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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Monday, January 24, 2005
Just because I want a thing to be true doesn't mean it is.
Just because I want a thing to be true doesn't mean it is.
Just because I want a thing to be true doesn't mean it is.

Oh, I give up. True, true, all true! Believe and rejoice!

(Via Instapundit.)

If Christian fundamentalism did not exist... it would be necessary to invent an entirely new cliché to avoid having Islam stand out.

At the present time what Abdel Rahman al-Rashid said is true:

"It is a certain fact that not all Muslims are terrorists, but it is equally certain, and exceptionally painful, that almost all terrorists are Muslims."
It was not always the case that Islam was particularly violent. We are frequently reminded of the relative tolerance of Spain under the Moors, but repetition does not make it any less true. One day the fever of Islamofascism will burn itself out, and honest Muslim commentary such as Mr Rashid's article is the best hope of bringing that day forward. But for now, like he said. Hello, elephant, I see you.

Madeline Bunting in the Guardian can see the elephant, too. Her Guardian article is entitled "Elephants in the room." But she isn't going to mention any particular elephant by name. Allusion will be made to the existence of the category of pachyderms, but that is all:

Some fears that reared their heads in the discussion seem bizarre, such as the fear of Islam as a proselytising, expansionary faith; Catholicism has comparable ambition, but no one is demonising the rosary-reciting faithful - there's as much evidence of a stampede of converts to the confessional box as there is to the mosque. But some fears are well-founded: fundamentalism has emerged as an aberrant, aggressive phenomenon in all the world's religions.
Emphasis added by me. Bunting continues:
Recognise faith identity and does one end up arbitrating between extremist interpretations of those faiths - the evangelical Christian and the Sikh mobs between them constraining free speech?
As if Salman Rushdie had never existed. (He won't exist much longer if the renewed call for his death issued by the Iranian Supreme Ayatollah the other day is heeded.)

The only effect of this pussyfooting around is to generate sarcasm. In all the world's religions, sure, but not equally. A certain uneveness in the problem of religious violence is why earnest Guardianistas find it necessary to organise conferences on Islam, Race and British identity. If the Guardian really wanted to generate goodwill towards Muslims it could talk about the bravery of Iraqi election workers and voters. And here's where I turn my sarcasm button off: it did.

Very snug. When musing on state employees going back to bed without penalty while the private sector toils on or suffers the consequences, I realised that the entire situation was summarised by J Dormouse:
And when Mr John Dormouse was complained to, he stayed in bed, and would say nothing but "very snug;" which is not the way to carry on a retail business.

The entire text is here. How oddly it reads without the pictures. And by double clicking on any word, even "the", you can get a dictionary definition. Correction: not any word. It doesn't work for "'ticing." It's against my principles to tice anyway.

Incidentally, I must do some more private sector toiling myself in the next few days. This will probably do my blogging no end of good: anything to put off the start of work.

Here I am, back after longer than I thought. As usual when I return after a gap, my mind is blank. Blogging, wot dat? Perhaps I ought to go back to bed and consider matters. I could if I were an Indian schoolteacher employed by the state.
"A third of state school teachers are absent on any given day, according to a recent survey. The same applies to the country’s primary health clinics, which are more often empty than staffed."

That's from a post in the Adam Smith Institute blog that links to an article in the Financial Times by Edward Luce about bureaucracy in India.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005
Sorry I haven't blogged for the last couple of days. Busy. Hope to be back tomorrow. I have followed the news just enough to be reminded of why I am not a conservative.

Friday, January 14, 2005
I have to go and consult with my bosses at Worldwide Neocon Conspiracy HQ. I may or may not get time to blog before the weekend. If I do not post your email it is because I am evil.

James Rummell writes:

Please take pity on an ignorant American


You posted about students and their parents that are hopelessly helpless. The anecdote that started it off was about a young student who was missing buttons on her shirt. Instead of sewing a few back on, she said that her mother would buy a new shirt when paid.

The point was that a basic sewing kit would have saved some cash. (As an aside I agree, and I do basic sewing repairs myself. Not that it's particularly surprising or unusual.) But it was one of the things you said about cheap sewing kits that puzzled me.

"I got a perfectly usable kit in a Christmas cracker."

Okay, small sewing kits are nifty and I have a few of them myself. But what's a Christmas cracker? Depending on who you're talking to here in the United States, it's a fellow who lives in a trailer park that likes to dress up in a Santa Claus outfit or it's some plain soda crackers that no one in the US would associate with the holiday feast.

