L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

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

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

Airbus Thoughts

Airbus finally announced the redundnacies it is seeking as a result of its A380 cockups and the axe falls most heavily in France. The losses are 1600 is the UK, 400 in spain, 3700 in Germany and 4300 in France. Needless to say the French workers are upset and going in strike. Obviously they want their jobs back - despite the fact that Airbus is seeking to cut its workforce primarily through voluntary redundancies and early retirements - but going on strike, and thereby making the company's position worse, seems to be remarkably selfish and stupid. Anyone who reads the news should be aware that if the A380 is delayed even more then it will lose more orders and possibly, if this goes on too long, result in the entire company going under. Hence anyone who wants airbus to survive ought not to be doing anythign that could lead to further delays.

On the other hand this is France, a land where the trades unions seem to be particularly unaware of basic economics and the laws of cause and effect. It is also, of course, two months before the presidential election so it is not at all improbable that the unions are expecting that the presidential candidates will promise to fix things if they make enough noise, indeed Segolene Royal has already shot her mouth off in that regard:

In France, presidential candidate Segolene Royal said she would seek to freeze the job cuts if elected, but rival Nicolas Sarkozy said politicians should stay out of the company's affairs.

In other words the unions are hoping that the French taxpayer will be on the hook for some sort of subsidiy to stop Airbus cutting these jobs. It is entirely possible that both major candidtaes will indeed make soothing noises but it is going to be hard for them to actually do anything constructive because these sorts of state aid have been ruled illegal by both the WTO and the EU. It isn't impossible that someone will come up with a fix but I'm not very confident because last weekend l'Escroc and German Chancellor Merkel were poking their noses into the business and agreeing that the cuts would be spread equitably. If the two leaders and their aides had thought state assistance was possible they would probably have had different discussions with Airbus.

On the gripping hand this is French politics and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that the 10,000 job cut announcement is a sort of smokescreen and the actual jobs cut will be say half that. In other words the politicians and airbus management have deliberately overstated the initial cuts in order to allow themselves to be "bargained" back to the amount they actually want to lose. In such a case it seems unlikely that the cuts in the UK and Spain will be reduced so what happens is that France and Germany also lose around 1600 jobs, the same as the UK amount.

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

The Truth About Glowball Worming

This originated at Baen's Bar, I'm just giving it a bit more publicity. I recommend not drinking while reading but if you want to enjoy nasal reguritation go right ahead and do so, it's a free country.

From: "Nathan Balyeat"

Here's your salt lick. Now read.

Everyone, everywhere, except for stupid neo-con denialists with incestous relationships with big oil and coal companies agree that global warming is a problem. You aren't one of THOSE people are you? I didn't think so. But you didn't agree with that statement fast enough, we will be watching you.

The greatest scientific minds in the world, including Oscar winner, Al Gore, have come to the conclusion that global warming is caused exclusively by mankind being bad and putting that nasty gas, carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere. Bad mankind. Shame on you. As everyone, everywhere (including you, right?) knows, human-created carbon dioxide is commonly called, "devil's gas". It's called this for two reasons. First, because too much of it will cause the world to warm enough to turn Earth into "Hell on Earth", and secondly because carbon dioxide only gets emitted by evil mankind. Sure, some of Earth's other creatures exhale carbon dioxide, but that's the other kind of carbon dioxide. That's the "Happy Fuzzy Pink Bunny In Balance With Nature" carbon dioxide.

So what will the "devil's gas" do to our planet. Well, according to the greatest scientific minds in the world, including Oscar winner, Al Gore, the following things will happen if we let global warming (caused exclusively by mankind) occur.
  1. Earth will warm up enough that all the ice in the world will melt. No more glaciers, ice cubes, or strawberry daiquiris for anyone. Polar bears, penguins, and bartenders are all going to have a serious problem surviving this holocaust. (You're not denying the global warming holocaust, are you? Remember, we're watching you.) As someone who is neither a polar bear, a penguin, a bartender, or imbiber of ice cubes, I'm not affected by the loss of all the world's ice. Neither is my drink of choice. I drink my scotch straight, thank you. It's understandable that people who are like me aren't alarmed by the lack of ice. But...
  2. ... all that melted ice has to go somewhere, and that will be into the oceans. Not lakes, streams, ponds, reservoirs, or storm drains... the ocean. And that means that ocean levels will rise. How much and how fast, you ask? Well, according to the greatest scientific minds in the world, including Oscar winner, Al Gore, the sea levels will rise enough to flood every city in the globe and drown everyone, everywhere. Except for the survivors. I think that will end up being the citizens of Denver and the Dalai Lama, but I left my ruler in other pair of pants. That's a lot of water. And since it will flood all of Scotland and put ruinous water in my Scotch, I'll be pretty put out.
  3. Despite this massive flooding, Earth will warm up enough that crops will spontaneously combust (no really, ask Al Gore) and burn up. This burning will kill all the food crops and all of the food animals. Mankind, or at least the survivors of the rising oceans and the "There's water in my scotch" rioters, will no longer have any food to eat. Well, they'll have a wonderful, impromptu barbecue consisting of all the tasty, medium rare, animal flesh from the crispy critters after the fires are done burning. But after that, they will starve. Scotch is a wonderful drink (when it's not mixed with water), but doesn't go all that well with barbecue compared to beer. And beer that isn't cold (no ice, remember) generally isn't all that good. This will be a less than optimal barbecue, but hey.... free barbecue. But remember, after the barbecue comes the starving.
  4. Nope, can't eat fish or seaweed, because if it's hot enough to burn all the crops are burning, the oceans are boiling. If the oceans are boiling, the fish are dead. And cooked. Which means that sushi is gone forever. This will be a world not worth living in. Warm beer, watered scotch, and no sushi. If nothing else, you need to stop global warming for those three reasons. If those aren't good enough, remember, it's for the children. And the children's children. And for posterity. And for convincing that cute co-ed that you really care about her opinions, and not getting into her pants.
But I digress. Obviously, you've been convinced by now that global warming is a problem caused exclusively by mankind's "devil gas" carbon dioxide. It's a little unclear which isotopes make it the bad kind of carbon dioxide, and not the good kind, but as a true believer, you're not supposed to ask questions, just follow the party line like a good boy/girl/transgender/multisexual/little green man/little green woman. (You are a true believer, right?) This is a problem that demands a solution!

So where do we start looking for ways to solve this solution? We start looking at sources of "devil gas". Precisely 1,456,468,234.67 peer reviewed scientific papers (and by peer, we mean "the greatest scientific minds in the world, including Oscar winner, Al Gore) have been published describing those sources and how to deal with them.

The biggest source of "devil gas" is the sport utility vehicle, or SUV. Al Gore drives one, but he drives a special one that produces only the good carbon dioxide. The rest we need to destroy. The first thought was to melt them down so that everyone could have a Toyota Prius instead, but melting or burning cars requires power, and power produces "devil gas" carbon dioxide (more on that later). It was decided that the only green way to destroy these vehicles was to bash them with hammers. So the first solution is to give everyone a hammer and point them at an SUV for them to destroy. Remember, everyone agrees global warming is a problem and that SUVs are the biggest cause (except for Al Gore's SUV, it's special) and should want to destroy an SUV with a hammer. And then hammer it into a Prius. (You are going to do what we tell you to do, right?)

The next biggest source of "devil gas" is light bulbs. I'm just a layman and don't understand exactly how it works, but somehow, turning on the light creates carbon dioxide. Even high efficiency compact fluorescent light bulbs create carbon dioxide, just in smaller amounts. One solution proposed was to replace light bulbs with torches and candles - like our ancestors used in pre-global warming days, but someone pointed out that burning things just makes carbon dioxide too. So, remember that hammer? Start busting light bulbs and learn to live in the dark when it's night.

The most insidious source of "devil gas" carbon dioxide, and the most pervasive, is fossil fuel. There are zillions of things out there (yes, zillions. Al Gore counted. Well, he got to ten and extrapolated from there, just like the climate data guys do.) that use fossil fuels. Particularly power plants. These tend to be absolutely massive structures made of steel and reinforced concrete. Don't worry, you won't be using hammers. You get to use bulldozers. Solar and wind powered bulldozers. Remember, fossil fuels are bad! (We're still watching you.)

Reading the UN reports and watching Al Gore's Oscar winning documentary, it turns out there was one other major source of "devil gas" that needed to be dealt with. This culprit is nothing less vile, evil, and disgusting than the human race. The United States is the worst offender in this regard, followed by China and India. It turns out that every time a human exhales, they emit "devil gas". I mean, how evil can you get?!?!?! Since humans are the problem, legislation will be passed outlawing humans and thus mitigate the amount of "devil gas" carbon dioxide that they produce. We understand that it will be some time before the world is enlightened enough to pass this legislation. (We're only starting the first generation of indoctrinating public school children, but we're reaching critical mass at the voting age. Remember, we're doing this for them.) The proposed legislation would punish humanity with death, preventing any individual humans from breathing or using lightbulbs or driving SUVs. No mankind = no global warming. They're the exclusive cause, remember? (You do remember, don't you? We know where you live and what hard drive your porn is on. We can destroy you if you don't agree.)

In the meantime, we're asking you to take the little steps that will stop global warming. It's just a small step from an SUV to a hybrid. You don't need to use lightbulbs. Just take that small step to the switch and turn it to off. You don't need fossil fuels, just step away from the coal and the gasoline. You don't need to breathe. Just take that small step to the edge of the cliff and just beyond and know that in a few seconds, you won't emit "devil gas" ever again. You will have done your part to save the world, penguins, polar bears, bartenders, strawberry daqueris, sushi, and most importantly - scotch.


OK Back to your host. Oddly enough I discovered that this gentleman is not the only person to have come up with the idea that humanity is the major cause of "devil gas". The Register reports that some British scientists are claiming the Branson/Gore X-Prize for a similar idea:

Now researchers at the University of Bristol have put forward their suggestion: stop breathing.

This idea, while drastic, has the advantage of not costing anything, and requiring no significant investment in developing new technologies. The side effects are pretty messy, though, so the researchers offer a second suggestion: stop breathing so much.

Dr Mark Steer (in the background of the photograph above, in which he is accompanied by his colleague Dr. Andrew Impey) explains: "If we merely cut out one breath in three, we could decrease the amount of CO2 entering the atmosphere each year by a staggering 0.63 gigatonnes. That's the same effect as saving five million acres of land (an area the size of Wales) from deforestation."

The scientists also point out that sports are out (and one assumes that also includes indoor sports like horizontal jogging and Ugandan discussions):

In their press statement, the researchers explain that "the average person exercising at the recommended level of 30 minutes five times a week could be adding as much as 1.3kg of extra carbon dioxide to the atmosphere each year".

Multiplied (quite unjustly, we know) across a global population of 6.5 billion, this equates to a lung-busting 14 million tonnes. Multiplied across the 35 people who actually regularly meet the 5x30 minutes recommendation, it would save considerably less, but that rather spoils the fun.

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

Gecko Tape, Graphene and Single Electron Transistors

Now and again we read articles (usually by Americans) about the death of European science and the like. This one by John Ringo is quite a good example and it aways annoys me because it is kind of right. But the problem with these sorts of article is that they tend to paint with a broad brush and thereby ignore the actual science and engineering done in Europe. For a counter-example of what Europeans can do take a look at the University of Manchester Centre for Mesoscience and Nanotechnology. Amongst other developments that group has developed a kind of gecko tape - a product that actually features in a John Ringo/Travis Taylor book.

The same group has also developed a number of single atom sheets including a carbon sheet which they call Graphene. For the last couple of years they seem to been playing with this material and, after diverting into pure physics, have now started going down the more practical path by making transistors with it. These transistors are rather special as they permit the passage of individual electrons at room temperatures, something that has previously only been possible at very cold temperatures. As the register reports there are some other advantages too:

The transistor itself is of a type known as the single-electron transistor. The controlling gate electrode is capacitively coupled to an electrode called the island, which sits between the source and the drain. At a certain voltage the island forms what's known as a Coulomb blockade, preventing an electron in the source quantum mechanically tunneling through to the island and then through to the drain. Apply a positive voltage to the gate, and the electron is free to pass from source to island to drain.

The single-electron transistor design is not only inherently very small, but the tiny voltages required to switch it on and off make it very sensitive, to the extent that it's seen as a possible fast yet low-power successor to today's chip transistors.

Not bad for a continent unable to do any science....

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

Friday Olive Tree Blogging

Actually I'm not 100% certain that this is an (ex)olive tree. I think it is but there was no clear way to verify so possibly I'm presenting this under false pretences. Anyway the tree stump is part of a memorial bang in front of the Dali museum in Figueras and I'm pretty sure it is a Dali thing itself, which explains its complete and utter weirdness.

Figueras is about 100km from Barcelona heading towards France and the Dali museum is without a doubt one of the weirdest and most wonderful places I've visited. I'd say it was a surreal experience but that would be kind of what you'd expect a visitor to say....

As always click on the image to see it enlarged and go here to see more olive trees and here for more photos of Figueras and other places in Spain and Portugal.

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

Wired Doesn't Dig Digg

Various right leaning bloggers such as Michelle Malkin and Little Green Footballs have noticed that Digg's users seem unwilling to accept posts with views they disagree with, generally speaking that would be "conservative" or "right wing" ones. Another blogger recently posted this gathering statistics about the Bury brigade and these sites which merely adds additional evidence that certain bloggers get buried very quickly and consistently at Digg.

