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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Thursday, March 31, 2005
Knitting. The truth is out there.
The full history of the Alsos Mission has not yet been told. The basics are well known: General Groves selected a team of civilian scientists and military personnel headed by Colonel Boris T Pash, and later joined by the discoverer of electron spin, Samuel Goudsmit, and set them to follow the Allied advance across Europe and uncover Nazi progress towards the atom bomb. Both Pash and Goudsmit wrote books about their experiences.

But did they tell the whole story? There is a tantalising hint in the chapter of Goudsmit's book called The Gestapo in Science. (Chapter available separately as one of the essays in Martin Gardner's The Sacred Beetle.) This chapter touches on Himmler's Ahnenerbe, or Academy of Ancestral Heritage. The administrative head of this body was SS Colonel Wolfram Sievers, a man who felt it meet always to write the initial and final S's of his name in runic style, thus making the SS emblem. In 1943 Sievers wrote to a woman minion in these terms:

Dear Fraulein Piffl:

There was a recent report in the press that there is an old woman living in Ribe in Jutland, who still possesses knowledge of the knitting methods of the Vikings.

The Reichsleader [Himmler] desires that we send someone to Jutland immediately to visit the old woman and learn these knitting methods.

Heil Hitler!

Sievers ["Sievers" written with the runic sandwich]

"Unfortunately for the future of science," wrote Goudsmit, "the records fail to reveal if Miss Piffl's mission was successful."

I begin to wonder if the records are complete.

Some bloggers, myself among them, were inclined to jeer at those who sought to bring healing to a world sundered by the US War on Terror by knitting willies. We were unkind. (There must be many lonely Al-Qaeda servicemen out there who would be much comforted by a knitted willy. Ladies, can you help?) We may also have laughed too soon. It could be that the courageous woman who runs these risks for all of our sakes, "guerilla knitter" Rachael Matthews, has stumbled on a secret kept for nearly sixty years.

Consider. In 1943 as the slow crushing of the Third Reich began, Heinrich Himmler himself was willing to spend SS resources in searching out the knitting methods of the notoriously warlike Vikings. Was this merely a unique instance of harmless curiosity on the part of Himmler? Or was he searching for a Strickvergeltungswaffe or "Knitted-Vengeance-Weapon"? It's very odd that the trail goes suddenly cold at that point. Even more mysteriously, despite the fact that multiply cross-indexed records of the Nazi scientific war effort were kept by the compulsively efficient Osenberg, in no source that I can find does the word Strickpenisvergeltungwaffe even appear.

Consider. I have always known that there is something mysterious about knitting, just as it has always been plain to me that the way a sewing machine sews things from underneath even though the needle is on top is simply inexplicable without reference to the fourth dimension. Last time I mentioned this some CIA plant tried to fob me off with some explanation about a sewing machine really being a knotting machine. As if!

Could it be that the much-publicised way in which Werner Von Braun and other Nazi scientists were nabbed by the US or the USSR was nothing more than a "stitch up" to hide a much more ambitious project? Could the oft-heard advice to "stick to your knitting" actually be a coded exhortation to workers on this New Manhattan Project? Significantly, when I have tried to discuss my theory with scientists they have dared say only one word in reply: the last name of Fraulein Erna Piffl of the SS!

In an important post Angie Schultz pulls together some very suspicious strands. (Strands! hah!) What is the real reason behind these Crocheted Hyperbolic Models? What is the Vauban fortress in the same image trying to tell us? Are you asking me to believe that the University of Bristol's crocheted Lorentz Manifold was made without NATO funding?

By gum, there is evidence for the hyperspatial nature of knitting in my own home. We own a knitted Klein bottle. But I haven't seen it in years. It must be ... somewhere else.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005
The EU arrest warrant might cause governments to race to the bottom. Ed Lud writes:
Natalie, I was interested in your post about this.

It called to mind an article I saw in the Solicitors Journal about two years ago, which argued that the Arrest Warrant would introduce a 'fifth freedom' by the back to door.

No doubt you're aware of the so-called 'four freedoms' guaranteed by the European Union. Well, the argument in this article was that, whereas those freedoms essentially create a levelling-down effect as, for instance, labour or capital are capable of moving around the EU in response to market conditions, thereby (in theory) ensuring that unemployment stays low as workers move to find jobs, or that (again, in theory) capital can find its most efficient utilisation in the best market, the Arrest Warrant would create a levelling-up effect, where governments found themselves competing against one another to ensure that the criminal laws they passed were in no way 'surpassed' by those of other EU jurisdictions; which member state government, after all, would wish to defend the extradition of one of its citizens to another member state to face charges that they could not face in their country of origin?

In short, this fifth freedom would be the first to empower governments rather than private individuals or organisations. And, if I remember correctly, the article in the SJ claimed that this freedom of movement of criminal law - the process by which it would inevitably be levelled upwards as between member states - was explicitly foreseen and even encouraged by the framework treaty (Tampere, I think) which created it. So the problem will be not that, say, British subjects could be extradited to Greece to face charges of 'xenophobia' - which fear was being widely articulated a couple of years back - but that the British government would inevitably enact its own 'xenophobia' laws to prevent such extraditions.

Not good. Not good at all, in my humble.

With all best wotsits, Ed Lud

A synesthete couple. Jim Bennett writes:
I always knew that Vladimir Nabokov had synesthesia, because he wrote about it in Speak, Memory. I liked the detail that Cyrillic letters had a different shade than Latin letters. However I only just found out that his wife Vera (Slonim) was synesthetic also.

[Link to Amazon page for Véra, a biography of Véra Nabokov née Slonim.]

See the review by "a reader".
Apparently the couple would have debates about the color of Monday and the taste of E-flat.

The Abode of Amritas has a seriously cool blogroll. And a seriously cool linguistics and politics blog to go with it.

In an earlier post (OK, I admit it, an earlier post I can't find now) the author, Marc H. Miyake, argues that enthusiasts for the efforts to bring democracy to Iraq (like me) have set up an unfalsifiable argument. If there is a decline in terrorism we say, "This just shows that the Iraqis are rejecting terrorism. Democracy is working." If there is an increase in terrorism we say, "This just shows the terrorists are getting desperate. Democracy is working."

