September 06, 2003

No Title

Atlantic Blog picked up the same story I did, about the pseudo-diagnosis of George W Bush by that fraud pretending to be a psychologist, Oliver James. But the author went one better than me by finding a previous article which denouces James. Now comes the funny part:
So who published Porter's attack on James? The Guardian. The Guardian attacks the Sunday Telegraph for using a fraud like Oliver James, and then proceeds to use the same old fraud for an attack on Bush. Is that irony or chutzpah?
Neither, mate. Sheer incompetence.

UPDATE: Here's the denunciation of James by Henry Porter. I found it by searching the Guardian archive. It hasn't stopped the Guardian from publishing a bunch of articles by James since then.

Posted by Natalie Solent at 08:59 PM

September 05, 2003

If you care about the worlds' poor

, read this report EU Trade Barriers Kill. (Link takes you to the press release. From there go to the PDF file.)

I have met some of the authors - Stephen Pollard and Sean Gabb, and also Tim Evans, the head of the think tank that produced it. This factoid gave me a stab of naive pleasure - hey, look at me, I know people who write reports for think tanks. Then I remembered how grim the facts are, how depressing the current outlook, how hard-hearted the villains of the piece are.
Posted by Natalie Solent at 07:50 PM

His dad made all the cinema mirrors pink.

Chris Bertram of Crooked Timber has posted about a marvellous-sounding architect called Cedric Price. He seems to have liked cracking jokes, blowing up buildings and campaigning against the preservation of his own work. And his dad, as the title of this post says, was the man who put in all the pink-tinged mirrors in the foyers of Odeon cinemas (because pink light makes people feel happy). Along with Paul Barker, the younger Price came up with the beautiful idea of the Non-Plan. Let people build what they like and see what happens. A dangerous man, obviously.

The article by Paul Barker in Open Democracy that inspired Chris Bertram's post is here.
Posted by Natalie Solent at 12:14 PM

By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept...

Le Monde has published a fascinating account of the life story of marathon runner Asaf Bimro, an Ethiopian Jew (apparently the term "Falasha" is derogatory) who emigrated to Israel, although that orderly word "emigrated" does not quite cover his perilous journey. When reading this, missing the odd word that my French wasn't up to, I kept waiting for a snarky comment; having seen some articles in Le Monde that, shall we say, found anti-semitic ideas hovering in their general vicinity and took no steps to bat them away.

The snarky comment never came. This is a moving article. It describes the epic lengths that the Black Jews went to in order to reach the homeland they had never seen, and that the agents of that homeland went to in order to find their sundered brethren.

At the age of thirteen, in 1982, he asked his parents, farmers, for permission to accompany an uncle who was going to [go back to?] the Sudan in the hope of one day reaching the Promised Land.

For two months, Asaf and about 80 other Ethiopian Jews... ...marched by night and hid by day.

About ten of them succumbed and were buried by the road. "At the frontier, we said that we were going to look for work in the Sudan, certainly not that we were Jews," recounts Asaf Bimro.

He spent two years in the Sudan, in terribly precarious conditions. One day, a white man accosted him in the restaurant where he worked and asked him if he was Jewish. Frightened, the young Ethiopian responded in the negative. But the Israeli agent - for such it was - insisted. Asaf ended up by telling him his story.
I'd love to know more about this meeting. What language did the secret pilgrim and the agent speak as they whispered together - was it English, or had the Ethiopian Jews kept their Hebrew? - was that the password: "Im Eshka'chech Yerushalayim Tishkach Yemini"?

His interlocutor fixed up a rendezvous that same evening. A lorry came by to look for the future champion and some of his compatriots, and drove them to the nearest airport.
They placed their lives in the hands of a stranger met only that day. How many stories like this end up with a tale of betrayal, exploitation and squalor. But in this case the trust was not misplaced.
From there, they were taken as far as Khartoum, the capital of the Sudan, where they waited two days before being flown to Tel Aviv via Paris.


Asaf Bimro was fifteen when he finally set foot in Israel.
How shall we sing the LORD's song in a strange land?

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.

If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy

Posted by Natalie Solent at 09:23 AM

No Title

Railway fans, this could be the house for you. I like people like this. I like men like this. Once upon a time Britain was noted for having loads of them. Nowadays hobbyists are often called "sad" for quietly doing what makes them happy. Meanwhile the non-sad men drink lots of lager which makes them happy, for a while.
Posted by Natalie Solent at 08:37 AM

September 04, 2003

Meanwhile, in an alternative universe...

