L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

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

01 July 2006 Blog Home : All July 2006 Posts : Permalink

More UN Human Rights "Improvements"

I wrote on Thursday about the Iranian delegation to the UN Human Right Council. Powerline reports today that the improvements continue with the UN HRC passing a couple of OIC sponsored resolutions:

GENEVA, June 30 (Reuters) - Arab and Muslim states on Friday won a decision to keep Israel in the United Nations dock for alleged abuses in the occupied territories, overcoming U.S.-led opposition to singling out the Jewish state. A resolution to put the issue on the agenda of future sessions, brought by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), easily won passage at the U.N. Human Rights Council.

[...] A second OIC resolution, expressing deep concern at an "increasing trend of defamation of religions" and incitement to religious hatred, was also adopted along similar voting lines.

The article reports on who voted for the resolutions

The vote to examine the situation in the Palestinian territories at future sessions passed with 29 countries in favour, 12 against, five abstentions and one delegation absent. The resolution also called for existing U.N. human rights investigators to report on the situation in the territories at the council's next regular session, set for September. Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Syria were among the resolution's sponsors. Western countries, including Britain, Canada, France, Germany, and Japan, voted against it.

How can anyone state wth a straight face that the new HR body is an improvement over the old one? Egypt - imprisoning and beating up protestors. Iran - ditto. Syria - sheltering terrorists. And then there is Saudi Arabia who has the cheek to join in a resolution 'expressing deep concern at an "increasing trend of defamation of religions" and incitement to religious hatred' - if the link didn't say Reuters and weren't repeated by AP and co I'd have to assume this was a satire from the Onion or Scappleface.

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

Intolerance of Death

I'm sure the usual suspects will accuse me of being a "Chairborne Ranger" or "Chickenhawk" or whatever if they read this post.

Thanks to the Labour party's attempt to instill some sort of British feeling in us ungrateful English slobs, I am reminded that 90 years ago World War I was raging across French and Belgian Flanders and the rest of the world. This weekend is the 90th aniversary of that total fuckup known as the Battle of the Somme, which killed some 20,000 British and allied soldiers in the first day and something like 125,000 over the next few months. Last month was the aniversary of D-Day 1944 in which some 10,000 soliders wer killed in one day. 90 years ago in May the last major battleship battle was fought (Jutland) with deaths of some 6000 British and 2000 German sailors (despite the greater casualties, it is generally considered that the British won at Jutland because the German fleet never left port again). 91 years ago the Gallipoli campaign was in full swing (total casualties around half a million deaths over 9 months)

Yesterday our pals at AP reported the deaths in Iraq since March 2003 of coalition troops:

As of Friday, June 30, 2006, at least 2,535 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The figure includes seven military civilians. At least 2,000 died as a result of hostile action, according to the military's numbers.


The British military has reported 113 deaths; Italy, 32; Ukraine, 18; Poland, 17; Bulgaria, 13; Spain, 11; Slovakia, Denmark three; El Salvador, Estonia, Netherlands, Thailand, two each; and Australia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Romania, one death each.

By my sums that is 2766 total deaths. Civilian deaths are something like 40,000 (between 38,764 & 43,192 according to Iraqbodycount - I'm not going to quibble those figures; IBC have been criticised for both under- and over-counting, they are probably correct within a few thousand).

In approximately the same time frame the Sudanese have killed around 200,000 people in Darfur. Deaths in the Congo are still (as far as I can tell) running at around 1000 per day of which it is estimated that about 2% (50 per day) are deaths by violence. Even ignoring the 950/day who die from war induced starvation/disease etc we are still looking at around 20,000 violent deaths per year or over 60,000 in the same period as the Iraq conflict.

To put these numbers in other contexts, road deaths in the US per year are similar to the total civilian death toll in Iraq over 3 years (FWIW annual road deaths in the UK are higher than the military death toll in Iraq over 3 years). Iraq has a population of some 26 million, and hence the average annual death rate per 100,000 from violence is around 50. This rate is not disimilar to the murder rate of Washington DC.

One thing that doesn't get brought up is that the overall death rate in Iraq is falling steadily from 6.4/1000 in 2000 to an estimated 5.37/1000 in 2006. Although I'm a bit suspicious of the total numbers, since that is lower than the death rate in France, the US and the UK, the trend is clearly down.

To put it all together the military deaths in this war are paltry - something like 2-3/day on average and have yet to add up to the deaths in a single battle in the first world war. The civilian deaths are also comparatively low and overall the death rate is decreasing and is lower than it was under Saddam. So why the constant handwringing that this has been "a terrible mistake" etc. etc.? and why the lack of concentration on the far worse humanitrian crises in Africa?

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

Slogans 4 EU

The Englishman links to a Torygraph article about the latest whiz or wheeze from Brussels - a new EU slogan and (apparently a new flag). The Englishman himself nicks an idea from Tim W as a suggestion but I think there are probably some better options, ones that will be understood even by people not versed in Latin.
EU Cracks
Here are a few that I can think of:
Perhaps commenters can come up with others

As for flags - the Gates of Vienna has the perfect one:

03 July 2006 Blog Home : All July 2006 Posts : Permalink

Geoportail nearly alive

The French answer to Google Earth - Geoportail - which famously crashed about half an hour after going live last month has returned and almost works. My first attempt to see what my house looks like from the air did not inspire me with confidence:
Geoportail first attempt
but then after I'd visited Corsica I managed to get mainland France to display and started searching for my house.

