L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

02 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

Friday Olive Tree Blogging

The blossom is out (and falling everywhere) so here's a picture of it against the azure sky
20060602 - Friday Olive Tree Blogging
As always click on the image to see it enlarged and don't forget to see the rest of the series if you missed them

02 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

Lefties Learn Supply & Demand

Lefty lady blogger Majikthise linked a couple of days back to a weird moan about "Internships" complaining that they were mostly unpaid and that this was bad for all sorts of reasons.

In this way, unpaid interns are like illegal immigrants. They create an oversupply of people willing to work for low wages, or in the case of interns, literally nothing. Moreover, a recent survey by Britain's National Union of Journalists found that an influx of unpaid graduates kept wages down and patched up the gaps left by job cuts.

There may be more subtle effects as well. In an information economy, productivity is based on the best people finding the jobs best suited for their talents, and interns interfere with this cultural capitalism. They fly in the face of meritocracy — you must be rich enough to work without pay to get your foot in the door. And they enhance the power of social connections over ability to match people with desirable careers. A 2004 study of business graduates at a large mid-Atlantic university found that the completion of an internship helped people find jobs faster but didn't increase their confidence that those jobs were a good fit.

Although the conclusion makes sense and somewhat undercuts the rest of the moan

A 1998 survey of nearly 700 employers by the Institute on Education and the Economy at Columbia University's Teachers College found: "Compared to unpaid internships, paid placements are strongest on all measures of internship quality. The quality measures are also higher for those firms who intend to hire their interns." This shouldn't be too surprising — getting hired and getting paid are what work, in the real world, is all about.

Majikthise now has a follow up post with a series of links mostly rebutting the underlying premises of the editorial. As a free marketeer I have read the lot with amazement.

Firstly, it truly amazes me that anyone would actually want to work for free and that parents seem willing to support their children as they do so. I thought that since US tertiary education was so expensive it would be a major incentive for students to find the highest paying summer job they could. Certainly that was my main motivation (thanks Madge Networks) and the main motivation for most of my friends at university. Mind you my friends were all compscis, natscis, mathmos, engineers, economists etc. and hence studying subjects that required logic and commonsense not airy fairy regurgitation of BS and we were at Cambridge, which is to say probably smarter than most, but even so it doesn't seem too strange a concept to grasp - all you had to do was look at the bank balance and see the lack of money available for booze and listen to those second years who went on Interrailing trips griping about how they couldn't afford to go down the pub.

Also as versious people have noted it is the "sexy internships" that don't offer pay - in other words the classic law of supply and demand at work. And that clearly also indicates how you put an end to this pernicious practice. Teach your student friends and relatives to demand a salary and see if the internship provider complies. Of course there is a minor problem here in that internships that pay also tend to expect concrete results so maybe there is less tolerance of interns who go out partying every night but then TANSTAAFL - "there ain't no such thing as a free lunch" - and related concepts are good principle for young people to get their head around.

Thirdly, as also noted by Majikthise, a significant number of the offerers of the unpaid internships are "progressive" non-profit organizations.

The fact that so many progressive organizations rely on unpaid interns is especially troubling. These organizations should embrace a living wage for interns and entry-level staffers as a matter of principle.

First off, it's hypocritical for progressive groups to preach social change but practice exclusion. Moreover, elitist recruiting strategies are short-sighted if your goal is helping the disadvantaged. What percentage of people who write white papers on the welfare system have ever been on welfare? I'm not saying that you need personal experience in order to write policy. However, fresh ideas and diverse perspectives are the lifeblood of progressive policy and alternative media. So, progressive groups have a strong long-term incentive to recruit from a broad cross-section of society.

It's easy to say that a non-profit can't afford to pay its interns. Money will always be tight, but that fact of life never absolves decision-makers of responsibility for setting priorities. Progressive organizations should embrace living wages for interns and entry-level staff a goal, for their own good.

I agree with the whole of this and I hate the hypocrisy of it; "Progressive" non-profits who offer unpaid internships are in fact exploiting their workers in precisely the way that they get upset about when evil capitalists do the same thing. If anyone wonders why many of the downtrodden seem to prefer "non-progressive" alternatives such as local churches then this could well be why. It is very hard to identify the real problems of the downtrodden if you have never had to struggle.

02 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

Yet Another French Politics Update

The news for our pals l'Escroc and Vile Pin gets worse and worse. Beginning with their record low popularity - now at 17% and 20% respectively - and as Yahoo also reported yesterday: 61% des internautes jugent que le pays n'est actuellement gouverné par "personne" (61% of internet users believe that the countriy is not actually governed by anyone). Although I didn't contribute to that survey you can count me in as part of that 61%.

But this is just the minor stuff. In the Clearstream affair we now have 2 developments. Firstly "le Corbeau" - Vile Pin's pal Gergorin - has been placed under judicial examination - which basically means he has been charged with certain crimes namely:
"faux, usage de faux et dénonciation calomnieuse" (forgery, use of forgery and libelous denounciation). Secondly Imad Lahoud has been officially questioned by police. Lahoud is believed to be the co-conspirator with Gergorin and, via his father, has links with l'Escroc, however he denies having hacked Clearstream or having provided anything ever to Gergorin. The wheels of French justice do seem to be grinding slowly but it looks like they are gradually getting to the heart of the matter and removing one skin of lies after another.

In other corruption news a number of socialist politicians were found guilty in a case about fictitious employees at the mutual insurance company MNEF. This is a scandal that took place in the Mitterand era where certain pols received salaries at MNEF for doing nothing.

In EU-related news - a group of anchovy fishermen in the Basque south west of France are bitching about the EU's CFP rules and blockading their port and stopping any of the larger "industrial" fishing trawlers leave. I have considerable sympathy for these fisherman because, as usual, the EU regulations are part of the problem not part of the solution, but it is precisely the sort of thing that EUrophiles like l'Escroc prefer to ignore because it tarnishes their grand illusions.

Going back to l'Escroc. His bright idea of cancelling the Whitmonday holiday to pay for stuff to stop a repeat of the heat-wave deaths of 2003 has never been exactly popular. Last year's implementation was mixed and this year seems to be worse with all sorts of alternatives being proposed and  a number of groups deciding to strike and take the holiday anyway. The 61% of "Internautes" look to be right about who isn't governing.

In riot news: Ségolène Royal caused waves in her own party (and outside) by calling for rioters to be locked up. Internally surely the funniest response has been that of her hubby Francois Hollande who seems to have been completely suprised by her statement - as Paris Link notes this must have led to an interesting dinner table discussion last night chez Royal-Hollande. I think the best summary of the shock this caused outside the socialist party is this Delize cartoon with Sarko saying "But she's scary" and Le Pen complaining that everyone is taking his policies.
Royal, Sarko & Le Pen

I think that to the extent that they pay attention to politcs the rioters are probably as shocked as anyone. Until recently the centre-left of French politics was about as craven as it was possible to be with the standard response to anything being "Society is to blame, the government must apologise and then shower money on the problem".

02 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

Bloated and Incompetant

At the National Review Rich Lowry is scathing about the DHS:

The humorist P. J. O’Rourke famously said, “Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.” That cynical, libertarian sentiment felt out of step after 9/11, when Washington seemed set to embark on a period of high seriousness of purpose. Nearly five years later, however, it’s clear that even homeland-security funding is dangerous in the hands of Washington lawmakers.

The Department of Homeland Security has just announced this year’s urban counterterrorism grants. The department was working on the basis of a new funding formula that replaced the old congressionally mandated formula that had more to do with pork-barrel, spread-the-money considerations than sober assessments of risk. But the new formula apparently is even stupider than the old, since it has dictated enormous cuts for the only two cities ever to be hit by Islamic terrorists, Washington, D.C., and New York City.

You know he almost sounds like a left winger - here's Majithise:

So what does it take to be included in the DHS's Freedom Budget?

Here are some of the distinguished heritage sites:

and here's ZuZu at feministe:

The whole procedure, really, was flawed. Rather than have experts in counterterrorism review the proposals, DHS used a “peer review” system that came to the conclusion that New York had no national monuments or icons.

Funny, I seem to recall that there’s a big statute out in the harbor. And a bridge that’s been sold many times. And a readily-identifiable theater district, and several skyscrapers of some reknown. *

Not surprisingly, it appears that politics and palm-greasing may have had something to do with things.

The major difference between Rich and the left-wing ladies*  is that he blames Congress and dumb bureacrats for the pork and waste while the ladies tend to blame the occupant of the white-house. Personally I think there is plenty of blame to spread around here and plenty of bureaucrats, congresscritters and presidential appointees who should be on the receiving end. Hence I have to say that I think both ladies would tend to agree with most of Rich's conclusion too:

After a surge in such confidence following 9/11, the Iraq war, and the spectacle of the Abramoff-tainted, listless GOP, Congress is writing a new chapter in the history of cynicism about government. Everywhere you look there is more reason to shake your head and wonder, Where is the adult supervision in Washington? Here is the congressional leadership strenuously objecting to the FBI searching a corrupt, cash-grubbing congressman’s office. There is the Department of Veterans Affairs losing the personal information of millions of veterans.

Conservatives are supposed to believe in a government that does less rather than more, and that performs its core functions well. Republicans have stumbled on both counts, delivering bloated and incompetent governance. Their political strategy is to hope Democrats get tainted too by their mere presence in Washington. But Republicans should be worried lest voters confiscate their whiskey and car keys.

All the rumbling about third party candidates is looking more and more plausible.

*ZuZu is posting at feministe and is anonymous. I believe she is female though I could be wrong - possibly he's a cat.

02 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

Copyright for me but not for thee

Olive tree from HachetteAccording to their website the publisher of the magazine Shock (HFM U.S.) is a subsidiary of Hachette Filipacchi Médias S.A and

Hachette Filipacchi Médias S.A. (HFM), based in France and a subsidiary of Lagardère SCA, (www.lagardere.com) is the world's largest magazine publisher present in 39 countries. [...] In the United States, Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S., Inc. (wholly owned) is one of the largest magazine publishers. [...]

Groupe Hachette Filipacchi Photos (GHFP) is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hachette Filipacchi Medias and houses the Group's acquisitions in the field of photography, a core business for magazine publishers.  A new head office was created in early 2005, joining French teams of Hachette Photos Presse (Gamma), Hachette Photos Illustration (Hoa-Qui), Rapho and Keystone, while the www.hachettephotos.com portal now presents the Group's complete offer online.  Over one million digital images of current events, high-profile personalities, news reportage and celebrity portraits are available to the Group's press, publishing, corporate and advertising clients.

Yet despite the fact that the publisher's of "Shock" also own a photo agency and seem keen to express copyright and grant permission for repdroduction on the photos they show online, the magazine shock seems to believe that it can republish whatever image it happens to find on the internet without requesting permission or paying the photographer and copyright holder for the use of the image.

The circumstances captured in that image, including the key fact that I had taken the photograph, were easily ascertainable. In fact, I don’t know how any professional photo agency or magazine could reasonably claim to not know that it was my photograph, that it was taken immediately after an insurgent car bomber attacked the children, and that I had just emerged from a protracted dispute with the Army in order to protect the copyright. The reason I assert that the team behind SHOCK knew all this and still acted with clear intent is found on the inside cover of the issue.

There, along with the Table of Contents, is a photograph of me, holding a framed copy of the photograph in question. That photograph was taken to accompany an article by Mitch Stacey for the Associated Press. The caption reads:

Picture This: Amateur photographer Michael Yon captured history when he snagged our cover shot while reporting on the war for his blog. Could you be our next cover photographer? Send pics!

In this case the photographer, Michael Yon, is understandably pissed and suing the publisher for what looks like blatent intentional copyright infringement, yet it seems the owners of Shock, rather than do the decent thing prefer to sue him for "defamation" a rather odd concept since their abuse of his image would seem to be defaming him, his subject and his views.

HFM [...] intimated in writing that they may have a claim against me for defamation based on the complaints they received from third parties about their unauthorized use of my photo. My attorney, John Mason, began taking the necessary legal steps in this fight, and for the first few days of the dispute, I remained silent apart from the one statement published on my website, out of respect for the process of law.

I have no connection with Michael Yon what so ever - I may have donated to his paypal fund once but I regret to say I have probably been to cheap to so do - so anything I say has nothing whatever to do with Mr Yon. However going on the description above (and more detail in the full posts at Mr Yon's blog) and coverage at numerous blogs etc. I have no hesitation in describing HFM as a bunch of hypocrital scumbags who seem to think they can get away with bullying the small guy.  Their behaviour seems ot me to be well illustrated by the series of photos that comes up first when you search hachette photos for "thief".

05 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

A Chacun, Son Goût

SeeDubya over at the Junkyard blog links approvingly to this NRO article about Chardonnay where a case is made for the middle-class equivalent of Retsina - that is Chardonnay grapes that have been given so much oak in the wine-making process that you expect an acorn to sprout from the bottle. Oh and then the writer admits that they insist on cooling to wine to a couple of degees above absolute zero to hide the forest taste make it taste better. But I think that is enough scorn so I'll just note that Chavs are more-or-less the English equivalent of rednecks, albeit urban, less inbred and fonder of trashy jewellery and get on to the bit she does have a valid point:

Recently, I have tried to break out of my wine rut. My husband and I vacationed on the French island of St. Bartelemy, enjoying delectable food and warm sunshine. There was only one problem with our otherwise perfect holiday in paradise. There was not a single bottle of California-style chardonnay to be had at any price.

Oh, we tried. The chardonnay grape is the basis for many famous French labels such as Chablis, Pouilly-Fuisse, and Montrachet. We tried many an expensive bottle to try to feed our nasty habit, to no avail. Each one of them to our palates seemed watery, or acidic, or too tart. One afternoon, we even set off on a desperate mission to a huge warehouse literally stacked floor to ceiling with wine. The nice French lady who helped me seemed dumbfounded when I asked if they had any California wine among the thousands of bottles surrounding us. “But….thees is a French island!” she asked, bewildered.

Yes, I patiently, explained, but in the U.S. wine sellers usually offer wine from all over the world to their customers, not just U.S. wines. No, she was sorry, but only French wines were sold on a French island, and seemed honestly confused as to why I would want anything else. Later, when I explained to the proprietor of one of the island’s finest restaurants about my inexplicable craving for California (or Australian—they do it well too) chardonnay, he offered his sincere condolences. We decided to stick to pina coladas and beer for the rest of the trip.

The protectionism and chauvinism of the French wine industry is staggering. They just about admit that the Italians can do something with grapes and, if threatened by a panzer regiment, will agree that the Germans make adequate wines in the Alsatian mode but that is about it. However things are getting better. Here on the Riviera however I have seen a steady increase in the "Vins Etrangers" section of the supermarket with Californian, Australian and South American wines on offer, at in most cases, decent prices. Admittedly the Californian wine section seems to be dominated by "Turning Leaf" which is some sort of industrially  produced plonk, but at least it's there and offering the chsrdonnay'n'oak combo the NRO writer pines (oaks?) for. Also what I assume is the Chilean (or was it Argentinian?) equivalent of "Turning Leaf" that I found recently - "Gato Negro" - produced an excellent Cabernet/Merlot that was both eminently drinkable and priced right at the €4/bottle sweet spot where I find most of my wine. Allegedly (I cannot speak from experience being, as noted, a cheapskate when it comes to buying wines) many of the dedicated wine sellers have decent selections of better vintages of New World wines too so if you are desperate for a non-French wine you have plenty of options.