However it isn't just Right Wing stuff that causes Diggers to get their knickers in a twist. Wired (owned by Cond�Net, which also owns Digg competitor reddit) put a whole series of stuff up yesterday about Digg and the Bury Brigade and (perhaps worse) the way you can buy Diggs. I have never used redit so I have no idea whether it faces the same problems as Digg, but I have to say that the thrust  of these articles makes it look like a concetrated hit piece on Digg.

Having said that though, although I first became aware of the Digg issue through Michelle Malkin's blog, the Digg articles on Wired are rather more worrying because they appear to hint at problems with both Digg and other reputation (aka wisdom of crowds) based sites from eBay to Del.icio.us. The problem all of these sites face (other than eBay) is that there is no downside for people who help to game the system because if you get banned you can simply start again from scratch with a new ID and not lose anything much. For eBay it is different becuase not only do you have to buy or sell something to be able to add feedback you also have documented advantages if you behave properly thereby making sure that gaming the system is unlikely to be something done casually (not that eBay is immune from fraud etc but becuase of the financial aspect the gaming level is an order of magnitude lower).

It is unclear to me how we can fix this because it seems like a flaw inherent in the system, however I am sure that the smart guy who figures it out will make zillions.

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

The Secret Portal

I'm in the process of writing up the trip we did to Northern Spain and Portugal last month. In the process I used google to look for the name of a hotel in Zamora. As a result of this I have discovered a secret. There is an interdimensional portal between Zamora and Marlborough in England. My evidence for this hitherto unsuspected portal is this description of the NH Palacio Del Duero hotel where it says:

Plaza de la Horta 1

Zamora, CL 49002 Spain

A comfortable base for visits to the ancient sites of Avebury and Silbury Hill, Bowood House and Gardens, this historic coaching inn is situated in what is reputedly Britain's widest high street. Open fires and oak beams assure guests of a warm welcome.

A google of the phrase "Britain's widest high street" shows that this Palacio apparently has a back door in this English pub hotel in Marlborough. I wonder if this is how The Englishman goes on his hols?

PS Allow me to illustrate the portal using a new tool I just discovered:

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

Talking About Faggots

There would seem to be two ways to do this.
  1. Puerile schoolyard taunts even though you are female and have supposedly been a grown up for quite a number of years
  2. This way (watch it all)

I suggest that if you want to get your digs in then option 2 (h/t Scott Burgess) is the way to go. Option 1 does gain you a little bit of notariety, another few minutes of fame perhaps, but mostly what it does is embarass your "side" and embolden the other "side". Option 2 allows you to damn with faint praise and otherwise sting your opponents with barbs that they can't ignore but yet cannot easily respond to without making themselves look even more stupid,

I note that option 2 is not an official piece of political thought, or even a discussion of the rights and wrongs of homosexuality, monarchy or anything else, but it is far more edifying than all of the political "debate" we have seen recently on the other side of the Atlantic - actually coem to think of it its better than most on this side too. Unfortunately such a delivery doesn't really fit into the MSM's soundbite culture and so seems destined to remain on the Internet. But how much would you pay for a Brian Sewell tour of, say, the Al Gore energy efficient residence?

Update: I am happy to attach my name to this open letter

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

Biofuel - Bad Because Bush Likes It

The Instapundit linked to this independent article on the problems of biofuel. Given that the Independent is usually the sort of rag that has never seen a trendy green idea it didn't like it is rather a surprise to find that they are skeptical about the value of biofuel. My assumption is that the reason why they are against it is basically the title to this post. Anyway while I sort of agree with the conclusion (biofuel is not a perfect solution to fossil fuel consmption and "devil gas" emissions) the article is jam packed with stuff to complain about so I think a little fisking is in order. Let's start with the lede:

The Big Green Fuel Lie

George Bush says that ethanol will save the world. But there is evidence that biofuels may bring new problems for the planet

By Daniel Howden in Sao Paolo

Published: 05 March 2007

The ethanol boom is coming. The twin threats of climate change and energy security are creating an unprecedented thirst for alternative energy with ethanol leading the way.

That process is set to reach a landmark on Thursday when the US President, George Bush, arrives in Brazil to kick-start the creation of an international market for ethanol that could one day rival oil as a global commodity. The expected creation of an "Opec for ethanol" replicating the cartel of major oil producers has spurred frenzied investment in biofuels across the Americas.

When exactly did George Bush say "ethanol will save the world"? or even hint at it? and since when does a creation of a international forum to promote a market in biofuel mean a cartel?

But a growing number of economists, scientists and environmentalists are calling for a "time out" and warning that the headlong rush into massive ethanol production is creating more problems than it is solving.

To its advocates, ethanol, which can be made from corn, barley, wheat, sugar cane or beet is a green panacea - a clean-burning, renewable energy source that will see us switch from dwindling oil wells to boundless fields of crops to satisfy our energy needs.

Dr Plinio Mario Nastari, one of Brazil's leading economists and an expert in biofuels, sees a bright future for an energy sector in which his country is the acknowledged world leader: "We are on the brink of a new era, ethanol is changing a lot of things but in a positive sense."

Actially I think very few people believe that Ethanol or other biofuels will replace all fossil fuel consumption. Just as with the saving the world line above what we see here is a deliberate overstating of the advocate's viewpoints so that we can rip them to shreds in a bit.

In its first major acknowledgment of the dangers of climate change, the White House this year committed itself to substituting 20 per cent of the petroleum it uses for ethanol by 2017.

Firstly this is not the first major acknowledgment of climate change, or at least not the first one to look at alternative fuel sources that would nd up reducing CO2 emissions, google Bush Hydrogen and see what you find. Secondly 20% of petroleum is not full replacement, it is merely introducing a diversity of fuel sources. Usually the Independent likes "diversity" but apparently not in this case.

In Brazil, that switch is more advanced than anywhere in the world and it has already substituted 40 per cent of its gasoline usage.

Ethanol is nothing new in Brazil. It has been used as fuel since 1925. But the real boom came after the oil crisis of 1973 spurred the military dictatorship to lessen the country's reliance on foreign imports of fossil fuels. The generals poured public subsidies and incentives into the sugar industry to produce ethanol.

Today, the congested streets of Sao Paolo are packed with flex-fuel cars that run off a growing menu of bio and fossil fuel mixtures, and all filling stations offer "alcohol" and "gas" at the pump, with the latter at roughly twice the price by volume.

Remember readers this technology was pioneered by military dictators! no wonder GWB likes it

But there is a darker side to this green revolution, which argues for a cautious assessment of how big a role ethanol can play in filling the developed world's fuel tank. The prospect of a sudden surge in demand for ethanol is causing serious concerns even in Brazil.

The ethanol industry has been linked with air and water pollution on an epic scale, along with deforestation in both the Amazon and Atlantic rainforests, as well as the wholesale destruction of Brazil's unique savannah land.

I don't want to be rude, but practically everything has been linked to "air and water pollution" and "deforestation in both the Amazon and Atlantic rainforests". Unfortunately, no dounbt for reasons of space, the Independent is unable to back up most of these claims with facts.

Fabio Feldman, a leading Brazilian environmentalist and former member of Congress who helped to pass the law mandating a 23 per cent mix of ethanol to be added to all petroleum supplies in the country, believes that Brazil's trailblazing switch has had serious side effects.

"Some of the cane plantations are the size of European states, these vast monocultures have replaced important eco-systems," he said. "If you see the size of the plantations in the state of Sao Paolo they are oceans of sugar cane. In order to harvest you must burn the plantations which creates a serious air pollution problem in the city."

However the Independent does manage to come up with this claim. I'm not sure I understand it completely; the burning refered to is, I assume, something similar to stubble burning and may be bad though one could presumably be more eco-friendly and burn some of the refuse in a biomass electric generator. On the other hand the monoculture argument is no different to any other sort of agriculture and is equally bogus - if you want efficient production then you will have monocultures of relevant crops. "Organic biofuel" is simply not going to be efficient.

Despite its leading role in biofuels, Brazil remains the fourth largest producer of carbon emissions in the world due to deforestation. Dr Nastarti rejects any linkage between deforestation and ethanol and argues that cane production accounts for little more than 10 per cent of Brazil's farmland.

However, Dr Nastari is calling for new legislation in Brazil to ensure that mushrooming sugar plantations do not directly or indirectly contribute to the destruction of vital forest preserves.

There is a sentence here that could do with rewriting. Is Brazil the country that is the fourth largest producer of carbon emissions from burnt forests or is it the fourth largest total carbon emitter due to the birning of its forests? If the former then this is an example of how to pick your statistics, however I believe it is supposed to be the latter. As this article notes, deforestation has slowed in Brazil:

About 13,000 square kilometers (5,019 square miles) of rainforest were destroyed in the 12 months between August 2005 and 2006. This is about half the rate reported during the same period between 2003 and 2004, and the second lowest rate since recordkeeping began in 1988.

And the article also mentions that Brazil is the fourth largest carbon emitter and that 75% of Brazil's emissions are due to forest clearance so it looks like Brazil will drop down the carbon emissions list quickly if it continues to reduce forest clearance. Back to the Indy:

Sceptics, however, point out that existing legislation is unenforceable and agri-business from banned GM cotton to soy beans has been able to ignore legislation.

"In large areas of Brazil there is a total absence of the state and no respect for environmental legislation," said Mr Feldman.

"Ethanol can be a good alternative in the fight against global warming but at the same time we must make sure we are not creating a worse problem than the one we are trying to solve."

I think this is what hurts the Indy the most. The state is not all powerful Big Brother in Brazil.

The conditions for a true nightmare scenario are being created not in Brazil, despite its environment concerns, but in the US's own domestic ethanol industry.

While Brazil's tropical climate allows it to source alcohol from its sugar crop, the US has turned to its industrialised corn belt for the raw material to substitute oil. The American economist Lester R Brown, from the Earth Policy Institute, is leading the warning voices: "The competition for grain between the world's 800 million motorists who want to maintain their mobility and its two billion poorest people who are simply trying to stay alive is emerging as an epic issue."

Speaking in Sao Paolo, where the ethanol boom is expected to take off with a US-Brazil trade deal this Thursday, Fabio Feldman, said: "We must stop and take a breath and consider the consequences."

So implicitly the Indy admits that the US is feeding the world. Evil capitalists that they are they insist on providing the cheapest grain to feed 2 billion. And of course the rest of the world is unable to produce grain so all those EU grain mountains of years past can never be replicated. Sorry this is a particularly feeble bit of text.

When Rudolph Diesel unveiled his new engine at the 1900 World's Fair, he made a point of demonstrating that it could be run on peanut oil. "Such oils may become, in the course of time, as important as petroleum and the coal tar products of the present time," he said.

And so it has come to pass that US President George Bush has decreed that America must wean itself off oil with the help of biofuels made from corn, sugar cane and other suitable crops.

At its simplest, the argument for biofuels is this: By growing crops to produce organic compounds that can be burnt in an engine, you are not adding to the overall levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The amount of CO2 that the fuel produces when burnt should balance the amount absorbed during the growth of the plants.

There is a logical flaw here that lets you really cock this argument up. If we want to reduce overall carbon emissions then it is not necessary to stop emitting all carbon or 100% compensate for it with carbon storing methods, all we need to do is produce less of it for the same amount of total energy output.

However, many biofuel crops, such as corn, are grown with the help of fossil fuels in the form of fertilisers, pesticides and the petrol for farm equipment.

One estimate is that corn needs 30 per cent more energy than the finished fuel it produces.

Another problem is the land required to produce it. One estimate is that the grain needed to fill the petrol tank of a 4X4 with ethanol is sufficient to feed a person for a year.

Having complained above I agree with this conclusion. If production/distribution of ethanol requires more fuel consuption than it can produce then it is a waste of time and it may well be highly inefficient. These are real problems and it would have been useful if the entire article had talked about them instead of leading us down 1001 false trails.

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

Airbus and French Politics

I almost feel sorry for Sarko being assaulted by the press after meeting the Airbus unions yesterday. In fact the whole Airbus gradual meltdown has to be a nightmare for him because it allows the more economically clueless presidential candidates (e.g. one with initials S R) to make reckless promises to "fix" things in ways that simply can't be done. As Ruters says:

The rightist government has said politicians should let management sort out the problems, but is anxious to prevent the crisis playing into the hands of their opponents, including Royal and centrist leader Francois Bayrou.

 Metro (the place where I go the photo from) also has a nice summary of the official positions of the three leading presidential candidates. I present them here in both French and English

Segolene Royal
La candidate socialiste a demand� lundi � l�Etat d�augmenter sa participation au capital d�EADS-Airbus et �de prendre les dispositions pour autoriser les R�gions � entrer� dans l�actionnariat. Elle demande aussi � l�Etat qu�il apporte �des aides � la recherche-d�veloppement� pour faire face � la concurrence, et qu�il �mette en place un plan de soutien � la sous-traitance�.
The socialist candidate asked for Monday the State to increase its share in the ownership of EADS-Airbus and �to make the provisions to authorize the (French) Reions to enter� the shareholding. She also asks the State that it provide �assistance for the research and development� to face competition, and that it �sets up a plan of support for subcontracting�.
Nicolas Sarkozy
Le candidat UMP s�est d�clar� favorable lundi � un pacte d�actionnaires pour Airbus o� l�Etat serait mieux repr�sent�. �Si j��tais pr�sident et qu�Airbus avait besoin d�une augmentation de capital, je serais pr�t � le faire car c�est un enjeu industriel important�, a d�clar� Nicolas Sarkozy, rappelant qu�il avait rachet� 20% d�Alstom lorsqu�il �tait ministre de l�Economie et des Finances.
The UMP candidate declared Monday that he favoued a pact of shareholders for Airbus where the State would be represented better. �If I were a president and that Airbus needed a new issue of capital, I would be ready to do it because it is an important industrial stake�, declared Nicolas Sarkozy, recalling that it had repurchased 20% of Alstom when he was a Minister for the Economy and Finances.
Francois Bayrou
Le candidat UDF a souhait� lundi que les actionnaires priv�s de la maison m�re d�Airbus assument leurs responsabilit�s aux c�t�s de l�Etat, et il s�est prononc� pour un nouveau pacte d�actionnaires. �L�Etat, comme l�Etat am�ricain l�a fait pour Boeing, doit �tre capable de soutenir une entreprise aussi formidable qu�Airbus quand elle traverse une mauvaise passe�,
a-t-il r�affirm�.
The UDF candidate wished Monday that the private shareholders of the mother company of Airbus (i.e. EADS) assume their responsibilities to work with the government, and he called for a new pact of shareholders. �The government, just as the American government did for Boeing, must be able to support a company as formidable as Airbus when it hits a bad patch�, he reaffirmed.

