L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

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

11 June 2007 Blog Home : All June 2007 Posts : Permalink

He's Baaaaack!

Apologies to my dear reader for the unexpected dropping off the worldwidewibble of this site. The lack of updates was because I got crazy busy with this and that and also ended up in blighty for a while with limited Internet access. In the mean time my host did a mini booboo with the DNS records for which I/he apologize but which allowed you to learn about a wonderful company called ThreatSTOP. Fortunately there wasn't much changed so regular readers didn't miss anything.

Anyway now back to your regular blog content

11 June 2007 Blog Home : All June 2007 Posts : Permalink

Alpes Maritimes Blues

Here in the Alpes Maritimes we've got the blues, the UMP Blues that is. La vague bleue (the blue wave) of the French Right and President Sarkozy was particularly strong here in the Alpes Maritimes where 7 out of the 9 consituencies voted for the UMP candidate by over 50% in the first round and therefore avoided the need for a second round. In the 8th (the battle of the mayors in Cannes Mandelieu the UMP mayor of Cannes La Bocca leads his rival, the UMP mayor of Mandelieu by 42.6% to 27.9% with no one else getting over the 12% threshold to pass on to the 2nd round). Only in the 1st constituency (Nice Centre) do the socialists have a possibility of winning a seat but even here the top UMP candidate got 44.6% of the vote and another UMP candidate got 9.84% of the vote so it seems unlikely that the PS will win. As the Nice Matin pointed out this clean sweep in round one included the constitucency whihc has the dodgy suburbs of Ariane and Trinité, which I find interesting because it seems to indicate that either the residents of said quartiers failed to vote or that even there people are crying out for change. Given that SNCF went on strike again today I suspect the latter.
France goes blue
Of course we aren't alone in our blue waviness as the Yahoo/AFP flash map (image capture above) shows. Our neighbours in the Var elected six out of seven as UMP in this round and also has the UMP candidate leading for round 2. Other uniform repartments include Haute Marne (2 constituencies both UMP) and both Alsace departments (Haut Rhin and Bas-Rhin) are almost as good. Indeed Reuters have an article (french) which explains that 110 constituencies elected candidates on the first round and of these just one chose a socialist, with 99 UMP candidates elected as well as 10 others of rightward tilt. Assuming most of the 2nd round races elect the front runner then the UMP is going to win by a landslide of anywhere from 400 to 500 of the 577 seats in the assembly.

So what happens? Well I predict a lot of posturing over the summer followed by strikes and demonstrations in September, if not the end of August. This is so blindingly obvious that Sarko and his all female Law'n'order team of interior minister Michele Alliot-Marie (known as MAM to the media) and justice minister Rachida Dati have to be coming up with plans to counter the strikes. Ms Dati is not known as a ministerial figure but MAM was a solid defence minister under Chirac so the plans should be fairly solid. What does seem clear is that target #1 is the bolshy unions and students with the "youths" being left until the unions have been broken. This is undoubtedly correct strategically - breaking the unions should help the "youths" get jobs and thereby reduce the support for riots when he goes after the "youths" who prefer crime to integration, but it may lead to some interesting tactical issues if the unions can figure out how to get the "youths" involved in the mayhem.

Of course the unions are not, as far as I can tell, led by clueful people so the chances are they will fail to exploit this or, more likely they will get caught out tring to exploit it and see their support from the rest of France dwindle yet further. It is hard to extrapolate the feelings of the average Frenchman from the people I know in the Alpes Maritimes, but so long as Sarko and his team can manage the media (probably not hard since its 95% owned by friends of Sarko), he should be able to paint the unions as the dinosaurs they are and get everyone to agree in their extinction.

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

Preshident Sloshedkozy?

Just a couple of days after his first G8 summit, Sarko visited schools in the Alpes Maritimes yesterday. Apparently he felt he'd get more grown up conversation there than he got during the G8 summit. Well that's one possibility and I can understand it, meeting people like Putin or Bliar would be enough to drive anyone to drink. Of course that wouldn't be tactful or diplomatic so no doubt that explains why the French media have drawn a veil of silence over Yeltsinkozy's press conference at the G8 summit after he had a meeting with President VodkaPutin. Fortunately in these days of the World Wiide Wibble and Youtube French residents are not limited to French TV channels or newspapers to get their news and gossip. So without further ado may I present Belgian TV's images of our glorious leader.

PS It occurs to me that Messr's Sue, Van Grabbit et Courir may be on to Youtube about this video. After all many other Belgian ostrichsnews outlets recently sued and won in an attempt to stop Google publicising their newsgathering abilities.

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

As a Man Sows So Let Him Reap

I blogged some time back about the scummy Autoadmit folks and so it was with a certain amount of shadenfreude that I read the WSJ Law Blog post detailing the latest bad news to hit AutoAdmit, its (former) proprietor Mr Ciolli and its sleazy commenters. However, having said that, I'm going to align myself with Profs Althouse, Reynolds and Volokh and say that I don't see how the ladies who were insulted have a legal leg to stand on here. Indeed I would say that suing the scum is actually going to be counterproductive because it
  1. gains additional publicity which is just what the Jane Does don't need (or at least I would have thought they didn't)
  2. potentially makes the scum look like victims
  3. has horrible ramifications for free speech if successful
  4. has some fairly unpleasant ramifications for internet privacy if unsuccessful
In other words taking this case to court is likely to be counter-productive, although I completely understand people like Jill being happy to see it happen and I also agree with her that picking on law students is always going to raise the possibility of legal action.

So what is the right remedy? Well so far I'd say the right action has been publicity. The best thing to do, IMO, would be to identify the anonymous commenters and publicise their names. This should get them in as much difficulty with potential employers as they seem to have caused for their victims and would be an object lesson to the rest of the (student) world that writing about someone in a public forum says as much about the writer as the subject. In other words if you want write sexist comments in a public place about some total babe of a fellow student that is fine and dandy, but you have to understand that other people later on are going tothink you are some sleazy male chauvinist pig and may decide not to offer youa job (or whatever) based on this.

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

What to Do With (Criminal) Illegal Immigrants?

NB This post is focussed on US Illegal Immigration but I believe many of the same points apply elsewhere

The always excellent Patterico has an ongoing series (now up to #10) called “Deport the Criminals First� where he lists the illegal aliens who are arrested, released (or deported and then come back to the USA) only to commit more crimes. As Patterico does, I think it makes sense to check the immigration status of suspects and particularly of convicted criminals and to ensure that illegal aliens who commit crimes are not treated the same way legal residents are. However given that, as in this case, criminals that are deported frequently return to commit more crime I'm not entirely sure that deportation is the best solution.

Also in the news this week has been the discovery that the death penalty is a deterrent (and not just because dead men commint no crimes). This may seem like a non sequitur but it isn't because it indicates to me that criminals are generally a somewhat rational bunch who react to carrots and sticks in similar fashion to the rest of us. It also seems to me that potential or actual illegal immigrants (whether otherwise criminal or not) will also react to incentives.

At present it seems to me that illegal immigrants see little downside to their illegal status and little benefit in trying to become legal residents. At present legal residents tend to have to pay taxes, serve on juries and other things that illegals don't need to worry about and illegal immigrants are able to work, buy cars, get emergency healthcare and so on just like their legal fellows so it looks like the current system actually tilts the system in favour of being an illegal. Now of course this is not completely tilted towards illegality, illegal immigrants do find it hard to get high-paying salaried jobs, buy houses or otherwise move up from a menial, low wage standard of living without turnign to crime, but even drudge work in the US allows for a higher standard of living than the illegals can get back in their homeland(s).

So the obvious answer is to modify the incentives so that immigrants come to the US legally, pay taxes and have the opportunity to advance but yet produce disincentives so that criminal immigramts/would be immigrants are convinced to not reside in the US. Since I want both carrots and sticks I am not in the Hugh Hewitt/La Shawn Barber/Michele Malkin camp of wanting to kick out all current illagal immigrants although I am distinctly in favour of the US improving border security and enforcing existing laws about the employability etc. of illegals. My problem is that my view seems to get aligned with idiots like the one Baldilocks goes after here who seem to think that completely open borders (carrots only) are the only way to go.

So what do I want to see? Firstly the carrots. I think that something like the proposed Z Visa program is a good idea to regularise all those illegal immigrants who have come to the US and become generally law-abiding non-citizens. Along with that I'd like to see a strightforward visa program where the average applicant (no matter what his or her origin) should be able to receive a temporary visa permitting work so long as the immigrant remains contactable by the immigration authorities and that this visa should be turned into a normal Z visa most of the time. Z visas should be of limited duration (say 3-5 years) but extensible once and automatically renewable if the immigrant has left the country for a significant period of time (maybe 1-2 years,  maybe less but in any case something longer that a weekend in Tijuana). Z visa holders of good standing should also be permitted to naturalize and becoem full US citizens at the end of the visa duration. The US benefits enormously from the fatc that people want to come and live/work there so it should make it easy for people to do so. Unlike England (say) the US has no excuses about lack of space or resources to house immigrants so it should let them in legally if they want to come.

However all this visa laxity must be tied to some other measures to provide the necessary sticks. The first is that if you are convicted if a crime, even a misdemeanor, and do not have a visa you are deported immediately and barred from re-entry. The second is that if you are arrested then even if not convicted you must either obtain the Z visa or be deported. The third is that violent criminal illegals and those caught re-entering after having been deported shall be placed in camps near the border where they will serve a sentence of 5 years cleaning up and building border fences, they will then be deported. The fourth is that US citizens and legal residents who knowingly aid and abet illegal immigrants to obtain jobs or tax-funded services (education, healthcare...) shall be liable to a year per offense in the same border camps, this would include employers who fail to check the immigrant status of (would be) employees as well as lawyers, journalists and activists who encourage illegal immigration (so Linda Chavez would be on the border cleaning up the litter left behind by her beloved illegals). This would also apply to Mexican officials who lack diplomatic immunity and live in the US (ones with diplomatic immunity who support illegal immigrants would simply be told to leave). I'd also like to see that illegal immigrants who die in these camps would not be buried but placed prominently on the border on paths where illegal immigrants enter. On that note, given that legal visas will be easy to obtain, illegal immigrants who are convicted of terrorism or other capital crimes (murder, rape etc.) shall be executed after no more than six months of appeal and the appeals shall be limited to merely considering the facts at issue. In other words the presumption shall be that you did not become a legal resident because you knew that your application would be denied because you were a terrorist/criminal and that therefore you tacitly admit to guilt. Finally I'm in favour of paying snitches; if you report an illegal you get say $1000, if you report a US citizen aiding illegals you get some percentage of the fine that will be levied against them and so on.

Of course I suspect that some of my sticks (e.g. the corpse idea) would not pass, but I reckon that the problem could be solved so long as enough of them are.

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

UN:It's all SyriaIsrael's Fault

The BBC, for once, has an article that doesn't blame Israel for something happening in its neighbourhood. It seems that the UN's bloke responsible for Lebanon and Syria blames the latter for the fact that militias in the former seem to be awash with weapons.

[Semi-aside: Actually to be perfectly honest the BBC has two such because its article about the "not a civil war" going on in Gaza also barely mentions our evil Zionist overlords except in the last section:

Israel, which withdrew troops and settlers from Gaza Strip in 2005, says it will not intervene in the fighting. [...]

The election triggered a Palestinian political and economic crisis, with international donors boycotting the government because Hamas - which they consider a terrorist group - refuses to recognise Israel and renounce violence.

Israel has refused to hand over hundreds of millions of dollars in tax, which it collects on behalf of the Palestinians.

Admittedly Melanie Phillips will no doubt complain that the last sentence is gratuitous and have some right on her side but it is the last sentence and most of the rest of the piece is talking about how Fatah's leaders have decided to do a Brave Sir Robin and lead their troops from Egypt. The article also mentions how much Hamas welcomes democracy and freedom of expression:

Several hundred civilian protesters briefly turned out to call for a ceasefire, but they scattered when confronted by masked Hamas gunmen firing into the air.

