L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

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

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

BBC 'reports' good news

The news that Iraqi deaths have dropped in the last few months would seem to be good news. This no doubt explains why the BBC is forced to use "scare quotes" and vague "suspicions" at critical points in this report:

Iraq civilian deaths 'dropping'

The number of civilians killed in Iraq fell in June to the lowest level since the Baghdad security drive began in February, the Iraqi government says.

It says 1,227 civilians were killed in June - a 36% drop compared 1,949 violent deaths to May.

However, the figures cannot be verified independently, and many deaths are believed to go unreported.

There we have it - many deaths are unreported. But has that, one wonders, changed suddenly in the last three months or is it just as likely that the Iraqis who tend not to report deaths are failing to report about the same proportion of deaths recently as they did in the past? The BBC is silent on this point. All it says is:

There are suspicions about the way the Iraqi government handles such information, our correspondent says.

It has refused to reconsider its decision to withhold statistics from the United Nations mission Iraq.

Details please. Oh and pray explain why reporting statistics to the UN automatically gives them a seal of approval?

Finally I can't help but note (via Dan Riehl / Instapundit) that the BBC has found the worst way to present these statistics. The same basic facts are undoubtedly behind this report:

Unofficial figures compiled by McClatchy Newspapers' show 189 Iraqis, including police and government security forces, were killed in the capital through Friday, a drop of almost two thirds since this year's high in February, when 520 were killed. The average monthly death toll of Iraqis in Baghdad was 410 from December through May.

In other words not only are overall deaths decreasing but in Baghdad, where the surge started, the figures are even more impressive with a reduction of over 50% from the average for the previous six months.

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

Harper Collins Are Clueless Morons

A book by one of my favourite authors, Lois McMaster Bujold, has just been released as hardcover and eBook. The Hardcover retails on amazon.fr for €20.36 and amazon.com (for US readers) at $17.13. In France delivery is included in the cost, in the US it would be included if combined with any book that prods the total up above $25. In other words any $7.99 paperback will do. Also in the US the book is reported to be in stock and ready for next day delivery (though that may be a premium service).

So what you say? well this is what. Harper Collins sells the eBook direct from its own website for listed price of $19.95. In other words it costs more than the hard cover from amazon. The only people who will pay $2.82 more to buy the book electronically are the chronically impatient and those very very rare souls who actually prefer electrons to paper. Obviously this is nucking futs and no one will actually buy at that price so as soon as you click on the "buy this book" link you get to a place where it is actually sold for 20% off (i.e. a mere $15.96). But how many sales are going to be lost by the upfront sticker price? If I hadn't been investigating because I thought I'd write about this idiocy I would not have got beyond the first page, I'd have gone to hardcover then amazon and never looked any further.

Furthermore I'm still not going to buy the eBook at $15.96. I don't consider $1.17 to be a worthwhile difference between a paper price and an electronic one. In fact I don't even consider the difference between $15.96 and €20.36 (approx US $10) to be a worthwhile difference as $15.96 is still approximately the top end of prices for a paperback in the UK (at US$2 = UK£1 that is £8) and far more than the paperback price in the US. Something tells me that I will not be alone in this choice, particularly amongst people who live in the USA and who can get a paper version for a mere $1.17 more than the electronic one.

In other words Harper Collins are apparently trying to ensure that no one buys the eBook. And as if this were not enough there is more....

A simple processI thought that it might be fun to see whether there were any other flaws with the process and discovered shedloads of them. The first and most bizarre is that it turns out that Harper Collins have outsourced the eBook part of the business to a company called overdrive and have, for some unknown reason, decided that there will be UK, US, Canadian and Australian sites. And if you read the small print it seems like there may be trouble if you don't have an address in one of these countries. Although maybe not because I registered at the US site with a French address, but I'm not going to actually hit "buy" to find out if this is OK or not. What I did find "interesting" was that the list of Bujold books in the UK site was limited to Paladin of Souls. So if I'm a UK resident who prefers to pay for things in £ rather than some form of $ I'm going to be missing 5 out of 6 of the Bujold oeuvre published by Harper Collins. And umm seeing as Paladin of Souls is the sequel to Curse of Chalion the lack of the latter is particularly odd. But I digress.

In sticking to the US site I've encountered enough "we're tying to help you but you have to be a loyal microsofty" roadblocks that if one of the suits who commissioned the site were in front of me I'd be arrested for assault if not attempted murder. Harper Collins have deviced that books must be sold as DRM crippleware but they do provide you a choice of crippleware formats. Adobe PDF, Microsoft LIT or mobipocket. I decided, in my youth and innocence, to select the Microshaft reader format for my hypothetical purchase because in the past I bought a couple of .LIT books from fictionwise. However there is a problem. Microsoft's DRM scheme requires you to have an "activated" MS Reader to read the book and, which I had forgotten, also requires you to use Internet Exploder to download you crippleware. Now I've just switched computers and never installed, let alone activated, MS Reader on my new laptop so clearly I couldn't actually read the book I was pretending to purchase but I didn't see why that should stop me trying to buy the book. But it does. You see the overdrive folks attempt to see if you have MS Reader on your computer before letting you buy the book. This is almost a good thing, but not quite because the way they check involves trying to run an ActiveX control and if you use a browser other than IE this doesn't work. I use Mozilla Seamonkey, which is I admit a little obscure, but there are a lot of other people who prefer not to use IE as their browser. Taking a look at the Instapundit's blog stats I see that while about 90% of his visitors have a windows OS, less than 60% use IE (YMMV the numbers fluctuate but those limits seemed pretty consistent). Windows users who do not run IE are going to find the error screen (which says download MS Reader) to be less than helpful because you still get that screen even when Reader is up and activated (I just checked) if your browser is not IE.

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

ETA? Who They?

In the news in France is the arrest of first 3 ETA members in a car with bombs yesterday, then another two near Paris and the bombing, presumably by ETA, of 2 holiday homes. ETA must, it seems to me, be really really hacked off by the Muslim Rageboys because what with presumed Al Qaeda folk blowing up Spanish tourists in Yemen and all those doctors in Britain ETA can't get any publicity.

Now of course ETA is probably somewhat relieved that some of its bungling is being buried - after all being caught in a car with bomb kit as the first three were is kind of embarrassing but given that the purpose of a terrorist organization is to terrorize the populace the least you could hope for is some sort of widespread coverage. As it is the English speaking press has practically nothing. A google news search for "ETA Arrest" has articles from Bulgaria and China but nothing much from more widely read sources and so far the BBC's own website is far more concerned with EU politics and the YouTube humping video than ETA. Indeed even the French news sites seem to be burying the ETA news below stories about what the government is going to next ...

Given that many of the news stories for ETA Arrest seem to refer to ETA suspects picked up in Canada, France and other exotic locations over the last month or so, it looks like ETA may be going to regret its decision to end its cease-fire. After all since the cease-fire ended its leader has seen his house arrest turned back into prison and then there have been all these arrests of ETA folk, many of them carrying guns and/or bombs. All in all it hasn't been a good month for ETA and maybe we will indeed be able to forget about them in the near future.

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

Grauniad Wahtc

I'm glad to see that decades of tradition have been respected as the Grauniad moves into the digital future. How else to explain this when I signed in to "Comment is Free" to make a comment?

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

Even More EU Bansturbation

A blog called "The Lone Voice" recently stated (in re: a proposed EU ban on lead fishing weights):

It would appear that the EU runs on the guiding principle of if it moves ban it.

The author of that blog clearly had no idea how true he was. The Register reports today that:

The EU Parliament's environment committee is considering a proposal to ban all cars capable of exceeding 100 mph (162 km/hour) from 2013. The proposal, put forward by LibDem MEP Chris Davies, is based on the arguments that cars that go faster than 100 mph are "over-engineered to a ridiculous degree", and that for safety reasons, they need to be heavier, and hence to burn more fuel.

On his webshite Mr Davies explains:

"Cars designed to go at stupid speeds have to be built to withstand the effects of a crash at those speeds. They are heavier than necessary, less fuel efficient and produce too many emissions.

"At a time when Europe is worried about its energy security it is sheer lunacy to approve the sale of gas guzzling cars designed to travel at dangerous speeds that the law does not permit."

P2160254The Register article gives this moronic proposal a good "John Smeaton" but fails to note one obvious weakness in the proposal. That weakness is that practically any car will go faster that 100Mph. You can (if you really try hard) get a Twingo to do a ton as the photo on the left illustrates and given that they've overtaken me on the A8 I believe the same goes for a Smart (the Roadster anyway although I'm sure I've seen the classic Fortwo also go that speed on the A8). Both the Twingo and the Smart, for those who may not be aware, are the sorts of wimpy cars that people like Mr Davies seem to think are what we should all drive with fuel economies up in the 40-60Mpg (imperial) range and neither is exactly heavy. In fact I'd say that driving a Twingo at 100Mph is the sort of thing you should only do on an empty road where you are sure there will be no need to make sudden changes of velocity. In fact unless cars are electronically limited (i.e. we stop them going any faster even if they have the potential to) I sincerely doubt any car on the market today cannot do a ton.

Mr Davies excuse for this is that he wants to save the planet. Well might I suggest that Mr Davies consider the urban cycle of cars as a more practical place to seek some kind of optimization. Every car, from the most outrageous penis extension to a humble twingo, has a problem with stop and go urban driving and just about every car on the road spends a significant proportion of its time in such traffic. Fnding a way (regenerative breaking, hybrids ...) to increase average urban cycle fuel economy by 10% would do more to reduce crude oil consumption than almost anything else. Furthermore, and Mr Davies may no thave thought of this, if petrol prices remain at their current levels car buyers and hence car manufacturers are going to have an incentive to be more efficient simply by means of the market. No need to ban anything.

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


James at Nourishing Obscurity has tagged me for this meme which I believe is essentially 7 Facts About Me. I'll copy at least some of James' subjects because they seem good to reuse.

Most Favourtite Celebrity Sighting
Well I'm bad at recognizing celebrities so, apart from sitting a couple of rows back from Jack Nicholson on a flight to Nice (and it took until he stood up at the end for me to realize why he looked familiar), all my celeb sightings have occured when I knew I was going to meet a celeb. I think my favourite was meeting Lindsay Davenpoort (and Steffi Graf and Martina Hingis and...) at the Bank of The West Tournamen at Stanford in 1998. Why Lindsay? because when I took the picture below she asked what the camera was and I demonstrated a digital camera to her. It was apparently the first one she had ever seen.
My wife & Lindsay Davenport in 1998
A Little Known Fact.
In 1989/1990 I thought walking around barefoot was cool. And did so even in places where it probably wasn't cool such as the offices of the family lawyer and glass strewn dance floors in Helsinki.
A Life Changing Event
April 1991 - Being asked "So Francis, would you like to work in Gerrards Cross or Tokyo?" and answering "Tokyo" It seemed to me that only a total loser would not choose Tokyo but apparently I was in a minority because the company concerned had problems finding folk willing to work in Japan. I had a blast there, met my wife (though we didn't get married for a while) and made a number of friends that still remain after all these years.
Most Memorable Public Event Attended
Orthodox Easter 1987 (or was it 1988?) in the cathedral in Moscow. This was the first time that the Soviet state TV televised a religious service and one of the first for a few decades where the worshippers were allowed to actually use the real cathedral.
Disguises and Cross-dressing
I have donned a red-dress and run around with a group of others on a number of occasions. I still have the dress, can still get into it and know many other men who do the same thing.
Best Trip
The Financial Times organized a safari to Kenya & Tanzania in Spetember 1993. This was a two week blast. We had excellent guides and lots of comfort and we saw quite astounding amounts of wild life and learned a lot. My 2nd bets trip would be the one to Peru but I count thta as less successful because we had major galloping gutrot for the last couple of days and that tended to put a damper on ones enjoyment of the place.
Favourite Physical Attribute
My hair. It's naturally curly and I used to wear it long. I've been told that I have to have it cut shorter these days though.

