L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

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

01 February 2007 Blog Home : All February 2007 Posts : Permalink

Security Savvy Banking - NOT

I got this great offer in my email today. Unfortunately I got it at least thrice (update actually going through it seems like I've received it about 8 times including my gmail account) with different subjects and senders, which tends to make me ever so slightly suspicious. Three of the subjects and senders were:
Fortunately in all cases the anti-scam rulesets in Moozilla Seamonkey 1.1 warned me that it was probably a scam.
Seamonky thinks this is a scam
As if that were not enough the text raises a bunch of red flags (the fact that different people have sent me differently titled emails with identical text is a pretty good red flag in itself). Here is the text

Dear Commercial Banking Customer,

We are delighted to inform you about the new online payment security system
which starts to operate from 1st February.

The name of the system is GuardUno.
GuardUno is one of the latest projects developed by BB&T Company security department.
It is a security device which generates online access codes to perform online transactions.

To obtain this device you will have to register and fill out an application form.

Within the next two weeks you will receive the device to the address stated in your application.

GuardUno is not only highly effective, it is also absolutely free of charge!

Please note:

If your application form is not filled in during the following 72 hours your online account
access will be temporarily blocked for security reasons.

Therefore we recommend that you start registering as soon as possible.
To start now please click the link below and keep following on screen instructions:


It will only take a couple of minutes.
We appreciate your business. It's truly our pleasure to serve you.

Security Department
BB&T Company.

This email is for notification only, to contact us, please log into your account and send a Bank Mail.

BB&T Company Email ID # 65216

Problems with the text:
  1. Confusion about start dates (Starts feb 1 or two weeks from now or in 72 hours?)
  2. Confusion about whether this is supposed to be optional or mandatoriy
  3. No name of bank in the text. If (one of) my banks has adopted this scheme they are going to be sending me the email not some company I've never heard of
  4. Confusion about domains. Is is BBT.com , business-eb.ibanking-services.com or (check URL link) www.bbandt-bank.com
The latter confusion is undoubtedly the one that triggers the Mozilla scam detector but all of the features above made me suspictious. What amazes me is that people still fall for this kind of stuff and lose loadsa money, their own and that which they manage for others, in the process. Just as with the war on drugs the only real way to stop it is to reduce the demand, in other words the morons who seem to be gulled by these scams.

Update: I have some more thoughts on the GuardUno scam

02 February 2007 Blog Home : All February 2007 Posts : Permalink

Friday Olive Tree Blogging

The littlest olive tree in our garden (2 ins / 5cm high). Spotted this morning. I guess it has been growing for a year or so...

As always click on the image to see it enlarged (probably larger than life, depending on screen resolution) and go look at earlier images in the series if you missed them.

02 February 2007 Blog Home : All February 2007 Posts : Permalink

Education + Religion for Muslims in Birmingham

Harry's Place had a link to a fascinating article in the Independant about a Jewish school in Birmingham where half the pupils are Muslims:

It's infant prize day at King David School, a state primary in Moseley, Birmingham. The children sit cross-legged on the floor, their parents fiddling with their video cameras. The head, Steve Langford, is wearing a Sesame Street tie.

A typical end-of-term school event, then. But at King David there's a twist that gives it a claim to be one of the most extraordinary schools in the country: King David is a strictly Jewish school. Judaism is the only religion taught. There's a synagogue on site. The children learn modern Hebrew - Ivrit - the language of Israel. And they celebrate Israeli independence day.

But half the 247 pupils at the 40-year-old local authority-supported school are Muslim, and apparently the Muslim parents go through all sorts of hoops, including moving into the school's catchment area, to get their children into King David to learn Hebrew, wave Israeli flags on independence day and hang out with the people some would have us believe that they hate more than anyone in the world.

The Muslim parents, mostly devout and many of the women wearing the hijab, say they love the ethos of the school, and even the kosher school lunches, which are suitable because halal and kosher dietary rules are virtually identical. The school is also respectful to Islam, setting aside a prayer room for the children and supplying Muslim teachers during Ramadan. At Eid, the Muslim children are wished Eid Mubarak in assembly, and all year round, if they wish, can wear a kufi (hat). Amazingly, dozens of the Muslim children choose instead to wear the Jewish kipah.

This is the sort of thing that makes me slightly more optimistic about the future of Britain and, possibly more importantly, makes me wish to separate myself from the "all Muslims are bad" school of blogging. Read the whole thing.

02 February 2007 Blog Home : All February 2007 Posts : Permalink

Nice Semi Marathon etc.

She Who Must Be Obeyed gave me this toy for Christmas and we are using it to help us log times and distances in preparation for the Semi-marathon de Nice at the end of April. I've actually run the thing three times before with times of 1h38m 1h37m and 1h45m (last year's result), and at a drunken pre-Christmas party I set my goal to be 1h29m59s or a mere 7 minutes faster than I've done it before. At the same party SWMBO allowed herself to be talked into running it too - although she's not aiming for anything more strenuous than sub 2 hours.

This post is about us nailing our trousers to the mast (so that, in the words of Yes Minister, we can't climb down). Progress has been pretty good. Due to a minor cock up in my use of the gadget I ran like the clappers on Wednesday and did just under 13km in just under an hour. I say minor cock up because I thought I was running slowly and kept pushing myself until I figured out that I was looking at the wrong counter. The good news is that means I only have to improve my speed by less than 10% in the next 12 weeks to make my goal, the bad news is that I'm not sure I can sustain the required pace because my increase in speed over the last couple of months has been somewhat asymptotic.

The advantage of running a good deal is that it increases the appetite, the advantage of living in the south of France is that there are many boulangeries within easy running distance - ignoring supermarkets there are at least 10 within a 2-3km radius from our house. We are deliberately running to buy bread and deliberately not buying bread without running first. At the end of this I shall probably be able to report on the baguette/Banette making capabilities of all of them, as well as what other bread they make that we like. So far we have identified a favourite for Pain Complet (Baptiste in Plascassier), Banette (Epi d'Or in Mouans Sartoux), Pavé (New one on the Av de Grasse in Mouans Sartoux) and Pain à Levain (Moulin de Mouans in MS). No doubt more will follow. And thanks to the gadget we know how far it is to each one...

04 February 2007 Blog Home : All February 2007 Posts : Permalink

China? Hu Yu?

So the Caribbean nation of Gredanda received a grant from the People's Republic of China to rebuild a sports stadium trashed by Hurricane Ivan. To show their gratitude when they inaugurated it the played the national anthem of the Republic of China (i.e. Taiwan). As the BBC correspondant notes:

[T]he Chinese envoy to the Caribbean nation was visibly uncomfortable as the Royal Grenada Police Band performed Taiwan's anthem.

"The unfortunate error breaks my heart," Grenada's prime minister said.

"I am very saddened," said Prime Minister Keith Mitchell, promising a detailed inquiry.

One can imagine that PM Mitchell is saddened because he probably isn't going to get any more aid from Beijing. I also assume that "visible uncomfortable" is a bit of a euphemism, similar to the Private Eye inspired "tired and emotional" for drunk...

05 February 2007 Blog Home : All February 2007 Posts : Permalink

Keeping Down the Uppity Women

A friend of mine sent me (because I'm on his email joke list) a link to a video which can be found here (and google gives various other locations if that one goes) about what the White House would be like if there were a female president. It is allegedly humourous and the joke is based on the idea that women get PMS and when they do they are irrational. Now I have myself told the feminist lightbulb joke once or twice (Q How many feminists with PMS does it take to change a lightbulb? A That's not funny you sexist pig!) so I'm able to sort of understand the mindset that thinks that this kind of thing is funny, but I found this particular video quite incredibly unfunny.

The script is more or less that in the 5 months since a woman has been president of the USA the country has gone to war 5 times (latest victim Switzerland) and that these events coincide with the president's period - there's even a weather forecast like graphic about menstural flow. Oh and the poor female is so worried about her thick ankles and she throws things when she gets mad.

This is, to put it bluntly, the sort of sexist stereotyping that should have been dumped along with the idea that women can't think stright and therefore can't be trusted to own property, vote etc. etc. It hurts for a whole bunch of reasons including the fact that it is factually wrong on fairly simple grounds of age. By the time someone makes it into the White House they are (well) over 50 - Segolene Royal will be 54 I think if she is elected French President in May, in 2009 Hillary Clinton will be over 60 IIRC, and Condoleezza Rice about 55 - and therefore it is unlikely that they are still having a period anyway. Menopausal hot flushes might work I guess but that seems to be a bit too subtle. Oh and the fact that women have demonstrably not suffered from PMS while running countries (e.g. Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi ...) or large businesses (numerous) makes it pretty clear that while PMS (and/or other hormonal issues) may limit some women, the ones who rise to the top are the ones that aren't limited by their hormones. Oddly enough the

But beyond the factual inaccuracy there is the way the sketch makes it easy for anyone who complains to be tarred with the humourless feminazi label, because if you don't find it funny then clearly you must not have a sense of humour. In this case thought it isn't funny to anyone with a brain in much the same way that treading in poo fails to be funny to people with ages in 2 or more digits.

However I think that what irritates the most is the way that it panders to just about every stereotype of the poor weak little woman who has been promoted way beyond her "Peter principle" level and collapses because of the stress. It occurs to me that this is not disimilar to the "mothers mustn't drink" meme that I read at feministe. In that one the message seems to go that any mother who even sips at a glass of wine in the company of other mothers is on the road, nay superhighway, to becoming an alcoholic and a danger to her child (unlike "real men"® who can drink multiple beers and change diapers or at least manfully tell the little woman to do it for them). The further implication that all women are unable to drive safely after one glass of wine and will therefore crash their car when they try to take their little tyke to hospital for some emergency is flat out nuts. As someone who lives in a country with a (relatively) high drink-driving rate, I can tell you that very few drunk drivers manage to have any sort of accident while driving under the influence (if they did France would be practically depopulated) and that when they do have accidents typically the injured parties are the pedestrians or cyclists they run down not themselves or their passengers.

