L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

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

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


I'm becoming more and more convinced, along with a number of other bloggers that the Qana event was, at the very least, heavily stage managed by Hezbollah.

The best evidence of prior planning is not to be found in Qana but in Beirut where, as Powerline noted, a large banner was printed up and displayed just hours after the "event". The banner's text clearly refers to the Qana deaths ("The massacre of children in Qana 2, is the gift of Rice. The clever bombs..Stupid") but the banner would have taken a day or more to produce.

Since I do banners like this for a living, I can tell you it take more than a few hours depending on the equipment. A banner that large can be done one of two ways. With a grant format printer. It would probably take about 3-4 hours to print, then hours more to sew and grommet so it could hung....The other way it to use a smaller series of machines all color calibrated and produce sections. At that point they would have to be stretch the length of the banner ( read large facility) and sewn together. ...Just putting an image together that large on a computer with Type would take a few hours. Then color tests, proofs and finally printing. That would be an all day affair for most print houses even with a grand format printer.

The Israelis have also noted some odd timing inconsistencies (via Stephen Pollard and others)

There is an unexplained gap of about seven hours between the one Israeli air strike that hit the Qana building housing the civilians, which took place around 1 A.M. Sunday, and the first report that the building had collapsed, said the chief of staff of the Israel Air Force, Brigadier General Amir Eshel. Speaking at a press conference at the Kirya military complex in Tel Aviv last night, Eshel said that of three Israeli air strikes on Qana early Sunday, only the first strike hit the building in which the civilians were staying. The other two hit areas at least 400 meters away.

"I can't say whether the house collapsed at 12 A.M. or at 8 A.M.," said Eshel. "According to foreign press reports, and this is one of the reports we are relying on, the house collapsed at 8 A.M. We do not have testimony regarding the time of the collapse. If the house collapsed at 12 A.M., it is difficult for me to believe that they waited eight hours to evacuate it."

Then there is the odd state of the building and the fact that the people in the building seem to have changed from residents to non-residents.

The roof of the building was intact. Journalist Ben Wedeman of CNN noted that there was a larger crater next to the building, but observed that the building appeared not to have collapsed as a result of the Israeli strike.

Why would the civilians who had supposedly taken shelter in the basement of the building not leave after the post-midnight attack? They just went back to sleep and had the bad luck to wait for the building to collapse in the morning?

National Public Radio's correspondent reported that residents of that building had left and the victims were non-residents who chose to shelter in the building that night. They were "too poor" to leave the down, one resident told CNN's Wedeman. Who were these people?

And then there is the question about how come the residents hadn't fled to Tyre like so many others. The road seems to have been easily passable for the hordes of journalists.

What we do know is that sometime after dawn a call went hour to journalists and rescue workers to come to the scene. And come they did, in droves.

While Hezbollah and its apologists have been claiming that civilians could not freely flee the scene due to Israeli destruction of bridges and roads, the journalists and rescue teams from nearby Tyre had no problem getting there.

Lebanese rescue teams did not start evacuating the building until the morning and only after the camera crews came. The absence of a real rescue effort was explained by saying that equipment was lacking. There were no scenes of live or injured people being extracted.

And then we come to the (gruesome) analysis of the images shown worldwide. Richard North at the EU Referendum blog has three blockbuster posts that show how the same "rescue worker" seems to be remarkably busy. Confederate Yankee points out some inconsistencies in the dead bodies, AJ Strata has a bunch of others that he links to and Dan Riehl also points to the Grauniad's photos as confirming parts of Confederate Yankee's story.

I could add the clear evidence that the building (or its adjacent car park) was clearly used for rocket launches but it hardly seems worth it.

To recap: In Qana we have a building that seems to have collapsed in a way inconsistent with bombing, at a time inconsistent with bombing, with a bunch of non-residents inside who seem to have suffered rigor mortis remarkably quickly and who are being recovered only when the MSM are present and only by one or two rescue workers. Meanwhile in Beirut some print shop pulled an all nighter and then some in the few hours of the morning to produce an enormous poster complaining about the tragedy.

To recap the recap: MSM played for suckers by Hezbollah

[Both Michelle Malkin and Dan Riehl have round up posts similar to this one]

Update: Roger L Simon links (via Ynet) to a Francophone Lebanese Christian website that claims that the event was staged deliberately to undermine peace moves by the Lebanese government

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

Proportionate Responses

Inspired by this at the NRO's media blog, I thought it might be fun to look at some (dis)proportionate responses from the religion of submission.

Honour Killings

A woman (curiously in the religion of submission men are rarely able to be dishonourable) marries, plans to marry, has sex with, or even merely looks like she might be going to have sex with, someone that her family disapproves of. The only thing to do is to kill the bitch and, if possible, her husband/boyfriend to restore family honour as slaveholding scumbags devout muslims.

Not being raped

I think this is the Farsi for catch 22. A woman defends herself against gang rape and kills one of her attackers. She is sentenced to death. Of course if she had been raped then she would have dishonoured her family and ... (see above)

Coming out of the closet

One way that a man can be dishonourable is if he admits to being a poofter. At which point the religion of submission decrees that he and his boyfriend must be killed, lest they corrupt the morals of others.

Making a movie about women under Islam

Death to the film maker. This appears to be a version of honour killing

Writing or translating a book that "insults Muhammed"

Death to the translators, many death threats from the leaders of Muslim governments to the writer.

The Satanic Verses was first published in 1988. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran's political and spiritual leader of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, ruled that the book was blasphemous against Islam and issued a fatwa, or religious edict, calling for the death of Rushdie and all those involved in the book's publication with knowledge of its content. The Japanese translation was published in 1990.

An Italian translator of the book also suffered injuries in an attack in Milan several days before Igarashi's murder. In 1993, a Norwegian publisher was shot and severely injured in an attack outside of his house in Oslo. In Turkey, 37 people died when their hotel in Sivas was burned down by Muslims protesting against Rushdie's Turkish translator.

Oh and note that one of the political leaders wishing death on Mr Rishdie is a certain Hassan Nasrallah, c/o Hezbollah, Lebanon

Drawing an (insulting) picture of Muhammed

Draw a cartoon about Muhammed and all hell breaks loose. Protests with posters like "Behead those who insult Islam", boycotts of produce from the country whence the cartoonists come from etc. etc.

Rumors that someone somewhere stuck a koran in a toilet

Riots killing 15 people who had nothing to do with the alleged incident, along with the usual "death to infidels" posters etc. etc.

Holding a beauty contest

Riots including lynching anyone who might be a christian, burning churches etc. etc. Supposed spark: a newspaper article suggested that Muhammed would have wanted to marry one of the contestants. As a result of printing such an article the newspaper's offices are burned to the ground and the (female) journalist awarded with a fatwa calling for her death.

Being the wrong sort of Muslim

Death, death or, if lucky, merely systematic persecution. Oh and, bonus, don't forget that deciding to become a non-muslim may be another reason to be killed, and definitely will be if you attempt to convert others.

Some other Arab (but not Muslim) proportionate responses.

Hama, Syria

The goverment of Syria decides to stop the Muslim Brotherhood from agitating for a revolution by killing most of the residetns of the city of Hama, at least 20,000 people were killed.

Dujail, Iraq

An assasination attempt is made against Saddam Hussein in this village. 150 villagers are killed.

When you look at it this way, the Israeli response to an unprovoked attack that killed 8 and kidnapped 2 looks remarkably proportionate and right in line with Arab and/or Muslim tradition.

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

Fisk Provides Confirmation of Qana Photo Problems

This is definitely a first, but Robert Fisk is one of the sources that can be used to help bolster us bloggers as we question the photos taken at Qana. The MSM, as noted by Richard at the EU Referendum blog, seems to prefer to concentrate merely on one of the aspects of the case - namely the timestamps:

And, while majoring on the "time stamps" (ignoring the other evidence), Greenslade (like others of this blog's critics) has not noticed that none of the agencies have declared that the "time stamps" are actually wrong... merely that time stamps in general could be misleading. Nor have any of the agencies volunteered their own time lines.

 However the timestamps were just one of the problems. One of the other problems, clearly expressed at Confederate Yankee, was to do with concrete dust - or rather the lack of such. Fisk, in an interview with the US Democracy Now channel which otherwise sounds like a Hezbollah puff piece, says:

The children were put in the truck first. Pretty grim. As I said, the children's hair, when you could see the bodies, were matted with dust and mud. And most of them appear to have been bleeding from the nose. I assume that’s because their lungs were crushed by the bomb, and therefore they naturally hemorrhaged as they died.

Other journalists such as Kevin Sites and the Grauniad ones also report the same thing. Interestingly the Grauniad piece not only includes one of the suspicious photos but it's 2nd paragraph has a number of oddities:

[...] At about one in the morning, as some of the men were making late night tea, an Israeli bomb smashed into the house. Witnesses describe two explosions a few minutes apart, with survivors desperately moving from one side of the building to the other before being hit by the second blast. By last night, more than 60 bodies had been pulled from the rubble, said Lebanese authorities, 34 of them children. There were eight known survivors.

  1. 60 bodies? death tolls reported elsewhere are 56/58 and 28
  2. The men were making late night tea? really? are you sure they weren't outside shooting off rockets?
  3. So two explosions? I thought one bomb was dropped

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

Hezbollah Bunkers

A friend of a friend got these pictures of Hezbollah's bunkers in Southern Lebanon. Click on the images to see them enlarged. The images appear to originate with the IDF but according to my translator (thanks Unicorn) the Hebrew is somewhat less that perfect, to put it mildly.
Hezbollah bunker 1
First picture: During the scans(general patrols without a specific target) performed yesterday by an elite unit in Southern Lebanon north of Aviviim against Hizbala infrastructure. In a tangled, overgrown area was[uses the plural but it's an idiotic typo in Hebrew and this thing is bad enough already] located the entrance to an underground Hizbala bunker which contained war making materials* including a recoilless gun which had been used to fire on Israel and the entrance of a tunnel which was used by the organization.
In the picture: The bunker's entrance - estimated size one meter by half a meter and it leads to a structure dug deep in the ground (over five meters according to the soldiers estimate). Photograph by IDF speaker.
*'war fighting materials' is the literal translation of the term but can mean anything from a couple of detonators or a set of maps to enough weapons to arm a company. Judging by the canon mentioned I suspect it's closer to the later then the former in this case.
Hezbollah bunker 2
Second picture: same as the first, picture: Entrance of the tunnel.
Hezbollah bunker 3
Third picture: same as the fist, picture: Entrance of the tunnel at a depth of about three meters, top which leads an Iron ladder. At the located bottom there is - according to the soldiers estimate - a change in the angle of the tunnel and there may by an underground continuation of it.
Hezbollah bunker 4
Fourth picture: same as the first, picture:The Tunnel's entrance cover - camoflauged and designed to be unnoticed in the ground (or maybe among the ground would be a more accurate translation of the phrase in context), also it under a tree.

P.S While I probably made a mistake or two in the translation or remove a mistake from the original I did my best to maintain the original quality of grammar so you can join me in guessing what whoever let this be released officially was smoking and why they couldn't find someone who could write Hebrew to write the captions for the pictures.

Back to me not my translator. I'm not clear whether these pictures were officially released or not - given the grammar I'm going to guess that they may be unofficial.

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

Zidane Fun

Zidane's umm infraction as seen in
ZZ headbut - germany
ZZ headbut - france
ZZ headbut - italy
ZZ headbut - USA
ZZ headbut - Hong Kong
Hong Kong

And thanks to Majikthise there is this - the French pop video about it:

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

Friday Olive Tree Blogging

Last weekend I went for a walk and found an extremely rare thing - a dead olive tree. It is very hard to kill a mature olive tree - although babies in their forst two or three years are somewhat simpler. Cutting it down usually results in sprouts from the stumps and the only reliable ways seem to be a few weeks of frost or an attempt at moving it which cuts up too many roots (and given the huge numbers of large olive trees in small post around the place this is not a simple or reliable method). It is possible that something will sprout up from the roots but the fact that all the branches on all the trunks seem equally dead makes me think that this one is now an ex-olive tree that won't be revived by the application of quantities of water and fertilizer.

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

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

Making a Hash of ID

Making a hash of information is in a compuer/cryptographic sense a good thing sometimes. And for things like ID cards good one-way hashing would seem to be a basic necessity. However an explanatin of that will have to await a later post becaus ein this post I want to look at the UK governments ID card program - which is making a hash of it in a negative sense.

Firstly as the Register points out (and noted by an Englishman's Castle), the government seems to have made decisions about what it wants the ID card scheme to do without bothering to see if they are feasible or affordable:

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee inquiry into the thinking behind ID Cards, published today, found the government had decided what it wanted to do before it had determined if it would even work.

"In view of the potential adverse impact on large numbers of people, it is better that the scheme is late and workable than on time but flawed," the committee report said.

It recommended that the Home Office, which introduced the scheme, "extend the procurement phase to ensure that enough time is taken to gather the necessary scientific evidence and to undertake all the appropriate trials".

As if that wasn't bad enough, the committee also suggests that different parts of the government have different ideas about ID cards and that these ideas have not been joined together in a grand unified whole.

The committee even recommended a cross-government consultation as many government bodies had varying ideas about what they wanted to do with ID Cards.

Those stories last month about how the ID card scheme was going to be an IT catastrophe look to be even more believable. Rule number one for successful IT projects is to have clear goals and deliverables set out before requesting tenders and to not change siad goals and deliverables half way through. Projects that don't do this nearly always come in very late and massively over-budget and usually have the added bonus of not solving the problem the users wanted to solve.

As the committee notes this sort of behaviour, combined with a lack of technical clue and an inability to get one from industry, has led to numerous government IT cock ups in the past:

As the Home Office was lacking inhouse expertise, it was relying on industry to plug the gaps in its knowledge, but it did not conduct adequate consultation with those it would rely on to develop the system.

This lack of inhouse knowledge has been identified before as the cause of government IT failure, the Child Support Agency debacle being a case in point. As it happens, the committee was worried that the signs showed the Home Office had not taken enough notice of the accumulated wisdom of previous IT disasters, as surmised [sic - summarised?] in numerous reports over the last decade.

It was also concerned that the committees set up to guide the ID IT plans had not been "best placed to offer expert advice" because they had few experts. The Home Office also lacked an IT chief, while there was uncertainty about who at the Home Office was in charge of the project.

So with that roasting of the current implementation plans we turn our attention to Tim Worstall's post on the political and budgetary side where he highlights an odd claim from the dear leader:

"If people want to track illegal migration and organised crime in this country, you've got to have ID cards," he said. "Any other solution simply won't work.''

This is prima facie evidence of the lack of joined up thinking complained about above. Criminals and illegal migrants are the people who will have fake or stolen ID cards so unless there is clear evidence that such fakes can be quickly and reliably identified with near zero false positives (I'd say a false positive rate of 1 in a million is the upper limit), either criminals will be using their fakes/stolen cards with impunity or we will have a lot of upset innocnts or both. So far as I can tell (and I genuinely welcome evidence to the contrary) the scheme as currently envisaged will not be able to meet this goal.

The result of this mess is that the committee is remarkably skeptical of the Home offices claims of costs (£584 million a year or £10/person/year), something that is unsurprising given that the government hasn't made all its decisions about what it wants yet:

The Commons Science and Technology Committee published a report expressing incredulity that the Home Office claimed to be able to produce firm estimates of the costs of running ID cards when fundamental technical decisions were still unclear.

The Home Office has said that running costs would be £584 million a year, whereas the London School of Economics, in a controversial report, has put the total costs of setting up and running ID cards at between £10.6 billion and £19.2 billion.

