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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Tuesday, November 30, 2004
This did not happen when Britons were free to own guns for self defence. Perry de Havilland's neighbour was murdered yesterday, in a home invasion. The murdered man's wife was also stabbed by one of the burglars, and is in a serious condition. According to the Guardian's report the police were called by the couple's nine year-old daughter.

Think about that nine year-old's experience. At 7pm she and her parents were in their own home, not indulging in any risky activity, not bothering anyone. An hour later she was calling the police to say her father was dead and her mother seriously injured. Presumably someone then contacted the family's older daughter, who had been out of the house, to give her the same news.

In a street I know quite well. While a friend of mine was having dinner some fifty yards away through a wall or two. It's getting closer.

I do not like thee Dr Fell/ The reason why I cannot tell. First a quick update on the blogging front: I'm rather busy at the moment, so posting will still be sporadic for a while. Here's one post - a single sporad - to show that I'm still ticking over.

Joanne Jacobs linked to an excellent article about the stultifying effect on children's development when they are physically over-protected.

Without having come to any firm conclusion I am thinking my way round whether the same calculation might apply to letting your children meet - briefly - risky people.

Does it help children develop skills of self-protection against bad characters to interact with bad characters in a limited way? If it does, is it worth the risk that interaction will become infection and/or the bad characters will be able to practise their badness on your precious kids?

Part of me says, no. One massive reason for all the bullying and unpleasantness that goes on in schools is that kids can't get away from baddies. Adult life is nicer because, in general, adults can get away. (Adult bullying, I believe, overwhelmingly takes place at the workplace. Presumably the victims dare not quit their jobs for financial reasons. This is indeed a bad situation to be in but not as bad as being obliged to stay within the bully's reach by law.)

Part of me says, yes. I'm not just thinking of school here. I'm thinking of the way children and teenagers used to roam more freely. In an average childhood this involved some dubious encounters. Like that creep I met in the Victoria & Albert Museum some time in the late seventies. But one did get a feel for bad vibes.

Political correctness denies bad vibes any validity, but I'm a believer in them. I haven't met many criminals. I haven't even met many bad people. But, looking back over my various encounters with folk who - while not necessarily bad - turned out to be trouble, seven times out of ten I had a non-psychic premonition that I really ought to sidle away.¹

Seven times out of ten isn't ten times out of ten, I grant you. Some people are megaton rather than kiloton trouble precisely because they conceal it so well. And some poor schmucks have no harm in them but lousy social skills.

It's also true that cultural differences can cause the bad vibe instinct to misfire. For example a man from Southern Europe can be perceived as sexually threatening by a woman from Northern Europe because he stands so close to her, when all he is really doing is standing at the distance normal to his culture.

But when all the caveats are caveatted I'm still left with the opinion that an instinct that says I do not like thee Dr Fell² is worth developing. I think the lack of it has some connection with the way that young people nowadays go from "muthn't cwoss the woad without holding mummy's hand" to "I'm an adult and I'll sleep with who I like" the day they turn sixteen.

And that means... I'm a little unhappy with where this line of argument is taking me.

¹ Premonitions that I usually ignored until the time came to curse the excessive politeness that had stopped me from running screaming to the hills the minute that Jonah came within a hundred feet of me. But that's a separate problem.

² Poor guy, huh? A distinguished career in education and this is how he goes down in history. Almost as bad as the fate of George Nathaniel Curzon.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004
Every now and then a horrible curse descends on me. My appearance becomes wild and haggard. I wake and sleep at different times from usual. I lose my more elevated desires and become consumed by basic and primal motivations. While the fit is on me I find my temperament becomes strangely solitary and even aggressive. I emit savage, animal-like snarls whenever friends and family try to communicate with me.

To those who seek to know why I am afflicted by this strange periodic transformation I can give only one answer... sometimes people pay me money to work for them.

Low blogging this week.

Friday, November 19, 2004
Glenn Hoddle does not deserve to be lumped in with Aragonés. For the most part Simon Barnes in the Times writes well and fairly about the controversy over racist remarks by Luis Aragonés, head coach for the Spanish football team. Or rather the controversy in Britain and lack of controversy in Spain.

