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:
November 2001 December 2001 January 2002 February 2002 March 2002 April 2002 May 2002 June 2002 July 2002 August 2002 September 2002 October 2002 November 2002 December 2002 January 2003 February 2003 March 2003 April 2003 May 2003 June 2003 July 2003 August 2003 September 2003 October 2003 November 2003 December 2003 January 2004 February 2004 March 2004 April 2004 May 2004 June 2004 July 2004 August 2004 September 2004 October 2004 November 2004 December 2004 January 2005 February 2005 March 2005 April 2005 May 2005 June 2005 July 2005 August 2005 September 2005 October 2005 November 2005 December 2005 January 2006 February 2006 March 2006 April 2006 May 2006 June 2006 July 2006 August 2006 September 2006 October 2006 November 2006 December 2006 January 2007 February 2007 March 2007 April 2007 May 2007 June 2007 August 2007 October 2007 February 2008 April 2008 May 2008 June 2008 July 2008 September 2008 October 2008 November 2008 December 2008 January 2009 March 2009 May 2009 June 2009 July 2009 August 2009 October 2009 January 2010 March 2010 May 2010 June 2010 July 2010 August 2010 September 2010 October 2010 November 2010 December 2010 January 2011 February 2011 April 2011 June 2011 August 2011 September 2011 October 2011 November 2011 January 2012 February 2012 March 2012 April 2012 May 2012 June 2012 July 2012 August 2012 September 2012 October 2012 November 2012 December 2012 January 2013 February 2013 March 2013 April 2013 May 2013 June 2013 July 2013 August 2013 September 2013 October 2013 November 2013
Monday, October 24, 2005
We'll be visiting family for the rest of half term week. This time we will have the laptop with us, but whether I will find time to use it is another matter.
Your fruitless visit to Le Monde's site is entirely in keeping with my own experience:To be fair, I think the annals of all nations tend to be best-thumbed in the chapters where they win.
Loud and clear. Brazil has voted for the right to remain armed.
Samizdata and Instapundit comment further.
Perhaps the Brazilians learned from the British experience.
The way to quell dangerous rumours. I wrote a piece on why it was a bad idea to fudge the issue of race in reporting the Birmingham riots for Biased BBC.
Words that have contradictory meanings.
Friday, October 21, 2005
Nelson's final prayer written on the night before Trafalgar:
May the Great God, whom I worship, grant to my Country, and for the benefit of Europe in general, a great and glorious Victory; and may no misconduct in any one tarnish it; and may humanity after Victory be the predominant feature in the British Fleet. For myself, individually, I commit my life to Him who made me, and may his blessing light upon my endeavours for serving my Country faithfully. To Him I resign myself and the just cause which is entrusted to me to defend. Amen. Amen. Amen.I found this on The Monarchist's series of posts about Trafalgar in real time minus two hundred years. That, in turn, I found via Tim Worstall. Among the comments to the Monarchist's post is one from a Spanish admirer of Nelson.
Another commenter, "dearime", says, "I preferred the period when public figures kept their religious opinions to themselves." My impression is that Nelson's prayer, while perfectly sincere - he knew that he might be writing it on the last night of his life - was a public but not a cynical act. He had one eye (if you will pardon the expression) on his own place in history. However that did not mean he was faking it. He of all men did not say or think the words "glory" or "honour" with a wry smile as we do even in our most exalted moments. For him honour was the wellspring of goodness, and his personal honour was unselfconsciously bound up with national honour. When he wrote to ask God to ensure that "no misconduct in any one" would tarnish his hoped-for victory he knew that if he was killed his words would be read and made public, and they would make it more likely that no misconduct would tarnish his victory. And that was truly, I think, the thing for which he prayed most fervently in his innermost heart.
I really, truly didn't go here to gloat. I just thought it would be interesting to look at the Trafalgar commemorations from their point of view.
But they didn't think it would be interesting to look at the Trafalgar commemorations from their point of view.
More about foreign names given to British ships. In response to this post, Jim Bennett writes
N.A.M. Rodger's great Command of the Ocean has a good discussion of this practice. And don't forget "The Fighting Temeraire" of Turnerian fame. It would have been interesting if the UK had kept this practice up. Had the Bismark been captured rather than sunk there could have been an HMS Bismark.Generate more alternative-world ships for His Majesty here.
