L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

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

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

NaNoWriMo and other Writing Stuff

So -sry has managed to get this idle expat off his duff and do some writing for NaNoWriMo. I've written 1914 words so far today and managed to involve Dr Josephine Buckley - a smart and gorgeous physics teacher. Pity her name seems to mean that she's going to have a nasty accident sometime, ah well.

The mendacious -sry also slandered me at Baen's Bar by claiming that I was scared to publish this excellent site on French cusswords that I found and recommended to her for her Nanowrimo effort.

Because Francis is too shy to post it here himself (hahahaha, well he's too something, maybe POLITE?) and because I have no shame, I just HAVE to share this site with you guys...

 She's a woman, what can I say? they inveigle you into things that you regret and then they tell (kosher in this case) porky pies about them; the fact that I was heading for my daily eight hours of slumber at the time never seems to have crossed her mind. Me, I stick to the Adam defense of "the woman made me do it". It didn't work for him, it has never worked for me, but it has great tradition and as a conservative gentleman I feel bound to observe traditions where and whenever possible.

In other semi-related news. It seems that there are a group of would be writers and bloggers down here on the Riviera that I've never heard of before. Thanks to the blueVicar for telling me the she (I think its a she) was linking to me and a load of others that I am adding to my blogroll under "local". There is even a writing group - maybe I can crash their next event?

Life is très bon, all I have to do now is find a way to add a certain -sry to the giggle of schoolgirls who are going to have nasty accidents under the auspices of Dr J Buckley - or her heirs and exucutors...

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

Friday Olive Tree Blogging

Harvest time this weekend! fortunately there are still a few left on the trees....

As always, click on the image to see it enlarged and look at the past images here.

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

NYT - Iraq Had WMD!

I have to admit I had a good deal of sympathy for the Instapundit's "pre-mortem" where he said that if the republicans lose they did it by shooting themselves in the foot. Fortunately for them though, when it comes to self inflicted wounds, the democrats and their putative allies are simply unbeatable.

First there was John Effing Kerry and his "thickos go to Iraq" comment. A comment which could hardly be bettered for showing contempt for the great unwashed public and thereby pandering to the stereotype of democrats as elitist snobs and which he managed to extend into complete disaster through his inability to understand that, no matter what he may have thought he meant, it was practically impossible to defend his statement or claim that he was quoted out of context. The fact that he did this denial though meant that what should have been a storm in a teacup got rather more coverage and hence allowed some US Servicemen and women to really put the boot in (large hires image courtesty of Murdoconline).

If that weren't enough the NY Times manages to shoot the other foot today by exposing the fact that Saddam Hussein had really good plans and designs for nuclear weapons. When I heard the BBC going on about this at breakfast I had problems understanding why the story was supposedly a government scandal. The more I read about it the less impressed I am. Let us concede, for the sake of less argument, that the plans were
  1. dated 1991 or earlier
  2. accurate
  3. posted on the internet because no one looked at them
The NY Times wants to claim that this is some major Bush booboo and thereby seems practically Kerryesque in its tin-earedness. To anyone outside the cocoon of the NY Times newsroom the fact that Saddam Hussein had detailed working plans about nukes would seem to vindicate the Bush invasion of Iraq. The fact that these documents were tucked away in the middle of some intelligence agency files can quite plausibly be taken to mean that they were deliberately hidden there to avoid notice by all the UN inspectors. The fact that they were good combines with Iraq's clear attempts, despite Joe Plame's denials, to obtain uranium to indictae that yes Saddam Hussein was still keen on making nuclear bombs and that they might well have been good ones and that therefore the WMD claim is good.

The attmept, as Jim Geraghty notes, seems to have been to show that the Bush administrations handling of post-invasion Iraq has been a mess, something which is probably true, but there is a problem:

I think the Times editors are counting on this being spun as a "Boy, did Bush screw up" meme; the problem is, to do it, they have to knock down the "there was no threat in Iraq" meme, once and for all. Because obviously, Saddam could have sold this information to anybody, any other state, or any well-funded terrorist group that had publicly pledged to kill millions of Americans and had expressed interest in nuclear arms. You know, like, oh... al-Qaeda.

But worse that ripping apart the justification for non-invasion, I think, is that it won't take the thoughtful voter long to reflect (or be reminded by a repiblican ad) that the democrats have never ever had a strategy for Iraq or anywhere else that is even slightly positive. They have, as in this story, relentlessly followed up errors but have never come up with a clearly ennunciated or well thought out alternative. Nor does it take long for one to have one's attention drawn to other documents in the same archive which the same NYT-liberal-antiwar axis has been poo-poohing as unreliable and possibly forged. Captain Ed makes this point:

The Times has just authenticated the entire collection of memos, some of which give very detailed accounts of Iraqi ties to terrorist organizations. Just this past Monday, I posted a memo which showed that the Saddam regime actively coordinated with Palestinian terrorists in the PFLP as well as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. On September 20th, I reposted a translation of an IIS memo written four days after 9/11 that worried the US would discover Iraq's ties to Osama bin Laden.

As he concludes:

The Times wanted readers to cluck their tongues at the Bush administration for releasing the documents, although Congress actually did that. However, the net result should be a complete re-evaluation of the threat Saddam posed by critics of the war. Let's see if the Times figures this out for themselves.

All I can say is that Karl Rove must have some really astute double-agents inflitrated into the democrats and their allies.

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

Moslems - the New Catholics

I'm positive that much of the following is not a new or original thought, however that won't stop me from repeating it because it might get a littlemore attention. Some of it, I hope, will be a new thought though.

I've been pondering the posts I read at Suspect Paki, a gentleman whose primary defect in my opinion is that he supports Liverpool, and in particular how he makes the point that Moslems are being picked on by sweeping the purveyors of generalizations and duck-billed platitudes, who lump the fundamentalist nutters in with everyone else and quote the nastier bits of the Koran while ignoring the rest. Something which, I admit, I occasionaly lapse into myself, but I try not to.

Anyway seeing as last weekend was bonfire nioght when all good Englishmen gather round a fire and celebrate the foiling of the gunpowder plot, it occured to me that life as an English Catholic in 1606 was not terribly different to that of an English Moselm in 2006. And for much the same reason. Some other people, who claimed to be fellow religionists, were busily attempting to overthrow the government and install one of foreign origin that was rather more to their liking - the Catholics liked the King of Spain in the 1600s, the Moslems today seem to prefer a somewhat mythical Caliphate.

Now does that mean that all Moslems in 2006 want a caliphate where (going on recent examples) films and music are banned, football stadia are turned into execution grounds, all women have to wear a shapeless sack, men have to wear beards etc. etc. Oddly enough the answer seems to be no and we can tell this because if they did they'd all be buying one-way tickets to Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia or Iran. There may be a couple of people here and there who do that, but the vast majority seem to prefer like in mostly white, racist, secular/Christian England. And the reason for this, I suggest, is that even under ZANU labour life is rather better as a slightly discrimminated against individual here than it would be over there even if you are the ones doing the discrimininating. Much the same, I think, applied to the English Catholics of the 1600s who generally failed to sell up and leave for France or Spain.

Indeed one can draw other parallels. Firstly I am far from unconvinced that the English authorities of today have not taken a leaf out of book of their Elizabethan forefathers and incited or inflated some of the conspiracies they then break up. I don't think they have invented all the threats but some of the plots seem to have been rather less dangerous when prosecuted in a court of law than when splashed across the tabloids. Secondly the perceived foreign power has a load of money to buy influence - then Spain had all the gold it was nicking from Latin America, today it is the black gold of Middle Eastern oil. Again this may be somewhat oversold but there is still clearly an influence. Thirdly, the persecuted minority have some legitimaite grievances that to some degree are shared by many others. At the same time as England was burning Catholics it was also turfing out all those nasty puritain dissenters and forcing them to go live in the wilds of New England where they would lack all the mod cons of 17th century civilization. It took almost another century before the idea of religious toleration was generally accepted and even then it meant toleration for non-Catholics only. Today many Moslems complain about the "skankification" of secular English society, with its sex and violence laden TV, teenage pregnancies, binge drinking, drug abuse etc. etc. just as do miscellaneous archbishops, retired colonels and other asorted old fogeys.

The anti-catholic propaganda of the 1600s such as that exemplified by the treatment of Mr Fawkes has a lot of echoes in the anti-muslim words of today. In particular, it tars with a broad brush when it should be painting with a rather more delicate one and it frequently consists of uninformed comment and what seems to be wilful misinterpretation of what the actual sources and source documents say.

However, and here I'm probably going to piss off most of the Moslems who have been nodding in agreement up to this point, there is a kernel of truth behind the anti-Moslem propaganda, just as there was behind the anti-Catholic one. The deal is this: excessive corecive religion is harmful to society, to progress and to the common law tradition of England. Combine a coercive religion which has problems with education beyond the scriptures with a repressive government and you get total stagnation. Stagnation is bad if you think that people ought to have a chance to improve their standard of living and it is a total disaster if you want to have an innovative society .There is a clear strand of Moslem thought these days, just as there was a similar one in Catholic thought 400 years ago, that thinks that it is better to know the Koran by heart than to be able to operate a computer, let alone invent something for one. Today's Christian idiots in Kansas who deny Evolution are equally misguided, however despite a certain amount of fear-mongering, they don't have control of the education of large numbers of children.

Consider the history of the last 400 years. The England of 1600 was barely holding its own against Spain, the England of 1800 was rescuing Spain from Napoleon. And if you think the collapse of Spain as a Catholic superpower was bad consider the decline and fall of the Moslem ones. Much of the reason for this is the fact that England (and other parts of protestant N Europe) developed a culture where knowledge was important and where successful innovation was rewarded. Oh and where, for the most part, education was only valued it it taught something practical.