And why would there be a sewing kit in a cracker package? Some cruel joke? You want to thicken up the bowl of chicken noodle soup you're having for lunch and, instead, there's a sewing kit. Oh, the humanity!

Now, I suspect that Mr Rummell, who has researched all sorts of interesting things in his time could find out if he wanted to. All he wanted was an excuse to make humorous remarks about the barrier of a common language and some other possible meanings of the words Christmas Cracker. But now he has to find out who those unkempt-looking persons in the pictures are or be left to wonder... forever. As I believe our American cousins put it, Ha-Bwa-Bwa-Bwa-Bwa!

Thursday, January 13, 2005
The sun shone more in those days - or was it just the surfaces? Biased BBC comments often stray from the point in a fruitful manner. I did a post there about this post by Blithering Bunny in which he said, speaking of old TV coverage, that the lack of "pop-culture smirkiness" in the old clips was "as if Grima Wormtongue had been banished for the day."

Writers who compare the past favourably with the present are often accused of "idolising" an "imagined golden age", usually as a preamble to accusing them of wanting to keep women barefoot. This is a low technique. To compare favourably is not to idolise.

Anyway, Biased BBC reader Susan made a comment that I would like to post here.

I read that Bunny post yesterday. Actually you could use the Grima Wormtongue quote on a lot of US media too, as well as the usual current dreck from Hollywood.

The hopefulness and confidence of the 50s and early 60s, contrasted with the snarky, self-hating nihilism of today. . .it's really stark. And the people look so much cleaner and neater, too.

(I'm not saying that the 50s and 60s were free of their problems, such as segregation in the US, of course.)

I replied:
The contrast, both sides of it, are dealt with rather well (in a joky way) in the film "Back to the Future" . There is brief scene set in a grafitti-strewn self-service petrol station in the nineties. When the hero goes back in time the same garage is shown as sparkling clean and attended by a bevy of service attendants who, if I've remembered this right, sing in harmony like a barbershop quartet.

On the other hand no one can conceive of a black mayor until the hero recognises the young black man cleaning in a restaurant as the future mayor and puts the idea into his head. (One of those self-fulfilling time loops without which no time travel story is complete.)

Personally, I don't see why we can't have mayors of all colours AND sparkling clean garages.

Dinginess makes people unhappy.

How to sew on a button. A reader writes:
I am not bring pendantic, but if people don't know how to do stuff, and want to do so, they can go to library and look it up.

Ov course. that is the point of your dole rant, but if a list of life skills no longer taught we available (with keyword list) then the dolee? could at least go to the library and learn what is needed. In fact, if you want to write an internet book (just no PDF) on life's skills, I would buy it. Hey, if Bill Whittle can publish, why not you?

Actually, I and another blogger have had some thoughts on those lines, although apathy has won out so far. Our book was going to be about keeping tidy in a household whose members have more interesting things to do than tidy. (Although tidying can be interesting when you get into it. Only then, alas.) For my part it was to be written more in the spirit of a person on a journey than someone who has got where she wants to be.

The same reader found a link with clear instructions on sewing on a button. He says:

...I found it by going to "Ask Jeeves". I know you don't need the directions, but I did, I found out a little bit I didn't know. Male, you know.

Nazi IRA man's statue beheaded. All that headline lacks to achieve perfection is mention of royalty. ("The theme of the party ... was Colonials and Natives." Tasteful. Very tasteful.)

I don't really approve of the destruction of the statue, little as I think Nazi IRA Guy Sean Russell deserves to be commemorated by anything more that a disdainful line in the history books. But how often does one get the chance to use the word "iconoclast" literally? Shimon Samuels of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre saw the opportunity, and took it.

It is a little unfair of the Times to call Russell part of the "the legacy of its [the Irish Republic's] neutrality during the Second World War". De Valera cannot be blamed for Russell. Part of Russell's mission was to overthrow De Valera. I suppose the Times could have meant that the erection of a statue to this ally of Hitler's was a thing that needed to be confronted.

De Valera's visit to the German Embassy to sign Hitler's condolences book, that was a bit of neutrality that needed confronting.

