Two adjacenteditorials in today's torygraph show just how rotten things have become under Nu Labour. The first one discusses crime - concentrating on the death of John Monckton in Chelsea (also commented on at Samizdata by his neighbour Perry de Haviland) and on the attack on a 71 year old priest. The writer could have chosen Ozzy Osbourne or hundreds of others while making his point which is that:
Nevertheless, there is a deeply disturbing trend towards the increasing use of lethal violence in crimes against property.
Part of the problem lies in the fact that we have become too tolerant of crime against property. Increasingly, police regard burglary and car theft as an economic nuisance, offences for which they will offer only a docket number for an insurance claim, plus the dubious benefits of counselling. They are reluctant to answer a ringing burglar alarm or investigate a broken window.
Prevention of burglary has, in effect, been privatised and responsibility for deterrence has been passed to the manufacturers of burglar alarm systems, paid for by householders who realise how vulnerable they have become in the absence of a visible police presence in so many parts of the country.
The distinction between property crime, which increasingly is tolerated, and violent crime, which in theory is not, is a false one. High general levels of crime lead inevitably to rising levels of violent crime. If a burglar feels he can invade a person's home with virtual impunity, it is then a small step for him to use violence against the householder should he be disturbed or challenged.
Burglary in Britain is an extremely low risk activity. The chances of getting caught are low, the chances of prosecution are lower and the chance of facing an angry armed householder lower still. If, by some lucky chance, the householder does in fact injure the burglar, the burglar will probably be able to sue for compensation from the householder. Meanwhile as the editorial states, the Home office pushes for gimmicks and crackdowns which cause aggravation to the lawabiding while failing to stop crime in against people or property. Exactly how does mandatory possession of an ID card deter a burglar? All it does is add additional hassle to every one and a new crime - failing to keep the ID card current, fine £1000 or go to jail.
Then there is the state of the state. The second editorial, and the related opinion piece from Oliver Letwin, talks about the astounding growth in bureaucracy and bureaucrats under Labour. As the editorial starts:
Spare a thought today for the paper boys and girls. Wednesday is the worst day of their week, because they have to struggle up the nation's garden paths, bent double under the weight of the Guardian's public sector job supplement. They know that there is such a thing as Society - it is usually more than 100 pages long.
Oliver Letwin does a simple trawl through the Grauniad's job pages for the last five months to unearth the fact that, since the Chancellor said he would reduce the civil service, more than 4,000 jobs have been advertised for a total wage bill of £157,865,784 (i.e. average salary £35-40,000). Worse, as Tim Worstall illustrated recently, these jobs are neither productive nor efficient. Under Labour the UK has indeed moved to the heart of Europe with the same bureaucratic brainlessness and resulting toxic tax burden. Unfortunately the heart seems to be ripe for heart attack unless there is a major operation to remove the fat clogging the system. Just as Britain (and Europe's) population are becoming ever more obese so is its government. We need an Atkins diet for government concentrating on useful things like crime prevention by catching criminals rather than blowing our taxes on "teenage pregnancy coordinators" or transportation websites or conker awareness campaigns.
A friend in Atlanta: "Derb---The worst, or best, example of parody tone deafness that I've encountered are the Dutch. They have absolutely no concept of irony or sarcasm as humor. They always asked why I said something if I did not really mean it. To them, humor is very much a 'Three Stooges' type affair. Slip on a banana...hilarious, clever play on words...huh?
"This trait might also be shared by other Germanic/Scandinavian folks - I don't know. I just know the Dutch's sense of humor is nowhere near as sophisticated and clever as Anglo humor. No sense of idle chit chat either. Hell is being in a social environment with gorgeous Dutch girls who speak perfect English but it is not possible to engage in light, flirtatious banter...what a waste. After two years of talking past each other, I could not wait to get out of de Nederland."
Ok so that's nice - generally I thought it was the Prussians who had their sense of humour gland surgically removed at birth - but what the hell, Dutch, Germans, Prussians its all the same really, and maybe it has a slight basis in truth. I happen to have met quite a few Dutch people with an excellent sense of humour - including one who explained the Dutch problem to me as follows:
You see there are two sorts of Dutch people. Half of them, they take the sense of humour gland from and the other half get a second one implanted. The problem is working out in advance which one you are talking to before you tell a joke.
Still its not exactly an important thing so I was just going to let it pass, but then today I see that Zacht Ei demonstrates an excellent grasp of irony or sarcasm:
On the 6th of November, I wrote this item about a survey by a Dutch newspaper. Today, a kind reader pointed out the existence of this article to me. Just scroll down a bit.
I guess I should be happy, since I'm writing this blog in English to improve my fluency in written English, so one day I would be able to get my stuff published in American and British outlets. Well, mission accomplished. Thing is, I always imagined my name would be there, too
QNED. Hypothesis disproven. Do not pass go, do not collect $200 (€150)
The Pinko Feminist Hellcat has an interesting essay on divorce and something called a covenant marriage, which Id never heard of until reading her essay (although now that I look at it, it seems like the feministe also mentioned them recently).
Anyway I'm going to sort of agree and disagree with the PFH on this issue. Where I agree is in the beginning:
...In fact, I think divorce is a good thing.
This really gets up the nose of those folks who give us such scintillating social commentary as "No one bothers trying anymore" when the subject of divorce comes up. Because, you know, it's just so darn easy to get a divorce. Untangling yourself from your spouse, working out finances (and in many cases, custody and/or visitation), and moving on is just so. . .so. . easy.
Problem is, for some marriages, it is not only easier, it is preferable, and I am sick to death of hearing about how people just don't take marriage seriously anymore, how people just give up, and how horrible and awful divorce is.
Divorce is horrible and awful unless you're the one stuck in a miserable or abusive marriage. Frankly, I'd be just fine with things if the divorce rate hit ninety percent. I don't care.
Where I think I disagree is the following:
You want to cut down on divorce? How about making it really difficult for people to marry? Now that's obscene.
Look, right now, any man and woman who are both single, pay a small fee, take a blood test, and get a marriage licence. It's easy. I could get married to any willing random guy this week if I wanted to. We have reality TV shows that end in marriage. Hello, Bachelor/Bachelorette? Who Wants To Marry A Millionaire? (Now there was a fairy tale ending. Ahem.) Who Wants to Marry My Dad? I don't see any of the anti-gay marriage folks running about and screeching about Armageddon, about the chiiiildreeen, or about the evils of this decadence. Nope.
I think it would in fact be good to make it harder to get married for all the reasons listed up earlier about why divorce is not as simple and straight forward as people claim. I think we should work on making it as easy as possible to get a divorce amd considerably harder to get married. Oh I also agree with the PFH that there's is nothing wrong with gay marriage and I'm maybe going to go a bit further and state that I see nothing intrinsically wrong with polygamy, polyandry either. The reason for this is that I think many people have failed to grasp the obligations that marriage (should) imply - and sex on demand is not what I'm talking about here.
Why we should get married
The historical reason for getting married was to bring up children. Despite the fact that I'm been married 8 years and we still haven't had any kids, and despite the fact that I, as noted above, agree with the concept of gay marriage, I think that the production of the next generation should be the main reason for getting hitched. Why? because a marriage that expects to last until its children have flown the nest has to last 20 years or more. Thats a BIG commitment folks. To people who get married aged 21 or so that means that they have to expect to be married for the entire time they have been alive so far and that implied duration is one reason why I want to see marriage harder to enter. People planning on getting married should be making plans for a life together that lasts that long and those plans should include dealing with the bad times as well as the good.
I'm not a practising christian but the Anglican 1662 prayer book - if you ignore the god and fornication references - says pretty much exactly that in the introduction to the marriage service. Finally - and again as the prayer book says - Marriage involves sharing everything and respecting your spouse:
WITH this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow...
Marriage should concentrate on the responsibilities not the rights. If you look at marriage as being a lifelong commitment then to looking after your spouse (and offspring) then maybe you won't jump into marriage so fast.
How to reduce the numbers of marriages
It seems to me that one way to reduce marriage would be to make that last part literally true. Title to 50% of all assets owned by one party to the marriage would be legally transfered to the other at the marriage and the same would remain so with any new income until death - forget divorce - death, and that doesn't mean death of the partner that means death of the provider. In other words if a man marries a woman then from that day forth she or her estate if she dies first gets 50% of his income. Of course the same would apply in reverse.
Perhaps more subtly one could modify that so that at marriage there would be a legal requirement to create an agreement for division of assets, future income and the custody and support of any children in the event of divorce. In other words you would legally require plans to exit the marriage at the start of the marriage. It might also be worthwhile requiring the couple to put in escrow the money required to pay all legal fees for separation. Then if the couple decide to divorce all they have to do is for either one of them to go the judge (or whomever) and sign the piece of paper and as with a will a kind of probate would occur. The agreement would require both parties to sign at marriage but only one to sign at divorce.
Incentives to increase fidelity after marriage
If the default position for a standard heterosexual marriage with no prenuptial contract were that the woman got all the existing assets, 50% of the man's income and an additional 10% for every child then you might see a significant reduction in people getting married and a significantly greater commitment when they did. Such a one-sided standard contract would tend to inspire thought of an alternative nuptial contract that would also be eternally binding and which could not be renegotiated after marriage without some stiff penalty, which is precisely what I would like to see.
I.e. if there were no alternative agreement when Albert married Betty then from that day forward Betty's bank account would get 50% of Albert's salary (and vice versa). If Albert and Betty divorce and Albert wants to remarry he has to do so while surviving on 50% of his salary and 50% of Betty's salary. If Betty has been a stay at home mum then her salary is 0 and so if Albert's second wife (Cathy) is a trophy wife he now has to support his expensive trophy wife on 50% of his salary. And if Cathy wants a divorce then he would then automaticaly be paying another 25% of his salary to Cathy leaving him with 25% of his salary in perpetuity. Do you think that might discourage remarriage by middle aged men to dumb blondes?