I can't say there have been no contributions from either Catholic or Moslem scholars in the last 400 years but there have been very few from either, for the Catholics there is Gallileo, Pasteur, a couple of other French philosophers/scientists and maybe half a dozen Germans, Austrians and Italians. Islamic contributions in the last 400 years are even fewer*. The vast majority of inventions and discoveries have originated in England and her (ex)colonies. Today the Anglosphere (horrible word) contains most of the world's top universities, about 40% the world's GDP (over US$18T out of a global GDP of US$44.4), the two primary global financial markets (London and New York) and so on.

The Suspect Paki frequently complains about the state of Israel. That's OK. I used to be pretty anti-Israel myself (I've moderasted to more of "a plague on both your houses" feeling) and there is much to complain about in the state of Israel. However Israel is worth studying to see what positive lessons can be learned too. There are one or two differences between Israel and its neighbours and they boil down to education, free markets and the rule of law. As a result, Israel has created hundreds of startups from biotech to computer software and, as a result of that, the global economy has benefited. Its Moslem neighbours, despite in many cases, billions of dollars of oil money, have created nothing equivalent and in fact have imported Asians (and Europeans) to do pretty much everything. You shouldn't generalize that all Moslems are as bad as the gulf states, they aren't, as countries like Turkey or Malaysia demonstrate, but you can certainly claim that thanks to oil, the influence of the fucked up gulf version(s) of Islam is greater than it deserves. That strain (or those strains if you like) of Islam are as much as threat to England today as Spanish catholicism was 400 years ago and it is a threat not because it keeps the locals stupid (although that doesn't help), but because it makes the claim that its fucked up version of human society is the one that the rest of the world should also follow.

To go back to the Moslem-Catolic comparison. The really good news so far is that there seems to be no modern version of
Remember, remember the fifth of November,
The gunpowder, treason and plot,
I see of no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, 'twas his intent
To blow up the King and the Parliament.
Three score barrels of powder below,
Poor old England to overthrow:
By God's providence he was catch'd
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, make the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
Hip hip hoorah!
let us pray it stays that way

*Note exclusivity of regions and time period. Islamic contributions to science in the middle ages were significant, as were at other times Chinese, Roman, Greek etc. Also note this does not bother with the contributions from other groups in the last 400 years.

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

We Are All Neandertals Now

Or at least many of us share some Neandertal genes. This is the sort of cool news that makes me read GNXP all the time. The press release says (in part):

The scientists said they have developed the most robust genetic evidence to date that suggests humans and Neanderthals interbred when they existed together thousands of years ago. The interbreeding hypothesis contrasts with at least one prominent theory that posits that no interbreeding occurred when the two species encountered one another.

Lahn collaborated on the studies with Patrick D. Evans, Nitzan Mekel-Bobrov, Eric J. Vallender and Richard R. Hudson, all of the University of Chicago.

In their studies, Lahn and his colleagues performed a detailed statistical analysis of the DNA sequence structure of the gene microcephalin, which is known to play a role in regulating brain size in humans. Mutations in the human gene cause development of a much smaller brain, a condition called microcephaly.

Earlier studies by Lahn's group yielded evidence that the microcephalin gene has two distinct classes of alleles. One class, called the D alleles, is comprised of a group of alleles with rather similar DNA sequences. The other class is called the non-D alleles. Lahn and colleagues previously showed that all modern copies of the D alleles arose from a single progenitor copy about 37,000 years ago, which then increased in frequency rapidly and are now present in about 70 percent of the world's population. This rapid rise in frequency indicates that the D alleles underwent positive selection in the recent history of humans. This means that these alleles conferred a fitness advantage on those who possessed one of them such that these people had slightly higher reproductive success than people who didn't possess the alleles, said Lahn.

Specifically in this case GNXP has two posts with links to two others by John Hawks which talk about a recent paper on the microcephalin gene (available free here). It is interesting to see how this genetic evidence of introgression links up to the fossil eveidence as noted in those Romanian fossils that turn out to be about 30,000 years old and that show a number of different crossover bone types. As Hawks explains this variety is key:

Why do I think these critiques have little force? Because at this point, we have enough early Upper Paleolithic specimens with such features to notice something very important about them: different specimens have different Neandertal features.

It's like a shotgun approach to Neandertal intermixture. These are not one or two things appearing in parallel, and they aren't chance resemblances in this small early Upper Paleolithic sample, when they almost all decline systematically in later samples.

So when we see each new specimen, like Muierii 1, carrying not only Neandertal features, but its own distinctive set of Neandertal features, that emphasizes the early role of genome-wide intermixture.

It's nice how that ties right in to the genetic introgression discoveries.

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

Minor Regional News

The major French news is the SNCF strike, other news is about the socialist party TV debate. This is not the news that most foreigners concentrate on, namely the disturbances in the banlieues. In the reporting of the latter one thing that has received barely any coverage is that in Nice's Ariane suburb there has been a major argument between North African and Chechen residents which has resulted in shots being fired:

Police carried out a major operation yesterday afternoon in the Ariane area of Nice, arresting 15 people and seizing a number of weapons, after three days of tension between Chechen and African youths. The trouble began on Saturday night when four youths were attacked – since then there have been a series of revenge attacks. The raids came after a number of shots were fired yesterday near a pre-school in the Boulevard de l’Ariane.

What is never discussed is exactly what caused the disturbance in the first place. As far as I can tell this is an argument between criminal gangs that have formed on ethnic grounds. To the foreign observers, particularly those who claim that the disturbances are religiously motivated, this kind of interethnic gang clash is a bit of evidence that goes against their prefered narative but it seems to me that it is consistent with the explanation of the riots as being primarily criminal gangs protesting against police interference in their territories.

The banlieues are a mess and are the domain of gangs. It should be no real surprise that sometimes the gangs clash with each other. Nor should it be a surprise that the gangs sometimes claim religious beliefs to excuse their behaviour - I seem to recall the Mafia making similar claims once upon a time. And the fix - making the racaille either get jobs or starve - also ought to be obvious. Unfortunately as the SNCF strike hints, that isn't going to happen without a major revolution in French worker habits.

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

The Biggest Threat to England

So my post yesterday may make it seem like I think Islam is the major threat to England. Actually I don't think that is the case. In fact this is where I tend to go along with the Suspect P as he makes the claim that much of the "Islamic terror" threat is wildly distorted. Note that doesn't mean I think Islam is a wonderful religion or that its tenets are true, nor does it mean I deny that parts of it are abused as blatent propaganda by bloodthirsty middle eastern tyrants and would-be tyrants, it just means that I believe that to whatever extent it is a threat, it is essentially an external threat and one that England is well able to stand up to under normal circumstances. Q.V. Napoleon, Nazis, Commies etc. As I wrote in the previous post, the English have proven to be pretty good at thinking, and as I have written earlier, the English have historically proved to be damn good at fighting and killing, so if push comes to shove we'll invent the next superweapon and use it to create a desert called peace.

However, just as the Vandals, Visigoths etc. delivered the coup de grace to the Western Roman Empire and the Turks did sometime later to the Eastern one, Islamic immigrants could possibly inflict the final blow that marks the end of England*. Islam will only inflict this blow if England succumbs to the biggest thereat and that threat is internal rot. Had I been a grown up as opposed to an inky schoolboy I suspect I would have decided that England in 1978 was irretrievably fucked. As someone who came to man's estate under the government of the Iron Lady M, I decided that England had a promising future. Unfortunately 8 years of Blairist government now leaves me less sure.

The problems I'm seeing are not unique to England, but as an Englishman and a patriot I don't really care so much about anywhere else. They also seem to be worryingly advanced in England. The problem boils down to the concept that because "Government is good so more government is better" - an opinion spread around by the UN, EU and other transnational organizations as well as ZANU labour and its ideological soul mates in the Grauniad and the like. "More government = better" has been a staple of continental European thought for decades and despite the economic and humanitarian disasters that result (communism, nazism...) still seems to be popular. The problem is that people think that just as long as their sorts are in power then big government is OK, unfortunately big government corrupts everything it touches.

It is my contention that the biggest threat to England's existence as a country with a promising future* is that it succumbs to the embreace unaccountable big government and state control. There are a lot of examples the show that state control is a bad thing - see Callaghan era Britain, Stalinist Russia etc. - but it still seems to be popular. One problem with big government is who pays. As this TCS article points out, it probably isn't the bloated plutocrats:

The tax code doesn't determine whether wealthy people invest their wealth or not. The tax code simply helps determine where they will invest it. They can invest their gains either on information technology and heavy equipment, or they can invest them in a small army of tax accountants, trust attorneys and other advisers to whom they turn for help in sheltering their gains from the IRS. I should know, I used that small army. In the late 1980s I was a tax accountant for the world's largest accounting firm. I had some very wealthy clients, but not one of them gave in and sold all that they had and gave it to the poor. Instead they gave big chunks of it to us in exchange for us finding ways to structure their affairs so as to avoid giving even bigger chunks to the IRS. The higher the capital gains tax rate, the more they needed us.

This is not a US centric view. Ask any builder who prefers to be paid in used fivers or recall my post about Antwerp. When tax rates get to be too high people find ways to avoid paying them and people with more money have a greater incentive to avoid than those with just a little more so they will tend to spend more and be more successful in doing so. And of course the scum in government and their pals always find ways to structure their own income so that it shows up mostly in un-taxed perks and the like than in taxable do$h - if you want to make a politician really scared you'll propose removing almost all tax deductions and allowances. Removal of both is unlikely to affect the incomes of the poor and is likely (eventually) to benefit the middle classes but it will utterly fuck the parasite classes.