There is some truth in his argument about the arguments we make. I would respond that, despite the occasional lapses of our partisans, the experience of other societies suggests that the liberal democracy / rule of law package does eventually bring about a peaceful society. Spain once had traditions of vendetta as strong as those in Iraq now. Scotland also: Johnson wrote of the Western Islands:

This multifarious, and extensive obligation operated with force scarcely credible. Every duty, moral or political, was absorbed in affection and adherence to the Chief. Not many years have passed since the clans knew no law but the Laird's will. He told them to whom they should be friends or enemies, what King they should obey, and what religion they should profess.
It can also be true that a dying belief-system never looks more strongly held than on the eve of its fall. I find it reasonable to hope that this is true of the Islamofascists: those who begin to feel that the caravan has passed them by become more fanatical in order to extinguish the doubts in their own souls.

By the way, via the Abode of Amritas I found an essay on the new racism in education that I posted about at Samizdata.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005
Patrick Crozier liked the new Dr Who.
I’ve been trying to puzzle out how it was they got this so right. I imagine that the long break since the last series went out in 1989 was a factor. It gave a new generation the chance to re-invent it, to question every aspect of it and to give it a new feel. I also got the impression that after the (ahem) 1996 Dr Who movie there was an element of “we must not fail”. (Indeed, it’s funny to think how similar in many ways the two were - the difference between success and failure is slight indeed.) And I think there was also a deep desire to keep the tradition alive. To a large proportion of the people involved in producing, writing and directing the new series, Dr Who was something that they were brought up with, like Wimbledon and England World Cup exits. The ball was being thrown to them and they had to make damn sure they caught it. Fortunately, they did.
I agree.

Spoiler alert! Bits I particularly liked:

  • The way that the Doctor, gadget in hand to zap the Nestene Consciousness and save the day, very nearly muffed it by trying to negotiate. Perfectly in character. Remember Genesis of the Daleks? Tom Baker, who has but to bring two contacts together to destroy the Daleks before they have had a chance to exist and wreak havoc throughout the galaxy, is suddenly stricken by conscience and asks himself, in an agony of indecision, have I the right? Hands up who else was yelling from behind the sofa, "YES! GET ON WITH IT!"
  • Having said that, it was also good that the viewer was made to feel just a little bit sorry for the Consciousness.
  • There was a good helping of menace before anything happened. The dummies twitching ... could have been accidental. The noise of the wheelie bin moving ... something you could hear on any street. The skilful buildup of menace did a great deal to compensate for the cheap effects in the original series. It doesn't need money and it sticks in your mind clear across the decades. (Given that I was seven at the time it was shown, I don't actually remember the plot of Terror of the Autons at all well. But - gulp - the little troll doll on the back seat of the car coming to life in the warm, that I remember.)
  • Talking of which, starting off with the Autons was a great idea. The sheer scariness of the original Autons, particularly the ones disguised as policemen, prompted complaints from the Viewers' and Listeners' Association and questions in Parliament.
  • Plastic Mickey. Don't blame Billie Piper for burbling away all un-noticing: how conscientious are you in regularly checking up whether your nearest and dearest have been plasticised?
  • Clive and his website. Yes, that's exactly what would happen. Kudos to the scriptwriters for thinking through what has changed in the Earth's response to the Doctor in the last thirty years. In a similar way, I did admire the way that, in the second Terminator film, the writers had thought through what would have happened to the heroine between films One and Two if she insisted on telling her story (sent to the loony bin) and how she would have brought up her child (as a survivalist).

    Poor Clive is gone, albeit with the comfort of knowing in his last moments that he was right all along, but another will spring up in his place. I hope the Doctor has set up a system of news alerts. Or perhaps not: Dr Who traditionally blurs the question of how much the Earth population and/or authorities know. In the U.N.I.T. timeline, where our co-inhabitors of the Earth the Sea Devils, once appeared on the six o'clock news, then everyone ought to say, oh another alien invasion, pass the mustard. But I don't think we are. Everyone acted too surprised.

There is one strange fact that I can exclusively reveal. The street, ostensibly in London, in which the scene with the wheelie bin took place was actually Inverness Place, Cardiff. What this portends for the future development of the plot I do not know.

Synesthesia. Random Jottings linked to the post below, and in the comments Andrea Harris said,
Monday -- white, pale blue, gray -- three vertical stripes in that order from left to right
Tuesday -- dark blue, yellow, dark gray -- I see big lozenges of those colors sort of fitting into each other somehow, this is not very clear
Wednesday -- pale yellow, wheat, ochre -- in mingled brushstrokes kind of like a field of grain
Thursday -- red, dark red, dark blue -- these are in concentric squares
Friday -- red, purple, pink, in wavy lines or blobs
Saturday -- brown, green; a speckled pattern like leaves on water
Sunday -- white, silver, gold; tall leaping patterns like cirrus clouds or spires.

Wow. I said in the earlier post that I didn't "particularly" see colours for days of the week. In fact, the days do weakly suggest certain colours to me, but it's a straight transposition of the cycle of months/seasons onto the weekdays (Sunday is white and pale like January; Thursday is autumn colours) rather than synesthesia. In contrast I can't see any metaphor or association that should make seven green. (No other number has a comparable colour-identity. Four might be pale yellow - or am I making that up as I write? - I can't tell, it slips through my fingers as I pick it up) Judging from the various comments on Normblog and Jottings my perceptions of this are watery and vague compared to some.

Saturday, March 26, 2005
Norman Geras sees days of the week as having colours. So do many of his readers. I don't, not particularly. But the number seven is green.

A billion lives saved. (Salil Singh's article found via Instapundit.) Very few of us will have the skills or be situated in history in such a way that we can do as Norman Borlaug did. But, by God, this has been a life well-lived.

Thursday, March 24, 2005
And you thought prosecutions for blasphemy were a thing of the past. Though the pictures are pretty, as a Christian, I probably would not care for the new book by Gerhard Haderer, an Austrian cartoonist. He depicts Christ as a "binge-drinking friend of Jimi Hendrix and naked surfer high on cannabis." What daring iconoclasm! In 1905, maybe. In 2005, apart from six nonagerian nuns living in enclosed orders and a few hobby-protesters, nobody gives a monkeys.

