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:

November 2001 December 2001 January 2002 February 2002 March 2002 April 2002 May 2002 June 2002 July 2002 August 2002 September 2002 October 2002 November 2002 December 2002 January 2003 February 2003 March 2003 April 2003 May 2003 June 2003 July 2003 August 2003 September 2003 October 2003 November 2003 December 2003 January 2004 February 2004 March 2004 April 2004 May 2004 June 2004 July 2004 August 2004 September 2004 October 2004 November 2004 December 2004 January 2005 February 2005 March 2005 April 2005 May 2005 June 2005 July 2005 August 2005 September 2005 October 2005 November 2005 December 2005 January 2006 February 2006 March 2006 April 2006 May 2006 June 2006 July 2006 August 2006 September 2006 October 2006 November 2006 December 2006 January 2007 February 2007 March 2007 April 2007 May 2007 June 2007 August 2007 October 2007 February 2008 April 2008 May 2008 June 2008 July 2008 September 2008 October 2008 November 2008 December 2008 January 2009 March 2009 May 2009 June 2009 July 2009 August 2009 October 2009 January 2010 March 2010 May 2010 June 2010 July 2010 August 2010 September 2010 October 2010 November 2010 December 2010 January 2011 February 2011 April 2011 June 2011 August 2011 September 2011 October 2011 November 2011 January 2012 February 2012 March 2012 April 2012 May 2012 June 2012 July 2012 August 2012 September 2012 October 2012 November 2012 December 2012 January 2013 February 2013 March 2013 April 2013 May 2013 June 2013 July 2013 August 2013 September 2013 October 2013 November 2013

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Saturday, April 30, 2005
I felt very slightly excited about the election today. Mr Blair might win. Or Mr Howard might win. Exciting.

Peter Briffa writes about declining trust in politicians for Civitas.

Civitas? The man is getting respectable.

UPDATE: You can comment on his article by going to the Civitas blog here.

Thursday, April 28, 2005
Two quick links.

- a disturbing one from Of Arms and the Law, quoting a Guardian article about youths who film themselves violently attacking people for entertainment. I have not followed the link at the end which shows some of these videos. I get upset easily. (Hat tip: James Rummel.)

- a much more cheering post from Jim Miller, criticising by means of facts and argument a Guardian / Seattle Times article by Jonathan Raban. Miller says:

The Seattle Times headlined Raban's piece, "Democracy holds little allure in the Muslim world". The millions and millions of Muslims who have voted in the last few years would disagree.
Some people refuse to see the danger of the fascist-fanatic strain within Islam. Others refuse to see the existence of a powerful movement towards Islamic democracies. Some refuse to see both!

Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Lots to do. I can't promise any more posts this week.

"Not sure Alastair Cambell would go for this, but you never know." Anthony Cox's election poster for Labour has finally decided me on voting Conservative.

I had been uncertain. Conservatives least worst overall, UKIP best on Europe, Labour best on Iraq.

Anthony's poster has reminded me how awful it would be to see the Lib Dems gaining our constituency. I'm voting tactically.

Julius II he ain't. The Archbishop of Canterbury is not at present planning to assume personal command of his armies and take the field against the French. Instead he has given a sermon on globalisation. As this Samizdata post explains, it could have been a lot worse. Congratulations to the still-young Globalisation Institute for getting mentioned; congratulations to the Archbishop for making the effort to listen to both sides. I still think he would do better to say less.

I do not think Dr Williams is egotistical. His trouble is almost the opposite: he is too easily led to link the Anglican church to embarrassingly temporary fads.

I note that Iain Murray has praised his stance on the family.

"Even when there was folly, it was often not the WWI cliche kind of folly." More thoughts on Gallipoli. ARC writes:

One point always worth mentioning when Gallipoli is discussed is that the 'doomed, never had a chance' idea that is apt to creep into WWI discussions whenever one forgets to guard against it is even less true here than in some other theatres. At several points the campaign trembled on a knife edge. The ANZACs and others who went into action expecting to win were in some ways wiser than many later commentators; they did not know what would in fact happen but they were quite correct to think they had a real chance of winning and that winning could have a massive impact on the war.

As often, sometimes two valid concerns conflicted. Right at the start, when the Goeben arrived in Turkey and Churchill was wild to go in and sink her, he was overruled by Lord Kitchener on the grounds that, for the loyalty of the Moslem subjects of the empire, it was essential that Turkey strike the first blow. Churchill and Kitchener both had very good points. With hindsight, I'm tempted to think that Churchill was right but that is hindsight, knowledge of how Russia's isolation from western industry affected the war, and it assumes that Turkey's fear would have outweighed her rage; debatable, and doubly debatable that it would have gone on doing so for the next four years.

As often, it was sometimes not stupidity per se but assumptions that were the problem. During the naval attack, the Turks decided they had lost, and were astounded we called off the assault. While one can justly damn as overcautious the commander (Admiral de Robeck) who overruled his subordinate and halted the attack, the key influence was the initial minesweeper squadrons' managing just to fail to close their lines. As appalling luck would have it, the missed sliver of sea between the two sweeps contained a string of mines. The ship losses that caused were sustainable; what mattered was de Robeck's belief that the whole area had been swept, leading him to think that the Turk's were managing to float mines down the channel or that the minesweepers were incapable of clearing it. My grandfather was a minesweeper captain in the North Sea (and saw plenty of his fellow minesweepers blow up around him). From his stories, it is not too hard to see how the disastrous failure to prevent a slight gap between the two lines could have come about. The crews were all ex-fishermen and at this point in the war, they were not very experienced.

As often, pure luck turned the scale. When the army attack began, Kemal, far and away the best of the Turkish divisional commanders, chanced to be in the area and did not wait for orders; if Enver had been in charge, it would have been a walk-over. It was good luck for Turkey, of course, and not just during the war; Kemal lacked the character(lessness) of a politician and would never have acquired political power if fate had not given him this chance to show what he could do. At several points, Kemal's leadership blocked victory where a lesser general would have failed, indeed would probably have panicked and fled.

Even when there was folly, it was often not the WWI cliche kind of folly. The Sulva landing was entrusted to the 11th division fresh from the western front. By this time, those on the spot had experience of landings. The commander in chief (Hamilton) stressed the importance of heading inland instantly to take the heights and trap the Turks but the penny absolutely failed to drop for the divisional commander (Stopford) whose orders managed to lose the plot in western front style references to securing the beachhead and organising for the advance. (This reference, is a good summary, perhaps a little too kind to Stopford even amid all its criticisms. Underneath all the specific confusions he had a simple inability to grasp the difference between France and Gallipoli.) A senior commander correctly ordering impetuous advance and a junior wrongly hesitating is not the standard WWI picture. The divisional commander should have been sacked before, not after, the landing, but if Hamilton had a fault it was that he was not ruthless enough to his subordinates and allowed them too much initiative; again, not the cliched kind of WWI command failing. (Kitchener chose him for the operation because he thought Gallipoli would be tricky, requiring an intelligent, even intellectual, general, but at that moment Hamilton could definitely have done with being less of one.)

The historical effects of Gallipoli are too vast to assess easily. With Russia supplied by western arms, would there never have been a Russian revolution (or at least, not a second revolution in November 1917 bringing the communists to power)? Would Stalin never have ruled, never have killed tens of millions? With Russia still in the war, would Germany never have looked like winning in their 1918 offensive, never have survived till 1918? Would Hitler be a name noone had heard of? "Who knows? Who will say that he knoweth?"

An excess of monuments ensures none will be remembered. One reason why I was pleased at the elevation of Pope Benedict to his present office despite the fact that some of his more liberal rivals for the job might have had beliefs closer to mine is that he clearly does not regard the teachings of his church as his personal property. He has no desire to innovate in order to memorialise himself, like Mitterand causing a glass pyramid* to be built in the courtyard of the Louvre.