Finally it seems to me that a process which required (like buying a timeshare) a mandated cooling off period would be good - I just think that in order to put Las Vegas wedding chapels out of business the waiting period should be required between the engagement and the marriage.
This may all sound rather old fashioned - but it seems to me that it would make divorce easier and marriage harder and it might actually make for greater fidelity in marriage too. In fact since what it does is weight things so that both parties know what is at stake if they split and makes the splitting relatively painless it means that if you think your partner is likely to want to split you have to be nice to them. This is a marriage where you have to trust your partner and inspire trust.
So what are the drawbacks?
Now what this would not do directly at least is address the segment of the population that procreates without the benefit of marriage and it could well increase the number of children born to single mothers. It would create significant misery amongst people who profit from the business of marriage (or divorce). It would more than likely increase the average tax burden because less people would get married and therefore pool their incomes. There are undoubtedly some other drawbacks that I haven't thought of.
Appendix: Abusive Husbands - a modest proposal
I doubt that it would ever either be agreed to by anyone so this is strictly hypothetical. With respect to the abusive husband thing, one way to help women get a bit more respect and men to be a bit more committed to marriage would be to allow any woman one no-fault no-prosecution spousal murder. Kill one husband, fine. He probably deserved it. Kill a second husband and its you who has the problems lady. OK so its a nuclear option but it would provide considerable incentive for men to behave properly and, possibly more importantly, it would make the man think twice before deciding to get married - if marriage means you are literally entrusting your life to a woman who could suffer from depression, PMS etc etc then you'd better be sure that a) you love her and b) she loves you.
In fact you could probably cut out most rape by extending the concept such that any female may kill any one male with whom she has had sex. Of course if she's gang-raped then the single get out of jail free card isn't going to work, but the chances are fairly high that the gang will rape multiple women so they can share the burden.
OK so I missed last Friday. Earning money got in the way, Anyway here is this week's version (as usual click to enlarge) Some olives just about ready to be picked. In fact they were picked a couple of minutes after the picture was taken For those ho missed it here is last fortnight's olive tree photo
"Anybody can look at a pretty girl and see a pretty girl. An artist can look at a pretty girl and see the old woman she will become. A better artist can look at an old woman and see the pretty girl that she used to be. But a great artist —a master —and that is what Auguste Rodin was —can look at an old woman, portray her exactly as she is… and force the viewer to see the pretty girl she used to be…. and more than that, he can make anyone with the sensitivity of an armadillo, or even you, see that this lovely young girl is still alive, not old and ugly at all, but simply prisoned inside her ruined body. He can make you feel the quiet, endless tragedy that there was never a girl born who ever grew older than eighteen in her heart…. no matter what the merciless hours have done to her....
Some others from the same book: "A prude is a person who thinks that his own rules of propriety are natural laws."
"Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own."
"Jealousy is a disease, love is a healthy condition. The immature mind often mistakes one for the other, or assumes that the greater the love, the greater the jealousy —in fact, they are almost incompatible; one emotion hardly leaves room for the other." Many more here Permalink
Michelle Malkin points out that Denver's mayor is missing the point about Christmas and proposes a "Lump of Coal campaign" to try and edimacate him.
Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper recently announced that next year the phrase "Merry Christmas" will be removed from the city building and replaced with "Happy Holidays."
And now a church group who wants to march in the Parade of Lights and sing Christmas carols will not be allowed to participate in the parade. Organizers say the parade is about the holidays, not Christmas, but leaders of the Faith Bible Chapel say that's ridiculous.
"We can't pretend that Christ didn't exist and Christmas wasn't about his birthday, so we felt we could sing it and apparently that is not in social vogue anymore," said Pastor Gary Beasley, with the Faith Bible Chapel.
I am hereby launching the Lump of Coal campaign. Later today, I will box up a lump of charcoal, mark the package "MERRY CHRISTMAS!" and send it to the Denver Mayor in protest of his idiotic policy.
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Sydney Mayor Clover Moore has been cast as the Grinch who stole Christmas after decorating her city's town hall with just one meager Christmas tree out of fear of offending non-Christians.
Moore has been accused of political correctness gone mad after residents in Australia's largest city woke to newspaper headlines demanding "Where's Our Christmas?" and complaints the city had not done enough to celebrate the festive season.
Mayor Clover shows even more s00pidity than Mayor Hickenlooper (boy I bet he got picked on in class with a name like that) because Christmas trees are in fact a pagan custom and therefore really Christians ought to be annoyed at them. However somehow despite them being a modern newfangled thing popularised, like Christmas cards, by Queen Victoria's hubby Christians still seem quite happy with them. Unfortunately the PC morons seem unhappy with the idea.
Finally in old south Wales - the land where Men are Real Men and Sheep are Real Nervous - is this:
A Father Christmas will have a webcam in his grotto to overcome parents' concerns after a number of high-profile pedophile cases in Britain in the past few years.
The St Elli shopping center in Llanelli, south Wales, said children taking part in the traditional Christmas ritual of telling Santa their gift wishes would also sit beside him rather than on his knee.
Excuse me for a second here. How the bleep is a man with a pillow up his shirt and a glued-on cottonwool beard going to cop a feel of a kid in the 20 seconds that said kid is on his lap and the parent is taking a photo of it? Permalink
I am Proud of Britain and even more Proud of Britain. One more reason to be Proud of Britain is its devilishly clever civil service who clearly could teach their clueless American INS colleagues a lesson or two in how to crack down on Johny (or Jose or Jubar al Jihadi) Foreigner.
As The Register reports they have come up with a corking good wheeze for these voluntary ID card thingies that they want us to pay for.
It might not be your Big Brother's Database, but the UK ID scheme has certainly mastered doublespeak. Take, for example, the way it will force businesses to joyfully embrace ID card checks - or else.
The Bill's Regulatory Impact Statement tells us that the bill has no provisions "which allow the Government to require business, charities or voluntary bodies to make identity checks using the identity cards scheme." And indeed it doesn't. But David Blunkett gave us a taste of what this really means in his speech to the IPPR last month. Referring to the provisions of the 1996 Asylum and Immigration Act which require employers to check that potential employees are eligible for employment (i.e. not illegal immigrants), he noted that "clause 8 has been very difficult to implement because employers quite rightly say that they are not an immigration service and they can’t easily ascertain whether someone is legally in the country without great difficulty." Under the Act it is a criminal offence for an employer to fail to make an adequate check, but this particular provision is a difficult one to bring in and to enforce, because employers and their organisations could reasonably protest about cost and about not being an immigration service, and because if the Home Office did prosecute then they'd most likely fail to get a conviction because the employer could claim to have seen a document that looked genuine, and how the blazes were they to know? Well, hello employers, now you are an immigration service.
Blunkett continued: "The verification process under ID cards would remove that excuse completely and people would know who was entitled to be here and open to pay taxes and NI." So once the scheme exists there's no reason for the Home Office not to enforce clause 8, and employers are going to find using the ID scheme pretty compelling - or else.
1984 really is coming 20 years late - obviously it took a British Rail train. We should be Proud of Britain and its totalitarian Nu Labour government, they don't miss a trick do they?
The Hugh Hewitt "Reread books" question made me realise that I've read a lot of books, and in fact I have reread almost all of them. The real question is whether I have reread them enough times to have significant sections committed to memory or not. Anyway I thought it might be fun to pass on some of my opinions of the books I read and reread, whether or not they have actually been committed to memory or not.
Some ground rules: It is fair to say that I am not going to review a book I didn't like. Even if I come across as harsh that does not indicate that I did not like the book, just that I think it could have been better. The vast majority of books I review will be SF/Fantasy and, if recently written, probably published by Baen. There is no message in that either except that Baen publishes the sort of books I like.
Cally's War - John Ringo and Julie Cochrane
Published by Baen books, October 2004 - ISBN: 0-7434-8845-8 This book turned up as a surpise NY Times bestseller and there is good reason for this. The book is a veritable dark chocolate truffle of a story. Bittersweet but distinctly moreish. And better than a chololate truffle you can reread it and find new reasons to like it.
The book is set in John Ringo's Posleen Universe and contains some of the characters of his previous works in the series. The heroine, Cally O'Neal, was last encounted as an incredibly cute but deadly 13 year old. This book is about events some 40 years later. In that time the Posleen threat to Earth has been drastically reduced - there are feral Posleen but no god-kings, technically aware or not - and the Human elements of the Fleet and Fleet-Strike are occupied in cleaning up other Posleen inhabited worlds to make them safe for colonization by Humans or one of the other species in the Galactic Federation. However just because the overt threat has been controlled doesn't mean that humanity is entering a golden age without problems, the covert threat - the Darhel who run the Galactic Federation - are still both active and generally doing their best to keep Humanity under some sort of control.
Cally has been working for the secretive anti-Darhel Bane Sidhe for the entire time between the end of Hells Faire and the start of this book. She has become one of their star assasins, killing those humans that seem to be excessively keen on the Darhel and others who deserve it. Because of the rejuvenation medicines she has spent most of that time looking like a cute 20 something girl, with occasional changes to help her make covert insertions, and, just as with Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray, she has apparently exchanged eternal youthfulness for a stunted, crippled soul. She has a bare handful of friends, and those were people she got to know 40 years ago, but no other relationships. She has boytoys for one night stands but seems incapable of finding, indeed even starting the search for, a soulmate. This book is partly a love story about how the ice maiden finds a worthy swain and what happens next.