05 February 2007 Blog Home : All February 2007 Posts : Permalink

Britain Becomes Like Europe

In the past I would say that the prime difference between British politics and the sort practiced across the English channel was that the British political parties staked out clear, and clearly different, party platforms. On the continent things have typically been rather more nuanced and governments have tended to be formed of coalitions of parties who govern because they agree on some platform of stupifying blandness and where the official opposition presents a program that is almost completely identical except for a few tedious details in section 3, subsection 55, paragraph 2(a)xii.

Up until the last few (1-5 depending on how you count things) years the three main UK parties (Labour, Conservative and Liberal (Democrat) ) have at least been significantly different in policy platform and have not expected to govern in coalition. This no longer seems to be the case as the difference between Blairite ZANU Labour and the Cameroonian Nouveaux Conservatives has become almost non-existent and the Lib-Dims, in an attempt to get elected, have also ditched almost all their nuttier policies too. In other words we have a choice between ZANU labour red big government, Nouveau Conservative blue big governent or Lib Dim yellow big government with a super greenish tinge (and in the celtic fringes you also have big government with the celtic plaid of your choice). In other words all the major parties have done the European thing and triangulated themselves into bickering over tedious details in section 3, subsection 55, paragraph 2(a)xii.

As a result, I suggest, the electorate has become somewhat disillusioned. EURSOC reports that the Torygraph (and YouGov) have the results of an opinion poll that suggests that over a quarter of Britain feels that no major political party represents them. Furthermore the same poll points out that vast chnks of the electorate don't trust their politicians, don't like them and don't believe that being a professional politician is a good thing. This graphic from the Torygraph has all the sad details. This is remarkably similar to life in continental Europe over the last decade or so. In Europe this has resulted the rise of far right (and some far left or far green) parties who have moved slightly centrewards and reaped the electoral rewards. Five years ago in France recall that the Front National came second in the presidential race and the German far right is growing ever stronger, especially in the North and East. Somewhat less radically, Umberto Bossi's Lega Norda in Italy and the Vlaams BlokBelang in Belgium have combined regional policies with non-mainstream policies to good effect and the Netherlands was shocked by the popularity of the List Pim Fortuyn in 2002 as well.

Britain could well see something similar to this, since there are two or three "non mainstream" parties that could appeal to the dissaffected voters. UKIP (or whatever it renames itself as) is the one I hope will gain the majority of the disaffected but it is far from certain that the BNP will not also pick up a number of voters too.

In order to recuit as many votes as possible I believe that UKIP should promise, if elected in large enough numbers, to demand binding referenda on a number of contraversial issues, from membership of the EU, to capital punishment, hunting and state funding of the BBC. If the party were cunning it would also have in its manifesto that once the referenda had been chosen and laws modified (or not) based on them, it wold seek a second general election with a more detailed manifesto. Since all the major parties are pretty much bankrupt having two elections in close succession would be to the major advantage of the outsiders I think...

05 February 2007 Blog Home : All February 2007 Posts : Permalink

Too Smart To Be a Septic Tank

According to this quiz, at least, I'm so smart I can't be a Septic Tank.
You paid attention during 97% of high school!

85-100% You must be an autodidact, because American high schools don't get scores that high! Good show, old chap!

Do you deserve your high school diploma?
Create a Quiz

I'm a bit embarassed that it wasn't higher. I think I got the dangling midifer question wrong because I've never heard of a dangling modifier before. Anyway I'm posting this here, and telling everyone about it having found the quiz there, because as it says below

Thank you for scoring highly on this quiz, there is sweet hope for the future. If you did not score high, please join the Volunteer for Human Extinction Movement. Either way, share your results with your friends so they can take this quiz and test their knowledge!

On the other hand according to this quiz (via Sicily Scene) I'm a mere 55% Sicilian...and I am the Nile!
Which Extremity of the World Are You?
From the towering colossi at Rum and Monkey.

06 February 2007 Blog Home : All February 2007 Posts : Permalink

Jim Muir vs Michael Totten

Jim Muir recently wrote (and broadcast) about Lebanon, Sunni/Shia tension and the Middle East in general for the BBC's "From Our Own Correspondent" program last Saturday. It is an interesting essay, but it repeats many of the duck-billed platitudes mouthed by statesmen and pundits without giving much new insight. However while it didn't give too much that was new most of Jim Muir's report was a decent summary of the various conflicts and tensions in Lebanon and the Middle East in general so some sort of faint praise is appropriate. I temper that priase for a couple of reasons, the first is that to my mind any of Michael Totten's recent pieces on Lebanon would be far more informative and could easily be condensed into a similar length monologue/essay if they were too long. I wrote some time back about getting my news from the Michaels and this is
very much an example of why.

Secondly I temper the praise because Jim Muir states a couple of things as neutral fact that I would consider to be somewhat more like biased conjecture.

The first is the idea that Israel "came nowhere near destroying Hezbollah last summer". I think that statement depends very heavily on how you define "destroy" and for that matter paints a rather optimistic gloss on what looks to any observer like a heavy Hezbollah defeat. Sure it didn't kill all of Hezbollah but it did apparently remove a large amount of its military capability, including perhaps a thousand of its fighters, a number of top commanders and a lot of missiles. In addition, despite the claims in the MSM that Israel was bombing or destroying things indiscrimminately, the eveidence on the ground from people such as Mr Totten is that it in fact was remarkably good at only hitting Hezbollah infrastructure and did so to great effect. Hezbollah may not have been destroyed but its air of invincibility was dealt a severe battering, as was its popularity within Lebanon. In fact I would say that the recent disturbances have been driven in large part by Hezbollah trying to reassert the influence it lost when it precipated a war that caused such widespread destruction of Lebanese infrastructure.

The second and worse one is in the following sentences where Jim Muir seems to feel that he has to drag in some gratuitous Bush-bashing. He writes sneeringly:

But for President George W Bush's America, it is all part of the "war on terror", against those villains from the "Axis of Evil" - Iran and Syria.

Enemies - the extremists - Sunnis and Shias alike - have to be isolated, confronted, and defeated.

So Washington has given millions of dollars to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah leader, to help him defeat Hamas; and it was instrumental in winning billions of dollars of aid pledges for the Sunni-led government in Beirut, to help it defeat Hezbollah and stave off Syrian and Iranian pressures.

Thousands more US troops are heading for Iraq, and another naval battle group, to hover menacingly off Iran's coast in the Gulf.

If calming all these conflicts and turmoil needs Washington to reach a strategic entente with Iran and Syria, that seems highly unlikely under George W Bush.

All this seems to contradict the earlier statements that Shia and Sunni extremsits are happy to fight each other anyway and for that matter to make it seem like Sunni and Shia extremists are perfectly fine folk. Given that his colleague Frank Gardner was shot and nearly killed by Sunnis extremists in Saudi Arabia, not to mention the less than subtle pressure put on the BBC reporters in Iran, it looks like Mr Muir is guilty of, at the very least, misleading his audience about the relative threat levels of the Americans and the "extremists".

In fact since we know that there is a lot of pressure on Lebanon based journalists by Hezbollah (see numerous M Totten articles) I wonder if the anti-America bit wasn't put in there as a way to let Mr Muir continue to have access to Hezbollah PR flacks. Liekwise it is notnoticeable that he seems to treat Hezbollah and (Lebanese) Shia as being more or less interchangeable, suggesting that all Lebanese Shia are supporters of Hezbollah and failing to mention people like Sayyed Mohammad Ali El Husseini or for that matter the Amal movement which is only partially aligned with Hezbollah. When Michael Totten interviewed the former he learned the following:

My translator Henry informed me that Lebanese journalists are no longer allowed to publish or interview Sayyed Husseini. Dissent from the likes of this man is intolerable and has to be smashed. Hezbollah issued its threats. After the two-year spree of car-bombs against journalists, threats from Nasrallah pack weight.

Foreign journalists, though, are allowed to meet with Husseini. Foreign journalists can’t be managed and bullied the same way local journalists can. Foreigners like me are, so far anyway, outside the bounds of car-bombs and murders.


“How does Hezbollah prevent you from getting media coverage?” I said.

“I studied in Qom [in Iran] because Saddam was still in Najaf [in Iraq],” he said. “Iraqi Shia all had to go there and get their degrees. I wrote two articles in the newspaper talking about the real brotherhood between Lebanon and the USA and asking Lebanese Shia to open relations with the USA. Hezbollah worked to stop my ability to continue publishing in the newspaper. So I rely on foreign journalists to tell the world what I and my friends think.”

It occurs to me that Hezbollah may well also threaten foreign journalists too, just not quite as overtly. Given that a search of the BBC websites for "Sayyed Mohammad Ali El Husseini" or even "El Husseini Lebanon" draws a blank even though Mr Husseini is quite well known the possibility seems high that the BBC is either intimidated by Hezbollah or incompetant at its stated role of giving us neutral unbiased information.

06 February 2007 Blog Home : All February 2007 Posts : Permalink

Michael Yon in Iraq

The podcast interview of Michael Yon by Dr Helen and her spouse the Instapundit is another example of the sort of thing that the BBC's From Our Own Correspondent or similar news/analysis programs should do but don't seem to. Likewise is Mr Yon's own work, such as his latest story about a suicide bombing in Northern Iraq:

Unproven claims successfully disguised as facts in the media can be persistent obstacles to finding the truth. Once something is put in print, it becomes referenced as fact by other people who seldom check the source. There was a time when American soldiers were derided in the press for wearing sunglasses in Iraq. Someone had the notion that sunglasses were deeply offensive to Iraqis, many of whom also wear sunglasses. In the retelling of terrorist attacks in Iraq, key details are often left out while others insinuate themselves into places they don’t belong. So it was for the thwarted bomb attack in this village, which quickly found its way into media reports, described as yet another incident of sectarian violence, which on some level it was.

