L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

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

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

Friday Olive Tree Blogging

Time flies like an arrow, olive flies like an olive....
These two pictures are of the same tree nearly 7 years apart. The duller one was taken a couple of weeks ago by my current snazzy Olympus Ultrazoom. The sunnier one was taken by my old Sony Mavica in early January 2000. If you click on them to see them enlarged you will note that the major difference is not in the scenery or the tree (though it is bushier), but in the image size and compression. The old one had to fit on a floppy so it lost a lot of detail compared to the newer one.

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

Dualphone 3088

I've been using Skype for at least two years with, for the most part, great satisfaction. However there has always been one specific drawback -the need to have a PC switched on all the time to use it. The fix to this was clearly to have a dedicated Skype handset and earlier this year a number of dedicated Skype handsets were announced. A few months later these announcements have turned into shipping products just in time for the holiday season.

I have, however, recently purchased a Skype handset which was not among those mentioned earlier - the Dualphone 3088.

I learned about this device through the Inquirer and it seems to meet my needs more than the others. The difference is that this phone can use either the Skype network or the PSTN and hence it replaces the standard house phone.

The system consists of a handset (illustrated) and a base station which connects to the local Internet router via (fast) Ethernet and the PSTN via a telephone cable. The handset and base station communicate via DECT rather than any more IP aware protocol presumably because of the PSTN connection but I consider this to be a feature rather than a bug since I believe DECT is a better wireless voice protocol.

Installation was very simple and usage over the last couple of days has also been quite successful so I am pleased to recommend this to anyone. However it isn't perfect and I have a few suggestions for improvements, all of which I assume can be done in software.

None of these are really critical features for regular use but more like nice to haves. Hopefully some of them will show up in the near future.

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

Banning Things

One of the reasons why I don't live in the UK is the way that as soon as something bad happens politicians and their toadies cry out to ban something to do with the event. I admit this was a minor reason for my choice of life on the Riviera (despite today's miserable drizzle, the weather was the biggest reason), but it is one big reason why I can't imagine going back.

The problem is that passing laws banning something makes politicians look like heroes but usually results in them being real villains because the bans always but up agains the law of unintended consequences. Classic example of the day is Ellee Seymour who wants all knives banned or something like that. She wants this ban because the existing regulations of knives, which result in retired brigadiers being arrested for posession 5cm pocket knives failed to stop two muggers from stabbing someone. She wants a limit on the sale of knives because:

With our knife culture increasing, surely we should be banning their sale from shops. They should be as difficult to buy as guns. Those who  require them for countryside pursuits or any genuine activity will have to prove it, get a letter of consent from local police.

I know these weapons will always be available at sources like the internet, but we must make them as inaccessible as possible. Many violent crimes are probably committed on the spur of the moment, they are done for kicks, a sad indictment of the age we live in. We need to respond to that. My fear is that one day it might be my son, it could even be your child, who is in the wrong place at the wrong time…

I hate to say this but the lady is an idiot (and other stronger words perhaps). Banning knives is never going to work. You can create a weapon out of a screwdriver, a chisel, a kitchen knife (are we planning to license the posession of bread knives? or butcher's cleavers?), so the only way to effectively stop knife crime like this would be to remove from circulation every single blade greater than about 1 inch and everything that could be sharpened into a blade, which is pretty much every piece of metal larger than a couple of inches.

So lets assume we have some jobsworth system where everyone has to beg to buy a penknife. Does that stop the criminals getting knives? Of course not. Do you really think that it is going to be possible to remove all the existing knives in the country? Well Duh? so all a ban does is create a black market in illegal knives while ensuring that th ciminals can be even more sure that their prey are unarmed sheep. In other words it makes it more likely that criminals will have knives (and maybe guns) because they know that if they have a weapon no one will dare to stop them.

If you want to stop crime then in helps if you catch the criminals and make them face punishment. Since our prisons are overcrowded I suggest that some non-custodial sentencing be used, but sentences that make the punishment public such as the return the stocks as I have advocated before. The objection seems to be that this would be degrading for the criminal. Er Hello! this is the point. Unlike incarcertaion which is private and expensive, locking someone up for a day in a cage in the town square is cheap. You could even raise money by letting people send an SMS to a premium number and add some additional punishment for every SMS received. An automatic dunking in water, a machine that kicks the balls... I'm sure we could come up with a few creative ideas. And I bet that this kind of system would send a better message to a mugger or would be mugger than being locked up in jail for a few years.

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

Torygraph Censorship

Richard North at The EU Referendum is rather upset that his colleague Christopher Booker's column this week has been censored. It has been partially spiked because the Torygraph is keen on the Cameroon and his Nouveaux Conservative policies and Booker wrote a part of his column criticising at the leftward lurch of the Nouveaux Cons.

He suggests that we republish the spiked bit, so since I agree with it, I shall:

As David Cameron ends his first year as leader of the Opposition, there are clear signs that the greatest gamble in modern British politics has not come off. The little group of ex-public schoolboys who last year hi-jacked the Conservative Party have seemed to gamble on just one strategy. List everything the Party used to stand for – low taxes, the family, rolling back the power of the state, encouraging business, upholding our defences, curbing criminals, common sense – then go for the opposite.

The essence of the gamble has been the belief that, in wooing the support of Lib Dems, would-be greenies, Guardian

readers and the supposed "soft centre", they could take their supposed "core" supporters for granted. But as support for Cameron falters, all the evidence seems to suggest that those wished-for new recruits to his "Not The Conservative Party" are not forthcoming, while the Party's former natural supporters are left baffled, dismayed and increasingly angry.

All this was neatly symbolised by the recent photo-opportunities staged by the three men now competing for the role of Britain's prime minister. Mr Blair and Mr Brown, aware that defence and national security (not long ago rating 34 percent on a Mori poll) still rank very much higher as voter priorities than "environmental" issues (only 8 percent), flew out to the Iraq and Afghan battle-zones to pose in front of the largest guns they could find. Mr Cameron, at the same time, flew out to the Sudan, in Lord Ashcroft's CO2 emitting private jet, to be pictured cuddling a little refugee child. It was the "Men from Mars" against "the Boy from Venus". "Darfur Dave" did not come well out of the contrast.

The tragedy is that, confronted by the most corrupt, hypocritical, inefficient, illiberal, discredited government in history, what millions of voters are looking for is an alternative which might put an end to the sleazy, self-regarding sham of the Blair era by displaying some "masculine" firmness: in cutting back on the bloated public sector and the out-of-control bureaucracy which is destroying our health service, education and police; which might encourage enterprise; which might restore democracy to local government; bring back some balance into our public finances; sort out the shambles into which our Armed Forces are sliding; uphold Britain's national interest, as we suffocate under the malfunctioning system of government represented by the European Union.

In other words, what much of the country is crying out for is a party which represents precisely those values which Mr Cameron's Not-The-Conservative Party seems so hellbent on abandoning. As for what he stands for instead, almost the only clear message Darfur Dave seems to have put over to the voters is his sentimental "save the planet" greenery, on which his dotty little gimmicks and practical ignorance have simply made him a laughing stock.

What many voters sadly begin to conclude is that Dave and his cronies seem so hopelessly ill-equipped to take on the serious business of government that, if we have to choose between one gang of PR merchants and another, better stick with the devil we know. Hence the evidence of the latest polls appearing to show that the gamble has failed. Ever larger become the number of would-be Conservatives sorely tempted to join that 40 percent who already feel so alienated from politics that they just stay sullenly at home. But the Guardian readers are scarcely flocking to replace them. So where does all this leave our country?

The problem I have is that the only obvious alternative party is UKIP which is, at the moment, a bit of a curate's egg. A lot of its policies seem sound but a number of its politicians seem rather less high quality. They are great at tweaking the noses of the establishment but hard to imagine actually governing.

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

Baen Free Library Updated

The always excellent Baen Free Library has been updated with Eric Flint's Rivers of War (not a Baen book) and Elizabeth Moon's Sheepfarmer's Daughter. Furthermore, Eric promises that the library will be updated  rather more frequently over the next year or so than it has been in the past. He explains the recent decline in his usual money-grabbing capitalist* style:

There are two main reasons for this. The first is my work schedule as a writer, which is always heavy and was especially so in 2006. I don’t make a dime from my position as librarian here, and it’s just a fact of life that working on it has to take a back seat whenever my writing schedule gets too heavy.

That’s not likely to change much, in the future. Certainly not in the near future. But what has changed is the second factor involved.

That’s this:

There is a huge difference to me, in terms of the work involved, between acquiring one title as opposed to another. There are two key variables, as follows:

1) Is the writer whose work I want to acquire someone who’s already familiar with the operations of the Library, and understands what’s involved?

If so, I can usually make the acquisition with a simple email or a phone call. But if it’s a writer who is not familiar with the Library, the process is a lot more time-consuming. I have to explain what’s involved, answer any of their questions—which are normally fairly extensive—and so on and so forth. It’s not only time-consuming but, what’s probably more important, it’s what you might call energy-absorbing also. [...]

2) Is the work already available in electronic format?

