L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

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

01 December 2008 Blog Home : All December 2008 Posts : Permalink

The Damien Green Affair Redux

As more details emerge in newspapers and blogs, the picture becomes murkier. Both Devil's Kitchen (not DK but a certain PDF) and the EU Referendum blog have posts up where they defend the police and the government by stating that leaking is bad and that we shouldn't encourage it. Both seem to think that Damien Green encouraged his leaker and that this is a bad thing.

I agree, assuming the allegation about the relationship between Mr Green and his leaker is accurate, that Mr Green is not the hero for parliamentary privilege that he claims to be, and that the leaker deserves to be punished.

However I also agree with the outrage that the Tories, Samizdata and others have expressed regarding the trampling of parliamentary privilege and the complete and utter over-reaction of the Met by deploying anti-terror police on this mission. Let me explain to PDF and Richard North why this matters be referring to my previous post "Then they came for the MPs". Mr Green may well be a completely amoral scumbag and his leaker a man who leaked for personal gain rather than principle but their motives and morals are beside the point. Parliamentary privilege applies to him, just as freedom of speech applies to racists like the BNP.

What is to the point was that the government has been seen
  1. Over-reacting by sending anti-terror police on a raid of an MP's parliamentary office
  2. Denying that the relevant ministers (J Smith, G Brown) knew anything about it beforehand
  3. Leaking the details about Green and leaker after the event to try and spin things their way
  4. Doing the slopey shoulders trick and leaving the police (and maybe a civil servant or two) as potiential scrificial victims
All four of these acts reflect very poorly on the government.

Firstly let's look at the over-reaction. Unless there are secrets other than the ones mentioned (and, apart from a few insinuations from J Smith, there has been no hint of that) then none of the leaks have concerned terrorism. Furthermore none of them were likely to cause the government to crumble and none were time-sensitive. In other words there was no hurry to arrest and no need to trample thoughtlessly over centuries of tradition and custom. Instead of rushing in to Mr Green's office now when parliament is in recess, the police/home office could have asked the speaker (or whomever is appropriate) to put a motion before the house which would allow MPs to decide whether the one of their own should be investigated and what to do. The fact that they didn't do this, or any of half a dozen other possible actions that would have led to more mature consideration, speaks volumes for how they (and by implication the ZANU labour government) see their needs versus the rights of others. It is this thoughtlessness that distinguishes the UK under ZANU labour from other democratic regimes and is why, despite knowing that we are potentially trivializing Comrade Bob's Zimbabwe, it is so easy to compare ZANU Labour with ZANU PF.

Secondly there is the information loop and the denials. Frankly the claim that Jaqui Smith and Gordon Brown didn't know about the upcoming actions by the Met doesn't pass the smell test. Ms Smith in particular should have been aware of what was going on since it was her deprtment that the leaker was working for and hence it was her and her top civil servant advisors who asked the police to get involved. If she really didn't know then either this was deliberate Nelsonian blindness in a far worse cause or Ms Smith is so far out of her depth as a minister that she should be fired posthaste and never allowed to take an executive role in anything ever again. Gordon Brown is also likely to have been kept in the loop since part of the drive for police investigation came from the Cabinet Office. It is possible that he was not specifically informed but it seems peculiar given that the leader of the opposition and the mayor of London were informed. A large part of the problem with the belief here is that ZANU labour has had 10 years of slicing, dicing and spinning the actualité that when they make this kind of statement they have no credibility whatsoever. The fact that large numbers of people routinely assume that government ministers are lying in situations like this is almost a worse indictment on ZANU labour than anything else because it implies that they have frittered away the trust of the electorate in the machinery of government.

Thirdly there is the spin about Green. The Wapping Liar article where it is alleged that Green was "grooming" his leaker is filled with "sources close to the investigation" and other anonymous disguises. As with the denials, having anonymous sources in government making statements to spin things their way is one of those things that causes me to be skeptical. How about having a named policeman ("In an interview, Insp Knacker stated that..") or senior civil servant ("Sir H Appleby held a press conference...") actually come out and accuse Damien Green of training his source. If someone in the government had the balls to actually address the press and the public and say something similar to Richard North's blog post I'd have a lot more respect for them and I suspect others would too. But they don't, instead they leak and speak "off the record" and thus blur what should be a clear distinction between a scummy leaker and a righteous investigation.  Furthermore they ought to have presented the basic case and perhaps some of their evidence before they arrested Mr Green (or at least synchronous to his arrest). They did nothing of the sort which is why this subsequent spinning looks so shifty.

Fourthly there is the slopey shoulders "it was a bunch of underlings who over-reacted" hanging out of the Met as potential sacrifices to public outrage. Gordon Brown and Jacqui Smith are ministers of the Crown. It is civil servants who work in departments that they are responsible for who launched the investigation and the police themselves report (eventually) to Jacqui Smith as home secretary. As ministers of the crown these two are in fact responsible for overseeing their underlings and they are accountable for the actions of their underlings. I don't say that either should necessarily resign for the police actions in this case but a willingness to shoulder the responsibility for them would be a good thing. Beyond that there is the issue of loyalty. As any good manager or military officer will tell you loyalty is not a one way street. If ZANU labour expect their civil servants to be loyal to them then they should show some sort of loyalty back again and, yet again, they fail to do so. If you want a situation where the police force, government departments and individual civil servants feel no responsibility or loyalty to the state as a whole then this blaming of scapegoats is a great way to do it. When Henry II did his "who will rid me of this turbulent priest" thing, he didn't go around blaming the four knights who heard him when they went and offed Thomas a Becket. Even though he hadn't personally ordered Becket's death, he took responsibility for their actions and performed the penance the Pope demanded. I think it is fair to say that I can't imagine any politician in the last couple of decades acting the same way and this is undoubtedly why politicians as a whole are perceived by the electorate as untrustworthy scum. It probably also helps with the general disenchantment and lack of involvement of good people in politics.

A couple of final thoughts. Of the four things that I've commented on, only one has been the "crime" the other three have been the "cover-up", thereby proving yet again that it isn't the crime but the cover-up that is important in politics. In addition, in all this reuminating over the niceties of parliamentary privilege etc. we have rather lost track of the original leaks. Whether or not they were leaked for high-minded principle or something else the papers leaked show just how disfunctional the British government is. Could we just fire the lot of them, ministers, MPs and civil servants, and get some new more competent ones instead please?

02 December 2008 Blog Home : All December 2008 Posts : Permalink

Winter on the Côte d'Azur

It has to be said that the Côte d'Azur is not reknowned for its meters of snow, negative temperatures and so on. But on the other hand anyone assuming that the palm-trees mean it never gets cold would be equally wrong. The last few weeks and especially last weekend we've had quite a bit of cold stormy weather which has dumped white fluffy stuff on the hills and emphasized the "Alpes" bit of Alpes Maritimes.
Riviera Winter Riviera Winter
Riviera Winter Riviera Winter
Riviera Winter Riviera Winter
Riviera Winter Riviera Winter
Click on the images to see them enlarged.

