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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Sunday, March 26, 2006
Miss Manners and global sharia. Funny how this issue of thanks or the lack of them resonated. Kember, poor guy, will probably spend the rest of his life having to say that YES, OK, he was grateful to be rescued.

(Seriously, I am very glad that he will have a "rest of his life" in which to enjoy the pleasures of home, liberty and family - and, credit where it's due, I am sure he is just the type not to lose his temper.)

I think that the reaction to the initial failure to thank the soldiers merely brought to a point the general disagreement that most people, including most of those who opposed the Iraq war, have with the Christian Peacemaker Teams and other similar pacifists or semi-pacifists.

Most people feel that the armed forces perform a useful function. The Christian Peacemaker Teams do not feel this. On a day to day basis they don't think that the rough men who guard us while we sleep ought to be doing it, so naturally they are not grateful. In a sense Mr Kember is inconsistent to start being grateful to the soldiers who rescued him in Baghdad, having seen nothing to be grateful for in the actions of the soldiers, sailors and airmen who guarded him all his life at home in Pinner.

There's no point in being annoyed when people simply act according to their own axioms. The thing to argue about is the axioms themselves.

That's why I don't hold it against Muslims when I hear that many of them want sharia law to be instituted worldwide. From the very fact that they are Muslims it should come as no surprise that they think it would be best for all of us if we lived by the divinely ordained sharia.

I don't have any intention of doing so, but the point at which I start disagreeing with them comes earlier and the point at which I start objecting comes later.

Britblog roundup is here again.

Do you cheque yt out that Geoffrey Chaucher hath a blog.

UPDATE: JEM thinks it ought to be "blogge". I read somewhere that they added the double consonants or not according to whether a longer or shorter word would right-justify the line.

Friday, March 24, 2006
Abdul Rahman - so what do we actually do? Read Doug Payton of Blogger News Network on Abdul Rahman, the Afghan convert to Christianity who faces death because he will not give up his faith.

When I think of the contrast between the type of martyr Abdul Rahman will be if the worst happens and the "martyrs" who target women and children in Israel, I am angry. Much good that does. Payton writes:

So what do we do? I think it's time to handle Afghanistan the way we handle any other democratic country; apply diplomatic pressure. I think the words coming from the Bush administration are what we should be doing, and perhaps negotiating with the Afghan government to try to resolve this in such a way that hopefully it will enlighten some folks there. What would be really great would be for American Muslims to raise their voices against this situation, and note how well they are treated here and how well freedom of religion works when it's properly done.

Self-government is a learned behavior. You don't learn it by voting in a few elections. However (and to "georgia10's" surprise, perhaps), you'll never get there without a bunch of purple fingers first.

"This is pretty damning." USS Neverdock links to a story from ABC News that says recently released documents from Saddam's Iraq suggest that the Russian Ambassador gave Saddam US war plans.

As Marc Landers asks, "Who gave the war plans to the Russians?"

The second and final documents push different ways on the question of whether Saddam's Iraq and Al-Qaeda were cooperating. Given the propensity of dictators to keep their subordinates from knowing too much about each others' doings, I see nothing to surprise in the picture of one of Saddam's agencies dealing with Al-Qaeda while others had no idea what was going on.

Pointless terminological change of the week. Half a dozen worthy points could be made when commenting on this story on children in local authority care. You handle that side of it, I'd just like to ask why what everyone used to call "children in care" have now become "looked-after children"? Were the "cared-for" children, also mentioned in the story, an intermediate stage in this transformation?

The new term offers no advantage, unless you count the opportunity it gives for cynics to observe that these children cannot be described as "looked-after" without some risk of terminological inexactitude.

Turkeyblog remembers the Detroit Free Press of his youth.
The focus of the Detroit Free Press with which I grew up was that all Detroit needed was for the poor to find a decent way to surrender their livelihoods and luxuries with sufficient grace that they wouldn't get killed. That way, their perpetual victimization could be relegated to the police blotter instead of putting Detroit on everyone's front page again.
The last line brings his memoirs up to date.

Sir Benjamin Slade is looking for an heir in the Colonies. His own family won't do. They don't know what Sir John Slade did in the Peninsular War, the bounders. (Belated hat tip: ARC.)


In Ken Livingstone's case, however, I think we can figure it out. Harry's Place and Adloyada have the story.

Unfortunately for Mr Livingstone's reputation, no report has suggested that he made his remarks while drunk.

I am left with the disturbing thought that the whole drama, and the certainty that it would be reported, might constitute a form of ... waving across a crowded room to his friends.