Incidentally, note the quote from Robert Fisk. In 1983 he wrote a book called "In Time of War" about Ireland, north and south, during World War II. I read some of it at someone else's house; I seem to remember it was a quite good historical work, respected by reviewers. And now he has the honour of being specifically exempted from attack by Bin Laden. Bin Laden thinks it's OK to kill Iraqi and American civilians en masse and behead aid workers, but not acceptable to harm Robert Fisk. [ADDED LATER: this isn't because he has a soft spot for blokes called Robert. It's because of Robert Fisk's favourable coverage of him.] The treason of the clerks indeed. Someone ought to do a comparative study of the descents into self-created hells of Fisk and another once-respected historian, David Irving. Irving is a fan of Fisk's ("the bravest journalist of the year")* but not vice versa.

*You google.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005
Sacked for blogging. A blogger who worked for Waterstones bookshop has been sacked for "bringing the company into disrepute", reports the Guardian. Judging from the quotes given Joe Gordon of the Woolamaloo Gazette swears too much but the comments that got him fired were trivial. Waterstones should grow up. Waterstones should learn the phrase unintended consequences.

The report says that he is the first blogger in Britain to be sacked for blogging. Perhaps, but not the first British blogger.

Iain Murray found another, more congenial place to work. I hope Mr Gordon does too.

You can always look it up - or can you? Here's a little paradox. A few posts down I said, "that philosophy worked for Henry Ford." I was referring to the story about him I thought I remembered, wherein he was on the witness stand being questioned on his knowledge of well-known events in US history. For some reason the other side in the court case wished to portray Ford as an ignoramus. And he was, rather. (Besides being an anti-semite and having other disagreeable characteristics.) Be that as it may, he came up with a corker of a riposte: he pointed out that any time he wanted to know who signed the Declaration of Independence or any other factual question he had only to press a button on his desk and get his staff to find out, and they would, employing world experts if necessary. His genius lay elsewhere.

Well, I think that's how the story goes. Only... I haven't succeeded in looking it up, either on Google or in any of the books I can lay my hand on. Probably I've got a key word wrong. Maybe it wasn't Henry Ford at all.

While failing to look up that anecdote about the ease of looking things up I came across this fascinating article by E.D Hirsch: "You can always look it up - or can you?" It's about how much better you are at looking things up if you know a lot of the facts to start with. He describes it as the Matthew Effect ("For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath") operating in the field of education.

Donald I. Hertzmark writes:
One more for your welfare file. My wife comes from St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. The rate of welfare dependency is very high there and yet little food is grown, even the fresh fruits and veggies come from Puerto Rico or Florida or Venezuela. One time, while on a visit, I asked my wife why no one grew any fresh produce for the roadside stalls, she said “with food stamps, who would bother.”
That kind of listlessness isn't limited to welfare recipients, of course, but welfare makes the tendency much worse. Discussion of these issues always make me think of deathbeds. The deathbed of someone who has spent his life taking food stamps is a sadder place than the deathbed of someone who has worked, pretty well however hard and ill-paid the job. What is there to look back on, to be proud of?

Furthermore the food stamp recipient probably dies poorer because of the food stamps. I've just been re-reading The Welfare State We're In.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005
Gormless modern youth, the decline of education and (as promised in the blurb of this blog) a sewing angle. This post has everything.

Via Kimberley Swygert of No.2 Pencil and Joanne Jacobs I found an article in the Scotsman about "life incompetents": people who lack basic practical skills. In their Home Economics classes they learnt about egg packaging design rather than how to boil an egg.

When I was a teacher one of my colleagues told the staffroom a story about a female pupil who was missing several buttons from her shirt. The teacher told the pupil to "fix" her shirt, meaning "sew new buttons on."

The pupil answered, "It's alright miss, my mum gets paid on Friday and she'll buy me a new shirt then."

I can't remember after all this time whether my colleague told that story first hand or as something she herself had been told. What I do remember is that half a dozen teachers present chipped in with their own stories of helpless kids and helpless parents. It's a real phenomenon.

Does it matter? Some of the comments to Kimberly Swygert's post say that they don't need to know how to sew because they know a tailor who does. Fair enough, that philosophy worked for Henry Ford. But as another commenter says, there will be times when the job interview is in thirty minutes and the missing button is in the bottom of the suitcase. I doubt that the mother of the girl in my colleague's story was going to be paid a lot come Friday, not if she had to wait until then before buying a shirt. Better for that family if they had had a basic sewing kit somewhere in the house. They don't cost much. I got a perfectly usable kit in a Christmas cracker.

