L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

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

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

The Hunt For Cecilia and Other Tales

Tonight we get what will, I think, be the key to the French presidential elections - the TV debatre between Sego and Sarko. I'm going to watch and provide commentary afterwards but this is really the place where either campaign could collapse. My hope is that the errors will be made by the "gaffe-prone" Sego but it is far from impossible that Sarko will insert foot in mouth in some disastrous way. Anticipated viewership for this debate which is broadcast on two TV channels is expected to be over 20M or, in other words, 1/3rd of France. Given that the race is close with Sarko having no more than a slight edge, any perceived goof by either candidate is likely to be fatal.

So no pressure then.

Of course, and this is really really important, because some 20M will watch it, the spinners will have a hard time conducting post debate spin to "clarify" points. Critically the journalists and pundts are going to need to show considerable dexterity if they are not to appear to have a sinister agenda of their own. (And yes there is a most excellent double entendre in that sentence)

Everyone knows that this debate is key so the coverage of the 2nd round race up to now has been bland and minimal. Le Pen told his voters not to vote for either candidate, whereas the loony lefties have told their voters to back Royal. The campaigns made the usual predictable statements with regard to May day. And the cartoonist Delize made a far better comment (although I suspect the Karcher company could do without the cartoon):
Cleaning up on may 1

Le Pen also brought up something that has been murmured about here and there, namely the invisibility of Cecilia Sarkozy recently. To the extent that any one in France cares I think that this whispering campaign is likely to do Sarko more good than harm. Everyone knows that Sego's non-hubby is supremely dischuffed about seeing his "partner" become president and everyone knows that Sarko and spouse have been having a somewhat rocky marriage. So one suspects that the majority of French voters, to the extent that they give a damn about the story will perceive it as the sinister machinations of the establishment against Sarko. Much the same, it seems to me, applies to a good deal of the other commentary on the campaign to date.

Another uninteresting non-story in the camapign has been the Bayrou "won't go away" story. After coming third, Bayrou wanted to have TV debates with both Sego and Sarko, Sego agreed, Sarko didn't and pointed out that Bayou has lost and was therefore irrelevant to the 2nd round. This meant that the TV channel was asked stop the Sego-Bayrou debate on the grounds that equal time laws meant that Sarko would need to have an equivalent media slot and he didn't want one. There was all sorts of whispering about Sarko putting pressure on the TV channel etc etc all of which conveniently overlooked the critical point which was that Sarkozy saw no need to suck up to Bayrou. In fact Sarko has made minimal attempts to suck up to either Le Pen or Bayrou voters. He has hinted that Sego is nutty left and that therefore it makes sense to vote for him but he hasn't done the sort of policy change that people predicted he would do. Essentially he has staked out his policy platform and said "take it or leave it"

This brings me back to two points I have made before. Despite all the huffing and puffing about being the first female candidate, Sego really is little different from any other French politician over the last 50 years in both attitude and policies, whereas Sarko, although at least as ambitious as any other pol, is actually looking to change things. The French establishment probably fears Sarko more than Sego and the commentariat has been (accidentally) making their biases on this issue clear for months and at least some part of the French electorate has realized this. If the French electorate really wants change Sarko will be voted in.


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

Me and Mitt Romney

For some reason Mitt Romney told someone that his favourite book is "Battlefield Earth" and this is causing a certain amount of disbelief / hilarity. Now I understand that part of the problem is, as usual, the coverup, but let's go back to the initial statement.

When asked his favorite novel in an interview shown yesterday on the Fox News Channel, Mitt Romney pointed to “Battlefield Earth,” a novel by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. That book was turned into a film by John Travolta, a Scientologist.

A spokesman said later it was one of Mr. Romney’s favorite novels.
“I’m not in favor of his religion by any means,” Mr. Romney, a Mormon, said. “But he wrote a book called ‘Battlefield Earth’ that was a very fun science-fiction book.” Asked about his favorite book, Mr. Romney cited the Bible.

The perceived problem is that Battlefield Earth was written by L Ron Hubbard - the founder of Scientology - and is therefore, apparently, beyond the pale. Well bang goes my presidential ambitions them since I have a well thumbed copy of Battlefield Earth - a copy which I bought over 20 years ago and which I still reread from time to time because I enjoy it.

Battlefield Earth is not a serious work of literature. It isn't meant to be. In his introduction* His Elronness says explicitly that he wrote the book because he liked the idea of rip-roaring escapism. The book isn't perfect, personally I think the book should have been split into two or three separate books because there are two obvious moments where a break could have been made and it has a few continuity style errors that gripe, but it is far from the worst SF book I've ever read and far more enjoyable than most of the acceptable, primarily non-fiction, works that appear on Romney's Facebook (screenshot for the unregistered). I think Huck Finn is probably better, although I've reread Battlefield Earth more times than Mr Twain's classic, but the rest of the works listed would probably make great bedside reading for insomniacs but I can't otherwise see their attraction once you've read them once.

So why the animus against Battlefield Earth? Obviously the problem is that Scientology aspect, which is stupid. I took the book on an exchange/homestay trip to Germany as a teenager and learned about scientology and Mr Hubbard because some kind German gentleman wanted to explain to me how evil the Elronners are when he saw me reading it. It seems to me that he falls into the same category as these more recent critics, people who judge the book based on their preconceptions of the author; I have read a number of accounts of the litigiousness and basic nastiness of the Scientology cult but I'm damned if I see what that has to do with the book. The book barely touches on religion, and to the extent that secret cults get involved they are the baddies who hoodwink the enire Psychlo race into getting some stuff in their heads that makes them crazy, not something that is a rousing defense on whacky pseudosientific beliefs. In other words if Battlefield Earth is a subtle recruitment tool for the Scientology it's a very subtle one.

Perhaps the feeling is that one should not read works by authors with whom on deisagrees on politics/religion. This is, to put it bluntly, silly. It seems to be a belief that most often manifests itself on the lefty side of the political spectrum where, as a result, people ignore great writers such as Kipling because he is perceived to be an Imperial apologist, but it is also visible on the right. It's their loss of course because good authors are able to separate their own political feelings from those of their characters or the events they portray, but that doesn't seem to stop otherwise rational people from limiting their choice of reading material in this way.

So what about the book? The Wikipedia plot summary that Ann Althouse links to is accurate but misses the point. As Ms Althouse says:

Romney is quoted as saying it's "a very fun science-fiction book," but mining, banking, coffins... Hard to tell from that summary what the fun is (unless it's the sheer childishness of it all).

As it happens the story is a classic coming of age adventure story. The hero defeats the villains, gets the girl and almost everyone lives happily ever after. It addresses almost no serious topics and the "science" in it ranges from poor to laughably wrong so to that extent it is childish, but it is far from alone in that - Harry Potter, to pick a book totally not at random, is much the same and we don't denigrate people for liking HP. In fact in its simplistic way it may have a few messages that have relevance in today's world such as the ineffectiveness of international bodies, the power of bankers and the way that power vacuums get filled. So while I'd not read it looking for a message I don't think it is quite mindless escapism and I definitely agree with Mr. Romney that it is a "a very fun science-fiction book".

* The introductory essay is fascinating for lots of reasons and the part of it to do with plot and characterization could stand to be read by everyone in the book trade who wonders why angst-filled plotless so-called novels don't sell. It also has an excellent division of SF and Fantasy summarised as: "science fiction, to be credible, has to be based on some degree of plausibility, fantasy gives you no limits at all." I cannot say I totally agree, as some of the fantasy of the last few years is definitely based on some sort of semi-scientific plausibility, but I think his basic point is correct.