Folks to pass the meme on to? Anyone who feels like it

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

Beldar's Great Idea

Beldar, in writing about a, hmm, "reallity based" law prof, has the following great suggestion:

Okay, here's the deal: I'll pledge 1000 hours of my time to lead the drive to endow a new super-duper $50M chair at Texas Law School. The sole condition is that the Law School faculty en masse, and the chair's holder in particular, must pre-commit that if the chair's holder ever accuses an American president — any American president — of being an "out-and-out dictatorial [authority] totally indepedent from any scrutiny or accountability,' then he (the professor) must go live and teach for a year in any country whose name ends in the syllable "-stan."

I think this is an idea that could usefully be extended to other seats of learning and indeed other disciplines. Of course faculty meetings might get a little sparse for the first couple of years when half the faculty is spread over "ashcanistan" but the after that one suspects that hyperbole WRT the US government would diminish quickly.

Today is Revolting Ex-colonial Day so it is probably worth noting that the USA is one of the most stable nations on the planet. One could perhaps say that Switzerland is more stable, and arguments could be made that the UK and/or some of its other colonies have also been right up there as are Sweden and Denmark but that is pretty much it for stability. Despite the disdain that the Bush administration occasionally appears to exhibit towards congress and the courts when push comes to shove it has never actually continued doing something after the US Supreme Court has told it not to. Ditto, for that matter, the Clinton administration. Furthermore, despite the moanings of nutroots people about dynasties etc. in January 2009 there will be a new president and, unless Condoleezza Rice changes her mind, runs for office and gets elected, whoever it is will not have anything to do with the Bush inner circle.

Even though as Samizdata points out, the US government has abridged some of the freedoms that its founders strove for 231 years ago, it has been far better than any other government and, IMO, way way better than the scumbags in Brussels who appear to be trying for a gradual coup d'etat and who are in many ways 'out-and-out dictatorial [authority] totally indepedent from any scrutiny or accountability'.

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

More Stupid Bombers Please

The Jihadi Doctor plot in the UK, so wonderfully satirized by Iowahawk, really is the gift that keeps giving for those of us who think defending the Western ideals of freedom etc. are good ones.

Firstly we have (as Harry's Place points out) a veritable stream of Muslims (e.g. Sarfraz Manzoor, Hassan Butt, Asim Siddiqui) writing about how it will be up to the Muslims to reject the Islamist scum in their midst and hardly anyone writing about "root causes" etc. Indeed the NY Times "Disenfrachisement" story seems to have been far worse than anything seen in the nuttier elements of the UK press. This can only be a good thing. Furthermore it seems to me that the British government and its security forces haven't been quite so irritating in their response. The government has completely failed to suggest new powers of this or that and beyond looking at the reliability of various restraining orders nothing much appears to be being done.

Secondly, while there have been a few folks who have tried to exaggerate the lethality of the devices, it has become fairly clear that these "bombs" were little more dangerous than half a dozen near accidents caused by people with DIY projects to attempt and no brains. More bombs like these and Al Qaeda start looking like a bunch of losers which is a good thing because failed plots like this add to the impression of Al Qaeda as a force that has shot its bolt. The fact that over in Iraq and Afghanistan Al Qaeda appears to be losing too, despite the best efforts of AP etc., combines to make it look like Al Qaeda is on the way out. Of course it hasn't been destroyed yet but it is definitely losing its aura of "standing up to the imperialists". Depending on how the Red Mosque event plays out, this could be a very bad summer for Al Qaeda and its radical Islamist allies.

Thirdly the bumblers do allow us to see how European politicians seek to use anything as a way to ban things and get more power to themselves. EC Vice president Franco Fratini has proposed that ISPs block subscribers from viewing material about bomb making. The Times reports:

Internet service providers (ISPs) would face charges if they failed to block websites containing bomb-making instructions generated anywhere in the world, EU officials said.


EU officials denied that it would be impossible to track down websites based in remote places, insisting that the local provider based in the EU could be held to account. One said: “You always need a provider here that gives you access to websites. They can decide technically which websites to allow. Otherwise how would China block internet sites? There are no technological obstacles, only legal ones.”

But the Internet Services Providers’ Association (Ispa) said that it would fight any attempt to make ISPs criminally liable for content.

Tim W and the EU Referendum blog, not the mention the Reg, poor scorn on the idea, and for good reason. The comparison with the "Great Firewall of China" is a total joke fo rthe simple reason that, unlike the PRC, Europe's Internet connections to the rest of the world are extraordinarily diverse so having a few block points isn't going to work. If ISPs are supposed to block content then they will either over react and ban (say) all of typepad because Mr Worstall has just mentioned ammonium nitrate and fuel oil on his typepad blog or under react because it is impossible to create a list of bomb-making instructions that need to be banned. Consider how spammers consistently update techniques to get their V!AGR@ and pump'n'dump stock scams through our filters and see how easy it would be for terrorists and the like to create instruction manuals that are missed by the ISPs.

If Mr Frattini really wants to make the British public anti EU to such an extent that even British politicians have to bow to holding a referendum then proposals like this are the way to do it.

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

Error Message of the Day

I have installed a bunch of programs using the Google Pack and its automatic updater. Today the updater told me that there was a new version of Google Earth available and suggested I download and update Google Earth. Then I got this message:
Google updater error message
Seems to defeat to point of having an updater in the first place...

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

Friday Olive Tree Blogging

Last weekend we went to Salernes in the Var for much fun and frivolity. As I was walking down a road I saw something that looked familiar. I believe I last photographed this tree in May 2004 and posted it as a Friday Olive Tree Blog entry in February 2005.

Then it appeared to have had a recent haircut. I suspect it will get another next year.

As always click on the image to see it enlarged and do visit the Friday Olive Blogging archives if you're new here.

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

Artjon Shkurtaj, Ad Melkert, Malloch Brown and the UNDP

The WSJ has an excellent (subscription) article by Melanie Kirkpatrick about the UNDP (via the Junkyardblog) wherein it follows up on a non-subscription article in the NY Sun earlier this week. These articles, and some earlier ones, are all about the odd tale of the UNDP's North Korean operations, as exposed by former UN employee and whstleblower Artjon Shkurtaj, which seem to have been used by the North Korean government as a great source of foreign currency (and apparently as a way to launder forged US currency). Anyway the WSJ seems to be concentrating on Mr Melkert, partly because said slimy dutchman is defending the not very defensible and partly one suspects because of the World Bank brouhaha.

On a sidenote one wonders whether an audit of World Bank activities in insalubrious countries might turn up similar payments of local salaries, expenses etc. being diverted mysteriously to the local government? And one wonders whether it was fear of this being uncovered that led the World Bank staffers to be so upset with Mr Wolfowitz?

I'm going to give a long extract from the WSJ article because it shows quite clearly how the basic scam appears to have worked. One wonders whether the World Bank (or for that matter any other Tranzi organization) have branches with behaviour like this?

A preliminary report by U.N. auditors, issued last month, confirms massive violations of U.N. rules regarding hiring practices, the use of foreign currency, and inspections of U.N.-funded projects. In a series of interviews in New York, Mr. Shkurtaj says the auditors (who were barred by North Korea from going there) barely scratched the surface of the misconduct.

We get quickly to the bottom line: Did the U.N. money go to the humanitarian projects it was supposed to fund? "How the hell do I know?" responds Mr. Shkurtaj -- oversight was so poor, the involvement of North Korean workers assigned by the government so extensive and the use of cash so prevalent, that it was impossible to follow the money trail.

Mr. Shkurtaj arrived in North Korea on Nov. 4, 2004. He says one of his first indications that something was amiss was when checks denominated in euros and made out to "cash" arrived on his desk for signature. "Rule No. 1 in every UNDP country in the world is that you have to operate in local currency," he says, "not in hard currency. It's the rule number one of development. . . in order to support the local economy and not devalue or destroy the local currency."

"I didn't sign the checks for about a week," he says, and then "it became a real mess. Headquarters contacted me, and said, 'don't become a problem. You're going to wind up a PNG, a persona non grata, and ending up a PNG means the end of your career with the U.N. . . . We are authorizing you to go ahead and sign the checks . . . So I started signing."

"Every morning from 8 to 10, we would issue checks" in euros for staff and projects, Mr. Shkurtaj says. "Then the checks, instead of going directly to the people or institutions by mail, as they should go [as specified by U.N. rules], the checks were given to the driver of our office." The driver would take them to the Foreign Trade Bank, where he would "exchange them into cash and come back to the office." North Korea did not permit Mr. Shkurtaj to have access to the UNDP's accounts at the Foreign Trade Bank, which refused even to keep his signature on file.

Then, every day at noontime, "North Koreans saying they represented U.N.-funded projects would come to receive cash at the UNDP offices." Mr. Shkurtaj says he was not allowed to require the North Koreans to sign receipts for the money or even to present IDs. "I had to trust them," he says. "But, hey, if headquarters tells me to give the money away, I'll give the money away."

On Aug. 16, 2006, a few weeks before Mr. Shkurtaj left North Korea, the UNDP resident representative, Timo Pakkala, issued a memo to the staff noting "an increased use of cash payments, in some cases to payees that are not authorized to receive payments." Citing "UNDP policy," Mr. Pakkala ordered future payments be made by bank transfer or "non-cash cheque." He also ordered staff to obtain receipts and not give money to unidentified people.

However to go back to the scandal. Mr Melkert is not the only prominent UN official who might find answering probing questions a little embarassing. Britain's Minister for Kleptocrats was running the UNDP while all this N Korean laundering was going on and it would be interesting to know why he apparently failed to notice anything amiss?

Since the Minister for Kleptocrats is a non-cabinet and unelected minister it may be hard to bring him to account in person but I suspect that one could ask a few pertinent questions of the gentleman who offered him the job. If Mr Cameron is looking for something to ask the Jelly Bellied Flag Flapper in the near future then this might be a worthwhile seem to mine.

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

Another Reason to Eschew Sony

When we had all that excitement about Sony CDs with rootkits on them I decided I would never buy a Sony product again. It looks like rootkitting their customers is not the only trick that Sony have for their customers. The proprietress of Asymmetrical Information is distinctly narked at the Sony VAIO customer service or rather the lack of it. I am only too happy to link to her post and help Sony sink into another PR hell.

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

Happy Birthday Robert A Heinlein

100 years ago today Robert A Heinlein was born in Kansas City Missouri. There is an entire weekend celebration of this fact going on in Kansas City and a lot of people, from the instapundit to NRO to the New Nationalist are blogging about it.

Heinlein was certainly one of the greats of Science Fiction. Whether he was the greatest or whether writers such as Arthur C Clarke or Isaac Asimov are greater is one of those things that are best discussed over a brew or 10. Like Clarke, Heinlein identified/predicted a bunch of technologies that mankind will (need to) develop in order to get into space. Unlike Clarke, Heinlein also thought a lot about society and how to remedy the bits he perceived as failing.

Heinlein was not my first exposure to SF, but his Citizen of the Galaxy was one of the books that really stuck in my mind after I read it (aged approx 11). The books that most people cite, Stranger in a Strange Land, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress and Starship Troopers are indeed some of my favourites too. They are some of the select few books that I can almost recite passages from because I have read them so often. However the Heinlein book that I like the best is the second or third one I read - Friday. Friday is a book that hasn't received quite the same approval and is frequently lumped amongst the "late season dross" rather than the brilliant books of his middle years yet I believe this is wrong. A couple of years ago I defended Friday after a I read an NY Times review of Heinlein which was rather negative about Friday and I stand by what I wrote there.

In terms of the prediction of the future Friday is very very good. In fact it occurs to me that in some ways Friday depicts a world where the golabl warming freaks have won because we see very little personal powered transport, many references to horse drawn vehicles and so on. On that tack (non-fossil fuel energy) I should note that one thing Friday talks about (and ISTR this is in other books too) is the Shipstone. A Shipstone is a highly advanced power storage device and in Friday we get to learn quite a bit about how Shipstones are charged using solar power in the desert and things like that and then used all over the place in cars, spaceships etc. In other words something like this:

Until recently, large amounts of electricity could not be efficiently stored. Thus, when you turn on the living-room light, power is instantly drawn from a generator.

