L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

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

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

Friday Olive Tree Blogging

Yet another entry in the "you can't kill an olive tree" list. 

Despite the dry, dead, "this is an ex-tree" quality of the stump, there are sprouts. The light was such that they were hard to catch so I have two images, one from each side. As always click on the images to see them enlarged and click here to see the rest of the series.

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

French Taxation

Catthy Seipp's Independent Women's Forum column is all about hiring help around the house. Its good in lots of ways and makes some excellent points about the pros and cons of such help. As someone who recently buckled to spousal pressure and hired a gardner I can say there are good reasons why hiring one makes sense, these guys are far far more effiicent at what they do than I am - I pay them for 4 hours work but if I tried to do the same it would take me 6 so it's worth it.

However she makes one tiny errorette:

What the U.S. government should do, Crittenden suggested, is follow the example of France, with its free health care and subsidized cash allowances for each child. (France's stratospheric tax rates, of course, are never mentioned in these fantasies about a better world for you and me.)

France's tax rates are not necssarily stratospheric - they can be if you fail to arrnage your affairs well but they don't have to be anymore than US ones do. Actually a family with children in France tends to be taxed less than in the US, particularly less than California (where I used to live), NY or the Peoples Republic of Massachussets.

Ironically for the feminists who seem to like the "French model", the French tax scheme works best for a "traditional" family with a stay at home mother looking after the (for optimum benefit) 3+ children. Obviously if you start making telephone number salaries then even this isn't going to help but for the average middle class or working class family it does. I reckon you need to earn close to €80,000 per person in your houshold (i.e. €400k=US$500k for a 2 parent + 3 child family) to start hitting tax rates that are as punitive as top rate CA ones. And yes in both US and Franch cases you can of course arrange affairs to avoid some of the top band some of the time.

Where France goes loopy is in corporate taxation and even more especially in legislating restrictive employment contracts, but its individual taxation is comparatively rational most of the time. Now it is true that social security charges muck this up - especially for the self-employed and small businesses - and hence these people all work "sur le black" as much as possible, but French taxes are nothing compared to the taxes in Germany (or, as I understand it, Belgium or Holland). Indeed a number of fellow expats reckon that the tax regime is more favourable in France than it is in the UK thanks to Mr Brown's years of stealth increases here and there.

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

Spam Opportunities

Wading through the spam again my eye was caught by some of the feeble attempts. Unfortunately, unlike some other times when the spam is poetic or vaguely inspirational, this week's samples are more ordinary but yet they seem to deserve a wider audience....

The first is short and weird. Although (not by chance I'm sure) it seems that flybyairwayz.com is actually selling genu1ne v1agra and c!a1!s the message fails to let you do anything other than corresapond by email. I'm trying to work out if the mispellings are intentional or just the writer's lack of typing/english ability

Subject: look no more

Hi there lovely,

This kind of opportunity comes onecs in a life. I don't want

to miss it. Do you? I am coming to your bpblace in faew days

and Ia though may be we can meet eaach other. If you don't mind

I can send you my pictcure. I am a girl.

Youb can corresapond with me using my email [email protected]

Then there is this one which actually deserves the award for most pointless ever. Why is it most pointless? because I'm damned it decodes to make any sense whatsoever although it does appear to include a URL or two in it somewhere. Here's the message:
Subject: Message subject
Date: Sun, 03 Sep 2006 03:01:05 -0700
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: multipart/alternative;

Content-Type: text/plain;
Content-Transfer-Encoding: base64


and here's the decode - note that I had to manually do this step - the spammer cocked up his email so it actually displayed as above


¡ ¡ @’j—ƒGƒbƒ`D‚«‚ªW‚܂銮‘S–³—¿›”éƒTƒCƒg@ @@@¡ ¡


ô@ http://sx-i.com/sfx/index.html?media=pc343@ô






ô’¼ƒŒðŠ·/‰æ‘œŒðŠ·ôEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE Š®‘S–³—¿‚O‰~



@‚È‚¢Ž–‚à‚ ‚é‚ÆŽv‚¤‚µA‰ï‚Á‚Ä‚©‚çFX‚»‚̐æ‚ðŒˆ‚ß‚é‚Á‚Ä‚±‚Æ‚Å




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

Odd google searches

Had a look at my sitemeter and discovered that one reason people visit my site is the search for "water in my driveway". I am #3 in google for that phrase and, coincidinkly, numero uno is an entry in John Scalzi's blog, a blog that I'm about to add to my blogroll.

Bizarrely the phrase in my post which I would have thought would catch google's imagination "ceci n'est pas un tuyau" only works in the image search for locating the post - or rather the flickr image I used to illustrate it.

Oh and totally different news. Miss Snark is doing her Crapometer thing reviewing would be queries and first pages of aspiring authors who want an agent (and publisher). This is damn good stuff, very very informative and equally snarky. Mucho thanks to ~sry for raving about the site. Somehow the Beatle's "Paperback Writer" is running through my hungover brain like a particularly irritating piece of elevator muzack now that I've read (skimmed) the 31 snarked entries on the page.

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

The Belgium Problem

The Beligian motto is "L'union fait la force" in French and it can be usefully misunderstood to refer to trade unions- especially when, as the Torygraph's David Rennie points out, the Belgian military turtns out to have a highly influential trade union:

Initially, the union, the “Centrale générale du personnel militaire », had been a bit wary of sending troops to join United Nations peacekeepers, because the mission reportedly might involve trying to disarm Hizbollah. And - as union official Emmanuel Jacob pointed out to VRT Flemish broadcasting - that sounded rather dangerous.

Thankfully, now they have been reassured that their mission will not involve taking on Hizbollah, the Belgian unions are ok with the deployment. A rough translation of Mr Jacobs’s remarks: “Belgium does not have enough soldiers to carry out an operation like disarming Hizbollah. But, now the conditions have been changed, this current plan works for us.”

This is, I think, symptomatic of the failures of the Belgian state. Mr Rennie has a number of similar piece but, although good at pointing out the problems, is rather poorer at identifying solutions and I suspect that is because he is worried about conventional wisdom. A good example is his discussion of the upcoming local elections, where he rejects the Vlaams Belang, calling it the "Dirty Right". This is, I think, classic conventional wisdom and unwillingness to look beyond the claims of the establishment.

Conventional wisdom is that the Vlaams Belang are right-wing racists and that therefore they should be shunned by any means possible. It was, I believe becasue of the existence of the Vlaams Belang's predecessor - the Vlaams Blok - that Belgium got its knickers in a twist so much with Austria when Jorg Haider was invited into the government, and it is because of the VB that the rest of the Belgian parties have effectively formed a rainbow coalition in Flanders and divided out the municipal jobs between them.

The result is that voters have a choice between grubby status quo and the VB. Or, to put it another way, the only way to protest the current government is to vote VB and I suspect that the result of this manoevering is to gratly increase support for the VB amongst the disaffected. There is in fact a lot to be disaffected about in Belgium, all of which boil down to a critical, indeed hypocritical, difference between the words and the actions of those in authority. One other example of this is the recent disclosure that records of Belgium's Nazi-sympathizing past have been destroyed at various times up until the 1990s.

Another manifestation is corruption. I know a number of residents and former residents of Belgium, particularly of the Flemish north, and they are universally clear that the local governments are corrupt to a level that approaches that of Southern Italy with pretty much every mayor on the take, the police apparently paid to ignore this corruption and so on.

Still another manifestation is a denial of the integration failure of primarily N African Muslim immigrants, who seem to be unemployed, unemployable and generally speaking responsible for much petty crime, and the creation of unemployment blackspots, particularly in Wallonia, due to government regulation and excessive taxation. Just as in France and Italy I'm told that pretty much every one prefers to pay by cash for builders, gardners etc. Many prefer to actually buy their cars with cash and very few are willing to declare their entire earnings to the state, prefering to hide it away in one form or another.

All of these issues are things that Belgians talk about over a few drinks, and none of them are issues that any "reputable" political party will discuss. In fact the only party that will discuss them is the VB. The core VB voters are Flemish speaking private sector workers who object to seeing their income being taxed heavily and the taxation then frittered away on stuff that doesn't benefit them or their family. However given the general failure of the rest of the political scene they also attract other voters who agree with some of their platform and those who think that "kicking out the incumbents" is a good thing no matter what. So the question is are the VB really racists?

I'll answer that with "Probably Not". The fact that the VB says that there are parts of Wallonia where entire groups have lived on the dole for decades or that the majority of street crime in Antwerp is caused by immigrant youths is not racist per se since these are documented facts*. I have no doubt that some of the core membership are racist. But then I have no doubt that some conservatives in Britain or Sarkozy supporters in France are racist and I'm positive that much of the European left as well as the right is anti-semitic so the fact that some VB members might agree with statements from the BNP or FN is not an idication that the entire party is racist. Racism is the epithet used by the mainstream political elite to try and discourage people from actually looking at the VB or taking it seriously and most such claims, particularly the one used to ban its predecessor, were ones that failed to stand up to critical examination.

Perhaps more to the point - and summed up well by a comment on Rennie's blog entry which concludes (about Antwerp):

... The reasoning here is quite often: the current bunch of half-wits has made a glorious mess of it, so why not give that other bunch of tits a chance? And I must say, the more time I spend in this city, the less silly that reasoning sounds.

The only way we can actually find out whether the VB are actually racist or merely not lovy-dovy-multi-culti is to see them govern something. Let us hope they get the chance.

* or rather since I'm quoting from memory here what the VB says about these two subjects is factual, I may be misremembering what they say.

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

Friday Olive Tree Blogging

Our olives are ripening nicely....

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

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

Cheap Petrol

So after a jaunt to the Iles de Porquerolles yesterday the car was a little light on fuel - actually I think it was running on fumes - when I got to fill her up at the nearest cheapo petrol place this morning. To my great pleasure I filled up for about €0.15/litre less than the last time. In fact it about the cheapest it has been for a good few months - €1.159/litre which put the 50 odd litres I filled up with in the low €60s rather than the €70 plus I paid last time (an outrageous €1.31 or so a litre!).

So here I am about to post about how odd it was that none of the petrol stations near Hyères seemed to have petrol under €1.20 and here I am in the generally more expensive Alpes Maritimes getting my tank filled so cheap and I see the Instapundit putting my cheap petrol celebration in perspective:

DRIVING A HYBRID, I only fill up every couple of weeks, and when I filled up last night I was pleasantly surprised to be paying $2.50/gallon, which was much less than I paid last time. I thought it was good news, but it turns out it's all part of the insidious Big Oil conspiracy to lower prices.

UPDATE: Kathy Grim emails: "You may be really frustrated to know that you should have waited one more day to fill up. I filled up for $2.399 at Callahan and Central Ave Pike this morning."

By my calculations the Instapundit filled up at €0.52/litre at today's exchange rates and his correspondent Kathy filled up at a hair under the psychological €0.50/litre price. Sickening I call it - especially since I'm sure Americans think that petrol over $2/gallon is excessive and I've never ever bought petrol in France below €0.90, that is to say comfortably above $4/gallon.

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

The Ulitmate Bad Query Letter

So I've been reading the SR Crapometer entries at Miss Snark's blog and decided that, while there are many pathetic query letters, there looks to be something missing. So, in the spirit of the Bulwer-Lytton award (dishonorable mention in 2002 - Dark & Stormy Night Category), I'm going to present what I hope will be the ultimate bad query letter, the slow motion train wreck of a query letter so bad that it causes the agent who receives it to keep on reading because you wonder what else is going to be wrong. Feel free to add your own suggestions or even alternatives in the comments

dear ozysnarkias

hope you don't mind the casual greeting but i'm a casual guy and if you're gonna be my agent you gotta handle it

NEway the suits at haprercolings told em that you were keen on stuff like mine so i'm sending it to you. i didn't bother with the sase because i just know your gonna dig it and get me rich. i'm 15 and i showed this to my mom, my pastor and my teacher and they all said it needs to be published because it shows the problems of life in the projects and how it simialr iot is to the victorian poets like shelly and byron. you know todays rap artists are just as misunderstood and so in this book i'm showing how these poets were the rappers of the 18th century. my teacher got in trouble for teaching us about these poets so its like how the radio won't play the rap songs when they got swearing in them.

the story is called ozymandyRAP and its about a kid from a bad neighborhood in dc who travels back in time to meet shelly and byron on a trip round greece and turkey. his name is ozzie and he's got some serious issues in the hood. so he goes to school one day packing a glock 45 and a hundred rounds of ammo because he wants to do another columbine and blow away all the kids that beat up on him and treat him like shit. the glock is a really cool gun the seals use it and blow away the ragheads in iraq and afghanaistan like you wouln't believe but when he gets to school he has to go through the metal detector. his homey was supposed to fix it so that it didn't buzz but by mistake he turned it into a time machine so when ozzie goes through it he's zapped back in time and space to turkey just in time to rescue percy and mary shelly and byron from a gang of robbers when they are looking at the statue of ozymandias. it was a good thing he had all the ammo because there are like 30 robbers and then they got to protect the statue from this nasty french aristo who wants to take it back to paris so you know the ozy thing is like the key to why ozzie ends up where he does.

oh yeah you probably want to know how long it is, because all the chicks ask that, and its kind of variable. right now its 72641 words but i got to change ti a bit because i realized that ozzie has to screw mary shelly and right now she's all lahdida british so i got to make her a bit less stuck up but the hero always gets laid when he rescues a babe so i got to fix that. do you reckon i need tobe all hard core on the sex or just kind of smoochy? and is it true that chicks then all wore whalebone corsests all the time and how do you get one off?

when you've found me a publisher you better contact me. mom keeps on getting evicted and i think we're going back to philly so you better try looking at my myspace.com account (ozzysplace) because i always check that from the library and i can easily come to see you in new york and sign all the contract stuff

my name is oswald harvey and like i say i'm 15 but the ozzie in the book isn't me because he's 16 and doesn't have a girlfriend and anyway i'm white and i don't have a glock and we used to live in alexandria not dc



ps i attached the current version as a rar file because rar is much better at compressing text than zip so its only 150k not 220 but i renamed it as zip to confuse anyone who wants to steal it and i always got the latest version up at myspace

pss can you get me a gmail account?