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

American/Koran Legal Relations

Or abusing the juducial system for revenge and profit. Two examples

In Washington DC the Korean owners of a Dry Cleaners are being taken to the legal cleaners by judge who claims they lost his trousers and therefore failed the "Service Guarranteed" and "Same Day Service" notices they had stuck up. This has to go down as one of the most fivolous lawsuits of all time, especially as said judge has refused out of court settlements of $12,000 and to take back the trousers once they were found. As various commenters at Orin Kerr's post on the suit say the more you read about this case the more it makes one wonder why the plaintiff is a judge since he seems to lack judgement.

Meanwhile in Korea turnabout seems to be unfair play with, as both the Marmot and the Metropolitician report, a blogger being accused of defamation because he blogged the details involved in extracting the money he was owed by his former employer. Said employer doesn't like the fact that the blogger publicised the way she resisted the law and has filed criminal charges against him.

In the US case one suspects that eventually the judge is going to lose, and then get sued into the ground and possibly disbarred for being an idiot. In the Korean case, however, it seems rather less likely that the forces of good will prevail since the blogger is having trouble finding afforable competant legal representation.

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

Insecurity Through Non-obscurity

The terribly smart people at the MPAA are upset with the propagation of a collection of hexadecimal digits. The digits in question are the ones in this google search and the MPAA and co are upset because these digits are the unlock processing key for most (all?) HD-DVDs produced to date. In other words knowledge of this key is a major help if you want to violate the DRM that your HD-DVD was shipped with. The MPAA were rather upset and sent a number of DMCA based desist letters to sites including Digg that had the naughty code published. I think it is fair to say that this idea backfired in a big way. The users of Digg were rather upset and managed to make the string of digits pretty much the only story you could find on Digg until the Digg management capitulated and news of their indiggnation has now spread elsewhere in cyberspace.

One suspects that a lot of people, e.g. Law Profs, are going to pontificate and lots of journalists (e.g. one Alibi Brownshirt) and other reactionaries will use this as yet another excuse for ignoring or trying to ban the Internet. All of this is basically sound and fury signifying nothing. There are two basic rules that this event illustrates:

The first is that "security through obscurity" is the grown up equivalent of hiding under the bedclothes during a thunderstorm. If the MPAA, the studios and the HD-DVD standards folks thought that having a single secret encryption key that would be in millions of products made by hundreds of manufacturers would remain secure they were, at best, kidding themselves. At worst whoever thought this would be a secure system would appear to be guilty of criminal negligence and/or stupidity.

The second rule, one that has been forgotten by the MPAA repeatedly, is that laws are only enforceable if the population at large is willing to enforce them. Laws that are not accepted tend to lead to mass protest movements, civil disobedience, and critically bring the whole body of related law into disrepute. Despite everything the MP Ass of A and its friend the RI Ass of A have tried, the general public simply does not see copyright violation and DRM cracking as anything other than something they have a right to do with products they have purchased. And the general public seems to feel that, in the spiriti of being hung for a sheep rather than a lamb, if they are being treated as potential criminals by the content vendors they might as well be actual criminals and suport other criminals.

There is a third rule that this is also likely to illustrate, the one about the coverup being worse than the crime. If the MP Ass A continue to send legal notices to sites all over the place they will make more and more people aware of how stupid the copyright laws and DRM are. From the point of view of someone like me who thinks that the major publishers abuse copyright law to the detriment of society this can only be a good thing, but I rather doubt the investors in companies like Disney or Sony will appreciate the fact that the reform to copyright that will arise was caused by the actions of the companies themselves and their proxies.


03 May 2007 Blog Home : All May 2007 Posts : Permalink

Boy That Was Exciting - NOT!

The great TV debate yesterday was quite astoundingly boring. Both sides played it safe and won support from their existing supporters but I can't see either picking up many votes from the other or from hitherto undecided voters.

Sarko was on his best behaviour and Sego showed she could waffle with the best of them. There were a couple of moments when the sparks sort of flew but for the most part Sego attacked Sarko and Sarko showed his gentlemanly side and failed to get in the killing rejoinders that he could have in return. On the other hand he made his two points more than once that
  1. Sego was dogding the difficult questions and changing the subject all the time and
  2. She was failing to explain how her sums add up because they don't
I think it is fair to say we learned nothing new. Sarko had most of the figures, although Sego did manage a couple of statistics to prove that she isn't totally emppy headed. Sego attacked Sarko on his record in government and Sarko failed to point out the way I would have that at least he HAD a record in government; Sego was minister for women (or something equally pointless) once and, as far as I can tell, did practically nothing whereas Sarko has been minister of the Interior and of Finance and been highly active in both.

The one thing I will note, not from the debate, is the "playing the man not the ball" tactics of the socialists. I touched on that a bit yesterday and Charles Bremner has some other examples. I'm not sure how these tactics are going to come across to the French electorate but I suspect that they are likely to backfire. Sarko makes no attempt to ingratiate himself and attacks on his person rather than his policies seem likely to be perceived as "the establishment kicking the outsider", a position that Sarko wants. Certainly French people I have talked to seem to think that the establishment politicians hate Sarko and that this only makes him more attractive. My only problem is that I live in a part of France that is solidly pro-Sarko - the PACA region voted about 45% for Sarko and had a good deal of Le Pen votes too so it is entirely possible that the French people I know are unrepresentative of the rest of France. I guess we'll find out on Sunday...


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

Friday Olive Tree Blogging

It always amazes me when I see healthy growing olive trees with large holes at ground level such as this one. I found it in an old and unmaintained grove in Villeneuve Loubet but there are numerous examples to be found all over the place - in fact I thought I had another example in the Olive Tree Blogging archives somewhere but I can't find it so maybe not.

As always click on the image if you want to see it in greater detail.


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

Sloppy Reporting Kills Internet2

The Instapundit linked to a network world story about a network outage caused by a fire with the following snark:

INTERNET I; Designed to survive a nuclear war; survived 9/11, Katrina, numerous other diasasters.

Internet II: Taken out by a homeless man with a cigarette.

The snark is misleading and is rather like saying "tanker fire destroy interstate system, railways manage fine" when referring to this incident. The story doesn't explicitly mention it but it seems clear that, as with the SF bridge oil tanker fire I linked to, a major route was taken out because of the fire but that the rest of the network functioned just fine. I have no doubt that traffic between NY and Boston on Internet2 went via somewhere else (DC, Cleveland and Bufffalo probably according to this map) in the interim, just as traffic across the Bay Bridge between SF and Oakland was rerouted via San Mateo or somewhere. There is, however one difference between the Internet2 and the Interstate system: unlike the SF bridge which is going to take years to repair, the Internet2 service was restored in about 4 hours.

Mind you the technical network geek in me wonders why Internet2 and/or its cable providers apparently don't have redundant paths that would cut in within milliseconds of the primary path going down. Given that a bridge is a pretty large single point of failure Level3 should have had an alternative route somewhere IMO. Obviously the Internet2 isn't intended (at present) to be a network carrying life or wealth critical information becuase those networks tend to have multiple layers of redundancy (actually sometimes they have too many but that is a whole other story).

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

Is Global Warming A Media Myth?

Vote for me on Love To Lead The chaps at Lovetolead are asking this. My answer is

NO

Global Warming is happening. Therefore it is not a myth. However, having said that much there are a lot of myths going around about global warming which seem to have a dubious basis in reality and which are cheerfully reported by the media.

The first myth is that the global warming we are experiencing today is exceptional. There is plenty of evidence to show that in any number of times in the geologically recent past the temperature has been considerably higher than it is now. There is also evidence that temperatures during the middle ages were higher (or as high) as they are today - the most obvious piece being the viking's setting up farms on Greenland.

The scond myth is like unto it, namely this, that humans are the prime cause of global warming. Again evidence for this is extremely mixed, to put it bluntly. The fact that previous episodes of global warming did not have a human cause is not prima facie evidence that this one is also not caused by humans, but it is suggestive. Other evidence, such as the warming of Mars, seems to indicate that humans and human activity are far from being the only cause. Even if we ignore the sun, our understanding of the impact of volcanoes, algal blooms and so on on the global climate is less than definite. About the only thing that we do know that the weather is a chaotic system and hence that modelling is unlikely to work except in vague terms.