Then there is what big government spends. Even ignoring the obvious pork barrel style corruption which is fairly easy to document even if it is hard to stop, the defenders of big government have a problem proving that government spends its money wisely. One thing that governmet does is provide hand outs to deserving individuals. Think about the fuckups in the CAP payment scheme (announcement yesterday/today that year 2 will miss its deadline of next June) and in Gordon Brown's tax credit scheme. If (see previous link) the left wing, pro big government Independant thinks the scheme is in trouble then it must be really really screwed up. The big all knowing government blows our tax money on the NHS (computer fuckups R us), on education (media stidiez enywun?) and ridiculous attempts to ensure that we are all nannyed to death with pointless regulations about car seats, weights and 10001 other areas of life. Some of these regulations (implemented at a cost of £millions each) are projected to save perhaps a dozen lives a year - one French example is the law that you have to have a "childproof" fence surrounding your swimming pool. This law has cost the millions of swimming pool owners thousands of euros each, was predicted to save (IIRC) 29 lives a year and has in fact led to an increase in drownings in swimming pools. I have absolutely no doubt I could find a similar regulation in England if I spent about 10 minutes searching for one. And then there is the protectionist habit via regulation and quotas so well described as "throwing rocks in your own harbour". Oh and then there is the competing minority problem. What happens when a black lesbian loses her job to a disabled Moslem (or any other combination you like as long as one of the parties is not a straight white male)? The simple answer is we spend zillions on legal aid to all parties so that they can figure out who is in the right and thereby take up court time and legal aid budget that might be better spent locking up Wayne for beating up pakis, Mohammend for nicking phones or prosecuting Lord Wotwotleigh or Mr Patel for fraud.

Worst is that the habit of government dependency becomes fixed in the population and then you can't reform it. Countries like France, Belgium (or IIRC Scotland) now have a majority of voters dependant on the government for their living, whether it is social security benefits, working as a civil servant or whatever. We know what happens next - we lived through it in the 1970s. Taxes rise, money does a bunk and the country goes bust. Followed by (see Russia) major hardships as the government goes and inflates its way out of the problem but fails to inflate the pensions it pays. Oh and (see Germany c. 1930) the inflation tends to lead to demagogues and their simple wrong solutions (brown people out) and civil disorder on a scale that it permits the government to hire a boatload of sadistic secret policemen to keep the proles in line. For which purpose wheezes like a biometric ID card - aka ID theft central - as recently defended by A Blair and Polly Pot come in handy. And ever more intrusive security measures (3 inch pocket knives now banned) now help to keep the proles docile because they have nothing to fight with. Of course the crooks aren't stupid enough to hand over their guns (let alone their swiss army knives) so the crime rate increases - crime is now lower risk for criminals - and we enter the vicious spiral of more failed attempts at security.

I don't buy everything written in the "Welfare State we're in" but the basic premises seem to be accurate and seem to be an perfect example of what I'm talking about. England has had a rich history of self reliance and minimal government. We're losing it and that is the primary threat to the nation.

*Note: England has a future no matter what the question is whether it is a good one. Absent some global cataclysm, England as a piece of land with people living on it will continue no matter what so the question is whether they will consider themselves heirs to the England of the past and whether they will be proud of that fact and inspiring to others or not

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

Republican Tyranny

One quick thought about those US elections. The hysterical lefties who seemed to be claiming that Bush/Rove and co were installing themselves a dictatorship look pretty damn silly now. Almost as silly as those worrying about Diebold vote fraud delivering fake votes to the Republicans. The question is what happens when (in a few years) the republicans get their shit together, threaten and then kick out the now incumbent dims? do they leave quietly and clamly or do they throw the mother of all tantrums?

Second and subsequent thoughts from EjectEjectEject who is writing again (Yippee).

We have to accept the fact that the conservatives we sent to Congress in 1994 became the bloated, earmarking, tone-deaf toads of 2006. They thought they could do whatever they wanted, regardless of what their constituents think, and now they have been reminded of just who is working for whom. Remedying that sense of isolation and disconnect and unchecked power is why we have elections in the first place, and as to the consequences of it, we have no one to blame but ourselves. That imperial attitude is not unique to Republicans or Democrats. That is human nature, and correcting the excesses of human nature only becomes more costly and painful the longer it is allowed to go on. Democracy is error-correcting. Ask John Kerry.


"Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing...after they have exhausted all other possibilities." -- Winston Churchill

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

Replete 4 Cheap

One of the local blogs (lost link sorry, but probably Angela) talked about how the problem with this region if France is that it isn't "La France profonde", that it is to say it's tacky, touristy and failes to provide the authentic French experience. This is true but there are still islands of proper France here and there and one of them is the restaurant just around the corner(ish) from our house.

This restaurant, the Auberge St Donat, is not a restaurant for tourists - although it feeds a fair few in the summer - it is a restaurant for the locals and, in particular, the manual labouring locals: builders, plumbers, diggers up of the roads, mechanics and the like. Within that crowd it is famous for miles around due to its value for money deal (4 courses plus wine and coffee for €13.50) and good service.

When we had our new kitchen installed, the head maçon was asked by the gar where they were eating for lunch - his response was something like "L'Auberge St Donat, naturellement" and in the half hour between noon and half past the restaurant fills up with a clientele that is about 90% male and 75% wearing grubby jeans, flourescent jackets or similar attire.

What they come for is the two-choice, high calorie, low price menu. The first choice is what drink do you want, and for most people boils down to "Vin Rouge ou Rosé?" - in fact some of my acquaintances nickname the place the "Rouge Rosé" for this reason.

Today,as the photos above show the menu was Tomato and Mozarella Salad, Egg Cocote, Beef with Courgette Gratin and a choice of Dessert (the other choice - two out of four choices shown), plus coffee. The wine is included in the price, if you decide to be awkward and drink beer or poncy mineral water then you probably pay extra.

I am STUFFED. The wife is REALLY STUFFED. The wallet is barely emptier than it was this morning and our meal this evening is going to be very simple...

If you want to be picky, then I admit the beef could have done with a tad more tenderizing, and the nicotine allergic will hate the air. Also I have no doubt that the wine snob or the (Atkins) dieter will find much to complain about.

But you will experience the real France and get a great meal into the bargain. The only caveat is that if you get there after about 12:30 and/or are a party of mroe than 2 then a reservation is strongly recommended and parking at that time can be a little tricky. Diners who show up at the crack of noon avoid these issues.

A pleasant walk of about 45 minute-1 hour duration with pleasant views of olive trees, the Grasse valley, the coast and the Esterel may be had either to work up an appetite or to walk off your meal afterwards. From the restaurant head towards Grasse and then take the Chemin de Masseboeuf (small road with a no-entry sign for cars) down to the left. When you reach the canal de la siagne turn left and walk along it. Cross over the busy D104 and continue on the canal until the next road. Turn left up the steep hill, turn left at the T junction at the top and continue a more gentle ascent to the next roundabout. Turn left again and you are back at the Auberge.

Location and contact details
Phone: 04 93 60 10 07.
Location: rte Valbonne (D4), Plascassier - on the roundabout with D104 to Mouans Sartoux.
From Valbonne - follow signs to Grasse

From Grasse - follow signs to Valbonne. Stop when you see the Auberge at the roundabout.

From Mouans Sartoux - follow signs to Gare, then Plascassier. Go up the hill and stop at the top.
From Anywhere else - get a map.

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

Friday Olive Tree Blogging

Yesterday, when I wrote about the excellent Auberge St Donat, I mentioned a pleasant walk that can be taken to work up an appetite or walk off the meal. Since the walk passes by lots of olive trees I thought I'd make that my effort for this week. There are rather more pictures than usual so enjoy and as always you can click on the images to see them enlarged and see the entire series here.

The walk begins with a gentle descent along the Chemin de Masseboeuf going past a very neat olive orchard. Then on the other side you see what is (currently) a rather less trimmed one.

Despite the odd villa here and there it is clear that this olive tree dominated hillside remains much as it was before the Riviera became quite such a popular place for retirees and the owners of holiday homes. After a couple of winds you reach the Canal de la Siagne which flows under the road. Turn left and follow the canal.

This section of the walk is the best. Although you are just a few minutes away from the hustle and bustle of the main roads, villages and towns you enter a wonderfully peaceful and rustic place where you can walk along the canal and pretend the modern world has disappeared. Eventually the real world intrudes as you cross over the Corniche Bénard going down to Mouans Sartoux. Thereafter, although pretty, the canal's surroundings are rather more built up.
20041210 Friday Olive Tree Blogging
 After a short while you arrive at the Chemin de Gipières. Now is where you really work up the appetite because you have to do a really steep ascent for a couple of hundred metres. You can pause at one to see trees that have featured in previous olive tree blog episodes and also to look back downhill towards the sea, the Massif de l'Esterel and so on.
20041217 Friday Olive Tree Blogging 20041015 Friday Olive Tree Blogging 20051209 Friday Olive Tree Blogging
At the T junction you turn left again and now ascend more gently past a few other trees that have featured in past olive tree blog episodes before arriving at a roundabout. Turn left and after a couple of hundred metres you are back at the start.

For curious locals the walk starts here and approximately follows the trail marked on the image below.
Map of walk near Plascassier
You can actually walk along the Canal all the way past Mougins in one direction and (although I think it gets tricky around Grasse) you can also walk quite a lot of the upper canal as it winds out of the Siagne valley below Cabris / Spéracèdes and above Peymeinade. It is a very pleasant gentle grade with many picturesque features including at least one dramatic aquaduct near Grasse St Mathieu. One of these days I ought to try and walk its whole length...

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

Science and (Home-)Schooling

Apropos the recent Neandertal fun, GNXP links to a creationist comment at Dean Esmay's and then to a New Scientist article in the current issue about American Evangelical Home Schoolers and how bad their science books are. Also today, as Tim and Tim note, the UK government is debating whether to make sure that the British stay in school until they are 18. The Wapping liar also has a great piece about the quality of teaching in British schools that is prety damn depressing (and one suspects that you could write a very similar article about schools in the US and elsewhere).

There is by golly a link here, although it may not seem like it.

I am, on the whole, very wary of the idea of religious education be it rote learning of the Koran in a Madrassah in Lahore, part of home schooling in Texas or Utah or anything else. Even though, having said that, I benefited (C of E primary school, Christian oriented minor public school) from a lightly religious education. The reason why, IMO, my education with its religious tinge was better than the usual run of the mill British education was not anything to do with religion per se, it was basically to do with the creation of a high quality, disciplined learning environment and good teachers. I suspect it is no coincidence that across the third world, not to mention the USA, catholic schools tend to have a good reputation compared to the state schools they compete with.

