L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

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

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

BBC AWOL on Surge

Until the middle of September the BBC was dilligently reporting a host of statistics each week that were supposed to summarise how well (or how badly) the surge was progressing. Since numerous bloggers have noticed that September was  the month with lowest U.S. death toll in Iraq for many months, and since I haven't heard of many large suicide bombings etc., I wondered how the stats were looking.

And I discovered that the BBC hasn't bothered to update the page since Sept 14. Why? Also AWOL for some reason are updated statistics on overall civilian deaths (last updated end of July) despite the fact that the "summary" document says:

Using two media reports as its source for each death, IBC[Iraq Body Count] says the civilian death toll by September 2007 was between 71,000 and 78,000. But the organisation also warns that many deaths may not have been reported.

These pages - updated monthly - give an overview of the most recent estimates.

And while it is possible to blame IBC for not providing a count for the last 3 weeks, IBC do have details up until the middle of September and a nice graph that shows a downward trend up to that date. Doing a scan of the IBC site it looks to me like "civilian" casualties in Sepetember are going to be around 1000, possibly less, which would also be (one of) the lowest numbers in 2007.

Oddly the BBC isn't reporting this - anywhere. The latest "Baghdad Diary" entry, for example, is Septeber 18 and entitled Iraq's capital feels quieter under a veneer of security. Is it just me or is something missing here? You know something called "Good News".

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

Follow Up to "The Authoritarians"

First of all the fact that I am bothering to wrote a follow up post to my initial review is indicative (IMO) of how thought provoking the book is. I think this is a good thing and I have some more thoughts about what it implies for society (and what it implies for Europe in particular later.

First however I want to point out that Dr Bob's dreaded US "Religious Right" is possibly rather less effective that Dr Bob fears. For evidence this powerline post: The Dreaded "Religious Right" Rears Its Head which takes apart a Salon article about how a cabal of 50 religious rightists "including Focus on the Family's James Dobson, the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins and former presidential candidate Gary Bauer" decalred that a Giuliani nomination would "irrevocably split the GOP in advance of the 2008 general election, given Giuliani's relatively liberal stands on gay unions and abortion, as well as his rocky marital history." As the powerline writer comments:

That's obviously what the leaker, and likely the group of 50, intended. But I haven't spoken to a single Republican leader who thinks that nominating Giuliani would "irrevocably split the GOP," a suggestion I find ludicrous. I have considerable respect for James Dobson, but he is anything but a kingmaker

And the post concludes:

Contrary to the assumption of many liberals, religious conservatives (a group in which I include myself) are not stupid. As President, Rudy Giuliani would nominate judges who will support rather than usurp the Constitution. That's the only significant role the President plays with respect to social issues. James Dobson et al. wish that they controlled the Republican Party, and Salon wishes they controlled it, too. But they don't.

Dr Bob does make some fair points when he looks at how RWAs and their leaders play the balance between states rights on issues where the states agree with the RWA position and federal ones where they don't - Terry Schiavo anyone? - but overall I think he overstates the influence of the Religious Right (and hence the RWAs) within the republican party and overstates the willingness of RWAs to tolerate hypocrisy and inconsistency in their leaders when this is pointed out all over the press.

Now to Europe. Dr Bob hasn't done any research outside North America, apart from a little in post Soviet Russia, and his book states that so this is clearly speculation. But. As I pointed out in the previous post there seems no reason not to assume that the personality traits that lead one to become an RWA on Dr Bob's test are confined to North Americans. Indeed taking a look at Europe in the early/mid 20th century it seems blindingly obvious that RWA types played a key role in the various communist and fascist dictatorships. However it is also true that these days Europe, generally speaking, lacks the sort of religious or political movements that RWAs might be expected to join.

I noted last time that radical Islam does seem to fit the bill for a number of people that feel cast adrift in modern society but, despite the howls of the more security paranoid (and others pushing their own agendas - racist or otherwise), radical Islam is not exactly taking the continent by storm. Yes some imams do spout "Death to Amerikkka" and "Kill the Joos" and if they could pronounce it they'd probably also go on about Zionist Neo Imperialist Hegemony and other similar things but there are plenty of Moslems who don't spout this crud and even many who do spout parts of it (the Anti Israel bits particularly) but who don't then turn around and vote as their imam tells them to do. Parties such as the UK's RESPECT have been a miserable failure, pressure groups such as the UK's MCB, get attention from our multiculti politicians and the guardianistas but not a great deal of respect anywhere else and so on. In France you just have to look at the "youths" to see that while they may use religion as a justification occasionally they don't actually obey any of its tenets (alcohol consumption being but one teeny weeny hint). Indeed the general lack of major pressure for large mosques seems like a fairly major hint that Islam is not exactly a large part of French immigrant experience.* The same, it seems to me, applies in general terms elsewhere in Europe too. Yes there are a few enclaves that are heavily Islamic and yes (duh) these enclaves tend to be full of relatively unassimilated immigrants from Islamic countries. Yes there are some converts to Islam too, and yes some of those converts are radicalized, but the total numbers aren't there. In the US you see megachurches and on sundays the car parks surrounding these megachurches are filled. In Europe you don't see mega mosques and it doesn't seem to me that the mosques that do exist are standing room only affairs most of the time. Sure there may be more attendees per mosque than there are in the average mainstream European church but that isn't exactly a stiff test and there aren't anything like as many mosques as there are churches.