There is - BTW - one area where I feel the costs have almost certainly been understated, that is the cost for the 70 (IIRC) offices where UK residents have to go and get one of these bits of plastic. Somewhere on the No2ID site, but I can't find it now, there was an estimate of the speed at which processing of IDs has to be done which gives you some basic queueing theory. The numbers work out at needing to process on average one person every two minutes or so and that has a significant effect on the amount of office space, parking space etc etc required.

Perhaps more interesting is that each person will most likely need to take a half day off work to get their ID, at an average hourly wage of £10. With 5 million renewals a year and 4 hours (£40) lost in wages (if the employer pays the employer has wasted that amount, if the employee doesn't get paid or uses up holiday time he loses it straight) that works out at a cool £200 million per year in hidden costs. Feel free to make a more accurate calculation based on actual numbers of employed people and with a more accurate average hourly wage, but I reckon that it is about right as a back of the envelope calculation. If you add that to the fact that they have to pay for the ID card - another £40 or so per punter - and add travel costs, parking costs and other expenses such as time requried in advance to gather documents, data etc. the actual cost to each person is now in the £80-£100 range or £400-500 million per year is additional costs to the UK economy.

Even if the home office is right and it costs £584 million per year to run the scheme then the loss to the UK economy is over £1 billion a year. If the home office is wrong then the loss will be more. Have you seen any claim from the government that it will save £1 billion per year somehow? And note that if figures such as the LSE ones are accurate then the actual cost per ID card will be more like £400 than £100.

To summarise. We have an IT project which is out for tender even though the precise objectives and goals have not been specified and which is managed by a group of people who have screwed up every other major IT project they have ever tried to introduce. When it works it will cost the country £1 billion a year minimum in additional overhead. It seems like an invitation for ID theft and seems to provide very little benefit to the average UK resident.

And yet Blair and co think it's a good idea?

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

HarperCollins are Cowardly Wusses

Jeff Jarvis has a post where he praises Harper Collins for bravely copying a small part of amazon.com. The fact that Jeff (and others) are willing to praise such limited signs of adaptation to the internet age is a sing of how broken the publishing industry is. Thanks to Apple and lots of demand, the audio (and now video) publishers are relaizing that they can make decent money in online sales and many are offering entire songs for download free as a way to entice punters to buy the album (or see the band at a concert or...).

In book publishing, an area which would seem, from an external perspective, to be perfectly suited for online distribution, the number of publishers with a successful ebook business is two. Of those two one is Project Gutenburg which reissues out of copyright works and is, essentially, a charity effort. The only one to issue new works is Baen; there are no other fiction publishers with a successful eBook track record - I'm not aware of any successful non-fiction publishers either, although arguably a few of the academic and textbook publishers (PLoS MIT etc.) are sucessful with eBooks.

Eric Flint has a socking good essay in this month's Baen's Universe about Jim Baen's eBook legacy, where he makes the reasonable claim that Baen's approach to electronic publishing (cheap, non copy-protected, multiple formats) is going to turn out ot be his most important legacy. He has the facts and figures to back up this claim too and, since you have to pay to read some or all of the article (strongly recomended click on the link on the top right to sign up), I'm going to extract that bit from the essay.

Here are the facts. They are simple ones, because Jim Baen made them so:

1) All Baen titles that are produced in electronic format are made available to the public through Baen's Webscription service, cheaply and with no encryption. That policy stands in direct opposition to that of all other commercial publishers, who insist not only on encrypting their e-books but usually making them ridiculously expensive as well.

2) That policy has been maintained now for seven years, uninterrupted, since Webscriptions was launched in September of 1999. Month after month, year after year, Baen has sold e-books through Webscriptions using this simple formula: "We'll sell e-books cheaply and unencrypted."

3) Baen earns more income as a publisher and pays its authors more in the way of royalty payments from Webscriptions than any other outlet for electronic books. Typically, a popular Baen author—I'll use myself as the example—will receive royalties from electronic sales that are well into four figures. Granted, that's still a small percentage of my income as a writer, but that's a given since the electronic market is so small. The fact remains, however, that as a percentage of my income, the royalties from electronic sales of my books are higher—considerably higher—than the overall sales of all e-books represent as a percentage of the entire book market.

4) The difference between the level and amount of these royalties and those paid by other publishers, who are still addicted to DRM, is stark. Actually, "stark" is the polite way of putting it. The more accurate way of stating this reality is that the royalties paid by other publishers in the way of e-book sales are derisively low.

I will give you two examples:

In one royalty period, from a major publisher who was not Baen Books—that was Tor Books, generally considered the most important publisher in the field—David Drake once earned $36,000 in royalties for the paper edition of a popular title, Lord of the Isles. The electronic royalties from that same book, during that same period, came to $28.

That's right. Twenty-eight dollars. Less than one-tenth of one percent of his paper royalties—where a Baen title, typically, will pay electronic royalties that are somewhere in the range of five percent or more, measured against paper royalties.

Five percent is still small, of course. As I said, that simply reflects the small size of the e-book market. But five percent reflects market reality, where one-tenth of one percent reflects nothing more than the absurdity of DRM—even on the practical level of making money for publishers and authors.

The second example, from my own experience, is not quite as extreme. My novel 1812: The Rivers of War was published by Del Rey, another of the major F&SF corporate publishing houses. In the first royalty report, Del Rey reported sales of the hardcover edition at slightly over ten thousand copies with earnings for the author of $27,810.65. The electronic sales for the same edition came to one hundred and twenty copies, with earnings of $545.30.

Translating that into percentage terms, again, that means that the electronic sales were two percent of the paper sales, in terms of money, and one percent in terms of actual sales. That's quite a bit below what Baen would have sold, but it begins to approach the ballpark.

I can't prove it, because I don't have access to the detailed records, but I'm pretty sure the difference between my sales and David's were due to the fact that several years elapsed between the two books coming out, over the course of which time other publishers were influenced by Jim Baen's policies. Del Rey agreed, after I requested it, to make at least one version of the electronic edition of Rivers of War available in an unencrypted format—something which I'm sure they wouldn't have done a few years earlier. The e-book was still grossly overpriced—they charged $17.95 for it, where Baen would have charged between $2.50 and $5.00—but it wasn't encrypted.

Speaking as a reader of both Flint and Drake and lots of other SF I can relate to all of this. As you can tell if you click around links on this site, I live on the Côte d'Azur - that is the SE of France. This is, you will not be surprised to learn, a place that lacks huge numbers of bookstores offering English language F&SF, whether new or used. Hence if you want the paper version you have to go to Amazon.fr (or amazon.co.uk or amazon.com) or travel to the UK or US. Even though Amazon.fr does an excellent job of delivering English langauge books at reasonable prices, you still end up paying more than you would if you lived in the US (or UK) and the books show up later. With Baen I get the eBook earlier than anyone gets the paper version and I pay less for it ($5 usually). Not only that but although I pay less, the author, who is of the person that I wish to induce to write more, gets a greater proportion of my money than he or she would if I bought a paper copy.

This is what is known as win-win.

In fact thanks to Baen's excellent marketing tricks (putting up the first few chapters for free - far more than the amount that Harper Collins seems to be intending to make available), I frequently end up paying a lot of money for the eARC of a book - an electronic edition available (with limited proofing) months before publication at a relatively high price - $15. This gives the author even more of my money, but it is completely voluntary and consensual so that if I want to pay less I just need to curb my impatience. Compare that with the $17.95 or so that many publishers charge for eBooks that are issued only after the hardback comes out and which frequently include irritating copy protection mechnisms that stop me from moving the book from one computer to another.

It is worth comparing this with another Harper Collins program "First Look" which permits interested readers to obtain ARCs of books published by HC. At first sight this sounds like a similar idea but there are two differences you note when you read the About and FAQ pages:

Reviewers for each book are selected in random drawings. At least 25 advanced reading copies will be distributed to chosen readers along with instructions for filing the review.

Is there a fee for participating in the First Look program?


Harper Collins is giving away the books in the hope of getting a review and it is limiting the number of books sent out to 25 because they are paper. I reckon the idea is to build up buzz and momentum but I'm going to guess that the Baen approach works better. Why? because people who pay for something tend to appreciate it more. By paying $15 for an eARC, if I like it, I am more likely to rave about it to my friends to tell them how clever I was to get this book, and if I don't like it having read the first few chapters I'm unlikely to write a negative review becasue I haven't bought it. Not only does Baen get money for the ARCs it also gets greater publicity because rather than 25 random fans it gets many (I'm guessing dozens to hundreds depending on the author) of readers who can write reviews and spread the buzz, almost all of whom will be positively recommending the book.

It isn't as if there is not a demand for eBooks, there is, the problem is the demand is only there at the right price. Consider the evidence above - David Drake's Baen published works give him thousands of dollars of royalties from electronic sales. The books are, however priced at $5 or so each upon publication. His Tor books only approach that price when they have been issued in paperback form and the new ones go on sale at prices above $20 (see this fictionwise page). Something tells me that Mr Drake still earns $28/book from Tor in eBook royalties while earning $2800/book (or more) from Baen. This despite Baen charging less for the product and not having any copy protection.

Some other pieces of anecdotal evidence - unlike books from other publushers it is comparatively difficult to get illegitimate versions of Baen ebooks. Why? because the majority of pirate sites simply refer the seeker to one of the places such as the Baen free library where many Baen books are available for free or to Webscriptions where they can be bought cheaply. The "pirates" seen no point in pirating something that only costs $5 and is readily available. There is simply no challenge to it and no real point. On the other hand pirating a book laden with DRM retailing for $25 (or even with no electronic version such as Harry Potter), is both a challenge and in monetary terms five times as much point.

$5 is the cost of a beer or a fast food meal so if it takes you more than a few minutes to find and download an illegitimate copy of a Baen book then you have wasted that time merely to obtain save yourself the cost of one beer at your fevourite watering hole. $25 on the other hand is the cost of an evening out and is effectively an insult because it is the cost of the hard cover book at full retail and offers you none of the benefits of the hardcover but rather, thanks to DRM, makes it harder to read. I have had some success with reading DRM crippled books but it hasn't been a pleasant experience on the whole, and I have in fact taken every single DRM crippled book I have bought (all 3 - compared to well over 100 Baen books) and converted them to a non DRM version - usually also turning them into easy to read HTML at the same time.

I don't know if eBook sales would harm traditional book sales - although Baen's experience presents evidnce that it doesn't - but I can't see why any sane publisher would mind if it did. At $5/book Baen can afford to pay $1 in royalty, $1 in internet/server costs and still keep $3 for the publishers other costs and profit. Once you strip out the far greater costs of printing and of distribution of a traditional hardback (or paperback), not to mention marketing costs etc., I find it hard to believe that the average paper book gives its publisher more of a return, and heck you know I bet there's sufficient price elasticity that $6 or even €6 ($7.70) would still work, and if the $5 plus of publisher income per copy sold at $7.50 isn't more than he gets from selling a hardback at $25 I'd be extremely surprised.

PS Additional related thoughts at publisher Eoin Purcell's blog, especially here.

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

UN Resolution - DOA.

To the sound of much rejoicing from the chattering classes, the US and France have sorted out their differences and come up with a draft UNSC resolution on Lebanon. Greg at the Belgravia Despatch has the text and I am fairly confident that Hezbollah is not going to agree to any part of it, hence the resolution will demonstrate just how powerless the UN is to stop terrorist entities.

Why do I think it is dead? because the resolution calls for the implenation of previous UN resolutions about the disarming of Hezbollah and there is no way that Hezbolah can accept this withot it being clear that it has lost. This sort of a loss tends to result in the death by lead poisoning of the leadership.

Hezbollah's resistance to this wonderful resolution, assuming that the rest of the world governments (excluding Hezbollah supporters) and some of the Lebanese government come out in support of it - I expect the PM Siniora to huff and puff but eventually come around to agreement and I would not be surprised if senior Christian and Druze leaders do too - should also make it clear that Hezbollah is the problem. I doubt that some of the more loony of the liberal elites in the West will ever admit it but I do expect that the more sane majority will eventually come to this conclusion.

Quite what will happen next is unclear but I suspect that Hezbollah is going to find that the MSM will no longer be quite so happy to paint Hezbollah as the plucky resistance and may well start reporting on the stage management of Hezbollah's press trips. Much depands on Iran but if Iran's leadership continues its raving in speeches supporting Hezbollah then, just possibly, the West will recognize that Israel is not in fact the bad guy in this conflict. And on that note I hope later today to upload a lot of pictures of hezbollah rocket damage in Haifa that I have received.

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

Mel "Pisshead" Gibson

I'm not going to comment much on this. To be honest I don't know whether I've seen a film that Mel Gibson has been in - I know I haven't seen either Braveheart or his Christ movie but I think I probably saw one of the others. Certainly if he were to share a flight with me down to Nice on his way to St Tropez or Monaco I doubt I'd know him from Adam.

But the world seems fascinated by whether he hates Jews or not. So far stick me in the unconvinced camp. There is no doubt that his father is as anti-semitic as it comes. The question is whether it is "like father, like son" or not. I think it is more likely that he just let the booze speak and regurgitate the sorts of things he was taught as a kid rather than "in vino veritas" but the only person who really knows which is the truth is Mel. Until he shows some non alcohol induced evidence I'll give hei a pass for that.

What I don't give him a pass for is getting caught for DUI and then losing it. This is not classy behaviour and makes it clear to me that whether or not he is an anti-semite he can't hold his drink. Look I know many people who have been done for DUI - its never happened to me, but it could have a couple of times - and the basic rule is shut up and take it like a man. No whinging. No swearing. Just shut up, do the test stuff and call your lawyer. If you can't follow these basic rules then you deserve everything coming your way because you are clearly a pisshead who doesn't recognise how impaired you are when drunk and I never want to share a road (or any other public space for that matter) with you because I simply can't tell when you are going to be in control and when not. Not to mention that if you have as much money as Mel why the fuck are you driving yourself anyway?

The guy's a pisshead, he needs to be dried out and then to stay that way. Otherwise, anti-semite or not, he'll most likely kill or seriously injure himself or some innocent who happens to be near him when he's drunk.

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

War in Haifa powerpoint shows

Disclaimer: Just in case it isn't blindingly obvious when you download them - these are not my work and I got them from a person who appears to be the creator by email.

It is possible that these are fakes but I judge that unlikely since they resemble some of the other images of Haifa that we have seen. Mind you we haven't seen many photos of Haifa for some reason. I reckon there are a couple of reasons
  1. Little or no blood, gore or other nastiness
  2. Its just another terrorist outrage (as opposed to a military strike)
  3. (and the BBC special) its just those scummy joos so who cares?
Anyway I hope to extract the images and make them available but this is taking up valuable drinking time so it isn't happening yet and hence I figure I might as well get the powerpoint presentations up for general use.

Share & Enjoy (and many thanks to Lenny M for taking the photos and creating the shows)
  1. War in Haifa 1
  2. War in Haifa 2 (missing)
  3. War in Haifa 3
  4. War in Haifa 4
  5. War in Haifa 5
  6. War in Haifa 6
Technical notes. Powerpoint viewer here if you don't have another way to view the shows. If bandwidth demands kill this server I'll move them or make them available as bittorrents. If things are really slow that probably means I haven't done that yet and they are really popular - sorry.