Is the BBC possibly chaning its mind after seeing that all its grovelling has failed to lead to the release of their palestinian propagandist journalist?]

Back to Lebanon. It seems that the UN is a tad peeved with a country called Syria and also with another one called Iran as even the UN's representative Terje Roed-Larsen can see that it is these two countries that are facilitating the arming of Lebanon. Of course the UN doesn't suggest that its troops in Lebanon redeploy from position protection Lebanon from Israel to protect it against some other threat, but perhaps it will. It occurs to me that this could be a chance for President Sloshkozy to (re)gain lots of international credibility...

Thanks to the Grauniad, however, the machinations of our evil Zionist overlords, are exposed in a leaked report from some other UN bloke. It is interesting to compare this with the BBC article about Gaza. According to the article the UN writer, one de Soto (related to the excellent economist?), complains that the Israelis have directly contributed to the fact that there is no peace in Palestine:

The 53-page "End of Mission Report" by Alvaro de Soto, the UN's Middle East envoy, obtained by the Guardian, presents a devastating account of failed diplomacy and condemns the sweeping boycott of the Palestinian government. It is dated May 5 this year, just before Mr de Soto stepped down.

The revelations from inside the UN come after another day of escalating violence in Gaza, when at least 26 Palestinians were killed after Hamas fighters launched a major assault. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, head of the rival Fatah group, warned he was facing an attempted coup.

Mr de Soto condemns Israel for setting unachievable preconditions for talks and the Palestinians for their violence. Western-led peace negotiations have become largely irrelevant, he says.

Mr de Soto is a Peruvian diplomat who worked for the UN for 25 years in El Salvador, Cyprus and Western Sahara. He says:

fortunately for my blood pressure he does then continue
But apparently he fails to draw what seem to me to be the logical conclusions, namely that Isreal has become "essentially rejectionist" because the Palestinians have rejected every move Israel has made.

Mind you it is entirely possible that the Grauniad is cherry pickign from the 52 page report (quite where the Grauniad gets the 53rd page is a mystery, the PDF from its own website has 52 pages but I guess this is just another case where the layers of fact checkers have swung into action) as just reading the first half dozen pages reveals plenty of other juicy gripes. Fortunately though the Grauniad knows that the most important thing is the blame Israel so it fails to mention the dysfunctionality of the UN that the report describes and so on.

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

What no Rentacar?

I'm in gay Paree for a night and a day. This is for work and the companies we plan to visit are out in the Versailles area so we rented a car (well my boss got the reservation but I was the guy scheduled to pick the thing up). The reservation was done on Monday and Europcar apparently accepted it. Unfortunately yesterday I received an email which appeared to claim that we couldn't get the GPS in the rentacar but apparently it was rather more serious than that in that what we can't get in is a car - GPS or no GPS.Furthermore this is not exclusive to Europcar as no car rental agency in Paris appears to have vehicles for hire for people who walk up (i.e. me now that Europcar have stiffed me) not even, as the playwright says, for ready money.

I don't know what is going on in the French capital these days but this is the first time ever that I have been unable to rent a vehicle when there has been an advance booking like this and one of about two occasions where no rentacars, not even top of the range gas guzzlers, are available for walk up renting. I wonder why this is?  Conspiracy theory answers welcome in the comments.

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

Surukseni en lukea Suomenkieli

(I hope that says Unfortunately I can't read Finnish)
Hence it is difficult to reply to the Finnish parts of Mikko Ellilä's post where he picks holes in my post picking holes in the post of his that got him in hot water with the multicultis in the Finnish government. This post covers other blogospheric reaction and I am happy to say (despite what this may imply to those who like tarring people as racists or sexists) that I actually agree with a good deal of it, in particular his nailing of the sort of strawman argument that goes "if you think all blacks are dumb criminals then how about Condoleezza Rice (or ...)". I'll go further and try to explain the concept of normal distribution, probability, statistics etc. because this is something that your average arts graduate fails to grok.

If I state that "on average population X is more Y than population Z is" then this is not a statement that all members of population X are better at Y than all members of population Z. And this is the case no matter what X, Y and Z are. It applies when X and Z are Europeans and Africans respectively and Y is intelligence just as much as it applies where X and Z are smokers and non-smokers and Y is dying young. There are folks who smoke a packet a day and live until they are 101 but if you look at the population of centenarians you will find that far fewer of them smoke (or have smoked for a long time) than the general population. Condoleezza Rice is a) black and b) female but she is smarter than a lot of white males. But the question should be whether at her level of smartness (measured in some way) are there more whites and males that blacks and females. In other words if, in the total population, there are an average of 2 white males for every 1 black female (numbers taken for example not based on actual data) do we find the same ratio when it comes to people of her smartness? or do we find that the ratio is now 10:1 instead of 2:1? Failure to grasp this point led to Larry Summer's resigning (he asked approximately that question his critics failed to understand what he was asking) and it seems to be difficult to grasp but it is critical none the less. Ann Althouse has written a number of times (e.g. here) that the scandal is always in the presentation. Saying that "%oppressed minority% is actually better as %activity% that whites/men/%some unoppressed group%"  is alwyas going to be OK whereas saying that they are worse is a no-no.

Indeed as I wrote above, other than the bit referring to my post I actually find myself agreeing with Mr Ellilä. The part where we seem to be at some sort of disagreement is over Mr Ellilä's tying of race/religion/immigrant status to criminality. I'm not denying that the statistics show that in Finland the immigrant population is more cimminal than the native one or that the imigrant population is of different ethnic origin to the native one what I am complaining about it Mr Ellilä's apparent confusion of statistical correlation with causation. He may turn out to be right (I don't know) but I don't feel that the evidence he presented was convincing and I don't feel that his response is either. In order to find out whether it is ethnicity, religion or factor X which leads immigrants to commit more crimes you need to control for these factors and look for examples where other groups of differing religion/ethnicity/factor X have immigrated and see whether they are as prone to criminality. Mr Ellilä seems to understand statistics quite well so I'm sad that he seems to miss this point.

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

Friday Olive Tree Blogging

One from the archives - taken in 2005 - because I don't have a current image I want to share. This is a nice old olive tree near Le Broc (a few km inland from Nice) .

As always click on the image to see it enlarged and don't forget to visit the archives.

17 June 2007 Blog Home : All June 2007 Posts : Permalink

VAT a load of rubbish

The excellent Tim W has been reading the Observer and seeing how it gets terribly worked up about other people's money. This is not, of course, a surprise to anyone. The Observer and its weekday stablemate the Grauniad are always upset with the idea that people other than news colmnists should earn lots of money and seem to think that everyone should be taxed at 100% of income and then given a little tax credit by G Brown Esq to let them live. However today's leader states, as Tim reports, that:

[...S]ome of the richest businessmen in Britain pay less tax than the people who clean their offices.

Even if we accept that (somehow) our rich business man manages to avoid income taxes and capital gains taxes and our cleaner fails to claim all those wonderful tax credits etc and actually pays all the tax he can on his minimum wage pay this statement is wrong. It is wrong because the rich man will be paying VAT on many of his purchases as well as stamp duty, council tax and so on on his residence(s), excise duty on the petrol he puts in his sports car, excise duty on the champagne and cuban cigars he gives his guests at parties and so on. Simply concentrating on the VAT proves that the rich man pays more taxes: if our plutocrat blows £100,000 of his earnings on products/services where VAT can be applied he will have paid £17,500 to the tax man. This is likely to be more than the cleaner earns in a year and hence far more that said cleaner pays in tax. Oh and the £100,000 of expenses? how likely is that? well we look at article number two

Houses are knocked through, reinforced, secured against all disaster and hollowed out to accommodate gyms, music studios, swimming pools, dens, movie theatres and technology-rich kitchens, the inside of which the owners do not see from beginning to end of day .The walls are covered in high-value art.

Of course some of this will be VAT exempt but most of it won't and that, along with "lesser fortunes for estate agents, art dealers, wine dealers, restaurateurs, jewellers and anyone who offers a service or an item to sell that is in limited supply" is why London and the UK benefits from having loads of bloated plutocrats residing there even if they don't pay the 99% income tax that our socialist friends seem to think is appropriate.

17 June 2007 Blog Home : All June 2007 Posts : Permalink

The Collapse Of The Soviet Union

SF writer Charlie Stross has a post where, inter alia, he links to a fascinating paper by Yegor Gaider (former PM of Russia) on the reasons why the Soviet Union collapsed. It is well worth reading in its entirety but I'll summarize it as:
  1. The collectivization of Soviet agriculture meant the Soviet Union could not feed itself
  2. To buy food it needed hard currency
  3. Hard currency was available by selling oil
  4. Unfortunately in the mid 1980s Saudi Arabia decided to drastically increase production and thereby wrecked the sums of the Kremlin and left them in a total mess. The Saudis did this because they perceived that as the best way to stop the Russians gaining more influence on the Arab world and as revenge in part for Afghanistan.
  5. The Kremlin tried to borrow money from international banks but in about 1989 the banks decided the Kremlin was a bad credit risk
Thereafter the Kremlin got money with lots of strings (e.g. about not using force in E Europe) that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. This story doesn't mention the "Reagan outspend the military" idea that many Americans are keen on but it doesn't matter directly as indirectly, that idea is true. The Americans made it clear that military attempts to get at more food (or control of oil wells) wouldn't work hence non-military means had to be used. And non-military means meant loans that would be cancelled if the Kremlin did things the bankers didn't like. QED.

There are a bunch of lessons that can be drawn from this. One is that if we in the "West" want to kill Islamic fundamentalism, dictatorial totalitarianism and the like probably the best thing we can do is find an alternative energy source that is as cheap as oil andwhich we can produce ourselves. Another is that a country that can't feed itself is dreadfully vulnerable.

(This post also appears at Nourishing Obscurity)

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

The Blue Wave Falls Short

Here in the south east of France we remain as blue as blue can be (see post a week ago), with every single Alpes Maritimes constituency being UMP (or ally) and every one in the Var too, as well as one of the two in the inland Alpes de Haute Provence department. Unforunately for President Sloshko elsewhere in France his blue wave fell somewhat shorter and so, although the UMP did retain a comfortable margin of victory (314 UMP seats plus about 32 allies out of 577 total), it wasn't the 400-500 seat blowout that looked possible a week ago. Indeed the Socialists gained some 50 seats compared to their results in 2002, which makes them the winners in terms of swing - but not the real winners because they still fell 100 seats short of the numbers required for a majority.

The excellent news though is that convicted crook, pal of Chirac and former PM, Alain Juppé, who was appointed as a minister by Sloshko, failed to win his seat nad has resigned from the cabinet. This news goes hand in hand with the fact that Chirac is now no longer immune from prosecution so Inspecteur Knackeur should be knokcing on his door any day now to ask him to answer a few questions.

Back to the elections. Why did Sarko's blue wave fall short? Well there are a bunch of reasons from low turnout to a generally pronounced belief that a few checks and balances are a good thing that may have helped but the most likely reason is that the economy minister opened his mouth last week and said that he'll probably have to raise VAT to balance the books since Sarko has stated he wishes to reduce income tax and social charges to make it less expensive to employ people. Sarko did his best at damage control after his return from EU diplomacy in Poland but it looks like it wasn't enough.

On the other hand though Sarko looks like he will find it easier to maneover during the summer as the Socialists have now officially formed a circular firing squad. Sego has stated that she has split up with her non-hubby François Hollande (there was some argument about who should wear the skirt in the relationship apparently) and all the "elephants" of the socialist party are now joining in the fray to declare that had only the socialists followed their advice they would have won. So, since Sarko will face little or no sane criticism by opposition politicians, the opposition is likely to come from the loony fringe and Sarko is sure to welcome that as being proof that he is right.

I should note that, depsite my posts during the campaign in favour of Sarko, I agree with the dissident frogman that comparisons between him and Thatcher or Reagan are overstated. Comparisons between him and Bush (either) are probably fairly accurate though, although I suspect Sarko is smarter, less loyal and more devious than either Bush. In fact the closest anglo-saxon political figures that Sarko resembles are probably Pres W Clinton and PM A Blair... The reason why I was so strongly in favour of Sarko compared to Bayrou or Sego was that the latter two were destined to lead France to total destruction in a short time, Sarko may manage to turn things around and may be the enabler that lets a real French Thatcher or Reagan appear.

