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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Jane's Blogosphere: blogtrack for Natalie Solent.
( '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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Tuesday, July 25, 2006
I begin to ask myself why, when the sun is shining, the schools are breaking up for the holidays, and the fields and brooks beckoning, I have shut myself up in a south-facing room with this computer.
I feel the need to shut myself up in a different south-facing room with a sewing machine instead.
Monday, July 24, 2006
G.O.G. 666 by John Taine (real name: Eric Temple Bell).
Perhaps the best vindication of the proverb "Don't judge a book by its cover" I personally have ever picked up; when I read it many years ago I was rather moved. I protected this book from being shot.
That memory was prompted by this post about the BBC's 1988 ape-man drama First Born, which also prompted an email from JEM.
Gor Blimey*More argument from me later, perhaps. Right now, yes, by my test, a computer able to ask if it has a soul has one. Actually " more argument from me" might mean "more argument from C.S. Lewis. There's a chapter that deals with the possibility of animal souls in The Problem of Pain and a suggested comeback somewhere else to the "implausible importance" objection you raise.
Go on, depress yourself.
Priorities. Iain Murray has up a piece on Conservative Home called Waste of Energy.I'm not sure I agree with this:
Yet energy policy is actually a bedrock of what should be, alongside the defence of the realm, one of the two main priorities of any responsible government: economic policy. This curious entrenchment of misplaced priorities results in a perverse approach to energy policy.But I defitely (added later: clearly the spelling of "definitely" defited me) agree with this:
Which brings us to the second misplaced priority: if we accept that the UK has a duty to the developing world in respect of the supposed damaging impact of climate change as the first industrialised nation, then that duty is better discharged in helping the developing nations than by restricting energy use at home. A richer-but-warmer world is better off than a poorer-but-cooler world, as Indur Goklany has shown.
Sunday, July 23, 2006
Britblog roundup is here again. I haven't actually read it, or anything else on the internet as our connection wouldn't work all day. Now it likes us again. Good computer, friendly computer.
You'd have them use the brains God gave them.
Norm thinks the Golden Rule needs re-thinking. He writes:
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.Shaw made a similar observation and for several years now I've had my response packed and ready to go at a moment's notice in case I get lucky with that time travel slot.
Norm makes two claims: that the rule surely ought to be framed in a negative form, and that positive or negative, the fact that tastes differ means it is unsatisfactory. I'll get to the different tastes issue in a minute. First let's talk about negative versus positive. I'm at a bit of a loss to know exactly why Norm thinks a negative formulation would be better, as the bathtime example he gives did not seem terribly relevant, although it is relevant to his second point. But I'm guessing that he thinks that a negative formulation is less intrusive than a positive one, that it gives you a bit of space - and perhaps he also thinks a negative formulation is more practical, as most people in their daily lives are much clearer about not wanting harm done to them than about what they actually do want done to them.
In the legal sphere I'm all for negative rights (rights such as "freedom of speech" that oblige the state to refrain from interference in certain activities) being exalted over positive rights. Positive rights for A almost inevitably turn out to mean that an unrighteous obligation is going to be imposed on B today, and A tomorrow. I am also keen on nice, sharp negative laws that forbid clearly defined actions but allow everything else. I am not so keen on positive duties that grow like yeast if you take your eyes off them for a moment.
But the legal sphere isn't what the Golden Rule is about. Or rather it's only the starting point of what it is about, just as obeying the law is only the starting point of goodness. The laws should be narrow and, er, legalistic, since they can so easily become instruments of oppression when they attempt to encompass too much. Men, however, should not be legalistic and should encompass much. I've deliberately not mentioned Christianity so far, as the Golden Rule is part of the wisdom of many cultures, but the Good Samaritan is demanding to be mentioned here. The Levite who passed by broke no law but the Samaritan actively did unto his neighbour as he would have been done by. A positive formulation is appropriate.
Well, that's what I think if he thinks what I think he thinks, anyway.