Share & Enjoy (as they say)

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

California... vasectomy

Posting some sort of a "best of spam" thing looks like it could be a semi-regular weekly feature seeing as I frequently spend saturday delving ito the spam folders to make sure that I didn't miss something that got classified as spam. This week's gem is

Subject: California... vasectomy

Yours free $1000 are waiting for you!
Dont go to Vegas, vegas is going to you!
Poker, Hold'em, Black Jack, Slots, etc...
inflame heathkit
who would need witches jelly and for what.
glycogen copyright
Benny finally noticed him. His horrible face, covered with blue and

Firstly what's up with this vasectomy thing? and why in California? it is perhaps a slightly better subject than "07 {month} 2006 {VlidWOrds}" which is another one in the spam folder but no where near as enticing as "You've got new mail from Natalia, 25 years old, Rusia, matchmaking feminism"

I'm not quite clear where Rusia is, nor what matchmakign feminism is but it sounds intriguing none the less...

But to go back to the vasectomy mail - I too wonder who would need witches jelly and for what? and could it be to cure the horrible face covered with blue and inflamed heathkit? possibly with a side order of glycogen copyright?

Other great subject lines ths week

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

Taboulé and Cous Cous

So Sarah Yoffa and I are disagreeing about the important things - food.

Francis, my good sir, tabouleh is 90% chopped leafy and 10% couscous, all of it drowned in spices and oil (olive oil, OF COURSE!!! I am soooo jealous of your olive trees, mister!)

How do you add tabouleh as an "ingredient" to salad? Gonna have to find/post a photo of tabouleh and see if we are having a language/translation problem here *grin* I make couscous, but not tabouleh. Don't like the mint (and mint leaves are an essential ingredient in authentic tabouleh).

In her new response she says taboulé looks like this:

So DirtyDingus is having a little confusion, methinks. No, I haven't gone off and made a tabouleh salad--I hate mint and the minced mint leaves are pretty much the "secret ingredient" in tabouleh. You might as well leave out the lemon (*ack*)

There are definitely different styles and recipes for this traditional Lebanese salad, but the image (stolen from the StockFood web site) is what I'm used to seeing when hear "tabouleh." Maybe a slightly more green level on the proportions of parsley/mint to couscous. This one is heavy on the couscous (which I love).

And all becomes clear because I think taboule can also look like this picture of one the boss prepared a couple of days ago and which we still have lying about in the fridge. OK it has green bits in it - cucumber in this case - but it isn't green overall and it definitely isn't 90% green leaves. I've had tomato taboulé, various red, yellow and orange coloured taboulés etc. Since these recipes all come from France via N Africa it is entirely possible that somewhere on the path they have become corrupted from the pure original but when I'm talking taboule what I mean is couscous plus some mint / lemon flavouring plus some other ingredients TBD and about 50% of it being couscous.

This one, for example, has tomato, cucumber, feta and corn - though I think that last touch was just the boss being frugal and using up the remains of a previously opened tin of corn - rather than part of a genuine taboulé recipe.

Oh and somewhere at the end of the post she also mentions hummus. I've always found that the best hummus is made at home and this recipe looks like the sort I really like because it includes olive oil - I'm not sure about the sumac and pine nuts though and I might replace the black pepper with some red chili but as the article says everyone has their own ideas and I definitely like the cumin idea that is apparently a Syrian variant.

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

My September 11, 2001

Was spent flying and hanging around in airports. I don't recall anything special at Nice airport. If the buildings had been hit the news failed to get out and it was business as usual. But it was very different one hour later in Zurich.

The first thing that jumped out was that all the flights to North America were all marked in red for delayed. Then we entered the business class lounge - since at the time I had amassed a simply enormous sum of Swiss Air miles we were flying business class to Japan that day. Everyone was gathered around the TV which was switched to CNN. We saw the replays of the towers being hit, we saw the confused reports of stuff going on at the Pentagon, we saw the shocked expressions of everyone.

Then one of the towers collapsed.

We spent, if I recall correctly, some 2-3 hours in Zurich. It was a somewhat chaotic to say the least with all those people due to fly to the US wondering what they were going to do and a lot of other people clearly nervous. I recall working out in my head that the chances of being attacked on a Zurich-Tokyo flight were minimal and that probably the worst bit would be the internal Japanese flight we had to take the nex day. I also decided there was no way I was going to be one of the sheep, if terrorists were on the plane and managed to crash it somewhere they would crash my corpse because I would have died trying to stop them. It was obvious to me that the previous "rules of engagement", where hijackers would simply redirect the plane somewhere and the passengers would most likely survive had been thrown out of the window.

When we boarded our flight I was far from alone in looking at our fellow passengers and performing that sexual/racial/ageist profiling that all good liberals decry. The one that says "little old lady, no threat", "fat middle-aged businessman, no threat" "young man, possible" "dark skinned man, possible" "orthodox jew, no threat", "tattooed punk, possible ally" and so on.

Of course as it turned out the flight was uneventful, and, as it happened, so was the flight in Japan on September 12th. But the rules of engagement have changed and remain changed. We no longer give these people the benefit of the doubt or consider them to be "mostly harmless". After 11 September 2001 the west started to pay attention to what these Muslims claimed to be fighting for. And for the most part, even those idiots who spout duck-billed anti war/anti-Israel platitudes on TV or in newpapers would never convert to Islam and would never accept the strictures of Sharia.

The Islamic fanatics have lost and it is my belief that in their heart of hearts they know it. They know it because they remain at the margins, despite their "glorious victories" the people the claim to be representing - the Muslims of the world - do not rise up in theirsupport. Ok a couple of riots here and there, a couple of countres makign supportive noises and donating oil money, a handful of communities deciding that islam may be slightly better than corrupt tyranny but that is about it. There is no worldwide muslim uprising, there is no movement away from the evils of decadent western culture within the Muslim world. If there was a surge of jhadi volunteers they have mostly been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq and there were no more than a few thousand - a pretty poor showing for a religion that claims a billion believers.

Fervern declarations by the BBC and others that "not all Muslims are terrorists" are obviously true, what is also obviously true is that almost all terrorists claim to be Muslims. The world can I think be usefully divided into those who accept that second statement as fact and those who deny it. I am comparatively optimistic that the terrorists are going to fail (in the long term) in the same way that the late 19th century anarchists did. However in the shorter term they may manage to chalk up some things that look like victories.

Western society survives because it is flexible and adaptable. It is also innovative. At some point we will come up with a better way to screen passengers and their bags so that hijackers stop becoming a threat. At some point technology will permit real-time translation of Arabic and other foriegn tongues. At some point, and this could be sooner rather than later, given the recent oil price, demand for oil will decrease because we'll use some other energy source for much of our day to day life and something else as a feedstock for plastics. As these things happen radical Islam will become ever more maginalized. The only question is whether the rest of Islam goes the same way or whether it can adapt. But under the new rules of engagement, the burden of proof now lies with them not with us.

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

I'm really worried

On Saturday I posted the Ultimate Bad Query Letter, which was the purported letter to pitch a "african american alternate history litery fiction novel set in the past" written by a teenager. Judging by the comments, both at my post and at Miss Snark, most people found it funny, which was what I hoped for.

What really worries me is that some people apparently thought the "plot" sounded good and one person apparently felt that Baen books would publish it. Umm. Never. Not without a lot of rewriting.

However I reckon it could make a plausible film script since it was a Hollywood bit of alternate history, i.e. completely false from start to finish and, for that matter a Hollywood grasp of science. The "plot" supposedly revolved around a visit made by Percy Shelley, his wife Mary and Lord Byron to the Levant where they saw the statue that eventually became immortalized in "Ozymandias". Unfortunately this is a pack of lies because:
  1. Ozymandias' statue is really that of Ramesses II in Egypt and Shelley's poem is based loosely on traveller's tales describing it
  2. The Shelley family never travelled further than Switzerland/Italy in 1816 - 1822
  3. This was where they met Lord Byron
  4. While Byron did travel the Levant in 1809-11 he spent most of his time in Greece and Albania and didn't go much beyond Constantinople where he swam the Hellespont
Other obvious errors included placing the victorian period in the 18th century. The "science" included turning a metal detector into a time machine - accidentally. Curiously despite the zillions who have queued up to go through these machines around the globe there are no reports of people disappearing as they step through them.

So the plot as described is laughable. And let's ignore the fact that our would be hero is supposed to have sex with Mary Shelley and is unclear on corsetry...

You can criticise Baen for many things but one thing that you probably ought to to gripe about is their alternate history. The attention to detail in (for example) the 1632verse, not to mention the apologies of authors such as John Dalmas or Mecedes Lackey in afterwords for either failing to do complete historical research or taking liberties with it in parts of their novels, makes it clear that Baen tends to go for more accuracy than may strictly be necessary.

Secondly this is clearly adolescent wish fulfillment masquerading as a plot. Now you may claim that some Baen authors, Leo Frankowski for example, pander to this trend but even in his worst, say, "Conrad Starguard" the technology is good even if the rest isn't. As pitched the hero in my tale is called Ozzie, the author is called Ozzie and the story is called OzymandiRAP. So might there possibly be a touch of the author in the hero you think?

Not to mention its a pimply teenager who seems to think that romantic poets such as Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley were the equivalent of rappers. Don Juan and Ozymandias are part of the dead white male cultural baggage that infuriates trendy professors of literature and have been well known for close to two centuries. Does anyone think that the lyrics of P. Diddy or Tupac Shakur are going to last as long?

Oh and on the subject of Ozymandias and slushpiles - I recall that I once wrote this. It is the only sonnet I've ever tried to write and it isn't very good, but having read a bit of slush and having heard the complaints of those who do it more frequently I think it is at least as true to nature as Ozymandias is to Ramasses II


I met an editor from an SF house
Who said: Two vast and plotless tales of heroes
came in the mail. Next them, in the pile,
Half ripped, an illiterate scrawl whose errors
And stilted prose, and ignorance of basic sense
Tell that its author too much Tolkein read,
Which yet arrive, printed in countless fonts
The hand that plagiariased and the brain that fled

And in the cover letter these words appear
"My name is Ozyfandias, 'Writer-man'
Read my works, best-sellers and despair!"

It would not fit the bin. Yet in the rest
of that collossal parcel, We're unaware
Of hints to the return address

12 September 2006 Blog Home : All September 2006 Posts : Permalink

Upcoming French Court Cases

There are some interesting cases due to come up before various courts in Paris. The first actually started yesterday and was the trial of 15 chum's of l'Escroc who are accused of vote rigging on his behalf:

Allies of Jacques Chirac went on trial yesterday accused of vote-rigging at the time the French president was mayor of Paris.

The case, which reached a Paris court 17 years after the alleged offences, has added to the suspicions of sleaze that have dogged the president's career since he was mayor.

Fifteen politicians and officials face up to a year in jail, fines and bans on holding public office if convicted of planting more than 300 bogus voters on the electoral registers for a Paris district in 1989.

The BBC's report of the same case has even more on the "suspicions" of sleaze with a whole list of them helpfully masquerading as "related stories" on the RHS. As both articles note this sort of thing is why l'Escroc seems very keen on appointing another crony his former legal adviser, Laurent le Mesle, as chief prosecutor in Paris. Over at the Wapping Liar, Charles Bremner explains the reasons behind that keenness very clearly:

PRESIDENT CHIRAC was accused yesterday of manoeuvring his former legal adviser into a key judicial post to avoid being tried on corruption charges after leaving office and losing immunity from prosecution.

M Chirac was seeking to appoint Laurent Le Mesle as the chief state prosecutor in Paris. If confirmed by the Cabinet next month, M Le Mesle will have a decisive role in determining whether the President should be prosecuted in connection with corruption allegations when he steps down.

M Chirac’s critics believe that M Le Mesle, 55, will do everything in his power to block action, given his close relations with the head of state. He was an adviser on legal matters to the presidency between 2002 and 2004 and now serves as the head of the private Cabinet of Pascal Clément, M Chirac’s Justice Minister.