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

MSM sacrifices itself for Hezbollah

The more I look at the ongoing embarassment which is the MSM coverage of the conflict in Lebanon the more I think that Hezbollah must have converted the MSM to the idea od martyrdom for cause. There really doesn't seem to be any other reason why the MSM is so slavishly willing to follow Hezbollah's censorship and stage management and not report it. Indeed, as Richard North says, sometimes it seems like they prefer to lie for Hezbollah than admit the possibility of error. That post particularly lays in to AP for its denial of the staging of Qana, something rather underct by the video from the German NDR, but this is just one example.

Take (and throw with extreme vigour into the nearest litter bin) the NY Slimes and its hagiographical coverage (H/T Hotair)of Hezbollah and the ICRC. Interestingly enough I can believe that the IDF will use this article as evidence for the defense for any and all claims of war crimes based on the IDF bombing ICRC stuff because it clearly explains that the ICRC in southern Lebanon is actively assisting Hezbollah.

To go back to Qana briefly, defenders of the MSM have generally put up either lame defenses or created strawmen arguments which they then destroy. The favourite strawman seems to be that the blogosphere thinks the entire Qana event was faked. This is the sort of wilful misinterpretation of the main blogospheric focus that fails to convince the impartial. Not one blogger thinks the event was a complete fake. There is a possibility that the building collapsed hours after the IDF bombed nearby and there is the belief that possibly some of the corpses removed from the site were brought to it from Tyre already dead but should either of these possibilities turn out to be false it fails to affect the key thrust of the argument. That is that Hezbollah stage managed the excavation of the building and seems to be undeniable simply by looking at the feeding frenzy of press photogrsphs taken there. The fact that many of them show the same corpse being held by different rescuers at different times and with different poses makes this either the most incompetant recovery of dead bodies ever or an attempt to milk a tragedy as much as possible.

The problem is that Qana is not an isolated incident of Hezbollah stage management. At NRO's the corner, CNN's Anderson Cooper explains how his trip around S Beirut was carefully stage managed and guided with plenty of photo ops of ambulances and so on. Even the BBC mentions briefly that Hezbollah would only let it film certaint things in Tyre and so on. I don't have a problem with stage management or censorship per se, Hezbollah is fighting a propaganda war, I have a problem with an MSM that fails to clearly mention that it is depicting stage-managed or censored events and which fails to critically examine the output of the stage managed events.

This isn't to say that all of the MSM is equally bad, for example Jules Crittenden at the Boston Herald explains why the picture editors have accepted the dodgy photos documented all over the place, but overall the war coverage has been poor to terrible. Worse for the MSM is that the blogosphere is able to identify just how poor it is and provide better, more balanced and far more informative coverage. The result of this is that trust in the MSM, already low, is plummeting. Even worse the way the rebuttals are spreading, via youtube videos and the like, are precisely the way that the younger generation prefers.

The MSM usually claims that it is better than the blogosphere because it can filter and detect fraud. The Lebanon conflict shows that claim to be a flat out lie. The MSM may possibly speak truth to power but it seems keen to speak falsehood to the rest of us and to support the terrorists. I assume MSM support of the terrorists is based on the idea that idividual journalists may die or lose acces to "scoops" unless they uncriticall regurgitate terrorist propaganda, whereas they see no downside to criticising Israel or the USA becuase these countries have a tradition of press freedom. Unfortunately that analysis seems to be at the usual level of MSM strategic thought - poor. In the short term they are correct. In the long term they are as wrong as it is possible to be. Aside from state supported outlets such as the BBC the MSM depends on advertising revenue to survive and that revenue is roughly proportional to the audience size. If the MSM are shown to be puppets and liars then they will lose audience (which they are) and hence lose money. Eventually they will be out of a job. And even the BBC will feel the chill wind of financial cuts if it loses credibility - there is no reason to assume that the next UK government will not force the BBC to wean itself from the license fee and even less reason to assume that once weaned it will not see a drastic downsizing.

Meryl Yourish thinks this means that the terrorists are winning the propaganda war, to me it seems more likely that they are helping the MSM destroy itself. It really seems to me that Lebanon is going to be the place where the MSM collectively martyred itself, fighting for the cause of an Iranian backed terror group that seeks the utter destruction of Israel and the imposition of Sharia law and press censorship that would be antithetical to the MSM itself.

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

Friday Olive Tree Blogging

Just as a follow on from last week, this is an example of how resilient olive trees are. The dead branches are a former olive tree, the bush beneath is it regrowing from the roots. There were a lot of these dead trees surrounded by new growth so I assume that a few years ago there was either a major frost (or fire?) that managed to kill the exposed trees.

The photo was taken above Rousillon in the Arrière Pays behind Nice where there were whole terraces of such trees. I find it incredible that these hills were once cultivated to such an extent. As always click on the image to enlarge and do look at the rest of the series if you missed it.

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

The Coming Pogroms

You can worry about backlashes, worry about radicalization because of discrimmination and do other sorts of hand-wringing but the fact remains that the overwhelmin majority of terrorist outrages around the world are caused by Muslims and the groups which have the greatest problems assimilating into the western world are Muslim. From big things, such as the lists of terror suspects and honour killings, to little things, such as supporting the Pakistani cricket team when playing in England, the evidence is there. The question is what to do.

Obviously not all Muslim immigrants are terrorists or even disloyal - the BBC sport link above is about the abuse that Sajid Mahmood got playing for England against Pakistan - and in some ways the "cricket test" which that incident reminds me of is unfair, because mild support for one's country of origin is not a bad thing. But disclaimers aside, if Muslims wish to avoid discrimmination and suspicion then they have to root out the evil in their communities and religion. If they don't do it themselves there will be others who do it for them and by not being part of the community they will tend to work on the "overkill is safer than leaving some behind" school of thought and kill quite a few who don't deserve it. There is, IMO, a window of opportunity now for the Muslim immigrants to the west to get their house in order. As the Torygraph leader today explains this is not something that lends itself to top down governmental edict, but something that the immigrants have to do themselves. It is also something that these immigrants need support from the government and rest of society to do, and that means less confusion over who is the victim and who is the criminal and other similar politically correct BS.

I expect that in the Anglosphere - even in craven Londonistan - the clean up will occur over the next few years because even despite ZANU labour's attempts to turn the UK into another European state the core of the anglosphere is self reliance and responsibility for oneself and ones own. I fear very much that it will not occur in France, Belgium, Sweden and other European countries for a while if ever, mostly because everyone is trained from an early age to look to the government to provide solutions. As has become apparent though the European governments prefer to sweep the problems under the carpet and that will, I fear, lead to a really unpleasant explosion at some point in the future. Blogs such as Gates of Vienna have reported the drastic rise of crime in the high unemployment immigrant areas of cities such as Malmö, at some point I expect the immigrant gangs to step too far and reap the consequences.

Consider this scenario. Some immigrant gang of youths gang rape a group of Swedish girls in a public square. The police fail to come to the rescue despite one of the rape victims calling on her phone and maybe even taking pictures using the camera phone. Some of the gang members also use their camera phones to take pictures and these images get sent around the internet. There will probably be a fight, followed by a riot, as a large number of young Swedish males decide that they should take the law into their own hands. The police may possibly quell the first night's riot but cell-phone and IM chats, as well as police sympathy for the Swedish rioters, means that on the second day the police are unable to keep the rioters out from the immigrant suburbs. The rioters then set petrol stations alight and generally start burning the place while preventing the fire brigade from responding. They also prevent anyone from leaving. Somehow a gas main is cracked at the base of one of the blocks of flats. The cellars and lower floors of the building fill with gas before some idiot decides to light a cigarette. The resulting fuel air bomb destroys the entire block and most of its neighbours killing or seriously wounding thousands.

Copycat riots occur in Göteborg, Oslo and other scandinavian cities. Then the neo-nazi Germans decide to burn out the Turks. Then they spread to the banlieues of France and to Brussels, Antwerp, Rotterdam and so on. Total death toll in the millions.


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

Good Muslim News

Why is this not getting a higher level of coverage? From the WaPo:

It all began with a tip: In the aftermath of the July 7, 2005, suicide bombings on London's transit system, British authorities received a call from a worried member of the Muslim community, reporting general suspicions about an acquaintance.

Can't see this reported on the BBC, which instead is doing the "backlash" thing. Seems to me that it would be bloody obvious that the best way to prevent a backlash would be to trumpet news like this.

13 August 2006 Blog Home : All August 2006 Posts : Permalink

Ashi - RIP

I am sad to have to report the death of a hero. A man who died on a mission to protect others from unprovoked assault and who died, in part, because the IDF does not seek indiscriminate revenge on those who attack it or shelter the attackers.
Sgt.-Maj.(res.) Asher 'Ashi' Reuven NovikThe Hezbollah bunker photos I displayed on my blog were taken by the unit containing Sgt.-Maj.(res.) Asher Reuven Novik, known to his friends as Ashi. Ashi died on August 9th, one of nine paratroopers that were killed (and 11 wounded) by anti-tank missiles fired on a house in the village of Debel. Ashi was the company first sergeant, was from Kanaf, aged 36 and leaves behind a widow and two children.

His funeral is today - Sunday August 13.

I never met Ashi, but he was the best friend of Dror, an Israeli gentleman that I have enjoyed the company of and he deserves more mention than a name on a list of the dead., if nothing else to commemorate the bravery of these reservists who are fighting in Lebanon. Dror writes in his email:
Believe me. He was superman

But what can he do, when a Sagger from 2.5 KM blust into the building
they were.
All armor start exploding and then a second one makes the building
My condolences to the family of Ashi and to Dror and his other friends. 

13 August 2006 Blog Home : All August 2006 Posts : Permalink

War Reporting Done Right

Michael Totten has photos of the results of Hezbollah's indiscriminate rocket fire and an excellent article about what he saw at Israel-Lebanon border. Go read it and while you are there drop a little into his tip jar.

There are many many good things to read, but I particularly like this bit:

Everyone in the world knew Nasrallah would declare victory no matter what if he was not in a cage and if he still had a pulse. The Arab bar for military victory is set pathetically low. All you have to do is survive. You “win” even if your country is torn to pieces. The very idea of a Pyrrhic victory doesn’t occur to people who start unwinnable wars with the state of Israel.

“Look at Nasrallah today,” Michael said. “In 2000 he did his victory dance in Bint Jbail. He can’t do that this time. His command and control south of Beirut is completely gone. We killed 550 Hezbollah fighters south of the Litani out of an active force of 1250. Nasrallah claimed South Lebanon would be the graveyard of the IDF. But we only lost one tenth of one percent of our soldiers in South Lebanon. The only thing that went according to his plan was their ability to keep firing rockets. If he has enough victories like this one, he’s dead.”

Apart from anything else this is one of the few places where I have seen a number put on the number of Hezbollah fighters dead. Given that the Israelis are sure to have missed those that have been killed by bomb strikes around the place (and which get counted as "civilian"), I think it is likely that Hezbollah have lost in total in the order of 1000 trained fighters - as opposed to reservists. This is a significant hit.

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

Ceasefire Duration

Anyone want to take bets on how long the ceasefire lasts in Southern Lebanon. I reckon on less than a week and I may be optimistic but I'll hedge my bets slightly and say that it will occur on or by August 22. The problem is that Hezbollah seems to have already denied that it would disarm and remove itself from Southern Lebanon and, therefore, the question is not whether they begin shooting thangs at IDF soldiers or Israel but when. According to the Jerusalem Post, it seems that the Israeli giovernment shares my scepticism about Hezbollah being able to keep the ceasefire:

Israel intends to abide by the cease-fire when it takes effect on Monday morning, even though senior Israeli officials assume that Hizbullah will not honor it, officials close to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Sunday night.

The officials said the working assumption at the Prime Minister's Office was that Hizbullah would not honor the agreement and that the world would then comprehend Israel's predicament more than ever. At press time, the Lebanese cabinet had not given final approval to the cease-fire.

"When Hizbullah violates the cease-fire, the world will see who the aggressor is and will understand us," a source close to Olmert said.

I do believe that Hezbollah's breaking the ceasefire is going to be a big miscalculation on their behalf because, despite the BBC and other Hezbollah fans in the MSM, it is going to be clear that they will be the party that is in violation and which is striking first. It could well be that what happens is that they try to resupply some of their bunkers and the resupply convoy from Syria is caught by the IDF, or it could just be that some hot heads don't get the message properly. Or, just possibly, they decide that just the presence of the IDF in Lebanon is sufficient provocation when they are still there in a couple of days.

This breaking of the ceasefire will not just be a miscalculation of greater strategy but also a tactical miscalculation. This is because while the IDF remains in Lebanon it will be updating its maps and intelligence and detecting more and more of Hezbollah's infrastructure for destruction once the ceasefire is broken and Hezbollah attempts to reuse them. I would guess that a number of Hezollah bunkers are still occupied by fighters who are now rather hungry, the cease fire is going to look like a good time to leave them to get supplies and I'd be surprised if the IDF drones don't detect some of these departures. If I were an IDF general I'd also be booby-trapping or otherwise making unusable the bunkers and other infrastructure that has already been found and leaving nice notes informing the world of this fact. I don't know how successful this would be but I would imagine that it could be very useful as a way to hinder a Hezbollah return and to provoke Hezbollah to reopen hostilities.

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

Dehydrated Passengers

The Inquirer noted this amusing abuse of English by BAA.

Due to the heightened security at UK airports, additional security restrictions are in place at all BAA UK airports which will continue to have an impact on our airports' operations. In brief: Hand baggage restrictions are in place; Passengers will be handsearched; Footwear and all items (including pushchairs and walking aids) must be x-ray screened; Liquids will be removed from the passenger.

I've heard of becoming dehydrated during a flight but this is the first time I've seen it occur before the flight. I can see some advantages: less weight so less fuel consumption; less movement by passengers, in particular no need for toilets and no need to serve meals, again cutting wight and possibly staffing levels. However I can forsee some objections from people who don't like the idea of being dessicated and who wonder whether "just adding water" at the other end will be enough.

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

Fisking al-Fisk

Thanks to Scott of the Daily Ablution, who wades through this stuff day after day, we have a masterpiece of leftist thought from the gentleman who has given us a verb - Mr Fisk. Scott gives the piece a vigorous going over but I feel there is still more moonbattery worthy of public ridicule so I propose to fisk Mr Fisk.

If You Want the Roots of Terror, Try Here

Robert Fisk

The Indepedent
August 12, 2006

I would love to have the Met in Beirut to counter terror in my part of the world

It is good to know from the title that the root of all terrorism is Beirut. I imagine that most sane people stopped reading at approximately this point since, unless Mr Fisk is demonstrating in some hitherto unknown penchant for self-deprecating satire, this title suggests that the article will contain one duckbilled platitude and hoary cliche after another.

When my electricity returned at around 3am yesterday, I turned on the BBC World Service television. There were a series of powerful explosions which shook the house - just as they vibrated across all of Beirut - as the latest Israeli air raids blasted over the city. And then up came the World Service headline: "Terror Plot". Terror what, I asked myself? And there was my favorite cop, Paul Stephenson, explaining how my favorite police force - the ones who bravely executed an innocent young Brazilian on the Tube, taking 30 seconds to fire six bullets into him - had saved the lives of hundreds of innocent civilians from suicide bombers on airliners.

The sneering disrespect for the police inherent in this paragraph makes me feel that his "I would love" in article header is indeed sarcastic. It would seem that for Mr Fisk if a police force ever makes any mistake ever then henceforth anything it does is be examined for malicious motives. Now I like to start off agreeing with my fiskee, to lull them into a false sense of security as it were, and I have to say that I am almost as unimpresed with the Met's handling of the De Menezes shooting as Mr Fisk, but that is about as far as my agreement goes. I find myself looking at the chain of logic in Mr Fisk's claim and I find it wanting. Jst because one part of the Met turned out to have excreble judgement and an inability to coordinate does not mean that the entire organization is broken. It would be like saying that just because one journalist in unable to make a logical argument, none of them can.

