L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

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

01 May 2009 Blog Home : All May 2009 Posts : Permalink

20090501 - May Day Friday Olive Tree Blogging

Not too far away from our house there is a street called"Traverse des Roses de Mai" which inspired me to do an olive tree blog of one of our own "Roses de Mai" in front of one of our olive trees. My original idea was to simply open the window and take the photo but even with a telephoto lens and other compsenations it didn't work (sun and random other plants being to blame) so I bestirred myself and went outside to take the same rose but in the direction of a different olive tree sans sun and distracting greenery.
20090501 - May Day 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.

01 May 2009 Blog Home : All May 2009 Posts : Permalink

Proud to be British and not Brown

There are times when I watch my fellow Britons knuckle under to ZANU labour and its hordes of bansturbationsists and jobsworths that I feel that maybe I should change my nationality. Become French say. But then there are days like today when I reconsider.

When I had a look at the "just go" petition this merry Beltane morning the number of signatures was somewhere around 30,000. That was enough to make this easily the most popular petition on the site and err 1000 times more popular than the Brown (nose) "stay" petition - although according to Mr E this was because certain censors had determined that some of the names on the latter were fake*.

However I just went back there this evening to get my numbers straight for a blog post and I see this
40,885 signatures
Nearly another 10,000 britons have declared their pissed offness with the ZANU labour leader.

But it gets better. We've got Taxi-drivers upset with the tide of ZANU labour sleaze. we've got Tory MPs signing the petition and Labour former ministers saying they are ashamed to be ZANU Labourites.

It seems to me that the British, and probably many other nations, aren't so fussed about the (mis)behaviour of their rulers and the occasional injustice or stupid policy as long as they themsleves are not for the most part affected. Indeed one might suggest that Whingeing Poms actually like some kind of stupid government initiaive to whinge about when they've exhausted the topics of the weather and "wossname doing that on TV last night". But that tolerance is based on the idea that actually things are OK and the MPs, ministers etc.  are doing good for the country even though they also line their pockets, have kinky sex with rent boys, maintain 3 mistresses and go on holiday with bloated plutocrats.

It has now become apparent to pretty much everyone in the UK that the politicians have been concentrating on lining their pockets, having kinky sex with rent boys, maintaining 3 mistresses and going on holiday with bloated plutocrats rather than on doing what they were elected to do - i.e. keep the ship of state upright and not underwater.

I'm not sure what the British equivalent of a Tea Party is but I imagine we'll be finding out over the summer...

*Who would have imagined that names like these might be fake?
* Joy Wendy Endcomes
* D N Disnigh
* Mr N.O. McMandate
* Mr. P. Iss-Off
* Mr S Meargate
* Nick Robinson
* All your friends at the BBC
* Juan Ay-Jocque

02 May 2009 Blog Home : All May 2009 Posts : Permalink

Stanford Swine Flu Survey

BoingBoing has a link to a survey about Swine Flu perceptions being run by Stanford University's Institute for Research in the Social Sciences. I think it could probably do with wider circulation even though it looks to me like Swine Flu is a Pandemic Fail.

PS They said a black man would be president of the United States when pigs could fly. Indeed, 100 days into President Obama's term, Swine Flu

04 May 2009 Blog Home : All May 2009 Posts : Permalink

Pour Encourager Les Autres

In 1757 Admiral Byng was executed by firing squad on the deck of his flagship HMS Monarch for failing to reinforce the British garrison in Minorca the previous year. This act is generally believed to have greatly encouraged the Royal Navy's admirals and captains to fight agressively and thus to have contributed to the British Empire. It also led Voltaire to write in Candide that well known line:

"[I]l est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres"

It seems to me that the practice might be usefully revived. Not necessarily applied to admirals (though to be honest since the Royal Navy has more admirals than ships these days they probably wouldn't be missed) but applied to some of the titans of finance and their political cronies, not to mention the technocratic underlings who advise from the shadows.

Of course one of the problems here is that were anyone to propose this action in a form where it seemed likely to be taken seriously than there would be the usual hordes of detractors claiming that it was a bad idea. You know what they'd say: "It won't work as a deterrent, they'd just find a way to hide it" or "It isn't fair on the CEOs/Ministers who got left holding the parcel" or "It's just barbaric revenge not suited to the 21st century".

As it happens there is evidence to show that the prospect of facing a firing squad does cause senior executives to behave - ever since the Chinese shot half a dozen dairy company CEOs for putting melamine in the milk the QC of Chinese food products has increased enormously. When the risk/reward ratio looks like "if I'm wrong its a minor slap on the wrist but if I'm right for long enough then I'm get to trouser millions" then its obvious that the incentive is tilted towards risk taking. If on the other hand the "if I'm wrong" calculation ivolves not spending all those millions because you've been terminated or fired in a completely literal sense then you are rather more likely to be conservative.