All this is germane primarily to France and its international repercussions, if any, are to do with l'Escroc's political legacy. So while it is interesting an a schadenfreude sort of way, the international community doesn't have any good reason to really care. Or at least not until l'Escroc's Lebanese adventure backfires, as I expect it will fairly soon.

The other court case though is about part of the original Pallywood - the faked killing of Mohammed al-Durah. The Augean Stables has three adjacent posts that set the scene for the trial and explain why, contrary to some earlier expectations, France 2 and its journalist Charles Enderlin, look likely to regret their attempts to sue the exposers of their fabric of lies and evasions, not to mention their apparent cooperation with the propagandists of Palestine. Given the recent examination of Hezbollywood in all of its manifestations, this is a case of international importance as it should help to expose the falsity of much media reporting from the Middle East. As the first Augean Stables post concludes:

Al Durah represents a major error of the French media that have severe problems living up to their ethical standards (déontologie). The consequences of this particular error have had a catastrophic impact on both Israelis (their reputation) and the Palestinians (led into a losing war with this picture as incitement). They have also done serious damage globally to the fabric of civil society. If free and responsible (hence reasonably accurate) media are the eyes and ears of civil society, then we are flying blinded by this kind of information over very dangerous terrain. The ability of French courts to defend the rights of citizens to criticize the media’s work and make their criticisms known, to assess the evidence before them fairly, and to understand what is at stake in their decision – all of these matters will be played out this fall in the Parisian court.

Much in our troubled world hangs in the balance. The more people know, the more the judges become self-conscious about making their decision, and the more we can hope that France will make a sane decision from the perspective of both the law and the media. And if the French courts decide against these defendants, then at least those of us paying attention will have a sense of just how reliable French society is, and how resilient it will be in these coming years.

12 September 2006 Blog Home : All September 2006 Posts : Permalink

Airport "Security"

The UK tabloids, particularly the Sun and the Mirror tend to have a poor reputation for accuracy. On the other hand sometimes they report stories which have to be true because they fall in the "you can't make this up" category. Samizdata and the Register both note this one from the Sun:

A TOURIST was told to turn his T-shirt inside-out at an airport — as a picture of two guns on it was deemed a SECURITY RISK.

Dave Osborne, 21, was bound for Newark, New Jersey, when guards hauled him out of the queue for his Guns N Rollers T-shirt.

They told him the two pistols on the front could constitute a security risk and upset passengers.

Of course if he'd been wearing a "Bollocks to Blair" T shirt he'd probably have been arrested rather than just told to hide the image....

Just for once I wonder if the UK shouldn't learn something from the US approach to airport "security":

Here's my story about being at the airport: First, no one checked my photo ID when I got on line for security. Then I walked through the metal detector and no one checked my ID again. Then my bags came through the little thingie and no one stopped them to say, "Golly, ma'am, you've sure got a lot of pill bottles and tubes of makeup!" So I got really pissed off and found a security guard and said to her, "Ma'am, I have prescription medication in my bag, and I think I'm supposed to have that checked?"

[...]...then she walked away. Then she walked away. !!!!! And still no one has checked my ID!

In conclusion, the Jet Blue terminal at the JFK airport is really damn lucky that I am not a terrorist.

12 September 2006 Blog Home : All September 2006 Posts : Permalink

Immigration Amnesty - Bad Idea

Various people in the US have proposed that current illegal immigrants should be granted residency under some sort of amnesty scheme. This has been ridiculed by many right thinking people who claim that it would simply lead to greater floods of migrants. Well these right thinking people are not, as their critics claim, simply spreading lies to fan racist flames. They happen to be correct.

The proof is to be discovered across the Atlantic where Spain (and Italy) had an amnesty last year. Guess what? Spain has now got a record number of migrants coming in to the Canaries - and apparently to its N African enclaves. This despite the government trying to sound tough:

Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said in a speech to Spanish ambassadors: "We remind the countries of origin of these immigrants arriving on our shores these past weeks that we are not going to tolerate it any longer. We will no longer accept the non-respect of signed bilateral and multilateral agreements, and we are going to act firmly. I repeat: let it be perfectly clear that all those who enter Spain in an irregular way, sooner or later, will leave Spain."

The BBC has an in depth article about the problem and links to other fascinating pieces including one where the EU promises to do soemthing to help (hold a conference in a suitable 5* hotel in the Canaries would be my guess). Other states, such as the French in the person of Sarko, have been rather keen to say "we told you so", while offering verbal support:

The controversial French minister has been criticised for his increasingly tough stance on immigration, and he used his Brussels speech to criticise recent decisions in Spain and Italy to ‘regularise’ black market workers.

“These countries should have asked for the support of other EU countries before doing this,” he said.

“Otherwise what is the point of the Schengen agreement [which removes internal borders].”

He said that it was no surprise that Italy and Spain were now being inundated by floods of illegal immigrants, although he stressed that he backed their calls for help from other EU countries.

So does the US really want to have the same thing happen with its millions of Mexians?

To be fair it should be noted that the EU's Common Fisheries Policy hasn't helped the matter - I noted the decline in African fish stocks due to EU fishing nearly two years ago and the EU Referendum blog noted the increase in immigration amd how this may relate to fish stocks in May this year (a piece well worth reading).

So here is the two step process to massive uncontrolled immigration. One have policies which help screw up the economies of the (neighbouring) countries where migrants come from. Two have amnesties so that migrants already here can stay.

The irony of course is that the most rapacious fishing fleet is - guess what - Spanish. If the EU really wanted to solve the problem it could probably do little better than sink every single Spanish fishing boat - ideally in W African waters where they would screw up industrial fishing nets but probably not affect the smaller local ones.

Anyone think that the EU's help is going to involve any of that? no me neither.

12 September 2006 Blog Home : All September 2006 Posts : Permalink

Book Tag

Tim W was tagged and ducked the issue claiming that the Da Vinci Code was the bees knees etc etc. Since he then fails to tag anyoen I'm going to take this as permission to pretend he tagged me. I'll note that if I were being some sort of cross between Tim W and the Tim at an Englishman's Castle my anwers to most questions would be the book named in Q2, as it is I'll just answer the damn questions and hopefully get lots of amazon dosh from you all clicking over to buy them.

1. One book that changed your life - the hardest question first.

War of Honor by David Weber - why? because it's hard cover first edition contained a CD and introduced me to Baen and its addictive eBook crack. No it isn't profound, but it is true. It intriduced me to authors I would not otherwise have read, one of which - 1632 - led to my writing a short story that was published in the Grantville Gazette III - available on line now and in good bookstores from January.

2. One book that you've read more than once

Stalky & Co by Rudyard Kipling. Not by any means the only one, but representative and once that I have read sufficiently often that I barely need the text any more. I'm actually torn between this and The Day's Work which is at almost the same level of familiarity.

3. One book that you'd want on a desert island

You need a book with lots of content that keeps the attention. If I can read the CD enclosed then I want one of the Baen books with their CD - say At All Costs by David Weber. But if not then I'll go for the astoundingly brilliant Unto the Breach - which I've only read in eARC form and which gets printed for distribution in December so I guess I'd better hope I only get on the desert island after that. If not I'll cheat and go for Survival and Escaping Desert Islands for Dummies

4. One book that made you laugh

Pyramid Scheme David Free & Eric Flint - A science fiction fantasy romantic comedy novel or something like that. Appeals to people with warped minds and hence fits me to a T

5. One book that made you cry

I'm a man and real men don't cry (yeah right) - seriously though, what I don't read are sad books. There are two reasons for this - the first is that I read primarily for enjoyment and I don't enjoy being sad so sad books tend not get read and if they start being read they generally end up being dumped before I get to the really sad bits; the second is that a number of books that allegedly make other people sad make me angry except in the rare case where I find them funny. The closest I have come is reading some of the September 11th tales but they aren't as far as I know in book form

6. One book that you wish you had written

Any bestseller. But seriously there is a book about network and system design which I really ought to write. Of books that already exist that I'm jealous of the authorial talent then its a toss up between Heinlein and Bujold and I think I'll go for the former and in particular Starship Troopers.

7. One book you wish had never been written

That stupid French book claiming that Sept 11 was a hoax

8. One book that you are reading at the moment

Death of a Musketeer by Sarah D'Almeida (Hoyt) - it's an ARC so this is what is known as boasting - neener neener neener. It is also a most excellent historical whodunnit with characters that we already know - the notorious 3 musketeers plus D'Artignan - and lots of fun, derring do and "all for one, one for all".

9. One book that you've been meaning to read

I've been meaning to finish "The Tale of Genji", which I have in beautiful translation and which I have yet to get more than halfway through.

10. Five others that you'd like to do this

Time to pick on some barflies. Starting with a brace of Sarahs:

And continue with

before veering off to non barlfies such as

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

Friday Olive Tree Blogging

Lots of rain yesterday and we needed it. The blue sky has now gone but this morning the sky looked great behind the ripening olives and their raindrops

As always click on the image to see it enlarged and go here to see past images in the series.

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

The Border Between Private & Public on the Internet

The question arises from time to time, most recently in the Schwarzenegger "Hot" Tape case, about what parts of a webserver are public and what parts are not. And thus whether locating hidden files on such a server is "hacking" or not. And more importantly whether it is a criminal offense, an ethical lapse or completely justified as a way to show the idiocy of the web site owner (or some combination of the above).

[Another somewhat related example is the craigslist suckering reported on slashdot and waxy:

"On Monday, a Seattle web developer named Jason Fortuny started his own Craigslist experiment. The goal: 'Posing as a submissive woman looking for an aggressive dom, how many responses can we get in 24 hours?' He took the text and photo from a sexually explicit ad in another area, reposted it to Craigslist Seattle, and waited for the responses to roll in ... '178 responses, with 145 photos of men in various states of undress. Responses include full e-mail addresses (both personal and business addresses), names, and in some cases IM screen names and telephone numbers.' In a staggering move, he then published every single response, unedited and uncensored, with all photos and personal information to Encyclopedia Dramatica."

discussion below]

This is a subject that does not lend itself well to non computer metaphors, which means that chosing the wrong metaphor gets you down the wrong logic path. I believe that at Big Lizards, Dafydd and his commenter bpilch are guilty of precisely this in the Schwarzenegger case.

To recap (from the comment I made over at the Big Lizards post) the way the Angelides campaign claim* to have located the wav file was as follows:

As I understand it all they did was go from http://www.host.com/some/path/pressrelease.htm to http://www.host.com/some/path/ or possibly http://www.host.com/some/ and discover that instead of an index page or permission denied notice it contained a directory listing. And amongst the files listed were this particular bit of audio.

The question in this case is whether cropping a URL - from http://www.host.com/some/path/pressrelease.htm to http://www.host.com/some/path/ is in fact illegal, unethical, etc.

All this hangs on the question, as I state above, of what parts of a webserver are or should be considered public. The metaphor prefered by Dafydd is:

.... If we follow Weintraub's reasoning, that means if I forget and leave my front door unlocked, you have the legal right to burgarize the joint.

Morally and ethically, whenever an unauthorized person is trolling around the private area of someone else's website, he is hacking -- whether security was adequate or not. It's completely irrelevant, no matter what the law says.

The lack of good security procedures does not release Democrats from the necessity to act in a morally responsible way, any more than the lack of a good lock releases them from moral responsibility for black-bagging Republican campaign offices and Xeroxing donor lists.

This is, IMHO, wrong. The correct metaphor is a place constructed entirely (or primarily) for the general public but where certain parts may be off limits to those unauthorized to visit. This is more like a shop, church, gallery or theatre. A website is designed and intended to be visited by the public, just as shops, churches, galleries and theatres are. Indeed a public website quite frequently is an online shop, church, gallery or theatre. A private house or club, on the other hand, is not intended for public access and neither is a secure website where access requires some sort of authentication and prior approval by the proprietor. We as humans are not compelled to have public shops, churches etc. and neither are we compelled to have public websites, hence if we do have them there is a reasonable assumption that we expect people to visit, and hence, if we find members of the public poking their noses into places where they shouldn't it is our fault for not locking them up and/or not putting up clear signs about "Authorized personnel only" or "no entry except between the hours of 9am and 5pm". Precisely the same applies to websites. If we don't want people to crop a URL and find something private (such as the new version of a page or something we are publishing explicitly for one particular person) we need to make sure that the page that results returns some sort of sensible error message and not a directory listing - which is what appears to have occured in the Schwarzenegger case. Hence, IMHO, wandering around someone's website is, at worst, the equivalent of tresspass and more like the sort of thing tha happens when some visitor wanders into a non-public part of a shop etc. looking for the restroom.

Given that accidentally displaying a directory listing is a fairly common and basic web config mistake (and one that is usually rectifiable in a one line server config change) I think that you may be on some ethically challenging grounds - i.e. obeying the letter of the law rather than its spirit - and you probably ought to inform the proprietor if you figure out that you went the wrong way rather than not tell him but tell your friends, but ethics are not laws and there are plenty of other situations where an ethical person should show greater respect than that which is strinctly required by law. Great example: smoking in public places where you may annoy neighbouring non-smokers. Legally (in many cases) if it doesn't say "No Smoking" you can light up, ethically you ought to ask whether it will bother those who seem likely to be downwind.