My husband points out that after the development of iron hulls, rifled guns and explosive shells ships usually were sunk rather than boarded. However, he says, if the chivalrous customs of Napoleon's time had continued, an HMS Bismark, HMS Graf Spee or HMS Emden would still have been possible even though these ships were sunk. Both sides in the Napoleonic wars sometimes named new ships after a worthy adversary that had been sent to the bottom of the sea, as well as merely keeping the names of prizes.
In case anyone is worried, even in that alternative world there would have been no danger of the Royal Navy ever getting itself landed with a ship called the HMS Adolf Hitler. Hitler was happy have SS Divisions named after him but he was aware enough of the all-or-nothing nature of modern naval warfare to refrain from extending any such practice to ships. After the loss of the Graf Spee, Hitler ordered the Deutschland to be renamed the Lützow. If the ship went down he did not want to see headlines saying "Germany sunk."
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Make his trial impeccable, says Amir Taheri.
Saddam is enjoying what he denied his victims: a public trial with defence lawyers of his choice and the rule of evidence taking into account the principle of reasonable doubt.And that is how it should be.
Mind you, I bagsy the headline "One door closes, another door opens, eh, Saddam?" for later.
On sighting an elephant... I have posted a Samizdata QotD here. It's about Frederick Courtenay Selous. The only thing I knew about this hunter, naturalist, soldier and eccentric yesterday was that the old Rhodesian army named the Selous Scouts after him. Nonetheless, it seems that he is still well-liked enough in Africa to have a wildlife reserve in Tanzania bear his name.
They didn't leave Jack to die alone in a space station full of corpses after all, then.
Good. But what's all this about "dark, wild and sexy"? I'm not sure that is at all the right spirit.
Now that the Big Beast has crawled back to his lair I feel safe enough to say that there was something gloriously fey about even considering for party leader a man loathed by right-wingers for his europhile views* and by left-wingers for being Deputy Chairman of a tobacco company. The cigarette factory in North Korea was nicely calculated to enrage both factions.
The Guardian must have actually believed their own guff about Clarke being a lovable Tory vote-winner to have broken that story while he was still in contention. I knew that idea was rubbish, er, well, I did go wobbly for a bit, but Peter Briffa put me straight. He knows about these things from watching Big Brother.
*I thought of hanging this post on a quotation as I did with the last one, but "la trahison des clercs" was a tad too harsh. And I'd have had to include our beloved Home Secretary among the traitors as well, to account for the plurality of the clerks. On second thoughts...
"And there, scarce less illustrious, goes the clerk."
- William Cowper, On observing some Names of Little Note recorded in the 'Biographica Britannica'.
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
An exchange of compliments. The BBC has an article about the new stamps issued to commemorate the bicentennial of Trafalgar.
The stamps depict details from a rarely-displayed painting by William Heath showing the 1805 battle.But why, when France was the enemy, did two British ships have French names?
According to this, the Entreprenante had been taken as a prize in 1800 and had been left with her original name, as was often the custom when a ship had put up a good fight. Someone once speculated that if the Napoleonic wars had gone on long enough the two fleets would eventually have swapped names entirely.
That never came to pass, but real life went some way along that road. Villeneuve's combined French and Spanish fleet included a Berwick, Nelson's included the Tonnant, and there were three ship names that appeared in the line-ups of both fleets at Trafalgar: Swiftsure, Neptune and Achille. As if a British and a French Neptune were not enough, the Spanish provided a Neptuno.
"There is often found in commentators a spontaneous strain of invective and contempt more eager and venemous than is vented by the most furious controvertist in politicks against those whom he is hired to defame."
- Dr Johnson, Preface to Shakespeare
Great unused blog titles.
1) Why Can't It Chocolate?
2) Blind Elephant in a Bad Mood
The first was invented by Second Offspring, who one winter's day asked, "Why does it always have to snow? Why can't it chocolate?"
The second was applied to imprisoned Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in an officially-sanctioned poem published in the newspaper New Light of Myanmar.
Aspiring bloggers may use either, although I would like a large sum of money first.