But there was one part of his article that I thought was unfair. I quote:

Glenn Hoddle was dismissed as England coach because he said things about the disabled that provoked a heart-felt reaction across the country. The head of the England football team just can’t go around saying things like that.
No, he can't. And that has the unfortunate consequence, particularly for those who oppose racism as Simon Barnes does, that until things change we can never have a Hindu coach for our football team. Hoddle's belief in reincarnation and that misfortune in this life is the result of bad behaviour in past lives may be unusual for a white Briton but is orthodox for thousands of Britons of the Hindu religion. I have no doubt that Hoddle's sacking had a chilling effect on Hindus striving for public eminence in all sorts of fields, not limited to sport.

Perhaps the greatest, the most heartfelt, of all questions is: "Why do bad things happen to good people?" Closely related to it is another question: "How can a good God allow such suffering?"

"There is no God," say the atheists, "and hence no reason why." For those who still hope, there have been two great religious answers; the Free Will of the Judeo-Christian religions (combined with the belief in a future state where "every tear shall be wiped away"), and the Law of Karma proposed by the Buddhists, Jains and Hindus.

It is not my answer. I do not believe in reincarnation. But it is a seriously considered answer with millennia of intellectual tradition behind it. This article by a Canadian Hindu defends the religion against the charge that it is anti-disabled.

The person with the disability is indeed entitled to ask the perennial question, "Why me?" And, for him or her, karma and reincarnation provides an answer: it is a result of your own past deeds. This serves two ends. First, it keeps the one disabled from concluding that we live in a Godless, capricious universe and are victims of a purposeless fate. Second, one can now look to the future, for the doctrine of karma does not end with the proposition that what happens to us is the result of what we have done. It equally advances the proposition that we create our future by how we act now. So, do not wallow in self-pity but strive for a better future, an endeavor in which all others should readily help.
The article also stresses that it is the duty of others to help the sick and disabled in order to help their own karma. C.S. Lewis quoted a Hindu text that said, "Children, old men, the poor, and the sick, should be considered as the lords of the atmosphere."

I wish more prominent British Hindus had spoken out about this at the time of Hoddle's exit - but I find it hard to blame them for their silence, given that it had just been demonstrated that people with their beliefs could be sacked for them to popular acclaim.

Kings and dictators can get satisfaction. Scott Campbell, the Bunny, sent me this even more surprising story about Kim Jong Il from Der Spiegel. I have to say that the story included some tabloidish elements - the 2,000-strong "satisfaction team", for instance - that made me wonder whether I should take it with a pinch of salt.

Come to think of it, though, just what is it I find so unlikely? Although sources differ as to whether Khosrow Anüshirvan, the 'Immortal Soul' of Zoroastrian Persia, had a harem of 3,000 (as stated by this Islamic website) or a mere 1,200 (as stated in this article from, bizarre as it may seem, a collection of puportedly humorous articles from Pravda) no one contests that he had a vast harem. Nor is it doubted by historians that Ibrahim the Mad had two hundred and eighty women of his seraglio sewn into sacks and cast into the Bosphorus. There is no oddity or cruelty that has not at some time been practised by those of great power.

If he wants to, Kim Jong Il can have a harem greater than that of the greatest of the Sassanids - so he probably does. Whether it will truly ensure his longevity in the manner hoped for is another matter.

Thursday, November 18, 2004
The story is how predictably vicious, arbitrary and hated the rule of the Islamofascists was in Fallujah. That came from the Times, and I found it via Instapundit. The story around the story is that the Times Online has stopped charging overseas visitors, or so that Instapundit link tells me. (From here in the UK I see no difference.) Good news for bloggers. I wonder what led the Times to that decision.

Scrolling up a little on Instapundit I found reports that the Dear Leader cult in North Korea may be going wobbly. Wobble on, freak. I found this story about it in the Washington Post. Unhappy the country where so much is deduced from the taking down of a few official pictures.

Seconded. Brian Micklethwait reviewed Sean Gabb's call for the abolition of state education before I got to it.

Since he's already excerpted the serious bit, let me call your attention to an entertaining and quotable throwaway line:

The politicians promise reform. But all reforms so far discussed can only make things worse. Labour promises more money and a restructuring of management - not only rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, but also replacing the canvas with silk.

