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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Friday, December 24, 2004
Just in case anyone was worried. If I do not post between now and around January the fifth it is absolutely not because I am celebrating Christmas and the New Year with family and friends. It will be because I have been sucked up the left upper pseudonostril of a passing gravitic marmoset.

The mountains have laboured and given forth a mouse. Via Instapundit I was led to this article in Scientific American. It says that most of the positive effects claimed for high self esteem either are not true, or are correlations with causation not proved. The only ones that really stand up are the links between self esteem and the ability to initiate relationships and between self esteem and general happiness.

Much as I like being a introverted, chronically guilt-ridden, marginally agoraphobic miserable git, I pronounce no general anathema against either being able to talk to people or happiness. Some people like living that way.

The image that sticks in my mind, though, is of all those housands of studies, books, seminars, courses, programmes, lectures... and it all boils down to something grandma could have told you in 1898.

Thursday, December 23, 2004
Waiting for Monibot. You all remember the famous Pentagon report on global warming? The report about which the authors said, "Contrary to some recent media coverage, the report was not secret, suppressed, or predictive."

Fear not. I shall spare you the Holy Roman Empire joke. All I'm going to say is that many of us were grieved to see that dear old Monibot at the Guardian had not heard the news.

Rob at Semiskinned put him right. He is now awaiting a reply.

I take this to mean that he is aware of the inaccuracy of the sources he used for his original article and will rush to issue an update in the Guardian and/or on his own site correcting the gaffe. I cannot conceive how it could be otherwise.
Ah, but what if the non-arrival of that correction turns out to be a dramatic necessity...

Gogo: [Remembering] OH! We have to go back there. [beckons to the stage]. We'll miss Godot. He will be here soon.

Didi: Here?

Gogo: No! There. [gestures to the stage] I think--

UPDATE: Peter Briffa writes:

Actually, his name is Moonbat.

Or if you insist


Futz it. I've written Moonbat too often.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004
Socialists are also worried about having Christmas stolen from them. (Via Crooked Timber.)

Tuesday, December 21, 2004
Yeah, yeah, rivers of blood, whatever. I read stuff like I'm writing now for years, and I thought it no more than a cynical ploy. Show me someone wittering on with about "avoiding a backlash", said I, and I'll show you a sub-Powellite racist who wants a respectable-sounding reason to deny minorities their rights.

I don't know if anything I can say now will be more convincing than what I read back then, but here is my best shot: people whose own culture is denigrated and supressed do not generally become more tolerant of other cultures thereby. Other than the Aztecs, whose behaviour to strangers in their midst was somewhat improved by the complete extirpation of Aztec religion by the conquering Spaniards, I can't think of any other poster children for the success of this policy.

Rather more generally applicable are Jim Bennett's justly famous words: Democracy, Immigration, Multiculturalism - pick any two.

Down with Scrooge. Anthony Browne writes in defence of Christmas. Proper Christmas with Christ in. Mr Browne is an atheist.

He says that it's not Muslims, Hindus or Sikhs who seek to edit out every image of stable, star or baby. As each story about editing out Christmas arose I have specifically looked to see who the prime movers were, and I say he's right: the anti-freedom factions within minority religions in Britain often seek to silence criticism of their own religions, but rarely to silence Christianity. All but the most extreme correctly see that in these matters religions had better hang together lest they hang separately.

No, the real Christophobes are the self-loathing, guilt-ridden politically-correct liberal elite, driven by anti-Christian bigotry and a ruthless determination to destroy their own heritage and replace it with "the other". It is the American Civil Liberties Union that is threatening lawsuits against any schools that allow the singing of carols and the BBC’s editorial policy bans criticism of the Koran, but not the Bible.

In reality, the Christophobes are acting against the interests of ethnic minorities. By stripping Britain of its culture and traditions, they are causing a dangerous rising tide of anger. It prevents social cohesion and integration — who could want to integrate into a culture that is committing suicide?

How strange it is that the people who say that the Islamic world hates the West because of the West's alleged lack of respect for Islamic tradition are so often the same people who see no danger to minorities in supressing the traditions of this country in the name of minorities.

I hope to God that the Muslim Council of Britain contines to protest that such initiatives as banning hot cross buns or The Three Little Pigs are "bizarre", and that its protests are widely reported.

No more English, no more French / No more sitting on the old school bench...

Ross Douthat, guestblogging for Andrew Sullivan, writes:

Suppose you tried to universalize college education -- how many people would actually go for it? At present, a little over a quarter of all Americans have college degrees, and around half try college for a while but never graduate. No doubt a lot of these people drop out, or never go, for financial reasons, and having government-subsidized college tuition would certainly raise both matriculation and graduation rates appreciably. But I'm not sure the rates would be raised to anywhere near universal levels. I think that many, many people drop out or don't go to college because they don't want to go . . . because they've spent a dozen years in school, they don't like school, and they want to get out into the world and start making money.
Of course once they've seen the world and made the money, a spell back on the old school bench might start to appeal. When I was teaching unruly secondary school pupils I often thought how helpful it would be to have adult pupils in the class. Most of the help would come from their mere presence.

Monday, December 20, 2004
Too angry about identity cards to blog much about it. I know I've quoted this before, but it will stand saying twice.

On December 27th 1944 a Mr Antony Wells wrote to the Times as follows:

Sir, -While obtaining, recently, a National Registration identity card for my small daughter, I remarked that it was pleasant to think all this bothersome business would soon no longer be necessary. I was blandly informed by the clerk that my expectation was quite wrong, since registration was to continue after the war. On looking at the card in my hand, I discovered it was valid until 1960.
The Enemy Class never give up.