So we have nationalization as the prefered solution on all sides because we can't let such a wonderful comapny as Airbus reap the consequences after it has made a bad commercial decision. Astoundingly Bayrou, who has typically been the smarter campaigner, is the one to make the gratuitous America reference. I would need to spend more time doing resaech than I can be bothered to do now to verify my gut feeling that Boeing has had far less "state aid" than Airbus over any time period you care to mention. Sego's proposals are not only implausbile because French regions, as Reuters reports, don't have money to invest in companies even if they had the legal right to do so but also because the EU would be very very upset and start fining France and its regios for illegal state aid if they did so.

Oh and the French Airbus workers are on strike today despite the fact that doing so is bound to hurt the company even more:

With an Airbus plane rolling off assembly lines on average every 9 working hours, production would be badly hit in both countries if French workers held a prolonged strike, since French factories produce many parts needed for the whole group.

(yes all this is much as predicted last week)

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

Asymmetrical Anonymity

Jill at Feministe and Makijthise draw attention to an article in the WaPo about how the internet has allowed celebrity gossip to spread to cover ordinary people. Well OK that isn't quite what it is saying but that is the basic fact. The article reports that there are message boards where, for example, anonymous (male) law students write comments about their fellow (female) students and generally speaking act like a bunch of misogynist drunks in a bar. Worse these comments are propagated throughout the web thanks to the power of google and they include the real names of the ladies being commented on. At first sight this doesn't sound too bad and indeed Ann Althouse essentially says that the ladies mentioned should stop whining. As far as the actual words written I think this is, regretably, true. I don't see any hope that sexist, racist etc. comments will stop being made by all males short of the heat death of the universe. And to be honest it may be better to know that some of your fellow students are lowlife pondscum than not.

Unfortunately the problem is that, unlike words spoken in a bar, words written on a site indexed by google are visible to everyone around the world and they remain visible for years. For example, until recently it was possible to find mentions of me from my time in Japan (15 years ago, before much of the Internet), I was going to link to one but the only ones I can find now are rather boring one liners. The article mentions a number of potential bad consequences for this, such as lawfirms not hiring the ladies mentioned because they get the impression that they are sluts or for the ladies concerned to be stalked by a bunch of perverts who think they welcome such attentions.

This is a problem and it is compoinded by the fact that there is an asymmetry in the relationship - the subjects are not anonymous but the people making the comments are. As far as Jarret Cohen, the lowlife scum who runs the site mentioned by the WaPo, is concerned this is a feature:

Cohen said he no longer keeps identifying information on users because he does not want to encourage lawsuits and drive traffic away. Asked why posters could not use their real names, he said, "People would not have as much fun, frankly, if they had to worry about employers pulling up information on them."

This is not a feature it is a bug. There is a place for anonymity on the Internet but it isn't in the public discussion of other people. By allowing unmoderated internet comments by anonymous posters about named people Jaret Cohen is actually providing an extremely one sided defintion of "fun" becuase the subjects of the post do indeed "ha[ve] to worry about employers pulling up information on them." This asymmetry is in fact extremely worrying because it means that the subjects of these comment threads have no way to seek recourse for comemnts made about them or to any damage that miught acrue as a result.

It seems to me that by far the best way to demonstrate this to Mr Cohen and his partner (possibly not just in a business but in a gay lover sense too*) Mr Ciolli would be for some of the ladies affected to start seeding the blogosphere with articles about them. It would be interesting to see how the loving couple of Jaret Cohen and Anthony Ciolli like having their dirty fudgepacking underwear hung out in public. I would suggest that if this strategy is followed the bloggers use the Private Eye technique of pre-emptively defending the subject from the rumour: "We are sure that it is untrue that Jaret Cohen and Anthony Ciolli's torrid affair has ended after Mr Cohen was diagnosed with AIDS and that they were most certainly not seen arguing with a crack dealer in a notorious Pennsylvania neighbourhood"

*They have not denied being gay lovers so it could be true. I'm using the gay sex thing as an example of a way to turn the tables on Messrs Cohen and Ciolli. There is nothing bad about being gay and I have no idea of their sexual orientation but a quick look at the site they run indicates that many of its members would have a problem with Cohen and Ciolli engaging in public displays of homosexual affection or staring in gay porn movies.

PS I think this is related to the Digg reputation question I blogged about earlier.

08 March 2007 Blog Home : All March 2007 Posts : Permalink

French Presidential News

After months of tedious predictability things are hotting up and becoming slightly more exciting. The most likely scenario remains President Sarkozy but the Airbus woes could hurt him and the emergences of Bayrou as a viable alternative in the middle means that choosing between Sarko and Sego is no longer the only game in town.

For those that care it seems that, despite the kind words by Sarko, the loony fringe candidates (i.e. Le Pen and far-left Communist Revolutionary League leader Olivier Besancenot) may still be out of luck when it comes to getting the required signatures from mayors that allow them to stand as candidates. The BBC reports on that and on the enterprising mayor who has put his signature up for auction. As the BBC noted in the first article linked Sarko probably isn't being entirely altruistic in this case:

... Mr Sarkozy's gesture may not be quite so altruistic as it seems - if the National Front is not represented in the elections next month, he will be forced to shift his own position to the right. That would alienate some supporters and give more ground to Mr Bayrou.

I think it goes beyond that however. Sarko needs to get some traction with the far right and there have been distinct rumours that his party, the UMP, has been behind some of the pressure put on mayors not to put their names down for Le Pen. This could lead to a backlash if Le Pen fails to get the signatures with far right voters deciding to either stay at home or vote for someone other than Sarko, who otherwise should be their favoured 2nd choice after Le Pen. However Sarko also benefits from seeing more loopy lefty candidates because they can help destabilize the Sego campaign by making populist statements that she will feel bound to echo to keep her place as a standard bearer of the left but which may end up alienating the more centrist voters. Of course given Sarko's publically voiced desire for Le Pen to stand if Le Pen doesn't stand then Sarko should gain most of Le Pen's voters because he has shown himself to be more sympathetic than anyone else. In other words this public statement is basically a Win-Win-Win for Sarko in terms of gaming the system.

For Sego however the problem seems to be too much money. Or rather havnig assets which you have deliberately undervalued apparently to avoid taxation. I'm not sure that this story has much staying power as the French are sufficiently cynical about their leaders as to expect this kind of thing, however it could annoy a few people. It is worth noting that the Mougins house appears to be at least Ms Royal's third house as she has one in Paris and one in the region she is president of, Poitou-Charentes (which is nowhere near Mougins).

The other breaking news though is that the "centrist" Fran�ois Bayrou is catching up with the front-runners in the opinion polls (Bayrou 21%, Royal 24%, Sarko 29%, Le Pen 13%). This is unlikely to last as Bayrou seems to have been doing far more campaigning and getting far more coverage than the other two on French TV recently. The TV coverage is, I think, due to guilt from the TV stations that their apparent plan to ignore Mr Bayrou had been rumbled and mentioned. I suspect that once TV coverage returns to a more balanced form his support will slip a bit. On the other hand if Royal manages to make more mistakes Bayrou is likely to pick up votes from the saner parts of the left and thus could edge Royal for the number 2 spot. I think it is unlikely that (assuming he gets his signatures) Le Pen will be able to repeat his 2002 trick of coming second but I think it is no longer as certain as it once seemed that Sego will come second. And in a Bayrou-Sarko second round it is entirely possible that Sarko will lose, although I have yet to see any opinion polls asking that question.

08 March 2007 Blog Home : All March 2007 Posts : Permalink

Hosting Matters Hates Me

I like to read and recommend a number of blogs (Big Lizards, [Patterico], VodkaPundit ...) that are hosted by Hosting Matters. I think most of them are in my blogroll. Unfortunately for the last month or two I have been forced to read the RSS feed of some of these blogs as harvested by bloglines because for some reason almost every time I try to go to the blogsite itself I get a page like this:


You don't have permission to access / on this server.

Additionally, a 403 Forbidden error was encountered while trying to use an ErrorDocument to handle the request.

Apache/1.3.37 Server at www.patterico.com Port 80
This is irritating because I'd quite like to leave comments and do other things like that but I can't because I don't have access to the site. Now I did see that on a Patterico post that I may not be alone in this, although I suspect that my situation is worse. What is described there is the fact that an instalanche brought his entire site down for a while. What I am seeing is that most of the time I am unable to get to any HM hosted blog (or at least a number of HM hosted blogs). In technical terms it looks like blogs hosted on some of the hmdnsgroup.com servers have a spam/anti-hack filter that dislikes my IP address. I have raised a ticket with HM on this subject and I consider the response to be less than helpful (if you really want to view it login with my gmail address and a password of "aebe7a23"). Here is what I wrote:

Hi there,

I am a reader of a number of blogs that turn out to be hosted on your
HMDNSGROUP servers (e.g. big lizards, patterico, vodkapundit ...). For
the last couple of months or so it seems like most of the time when I
attempt to access the servers I get a 403 message like this: [see above]

This is irritating for me and assuming that it applies to other would
be readers irritating for the bloggers too. I doubt this is a general
thing since otherwise I'm sure I'd have seen comment in the
blogosphere but I suppose it is possible.

I can imagine that one reason why I might be being picked on specially
is that I'm from Europe and the regular readers of these blogs are US
based. So are you in fact deliberately limited access to these sites
from non-US addresses or os there some other thing you are doing that
is breaking things?

Best regards


and here is the response:

We're not "breaking" anything. A 403 means what it says: you can't access the site. If you set off someone's spam filters or you're in a region where your IP is going to be blocked, then you're going to be blocked. We don't have the time or the inclination to go around randomly to blogs and block access arbitrarily. And since we have a large contingent of clients from Europe, in addition to the rest of the world, it would hardly be in our best interests to block non-US IP space from the network.

I asked the only blogger of the three on the list with whom I've emailed before (patterico) and he confirmed that he personally is not blocking me (or anyone else for that matter). I also dicovered last night that I had
  1. Access to a number of hosting matters blogs (e.g. Instapundit, Captains Quarters)
  2. Access to the three above when my ISP changed my IP address once (it does this at least once a day)
  3. No more access to the three after my IP address changed to a thrid one similar to the first one I had yesterday
So therefore when Stacy writes that "you set off someone's spam filters or you're in a region where your IP is going to be blocked, then you're going to be blocked." the someone she is talking about appears to be Hosting Matters itself. And here is the problem. I'm not in a country reknowned for its spamming of the entire world or hacking things, I'm in France. And while Hosting Matters blocks my access for some blogs I don't have a problem with any other internet site I visit.

Given the less than helpful response from Stacy I decided to investigate further and learned that, as I reported to HM, the only blocklists my various IP addresses seem to be on are ones that are specifically related to SMTP (email) spamming and have no relevance what so ever to blog comment spamming and the like.

I have done some research on blocklists and have discovered that my IP addresses that are blocked share one thing in common compared to the one that didn't - namely they are on the sorbs DUL list ( dul.dnsbl.sorbs.net), which is a list of ip addresses of "dial up" clients or one of the equivalents from other DNSbl maintainers such as dynablock.njabl.org . I hope it is obvious that the DUL list is intended _purely_ for SMTP spam and has no validity what so ever for other sorts of spam such as comment spamming, hence banning access based on that list is an error.

I should also note that the standard SORBS DNSBL includes the DUL so if you are relying on the standard SORBS list then you need to do an additional query to remove DUL accounts from it. In addition a number of other DNSBL lists such as blackholes.five-ten-sg.com appear to import the SORBS DUL list. I would be happy to investigate further if you can tell me what DNSBLs are being used by hosting matters and/or your implementations of movable type. The information at http://www.sixapart.com/movabletype/docs/3.2/k_preinstalled_plugins/spamlookup/ip_address_lookups.html indicates that bsb.spamlookup.net is the prime DNSBL used, unfortunately there seems to be little or no information about what that site uses to decide is spam

Further evidence that the bug appears to be a purely hosting matters one is that Patterico has moved his blog to a wordpress one and I no longer have any problem with access. I'm blogging about this primarily because HM are completely ignoring the problem and it seems likely that other people could well be suffering the same problem. So if you get a 403 error when trying to read a hosting matters hosted blog please tell me and maybe we can get HM to tell us a bit more about how they are blocking hosts.