So are Europeans all wonderfully rational non RWA sorts? Did we all learn from WW2 and the cold wat that authoritarianism was bad? I think not. In fact I venture to suggest that the same people who become RWAs in North America become ESAs (Enviromentalist Socialist Authoritarians) in Europe. The religion of Europe these days is (painting with a broad brush) green-tinged socialism and Europe's RWA equivalents are almost certainly the people who want organic food, wind power, carbon taxes, human rights for criminals, pensions for all, an end to globalization etc etc not realizing that many of their goals are in fact only achievable if some of their other cherished objectives are sacrificed. This doesn't stop them from being keen to soak the rich, the employers etc. and then complain that the government has caused a recession because all the jobs have been outsourced to India etc. The key difference, it seems to me, between Europe's ESAs and America's RWAs is that the ESAs are less generous and more selfish. ESAs are not charitable because one article of the ESA religion is that "the government will provide". I would love to run Dr Bob's RWA test on students entering European universities and also run the "discrimination" test and a political leaning test. I suspect we'd find just as many bigots and authoritarians, but the targets of their bigotry would be the rich and America rather than the usual blacks and gays.

*Yes there have been applications for new mosques in France, some have been permitted, others declined. No riots or street manifestations have occured when applications have been rejected.

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

BBC Neutrality 'Plunges'

The BBC has now deigned to comment on the good news coming out of Iraq. Of course they haven't updated their "surge" survey but instead they manage a wonderfully sneering 'scare quote':

Iraq violent death rates 'plunge'

The number of Iraqi civilians killed per month in bombings and shootings has fallen to the lowest level this year, the Iraqi government says.

In September, 884 civilians were killed by violence, less than half the figure for August, the government said.

The BBC's Jon Brain in Baghdad says the figures suggest the so-called surge involving 30,000 extra US troops is having some success.

September also saw the lowest number of US troops killed for more than a year.

This is of course all good news and that clearly can't be allowed to be presented unchallened so there is this sentence shortly afterwards:

However, our correspondent says, the political situation remains deadlocked and there are fears that when the extra troops are withdrawn the violence will escalate again.

So according to the BBC all this "surge" stuff has been merely the addition of 30,000 more troops. The fact that they have been deployed more offensively, that the Sunni tribes have decisively rejected insurgency against the Imperialist Yankee Pig Dog Oppressors and decided to go after the terribly misunderstood pious resistance people who have nothing whatever to do with Al Qaeda whatsoever really honest and so on is supremely unimportant. Glad we got that straight.

But is is really sad when Al-Reuters has a more balanced and up beat article. Al Reuters manage to mention both the "change in strategy to move troops out of large bases into smaller combat outposts where they live and fight alongside Iraqis" and "the success of a strategy of helping Sunni Arab tribal sheikhs in the westerly Anbar province to form local police units to drive al Qaeda from their areas."

Really Auntie Beeb it's not that difficult. If Al Reuters can do it, you can too.

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

That Anglo-French Rivalry

In the Torygraph today, Rowan Pelling writes about how good some bits of France are compared, in particular, to the unadulterated grunginess of Britain. The comment section below seems to have filled up with a mixture of rabid Francophiles and drooling Francophobes (or vice versa).

The article is absolutely spot on about how (some) French people can be amazingly helpful and when we moved in we had almost exactly this experience:

When my uncle bought his Provençal house he called on his neighbour, a farmer in his sixties, and jokingly apologised for the fact they now had "des anglais" next door. The farmer merely responded, "Heureusement, vous n'êtes pas Parisien."

However as some of the more Francophobic commenters point out France is a long way from perfect: bloated state bureaucracy, high taxes, high unemployment, widepsread racism, drunken drivers and so on. Still under ZANU Labour a lot of Britain's former advantages with respect to taxation, government etc. have disappeared. True it is still harder to officially hire and fire people, and so many people work on the black economy, but from what I read things are heading the same way int he UK. I would far rather fall ill in France than the UK - in France doctors will make house calls, hospitals are efficient and clean etc. I would also suggest that the French authorities seem to have fewer jobsworths in their ranks; not none of course, every expat has a tale or two about some idiotic bureaucratic hoop and unhelpful fonctionnaire, but most of us also have numerous tales about bureaucrats and others who are willing to bend the rules because of common sense (and/or a hint from the local mayor).

Yes the French do drink, yes in France customer service is often an oxymoron (but then it often is across the channel too), no French cuisine is not perfect and many French restaurants provide poor food at inflated prices, but again it is my experience that in general food is better and cheaper here than in blighty, and so on. More worryingly for the Francophiles once you look under the surface you realize that there is a lot of petty corruption (most local mayors appear to be on the take one way or another) and plenty of inefficient use of public funds. The TGV looks great but almost certainly it would be better to widen a few autoroutes and so on.

Oh and the French appear to be slightly more competant at sports. Still in most respects it seems to me that the saying about the grass being always greener on the other side applies.

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

Bournemouth Twinned With Rangoon?

England Expects and the Devil both link to this tale of what Charlie Stross calles "security theatre" albeit in this case not the pantomime we all go through at airports but the fun and games PC Plod and co get up to when guarding against "terrorists". Picture the scene. Two friends sitting in a pub garden catching the September lunctime sun and enjoying a pint. One of them, silly man, decides he needs to read his mail - poor sod all he got was a 'leccy bill - but even so checking to see how much money the utility company wants is not normally a crime. His mate, giving him a moment of privacy to curse and swear at the bottom line on the bill, casts his eye across the street where there are half a dozen boys in blue gathered to prevent suicide bombers from approaching the ZANU labour conference. Looking at a group of coppers is also not normally an offence.


Bob Hamlen, 47, and Michael Burbidge, 31, were stunned when they were surrounded by uniformed officers as they sat on a bench outside the Westcliff Tavern in West Cliff Road, Bournemouth. [...]