A new type of a room-size battery, however, may be poised to store energy for the nation's vast electric grid almost as easily as a reservoir stockpiles water, transforming the way power is delivered to homes and businesses. Compared with other utility-scale batteries plagued by limited life spans or unwieldy bulk, the sodium-sulfur battery is compact, long-lasting and efficient.

It would be nice if the developers of this battery or some other better one called their product a shipstone.

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

Handy Dandy Bookmarklets

Drag these to your personal toolbar (Seamonkey / Firefox) or Links Bar (Internet Exploder) and click on them when needed. I have put all but the first 1 in a folder on my browser but I've kept the names short (you can rename them) so that they can go on the toolbar and still leave plenty of space for other stuff.
Bookmarklet Description Example
++ Increase last number in page URL by 1 e.g. move from http://www.korval.com/fledgling/chap19web.html to http://www.korval.com/fledgling/chap20web.html
-- Decrease last number in page URL by 1 e.g. move from http://www.korval.com/fledgling/chap20web.html to http://www.korval.com/fledgling/chap19web.html
±N Add/subtract N (you are prompted) to last number in page URL e.g. enter -5 and move from http://www.korval.com/fledgling/chap20web.html to http://www.korval.com/fledgling/chap15web.html
=N Set last number in page URL to N (you are prompted) e.g. enter 13 and move from http://www.korval.com/fledgling/chap20web.html to http://www.korval.com/fledgling/chap13web.html (1)
++2 Increase penultimate number in page URL by 1 e.g. move from http://www.korval.com/fledgling/chap19web.html#part2 to http://www.korval.com/fledgling/chap20web.html#part2 (2)
--2 Decrease penultimate number in page URL by 1 e.g. move from http://www.korval.com/fledgling/chap19web.html#part2 to http://www.korval.com/fledgling/chap20web.html#part2 (2)
Go2URL Go to URL. Sometimes you find urls in forums and similar sites where the url has wrapped and the link only forms the first part.
go to http://www.korval.com/fledgling/chap20web.html when selecting
Disclaimer/copyright: I got the first couple of these from Jesse Ruderman. I may have made some modifications so if you want to get the original increment and decrement bookmarklets go here. The other numerical ones are derivations of his work.

  1. The most common use for this is to move from ...URL10.htm to ...9URL.htm as the "--" bookmarklet (and "±N" bookmarklet) preserves the overall length of the number and goes to ...URL09.htm instead.
  2. This is a fictitious example. I can't find a useful real one right now though I have used it to navigate dates in URLs (e.g. moving from ...URL/2006/06/index.htm to ...URL/2007/06/index.htm)

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

Friday Olive Tree Blogging

An olive orchard near Salernes in the Var. This is a great example of the way the trees in that part of the Var are grown. They are very low so that pretty much all the olives can be picked by hand from the ground.

As always click on the image to enlarge and do look at the olive tree blogging archive if you are a new visitor.

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

L'Escroc and Juge Borrel

The fun and games of the Clearstream affair are not the only troubles swirling around France's former president Chirac aka L'Escroc. The link is a pretty good summary in the Economist of the state of play although it omits the possible involvement of MAM (Michele Alliot-Marie, former Defence Minister now Interior Minister), something that all sides look to be trying to avoid discovering too much about because MAM and Sarko are now "best buddies" and want to remain that way.

Hence perhaps the shift of focus to other scandals such as the mysterious "suicide" by a French investigative judge in Djibouti in 1995. As the Independent reports, the judge was a busy man who upset local ruler:

Judge Bernard Borrel, 39, was officially in the former French colony on the Red Sea - site of France's largest military base in Africa - to help to reform the penal code. It has since emerged that he was also investigating alleged drugs and arms smuggling by the man who was to become Djibouti's president, Ismael Omar Guelleh.

Borrel's partially burned body was found at the foot of a ravine in October 1995. The local authorities, supported by Paris, declared that he had committed suicide.

The suicide was clearly similar to some of those russian ones where the accused manages to shoot himself three times and then jump from a window. It has taken 12 years for anyone to officially quibble with the verdict, and one sort of wonders why it had to wait until Sarko became President for anything to happen. There is clearly a lot of undercover behind the scenes shadiness here, something that this paragraph makes clear because it is so bizarre :

The affair has many other ramifications. Djibouti brought a case in the International Court of Justice in The Hague in January 2006 to try to force France to hand over its legal dossier on Borrel's death. According to a document recently discovered by investigators at the foreign ministry in Paris, M. Chirac urged Djibouti to bring the case against France.

Mind you the two concluding paragraphs are rather more obvious:

On Monday and Tuesday of this week, two other investigating judges raided the home of Michel de Bonnecorse, a former senior African adviser to M. Chirac. The former president has let it be known that he will refuse to answer any questions about the "Affaire Borrel". He claims permanent legal immunity for all his actions while in the Elysée palace.

In an interview with Le Monde last weekend, the Djibouti President denied all knowledge of the affair. "The Republic of Djibouti was not involved, either closely or from afar, in the death of Bernard Borrel," he said.

How do you say "It wasn't me guv and anyway I was out of the country at the time" in French?

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

Cecilia to the Rescue

While Sarko digs up French scandals, his wife Cecilia is trying her hand at international mercy missions. Her first attempt is to try and free those unfortunate nurses who have been used as scapegoats in Libya for the HIV infection of some 500 children. The 5 bulgarian nurses and one palestinian doctor have been sentenced to death and various people have been trying ot get them freed ever since they were arrested in 1999 to little effect. The latest EU attempt last month was not terribly successful:

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner denied on Thursday (June 21st) that a deal on freeing five Bulgarian nurses on death row in Libya was imminent. She acknowledged, however, that EU negotiators are busy trying to reach a settlement. The nurses -- and a Palestinian doctor who was recently granted Bulgarian citizenship -- were sentenced to death on charges that they deliberately infected nearly 500 children with HIV. Bulgaria, its European allies, and the United States have rejected the verdict, citing experts who testified that the epidemic began before the medics were hired. The families are demanding compensation for every infected child.

Ceclilia went with a French Presidential aide, Claude Gueant, but oddly she claims that it wasn't an official visit:

Mrs Sarkozy's visit came one day after the death sentences were handed down on the Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian doctor, who recently acquired Bulgarian citizenship.

She said her visit was "not official" - she had been sent by the French president "as a mother" to affirm the support of France for the children.

It looks like the Libyans are negotiating more to avoid a serious loss of face by admitting that they framed the foreigners. Atg least that is what I infer from this:

"The nurses are also ready to meet a condition stipulated by Libya - not to engage in any additional appeal against Libya through international judicial proceedings."

Official or not, one can only hope it has an effect. I doubt I am alone in hoping that the poor Bulgarians are released.

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

The Need for God

I am, as I believe I have stated before, somewhere between an Atheist and an Agnostic, although not the sort of militant Atheist that insists that all those who profess a belief in some deity are idiots who need to be converted. Indeed I find such militant atheism, as practised by Richars Dawkins for example, to be little better than the religions that they claim to rail against. Hence I was amused but unconvinced by the to and fro between Christopher Hitchens and Michael Gerson in the WaPo over the last couple of days - Gerson gets the first shot here (What Atheists Can't Answer) and Hitchens responds here (An Atheist Responds). Why am I unconvinced? because, as is frequently the case when you have people arguing complex subjects, they argue past each other. I'm going to ignore most of the argument save to look at one thing stated by Hitchens:

Here is my challenge. Let Gerson name one ethical statement made, or one ethical action performed, by a believer that could not have been uttered or done by a nonbeliever. And here is my second challenge. Can any reader of this column think of a wicked statement made, or an evil action performed, precisely because of religious faith? The second question is easy to answer, is it not? The first -- I have been asking it for some time -- awaits a convincing reply. By what right, then, do the faithful assume this irritating mantle of righteousness? They have as much to apologize for as to explain.

This is where I disagree. Religion, depsite the efforts of rationalists of all flavours pops up all over the place. Strong arguments can be made that the militasnt atheism of Dawkins, and Hitchesn, amounts to a religion in some cases. Certainly many atheists seem to substitute belief in some set of unproven ideology, or "science", instead. Witness the idiots who cling to Communism, the outbreaks of Bush Derangement Syndrome and those who slavishly follow the creeds of Evironmentalism and Climate Change and insst, with a self-righteousness that would rivals those of any religious fundamentalist that we must all don environmentally friendly hairshirts and that anyone who fails to subscribe to their "scientific consensus" is a heretic who must be forced to recant and whose writings must be ignored by all.

I think that, unfortunately, while there is no evidence of god, much of humanity has a desire for received wisdom from above. Indeed there was an interesting article in the Wapping Liar talkng about how easy it was for extremists to recruit the unemployed petty criminals and turn them into fellow extremists.

I found the person I had been talking to in the tiny office of a youth centre, next door to a mosque. He showed me a video reconstruction of how easy it is to convert some men in this country to terrorism. The grainy low-budget movie has been made by people who have had brushes with extremism, and it is horribly plausible. Gruelling images of torture and Iraqi casualties from BBC News form the backdrop to a conversation that begins in a gym and which ends up convincing a pretty average young man that “it’ll be us next; Iraq can happen here; the kufs are killing us; we must unite against them”.

The video was made by the Active Change Foundation. What is striking about its leader, Hanif Qadir, is that he talks about street crime, gang crime, drugs, as much as religion. These are the materials from which much of the extremism in Britain is fashioned. It seems that the recruiters are using what is an age-old recipe for many successful cults and gangs. They target kids who are doing drugs, or carjacking. They offer them a safe house when they come out of prison. They provide friendship on drug rehab. It echoes the kind of pyramid-selling perfected by drug dealers: get someone hooked, and use him to hook the next ones.

The journalist says this echoes the techniques of successful cults but I can't help but think of the Jesuit saying "Give me a child before he is 7 and he is mine for life". Also springing to mind is that saying about the devil providing work for idle hands and, for that matter, the one about religion being the opium of the masses.

It is perhaps tempting to claim that religion is for the stupid and uneducated, yet the example of the chattering classes seems to show that this is not the case. Indeed it seem sposisble to claim that the classic post war "liberal" tradition is, effectively, a religion with the examples of BDS and Econuttiness mentioned above being the extremist fundamentalists of the religion. Anthony Jay writes in the Torygraph (via Samizdata) about just how destructive a liberal "anti-" mindset can be and his article (extracted from a longer piece) shows how the mindset resembles a religion:

For a time it puzzled me that after 50 years of tumultuous change the media liberal attitudes could remain almost identical to those I shared in the 1950s. Then it gradually dawned on me: my BBC media liberalism was not a political philosophy, even less a political programme. It was an ideology based not on observation and deduction but on faith and doctrine. We were rather weak on facts and figures, on causes and consequences, and shied away from arguments about practicalities. If defeated on one point we just retreated to another; we did not change our beliefs. We were, of course, believers in democracy. The trouble was that our understanding of it was structurally simplistic and politically naïve. It did not go much further than one-adult-one-vote.

We ignored the whole truth, namely that modern Western civilisation stands on four pillars, and elected governments is only one of them. Equally important is the rule of law. The other two are economic: the right to own private property and the right to buy and sell your property, goods, services and labour. (Freedom of speech, worship, and association derive from them; with an elected government and the rule of law a nation can choose how much it wants of each). We never got this far with our analysis. The two economic freedoms led straight to the heresy of free enterprise capitalism - and yet without them any meaningful freedom is impossible.

But analysis was irrelevant to us. Ultimately, it was not a question of whether a policy worked but whether it was right or wrong when judged by our media liberal moral standards. There was no argument about whether, say, capital punishment worked. If retentionists came up with statistics showing that abolition increased the number of murders we simply rejected them.