This is a link to 'Nother Solent which you will remember was set up by the mysterious "Annoying Old Guy" who I expect is really a charming 22 year old female with a sense of humour. It isn't exactly my new blog yet, but it may become so only there was this plan to really stand out with a Smalltalk blog and what about domain names should I get one and how do you go about paying for hosting space I've never had to do that before and what about Dean Esmay he offered to do the same and then again there's Typepad oh it's all so difficult but Blogger has gone mad it will murder me in my bed if I don't escape.

That really is the way I think. I need that brain enhancement fast.
Posted by Natalie Solent at 01:32 PM

Not all thy Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a line...

I just made a dim comment to a Crooked Timber post about the economics of abundance in SF stories. My bit about how time will still be scarce even when you can replicate all the physical goods you want was intelligent enough, but I obviously didn't have enough coffee in me when I wrote: "The only SF way round that would be artificially enhanced brains, so that we could process information much faster." The only way? Now that the caffeine is is spreading its chemical wisdom though my veins I can think of half a dozen more.
  • Much longer lifespans is the obvious one.
  • Not so much enhancing as periodically editing our brains to remove extraneous material.*
  • Cloning copies of yourself and downloading a digest of their experiences so that your identity was expressed in all of them.
  • Quantum parallel processing so that 'you' actually live several versions of a chunk of time, again with some arrangement for an over-arching identity.
  • Arranging to go through a time loop with one corner of your brain in stasis.
  • Or how about editing and simplifying the entire physical universe? A little drastic, you may say, but that's SF.
*OK, so it's not original. There have been several stories asking whether it would be a good thing to edit out bad experiences, and the idea of editing out mere excess is so familiar that it even turns up in the admirable but unoriginal Harry Potter books.
Posted by Natalie Solent at 10:30 AM

September 03, 2003

I've been reading Suruj Dutta's

site, Psychobabble. I wasn't sure if I agreed with all of his post about immigration, and on a factual point I would be astounded if the European Convention on Human Rights had really pre-dated WWII, but I was interested by his no-nonsense approach. It can be deduced that he is an immigrant himself, as his parents are still back in India, so he knows what he's talking about.

Have I said this before? Immigration is one of those dratted "you can't get there from here" issues. I want a society where anyone is free to try out any of a vast array of micro-jurisdictions spanning the earth and other planets, ranging from theocracy to communist to anarcho-capitalist. Only one common rule: you are free to leave.

Yes. Fine. And the action I will take tomorrow to help achieve this happy state is...?

In the end, as he says, until the poor countries have been given the chance to work and trade their way out of being poor, economic migration is a fact and must be managed.


Not one of my more decisive posts, I'll admit.
Posted by Natalie Solent at 10:55 PM

"Hi, my name is Shelley

and I'm calling to ask if you'd be interested in a new service offered by British Orangecom."
[Very enthusiastically] "Yes!"
"Wo-? Um. It's about 'Friends & Family 2003', a new call tariff that--"
"Yes. Oh yes."
"Yes! Yes! Yes! Oh, oh, oh yes!"

See, it is quite possible to dispose of these creatures while maintaining an entirely positive attitude.

OK, I admit it. I have never actually done this. But Moira Breen has never actually killed a telemarketer, brought it back to life and re-killed it either.
Posted by Natalie Solent at 10:06 PM

No Title

Conservative Commentary is down, so Peter Cuthbertson has taken it to the Edge.
Posted by Natalie Solent at 09:40 AM

Two pundits compared

. My comments about TV Chef Jamie Oliver came out snippier than I meant. I didn't mean to say that he was specially unintellectual, it was just a passing quip put into my mind by the contrast between his man-of-the-people persona and Oliver James's pretentiousness, and, of course, the fact that he and Oliver James are reverse namesakes. Sakenames.

Unlike Mr (Dr?) James, Mr Oliver makes his professional assessments (that such and such ingredients combined in a particular way will make a good meal) in the knowledge that they will be put to the test on thousands of separate occasions by a discriminating, vocal and highly critical group of people. If enough of them find his predictions true they will continue to buy his book, watch his programme and eat at his restaurants. And they do.

Do you think that if Oliver James were required to issue three separate public diagnoses of loonydom weekly and have them tested and replicated by other eminent nuttiness pundits as well as loads of ordinary people who diagnose loonies as a hobby and are often pretty good at it - do you think he'd be up to the test?

Posted by Natalie Solent at 09:15 AM

Weird Blogger stuff.

I just had half a post I was updating replaced mid-sentence by someone else's . The screen image shook for a moment and there it was. The post before last now reads:
Authoritarianism was identified shortly after the second world war as pafed (insert snicker) us on Chapter 1 in the text. I then proceeded back to my dorm where I talked to a guy from Japan and had a nice convo and I looked at random things online before my next class. Before my class though, I had to call the Mitsuwa in SD to get the digits for the Mitsuwa in SJ because they haven't called me back yet. I called and it turned out that Thomas (the Supervising Manger) wasn't in and won't be until Thursday. Thus, I then went to my Rec 10 class and it turns out we had to do a little online testing training thingy. Good new, that means I don't have class with him on Thursday because half the class stayed for the training today, and the rest come on Thursday. I did mine today, so I'm done with that class for the week.