This is one of a number of books that I've read recently which discusses the issue of different speeds of aging and the tensions between the short-lived and the long-lived. Although the tensions themselves aren't a major part of the narrative the effect of prolonged youthful life on the human soul is definitely one of the big drivers behind the problem with Cally. After all a "normal" human would have slowed down and aged in 40 years, whereas Cally has remained essentially at her physical peak and therefore capable of continuing her soul destroying work. The catalyst is that Fleet has become aware that they have been penetrated by a subversive organization. Of course they have no idea of the existence of the Bane Sidhe, let alone why they might be interested in spiying on the Fleet. Meanwhile the Bane Sidhe are also uncomfortably aware that someone is leaking information to the Darhel and the Fleet. The Fleet operation to try and track down their leaks is therefore penetrated by both Cally and a Fleet intelligence operative who is trying to track down the Bane Sidhe infiltrator.
There are plenty of amusing details, such as artificially intelligent PDAs with a personality even more lugubrious than Marvin the Paranoid Android's and a sexually harrassing General who really believes in paperwork, as the story builds to its climax. The question is not whether Cally will get laid, she does - frequently, but whether she and her soulmate will resolve their mutual attractions or even admit them to themselves let alone each other. The fact that they both think of the other as being both the enemy and much much younger does not help either to admit their feelings. In parts it's a bit like a Shakespearian comedy with the reader able to see what is hidden to the protagonists, but unlike Shakespeare the authors seem constitutionally incapble of creating an ending of "They lived happily together ever after". Explaining what happens would ruin the book for the reader but it is well worth reading the last few chapters a second or third time to figure out what actually happens....
There are many things I like about living on the French Riviera, but it has to be said that I rarely visit the coastal towns, I did today and was reminded why I don't like them.
The Riviera HHH had a run in Antibes. It was a most enjoyable run on the whole. A bit urban perhaps, but compensated for by some magnificent views of scenary (and at this time of year I'm talking about the views of the Alps not the, ahem, mobile scenery that makes the beaches so easy on the male eye during summer) and so on.
We ran around quite a lot of the port and admired the yachts. They inspired guesses about just how many zillions of €uros are in fact afloat in the Port Vauban, no one came up with a good answer other than "if you have to ask you can't afford even one of them". The Fort Carré at the far end of the port - the castle in the background of the photo to the left - was duly ran around at various levels, although it probably doesn't impress everyone it is a remarkable example of 17th fortifications and extremely well preserved.
And then we came back through the middle of "Vieux Antibes". There is something ever so slightly tacky about having a "Marché de Noël" complete with Santa, masses of fake snow and ersatz Germanic huts in a Mediterranean seaside resort, but Christmas is tacky everywhere and one is at least spared the joys of "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" and Slade playing as background musack. Still this is surely just quibbling - I have no doubt that all 2 of my readers from colder climes are saying "stop whining" about now. Indeed it is just that, a minor complaint to help set the mood for what really irritates me.
The fact that on a cool December day the most prominent smell down certain alleys is rotten dog turd pretty much explains why, despite the magnificent scenery, historic buildings etc. etc., I tend to avoid the coast. Somehow the smell sums up the worst of life on the Riviera. It is the feet of clay beneath the glitz and glamour of B-list celebrities, Russian mafiosibusinessmen and other shady characters. It is an odd contrast between the visual pleasures of the picturesque coastal towns and the olfactory displeasures. In my more idle moments I wonder if this could just be the reason that Grasse remains the centre of the perfum business. Somehow I suspect the French Riviera is not so satisfying to the blind...
It looks like the financial wizards at ENRON made a big mistake. For some reason they decided to work in the corporate USA, which has laws about dodgy accounting, rather than working in the EU comission where the law seems to be that complaining about fraud and corruption is what should be punished.
Marta Andreason, the former EU auditor who misunderstood her role and actually tried to audit the EU, and then publicly explained the problems she had discovered, has an excellent article in the Times. (Via EURSOC)
Opportunities for fraud are open and they are taken advantage of. The most elementary precautions are neither taken nor even contemplated. The reverse is the case. People such as myself who attempt to bring openness and accountability to the system are pursued, suspended and dismissed.
In 2002 I was appointed chief accountant to the European Commission to help — as I then believed — to reform the inadequate systems and stamp out fraud. I drew attention to those inadequacies; I refused to sign accounts that I believed unreliable; for two years I was suspended from my job, obliged to live in Brussels yet forbidden to enter any EU building; and in October I was dismissed, the charge against me being disloyalty, a decision against which I am appealing.
But I do not believe that I was disloyal to draw attention to the failures that leave the EU’s budget completely vulnerable to fraud and error and to propose urgent changes. The National Audit Office found that in 2002 alone there were 10,000 examples of possible fraud in the EU’s accounts. For nine consecutive years the EU court of auditors has refused to sign off the budget. The numbers are huge. The annual EC budget is around €100 billion (£65 billion). The auditors cannot clear 95 per cent of that. We simply cannot tell what is happening to that money; the system does not allow us to say even if the money is well or fraudulently spent.
The primary weakness is a computer system that leaves no trail of changes made on registered transactions. In its last report the court of auditors confirms that too many people can access the system without being authorised. We, the accountants, who are supposed to verify those budgets, are left in the dark. Such a system would not be tolerated in any private or commercial organisation, yet in the EU, it is the standard.
You know just maybe Kofi's UNSCAM is not as bad as we thought, after all that was just about the misdirection of some of a $21 Billion set of trades, the EU is unabled to accurately track some €95 Billion ($130 Billion). As she says later in the article, in any normal enterprise an inability to audit 95% of your budget would be cause for alarm, indeed you'd tend to either institute reforms yourself once you discovered it or have those reforms enforced on you by external regulators. Of course in theis case there are no external regulators because it's the government itself that is corrupt - and most of its employees understand who pays their salaries. In this case however the prefered solutions appears to be
Shoot the messenger
Blame someone else
Ignore anything that can be ignored
Could we perhaps ask those nice UKIP people to ask a few questions in Parliament because it seems like no one else is willing to do so.
In addition to the usual ceterum censeo Unionem Europaeam esse delendam, two other tags would seem to apply: "quis custodiet ipsos custodes" and, one I just made up, "choragus carminem seligit" (he who pays the piper calls the tune).
One comment made by an IBMer however is quoted without serious comment by the Faultline article. It is worth picking up this because it really shows how people can uncritically accept totaly stupid claims that don't stand up to more than about 2 seconds thought. The quote is:
"The ARM chip and the Intel chips were fine for what they did and they were ok for the mobile and PC world, but for a world which requires lots of floating point calculations and handling of video from its chips, you are going to need a multiprocessor with a 64-bit architecture," Nigel Beck, IBM
IBM is making a cheap (and generally failing) shot at ARM. It doesn't fly for a number of reasons.
Number one is that the vast majority of embedded applicatins are still 8 bit. It is certainly true that people are migrating to 32 bit ARMs because the cost etc of a 32 bit ARM7 core plus bits is about the same as the 8 bit solution and it can do a few more things. ARM can still 8 bit wide memory busses and all sorts of other tricks that reduce power and size and increase code density (e.g. Thumb instructions). People are moving to 32 bit because memory has got so cheap that it is irritating having to fit things in to 64kb or deal with ugly hacks in 8 bit CPUs to procss the extra - little things like that. Very few of them have anything to do with graphics, music and the like. In fact the average UI is probably a couple of buttons and a handful of LEDs. I do believe that we will begin to see slightly more advanced UIs with the drop in small LCD prices but even so we are looking at simple text and pictures not HDTV and Dolby Surround Sound.
Second unless you really think that IBM is willing to offer a 64 bit power PC chip for a royalty rate of 10c or so in bulk then you have a pricing problem. Recall that ARM is on course for being paid for about 1.3 Billion ARM cores this year at an average royalty rate somewhat less that US$ 0.10. Sure some multi CPU or ARM 11 cores may pay higher royalties but the average is <$0.10. The obvious market for higher power ARM CPUs is in higher end cell-phones and PDAs. Higher end Cellphones/PDAs are no more than about 10% of the half billion or so total Cell Phone market. Add maybe another 50 million game players (That was a SWAG) and you still have a mere 100 million devices - less than 10% of ARM's volume.
Related (point 2a if you like), if IBM supplants Intel as the supplier to PCs, workstations and home game players (ignoring portables) it has a 200+ million market that it can serve at a considerably higher rate than $0.1/CPU. IBM doesn't really want to compete at ARM's game - it isn't in IBM's interest to drive the cost of a Power PC core down to ARMs level. It may be in its interest to drive it down to comparable Intel/AMD levels, which are something like 10-100 times that of ARMed SoCs.
Thirdly ARM already has a significant number of DSP, SIMD/MIMD and floating point options. These come with a significant advantage over a hypothetical 64 bit Power PC - no need to recompile existing applications - while providing the incremental migration that allows users of ARM's current offerings to offer high end graphics etc where required. Oh and by the way Intel has of course also equipped some of its ARM licensed (and royalty paying) Xscale chips with various Multimedia extensions if people don't like the home grown ARM version.
The Sincerest Form of Flattery
It is true however that IBM does seem to be trying to copy part of the ARM business model - something that I have written about extensively - but that does not mean that IBM is seeking to replace ARM. Some of the Faultline article sounds remarkably like ARM's licensing terms and the way it allows extensions in some areas but not others:
Power.Org will take on the standards around the Power processors range, operating very much in the same vein as the Java Community Process. IBM wants to keep control of the core instruction set, but then again it hopes to put some silicon items outside this such as accelerators, so that the chips can become highly customizable without losing their shape.
"For instance one of our licensees has added Chinese language processing at the chip level," said Beck.
The first two standards that Power.org members will be asked to define are bus architecture and a reference specification for high volume servers.
The bus architecture will enable different components on the same "system on a chip" to work together. Standardizing the bus architecture eases the integration of technology from multiple vendors.
After this, and once the first meeting of Power.Org happens, the organization will set its own agenda, with IBM only able to rule on the central choice of the chip instruction set.