It is interesting to note that Jay calls "media liberalism" an ideology. It seems to me that "media liberalism" with its dogmatic rejection of certain things and dogmatic acceptance of others is more of a religion than an ideology. Although perhaps one  can define the difference between the two as religions admit they have a supernatural origin for beliefs whereas ideologies claim a natural, scientific one. However this is quibbling.

The question that needs to be answered by Hitchens and co is whether the altheistic alternative they mostly support. Hitchens of course being the heretic from the true orthodoxy because he is not anti- everything "Western", is actually able to meet the same tests 2 that he brings up. Given that liberal apologists have spawned corruption throughout the developing world, nurtured repulsive dictators and failed to stop civil wars and tyrannical regimes all across the globe because the tyrants, from Pol Pot and Mao to Kim Jung Il, Ahmadinejad and Robert Mugabe have utterly ignored their toothless complaints, it seems fairly clear that liberalism is just as guilty of death as any of the religions it claims to supplant. Indeed one could argue that thanks to media liberalism's willingness to believe one dodgy scientific theory after another (from DDT to MMR) it has killed more people in the last 50 years than any other religion or ideology.

If we are to ensure that our youths do not fall into the clutches of extremists, be they Islamists, Enviromentalists, Scientologists or whatever then we need to provide some sort of alternative, because it seems clear that, for many people, religion fills a hole in their life. This is why I think that Hitchens is skating on thin ice. Rather than attack all religions equally we should perhaps support the more harmless forms of religion, such as Buddhism or mainstream Christinanity because while such religions aren't perfect, they seem preferable to the gaping void, soon to be filled by extremists, that results if all religions are attacked.

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

Detested by Polly

It seems that Boris Johnson, famous for his jogging (both upright and not), is to stand for mayor of London. This is causing much distress amongst those who like having a newt fancier as Mayor of the London. The BBC covers his announcement with a helpful summary of his colourful past as does the Grauniad, and the BBC. the Grauniad and the Independent's news coverage all include the pre-emptive strike by the newt lover with the Independent giving the most coverage:

Mr Livingstone said Mr Johnson would be "seriously damaging for London".

He said: "He (Mr Johnson) has the 567th lowest record in Parliament in terms of the number of votes he bothers to attend - which puts him in the lowest 20 per cent of MPs.

"To put someone in charge of London with such a right-wing record, who has no experience of managing anything practical at all, and who has shown no serious interest in even the most important issues confronting the capital, would not be a joke but seriously damaging for London."

Looking at Mr Johnson's voting record, Mr Livingstone said: "He did not bother to vote in the House of Commons to defend the Freedom Pass for free travel for older people. He did not even bother to vote on the Parliamentary Bill in favour of Crossrail - the most important transport project for London.

"He strongly supported the war in Iraq until this turned into a disaster. He voted against amendments that would have allowed unmarried couples, both heterosexual and homosexual, to adopt children. He voted in favour of hunting.

"On nuclear issues, Johnson voted in favour of replacing Trident and did not bother to attend the votes on nuclear power in 2002 and 2006."

Mr Livingstone also questioned the Tories' stand on affordable housing, free bus and tram travel for under-18s, and the congestion charge.

If the Grauniad fails to properly quote Red Ken, it does manages to redeem itself by bringing up the most gratuitous toff reference:

If elected, he could one day be mayor at the same time as Mr Cameron, his friend from Eton and Oxford, is prime minister.

And then in the battle to attack Boris the Grauniad wins hands down because they also go after him in the comment section. Their leading columnist, Polly "Pot" Toynbee has a wonderful piece entitled: Boris the jester, toff, serial liar and sociopath for mayor. Just in case it wasn't obvious Ms Toynbee makes it clear she is somewhat anti-Boris and Tim W explains why this appears to be the case. The Polly hit piece is a true gem. Ms Toynbee's goves come off and she explains in detail why Mr Johnson is unfit to run a whelk stall let alone London. This is classic "read the whole thing" stuff but I suspect that Ms T may end up regretting her tirade. For example this section:

Jokes make outrageous views acceptable, but the general tenor of Borisisms reveals his political cast of mind - the endless mock cockney attacks on "elf'n'safety", on children's car seats or, notoriously, Liverpudlians wallowing in their victim status. He hints at utter contempt for the NHS, with USSR comparisons. Though liberal on matters of sex (what else could he be?) and drugs ("I'm instinctively inclined to liberalise"), his politics are right off the Cameron scale. Here he is on education: "I am in favour of selection ... So is every member of the British ruling classes"; and on universities: "I believe passionately in academic inequality."

Just before the grammar school row he complained: "We have taken away the old ladder of social mobility, the academic selection that used to form a way out for the bright children of poor families." How will London parents react to the tone of this? "Masters of the Universe" should "endow new schools for improving the education of our feral children to reduce the risk of being despoiled of their squillions by a hoodie". As a rabid Europhobe, how would that play with the Olympics or the Tour de France?

I'm sure that the media liberal voters of Islington and Notting Hill will indeed reject anyone who says such things, but what about the cockneys of Stratford or the city lawyers, accountants etc of Peckham or Wandsworth? One suspects that many people like the Suspect Paki would agree with his NHS diatribes, even if they disagree with him on Iraq etc. and I reckon a lot of people will agree with him when he talks about grammar schools. [Aside: it is possible Ms Toynbees hatred for the Grammars is because she failed her 11plus ]. It is far from impossible that the victims of the "feral children" agree with Mr Johnson that a better education might lead them away from a life of crime. Who knows, if they master joined up hand-writing perhaps they can read "media studies" at some second rate polytechnic and then become Grauniad columnists?

If I were Mt Johnson I'd be reading the diatribes by Polly and others on the left andf mining them for quotes. 'Boris Johnson attacks "elf'n'safety" - Polly Toynbee' might make a good campaign poster. If as is far from unlikely, council taxes rise in London because of the olympics, Mr Johnson's sarcasm on the subject may end up being another plus point no matter whether it peeves the Europeans...

All in all I find it telling that such venom has been unleashed because it seems to me to be a clear sign that Ms T thinks the wheels are going to come off her ZANU Labour bandwagon.

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

Western Civilization Needs Ladies Dessed Like Tarts

[ If you know the song "British Grenadiers" it may help if you consider the italics below as alternative lyrics as you hum that tune.
I like the girls who say they will,
And I like the girls who won't.
I hate the girls who say they will,
And then they say they won't.
But of all the girls I like the best,
I may be wrong or right,
Are the girls who say they never will,
But look as though they might.
In Europe it is summer. Summer means the ladies wear less clothing. In some cases sufficiently less that they prove the rule that some people look better with more clothes. In many cases, however, the skimpiness of the attire is appreciated by the heterosexual males (and homosexual females) that they meet on the beach, in the street etc. It is my belief that those of us who think that Western civilization is a good thing should appreciate the display even more, and even appreciate those cases where what is displayed falls into the "Too Much Information" category.

Why? Because this display is a barometer of the health of western society. A number of people, even ones I respect, are upset with the whole harlot look, and when the look spreads to the preteen set I have to admit I have reservations too. However, while it worries me that some parents let their little girls dress this way, I'd far rather live in a world where 12 year old girls dress to attract padophiles than the most likely alternative. Why? because the freedom to dress like a whore, even when you shouldn't is a litmus paper of whether Western civilization is surviving or not. Something that seems to escape the majority of media liberals is that the alternatives to Western civilizations mostly prefer to keep their women covered up if not chained to the kitchen. I am sure there are some societies where unclothed women are paraded as trophies by their owners but I think it is rare. The only society where women can walk down a public street in little more than underwear and expect neither rape nor censure is this one and however you look at it this has to be a good thing.

PS Of course the fact that women can do this thing does not mean they should do it. In addition to the aesthetic issues involving the display of unsightly bodies (and IMO that applies just as much to the excessively thin as the overweight) there are other drawbacks. For one the simple fact that out and ou dsplay isn't effective as a tactic. Women dress the way they do to attract attention via titilation, however as practically any experienced advertising/marketing person will tell you, you get more attention from hinting and partial display than you do from flaunting it. Sure there are places where brash statements and displays are OK, think Aldi or Lidl (or Walmart I guess in the US), but if you want to be more valued you make the client do some of the work. The same applies to displays of feminine flesh.

Oh and while I'm really skeptical about the "bad example for the kiddies" arguments, I do think that excessive debasing of sexuality is a bad thing. For one thing it makes it far easier for the woman to be considered like a piece of meat instead of a person, which puts us right back to the treatment of women in other cultures.

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

Ban The Rich & The Degreeless

In the ongoing battle of Boris vs Polly Pot we have an excellent example today of why Boris is better by looking at their respective columns today. We shall ignore the tone (Polly miserable puritan, Boris jovial) and look at the content. Polly sez (and I summarise) "Rich people shouldn't gove money to charity, they should all pay higher taxes instead". Boris on the other hand shows that the government appears to be run by a bunch of clueless imbeciles who prefer mindless form filling and box ticking to commn sense.

Polly's column is a little incoherent. Firstly she bemoans the idea that rich people don't give as much to charity (proportionately) as poorer people, although there is a bizarre statistic lodged in this bit:

[I]n Britain, the rich give a lower proportion of their wealth than others, with more donors in the north east than the south east, and more women than men. The total value stays pretty steady at 0.9% of GDP.

0.9% of GDP by region, over time? or what? GDP seems an odd measure for charitable giving by individuals. But I'm allowing myself to get trapped in irrelevant ratholes.

The main thrust of Polly's prattle is that the rich need incentives to give to charity (as opposed to being filled with pure altruistic satisfaction) and that because of tax breaks the government gets less dosh because the charity gets the tax on the donation that the government would have otherwise received. Oh and this applies no matter whether the donor picks a "Cruelty To Dogs In Japan" (Rathole2 - Korea is usually the country associated with cruelty to dogs) or some more worthy cause that Polly approves of.

It seems that the gospel according to Polly is that only the government can spend money wisely and everyone should
give money to the government and not to charity. You see charities often waste money:

So long as they fulfil the very basic requirements of probity, registered charities may cover a multitude of crankiness and inefficiency: cut-throat wasteful competition between near-identical tin-rattlers, advertising campaigns that distort important social issues; or empire building charity managers with little genuine assessment of their outcomes. Of course many are excellent, but, good or bad, the taxpayer has to pony up that 28% extra for every pound put in a tin.

Donors with their hefty cheques can cause serious trouble for good charities doing difficult, skilled work. Masters of the Universe are used to running the show themselves in their own companies, and they think they know best how to run any organisation. Sometimes they do, but sometimes the cash comes at a high price. Once they've got all the "toys", the danger is that using their money to run poor folk, their schools, their estates or their children is just the most fun toy of all.

I'll hand over to Boris for a second to point out that governments are not exactly paragons of efficiency:

Take the case of poor Olive Rack, 56, who has 20 years experience as a nursery teacher, and who last year saw one of her charges - a two-year-old - whacking a baby over the head with a large wooden brick. The toddler was about to have a second crack when Olive intervened and took her by the hand to the naughty chair.

Alas, her actions were spotted, through a window, by the emanations of the state. Two early learning advisers from Northampton County Council happened to be doing an inspection, and grimly noted the event.

Five weeks later, to Olive's utter amazement, the police turned up on her doorstep and charged her with common assault. The case went to court, and only collapsed when the toddler's mum said the whole thing was bonkers, and that Olive was a good nursery teacher.

