be sad if we see the doctors go the same way.

Friday, October 29, 2004
The spirit of September 12. Sorry for the lack of posts. I've been helping my sister move house. Deprived of my computer, I missed important developments like another column in the Times by Peter Briffa, blogger made good. Don't campaign, Briffa says to Michael Howard, and the people will love you for it. It's a thought. The US election campaign is in me like a virus, and it's not even our election. It was a minor torture to endure a whole 48 hours without a shot of Real Clear Politics.

When it comes to the timing of elections the British system is superior. The fact that no one, not even the Prime Minister, knows the exact date of the election very far in advance means that campaigns are shorter and cost less.

Don't mistake my dislike of long, intense campaigns for indifference as to the outcome. True, I am fairly indifferent to the outcome of the coming British election. On one side we have the Prime Minister. Useless on every issue bar one, splendid on that one. On the other we have Michael Howard. I originally wrote John Howard, and that says it all.

But, oh boy, I'm riveted by the US election. Consider me a September 12 gal.

On September 12 2001 there was no downside for those planning the next terrorist spectacular. You too can humble the Great Satan and win undying glory!

Now there is a downside.

And I thank God - literally thank God - that the guy in the White House who started work on making that downside on September 12 2001 was a sunny-tempered frat boy who is President, at least in part, because his Daddy was. Peter Briffa's column said that professional politicians irritate. That's only half the problem. The other half is that they are all a particular type of person. Bush is close enough to that type to function but doesn't really belong. I am aware that he can be a ruthless political operator. (He can pick 'em, too, a useful skill.) But in important respects his values are more normal than is normal in his milieu.

I will go further. I thank God that Bush is a believing Christian who takes seriously the obligation to love his enemies. He didn't limit himself to making a downside for terrorism, necessary though that was. (Not that most of his opponents would have done it.) Instead he did what idealists claim to want: he set out to tackle the injustice and oppression that are the root causes of terrorism.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004
Not just the BBC. Scott Norvell of Fox News has an article about how the media in Britain hate Bush. He's not kidding. Yesterday's evening news on ITV had a report about ex-President Clinton's appearance at Kerry's side. The anchor didn't so much wax lyrical as goo bulimical. These are some of the phrases my hastily scribbling pen managed to get down: "... it reminded them how good America was when Clinton was in the White House ... the economy was much stronger ... and, of course, America was at peace."

UPDATE: In an earlier version of this post I referred to the "anti-American" media. That isn't quite fair. Most British journalists are willing to let them off if they promise to behave in future.

John Stuart Mill of his own free will / after half a pint of shandy was particularly ill - but not before he said some good stuff, brought to my attention by the EU Serf.


Europe is in my judgement wholly indebted to this plurality of paths for its progressive and many sided development.
is only part of it.

By the way I could have sworn the song said brandy, not shandy. I don't get drunk that often.

Scott Burgess writes:
So I'm a salt monster now?
Perish the thought.

However, when one considers the reckless way that Mr Burgess posted on subjects that I was trying not to think about there is only one description that fits the case.

Scott Burgess is objectively pro-salt monster.

Saturday, October 23, 2004
It comes too late for Robert Symons, but the Conservatives have launched proposals to reform the law so as to give more rights to homeowners defending themselves against burglars. The Telegraph approves.
The law as it stands puts the home-owner defending his property and the burglar violating it on exactly the same footing: anyone who, in the course of defending his home, kills or injures the criminal invading it, is treated in the same way as the criminal.

The intruder can even sue the home-owner for damages if he injures himself climbing over the home-owner's fence, or if a punch from the home-owner leads to an injury. But if a home-owner kills a burglar the onus is on him to prove that his use of force was reasonable.

This is presposterous. Those who break the law - as John Locke, one of the earliest proponents of natural rights, pointed out - do not have the same rights as those who keep it.