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

The Pussy Loving MEPs

The BBC has an article and blog piece by Mark Mardell on plans by MEPs to ban the trade in cat and dog fur. This, we are told, would bring us in to line with the USA and Australia who have banned this trade (and in the US IIRC also the trade in horse meat). There are a number of grounds for banning this trade (the fact that the animals in question tend to be kept in unpleasant conditions being the main one) but the real revulsion, as Mr Mardell notes, is that cats and dogs are cute:

But hang on. Why is it vile? Is this sense or sentiment? Obviously, making a coat out of giant panda or tiger is wrong. They are rare. Cats and dogs are not. Is farming them for their skin or fur worse than using any other animal? Of course, many people hate all animal fur clothes, but they are not illegal. Is it just because we see them as pets that we find it gross? It seems to me animals have the best chance of being protected if they are cute, or look a bit like us. Saving the slug is not on anyone’s agenda, although a slug-skin jacket probably wouldn’t sell very well either.

I think it is clear that the market for "fido"skin coats or "tiddles" hats is small to non-existent. There is one minor problemette. The articel explains that we consumers don't always know that our fur-lined parka made in China is using cat fur because the manufacturers don't label the product properly:

MEPs say shoppers buy goods made with the fur unknowingly, because exporters attach false labels.

It is used in coats, linings for boots and gloves, stuffed toys, and even homeopathic aids for arthritis. [...]

So clearly banning the use of cat and dog fur is going to stamp out this practice? As Daniel Drezner points out, the Chinese have been less that keen to follow the rules when it comes to the purity of ingredients in products from pharmaceuticals to pet food and are resistant to the idea of reduction of poisonous lead in toys so it seems slightly improbable that they will decide to stop growing dogs and cats while a market for "fur" exists that they can fill at the lowest price using cats and dogs (I should note that I would have thought rabbits would be cheaper but what do I know?).

In otherwords a legal ban just makes the politicians look busy without really making much difference except to make the The real solution would seem to be to educate the public and the shop-keepers that fur products from China frequently contain cat and dog fur. An advertising campaign on bus shelters with lots of PR in newspapers and on TV would seem to be the best way but no doubt one could do something trendy with YouTube and blogs if you want to be cool too.

Unfortunately politicians world wide seem to prefer passing laws banning things to effective action and our MEPs, with less power than most politicians, obviously can't resist getting in the act when they see an opportunity to do something other than claim large expenses. Still this is understandable, if they don't debate and pass pointless laws like this then we might wonder why we have them in the first place...

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

Ni putes ni soumises mais ministre

AP reports (in French google xlation, also here in English) that Fadela Amara, the founder the "Ni putes ni soumises" movement  for immigrant women in France has been invited to join the Sarko government as a junior minister for cities. Ms Amara is generally considered to be somewhat leftish, although she is not IIRC officially a member of the socialist party. Of course the socialists have declared that members of their party who accpet Sarko's invitiations will be chucked out of the party, as has happened to Dr Koucher and may also happen to another new junior minister. In fact as Bloomberg reports the new enlarged Sarko government of 30 ministers or one sort or another is distinctly not a pure UMP affair:

Ten, including Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, don't belong to the UMP party. Jean-Marie Bockel, a Socialist senator and mayor of the eastern city of Mulhouse, was named today a junior minister. Andre Santini, member of the New Center party, will be in charge of public servants, Valerie Letard, a centrist, will oversee ``solidarity and social affairs.''

In fact the Sarko government is distinctly different in cast to the usual one with a lot of female and dusky faces as well as all those different political outlooks, quite a change from the usual array of stodgy middleaged white males with an occasional token white female or (even more rarely) non-white male. As well as the above it also has another young immigrant female, Rama Yade, a young UMP rising star not dissimilar in background etc. to Justice Minister Rachida Dati and the reshuffle also means that Christine Lagarde, a lady who was the first female directer of US law firm Baker and Mckenzie, is now the finance minister.

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

Fun with 4 letter words

I got one of thse chain email things (Thanks Tom). I managed to pass it on (just). The rule is to start with one particular 4 letter word and then modify one letter and send it to someone else to keep the chain going. At present the chain letter I've got is below. I am impressed at the general lack of both obscenity and repetition as well as the fact that very few seem to have had to reach for obscure words. Anyway here is the letter to date:


> > >
> > > Hannah - boot
> > > Mary -bout
> > > Dan - boat
> > > Taylor- coat
> > > Nat - coal
> > > Brian - cool
> > > Bryan - fool
> > > Amy - tool
> > > Sami - pool
> > > Sarah - wool
> > > Kasey - woof
> > > Lori - hoof
> > > Katie - roof
> > > Bon - root
> > > Lisa- hoot
> > > Colleen - coot
> > > Yvonne - cook
> > > Karen - look
> > > Audrey - took
> > > Bonnie - book
> > > Charlie - hook
> > > Nan- honk
> > > Audrey - hank
> > > Jeannette -hunk
> > > Bette -dunk
> > > Molly -punk
> > > Bev - hunk
> > > Ernie- sunk
> > > Phyllis - junk
> > > Sharon - June
> > > Jane - tune
> > > Linda - tone
> > > Bruce - bone
> > > Lisa- lone
> > > Helen - gone
> > > Midge - done
> > > Sherlin - cone
> > > Vivian - none
> > > Dora - zone
> > > Jean - hone
> > > Sally - home
> > > Mary - come
> > > Tim - dome
> > > Yesi - some
> > > Teri - same
> > > Donna - sage
> > > Emilie - cage
> > > Betty - page
> > > Dick - pale
> > > Laura- bale
> > > Kate - male
> > > Barb - mole
> > > Susie - pole
> > > Rebecca - poke
> > > Janet - joke
> > > Angie - toke
> > > Laureen - coke
> > > Lori - code
> > > Vickie - rode
> > > Sabrina - rose
> > > Leslie - rise
> > > Denise - rite
> > > Sheri - rate
> > > Sharon- rats
> > > Linda - cats
> > > Carolyn - mats
> > > Jamie- mate
> > > Becky - mite
> > > Michelle - mice
> > > Brenda - dice
> > > Cheryl - lice
> > > Jody - lick
> > > Linda - wick
> > > Felicia - kick
> > > Shar I - sick
> > > Whitney - suck
> > > Heather - tuck
> > > Brenda - duck (I'm not going to be the one to say it!)
> > > Betty - dock (you thought it was going to be something else, didn't You?)
> > > Vicki - sock
> > > Helen - cock (a faucet or valve for regulating flow of liquid - just want to be clear) It's also a farm animal.
> > > Barbara - mock
> > > Carol - lock
> > > Sheri - jock
> > > Pam - jack
> > > Eva - back
> > > Michelle - lack
> > > Angie - lace
> > > Kathy- face
> > > Angie - fact
> > > Julie - fart
> > > Mel - farm
> > > Debbie - fare
> > > Lisa- dare
> > > Margaret - bare
> > > Petra- care
> > > Don - mare
> > > Mary Jo - mart
> > > Karen - cart
> > > Ellen - dart
> > > Ann - darn
> > > Meghan - yarn
> > > Jana - barn
> > > Lisa- born
> > > Sheila - corn
> > > Dana - cork
> > > Carol - pork
> > > Cheri - port
> > > Chris - part
> > > Tina - park
> > > Erica - lark
> > > Lou - hark (You know, Harold's angels singing)
> > > Robyn - dark
> > > Jacque - dank
> > > Helen -dunk
> > > Delisa - dune
> > > Bethany - Dane
> > > Nicole - done
> > > Kayla- Bone
> > > Lisa- Zone
> > > Angie W -Tone
> > > Danita V. - none
> > > Suzy - lone (as in Lone Ranger..lol)
> > > JoAnn - gone
> > >  Gayle - gene
> > > Lorri - gena (I was desparate for a word and found this one in the Dictionary, it means the cheek or lateral side of the face)
> > >
> > > Margie - gent
> > > Sandy- bent
> > > Merrikay -beet
> > > Rhonda-feet
> > > Sara -Feel
> > > Sheila-feed
> > > Mary Ann - need
> > > Pat - seed
> > > Holly-heed
> > > Deb - weld
> > > Christina - held
> > > Cheryl - help
> > > Kurt - kelp
> > > Kristie - yelp
> > > Kim - yell
> > > Brandi - hell
> > > Conal - bell
> > > Lesley-fell
> > > Kevin - Felt
> > > Gail - melt
> > > Sharon- belt
> > > Terry - pelt
> > > Linda - welt
> > > Kim - well
> > > Denise - will
> > > Bernie-hill
> > > Patti - fill
> > > Judy-film
> > > Joy - form
> > > Sandy- fort
> > > Mark Lynn - fork
> > > Laura - cork
> > > Coreen - cord
> > > Marcel--lord
> > > Pauline -lard
> > > Jo-Anne-card
> > > Kelly - care
> > > Julie - cage
> > > Roxy - came
> > > Frankie-game
> > > Glenda - lame
> > > Leslie - fame
> > > Jane - same
> > > Lynne - lake
> > > Karen - fake
> > > Anna - make
> > > Sue - bake
> > > Patricia - cake
> > > Fern - care
> > > Eileen rare
> > > Hilda - mare
> > > Gerry - male
> > > Jim - malt
> > > Jeanne - salt
> > > Jack - bale
> > > Brian - ball
> > > April - wall
> > > Beth - walk
> > > Shannon- balk (MLB playoffs are on)
> > > Heather - bank
> > > Marlie - tank
> > > Karen - talc
> > > Karon - tale
> > > Freda - gale
> > > Jill - gala
> > > Stephanie - gaga
> > > Carla - saga
> > > Sandy- rage
> > > Shirley- wage
> > > Sherry - cage.....wow, that was easy....
> > > Lisa- cave
> > > Lorraine- save
> > > Bob - gave
> > > Heather - have (I'm guessing that this game will eventually have to go back to the word 'foot')
> > > Janice - hive
> > > Silvy - give
> > > Marsha-live
(omitted - jive?)
> > > Lise - jibe
> > > Jenifer - vibe
> > > Carla - gibe (to shake or handle roughly)
> > > Esther - kibe ( an ulcerated chilblain, esp on the heel, I learned two new words on this one)
> > > Renee-kite
> > > Patty - site
> > > Chris - bite
> > > Patti - bile
> > > Kevin - wile
> > > Gail- file
> > > Jim - fife
> > > Allan- Life
> > > Michele - line
> > > Ian - lint
> > > Stella - mint
> > > Sylvia - mind
> > > Hilda - find
> > > Tanya - Bind
> > > Dalene - bend
> > > John - send
> > > Adrian- seed
> > > Brenda - feed
> > > Nicki - fled
> > > Karin - bled
> > > Ingrid - sled
> > > Pat - lead
> > > Julie - bead
> > > Julie - dead
> > > Winks - head
> > > Alex and Mary - held
> > > Wilna - weld
> > > Des - wild
> > > Paddy-gild
> > > Kalpana - gold
> > > Shamilla - sold
> > > Niren - Hold
> > > Ronelle - Toll
> > > Roberta - Tall
> > > Viloshni - Talk
> > > Samantha - Tale
> > > Penny - Male
> > > Janice rale
> > > Camilla - Rule
> > > Cavn - Rile
> > > Charlene - Wile
> > > Charmaine - Life
> > > Carmen - Lift
> > > Chimonique - Left
> > > Christien - Loft
> > > Saartjie - Loot
> > > IK - Lost
> > > SC - Lose
> > > rudolph - dose
> > > Christie - seed
> > > Paul - Need
> > > Dave - Weed
> > > Frank - Weep
> > > Pat - Deep
> > > Margery - Seep
> > > Eileen - Seek
> > > Claire - Meek
> > > Sue - Meet
> > > Linda - Meat
> > > Amanda - Meal
> > > Natalie - Deal
> > > Lynne - Seal
> > > Fran - Teal
> > > Linda - Tear
> > > Jenny - Bear
> > > Jan - Year
> > > Elaine - Pear
> > > Alexia - Peat
> > > Christel - Beat
> > > Adrienne - Bear
> > > Liz - Beer
> > > Dorothy - Beef
> > > Libby - reef
> > > Linda - reel
> > > Barbara----real
> > > Linda -- read
> > > Jane - bead
> > > Pat - beam
> > > Nancy- seam
> > > Jayne - team
> > > Diana -tear
> > > Norm - teal
> > > Barbara - seal
> > > Jane - seat
> > > Arilla - beat
> > > Bill - heat
> > > Ed - hear
> > > John - Bear
> > > John T - sear
> > > Marg- tear
> > > Betty- teat
> > > Marg teas
> > > Sandy-peas
> > > April-peat
> > > Joelle-neat
> > > CéJle- feat
> > > Vera-feet
> > > Linda- fees
> > > Mary Jane - bees
> > > Louise - beet
> > > Yvonne - beep
> > > Jacquie - keep (it going.........................)
> > > April - Kelp
> > > Maria- help
> > > Genevieve - held
> > > Laurie - Head
> > > Sue - heal
> > > Karen- peal
> > > Jenn - Teal
> > > Gay - Seal
> > > Chancie - Seam
> > > Tammy - Seem
> > > Kathy- Seek
> > > Laura- Leek
> > > Tammy - Like
> > > Toni - Bike
> > > Arlene-Hike
> > > Linda - Hire
> > > Kathleen - Wire
> > > Kim- Were
> > > Cristy-Here
> > > Kim B - Hero
> > > Krista - zero
> > > Karen - Nero
> > > Rhonda - Nerd
> > > Val - Herd
> > > Martin - Hard
> > > Rob - Lard
> > > Randy - Lark
> > > Al - Mark
> > > Rita - bark
> > > Muriel - barn
> > > Lynne - burn
> > > Janet - turn
> > > Jamie - turf
> > > Carol - Turk
> > > Angela - lurk
> > > Catherine - lure
> > > Christine - cure
> > > Sylvie - pure
> > > Laurie - pore
> > > Susan - bore
> > > Sue- born
> > > Chris - corn
> > > Janet - cork
> > > Kathy- conk
> > > Sheila - honk
> > > Anne - monk
> > > Sharon-mink
> > > Vanesa - Mint
> > > Tonia - Lint
> > > Garry - Line
> > > Jo - link
> > > Jan - kink
> > > Liz - King
> > > Sue - kine (as in cattle)
> > > Anne - mine
> > > Gina - wine
> > > Suzanne - fine
> > > Rachel - dine
> > > Chris- pine
> > > Diane - Ping
> > > Margaret - King
> > > Mary - Kind
> > > Eileen - mind
> > > Hilary - rind
> > > Heather-bind
> > > Susan Williams - bond
> > > Chris Jones - bong
> > > Terry - song
> > > Steve - mong (A mong being the fact that my Mother sooo could have had bonk!!!)
> > > Donna - gong
> > > Lavinia - long
> > > Fiona - lung
> > > Debbie - bung
> > > Debbie K - bang
> > > Sally-Ann - gang
> > > Shannon - fang
> > > Kathy - Bang
> > > Silvana - Bank
> > > Wolfgang - Band
> > > Michelle- Rand
> > > Caro - rant
> > > Mara - rank
> > > Geoff - rink
> > > Mark - sink
> > > Jeanette - pink
> > > Sue - wink (which is what pink (above) makes the boys do)
> > > John - Wine
> > > Laura - Wing
> > > Michelle - ring
> > > Lisa - Sing
> > > Steve - Ping
> > > Dean - Ding
> > > Rosalyn - Ling (yes it is a word!)
> > > Wal - Line
> > > Michelle - Pine
> > > Nicole - Pile
> > > Leah - File
> > > Angela - Fuel
> > > Adele - Feel
> > > Robyn- Fell
> > > Pops-Bell
> > > Jenny-Belt
> > > Shirley - Best
> > > Leena - Nest
> > > Karishma - Test
> > > Beverly - Rest (I could do with some..........)
> > >  Charmaine - Pest
> > > Cassandra - Post
> > > Seshni - Lost
> > >  Bhuven - Lest
> > > Muthu - Last
> > > Akashnee- cast
> > > Susan - Cash
> > > Ceri - Lash (that took me about 5 minutes to come up with!)
> > > Cindy - Lush
> > > Shamane - Lust
> > > Juna - Bust
> > > Ilse - Dust
> > > Linda - Duet
> > > Mimi - Duel
> > > Calphurnia - Dual
> > > Mathilda - Dial
> > > Martin - Vial (a small container)
> > > Rita - Sial (and yes it does come out of the dictionary) - I couldn't find it!
> > > Marilyn - Siam (country)
> > > YOLANDE - slam
> > > TRISTAN - Slap
> > > Hazel - clap
> > > LEE-ANN - CRAP
> > > Toni- CLAM
> > > Angela - LAMB
> > > Cindy - Clam
> > > Patricia - clay
> > > Wendy - play
> > > Nicolle - plan
> > > Bianca- lane
> > > Laura - cane
> > > Amanda - pane
> > > Kelley - pine
> > > Amy - mine
> > > Alli - fine
> > > Maria - dine
> > > June - wine
> > >
> > > Caitriona - line
> > > Siobhan - life
> > > *Anita - lime*
> > > Marie - live
> > > Jackie - jive
> > > Bob - dive
> > > Trish - dove
> > > Chris - move
> > > Edel - mode
> > > Claire - Code
> > > Amy - Rode
> > > Audrey - Rose
> > > Kristin - Rope
> > > Laura-Dope
> > > Kim-Pope
> > > Fiona - Pole
> > > Miriam - Mole
> > > Iseult - Sole
> > > Anne - sold
> > >
> > >
> > Ruth-gold
> > Christina - geld