The third myth is that the only way to reduce global warming is to reduce levels of CO2 by stopping the burning of fossil fuels. Even assuming that CO2 is the worst greenhouse gas (by no means a given) and that humans are driving the majority of CO2 emission growth (also far from certain) fossil fuels are only a part of the problem. Everytime we burn some wood and everytime a cow farts the atmospheric level of greenhouse gasses increases, as it does every time we plant paddies of rice or do any number of other agricultural or semi-agricultural tasks. A mass clearence of subsistance and semi-subsistence farmers, that is sending most of them to cities and then replacing their output with efficient cash-crop agriculture would probably do as much to reduce greehouse gas emissions as anything else.

The fourth myth is that economic growth automatically leads to global warming. This derivative myth comes from combining all three above and is flat out nuts. It seems likely in fact that raising subsistence farmers and slum-dwellers out of poverty is likely to singificantly reduce global warming because they won't do slash and burn agriculture, they will have effiicently insulated homes and will use efficient electric lights instead of kerosene lamps and so on.

The fifth myth is about the effects of global warming. Sea-level rise being a good example of an overhyped effect.

However having said all that I am all in favour of reducing fossil fuel usage and hence CO2 emissions where sensible. The most obvious way to do this is to look at alternative methods of electric power generation (nuclear obviously but geothermal solar etc. also make sense). In my opinion reducing the world's dependance on fossil fuels would have all sorts of collateral benefits such as stopping funding for all sorts of terrorism and reduce the hold countries like Russia have over the rest of the world. And to reinterate it seems that global warming is not a myth. The myths are that humans are responsible for it and that we should all become peasants to solve it.


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

Riots If Sarko Wins?

Ségolène Royal, threatens a violent uprising if conservative Nicolas Sarkozy wins the French presidency on Sunday.

"Choosing Nicolas Sarkozy would be a dangerous choice," Royal told RTL radio.

"It is my responsibility today to alert people to the risk of (his) candidature with regards to the violence and brutality that would be unleashed in the country (if he won)," she said.

Pressed on whether there would actually be violence, Royal said: "I think so, I think so," referring specifically to France's volatile suburbs hit by widespread rioting in 2005.

 Big Lizards worries that this could be something similar to the Mexican election where Manuel Lopez Obrador refused to accept the result. Even if there are riots I think he's wrong that Sego will use them or their threat to claim that the election is invalid for two reasons.
  1. The Mexicans have had lots and lots of rumours about rigged elections. Even though the most recent election was actually fairer than any previous one this background means that people can believe that the election is rigged. Such an environment does not exist in France so the "we woz robbed" justification won't fly
  2. Sego isn't threatening violence rather warning that some people in the suburbs will riot. In other words she won't be out in the front of the barricades when the riots happen. And she isn't alone in worrying that the banlieues will be upset.
As it happens, Powerline links to a WaPo story that provides evidence that some of the residents themselves think a riot would be a good idea if Sarko is elected.

Calina, the son of immigrants from Senegal, voiced the concern of many here: "There are going to be riots if Sarkozy is elected.[...]

"Tony Essono, 32, an unemployed economist whose parents emigrated from Cameroon before he was born, said that despite years of anger and discrimination, people in La Courneuve were willing to put their faith in the ballot box "because they understand they can change something" by voting. But, he added, "if Sarkozy is elected, it means we haven't been heard, and we'll trash everything."

So, will the suburbs explode in violence again? Possibly, but probably any riot will be little more than the usual weekend fun and games. It is worth recalling that we've already had the riot at the Gare du Nord this year and that every night cars are torched in suburbs all over France so any "explosion of anger" is likely to be more in the eyes of the beholder than anywhere else.

More to the point I think that doing so will not directly aid their cause, although paradoxically it may end up helping a great deal. If there are riots then Sarko will use them to push through reforms that the rioters and their socialist sympathisers object to. As the WaPo article explains:

[Some residents] believe[s] the violence is a result of poor education, high unemployment, inadequate housing and low-paying jobs. Sarkozy, with his promises of tax cuts and free-market reforms, "wants the rich to be richer and the poor to work harder"

If Sarko is able to use the riots as a way to push through these reforms without too many protests from the usual left wing nut cases then the riots will have been a good thing. There is no doubt that those who object to his ideas do indeed think that they will just make the rich richer and the poor work harder, but given that France, and particulalry the poor French banlieues, have a huge unemployment rate making the poor work hard could be as simple as making the unemployed work. This would of course drastically cut unemployment and be  something that everyone agrees would be a good idea, even though many of them reject the welfare reform and "macjob" approach to doing so.


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

Cracking News for HD-DVDs

If there was a group of people for whom the last two weeks have been about as bad as can be then the folks who run AACS-LA are the ones. It started off with internet user "indiggnation" at the idea that a number should be a secret and has been getting progressively worse. As a result of their loss of Diggnity, the AACS Licensing Authority (AACS LA), that is the folks in charge of the HD-DVD cryptography, have been doing the King Cnut thing and threatening to sue all and sundry to stop their secret spreading anymore. As I and many many others have said, this is a counterproductive strategy because all you do is draw attention to the fact that there is something valuable that you want to hide. As the Ars Technica areticle I linked to above explains, we went through all this when DVDs were introduced and DeCSS showed up. The article concludes:

The AACS LA has missed the lesson of DeCSS: the Internet holds no secrets. While one might sympathize with their predicament, the larger lesson to be learned here is that security based on secrets is truly no more secure than any other form of security. Once that secret is out, it's game over. The more you try to stop that secret from spreading, the more likely it is to spread. The more coveted that secret is, the worse it gets.

When "DVD Jon" was targeted for his involvement of DeCSS, geeks around the world rallied around him and the idea of DeCSS. If the AACS isn't careful, they'll simply make another generation of hero out of a problem they created. What makes it even more deplorable this time is that it's now 2007, and the writing is on the wall: DRM is a failed idea, and a waste of time and money.

I have some sympathy for people who make a mistake once. I have zero sympathy for people who make the exact same mistake a second time. The DeCSS saga showed that any DRM security has a problem, everyone has to be able to decrypt the stuff so every reader has to have the key in there somewhere. Given that, why would anyone think that a more complex kind of security scheme would fare any better?

Perhaps worst of all, all this attention means that people like me pay more attention to AACS related stories and so I come across this second older Ars Technica item which seems to indicate that the whole key revocation plan that was supposed to handle the "secret's out" issue is not going to work. This does not come as a surprise to me and it shouldn't have come as a surprise to the AACS-LA and their pals. Why not? Because of the way the internet changes economics and the incentives for the sorts of people who tend to crack these things.

Let me explain. The internet, as should be obvious, is pretty much a "gift" culture. That is to say the way you demonstrate your status on the internet is to give stuff away to others. This is how/why open source works not to mention wikipedia and all those volunteer fora where newbies can ask questions about anything and get a knowledgeable response. One reason why the internet is a gift culture is that the cost of being generous is very low. Unlike in the physical world, handing someone an electronic duplicate of something costs essentially 0 so it is easy to give stuff away. However everyone knows that the cost of duplication is low so the value acrues to people who make something difficult available and this in turn means that the harder an encyption algorithm is the more likely it is that people will try and crack it because they gain more status by doing so. As Charlie Stross pointed out in his excellent ebook rant in March:

Books that come up most often are either scanned and OCRd paper copies, or cracks of DRM-locked ebooks. If you look at the posters' activities in terms of proving status within a gift economy this makes sense; OCRing a book or cracking DRM takes time and effort, and is a demonstration of putting effort into something — it's a high value activity. Whereas posting something you grabbed off Baen's library of for-free books, or paid $5 for is just stupid — it's like turning up to a a wine and cheese evening your friends are running on a "bring a bottle" basis with a bottle of Buckfast or Mad Dog 20/20. It's cheesy, tasteless, and looks cheap, and that's how the ebook pirate elite will view you.