Now, having said that, I can't see why you would bother unless you have a craving for particular vinyards/vintages and don't care about the price. The truth is that these days the French produce good wines at very good prices. Although €1/bottle "methode traditionelle" (aka fizzy wine not from Champagne) is exceptional and generally best left for the real alkos to enjoy, the €3-€5/bottle range of French wines is generally speaking filled with pleasant southern French surprises (Languedoc, Minervois, Côtes du Rhône, Côtes de Provence...) and of course they include the Rosé wines that are perfect for the summer but which you simply cannot seem to get elsewhere.

Moving from wine to food, Roxanne links to someone whose commenters explain why the NY Times is so very coy about the local name for gnocchi in Nice - answer they call them merde di can(a) a.k.a. dog turds. Talking of which, the NY Times writers and sub-editors need to work on things geographical a bit, Nice is not in Provence except in the adminsitrative sense that it is part of the French PACA (Provence, Alpes, Côte d'Azur) region so the headline above a very good food piece about "cuisine Nissarde" probably shouldn't be "Nice: Going Straight to the Source for Provençal Cuisine" and the lead in gripe about the lack of "regional" cooking in Nice probably should avoid that word too:

IF there's a problem with France, it is that the food is often entirely too "French." Offerings like crepes, coq au vin and cassoulet are so common that there is a danger of forgetting that they all have actual regions of origin and are not national dishes.

This danger is omnipresent in Nice, where 80 percent of the restaurants cater to 90 percent of the tourists by offering mostly "French" food, ignoring the well-defined, well-maintained, universally revered and quite wonderful cuisine of Provence. In Nice this cuisine is even more local, and it would be a shame to visit this old and quintessential Mediterranean city without indulging in cuisine Nissarde, to use the preferred indigenous word.

 Nice wasn't even part of France before the mid 19th century, its local dialect is distinctively different to Provençal (no final Ns pronounced NG for example) and the cuisine is significantly different from that found in the ports of the Var - think bouillabaisse - let alone the non-maritime heartlands of Provence. Still aside from "pendantic" quibbles over terminology I thought the NYT article to be most excellent and I have noted the names to be visited sometime later in the year when the tourists have quit.

Talking of which I had the misfortune to visit the Cap d'Antibes yesterday. The tourists are here in force and driving on the seaward side of the A8 motorway is distinctly unfun. In fact driving anywhere where tourists tend to drive is now unfun and dnagerous because the visitors tend to suffer from confusion at badly signposted junctions, to fail to recognise the peculiar cambers on some of the roads and so on.

05 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

J vs K

Over at the Marmot's Hole, the proprietor is wondering why Japanese bloggers etc. seem to have a more positive overall view of Japan compared to the view of their fellows on the other side of the Japan Sea do about their land of residence. First a key disclosure: I've never been beyond Seoul airport so any statement I make about Korea is derived second hand whereas I lived in Japan for two years over a decade ago and been visiting it for 2-4 weeks a year every year since.

Robert writes:

At the risk of seriously over-generalizing, it really does seem at times that Western expats in Japan are, by-and-large, much more “into” their host nation than are Western expats in Korea. Much of it, I’d have to assume, is political—it’s been hard, at least as an American, to line up behind the Roh administration and the ruling Uri Party, especially on key foreign policy issues like North Korea and the Korea-U.S. alliance. I could certainly see how Westerners, or at least Americans of a conservative bend, might find Koizumi’s vision much more palatable.

But there’s more to it than politics. Are expat forums in Japan full of the same kind of non-stop bitching about the host nation’s society and culture as they are in Korea? Do you see the same kind of derision leveled at J-pop and J-dramas as you see leveled at K-pop and K-dramas? I, for one, don’t see it. If anything, I’m impressed by the number of Westerners who are willing to serve almost as honorary ambassadors for Japan, promoting Japanese arts and culture in their homelands. Japan—it’s cool. It’s got anime. And cute little trees. And beautiful gardens. Korea? It’s got ugly cities. Populated by girly men and rude, xenophobic ajeossi’s. Who drink a lot. And puke on the sidewalks. And beat their wives when they come home from the red-light district. But at least its got beautiful women.

The first thing to say is that Japan is not perfect. It isn't all anime and cute little trees etc. etc. I think every expat who lives there has a few nasty experiences such as witnessing (or if female being the victim of) perverts on trains, being told "Gaijin Dame!" etc. and anyone with eyes to see will see the nasty underside of Japan where ever they look. There are plenty of "pavement okonomiyaki" to be found in places where the drunk salaryman stagger home, there are a heck of a lot of homeless people (all those blue shacks on the river banks and in parks), and Japanese TV is as "quirky" as it comes.

Oh and Japanese cities are quite astoundingly ugly. In fact one of the things that pisses me off about Japan is the way that the Japanese seem to have little or no reverence for their past architectural treasures and seem only too happy to stick ugly electricity poles, garish neon signs and vile buildings coated in bathroom tiles next to ancient temples or gardens and if they don't do that they make the whole thing a theme-park to cuteness. Politically, while Koizumi may be an acceptable politician he is about the only one, almost everyone else seems to be either hopelessly corrupt, politically extreme or both.

I could go on. There is a lot to bitch about in Japan but there is also plenty to enjoy and it seems to me that this may be the key to the different views between Japanese and Korean expats/bloggers. To begin with, for every racist insensitive moron in Japan there seem to be hundreds of nice polite Japanese who are apologetic about their bigots and who frequently go far beyond the call of duty to try and help the foreigner. I have to say that in my experience the desire to help frequently outruns the performance - when I lived in Tokyo I found that it was generally speaking a bad idea to ask a Japanese for directions because they mostly didn't know but tried to help anyway so you ended up getting even more lost. In fact all but the worst bigots are polite and helpful to foreigners when they encounter them in person and they are usually polite even when they aren't being helpful. I recall a friend describing how he was given a truly fascinating potted history of Tokyo's Shitamachi while being told that he wasn't welcome to rent a particular apartment and I can personally attest that in many cases the dislike of foreigners seems to be grounded in the belief that they can't communicate with said foreigners. Once you talk to them in (broken, grammatically terrible) Japanese and/or show up with a Japanese friend/colleague many of the objections seem to melt away.

Japan has also welcomed foreign products, money and ideas in a way that Korea doesn't seem to, witness the foreign interest and importance in trading on the Tokyo Stock Exchnage and the yen. There is no doubt that some parts of the Japanese economy remain effectively protected (rice and construction are two that spring to mind) and there is no doubt that the Japanese have figured out the "protectionism through bogus consumer protection" scam that allows them to slow down imports of beef, cars etc. Yet the integration of Japan into the world economy means that they are not too shocked when Goldman Sachs or Merrill Lynch buys some struggling Japanese financial institution or Renault ends up rescuing Nissan because they also recognise that Nomura or Sony does the same thing to British or American (or...) companies. In fact I'd say that the Japanese, on the whole, believe in "win-win" and don't see trade as a situation where one party is always the "loser" whereas my experience of Koreans is that they usually see trade purely in win-lose terms and hence are far harder to do business with.

Finally, and possibly as a result of the openness to trade, there are a lot of foreigners in Japan doing a lot of different things in a lot of different areas of the country. I get the feeling that in Korea the vast majority of (English speaking) foreigners are either teaching English, working for the US Military or translators. There are plenty of people doing the same jobs in Japan but there are also many many others doing different things from running their own restaurants, bars and trading companies (and in at least one case ryokan), working for financial institutions, working for both foreign and Japanese high tech companies, working in Japanese universities and research institutes and so on and they have been doing this for years if not decades. I think this means that even if the bloggers are less permenant members of the expat community they probably know longer term residents and hence understand the positives as well as the negatives of Japanese life.

As a control expat comminity consider country F(rance). Every expat I know here bitches about something. Most of us seem to think that the president is a crook (although many natives do too) and that the country's political system ought to be reformed. The bureaucracy is a pain and generally seems to be pointless, the tourist visitors are annoying, the local builders and other service providers usually seem to be incompetant when they aren't out and out crooks and so on. Yet very few of us would leave and very few of us would consider that all these negatives are worse than the positives. Perhaps more importantly most of our native neighbours bitch and moan about the same set of problems and don't moan especially about us, and I suspect that that may be one reason why we don't go permenantly negative on the country.

I suspect that may well be the case for Japan too. No Japan isn't perfect but the locals complain about many of the same things as the foreigners and don't complain about the longer term foreign residents. I'm not sure but I suspect that may not be the case in Korea.

06 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

The 6/6/06 in 06

As zillions of people have noticed today is the 6th day of the 6th month of the 6th year of the current millenium. For most people that is 3 6s and as good as they can get but here in the Alpes Maritimes we go one further because our department number is also 06. Hence a big bash in Cagnes last night sponsored by the Conseille General and me claiming to be 6 times as devilish as any other numerologcal blogger - oh and my name's not Tim either which has to be good for something.

06 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

Sarko for PM. Royal for pres?

In minor French news, as I noted last time I talked about French politics, there was much confusion over whether yesterday was a holiday or not and, I believe, considerable irritation that it did seem to be a holiday for the fonctionnaires and other idlers who suck at the teat of government but not for many others.

In far more interesting news we have Royal stealing even more Sakozy policies with her speech yesterday where she kicked over yet another left-wing icon and called for the 35h week to be scrapped. As the Wapping Liar's correspondent Charles Bremner reports she wasn't subtle about it either:

SÉGOLÈNE ROYAL, the leftwing favourite for the next French presidency, outraged fellow Socialists for the second time in a week yesterday by attacking the 35-hour working week, the main legacy of the party’s last term in office.

The 35-hour week had the “unintended consequence of worsening the situation for the most vulnerable workers, notably for women with few qualifications” who now had less time to spend with their families, she said. Mme Royal’s criticism of the sacrosanct 1999 working time law followed her call last week for military training for delinquent teenagers from the housing estates and boot camps for their parents.

Eursoc astutely notes that while this may well be causing the socialists a certain amount of grief, it is also well and truly upsetting Sarko and Le Pen because she is busily "stealing" their policies. This is not exactly a new or original observation, I linked to the Delize cartoon below in April and it still sums up the situation beautifully.
Eursoc wonders whether Sarko will feel like reciprocating and steal a left-wing idea, but I kind of doubt it as there don't seem to be any good left-wing ideas to steal. Indeed as Charles Bemner reports on his blog, even those pessimistic about France such as Jacques Marseille now seem to think that the 2007 election will be a turning point as the most plausible mainstream candidates (S&S) are both espousing reform.

On that note I am wondering whether we should hope for a period of "cohabitation" again - when the president and government are from different parties - this time with Ségo as Prez and Sarko and the UMP as PM and government. I think the opposite (socialst government, Sarko as pres) would be a complete catastrophe but there are good reasons to believe that Sego would be better than Sarko as president. The first is that there is plenty to dislike about Sarko who has probably got a bit too much authoritarian in him. Perhaps more crtically,.proper reforms will only come if the trades unions get the Arthur Scargill treatment and to defeat the unions it will probably be necessary to have some buy-in from the left. In fact I would sy that cross-party buy in is going to be required for all sorts of reform and that is going to be much much easier if there are members of both "sides" in government.

All of this assumes that Ségo makes it to being the presidential candiate of the Socialists. The Socialists have been almost as good as the Democrats in the US in making themselves unelectable in the last few years (recall that l'Escroc only got re-elected because the Socialist candidate last time around was such a loser that Le Pen managed to out poll him in the first round) and for Ségo to be chosen as the Socialist candidate, the party activists will have to vote for her. Since many of them are the same reallity challenged folks who protested the EU constitution on the grounds that it would result in excssive "Anglo-Saxon" policies, there is no guarrantee that enough of them will manage to put the idea of electibility ahead of misguided socialist principle and dogma.

06 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

Pin in the Map

The register reports on and links to a really simple idea of the sort that makes you go "Duh".

Using google maps these guys have come up with a simple way to send an annotated link to anywhere in the world that google maps. There are other solutions to this - I have done similar things using maporama - but the UI of Pin in the Map is far far simpler and it is far simpler to create multiple links to email. There are however a couple of suggestions that I have for improvement:
  1. the ability to start at a google maps permalink 
  2. the ability to enter a placename (+ country) to start
  3. (related to 2.) the ability to enter a UK post code as a start
  4. the ability to create multiple pins on the same map
The first three would probably all be solvable from the first one in that once you have that you can do the other two by cunning hackery of the permalink created by google when it has found the place. The fourth may possibly be harder.

This is, BTW, why despite some of my recent scepticism about Google (at my work blog), scepticism echoed in different ways all over the place recently, I'm mostly positive about Google's potential for success. The key is that google maps has a publically available API, as do many other google services, and that is not the case with many of Google's competitors. By providing an easy to use API google entices third party developer to use google as its platform and this helps build loyalty as well as helping to sell ads via google. Given that Google's business is essentially the sale of advertising, anything it can do to entice more people to use google as a platform the better. This is, effectively, the classic "open propriatary" technology platform that Geoff Moore recommends in his "Gorilla Game"  book and it is Google's ability to take open non-proprietary technologies such as AJAX and leverage them to produce proprietary platforms that makes me unwilling to write Google off despite all its weak points.

(Post x-posted at the work blog)

07 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

Yon / Shock / HFM update

Michael Yon reports that he and HFM (Hachette Filipacchi Médias) have come to an agreement:

I am satisfied that Hachette Filipacchi Media believed they were acting in good faith when procuring the publishing rights from Polaris to use my photograph in SHOCK magazine. Both sides worked to find a solution, and, as a result of our discussions, Hachette Filipacchi Media agreed to pay a licensing fee, and to make a very generous contribution to Fisher House.

That is the good news and means that I have updated my post about HFM from last week to note that HFM do apparently respect other people's copyright. Of course one can wonder whether HFM would have cared if it hadn't been for all the publicity and blog posts from people such as I and on that note I find it fascinating that my blog post is number 1 on Google Finance's HFM page (see below) and that number 2 comes from another Yon fan/HFM critic who also notes that HFM's parent company Lagardère had some interesting relations with the former Iraqi government.
HFM google finance page

07 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

AP - Crow 2 Go or Eat in?

Last night AP had an article about the San Diego House special election with a distinctly wishful title and lede:

Dems look to win House seat in Calif.

RANCHO SANTA FE, Calif. - Democrats in a solidly Republican district hoped to capitalize on a GOP corruption scandal and capture the House seat Tuesday that was held by Randy "Duke" Cunningham before he went to prison for bribery.

Democrat Francine Busby, a local school board member who ran against Cunningham in 2004, competed against Republican Brian Bilbray, a former congressman, in a race that was considered a toss-up in its closing days.

unfortunately, as predicted by Dafydd at Big Lizards, it looks like this is "win" in the sense of coming second in a two horse race, as AP now reports that:

Republican wins bellwether House race

By ROBERT TANNER, AP National Writer 6 minutes ago

A former Republican congressman narrowly beat his Democratic rival early Wednesday for the right to fill the House seat once held by imprisoned Randy "Duke" Cunningham, a race closely watched as a possible early barometer of next fall's vote.