And in that last sentence there is the critical word that ties it all together. compete.

Competition is why I don't feel particularly threatened by Christian funduhmentalists gaining control of US government. You ban to many things in the USA and even the most pacifist lefty will reflect that there is a 2nd amendment. It may well be that abortion can be almost banned, it may well be that the US graduates fewer biosciences PhDs and that they don't work in the US. Big deal. From a cultural perspective neither is going to cause the end of the world as we know it(TM). And it won't becuase the fundamentalists all instinctively understand economics and capitalism and hence that "incentives matter". Evolution is merely a biological example of "incentives matter". The way hard science gets figurted out and then turned into practical engineering works the same way. The sorts of people who home school their kids and get them sent to Patrick Henry College will have taught them maths and some of the less controversial bits of science (e.g. Newtonian physics) and the scientific method that helped Newton and other 17th/18th century natural philosophers discover the basics of physics, chemistry, biology etc. still applies today. Whether a PHC graduate does or doesn't believe in "evolution", he certainly believes in antibiotics and to be honest anyone who does a little studying of MRSA and the like soon gets the feeling that whether or not humans evolved from something, bacterial lurgies evolve all the time. Smart people will eventually accept the evidence in front of them if it becomes important. Because if they don't they die, which is, if you like, evolution in action.

I am occasionally slightly concerned about the really fundamentalist regious types such as the brainwashed madrassah graduates who seem to want to make me a Moslem and/or kill me but that is about my personal survival and nothing more. As far as destroying (my) Western culture goes I'm not at all concerned. If push comes to shove they'll learn what their fellow nutters have learned in Iraq and Afghanistan, namely that fanatical soldiers are merely targets for the better trained western armies. As we note from shit holes like Gaza or Somalia uneducated people can't operate complex machinery. That means that they will lose against militaries that can.

A soceity that is full of poor uneducated folk is only a threat to rich educated ones if the rich educated ones let it be so.

But a rich educated society can turn out to be just as religious and superstitious as all the religious societies it laughs at. Teachers who try to remove competition from schools are probably doing their students as much harm as the rote-learning madrassah is because at least in the madrassah you get to learn that people are different in ability. We can argue about whether the difference is important or whether we should discriminate people that are different, but at last we have to accept that there are differences in people's talents and that, contrary to educational dogma, you usually only get hired for a job if you are good at it. Firing the crap teachers and paying their salaries to the good ones would probably help education more than almost anythng else, although insisting the people pay (via vouchers or whatever) so that they can value what they get has to be good too.

Curiously enough the idiots who worry about madrassahs and home-schooled christian fundamentalists tend to be the ones who can't cope with the idea of competition. Perhaps that is why they prefer to ban things by law instead of letting them be lose in the market of ideas.

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

Remembrance Day

Poppies for remembrance day 2006
I was looking at Kiplings verse for something about Afghan poppies but can't find any. However here's one about the other place where the British Army is fighting:


by Rudyard Kipling

THEY shall not return to us, the resolute, the young
    The eager and whole-hearted whom we gave:
But the men who left them thriftily to die in their own dung,
    Shall they come with years and honour to the grave?

They shall not return to us, the strong men coldly slain
    In sight of help denied from day to day:
But the men who edged their agonies and chid them in their pain,
    Are they too strong and wise to put away?

Our dead shall not return to us while Day and Night divide—
    Never while the bars of sunset hold.
But the idle-minded overlings who quibbled while they died,
    Shall they thrust for high employments as of old?

Shall we only threaten and be angry for an hour?
    When the storm is ended shall we find
How softly but how swiftly they have sidled back to power
    By the favour and contrivance of their kind?

Even while they soothe us, while they promise large amends,
    Even while they make a show of fear,
Do they call upon their debtors, and take council with their friends,
    To confirm and re-establish each career?

Their lives cannot repay us—their death could not undo—
    The shame that they have laid upon our race.
But the slothfulness that wasted and the arrogance that slew,
    Shall we leave it unabated in its place?

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

How English Are You?

This quiz page asks you some questions and then pronounces a verdict. My result?
You are 92% English.

Congratulations! You may now take your place as a subject of Her Majesty. "And did those feet In ancient times, Walk upon England's mountains green? And was the holy Lamb of God In England's pleasant pastures seen?" Well, no, but it's a cracking good tune.

How English are you?
Create a Quiz

I fear the quiz creator is terribly lower middle class and thus believes one should pour the milk in first....

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

Les Faux Amis

Just about every Anglophone resident in France has their personal tale about being stuck for a word and just using the English one with a French accent and then discovering that you have made a very emabrassing mistake (and I suspect vice versa for almost every Francophone resident in England or other English speaking land). These words, the ones that you think mean the same as English but actually have a totally different one, are know as the "Faux Amis" or false friends. There are a lot of them, some rather long like "preservatif", others shorter if not sweeter such as "pipe" or "string" and there is, I have discovered, a very useful website dedicated to them, albeit one that ignores the three I just listed and a bunch of others that I can think of.

Anti-liberalOne of the words that gets well mangled is "liberal". This is a case where the English/American meaning has migrated while the French one hews to the original. A French "liberal" is someone who rather likes Margaret Thatcher's or Ronald Reagan's Free Market Conservative policies, whereas these days an English liberal considers those policies to be truly terrible and to be fought against.

Amusingly in both languages liberal frequently seems to be rather a derogatory word. Anglophone "liberals" these days frequently seem to prefer to call themselves "progressives", a word that does appear to mean the same in both langauges.

The English non-liberals are called conservatives, a word that in French means what the English refer to as preservatives (whereas a French "preservatif" is known in English as a condom - and trust me you only tell French waiters once that you like your food "sans preservatives"). The French non-liberals are pretty much everyone, although more on the left than the right, hence the poster on the right about an antiliberal rally which is being organized by a communist former minister.

I would classify myself as a liberal of the French variety and hence utterly against Mme Buffet, a person who sums up almost everything I dislike about France and its politics. Possibly her only saving grace is that she attended the Sorbonne (and seems to have had a riot of a time - literally) instead of one of the Grandes Ecoles. As a result of her riotous time in the Sorbonne, Mme Buffet seems to have failed to learn basic economics or to have understood that governments are not the source of all goodness. Given that she was fighting the French riot police, part of the government, you would think that she could have learned that but apparently not. The lesson she seemed to take away was that governments should provide their citizens everything they want or need and that nasty right wing ones perfer to keep the loot distributed amongst a smaller group.

Of course Mme Buffet is almost certainly a false friend to those who vote for her. Her policies, if implemented, would wipe out practically every business in France and thereby turn the entire country into a copy of the former Soviet Union. Curiously Mme Buffet seems to have failed to note the passing of that country or to learn from it.

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

Local Council Busybodies

For various miscellaneous reasons I was shown on some correspondance today regarding a few rental houses in the UK. The location and details of the propery really aren't relevant except to say that these are neither run down rodent infested hovels nor modern "house beautiful" sets; just smallish adequate houses that have been occupied by the same tenants for over a decade without any real issue and certainly no complainty by official (busy)bodies.

All this happy state of affairs came to an end when the landlord/agent and tenant decided to let their taxes pay for some improvements in the form of a grant to improve insulation and add a better boiler (changing from IIRC coal to gas central heatng). Anyway that required that the council send a couple of Environmental Health Technical Officers (or similar alphabet soup) around to verify that all was kosher and as described in the grant application. Said EHTOs show up and, in addition to agreeing that yes the application was all in order, note that there is a loose tile on the roof which is therefore leaking. Now in days gone by the tenant would either have shinned up a ladder to replace it or at least asked the landlord or agent to do that. It would have been done in a week or two and that would have been that.

However in these days of enlightened ZANU labour government we have EHTOs and other similar folks to get involved and they insist that first a proper Environmental Hazard report first and then that only officially sanctioned contractors fix whatever they find wrong. The inspection report is 16 pages long and is then supplmeneted by some additional report based on that which is at least as long if not longer. Near the end of the latter is the real giveaway sentence, which I copied down verbatim (E&OE)

...Unfortunately the HHRSR scoring does not come out high enough to be a category 1 hazard, it is however affecting the living conditions of the tenants

Usage of the word "unfortunately" is telling. As in "unfortunately we can't really throw the book at the landlord for being a total scumbag and thereby justifying our existence". If they had the welfare of the tenants I think they would say "fortunately" as in "fortunately it isn't really critical but nevertheless ..."

What is really really amusing is that the cover letter says something to the effect of "Ok you've fixed the tile, but all the other work we said you had to do hasn't been done because the tenant can't be arsed to tell the builder when he can come around to fix it"

Let me sum up. In order for the council to agree to a 10 minute job by some young man that would cost perhaps £100,  they generated at least two council visits of (I'm guessing) a minimum of 1 hour each by two employees, 3 or more letters, 30-40 pages of pointless reports (with a classic error where it says "Class 1 hazard" in one place and "Class 2 hazard" everywhere else) and quite possibly further follow up visits, reports and correspondance. All of which no doubt costs the taxpayers many hundreds of pounds in total.

PS to add insult to injury it seems that the council also insisted that the kitchen sink have a leaky tap fixed and the plumber caused a major leak when he tried to do so.

"Your tax pounds at work"

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

Web fails to kill print

The idea that having some work up for free on the web helps to increase sales of paper has long been a tenet of Baen Books. This tenet was driven initially by publisher Jim Baen and author Eric Flint but it has subsequently been adopted by pretty much everyone associated with Baen. Despite the fact that Jim (and Eric) have loudly made the case, including hard numbers to back them up, that electronic availability helps increase the sales of the print version very few publishers have followed them. In the lnk aboev Eric makes the point very clearly:

To give perhaps the clearest example, my most popular title is 1632. It has been available for free in electronic format to the public for five years now—and the book has never suffered any decline in sales during that time period. Year after year, despite being available for free as an e-book, the paper edition sells about fifteen thousand copies. That figure fluctuates a bit from one year to the next, of course, but there is no overall downward trend at all. The standard rule of thumb in the industry is that 80% of a book's sales happen in the first three months after publication. But in the case of 1632, sixty percent of the book's sales have come since the first year it came out—during which period the book was always available to the public for free in electronic format.