Moving on, I got back to my room after job hunting for a bit and began to talk to the nice Japanese man again (Toshi). Oddly enough, he wanted me to go traveling with him even though he only knows me like... today, but he's a pretty nice guy though. Turns out he likes para para, eurobeat, j-pop and all the stuff I like but... he's japanese, and in Japan. As far as this goes, i ono... nice guy but ah... I ono... I think I'd rather date a friend or something. I'm sick and tired of trying to talk to these random guys and just get nowhere, the only problems with friends is that you stand to lose a lot. Ugh... I don't wanna think about this now. NEXT~

I then went over to the gym after resting up a bit and burning an MD to work out to. Headed over there, played racquetball by myself for a half-hou

Don't know whose it is, will try to find out. Did she get my stuff on The Authoritarian Personality appearing in her blog? Did she get a date?

Various correspondents have been urging me to go to Movable Type. I was holding off for what seemed like good reasons, but this is getting ridiculous.

Excuse me while I rebuild the earlier entry.
Posted by Natalie Solent at 07:28 AM

September 02, 2003

Our psychologists are better than your psychologists.

John J Ray plays the "psychoanalyse the enemy" game with much more flair. Unlike Oliver James he sticks to generalizations. There are times when generalizations are useful and legitimate comment and to particularize is the badge of a fool.

It ought to be possible to write a psychological critique of right-wingers (stick to them: we libertarians are, of course, the only perfectly sane people on the planet) from a left-wing standpoint without descending into thinly-disguised abuse. Although I wasn't impressed with what I heard about the recent Berkeley study, a modest version of the hypothesis that personality types correlate with political views is credible to me. When one of the authors of the Berkeley research says (scroll down) that his research was unbiased I don't believe him, but I'm willing to believe he believes himself.

UPDATE: Here's a fun fascist quiz where you can measure yourself on the Adorno F-scale. Adorno was the guy who started all this with "The Authoritarian Personality" in 1950. The author of the quiz Chuck Anesi, refers to Adorno as "producing a Freudian-Marxist melange of pseudo-scientific speculative foolishness that is now, thank God, thoroughly discredited."

ANOTHER UPDATE: Here's a whole big debate between Oliver James and Peter Watson on Why Psychology Has Failed. As if we didn't know why Psychology has failed! Because its mummy forgot to collect it from playgroup.

Posted by Natalie Solent at 11:58 PM

Continuing in a long and laughable tradition

, pop psychologist Oliver James pretends to psycholanalyse George W Bush.

For this you need a PhD?

I honestly thought at first that it was a joke. Jamie Oliver taking a break from the cooking and deciding to do a pastiche of an intellectual, or something. So did the headline writer.

It's full of it, it really is. What 'it'? you ask, not realising what your innocent question has revealed about that time with the chicken. 'It' means, dear reader, what it usually means, which is crap.

Unprovable crap...
...deep down, Bush had a profound loathing for this perfect model of American citizenship whose very success made the son feel a failure. Rebelliousness was an unconscious attack on him and a desperate attempt to carve out something of his own.

Discredited research crap...
The outcome of this childhood was what psychologists call an authoritarian personality. Authoritarianism was identified shortly after the second world war as part of research to discover the causes of fascism. As the name suggests, authoritarians impose the strictest possible discipline on themselves and others - the sort of regime found in today's White House
James's own bathroom ruminations masquerading as diagnosis crap...
"His deepest beliefs amount to superstition. "Life takes its own turns," he says, "writes its own story and along the way we start to realise that we are not the author." God's will, not his own, explains his life.

Most fundamentalist Christians have authoritarian personalities."

And some of that scaremongering crap about saying in a deep dark voice, "we don't know that X does this" and then mentioning something guaranteed to raise the hackles of your audience:
Whether he specifically sees the battle with Iraq and other "evil" nations as being part of the end-time, the apocalypse preceding the day of judgment, is not known. Nor is it known whether Tony Blair shares these particular religious ideas.
Note the way his bagful of Deeply Ominous Ignorance about Bush is rounded up to the nearest pound by an extra spoonful of Deeply Ominous Ignorance about Blair.

I was amused by the horrified mention of the fact that Bush schedules his time to the nearest five minutes. I ignorantly thought that the reason Mr Bush kept an appointment book was because he's, like, president of the most powerful nation on earth at a perilous time in its history, and thus has quite a few demands on his time. I concede that one be a notable success as an American president without running so tight a ship. Reagan saw the Soviets go down without hurrying his golf, but betcha anything Oliver James thinks that is proof of the dysfunctional and infantile nature of conservatives. The great thing about this game is it runs on any platform.