Monday, October 17, 2005
It looks likely that the Iraqis have voted to accept the proposed new constitution. But what if they had not? The New York Sun makes a good point:
Even a rejection of the constitution, because of the Sunni turnout, would not be bad news for Iraq. While in sports winning may be almost everything, in democracy taking part is really what counts. By voting the Sunnis have tied themselves to the democratic process. A democratic referendum involves a yes or no option. Only in dictatorships like Iraq under Saddam could a referendum only yield one result. Respected Iraqi democrats, such as Nibras Kazimi, who writes on these pages, have recommended rejecting the constitution, warning it risks giving too much power to clerics. If the constitution is rejected, democracy will continue. Elections will take place as planned in December, and the new parliament will simply start writing a constitution again. And if it the constitution is passed, the agreement made means amendments can be passed dealing with these concerns.On the same lines, every now and then someone raises the spectre of a future democratic Iraq hostile to the US or the West generally. My response is that compared to the spectre of a future Iraqi dictatorship or Islamist gangster state, that ghostie can haunt me any time. So President Chelsea Clinton might have to put up with an Iraqi version of Chirac or Schroeder? Sheesh, that's politics for you. She'll cope.
In fact, I'll go further (this part of the post is being written half an hour later). Even if democracy were to fail in Iraq the fire has been lit and it would return. What a tragedy it would be if, after so much courage has been shown by Iraqi voters, the country were to suffer civil war or a military or religious coup. I do not think that likely but I do think it possible. People often say that Iraq, or the Middle Eastern countries generally, lack a tradition of democracy or a culture of legal, rather than violent, settlement of the question of who should rule. There's something in that. But your traditions grow and your culture is what you do. Twice in the last year great masses of Iraqis have voted, and in the same act have voted for the right to vote. For months, stretching into years now, the Shia majority have not turned to pogroms against the minority Sunni despite anti-Shia terrorism. And for their part the Sunni, this time, have also gone home in their thousands with defiantly purple fingers.
The Iraqi democratic tradition is young. It may die in infancy. But I suspect that even then it would not stay dead. Look at Turkey.
(NY Sun article via Real Clear Politics.)
WWF again. Andrew Duffin writes:
Not the wrestlers, the other lot.
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
You probably won't hear from me until next week. Meanwhile, if you want a really wacky counterfactual, almost too weird for the human mind to encompass, go see what a commenter found for us at Biased BBC
Other seeds fell elsewhere, but they fell on stony ground.
Major post from Jim Bennett on Columbus and what he can and cannot be blamed for.
The New World had been epidemiologically isolated from the Old for geologic eras, and thus was, epidemiologically speaking, a huge tinderbox waiting to be set alight. The first major contact from the Old World would set it alight. As it happened, this was Columbus -- but it could have been Chinese voyagers had the Ming treasure fleets not been cut back, or it could have been Japanese mariners cast adrift on the Japan Current and landing in the Pacific Northwest, or it could have been, as it nearly was, the Portuguese landing in Brazil as they did in 1500, not because they were trying to imitate Columbus, but because they had gone a bit wide turning around the bulge of Africa. Columbus was the agent of this contact, but he can hardly be charged with genocide for it, any more than the nameless Muslim trader from Central Asia who passed on, unwittingly, the bubonic plague to Italy and started the great Black Death epidemic in medieval Europe can be charged with Muslim genocide against Europe.That sense of the adventitiousness of history ties in with my disbelief in racism or national destiny.
In one sense I believe that what the Albion's Seedling bloggers are calling the Exit (the take-off point in history when productivity started to pay more than predation) could only have started in England, with its particular history and geography. Other seeds fell elsewhere, but they fell on stony ground.
In another sense... well, to look deep into the pool of "could have" is perilous and wonderful. Some see themselves reflected there, others quantum physics, others God. Events either happen or they do not. If they do happen they must happen in circumstances in which they could happen.
If another seed had flourished, men of Africa might tell each other that it could all only have begun in Timbuktu.
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
In which I devote 73 times more effort than it is worth into debunking an Independent Statistic of the Day.
That was the statistic I got a bit strange about in this post here. Remember? The Independent said that 73 is the "average number of dangerous chemicals present in the blood of Europeans." It gave no indication of how dangerous a chemical has to be to be called "dangerous", whether "present" meant anything more than present in traces, and how it is demonstrated that these chemicals originated from computers, textiles and cosmetics rather than trees, organic food and wrestlers. The WWF survey did talk about these things, but for the Independent to omit the slightest mention of them converted that great big 73 into nothing more than a great big boo! to frighten the children.