The first thing I noticed was that I couldn't seem to enter anything more than the town name, although that could just be me, the second thing I noticed was that I don't seem to be able to bookmark a location (again maybe I'm missing something) and the third thing I noticed in playing around is that the latitude/longitude used in France is apparently a little different to other contries:
Nan Nan
Verdict: Nice try but still some way to go I'd say.

03 July 2006 Blog Home : All July 2006 Posts : Permalink

Welcome Lemmings

It's tourist season here in Europe and tout-le-monde is descending on the Riviera  For those of you without much French the following site will help you get your point across - I particularly recommend the "useful phrases" page.

These phrases may come in particular use if you are driving here and don't take advantage of the following map to identify those nice radar speed trap thingies
carte des radars automatiques 75 - Paris 92 - Hauts de Seine 94 - Val de Marne 93 - Seine Saint-Denis 90 - Territoire de Belfort 95 - Val d'Oise 91 - Essone 78 - Yvelines 69 - Rhône 68 - Haut-Rhin 84 - Vaucluse 82 - Tarn et Garonne 66 - Pyrénées-Orientales 06 - Alpes-Maritimes 2A - Corse du Sud 74 - Haute-Savoie 65 - Hautes Pyrénées 2B - Haute-Corse 67 - Bas-Rhin 42 - Loire 43 - Haute-Loire 09 - Ariège 53 - Mayenne 13 - Bouches du Rhône 39 - Jura 48 - Lozère 46 - Lot 54 - Meurthe et Moselle 25 - Doubs 47 - Lot et Garonne 08 - Ardennes 87 - Haute-Vienne 70 - Haute-Saône 14 - Calvados 23 - Creuse 59 - Nord 81 - Tarn 05 - Hautes-Alpes 07 - Ardèche 19 - Corrèze 60 - Oise 77 - Seine et Marne 01 - Ain 16 - Charente 28 - Eure et Loir 79 - Deux Sèvres 15 - Cantal 30 - Gard 50 - Manche 88 - Vosges 52 - Haute Marne 27 - Eure 76 - Seine Maritime 37 - Indre et Loire 61 - Orne 34 - Hérault 83 - Var 57 - Moselle 72 - Sarthe 10 - Aube 80 - Somme 32 - Gers 31 - Haute-Garonne 73 - Savoie 41 - Loir et Cher 62 - Pas de Calais 26 - Drôme 11 - Aude 44 - Loire-Atlantique 45 - Loiret 22 - Côtes d'Armor 85 - Vendée 56 - Morbihan 35 - Ille et Vilaine 36 86 - Vienne 04 - Alpes de Haute Provence 17 - Charente-Maritime 58 - Nièvre 18 - Cher 89 - Yonne 03 - Allier 02 - Aisne 49 - Maine et Loire 38 - Isère 64 - Pyrénées Atlantiques 51 - Marne 63 - Puy de Dôme 12 - Aveyron 21 - Côte d'Or 24 - Dordogne 40 - Landes 33 - Gironde 29 - Finistère 55 - Meuse 71 - Saône et Loire 75 - Paris 94 - Val de Marne 92 - Hauts-de-Seine 93 - Seine-Saint-Denis

En partenariat avec Radars-auto : tout sur les radars automatiques

04 July 2006 Blog Home : All July 2006 Posts : Permalink

Revolting Excolonial Day

(that's a joke BTW).

As a member of the English elite and a resident of France it can be a bit hard to think what to say about the independence of the USA. This year I've remembered I have the perfect image. The statue above is of one of the non-Americans who helped make it happen: the Admiral de Grasse who defeated the Royal Navy's fleets trying to rescue Cornwallis at Yorktown. It might make an interesting alternate history to speculate about what could have happened had de Grasse failed to defeat the British Navy or (for that matter) had failed to break the British blockade of France to get across the Atlantic.

You may well think that I'm picking a strange person as hero here, and to be sure, he was not alone. But the Royal Navy was the key to the British empire and his defeat of it certainly encouraged the other European powers to cause further trouble and ensure that the Navy remained overstretched.

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

The Ringo Gauntlet - the "Jim Baen Memorial Bookshelf"

In memory of Jim Baen, John Ringo posted at his part of Baen's bar an announcement that he will now write some more "Mike O'Neal" novels i.e. ones that follow on from the original 4 volume Posleen trilogy. He also throws down the gauntlet to a bunch of other authors that are/were published by Baen books.

He's dead, folks. He was one of my best friends, my replacement dad and my mentor. I'm grieving, sure. But his spirit fucking lives ON. Right now, all those authors that owe him owe him THIS.

Other authors are going to see me as being presumptuous for saying this, but here goes:

Lois OWES him a Miles book with the Dendari. I can think of four possible plots. She's a professional, so can she. Take a year, take two, but get that plot generator going. Miles. Dendari. World saving. Exploding spaceships. Something you can wrap your head around and love, because that's when you do your finest work. And there is none finer.

DW OWES him an Honor book that is long on exploding spaceships and heroics and short on verbiage and politics. Black, white, white wins.

Stirling OWES him an anihilistic Draka novel. Good guys win. Draka get their teeth kicked in good and hard. All the rapists get impaled.

EM OWES him a return of Paks. And she'd better save the fucking world.

Dave OWES him the ultimate Slammer story.

I OWE him a Mike O'Neal book where the Darhel get their teeth kicked in and

Mike does what he does best, kick ass and not even bother to take names.

(Although that will take several books. Bear with me.)

Fuck nice words about what a great guy he is. Do what you do best, please the readers he nurtured and brought you to.

