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, December 26, 2006
Monday, December 25, 2006
And it came to pass in those days, there went forth a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world be enrolled --
this enrollment first came to pass when Cyrenius was governor of Syria --
and all were going to be enrolled, each to his proper city,
and Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, that is called Bethlehem, because of his being of the house and family of David,
to enroll himself with Mary his betrothed wife, being with child.
And it came to pass, in their being there, the days were fulfilled for her bringing forth,
and she brought forth her son -- the first-born, and wrapped him up, and laid him down in the manger, because there was not for them a place in the guest-chamber.
-Luke Chapter 2 verses 1 -7, Young's literal translation. (Via Bible Gateway.)
Saturday, December 23, 2006
Just get those ambulances covered and Lucy Lawless will be there. Alex Bensky writes,
First, of course, Happy Christmas, Natalie. (You note my cultural awareness--I wish you a happy rather than a merry Christmas.) As David Steinberg used to say, "This year let's put the 'Christ' back in 'Christmas' and the 'Ch' back in 'Chanukah.'"
Crime and safety. The comments, including mine, to this Samizdata post, move into a discussion of crime trends. I said,
Nick M writes: "I don't believe this utopia ever existed." This is one of those arguments in which, like a well-known chess opening, the first ten moves are already well known.(In the original I accidentally wrote "Did this or any other utopia already exist?" UPDATE: Either Old Father Samizdata or one of his gun-toting elves has silently corrected it there.)
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Remember Habits of Highly Effective Countries?
Freedom and Whisky takes a look at how Scotland measures up.
A Palestinian doctor and five Bulgarian nurses have been sentenced to death in Libya. This is their second death sentence, after an earlier one was struck down. As I said elsewhere,
When plague struck medieval Europe, an uneducated and fearful populace, unable to believe that the catastrophe could have a natural origin, would frequently blame the plague on the deliberate action of foreigners or infidels and launch a pogrom against the Jews. This pattern of behaviour has been followed in many other times and places. A modern example occured in Libya in 1999. In this case the victims were five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor. They were accused of deliberately infecting 400 Libyan children with AIDS and, after confessions were extorted by torture, condemned to death in 2004.Until yesterday I had been reasonably confident that the whole second trial was face-saving window dressing to allow Colonel Gadaffi, who must have some inkling of how barbaric this whole affair makes his country look, to release them with a minimum of embarrassment. It seems I was wrong, and that "makes his country look" is fast changing to "reveals his country to be." I still hold out some hope this is merely extortion.
Black Triangle has more, including an address for the Libyan embassy.
Al Qaeda in Ireland. Tom Carew of No surrender - ne pasaran has blogged about the programme shown on Ireland's RTE 1 channel last night on the subject of Al Qaeda activity and sympathisers in the Republic. This is what Mr Carew has to say about one equivocator:
... this Centre's Dawa [faith propoaganda] is directed by the very fluent Ali Selim, who, on-air, said he "did not know OBL", and so could neither respect nor disrespect him. And I also never met the late Herr Hitler, or the late Comrade Marshal Stalin, or the late Chairman Mao, or OBL, or Pol Pot, but I have no problem in reaching, and stating, a clear answer to the direct question of whether I respect such mass, serial murderers.
You mean there are people who'd do that? The words of a member of Hamas, quoted in a Times article about the violence between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza:
“We were taken by surprise this morning. They came in an ambulance, which we didn’t expect. We lost heavily. We’re more prepared now for the tricks they might use.”I'm not surprised he was surprised. What unprecedented depravity.
Cue ominous background music. David Gillies, foreign desk editor here, saw one of my comments to Worstall's blog, and emailed:
So far in my life, my total time spent on all computer games taken together is about twenty minutes. And a quarter-hour of that was Space Invaders in a chip shop* of my youth. But my husband used to love Elite and, funnily enough, we were talking just last night about the randomly-generated descriptions of the races one came across. He said they were of the type "friendly fat felines", "hostile small lapines", and so on. Elite ... rabbits ... elite rabbits ... What can it all mean? Am I but a computer game being played by some strange lapine überbeing?