And then I noticed that the dear old Indy couldn't even get its own meaningless frightening statistic right. It said that 73 was the average number of dangerous blahs found blah blah. Yet according to page 20 of the WWF document, of the 107 chemicals analysed for, 73 were detected in the whole survey. The median number was 29.
Back to EU Rota. He, she or they - it appears to be a group blog*, and the author of this post is known only as "GEA3" - took a look at the WWF survey and discovered the number of persons studied.
What does the WWF base their far-reaching 'scientific' study upon? Ahh, page 16 of the report:That's thirty-nine as in three-nine as in one less than forty.
I mean, I'm not saying that a careful study of thirty-nine people has no value to science, but it does seem a little skimpy as a basis from which to draw the rather large policy conclusions that Karl Wagner, the director of the WWF's DetoX campaign, does draw. He is quoted here as asking, "How much more evidence is needed before industry and European politicians accept that these hazardous chemicals cannot be adequately controlled?"
Quite a lot more, Herr Wagner.
Read the rest of EU Rota's post or I will boil your kidneys with 73 different hexes.
Finally, what's with the WWF being a "Foundation" nowadays? A mere Fund was good enough for Sir Peter Scott.
*GEA3 later emailed to say he's a he and there's only one of him. Warned me to stay away from the killer hand soap, too. A kindly thought.
Monday, October 10, 2005
Just one problem, Minister. Last week, Bill Rammell, the Higher Education Minister, was telling the press that the current system of allocating places at university based on predicted A-Level grades was systematically unfair to poorer students. The Guardian on 4 October:
He [Mr Rammell] told the Press Association that his critics were wrong. "It is a difference of view. I think we are absolutely right to be wanting to deal with what is an inherent unfairness in the current system."
To back up his claim, Mr Rammell referred to research carried out by a team from Oxford University on behalf of the Department for Education and Skills.
Just one problem. The research did not say what the Minister said it did. It said the opposite.
In this report for the Times by Tony Halpin, "Minister accused of twisting facts on university admission" (8 October), one of the authors of the report is described as being mystified and annoyed by the way the DfES has presented his research. The Times report says:
The DfES based “the case for change” on the fact that only 45 per cent of predicted A-level grades turn out to be accurate. They were most inaccurate for students “from the lower socio-economic groups and those from certain school or college backgrounds”.
For the record, I am not a defender of the system of conditional offers based on predicted grades. Better to let the students find out their true grades before applying, as Mr Rammell seems to want. But his means of attempting to persuade us ought to get someone the sack.
I'm guessing it won't be Mr Rammell himself. He's a sly one, he is, and is far from out of tricks. Read his reply to the Times.
I have never sought to deliberately mislead anyone. One sentence in the original DfES press release is incorrect. This was a genuine mistake, which I regret and apologise for.[Here is said press release. It's dated 9 October so it ought to be the amended version. However it still contains the claim "The highest socio-economic groups are more likely to have their grades over-predicted, compared to the lowest socio-economic group, who are more likely to receive under-predicted grades." What is going on? I give up.] The Minister continues:
It does not, however, invalidate the central argument made in the release and repeated in countless interviews since: only 45 per cent of predicted A-level grades are accurate.Inaccuracy per se was not his central argument then; systemic bias against poorer students was.
This is of concern for students, whatever their background. However, the predicted grades are most inaccurate for students from lower socio- economic groups and these students are vastly underrepresented in higher education.Mmmmm, drink that last sentence in. Admire the masterly restraint with which the two quite separate ideas "predicted grades are most inaccurate for students from lower socio-economic groups" and "these students are vastly underrepresented in higher education" are linked by a simple, unadorned "and". He knows full well that the human love of a story will take that "and" and construct from it a chain of cause and effect. Only those readers who paid particular attention to the earlier story will see what is going on. The Minister wisely does not recap in his letter what the misleading claim he is accused of spreading actually was. Few will check back.