> Tomas - gels
Francis - eels

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

DRM - the beast that won't die

I think it is fairly clear to the average reader of this blog that I think DRM is one of the more stupid ideas I have come across. I last discussed DRM with reference to the HD-DVD key issue but people still pop up and try and defend it. The latest DRM defender is a gentleman called Robert Weber. Mr Weber is I'm glad to say quite open about the fact that he works for a company that offers corporations DRM consultancy so it isn't exactly a surprise to see him publically defending DRM, but I wonder whether his clients ever call him on some of the things he writes. I'm going to fisk his post in a bit but first I'd like to point out that I got there from the Teleread blog and that Teleread has a refutation from 3 years ago that IMO Mr Weber should read and think about (and then after that he can go and read Eric Flint's salvoes at Jim Baen's Universe). 

Ok enough with the intro, now on with the fisking of Mr Weber's annoyance with anti-DRM folks:

More mis- and dis-information, this time from the Free the BBC campaign and a letter to the BBC apparently instigated by Binary Freedom Boston.

I always like to start agreeing with my fiskee. In this case I'll agree that the letter contains "mis- and dis-information". Unfortunately I'm not sure that the parts Mr Weber chooses to answer are the ones with "mis- and dis-information".

The letter make three arguments:
1. DRM doesn't work. Like many others, they conclude that because if it's not perfect, it doesn't work. If it didn't work, who would care?

Classic case of excessive simplification. It takes a few minutes googling, visiting YouTube, the Pirate Bay and so on to locate masses of music, video, ebooks etc. that are readily available for download for free. Some of this is poor quality, some isn't, and much of it is only legally available with DRM. There are good reasons (dangers of malware, quality, a desire to reward the creators) to purchase legal DRMed copies, but availability isn't one of them. Indeed WRT the BBC, it is extremely easy to locate torrents of popular episodes of say "Top Gear" or "Dr Who", let alone official non-DRM copies of radio programs so it isn't clear to me what problem the DRM is supposed to solve. The problem is that it only takes one person to crack the DRM for it to be available for millions and so far, despite all the efforts both legal and technical, no DRM scheme has remained uncracked. So here's the deal. DRM does not stop freeloaders who want to consume content without paying for it from getting that content. It may make it a bit harder but it doesn't stop it and one way or another I see no sign that it ever will. Freeloaders may have to spend a few of hours figuring out how to get the first uncracked thing but once they've got the first the next one is not going to take as long to obtain.

2. DRM is a poor business decision. Ain't necessarily so. It might be an excellent business decision for content other than music, and even in some cases, for music (although I think that ship is mostly sunk).

DRM is a poor business decision because it treats everyone as a potential crook and the more intrusive it is the more we get annoyed. DRM tends to lock us into particular devices (e.g. iPods) and to limit the freedom we have to move stuff from one device to another when we own both. I don't listen to much music or watch too many movies so I'm going to talk about eBooks. Microsoft's Reader and Lit format requires readers to register their computer with Microsoft and ties all the books to a particular email address. I found that when I switched laptops the installation and reregistration of MS reader nearly caused me to throw my new computer across the room because it took about 57 steps that needed to be done precisely in order and which were not clear except when you got about 10 steps further on and got stuck. I am far from alone, author John Ringo wrote about his similar travails with Vista and MSN music in a "novella" that I can totally relate to. Another good example is a 2003 post by the Shifted Librarian:

Forget for a moment the problems some of the DRM caused even just during the demo. Forget the fact that PDFs are a proprietary format, and let's just say the libraries don't care about a logo and link. The next biggest problem? Defining the word "own." It's like having Clinton define the word "sex."

After much debate, we came to the conclusion that if a library purchases titles from ED, it does indeed own them. However, if it stops subscribing to the service, if ED folds the way Gemstar did, or if PDFs are replaced by another format, the library will "own" a file that is completely and utterly useless. You can only download the file from the ED site into an offline reader, and the content automatically expires after a pre-determined date. Even if you set that date to be 1,000 years from now, the title is stuck in that one copy of the offline reader. You can't circulate it, you can't print a paper copy of it, and you can't move it anywhere else. If the hard drive crashes, then you own a file you can't even look at anymore.

I have a real problem with that, as do consumers, libraries, and anyone other than publishers involved with ebooks. This is exactly the kind of mentality that is regressing the ebook movement. The next time someone asks why ebooks aren't taking off, ask them to look up the word "own" in the dictionary.

People like the idea of being able read/watch/listen to something in the car when they are in the car and in the house when they are in the house. They also like the idea of being able to decide that insetad of buying a new iPod they'll get a Zune or a Sony something and expecting that their musc etc. will play on the new product just as it does on the old one. They particularly like this idea because they've been bent over and rogered with 8-tracks, betamax, DAT, minidiscs, laserdiscs and dozens of other formats that turned out to be lemons and which, hence, lead to the inability to play content once the original player dies of old age. DRM requires consumers to trust the electronics industry and the media content industries to continue supporting gadgets and formats, something that experience has taught us they are unlikely to do.

3. The industry has ditched it. Well, only in music, and mainly, in my view, to get Apple out-from-under potential anti-trust issues, especially in Europe. Apple sold a lot of music with FairPlay DRM, which did what it was supposed to do.

Not true. I agree that the movie studios have drunk the DRM koolaid but ebook vendors are shifting away from DRM gradually. Successful eBook publishers (e.g. Baen) have either ditched it or never embraced it and authors from other publishers have begun to clamour publicly for their publisher to move to a DRM free model. 

Much of the anti-DRM sentiment comes from those who believe that "information wants to be free" (often wrongly attributed to Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow, but actually from Stuart Brand). To state the obvious, information doesn't want anything. Ever. People don't want to pay. Period.

Again enough with the excessive simplification. Some people don't want to pay. Other people are unwilling to pay rip off prices for DRM crippled versions of stuff that they can buy in a physical form for the same or less. Consumers are not stupid. They realize that the distribution cost of something downloaded over the internet is near as dammit free, whereas the distribution cost of a physical book/CD/DVD is about half the price of the object (printing, packaging and the cut that the shop takes). Hence if you sell something to download you should be only paying at most half what it costs to get in physical form. iTunes was successfull because people were willing to pay $0.99 for a song instead of $15 for an album but in part that was because about 75% of the 10-15 tracks on the album were crud so the 2-4 listenable tracks cost $2-$4 each. I linked up above to Charlie Stross's post on ebooks, I'm going to quote from it:

Interestingly, Baen's webscription titles are under-represented on the ebook warez newsgroups. I don't think this is an accident. 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.