In front of the walls pocked with craters from the ball bearings, truth was more nuanced. But apparently no journalists visited the village to find out what really happened and what it tells us about the people who live here. American commanders were so taken with the sacrifice that LTC Eric Welsh led a patrol up to the village, and after some time we found the mosque. LTC Welsh talked with the village men where the Martyr saved the people. I recorded the conversation. Please listen here.

I'm posting this as a brief with limited additional comment from me because I want to use it as a compare and contrast with the next post about the BBC in Israel.

06 February 2007 Blog Home : All February 2007 Posts : Permalink

BBC Loves Hamas

Unlike the blogosphere the BBC has frequently claimed a sort of nuetrality while frantically pushing a biased viewpoint. This analysis of recent events in Gaza is a classic of what I mean so I'm going to fisk it.

Gaza factions locked in bitter struggle

Could this be the start of the long-feared Palestinian civil war?

First question. Who fears a Palestinian civil war? Long predicted maybe. Likely to be tragic for the Palestinians, probably. But I don't see that it causes anyone who isn't a palestinian any fear. In fact it may cause a good deal of relief amongst those people who otherwise fear attack by Palestinian terrorists.

The fighting going on across Gaza has reached a new intensity, while ceasefires come and go.

Maybe we could rewrite this "The fighting going on across Gaza has reached a new intensity, with no one paying any attention to ceasefires announced by the people who are supposed to be in charge.

The sound of automatic gunfire is echoing round the deserted streets of Gaza City. A few civilians scurry for cover. Only the hospitals are doing brisk business.

How brisk? Other BBC reports indicate about 23 deaths and that means, I'm guessing, about a hundred wounded at the most. This is not really a large amount of casualties for something billed as "the start of a long-feared civil war".

The latest clashes began after Hamas fighters ambushed a Fatah convoy on Thursday. Hamas said the convoy was bringing in weapons from Egypt.

Fatah then attacked, and briefly occupied, the Islamic University in Gaza, a Hamas stronghold. Fatah said Hamas was using it to store weapons, and claimed it captured a number of Iranians supporting Hamas.

So far no evidence has been produced for any of these inflammatory accusations.

Actually one accusation is rather more inflamatoriy than the other. Fatah bringing in arms is pretty much standard practice and could even be officially sanctioned by other relevant groups sich as Egypt, Israel and the USA. On the other hand the claim that Iranians have been training Hamas in secret on the grounds of a university (Blowup U?) is rather more sensational.

Egypt has openly blamed Hamas, for the first time, for breaking the ceasefire. It is hard to see how Hamas can now trust Egypt to continue its mediation efforts.

Err well one could write that second sentences differently too. "It is hard to see how Egypt can put any trust in Hamas keeping any promises it makes it futire mediation efforts"

Foreign players

The fighting is between members of the Islamist Hamas movement, which controls the Palestinian government, and members of the more secular Fatah faction, whose leader is the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

It is a struggle for power, a struggle, perhaps, for the future direction of the Palestinian government.

But at the moment it seems as much an expression of the pent-up frustration of a people whose plight gets steadily worse.

God forbid that one might point the finger of blame at any cause of why their "plight gets steadily worse". Gaza has been left to the Palestinians to govern and the phrase "pigs ear" would seem to sum up their success. The two factions seem unable to do that but rather squabble about the spoils of government and in the process ignore completely the people on whose behalf they are supposedly fighting. For some reason the BBC can't quite seem to mention these little details. When the Israelis quit they left behind agricultural infrastructure that could have been used as the basis for a business, the new management however preferred to trash it all and send rockets into Israel instead of growing fruit and veg.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan are all trying to mediate.

A failed ceasefire agreed earlier this week was negotiated jointly by Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The Egyptians maintain a permanent presence in Gaza City. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia roundly condemned the fighting earlier this week.

But there are suspicions of less helpful outside intervention as well.

The United States has been giving increasing support to the forces loyal to Mr Abbas, though it denies supplying arms. Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the two main mediators, are strong American allies.

So Hamas may feel the game is stacked against them.

Oh you have to love that. The US is suspected of less helpful outside intervention while those alleged Iranians are merely Islamic scholars over on an ecumenical exchange visit. No mention of the reason why the US might be upset with Hamas either, you know the statements like "the only good Jew is a dead Jew" and "we will destroy Israel" that Hamas seems so keen to make. Not to mention its less than stellar record of adhering to previous agreements (see above). Hamas act like a bunch of murderous, psychopathic liars and the BBC seems to think that this is no bar to being treated as a serious negotiating partner.

Bitter struggle

Hamas believe it is just another example of how the outside world refuses to accept the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections a year ago.

So you are elected (in an election of somewhat dubious reliability anyway) on a platform of "we will destroy Israel and Abbas is a Zionist lackey" and then act surprised when people who think that Israel actually has a right to exist in peace with its neighbours are upset.

They fear Mr Abbas is trying to take over the Palestinian government, as a prelude, perhaps, even to a negotiated peace with Israel.

So this has become the latest arena for the wider and bitter struggle between Islamists and more secular Arabs, between those supported by Iran and those more sympathetic to the West.

Ohh look, down here we see that Iran is supporting a faction, and guess what, maybe you should inform your colleague Jim Muir that Iran is supporting the extremist faction. Hey why not mention that up above in the "less helpful outsde intervention" section? Oh and why exactly is a negotiated peace with Israel a bad thing? Correct me if I'm wrong but I thought that "a negotiated peace with Israel" was the necessary and sufficient condition for peace to break out throughout the Arab world. At least from what I've read elsewhere on the BBC that appars to be the belief.

There is nothing glamorous about the chaos on the streets of Gaza.

Already the outside world seems almost to have lost interest. Many ordinary Israelis are rubbing their hands with glee, though anarchy on their border may not necessarily be something for them to celebrate.

And although officials say a new ceasefire deal has been agreed between the rival factions, it could still get very much worse.

So, umm let me recap. We have a group that is known to be less than honourable when it signs treaties, wants the destruction of Israel and the imposition of fundamentalist Islam. Oh and it is supported by Iran, the nation that just held a Holocaust denial conference and which is devloping nuclear technology for "peaceful purposes". But the fact that country this organization is supposed to be ruling is sliding in to total anarchy is not their fault and is, by implication, the fault of hte hard hearted Israelis "who are rubbing their hands with glee".

I'm not quite sure how the BBC's analyst, Jon Leyne, could have been more pro-Hamas or anti-American/Israeli without coming straight out and saying Hamas Good Zionist Yankee Imperialists Bad but perhaps it could have been done. What this peice of "analysis" fails to analyse is what attempts Hamas ahs made to actually govern. As far as I can tell Hamas has been good at the PR parts of selecting ministers but remarkably poor in any practical part like getting down and doing things. Indeed the onyl thing it seems to have got down and done is shower rockets at Israel and fight Fatah. Oddly this governmental progress (opr lack of it) is not mentioned, let alone analysed. Nor are the implications of the reports that Hamas received Iranian training examined. All in all this is the sort of writing I expect on anti-semitic conspiracy websites not respected media organizations like the BBC.

07 February 2007 Blog Home : All February 2007 Posts : Permalink

GuardUNO - the scam and what it should be

For some reason my post on the GuardUno phishing scam emails seems to be a big hit in google so I thought it mught be interesting to see not only why the email is a scam but what a genuine non-scam communication from your bank about a system similar to GuardUno would look like.

First off the scam. The scam revolves around the idea that the bank doesn't know who you are or what your bank details are. Therefore the email, allegedly from your bank or on behalf of your bank, is asking you to fill in these details on a website so that they can send you this wonderful piece of security hardware. As should be obvious your bank already knows who you are, your address, social security number, account details and so on. Hence they would never ask you to fill them in again and hence any email asking you to go to a website and fill in such details is a scam.

Secondly what is industry best practice? Probably the best system is the one used by the Swiss Banks such as UBS and Credit Suisse. I've seen the UBS one in action and it is documented here so I shall explain that but my understanding is that other Swiss banks do online banking the same way.

LoginTo start off the Swiss bank issues you with a smart card (looks like a chipped ATM card) and a smart card reader (looks like a calculator) as shown in the illustration at the right. These are either sent to you or you pick them up from your bank after presenting some ID. I assume that multiple account families can have multiple cards and share the reader. At the same time you also get a agreement number, which probably doesn't resemble your account number, sent to you separately and, also separately, you receive the initial PIN for the card. The first time you use the card you are encouraged to change the PIN to something else.

When you go to the UBS ebanking portal you first enter the agreement number and receive back a series of digits. Then you insert the card in the reader switch it on and enter your PIN. Assuming you got that right you then enter the digits displayed on the webpage. The card reader then combines those with something on the card to give you back another string of digits. This is then plugged into the relevant part of the website and if it works you log in. Needless to say the whole process runs under the highest possible SSL security that your browser supports.

Critically you never ever enter your PIN or name or account number in the process. What you enter is your agreement number and a "password" that changes every time you login. And the system logs you out automatically after a certain amount of time so the chances of someone coming across your internet session while you are away from your desk is limited.

What does this mean? Firstly it means that you need some phyical thing to have access to the system not just a memorised password; because you need both a thing you know (PIN) and a thing you have (card + reader) this is inherently more secure. Secondly because the PIN is only entered into a separate device not connected to the Internet there is no need to worry about a keylogger being installed and having someone learn your details. Thirdly (and related to the previous one) the "password" sent over the Internet changes each time you log in anyone who manages to install some sort of sniffer that reads the HTTPS connection then it won't help them next time. Given that the session times out fairly quickly it is likely that by the time the hacker has decrpyted the HTTP traffic the password offered is invalid so spoofing is difficult. Finally, you will note that in no case does UBS have to ask its customer to ever fill in any personal details.