*Sadly, this shop was invaded by aliens shortly after my visit.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
It's like some horrible campaigning drama but it's real.
What works. What doesn't. Continuing on the theme of development, and of how delusions such as those propagated by Christian Aid ultimately cost lives, here is something I meant to post earlier.
Habits of Highly Effective Countries: Lessons for South Africa by Leon Louw.
What came across most strongly was Leon’s absolute, fist clenched determination to distinguish between, on the one hand, what he would merely like to be true about what happens in well (and badly) governed countries, and, on the other hand, what he is actually able to report to be true about these places. As he said right at the start, what he is trying to do is to amass facts that are simply impossible to argue against. This is what successful countries do. This is what failed countries do. And so on.
Plug endorsed by me. Minor in comparison with all these virtues, but a useful piece of information in the paper that is nonetheless worth noting: Starting at the end of page 24 of Mr Louw's paper and going on to page 25 there is a nice, clear explanation of why all increases in general prosperity also increase the "income gap" between rich and poor, this being a result of the greed and malice of the laws of mathematics.
Monday, December 18, 2006
Good tidings we bring to you and your kin. Especially if you and your kin are poor citizens of a poor country who would like to try some other, less picturesque style of life. The good tidings consist of the fact that Claire Melamed, the woman responsible for much of Christian Aid's protectionist message has hopped it from that organisation. Jumped or pushed? Don't ask me. Don't ask at the Christian Aid website either, 'cos I just did and they aren't telling.
Despite this welcome news - OK, OK, I'm sure she only wants to help and loves her cats "Lolly" and "Pop" - despite this welcome news, the Christian Aid Trade Justice Q&A page doesn't seem to have changed. Since 1970.
Will Natalie now be returning to her hereditary office of Christian Aid donor, collector and all-round warming presence?
Not just yet. Even if - big if - Christian Aid have partially reformed on the economic front, there are still other issues. I get the impression that the author of the Christian Hate? website is a bit of a softie, politically. But he gets a little cranky at the sight of anti-semitism. Read this summary.
Robbing Peter to pay Paul only really works when Peter is unaware of the process. Gareth at Albion's Seedlings writes:
Labour seem to have got themselves into a right pickle. Up in Scotland they must convince the Scots that they do well out of the Union; that money flows into Scottish coffers from English tax-receipts, in order to fend off the electoral threat of the Scottish nationalists that carries with it the threat of Scottish independence. Down in England they must explain themselves.The comment by Ed brings historical perspective:
... it has been going on since time immemorial – the Whig ascendancy in the 18th Century was institutionally Scottophobic since they feared that the smaller, poorer electoral constituencies in North Britain were soft targets for royal patronage ...
For the record, I am one of those who - possibly from "aesthetic and romantic reasons", as Ed calls them - would like to see the Union preserved.
Time for Plan B. "What is this cricket of which you speak, Australian fellow?"
Strategy suggested by Patrick Crozier.
This post orginally contained an email from the Editor -in- Chief of The Gambia Echo and my response to it. I've since learned that his original email was not intended for publication, so I have taken the post down.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Samizdata neat analogy of the day. Not mine, alas. Shannon Love's.
Another one for my list of self-antonyms. (More here.)
"Dyke" can be either a ditch or a rampart. Offa's is both. And yes, I am aware of a third meaning. On this blog we prefer hot water bottles.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Beautiful and good is the Coyote Blog for giving us this example of The Broken Windows Fallacy. (Via the Adam Smith Institute. Also beautiful and good for quoting me.)
The tribe least changed by horses and guns. Peculiar of Odious and Peculiar writes about the Sheepeater Shoshone of central Idaho.