THAT'S a tribute. The only tribute he'd ever care about.


I would add that Eric Flint owes him a few more core 1632 books - but Eric seems to be doing that anyway (gradually) so this is not precisely germane - and possibly Mercedes Lackey owes him a book too, but I'm not really a great Lackey fan (a couple of books yes, the whole oeuvre no) so I'm not going to say whether that would be worthwhile. However as a result of comments on that thread I have decided I really need to read those Draka books. I also learned a lot about the tempestuous Moon/Baen relationship, although Elizabeth Moon is unfortunately less than clear about what exactly it was that set them at loggerheads (it occurs to me that one major feature of Baen's publishing career was the number of high quality best-selling authors he managed to piss off, many of them ones he discovered in the first place).

But more importantly, and the reason why I'm reprinting this without any permission what so ever, not only do I think it would be an excellent tribute I think it would make the authors concerned an absolute mint. I believe that a "memorial bookshelf" consisting of the above mentioned half dozen books, plus some or all of the original books that they follow on from, would be bought by an enormous number of fans. Even if (especially if?) said memorial bookshelf were a series of high quality leather bound hardbacks.

Oh and while possibly not quite as good as "The World Turned Upside Down"; as a snapshot of a genre at a particular time it would be truly excellent and make a great CD to spread around the place to suck in new readers. New readers of SF, new readers of the authors themselves, heck new readers of anything other than text books and "non-fiction" political tracts. The world needs more children and young adults to be inspired by SF one way or another and I reckon the "Jim Baen Memorial Bookshelf" would sucker them in hand over fist.

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

Friday Olive Tree Blogging

You can tell that the tourist season has started because we had our first thunderstorm yesterday afternoon. And after the storm this beautiful rainbow, which I thought was nicely framed by the olive trees in our garden.

As always click on the image to see it enlarged and do take a look at the rest of the series if you missed them.

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

Actions and Reactions

You have to love the DPRK.
Are these guys just playing to the peanut gallery? or were they really surprised that Japan would actually do what it said it would do? Although they do try and act as threatening as they can:

"This may force us to take stronger physical actions," Kyodo news agency quoted Song Il-ho, North Korea's ambassador in charge of diplomatic normalisation talks with Japan, as saying.

Asked by Japanese reporters in Pyongyang to elaborate, he said: "I leave that to your imagination."

Of course the fact that more serious analysts are saying negative things about the N Korean missile program may have something to do with it.

The major fallout from North Korea's series of missile launches and the malfunction of its long-range rocket is that its missile program now looks somewhat inept, weapons experts said yesterday.

"The Taepodong-2 was not ready for prime time," said David Kay, a veteran weapons inspector, referring to Pyongyang's controversial attempt to launch a long-range missile. "The ridicule for the failure is entirely on" the North Korean government.

Ouch. And which rather makes one wonder what precisely the N Korean "stronger physical actions" are going to be. If it weren't for the fact that the DPRK leadership can kill millions (mostly of its own people) the situation would be funny. It's like watching that blustering BSer in the pub who claims he can do Karate stub his toe and then hop around bawling his eyes out.

Lots and lots of excellent additional coverage at the Marmot's Hole, including a post pointing out that even S Korea seems ever so slightly miffed at the behaviour of their northern brethren. Although possibly not miffed enough IMHO or in that of the Marmot's proprietor for that matter:

About next week’s intra-Korean ministerial talks scheduled to be held in Busan, however, Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok appeared to favor convening the meeting:

“The South Korean government wonders what it would mean if we refuse to talk to North Korea.”

It would probably mean you have a set of balls, Mr. Minister.  Heaven forbid the North Koreans should think that.


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

'Scare' quotes

Every now and then I think the BBC is getting better and then it does something really stupid. Like this headline:

Ten Taleban fighters 'killed'

I don't want to be rude or anything - well OK I do - but WTF?

If it was "mutilated" or "executed" or something like that I could understand it but not "killed". Killed is pretty much about as uncontroversial  as you get. A body is either dead or a alive and if dead in a situation where there has just been a lot of bombs, bullets etc flying around, killed seems like a reasonable assumption even if you don't see bullet holes, char marks etc on the bodies.

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

Driving Fast not Dangerously

One of the things that irritates me from time to time are speed cameras and speed limits. Not always mind you, there are times and places where excessive speed is indeed dangerous, and a lot of places where excessive speed for certain types of vehicles (lorries, busses, trailer towing cars...) is more dangerous than for other vehicles. But over all I think that there is strong evidence that the relationship between speed and accidents is not one that shows any special correlation. Certainly traffic fatalities are not close to correlating wth universal speed limits - the WSJ has a piece on the evidence presented by the US in the last ten years that has been quoted in the blogosphere - and it is not the only evidence; it doesn't take much to do some cross European comparisons and see that on Motorways death shows no correlation with either the speed limit or the average usage of the highway. This ABD page has some interesting charts based on data in the late 1990s:
Motorways — Deaths per billion vehicle-km.
Portugal  14.1
Italy  12.8
Austria  8.9
Belgium  7.2
France  5.4
Finland  5.0
Germany  4.5
Denmark  4.3
Ireland  4.0
Switzerland  3.3
Netherlands  3.3
Sweden  3.2
United Kingdom  2.0
Motorway usage
(Average daily vehicle flow)
United Kingdom  64,900
Netherlands  52,400
Germany  45,800
Belgium  44,600
Switzerland  38,200
France  29,400
Denmark  26,700
Italy  26,000
Ireland  26,000
Austria  25,600
Portugal  25,100
Sweden  17,700
From these charts is is clear that Germany, which has no maximum speed on its motorways is safer than many countries such as Italy, that do have a maximum speed despite being the thrid most busy highways in the survey group.