07 February 2007 Blog Home : All February 2007 Posts : Permalink

Unwarranted ePassports

[This post brought to by the letters M, T, B and F]
The British government, that well-known expert in delivering IT projects over budget, over time and under spec, appears to have struck again. As reported in both the Register and the Inquirer (and probably elsewhere), the National Audit Office (NAO) has issued a bit of a curates egg judgement on the biometric passport wheeze. One of the problems they have identified is something that is known to almost every hardware designer - namely that after a while stuff breaks down. The chips in the UK passports have been supplied by Philips and Philips is not willing ot give them more than a 2 year warranty. This is a bit of a bummer seeing as passports are supposed to be valid for 10 years.

Now it is likely that the in fact many of the chips will continue to work for 10 years, the average passport is not used more than once or twice a year and tends to stay in a drawer in between times, but this will not be the case for the frequent traveller. More to the point the passports of frequent travellers tend to get bent, squashed and otherwise mistreated, which seems likely to increase the risk of chip failure. Thus even if you are not a frequent traveller the chances that some traveller in the queue in front of you will have a duff chip is non-trivial. One suspects that every broken passport will require extra processing thus ensuring that the folk behind have to spend more time in the joyful surroundings of the arrival hall.

As if that were not enough the Register points out that the NAO has also noticed that the chip specified doesn't have room for all the biometric data the government wants to put on them and notes that much of the other infrastructure for the project is delayed, missing or otherwise not ready for prime time.

Wonderful stuff which makes me proud to be Britishg (er NOT).

09 February 2007 Blog Home : All February 2007 Posts : Permalink

Friday Olive Tree Blogging

I thought that, seeing as Britain has been vrought to its knees by "It's SNOW joke" headlines this week, it might be fun to lok in the archives and see what olive trees look like in Snow. Just over two years ago (24/25 Jan 2005 to be exact) the Riviera experienced snowfall and it caused all sorts of fun and games and made the olive trees look rather different.

This image is what we saw looking out of our window that morning. As always you can click on the image to see it enlarged and do look at the entire series including some other pictures I posted just after the snowfall two years ago.

09 February 2007 Blog Home : All February 2007 Posts : Permalink

Why We Must Attack Iran

Via the Instapundit I see that Michael Barone links to an article in the Grauniad by Timothy Garton Ash explaining why we need to attack Iran ASAP in order to stop it getting a nuclear bomb of its own. Actually I'm being a tad sarcastic here because the headline says "We must stop Bush bombing Iran, and stop Iran getting the bomb" and that seems to be the thrust of Mr GA's article. Unfortunately though the facts he uses to present the case for the second part of the argument (stopping Iran getting the bomb) seem to me to override the facts he uses to claim the first part (that Bush bombing Iran would be bad). He starts off:

We should not bomb Iran to prevent Iran getting the bomb. The consequences would be disastrous. After Iraq, US or Israeli military action against this regionally powerful, oil-producing Shia muslim country would make the world a still more dangerous place. [...] But this is not enough. [...] Anyone who, after a bracing afternoon walk chanting "stop the war" and "stop Bush", goes home thinking they have made the world a safer place needs to think some more.

If we don't bomb Iran, Iran is quite likely to get the bomb. If Iran gets the bomb, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and others in the Middle East will be tempted to follow. The last barriers to nuclear proliferation, already breached by North Korea, Pakistan, India and Israel, could rapidly break - in the most volatile region in the world. The risk of nuclear war will then be greater than it was in the 1980s, when CND, END and other west European peace movements marched against new US and Soviet missile deployments. The likely scale of the nuclear conflict is much smaller than a superpower nuclear apocalypse, but that in itself makes it more not less probable that an unhinged leader would take the risk.

On the available evidence, the Islamic Republic of Iran is trying to edge towards a technological position from which it could, should it choose, rapidly move towards 90% uranium enrichment and the production of nuclear weapons. The best analysis we have suggests that Ayatollah Khameini, the supreme leader of the revolutionary regime, has not made a decision to go for nuclear weapons, and it would take a number of years to get there even if he had. But Iran has been doing a number of things that are not explicable simply by a desire to have the civilian nuclear energy to which it is entitled under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

With all this I agree. I even agree that bombing Iran, at least in a Clintonesque cruise-missiles at dawn style, is probably a bad thing. However that doesn't mean I buy the rest of his argument. Shockingly I do find a lot to agree with, particularly this bit:

Last year, when it felt itself strong, with a high oil price gorging its budget, President Ahmadinejad riding high on a populist wave, and Iran rather than the US increasingly calling the shots in the politics of Iraq, it turned down the best offer it had received since the last year of the Clinton administration.

All it needed to do was to suspend uranium enrichment and the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, would have personally joined talks with Iran - something not seen from a senior US official since the Iranian revolution nearly 30 years ago.

And this bit:

If it complies [with the UN resolution], the direct negotiation can begin. If it does not, the indirect negotiation continues. Either way, we need two plans. Plan A involves mustering every peaceful instrument at our disposal to steer the Iranian regime away from its current course. We have not yet done everything we can. Broadly speaking, the US needs to offer more carrots, the EU needs to brandish more sticks. As the Baker-Hamilton commission and many US foreign policy sages have urged, the US should open bilateral talks with Iran, without conditions. It should be prepared, longer term, to offer a "grand bargain", in which it restores the full panoply of normal diplomatic and economic relations, provided Iran desists from developing nuclear weapons and (more tricky to judge and verify) supporting terrorists. We should also establish an impartial, UN-supervised system of supplying nuclear fuel for civilian purposes.

But carrots are not enough. This also needs sticks. If the military sticks are to be taken off the table, what remains are economic ones - and those are in the hands of the Europeans. Because of history and its own bilateral sanctions, the US does very little business with Iran; Europe does lots. Even if we think that economic sanctions would, in the long run, be counter-productive, we in Europe must be prepared credibly to threaten them. Since we already live in a multipolar world, we would still have a big problem bringing an undemocratic China, hungry for Iranian oil, and a bolshy Russia, on to the same course, but the buck starts here.

And this:

We need a skilful public diplomacy, media innovations like the BBC's new Farsi-language television service, people-to-people contacts, and a hundred other initiatives to inform and to open up Iranian society.

Unfortunately when we get to Plan B and the conclusion it all goes horribly wrong:

And Plan B? If all this fails, and we're not going to bomb Iran, then Plan B can only be containment and deterrence. The price to Iran of testing, let alone actually using, a nuclear device should be set very high. We should start now taking all measures we can to prevent an Iranian bomb being swiftly followed by a Saudi or Egyptian one. But I wouldn't count on this working either.

So here's the score: if we bomb Iran, the world will be a more dangerous place. If Iran gets the bomb, the world will be a more dangerous place. Conclusion: the world is likely to be a more dangerous place.

The problem is that Europe should undoubtedly do more in the stick line, but Europe flat out doesn't have a credible military to wield its stick and its politicians, not to mention the rest of the Tranzi-Koolaid sipping chattering classes, seem to have a truly amazing ability to bury their heads in the sand when it comes to dealing with genocidal regimes, from Rwanda to Darfur via Bosnia. Hence Iran's leaders can confidently ignore any threats made by European countries as being merely bluster.

Now I sort of agree that bombing is bad, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try for some other sort of attack. For example we could sponsor lots and lots of anti-regime forces and groups. The Kurds, the Azeris and the Arabs in Iran are all persecuted to some degree so and might appreciate our support, as might other minorities and people with grievences from bus drivers to students. This support could include military training and equipment and would be tied to the iranian involvement in Iraq so that it would stop when an agreement was reached that Iran stop meddling in Iraq. Iran is also heavily dependant on external suppliers for basic things like refined petroleum. Enforcing a blockade would definitely hurt it and could usefully be combined with a carrot: if you allow inspections and Russian supply of enriched uranium we'll let you rebuild your refineries.

I expect there are other possibilities: spreading Al-Sistani Shia thought far and wide to combat the more militant version that comes from Iran might be good, but they all need to be backed up by some sort of credible force and that, to put it bluntly, is something that Europe flat out doesn't have, hence bombing by America may be the only alternative.

PS A comment by "Becka" below TGA's article sums up the denial part completely:

Out trot the usual hysterics who probably still believe that Iraq was a menace to the world.

Iran is not going to kill 6 million Jews, they have never killed 6 million Jews. We killed 6 million Jews. Us, we white folk.

We nice white folk who met in Evian, France in 1938 and decided to send Jewish refugees back to Germany to avoid looking after them or avoid causing "racial" problems. No arabs attended.

Iran has never attacked a neighbour, invaded a neighbour, bombed a neighbour or any of the things that the hysterics whine about.

Israel on the other hand ethnically cleansed Palestine and continues to lie about it 60 years later, they invaded the occupied territories and steal land and slaughter the civilians and we must never tell the truth about poor little bully Israel.

WE in the west have invaded and blown to bits Afghanistan who had nothing at all to do with September 11, simply by imagining that the Taliban are Al Qaida which they are not.

Iran is not and has not ever done anything to her neighbours or us so let's all have a cold shower.

Tartanic, you are truly a deranged individual - Israel has enough nukes to destroy the world.