I believe it is far more likely that IBM is seeking to end the Wintel domination that it unwittingly ushered into the world nearly 25 years ago. This is not no more a threat to ARM than a clash of dinosaurs impacted nearby insects. Sure a couple insects may get crushed but the carrion left over at the end is a perfect breeding ground for more. ARM cores are like Beetles, of which a famous naturalist stated that "God seems to have an inordinate fondess for", Intel and IBM are large vertibrates by comparison and they perform different tasks and rarely harm each other. Indeed it would not at all surprise me if higher end Power PC devices would in fact have a few ARMed USB, Bluetooth, disk or other controller chips inside them.
However there is an interesting echo to the IBM story in the recent history of ARM - if you look back at the discussion about the ARM/Artisan merger when it was first announced you come across this excellent EET article and in it there is this:
ARM's strength has traditionally been in meeting the needs of architectural designers, providing them with MPU cores to differentiate their designs. In contrast, Artisan's forte has been in understanding the physical layer, building libraries that ensure RTL correlates well to silicon.
As process geometries shrink there is a greater need for that kind of linkage. The merger will allow ARM to ensure that its MPU cores — and now, likely, other cores as well — will be more closely correlated with actual silicon. It will also open up the customer-owned-tooling market, or at least assure customers using foundries that ARM cores are built with Artisan libraries.
Thus, ARM may have negotiated with one eye to a future in which competitive CPU core design will be impossible without an intimate relationship among IP developer, library developer and foundry.
"IP without physical understanding is decaying in value," Lanza said. "Bringing in the expertise of the physical layer to ARM is very important for the future of ARM but also for the future of IP in general."
which has an interesting echo to this in the Faultline/Register article:
"The traditional ways of making chips are reaching natural barriers and now integration is the problem to solve," said Nigel Beck of IBM
I speculated in this thread at TMF about the resons for the ARM/Artisan merger and said the following: Base 1) We know that as we get to 90nm and smaller processes costs go up and yields seem to go down at least on the first spin. 2) Contrariwise ARM's big selling point is "reduce TTM and risk".
Hence the ever shrinking process tech is both an opportunity and a threat for ARM. The opportunity is to really nail all the competition be being indisputably quicker in TTM. The threat is that ARM designs will be either no better or worse in adapting to these smaller geometries. If everyone needs a second spin all the time then the cost of that is going to overshadow the cost (and time) saved by using ARM vs using something more customized.
However Artisan brings to ARM expertise in some of these areas. Of course I can't be certain of ARM's future sales strategy but I'm going to guess it would be making marketing messages like "ARMed Chips never need a respin". Given that respins cost $millions and take 3-6months that turns the threat into the opportunity, but to do so requires ARM to have considerable knowledge of the physical layers and the peripherals. Artisan brings this knowledge to ARM.
In other words it is possible that ARM is in fact in a situation where not getting Artisan's (or competitor's) knowhow in house would in fact be eventually fatal. And then later I don't know if this is the reason but certainly it seems that 90nm and below seems to be causing trouble for all chipmakers and fabs. The problems are clearly solvable but they are also clearly harder to solve than people thought. In that case it is possible, indeed likely, that the same issues will hit the users of ARM's cores. If so then clearly ARM needs to come up with a way to ensure that a next gen chip with an ARM core has as little a chance as possible of hitting these problems. If so then (according to the EET article) Artisan looks like a repository of the necessary knowhow and IP. I would consider the IBM quote above to be partial justification for that opinion.
IT WAS A BIT OF A COCK-UP ..HE SOUNDED WHITE OVER THE PHONE Dec 6 2004
BNP MAN'S AMAZING ADMISSION
By Daniel Thomas And Greig Box
BNP members who mistakenly hired a black DJ for their Christmas party proved yesterday they were not just racist but STUPID.
Official Bob Garner said: "There was a bit of a cock-up. The chap who booked him didn't realise. The DJ sounded white on the phone."
Some members of the far right group were so outraged by the blunder they walked out of the hotel where their party was staged.
But what I found interesting is that in deference to the DJ's skin colour:
... those that stayed had to keep their bigoted beliefs secret instead of parading them in end of year speeches.
"Traditionally someone stands and says what's happened in the year or in the elections. But it was a bit difficult to say we were even the BNP. We even had to be careful what we said when we did the raffle so we didn't offend this guy.
You know if you truly believed in the supremacy etc. etc. of the "native" white race why would you be embarassed about forcing a lowly immigrant black to listen to your diatribes? Perhaps he'd get the message and go back to "bongo bongo land".
I can't work out if this story shows that English civility has penetrated even the most radical and racist circles or if the BNP actually fears letting non BNP people know what nonsense they believe. (via Harry's Place) Permalink
Norm Geras - normally a highly rational soul - has a post about the iniquity of half the worlds 2.8Billion workers living on low wages which is economically plain wrong:
Half the world's 2.8bn workers are trapped in jobs that leave them and their families struggling to survive on less than $2 a day, with little prospect of escape from grinding poverty, the International Labour Organisation said yesterday.
In its latest world employment report, the ILO says an estimated 1.4bn workers - a record number - live on less than $2 a day, while 550m live on less than $1 a day.
Unfortunately he utterly fails to grasp the key point that the $2 goes a lot further in some places than others:
Two dollars is an approximate equivalent of what I paid for the copy of the Financial Times in which I first read this. We are the world...
Imagine trying to explain to visitors from a future world - or just people from another world - in which such facts about our world do not obtain, how so many of the people of our world manage to persuade themselves that this is a tolerable state of affairs.
$2 may not buy you more than a couple of tins of baked beans in the UK, the rest of the EU or other developed nations but it will go a lot further elsewhere. This is true for other major currencies too. Otherwise either Americans would all be 30% poorer than they were 2-3 years ago when €1=$0.80 or Europeans have all had a 50% payrise. In fact despite the wild fluctuations (and fluc you americans too as the joke goes), in local currency terms neiother Europeans nor Americans have noticed much difference in relative cost of living despite the massive recent appreciation of the Euro compared to the Dollar.
There are of course many iniquities in developing nations but the fact that the average worker in those nations couldn't afford a holiday in New York (or London or Tokyo) if he saved up his salary for years is not one of them.
The important question is not the wage in dollars it is the purchasing power of that wage, and the amenities that are available for purchase. The big problem with shanty towns is that often electrical power, fresh water and sewerage are, like cucumber sandwiches in Oscar Wilde's play, unobtainable "even for ready money". Likewise the main problem with wages is how many hours mus be worked to provide the worker (and dependant family) with food, clothing and housing. Once we have got to the point where the average worked has a significant proportion of his wage available for luxuries we can worry about where he can spend them.
The politically blogging world is all over CBS's sniping at political bloggers for not being "neutral" and worse that some of them took money from people or causes they supported. My initial response to this was "Doh", my second response is "so ___ing what!". The best response is undoubtedly Iowahawk's satire. The contempt that drips out of the original, plus the fact that they like slipstreaming in changes, indicates that CBS really has a grasp on reallity similar to that of British General Haig in WW1.
The VodkaPundit notes that similar contempt is evinced by sports reporters who seem to think that it is impossible for those who write to them to be right more than 1% of the time.
It occurs to me that the same or similar pooh-poohing occured four or five years ago when the Internet bubble produced investment websites such as the Motley Fool and other amateur newsletters. Well guys, the amateurs may have got caught up in the excitement too but on TMF I recall all sorts of warnings - heck I made a few myself - that I somehow failed to see in the general press recycling of the Blodget, Meaker etc pumping of dotcoms.
Journalists and pundits of all sorts are really, really threatened by the Internet and their prefered strategy is therefore to try and minimise the credibility of the threat. It isn't going to work.
The Internet Expert
What was clear from TMF boards five years ago - where at one point we had Tony Li making posts discussing Cisco's routing strategy - is the same that we saw more recently with Dr Newcomer's CBS debunking, namely that experts are just people too. On the internet experts tend to browse and comment on things that interest them and they frequently get really upset with apparently clueless hacks who fail to understand their subject matter. On a message board they can post clarifications when people misinterpret what they say, they can educate people and they can make comments that others can expand on to make it clearer for the less knowledgeable. The result is that the truth comes out - fast - in a way that any one can understand.
Also, and here I include myself, studious amateurs can make important contributions. Stock market analysts and financial journalists work under time pressure and editorial limits on length whereas the amateurs can take their time to dig in the details of a particular company or industry and publish the lot including the footnotes. The result is that the amateur frequently gives a far better research report even though he may not have access to all the same primary sources and that means that his reaction to new events and announcements is likely to be more accurate. The same amateur stock market analysis also applies to bloggers such as Wretchard's Belmont Club or the folks at Winds of Change when it comes to geopolitical strategy and analysis. Of course they will make mistakes, but so, demonstrably, do the published pundits and with the bloggers at least you get to see the links to their source material.
The Disintermediation of Journalists
Since the internet provides subject matter experts and the potential for detailed publishing of their thoughts is it any wonder that journalists feel threatened? Blogs are proving, in many ways to be doing the same to the mainstream media that amazon did to retailing. I talked about this a bit before, but I think it is worth revisiting. Of course not all journalists and publishers are threatened, in this way it is not the same as the motor car's assault on the horse, but there is now competition where previously there was none. Bloggers can and do upset the existing relationship because the force journalists to bring more value to their work. Basic reporting of events is not sufficient, unless the events occur in far off places, nor is analysis that is facile or condescending. The LA Times' investigation of a local hospital is something that bloggers and other internet experts cannot do, it is a job for professionals who have the time and resources to work the story. But the Iraqi Armour story is one where the journalist probably doesn't add much value other than frotthing emotion, sure the journalist got Rumsfeld on the defensive, but did the story actually add much to the knowledge of world about the amount of uparmouring or did it make it more likely to happen faster? probably no to both.
Last week I started reviewing books that I like. I debated writing a review of any number of books from my favourite modern authors but decided to go for a slight change of pace. Hence this week's review is of a book first published over a century ago.