Added later: Having started this post with the words "It comes too late", I got to wondering: how late is that? I believe that the number of burglaries that take place when the householder is present would decline to American levels if British laws resembled American laws on home defence. (Yes, I know laws vary between States. Generalise.) Let us assume that the Conservatives win the next election (Ha!), do not water down these proposals into uselessness (Ha-ha!), but rather make them make them into law as fast as the system allows (glass of water, please, someone, and note we're still not talking them being allowed pistols, just the right to actually use whatever weapon comes to hand.) How many years would it take for the effect to show? It took several decades for the criminal community to fully appreciate how determinedly the State would fight for their rights. On the other hand, a front-page photo of a dead burglar in the hall might be a more memorable lesson that the slow trickle of newspaper reports about householders being prosecuted by aggrieved burglars who grazed their knuckles gaining entry.

Can't - drag - myself - away. I had promised myself that I would abstain from thinking about the US election, or the Guardian, for the entire weekend.

If promises could wear clothes this one would have a red shirt on. It would bear the rank of Ensign. It would regard an away mission on an unexplored planet with Captain Kirk, Dr McCoy and Mr Spock as a really great chance to impress the senior officers.

These lecture notes on Cognitive psychology mention a scientific version of the famous game wherein one has to stand in a corner for five minutes and not think of a white bear. As the notes say, "suppression of thought may lead to obsessive thinking over time."

Ensign Promise was sucked dry by the salt monster. Scott Burgess posted this.

Friday, October 22, 2004
Playground wisdom has it that any lie told while your fingers are crossed behind your back doesn't count. The same view is shared by the Stop the War Coalition. They now claim that the notorious email to StWC supporters in which they said
"The StWC reaffirms its call for an end to the occupation, the return of all British troops in Iraq to this country and recognises once more the legitimacy of the struggle of Iraqis, by whatever means they find necessary, to secure such ends."
was a draft (it wasn't marked as such) and - get this - not really sent out to the public. Harry deals with that one at his place. "Firstly, the email was sent out to Stop the War supporters. Who do they think they are kidding? How else do they think the rest of us found out about it?"

Harry links to the original email which is still proudly posted up at a site called Iraqi Democrats Against Occupation. Follow the link and read it while you still can.

Read what Oliver Kamm has to say about who the leaders of the Stop the War Coalition are as well.

UPDATE: And another thing. The famous "draft" email was in the public domain by October 12 when Norman Geras blogged about it. Harry Barnes MP laid his Early Day Motion on the 14th. According to this Independent article the StWC "hit back" with their counter-accusations on the 19th. If the email was, as the Stop The War Coalition now says, merely a draft (a special sort of draft that is not marked as a draft) then why did they let comment about the wording bubble away in blogs, in newspapers, and in websites friendly and hostile for at least a week before bestirring themselves to correct it?

Not that the correction is exactly reassuring. "Not appropriate" indeed. The Stop the War leadership showed what kind of people they are by the original wording (draft or not, those words would never even have been considered for inclusion had they not represented opinions commonplace in the organisation); they show what they think of the public by the amended version, which implies that excuses for barbarism would be appropriate in some other forum, just not in this missive that the public saw.

Operation Clark County and the Murchison Letter. I am sure someone must have suggested by now that Operation Clark County was actually a black op by Karl Rove. My regular correspondent ARC wrote to remind me of a Republican dirty trick of long ago:
In the hilarious and so-predictable collapse of operation Clark county, has anyone pointed out yet that if the Guardian staff had known their history they could have predicted the outcome. (O.K. they could also have predicted it with an atom of common sense or understanding of human nature, or just with a little less arrogance - but although we already knew they lacked those qualities, are intellectuals not supposed to be educated?)

Back in the 1890s [1888 - NS], a Republican who was more clever than scrupulous sent a letter to the British embassy in Washington. The letter purported to be from a British-born man, now resident in California, who wished to know how to cast his vote for presidential candidate so as best to aid his native land. In that more innocent age, the ambassador quite failed to smell a rat. After a very proper introduction about how her Majesty's government would be happy enough with either candidate, he suggested that perhaps Grover Cleveland (Democrat) would be marginally preferable for British interests. The Republican who sent the letter exploited this to good effect in the election and (probably not because of it) their candidate won.