There are a couple of academic booksellers and a handful of non-Baen fiction authors who have tried it and reported similar success but not many others. However it could be that some magazines get the point well enough to do the same. The Instapundit & spouse, aka Glenn & Helen Reynolds, have done a podcast with the editors of Popular Mechanics where they discuss the fact that they have increased sales because they put stuff up for free on the web. Indeed the editors state that, as Baen has also stated, that web publicity has increased sales of their magazine - or at least of particular issues of it.

There may, at some point be a problem when electronic readers are good enough, but I suspect that at that point a magazine publisher who sells his work at an iTunes kind of price will still flourish and will probably make as much profit as he does today because there are none of the page layout, printing and distribution costs in an electronic edition.

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

Tell Tone NO 2 ID

Tim Worstall has found an excellent petition on the Prime Minister's spiffing new website. I recommend all UK residents sign the thing, and anyone else who can plausibly claim a UK address for that matter.

Brief explanation of why the government's ID card scheme to be opposed
  1. It won't work
  2. If it did work it wouldn't solve the problems the government claims it will
  3. It will be a honey pot for crooks whether it works or not
  4. The potential for abuse by a subsequent nastier government is really really scary
Some of my previous posts on the scheme are here and here and I have just uploaded a short story on the subject that will I hope educate and amuse - How I Became An Official Zombie. Oh and don't forget to visit No2ID if you want more information.

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

Le Beaujolais Nouveau Est Arrivée et Ouvert

In our kitchen stand three varieties of this marketing success.

Although we have sampled but one variety of this year's edition, going on experience with previous versions (one hesitates to use the word vintage since it implies quality) this wine will be drinkable but forgetable. Were it not for the hype I sincerely doubt that sales of this wine would be anything close to what they are currently and the prices (outside France at least) would be far far lower. The genius behind the worldwide event that is the day the Beaujolais Nouveau is launched made an absolute fortune, and his successors continue to take the suckers for as much as they can by creating ever more enticing stories about a wine that in a blind taste would be marked down as "plonk - young, practically infancticide"

The taste of the one bottle we have opened (see picture to the right) is pleasant and fruity. It is a taste that is, in my opinion, worth approximately what we paid for it. I say approximately partly because I'm not quite sure which one cost which, it is either €2.95 or €3.80 - the till receipt is unclear - although I'm sure that the predominately white label bottle was definitely the low price leader at €2.50. As someone who has blogged about €1 wines in the past and not given tasting notes for Chateau Petrus 1994 (if anyone wants to give me a bot of it I'll be pleased to write up a review), it should be clear that I'm not a wine snob. For general everyday drinking with dinner I'm entirely happy with whatever flotsam and jetsam of the French wine lake washes up at Auchan on special offer and the Beaujolais Nouveau fits right in to that category.

In Japan on the other hand similar Beaujolais Nouveau is given a great spin about 100 year old vines and traditional family practices and retails for ¥2,499 or €16.52 at today's exchange rates. Now granted there are some shipping and tax issues that make that price hard to compare directly, but given that the same site has another (nouveau) wine retailing for ¥1,029 (€6.80) and that price point , from my recollection of trips there, is a standard low end price - roughly  equivalent to €3 threshold here in France - the phrase "nice margins" springs to mind, as does the phrase "rip off". Mind you just possibly the Japanese get some added value. In the Rakuten Beaujolais page (with its range of wines from ¥1,869 to ¥4,200 before tax) is a link to a special "Hello Kitty" Beaujolais Nouveau which I bet is unavailable to customers in Europe at any price, let alone the bargain one of ¥2,680 (or ¥2,750 depending on where you look)....

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


This month those of us wh signed up for NANOWRIMO are supposed to write a 50,000 word novel. At the half way mark I think it is fair to admit that I have failed. I may well keep plugging away at the novel but I'm not going to make any attempt to extend it beyond 20,000 words or so (slightly less than double where it is now) and I seriously doubt I will have a finished tale at that point.


Because, while there is a plot, there isn't any underlying cool science or thinking in it and, as far as I'm concerned, a science fiction story ought to be more than shoot-em-up space opera. That isn't to say I won't find a nice technological hook to tie on to the tale, and if that happens then I'll be able to reuse what I've written, but currently the story is lacking what I consider a critical pillar.

On the other hand out running earlier this week I came up with a really cool near future tale. One of the things that has always fascinated me is how human intelligence would appear to an intelligence that has evolved in a totally different way - a human version of what I call the "Japanese research question" after a joke I once heard. [The Joke - 3 teams of reseachers are studying elephants: the Americans study them to find out how strong they are; the French study them to discover their sex life and how much sex thay have; and the Japanese study them to find out what elephants think of the Japanese ]

I've written a couple of stories about intelligent trees, one from the perspective of the researchers who figure out that the trees are intelligent and a second from the point of view of one of the trees as it tries to learn from humans. They need a bit of polishing and finishing up but I consider them to be essentially complete (oh and yes the inspiration came from a situation similar to this one) so I needed a new one. Fortunately I recently read Von Neumann's War so the idea of an intelligence coming to visit us on earth was not a difficult one to come up with, nor was the concept of such a visitor being a kind of hostile self-replicating automata (i.e. a Von Neumann machine). However my extraterrestrial intelligence is rather different to the one in that book and its attempted conquest of Earth is rather different...

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

Friday Olive Tree Blogging

This is me picking our olives and then the result of my labours.

I didn't post these pictures last week because I was annoyed. I've got over my annoyance now so I figure I'll post the images... As people who have read this blog in the past know I was really worried about the olive crop this year ripening too fast. Well it did and after two trees giving such a mingy yield of truly horrible quality olives I packed it in and decided that it wasn't worth continuing.

In fact closer examination shows that it was all my fault. For some reason this year the olive flies were particularly happy and they laid eggs in pretty much all of my olives. Olives infested with grubs "ripen" faster because the grub exposes the olive to the air. The result is you get olives that are apparently ripe in September/October but are actually nasty insect infested rubbish. I have had olive flies before but never to this extent so I never bothered to spray my trees, I will not make that mistake again as I can very clearly see the results of spraying: one of my neighbours who did spray his trees is just now beginning his harvest and he has some beautiful olives.

As always you can click on the images to see them enlarged and go here for other pictures in the series.

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

French Royal News

Ségolène Royal cruised to victory in yesterday's Socialist Party (PS) primary. As Eursoc notes she did so in a rather stunning reversal of pre-vote opinion polls winning over 60% of the vote when the polls suggested she might have to face a run off because she'd get less than 50%. Given that she was most certainly the outsider candidate in the poll, I kind of wonder whether the opinion polls were as unbiased as one would have hoped. I have absolutely no evidence for this possibility except that the pollers were continually asking PS supporters rather than the more relevant PS members or, even better, PS members likely to vote. Given that the PS membership is undeniably more lefty than the PS support base and that in many ways Ségo is also a real lefty, despite the anti-teacher video comments that coincidentally showed up a few days ago, it should have been no surprise that she would poll better amongst the PS membership than amongst PS supporters.

Across the water Dafydd at Big Lizards follows more conventional wisdom (by quoting the ever accurate NY Slimes) in assuming that the result was more of a surprise. Having said that I think he is right when he says that Ségo is not the sharpest knife in the rack and that her grasp of the details of current affairs could best be defined as shaky. However cocking up the details is by no means a fatal sin in a politician, both Ronald Reagan and George W Bush have had their "doh" moments, as have zillions of other successful politicians. There is of course one key difference between a vague Reagan and a vague Royal and that is that the former was absolutely certain of his principles and pretty much worked from principles to strategies to tactics to details, letting subordinates do more in the later stages. I am far from convinced that Royal has many underlying principles (except winning) and that what principles she has are based on 1970s era socialist thought (i.e. economically catastrophic). The Wapping Liar's Charles Bremner thinks somewhat likewise:

The Socialists have stuck with sub-Marxist ideology even if they have not practised it while in power. Unlike the big left parties in Germany, Britain and other west European nations, they have never reformed into market-friendly social democrats. Their candidate is supposed to carry the doctrinal banner into battle and adhere to party discipline.

Now Royal has by-passed all of that with a vague and often-changing mix of ideas, some old left and some from conservative territory. She has won over the left by casting herself as a woman in touch with the people. She appeals in a modern way to old-fashioned values. The Paris chattering classes may laugh at her, but she reassures the ordinary people beyond the boulevard périphérique.

I fear that she may appear pragmatic enough to sucker people in to vote for her in April because her mix of "tough on crime" pragmatism and nanny-state economic socialism is actually highly attractive to a significant chunk of France. No matter what we might hope for, I am absolutely positive that foreign and EU affairs, not to mention topics like global warming or terrorism, will not play a large part in next year's election. The election will be fought on internal French issues, primarily crime and (un)employment, with next in line mention of pensions, the economy (inc privatisation) and "the French way of life".

The next question is who her main opponent will be. General opinion polls indicate (and have done for months) that she would crush any centre-right candidate other than Sarko, so unless the UMP has a suicidal streak, Sarko will be their candidate. It would take some enormous cock up by Sarko for him to lose voter popularity compared to his rivals, even if within the UMP he might be less popular. In other words unlike the socialists, Sarko is more popular outside the party than within it where the lavish favours of l'Escroc and his cronies could have greater influence.

If there were any politician anywhere who most merited comparison to Miles Vorkosigan it would be Sarko. I am sure that if you asked a group of Frenchmen who the dismissive description of Miles as "hyperactive little git" (translated into French or course) referred to, Sarko would be the recipient of about 99% of all votes.
I have no doubt that Sarko will play up his government experience compared to Royal, and his (hyper)activity. Since there is, I would say, a distinct yearning for action and change, Sarko's record as a man who gets things done is likely to prove popular. Also his ability to really relate to individuals when he meets them and to talk in their language seems to work. His (in)famous comment about the rioters last year - calling them scum - was definitely one of those moments. It is clear that when the comment is put into context not only was it unremarkable it was precisely what the people he was talking to thought and quite resonant with other people in France too. The fact that he got hit for it says more about how l'Escroc and co feared him than anything else.