The Day's Work - Rudyard Kipling
One advantage of reviewing a book written 100+ years ago is that it is available electronically from all sorts of places including the magnificent archive of works at Newcastle University in Australia. If you want it in printed form and don't have the leisure to hunt for it in second hand book stores then there are many editions available as well.
The Day's Work is a collection of 12 short stories (one split into two parts) that is quintessential Kipling in what PG Wodehouse would call his "mid season form". There are stories about India, about ships, about America, about animals and about England. Although somewhat random, in my view, they do combine to make a very satisfying whole and it is good to read them from start to finish. Of course one benefit of a collection of short stories is that there is no need to read them in order and no harm done if one is skipped because it is boring.
I first read The Day's Work as an inky schoolboy a little more than two decades ago, although one of the stories - The Maltese Cat - I read considerably earlier as my mother has a nice illustrated children's edition of it. I can quote significant chinks of it by heart and opening it at random I can immediately place the story and remember what happens next, but despite that I can still enjoy re-reading it and I do. Anyway enough of the overview lets get down to the individual tales.
The Bridge-Builders The Bridge Builders describes the construction of a large rail and road bridge across the mighty river Ganges. It is a story of two halves with the first part being a fascinating look at some of the best of the British Empire, the engineers who built the Infrastructure of India that has lasted until this day. This is Kipling describing some of his beloved "Sons of Martha", the capable men who do not
...preach that their God will rouse them a little before the nuts work loose. They do not teach that His Pity allows them to leave their job when they damn-well choose. As in the thronged and the lighted ways, so in the dark and the desert they stand, Wary and watchful all their days that their brethren’s days may be long in the land.
The second half is a fantasy, given the excuse of an opium dose and a flood, the engineer encounters upon an island downstream of the bridge the gods of India, including the great Mother Gunga(Ganges). It is an allegory about progress and what in modern times we would call "Westernization" or "Globalization" and with none ot the Political Correctess of these times it is nu surprise that Kipling, the imperialist, lets his white men and their works prevail.
A Walking Delegate This story takes, as background, the time that Kipling spent in Vermont, but it is really a story of how revolutionaries seek to conceal their true goals. The story is one of those wherein Kipling assumes that animals can talk and concerns some horses on his farm and has wonderful characterization, accents and all, which could be stereotypes but somehow manage to rise above such hack imagery. It is a tale that can be read simply as an animal story but on rereading the deeper message comes through.
The Ship that Found Herself This is another story with anthropomorphisms. In this case it is the separate parts of a cargo ship which is making its maiden voyage across the North Atlantic. In this case the moral drawn is how the sum can be greater than the parts and hence how cooperation is important for all. I have no doubt that a critic who disliked Kipling would say that it illustrates his view that people whoild know their class and station in life and stick to it but I think that would be unfair as an alternative moral is that everyone is important even the least amongst us.
The Tomb of his Ancestors This is a tale of the start of the career of an officer in an Indian regiment who comes from a family who has sent generations over to serve (and whether or not modern theorists would agree Kipling certainly believe it was service) in a particular region of India. At one level it is condescending towards the "natives" and their superstitions, but in other respects it is an example of progress and how a failure to communicate can set back even the best intended aid. One suspects that the coalition soldiers in Iraq would sympathise a lot with this story.
The Devil and the Deep Sea This is a humourous story about a British ship whose captain (and owner) have rather slippery morals. It also depicts, again, the labours of the "Sons of Martha". There is no hidden message or subtext that I can think of, just fun and light humour.
William the Conqueror - Part I and Part II For reasons which I do not understand this story is broken into two chapters. There is no point whatsoever is only reading one of them. This is effectively a romance set in the background of famine relief works in Southern India, but it is also, I think, a timeless story about how expats live. Of course expats who are also rulers are different to expats who just work abroad but the description of the British community in N India is not that different from expat communities I have seen in Japan, California or the Riviera. It is also one of the rarer Kipling tales where the heroine is about as capable as anyone else. Indeed his introductory portrait of Miss Martyn is an absolute gem:
...Scott knew, too, as well as the rest of the world, that Miss Martyn had come out to India four years ago to keep house for her brother, who, as every one knew, had borrowed the money to pay for her passage, and that she ought, as all the world said, to have married at once. In stead of this, she had refused some half a dozen subalterns, a Civilian twenty years her senior, one Major, and a man in the Indian Medical Department. This, too, was common property. She had “stayed down three hot weathers,” as the saying is, because her brother was in debt and could not afford the expense of her keep at even a cheap hill-station. Therefore her face was white as bone, and in the centre of her forehead was a big silvery scar about the size of a shilling—the mark of a Delhi sore, which is the same as a “Bagdad date.” This comes from drinking bad water, and slowly eats into the flesh till it is ripe enough to be burned out.
None the less William had enjoyed herself hugely in her four years. Twice she had been nearly drowned while fording a river; once she had been run away with on a camel; had witnessed a midnight attack of thieves on her brother’s camp; had seen justice administered, with long sticks, in the open under trees; could speak Urdu and even rough Punjabi with a fluency that was envied by her seniors; had entirely fallen out of the habit of writing to her aunts in England, or cutting the pages of the English magazines; had been through a very bad cholera year, seeing sights unfit to be told; and had wound up her experiences by six weeks of typhoid fever, during which her head had been shaved and hoped to keep her twenty-third birthday that September. It is conceivable that the aunts would not have approved of a girl who never set foot on the ground if a horse were within hail; who rode to dances with a shawl thrown over her skirt; who wore her hair cropped and curling all over her head; who answered indifferently to the name of William or Bill; whose speech was heavy with the flowers of the vernacular; who could act in amateur theatricals, play on the banjo, rule eight servants and two horses, their accounts and their diseases, and look men slowly and deliberately between the eyes—even after they had proposed to her and been rejected.
In some ways William is the archetype of the heroine in much Science Fiction - the original "Boy Scout with Breasts" as unkind reviewers have described many Heinlein heroines - but William never forgets her femininity nor do the men surrounding her. The romance is highly amusing in that neither of the principles is willing to admit that they fancy each other, yet that mutual attraction is evident to all from the boss to the starving children they are trying to help. What can one say but Barbara Cartland would have begged to have written this tale.
·007 More anthropomorphism here. This time it is American railway locomotives. The story is of the first few days out on the rails of the newly constructed ·007. It is a story of how modesty and a willingness to prevent teasing and bullying pays off but it is also an appreciation, as indeed is most of the book, of the "Sons of Martha" and their tools. It illustrates all the work that goes on in the background to make civilization function correctly and, in its light hearted tone, makes its points without belabouring them. I suspect that today's elites could usefully have a Kipling to explain to them how the fabric of our society is maintained.
The Maltese Cat Still more anthropomorphism, in this case the description of a polo match through the eyes of the ponies of the underdog team. Yet, as with so much else, it has deeper moments, such as the classic explanation of why spectators add to the pressure. It also has some amusing one-liners including this great putdown to a social climber:
‘Let’s see,’ said a soft, golden-coloured Arab, who had been playing very badly the day before, to the Maltese Cat, ‘didn’t we meet in Abdul Rahman’s stable in Bombay four seasons ago? I won the Paikpattan Cup next season, you may remember.’
‘Not me,’ said the Maltese Cat politely. ‘I was at Malta then, pulling a vegetable cart. I don’t race. I play the game.’
‘Bread upon the Waters’ Another tale of the North Atlantic. In this case it is a story about how one shipping firm deliberately uses its wiles and a bit of inside knowledge to put a rival out of business. This is one of the few tales which suffers from its era because much of the tale revolves around money and I estimate that things are now between a hundred and a thousand times more expensive now than then. It can be a surprise to discover that an senior engineer earns just £15 or £20 a month or that £25,000 was a small fortune then. However the tale itself is in many ways soemthing that still applies, it shows that cutting corners with safety and other sharp practices are as old as the hills and illustrates nicely the cleft stick underlings can find themselves in when their bosses indulge in the same. Finally it is yet another example of Kipling explaining how the fabric of society is maintained.
An Error in the Fourth Dimension This is a story of how even rich men can come a cropper. It also looks like it was the inspiration for one or more of PG Wodehouse's Blandings tales yet the two authors cover the problems of rich Americans in England in totally different fashion. It is also light-hearted, indeed amusing, and shows only too well how the smallest of cultural misunderstandings is sufficient to drive home the difference in culture between the two sides of the Atlantic. Surprisingly I suspect it has considerable resonance today, or at least it certainly would have had just a decade or two ago, and even if in the fullness of time England and America move away from the cultures described here no doubt the same gulfs will be visible elsewhere - perhaps between the new SiliconValley millionaires and their old money rivals up in San Fancisco or Marin county.
My Sunday at Home Another story of an American in England. In this case though the tale is that of an hilarious misunderstanding when a doctor attempts to cure a patient who is in fact perfectly healthy but drunk. Perhaps my least favourite story in the book but still amusing.
The Brushwood Boy Another romance, and, as with William, something else as well. In this case it is almost Science Fiction in that the hero and heroine know each other through dreams before they meet each other properly in person. There is much more to it, such as the absolutely magnificent descriptions of life through the eyes of a child
‘I am not afraid, truly,’ said the boy, wriggling in despair; ‘but why don’t you go to sleep in the afternoons, same as Provostoforiel?’
Georgie had been introduced to a grown-up of that name, who slept in his presence without apology. Georgie understood that he was the most important grown-up in Oxford; hence he strove to gild his rebuke with flatteries. This grown-up did not seem to like it, but he collapsed, and Georgie lay back in his seat, silent and enraptured.
and the classic description of the problems of innocent acts being misinterpreted by the devious:
...the small-minded—yea, men who Cottar believed would never do ‘things no fellow can do’—imputed motives mean and circuitous to actions that he had not spent a thought upon; and he tasted injustice, and it made him very sick.
All in all this story is a great finale to a wonderful book. So go read it!