PS For those who are interested here are the technical tools I have used.
  1. To help you identify whether a particular blog is a hosting matters one, SamSpade will give the "whois" information. If the result contains mention of hmdnsgroup.com or hmdns.net then it is hosted by hosting matters.
  2. If you are being blocked then dnsbl.info will tell you what lists you are on. Typically I find the advanced page more interesting although it gives you more information that you probably need.

08 March 2007 Blog Home : All March 2007 Posts : Permalink

Pre-emtpive Losing

After a few days where I began to think there was something wrong becasue I kept on agreeing with her, Majikthise gives us the Democrat spin on Iraq (short version "Run Away") and so all is right in the world and I can pour scorn on her. It seems the Democrats in Congress, having debated worthy topics like Japanese "Comfort women", have decided to actually do something and, as AP reports, are now trying to set a time limit for how long US troops may remain in Iraq:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- In a direct challenge to President Bush, House Democrats unveiled legislation Thursday requiring the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq by the fall of next year. The White House said Bush would veto it.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the deadline would be added to legislation providing nearly $100 billion the Bush administration has requested for fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

She told reporters the measure would mark the first time the new Democratic-controlled Congress has established a "date certain" for the end of U.S. combat in the four-year-old war that has claimed the lives of more than 3,100 U.S. troops.

As the article goes on to say this is basically a "non-starter" becuase Bush will veto it if it gets to the point where he has to. Hence this is little more than another publicity stunt and, as even th AP notes, that the anti-war wing of the Democratic party has had some problems turning hotair in to action that people support:

In the House, Pelosi and the leadership have struggled in recent days to come up with an approach on the war that would satisfy liberals reluctant to vote for continued funding without driving away more moderate Democrats unwilling to be seen as tying the hands of military commanders.

The decision to impose conditions on the war risks a major confrontation with the Bush administration and its Republican allies in Congress.

But without a unified party, the Democratic leadership faced the possibility of a highly embarrassing defeat when the spending legislation reaches a vote, likely later this month. establishing a deadline for troop withdrawals.

[...]The measure emerged from days of private talks among Democrats following the collapse of Rep. John Murtha's original proposal, which would have required the Pentagon to meet readiness and training standards without the possibility of a waiver.

Murtha, D-Pa., and chairman of a House Appropriations military subcommittee, said its implementation would have starved the war effort of troops because the Pentagon would not have been able to find enough fully rested, trained and equipped units to meet its needs.

Several moderate Democrats spoke out against it, though. And Republicans sharply attacked it as the abandonment of troops already in the war zone.

Anyway that's the plan. Run Away next year no matter what. And more likely the real plan is that after this clueless idea gets vetoed the Democrats figure they can blame absolutely anything bad on Bush. To that end, as RedState reports, the Democrats decided they didn't need to talk to General Petraeus before this brainfart but prefered to consult with the well known military strategists in the Trades Unions and MoveOn.org.

Anyway to go back to Majikthise, she proudly explains why this plan is so wonderful:

Telegraphing our enemy a timetable? We're supposed to believe that this telegraphy of timetables would cause us to lose the war?

Actually, the reason that the Democrats want out of Iraq is because we've already lost.

The war didn't achieve a single one of its objectives. The occupation will never accomplish anything worthwhile. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wa) was admirably candid when she said on the floor of the Senate, "In truth, we are fighting a war with no cause."

Contrary to Republican braying, it's not up to General Petraeus and the commanders in the field to decide how long we should stay in Iraq. Civilian leaders set policy and military commanders implement it. Elected officials decide the ends, and the military sorts out the means.

Bush is going to veto this bill because he's not man enough to admit his own colossal failure. He'd rather commit to a pointless war indefinitely. How many more people will die to salve George W. Bush's ego?

Majikthise probably helped craft this strategy since she appears to be equally clueless as she thinks that withdrawal would not cause us to lose the war. True "we" might not lose the war but the people who "we" would like to be allies will lsoe the war and the people we don't like would win. Lest a feminist like Majikthise forgets the people who are fighting against the US are the Iranian government - that bastion of feminist thought where the police break up celebrations of International Women's Day and groups like Al Qaeda who think that women should be kept chained to the kitchen sink.

Then having said that announcing a timetable would not be taken as a signof defeat she helpfully explains that we have already lost. This is an odd definition of lost seeing as the prime objective of the Iraq war was the removal of a certain S Hussein who is now dead along with a number of his cronies. Which coincidentally means that "the war didn't achieve a single one of its objectives" is also factually untrue. As a result of the war we no longer need to fear that the Iraqi state will sponsor terrorism or will seek WMD. Indeed we have determined that the former Iraqi regime has complied with those various UN resolutions demanding that they verifiably disarm. We have also stopped a weeping sore of corruption called the Oil for Food program and stopped the state sponsored repression of the Shia, allowing them to celebrate festivals that were banned under the previous regime. "The occupation will never accomplish anything worthwhile" is equally untrue. While we would all prefer to have less corruption, less selfisness and more altruism amongst the Iraqi politcal classes the fact remains that Iraqis have successfully held free and fair elections and their elected representatives are passing laws and doing things that no other Arab nation does (with the partial exception of Lebanon). And "Civilian leaders set policy and military commanders implement it. Elected officials decide the ends," is just as innacurate as the rest. The civilian leader who sets the policy and the elected official who decides the ends is the president. In 2009 a new president may decide to withdraw the troops but assuming Bush remains firm no one can make him withdraw the troops.

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

Friday Olive Tree Blogging

Another image of the olive trees on the banks of the Douro in Portugal. For a bonus there is this one of a lone olive tree in the middle of Zamora (Spian) too. The weather was rather less clement in Zamora...

As always click on the image to see it enlarged and, if you haven't seen them before, take a look at my photos of Iberia and other olive tree blogging images.

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

Green Gesture Politics

So the EU has, as predicted, signed up for green house gas cuts and increases in "renewable" energy. Not surprisingly Richard at the EU Referendum blog nearly blows a gasket on the idea and the adulatory coverage:

This is a very stupid or ill-advised woman, projecting a strategy which is nothing short of an economic and human disaster. Ambitious it might be. Credible it is not. But all we get from the media is cheer-leading, as this insane policy takes shape.

Fortunately I think this brainfart is going to sink into obscurity in a bit, after all they have given themselves until 2020 to do all this which means that this is yet another target that can be safely ignored for a while. Remind me what happened to the Lisbon declaration/strategy on growth/innovation by the way?

Of course one obvious way to reduce emissions would be to shut down the EU and large chunks of national bureaucracy. Think about how many tonnes of CO2 are emitted by the MEPs jaunts to Strasbourg or by ministerial meetings like the one that has come up with this bright idea. If you held them by videoconference you'd cut quite a chunk of emissions. Needless to say though, there seems to be little hope that, even if the cuts take place, they will effect the politicians and EUrocrats who decreeed them. Eliab found this artcile talking about how the British government has completely failed to cut its own emissions:

The findings showed that the government estate during 2006 was responsible for 806,000 tonnes of carbon emissions, generated 186,400 tonnes of waste, and consumed 25 million cubic-metres of water.

Eleven ministries, including the Department of Transport and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), saw an increase in their carbon emissions compared with the previous 12 months.

Although recycling increased, the overall amount of waste produced increased by about 23,000 tonnes. Nine departments could not provide "proper waste data".

During a year that saw widespread water restrictions across southern England, officials consumed an average of 10.2 cubic metres per person, failing to meet the government imposed target of 7.7 cubic metres.

One suspects that Europe will be even worse.

Of course if it really is necessary to cut emissions (a big if in its own right) then rather than cripple the economy the best way to achieve the goals would be to make us all vegans, although we'd have to make sure we cooked our veggies right so that we didn't fart away the gains - Methane is a worse greenhouse gas than CO2. This would probably not be a popular policy though and might cause an increase in skeptical groups looking more closely at the emperor's new clothes scientific research on the subject.

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

Oops we're out of Silicon

If the EU wants to generate more renewable energy, it will presumably expect to significantly increase the amount of solar power generated. Unfortunately, as digitimes shows in the article and table below we're looking at a major shortage of the critical component - polysilicon - as all the demand is rather greater than the supply and has been so for the last couple of years.

Polysilicon supply will remain tight until 2008, according to research by JP Morgan in a September 2006 research report. The equity firm attributed the cautious expansion to the vast investment involved and the experience of vicious oversupply in 1998. JP Morgan further noted that most polysilicon vendors require stringent long term contracts with favorable pricing agreements before they start building new capacity under the mentioned considerations.

Polysilicon supply-demand analysis, 2003-2008 (metric tons)







IC semi demand







Solar demand





















Source: JP Morgan, complied by DigiTimes.com, March 2007

Digitimes does point out that there is an alternative sort of silicon available and that this is a LOT cheaper:

The persistent shortage of polysilicon is now prompting solar cell makers to seek substitutes such as metallurgical-grade silicon as alternative raw material. This trend is growing obvious and industry players are aware of the potential development as this may pose structural changes to the industry.[...]

According to a US Geological Survey's mineral commodity summaries report, metallurgical-grade silicon cost about US$ 0.77 per pound in 2005. Polysilicon prices have been rising by 22-33% each year since 2003, according to Prometheus Institute as cited by a Macquarie Research January 2007 report. The equity firm also cited the institute in saying that polysilicon prices may continue to rise to US$60 per kg, representing a 9% on year increase in 2007.

Starting from 2007, more solar cell makers will apply metallurgical-grade silicon as the sole raw material for solar cells, instead of mixing it with conventional polysilicon, according to industry players. They noted that 2007 will be a pivotal year concerning the trend of metallurgical-grade silicon, as once this silicon is applied in solar cells on a large scale, the entire solar cell industry will to see fundamental changes.

Industry players are generally open to adopting new raw materials and there are a growing number of players who have commenced testing the production of silicon wafers from metallurgical-grade silicon. However, they also noted that many of these silicon wafers are below standard at the current stage.

If the metalurgical silicon only solution works then we will see prices fall and, presumably, an expansion in solar power. If it doesn't then there is another word we are looking for regarding plans to generate lots of solar power. The word begins with F and rhymes with "ducked".

10 March 2007 Blog Home : All March 2007 Posts : Permalink

EU - Even The Indy Is Skeptical

You know the EU has a major credibility problem when even the editorialists at the Independent are skeptical. I'm going to fisk the entire article because it really is a classic of its kind of weaselly doublespeak, but I think the key point, and one that I agree with because I pointed it out yesterday, is that the EU has a habit of setting targets and then missing them.

Leading article: A decent deal, but hold off on the plaudits until emissions start to fall

Signing agreements in Brussels is one thing. Putting up the cash for action on the ground is, it seems, quite another

Published: 10 March 2007

The EU summit came to an end yesterday with an air of congratulation. Jose Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission, described the agreement on climate change signed by the leaders of the 27 EU nations as "historic". The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, welcomed it as a "breakthrough". Even Greenpeace called it "the biggest decision since the adoption of the Kyoto protocol" But what was actually agreed?

When I do this fisking thing I like to start off with the points where I agree with the object of my derision and in thi scase it is easy. As I noted yesterday I too am extremely skeptical that the EU will actually deliver the reductions it has agreed to.

The heads of the 27 EU nations pledged to cut overall levels of greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 on 1990 levels, with hints that this could increase to 30 per cent if the US and other states sign up to an agreement to replace the Kyoto protocol. There was also a promise from European leaders to increase the use of biofuels by transport to 10 per cent by the same date. But the most sensitive part of the deal turned out to be the commitment to get a fifth of the EU's energy from renewable sources, such as wind, wave and solar power, by the end of the next decade.

So heres where it starts to go wrong. Why single out the US? Even the BBC says "It is thought the EU could offer to extend its 20% target for emissions cuts to 30% if other heavy polluters like the US, China and India come on board." And biofuels? let us not forget that a mere handful of days ago the Independent was rather less than keen on biofuels because they were going to lead to mass starvation and were a favourite of President GW Bush.

It would be wrong not to welcome the main thrust of this commitment. As Tony Blair rightly pointed out yesterday in Brussels, the agreement sets an example to the rest of the world. Europe can now go into meetings with developing countries able to demonstrate that it is practising what it preaches over climate change. It could also kick-start the flagging negotiations over a successor to Kyoto.

Arguably the example it sets is an example of mass hysteria and stupidity, but even assuming that it is a good example, the line about "able to demonstrate that it is practising what it preaches over climate change" is only true if the EU starts to deliver on its committments, something that the Indy was skeptical about two paragraphs earlier.

There can be little doubt that renewable energies require an urgent boost. Renewables accounted for less than 7 per cent of the EU energy mix in 2005. And Europe will fall short of the voluntary goal of generating 12 per cent of its energy in this way by 2010. The UK is not leading the way on this. We generate just 4 per cent of our electricity from renewables, despite being well placed geographically to harvest the energy of the winds. Expanding renewables is not a responsibility that can be devolved to the energy companies. The disgraceful tactics we learned of this week that some companies are using to exploit environmentally concerned consumers should serve as a warning. A much stronger lead from national governments is needed.

Dear Indy editors. You are either stupid, wilfully ignorant of basic economics or deliberately ignoring your knowledge thereof. This section: "Expanding renewables is not a responsibility that can be devolved to the energy companies..... A much stronger lead from national governments is needed." is a major hint that the economic incentives are not in favour of renewables. If the government has to do the job then we know it will be done inefficiently. If the government(s) truly believe that they should do soemthing then they need to set the ground rules through taxation rates etc. such that it happens. If despite changing tax rates, providing grants etc. it still doesn't happen then the government needs to reflect on King Canute.