I'm sure Independent readers will join me in watching how many of the suspects - or "British-born Muslims" as the BBC defined them in its special form of "soft" racism (they are surely Muslim Britons or British Muslims, are they not?) - are still in custody in a couple of weeks' time.

Ooh another point of agreement. I thought "British-born Muslims" to be a bit odd too. But then I wonder whether Mr Fisk really wants to encourage the Met to keep people in custody after they are determiend not to have evidence linking them to crimes. It seems to me that Mr Fisk is claiming that this is precisly what they should do in order to lessen criticism, a point where he seems to be in agreement with Blair, Reid and past home secretaries who want the power to keep mistakes swept under the carpet for 90 days.

And I'm sure it's quite by chance that the lads in blue chose yesterday - with anger at Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara's shameful failure over Lebanon at its peak - to save the world. After all, it's scarcely three years since the other great Terror Plot had British armoured vehicles surrounding Heathrow on the very day - again quite by chance, of course - that hundreds of thousands of Britons were demonstrating against Lord Blair's intended invasion of Iraq.

Of course in the US the assumption is that the story broke when it did to bury the story of the Connecticut senatorial primary. Well surely it can't be both can it? Two different bits of bad news to be swept under the same carpet? Those neocons and their Zionist sponsors are so devious.

So I sat on the carpet in my living room and watched all these heavily armed chaps at Heathrow protecting the British people from annihilation and then on came President George Bush to tell us that we were all fighting "Islamic fascism". There were more thumps in the darkness across Beirut where an awful lot of people are suffering from terror - although I can assure George W that while the pilots of the aircraft dropping bombs across the city in which I have lived for 30 years may or may not be fascists, they are definitely not Islamic.

Why not sit on a chair? Does the Independant not pay you enough to afford basic furniture from Ikea or it's Lebanese equivalent? Perhaps President Bush is wrong, but I think that Hezbollah counts as an Islamic Fascist organization. Somehow Mr Fisk seems unwilling to note all the ways that his neighbours in Beirut appear to be both deeply Islamic and extremely fascist. Just a quick list of signs:
On the other hand the people dropping the bombs on Beirut are not only not Islamic as Fisk notes but also citizens of a democracy with freedome of the press, a flourishing private sector and a complete lack goose-stepping saluting military shouting out slogans in support of their leader.

And there, of course, was the same old problem. To protect the British people - and the American people - from "Islamic terror", we must have lots and lots of heavily armed policemen and soldiers and plainclothes police and endless departments of anti-terrorism, homeland security and other more sordid folk like the American torturers - some of them sadistic women - at Abu Ghraib and Baghram and Guantanamo. Yet the only way to protect ourselves from the real violence which may - and probably will - be visited upon us, is to deal, morally, with courage and with justice, with the tragedy of Lebanon and "Palestine" and Iraq and Afghanistan. And this we will not do.

Again I am shocked to say that I agree. We do indeed need to "deal morally, with courage and with justice, with the tragedy of Lebanon and "Palestine" and Iraq and Afghanistan. And this we will not do." But the reason why we don't do it is because of people like Mr Fisk who seem to have never considered that a group of people who can't fight  conventional war successfully and seem to think that blowing themselves up instead is somehow praiseworthy. Courage and justice would seem to indicate that at this point the Arab/Muslim world gets a warning that the originators and promotors of their nihilistic philosphy will be executed anytime we locate them unless they do it themselves. And that sharia law is to be reinterpreted in ways that make it less of a threat to anyone not a devout muslim male.

I would, frankly, love to have Paul Stephenson out in Beirut to counter a little terror in my part of the world - Hizbollah terror and Israeli terror. But this, of course, is something that Paul and his lads don't have the spittle for. It's one thing to sound off about the alleged iniquities of alleged suspects of an alleged plot to create alleged terror - quite another to deal with the causes of that terror and to do so in the face of great danger.

It seems a little tough to expect the Met to deal with an armed militia like Hezbollah which has more missiles than the met has police officers (and, if you insist on it, even harder for them to deal with an army such as Israel's with tanks, planes, artillery etc.). Oh and the "alleged" plots; I know that Blair has been doing his best to remove basic English rights but even after all these years we have a presumption of innocence and don't convict people of such crimes except by a jury in a court of law, hence until a jury of their peers has found them guilty they remain merely "alleged". In Lebanon this is probably not the case because Fascist regimes tend to like show trials and the like, not to mention a corrupt judiciary which takes hints from the supreme ruler about verdicts.

I was amused to see that Bush - just before my electricity was cut off again - still mendaciously tells us that the "terrorists" hate us because of "our freedoms". Not because we support the Israelis who have massacred refugee columns, fired into Red Cross ambulances and slaughtered more than 1,000 Lebanese civilians - here indeed are crimes for Paul Stephenson to investigate - but because they hate our "freedoms".

I think it is clear that Bush is more right that Fisk. The statements of Nasrallah, Osama bin Laden and so on clearly indicate that the find our "freedoms" and lack of Islamic piety to be the root cause of their terrorism. Curiously their statements frequently fail to mention particular Israeli atrocities but instead talk about destroying all jews everywhere and complan about the immorality of the west, denounce the idea of freedom of choice, demand the return to Islam of Spain and so on.

And I notice with despair that our journalists again suck on the hind tit of authority, quoting endless (and anonymous) "security sources" without once challenging their information or the timing of Paul's "terror plot" discoveries or the nature of the details - somehow, "fizzy drinks bottles" doesn't quite work for me - nor the reasons why, if this whole panjandrum is correct, anyone would want to carry out such atrocities. We are told that the arrested men are Muslims. Now isn't that interesting? Muslims. This means that many of them - or their families - originally come from south-west Asia and the Middle East, from the area that encompasses Afghanistan, Iraq, "Palestine" and Lebanon.

Well actually they mostly seem to originate from Pakistan, particulalry from Kashmir, with a few converts. Oddly enough Britain has not invaded Pakistan for over 100 years.

In the old days, chaps like Paul used to pull out a map when faced with folk of different origins or religion or indeed different names. Indeed, if Paul Stephenson takes a school atlas, he'll notice that there are an awful lot of violent problems and injustice and suffering and - a speciality, it seems, of the Metropolitan Police - of death in the area from which the families of these "Muslims" come.

So he will. Very astute of you to notice Mr Fisk. A good detective would perhaps note that, with the notable exception of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, just about every single would be suicide terrorist is a Muslim, that most of the worlds guerrillas and insurgents are Muslim and that just about every western Muslim terrorist or terrorist inciter has generally come from a comparatively well off nackground and has usually been involved in drugs and other excesses before finding Allah. Curiously the youths from similar backgrounds who find Jesus do not exhibit such destructive tendencies

Could there be a connection, I wonder? Dare we look for a motive for the crime, or rather the "alleged crime"? The Met used to be pretty good at looking for motives. But not, of course, in the "war on terror", where - if he really searched for real motives - my favourite policeman would swiftly be back on the beat as Constable Paul Stephenson.

So he would. This would be because mentioning such politically incorrect facts such as those I have above, would get him hauled up before some anti-racist disciplinary committee before he could finish his sentence.

Take yesterday morning. On day 31of the Israeli version of the "war on terror" - a conflict to which Paul and the lads in blue apparently subscribe by proxy - an Israeli aircraft blew up the only remaining bridge to the Syrian frontier in northern Lebanon, in the mountainous and beautiful Akka district above the Mediterranean. With their usual sensitivity, the pilots who bombed the bridge - no terrorists they, mark you - chose to destroy the bridge when ordinary cars were crossing. So they massacred the 12 civilians who happened to be on the bridge. In the real world, we call that a war crime. Indeed, it's a crime worthy of the attention of Paul and his lads. But alas, Stephenson's job is to frighten the British people, not to stop the crimes that are the real reason for the British to be frightened.

Curiously there is no mention of the totally indiscriminate Hezbollah bombardment of N Israel. Unlike Hezbollah, who count it lucky if their rocket hits Israel, the Israelis are able to aim very accurately. If the people on the bridge were indeed civilians then their deaths are regrettable, unfortunately though Hezbollah seems unwilling to mark its vehicles in a distinctive manner which makes it hard for the Israelis to tell whether they are attacking a Hezbollah vehicle or not. Of course such concealment is in fact a war crime because it leads to precisely the result that Fisk is complaining about. So yes a war crime occured but Israel was not the criminal. On the other hand, unlike the UN, the Met's remit does not in fact run to global war crimes so asking the Met to investigate the war is a bit rich. What the Met is expected to do is stop British residents from killing, injuring or otherwise harming other British residents. Since the link between events in Lebanon and those in Britain is rather tenuous - assuming the Met & co are correct, this plot was hatched a year or more ago when the major evet in Lebanon was the death of Rafik Harriri in what was probably a Syrian inspired bomb.

Personally, I'm all for arresting criminals, be they of the "Islamic fascist" variety or the Bin Laden variety or the Israeli variety - their warriors of the air really should be arrested next time they drop into Heathrow - or the American variety (Abu Ghraib cum laude) and indeed of the kind that blow out the brains of Tube train passengers. But I don't think Paul Stephenson is. I think he huffs and he puffs but I do not think he stands for law and order. He works for the Ministry of Fear which, by its very nature, is not interested in motives or injustice. And I have to say, watching his performance before the next power cut last night, I thought he was doing a pretty good job for his masters.

Funnily enough, except in fairly rare circumstances, the British police are not expected to arrest people who have not committed a crime in the UK unless there is some sort of international arrest warrent and an extradition treaty. If the UK and other nations were allowed to arrest anyone they felt like then a large number of diplomats and government ministers would be in the poky. Again there are times when I have a certain sympathy with Mr Fisk, I'd like to see any number of mass murdering dictators and the like arrested as they show up to international conferences, the UN, holidays on the Riviera and so on. Unfortunately arresting these people and then putting them in front of a firing squad would probably not solve much, neither would killing Mr Fisk, although I don't see that he adds any value to the debate on appropriate middle east policies. The fact that we don't arrest and execute people with whom we disagree is, in fact, a sign of Western liberal democracy and differs from Middle Eastern dictatorship. I fear that Mr Fisk needs to return to the UK for a bit so that he can relearn the difference.

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

Commie Arselikhan Trudeau

In the anals[sic :)] of brown-nosing, hagiogrpahy, apologia for dictators and sucking up to tyrants, this piece will surely win an award [Thanks to Harry's Place for the link]. If I ever had any positive feelings about Pierre Trudeau they just disappeared. His son Alexandre Trudeau - the author of this bilge - has clearly been brainwashed from an early age and lives in a world that is rather different from that of the rest of mankind. I find it hard to believe that this is not a spoof because it has such a 1984 / N Korean "Dear Leader" feel to it. A few quotes but really it pays to read the whole thing.

Firstly on Fidel the intellectual giant and superman:

His intellect is one of the most broad and complete that can be found. He is an expert on genetics, on automobile combustion engines, on stock markets. On everything.

Combined with a Herculean physique and extraordinary personal courage, this monumental intellect makes Fidel the giant that he is.

He is something of a superman. My father once told us how he had expressed to Fidel his desire to do some diving in Cuba. Fidel took him to the most enchanting spot on the island and set him up with equipment and a tank. He stood back as my father geared up and began to dive alone.

When my father had reached a depth of around 60 feet, he realized that Fidel was down there with him, that he had descended without a tank and that there he was with a knife in hand prying sea urchins off the ocean floor, grinning.

Then there is the ever so slightly muted criticism:

Cubans remain very proud of Castro, even those who don't share his vision. They know that, among the world's many peoples, they have the most audacious and brilliant of leaders. They respect his intellectual machismo and rigour.

But Castro's leadership can be something of a burden, too. They do occasionally complain, often as an adolescent might complain about a too strict and demanding father. The Jefe (chief) sees all and knows all, they might say. In particular, young Cubans have told me that an outsider cannot ever really imagine what it is like to live in such a hermetic society, where everyone has an assigned spot and is watched and judged carefully. You can never really learn on your own, they might say. The Jefe always knows what is best for you. It can be suffocating, they say.

I met a young man in the small provincial town of Remedios who worked there as a cigar roller. We shared a great love for the works of Dostoyevsky. When I expressed to him my excitement at meeting a fellow aficionado of Russian literature, he flatly told me: "Yes, Fidel has taught me to read and to think, but look what work he sets me out to do with this education: I roll cigars!"

Cuba under Castro is a remarkably literate and healthy country, but it is undeniably poor.

But fortunately all this is because of ... guess who?

Historians will note, however, that never in modern times has a small, peaceful country been more subjected to unfair and malicious treatment by a superpower than Cuba has by the United States.

From the very start, the United States never gave Castro's Cuba a choice. Either Castro had to submit himself and his people to America's will or he had to hold his ground against them.

Which is what he did, in the process drawing the Cuban people into this taxing dialectic that continues to this day. Cubans pay the price and may occasionally complain of their fate, but they rarely blame Castro. The United States never fails to make the Cuban people well aware of its spite for this small neighbouring country that dares to be independent.

If Cuba and Catro can excite such raptures I wonder what Alexandre would write if someone were to let him visit that other worker's paradise - North Korea? We know that he finds much to love in Soviet Russia and he manages to find quite astounding interviewees - such as the leader of the National Bolshevik Party, Victor Anpilov, who manages to blame Beslan on free market capitalism:

When I ask Anpilov about it, he says with his usual sense of formality, "Beslan proves what I have been arguing for years: the free-market economy is forcing us to behave like animals to each other."

One might assume that this is merely the journalist quoting the man to make it clear that he is an idiot, but possibly not since he ends that article with a truly bizarre interview with Gorbachev:

Knowing my time is limited, I get straight to the point: "Is there a future for socialism in Russia?" He looks at me as if I am out of my head. Then I quickly remember that socialism is what the Soviets called Marxism, even Stalinism, and add, "I mean socialism as we understand it in Canada or Sweden."

Yes, Sacha it seems still hankers after the cold war and communism.

17 August 2006 Blog Home : All August 2006 Posts : Permalink

Enforcing Immigration Law

Showing the contempt for the concept of the law that seems to be typical of the media, I discovered this story in the Yahoo/Reuters odd news section. The story doesn't seem to me to be the usual odd news though, it seems to be rather more important in that it is about the attempts by the town of Hazleton to enforce laws against illegal immigrants and how the civil rights brigade are suing to stop them:

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Civil rights campaigners sued the Pennsylvania town of Hazleton on Tuesday, seeking to block one of America's toughest local laws against illegal immigrants.

The suit says Hazelton's City Council violated the U.S. constitution when it passed a law denying business permits to companies that hire illegal aliens and fining landlords who rent homes to them.

The ACLU and friends make a couple of claims that seem to me to be destined to be proven incorrect and thus lead them to lose:

They accuse Hazleton of overstepping its authority on the federal matter of immigration and say the law discriminates against immigrants.

"This mean-spirited law is wrong for many reasons but the most obvious is that the city does not have the power to make its own immigration laws," Omar Jadwat, an attorney for the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, said in a statement.

Firstly the law does not, as described, discriminate against all immigrants, merely those that are here illegally. Those that are legal residents in posession of a genuine visa/green card etc. would seem to have no problem. Those that are here illegally are well "illegal" and how can I put it, the point of laws is that they are to be obeyed. If laws are being disobeyed then the city sure has the right to attempt sanctions on those that disobey them. This also means that the city is not in fact creating its own immigration laws - it is not attempting to limit immigration beyond that of the federal immigration agencies, if the feds say some one is a lawful resident the city agrees.