In the secular world, if every king seeks to leave his monument they all become unmemorable. The Pharoahs had accounts of their victories cut into stone. True, they are still read thousands of years later, but the accounts are so stylized and conventional that carvings made centuries apart repeat each other verbatim. The very names of the conquered chieftains and the tributes they laid at Pharaoh's feet are the same. No modern ruler is likely to make that mistake: our grands projets differ spectacularly in physical form. There's a sort of sameness of concept about them, nonetheless.

Getting back to the subject of the papacy, even an an amoral, vainglorious pope indifferent to the truth of the teachings it is his task to proclaim (in no way is Benedict any of those things - but some of his predecessors were) should beware as a matter of prudence from trying to "leave his mark" on doctrine. The warlike Pope Julius II would be most displeased to know that not one in a hundred of us could name him as the Pope who commissioned Michelangelo to paint the roof of the Sistine Chapel but at least we know that some Pope or other did, and know what a Pope is, because Julius did not mess around with what the church taught. He may have ignored it but he didn't change it. There can only be so many changes in the content of a faith before it becomes too amorphous to transmit. The tablets are no longer stone but mud. If that happens the Holy Father will no longer be father of anything.

This is degenerate advice to offer compared to the argument that matters: that while there is scope for men to argue that the will of God might have been misunderstood in past ages, and scope to use logic to deduce what the Church should teach in new situations, there is no scope for a mere man to change God's word. But if (as is likely given Benedict's age) it is soon time for the next conclave to convene, and if (as is less likely) the next Bishop of Rome is of like temper to Julius II, then I submit these musings for His Magnificence to consider.

*Quite a pretty pyramid. But prettier somewhere else.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005
Gott in Himmel! Richard Gott, writing in the Guardian, is harsh towards the Prime Minister:
By seeking to appease ... the principal threat to world peace at the time, he only succeeded in encouraging that country's appetite for aggression and expansionism.
In this case the Prime Minister referred to wasn't Tony Blair but Neville Chamberlain, who features in Mr Gott's book called The Appeasers, and the country referred to is Germany in the 1930s. However Mr Gott does have strong views regarding Mr Blair.

Having written a book about how the folly of appeasement encourages the appetite for aggression and expansionism of countries that are a threat to world peace you might think that Mr Gott would be keen on firm action. And you'd be right!

Blair is a war criminal who should be locked up behind bars without a vote, not standing for election.
Mr Gott is not a man who minimises the threat, either.
Blair has followed in his footsteps, and is destined for the same place in history's hall of infamy. Like Chamberlain, he is an arrogant and God-fuelled appeaser, the unseemly ally of an unbridled country that presents a global threat similar to Germany in the 1930s.
The United States 2005 = Germany 1939. Wait a minute, doesn't that make Bush the same as... No, that cannot be. Left-wingers only say that sort of thing in slanderous right-wing caricatures.

I must say, "God-fuelled" is a good choice of adjective that subliminally adds environmental unsoundness to Blair's other crimes. One does feel that it would have been fairer to have at least given Blair credit for the fact that he is C of E and hence fills his tank with Unleaded God.

Despite his name Mr Gott does not appear to be a fan of God, and elsewhere in the article is much peturbed by Blair having a hotline to Him and generally thinking himself the chosen agent of the Almighty. I really think Mr Gott ought to have more sympathy with those taking orders from a Higher Power, seeing that in the good old days Mr Gott himself was the chosen agent of the KGB.

I am glad to see the old boy has been reconciled with the Guardian, where he used to be Latin America correspondent and Features Editor. How forgiving of the present editor to take him back after his predecessor so rudely ejected him.

A Time Lord goes into politics.

Beware spoilers!

When the first episode of the two-part Dr Who series that has just finished came out I loved it. I also liked the second episode, "World War Three", but less so. There was a foolish anti-Tony Blair crack near the end that gave it relevance to Biased BBC, so I posted about it there. There are some entertaining comments to that post about evil profit-making aliens and the appalling fact that we seem to have surrendered our independent deterrent to the UN several years ago.

It is a pity that one quip obscured the many good aspects of the episode. I particularly liked the way that minor characters such as Mickey and Rose's mother were rounded out. (I agree with Joe Newbery, quoted by Patrick Crozier in the post linked to below, that the Doctor himself should not be rounded out.) Mickey's quiet refusal of the chance to see the galaxy was touching. He stepped out of being a joke character and became a person with self-knowledge. It was sad, too, when Rose's mother pleaded with her not to go. The Doctor was rather a git about that, wasn't he? He could at least have stayed for the meal and done something to reassure her. That he did not was believable: Time Lords don't do reassurance, hugs, phatic communication, or shepherd's pie. They do do status, which is why the Doctor's tact returned when it came to saving Mickey's pride. He made a big show of refusing to have Mickey on board on the grounds that he was a "liability": better to be thought a klutz than a coward.

Patrick Crozier says:

Doctor Who has always been profoundly political. The Daleks are the Nazis. Davros is Hitler. The Sun Makers (a Tom Baker-era story) was all about sky-high taxes. The Sea Devils is all about the Ulster Troubles. It is one of the great strengths of science fiction that it is much easier to discuss political issues than it is with straight drama. That an episode might try to make an (apparently) left-wing point should come as no surprise. You can’t expect it to go all your own way.
I commented:
There is a big difference between using SF to examine the underlying structure of a political situation without the distraction of one’s present allegiances (e.g. the Sea Devils series, as you say) and the kind of over-topical political reference that does the opposite, jolts one into remembering one’s present allegiances - and forgetting about the story. The former can succeed in dramatic terms for me even when I don’t like the politics. The latter would be likely to fail even if I agreed with the politics.
There was one part of the politics that did not have the approval of my anarcho-capitalist side but which had me cheering anyway: when the MP, Harriet Jones, takes charge as the only elected person there, and in the name of the people commands the Doctor to go ahead and do whatever it takes. You tell him, lady! His initial hesitation may have added to the drama but still came across as pointless. Rose's chances of seeing the next morning were obviously increased, not decreased, by his taking action. A scriptwriter who was fully on the job and not wasting his very considerable talents kissing the BBC top brass better after the Hutton Report would have contrived some way to give this pseudo-dilemma two proper horns.

My husband was impressed by the way that the viewer couldn't tell who was going to live and die. No one wore the red shirt. In the first episode the lady pathologist looked done for but she survived. That nice private secretary to the PM did not. Sergeant Price scarpered at the right moment and presumably made it, too. On second thoughts, maybe you could tell he was going to: Russell T. Davies also wrote Mine All Mine and Swansea boys always look out for each other.

A few unclassifiable pros and cons:

- Nearly all those scenes when the Doctor made a joke before escaping were played too slowly. The soldiers had time to shoot him before the lift doors closed, especially since his joke telegraphed what he was going to do. Every time he stopped to negotiate with the Slitheen they had time to hook him by the throat with those big claws of theirs and crunch his bones like matchwood but for some reason preferred to chat.

- The news scenes were convincing. Andrew Marr played himself without exaggeration. I laughed when Rose and the Doctor ended up going home to watch the crisis on TV like everyone else.

- It was ridiculous that the Slitheen could be liquefied by acetic acid. Ridiculous, but in keeping with the traditions of Dr Who. There really ought to have been some foreshadowing of this. Perhaps the policeman-Slitheen could have shouted at a subordinate for eating chips with vinegar on duty.

- A well-thought-out touch to end the show was that Mickey was given a computer virus to wipe all mention of the Doctor from the internet. Yes. That is what would happen.