Global Warming? Not this year...

02 December 2008 Blog Home : All December 2008 Posts : Permalink

Back to the Rustic Village Life?

James asked last night:

Would you - back to the rustic village life?

The only sane answer to this is


The hankering after a presumed idyllic rustic past seems to be something that townies of various sorts hanker after. It isn't a new desire either. From all those 18th century philosphers and the "noble savage" to Tolkein with his hobbits, the desire to throw off the shackles of nasty urban life and return to something simpler has a long literary tradition.

It is also, pardon my French, Nucking Futs. Rustic life requires one to be occupied in a way that is 100% opposite to Pterry's prefered job description (indoors and no heavy lifting). Rustic life is hard grind. The reason why 45 year old peasant women are wrinkled crones married to equally wrinkled hobbling husbands is that the wonderful rustic life has forced them to work long hours in the cold and wet spending hours or days doing things by hand that someone with a tractor could do in half an hour.

Me I'm all in favour of rustic village life, as long as I have tractors, combine harvesters, electricity, clean water and so on, but when people say they want the "simple rustic life" they don't usually mean that. They think of something rather more primitive and don't think about what it means. As John Ringo points out more than once in the Last Centurion, attempts to force townies to go back to the land have ended up killing large numbers of them (hint: In Cambodia it wasn't the Killing Factories),

I'll add an additional point. Over the couple of centuries since the industrial revolution kicked off millions of peasant farmers have left the land and sought their fortune in the big smoke. Comparatively few factory workers have left the cities and sought their fortunes in the fields. Given that urban slum life is generally pretty bad, the fact that historically people who have experienced the low tech rustic life prefer it should be a major hint as to just how awful slaving away in the fields is. As is the fact that in many cases the only way to keep people working in the fields is, in fact, slavery of one sort or another. Call it villeinage, call it serfdom or be honest and call it slavery, it doesn't matter, the fact is that the best way to keep people working in the fields has generally been to forbid them to leave and to enforce that rule with violence.

And for those who think that the problem is that farming rapes the landscape and that hunter-gathering is the way to go, this is in fact even worse. Despite research that claims that hunter-gatherers work only a couple of hours a day to gather the food they need, hunter gather tribes suffer from all the other trappings of civilization and hence die quicker than we do. From the obviously gory such as being seriously injured by the animal they were hunting to the insidious effect of parasites and diseases the life of a noble savage is no picnic. And it requires acres of land for a small band so if we all regressed that far we'd need about 100 planets like earth to maintain the current 6bn population.

Finally, if you think its bad as a man (and you should) then spare a moment's thought for the lot of the weaker sex in a rustic or savage life. Peasant families value male children because males are stronger and can therefore do more. Women are weaker and hence tend to have to work longer for the same result. They also get pregnant and in the rustic or savage world pregnancy is a high risk event. From this BMJ article:

Death in pregnancy and childbirth is the biggest killer of women of childbearing age in developing countries, according to Dr Adrian Brown, chairman of the charity Maternity Worldwide. One in 16 women die in pregnancy or childbirth in Africa, compared with 1 in 4600 in the United Kingdom.

And then there are the common childbirth related injuries such as fistula, which are common in the developing world and practically unheard of in the developed world.

No really the rustic life is a bad idea.

02 December 2008 Blog Home : All December 2008 Posts : Permalink

Mumbai and Fiction

The Yorkshire Ranter points out (H/t Charlie Stross) that the recent Mumbai terrorist events seem to have based at least some of their strategy on Frederick Forsythe's novel, The Dogs of War. This could well be true as the sea bourne approach is indeed reminiscent of the one in that book, but I'm only partially convinced. Their objectives were so different from the coup plotted in that book that apart from the landing there isn't much cross over with the story.

However they may have used another novel by another novelist in their planning. And if they didn't it would still behove governments to study it and figure out the counters. This book is The Weapon by SF author Michael Z Williamson (or Williamsom sometimes :) )

The Weapon, which I reviewed when it came out in 2005, is probably the best book about terrorist methodology that I have read and it explains not only what is likely to work but also how to counter. Unfortunately what the book suggests as the best counter to most terrorism is a cultural one - arm the population and trust them to shoot when needed. This is so contrary to the Nanny-statism espoused by most intellectuals that it almost certainly won't be adopted by the Indians or any other would-be modern democracy except for the red-state parts of the USA.

The Weapon looks at how to wreak havoc and terror in a modern urban environment. In the climax of the book, the hero and his band cause immense havoc on the Earth of their future in ways that are quite similar to those that the Mumbai terrorists followed. Also, like the Mumbai terrorists, the hero and his band infiltrate their target months in advance and thus are able to perform on site reconnaissance to reduce the chance of error. However, I'm guessing that the Mumbai terrorists did not read this book because if they had they would have caused considerably more damage - though perhaps the Mumbai lot were just a little unlucky. Had their airport bomb gone off as it should have then that could well have allowed the terrorists more time to cause havoc elsewhere before the security forces could react properly.

To get back to counter-terrorism. The Mumbai attack demonstrated that armed police are not necessarily the solution. As this photographer reported, the armed police have to also have the willingness to shoot and many apparently did not.

But what angered Mr D'Souza almost as much were the masses of armed police hiding in the area who simply refused to shoot back. "There were armed policemen hiding all around the station but none of them did anything," he said. "At one point, I ran up to them and told them to use their weapons. I said, 'Shoot them, they're sitting ducks!' but they just didn't shoot back."

It is reasonable to blame the police but one should not concentrate the blame on them. Various people have pointed out that the Indian media and politicians had recently whipped up a storm of protest when police shot someone who turned out not to be armed and it wouldn't surprise me if some of the police who could have shot didn't for fear of being accused of shooting an innocent. There is also the fact that poorly trained people mostly won't shoot to kill. I suspect many of the Mumbai police have not been trained to kill (and this is for the most part a good thing) so it should not be too surprising that they didn't open fire when they were not directly threatened. A population with a significant percentage armed is likely to be more deadly than an armed police force simply because the armed percentage are likely to be those willing to shoot.

Finally the Weapon has a lesson for the aftermath of such an event. Once you learn who the insitigators are they need to be killed promptly and with limited "collateral damage". If it turns out that Lashkar-e- Tayyeba (or however it is spelt) were responsible for the attack then Pakistan must either permit the Indians to attack their bases or do so themselves. If they don't then the rest of the world will be entirely justified in considering Pakistan a terrotist safe haven and banning contact with it as a result.

02 December 2008 Blog Home : All December 2008 Posts : Permalink

Harper's Law

On Sunday I met a Canadian who spends much of her time in Bangkok and who spoke a bit about the political tension sin that country. I wonder how she feels about the political tensions in the Great White North where the minority Conservative government seems likely to be pushed into opposition by a combination of all other parties. What is interesting when you read that Reuters artilcel (or this BBC one) is how they spend so much time talking about the unprecedentedness of the move blah blah blah that you have to wade through a lot of crud before you get to the reasons why the opposition parties have decided to do this. In the Reuter's one you actually see the Patterico "Power of the Jump"™ in action on line because you have get to page two before the "unofficial" reason is mentioned. Here's Reuters on the official reason:

The opposition says Harper is not doing enough to tackle the financial crisis.