Thursday, March 23, 2006
What Was He Thinking Of Part 4,296,805

- Tony Blair, in an otherwise strong speech against terrorism, says that Muslims who commit acts of terrorism are no more true to their faith than the "Protestant bigot" who murders Catholics in Northern Ireland.

Look, don't talk to me about numbers. Don't talk to me about the small but tangible harm done to the cause of reconciliation in Northern Ireland when the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland appears - not for the first time - to wish to edit out of Northern Irish history the (as it happens) rather greater number of terrorist murders of Protestants by Catholics.

[INSERTED LATER: I was going to leave the usual caveats about how every murder is equally murder unsaid. Then I remembered that when discussing Northern Ireland you must never leave the caveats unsaid.]

I guess "Protestant or Catholic bigots who murdered their fellow Christians" wouldn't have scanned.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006
I don't know who comes out of this looking more ridiculous. Tony Blair for asking Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke to meet him to discuss climate change or the wee songster himself for being too holy to mix with with the impure. Apparently Yorke is an "ambassador" for Greenpeace now. (Ambassador? Since when did poxy little pressure groups get to call their celebrity lobbyists "ambassadors"? They'll be asking for a seat at the UN next. And the UN will probably oblige.)

However ridiculous one might think it for Thom Yorke to be Ambassador of the Nation of Greenpeace, the fact is that he accepted the job. Did no one tell His Excellency that ambassadorial duties do normally include "talking to people who do not agree with you" as a pretty fundamental part of the job description?

It seems not.

"...It was just obvious there was no point in meeting him anyway, and I didn't want to.

"That was the illest I'd ever got. I got so stressed out and so freaked out about it. Initially when it came up I tried to be pragmatic. But Blair has no environmental credentials as far as I'm concerned.

"I came out of that whole period just thinking, I don't want to get involved directly, it's poison. I'll just shout my mouth off from the sidelines.

Come to think of it, did anyone tell him the job involved talking?
"There's this whole thing going on at the moment with Blair and the nuclear thing."

A decade in denial. EU Referendum Blog remembers the last doom but two. Ten years ago almost to the day the Observer was predicting the future thus:
It is 20 March 2016, precisely 20 years on from that wet Wednesday when loyal backbenchers bounced to their feet in Westminster and began to bray, yet again, at the Opposition for scaremongering. Now, Britain's National Euthanasia Clinics churn on overtime, struggling to help 500 people a week to a dignified death before brain disease robs them of reason and self-control.

This nation, whose leaders spent a decade in denial, is now in quarantine, the world long since having shunned contact with a population in which half a million people a year succumb to CJD spread in the late twentieth century through eating beef products. The Channel Tunnel is blocked with five miles of French concrete. The health service is crippled; blood transfusions are impossible because undetectable prions infect most donors, and the strain of caring for more than two million CJD victims has overwhelmed support staff. The fabric of the nation is being torn apart.

CJD is a terrible disease and the hundred or sixty victims deserve our sympathy. But Richard has a point when he says:
The Observer was by no means on its own, with the whole media, broadcast as well as printed, indulging in an orgy of scaremongering and recriminations. Small wonder, therefore, that ten years later - on a date that coincides with the anniversary of the Iraqi invasion, to which copious coverage is given – not a single media source, usually besotted with anniversaries, has chosen to mark the events of ten years ago.

It does not follow from this that bird flu is not a real risk. After all, flu epidemics have killed tens of millions in the last century. But I'd take anything the Observer says on the subject with a prion of salt.

Monday, March 20, 2006
Chris Tame has died. He was founder and president of the Libertarian Alliance. In the tribute that Antoine Clarke has posted on Samizdata you can read just one of the many ways in which his ideas helped change the world. I am not exaggerating; read this:
One of my proudest moments was in the Mozart House in Bratislava in August 1991, in the actual room where Mozart gave a performance aged 5. I read out your "Taxation is Theft" LA pamphlet to a room full of politicians.... and years later, the Slovak government brought in a flat tax. Some of the people who did this heard my speech and your arguments.

I'm not going to let mere death stop me from saying this: All hail the ruling junta!

Sunday, March 19, 2006
Britblog roundup is square and down! Er no. I'll get that right in a minute, meanwhile here it is.

My favourite of the posts I've read so far? This one from Liberty Central.