I certainly cannot imagine the current US supreme court, if not lower courts, agreeing with the ACLU challenge unless there is something more to it than this as all the city doing is requiring businesses and landlords within the city to obey the law - something that they are implicitly required to do anyway.

17 August 2006 Blog Home : All August 2006 Posts : Permalink

Of Racist Questions and Sexual Harassment

Over on Baen's Bar there has been an interesting thread about Racism. A barfly asked whether he was being racist in asking whether someone was African or African American since he had apparently been accused of racism for merely asking that question.

In a similar note there is the recent brouhaha about a Cambridge professor. Politically I suspect that I disagree with practically everything that Prof Mary Beard believes, yet I think that Stephan Pollard (and others) are going a little too far when they say she is hankering after sexual harassment in the classroom. I believe that as an academic, and a classicist to boot, she uses words correctly but does not imply anything beyond what she says. What she wrote was:

Any academic woman older than her mid forties is likely to have an ambivalent reaction to this. On the one hand, it is impossible not to feel sisterly outrage at what would now be deemed a straightforward case of persistent sexual harassment and the abuse of (male) power. On the other hand, it is also hard to repress certain wistful nostalgia for that academic era before about 1980 when the erotic dimension of pedagogy -which had flourished, after all, since Plato -was firmly stamped out.

The howls of outrage from elderly female dons and other feminists about this admission seems, to me, to indicate that they protest rather too vigorously. If you read the entire article this outrage seems rather ironic when her main point becomes clear - she thinks that if a professor is such a persistent sexual harasser then this should actually be noted in biographies of him. The throwaway line about nostalgia quoted above is making a point about how laws about discrimination and harassment have removed the possibility of mutually consensual student-teacher sex as well because no one dares to flirt lest their flirtation be misconstrued for harassment.

This is precisely the same issue that the Baen's Bar question is bringing up. Outright racism and sexism is clearly bad. But the legally imposed solution, by attempting to make us all interchangeable robots, removes the human interest that makes life worth living. Humans are not interchangeable robots, we have curiousity and attraction and feelings and it ought to be acceptable to express them so long as we do not attempt to impose them on others against their will. The same path is, I fear, being trodden down by all the laws against paedophilia where as a result anyone who admits to enjoying the company of children (other than their own) is automatically suspected of being a kiddie fiddler, as is anyone who happens to have a picture of a (semi) naked child on their computer no matter what reason.

Because of all of these laws, which are made for undeniably worthy causes, otherwise innocent behaviour is criminalized because some criminals exhibit this behaviour. It is precisely the same attitude that leads to bans on firearms or knives and so on. The presumption of innocence is replaced with a presumption of guilt that you then have to explicitly disprove and, as everyone knows, proving a negative is a lot harder to do than the reverse.

17 August 2006 Blog Home : All August 2006 Posts : Permalink

The Lefty Lexicon

Much excitement is occuring in the UK blogosphere thanks to a gentleman called Inigo Wilson who published something of this name on a Conservative Party blog. Thanks to the MPACUK, a group which never fails to demonstrate its intolerance, Inigo has been suspended from his job (amidst much rejoicing in some quarters) and I fear that his lexicon may be removed. So I have copied it and added to it at my new Lefty Lexicon page.

If anyone ever wanted examples of humourless lefties and intolerant islamists then this would be it. As far as I can tell the definitions that caused the greatest offence were:
In other news Project Gutenberg has the Devil's Dictionary available, whence the following definition:

18 August 2006 Blog Home : All August 2006 Posts : Permalink

Friday Olive Tree Blogging

One of the things I love about olive trees is how they catch the light and the shade and the way their leaves seem to change colour in differen light. There are some earlier ones in this olive tree blogging series that make the point quite well. This one is merely our garden after an August afternoon thunderstorm a couple of weeks ago.

As always click on the image to see it enlarged and do go visit the rest of the series.

18 August 2006 Blog Home : All August 2006 Posts : Permalink

More Lefty Lexicon

The good news is that according to the comments to the previous blog post, and also I think seen on some other comment page (samizdata?) the sound chaps (and chapesses) at Conservative Home are "never going to take it down or amend it". Unlike certain UK newspapers and other similar invertebrates it seems Tory bloggers see no reason to be intimidated and this is most definitely a good thing - I hope they manage to introduce a similar amount of intestinal fortitude into the shadow cabinet. However I do think it could be worthwhile adding so, since the Conservtive Home version will remain pristine, I shall maintain my Lefty Lexicon page and periodically add to it as I have just today with entries for "Multilateral" and "Wind Power".

Also in the comments, Leon (from Pickled Politics I believe), produced a link to an update post whence one learns that the definition that caused most distress was:

Consultation - a formal system for ignoring public views while patronising them at the same time. London’s Congestion Charge for instance.

Since the author works in the community outreach part of Orange whohc does hold consultations it seems that his employers felt that this showed a certain lack of tact vis a vis his real job - a Ratners moment if you like. Unfortunately unless Orange does in fact hold this view, in which case it is indeed a Ratners moment, those who think that are clearly not capable of logical thought. They don't understand that this is a Lefty lexicon - that is a definition of terms used by lefties and for the most part ('islamophobe' perhaps not) what lefties think they mean. Since Inigo Wilson is not a lefty, and (for that matter) not in government, the fact that he thinks lefties think that way does not mean that he things that way. I will probably modify my copy of the lexicon to make clear whether the definitions are the lefty view of what they mean or their actual meaning.

Finally, and I suspect why a lot of chattering class folks are upset about it, there is Nigel Sedgwick's point that despite claims of "extremism", "racism" etc. the Lefty Lexicon is actually representative of a significant chunk of British public opinion. If it were really the rantings of the BNP or related factions then it probably wouldn't have garnered so much attention; the fact is that it probably represents the views of many in those parts of England that voted Tory, that is to say something like 40% of the electorate and this worries the lefties because such ridicule is likely to appeal to other parts of the electorate as well.

18 August 2006 Blog Home : All August 2006 Posts : Permalink

7 years ago

La Shawn has an interesting question. What were you doing 7 years ago?

7 years ago I was about to quit the US after 6 years of residence there. We were just putting the house on the market (probably the best investment I ever made - though the house we bought here in France may have equalled it), hence seven years ago we were making sure all the inspections were good, the house clean etc. etc. Meanwhile I was discovering the joys of VW's lease program which wanted me to pay off the remaing 18+ months on my year and a bit old new Beetle and we were also seeking to dispose of a lot of other furniture, cookware and electricals that weren't going to travel to France.

Meanwhile my stock portfolio was looking like a dream being invested in companies such as Cisco, Nortel, JDS Uniphase and other constructors of the Internet superhighway. I was putting together the draft outline for a book (er Tom are we ever going to finish writing it?) and things were all in all looking wonderful. I knew very little about the Taliban or other sorts of militant Islam and I cared less, the EU seemed like a mostly benign thing and Tony Blair's new labour really did seem to have junked the tax and spend into ruin parts of traditional labour policy and "cool Britannia" seemed pretty neat, although the millenium dome was clearly dumb. Baen was just about surfacing in my consciousness as an excellent SF publisher but I wasn't paying attention to its electronic publishing efforts and the blogosphere was nowhere.

18 August 2006 Blog Home : All August 2006 Posts : Permalink

USS Robert A. Heinlein

Instructions from Arnold Bailey at Baen's Bar

The US Navy is looking for a name for its new Zumwalt class destroyer.

They don't have RAH's name listed. Since he graduated from the Naval academy (class of '29) and since his 100th birthday is coming up it would be nice for the Navy to honor him.

If you go to this link http://www.usszumwalt.com/mos/ and look at the right hand side of the page you will find a list of names. You can click "none of the above" and then click submit your choice. Write in USS Robert A. Heinlein and click vote. It's very simple and a wonderful way to honor a very great man.

[When I clicked on other the write in was an email - but I'm sure that works too]

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

The Barfly Baking Brigade

Over at Baen's Bar a group of dedicated people have decided to help the troops in the best way possible, sending them stuff to eat and other stuff to read. Since I think this is a jolly good idea that deserves wider publicity I'm posting info here at my blog. This isn't, of course, the only such scheme but I think it sounds better than some.


There are three different types of people needed:
  1. Military personnel (Barflies or not, American or not--from WHEREVER in the Free World you hail), who want/need/are willing to receive home-baked goodies and/or other "stuff" (like, hopefully, Baen Books!!) In order to send packages to military personnel stationed in theater, *most* militaries require an actual name of an actual person, so we need volunteers to be funnels (and you get first dibbs on whatever arrives, don't forget that!!) If you own a digital camera and your locale has net.access, we'd *definitely* like to see some pictures of you and your buds stuffing your faces with the sweets and reading the great Baen Books we hope to put into your hands. We have an associated Flickr group and all you need to access it is a Yahoo! ID (which you already have if you've joined this Yahoo! group - duh) See the group's home page or messages area for more info and a click-through link.
  2. Barflies or other folks who happen upon this group who are into baking and want to support soldiers everywhere in the world where these brave men and women sacrifice a part of their lives to support the Free World for the rest of us. If they can give up a piece of their lives, what's a couple of hours to bake and send a package, really?? :) The Barfly Baking Brigade does not fund this effort so if you cannot afford to spend the money making stuff, buying books and shipping stuff, consider trying to hook up with a patron--someone who can't/doesn't bake but is just a-waiting to help (see 3 below)
  3. Sponsors. Financially-solvent Barflies or other folks who happen upon this group who want to support the soldiers helping to keep the Free World free, but who are either disinclined or entirely unqualified to bake something and send it. You can "serve" in two ways: (a) sponsor one of the Bakers (see 2 above) or (b) just go out and buy Baen Books at your local bookstore and ship them off to one of the Soldiers (see 1 above). If you want to sponsor one of the Bakers, the two of you can hook up offline and deal with money transfers directly.
The Barfly Baking Brigade DOES have a volunteer to "funnel" funds through PayPal if this helps you out, but the Brigade does NOT have a fund of money from which to pay for every package that goes out. We are a "non-existent" group--that is, there's no formal organization or structure here. We're just trying to hook up "those in need" and "those who want to give." Some of our Bakers need sponsorship. Pair up with one (or more) today.


You'll need a Yahoo! ID - you can make your email "private" on Yahoo! and if you're a soldier, you probably want to do this before you join anything, including us (hint hint). Once you're signed into Yahoo! go to


And identify yourself as either "Soldier", "Baker" or "Sponsor" in the form there. The group is "moderated" which means you won't get to join "instantly" but this also means we won't get a bunchaton of SPAM and a-holes "joining" us. It's just too much hassle to be worth their while. Your join request should be approved in 24-36 hrs. If it's not, send an email to with "BARFLY BAKING BRIGADE HELP" (all caps, just like that) in the subject line. That mailbox gets*hundreds* of SPAM messages a day so if you don't put exactly those words, that way into the subject line, no guarantees your note'll be seen by a human, let alone me! Try again using copy/paste - althooooooo, by the time you do that, your join request will probably have already been approved ;) Hey, you were amused while you were waiting so all's good.


All three types of people should enter themselves into the database (yeah, Do It Yourself Group Management here!) http://groups.yahoo.com/group/barflybakingbrigade/database/

Identify which of the 3 categories you fall into (pick your primary type of participation but feel free to sponsor others even if you are in category 1 or 2 yourself!)

NOTE TO SOLDIERS: if you cannot (for security reasons) provide an email address here, please note that you can post to the list for contacts. Yahoo! does allow you to join the group but also keep your email address private (not available even to other group members).

BAKERS and SPONSORS please be sure to include an email address, so YOU can be contacted offlist (by a Soldier or each other). The Yahoo! group's files and database are private to our MEMBERS ONLY so no one's going to harvest your email address randomly (e.g., SPAM) if you enter it here.

After you've entered as much data about yourself into the group's database as you feel comfortable sharing, post an introductory message to the group itself by sending an email to:

Use a subject line like "Intro: new Baker" or "Intro: new Soldier" or "Intro: new Sponsor" and just let the rest of the group know you exist and what name you used to enter yourself into the database - interested parties can go look you up themselves, so you don't have to say a lot in your intro note unless you left most of your database entry blank.


While the group is first forming up, contacts are going to be slow-going. The idea is to see an Intro post on the list and contact that person offline if you're interested in sending to or sponsoring them. For example:
If you're a Baker and see a soldier to whom you want to send stuff, contact him/her by email directly (offlist) and arrange to make a delivery. You might want to ask if they have a preference but really, just about anything will be appreciated if it's home-baked with TLC - be sure to include a note inside the package, too, if you can!) You don't have to say anything about yourself, but it sure does make life more comfortable if they have a clue who's sending stuff--for security reasons if nothing else, a personal familiarity helps dissuade concerns.
If you're not a Barfly--or if the Soldier to whom you're sending is not a Barfly--you are a total stranger and therefore, sadly, a security risk. Try to strike up some common ground before you go sending off a package of who-knows-what from who-knows-where. This is the world we live in--and why the Soldiers are where they are in the first place! Try not to forget that; they can't, 24/7.
Bakers or book-senders: you will find tips and tricks for preparing, packing and shipping your baked goods in the FAQ files stored in the Files area: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/barflybakingbrigade/files/
If you're a Soldier in need, we do already have a couple of Bakers on hand who may not have entered themselves into the database yet, so be sure you post an Intro note to the group and someone will contact you.
If you're a Sponsor, or want to be, please check the database for a Baker to help. Not all Bakers need sponsorship, but those who do, will indicate it in their database entry. Just email them directly (offlist) and arrange a method of payment that is mutually convenient. If one of you has PayPal but the other doesn't, we do have a volunteer to "launder" your money through. Just post to the list asking for that person to contact you (offlist). If you don't see any Bakers in the database who need sponsorship, please feel free to go out and buy Baen Books--or buy them online direct from Baen:

While Baen Books does not *OFFICIALLY* sponsor the Barfly Baking Brigade's efforts, many of its authors are, in fact, strong supporters of the military community worldwide. If you order books directly from Baen, please do make a note (or send a separate, followup message) that you are doing so on behalf of the Barfly Baking Brigade and it's possible the Soldier may find a surprise in his/her package--or you might get a surprise yourself! But no promises, no guarantees. we cannot speak for Baen. We just know they have been known to do some amazing things when NOT asked but given half a chance.

While you can choose to send ANY Baen Books you like or think are good reading, some of the more popular selections are Posleen Universe or Bolo books (see series list in the Baen Catalog for a full set of titles), or just about anything by the following authors: John Ringo, Michael Z. Williamson , David Weber, Dave Drake, Julie Cochrane, Tom Kratman, and others (ask the Soldier directly if they have some specific favorites). Also, Baen is the home to Lois McMaster Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan series, one of the best "space opera" series ever written (winner of more Hugo and Nebula awards than any other space opera series!) You can't go wrong to include at least one "Miles Vorkosigan Adventure" (and there are a LOT to choose from in this series!)


Post to the list - ask for help figuring out what to do or how to do it and we'll see if we can't get you straightened out.

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

Top Universities Speak English

The Marmot's Hole has a link to newsweek's recent ranking of the world's universities. The Marmot points out that there are no Korean universities there, which is true, but I think more than that what should be clear is the overwhelming dominance of certain countries and one language as can be seen from my summary table below:
Number in Top 100
Number in Top 20
Highest Ranked








Hong Kong










Obvviously the US leads with 44 of the top 100 and 15 of the top 20, but the UK is clearly in second place with 14 of the top 100 and 2 of the top 20. Not only that the top English university (Cambridge) is ranked 6th, with the next country's top university (Japan) coming in at 16.