A dilemma concerning free speech and religion. No, I'm not talking about the theatre surrendering to the mob. That one has been settled in obedience to the word of that god before whom every modern knee doth bow:
The theatre said it had refused to censor the work and was abandoning it purely on health and safety grounds.
So that's all right then. Let us turn to the case I did want to talk about. It is reported in the Richmond and Twickenham Times of 3 December that
A CHISWICK man has had an injunction taken out against him after he was accused of bombarding members of the Mormons with phone calls and text messages to tempt them from their faith.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was granted an injunction at the High Court following a prolonged campaign by Andrew Price, an Evangelical Christian preacher.

Price was also banned from going within 30 yards of any Mormon mission, with the exception of its central London headquarters in south Kensington, where he is barred from standing on the same side of the road.

The judge presiding over the case was told that Price, 44, had made over 4,000 cold calls to Mormon missionaries, preached for 30 minutes at members travelling on the tube, chased them down the street and had even spent three hours knocking at a church elder's door.

Ho ho! The biter bit! But it's not really that funny.

What this guy was doing clearly did amount to persecution. Although an unwilling recipient of a Mormon missionary couple's knock may resent the minute it takes to send them on their way, the fact that it is a minute and not three hours is crucial.

Yet I feel sorry for Price. He faces a legal bill of thirty thousand pounds. Better for him and his victims if he had faced a smaller punishment sooner. (A thing I often say in all sorts of contexts.)

It would be an ill day if door-to-door evangelists or, indeed, candidates for election or door-to-door salesmen, were forbidden to do what they do. Imagine a zero tolerance regime for doorstep canvassing. You get into a political argument with your work colleague while driving her home from the office Christmas do. You drop her home, polite but tense, neither she nor you wanting to come out and say that you really have quarrelled. She steps inside her front door and it clicks shut - you think of an absolutely conclusive point - and half-meaning to carry it off as a joke but wanting at the same time to land a verbal punch, you ring the bell - she answers, thinking she has forgotten hat or gloves - you smirk and say rather louder than you intended, "And another thing..."

And you are up in court the following morning.

Low blogging alert! Christmas 'n' stuff. Ritual swapping of tokens. Parties. I posted this minor Samizdata QOTD from his party, where I completely spontaneously started blathering on about his famous coffee jars, unaware of his post. Can this be coincidence?

Thursday, December 16, 2004
Not content with apologising for Palestinian support for Saddam's invasion of Kuwait (see this post), now Mahmoud Abbas has said publicly that the Intifada was a mistake.

If you had asked me a year ago when I might have a good word to say about that holocaust denier, I'd have said, "on a cold day in Hell." In the absence of an official weather report from the Infernal Regions, I'll have to assume the demons put their winter woolies on today.

Free debate at St Andrews is not yet dead, despite the previous post. I followed a link or two from the St Andrews Student Union website and found this article in a different student newspaper: 10 Reasons Why Iraqis Would Have Voted for President George W. Bush.
I thought it would be good to offer an Iraqi perspective regarding the current events taking place in Iraq with the war aftermath and reconstruction efforts. Born and raised in Iraq until I was 15 years old, the views I have about what is happening in my country reflect those of the majority of Iraqis.

I find that many people are uninformed about the true Iraqi opinion and they depend mostly on what the media shows as their source of information. Furthermore, there are people who give their opinions as being those of the Iraqi people when they are not. Specifically, I am referring to people from Iraq's neighboring undemocratic Arab countries.

The facts are that the majority of Iraqis were in favor of the war that took place in March 2003.

Two snapshots of British state education today

(1) The Students' Union at St Andrews has banned a student newspaper, The Saint, because, in the words of the Union, "The Saint's last two issues have included a number of offensive comments as well as misleading statements concerning amongst other groups, the University's LGBT students, dyslexics and the Welsh".

Lots of good jokes about dyslexic Welshmen in the Samizdata comments. None about bisexual dyslexic Welshpersons yet, although there is one about a leek.

(2) Via Joanne Jacobs, Kimberly Swygert and Manchester Online, I found a splendid example of Object Fetishism. Manchester Online says that:

PENCIL sharpeners have been banned from a primary school after a pupil dismantled one and used the blade to slash another child's neck. The victim was attacked in the playground at Waterloo Primary School in Ashton under Lyne.

He was taken to Tameside Hospital where he had butterfly stitches placed on the wound. The attacker was suspended for two days and is now back in school.

Kimberly Swygert comments:
A two-day suspension for deliberately striking near someone's jugular with a razor-sharp object? And the offender is allowed to return, while the sharp objects are not? You have got to be kidding me.

'Fraid not. You must understand that pencil sharpeners disrupt the flow of mana. Things with unbalanced mana are tabu. (Mind you, that website says that one of the ways in which you can dissipate or unbalance your mana is "agreeing to be a teacher for a student who did not want to learn." Since slashing a classmate's neck does not suggest a thirst for learning, maybe the Waterloo Primary staff ought to declare themselves tabu.)
...the decision to allow the boy to return to school has angered parents. Some have signed a petition calling on the school to permanently expel the youngster. One parent, who did not wish to be named, said: "Are our children safe when we send them through those gates every morning? The lad purposely took the blade out of the sharpener. In my eyes that is a pre-meditated attack. My children know the difference between right and wrong. To suspend that boy for just two days is no punishment at all."
There are some good comments to the Manchester Online article, a lot of them from the US. My guess is that many of them came via Joanne Jacobs and Kimberly Swygert.

The story made the Sun and the BBC. Also the blog Zero Intelligence - "Fighting school board inanity since 2004" -
has helpfully archived its British stories, including this one, all in one place. Happy reading!