People are demonstrably willing to pay for stuff if they perceive a value in doing so. Some people have a lower price point than others (which is why book publishers have hardback and paperback editions etc.) which is why no matter how cheap you sell things for some scumbags will try to get it for free, but there is masses of evidence (from Baen and elsewhere) that shows that if you price something appropriately so it isn't seen as a rip off then people will buy it and not bother trying to put it up on P2P or WareZ sites.

The economic model of Free doesn't provide incentives to produce digital goods in the first place. There is one well-known exception. And that's where the business model is experienced based. The Grateful Dead made its money from concerts and merchandise. Recordings were a giveaway to build and maintain their fan base. Anyone could patch into the sound board and record the concert. Good model, but not one generalizable to music generally or to video, movies, TV, and games.

Particularly when it comes to creative work where (unlike with cars) every product is different, consumers really want some sort of "try before you buy". Hence libraries, browsing in bookstores, borrowing CDs from friends and so on. DRM removes our ability to try before we buy so it should be little surprise that we don't buy. Or don't buy as much, and only from "trusted" brands (i.e. best sellers). I agree that the economic model of everything free doesn't provide incentives to produce more but neither does the economic model of ripping off your customer and DRM seems to lead people to do the latter. The economic model of "the first hit is free then when you're hooked we get as much as we can from you" is tired and tested and works as well in ebooks (Baen) as it does with crack sellers.

Ask a musician who is not at the top of the charts but who has a couple of CDs out, gets some airplay, got someone to distribute their tunes on the Web, and sells merchandise from website, whether they'd like to get paid every time a track is sold AND passed along to the buyer's 10 best friends. Yes they are doing music for art's sake, but like all of us, they have to keep a roof over their heads, eat, and have a life.

It all depends on how you slant the question. If you ask said musician whether he'd rather have 10 people clamouring for his next album or 100 you'll get a different answer. Midlist writers and equivalent musicians etc. suffer more because no one has ever heard of their stuff than because it's been given away for free. If you have 10 fans then your maximum possibly sale is 10. If you have 100 then your maximum is 100 not 10, furthermore with 100 the chances are greater that some of them will recommend your product to their friends and hence see a greater growth in the fan base (and hence customer base). This is the classic J curve or S curve growth beloved of venture capitalists and silicon valley start ups. If you artificially limit yourself to the low end of the curve then you never get a chance to see the exponential growth at the top. DRM helps limit you.

Is the division of revenue between artists and labels fair? Debatable. Complex industry. Maybe not. But just because media giants are playing by the rules of capitalism doesn't mean that those who don't want to pay should get a free pass by repeatedly insisting that Free is the only way to go. Repeating a statement endlessly doesn't make it true or right.

I'm glad to see we can agree again. "Repeating a statement endlessly doesn't make it true or right" and many of the statemnents made defending DRM, in my opinion, fall into that category. The big DRM lie, it seems to me, is the theory that in the old days before "digital" no one consumed content that did not generate income for the publisher/artist and that therefore the online downloading of "pirated" copies is somehow new. This is flat out rubbish, from shoplifters and borrowers of stuff from friends, to libraries and second hand stores there were endless ways that people used to consume content without the publisher getting any money. For books there is some evidence that roughly 1 in 4 readers pay the publisher, the rest read the book in some other way. I suspect the distribution is similar for music and other content. In other words in the pre-DRM days publishers managed to get a royalty from just 25% of the audience. To do this, typically, publishers have had to incur large costs with respect to the production, warehousing and distribution of physical product much of which ends up not being sold (google "sell through rate") or at least not sold at anything other than remaindered firesale price.

It is understandable that publishers might wish to raise the proportion of the audience that pays and/or raise the amount they get from each paying consumer but a fair argument for/against DRM has to start from the fact that 75% of users will not have paid rather than the fantasy that less than 5% or so were freeloaders under the previous conditions.

20 June 2007 Blog Home : All June 2007 Posts : Permalink

Excellent Stem Cell News

In April I wrote a couple of posts about stem cells (and one somewhat indrectly) where I based a good deal of my argument on what was (then) the limit of published scientific knowledge. The critical points were that
  1. We can't tell stem cells from normal ones except by seeing how they behave
  2. Adult stem cells only produce cells for special parts of the body and not generalized ones
Well the Instapundit informs me that point (2) may no longer be true. At TCS there is an article about the researches of Shinya Yamanaka who has now published a couple of papers, includng this one in Nature, that appear to show that adding a few proteins to a stemcell it becomes "pluripotent", i.e. able to generate all types of cells. Critically (and unlike a certain Korean stem cell researcher), the research he published last year has now been reproduced by a different lab so it seems like he has got something right. Of course we are still at the "baby steps" stage of research. Prof Yamanaka has got mouse cells to work and there is, as far as I can tell, some confusion about whether what he has produced are "normal" stem cells or some evil thing that will produce tumors and nothing else. There may also (I'm limited to reading abstracts) be some mystery about why the trick he uses works. If you MUST know what he does is "retroviral introduction of Oct3/4 (also called Pou5f1), Sox2, c-Myc and Klf4, and subsequent selection for Fbx15 (also called Fbxo15) expression" and some colleagues have a paper that may explain why it works.

Now all this is excellent stuff and may well allow us to ditch the idea of human embryo stem cell research, but it seems to me that the TCS article is written by a gentleman who is vehemently against research using human embryonic stem cells so I'm not going to take his word for it. Why do I think that you ask? well phrases like the one I quote below seem to be a tad hyperbolic:

Will this disruptive technology open up ethical avenues in the promising field of stem cell research, avenues which do not involve turning women into battery hens for their eggs and destroying embryos?

I also suspect that, contrary to what the article implies, researchers would greatly prefer to use processed adult stem cells to embryonic ones if they can. One good reason why is that it will be very very easy for researchers to get adult human stem cells, from for example a piece of skin or flesh from a biopsy, and they will therefore be far more numerous and varied, becasue to put it simply every researcher can get his own from himself, and hence discoveries will be less likely to be flukes and more likely to work with all humans and not just some. But the bad news is that until we understand why retroviral insertion of Oct3/4, Sox2, c-Myc and Klf4 works (and for that matter whether the same proteins work in human stem cells) we can never be sure that such modification is in fact safe. On the other hand the related positive news is that this may hold out the possibility that we figure out not just why adult stem cells aren't as flexible but also how stem cells differ from normal ones so that we can make every cell in a biopsy a stem cell.
(xposted at nourishing obscurity)

20 June 2007 Blog Home : All June 2007 Posts : Permalink

Sir Salman and Illogical Weaseling

Apart from the frothing at the mouth from socalled devout members of the religion of submission, the Knighthood of Sir Salman has been primarily notable for how a large section of the british chattering and letter-writing to the Times classes prefer to blame Sir Salman for all the aforementioned frothing. I'm not going to get into a discussion of the frothing other than to note that the frothers clearly haven't learnt anything positive from the Mohammed cartoons furore last year. What they appear to have learned rather is that a certain class of Western pseudo-intellectual slug will gleefully lube up another victim and chuck him off the trioka (to mix metaphors dreafully) as soon as the followers of the religion of submission make even the slightest complaint.

So back to the slugs.

Exhibit 1 (via Norm and Eric the Unread) is some prat in the Grauniad called Gopal who thinks that Rushdie has sold out to the establishment and that the knighthood is his 30 pieces of silver. Now I have a question for this Gopal. Assume that Sir Salman had decided to remain an "anti-establisment" figure. He would obviously have had trouble squaring an anti-establishment stance with accepting 24x7 protection from the militaristic lackeys of the corrupt and bullying state and would therefore have been forced to avoid misguided minions of the religion of submission on his own and/or with the help of a few pals. So the question is this: had Mr Rushdie gone that route would he still be alive to receive his knighthood today? There is a follow up. If you, Gopal, were one of the blokes that he was relying on what would you have done when the murderous jihadis showed up at the door? (I'm guessing open it and grovel on the floor begging not to be killed too)

In other words if Sir Salman has sold out could it be because he realized that actually the establishment was preferable to the alternative? Gopal writes:

With equal ferocity, he criticised those in postcolonial nations and ethnic minority communities who asserted themselves through chauvinism, fundamentalism, censorship and literalism. It was necessary to critique tyrannical forces in both west and non-west, to recognise them as twinned and to pronounce a plague on both their houses. From the magnificent Midnight's Children to the brilliantly flawed The Moor's Last Sigh, this uncompromising ethical vision underlies plain Mr Rushdie's best fiction.

Just possibly Sir Salman has "sold out" because he doesn't think the west is tyrannical. I note that the Grauniad tells us that Priyamvada Gopal teaches in the English faculty at Cambridge University and is the author of Literary Radicalism in India. It seems to me that a lecturer at Cambridge and fellow of Churchill college is pretty hypocritcal if he complains that others have sold out to the establishment. One wonders whether Gopal avails himself of his college privileges such as the "June Feast" where:

Scarlet is worn and Fellows and guests may wear festal robes of their most senior degree taken at another university instead of a Cambridge gown. Decorations may also be worn.

Enough and on to slug number 2 who wrote to the Times:

Sir, Did the genius who recommended Salman Rushdie for a knighthood not realise the offence that it would cause to the Muslim world after The Satanic Verses debacle or was this calculated? And exactly why did he get a knighthood – he has done nothing for Britain other than cost the taxpayer a fortune in police protection for writing a book the majority never read?

P. CRESSWELL, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh

1) Who the %expletive% cares what "offense it would cause to the Muslim world"? We are not (yet) ruled by a Muslim caliph. Indeed in churches* all over England prayers are said every Sunday that contain:

We beseech thee also to save and defend all Christian Kings, Princes, and Governours; and specially thy Servant ELIZABETH our Queen; that under her we may be godly and quietly governed: And grant unto her whole Council, and to all that are put in authority under her, that they may truly and impartially administer justice, to the punishment of wickedness and vice, and to the maintenance of thy true religion, and virtue.

"Thy true religion" being the Anglican/Episcopalian one not the one promulgated by some alleged kiddie fiddler from Arabia.
2) Exposing that lack of tolerance for free speech amongst members of a certain religion seems like a pretty major service even if some ostrichs prefer to ignore it. And of course, whether or not Satanic Verses has not been read, some of his other work such as Midnight's Children have been major bestsellers and thus, presumably, read by many. Finally this "not read by the majority" is ridiculous if applied strictly. If only authors who have sold more than 30M books are entitled to a knighthood then I guess the only ones who meet the bar in recent years are Dick Francis, J K Rowling and Barbara Cartland.

Slug number 3 (back to the Grauniad) is Marcel Berlins who seems to contradict slug one while still whining about whether Sir Salman deserved his knighthood.

The reaction to Salman Rushdie's knighthood should have been foreseen, not least by him. Perhaps it was, both in the offices of those who made the decision to offer it to him, and in Rushdie's own household. But if our honours pickers thought that the award might lead to trouble, should they have decided to leave Rushdie off the list? [...]

Rushdie, who lives in New York, has frequently rubbished Britain and British things. He obviously does not like our island. What rankles in particular with many people is his apparent ingratitude towards a country that, following the fatwa issued against him, had spent more than £10m of taxpayers' money on protecting his life. He even once ventured the (factually unlikely) argument that he had paid more in personal tax than he had cost the taxpayer; as if that made his lack of gratefulness acceptable.

[...] Should he have been denied it because he's an ingrate and doesn't like us very much?

We dish out honours to all sorts of people - deserving and undeserving, nice and nasty, adulterers, residents abroad, government critics and supporters. But I do not remember anyone prior to Rushdie accumulating so many reservations, not only for his own iffyness towards the donor of his honour, but because of the real possibility of trouble and violence, not to mention international political repercussions.