In other words the more fiendish the DRM the greater the status that results from being able to provide a cracked copy of it. I can't see any reason why the whole AACS scheme will not be vulnerable to it and a certain amount of evidence (from the cracker's own words) that this is exactly how the crackers see it - an intellectual challenge more than anything else.

Of course the worst thing is that once a crack has been created everyone else now has a choice. Some few minutes googling and following instructions or going out to amazon.com and buying the DVD. If the price is low enough then we'll go to amazon. If it's too high then it becomes worthwhile searching on the internet.

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

C'est President Sarko!

Charles Bremner, the Wapping Liar's Paris correspondent blogs the result.

Despite all the warnings of imminent havoc from Ségolène Royal, his run-off opponent, and the left, the French have given a solid mandate to Sarko the Hungarian immigrant's son to apply the radical medicine that he has been prescribing for the country's ills.

According to early estimates, Sarko has won 54 percent of the vote and Royal 46 percent with a very high turnout of about 85 percent.  When word of the exit polls arrived, cheering erupted among Sarkozy's supporters, gathered in a concert hall where he is to make a victory speech

Police are out in force around Paris and the big cities in case of rioting by poor immigrant youths upset at the victory of the man they hold responsible for their ills. Bus-loads of riot police are assembled near the Place de la Concorde, at the foot of the Champs Elysées where a stage is being erected for Sarkozy's victory celebration. Johnny Hallyday, the national rock idol for over four decades has come from his Swiss tax exile to appear alongside Sarko and their mates.

54:46 is not the overwhelming mandate we might have wanted but it is certainly clear enough that no one is going to seriously contest the result as being stolen or whatever. And with an 85% turnout we don't even have to worry about people claiming that the apathy vote won.

The riots and strikes may now begin. It will be almost as fascinating to see whether the trades unionists and assorted commies go on strike as it will be to see if the "youths" try to burn cars. It will also be amusing to see what the congratulatory messages from fellow EU leaders etc. say and what the chattering classes write.

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

French Election Analysis

Some day after thoughts.
Firstly the "blood in the streets" things seems to have been slightly overhyped. Yes some anarchists rioted here and there with claims that Sako is a Fascist, but the banlieues failed to explode in an orgy of rioting and protest as certain folks hoped predicted. Perhaps they will do so tonight?

One thing I notice is that whether or not Karcher wish to be associated with Sarko, the cartoonists have tied the two together - both Delize and the swiss Chappatte have Karcher related drawings today:
A victory for Karcher A victory for Karcher - 2
Over at the swiss site LeTemps (which has the Chappatte cartoon linking their lead article) there is an excellent interactive graphic showing how each department voted. Although the chart makes it looks like a sea of UMP blue outside of, Brittany, the SW and centre, looking at the numbers makes it clear that in most departments voters were well split between the two.
Breakdown of the vote by department
The department I live in - Alpes Maritimes - is, as far as I can tell, the most pro-Sarko of any, with a 68% to 32% vote for Sarko. In what looks like the most socialist department - Ariège (on the Spanish border - S of Toulouse) - Sego won by 59.5% to 40.5% but there are any number of departments where the vote was much closer - 51% or 52% to 49% or 48% to one candidate or the other. So yes Sarko has his mandate and it is far clearer than some others (e.g. Bush in 2000, Merkel) but it isn't perhaps as sweeping a one as he might have hoped for. [It was however pretty much exactly what the opinion polls predicted so no embarrassments for the pollsters]
 
Of course the president will have to wait for the results of the upcoming general parliamentary election before he can do anything major, such as take on the unions. The unions have made menacing noises about strikes to fight any proposals he may make to change the laws about industrial action so we will see if they are stupid enough to try some pre-emptive strikes before the elections. I say stupid enough because, as far as I can tell, the best way to get more people to vote for Sarko's UMP would be for the unions and other nutters of the far left to start striking, rioting etc. etc. It is, as I say, hard to say whether what I hear in the Alpes Maritimes compares to how the folk in Toulouse (Haute Garronne 55% Sego) or L'Escroc's home department of Corrèze (53% Sego) think, let alone those in the grimy industrial north or the banlieues, but here in 06-land we think that Mrs Thatcher's approach to strikers (don't give in) is to be emulated. On the other hand the Alpes Maritimes is a rather exceptional department - it is probably one of the richest in France and certainly one of the most economically vibrant, but its major businesses are tourism and the looking after of retirees so possibly elsewhere they are more sympathetic to the strikers. Here we have (yet another) local SNCF strike as the "workers" object to various structural reforms that are being proposed and hence Sarko's proposaly about minimum transport services being required seem to be quite popular.

What else? EURSOC points out that Sego didn't do badly - compared to past socialist challengers anyway - but it seems pretty likely that the socialist party is going to collapse into squabbling between ZANU Labour copiers (Sego & some other younger sorts) and the old leftwing dinosaurs (Fabuis, Jospin etc.). The only question is whether this will be before or after the parliamentary elections. With luck it will begin to break out before the elections and thus help Sarko gain a clear parliamentary mandate too.

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

IQ, Culture, Race and Crime

A Finnish gentleman called Mikko Ellilä wrote a controversial blog rant called Society Consists of People (translation) where he blames the race and culture of non-Europeans for their lack of cultural progress, what he believes to be their average lower IQ and as a result of the above, the criminality of immigrants from these cultures in Europe. His rant eventually drew the attention and ire of one Mikko Puumalainen, who is the official Finnish government ombudsman for minorities, and who has asked the police to instigate a criminal investigation for various hate-crime sorts of things. This investigation, in turn, was drawn to the attention of the Gates of Vienna and thence to me. I'm not going to go into the Puumalianen thought crime bit - it should be obvious that free speech means the right to say objectionable things and that just because Ellilä has written something highly objectionable does not mean he should be punished.

What I am curious about is whether anyone has bothered to look at what he wrote and poke holes in the wrong bits. And for that matter whether anyone is willing to find data to back up the places where he is right.

Part of the problem is that the whole debate about a racial or genetic basis for intelligence is extremely controversial. At Gates of Vienna, the Baron wrote:

I don’t credit [racial or genetic basis for intelligence] theories because I have studied them extensively. I didn’t want to lengthen my post by discussing it, but I minored in Anthropology (with a major in Math) at college, and during my senior year I wrote a term paper in Physical Anthropology on race and intelligence, concentrating on the works of Arthur Jensen.

In my paper I wrote that the question of a racial component for intelligence was not fully answered, but that the evidence did not warrant Professor Jensen’s conclusions.

Not long after I wrote my paper, honest discussion on such topics within the academy was shut down completely.

So when I said, “I do not credit any of the theories,” I was maintaining that the evidence does not support the hypothesis. I have not seen any additional evidence in the intervening 35 years to change that conclusion.

Of course, in the intervening 35 years, the reigning orthodoxy has forbidden the gathering of more evidence. That’s why the topic is still open.

The Baron is unfortunately mostly correct, however he isn't completely correct. As a loyal reader of GNXP I have seen a number of posts covering the subject such as this one about Bruce Lahn and this extremely long one reviewing Richard Lynn's book Race Differences in Intelligence: An Evolutionary Analysis. From the latter it is possible to extract a graph that does indeed show that there is a difference in average IQ between countries and races and which shows that, for example, Africans in Africa have a far lower average IQ than Africans in America but that even the latter have a lower IQ than whites in America. It may well be that this analysis of a large number of IQ surveys is flawed but evidence to support that piece of Mr Ellilä's essay does appear to be present in some degree. On the other hand the book's data also indicates that Asians are smarter than Europeans, something we also see in US SAT scores, so the Asian portion of the essay appears to be on shakier ground.