And fairness is not what I care about. Perhaps, to pick an example not at random Sir Fred the Shred was not the person to blame for RBS's collapse but he certainly reaped the rewards of the good years so he looks like a good target - just as Admiral Byng was 250 years ago. Shooting him would make other bank CEOs a lot more risk averse and as a general rule we want bank CEOs to be risk averse. We want them and their fellow board members to understand enough mathematics to realize what kind of funny money they are investing in and if it turns out they don't understand then it seems fitting that their incomprehension be terminiated swiftly before they can do any more harm.

Mind you I don't want to see the bank CEOs stand there alone. There's a bunch of credit rating agency workers who ought to be given a bottle of whisky and a gun and told to go think things over at the top of a cliff. And there's a bunch of politicians who should be used by the CEOs as shields against the firing squads and since politicians are really common it certainly doesn't matter if we use a few too many as shields in order to be sure to get the guilty ones.

But really it's an idea that worked 250 years ago, indeed arguably it worked 2000 years ago when the Romans called it decimation, I see no reason why it wouldn't work today.

06 May 2009 Blog Home : All May 2009 Posts : Permalink

Fat Acceptance and Thin Privilege

This week's britblog round up has a link to a post about "thin privilege" (and another one about the "evil poor" which you would do well to read and cogitate on). However this post is about the discrimination the fat people of the world face. I am sympathetic to the idea that fat people face discrimination that they shouldn't and I'm certainly of the opinion that the scum bags who want to limit health care for the fat are wrong. But I'm not buying the whole deal. Take this extract from a linked post which captures where I'm conflicted nicely:

So, what is fat phobia, and what is thin privilege? For a start, the 'thin' in 'thin privilege' does not mean "size zero". It means "of 'normal' weight". Some examples: If you can walk into Top Shop, Miss Selfridge or any other high street fashion shop and know their size range includes your clothing size, you have thin privilege. If you can book a flight without fear that other passengers will hope like hell they're not seated next to you or worse, that you will be refused entry to the flight because of your size, you have thin privilege. If you can happily travel by car or bus or train and know that the seat will be built to accommodate your arse, you have thin privilege. If you can visit your doctor without being constantly berated about losing weight and having every physical malady you suffer attributed to your size and nothing else, you have thin privilege.

Fat phobia is thin privilege in action. Fat phobia is the media's insistence on sensationalising the 'obesity epidemic' and consistently and continuously painting fat people as lazy, unhealthy slobs. Fat phobia is in the general public's pervasive and misguided belief that fat automatically means unhealthy (I'll come back to that later). Fat phobia is in the refusal of clothing manufacturers to accommodate fat people when designing clothes, meaning that the majority of us end up spending twice as much in our 'specialty shops' as a thin person would on the high street. Fat phobia is in the medical professionals too lazy and indoctrinated to do their jobs, instead sending us away every single time with the instruction that if we lose weight, we will magically no longer be depressed/have CFS/have a broken leg (I'm kidding, sort of, but it really is that bad). Fat phobia is this society, which operates on a fat=bad belief and systematically beats down anybody who dares to disagree.

Here's my take. Despite all the moaning about "naturally fat" etc. very few males and almost no females are at a normal weight if they weigh over about 120kg (260 lbs / 18.5 stone), and in fact for the majority of humankind a weight above 100kg is excessive. So, as a general rule, if you weigh more than 120kg and are not over 2m tall then you ought to lose some weight. Likewise if your waist is over 1.5m (60 inches) and you aren't pregnant then you ought to lose some weight. No fat does not automatically mean unhealthy but if you are over these thresholds you are almost certainly not just fat but unhealthily fat. So yes after a certain level fat is bad. Now it is true that not everybody who is massively fat suffers to the same extent and it is also true that rapid weight loss can trigger problems as can being too thin but the 'indoctrination' that fat is bad is in fact based on some pretty solid evidence.

However there is a fair point that it is stupid for clothing manufacturers to ignore the fat. Given that the western world ( and indeed significant chunks of the developing world) are getting fatter it is totally stupid for clothing makers to not create clothes that fit and look as good as possible on the overweight. But to some extent they are, dresses of a particular nominal size are getting larger. Trousers on the rack have lots of 40"-50" waists and fewer 30"-40" ones and so on. The problem is that their mindset remains on the skinny side. Look at the mannequins in the shop windows, look at the models on the cat walks - all are skinny if not emaciated. It seems to me a clothing chain would do well to buy some 5 foot 6 high mannequins with 45 inch waists and make sure their clothes looked good on them.