I love how this slug tries to weasel in the "international repercussions" thing while mostly complaining that Sir Salman is an ungrateful boor (who apparently hasn't sold out to the establishment but keeps on kicking it). Who can say whether Sir Salman would be Sir S if the Ayatollah hadn't taken offense? or for that matter whether Sir S would have sold as many books as he has? but either way, a better way to make the point that the British "establishment" holds no truck with religious censorship would be hard to find. Usually folk like Marcel Berlins believe that countries should not meddle in the sovereign internal affairs of others. Knighthoods are about as classic a sovereign internal affair as it is so why should Britain take any notice of the opinions of countries who don't seem to like us anyway?

*Admittedly only those churches that do the traditional Book of Common prayer and not the trendy modern replacement

20 June 2007 Blog Home : All June 2007 Posts : Permalink

The Forbes Celebrity 100-38

Patterico asks how many of the Forbes Celebrity 100 do you not know. My score is either 38 or 33 if you count 5 that I had to think umm is he/she X? wasn't sure but guessed right. Although um I do know that Desperate Housewives and Larry the Cable Guy are some kind of TV program but I've never watched either and doubt I ever will. So at best I guess its 31 unknowns.
9 Jay-Z
21 Simon Cowell
28 Ben Stiller
29 Alex Rodriguez * Baseball player?
32 50 Cent
33 Brian Grazer/Ron Howard
37 Tim McGraw
39 Jerry Bruckheimer
45 Adam Sandler
47 Cast of Desperate Housewives
48 LeBron James
50 Derek Jeter
53 Gisele Bundchen
54 Vince Vaughn
56 Gore Verbinski
57 Will Smith * Movie Actor?
59 Judge Judy Sheindlin
62 Anthony Robbins
63 Cate Blanchett
66 Rachael Ray
72 Hilary Duff
73 George Lopez
76 Ryan Seacrest
79 Daniel Radcliffe * Harry Potter?
80 Reese Witherspoon
81 Larry the Cable Guy
84 Heidi Klum * Model?
85 J.J. Abrams
87 Emeril Lagasse
89 Dane Cook
93 Rhonda Byrne
94 Dakota Fanning
95 Danica Patrick
96 Mitch Albom
97 Emma Watson * Hermione?
98 Hayden Panettiere
99 Paula Deen
100 Bobby Flay

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

Afghanistan - Taliban Admit "We're Losing"

Adnittedly the BBC doesn't present it that way, but I find it hard to read their report and see any other way of spinning it that doesn't sound stupid:

The Taleban in Afghanistan are changing their tactics to mount more attacks on the capital, Kabul, a spokesman for the militant group has told the BBC.

The spokesman, Zabiyullah Mujahed, said Taleban were recovering after Nato had infiltrated the group and killed some of its leaders.

But more people were volunteering to carry out suicide bombings, he said.

I tend to agree with the Afghan Defense Minister:

"At the moment you see the tides are turning in our favour, the Taleban have failed to materialise their so called spring offensive, they have failed to isolate Kabul or to cut highways or to expand their area of influence," he told the BBC.

Here's my take: the Taleban have, despite their safe havens across the border, been comprehensively smashed in their "spring offensive". Moreover even their most ardent supporters in the MSM have noticed that fact, although I can't help but notice John Simpson busily peddling their line as much as he can. Unfortunately the impression given between that article (summary: life has become more dangerous everywhere) and the latest one (summary: Taleban going to concentrate on suicide bombing in Kabul) makes it clear that the Taleban have lost their attempt at a reasonably traditional war and are moving towards the classic terrorist insurgency.

As that article notes at the bottom this may make some hitherto Taleban connected folks look for ways to do an "Anbar":

But the Taleban are not winning all the battles. I spoke to a senior Taleban figure who has just defected to the government in Kabul after falling out with the overall Taleban leader, Mullah Omar.

He maintained that many Taleban leaders like himself are hostile to al-Qaeda, and are looking for some third way between the government with its Nato allies and the foreign extremists led by bin Yazid.

Of course Mr Simpson can't end his piece with such an optimistic gloss so he concludes it :

But he agreed the Taleban were proving increasingly successful against the government, and confirmed that their strategy was to surround Kabul and eventually capture it.

While Nato forces are in the country, that will not happen. But so far neither Nato nor the government of President Karzai seems to know how to counter the resurgent Taleban.

Mr Simpson, the fact that we have Taleban figures coming over to the government side and a Taleban which has lost leaders and has switched tactics to pure terrorism indicates to me that the Taleban are in trouble. "Surrounding Kabul and capturing it" may be a long term goal but it clearly isn't going to be the short term one because suicide bombs are not ways to surround and capture a place. It seems pretty clear to me that Mr Simpson is finding the worst possible interpretation he can for what looks like comparatively good news.

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

My Parents Are Not The Only Ones

Alice Thompson's parents are just as stingy. Or if you prefer just as green and ecologically sound. As she says people of the wrinkly (if not crumbly) generation, the ones who think it normal to walk to the shops, eat everything in the fridge before buying more, darn their clothes, wear their clothes for a few days between washings etc. are intriniscally green. It is us young folk who are wasteful.

It occurs to me that there is in fact a good reason for this. They grew up, as Alice says, expecting to spend a significant chunk of their disposable income of food and other necessities. This gives you an incentive to not waste things. Today we are all so much richer that there doesn't seem much point.

An Example. I just chucked a kettle away, it cost me €12 I think when I bought it two years ago. It was the second or third such cheapo kettle we've had in the past 7 years here in France so on average I guess we've spent about €4 a year on kettles up to now. She Who Must Be Obeyed decreed that we would buy a slightly posher kettle (Rowenta €50 but made in China just like the cheapo ones) this time around so we'll see if that lasts any longer. Compare this to my parents who still use the kettle I left behind when I left the UK nearly 20 years ago. Admittedly this old kettle has not been in continuous use, they kept it as a spare to their existing one and nursed that along with various tweaks and "you have to hit it on the side sometimes to get it to start" sorts of thing for far longer than I would have. Indeed I did figure out that "you have to hit it on the side sometimes to get it to start" worked on the kettle I just threw away, but really I couldn't see why I should bother when a replacement (even the up market Rowenta) was no more than a decent meal out at a local restaurant.

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

Nourishing African Obscurity

In the spirit of finding blogs that few people have heard of may I present to you the Malawi Windmill Blogger. The blogger, a gentleman by the name of William Kamkwamba, has become a blogger because he built a windmill generator out of scrap for the family farmat the age of 14. He followed instructions from a book. "I tried it and I made it," he said to a standing ovation at the TEDGlobal 2007 conference in Arusha Tanzania.

This all comes (including some of the phasing because I'm lazy) from the excellent Meskel Square blog run by a Reuters journalist in Addis Ababa. The journalist is apparently now moving to Sudan because his wife, a journalist for the BBC, has been posted there and he has decided to follow.

Amongst the recent posts at Meskel Square as his coverage of TEDGlobal 2007. It is well worth reading the whole hting but I think the key is this part where he explains how different TED was to the usual bureaucratic development conference in Africa:

So how does that differ from a typical tech conference here on the continent? Picture any of a dozen that have been hosted in Addis Ababa's UN complex or African Union HQ over the past year or so. Imagine a parade of government officials and state-appointed telecoms execs spouting phony African proverbs and development platitudes. At the last one I went to, the keynote speaker spent an hour going through his ten priorities for African development – "Last but not least let us remember the need for capacity building...". At the one before that, the event only came to life once a day after lunch, as people rushed to the front desk to receive their DSAs (daily subsistence allowances – the lifeblood of any UN-funded conference circuit).

The difference between all that and what happened in Arusha was best summed up by TEDGlobal speaker and Africa Unchained author George Ayittey when he talked about:

The Cheetah Generation - made up of the youth, specifically the TED Fellows present here, the saviors of Africa who are not going to wait for government and aid organizations to do things for them.

The Hippo Generation - the current political and business leaders who are happy to wallow in their water holes, complaining about colonialism and poverty, but doing nothing about it. [Thank you White African for the summary.]

I have only ever attended conferences with hippos on the centre stage. Arusha was full of cheetahs. There was barely a government official in sight – apart from Tanzania's president Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete who rushed in on the last day, mesmerising the crowd with his diamond-studded watch. I only heard the phrase "capacity-building" mentioned once, and I am sure that was a slip of the tongue.

(Cross posted to Nourishing Obscurity where I'm guest blogging for a while)

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

Friday Olive Tree Blogging

In fact this is solstice blogging, as this image was taken at sunset yesterday, the longest day of the year. [Yes I probably should have done it at sunrise but I don't do the getting out of bed at 5am to take a photo thing]

Anyway it may also amuse to compare this with the image of the tree from Friday olive tree blogging three months ago after it had had its haircut. As always clicking on the link gets you to a larger version and its worth visiting the olive blogging archives if you haven't seen them yet.

Technical News

I'm experimenting with ways to create RSS feeds of particular flickr sets. So far the only one I have done is one for olive tree blogging and it is using the "pheed" format. It is here. Those of you that have the google screensaver can add a Olive-blogging RSS feed to it by copying the link above to the google screensaver photo feeds section (detailed instructions) and it should be usable in other ways too. Over the next few days it is likely to change abruptly as I play with adding (for example) XSLT support and other codey goodness but feedback - especially of "it doesn't work properly with a particular news reader, browser or something - will be welcome.

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

Toryrgahp Wahct

In days gone by it was the Grauniad which was notorious for typos and other amusing errors of that sort. As Tim W has pointed out frequently, these days the Torygraph and the Wapping Liar give the Grauniad a good run for their money. Today's Torygraph has an excellent example on the comment web page which I reproduce below because surely they are going to fix it soon....

Brown should to the country soon

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

David Aaronovitch - Dangerously Complacent

The Wapping Liar columnist David Aaronovitch is someone with whom I usually agree. I don't often blog about his columns because to be honest it's boring and pointless to write "he's right here" and "this bit is bang on" and so on. So today I'm going to fisk Mr Aaronovitch's column because, finally, I have found an area where he appears to be WRONG. This area is the EU and its "not a constitution honest guv" treaty which has appeared phoenixlike from the wreckage of the EU Constitution which Dutch and French voters rejected. Mr A's column today supports the offical EU party line and is worth fisking because it exposes a lot of the half truths that EU spreads and which should be rejected.

A referendum? Sorry, they’re not our cup of tea

The British people don’t vote on wars or mass immigration
Say you have a good friend, practically family, whom you’ve known for some time and whose advice you value. Of course there are differences in emphasis. He likes angling where you prefer soccer and he occasionally forgets – where you remember – that parking wardens also have a job to do. Then one lunchtime, over a glass of tap water, he reveals that he is a long-time member of Britons Against Fluoridation and regards the addition of any chemical to his water supply as an attempt by shadowy powers to interfere with his brain. Though disconcerted, you have two options – to nod or to argue. Columnists argue.

Colimnists are not the only ones who argue, bloggers do too. I, for example, can occasionally disrupt social gatherings and come across as a flaming right winger because I refuse to listen to tripe about how Arabs can't do democracy, that Salman Rushdie deserves to be offed by a rageboy or that Israel is an apartheid state or whatever. And in this case I know, given the title and subheader, that I'm going to be the BAF member Mr A wants to argue with.

I’ve been writing on these pages for just over two years now, and that period has been relatively free of Euro controversy. This has suited me, because Europe (in the way the word “Europe” has come to be used in media discourse) has never excited me that much. After a few years of being vaguely and doctrinally anti-common market, I eventually saw the benefit of what they call “pooling sovereignty”, but since then the stormy enthusiasms of the Philes and the Phobes for their federal states or their magically separate nation states have seemed abstract and distant.

As I have written in previous fiskings I like to find areas where I agree with my victim and I have to say that in terms of general background I'm right with Mr A. I was vaguely against (parents indoctrinating me with a hatred of the CAP as I grew up) and then slightly more in favour and I agree that both Europhiles and Europhobes have been guilty of exaggeration and/or wishful thinking quite often.