On the other hand, the supposed sturdy practicality of past ages often stopped dead when it came to a man doing "woman's work" or vice versa. Many men of my father's generation literally could not boil an egg. And many women of that generation literally did not know how to use a screwdriver. My own father was some way along that spectrum, although in his case it was because he was a typical un-handy bookworm rather than because he was sexist. When my mother died I thought he was going to be quite unable to feed himself decently. As it turned out, I was wrong. He got by adequately for several years simply by spending more, on ready meals and boil-in-the-bags.

It's a solution, but an expensive one. (A mostly irrelevant memory pops up: I once went shopping for my father with my libertarian friend Max who was visiting me. I picked up some expensive ready meals out of Waitrose freezer, made some comment about their cost and added facetiously, "Oh well, it's not my money." "Socialism disproved in one sentence," said Max. And so it was.)

Back to life incompetence. Is it the fault of the schools for ceasing to teach practical skills? Another way of asking the same question is, why are parents no longer teaching them? (Assuming the perceived decline is real. I think it is.) I am inclined to believe that this is a case of the State steamrollering in, replacing naturally evolved ways of doing things with a mass produced government version, and then withdrawing or degrading the service just when everyone had become dependent on it. Then again I always think that. Look at healthcare. Look at education. Look at welfare.

Yes, let's look at welfare. Any discussion of the modern lack of life skills tends to get round to welfare dependency and welfare passivity eventually. This next anecdote is first hand: it happened to me. One time I had an appointment to see a woman who had a lot of social problems. Very few of them were her fault, and in many ways she was dealing with them quite courageously, but, sadly, she had absorbed the dreamy attitude to keeping appointments that is commonplace to people on the dole, and she didn't show up. (If anyone wants to pick a fight with me about my outrageous stereotyping of welfare recipients, I'm game. I speak as a former dole scrounger.) When I finally caught up with her and gently suggested that she make a note of her apointments in a calendar she said, "OK, I'll ask my social worker to get me one."

I was too flabbergasted to do more than nod and smile. It wasn't just that she forgot or didn't write down the odd appointment - we've all done that, me more than most. It wasn't just that she, in a perfectly nice and unaggressive way, didn't seem to get that it might be a problem. It was that having agreed that a calendar would be useful the means of getting one that felt natural to her was not to pop into a stationers and pay a quid but to shift the onus onto her social worker.

I hereby submit my new general theory on the learning of foreign languages. This article in Le Monde about the oil for food scandal was of particular interest because it was of interest.

I took O-Level French at sixteen. Since then, linguistic stagnation, slightly ameliorated by tourism. But since I've been on the internet and can read French stuff which is about things I want to read about I have started learning French again.

I have these little insights from time to time. The great thing about blogging is that you can exhibit them and win either way. If the so-called insight was and always had been obvious to the entire world apart from me it doesn't seem to matter. Readers simply do not linger there. But if the reaction is "Natalie, you have put into words that very thought most needed by a suffering humanity; here, take all my worldly goods as a partial recompense," that is OK, too.

My coach has turned into a pumpkin.* So I'm going to bed.

I'll try and catch up on the emails tomorrow.

*Huh? Why is two minutes past midnight showing up as two minutes past one?

Monday, January 10, 2005
Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm old and grey? Still with the Guardian, I had a look at Roy Hattersley's column. He mentioned an article that said that the next Labour manifesto
...would include the promise of both the "right to buy" housing association properties and a scheme that will empower pensioners to choose between rival meals-on-wheels providers.

Admittedly there is a strong element of farce in the notion that individual octogenarians should invite tenders for the daily delivery of meat and two veg.

Quite right. How farcical to suppose that individual old people have individual preferences in food or the way that it is served. I seriously doubt that they are individual to that extent. Far more likely is that they have some sort of hive mind. Frankly, it's a mystery to me why the government wastes good meat and veg on them.

Hattersley is 72. In eight years time he will lose his taste for burgundy and chocolate and take his gruel and like it.

"Evidence is genderless." Patricia Wiltshire is a forensic botanist who helped catch Huntley, the Soham murderer. This Guardian article by Maureen Paton describes Wiltshire's work.

I don't want to make too much about what is just a throwaway line in a generally fascinating, if grim, article. But I do want to make something. Read this:

And not all the results produced by this pioneer are the kind that feminists would welcome: her environmental evidence in three rape cases showed that the women had given false stories. "Evidence," she says, "is genderless."
How did we ever, ever get to a state where, even as a throwaway line, uncovering the truth in a criminal trial is held to be something feminists would not welcome, merely because the truth uncovered is that in this case a woman was guilty and a man innocent?