Yesterday if anyone had made the slightest suggestion that the furore that results from writing such a book qualified a man to be regarded as some sort of martyr for free speech, I'd have retorted that the "furore" had probably been budgeted for to the last euro by the publishers. "Regrettably, Herr Haderer, the market for Christian outrage is not what it was, and we cannot agree to your suggested advance." Or I'd have suggested that if he wants to play martyr he could try it with the Muslims, who are more likely to enter into the spirit of the game.

But by the holy bowels of Jimi Hendrix, the poor little poseur really is in danger of arrest. And do you know why? Because of the European arrest warrant, that's why. An Austrian cartoonist and writer faces extradition to Greece (Greece: why does that not surprise me?) for something he wrote in Austria. I assume that Austria has no law, or dead-letter law, against blasphemy. So he wrote something that was legal in Austria but not in Greece, and now he faces extradition to Greece. He did not even know his wretched book had been published in Greece.

I found this via Public Interest. Peter Briffa points out that when this law was introduced much was said by its sponsors about extraditing foreign criminals to Britain... and very little about the extradition of British people to foreign countries for "crimes" that might well not be crimes at all in Britain.

Perhaps some legally knowledgeable reader can tell me if there is anything at all to stop this happening to, for instance, a British Samizdata contributor, if the authorities in some foreign capital should take a dislike to something he or she had written.

I'm going to cross-post this there.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005
Merry Muslims, Congenial Christians and Jovial Jews. It's the end of a long day so here's a quick non-date-specific thought from the pile I keep in my frontal lobe for just such an emergency.

My son gets Horrible Histories magazine. This publication is tasteless, vulgar and of variable accuracy - and when my son asked me (he was aged eight) "Who is your favourite Habsburg?" I knew that the money for the subscription had been well spent.

The title of nearly every issue has been alliterative, sometimes painfully so. 'Orrible Ottomans, Vile Victorians, you get the idea. Not all the adjectives are uncomplimentary; your civilisation may rate an "Ingenious" or an "Awesome" if required by the demands of mild political correctness or a shortage of adjectives with the required initial letter.

The Youth of Britain must like what they see. (Free putty eyeballs were provided with an early issue, I forget why.) Recently, just as the planned run of sixty issues was coming to its end, the publishers announced that they would publish twenty more due to popular demand. Which is nice, because it gives them twenty more chances to Pull It Off Somehow. Pull What Off Somehow? you ask (in a polite sense, I trust.) Well, they've dealt with some pretty thorny issues in a reasonably tasteful way. Er, not tasteful, exactly; very much the contrary, but acceptable within the genre. The HH writers do get the tone right, switching at just the right moment from ghoulish relish to little touches of actual pity when considering the victims of some gruesome punishment or plague. The width of coverage has also been admirable, for a kids' magazine. The writers have touched on everything from the fall of the statues on Easter Island to the horrible childhood of Ivan the Terrible. However one vast chunk of history has been left out...

I can sympathise. I really can. How does a magazine like this deal with the founders of the world's Judeo-Christian religions? The crimes and oddities of their successors, no problem. The Inquisition had a double page spread. And Buddhism and Hinduism were sketched out in the India issue: the less personalised and politicised nature of these religions makes it easier. But when it comes to the stupendously historically important stories of Moses, or Abraham, or Mohammed, or Jesus... so far, nada. As there are only two episodes of the original print run left to go, I assume they were originally planning to fold up their tents and steal away without dealing with it all.

It's hard to blame them. My stomach is turning over at the potential for offence, outrage and potential prosecution if and when the proposed religious hatred law comes in, and it's not even my hot potato.

I think they are aware of the problem. The little timeline that comes with each issue seems to go out of its way to include events from the Bible, Torah and Koran.

But, despite their pivotal contribution to world history, and the availability of alliterative adjectives beginning with I, H or J, the Jews haven't even had an issue to themselves yet. (The Holocaust has been covered in the WWII issue. Some very careful writing there.) Nor have the early Muslim conquests been covered.

I shall watch the next twenty issues with interest.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005
A guest of their Lordships. Lord Ahmed invited "Israel Shamir" to speak in the House of Lords. Now perhaps, as Stephen Pollard charitably speculates he just made a terrible mistake and didn't check out the material put out by Shamir, or whatever he calls himself now, on his website. But I dunno. You don't have to have delved particularly deep in the waters where extreme left and extreme right meet to know that Shamir is a raving Jew-hater and a believer in the blood libel: an anti-semite with the first name "Israel" kind of sticks in the mind on first hearing.

What I find interesting is that this speech (comparatively mild for Shamir; just check out the other quotes Stephen Pollard gives, or Shamir's own website) was given a month ago.

A month ago. I hadn't heard about it, had you?

Sam Nujoma stepped down as president of Namibia the other day. This editorial from the Kenyan newspaper The Nation points out that presidents stepping down is much more common in Africa than it was a few years ago.
Maybe that is what is so remarkable - that it is becoming routine for African heads of state to bow out gracefully after serving out their terms or losing elections.

Not too long ago, most of Africa was under dictators - military or civilian - and no president relinquished power except through death or through a bloody military coup - often itself causing many deaths, imprisonments or exile.

President Nujoma's voluntary exit - after 15 years in power since the country gained independence - and the installation of his democratically elected successor, President Hifikepunye Pohamba, may demonstrate that democracy is becoming firmly entrenched in Africa.

Kenya is one of the countries that have successfully negotiated democratic transitions, as have numerous other countries in southern, eastern, western and northern Africa.

Let it spread. Because it's true, as the article later complains, that when we think of Africa we think of Darfur - and despair.

Monday, March 21, 2005
What Brings Us Together As Europeans. Tim Worstall's Britblog roundup led me to one of the funniest fiskings I have ever read. A pro-Europe article by Tim Garton-Ash of the Guardian was, as Dr Johnson recommended be done with cucumbers, "well sliced, and dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out, as good for nothing."

Thank you, BTW, to whoever it was that nominated a recent post of mine to the roundup.