Going on to the different tastes objection, an awful lot of the apparent problem, and some of the positive/negative problem, too, just washes away down the linguistic plughole. Self-interested sophistry aside, "remain faithful to your husband" means the same thing as "do not cuckold your husband." Perhaps in some languages rules we would phrase as negative prohibitions in English can only be expressed as positive injunctions, and vice versa.
The rest of the issue can also be washed away by turning on the Great Hot Tap of Human Linguistic Intelligence. People aren't simple-minded robots who take everything literally. Robbie the Robot, hearing the Golden Rule, might try to plug you into the recharger, but people know better. This isn't a get-out clause; non-literalism is what a proper understanding of language involves. When little children do take things literally we laugh precisely because they have misinterpreted what was said to them. (When I was a kid my mum once told me to "put the kettle on". I duly switched the switch to "on" and was most offended when told off for blowing the kettle up. "If she'd asked me to put water in it as well," I sniffed reproachfully, "I would have done.")
And if you insist on a precise use of words, then it's easy enough to provide one. When buying birthday presents the rule is not to buy your Uncle Harry that nice floaty dress from Next that you want yourself, rather it is "I will try to give you something you will like given your tastes, as I hope you will do for me." Or even more generally, "I will respect your preferences and try to accommodate them, as I would have you respect and accommodate mine."
Norm mentions that "you may need their permission." I started to write quite a detailed paragraph on difficult cases, such as occasions when what one party thinks is help the other thinks is harm. I attempted to refine my rules statements to cover these cases, and the even more difficult cases that I am sure we all can think up. My rules got lengthier and more complex. Writing them down would have taken me all life. "Do as you would be done by" is still the best summing up.
Friday, July 21, 2006
About that letter you meant to write to the Radio Times all those years ago... Forget it, you obsessive. It's my unwritten letter from eighteen years ago that deserves to finally get an airing.
My post about clones from the other day reminded me of a 1988 BBC drama called First Born, based on a book called Gor Saga* by Maureen Duffy.
Here's a plot summary from an Amazon review:
A doctor inseminates a Gorilla named "Mary" with human sperm.The first line in the series is about how the child looks human; because it is. The story follows Gordon through infancy, childhood, and adulthood. As a child (with ape-strength)he has difficulty talking, until an operation gives him speech. Yet he exhibits many ape-habits; for instance he spends time in trees, sleeps "under" his bed, and grunts ... He chooses to become a Priest and live a life of peace, yet when he finds out who his real mother was, a Priest tells him he's not one of God's creation, just man's creation.I remember the series as being convincing and thrilling, but the scene with the priest bugged me. Did the writer have to make him so thick? I took it then that the priest was meant to be a Catholic; it's reasonable to assume that if ever such genetic manipulation did become possible the Pope of the day would oppose it being done. But there is no reason to suppose that disfavour would extend to the innocent people born as a result of such manipulation. Plenty of people are born even now in 1988 (I thought but did not get round to writing) as a result of practices opposed by the Church: fornication, adultery and rape. Surely very few, and those few so ignorant that they would have trouble getting through a seminary, would hold that being a child conceived as a result of rape, for instance, disbars that person from the possiblity of sainthood on exactly the same terms as every other human being.
I also seem to recall that the priest told Gordon that he had no soul, or at least was unable to confirm that he did have a soul. Once again, I was irritated that the priest was portrayed as never even having thought that having the ability to ask whether one has a soul might supply its own answer.
That's what Kirk says to McCoy in Spock Must Die, anyway. The point seems good to me.
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Why bloggers bash the MSM: because it sometimes is indistinguishable from satire and sometimes traitorous.
Extreme? Follow the links. Both descriptions are literally true.
Monday, July 17, 2006
Did we really need a study to tell us this? Clone 'would feel individuality'
A cloned human would probably consider themselves to be an individual, a study suggests.I drew my indentical conclusions after a rigorous programme of twenty seconds' thought. Your clone, should you reading this get one or be one, will be genetically equivalent to your identical twin. That's all. Clones don't grow up in half the time: Revenge of the Sith is fictional. Whether they end up obeying orders blindly or having a penchant for white body armour will depend, as it does for the rest of us, on how they are brought up and whether they are introduced to fan culture at an impressionable age.