Tuesday, December 14, 2004
Representation. Tim Worstall called his post on this article by would-be MP Hannah Pool "Gi's a job." Fair enough. Most of the article consists of her plaints about the reluctance of Labour selection committees to select her. She is cross that she, a black woman, doesn't score double on the shortlist.

My opinion of Labour selection committees has just gone up. Unless and until Ms Pool stops talking like an eighteenth century Tory oligarch in a rotten borough, the committee would be ill-advised to pick her as a candidate. She speaks of "stealing each other's seats" as if the seats concerned had been assigned to black female representatives of the Labour Party by God and the only problem lay in unseemly squabbles between His representatives on Earth, Operation Black Vote and the Fawcett Society. Hey, lady, these seats we're talking about are not mere property like Jasper Conran dining chairs! The voters have some role in this, remember?

Tim Worstall quotes her as saying:

There are just two black women MPs, both Labour (Diane Abbott and Oona King), of 13 black MPs, 119 women and 659 MPs in total. That's right, two. Given that there are well over 2 million ethnic-minority women in this country, that's an awful lot of representation left to Abbott and King.

He comments:
MPs represent their constituents, not some class, race or sex. That’s why we have constituencies, see, instead of national voting lists and such. Sheesh.

I have it on good authority that Ian Paisley, who once scornfully called the Catholic Sacrament "a biscuit", faithfully works to solve the daily problems of his Catholic constituents. From her words here, can you imagine a future Hannah Pool MP doing as much for her white, Asian or male (including black male) constituents? Selection committees know that these are the people she must appeal to. There aren't enough black females to elect an MP on their own in any seat in the UK, especially given that some of them may fail to agree with Ms Pool's advanced views on the nature of representation and vote for someone else on political grounds.

Her logic takes us to some ugly places. By Hannah Pool's arguments we can never have a black Prime Minister in the UK. Or ever again have a Prime Minister of a minority race or religion. (Tough luck, Michael Howard. And we'll have to airbrush out Benjamin Disraeli.) We cannot even have any more black MPs once the number equal to their proportion in the population has been reached. By Hannah Pool's arguments the existing black female MPs, Diane Abbott and Oona King, do not represent their white, brown or male constituents. I know little about Oona King (other than that she'll be fighting George Galloway in the next election, best of luck to her) but I bet that wasn't what she said on her election leaflets to the citizens of Bethnal Green & Bow. As for Ms Abbott, I am no admirer of hers politically but I can testify she knows her duties better than that. I once spent a morning sitting a few feet from her in a Parliamentary Committee. The questions she put, while sometimes based on wrong assumptions, flowed from her role as an overseer of the UK's public spending, not from her role as a black woman. She talks about that role a lot but is not limited to it.

It's a bit rich, Hannah Pool complaining about how horrible it is to have everyone pre-judging your responses because of your race or gender

If the debate is about women's equality, we are expected to agree with white women because they are women; if the debate is about race, we are expected to agree with black men.
and then demanding to go to the front of the queue because of her race and gender.

As I have said elsewhere, I take "democracy is the least worst form of government" literally. I am a democrat faute de mieux. I would like to see a world where people put serious matters to the vote rather in the way that they now sue a neighbour: reluctantly, embarrassed that it has come to this bitter juncture, and that not merely because the law is expensive and uncertain, but from a perception that fundamentally, this is not how relations between people should be. Force should be a last resort.

Thus it makes me smile in a sardonic way when Ms Pool writes:

What I resent most about the current debate is that, once again, someone is making decisions on my behalf: Labour women are assuming I'd rather be represented by a woman, OBV is assuming I'd rather be represented by a black man.
And you, Ms Pool, are assuming that the voters would rather be represented by you. Perhaps they would, perhaps they wouldn't. But if you so object to people making decisions on others' behalf then how do you justify your desire to stand as a elected representative? Isn't that what they do?

The terrors of old age. Euthanasia and assisted suicide are in the news. My opinions on this aren't completely black and white. If one concedes, as I, wincing, do, a right to suicide, then it seems logical to concede a right to assisted suicide for those too incapacitated to kill themselves.

However, here is an anecdote, told to me first-hand, which demonstrates that legalised euthanasia on the Dutch model affects the quality of life of old people in ways that the "beautiful death" campaigners did not anticipate.

A decade or so ago a member of my family was living in Holland and working as a care assistant at a Dutch old people's home. (She speaks Dutch.) She told me that when the time came to give some of the old men and women their medicine they would occasionally react with terror. "No, no," they would cry, "not the pill!"

What some cried aloud many more, particularly those whose minds were failing, must have feared in silence.

He ain't changed. Free to Choose by Milton and Rose Friedman came out in 1980. I first read it in the late eighties. Back then the name of the fellow mentioned at the end of this passage meant nothing to me:
Few businessmen regard President Carter's so-called voluntary wage and price controls as a desirable or effective way to combat inflation. Yet one businessman after another, one business organization after another, has paid lip service to the program, said nice things about it, and promised to cooperate. Only a few, like Donald Rumsfeld, former congressman, White House official, and Cabinet member, had the courage to denounce it publicly.
Random Jottings comments on Rumsfeld today.

Monday, December 13, 2004
"The normal person shouldn't have to bother with it. That's what we pay government ministers for." In a post about fishing and the tragedy of the commons the EU Serf found that damning quote from a Guardian writer. In fact, as the Serf had already pointed out earlier in the post, there is a way in which the normal person can make nuanced and environmentally-appropriate decisions about which fish to buy without spending hours in study or passing the buck to an authority figure:
I know that it is a heresy in the hallowed corridors of liberalism, but consumers are empowered by a form of knowledge transfer known as pricing. If a real market existed in fish, the rare ones would cost more. Thus someone whose knowledge of fish stocks was zero, would make the right choice as to what to buy. Controversial I know, but it seems to work everywhere else.