There is also evidence (e.g. US crime and prison statistics) for Mr Ellilä's claim that African folks are more criminal than white folk. He also says that Finnish crime statistics show that in Finnland immirants commit a larger proportion of crimes than they would if they were equally liable to criminal tendencies as the natives, I haven't seen those figures but I have no problem believing that they are what he says. Therefore on can conclude that Mr Ellilä is not necessarily wrong even though what he says goes completely counter to the multi-culti-tranzi politically correct view that we are all equal.

Now having said that I think that there are a number of alternative hypotheses for the criminal bit that have not been properly analysed. For example one alternative hypotheis that might explain the crime figures is poverty: poor people tend to commit more violent crimes than rich people and/or can't afford the lawyer to get them off. Based on that, let me paint an alternative 2 point hypothesis that explains the same crime figures for immigrants without getting into whether their IQ (or culture) leads them to being criminals.
  1. the poorest people in society commit most crimes
  2. immigrants are usually amongst the poorest members of a society
QED

I note that in France the rise in crime has paralleled the rise in unemployed 2nd generation immigrants providing some independant evidence for my hypothesis. I also note that in the UK richer immigrants from India have generally moved into the middle classes quickly whilst their fellows from Pakistan and Bangladesh have done significantly less well. Given that Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis all come from the same part of the world I would be surprised if there were any major IQ differences between them. There is one key cultural difference, the Indian immigrants tend to be from urban families whereas the Pakistani ones (and I think the Bangladeshis) tend to be from rural areas. These folks are now fighting 2 degreees of assimilation at once; learning how to live in cities and learing how to live in another country. Is it any surprise that they tend to be less successful than immigrants who have already figured out half of the puzzle?

Now having said all this it is quite possible that culture and genetic factors influence IQ and that IQ influences wealth and that therefore since people with lower IQ tend to be poorer, immigrants with bad cultural or genetic backgrounds will end up poor and therefore, according to my hypothesis, likely to commit crimes.

To go back to the multiculti. I don't know whether any of the above is true - it is all speculation - but if we are not allowed to propose hypotheses like this, come up with experiemnts or data analyses to prove them, and discuss them then we will never be able to come up with solutions. It could be that the simple fact is that racism keeps the immigrants poor and therefore (see hypothesis above) more likely to be criminal, it could be intelligence, it could be a combination of the two or it could be something totally different. If we can't do the research we're unlikely to be able to come up with the reason and thus unlikely to be able to come up with a solution. Solutions based on a bunch of vague handwaving and no evidence have not to date been terribly successful, indeed a cynic might suggest that they usually make the problem worse.

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

The Wolfowitz World Bank "Scandal"

I have been mostly ignoring the ongoing "scandal" about Mr Wolfowitz because I really don't have anything to say. However I cannot but laugh at the FT which seems to be trying to run with the fox and hunt with the hounds by publishing articles by Joeseph Stiglitz (Wolfowtz must go) and Kenneth Anderson (Wolfowitz was framed) and stories that seem to be utter non-stories. To take the latter first, the story says that

Paul Wolfowitz's closest aide was involved in crafting an apparently misleading public statement on the Shaha Riza secondment for dissemination by World Bank spokespeople on an anonymous basis, the Financial Times has found. [...]

Ms Cleveland met Marwan Muasher, the newly arrived director for external relations, on April 4 to discuss how to respond to leaks about the terms and conditions awarded to Ms Riza.

They agreed on a statement that was to be briefed on an anonymous or "background" basis by senior bank officials. This included the apparently misleading claim that "after consultation with the then general counsel, the ethics committee of the board approved an external assignment agreement which was reached with the staff member".

Mr Muasher confirmed the agreed text with Ms Cleveland in an e-mail, a copy of which has been seen by the FT, and its authenticity has been attested to by two bank officials. The statement was then briefed to the FT and other media organisations by senior bank officials.

The claim that the agreement was approved by the ethics committee after consultation with the general counsel was immediately disputed by Roberto Danino, then general counsel, and Ad Melkert, then chairing the ethics committee. [...]

Neither Ms Cleveland nor Mr Muasher responded to a request for comment. In a letter to the panel last week, Mr Wolfowitz said he assumed the ethics committee was aware of the terms and conditions because it decided a later anonymous complaint about Ms Riza's pay "did not contain new information warranting further review".

He said: "I relied on this letter when I advised my staff that they could tell the press that the committee had reviewed the matter."

Or in other words that the so called ethics committee seems to want to deny that it ever had anything to do with this whole case. The memos published on the world bank website seem to make clear that this is not the case, other than in the extremely limited case of the general counsel and ethics committee chairman not being informed of the full details of the precise package offered because they said they weren't allowed to be told these details. As the second editorial explains (blog version) this seems to about what one should expect from this group of highly paid individuals:

The World Bank’s ethics committee should have a sign on the door warning: “Caveat emptor –don’t rely on us.”

The absurd controversy over the tenure of Paul Wolfowitz, World Bank president, whose longstanding romantic partner was at the bank years before he was, can be traced to that committee’s incoherent advice. [...] In 2005, the ethics committee rejected Mr Wolfowitz’s workable proposal to recuse himself on all personnel matters concerning his friend. Instead, it ruled that she would have to leave the bank altogether, disrupting her career and making her forgo a promotion for which she had been shortlisted.

It was an extraordinary decision, raising important questions of gender equity at the bank.

Some have mistakenly supposed that the “advice” was a reflection of settled bank rules. But, in fact, it was quite different from the treatment accorded to some other couples who work there.

Mr Wolfowitz’s friend, Shaha Riza, whose dignity and reticence have been trampled by the bank, testified last week before an ad hoc investigating committee of the bank board of executive directors. Ms Riza said: “I could not understand at the time or now why I was being singled out for this treatment when the then managing director Shengman Zhang’s spouse . . . was working at the bank and before her . . . Caio Koch-Weser’s spouse, when he was managing director. Neither wife was asked to leave the institution.”

I can't read beyond the first couple of paragraphs of Mr Stiglitz and I see no reason to as it starts

The current crisis at the World Bank is a chance finally to fix the governance problems at the world’s major institution for promoting development. It is time for the US to give up its hold on picking the president of the bank and for Europe to give up its grip on choosing the president of the International Monetary Fund. Had the process of picking the president been truly democratic and fair in the first place, it is almost certain that Paul Wolfowitz would never have been selected.

There is now a global consensus that Mr Wolfowitz will have to leave the World Bank. In democratic societies, leadership requires the confidence of those being led. Mr Wolfowitz has lost that confidence and will not be able to restore it in the three years remaining in his lame-duck tenure. He could, of course, try to appoint more loyalists at the top. But that would only lead to more alienation from the more than 10,000 employees who must carry out the bank’s mission.

Mr Stiglitz appears to be confused. The world bank is not a democratic institution, nor does its president require the confidence of his underlings. Indeed given that Mr Wolfowitz has been trying to root out corruption within the World Bank it seems pretty clear that some underlings are going to do anything they can to hamper the president when he tries to sort things out. There is no evidence (yet) that the origin of the whole Wolfowitz "scandal" was leaks by corrupt staffers but it is certainly the case that the world bank staff association seems to have been heavily involved in the affair and one suspects that this organization is not going to be keen to chuck out the slovens and the corrupt. Likewise the agreement that the US appoint the World Bank president is due to the fact that the US is the largest shareholder. Now it is entirely reasonable to say that this rule is wrong but it is common in international organizations such as the various UN bodies, the Bank and the IMF that certain parties select the head. It wouldn't bother me if the World Bank changed the way it did things but it would only seem fair if all other similar tranzi bodies did the same. I'm prepared to bet that no other beneficiary of these schemes would agree to similar reform.