So I agree that the Democrats did not behave in a morally responsible way but I don't think it is a crime or should be. In fact there are plenty of cases where cropping of the URL is a good idea. Some blog archives for example forget to have links the blog's home page (or as with this one, no links to adjacent posts) and hence if you are curious about what else the author has written cropping the URL is the only way.

Email Privacy

The publishing of emails sent to craiglsist story has resulted in howls of protest from people who seem to think that emails are automatically private unless explicitly permitted to be made public. This seems curious. I tend to agree with Michael Z Williamson:

I learn the most amazing things online.

Apparently, if someone sends you personal information, it is "illegal" for you to give said information to anyone else. There's an implied non-disclosure agreement that negates free speech. I'm sure the people who send out credit card applications will be shocked to hear that, and will cease their heinous crimes at once.

And if someone stupidly sends out personal information and photos to an unconfirmed requestor, I should feel pity and outrage on their behalf and help them "sue" for the damage done to them by releasing information they should never have released in the first place.

It may indeed be ethically dispicable to publish such emails - after all you are deliberately seeking replies under false pretences - but that doesn't mean that you have no responsibility to retain your own privacy if you think that is important. Hence (for example) those idiots who reply from a work email address, use their real name wen replying to someone posting pseudonymously etc. are guilty of the one real capital crime - stupidity. I'm highly tempted to say that publicising these intimate details has been a public service because, with luck and wide enough coverage, it will make people think about what they are sharing on the Internet.

*the democrats could be lying - there are elements of the story which make me wonder if there was not something else involved

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

Draw One In The Dark

The observent visitor will note that this blog appears to have sprouted all sorts of mention of a book called Draw One In The Dark by Sarah A. Hoyt (ISBN-13: 978-1-4165-2092-4 / ISBN-10: 1-4165-2092-9). This is a service open to any author that bribes me and who writes a book I like.
[Bribery need not be monetary - I'll take payment in kind (Tuckerization, red shirting, (e)ARCs) - and will depend on the author and book. So if its a book/author I really really like you need to pay less than otherwise.]

Anyway I figure if I'm shilling for it I ought to review the book so here's the review.

Draw One in the Dark (hence forth DOITD) is a fantasy whodunnit and figuring out whodunnit and how/why they dunnit is what draws the reader into the story. The major characters are interesting, sympathetic - even the "bad" ones - and reasonably believable, the story has plenty of twists and the protegonists have enough of a bad time that I think the author copied a rule from Lois M Bujold - when stuck do something nasty to your hero and see how he (she) gets out of it.

DOITD is what I think is known as a modern urban fantasy - that is to say it is a story where fantasy creatures inhabit the world as we know it. I've read quite a few such works and what frequently lets them down is the reason why we "normals" don't notice the weird creatures amongst us. In this case the desperate attempts of the shifters - the people who can shift to a particular animal form - to remain hidden is part of the fun and plays right into the "be nasty to your characters" rule; after all changing to animal shape tends make observers a little nervous and to ruin ones clothes and changing back to human leaves one naked, hence a continuous search for previously cached trousers...

Since I prefer to not spoil the story in a review I'm not going to discuss the plot except in generalities. The protagonists, Kyria and Tom, work the night shift in a diner in a small town in Colorado. One moonlit night Tom is late and Kyrie, who thinks she is the only shifter in the world and who has learned to fight the chamge that moonlight incites, finds him in his shifted form as a dragon in the presence of a recently dead corpse. But there are extenuating circumstances, such as Kyrie shifting into her alternate form - a jungle cat, that make it less that clear that Tom is responsible. Not to mention that she is shocked to learn that she is not the only shifter in the world. The questions of who killed the corpse, why the corpse was where it was and who it was, not to mention who is after Tom and for what, lead us to off on a quest for answers with the clear understanding that getting it wrong means death. And just to make it interesting, somewhere in the tale there is plenty of opportunity for star-crossed (or mooncrossed) lovers, jealousy, betrayal and all the other parts of a romance.

One thing that Sarah manages very well is to make it clear that absolutes of good and bad are out, that is to say everyone is partly good, partly bad; that even the "baddies" see themselves as on the right side and that depending on what you are looking for people that seemed to be "bad" turn out to be "good" (and vice versa).

Another success is misidrection about what the "goal" of the protgonists is (other than the basic one: survival). What seems clear - find this, do that, don't do the other - is subject to change as more information is learned and as a result what looks like a relatively simple "quest" turns out to have rather more twists and turns than might be expected, but not so many that you lose track of the main goals. Very much the same applies to the rocky paths of true love, and of course true love amongst shifters of potentially different shifting species is bound to be rather less straightforward than the regular variety, as if that weren't complicated enough.

Finally the plot comes to a very satisfactory conclusion with the "good" triumphing, the "bad" losing and everyone not bad apparently set to live happily ever after, but yet despite that there is plenty of possibility for a sequel or ten. The particular plot is solved but there is much potential for further sets of problems to show up and I look forward to reading them when they do.

[Note: this review is based on the eARC rather than the final version because the final version has not been released. However I doubt anything critical will change and the review is sufficiently general that it won't matter too much anyway]

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

Pope Attack Misses

The fact that people are complaining about the pope "attacking Islam" shows that people can't actually read or listen to what the pope actually said as I shall explain below. On the other hand there is a certain amount of irony with every Imam and his dog jumping on Pope Benedict's speech where he allegedly insults Islam. As with the cartoon crisis, what these morons are doing is demonstrating that yes Islam is a religion of nutters and a threat to the rest of the world. I mean seriously you simply cannot expect people to take you seriously when you say (I paraphrase):

"Islam is a religion of peace and we'll kill anyone who claims it isn't"

I'm sorry for the real moderate Moslems because they are being demonized along with the nutters who claim to be of the same religion. And this disparity, of course, is where the Western intellectual apologists such as the (un)informed commenter Juan Cole get into trouble:

The pope was trying to make the point that coercion of conscience is incompatible with genuine, reasoned faith. He used Islam as a symbol of the coercive demand for unreasoned faith.

But he has been misled by the medieval polemic on which he depended.

In fact, the Quran also urges reasoned faith and also forbids coercion in religion. The only violence urged in the Quran is in self-defense of the Muslim community against the attempts of the pagan Meccans to wipe it out.

(my emphasis)
It may well be that the Koran is as mixed up as every other religious work and contains inconsistent messages, and it may well be that the pope is in fact misled by his source and that Qur'an 2:256: "There is no compulsion in religion." is a later part of the book written when Mohammed was in power, but that is irrelevant. Just a couple of weeks ago we saw people who claim to be Moslem force two western journalists to convert to Islam under what looks to me like serious coercion.

Prof Cole conveniently forgets this, just as he convenients forgets numerous other moments in the past, some quite recent, where so-called Moslems have coerced non-Moslems (e.g. Pakistani Christians, Coptic Christians and 1.45Million other google entries). If it is true that "There is no compulsion in religion" then it looks to me like a lot of Moslems are in fact disobeying their own sacred text and hence are blasphemers or apostates. Given that the usual punishment for apostasy appears to be death I guess a lot of Moslems need to be put to death by other Moslems.

But that is, to be honest a sideshow, as indeed is the "logos" discussion as it applies to Islam made by Captain Ed; that isn't to say it is wrong, I think Captain Ed is partly right that the speech does indeed attack the religious fundamentalists of any stripe who attempt to literally interpret their texts no matter the contradictions within them.

I also agree with Tim W when he says:

A very strange criticism of Benny II’s recent speech on Islam:

And reference to that time, in circumstances such as these, has the unmistakable whiff of Christian triumphalism.

No, I agree, you don’t actually have to agree with him at all. But the Catholic Church claimsto have the truth, the one true way. Ben is the head of that church, the Vicar of Christ.

It’s really a bit odd to criticise him for Christian triumphalism when that’s actually what he’s for.

However it seems to me that what the Pope was really attacking was not Islam but the moral relativism of the average clappy happy liberal today and the pholosophers and theologists who lead them in to that mess - this means Derrida, 1001 liberation theologists and so on. I think this bit in the late middle is key:

The thesis that the critically purified Greek heritage forms an integral part of Christian faith has been countered by the call for a de-Hellenization of Christianity -- a call which has more and more dominated theological discussions since the beginning of the modern age. Viewed more closely, three stages can be observed in the program of de-Hellenization: Although interconnected, they are clearly distinct from one another in their motivations and objectives.

De-Hellenization first emerges in connection with the fundamental postulates of the Reformation in the 16th century. Looking at the tradition of scholastic theology, the Reformers thought they were confronted with a faith system totally conditioned by philosophy, that is to say an articulation of the faith based on an alien system of thought. As a result, faith no longer appeared as a living historical Word but as one element of an overarching philosophical system.

The principle of "sola scriptura," on the other hand, sought faith in its pure, primordial form, as originally found in the biblical Word. Metaphysics appeared as a premise derived from another source, from which faith had to be liberated in order to become once more fully itself. When Kant stated that he needed to set thinking aside in order to make room for faith, he carried this program forward with a radicalism that the Reformers could never have foreseen. He thus anchored faith exclusively in practical reason, denying it access to reality as a whole.

The liberal theology of the 19th and 20th centuries ushered in a second stage in the process of de-Hellenization, with Adolf von Harnack as its outstanding representative. When I was a student, and in the early years of my teaching, this program was highly influential in Catholic theology too. It took as its point of departure Pascal's distinction between the God of the philosophers and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.


We shall return to this problem later. In the meantime, it must be observed that from this standpoint any attempt to maintain theology's claim to be "scientific" would end up reducing Christianity to a mere fragment of its former self. But we must say more: It is man himself who ends up being reduced, for the specifically human questions about our origin and destiny, the questions raised by religion and ethics, then have no place within the purview of collective reason as defined by "science" and must thus be relegated to the realm of the subjective.

And he continues in this vein:

We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons. In this sense theology rightly belongs in the university and within the wide-ranging dialogue of sciences, not merely as a historical discipline and one of the human sciences, but precisely as theology, as inquiry into the rationality of faith.

Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today. In the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid. Yet the world's profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions.

This is a dense academic speech. It is attacking other dense academic schools of thought. And hence it is easily misunderstood by the uneducated or those who seek to . But the whole second half, possibly more like second two thirds, is not talking about Islam, is not talking about believers of any religion but is talking about the secular, atheistic anti-religious folks who criticise without providing any alternative of their own. Hence his conclusion, while it harks back to the Byzantine emperor, is defining Christianity and religion as a whole, not attacking any other religion:

Here I am reminded of something Socrates said to Phaedo. In their earlier conversations, many false philosophical opinions had been raised, and so Socrates says: "It would be easily understandable if someone became so annoyed at all these false notions that for the rest of his life he despised and mocked all talk about being -- but in this way he would be deprived of the truth of existence and would suffer a great loss."

The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality, and can only suffer great harm thereby. The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur -- this is the program with which a theology grounded in biblical faith enters into the debates of our time.

"Not to act reasonably (with logos) is contrary to the nature of God," said Manuel II, according to his Christian understanding of God, in response to his Persian interlocutor. It is to this great logos, to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures. To rediscover it constantly is the great task of the university.

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

Spam and Google fun

ExotiqueThis week the junk mail has been less exciting although "venom gland been before" was a somewhat interesting subject line, as was "booby trap barley" and both were far more comprehensible than the Thai spam I got.

Unlike the Chinese ones I get from time to time this one was short and sweet containing just a couple of lines of text and a url - http://www.comworldthailand.com/promotion.htm - which leads very helpfully to a page not found 404 error - amusingly adding an l to make http://www.comworldthailand.com/promotion.html does lead to a valid page and allows me to look for "exotique items" (see image). Pity the spam email itself didn't get the URL right. Talking of bad URLs another spam contained the URL http://pl.com>.xkjvqvbjz4h2g0g6zglbbgvwb4yttt.alimpses.im, which unfortunately has a > in the URL where one assumes a / should be. In the spirit of honest enquiry I thought I might try downloading the page anyway and discovered that pl.com is a dead site. Chalk up another one for completely wasted effort.

I had assumed that "Fifth Third Bank: Urgent Notification From BiIIing Department" was more to be pitied than anything else for picking a non existent bank to phish for customer account details except that it turns out that Fifth Third Bank is a real bank and that anyway the email was actually spam pushing the usual v1agra crap.

From the bad marketing deprtment there is this joy - "Free Software for download and No Virus". Gosh you mean that free software might contain viruses? I'd never thought of that. Hmm well then maybe I won't download any "No Virus" software from http://www.thaisongs.org/software/pl-setup_aff_200038649.exe just in case.