Sunday, March 20, 2005
Same person or not? Bjørn Stærk has been following the career of Mullah Krekar, a refugee living in Norway and much feted by Norweigan progressives, for several years now. He may or may not be a past or current leader of the terrorist organisation Ansar al-Islam. Trevor Stanley spotted a picture that looked awfully like the respectable Mullah Krekar in a magazine article about information discovered on the drive of an Al-Qaeda computer after the fall of the Taliban. Is the central picture of the same man as in the two framing pictures or not?

The question is not rhetorical. To me the space between the Al-Qaeda man's eyes looks wider than the space between Krekar's. But that could be the lighting.

Also check out the post below, in which Mr Stærk takes on a major Norweigian newspaper and gets a fine display of evasiveness and deliberate missing of the point in return.

Oh, boy. Also also check out this post in which he takes on a blogger, Bernhard of 'Moon of Alabama', who posted a genuine-looking fake news story, which he admits to be fake, admits could mislead, and of which he says:

If people are mislead by this it's fine with me. Maybe they will ask their government who pays for these aids. That should be helpful to find out who has the moral responsibility for the disinformation terror campaign.
The story has been pre-emptively defined as "satire" despite an entirely naturalistic presentation. There is a lot of tittering about how poor foreign Bjørn does not get American humour; good ol' Bernhard is always doing this sort of thing and all his friends are in on the joke. Bernhard and his defenders don't see it as a problem that people casually finding the story via Google would be misled, as has, in fact happened: the story is circulating in Norweigian left wing circles. That, to them, is a feature not a bug. For instance blogger Norvegia disseminated the story as fact and when informed that it was not fact promptly and conscientiously amended his post... by adding a question mark to the title.

The "it's fake but accurate" defenses offered in the comments by Bernhard and his supporters such as Norvegia are far more damning to them than any attack could ever be.

Though, since I'm here, Bjørn Stærk's English spelling is better than Bernhard's.

Saturday, March 19, 2005
More about that Lancet study. [This post has had material gradually added to it as I thought of new things to say.]

Via this post by Squander Two I found this post by John B of Shot by Both Sides, which is followed by extensive debate in the comments.

Here's my reason for thinking the Lancet Study [out of date link now updated] over-counted. (For convenience I will talk about the oft-quoted headline figure of 100,000 excess deaths, though of course the study itself had a very wide range of possible figures.) Why the devil should a war in which the side making the running, in this case the Americans, had every motive to minimise civilian casualties, kill at a higher rate than wars where the dominant side either did not give a fig for civilian well-being or actively sought to kill civilians? A killing rate in Iraq comparable to Darfur (this article discusses the difficulties of counting deaths in that conflict), or to the Dutch Hongerwinter of 1944? It doesn't seem likely. Furthermore I am not often one to enthuse about the ability of a command economy to keep people fed and sheltered, but it seems crazy to me to suppose that the vast sums of effort and money the Americans put into rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure had so little effect.

And here's my take on what actually happened to make the study show figures as high as it did: (1) I think some of the interviewees falsely claimed to have lost relatives as a result of the war in the hope of getting compensation. (2) I think some of the interviewees exaggerated their indirect losses in order to feel important, to gain the psychological payoff of being hard done by, to restore their pride, and to pay out the Americans for defeating them in war. (This bundle of motives could be shared by those who felt that the American invasion was a good thing, as well as those who thought it was a bad thing.)

To you who are gearing up to call me overly harsh, or even racist, in these assumptions about the Iraqi interviewees, stow it. I describe human behaviour, not exclusively Iraqi behaviour. Times are hard in Iraq. All can agree on that. The atmosphere in any country at war, or just after a war, has something of Harry Lime's Vienna about it. Deals and scams abound, as people who in happier times could have let the current of orthodox renumerative activity carry them along learn new stratagems to snatch or scavenge scarce resources. (Angling for compensation and exaggeration for political purposes aren't exactly unknown in the rich, safe West either, and with far less excuse.) Iraqis have heard of, and perhaps observed, this strange Western habit of giving money to victims of war. One does not have to assume the slightest impropriety on the part of the study designers or interviewers to find it plausible that a certain proportion of respondents will say, "Ah yes, my sister's poor babe was stillborn. No, we did not report it. What would have been the point in all that chaos? We dared not leave the house at that time. We buried her in the garden." Some will say that because it is true. That should always be remembered. But some will also say it because, who knows, it might pay off ¹ - and what are these researchers going to do to check, start digging the lawn?

Moving on from the discussion of what the facts are to the discussion of who has moral authority to speculate about them ... what you have to remember is that John B likes to tease. That's why his blog has the address it has. (""; to me "" would be only slightly more offensive.) His blog is miles better, and his attitudes miles more humane, than the URL suggests, but he is out to rattle a few cages. That's why he said,

"If you don't accept that the 100,000 number from the Lancet study on Iraq war causalties represents a probable lower bound (given its exclusion of Falluja, where we appear to have killed everyone) on the number of Iraqis who died in the 18 months following the war and otherwise wouldn't have died in the 18 months following the war, and you do not have a PhD in a statistical discipline, then you are an ignorant bigot."
At first I thought this sarcasm, particularly given the bit about Fallujah, but apparently he means it, though, as I said, I am sure he also intends to provoke. OK, I'll bite. Science, particularly social science and medicine is full of the most elegant and mathematically self-consistent results subverted by human hope, fear, malice, cupidity, humour ² or general slipperiness. William Broad and Nicholas Wade's book "Betrayers of the Truth" lists some of them. It is mis-titled, being as illuminating about self-deception and gullibility as about outright fraud and deceit.

And another thing. We know the authors of the study are a long way from the ideal of scientific impartiality because of the way they rushed it out to appear before the US election. Bad form, old boy. We also know they, or at least one of them, Roberts, is deceiving us or (more likely) deceiving himself because he made the absurd claim that the rush job wasn't intended to influence the result of the election one way or another. Does anyone believe that?

ADDED LATER: Here's my earlier post on the study from back when it came out.

¹ ADDED LATER STILL: When I made up that little scenario I was thinking of this passage from the summary:

"When violent deaths were attributed to a faction in the conflict or to criminal forces, no further investigation into the death was made to respect the privacy of the family and for the safety of the interviewers. The deceased had to be living in the household at the time of death and for more than 2 months before to be considered a household death.