On the other hand the whine about seating is exactly that, a whine. I agree Ryanair are total scum who try and fit too many people in their planes, but on the other hand their tickets are sufficiently cheap that you can probably afford to buy 2 tickets for a ridiculously low price. And as my mother pointed out once, seeing as they charge for luggage that is overweight they ought to charge for people that are too. When you think about it, it isn't fair that a 60kg person with 30kg of luggage has to pay more than a 100kg person with 10kg of luggage.

It is certainly true that the fashion freaks and healthcare "professionals" tend to have an overly thin view of the world. Long term a few extra pounds of fat does little harm and really we can't all spend the time and effort monitoring nutrition and excerise so as to avoid putting on weight. A little bit of understanding and tolerance instead of strident preaching would go a long way. And maybe a bit of marketing thought. A bit less of the bossiness and "it's good for you" and a bit more of the  sympathy and willingness to understand how someone became overwieght would help. Furthermore the BMI scale is a misleading piece of scaremongery. For example, many sporty people end up apparently overweight or obese on the scale because it doesn't take musculature into account. If the scale is such that a Rugby forward is counted as obese then it is basicly worthless except as a bit of scaremongery. A good health scale would take into account stamina, muscle and so on.

I'm conflicted about medical professionals. On the one hand it makes no sense for them to refuse treatment to fat people in general, on the other hand it makes no sense for them to treat the symptoms when the underlying cause is clearly too much fat. It is absolutely certain that losing weight is not a panacea, and that The problem is that doctors (and other people) need to work with the possible not the ideal. Losing a few pounds sustainably is way way better than losing a lot of pounds only to see them put back on again. Unfortunately sustained weight loss is difficult - very difficult.

The problem here is that in the currently affluent developed world it is a lot easier to pile on the pounds than it is to take them off. The reason is the historical change in the cost of food and the nature of daily life. Throughout most of history people have spent a minimum of 20%, and frequently closer to 50%, of their income on food. They also have rarely had much income left once they have met the requirements of food, clothing and housing (and frequently have been unable to buy more food even if they had the money to pay for it) so their calorie intake has been regulated. This is not the case today. Food typically consumes 10%-15% of a poor household's budget and that amount drops down fast as soon as the household has one person on a full time non-minimum wage job. Furthermore food is sufficiently abundant and cheap that it is easy to spend a little more on some more. Hence these days there is little calorie intake regulation.

Contrariwise we no longer perform as much phyical activity. Manual labour jobs are comparatively scarce, people walk and bicycle less and less to travel to work or to go shopping, and so on. Furthermore, not only do we do less exercise to survive, our leisure pursuits are less energetic as well thanks to the TV, the Internet, computer games and so on. All this means that whereas many people fifty years ago found it easy to burn a few thousand calories a day, these days our sedentary lifestyle means that the only way to do this is by deliberate exercise. In other words we have to make the conscious choice to get out and exercise as part of our leisure time. For a whole bunch of reasons/excuses people don't do this and this is a problem. It seems to me that many many oversize people would benefit from being prescribed a "Wii fit" and getting in the habit of spending 20 minutes a day using it to do aerobics.

One of the nice things about the French "healthy living" campaign is that it combines both diet and exercise, as can be seen by the name "Mangerbouger.fr" (manger = to eat, bouger = to move). And that would be my solution. If you're overweight you'll exercise. If you can't exercise because you are too overweight then you probably can't work so you can get despatched somewhere where they can get you to lose weight and exercise without straining things any more. And so on. And if you can in fact do lots of exercise and are still plump then good for you.

06 May 2009 Blog Home : All May 2009 Posts : Permalink

Book Glutton and Content Protection Fail

Over at teleread there's an article by a company called Book Glutton who seem to think that we should read our ebooks on Internet connected web browsers. Unintentionally they demosntrate the idiocy of their idea by presenting a nice embedded plug-in thing on the page wherein they write about Content Protection.

Book Glutton plug in

The first problem is that this doesn't work for Opera browsers and seemed only partially OK on google chrome.

The second is that it removes the idea of user control which is the strength of ebooks - I personally found the embed way too thin in Firefox and I could imagine some people wanting the font size bigger/smaller etc. (there is a choice of 2 font sizes).

Thirdly in firefox I found that having asked for help and had a youtube video pop up I couldn't get rid of it again.

But well none of these are more than niggles compared to the question of does it protect content? And the answer to that is displayed below. It took me about 5 seconds with the firebug plugin to get the text in raw html format as I display below. I would assume that in a book with chapters it would take me about 5 seconds per chapter. The word FAIL springs to mind.