"They said the reason I was being taken to the police station was because I had been seen passing a white envelope.

"But all I did was take my post out of my jacket pocket and open an electricity bill.

"On Michael's stop and search form they said they wanted to speak to him, under the Terrorism Act, because he had been looking at a police officer.

"That area of town is saturated with police officers and, from where we were sitting, it would have been impossible not to be watching one."

As numerous people have pointed out this latter offence sounds very like "Not the 9 o'clock news". No doubt other people were arrested for "loitering with intent to use a pedestrian crossing".

Now it may be a little tactless and hyperbolic to compare this to what was going on more or less contemperaneously half a world a way in Burma, but the sort of heavy handed policing described sounds a lot more like a police state than a democratic country such as England is supposed to be. Fortunately we are not there yet. We aren't even at Iranian levels of pseudo-democratic tyranny yet. But we do seem to have lost a few of those basic freedoms that the Remittance man has been discussing recently.

Fortunately, as can be seen from the comments at the Bournemouth Echo article, lots of people in England seem just a tad peeved at this sort of behaviour and don't feel afraid to say so. There is even a nice little group of comments pointing out that the ID card that the govt wants people to carry would be particularly unuseful in this sort of case, except that is for the plods to note down on some anonymous computer that ID XXX-YY-ZZZZ-1234 is stroppy and might now hold a grudge against the state. This of course is rather different to Iran, or Syria, where commenting on this sort of action tends to lead to you being visited by a bunch of plods who take you away and give you the third degree until you sign a confession.


While I am all in favour of stopping terrorist attacks, the truth of the matter is that the government has used the threat of terrorism to ram through all sorts of badly thought out measures that don't actually protect the public but do protect the government and its employees from being bothered by the public.

Personally I think we'd do as well to have more frequent terror attacks on our politicians. Wiping a few of the bloodsuckers out might just stop the more venal and grasping from deciding to continue as politicians, they could go back to pimping their sisters and the world would probably be a better place.

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

Revisiting Scribd and Other DMCA Fun

Just in the interests of completeness I thought I might visit Scribd again and see how they are doing copyrightwise a month after all the brouhaha. I think the answer is summed up by that classic of student report card comments "Improved but could try harder". Things are certainly better. It is no longer a swamp filled with copyright-infringing works. But it is still quite easy to find some. For example, all the Harry Potters appear to be there in English (and Vietnamese!), searching for "Asimov" showed his entire Foundation series and searching for "Frank Herbert" showed the spanish translations of the Dune series on the other hand searches for "Baen" "Pournelle" and a number of other SF authors failed to show anything other than CC licensed stuff. Still many of the infringing documents I found had been there for quite a while so, as I say, some work remains to be done.

But, scribd was really just a symptom, as I wrote on my first Scribd post:

[T]he DMCA makes it far too easy to remove stuff that shouldn't be removed. In fact it seems to me that the DMCA is flat out a badly written law. It makes a lot of perfectly harmless things illegal, makes a bunch of things that should be easy difficult and vice versa. In other words, no matter whether you agree with the aims of the law or not is irrelevant because the law doesn't really deliver on its stated aims but is a mess. Indeed on the scribd blog the EFF legal reposnse makes it clear that the DMCA in fact allows scribd to do the slopey shoulders trick and disclaim any responsibility for anything and shove the blame right back to the SFWA.

What I didn't add precisely but should have was that the DMCA makes it relatively straight forward for large corporations with lawyers on the payroll to protect their IP but makes it a lot harder for smaller, less lawyer happy, folks such as your average writer or man in the street. As witness this tale about Google, Orkut and Flickr.

Imagine if you walked into Scotland Yard to report a crime involving children, only to be given a telling off, before you'd opened your mouth, about the dire penalties for wasting police time. And that your complaints would be forwarded to a watchdog - and that you'd better come back with a lawyer.

That's how a group of parents feel after seeing photographs of their kids defaced on Orkut. Members of Google's social network created "mash-ups" of photographs originally posted to Flickr - adding text, some of which contained sexual innuendo, for children as young as five.

The upset parents turned to the provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which permits private copyright holders to deal with infringement, without going through a lawyer. [...]

[I]t's been used by thousands of individuals, including many artists, and remains the most powerful tool for the ordinary citizen to seek redress without expensive litigation. It's a question of filling out a simple form.

Not that you'd ever guess from Google's page for DMCA complaints. The web advertising giant turns the presumption of guilt back onto the complainer.

Google warns that if they're not sure they own the copyright, they may face $100,000 fines. Ominously, it says their complaint may be forwarded to "Chilling Effects" - which monitors vexatious abuse of the Act. [...]

One parent, Dave from Nottingham, told us he thought Google should be trying harder to remove sexual content involving children - rather than put the frighteners on parents who complain about it.

"The way that it's phrased is that you're going to be in serious trouble, and need to send us large amounts of cash. They put you off," he explained.

"What they should say is 'send us an email, notify us, and we'll sort it out. They don't explain it to be as easy as it should be'."

In other words even in places where the DMCA ought to help, it may still end up scaring off the people who should be using it. In this case there is a happy ending but the point remains. The DMCA is great for the experts and the big boys but actually helps to frighten the smaller fry. Fortunately Googling for "sample DMCA takedown request" leads one eventually to a page containing a sample DMCA takedown request (over halfway down) as well as a bunch of other useful advice.