This is critical, and it’s something a lot of the users of the Library either don’t understand at all or don’t understand very clearly. [...]

Fortunately though it seems like the message is getting through / has got through and the author/publisher/permissions issue has been solved. This means its purely a mechanical exercise. and hence:

All that said, there is now good news. Time may not heal all wounds, but it does heal a lot of them. The simple fact that so much time has gone by since we did a major expansion means that I now have a hefty pool of titles available to put up in the Library. That’s even more true because, as time goes by, more and more authors have come to be familiar with the Library, so the number who are willing to provide titles has expanded also.

So, keep checking in. Starting in January of 2007, I expect to able to expand the Library with three new titles every month. That’ll be true at least through June, and while I may not be able to come up with three new titles every month thereafter, I’m sure I can come up with one or two.

On the note of a wider range of authors, I suspect that this may be part of the Jim Baen legacy. I don't know how many of the various tributes and memorials mentioned the Jim Baen approach to ebooks, but I bet most did. And, seeing as Jim Baen's Universe lauchned at about the same time I reckon a lot of people will have read Eric Flint's August column in that estemed organ where he goes into specifics about that detail that all capitalist pig authors and publishers care about - filthy lucre - and how the free library has helped keep one of his books selling steadily:

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.

In the same essay he also points out how Baen's ebook policy - low prices, no DRM - has a track record that forces others to take note, soemthing that was obvious this spring when Tor appeared to be embracing the Baen approach and Baen's webscriptions. As John Scalzi wrote (in part):

No DRM? Really? Really really. Why? Allow me to quote Tor's Patrick Nielsen Hayden on this one:

We've tested a lot of e-book waters, including various cockamamie schemes involving overpriced e-books laden with DRM.Oddly enough, a lot of those "books" didn't even sell enough copies to pay for their file-conversion costs. Meanwhile, it hasn't escaped our notice that Jim Baen has been doing something that works, that people like, and that makes money. I'm delighted to be doing this pilot program; I think Jim has been clueful on this issue for a long time, while almost everyone else in publishing has been staggering around on stage hitting one another over the head with inflated pig bladders.

This is a very fine point to make: Tor's not doing this because it's a golly-neat idea, they're doing it because it makes money -- or at the very least, makes money for Baen, a book publisher who happens to be in the same line of business as Tor. Look, I know this much about Tom Doherty, the publisher of Tor: the man knows the book business rather precisely like a jaguar knows his bend of the Amazon -- he knows every rock and cranny and food source and has an instinct about how to sell books that just plain weirds out other folks. I don't see him giving a greenlight to something that's going to mess with his livelihood, or the livelihood of his staff and writers. Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Tor's senior editor, is likewise unspeakably smart and also knows his business. The two of them make money -- and more importantly for me, have helped me make money. If they think this is worth doing, I'm going to listen to them because selling my work is their business -- literally (a word that works on many levels here).


Well, see. The problem with digital rights management for literature is that there's a huge analog hole in the security called "books." Over at Baen's Bar, the online bulliten board run by the Baen folks, one of the members there describes how he's made an unofficial personal e-book version of Old Man's War with "a hardcover copy, an Epson scanner, FineReader 6.0, and some eyeball sweat." You know what's keeping him from uploading that copy to one of the online file-sharing services? Aside from his own personal sense of morality, not a damn thing. More to the point, anyone with a internet-enabled computer, a scanner, OCR software and a library card can do exactly the same thing.

Don't get me wrong: If you're stupid enough to upload a book of mine and leave a trail of crumbs I can follow back to you, I'll be quite pleased to sue your ass (or more accurately, will be quite happy to have Tor sue your ass, because its corporate parent Holtzbrinck has got a whole flock of lawyers assembled just for that very purpose). My information does not want to be free; it wants to pay my mortgage. But slapping DRM onto an e-book doesn't do a damn thing other than annoy people who buy the book online -- i.e., one's actual customers.

Unfortunately a month or so later Tor's parent company bean counters ended up have the vapours and nixed the whole deal. However I suspect that, even though the beancounters got cold feet, the message got out to a large number of authors and editors (and maybe even greedy publishers) that free eBooks make great publicity and hence I suspect that a lot of Eric's problem 1) above (explaining the concept) has become rather redundant because there are authors demanding that their works go up - in fact Sarah A Hoyt has been doing precisely that on the Bar. This means that Eric merely has to deal with the mechanical aspects, something that is comparatively straightformerward.

One great example of whether the Free Library works as a publicity device will be Elizabeth Moon's book. The Paksenarrion trilogy of which it is the first book is one of the better bits of 1990s fantasy but I would imagine that, while the book sales are still there, they are probably trickling in at a rate of a few hundred per year. I would be very interested to learn whether or not these numbers increase now that the book is available for free. Since Ms Moon was, I believe, at one point very much in the "DRM good" camp it will be fascinating to see if she reports positively on this experiment and whether she extends it to some of her other work.

*Eric Flint denies that he is a capitalist, he thinks he's a comunist of some sort. I reckon you judge a man by his actions and under those terms he comes out as a philanthropic capitalist... Of course he will no doubt claim that this is actually purely because society has forced him into this mold

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

Truffle Blogging

I said I'd be blogging about the truffles we bought. Below is the truffle risotto that She Who Must Be Obeyed prduced.

These were the first truffles I'd ever seen up close and they are definitely weird things. Unlike your average fungus they are hard and they don't look like anything edible at all. On the other hand the smell is amazing. And it gets better as you cook them.

Having said that I was only medium impressed with the end result. The Trompettes de Mort risotto SWMBO cooked a coiple of months ago was, in my opinion, very much superior in terms of taste...

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

Mexican Food Blogging

She Who Must Be Obeyed is a keen cook - as you may have guessed - and she loves trying out new things. We've been here in France for 7 years and in that time we have had hardly any Mexican food, something that we had a lot of in the previous few years in San Jose. In the last 7 years SWMBO had never tried cooking Mexican food because it tends to require lots of fresh cilantro and we had no idea where to find this thing. Possibly we were blind or possibly the local shops just started stocking it but I'm glad to say that a few weeks ago I spotted cilantro (aka coriandre) leaves in Auchan. Well when I showed that to SWMBO she was inspired and we've had a couple of Mexican evenings.

One big hit was the home made tacos plus fillings plus home made guacamole illustrated above. Another was today's sorta Mole Poblano

Unlike the tacos this one was a bit of an adaption on the real thing - mexican chocloate? no way Jose! - but it certainly tasted good and wasn't a million miles away from the Mole Poblano we used to eat in our favourite dive in Milpitas (the excellent Baja Cactus)

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

Unto The Breach

John Ringo has occasionally been accused of being a hack author. I suspect this is partly due to jealousy/envy from those who don't have his success and partly due to his political viewpoint and the way he lets it all hang out. I disagree about this viewpoint completely and as evidence for the prosecution I present his latest book "Unto the Breach", a book which John Ringo himself considers to be his best ever:

Unto the Breach (Ghost IV) is out in December. [...] I'm hoping to do a media blitz on this one. Why? Because I think it's worth it. Unto the Breach is probably the best book I've ever written. Unlike most of the Ghost series, the sex is muted. But the threads of the series, high-action, ethnology, personal interaction and operatic drama all came together in a synergy that is just...awesome. I don't normally talk up my books, but UtB is not only the best thing I've ever written, it's the best book I've ever READ in the action-adventure millieu.

Unto the Breach is the fourth of his non-SF "Paladin of Shadows" series of action thrillers set in the present (more or less) and it follows on neatly from the last two (Kildar and Choosers of the Slain). In the last two the hero, Mike Harmon (aka Mike Jenkins aka Ghost aka the Kildar ... ) has settled down in remote Georgia - the country not the state - and, having bought the farm and its retiners, trained them into a decent militia and blooded them fighting against nearby Chechens and Albanian pimps and drug smugglers. The blooding will stand them in good stead in this book where they get to fight it out against enormous odds.

It seems that Al Qaeda and the Chechens are in the process of buying some truly deadly WMD from the Russian mafia who have extracted it from a secret Russian research lab. It seems that the exchange of a lot of money for the bioweapons is to take place inside the Pankisi Gorge, that part of Georgia which is adjacent to Chechnya and which is not really under the control of Tblisi (although in the books this lack of control is portrayed as rather worse than it appears to be in reality) and for a variety of reasons the only people who can be trusted to get into the gorge and stop the handover are Mike and his followers.

From that beginning comes a tale which truly kicks butt and takes no prisoners. As always facts, particularly as refers to geography and geopolitics, are treated harshly. Anyone planning on using this book or its predecessors as a travel guide will find that the author has made no attempt what so ever at geographical accuracy and other subjects from computers to air travel have been treated similar disdain - but while the details are frequently wrong, the overall sweep of the descriptions are solid. In fact I would say that, while about as politically incorrect as can be it (and its predecessors for that matter) tells the truth about attitudes and about the ways other culture think that go beyond anything you could ever read in a modern anthropology journal.