Anyone want to guess how many thousands of pounds were wasted by that attempted prosecution? But there is more. Boris points out that HMG is planning to require nursery / pre-school teachers to become accredited with something called "Early Years Professional Status". Boris notes that if you take a look at the pre-requisites for obtaining one of these piece of paper you need some other pieces of paper:

Before you start the training you must have:

[...]Before undertaking the validation process you must:

[ Rathole3 - how come possession of a grade C GCSE in English is not evidence that "you can read effectively and are able to communicate clearly and accurately in spoken and written standard English"? Could it be that GCSEs are in fact utterly worthless and that GCSE English does not teach reading and writing? ]
If yu can manage to keep your eyes from glazing over, the EYP National Standards (as produced by the Children’s Workforce Development Council - whatever that is) mentions all sorts of things you have to do such as show understanding of including:

The main provisions of the national and local statutory and non-statutory frameworks within which children’s services work and their implications for early years settings


The current legal requirements, national policies and guidance on health and safety, safeguarding and promoting the well being of children and their implications for early years settings

as well as all sorts of other box ticking. None of which appears to require a university degree or mathematical ability. Indeed I can't help but note that I would apparently meet the requirements (A grades in GCE O Level English and O, AO and A level Maths, BA (Hons) ) but it would seem unlikely that the sort of person that ZANU Labour would like to get into the labour market and who would be suited for this (viz. a teenage single mother) would. Said person would need to atend 3 years of university in order to run a child-care facility.

Read all this and tell me the government is spending your money wisely. And tell me the government needs more of it.

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

Friday Olive Tree Blogging

Just off shore from Cannes are two islands - the Iles Lerins. One of them, St Honorat, is home to an abbey and the monks grow olive trees and vines to make olive oil and wine respectively. The site is beautiful and it is possible to stay at the abbey if you wish. The monks are apparently very welcoming but not exactly scandal free. A recent abbot was picked up on the Croisette in Cannes soliciting for prostitutes and they got done for either diddling the EU by claiming more vines/olive trees than they had or selling more wine than they grew (I forget the precise details).

Anyway when you land on the island you can walk across it to the monastery and as you do so you pass under this arch surrounded by olive trees. It's a beautiful place and far less visited than its larger neighbour Ste Marguerite.

As always you can click on the image to see it enlarged and new visitors are encouraged to visit the Olive Tree Blogging Archives.

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

Total Non Sequitur

Daniel Drezner points to this post in George Parker's New Yorker blog which explains to the readership that Iran is, contrary to what Newsweek wrote recently, not a terribly nice place. An extract:

Meanwhile, on July 9th, fifteen Iranian students and the mother of another were beaten and jailed after demonstrating in commemoration of an assault on student activists in 1999.

On July 10th, the leader of an independent trade union, who spent most of last year in prison, was abducted from a Tehran bus.

On July 11th, the Iranian judiciary banned a moderate news agency, just a few days after shutting down a newspaper that had resumed publication only two months earlier, following a seven-year ban.

In the spring, a hundred and fifty thousand Iranians were briefly detained for wearing clothes or hairstyles deemed un-Islamic. According to the Christian Science Monitor, “Iranian news organizations have been instructed not to report negative news regarding social unrest, gas rationing in the world’s fourth-largest oil exporter, the nuclear program, or the impact of U.N. sanctions on Iran.” Recently, Iran has lifted a moratorium on stoning, and has ramped up the number of executions of adulterers, homosexuals, and minors.

He also has this plausible explanation of why Hirsh might have been happy to gloss over the nasty bits:

Why did a journalist as experienced as Michael Hirsh not notice? Because, justifiably arguing for dialogue and against fantasies of easy regime change, he wants to be able to say that things are not as bad as you think in Iran. The truth is, things are worse than you think for any Iranian who tries to exercise minimal political rights. Just as the neoconservatives concocted a simple case on Iraq and, now, Iran—claiming that the locals would welcome regime change from outside—people like Hirsh want to make a simple case, too. It’s a great temptation to say that, because X is true, Y, which seems to point in a different direction from X, must be false.

Yet after all this he then writes this:

We all want total vindication. But in politics there is no total vindication, on Iran or anything else. The regime there is brutal, and we should talk to it.

Huh? I'm not saying that there is no argument that we should talk to Iran. But a bald statement like "The regime there is brutal, and we should talk to it" isn't an argument.

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

On This Day

The BBC has a series "On this day" where they list notable events that have occured on this day in history. Today is July 20 and the BBC list has stuff about Cyprus in 1974, Hitler in 1944, the IRA in 1982 etc. But as you can see from this screen capture they've omitted one story. Landing on the moon was clearly no big deal.
What about 1969?

Update: This appears to be because it occured "tomorrow" British time

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

Your Tax Pounds At Work

Via Harry's Place is this story in the Torygraph:

A black dustman has been banned from wearing a St George's Cross bandana because council officials say it could be regarded as racist.

Matthew Carter, 35, who was born in Barbados, used the headgear to keep his dreadlocks out of the way while he was on his rounds in Burnley, Lancs. He had done so for seven months before his photograph appeared in a local newspaper. A number of local people complained, and his superiors called him.

"I received a verbal warning," Mr Carter said yesterday. "They told me the St George's Cross was not allowed to be seen on any clothing we wear because it could be considered offensive and racist."

One wonders how many "a number" were. One also wonders why these people are living in Burnley (a town in the NW of England) if they are so upset with the idea of England? I try not to repeat mindless racist slogans but "Fuck off back to wogland"* does spring to mind as I read this. Unless of course it was a couple of Mr Carter's mates complaining for a joke (in which case I hope they were as pasty white as it is possible to be). However no matter whether it is a joke or not the local jobsworths sprang into action with their usual complete and utter lack of either sense or proportion:

Ian McInery, the operational services manager for Pendle council, defended the decision to discipline Mr Carter. He said: "We have made it clear to staff that they are not allowed to put stickers or flags on bin wagons or wear clothing which shows support for a particular team, group or country.

"We can't make one rule for one person and one for another. It's just a common-sense approach that we are sticking to."

Matthew Carter, who has been told by Pendle Council to ditch his St Georges Cross bandana.This is a defninition of common sense that is umm about 180° away from the usual one. I can see that wandering around England with (say) a Hamas baseball cap on, or sticking American flags on bins might be considered divisive (I would find the former offensive rather than the latter, regretfully I suspect many English folks would find the opposite to be true), however the English flag, that is to say the flag of the country where one resides, is not generally considered offensive to anyone. Indeed, if white supremacist groups have hijacked the national flag for their racist idiocy, surely the solution is to encourage others who are not of their ethnic background to display the flag and thus reclaim it for the entire nation. Mr Carter, as the photo from the local newspaper's article clearly shows, would seem to be a perfect candidate.

By the way, for those who think that the council are total prats, Mr Google shows me this document which has contact information for Ian McInery, operational services manager for Pendle council:
Tel: 01282 661752 or [email protected].
Another good contact to complain to would be Richard Boyd, Press & Promotions Officer, Pendle Council. Tel: 01282 661970. Presumably his email address is [email protected]. One can also use the Pendle Council website's contact page.

*wogland in the sense of "Wogs begin at Calais" not refering to any particular ethnic group

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

Petraeus vs "Scott Thomas"

Across the pond the "debate" about Iraq continues to show the difference in quality between the anti-war nutters and the pro-war folks. Recently the pro-war side had a chance to hear Gen. Petraeus being interviewed by Hugh Hewitt (transcript, audio)  and the anti-war side found an anonymous soldier, "Scott Thomas" who was willing to talk about all sorts of atrocities.

The pro-war folk dug into the tales of "Scott Thomas" and found oddities. Lots and lots of oddities. These oddities include word choice, phrasing, descriptions, apparent ESP, not to mention the fact that despite the fact that these abuses have supposedly been widespread and well known, no one has apparently bothered to tell an officer who cares. In other words the chances are that the writer is not actually in the military and/or is repeating and exagegrating 3rd hand scuttlebutt and rumour.

The anti-war folks attacked Gen Petraeus for daring to appear on a "right wing" radio show. Statements like:

If I were eager to maintain a semblance of military independence from the agenda of extremist, Republican partisans, I wouldn't go on the Hugh Hewitt show, would you? And yet Petraeus has done just that. I think such a decision to cater to one party's propaganda outlet renders Petraeus' military independence moot. I'll wait for the transcript. But Petraeus is either willing to be used by the Republican propaganda machine or he is part of the Republican propaganda machine. I'm beginning to suspect the latter. The only thing worse than a deeply politicized and partisan war is a deeply politicized and partisan commander. But we now know whose side Petraeus seems to be on: Cheney's. Expect spin, not truth, in September.

and this:

And speaking of Petraeus, what should we expect from him come September? It’s probably best to lower expectations now. Petraeus’ credibility suffered a serious blow this week when he appeared on far-right activist Hugh Hewitt’s radio show, and stuck closely to the White House script.

Do you notice a difference between the ant-war nutters and the pro-war folks? As in, how come the anti-war guys are attacking the person and the delivery but the pro-war folks are attacking the content? I am, on the whole, on the pro-war side and the reason is clearly illustrated here. Us "right wingnuts" look for the weaknesses in what people say or write and expose their lies, inconsistencies or shadings of the truth. The "nutroots" on the other hand seem to prefer to attack ad hominem, and it seems to me that you don't do that when you have a better argument.

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

Slow News Day?

The BBC spent a lot of this morning's World Service news on Harry Potter. It was, I admit, the last item, but they had a good 30 second recording of JK Rowling reading the first chapter last night as well as some other reporting surrounding that recording.

This was longer than they gave to covering
Taleban 'kill captured Germans'
UN probes 'abuse' in Ivory Coast
Lula vows to act after air crash
Two held over Rwanda massacres
and failed to mention any progress in Iraq, events in Pakistan or Iran, the Koreans in Afghanistan (beyond a throwaway line in the German story, which at that time was more "threaten to kill" IIRC) or any number of other stories that might be interesting. The bias in the selection of stories to cover seems to be getting more blatent. Surely it wouldn't kill the BBC to report that Iraq appears to be becoming significantly quieter recently. The statistics here are looking better than they have for a while, especially given that the "surge" has been in an active fighting stage for the last month. First the average coaliation fatalities/day:
Average deaths/day of coaliation forces in Iraq
Now the Iraqi deaths (which includes security forces, civilians and I believe "insurgents"):
Average deaths/day of Iraqis
(Note that july 2007 is the leftmost column)

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

Speed Readers Get The Wrong Idea

From the BBC news page today is this little snippet:
Cameron predicts win?
If you read this fast like I do you get "David Cameron predicts victory" or some some such thing.

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

Was It Just a Cunning Plan?

I'm going to begin this post by saying that I believe the answer to this is "no" for reasons that lie akin to the well known aphorism that one should "never ascribe to malice that which can be explained by (bureaucratic) incompetence".

"What is he talking about?" I can hear my reader (hi James) mutter. I'm talking about Iraq and, more particularly about the way that the Sunni parts seem to be ever keener to work with the Americans and against Al Qaeda, including now former low level Al Qaeda members (via Powerline). At the same time it seems like the Sadr-ists and other Iranian backed Shia militias are also being rejected, although that rejection is currently rather more patchy.

No one would claim that the US led coalition did a perfect job in post-war Iraq, indeed there are all sorts of former pro-war folks who seem to have jumped into the "its all a total disaster leave now" camp and they have some fairly good reasons. However my contrarian hypothesis is that, while it is regretful that it has taken 4 years, Iraq actually needed to experience the "insurgency" in order to understand who the real enemies were. In other words it is not impossible that the way the post-war situtaion has been handled could have been a cunning plan by the US and co to get an Arab country really loyal to the West from the bottom up rather than just grudgingly allied at the top.

Iraq, as has been reported in various places, is rare amongst Middle Eastern states in that it seems to have a genuine national identity rather than an identity based on tribalism or religion, however the opression of the Sunnis and Kurds by the Sunni minority led to tensions that were displayed after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. The result of these ethnic tensions was that it was relatively simple for extremists of various flavours to gain support in their battles against each other and the US imperialists. However, despite what you might think reading the MSM, it seems like the extremists are in fact extremely brutal to the residents of those places where they live and eventually said residents figure out that the US Imperialists are rather less oppressive, indeed unlike the insurgents they actually build things and pay people for constructive acts. Hence a rise in cooperation with the US against Al Qaeda etc.