I think this is a recond in that I believe that every single sentence (or at least paragraph) is inaccurate.
  1. The ISG report makes it clear that Iraq had every intention of regaining WMD as soon as it could
  2. "We white folk" did not kill 6 million jews, the Germans did with some assistance from other contintental powers. Many of the rest of "we white folk" fought them
  3. Evian (and related 1938 era appeasement) should be an example of what we won't permit again (PS Iran isn't an Arab country)
  4. Iran has had a tenion filled relationship with Azerbaijan and has most definitely sponsored anti-government organizations in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and the Occupied Territories. It also blew up Jews in Argentina and possibly elsewhere too
  5. Israel "ethnically cleansed Palestine" is about as wrong as it is possible to be. If it had actually done that then we wouldn't have 19.8% of the Israeli population being defined as Arabs (see Wikipedia and the Israeli CBS).
  6. We in the west "blew to bits Afghanistan" because
    1. Al Qaeda's leadership claimed responsibility for Sept 11
    2. Al Qaeda's leadership were based in Afghanistan
    3. The Taliban who ruled refused to hand over the Al Qaeda leadership
  7. Evidence that Iran is sponsoring unrest in both Afghanistan and Iraq is easy to find on google (links to two simple examples). Iran was also implicated in thr Khobar bombing in Saudi Arabia and proudly sponsors Hezbollah and apparently Hamas
  8. How many nukes does it take to destroy the world? I don't know but I suspect we are talking about hundreds. My understanding is that experts believe Israel has tens of warheads at most.

09 February 2007 Blog Home : All February 2007 Posts : Permalink

Quantum Computing Arrives

As I have just posted on my company's blog, a little British Columbia based company, D-Wave, is intending to demonstrate quantum computing solving a real problem (and an NP-complete one at that) next week. As TechWorld reports:

Twenty years before most scientists expected it, a commercial company has announceda quantum computer that promises to massively speed up searches and optimisation calculations.

D-Wave of British Columbia has promised to demonstrate a quantum computer next Tuesday, that can carry out 64,000 calculations simultaneously (in parallel "universes"), thanks to a new technique which rethinks the already-uncanny world of quantum computing. But the academic world is taking a wait-and-see approach.

Obviously there is bound to be a good deal of skepticism and the company website is rather bland at present - they say a new website will show up mid-Feb i.e. after the demos.

The key I think is the NP-complete problem because, as you probably recall from your theoretical computer science lectures, once you can solve one NP-complete problem in polynomial time you can solve all of them and very many popular problems such as routing convergence algorithms, scheduling algorithms and so on turn out to be NP-complete. So if this works and if the cost can be reduced to some reasonable level (currently the process seems to involve very low temperatures) then we could well see a "quantum leap" in our computer knowledge. As well as talking about the 5milliKelvin operating temperature, the CTO's blog explains what the demo will be doing like this:

The Orion system is a hardware accelerator designed to solve a particular NP-complete problem called the two dimensional Ising model in a magnetic field. It is built around a 16-qubit superconducting adiabatic quantum computer processor. The system is designed to be used in concert with a conventional front end for any application that requires the solution of an NP-complete problem.


At the demo, what we’re going to do is run two different applications, live, on an Orion system residing in Burnaby, BC. Orion is designed such that it can be used remotely, and this is the mode we’ll be using for the demos.

The first application is a pattern matching application applied to searching databases of molecules. This is an app that we developed internally at D-Wave. This is an example of how to apply Orion to problems arising from association (or conflict) graphs.

The second is a third-party planning/scheduling application for assigning people to seats subject to constraints. Anyone who has tried to plan seating arrangements for a wedding should be familiar with this one. This is an example of applying Orion to constraint satisfaction problems.

As I understand it the second problem is a classic NP-complete problem which is not just useful in its own right (seating people on aircraft etc.) but is closely related to many scheduling problems such as those that schools, universities etc. struggle mightily with when trying to create classe timetables. However just becuase we have a problem moved from NP to P time does not mean we have a truly scalable general purpose solution. If the algorithm is proportional to say N5 or N6 then the change from NP to P still gives us a long time to solve problems when N is a few million (as it can easily be for a number of useful NP complete problems)

PS on that note Belle de Jour points out that this is the computer Dr Who would use.

09 February 2007 Blog Home : All February 2007 Posts : Permalink

Ikea Mougins Maybe NON

The news reported in the local France 3 news and at the two French blogs (Pour et Contre) is that the departmental commission for commercial development (CDEC) bottled out and failed to approve the IKEA proposal. The proposal needed 4 positive votes out of 6 to proceed but only received 3 with one against and 2 absentions. Not at all to my surprise the Mayor of Mougins and the Conseil General of Canton de Mougins (the canton is Mougins, Mouans Sartoux, La Roquette & parts of Le Cannet) voted in favour as did the Chairman of the Alpes Maritime Chamber of Commerce and Industry. To my surprise the Mayor of Nice and the head of the local consumer's association abstained. I had assumed that one or both of these two would vote in favour. The vote against was the head of the "Chambre de métiers", which I think is the guilds.

This means I think that they are allowed to resubmit with some changes but they are stuck for a while. I hope the changes involve changing the location to Lingostières, by the airport at Cannes La Bocca/Mandelieu or even firther afield at, say, Fréjus.

IKEA has said in the past that if it they keep on getting stymied here they'll go to Italy. Perhaps this is enough of a stymie and they go there. This will definitely annoy the Mougins elite but probably not bother too many other people (Ventimiglia is just 1 hour or so from here) so it is still a lot closer that the Toulon IKEA (2 hours).

12 February 2007 Blog Home : All February 2007 Posts : Permalink

Of Bags and Baggers

If you wanted an illustration of how different things are in the USA and France then this post by Majikthise is a good example of something that flat out could not happen in continental Europe.

Shocking as it may sound, some grocery baggers in New York City work entirely for tips. [...] Tips-only bagging is illegal in New York and the state attorney general's office has been fighting the practice for years. The NYT article mentions several cases in which workers have won hourly wages by complaining to the state AG's office. Now union organizers are moving in to help the baggers fight for even more gains.

In Europe the idea of a person whose job is to put shoper's grocery into bags for them is unheard of. Not only are shoppers expected to do it themselves, here on the Riviera our supermarkets have recently stopped providing free bags at all.  Actually in terms of efficiency I think the new "bags if you pay for them" service works better because rather than have weak plastic bags regular shoppers have invested in more permenant solutions such as those on the right which are in fact easier to fill, quicker to load into and unload from the car, and can be used for years before needing replacement. Whether or not it is actually more environmentally friendly is another matter as many people use tough plastic bags or even solid plastic cartons rather than these natural fiber bags, but it certainly saves the supermarket some money. Even if the old plastic bags only cost a few tenths of a cent each the total cost of all the thousands that were filled at each shop each day by shoppers must have been significant. That is undoubtedly nice for the supermarket shareholders but it causes the manufacturers and distributors of plastic bags to lose revenue and therefore, one assumes, to reduce the amount of wages they pay if they don't in fact go out of business.

Furthermore whether or not it saves money, time or the environment one thing is for sure, this approach rules out any chance that France's youth unemployment problem could be reduced by creating minimum wage (or tip paid) jobs as baggers and trolley pushers. In fact while I do think that the baggers in the US who work for tips only are unfortunate I don't think that legislation or the enforcement thereof will actually solve the problem of low pay. Rather what I would expect is that we see a bifurcation between some stores who raise prices by an avereage $1 or $2 per shopping trolley to pay the hourly minimum wage of the baggers and the rest who simply stop the process completely thereby ensuring that a whole load of people get no work experience of money at all. And hence rather than have money put in circulation

If you want a reason why big state, labour and enviro-friendly policies make countries poorer, I think this would be a perfect illustration. The consumerist US approach supports two entire job categories - plastic or paper bag makers or sellers and the people who fill the bags in the stores - neither of which can be supported by a worker and enviromentally friendly European approach.

12 February 2007 Blog Home : All February 2007 Posts : Permalink

Votez Gauche Pour Se Bais(s)er

So the latter day Jeanne d'Arc, Socialist candidate Ségolène Royal, has spoken and told us her 100 point manifesto. But you know there is a teeny problem with it when even the BBC's analysis paints it as

...an unmistakeably left-wing document, even by French standards, and certainly a million miles from anything under consideration in Britain or most other European countries[.]

and concludes

In her speech on Sunday she pressed all the right buttons, and the euphoric response of the crowd shows that there is a yearning among many in France, who want desperately to believe that they have found their saviour.

But in the coming days, critical eyes will be passed over her 100-point plan, and the calculators will start to tot up the cost.

Some are bound to ask: where was the unifying vision behind her programme? Was it really any more than a bewildering list of new hand-outs? Is a reworked Socialist manifesto all we get after three months of "consultations"?

For those of us who are not so wedded to the big-state socialist worldview the question that the BBC mentions "what will it cost?" quickly shifts to the obvious corrollory "who's going to pay?" and, as Charles Bremner points out on his Timescorrespondents blog, all her claims of being a new voice in Socialist politics are less that accurate:

Ségolène Royal has at last filled in the blanks of the New France that she will create if elected president in May. Under her leadership, we learn, France will finally enter the radiant future, as imagined by its Socialist visionaries since, well...about 1880.

Mr Bremner then hits on the point that concerned me too:

There is a tiny problem. Royal presented her list of 100 pledges to make everyone -- except the capitalists -- richer, happier and healthier, without any suggestion of how she will pay for it.

Jacques Chirac, a Gaullist, did the same to win election in 1995, but making wild uncosted promises is a French Socialist speciality. François Mitterrand, Royal's first employer, her model and the only other Socialist president, painted a similar utopian vision before his election in 1981. It never materialised as France suffered currency devaluation, stagnation and began two decades of chronic high unemployment.      

Royal's aides have been explaining today that economic growth would generate the wealth to finance the manna that will rain down on France. This is supposed to come from her state-run programmes to pick industrial champions and generous finance for innovation and research. Britain's Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson was convinced this approach would work when he won power in 1964. It didn't. Royal's evasion of reality was attacked today even by the Communist Party. Marie-George Buffet, the party chief and candidate herself, noted that "Mme Royal failed to explain how she would finance her programme."

You know there is a problem when even the communiusts say you can't afford your policies...