Monday, April 25, 2005
Remembering Gallipoli. To commemorate ANZAC Day Tim Blair has a selection of links about the doomed Gallipoli landings. Of the Australian troops who were there, Joseph Stratford was probably the first to die. Alex Campbell was the last to live.

For all the time I have spent arguing that the "lions led by donkeys" myth of the First World War is a myth, and a harmful one, I still feel about the First World War much as Sean Gabb does. He wrote:

I began this jotting with the intention of saying something smart and clever about today's anniversary. But there is nothing smart and clever to be said. When I contemplate the events that unrolled between the 28th June and the 4th August 1914, I become a child again, in the audience of a pantomime. I want to cry out to the person on stage - "Look behind you!" "Don't go there!", "He's coming for you!". But there is nobody out there to listen.
None of their descendants can truly project themselves into the minds of that generation, who, as they went to war, thanked God that they would have the chance to fight. No one now, however patriotic, however convinced of the rightness and necessity of a war, can say dulce et decorum est pro patria mori without uncertainty, irony, regret.

It was not sweet to die. It remains fitting to remember the dead.

To that end I am going to post again something I first posted in 2002, an excerpt taken from the website:

I wasn't aware that there were British soldiers at Gallipoli. Who were they?

One of the saddest aspects of the history of the Gallipoli campaign is that, in Australia and New Zealand, there is almost never any acknowledgement made that other forces were present at Gallipoli other than the Anzacs, and that, in Britain, most people seem neither to know nor care about the part played by their own soldiers there. At the same time, though, it has also to be pointed out that the Anzac sector was separated from the British / French sector at Cape Helles (the southern tip of the peninsula), by some 13 miles, and that the two were never linked up, so in effect they can be treated as different battlefields completely.

That said, it must also be realised that some Anzac units served at Helles, and some British units served at Anzac. Later, in August, after the new landings at Suvla Bay, to the north of Anzac, the Anzac and Suvla (British) areas were linked, and there was a little more contact between the two.

Who were they? There were too many different units for me to answer that here.

I'll work on putting up a list of all units present on a separate page (not possible yet because of memory restrictions on my site). Suffice to say that in total (including the Anzacs and Indians and French), approximately half a million men were sent to Gallipoli on the allied side, with total casualties (killed, wounded, sick and prisoners), of about 252,000 men.

Australians and New Zealanders pride themselves on giving everyone a 'fair go', but when it comes to Gallipoli, there has been so much misinformation taught that many people seem unwilling to even admit that other forces were present and become almost resentful when this is pointed out. The fact that others were there does not detract from what the Anzacs did, but it must be acknowledged that they also performed amazing acts of bravery, suffered and died, and some in greater numbers than even the Anzacs, and that therefore they also deserve a 'fair go'.

Allow me to repeat, too, what I said in that earlier post: "I don't think it diminishes the Anzacs' memory in any way to point this out. Their dauntless courage was acknowledged by all who saw it." The Australians and New Zealanders rightly honour their Gallipoli dead. So do the Turks, who fought bravely on the other side. Why do we in Britain forget?

Plonkers unaware of their plonkerdom: a particular peril for seamen. Andrew Duffin writes:
I do a bit of sailing. Well quite a lot actually.

My crew - who is way more skilled than I - has a saying when someone is a complete plonker on a boat:

"He doesn't even know enough to know how little he knows"

Seems to chime in with the paper you link to, and it's a bit more, well, snappy!
As it happens the guy who pointed out the first link to me is a sailor too. Sailing is a complex activity that can go horribly wrong.

Contrariness prompts me to say that there are times when it pays not to know too much. War is also a complex activity that can go horribly wrong. Would it have helped or hindered 2 Para at the battle of Goose Green to have known that their 450 men were pitted against 1,600?

I know, I know. The odd counter-example does not disprove the rule: it generally pays to have accurate knowledge. And to make a habit of seeking it.

Sunday, April 24, 2005
For all I know the elevated sense of humour of those of the Middle Kingdom does maintain a harmonious parallelity etc. I would be delighted to discover the existence of a Chinese work that made play with what Belloc would have called "the English convention in the Chinese tongue."

How, or if, I could ever appreciate it would be another matter. It took me most of my life to get some of the jokes in Astérix chez les Bretons.

"However entrancing it is to wander through a garden of bright images," as Wimsey said to Harriet Vane in Holloway Gaol as she stood trial for her life, "are we not enticing your mind from another subject of almost equal importance?"

Angie Schulz of Machinery of Night writes regarding this post:

You pointed to the .net guy's list of questions
supposedly asked of an Australian tourist bureau. As you probably guessed, this list was a joke/hoax. It sprang up during the time of the Sydney Olympics (I was living in Sydney at the time). I seem to remember that the Sydney Morning Herald had something to do with it (which comes as no surprise), but I was unable to google up a cite.

(In the course of my googling I learned that there was an HMS Rattlesnake which explored Australia and surrounds in the mid-19th c, the voyage of which was chronicled by T.H. Huxley. So the time spent searching was not a loss.)

I believe the responses were meant to be the SMH's, but I can't swear to it. I remember that it circulated around my workplace, and I was annoyed to find it was a hoax because I devoted a little thought to why people should ask such stupid questions. Perhaps, in Germany, milk *wasn't* available all year 'round; wasn't it provincial of the Australians not to think of that?
Someone swore blind to me that in Germany, if you want to sell your house, the law demands that you paint all the walls white even if your purchaser adores your wallpaper. - NS
Perhaps rattlesnake venom is used to treat some disorder, and the person wants to ensure that he has access to a supply?

And as for the hippo racing...well, hell, there is (or was) an annual camel race at the Randwick racetrack (the Sheikh Zayed Cup), and if you can believe camel racing in Sydney, is hippo racing all that far fetched? Well, maybe.

(It looks as if the Sheikh Zayed Cup no longer exists, because the most recent cites seem to date from 2000.)

If Angie can be sporting enough to admit when she was taken in, so can I. When I saw this passage about the Iraqi election -
It's easy to hail the courage of the purple-fingered sheep who sashayed to the voting centers under the protection of armed U.S. soldiers
- quoted on some blog I went haring over to the site in a fury ready to make the author taste the Wrath of Natalie.

Going back a few years, when first some few words from the sublime Kai Lung entranced my eyes (albeit in the ignoble guise of discourse between imaginary persons in the tales of Wimsey, a barbarian lordling), untrammelled was my rejoicing to discover this evidence (as I thought it) that the elevated sense of humour of those of the Middle Kingdom maintained such a harmonious parallelity to that of the unworthy one before you.

Friday, April 22, 2005
Department of Health recycles paper shock. What a pointless non-story this is: Petition to save ward dumped in skip. "The Department of Health today promised an investigation after a petition to save a hospital's children's ward was dumped in a skip," says the Daily Mail, and goes on to say how shocked all the signers were and how contrite the authorities were and how disappointing the entire situation is.

What were they meant to do with it, bury it with full military honours? Or keep it lovingly in the basement along with every other petition, letter, memo, report or minute ever sent their way, like an old granny with a drawer containing every Christmas card she has ever received? I've worked in the civil service. If the DoH tried that it would soon be overwhelmed by paper and cease to function...

My goodness, it has only this minute come to me how monstrous the behaviour of the Department has been. Don't let them rest until they change their wicked ways.