The Kuwait Times reports that Abbas apologised to Kuwait on behalf of the PLO for Palestinian support for Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Palestinian support for the invasion of Kuwait managed to be grossly cynical and grossly stupid at the same time. I don't suppose one Palestinian in a hundred cared one way or the other about Iraq's territorial claim on Kuwait prior to the invasion. Kuwait had, as far as I know, never done anything to them other than give them piles of money. The piles of money probably didn't do their politial culture any good, but somehow I doubt that a sophisticated realisation of this fact was what drove crowds of Palestinians onto the street to cheer the invader on. The best excuse I can come up with is that the cheering mobs were no better informed and no less dangerous not to join than the cheering mobs of China's Cultural Revolution.

And what did Saddam Hussein offer them in exchange for this slavish display? The Right of Return? Not exactly. A handful of missiles. A handful of dead Israelis. It's as if a man helped a mugger beat up his rich uncle in exchange for the mugger spitting at his enemy.

Yeah, I know. Some Kuwaitis can put on an impressive display of ingratitude themselves. However "some" is obviously far from "all".

(Via, indirectly, The Corner.)

Did you know that in 1805 half the population of Gibraltar was Jewish? Neither did I.

Tim Blair has a new place at You have to register to comment. "This is intended to cut down on insidious anony-trolling. All you need do is provide a genuine e-mail address, a birth certificate, and a vial of spinal fluid. "

Sunday, December 12, 2004
Not too good to check after all. Sam writes:
Here is the likely original, by that mainstay of rec.arts.sf.* groups, John Schilling: link.
Yes, but is it true?

Anti-Tsarist revolutionaries in Britain. Nigel writes:
By a coincidence I've just finished reading the revised edition of Donald Rumbelow's 'The Houndsditch Murders and the Siege of Sidney Street'. This starts off with a chapter on the Tottenham Outrage before going on to the perhaps more famous events two years later that form the core of the book.

There are two remarkable things to come out of it. First, the extraordinary "culture clash" between the various revolutionary terrorists on the one hand - most of them were Bolsheviks and not anarchists, and in any event some them were never conclusively identified even when brought to trial - and British society on the other. They'd come from a society - Tsarist Russia - where the authorities were to all intents and purposes at war with some of their own people. Many of them had been tortured in Tsarist prisons and had certainly witnessed mass murder (albeit not to the scale that the Bolsheviks would inflict). Virtually all of them were prepared to use any level of violence whatsoever. Even many of the non-revolutionary émigrés from the Tsarist empire - e.g. Latvia where many of the terrorists came from - so little understood the difference between Russia and England that in the days after the attempted Houndsditch robbery and the murders of the policemen they expected the authorities to unleash a pogrom in the East End of London and were baffled when it didn't happen. Al-qaeda et al have a lot to learn!

The second thing was what a triumph of "British fair play"the subsequent trials were. Although plainly guilty, some of them were discharged by the courts before they ever came to trial and - from memory - all but one were later acquitted of all charges. (One went on to become a notorious NKVD leader in the post-1917 Soviet Union.) In any other country, they would either have been killed or tortured into confessions.

A remarkable story!

Friday, December 10, 2004
A distant mirror. This is about the American presidential election... of 1864.
Not even the crisis of a war for the survival of the Union itself could disturb this sacred democratic ritual, but what is really astounding is that the man who opposed Lincoln's re-election was a general - none other than McClellan himself, no longer holding a command, but still adopting an inappropriate air of martial glory. With Grant and Lee firmly locked in their decisive combat, and Sherman shortly to begin his march to the sea, McClellan stood on a platform of negotiated peace, based on the assumption (though he carefully refrained from saying so himself) that the war was a failure.

... The soldiers did not, in any significant numbers, try to vote themselves out of the war. Their vote went to Lincoln by four to one - far more than can be accounted for by manipulation or fraud, though both were undoubtedly present. And the Union prevailed in the war, after all.

(From The Smoke and the Fire by John Terraine)

Thursday, December 09, 2004
Secrets of the book trade revealed. The Scotsman is bemused as to why big name media memoirs aren't selling. David Farrer can explain.

Shades of Ann Coulter's Slander.

It shouldn't be our shrouds versus their shrouds. There was a lot that was relevant to the guns and violence debate in the Telegraph of December 6th.

While it is true that the killers of disc-jockey Tushar Makwana did not use guns, in an armed society the gang probably would not have used the same modus operandi:

The court was told that the four teenagers - Michael McGuire, 18, Ashley Cooksey, 18, Brett Frewin, 17, and Matthew Jeffrey, 17 - were involved in a series of similar raids on houses in the area, which involved kicking down the front door, stealing the owners' car keys and taking their cars.
"They acted as a group. They were not scared or worried in any way.

"They were perfectly happy to approach a house with a car parked on the driveway at four in the morning, having their getaway car parked outside.

"They would kick in the front door, march in with masks or balaclavas obstructing their faces and look for the keys to the cars in front of the house."

Since the trial is still in progress I ought to say that the defendants named have pleaded Not Guilty. Still, someone killed Mr Makwana as he tried to stop them taking his car, they having attacked his home in the manner described.

In that day's Telegraph there was also a very widely linked column by Mark Steyn: "An Englishman's home is his dungeon."

Finally there was an article about the Hungerford gun massacre of 1987, quoting several survivors: "Ryan shot at me, then at my mother." A BBC TV programme about the killing was screened the day the article appeared. The article quotes a senior policeman:

"It was a very frightening scenario," admits the commanding officer, Charles Pollard, in the film.