If l'Escroc and the UMP establishment were to get another candidate on the ballot instead of Sarko - defense minister Michèle Alliot-Marie being the most likely in my opinion because that would make it woman vs woman - then I would not be at all surprised to see Le Pen repeat his 2002 trick and come second in the first round of voting, with Ségo top. I suspect that it is this fear that will ensure that Sarko does indeed get the nomination, even if it turns out to be somewhat grudging. And this will, as Eursoc concludes, leave the French with an interesting choice of candidates:

So it looks like Sarko vs Ségo. That would make France's next president an anti-globalising interventionist with an authoritarian streak. But only one of them looks good in a bikini.

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

Subterranean Slush

Via John Scalzi's excellent blog, I have learned that the Subterranean Press have put issue 4 of their SF Magazine, edited by Mr Scalzi up for free download (PDF). Also the edition notes that henceforth they will be producing electronic versions only. The Baen influence strikes again, possibly twice ...

Of note to non SF afficionados perhaps is the piece on pages 18 and 19 "It Came From the Slush Pile" by John Joseph Adams which begins:

Once upon a time, on a dark and stormy night, on my way home from the editorial offices of Fantasy & Science Fiction, I stumbled across a lovely brass lamp in a mysterious shop. I bought it for a song, only to come home and discover it had a nasty blemish.

Starting to sound familiar yet? Or do you need some more?

I took out a rag and some polish and tried shining it up. Much to my surprise, a genie sprung from the lamp and offered me three wishes. Fed up after a long day of slushing, I blurted out, without thinking, “I wish I never had to listen to another slush writer complain about fast rejections! I wish that I never had to explain the ‘code’of my rejection letter! And I wish that I never had to see another poorly formatted manuscript ever again!” The genie said “Your wish is my command,” and struck me deaf, dumb, and blind.

Does it sound familiar now? Wait, here’s the kicker:

At just that moment I woke up and realized it was all a dream.

Groaning yet?

If you think that’s bad, you should see the slush pile some time. Clichés are the bane of slush readers and editors. They’re more likely to drive us out of the business than the poor wages, the long hours, or the incessant paper cuts. ...

I can imagine Miss Snark, the Rejecter, Ms Genovese and all their friends and relatives, not to mention anyone else who has had to read unsolicited manuscripts nodding at that one.

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

Inneffective Spam & Spam Filtering

The Register had an interesting article about the lack of return for pump'n'dump merchants of all the spam they send out. Essentially it looks like a rare example of the tragedy of the commons having a beneficial effect. Since spamming zillions with stock tips is a very low cost strategy many people have got into the act and as a result the pool of potential suckers is shrinking rapidly as the suckers become overwhelmed with stock tips that don't perform well. One can hope that this will result in a severe reduction in this kind of spam as the costs begin to outweigh the profits.

On the other hand there is the endless war between spammers and spam filter programs. My friend John GC has a blog where he seems to cover a lot of different spam obfuscation techniques. This blog seems illustrate evolution in action as the spammers counteract ever better spam filterers. One technique that John doesn't mention is one proposed by Richard Clay - namely banning all emails containing images except for a whitelisted few. I think this could work, but I think there may be an interim solution that is even simpler.

Image spam relies on the fact that HTML messages display images inline and they usually arrange to have a large amount of misleading text below them so that it isn't visible unless you scroll down. Compare this with most genuine emails that include images. As far as I can tell it is extremely rare for the image to be the first thing displayed and hence a rule can be made that classes as spam all emails that
  1. are multipart MIME messages
  2. include an image in the email
  3. have HTML with an <IMG tag refering to the included image before any text
This fails to classify as spam the real email from banks, paypal etc becuase they don't include the images but just link to images on their servers. It fails to classify as spam anyone who sends an image as an attachment and it also fails to classify as spam any email where the image is in the .sig line. It also excludes all those people who use a background image (no IMG tag) so the only false positives are people who send emails with a company logo in the top (left) corner. I've had a search of the emails I receive and cannot find any non-spam ones that match these criteria. Creating the rule in perl was a couple of regexes and it should be possible to produce in any other language just as easily.

No doubt if such a rule becomes more widespread spammers will craft HTML messages that avoid it but I think there are limits to what will be possible without making the spam email recignizable in other ways too.

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

The State of the Children of England

Our various lords and masters (and ladies and mistresses as it were) have decided that the nanny state is not enough and hence are going for "Super-nanny" state. My wife, who is Japanese, recently read George Orwell's 1984 and when she read the Torygraph stuff today (editorial and news) she said she thought England reminded her of Big Brother.

I agree. I think it is worse. The government, particularly the current ZANU labour one but with a certain amount of earlier work by the Major one, treats its subjects are children. We (they) are treated like kiddies, and we have to depend on the grown ups in government to tell us what to do and what not to do. This refers not just to the Super Nanny idea and the child database but to their proposed ID card scheme too and the "Polly Toynbee" school of thought that we should tax everyone and then give some poor suckers a tax credit or other benefit so that they can actually live. Not to mention the related Toynbee-esque ideas that we should let the government decide what sort of house, education, healthcare etc etc we should enjoy (if that is quite the right word for a life under such strictures). Essentially all this is saying "you can't be trusted and that for your own good, we in government are going to tell you what to do". I'm not the only person who's figured this out - the Outside Story blog says the same in regard to a gun-crime incident:

My belief, stated here before, is that the government's mentality is that we are children.  One expects to have to tell a child how to behave but not to severely punish misbehaviour.  Instead of asking whether a party is tough on crime we should ask whether it treats us like adults.  A party that will treat us as adults won't respond to this story by proposing more gun control but less.  It would recognise that the means to self defence is a right and that the murderer is responsible, not the gun.

I believe that, finally, the penny is dropping and the worms are turning. While earlier books like "The Welfare State We're In" set the tone, I suspect it is the emergence of books like the "How to Label a Goat" one and associated blog, are going to drive the point home. The deal here is that humour kills ideas better than almost any rant and a book like How to Label a Goat will make us laugh while it points out the follies. On that note I hope that my "Official Zombie" gets spread far and wide and helps to put the boot in on that idea.

It isn't alone of course. I'm positive that one reason why Matthew Taylor got so annoyed at bloggers and the like is that we continually point out the fatuity and idiocy of big government ideas. So far it seems to me that British public has tolerated these ideas because they can mostly ignore them. This is remarkably similar to the way that our European neighbours ignore those tiresome tax laws and EU red tape. Fortunately the time appears to be approaching where the Super-Nanny state over-reaches because it makes everyone do something they dislike - I believe that the ID card brainfart will be the point at which the UK decides enough is enough. There are plenty of places such as defy-id where active planning is going on. The Englishman also noted that there is a place where they are looking for 1001 ways to crash the I.D card system.

[I believe the best way to kill this idea will be to flood it with updates, queries and reports of lost cards. Combined with adding minor errors (typos, switched digits) in all updates so that they are continuously almost right and you should end up with a system that drowns under its own paperwork (even if many of them are electrons).]

Unfortunately even though the Cameroon did promise to kill the ID card his Nouveau Conservatives do not seem to be providing a real opposition, nor are the Lib Dims. We have three major parties all of whom want big state and continued infantilism of the population. This will lead to more support for extremists because with the electorate doesn't have a better choice. I believe that most European extremists such as Le Pen in France, Haider in Austria and the Vlaams Belang in Belgium are growing in support primarily because the major parties are failing to address the real issues of the voters (or at least a significant minirity of them). With the BNP wins in East London and other places I suspect the same could occur in Britain.

The question I have is how hard will it be for an infantilized society to learn how to be grown ups again?

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

Radical UK Financial Reform

The recent leftward swerve of the Nouveaux Conservatives means that, as various bloggers such as DK, Freebornjohn and Mr E note, we are in a position where no large UK party is for smallish government. There could, I suppose, be a reason for this - namely that the voters think they should get some dosh from the government. Fair enough, I suppose, if you think that the government is in the wealth distribution business and that seems to be what our chattering classes have taught the rest of us over the years.

However, as S&M reported over a year ago, the current benefit system tends to make for enormous marginal rates of tax which reduce the incentive to work harder and get payrises (oh and obviously it also increases the incentive to work on the black market a lot).

The Department for Work and Pensions has today released a report which strongly supports the principle of a flat tax and citizen’s basic income.

Well, it hasn’t done so explicitly. But its latest Tax Benefit Model Tables (big pdf) are the next best thing.

Here’s a question: Take a married couple with two children under 11 and pre-tax earnings of £200 a week. If they get a better job, raising their earnings to £300 a week, by how much does their net income rise?

£60? £50? £40?

Nope. £8.52.

Yes. £8.52. That’s a marginal deduction rate of 91.5 per cent.

The extra £100 this couple earns before taxes are swallowed up by higher income tax and National Insurance Contributions (£33); lower Working Tax Credits (£37) and less Housing Benefit (£19.50).

Mr S&M proposed solving this with a "Citizen's Basic Income" that replaces all benefits and is given to all people regardless of income. Tie this to a flat tax on all income (possibly with an allowance for the first few thousand quid of EARNED income) and and you wipe out most of the need to government bureaucrats in DWP and Inland Revenue and save loadsa money. He does the sums and figures out that £100/week is entirely affordable, but he stops at paying the kiddies which I think is a mistake.

If we include paying the kiddies there are roughly 60 million UK residents of which at least 1 million are non-UK citizens so the cost of the CBI would be roughly £300B (59M *£5200=£307B).