It was Benjamin Harrison, and the letter was known to history as the Murchison Letter. Interestingly Harrison won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote. Although the Murchison Letter was an effective ploy, particularly with voters of Irish extraction, the issue that was probably decisive for the Republicans was their support for high tariffs. In those days the Democrats were the free trade party.

ARC made two more points. The first:

When Kipling asked Theodore Roosevelt how he would create public support for the massive naval expansion he planned, he replied, "out of you", explaining that Britain's large navy would have to be the 'threat' in public oratory. Kipling, who was far-sighted enough to see the need of American military involvement in the old world in the 20th century, took all this in good part - but then, he wasn't a Guardian reader.

Kipling himself tells the story in Something of Myself. One final point from ARC:
The phrase 'Guardian reader' occurs in 'The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy'; I remember wondering whether it was one of the British idioms they would have to translate for a transatlantic audience. If they didn't know what it meant then, I suspect they do now - in Clark county at least.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004
"Well up there in the water is wet category," says Tim Worstall, "comes today's news that NHS productivity is falling. Take the largest employer in western Europe, an already mind-bogglingly bureaucratic disaster, double the money you spend on it, reduce the number of beds, nurses and doctors, add more bureaucrats, raise everyone's pay and ignore the first lesson of economics, that incentives matter. Colour me surprised when productivity falls."

His blog is full of interest. Chesterton, UN inactivity at Darfur, and discussion of which is correct:

Ceterum censeo Unio Europaeum esse delendam
Ceterum censeo Consilium Europaeum esse delendam
UPDATE: There's more here. In fact this latest link is described as the final version. Mr Worstall actually wrote to the EU's own Latin translation help desk and got an authoritative version. Ceterum censeo Unionem Europaeam esse delendam. (The Romans themselves, who did not use "u", would have spealt "Europaeam" as "Evropaeam" but I think we can make this little concession to modernity.)

Kudos to the un-named EU official who provided this information against his own inclinations. I hope he doesn't suffer for it.

Even the New York Times doesn't think much of the Guardian's Operation Clark County. In case this wasn't clear to you, neither do I (except in so far as it has results opposite to those intended) - but I've only just figured out why the competition angle annoyed me as much or more than the spamming simpliciter.

If the campaign were what it claimed to be, individuals writing to individuals, then it would be merely like being approached outside Woolworths by a collector for a charity. My reaction to street collectors is not quite "don't bug me." It's more like "I would really prefer not to be having this encounter but, since I admire your willingness to embarrass yourself for a cause, make your pitch. You have three seconds. Then, whatever my decision, be gone." (All this I express by assuming the facial expression of a rabbit determinedly trying to out-stare a lorry.)

But what would one think of a street collector who was making a recording of his pitch to win a competition or get his name in the paper? The very thing that made me willing to listen was my reluctance to snub a fellow-being who is in the process of doing something painful (approaching a stranger who may well deliver a put-down) because he or she believes, rightly or wrongly, that some cause is worth it. If I find out that this heartfelt "personal" appeal was, far from being a painful duty, an opportunity to get mild fame or polish fame already achieved then I am entitled to feel used.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004
Saving the British from themselves. Eric the Unread publishes some responses to the Washington Times' recent big-hearted campaign.

(Via Harry's Place and, ultimately, the Guardian.)

You want vaccines? We ain't got vaccines. There is a shortage of flu jabs in the US this year. The British angle is that the main reason for the shortage is that a batch of vaccine made in a British factory owned by a US company, Chiron, has turned out to be contaminated. The other British angle is, of course, that we in Britain also get flu and ought to have an interest in which systems work for preventing deaths from it and which don't.

Now one vaccine manufacturer slipping up would not be a major problem if there were lots more manufacturers ready to step into the breach. In fact there are now only two left in the US, though there used to be loads more. Why is this?

Instapundit linked to a post covering the current shortage written by generally left-leaning blogger Kevin Drum. Lawsuits and Food & Drug Administration regulations are the two factors Drum identifies as explaining why the US in particular has so few manufacturers.