It is also interesting to see the impact (or lack of impact) of speed cameras. From the ERF there is a PDF with a table on P42 that shows the drop in road fatalities across western Europe in the last 35 years, despite increases in traffic in all nations.

Belgium Denmark
Germany Greece Spain France Ireland Italy Luxem-
Austria Portugal Finland Sweden UK
1970 2,950 1,208 21,332 1,099 5,456 16,448 540 11,004 132 3,181 2,507 1,842 1,055 1,307 7,770
1980 2,396 690 15,050 1,445 6,522 13,672 564 9,220 98 1,997 2,003 2,941 551 848 6,240
1990 1,976 634 11,046 2,050 9,032 11,215 478 7,137 71 1,376 1,558 3,017 649 772 5,402
2000 1,470 498 7,503 2,037 5,777 8,079 418 6,410 70 1,082 976 1,874 396 591 3,580
2001 1,486 431 6,977 1,880 5,516 8,160 412 6,682 69 993 958 1,671 433 583 3,598
2002 1,315 463 6,842 1,654 5,347 7,655 376 6,736 62 987 956 1,655 415 560 3,581
2003 n,a 432 6,613 1,615 5,394 6,058 339 6,015 53 1,028 931 1,546 379 529 3,658

However in France subsequent to 2003 road fatalities have decreased significantly (to 5000/year in 2005) due to an increased emphasis on enforcement of traffic regulations including the use of speed cameras. It is interesting to note that, as the FIA foundation study of read deaths in France (PDF) notes, the decrease started in 2002/2003 even though the speed cameras were not introduced until late 2003. It will also be interesting to see if the continuing roll out in 2006 of even more speed cameras cuts the deaths more or not. From my observations of where many of the newer cameras are being placed I would expect the drop to continue but be less great than that in previous years. Why? because the really bad black spots got their cameras earlier and what we are seeing now is the cameras being placed in less dangerous locations. Indeed I suspect that in the next year or two we will see considerable back pressure from drivers because increasingly the cameras are being seen, as in the UK, as partly revenue generators rather than accident preventers. There is, however, one saving grace of the French system; so far it does not seem to have occured to the French authorities to lie about the existence of their cameras and put up the signs without a camera, likewise they have not attempted to conceal the cameras or not warn about their presence so that they come as a surprise.

It is also notable that the French have also introduced a lot more traffic calming measures (speed bumps and roundabouts) and have just about completely removed the incredibly dangerous "priorité à droit" junctions that frequently take non-locals by surprise, although the statistics seem to indicate that the largest drop in fatalities has occured on motorways.

However there is, as I believe the US experience indicates, a big difference beween the stopping of the nutters from driving far too fast and inconveniencing everyone for little or no effect. In that regard it is worth recalling that the rural Autoroute speed in France of 130km/h (~= 80mph) is faster than the 70mph of the UK, yet it seems quite possible that motorway fatalities on French autoroutes will be similar to British motorway deaths in the near future and that they will be similar (after adjustment for network size/population etc.) to German autobahn fatalities, despite the fact that much of the latter have no speed limit. I have driven at well over 200km/h on German roads quite safely becuase the roads in question had very little traffic and I have absolutely no doubt that I could travel just as fast and just as safely on large parts of the French autoroute network and on parts of the UK motorway network (although UK motoroways are far busier so it is harder). This is one reason why I think that blanket speed limits are not particularly effective. Most people agree that enforcement of speed limits in dangerous areas is a good thing. I suspect that all but the most purist of libertarians feel that cutting deaths at a particular black spot by placing a prominent speed camera just before the danger zone is a good idea, but elsewhere the idea of a maximum speed limit seems somewhat pointless.

As I sort of hint at above, the idea of a speed limit is particularly stupid on empty major roads. The French already have a lower speed limit (110km/h) for wet roads and that seems like a good idea that could be extended. It would seem to me that speed limits should come into play as traffic volume increases in a way simialr to the UK's M25 variable speed limits - at 8am Sunday morning there are few places on the motorway where there is any point in having a speed limit so feel free to be a boy racer. at 8am Monday on the other hand the speed limit in busy sections could be something like 90km/h in certain spots with cameras to record the idiots who are determined to drive like idiots and weave between lanes.

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

In Praise of Rosé

I've mentioned my enjoyment of Rosé before, but after a (suitably fueled) discussion yesterday with some friends and perusing the Provence from Fayence blog where there are links to two stories about this badly neglected style of wine, I think it is time to really nail my colours to the mast.

Provençal rosé is a wine that the world should drink more of. Unlike other rosé wines, such as the Rosé d'Anjou or those unspeakable bliush wines from California, a provençal rosé is dry. It is also light. A non-Provence rosé that I enjoy is "Clairet" from (IIRC) Bordeaux, but it tends to have more flavour and presence that the typical rosé from here. The rosé from Provence is a perfect summer wine. As one of the links above notes, it goes very well with barbeque. Indeed it goes very well with all sorts of food, even sushi, but it also goes very well without food. With the right company, there is nothing better to do down here than spend an afternoon outside in the shade of a tree or a parasol, sipping rosé and watching the world go by.