Firstly, via the Marmot's Hole, is this long background article about how capitalism has spread bottom up in North Korea and how, essentially, the Stalinist state controls are mostly gone. As he says, READ THE WHOLE THING.
Of course the problem with reading the above and thus feeling ever so slightly optimisitic about North Korea is that you then read the news and see that N Korea is threatening "to declare war" on Japan. The background to this is that, as some people may know, N Korea has over the years abducted many Japanese nationals in order to force them to train their spies. Recently N Korea returned some bones purported to be of one of these abductees, Megumi Yokoto. Unfortunately for N Korea, DNA analysis appears to show that these are not her bones and not surprisingly Japan is rather peeved and threatening to stop shipping food aid. It may also consider other sanctions.
N Korea, rather like a chap in a Victorian book about school boys, "burn[s] not with remorse or regret but with shame and violent indignation." because it has been caught fibbing again and of course it seeks to shift the blame as fast as it can. Many people are rather worried about the likely repercussions but it seems to me that in the longer term Japan will be better served by being resolute and, since a large proportion of the Japanese population is outraged at this latest trick, giving in would also carry a shorter term political price too. In some ways this reminds me of the events a few years back when the US caught N Korea utterly in breach of its "food for no nukes" agreements and, although the US does seem to be warning Japan to be cautious, I don't think the US will be too concerned if the Japanese try and push this some more. It could even be that the US is hoping to let Tokyo take on the role of "Bad Cop" for a while.
The danger for the Koreas is that the outside powers have totally lost patience with N Korea's continual bad faith and are no longer particularly interested in pandering to the regime. The likely result is that N Korean trade, such as it is, is likely to suffer even more - Japan could easily close its ports to N Korean registered ships and thereby significantly impact N Korean trade - and aid is likely to also decrease. The problem for the North is that Bush is now securely reelected in America, has Iraq mostly under control, and therefore is able to turn its attention to other members of the "Axis of Evil". It had seemed to me that up until this latest mess, N Korea was doing its best to split the US from its allies in very way possible. Now however it has managed, probably by mistake, to get the US and Japan firmly allied against it and this means that it is going to find it a lot harder to make its usual claim that everything is the fault of those bullying Americans.
This means that N Korea will depend on its pals in the South more and more, as well as the support of Beijing. I suspect that N Korea will attempt to get S Korea to make up all the aid not sent by Japan, the US etc. by some comibnation of threats and promises. The Roh government will probably bend over as usual but I predict that in a year or so the North will again do something utterly stupid and this time the insulted nation will be S Korea. What happens after that depends rather heavily on the S Korean political situation but I suspect that fraternal sympathy for their Northern relatives will become steadily shorter amongst more and more S Koreans. Alternatively the North could antagonise China somehow, how is not clear but I suspect the result will be similar as the N Korean government suddenly realises that it has run out of people willing to see it survive. It would not at all surprise me if the US doesn't somehow point out to the soldiers and generaly in N Korea that they (and their families) are far more likely to survive a coup against their leadership than a war against the US plus S Korea (plus Japan). What happens whan is unclear but I'm expecting some sort of endgame well before the next US elections.
For possibly the only time in their careers, Polly Toynbee and Charles Moore seem to be agreeing on something. Namely the utter idiocy of the proposed law against religious hatred that seems to be sailing through partliament without a care in the world.
Polly's column in the Grauniad is titled fairly simply: "I may be in bad company, but this law will not work", one suspects that those she is temporarily in agreement with would echo the sentiment. She notes accurately that Charles Moore recently wrote a deliberately controversial editorial with some interesting home truths about Islam in it which would probably be illegal under the new bill. As she says:
...The bill's Muslim supporters plunged straight into his crude elephant trap.
The Muslim Association of Britain called for Moore's sacking and said the paper should have known better in the light of the Salman Rushdie affair - distinctly threatening. The Islamic Human Rights Commission called for a boycott of the Telegraph - a more reasonable riposte. Iqbal Sacranie of the mainstream Muslim Council of Britain said that linking the Prophet's name with this crime "will have shocked Muslim readers" who are "calling for safeguards against vilification of dearly cherished beliefs". And there it is. He expects the new law to protect "cherished beliefs", while David Blunkett in the Commons assured his critics it would do no such thing. Dead prophets and holy books would be as open to criticism and ridicule as ever. The law will protect the believers, not their beliefs.
As the Samizdatistas put it not too many days ago Free Speech means exactly what it says on the box - the right to say anything - and since the late 17th century the English speaking world has generally found this to be of benefit. Interestingly enough Polly's column ends up with:
Campaigners against this bad law should not be deterred by some of the bad company they join. Where the secular part company with the religious right is in demanding even-handed treatment of all religions: repeal the blasphemy laws, remove the bishops from the Lords and abolish divisive religious state schools.
Perhaps to her surprise a number of people, such as I, who would normally consider her a barking moonbat actually agree with her on this too. Separation of "church" and state seems to be a good idea and one that is even supported by many (one suspects the vast majority) of the ~60 million Americans who voted for President Bush....
A fortnight ago I started reviewing books that I like and last week I reviewed a rather old book. This week I think we'll go back to modern. Since I won't have an internet connection for a while after this (popping off to Japan for the festive season) there will be no Christmas book review, though there will probably be a New Year one or two to make up for it. This also means that I'd better review one of my favourites because it needs to stay up for a while... so, as I threatened over at Baen's Bar, that limits me to either Heinlien or Bujold and, since I know Robert was a gentleman, I'm sure he won't object to Lois getting reviewed first.
A Civil Campaign is near the end of Lois' Vorkosigan series and thus one might think it would be better to read some or all of the earlier ones first. Actually Lois does a good job of making each book stand reasonably well on its own. In this case although I suspect that reading the immediately previous book (Komarr) might make some sense, I do not believe it to be necessary and from personal experience I can say that I was hooked on this book without having read the other earlier books in the series.
The description of this book in the back cover blurb as "A comedy of biology and manners" is entirely apt. This is the book where Lord Miles Vorkosigan, Lois' short but hyperactive hero, finally starts to settle down or at least try to. The problem is that he has learned from approximately age 2 that in order to compensate for his physical disabilities it is a good idea to manipulate his fellows by various forms of mental judo and of course, as eny fule kno, manipulation is emphatically NOT the way to win the heart of your lady. Matters are not exactly helped by the fact that said lady is recently widowed from a husband who was a scumbag and the fact that while Miles wishes to respect his love's desire for soem months of reflection before re-entering the lists of love his fellow Vor males (who outnumber Vor females by a significant amount) are less willing to let such an eligable potential mate hang around.
This is just the main plot, there are plenty of sub plots which cover other problems that are likely to occur when genetic engineering is just that - engineering. For example we have the problems of inheritance and the definition of the heir and parenthood when GE can produce children by cloning and can let people change sex and, moving away from the human sphere, there is the problem of artificially created species and the age old conflict between untility and beauty. All in all, while there are numerous potential couples the Wodehousian imperative that as many eligable ladies and gentlemen as possible successfully hook up with their soulmate means that romance is never far from the scene even when things seem to be going horribly wrong.
The book is strongly reminiscent of both Wodehouse at his Blandings or Wooster best and Dorothy L Sayer's Wimsey books, particularly Gaudy Night, and there are echoes back to 19th century romances such as the works of Jane Austen. But while romance is certainly a large part of the book it also appeals on many layers. As with any good SF work it has some philosophical underpinnings that make the reader think. In this case there are two, the aforementioned effects of Genetic Engineering and, as with much of the Vorkosigan oeuvre, the meaning of personal honour and integrity. This latter area is the subject of numerous epigrams such as "Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself." and "the trouble with oaths of the form, death before dishonor, is that eventually, given enough time and abrasion, they separate the world into just two sorts of people: the dead, and the forsworn." In the current age where the concept of a man's word being his bond seems to be considered hopelessly naive it is refreshing to read of a possible future where, for some people at least, these concepts are rather more important.
However the Wodehouse elements are also readily at hand with numerous quips and bon mots as well as what I believe to be one of the funniest scenes in SF - Miles' dinner party from hell. Describing it is impossible but reading it without laughing out loud is equally challenging, it is an object illustration that "the best laid schemes of mice and men gang oft agley" not to mention Lois' favourite story telling technique - what is the worst possible thing that could happen to my heroes next?
Finally if anyone, particularly any male, needs guidance on how to write a grovelling apology to his beloved this book contains a template as well as some basic principles. I've never yet needed such high octane grovelling but if (when?) I do cause a certain cooling of affection with my wife I shall be sure to use this book as a guide for how to re-establish relations.
One of the more bizarre google search results. Go to google. Type in "Cheese Burger" and do a search for images. At present the photo which is at the top right is a very "interesting" cheese burger - in case its moved it would be this one (not even slightly work safe).
Through the usual pottering around looking at this and that I have discovered an excellent column in the Grauniad which is dedicated to the crap science that shows up in British newspapers. It has been added to my blogroll on the right (in the news section) and looks well worth a weekly visit.
This week they announced their awards for 2004. The result is both a tragic llustration of the sad state of scientific knowledge and sidesplittingly funny. Just a short teaser or two
Firstly the prize categories
Andrew Wakefield prize for preposterous extrapolation from a single unconvincing piece of scientific data
Award for outstanding innovation in the use of the title 'Doctor'
Bad Science product of the year
Least plausible cosmetics claim
Charles Darwin memorial prize for most unlikely death sustained while credulously being treated by a transparently fraudulent alternative therapist
Bad Science celebrity of the year
And secondly the winner in the "Least Plausible Cosmetics Claim" category, which was not surprisingly one of the more hotly contested categories.
[T]he winner was a hair-straightening treatment by Bioionic, called Ionic Hair Retexturizing: "Water molecules are broken down to a fraction of their previous size ... diminutive enough to penetrate through the cuticle, and eventually into the core of each hair". Shrinking molecules caused some concern among the physicists at the ceremony, since IHR was available just 200 yards away, and the only other groups who have managed to create superdense quark-gluon plasma used a relativistic heavy ion collider. The prospect of such equipment being used by hairdressers was deemed worthy of further investigation.