BookGlutton Content Protection

A recommendation for evaluating new services

Aaron Miller

Travis Alber


BookGlutton is a new type of service for book consumers. Instead of providing downloads of purchased books, BookGlutton makes books accessible from any device with a web browser. By providing a rich, social reading experience that rivals any desktop or device reading experience, BookGlutton hopes to change the way books are purchased, delivered and read.

Unlike many desktop applications and hardware devices, an entirely web-based service means book files are never "in the wild." Instead of files being burned to media or uploaded to The Pirate Bay, all sharing and recommendation takes place through the delivery service itself.

Until recently, people hadn't thought too much about the prospect of consuming a commercial book in a web browsing environment. But a new equation has emerged for publishers who are looking at the profit potential of this new medium. Advances in web-based layout and typography alongside technology like AJAX have enabled new levels of responsiveness and elegance in web applications. A browser-based reading experience can also be superior to any other digital reading experience simply because of its potential for integration with the rest of the web (think community, social channels, metadata, and video and audio supplements). New business models that respect this possibility will lower costs for consumers and raise profits for publishers and authors, while still protecting the rights associated with book content.

This issue of content protection is vital to our business. Internally, we protect content the way we protect credit card information: with firewalls, dedicated hardware, a secure and managed facility, 24-7 monitoring and reporting, and encrypted connections and feeds for customer and publisher data. Since the actual consumption of the content also takes place in this system, we can constantly monitor abuse or illegal copying. This means that, unlike providers of desktop apps or hardware, we can respond instantly with security patches.

The nature of sharing on our service is linking, not copying. On the web, consumers would much rather have links than files. They would also much rather share a clipping or snippet of text than an entire book. That said, the illegal copying and redistribution of text is still a concern for publishers and authors. Once the text of a book is displayed in a browser, it's susceptible to copying. Steps taken to address this concern usually involve some combination of the following measures:

1.) Dynamically generating the HTML to display pages, so "viewing source" doesn't reveal it.

2.) Chunking files into smaller segments to prevent outright copying of an entire file

3.) Chunking text to prevent outright copying of long passages

4.) Disabling right-click mouse actions or key presses such as CTRL-C

5.) Disabling the ability to select text

6.) Using Flash or some other plugin to protect text when it's displayed in the browser

7.) Creating images of each page

BookGlutton employs some of these. To employ all of them would seriously undermine the quality of the reading experience. Briefly, here is how we address each:

Disabling view source and Dynamic content generation

On BookGlutton, a user cannot lift text by viewing the page source, because we use dynamic content generation. In simple terms, the text of each page is not part of the HTML document, so the normal browser means of viewing that source code will not reveal it.

Chunking of files

Although we use the EPUB format, those files are never transferred to the browser. Instead, our system outputs only the portions of the EPUB file which the user has access to, and it does so one section at a time. Our system allows for selective control of which sections in an EPUB get sent to the browser.

Chunking of text content

Put simply, this refers to pagination. Text from a book is only displayed in page-sized chunks, one page at a time. Since a digital "page" is a variable run defined by screen and font size, often the amount of text per page is less than what fits on a printed page, so, for example, a 300-page book on paper might become a 1,000 page book on the screen. On a mobile device, it might be 5,000 pages.

Disabling right click

We don't disable right-clicking, because we think right-clicking is useful. We may someday repurpose it to display an action menu different from the typical browser menu. Actions in such a menu would not include copy and paste but would present options like share, annotate, highlight, mark for discussion, etc.

Disabling selection of text

We don't disable the selection of text because ultimately we want people to be able to annotate selected portions of text, or link to granular chunks of each page. This is how people expect to use the Web, and allowing it generates more overall interest in content. It gets harder to discuss a book when you can't select something to spark discussion.

Using Flash, plugins or extensions

We've built our platform on open, vendor-neutral standards with very wide adoption. We want to guarantee the widest reach as a distribution platform, and don't want to be dependent on non-neutral standards or technologies that are not supported on some mobile devices.

Creating images of each page

We are also committed to the emerging EPUB standard and reflowable books, so creating images of the pages severely limits the screen sizes on which our books can be read, makes text less legible, and goes against the intentions and purpose of the EPUB format.


To summarize, while encrypting files protects them "in the wild," it does very little when they are already in a highly secure web system. Using Adobe's form of EPUB encryption, for example, in a web system would require decrypting book content before sending it to the browser, which would defeat the purpose of the encryption. Besides, the web already offers strong encryption for securing that content in its path from server to browser, and it's the same encryption used to transmit passwords and credit card numbers: SSL.