I think the problem here is actually that none of this is actually new. It is all very reminiscent of Gerhard Schröder's first campaign in Germany where he promised a new way but ended up implementing a classic policy of raising taxes, increasing regulations (e.g. concerning rubbish) and generally trampling all over any shoots of entrepreneurship that were present. If Ségo gets elected and gets a socialist/left wing majority in parliament (which she may well not) we can expect a country where the red tape grows but the economy shrinks. Were I Sarkozy I'd be pointing out to all and sundry that Ségo's policies were nto new but have in fact been tried before in England, Germany and France and have to one degree or another made each country poorer as a result. This is not a vote winner except amongst the wishful thinkers and collpase of communism deniers. Unfortunately the French have a large group of such deluded souls so the fact that her proposals would be a disaster does not make her unelectable.

25 February 2007 Blog Home : All February 2007 Posts : Permalink

Belated Friday Olive Tree Blogging

OK I had an excuse for last week - I was away from the Internet doing a whistlestop tour of the northern parts of the Iberian peninsular - but I have no excuse other than recovering from the latter for why I've been late this week. Anyway to make up for my slackness I present not one but two photos of olive trees in Portugal.

The first is taken at Pinhão on the banks of the upper Douro river where they make the wine that becomes port. Its merely a pretty photo involving an olive tree or many, but it was interesting because apparently the olive trees flourish in the Douro area microclimate but don't do so well less than 100 kilometers away (as the crow flies) to the N, S or E of this location.

The other is taken above the village of Horta a few kilometers from Pinhão and up nearly 500m in elevation and shows a field of young olive trees and some blossoming almonds behind them.

25 February 2007 Blog Home : All February 2007 Posts : Permalink

Tony "the Weasel" Blair

In the email on my return from my Iberian tour were two responses from Phoney Tony about petitions I had signed up to. The first was the EU one where petitioners asked for a referendum on continued membership of the EU. The response was pretty slimy. It began:

Under UK's constitutional arrangements, while the Government may make a recommendation, it is ultimately for Parliament to decide whether to hold a referendum on a particular issue. Referendums in the UK are rare. Parliament - the elected representatives of the British people -has the right to take important decisions on their behalf. This was the case when the UK joined the (then) European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973.

There was, of course, a referendum on UK membership of the EEC in 1975 because the Labour Government was committed to seeking the approval of the British people for the renegotiated terms of membership which it had obtained.

So let me get this straight. The Labour government in 1975, having a majority of just 3 after the October 1974 elections was able to get parliament to agree to hold a referendum. The Labour government in 2007, having a majority of 66 after the 2005 elections seems to feel it could not get parliament to agree to hold a referendum. If you truly believe this to be the case, Mr Blair, then I have some quality high altitude beachfront property in Florida to sell you in special deal where I also throw in a large bridge in either New York or London for no additional cost. The fact of the matter is that the voters of the UK have been unable to make their opinion heard on this issue since 1975 as all major parties have supported EEC/EU membership ever since. If the Labour party wished to spike the guns of UKIP then a referendum on EU membership would seem to be pretty much the ideal way to do it, on the other hand it could be that Labour thinks it will benefit from UKIP remaining a viable force. However that is mere speculation. An alternative is that Labout feels threatened by the idea of referenda because it fears that many of its other bright ideas like ID cards would be rejected by the voters.

Then, having written this bit of BS about the UK situation, the response then goes on to say:

Thereafter, each Treaty change - notably the Single European Act and the Treaties of Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice - has been ratified following the passing of an Act of Parliament. Subject to Parliament's agreement, the Government has committed itself to a referendum on the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe before its ratification by the UK. Following the 'no' votes in referendums in France and the Netherlands, however, the future of the Constitutional Treaty is now unclear.

It is interesting to note that the government still seems willing to allow us to vote on the proposed EU constitution, despite saying that its future is unclear, but not on the related question of whether we want to be members of the body itself. This is a position that seems to me to be inconsistent. If the government is willing ot allow the EU constitution to be voted on in a referendum why is it unwilling to allow other related matters to be settled by referendum? It occurs to me that the Labour party, being populated by a bunch of lawyers may be recalling the famous dictum of barristers that one should never ask a witness a question that you don't know the answer.

However that is merely the less offensive response by Her Majesties Spinmasters. The more offensive response is the ID card one. Needless to say the answer, allegedly written by the Phoney himself, can be boiled down to "I like ID cards so screw you" but the response also trots out the usual justifications for ID cards and is therefore well worth fisking:

The petition calling for the Government to abandon plans for a National ID Scheme attracted almost 28,000 signatures - one of the largest responses since this e-petition service was set up. So I thought I would reply personally to those who signed up, to explain why the Government believes National ID cards, and the National Identity Register needed to make them effective, will help make Britain a safer place.

Bloody hell, 28,000 people were sufficiently upset to sign up to this so we've got a problem, not as bad a one as the one about vehicle tracking and not as bad as the inheritance tax one coming up that I'm going to let Gordon answer, but a problem none the less. So I'm going to try and pretend I care and answer it.

The petition disputes the idea that ID cards will help reduce crime or terrorism. While I certainly accept that ID cards will not prevent all terrorist outrages or crime, I believe they will make an important contribution to making our borders more secure, countering fraud, and tackling international crime and terrorism. More importantly, this is also what our security services - who have the task of protecting this country - believe.

Given that the security services are clearly acting in CYA mode, the most recent set of terror suspects have all been British citizens and that, in my opinion, the details the ID card collects make ID frand more likely this is a pretty questionable statement that could do with some justifying in the next few paragraphs.

So I would like to explain why I think it would be foolish to ignore the opportunity to use biometrics such as fingerprints to secure our identities. I would also like to discuss some of the claims about costs - particularly the way the cost of an ID card is often inflated by including in estimates the cost of a biometric passport which, it seems certain, all those who want to travel abroad will soon need.

There are two problems here. Firstly how does a biometric scure your ID? Secondly why are the biometrics being included in the ID card apparently greater than those required by even the US government for travel documents? The second question seems pretty straightforward as is so we'll leave it. The first may warrant a bit of explanation. If a biometric is required to verify ones identity then the likelihood is that people and systems responsible for verifying ID will only check the biometric and not look closely at anything else. In other words if you can fake the biometric you are golden. This means that criminals have a large incentive to figure out ways to crack the biometric and since biometrics have so far proven relatively easy to crack chances are that the crooks will find ways of doing this. So the biometric will merely be the excuse used by the government (or bank or ...) for why they let some fraudster walk off with your savings.

In contrast to these exaggerated figures, the real benefits for our country and its citizens from ID cards and the National Identity Register, which will contain less information on individuals than the data collected by the average store card, should be delivered for a cost of around £3 a year over its ten-year life.

Less data is not at issue. It doesn't matter to me whether a store card reports that I buy vodka, nappies and liver every week without fail or even that I purchase porno movies on weeks when the wife is away (for those that may know me I don't actually buy any of this, it's merely an example), however it is true a year's worth of till receipts, which is basically what a store card causes to be recorded, does add up to a lot of data. However the data recored by the NIR includes details like current and past addresses as well as national insurance and driving license numbers. These are precisely the sorts of things needed by someone wishing to steal your identity and possibyl use the theft of the ID to subsequently steal your belongings. Oh and the £3 a year. Does that mean it will only cost £30? really? sure you haven't dropped a zero somewhere. Also how come Tescos can run a store card program with, as noted, more data on it, without needing to charge the punters for the privilege?

But first, it's important to set out why we need to do more to secure our identities and how I believe ID cards will help. We live in a world in which people, money and information are more mobile than ever before. Terrorists and international criminal gangs increasingly exploit this to move undetected across borders and to disappear within countries. Terrorists routinely use multiple identities - up to 50 at a time. Indeed this is an essential part of the way they operate and is specifically taught at Al-Qaeda training camps. One in four criminals also uses a false identity. ID cards which contain biometric recognition details and which are linked to a National Identity Register will make this much more difficult.

It only makes it safer if
  1. ID cards/information is hard to fake
  2. The information is rigorously checked
  3. The computers doing the checking work properly
Call me skeptical but I doubt all three. What happens if Al Qaeda (UK) or some criminal group figures out a way to create ID cards under the name of John Smith but with the biometric details of Abdul Aziz? Or figures out a way to make 50 different Abdul Aziz ID cards?

Secure identities will also help us counter the fast-growing problem of identity fraud. This already costs £1.7 billion annually. There is no doubt that building yourself a new and false identity is all too easy at the moment. Forging an ID card and matching biometric record will be much harder.

See above. All you need to commit ID theft is contained in the NIR linked to your ID card. Hence it is EASIER to forge an identity because all you need is to somehow fake the ID card.

I also believe that the National Identity Register will help police bring those guilty of serious crimes to justice. They will be able, for example, to compare the fingerprints found at the scene of some 900,000 unsolved crimes against the information held on the register. Another benefit from biometric technology will be to improve the flow of information between countries on the identity of offenders.

So we are all going to be potential suspects. Forget the abuse of civil liberties and "you are all crooks" mindset inherent in this idea there are some serious practical issues with this idea. First note that UK biometric information is also going to be given to other countries, now some other countries (say France or the USA) are probably not going to abuse that information or hand it out to others but not all foreign anti-terror and law enforcement agencies are secure and incorruptible. Let us pick a slightly sleazy EU country, say in Eastern or Southern Europe, where the holiday resorts are filled with British lager louts. Assume that one of the local police is on the take from a criminal gang which steals ID cards from the aforementioned lager louts. See above for identity theft possibilities.

The National Identity Register will also help improve protection for the vulnerable, enabling more effective and quicker checks on those seeking to work, for example, with children. It should make it much more difficult, as has happened tragically in the past, for people to slip through the net.