The few ethnographers who were aware of them at all long assumed that the Sheepeaters were degenerate hillbilly Shoshones, living a benighted existence in the mountains and evidently unable to find anything better to do. In fact, the Sheepeaters were known for excellent quality hides; they tanned one sheep's hide with two sheeps' brains, producing a valuable item that was traded for foreign commodities (notably obsidian; stone from both Yellowstone and the Cascades has been found in the area), and not a mark of abject poverty. Furthermore, there is no record of the Sheepeters eating grasshoppers, common practice among the Plains Shoshone and Bannock. Eating salmon instead of bugs is usually a sign that one is fairly well-off.True - although some peoples regard insects as a delicacy even now.
This put me in mind (as we bloggers like to say when trying to make a near-random firing of adjacent neurons look like a respectable link) of the debate as to the purpose of Offa's Dyke. Was it a fortification, telling of a time when "it was customary for the English to cut off the ears of every Welshman who was found to the east of the dyke, and for the Welsh to hang every Englishman whom they found to the west of it" and when war might break out at any time? Others have said that the dyke was too low and discontinuous to ever have been meant as a serious barrier; that a society in which a symbolic boundary is worth raising, because it is expected to be obeyed, must have been peaceful and orderly.
I sometimes wonder what the future will make of us.
US bugged Diana's phone on night of death crash, reports the Guardian. Just the "US". Shocking. Let me tell you, that sort of thing wouldn't have happened when that nice Mr Clinton was president.
UPDATE: Jim Miller has an interesting thought:
...I will note this point: The British papers are saying that the US "secret service" acted on its own, but the two countries have many times cooperated in spying on each other's nationals. It is by no means impossible that we did a favor for the British government in this case, just as they have done favors for us.
Monday, December 11, 2006
Pinochet. Daniel Finkelstein says, "Right-wing apologists for Pinochet should be ashamed of themselves." One of the justifications he sarcastically imagines a right-winger offering is, "What's a little murdering when he introduced a funded pension scheme?"
I don't think Pinochet's free-market reforms excuse his crimes.
I do think that their success is yet another argument for capitalism. Why was Pinochet a capitalist? Not out of a deeply felt love for liberty, that's for sure. Yet capitalism is so much superior to socialism that even when administered by dictators and torturers, capitalist countries do better than socialist ones.
What does "the rule of law" really mean? Lawrence Solum of Legal Theory Blog writes:
Sooner or later most law students run into a reference to "the rule of law," but in my experience, this idea is rarely explained when its introduced. This entry in the legal theory lexicon is designed to give you a fairly solid foundation with respect to the content of the rule of law and to get you thinking about what functions the rule of law serves.
And Mr Solum's explanation does exactly that. (Via Instapundit.)
What does "the rule of law" not mean? This.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
Britblog roundup once again.
Try out this post about a four hundred year old poem about death and time. No, you need not back away nervously muttering about all this culture not being your cup of tea. It's a bit of a laff.
The dignity of labour - a post for Samizdata about rickshaw pullers.
Saturday, December 09, 2006
Plotting. Regarding this post, Alex Bensky writes:
Robert Heinlein once said there were just three basic plots: boy meets girl; Jack the giant killer; and the man who learns better.
No surrender - ne pasaran is a new blog by Tom Carew.
As he sought to put down his thoughts as to why he wanted to blog, the ghosts crowded in. Read it here. Some excerpts:
I used a traditional Hebrew phrase in my URl - "safra ve'saifa", which means " a man of the book and a man of the sword". I spotted it in a comment by veteran Israeli political leader, Simon Peres about the Dublin-reared 6th President of Medinat Israel, Maj-Gen Chaim Herzog ...I'm going to stop there, but Tom Carew goes on to meditate on many different men and women who have borne the name "Collins", and on the Irish Diaspora and finally on jihad.
The author has mostly concentrated on You Tube clips. And well chosen ones - this told me something about how Osama Bin Laden's character might have been formed - but I would welcome more of his writing.