The parties promised a major stimulus package as well as help for the struggling auto industry.

And then after the jump there's the "unofficial" one.

The three opposition parties are also angry that Harper last week tried to eliminate public financing for political parties, a move that would hit them particularly hard.

The BBC doesn't have the "Power of the Jump" trick available so it merely puts all the reasons at the bottom and lets Reuters take the blame for the "unofficial" one, as if it is gossip:

The opposition parties say they were spurred to action by the failure of the government to deal with the financial crisis and boost the country's economy, and that they are set to introduce a stimulus package.

"Given the critical situation facing our fellow citizens and the refusal and inability of the Harper government to deal with this critical situation, the opposition parties have decided that it was now time to take action," Mr Dion said.

The opposition parties were also angered by Mr Harper's attempt to eliminate public financing of political parties, a move that would hit them hard, Reuters reports.

Is it just me who thinks that actually the real reason why the three parties decided to band together so suddenly is the fact that Harper threatened to take their government gravy train away?

Actually that's what we call a rhetorical question. Ezra Levant notes in as point 3 (of 18) in his post on the subject and I'm not going to bother searching the rest of the Conservative Canadian blogosphere beyong this google news search because it's obvious.

Unless someone else has named it something else I propose the following to be called Harper's Law

Never get between a politician and his source of funding

I sincerely hope Canadians will find ways to protest this outrageous decision and that they find a way to actually implement this cutting of funds. I'm not optimistic about the latter because even a anumber of Concervative MPs seemed to like the idea of sucking at the government teat.

03 December 2008 Blog Home : All December 2008 Posts : Permalink

Passive Smoking and Other Junk Science

I am, personally, for the most part in favour of the various smoking bans that have been enacted around the world. The reason for this is that I don't smoke (often) and I absolutely hate the smell of stale smoke that used to adorn my clothes whenever I went into a bar, restaurant, train carriage etc. full of smokers. As an anarchist libertarian kind of person I think that the smoking bans have gone too far but I don't object much because, entirely selfishly, I benefit from them.

However, as DavidA at the Devils Kitchen points out, these bans have been successful because some pretty appalling abuses of the scientific process by anti-smoking zealots. It is therefore, I think, time for me to reconsider my postion because similar junk science is on display in areas like climate change (CO2 etc.) and road safety (i.e. drink driving, speeding) where the efforts are likely to impact my quality of life without in fact providing measureable benefit to society at large. I'll come back to the climate change and road safety thing at the end, first I want to highlight the way the anti-tobacco bigots have twisted science.

Take this press release about the reduction in heart attacks in Scotland after the smoking ban:

A University of Glasgow study has found a 17 per cent fall in admissions for heart attacks in the first year after the smoking ban came into force.

The evaluation, led by Professor Jill Pell from the University’s BHF Cardiovascular Research Centre, found that after the legislation came into force there was a 17 per cent reduction in heart attack admissions to the hospitals.

This compares with an annual reduction in Scottish admissions for heart attack of 3 per cent per year in the decade before the ban.

It says the quality of air in pubs is now equivalent to that found outdoors.

Exposure to second-hand smoke north of the border is down by 40 per cent among adults and children, the study added.


Unfortunately the way that 17% number was gathered was by using an approach to the raw data which reminds me of various estemed climate scientists. If you read the background the number was obtained by something very similar to the following sentence:

The number of pears harvested in 2008 was 17% less than the number of grapefruit harvested in 2007 on the other hand, the number of apples in 2007 was equivalent to a reduction of 3% per anum in consumption of kiwi fruit since 1998.

If you actually compare oranges to oranges you get a graph like this one:

(Source VelvetGoveIronFist / ISD Scotland)

This is apparently not an isolated incident and people who complain about this kind of junk face unpleasant consequences:

[...]Siegel's defenses of epidemiologic evidence, which anti-tobacco advocates preferred to ignore or misrepresent, resulted in him being "excommunicated" (there is really no other word that captures it) from the anti-smoking activists' inner circles.

The situation described in the article by James Enstrom [2] has gone even further, representing not only a bastardization of epidemiologic research by anti-tobacco advocates and an excommunication of a long-time member of the anti-smoking research club, but a concerted effort by political activists to destroy the career of a scientist because of one result that appeared in his data, which he chose to publish rather than suppress or alter to be more politically correct.

Moving on to road safety etc.

A couple of years ago I blogged about speed limits and how some fairly basic examination of road accident statistics showed that the correlation between speed limits and fatalities was slim to none. There was one comment in which a lady wrote about how some speed driving nutter killed her only child because he was driving too fast in spite of the speed limit. Her point was that the situation described was precisely that where I was proposing tha there be no speed limits and thus the implication was that there would be more such accidents. I am not so sure.

The first pont to recall is that "Anecdote is not the singluar of Data" and thus arguning by anecdote is likely to lead to bad policy. The second point to recall is that some people drive dangerously (drunk, speed etc.) no matter what, while others don't. The really dangerous drivers don't seem to be particularly deterred by speed/alcohol limits but continue to drive like nutters no matter what.

This is the point that all the nanny-statism fails at. If I drink a pint of beer (instead of half a pint) or if I drive 50mph in a 40 zone at 3 a.m. on Tuesday morning I may be strictly speaking breaking the law, however I'm not likely to be a danger to myself or anyone else. The chances of my having an accident are not notably reduced from what they would be if I drank just the half pint or drove at 39mph. However the chances of someone who's drunk 5 pints or driving at 80mph having an accident is high. The people who drive with 5 pints in them at 80mph are not the ones who will be deterred by a change in the speed limit or a reduction in the permissable blood alcohol percentage. Thus these changes impact safe and law-abiding drivers but do not in fact make the roads notably safer because it is the scofflaws who are the bad drivers not the law-abiding drivers.

The problem is that, just as with the anti-smoking lobby, the road-safety lobby press for limits that don't have an effect and they justify them by resorting to similar levels of "science by press release" and bogus statistics. They are not the only ones of course and someone tends to benefit greatly from the laws these nanny-staters get passed. It would be utterly fascinating to see who benefits from the passive smoking junk science, the road safety junk science and so on.

Take the French swimming pool law. This law requires every pool owner in France to either block access to their pool or have a pool alarm to detect when a child falls in. Even at best this would prevent no more than about 30 deaths by drowning each year (on average there were about 30 drownings a year so this assumes that all the pool related deaths in the years prior to the law being passed would be prevented). Statistics regarding fatalities seem to be very hard to come by, but subsequent deaths appear to be around 20 so the investment by about a million pool owners in alarms fences etc. at a cost of at least a thousand Euros each has prevented no more than about 10 deaths a year. In other words this law has caused an investment in France of at least a billion Euros and saved 10 lives. It is of course hard to put a value on a single life but €100 million seems to be a bit high. One wonders whether it might have been better to spend that €1 billion on something else such as research into cancer treatments where it would probably end up saving rather more lives. However sales of swimming pool alarms, fences, covers etc. have been enormous and one wonders whether a pool equipment trade association helped sponsor some of the research...