Rosé is not a pretentious wine. You can go visit somewhere like the Château Ste Roseline and spend an enjoyable afternoon tasting (relatively) expensive rosé and it is indeed pleasant (in fact a tour of the Lorgues/les Arcs area of the Var would not be complete without some degustation) yet there is no need to go to the château to get decent rosé at the right price. If you are at a restaurant here I suggest saving time and effort and just asking for a pichet of the house rosé, and you need not do much more when in the hypermarché. There is no need to worry about vintage, rosé should be drunk the summer after it was picked, and little need to worry about the appelation. Given a choice, I recommend a Gris, since the Gris seems to be priced right (€3 / bottle in the supermarket) and provide a reliable quality but, to be honest, almost any wine grown and bottled in the 83 (Var) or 13 (Bouches du Rhône) departments will be entirely acceptable and it really doesn't matter whether it is a vin de pays or an appelation controlé.

I hesitate to say it is a requirement, but it is common practice to drink your rosé on the rocks. A couple of ice-cubes in the glass keeps it cool enough and their melting is a sign that more rosé and ice needs to be added to the glass - got to counteract the evaporation you know :)


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

Doomed to Fail, Loved by Bureaucrats

The Wapping Liar has found some evidence that even the civil servants in charge of implementing the ID card scheme think it is destined for failure according to their emails. God forbid that I (and Tim W, Samizdata & everyone else) should gloat and say "We told you so", but well we pretty much did. For example I wrote a while back about how this was going to lead to full employment for the fuck up fairy. The fact is that this program is demonstrating just about every symptom of a project destined to fail abysmally and, unlike "David Foord - Mission Critical Director (Identity and Defence)", I am hopeful that a failure will indeed "put back the introduction of ID Cards for a generation".

That sentence comes from an absolutely perfect "Sir Humphrey" paragraph in the email:

I do not have a problem with ministers wanting a face saving solution, but we need to be clear with the programme team, senior officials, special advisors and ministers etc just what this implies. They need to understand this, because a botched introduction of a descoped early variant ID Card backed by TNIR, if it is subject to a media feeding frenzy (queues outside passport offices! and more recently IND) - which it might well be close to a general election, could put back the introduction of ID Cards for a generation and won't do much for IPS credibility nor for the Govt's election chances either (latter not our problem but might play with ministers).

Now clearly this would-be whitehall mandarin is not going to comment in this sort of email about the civil liberties etc. issues, but it is entirely clear from the tone of the email that David Foord can't wait to get his hands on the private data of all UK residents ASAP. Whether this is from motives of petty empire building or something more sinister is unclear but he obviously likes the idea of snooping on the resat of us. Clearly the joke about "Civil Servant" being neither "Civil" nor "Servant" rings ever more true.

On that note it is amusing that the BBC reports that the bureaucracy is unhappy to report how much this ID card scheme is supposed to save the goernment in benefit fraud:

The government is battling to ensure that estimates of the benefits and risks of identity cards remain secret.

The freedom of information watchdog ordered the Department of Work and Pensions to publish its findings about how the cards could fight ID fraud.

Now the department has decided to appeal against the information commissioner's ruling.

The Lib Dems say it is disappointing the government is still trying to "cover up the facts about ID cards".

Home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg said: "The public has a right to know if the billions of pounds the government is committing to this massive project will be money well spent.

"It is a measure of the government's failure to justify ID cards that during the passage of the bill they never once released a full estimate of its costs and impact."

This is classic behaviour from a bunch of bureaucrats who realize that if the figures are published the entire business case will collapse. I'm going to guess that the estimate is that maybe £10 million per year is estimated to be saved thanks to the ID card scheme and given that the cost is somewhere over £1 billion this seems a tad difficult to justify.

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

Iran's Nukes

According to the BBC, on Friday the ostriches in Brussels and Vienna were "upbeat" about their attempts to buy off the Iranian regime:

Talks between the EU and Iran over Tehran's nuclear programme have got off to a good start, an EU official says.

Foreign policy chief Javier Solana's spokeswoman said the talks were the basis for a positive second meeting, scheduled to take place on Tuesday.

She said Iran would give the meeting a "substantial response" to an incentives package agreed by world powers in June.

Earlier the UN nuclear watchdog chief said the world was "impatient" at Iran's failure so far to respond.

Mohamed ElBaradei said the earlier Tehran gave an anwer on the offer, the better it would be for everyone. The package is aimed at persuading Iran to halt uranium enrichment.

This upbeatness is despite a few worries from correspondents who think the Iranians are just playing:

Correspondents say Iran's announcement that it wanted to postpone the EU talks appeared to be linked to a visit to the European parliament by the leader of a controversial exiled Iranian opposition group.

The BBC's Pam O'Toole says the postponement has stoked suspicions in some Western countries that Iran, under threat of UN Security Council action if it rejects the package, is playing for time.

Curiously the BBC is unable to find space to report the news that ElBaradei has been doing his absolute best to make sure that his organizations inspections in Iran disturbed the mullahs as little as possible by firing the lead inspector. If this is true, and it certainly looks to be, with Reuters reporting confirmation, then Iran has surely just removed most of the doubt that it is trying to create a nuclear weapon.

Where we go from here is less clear, but I think it is fairly clear that from now on, no one is going to expect the Iranians to be any more truthful in their negotiations than the North Koreans were. This won't stop a bunch of Guardianistas from insisting that we have to continue negotiations anyway but I suspect that everyone else is going to be looking at other options. It will be fascinating to see the reaction from London, Paris and Berlin where the leaders must be feeling particularly peeved at the Iranian behaviour.