As I said, James isn't the first to make a fool of himself this way. Leo Abse MP once wrote a whole book purporting to analyse Margaret Thatcher. I think it said she was a supressed bisexual on the evidence of her failure to mention her mother in her Who's Who entry. Here's a sample:

'When Thatcher was on the pot she was peremtorily required by her mother to do her duty... the same severe mother now denies her child pride in her own first creation, her faeces... (Thatcher's) urge to gamble lies in joyless masturbation and early, still unresolved bisexuality'.
So Abse was there by the potty, was he, taking notes? As for the 'still unresolved bisexuality' bit, some real bisexuals weren't amused.

Incidentally, in We and They, Robert Conquest mentions that when a bunch of Democrat-supporting psychologists took out an ad with some kind of at-a-distance diagnosis of Barry Goldwater as a nutter, Goldwater sued them and won.

UPDATE: Here's the exact Conquest quote from pages 198-199 of the book (pub. Temple Smith, 1980). As usual with Conquest it comes with extra food for thought, in the form of some other examples of intellectuals pontificating beyond their knowledge:
Again, a group of several hundred American economists signed a letter some years ago saying that to their knowledge Andrea Papandreou was not a conspirator. Does it really need to be said that their ignorance of the matter was compatible with both his ignorance and his guilt? When the millionaire Italian publisher Feltrinelli was found dead in suspicious circumstances (with a bundle of explosives by a pylon) a large group of Italian academics instantly signed a manifesto declaring his innocence. In 1964 a large number of American 'qualified' psychologists signed what purported to be a professional analysis of Senator Goldwater as a clinically unbalanced character. I remember the anger of mine, a professor of psychology at an American university and himself a strong opponent of Goldwater's, at this extraordinary breach of professional ethics and of scientific principle. (Goldwater eventually received heavy damages from them in a court action.)
The emphasis is mine. If psychology wants to be regarded as a serious discipline it's going to have to do better than this.

(Public Interest is also on the case.)

Posted by Natalie Solent at 11:27 PM

On the way down from falling over a cat

the other day I wondered to myself if dying this way was sillier or less silly than my previous record Silliest Way to Get Killed or Nearly So.

On balance, no. My previous attempt at the record was a valiant attempt to drive the car while tied up by one leg. What happened was that I was wearing, really, my blue suede shoes, the ones with the excitingly authentic leather laces. Because a cow rather than a polypropolene molecule died to make them they are always coming undone. They had come undone on this occasion. I shut, all unknowing, the right lace of the right foot in the car door. With a merry stamp on the accelerator I started off on my journey... and found I couldn't reach the brake.

Strong stuff, leather. You've got to hand it to those cows, they know how to bag themselves up. You never see a cow with broken handles.

Funnily enough it didn't even occur to me to use my left foot. I stopped by taking all feet off all pedals i.e. panic works.

The moral of this story is that two thirds of the world shouldn't read it, as it will only confuse them.
Posted by Natalie Solent at 10:40 PM

September 01, 2003

Why did the Observer wait so long

before revealing that they had in their files an unpublished article by the late David Kelly arguing, anonymously, in favour of war with Iraq? I don't get it. OK, I get why the Observer spiked the article at the time - they are under no actual obligation to publish stuff that goes against their editorial line. But once he was dead, surely they knew it was big news. OK, the guys in the editor's office could simply have failed to make the connection between "that thing we didn't run by the government scientist guy" and the dead body found in an Oxfordshire wood - but Julie Flint says she was his friend and that she knew whose body it was immediately. Why didn't she say at once, hey guys, we have a red-hot story sitting right here in my computer?

My paranoid half says the Observer, or Ms Flint, didn't want to lose a good anti-war martyr - but my realistic half says that "never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity" is a good rule of life.

UPDATE: Oliver Kamm writes to correct my error:

Surprisingly enough, and much to their credit, The Observer cameout in favour of war - its editorial line, I mean, and not just a commentator within it. As you can imagine, this didn't go down well with itsmore stereotypical readers, who then complained that the paper had published too many letters (one of which was mine) in support of the editorial.
Good for them. I wonder how often I make that mistake - thinking that because I read a selection of a paper's articles on the net I know it better than I really do. Of course the articles other bloggers in my circle link to are likely to be either especially good or especially fiskable.

Posted by Natalie Solent at 08:41 AM

August 31, 2003


Marduk has been studying the Observer for clues as to who killed the late lamented Mr Hopesforpeace.
Posted by Natalie Solent at 03:45 PM