A fine broad stairway. The United Nations is free of that irritating man, Bolton. Photon Courier quotes Churchill.
Without his unhelpful carping about getting Kofi Annan to declare his wealth, perhaps now at last they can get down to work.
A 14-year-old described her abduction and rape inside a UN naval base in the country two years ago.
In other UN news, the discredited Human Rights Commission was replaced by the new Human Rights Council.
The accursed power which stands on PrivilegeEven Mary Robinson was disappointed with the way that the much-hailed Council has turned out.
UPDATE: I'm &@!%$#-ed off with the UN. Can you tell? I'm reading Markings, a book of poems, prayers and thoughts by Dag Hammarskjöld. What a come-down it is to his successor, Kofi Abu Kojo.
Friday, December 08, 2006
Reading Recovery is a programme designed to help children who are failing to learn to read. In this post for Biased BBC I argue that it is not as universally admired as an article on the BBC website suggests. Spot where I veered off into General Rant Mode.
UPDATE: On second thoughts, since it was about more than just the BBC article, I've decided to cross-post it here.
Curb your enthusiasm. This article by the BBC's education correspondent, Mike Baker, was published in November: "A way all children can be readers." The article is one long exhalation of praise for a reading scheme called Reading Recovery aimed at children who are failing to learn to read. Mr Baker writes:
Is this the biggest missed opportunity in education?The article talks as if all that stopped heaven on earth being established in 1995 was John Major's Conservative government pulling the plug on funding. Later, confounding hopes placed in it by supporters of the scheme, Tony Blair's Labour government did much the same.
Not everyone thinks Reading Recovery is wonderful. Most of the critics don't think the programme is bad in itself. They just think it costs a fortune for the effect it has, and the money could be better spent.
Here are a few links pro and con.
An oft-quoted paper attacking it is Reading Recovery: An evaluation of Benefits and Costs by Grossen, Coulter and Ruggles.
Here is a response from Gay Su Pinnell supporting Reading Recovery.
Reading Recovery: distinguishing Myth from Reality by Tunmer and Chapman. Critical.
Reading Recovery: Anatomy of Folly by Martin Kozloff. Very critical.
Evaluation of Reading Recovery in London Schools by Sue Burroughs-Lange. Supportive.
Every child a reader: Results of the first year. This report is not pretending to be anything other than advocacy in favour of Reading Recovery. That does not make it wrong, of course, and there is plenty of information there. I think this is the document upon which Mr Baker's article was based.
Although there is evidence that Reading Recovery is helpful it does not justify Mr Baker's uncritical enthusiasm.
For instance, the paper by Sue Burroughs-Lange compares the results for 234 of the lowest achieving children at several primary schools. It says the group getting RR did better than the control group "who received a range of other interventions." So the control group was really several very different groups with small numbers of children in each. Furthermore, so far as I could see from the information on page 21 onwards none of the alternatives were anything like as intense as Reading Recovery, so it is hardly surprising that they were less effective. A similar criticism was made on page 7 of this paper by Jonathan Solity of the control groups for Slyva and Hurry's 1995 favourable evaluation of Reading Recovery.
Although Mr Baker writes,
It [Reading Recovery] is not an alternative to the general teaching methods for whole classes but is, instead, a highly structured intervention strategy for rescuing children who are struggling to take even the first steps towards reading.True, but in the real world any one use of money excludes other uses of the same money. The strategy of taking children out of class for one-to-one instruction by people specifically trained in Reading Recovery is very expensive. It also (and in the context of teachers' interests the expense may not be a bug, but a feature) can be used as an alternative to having general teaching methods for whole classes that might gain better results with the use of fewer trained personnel.
(My personal opinion is that the history of the teaching of reading over the last century could be described as one long epic struggle by educators of every clime and tongue to avoid admitting that progressive methods don't work. A century of toil has almost sufficed to bring us back to the standard reached by the Victorians.)