The Anglosphere Challenge is my Christmas present to myself.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004
Oh Sir Jeremy do not touch me! You can finish the song yourselves, right? Blithering Bunny has a funny post about the villanous Jeremy Clarkson, deflowerer of virgin... ditches?

Unread me. A reader writes:
Just a note relating to your post of the 15th and your throwaway remark about the "unread Italian of choice".

Amitai Etzioni was born Werner Falk in Koln, Germany in 1929.

Born a German, Amitai Etzioni took a Hebrew name - for reasons that will be obvious if you follow the link.

Those unwordly artists, innocents abroad in this dog-eat-dog world of ours... Squander Two is sympathetic as ever.

Incidentally, the mad things that have happened to the order and timestamps of my posts since I foolishly tried to split a post into two are an artist's cry of anger against the patriarchy. But you knew that.

The riders of Rohan. Many of you will have seen a now-famous post in which Harry of Harry's Place expresses his astonishment that an article by Rohan Jayasekera suggesting that Theo Van Gough had it coming should appear in Index on Censorship of all places. Time was when the Index on Censorship, along with Amnesty International and the National Council of Civil Liberties, as the latter two were called before this fashion for one-word names, were the pillars of liberalism. The old gods fall.

I would like to have directed you to read Mr Jayasekera's piece yourself to check out whether you think my description of it is accurate. However the link within Harry's post now takes you to a page of responses rather than the original article, and the search function of the Index website keeps timing out.

Mr Jayasekera is equivocally repentant. He admits that he had no basis for saying that the working relationship between Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Theo Van Gogh was exploitative other than his own bubblethink inability to believe that an immigrant could possibly make an informed, independent decision to support Pim Fortuyn's party.

I do though regret making presumptions about Ayann Hirsi Ali. It did seem like a faintly exploitative relationship to me. To me something seems not right about her association with a political party with policies that are so inimical to her fellow Somalis in the Netherlands, as well as to so many others. But in speaking for her for the purposes of my own argument, I think I was treating her no more fairly than van Gogh did.
He might have added, but didn't, that his assumption that she was traumatised by her rejection of Islam was equally presumptuous. Judging from this interview she dropped it with little regret - what bothered her was not her apostasy but the danger it involves.

Although I would rather the link still took you to the original article, the responses are worth reading in themselves. One of the commenters, Brian Murphy, said:

Theo Van Gogh did not die of natural causes: he was murdered, but you know this, and yet you describe his brutal murder as 'a marvellous piece of theatre'. As the author of this marvellous theatre, the Islamofascists will no doubt wish to repeat their performance on other artists, whose views they dislike.

It is dangerous to criticise Islamic extremism even for those at the centres of power. Even for Socialists. Mimount Bousakla, a female, socialist Belgian senator of Moroccan origin has gone into hiding. Already in hiding is a female Dutch politician of Somali Muslim origin who is now a critic of Islam, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. (Her first name is also sometimes spelt Ayan or Ayann.) She helped Theo Van Gogh make the film Submission. They got him, now they hope to get her too.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004
Pang pang you're dead. I am having two pangs of conscience. Pang #1 is about yesterday's post. Do I actually know Hazel Blears has not read Ignazio Silone? I do not. Pang #2 had been forgotten but was revitalised by Boris Johnson's latest troubles. Last month I posted this and, in passing, linked to a tongue-in-cheek Boris fan site that featured a picture of him looking like a twit. But the fact is that if you photograph anyone enough some of the pictures will show him or her looking like a twit. Normal human speech involves silly face-shapes, normal human movement involves momentarily inelegant postures, and normal human life involves wearing scraggy sweatshirts sometimes. When a celeb goes out of favour with Wotcher magazine, photos of him or her looking pasty-faced and rat-haired while buying milk can always be found. Another point to bear in mind is that even if Boris Johnson looks like a twit for a higher percentage of the time than Pierce Brosnan, for instance, that is not his fault. Or even a fault. (Adultery, on the other hand, is both a fault and his.)