Irrespective of one's beliefs about the rightness of human cloning there has never been the slightest reason to suppose that persons so produced will have less than the full complement of human feelings.
Sunday, July 16, 2006
Britblog Roundup is here again. This post from Biased BBC is among those featured. Angry is right.
I expect my readers here are fairly likely to go there anyway. But, as ever, the idea of the roundup is to suggest new destinations. For instance I hadn't heard of either Muhajababes, the book reviewed in this post or of "Feminish", the blog doing the reviewing. Like all the best reviews it bounced between reviewer and book:
The picture of the young Middle East I got in Muhajababes was relieving - but it’s the story of the old liberalism/communitarianism chestnut. You can have limitless choice in a liberal set-up: go to whatever churches or mosques you like, drive a car, die your hair purple or cover it in silk, and from that liberalism opt into whatever sets of communitarian rules you like (for example, opting into rules that say go to this particular mosque, don’t drive a car, and only cover your hair in, say, blue nylon that doesn’t go with your eyes). But what happens when everyone hops from liberalism’s choices onto the same restrictive communitarian bandwagon? What becomes of freedom-of-choice then when, for example, 85% of women in your country have veiled? Who’s protecting the right-to-choice of the other 15%?Here's an earlier post about getting the same book. Natasha, the pacifist reviewer, knows Allegra, the pro-Iraq war author.
And then - bam! It’s arrived. I knocked it on my head, rubbed the silky smooth finish on my cheek and bashed it and boshed it to see how real it is. I shouted out loud and hit the front with my index finger - It’s real. It’s here. She’s really done it. A real proper, sassy, nails book. Allegra you rock.
Saturday, July 15, 2006
War on knowledge. Who says you can't make war on abstract nouns? Here's a depressing story about the campaign of murder and intimidation being carried out by the Taliban in order to close girls' schools.
I often get depressed about Islam's role in the world. It is depressing to think about the fact that the Taliban can still do this, and still want to do this. Or, to take an example from the other side of the globe, it is depressing to think that the man The Australian describes as "nation's Islamic leader", Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali, has claimed the Holocaust is a "Zionist lie."
Revelations that the nation's most senior Islamic cleric has been openly preaching extreme messages to his mainstream followers will be a major setback for the Howard Government.
However I also remember that the Afghan pupils who continue to seek education and the teachers who continue to educate despite the risks are Muslims. Muslim heroines.
Sporadic Chronicle has a post on piracy. First the view of a nautical trade union:
Yet there is little appetite for arming merchant crews, not least because of the potential legal complications for crew members who might shoot someone in an attack. And [nautical trade union] Numast has expressed fears it would only trigger an "arms race with the pirates".To which Rob comments:
Friday, July 14, 2006
"Two sides - one war" says the front page headline on today's Times.
Er, isn't that the usual arrangement?
No, I haven't got anything more useful to say. I didn't expect all this.
UPDATE: However Dan Simon does have something more useful to say and did expect all this.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
There can be only one. Incoming mail:
Natalie,Not so fast, Moriarty. The solution to a quadratic does, it is true, give two permitted values of x. But it is one answer. The one and only answer.
There is no scope for x to find its own path in life.
Education, education, education blogs.
¹ It's all explained in Highlander.
² Mathematics II: The Quickening.
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Mass murder in India - of the type made bloodily familiar in Madrid and London.
New Delhi TV says at least 146 people have been killed. (UPDATE: this link no longer works. The one below does.)
The NDTV website has this page giving links to major Indian newspapers.
Now that's what I call a responsible job. According to George Monbiot, writing in the Guardian about nuclear power, bureaucrats making the wrong decision about British energy policy must be held responsible for the consequences ... all the consequences, for as long as the Earth shall abide. He writes:
And how does any system - political or technological - cope with the timescales involved? If, as a result of slow leakage into the groundwater, radioactive materials from a burial site were to kill an average of only one person a year for one million years, those who made the decision to bury them will - through their infinitesimal and unrecorded impacts - be responsible for the deaths of a million people.The scene: Bureaucrat Heaven, Anno Domini one million...