In the US, Reading Recovery is more politicised than in the UK, there having been a big bust-up over its inclusion or exclusion from a government programme called Reading First. It is seen there as being on the anti-phonics side of the Reading Wars. This is not quite fair. The founder, Marie Clay, sought to mimimize the explicit teaching of phonics, but the phonics component has been increased since.
One wouldn't necessarily expect all that detail to be discussed in this one BBC article, and one certainly wouldn't expect the state broadcaster to rant away like a common blogger. But the BBC could have done better than just "For the last 10 years there has been no shortage of research evidence showing its effectiveness."
Monday, December 04, 2006
(N.B. An update was added to this post on Tuesday.)
Nikkogen, a company claiming to have
a global license to manufacture/market zero-emission Prime Mover Systems that are designed to drive large electrical alternators to generate clean carbon-free electricity.are making legal noises at bloggers who linked to Tim Worstall's discussion of the subject.
The Nikkogen FAQ page is informative on points that do not matter, vague on points that do.
Q: WHERE IS NIKKOGEN LOCATED?"South Wales, United Kingdom, Earth" might do for a company address come the Galactic Empire - but here and now it would be reassuring to see a street and town. Or a patent application number that referred to something to do with energy rather than an "INSITU CONCRETE SAFETY FEATURE WITH REFLECTOR FOR A KERB", which is what the application number quoted to Tim Worstall refers to.
Looking at its website, Nikkogen could well be called a company of the future. At some time in the future it promises to announce to the public its recruitment plans, its public investment listing, the names of its partner companies in other industries, the events it will be attending, the cost of the power stations it will provide and a little more information - such as any at all - on how its revolutionary power plants, desalinisation systems or marine propulsion systems work. At present none of this information is available.
I would also like to see the name of a single customer and to know what body issued that "global license."
UPDATE: Tim Worstall has now been told a new patent application number. This one comes up "FLUID WHEEL DRIVE SYSTEM" - that does sound more relevant to power generation.
Nonetheless, I am amazed that Nikkogen is blithely talking about setting up both 40 megawatt and 240 megawatt power stations. In fact it gives the impression that you can buy one now. ("To purchase a 40-Megawatt or 240-Megawatt Zero-Emission Power Station, please contact us by telephone, fax or email for further information via the contact page.") Setting up a power station is a big undertaking. Like this fact or hate it, the state is involved at every stage. Generating stations of over 50MW are subject to consent from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. Even for smaller stations you'd expect planning applications and environmental assessments and all that sort of stuff to be in the public domain years in advance.
Development of a new technology is also a big undertaking. You'd expect to see it tested in the laboratory, then at gradually increasing scales, with peer-reviewed scientific papers and press conferences and patents galore. Again, like it or not, for something promising to revolutionise energy supply you'd expect the state to have its paws in every stage of the process - and to be supplying large chunks of the money.
Here's a comparison. Between 2001 and 2004 there was a project, partly funded by the DTI, to build a "demonstration plant at utility scale" at Little Barford power station for the Regenesys energy storage system. (The parent company later pulled out and the technology has been sold to a Canadian company.) A Google search for websites mentioning both "Little Barford" and "Regenesys" gets 326 hits. Technical journals, DTI reports, detailed press releases, the lot. And all that was for a much smaller project than what Nikkogen is proposing.
"Unity" of the blog Ministry of Truth, one of the bloggers threatened with legal action by Nikkogen, has a post about the physics of all this. And a song or two. Considering how Nikkogen's Mr Jenkins behaved to him, Unity is pretty charitable.
"Alas, I like law too much." Toby of Bilious Young Fogey is Normblogged.
I Want My Mummy! or Why Understanding Economics is Hard.
You've heard of the seven basic plots. Now learn about the four basic ways of living with other humans. The research of Alan Fiske is summarized in this column for the Philadelphia Inquirer by Andrew Cassel.