Holding firm against the shifting winds of doctrine. Not the pope. Harry from Harry's Place. Edited highlights from a comments thread from a post about one of the greatest strangeness of these ill-starred days: Tariq Ali, Liberal Democrat:
Just out of interest Harry, what were your politics in 1972? were you a member of the Labour party? did you believe in supporting the US army that was bringing "democracy" to Vietnam at the time?
If your political positions have not changed since 1972 this post is fair enough, if they have you are opening yourself up to a charge of inconsistancy.
Posted by: sonic at April 21, 2005 11:30 PM

You have gloriously missed the point.
Once again.
Posted by: Harry at April 22, 2005 12:25 AM

Of course in 1972 I opposed the Vietnam War.
All us two year olds did.
Posted by: Harry at April 22, 2005 12:26 AM

Position on public breastfeeding consistent.
Posted by: tim at April 22, 2005 12:31 AM

Are you unskilled and unaware of it? This is a paper about how the inability to know when one is incompetent is a major part of incompetence.

Frightening stuff.

Those people who mocked Donald Rumsfeld's "But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know" did not know as much as they thought they did.

UPDATE: A helpful person has written in to say that the link provided gives horrible formatting with the Mozilla Firefox browser. Here is one that doesn't.

They don't have lawyers in Oz. The authors of these quotes, officials (we are assured) of an unnamed Australian tourist organisation, are touchingly devoted to the promotion of harmonious relations between the different parts of the Anglosphere.

Here's a Samizdata post all about Jim Bennett's The Anglosphere Challenge.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005
Lots of fuss about the new pope having been a member of the Hitler Youth at the age of 14. Big deal. By then it was compulsory. And he was, like, 14.

In point of fact Britain came close to making membership of a youth organisation compulsory during the war.

"A year later it seemed as if the State was about to take a further step - compelling young people to belong to youth organizations. This was to be the first stage in the introduction of pre-military training. However, the practical and ideological questions were such that, the resulting Circular 1577 (Board of Education, 1941) simply required all young people aged 16 and 17 to register with their LEA. Young people were also to be interviewed and advised as to how they might spend their leisure time and of the local opportunities for them to give voluntary help to the war effort. This was usually done under the auspices of local youth committees. At first there was an attendance rate nationally of around 70 per cent. But as people began to realize the interview was not compulsory, the rate dropped, and the system was gradually dismantled as pressure for a paramilitary training scheme disappeared."
I don't mean to minimise the vast gulf between making people join the Hitler Youth and thinking about making them join the Boy Scouts. But, given the deeply statist climate of opinion throughout and just after the war, I'm sometimes amazed that we in Britain did as well as we did in maintaining our liberties. Rather puts the present generation to shame, doesn't it?

UPDATE: Interesting Jerusalem Post story which I found via Random Jottings, Ratzinger a Nazi? Don't believe it. He wasn't a hero. But (have I mentioned this?) he was only 14.

ANOTHER RANDOM THOUGHT: Why is everyone so much more worked up about his having been in the Hitler Youth than in the Wehrmacht? Maybe it's because he eventually deserted from the army, or maybe because everyone knows that you couldn't say "no thanks" to an invitation to join the Wehrmacht. Maybe it's just the vivid mental image that the words "Hitler Youth" call up.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005
I am a little bit sozzled, actually. It is a mistake to bolg while you are sozzled. Last time I did it I produced a post to which - gosh even when sozzled I can still say to which in that posh way, good for me - I am far too ashamed to link, in which (good for me again) I linked to a news story which I then described in terms which bore no resemblance whatsoever to reality.

Anyway, even though I am a pretty ropey sort of Catholic I raise a glass to Pope Benedict, seems a pretty good egg, and Cathilocosm genererally. Anyway.

Short Primers on Free Trade versus Fair Trade.

Tim Worstall has written an article for the Globalisation Institute called "Trade is what humans do." He also writes that if I can point him in the direction of a specific Christian Aid advert he'll have a go at refuting it, and adds "No charge :-)" That would be cool, if you can find a moment. I'll fish out that copy of the Guardian and post it in the next few days.

He also points out this interesting blog by a development professional who is not a complete free trader, "Owen's Musings." Owen talks about Christian Aid's advert here.

Prompted by the same impulse my regular correspondent A.R.C. has composed some arguments addressed to Christians:

'Make Poverty History' is Christian Aid's stated goal. Christians who want to make poverty history must be prepared to learn from the history of poverty; what causes it and what cures it. Christians know that greed is a sin, and that sacrificing it to the needs of the poor is a duty. However we also know that the ultimate sin is not greed but pride. We must be prepared to sacrifice our pride to the needs of the poor, not just our comfort. Sacrificing pride in this case means sacrificing prejudices.

Addressing that demand to Christian Aid's leaders might surprise them; are they not often denouncing prejudice? Alas, that may be just the trouble; those who make a habit of denouncing others' prejudice may be least able to see their own as the problem. There is a humble way of helping the third world: try out ideas and honestly observe which work and which fail. There is an arrogant way: decide that your idea must be right and don't waste time reviewing it; if the recipients are absurd enought to become still poorer, blame something else and serve up more of the same. And there is a selfish way: discuss the plight of the poor in the third world with one eye on the domestic political debate, half-consciously keeping that eye averted from any symptoms of poverty that do not serve your side of the argument. The leaders of Christian Aid claim the moral high ground but do not appear to be guarding against these moral dangers.

Since the end of colonialism, we have acquired decades of evidence of what works and what fails in the third world. Sometimes the evidence approaches as near to experimental proof as can be hoped for in the complex real world. Consider the famous bet between Nkrumah, ruler of Ghana, and Felix Houphouet-Boigny, ruler of the Ivory Coast as to whose policies would promote growth. Nkrumak was an enemy of globalisation, Houphouet-Boigny its friend. Ghana began well in the lead at independence, and ended well behind two decades later, a natural result of its experiencing steady year-on-year shrinkage of GNP while the Ivory Coast experienced steady growth. What does Christian Aid say to the many examples like this? As in any real world case, of course, one can always find other factors at work, but does it not trouble them that one cannot so easily find counter-examples?

The evidence alone should suffice: the history of the post-colonial third world tells a clear enough story of countries where poverty has lessened and countries where it has grown, and of their governments' policies. It may help some to see that free trade is also not merely theologically defensible, it is more theologically attractive. 'Fair traders' seem to believe that trade and wealth creation is a zero-sum game, where what one gains is taken from another, so that only power can ensure that the poor get their share. But Christians have no business believing that creating prosperity is naturally a zero-sum game, as if God had chosen to create a world where human transactions were naturally a matter of dog-eat-dog. Likewise, while we all often fail to return good for evil in everyday life, we surely believe God did not create a world in which refusing to copy wrongdoing was naturally an unwise choice. Thus we should have no problem with Adam Smith's argument that if others practice unfree trade, it is still not economically advantageous to practice it ourselves.

In short, there is no Christian reason to hesitate over evidence for the benefits of free trade, and nothing suprising in the fact that free trade was the universal creed of British politics when Christian belief was also more universally professed here than today. Thus the obligation is very much on Christian Aid to expose (by explanation, not mere assertion) the injustices that require a countervailing 'fair-trade' power to be exerted by governments. They should also explain why we should not expect this power to become merely another injustice in a world that already has plenty.

Perhaps Christian Aid could do so by pointing to the E.U.'s tariff barriers. Blocking agricultural imports from the third world, and dumping the resultant surpluses on them from time to time at subsidised prices, is certainly a direct exercise of first-world power. An African country, denied agricultural trade, can hardly switch to selling us high-tech goods. Subsidies that our taxpayers only grumble about may be devastating to its much smaller economy. I have often heard the aid parable, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him for life." I would add, "Give him a market for fish and you don't just feed him for life; you give him the chance of a life he chooses." The E.U. denies him that market.

Here above all, Christian Aid's strangely counter-intuitive reasoning defeats its purpose. Every eurocrat can put hand on heart and say, "But I was never guilty of free trade." What chance has a movement against free trade of defeating this powerful vested interest? What chance has it even of avoiding helping it continue?