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

21 Years Ago

The French sank the "Rainbow Warrior" in Auckland harbour. Greenpeace were upset with the French for their nuclear testing and were pretty upset with the idea of nuclear stuff in any form. Today they still seem to be against American nukes, and even Turkish nuclear power, but curiously silent when it comes to other countries such as a four letter one beginning with I and ending in ran. This peace campaign page fails to mention Iran and barely mentions North Korea or Pakistan. Indeed about the only place where they mention Iran is in this press release:

Vienna, Saturday, February 4, 2006- The International Atomic Energy Agency's  decision to report Iran to the UN Security Council will seriously increase the risk of escalating tensions in the region, Greenpeace said today.

"Reporting Iran to the UN Security Council has   created  a vacuum of confidence building, a situation that IAEA head ElBaradei said he was intent on avoiding,"  said Greenpeace nuclear analyst William Peden, speaking from IAEA headquarters in Vienna. "Board members supporting the EU-3 draft resolution have  effectively shot themselves in the foot.  The Iran crisis has been brought closer to the brink."

Somehow it is our fault that the Iranians want nuclear power and our responsibility to grovel before them so that they change their minds.

On the other hand Greenpeace isn't completely bad, it is doing something that almost no one else seems to be doing - attempting to stop the worst excesses of European fishermen and documenting the alarming declines in fish stocks.

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

Afghanistan - Mission in Trouble?

Michael Yon has a long post explaining why he thinks that Afghanistan is far worse that Iraq. I'm not sure I completely agree, other people seem more upbeat, but I think it is clear that Afghanistan is not anywhere like as stable as Iraq and it is completely clear that there are far fewer coalition forces there. It is worrying to read Yon's report when you also read the EU Referendum's discussion of UK military equipment and the various BBC reports, such as this one.

The big question is what is going to happen to the opium crop. I hope that the British (and other NATO) troops will be targeting the opium drug lords and destroying the crop as they attempt to smuggle it out of the country. It should surely not be that hard for NATO to figure out where the opium is being processed and stored and destroy a significant chunk of it and given the amount of money supposedly available for funding alternative crops etc. etc. it surely ought to be possible to combine carrots to the farmers with sticks to the smugglers. We should also consider buying some of the stuff ourselves and processing it into useful forms such as morphine. Unfortunately I'm not seeing anything like this being reported so I think what we will see is a gradual worsening of the situation. Something that reports like this Asia Times one make clear is a view that others share:

Afghanistan boasts two bumper crops this season, and both could be lethal to the already fledgling authority of its government.

Western officials expect the largest-ever opium crop in the face of a toothless US$1 billion eradication campaign. And contrary to earlier pronouncements by military officials, the Taliban are gaining steam in the volatile southern provinces, where fighting has raged at levels not seen since the US-led invasion that toppled the al-Qaeda-allied Islamic fundamentalist movement five years ago.

Although the newspaper article does report that "[u]nconfirmed coalition death tolls reveal roughly 20 insurgents are killed for every Afghan or Western casualty" which sounds promising, it also agrees with me that the drug trade is a major issue and one that is complicating the military situation.

11 July 2006 Blog Home : All July 2006 Posts : Permalink

Japan, the PSI & Takeshima/Dokdo

One of the fun things to do in the blogoshpere is connecting the dots. Over in the Marmot's Hole we have the (S) Korean government going in to bat on behalf of their Northern brethren and complaining about Japan. Over at the Junkyard Blog, Hot Air Austin Bay, etc. we have discussion of the "secret" Proliferation Security Initiative. And chugging along in the background at various sites we have the never ending Takeshima/Dokdo saga (e.g recent Marmot update).

Quick recap for those who have been asleep: the PSI is the international program to stop N Korea from exporting missiles and stuff like that. It ties in with a couple of other things that also stop it importing/exporting components, counterfeiting money, viagra and so on. The Japanese have said that they are considering whether a pre-emptive strike is permitted under the "self defense" part of their constitution. While it could be a bit of a stretch in most circumstances it becomes easier to justify when the nation sees missiles shooting overhead that originate in a country that routinely blames it for pretty much everything and claims to have nuclear weapons.

Sea of Japan mapOk so how does Dokdo fit in to this? well look at a map of the Sea of Japan (a.k.a. East Sea for the Koreans - not to be confused with the German East Sea a.k.a. the Baltic). On the map to the left (from wikipedia) Dokdo/Takeshima is marked as Liancourt rocks and it is,as you can see in a nice central position in the sea. It would, in fact, make an excellent forward navy base for any country who felt like blockading N Korean ports on their Eastern coast such as Wonsan or Ch'ongjin.

Of course N Korea has ports on its western coast too but Dokdo would be a great place to anchor part of a patrol route that might start in Sapporo and end up at Shimonoseki (next to Kitakyushu on the map). [The other patrol route for the south/west would involve Taiwan, Okinawa, the disputed Senkaku islands as well as Kyushu]. Now you will note here that if S Korea were a keen member of the nations that were enforcing the PSI then you wouldn't need to worry about seagull shit islands because you'd simply anchor one end of the patrol in an appropriate S Korean port (say Pohang?), but if S Korea seems keen to support its Northern neighbour then you are probably not going to be able to get Korean permission for a patrol that is intended to enforce sanctions on N Korea. Hence you need to look for alternatives and hence Japanese interest in at least passing as close to Dokdo as possible if not stopping there.