Mr Stiglitz' "global consensus" argument seems particularly weak. Is he trying to say that a majority of the world's population wants to see Mr Wolfowitz gone? or is he actually saying that other tranzi leaders want to see him gone. One suspects the latter, and that no doubt explains why sites such as the BBC have failed to cover the details of the case in the way that the WSJ (or Christopher Hitchens in Slate) has. This is of course further evidence to me that the entrenched tranzis do not want a boss who tries to open things up although it could also be some sort of "Neocon Derangement Syndrome"

I find it curious that all the people who attack Mr Wolfowitz (e.g. blogger Majikthise last week) fail to provide links to the source material which the World Bank has put up at its website. The first link is to a 25 page PDF of relevent documents that makes abundently clear that Mr Wolfowitz was doing his best to follow the guidance of an ethics committee that didn't want to take any responsibility for anything. Given that the attackers often seem to be the people who want more openness and disclosure it seems odd that when source docuemnts are available.

Anyway since it seems likely that (again via Majikthise) the World Bank investigative panel has found Mr Wolfowitz guilty of a "conflict of interest", it is probably worth noting the memo Mr Wolfowitz wrote (page 11 of the PDF) where he explains clearly that he feels he was forced to intervene because of the memo on page 10 where the ethics committee says

1) The EC cannot interact directly with staff member situations, hence Xavier should act upon your instruction.

2) The interaction with the staff member at this stage is only for information purposes, by way of courtesy, as both you and the EC have been preoccupied from the outset to have a procedure in place and an outcome reached that would duly recognize the record and career perspectives of the staff member, taking into account the scope of the EC which is limited to Board officials.

In other words having notified the Ethics Committee of a potential problem the EC then tells him that he has to solve it directly and therefore cause a conflict of interest.


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

Wolfowitz vs Pillock-Brown

Melanie Phillips has commented on the Wolfowitz World Bank "Scandal" and links to two articles that add fuel to my suggestion yesterday that the scandal is being pushed by the corrupt and/or their defenders. The most interesting in that regard is in Canada's Financial Post. First the article explains that currently the World Banks major competitive advantage appears to be that it doesn't ask nasty questions about how the money it lends is spent

But the bank has had one competitive advantage that no private-sector Western lender can match -- a willingness to lend large sums to corrupt Third World administrations with few governance strings attached. Wolfowitz's arrival in 2005, and the anti-corruption measures he has brought in, have jeopardized that advantage big time, as seen in a chilling memo the bank received on March 12 of this year.

The e-mail memo, entitled "Sanctions Reform Roll-Out in EAP [East Asia and Pacific Region] -- Your Feedback Needed," was from the manager of the bank's operation in China, Hsiao-Yun Elaine Sun, to James Adams, vice-president for East Asia and Pacific Region. It warned that the bank could lose its second-largest customer, the Chinese government, if it insisted on carrying through with its intention to hold borrowing countries to account for World Bank monies that were used inappropriately.

China's Ministry of Finance (MOF) "is very concerned about the implementation. They foresee potential disagreements as to the scope, level, and approach of the bank's involvement on specific cases. Our MOF counterpart is so worried and is considering to suspend the lending program discussions next year ? in order to avoid getting into a confrontational situation with the bank."

Losing a large borrower like China, which has some US$21-billion in outstanding loans and credits with the bank, and accounts for close to 10% of the bank's total portfolio, would lead to significant staff layoffs. Moreover, at least three other countries -- India, Mexico and Indonesia --have also expressed alarm at the bank's anti-corruption program, which would make their officials subject to investigation and exposure. These four countries alone, ranked first, second, third and fifth in size among bank customers, account for 30% of all World Bank business.

In other words when I said that the World Bank Staff Association was likely interested in defending the corrupt I was understating the case. And the Financial Post points out the all the leakage occured shortly after the memo noted above was circulated. If it were anyone other that Wolfowitz the lefty conspiracy theorists would be all over this questioning the timing.
mizaru kikazaru iwazaru
The other article, in the WSJ, talks about the apparent influence of a certain G Soros on the "scandal" and about the tenant and new employee of this G. Soros, a man know as Mark Pillock Brown. Mr Pillock Brown is a fellow alumnus of Magdalene College, Cambridge but is better know for his more recent job as chief of staff to a certain K Annan. Unlike Mr Wolfowitz, the Pillock seems to be like those famous monkeys "Mizaru Kikazaru Iwazaru" with regards to corruption to do with organizations under his purview:

"Not a penny was lost from the organization," he insisted last year, following an audit of the U.N.'s peacekeeping procurement by its Office of Internal Oversight Services. In fact, the office found that $7 million had been lost from overpayment; $50 million worth of contracts showed indications of bid rigging; $61 million had bypassed U.N. rules; $82 million had been lost to mismanagement; and $110 million had "insufficient" justification. That's $310 million out of a budget of $1.6 billion, and who knows what the auditors missed.

Mr. Malloch Brown also made curious use of English by insisting that Paul Volcker's investigation into Oil for Food had "fully exonerated" Mr. Annan. In fact, Mr. Volcker's report made an "adverse finding" against the then-Secretary-General. Among other details, the final report noted that Mr. Annan was "aware of [Saddam's] kickback scheme at least as early as February 2001," yet never reported it to the U.N. Security Council, much less the public, a clear breach of his fiduciary responsibilities as the U.N.'s chief administrative officer. Mr. Malloch Brown described the idea that Mr. Annan might resign as "inappropriate political assassination"--a standard he apparently doesn't apply to political enemies like Mr. Wolfowitz.

Oh and guess what? the WSJ thinks that Mr Pillock Brown might prefer to be President of the World Bank that Vice President for Tranzis at the Quantum Fund (prop. G. Soros).

It seems to me that, as with the UNSCAM, despite limited and biased MSM coverage, this World Bank affair may end up shining more light in shady corners of the Bank than in embarrassing Mr Wolfowitz. This seems to be particularly likely since, like the UN, the world bank bigwigs seem to think that secrecy is a good thing.

Our sources who have seen the committee's report tell us it is especially critical of Mr. Wolfowitz for daring to object publicly to the committee's methods and thereby bringing the bank's name into disrepute. The Europeans running this Red Queen proceeding prefer that they be able to smear with selective leaks without rebuttal.

The more I read of this affair the more I think that the Wolrd Bank has outlived its usefullness and should be shut down as it isn't providing any service that cannot be done equally well by someone else. Sure this might cause a little hardship for 10,000 well paid tranzis but it seems unlikely to cause any harm to the poor and downtrodden.

On that note, the BBC reports that the World Bank seems to be good at reports stating politically correct blather:

According to the World Bank, Israeli-imposed security arrangements in the West Bank remain at the root of its economic problems, with unemployment levels high among its 2.5 million Palestinian residents

It says the territory has been fragmented into 10 isolated enclaves, in contravention of agreements between the Palestinian Authority and Israel designed to guarantee the free movement of people and goods.

Israel argues that travel restrictions, which take the form of roadblocks, wire fencing and concrete walls, prevent suicide bombers from attacking its cities.

But the World Bank said the prevailing conditions were preventing Palestinians from finding jobs and setting up businesses, effectively strangling the economy.

Graciously the World Bank did acknowledge "legitimate Israeli security worries" but feels that should find a different way to stop attacks because this way is too effective disruptive. Only in Palestine, it seems, are economic sanctions not a viable alternative to war.


13 May 2007 Blog Home : All May 2007 Posts : Permalink

Late Friday Olive Tree Blogging

This is something different. Last weekend I ran around Le Bar sur Loup and found this. Someone has taken the time to try doing topiary with an olive tree. It seems to work well, but I think it has taken quite a while to get to this point.