PS regarding Nanny statism - this version of the Battle of Trafalgar deserves rereading

04 December 2008 Blog Home : All December 2008 Posts : Permalink

The Book Trade in Deep(er) Doodoo

The news yesterday - which, since the book trade is not something I pay daily attention to, I didn't read until this post (via this one) informed me of it - is that many of the big US publishing concerns are retrenching, downsizing etc. Coincidentally, probably, the UK publishing industry is facing the problem of one of its major distributors, Entertainment UK, going titsup.com just in time for Christmas. EUK's collapse is a serious embuggerment since EUK is the main way that publishers get their titles onto the shelves of UK supermarkets. Fortunately it seems possible that it will remain a going concern in some form, however any confusion at this time is bad since the pre-Christmans season is when booksellers make the best money and in the UK Supermarkets have become a leading sales outlet.

However it isn't hard to note that certain parts of the book trade seem to be doing OK, as do certain publishers. As far as I can tell both Baen and Tor are flourishing, Harlequin / Mills&Boon ditto. Eagle Publishing (owner of Regnery, the publisher of Conservative books) doesn't seem to be hurting. I suspect there are other niches doing well that I don't pay attention to. All these successful players are genre/specialty publishers (some are of course parts of larger generalists) and I suspect that is a key reason for their success.

The larger publishing industry has, it seems to me, shot itself in the foot in a number of ways. Firstly there has been the "bestseller or bust" strategy, whereby a few authors get large advances to write books which are then hyped everywhere in the hope that they sell enough to cover the advance. This is not a good thing for all sorts of reasons, not least being what happens when one of these mongo would-be blockbusters flops. Another way the book trade is shooting itself in the foot is eBooks. I wrote a couple of articles fairly recently where I pointed out that practically every book published these days is available for free on various WaReZ sites so the adding of DRM and charging of large sums of money for stuff which anyone with a reasonable amount of spare time and google-fu can find for free without DRM is flat out stupid. Eric Flint disagrees with me about the amount of google-fu needed but he absolutely nails the point when he writes:

As a rule—there are always exceptions, of course, but not many—people who are well-enough educated technically to be able to devise quick ways to obtain pirated books, are also making a good living and don’t need to fret over a few dollars. They are no more likely to get involved in downloading illegal books—provided they can get what they want in a legal manner—than they are to shoplift a ten or twenty dollar item from a walk-in store.

I'll add that it also helps if they don't feel like they are being treated as either a criminal (DRM) or sucker (High prices) for an eBook.

Possibly the root reason why the book industry is in doo-doo is that they don't actually listen to their customers, something that the eBook issue I mention above is an example of. When it comes to dead tree editions they've actually got the system set up so they can't listen to the most important signal. Firstly there is the antiquated multi-tier distribution system that means that publishers actually market their books to the buyers of the major chain stores or the supermarket shelf fillers rather than to the reading public. Combine this with the fact that titles tend to get only fleeting exposure before being replaced and, as Lois M Bujold noted in an essay, there's a feedback problem:

One way to get More Stuff through is to speed it up, which is why books whip on and off the shelves with such velocity (category romance novels are given, count 'em, thirty days on the market before being replaced by the next batch). What this means is, the speed of book turnover has grown to be faster than the speed of word of mouth, a slowish process formerly vital to a new book or author. All but the very first readers to buy a book thus have no way to send economic feedback messages back through the system saying, "More, please." The late reader's vote is not counted; the reader who borrows instead of buying casts no vote at all.

I could go on but I think you get the point. The book trade is killing itself because it hasn't got a clue what its customers want and hence spends huge amounts of money trying to sell the wrong things at the wrong prices. Expect more firings and downsizings as the credit crunch bites because books are rarely a priority to the average consumer and hence are purchases that can easily be deferrred.

04 December 2008 Blog Home : All December 2008 Posts : Permalink

The Vorkosigan Companion

Just in time for Christmas, Baen have released "the Vorkosigan Companion", a book about Lois M Bujold's SF series that mostly stars people by the name of Vorkosigan. The book is a bit of a mixed bag. It contains much useful reference material to the series as well as a number of essays on the series and its author. One of the questions I have though is who is the intended reader. I assume it is the dedicated LMB fan, of which there are many, but in which case it seems as though some of it will be quite repetitious - especially since some of it has come from elsewhere.

To start with the reference material, so as to get it out of the way. There are maps, guides to planets and people, discussions about familiy trees, summaries of plots and other useful stuff. This part of the book - essentially the second half - is in large part a multi-volume index and encyclopedia. I have not done much more than skim these bits as I'm not OCD enough to enjoy looking at lists of names and other index sorts of things but it seems complete and could well aid those who want to keep track of exactly who Vorthis or Vorthat are and so on. The one thing I do note here is that Lois seems to have managed to avoid most of the continuity pitfalls that dog any writer of a series.

Before this reference matierial lies what I consider to be the more interesting bit. It is true that, as I wrote above, some of it is recycled so people who have (for example) the NESFA editions will be a bit bored. On the other hand there is a lot that isn't and all of it is good to read, providing information about Lois and insights about her work that are appreciated. Here are short reviews of each bit (the links go to the sample chapters on the Baen site so skeptics can read them too for free and see if I'm telling the truth).

Lois McMaster Bujold
This is where Lois shares my befuddlement about the audience. But she does it in a way that makes anyone else understand why we read her books. She's a word smith par excellence!
Part 1:
Creator of the Vorkosiverse

Putting It Together:
Life, the Vorkosiverse, and Everything

Lois McMaster Bujold
This is the author explaining the way she wrote the stories. Aspiring writers can use this as a masterclass, other readers can learn the background details that explain how the Vorksosigan stories are not best-sellers by accident.
A Conversation with Lois McMaster Bujold
Lillian Stewart Carl
The curious who want to know more about Lois, in particular how the younger Lois was shaped by the environment she grew up in will love this. Ms Carl is one of Lois' oldest friends and someone she has been using as a writing buddy most of her life.
Publishing, Writing, and Authoring:
Three Different Things

Lois McMaster Bujold
This is Lois' view of the professional writer's life and the publishing trade. It originally appeared on dendarii.,com and was written 8 years ago but it is still well worth reading as if anything things have got worse. Another part of the curriculum for aspiring authors and readers interested in the machinery that delivers them their books
A Conversation with
Toni Weisskopf