In the rest of the letter Mr Rammell explains why both under- and over-predicted grades are a problem. All very true, but little to do with what he was saying last week. Last week the claim that deprived students were being underestimated was "crucial". His line then was, "Yes, this is social engineering and I'm proud of it." All this argument about over-predicted grades also being a problem for poor students has been dug up in the last few days. No Labour minister ever born would describe action to stop the poor being overestimated as bold social engineering.
It's as if the star of the show died and an understudy had to be squeezed into the old star's costume whether it fitted or not.
Saturday, October 08, 2005
Nitpicking masterclass. Squander Two writes:
I wasn't thinking of size, I have to admit, but, nevertheless, allow me to pick the nits out of your nit-picking. By the time the Germans marched into France, they'd already taken Austria, Belgium, Prussia, and Czechoslovakia, making their territory the bigger. I think.UPDATE: Honest, on the grave of me sainted Great Uncle Gargantua, when I posted this I didn't know he'd called me the greatest blogger in the universe. Another example of the dreaded peverse incentive (first formally recorded by me, I believe, but then that is what you would expect from the greatest blogger in the universe) whereby Blogger A being praised by Blogger B is an incentive for A to avoid linking to B for the next few days because it looks so crawly otherwise.
Really the greatest? You don't think that XenoPundit on Betelgeuse IV might have the edge?
The ceremony of Explaining the Joke is at once one of the saddest and the most picturesque in the rich pageant of Comedian ceremonial. The unfortunate wretch whose incompetence has made the Ceremony necessary and has thus betrayed the profession is paraded in full view of the Regiment and ceremonially stripped of wig, red nose and floppy shoes. In a final humiliation the culprit's tickle stick is broken over the knee of the Jokester-in-chief.
That last post ... it was ... about the fact that the World Wrestling Federation and the World Wildlife Fund had a big argument over who got to use the initials WWF and I ... sort of ... wanted to - to w-w-work in something about the Independent's statistic being so innumerate and vague and - and - and - not even sss-s-saying who the WWF were and their logo is a panda and can I go to Devil's Island now?
Friday, October 07, 2005
73 the average number of dangerous chemicals present in the blood of Europeans, absorbed from computers, textiles and cosmetics.That is what it says as the "statistic of the day" at the top of page 38 of today's Independent and, to be sure, it is very worrying. Personally I would not want anyone from the WWF to take my blood. Sure, they say those chemicals were put there by computers, textiles and cosmetics but how do we know it was not the wrestlers who did it themselves? A lot of these people are very bad-tempered since the panda-lovers stole their initials, and have taken to using cosmetics in an immoderate manner. I do not know what the EU was thinking of, sending wrestlers round Europe to take people's blood. Maybe when wrestlers turn up at their doors demanding blood European people give in to them, but we are British, thank goodness. I do not want to be prejudiced but the fact is that one can never be sure that a toilet seat has not last been used by a European or a panda.
Joy reigns in the Who community over the recovery of some clips from the lost 1960s Dr Who series The Power of the Daleks. Patrick Crozier explains why the find is so significant. In the comments to the BBC story, "Andyo" says,
Wow. Some toy Daleks being pushed along in a line and four "real" ones (one of which nearly falls over) bumbling about in front of some cardboard cutouts.Andyo has since been converted into a roboman.
The industrial revolution was a terrible thing, in which people were exploited, overworked, dirty and died young due to the evil capitalists - writes Michael Jennings.
Burn the apostate. No, wait, he has more to say:
This is appoximately what I was taught when I went to school, come to think of it. That the industrial revolution was in fact one of the two key events in the development of human civilization (the other being the invention of agriculture, and the invention and development of the computer in the last 65 years is a third, I think) was something I had to figure out for myself.
Thursday, October 06, 2005
I am shocked, shocked. Jim Bennett caps my post about the Gauge Commission of 1845 with a tale of skulduggery.
Yes, that's two "response" posts in a row. Sue me. Truth to tell, I got myself distracted by a composing yet another response, this time to a commenter at Biased BBC. Continuing the theme of Victorian entrepreneurs, he suspects that Biased BBC is run by "a mutton chopped mill owner from 1850 who cryogenically froze himself and has just come out of hibernation." Well put, but I can definitively state that I have no mutton chops. Pity I haven't got the mill, either. Through the magic of compound interest I would now be very rich indeed, and even richer once I had sold all the fabric designs to Zoffany's.