As always click on the image to see it enlarged and look at past friday olive tree blogging images if you missed them


21 May 2007 Blog Home : All May 2007 Posts : Permalink

More Belated Olive Tree Blogging


The trees are recovering nicely from their pruning. Lots of new shoots popping up.

As always click on the image to enlarge and look at other Friday Olive Tree Blogging images if you've missed them.


21 May 2007 Blog Home : All May 2007 Posts : Permalink

Mark Helprin - Greedy or Idiotic?

The Instapundit linked to this NY Slimes opinion piece by author Mark Helprin about copyright. Mr Helprin argues that copyrights should last forever which is, pardon my French, nucking futs. Obviously, as an author, Mr H will benefit from this extension but I'm not so worried about the greed he exhibits as the basic errors of concept he demonstrates.

Essentially Mr H thinks that because Copyright is a form if "Intellectual Property" it should be treated like real property and be a permenant right. This is a reasonable position at first sight but it doesn't stand up to more than a moment's thought. The most obvious problem is when he talks about how copyright is something that exists purely by government writ:

Absent the government’s decree, copyright holders would have no exclusivity of right at all. Does not then the government’s giveth support its taketh? By that logic, should other classes of property not subject to total confiscation therefore be denied the protection of regulatory agencies, courts, police and the law itself lest they be subject to expropriation as payment for the considerable and necessary protections they too enjoy? Should automobile manufacturers be nationalized after 70 years because they depend on publicly financed roads? Should Goldman Sachs be impounded because of the existence of the Securities and Exchange Commission?

If Mr Helprin had his way we'd be stuck in the position of paying the descendents of Messrs Diesel, Benz, Ford and Co for their internal combustion engine patents, Bayer shareholders for Aspirin and loads of other drug manufacturers, Alcatel Lucent, Nortel and loads of other old telecom companies, IBM and so on. The inventions that these companies developed (and patented) have benefited society far more than any author, although it is true that some authors are excellent alternatives to sleeping pills and others great mood alterers, but none of their inventions, nor those of the various companies who developed offset printing or any of the other ways we turn human thought into printed ink on paper, is protected by anything like the life plus 70 years of current copyright law. Perhaps Mr H thinks we should be paying royalties to these folks, but if so I bet he hasn't thought how this would stick a large hole in the economy. Realistically we accept that it is fair to pay drug companies monopoly prices for a few years so that they can recoup their investment, then we are happy to let the generic makers copy the drig so that it doesn't cost an arm and a leg anymore to cure our ulcers or heart disease. If it did then either we'd be paying about 50% of our salaries in medical insurance or we'd be dying rather sooner than we currently expect to. The point about copyright is that it is a government sanctioned monopoly and in most circumstances governmanet sanctioned monopolies are bad things leading to inferior service and high prices. Evidence to this effect may be found throughout history from the original monopolies granted by 16th century monarchs to Amtrak or SNCF today. It is unlikely that Mr H thinks other monopolies are good so why does he think this one is good? he fails to explain this.

Mr H also makes a strange claim about the yachts of the heirs of authors:

Were I tomorrow to write the great American novel (again?), 70 years after my death the rights to it, though taxed at inheritance, would be stripped from my children and grandchildren. To the claim that this provision strikes malefactors of great wealth, one might ask, first, where the heirs of Sylvia Plath berth their 200-foot yachts.

Again he's missed the point. Yes it is true that the overwhelming majority writers do not get rich off their labours and never will even if copyright is infinite, but on the other hand we, the general public, lose our chance to have access to their output if copyright is infinite. As it is today, because of copyright we, the general public, fail to be able to read the works of authors who are slightly less well known than Ms Plath because they are out of print but still copyrighted. A lot of genre fiction (SF, Mystery, Romance...) falls into this category and while much of it is undoubtedly hack work that no one will miss it is also certain that there are many gems that would repay being reprinted in newer editions and it is a lot simpler to do this if copyright has expired. The choice is not between riches and poverty, it is between fame and oblivion, and copyright consigns many worthy works to the category of oblivion because they are out of print and will remain that way for anything up to a century after they were written. This does not bode well for their chances of rediscovery. By the time the copyright term has run out there will be very few extant copies of the book and very little chance that the member of a new generation will be able to find one to read and rediscover.

Finally Mr H seems to imply that life plus 70 is the bare minimum and that authors have failed to make a living from any smaller term. This is what the French might call a "crotte de chien", copyright has traditionally been far less and authors have made a living under those terms. Indeed as I hinted earlier Mr H utterly ignores the rationale behind the introduction of copyright and the arguments about its length and so on. Hence he leaves himself open to rebuttals about monopoly and copyright that have been made over a century and a half ago by another published author - Thomas Babington Macaulay, a man of many talents and the author of, IMO, a far better oeuvre than Sylvia Plath or Mark Halprin (as it happens I do own one Halprin work as it happens, but I haven't read it in years):

[..F]ew writers have ever controlled the language as did Thomas Babbington Macaulay. He wrote with a seemingly effortless power that made his subject, whatever it was, immediate, interesting and entertaining.

Macaulay lived a life that probably isn't possible any more, that of a scholarly man of business. He was a clever essayist and critic of literature, a politician of the most ardent Whig variety, a government bureaucrat in India, a Member of Parliament, Secretary of War, and the author of a famous History of England.

Macaulay spoke in two related debates in the Houses of Parliament in 1841 discussing copyright and the speeches are available at a number of places on the internet including the Baen Free Library. As Eric Flint writes in his introduction to them they are well worth reading in their entirety but there are a couple of parts that leave Mr H exposed as the grasping buffoon he appears to be. After restating (more elegantly) Mr H's property based argument he neatly demolishes the inheritance part based on the vagaries of laws of inheritance that many has come up with and then goes back to first principles in exploring why we have copyright in the first place:

We have, then, only one resource left. We must betake ourselves to copyright, be the inconveniences of copyright what they may. Those inconveniences, in truth, are neither few nor small. Copyright is monopoly, and produces all the effects which the general voice of mankind attributes to monopoly. My honourable and learned friend talks very contemptuously of those who are led away by the theory that monopoly makes things dear. That monopoly makes things dear is certainly a theory, as all the great truths which have been established by the experience of all ages and nations, and which are taken for granted in all reasonings, may be said to be theories. It is a theory in the same sense in which it is a theory that day and night follow each other, that lead is heavier than water, that bread nourishes, that arsenic poisons, that alcohol intoxicates. If, as my honourable and learned friend seems to think, the whole world is in the wrong on this point, if the real effect of monopoly is to make articles good and cheap, why does he stop short in his career of change? Why does he limit the operation of so salutary a principle to sixty years? Why does he consent to anything short of a perpetuity? He told us that in consenting to anything short of a perpetuity he was making a compromise between extreme right and expediency. But if his opinion about monopoly be correct, extreme right and expediency would coincide. Or rather, why should we not restore the monopoly of the East India trade to the East India Company? Why should we not revive all those old monopolies which, in Elizabeth's reign, galled our fathers so severely that, maddened by intolerable wrong, they opposed to their sovereign a resistance before which her haughty spirit quailed for the first and for the last time? Was it the cheapness and excellence of commodities that then so violently stirred the indignation of the English people? I believe, Sir, that I may with safety take it for granted that the effect of monopoly generally is to make articles scarce, to make them dear, and to make them bad. And I may with equal safety challenge my honourable friend to find out any distinction between copyright and other privileges of the same kind; any reason why a monopoly of books should produce an effect directly the reverse of that which was produced by the East India Company's monopoly of tea, or by Lord Essex's monopoly of sweet wines. Thus, then, stands the case. It is good that authors should be remunerated; and the least exceptionable way of remunerating them is by a monopoly. Yet monopoly is an evil. For the sake of the good we must submit to the evil; but the evil ought not to last a day longer than is necessary for the purpose of securing the good.