Alan Fiske (or Alan Page Fiske as seems to be his own preferred form of his name, judging from the cover of his book) claims that human beings tend to follow four relational models in their ways of interacting. The reader with ten minutes to spare is promised or warned that this essay, Fiske's own "overview" of the four models, will start trains of thought that may take years to complete. For the two-minute reader, here is how the four models are described in Cassel's column.
Here's another, more biographical article about Fiske and his ideas. He first thought of this twenty years ago. Since then he's been dreading the moment when someone in the audience would say, hey you idiot - what about this fifth /sixth / seventh model? But no one ever has.
When models collide, trouble follows. Cassel writes:
For example, you might see housework as a communal-sharing function, while your spouse approaches it as equality-matching. Neither is wrong, yet you still end up angry or guilty when the laundry isn't done.Note that market pricing came last to human history and is the last one individuals learn to use - if they ever do. It needs an understanding of ratios.
That does not make it the good model and all the other models bad. Not unless you want to invoice your children for services rendered, anyway. But it is a reasonable analogy to call the market pricing model the most evolved, or least primitive model.
Cassel's column, with its provocative mention of Marxism as an example of the "communal sharing" model, was published on November 24th. Although going on what I have read so far Fiske himself does not seem to have drawn any strong political conclusions - in fact he cites the work of Marx as one of the minor influences that helped him to build his theory - one or two bloggers have picked up on Cassel's equation of Marxism with the communal sharing model. Classical Values asks, "I wonder whether the emotional appeal of Communism might have represented an evolutionary step backwards, repackaged rhetorically so that its proponents could pat themselves on the back and maintain they were moving forward."
One Cosmos writes: "Economic conflicts arise when one group or person is operating under a different type of interaction than another. For example, if you are a primitive progressive operating under the aegis of small group “communal sharing,” you may well believe that higher education, healthcare, housing, tattoos, tattoo removal, and gender reassignment surgery should all be granted to you by the government free of charge."
I agree with these two bloggers that the relative lack of appeal of market pricing, despite its superior record in creating wealthy and peaceful societies, is something to do with it being the most difficult model. But I'm not sure that the appeal of Marxism wholly rests on it being communal sharing. I came across this comment on Laban Tall's blog this morning:
They [progressives who ally with Islamists] can't imagine western civilization collapsing any more than a five-year old can imagine his parents' marriage breaking up. Unlike the five-year-old, they're in a position to help it along, but of course they can't comprehend that.Yes, I cried, and that immediately helped me to understand ...
Whoa, now. Perhaps before I start to apply Fiske's models to this, that and the other, I should do more than ten minutes' reading on what they actually are.
Then I can tell you how this all links in to the Anglosphere somehow, and with Fukuyama's concepts of high and low-trust societies. Let me finish for now with another quote from Fiske's overview:
But the diversity of culturally organized, complex social relationships presents a seemingly impossible learning problem: how can a child, an immigrant, or a visitor possibly discover the principles that underlie relationships in a strange culture (such as the one into which you are born)? The coordination of interaction is all the more challenging because of the variety of domains that must be coordinated: work, exchange, distribution and consumption, moral judgments, sanctions and forms of redressing wrongs, aggression, sexuality, social identity, the meaning of objects, places, and time. If people use different models to coordinate each domain, how can they deal with the resulting cognitive complexity of social life, let alone integrate several domains to form a personal relationship or an institution?
Sunday, December 03, 2006
Oil on troubled waters. Over at Biased BBC I ended up delivering a little lecture about the way the oil market works. Never let it be said that I allow near-complete ignorance about a subject to cramp my expository style. If I've got it wrong, tell me and gloat. Competitors are limited to one use per household of the word "fungibility."
Brotblig rundoup. The words "Britblog roundup" exert an irresistible compulsion to spoonerize, or whatever the equivalent process for vowels is called.
This week's choice was easy, given the subject of some of my recent posts. Read An Englishman's Castle on another way that Britain was involved in slavery - as a source of slaves.
The comment by "Umbongo" is funny.