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

Booze Good For Memory

This is one of those pieces of Scientific research which seems destined to seriously hack off a certain fraction of the population. According to some NZ researchers a couple of glasses of wine (or equivalent) per day helps the brain:

[A] new report suggests that low to moderate alcohol consumption may actually enhance memory. "There are human epidemiological data of others indicating that mild [to] moderate drinking may paradoxically improve cognition in people compared to abstention," says Maggie Kalev, a research fellow in molecular medicine and pathology at the University of Auckland in New Zealand and a co-author of an article in The Journal of Neuroscience describing results of a study she and other researchers performed on rats. "This is similar to a glass of wine protecting against heart disease, however the mechanism is different." [...]

According to Kalev, it is hard to relate the alcohol the rats consumed to human quantities, but "based on their blood alcohol levels, the 2.5 percent ethanol diet was equivalent to a level of consumption that does not exceed [the] legal driving limit. This may be approximately one to two drinks per day for some people or two to three for others, depending upon their size, metabolism or genetic background."

The rats stayed on these diets for eight weeks; behavioral testing to assess cognitive function began after four weeks. One test involved novel object recognition, where rats were placed in a cage with two small objects inside multiple times over a two-day period. Then, one object was swapped for a new toy and rats were scored based on how quickly they explored the unfamiliar piece. In a second paradigm, rats were trained to expect a shock when they crossed from a white compartment to a black one inside a cage; a day after training, the rats were put back in the cage to see if they remembered that the black side was dangerous.

Among the normal rats, the animals that consumed moderate amounts of alcohol fared better on both tests compared with the teetotalers. Rats on a heavy alcohol diet did not do well on object recognition (and, in fact, showed signs of neurotoxicity), but they performed better than their normal brethren on the emotional memory task.

Which means that, as the researchers point out, drinking as an attempt to forget may be counter productive. What it remoinded me of though was the "Buffalo theory" as expounded by Cliff from the Cheers sitcom.

So booze, in moderation, is good for the heart and the mind. And this is now scientifically proven. Just what we needed. Still it seems clear that the scientific community isn't willing to challenge the prohibitionists because the article ends:

"[This study] provides interesting evidence for a mechanism that may be operating at the NMDA receptor," he says, but quickly cautions: "It's better not to drink at all than to drink too much," as is also demonstrated by this study.

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


Say Uncle has this amusing correspondence with google's AdSense folks. The googleserf starts noting that (amongst other things):

While reviewing your account, we noticed that you are currently displaying Google ads in a manner that is not compliant with our policies. For instance, we found violations of AdSense policies on pages such as thegunblogs.com.

As stated in our program policies, AdSense publishers are not permitted to place Google ads on sites with content related to certain weapons and weapon accessories, such as firearms, balisongs, butterfly knives, and brass knuckles.

to which he replies and then:

They reply (after a week):


Thanks for your email. We feel that, because the content of your site is largely focused on firearms, the site is not a good fit for the AdSense program. We appreciate your understanding.


The Google AdSense Team

I reply:

You should specify that in your policy then. I and other reasonable people are unable to determine how you ‘feel.’

I note, however, you’ve had no issue selling gun related items on my site via your ads*.

Don’t be evil.

* Note: for evidence, look to your left.

And just in case it changes this is what was visible at the left when I visited:
Google Adsense selling guns

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

Sony - All Customers Are Thieves

Every now and again my wife, a Japanese patriot, wonders why I refuse to buy any more consumer electronics devices from Sony and absolutely refuse to buy music or videos from them. I tend to remind her of the root-kits and other quality moves Sony has made in it's fight on "piracy" and now I have another example:

SONY has new definition of what it considers software piracy which will criminalise most of the world.

In testimony in the flagship Capitol Records, et al versus Jammie Thomas Jennifer Pariser, case, the head of litigation for Sony BMG told the world that it was piracy for someone to back-up a CD they have bought or upload it onto their MP3 player.

If this were true, then more people would be pirates than there would be legitimate users.

She said that when an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, Sony can say he stole a song." Making "a copy" of a purchased song is just "a nice way of saying 'steals just one copy'.

As the Inq notes strictly speaking this is the case in some countries (e.g. the UK) but in practical terms such copying is accepted as 'fair use' even in places where it is not permitted de jure. Sony however seems to think that it has a right to sell the same content over and over again. This is, to put it mildly, extremely stupid of Sony, a company who made loadsa money from hardware such as the walkman. Everyone I knew who had a (tape) walkman created the tapes by recording them from either CD or LP and as a result we could have cool tapes with a mix of tracks from a variety of artists instead being forced to listen to an entire album (or swapping tapes every 3 minutes).

I would suggest that rather than try to extract every last cent from its back catalogue Sony try releasing new music that people want to listen to.

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

Protection From Idiocy

It has been my observation that frequently the lefties/progressives have a problem with the idea of cause and effect. This is the latest example (via feministe - which has some better stuff too such as this):

Oct. 4, 2007 | Al-Qaida's targets on 9/11 were in New York City and Washington. But if Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., and 233 other members of the U.S. House have their way, those cities and others at high risk of terrorist attacks, including some that have reportedly been the target of foiled plots, would be stripped of the federal funding intended to keep their citizens safe from attack.

At issue are so-called sanctuary cities. There is no single definition of a "sanctuary city," but in essence it is one that takes a "don't ask, don't tell" stance toward the immigration status of its residents.

So let me see here. Illegal immigrants are (by definition) breaking the law by not having a right to live or work here. There is also a non-trivial chance that illegal immigrants will turn out to be terrorists but that's irrelevant. The key is that these cities have declared that they will make no attemt whatsoever to enforce the law of the land and still expect their country to provide them with money. Imagine if this were a private corporation who wanted federal funding for (say) research in one division but which had another division which refused to hire anyone other than white non-jewish males. Do you think our leftie friends would not be insisting not only that the EEOC sue them but also that federal funds be withheld until they'd hired a few blacks, women, jews etc.