However on 2006 budget numbers for 2006/7 you would replace - at the very least:

£131.5B Social Security benefits
£15.6B Tax Credits
£53.4B Education budget
£7.8B DWP budget

When you look at closing a few other pointless ministries (Deputy PM, DTI, DEFRA ...) and firing most of the the Inland Revenue staff, you get another few billion, leaving perhaps $90B left.

The key to doing this would be to remove most or all VAT and other tax reliefs - if you removed all reliefs you would gain an additional £200B in revenue. But one might wish to keep (say) zero rated VAT on food and a few others here and there so a saving of £90B would be quiet simple; £44B (nearly half) would come from simply removing the income tax personal allowance, the Working Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit and Child Benefit, which since you are giving everyone £5200 including kids would seem pretty fair.

The key to giving the kids £100/week is that is also allows you to remove most of the education budget too.Conceivably you do this by giving say £50 in voucher form up to age 16 or still in education. £2550 per child in vouchers and 12M children 16 and under is £30B which is over half the education budget (and more than it was last year - the chancellor seems to have been very generous this year). There are about 2 million university students (+300k non UK ones) and I would guess another 2 million or so secondary school students aged over 16. This adds up another £10B at the same £2550/student and one could obviously increase the amount from university students. I'm sure one could do a few other things to retrieve the rest of the education budget shortfall. Firing many of the education bureaucrats would seem like a decent start.

Paying children has other benefits. You could make it clear that is the kid's money not the parent's by requiring the child to have a bank account for the dosh to be paid into, and then obviously, permit the parent to have access to it. Possibly after age 12 (say) the child has to be a co-signer or something so that the kids get experience managing money.

Now there are some other interesting benefits. You can remove the minimum wage legislation and a bunch of similar busybody employment rules. Then by limiting the payment to UK citizens you create an interesting incentive to hire UK citizens rather than imigrants - it would allow you to remove almost every work permit requirement because the foreigners would need to have an extra £5000 from somewhere to have an equivalent income. You also create an incentive to have children even among richer people and for people to stay in the UK, because us expats would (obviously) lose the income.

Once could also imagine the CBI ought to please the trades unions. After all one of the reasons why strikes get broken is that strikers run out of money. By receiving the CBI employees have far less incentive to settle with abusive employers if they strike AND they also find it easier to vote with their feet and quit the company. I imagine that the corporate fat cats would imagine that they could extract more from their exisiting workforce but I suspect they might be surprised ....

Finally you utterly remove the negative incentive of the marginal tax rates mentioned above and make it fairly simple to move to a flatter tax system - the first step obviously being to merge the NI and Income taxes. And of course be removing a wholoe swathe of government employees you increase the available workforce for productive work. If done right you also make it less likely that people will want to risk a government job.

All in all it sounds like the kind of radical proposal that a Tory party could get behind. Pity the Nouveaux Conservatives won't.

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

Friday Olive Tree Blogging

This is one of my neighbours olive trees with real olives that he was picking last week. Actually you see the net and the olives he wasn't doing the picking when I was there taking the photo.

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

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

Radical UK Financial Reform Part 2

Ok, as a follow on from part 1 which looked at the possibility of a Citizens Basic Income (CBI), in this one I'm going to run the numbers on a significantly reduced government and look at how to finance it. Apart from the CBI we will of course be ignoring attempts by Guardianistas to fund pet projects or employ their mates and in fact be eliminating large swathes of central government.

One critical point - this assessment is looking at central government only. I'm not yet sure how to fund local government but I'd prefer that however it be funded it not have any central government input. Also - and this is results in a significant saving - the UK will be making no contribution to the EU and will not be making up the shortfall for those dependant on EU grants.

A second critical point. I'm not looking at an English budget but a UK wide one. However I may highlight the obvious areas where an English nationalist could save a few millions by forcing the Scots and Welsh to pay for their own stuff.

What is included in the Budget is
(£ billion)
Home Office & Law
Foreign & Commonwealth Office £2.0
MoD £40.0
Transport £14.3
Health/NHS £82.0
Scotland, Wales and NI £47.5
Parliament, Central Government and Her Majesty's Civil List £7.7
Interest on public debt & bond redemptions
Total (excluding CBI)

Recall that the education budget is replaced by the £2550/student voucher scheme. I think I need to figure out something for Civil Service pensions (because I believe that is hidden in the budget somewhere) and there may be a couple of other worthwhile nooks and crannies that have been forgotten. However I believe that on the whole I'm safe in ignoring these because I don't think they are very large. No attempt has been made to look at individual budgets (i.e. reforming the Home Office and not spending money on ID cards, slashing Transport subsidies etc.) to keep things simple.

Figures are taken from the treasury budget 2006 website and in particular PDF file of Chapter A: Budget policy decisions and PDF file of Chapter C: The public finances.

Including the CBI (approx £300B) and we have a total public sector budget of £550B. This is what we need to hit by taxes and borrowing. The current budget assumes a PSBR of £40B so taxes need to make up £510B

One of the harder things to find in the raft of UK statistics is the mean personal income of UK workers and a whole shedload of related numbers such as the number of people who pay taxes at what rates - the figures are all terribly out of date. I have been able to find this page of stats from HMRC which seems to be about the best there is. In 2004 (latest figures reported) there were 28.5 million taxpayers (i.e. just under 50% of the population) and their average (mean) income was £21,800.  From this PDF the total income received was £625B and £111B was paid in taxes. The budget for this year assumes that the income tax received will be 144B so assuming that income has increased proporionately that means that total income received will be around £800B. This works out at an average (flat) tax rate of about 18%. Given that we are also giving everyone £5200 in CBI I am willing to tax all income at 20% thus giving us £160B in income taxes.

Note: there will be no other income taxes except for NI - see below - and no allowances. All income that is not the CBI will be taxed at 20%. This means that the people who work part time on minimum wage jobs will now pay tax, however while that should increase the tax take I have no idea what it will be so I shall ignore it for the present. The only clue I have is that £38.2B is given as the cost of the income tax personal allowance. Unfortunately I have no idea how that breaks down between existing taxpayers and those who are currently out of the tax system.

With £160B in income taxes we need to raise £350B in other taxes to make our budget.

Omitted from this are NI contributions of £90B (split between employer and employee). I would prefer to eliminiate this but will defer doing so until other tax sources have been examined. By maintaining NI we now need £260B in taxes

Much of this can come from VAT. Note that as we are eliminating the EU transfer part of VAT much of the VAT fraud should be eliminated as well because we can ensure that it is a purely domestic tax (and we can probably make it a sales tax too). VAT is anticipated to raise £76.5B. By removing VAT exemptions on everything other than food we can add in another £17.5B for a total of £94B. Reducing or eliminating fraud would make that £100B since the fraud is estimated to be costing at least £6B. With £100B VAT receipts we now need to raise £160B in other taxes.

Fortunately the other existing miscellaneous taxes like corporation tax, inheritance tax, vehicle taxes, various duties (fuel, booze etc.) and so on give us £137.5B leaving us with a hole of £22.5B.

By smacking the reliefs on stamp duty and petroleum taxes we can reduce that to about £18B and by removing VAT reliefs (another £10.4B) we are down at a hole of £8B or less. All of that and more can be realized by eliminating the VAT reliefs on
Together they realize a shade under £12B which we could, if we felt generous give back to them somehow. Or we could just reduce our borrowing by £4B or leave it as a contingency.

To summarize including the CBI we have a balanced central government budget and one that might even reduce the public debt slightly more than Gordon Brown expected:
Revenue Source
(£ billion)
(£ billion)

Citizens Basic Income
Personal Income Tax
(20% flat rate)

Governmnent Departments
National Insurance

Debt repayment

Corporation tax, duty etc.



Local government now has to raise whatever money if wants by means of rates, council tax or local income tax etc. What it doesn't get is any subsidy from the centre.

I think these figures are comparitively conservative. Amongst other things the treasury reports that personal allowances cost £38.2B and a lot of part time workers fail to pay any tax at all so I would imagine that a flat 20% tax would raise more than the £160B estimated. I also believe that both VAT and duty takes would increase thereby returning a significant chunk of the new CBI spend back to the government but in the process the UK would get an enormous kick in growth.

My targets in subsequent years would be move to a situation where the only taxes levied would be VAT (or a sales tax replacement), Personal Income Tax and some duties by a progressive elimination of all the other taxes. I would also attempt to ensure that public debt grew by no more than inflation but my preference would be rationalization of the tax scheme before I bothered with trying to pay down debt.

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

10 things I'd never do

James at Nourishing Obscurity tagged me for this. Tricky question because I've done quite a lot of stupid and/or implausible things so I see no reason to limit myself to particular physical actions. Hence I think I'll go for a more philosophical or perhaps metaphysical set of things that I'll never do. Anyway here they are
  1. Vote for a socialist of any description
  2. Vote for a rise in taxes
  3. Trust the government
  4. Trust the media
  5. Become a devout Moslem or Mormon
  6. Or a devout believer in any other or pseudo religion (e.g. Ecology)
  7. Regret anything
  8. Stop reading books
  9. Stop travelling
  10. Lose my English accent in any foreign language
Probably too late to tag anyone - but I guess all those local bloggers on my list might enjoy so here goes:
A Life in the South of France Alpheccar blueVicar Fraise Gem Life With A Seaview Oneika Provence from Fayence Paris Link(only slightly close) Sainte Maxime daily photo

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

A Contract With the Government

(Warning this post contains swearing -it is after all about the govt, that is a 4 letter word and where one 4 letter word goes others tend to follow)

The big brains at ZANU Labour thought up a brilliant new wheeze last week - a social contract:

A new contract between the state and the citizen setting out what individuals must do in return for quality services from hospitals, schools and the police is one of the key proposals emerging from a Downing Street initiated policy review.

Examples include an expectation that a local health authority will only offer a hip replacement if the patient undertakes to keep their weight down. Parents might also be asked to sign individually tailored contracts with a school setting out what the parents must do at home to advance their child's publicly-funded education.