Within clusters, an attempt was made to confirm at least two reported non-infant deaths by asking to see the death certificate. Interviewers were initially reluctant to ask to see death certificates because this might have implied they did not believe the respondents, perhaps triggering violence. Thus, a compromise was reached for which interviewers would attempt to confirm at least two deaths per cluster. Confirmation was sought to ensure that a large fraction of the reported deaths were not fabrications. Death certificates usually did not exist for infant deaths and asking for such certificates would probably inflate the fraction of respondents who could not confirm reported deaths. The death certificates were requested at the end of the interview so that respondents did not know that confirmation would be sought as they reported deaths."

² Anyone know if it's true or myth that an anthropologist - Margaret Mead? - once claimed that some South Seas islanders did not know that sex led to babies, citing as evidence the fact that certain islanders had solemnly told her that her theory of conception must be wrong - for had not that woman there given birth last month even though her husband had been away on a sea voyage for two years?

It's GO! Good point from the EU Serf:
I always thought that NGO meant Non Governmental Organisation. How come any of them get money from the state?

"We cannot control guns and we don't have to, either," writes Michael Coren in the Toronto Sun. "What we have to control is the decaying social fabric of North America and our headlong, happy rush into an ethical vacuum."

I'm not sure I entirely agree with his uncompromisingly conservative prescription. But I agree with the diagnosis, and not just for North America.

Talking of which, I read a surprising report in the Scotsman about Michael Howard. Howard has long been a hate-figure for British shooters for his role, as Home Secretary in John Major's government, in bringing in the firearms legislation after Dunblane. (He proposed banning most handguns, the incoming Labour government banned all of them.) Howard now says it all went too far. The Gun Control Network disagreed, and defended the ban: "That’s not to be complacent but it does mean that if you take action as we did after Dunblane, it does have an effect." It does indeed.

Friday, March 18, 2005
"Remounting his burning vehicle for the third time..." That says it all really. And just to prove that it was no one off, Private Johnson Beharry VC (as he now is) did almost the same thing a few weeks later.

Pte Beharry is the first living man to receive the Victoria Cross since 1969.

More on "the impossible". JEM writes:

Call me picky, but what you discuss is not the impossible, but the highly unlikely. The impossible is, well, impossible--by definition.

I was brought up to see things this way:

The race is not always to the swift,
Nor the battle to the strong,
But that's the way to bet.

The examples you quote, of the Battle of Britain and the Peninsular War, are certainly fine examples of success in the face of apparently impossible odds, but this is like arguing the validity of second sight on the basis of the few cases where predictions comes true while ignoring the vastly more numerous ones where they do not.

From the same wars that you found your two examples, I could illustrate the exact opposite. Napoleon, and then in due course Hitler, both overturned conventional military wisdom and advice to invade Russia.

In the words of Field Marshal Montgomery, the three essential rules of war in Europe are:

1. Do not invade Russia.
2. Do not invade Russia.
3. Do not invade Russia.

He was right.

Call me picky, but the Mongols managed it. Then again, that's not Europe.

Johan P. Bakker writes back:
Dutch speaker? I should cocoa!


Have a wonderful day!


(This might be useful to confused readers.) I did have a wonderful day; neglecting my work and doing amateur carpentry in the sunshine. I took some surplus planks from the plank storage rack on top of our home-built bicycle shed and, by careful placement of a few screws, put them to good use as part of the plank storage rack on top of our home-built bicycle shed.

OK. Less dead wood, more British slang. 'Geezer' writes:

Your obnoxious politician Clare Short was quoted in an American blog as saying: "America is going to do what it likes or hard cheese." I haven't a clue what this means, if anything. Can you help me out?
'Course I can, me old china. Hard cheese means tough titty.

Sympathetic magic. Kelly Jones, lead singer of the Stereophonics sparked a security alert at Heathrow... by wearing a T-shirt with a picture of a gun on it. The story doesn't say whether he eventually was let through still wearing the dangerous piece of printed cloth or whether he had to change into a safe piece of cloth.

(Via Liberator Online.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2005
Dutch speed cameras are no joke. Johan P. Bakker of Brighton, MI, writes:
I enjoy your blog, every day. And I agree that the photo captions which you mentioned from the blog 'Dutch Report' leave something to be desired.

But, for the Dutch reader, it is well-worth the effort to click through from 'Dutch Report' to the full coverage of this on the website '', which is dedicated to resisting the over-zealous enforcement of speed limits in all the various and wonderful ways in which that is done in the Netherlands.

'Traject controlle' - literally, 'journey watching' - is a different kind of system in that it does not catch speeding motorists at a single location by measuring instantaneous speed, but rather by identifying vehicles at various locations at various times and then calculating how fast they must have driven to get from one point to the other.

The full report shows that this was an organized action in which the control and processor units for this system at various locations were all destroyed at more-or-less the same time, and destroyed with a vengeance. The captions in the report are much, much funnier, I assure you . . .

I'm guessing from this that Mr Bakker is a Dutch speaker. I was interested - academically, constable, academically - to hear more from him about this dinstinctly Orwellian control system and the apparently highly organised act of sabotage that laid it low (temporarily, no doubt). In several different ways I suspect Holland today gives you a foretaste of Britain tomorrow.

However I must correct one misapprehension. I found the captions as written in "Dutch Report" hilarious! The tone starts off sounding like what an earnest young police recruit or a junior reporter for the local paper would write in his notebook when attending his very first crime scene, and then slides into open mockery. I assumed that the author wrote them in that way in order to raise a laugh. But I could easily be wrong: humour across national boundaries is a tricky thing.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005
Not meant for the likes of us. Via EU Serf I found this post from a Dutch blog called "Dutch Report." The subject is the European Constitution:
1) Never vote in favor for something that is going to change a lot of things, but which nobody can explain to you.

2) Never vote for a constitution that you cannot understand. Because that is not a constitution meant for you.

Staying with "Dutch Report," I must say that I found the captions to the pictures of non-functioning car surveillance cameras in this post most helpful and informative.