In case you’ve missed the start of this whole debate, this is how the purpose of the bill was described by Cabinet Officer Minister, Jim Murphy, at the start of its committee stage:

“The Bill builds on the Regulatory Reform Act 2001. It aims to deliver on the Government’s agenda of better regulation. As part of that, however, we need to ensure through our deliberations in these eight sittings that there is a correct level of effective parliamentary scrutiny. Ultimately, however, the Bill is intended to maintain the UK’s competitiveness, free up public sector workers and others from bureaucracy, and remove unnecessary regulation.”

So why does a bill that is supposedly designed to “maintain the UK’s competitiveness, free up public sector workers and others from bureaucracy, and remove unnecessary regulation” need to include the power to amend core constitutional legislation?

Does the government think that Scotland’s constitutional right to its own independent judiciary is ‘uncompetitive’?

Is Habeas Corpus an ‘unnecessary regulation’?

Is Habeas Corpus an ‘unnecessary regulation’? That should be the rallying cry of the nation. Trouble is, some of the present government probably do believe exactly that.

Saturday, March 18, 2006
A Liberal Democrat councillor says that "There is no England" because they let too many immigrants in.

LATER: There was some logical and even angry replies to Mr Arnold's letter the following day, but none of them specifically raised any objection to Mr Arnold's belief that a high proportion of immigrants in a territory makes it incapable of nationhood. You can bet that if a Tory had said that in the pages of the Telegraph, the next day smoke would rise from Independent's letters column, so hot would the indignation burn.

Here's another example of the same double standards in a smaller forum. In comment no. 75 to this Crooked Timber post one Anthony says:

Are secularists so hardened against religion that they don’t want any prominent religious people in the party unless they are trained monkeys who know their role like black Republicans who get trotted out for various GOP events?
Two comments later Brett Bellmore says:
See, that’s what I mean by Democratic racism showing up in different ways. I can only imagine Democratic reactions if a Republican refered to blacks as "trained monkeys". LOL And apparently blacks aren’t allowed to genuinely have different opinions.
Bellmore, whom I take to be a Republican, raises the issue again once or twice but none of the CT comment-thread regulars seem to find it worthy of censure.

Friday, March 17, 2006
Who will hide our shame? You've heard me before on how the columnist Bernard Levin made me want to be a blogger before blogs existed. I thought it doubly sad that a man so eloquent should die of Alzheimer's. I had had no idea. I had noticed that his last few books seemed gloomier, but he wisely withdrew from writing before mental decline became obvious.

When he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, President Reagan made a dignified announcement and disappeared into private life. That did not mean he become a complete recluse and he was sometimes seen around with his retinue, smiling benignly. At least people understood when they met him. Former colleagues who met Harold Wilson, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx as he had then become, in his last years were very hurt that a man with a famous memory stared straight past them as if he had never known them. But not that many people met him.

In the throes of syphilis Lord Randolph Churchill made speeches that were pitiable by some accounts and obviously mad by others. Such was the fraternal solidarity of the House and the deference of the age that the press scarcely breathed a word. Nowadays silence would not be kept, but modern politicians suffering from mental decline have Whips, minders, party leaders and ultimately voters to ensure that their tragedy is not too public for too long.

Journalists going senile have editors to do them the last kindness of refusing to print their work.

Bloggers have ...?

I expect some of us will still be blogging at the age of eighty or ninety or more. In most cases, that will be a fine thing. Society nowadays tends to shove the old out of the discussion. I like to think of some of the names on my links list still gaining readers and influence even though they have been obliged to use a hoverchair for the last twenty years and a brainwave-controlled stylus for ten. And I am sure there is no better way of staying mentally acute than to begin every day with a furious fisking. Some of us, though, will go gaga. It's gonna happen. Three or four of my favourite bloggers at least will go down to senile dementia or Alzheimer's or one of the other Furies that pursue those who commit the crime of living too long. Emails suggesting that the day has already come in my case will be batted aside with a forty-one year old's laugh - but one day the emails might be right and I might refuse to believe it.

I'm imagining the sunny, disinfected lounge of a rest home. One of the residents is hunched over a paper-thin computer, typing in the old fashioned way. I'll imagine him as male since I prefer not to imagine my own possible future. His gnarled fingers can still move at a fair pace across the keyboard although the slurred mutterings that come from him would tell any observer that what he publishes no longer makes sense. The nurses think it's sad. He used to be quite famous. But they know, as we do, that it would be outrageous to take away internet access from a person who has committed no crime. In fact, having grown up in the internet age, they feel it more profoundly than we do. They would no more try to stop him from posting than they would physically gag him.