As for the slogans of Christian Aid's campaign, what strikes me chiefly about them is that they are not very charitable. 'They used to call it slavery, now they call it free trade', says one. Another compares free trade to a tsunami. Such words show little awareness that those who trade freely with the third world might honestly think they do people there good rather than harm by letting them buy and sell without tariffs. A Christian charity should practice the virtue it preaches, in word as well as deed.

Do they believe that free traders cannot honestly think this? I find Christian Aid's stance so strange that I have a hard time accepting that they came by it entirely honestly, entirely uninfluenced by more domestic political prejudices. Just how proper is this suspicion and just how forcefully should I, as a Christian, present it? Should I imitate the style of Christain Aid or should I restrain myself? Of course, as with believing in free trade even in a world of tariffs, I can believe that more courteous argument will also prove more effective argument.

ARC's piece is aimed at a different audience from what I had in mind. That's no criticism and no problem - this isn't a zero sum game, either! The first line is eminently quotable.

A coda to a coda. On March 27 1945 the last V2 rocket of World War II landed on Hughes Mansions, a tenement block in Stepney, East London. At that time many Jews lived in the East End and most of the 134 people killed were Jewish. If Hitler ever got to hear of that perhaps it cheered him up in the bunker. But that coda to his symphony of hate now has a little coda of its own.

Last Sunday the Guardian's Jonathan Freedland went to Hughes Mansions to mourn his grandmother and his mother's aunt, both among those killed by the bomb.

People were choked with emotion from the start; they had come back to the spot where they had seen brothers, sisters, parents and friends die. They were expecting to feel sorrow. What they did not bargain for was fear.

Within minutes, the mourners were pelted, first with vegetables, then with eggs. Some said they saw stones; others said they had been spat at. Gathered in old age to remember their dead, they felt under siege.

Looking around, it was difficult to spot individual culprits. All that were visible were groups of young Asian men, standing on the balconies of the rebuilt block.
Freedland's impression was that the attacks weren't so much anti-Oona King (the local pro-Iraq War Labour MP) as anti-Jewish.
I was there and I must confess it did not look like an attack on Oona King to me. She was not especially visible, and no slogans were chanted or words uttered - as surely they would have been if this was merely a stance against King's support of the Iraq war.

Most of those there thought it much more straightforward. They believed this was an attack by Muslims on Jews. After all, the men wore skullcaps, the prayers were in Hebrew. There was no doubt who they were.

Still, it was hard to be certain. Not a word was spoken to explain the missiles raining down. So this week I went back to Hughes Mansions to ask around: what was all that about?

One young man said it was nothing to do with politics or religion:
Instead, Syed explained, the area was overcrowded and rundown. "There's a lot of aggression." The result is that when the police show up they get pelted. If even a resident drives in with a newly clean car, he'll get "egged". Here was a group of outsiders, so they got the treatment too. His friend Bokkar Ali added: "They're just kids having a laugh. They do it to everyone."

Except the culprits did not look like kids; most seemed to be in their late teens or 20s. And there's the testimony of Aminur Rahman, 18, who told me: "There's a lot of hatred towards the Jewish. We've got hatred towards them." He knew Sunday's group were Jewish because of the skullcaps and he knew the story of the 1945 bomb. So was it wrong to attack people who were grieving? "It was wrong in a way, but I think they deserved it because they came into a Muslim community."

Replace "Muslim" with "white" and you have a line straight from the British National Party songbook. Even if, as Jonathan Freedland speculates, the average is somewhere between the two views expressed, that's a pretty poor average after thirty years of official anti-racism.

What's to be done? Sadly, a potential for communal hatred seems to be an ineradicable part of human nature. But like other evils it can be inflamed or damped down depending on conditions of society. We could do worse than try the strategy for racial harmony that has worked comparatively well for Britain before, and has worked in other countries too. Strict equality before the law. (I call that a "strategy for racial harmony" for convenience but in fact the principle uppermost in its practitioners' minds is individual justice, not racial anything.) No government recognition for ethnic groups, still less government support targeted at any particular group as a group*, however poor that group is. Why not? Because competing for state bounty is a zero-sum game that sets groups against each other. In my opinion - though I doubt Jonathan Freedland, or, perhaps, the author of the first link, would agree - government bounty also tends to make and keep its recipients dependent, ghettoized and poor.

One reason for my saying that the old "strategy" for racial tolerance worked better (despite all that Oswald Mosley could do) than the present one is that the survivors and descendants of the near-final spasm of Nazism represented by that last V2 no longer live in tenement blocks. They moved up and out. In general they are now prosperous, educated and integrated. In contrast the present system keeps the present occupants of Hughes Mansions (the block was rebuilt but is now sadly decayed) stuck there, mentally and economically.

*I'm no supporter of individual government bounty, either. But group bounty is worse than individual because it engenders hostility as well apathy.

Iraq's mass graves - a report by the New York Times.
"At least 290 grave sites containing the remains of some 300,000 people have been found since the American invasion two years ago, Iraqi officials say."

Monday, April 18, 2005
Kids want a children's champion! Over at Biased BBC I have a dramatic offering concerning the battle to appoint a Children's Commissioner for England that I humbly present to my public. Odd bits of Wordsworth also available.

I gather old Willie W spent most of his life revising the Prelude. I've been fiddling with this one on and off since March, which isn't quite so bad.

My struggles were nothing compared to those of England's children.

Friday, April 15, 2005
And gentlemen in England now abed / Shall think themselves accursed they were not here. There will be a public debate on free trade versus fair trade tonight in St Margaret's Church, Westminster. At ten to midnight, as it happens. (So the anti-globos can have a candlelit weep-in round Parliament afterwards.) Sean Gabb and Alex Singleton will fight the good fight while lesser souls like me sleep.

Short and Sweet. Tim Worstall writes:
You say you are looking for short and sweet pieces explaining free trade and why it's a good idea.

What's the target audience? General bloggy goodness or more specific than that?
People who read Christian Aid adverts in the Guardian and believe them.
I mean, everything from Ricardo, Smith and so on is contained in the phrase:

"We should all do the best we can and swap the results"

and if you want to emphasise comparative advantage a recasting:

"We should all do what we're least bad at and swap the results".

Hmmm. I meant a bit longer than that and more targeted to the concerns of 2005... actually I'm sure I would have found all sorts of suitable stuff by now if I hadn't been busy with real life. Perhaps I should do as he says and write it myself.

If I decline Tim's delicate hint that his professional services as a writer are at my disposal it is not from any doubt as to the excellence of his skills or the reasonableness of his fees, still less for the flattering reason he also suggests, but because the TV broke and, having ordered a new one, so we.

Anyone wanting an RSS feed for this blog can get one by going to its mirror site, 'Nother Solent, kindly provided by an anonymous benefactor. I've also added a link to 'Nother Solent at the top of the sidebar, a thing I should have done ages ago.

UPDATE: I feel bad that I haven't fixed the RSS feed on my blogspot residence, which David Janes kindly provided ages ago. I feel even worse when I read this:

My aquarium lost its first fish: one of three Clown Loaches. The problem with these little buggers is that they like to pretend to be dead all the time so I never noticed this one being particularly ill. I tried my best to get him well today but it never really looked that hopeful.

This is not another post about interest rates.
"The question that I really don't know the answer to is whether high interest rates actually hinder development. Maybe, by discouraging foolish prestige projects, they help it. On the other hand sensible people who want loans for sensible projects pay the price for the folly of their compatriots."
The same reader as before now writes:
Ahh, that's far more complex.

The short version:

That's not an interest rate problem: Much of the third world population is not even in the position to worry about rates, the underlying planks to allow a capitalist to stand on don't exist/are rotten/ are cut away.