Incomplete cortical inhibition. Normblog rounds up responses to his question about dreams, starting with mine and moving on through others both more erudite and more strange.
Oh dear. I'm not sure it's cool to be a well-organized dreamer. Some people say they are only truly free when they sleep; I only truly have my filing done.
I've had the pattern I described just often enough to recognise it, but usually I can't remember my dreams at all. Although the other night I did buy an orange lolly from an ice-cream shack run by the Taliban.
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
Because you pinched yourself and it didn't hurt. Rubbing his eyes, Norm asks:
OK, so can anybody answer me this? Why is it that you sometimes know, from within a dream, that it's only a dream? Example: a couple of nights ago I dreamt that one of the phones in our house was missing. I don't mean a mobile (aka cell) phone. I mean one of the land-line phones. It was gone, as in misplaced or stolen. And this bothered me. But I sort of sensed that when I woke up the phone's absence would turn out not to be real.My serious answer is that you know because you are coming out of the dream.
My dreams sometimes go through orderly stages of disengagement. At the deepest stage what is happening to me in the dream seems utterly real, emotional, perilous. Then after a while I cease being the protagonist and instead it becomes my friend / relative / generic companion worthy of concern (exact role varies even within one dream but gender is usually preserved) who is the person in peril or whatever. Then it becomes a play I am watching at the theatre, or a TV show - quite often a cartoon. Then, sometimes, I become aware that I can change what is going to happen on the TV. Finally, for a tantalisingly brief period, I become aware that this is a dream and I can control it.
I attribute this progression from "first-person, feels real" to "third-person, known dream" to a gradual mental process of reconciliation between the unlikely or impossible dream-things and reality.
A sense of belonging. In response to a commenter, Squander Two has up, not exactly a defence of Unionism, but what you might call a pre-defence. He runs through the arguments you have to have before you can have the argument about whether people in Northern Ireland should vote for a parliament in Dublin or London.
First, answering the comment "I can see that the whole island of Ireland belongs to the Irish at its most basic level", Squander Two makes a crucial distinction:
Everyone makes this mistake. Tom is confusing "belongs to" with "is run by the government of the nation-state of". The whole of this island does not belong to "the Irish" or to anyone else. For instance, I live in one small bit of it that belongs jointly to me & Vic. That's not a frivolous point.In response to "I mean, just look at the map for heaven's sake", S2 says:
This popular argument only works on small islands. It justifies not only giving Northern Ireland to the Republic, but also the German annexation of Austria, Belgium, and France; the Chinese invasion of Tibet; Saddam's invasion of Kuwait; and, should they ever feel so inclined, the American take-over of Canada. Funny how the IRA's allies in ETA never invoke it.As part of my work towards my Nitpicker badge, I'd have to query whether France comes under the heading. France is bigger than Germany. However that argument would certainly justify giving Portugal to Spain and would mean that any desire Wales or Scotland might have to separate their government from that of England would have to be ruled illegitimate.
While the Conservative Party Conference takes place there has been a great deal of earnest media discussion of how the Tories need to change. Much of this has come from people who do not vote Conservative, but I am willing to take them at their word when they say they want a strong and effective Conservative party for the long-term good of the nation as a whole.
We are told that the modern Conservative Party needs to be:
Tuesday, October 04, 2005
A geezer writes:
I'm sending this to you because yours is the only Brit blog I regularly read, and you were kind enough to answer a question about Brit slang for me once. Is it widely known in your fair land that Piglet, Winnie the Pooh's friend, is now banned from some government offices? (Link from Michelle Malkin.)In answer to your question: yes.
UPDATE: More discussion at Samizdata. There is also another post about the suggestion from the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding that we must find a new flag and new patron saint not associated with the crusades.
If the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding had sat down and tried to think of ways to increase hostility to Arabs and Muslims, they could scarcely have done it more effectively than by this proposal.
Albion's seedling is an Anglosphere group-blog featuring (natch) Jim Bennett, along with Lexington Green, Helen Szamuely and others. I particularly liked this post of his on resilience and disaster.
The resilience and disaster post features steam trains. For most of my male relatives that is reason enough to go there. For those eccentrics who want politics too, be advised that Jim Bennett argues that the apparent wastefulness and incoherence of infrastructure systems built for profit by many different companies (a) helps sort out what actually works, and (b) comes in handy in an emergency.