VOICE OFF SCREEN: Go, go, go!
SECRETARY: Oh, Mr Pye, come quick, someone just broke down the door of our cloud.
Commotion. Smoke grenades.
MR PYE: What is the meaning of this?
OFFICER (Shoving ID card under Pye's nose) Police raid! J S Pye KCMG, you are under arrest.
MR PYE: W-w-what have I done?
OFFICER: Like you didn't know. Stand away from the desk. Don't move those wings.
MR PYE: You can't do this! This cloud is the property of the Department of Celestial Affairs. I'll have you know that I am on very good terms with Minister Shang-Ti himself.
SECRETARY (helpfully): The Minister gave Mr Pye a medal. One million years devoted service, it said.
OFFICER: The Minister sent me, perp. Says here that you have caused the untimely deaths of one million persons over the period 2006 - 1,002,006 AD.
MR PYE: But - but - I lived a virtuous life. Dam-d-d-darn it, I'm in heaven. You can't take that away from me because of the cumulative consequences of one mistake propagated over a period a hundred times longer than civilisation had existed up till then - (Suddenly remembering he is on home ground) Just you wait a minute! (Turns to computer screen, types frantically) It says here that you have caused the deaths of five trillion people over the the last million years as a result of your life on Earth as a Guardian columnist.
OFFICER MONBIOT: Nice try, perp, but no cigar ...
SECRETARY: I should hope not. Heaven has a strict no-smoking policy.
OFFICER MONBIOT: ... I'll have you know that I got a free pardon for the Guardian stuff.
MR PYE (bewildered): You mean that even after the untold misery caused throughout human and post-human history by the economic and philosophical fallacies you helped propagate, they let you off?
OFFICER MONBIOT: Sheesh, yeah. That was just politics. Honest mistake.
MR PYE: Exactly! My point exactly! Don't you see that my little mistake with the nuclear waste is just the same ...
OFFICER MONBIOT: Nuclear waste? What are you talking about? Museums down on Earth pay good money for that stuff nowadays. No, your rap sheet doesn't mention any nuclear waste. J S Pye, it is my duty to inform you that the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Galactic Plagues all originated from your decision on or about the sixth of February 2006 when caught without a Kleenex to surreptitiously wipe your nose on your sleeve. Now say goodbye to your departmental harp, evildoer. 'Cos you are going down.
Monday, July 10, 2006
A la recherche du Who perdu. Still busy and I really didn't need to waste my work time reading Dr Who and Tomorrow People nostalgiablogging at Crooked Timber. (Added later: that came out sounding (a) rude and (b) as if I didn't lovingly read all three posts and all the comments despite many more urgent tasks.)
Well, I hid behind the sofa. Years later that sofa got old and was put out on the street upside down prior to being taken away. And I had this profound redemptive flashback experience about the strap of yellow webbing that ran along the base of the sofa and held the cover on. Hello sofa webbing, I haven't seen you since I was eight! I nearly snipped off a bit to save it from death but refrained through decorum. I believe Proust describes something similar, but knowing these French literary chaps he probably meant more than just biscuits. I only mean sofa webbing, though.
Friday, July 07, 2006
A journey interrupted. I'm busy today and don't have much time to blog. But to say that is to remember that no one knows how much time they have left to do anything.
Rachel from North London writes:
It feels like a lot longer than a year. I wish I could turn back the clock, that I had never got on the train, that the bombers had changed their minds and decided not to go through with it. I wish.(From this entry. Via Iain Dale.)
Wednesday, July 05, 2006
China to ban news reports of major disasters because telling angry, grief-stricken people that the mine collapse never happened makes them like you better.