John Helfers
How her editor sees Lois. Unsurprisingly Lois is not the sort of troublesome author that exasperate editors with outrageous demands or delays. What is, I find, most interesting is that Toni's and Lois's recollections (as recounted in the earlier parts) of some events and consequences differ subtly. The question of the literary agent in particular.
Part 2: Aspects of the Vorkosiverse
Romance in the Vorkosiverse
Mary Jo Putney
The only fiction I've read by Mary Jo Putney - a short in "Irresistible Forces" - irritated me which may be something to do with the clashing of expectations between F/SF readers and Romance readers. This (since it is about a topic I'm keen on?) is much better. No great insights but illuminating.
Biology in the Vorkosiverse and Today
Tora K. Smulders-Srinivasan
Tora, the question Apsara on the Bujold list, is also a bioscientist of some variety when she isn't a fan (pubmed indicates that she does genetics research) and thus she is well qualified to look at Lois' bio science. Unsurprisingly she points out that Lois employs very little handwavium and describes stuff that may well turn out to be possible in time. Lois is not particularly known as a Hard SF writer but Tora explains that the Vorkoiverse is biologically sound and scientific. Her "uterine replicators", for example, seem likely to be feasible and this essay makes the point that Lois has already looked at some of the ethics and (un)intended consequences of such a technology - something that future policy makers ought to thank her for.
"What's the Worst Thing
I Can Do to This Character?"
Technology of the Vorkosiverse
Ed Burkhead
Ed is another Bujold listee and he gives a quick run down of the non biological technology on show in the Vorkosiverse. Apart from the welding, this is rather less Hard SF than the biological side but the future gadgets and weapons she describes are neatly summarized and we learn how they just fit naturally in to the imagined world so that they become part of the background instead of dominating.
Part 3: Appreciations
Through Darkest Adolescence with Lois McMaster Bujold, or Thank You, but I Already Have a Life
Lillian Stewart Carl
This echoes the conversation above and provides even more biographical detail. Fascinating for us nosy sorts who want to metaphorically rumage through Lois' drawers and find out more about Lois the person.
Foreword to Falling Free
James A. McMaster
Lois' brother wrote this as the foreward to the NESFA(?) edition of this book. It also provides more biographical background and discusses Lois' fascinating father. I begin to understand how Lois could write so insightfully about how Miles Vorkosigan suffered from "Great man's son" syndrome. Miles once says that he'd like it if Aral were to be known principally for being Miles' father, I think it is fair to say that Doctor Robert C. McMaster is now princially know for being Lois McMaster Bujold's father.
Foreword to Shards of Honor
James Bryant
James, yet another Bujold listee (YABL), and the name behind the SFnal unit of "A Bryant of Books", writes an excellent lit crit review of Shards and makes the very excellent point that people who "don't read that sort of thing" (i.e. SF) will miss a lot if their disdain causes them to skip Lois' works.
"More Than the Sum of His Parts"
Foreword to The Warrior's Apprentice
Douglas Muir
YABL, though one that I don't think has been posting recently, provides another memorable lit crit review.
Foreword to Ethan of Athos
Marna Nightingale
Ethan of Athos is somewhat of a detour to the main Vorkosiverse tales but that doesn't detract from its importance as an SF book that makes the reader think. Marna(YABL)'s lit crit essay, as with those from James and Douglas is a real treat. All three make me want to go back and read the books again. Ethan of Athos is all about gender and Marna's essay which uses the shared roots of Genre and Gender as a starting point is one of the stronger bits of the book. I have just one minor critique - in the online version I found her ()ed 2007 inline edits to be a bit distracting and it would have been nice have them as footnotes.
Part 4: The Fans
Come for the Bujold, Stay for the Beer¹:
Science Fiction Writers
as Occasions of Fandom

Marna Nightingale
If the previous Marna article is the best in the book, then this is perhaps the weakest. Maybe it is the contrast in subject matter and tone, as well as the fact that as a Bujold listee I know most of this chapter, but I found myself skimming this and then becoming really disappointed when it turned out to be the last non "Indexy" bit of the book.
All in all I'd only recommend this book to someone already familiar with the Vorkosiverse, for whom, if they haven't already got it this would be a great Christmas present. If you haven't read the stories then this book will make you want to read them, but it is rather spolierific which may rather detract from the critical first reading...

05 December 2008 Blog Home : All December 2008 Posts : Permalink

20081205 - Friday Olive Tree Blogging

As I mentioned once before the Grasse valley used to be fileld with olive trees. These days very few large expanses remain and very few of them actually collect the olives. Here's one that still does.
20081205 - Firday Olive Tree Blogging
As always click on the image to see it enlarged and don't forget to visit of the olive tree blogging archives for further reminders of how nice olive trees are.

16 December 2008 Blog Home : All December 2008 Posts : Permalink

Horizon - Lois McMaster Bujold

Yesterday the postman delivered me an early Christmas present, but unfortunately it is one that I have to pass on so after a speedy read and reread it is parcelled up again ready for me to dash to the post office and send it on when the rain eases (update: dash done).

The present I'm referring to is the ARC (Advanced Readers Copy) of Horizon. Horizon is the fourth and final book in Lois M Bujold's "Sharing Knife" series. I reviewed book 1 when it came out two and a bit years ago and I hope to write a review of the whole series at some point, but for today we'll stick with looking at Horizon, the fourth book.

The first thing to point out is that there will undoubtedly be minor changes from the version I read, since copyeditors and proofreaders are earning their pay as I write, however since I'm not going to do more than quote a couple of lines I doubt this will matter. Having said that, it is clear that this is most certainly a book that will be produced to look good on paper as its predecessors have. Harper Collins have really done a good job in the layout, typography and so on of the ARC and I have no doubt that this will be reflected in the final hardback. Although I'm firmly an eBook reader these days, I do think that some works deserve the sacrifice of some trees and the Sharing Knife tetralogy are four of them.
The Battered ARC of Horizon
OK so enough of the medium, what about the content? Is it any good? and must the reader also read vols 1-3 first. The quick answer is that yes the book is very good and that no reading the previous volumes is not required.

Regarding the latter, Lois manages a very nice backstory précis in the first 50 pages or so that manages to tell the new reader most of what he or she needs to know about the world and the characters and their previous adventures without any of the clunkiness that less-skilled authors tend to employ. No "As you know Dave..." or internal monologues or reminiscing or any of the other ways that the novices try. This really is the mastercraftswoman at work and it is a joy to behold as suddenly it becomes apparent that she slipped all this in while simulataneously introducing a new character or two whose questions interest those of us who know what happened. Likewise, as always, the choice of words for the pen portraits and landscapes is enough to involve us, the readers, into building our own internal image of the characters and world so that we readily identify with it.

The plot, at least the main plot, is fairly straightforward. As with the previous books there is a good deal of travelling and in many ways book four is the journey needed to get everyone (back) to where they need to be to settle down but of course various alarums and excursions are required on the way. None of the events is precisely fore-ordained but there aren't any sudden kinks and turns that cause surprise, perhaps because really this isn't a book that depends on plot-twists to keep us interested.