If the US had managed to crush the "insurgency" in the first 6 months of occupation then this groundswell of support for the US and opposition to radicals would be significantly less meaning that the US might have left and then having left we'd see the country collapse into civil war. As it is the occupation now stands a chance of ending up with a united Iraq that has been "innoculated" against extremism. This would seem to be the best of all possible worlds and just what us "neocons" wanted when we supported the invasion in the first place. Hence, since we know that it was the evil neocons surrounding Bush who ran the invasion and occupation it could be that the whole insurgency has been a cunning plan....

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

Shamed by the Danes

The Danes decided to have a secret airlift to get those Iraqis who had helped them but felt they would be vulnerable to reprisals out of Iraq. In the UK the government don't do that. They don't even provide asylum to Iraqis who helped the British troops and who then flee Iraq (see here, here, here, here and here). This is a complete disgrace, albeit one that comes as no surprise to me given how ZANU Labour and its jobsworth bureaucrats demonstrably lie to everyone else and have no concept of loyalty.

Tim says (also first link above):

There was a day when an Englishman's word meant something: not all that long ago as well. I've been a beneficiary of this idea that we are an honourable people who do as we say we will, will do the right thing, as recently as the 1990s in Russia. I've no doubt that my brother, currently working in Kabul, benefits from it today.

There are those who think this unimportant: unfortunately they are also the scum who rule us.

Write to your MP. Email them, phone them. Spread the word. Comment on the newspaper blogs. Write letters to editors.

The French already think of us as Perfidious Albion: let's not go and prove it to the whole world, eh?

He's right in every particular. I'll go further and suggest that denying these people asylum while putting up with someone like this as a "political refugee" is a sign of a government that has its priorities so fucked up that any reputable writer of fiction would be ridiculed for writing something like it in a book.

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

Dealing With Rapists

The part of the feminist cause I have most sympathy with is when they talk about rape. It seems to me that the Criminal Justice system in most countries fails to treat the crime properly. Last week the police in the UK decided not to get on TV to search for a rapist because of a potential racist backlash (via Tim Blair). If, say the crime were murder or attempted murder would we be worrying about the potential for a racist backlash? if some white skinhead was wanted for queerbashing would we worry about unfairly stereotyping skinheads? Yet it seems that if all you are doing is raping the odd woman then we need to take these exteraneous factors into consideration. (Un)fortunately the UK are not alone in this kind idiocy.

Patterico and a bunch of others are quite rightly incensed about a case where a Liberian immigrant suspected of raping a 7 year old child (repeatedly) has been let off from having a trial because it has taken too long to come to court. Then there is Japan where, as Japundit points out, gang rapists get a reduction in sentence because their victim was drunk.

This last one leads me to a point where I have some sympathy (limited but some). There are undoubtedly cases where there are mitigating circumstances, although gang rapes aren't usually going to be among them. In cases where you have two people going consensually back to one room after a night out and then there isn't a major outcry at the time I think the rapist probably deserves some mercy because drunk people do stupid things. However, and I'll make it clear here, I'd put the bar for drunken misunderstandings pretty damn high.

It also occurs to me that we treat rapists to the wrong sort of justice. Take Rachel's case. As she explains in this other post, the rapist showed no sign of remorse or anything other than some sort of regret at being caught. Putting someone like that in prison is unlikely to help, other than stop them raping while in prison. It seems to me that the best use for such a piece of scum is as a lesson. Chris Dillow and Bishop Hill both suggest that corporal punishment, such as the stocks, would be good for some offenses (drunk & disorderlies, petty thefts). On that line I think rapists should be publicly castrated and then left to bleed out. No gags, no anaesthetics, just attach them and their wedding tackly to a guillotine and make them hold the (short) string that stops the blade from falling. When their arm tires out the blade falls. You could make a mint betting on how long they's survive and give 10% of the sum wagered to the victim(s). I'm sure that some people would say that this makes us more like Saudi Arabia or Iran. This is, as far as I can see, the only drawback.

By the way, on the plus side, having such a drastic punishment for rapists would probably stop a lot of the sorts of date rape I talk about above. Once you've had a few public castrations the average drunk is going to think a little harder about whether he wants to risk finding himself in the same boat. If at the same time it cut down on casual sex as a whole I can't see that as a negative either. I'm not some kind of puritan who thinks sex out of marriage should be banned, but I do think that wild promiscuity is a bad thing and that the pendulum has swung too far in that direction. Indeed, while you may or may not have reservations about sex on moral grounds, cutting down on casual sex would probably reduce the rate of STIs, something that Tim W reports have increased significantly over the last 10 years.

24 July 2007 Blog Home : All July 2007 Posts : Permalink

Monaco Not A Tax Haven

OK not an "Offshore Financial Centre" (OFC) which seems to be bureaucratese for much the same thing. i.e. somewhere that makes its living channeling money about for people who don't live there. I've discoevred this fact thanks to a post by Tim W, writing at the Adam Smith Institute blog, where he talks about the jaw dropping idiocy of considering the UK to be a tax haven. The person who does this is an IMF researcher (PDF), and the person who brags about it is Richard Murphy, a gentleman whom I have mocked before. Tim W does the goods on the UK part quite well, but I thought I might have a look at the source material just for fun. Starting with Mr Murphy's summary where he states:

The findings are significant. Simply by considering this ratio at a level of statistical significance (and in most cases the stats are extremely clear) a new list of OFCs is produced. The following which were considered OFCs by the IMF are confirmed as such: [...]

The following which the IMF thought to be tax havens fall off this list:

But most tellingly three new OFCs are identified. they are:

This data is objective. I’ll admit, the UK is clearly not as dependent on financial services as, for example, the Channel Islands, Cayman or Luxembourg are, but equally, compared to places like the US we’re massive players. It’s time to recognise reality. With its cohort of supporting states in the above list the UK is at the centre of the threat to world stability caused by the financial services sector and tax abuse.

The financial services sector is a "threat to world stability"? Umm yes I guess this is true if you think that in times and places where the financial services sector hasnot been available the world has been remarkably stable. The populace of these times and places have also been poor and as a result of their poorness, disease ridden, prone to starvation and, by any objective measure you like to make, miserable compared to those of us who live in places and times where the financial services sector is present and active. Compare Zimbabwe (say) with its neighbours South Africa and Botswana. Guess which nation lacks the financial services sector? Oh and "tax abuse" From the context tax abuse means people doing their best to avoid paying taxes by moving their financial affairs to places where they can legally pay less tax. Mr Murphy appears to share Polly Pot's belief that everyone should be taxed at about 90% of their income and then cheerfully sign up for government assistance to survive. Well actually that is what I'd call tax abuse, if I didn't reserve the term for the sorts of people of create a new tax and then retroactively apply it.

But enough of the bleatings of Mr Murphy. One thng that struck me was that a certain nation close to where I live did not appear on the list of OFCs - Monaco. Indeed  on P 18 of the PDF we see a graph where Monaco has a negative number implying that it is a net importer of financial services.

It therefore appears that the reason why certain (wealthy) people prefer to live in Monaco rather than a few metres away across the border in France is nothing to do with a desire to (escape) tax abuse and that there must be some other explanation . Perhaps there is a massively more pleasant microclimate covering Monaco and this more than makes up for the cheek by jowl living conditions....

Alternatively the IMF report is a piece of junk. Well lets see if we can find some evidence. Clearly if the IMF is right then all those british titans of industry and commerce would be staying in London for the whole week instead of residing in Monaco. Umm well there's Lord Laidlaw, Mrs Green (wife of Philip G), the Barclay brothers and that is after about 2 minutes of googling, which also gives us this Grauniad piece which says:

The Guardian has traced more than 650 directors of British companies who give their current address as Monaco, and the top 10 residents there with UK interests alone control family assets worth more than £13.5bn.

Now either these 650 directors are all financial idiots because they prefer to live in Monaco not London - or the IMF report is bunk. What do you think is the answer?

24 July 2007 Blog Home : All July 2007 Posts : Permalink

Really Killed Cartoon

SeeDubya at the Junkyardblog (and Tim Blair) provide this irony rich story:

When you publish a book called Killed Cartoons: Casualties from the War on Free Expression, the whole point would seem to be that you're speaking up for unfettered satire. Apparently not. The publishers of Killed Cartoons ... killed one of the cartoons!

Readers are invited to guess what that cartoon's subject was before clicking here. Hint it begins with M ends in D has 8 letters and was the subject of a certain amount of ire against Denmark.

24 July 2007 Blog Home : All July 2007 Posts : Permalink

Robert Fisk is Right - So is Ben Goldacre

Now there's a headline, the first half of which I didn't ever expect to write. However his oped yesterday about the lies and evasions of the MSM with respect to race and genocide is spot on. The prime cause for his displeasure is that Patterico's favourite Dog Trainer and the Canadian Globe and Mail prefer to suck up to Turkey with respect to the "alleged" 1915 Armenian Genocide. The Globe and Mail gets the worst hits because it also "borrowed" a Fisk column without permission (or payment) and also had some issues with another correspondent.

I should note that in both cases the journalist Fisk is defending (Arax for the Dog Trainer, Wong for the G&M) are pretty sleazy: With regards to the latter, Fisk himself writes:

Wong is not a greatly loved reporter. A third-generation Canadian, she moved to China during Mao's "cultural revolution" and, in her own words, "snitched on class enemies and did my best to be a good little Maoist."

She later wrote a "Lunch With" series for the Globe in which she acted all sympathetic to interviewee guests to catch them out. "When they relax, that's when their guard is down," she told a college newspaper. "It's a trick, but it's legit." Yuk!

However that is beside the point. In both cases the newspaper finds ways to avoid taking the blame for journalists who
state what are probably accurate but definitely politically incorrect points of view. As Fisk concludes:

The Independent's subscribers promise to make no changes to our reports. But when our syndication folk contacted the Globe, they discovered that the Canadian paper had simply stolen the article. They were made to pay a penalty fee. But as for the censorship of the word "genocide", a female executive explained to The Independent that nothing could be done because the editor responsible had "since left the Globe and Mail".

It's the same old story, isn't it? Censor then whinge, then cut and run. No wonder the bloggers are winning.

I find it fascinating that newspapers which complain about the shoddy standards of bloggers and the ethical lapses of politicians, celebtrities and business leaders are willing to be so cavalier their own standards and ethics.

Talking of shoddy standards and ethics leads me back this side of the Atlantic. The Observer newspaper wrote a completely unsustainable scare story about Autism and MMR earlier this month. It was so error-filled that they have written a defense by the reader's editor which is wrong and, last weekend, "a clarification" that is longer than the original article (by my count 946 vs 763 for the original). Not only that but Ben Goldacre - the writer of the Bad Science column in the Grauniad (the Observer's sister paper) - still finds much to criticise on his blog. For example in the initial piece one of the claims is that:

Although the new research is purely statistical and does not examine possible explanations for the rise, two of the authors believe that the MMR jab, which babies receive at 12 to 15 months, might be partly to blame. Dr Fiona Scott and Dr Carol Stott both say it could be a factor in small numbers of children.

Later on there are a few lines about a certain Dr Wakefield:

Controversy over the MMR jab erupted in 1998 after Dr Andrew Wakefield, a gastroenterologist at the Royal Free Hospital in north London, said he no longer believed it was safe and might cause autism and inflammatory bowel disease in children. Many parents panicked and MMR take-up fell dramatically. More families opted to have their child immunised privately through three separate injections to avoid the possibility of their immune system being overloaded by the MMR jab, thus leaving them at greater risk of infections.

The medical and scientific establishment denied Wakefield's claim, described research he had co-authored as 'bad science', and sought to reassure the public, with limited success. Wakefield and two former Royal Free colleagues are due to appear before the General Medical Council next week to answer charges relating to the 1998 research. The trio could be struck off.