Share & Enjoy (I have spent some of the weekend listening to the original BBC Radio Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy ... and now have the Sirius Cybernetic Corporations product jingle on the brain)
For the first time in my life I actually have a view, an opinion, shared by a columnist in The Independent.
I admit that I would generally share Tim's shock at sharing a point of view with someone at the Indescribablyboring, however there is onenotable exception. One Indescribablyboring columnist is a certain Johann Hari, a gentlemen speaks and writes much good sense on the subject of Islamofascism, Iraq and the like as well as having very sound opinions on "alternative medicine" and snobby Left wingers.
Share & Enjoy (I have spent some of the weekend listening to the original BBC Radio Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy ... and now have the Sirius Cybernetic Corporations product jingle on the brain)
The Diplomad has a post well up to their usual standard about Turkey's planned accession to the EU which has a lot of discussion based on this:
Allowing Turkey into the EU seems a wise decision for all concerned, in the sense that it sets a good example for the Islamic world. Which makes it interesting that Muammar Qaddafhi described the concept as a Trojan Horse. (Note: We assume this is a reference to Greek mythology and not a brand of condoms, but you never know with Qaddafhi.)
But for all his looniness, Qaddafhi raises a fair point: Entry of Turkey into the EU could potentially bring down the EU. Not necessarily because the EU has to take in 70 million new Muslims, but rather because it has to take in a big, relatively poor country that will place serious economic and political strains on the organization. Anti-Americans out there think that this is probably the reason the United States supported Turkey getting into the EU. They're wrong. The United States supported Turkey getting into the EU for noble, and sensible geopolitical reasons. But if, in the end, Turkey helps bring about the unraveling of the EU, that might not be so bad either.
As one of the many folks who is extremely sceptical of the EU (possibly the logo is a minor hint), I can certainly see the attractiveness of this position. I do however seriously doubt that the EU in the form which its current leaders believe it is in now will survive until 2015 or whenever Tirkey is expected to join. The EU simply has too many problems to last another 10 years without some serious changes. The question of course is whether these changes will be beneficial to either the EU itself or the rest of the world or not.
One obvious possibility, and I regret to say I reckon it is the highest probability, is that the EU simply becomes an enormous corrupt monster- a Soviet Union without nukes and bigger industrial capability if you like. In this sort of scenario the core EU (presumably the original 6 plus or minus) start benefiting rather more than the various peripheral nations and there is always some corrupt horse trading to get the EU to actually do anything. In this sort of case the big change will be that the EU no longer bothers to enforce the free market parts of its treaties and will thus reduce the economic attraction of membership. Whether this just leads to continent wide economic stagnation or something else is unclear, but if it did lead to stagnation why would Turkey want to join?
Secondly it seems not implausible that, because of the various tensions between the statists and the smaller government nations, the EU will start to unravel anyway as the more free-market members (UK, Ireland, Denmark, parts of Eastern Europe?) would quit. In this case it could well be that Turkey would want to join the other peripheral nations who have free trade, some common standards and reciproctiy arrangements but not the political deadweight of the "true EU".
Another possibility is that the Eastern Europeans, probably in conjunction with the UK (though not under A Blair) and some of the other northerly nations, really push for reform of the more egregious aspects of the EU. Things like the CAP and CFP, getting the EU accounts into an auditable state and the like. In which case the EU remains extremely interesting to Turkey, but in such a case many of the reasons to hope that Turkey would cause the EU to unravel would no longer apply.
American SF author Tom Kratman (author of A State of Disobedience) suggests that, Turkey or not, in a few decades the EU will simply become a second Caliphate as the combination of leftist political correctness, islamic fundamentalism and the differences in the growth of immigrant vs "native" european populations leads to the political establishment being taken over. I think this is overly pessimistic but I do think that it is highly likely that over the next decade the tensions between unassimilated Islamic immigrants and their host nations will seriously change the politics of these nations and thus the EU as a whole. Depending on how this plays out it could well turn out that Turkey would actually refuse to join the EU because it would see itself joining an entity that is inimical to the religion of most Turks.
Of course in a decade Iraq could be a stable democracy as could some of the other neighbours of Turkey. In that case Turkey might be more interesting in joining a new middle eastern union where it would probably be the dominant member rather than the EU.
Interesting times and interesting questions... Permalink
In the NY Times on Friday (but I don't notice it until reading a Buzzmachine post today), Timothy Garton Ash writes a piece celebrating the "soft power of the supranational". Tim Worstall appears not to have noticed this piece of lunacy so it falls to me to fisk the thing for him.
LAST week I stood among flag-waving demonstrators in Independence Square in Kiev and heard the leader of Ukraine's "orange revolution," Viktor Yushchenko, triumphantly declare that Ukraine was a European country. Not Western, not merely democratic, and obviously not American - European.
Do you truly believe that a "European country" has anything to do with your thesis about the EU? or indeed anything other than a not so subtle jibe at Comrade Putin next door?
Yesterday in Brussels, the leaders of the 25 member states of the European Union agreed to open negotiations with Turkey next year to join the union. Mr. Yushchenko, meanwhile, who will probably be elected president on Dec. 26, is also expected to seek a promise of eventual membership in the European Union for Ukraine soon after his inauguration.
These two large, poor states on the edge of Europe will pose a huge challenge to the adaptive capacity and internal coherence of the political, economic and security community that is the European Union. But their desire to become part of the union is a tribute to the magnetic power of a body that American policymakers have dangerously underrated in the last four years.
Note comment above. The Ukraine is adjacent to Russia, and has been ruled by it for centuries, joining the EU is a way to make it clear that (some of) the Ukraine wants as little to do with Moscow as possible. But I admit you've got it in one when you note that letting in Turkey and the Ukraine into the EU will be a "huge challenge", although as I said yesterday it is unclear whether the EU will be around in the form that it is now by the time these countries get around to joining. However that is probably about as much agreement as we can have, I'm absolutely unconvinced that these countries are joining the EU out of love for Brussels, the CAP and the like, rather they are joining because of external pressures that make joining a flawed EU preferable to going it alone. It is a decision driven by fear of the alternative not love of what is on offer.
There are signs that in his second term, President Bush is preparing to take the European Union more seriously as a union - not just a collection of diverse states from which Washington can pick and choose its allies. This is a welcome development, since only by working together can the United States and the European Union hope to surmount the challenges that face these twin heirs to the Enlightenment in today's dangerous world.
Really? outside the economic sphere (the WTO and the like) I see no sign at all that the US gives a toss for what the EU as a whole thinks, and if the US is indeed taking the "Union more seriously as a Union" that is not necessarily a good thing, it could just mean that the White House has decided that the EU is a collection of delusional pygmies that can be ignored one and all.
The most immediate challenge, of course, is terrorism. And one could make a strong case that the European Union's agreement to open membership negotiations with Turkey will be a bigger contribution to winning the war on terrorism than the American-led occupation of Iraq.
Why should Turkey joining the EU a decade from now cintribute to the war on terrorism - explain please
Iraq is now a bloody playground for existing groups of Islamist terrorists - and probably a breeding ground for new ones. The European Union's offer to Turkey, by contrast, sends a clear signal that Europe is not an exclusive "Christian club," that the West is engaged in no crusade, and that a largely Islamic society can be reconciled not only with a secular state but also with the rules and customs of modern liberal democracy.
Iraq is also going to have the first free multi-party election amongst arabic speaking nations, that is a big thing. The fact that, unlike any other "election" in the Arab world, no one knows who will win is a huge demonstration of trust in the ordinary citizens of Iraq and far more symbolic than the EU condescendingly letting Turkey know that it has been begging for long enough that it can start serious talks about joining. Moreover, given the effectiveness of US firepower, I think Iraq is more of a cemetary than a breeding ground for terrorists. The breeding grounds are those neighbouring states where there is no choice or freedom of expression.
It is also significant that the European Union's offer has been made to a Turkish government headed by a devout Muslim, Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan, who was jailed just five years ago for publicly reciting a poem containing the lines, "The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets, and the faithful are our warriors." Mr. Erdogan is now doing everything in his power to meet what Turks call "European standards."
See what I mean by condescension? Don't strain your arm patting yourself on the back now for your tolerance will you
Why is it that Americans do not understand the power of the European Union? Is it because they are simply not well informed by reports from Brussels and other European capitals? Or is it because, as citizens of the world's last truly sovereign nation-state, Americans - and especially American conservatives - find it difficult to acknowledge the contribution of a transnational organization based on supranational law? It's as if they can conceive of power only in the old-fashioned terms of a classical nation-state.
Boy there's a lot to pick at here. One might suggest that it is precisely because Americans are "well informed by reports from Brussels and other European capitals" that they understand the powerlessness of the European Union. Also one feels that some other nations - China perhaps or Australia or India or Brazil - would be rather surprised at learning that they were not a "truly sovereign nation-state". Also it is unclear what precisely the EU, as a transnational organization, has in fact contributed abroad. It bungled Bosnia and cocked up Cyprus as two examples. Its CAP and mindless fear of GM crops appear to be major causes of agricultural failure and resulting poverty in Africa and its funding of the PLO seems to have helped kill a number of Israelis. Wonderful contributions.
Robert Kagan describes the difference between America and Europe as the difference between power and weakness - American power, that is, and European weakness. This description is sustainable only if power is measured in terms of military strength. In the way that some American conservatives talk about the European Union, I hear an echo of Stalin's famous question about the Vatican's power: how many divisions does the pope have? But the pope defeated Stalin in the end. This attitude overlooks the dimensions of European power that are not to be found on the battlefield.
The pope defeated Stalin? really when? Ronald Reagan defeated the heirs of Stalin, the pope was in the main an interested bystander.