Yet this agreement is far from perfect. For one thing, it is deeply disappointing that nuclear power, although it will not be considered a renewable energy source, has been recognised as part of the EU's overall carbon reduction plan. This was a concession needed to get France and Finland on board. Other concessions have weakened the deal too. The final text of the agreement allows flexibility in how each country contributes to the overall EU target. The Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia, whose economies are still dependent on heavy industry and coal, are to be allowed leeway. There will therefore be a greater burden on better-placed countries such as Germany. This is fair. But there is a danger that the vague wording of the agreement will result in some countries that could do more claiming the right to do less.

Either this pact is a deal about reducing carbon emissions or it isn't. If the former then, since nuclear power doesn't emit carbon, it makes perfect sense that it be included in the "renewable" category. Even respected green figures agree that uclear power is a good way to go and, ironically, although there have been very few published studies, it is widely believed that the majority of coal fired plants produce more radioactive fallout than equivalent powered nuclear reactors becuase coal contains a shedload of nasty readioactive impurities.

This emphasises the main reason for scepticism over the deal: delivery. Setting targets, even legally binding ones, are no guarantee that they will be met. Several European nations are unlikely to meet their Kyoto targets. Britain is going to miss its 2010 target of reducing carbon emissions 20 per cent below 1990 levels. This is in part due to the Government's incompetence. The grant scheme for people who want to put up solar panels on their homes is grossly underfunded, despite a clear and growing demand for it. Signing agreements in Brussels is one thing. Putting up the cash for action on the ground is, it seems, quite another.

Let us recall that there is a supply problem here too. Even if the government increased the amount of grant money available we still wouln't increase the amount of solar power too much because there isn't enough raw material available at the moment. Indeed given that Britain is a cludy country it makes more sense for such solar panels as do exist to be relocated to places like Spain where there is plenty of sun rather than the UK where there isn't.

The lesson is that mutual congratulations must be postponed until such time as individual governments follow through on their rhetoric.

But I'll end up agreeing again.Andalucian hideaways Get away from it all - in the Spanish countryside EU governments are very good at rhetoric and have been very bad at following through. Mind you the Independent itself has a similar problem, on the internet the article currently has this as one of the "Editor's Choice" additional articles. May one enquire how folks from blighty are supposed to reach their Andalucian Hideaway without gratuitously increasing their carbon footprint

10 March 2007 Blog Home : All March 2007 Posts : Permalink

Scofflaw Society

There is a belief that here in France, and for that matter almost any other developed nation, everyone is in fact guilty of breaking some law or another repeatedly. Indeed one of the "root causes" for the Car-B-Q crisis in the French immigrant ghettosuburbs was that the inhabitants felt (quite possibly correctly) that they were punished for misdemeanours which other non-immigrant French residents were not punished for. This latter is of course not a uniquely French trait - google "Driving While Black" - but what is, I think relatively new, is the level to which everyone violates the law (and I admit to being guilty myself of the odd violation here and there). This is, it seems to me, a major change from the situation of a hundred years ago where it was fairly simple to be law-abiding. For example (in the UK, USA and I assume France) entire classes of offense such as drunk-driving or speeding did not exist. For that matter there were few if any regulations about the sale of drugs or poisons or the ownership of weapons:

Yet, any man, woman or street urchin could own a gun in Victorian Britain — at least until 1870 when a licence fee was charged if they wanted to carry the weapon outside their home. And, surprisingly, there was very little gun crime.

The right to own firearms was enshrined in the 1689 Bill of Rights (the Americans had to get their ideas from somewhere) and as late as 1900 the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, was happy to declare how much he would “laud the day when there was a rifle in every cottage in England”. [...]

True, in 1903 a Pistols Act restricted small handgun ownership to those who were not “drunken or insane”. This did not prove overrestrictive.

Other potential offenses such as tax evasion were limited to the seriously rich because very few people paid income taxes and very few companies paid corporation taxes. According to the IFS (PDF) fewer than 4 million people (families) paid UK income tax in 1938 and total government income was about 9% of GDP in 1907 vs 25% or so in 1938. Hence it seems likely that far fewer than 4 million people paid taxes in 1907. The UK population in 1907 was about 40 million so, since national insurance had not been introduced, less than 10% of the population would have paid any income tax or NI. The 1902 education act required people to pay for their local schools and by 1906 about 170 people had been imprisoned for refusing to pay. I suspect a similar number were liable each year for non-payment of rates or other local taxes.

In other words the average person, a person who spent the year at a steady job and failing to be drunk and disorderly at cup finals, horse races or the boat race would have no opportunity to break the law and would not have had any contact with "the state" beyond his local council. Today this is not the case.

Just about everyone breaks the traffic laws. Many of us speed, many others park in illegal places, others don't wear setbelts all the time, drive with the mandatory insurance or a valid driving license. Some of us even drive drunk, others fail to give way correctly to other cars or pedestrians, to come to a complete stop at STOP signs or always stop when the traffic light is red. In the vast majority of all these cases (as in about 99% of them, even including the drunk driving ones) no harm is done to anyone by the fact that we broke the law. None of these would crimes in 1907 and because no policeman or speed camera actually catches us we are not officially criminals today.

Then there are the drug crimes. In most countries it is now illegal to smoke anything other than tobacco or drink any drug other than alcohol or caffeine (or whatever the one is in chocolate). I don't know many druggies these days but I can name half a dozen who live within a few kilometers of my home in France. As far as I know none of them are guilty of anything more than smoking pot but, officially, this is a crime. In the 19th century the British actually fought the Opium wars against China in order to be allowed to sell Opium and while I think many people felt the Opium wars were a disgrace, the prevalence of such drugs in the western world was not uncommon - Sherlock Holmes was described as using either cocaine or morphine or both and this is more of a character quirk than a flaw.

Then there are the tax evaders. Again I can only speak for this corner of France but I would be very surprised if there is any builder, plumber, electrician or gardener who is not failing to declare some amount of income and I have no doubt that many of thsoe who employ these people are only too happy to pay a certain amount in cash because they get a significant reduction for doing so. Ditto every bar and restaurant owner. I once had a former bar owner tell me, in all seriousness, that it was impossible for a bar to make money on the Côte d'Azur if it was 100% legal; I suspect he was exaggerating slightly but only slightly. Then there are the people running the stalls in markets, the taxi drivers etc. etc.

And there are other crimes I have ignored, from flouting planning permission to dumping rubbish and the illegal bonfires that seem to be remarkably common around here. Oh and I believe (and this is a crime I'll own up to) it is required by French law that foreigners should always carry their passport or ID card with them at all times when they are a in public place. Finally there are the intellectual property crimes from buying a fake designer bag or football shirt in Ventimiglia market to downloading "pirated" music or videos (or books). In some cases there are even people who remove the DRM stuff from their music, videos or books.

All of these things are crimes, very few of them were crimes in 1907 and of the ones that were very few people had any incentive to commit them. The problem today is that because we are all (or nearly all) scofflaws, we don't accord the law with the majesty it deserves. This is frequently because we can see that certain laws were written, or modified, at the behest of some special interest group (music publishers, black people, farmers ...) and benefits them at the expense of harming others. The fact that the laws frequently end up harming a large chunk of the constituency they are supposed to help as well is mere irony on the cake. Worse, to my mind, is that we are seeing more and more laws such as the recent one about filming violence which appear to be deliberstely written to be broader than required to solve the problem they are supposed to solve.

The result of these trends is that the generally law-abiding are forced to break more and more laws just to survive. And the corrollory to this is that we lose our trust in the law as a whole and tend to have sympathy for other criminals that we know socially. In other words we are reverting to a tribal situation where we trust our tribe/clan more than we trust outsiders and therefore lose all the benefits of the common law. This is a bad thing because an impartial judiciary is undoubtedly one of the reasons why we have most of the trappings of civilization and why clan based societies have very rarely produced anything of benefit to anyone.

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

Ou Sont Les Entrepreneurs d'Antan?

About a year and a half ago I blogged about the amusing (but false) urban legend that President Bush once said "The French have no word for Entrepreneur". At the time I said that, while false, it had a kernel of truth in it:

Surrounding Cambridge in the UK - to pick a town not completely at random - are half a dozen Science Parks and maybe the same again of general business parks dedicated to technology companies of one sort or another. Doing a search on google for phrases like "Cambridge Entrepreneur" or "Cambridge Startup" produce masses of links to companies or articles in newspapers etc. talking about them. France has a number of Science parks (such as Sophia Antipolis) but searches (even in French) for equivalent phrases tend to produce links to government funded bodies like get-telecom or partially EU sponsored conferences such as innovact and a large number of links that recycle the same text about one or two startups. If you think this is somehow just an accident of google consider the lists of exhibitors at trade-shows such as 3GSM world or CeBIT. From my personal recollection of attendance at the former there were perhaps half a doozen French companies present (I only strongly recall a VOIP softswitch vendor - Cirpack - and an antenna company whose name escapes me), whereas the British were represented by masses of companies led by successful startups such as ARM and CSR (both with HQs in Cambridge).

France certainly produces people of an entrepreneurial bent, and it certainly produces smart people. But somehow despite all the conferences France seems to produce fewer startups and certainly fewer successful ones than its neightbour to the north. Indeed I would hazard a guess that it produces less than its eastern neighbour Switzerland too.

I was being a little harsh on the French start up scene in that piece, but only a little. This year at 3GSM there were a quite a few small French companies strutting their stuff, but they were undoubtedly overshadowed by the masses of British companies and, for that matter, by the masses of startups from the Nordic regions or Israel. I'd have to be a bit more scientific that I really care to state this as fact rather than anecdote but it seemed like there were more Danish companies at 3GSM than French ones. It was certainly the case that the "French Pavillion" at 3GSM was about half filled with "Invest in X region of France" booths rather than startups originating in said regions. This was not the case with the Swedish, Scottish or Irish pavillions.

I'm returning to this subject for two reasons. The first is that over at the ASI blog Dr Madsen Pirie complains about governmental/political unfriendliness to business in Britain and the second is that I had a fascinating chat with a very loquacious Frenchman on Saturday about the French economy. Dr Pirie makes a fair point:

It's not a good time to be a successful business person. The money's fine and the peer group praise is nice, but you have to endure ranting drivel from those guys in politics and media. Daily in the papers and on TV you are being accused of failing the poor, trashing the planet, and lining your pockets. Scarcely a look in for the wealth you generate, the jobs you create and sustain, the valued goods and services you provide for others, or the part you play in helping the world solve its problems through wealth and innovation.

At the moment the UK is not anti-business in the way it was before M Thatcher showed up or the way that France seems ot be now but if we continue the current tax'n'regulate ways of ZaNU Labour it may well get that way. And I know I am not alone in noticing that all the fixes to "global warming" seem to include raising taxes on trade, travel or something, making it look like the whole "save the planet" campaign is a sly way for the government to increase taxes without having the population complain. I hope the UK will reverse the last decade or so of post Thatcher statist drift and I have some fairly good news, namely that it will take a while before the statists can succeed and drive all the entrepreneurs out.

On the other hand it can happen. The Frenchman I talked to on Saturday works in the field of mergers & acquisitions and the majority of the clients he advises are small to medium French ones. He pointed out that the French economy is extemely unbalanced, there are the enormous companies (Michelin, Airbus etc.) which are, on the whole, relatively successful and there are a lot of very small companies (bakeries, bars, plumbers etc.) but very few companies in the middle. He blames this lack on the last 3 decades or so of French government (starting with Giscard d'Estaing) because their ever increasing rates of taxation and  regulation have suffocated the medium sized companies one by one. As I wrote in "Scofflaws", most, if not all, small French businesses break the law and evade tax. They can do this because the French authorities are almost certainly aware that a general crackdown on small businesses would lead them to simply quit working and thereby utterly wreck the French economy (and probably overthrow the government too). Large companies, those that are "too big to fail", can avoid many of the most burdonsome taxes if not regulations by a form of blackmail - "if you don't give us a tax break/subsidy/... we'll be forced to close a factory and blame it on you politicians". This is what Airbus is doing but it also applies to companies like Toyota who have negotiated very favourable terms for their French car plant. The ones in the middle, big enough to get attention but too small to cause a political storm when they fail, are the ones that suffer and, increasingly, these are the ones that are selling up and getting out.

According to this man, unless you can hide some of the money, you really don't want to be a successful businessman in France because you spend well oer half the year working for the government. He used the example of Johnny Hallyday, who has earned some €150m over his 40 years in show business. He estimated that the French government has probably taken around €100m of that one way or another. It should not be a surprise that eventually Johnny decides that he'd prefer to keep as much as he can of what he has left and hence that he should quit France. Johnny is not alone, according to this man. He said that most of the clients he has advised in the last year or two have been business owners looking for a way to sell up their French assets and spend their retirement in the sun somewhere else. Most would like to remain in France but simply decide that the difference in potential lifestyle is so great that it makes sense to up sticks.

The other problem that businesses face is that the cost of full-time employees means that they look for all sorts of ways to keep as much of the workforce on temporary contracts and/or use low-paying "work experience" programs (stages) to meet their need for bodies without paying the social charges extracted for real jobs. Even a taking on a lowly paid stagière is not trivial. The paperwork needed to get the temporary worker on board can easily take a couple of man-days of work by various HR peopleand under some circumstances another day or so of work by the stagière him/herself, mostly involving gathering copious and pointless bits of paper and then sitting in various government offices waiting for fonctionnaires to stamp other bits of paper.