Republican Brian Bilbray emerged victorious after a costly and contentious race against Democrat Francine Busby, a local school board member who ran against Cunningham in 2004. [...] The race — one of dozens of election contests in eight states — was viewed by Democrats as an opportunity to capture a solidly Republican district and build momentum on their hopes to capture control of the House.

One of the interesting points here is that the AP repeatedly reports that a lot of money was spent and hints that the loss was due to the expenditure and another is the way that for democrats "close" apparently counts as "win" - in other words getting their excuses in early - as the initial article explains:

Democrats spent nearly $2 million on the high-stakes contest, and the GOP spent more than $4 million. President Bush and first lady Laura Bush recorded automated telephone messages for Bilbray. A mass e-mailing from Sen. John Kerry, the party's 2004 presidential candidate, was sent last week to more than 100,000 supporters, urging them to help get out the vote.

Al Gore also recorded a phone message telling Democrats to go to the polls.

Cunningham's downfall threatened to upset the electoral balance in this longtime GOP stronghold, where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats 3-to-2. Cunningham pleaded guilty last year to accepting $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors and was sentenced in March to more than eight years in prison.

Well before Election Day, some Democrats claimed victory just by forcing a fight for the seat.

"If I get close, then we've made the point that this is no longer a safe seat, but it's not enough," Busby said in a recent interview. "We want to win."

and of course there is the lovely unbiased discussion about the illegal immigation issue where the AP can't help getting in a snide dig at the republican and defending the democrat:

Busby said repeatedly that she misspoke [ed:about illegal immigrants voting]. She said she had been trying to encourage underage high school students or people who were not registered — but are in the country legally — to participate in the political process.

Bilbray called for constructing a fence "from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico" and barring illegal immigrants from collecting Social Security benefits. His Web site does not oppose a guest-worker program and offers no plan for treatment of the estimated 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants currently in the country.

07 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

Clearstream - further develpoments

A couple of interesting developments. Firstly Imad Lahoud has been taken into custody (translation) and will probably be charged with handling the Clearstream list along with Gergorin and, presumably, with the addition of the false names to it. Secondly the source who provided Gergorin (Le Corbeau) and co with his documents has been reported to be Florian Bourges, a former Arthur Andersen employee (google translation).

It would seem that Mr Bourges was part of the team that investigated (radiographed?) Clearstream at the behest of the Luxembourg authorities in 2001 and that he then took advantage of his aquaintance with Imad Lahoud to get the latter to analyse the records seized then. Bourges also appears to have handed the list over to Denis Robert (see below). According to the Canard Enchaîné this analysis was done at the request of either Gergorin or General Rondot - the gentleman who fingered Vile Pin in his notes. What is unclear is who added the names of Sarko etc to the list.

All this is derived from the researches of journalist Denis Robert who is about to publish a book on the Clearstream investigation and which various defense lawyers are busily trying to stop being published. This explanation indicates that Clearstream was not "hacked" by Lahoud because the documents were extracted by Bourges as part of the official investigation, but there is considerable controversy here because, although Lahoud admits having met Bourges once for all of 15 minutes, his lawyer seems to be claiming that the information actually came from Denis Robert in 2003!

It must be noted here that if Bourges did indeed slip Lahoud/Gergorin/??? the details which eventually constituted part of the list sent to judge van Ruymbeke then it is almost certain that those names on it are likely to be the actual recipients of bribes that came from the Taiwanese frigate sale. In other words while Sarko and some of the other names were added maliciously the rest probably did take bribes and should be prosecuted assuming that other non-tainted evidence can be dug up to identify them.

It alse becomes really interesting to find out which other public figures had theit names falsely added to the list because this may help identify the motives behind the smear attempt. At present we only know of some of the names such as Sarko, Alain Gomez - former head of Thomson, Dominique Strauss-Kahn but others are rumoured to be included such as the magistrate Gilbert Flam who was dismissed from the secret service in 2002 after he started investigating l'Escroc's Japanese businesses. No one is saying out right but given the known links between Lahoud and l'Escroc - Lahoud's father in law is l'Escroc's former lawyer - and l'Escroc/Vile Pin and Gergorin, not to mention some of the identities known so far, but it is looking more and more plausible that l'Escroc was indeed involved in the smear camapign which means that the "Franch Watergate" tag is looking more and more accurate.

07 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

UN - We Shred Better So Pay Us Please

Michelle Malkin, who I'm still at bit annoyed about for her shrillness re the Wapping Liar, finds a better target today in the person of Mark Malloch-Brown, who, according to the NY Slimes, has been bitching about US criticism of the UN. Lest it be forgotten Mr Malloch-Brown is best known for his document shredding techniques and his ability to misdirect enquiries about Mercedes Benz imports to Ghana. [Disclosure of minor interest: Mr Malloch Brown is (unfortunately) a fellow alumnus of Magdalene and, even more unfortunately, an honorary fellow of the place - something that I would have hassled the master about had he repaired to the bar after the last Magdalene Association do.]

However, perhaps due to his "first class degree" (in chutzpah?), Mr Malloch Brown seems to think that he's a jolly smart fellow and that the UN is filled with smart people like him so would we stop criticising it. Criticism, you see, means that many st00pid gullible Americans from "flyoverstan" think that the UN should be junked when actually it does all sorts of wonderful things like paying Mr Malloch Brown's salary and pension. What I found most laughable about his reported comments is this bit:

The speech reflected frustration in Mr. Annan's office with a looming crisis over the United Nations budget, which, under a six-month gap agreed to under pressure from Washington in December, will pay the bills only until the end of June.

The deal was struck to link budget approval with achievement of significant management reforms, and Mr. Bolton made frequent mention of Congressional impatience with the United Nations and legislation that would authorize Washington to start withholding its dues. The United States is the largest contributor to the United Nations, paying 22 percent of its budget.

"In recent years the enormously divisive issue of Iraq and the big stick of financial withholding have come to define an unhappy marriage," Mr. Malloch Brown said.

He noted that the the United Nations was fielding 18 peacekeeping operations abroad at lower cost and higher effectiveness than "comparable U.S. operations." Yet, he said, that fact has been ignored or underplayed by policy makers and opinion shapers in Washington.

Firstly let us look at the budget and governance issue. Even ignoring the Oil for Food scam, the UN is well known for budgetary waste and for the peculiar idea that all governments are equal so that we see countries like Saudi Arabia or Sudan on Human Rights panels and Iran on disarmament ones. I don't say that America is perfect but it seems entitled to require better accounting when the UN does things like propose to renovate its HQ for the price of an entirely new building and reform of an institution that seems to prefer secrecy wherever possible sounds like a good goal too.

Then there is 'the United Nations was fielding 18 peacekeeping operations abroad at lower cost and higher effectiveness than "comparable U.S. operations."' Excuse me while I laugh. The UN operations include East Timor (UN appointees try to disguise their culpability in massacres), Congo and Haiti (UN peacekeepers do Sex for Food and more) and so on. I agree with him that the US cannot and should not go alone but not going alone does not require using the UN, and indeed in most cases the US seems to do better when it leads an ad hoc coalition rather than getting the UN involved.

07 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

Fisking Malloch Brown

My last post was critical but, since it relied on the 2nd hand report of the NY Slimes, lacked a certain punchiness. Now, courtesy of Daniel Drezner I have a link his actual words and they are indeed worse than the NY Slimes reports. I feel that it is incumbent on me to retrieve the honour of my college and university to fisk this blather without mercy lest some poor ignorant Americans tar us all with the same brush. So here goes:

Following is the address by United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown on “Power and Super-Power:  Global Leadership in the Twenty-First Century” at the Century Foundation and Center for American Progress -- Security and Peace Initiative, in New York, 6 June:

Thank you for allowing me to speak to you today on Power and Global Leadership.  I often get asked to talk about leadership, but rarely about power.  I wonder why.

Yeah I wonder about that too. You don't demonstrate much leadership beyond leading the charge to the next 5* hotel and you don't have much power and what power you have seems to be mostly wasted

With that thought as my starting point, I am going to give what might be regarded as a rather un-UN speech.  Some of the themes -- that the United Nations is misunderstood and does much more than its critics allow -- are probably not surprising.  But my underlying message, which is a warning about the serious consequences of a decades-long tendency by US Administrations of both parties to engage only fitfully with the UN, is not one a sitting United Nations official would normally make to an audience like this.

I always like to agree with my fiskee at the beginning and I'm happy to do so here. Fitfull engagement in the UN by the US has indeed been a mistake. A more hands on US engagement might have nipped many of the UN's bigger problems in the bud and a total disengagement would definitely have done so since the institution would have gone bust.

But I feel it is a message that urgently needs to be aired.  And as someone who has spent most of his adult life in this country, only a part of it at the UN, I hope you will take it in the spirit in which it is meant:  as a sincere and constructive critique of US policy towards the UN by a friend and admirer.  Because the fact is that the prevailing practice of seeking to use the UN almost by stealth as a diplomatic tool while failing to stand up for it against its domestic critics is simply not sustainable.  You will lose the UN one way or another.

The fact the US administrations of all stripes have, for decades, failed to stand up for it against domestic critics could possibly be because US administrations have found the UN to be indefensible. The fact that they still try to use the UN now and again is surely a sign of pragmatism in that the tool exists so you might as well try and use it.

Multilateral compromise has always been difficult to justify in the American political debate:  too many speeches, too many constraints, too few results.  Yet it was not meant to be so.

The all-moral-idealism-no-power institution was the League of Nations.  The UN was explicitly designed through US leadership and the ultimate coalition of the willing, its World War II allies, as a very different creature, an antidote to the League’s failure.  At the UN’s core was to be an enforceable concept of collective security protected by the victors of that war, combined with much more practical efforts to promote global values such as human rights and democracy.

And in certain respects such as the failure to judge governments by their behaviour towards their own populations the UN has been no better than its predecessor. The additional fact that almost no resolution has ever been enforced without US participation and that the UN's defense of human rights and democracy has been abysmal don't help. Indeed the latter is one reason why Americans dislike the UN, if the UN were serious about the promotion of human rights and democracy why does it get upset when Americans complain about non-democratic human rights abusers being in charge of committees on Human Rights etc.?

Underpinning this new approach was a judgement that no President since Truman has felt able to repeat:  that for the world’s one super-Power -- arguably more super in 1946 than 2006 -- managing global security and development issues through the network of a United Nations was worth the effort.  Yes it meant the give and take of multilateral bargaining, but any dilution of American positions was more than made up for by the added clout of action that enjoyed global support.

Which is clearly why the UN has intervened so effectively in Darfur, Rwanda... Except in extraordinarily rare cases (Iraq 1991, Haiti) the UN has failed to support any US position that has not been watered down to practically homeopathic levels.

Today, we are coming to the end of the 10-year term of arguably the UN’s best-ever Secretary-General, Kofi Annan.  But some of his very successes -- promoting human rights and a responsibility to protect people from abuse by their own Governments; creating a new status for civil society and business at the UN -- are either not recognized or have come under steady attacks from anti-UN groups.

Best ever? true recent competition has been poor so that may be true. But it isn't something to be proud about. The "best-ever Secretary-General" has overseen the UN run "oil for food program", possibly the largest piece of corruption ever with billions squanders in bribes and kickbacks, amongst other things. The fact that only recently the UN has seemed to think that there is a responsibility to protect people from their own government is surely a sign of how bankrupt it is as an organization. And it takes a good deal of chutzpah to take credit for that fact since it took some combination of Clinton, Blair and Bush (with their various ministers) to make this point and it has yet to be adopted by many member states including influential ones like China. For some reason the "best-ever Secretary-General" has failed to try and get member states who disagree with that position removed from the UN.

To take just one example, 10 years ago UN peacekeeping seemed almost moribund in the aftermath of tragic mistakes in Rwanda, Somalia and Yugoslavia.  Today, the UN fields 18 peacekeeping operations around the world, from the Congo to Haiti, Sudan to Sierra Leone, Southern Lebanon to Liberia, with an annual cost that is at a bargain bin price compared to other US-led operations.  And the US pays roughly one quarter of those UN peacekeeping costs -- just over $1 billion this year.

That figure should be seen in the context of estimates by both the GAO and RAND Corporation that UN peacekeeping, while lacking heavy armament enforcement capacity, helps to maintain peace -- when there is a peace to keep -- more effectively for a lot less than comparable US operations.  Multilateral peacekeeping is effective cost-sharing on a much lower cost business model and it works.

One suspects that there is a certain amount of comparing apples with oranges in this. And the "bargain bin" cost results in bargain bin results. The fact that mercenary companies have suggested that they could provide better services at a fraction of the cost for most UN missions indicates that bargain bin price may not be quite as low cost as Mr Malloch Brown suggests - if that $1 billion/year were handed over to the mercenaries it might well go a lot further and be a lot more effective in keeping the peace in places where there isn't any peace at the moment as well as where there is.

The fact that pretty much all the missions he names have ongoing scandals involving peacekeepers and UN officials abusing their charges (see links in previous post) suggests that the results of the "low cost" UN approach is very little. There is further evidence, Congo for example is reported killing people at a rate of 38,000/ month or a total of 4 million since 1998 which compares poorly with the death rates in Iraq and Afghanistan. I fear that I have a different definition of "works" to Mr Malloch Brown

That is as it should be and is true for many other areas the UN system works in, too, from humanitarian relief to health to education.  Yet for many policymakers and opinion leaders in Washington, let alone the general public, the roles I have described are hardly believed or, where they are, remain discreetly underplayed.  To acknowledge an America reliant on international institutions is not perceived to be good politics at home.

The 2004/5 Tsunami demonstrated clearly the limits of UN humanitarian aid - slow and bureaucratic seems to be the kindest verdict. I do agree that some UN bodies such as the WHO do seem to have done a mostly good job - although the SARS epidemic showed that they require cooperation from member states and are of limited help to non.member states such as Taiwan - but I suggest that their success is in spite of the UN's bureaucratic culture rather than anything that the UN and particularly the secretary general can point to being caused by them.

However, inevitably a moment of truth is coming.  Because even as the world’s challenges are growing, the UN’s ability to respond is being weakened without US leadership.

Take the issue of human rights.

When Eleanor Roosevelt took the podium at the UN to argue passionately for the elaboration of a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the world responded.  Today, when the human rights machinery was renewed with the formation of a Human Rights Council to replace the discredited Commission on Human Rights, and the US chose to stay on the sidelines, the loss was everybody’s.

It would help if the UN failed to keep kowtowing to states that repeatedly abuse the human rights of their citizens. Maybe the UN could have read reports by its own staff or by NGOs such as Amnesty or HRW and noted that states that were on the bottom of those lists should be forbidden from sitting on the Human Rights Council. The fact that in many cases it was NGOs and the US government that stopped many of the more egrgious abusers from standing for election is not a ringing endorsement of the new council. Just possibly the US was right to stay on the sidelines and criticise instead of giving a body of human rights abusers their tacit approval by participating.