This idea does not seem to have quite garnered the raptuorous welcome they probably hoped. The British blogosphere pointed out the fundamental problems here and there, problems that one suspects could also be figured out by the worst educated chav on the worst sink estate in the land. Basically all the obligations are on the citizens and all the benefits acrue to the politicians and the ranks of bureaucratic jobsworths and busy bodies.

However, just as one can use Polly T as a source of inspriation for radical benefit and tax reform, one can use this brainfart as the source of other governmental action. Rather than having the citizens sign up we should have the government sign up to promises of competance. Perhaps then one could use the concept of a contract to hold the government accountable for its miscellaneous fuckups and errors? How about holding the lying politicians and bumbling bureaucrats accountable for the mistakes they make and the taxpayers' money that they waste?

Consider the 2012 Olympics - budget already up £900M or more from what we were assured initially and with smartarses telling us that this is perfectly normal:

Last night, Derek Wyatt, the Labour MP who chairs the all-party Olympics committee at Westminster, agreed that building costs were likely to be far higher than original estimates.

But Mr Wyatt dismissed Mr Lemley as "out of his depth" and said it was commonplace for Olympic project costs the world over to increase.

"Just look at the legacy of Athens, Sydney, Atlanta and Barcelona. I think you will find the costs are double the original estimates.

"Original costs spell 'x' and come out as a 'y'. I think Mr Lemley was out of his depth."

Perhaps we could make all civil servants, MPs and others (e.g. Ken Livingstone) involved in the original bid liable for the increase. Bankrupt the lot of them and use their assets to fund the shortfall. I reckon we'd see a distinct lack of enthusiasm for under estimating costs on public projects in the future.

Then there are the fuckwits who run the MoD's logistics and procurement. As the EU referendum blog pointed out (again) this week, the closure of the Royal Ordnance factories was predicted to cause the ammo problems seen in Afghanistan. While we're on about it, who ever let MoD Ministers claim that the UK's presence into Southern Afghanistan would likely not involve them firing a shot should probably be sent there at their own expense, given MoD supplied land rover, gun, armoured vest and ammo and told to report back. And those who like the Pinzgauer coffins should test drive one in Basra. Do you think the budget might suddenly be used on rather better equipment if the civil servants who ordered and approved it had to use it?

Then there are the Augean stables that is the Home Oriface and the other one of the NHS. I'm sure that similar incentives could be found - you too can be locked up in an MRSA ward with 3 drug addicts if you forget your departmental ID card....

But while all that is attractive it is just fantasy, if it were implemented it also might end up falling foul of the law of unintended consequences by making bureaucrats even more risk-averse than they are now. Oliver Letwin in today's Wapping Liar makes a sound point:

The truth is that risk-averse bureaucracy is one of the causes of poverty. In a bureaucracy, there are no significant rewards for taking successful risks; but there are plenty of penalties for failure. So bureaucrats respond (as we all would) by building defences — bulwarks of procedure, forms and monitoring that will reduce risk. Bang goes any hope of the vitality, the flexibility, the enterprising spirit and the human touch that are needed to deal with highly intractable social problems.

If we are serious about tackling the causes of deep poverty, we need a different model — one in which government as a matter of policy encourages local communities and the third sector to take risks in the name of social responsibility.

Punishing bureaucrats for taking what look like risks is probably bad. What we need to do though is align them with the interests of the tax payer. As David Farrar (via Samizdata) found - Milton Friedman had an excellent grasp of the basic problem with government and spending money:

There are four ways in which you can spend money. You can spend your own money on yourself. When you do that, why then you really watch out what you're doing, and you try to get the most for your money.

Then you can spend your own money on somebody else. For example, I buy a birthday present for someone. Well, then I'm not so careful about the content of the present, but I'm very careful about the cost.

Then, I can spend somebody else's money on myself. And if I spend somebody else's money on myself, then I'm sure going to have a good lunch!

Finally, I can spend somebody else's money on somebody else. And if I spend somebody else's money on somebody else, I'm not concerned about how much it is, and I'm not concerned about what I get. And that's government.

What we need to do therefore is make spending money painful for bureaucrats and politicians. I propose to do this by imposing a simple surtax on all civil servants, MPs and paid political assistants. Essentially they will pay a share of government expenditure themselves. Furthermore we want to give them an incentive to reduce the government expenditure in both nominal (% of GDP) and real terms. So the plan is this: any year where government spending increases or remains constant as a proportion of GDP the government employees get taxed an equivalent of 0.25% of government spending. Anytime spending is reduced in real terms the government employees get to split 10% of the savings. Anytime spending rises in real terms but falls in nominal terms because the economy has grown there is nothing.

Current UK government annual expenditure is of the order of £400B, so 0.25% of it would be a nice £1B. There are 558,000 civil servants and they earn an average salary of about £20,000. Thus total civil service wages are approximately £11B. When you add in ministers, MPs, assistants and all external income from these folks (because I'm not just charging the tax on their government income) I reckon you get about £12B. So that 0.25% works out at roughly one month's salary. After the first year of a rise, I bet government spending would contract rapidly. Of course they could all go on strike. But that would just help reduce expenditure as they would no longer receive wages so they might get a bonus if the strike lasts long enough...

All in all it seems like a Win-win situation. It occurs to me that the same approach could work wonders for the USA and most other countries too. The pork-busters would have all of the federal government fighting on their side instead of against them.

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

Mormon Underwear Brings Out the Worst or the Best?

To my amazement it seems that the sort of underwear a candidate may or may not wear could be a factor in the next US presidential election. This totally bizarre state of affairs arises from the possible candidacy of Mitt Romney, who is a Mormon, for republiucan presidential candidate in 2008. Apparently to some people Mormons are best known for their undergarments.

Now I have spent a fair amount of time with Mormons of various stripes in various places around the world. Somehow the question of underclothing never arose. And, to be honest, this kind of crud sounds like someone who doesn't like Mr Romney is already scraping the barrel to find dirt on him. According to Dean Esmay this is probably because Mr Romney has no other dirt and, as he also points out in another post, it seems that this trick has been played before to some success. Ann Althouse also seems to have copped a lot of criticism for pointing out the stupidity of this issue, but since I'm a far less well known blogger I'm sure this one won't get so much coverage. However she also points to a rather more worthwhile article, from the Dallas Morning News (hey MSM serious, bloggers snarky and gossippy, how stereotypical) which somehow brings it all together. That article points out:

Ever since the founding of the LDS church in 1830, conservative Christians have sought to discredit the Mormon church as a blasphemous cult. They have worked to squelch the political ambitions of its adherents, from Smith himself, who made a quixotic bid for the White House in 1844, to Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, who ran for the Republican nomination in 2000. No Mormon presidential candidate has ever posed a real threat – until Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

And continues to note that the doctrinal differences with "regular Christians" and the chequered history of the Mormons.

I don't know either the political leanings or the religious beliefs of the author Molly Worthen, who also published a version of this in The New Republic, but given that TNR publication and the fact that many journalists are distinctly liberal and secular, it seems not implausible that she is at the very least a liberal/progressive. Hence it would not surprise me in the least that she disagrees with Mitt Romney's views on issues such as gay marriage and abortion. It is certain that Andrew Sullivan, one of the bloggers above, disagrees with Governor Romney's position on gay marriage. When you put all this together it kind of looks like a deliberate spoiling tactic where liberals (and Sullivan these days seems to be moving distinctly leftwards) attempt to spread rumour and innuendo about the most serious threat to their retaking the White House in 2008.

Personally I suspect this kind of bunk is going to fail. While some more outspoken Evangelical "leaders" - like their Moslem fundamentalist peers these leaders seem to be mostly self selected by vitue of their ablity to get media coverage - may claim that Mormons are the antichrist or something similar, the vast majority of christians are going to look at Mormon deeds rather than relatively obscure theological words. They are after all looking to elect a president rather than a pastor.

Without exception every Mormon I have met has been basically decent, tolerant and nice. In Tokyo a family took pity on me for Christmas dinner one year, in Provo and Salt Lake City mormons I've met in the course of work have taken pity on me as a business traveller stuck in a boring hotel and invited me back to their houses for an evening [Oh and as a result of visitng these Mormon households I can state that some Mormons at least wear just the same underwear as the rest of us]. Even the earnest missionaries who seek converts are nice people who can usually engage one in sensible conversation and take NO for an answer. The Mormon religion may have some quirky theological claims, but it is, in fact, about the one religion I admire because it is, in many ways, an intensely practical faith. It is also a very American faith, and I mean that in a good way. American society, particularly rural and semi-urban society, functions primarily as a bottom up one with neighbours banding together to do things and help each other out and that sort of behaviour is precisely how Mormons seem to work. They are also (for the most part) tolerant of neighbours who aren't of their faith or aren't as devout and they . In other words they aren't any more different to mainstream americans than, say, orthodox Jews.

In fact let us assume that Mitt Romney were a former devout Hasidic Jew. Do you think that bloggers and journalists would be asking about how other Jews saw them or whether he would go back to wearing the weird clothes and skull-cap? In fact pretty much anyone who did so would reap a hurrucane of accusations of anti-semitism. And dare one wonder what would happen if he were Moslem? Do you think someone would dare to ask what would happen if there was an emergence while he was praying? So how come its OK to write these kinds of crap about a Mormon? and for that matter how come no one mentions that Democrat Senator Harry Reid is also a Mormon - albeit one who seems rather less devout that Governor Romney.

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

Hey What About Al-Reuters and the BBC?

Thanks to the recent discoveries of AP's unreliable sources, Michelle Malkin has a poll asking which MSM outlet does the most to report terrorist propaganda. I think she forgot a couple of options.
There are some others such as France3 which got the whole Pallywood thing going.

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

Truffle Blogging

In my attempt to retain the #1 google link for "Mushroom Porn" I present this. Auchan has 100g of black truffles available for €6.99 (US$919 £4.72). Bought today. To be consumed in various meals over the next week or so. Much better value for money I think than that one ~sry taunted me with.

I'll taunt you with photos as we eat'em. Got some Foie Gras too so that will probably be one of the meals.

I despise l'Escroc and Vile Pin