The top four nations are all English speaking (even though Canada is bilingual, all the universities listed including McGill University are English speaking) and account for 70 of the top 100 and 19 of the top 20. If you include the former English colonies of Singapore and Hong Kong then 75 of the top 100 are "Anglosphere".

Conspicuous by their absence are (in no particular order) non Anglospheric Asian nations apart from Japan, Spanish speaking countries, slavic nations, the Muslim world and Africa. Even within continental Europe there are interesting trends, with two smaller nations punching far above their weight - Switzerland and Holland.

I am somewhat sceptical of the methodology since I would have expected some Chinese and Indian universities somewhere as well as perhaps a Finnish University (HUT) and a couple of Russian ones, but I don't think anyone would argue with the general conclusions.

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

Sunday Amusements

Firstly, I looked at my blog just now and it showed me some great google ads...
Google Ads for this site
Must be a sign of my balanced viewpoints or something.

Secondly I get zillions of spam emails but recently a few have had intriguing headlines
I think there ought to be a story there somewhere. Or at least an opening sentence worthy of the Dark & Stormy night contest.

On the reviewing stand the witch began to eulogise the railway as the tenth propeller was brought out and fitted to the longheaded drive: "I come not to cancel the train nor to criticise it..." when she was interrupted by some impudent vegetarians protesting about compulsory duck circumscision that was allegedly required due to the underwater vigilante prowling in the pond where they swam.

Thirdly - in the adjacent post about Universities - it occurs to me that I should modifiy the country list. All the UK universities turn out to be in England, leaving the celtic fringe with about as many top universities as Belgium - yes its a little childish but ...

21 August 2006 Blog Home : All August 2006 Posts : Permalink

And they're off...

The majority of the French pols returned from their hols over the weekend and the presidential hopefuls launched their campaigns in earnest. Ségolène Royal - definitely the best looking candidate in a bikini - also turned up at the top of the opinion polls. Not only does she beat all the other socialist hopefuls, something she has been doing for a while now, she is also ahead of her right-wing rival Nicolas Sarkozy. Sego has also been claiming the mantle of "heir to Mitterand", which is not, personally, a mantle that I think she ought to be claiming. Mitterand was a Nazi collaborator, a corrupt president and an extravagent builder of architectural follies and it is hard for me to see why she would want to identify herself with such a dinosaur of the traditional French political establishment.

According to the Wapping Liar (story also receiving coverage in the French press), while Sego and non-hubby François Hollande (or is it Françoise Holland?), were sunning themselves on the Côte d'Azur, some people were ransacking their home. Nothing seems to have been stolen leading to the suspicion that some part of France's secret service and/or her political rivals were behind the event. Sego very carefully did not blame Sarko for the incident - but one gets the feeling that this was in a sort of damning with faint praise - and certainly some of Sarko's supporters rushed to his defense in a way which one suspects Sarko might have wished they did not (good summary article - machine translation).

Sarko meanwhile was getting the fireman vote by attending the funeral of 3 fireman killed recently in the Var in an accident related to fighting a forest fire. To be fair, Sarko has been a very conscientous minister of the interior and did much the same to some others killed last year so this isn't special election year posing. Of course his current boss, l'Escroc, also showed up a couple of days ago too at the same fire station, in the hope perhaps of distracting attention from his Lebanese adventures.

Actually on that note, I suspect that l'Escroc's lebanese adventure is going to be a total disaster for him and may end up torpedoing the right in next year's election. He thought he could somehow do better that the damnyankees but I'm fairly sure he's going to end up getting a large number of UN troops to show up just in time to be live spectators of the second half of the Hezboillah-Israel war. One suspects that the French military agrees with my position and hence why they have only agreed to send 200 troops and 10 officers. As this disaster unfolds expect Sarko to disassociate himself from the government and concentrate on a zillion and one photo-opspolicies on immigrattion, crime etc.

We can also expect the Clearstream affair to rear its head again, and if Sarko does things well, he will tie that into the Sego "intrusion" event and find a convenient rogue intelligence agent (or agency) that he can publically chastise/arrest for both. Thereby proving that he is
  1. pure as driven snow
  2. impartially investigating all crimes
  3. competant
Personally I reckon 3 is completely correct. 1 and 2 are only true up to a point.

Anyway we have some 8 months of fun, fun, fun until the election and the race has only just begun so there is plenty of time for me to see if I can become the Murray Walker of the French political scene.

21 August 2006 Blog Home : All August 2006 Posts : Permalink

Evil Price Gougers Harm Solar Power

Well not really, but the Inquirer reports that prices of solar cells are rising by up to 5%. This is due to shortages of polycrystalline silicon, the critical raw material:

According to the wire, prices of polycrystalline silicon have jumped by between 30 to 40 per cent in 2006 for two years in a row.

The shortage has been promptd by increased demand for PV cells - global production rose by 45 per cent in 2005

Obviously this is a plot by Bush, the Saudi government and the CEOs of BP, Exxon Mobil etc. to keep us using oil. The good news is that this plot is unlikely to succeed because price spikes caused by increases in demand tend to lead to increases in supply and, since the suppliers are the same sorts of people that supply silicon chips and other things that drop in price most of the time, it seems likely that a glut of polycrystalline silicon will show up in a year or two.

Of course the other reason why supplies of polycrystalline silicon are low is probably because of people like me buying cheap solar powered LED lights such as the one illustrated. DIY shops such as Castorama and Leroy Merlin have been offering these things for the last couple of summers and everyone seems to be buying them. They provide a nice bit of illumination for driveways and garden paths and are both idiot proof and sufficiently cheap that if they don't quite work you bin them and buy some others.

21 August 2006 Blog Home : All August 2006 Posts : Permalink

The language as she is spoke in Portugal?

The Register points to an amusing Google Ireland job opening. As the reg notes one amusing detail is the lingusitic requirement:

Speaks and writes Belgian and English fluently and idiomatically.

And that seems to go along with the title of job - "Inside Sales Senior Representative, Belgian - EU Headquarters" - obviously if you are to be a sales rep for the Belgian territory you need to speak Belgian. And thus, while us Europeans know that there ain't no such thing as the Belgian language since you have a choice of Flemish, Walloon French or German, this is the sort of unsurprising mistake that anyone could make by cutting and pasting a job post from one European country to another.

But then you get to the really weird bit. What is the role/job of our Inside Sales Senior Representative, Belgian - EU Headquarters?

The objective of this role is to sell Google products (primarily AdWords) to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Portugal.

Right... I can just see those SMEs in Portugal responding positively to Mr Google as he calls them in Flemish, Walloon French or German.

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

Verizon DSL - Passing on costs and Net Neutrality

There are, I believe, some good reasons why, in theory, Net Neutrality should be opposed and a number of bad reasons to support it. The former include the idea that a company should have the freedom to do what it wants with its property and offer whatever service it feels like. The problem is that these theoretical good reasons for opposing mandated Net Neutrality tend to get undermined by the acts of the weasels who stand to benefit from NN - the inumbent operators.

A case in point is Verizon DSL, which Business Week/AP reports is planning to introduce a surcharge to its subscribers bills which "coincidentally" almost completely replaces a soon to be phased out FCC charge.

AUG. 21 5:51 P.M. ET Verizon Communications Inc. is imposing a new surcharge on high-speed Internet service just as customers were set to receive lower bills thanks to a decision last year to deregulate the service.

The surcharge will initially be $1.20 a month for customers with service up to 768 kilobits per second and $2.70 per month for customers with faster DSL service, according to the company.

The fee comes as a government fee on DSL customers for the Universal Service Fund is being phased out. For customers with service up to 768 kpbs, the fee was $1.25 a month, and for customers with service of up to 3 Mbps, the fee was $2.83 a month, according to Verizon. Customers will no longer pay such charges effective Aug. 14, New York-based Verizon said.

The Verizon spokesweasel claims that this is due to "new costs that we've developed over the past year as we've been developing and delivering this standalone DSL service." but the timing of this discovery of new costs seems awfully suspicious. It seems to me, as an independant unbiased and unaffected third party, that a couple of good names for this surcharge would be "chutzpah" or "monopolist". The latter because the reason why Verizon is able to get away with this surcharge is that it faces little or no competition for residential broadband.

Verizon is the same company that Jeff Chester reports is plugging an optimized game network:

“The service is optimized for the Verizon fiber-optic broadband network, and runs fastest when players have subscribed with Verizon

Which brings me back to Net Neutrality. If residential customers had access to a number of broadband suppliers then net neutrality would have no purpose because one could shop around for the combination of features/price/performance that met one's needs and wallet. So that people who liked gaming could sign up to Verizon and get good gaming performance while those of us who wanted to do something else could sign up elsewhere. Unfortunately the reality is that most residential consumers have a choce of at most two broadband operators: their incumbent telco and their incumbent cableco, and these operators tend to offer a remarkably similar price for service.

Public Knowledge takes a look at the current "competitive" broadband climate. The piece points to a new study by Kagan research that suggests the existing duopoly system has allowed incumbent providers to avoid significant price-reductions (other than introductory offers) and other adaptation you'd see in a truly competitive environment. "Though the battle for broadband access subscribers is intense, there’s no screaming price war between cable TV and telcos, and Kagan Research doesn’t expect one in the foreseeable future," the report proclaims. It notes the average price for cable modem service was $39.45 per month, and $35.38 for DSL.

In these circumstances Mike Godwin's Taxi metaphor is not inappropriate. Mike unfortunately specifically mentioned the highly regulated NYC taxi model and thus got dinged, but the fact remains that in most of the world, taxi prices are regulated and that people prefer that. Here on the Côte d'Azur, for example, the Nice taxi drivers have an appaling reputation for "accidentally" switching off the meter and ripping off the punter and the unlicensed London mincabs have also suffered from accusations of price gouging. The core reason why taxis are regulated is much the same as why the net is regulated: the consumer is unable to make an informed choice much of the time. In the Taxi case, where the majority of users are not locals, it would be extremely difficult if not impossible for a would-be taxi user to research which taxi he or she wants for a particular journey and thus all the claims that prices would automatically fall are less than convincing [note that not all taxi regulation is good. the NYC case is not good basically because there is an artificially limited supply of taxis]. In the net neutrality case the problem is more to do with the cost of laying cables, it doesn't make sense for a house to have multiple separate copper / fiber lines and only use one of them.

This, BTW is why I disagree with some of Richard Bennett's criticism of Jeff Chester's Nation article. Jeff approving cites the idea of Robert Cringely/Bob Frankston that consumers should be able to own their own last mile. Bennett seems to think that the proposal is that the government should own the last mile, it is possible that Chester thinks this is the case but Cringely certainly does not.

The obvious answer is for regular folks like you and me to own our own last mile Internet connection. This idea, which Frankston supports, is well presented by Bill St. Arnaud in a presentation you'll find among this week's links. (Bill is senior director of advanced networks with CANARIE, which is responsible for the coordination and implementation of Canada's next generation optical Internet initiative.) The idea is simple: run Fiber To The Home (FTTH) and pay for it as a community of customers -- a cooperative. The cost per fiber drop, according to Bill's estimate, is $1,000-$1,500 if 40 percent of homes participate. Using the higher $1,500 figure, the cost to finance the system over 10 years at today's prime rate would be $17.42 per month.

What we'd get for our $17.42 per month is a gigabit-capable circuit with no bits inside - just a really fast connection to some local point of presence where you could connect to ANY ISP wanting to operate in your city.

This is a classic case of a libertarian small government approach and it ought to make sense to "conservatives" who are also believers in small government. No one is forced to pay for a service they don't want - it is a communtiy effort driven by the members of the community that want it, but its cost goes down per user if more users sign up so there is an incentive for neighbourhoods to sign up en masse. And there is, in fact, no reason why fiber should be used everywhere. In neighbourhoods where there is sparse demand the few users could form a cooperative to deploy a WiMAX base station or some other technology.

If you wish to oppose Net Neutrality then you also need to oppose the current incumbent monopolists becuase, as I said last time I visited this subject, the incumbents are the best argument for it.

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

Japan's Personalized Postage Stamps

My wife blogged about a recent announcement by Japan Post (sorry both links in Japanese and google's translation is odd). The idea is that you fill in a form and submit a suitable image or series of images and they then turn it into standard rate postage stamps and send you ten of them on a decorative sheet. The cost is ¥1200 for the 10 stamps which have a face value of ¥80 each so you are paying 50% more for the privilege of personalizing them. I believe you can order a lot of sheets if you want and if you order over 1000 then you can also customize the decorative sheet too and have ten different images in the sheet (such as in this image below)
The image “http://www.japanpost.jp/pressrelease/japanese/image/yubin/060821j20107.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

This sounds like a truly excellent idea and I wonder whether any other post offices around the world are going to do the same thing. I can see this being a winner for all sorts of announcements as well being a great advertising gimmick.

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

Criticising Your Religion

The gentlemen at Powerline have an excellent link to an Opinion Journal article about Islam and its inability to laugh at itself. I note this more in passing because I really want to talk about a  Townhall.com article about evolution which is irritatingly both right and wrong. But the two are possibly more related than you might think. Ann Coulter's book Godless makes the excellent point that many "secular" people act remarkably like devout believers when it comes to the roots of their "unfaith" and certainly many of them seem to exhibit the same "sense of humour failure" that Muslims do. Case in point the "Lefty Lexicon" which managed to insult both and, as a result, got panned equally by both.

On the other hand those who are secure in their religious faith tend not to have a problem laughing at its foibles or at the antics of coreligionists. I have head jokes about Buddhists and reincarnation from Buddhist monks, Jewish jokes from rabbis, Christian jokes (including scurrilous ones about God, St Peter and the pearly gates) from priests of various denominations and so on.

The radically secular evolution believers are unfortunately not usually so good at this although I can sometimes see why becuase there is only a limit to how many times you can try to explain something to someone whose mind is apparently closed. Patterico has a nice post about the OJ Jury where he makes that point:

The bottom line is this: people who don’t want to be convinced of something cannot be convinced.

Of course this bites both ways. Neither the evolution deniers nor the fundamentalist evolutionists are willing to be convinced, but although I don't have much time for Jack Kemp (the townhall writer) in his denial of evolution, I think I might get a better resposne from him if I made a good argument than I would from his opponents. Certainly I would expect him to treat my reasoning with respect and be presented with what he believes to be a logical refutation and I see a lot of the "fundamentalist evolutionists" playing the man not the ball as it were in their responses by criticising the brains or education of those they disagree with.

In an internet connected world you have no excuse to do this. It is OK (and in my next post I expect to demonstrate it) to say that X is a crank, fool, liar or whatever so long as you present evidence, ideally with hyperlinks that help the curious read up further, to buttress your case. It is not OK to say X is a crank, fool, liar and therefore to be ignored without that backup. However this sort of thing, and the related argument of "X is not expert in the field (unlike Y who happens to agree with me)", is used by lefty defenders of orthodoxy from feminist studies to climatology. Good examples include the attacks on Bjorn Lomborg, the Skeptical Environmentalist, and other climate change skeptics but can also be seen in the defenses of the UN, the EU and other transnational institutions. The reason article about Lomborg explains neatly why I think that people who rush to "defend" science do the subject of their defense no good:

The subhead of the review section, "Science defends itself against The Skeptical Environmentalist," gives the show away: Religious and political views need to defend themselves against criticism, but science is supposed to be a process for determining the facts.