The fascination of this book lies in the world Lois has created and the characters that inhabit it. We don't want world-up-ending shocks because we need to understand the world as it is already and how the characters are going to act as "Agents of Change" within it. Lois is a writer who builds wonderful characters, and magnificent relationships between characters and it is the characters who drive the plot along. Since, for the most part, the characters in Horizon are strightforward, plainspeaking sorts, the plot is straightforward and plainsepaking too. We don't have Minoan labyrinths of cunning misdirection in a decadent society because the whole book is set on a sort of frontier where byzantine tangles will tend to be solved by the Alexandrian method rather than more delicate and less destructive means. Part of the fun in this book is the introdcution of Arkady who is a man of roughly the same age as Dag, the hero, and who is part relection and part refraction of Dag. Both tend to the terse, and to the eschewing of fulsome praise, and so it is quite amusing when Dag gets to be praised in the sparing way he so often praises others:

"All in all that was well done"

From Arkady, who was quite capable of prefacing his minor critiques with You gormless, ham-handed halfwit! that was true praise.

In fact that same spare style fills the book echoing off the scenery and much else. It is, in some ways, terribly British in its understatement and very reminiscent of the Vorkosigan books where the reward for a good job is more work.

The world is very American and very libertarian. There is, roughly, 1830s-ish technology minus gunpowder but plus an understanding of hygeine by some doctors and the frontier life of the Mississippi river and its tributaries at that time is the closest echo to a historical setting for this book. We have pioneers and people seeking a new life where past (mis)deeds will not be known. More over, unlike the vast majority of fantasy novels this is a very minarchist world. There are no all powerful gods - the gods are famously absent. Neither are there evil magicians or despotic tyrants - the people who ae the survivors/descendants of the despotic magician tyrants of the past work hard to stay poor and relativel powerless. There aren't even courts and hierarchies of good rulers, rather what we have is much more democratic if not anarchistic. There is the rule of law, and it tends to be case law in a very common law tradition, but there is limited appeal beyond the judgement of one's peers. Typically if you disagree with the verdict it seems you move to somewhere elsewhere they either agree with you or don't care.

The book is less of a romance than the earlier ones - though love certainly finds its way - and is far more political. The result of the past three books has been that Dag and Fawn - the hero and heroine - need to change their world in order to be able live together and this book is about how they manage to do just that. In the process of that they (and we readers) learn just how frayed at the edges some of the core traditions and laws of their world are. It is somewhat amusing, and typically Loisian, that this decay from idealism into jobsworthness and following the letter of the law rather than the spirit shows up most in the last book of the series. Most authors would haev put this decay a couple of books earlier because reform of corrupt, decadent systems is a classic fantasy trope. Lois, on the other hand, has no grand reforming crusade just a couple changing the world through showing that alternatives exist. This is, it seems to me, very much the spirit of the world with a strong emphasis on "do not tell".

All in all it is a book that will repay rereading and cogitating. I can already see how this book (and series) would serve as a metaphor for the IETF ("We reject kings, presidents and voting. We believe in rough consensus and running code") and as a gateway drug book to turn soppy romantics into hardcore libertarians. No doubt more ideas will come to me with more wine and more thought. Unfortunatley I won't get to rearead for another month or so. I guess I'll have to find some other author in the meantime...

17 December 2008 Blog Home : All December 2008 Posts : Permalink

I May Own Child Pornography

Right that got your attention, Mr & Mrs Reader, didn't it! It's worse. You may own some too, especially if you are sent amusing smutty jokes by friends. Let me explain.

First of all what I don't have. I don't have - unless someone has hidden them somewhere without telling me - what most people would call Kiddie Porn. There are no pictures of nasty old men buggering prepubescent young girls and boys. Not are there pictures of kiddies having sex with each other or anything like that. Furthermore I don't believe I have any pictures of little kiddies running around naked on the beach or in private gardens, though I haven't gone through all my photos, digital and film, to confirm this.

But yet I'm alomost certain that I possess something that may be considered Child Pornogrpahy. You see I'm on a
mailing list where various people send around jokey cartoons and videos and the like. Rather like Judge Kozinski in LA LA land as it happens. One of the jokes I was sent is an animated and modified version of the 2012 Olympic logo, which looks like Lisa Simpson giving someone a blow job.

So what you say? This is what:

A NSW Supreme Court judge has ruled an internet cartoon in which lookalike child characters from The Simpsons engage in sexual acts is child pornography.

In a landmark finding, Justice Michael Adams today upheld a decision convicting a man of possessing child pornography after the cartoons, depicting characters modelled on Bart, Lisa and Maggie engaging in sex acts, were found on his computer.

You see Lisa Simpson is a cartoon child and hence, in Australia, a depiction of Lisa Simpson giving someone a blow job is henceforth defined as child porn.

It isn't just those weird folk downunder that are in potential trouble. There is a guy in Iowa who is being prosecuted too. His alleged crime was ordering some Manga printed in Japan which apparently include drawings of some young looking girls having sex. Neil Gaiman feels very strongly about this because he thinks its a slippery slope. First off here's his response regarding the Australia case:

I think it's nonsensical in every way that it could possibly be nonsensical. The Simpsons characters aren't real people. They definitely aren't real children. (Given that they first appeared in the late eighties, they're also all over eighteen now...)

The famous 1967 Wally Wood "Disney Memorial Orgy" poster (http://flickr.com/photos/25308024@N08/2509508040/sizes/o/>(possibly not safe for work, might prompt embarrassing questions from small children, do not click on this if a small reproduction of cartoon characters doing softcore filthy things upsets you)is a parody of Disney's image, an attack in cartoon form on the idea of consumerism and the innocence of cartoon characters, as the Disney characters let their hair down and indulge in a memorial orgy for the late Walt Disney. The idea that you could be arrested in the Western World for having that image in your computer is mind-boggling, let alone for owning Lost Girls, or for doodling members of the Peanuts gang doing things they tended not to do in the Schulz comics, or for reading Harry Potter slash, or owning the Brass Eye Paedophilia special. And, I should warn members of the Australian judiciary, fictional characters don't just have sex. Sometimes they murder each other, and take fictional drugs, and are cruel to fictional animals, and throw fictional babies off roofs. Crimes, crime everywhere.

And then regarding the Iowa case he makes the point explicit and simple:

The Law is a blunt instrument. It's not a scalpel. It's a club. If there is something you consider indefensible, and there is something you consider defensible, and the same laws can take them both out, you are going to find yourself defending the indefensible.

This is, surely, the basic point of free speech. Neil might (or might not) be surprised to find himself saying stuff very similar to Ezra Levant, but he is saying very much the same thing. Indeed here he defends a truly despicable piece of Islamic ranting:

Dear reader, don't get me wrong. I don't believe it should be against the law to have this much hate in your heart. I'd want to make sure that Al-Hayiti's calls to violence (cut an apostate's neck, kill Hindus and Buddhists, etc.) didn't meet the standard of criminal incitement, and I'd hope that CSIS was attending his sermons to make sure he wasn't going even further off the cuff. But plain old-fashioned anti-Semitism, misogyny, anti-gay bigotry, etc., ought to be legal. The answer is denunciation, debate, marginalization, etc. -- not government censorship.