[...]I will take an example. Dr Johnson died fifty-six years ago. If the law were what my honourable and learned friend wishes to make it, somebody would now have the monopoly of Dr Johnson's works. Who that somebody would be it is impossible to say; but we may venture to guess. I guess, then, that it would have been some bookseller, who was the assign of another bookseller, who was the grandson of a third bookseller, who had bought the copyright from Black Frank, the doctor's servant and residuary legatee, in 1785 or 1786. Now, would the knowledge that this copyright would exist in 1841 have been a source of gratification to Johnson? Would it have stimulated his exertions? Would it have once drawn him out of his bed before noon? Would it have once cheered him under a fit of the spleen? Would it have induced him to give us one more allegory, one more life of a poet, one more imitation of Juvenal? I firmly believe not. I firmly believe that a hundred years ago, when he was writing our debates for the Gentleman's Magazine, he would very much rather have had twopence to buy a plate of shin of beef at a cook's shop underground. Considered as a reward to him, the difference between a twenty years' and sixty years' term of posthumous copyright would have been nothing or next to nothing. But is the difference nothing to us? I can buy Rasselas for sixpence; I might have had to give five shillings for it. I can buy the Dictionary, the entire genuine Dictionary, for two guineas, perhaps for less; I might have had to give five or six guineas for it. Do I grudge this to a man like Dr Johnson? Not at all. Show me that the prospect of this boon roused him to any vigorous effort, or sustained his spirits under depressing circumstances, and I am quite willing to pay the price of such an object, heavy as that price is. But what I do complain of is that my circumstances are to be worse, and Johnson's none the better; that I am to give five pounds for what to him was not worth a farthing.

The principle of copyright is this. It is a tax on readers for the purpose of giving a bounty to writers. The tax is an exceedingly bad one; it is a tax on one of the most innocent and most salutary of human pleasures; and never let us forget, that a tax on innocent pleasures is a premium on vicious pleasures. I admit, however, the necessity of giving a bounty to genius and learning. In order to give such a bounty, I willingly submit even to this severe and burdensome tax. Nay, I am ready to increase the tax, if it can be shown that by so doing I should proportionally increase the bounty. My complaint is, that my honourable and learned friend doubles, triples, quadruples, the tax, and makes scarcely any perceptible addition to the bounty.

I'm tempted to rest my case, but I won't because while he has smacked the "infinite" provision above he did not address the current solution and the life plus X plan gets a very specific kicking in his second speech:

It must surely, Sir, be admitted that the protection which we give to books ought to be distributed as evenly as possible, that every book should have a fair share of that protection, and no book more than a fair share. It would evidently be absurd to put tickets into a wheel, with different numbers marked upon them, and to make writers draw, one a term of twenty-eight years, another a term of fifty, another a term of ninety. And yet this sort of lottery is what my noble friend proposes to establish. I know that we cannot altogether exclude chance. You have two terms of copyright; one certain, the other uncertain; and we cannot, I admit, get rid of the uncertain term. It is proper, no doubt, that an author's copyright should last during his life. But, Sir, though we cannot altogether exclude chance, we can very much diminish the share which chance must have in distributing the recompense which we wish to give to genius and learning. By every addition which we make to the certain term we diminish the influence of chance; by every addition which we make to the uncertain term we increase the influence of chance. I shall make myself best understood by putting cases. Take two eminent female writers, who died within our own memory, Madame D'Arblay and Miss Austen. As the law now stands, Miss Austen's charming novels would have only from twenty-eight to thirty-three years of copyright. For that extraordinary woman died young: she died before her genius was fully appreciated by the world. Madame D'Arblay outlived the whole generation to which she belonged. The copyright of her celebrated novel, Evelina, lasted, under the present law, sixty-two years. Surely this inequality is sufficiently great—sixty-two years of copyright for Evelina, only twenty-eight for Persuasion. But to my noble friend this inequality seems not great enough. He proposes to add twenty- five years to Madame D'Arblay's term, and not a single day to Miss Austen's term. He would give to Persuasion a copyright of only twenty-eight years, as at present, and to Evelina a copyright more than three times as long, a copyright of eighty- seven years. Now, is this reasonable? See, on the other hand, the operation of my plan. I make no addition at all to Madame D'Arblay's term of sixty-two years, which is, in my opinion, quite long enough; but I extend Miss Austen's term to forty-two years, which is, in my opinion, not too much. You see, Sir, that at present chance has too much sway in this matter: that at present the protection which the State gives to letters is very unequally given. You see that if my noble friend's plan be adopted, more will be left to chance than under the present system, and you will have such inequalities as are unknown under the present system. You see also that, under the system which I recommend, we shall have, not perfect certainty, not perfect equality, but much less uncertainty and inequality than at present.

By grasping both economics and the tendency of writers to improve as they age Macaulay makes it clear that having a longer copyright term on a writer's earlier works than his later ones in counter productive. If copyright is supposed to reward the value a writer produces then surely his later works, which are generally better than his earlier ones, should receive a longer term. But under "life plus X" schemes the opposite occurs.

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

Bite Back - A survey on England/Britain

The organizer of the Witanagemot has a survey to see what people think of the England/Britain/UK confusion. Its results will be better if it gets as many British people as possible to complete it and not just the rabid English Nationalists like me so please go and fill it in and also spread the link far and wide.

I don't think it would hurt for non-British people to fill it in too but I suspect that a lot of what it talks about won't make sense unless you are British or a resident of the British Isles.


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

The Right Sort of Dead Palestinians

As noted by that famous left-winger Melanie Phillips and by those zionist lackeys over at Harry's Place quite a few Palestinians have been killed recently without much fuss or bother. All those bodies, not to mention the MSM, who get worked up about the plight of the Palestinians have been remarkably silent over the last few days as the Hamas and Fatah civil war gets worse in Gaza and as the Lebanese Army attacks a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. Obviously the Palestinians who are dying are the right sort who deserve to be killed because otherwise one would be forced to assume that these pressure groups and their MSM buddies are disgustingly racist and only care about Palestinian deaths when they are caused by Israelis.

Still is is amusing, in a rather black way, to see how the MSM covers these events. The BBC points out that many Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are pensioners:

Lebanon is home to more than 350,000 Palestinian refugees, many of whom fled or left their homes when Israel was created in 1948.

If they fled in 1948 they must be at least 59 years old this year. Since I don't recall any reports of a mass crawl by Palestinian toddlers to escape the Israelis in 1948 it seems likely that many were older than this and thus they must be of pensionable age. Oddly enough the pictures seem to depict a rather younger looking set of people, could the Palestinians have found some wonder anti-aging cure?

Then there is that sage reporter Robert Fisk writing in the Indy:

Not since the war - yes, the Lebanese civil war that we are all still trying to forget - have I heard this many bullets cracking across the streets of a Lebanese city.

This is a surprise, last year Mr Fisk seemed to be concerned that some dastardly Israelis were massacring all and sundry. Or was it merely that the Israelis only shot their bullets in villages not cities? Mr Fisk does wonder whether it was all a bit of an overreaction apparently. A terror group of some 300 men, $1500 stolen. Chicken feed. Surely not worth the massive overreaction by the Lebanese government?

Then there is this (Australian) ABC article where the Fatah al-Islam group are reported as saying:

"We are going to continue fighting until the last shot. There will not be another Jenin massacre," he said, referring to an Israeli assault on a refugee camp in the West Bank in 2002.

Since the Jenin "massacre" involved the deaths of about 55 palestinians, mostly terrorists it is not quite clear what this statement means. Maybe it implies that this will be a real massacre instead of a fake one? Or that more that 56 Fatah al Islam fighters are going to die? or?

It's all a bit of a mystery but at least we don't have to worry about it because only the right sort of people are dying.



I despise l'Escroc and Vile Pin