My longer blathering:

The folly of compatriots is a big thing, if your nation is a deadbeat with a history of socialism / bank nationalizations/confiscations, an opaque legal system and corruption sliming along the high street in full view. Then obviously, no matter how good you might personally be, or how good your business idea, you are dead inthe water. Either the banks don't exist, or they are smart enough not to loan to you.

The sterotypical black African wanna-be entrepeneur can't get traction, even if he can round up enough funds, because whatever he builds will be stolen (legally because the legal system stinks, or by main force), or the profits sucked away in corruption. Or that's the perception.

That's not an interest rate problem: Much of the third world isn't even in the position to worry about rates, the underlying planks to allow a capitalist to stand on don't exist.

Hence in some places you get powerful families as the only ones able to engage in business, they have the muscle to enforce "private law", and the money to self invest so their risk calculations are wholly different than that of a third party. That doesn' trickle down much. Lot's of really great ideas languish inthe swamp.

Governments are another kettle of fish, by and large their loans are not "bank loans" per se but often special politically motivated development loans, sometimes guarenteed by third parties. Sometimes outright grants disguised as loans.

I like to think of these as free heroin for junkies. You know the money will be pissed away to no longer term avail.

International financial org's get involved, and they have smart people choosing projects that are worthwhile at advantageous rates, they may have done so in the past, but often they are now staffed by PhD's who miss the forest for the trees. The projects often don't make sense in the end after billions have been spent. e.g. Sure, Country Z needs a new power plant, but if the project doesn;t take into account that 45% of the customers don't actually pay their bills or outright pilfer the power and the rest pay a subsidized rate that has no relation to the cost of generation and transmission, then what? Subsidies can cause huge distortions & waste. The rate you pay to make the investmnet in the powerplant and the "official rate" you get paid for the power is irrelevant.

Almost every single third work country and poor country is that way because their policies and laws and practices are corrupt or just abysmally stupid, and the economic signals don't get transmitted - or worse, the wrong signal is emitted, so that the " invisible hand " acts in perverse ways.

They stay that way because a small groups really profit from it. See "public choice theory."

Yes, I know I said this was not about interest rates. I lied.

Chirac lets the cat out of the bag - according to the BBC. This, if not a mistranslation, is a startling admission. A BBC account of yesterday's debate on French TV says of Chirac that:
"He said it would be in the interest of Anglo-Saxon countries or the US to stop 'European construction.'"
Emphasis added. If this is true it's dynamite. However I am not sure it is true. The construction "Anglo-Saxon countries or the US" seems odd. Apart from us, that's Canada, Australia, New Zealand etc. Can he really think they are a factor? The EU referendum blog doesn't mention those words in this post so maybe it's just some BBC journo's C grade French O-Level talking.

What did the old boy really say? Armed with my trusty French dictionary, a-hunting I shall go.

UPDATE: Having carried out a rather desultory search I think this was a poor paraphrase or conflation of two things he said about the need to oppose the current towards an Anglo-Saxon, Atlanticist kind of Europe and that great powers naturally seek to impose their will.

Thursday, April 14, 2005
Yesterday Sprog Minor started reading this blog over my shoulder. I had to click the minimise button fast because the last two posts had bad words in them. Sternly, determinedly, joyously, I made a resolution to clean up this blog!

It's a shame this came along the very next day. "Mondays with George" is not kid-safe, work-safe, offensiveness-filter safe or reading-while-drinking-safe.

(Via Meryl Yourish.)

(Still gonna clean up the blog a little bit. I resolve that from now on that the doubtful bits will be confined to the decent obscurity of a learned hyper-text markup language.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2005
Interest rates and the Third World. A reader writes, regarding my statement in the previous post that I did not know enough to comment on high rates of interest on loans as a reason for world inequality:

Oh, you do. If you allow me, interest is charged, out in the real world, based on percieved risk.

Hence, large stable countries with a history of reliably paying off their debt get a good rate, dead-beats who default, who have poor cash flow, and reliably have revolutions get poor rates.

Similarly, if you borrow to build a productive asset, like say a power dam, or tools based on a decent "business plan" you tend to get a better rate than if you borrow to buy Mercedes Limo's for the boss men, and jet-fighters and fuel to go bomb the revolutionaries.

I'm mixing stuff up here a little bit, but it's clear, I hope.

The 3rd world gets shitty rates because they are terrible credit risks and because they invest in stupid shit with poor, or no, returns.

This is the same reasoning that 60 years old lawyer who has been married 30 years buying a $1,000,000 dollar loan on 3rd house to serve as a rental (with a stable tenant already there) gets a far better rate than a 20 year old highschool drop out with credit problems buying an over powered motorcycle. (In reality, Mr. 20years old gets told to pound sand.)
As this reader implies, I did know something about this, although I could not have explained it so clearly. The question that I really don't know the answer to is whether high interest rates actually hinder development. Maybe, by discouraging foolish prestige projects, they help it. On the other hand sensible people who want loans for sensible projects pay the price for the folly of their compatriots.

What is brought out well in this reader's explanation is that if you want to put a one-line explanation of the effects of interest rates on third world poverty in your textbook, the phrase "third world countries are bad credit risks" would be far more informative than "high rates of interest on loans." Most sixteen year olds, the target audience for a GCSE revision guide, will regard interest rates either as an inexplicable natural phenomenon or as an act of malice directed against defenceless Third Worlders by wicked usurers. In the end my position is that interest rates should be as disaggregated as possible, and, of course, should not be manipulated by politicians, so they fulfil their function of transmitting useful information about risk.

UPDATE: The EU Serf writes:

I have a little experience of a high interest rate economy. What basically happens is:

1) Rich people make money really easily, creating a permanent, useless rich class.
2) Anyone with any money lends it to the state rather than invests in anything else.
3) Business models are all designed to create cash flow for lending to the state, not to maximise long term profit.

The upshot is very little productive investment is made as all the money goes ultimately to fund state borrowing. Established companies face little threat from newcomers, so they treat customers badly. They make only those investments that give a very fast return. Unemployed people are screwed. The investment needed to creat jobs never comes.

Oh and it is always the fault of poor government that interest rates are high.

An aside on the large numbers of small children. As birth rates drop swiftly, this leads to a huge labour force as a ratio of the population. This is one of the big driving forces of all successful developing economies. Its also a one of opportunity that can be lost if other things are not done correctly.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005
The new established church: GCSE Religious Studies and the Christian Aid worldview. In December last year I promised to look over some RE textbooks, and, assuming I passed repeated SAN rolls, tell you about them. As it happens this ties in well with the the topic currently keeping me awake at night and blogging in the day: anger at Christian Aid.

So here is a religious studies textbook: Letts Revise GCSE: Religious Studies. Boys and girls, let us turn to page 130. Extracts from the book are in italics.

Reasons for inequality

Throughout what follows poverty and inequality are treated as synonymous. This is odd as there was a discussion of relative versus absolute poverty a few paragraphs ago.

The reasons for this divide are complex

Says you. Personally I think the biggest reason is simple, socialism, and most of the complexity comes from efforts to avoid admitting it.

and any discussion of ways in which the parts of the world might be made more equal generates great controversy.

I'll say. Pity not one whisper of one side of the controversy reaches your pages.

Several causes of poverty in the developing world are generally acknowledged:

No, widely acknowledged, but not generally. Certainly not by me, but I accept that my libertarian opinions are shared by few. More to the point is that the opinions listed below are also not held by vast numbers of conservatives. And it's a subtle issue, but that word "acknowledged" smuggles in the assumption that the possible causes listed are true. One supposes fancies but acknowledges facts.