Because, comparatively speaking, Britain is a business friendly society, the entrepreneurial French, Dutch, Belgians etc. are coming to London to work. And hence the anti-business tilt in the UK is not yet causing trouble because for every entrepreneurial Englishman who decides to head off to the (ex)colonies there is an entrepreneurial European deciding to do a Dick Whittington and head off to London to seek his fortune. If the supply of Europeans dries up the UK economy could go south very quickly.

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

eBook Readers Please Sign Up Here

The NAEB (Not Another E-Book) folk are approaching the point where they have a product so they are looking for potential customers. The specs are quite attractive but deliberately intended to be fairly basic. The reader is based on a pretty standard ARM/Linux platform and it runs just two applications: reading books and playing MP3 music. The current estimated price ($350) is competitive with other eBook readers such as the iLiad and the Sony. Since this is essentially a non-profit volunteer produced product, the price is essentially the price of the hardware which means that the price will drop substantially if more people sign up to buy. For people in England the current dollar:sterling exchange rate is such that this handy little device should be under £200 or about the same as Microsoft's overpriced new operating system and, unlike the Microsoft product, this one will not have the same markup between countries that makes people this side of the Atlantic pay rather more for stuff than they do in America.

Although the reader will work very well with Baen's DRM free ebooks, this is far from the only place where suitable stuff can be obtained. The thousands of out of copyright works at Project Gutenberg will also be supported as will many books sold by Fictionwise and other ePubishing specialists but I suspect the real gain for this device is its support for non-fiction as well. Technical manuals, academic textbooks and other reference materials are also perfect for this device and generally available free, or nearly free, for download.

I have copied the specs below for reference.
Size: 4.7" x 7.4" x 0.3" (118 x 188 x 8 mm)
Weight: 6.3 ounces (183 g, battery included)
Screen: Black and White, 4-level Gray-scale E-Ink, 6" diagonal, 600x800 pixels (170 dpi), Daylight readable, Portrait and Landscape display capabilities
Sound: Standard 3.5mm stereo headphone plug
Controls: Buttons: On/Off, Up, Down, Right, Left, Enter, Cancel and Music
Battery: Rechargeable, built-in, Li-Polymer battery (800mAh) (Approximately 8000 page flips per battery charge), Rechargeable via USB cable
Processor: Samsung S3C2410 ARM 200MHz
ROM Memory: 16MB + 64MB Data Flash
RAM Memory: 16MB
Connectivity: USB Client (version 2.0)
Expandability: SD (Secure Digital) memory card slot
Power Supply: USB
Color: White (I'd like Black and I believe we can get some in that color)
Logo: Bookeen

Operating System: Linux
Applications: MP3 player, Ebook Reader

Notes: On release of our version the ebook reader software will support ebooks in the following formats: RTF, HTML, PDF and PRC (Mobipocket) No DRM will be built into the software
Price: Approximately $350. It may be a bit higher or lower and we'll be able to be more specific by the time we're ready to ask for payment.

14 March 2007 Blog Home : All March 2007 Posts : Permalink

The Evil Empire

My fellow Englishman, the one with the castle, has found an excellent book to be published soon called "The Evil Empire, 101 Ways That England Ruined The World". I don't know what the 101 ways were but I can think of a few failings, such as a failure to terminate Karl Marx with extreme prejudice and, for that matter, coming up with the Fabian society and all the wishy washy socialism that has followed from it that I consider to have ruined the planet.

I'm not sure if he is serious about this or not but it has to be said that England has been far from perfect. It got its major start in world affairs thanks to piracy by people such as Sir Francis Drake and there are any number of other things that the English have done which are distinctly dodgy. Sir Isaac Newton nicking the calculus of Leibnitz for example, not to mention all those people who enriched themselves in India and the people who sacked entirely harmless nations like Ethiopia. I'm sure it is fairly simple for the author to find 101 bad things done by the English and many of them (e.g. the exploits of Drake or Newton) are things that we English are proud of because of the way they have bene spun by our historians and writers.

Indeed it isn't as if the concept of political spin is a new invention, arguably the best spinner of all times was Shakespeare who turned crude Tudor propaganda into art so well that thes days we fail to realize just how well he libeled people like Richard III.

Yes the English are without doubt the secret master race in a way that should make any anti-semitic ranter change his mind about who really runs the world. After all by failing to deal properly with its revolting American colonies it allowed the US to become the current world leader, clearly a devious plot to let some other nation take the blame....

However despite all this I am proud to be associated with my English ancestors - even the upper class global oppressor ones.

I think that it is worth thinking what England added to the world. The first three are the concepts of toleration, the rule of law applying to all equally and the inviolability of property rights. I agree that all three have been frequently breached by the English when it suited them but the concept that everyone from the King down has the same rights and responsibilities, and the right to their own thoughts and beliefs, were first codified in England to our great advantage.

While it was Italian, Dutch and Jewish financiers who got most of the basics of finance, insurance, stock markets, etc. going it was London that took their ideas and made them work better, based as a general rule on the previously mentioned core foundation of law and property. And England (with some Scottish assistance) certainly did most of the spade work in economics - even though some of the name (Ricardo) don't sound very English. To a great extent the English pioneered free trade and the same goes for both the industrial and possibly more importantly agricultural revolutions. Together free trade and these two revolutions moved humanity definitively away from the hand to moouth subsistence lifestyle which was the how the majority of people have lived.

Of course as a result we created slums, but we also created the concepts of hygeine and public sanitation and numerous inventions in these fields from the flush toilet to vaccinations and the statistical tools to help identifiy the causes of killers such as cholera.

I could go on. I shall merely note that almost all sports in the world first had their rules codified by the English (baseall and basketball being I believe the most prominent exceptions). If you think sport is bad then perhaps this belongs in the negative column, I perfer to put it in the positive one.

15 March 2007 Blog Home : All March 2007 Posts : Permalink

Don't Cut Taxes I Need a Job

Tim W links to this distinctly odd post by one Richard Murphy, a gentleman who seems to think that simplification and reduction of corporation tax would be bad for the UK. He is replying to the Torygraph report of something accountants Grant Thornton and after summing up the arguments in 5 points attempts to reply to each point. Regretfully I think all his replies are bunk.

1) A cut in the corporation tax rate, and they have suggested Ireland’s 12.5% rate as an alternative
Ireland is a micro-state that steals other countries tax revenues. It is not capable of being compared to the UK. It can only survive under the shadow of the UK (and I say this as an Irish citizen). To take a simple example, half its law is ‘borrowed’ from the UK because it does not have the resources to develop its own, and that’s the most basic function of government. The Eastern European states that offer low tax rates are also, and obviously, not comparable. Their state of economic development is fundamentally different from the UK’s. These tiny states, smaller than south London in most cases, cannot be the basis for comparing tax rates. Grant Thornton should know that so the request they are making has nothing to do with comparison, or even treating cost (as they believe tax to be) comparably, because the benefits afforded in the UK to companies that work here are obviously much higher than in these other places. What they’re actually saying is simple. It’s ‘please shift this tax burden onto other people but give us everything we demand as businesses’. That’s wholly inequitable.

I don't want to be rude here but "stealing other countries tax revenue" is a bit rich. I assume that Mr Murphy, given a choice between two sellers offering the same goods at different prices always buys the most expensive. His claims about Irish viability are a joke: "half its law is 'borrowed' from the UK not because it doesn't have the resources to develop its own but because it was ruled by the UK until 1921, as a result it inherits English common law as do many other parts of the British Empire. Of coruse since both Ireland and the UK are part of the EU another significant chunk of Irish law is also "borrowed" from Brussels just as it is in the UK. Oddly enough that portion of law does not seem to have been funded by corporation tax. Secondly it is unclear to me why the size of a nation should have any bearing on tax rates. I should remind Mr Murphy that 100 years ago the mighty British Empire ruled 20-25% of the planet (depending on how you count things) with far lower tax rates than any major state today. Thirdly, as Mr Murphy should be well aware, businesses are run by people for the benefit of (other) people. Taxing the profits on the business simply means the business pays lower dividends, reduces investment or pays its workers less (or all three). There have been numerous economic studies showing this.

2) Simplified tax legislation
Simplified tax legislation would be a great idea in a simple world. We live in a complex one. Business can handle complexity. So can accountants. That’s because it’s needed to allow for all the options that business needs to undertake trade effectively and competitively. Take away the complexity in tax and you’ll restrict commercial flexibility in many cases. What do you want, Grant Thornton? And if Grant Thornton were really keen on simplifying things they would also support abolition of the domicile laws. They don’t. Mike Warburton, head of tax at Grant Thornton has said so on BBC radio in debate with me, recently. He actually said ‘they’re great fun’. That’s because he makes money out of them. So this call is hypocritical. It’s really a request to cut out rules that increase the tax take and leave those that reduce it.

Allow me to paraphrase. Businesses can afford the fees of accountants such as myself so that we can give them advice on how to reduce their taxes. If you make it too simple then they'll be able to do it themselves and I'll be out of a job. The fact that he knows someone at Grant Thornton who apparently thinks the same way is irrelevant. And how the heck does a simpler tax system "restrict commercial flexiblity". The ultimate flexibility occurs when there are no taxes because then yu don't have to worry about the tax implications of otherwise rational commercial decisions. As you add taxes and allowances and loopholes you end up warping commercial logic more and more because what makes sense commercially may end up being stupid after yuo've paid all your taxes.

3) Fewer restrictions on controlled foreign companies
The call for fewer restrictions on controlled foreign companies is simply a request for more support for tax haven operations. Tax havens cost the governments of the world more than five times the cost of meeting the Millennium Development Goals. Whose side are you on Grant Thornton?

Apparently Mr Murphy's next gig will be with the record companies as he defines theft the same way they do. Has it occured to Mr Murphy that the low(er) tax rates may be what makes the difference between a company's viability and its failure. In other words if these companies ended up paying the taxes Mr Murphy thinks they should then I suspect that many of them would go bust and thereby stop paying not just corporate taxes but also VAT, sales taxes, salaries and dividends. In other words the sums bear as much reality as the RIAAs claims of losing millions through "piracy". As for the last sentence, it seems clear that Grant Thrnton is doing what a responsible professional does and merely making the case for its clients. The fact that such a case would probably also benefit others who are not clients is mere serendipity.

4) Streamlined regulations
Streamlined regulations. I agree. They can help, on occasion. But most regulation has a purpose. They are also the biggest stimulant to innovation there is in the economy. So cut regulation at your peril.

This was got Mr Worstall's goat. I spy in Mr Murphy a man who can't see the forest for the trees. Let me remind him that not all innovation occurs in the field of tax law and that very few (if any) successful innovations in other fields have been created because of specific regulations except as a way to avoid the damn things. Mind you escaping the revenuers has resulted in a number of innovations such as power boats (cigarette smuggling), Nascar (alcohol prohibition) and the like.

5) A less combative approach from HM Revenue and Customs to tax avoidance.
I’m amused by the call for a less combative approach from HM Revenue and Customs to tax avoidance. My answer is simple. Grant Thornton can turn the temperature down by becoming tax compliant.

Mr Murphy actually has a sort of point here. If GT really say this then that is indeed silly. However one suspects that what GT are actually saying is that a simplification and lowering of the corporate tax rates and regulations will make it easier for companies to remain within the law while still making profits. It could also be that the problem GT have noticed is that the current complexity can make it such that it is easy to make an honest error which leads one to be out of compliance. We have seen cases where the government has insisted that people pay fines even when they followed the advice of civil servants that subsequently turns out to be wrong. This level of combativeness does indeed seem wrong.

I'm glad to say that Mr Murphy's biography makes it clear why he is against all ideas of lowering and simplifying taxes.

Since 2000 Richard has been increasingly involved in taxation policy issues. He is a founder of the Tax Justice Network and director of Tax Research LLP which undertakes work on taxation policy for a wide range of clients including governments, government agencies, commercial organisations, aid agencies and pressure groups in the UK and abroad.

Finally I suggest Mr Murphy read this. Many times.

16 March 2007 Blog Home : All March 2007 Posts : Permalink

Friday Olive Tree Blogging

It's pruning time. This year I've decided to let a professional do the job and he has started by giving this tree a major haircut.

As always click on the image to see it enlarged and, if you haven't seen them before, take a look at my other olive tree blogging images.

18 March 2007 Blog Home : All March 2007 Posts : Permalink

No Passport? No Life

As noted by Tim W and Stephen Pollard, this week's Booker column describes a truly nightmare scenario. I personally would not want to be a farmer in the UK because some petty minded bureaucrat can seize and destroy your livelihood without compensation. Although the Booker column, which appears to be almost identical to the "Down on the Farm" column in this week's Private Eye (could they be related?), is infomrative the best background information appears to come from this Cheshire Online article from last month. As near as I can establish what happened to the farmer, a Mr David Dobbin, is this:
  1. In 2005, at a different farm, he failed to fill in paperwork to do with TB vaccination correctly
  2. The bureaucrats started investigating everything else he had done since as a result
  3. In his new farm the inspectors went through his paper work with a fine toothed comb and found irregularities
  4. They then confiscted the cattle passports (the documents that track an animal through its life) in November 2006
  5. In February 2007 they served him a "notice to identify" his cattle with a 2 day deadline
  6. Since this was impossible to meet (DNA testing takes > 2 days and they have his cattle's passports anyway) they took his herd away to destroy it
  7. At approximately the same time he plead guilty to 3 charges relating to the TB stuff, but his lawyer says that the guilty plea was entered due to the fact that he was rather busy defending his current business and thus having a hard time preparing or travelling.
  8. His lawyers managed to get a last minute order to stay the slaughter and applied for a judicial review
  9. The judicial review was granted
  10. Two weeks ago the bureaucrats insisted they had to destroy the cattle anyway because they couldn't look after them
  11. A judge agreed and the herd was slaughtered.
As Booker notes:

the regulation permits officials to destroy only animals that cannot be identified. Defra has never claimed that the paperwork for most of Mr Dobbin's cows was not in order, only that the officials had found "what they believed to be an unacceptable level of non-compliance with the regulations", and that this "could have serious implications for the protection of the human food chain".