New criteria are needed for evaluating the risks of web-based services. Instead of vetting a service based on whether it licenses and uses a particular form of file encryption or DRM, it's far better to require the following:

1.) Users identify themselves before purchasing, sharing or consuming content

2.) Content is chunked, and the entire file is never available to the consumer

3.) The platform is based on linking, not copying

4.) The service and the content are tied together, so that one without the other represents a significant drop in value for the consumer

5.) The service's network architecture meets the same stringent requirements for the storing of credit card data and other sensitive information, meaning:

a.) It runs on dedicated hardware in a secure facility

b.) It transfers files and sensitive data from publishers over secure, encrypted channels

c.) It has 24-7 monitoring, reporting and alerting, so compromises and abuse are instantly addressable

We are headed quickly into a future where almost all intellectual commodities get distributed through the web. Instead of fearing this, we need to face the reality that the web is the one network that empowers people to find exactly what they're looking for, and enjoy it with others. That's something people are willing to pay for. The "long tail" of publishing will be on the Web, as it has been for other industries, and we hope you look forward to it as much as we do.

06 May 2009 Blog Home : All May 2009 Posts : Permalink

New Server

I hope this was invisible but the Di2.nu site moved from one virtual thingumy to another one a few hours ago. Interesting new things may show up in the next few days....

08 May 2009 Blog Home : All May 2009 Posts : Permalink

Friday Olive Tree Blogging

The olive tree buds are forming
20090508 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.

08 May 2009 Blog Home : All May 2009 Posts : Permalink

The Shallowness of OpenSource Bugs

So while my installs of Ubuntu 9-04 (Jaunty) have been mostly problem free there was one issue that showed up. I have a server which I use as the home print server and has an old HP LaserJet 1100 connected to it via the parallel port. Unfortunately the printer was not being detected in Jaunty though it did work in previous ubuntus. I raised a bug - which turned out to be a dublicate of this one - and which someone figured out a fix to within a day or two.

Thanks to the open source nature of Ubuntu and its bug tracking it is easy for other people who find they have the same problem to learn what the fix is. Furthermore thanks to the way things work I was also able to add a cautionary note to the Ubuntu Commuity Printer documentation.

It occurs to me that had a similar bug showed up with a Microsoft Windows release it would be rather harder to get a response and almost impossible to flag a warning on a Microsoft site to warn others. All in all it seems like this is a classic example of Eric Raymond's statement in "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" that

Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow

15 May 2009 Blog Home : All May 2009 Posts : Permalink

20090515 Friday Olive Tree Blogging

Since I've been on my travels this week I'm putting up an image I took a couple of months ago. This is a picture of the olive groves just below Châteauneuf. At one time much of the landscape around Grasse looked like this with olive trees all over the place and few houses. These days the villas are everywhere. The laws mean that the olive trees themselves generally remain but you don't get the same expanse of trees as in the old days.
20090515 - 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.

16 May 2009 Blog Home : All May 2009 Posts : Permalink

MP Expenses

Some thoughts on the news that many British MPs are really good at claiming on expenses stuff that shouldn't have been there.

Firstly - as Guido and Simon Hoggart note we need a proper name. I suggest "Gravygate" seeing as the participants have been on the gravy train for a while.

Secondly - as various people have pointed out (DK for one, Norman Tebbit for two) - the point here is not whether individual claims for expenses are reasonable or not, it is the overall climate of corruption and apparent inability to understand ethical behaviour. It is in fact further proof of Henry Kissinger's aphorism that:

Ninety percent of the politicians give the other ten percent a bad reputation.

It is no good whining about how "other professions" (e.g. journalists) get away with worse, it is no good saying "other countries are worse" or that MPs are terribly low paid (a claim which is laughable - they are in the top 3% of wage earners). In the private sector - particularly in the self-employed / small business part of the private sector - expense claims are not "free money". Yes you get to avoid being taxed on that part of the income when it is reimbursed but effectively it is your (company's) income derived from your (company's products/services) and if you spend too lavishly
  1. you end up not having any money to live on
  2. you end up getting a visit from the taxman wondering whether the expenses are justified
Let me give a personal example: I have just spent four days in Budapest. Because of the nature of the business even though I will be reimbursed by my (small company) employer I still had to consider the price of hotels, travel etc. because if we claim too much on expenses then our clients won't give us new contracts. In fact since I was running a marathon in Prague last Sunday, rather than fly to Budapest I took the train (7 hours and €54 vs about 2 hours and €350) and I flew back using Easyjet. I also know that some of my expenses (a few €1 subway tickets and a couple of €3 railway sandwiches for example) will not be reimbursed because I'll not be able to produce receipts. This does not concern me. I earn enough that losing a few euros is not a big deal. But I didn't need to swallow these losses, I could have taken taxis or eaten in restaurants and got receipts. I didn't because I consider that to be extravagent, I figure that if I wouldn't do it if I was paying for it personally I shouldn't do it if someone else is. MPs and other public servants (e.g. those scammers at the UN)
probably ought to bear that in mind when they submit expenses.