It is a sign of the increasing childishness of the British public that it will only vote for a handsome, married parent as Prime Minister. I hope the tendency does not spread to mere ministers. Only a generation ago the fact that Edward Heath is a bachelor and no oil-painting did not stop him gaining the favour of a less superficial electorate. As things turned out, that was a pity. Heath became a bad, duplicitous prime minister and a positively vampiric ex-prime minister - but his appearance and childlessness had nothing to do with it.

Monday, November 15, 2004
Third blah. There's an angry letter in the Guardian about policing in the Isle of Wight:
So Hazel Blears wants to take policing to a "third phase" (Report, November 9). What exactly were phases one and two? We particularly liked the idea that local people should know local officers' names, "their emails, how to contact them". We don't have local police officers out here in the real world. Nearly all our local police stations have been taken away, as have the police officers who used to live in the community.

We have a handful of police personnel patrolling the Isle of Wight at night, who are routinely unavailable to deal with juvenile crime, and we suspect they haven't a lot of time to tend to the relationship "between the citizen and the local service".

We even have to telephone Winchester for non-emergency contact with the police. The government's jargon may mean something to them, but it's cuts little ice with people who have seen seven years of drift, "targets", and institutionalised non-achievement.

Hazel Blears, in case you are wondering, is a Home Office minister. According to the Guardian report of November 9 referred to in the letter, she "is an unusual sort of politician. She talks, unabashedly, about promoting traditional working-class values such as decency and respect, quotes the Italian socialist Ignazio Silone, and says the future of politics is local." Exactly the usual sort of politican, then. The only deviation from cliché is going for Silone as Unread Italian of Choice when the Front Bench opt for Amitai Etzioni*.

Ms Blears also says that the third phase of police reform is "about reinvention; about connecting public services to local people. We need to change the nature of the encounter and the relationship between the citizen and the local service".

Back to something that works?

The hope behind all this talk of phases is that reality will be too embarassed to diverge from the orderly and inevitable progression of the numerical series. Edward Heath, I recall, had an incomes policy that came in Phases I, II and III. It came unstuck at III.

This post is depressing me. Allow me to turn to a time-honoured means of cheering oneself up: the discovery and announcement of an entirely new law of nature. Are you ready? Here it is:Third Grandiose Whatevers are always unsatisfactory. The Third Whatever either is or wants to be the Second Whatever, but feels it necessary to pretend it isn't or doesn't. Third Way. Third World. Third Programme. See what I mean?

I am aware that the last paragraph has almost no connection to what went before other than mention of the word "Third". I just felt that humanity had already waited too long.

*A reader later pointed out to me that Etzioni is not in fact Italian.

Thursday, November 11, 2004
The fools have banned Vlaams Blok. Expect the successor party to sweep up votes in the next election. Laban Tall says all I wanted to.

Good thing too as I'm not feeling up to blogging today. Several family members are not too well, either.

ADDED FRIDAY: More on the subject from Perry de Havilland of Samizdata. Oh this is so great. Just fan-bleeding-tastic. Exactly what we needed for Europe's future, isn't it? A million-strong bunch of ethnic nationalists who believe, accurately, that their reward for taking part in the peaceful political process is to have their party suppressed by the courts.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004
The auld quarrel. John Quiggin of Crooked Timber writes about the Whole Language versus Phonics debate in the teaching of reading here. It's interesting to see that the comments include quite a few that defy stereotypes. For example this one by "another damned medievalist":
Anyone who knows me knows I think of myself pretty solidly on the left. I’m for socialized medicine, don’t believe that tax cuts for the rich do society any good in a society where the rich think it’s just fine to for CEOs to make hundreds of times what the average worker makes, etc.

But I believe in sounding out words, when you can. My parents had me reading before I went to school, and had me sound out words, but also were there to tell me I just had to remember the funny ones that didn’t sound like they were spelled. In 5th and 6th grade, I had teachers who made us learn Greek and Latin prefixes and suffixes so we could figure out what words meant. As someone who teaches, I can’t really understand why ANY method that can produce results would be frowned upon. Administrators are always pushing us to recognize and teach to alternate learning styles — isn’t this just one more of those things?