I'm really not at all clear about how this will end up, but given the recent S Korean commentary I think we could well see major stresses in the relationship between the USA and S Korea and we are already seeing extremely close cooperation between the USA and Japan. Quite where China fits into this and, for that matter Taiwan, is even more murky but it would not surprise me at all to see a major maritime alliance formed to enforce sanctions on N Korea and, as a result, a lot of incidents between Japan and the USA on the one hand and both Koreas (and China) on the other. Even if we ignore the Yellow Sea half of the equation to avoid Chinese provocation, if Japan were to agressively enforce a blockade of the western ports of N Korea I could well imagine some nastiness occuring with Japanese ships being agressively shadowed by prickly S Koreans while they attempt to interdict N Korean smugglingtrade.

11 July 2006 Blog Home : All July 2006 Posts : Permalink

Kamikaze and Seppuku

My wife tends to get annoyed at French news reporters who refer to suicide terrorists (such as those who struck in India today or in London last year) as "kamikazes". I'd never really thought too much about it, beyond realizing that kamikaze (神風) is the word for "wind from the gods" and initially referred to the storms that according to legent destroyed the Mongol invasion fleets in 1274 and 1281*. The nuts who ran Japan in the 1930s and 1940s adapted this legend for the creation of the tokkotai  suicide squads who were supposed to stop the American invasion forces in 1944/45 but while I recognized that this was clearly a brutal borrowing of an otherwise decent historical event I did not really consider what else might be involved.

Now however Japundit's Ampontan has a truly fascinating post about a book on the unfortunates who, contrary to western stereotypes, rarely volunteered to be part of the tokkotai. The book seems to be a bit of a curate's egg, and the Japan Times review of it seems to be worse, but the post is a must read and Ampontan also links to a truly excellent site called Kamikaze Images which also reviews the book, pointing out certain errors, and has an excellent essay on current Japanese thinking amongst many other fascinating documents.

There is without doubt a significant portion of Japanese thought that finds the idea of suicide in war or for honour to be one worth celebrating. Although it has some odd aspects, in many ways I think it is not much different from the "he laid down his life that we might live" of christianity, and certainly the idea of the warrior sacrificing himself to save his clan/army/country is common worldwide as is the related concept of the person who seeks justice no matter that it may result in his own death. This no doubt explains why many westerners appreciate the story of the 47 ronin
There is also a sort of respect for the "gallant loser" aspect to it as well. I don't say it is completely explicable; for example, I find rather morbid the seppuku re-enactment in Aizu Wakamatsu at the grave site for the Byakkotai which is a popular tourist attraction.

The militirists of the Meiji/Taisho/Showa era Japan certainly twisted honour and respect to suit their own purposes, but while they may have frequently mistreated civilians and sent their juniors out on suicide missions, they embraced suicide more as a way to fight to the death (e.g. the pointless last cruise of the Yamato recently made into a movie) than as a way to inflict terror on others. Today it seems to me that this has now been turned into a sort of morbid sentimentality at the lives cut so tragically short by self-inflicted death and a fascination for what they thought and so on. It seems to me that the tokkotai are regarded in Japan in a similar way to the way Texans regard the defenders of the Alamo and hence if you see the Kamikaze fighters of WW2 as part of that honourable warrior tradition then it makes a lot of sense to reject the hijacking of the name by a bunch of terrorists who bear no resemblence to your samurai ancestors.

*It is entirely possible that in reality shoddy shipbuilding and cautious commanders also contributed to the defeat of the invasion.

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

Triumphant return of Olive Tree blogging

Excuse the pause due to summer hols, too hot etc.

A couple of my olives ripening nicely just before I went on my hols. As always click on the image to see it enlarged and do take a look at the rest of the series if you missed them.

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

Norm's Short Story Competition

My entry to this comeptition for stories of 250 words or less

How to become an official zombie

Back from the two week honeymoon in the Orkneys, still in wedded bliss, when I open the first letter from HMG - "we care for you":

National Identity Registry
Dear Mr Patterson or heirs,

Your death has been reported.
Date: 2/7/2016
Cause of death: Other (Nished as a Pewt, Tying the Knot).
If case of error please contact the nearest death processing centre (see http://www.nir.gov.uk/offices/dpc/ to locate the centre closest to you) in the next five (5) working days with your ID card and valid doctor's certificate.  For security reasons we have notified your banks, employer of record and all government agencies of your death.

My mind spinning, I open the other letter from HMG - the one that will explain that the previous letter was sent in error

National Identity Registry
Dear Mr Patterson,

Your recent update to the National Identity Registry was rejected due to conflict with previous status.
On 3/7/2016 we were notified of your death on 2/7/2016.
On 5/7/2016 we received the erroneous notification that you had 
1) married on 3/7/2016
2) changed address
Note that due to ID fraud issues, death is an irrevocable act, attempting to update the records of a dead person is a crime under section 3 of the National Identity Act 2012. Contact the nearest death processing centre (see http://www.nir.gov.uk/offices/dpc/ to locate the centre closest to you) for rectification.

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

Atoms for Peace?

While the world's attention has been focussed on the Israel Hezbollah conflict, Hezbollah's sponsor was probably hoping that it could manage to delay the pesky UN security council resolutions about it's New Clear Not a Bomb Program. Unfortunately for Iran, just because the media is hyping up Lebanon doesn't mean that the bureaucrats and diplomats are not continuing their previous jobs. The result is that the UNSC is about to pass a resolution on Iran's Not a Bomb Program and Iran is threatening to throw its toys out of the pram:

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran said on Sunday it would stop considering international incentives aimed at ending its uranium enrichment program if the U.N. Security Council passes a resolution against its atomic work.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi also warned a resolution against Iran would create what he called a deeper crisis in the Middle East, but he declined to be more specific.