When enlargement of the EU effectively killed the federal project, and with entry into the euro parked for my puppy’s lifetime, it just seemed a matter of making the EU we’d got work as well as possible, of letting a few more countries in and of competing like anything with the other world economic superpowers.

But that agreement with the fiskee doesn't last long. The problem is that from my point of view the "federal project" has not been killed, rather it seems to have gone underground so that the proles and Mr A don't notice it. And in re: "competing like anything with the other world economic superpowers" the fact that, as Mr A's Parisian colleague at the Wapping Liar writes, the latest EU "not a constitution honest guv" explicitly removes the reference to "free and undistorted competition" being a principal aim of the EU. Free and undistored competition has been proven to be a good thing by dozens of regimes which have decided not to have it and have sunk into economic failure as a result so if we don't have that in the EU it seems highly likely that we will be serverly handicapped in the global competition steeplechase.

Then along came last week’s Brussels summit and almost everybody around the place turned out to be honorary vice-presidents of Britons Against Fluoridation. There were editorials in advance of the summit predicting dire happenings and continental splits. One even suggested that Britain might care to take a leaf out of the Kaczynski Twins Mad Book of Polish Negotiating (Chapter One: Alvays Mention Ze Var). There were columns after the summit demanding that we should hold a referendum toute suite because the frogs and the krauts were up to their old superstate building tricks again.

Well actually I think it is you sir who is the honorary VP. I know you are a columnist and get paid for being controversial but perhaps you might ask yourself why there were all these editorials etc etc. As a certain O Cromwell (1599 - 1658) wrote once:

I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken

Whether or not the Poles were right in their negotiating tactics or not and whether or not the "frogs" were involved it seems pretty clear from the dense statements that the German Chancellor and the EU Commission were indeed "up to their old superstate building tricks again". How else to explain this?

Is it me, I thought, or them? The debate is a bit different from the crazy Maastricht days of ’92 largely because, as a political force, the Europhiles don’t exist any more and the Europhobes are nowhere near as powerful as they used to be, chastened slightly by the electoral results of 2001 and 2005. So it should be extraordinary just how much alarm is being generated by the mostly anodyne and preponderantly technical agreements made in Brussels, and due to be presented to an intergovernmental conference later in the year.

It's you darling. In the words of the FT (via the EU referendum blog):

the EU finally abandoned the idea that it wants ordinary Europeans to understand what it is doing.

In other words as the China Post reports:

"We made a real effort to be opaque," one senior negotiator boasted. Several countries - notably Britain, France and the Netherlands - had insisted the result must look nothing like a constitution to avoid having to hold a referendum, he said.

Are you not slightly concerned, Mr Aaronovitch, that a non-directly elected body has decided that it will deliberately obscure what it is doing so that the people it rules have no idea what is going on? The fact that the entire summit has ended up with a mandate for an IGC where certain areas are agreed in advance, but where the outside world finds it hard to figure out exactly what these areas are, doesn't make those journalistic insteincts of yours twitch slightly? No? Arguments about whether chocolate should contain a particular precentage of cocoa butter or the acceptable sizes/shapes of bananas are anodyne and preponderantly technical. Arguments about whether the EU has the right to impose new legislation on member states and if so in what areas are not anodyne and are only preponderantly technical if you let the lawyers bamboozle you.

The entire way in which we discuss this issue in Britain means playing an elaborate game. For the Government the task has been to ensure that whatever was going to be agreed could be characterised as being insignificant enough in constitutional terms to make a referendum (which it would probably lose) seem pointless. But first it had to create the impression that there was some threat in the first place for it successfully to defeat. For the Phobes the job – as ever – is to suggest that there are changes so fundamental in nature that nothing but a referendum (which they will win) can possibly do justice to their gravity. As a fall-back the anti-Europeans can deploy the Labour promise to hold a plebiscite on the defeated constitution, providing they can only convince us that the new agreement is the same as the old one.

Ok this is where the whole column falls to the ground. If the British are likely to reject the referendum then surely that implies that our democratic representatives and their leaders are not doing what they are supposed to be doing, namely expressing the will of the people. The fact that the Labour party will be seen to be lying (again) if it doesn't hold a referendum just looks liek icing on the cake. Doesn't it bother Mr A that our elected politicians are trying to weasel out of a pledge that was explicitly placed in their last election manifesto?

Well, Labour may have promised a referendum, but I never did, and – looked at as dispassionately as I can manage – it’s pretty obvious that we don’t need one. First let me reiterate the point that we don’t hold referendums on much in this country. In my lifetime I have voted in two – in 1975 on EC membership and in London on whether we should have a mayor. Since then we have had sundry wars, mass Eastern European immigration, Bank of England independence, several Conservative European treaties, the incorporation of the Human Rights Act, the abolition of hereditary peerages, the abolition of the grammar school system, the awarding of several royal charters to the BBC and Big Brother on TV, all of which have had more impact on British society and on none of which have we been directly consulted through a referendum. Never mind other countries (in other countries they have bullfighting), in this country we have set the referendum bar fairly high.

So the argument is "We've never had referenda so why start now?" One answer would seem to be because (see above) the representative democracy we have had so far is failing us. Just as a point of clarification I should note that the country with the most referenda doesn't do bullfighting but does do things like play the alpenhorn, yodelling and skiing. Issues such as the abolition of hereditary peerages were abolished, scapping of grammar schools scrapped and the BBC being given lots of money might in fact have been worth a referendum because the chances are fairly high that the electorate would disagree with what its leadership insists on doing. In other words maybe we ought to have more referenda.

What was agreed last week does not, as claimed, move us a long way towards a single European state with a single foreign policy decided by majority voting. The text specifically states that any European decisions on foreign or security policy would have to be adopted unanimously by the European Council (where sit all member countries). Defence and military affairs were exempted from any majority voting.

Ok no foreign minister but it does create a "High Representative for Foreign Affairs" and lets this person act on behalf of the EU as a whole. As for the unanimity angle; in the middle ages Poland had a parliament where unanimous votes by its barons were required before actions could be taken. Did this mean that Poland was not a country but that each barony was a separate country? Don't be silly. The EU has a currency, a central bank, the power to regulate in all members, a parliament and after this, the ability to conduct foreign affairs. It may well be that the currency and central bank don't apply everywhere (but two more countries - Malta and Cyprus - will join the Eurozone next year), that its parliament is toothless and its foreign policy ability weak but it still looks more and more like a state to me.

Britain has an opt-out on the extension of majority voting to justice and home affairs. There is hardly anything in here that wasn’t confirmed in principle at Maastricht; the main changes are to allow what has been agreed to be pursued more effectively by a foreign policy representative and a presidency. I wonder whether it isn’t the threat of a more efficient EU that so enrages some Phobes who might otherwise spend their days pleasurably lamenting the Union’s lack of ability to implement its agreements.

As for justice and home affairs, it seems clear that the opt outs are getting slimmer and slimmer. Politicans may claim that they can opt out of things but in classic salami tactics, the opt outs get nibbled away by court decisions and treaties. And then we come to this non sequitur about efficiciency. Would you mind not changing the subject? The point is not so much whether it implements things efficiently or not (and so far it has to be said that the EU is about as efficient as someone using a toothbrush to clean Trafalgar square) but whether what it implements are things that the EU various electorates agree with and accept as being worthy of EU regulation. It is very far clear that this is the case today and even less clear that the proposed "improvements" are acceptable either.

It is ironic that, with enlargement and economic reform, the EU has gradually become the thing that some of the original Eurosceptics said they most wanted and that the more empire-building Europhiles were most opposed to. Now we find that the time-hardened Sceptics are unwilling to claim success, suggesting that their true enthusiasm was always really for withdrawal.

This is laughable. Eurosceptics mostly wanted a free trade zone with some ability to have the free movement of people and capital. Since when does a Parliament, a foreign affairs uint etc etc assist in any of this? We sceptics aren't willing to claim success because the things that we wanetd to see abolished, such as the CAP, haven't been and the things that we liked, such as competition policy, have been. Is it any surprise that we are not claiming success when we haven't got what we wanted?

Never mind the manifesto. If Mr Brown believes that a referendum is a bad idea, he should explain his thinking and be judged at the next election. The Tories have a trickier decision. First, is this a good agreement or not? Secondly, if it is, are they really going to invest huge amounts of rare political capital in arguing that it isn’t and that we need a referendum to reject it? Thirdly, what if they get their referendum, reject the treaty and then find themselves in power? Better, Mr Cameron, to ditch Britons Against Fluoridation now, while you still can.

I don't understand this paragraph. I agree with the "Mr Brown" section, albeit with the provisos that the next election occur within a year and that the UK state for the record that if a referendum is held and it rejects the EU treaty then whatever has been agreed by the UK in the IGC is rendered nul and void. I do not understand the bit about the Tories. It ought to be clear that if there is a referendum and the treaty is rejected then our elected leaders, whether Labour, Conservative or what ever respect the will of the people and don't pass the same set of laws/treaties by a different means. Why should the Tories be in particularly dire straits in the event that a referendum rejects the EU and the Tories are in power? all they have to do is stop agreeing to things from Brussels. This is not difficult. They can also stop paying for Brussels until the Eurocrats agree to something acceptable to the UK electorate in a referendum. I'm not seeing a problem here, or rather I'm not seeing a problem that would be hard to resolve for a politician with a backbone and a desire to listen to his/her voters.

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

Fighting the EU "Not a Constitution"

Now that the EU's "Not a Constitution Honest Guv" Mandate and IGC has been agreed, the question is where should we opponents go now. There are, it seems to me, two or three separate issues which deserve responses and these responses are probably separate.

Firstly there is the referendum question. Despite the claims of A Blair (ex PM tomorrow) that a referendum campaign “would suck in the whole political energy of the country for months” (via Nosemonkey) the main reason why the great and the good (and even the Nosemonkey) don't want a referendum is that they are fairly sure that the answer would be NO. Oddly enough the desire for a referendum is not limited to the UK, we were told last week that a majority of EU voters in all countries would like a referendum, something that indicates that it isn't just bolshie brits who are less than enthused with the EUro project. Although it seems sure that EU citizens are pretty vague about Europe and the EU as a whole so they may well not be voting in an informed manner. However, contrary to Mr Blair, it seems to me that a referendum might actually help people realize what bits they like (and dislike) abiut the EU and decide whether the trade-off is reasonable.

Secondly there is the question of the content of the treaty itself. It seems to me that the treaty is not that bad in the short term as it is unlikely that the more objectionable bits (the "Not a foreign minister" for example) will work for a while. The problem is that the treaty seems to be yet another move towards the single european state idea and one that is being deliberately hidden from voters. Fighting against the treaty on pure content grounds may be hard to do and is likely to be harder because it seems that the whole thing has been written in as opaque a manner as possible. On the other hand fighting the treaty on the grounds that it is opaque and obfuscatory sounds like a winner. Certainly the comparison between the former EU Constitution and the US constitution in terms of clarity and comprehensibility was one of the better points made when we fought that version.

Thirdly there is the question  of the EU and whether we should actually start removing bits of it. I.e. not just not ratfying this "not a constitution honest guv" but going on and insisting on the removal of some other objectionable bits of the EU such as the CAP. Related is whether when EUrocrats say "if you don't accept this you leave" we should take them at their word and leave. It seems clear to me that the UK is potentially in an extremely strong position here (being the largest budget contributor will do that). Furthermore the abrupt exit of the UK could well cause the entire project to collapse as a number of other nations (Denmark, Sweden, Poland and other Northern/Eastern European nations) might also decide that if the UK can survive without being in the EU then they can too. Since these nations would, in general, be the ones with the better economies this could well result in the core EU sinking into a mess of failed socialism and protectionism and we might well then see other nations exiting too. In other words it may well be worth while welcoming EUropile rhetoric about no opt outs etc.