All Mr Dobbin can now hope for is that the judicial review may confirm that Defra acted outside the law. The officials agreed in court that they had never used these powers on anything like such a scale before. It has not been claimed that Mr Dobbin's animals posed any health risk (BSE this year is down to a single case). His only alleged offence was "non-compliance" with complex bureaucratic procedures, to an extent which Defra still cannot specify. For this he has seen his livelihood go up in smoke, without a penny in compensation.

As Booker says, so far as I can tell none of the offences for which Mr Dobbin has been accused have been based on actual sick animals except one prosecution for "Cruelty to Animals" that appears to have been caused by his attempts to comply with the demands of the bureaucrats. He may, for all I know, be an nasty mad that mistreats his cows but seems more likely that he's a nice man who would rather actually look after his cows than spend his days filling in bits of paper.

Although this is the first time these regulations have been used to this extent, I am not convinced that this is one off or a first time offence. I cannot help but note that the dairy that got itself named specifically in EU laws - Bowland Dairy Products - is a mere 70 miles drive away according to Google. I don't know how DEFRA manages its inspectors but I can see that the two farms are in the same region for "Rural Development Programmes" and it seems plausible that the same power mad jobsworth is responsible for both these investigations and subsequent ruining of livelihoods. I wonder whether Booker or someone else will be able to make the appropriate Freeedom of Information enquiries to see if my suspicions have any basis in reality.

18 March 2007 Blog Home : All March 2007 Posts : Permalink

Get the LED out

In addition to the farming nightmare this week's Booker column is one of many columns and bloggers pointing out the idiocy of the EU proposal to ban regular lightbulbs. What I find interesting is that everyone assumes that the only alternative to incandescent bulbs are the "compact fuorescent" ones because as Booker points out CFLs have a bunch of problems:

They are larger and uglier than normal bulbs. For a wide range of purposes they cannot be used (as with dimmer switches or as security lights). They contain toxic mercury, which the EU itself is trying to ban. To run them efficiently means leaving them on so long that any energy savings are minimised.

And, what he doesn't say but his colleague Richard North did, is that they flicker at 50hz which can cause safety problems in some scenarios as well as headaches or irritation for some people.

Now having said that in our house we have a number of CFLs but we do not have them everywhere. The main place we use them is in the dim corridors where we wish to leave the light on most of the time but do not spend a great deal of time, although I have also put them in a number of rooms but not everywhere because they are indeed bulky, ugly and slow to come ot full brightness.

Fortunately though there is an alternative: white LEDs. LEDs are even less power consuming than CFLs - so much so that we have a number of solar powered garden lights like this one which stay lit most of the night on a single AA Nicad battery that has been charged up during the day. I have not yet installed the interior versions, because they are still rather expensive, but I may well do so in a couple of places where the CFLs aren't suitable. The LED lights are not a snap in replacement for incandescents yet (you need a transformer and rectifier similar to that for some halogen lights) but they do fix a number of the drawbacks that CFLs have in that they can be dimmed to some degree, are suitable for security lights and don't flicker.

The real benefit of LEDs is their extemely long life - something like 16 years according to this article - so despite the initial expense they should provide significant savings over time because they will use far less power and not need to be replaced for a very long time.

19 March 2007 Blog Home : All March 2007 Posts : Permalink

French Presidential News

The latest opinion poll makes interesting reading, confirming that Sarko is the clear front runner but making the second round look very interesting. In the first round Sarko has 31%, back up 4% from last week's decline while both Sego and Bayrou lose a point or 2 to 24% and 22% respectively. Le Pen is solid at 12% and the lefty loony fringe is arounf 5% split between three equally zany choices. However it is the second where things become fun because Bayrou is very definitely the 2nd choice of a large number of people so if Bayrou can make it into the second round he beats either Sego or Sarko quite handsomely. Sarko on the other hand wins in the 2nd round if his opponent is Sego, something that has been the case for months, so he has a strong interest in making sure that the Sego campaign doesn't collapse or implode.

Of course all this assumes that Sarko doesn't have a cunning plan for defeating Bayrou int he second round. Sarko has proven to be a very good political strategist so I would not count that option out and I am certain that his team is working as hard on the Sarko-Bayrou fight as it is on the Sarko-Sego one.

So far I would say that the campaign has been remarkably tedious. Bayrou has provided interest because we already knew what Sarko and Sego were planning on but since his platform is almost a 50:50 mix of the Sego and Sarko ones it doesn't provide much of interest either. I thnk we need some sort of major external event to make things interesting although that may be a bit optimistic. Not even Airbus has managed to make any great difference although I suspect that it was Airbus that helped push Sarko down the last couple of weeks.

22 March 2007 Blog Home : All March 2007 Posts : Permalink

Cathy Seipp

Cathy Seipp was born as the EU was formed in 1957. She died yesterday (or was it the day before I've been travelling this week and lacking internet access) as the EU worked itself up for a party to celebrate its half century of existence. I never met Ms Seipp and rarely left a comment on her blog, though I read it religiously. Losing someone, even a near stramnger like Ms Seipp to cancer is officially a bugger. I've seen it once before about 10 years ago when a friend of my wife's died. Much like Ms Seipp he refused to let the disease get him down but fought it tooth and nail so it was a major shock when suddenly the desiease finally got on top. Ms Seipp seems to have gone the same way.
As someone else said in rather different circumstances about another person who shuffled off this mortal coil recently:

I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatiguability

The tributes from those who did know her, even those who had vehement disagreements with her, put her solidly on the list of people I wish I could have met. I first started reading her blog because her daughter's blog was mentioned by Samizdata and then discovered that amongst the blogs and bloggers she discussed and liked and disliked were many from people I knew over the Internet in one form or another from Joeseph Mailander aka the Motley Fool's jeanpaulsartre to Patterico. Talking of which the latter has one of the better obituries including this bit which I think will be seen as the basic wisdom of the internet age:

She was always very forthright with her opinions, and blunt in the way she expressed them. A theme that she came back to again and again was that people must be accountable for the things that they say.

For example, I talked to Cathy at length at a Yamashiro gathering held shortly after I had posted that the L.A. Times seemed poised to “push back” against its critics — including, possibly, me. Cathy told me that of course I should expect them to do that (and, basically, I shouldn’t whine about it). She was not mollified by my point that I had only a few hundred readers, while the paper commands a circulation of nearly a million, and has the power to seriously affect people’s reputations. Cathy’s feeling was, basically: tough. I was the one who chose to take on this powerful newspaper — and that’s all well and good, but I shouldn’t expect them not to fight back! [...]

The unifying theme of those conversations was that you have to be held accountable for what you say. Cathy believed strongly in that principle.

We need more like her.

23 March 2007 Blog Home : All March 2007 Posts : Permalink

Friday Olive Tree Blogging

The pruning continues apace and the top terrace of our garden is filled with bits that have been removed. We will be turning the thicker bits into firewood to burn in a year or two and the rest will be making an enormous bonfire. A couple of unpruned trees are in the background to show what the difference is

As always click on the image to see it enlarged and do look at other olive tree photos if you've missed them

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

The Imperfect Sarkozy

Stephen Pollard links to this piece in the European WSJ about Sarko. If you can't be bothered to read it allow me to summarize it as follows:

Sarko is often presented as a new, french Margaret Thatcher. He isn't, he's a greasy politician just like all the rest. In fact, despite his attempts to position himself as an outsider and maverick, he is actually the inheritor of the Chiracian tradition of dirigism.

I mostly agree. There are however some critical differences between Sarko and other French politicians.
  1. Unlike the left wing nutcases he actually understands things like economics and that therefore "incentives matter"
  2. Unlike l'Escroc, he does things. Chirac promised all sorts of things but delivered nothing. Sarko has been far more active in his time in government. Assuming he wins and his party also wins the parliamentary elections he is likely to do a lot.
He is not perfect. Far from it. Given a choice between Sarko and a real "liberale" for president I'd pick the latter any day. However politics is the art of the possible and Sarko is the closest thing to a reformer France has who looks electable.

Let me put it another way: he's by far the best of a bad bunch.

If Sego wins and follows through on her manifesto we might as well emigrate now, if Bayrou wins we merely have five more years of gradual decline. I shall ignore the far left and Le Pen because there is no way these fringe idiots will ever become president even if by some miracle they get into the runoff round. Sarko may or may not deliver on his manifesto and his manifesto may or may not be something that helps France but the chances are better than for Sarko delivering the required reforms than anyone else doing it. I am actually somewhat unconcerned about his statist impulses. In an ideal world he'd be a n open proud free-marketeer, unfortuately in France a persom like that is unelectable without massive changes of opinion by voters. Sarko may well want to be a free marketeer, but he also wants to become president this year and he knows that he won't become president if he espouses too much free-market liberalism.

With luck five years of Sarko will tilt the national dialog in the direction that allows for real reformers to come along at the next election. Who knows one of them might even be Sarko.

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

Mile High Sex Outside the Gates

Tim Worstall brings to my attention a news item concerning this radio station contest.

Love will literally be in the air for one lucky couple as a local English radio station offers a chance to join the mile high club over America.

Big L radio in the sleepy English coastal town of Frinton, some 60 miles northeast of London, is inviting couples for the next week to go on air and describe how they are growing old in a suitably disgraceful manner.

The winning couple, who will be selected by a panel of judges appointed by the radio station, will be flown to Atlanta, Georgia and put onboard a private plane equipped with champagne and a double bed to take to the air in amorous style.

Frinton is not normally a place where one discusses sex, and indeed given the average age of the inhabitants this is probably a good thing. Before this Frinton was notorious for its lack of pub (a lack rectified in 2000) and for the graffiti added to the BR advert about the Harwish Boat Train - original slogan "Harwich for the continent" to which was added "Frinton for the incontinent."

Fortunately for the blood pressure of numerous retired gentlefolk, such as my dear parents, the radio station's address is outside the gates - i.e. not within the proper upper class part of the town and thus presumably serves the more plebian surroundings such as Walton on the Naze. Although it has to be said that not all is as it should be within the gates - the local Gazette newspaper has an article about the attempts to stem the "yob culture" going on this week and a rock concert this weekend. I shall be visiting the place this weekend so an on the spot blog exclusive about the rock concert is entirely possible.

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

Anonymous Cowards

I have had quite a few hits on my post about the AutoAdmit boards and their anonymous commenters. Unfortunately it seems like those cowards are not the only ones, and even more unfortunately it seems like the anonymous cowards like picking on women. Some women, such as Michelle Malkin, Ann Althouse or for that matter Jill at Feministe, seem to be able to laugh it off most of the time but even they are clearly affected and not surprisingly so.

In that previous autoadmit post I wrote about the asymmetry of the internet where cowards are able to take advantage of the internet to hide them when they make comments about others. There is something else at work here, namely that it seems liek the worst threats are aimed at the ladies of the internet. I'm willing to bet that most of these anonymous scum are male, I also bet most of them are inadequate males with no serious self-esteem issues. Why? because the classic response to feeling inadequate and weak is to pick on someone weaker and, since women are generally physically weaker than men, these cowardly wimps pick on women that they feel threaten them. By far the best way to get these scumbags to stop will be to expose a few. It is amazing how these cowardly sorts will shut up if they think they can be identified. The anonymous nature of the internet is certainly one of its strengths in repressive countries, but it is becoming more and more of a liability in the free nations of the west. I'm not sure what to do about it but I suspect that the selective addition of more openness and publicity is likely to help a lot.

Other comments at feministe, majikthise, althouse, windsofchange, the Instapundit as well as techy bloggers like Robert Scoble and Roger van Oech.

28 March 2007 Blog Home : All March 2007 Posts : Permalink

Swedish Marketplaces

The reason why I have not been blogging much the last week or so is because I have been in Sweden on business. I'm not going to go into too much detail about the paid work save to say that it was to do with the various Fiber to the Home (FTTH) projects that Swedish municipalities are running. These are truly fascinating and something that the rest of the world - and particularly America with its worries about Net Neutrality - would do well to look at. Polly Pot would do well to look at them too because taking a look at the way these work might convince her that governments are not all-knowing and that markets are good.

Some history and background. In Sweden (and also in Norway) power is generally distributed via municipally owned and controlled companies. These companies are private entities but their shareholders are the local municpalities and hence, while they aren't supposed to make a loss, they aren't driven to maximise profit either. Typically they are small, relatively efficient and they rarely own the generating assets; as in the UK, these entities are merely the distributors of the power, making sure that the local grid is working. In addition to electrical power they may also distribute gas and heat and I think some also do water and sewerage - this depends on the municipality. Consumers in Sweden actually buy their electricity from a number of generating firms who pay these local companies to deliver it for them for a fee. In the late 1990s Sweden, for one reason or another, went fiber mad and all sorts of people started digging up the roads and fields to lay fiber to connect cities and districits and many also intended to connect individual houses or apartment buildings. This was the Internet bubble Scandinavian style, and as with the Internet bubble everywhere else, at some point the free money went away and with it, in most cases, the idea that FTTH was a viable (or even useful) technology.