It took time for him to reach this state. For several years his writing consisted of rambling but still comprehensible screeds that were a source of burning embarrassment to his friends and glee to his enemies. Because he became so verbose as he grew older, his writing from this period is greater in volume than the sharp, witty posts that once won him admirers worldwide.

All sense is gone now. Still he types, adding post after meaningless post to a blog that stretches back through the decades. People still quote the early ones sometimes. Until recently he used to send anyone who gave him a trackback strange emails, alternately hectoring and conspiratorial - but he can no longer manage that process. He can still press "publish" and he does. He laughs sometimes at jokes that only he understands.

He always said it would be a wonderful day when there were no more gatekeepers.

Better than fair trade. Please don't think I have a blanket objection to "fair trade" products. There is an issue with producers being misled by the fair trade premium into making unwise choices that cannot be sustained. However, so long as buying fair trade does not oblige me to (significantly) contribute to political lobbying that, if successful, would trap Third World countries in failed economic policies, I am happy to pay a little extra to give someone a little extra help. If campaigners wish to use that wonderful capitalist invention, the brand name, to promote ethical behaviour, you won't see me complaining.

Alex Singleton has been arguing that primary producers in fair trade schemes would do better to get involved in packaging and marketing their own wares. It seems that some already do:

As a country-of-origin roaster, we [a company called "Café Britt"] are challenging conventional coffee wisdom, we believe that producing countries are more than raw material suppliers to intermediaries in other countries, we believe that these developing countries can export the finished product with all its value added in the country of origin.
Café Britt isn’t all that keen on the Fairtrade mark: in fact, they decided that, despite paying premium prices, the complexity and cost of being on the scheme would be greater than the benefits. In Costa Rica, Café Britt produces some of the raw coffee on its own plantation, but buys the rest from a large number of small farmers. In order to be Fairtrade certified, each of these farmers would require individual auditing and certification (as they don’t belong to a co-operative or to Café Britt directory). That’s just not practical.

Not everyone wants the same level of academic freedom. Tim Worstall has up a post about Frank Ellis, an unashamedly racist lecturer at Leeds. There is a campaign to oust him. I'd like to post the comment I made there over here, too:
Universities ought to be able to compete as to the degree of extremism they will tolerate on the part of the teaching staff. Some could offer as their selling point that students will have their horizons widened by hearing every view from racism to Stalinism. Others might offer the students, "no crackpot professors here."

Unfortunately, state funding of higher education tends to make such competition difficult, if not forbid it absolutely.

I am not clear on whether the protestors against Ellis seek to change the rules to prevent him working anywhere. That would be out of order in my book, whereas telling Leeds that it would be better off without him is allowable. (Though hypocritical, I bet. Pound to a penny the same NUS protestors defend extreme left-wing professors with ringing declarations on the value of freedom of speech.)

Funnily enough, all this ties in with an earlier TW post arguing that its untrue that markets force you to have too much choice.
While it may actually be true that too much choice causes anxiety, markets in and of themselves help to solve this. An iPod actually does less than many other MP3 players and is by far the most popular.

Let the chips fall where they may. Stephen Hayes in the Weekly Standard reports on the vast backlog of captured documents from Saddam's Iraq now being released onto the web.

Released, it should be noted, untranslated, unanalysed, unauthenticated, unmediated.

There is something wonderfully anarchistic about all this. I'm rather thrilled by the thought of every amateur with a copy of Teach Yourself Arabic diving into the documents in the hope of striking gold. Er, pearls. You dive for pearls.

But is it a good way to fight terrorism? On balance, yes. (Brian Micklethwait wrote a pamphlet for the Libertarian Alliance about this) There is a risk that information will reach the public that would be more useful shared among six operatives prior to laying an ambush for an Al Qaeda leader - but the fact is that the CIA or whoever hadn't translated it. Too much paper, too little time. No one can lay an ambush based on information held in a crate for three years.

Simply in terms of getting public support for the War On Terror, the Bush administration should have done this long ago. Their credibility suffered a major blow when no WMD turned up. The anti-war side had every right to point out loudly and often that Blair and Bush got their facts wrong. "So did a lot of people, including Saddam's own generals" is a mitigating factor but it doesn't quite wipe the egg off the presidential and prime ministerial faces.

But then, at least in some cases - about two trillion - those who opposed the war went on to proclaim with a certainty way in excess of what the evidence or a reasonable cynicism about the ways of the world warranted that there could not possibly have been cooperation between the religious fanatics of Al Qaeda and the secular regime of Saddam Hussein.