In non spam news - for unexplained reasons it seems that a lot of people are coming to this blog as a result of searching for the phrase "niwaniwaniwaniwatorigairu" (follow link for explanation of it and why I blogged about this), another phrase where I come up as #1 in google. If any of the visitors see this post and would like to explain why you are searching for this phase then please enlighten me....

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

Muslim Killers

One of the excuses the apologists for Islam use to defend the terrorists and gangsters who seem determined to kill people in the name of the "religion of peace" is that its all the fault of the rest of us. For invading Iraq, supporting Israel, not supporting the Palestinians etc. The problem is that there are at least two Muslim inspired conflicts where this doesn't apply. The first is Darfur. In Sudan the arab Muslims, having failed to completely wipe out the non Muslim black africans in the south have decided to go after the Muslim blacks in Darfur.

Today is/was the Global Day for Darfur. A day for protests around the world and a day when we ought to be asking every single Muslim nation why they continue to support the genocidal government in Khartoum. A govenerment which seems determined to tell the world to go away while it continues to kill its own people as the BBC reports:

The government has stressed that any UN troops entering Darfur would be met with armed resistance.

On Saturday 1,000 volunteers from a pro-government militia marched through the streets of Khartoum threatening to kill any uninvited UN visitors, the BBC's Jonah Fisher reports from the city.

Violence in the region is reported to be rising again, drawing criticism from figures as diverse as the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, and actor George Clooney, who this week implored the UN Security Council to act.

[ Meanwhile in another African muslim country beginning with S - Somalia - some Muslims show great courage by shooting a 66 year old nun in the back, presumably in revenge for the Pope supposedly claiming that Islam is a religion of violence. At least they killed a Roman Catholic, unlike the idiots who burned the Anglican church down - a mistake akin to burning down a Wahhabi mosque because Ayatollah Sistani criticised Christianity ]

Meanwhile half a world away in Thailand the Muslim terrorists killed four people (including a Canadian tourist) in their fight for a "Muslim state" in southern Thailand - at least that is presumably the goal, the terrorists have yet to make clear unambiguous statements about what they hope to achieve. Also, as the BBC reported ealier this year, the Muslim terrorists seem as keen to kill fellow Muslims who are suspected of collaboration as they are to kill non Muslims.

And  few days ago in India the protests over the Papal saying degenerated into what would be farce except that people were seriously injured when two different Muslim groups protesting the Pope started fighting each other.

If Muslims want to be taken seriously as peace loving tolerant members of the global society then they need to start getting involved in stopping these killers who seem prepared to kill in the name of their religion even when there isn't any provocation from evil American/Zionist pigs.

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

We cannot afford to maintain these ancient prejudices against Islam

Karen Armstrong - author of "Islam: A Short History" - writes a Comment is Free piece with this title. In it she makes a number of curious claims and appears to omit or gloss over all sorts of things. From the article I would guess that the reason her book is "A Short History" is that it omits all the times when Islam was used as an excuse to attack other places, in other words it draws a delicate curtain over the 8th, 9th, 10th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th centuries (AD that is) and ignores a certain amount of unpleasantness in the 7th, 11th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries as well. I see no reason to fisk the piece because the first few commenters smack it pretty well, noting, for example, that the Islamic (Mughul) conquest of Northern India seems to have been conveniently overlooked by Ms Armstrong.

The problem I have is that she is wrong in her assumption about the age of the prejudice. To me and to many people in the "West", Islam was not something we cared about until September 11. Oh sure we worried a bit about Iranian fundamentalism and we rolled our eyes at how backward they are in Saudia Arabia but we didn't have any prejudice against Islam. To us it was just another religion and it was clearly going to mature. It had been violent but was, we assumed, becoming less so. It had been pretty racist, sexist, etc. but we assumed it was going to grow out of this too. I'm sure I was far from alone in thinking (about 10 years ago) that maybe an Islamic state would be an improvement on the corruption, favouritism and tyranny that was the standard in the Muslim world. Unfortunately we then got to see what an Islamic state looked like, and it was just as corrupt, tyrannous and  favouristic as that it replaces, only this time the executions were public and for offenses like "being raped" or "reading a book". In fact subsequent investigation of existing Islamic states such as Iran or Saudia Arabia showed that corruption and favouritism (and justice) was just as screwed up there too.

Unfortunately while it may be true that Islam is going to grow up eventually, unlike other major religions it looks like it still inspires many of its followers to quaint ideas such as the right to kill people who disagree with them or other people just because their deaths will shock "enemies" of their religion. Since many of us think that this is a pretty barbarous way of behaving, the result is that we are "prejudiced" against Islam. This isn't an ancient prejudice it's a modern one. And because we are well aware that pretty much very religion (including atheisms such as communism) have their gory moments it isn't (yet) directed at all muslims. Its going to be so directed if Muslims fail to get their shit together though. I'll just echo what Australian minister Andrew Robb said:

AUSTRALIA'S Muslim leaders have been "read the riot act" over the need to denounce any links between Islam and terrorism. The Howard Government's multicultural spokesman, Andrew Robb, yesterday told an audience of 100 imams who address Australia's mosques that these were tough times requiring great personal resolve.

Mr Robb also called on them to shun a victim mentality that branded any criticism as discrimination.

"We live in a world of terrorism where evil acts are being regularly perpetrated in the name of your faith," Mr Robb said at the Sydney conference.

"And because it is your faith that is being invoked as justification for these evil acts, it is your problem.

"You can't wish it away, or ignore it, just because it has been caused by others.

"Instead, speak up and condemn terrorism, defend your role in the way of life that we all share here in Australia."

If Muslims want the rest of us to get over our modern prejudice against their religion they need to be just as energetic as the non-believers in denouncing those who take their religion in vain. When Christian loonies make trouble, other Christians condemn them loudly, when Hindu extremists attack Muslims other Hindus protest, unfortunately when Muslim nutters misbehave other Muslims mostly say "you can't blame them for reacting to %{insert issue du jour}"

Given that Islamic societies seem to not only be backward but moving further back (compare the development of Hindu India with Muslim Pakistan for example) I predict that prejudice against Islam is going to grow. I agree that some things done by Muslims are not done because the person who does them is Muslim but many things that I find objectionable - honour killings for example -  seem to be widespread in the Muslim world and uncommon outside it. Combine that with attitudes by even "moderate" muslim scholars that seem incompatible with western civilization - attitudes towards homosexuality for example - and you have a picture of a religion that is disliked because it has many objectionable attributes. That isn't ancient prejudice it's a modern opinion formed after study and exposure to Islam and its believers.

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

Backyard Space Explorastion

The big space news today was of course that Anousheh Ansari made her way into space as the first female space tourist, the first Iranain born person in space etc. etc. after paying $20M or so for the privilege.

The littler space news comes from Cambridge were some students tied some instruments to a weather balloon a week ago and tracked its progress up to 32.2km altitude and then back down to earth again. The combination of digital photography, portable GPS, cellular telephony and google earth allowed the students track the path of their instrument package and take some spectacular photos during flight such as the one to the left.

The GPS was able to track the balloon's position and the resulting report has been fitted into google earth as shown on the left.

None of this is, per se, extraordinary. This is merely the first test flight and it only got to the a third of the height that is generally considered to be space (100 km) however the key is that this was cheap. Practically any school, can afford to do this experiment: I don't know how much the helium balloon costs - I'm guessing US$1000 - but the rest of the payload could cost under US$1000. So for somewhere between US$1000 and US$2000 in hardware (much of which would be reusable) anyone can send a balloon up to 30km (100,000 feet) and do things - such as take photos or atmospheric measurements. The project's home page has a lot more information on what it can takem but the options are huge.

For example, combined with the second project, this would be a very cheap tactical / battlefield spy package if you could keep the balloon from popping and control the ascent altitude and direction a bit. If you could sort out the telemetry, provide some sort of high end telephoto capability and a way to contol where the lens was pointed you would have a spy package that would be very difficult to shoot down (and one which would be impossibly expensive to shoot down if launched in flocks).

However the most interesting thing that can be done at 30km is launch a rocket. The planned rocket will be able to take a 0.5kg payload up to 100km or so at a cost of £1000 (under US$2000) per launch. Some clever sums would need to be done but it would not surprise me if a slightly bigger version could not put something in permenant (very) low earth orbit. A bit of handwaving suggests to me that £5,000 ought to be enough to launch about 1kg of stuff into LEO (say over 150km up at ~25,000 km/h). This is probably more expensive per kg than other launch methods (big honking Delta or Soyuz rockets for example) but on the other hand unlike other launch methods it scales down to the 1kg package size and, as this paper explains, the techniques required for having something remain working at LEO are well understood these days. Hence, once they get the basic 2 stage balloon + rocket launch details sorted out, any university engineering department should be able to launch a small 1-2kg satellite for under $10,000. What can you stuff into a 1kg package? I don't know but I bet a camera, a radio and some solar cells would fit...

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

The Hermit Kingdoms

As any student of the orient knows Korea was once known as the Hermit Kingdom because it didn't welcome foreigners. These days N Korea retains much of that same reputation of strict isolation, although it does try to trade here and there. Unfortunately it also has this bad habit of money laundering as well as trading in counterfeit notes, drugs - both illegal and merely counterfeit - and weapons of mass destruction. Hence even its friend, ally and protector - China - gets narked every now and then and decides to close down N Korean related interests. But it was Japan that used to be the major trading victim of N Korea. Last year it stepped up its inspections on N Korean vessels entering Japanese ports and this year it discovered that the amount of amphetamines seized had declined drastically. As Japundit says "Gee. . . You think there’s a connection?"

Buoyed up by this and annoyed by the DPRK's missile tests Japan has increased the pressure with all the successors to PM Koizumi doing their bit to look tough. Recently the N Korean Synchronized swimming team failed to get visas for some of its officials so that it could participate in the 11th FINA Synchronized Swimming World Cup 2006 in Yokohama and then today the BBC reports that Japan has tightened the screw even further in conjunction with Australia:

Japan and Australia have announced new financial sanctions against North Korea, stepping up pressure on the secretive state over missile tests.

The sanctions will freeze the transfer of money to North Korea by groups suspected of having links to its nuclear or missile programmes.

The move, which follows similar action by the US, comes after Pyongyang launched several missiles in July.


Japanese government spokesman Shinzo Abe said the new sanctions were in line with a United Nations resolution which denounced the missile tests.

The Japanese measures affect 15 groups and one individual, and will come into effect later on Tuesday, according to Japanese media.

The Australian measures applied to 12 companies and one person, according to Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, who said the sanctions were "consistent with our strong international stand against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."

Media reports said the two lists were almost identical.

But of course there is the question of other countries - specifically S Korea and China. China, as noted above, seems keen to stop the worst abuses while still letting the more minor stuff - and particularly stuff that doesn't hurt China - continue. In other words it is sort of a guarded neutral. The current S Korean government on the other hand seems to feel that fraternal Korean solidarity trumps everything else. In the elipsis above I removed these key sentences:

South Korea has urged other countries not to push the North into a corner.

The South is worried that the North may retaliate by carrying out a nuclear test, which would destroy any remaining hope of a diplomatic solution to the stand-off.

But then S Korea is not exactly having a wonderful time itself. The Marmot's Hole linked to this IHT article which describes the US S Korean relationship in a manner that seems certain to cause outrage amongst Korean nationalists:

The Bush aides have acknowledged that the gap with the Roh government has grown so much in recent months - "as wide as the Sea of Japan," one senior official said - that it would be almost impossible to hide.

The Asia Times make the point even more clearly:

Nonetheless, Roh's visit may inadvertently prove to be a defining moment for the US-South Korea alliance, presaging its sunset, for beneath the public smiles and handshakes between the two leaders and optimistic-sounding but inscrutable pronouncements, such as seeking a "joint comprehensive approach" to restarting the six-party talks, unmistakably flowed an undercurrent of unfriendly distrust.

The alliance has proved to be one of the most successful and durable in the world. But today Roh wishes to destroy its time-tested dynamics by wresting away from the United States wartime operational control of the two countries' armed forces, the result of which will be the complete and virtually irreversible dismantlement of the US-ROK (Republic of Korea) Combined Forces Command.

This will set the stage, at the cost of broader US interests in Northeast Asia and to the detriment of South Korea's security, for the withdrawal of US troops from Korea. With an inter-Korean summit pageantry of his own in mind, Roh has been offering North Korean leader Kim Jong-il unconditional gifts throughout his presidency: massive shipments of rice, fertilizer, and other blandishments. Now it looks as if Roh is preparing to give the Northern dictator the ultimate gift of evicting US troops from Korean territory.

Given that S Korea has also been playing silly buggers in its Free Trade Agreement negotiations (see lots of Marmot posts e.g. this one) and arguing with China about some obscure submerged rock (shades of Takeshima/Dokdo) the South seems to be following its Northern neighbour into diplomatic isolation. Combine this with curious idea about the ownership of "Intellectual Property" and you begin to see a country that remains surprisingly (and apparently increasingly) xenophobic and reclusive. I doubt the major Korean traders, car makers and electronics companies will appreciate it if the policy continues, and hence I doubt that the South will also become a "Hermit Kingdom" but it would not surprise me to see this it becomes even more introspective at least until the next election. After that I suspect that a more rational party will take over and reverse some of the trends but it may take a further electoral cycle before the harm that protectionism and sucking up to the North becomes clear.