However the bubble did mean that a number of municpal utilities had made significant investment in fiber before they hit the "oops" moment. Since these guys are not intended to make losses they needed to find a way to get some sort of return on the millions of krona they had invested without spending that much more. On the other hand they didn't need that return to be instant; a five to ten year horizon would be fine. On the gripping hand they couldn't sell the networks they had built because
  1. there were no buyers with money
  2. the networks usually needed a lot more expansion to be useful
The solution that they have come up with, pioneered as far as I can tell in Västerås by Mälarenergi and its Net City, is to adopt the electricity model and sell access to the ISPs, alternative voice providers etc. Intriguingly they also charge the business and homeowners to connect themselves to the network thus allowing for the rest of the network to be built without losing money. They have a rule that a neighbourhood will be connected when 60% of its owners have signed up and charge more for people who sign up late.

The connected households then have access to a high speed network and can choose service from any number of ISPs at a variety of speeds and at a price which is less than typical DSL conecntivity would be (while the service offered is faster). The service providers have access to their potential customers at a significantly lower cost that they would be if they had to get ot via DSL and Local Loop Unbundling or building their own fiber. The utility gets to make money and thus recovers its investment but does so without needing a large investment in staff to provide customer support (that is the job of the ISPs).

All in all it is a win-win-win situation and a market oriented one at that. I don't know how well this model would transfer to other countries but I think it might work for a number of places where local utilities are common or even where municpal authorities have the money to invest if they are not utility providers.

It would absolutely bugger the whiners at Verizon and other US telcos who think that municpal WiFi should be made illegal because it would take their arguments and turn them around. As the BBC reported about the philadelphia project:

When Dianah Neff announced the project she faced an immediate legal and lobbying onslaught from the giant telecommunications companies, led by Verizon.

It was alarmed that the government of America's fifth largest city was getting involved in wi-fi at all, and that the fees would be a fraction of the cost of a private fast internet connection, typically around $45-60 per month when bundled with a mandatory landline telephone service.

"There is a question here about whether the competition is fair when the government has advantages of borrowing money, owning and perhaps giving away real estate access, regulating and taxing us," said Eric Rabe of Verizon.

"If you are in a position where you can regulate and tax your competitor, it certainly gives you an advantage. That is a whole fairness question that I think ought to be worked through and thought about."

By providing a managed local network that service providers can use there is no argument about competition because any service provider can decide to use the network. It is therefore completely fair and also avoids the "waste" arguments because it has very low operational cost and the capital expenditure is paid for by the property owners.

28 March 2007 Blog Home : All March 2007 Posts : Permalink

Limited BBC Analysis on Iran

The BBC has a fairly long analysis article on the issue of Iran and the British Military Personnel who have been captured by the Iranians. You can tell that the analysis is going to be limited when you read:

So Tony Blair might well ratchet up the language to sound tougher if this goes on. He has already said that the row will move to a "different phase" if there is no breakthrough.

So what options are open to him?

Force is out. It is seen as counterproductive. Instead, Mr Blair could release the data, from GPS satellite locators and radar traces, which should show where the British party was when it was taken.

Why is "force" not on the agenda? Why is it counterproductive? Simply stating this as a fact is not exactly informative. Indeed the options are clearly limited since, as the article notes Iranhasn't exactly responded constructively to other non-force options. In fact the article makes it fairly clear that since "force is out" there is really only one option: grovelling appeasement. And even that is not necessarily going to be successful.

However, if Britain creates a lot of sound and fury, Iran can respond. It is good at playing that game and the risk is that the Iranian government would simply exploit the incident for even longer.

The Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a master of rhetoric and riposte. He has shown a ready defiance of the UN Security Council over Iran's enrichment of uranium. He thrives on a confrontation.

Hence ruling out force seems to be akin to trying to fight hand-to.hand with one hand tied behind your back. Sure you may manage a one handed judo throw and defeat your opponent but the chances of success are fare higher if you can use both hands. I don't say that force need involve a full scale attack on Iran, although if the location of the prisoners is identified a raid to remove them and destroy the place they have been held would seem reasonable, but I do think that a number of forcefull measures could easily be taken. For example enforcing a blockade on petroleum imports and inspecting all ships leaving Iranian waters with extreme vigor and destroying/capturing at any Iranian craft that attempts to interfere in these measures. Other measures could include asking the Iraqis to start trying and then executing some of the 300+ Iranians who have been caught in Iraq doing things they shouldn't. Sure this has a disadvantage in that it may provoke harm to the 15 captured sailors, but it might well stop Iran from doing the same again which is, in my opinion, far more important.

In fact it is worth pointing out that the "analysis" article barely mentions reasons why Iran should have decided to capture these prisoners. It does mention that Iran might want a prisoner swap but fails to mention all the other details about Iran funding Iraqi militias, the supply of weapons etc. etc. Even if you read this timeline of British-Iranian relations you have no idea that Iran has been accused multiple times of meddling in Iraq and particularly in Basra.

28 March 2007 Blog Home : All March 2007 Posts : Permalink

Paris Riots And Elections (episode 94)

Roger L Simon links to an AP story (which I have found in the Grauniad) about recent unrest at Paris' Gare du Nord. Trouble seems to have erupted when a fare-dodger was apprehended. According to the officials:

Officials from Paris' RATP public transport authority said the violence started after a man without a Metro ticket punched two inspectors during a routine ticket check. Youths also attacked the inspectors and later turned on police patrolling the station, officials said.

``The inspectors were hit with projectiles, as were the officers who came to assist them,'' said Luc Poignant, an official for the Force Ouvriere police union.

Needless to say the "youths" disagreed somewhat:

But youths at the station said Tuesday's clashes started when police manhandled a young person of North African origin. Some claimed that the youth's arm was broken in the confrontation.

In other words the "youths" felt that their fare dodging mate should not have been arrested. This is not noticeably different from the spark for the previous riots when the two kids got electrocuted under disputed circumstances. However that is not what I found most interesting. What is interesting is the identity of the various witnesses quoted by AP.

Firstly there is "Commuter Cyril Zidou, a 24-year-old electrician", then there is "Another commuter, Guy Elkoun" and thirdly there is "Shopkeeper Mohamed Mamouni". All three of these names are distinctly non-French, i.e. it seems highly likely that all three are of immigrant background. At least two, and probably all three, of them are apparently gainfully employed and therefore not the stereotypical unemployed immigrant that some sections of the media and the blogosphere would have you believe is the entire population of the Parisian suburbs. These people are in fact the ones most affected by the lawless "youths" and they are the ones that the rest of France needs to ensure stays loyal to France for the state to continue to rule the entire nation.

As Roger says, the article makes it clear that the "youths" have never really stopped rioting, the news media stopped covering it when the worst rioting stopped but nothing much else has changed. This means that the divide between the unemployed (and frequently unemployable) youths and the rest remains. And this in turn means that even though the riot isn't directly related to the elections if unrest continues it is likely to have an effect on the polls. What effect is unclear.

Sarko can probably do a slopey shoulders trich to weasel his way out of responsibility for the continuing problems but he may be better advised to not do so. Part of his appeal is that he is willing to act and take responsibility for his acts so in this case he may want to take responsibility for failure to act completely as interior minister and then promsie to do better as president. While he has not yet done that, so far he seems to be the only candidate willing to stand up and say something (google translation on right):
PARIS (AP) - "Si la police n'est pas là pour faire régner un minimum d'ordre, quel est le rôle de la police?", s'est interrogé Nicolas Sarkozy mercredi matin au lendemain des violences à la gare du Nord, à Paris.

"Nous sommes le seul pays où on considère qu'arrêter quelqu'un parce qu'il ne paie pas son billet, ce n'est pas normal", a estimé sur France Info le candidat UMP à la présidentielle et ancien ministre de l'Intérieur. "Ce sont les contribuables qui paient quand il y a de la fraude. Il y a des millions de braves gens qui achètent leur ticket chaque matin, qui doivent être respectés".

"La démocratie c'est un minimum d'ordre, de respect, d'autorité, de tranquillité", a encore affirmé Nicolas Sarkozy. "On ne peut simplement pas être tout le temps du côté de ceux qui se moquent de la loi et qui se moquent des règlements. Le principe, c'est quand même qu'on ne doit pas donner raison à celui qui veut passer sans billet, et qui frappe un policier". AP
PARIS (AP) - “If the police force isn't there to make reign a minimum of order, which is the role of the police force? ”, questioned Nicolas Sarkozy Wednesday morning the shortly after violences at the station of North, in Paris.

“We are the only country where it is considered that to stop somebody because it does not pay its ticket, it is not normal”, estimated on France Information the UMP candidate with presidential and former Minister of Interior Department. “They are the taxpayers who pay when there is fraud. There is million good people who buys their ticket each morning, which must be respected”.

“The democracy it is a minimum of order, respect, authority, peace”, still affirmed Nicolas Sarkozy. “One cannot simply be all the time side of those which make fun of the law and which makes fun of the payments. The principle, it is nevertheless that one should not give reason to that which wants to pass without ticket, and which strikes a police officer”. AP

Sego and Bayrou will undoubtedly want to find a way to blame Sarko and the UMP for the mess but still come up with a solution that appeals. This is going to be tricky and that probably explains why, so far today, they have remained quiet. Of course the real fix would be to cut state benefits, taxes, social security charges and emplyoment regulations so that companies have an incentive to hire the "youths" for real money. Unfortunately, as I noted yesterday, this is unlikely to be stated publically even by Sarko because the majority of the French are simply not ready for such plain speaking and will not vote for someone who wants to do that. Sarko is by no means the ideal candidate but he is quite simply the best of the ones we've got. Unless you subscribe to the Cthulu for President principle, it makes sense to support Sarko because while he may or may not reform France the other candidates are sure not to do so.

Update: Good comemntary over at Eursoc too

29 March 2007 Blog Home : All March 2007 Posts : Permalink

Timothy Garton Ash - Dead Right

This is one of those blog post titles that I thought I would never write. I was in fact dangerously close to writing that Polly Pot was right on gambling, but fortunately Tim W pointed out the errors so I was saved from that. However I don't think that even Tim will find much to complain about in Timothy GA's piece on EU reactions to Iran's seizure of RN personnel. It is worth reading the whole thing but I'll just excerpt the first and last few paras:

Last week, while the European Union celebrated 50 years of peace, freedom and solidarity, 15 Europeans were kidnapped from Iraqi territorial waters by Iranian Revolutionary Guards. As I write, those 14 European men and one European woman have been held at an undisclosed location for nearly a week, interrogated, denied consular access, but shown on Iranian television, with one of them making a staged "confession", clearly under duress. So if Europe is as it claims to be, what's it going to do about it? Where's the solidarity? Where's the action?

[...]Iran is Germany's third-largest beneficiary of export credit guarantees, outdone only by Russia and China. Iran comes second to none in terms of the proportion of German exports - in recent years up to 65% - underwritten by the German government.

The total government underwriting commitment in 2005 was €5.8bn (£3.9bn), more than for Russia or China. As the squeeze grows on Iran from UN sanctions and their knock-on effects, and as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fails to deliver on his populist economic promises, this European trade becomes ever more vital for the Iranian regime - and ever more dependent on European government guarantees to counterbalance the growing political risk.

[...]So here's a challenge for the German presidency of the European Union: will you put your money where your mouth is? Or are all your Sunday speeches about European solidarity in the cause of peace and freedom not even worth the paper they are written on?

As he points out in the middle, the Royal Navy is inspecting ships under a completely accepted UN mandate and it is seeking to embargo weapons which would seem to be something that everyone could agree is a good idea. In other words anyone who thinks that "the British had it coming" is sayng that any attempt by western powers to enforce UN resolutions by force is unacceptable. Not only that but the EU has made frequent claims that its "soft power" can achieve results that US "hard power" cannot. So far its record with Iran has been pretty dismal, this would seem to be a good opportunity to show that "soft power" has some teeth. Alternatively we can correctly assume that the EU's claims of common security and foreign policy are merely gestures.

I think you can guess which way I'm leaning.

29 March 2007 Blog Home : All March 2007 Posts : Permalink

Early Friday Olive Tree Blogging

As I shall be popping over to Blighty tomorrow to check up on the decadent goings on in Frinton I thought I should post this early. One advantage of the major pruning of the trees in our garden has been the amount of olive wood we now have for burning or possibly other uses. Logs like these two for example.

As always click on the photo to see it enlarged and do look at older Friday Olive Tree Blogging images if you missed them.

29 March 2007 Blog Home : All March 2007 Posts : Permalink

The Hugos are here - vote Baen

As reported by Patrick Nielson Hayden, the Hugo nomnees list has been published. Despite my hopes for a Baensweep, there are almost no Baen entries on the shortlist. I shall be fascinated to see the voting report to see how many Baen things were nominated.

Anyone who has a membership and is therefore eligable to vote is strongly encouraged (by me) to vote for Jim Baen as Long form editor. I will probably also be voting for Mike Resnick's Novelette and I expect I'll be voting for Mr Scalzi for fan writer since I've never heard let alone read any of the others.

I haven't read or watched any of the other nominees so its going to be tough. I hope that, as last year, most of the entries will be available electronically because if not I shall just be voting for people like Mr Stoss who has made some of his work available.

PS Talking of Stoss he has an absolutely must read essay on DRM and eBooks.

I despise l'Escroc and Vile Pin