Much the same applies to the outrage over Lawrence Summers' comments about male and female mental capabilities where the shouting down of Summers proved to many that feminists are indeed hysterical harpies. The only good response was the debate between Pinker and Spelke which covered the current state of knowledge and, I think, came back with the verdict of "Not Proven" although my reading of the literature inidcate that Summers and Pinker are more likely right.

If the liberal mainsteam wishes to defend itself against its "conservative" attackers it needs to have a better argument that "because" or "saying that is racist/sexist/discriminatory".

23 August 2006 Blog Home : All August 2006 Posts : Permalink

Evolution - Belief, Fact or what?

The statement that Cobb County, GA wanted to put on its books "Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things" is, IMO 100% correct. Evolution is a scientific theory or hypothesis and, as such, can never be proven but only disproven. However, so far, despite the efforts of the various sceptics, evolution is adopted by most scientists because it makes predictions that are testable and which, to date, have proven to be correct. Unfortunately, though, some of what it predicts has to do with the distant past and how life originated on this planet and that is where many people consider that it conflicts with their religious belief. This is also where other people accept claims about primordial evolution which border on a sort of secular religion because the fact is that we are highly unlikely to ever find proof.

What I Believe About Evolution

However, having said that, I think that it is probably true that life on earth started some 3.5-4 billion years ago and that evolution from those primitive forms of 3+ billion years ago resulted in us and all the plants and anaimals around us. I can't prove it. It is possible that God created the world in 4004 BC in a form where it looked like it had been going on for billions of years and it is possible that God created life 4 billion years ago and then interfered at various points on the path or that he simply interfered once in the beginning to get things started or... Without a time machine we will never know. Heck for all I know solipsism is correct, the world was created in 1968 when I was born and everyone else is a figment of the imagination.

So is there a God/Creator?

I reckon that Ockham's Razor implies highly limited or no intervention from a Creator but my main reason for believing that is that if not then why would God not apparently be interfering on a daly basis today? However, given what we know of quantum mechnanics and random chance, it is entirely possible that God is indeed doing this but doing it at the quantum level where we can't tell. Stick me down in the agnostic - atheist category. If God exists and intervenes, he interferes in a way which we can't tell from non-intervention.

Why do I believe evolution to be correct?

Firstly the core concept of evolution, as in survival of the fittest, is not purely a biological idea. The basic rule of economics is "Incentives Matter" and the reason for that is that humans adapt to incentives to maximise their best return from them, which is basic evolution in a non-biological setting. If you think that survival of the fittest is a lie and that things do what they will regardless of incentives then you might as well stop here. On the other hand most people who disagree with such economic theories inconsistently believe devoutly in biological evolution so we'll merely note this inconsistency in their beliefs and move on.

Secondly very few people disagree with the science of genetics, DNA and so on. Since genetics and DNA are the mechnisms that explain how we grow and how mutations and adaptations can spread this might seem to be a bit sweeping but it seems to be the case. I believe this to be because it is demonstrably working in that we can identify (for example) genetic diseases such as sickle cell anaemia and see how they come about in the population and why (malaria resistance in this case if you have one copy of the gene, anaemia if you have two). A brief note: many people wonder why diseases like sickle cell anaemia would remain in the population, the answer is quite simple. Typically they cause a long term problem but solve a shorter term one. In other words the kill you later after you have had time to reproduce whereas not having this long term disease would lay you open to some short term threat that would kill you before you have time to reproduce. It is well worth recalling that "wild" humans tend not to live much beyond 30 even after you remove the infant mortality so a progressive disease that kills you when you are 40 but protects you when you are 20 is a net gain.

Thirdly it should be noted than many evolution sceptics do accept that in-species evolution is a fact. This is because it has been observed in practise - penicillin resistance in bacteria for example and of course Darwin's famous finches. The problem is that the deniers fail to see how this can have applied to the past to such an extent that we see the enormous variety in life today.

I don't claim to have all the answers but I do believe that the fossil record and experiments with "primordial soups" make many of the steps plausible. Take, for example, the vertebrate evolution of legs from fins. Thanks to fossils like Tiktaalik and Acanthostega we have clear intermediate forms and we have some idea as to why the feet developed - in water as a "pre-adaptation" that then turn out to be useful in an amphibious environment as well and which become more useful if they adapt to being better able to take the animal's full weight. Another fascinating example of evolution are the baleen whales which are toothless, limbless sea creatures which appear to have evolved from toothed, legged land creatures. as the Tiktaalik link says, to some extent the discovery of this creature is not a surprise because evolution predicted that something like it would have existed.

Pre-adaptation is, IMO, the reason why evolution works and why living creatures also seem to carry on with less than perfectly adapted bodies. From human posture to teeth to the location of genitals (punchline to an old joke: God is a town planner - who else would route the sewage works through the playground) we have bodies that are not perfectly adapted to our life. But the reason is that the bits were originally used partly for something else and the something else was capable of being abused from it initial purpose to provide some other benefit.

The challenge to the deniers

The real challenge to those who do not believe that evolution explains the origins of life is to come up with a creature (or its attribute) which cannot be explained in terms of preadaptation and abuse. Deniers typically try the rhetorical flourish of

Evolution can't explain how the unbelievably complex evolved when things don't work without ALL of their parts. Evolution cannot explain how an eye evolved, let alone the unbelievably diverse life on this planet

and talk about how half an eye is no use. This is, to put it bluntly bogus. Firstly there are a number of plausible pathways about how eyes can develop from light sensitive skin and all sorts of different mechanisms used for seeing. The vertebrate eye is different to the insect eye is diffent to the squid/octopus eye, not to mention simple visual structures such as an ocellus. Another favourite is the implausibility of the "Cambrian explosion", but anyone who makes the most cursory examination of complexity theory can see that exponential growth of an apparently ordered limited system once a certain threshold is reached is the norm. The basic point is that once you get DNA, sex and genes working reliably then any change of the environment (caused by, for example, resource starvation because all the nice bits have already been taken) makes it likely that changes will occur and there is no reason to assume that there is only one solution to the problem of survival under new conditions. Hence speciation and hence, since the new species will then change the environment again, further incentive for more adaptations and furhter evolution into newer species, with, again, no reason to assume that a single strategy is optimum. It is critical to recall that the "Cambrian Explosion" lasted over 50 million years (or about as much time as has elapsed since the dinosaurs died out) and that the first fossil eukaryotes (i.e. non bacteria) show up in the preceding Vendian era as well.

A short fisking of Kemp

All this was inspired by Jack Kemp's recent townhall column which makes a number of highly questionable statements. I'm going to fisk the more egregious parts, although as is my wont, I'm going to start with a section that I agree with:

This "advice," which the Kansas standards quote, is: "The Conferees recognize that quality science education should prepare students to distinguish the data and testable theories of science from religious or philosophical claims that are made in the name of science. Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society."

See statement at the start of this post. Evolution is a scientific hypothesis that may be disproven. It is critical that students are taught "to distinguish the data and testable theories of science from religious or philosophical claims that are made in the name of science". Unfortunately that is about as far as my agreement goes.

The newly elected school board members immediately pledged to work swiftly to restore a science curriculum that does not subject evolution to criticism. They don't want students to learn "the full range of scientific views" or that there is a "controversy" about evolution.

Criticism is not the same as denial. Evolution should be taught in a way that makes clear that it may have flaws and that it is current scientific orthodoxy, but there is no point in going further. We don't teach children the more obscure bits of relativistic theory when we do physics, we give them Newton's laws, note that Einstien and co found places where they turn out wrong and leave it at that. A similar approach to evolution in biology is all that is necessary.

Liberals see the political value to teaching evolution in school, as it makes teachers and children think they are no more special than animals. Childhood joy and ambition can turn into depression as children learn to reject that they were created in the image of God.

This is where all my sympathy for evolution sceptics dries up. The phrase WTF springs to mind, along with "I'll have some of what he's smoking" and "did he take his pills this morning?". Three questions:
  1. why should evolution make children think they are no more special than animals?
  2. why should this lead to depression?
  3. and why would "liberals" want that to occur?
This is not a logical argument it is, as far as I can see, a stream of unconnected unprovable assertions.

The press is claiming that the pro-evolution victory in Kansas - where, incidentally, voter turnout was only 18 percent - was the third strike for evolution critics. In December a federal judge in Dover, Pa., prohibited the school from even mentioning intelligent design, and in February, the Ohio board of education nixed a plan to allow a modicum of critical analysis of evolution. But one strikeout does not a ballgame win. Gallup Polls have repeatedly shown that only about 10 percent of Americans believe the version of evolution commonly taught in public schools and, despite massive public school indoctrination in Darwinism, that number has not changed much in decades.

Science, sir, is not a democratic subject. You can't repeal scientific findings by legislative fiat or by opinion polls. The fact that 10% believe the version of evolution taught in public schools may be an indication that it is wrong but it looks to me more like the careful filtering of an opinion poll where various evolutionary and non evolutionary theories were presented and the majority picked evolution but split between the various options. It is I believe, entirely possible, to believe both in evolution and that God created the world and all things in it.

[...] Ann Coulter's new book, "Godless: The Church of Liberalism" (Crown Forum, $28), has enjoyed weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. Despite bitter denunciations by liberals, funny thing, there has been a thundering silence about the one-third of her book in which she deconstructs Darwinism. She calls it the cosmology of the Church of Liberalism.

Coulter's book charges that evolution is a cult religion, and described how its priests and practitioners regularly treat critics as religious heretics. The Darwinists' answer to every challenge is to accuse their opponents of, horrors, a fundamentalist belief in God.

Perhaps I should read Coulter's book and deconstruct that third. I tend to agree completely (see post yesterday) that liberals frequently act like religious fanatics but I don't think that their behaviour necessarily invalidates what they are defending. The fact that some "liberals" are unable to string together a logical argument on anything from economic policy to evolution and are forced to revert to playing the man not the ball is a sign of their stupidity. Scientists of all stripes (not to mention genetic engineers and technicians) accept the prime tenets of evolutionary theory and apply it in their work. That is the hallmark of scientific acceptability not the ravings of a lunatic fringe that grows up around it.

[...] Evolutionists are too emotionally committed to face the failure of evidence to support their faith, but they are smart enough to know that they lose whenever debate is allowed, which is why they refused the invitation to present their case at a public hearing in Kansas. But this is America, and 90 percent of the public will not remain silenced.

No we aren't. We just think that you need to come up with a testable alternative theory. If it isn't testable then it isn't science. Evolution is testable and is standing the test of time as discoveries in the fossil record and in analysis of the DNA of current species. On the other hand Creationism, Intelligent Deisgn etc. fail to make testable hypotheses and hence, since they can never be disproven, are not science but rather "religious or philosophical claims that are made in the name of science. For example if God created mankind on his own image but did not extend his own image to other creatures then why does mankind share an enormous part of its DNA with other great apes, a lesser part with other simians, a lesser part with mammals and so on? For these alternate systems to be scientific they need to explain this and nothing that I see in the bible says that God created man in his own image, chimpanzees in almost his own image, baboons in about 90% of his image etc. If humans are special then we shouldn't share so much with other species, including not just DNA but diseases and levels of cognition.

I'll close with a quote which I address to all those (Christian) religious believers who deny evolution:

I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken

23 August 2006 Blog Home : All August 2006 Posts : Permalink

Personal Statements in "Designated Areas"

A couple of good ideas from Britain that could probably do well merged.

Idea numero uno from Rachel:

A recent damn-fool law has made it illegal to protest anywhere near Parliament without official police permission, and comedian Mark Thomas is organising to highlight the danger and stupidity of having this law in a democracy.

Please note that taking part in this is 100% LEGAL, and the whole purpose of the stunt is to overload the system by dozens of people all asking for permission to protest all at the same time.

The law: Under section 132 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 [PDF] it is an offence to organise or take part in a demonstration in a public place within the “designated area” (up to 1 km around parliament) if authorisation has not been given by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner.Participants may be subject to a fine of up to £1000 and “organizers” face up to a year in jail. Tsk! Our How stupid is that? As if our jails aren't bursting at the seams as it is without locking up perfectly reasonable people trying to make a democratic point to a la-la-la-can't hear-you Government.

DESIGNATED AREA:Dozens of people have been arrested for not complying with the law even when they are taking part in “Lone Demonstrations” - i.e. if they are one person with a placard.

Many people see this legislation as an assault on our civil liberties and human rights. It’s not always practical to plan a week in advance what government activities you may or may not disagree with. Sometimes a spontaneous response is called for. And surely the most appropriate place to demonstrate against the government’s actions is within the newly “Designated Area”, at the very core of this country’s democratic foundation.

And why is New Labour so concerned about peaceful protestors anyway?If you apply for permission 6 days in advance for a lone protest (ie 1 person) they cannot refuse permission, so in order to highlight the ridiculousness of having to ask for police permission to hold a peaceful demonstration, Mark Thomas is organising a mass lone demonstration evening.

Idea numero duo from Setting the World to Rights:

The image “http://www.settingtheworldtorights.com/images/FlagCape.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.A young colleague of ours recently went for a walk in central Oxford, England – almost literally in the town square. She was not, initially, intending to apply Sharansky's town square test but that's how it turned out. Whether Britain passed or not is still in doubt. Judge for yourselves. Here is her account, which she has adapted from three posts on her personal blog:

First Post, July 21st:

I was in town today and bought an Israeli flag — about five feet long. While I was walking to the bus, I decided to wear it as a cape (mostly to show my support, partly to see if I'd get any reactions). My head was a good couple of inches higher than usual, and whenever I noticed it in a reflection on a window, I smiled broadly.

It seems to me that wandering around the "designated area" with an Israeli flag would be an interesting test. I cannot see for the life of me how wearing a flag would count as a protest but it might be very interesting to find out. In fact if I were to be up in the big smoke any time soon I'd probably do it myself. And if anyone has failed to get their permit on August 24th for the mass lone demonstration evening then wearing a flag when you show up on August 31st ought to get you around the requirement to have a permit. It doesn't have to be an Israeli flag of course. I think an Israeli flag would be a good one but you could wear an English St George flag, a Union Jack, US flag, a US state flag (e.g. Texas), a Kurdish flag or indeed the flag of any other group that you wish to regioster support for. How about an Essex flag to stand up for all those unfortunate Essex girls mocked from one end of the country to the other? or a Kentish flag to stand up for their Chavish neighbours?

23 August 2006 Blog Home : All August 2006 Posts : Permalink

Speedy Diesel

I'm not sure what it is about the British and fast cars but Andy Green, the gentleman who drove Thrust SSC II to its supersonic record of 763.035mph, is now also the holder of the record for the world's fastest diesel powered car.


Bonneville Salt Flats: Today the record-breaking JCB DIESELMAX achieved a stunning 350mph (563kph)* to break its own land speed record for diesel-powered cars set yesterday by Andy Green.

On Tuesday, JCB DIESELMAX became the world’s fastest diesel when Green drove it to an FIA-sanctioned speed of 328.767mph (526.027kph). Today he improved on that significantly with a new record of 350.092mph (563.418kph) after two passes in opposite directions, within one hour.

Running soon after daybreak he recorded 365.779mph (588.664kph) on his first run and 335.695mph (540.248kph) on his return, giving the average of 350.092mph (563.418kph).