I'm not alone in this belief, the CTO and co-founder/owner of one of our client companies flies RyanAir and stays in cheap hotels and I know a bunch of other people who do likewise. The difference between us and the MPs is that we understand that it is OUR money.

Thirdly - Openness is the only way to stop this. If you know that your expenses are going to be examined by random strangers you may consider that the easiest defense to being perceived as on the take is not to make the claim in the first place. David Cameron seems to have grasped this which is good.

Fourthly - it occurs to me that journalists need to be really careful here because in the current generally pissed off mood of the British public it is becoming obvious that the hacks really haven't done much work to justify their salaries either. It was a single inidividual who pushed the FOI requests. It has been the bloggers and the think tanks who have set up the websites like "TheyWorkForYou" and done the digging that has led to this situation. The media could have done this but they didn't - not until all the hard work had been done and all they had to do was write up the results.

Fifthly - (thanks partly to Private Eye) "It might be enforceable in a court of law, this contract – but it is not enforceable in the court of public opinion, and that is where the government steps in." is what the Harperson said about Sir Fred the Shred. I find it rather amusing haw the nuance changes now that the Harperson and her MP colleagues are up in the dock of the "court of public opinion"...

Sixthly - and partly inspired by the Harperson's whine last week regarding the expenses row providing support to the BNP. Whining, begging and pointing to bogeymen is not a good way to win elections. If ZANU labour is reduced to this then they are basicly toast. Meanwhile, if the BNP gets enough support to win enough council seats they actually have to govern something. The chances are high that they will fail miserably and end up being just as discredited as everyone else.

Seventh - If MPs don't like the scrutiny they might want to consider some of their policies regarding the surveillance etc. of the rest of the UK population. After all the argumement the big government folk put about is that only the guilty have anything to fear as a result of all the increased snooping and data gathering. Going on their reactions MPs would seem to be very very guilty.

18 May 2009 Blog Home : All May 2009 Posts : Permalink

Nailing Their Trousers To The Mast

Douglas Carswell MP has tabled his motion of No Confidence calling for the Speaker of the House of Commons to resign. As noted on his blog and elsewhere this is historic because it has never been done in over 300 years. Also worth noting is that he has 14 co-signatories including members of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties. The gang of 15 is:

For those counting that makes 3 Labour, and six each from the Lib Dems and Conservatives.

It might be a nice idea if UK readers contact their MP (either via the House of Commons (020 7219 3000 ) or Theyworkforyou) to suggest that they support this measure.

19 May 2009 Blog Home : All May 2009 Posts : Permalink

Time For a British Revolution?

The largest online petition at Number 10 is, by a long way, a request that Gordon Brown resign. The party he leads is lying somewhere around 20%-25% popularity in the opinion polls which implies that 75%-80% of the population would prefer someone else run the country. That is means that for every labour supporter there are three or four opponents.

There are a number of reasons for this, from economic mismanagement to sleaze, and they have been blogged about and covered in news stories for months. The problem is that under the current British consititution (such as it is) we can't force him out except by a parliamentary vote of no confidence or until 5 years after the previous election. Since the Labour Party has a large absolute majority he can win any no confidence vote unless a large number of Labour MPs don't vote or vote against their government.

The Speaker of the House of Commons, the person who runs the legislature is also a manifestly unpopular failure. His job means he should be impartial or neutral with regard to the government and that he should defend parliament's privileges against the executive and their employees. He should also have the respect of his fellow MPs and the electorate. Michael Martin had lost the respect of many MPs and much of the electorate before yesterday's chaotic events. I think he lost a good 50% of the remaining supporters by his inability to speak coherently and by his apparent surprise at being on the receiving end of such criticism. Everything he said sounded like a man trying to play for time - report in the Autumn, no time for debate, up to the government to schedule...

The problem here is twofold. Firstly he appears to be a classic case of the Peter principle - a man promoted one or two ranks above his competence grade. He's been uninspiring in his ability to direct debate within the chamber and he seems to have been even worse at managing the various back office functions that he is responsible for. Secondly he seems to be a partisan hack instead of a neutral figure. He seems to owe his job to manoevers by labour party leaders (i.e. the government) and the Damien Green incident indicates that he in fact sees his job as being a part of the government (i.e. the executive branch) rather than a defender of Parliament's rights (the legislature) to criticize the government.