I hope and believe the new Council will prove itself to be a stronger and more effective body than its predecessor.  But there is no question that the US decision to call for a vote in order to oppose it in the General Assembly, and then to not run for a seat after it was approved by 170 votes to 4, makes the challenge more difficult.

Well it couldn't be worse than its predecessor.but as with the "best-ever Secretary-General" the bar has been set very low.

More broadly, Americans complain about the UN’s bureaucracy, weak decision-making, the lack of accountable modern management structures and the political divisions of the General Assembly here in New York.  And my response is, “guilty on all counts”.

And you seem happy with that?

But why?

In significant part because the US has not stuck with its project -- its professed wish to have a strong, effective United Nations -- in a systematic way.  Secretary Albright and others here today have played extraordinary leadership roles in US-UN relations, for which I salute them.  But in the eyes of the rest of the world, US commitment tends to ebb much more than it flows.  And in recent years, the enormously divisive issue of Iraq and the big stick of financial withholding have come to define an unhappy marriage.

Just possibly the US sees itself as the abused spouse in this unhappy marriage. One doesn't want to be sexist here, but it seems to me that the UN has acted like the sort of stereotypical passive aggressive bitch of an unfaithful wife who seems to take everything and not give anything back in return, and who then screams hysterically when confronted with evidence of her infidelity. Blaming the US for the fact that the UN is bureacratic, secretive and unaccountable is a bit like the wife complaining that her husband failed to stop her being a spoilt bitch.

As someone who deals with Washington almost daily, I know this is unfair to the very real effort all three Secretaries of State I have worked with –- Secretary Albright, Secretary Powell and Secretary Rice -– put into UN issues.  And today, on a very wide number of areas, from Lebanon and Afghanistan to Syria, Iran and the Palestinian issue, the US is constructively engaged with the UN.  But that is not well known or understood, in part because much of the public discourse that reaches the US heartland has been largely abandoned to its loudest detractors such as Rush Limbaugh and Fox News.  That is what I mean by “stealth” diplomacy:  the UN’s role is in effect a secret in Middle America even as it is highlighted in the Middle East and other parts of the world.

It might help if the UN were able to demonstrate actual results and value for money instead of taking refuge in duck-billed platitudes.

Exacerbating matters is the widely held perception, even among many US allies, that the US tends to hold on to maximalist positions when it could be finding middle ground.

So the fact that the US has principles is a problem? Right its all America's fault for insisting that other countries not be two-faced scumbags.

We can see this even on apparently non-controversial issues such as renovating the dilapidated UN Headquarters in New York.  While an architectural landmark, the building falls dangerously short of city codes, lacks sprinklers, is filled with asbestos and is in most respects the most hazardous workplace in town.  But the only Government not fully supporting the project is the US.  Too much unchecked UN-bashing and stereotyping over too many years -- manifest in a fear by politicians to be seen to be supporting better premises for overpaid, corrupt UN bureaucrats -- makes even refurbishing a building a political hot potato.

That's because it has been priced at the sort of price that ought to result in a gleaming new gold-plated skyscraper. The fact that most other countries aren't complaining could have something to do with the fact they aren't expected to contribute to the cost. It's very easy to spend someone else's money.

One consequence is that, like the building itself, the vital renewal of the Organization, the updating of its mission, its governance and its management tools, is addressed only intermittently.  And when the US does champion the right issues like management reform, as it is currently doing, it provokes more suspicion than support.

Last December, for example, largely at US insistence, instead of a normal two-year budget, Member States approved only six months’ worth of expenditure -- a period which ends on June 30.  Developing and developed countries, the latter with the US at the fore, are now at loggerheads over whether sufficient reform has taken place to lift that cap, or indeed whether there should be any links between reform and the budget.  Without agreement, we could face a fiscal crisis very soon.

Something tells me that had the cap not been put in place there would have been even less reform. And soemthing tells me that this is what really bugs Malloch Brown. He hates being forced to do things and wondering whether he'll still be kept in the style to which he has becomed accustomed if he fails to deliver real reform. This could be the first time since his Tripos exam where he has actually been under pressure to deliver with no way to BS and misdirect and one suspects he's forgotten the tricks of the trade.

There has been a significant amount of reform over the last 18 months, from the creation of a new Ethics Office and whistle-blower policy, to the establishment of a new Peacebuilding Commission and Human Rights Council.  But not enough.

The unfinished management reform agenda, which the US sensibly supports, is in many ways a statement of the obvious.  It argues that systems and processes designed 60 years ago for an organization largely devoted to running conferences and writing reports simply don’t work for today’s operational UN, which conducts multibillion-dollar peacekeeping missions, humanitarian relief operations and other complex operations all over the world.  The report sets out concrete proposals for how this can be fixed while also seeking to address the broader management, oversight and accountability weaknesses highlighted by the “oil-for-food” programme.

The main management and oversight weaknesses that "oil-for-food" highlighted were in you and your boss Mr Annan. Blaming the Un founders of 60 years ago for your own incompetance seens a little rich.

One day soon we must address the massive gap between the scale of world issues and the limits of the institutions we have built to address them.  However, today even relatively modest proposals that in any other organization would be seen as uncontroversial, such as providing more authority and flexibility for the Secretary-General to shift posts and resources to organizational priorities without having to get direct approval from Member States, have been fiercely resisted by the G-77, the main group of developing countries, on the grounds that this weakens accountability.  Hence the current deadlock.

What lies behind this?

It is not because most developing countries don’t want reform.  To be sure, a few spoilers do seem to be opposed to reform for its own sake, and there is no question that some countries are seeking to manipulate the process for their own ends with very damaging consequences.  But in practice, the vast majority is fully supportive of the principle of a better run, more effective UN; indeed they know they would be the primary beneficiaries, through more peace, and more development.

May I suggest that at least some of the problem is that many of the UN mambers, far more than the "few spoilers" actually don't believe they can lose and hence see no reason to compromise. It seems likely that that many nations are keen on dividing the cake so that they get the most from it and not in worrying about how the cake is financed nor whether their slice of the cake is a fair one. Oh and the fact that many of these countries are less than perfectly honest means that their leaders may be looking for ways that they can personally profit from the UN's largesse and have even less interest in "more peace and more development".

So why has it not so far been possible to isolate the radicals and build a strong alliance of reform-minded nations to push through this agenda?

I would argue that the answer lies in questions about motives and power.

Motives, in that, very unfortunately, there is currently a perception among many otherwise quite moderate countries that anything the US supports must have a secret agenda aimed at either subordinating multilateral processes to Washington’s ends or weakening the institutions, and therefore, put crudely, should be opposed without any real discussion of whether they make sense or not.

And power, that in two different ways revolves around perceptions of the role and representativeness of the Security Council.

I'll be blunt and undiplomatic here. The biggest reason is that China and Russia have vetos and don't want reforms that might show them to be less than perfect countries. The fact that much of the "west" has been brainwashed by remenants of cold-war KGB campaigns into anti-americanism is surely a godsend to these countries and their allies.

First, in that there has been a real, understandable hostility by the wider membership to the perception that the Security Council, in particular the five permanent members, is seeking a role in areas not formally within its remit, such as management issues or human rights.

The motives here are not quite as simple as you seem to suggest. Yeah it would be bad if human rights abusers like Russia and China got power here, but you know that you are being every so slightly disingenuous here, what most countries are really upset about is that their corrupt not terribly democratic countries should be subject to UN sanctioned criticism from their betters. Deep down inside everyone knows that the US (plus Europe, Japan etc) are in fact better - this is why people persist in taking chances to emigrate there - and that their own corrupt power elites would be very very embarassed if the full spotlight of inquiry were to shine in their direction. Hence they do whatever they can to stop it.

Second, an equally understandable conviction that those five, veto-wielding permanent members who happen to be the victors in a war fought 60 years ago, cannot be seen as representative of today’s world -- even when looking through the lens of financial contributions.  Indeed, the so-called G-4 of Security Council aspirants -- Japan, India, Brazil and Germany -- contribute twice as much as the P-4, the four permanent members excluding the U.S.

The G-4? I think the J-1 (Japan) or possibly the JG-2 are the contributors here and yes they do indeed contribute far more than the P-4 who are in three cases European imperial powers in decline and in the fourth case an Asian imperial power recovering from centuries of decline.

Prime Minister Tony Blair acknowledged exactly this point on his trip to Washington last month, and it is something which does need to be addressed.  More broadly, the very reasonable concerns of the full UN membership that the fundamental multilateral principle that each Member State’s vote counts equally in the wider work of the UN needs to be acknowledged and accommodated within a broader framework of reform.  If the multilateral system is to work effectively, all States need to feel they have a real stake.

No the correct solution should be he who pays votes. Its simple and effective and it tends to lead to incentives for countries to contribute instead of becoming dependant on the charity of others.

But a stake in what system?

The US -- like every nation, strong and weak alike -- is today beset by problems that defy national, inside-the-border solutions:  climate change, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, migration, the management of the global economy, the internationalization of drugs and crime, the spread of diseases such as HIV and avian flu.  Today’s new national security challenges basically thumb their noses at old notions of national sovereignty.  Security has gone global, and no country can afford to neglect the global institutions needed to manage it.

Kofi Annan has proposed a restructuring of the UN to respond to these new challenges with three legs:  development, security and human rights supported, like any good chair, by a fourth leg, reformed management.  That is the UN we want to place our bet on.  But for it to work, we need the US to support this agenda -- and support it not just in a whisper but in a coast to coast shout that pushes back the critics domestically and wins over the sceptics internationally.  America’s leaders must again say the UN matters.

So Kofi and Mark, if you want US buy in you have to accept that the US is in fact the world's sole superpower, the largest UN contributor and the largest economy and hence, just as 60 years ago, the US should have a large role in deciding what to do. If you don't start engaging with the US and its politicians, if you continue disparaging them and their voters as sheep led by demagogues, then you really shouldn't be surprised if the US doesn't jump up and down with enthusiasm at whatever ideas you have.

When you talk better national education scores, you don’t start with “I support the Department of Education”.  Similarly for the UN it starts with politicians who will assert the US is going to engage with the world to tackle climate change, poverty, immigration and terrorism.  Stand up for that agenda consistently and allow the UN to ride on its coat-tails as a vital means of getting it done.  It also means a sustained inside-the-tent diplomacy at the UN.  No more “take it or leave it”, red-line demands thrown in without debate and engagement.

Let me paraphrase: 'Because the real problem for us at the UN with "take it or leave it" is that we the UN can't afford to call your bluff and that is really really galling.'

Let me close with a few words on Darfur to make my point.

A few weeks ago, my kids were on the Mall in Washington, demanding President Bush to do more to end the genocide in Darfur and President Bush wants to do more.  I’d bet some of your kids were there as well.  Perhaps you were, too.  And yet what can the US do alone in the heart of Africa, in a region the size of France?  A place where the Government in Khartoum is convinced the US wants to extend the hegemony it is thought to have asserted in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So how come the kids on the Mall weren't holding up signs asking Kofi Annan to do more? well I think we can answer that question. The kinds know perfectly well that Kofi Annan has no power and couldn't negotiate his way out of a paper bag. The only way Darfur will be fixed is for the US and possibly some allies to decide to ignore the sensibilites of the Sudanese government and their allies like the Chinese and intervene with or without the UN. We all know that in our hearts but if you are a UN bureaucrat it hurts to have to admit that so we don't and just claim that another 6 months of schmoozing with people in nie hotels will fix the problem instead of having actual enforcers on the ground.

In essence, the US is stymied before it even passes “Go”.  It needs the UN as a multilateral means to address Sudan’s concerns.  It needs the UN to secure a wide multicultural array of troop and humanitarian partners.  It needs the UN to provide the international legitimacy that Iraq has again proved is an indispensable component to success on the ground.  Yet, the UN needs its first parent, the US, every bit as much if it is to deploy credibly in one of the world’s nastiest neighbourhoods.

What I just said. the UN is powerless and the Sudanese government is desperate to not be overthrown for its misgovernment of its nation and it has cut deals with enough other countries that it thinks it can BS the UN for ever. So far it has proven to be correct.

Back in Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s day, building a strong, effective UN that could play this kind of role was a bipartisan enterprise, with the likes of Arthur Vandenberg and John Foster Dulles joining Democrats to support the new body.  Who are their successors in American politics?  Who will campaign in 2008 for a new multilateral national security?

It could well be that such a bipartisan approach will emerge but I don't think there is any certainty that it will end up supporting the sort of UN that employs you Mr Malloch Brown. What you want is a bunch of people to agree to keep on fundnig your lifestyle while you fail to deliver and I suspect that - give the reaction in the US to corruption and pork in Washington - that the chances of US voters supporting a UN apparently filled with corruption and pork is low to non-existant. If the UN becomes an issue in the US elections the spotlight that wll be shone on it will be illiminuating but what it is likely to expose is not going to be pleasant.

08 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

Explosion of Revenge

The BBC joins all the other news sites around the world in reporting the death of Al-Zarqawi in an explosion last night. Funnily enough though they seem determinied to find the cloud to this silver lining:

His death does not mean either the Islamist al-Qaeda elements or nationalist fighters will give up, says the BBC News website's world affairs correspondent, Paul Reynolds.

Indeed his removal might well bring about an explosion of revenge by his followers, he adds.

So let me get this straight, according to the BBC there could be zillions of Zarqawi followers who will kill indiscriminately in revenge for his death in ways that they haven't been doing up to now? It is only near the bottom that we get a hint that just maybe Iraqis weren't madly enamoured with the Zarqman and his Al Qaida:

Mr Maliki said intelligence from Iraqi people had helped track down Zarqawi, who had a $25m price on his head - the same bounty as that offered by the US for al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

"What happened today is a result of co-operation for which we have been asking from our masses and the citizens of our country," he said.

How many other news sites will make the same spin I wonder?

08 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

Reuters competes with Auntie Beeb

In my last post about the "Explosion of Revenge" I nearly added a PS wondering why Al-Reuters & co were not doing the same "Sky is falling" lament that the BBC was doing. That was probably a good thing because Al Reuters quickly found their own "special" approach to the death of the mass murderer where they have lines like (my bolding):

Arab and Western security analysts were agreed on Thursday that Zarqawi's death in a U.S. air raid would not end the insurgency, even if it represents a rare triumph in Iraq for the Bush administration.

"There will be people that will be mobilized to join the caravan of martyrs, to emulate his example and to honor him," said Magnus Ranstorp, an al Qaeda expert at the Swedish National Defense College.

Oh and lest we forget the US created him:

The United States helped to build up Zarqawi's aura, even before the invasion of Iraq, when Secretary of State Colin Powell told the United Nations in 2003 he was part of a "sinister nexus" between Iraq and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda.

And then they do their best to point out that stuff still happens:

Some security analysts played down the impact of his death, saying Zarqawi's network represented only a fraction of the wider insurgency in which less extreme resistance groups had gained in strength.

It was business as usual in Iraq on Thursday, with two bombs killing 15 people and injuring 36 in Baghdad within a couple of hours of Maliki's announcement.