In economic power, the European Union is the equal of the United States: the combined gross domestic product of the union's 25 member states is some $11 trillion at current exchange rates, about the same as the G.D.P. of the United States. American business has long recognized the importance of the European market, and it is also beginning to understand the influence of its regulators. Three years ago the union blocked the merger of two American companies, General Electric and Honeywell - after American regulators had already approved the deal.
So Tim, have you failed to notice that when the US economy catches a slight cold the EU seems to suffer a month of flu? The EU may have the same GDP as the US but it also has a higher population and lower economic growth. As a result the average EU citizen is poorer than his US counterpart and less likely to get richer. The fact that US companies also get caught in the red tape emanating from Brussels is not exactly something that I would see as a high point of EU power.
The European Union is also strong in a less tangible kind of power - what is known as "soft power." The European way of life, its culture and societies, are enormously appealing to many of its neighbors. Meanwhile, the policies of the Bush administration have prompted a wave of hostility toward America around the world, while its security measures have made it more difficult for foreigners to study or work in the United States. So Europe may currently have a comparative advantage in the exercise of soft power, if only temporarily.
Evidence please? Around the world people watch movies made in Hollywood not Paris. Pizza restaurants may have spread everywhere to compete with Macdonalds but one suspects that most Pizzas are modelled more on the ones that originated in New York or Chicago than their forebears in Naples. The European way of life is appealing in comparison with the previous totalitarian way of life that most of its neighbours had. In that respect it is hard to say that it is Europe, rather than America, which is the inspiration since both are varieties of liberal free-market democracies. And that hostility to the US? its funny how the same people who are hostile to the US seem so keen to get a part of the American dream by buying cokes, big macs, Hollywood movies and so on.
Yet the most distinctive feature of European power is a fourth dimension - one that the United States wholly lacks. It is the power of induction. Put very simply: the European Union is getting bigger, and the United States is not. Haiti cannot hope to follow Hawaii into the American union, and even an American territory like Puerto Rico faces resistance in becoming the 51st state. But Ukraine can hope to follow Poland into the European Union.
So bigger is always better eh? sounds rather like British Empire chaps in the 1920s thinking that the Empire is bigger therefore it must be better. Of course in fact the Empire in the early 1900s was better than the one after the first world war because less resources were wasted governing marginal bits of real estate that had been grabbed from other failing empires.
AS we have seen across central and eastern Europe, and now in the Balkans and in Turkey, countries that wish to join the European Union are prepared to make profound changes to their economic, social, legal and political systems in order to qualify. Indeed, in the run-up to accession, the union has intervened extensively in the affairs of candidate states, but it has done so with the consent of their democratically elected governments. This is regime change, European-style.
On the whole I do agree with this. While the EU has not been perfect it has helped a lot of ex-communist nations get the basic liberal free-market going. But it is a bit cheeky to compare this with American interventions in Afghanistan or Iraq. Unlike the latter the former communist countries have generally had an earlier tradition of free-markets etc. and are have considerably more developed infrastructure. Comparing even Romania, probably the poorest country that will shortly join the EU, with Iraq is like comparing a Rolls Royce to a Yugo. Ceaucescu was indeed a dictator as ugly as Saddam but it has been 15 years since he was shuffled off this mortal coil and in those 15 years much has changed and would have changed regardless of the carrot of EU membership.
The history of the European Union can be told as a story of the expansion of freedom: from the original six postwar democracies in western Europe; to 12 member states, including three former dictatorships in southern Europe; to 25, including many of the former Communist states of central and eastern Europe; and now on to the Balkans, Turkey and, one day, Ukraine.
It can't go on forever, obviously. If Europe is everywhere, it will be nowhere. So the European Union must decide what to offer neighbors that cannot be members. But for now, the European power of induction is working its magic on the streets of Kiev and Istanbul.
Well just maybe the EU is in the same position the US was in the mid 1800s, lots of territory still to annex rather than the position the US is in today. It should be no surprise that the EU is growing while the US is not. It is a question of borders. The EU has helped anchor more democratic principles in states where democracy is not well estalished, but as I said earlier, it is hard to say that the choice these nations had was between Europe and the US. The choice was really betwene Europe and nothing.
"The wisest use of American strength is to advance freedom," President Bush has said. Yet by overlooking the true dimensions of European power, America is failing to recognize the potential of what could be its greatest ally in the most hopeful project of our time: the advancement of liberty around the world.
A sarcastic person (who me?) would suggest that in fact the US is indeed recognising the potential of the EU, as a do nothing talking shop unable to do anything on its own. The EU's coddling of dictators, its blasé acceptance of corruption, and its hypocritical attitude to the US seem to be rather odd attributes for an ally in the advancement of liberty. The fact that the EU and its mooted constitution is mostly a step back from liberty is just the icing on the cake.
ceterum censeo Unionem Europaeam esse delendam! Permalink
Eden at Just One Bite has been having a problem with wear and tear on her favourite sex toy, all I can say is I hope she doesn't use this site (found by Jeff in Korea) as a guide. On the other hand as an example of "Engrish" it is truly excellent...
OK I'm back from a week of no internet access. Not no news access so I'm aware of all the sad events going on everywhere and Japanese TV has been dilligently showing pictures of the tsunami and its aftermath...
Anyway, She Who Must Be Obeyed and I took a day off from sightseeing in and around Nara to visit a former college freind of her's (and husband) in Okayama and together we went to nearby Kurashiki, a town with acompact but rather pretty tourist district with relatively old buildings and various museums and art galleries. There may be certain travelogues to result from this trip and the Fotolog will certainly benefit from an oriental tone over the next few days and weeks but this post is about how bizarre it is to spend Christmas in a country with only a vague, Disneyfied comprehension of the day.
How can I start? well lets say that Santa Claus is generally sepaking well understood in the Coca-cola marketing Ho Ho Ho sense. Indeed more so that poor old Jesus. Then there are the Christmas carols played as muzack. Then there is, of ocurse, the general lack of churches or indeed Christians. It's all very strange and the strangeness is compounded by the way that Christmas is just another day. This year it was, fortunately, a Saturday so most people weren't actually working but it was just a regular Saturday, albeit one with occasional outbreaks of red hats, fake snow and Jingle Bells. In the various Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples of course Christmas doesn't get a mention, indeed its all rather advent-like in that everyone is busy scrubbign and cleaning in preparation for New Year, which is the Japanese midwinter celebration.
Our day started with breakfast in our hotel in Nara, this was completely and utterly nothing at all christmassy since it was a chinese breakfast (noodles, scrambled eggs...), however the day had dawned fair and on the dinky little train to Kyoto the sun was shining and all was apparently well with the world. Then on the Shinkansen things remained fair albeit with occasional cloud until we approached Okayama at which point the sun gave up the struggle and dull grey was the order of the day. We met Wada-san and husband (Wada is her maiden name, Kodota is my wife's - they spent the whole time calling each other variants on Wada or Kadota despite that not being their actual names anymore) and decided that the first order of business was lunch. Lunch was Okonomiyaki, which is not exactly traditional christmas fare either but is one of my favourite sorts of Japanese food so it went down really well. Then we drove to Kurashiki and did the tourist bit. It was cold and damp, but the company was good so we didn't mind. Once we'd done everything possible we headed back to Okayama. On the way back I got a rather good sunset view as we waited at a traffic light which made up for the lack of sun earlier. The boss blamed the lack of sun on Wada-san who is apparently a rain goddess, and therefore not someone you want to invite to a garden party but is good for places which are suffering from drought. The return to Nara was uneventful and we ended up having a late dinner in a nearby Japanese curry shop - those of my readers of British descent who think of vindaloo and onion bhajee when you hear the word curry would be shocked. Japanese curry has deviated significantly from this version but it is generally tasty, filling and remarkably cheap. This particular shop allowed choices in curry spiciness (on a numeric scale from 0 to 6). I picked a 4 which was hot but nothing to a man who's eaten many a phal after a good session in the pub.
All in all it was a very pleasant Christmas, but it totally lacked the turkey, mince pies, christmas pudding and family squabbles and all the other bits and bobs that make a traditional Christmas - I doubt I'll repeat it but it was fun.
Final Olive Tree Blogging image of the year, as always click on the image to make it bigger. The owl in this picture was bought from my friends Sarah and Miles, former Zimbabwe farmers who have retreated under pressure to the safety of the South of France. The bird is made by impoveished Zimbabweans and buying them helps the third world via trade not aid. You can contact them to buy other birds via their website - Zimbirds.com This image brought from the archives since I'm still in Japan.
Stephen Pollard is complaining, with some reason, about the horribleness of the enforced jollity of New Year's Eve parties. Well Stephen, maybe I have an alternative to going to bed early with a cup of horlicks... visit Japan, where New Year (Shogatsu) is the equivalent of Christmas elsewhere and where seeing inthe new year is a dignified visit to the local shrine or temple (kind of a midnight mass for shintoists or buddhists) plus a family toast or two.
We're having a white new year here in the depths of Shimaneken (for those not up to the geographical details of Japan it is number 34 on this map) as you can see by the snow covered shrine to the right. That picture was taken yesterday and some of the snow melted leaving me worried that maybe we would just have slush, but then last night and this morning we have had continual snow so a white shogatsu seems assured as the photo below may hint at:
Inside the house all is confusion as my in-laws do frantic last minute cleaning and tidying (it is a tradition that everything be as clean as possible for New Year) and they have put up some New Year decorations around the house's religious bits: The Shinto bit The buddhist bit the scroll adjacent to the Buddhist thingy.
My in-laws don't seme to have done it (yet) but many places have a pair of highly decorated things either side of the door or entrance gate. This one that I took at the O-Miwa Jinja near Nara a few days ago is an excellent example: I'll try and describe what we get up to after its done tomorrow. It is possible that I will semi-live blog it which could be a world first...