Though I agree with many points he makes - especially about lawsuits - it looks to me as if he is wrong to discount price controls as a factor. Jim Miller covered the same topic a few days ago. He quotes this Weekly Standard article by William Tucker. If I have understood correctly then before 1993 US doctors purchased vaccine themselves. After 1993 the US government made itself into a monopsony customer. As such it was able to enforce price controls.

The price controls have a pretty name, "The Vaccine for Children Act." Aaaah. It would be better called the "Ten Years Down The Line No Vaccine for Children But We Lawmakers Look Caring Today So Who Cares About The Future Act."

Later, in an update to his post Jim Miller links to what he correctly calls a piece of economic illiteracy from the New York Times.

The heart of the problem, experts say, may be that no one person or agency is in charge of making sure the United States has an adequate vaccine supply. The production, sale and distribution of vaccines, particularly those for flu, are handled almost entirely by pharmaceutical companies.
Would that they were! A bunch of competing companies would mean that not all the eggs were in one basket. In real life the unnamed experts very nearly have their wish for central control already - and looks where it gets them. I quote from the Weekly Standard article:
Each year in February, the Centers for Disease Control meets with the vaccine-makers--all two of them--and decides which strain of the virus to anticipate for next year. Then they both make the same vaccine. Last year the committee bet on the Panama strain, but a rogue "Fujian" strain suddenly emerged as a surprise invader. A mini-epidemic resulted and 93 children died, only two of them properly vaccinated.

Monday, October 18, 2004
So what do I think about the notorious leading article in the Spectator that got Boris Johnson into such trouble?

I think it was fine, except for the part about the Hillsborough stadium disaster. Any tendency I might have had to sentimentalise Liverpool football fans as Liverpool football fans was pre-emptively suppressed by events at the Heysel stadium, but it is not sentimentality for a city to grieve at the horrible deaths of so many of its citizens. I doubt whether Johnson knows any more than I do about what part, if any, drunkeness played in the death toll. The Taylor enquiry said very little part. Every decent point Johnson had to make could have been made without that.

This post from Drake at The Edge of England's Sword and the accompanying angry comments from "Alex" present both sides of the debate.

What strikes me about the whole idea of Boris going to Liverpool to engage in "sincere self-criticism" in the Chinese fashion is that nobody gets what they want out of it. The people of Liverpool do not get either an apology they can believe or a net increase of respect, since half the country is now saying, "true with knobs on, you Scouse whingers." Michael Howard looks less like a potential Prime Minister than he did yesterday. So would Boris Johnson if that were possible. More to the point is that he looks less like a credible MP or a credible journalist. A weathervane is not admired in either profession.

Betcha Prince Harry did get help on his coursework. Not so fast with the chopper, Mr Headsman! So does everybody, as Mr White of the Telegraph sagely observes. Not quite everybody, actually. Last year Jenny Sweetham-Klewlesse (18) of The Old Vicarage, Pootlington Parva, did a Social Studies project completely unaided. Interested reporters can contact Miss Sweetham-Klewlesse behind the counter of her local Little Chef.

It can't go on, you know. We need think outside the envelope and find a better way. Surely it is not beyond the bounds of human cunning to devise some sort of system which would actually make it difficult to cheat. Something like, um, gottit, getting all the A-Level candidates to do their coursework in school with no mummies and daddies allowed. No, that wouldn't work - what about the teachers? They have a stronger motive to cheat than anyone. Except the pupils, of course.

I know! All the pupils would have to do the coursework the same day. All together in one room. And - and - and no talking to each other. Yes! It's a crazy idea but it might just work - so long as we took away their mobile phones.

Don't look at me like that. We'd give them back afterwards.

Okay, not the mobile phones. They'd have to put them under the desk.

Sorry. Sorry. I've calmed down now. I now see clearly that my idea was ill-judged, not to say intemperate. And contrary to human rights. My party leader has sent me to a local sixth-form college to apologise.

Thursday, October 14, 2004
Getting your priorities right. The BBC (credit to them on this occasion) has written an unflinching account of the excavation of an Iraqi mass grave.
One trench contains only women and children while another contains only men.