The doctors' disciplinary body claims that Wakefield acted 'dishonestly and 'irresponsibly' in dealings with the Lancet, was 'misleading' in the way he sought research funding from the Legal Aid Board, and 'acted unethically and abused his position of trust as a medical practitioner' by taking blood from children after offering them money.

You might think that in such a case the fact the one of the two researchers "quoted" above works with Dr Wakefield might be relevant, and indeed in their clarification they state that:

Dr Stott, one of the authors of the Final Report and described by The Observer as believing that there maybe a link in a small number of cases between MMR and autism, does some work for Thoughtful House, the autism centre in Texas that treats children from all over the world. Dr Wakefield works at Thoughtful House. Dr Stott’s links to Dr Wakefield should have been made clear in The Observer news report.

As Mr Goldacre points out Dr Wakefield is rather more than a fellow minion working at Thoughtful House that Dr Stott might run into occasionally:

Dr Wakefield founded Thoughtful House!


He doesn’t “work at” Thoughtful House. He is the Executive Director.



In the Observer’s world, Wakefield “works at” a place in America where Stott also does “some work”: in the real world, Stott and Wakefield have even issued joint press releases answering critics of Thoughtful House.

Oh and the other researcher? Dr Fiona Scott. They never called or emailed her until the night before the "clarification" despite the fact that email and work phone contact methods are clearly listed. This sort of jornalism is almost as good as that practiced by the New Republic!

All I can say is that we can be thankful that some journalists appear to have problems when they see their colleagues lying, stealing and then trying to pretend they didn't.

24 July 2007 Blog Home : All July 2007 Posts : Permalink

419 Consistency and Accuracy

God knows that I don't want to teach scamsters to be more convincing but sometimes you get efforts which are so bad you just have to point out the problems. For example this one:

From: Micheal Roland <[email protected]>

Dear Friend,

My name is Mr.  Micheal Roland, 45 years old from Bromley Kent , London. Head Financial Control & Planning department, Harrogate Bank Plc.I am divorced, have 3 kids living  with me at home. I'm 5'11 tall. black. I love animals. I have 2 dogs and 3 cats. I love to travel. I love the outdoors, swimming, riding, skeet shooting, etc..I have a healthy and active social life.


Thank you.

Yours sincerely,

Kenneth Joel.

Let me pick out the errors.
  1. Notice anything odd about the name at the bottom? Like how it isn't Michael Roland?
  2. Email address "[email protected]" seems an odd address for someone in London since Bell South is a Telecom operator in the USA and London is in the UK
  3. Home address: Bromley Kent, London. OK I'll be charitable, maybe Mr Roland/Joel forgot to type in the "near"
  4. Works at: Harrogate Bank Plc. Pity Mr Google can't find such any such bank
  5. Skeet shooting. I welcome correction from those who may know better (e.g. Mr Englishman) but I've always heard it called "clay pigeon shooting" this side of the pond (unless you are being really technical and dividing between the various disciplines of skeet, trap etc.)
If I were a teacher I'd be sending this back covered in red ink with a "must try harder Mr 419er" and a mark of 0/10.

24 July 2007 Blog Home : All July 2007 Posts : Permalink

Melkert, Shkurtaj & the UNDP revisited

Not too long ago I wrote about the UK's new Minister for Kleptocrats had been in charge of the UNDP and how a whistleblower there had been treated in exactly the way you would expect once his stories turned out to be true (i.e. had his stories checked out and given a promotion fired ASAP). Well the whistleblower - Artjon "Tony" Shkurtaj - has been having a nice chat with some people from "Inner City Press" and what fun it is too. Unless of course your name is Ad Melkert or some other toady who works at the UNDP that is.

Unfortunately for someone like me who really doesn't care about scummy dutch politcians (its the scummy British UN bureaucrats that get me worked up) there is nothing about former UNDP administrators.. There is however a nice follow up where we get the follwing fun sumamry of the efficiency and dedidcation to openness displayed by the UN:

So at the UN, a 90 day audit cannot be carried out in substance in over six months. And a 45-day review to determine if a complainant is a whistleblower, a determination that must be made before any protection can be offered, cannot for some unexplained reason be reached even in 45 days.

Close observers of the UNDP North Korea saga, the first scandal to erupt on Ban Ki-moon's watch, just 19 days into his term, offer a range of interpretations of the slow-down or gridlock. UNDP is dead-set against Mr. Shkurtaj being acknowledged as a whistleblower, because it would make a number of UNDP actions since January constitute retaliation, which itself is misconduct under UNDP rules.

Given Mr Melkert's apparent dislike of Bush appointees it seems ironic that the person calling for him not to be fired (yet) is the US representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen who appears to have been appinted by Bush. Mind you it isn't exactly strong backing, indeed it reminds meof the backing Melkert gave a certain Wolfowitz in some other international institution recently

On Monday afternoon, Inner City Press asked U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen what she thought of recent calls for UNDP Associate Administrator Ad Melkert to resign or be fired. Rep. Ros-Lehtinen replied that

"I want to make sure that the problems in the system are addressed rather than just boot one individual and then there'll be a feeling that, 'oh we've gotten rid of X, and so then the problem has been solved.' It's such a systemic problem, it has to be done in a more comprehensive way. That doesn't mean that that guy should keep his job, but sometimes when you start to roll heads, it gives you the feeling that you've dealt with the problem and let's move on, and it's far deeper than that."

Its fun stuff. But there's more...

One reason why I did an update on this was that over the last couple of days I've had a number of hits on the blog from googlers looking for Shkurtaj and Melkert from the Netherlands. Inspired by that I thought I might see what the Google thinks the Dutch news is saying. Answer:

Nederland moet Melkert

Algemeen Dagblad - 1 uur geleden

DEN HAAG - Nederland moet aandringen op het ontslag van Ad Melkert als tweede man bij het ontwikkelingsprogramma van de Verenigde Naties UNDP. ...

‘Stalinistische Melkert moet worden ontslagen’ Elsevier

'Ad Melkert is een stalinist' Quote

Ad Melkert zwaar onder Amerikaans vuur BN/De Stem

All of this seems to originate with an interview given by John Bolton, a man well known for straight talking:

THE HAGUE, 21/07/07 - John Bolton, the former United States ambassador to the United Nations, thinks Ad Melkert should resign from his post at the UN Development Programme (UNDP). The Dutchman is incompetent, in his view.

Bolton, who is seen as a confidante of President George Bush, told TV programme Nova that Melkert, as the second-in-command at the UNDP, has failed to investigate and take action against alleged abuse of UN donor money. The US suspects that "hard currency went to the government of North Korea" directly that was intended for humanitarian aid, according to Bolton.

Towards American requests for appropriate action, Melkert has "adopted a very defensive attitude". "We find his behaviour puzzling. Why deny the existence of the problem," said Bolton. It "remains to be seen" how the affair works out for the US contribution to the UNDP and UN as a whole, he warned.

Apart from having a "bunker mentality", Melkert "insulted our ambassador Mark Wallace and threatened him with retaliation," added Bolton. Elaborating on the Dutchman's "undiplomatic behaviour", the American stated that "perhaps attitudes in your country are different" but internationally "the civil servants work for the member governments, not the other way around."

As if that were not enough the Dutch also had a chat with Mr Shkurtaj, a man who seems to be following in the Bolton school of tact and diplomacy:

THE HAGUE, 25/07/07 - Tony Shkurtaj, who previously headed the UN's development organisation (UNDP) in North Korea, considers that Ad Melkert cannot stay on as associate administrator of UNDP. "He must be sacked," says Shkurtaj in Vrij Nederland weekly.

Shkurtaj was the operating head of the UNDP office in North Korea. He saw how millions of euros in aid flowed to the North Korean regime without UNDP having any idea about the spending of the funds. When he warned his superiors, including Melkert, that UNDP was systematically breaking its own rules in North Korea, his contract was not renewed, according to Vrij Nederland.

Shkurtaj told the Dutch weekly that UNDP took its revenge because he told his story to the Americans. He says Melkert is personally responsible. "He runs a Stalinist reign of terror. (...) Anyone not following the party line is kicked out. (...) All at once, I was a dangerous person who was refused access to the UN building (...) The staff in New York are dead scared now they have seen what happened to me."

I love the "stalinist reaign of terror" quote. I also rather like this bit:

In the interview with Vrij Nederland due to appear today, Shkurtaj says the American criticism of Melkert is unrelated to the role Melkert played in the Wolfowitz affair. "In the Netherlands, Melkert cries out that he was attacked by this nasty conservative Bush regime. Personally, I hate Bush. (...) I have nothing in common with conservative Republicans. But still, I say they are right to push for an open and transparent United Nations."

There's a saying about "what goes around comes around" it looks like Mr Melkert may be learning the truth of this. Personally I'm waiting for the dots to show up connecting all this to the Minsister for Kleptocrats who was, let us not forget, in charge of the UNDP while the N Korean money laundering was going on.

PS Welcome UNDP folks who have been sent this by webmail, I hope you enjoy this site

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

Microsoft Ad Spam

It seems that Microsoft has combined with sitemeter to try and get traction on its Microsoft adCenter. I'm sure I was not the only person to recieve this:

Sign up For Microsoft adCenter account and get
-1 Year Free PREMIUM SiteMeter Account*
-$50 in Free clicks**
from Microsoft adCenter

SiteMeter Microsoft adCenter Re-Launch Promo Special
Why Microsoft adCenter?
-Search Advertising with adCenter is an effective low-cost way to reach out to millions of potential customers.
-It only requires $5 to open an account** and begin targeting search engine users who are looking for sites like yours.
-The wise search marketer uses more than one search engine in his or her marketing tool bag.
Combining SiteMeter with Microsoft adCenter

One of the benefits of a FREE PREMIUM SiteMeter account is you'll have another tangible method for tracking your Microsoft adCenter campaigns. While adCenter tracks the number of impressions and clicks your campaign is generating SiteMeter can tell you:
-When your adCenter traffic arrives
-Where they come from
-How long they are staying
And with a FREE PREMIUM account you can even tell which pages they visited within your site.
Hurry! Sign up today... offer expires July 31st, 2007. Visit http://www.sitemeter.com/?a=signupoptions to upgrade to a Free SiteMeter PREMIUM account and sign up for Microsoft adCenter.
*Please allow 2-4 weeks for your SiteMeter account to be updated.
- If you are currently a monthly paid subscriber your current billing will resume following your free 12 month period.
- If you are an annual subscriber any payment made during 2007 will be fully refunded. Future payments will resume following your free 12 month period.
**Offer valid only through July 31st, 2007 (midnight Pacific Time), while supplies last. Promotional credit is valid only for new advertisers opening a new account with Microsoft adCenter. The $50 promotional credit does not apply to the one-time, nonrefundable $5 activation fee required to open a new account. Promotional credit not redeemed in click spend will expire 90 days after sign-up. Advertisers will be charged for advertising that exceeds the $50 promotional credit. Advertisers will need to suspend their ads if they do not wish to receive additional charges beyond the free credit amount or for clicks 90 days after sign-up, whichever occurs first. Promotional credit good only to residents in the 50 United States and Washington, D.C. Limit: one promotional credit per customer. Promotional credit may not be combined with any other offer or discount, separated, redeemed for cash, transferred, sold, or bartered. There is a minimum bid requirement of $0.05 per click through. Search listings are subject to editorial review. See Microsoft adCenter Terms and Conditions for more details at sign-up. Other terms and conditions may apply.

This is obviously intended to be a competition for Google's Adsense but it is also clear that they know that they aren't the market leader right now because they say "The wise search marketer uses more than one search engine". In other words don't just do google stick with us too.