That was always nonsense. It has always been risky to hitch your prestige to a negative assertion. For one thing, Saddam's regime wasn't so secular as all that. Saddam put images of himself taking part in the Haj on postage stamps. And for another, "My enemy's enemy is my friend" has been said in every tongue. I read somewhere about some Word War II British naval types delivering a batch of submachine guns to Communist Chinese guerillas fighting the Japanese. The writer had commented to the other man that the weapons seemed crudely manufactured. "Just as well," said the other, "They'll be using them to fight us in a few years." This would make a better anecdote if I could name the book, but stuff it, strange alliances are ten a penny. Pope Alexander VIII ordered lights to be lit in the Vatican in thanks for King William's victory over the Irish at the Battle of the Boyne.

Many of the miners digging into these documents will be motivated by a desire to score partisan political points. Nowt wrong with that; it makes sense to harness one of the most powerful motives known to man to the public good. The potential benefits, however, are wider. It will help Iraq to know more about its own tortured history. It will help the world to know more about how Saddam's rule functioned in order to better restrain future Saddams. And some of those amateurs may find information that may yet be of help in laying ambushes.

Thursday, March 16, 2006
"There were eight of us." Six men are fighting for their lives in North London after a drug test went horribly wrong. This BBC interview is with one of the two men who got the placebo.

In the introduction the lawyer of one of the victims is quoted:

Ann Alexander, whose 29-year-old client is on a life support machine, said: "There is confusion about whether the drug had actually been tested successfully and safely on animals before the tests on these volunteers."
Things can go wrong even if drugs are tested on animals. But there is no denying that animal testing makes tragedies like this less likely. So argues James Panton, towards the end of this article by Jennifer Cunningham in the Herald.

James Panton, an Oxford politics lecturer, became a founding member of Pro-Test, a group which has organised demonstrations against animal rights extremists, after witnessing the intimidation of scientists and construction workers in Oxford. He believes that the incident in London actually adds weight to his case.
"This news illustrates just how serious the situation would be without animal testing," he says. "We need to test drugs as completely as we can before we get to the point of human trials."

Did you notice his background? I must say that ensuring that a group of people known both for its articulacy and its disproportionate representation in the media and government are personally annoyed with you and your cause was one of those strokes of tactical genius that give me confidence in the future of modern activism.

Don't read this, you'll only feel bad about yourself for laughing.

Via Infinitives Unsplit.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006
The NHS is the envy of the world. Do you envy this man? Not the actors in the black and white still at the top; the man pictured further down.
The hospital sent him home. They sent him home on a Friday evening. Home in a worse state that he went in. They sent him home to his eighty year old wife with one of the worst pressure sores I have seen in years. He has now developed intractable diarrhoea, and it coats the pressure sore. He needs round the clock intensive nursing therapy, including being turned regularly. We cannot do this at home. They cannot do it in hospital it seems either. The nurses are too busy eating pizza or pretending to be doctors.

I have no alternative but to send him back in. He bursts into tears. I am getting very stressed about all this. I cannot do my job. I advise the family to see a lawyer and I take a copy of the photo.

(I found the link to NHS Blog Doctor via Tim Worstall. As he says, "You want to go and read this. Yes, you’ll really want to read this on our Glorious NHS," although the sense of the word "want" he uses is specialised.)

I once said I'd post this article by the Health Editor of the Observer, a man who was once a committed supporter of the NHS, every few months until the NHS went away. I've let that resolution slip in the last year or two. Wrongly.

Too long have I written about the tragedies and cruelty of the National Health Service; too long have we as a country accepted it. The Government can fiddle with it as long as it likes, but the very structure of the NHS ensures it will never be world class. The noble ideology of communism had to be ditched because it didn't work. So the noble ideology behind the NHS should be ditched because it costs lives. We should ditch the ideology and ditch the NHS.

I've put the What Killed Slavery discussion here to bed, wished it night-night and turned off the light. Yes, even despite some eloquent letters from regular correspondents. I felt it was time for one of those editorial decisions - I'm played out on that subject.

(I will just observe that the estate of the late Barbara Tuchman must be doing well: absolutely everyone seems to have read A Distant Mirror.)

However, if any participants in the debate on this blog still want to read or comment about a closely related matter, why not go over to this post by Ginny at Chicago Boyz? Jim Miller already has.

This is where being a science fiction fan gets you. The recent lethal outburst of gang warfare in Salford is no laughing matter, as I should be the first to say having posted thus the other day.

But I have to admit that for a moment the mental picture created by one particular word in this Times account of the Salford violence had me gasping in something close to delighted wonder.