Friday, January 07, 2005
I was so enraged by the Beeb pandering to conspiracy theorists that I returned to yesterday's subject at Biased BBC and did another long and angry post about it.

Talking of Alexander the Great... the book review I am about to present to you is slightly odd and has a slightly odd history. The Libertarian Alliance used to have a journal, originally on paper, latterly online, called Free Life, edited by Sean Gabb. I don't think a copy has gone out since late 2003, but that doesn't necessarily mean it has died just that Mr Gabb (always most affable to me despite some political disagreements) is short of time again. He often is. That's part of the story. Anyway Free Life ran book reviews. The books concerned didn't have to be recently issued, just books, or bundles of books, you'd read and wanted to write about. The general tone was such that it seemed entirely appropriate and sensible for me to combine a review of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel with reviews of the Ladybird book of Alexander the Great and the Ladybird Book of Puppies and Kittens.

Google, I love you and want to bear your children.

My review was accepted but never appeared. Sean Gabb moved house and lost it. (It was on actual paper.) I gently reminded him of its existence via a post on the Libertarian Alliance Forum - quite a funny post actually. Oh yes, he said, send it in again. I did but... look, I don't hold this against him. No one with my record on email can afford to hold this sort of thing against anyone. He forgot again. So I reminded him again... on September 11, 2001.

For some reason it never got dealt with. Poor thing, I guess it will never have a better opportunity than this to see the world. So -

‘A Ladybird “Adventure from History” Book: Alexander the Great’
L. Du. Garde Peach, pub. Wills & Hepworth, 1963. 50pp. (Out of print.) Price 2’6 or 12p

‘Puppies and Kittens: A Ladybird Learning To Read Book’
M.E. Gagg, pub. Wills & Hepworth, 1956, 50pp. (Out of print.) Price unknown, due to a big black scribble probably put there circa 1971 by my brother, also guilty of numerous similar crimes.

‘Guns, Germs and Steel: A Short History of Everybody for the Last 13,000 Years’
Jared Diamond, pub. Vintage, 1998. 480pp. Price £8.90. ISBN 0-09-930278-0

SOME SMALL AND LOVEABLE comments on world unification may have crept into this review to share the warmth under the blanket of prose. But there's no denying that it is Puppies and Kittens, and its formative influence on my life and thought, that I really want to address.

First, A Ladybird 'Adventure from History' Book: Alexander the Great. I loved this book once. Once? No, I love it still. First there is the map on both inside covers tracing the great man’s absurdly convoluted campaigns through such intestinally named places as Bactria, Sogdiana and Ecbatana. Then there are the pictures, by John Kenney. These are full colour and classically composed. Alexander, the weary conqueror, proudly slumps in a manner perfected by James Dean, as two Egyptian priests bounce their foreheads on the dust to greet him as the son of Ammon. Boy, when I was little I sure knew what I meant by “Ladybird pictures.” (Indeed, let us not forget that Ladybird also gave us H. Wooley’s illustrations for Puppies and Kittens, including the unforgettable This Kitten Wants Some Dinner and the eerily disturbing This Puppy Has Broken the Doll.) In the current climate of political correctness it would be easy to mock some of the visual conventions unthinkingly used by the artist nearly four decades ago. And since it is easy, I shall do it. Alexander is prettily delineated from the surrounding black-haired minions and victims by giving him an improbable mop of blond hair. Jesus, if we are to believe the contemporaneous Ladybird Bible Stories, used the same hair colourist.

Turning to the text, I can just about remember nodding my eight year-old head wisely as I read this passage:

To make it easier for the peoples of different countries to trade together, Alexander issued money which was to be used everywhere. The only place which was still to be allowed to mint its own money was Babylon. Unfortunately, when Alexander died, each country went back to its own coinage. Trade between countries would be much simpler to-day if we used the same money all over the world.