One thing that is very clear is that this book is not for people who think the UN is a good and holy place or for those who believe that negotiation is a worthwhile endeavour when it comes to Islamic fundamentalism. It would make, I think, one heck of a movie in the Hollywood action tradition but no Hollywood producer would take it on because it's politcal viewpoint is180° from that of Hollywood. But although I have no doubt some critics will call it a simplistic "Kill Raghead" book, it is far more than that. As with much of Ringo's other works it looks at concepts like honour and loyalty in a positive manner but it also very much explains why NATO etc. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq get such asymmetric kill ratios on the Taleban and other insurgents. One could almost call this book an instruction manual for the Islamists on what they need to do to win as well as wish fulfillment for the soldiers fighting them.

I wrote in my review of it's predecessor that that book

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

The same applies to this one only more so, there is sex, there is a lot of gory violence and there is very definitely tragic romance. Oh and there is one of the best descriptions of the sniper mentality ever, not to mention a magnificent sniper shot.

All in all its a great christmas present for the non-liberal in your life.

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

Friday Olive Tree Blogging

Something a little different this week. One of the typical aperitif things around here is to eat olives and it is a habit that She Who Must Be Obeyed and I have adopted keenly. However we had one slight problem, namely we didn't have a neat dish for the olives to be eaten from. All this has now been rectified because SWMBO made the above dish a couple of weeks ago.

As always you can click on the image to see it enlarged and if you a pining for actual tree pictures then look in the archives. For those in the region who may be interested she made it at the atelier of Noel which is underneath the Opio champion supermarket. Noel does lessons every thursday morning.

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

Pregnant Lesbians

(If nothing else a title like this should get the google hits going - perhaps I'd better add "Britney Spears" in there to make sure).

It seems that a variety of prurient lefties and busy body righties (feel free to swap descriptive adjectives as you wish) are working themselves into a lather over the fact that Mary Cheney (daughter of VP Cheney) is pregnant while unmarried and, possibly worse, living in a long term lesbian relationship. As with Tim Worstall, this is the sort of area where my general sympathy with the christian conservative part of the US political spectrm goes out of the window, so since these "holier than thou" moralizers are spouting off about the sactity of the traditional famialy yadda yadda yadda I'm going to attack them first. Fortunately though I have plently of anger left over for the scummy NY Slimes and the gay-righty lobby who seems to think that this is a great opportunity to open their mouths and illustrate that they too can be hate-filled bigots.

The NYT and Wapo both have quotes from so-called christians displaying a distinct lack of christian virtues but I think the prize goes to this townhall column by Janice Crouse found (and fisked) by feministe. I'd suggest reading that fisking in its entirety because it makes many excellent points so I'm just going to comment on the most fatuous bit, the conclusion:

All those people who talk about doing what is best “for our children” need to get back to the basics: children need a married mom and dad. Children can do without a lot of the trimmings of childhood, but nothing can replace a home where the mother and dad love each other enough to commit for a lifetime and are absolutely crazy about their kids –– enough to be willing to sacrifice their own needs to see that their children get the very best.

This is sheer blithering idiocy and wilfull mistatement of the facts. Children do not need a married mom and dad. If they did then every single child growing up in history where the mother was (grass) widowed and failed to (re)marry would have been some kind of psychological disaster as would every single child growing up to divorced parents around the world today, not to mention all those families where dad spends all his time working and never sees the kids.

I will agree that the ideal rearing arrangement is probably "a home where the mother and dad love each other enough to commit for a lifetime and are absolutely crazy about their kids", I accept that on the whole a family with both sexes present is better than one with only one sex but that is it. A traditional marriage only works when the parents do in fact love each other. It is clearly documented that having marital fights hurts even when there is no divorce and it is also clear that step-parents often abuse (sexually or otherwise) step-children even if they apparently love their new spouse. So far as I can tell Mary Chaney and her partner love each other deeply and clearly care abou the idea of having children enough that they are willing to figure out how to find a surrogate father and to be able to withstand the scrutiny of the media and the complaints of the hate-filled. Assuming that this relationship, which has lasted a 15 years so far (longer than a great many "traditional" marriages), continues the child, and any others the couple have, will be brought up in a loving two parent family with both parents likely to "sacrifice their own needs to see that their children get the very best".

Janice also claims that the child will not know who its father is. This could be the case but I don't actually see any sign that this will in fact be true. I could imagine all sorts of relationships where the father is both known to the child and takes some part in its upbringing. Furthermore the single parent mothers that she seems to be comparing Ms Cheney to are rather different in that far from living in a long term stable relationship with one person they tend to have multiple children by multiple fathers, and the fathers equally have multiple children by different mothers. They are also frequently pregnant for the first time when they are rougly half Ms Cheney's age and a large reason for their failings as a parent is that they have also failed to complete education (teenage pregnancy at will do that) and hence failed to get a job with a good steady income. As far as money goes, whether or not Ms Cheney holds a job is irrelevant, I sincerely doubt that her parents would let her or their new grandshild starve or live in poverty and since she is aged 37 there is no need to worry that having a child will interrupt her education.

The only thing I will say is that I think that the average member of the "christian right" is going to feel more like Katherine Jean Lopez and prefer leave her alone with nothing more than perhaps a few prayers for her health and wellbeing.

This the leaves us with the scum on the left who seem to think that Mary Cheney and her baby should be used as an issue to attack the republicans and especially Bush and Cheney. Somehow it seems that Mary Cheney is required to either be in political lockstep with her father or to be utterly disowned by him. Apparently on the left the idea that families can have political disagreements and still love one another is not known. And then as Tigerhawk points out, they use her pregnancy to peddle myths about the 2004 election which seem to be solidly contradicted by the facts.

Personally I think the people on the right should show a bit of christian charity and forgiveness and the people on the left should show a bit of sensitivity for privacy and the human rights of Ms Cheney and the whole lot of them should shut the fuck up and let the lady have her baby in peace.

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

Things You Only Say In Japan

Japundit has a great list things you only ever say in Japan such as:
and there a bunch of good comments too. A few I can think of

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

A Law to Repeal

BBC radio 4 is asking people to nominate laws to repeal. Some obvious suggestions that others may choose are the Act of Union of 1707 or perhaps the Hunting With Dogs Act 2004 but I hope as many people as possible will nominate the outrageous Curd Cheese (Restriction on Placing on the Market) Regulations 2006. This, in case you missed it, is the law that bans one particular company (Bowland Dairy Products) from selling cheese. The gory details were covered in the Booker column last weekend as well as at various blogs and in the House of Lords last week, but the basic details are that

"No person shall place on the market any curd cheese manufactured by Bowland Dairy Products Limited".

This level of micromanagement is a first and goes against British legal tradition that the law must be blind i.e. it must be general and not applicable solely to a named entity
.Ceterum Censeo Unionem Europaeam Esse Delendam

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

A Royal Au Pair and other Election Tales

The French elections are, quelle surprise, heading for a Ségo-Sarko fight with a few outlying spoilers in the first round. I haven't blogged much about this because, to be honest, it is tediously predictable in the extreme. However for some masochistic reason EURSOC Two appears to read the Independent and points us to a fascinating tale in that rag today about Mlle Marie-Ségolène and her time as an au pair in Dublin. It doesn't really tell us much about the good lady but is a nice sort of "small world" human interest story well suited for the skateboading duck section of the news.

Ever so slightly more seriously the Wapping Liar's Charles Bremner is on the job of trying to explain the recent utterings from our candidates. Sarko had a "primary debate" with Michèle Alliot-Marie (MAM) who was floated by various people (possibly fronts for l'Escroc) as the non-Sarko choice for UMP candidate. Well, according to Mr Bremner, the debate was almost as interesting as the Independent and at the end of it the general feeling was that yes Sarko knows his stuff and MAM gets a prize for being token rival and making things look slightly more interesting than watching paint dry. Assuming nothing much happens the UMP looks like it will have Sarko as its main candidate with Le Pen (assuming he gets the signatures) over on the far right and probably no one else.

On the left the good news for Ségo is that the serious independant lefty challenger seems to have been bought off brought into line convinced to pool resources and the miscellaneous protest vote egotistical morons candidates couldn't agree on a single candidate and policy platform and so are likely to all end up with a 1.5% of the vote each.

The possibly bad news for Ségo is that she is now being forced to open her mouth and say things a little more concrete that the usual round of duck billed platitudes. Some of what she says (e.g. attacking America or the ECB) are probably popular but some of her other statements and actions such as her cozying up to Hizbollah are probably less so. Not so much because people disagree but because they make her look like a rabble rouser rather than a sober presidential candidate.

Both candidates are, it seems to me, attempting to claim the ground of radical outsider but yet at the same time proect the aura of experience and reliability. It is an interesting combination, clearly driven by focus groups, and one that both can make some genuine claim for, although not quite as much as they might like. On the whole I think Sarko has the better policies but, as David Rennie acutely observed, he ain't no Margaret Thatcher. In fact he seems to be about as good as Marie-Sögolène in extracting the pork for his constituents.

In other words despite what they say the election is between "Maman" and "Papa" with a nasty "Grandpère" over on the right

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

EU Construction - Illegal?