Monday, March 14, 2005
In the words of Crocodile Dundee...

"That's not a demonstration ... THIS is a demonstration."

In the sunset of his years. Iain Murray argues that the fact that Tony Blair gave in to Opposition demands that the Prevention of Terrorism Bill be renewed every year - a "sunset clause in all but name" - shows that Blair has lost his mastery of Parliament.

Equally important is that Michael Howard seems to be getting back his principles.

Two peculiar institutions. My regular correspondent ARC writes with some...

...reflections on the essay by Lee Harris about the 'peculiar institution' of Palestinian terrorism that you linked to.

Apart from its title, which prompts some thoughts, I'm not so impressed with it. Harris is much concerned about 'the impossible being the immoral'. Quite apart from the fundamental philosophical issue, who decides what is impossible?

- Firstly, some people's idea of the possible is as narrow as a piece of paper seen end-on. In 1940, there were those on both left and right (the people's convention crowd, Lord Halifax momentarily, etc.) who thought Churchill was being very unrealistic in ignoring Hitler's peace offer. Such cross-party stupidity has been common in our history: "Who is there mad enough to expect that we shall be able to drive the French out of the Peninsula?", asked leading Whig Sir William Fremantle in the house of commons in early 1811. The kind of answer he got may by judged by (Tory) Lord Liverpool's letter to Wellington, "Your chances of success are considered here by all persons, military as well as civil, so improbable, that I could not recommend any attempt at what might be called desperate resistance." (King George III was almost the sole exception; he may of course have been the 'mad enough' person Fremantle had in mind)

- Secondly, the blatantly impossible can happen. When the emperor Hadrian decided that ethnic cleansing would effect a final solution of the Jewish problem back in the second century, he must have felt sure that the prophecy of their survival and ultimate return was utterly ludicrous.

I did not find this example as persuasive as the first two, owing to the long timescale. Consideration of the reasons for what ARC calls the "two-millenia staying power of the Jews" takes us outside the ordinary run of history and into the realms of religious delusion according to some observers and divinely-appointed destiny according to others. It would be a foolhardy politician who presumed to make policy on the grounds that his cause had parallels with matters arising from the Covenant of Abraham. However "the ordinary run of history" offers many other examples of results so startling that they could almost be called impossible. ARC continues:

The idea that an achievable goal is necessary to making a war just has certainly been advanced before. It has always seemed to me to reflect a confusion of means and ends. Neither a wrong war, nor a wrong way of war, are made right by being used for an achievable end.
There are two propositions: (1) an achievable goal is necessary to making a war just; and (2) a wrong war, or a wrong way of war, can be made right by being used for an achievable end. I am more inclined to agree with (1) than (2), though I take note of ARC's argument that people will disagree, and, indeed, lie, about what is truly achievable. (Which is one reason why we now see anti-racists, who would have laughed to scorn those justifications for the British Empire that said the natives had not yet achieved a cultural level sufficient for independence, trotting out lines about how the Iraqis have not yet achieved a cultural level sufficient for democracy. The best tactic to ensure democracy is not achieved is to say that it is unachievable.) "Achievability" and "necessity" don't have parallel status when it comes to justifying wars, but both matter, and with both it is difficult to tell the true version from the false.

Descending a little from these high concepts, ARC then responds to this line of mine:

> Southern slaverowners and Palestinian terrorists both wowed
> the foreign girls with their brooding, tragic, sexy, dangerous,
> gun-totin' ways.
He says:

The South did reject intifada. At Appomatox, the idea of continuing the war guerrilla-style was put to Lee who replied that the soldiers "would be under no discipline ... The country would be full of lawless bands in every part, and a state of society would ensue from which it would take the country years to recover." That state can be studied in the Palestinian areas today. Would the left ever admit that the people they love to hate were better than the people they love to excuse?
I was aware that General Lee refused to pursue a guerilla war, in part from conversation with ARC. It is one of the many principled acts that made Lee a leader worthy of a better cause. My point was more limited: simply that part of the appeal of Palestinian terrorists, at least to some women, is sex appeal. Some women like dangerous men.

UPDATE: ARC, having telephoned my husband to ask him a question about something else entirely, was roped in by me to explain further about that Hadrian example. He recast his argument as something like this: "If one is looking for an argument to dissuade a Palestinian from terrorism, the argument 'it is impossible for you to regain the land you feel is yours' will certainly not work. Such a person is likely to be more aware than most that the Jews held on for two thousand years until the impossible became possible. Although ARC himself might doubt that the Palestinians would do the same, a Palestinian, particularly one motivated by religion, would not doubt. Better (on several levels) to stick to unassailable arguments of principle: terrorism is wrong."

Sunday, March 13, 2005
I wanted to give a wider airing to the eighteenth comment to this Samizdata piece by Brian Micklethwait, mostly, to be honest, because the comment is by me.
Jim, I read some way in to that "Counting Chickens Before* They Hatch" piece before semi-giving up and skimming the rest. Unimpressive, you may say, but we're talking 76 pages of highly mathematical text here.

OK, it looked a closely reasoned and serious piece of work. I agreed with its argument that different types of aid (emergency / long term / short term) must be disaggregated and that each type needs different assessment periods. But I don't intend to surrender my deep scepticism about whether most government aid works yet. Nor will I accept the idea that I should wait until I know what a regression analysis is before I dare comment.

For one thing, I'm pretty sure that there are equally mathematical and serious papers giving other messages. Indeed, they are mentioned.

More fundamentally, I think that "Counting Chickens when they hatch" suffers from something almost all aid literature also suffers from: not seeing the woods for the trees.

While it did try to compare what did happen to what would have happened without aid, by bringing in regional growth comparators etc., what I want to do is to ask what would have happened if this entire vast movement had not taken place? What if the whole mindset of Africa as recipient, Africa as pauper, Africa as guilt-sink, Africa as playground of anti-colonialist, nationalist and socialist dreams; this mindset confirmed by a billion separate interactions, had not got off the ground?

What if Africa had been like Taiwan?
I think you get a much richer Africa.

I can see that this is essentially unverifiable. I can't help that. But Taiwan is richer than the Sudan, when it wasn't fifty years ago.
*Actually it's "when they hatch" not "before they hatch." I did get the title right further down the page.