The two men, wearing beanie hats, walked into the pub and then pulled the woollen rims over their faces to reveal home-made balaclavas. Some drinkers dived for cover beneath pool tables as the pair produced automatic weapons and fired at least four shots.
I'd misunderstood, of course. My years of going to SF conventions where funny costumes are commonplace had put it into my head that the phrase "beanie hat" usually implied a propeller on top.

Monday, March 13, 2006
A deep well of strange delights. Via the estimable Odious and Peculiar, I have discovered Laputan Logic.

This post is about the kakure kirishitan, the "hidden Christians" of Japan. They remained faithful through centuries of persecution... but the faith they kept changed.

...for example, of the young Holy One debating with Buddhist priests, as 12-year-old Jesus was said to have done with the Jewish elders. Two men, Ponsha and Piroto (ie, Pontius Pilate), are told to kill all children of five and under, an echo of Herod's order. Mary gives birth in a stable, but the innkeeper who had spurned her then takes her in: in a wonderfully Japanese touch, he offers her a hot bath.

Friday, March 10, 2006
Happy libel fun. Looks like Neil Clark is threatening to sue Oliver Kamm for libel.

I ain't saying nuffin. Except that this is a good book and you should buy a copy. Possibly several copies.

My favourite libel story concerns the actor, playwright and director, Steven Berkoff. In 1996 Berkoff successfully sued Julie Burchill of the Times after she wrote that Berkoff was "hideously ugly."

In fact he's not ugly at all. Berkoff's action in going to the funeral of Reginald Kray and eulogising that sadistic criminal was ugly, but his face is OK.

Here's what the Sunday Herald said:

And the respect that Reggie engendered? Actor and utter twit Stephen Berkoff, who had apparently attended the ugly spectacle, was allowed a long and ponderous epitaph to the pathetic old lag in the gaudy coffin.

Given the all-important validating news time, how the ghastly old luvvie droned on. Oh dear, dear Reggie. He was an icon of the people. Berkoff even had the nerve to pronounce that Kray had provided "a mythic service in a dull dreary post-war environment". But what's worse was that the news chose to broadcast such tosh. Berkoff just stopped short of the famous Monty Python sketch parodying such idiot adulation: "But they was gentlemen, mind. They would nail your head to the floor right? But they was always clean and they always treated their old mum like the duchess she were."

Anyway, despite the rather witty dissent of Lord Justice Millett ("it is a popular belief for the truth of which I am unable to vouch that ugly men are particularly attractive to women"), the gangster-admiring (but tolerably handsome) Berkoff won and Burchill lost. Before then it had been generally assumed that saying someone was ugly did not tend to lower them in the esteem of right-thinking members of society. Afterwards, hmm, depends on the context, be careful. Robertson & Nicol say that Article 10 of the Human Rights Act might change things, but for the time being Berkoff v. Burchill is still a precedent.

Victory for Berkoff, then.

Only... the information that someone wrote that Steven Berkoff was "hideously ugly" is in every book on modern British tort law. It did set a precedent, after all. Since courts all over the Anglosphere refer to each other's judgements, I would imagine it is also cited in Australian, Canadian, South African, Indian, New Zealand, West Indian and some American books of law. Law students will learn about it for for decades. Maybe even centuries.

ADDED LATER: The news of the death of Slobodan Milosevic made me regret being so harsh on a mere actor. To praise a killer, torturer and extortioner for providing an interesting show, as if Kray's victims were not real, was shameful behaviour on Berkoff's part. But if I'm going to describe Berkoff's behaviour as "hideously ugly", as I originally did, what words are left for an actual killer? So I've toned down the post above. I still think that it's a hoot that the end result of Berkoff's libel victory has been to propagate the two words concerned to the ends of the earth and set them on course to outlive his dramatic accomplishments as claims to fame.

Sort of like "Predator" only not aliens and not hunting you. Invisible people snogging.

Did Galloway really say the HellToons were worse than 9/11 and 7/7? Squander Two investigates.

Nazi buildings.

I have in front of me a book of extracts from Signal, the colourful magazine extolling the virtues of Nazi Europe that Goebbels had distributed all over occupied Europe and elsewhere. Signal had an English language edition aimed at the US and Ireland and also sold in occupied Jersey and Guernsey.