This is not directly EU related but it is rather amusing:

BRUSSELS, Belgium: Belgian police raided a European Union building construction site Tuesday to check for illegal workers.

Police spokesman Christian De Coninck said 15 workers were detained and taken away for questioning after the morning raid at the 14-story building, situated in the Belgian-capital's EU quarter, just across from the headquarters of the European Commission.


The raid seemed to be a regular inspection under Belgian social and employment rules to ensure no illegal workers were on site, said Dominique-Georges Marro, spokesman of the EU's Council of Ministers. He added his EU institution was "not involved" at all in the raid, nor did it currently own the building, which is slated to be completed in 2007. It is to house 1,300 translators.

As I wrote after our trip to Belgium there is a lot of black market activity in Belgium but it ever so slightly amusing to discover that the building contractors engaged by the EU have turned out to be some of the ones doing the black market thing...

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

Why I Bought Those Books

I jus saw this interesting pair of posts asking readers why they bought three recent books and reporting on the results. Well, somewhat late to the party I shall list why I bought the most recent 6 books (it doesn't matter its the SAME reason for all of them) because just as I was about to write this post Amazon.fr delivered my latest order, one incited by a favourable US$ exchange rate, free shipping and the fact that it's practically Christmas.
The books are
All of the authors are published by Baen Books and all of these books - even the non Baen 3 - were bought because of Baen and specifically because of Baen's electronic publishing and related web promotional activity. In fact I have already bought the three Baen books in electronic form and reread them a number of times and my review of DOAM a couple of months ago was from a version that metaphorcally fell off the back of an electronic lorry too. None of this is coincidence. I recently praised (again) the Baen Free Library but it might help if I explain the process that has led me to where I am now.

Some years back I was a dedicated haunter of used book shops and the occasional Borders or B&N searching for interesting SF. Amongst the SF I found and enjoyed were David Weber's Honor Harrington series, although somewhat ironically I initially thought it was just Hornblower pastiche and avoided it for a while. I noted that Weber was published by Baen and also noted that many other authors I enjoyed were also Baen ones.

At some point in mid 2002 I found the Janis Ian article on music downloading - it is well worth reading in its entirety but in it there is a very specific section:

[... T]ake author Mercedes Lackey, who occupies entire shelves in stores and libraries. As she said herself: "For the past ten years, my three "Arrows" books, which were published by DAW about 15 years ago, have been generating a nice, steady royalty check per pay-period each. A reasonable amount, for fifteen-year-old books. However... I just got the first half of my DAW royalties...And suddenly, out of nowhere, each Arrows book has paid me three times the normal amount!...And because those books have never been out of print, and have always been promoted along with the rest of the backlist, the only significant change during that pay-period was something that happened over at Baen, one of my other publishers. That was when I had my co-author Eric Flint put the first of my Baen books on the Baen Free Library site. Because I have significantly more books with DAW than with Baen, the increases showed up at DAW first.There's an increase in all of the books on that statement, actually, and what it looks like is what I'd expect to happen if a steady line of people who'd never read my stuff encountered it on the Free Library - a certain percentage of them liked it, and started to work through my backlist, beginning with the earliest books published.

The article was inspiration for me to go and take a look at the Baen website, including the Free Library and the Bar. I downloaded a number of the free books, and then, a short while later, headed off to the related Webscriptions site to find and pay for the sequels and other interesting works.

Subsequently I have bought very few SF books from authors not published by Baen and I buy almost all my Baen books electronically first and convert them to paper ones only afterwards. In this case I also decided to splurge and buy some non Baen books from Baen authors that I like too.

So could a non-Baen author interest me? certainly but (s)he'll have to work things the Baen way and give me quite a bit of book to read first on a website. I'd also prefer to buy the book electronically, especially if the choice is between electrons and something that takes up more space than a mass market paperback.

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

Pinochet, Omlettes, Eggs and Democracy

I've never really cared much about Chile's past. I thought Pinochet was relatively bad but in the grand scheme of things no worse than any number of rulers. What I had not realized was quite what a catastrophe the Allende regime was that he overthrew. Fortunately over at Chicago Boyz there is an excellent essay on The Allende Myth by Vladimir Dorta, which shows that this Samizdata analagy sums up Sr Allende very very well indeed:

Bragging about low unemployment under hyper-inflation is like bragging about the airspeed of aircraft in a power dive towards the ground.

For reasons that are beyond me Allende seems to have intentionally destroyed as much as he could of his country's productive assets and he clearly hoped to get rid of the rest and most of the national institutions such as the military and the judiciary as well. In fact Allende seems to have been the role model for Comrade Bob Mugabe and to have been following the ideology ofFidel Castro if not Pol Pot. Given that level of idiocy combined with a refusal to stop when a majority of his citizns complain I think that Allende deserved his abrupt descent from power.

It seems to be generally accepted that about 3000 people were executed by the Pinochet regime, the majority in the year or two immediately following the coup. This is considered to be a bad thing but it may be worth, as the WaPo did to compare those deaths to the ones caused by Marxists in Latin America:

By way of contrast, Fidel Castro -- Mr. Pinochet's nemesis and a hero to many in Latin America and beyond -- will leave behind an economically ruined and freedomless country with his approaching death. Mr. Castro also killed and exiled thousands. But even when it became obvious that his communist economic system had impoverished his country, he refused to abandon that system: He spent the last years of his rule reversing a partial liberalization. To the end he also imprisoned or persecuted anyone who suggested Cubans could benefit from freedom of speech or the right to vote.

I don't know how many of them were innocent and how many fervently desired violent marxist revolution but I'll bet that a fair few were in the latter category and therefore, in my opinion, deserved their fate since they would have done the same or worse if they had won. 3000 people was in any case 0.03% of the total population in 1973/4 or a death rate of 0.3/1000 population (Chile's total death rate in 2006 was about 5.8/1000 - a rate BTW which is just over half the UK's rate), which is pretty minimal all things considered.

Not all military dictatorships are good (Franco), nor are all coups (Venezuela) but some are more malign than others. From Turkey to Pakistan to Thailand to Fiji the ultimate check on democratic misrule seems to be the military. As Big Lizards argues this may turn out to be the path for Iraq too. It occurs to me that Iraq (to pick a country totally at random - NOT) might prefer a Pinochet in comparison with either Saddam Hussein or its current mess. Hussein killed hundreds of thousands of his own citizens at a rate of something like 10,000 per year on average, he also invaded his neighbours, sponsored terrorism and so on. Pinochet on the other hand successfully reformed his country's economy, stepped down vuluntarily and, apart from offering the Roxal Navy a little assistance in the Falklands war made no hostile moves on his neighbours or any other nation.

On the whole I think it is fair to say that Chile did far better as a result of the coup than they would have had it not occured and almost certainly fewer people died. Hence on balance it was a good thing and hence Pinochet should be praised rather than cursed.

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

Bluffs will be called

The question is whose? It seems that Eason Jordan of (ex)CNN fame has a new venture called Iraqslogger as part of which he intends to track down the AP's man of mystery. He has publically invited Michelle Malkin to come along and she has accepted. For some reason a blog called the Liberal Avenger thinks she's going to find a weasel excuse and be a no show.

Malkin is so concerned about the Associated Press’ efforts to make things look “really bad” in Iraq when things are really actually going really well, that she has accepted Eason Jordan’s invitation to send her to Iraq.

Now I know and you know that Michelle has no intention of going to Iraq. She’s stuck her neck out a bit on this one, however. What excuse will she use to keep herself from going?

Will she claim that Eason Jordan refused to pay? Will she describe a murky Islamofascist/moonbat plot that will force her to stay at home? Will she claim that the Iraqi government won’t give her a visa? Will she, like Bill O’Reilly, claim to discover that she’s on an al-Qaeda hitlist?

At least we know that Baghdad isn’t as dangerous as Paris. She’s got that going for her.

I don't personally see why Michelle would not go to Iraq and I'm prepared to say that I'll be a lot less impressed with her if she does in fact become a no show. The only reasonable excuse that I can see is that she hand her place over the Curt at Flopping Aces - this being basic professional courtesy given that Curt did most of the initial digging.

However my expectation is that the LA will join the AP in the consumption of corvid in the new year.

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

Sarko Ne Grok Pas Les Bloggeurs

I think I have said before that Sarko gets my support more as "best of a bad bunch" than out of any real sympathy with most of his political platforms. In other words since Ségo is apparently a semi-reformed socialist in the mold (sic) of Gerhard Schroeder and Le Pen is a protectionist fascist in the vein of Franco, Sarko wins by being merely slightly sane policy-wise.

Sarko has even made a few tentative steps on the internet including writing a (long) comment on a blog whch criticised him, as a result a year ago I wrote that:

...While I disagree with part of the Sarko manifesto, in so far as it is known, I think that he is the first politician to really understand the modern world and the internet which means that he is likely to do far more good than harm. The fact that he is also the first mainstream politician to clearly reject slimy tranzi political correctness which blights political discourse in the western world and call a spade a spade not an earth-moving device can only make things better. No he is not perfect and yes he is frequently a media whore but while he may love to parade in front of the cameras he also does things instead of remaining aloof...