Finally there is the question of the mode of support. Currently we have at least two UK newspapers (the Torygraph and the Wapping Liar) in the "NO" camp. One assumes that some other UK newspapers are in that camp as may be a few in other countries such as Denmark. TV is probably not an option, as almost all European TV companies are slavishly in love with the EU, and the lack of US-style "talk radio" makes radio tricky too. The obvious solution is to use the Internet and to rely on viral marketing campaigns to get YouTube videos and the like into the public consciousness. A good campaign to follow might be the "anti-immigration bill" stuff being done in the US right now where youtube attack ads are being done by members of the public who then blog about them and point out to the politicians being attacked that this sort of ad could be used for real in their next campaign. It seems to me the youtube videos and blog posts pinting out referendum commitments and the "its the same as the constitution only we changed some words" comments of political leaders could be a winner in this case. Politicians hate it when voters are shown that they are blatent liars and are entirely likely to overreact and get even more publicity as a result.

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

The Popularity of Euro Notes

The FT had an article yesterday on an ECB report about how Euro notes are very popular inside the Eurozone, much more so than, US dollars in America for example. It comes up with a couple of reasons:

One explanation for Europe’s cash addiction could be that the use of payment cards is less developed in many eurozone states than in the US. The ECB believes low inflation and interest rates have increased the attraction of holding cash, while euros are available in higher-denomination notes than dollars. Demand for €500 notes has shown a particular increase. Since 2002, a “re-optimisation” of currency holdings has “led to a considerable increase in the importance of banknotes as a store of value and as a means of payment for large-value transactions”, says the ECB.

Excluding notes held abroad, per capita holdings in the US were worth the equivalent of about €870. For the eurozone, the figure was more than €1,600.

Oddly enough the newspaper and the report don't mention a couple of reasons that I can think of why cash is so popular. Taxation and welfare. If you pay another individual or small business in cash you may avoid paying VAT and the recipient may avoid paying a number of other taxes such as income tax and social security. Indeed the recipient may officially be receiving welfare that he would be ineligable for if the money he received for workign in the black economy were declared. Note the recent admission that the British middle classes are cheating scumbags and my post about scofflaws some time ago.

On the whole in the US taxation is far less punitive and welfare less generous so the incentive to cheat the goverment by paying cash is far lower.

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

I For One Welcome Our Jelly Bellied Flag Flapper

Yes a certain G Brown is moving house from number 11 to number 10. Surely he could have stayed put and let someone else move into number 10 you'd have thought. Is the view from the bedroom window that much better?

Well I jest, but only slightly. I have mocked, along with many others, Mr Brown's committment to "Britishness" by calling him a "jelly bellied flag flapper" because we can see that it is little different to TEBAF Margot's committment to Europhilia (i.e. that is is mostly an attachment to something who pays him and lets him prance around as a leader on a global stage). But this is serious. Mr Brown is inheriting a government that is unpopular with the population (not unusual) and one that has managed to create widespread ethnic tensions between groups of the population where there were none (or very few) before.

The English are, as Magnus Linklater discusses today, unhappy with the present state of affairs and the perceived featherbedding of the Scotch at the expense of the Sassenachs. Now Mr L has a fair point that English nationalists are guilty of exaggerating the offenses but they are ably aided in this by the ZANU labour government and its attacks on the wealth of SE England and the antics of many of the politicians north of the border who seem only too keen to leave the UK. Unfortunately for any hopes of a continued UK, Mr Brown seems to epitomize the Scottish Raj and its ZANU labour carpet-baggers.

The problem is not solely a British one, the richer parts of Belgium, Italy, Spain and possibly other European nations are just as hacked off with the perceived welfare skivers in the poorer parts of their nations too. The difference, it seems to me, is that the Scottish/English divide was limited 10 years ago and it has now become a huge split with plenty of people on both sides willing to cut yet further links. It seems to me that the blame for this can probably be laid at the door of Mr Brown and his fellow Scotch Labour party MPs: Firstly by the disproportionately scottish tint to the UK government and secondly by granting autonomy ot Scotland and Wales without clearly creating the same thing for England. Mr Brown needs to come up with a way to counter this lest he find that at the next election the majority of England votes Tory. Wrapping himself in the flag is not sufficient, we need a public debate about possible choices and then action not empty rhetoric.

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

EU Not A Constitution = US Not An Amnesty

Last night I suggested that folks protesting the EU "Not a Constitution" could take a leaf out of playbooks of US folks protesting the US Immigration "Not an Amnesty" debate by developing YouTube videos and the like. Interestingly it seems that the politicians seem to be copying each other's good ideas.

Take this multiple choice quiz:

Virtually everything important that is happening with respect to the XXX seems to be happening under the surface, away from the eyes of prying journalists and concerned citizens. The procedural maneuvering is incomprehensible. The substance of the YYY is extraordinarily difficult if not overwhelming given the limited time allowed for their consideration.

In the analysis by a blogger reproduced above does
  1. XXX = Immigration Bill and YYY = ammendments before the Senate
  2. XXX = European Summit and IGC negotiations and YYY = IGC mandate
  3. Both
As it happens the blogger is American and referring to 1 but it could easily have been 2 or 3. As the EU Referendum blog (amongst others) points out the European politicians are not exactly making it easy for us to figure out what they are agreeing to. Quite a lot of other tricks, such as a somewhat spurious deadline and resulting late night negotiations in various back rooms, seem to be being shared between the two. As is the fact that in general (there are honourable exceptions) better, more informed and more incisive commentary seems to be coming from the blogosphere rather than the traditional media.

Another quiz:

The (referendum/amnesty) argument is not symmetrical. Those in favour of the (treaty/amnesty) are against a (referendum/debate including enforcement) because they think they may lose it. They want (Europe/America) to stutter forward in secret ways that confirm the suspicion of all that emanates from (Brussels/Washington). Others are for a (referendum/debate including enforcement) because they hope it will reject the (treaty/amnesty). But they at least have democracy on their side. They are ready to go out and argue the case and accept the result.

Is this English or American? Answer here

One key difference seems to be that Americans are roused to call their representatives and tell them to stop. So far, it would appear, the griping in Europe is confined to the internet and the media. No one is using Theyworkforyou.com to contact MPs and express dissatisfaction. Yet.

PS Given that the EU constitution was pronounced dead 2 years ago and the current IGC proposals appear to be almost identical, are people in favour of this revived EU constitution guilty of constitutional necrophilia?

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

Iwami Ginzan UNESCO Site

P5250189Unesco announced that it had chosen some new sites as "World Heritage Locations". This includes Iwami Ginzan (unesco site), an ex-silver mine not very far from where my in-laws live in Japan. On the right is a Flickr set of the site which is, in my biased opinion, an undiscovered treasure of Japan. Around 1600AD Iwami Ginzan was responsible for between a quarter and a thrid of world silver output and was a town of some 100,000 people. The picture shows that it has declined a bit since then as it is part of a place called Ishigane SenGen (1000 houses of ishigane) which was allegedly so densely built up that you could stay dry in the pouring rain because the roofs all overhung the streets.

If you want to visit I would recommend staying in the nearby port of Yunotsu (which is BTW a part of the heritage site) and visiting that as well as the mine itself. It is possible to hike along the ancient highway between the two but I have never done it and cannot say how easy it is.

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

Minister for Kleptocrats

Mark Malloch Brown, former UN bureaucrat and tennant of one George Soros (and, unfortunately, a fellow alumnus of Magdalene), has been granted a peerage in order to take up the post of minister for Africa, Asia and the UN in Gordon Brown's (no relation) cabinet. The BBC informs us that:

He will not have Cabinet rank but will attend Cabinet meetings.

Clearly such an upstanding member of the community would not have paid for his peerage and as Brown is a very common surname he is no relation to the Jelly Bellied Flag Flapper. Lord Brown, as he is now to be known apparently, has had a very interesting career as Melanie Phillips points out:

Last year, speaking of the United Nations, Mark Malloch Brown insisted, “Not a penny was lost from the organization.” This, after an audit through which it was shown that the United Nations had lost $7 million from overpayments; $61 million was found to have bypassed U.N. rules; $82 million was lost to mismanagement; and $110 million was rated as having “insufficient” justification. This adds up to $260 million out of a $1.6 billion budget.

One wonders whether he will also take responsibility for shredders, procurement of Mercedes Benzes and possibly the procurement of minors for sex and money laundering. All things that his underlings did while at the UN.

PS Further Pillock Brown blog entries by me here, here and here.

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

Friday Olive Tree Blogging

Today's image is a classic example of what I mean when I say "you can't kill an olive tree". Yet another one that is recovering from a black-knight level of flesh wound.

As always clicking on the image gets you to a larger version and its worth visiting the olive blogging archives if you haven't seen them yet.

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

Diversity, Schools and Race

The news is filled with the US Supreme Court's racial schooling ruling. The liberal part of the commentariat seems rather sad, the BBC World Service report managed to dig up all sorts of spokespersons for the ACLU, NAACP and/or other alphabet soups that I've never heard of who all said that this would be a return to the days of segregation etc. etc. The BBC's web article is a bit better providing both Justice Robert's statement of common sense and Justice Breyer's rather less obvious disagreement:

In the legal opinion, Justice John Roberts asked: "What do the racial classifications do in these cases if not determine admission to a public school on a racial bias?"

"The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race," he added.

But the court's four liberal justices, who voted against the ruling, published a dissent.

"This is a decision that the court and the nation will come to regret," Justice Stephen Breyer wrote.

The liberal judges argued that the decision undermines a landmark 1954 ruling which first outlawed school segregation.

The liberal folks seem to be taking their line from Justice Breyer. This is a pity because simple logical analysis would indicate that outlawing enforced mingling is not the same as requiring segregation. I think it is fair to say that all but the most mouth-frothing white supremacist believes that the system that was outlawed in 1954 was a disgrace and deserved to be removed. However what the liberals seem to have missed is that its been half a century since then and, while there are undoubtedly still a few misguided souls, the sort of overt racism seen then is no longer seen as acceptable. The BBC, in a second article, quotes Hilary CLinton as saying:

"Once again, the [Chief Justice John] Roberts court has shown its willingness to erode core constitutional guarantees"

This is flat out nuts. The constituion says effectively that all men are equal not that some are first amongst equals. The school boards are saying essentially "black kids are more special" and given that the desegration acts have been removed from the statute books, this is clearly against the constitution as Justice Roberts clearly explains. Hilary is not the only wild-eyed frothing moonbat (but I repeat myself). In the blogosphere there is this comment by one Mark Graber:

Today’s opinions in the Seattle school case feature the too usual lectures from conservative justices on the meaning of the “good” civil rights movement, the one which asserted that “the constitution is color-blind.” Of course, neither Chief Justice Roberts nor any other member of the majority were actually members of that “good” civil rights movement. To paraphrase Dick Cheney, they had other priorities at a time when police dogs were being set upon African-American children who dared insist on the right to drink at the same water-fountains as white children.

"Other priorities"? There were 5 Justices who voted. Kennedy, Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito. In the late 1950s/early 1960s two of these Justices, Roberts and Alito, were growing up. Given that they didn't live in the deep south this seems to be a valid excuse not to have got involved. Justice Thomas was umm, one of those "African-American children who dared insist on the right to drink at the same water-fountains as white children" more or less, having been born in Georgia in 1948 and having been banned from the Savannah Public Library while growing up. The only two with a limited excuse not to be "members of that “good” civil rights movement" are Justices Kennedy and Scalia. The rant continues with:

They could do so in good conscience because somewhere in the late 1960s, the “good” civil rights movement was replaced by the “bad” civil rights movement, a movement which insists that persons of color be actual as well as pro forma, legal equals. Curiously, this transition took place even though the vast majority of participants in the “good” civil rights movement remained in the “bad” civil rights movement, included almost the entire leadership.

If blacks and whites are actual legal equals that that means that neither whites nor blacks should not be forbidden to send their children to certain schools. This ruling was precisely on that fact, certain whites could not send their children to certain schools. In other words Seattle and St Louis School disricts were guilty of racial discrimmination something that M Graber claims to be against.

PS The BBC's first article at this moment has the following interesting blockquote:
Justice WHO?
Justice Breyter? Shome Mishtake Shurely? Don't these people have editors?(™ Tim W)