But yet many people don't seem to get the point. Take Lorraine Adams and her review of "The Jewel of Medina" a book about Mohammed and his child bride:

Should free-speech advocates champion “The Jewel of Medina”? In the American context, the answer is unclear. The Constitution protects pornography and neo-Nazi T-shirts, but great writers don’t generally applaud them. If Jones’s work doesn’t reach those repugnant extremes, neither does it qualify as art. It is telling that PEN, the international association of writers that works to advance literature and defend free expression, has remained silent on the subject of this ­novel. Their stance seems just about right.

Lorraine Adams should be sent to the Neil Gaiman reeducation camp to have the point blugeoned into her. Free speech means the right to produce insulting pureile rubbish. There are no exceptions because once you start having exceptions you end up being like australia and convicting people of owning lewd Simpson's cartoons.

19 December 2008 Blog Home : All December 2008 Posts : Permalink

20081219 - Friday Olive Tree Blogging

We've had a LOT of rain recently (and said rain has been snow on higher ground). A couple of days ago the rain stopped and I got this picture of one of our olive trees enjoying a little winter sun after the rain. I love how the leaves are now a sort of silvery colour thanks to the ambient light that they are reflecting.
20081219 - Friday Olive Tree Blogging
As always click on the image to see it enlarged and don't forget to visit of the olive tree blogging archives for further reminders of how nice olive trees are.

20 December 2008 Blog Home : All December 2008 Posts : Permalink

Jean Constance Lucy Turner

28 January 1929 - 20 December 2008
My mother was a teacher, missionary, devout christian, wife and mother.

She was born in an Army encampment, the daughter and first child of Lieutenant A J Macdonald (Royal Engineers) and Dr S C C Macdonald. I am not sure where (I would need to check) though it may have been Gibraltar. Army life means of course frequent transfers and wherever she was born, she was taken to a variety locations as a child. The family moved to Malta when she was quite small. After some years her father was promoted to Captain and transfered to the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers - again records that I don't have here would be useful to confirm the dates. Her father died on the Franco-Belgian border during the 1940 blitzkrieg.

She attended Godolphin school for girls in 1940s and went up to Cambridge shortly after the end of the war. At Newnham college she read English and took her BA. She then extended this with a teaching certificate and, having gained that took up a teaching job in the south of England. At some point in the 1950s she had either a long holiday or a temporary job in Paris. There she was once accosted by soem Americans who begged her to guide them to "Lez Champps Eelaizees" a place that no French person recognized. In the late 1950s she, and her mother (my grandmother), decided to become Missionaries. My grandmother as a doctor, my mother as a teacher. They joined CMS and after language training embarked on a ship to India. They arrived there in about 1960 and my mother taught at Sarah Tucker College for girls in Tirunelveli, Tamilnadu.

So far as I can tell she was a dealy loved and valued member of staff there. She became reasonably fluent in Tamil and, perhaps thanks to her mother's medical outreach, active in more than just the college itself. In about 1964 she and her mother had a long furlough back in the UK and her mother decided to remain there. My mother went back, which was a very good thing because she met a nice missionary priest at the nearby male college. He was a few years older than she was, but he too was single, and in the small missionary community there they were really the only unmarried people of roughly similar age. Love blossomed, despite the various roadblocks of various Indians who seemed to feel that impropriety would result from their getting together and in 1967 they returned to England to get married. Initially I believe they intended to return to India again but firstly I was born and secondly my other grandmother was getting a little frail so they settled down in the UK as parish priest and wife, first in Dagenham and then in Weeley (near Colchester).

I of course was busy growing up at this time so my memories are limited but I know that my mother threw herself into the life of "Mrs Vicar/Rector", joining and helping to run the Mother's Union, the Women's Institute, church flower rotas, choirs and so on. I have always wondered how unmarried priests manage the burden because a conscientious parish priest never seems to have a spare moment and that's even with his wife to shoulder part of the load. My parents worked as a team and I believe their parishoners appreciated my mother just as much as my father.

My parents lost their mothers within 3 weeks of each other in 1978 and not too long after that my father sought an alternative to parish priesting. He found his alternative at St Deniol's Library in North Wales where he became subwarden and my mother also become part of the library staff there. She may not have been a trained librarian but that may actually have been a benefit because the library is catalogued under a scheme which is best described as "idiosyncratic". They both enjoyed themselves very much there and my mother in particular enjoyed the chance to pick and choose her commitments. I don't think she was any less busy than she had been before but now she was able to skip the groups that she had felt obliged to join because of beng "Mrs Rector".

Eventually my father decided to retire and they moved to his mother's former house in Frinton-on-Sea, a place famous for it's level crossing, lack of pub and the graffitied advertising slogan "Harwich for the Continent Frinton for the Incontinent." In the 20 years or so that they were nominally retired there I don't think they noticed retirement other than as an excuse to not do things they didn't like. My mother, as in North Wales, joined all the local groups that interested her and, since I'd left home, she found the time to become more spiritual. Beyond that they travelled. To the Soviet Union, as it was the first time or two, and then to Russia as it became. To the holy land. To visit me in Japan and California. Mostly they travelled together but my mother returned to Sarah Tucker College for its centenary celebrations on her own and also, separately went to Kerala. They also visited Italy, Greece and Turkey and were quite interested to go elsewhere. Many of their trips were partially religiously inspired but they also took a lively interest in the tourism opportunities.

One of their peculiarities is that they liked to use publisc transport, even when this seemed less than completely sensible. When they went to the Holy Land they used Tel Aviv central bus station which is not something the average aged tourist visits and thereby caused the nice security people in the airport to wonder just what they were doing.

Gradually my mother became feebler - my father too but he has so far been far more healthy - needing to perform various exercises in order to stay reasonably fit. Three years ago she had an accident with her bicycle - she didn't fall off it, but she managed to get it to fall on her while she was opening the gate - that caused her to fracture her hip. She had a hip replacement and, although she recovered enough to get back on the bike, she always seemed frailer afterwards. Mind you there are degrees of feebleness and she was never bedridden until the last week or so.

I don't know all of the details but a week ago my father called to tell me she'd caught this winter's stomach flu bug and that she was suffering (emabrassingly) from diarrhea. I talked to her on Sunday or Monday and she sounded weak but not particularly ill, when I asked if I should come to visit before christmas she said no but that she was lookign forward to seeing me. On Thursday the illness had weakened her so much that she stayed in bed. Various doctors, nurses and so on visited. More visited yesterday and this morning my father reported that she seemed to be improving. She wasn't. In the afternoon a doctor was scheduled to visit at 4pm and when he arrived a few minutes late he found that she had weakened even more. He immediately called for an ambulance but it was too late. She died at about 4:30pm before the ambulance could arrive.

21 December 2008 Blog Home : All December 2008 Posts : Permalink

Excess Winter Mortality - An Anecdote

At WattsUpWithThat there are a couple of posts about how people tend to die of cold weather. The first linked post discusses how the UK seems to kill more of its population in winter than most European nations in terms of Excess Winter Mortality (i.e. the difference in death rate between winter and summer).