Police communications were so woeful that for most of the operation Pollard (who had to travel 40 miles to Hungerford), had no idea where Michael Ryan was. Pollard says he felt "a ball of ice" in his stomach when he saw there were only two telephone lines at Hungerford police station, which was undergoing renovation.

He received nine separate reports of Ryan's whereabouts – but all the sightings conflicted. "You just hadn't any information," he said. "You hadn't a handle on it. I thought we had completely screwed up. I was powerless for most of the afternoon."

But he, too, was bewildered by the blitzkrieg of separate incidents and only the next morning, when the operation could be assessed against all the logistical frustrations and limitations, could he conclude: "Actually, we did OK."

I think this is right. They did the best they could in a dreadful and utterly unexpected situation. However one reason why, in contrast it must be said to nearly all British survivors of spree killings, I do not agree with the programme's conclusion that the way to prevent these things is to outlaw weaponry can be found in another account of a chaotic and terrifying pursuit of murderous armed men across a wide area.

The Tottenham Outrage of January 1909 made headlines all over the country. Although, as the account from the Metropolitan Police website I have linked to says, some elements of the multi-vehicle pursuit of two anarchist payroll robbers did become "almost farcical", there was nothing funny about the ruthlessness the criminals showed. They were not outright maniacs like Michael Ryan, the Hungerford killer, but they killed a ten year old boy. They killed, at point blank range, a policeman who called upon them to surrender. Before they were cornered Paul Hefeld and Jacob Lepidus injured twenty-one people and fired over 400 rounds. Other versions put the tally of injured at twenty-seven.

What that account does not say, (perhaps deliberately, seeing as its a police site) is that the police borrowed no less than four pistols from passerby. This fact is quoted in Richard Munday and Jan Stevenson's book Guns and Violence, reviewed here. The police account also does not say, though it does hint, that numerous civilians joined in the hue and cry - that ancient tradition was not quite dead then. According to this BBC Notes and Queries page:

By now the pursuing mob had also got guns and a volley of shots were exchanged as the robbers fled over Tottenham marshes.

Here a group of sports marksmen shooting wildfowl and a football team practising in full kit all got involved.

One cannot know, but it seems very reasonable to me that if there had been an armed populace in Hungerford in 1987, as there was in Tottenham in 1909, the death toll would have been much lower.

That is why I do not think that a tendency I see even in pro-gun writing, namely to count victims of "hot" burglaries etc. on one side and victims of spree killers on the other and then to ask which are the more numerous - the "our shrouds versus their shrouds" I referred to in the title of this post - is helpful. First off, of course, is that all sides of the debate should be equally concerned about all victims. Few would disagree with me in that. Secondly, I think that spree killings are also examples of situations where it would help, not harm, if more people were armed. However the correlation is weak because spree killings are, thank God, at the very extreme of human behaviour. Fatal burglaries are much more common and it is easier to generalise about them.

Few of the arguments I make about Hungerford would have made much difference to the death toll of the Dunblane massacre. More about that in a future post.

UPDATE: Apparently a book has been written about the Tottenham Outrage, by Janet Harris.

Ronco, Ronco, Rah! Rah! Rah! John Costello writes:
You mean to say you actually had Ronco in Old Blighty! But it was so, so... American! When I was watching Flash Gordon (the TV series, not the movie serial) out of Channel 9 in New Hampshire (I had to hold the antenna in a certain way so I could see it thorugh the fuzz) back in the 60s RONCO brought me Flash and other 1950s series. Remember the Ronco Vegematic? "And now, if you order this today, we'll include this 20 piece aluminum (or stainless steel) set of pans for just $19.99* extra, plus shipping and handeling! Yes, ladies and gentlemen..." It was the alleged owner on the TV (and I read later that it really was him) who did the sales pitch in a New Jersey accent.

What sort of accent did the pitchman use in Britain? The equivalent would be Cockney.

*now worth about $100.00.

A sort of all-purpose southern English accent as far as I recall. A TV accent.

TV was more of a challenge then. My family, wishing to take some sort of middle way between having a TV and not having one, compromised by having the oldest TV on the street. I am sure that this made me a stronger, hardier person. Channels were changed by turning a dial with all the care of a master cracksman opening the safe of the Bank of England. Our TV would only get ITV for about a forty seconds at a time before going wiggly. Good, said my parents with Roman sterness: in those days the BBC was considered more wholesome. As a result for my first few years of viewership I only ever saw adverts at the houses of friends. Gosh, how I adored those adverts. The one for the K-Tel gadget that allowed you to chop off the tops of broken bottles and re-use them as drinking glasses; what artistry! This ad recently featured in one of those "hundred best adverts" programmes. Some guy reminisced with many a chuckle about how his Dad got one and chopped his lips off.

Mr Costello says that Ronco are still going strong in the US. Here are some products. In fairness to what seems to be a family business, I must say that they seem much like anyone else's products.

That is actually my real opinion, although I would say it anyway because I'm afraid of getting sued. (By the amazing, all-new Ligitomatic. Claims, appeals and settles out of court in one smooth action!) This guy isn't.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004
The deserter's story. Private Jenkins went over to North Korea the year that I was born. Now he's back.

Jonah Goldberg is right to say "He wasted his whole life, and regretted his decision every day. I was glad to see the army went relatively easy on the guy -- dishonorable discharge, demotion, but only 25 days in the stockade -- while still upholding the principle that what he did was unforgivable. He reportedly had to share as much intelligence as he could as well. If he'd spent the last forty years living it up in a Russian dacha, I would have been glad to see him spend the remainder of his days behind bars. But this seems like the right call to me."