So the Rastas had it right, mon! Britain is Babylon. I do in fact concede that trade would be simpler, but perhaps some of the consequent changes in a world that really had been welded into one empire might be less to our liking. London might have been named after Alexander’s dead pet rabbit, for a start, given that he really did name Bucephala after his dead horse, and indeed founded it on the very spot where said horse expired. Incidentally, what is the status of Bucephala now? Not exactly your world class metropolis, is it? I don’t even know if its in Pakistan, India or Afghanistan. Let us observe the futility of grand gestures and town planning and move on. I don’t think my eight-year old self raised any objection to this:

This had been Alexander’s great ambition, to unite all the different races of his new great empire into one people. As he had now conquered the whole of the known world, this meant he was trying to create a world state, in place of a number of countries, small and large, all competing and fighting with one another. This was a great design, but unfortunately Alexander did not succeed in achieving it.

However just possibly, dredging the swamp of memory, I may have been a little worried by this:

At this banquet Alexander made a great speech in which he prayed that all the peoples of the world might live together happily and peacefully.

One has to admire his timing. He might so easily have prayed that all the peoples of the world would live together in peace before he embarked on a military campaign of universal conquest, and then where would he have been? Alexander the Nice But Not Famous? It’s like St Augustine’s prayer that he might be made chaste and continent, only not yet. St Augustine was joking.

Now, I’m not eight any more. I can read grown-up books. They tell me that Alexander was not always a “wise and just ruler of men”. In a drunken rage he murdered his friend Cleitus (who had saved his life at the battle of the river Granacus seven years earlier) because Cleitus objected to the new practice for royal audiences. The new rule, copied from the custom of Persia, and no doubt billed as a merely technical modernisation, was called proskynesis. (Spellcheck that, baby!) It meant you had to approach Alexander crawling on your belly. To be fair to Alexander, once he had sobered up and realised what he had done, he was very sorry that he had killed Cleitus. So sorry that he hid in his tent for three days, until his army stopped worrying which one of them he would stab next and started to worry that he might stab himself and leave them stranded among enemies. They then begged him to come out and lead them again. Which he did, while leaving the proskynesis rule in place. Mr Blair should take note.

Alexander wasn’t all bad. He was brave, obviously. Having established what you might call a Bill Gates brand name in the war & world conquest field, his head was less turned by deification than many Roman heads were. He repudiated rape and pederasty. He was comparatively merciful to those he conquered, except when he wasn’t, as at Thebes. It is likely that really was mind-blowingly good looking.

In fact, given the great wall of incomprehension that divides us from the ancients, I shall leave off insulting Alexander and admit what really bugs me is the convention, as strong now as when I first thrilled to that book, that the correct direction of history is towards political unity, and that we would all be better off if we had it.

No, we wouldn’t. Stuff the “this was a great design but unfortunately Alexander did not succeed in achieving it” bit. If he had achieved it, his descendants, biological and cultural, would be poorer, more ignorant and probably ruled by China. Now, I don’t care what genes the rulers of the world have. (I’d rather have no rulers, thank you very much, but they seem to have left that option off the ballot paper.) I do care that such ideas as liberty and scientific inquiry have survived and flourished into our time. One major reason that the modern dominant class may share some of Alexander’s genes and certainly do share some of his Greek political vocabulary is precisely that Alexander’s empire did break up.

Which takes us to the third book I mentioned, Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel. It asks the question “why are the white races on top of the heap right now?” and gives, after peeling away onion layers of technology, sociology, epidemiology, agriculture, biodiversity and evolution, the answer “because the major axis of Europe runs from east to west, not north to south like the other continents.” Yes, really. Makes a good (if not utterly watertight) case for it, too.

Along the way he writes some dreadful statist tush such as (on p.287) “Goods in excess of an individual’s needs must be transferred from the individual to a centralized authority, which then redistributes the goods to individuals with deficits.” To which I say, This kitten knows about shops.

That little oversight is not typical. Among the many subjects Jared Diamond really does know something about, I will home in for the purposes of this article on just one: the way “each society on a continent represents one more opportunity to invent and adopt a technology, because societies vary greatly in their innovativeness for many separate reasons.” He discusses (on pages 412 –417) the fact that, because China was a unified empire, just one lousy decision, the result of a forgotten power struggle between two court factions, was enough to scrap China’s ocean–going fleets. Contrast that with the way that Columbus, living in a Europe of competing nations, could importune king after king until he hit on someone to back his voyage over the ocean.

Diamond writes:

“Europe’s barriers were sufficient to prevent political unification, but insufficient to halt the spread of technology and ideas. There has never been one despot who could turn off the tap for all of Europe, as of China.”

“The real problem in understanding China’s loss of political and technological pre-eminence to Europe is to understand China’s chronic unity and Europe’s chronic disunity.”