The mayour/councils in these sanctuary cities should now have a choice. Either Federal pork funds for anti-terror activities or apply the law with regards to immigration. If they go for b) then the voters should be informed so that they have a chance to choose someone else instead. As the article notes it isn't just your rabid wingnutter who opposes the idea of "sanctuary":

But opposition to sanctuary cities is not a purely Republican issue. A poll conducted by Rasmussen Reports in August put the proportion of likely voters in favor of cutting federal funding to sanctuary cities at 58 percent, with just 29 percent opposed. Up to 49 Democratic members of the House have supported some versions of the anti-sanctuary legislation.

Bilbray says he thinks public support will eventually force the passage of some anti-sanctuary measure. "I think the Democrats are going to realize, look, we have to take this one," he said. "Because the areas where they're demanding sanctuary for illegals, they're not at-risk districts. They're not the districts where they're going to either hold, or lose the majority. It's going to be those places where the illegal immigration is a real hot issue, and the sanctuary city thing will hurt them if they stand by it."

I am, for the most part, against the idea of immigration controls but the US has them and they seem to be perceived as a good idea by the majority. In other words the representatives who passed the various immigration laws and rules are, broadly speaking, doing what they should in a democrcy - namely passing laws to satisfy the desires of their electrorates. Likewise in a democracy elected officials are expected to enforce the law as written not as they would like it to be and should expect some kind of blowback if they flagrantly violate it.

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

No Autocue. So What?

Various people have been impressed that the boy Dave (c) managed to make an entire speech without a script or autocue. Other people (e.g. Melanie Phillips) think that, while impressive, it is irrelevant and that we should pay more attention to the content.

For the most part I agree with the latter group. But not completely. I find it amazing that politicians these days cannot speak without a script. Come to think of it I find it astonishing that most public speakers seem to have trouble with this concept. I'm not picking on British pols here; in fact it seems to me that the British pols are better at public speaking than many others and far far superior to US Senators - all of whom seem to be incapable of making a speech that is interesting to listen too.

I note that when business people have meetings, when scientists and scholars have conferences etc. it is common for speakers to talk for hours with little more than a few powerpoint cues. This is not difficult, all it takes is training and practice. The first time I stood up in front of a bunch of strangers and made a pitch for something I was embarrassingly bad. But then I was a student then and it wasn't exactly unexpected. That was about 20 years ago and in the time since that moment where I wished I could sink into the floor I've given numerous presentations and got better and better at it. You would think that a politician could do the same. Mind you this would probably annoy the journalists because they'd actually have to listen instead of read the scripts but it might help shorten political bloviating by forcing the pols to concentrate on the big message and not get bogged down in tedious details when they don't need to. It would also help them learn what they are talking about because if you speek ex tempore you have to have some understanding of your subject matter.

It is worth noting that famous 19th century orators such as WE Gladstone or Benjamin Disraeli were quite capable of doing so as did Sir Winston Churchill. Indeed I believe that most British MPs (until recently?) have been used to speaking with no more than a few scribbled notes in the House of Commons.

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

Use of Mercenaries

The lefties are of course all worked up about those dreadful mercenaries in Iraq. The ones who shoot at the slightest provocation and account for about 195,000 casualties in 4 years. As Jimbo at BlackFive notes that's a pretty good record when you also consider that they have perform literally thousands of missions and have lost precisely 0 of the VIPs they are assigned to protect (and even saved the ass of the Polish ambassador a couple of days ago whom they weren't paid to pretect). Still as Blackfive and others have noted there is a coordination issue, one that was well explained in this Small Wars Journal piece:

MNF-I should consolidate PSCs into a unified DoD-backed organization: Security companies could to be placed directly under the command of a field grade officer assigned to MNF-I, with appropriate liaison staff big enough to support the needs and operations of all PSCs. This provisional Force Protection Command (FPC) would be assigned the job of organizing, supporting, regulating all PSC personnel in Iraq and making them accountable under a commissioned military commander. It has precedence, as virtually every military base police force in the US, including the Pentagon, operates contract security on a similar model.

Such a provisional command would make sense in that it would allow PSCs to operate in their present defensive role guarding reconstruction efforts against the insurgents, but would allow them to answer to MNF-I and the Government of Iraq (GoI) officially, as do all other forces. PSCs provide a high standard of force protection capability and could be placed where needed to keep the reconstruction effort moving.

Some have asked if this meant that a security company would essentially be nationalized or drafted by MNF-I? No, in fact MNF-I would be providing a framework for operations that would have safeguards and guarantees for both the company and the client, most of whom are their subcontractors or US government entities. In the present freewheeling environment this may be a difficult concept to accept but the advantages for both parties would be enticing.

For MNF-I it would create a legal and contractual framework to place additional security resources in locations that need localized security and that do not have a continuing need for large combat forces. The army would also be obliged to ensure that the PSCs are adequately prepared to operate in these areas of operations.

For the PSCs, it would receive government furnished weapons, vehicles and limits on liability. They would be treated as is any other civilian Department of Defense employee.

But coordination, unified command etc. are not the same as getting rid of them and this clearly irritates people like Kevin Drum and Majikthise who think the US military needs to wean itself off its mercenary habit. Majikthise, however, seems ot be missing a trick when she writes:

No, the United States needs to change its foreign policy. If we can't attract enough volunteers, we shouldn't go.

The all volunteer military is an important democratic safeguard. We need to make would-be warmongers pay the political price for starting wars.  It's a lot easier to hire mercenaries than to call up the entire Army Reserve or bring back the draft.