As he was feted by his jubilant crew, Green said: “I am so pleased that we have got the car to 350mph which was always our ultimate goal and that was with a slow start to the second run. There is so much more to come as the car is pulling like a train and we still haven’t used sixth gear! (my emphasis)


If they haven't got into sixth gear yet I'm sure that 350mph is not going to be the final word, so much for the idea - already demolished by Audi - that diesels are slow and smelly. And you have to love this bit:

JCB DIESELMAX was JCB Chairman Sir Anthony Bamford's brainchild, born of his desire to showcase the extreme performance of the JCB444 diesel engine which normally powers the company's backhoe loaders and Loadall telescopic handlers.

I'm sure that Germans at Audi will be a tad upset at seeing a bulldozer engine beat their Le Mans racing car. Four sprung duck technique as they say in Germany...

24 August 2006 Blog Home : All August 2006 Posts : Permalink

Anecdotes about US politics

I can't claim any specific knowledge here and I can't say that this post counts as anything more than 2nd hand hearsay evidence but, none the less, I think it may be valuable as evidence of a trend.

Essentially this post is about the US Democratic party and its "liberal" or "progressive" base. I've met a bunch of Americans over here in Europe over the last few months. Some of them live here, others are merely visiting and all of them have got lot of friends and relatives in the US. There are two common threads I see here in their statements and they are both good news and bad news for the US Democratic party and its "liberal" or "progressive" base.

The Good News

The "Bush is a moron" and related beliefs are widespread, in fact practically universal. I find myself having to defend him to Americans. Few people think he is evil or that he is crooked, so the "Bushitler" part of the campaign failed but the "dumb Bush" part has succeeded so much that its taken as fact.

Thus you might expect that people would be willing to switch to a party that wasn't embarassingly led by a "moron". But...

The Bad News

Moron or not people agree with his "war on terror" in basic outline and they don't agree with the "root causes, its all our fault" arguments. Even those most sceptical about Iraq think that the "pottery barn rule" applies and that the US should not quit the country and most people think that the Iraq invasion was a good idea badly implemented. Ditto in recent days for Israel's fight with Hezbollah.

The Worse News

The even worse news is that the "security mom" demographic is widespread and that group will not vote for a party that is perceived as being clueless about security. Last night (and the reason why I felt like blogging this) I met a lady who I would peg as a classic 1960s era liberal from a family which she self described as historically democrat through and through. She stated that since September 11th much of her family has become republican and won't vote democrat until the democrats come up with a convincing strategy to win the war. Denying that there is a war and/or denying that militant islam is a threat is not a convincing strategy to win the war. Neither is claimng that the terrorist security scares are hoaxes done by the evil Bushitler and his poodles/minders to keep us all docile.

The Terrible News

The terrible news for the democratic party is that it can't seem to get many candidates who can support the war through primaries. Recent example Joe Lieberman, but there are others. This is a disaster because the security mom demographic (which includes security dads grandparents etc.) will not vote for someone who they judge to be weak on terror. This is cathc 22 for democratic candidates. In order to win the primary the candidate has to be publicly sceptical about the terror threat. This can then be played by the republican candidate in the run up to the election where it will scare the security mom voters unless the democrat is able to come up with a really really good way to weasel out...

25 August 2006 Blog Home : All August 2006 Posts : Permalink

Friday Olive Tree Blogging

For some reason flickr seems to be dead today so temporarily I'm going back to the old way of doing it.

Anyway this is a picture of the Opio San Peyre hill side which, as you can see, is nicely full of olive trees with the higher hills of the Gorge de Gourdon and Greolieres behind. Once upon a time I believe a large chunk of the inland area of the Côte d'Azur looked like this with olive trees everywhere in terraced fields. The trees are mostly still there but these days they are in gardens as the olive terraces have been turned into villas.
As always click on the image to see it enlarged and, if flickr is back, look here for the rest of the series

25 August 2006 Blog Home : All August 2006 Posts : Permalink

The Police's Right to Keep Your Property

If the police seize your property because they believe to be "illegal" or "contraband" but then a court fails to find you guilty then obviously the police will give your stuff back won't they? In America (and I would be entirely unsurprised to find the same elsewhere) the answer appears to be "not always".

One egregious recent example was that of the firearms illegally confiscated in New Orleans last year which are only grudgingly being returned to their owners:

The NRA says ony a few firearms have been returned to their rightful owners - because the New Orleans Police Department never notified gun owners how to claim their guns, and it turned away many gun owners, after setting impossible standards for proof of ownership.

Then there are the judges in New Hampshire who seem to have decided that the police are allowed to keep CDs seized in pursuit of a piracy charge where the owner had 6 of 7 charges dropped and is found not guilty of the one that came to court:

However, the police refused to return Cohen’s CDs. In the state Supreme Court’s Tuesday ruling, Chief Justice John Broderick, writing for the majority, reasoned so poorly that it appeared as if he’d made up his mind ahead of time.

Dissenting, Justice Linda Dalianis wrote, perceptively, that “the majority does not explain how statutes prohibiting the production, publication, or sale of certain works render possession of such works unlawful.”

As the editorial goes on to point out this is not the only time the NH judiciary seems keen to let the police keep their paws on stuff that they probably ought to hand back.

It should go without saying that speculation by a few judges that a crime might have been committed is a frightening basis for taking someone’s property.

Earlier this year, Nashua police confiscated video recordings of two officers being rude to a citizen at his own home. Though police dropped all charges against Michael Gannon and admitted they could not prove the recordings were illegal, they still kept the tapes.

If someone is found with cocaine or any other item clearly illegal to possess, confiscation is easily justified. But the illegality of these items was never proven, and mere possession was not itself illegal.

If the government can seize and keep a citizen’s property by simply asserting that it is contraband, even when the assertion is unsupported by the facts, then we have entered into dangerous territory.

The precendent being set here is extremely bad for civil society and, in my opinion, for public support of the police. The police in a liberal democratic nation operate mostly on the basis of trust and consent. We, the law-abiding, permit the police to intrude and to make mistakes when they do so because we believe that they will acknowledge the errors and provide restitution. If not then the police are really not much better than a gang of mafiosi running a protection racket and they quite simply won't retain the consent of the population that helps then track down the real criminals.

UpdatesFrom the comments I'm reminded that posession of large amounts of cash is preceived as evidence of a (drug) crime and so the money will be kept regardless of whether a conviction is secured. (e.g. this case)

I should also note the Pinko Feminsit Hellcat's oustanding artciles on debt seizre earlier this month - especially this one

Update 2 As noted by a commenter below the actual ruling makes it clear that this case is not quite as open and shut as the NH paper tries to make out. However, as with the money seizure case linked to, I still think that the judges are probably wrong. In this CD case, the issue is that the CDs are in fact admitted to be unauthorized copies. However as I read it, so long as the copies do not leave Cohen's possession then he has committed no crime. Hence the CDs should be returned and he should either negotiate with the copyright owner for the right to sell or he should keep them in his possession. The point is we have the presumption of innocence and unless we are moving to the dosgy area of the government interfering to stop us committing crimes, we have the right to our possessions and the presumption that we will not commit a crime with them. This is precisely the point at issue in the New Orleans case. Guns could have been used to commit crimes so guns were removed whether or not the owners of the guns had any intention of committing crimes or not.

25 August 2006 Blog Home : All August 2006 Posts : Permalink

Greenpeace Does Some Good

I don't, as a general rule, have a huge amount of sympathy with tree-huggers and other similar enviro-cranks. However this week Greenpeace, perhaps the best known group of tree-huggers, has been doing a couple of good things

Firstly, hands up anyone who knew about the enormous oil spill in the Philippines? Yeah me neither until I read a couple of blogs - nourishing obscurity and black quill - and even with this knowledge I haven't seen it spread about much. Greenpeace however has been doing a good deal about the oilspill in the Philippines, as well as the other two current worries, the Lebanon one and the Indian ocean one. I give Greenpeace a qualified thumbs up here, it would have been a complete one except that, according to their blog, they've now abandoned the site to do something else.

In the mediterranean though I give them a solid thumbs up for drawing attention to the EU CFP, the French fishermen and the overfishing of tuna. Lots of news coverage because the French fishermen reacted strongly to the appearence of the Rainbow Warrior II. Of course getting the message through to Brussels may be a bit harder, but it seems to me that the pressure to cut fishing (of all species of fish) in the Mediterranean is growing and this is primarily because of Greenpeace's efforts.

25 August 2006 Blog Home : All August 2006 Posts : Permalink

No Opt Out Marketing

[Note this is hearsay - it could be wrong but I have no reason to doubt it]
From a post on Baen's Bar comes the following story:

I can't believe this.

I applied for a car loan with chevrolet through their GMAC vehicle finance.

I receive this letter from them, unless I call this 1-800 number, they are  going to share my personal information.  I have to call to tell them NOT to share my information.  So, I call, and it turns out they printed the wrong phone number to the Opt-Out Rights.  The person I did get connected to said GMAC has been printing the wrong phone number for years.

How can they get away with this?

What really gets me (and I think got the poor person who reported this) is the bit I have bolded. Printing a document with the wrong phone number is one of those things. We all make mistakes and sometimes the mistakes go unnoticed for a while. But YEARS? Surely GMAC has noticed that their real opt-out 800 number hasn't had that many calls over the years and surely they have had irate customers writing rude letters to them?

27 August 2006 Blog Home : All August 2006 Posts : Permalink

All your data are belong to HMG

Gosh aren't residents of the UK terribly lucky chaps and chapesses. Their commons and masters (not lords because the lords as TimW astutely points out tend to vote against these things) seem to think that they are naughty boys and girls who need continual supervision from the grown ups in government to mske sure they behave.

Witness the spying rubbish bins reported in the Daily Mail and demonstrated in situ at An Englishman's Castle. Now I'm going to say that I think the Mail is being dangerously Xenophobic in its coverage (like that's a surprise) but the clear intent is to charge consumers by the amount of waste they put out, as the manufacturer says on its website:
The advantages of waste container identification:
· Ability to charge waste producers based on number of collections.
· Allows efficient route planning and collection management
· Reduced costs through better efficiency
· Increased customer confidence and perceived value for money
· Provides proof of collections to support invoices
· Competitive advantage
You just have to read number 1 on the list "Ability to charge waste producers based on number of collections." and number 5 "Provides proof of collections to support invoices" to see that charging by use is going to occur. What seems somewhat bizarre is number 4 "Increased customer confidence and perceived value for money" exactly how does spying on how much rubbish I put out increase my confidence?

Anyway, although I'm not clear on the law in the UK I would guess that in certain areas a business opportunity for alternative waste disposal services is going to spring up once the councils start charging per kilo and we get to see how much they want to extort.

Spying on rubbish disposal is unfortunately not the only trick HMG seems to be foisting on an unsuspecting electorate. From Samizdata there is this article quoting the Grauniad:

Ministers are preparing to overturn a fundamental principle of data protection in government, the Guardian has learned. They will announce next month that public bodies can assume they are free to share citizens' personal data with other arms of the state, so long as it is in the public interest.

The policy was agreed upon by a cabinet committee set up by the prime minister, and reverses the current default position - which requires public bodies to find a legal justification each time they want to share data about individuals.

The officials behind the "transformational government" scheme say data sharing could present a more consumer-friendly face to government, and help tackle social problems such as prisoners re-offending.

For example, officials say, when moving house, a citizen would register the change online once with their local authority's "one stop shop". It would update its own records, that of the new local authority, and then of central government, including the electoral register, DVLA and Inland Revenue.

As with "bin brother" scheme, there are some worthy possible excuses for the scheme (such as the change of address one mentioned) but there are rather more scary ones as well. What gets me is that all of these schemes work just fine so long as everyone is honest and law-abiding. Should someone not be honest then many of these schemes open the possibility of identity theft and all sorts of other acts and, given the repeated inability of the government to build IT systems that are
one has to wonder how this automatic right to sharing data will extend to sharing it to those outside government (witness the DVLA's generosity with driver address data for example) who may not be completely 100% honest.

Then there is the really really scary crime etc. data sharing plan that the Samizdata post links to. Read the whole thing but note the following anecdote which both shows the possible good and bad of such a scheme:

The police representative at the Bedfordshire meeting told a little anecdote that bears repetition. Again, it's the unstated assumptions behind his tale that are most revealing.

He told members that in a previous force, he had once got members of the local ambulance services and social services together over coffee. He then asked them to write down the names of the five families on a nearby estate to whom they were most often called out.

He told the rapt councillors of Bedfordshire: "Four out of the five names were the same on everyone's list. And it's that sort of information pooling that will allow us to target crime and disorder more efficiently."

It's also "that sort of information pooling" that gives me the creeps, quite frankly.

One of the Samizdata commenters makes an excellent point in suggesting this:

I have always believed that, in a democracy such as the UK, the rights of citizens (even subjects) to open government should always exceed the rights of government to general access to the private information of citizens.

Accordingly, please join[] me in the following proclamation:

Citizens are preparing to overturn a fundamental principle of secrecy of government, Samizdata has learned. They announce, with immediate effect, that all UK citizens can assume they are free to share Government data with other arms of the citizenry, so long as it is of interest to other citizens.

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

The Value of a Hugo

The Hugo awards are, allegedly, the cream of the SF awards and all in all good and wonderful things. Unfortunately it seems most fans can't be bothered to vote for them (or for whatever reason don't). I'm going to guess that some of this is that the electorate is limited to attendees to Worldcon and those people willing to stump up $40 or so for the privilege of voting.

The 2005 awards in Glasgow (PDF) attracted a total of 684 ballots in all categories (none contained votes for all categories) with 543 voting for best novel and 620 for best dramatic presentation (long) - the most popular category. Another important award, the Campbell Award for best newcomer attracted a mere 323 votes in total.
The 2006 awards in LA attracted similar numbers - I can't see the grand totals but I have seen that for best novel the total votes were 567 so one assumes the other numbers were similar.

The Emerald City blog has some comments that are worthwhile about how the potential recipients seem to treat them too.

But there is a wider issue to consider here, and that is the public profile of the Hugos and the respect they are accorded by the SF&F community at large. The level of participation in the Hugos is very low. I used to quote it at around 10% of the Worldcon membership, but on recent trends it is in danger of slipping as low as 5%. It seems like the voters don’t care any more. If people get into the habit of withdrawing in order to give others a chance, it will be much more difficult for the Awards to be taken seriously. It is all very well for people to be sentimental about the results, but we claim that the Hugos are the most prominent award in the SF&F industry. If the best people in the field keep withdrawing then they quite clearly are not.

It occurs to me (and it has occured to others) that what the Hugos need is a bit more push and pizazz and perhaps just a tad more involvement by people other than the 5-10% of wolrdcon attendeees and hence I'm going to try and organize a Baen Sweep for next year. This will probably be controversial, I expect that we'll get attacked for "ballot stuffing" "ballot rigging" etc. if we are even close to successful but whether it works or not I truly hope it will make the award a bit more representative than merely being the most favoured choices of some 500 people.

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

The Aid Problem

The Meskell Square blog links to a great story from another Ethiopan blog. This is the sort of story that ought to get far more coverage because for so many reasons. It taught me more about Ethiopia and Ethiopians than I knew before and certainyl tells me far more about life there than 100 articles in Time or some Sunday Newspaper. Go read it.

One reason why I'm highlighting it is that it illustrates perfectly the problems of Aid donation. Even when everything seems to be perfect - small program, microcredit, well managed etc. the problem of governmental corruption goes and smacks you. In this case we seem to have a fairly good final outcome but this sort of story can be repeated all over the Africa and, indeed, the majority of the develpoing world.

If even such a small scheme can get hit with corruption as it becomes successful ask yourself what happens to all the big schemes? Truly the definition of aid as a way to transfer money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor ones has never seemed more apt.

I despise l'Escroc and Vile Pin