The great twelfth century rabbi Maimonides ranked eight types of giving in order of virtue. One could construct a ladder of international aid on the same lines. "UN-to-dictator, no strings attached" aid would be worst but I am not decided on the other internal rankings.

My Micklethwait links always come in flocks. Here's an earlier post dealing with why people had good reason to be more generous with money to help victims of the tsunami than with other causes. Aid that is intended to help the recipient to self-sufficiency may well be nobler than short-term aid, but the devil, especially when dealing with nations rather than individuals, lies in defining what actions will lead to self-sufficiency. Or what self-sufficiency actually is. God rest the souls of the myriad Africans and Asians who died demonstrating that tariff barriers and import substitution were the wrong way to go.

UPDATE: By the way, Jim replies later in those Samizdata comments.

Why, thanks, guys! Over at Political Site of the Day I am, er, it.

In the company of Insta-fave Ann Althouse, no less, and other blogs and websites of left and right.

Friday, March 11, 2005
James Bartholemew says
"It is revealed in several newspapers today that the London School of Economics has been operating a secret quota system to favour the admission of state-educated students. It has been doing this, no doubt, because of the pressure from the government."
(Telegraph and Guardian accounts confirm what he said.)

Secret quotas? In open, progressive, meritocratic Britain? I thought that sort of thing was what the Old Boy network in Britain used to do to keep out grammar school oiks, or the Ivy League in the US used to do to keep out Jews.

In many ways the most interesting part of this story is that the quotas were secret. ("These notes are for guidance only and should not under any circumstances be discussed with any member of the public, including students, parents and schools.") When those who want to assign university places by class in the manner of Mao's China feel confident enough to be open about it, then we should fear.

And the particular segment of "we" that should fear the most is those who are being educated, or whose children are being educated, in poorly performing state schools. Reform is a painful process at the best of times. Why reform when there is an actual incentive to have bad results?

UPDATE: Since writing the part of the post above that implied the secrecy was reassuring, a counter-argument has belatedly occurred to me. The secret nature of the quotas allows the degree to which bad state schools are bad to be hidden for longer.

"Teenagers who killed friend with scythes get life," says the Guardian in a headline about a horrifying recent case. Other outlets have used similar words.


Find some other way to convey that this was not a case of murder by strangers.

UPDATE: I'm not the only one to notice. I must have missed this when it came out, just as the case was going to trial.

"You are surprised by..." ... the fact, discovered via Ace of Spades, that the Israeli Army discriminates against D & D players. Apparently the army shrinks think that D & D players should be given low security clearance as they are "detached from reality and susceptible to influence." Ace responds vigorously to this slur:

And as far as "susceptible to influence" -- well, that's why I wear a Talisman of Free Will. Duh.

All the comments say the "detached from reality" video clip is hilarious. Pity I couldn't make it work.

(Via Silflay hraka.)

Thursday, March 10, 2005
Reality TV. The Times reports on the Iraqi TV show that consists of confessions from insurgents.

I figure it must be effective:

Insurgents have begun a propaganda counter-offensive, denouncing the tapes as fakes and threatening to impose “God’s justice” on the station’s employees — a threat apparently made real with the killing of Raeda Wazan, an anchor- woman, last month.
Another journalist working for the station, Abdul Hussein al-Basri, was murdered in February, together with his young son. Some accounts put the child's age at three, others say he was six.

Journalists are indeed being deliberately targeted in Iraq.

Oddities of human behaviour. In Spain, one year after the Madrid bombs, there is a memorial to the slain that consists of
metal keyboards on which you can type a message of commemoration or solidarity, linked to a scanned image of your hand. Between the two memory machines hang large white cylinders on which people can write whatever they like. "Never again", features several times. "Aznar, Bush and Blair are the assassins."
Actually it was some other people.

Sunday, March 06, 2005
Distributed stupidity.

My kids could use the TV remote at two and a half. Did I sit next to them while they watched of a morning, explaining all the disturbing bits in Thomas The Tank Engine? Nah. This is real life. I had romper suits to wash, sheets to change and all the other exciting details of housewifery. I popped in and out, as you do. Let'em choose themselves between Bear in the Big Blue House and Thomas. There's even more choice nowadays. Tweenies, Razzledazzle, or a man sticking a needle into his groin.

Saturday, March 05, 2005
"Pass the exam and you are free to go," says the Adam Smith blog to fourteen year olds. Theoretical fourteen year olds of a theoretical future when we have stopped imprisoning people until they are eighteen.

Typical ASI proposal. I object on principle: 14 year olds should be free to go without passing any test. But politically, this might be a winner. Like council house sales or a flat tax it's the sort of thing that can weasel its way through cracks in the the statist walls.

Bizarro mondo: Year Ten classes where the un-academic pupils said to the ones who were headed to university, "Stop mucking about, willya? Can't you see I'm trying to work?" Imagine.

Friday, March 04, 2005
On a much more serious note Photon Courier also links to an essay by Lee Harris about the 'peculiar institution' of Palestinian terrorism. Harris is a lot softer on the Stern Gang and the Algerian terrorists than I would be, but it's a valuable essay.

Southern slaverowners and Palestinian terrorists both wowed the foreign girls with their brooding, tragic, sexy, dangerous, gun-totin' ways.

Lapine Wisdom Part I. I found A Constrained Vision via Photon Courier (and via the fact the blog title is a Thomas Sowell quote). It's full of erudite posts. But I am going to link to the really important one about making sure the first words you say every month are "rabbit rabbit."

That makes at least three people over two continents who know the secret. We used to say it at school in South London. Used to. I hadn't thought of it for decades. Now I know why I'm not rich.

However, please be warned that "tibbar tibbar" last thing in the month is rank superstition.

Thursday, March 03, 2005
Laban Tall has once more collected together several accounts of postal vote fraud. (The drawing together of stories from different newspapers to demonstrate that individual instances are part of a trend is a valuable public service that blogs are well placed to perform. Jim Miller has been doing something on the same lines in the US.)