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

France Copies USA

During the summer the nasty Americans have arrested a number of foreign (usually British) blokes for running on-line gambling sites and, worse, inciting poor helpless American punters to spend their hard-earned cash on them. OK so I'm being a tad sarcastic but the summary is basically correct. The trick is that the US has many state and federal regulations that limit gambling in various ways and very few of these have been properly upgraded to the internet age, hence there is a certain difficulty in ensuring compliance. This is compounded by the fact that, in general, the regulations are intended to prohibit certain forms of gambling. Well it will not doubt all sort it self out eventually, although given the huge amount of lobbying performed by various gambling interests it seems unlikely that any sort of totally deregulated free market is going to show up and time soon.

However those of us in decadent Europe who thought that all we had to do was mock the puritans across the pond have another think coming. It turns out that the French have decided to copy the Americans and arrest people who show up in France who have something to do with online betting. As the Grauniad reports, AS Monaco FC may have made a bit of a booboo in its choice of sponsors this season:

MONACO, Sept 16 (Reuters) - Ligue 1 club Monaco said on Saturday Austrian online betting firm bwin.com, whose joint chief executives were detained for questioning by French authorities, would remain their sponsors.

"Monaco was not informed of any judicial problems between the executives of bwin and the French authorities," Monaco said in a statement.

"Therefore the commercial agreements between Monaco and bwin still stand," the statement read.

Manfred Bodner and Norbert Teufelberger, joint CEOs of bwin, were detained for questioning by French authorities on Friday because of alleged violation of French gaming laws.

Gambling is a state monopoly in France and online betting firms are banned from seeking clients on French territory.

French police detained Bodner and Teufelberger just before the scheduled start of a news conference called to outline a sponsorship between bwin and Monaco, who play in the French league (Ligue 1).

The news conference was due to take part at Monaco's training facilities in French territory just outside the Mediterranean seaside principality.

Bwin are the shirt sponsors of Monaco and also have sponsorship deals with several other Ligue 1 clubs and other leading European clubs.

It is interesting to note that had the news conference been held within the principality of Monaco, the Bwin executives would probably have remained free because Monaco is, of course, a separate nation. However that is rather by the by, just as in the US one suspects that the problem is not so much the ostensible one of preventing the punters from wasting their money as the current gambling businesses using the law to stifle rivals.

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

Blow Up Yours - Delors

UP YOURS DELORS David Rennie's Torygraph blog has the story of the recent naming of an EU building after the Sun's favourite EUrocrat - Jaques Delors. As Mr Rennie explains the offices that will henceforth be known as the "Jacques Delors Building" are those for two particularly pointless EU talking shops: the Committee of the Regions, and the European Economic and Social Committee - committees which seem to be designed to let lucky politicians and trades unionists get their trotters in the trough and which

host[] all kinds of crushingly dull seminars, with titles like: "Social Dialogue in a Stakeholder's Europe for Citizens", or "Citizens and Stakeholders in a Social Europe of Dialogue" or even "Citizens' Dialogue within a Social Europe - a Stakeholder's perspective". Their reports are then sent to the Commission, the European Parliament, national governments and all, and filed under B for Bin.

You have to think that there is a certain amount of schadenfreude going around to see this former VIP with his grand plans for integration, diktat from Brussels etc. etc. getting such a pointless building named after him and according to David Rennie - practically the sole journalist who shoed up for the naming and its free luch - Delors wasn't exactly upbeat about his legacy either  as well as bitching about globalization and makign an "interesting" comment about Europe and democracy:

"...And yet, given the poor performance of Western democracy, the quest for greater transparency and participation remains a viable solution, at both the national and European Union levels." ...

He concluded: "The scale of the current crisis facing European integration is significant and worrying.  This is neither the time nor the place to discuss this point, but I do want to state my conviction that we will not make progress unless we return to the values of political, economic and social democracy. This is the project, scattered with pitfalls but nonetheless crucial, that underpins the work of the European Economic and Social Committee and of the Committee of the Regions."

I love how he asked for greater transparency in the EU but I despair at his apparent recipe for the failure of government - more government.

Yet when you think of it a bit more he doesn't have much to complain about. As the EU Referendum blog points out again and again, nutty Health and Safety directives about car seats or hospitals, regulations concerning lead, recycling and so on all do seem to emanate from Brussels and the member states diligiently implement them in national law. And his fellow Frenchmen may have rejected the proposed EU constitution, it seems like it is being reimplemented by stealth through the back door anyway.

Tracing the future of the Jacques Delors Bulding and its inhabitants would, I think, be a great way to track progress within the EU.Because of the unauditablitiy of the EU accounts we do not of course actually know how much these institutions cost - transparency anyone? - but I can't see any downside (except for anyone associated with them) if they were abolished and maybe the EU could use the money saved to build a few roads in Poland. Unfortunately it seems more likely that roads in Poland will be sacrificed for refurbishment of office blocks in Brussels

My dream would be to blow the place up and fire everyone who steps foot in the place, but I regret that such a worthy end result is unlikely to occur. But it is yet another ceterum censeo Unionem Europaeam esse delendam

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

Brown Killers OK

I know this isn't going to come as a shock to many but the Instapundit's Darfur piece at Comment is Free is drawing all sorts of unpleasant responses from Grauniad readers who don't appreaciate being told what to think by American professors (unless their name happens to be Chomsky).

The comments mostly focus on Glenn's opening statement:

There's a genocide going on in Darfur. That much is widely accepted.

It seems that many of these folks wish to deny that there is in fact a genocide there. The white Nile does indeed run through Sudan, but curiously it seems that somethign similar, white denial, runs through the commenters on CiF. Curiously some feel determined to pick on Glenn's usage of a WaPo article as evidence that either genocide is not occurng or that there is wide acceptance that it is, without, say looking at reports in their own newspaper that put the toll there at 255,000. Now it is true that the deaths of 255,000 people may or may not be genocide per se - if you carefully define genocide to be the deliberate killing of one ethnic group rather than collateral deaths caused by and attempt to ethnic cleanse the land of a particular group - but you know I'd have thought that 255,000 dead and ten times that number of refugees etc. etc. would possibly cause people who protested say Serbian aggression in Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo some sort of discomfort, but apparently not.

The problem, neatly (if accidentally) explained by one zbuster, is that Darfur suffers from the problem of the wrong sort of killers. It seems that "white" killers such as Americans or Serbs, or jewish killers, such as the Israeli Defense Forces, are automatically guilty of genocide as soon as they cause a single casualty but darker skinned killers, particularly those who claim to be Muslims, get a free pass. In fact the problem appears to be worse. If America calls something a 'genocide' it is automatically considered by these folks to be anything but 'genocide'. This is explained in the bizarre comment where the republican Bush regime's claim of genocide in Darfur is denied because previous US regimes - e.g. the democratic Clinton, Carter and Johnson regimes - failed to call Rwanda, Cambodia and Sukarno's purges in Indonesia genocides.

I think all this white denial is summed up best by the Grauniad's Simon Jenkins today. Apparently the Grauniadistas don't give a tinkers cuss for anyone else, they are selfish and feel that the West should leave the rest of the world to kill each other because it is unaceptable for us to impose our moral standards (things like not killing your neighbour because he is black or non-Muslim or both) on other people because all such intervention is wrong and neo-imperialist/colonialist. This leads to two corollaries. Firstly we should make no attempt to stop those doing the killers and secondly the only thing we should do is send unarmed "aid" convoys to help any survivors. God forbid that we should actually take a moral stance because if we did we'd have to provide the troops to stop the killers and the Guardianistas won't even kill a sheep let alone a mass murderer.

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

Marie Antoinette Mugabe

Zimbabwe has one of the highest inflation rates in the world thanks to Comrade Bob Mugabe's completely screwed up government. In an attempt to try and reduce its effects Comrade Bob declared that bread could only be sold at a particular price - so maybe he has heard of Marie Antoinette? Unfortunately, as the BBC reports, inflation has now made life a little tricky for bakers:

Shops in the Zimbabwe capital Harare are running short of bread after three top food-makers were arrested for over-charging for their products.

Prices of bread and other staple foods are controlled by the government and bakers say the official price does not even meet production costs.

So rather than trying to fix the inflation rate Comrade Zim forces the bakers to make a loss on every loaf they produce. Something tells me that the shortage of bread is going to continue. In further echoes of Marie Antoinette the BBC repot continues:

The AFP news agency reports that some shops have got extra supplies of rolls and scones, as their prices are not controlled.

Let them eat rolls and scones then!

PS no one in Zimbabwe can read this because as the article also explains the Zimbabwe phone company "forgot" to pay the bill on the satellite internet conenction for the whole country. Since paying the bill requires hard currency and the country doesn't have any this shut off could be somewhat prolonged.

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

Early Friday Olive Tree Blogging

I shall be in the porky rolls tomorrow and Saturday and hence away from my computer so I'm posting this early.

Unripe insect eaten olive from our garden. This twig and its olives got accidentally clipped by the gardener which may explain why the background looks a little odd. As always click on the image to see it enlarged and do look at the whole series if you missed them.

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

Email Confidentiality

One of the minor issuettes of the email world is how easy it is to send the wrong email to the wrong audience. Everyone knows about the deadly "Reply All" error and the related multiply forwarded email that ends up being laughed at by zillions of total strangers. Today I got a great example of how these two can combine to void NDAs (Non Disclosure Agreements) and aid in the dissemination of comemrcially sensitive info.

One of my clients is attempting to sell some stuff to a large telecoms/datacoms firm (no names, no packdrill) and I've been involved in the presales process. We've exchnaged NDAs and are busily emailing replies to questions about roadmaps etc. etc. and I've been making sure my client gets the balance right in his desire to sell more stuff and his desire not to spill the beans on everything he hopes to do in the next decade to someone who might end up being part competition. This latter fear was caused by some rather odd questions being asked that sounded more like probing by a competitor than the desire of a customer. Well we've figured out why these questions have been asked today because the large datacom firm purchasing manager managed to CC us on the internal email he should have been sending to the technical decision makers with in the firm. The email he sent is perfectly innocuous - just askign for pricing quotes for kit plus maintenance and so on, no doubt why he CCed us, but it's a reply to an email that contains the competitve feature analysis by the techs of my client's product and a product we did not know about which is being made by a competitor.

As a result we get to learn about the existence of this competing product. And hence I think someone just violated their NDA because the copetitor's product, like ours, is clearly not publically annouced and thus one for which information is available solely under NDA. In this case it probably isn't a really big deal. I imagine the competitor is going to be announcing the product at a trade show coming soon and anyway the specific product isn't exactly destined to be a big seller - the addressable market for our products is a handful of datacom/telecom players who are unlikely to buy more than a couple of million dollars worth each - but if this happened to us it could happen to the guy who sources the next GPS HDTV equipped iPod or whatever with something critical and that contract could be worth hundreds of millions. If its some startup against an established giant then the release of this info in the wrong direction could easily result in the nipper going out of business instead of making a blockbuster IPO... and it would be next to impossible to know that such a leak - entirely inadvertant in any case - was the cause of the improved bid from the recipient of the leak.

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

Azzang Walkie Bits!

We all know about Engrish - the Japanese mangling of English - and of course there is Singlish which is the Singaporean equivalent. But less well known is the Korean version so I present (via the reg) this wonderful site and just in case they fix some of the worst bits I've copied the best in this image:

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

NY Slimes - Hypocrites 'Я' Us

Ann Althouse points me to a truly astounding NY Slimes editorial which simply begs for a good thorough fisking, and so despite having some work to do I figure I'll do it as I'm well qualified to provide the appropriate amount of snark and venom. Since each and every paragraph contains breathtaking statements of hypocrisy and chutzpah by far the simplest  to fisk it is to rewrite every paragraph with the opposite view...

The Fine Art of Declassification

"The fine art of printing highly selective leaks" perhaps?

It’s hard to think of a president and an administration more devoted to secrecy than President Bush and his team. Except, that is, when it suits Mr. Bush politically to give the public a glimpse of the secrets. And so, yesterday, he ordered the declassification of a fraction of a report by United States intelligence agencies on the global terrorist threat.

It's hard to to think of a newspaper more devoted to anonymous leaks of secure documents. Except, that is, when it suits this newspaper politically to complain about the leaks. And so last weekend we printed masses and masses of highly selectively quoted leaks from a report by United States intelligence agencies on the global terrorist threat.

Mr. Bush said he wanted to release the document so voters would not be confused about terrorism or the war when they voted for Congressional candidates in November. But the three declassified pages from what is certainly a voluminous report told us what any American with a newspaper, television or Internet connection should already know. The invasion of Iraq was a cataclysmic disaster. The current situation will get worse if American forces leave. Unfortunately, neither the report nor the president provide even a glimmer of a suggestion about how to avoid that inevitable disaster.