"Other Zarqawis will soon spring up," said Nadim Shehadi of London's Chatham House think-tank. "The Iraqi insurgency is a very loose organization and I don't see how the decapitation of it will have such a great impact."

(BTW how do I get a job as a "security analyst" or "al Qaeda expert"? I reckon I can spout the same clap trap as these ones)

Anyway its only after all this that Reuters begins to hint that you know maybe even Al Qaeda thought he went a tad far and that his strategy of pitting Sunni vs Shia was not going down well with any of those on the ground.

To wipe the nasty taste from my mouth, I intend to end with a link to how it should be written and two quotes from it which help illustrate the feeling of the man in the Baghdad Souq:

A reserved Sunni intellectual who is quite particular in the language he uses summed up the feeling surrounding al Zarqawi’s death: “Goddamn that motherfucker for what he has done to Iraq.”

A Shia friend may have said it best, “Zarqawi would not listen to ballots, today there is no mistaking that he listened to the bombs.”

09 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

Friday Olive Tree Blogging

The detritus. All those blossoms fall off the trees onto anything (and everything) below and nearby. You can't really see in the photo but both our cars now have a nice yellow tinge (pollen) as well as masses of dead flowers.

As always click on the link to see it enlarged and go see the rest of the series.

09 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

A Bad Week for Terrorists

Zarqawi dead and lots more leads from the raids that resulted in it.
Jamal Abu Samhadana dead
21 Taleban dead in Afghanistan
The fall put from last weekend's Canadian arrests continues with two related suspects arrested in Northern England.
The announcement that last month the Swiss foiled an attack on El Al.

09 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

Differing with "Rubbish"

The number of times I have agreed with GM can be counted on the thumbs of one hand but I have to agree with GM here. Tom Friedman of the NY Slimes wrote one of his snarkier and more insulting Op Eds and GM wanted to respond. The NY Times tried to make them shorten and water down their rebuttal letter until it became pointless. Once GM realized they apparently realized that arguing with the "impartial" press in their own corner was not something they needed to do anymore so the blogged it and we can all see (because they are publishing the whole correspondence as well as the letters they tried to write).

At least part of the problem is that it seems that the Times doesn't like having its columns described as "Rubbish" within its own pages:

Our letter opened with a paragraph that accurately summarized the most bizarre elements of Mr. Friedman’s attack, then reacted with this one-word sentence: “Rubbish.”

That word accurately portrays how we felt about the column. Personally, I felt a stronger word referring to male bovine excrement would have been more appropriate, but my boss tends to express himself more politely than I in these situations.

The Times suggested “rubbish” be changed first to, “We beg to differ.” We objected. The Times then suggested it be changed to, “Not so.” We stood our ground. In the end, the Times refused to let us call the column “rubbish.”

Why? “It’s not the tone we use in Letters,” wrote Mary Drohan, a letters editor.

What rubbish.

How arrogant.

10 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

Footy (Lacka) Blogging

Posting will be blank until Wednesday because, due to nepotism and the begging of favours, She Who Must Be Obeyed has managed to scam some tickets to the Japan Australia world cup match on Monday. As a result we are driving up there from early tomorrow and then taking our time ot get back on Tuesday and Wednesday. However before I shog off to Kaiserslautern I thought I might put in my thoughts of the matches I've seen so far including the various warm up ones.

To start with the most recent - Argentina vs Côte d'Ivoire - Argentina are apparently winning easily (2-0) as I write this during the start of the second half.but the first half was not as one sided as the score line indicates. Argentina are clearly strong but Côte d'Ivoire are not the roll over you might expect from a team making its first appearance in the world cup. [Update 2:1 and the Ivorians are really piling on the pressure a 2-2 draw is looking entirely possible which would be a major shock] In this respect the game is similar to the Sweden - Trinidad goalless draw, a match which on paper should have easily been Sweden's but which showed excellent defense by Trinidad, especially sicne they played the 2nd half with 10 men because of a red card. Trinidad could be one of the surprises in the competition if they continue like this.

Also today's 1-0 England victory over Paraguay. I was medium impressed with England, in that they managed some pretty good defence in the second half and some very promising offence in the first half. The problem was that they really should have scored more than one goal. I was reminded of a number of their performances 4 years ago in Japan/Korea where they also showed decent defense and midfield but a serious inability to put the ball in the back of the net. Everyone in Enlgand has been praying to all the deities they can possibly claim the slightest allegience in order to ensure that Wayne Rooney heals up and is fit to play and the reason is simple. Without Rooney England striggles to turn good midfield posession in to goals, with him, they score. However, having beaten Paraguay, unless some sort of brainfart occurs against Trinidad I can't see England not progressing beyond the group stage and by then Rooney is expected to be fit so he ought to add a bit of revitalized offence to a team that may otherwise be looking a little tired.

Yesterday's opening match between Germany and Costa Rica was not as good for Germany as the 4-2 score line suggests. Germany did a good job exploiting the weak Costa Rican defense but they had plenty of holes in their own defence. I noticeed the same weakness in defense in their friendly against Japan and I think it bodes ill for them against better opposition. At the last world cup Germany were saved by their goalkeeper - Oliver Kahn - who managed to get to many balls that should not have got past the defenders. This time there is no Kahn and while their new goalie isn't bad, he isn't as good either and hence Germany could well face problems once they move beyond the group stage. As with England I'm confident that they will get to the knockout phase but I'm not expecting great things.

Unfortunately I didn't see the Ecuador Poland game but I was very surprised by the Ecuador win and from the match commentary quite impressed with the team. I would expect Ecuador to beat Germany on this showing and hence probably end up at the top of the group. Since Poland can be expected beat Costa Rica, the key game in the group is going to be the Germany/Poland. If Poland win the Germans could be in serious trouble and be in serious danger of not moving ahead.

Other teams? France did not impress in the warm up matches and the loss of Cisse is going to really hurt. The potential for an upset against Switzerland who are a decent team rather than a team of stars (and the difference is important) is certainly there although I would still expect France to go through the group stages and I expect their experience to get them a decent way beyond.

Korea seem to me to be overhyped at home and underhyped in Europe. I expect them to get to the knockout stage but I'd be very surprised if they make it to the semis as they did 4 years ago. Japan on the other hand seems to me to be stronger than 4 years ago and could well amke it to the quarters like they did then, however all this very much depends on the strength of Croatia since I believe that Japan should be stronger than Australia.

Its going to be a fun summer....

14 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

Back from the Match

So we're back. We had a blast but there were little bobblettes here and there.

The good news was that we got VIP passes which included free nosh, beer (sort of - see below), champagne and excellent seats. The beer on offer was part of the bad news - unfortunately Anhueser Busch decided to sponsor the world cup and hence VIPs are forced to drink the sponsor's product even though Germany has rather a lot of rather better (and rice-free) beers.

Still we enjoyed watching the match - at least for the first 80+ minutes or so while Japan was winning, the last 5-10 were rather less good. But we were watching which is more than can be said for the guy in front of me who spent most of the first half calling people and decided to skip the second half completely

The other bit of bad news was that it turned out we had got 2 tickets each to the game. One was the VIP set that the spouse obtained via heinous nepotism and tennis playing etc, the other was the set of "conditional" tickets I paid for but which FIFA couldn't tell me I had obtained until effetively 24 hours before the match started. No doubt I was far from alone in that position which probably explains why the SOLD OUT stadium has visibly empty seats:

Actually I admit that it actually showed up at 1:16AM GMT on the 11th of June which is 35hours and 44 minutes before the match started but I didn't check my mail until that evening what with driving 1,000km from the Côte d'Azur etc. and given that the previous email I receved from FWCTC said:
Date : 06-06-08

Dear Football fan,

The 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany (TM) has just started!

As you placed an order for conditional tickets you still have the chance to get tickets allocated. In order to avoid unnecessary trips we would like to remind you that so far we could not allocate any tickets to your order.

You have the chance of getting tickets allocated until 36 hours before the relevant match. In this case you would get a confirmation from us. In your own interest, we advice you not to go to one of our Stadium Ticket Center (STC) a tour 12 FIFA World Cup venues, unless you actually have tickets allocated that you need to collect.
When you read that you get the impression (well I did) that the chances of a ticket being allocated was approx 0, you also discovered that you had no way of cancelling the tickets and were basically forced to make any hotel etc bookings entirely on hope with the problem that hotels tend to not like no shows who cancel 24 hours or so before the arrival time. In other words: "do you feel lucky punk?"

15 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

Rape A Stripper

Thanks to the black "victim" and the white prosecutor who needed re-election it now seems clear that if you want to gang rape someone then your best bet will probably be to arrange for a black stripper to show up for your party and then rape her because if she does accuse you of raping her she probably won't be believed - assuming of course you thik far enough ahead to muddy the medical evidence. I wrote something on those lines at the start of the Duke lacrosse team "rape" coverage and it now looks like what I wrote then is correct.

By effectively criminalizing sex jobs, as is the case in much of the USA, and by (now) making it likely that any complaint will be ignored the unfortunate women trapped at the bottom of this industry are at the mercy of their crminal pimps and dealers. [...] If you think, as most do, that rape is bad, that female exploitation is bad, then you need to think through your response so that you ensure that future reports are treated seriously. [...] The deal here is that if you end up getting people sympathising for some innocents who are accused of rape when it isn't then you end up getting people sympathising with scumbags who actually did rape women and sympathy for the accused when it is undeserved means that they will probably walk free and rape more women.

This emphatically not the case with what I wrote a week or so later, when I was misled by Mike Nifong's statements that appear to have been blatent lies contradicted by medical evidence (H/T La Shawn) that seem to indicate either that he is incompetant or that he prefers to slime the reputation of innocents in order to keep his job. Since, as I understand it, he only won the primary in May and will face the real election in November I would think that the voters of North Caroline have a clear duty to remove this scumbag from office then as La Shawn Barber requests.

However it seems to me that while Nifong has wrecked the lives and futures of at least 3 white male students, this is not by any means the worst thing he has done. By fanning the flames of publicity for what is (IMHO) now clearly a false accusation, he has done far worse for the all the women who work as strippers. If any stripper now claims that her client(s) raped her, she will face a huge mountain of disbelief and the medical / forensic evidence is going to have to be pretty much perfect for any prosecutor to consider taking the case to court. Furthermore I would imagine that a significant number of strippers who used to work without employing a minder/bodyguard will now run through the same calculation I have just done and decide that the risk isn't worth it. Since the cost of the bodyguard reduces the stripper's earnings either she's not going to get the same benefit from her job unless she and her fellow strippers can somehow increase their rates to compensate.

Furthermore, despite the various "privacy" laws, we know quite a lot about the background of both the strippers in the Duke case - black single mothers with criminal records - and as one of La Shawn's commenters wrote:

There is another issue with all this nonsense. There is a stereotype out there about black females as “ghetto baby-mamas” hypersexual, loud and without integrity. Many good decent smart and driven black females struggle against this stereotype every day of their lives. They must work that much harder to overcome this.

If you wanted to have a case that reinforced generally racist/sexist stereotypes this is it. If you wanted to keep your black women poor and abused it would be hard to imagine a better way to do so with the least amount of effort.

15 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

The Politics of Football

Many of the Scotch seem to have decided that they wanted to see the sassenachs humbled by plucky Trinidad & Tobago. Although I think that the Wapping Liar missed a great moment for anti-Scotch stereotyping when it reported that:

A number of bars and pubs are also running promotions such as free drinks when England concedes a goal.

This was clearly the canny Scotch reputation for penny-pinching generous gestures at work and no doubt may of the publicans involved were praying to any deity they could for a robust English defense. Harry's Place writer Wardytron draws another conclusion:

If one wanted to be cruel - which of course one doesn't - one might suggest that this kind of behaviour, somewhat lacking as it is in magnanimity, hinted at an inferiority complex, or that it was a poor substitute for actually being at a World Cup. Not me though - I'm happy for people to support whoever they want, and think it's ridiculous that Scottish politicians should feel obliged to support England. But perhaps in future, in order to avoid all these petty arguments and give them someone they can all support, maybe the Scots should form a football team of their own so that they can enjoy the World Cup like everyone else.

Still (HT Jane Galt) football fever clearly showed Tony Blair's priorities and, one has to say gained him rare approval from me:

BRITISH representatives in Brussels spent the evening before the European-Union summit (held on Thursday June 15th and on Friday) rigging up a television room so Tony Blair, Britain’s prime minister, could watch England take on Trinidad and Tobago in the World Cup. That interested him more than talk about the constitution, which the rest of the summiteers were scheduled to discuss at the same time.

Even though it has to be said that England would probably be better server by Tone going into that meeting and making it clear that the EU constitution should be canned permenantly along wth most of the accompanying EU commission power grabs.

As for the game itself, it ended with a scoreline somewhat flattering to England, as they spent the first half doing nothing constructove and hundreds of scottish publicans were only saved from having to pay for rounds of drinks due to a great Terry save. In the second half England picked up the pace a bit but things only really started humming when Rooney and Lennon came on to replace Owen and wossname. It seemed to me that Rooney acted as a great piece of misidrection because he seemed to get surrounded by TT defenders leaving space for others, although the few touches he did get also made clear why you pay extra attention to him. Still as dissidentdave reported at the Marmot's Hole, it still took them about 20 minutes to turn the extra pace and freedom into an actual goal and it was only in injury time that the second goal was added to make things really safe.

16 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

Jim Baen

SF Publisher and all round excellent guy Jim Baen has suffered a stroke and is in hospital, apparently in the ICU. The message from Toni Weisskopf, Cheif Editor at Baen is:

Dear Barflies

I'm sorry to have to announce that Jim Baen suffered a stroke on Monday, and has been in the hospital ever since. His condition is serious, but it's too early for any prognosis as to how he'll fare from here on in.

His family has arrived in NC, and are with him in the hospital. I've been to see him, as have other members of Baen's staff and his friend David Drake. In the meantime, so far as Baen Books is concerned, our plans continue on schedule.

The business is fine, we're all simply very concerned about Jim.

Toni Weisskopf

Chief editor, Baen Books

My thoughts and hopes are with him and I have no doubt that prayers, candles etc. for his recovery to any relevant deity will be appreciated. I'll merely echo a fellow barfly with "Get Well, Dammit"

19 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

Keep Airbus Flying

As someone who thinks that state aid to industry is one of the least justifiable forms of government expenditure, my first reaction on reading this IHT article linked to by the EU Referendum blog, was that Airbus should be told to go jump in the lake before I and my fellow European taxpayers get to finance its miscalculations and incompetance. I still think that and I still think that the company would benefit from a certain amount of new blood at the top. Actually I think it could probably do with a number of decimations in upper and middle management (recall that a decimation killed one out of 10 so a dozen decimations merely reduces the ranks by 0.910 or to a total of around 28% of the original) but I think it would benefit more from having top level managers who are used to working in competitive industries that don't receive government handouts. The insider trading and related A380 issues are symptomatic of a management that has lost sight of what its priorities should be and hence drastic changes need to take place at the top.