Why do I say that? Well because the US Army is meeting its recruiting goals (via VodkaPundit):

October 4, 2007: The U.S. Army again achieved its recruiting goal (80,000 new recruits) for fiscal 2007 (that ended on September 30). That will also be the goal for 2008 as well, unless the army is given permission, and several billion dollars, to speed up their expansion of 13.5 percent (from 482,000 to 547,000), by doing that in four years instead of five.

In other words it looks like the only reason why the US does not have enough regular soldiers is that the US government doesn't want to spend so much on its regular army. The Army believes it could get more people if it had the budget, but the US government appears to prefer to spend the money on mercenaries instead of a larger army. This is not necessarily stupid: you can't fire 20,000 soldiers as quickly as you can do away with 20,000 mercenaries on short term protection contracts so if Iraq turns itself around then the army could end up looking too big. However it's probably more a case of different budgets - mercenaries are paid for by the State Department and other parts of the government that aren't the Department of Defence.

However it is interesting to note that the "mercenaries" in Iraq, even if they seem like loose cannons compared to the regulars, are behaving fairly well. As a commenter to Kevin Drum's post notes:

These people are mercenaries and are a problem for the populace in the same way that all mercenaries are. At least they don't have official permission to loot and rape the way some had in the past.

In fact of course the groups who do loot and rape these days are those "peacekeepers" hired by the UN. One of Jerry Pournelle's correspondents puts it this way:

If I were tasked to plan a peacekeeping operation somewhere in the world, and was told I couldn't get sufficient Western military forces to conduct the mission, I'd far rather hire private contractors than rely on UN forces or regional forces. I've been around those types, and don't want to do it again. This is one of the many reasons I've always told people who call for multinational forces that they clearly haven't ever worked in them.

I think it is pretty clear that none of the US lefties who protest the use of mercenaries and call for UN intervention have ever worked with UN "peacekeepers". I (and others) wrote about the possibility of the UN hiring mercenaries instead of poorly trained third world armies to do peace last year and nothing I've read about the behaviour of mercenaries in Iraq makes me change my mind that this solution would save UN money and keep the peace more effectively. However for some people it seems like armies of poorly trained and poorly armed third world personel are more suited to a blue beret than the former first world military folks who get hired by Blackwater and co.

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

Friday Olive Tree Blogging

Some of my neighbours, probably ones who sprayed their trees, have nice olives this year. These should be fully ripe and ready to pick in about a month or so.
20071005 - Friday Olive Tree Blogging
As always you can click on the image to see it larger and you are invited to visit the olive tree blogging archives if you're a new reader, or an old one who'd like to be reminded of past images.

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

Duking it Out

In one of those things that the blogosphere is so good for, I see that Duke University shows up in the news in two ways this week. Way one is the continuing fall out from the Lacrosse "rape" case. Way two is via Right Speak which reports on bad news from Nigeria:

A polio outbreak in Nigeria was caused by the vaccine designed to stop it, international health officials say, leaving at least 69 children paralyzed.

It is a frightening paradox in a part of the world that already distrusts western vaccines, making it even tougher to stamp out age-old diseases.

The outbreak was caused by the live polio virus that is used in vaccines given orally — the preferred method in developing countries because it is cheaper and doesn't require medical training to dispense.


Experts say such outbreaks only happen when too few children are vaccinated. In northern Nigeria, only about 39 percent of children are fully protected against polio.

The oral polio vaccine contains a weakened version of polio virus. Children who have been vaccinated excrete the virus, and in unsanitary conditions it can end up in the water supply, spreading to unvaccinated children.

In rare instances, as the virus passes through unimmunized children, it can mutate into a form that is dangerous enough to spark new outbreaks.

And yes this is very sad. But why you may ask are only 39% of Nigerian children not fully protected? Now we get to the tricky bit. You see part of the reason is that various Muslim leaders in Northern Nigeria claim that the polio vaccine is actually a cunning plot by the West to sterilize Nigerians (old report):

What is going on with Nigerian Islam these days? First, they implement a crude and merciless form of shari'a (see Amina Lawal) that brought down Muslim condemnation from around the world. Now they're urging people not to take the polio vaccine, which they say "makes girls sterile" - poisoned in a US plot to reduce the Muslim population. The imams are probably saying that because they want more Muslim children, but their actions are having the opposite effect - over 600 Muslim children have contracted the disease, 15 million children in neighboring countries are at risk, and the World Health Organization's goal of eradicating polio globally by 2005 is threatened. The Nigerian government is desperately negotiating with the imams to get them to change their mind, but the imams conducted an "independent" test of the vaccine which they say confirms their findings.

This, and a number of medical cockups that help feed these conspiracy theories, leads to a situation where Nigerian children are dying from a disease that has been eradicated almost everywhere else in the world.

What has this secodn story to do with Duke? Well in the article there is this quote:

"Convincing the Nigerians to take even more of this vaccine will be a tough sell," said Dr. Samuel Katz, an infectious diseases specialist at Duke University and co-inventor of the measles vaccine.

Given their support for wild fables in their own neighbourhood one wonders whether Duke's group of 88 agree with their fellow academic or prefer to follow their precedent and agree with the Nigerian Imams and their conspiracy theories with regards to Western medicine?

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

Surrender Now And Win?

Reuters and the BBC (and presumably a host of others) are reporting that a Prof. Paul Rogers (Prof of "Peace Studies" at Bradford University) has released a report under the authority of the "Oxford Research Group" that says:

LONDON (Reuters) - Six years after the September 11 attacks in the United States, the "war on terror" is failing and instead fuelling an increase in support for extremist Islamist movements, a British think-tank said on Monday.