I'm looking at an article called "The New Reich Chancellery". It says
On 11th January 1938, the Führer commissioned Prof. Speer, Inspector-General of Building Construction, with the erection of the New Reich Chancellery ... During the remaining 9 months fixed for its completion, the Inspector-General and his staff of architects, artists, workmen and artisans from all provinces completed this work, which represents the Reich in modern classical form.
Copious illustrations are provided. This website shows similar pictures. You can find more pictures by doing an Image Search but not all the websites hosting them are as respectable as this one, produced by Professor Randall Bytwerk of Calvin College, Michigan.

The crimes of the Nazis are such as to make one hope there is a hell. They can be made not one whit worse by the fact that I don't care for the skimpy square pillars at the front of Speer's project (the overall effect is a bit like Walthamstow Town Hall, only not as impressive.) Nor are their crimes made one whit less dreadful because Speer's "Long Hall" (called "the marble gallery" in the Calvin College link) looks rather nice. If it hadn't been dismantled by the Red Army it might have made a pleasant place for a cup of tea in the afternoon - and Speer was still a willing tool of tyranny.

Although there are interesting things to be said about the way dictatorships build, in moral terms it doesn't matter how good or bad Nazi architecture was. To condemn a style because Hitler approved of it is as cheap a shot as to condemn vegetarians because Hitler approved of vegetarianism. I can see why they sandblasted out the swastikas in 1945 but if by any chance they missed any, I'd say leave them in place on grounds of historical interest. Although the juxtaposition of the words "Nazi" and "architecture" can still stir passion and controversy sixty years on, I thought that none of this would disturb my Olympian cool...

...but even I was disturbed by the idea of a Nazi church. The photo is not online but the print edition of the Times shows a carved font with a stormtrooper standing next to Jesus. Apparently the church was in use until a few years ago, so I presume babies were baptized in it until recently.

Thursday, March 09, 2006
Demise of slavery - another installment, possibly the last. JEM writes:
I've found it!

As soon as the 14th century reared its ugly head in this slavery debate, I knew the essential reading on this was highly respected historian Barbara Tuchman's "A Distant Mirror -- The Calamitous 14th Century". But could I find it? I have vast numbers of books, yet am no librarian. I knew the book was there, but could not find it.

Until I went looking for something else this evening...

I'll have to read the whole thing. But one little point... well all right, big point, is worth bringing to the fore right now:

Tuchman focusses her history around the life and times and experiences of one French nobleman, Enguerrand de Coucy VII, who lived from 1340 to 1397, and through his marriage to the eldest daughter of the King of England, was closely entwined in the story of both England and France, although these countries were at war with each other throughout this period.

I quote:

[In 1368] ... [Coucy's] own domain ... suffered from the shortage of labor that was afflicting landowners everywhere since the Black Death. Picardy, in the path of English penetration from the start, had suffered not only from invaders but also from the Jacquerie and the ravaging of the Anglo-Navarrese. Rather than pay the repeated taxes that follow upon French defeats, peasants deserted to nearby imperial territory in Hainault and across the Meuse.

To hold labor on the land, Coucy's rather belated remedy was enfranchisement of the serfs, or non-free peasants and villagers, of his domain. From "hatred of servitude," his charter acknowledged, they had been leaving, "to live outside our lands, in certain places, freeing themselves without our permission and making themselves free whenever it pleased them." (A serf who reached territory outside his lord's writ and stayed for a year was regarded as free.) ... Coucy's territory was late in the dissolution of serfdom, perhaps owing to former prosperity. ...Abolition had occurred less from any moral judgement of the evils of servitude than as a means of raising ready money from the rents. Though the paid labor of free tenants was more expensive than the unpaid labor of serfs, the cost was more than made up by the rents, and, besides, tenants did not have to be fed on the job, which had amounted to an important expense.

In other words, quite clearly it was the profit motive, not morality, that freed the serfs. And further reading makes it equally clear how the difference between slaves and serfs was in real life a difference without a distinction.

All of which is just about exactly what I've been saying.

Game, set and match, I think!

I hope I don't unduly annoy JEM, whose emails I value, but I don't think so at all. This is not because I disbelieve the information quoted from A Distant Mirror, which I also own. It's a fine book. Rather it is because I think that what ARC has been saying is not invalidated by the evidence Tuchman provides.

Re-reading some earlier posts by JEM, ARC and others, it seems to me that although there are significant differences as to points of fact (for example, was the Black Death more or less severe in Britain than elsewhere, was serfdom significantly different from slavery), nonetheless neither side disputes that serfdom had gone by around 1500 and that this was not brought about by moral scruples or religion. Correspondents differ as to how big a role various non-moral causes such as the Black Death, the Little Ice Age, various wars or the invention of the horse collar played.