Ironic, isn't it? Histories of the Labour movement used to proudly refer back to the Chartists and their struggle for the secret ballot. Now the Labour party are returning us to the days of the master of the house decreeing the way his household will vote. A Labour government now thinks it is too late to protect the general election from voting fraud. Too late? How can it be "too late" for a government to protect the integrity of the process to which they owe their legitimacy? If a man is convicted by a jury that is latter found to have been bribed or intimidated do we say, oh, too late now, he's already in prison?

The European Commission, anxious to lead the field in every category of human excellence, has defined Chutzpah.

Squander Two is having hosting problems. Normally resident here, he is temporarily to be found at

Oh, and he's looking for cheap web hosts whose parents were legally married.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005
The law on "charity" collections - and on non charity-collections. Stewart writes:
Many years in Local Authority "Enforcement" have led me to the conclusion that people just make assumptions about what the legislation they enforce actually says.

House to house collections have to be licensed because charity collections have to be licensed because the "law says so".

Assuming that the legislation on this web site is up to date, then as Lunetex are NOT purporting to collect for charitable purposes but for private profit they seem to fall outwith the licensing provisions of the Act. (See the preamble to the Act, Section 1 and the definition of "charitable purposes" in section 6).

South Cambridgeshire actually state: "LUNETEX are collecting in Sawston Village Tomorrow (Thursday) - This company are a commercial organisation, not a charity, and they alone profit from any monies made from the sale of goods they collect" so why do they think the collection is "illegal"?

Good question. In fact, if ever this provision should become widely known, it might become commonplace for organisations that were actually charities to pretend to be profit-making. If they could get over the anti-profit prejudice, that is.

I do not want to give the impression that I am a believer in "charity bad, profit good." I believe it is blessed to give - but that does not make it cursed to make a profit. Nor does it mean that the giver should turn off his or her brain: there are situations where a profit relationship has greater long term stability and equality of status than a charity relationship. (Few people would want to go to work every day just for love of their employers, for instance.) It's beyond my knowlege to say whether getting old clothes to the Third World for re-use is one of those situations, but then again I don't have to know. Let those who wish try both approaches.

The advantages of a charity over a commercial organisation for sheer, concentrated doing-of-good are well known. But sometimes it might go the other way. It could be that for-profit clothes re-sellers might concentrate more on what their customers want rather than what is deemed to be good for them by people far away. They also might disrupt local clothes merchants less.

Stewart makes another good point about how many who enforce the law have a cavalier attitude to what the law actually says. Often they seek to enforce a climate of opinion.

Would you dare go back to the place where a suicide bomber killed a hundred-plus people the other day and demonstrate against terrorism? They would.

(Via Instapundit.)

Tuesday, March 01, 2005
Technology, the avenger. Here is a thorough rundown on developments in the Ward Churchill affair from David Kopel.

The plagiarism and falsification of sources will get him in the end. The web has made academic crimes much less safe. And it's done so retrospectively. Many a professor who had almost forgotten the part a little manipulation of citations had played in his early career must now wake up with a slight nagging fear every morning.

It's almost as bad for them as it is for the murderers.

Profits warning. The other day we had a flyer from an outfit called "Lunetex" through the door asking us to leave out bags of old clothes which they would then pass on to the Third World. Near the bottom of the flyer in not particularly small print it said that -

Oh, it's too awful, too shameful. I can hardly bear to say it. It said that Lunetex was a profit making company rather than a charity.

Thank heavens that there are still decent people around who hold fast to the knowledge that the only permitted relationship between Britain and the Third World is that of donor and mendicant.

People like the South Cambridgeshire District Council who advise us thus:


Dear All,

Please be aware that certain companies appear to be trying to "cash-in" on the recent appeals surrounding the Earthquake and Tsunami disaster with illegal Street and House-to-House Collections.

There are presently no legal collections booked in to cover the South Cambridge District in reference to the above so please be wary when donating clothing or other articles requested - such as the current leaflet from LUNETEX, who are not licensed to collect in this District.

All licensed house-to-house collectors have official identification badges (green in colour) certificates issued by HMSO and a licence issued by the Council. If a collector can not provide you with these they are not licenced.

LUNETEX are collecting in Sawston Village Tomorrow (Thursday) - This company are a commercial organisation, not a charity, and they alone profit from any monies made from the sale of goods they collect.

If you require further information on Charity Collections please contact the licensing Section on 08450 450 063.
Here's another one, from the ever-vigilant guardians of the village of Milton who say:
A company called Lunetex has been putting leaflets through doors around the village collecting clothes etc for "the third world". If you have missed this last time SCDC have put out warnings about this sort of thing. We've seen Olonex come and go, and Merico, and Realmday. Now they seem to be born again (again) as Lunetex.

Please don't give them anything, as their own leaflet makes clear they are not a charity. If you have items you want to give away then the scouts hold regular jumble sales and reputable charities such as the Salvation Army collect in the village fairly regularly. So save it for one of them.
(Please tell your friends and neighbours about this one too.)
Actually, following the links, it seems both warnings come ultimately from the same official, Juli Stallabrass.

Now, in case you are wondering, I am not on the board of Lunetex, Olonex, Merico or Realmday. Never heard of any of 'em before I got the flyer. For all I know they are wicked, wicked people. The repeated changes of name do sound a bit dodgy. There is a hint that they were not always as upfront about their profit-making nature as they are now. However, given that the leaflet I saw was perfectly frank on that issue, I am a little at a loss to see what exactly is supposed to be so bad about what they are doing.

South Cambridgeshire District Council itself runs recycling centres. People are urged to pass their old cardboard and bottles on to the council who will, er, sell them to recycling companies. I thought for a moment that that was the distinction: getting a virtuous glow from giving stuff you don't need away to bodies who will then sell it for profit is OK so long as the body concerned is South Cambridgeshire District Council. I suppose the argument would be that it keeps down the Community Charge - only that can't be it, because the same council also advises businesses on how best to donate stuff directly to recycling companies. Really, all I'm left with as an explanation for why Lunetex should arouse such ire is that they make it slightly less likely that people will give old clothes to charities (so do eBay, car boot sales, and the small ads column of any local paper) or that they dare to make a profit out of semi-charitable recycling without the blessing of a priestly caste - i.e. without a licence from the Licensing Department.