There are however a few problems with this email. Firstly it looks like SPAM. The actual email has a plain text and a HTML section and hte HTML section is basically a bunch of images:
<table width=3D"600" height=3D"1280" cellspacing=3D"0" cellpadding=3D"0" bo=
rder=3D"0" id=3D"Table_01">
<td><a href=3D"http://caliberconnect.sitemeter.com/lt/t_go.php?=
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_ver2-03.jpg" alt=3D"" /><br />
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r=3D"0" src=3D"http://caliberconnect.sitemeter.com/images/Image/eblast-site=
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e=3DZnJhbmNpcy50dXJuZXJAZ21haWwuY29t&l=3Dhttp://www.sitemeter.com"><img wid=
th=3D"600" vspace=3D"0" hspace=3D"0" height=3D"40" border=3D"0" src=3D"http=
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This is quite similar to how all the stock spammers send their stuff (although it is true that the stock spammers tend to include the image in the HTML)  which means that I very nearly missed it. I would guess quite a few people will be like me.

As if that were not bad enough there is this part of the small print "Offer valid only through July 31st, 2007 (midnight Pacific Time), while supplies last." Supplies? Supplies of what? electrons? or do they mean that only the first N people to sign up get the benefits? Oh and you get to pay $5 to advertise for $50 worht of clicks or 3 months, whichever comes first. Problem here being that I have nothing I want to advertise - in common I guess with many other bloggers.

If I were part of the Googleplex I'd be cranking up the Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
You don't frighten us, Microsoft pig-dogs! Go and boil your bottom, sons of a silly person. I blow my nose at you, so-called Gates Bill, you and all your silly Mickkkk rosofties. Thpppppt! Thppt! Thppt!

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

Soon We're Talking Real Money

As reported in numerous places the UK's Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) failed to get its accounts signed off for the 18th consecutive time, meaning that it is actually worse than the EU which has only failed to get its sums approved 12 years in a row. Not only is the DWP worse than the EU in terms of the length of time it has been unauditable, it is also worse in terms of the amount estimated lost to fraud/error. The EU is only suspected of losing £400M or so to fraud and errors whereas the DWP is believed to have lost £2.5 Billion (that is roughly 6 times as much). The good news:

The figure is down from £2.7bn over the Department for Work and Pensions' (DWP) previous financial year.

Either way that is about £40 for every UK resident or about £100 for every tax payer (from memory only about 25 million people in the UK pay tax). Ok you may be thinking so £100 isn't that much but let me point out that this is merely one department. Add in the cockups on Transport and PPP, the NHS and IT and a supporting cast of thousands and I trust it is clear why I vehemently oppose people like Polly Pot who seem to think we should give all our money to the government to spend for us. As someone once said "a billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money".

In the last two years its been £2.5 B and £2.7 B respectively. I think we're in the real money zone when it comes to fraud. Oh and don't let us forget that Gordon Brown's wonderful tax credits are also wasting billions.

Another way to look at it - and Polly really ought to answer this. There are between 5 and 6M households who are entitled to benefits/tax credits. Waste and fraud alone (forgetting the salaries and costs of collection/distribution) means that each poor family loses about £500/year.

31 July 2007 Blog Home : All July 2007 Posts : Permalink

Belated Friday Olive Tree Blogging

Busy, partying, deadlines yadda yadda
20070727 - Friday Olive Tree Blogging - 2 20070727 - Friday Olive Tree Blogging - 1
I actually took the photo but then ran out of time. Anyway for fun and games this is a compare and contrast. The photo above on the left is one of our olive trees taken on Friday, about three months after it was given its "haircut". The photo on the right is the same tree from almost the same position two months ago. Olive trees grow back fast don't they.

As always click on the images to see them enlarged and if you are a new visitor please take a look at the olive tree blogging archives.

31 July 2007 Blog Home : All July 2007 Posts : Permalink

Johan Hari Does NOT Make Things Up

But he does apparently have a delicate sense of honour or so it appears from a little spat that appears to be going at Harry's Place. A post there which is readily visible at present in the cache chez Google, has been replaced by the one linked above because:

Sadly Johann Hari is threatening me with defamation proceedings. He takes the view that this piece, and the comments which follow it, contain defamatory material.

Given that most of the disputed post is simply a quote from Nick Cohen's defense of his book from Hari's review it seems odd that Mr Hari finds the post defamatory. The obvious conclusion is that Mr Hari takes offense at being called a tabloid jounralist because I'm sure that it would be unreasonable to feel that he was insulted by a statement that "a serious academic commentator or non-tabloid journalist" with "a reputation for making things up" might face the end of his career.

Such a statement is clearly untrue anyway. Recent events at The New Republic and the NY Times, amongst others, show that there are many career opportunites for non-tabloid journalists who make things up.

31 July 2007 Blog Home : All July 2007 Posts : Permalink

A Great Female Role Model

My pal Moon from TMF has a post about a lady (and her book - see right) who is clearly a positive role model for girls. Apart perhaps from the lack of red hair, Danica McKellar, the lady in question,is a perfect Heinlein heroine since she likes cats and coauthored a maths proof while studying for her batchelor's degree at UCLA: "Percolation and Gibbs States Multiplicity for Ferromagnetic Ashkin-Teller Models on Z2". Not only that she is willing to help share her knowledge with others, something that very few people in her profession seme to do.

And what is her profession?

Well when she's not writing (about) maths, she's an actress. Actually this makes her one of the few people with an finite Erdős-Bacon number, in fact she has probably got "the lowest known Erdős–Bacon number for a professional actress" (or actor). She is also, ahem, babelicious (large image). Interestingly another reasonably babelicious actress - Natalie Portman - also has a single digit Erdős–Bacon number.

Maybe the entertainment news folks could have more about Danica McKellar and less about brainless druggies such as Britney, Lindsay and Paris...

31 July 2007 Blog Home : All July 2007 Posts : Permalink

Legal Threats + Bloggers = Journalist - Reputation

And as the well known saying goes "when you are in a hole stop digging". Johann Hari however doesn't seem to think that threatening bloggers with m'learned friends is a sign of weakness but rather prefers to justify it by saying that he only sues sites that he has once written for. Either that, or he doesn't like being called a tabloid journalist. In his rebuttal of other people's criticism of his shoddy review he writes:

Oliver also refers to the fact that I had to get the Indie lawyers to contact the blog Harry's Place to take down an allegation against me. I have never threatened legal action against anyone before - indeed, as regular readers know, I link all the time to people who criticise me, often very severely - but the site made a really outrageous accusation against me, on a par with suggesting I indulge in credit card fraud, or mug grannies, and just as preposterous, so I felt I had no choice really. I've always defended the libel laws if they are used properly - to prevent people saying outrageously, howlingly untrue things about you. Normally I let weird things that are said about me go - life's too short, the truth will out etc - but it's a website I've written for in the past, so I thought I ought to make a rare legal interjection to put the record straight. I'm glad the site accepts that what they said has abolutely no evidence for it at all, and had to be withdrawn immediately.

Even if we ignoring the initial post (archived here for prosterity) and what it may have said and simply concentrate on the replacement text this seems to be a rather odd interpretation of the words written. The replacement post says (in full):

Sadly Johann Hari is threatening me with defamation proceedings. He takes the view that this piece, and the comments which follow it, contain defamatory material.

Practically speaking, I am neither able, nor prepared, to hand edit articles and comments in order to meet threats of legal action. Therefore I have chosen to take the article down and have removed all comments.

I have occasionally closed quotes or removed articles when asked to correct an inaccurate statement about a person on this blog. I think that is the proper and responsible thing for a person who has a blog to do.

I am particularly sad that the first threat of legal action should have come from a journalist, and from a person who I regard as a friend.

I am not proposing to discuss this issue further.

It is odd to see how this response is equated in Hari's mind to "I'm glad the site accepts that what they said has abolutely no evidence for it at all, and had to be withdrawn immediately." To any neutral obsever (e.g. me) there is no line anywhere that says that the original auther accepts he wrote something with no evidence and it is clear that the post was only withdrawn because the author figures he has better things to spend hsi time and money on than deal with trying to defend against a defamation suit.

However, David T does have a problem (as explains in a follow up post at HP) because having removed the words he then has a problem:

Let us say that I wanted to argue that I did not, in fact make "a really outrageous accusation against me, on a par with suggesting I indulge in credit card fraud, or mug grannies".

In order to do this, I would have to repeat the two lines to which Johann (in my view, unreasonably) objects, and therefore risk the waste of time and money associated with litigation.

So, as you can see, I am handicapped.

Well I'm happy to assist here, and Johann can sic his legal eagles on me if he wishes. I'll note that what will happen here is a lot more adverse publicity that he most likely wouldn't have got if he'd decided to eschew the legal approach.

In the initial article, now withdrawn but, as noted above, preserved for posterity thanks to Mr Google, there is an extensive quote from Nick Cohen's criticism of the review. This quote does not appear to be something that Hari wishes to get the lawyers involved with (becasue if he did he would either have mentioned it himself or Nick Cohen would have) so I'm fairly sure that this is OK to copy:

...When presented with an uncomfortable argument, serious editors usually invite a critic to present a clear account of what is said, correct mistakes, and argue with interpretations and extrapolations. The trouble with looking for a critic in the British media is that normal intellectual standards are collapsing over here. At this writing, even the once-respected BBC has admitted to fixing competitions and deceiving its viewers as a matter of routine. The behavior of much of the press is worse, and if you trawl what used to be called Fleet Street for a reviewer you run the risk of picking up Johann Hari, who from almost the first paragraph of his piece in your last issue, misleads your readers.

I was, I am told, brought up by left-wing parents who raised me “to see Orwell in Catalonia as his moral archetype.” Their indoctrination, apparently, makes me confront all great issues with the question, “what would Orwell do?”

As if.

I make clear in the introduction that my parents were ex-communists who remained conventional members of the late-twentieth-century left. They didn’t “raise me” to see Orwell as “a moral archetype.” Indeed, I’m not sure that they ever read Orwell themselves. If they had, they would have hated his argument about totalitarianism because, as I say again in the introduction, they did not see a moral equivalence between communism and Nazism. For my part, it’s true that I did start Homage to Catalonia a few years ago, but to my shame I never finished it. I would no more ask “What would Orwell do?” than I would “What would Jesus do?”

Hari makes up these stories about my mother and father solely so he can declare that I am an “ostentatious claimant of George Orwell’s mantle.” This would indeed be a preposterously self-aggrandizing claim to make if I had ever made it. But I haven’t, in print or in private.

Having misrepresented my parents, he goes on to misrepresent my book.

So let me do a little summarising here.

  1. Hari writes "[Cohen] was raised to see Orwell in Catalonia as his moral archetype - the socialist bearing a pack and going abroad to fight fascists. If the pro-war left had any central spine to its thought, it was the unexpected question - what would Orwell do?" and that he is the "ostentatious claimer of George Orwell's mantle"
  2. Cohen quite baldly states that this is neither what he wrote in the book nor what he has ever said either in public or private.
  3. This statement may or may not be true but David T's comments are based on this analysis. 
  4. David T states that there is one conclusion that can be drawn from the fact that Hari claims Cohen wrote or said things that he didn't. This conclusion is that Hari has been economical with the truth in a manner commensurate with those bastions of journalistic integrity, the hacks employed by the tabloids.
  5. He then logically extends this by remarking that if you aren't a tabloid hack then clearly a reputation for behaving like one is a bad thing.
I know that tabloid hacks are the lowest of the low, down there with kiddie fiddlers and second hand car salesmen, but the conclusion doesn't sound worse than something that might be one of the "weird things that are said about me[Hari]" i.e. the sorts of things he normally "let['s] go - life's too short, the truth will out etc"

All in all it seems that Johann Hari is making a mountain out of a molehill and thereby ensuring that his reputation amongst bloggers and their readers is rather worse than it would be if he were treat being called a tabloid journalist as the sort of criticism that he is willing to link to. For example I should note that Drink Soaked Trots has found other evidence that he "does indeed make things up and is a shoddy hack". Had Hari not sicced the lawyers on to Harry's place, that post would not have been written and I would not have know about these alleged blots on the Hari escutchon...