- Expenditure on armaments (warplanes, guns and tanks/armoured vehicles) using money which is borrowed from the large banks of developed countries.

Weird. Expenditure on armaments by Third World countries is undoubtedly too high, but as a significant factor in us being rich and them being poor? Not even close. We spend plenty on arms too.

- very large populations of very young children who cannot contribute to the economy.

And who do not die in infancy in the vast numbers of yore, thanks to increasing wealth and modern medicine. It's true that the population bulge contributes to poverty while it lasts, but it is sign of success not failure. And it is temporary: when people adjust to the idea that nearly all their children live they stop having so many.

Now the destruction and disruption caused by war, that is a big factor. But that would not be quite so easy to blame on "large banks of developed countries."

- world trade, which forces developing countries to sell their goods for very low prices.

You heard right. World trade cited in itself as a cause of inequality/poverty. Sure, that's why Taiwan starves and North Korea flourishes. In actual fact the correlation between a country's foreign trade and rising wealth is so clear that practically no democratic government, right or left, supports this view. Even Kofi Annan doesn't believe this. As he said in 2000, "The main losers in today's very unequal world are not those who are too much exposed to globalization. They are those who have been left out."

- high rates of interest on loans.
I don't know enough to comment. [LATER: see next post.]

- reduced level of aid from developed countries.
If the level of aid is reduced, which I doubt, it's probably done them a world of good. As the late Peter Bauer said, aid is a transfer from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries.

Then the book lists a few factoids about current affairs that are true, but are far from proven as causes of inequality, such as easier travel, involvement of first world countries in Third World politics, aid programmes demanding contracts in return and so on. We finish with pure Michael Moore:

The countries of the developed world increasingly act as police (in the form of Nato forces) in disputes in the developing world. This might be to protect their own sources of valuable raw materials such as oil.

Got that? World inequality is the fault of Nato acting as world police. Is it OK for the United Nations to act as police, I wonder, or does the inequality gas only seep out when NATO does it? What about NATO forces under a UN mandate... oh, never mind.

The most depressing thing about all this? The study guide boasts that it is "written by GCSE examiners." These guys aren't eccentric text-book writers, then: they sit in judgement. One of them might be marking your kid's GCSE this summer.

But before anyone gets too angry with Letts for publishing or the authors for writing Revise GCSE: Religious Studies, consider the following.

This link to an OCR Religious Studies specimen paper suggests that the Letts book does little more than teach to the test. The extract that follows is from the official advice to examiners on how to mark a public examination sat by tens of thousands of sixteen year olds.

Describe the main causes of hunger in the world.
Candidates might discuss a variety of causes of hunger. These could include the greed of developed countries such as the USA and the UK, with inadequate distribution of resources; changes in climate resulting in poor harvests in the Third World; the effect of the arms trade in reducing the amount that poor countries have to spend on food; world debt etc.

It's all there. The special wickedness of the USA and the UK, the assumption that resources are distributed rather than produced, global warming (snuck in very smoothly, did you catch it?), the arms trade and world debt. Just be thankful we don't have the Caspian pipeline.

Obviously, candidates have every right to argue thus and writers of mark schemes have every right to mention these possible answers. But where have they been for the last thirty years? If you try talking about foreign aid to people off the street, or schoolchildren when authority figures are not present, you will not have to wait long before the charming phrase "they will only piss it away" comes to your ears. The idea that corruption and tyranny might have some role in Third World poverty is not restricted to neocons. (And what if it were? Given the list of left wing ideas in the specimen answer, couldn't the neocons be granted just one?) The idea that command economies have some role in Third World poverty no longer suprises anyone who has the slightest dealings with development studies.

The only place untouched by that thought is the ghetto of the Christian Left.

(This post slightly edited for clarity on April 13.)

Ouch. Patrick Crozier writes
Yes, this is one of my little eccentricities. At the time of writing my home page and RSS feeds are in reverse chronological order - just like every other bleedin’ blog in the world (except yours Natalie because yours doesn’t have a feed when are you going to get that sorted out - it’s only a couple of clicks you know).
What bloggers such as Patrick do not realise is that I do not go into my template and fix things in the facile, patriarchal way they do - you know, just fiddle for a minute and fix the problem - rather I first achieve a state of perfect spiritual calm and then code from my centre.

Of course there are days when perfect spiritual calm eludes me.

Monday, April 11, 2005
The Coming General Election. This blog's coverage of the election will be all you have come to expect.


Against the tide. Alex Singleton has written a valuable report, "Trade Justice or Free Trade" that explains why the protectionism advocated by Christian Aid etc. would be a disaster for the Third World.

I'm looking for even shorter, even more accessible pieces of writing that could make the case for free case to people with no background in economics. Know of any?

Because the way things are going at the moment does not look good. If protectionism wins out again, as it did before, it will, of course, prove as harmful as it did before. But that phrase "as it did before" disproves any vain hopes about the inevitable triumph of reason in human affairs.

Friday, April 08, 2005
"Railtrack was not our baby," says Patrick Crozier, referring to all this.
When writing about Railtrack I feel rather like Lord Palmerston on the Schleswig-Holstein issue who said something like: “There are only three people in Europe who understand it. Of those, one is dead, one has gone mad and the other has forgotten it.”

To be blunt the whole history of rail “privatisation” is so fiendishly complicated and compromised that to discuss the death of Railtrack in isolation is close to pointless.

To my mind, the question that really matters is: is Railtrack an institution that free marketeers should seek to defend? Was it our baby? Should we take responsibility? My answer is no.

Let me explain. I am a libertarian. I believe in freedom. I want to see as little coercion in this world as possible. I want that principle applied to individuals and their property and to businesses and their property.

To that extent I believe that a business should be able to decide who it sells to, how much it sells and at what price. I believe the same freedoms should apply when it comes to buying from suppliers I believe it should be able acquire businesses in the same industry and (should the fancy take it) completely different industries.

But Railtrack couldn’t do any of these things.
Read the whole thing.

Patrick also says my wish is his command, which is convenient for me (you never know, I might want a dragon slain one day), but not terribly libertarian. If I command him to put the newest posts at the top like every other bleedin' blog in the world are you listening boyo, will he obey?

Thursday, April 07, 2005
Objectively pro-starvation. If you care about your fellow human beings, and particularly if you are a Christian who wants to obey Jesus's commandment to love your neighbour as yourself, don't give money to Christian Aid.

When the nice lady comes round to collect the envelope, say why. I'm not suggesting that you be rude - look, I was once a collector for Christian Aid myself - but gently let her know that you don't want any more people to die unnecessarily. If you can't face getting into a debate about how in 1957 the per capita GDP of Ghana was above that of South Korea but look at them now, or asking her why she wants people who are already struggling to have to pay more for their food or their desperately-needed fridge than they do now (for that is what giving poor countries "the freedom to protect their farmers and infant industries" means), then just say, "I prefer to give to charities that don't spend so much on political campaigning." Trust me, that's a conversation-ender that works.

Please. I'm begging you.

The advertisement placed by the "charity" in today's Guardian reads:

It's not called slavery nowadays. It's called free trade.

Case histories illustrating principles of economics rarely move me much, but Warren Meyer of Coyote Blog has written an account of the effects of the minimum wage on his campsite business that is genuinely sad. He doesn't want to be, but he is being pushed into becoming more like the faceless capitalist of popular legend.

His company's special relationship with its elderly workers wouldn't survive laws against age discrimination either.

Why can't the busybodies let people make their own decisions?

(Via several different blogs. Just one of those posts the good Lord wants you to read.)