The body of one woman was found still clutching a baby. The infant had been shot in the back of the head and the woman in the face.

"The youngest foetus we have was 18 to 20 foetal weeks," said US investigating anthropologist P Willey.

"Tiny bones, femurs - thighbones the size of a matchstick."

Mr Kehoe investigated mass graves in the Balkans for five years but those burials mainly involved men of fighting age and the Iraqi finds were quite different, he said.

"I've been doing grave sites for a long time, but I've never seen anything like this, women and children executed for no apparent reason," he said.

Then, a little further down, we read this:

Mr Kehoe said that work to uncover graves around Iraq, where about 300,000 people are thought to have been killed during Saddam Hussein's regime, was slow as experienced European investigators were not taking part.

The Europeans, he said, were staying away as the evidence might be used eventually to put Saddam Hussein to death.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004
Tell the police immediately if your estranged husband is coming to murder you. They can give you "advice and support" until you are killed. They can't actually come to the house until a few hours after your death in case they meet a violent criminal.

(Via The England Project, whose comments on the case are well worth reading.)

Tuesday, October 12, 2004
Your child is intellectually challenged. Or as we teachers like to say... stupid. A real teacher's teacher comments on his young charges.

My husband's secret favourite among the many reports he has written was for a child who had burned down the boys' lavatories. "We must hope," he said, "that the improvement in X's behaviour since his exclusion was not just a flash in the pan."

"But we can immediately read it anyway" Brian Micklethwait links to and comments on an article about Ken Bigley by Mark Steyn that the Telegraph refused to print. I think the Telegraph was correct not to print it. Seeing those words in a national newspaper would have caused vast offence to some people who have suffered enough already. Yet I also think Steyn was correct to put it on his website. Think of a see-saw with causing pain at one end and getting out a message that may save lives on the other. The size and type of readership it is going to get on a website tips the see-saw one way; exposure in the Telegraph would tip it the other.

Brian's comments about the fact that the editor's veto may have stopped Mr Steyn from being paid for it but didn't stop us (informed, obsessive, connected us) reading it are equally interesting. Expect more of this. Eventually people will become much more aware that a newspaper is a selection. This should have been obvious all along but hasn't been.

The way I hear it, there is a pent-up desire on the part of many to say the sort of thing Steyn did. Up bubble these thoughts and words like water from a thousand springs. Some streams taste sweet, others bitter. They all want to reach the sea - the public arena, if you will forgive me changing metaphors mid-sentence. Some of them join great rivers almost immediately; other rivulets divide and recombine and meander; water from some must even evaporate and re-condense many times before finally getting to their destination.

For the sake of the next hostage, and Iraq, and the world, I want the key elements of Steyn's message (which I stress again is not unique to him) to reach the sea. Having his column read by some atypical internet WoT wonks, then repeated and re-intepreted along a chain of increasingly normal intermediaries before it eventually becomes commonplace may be the way of doing that that involves least pain overall.

ADDED LATER: ... and, come to think of it, might also be the best way of spreading the message. Ineffective attempts at supression can get you a wider hearing. Suppression is not quite the right word; as I said, I think the Telegraph had a point - but I turned to the column with all the more interest knowing it had been pulled, and I'm sure you did too.

I have a post that mentions Wayne Rooney up at Biased BBC. Mr Rooney is a football player.

Monday, October 11, 2004
How I really write posts - or fail to. I wanted an excuse to wallow in Chesterton's demolition in verse of a pompous remark by F.E. Smith concerning the Disestablishment of the Church of England in Wales. I felt sure I'd find somewhere among this week's controversies a similarly overwrought denunciation that I could hang it on.

Nothing doing. Here's a clip from it anyway.

"A Bill which has shocked the conscience of every Christian community in Europe." -- Mr. F. E. Smith, on the Welsh Disestablishment Bill.

Are they clinging to their crosses,
F. E. Smith,
Where the Breton boat-fleet tosses,
Are they, Smith?
Do they, fasting, trembling, bleeding,
Wait the news from this our city?
Groaning "That's the Second Reading!"
Hissing "There is still Committee!"
If the voice of Cecil falters,
If McKenna's point has pith,
Do they tremble for their altars?
Do they, Smith?
Click the link to see the rest.