His recent behaviour in regard to expenses row has meant that even if he is in fact trying to be a neutral impartial figure he appears to the outside world to be a classic obfuscatory lying minister. It doesn't help his cause that he has a strong scottish accent. I have nothing against the North British (via my mother I have a certain amount of gaelic genes as it happens) but right now a scottish accent in an MP signals a labour MP. And given the number of scottish ministers it also signals someone who is part of Gordon Brown's cabinet. Which he isn't.

However he also managed yesterday to combine with the PM to do a classic bureacratic slopey-shoulders trick. The PM says its up to the Speaker to manage business in the house (which is correct in large part). The Speaker says it is up to the PM/government to schedule substantive debates (also correct). As a result when Douglas Carswell's gang of 15 20+ request debate on a motion that the speaker resign both can point fingers at the other and say it is up to him to find time for it.

I think we may be coming to the point at which even these ZANU labour scum realize that the longer they cling to power the worse the fall is going to be. Does anyone seriously expect the UK economy to be in rosy cheeked form a year from now? Does anyone expect that voters are going to forget all the sleaze? certainly not when they'll be reminded of it by political adverts from their opponents. It could well be that ZANU labour loses the election so badly that they end up being the third party in parliament and possibly even the fourth party in England. The UK wants these people out and out now. If they don't leave voluntarily we may be looking at the Cromwell option for dissolving Parliament:

At 11 o'clock in the morning of 20 April 1653, Cromwell led a company of musketeers to Westminster. Having secured the approaches to the House, he addressed the Members, calmly at first, then with rising anger as he told them that their sitting was permanently at an end and they must leave.

And talking of which I do hope that Douglas Carswell or one of his fellows will quote Cromwell's words to parliament when he disolved the rump. I mean really he could have been DK or Guido talking about today's bunch of scumbags:

“...It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonoured by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice; ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money.

“Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess? Ye have no more religion than my horse; gold is your God; which of you have not barter'd your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth?

“Ye sordid prostitutes, have you not defil'd this sacred place, and turn'd the Lord's temple into a den of thieves by your immoral principles and wicked practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redress'd; your country therefore calls upon me to cleanse the Augean Stable, by putting a final period to your iniquitous proceedings, and which by God's help and the strength He has given me, I now come to do.

“I command ye, therefore, upon the peril of your lives, to depart immediately out of this place! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors. You have sat here too long for the good you do. In the name of God, go!”

A version of Oliver Cromwell's speech dismissing Parliament
20 April 1653

19 May 2009 Blog Home : All May 2009 Posts : Permalink

Ding Dong The Speaker's Gone!

OK so Gorbals Mick is out and a month from now we'll have a new Speaker of the House of Commons. Although technically speaking he resigned, I think it is fair to say that this makes him second after Sir John Trevor in 1695 to be removed from office even though the Wapping Liar disagrees. Sir John was thrown out for taking bribes, Michael Martin quit because hetried and failed to hide how other MPs were taking liberties with government money.

As an aside, I find it interesting to note that the BBC (and other) bios of him call him a former sheet metal worker. He is 64 years old and has been an MP for 30 of them. That means he became an MP at age 34. He was also, the BBC notes, a trades union organizer. Apparently he left school at 15 (Wikipedia) so he worked as a sheet metal worker for a maximum of 19 years and Wikipedia informs us that:

He later worked in the Rolls-Royce plant at Hillington, and was an Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union shop steward from 1970 to 1974. In 1973, Martin was elected as a Labour councillor on Glasgow Corporation, a position he retained until he was elected to the Parliament of the United Kingdom. He also served as a trade union organiser with the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE) between 1976 and 1979.

It would I think be more accurate to say that he was a professional politician after spending about 10 years in his late teens and early twenties actually working for a living.

It is also not really worth worrying about whether we've been harsh on the poor working-class chappie. He's not exactly going to be starving as he'll be getting a very nice index linked pension, which starts at somewhere around £100,000* a year, until he shuffles off this mortal coil. To put this in perspective the state pension for a couple is £152.30 a week = £7,920 a year or roughly 8% of Martin's pension. One wonders how many pensioners in his constituency have to live on the latter ...

*pension is half MPs salary plus half speaker's salary i.e. £102578.5 = (£141866 +£63291)/2

22 May 2009 Blog Home : All May 2009 Posts : Permalink

20090522 - Friday Olive Tree Blogging

This year the olive trees in our garden seem to be flowering more than they sometimes do. With luck this means a decent crop of olives in about 6 months time. If they start to develop I think this year I'm going to spray against the olive fly because it's about time I actually made a reasonable amount of oil.
20090522 - 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.