Wednesday, April 06, 2005
"I'm not usually interested in royalty, but this is too good to let be." Squander Two defends the right of Prince Charles to slag off the press.
So the blackmailers don't even have the decency always to respect their side of the bargain, yet still complain about how their blackmailees are reluctant (reluctant! — oh, how simply awful), and are all in a tizzy because it's turned out that at least one of the royals can't stand them. Here's a question for Jenny Bond: can you think of any reason why Prince Charles or any other member of his family would like reporters? What things do you do that might make him happy?
As he says, royalty correspondents perform a thoroughly unimportant function:
The sham is that this gets reported as if it's news: Prince Charles Goes On Skiing Holiday At Same Location And Same Time As In Every Previous Year.
The phenomenon of monarchy is frequently interesting, what royals do rarely. You could say that I'm interested in royalty but not Royalty. Or possibly Royalty not royalty.

Another thing. It's becoming clear that there is scarcely any human being on Earth whose marriage can stand up to the sustained attention of the world's press.

While trying to goad Patrick Crozier, late of Transport Blog to comment on the post linked to below, I discovered the most important economics post in the history of time.

Who killed Cock Robin?

"I," said the sparrow,

"With my little bow and arrow,

I killed Cock Robin,"

Who saw him die?

"I," said the fly,

"With my little eye,

I saw him die."

Who caught his blood?

"I," said the fish,

"With my little dish,

I caught his blood."

And just to keep you singing along, Cock Robin killed Railtrack.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005
This election could be stolen says the Times. That seems unlikely to me. What seems almost certain is that we will see enormous fraud and enormous resentment when people think (sometimes truly) that their particular seat has been won by fraud. This resentment will have a racial component. Those who think they have been defrauded will turn to fraud themselves. We will also see more of this:
Mr Mawrey himself was obstructed by the Labour Party at every turn. A lone star, he has had to pick his way through scenes that would have astonished a sheriff in a frontier town. The councillors found by police in the warehouse at midnight on the eve of the election in Birmingham’s Aston ward, surrounded by unsealed postal ballots; the box containing postal votes all in the same hand and same ink, and all for Labour; witnesses refusing to give evidence fearing for their children’s lives; a lawless Wild West in which the number of postal ballots had mushroomed from 24,000 to 70,000 in one year.
And this
The first casualties of this disastrous policy have been Asian voters, particularly women. Not only those who have had their votes stolen before they have had a chance to fill them out; but also those who have come under enormous pressure from their families to fill out postal votes in a certain way. A Bangladeshi woman asked the indefatigable Times reporter Dominic Kennedy why she could not vote in the privacy of the polling booth because “everyone could tell you how to vote, but you could decide for yourself on the day”. We didn’t fight to enfranchise women to see their voices silenced by some PR man’s vision of higher turnout and electoral convenience.
We had something precious: relatively clean elections. It has been thrown away. Part of the tragedy is that even the necessary action - banning postal votes for all but the sick, and obliging even them to register separately for every election - will not entirely restore the status quo ante. A bad cultural shift will have taken place.

Monday, April 04, 2005
Can Canada still be considered a free country? Tim Worstall has some unexpected comments on the case of the US blogger banned in Canada. But, in a quite separate post, he asks, "Can Britain still be considered a free country?"

Vote fraud latest. Over at Biased BBC I have posted about the recent ruling by a judge that elections must be held again for six Birmingham local council seats following massive postal vote fraud. My B-BBC post concentrates on the BBC's reluctance to deal with the fact that all the councillors unseated are Labour, and, even more of a hot potato, ethnically Asian and (judging from their names) Muslims. Here I will say, all praise to a judge who does not mince words:
Judge Mawrey said evidence of "massive, systematic and organised fraud" in the campaign had made a mockery of the election and ruled that not less than 1,500 votes had been cast fraudulently in the city.

The deputy high court judge said the system was "hopelessly insecure" and expressed regret that recent warnings about the failings had been dismissed by the government as "scaremongering".

One book to rule them all... Regarding the previous post, JEM writes:
I'd settle for just one: my PowerBook complete with (satellite?) broadband. And a (solar?) power supply.

And Google, of course.

Friday, April 01, 2005
Mugabe wins! Ha-ha, April Fool. Hope someone tells him the pranks have to stop on April 2.

Norm hath spoken. Squander Two hath spoken.

You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be? Farenheit 451 so I can convince all the guys who want to burn me that they are themselves inside a book, then they will repent.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character? I know it's kind of kooky to name both a father and son, but both Aral and Miles Vorkosigan are cute in their separate ways. And books. That's separate books separated by twenty years, OK?

The last book you bought is: The Oxford German Grammar, partly for my daughter and partly for me. It's too advanced for either of us.

The last book you read: Changeover by Diana Wynne Jones.

What are you currently reading? Pandora's Star by Peter F Hamilton.

Five books you would take to a deserted island: The Bible, Shakespeare, Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations (to my shame the nearest I've come to reading it is when I skimmed the whole thing for a quote that appears on the last page), any Boys' Own Annual from early in the twentieth century (they all featured practical projects of almost unbelievable sophistication and dangerousness of construction, very useful for a castaway) and Norton's Star Atlas - because no one is completely imprisoned who can see the stars.

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why? Oh, gosh, this is the sort of social situation that hits all my inadequacy buttons. I think this sort of thing is fun, but some people hate anything like a chain letter. What if a person I choose is offended? What if a person I don't choose is offended? What if a meteor hits the planet? Let me think for a bit. Anyone want to volunteer?

Why has it taken me so long to discover this nice man?

(Via Blithering Bunny)

Robin Cook, writing in the Guardian, reminds me why I must oppose the UN even if it is reformed.
No one is asking for Kofi Annan to be given a veto over whether Wolfowitz gets the job, but it does not seem unreasonable to demand stronger coordination at the centre to stop the World Bank pursuing neo-liberal policies that are in flat conflict with the development agendas of other UN agencies.
You heard the man. He wants the UN to be one centre of power, following a unified development agenda that is not neo-liberal. His vision is entirely realistic and achievable. When and if it is achieved the great gains of the past three decades in average wealth, life expectancy, access to water, access to education, and freedom will slowly, slowly, slowly stop being so spectacular ... then stop altogether ... then imperceptibly slip into reverse ... and no one will be able to see it because there will nowhere left in the world outside the Unified Development Agenda. As I said here (one of the most deeply felt posts I have ever written) we might see "not the end of history, but its asymptote." And as I also said there, that scenario, a sort of permanent Imperial China sleeping safe from all outside influence (because there is no outside) under a fairly benevolent civil service, is the optimistic one. A pessimistic scenario might also hark back to Chinese history. The death toll in the Taiping "Great Peace" rebellion against the Manchus was second only to that of World War II. Under a unified government all wars are civil wars and civil wars are ugly.

Later on in the article Cook says that:

The suspicion must be that they would rather have a creaking, ineffective UN to treat as a coconut shy than a modern, representative forum that would oblige them to respect collective decisions.

Since I fear very much being obliged to respect the collective decisions of the world's various regimes, I have considered, very seriously, taking up exactly that opinion, rather in the way that revolutionary socialists sometimes hope that capitalism will be as cruel as possible, the better to speed the revolution against it. ("Let it bleed", as Tariq Ali used to say.) But in the end I cannot go that far. It may well be better for the long term happiness of the world that the UN should cease to exist, or, my preferred option, should be a co-ordinating body and forum for negotiation with no power of its own, but I see scarce prospect of that happening. What we have in the real world, a powerful but badly dysfunctional UN, will exacerbate famines and wars, particularly in Africa. So I hope it is reformed. Then let us fight it.

"This morning, the Holy Father's health condition is very grave." - statement from the Vatican. It says that he is "conscious, lucid and tranquil." May he have a good death.

Zimbabwe votes. Some of it, anyway. Whether this translates into "Zimbabwe decides" is another question.