As for the pro- anti-Teachers’ Unions skirmish, I’m union. I also think that the teachers’ unions in the US really are often in opposition to good teaching. Part of this I attribute to a political environment where the perceived threat to teachers (K-16) creates more emphasis on job preservation than on doing the job well. Years of this have definitely allowed a huge pile of incompetent deadwood to pile up. I also think a lot of the problem has to be the control the education folk have over what is taught in this country and who teaches it. The past 20 or so years have seen more and more preference given to education degrees for teachers rather than discipline degrees. The curriculum is necessarily watered down and often not taught well, because, even after grade 6, faculty are often generalists teaching far out of their own expertise. I suggest that this is primarily down to the Education Lobby — which is primarily the two big unions.
That said, putting more money in the schools would make it mmore conceivable for schools and school systems to hire more specialized teachers and would allow the teachers more time to keep up in their subjects.

Oh well. We pay for the things we value and we get what we pay for.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004
Outside the pale of law. This article in the Scotsman: 'Police chiefs refuse to enforce smoking ban' contains the following quote:"Mr McConnell wants to see a complete ban, although there is likely to be a limited number of concessions for institutions such as prisons and nursing homes."

It prompted my regular correspondent ARC to write:

I found myself remembering Hannah Arendt's remark in 'The Origins of Totalitarianism': "The best criterion to decide whether someone has been forced outside the pale of law is to ask whether he would benefit by committing a crime. If a small burglary is likely to improve his legal position, at least temporarily, one may be sure he has been deprived of human rights."
Hat tip to Freedom and Whisky. And another hat tip to the blog of the same name.

Shy Labourites. Jim Mangles writes:
You say, "The explanation (why opinion polls have underestimated Tory support for years) is that the media, talking heads, academics, comedians and the like, portray the Conservatives, or Republicans in the US, as the party of those who are unfeeling and/or uneducated."

I'm sure a similar effect will become apparent here after the next general election, but my bet is that this time it will be the Labour vote that's underestimated. This is because "the media, talking heads, academics, comedians and the like, portray" Tony Blair as a reckless liar who got us into an evil war in Iraq, but in the privacy of the polling booth most people, faced with the prospect of Michael Howard as Prime Minister, won't turn out to care all that much about Iraq.

Could be, could be. We might have the novelty of an election in which neither main candidate is endorsed by the elite. However the obvious difference messing up the Bush-to-Blair (or John Howard-to-Blair) parallel is that however angry the talking heads are with Blair they still like him better than any Tory ever born.

The prospect of Michael Howard as Prime Minister reminds me of how and when I first got to know his name. Michael Howard was Home Secretary in 1996 when Thomas Hamilton massacred sixteen primary schoolchildren and their teacher in Dunblane. He introduced stringent laws against handguns that stopped a little short of banning them all. For a while angry shooters filled the shooting press with proclamations of their intention to vote Labour. One or two supportive Labour MPs assisted them in their delusions and may even have shared them. Naturally, one of the first acts of the Labour government elected a few months later was to institute a complete ban.

The position of an anti-war left wing voter now is like the situation of a pro-gun voter then. However, as Mr Mangles points out, it's all a minority pursuit. Most voters don't care all that much about Iraq and of those who do care there may even be a significant bloc of voters who are more inclined to vote for Blair because of his stance on Iraq. Stranger things have happened.

Friday, November 05, 2004
Unmissable offer! Free set of politicians and civil servants with every grotesquely expensive parliament building! Mindful of the Scottish experience, David Farrer of Freedom & Whisky is not surprised that the North East of England did not take up this offer.

UPDATE: Sorry I got your name wrong, David.

This great Isonomy of ours. I have a post of that name up at Samizdata.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004
Good morning America!

Tuesday, November 02, 2004
There's just time for me to make my prediction. Bush. Not an easy victory, but by a margin good enough for government work.