Unfortunately I think I may have been a little over enthusiastic. This week Loic Le Meur's LeWeb3 had a drive-by speech and photo op by the Gnomish one which didn't go down terribly well with the attendees. Partly this seems to be because he failed to hang around for questions or debate and spent mucho time posing for TV but it seems he also got in trouble with attendees for the content of his remarks:

France is lagging behind on internet, [Sarkozy] says. “We are trying to catch up. The access rate to high speed internet is good. We have exceptional bloggers.

”We are lagging behind in culture and government. The state did not create the conditions to make France a country of innovation. It wasn't ready.“

He mounted a defence of copyright and respecting people's right to be paid for the work. The internet must be one of the priority sectors along with life sciences.

There are some interesting ideas here, such as free sites with the digitised public archives on them, but fundamentally he's making an election speech to the cameras. Not much he's saying is relevant to the 50% of the audience that isn't French.

He does say that he wants to make France a more hospitable place for entrepreneurs, instead of people fleeing to the UK, Switzerland and the like.

Most controversially, he's making an impassioned flee for regulation and censorship of the internet. He's using the standard bogie man: eeeevil people abusing the internet for nefarious ends. Having ethics is not the same as restraining liberty, apparently. We must be aware that our liberty is bound (liberty is bound??) by responsibility.

In summary: he thinks we are the future and he plans on regulating the hell out of us.

The good news (I guess) is that he is aware of the Internet and bloggers and wants to make them part of his campaign. The problem here is that he seems to be failing to understand some basic points about liberty and government intervention. One reason I think why the French have so manny bloggers and such a vibrant on-line community is that it is unregulated and independent. The French MSM is not only regulated with regard to content (so much must come from French producers etc etc) it is also very much tied in to the political elites. It seemed to me last year that Sarko responded to the blogger partly because he understood this and because he understood that the French MSM hated him because they saw him as some kind of parvenu.
Unfortunately he seems to have missed some of the other related points such as the fact that innovation tends to take place either in an absence of government regulation or as a way to evade it. If he wants to make France more hospitable for Entrepreneurs then he needs to deregulate not add more regulations but I don't think this is understood.

PS Loic invited Sarko, Ségo and François Bayrou (who he? answer: head of the UDF - not to be confused with the EDF :) ). Curiously absent from the invitation list was M Le Pen. I wonder why?
PPS Loic will get in trouble with the language purists at l'Académie française because his post is titled "Copie de l'email envoyé à trois candidats à l'élection présidentielle" and actually the French for an email is courriel.

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

Britain Caves to Saudi Royalty

The British Government has decided to halt its investigation into bribes allegedly paid by BAe to various members of the Saudi royal family. As the BBC explains this really is nothing what ever to do with the Saudi threats to not make any more purches from the UK what so ever. Honest gov!

BBC business editor Robert Peston says that major UK companies - both arms firms and other manufacturers - have voiced fears that they stood to lose other lucrative deals should the probe have continued.

The SFO said its decision had been taken "following representations that have been made both to the Attorney General and the Director of the SFO concerning the need to safeguard national and international security".

It added: "No weight has been given to commercial interests or to the national economic interest."

The Al Yamamah contract with Saudi Arabia is thought to have been worth £40bn to BAE Systems over the past two decades.

Saudi Arabia said in August that it planned to buy 72 Eurofighters to replace its range of Tornado jets, which were also made by BAE.

Something tells me that the claim that "No weight has been given to commercial interests or to the national economic interest." is one that many people will consider to be roughly as accurate as "the sun rises in the west"

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

Friday Olive Tree Blogging

Kind of fun combination for peace - doves eating fallen olives

As always click on the image to enlarge it and do look at past photos in the series here.

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

Time to debase the currency

The metal value of the US 1¢ coin and 5¢ coin is greater than the face value of the coin. As a result the US Mint has issued a press release explaining that it is illegal to export very many of them or to melt them down. Having a quick look I reckon that the British 1p and 2p are probably getting close and I suspect the smaller copper eurocent coins may be approaching the same problem.

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

Christmas Songs To Die To

Thanks to Astrid of Life with a Seaview I have what is probably the worst piece of Christmas music ever. Yes this is worse than "Grandma got run over by a reindeer" and Paul McCartney - both of those suffer from the disadvantage of being able to sing...

(or download an mp3.)

I got this from the sneeze, and in the comments there are rather a lot of other equally bad suggestions such as the hippo song, the porky pig christmas and South Park's Eric Cartman version of O Holy Night. Share and Enjoy (as it were).

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

MEP = Moronic EUseless Pontificator?

MEPs are, in general, a particularly egregious waste of money. A bunch of generally failed national politicians who manage to hop onto the EU gravy train and (to mix metaphors) milk it for all they can. In between pocketing generous salaries, expenses and allowances they gather together and natter about things which they mostly have little or no clue about. Case in point for today is what the Marmot's Hole found some prat named Glyn Ford (MEP) writing about North Korea. This idiocy starts:

- Dead Talks Walking; North Korea and Removing the Bomb
by Glyn Ford

North Korea will return to the table in Beijing in December and the Six Party Talks brokered by China will recommence after a fifteen month hiatus with the two Korea's, the US, Japan and Russia in attendance. Yet unless President Bush makes a sharp turn of direction the prospects for a solution are bleak. The North has returned to talks it abandoned in late 2005 after the September 19th Joint Statement that was portrayed at the time as a breakthrough. But it fact it was the papering over an enormous division between the two main protagonists. Complete Verifiable Irreversible Disarmament would only be acceptable to Pyongyang in exchange for an end to US hostility and a new indigenous supply of power.

For the North the reference to negotiations on the supply of a nuclear power plant at the appropriate time meant 'now', while the US read 'never'. It might have kept the North from testing its nuclear bomb for a few more rounds of inconclusive talking, but it was a pause not a plan. As it turned out the ink was barely dry before, from a North Korean perspective, the US demonstrated their continued hostility and unilateralism. They forced North's bank of choice in Macau to freeze their assets on the grounds the North was money laundering.

Obviously according the Moronically EUseless Pontificator the whole crisis is due to the US. The fact that N Korea demonstrably broke the conditions under which it received assistance in the 1990s, thus making an unreliable partner, and the fact that it has been named repeatedly as a major supplier of counterfeit currency, drugs etc etc is not worthy of mention. Obviously the fact that MEPs can blatently break the law and recieve nothing more than minor slaps on the wrist has meant that Glyn thinks that all people he likes (i.e. anyone who disagrees with America) should receive the same light non-punishment. But it gets worse, claiming that enforcing sanctions for a mere $24M loss can only be a sign of either stupidity or an evil plot:

In light of the earlier Joint Statement screwing it up for $24M, small change for American organised crime, is either stupidity or conspiracy. The North chose to interpret it as the latter. So off the went on the road to demonstrating their nuclear credentials and on October 9th got half way there with an underground nuclear test that was a whimper rather than a bang, yielding a blast of only 1000 tonnes of TNT a quarter of that forecast.

One wonders at what point it is OK to apply sanctions. $100M? $1B? never? He then goes on to make it clear that even arms-dealing is OK so long as you aren't American:

[...] As an Axis of Evil country that coincidently had a high-level Delegation in Teheran meeting with President Ahmadinejad in mid-November, one of the more enthusiastic consumers of its short and medium range missile, it will take some convincing that the US leopard has changed its spots. They are looking for complete verifiable irreversible suspension of US hostility, both military and economic towards them and a nuclear package deal.

Surely it would be better to say that the suspension of dealings with Iran would help convince the US that the N Korean leopard has changed its spots? The US has made no military threats against them and has merely enforced UN resolutions in economic terms. Admittedly the US helped get the UN resolutions to pass but, contrary to Glyn's apparent theory, the US has been far from alone in its stance. Indeed given the example of Libya a few years back it is clear that the US can quickly remove economic pressure once the regime stops trying to create and/or export WMD etc. Unlike Libya, N Korea has not benefitted from the suspension of such pressure because, unlike Libya, it has persistently refused to stop its activities.

Neither can be the result of a bilateral deal. Pyongyang and Washington agree on one thing, that you can't trust the other. And they're both right. Any final solution requires both sides' agreement, but not enthusiasm. The nuclear package could be put together with South Korean money, Russian technology and Chinese political will. The South is just too petrified of a shotgun reunification to do otherwise, will the Russians were keen right back at the beginning to sell their nuclear technology for Northern consumption.

As for the Chinese they want to avoid a regional arms race, which will be triggered if in response to the North Korean 'threat' Japan goes ahead and deploys Theatre Missile Defence. This will, at the same time, neutralise China's offensive capability forcing them to multiply its 20 ICBM's by an order of magnitude and probably fit them with Multiple Independent Re-entry Vehicles. With a booming civilian economy about to make the global grade the last thing the Chinese want is a repeat of the late sixties when in response to the threat from the Soviet Union they increased Military spending by 80% between 1968 - 71 seriously distorting the economy and slowing the recovery from the chaos of the Cultural Revolution.