Antidisestablishmentarianism is not the longest word in English as sometimes claimed but I think it is the longest word that ever had a regular place in the newspapers. Floccinaucinihilipilification doesn't count. It was made up to attract tourists.

Locked out of me own home. I have a guest post up at Daily Ablution. That man Burgess has strange powers. This post I am writing now is the first time that Blogger has let me in all day.

I have purchased a book, on actual paper, called "Improve the performance of your PC."

Friday, October 08, 2004
Mondo reads a lot then blogs about it. There are brief, crisp reviews of Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About and Mil Millington's second book over at Mondo's Info.

Jim Bennett writes regarding foxes and hedgehogs:
There is a great book by the Chilean-Australian historian Claudio Veliz called "The Gothic Fox in the New World" that extends the metaphor as a comparison of English- and Spanish-speaking civilization in the New World. The Anglosphere are the foxes, and as he tells the story that is not bad. Civilizations run by hedgehogs tend to have a fetish for uniformity; those run by foxes are more tolerant of diversity. Cf the European Union.
Ah, yes. Now I come to think of it I had seen mention of this right at the end of the Anglosphere primer.

Some Welsh Nots. I would like to make a couple of petty-minded, carping, negative quibbles about some things people say in this Guardian special report about the wonderfulness of the Welsh Assembly while totally ignoring the important points it makes. Why? 'Cos I'm a blogger, that's why.
..."It has been an effective assembly," counters Morgan. "Since Labour came to power in 1999, unemployment, which was much higher in Wales than the UK, is now lower. Infant mortality rates are lower, GCSE A to C grades are higher. These simple facts show the assembly has been worthwhile."
Well it could be Labour rather than the assembly that caused any or all of these improvements. Or Bush's presidency. Or sunspots. Or the closing of one gyre and the opening of another.
"I think things have moved on in the past few years and now a lot of the Cool Cymru ethos is about pride in the assembly," says Janet Ryder, a Plaid Cymru assembly member for North Wales. "There's a real sense that we can stand on our own two feet. I don't think you'd find any people in Wales now who would want the assembly to be scrapped.
What, no one at all? Get out more. I have no strong opinion either way, but I've met undeniably Welsh people who say it's a black hole for taxpayers' money.
The threat to Welsh isn't quite so brutal as it was in the 19th century, when speaking Welsh was regarded as offensive by Anglocentric educators. "In the days of the "Welsh Not" in the 19th century," says Huw's friend Elaine, "if I said something in Welsh at school, the teacher would put a piece of string with a board around my neck with the legend "Welsh Not". If Eifion then said something to me in Welsh, the board would be hung around his neck. Then if Elaine said something in Welsh to me at playtime, it would be hung around her neck. At the end of the day, the one with the Welsh Not would have their hand spanked."
One little point you will rarely if ever see mentioned in accounts of the Welsh Not - but will hear from talking to old people who remember their parents telling them about it - is that this procedure was supported by nearly all the parents of the pupils involved. They saw the English language as the key to prosperity and Welsh as confining its speakers to low status. It may be regrettable that they had this perception, even more regrettable that they were rational to have it, and still more regrettable (though typical for the times) that they were willing to use such harsh methods to mould their children in the desired direction, but have it they did. You can hear the last echoes of this attitude in the opening pages of Alan Garner's The Owl Service where Gwyn's mother says, "You know I won't have you speaking Welsh. I've not struggled all these years in Aber to have you talk like a labourer. I could have stayed in the valley if I'd wanted that."

Some of you may be saying that's three quibbles, not two. Hah! Three is a Welsh couple.

(This post has grown gradually over the afternoon.)