Point (a) reminded me of the story of Brunel's broad gauge railway. Stephenson adopted the 4' 8½" gauge for no better reason than that was the gauge commonly used in horse-drawn colliery railways. (Saying "no better reason" as I just did is unfair: being able to use existing trucks & truck-building stuff¹ must have saved a packet.) In tests carried out by the Gauge Commission in 1845, Brunel's wider gauge trains satisfied the testers that they could pull heavier loads faster.² Yet it was the narrower gauge that prevailed, mostly because it already had prevailed on the main national trunk route. The Great Western eventually had to convert from broad to narrow gauge at vast expense.
Thus far this story looks like - and often is - a textbook example of path-dependence. Some people wrongly see path-dependent choices as irrational choices. In his book for the IEA, "railway.com", Robert C. Miller argues against this view. He also makes the point that in the history of the railways the path-dependent choice was not necessarily inferior:
While the broad gauge may have had some advantages, these were offset by its extra expense - wider tunnels, cuttings, bridges and embankments, and the extra land required.Standard didn't get to be standard without something going for it.
Robert Miller makes another point too. Converting down from broad to standard may have cost a lot, but it was still an awful lot less than converting up would have.
Jim Bennett's point (b) reminded me of something, too. Unfortunately all the effort I put into remembering how to spell "gauge" and do fractions in HTML has un-reminded me. Wait! It's come back! The internet! We free-market types cannot claim the internet as our own. It was created by the government - the dear old Pentagon, to be precise. (Folk religion has it that a sinner in Hell may have his tongue moistened once a year on account of one long-forgotten good deed. Tim Berners-Lee will take an annual cold beer across the chasm to some bigwig of the military-industrial complex under this clause.) However the demands of defence had a similar effect to the results of the market: this new internet thing was meant to withstand nuclear attack, so it had to be decentralised and endlessly re-routable.
It worries me that government schemes to control the internet in order to catch terrorists may in fact wipe out its structural resilience against terrorist attack.
¹Spot my effortless grasp of technical terms. ²Actually railway experts are still arguing about this. It may have been Brunel's engine design rather than his choice of gauge that was better.
²Actually railway experts are still arguing about this. It may have been Brunel's engine design rather than his choice of gauge that was better.
Monday, October 03, 2005
News just in. A report put out by Human Rights Watch says that the Iraqi insurgents are wrong to target civilians.
Don't laugh. Although it is inconceivable that this worthy report ("The justifications for attacking specific groups of people misread or misapply the definition of a civilian as it applies under the laws of war") is going to worry the killers of teachers, it might have some effect on their supporters.
Mark my words, if you go flouncing off to that there fancy "Britblog roundup" you'll be coming back here in five seconds flat.
Friday, September 30, 2005
I often like to muse on how vastly superior I am compared to those younger and older than myself. Compared to the rising generation I am better educated, have better morals and more elevated pleasures, and am more honest and peaceable. Compared to the old I have fewer grey hairs and smoother skin. And I can do sit ups, which a lot of them can't, you know.
Despite my evident superiority I do try to see these crumpled-looking creatures as fellow human beings (fellow citizens, even!) with the same rights and duties as the rest of us.
Do you think I am over-optimistic? Would it be more realistic of me to think that, like toddlers, old people should be ignored when their bellowing disrupts social functions?
Along with half the country, the leadership of the Labour party seems to think so. I didn't see, either on film or in person, Walter Wolfgang being ejected from the Labour conference, so I don't know if the amount of force used was reasonable or not. (Perhaps I still wouldn't know even if I had seen it; like sporting fouls these things are difficult to judge from outside.) If the fulsome apologies coming from the Labour leadership are for excessive force used upon an elderly man then apologies are right and proper. However from what I have heard they are apologising for the ejection itself.
Why? Surely the Labour party is entitled to set the rules for its own conference. If the rules specify "no heckling" then hecklers old or young must expect to be ejected - although the stewards should be careful to use no more force than is absolutely necessary, and be doubly careful if the heckler is old or frail.