There is some truth here. Amazingly. Although the brief discussion of 1970s Chinese history is, IMHO, further evidence of a failure to grasp cause and effect. But as we get to the end we discover the whole reason hy Glyn has written this anti-American screed:

Yet there is a way that will not remove US hostility but rather tame it. That is by providing multiple guarantors of any settlement. The clever thing for China and the two Korea's to do now is to widen rather than narrow the number of participants, even if at least initially they only have observer status. They might force Japan and the US from their procrastination as well as give the North Koreans the confidence to start the long march to a comprehensive settlement.

First on the invitation list should be the EU. As the Pyongyang's most serious interlocutors not already present and providers of half a billion euros of financial assistance to North Korea over the past few years the EU has the financial and political muscle to make the difference.

Yes it looks like Glyn wants to spend EU money on N Korea so that he can be an observer to the 6 party talks and receive VIP treatment. Yes, even if Glyn fails to get re-elected as an MEP he should still be able to wangle some sort or a EUrocratic job as N Korea expert and thus jet off the Beijing at regular intervals. Wonderful.

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

BUPA Help The Suspect Paki!

Because it's sure that the wonderful NHS won't (links best not read while eating by those of a sensitive disposition).

Thanks to Tim W's britblog roundup last weekend I read the first post about the incredible grottiness of the NHS. Tonight I've read the second. Phrases like "searing indictment of the whole system" spring to mind along with ones like "do not be seiously ill in England" and "BUPA, I love you". I believe that were it not for BUPA (or equivalent) Mr SuspectP would no longer be blogging on this world. He'd probably either be comatose, a non-comatose vegetable or dead.

The problem is that, as the NHS doctor has written over again, the NHS has degenerated into box ticking rather than actually healing people. He also points out that the NHS pays its chief executives comapatively little and, more importantly IMO, fails to fire them (or anyone else as far as I can tell) for rank incompetence.

I don't know what the complete answer is, but I am positive that one answer is to break the damn thing up into much smaller parts and fire most of the managerial deadwoodoverhead. However firing the deadwood without doing anything else won't help any more than the ZANU labour proposal to throw ever increasing amounts of dosh at it and attempt to micromanage the entire process. I'm not a NHS expert, thanks be to any deity that happens to be listening I'm in robust health and I don't live in England anyway so this qualifies me about as well as anyone to prescribe solutions.

Firstly, from observation and anecdotal evidence, there is no clear chain of responsibility. Even for basic things like cleaning. The NHS has outsourced services without thinking about ways to ensure that the service is performed to an appropriate standard. Even when incentives are in place they are so feeble, cumberous and slow that they are about as effective as being whipped with a piece of cotton wool. This means that the incentives are to cut corners and shift the blame elsewhere. Combined with this is a level of centralization and micromanagement that means that the people on the ground are not able to use their discretion. Unfortunately I find myself limited to the role I criticise lefties for, pointing out the problems without coming up with viable solutions.

I think that one solution might be privatise the entire hospital system and possibly much of the GP system too. Then give every entitled UK resident a health credit card filled up with say £1000/year and the freedom for them to use that to go whereever they want for treatment and for the £1000 to be transferable between people but not exhangable for anything else. People could top it up by means of insurance or cash payment or by transfers from other cards. But they would decide how (and where) they wanted to spend the money. If they blew it on plastic surgery and then had a major illness then they'd have to pay it back over the next few years somehow and so on. But they'd quickly have an incentive to use good hospitals not crap ones and sicne the crap ones would get fewer patients they'd get the required kick in the arse to get better, and if they didn't they could close and sell their assets to some other one that could use them better.

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

Free .NU domain name

The nice chaps (and chapesses?) who run the .NU top level domain are offering me a free .NU domain to be given to a friend or acquaintaince:

Here's a 2006 Holiday gift from .NU Domain Ltd for you: From now until January 5, 2007, you can register one additional .NU Domain name for yourself or as a gift for someone else (a value of EUR 45), complete with an online Holiday gift card, for free.

Your free gift includes the .NU domain name of your choice (you can even use non-English characters - Swedish, Danish, Icelandic, etc - in your domain name), plus all our InstantWeb services: a mini Web site with a Holiday Gift Card announcement, blogging services, and email forwarding. If you have your own Web site, you can use our custom DNS services. All free for a one year period.

I don't need such a spare domain but maybe some reader does? if so contact me via the email address(es) on my contact page.

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

We apologise for the inconvenience

As the few successful visitors today will have noticed, this web site is very sloooow. This seems to be because some group of scumbags are attacking the DNS. I believe the website failing is merely collateral damage. If this were British Rail I'd be talkign about the wrong kind of snow or leaves on the line. Since it isn't all I will say is that once the self propelled mutant attack gerbils have been given their targets normal service will be resumed.

Update: Merely the threat of launching mutant attack gerbils seems to have done the trick, well somwthing has anyway. My friend and hoster Tom may now return to his sickbed

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

Bank of Shiteland

If Farepak were not a good enough reason to not have anything to do with the Bank of Scotland then perhaps this blogger can relate his own tale of Bank of Scotland ineptitude.

On Friday November 10th, a party that owes me money, and who banks with the BoS, attempted to transfer to my French bank account the sum of £10,000. We shall call this party PAYER henceforth. For reasons that have something to do with stupidity by the secretary of PAYER, when the transaction was submitted the account specified was incorrect. This was noted a day or two later (actually on the Tuesday following) and the transfer was cancelled. Subsequently the money has disappeared into a black hole. We (the PAYER and myself) haev tried to get details out of the BoS about what is happening and where the money is and to date (December 21 over 5 weeks later) we have yet to have anyone actually produce any piece of paper showing where the money has gone.

We have had phonecalls. We have had verbal statements that the money was rejected and has been resubmitted blah blah blah but none of these statements has been backed up with a document that shows it to be true.

Needless to say my French bank have been mightily unimpressed - particularly as my bank account has now gone into negative territory in a significant (as in thousands of Euros) way. A week ago we got (after much hassle) a fax from BoS to my bank stating that yes they had transferred £10,000, but contrary to our requests there was no documentary proof of this fact other than a fax that could have been written by anyone. My French bank, whom I would normally list as prime suspect in this sort of affair, have actually been remarkably understanding about the whole sorry affair but, not surprisingly, after a month or so of verbal promises by me that the money is due any day now are beginning to lose patience.

This morning I emailed the following (omitting personal details) to the so-called customer relationship manager at BoS

Dear [III],

Forgive me for perhaps being a little impolite here but I have just been following up with Mme [CCC] at [BANK] and I have two things to report

  1. Despite my request that you send [BANK] the actual documents concerning the transfer you did not do so. All you did was send the cover letter fax, this contains no details about when / whither / whence the transfer occured.
  2. The money has not showed up in my account

I have asked, repeatedly, for some very basic information which you have not provided to either me or to [BANK]. This is to put it bluntly completely unacceptable and indicates to me a distinct lack of competence. This in turn makes me wonder whether you have in fact transfered the money at all.

To repeat.

Please give me and [BANK] the copies of the transaction slips (if electronic scrren prints or printouts, if written a photocopy of the slip) so that we can try and determine where the money is and whether somehow an error in the account details was made.

We need to know

  1. Account the money was sent to (all details)
  2. Date of transaction
  3. Account the money was sent from
  4. Any and all transaction IDs that you can locate

This should be pretty simple, unfortunately it seems to be beyond you, I do not understand why. I would appreciate it if you could call me to explain why and ideally that you call [BANK] as well.

Needless to say this missive and the accompanying verbal harangue by the PAYER got a reaction.

The reaction was not a useful one. I got this email from the PAYER a few minutes ago:

Yes I have been ringing them at hourly intervals since about noon. The investigators are supposed to have rung me.

You remember [NNN] requested that if the money for any reason could not be credited to your account by their agent bank in France they were to send it back to our account and I understand that's what's now happening - it's on its way back to our account.

I have asked the investigation team to ring me as a matter of urgency to explain what the problem was and why the money could not be credited



-----Original Message-----
From: Francis Turner
Sent: 21 December 2006 16:56
Subject: Re: Bank

What if anything have the Bank reported back?


PAYER wrote:
> > Our relationship manager [III] and [NNN] who sent the fax are
> > both now on Christmas Eve but the lady I have talked to say the matter
> > is with the Bank's investigation team in Chester who expect to report
> > back later this morning.
> >
> > With the agreement of my coworkers I have said that this episode is
> > causing us to question the service we are getting from our bank but as
> > you will gather there is nobody there worth saying that to at the
> > moment. With the Allied Irish Bank who we were with if there was a
> > problem on a foreign bank transfer they usually managed to come back
> > to us within 36 hours so we know it can be done.
> >

You will note that despite all of this the BoS have yet to actually put anything meaningful in writing. PAYER rang me a few minutes ago and confirmed that they have had no written details during the entire process. Given that it is not at at beyond the bounds of possibility that someone has made another mistake in the account details one might have thought that sending PAYER (or me) the details of the transaction and asking us to confirm them would have been obvious. Clearly it is nothing of the sort to these morons.