JEM then goes on to say that, whereas this or that economic or environmental cause could end slavery in this or that country, only for the institution to rise again later, it was the Industrial Revolution that put the stake through its heart wordwide. Short term it may not have done, but long term it did.

But whereas ARC agrees (I think) that the Industrial Revolution and its Siamese twin, capitalism, had the long term effect of finally making sure slavery did not pay, he says that one of the reasons that the Industrial Revolution happened in England was that England had been a non-slave society, until it was "re-infected" with the slavery virus via the African trade. Mere circumstances had taught them that a non-slave society could work just fine. Then they had the moral choice whether they wanted that sort of society or not. It is true that eventually mechanical inventions would, in Adam Smith's words, produce "their legitimate effect, that of abridging labour" and "effect those great changes in human destiny, which it is in their nature and in their futurity to accomplish". It is true that this destiny was widely predicted, as evinced by the famous prediction from Smith himself that I just quoted. But it wasn't obvious to everyone. And the prospect of just allowing this outrage to continue for decades or even centuries while the glacier of economic necessity inched its way to the sea was unbearable to good men.

This brings me to a recent Samizdata post by Johnathan Pearce, "A good man who made a difference." It is about the anti-slavery campaigner Thomas Clarkson. Pearce writes:

But even though there is some truth in ascribing changes to these things [economic forces], as this Wikipedia entry accepts, it still requires the energy and commitment of actual people to force the pace of change. We do not know, for instance, how long slavery might have persisted under the British Empire had people like Clarkson not bothered to campaign against it. It is fair to assume, however, that it ended a good deal sooner than otherwise and hence millions of people probably owed what freedoms they had to people such as this fellow.
I am conscious that I have, perhaps, both put words into the mouth of ARC (whose opinions on this are close to mine but not identical to mine) and given a slightly rough ride to the words of JEM. It is clear from many other emails of his that JEM has no desire to denigrate those who campaigned against slavery, he just thinks that economics came first.

Guys, I just don't think we are going to agree. Unless anyone feels really hard done by I think the destiny and futurity of this thread is to be put to bed for a while.

To get me back in the mood for blogging here are some posts made over the last couple of weeks that caught my eye.

Robert Hinkley is inspired by David Irving to open up new lines of historical research.

Most of what Patrick Crozier posts at the moment comes out in Q&A format to fit his Wiki. It all reads as if it has been written to be easily translated into foreign languages. Am I complaining then? No. It's very clear style, and that is exhilarating. I have just noticed I am copying it. Here is an example. The post argues that the proposed new law to prevent assaults on nurses will do no good.

AOG of Thought Mesh links via Michelle Malkin to pictures of the placards carried by Muslim demonstrators, placards that said "Behead those who insult Islam" and "Europe, you will pay, your 9/11 is on it's* way." Famously, the police took no action over this incitement to murder until after an enormous public outcry. AOG argues that this type of failure to act makes a blanket opposition to immigration more rational and more likely.

But when you see pictures like this, you are forced to consider the fact that not all immigrants can or will assimilate, by which we mean accepting the fundamental values of the host nation. What is to be done about such people?

Two thoughts come to mind. The first is that if, in our politically correct culture, we are incapable of punishing immigrants who openly call for murder, mayhem and the destruction of the host society, then the rational reaction of the citizenry is to restrict immigration because that is then the only way to stop them is to stop everyone. It doesn’t require (as certain webloggers claim) bigotry or racism, or even the belief that most immigrants are like that. It requires only the belief that nothing can or will be done about those who are. In many ways it is similar to the job schlerosis in restricted economies. If employers can’t fire people, no matter what, the natural result is lack of hiring. Protect immigrants from the consequences of their actions and there will be much more support for restricting immigration.

Which leads to the second thought, which is that cracking down on the moonbats is not only good for the host country, but good for the non-moonbat immigrants by removing trouble makers from their communities and improving the overall image of the immigrants.

Stephen Pollard says he is mystified as to what the fuss was about when Tony Blair said God would be his judge over invading Iraq. Surely people already knew Blair was a Christian? Surely they already knew that even the wishy-washiest Christians believe God will judge the actions of men? (Sorry, "people", as Tony would undoubtedly prefer I said.)

I think they did know. But having a happy rant about the imaginary Christian peril of Tony Blair is as close as some people dare go to mentioning more pressing problems.

*I always said they were ignorant fanatics.

Friday, March 03, 2006
Sorry I've been too busy to post recently. Hope to be back soon.

Blimey, that was boring. Unfortunately MI6 would be after me if I tried to tell you the truth about