We said that we wanted to release the leaked snippets so voters would be thoroughly misled about progress on the war and terrorism when the voted for Congressional candidates in November and we are seriously hacked off that the President and his team decided to show the world just how untrue our portrayal of the invasion of Iraq being a cataclysmic disaster has been. The curret situation will get worse if American forces leave so we want them to run away immediately and therefore cause the inevitable disaster that, with luck, should convince the American voters to vote Dhimmocrat in November and again in 2008

Despite what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, have tried to make everyone believe, one of the key findings of the National Intelligence Estimate, which represents the consensus of the 16 intelligence agencies, was indeed that the war in Iraq has greatly increased the threat from terrorism by “shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives.”

Despite what we, the LA Times and other parts of the MSM have tried to make everyone believe, one of the key findings of the NIE, which represents the consensus of the 16 intelligence agencies, was indeed that quitting Iraq would greatly increased the threat from terrorism because "perceived jihadist success there would inspire more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere."

It said Iraq has become “the cause célèbre for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.” It listed the war in Iraq as the second most important factor in the spread of terrorism — after “entrenched grievances such as corruption, injustice and fear of Western domination.” And that was before April, when the report was completed. Since then, things have got much worse. (The report was written before the killing in June of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. The authors thought such an event would diminish the danger in Iraq. It has not.)

It should have said that Iraq had become “the cause célèbre for liberal MSM jihadjournalists, breeding a deep resentment of republican success in winning elections based on the threat of the global jihadist movement.” The report listed the war as being the second best excuse peddled by the jihadists after the usual excuses of Arab incompetance and inability to compete with an educated, liberal democratic state like Israel but we tried to state that in a different way to make it seem bad. (That was before the oil price fell and Bush's approval ratings started climbing again despite everything we've been doing to keep them low. Our editors thought that our leaks would diminish Bush's popularity but actually they haven't.)

Mr. Bush decided to release this small, selected chunk of the report in reaction to an article on the intelligence assessment that appeared in The Times over the weekend. As a defense of his policies, it serves only to highlight the maddening circular logic that passes for a White House rationale. It goes like this: The invasion of Iraq has created an entire new army of terrorists who will be emboldened by an American withdrawal. Therefore, the United States has to stay indefinitely and keep fighting those terrorists.

We decided to print the small misleading selectively quoted parts of the report in our article on the intelligence assessment that we printed last weekend. As an attack on his policies it served merely to highlight how completely unable we in the MSM and Dhimmocrat party are to come up with a sane and convincing alternative. Our plan goes like this: we quit Iraq and Afghanistan and leave the people there under Jihadist domination, we say we are vewwy vewwy sowwy and we won't do it again and promise to pay a large sum of money, make our women wear burqas and build a bunch of Mosques. Oh and we get the lube out, bend over, pull our pants down and... The voters seem to think it might be better to stick with the current plan of killing the nasty Jihadists instead until it is they that give up.

By that logic, the more the United States fights, the longer the war stretches on.

By our logic the sooner we start learning Arabic and studying the Qu'ran the better.

It’s obvious why Mr. Bush did not want this report out, and why it is taking so long for the intelligence agencies to complete another report, solely on Iraq, that was requested by Congress in late July. It’s not credible that more time is needed to do the job. In 2002, the intelligence agencies completed a report on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction in less time. Mr. Bush also made selected passages of that report public to buttress his arguments for war with Iraq, most of which proved to be based on fairy tales.

It's obvious why we leaked the bits of the report we did and why we are so hacked off at having our tacky article shown up as the blatent Dhimocrat propaganda it is. It's not fair that people should see through the supposed neutrality of out hit pieces. In 2003 we printed a thoroughly misleading OpEd by Joe Wilson and it was seriously irritating to discover that our attempts to misdirect the public away from his lies and inventions has not worked. We quoted selected statements from Mr Wilson to buttress our attempts at misdirection, most of which proved to be based on fairy tales.

Then, Mr. Bush wanted Americans to focus on how dangerous Saddam Hussein was, and not on the obvious consequences of starting a war in the Middle East. Now, he wants voters to focus on how dangerous the world is, and not on his utter lack of ideas for what to do about it.

Then we wanted Americans to focus on the complete lack of WMDs that had been found. Now the evidence is clear that Iraq was indeed seeking to restart its WMD program so we are switching emphasis to focus on the ass-covering of the CIA and other intelligence agencies in the hope that no one will notice our utter lack of ideas for what to do about anything.

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

Reuters chokes on good news

Al Reuters is forced to report that things could possibly be looking up in Iraq. Of course it has problems saying so but the news that the Sunni tribes in Anbar provice are now fighting on the government side against Al Qaeda and that Al Qaeda leaders in the province are being captured and kikled is one of those stories that is pretty much good news however you try to spin it. Although I'm sure our friends at the NY Slimes will have a go at finding the massive, hitherto unsuspected, bad news part. Or at least bury it somewhere at the bottom of page B32.

Reuters' attempt to minimise the good news starts off like this (my bolding):

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Sunni tribal leaders who have vowed to drive al Qaeda out of Iraq's most restive province met the Shi'ite premier on Wednesday, marking what Washington hopes will be a breakthrough alliance against militants.

Sattar al-Buzayi, a Sunni sheikh from Anbar province who has emerged in recent weeks as a leader of a tribal alliance against

Osama bin Laden's followers, said he and about 15 other sheikhs had offered their cooperation to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

"We agreed to cooperate," Buzayi told Reuters. "We haven't agreed to anything specific, but we agreed to cooperate."

Maliki's office issued a statement praising the chiefs for their commitment to fighting the militants.

"This is admired and respected by all Iraqis. We are fully prepared to back your efforts," the prime minister said.

Firstly why is it just Washington that hopes this? How about "marking what sane people around the world hope..."? because I can't see many people anywhere who want Al Qaeda to remain in Iraq. Secondly, I have no idea what the full statement says but I'd guess that "We haven't agreed to anything specific" is only part of it and it seems to me it could easily be spun to "this is just more words with no back up" if Reuters feel like it.

Only after this section about the meeting do we get the information about how unpopula Al Qaeda is and how the cooperation seems to be killing or capturing Al Qaeda leaders (again my bolding):

Al Qaeda's Iraq branch has seized control of towns and villages throughout the Euphrates river valley along the 250 km (180 miles) from Falluja, near Baghdad, to the Syrian border.

But their strict interpretation of Sunni Islam and violent rule has alienated traditional-minded Sunni Muslims, including groups that have supported the insurgency against U.S. forces.

The United States says its 30,000 troops in Anbar -- by far the deadliest province for U.S. forces in Iraq -- cannot defeat the insurgency on their own. Senior commanders say they have been delighted by recent developments in Ramadi.

Buzayi confirmed that U.S. and Iraqi forces had killed a senior al Qaeda figure in Anbar on Tuesday. Khalid Ibrahim Mahal has been described as Qaeda's "emir" in the province although the organization's precise leadership structure is murky.

"He was a very important figure for al Qaeda and getting rid of him was for the best," Buzayi told Reuters.

Iraqi journalists for Reuters in Ramadi say another figure named Zuhair, seen as a key Qaeda militant and known locally as "The Butcher of Anbar," was killed by tribal gunmen in a car as he walked in one of Ramadi's main commercial streets on Monday.

Again the negativity - 30,000 troops cannot defeat the insurgency on their own. Well duh! of course they can't. Practically no one has ever defeated any terrorist group or insurgency without significant buy in from the local populace. The only regime to have been successful in the regard is Syria - but then the destruction of a major town (Hama) and the killing of an estimated 25,000 people (almost all of its inhabitants) is not something that the US has felt like doing in Iraq.

That negativity continues as the report concludes with a laundry list of completely unrelated incidents in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq.

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

Aaronovitch smacks the Jihadi loving lefties

Harry's Place has a post with links to 4 Youtubes that in total are the 40 minutes where David Aaranovitch and his interviewees, including Norm, smack the Jihadi loving lefties good and proper. This was broadcast on the UK's Channel 5 entitled "No exucses for terror" and is clearly somewhat UK centric - but it deserves a global audience because the same moonbattiness is observed worldwide.

Oh and if you can't be arsed to click on through links to the four Youtubes are available below

  1. Aaronovitch on Channel 5 (Part 1 of 4)

  2. Aaronovitch on Channel 5 (Part 2 of 4)

  3. Aaronovitch on Channel 5 (Part 3 of 4)

  4. Aaronovitch on Channel 5 (Part 4 of 4)

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

Bonne Chance, Mais...

As an optimistic (wildly oprimistic according to She Who Must Be Obeyed) sort of chap, I don't want to be the thunderstorm of depression at a fellow blogger's celebratory garden party. Especially when said blogger seems to have struck it lucky after a fairly rough few months. But I'm going to do so anyway. Not you understand that I don't wish her every good fortune because I do its just that the way she has struck it big comes mere days after my reading a couple of related stories that combine to make me think that she's got a potential problem.

The story so far: Petite Anglaise was dooced and then got lots of yummy publicity and (a certain amount of non-yummy publicity from the Daily Mail: "Prize for my least favourite paper goes to the Daily Mail for being the people who managed to sniff out my surname, use it against my wishes, send a journalist to my parents house and reproduce sections from my blog after I expressly refused my permission") and this has led to a new career as an author which sounds jolly good at first sight:

As I have reported, briefly, in The Daily Telegraph, the woman behind the nom-de-blog, Catherine Sanderson, has landed a highly impressive deal to write two books for Penguin.

Bloggers among my readers – and among hers, come to that – should take heart, not just from the romantic aspects of Catherine’s rise from humdrum office life to celebrity and success, but from the hard-nosed detail.

No one likes talking figures on these occasions, but I have reason to believe the contract is worth in the region of £400,000 and that more may end up going her way from deals with America and the rest of the world.

And this is where I get to be the party pooper. You see first of all I read this from the Boston Herald:

Not so long ago, having a popular blog was the ultimate “in” to get yourself a book deal.

Now? Not so much.

Bloggers, buoyed by site meter numbers and Internet buzz, were the darling of the publishing world about two years ago. But when books hit the shelves, sales fizzled, and now it takes a lot more than a laptop and a blogspot account to make it onto Amazon’s top 100.

“They haven’t performed as well as publishers hoped,” said Boston-based literary agent Jill Kneerim. “It is still a phenomenon that people are hopeful about, but in many cases, people who are fans of the blog have already read the content. So what’s the point in buying the book?”

Stephanie Klein, whose blog “Greek Tragedy” at www.stephanieklein.com netted her a six-figure, two-book deal, released “Straight Up and Dirty” this past spring. It wasn’t the grand slam publishers expected. One agent told The Book Standard, “Paying $500,000-plus for that Greek Tragedy blogger was pretty dumb.”

Other hyped blogger books such as “Baghdad Burning: Girl Blog from Iraq” (riverbendblog.blogspot .com), “Anonymous Lawyer” by Jeremy Blachman (anonymous lawyer.blogspot.com) and “I’m Not the New Me: A Memoir” by Wendy McClure (poundy.com) weren’t anything to, well, blog about.

Well you might claim that this is just America (and you could be right) but - although she (not unsurprisingly) fails to give details - Belle de Jour seems less that perfectly pleased with her book sales and I'm fairly sure that Tim W's Blogged is now on special 2 for the price of 1 discount at your local remainder store. So a £400,000 2 book advance looks like a bad move from Penguin because, at least in N America, the blogger-authors are less than commercially successful.

Well you say so what? Petite gets the moolah so if the book doesn't earn out she's going to cry all the way to the bank. And I have to admit that might have been my opinion too had I not read the related post by Tor Editor Anna Louise Genovese:

I have received several emails from agents lately that make me want to reply with one line: Is this a joke? I am completely baffled by agents who obviously do not have the best interests of their clients in mind. On one hand, I completely understand that agents want the best deal they can get for their clients. On the other hand, the best deal is not always a tremendous amount of money.

It's not just a crazy urban legend, you know. Too many authors find their careers in tatters because they took that $150,000 advance thinking the publisher was going to push the book harder because they paid more money for it. That is hardly ever the way it happens. The book prints 250,000 copies, but 225,000 copies sit in the warehouse while 25,000 copies sit on bookshelves. Then the book goes to remainder. The author never earns back the advance, and can't get another contract to save his/her life. So very often, despite one or two successful books, this particular book (and maybe the second one on the contract that only prints 25,000 copies and sells 15,000) ruins the author's track record.

Time to start over with a pseud. But that's hard--it's hard to get a book published, period.[...]

Anyway, I'm frustrated, because sometimes the best deal isn't the most money, and I don't understand why some agents don't understand that. The end.

And if that were not bad enough as she explains in the comments people saying "so what? I'll take it anyway" are missing the point that these telephone number amounds of money don't get transfered in one easy to pay tax on lump:

Okay, so you'd take the $150,000 for two books--minus your agent's 15%, spread out over the course of at least five payments (on signing, delivery & acceptance for #1, delivery & acceptance for #2, on publication for #1, on publication for #2--maybe even two more payments if the book is done in hardcover *and* paperback...), minus state and federal taxes... What are you left with? Not all that much money, and no career in publishing.