Indeed once you are accidentally put on the sex offenders register your life with ID cards is going to be a nightmare. Anyone think it will be easy to have your name removed? Even ignoring malice simple bureaucratic bumbling means that lists of kiddiefiddlers and other undesirables will be inaccurate. And more to the point, these lists only work if people check them and the person they are checking on has been put on the list in the first place.

Proper identity management and ID cards also have an important role to play in preventing illegal immigration and illegal working. The effectiveness on the new biometric technology is, in fact, already being seen. In trials using this technology on visa applications at just nine overseas posts, our officials have already uncovered 1,400 people trying illegally to get back into the UK.

It only works if ID cards are reliable and checked every time. Any time someone either fails to make the check or the card is succssfully faked it stops working. If (see above) Abdul Aziz or Vladimir Vizinsky can get his hands on a version of John Smith's ID card and fake the biometric the whole scheme falls down. Since (see above) the likelihood is that once the biometric matches people will ignore the rest, there will be great incentive for people to find ways to fake this informstion.

Nor is Britain alone in believing that biometrics offer a massive opportunity to secure our identities. Firms across the world are already using fingerprint or iris recognition for their staff. France, Italy and Spain are among other European countries already planning to add biometrics to their ID cards. Over 50 countries across the world are developing biometric passports, and all EU countries are proposing to include fingerprint biometrics on their passports. The introduction in 2006 of British e-passports incorporating facial image biometrics has meant that British passport holders can continue to visit the United States without a visa. What the National Identity Scheme does is take this opportunity to ensure we maximise the benefits to the UK.

Hey guys, control freaks in other governments like the idea too.

These then are the ways I believe ID cards can help cut crime and terrorism. I recognise that these arguments will not convince those who oppose a National Identity Scheme on civil liberty grounds. They will, I hope, be reassured by the strict safeguards now in place on the data held on the register and the right for each individual to check it. But I hope it might make those who believe ID cards will be ineffective reconsider their opposition.

Pity I just demolished all the ways. And strict safeguards? Look matey stop smoking the wacky-baccy! The UK government has to date proven incapable of implementing secure large scale computer projects - in the DVLC and NHS to pick just two examples - what makes you think that this even larger scale project is going to be secure?

If national ID cards do help us counter crime and terrorism, it is, of course, the law-abiding majority who will benefit and whose own liberties will be protected. This helps explain why, according to the recent authoritative Social Attitudes survey, the majority of people favour compulsory ID cards.

If you told people repeatedly that the only way to be secure was to kill the Jews, history shows that a majority of people will believe that too. At least until it turns out that you should have also included the gays, commies and gyppos.

I am also convinced that there will also be other positive benefits. A national ID card system, for example, will prevent the need, as now, to take a whole range of documents to establish our identity. Over time, they will also help improve access to services.

Look moron, you just admitted it. If you can fake the ID card you won't need anything else. This is a benefit to crooks, fraudsters and the like but I don't consider that to be positive.

The petition also talks about cost. It is true that individuals will have to pay a fee to meet the cost of their ID card in the same way, for example, as they now do for their passports. But I simply don't recognise most claims of the cost of ID cards. In many cases, these estimates deliberately exaggerate the cost of ID cards by adding in the cost of biometric passports. This is both unfair and inaccurate.

So what will it cost then? above you say it will cost £3 / year for 10 years. Given that the biometric and identity details required are greater than those required for a passport, the cost of the passport will clearly be whatever it costs to print a 50 page document in a nice EU colour piece of laminated leatherette. About £5 at the most. Passports currently cost £66 so therefore the price of a passport will reduce to £35? Ah no that would be too simple as we discover in the next paragraph

As I have said, it is clear that if we want to travel abroad, we will soon have no choice but to have a biometric passport. We estimate that the cost of biometric passports will account for 70% of the cost of the combined passports/id cards. The additional cost of the ID cards is expected to be less than £30 or £3 a year for their 10-year lifespan. Our aim is to ensure we also make the most of the benefits these biometric advances bring within our borders and in our everyday lives.

Actually the price is £66 (current passport price) plus price of gathering new biometrics (£N) plus £30. Apparently you are unwilling to state the price of gathering new biometrics. It probably isn't £0 though so that means that we are looking at every UK resident citizen having to fork out over £100 for an ID document, even if they don't travel abroad.

Yours sincerely,

Tony Blair

I sincerely hope you swallowed this pack of half truths because if not we're going to be in trouble.

26 February 2007 Blog Home : All February 2007 Posts : Permalink

Just Say No to Campaign Blogging

One of the ladies on my blogroll, Majikthise, was asked to be the Edwards campaign blogger before Amanda Marcotte took the job. In Salon she explains why she didn't accept the offer. I would say that any blogger of any political persuasion would benefit from reading what she says. For example she correctly notes the problem of political opponents going through the archives:

Every blogger says controversial things from time to time, Bob assured me. He admitted that he'd drawn some fire for a tasteless joke on his own site a while back. It hadn't been a big deal.

I asked if I would have to quit blogging at Majikthise in order to take the job with Edwards. My blog means more to me than any job I've ever had. After three years of hard work, I finally have a platform from which to express ideas that won't get a hearing in the established media, let alone in mainstream Democratic politics. So the prospect of giving up my untrammeled freedom to blog press releases for John Edwards gave me pause. Still, I assumed Bob would say it was a necessity.

I was wrong. Bob promised that I wouldn't have to give up my personal blog. He added that I probably wouldn't have much time left for personal blogging, since everyone was working 18-hour days on the campaign. But, he noted, he hadn't given up his own blog, and neither had another member of the Edwards Internet team.

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. A bunch of Internet staffers with private blogs sounded like a disaster waiting to happen.

And later on she also talks about how blogs are better off being independant of a campaign, not just because of the deniability factor:

When Webb's videographer captured George Allen's "'macaca' moment," therefore, the campaign had a ready-made, receptive audience. All the campaign had to do was upload the video to YouTube and send out some well-targeted e-mails to bloggers and other supporters and wait.

Supporters forwarded the clip to their friends. Bloggers started posting the video on their sites. The "macaca" clip got more than 600,000 views on YouTube alone and exploded into the mainstream media.

The vast majority of bloggers who pushed the story didn't just seem like they were independent of the campaign, they were. They were unabashedly partisan, but they weren't paid operatives. The Webb campaign didn't want to push the video itself, but hoped that it would capture the imagination of supporters on the outside.

If the Webb campaign had pushed the video directly, the campaign would have been criticized for going negative. Instead, it left a tasty tidbit where bloggers would seize upon it.

I actually think Majikthise would have made a good campaign blogger because, unlike Amanda Marcotte's pandragon, her blog is well written and fails to contain the sorts of profanity and personal attacks that annoy people. Ironically when she (Majikthise) mentions the aspects of her blog that she feels would be controversial (atheism, abortion, drug liberalization) they are the bits where, for the most part, I agree with her. There are other areas where I disagree but I have never found that commenting there to voice my disagreement has resulted in anything other than debate. In the article she absolutely nails why Amanda Marcotte was a bad choice (and the same would apply to numerous right wing bloggers):

I tried to explain this as delicately and clearly as I could: A-list polemicists are popular because they say things you don't hear on television. The blogosphere isn't just "The Situation Room" with swear words, it's a space for writers to explore ideas that are outside the bounds of mainstream discourse.

If you hire these larger-than-life personalities to blog for John Edwards, they'll have to stop espousing many of the radical policy positions and unconventional values that made them popular in the first place.

Fans will also know when a John Edwards message conflicts with the bloggers' own record on an issue. Big-name bloggers hired by campaigns will be accused of "selling out" and open themselves up to accusations of hypocrisy from both sides.

For the record I can't imagine a politician hiring me as a blogger because my opinion on things like capital and corporal punishment, the EU, envirometalists and so on would currently not be perceived as acceptable by most people, nor would I expect many of the bloggers on my blogroll to qualify either. One problem with UKIP in the UK, for example, is that some of its biggest blog supporters (e.g. Devils Kitchen) come across as fuckwits who seem willing to pick fights with people who more or less agree with them on what seem like petty grounds.

However if there is one area where I think Majikthise is wrong it is in the part where she seems to partake of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy koolaid and to complain that right wing bloggers victimize targets in a way that the left wing ones don't:

What Bob didn't seem to realize is that the right-wing blogosphere was going to try to get Edwards' bloggers fired no matter what. Unlike the liberal netroots, the right-wing blogosphere is capable of exactly one kind of collective political action. They call it "scalping" -- they pick a target and harass that person and his or her employer until the person either jumps or is pushed out of the public eye. Whoever blogged for Edwards was signing up for a lot of bad hair days, and it wasn't going to be me.


At first it looked as if the Edwards campaign might have pulled off a real coup. The right wing's opening salvos fizzled. It was attacking Amanda for using bad words and supposedly rewriting her own posts, but nobody outside the blogosphere cared. Then, just when it seemed like the campaign was going to ride out the storm, my worst fears were realized. Bill Donohue of the Catholic League and the right-wing blogosphere aligned for an all-out assault on Amanda.

If it had just been the right-wing bloggers gunning for Amanda, the problem would have been short-lived. Unfortunately, as the Edwards campaign learned the hard way, the right wing has a large network of surrogates, like Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and Bill Donohue, who can propel virtually any story into the mainstream media. These professional blowhards are supported by a lavish infrastructure of publishers, partisan media outlets, think tanks, grants, lecture circuits and more.