A report by the Oxford Research Group (ORG) said a "fundamental re-think is required" if the global terrorist network is to be rendered ineffective.

"If the al Qaeda movement is to be countered, then the roots of its support must be understood and systematically undercut," said Paul Rogers, the report's author and professor of global peace studies at Bradford University in northern England.

"Combined with conventional policing and security measures, al Qaeda can be contained and minimised but this will require a change in policy at every level."

He described the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq as a "disastrous mistake" which had helped establish a "most valued jihadist combat training zone" for al Qaeda supporters.

From the quotes it is unclear precisely what Prof Rogers proposes other than "run away and hide under the bed clothes" and unfortunately the ORG aren't yet making the briefing available on line so I can't see what the man actually writes. However reading some of his other work at Open Democracy and his previous ORG document (PDF) it looks like the man is a classic tranzi with a hang up about "Christian Zionists" in the Bush Administration so my expectations of common sense are limited. Reuters does report a couple of his suggestions:

The report -- Alternatives to the War on Terror -- recommended the immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iraq coupled with intensive diplomatic engagement in the region, including with Iran and Syria.

In Afghanistan, Rogers also called for an immediate scaling down of military activities, an injection of more civil aid and negotiations with militia groups aimed at bringing them into the political process.

[...]Rogers also warned of a drift toward conflict with Iran.

"Going to war with Iran", he said, "will make matters far worse, playing directly into the hands of extreme elements and adding greatly to the violence across the region. Whatever the problems with Iran, war should be avoided at all costs."

There are two or three things to note here. Firstly a majority of Iraqis (of all persuasions) seem fairly convinced that if the US pulls out the result will be civil war. Secondly the British tried negotiating with the Taliban in part of Helmand province and it was a bloody failure. Thirdly "violence across the region", where the region is the Middle East, is not necessarily bad for people who live outside the ME. After all if they are fighting in the Middle East they may be too distracted to carry out actions further afield. Finally in the earlier extract Rogers is quoted as saying Iraq has become a "most valued jihadist combat training zone". It seems to me that this works both ways. The US led coalition in Iraq has also learned a lot about how to fight jihadis and the Jihadi casualies in Iraq are estimated to be between 5 and 10 times US casualties, implying that the US forces have tended to survive the learning experience while their foes have mostly failed to survive. One could claim that the dead Jihadis in Iraq (and Afghanistan) are the more incompetant ones and that the survivors are the smart ones who will go on to spread the word elsewhere. This may be partially true but it doesn't seem to me that global jihad is doing terribly well elsewhere either. In SE Asia the jihadis have lost major sanctuaries in Indonesia and the Philipines and are not have notable success in turning terrorism into political gains in Thailand. In Kashmir the jihadis seem to be quieter than previously and in Pakistan the attempt to extend jihadi militancy to the capital via the red mosque appears to be been a failure.

I suspect that Prof Rogers would agree with me when I suggest that the only way to solve Islamic terrorism is to remove support for terrorism within the Middle East. Where we part company is on how to do this. Prof Rogers appears to think that meeting (most of) the grievences spouted by the terrorists would be the best way to go forward. In other words Israel returns to its 1948 borders, America NATO etc. leave Iraq, Afghanistan etc. It is unclear to me why Prof Rogers thinks this is going to lead to peace as this was, in most respects, what America worked towards during the 1990s with no effect at all except the emboldening of Al Qaeda and co because they thought the West, and the USA in particular, were decadent cowards.

One reason further why I am less impressed with Prof Rogers is that he appears to be arguing from afar without actually talking to any Iraqis let alone American troops or others on the ground. It is interesting to compare his analysis (as summarised) with the reports from VDH (part 1 and part 2) and Michael Totten who have actually been in Iraq. Indeed it is interesting to compare them with the ongoing "life in Syria" blog posts at Harry's Place.

One thing all these bloggers make clear is that the Middle East man in the street has been heavily influenced by propaganda that makes him resist "American Imperialism". However it would seem that Iraqis at least are learning that American Imperialists are rather less scary than those who try to resist the Imperialists. If this lesson holds and spreads, as it may well do if Iraq continues to see a significant decline in casualties, then the hoped for rejection of terrorism by Muslims may just start.

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

US Taxes and Health Insurance

In the US there is lots of lefty handwringing about how President Bush vetoed an extension to the SCHIP legislation that is supposed to extend healthcare insurance to "poor" children. A good example is this Think Progress post where the program is defended by NJ Governor Corzine. In it we learn that in New Jersey children can get coverage if the family has an income of 250% of the federal poverty line. We also learn that adults get covered if they earn less than 133% of the federal poverty line and we are told that this figure works out as $27,000. By simple calculation ($27,000/1.33) we learn that the povery line is just over $20,000 which means that 250% of it is about $50,000.

Coincidentally(?) Instapundit links to a blog piece about who pays how much federal tax(PDF). The quote the blog article is interested in is that the top 1% of taxpayers pay 39.x% of all federal tax and the bottom 95% pay 40.y% of all federal tax. This is interesting but I found some other interesting details in the report.

The median income for federal income tax in 2005 turns out to be $30,881. The boundary between the top 25% and the rest is $62,068. We don't know what these income boundaries are going to be for 2007 but it seems unlikely to me that they will have increased more than 10%.

Going on Gov Corzine'd defence of SCHIP children from well over 50% of all families (I guess about 66%) would be eligable for SCHIP support (i..e. government health insurance) and close to 50% of all adults would too. It is worth noting that the lower 50% of taxpayers contribute a mere 3% of federal tax revenues at an average rate of 3% of gross income. The top 25-50% of taxpayers pay 11% of all taxes at a rate of no more than 7%.