However having written all that I'm forced to say that I think it would be an extremely bad idea if Airbus goes bust in such a way that it is not longer an aircraft design and manufacturing enterprise. The reason for this is that it has produced excellent prod for Boeing who otherwoise would have a near monopoly on large aircraft. Indeed the fact that Boeing finally got around to developing the 787 is, IMO, a clear indication of the benefits of competition because I really doubt Boeing would have made the investment had it not been threatened by Airbus. Boeing prefered to keep selling varients on its older designs and it was only when the A320 and relatives came along that Boeing realized that it couldn't really do this anymore.

19 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

World Cup Qualifications

I saw Hugh Hewitt had a question about how to read the chances of the US progressing in the world cup, which reminds me that many people get confused by the scoring system. So here's the $1 basic tour:

There are 4 teams in a group and they each play everyone else (i.e. 3 matches total), the top two teams then progress to the knock-out stage, with the top team in one group playing the runner up in the next group and so on.

You get 3 points for a win and 1 point for a draw. With three matches that means if you win all three you get 9 points and that mathematically if you get 6 points (two wins) after two games you are bound to have qualified no matter what. Hence in group A (Germany, Ecuador, Poland, Costa Rica) with Germany and Ecuador on 6 points each the only question is which one of the two becomes the top team and which the runner up.

In group B there has been one draw (between Sweden and Trinidad) which means that although it is clear that England will qualify (2 wins) and Paraguay will not (2 losses) it is uncertain which team out of Sweden and Trinidad will be the other team. If England lose or draw with Sweden then Sweden qualify. If England win then Trinidad will be the runner up if they beat Paraguay by a sufficiently good margin so that they have more goals than Sweden does (the question devolves to goal difference then if that ties, total goals scored and then by some number of more exotic statistics).

So what does that mean for the US?

The US is bottom of its group (E) with one point, but it could still qualify. The final games are Italy:Czech Republic and USA:Ghana; although the US has to win it also depends on the other match.

If Italy beat the Czechs then the US will be the runner up in the group (Italy 7 points - US 4 points - Czech Republic and Ghana 3 points). If Italy lose then the US will qualify so long as their goal difference is ahead of Italy's (at present the US has a GD of -3, and Italy has one of +2) and if the other match is a draw the US will qualify so long as their goal difference is ahead of the Czech Republic's (CR currently has a GD of +1).

Thus the US would prefer it if Italy win; if there is a draw or the Czechs win then the US will go through if they beat Ghana by a big enough margin and that is going to be tough. By my calucaltions if there is a draw the US have to win by better than 4-0 which is going to be a stretch but if the Czechs win then the more goals the Czechs score the less the US have to score - a 3-0 Czech win and a 3-0 US win would do for example as would a 4-0 Czech win combined with a 2-0 US one (and I think a US 2-1 win would be OK too).

Personally I would prefer it if Ghana qualifies (which means they have to beat or draw with the US) because I greatly preferred their football style to the US one and (FWIW) I'd prefer the Czechs to beat the Italian prima donnas but I don't really have a dog in that group so if Italy and the US qualify that's fine by me,

Moving on to other groups

In group C we already know that Argentina and the Netherlands will go through

Group D is like Group B with Portugal qualified and Iran out but the possibility of either Mexico or Angola going through.

In group F Brazil have qualified but any of the other teams could (in theory) also qualify although Japan will only qualify if they beat Brazil by some large amount (as if) AND Australia don't win.

In group G, Togo cannot qualify and France must win their last match against Togo to qualify. The other two teams will both qualify no matter what so long as Togo beats or draws with France. If Frence wins and Switzerland:Korea is a draw then the who goes through depends on goal difference and that calculation is complicated. I think France need to win by at least 2-0 to be qualify but I could be wrong.

The only group where things are completely up in the air is Group H where the second matches are being played this evening.

My Predictions and thoughts

I was completely wrong with my "Japan will do well" prediction so this is probably pointless. So far I have not been impressed with any team other than Argentina and Spain. Brazil have been OK but none of the other European teams have really shown any flair at all. My heart hopes that England will progress - certainly I see no reason why they should not beat either Ecuador or Germany and they will play one of those teams, but it really all depends on Rooney and Owen finding their form. I have enjoyed Ghana and I would like Angola to progress because they are new too. I don't expect France to qualify, in fact I would be unsurprised if they lose to Togo. No matter what happens in the group stages I expect three of the four semi-finalists will probably be Brazil, Spain and Argentina. I hope England will be the fourth but it could well be Ecuador or Germany.

19 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

No more world cup predictions

From me that is. Given that Ukraine demolished Saudi Arabia 4-0, the same score that Spain beat them by, and that Saudi Arabai and Tunisia drew the form book should have been indicating a solid Spanish win. Spain won tonight but they were only intermittently impressive in the second half. In the first half they were a mess and from one of those messes early on Tunisia scored. It took until the 71st minute for Spain to equalize by Raul (who was brought on at half time) and five more minutes before they took the lead. By that time though Tunisia were definitely looking knackered so it wasn't too much of a surprise that Spain eventually scored a third goal - a penalty caused by desperation in the Tunisian defence.

One piece of trivia. Tunisian substitute Haykel Guemamdia managed to get probably the fastest yellow card I have ever seen, he came on and was booked for a foul about 15 seconds later.

20 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

Indigenous Invaders

Right Speak reports on how the new improved UN Human Rights Council has started out by identifying "indigenous peoples" who are to be subject to a vital bill defending their rights:

Meanhile the new UN Rights Council has the urgent task of sending to the Genral Assembly a 'vital' bill guaranteeing the rights of 'indigenous peoples'.

To most people, 'indigenous' has the simple meaning of people who were the original inhabitants of a land. Thus in Africa the Bushmen, Pygmies, Baka, Berbers and other groups are rightly nominated in the UN list of indigenes.

But then there are countries like Kenya:

Despite being the oldest group of humans yet researched by New Zealand's Massey University DNA project Kenya's Turkana people are not, according to the United Nations, 'indigenous'. Having some 35,000 years of history won't quite qualify one for favoured treatment by the UN's new Human Rights Council.

So who gets the indigenous rights in Kenya?

The obvious answer is read lots of coffee-table books. There have been more big glossy books written about Kenya's Maasai people (arrived in Kenya around 1450 AD via Chad and Sudan)than any other East African tribe. No surprise then that the only people in Kenya who are 'indigenous', in the UN's report, are the Maasai. All the rest are talking turkey........sorry, talking Turkana.

How the Kenya Government will vote when the Human Rights Council bill reaches the General Assembly, nobody knows. Hopefully it will be not to declare 90% of their own Kenyans 'foreigners'. Stand by for waves of professional Maasai activists clad in beads and shukas claiming back the whole country they once ruthlessly conquered from the 'pre-indigenous' people who were inconveniently in Kenya before them. That's material enough for 56 more books, 3 mini-series and "Maasai-The Movie".

By that argument C Columbus, F Pisaro and various other conquistadores only missed out on being counted as indigenoous inhabitants of South and Central America b about 50 years. Damn. I think that makes the Mongols the indigenous inhabitants of practically everywhere from Baghdad to Beijing via Moscow and it lets the Turks in as indigenous inhabitants of Istanbul even though they occupied a city that must have been built by magic because some of its buildings are still standing despite no one having been there before (oh and please don't ask how come there appears to have been a viable empire run from that location 1000 years earlier).

In other news that makes William the Conqueror an indigenous inhabitant of the British Isles (arrival 1066 AD) and means that the Spanish are not the indigenous inhabitants of (southern) Spain which was occupied by Moors until 1492, although they presumably do count as the indigenous inmhabitants of the northern parts. Fortunately for New Zealand though, the Maori manage to scrape in as indigenes by about a century.

20 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

Net Neutrality

I've seen lots of these http://www.internetofthefuture.org/ ads floating around so I thought I'd click on one to see what it said. I don't think they really wanted me to do that though... because it did change my mind - in favour of net neutrality.

As a free marketeer I was in favour of letting the telcos try and foist their version of a network on us because I was pretty sure that they'd lose. However having seen this flash presentation I have decided that they are in fact so wrong that actually congress ought to intervene and tell them to STFU, although I still think that congress probably ought not to regulate them other than that.

The idea of "internet of the future" is differentiated services, that is to say some wise people in the telcos decide which sorts of traffic are more important based on some magic identifiers (trust me you don't want me to explain this bit), and then they mark packets for these sorts of traffic when they start so that they go on optimized routes through the internet. It is, if you like, giving them a pass to the car pool lane of the information superhighway.

The information superhighway metaphor is a good way to understand why the telco idea is brain dead. In the physical world when a highway begins to suffer from congestion there are choices. You can either try to ration access to it (tolls, car pool lanes...) or you can widen it by building more lanes (or as a related alternative you can build a separate highway near it that covers much the same ground). Keep that in mind while we look at the telco claim. They are claiming firstly that there is congestion (or will be if they introduce all these sexy new services). They have to because if there were no congestion then no one would want to either ration access or widen the road. You may have noticed that many car pool lanes only operate at "peak periods" and there is similar reasoning on the internet. If you have 50Mbps of traffic in a 100Mbps pipe there is no congestion, its only when you start getting close to 100Mbps of traffic in the 100Mbps pipe that it starts seeing congestion.

So what happens then? well you could upgrade the capacity of the routers and switches on the affected link(s) from 100Mbps to 200Mbps (or even 1Gbps) or you could upgrade the routers and switches so that they prioritize packets (as in turn on the car pool lane).

In the physical world of interstates highways, car pool lanes (and the like) are frequently necessary because there is no way you can widen the road and no place to build another highway, not to mention the fact that building one takes a while (has Boston finished the Big Dig yet?). In the online world there is no such excuse, a single fiber can take terabytes of data (I think the world record is something like 2-3 Tbps but it could be higher) and, while terabyte capacity is expensive, upgrading from 155mbps to 622Mbps to 2.5Gbps to 10Gbps is not so unaffordable and today many links run at the slower 155Mbps and 622Mbps rates. In other words the valid excuses that transportation planners have that force them to go for rationing access through metering and car pooling simply don't apply online.

Oh and did you notice that I said that enabling prioritization requires upgrades? It may not be as expensive as installing higher capacity line cards but actually configuring a network for prioritization is not cheap either and could (depending on circumstances) end up more expensive than simply adding bandwidth. It is worth noting that many enterprise LANs have gone for the higher bandwidth approach because the cost of bandwidth has dropped so much that where 1Gbps was expensive 8 years ago and 100Mbps ridiculously expensive 16 years ago; today 1Gbps costs about what 10Mbps did 16 years ago. In other words rather than try to figure out which applications need the bandwidth it has worked out far cheaper in LAN environments to simply increase the size of the pipes by an order of magnitude or two and make the problem go away.

So, given that adding prioritization is not a cost-free exercise why are the telcos so keen to prioritize rather than throw bandwidth at the problem? Its obvious isn't it? they figure they can make more money by charging a premium for access to an artificially starved network. Its like a post office that deliberately throws away 10% of second class mail so that it can charge a premium for "guaranteed delivery" first class mail. If you wonder why people are salivating at WiMAX and 1001 other wireless alphabet soups this would be why. The telcos have got themselves a near monopoly on bandwidth and they would like to reap what monoploly profits they can from their monopoly.

Originally I was content to let them try and exploit what they think is a monopoly because I don't think they realize that their monopoly is on rather shakey ground. At present it isn't quite worth it for electricity companies, water utilities and other competitors to offer retail services even though they mostly have the potential to do so, but if telcos push the price of bandwidth up enough then it does indeed become interesting (currently most utilites offer fiber in their conduits wholesale to telcos). It is also entirely possible that the portals and ecomemrce sites could form a cooperative to buy alternative access. Yahoo Japan runs its own ISP, and it cooperates with BT in the UK. In the US recall that Google has bought up rights to a lot of dark (unused) fiber. I'm not clear what the US rules are for "local loop unbundling" but it probably doesn't matter. It would not be diffucult for some combination of eBay/Amazon/Google/Yahoo/Microsoft/Apple... to set up an ISP that served consumers and businesses in the 100 or so major US metro areas and offer 10 or even 100Mbps bandwidth to subscribers for $10/month. If they did so what do you think the value of telco stock would be?

I'm still mostly of that laisser-faire opinion (as is Andy Kessler at the Weekly Standard) but I think I want to invoke a minor public interest defence and say that I would vastly prefer it if the bandwidth providers and content providers were separate and hence I would prefer it if the telcos remain in business. Thus for their own good they should have net neutrality imposed on them because if they get their way they will be out of business unless they show more competitive awareness than they have in the recent past.

20 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

HFM = Happy to Filch Material

At the start of the month I wrote about Michael Yon's issues with HFM who seemed keen to use his photo in violation of copyright. It seemed that a resolution had been reached so I reported that and then ignored the issue assuming that all was fine.

It turns out I was wrong and that HFM's management are the sort of double-talking scum that give publishers a bad name. Mr Yon reports that rather than abide by their agreement they seem to have negotiated that agreement purely as a delaying tactic so that they could successfully launch their junky magazine using his photo.

I think it is important to note that Hachette are owners of a major photo agency. Were I interested in selling photographs through an agency I would avoid Groupe Hachette Filipacchi Photos (GHFP) because I would be unable to trust them to pay me for use of my photos. I should note that google links to my first post on the affair highly when you search for Hachette Photos, with luck linking to it (or this one) will help other would be photographers to chose a different agency.

Previous posts:-
Copyright for me but not for thee and Yon / Shock / HFM update

22 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

The Possible NK Missile Test

A few links and then some thoughts. The Marmot has a couple of excellent posts and from the latter is this explanation of why S Korea residents are unhappy with the idea of the US attacking the missile base:

It’s probably also worth noting that there are probably a few South Korean officials who fear the Americans might actually respond to a test by delivering a world of hurt on the North via B-2 or F-117, and do I really have to explain why somebody within North Korean artillery range and a one-hour drive from a goodly percentage of the Korean People’s Army might not necessarily view that as a fortuitous turn of events?

Majikthise links (for the purposes of debate, as she clarifies) to an article by former Clinton officials Ashton B. Carter and William J. Perry where they argue that North Korea cannot be allowed to test its new long-range ballistic missile and propose precisely the course of action that the Marmot fears. My prefered option is that proposed over at Big Lizards namely that if America's Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) programs are as capable as they are supposed to be then the prefered option would be to shoot the missile down. This would send a message not unlike that proposed in the initial article but without damaging any N Korean soil. It would also send a message to a number of other nations which couldn't hurt.

There are a couple of important details in my position which may differ (slightly) from the Big Lizard on. Firstly if possible the NK missile shoud be destroyed in its ascent phase, simply because that makes a far greater statement. Secondly I personally think an attempt should be made even if we are unsure of the success or not because the chances of getting another live test are slim and from a practical engineering sort of view I would really prefer to have a BMD system proven tested before it goes into full production. In fact even if this take down fails, so long as a decent effort is made a lot of valid information will be yielded and the message to potential US attackers will that a single missile is no guarantee of anything other than a retaliatory strike. Indeed, were I in charge of the Pentagon's PR, if the take down fails I'd be sending a public letter to Comrade Kim thanking him for the opportunity for a live test and telling him that many lessons were learned - indeed I might even give him some money (a suitcase of counterfeit $100 bills perhaps) as a thank you present.