But that wasn't the only way in which the apology seemed misdirected. Buried in the story and not, at first, attracting much comment was one thing that left me flabbergasted. For this Tony Blair and his entire government should get down on their knees and humbly beg forgiveness, swearing at the same time not to rest until the harm they have allowed to flourish is undone:
Police later used powers under the Terrorism Act to prevent Mr Wolfgang's re-entry, but he was not arrested.
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
I am amazed to discover that the WRP still exists. Years ago they were the outfit Bernard Levin always used to call "Vanessa's Loonies." The party had a brief moment of tabloid fame in the mid-eighties when its onetime leader, Gerry Healy, was denounced after one of its innumerable splits for activities that gave a whole new meaning to the phrase "revolutionary congress". In one of the columns in his collection Now Read On, Levin speculated that
"if a quarter of the conquests attributed to Mr Gerry Healy (Vanessa's chef de cabinet) were real, he must have spent very considerably more time at, er, bonking than at planning the expropriation of the capitalist hyenas, which may account for the fact that the capitalist hyenas are still unexpropriated."
History repeats itself, first time as tragedy, second as farce. So said Karl Marx. A fine saying - pity about the rest of his legacy. He would not have intended it to cover such a frivolous sort of history as the doings of playwrights and players, but it does, and the little bit of repeated history I would like to post about features some of his most loyal devotees.
The BBC has cast Corin Redgrave's Marxist wife as Margaret Thatcher according to the Telegraph.
In what could be seen as a perverse insult to Lady Thatcher, the BBC has cast Kika Markham, a member of the Left-wing Redgrave dynasty and supporter of the Workers Revolutionary Party, as Britain's first female prime minister.I think we can dispense with the "could be seen"; of course it is an insult, although not a particularly peverse one. Who cares? Political insults are the stuff of life, and books and plays. For all I know the results will be splendid. Ms Markham is saying the right things:
Markham said: "I think portraying someone like this can be more difficult if you are a socialist because you have such strong preconceptions and views about her. As an actor, however, you have to wipe those away. You have got to be as truthful and objective as you possibly can."Then again, if she's a supporter of the Workers' Revolutionary Party she may have an idiosyncratic view of the meaning of the words "truth" and "objectivity."
Perhaps Ms Markham could go for advice to her sister in law.
In 1980 I watched a TV movie called Playing for Time, written by Arthur Miller. The film told the story of Fania Fénelon, who played in the infamous camp orchestra at Auschwitz.
Vanessa Redgrave played Fénelon. (Vanessa's brother Corin is Kita Markham's husband.) Her performance was widely praised, and I remember it as being excellent.
Yet I also remember catching one of those short "personal view" programmes where someone talks direct to the camera about some issue dear to his or her heart. The speaker was an old woman, Fania Fénelon herself. She described how hurt she was that her life story, that of a Jew persecuted for being a Jew, had been depicted on film by a woman who said that the remaining Jews had no right to find refuge in Israel.
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
"Cooing should be a thing of the past," says a newly famous ward sister at Calderdale Royal Hospital, where visitors to the maternity wing have been ordered not to fuss over babies lest the babies' right to privacy be violated.
Staff in one of the wards have put up a display of a doll in a cot with a message saying: "What makes you think I want to be looked at?"Since you ask: the custom and practice of all cultures past and present; the massed opinions of psychologists, paediatricians, doctors and midwives; and the instinctive and joyful reaction of every new parent that I have ever met.
The hospital is now backtracking like mad and saying it's all to do with avoiding infection. Fair enough, I can see that might be a problem for premature or sickly babies. But the slogan on the doll didn't mention infection.
Monday, September 26, 2005
If you do not read the Britblog roundup you will die!
"Students' writing skills have worsened so dramatically that lecturers at some of the country's most prestigious universities are calling for undergraduates to gain literacy certificates before submitting coursework," reports the Independent. The article continues:
Despite ever-improving A-level results, academics at universities such as Birmingham, Liverpool and Glasgow complain that school-leavers arrive ill- equipped to perform the most basic essay-writing tasks. To deal with the growing problem, institutions are now being forced to offer remedial classes in English, and lecturers want students to prove they have reached a certain level of competence.It is a teensy bit unfortunate that the next paragraph begins:
With drop-out rates risisng...
Sunday, September 25, 2005
The Blackboard Jungle - wilder in Suffolk than Glasgow