I fell in love with that one insouciant phrase, “chronic unity”. It turns on their heads a hundred Ladybird books, a thousand editions of Blue Peter and a million billion trillion historicist books and newspaper columns.

Yet my Ladybird Alexander cannot be wholly blamed for being of its time. After all in 1963 world unity still looked like the leading horse. The UN was considered an important organisation. The European Economic Community looked like a really neat idea.

Some attitudes really were different, though. Ah me, who today would dare produce, reckless of animal welfare inspectors, that sublime union of text and image, that all-time favourite of me, my sister, my brother (he of the scribble), my husband (despite pretending to be a grown up), my daughter and my son? I refer, of course, to This Kitten Is In A Sock. The sock concerned is suspended from a washing line on wooden pegs. There is a kitten in it. It is not, alas, possible to convince oneself that the kitten got there entirely of its own free will. Nonetheless, our feline friend (look, it doesn’t look actively uncomfortable, OK?) stares stoically out at a chaotic world. Long may it remain so. The world remain chaotic, I mean, not the kitten remain in the sock.

Death to all empires!
Goodnight kittens.
Goodnight puppies.

God and the tsunami. Squander Two puts the case against God, Gerard Baker puts the case for.

It is no disrespect to the victims of the tsunami to say that this disaster, terrible as it was, does not bring anything new to the debate about God's existence - or benevolence. We already knew about crimes and disasters worse yet.

Thursday, January 06, 2005
Oliver Stone asks why he was placed on this Earth. He's not the only one. Via Daily Ablution I found an entertaining Guardian review of the film Alexander, written by Phelim O'Neill. It finishes with this quote from the maestro's critically-panned coming-of-age novel A Child's Night Dream:
"The Indians once told me that stones are the most revered and ancient of recording devices. And that perhaps I am here on this Earth to write of these mute histories - just another stone, an 'Oliver' stone."

These mute histories? That's why he makes films about the dispossessed and marginalized people conventional histories ignore, like John F Kennedy, Richard Nixon and Alexander the Great.

German readers might like to know that you can study the great man - Stone, not Alexander - at more length at the University of Regensberg. The course is called A Social and Political Critique of the United States - Through the Cinema of Oliver Stone. Though you may have missed your chance, if that reference to WS 2001/2002 is a year rather than a room number. Pity. That critique of the entire United States thrown in free looked like a great deal.

I'm trying to avoid posting an unbroken stream of ankle-biter posts dissing the media.

That didn't work.

Via Instapundit and Le Sabot Post-Moderne I found this article by Jake Rudnitsky. He says Jonathan Steele of the Guardian is corrupt for accepting junkets from the pro-Yanukovich Russia Club and then writing articles saying that the Ukrainian Orange Revolution was all a put-up job by the US.

That's a little harsh. Junketting is part of the game, old boy. Right as well as left. Mind you, in 1994 the Guardian did fire Literary Editor Richard Gott when the Spectator revealed he had accepted payments from the KGB.

The CIA gave me an avocado salad fifteen years ago. At least Madsen Pirie, who was sitting next to me, said they were paying for the free lunch at this conference we were both at. Long have I toiled for you, my masters! My palatinate, please.

Laugh. Or cry. A Biased BBC reader directed me to a striking example of BBC conspiracy-mongering.

My question at the end was meant to mean, "which one of you naughty Biased BBC commenters played Moonbat Bingo?", not "which one of you naughty Biased BBC commenters let off an undersea nuclear bomb in order to open the gates of Hell and put out the flames with the water?"

I commend this sterling BBC effort to measure up to the Guardian's headline of the year 2005.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005
Backward and forward each throwing his shuttle / Death ending all with a knife? I cannot start blogging again without making some mention of the tsunami. Just before leaving to visit relatives I caught what must have been one of the first reports, telling of two hundred dead. When I next saw a headline figure it was above fifty thousand. I thought for a moment it was fiction: some disaster movie.

Alas not. This post by Dale Amon entitled "Humility" said some of what I thought better than I could.

It was easier a few decades ago. Horrendous natural disasters happened in far away places to strange and alien people. They had nothing to do with us, no connection to our daily lives. Now we see real people in real time;
people who no longer seem the least bit alien; who may be related to the wife of friend's son or the next door neighbor or friends of many years standing at a favoured resort. Given the massive amount of business and vacation travel in today's world, it might well be one's own sibling, parent, spouse or child laying dead on that no longer faraway beach.