Thursday, October 07, 2004
Reverse the polarity. In this post, Innovation and Poverty, Photon Courier links to a Business Week article about innovative products in India and goes on to argue that:
It seems very likely to me that: product and process innovation in less-developed countries will result in ideas which will eventually make their way to the U.S. and Europe...the opposite direction from the flow of innovation which is typically assumed. For example: the Tata car in its original form will certainly never be sold in the U.S....but, a strong focus on cost-reduction is likely to result in design and manufacturing innovations which can be incorporated in a car which is suitable for U.S. conditions--not a $2200 car, but, perhaps a $5500 one. And solar power technologies may well develop more rapidly in areas without strong grid systems--resulting in designs and manufacturing scale economies that will later find markets in the U.S. and Europe.

The love birds' song. I followed this CrozierVision link to find a page called Things my girlfriend and I have argued about. Apparently it's a book now. Might get it to plan ripostes to my husband. Has lines like this:
I stayed here with the kids; if they asked where she was, I had planned - to avoid inflicting on them the psychological damage of knowing their mother was at a hen weekend - to say that she was simply away serving a short sentence for shoplifting.

You know that the state of the world is getting to you when you get to the bit in Return of the Jedi where R2-D2 and C-3PO pretend to surrender to the Imperial Stormtroopers just before the Ewoks attack and you shout, "That's a war crime C-3PO! You deserve to be shot!"

Dismantled. Whatever.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004
Thanks to the European Union's deep concern for the enviroment most of the toxic waste disposal sites in Britain have been closed. Thanks to that fly-tipping has become a profitable business. If someone dumps fifty tons of absbestos on your private property, who pays for its removal? You do.

Monday, October 04, 2004
Pulling the petals from a daisy while waiting for the next election. Tony Blair. I love him not. Tim Worstall, linking to the Telegraph, says why not.

Tony Blair. I love him. (Metaphorically, guys, metaphorically.) Why?

Well, Isiah Berlin famously quoted the Greek poet Archilochus to make a distinction between foxes and hedgehogs. His purpose was literary criticism but the metaphor can be used more widely.

"For there exists a great chasm between those, on one side, who relate everything to a single central vision, one system less or more coherent or articulate, in terms of which they understand, think and feel-a single, universal, organizing principle in terms of which alone all that they are and say has significance-and, on the other side, those who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory, connected, if at all, only in some de facto way, for some psychological or physiological cause, related by no moral or aesthetic principle; these last lead lives, perform acts, and entertain ideas that are centrifugal rather than centripetal, their thought is scattered or diffused, moving on many levels, seizing upon the essence of a vast variety of experiences and objects for what they are in themselves, without consciously or unconsciously, seeking to fit them into, or exclude them from, any one unchanging, all-embracing, sometimes self-contradictory and incomplete, at times fanatical, unitary inner vision."

Blair is like a fox who has grown spines. He is all fox inside but when it came to the central struggle of his times some unguessed-at dormant hedgehog gene sprang into action. In this context comparisons to his great predecessor in office do not seem to me absurd. Blair is a less important figure in a less desperate struggle but, like Churchill, he knows one big thing.

Michael Howard does not know the one big thing.

UKIP? Hedgehogs to the tips of their spines, I grant you, though about another issue. But remember that Berlin's comparison was more than hedgehog good, fox bad.

Solent's law of peverse incentives strikes again. The aforementioned Squander Two has just linked to me in a flattering context. Now I appear to be little more than Monkey B grooming Monkey A in return for Monkey A's grooming services of five minutes ago.

Ook. I defiantly offer yet another Squander Two link, responding to the much quoted report by Dr Christie Davies saying that Science is the new Latin. This post argues that "... one of the most surprising things I learnt from it [his study of the history of mathematics] was just how highly mathematically educated most people today are — even those who flunk maths."

He backs this contention up with powerful examples. However I don't think that his argument that most people nowadays have absorbed mathematical ideas so thoroughly that they no longer even recognise them as such is necessarily incompatible with what Dr Davies said. It's great that six year olds are happy with the idea of negative numbers. Does that mean that they must go further?

As always my Zeroth law is that the best policy is no policy. Different strokes for different folks.

If the government won't give us speed cameras we'll make 'em ourselves! So say, and do, the folk of North Yorkshire according to a Times article garnered by the Philosophical Cowboy.

As the Cowboy says, it does seem odd - but only at first sight.