I understand the idea of progressive taxation and the socialist idea of wealth transfer but usually we don't consider passing wealth from the top 1% to the top 25-50% which is what the revised SCHIP appears to be proposing.

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

More Copyright / Internet Debate

There are, I guess, almost as many sides on the Copyright / Indernet debate as there were factions in the Lebanese civil war. I'm not going to stretch my metaphor at all here except to note that just like in that civil war you have alliances between groups that otherwise would prefer to be at each other's throats.

Anyway the RIAA's recent courtroom victory over what looks like a particularly dumb filesharer has brought out a large number of commenters who seem to be willing to disguise the fact that the filesharer does indeed appear to have been guilty of copyright infringement. For example this article at counterpunch. I'm not going to quote from it but if I were the RIAA, MPAA or any other group that wanted to protect the current high prices, restrictive DRM etc. then this would be the article I would use to sway moderates that I was on the right side. If ever there an example were needed that "the friend of my friend is my enemy" then this would be it.

Fortunately for my sanity other people have more sane discussions. I've mentioned Eric Flint's thoughts on copyright, DRM etc., a few times. His view on "piracy" as a crime, as opposed ot it as free marketing, boils down to this:

...Whether a given title of mine sells 10,001 copies or 100,000 copies, I will make 15% of the retail price from each sale.

Okay, now let's translate that into dollars and cents. The cover price of hardcover fiction titles varies a bit, but it's fair today to put $25.00 as more-or-less the standard price.

Even at the top 15% tier, in other words, a theft of one of my books causes me loss and suffering in the amount of $3.75. About what it costs to buy a cheeseburger and fries at a hamburger chain like McDonald's, or a large cappuccino at Starbuck's.

So. Can you imagine the ridicule I would be subjected to if I demanded that a louse who stole my large cappuccino was a "pirate." No different from a murderer, or a rapist, or an arsonist, or an armed robber?

Mind you, even the theft of a cup of cappuccino is a theft, sure enough. It's against the law, and if the police catch the culprit he will be charged with a crime.

A misdemeanor, to be precise. Because when it comes to theft—assuming no violence is involved—the distinction between a misdemeanor offense and a felony is normally determined by the amount of money involved in the theft. And, in any municipality I know of, $3.75 falls way below the bar needed to turn a theft into a felony like robbery. Much less the equivalent of murder, rape, and arson.

The RIAA treats filesharers as soemthing worse than bank-robbers and that annoys people because they see that in actuality the loss is, as Comrade Flint says, at the level of petty shoplifting. What he doesn't say there but does say elsewhere (as do other authors such as Messrs Scalzi and Stross) is that many "pirates" turn to piracy because they can't afford to buy what they want to consume - typically because they are teenagers, a class of folk who rarely have pots of ready money - but are likely to buy in better form media content that they enjoy and whose creators/distributors treat them like responsible adults, not thieves.

And on that note we come to the other good piece of recent writing on the RIAA etc. Ian Rogers, a pioneer in Winamp/ Gnutella who now works for Yahoo made a presentation tovarious record company execs which is worth reading from start to end but is particularly good in the section where he explains how DRM and the like actively dissaudes people from buying because if the inconvenience factor:

[...] Hundreds of millions of people visit Yahoo! each month. Yahoo! Music is the #1 Music site on the Web, with tens of millions of monthly visitors. Between 10 and 20 million people watch music videos on Yahoo! Music every month. Between 5 and 10 million people listen to radio on Yahoo! Music every month. But the ENTIRE subscription music market (including Rhapsody, Napster, and Yahoo!) is in the low millions (sorry, we don’t release subscriber numbers, but the aggregate number proves the point), even after years of marketing by all three companies. When you compare the experiences on Yahoo! Music, the order of magnitude difference in opportunity shouldn’t be a surprise: Want radio? No problem. Click play, get radio. Want video? Awesome. Click play, get video. Want a track on-demand? Oh have we got a deal for you! If you’re on Windows XP or Vista, and you’re in North America, just download this 20MB application, go through these seven install screens, reboot your computer, go through these five setup screens, these six credit card screens, give us $160 dollars and POW! Now you can hear that song you wanted to hear…if you’re still with us. Yahoo! didn’t want to go through all these steps. The licensing dictated it. It’s a slippery slope from “a little control” to consumer unfriendliness and non-Web-scale products and services.

I'll note in that regard that one reason why I read ebooks so much is that it helps avoid the hassle factor (and price) of getting English language paper books here in France. Having said that I just went to Wowio to look at the DayByDay ebooks and discovered that they are unavailable outside the US. Talk about inconveniencing the potential customer!

Finally, and more in the "what goes around comes around" note. Jerry Pournelle's readers have noted that Cory "Keep my work free" Doctorow appears to have played somewhat loose with work by another author that was most certainly not released to the public domain. I'm fairly sure that Doctorow's original posting was done in good faith blah blah blah but I can't help but note that if you're going to go all legal and icky picky on others you can expect others to do the same thing back to you. I'll also note that, as with the counterpunch article above, by not respecting other people's rights and the relevant law you end up alienating people who you really should be working to get on your side and this is a bad way to get your cause accepted by others.

PS Just for the record. I believe that
  1. Most electronic content is grossly overpriced. $1/song, $5/book, film or CD/DVD is about right (±50%)
  2. By adopting DRM and failing to cut prices publishers may well end up causing (if they haven't already done so) widespread acceptance of the idea that electronic content should be 100% free.
  3. Authors/artists should not be forced to give away their work for free electronically if they don't want to
  4. However Authors/artists benefit from giving away a good deal of it so they should do so