I should have buttoned my lip. (Wait patiently for the point of this title.)

If you are American and your washing machine says flobadob and widdles all over the floor what do you do?

Blame George W Bush, obviously. But after that? John Weidner (daringly skipping the blame-Bush stage) goes to this site and looks up how to repair it. In the comments he compares the pleasure he gets from working his will on a recalcitrant domestic appliance to the triumph a caveman felt when slaying a mastodon. seems to make its money by shipping parts, but attracts customers through the door by offering information. From a Repair Guru, no less. Plenty more use than most gurus.

I am sure there are all sorts of fascinating sociological observations and predictions to be made here.

Here in the UK, EzeeFix and E-spares both offer the parts but not the education - yet.

Google and Ebay do make owning non-standard or obsolete kit less of a problem. Let me tell you an anecdote that doesn't illustrate that at all. I was in the sewing shop yesterday and a lady came in and asked for spares for her decades-old home button-attaching machine - almost certainly the K-Tel Buttonmatic. Ah, K-Tel. Breathe deep, my fortysomething friends, breathe deep and remember when K-Tel and Ronco were mainstays of ITV commercial breaks. As it says in the link, in those innocent days the words "as advertised on TV" carried a glamour of their own.

Anyway, this lady wanted to use her Buttonmatic for some sort of charity garment-making sewathon in which she was to participate. Good idea, when you think about it. It may have taken four decades but eventually an occasion finally has arisen when this so-called timesaving gadget really would save time, if only the right spare parts could be found.

The sewing shop man didn't have them, but "go to the internet," he helpfully advised, "you can order all sorts of funny things there."

"Oh yes, that's true," I said. And winced. Indeed he spoke sooth. In days gone by I would have ordered the non-standard bobbins my sewing machine uses from his shop and got them in mere weeks. Instead I had that very day got a bunch of them direct from the Singer website, ordered two days previously.

Sadly I think that the charity button-fixing lady is going to be out of luck. (Hence the title of this post! You waited patiently. Well done.) Apart from two 70s nostalgia sites the internet is clear of K-Tel Buttonmatics. I have just now tripled the number of times the device is mentioned. Come to think of it, it occurs to me that for that very reason it is highly probable that, assuming she followed advice and looked it up on the internet, she is reading this. Um, hello. Forgive me for using your ingenious and charitable idea as a peg for my meanderings. Unfortunately I have to tell you that although both this and this bear the sacred name "Buttonmatic", the former is an industrial machine designed for clothing manufacturers and the latter a sewing machine foot. It's not nearly as cool as finally using the K-Tel, an anecdote upon which you could dine out for years, but if you do have a sewing machine with a button foot your best bet is probably to lug that along to the charity event.

So there are still markets that internet commerce has not yet reached. A pity. Surely there must be many dozens of people out there yearning for spare parts for the true K-Tel Buttonmatic. Tens of pence are waiting to be made by a young man or woman with vision.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004
Rogue vacuum pockets peril. As Rob at the Sporadic Chronicle observes, this story is far too good to check.

The Last Train. Sad to see, like the Britannia class Pacific 70013 Oliver Cromwell pulling into Liverpool Lime Street Station for the last time and bringing the era of steam trains on British railways to an end, Transport Blog is to cease operations. Patrick Crozier writes:
I have said more or less everything I have to say on the topic. OK, we never quite got round to finding the "why doesn't vertical fragmentation work on the railways?" Holy Grail and "Beeching II - no more Mr Nice Guy" will have to remain unpublished for a little longer but my views on road pricing, rail "privatisation" and positive externalities are, at least, out there.
Phrases like "Beeching II - no more Mr Nice Guy" were one of the many reasons that Transport Blog was well worth looking at. There were more serious reasons as well - discussion of safety issues, economics and even aesthetics relating to transport from a libertarian angle. Nonetheless, it is true that the limited nature of the topic meant that I was only an occasional visitor.

It strikes me that the archive is a valuable resource to have online - so much so that when I clean up my sidebar (real soon now) the link will stay there with some sort of a note to say it's no longer an active blog. Finally I hope that Patrick uses the excellent two-column format with longer pieces on one side and "in brief" items on the other in his future work.

Monday, December 06, 2004
The Home Secretary's private life is none of our business, I just wish he'd think the same about ours. I owe that devastating point to this post by Chris Lightfoot: "Someone had blundered."

He had other points to make as well. You know, of course, how law-abiding people have nothing to fear from identity cards? How about fearing this:

Hilariously, they haven't even fixed s.12(4) in which

The things that an individual may be required to do under subsection (3) are--

(a) to attend at a specified place and time; [...]

-- this is the same as in the draft, and they haven't even bothered to add `reasonable' as many responses to the consultation suggested. Presumably if some bored Crapita employee does send out a notice of the form,

You are required to attend the summit of Mt. Snowdon at 0300h tomorrow morning so that we can take your fingerprints; failure to attend will be punished by a civil penalty of £1,000. Do not pass `go'.

the courts will eventually tell him to go fuck himself, but we have to wait to find out.

BTW, I linked to Chris Lightfoot in a slightly less admiring fashion when replying to John B in an earlier post. Probably it was no coincidence that John B then linked to this new post by Chris Lightfoot, and certainly it was no coincidence that I found it by looking at John B's blog. I expect that if one follows the link trail closely enough it will turn out that one or both of them is actually my grandfather.

Yet more quick thoughts on self-defence. Don't get excited that the commissioner of the metropolitan police and the Conservative party have called for reform of the law. People call for this, that and the other all day long. So do the blackbirds.

Oh, I'm a cheery little thing.

On the same subject, John B. of Shot By Both Sides writes back:

Thanks very much for replying to my mail.