"If they issue a resolution against Iran, the package will no longer be on our agenda," he told a news conference.

"Such a resolution would definitely not help solve regional issues and would create a deeper crisis in the region," he said.

I don't know precisely what the UNSC is going to do with Iran but given that the UN resolution is being moved by France it looks like there is remarkable agreement that something has to be done and that delaying further just allows Iran to get further along on the process.

If the Hezbollah war was intended to take the pressure off Iran it seems to have failed. Indeed the fact that Iran has made bellicose statements in favour of Hezbollah may possibly have made some of the more ostrich-like members of the UN actually realize that they can not continue to ignore the problem and hope it goes away.

31 July 2006 Blog Home : All July 2006 Posts : Permalink

Human Rights Watch are idiots

One of the more assinine statements about the Qana bombing (BTW do read the EU Referendum blog's disection of the staged photos) has come from Human Rights Watch who call Israel's bombing in Lebanon 'indiscrimminate' and also says:

“Today’s strike on Qana, killing at least 54 civilians, more than half of them children, suggests that the Israeli military is treating southern Lebanon as a free-fire zone,” said Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch. “The Israeli military seems to consider anyone left in the area a combatant who is fair game for attack.” 

Kenneth Roth clearly does not understand what indiscrimminate bombing and free fire zones look like. If the IDF were actually operating a free fire policy then I imagine the casualties in S Lebanon would be 10-100 times the current ones. The fact of the matter is that even "discriminate" fire is not 100% reliable 100% of the time and this is especially true when the enemy seems determined to fire his weapons from the middle of populated areas.

About the only thing that partially redeems HRW is that they at least mention the Hezbollah war crimes (in the very last paragaph of the press release):

Human Rights Watch has also documented Hezbollah’s deliberate and indiscriminate firing of Katyusha rockets into civilian areas in Israel, resulting in 18 civilian deaths to date. These serious violations of international humanitarian law are also war crimes. 

31 July 2006 Blog Home : All July 2006 Posts : Permalink

De Gustibus Non Disputandum

John Scalzi has a nice balancing post about being an author, where he points to two recent reviews one positive and one not. Since I liked Old Man's War a lot I tend to go with the first reviewers but I found the second review to be more interesting because I found that I disagreeed with a very great deal of it.

I am nearly done reading "Old Man's War" by John Scalzi and am puzzled as to how it got nominated. Am I missing something? I mean aside from the obvious high regard that everyone still has for Heinlein. Is that why this is on the list?

Firstly, and this is something I have seen elsewhere, I thought the parallels with Heinlein, especially Starship Troopers, to be a pile of crud. OK so Heinlein wrote Military SF, this book is Military SF, and both have thought about the science. Now it is possible that I read rather more SF of a military bent than many people, but given the fact that the title is Old Man's War would it not be better to look at other people who have talked about old people and war. I can't think of that many books but one that did was Larry Niven's Protector (and other related tales). Of course as I recall, Niven isn't particularly humerous whereas Scalzi has moments of biting wit which caused me to laugh out loud.

Anyway the next paragraph is worse as far as I am concerned

I realize now that beginning to read this book the same day I finished "Accelerando" was certainly a mistake but it's giving me a serious case of the blahs. I don't hate it, it's not terrible or anything, I just can't find anything in it that impresses me particularly or that I haven't seen elsewhere. In fact I wondered for a bit whether Scalzi might be a non-SF author coming to the genre with a bag full of tropes he didn't know we'd seen before. To be fair it is a first novel.

I have yet to succeed in reading Accelerando. I'm converting it into a Baen/Webscription format eBook to see if I find it easier to read in that form, but so far its Accelerando that gives me the blahs whereas OMW certainly did not. I also rather disagree with the "bag full of tropes we've seen before" deal. There are very few writers who come up with something completely new these days and Scalzi had some interesting twists on the base concepts that I haven't seen before - such as the Old Man part. More importantly he told the tale well with deft touches of humour to highlight the sadder parts and a nice line in characterization.

The penultimate para is just as dissonant:

It's not the subgenre, I've read and enjoyed Elizabeth Moon's Vatta's War series and other military SF. I loved the Haldeman's Forever War and Forever Peace. And it's not like I dislike Heinlein, for that matter.

I found Haldeman to be OK and have enjoyed many Elizabeth Moon books (e.g. Paksenarrion and the Speed of Dark) but the Vatta series has left me distinctly underwhelmed. I left one of the Vatta books on an airplane and I haven't missed it. Its the sort of book that I'll probably buy second hand sometime when a bit more of the series has been written (book three just out IIRC) but if I wanted a series to describe as "I don't hate it, it's not terrible or anything, I just can't find anything in it that impresses me particularly or that I haven't seen elsewhere." it would be that not Old Man War.

Still aside from the bad Latin I can agree with the last bit:

I feel kinda bad at how underwhelmed I am. Then again, I truly hated a few of the short fiction nominees, so... "de gustibum"

Its a good and healthy thing that we like different things but it is rare that I find myself in such total disagreement with someone, especially when they also like reading SF. De Gustibus indeed

31 July 2006 Blog Home : All July 2006 Posts : Permalink


Useless fact of the day.

The above series of syallables (にわにわにわにわとりがいる in hiragana) can be written to have 92 different valid Japanese sentences. If you can read Japanese then this blog entry has them all.

On the other hand this link appears to generate images that have nothing to do with any of these 92 sentences despite having the syllable written there in hiragana.

I despise l'Escroc and Vile Pin