Despite the affair being refered to the "investigation team" they have still not given us any written feedback, and according to PAYER, the investigation team's idea of "calling back later this morning" appears to have been rather different to that commonly understood by the rest of the world, namely making a phone call before 12 noon today, as they have not yet (past 5pm GMT) made that call or provided any of the documents that were requested in the email - even though the so-called Relationship manager has buggered off on his hols, someone else did open the mail and report to PAYER that it had been sent to the "investigation team".

All I can say is suggest that everyone avoide these morons at the Bank of Scotland because they clearly don't seem able to understand English or to follow instructions.

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

Friday Olive Tree Blogging

As a number of Pagans discovered yesterday morning, it is today that is the winter solstice according to the astronomers.

Hence today's photo is not just Friday Olive Tree Blogging, but Solstice Olive Tree Blogging and shows the sun peeking through the olives and above hillside at 8.58am CET this morning.

As always you can click on the image to see it enlarged and visit the Olive Blogging archives here.

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

PM Qustion Time in England & France

It's not just phoney Tony who has been helping Inspecter Knacker with their inquiries. Across the channel the Vile Pin has also been having a chat with les flics.

Paris - French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin was questioned for 17 hours until early on Friday by magistrates investigating an apparent smear campaign in 2004 against conservative presidential frontrunner Nicolas Sarkozy.

Villepin was heard as a witness, not a suspect, in the so-called Clearstream affair that revolves around faked bank accounts and hushed-up government probes.

"As far as I was concerned, I was very happy to be able to provide my testimony in this affair where for many months I have been the victim of calumny and lies," Villepin told reporters as he emerged from the Paris court room at about 3am (02h00 GMT).

As the article says, unlike our Tone, Dom is merely a witness. Although a 17 hour grilling would seem to be rather extreme for a witness unless he turns out to have an awful lot of information to provide. Perhaps the Vile Pin has been spilling the beans on some others?

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

Prince Harry and the Land Rover of Death

There are times when I think that the British Royal family, especially the younger ones, are upper class twits and parasites on the body politic of the UK. Those would the the times when they dress up in Nazi gear or spout off complete ecologico-economic balderdash that appears to have been lifted direct from the Grauniad via the Nouveaux Conservatives. If asked I prefer the Nazi-dressers to the eco-freaks but I tend to dislike both. But my moments of disdain are tempered by the fact that the exact same people can also show the sort of dedication to duty and service which are the justification for an hereditary aristocacy (and monarchy) but which many aristocrats treat with disdain.

What has sparked this post is that today I read that our Nazi dresser may well be redeem himself by serving in Iraq (via Gateway pundit):

Officially, the Ministry of Defence insists that a final decision about whether second lieutenant Harry will be allowed to fight in Iraq has yet to be made.

The Prince has always said he is determined to do battle with his 100-strong unit, A Squadron of the Blues and Royals — part of the Household Cavalry.

They begin a six-month tour of Iraq in the spring. And before that, they are expected to take part in war games and exhaustive preparations for conflict.

The decision over the young Royal is deemed so important it will be made by the Army’s top man, Chief of the General Staff General Sir Richard Dannatt.

But a bandwagon of popular support is growing among the ranks to allow Harry to fulfil his dream of active service. Despite alarm over the possibility of putting the Prince’s life in danger, top brass will find that hard to refuse.

I hope that he does in fact go to Iraq but, as the Sun notes, later on in the article, there is a little problemette:

But the most convincing argument AGAINST Harry seeing action in Iraq is the attention it will attract to his troop from suicide bombers. A target of the third in line to the British throne will be a magnet to fanatics for hundreds of miles around.

What the Sun fails to mention is that the suicide bombers would find it easier to attack 2nd Lt H Windsor than they would if he were in some other army. As Richard North at the EU Referendum blog, has written about repeatedly (those being merely the last three) the scandal is that the British armed forces are not only poorly equipped but also that the government and MoD paperpushers seem unwilling to admit that this is the case and adjust spending appropriately. Blair has used the armed forces a lot but he has done a piss poor job of ensuring that their equipment is up to snuff and appropriate fort he missions that he demands they perform. One particular scandal is the "Snatch" land rover used to patrol in Iraq which is utterly unprotected against the suicide bombers, IEDs or snipers which attack British patrols.

If the prospect of 2nd Lt H Windsor patrolling in inadequate equipment helps focus the minds of the paper-pushers then he'll probably save more British lives in Iraq than practically anyone. I hope he goes there and the MoD uses that as an excuse to purchase some sensible patrol vehicles and maybe even a few more helicopters...

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

Analysing Starship Troopers?

Recently, there was a review of John Scalzi's books in the NYT where the reviewer compared Scalzi with Heinlein and raised the usual canard of Heinlein being militaristic, fascist, yadda yadda. The critical section (in re Heinlein rather than Scalzi) is:

...But Heinlein’s military sci-fi, particularly the book that practically invented the genre, “Starship Troopers,” has not aged well, to put it mildly.

First published in 1959, when America’s misadventure in Korea was over and its intervention in Vietnam was hardly a twinkle in John F. Kennedy’s eye, “Starship Troopers” tells of the education of a naïve young man who enlists in a futuristic infantry unit. Raised by his father to believe that the practice of war is obsolete, the immature soldier — and, by extension, the reader — is instructed through a series of deep space combat missions that war is not only unavoidable, it is vital and even noble. While peace, Heinlein writes, is merely “a condition in which no civilian pays any attention to military casualties,” war is what wins man his so-called unalienable rights and secures his liberty. The practice of war is as natural as voting; both are fundamental applications of force, “naked and raw, the Power of the Rods and the Ax.”

From here the book starts to get a little scary. Frame it as a cautionary tale if it helps you sleep better, but to a contemporary reader it is almost impossible to interpret the novel as anything other than an endorsement of fascism, from an era when the f-word wasn’t just a pejorative suffix to be attached to any philosophy you disagreed with. Taken literally — and there is no indication that Heinlein meant otherwise — “Starship Troopers” might be the least enticing recruitment tool since “Billy Budd.”

Mr Scalzi reports in a follow up post that many people have leapt into the fray about Heinlein and another linking to where Brad DeLong makes some interesting observations. Despite the fact that I think that claiming that Heinlein is a fascist is evidence of a lack of reading comprehension, I'm not going to do the ritual defense - Spider Robinson did it well 25 years ago - but I am going to use the Heinlein canard as a basis on which to ask what, exactly, is meant by Fascism? and why do, primarily, lefties get their undies in a twist when reading Starship troopers and other works of that sort?

First le me attack the idiotic reviewer. A willingness to defend oneself and ones own (be it family, tribe, country ...) is a survival characteristic. Except for when the pacifist is voluntarily defended by others (e.g. the Amish) no human culture has ever survived without an ability to protect itself against external threats and, for that matter, it is something exhibited throughout nature from ants to chimpanzees. War may or may not be noble but it is vital and is does win the soldier and those he is fighting for their liberty. The fact that the reviewer seems to share the views of Johnny Rico's father (and mother) is merely a sign that he has been as equally well defended by others. If you want a historical parallel for SST then I think you do better to go back to Rome, Athens, or possibly to the feudal middle ages. SST describes a government of limited fracnhise democracy where the right to vote is based on ones willingness to sign up for a term defending the system. This is no more fascist than 17th-19th century Anglo-american democracies were.

Now let me get on to Prof DeLong who expands and therby provides more grist to my mill. Prof DeLong says the story has four layers. The first is:

Johnny Rico's story: How a young, naive upper-class twit gets transformed into the human equivalent of a Bug warrior--someone who will fight bravely and fiercely without regard for his own probability of survival in the interest not of liberty, utopia, or justice, but of the biological expansion of the human race.

It seems to me that this is to fundamentally misunderstand the military and hence to be particularly common on the left. Firstly I'm not in the least bit convinced that Johnny is fighting for human expansion. He is fighting, rather, for human survival. It may be that humanity needs to expand to survive (certainly I am not alone in believing that humanity stands a better chane of survival if it has more than one planet where it can live) but the point about the bugs in Starship Troopers(SST) is that they are a race that is expanding and threatening humanity.

Secondly, soldiers (and other military personnel) don't tend to fight for abstract concepts, they fight for the group - their fellow squaddies - and for the honour of the flag. Said flag being typically the one of their regiment (or other relatively small group) rather than the one of their nation. Fighting for "the colours" or "the standard" has been common to disciplined militaries from at least Roman times and, as I seem to recall Pournelle getting one of his Frankenberg's Legion characters to say, non-military politicians always try to get rid of the apparet frippery of medals, flags etc. The politicians of surviving states never succeed.

The soldier fighting for the glory of his regiment is a staple of fiction partly because it is true but also because the concepts of loyalty and honour that are invoked are critical to any number of cooperative huma endeavours not just the military. Johnny Rico is merely another hero in this grand literary tradition that also stretches back to at least ancient Rome if not further.