Back in August Squander Two discussed this issue in a post memorably entitled Speed cameras don't piss people off, people piss people off. Down in the comments Andy Wood disproved the charge that proper libertarians anathematize speed cameras at all times and all places by linking to his Transport Blog piece of a few months ago, Speed cameras - let's privatise them.

Friday, October 01, 2004
Did I dream the whole thing? I'd have thought that yesterday's mass killing of children was news enough to be plastered over every outlet, even these days. But it's not on the front page of the BBC website*, the Telegraph front page*, the Independent front page*...

At least the Guardian has this and the Times has this.
The Times story describes another reason why the terrorists chose this particular target:

“It was the Americans who did it, because the blast happened after they left. None of them were killed,” said Mr Yassin, ignoring his son’s insistence that the vehicles were only just leaving when the first explosion hit. “They want to create and atmosphere of terrorism so they can stay here,” he said.

*All links to front pages will have changed by tomorrow.

Back to School. Just after Belsan there was a cartoon in the Independent or the Guardian, I forget which, that showed the slogan "Back to School" written on a blackboard and Putin standing in a corner. The point was that we have to learn again that terrorism happens because of prior oppression.

I thought at the time that the cartoon was the usual poisonous attempt to shift blame from the child-killers to those who tried to stop them, but I'm coming round to the opinion that there was some merit in the cartoon after all. I just think very little of its merit was put there by its creator.

First let me acknowledge that there is some substance to the point the creator made intentionally. It is true in many cases that atrocities spark counter-atrocities. "Cycles of violence" do exist despite the great frequency with which the phrase is used as an attempt to equate a bombing on Monday with the death of the bomber in a shootout with the law on Tuesday. (They even exist despite the fair frequency with which the term is used to describe completely uni-directional violence where the last time the victims fired a shot in anger was generations ago.) I don't have the knowledge to say anthing useful about the history of the Chechen rebels other than it is common knowledge that the Russian forces have been brutal and that some female Chechen suicide bombers are widows of men the Russian soldiers killed. Going back further, the Russian army was sent back into Chechnya as a result of the Moscow apartment bombings. It looks to me as though the metaphor of a cycle of violence is more nearly true for the Chechen conflict than for many others in the world today.

No, I have not joined the Appeasers. To claim that an individual killing takes place as part of a cycle of violence is not necessarily to excuse that killing. The claim usually is made as an excuse but it doesn't have to be. Long ago I saw a picture of a ten-year old boy lying shot through the head somewhere in Southern Italy. He had been the last surving child of a Mafia family that had gradually been extinguished in a long-running vendetta between it and another Mafia family. His murder was part of a very clear cycle of violence but he was still innocent and it was still murder.

Now back to the points the cartoonist made unintentionally. Yes, Beslan sent us back to school. It sticks in my craw to call terrorism a process of "education", but it certainly does involve the transfer of information, both intentional and unintentional. It involves countries and cultures communicating with other countries and cultures, teaching, learning and re-learning things they have forgotten.

Like a great deal of modern education it involves video cameras.

The biggest lesson the Islamic fanatics wished to teach the world at Beslan School No. 1 was: this is the sort of people we are. There is nothing we will not do. No one is safe.

The slaughter of 35 children and 7 adults by the Iraqi "resistance" also conveys several lessons. Here are some of the unintentional ones that might or might not be learned by the watching world:

These killers are not the "Iraqi resistance". They cannot conceivably have thought that their victims, either as individuals (mostly children, remember, and accounts say that the cars were deliberately driven alongside the crowd of children before being detonated) or as members of a class (ordinary residents of a Baghdad suburb pleased at getting clean water), had ever done them any harm. The killers are not working for the Iraqi people; they are preying on the Iraqi people. They do not care in the slightest that their victims are Muslims.

In fact it is rather important for the purposes of the Islamo-fascists that a great many of their victims are Muslims and are in every way typical Iraqis. The terrorists must not allow the idea to spread around that you are safe so long as you are neither an unbeliever or a foreigner. The intended lesson to the people of Iraq was: submit to us, or this is your future.