Oddly enough, I agree quite significantly with much of your new post - especially the orders 1-6 for causes of crime (although perhaps I'd subsititute 'due to welfare' with 'due to governments' belief that creating welfare ghettos is a viable substitute when one destroys single-industry communities'. All this society breakdown was worse under Mrs T than any other PM, after all).

As you may have expected, however, I'm going to nitpick.

The bracketed link cited counts 'all unlawful killings' as murders, which doesn't make much sense. It's nonetheless very interesting - I had, as the writer suggests, fallen for the Agatha Christie-esque assumption that all murderers were topped in those days.

Brett Osborn went to jail partly because the CPS were idiots, partly because his lawyer was an idiot, and partly because he was misguided: he would have stood a 9/10 chance of beating a murder conviction, but pleaded guilty to manslaughter anyway. It was a travesty that he was prosecuted, but he would not have been convicted had he defended himself.

I'm glad you see no reason to doubt my horror at the murder (my dad lived on Oakley Street [i.e. round the corner from where the murder occurred - NS] for some years; I suspect my 'this is far too close to home' reaction wasn't far from yours or Perry's), but I think you miss my point on Perry's conculsions: the belief that the state won't protect you from murder isn't plausibly justified by data (as I said on Samizdata, as many Brits die from burglar-murder as Americans die from hitting deer in their cars), and Perry appeared to be using this anecdote as a substitute for statistical evidence.

Well, yeah, in the end statistics, properly used, do trump anecdote. I am the first to argue that an incorrect opinion does not become correct because it is deeply felt, or because the holder of the opinion has suffered, or because the holder is a good person. But even if I were to concede (I don't) that we have the State to thank for the day-to-day survival of Britons from general mayhem, it is undeniable that the British State has protected its citizens from murder less well since the right to self-defence has been eclipsed.

What are blogs for if not to point out possible errors in a Religious Studies textbook published in 1991?

I've been reading a lot of RE textbooks for a worky sort of reason. Now quite a lot of the propaganda has been chased out of history and geography textbooks - stop laughing. Disregard your own fading memories, you crinklies, and look at, say, a recent schoolbook treatment of British generalship in World War I: John Terraine's point of view is well and truly represented, albeit by people who clearly needed a nice cup of herbal tea afterwards.

However RE, RS, or whatever they call it this week, is unreformed. I may highlight some of the funnier things I've found in future posts. Or I may be found slumped lifeless at my computer, an expression of unearthly terror stamped indelibly upon my features. I tell you, to have opinions like mine and yet open a Key Stage Four Religious Thingies book is to stare into the abyss.

I quite liked the oldish textbook I shall look at today, Moral Issues in Six Religions, edited by W. Owen Cole and published by Heinemann Educational. Its format, in which each religion is written about by an author who believes in that religion, avoids the anonymous blah-progressive editorialising that mars many modern textbooks on religion. Most of the authors do display background anti-capitalism (for instance V P Kanitkar, who wrote the section on Hinduism, says, "... greed for money is a social evil which is spreading among the Hindu society. It is made worse by the increased advertising and availability of luxury consumer goods"), but a personal opinion stated as a personal opinion arouses my disagreement rather than my ire.

The section on Christianity was written by Joe Jenkins. The factual stuff is competently done. As for opinion, I nodded at "The State in its oppression of the people makes use again and again of the name of God," although Mr Jenkins and I probably had different States and different oppressions in mind. When I read "The self-interest and greed that seem to motivate a free capitalist market economy ... hardly fit in with the teachings of Jesus about selflessness and generosity", I growled, so the stratification and unequal power relationships that motivate an unfree non-capitalist non-market economy fit better, do they?

But for the life of me I did not know what attitude to take to this line from a "box" about the German theologian, resistant and anti-Nazi martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

Bonhoeffer helped form the 'Confessing Church' which opposed the Nazis. He also became involved in helping groups of Jews escape the death camps.

In 1940 he joined the Abwehr, an organization that secretly worked to overthrow the Nazi state.

Emphasis added. I think that's a howler. The Abwehr was German Military Intelligence. The funny thing is, though, that the description of the Abwehr as an organization that secretly worked to overthrow the Nazi state is nonetheless quite defensible. Still, the form of words used does seem a little compressed.

Another thing that might be an authorial mistake or authorial secret irony is his choice of quotations to illustrate sexism in Christianity. After quotations which, fair to say, won't get St Paul and Martin Luther any prizes for embracing gender diversity in the workplace, the author supplied the following quote from Samuel Butler (the earlier one): "The souls of women are so small that some believe they have none at all." One of Butler's less amusing ditties, I'll admit, but I do think it ought to be pointed out that Butler was joking. Odd how simply putting the line breaks in makes it plain that it is meant to be funny: The souls of women are so small, / that some believe they have none at all; / Or if they have, like cripples, still / They've but one faculty, the will.

UPDATE: this GCSE revision page is clearly based on the sexism double page spread from Moral Issues in Six Religions, and has the same quotes.

Friday, December 03, 2004
More about guns, home invasion and the murder of John Monckton. John B of Shot by Both Sides writes:
John Monckton's death is an unimaginably (for me at least; fortunately nobody close to me has ever been murdered) horrible event.

This link came up on about the third brief attempt (I was initially looking for Victorians, but Victorian stories tend to be online less, for some reason) at a Google search for people murdered in their own homes by burglars before the gun laws were tightened: link

At the bottom of the page, you can find Ernest Westwood, murdered by a burglar at home in 1948, and Eli Myers, murdered by a burglar at home in 1961. They are the only two examples cited of the various murderers hanged at Leeds jail post-WWII in an article about hangings at Leeds jail, and neither murder has been excerpted by the writer because of the circumstances or unusualness of the crime.