This bit reads to me like sour grapes. The "professional blowhards" on the "right" are maintained, as far as I can tell, primarily by punters paying sums of money for their books, to hear them speak or by listening/watching their shows in large enough numbers that advertisers will pay loadsamoney to advertise to them. Furthermore, and I admit to sweeping generalization in the nexr few sentences, the base that supports these folk tends to have more income available to supporting such people than their counterparts on the left. The problem with the netroots folks is that they are mostly young and hence, more or less by definition, relatively poor. The people on the right, while they include youngsters, also include more mature people and these people frequently have more money. Now it is true that at the millionaire plus level the left does OK again, G Soros, J Edwards, J Kerry and other hypocritical plutocrats are only too happy to fund lefty causes in, IMHO, what results in attempts to stop other people becoming wealthy the way they are, but the reason why the "large network of surrogates" exists on the right is that it is supported by a large relatively wealthy base. It also helps that in this case the bloggers were indeed polemicists rather than more moderate voices and hence that it was dead easy to find them saying stuff that didn't need to be taken out of context to sound bad. As it happens "lefties" can get mainstream media attention when they find something like that - see "macaca" above - but the problem they face is that most "righties" do not write such (profanity laden) diatribes but rather tend to writing reasoned critiques explaining why we think the writer we are picking on is a moonbat. In sporting terms this would be called going for the ball not the man. I'm not denying that some righty bloggers do, on occasion, play the man, but on the whole they don't and hence they come across less like frothing at the mouth loonies to the general non-blogging public.

26 February 2007 Blog Home : All February 2007 Posts : Permalink

The Moral Good of Abortion

Over at feministe there is an interesting essay - inspired by something at pandragon - entited Abortion is a Moral Good. It is actually very good and I agree with a lot of it. This is why I am, in general, pro-choice, and in favour of legal abortion. Hence I am going to quote with some approval what Amanda Marcotte wrote in her piece:

The “I’m pro-choice but I think abortion is wrong” thing crops up a lot in these discussions, and while I understand the urge to feel like a complex person that lays behind it, I seriously don’t get why people think that it helps anything to hand wring about how terrible abortion is if you’re supporting the right to have one. Suggesting that abortion is immoral just reinforces the anti-choice claims that abortion should be banned and it strongly reinforces the anti-choice notion that women who get abortions are moral children who are too stupid to know what they’re doing. The belief that women are too stupid to really understand what they’re doing is evident in anti-choice measures like requiring sonograms and requiring that women spend a day to think it over before they get an abortion.

This is actually a topic where I agree with Bill Clinton too as he said he wanted abortions to be safe legal and rare. I agree completely. There are many cases: health of mother, rape, etc. etc. where abortion is the least bad option left and in those cases I want it available without stigma. As Jill at feministe writes:

There’s a difference between the circumstances under which a woman goes in for an abortion and the abortion itself. The circumstances that lead to abortion are almost always bad ones. Unwanted pregnancy. Fetal abnormality. A wanted pregnancy gone wrong. Economic status. Rape. Incest. Intimate partner violence.

Abortion itself, though, can be a savior for women, and a positive choice. Abortion is a medical procedure and, like most medical procedures, is preempted by some sort of negative event. And yet the discourse around abortion is focused on how “tragic” it is. Is open-heart surgery “tragic”? Is an appendectomy “tragic”? Obviously the circumstances leading up to open-heart surgery and appendectomy are bad. But the procedures themselves, I would argue, are good responses to bad situations. As is abortion.

I also agree with her when she starts pointing out that the "pro-life" enforcement approach is frequently morally repugnant. Unfortunately the more extreme "pro-lifers" - not all those who oppose abortion but many of the more strident 'conservative' ones - start to move over to the sort of control of person that they, in other cases, generally criticise their liberal opponents for wanting. Generally speaking it is the 'conservative' who believes that people should be allowed to choose and to have responsibility for their actions, whether it is driving, gun-owning or whatever. Unfortunately when it comes to sex they then get all hung up about it and want to ban not just abortions but contraception, sex toys and so on.

However, while I think the ability to have a legal abortion is fine and dandy, I think it is something that needs to be taken as seriously as any other major medical procedure, such as the afore-mentioned open-heart surgery. I think that treating abortion merely as a form of emergency contraception is morally repugnant and in my opinion if a woman has an abortion after consensual sex then except for certain mitigating factors, which I'll get to in a bit, she probably should feel very bad about it. As should the partner she had sex with. To put it bluntly having sex is nature's way of making babies so if you have sex, even with contraception and the availability of plan B, sometimes nature is going to win. Assuming the couple can afford to bring up the child (and that doesn't mean merely afford and not see a drop in a standard of living, it means afford as in not fall below the poverty line) then it is, in my opinion, immoral to have an abortion.

Now there are a number of cases where that is not the case. For example I have seen the results of banning contraception and banning abortion in a poor country (Ceaucescu's Romania) and it is ugly. I do, on occasion, get nightmares about the orphanages I saw in 1990 where unwanted babies had been dumped by families who could not support another baby and where these babies were growing up in conditions that would have PETA throwing a wobbly if they applied to any domesticated animal. In cases where other forms of contraception are unavailable abortion really is better than the alternative. Trust me. That is the worst case but there are other sorts of mitigating circumstances such as where the condom breaks and plan B is unavailable. Furthermore I'm going to trust the lady/couple in question. If she(they) wants an abortion then she should be able to have it because, even if she is behaving immorally, it is way better to err on the side of trust than on the other side.

27 February 2007 Blog Home : All February 2007 Posts : Permalink

Power Struggle

A month ago Dean Barnett posted a FAQ about John "One America" Edwards' new pied à terre where he talked about its size - and the WAPO here has a nice picture of the spread in its 28,000 square foot, clear cut glory. This month it is the turn of Al "Save the planet" Gore to be discovered doing the conspicuous consumption thing (via MKH and Roger L Simon):

Last night, Al Gore’s global-warming documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, collected an Oscar for best documentary feature, but the Tennessee Center for Policy Research has found that Gore deserves a gold statue for hypocrisy.

Gore’s mansion, located in the posh Belle Meade area of Nashville, consumes more electricity every month than the average American household uses in an entire year, according to the Nashville Electric Service (NES).

In his documentary, the former Vice President calls on Americans to conserve energy by reducing electricity consumption at home.

The average household in America consumes 10,656 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, according to the Department of Energy. In 2006, Gore devoured nearly 221,000 kWh—more than 20 times the national average.

Last August alone, Gore burned through 22,619 kWh—guzzling more than twice the electricity in one month than an average American family uses in an entire year. As a result of his energy consumption, Gore’s average monthly electric bill topped $1,359.

Since the release of An Inconvenient Truth, Gore’s energy consumption has increased from an average of 16,200 kWh per month in 2005, to 18,400 kWh per month in 2006.

Gore’s extravagant energy use does not stop at his electric bill. Natural gas bills for Gore’s mansion and guest house averaged $1,080 per month last year.

“As the spokesman of choice for the global warming movement, Al Gore has to be willing to walk the walk, not just talk the talk, when it comes to home energy use,” said Tennessee Center for Policy Research President Drew Johnson.

In total, Gore paid nearly $30,000 in combined electricity and natural gas bills for his Nashville estate in 2006.

I don't begrudge Mr Gore his electricity bill, as I assume that at least part of that is because he is working from home and probably has a load of computers, office staff etc. but I do kind of wonder why he does not seem to have availed himself of alternative power generation means such as solar panels. I suppose, since its in a posh area of Nashville, it could be that there is some Home Owners Association regulation forbidding the things but otherwise there would seem to be no excuse for not spending the money to use green renewable energy for as much of the power requirement as possible. Surely Mr Gore isn't going to claim that the weather is such that solar panels don't work? And if it is the HOA regulations why isn't Mr Gore filing a suit to get this NIMBY like behaviour overturned for the good of the planet? I mean its far less intrusive that the Cape Cod wind farm that had his mate Ted Kennedy upset.

Actually on that note I wonder what the power consumption of Mr Edwatrds' house will be. And since, unlike Mr Gore, Mr Edwards' house is in its own 102 acre estate, why there are no signs of solar panels or windfarms there? Unfortunately I fear that in neither case with the most stuitable source of power - political hot air - be sufficient to run anything.

PS as a commented at Roger's page notes, a certain G W Bush has passive solar and geothermal heating/cooling.
PPS The first comment on that article is almost a classic of outraged greeeniedom. You see (and I paraphrase) it doesn't matter whether GWB actually lives in an environmentally suitable way or not, he deserves our scorn because he hasn't used his power as supreme dictator to force the rest of us to do the same thing.

27 February 2007 Blog Home : All February 2007 Posts : Permalink

Skype Propagating Rootkit

Repeated from my work blog. According to a thread today in the Skype Windows Forum, skype users (and that includes me) have been receiving bogus skype chat messages which ask users to click on a link. If you do so you apparently get a rootkit which is only recognized by the very latest virus software versions.

In my case the chat message allegedly came from a friend and had a vaguely plausible subject, however it was clearly not genuine becuase the link was odd and becuase the user immediately left the chat session after sending the link. An example that I received this morning is:

[10:05:37] XXXX says:

Check up this:

[10:05:40] XXXX left this chat

Needless to say you should not even think about following the link which downloads either an .exe or .pif file that presumably includes the rootkit.

27 February 2007 Blog Home : All February 2007 Posts : Permalink

To CAP it all

Got to love this one from Daniel Altman (via another Daniel - Drezner) I learn that the EU's wonderful CAP (the r is silent) is rather more trade distorting than the agricultural tarriffs and export subsidy programs of other countries:

There’s something funky going on in the European Union’s trade regime. According to a new report from the World Trade Organization - yes, it is good for something even while negotiations are stalled - the union’s average tariff on crops rose to 18.6 percent from 16.5 percent two years earlier. [...] In addition, the WTO report states that the EU’s export subsidies - an instrument of trade distortion - make up 90 percent of all export subsidies paid by the WTO’s members.

I thought we were supposed ot have reformed the thing. Obviously not or at least not enough.
Ceterum Censeo Unionem Europeaem Esse Delenda

I despise l'Escroc and Vile Pin