So here's the optimistic possible deal - if the first book sells well and the second shows up before the buzz has gone away she's OK and a budding new JK Rowling has been born. Then Hollywood gets in on the act, a yorkshire "Bridget Jones" film gets made, is the sleeper hit of 2009 and Petite gets to buy one of the gin palaces in Port Vauban and a "cozy cottage" in the country. Cool.

Here's another possible deal - the first book, despite being written amusingly and having a gienormous print run, goes down like a lead balloon, never makes it beyond a rank of 3 gazillion at Amazon and is widely seen in all good remainder shops adjacent to John Prescott's Memoirs ("Three Shags, Two Jags, One Fist in the Gob") just in time for Christmas 2008. Penguin publish the second contracted book at a much reduced printing, make a mental note never to be so stupid again and their editors, in the gossipy way of the book trade tell everyone they know at parties that Petite can't write to save her life so don't take the risk, and the other publishers take their advice. Petite having spent all the advance on riotous living, childcare, mortgage payments etc. now needs to look for a new job in a new field because no one wants to publish her third book or see her name in their magazine.

Do you reckon life is more likely to follow scenario 1 or scenario 2? Yeah me 2.

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

Bitching about a lack of eBooks

The Japundit blog has been advertising the latest book in Lian Hearn's "Tales of the Otori" fantasy series set in a sort of alternate universe medieval Japan. It sounds fascinating and exactly the sort of series I'd like to buy. There is just one problemette. No electronic edition and no more than about 5 pages of preview text at amazon.

As a result the potential impluse buy that would have been triggered by the Japundit blogad has dissipated. The problem is that, since I live in France, it can be just a tad tricky to trot down to the local bookshop to browse and read enough of a book to make sure that it is good. If it were good chances are high that I'd buy not just the first book in the series but all of them at once (and then probably get hacked off because book 2 suffers from the usual midbook of the trilogy weakness), but five pages isn't enough to go on.

I'm sorry to say that I've been spoiled thanks to Baen and its free library and wonderful webscriptions so that I am no longer willing to fork out a chunk of money on spec. If the first book (or any book for that matter) in the series were available from Baen then about a quarter of it would be up on the internet for free and I'd be able to buy the entire thing for $4 or $5. Since there are significant shelving problems chez moi (see photo) buying dead tree editions on spec is contraindicated because it tends to cause (arguments with the) trouble and strife. Hence my book buying has declined significantly from publishers other than Baen. The only times when I don't buy from Baen are
  1. Book/author strongly recommended by people I trust
  2. Baen author who has books published elsewhere too
  3. Extreme terminal boredom while travelling
  4. Wandering into a second hand bookstore on a visit to some anglophone city
  5. The rare non-Baen author who provides an online edition (e.g. Doctorow, Stoss...)
This brings me neatly to Cory Doctorow's article on copyright in September's Locus magazine. You see the reason why most books are not available in cheap sane DRM-free form is that the publishers have fatally misunderstood the purpose behind copyright and its history. As Cory explains copyright is intended to stop publishers nicking the works that other publishers/authors would like to benefit from, not to stop the reader from treating the book as his property to do with as he wishes. Effectively this worked for a few centuries because publishing (and related technologies such as broadcasting) were limited to a few large entities and so standard commercial contract law could be used to enforce the copyright agreements.

Today, as he and zillions of others have pointed out, computers and the Internet mean that anyone can become an electronic publisher or printer for very very little. The barriers have come down and the difference between the reader and publisher has blurred. The publishers seem to think that this means that readers should sign up to complex license agreements similar to other publishers but readers, on the whole, disagree. Or at least we disagree to the extent that we can see when we are being ripped off. If we have to download it it ought to be cheaper than buying it in the shop. And if its harder to use than the version in the shop then it won't be used. If you sell me eBooks at $0.99 which is highly restricted to only work on one PC that may be acceptable, but I'd prefer to buy a $4 version that is more flexible. If you sell me books at $19.99 and that only work on one PC that is not.

There is, IMO, no excuse for any newly published work not to be made available in electronic form. These days what is sent to the printer is an electronic document. The incremental cost of converting that to PDF (or RTF or HTML or ...) is something approaching 0 - the first text might be a bit hard because you have to read the manual and create the script/batchfile, the second may need a bit of debugging, but subsequent ones are no more complex than "drag, drop, click". The hosting cost is likewise negligable, so why do publishers not look at making more money for free?

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

Friday Olive Tree Blogging

Our olives are getting depressingly ripe and, just as last year, the mill isn't open yet so they are beginning to drop to the ground. However, that may be next weeks photo because I have something more interesting (to us olive fanciers at any rate) this week.

Last week while on the Ile de Porquerolles (the reason why last weeks entry showed up a tad early) I saw some interesting olive trees which seem to be growing olives that are far larger than normal. This image is not of the largest ones as unfortunately I cocked up the macro on that one and it came out blurry but they are still interesting because of their far more spherical shape than the average olive.

As always click on the photo to enlarge and do look at the rest of the series if you missed them.

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

Defending Malkin

Well not really - she don't need no defending from no one no how - but commenting on it.

Michelle Malkin's latest column is about some british girl who used to sing nice church music but now lets it all hang out singing dire girly pop. Not terribly surprisingly, Michelle feels that it would be nice if this bimbo had remained in her previous role as "nice girl" and thinks that the make over is a bad idea.

The corruption of Charlotte Church is a sorry little sign of how innocence and grace have lost their mass appeal — even as parents claim to want age-appropriate role models for their daughters. A survey of 1,010 mothers with daughters 4 to 9 years old, released this week, reported that 90 percent of the moms "believe there are not enough wholesome role models, celebrities, characters and brands for young girls to emulate." Some 85 percent of those polled said they are "tired of the 'sexpot' dolls/characters" currently available.

They say that — and yet, the doll market is clogged with best-selling Bratz babies in thongs and Barbies with bling.

The survey was commissioned by AG Properties, owners of the wholesome Strawberry Shortcake, Care Bears and Holly Hobbie toy lines. Perhaps it's time for moms lamenting the skankification of their little girls' world to put their money where their mouths are.

Not that it's so easy. I confess I broke down and let my 6-year-old daughter have a Bratz lunchbox. Now she wants to be a Bratz doll for Halloween, an idea that warrants only one word (a word not said often enough): "No."

Charlotte's fall was not inevitable. But good girls need grown-ups to keep them from going out of style.

Wonkette and Prof Eric Muller think that Mrs Malkin is being a hypocrite because in 1992 she was pictured in a bikini indoors in some mystery location at spring break (well actually they have a photo that might be her, but Michelle strongly implies that is isn't, for the sake of argument I'm going to assume the picture is real and explain that it doesn't matter).

Assuming (note disclaimer above) that photo is of Michelle it is rather a feeble way to counter her point. You see there are a couple of teensy weensy differences between the putative behavior of Michelle and the behaviour she is complaining about. At the date the photo is supposed to have been taken Michelle was 21 and a bit by my calculations. According to Wikipedia (yeah I know but it has more details than Michelle's own page) in March 1992 she was an ADULT, and also, as far as I know, both single and a student at Oberlin. Hence entitled to go on a vacation with friends where she could get a tan and consume alcoholic beverages. She was also not, at that moment, intending to make an appearence of Fox news in her bikini or otherwise corrupt the morals of anyone - mind you the girl in the photo looks real nice and one that in 1992 I'd have been pleased to date but that is not the issue. You see there is the key difference between Charlotte Church and Michelle Malkin - a lack of TV cameras, paparazzi and interviewers. In other words Mrs Malkin (or Miss Maglalang as she was then) was a private citizen having fun on her own dime whereas Ms Church is being paid to strut her stuff in front cameras and tittilate millions.

Oh and the "all you can drink wristband" - from my European experience (different I know, but I suspect related) - if you are in a large group you don't get admittance to certain reserved places without a wristband - the wristband may also entitle you to booze but the more important thing is it lets you go in and party with your friends so possession of a wristband does not require you to be passed out naked at 3am and it also does not mean you associate with those who do end up in that state.

It seems to me that Wonkette and Muller and their trib believe that anyone who thinks that there is too much sex on TV ought to dress like a nun (or an islamic lady in a burqa) and never show more than a hint of femininity to anyone and above all should never ever have fun. That, if you will excuse me, is a stupid argument and shows their lack of understanding of moral or religious thought. There are, no doubt, some religious people who think that way (they tend to speak Arabic), but that isn't Michelle's view, as would be obvious to anyone who's seen her HotAir productions. As should be obvious to anyone with a university education, let alone someone who teaches in a university, there is a difference between sex all the time, sex at appropriate times and no sex ever. The Wonkette and Muller brigade seem to think that "sex at appropriate times" is not a solution although quite why thexy should think that is a mystery since it has been standard practise throughout most of civilization. What is non standard is today's soft porn on every channel 24x7 and that is what Malkin is complaining about.

In fact, while it would probably cause both groups to swoon to think that they had something in common, it isn't much different to viewpoint of the feminists who decry the way that modern media shows only the skinny models and in perfectly made up airbrushed poses at that. Skinny slutty models and pop stars are not in fact doing girls any favours and are sending them dangerously wrong messages. Unless you believe that it is good for 14 year old girls to dress like prostitutes and throw up after every meal in order to stay thin then you might want to stop to think what she is complaining about instead of mocking someone behaving like a student when she was a student.

PS La Shawn makes a similar point in her post on the subject.

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

Euro-National Champions

Siemens boss Kleinfeld says oopsThe magnificently dynamic European economy is hitting the odd speedbump as it roars to success. Yesterday the Taiwanese company BenQ announced that it was no longer interesting in paying for the high cost low productivity german workforce it bought for $250 million a year ago. Unfortunately it discovered that the $250M was the least of its costs:

BenQ, which also produces projectors and digital music players, acquired the German mobile-phone operations in a bid to expand its global market share. It has since booked 600 million euros ($760 million) in losses from those operations.

and of course the Germans are just a tad peeved at how they get to lose 3000 jobs because there seems to be a total lack of dynamic startups kene to hire these top of the range technical wizards:

The company will liquidate operations, which include two factories that employ 3,000 people, if insolvency administrators cannot restructure it. The Asian business will not be affected.

Still, the decision sparked an outcry in Germany.

Labor unions accuse BenQ of betraying employees who accepted wage cuts to help keep the business afloat. Labor leaders also blame Siemens, which they say mismanaged the company.

Siemens, one of Germany's biggest companies, said Friday it had expected BenQ's takeover to provide a "solid and long-term solution" to the business' problems.

"Under the current circumstances, Siemens will examine its legal situation in relation to BenQ," the company said.

Siemens is of course extremely embarassed not just because it has probably failed to live up to its billing as "national champion" but also because it has just flogged off more of itself to Nokia and if BenQ does this in a year what will Nokia do?

Meanwhile elsewhere in Europe another national champion, EADS and in particular its Airbus unit, seems to be in even deeper doodoo than predicted because its A380 white elephant doesn't work.

PARIS (AFP) - The new Airbus chief executive has presented an audit of problems at the aircraft manufacturer as well as a vast recovery plan that could mean new delays for the A380 superjumbo airliner and job cuts.

Chief executive Christian Streiff was outlining results of the audit to the board of directors at EADS, the Airbus parent company, following problems with the A380 superjumbo project, a key part of the Airbus' battle to keep up with US arch-rival Boeing.

Airbus has a problem that Siemens/BenQ does not - namely the communist French trades union. Said trades union has been reported to be distinctly dischuffed with the whole thing and unwilling to accept that its members could be in any degree at fault:

On Thursday, the CGT trade union had issued a statement that the joint head of EADS, Louis Gallois, had met unions "to announce the project for a vast programme of economies and reorganisation at Airbus following a new delay due to be announced for deliveries of the A380 (superjumo airliner)".

The CGT said that the new delay was being used as an "alibi for profound reorganisation and to accelerate the strategy by EADS of externalising internationally (moving activities abroad)".

Compare that attitude with the unions at yet another national champion - VW - where the German unions have figured out that they have a choice of work more for the same pay or see VW close its factories in Germany:

HANOVER, Germany - Representatives from Volkswagen AG and Germany's biggest industrial union said Friday they had agreed to increase working hours at plants in western Germany by more than four hours a week to 33 hours without any increase in pay.

The agreement between VW and the IG Metall union fell short of the 35-hour week sought by the carmaker as part of efforts to drastically cut production costs for its vehicles such as its flagship Golf, which are selling strongly but bringing in little profit.

The deal, which applies to all six of VW's western German factories, also included guarantees of job security for all employees at the factories through 2011.

The union won a promise that VW will build the future model of its Golf compact mainstay as well as another unspecified high-volume model at its base factory in Wolfsburg, and that the Wolfsburg plant will be used to its full capacity of 460,000 vehicles per year. Currently the sprawling plant is not being fully used.

All in all though, despite the good news from VW,  it hasn't been a particularly good week for large european firms.

I despise l'Escroc and Vile Pin