22 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

NIMBYs and Ecofreaks

Some people may have noticed that this site was down for some of last weekend. The reason for that is that it is hosted by a friend of mine at his abode near San Diego (or Sandy Ego as I prefer to spell it) and his neighbourhood had a sustained power cut:

There are some things I can't control, our excremental power company, San Diego Gas and Electric, who deliver the highest priced electricity in the US, some of the time, is one. We had a 12 hour power outage that completely drained the UPSes from 11PM to 7AM Friday night. The UPSes won't restart until they are fully charged (otherwise the shutdown software goes into an infinite loop when there isn't enough run-time left to shutdown gracefully, and you need to run a full charge cycle after a full discharge or risk damaging the battery), which  didn't happen until the afternoon.

Anyway I semi-facetiously suggested that he invest in some solar panels to which I received this excellent rant which needs additional publicity:

There's a market for solar panel systems for the house, but I don't know of one for upses. Thing is, they don't have DC charging connectors, in general. [Snip geeky tech bits]

The real solution is to take the nimbys and enviros who opposed power plants, and power transmission lines, and cut off THEIR electricity first. Then, pass a law invalidating all HOA rules and CC&Rs against solar and wind generation. Solar is still really inefficient. It would take my whole roof to generate what I can do with two small Yachting type wind turbines (which are whisper silent, and small enough to fit on a 30' boat's rail), but I'm forbidden to do wind power here. Wind is also more consistent here, as I'm in a valley that runs East-West, so I get 15kts of breeze offshore @ night, and onshore in the day. The only time it's calm is early morning and around sunset.

The problem is, there's an unholy alliance between luddites (the proper term for most "Environmentalists"), lookists (the people who care more how things look than whether they work or not), and an ignorant and disinterested public. Everyone screams when the power goes out or gas is $4 a gallon, but they all also give to the Sierra Club and Surfrider (who oppose new power plants, transmission lines, and offshore oil drilling), vote for politicians who kowtow to them, and leave all their lights on, run the ac, and drive SUVs.

The real symbol of the total idiocy of Californians is the ubiquitous 1960s VW Bus with the environmentalist stickers plastered all over it. Those things get 12-15 MPG, pollute like crazy (no emissions controls), leak oil (the horizontally opposed case motor needs regular bolt torquing, which most owners know nothing about), and are a safety hazard to boot.

I know, I used to have one (but I didn't plaster it with stickers).

We had a power outage here too this week, although for less than an hour rather than the 12 hour one he got (remember everything is bigger in America) so I think I must look into my local capitainerie and see what is on offer wind-generator-wise. The cost of solar is also dropping and a combo of solar plus wind plus a large number of lead acid batteries would probably make me independant of the electrical grid. I don't know how much it would cost and I doubt it would be cost effective at present (I think you'd need to have at least a 3yr ROI), but it is intriguing given that oil prices remain high and my house is heated by fuel oil, an option which was very attractive a few years back but which isn't now that even fuel oil is nearing the €1/litre mark.

26 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

Belated FriMonday Olive Tree Blogging

A few baby olives growing on one of my trees. Looks like we should have quite a good crop this year but who knows.

As always click on the image to enlarge and don't forget to look at the rest of the series if you haven't seen them.

26 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

Philanthropy vs Government Aid

One of the big news items today is that Warren Buffett (2nd richest man in world) is giving his friend Bill Gates (richest man in world) rather a lot of money to spend on charitable things. From the BBC:

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett is to donate about $37bn (£20bn) - most of his vast personal fortune - to Bill Gates' charitable foundation.

Mr Buffett will hand 10 million shares in his Berkshire Hathaway firm to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

In a statement, Mr and Mrs Gates said they were "awed" by the donation, thought to be the largest charitable gift ever made in the United States.

The foundation aims to fight disease and promote education around the world.

Although governments do give aid to the poor it is, as is well known, frequently wasted and skimmed off. The BBC notes that one condition of this gift is that either Bill or Melinda Gates remain involved in the charity. In other words Buffett thinks his mate Bill is not going to tolerate that sort of waste. One suspects that he may also like the potiential for innovative efforts that personally directed philanthropy can offer and on that note here is a fasicnating tale of how the Gates Foundation is helping prostitutes in India to stay healthy:

BANGALORE: Under a project facilitated by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, about 500 sex workers in Mysore own chip-embedded smart cards, which when presented during transactions help them get discounts at select shops and hotels and earn them loyalty points that can be redeemed for discounts on later purchases. The shopping basket can include provisions, food at restaurants and clothes.

But the card serves another purpose. It has the medical record of the sex worker, who has to compulsorily get his or her health check up at a clinic once in three months. The card becomes inactive if the holder fails to do this. The sex workers will be checked for sexually transmitted diseases (STD) and treatment provided if necessary.

The vendors and the health specialists are provided with Simputer, the homegrown handheld device developed by scientists at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), to bridge the digital divide and the data is stored in real time at a central server to maintain confidentiality.

The encrypted card bars access of health records by traders, while doctors cannot find out the business transaction details. “Sex workers face stigma and discrimination in their daily life. The smart card is a symbol of self-esteem that creates a sense of inclusion for them in the society,” Ratna, a community member at Ashodaya, a non-government organisation (NGO) that works on AIDS, said.

[...]KHPT officials said that the smart card initiative came from discussion with the sex workers, who identified an incentive of discounts with a health card to be a better alternative than a pure health card.

I love the note at the end that the actual users were consulted about what they wanted. How many enormous government aid schemes bother to ask the beneficiaries if they actually want what they are being given? Think of the wonderful EU aid to Russia as the classic example here and note how the bureaucrats say they don't intend to change things despite the revelations of immense waste. I doubt BillG will behave the same way.

26 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

Getting Back at the NY TimesNO New York Times

One of the problems for those of us who support the concept of "Freedom of the Press" is how to sanction the press when it behaves irresponsibly. Over the long term there need not be a problem because in the long term a media outlet that behaves irresponsibly is likely to lose audience share and go bust - as indeed the NY Times appears to be doing - but it can take a while for a previously respected source of information to lose enough of its market. Furthermore, as the NY Slimes demonstrates, unfortunately in their death throes they are likely to perform ever more attention getting stunts which probably include even more irresponsible behaviour.

Part of the problem is that the NY Slimes sees effectively no downside to its acts. It and its journalists are unlikely to be directly affected by terrorists who have evaded the intelligence/security groups that might have been able to track them down had the Slimes not revealed their methods. Moreover, given the fact that we have a free press, outrage won't stop it doing other things because we are the side that doesn't behead the journalists we disagree with. Hence there really doesn't seem anyway to bring home personally to the NY Slimes that, whether or not it is behaving legally, it is behaving irresponsibly. Clearly the government could and should be investigatign and prosecuting their sources and probably subpoenaing and then incarcerating the journalists when they ignore the subpoena, but they'd probably try to spin that as "martyrdom". However while we can hope the government does indeed do this (and US citizens can pressure their elected representatives to help get this process going), what can we as individuals do?

It occurs to me that we could learn from the enemy here and copy the tactics of bozos like the animal rights idiots. In addition to the obvious tactic of cancelling subscriptions, one way to get back at the NY Slimes is to attack their distribution chain by attempting to convince the newsagents, bookshops etc. to stop stocking the paper, and perhaps you could convince the truckers who deliver the paper from the printers to stop doing so. Another legal approach would be to pressure the suppliers of newsprint, ink etc. so that they decide not to sell any to the NY Slimes and the same could apply to the NY Slime's ISPs and so on so that they found it harder to get the word out. It Related but definitely illegal ways would be a campaign to burn the NY Slimes vending machines where ever they may be found and vandalise the printing works. Other illegal harassement options could be possible such as going to the pet cemetary and exhuming Mr Keller's mother or deliberately publishing all the ranting and raving behind the walls of the TimesSelect sanatarium. Unfortunately I feel most of these attacks would only be partially sccessful and would have the unintended consequence of giving the morons publicity and ensuring that the moonbat left lined up solidly with them.

So other ways? one way obviously is to refuse to talk to a NY Slimes journalist or have anything to do with one. Obviously this doesn't work for everyone but there are a lot of people who get calls/interviews from NY Slimes journalists. For those in appropriate positions banning them from any and all press conferences and refusing to grant the NY Slimes any press accredition to events would hurt. Actually getting the organizers of sporting events and pop concerts to do that would probably hurt the NY Slimes more than anything else because it would relegate their high paid critics to the same level as the armchair fans and cut out all the special insights derived from their exclusive interviews with the stars. This would really hurt if many politicians decided to do the same thing but expecting politicians to not talk to the media is like expecting the sea not to be wet so there is no point in hoping for that to occur. Other related actions would inviolve not sending the NY Times copies of books to review, not taking part in the NY Times bestseller list data and, something that everyone can do, not linking to the NY Times ever again. Link, by all means to commentary elsewhere, excerpt large portions and attribute, but don't actually ever include a URL that contains nytimes in it.

On that note there is the lamentable whining self-justifcation by Bill Keller who seems upset at the response to his recent display of irresponsibility. I'm not going to link to it but it has been shredded by Hugh Hewitt and has produced what may be the longest single post at Instapundit in some time. The only point I wish to add to their admirable efforts (not to mention all the other ones) is to criticise the following:

Since September 11, 2001, our government has launched broad and secret anti-terror monitoring programs without seeking authorizing legislation and without fully briefing the Congress. Most Americans seem to support extraordinary measures in defense against this extraordinary threat, but some officials who have been involved in these programs have spoken to the Times about their discomfort over the legality of the government's actions and over the adequacy of oversight. We believe The Times and others in the press have served the public interest by accurately reporting on these programs so that the public can have an informed view of them. [...]

It's not our job to pass judgment on whether this program is legal or effective, but the story cites strong arguments from proponents that this is the case. While some experts familiar with the program have doubts about its legality, which has never been tested in the courts, and while some bank officials worry that a temporary program has taken on an air of permanence, we cited considerable evidence that the program helps catch and prosecute financers of terror, and we have not identified any serious abuses of privacy so far. A reasonable person, informed about this program, might well decide to applaud it. That said, we hesitate to preempt the role of legislators and courts, and ultimately the electorate, which cannot consider a program if they don't know about it.

This is completely and surely wilfully missing the point. The NY Times seems to be arguing that somehow it can inform the American public without informing Al Qaeda. This is patently absurd and it is easy to show that absurdity by making a comparison.

Let us assume that instead of tracking down terrorists via banks, the program at issue was being used to track down a gang of murderous thieves who had killed, raped and robbed their way across New England. The FBI has figured out that the gang is going to hit New York next and that they drive a car with a certain number plate. So in order to get the gang the FBI have decided to monitor video footage from the traffic cameras of the freeways leading to New York so they can arrest the gang on one of the bridges or tunnels leading into the city. The NY Times learns that the FBI is doing this, and decides that this is possibly a worry because they might use the same tapes to detect speeders or other dangerous drivers. Do you think they would publish this because "the public deserves to be informed of this invasion of driver privacy?" Obviously not. Or at least if they did and the gang read it and then used a different car to enter NY and commit its crimes, then at least the Slimes would be sued into the ground by lawyers for the victims, assuming of course that a bunch of New Yorkers didn't explain the error in a more direct manner or they weren't prosecuted as an accessory to murder by Elliott Spitzer.

It should be obvious that the public's right to not being killed trumps its right to know, but apparently this is not the case.

26 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

African Bloggers & the Internet

There are a couple of bloggers on my blogroll who blog from the dark continent (Meskel Square & Right Speak), I have no idea if they are representative or not but both have been writing good stuff recently. I linked to Right Speak's post about the UN's classification of indigenous peoples not too long ago and he also had an excellent point about Somalia:

Can the US do much about this potential situation? Nearly anything the US does in Somalia, covert or overt, will be used to blame and discredit it regionally with moderate, important countries like Kenya. Already this is the media reaction locally. It is basically misplaced criticism, but it sells in the global anti-American market.

The US should rather rely on the natural ability of Somalis to implode and their penchant for pissing off everyone who happens to be their neighbour. This the Islamic Courts militia will surely do, sooner or later.

However most of this post today is about posts on Meskel Square which is written from Ethiopia. He has two posts up about technology and the thrid world which should be read by everyone who pontificates about the "global internet" and so on. The first (with three must read links) illustrates the limits of Ethiopian internet access, something which applies practically everywhere else in Africa too (although - ironically - Somalia may be an exception). Essentially the problem boils down to the incumbent telcos and the associated government bureaucrats who do their best to shake down telecom users and would be alternative operators for as much money as they can.

His second post today is about trying out linux as an African internet user. He picked ubuntu - which is IMO an excellent distro - and although things started out well he swiftly hit a minor issuette:

So the installation went surprisingly well. There were four or five easily-understood questions and, no more than 20 minutes later, my detested Windows ME welcome screen was gone for good. In its place was a minimalist plain brown desktop.

This is the first great thing about switching to Linux - an end to clutter. No more QuickTime forcing itself into your startup menu. No more of those pre-installed first-six-months-subscription-free packages that Dell loves to force on to its valued customers. Just a plain brown screen which you can actually use as a desktop - a place to leave those few documents that you are currently working on.

There are lots of other great things about Linux. There is the almost total lack of spyware, worms and viruses. There is the universe of free software waiting for you to download. There is the volunteer spirit of the whole Linux community. As a wannabe geek, I even enjoyed the control and responsibility of using the command line interface.

So, why am I sitting here with the headache and the blurry vision and the clumsy fingers? It is because I have hit a brick wall.

There is one thing that the bright-eyed fans of Ubuntu and its kind never tell you. That is that if you install it on to an old Windows machine in a country where dial-up internet connections are still the only way – then you are in for a rough, rough ride.

Ubuntu, you see, doesn’t like winmodems - the modem systems installed as standard in most commercially available PCs sold with a Window operating system (ie almost all of them). Minutes after my wonderfully easy install, I found I had no way of connecting to the internet.

It turns out that other people have had the same problem and there has been considerable debate about how to make the drivers available that turn a winmodem into a linmodem. All of which, of course, involves downloading drivers from the internet which is a bit tricky to do if you don't have an internet conenction.

This is a chicken and egg problem on an enormous scale, demand for broadband will be driver by demand for internet. Demand for internet is driven by cheap computers that can access it. This implies linux btu you can't use linux easily without broadand. I don't know what the answer is precisely but it is definitely a problem, as he concludes:

This isn't supposed to be a Ubuntu-sucks post. When it comes to Linux and open source software, I really want to believe. But I can only keep trying for so long.

Maybe a bit of Bil Gates' charitable dosh will go towards providing cheap computers and internet boadband to Africa?

28 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

"Choosers of the Slain" by John Ringo

This book is the third in a series of thrillers from John Ringo and Baen Books and the series keeps on getting better. Both author and publisher otherwise produce fantasy and science fiction so this is somewhat of a departure. It is however a very enjoyable departure and, arguably, still meets the "fantasy" qualification, even though it is set in something very similar to the world we know today.