I don't have access to any pre-war newspaper archives at the moment, but time that I've spent looking at them in the past has left me with the strong impression that murder-by-desperate-idiots-for-domestic-robbery has always been among the commonest causes of murder by a stranger, not a rare event that (although terrible when it happens) signals the breakdown of society, or one that it's particularly plausible to blame on gun laws.

The specific post in his blog is here.

My first move has to be, obviously, an admission that he is absolutely right to say that my claim "this did not happen" is insupportable. It was hyperbole written in anger.

My anger hasn't gone away. I'll be angry about this for years. But I am no longer overcome by anger. My reconsidered version of the statement is: this happened much less when Britons were free to own guns for self defence. And, more controversially, this would happen much less if Britons were again free to own guns for self defence.

In my post I referred to home invasion. This is a type of robbery which requires that the householders be present in order that they may be intimidated into bypassing alarms, opening safes etc. It is not the same as burglars attempting to act by stealth and then being surprised by householders. I cannot discover which description fits the two cases cited by John B. Nonetheless the two crimes almost certainly were considered unusual since they ended in the perpetrators being hanged. (According to this, while the death penalty was in force, over the twentieth century the proportion of convicted murderers who actually suffered the death penalty varied between 1 in 8 and 1 in 23.)

Nearly all types of crime have greatly increased over the twentieth century, armed crime particularly so (Number of armed robberies in London in 1904: four), and I certainly do partly attribute that to the gun laws.

That said, I don't think the outlawing of guns is the prime cause. Off the top of my head, my opinion is that the causes of the increase in crime are, in order of importance: (1) Social mores/family/parenting breakdown due to welfare; (2) prohibition of drugs; (3) ease of escape due to availability of cars; (4) reduction of deterrent effect due to reduced chances of criminals being caught; (5) loss of the right to self-defence; (6) reduction of deterrent effect due to the end of the death penalty and the general relaxation of severity of laws - and, finally, floating in and around all these like a fog so that I can give it no ordinal number, moral relativism.

There is plenty of scope for arguing about my suggested order - another time. For burglary and home invasion, (5) moves right up the rankings, probably to first place. According to Telegraph article by Joyce Lee Malcolm 13% of US burglaries take place when someone is at home. The equivalent figure for Britain is 53%. The Guardian gives a very similar figure of 51%, an increasing number of whom, it says, are "confronters". As even Dan Rather admits, burglary is more common in the UK than the US. If one house in ten had a gun, being a "confronter" would be much more dangerous. If the newspapers carried regular accounts of householders acquitted or even commended for killing or injuring them it would be much less desirable to commit that sort of crime. Reality is very different. In May the Telegraph carried this account of the Brett Osborn case. Osborn was watching television with friends when Wayne Halling, a complete stranger, barged into his home and started attacking one of the women there under the drug-fuelled delusion that she was his ex-girlfriend. Halling was high on cocaine, was covered in blood from having smashed windows along the street with his bare hands, and seemed impervious to pain when the other people in the house - including a pregnant woman - tried to force him off his victim. The only thing that stopped his rampage was when Osborn stabbed him, fatally, with a steak knife. For this Osborn was jailed for five years.

John B would perhaps argue that Wayne Halling was what he calls a "desperate idiot". So he was, and I doubt that any deterrent would have had much effect upon him. But, returning to Mr Monckton's murderers, accounts strongly suggest they were robbers for gain. They chose this form of robbery because when the householders are in then all the alarms and locks in the world don't matter. I don't know if they specifically knew about the Brett Osborn case when beginning their journey up the Monckton's path but I am sure that they were aware of the stream of cases (of which Tony Martin's is the most famous) in which householders have been prosecuted for defending themselves.

This "After dinner discussion" by Chris Lightfoot has informative graphs of murders in Britain during the twentieth century. It also is plain wrong when it says this:

"In any case, handguns -- the most convenient for shooting people -- have only been controlled relatively recently, and the 160,000 handguns surrendered under the 1997 Firearms Act were enough to arm only about one in 250 of the adult population, even if they had been distributed uniformly (they weren't, since many gun enthusiasts preferred to to have several...)."
Handguns have been controlled since 1903. Further Acts came in 1920, 1937, 1968 and 1997 - all of them followed by increases in gun crime. Eventually someone might start to wonder whether this strategy is working. One can argue whether the point at which right to self defence was lost came in 1946 (when the Home Office said that protection of self or property would no longer necessarily justify the issue of a FAC) or in 1969 (when it said that self defence definitely would not justify issue.) See this article by Richard Munday or the comments to the Samizdata post that started this for more. Whatever, there is no doubt that it was well and truly gone by the 70s. When I owned pistols in the early eighties they were required to be kept in a locked cabinet making them useless for self-defence. At any time over the last thirty years writing "self defence" in the place in an application for a firearms certificate where you give your reason for wanting a gun would have ensured you never got a certificate, ever.

Finally, although I see no reason to doubt John B's sincere horror at the murder, I am bemused by his statement, hyperlinked to Perry's post, that it is "understandable to jump to conclusions about the appalling state of society, and use them to justify whatever your own personal cause may be." He makes it sound as if the link between the murder and Perry de Havilland's oft-stated belief that the state will neither protect you nor allow you to protect yourself is arbitrary and contrived.

It is neither. Perry did not jump to conclusions when murder came practically to his very doorstep; his conclusions on that subject have been broadly the same in the several years I have known him write and talk about crime and self-defence. He didn't ask or want to have his point made in this ghastly way. But now that it has it would be absurd not to think that what he once knew from theory he now also knows from bitter personal experience.