Since my mother died yesterday perhaps I can add some anecodotal evidence about how this happens.

My mother died, essentially, from stomach flu causing diarrhea. No doubt I will find out more but from what I've learned so far she died because she caught a not particularly deadly stomach bug which dehydrated and weakened her so much that she died. Her main "caregiver" was my father, a gentleman who, while remarkably fit for his age, is in his 80s. There was help from a neighbour or two but little from the glorious NHS. That body limited itself to sporadic care from the "out of hours" doctor, various hotlines who seemed more interested in taking details of names, addresses, dates of birth etc. than medical symptoms and, at one point an ambulance crew.

The ambulance crew showed up because at o'dark thirty on Thursday my mother tried to go to the toilet and fell somehow next to it instead of on it. Father was unable to extricate her and called 999. When they showed up (quite promptly I believe) they quickly got her up from where she had fallen and gave a little first aid. They (and their superiors via radio) advised against taking her to hospital because they said she'd be no better off. Father says they predicted she would be dumped on a trolley in a corner and ignored for 8 hours before being sent home if she was taken to hospital. Hence she was put back in her own bed despite being seriously weak, cold and without a fit caregiver on call. I have absolutely no reason to doubt this prediction and that is surely one main reason why old people die excessively in the UK in winter.

Oh it doesn't help that my parents are of the self-effacing generation that doesn't want to bother the doctor. Theodore Dalrymple describes my parents perfectly in this bit of a recent essay:

I remember working for a short time in a general practice in a small country town where an old man called me to his house. I found him very weak from chronic blood loss, unable to rise from his bed, and asked him why he had not called me earlier. “I didn’t like to disturb you, Doctor,” he said. “I know you are a very busy man.”

My mother died partly because she and my father followed the rules about out of hours GPs and not "bothering" people who they assumed were busy on more deserving cases. She also died because Britain's hospitals can't be trusted to look after slightly ill people.

In France I'm sure she would have been taken to hospital and put in a bed, given a drip with sugar and electrolytes and basically looked after, ditto most other countries in Europe. If she were here she'd be alive. If she were in the US she'd probably be alive because medicare would have covered the basics of the admission and the same applies. In the UK where healthcare is "free" she was advised not to try and get some "free" healthcare because she wouldn't have got any.

Dying of the complications from a stomach bug is soemthing people do in third world countries, a group which now apparently includes the third world nation of Great Britain.

31 December 2008 Blog Home : All December 2008 Posts : Permalink

I Ate'nt Dead

As can be imagined the death of my mother has caused me to be really really busy in ways I was not expecting for the last ten days or so. It also doesn't help that my dear parents have never quite embraced "teh intertubes" so the only way I get to be on the Internet is to beg one of their neighbours.

However I'm still alive and thinking and writing from time to time.

31 December 2008 Blog Home : All December 2008 Posts : Permalink

Arise Sir Pterry!

The Queen's New Year Honour's list has been announced and it includes one of my favourite authors - Terry Pratchett. Terry will now be Sir Pterry as he receives a knighthood. It would be more fun if he'd been made a lord. Then we'd have fun wondering where he'd be Lord Pterry of? Ankh-Morpork perhaps?

31 December 2008 Blog Home : All December 2008 Posts : Permalink

The Relentless BBC Bias

Since I've been stuck in the UK, I have of course been subjected to endless Radio 4. Over the holiday season there has not, to be honest, been much news so the various Radio 4 news and current affairs programs have been quite interesting to listen to. I'll have some more detailed thoughts below but first here's my summary of BBC Radio 4's biases
There may be some others. I suspect that there is one about Britain joining the Euro and another about the great wonderfulness which is the EU. What I did find somewhat surprising though is that R4 comes across, at least at Christmas, as a very Christian radio station. Secularism may perhaps rule for 50 weeks of the year but during the Christmas/New Year holiday season this year there has been a lot of positive messages about mainstream, primarily Anglican and Roman Catholic, Christianity. The various "Thought for the Day" bits have been pretty good at getting across the Bible's basic message and there hasn't been the knocking of religion elsewhere that I was rather expecting.

To go back to my list. The current bombardment of Gaza has been fascinating because even the BBC has found it hard to find a positive thing to say about Hamas. They have even mentioned numerous times that it was Hamas that broke the previous cease-fire and that Hamas had refused to sit down and negotiate with anyone, be they other Palestinians, other Arabs or Israelis. Indeed, just today they managed to get a lady on from a nearby Israeli town that has been bombarded with rockets for years and, amazingly, they didn't interrupt her or ask the usual slanted questions.

Of course the BBC is still convinced that a ceasefire should occur now and that aid should be given no matter what. They have repeatedly claimed that overwhelming armed force will not stop Hamas, which may well be true, but they also fail to observe that nothing else has worked either. It seems to me that the BBC journalists are beginning to come to terms with the idea that just maybe Hamas actually means what it says regarding the total destruction of Israel and so on. I don't think this will be an easy thing for many of their Middle East experts to sign on to as the tenor of interviews etc. from London based folks have been significantly more anti-Hamas than those on the ground. Still it is a potentially heartening development.

One of the more interesting series of reports over the last few days has been coverage of a Russian TV vote to decide who was the greatest Russian in history. The BBC reported more than once that Stalin was one of the front-runners as the list was gradually whittled down and they had at least one interview segment where various "Russians in the street" were asked about Stalin and his greatness. The one thing that struck me most strongly about all this is that Stalin was not in fact Russian but rather was of Georgian ancestry, having been born in Gori - a tawn more recently in the news thanks to Russia's invasion of Georgia earlier this year. It truly amazed me that none of the BBC reports mentioned this factoid, even though they discussed the fact that this TV show was undoubtedly something that Putin & co were in favour of as a way to build up national pride etc.

The "Today" program has been having a series of guest editors to help fill up the program given that there isn't much news. Many of these have been interesting - in particular the editorship of Cardinal Conor of Westminster - however today's one - Jarvis Cocker from Blur - was interesting more because it showed how stupid he was and yet how easy it was to mouth the usual duck-billed platitudes and standard biases (see above). Anyone who has actually done a little bit more studying in maths and/or quantum physics than a couple of coffee table books (e.g. anyone who gets the Abstruse Goose jokes) would have quickly realized that the Cocker bloke was trying to use Quantum Physics as a sort of secular god and mindlessly repeating stuff about Schrödinger's Cat without grasping the underlying physics. The level of credulous idiocy in display there meant that I found it hard to take seriously the other bits where Cocker tried to go on about climate change. Now clearly the today presenters weren't going to rock the boat too much with their guest but they let this idiot musician get away with utterly uninformed statements about capitalism, the free market economy, global warming and so on which cried out to have someone ask him to justify, if not have someone actively poke holes in.

It occured to me that had, by some fluke of fortune, I been on the program with my rather opposite views on these subjects the presenters would have been rather less deferential.