Prof Delong says the second layer is:

The historians and moral philosophers: the military of Sergeant Zim and Colonel DuBois, who seem to me to be, well, fascist in the technical sense of the term. The German philosopher Ernst Nolte's classic Fascism in Its Epoch (and he should know: he's a somewhat creepy character himself) set out four key characteristics of fascism:

  1. strong belief that--through social darwinism--morality is ultimately tied to blood and race, understood as descent and genetic relationship;
  2. strong rejection of the classical "liberal" belief that individuals have rights that any legitimate state is bound to respect;
  3. an assertion, in its place, that what individuals have are duties to the state, seen as the decision-making organ of the race; and
  4. a strong fear of Marxist communism, and a willingness to use communism's weapons--suspension of parliamentary democracy, mass propaganda, rallies, street violence, and so forth--to combat it.

The sympathetically-drawn teachers in the military preach the first three of these at great length in the novel, and otherwise remind me of dear little Ellen May Ngwethu (from The Cassini Division).

Here is where I begin to wonder if I'm reading the same book. I don't see any mention what so ever of point 1. Au contraire the point of the government in SST is than anyone shall have the opportunity to serve in the military and achieve the right to vote or rule. The sins (or virtues) of the fathers are most emphatically not visited on the sons (or daughters) in this world. Point 2 I grant in part: depending on what you consider as rights, the government in SST may indeed reject a large number of rights. Point 3 is utter bollocks. Individuals have no duties to the state at all unless they decide they wish to vote and hence enter the military.

The third layer is:

The authorial persona, the narrative voice, who adopts the same point of view as do the historians and moral philosophers, and adds on the fourth of Nolte's key characteristics of fascism--the strong fear of Marxist communism, and an eagerness to use its very own weapons (suspension of parliamentary democracy, mass propaganda, rallies, street violence, and so forth) to combat communism. Consider the fear of the Bugs as a mighty adversary ("we were learning, expensively, just how efficient a total communism can be when used by a people actually adapted to it by evolution" (p. 152)). Consider the invented historical background of the novel, in which the twentieth-century United States collapsed because of its excessive solicitude for individual rights and its worship of the words of Thomas Jefferson and was replaced by the "veterans' government" that made no claim to derive its powers from the consent of the governed. Thus the authorial persona is "fascist"--where "fascism" is not just an insult, but is a descriptive label for a certain viewpoint that has been tragically common in twentieth-century politics.

This is even worse. The statement that the narrator adops Nolte's point 4 is not flat out wrong. In SST there clearly is a parliamentary democracy of some sort, what there isn't is a universal franchise. Critically, unlike any limited franchise democracy in human history, anyone can become a voter simply by serving a term in the military. Neither Fascist nor Communist regimes have any real parliamentary democracies. There may possibly be propaganda, although if what is being referred to is the teaching of "History and Moral Philosophy" then it is clearly very ineffective propaganda that does not require the student to memorize it. There are no rallies as far as can be ascertained and while things may have changed we are told specifically that the first veteran groups formed to prevent random disorder so it seems unlikely that they would inflict it.

Secondly the comment about communism is clearly intended to be a humorous quip - to me it sounds just like the sort of black humour that soldiers ahve indulged in since Troy. Thirdly the statement "was replaced by the "veterans' government" that made no claim to derive its powers from the consent of the governed" is only partially true. The government form was clearly founded with the passive consent of the governed because otherwise it could not have been founded by a handful of verterans. Furthermore we are explicitly told that the proportions of voters varies between states with some having up to 80%. In the ones where the percentage is lower it seems clear that the non vioting population could almost certainly either engage in a coup or choose to convince the voters to extend the vote just as happened in the progressive extension of the franchise in the 19th and early 20th century. The fact that we are told that neither has been attemoted indicates that the fictional non-voting population is not particularly concerned by their loss.

Delong's fourth stage looks at Heinlein rather than the book:

Robert Heinlein, who wrote Starship Troopers at the same stage in his career where he also wrote The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and A Stranger in a Strange Land.

I'm not sure I understand what point he is trying to make here. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is libertarian capitalist, Stranger is more socially libertarian than political. Neither is fascist nor resembles SST. I assume what he means is that, whether or not SST is fascist, Heinlein clearly wasn't. I agree with the conclusion.

It seems to me that people dislike SST because it states a couple of unpleasant truths. The most critical one is that it stresses not rights but responsibilities and relatedly that you have to earn responsiblities. It seems to me that the left mistakes duties for responsibilities. They probably do this deliberately because they dislike the idea that responsibilities should exist but the result is that they intentionally blur the difference between rights, duties, and responsibilities. They also dislike the truth that all democracies rest on the back of their military. The military acts as a guardian of democracy from external threat but it also voluntarily permits civillian control - but it can always overthrow the government if it feels like it. In much of the world, when the civilian politicans screw up it is the military that removes the scum bag and then steps aside to let the population gets another go at chosing. The fact that the militaries from Turkey to Chile to Thailand to Fiji do step aside after stepping in seems surprising to some people. What seems even more surprising is that usually the military coup is actually popular.

But the fact that Heinlein presented a tale that points out the vulnerability of current democracy to overthrow by force doesn't make him a fascist and doesn't even make the replacement regime fascist, totalitarian or anything else.

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

Regulation, Counter-regulation but not Deregulation

There is a famous military dictum about the deangers of indecisiveness that goes "Order, counter-order, disorder". Someone should tell the paperpushers in whitehall and their EUseless colleagues in Brussels that this is yet another military saying that is applicable outside the military (along with the famous 7Ps - Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance). In this case the order, counter-order I'm bitching about are the regulations to do with scapping cars.

Once upon a time, er sometime before 2003 in fact, it was possible to pay someone to take your old clunker away and recycle it. This was fairly enviromenally friendly but, apparently, not friendly enough for the EU which created some regulations on the subject. Thus, as Dr North pointed out in August, once the EU's End of Life Vehicle Directive came in to effect this sensible market driven approach has been eliminated by the amount of paperwork and the costs of following the directives. Hence, people now have to pay someone to scrap their car instead of having the scapper do it for free because he could make money by selling on the scrap metal etc. Needless to say the reaction of the general public to this is that people have started dumping cars instead of paying for their proper dismantling and guess what, this is bad for the environment:

As many as 1.5 million cars are being scrapped illegally in Britain every year, presenting a major environmental hazard, the BBC has learned.

Thousands of tonnes of toxic waste are being created by drivers who fail to dispose of their vehicles in the way demanded by the European Union.


In 2003, the European Union introduced legislation requiring all cars coming off the roads to be taken to an approved site, cleaned of pollutants, and the owner issued with a certificate of destruction.

According to the Department for Trade and Industry, two million cars were scrapped every year, but by the end of June this year only 250,000 had received a certificate of destruction.

The Torygraph reports today that the whitehall mandarins have finally acted:

Car owners will be able to have their old vehicles scrapped without payment under a scheme that starts on Jan 1.

Motor manufacturers will be responsible for disposing of their own brands when they are no longer needed, and will issue owners with a certificate of destruction.

The move was prompted by a European directive aimed at ensuring that old cars are scrapped at authorised centres, subject to high environmental standards. About two million cars and vans are scrapped every year, often at considerable cost to the owner.

Yes well done. Instead of soaking the punter they have managed to hit the manufacturers who can't hide. This is in fact a bit of a U turn because the original plans were to ensure that the manufacturers did not pay. One wonders what happens to cars made by bankrupt manufacturers such as Rover?

Needless to say there will be significant further paperwork involved in this process as manufacturers will have to ensure they only pay for their own cars etc. etc. and I have no doubt that, since the manufacturers don't do this for charity, they will find that they have to increase the cost of selling new cars to make up for the cost of this. A cost which will be bigger than it might be because they will have to employ their own paperpushers to provide certificates of destruction and paying the scrappers. It will be interesting to find out whether cars imported into Britian will be covered, and how, and/or whether other EU nations are doing the same thing as I predict that some enterprising people will find a way to ship cars somewhere else to maximise the money they get for scrapping the cars and/or minimise the amoount they have to pay. In fact it would not surprise me to find people working a scam where they accept the car in country A which requires a large payment but actually scrap the car in country B where the disposal costs less. Depending on how much it costs this could even work out as the sort of thing you do personally using Ryanair/Easyjet for your return journey.

This is turn will lead to more regulations and more tracking and so on. Of course the idea of deregulation will never occur to any of the pontiifcators on the subject, still less the idea of copying the American model and making the process tax deductable. The fact that all this was predicted over two years ago at the EU Referendum blog is clearly irrelevant.

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

Friday Olive Tree Blogging

The last one of the year.

A view of a nicely manicured garden including olive trees near Grasse. If you look at the hill behind you see many many more olive trees in gardens too. Once upon a time all these were "working" olive trees, but these days I would guess very few of them are actually harvested. I suspect that the ones in the foreground, which is the garden of large old chateau/villa, have always been partly there for display but I am sure that once upon a time they were used for oil as well.

As always you can click on the image to see it enlarged and go here to see other entries in the series. I find it interesting to see that the sky appears white in this picture. It was actually a beautiful azure - as in this photo taken from the almost same location but in a different direction showing the villa.

I despise l'Escroc and Vile Pin