ADDED LATER: This article by Nick Cohen gives one reason for my prediction. It's actually advocating the replacement of Tony Blair with Gordon Brown, but my eye was caught by this paragraph:

For reasons no one can adequately explain, the opinion polls have underestimated Tory support for years. Notoriously in 1992 they failed to predict Major's victory. What isn't as well known is that in 1997 the average opinion poll result for the Tories over the campaign was 3.5 per cent below their actual vote. In 2001 the polls underestimated their real support by 6.5 per cent.
I can explain it. What's more I could explain it in 1992 before the election. Alas, I lacked the intiative to actually go into a betting shop. (To this day I never have entered one of these houses of sin.) The explanation is that the media, talking heads, academics, comedians and the like, portray the Conservatives, or Republicans in the US, as the party of those who are unfeeling and/or uneducated. That makes some Conservatives or Republicans a little more reluctant to tell pollsters how they plan to vote.

A Dutch filmaker who made a film on violence against women in Islamic societies, and was working on one about Pim Fortuyn, has been assassinated.

The Chigago Boyz have also been discussing that Lancet article:

(Hat tip to James Rummel of Hell in a Handbasket.)

Shannon Love's posts and the comments to them engage with this post by Daniel of Crooked Timber and its comments. Later on Chris Bertram, also of Crooked Timber, posted this follow up about the morality of air strikes, also attended by comments from Shannon Love and others.

ANNOYED BY COMPUTER STUPIDITY UPDATE: I tried to sumbit a comment to Ginny's Chicago Boyz post but it was rejected by the system due to "questionable content." I am mystified. Perhaps the program automatically rejects various WWII keywords as likely to degrade debate. Anyway, I'll assuage my frustration by posting my comment here:

An anonymous commenter says (in reply to John F): "the real issue is the capacity of modern warfare bombs, which is many, many, maby times the capacity of WWII bombs."

Well, no. While it's of course true that we can now build bigger bombs than those used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they haven't been used.

The defining difference between the bombs actually used in Iraq and WWII bombs is that modern technology can deliver bombs/missiles much more accurately.

So, as John F says, one would expect fewer unintended victims.

Monday, November 01, 2004
Need some perspective? Perhaps you should spend some time talking to a non-human.

Tim Lambert has sent me his response to Tim Worstall's response to that Lancet article.

From what I know of the two I am much more inclined towards the Worstall view of the world than the Lambert one. But in the interest of a detailed and highly educated debate about statistics that will almost certainly not include me as a participant, there they both are.

UPDATE: More from Ragout, concentrating on Beth Osborne Daponte, the demographer Fred Kaplan of Slate spoke to.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Tim Worstall says he was wrong and Tim Lambert was right. I still love you, Tim! Thank you, Other Tim!

Time for my totally unscientific bit. I stand by my prediction that the study will be withdrawn or corrected. I don't know much about statistics* but I know something about history, military history in particular. A hundred thousand is just way too high. That's big war stuff and this is a little war.

I do not, of course, expect anyone on this earth to believe the Lancet study must be wrong because Natalie's gut feeling says so. (Or because Natalie's husband, the War Studies Guy, says so too.) For all that, my argument is not as irrational as it first appears. There are many fields - ironically, medicine among them - where even world experts intuit first and back it up afterwards. A "nose", antique dealers call it.

*Here's an odd thought, not intended to be contentious. I have A-Levels in Mathematics and Further Mathematics and also did some statistics as part of a degree in Physics. Hence I probably do know more statistics than 99% of the population. But I still say "I don't know much about statistics" and mean it. Complicated world out there.

Just read Joyce Lee Malcolm.
Legislation in Oklahoma which allowed the home-owner to use force no matter how slight the threat has reduced burglary by nearly half since it was passed 15 years ago. What British police condemn as "vigilante" behaviour has produced an American burglary rate less than half the English rate. And, while 53 per cent of English burglaries occur when someone is at home, only 13 per cent do in America, where burglars admit to fearing armed home-owners more than the police. Violent crime in the US is at a 30-year low.

Whatever became of the Englishman's castle? He did not lose the right and means to protect himself at once. It was teased away over the course of some 80 years by governments claiming to be fighting crime, but actually fearful of revolution and disorder. When the policy began, crime was rare. For almost 500 years, until 1954, England and Wales enjoyed a declining rate of violent crime. In the last years of the 19th century, when there were no restrictions on guns, there was just one handgun homicide a year in a population of 30 million people. In 1904 there were only four armed robberies in London, then the largest city in the world.