In Russia, back in the old days, they never admitted to air crashes. I heard of a couple who waved goodbye to their daughter who was flying off to start a course at Moscow University. After a while they started to wonder why she hadn't written. They were left to wonder.
Even then, with tighter control of communications than the Chinese government will ever have again (God willing), the Soviets couldn't get away with it forever. Word of mouth grinds slow but it grinds exceeding small.
Revisionist indeed. A letter in the Guardian from PJ Lewis says,
Interesting to note that the revisionist view of the Battle of the Somme being peddled in some of the media did not appear until practically all the survivors had passed away. Now the view is that the Somme was necessary and led to victory in the end. You can be sure such rubbish would have been quickly put in its place by the men who fought and survived.One of the comments to this BBC column by Peter Caddick-Adams points out that 200,000 men who fought in and survived the Great War attended Haig's funeral.
Mr Lewis's letter continues:
... To wait until the deaths of the last survivors until expressing this view is not only offensive, but also cowardly.While Googling for when Douglas Haig: The Educated Soldier came out (it was 1963), I found this essay by John D Clare. He attempts to come to a synthesis between pro- and anti-Haig views, but along the way lists some of the dozens of historians who have been arguing this question for more than four decades.
All Greek to me. JEM writes
Any day now, this guy Iosephus is going to get Chinese spam.
Monday, July 03, 2006
Crack Is Found In Shuttle's Foam Insulation, reports the NYT.
These drug smugglers go to extraordinary lengths.
Gotta, gotta do some work.
The only real person in the universe, continued. Michael Jennings quoted my earlier question (Is it just me or does anyone else worry that they may be the only real person in the universe?) and replied:
Yes, of course I do. But you could be just imagining that I amAnother reader writes:
This is one of the reasons why I remain fiercly agnostic. I can't believe in the whole 'big beard in the sky' thing. If God's up there watching over us and occasionly intervening, I can think of a few things He could be intervening in right now. (In fact, I sometimes while away my time thinking up a few divine interventions I'd like to see.)You are not wasting my time. I liked reading your email plenty better than the brick-wall bashing I am meant to be doing with this computer, I assure you. When I enter my last hours and the curtain around my personal universe starts to tear I don't think I will begrudge time spent thinking of such things.
But, um, guys, did anyone get my joke?
UPDATE: The second reader, now revealed as Kevin B, writes:
Of course I got your joke^. I was the one making it.
Insha'Allah. JEM is doing most of my blog today, which is good because I'm busy. What follows really ought to be issued as part of a textbook for Saudi students of English. JEM writes:
When, some 20 years ago, I was for my sins working on a project in Saudi Arabia, the Most Important Single Event was getting on the plane to go home on leave -- and in Saudi nothing was ever certain to happen until it actually did happen.
"Carpe Diem!" says JEM in response to this post:
The most successful constitution, most reckon, is the American one -- which after all was written in or just after pretty 'dismal times'.It could have been better phrased, but by "dismal times" I had in mind not times when dismal events occur but times in which a dismal and socialistic spirit reigns. O tempora! O mores!
Sunday, July 02, 2006
This, that and benignancy. Via Tim Worstall I came across an FT essay to bookmark, posted by blogger "the New Economist": The truth behind the top five trade myths. One of the comments to the New Economist's confidently argues that myths one, two and three are not myths at all.
Again via Tim Worstall, but this time from the Britblog roundup, comes this little post about how a difference between British and American English caused mass blanching on the part of plane passengers.
(I heard that when pilots from Arab countries announce landing is imminent they say, "We shall be landing in Dubai in five minutes, if God wills it." ... And some of the passengers are thinking, er, is there some doubt about this?)
One of the other pleasures of Britblog roundup is following the links from above and below the links. A million blessings upon the f-word via whom I came to find ... Benign Girl.
Before I came to my senses I had actually handed over Benign Girl as a birthday gift and I knew immediately by Billy's reaction that I had been right about Benign Girl which he now keeps in a sealed plastic bag.
Saturday, July 01, 2006
Muslims having fun. What is your problem with that? A piece for Samizdata.