When I reviewed this book's immediate predecessor "Kildar", I stated that it needed to be bought and read in conjunction with this book because it left off half-way. This book, however, does have a definite conclusion and I think it would be just about possible to read this book without having read either of the preceding books but I would not recommend it. Even though the characterization, dialog etc. in this book is far superior to that in the previous two, there are too many references to events in the previous works that require more than the brief summaries provided to be comprehensible (in the eARC that I am basing this review on there are also an annoying number of inconsistencies - presumably most have been fixed in the final version).

In Choosers of the Slain, the Kildar aka Ghost aka Mike Harmon/Jenkins ... takes his newly trained private militia on a wild goose chase through the depths of the East European underworld in search of a girl who has been taken into sex slavery against her will. After a number of fascinating plot twists and turns, including a surreal jump to Las Vegas, the tale comes to a satisfying end with the damsel(s) rescued from durance vile, the good guys mostly alive and the bad guys either dead or wishing they were.

As with the previous books, John Ringo intentionally makes no attempt at accuracy in historical, geographical or political terms - the explanation in the FAQ for the series on his website makes this clear:
There is no semblance of reality in this book. I deliberately wrote it ignoring any reality that got in the way of the story. That's not how I normally write, but I did so in this story and will continue to do so in the rest of the books in this series.
However he does take a little more care in his depiction of entrapment, the sex-trade, and how to recover from rape. Indeed, although this series is about as un-PC as it is possible to be, the depiction of the sex industry as effectively mass, repeated rape is probably something that most feminists would agree with and, while he clearly exaggerates for dramatic effect, the stories that one reads in the newspapers about abused Eastern European sex-workers in Western Europe show that he is basing his description on a genuine situation. On the other hand he also makes good clear arguments that explain why, for some women, becoming a prostitute may be better than remaining at home on the farm, essentially putting Thomas Hardy's "The Ruined Maid"  into prose.

The Kildar's reaction to the bad part of the sex trade - killing the worst pimps and the most abusive clients - while it is appealing to the uncivilized part of us, does not represent a real-life solution where such deaths would lead to some really nasty repercussions. Indeed one suspects that the Kildar is storing up a significant number of additional enemies to come back and hit him in future volumes.

As with its predecessors, this book has lots of graphic, and sometimes disturbing, sex and violence, however despite a rather dark theme and gory action it also has moments of exquisite humor that break the tension as well as points of saccharine  romance. All in all this is a book that makes for not only a gripping and highly enjoyable read but one which could, possibly, have some sort of worthwhile underlying message in it as well.

28 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

Keller answers Keller

The NY Slimes' edirtor Bill Kellor defended himself to Howard Kurtz as follows:

"I always start with the premise that the question is, why should we not publish? Publishing information is our job. What you really need is a reason to withhold information."

Well heck, since he's confused about why not to publish here is a reason:

Organizing the hijacking of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon took significant sums of money. The cost of these plots suggests that putting Osama bin Laden and other international terrorists out of business will require more than diplomatic coalitions and military action. Washington and its allies must also disable the financial networks used by terrorists.

The Bush administration is preparing new laws to help track terrorists through their money-laundering activity and is readying an executive order freezing the assets of known terrorists. Much more is needed, including stricter regulations, the recruitment of specialized investigators and greater cooperation with foreign banking authorities. There must also must be closer coordination among America's law enforcement, national security and financial regulatory agencies.[...]

Washington should revive international efforts begun during the Clinton administration to pressure countries with dangerously loose banking regulations to adopt and enforce stricter rules. These need to be accompanied by strong sanctions against doing business with financial institutions based in these nations. The Bush administration initially opposed such measures. But after the events of Sept. 11, it appears ready to embrace them.

The Treasury Department also needs new domestic legal weapons to crack down on money laundering by terrorists. The new laws should mandate the identification of all account owners, prohibit transactions with "shell banks" that have no physical premises and require closer monitoring of accounts coming from countries with lax banking laws. Prosecutors, meanwhile, should be able to freeze more easily the assets of suspected terrorists. The Senate Banking Committee plans to hold hearings this week on a bill providing for such measures. It should be approved and signed into law by President Bush.

New regulations requiring money service businesses like the hawala banks to register and imposing criminal penalties on those that do not are scheduled to come into force late next year. The effective date should be moved up to this fall, and rules should be strictly enforced the moment they take effect. If America is going to wage a new kind of war against terrorism, it must act on all fronts, including the financial one.

written in some minor New York paper in September 2001.

Now you might say that actions to freeze accounts / transfers etc is not the same as sifting through zillions of bank transfer records but that is clearly a case of illogical thinking. The goal, according to the NY Slimes is to "disable the financial networks used by terrorists". In order to do that the NY Slimes indicates, and I agree, it is necessary to freeze the accounts and transfers that are suspicious - i.e. the ones that appear to be related to terrorism. But here we come to the problem for Bill. How, without sifting through zillions of bank transfer records, are you supposed to isolate the suspicious acocunts, transfers etc.?

Again I can see the argument coming that publicizing the fact that bank records have been examined does not mean per se that you are against the practice, although the fact that you seem keen to point out that "there were officials who talked to us who were uncomfortable with the legality of this program" makes it look like you are in some agreement with their position and thus think that sifting zillions of bank records is bad. The second justification:

[O]thers ... were uncomfortable with the sense that what started as a temporary program had acquired a kind of permanence.

seems to further indicate that you are against the program. Now if it were indeed the case that Osama had been killed or captured and Islamic terrorism had stopped in say 2002 this might be a reasonable position, but the fact is that Islamic terrorism has not in fact stopped and Bin L has not shuffled off this mortal coil. Hence if one believed in 2001 that it was important to "disable the financial networks used by terrorists" consistency would seme to indiate that one would still be in favour of this in 2006 and hence that one would not blurt out details about it when asked not to, especially when know (and reported) that it was successfull in identifying some terrorists.

28 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

Another Reason To Keep The Troops In Iraq

According to Michael Moore's website various moonbats such as Cindy Sheehan are going to go on some sort of hunger strike to get the Troops home.

Dear Friends,

GSFP and Code Pink are sponsoring a hunger strike for peace which begins July 04, called Troops Home Fast Some of us like Dick Gregory and Diane Wilson will be fasting until the troops come home from Iraq, and some, like me, will be fasting for a specified time. My fast will begin on 7/04 and end on the last day of Camp Casey: 09/02.

Unfortunately it looks like they won't be giving up all their food so they might survive but we can always hope. Anyway from the photo Michelle posted to accompany her post on this subject, it looks like Comrade Cindy could stand losing a few pounds....

Hat tip - Michelle
PS allagen information: this post contains sarcasm and may irritate nuts

29 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

The New "Improved" UN Human Rights Council

Via feministe I am alerted to an oped in the NY Slimes by the Iran researcher for Human Rights Watch. In it the effectiveness of the new UN Human Rights Council is laid bare for all to see. I'm not going to quote from the Slimes, even when they publish something I agree with, so I'm going to go with the version on the HRW site:

(New York, June 22, 2006) – Iran should immediately remove Tehran’s notoriously abusive prosecutor general from its delegation to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Human Rights Watch said today. The prosecutor general, Saeed Mortazavi has been implicated in torture, illegal detention, and coercing false confessions by numerous former prisoners.

“Iran’s decision to send Mortazavi to Geneva demonstrates utter contempt for human rights and for the new council,” said Joe Stork deputy director of Middle East and North Africa division for Human Rights Watch. “Iran has just confirmed why U.N. members refused to elect it to the Human Rights Council.” 

The HRW notes that:

In 2002, a human rights expert appointed by the old U.N. Commission on Human Rights to monitor the human rights situation in Iran took the extraordinary step of naming Mortazavi publicly in his report and calling for him to be suspended from the bench. 

Somehow I doubt that Mr Mortazavi will be arrested during his trip to Switzerland. One wonders what his speech to the HR council will consist of? other than duck-billed platitudes that is. And one wonders whether the HR Council will decide to follow even the minimal advice of HRW and refuse to have anything to do with the Iranian delegation while Mortazavi remains a member of it.

For those who may have forgotten the details, when the Magdalene Honourary Fellow for Ghanaian Car Imports made his speech earlier this month he said:

When Eleanor Roosevelt took the podium at the UN to argue passionately for the elaboration of a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the world responded.  Today, when the human rights machinery was renewed with the formation of a Human Rights Council to replace the discredited Commission on Human Rights, and the US chose to stay on the sidelines, the loss was everybody’s.

I hope and believe the new Council will prove itself to be a stronger and more effective body than its predecessor.  But there is no question that the US decision to call for a vote in order to oppose it in the General Assembly, and then to not run for a seat after it was approved by 170 votes to 4, makes the challenge more difficult.

If the new council is indeed to prove itself stronger and more effective it needs to deal with this Iranian delegation. If it permits this blatent challenge then rather than "stronger and more effective", the correct phrase will be "even weaker and less effective, with a spine like a jellyfish".

29 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

France Telecom Customer "Service"

The question I have of any French readers is what is the French for "Catch 22"? If there isn't one then I suggest that it be Catch Dix Treize (1013)" because 1013 is the number to call France Telecom for "Service Après Vente". As the phone bill helpfully informs you this is an "appel gratuit de votre ligne" (Free call from your line). So what happens when FT have clobbered your line? how do you call them? 1013 doesn't work from mobiles (at least I don't think it does, it didn't work from mine) and there is no other number on offer.

Obviously the solution is to talk to your neighbour and ask to use his line to call. At which point you spend something like 20 minutes on hold waiting for the customer service rep to finisher her cigarette and coffee and deign to answer a call. When you finally get the rep on the line she asks some silly questions like what line this call is about (you already tapped this in earlier) and who is the "owner" of the line before getting around to confirming with a few keyboard taps and a "diagnostique" that yes indeed your line has, for reasons unexplained, gone titsup.fr and that a "technicien" will be dispatched at some pace slower than a snail to restore it to full working order. I am informed that "Normalement" - that great word used by builders, plumbers, car mechaniques and the like to mean "usually but not in this case" - the line will be in service some time later today.

My neighbour told me that he expected me back after lunch to make the follow up call and ask why the line was still not in service and once I have posted this I shall take him up on the offer.

PS Bizarre factoid, the ADSL service that uses the exact same copper is working fine and which explains how I am able to post this blog entry.

29 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

RIP Jim Baen - The God of Baendom

David Drake's obituary, as befits that from such a great author and friend of the deceased, cannot be beat. Go and read it then come back for my thoughts.
[whistling... ah OK you're back]
My own contact with Jim Baen was almost exclusively as addict devoted reader so I cannot really add more to the details of his life, heck I didn't even know half of what David wrote, but I'll comment on what I think his main legacy will be.

Firstly he rescued "speculative fiction" as a genre. Not single handedly by any means, his sorta mentor Tom Doherty has been nearly as influential and he has had plenty of other assistants, but in the notable words (IIRC of David Drake) "he put SF back were it belongs - in the gutter". Jim Baen was very clear what his target audience was - stereotypically the 16 year old male - but in practise anyone who wanted to be transported from bland or depressing reality to somewhere else. All of the books he published where stories and most were page turners. Even the ones that I have read and ended up disliking I nearly always read keenly first. The question with a Baen book was not would you finish it but would you reread it? and if so how many times? There is no pretentious twaddle about "litrachuer" or pretensions to a higher plane in a Baen book, just a cracking good yarn. Having said that though many Baen books do seem to have a message but, like the parables of Jesus or the writings of Shakespeare, the message tends to be hidden behind an attention getting tale. If there are a common theme or message to Baen books they are, I think, ones that would seem distinctly old fashioned: firstly there is something that many "progressives" seem to hate - the idea that honour, patriotism and trustworthyness are positive virtues; secondly there is an optimistic world view and an unabashed belief that humanity can, will and should survive, thrive and expand.

The second part of his legacy is like unto the first namely this: he probably rescued the eBook from death by cowardly avarice. As David Drake notes in his obituary:

For example, the traditional model of electronic publishing required that the works be encrypted. Jim thought that just made it hard for people to read books, the worst mistake a publisher could make. His e-texts were clear and in a variety of common formats.

While e-publishing has been a costly waste of effort for others, Baen Books quickly began earning more from electronic sales than it did from Canada ($6,000/month). By the time of Jim's death, the figure had risen to ten times that.

I have no real idea of the finances of Baen Books - I made some estimates in a series of  posts around the new year - but if, as Daiv wrote, Baen Books was pulling down around US$750,000/year in eBook sales that is probably the most revenue of any publisher. It is also worth noting that the US$750,000/year does not seem to have been either at the expense of other sales outlets and that it is massively profitable with a gross profit margin probably above 50% even including the roughly $1/copy royalty paid. There is no doubt that some authors and publishers disagree vehemently with the Baen model but Jim appears to have been crying all the way to the bank. Eventually enough authors (and maybe some publishers) are going to pay attention and do the same thing a decade or so after Jim Baen first figured out why the internet made everything different.

The key to Jim Baen's life seems to have been a willingness to take a risk, and a clear understanding of his market and of the dynamics of it. The rest of us are richer by far for the fact that he took risks and they paid off, even, perhaps especially, those of us who have paid hundreds of dollars to buy the output of Jim Baen's publishing empire. We miss him, even though many of us didn't know him except through his works, and we can only hope (and pray if religious) that he managed to set up enough of a system that Baen Books will prosper without him. I'll toast his life tonight and I'm sure I shall be far, far from alone.

Other tributes - justbarkingmad, bananaslug, Accidental Verbosity, oscagne, and probably many more via technorati and its tag for .

30 June 2006 Blog Home : All June 2006 Posts : Permalink

Friday Olive Tree Blogging

I was thinking yesterday about some way to illustrate the void I feel from the passing of Jim Baen - a man who I never met and with whom I exchanged just a few email messages. I wouldn't normally mix that with olive tree blogging but then it came to me that my "Lazarus" olive tree might make a good metaphorical background so here it is.

The tree is the tree outside our front window which was chopped down before we bought the house but which has had a healthy sapling sprout from the stump ever since I decided to let it grow. The sapling is now some 3 m (10 foot) high and will probably produce a handful of olives this year. The books are the two Baen hardcovers I own (half of hard covers in my posession that I bought new) and the only ARC in my posession - I cannot display the 100+ eBooks I own or all the regular paperbacks and 2nd hand hardbacks. War of Honour is the first book that included a CD with many free eBooks on it - this was 100% of the reason why I bought the book as a hard cover - and it reignited my love of SF as well as introducing me to huge variety of Baen published fiction out there.

So why is this a metaphor for Jim? it could be taken in a religious sense but that isn't the real reason. The real reason is that, as I wrote yesterday, Jim Baen managed to bring dying things back to life and inspire new growth. He republished classic SF that had gone out of print, he managed to inpsire new generations of readers (and writers), he managed to make serious money from eBooks and he tried to re-establish the short story fiction market via the electronically published Baen's Universe and so on.

As always you can click on the image to see it enlarged and click here to see the past photos of the series.

Update: I see from David Drake's website that a suggested memorial to Jim Baen is to buy The World Turned Upside Down which is IMHO a truly excellent idea(link goes to my review of the book in January 2005)

I despise l'Escroc and Vile Pin