25 May 2009 Blog Home : All May 2009 Posts : Permalink

The Hypocritical Barclay Bros

It seems that the Barclay Brothers don't handle criticism very well. In fact they get really really upset when people make speculative posts about their motives. On Friday "Mad Nad" Dorries wrote a blog post where she discussed the possibility that the Daily Telegraph (owned by the Brothers B) might be running their chinese water torture of daily expenses exposures in order to ensure that minor parties benefit in the upcoming Euro elections. Subsequently her blog was removed from the Internet thanks to some quick work on behalf of the Brothers B by Messrs Sue Grabbit and Runne the legal eagles at Withers. Dizzy explains the sequence of events:

So we have just thirty minutes between receipt of notice and the total takedown of the blog, with the lawyers having chosen to contact Nadine on her Parliamentary address, on a Friday evening in Recess. The complaints against Nadine from the lawyers came in two areas, firstly complaint of false allegations against Telegraph Media Group, and secondly, false allegations against the Barclay brothers.

You can put me in the group of people who thinks Nadine Dorries MP is not always able to correctly differentiate truth from fiction and, in fact, in the (overlapping) group that thinks that she's being a bit too defensive of her fellow MPs. However I'm also in the group that thinks that the Daily Telegraph's politics team seems to have a grudge against her and more importantly in the group that thinks that she should be allowed to speculate in public. Indeed you can stick me the the group that thinks that having lawyers act like this indicates that the Brothers B may actually have something to hide because the more sane reaction to her blog post would be to laugh it off as the ravings of a paranoid.

Hence as a public service, and as part of the Spartacus defense,  I'm going to publish on a linked page everything that Nadine Dorries wrote on May 22 and to save people the bother of clicking through here are her more interesting speculations:

The Telegraph are uncovering a few cases of fraud, but not enough, so they are more than slightly embellishing some of the stories. I write as a case in point.

Enter the Barclay brothers, the billionaire owners of The Daily Telegraph.
Rumour is that they are fiercely Euro sceptic and do not feel that either of the main parties are Euro sceptic enough. They have set upon a deliberate course to destabilise Parliament, with the hope that the winners will be UKIP and BNP.

A quick online check of the Barclay brothers and their antics on the Island of Sark is enough to give this part of the rumour credence.

Another rumour is that the disc was never acquired and sold by an amateur, but it was in fact a long term undercover operation run by the Telegraph for some considerable time, carefully planned and executed; and that the stories of the naive disc nabber ringing the news desk in an attempt to sell the stolen information are entirely the work of gossip and fiction.

These rumours do have some credibility given that this has all erupted during the European Election Campaign and turn out is expected to be high with protest votes, courtesy of the Daily Telegraph, or should I say the Barclay brothers.

Now, if this is all a power game executed by the BBs, how would they do that?
It is a fact that these men are no fools and are in fact self-made billionaires.
I would imagine and believe that if any of this is true, they know the British psyche well enough to whip up a mood of public anger, hence the long running revelations in the DT.

It is worth noting that the Brothers B don't take criticism lightly. They sued the Wapping Liar for suggesting that they bought up businesses on the cheap and they also reacted negatively when voters on Sark rejected their candidates in elections last year.

26 May 2009 Blog Home : All May 2009 Posts : Permalink

Sony: Fencing Off The Internet

Michael Lynton, the CEO of Sony, attracted a certain amount of notoriety for saying that

"I'm a guy who sees nothing good having come from the Internet. Period."

In a Huffington Post article he goes and extends that idiocy demonstrating that he really really doesn't get it. The problem is illustrated neatly in about paragraph three where he writes:

[M]y point is this: the major content businesses of the world and the most talented creators of that content -- music, newspapers, movies and books -- have all been seriously harmed by the Internet.

Some of that damage has been caused by changing business models (the FTC just announced an inquiry into the impact of new media on the newspaper industry). But the primary culprit is piracy. The Internet has brought people with no regard for the intellectual property of others together with a technology that allows them to easily steal that property and sell or give it away to everyone, with little fear of being caught or prosecuted.

The "piracy" is, in my humble opinion, caused in very large part by the fact that the major content businesses of the world have still not grasped how the Internet changes their previous business model. Examples are widespread and indeed Mr Lynton goes on a few paragraphs later to show one:

I've already seen it happen in South Korea, which has one of the most highly developed broadband networks in the world. But piracy has also become so highly developed there that we and virtually every other studio has recently had to curtail or close down our home entertainment businesses. It's hard to sell a legal DVD when it can be stolen without any repercussions.

Where is it written in the laws of the universe that movies must be sold to punters by DVD? People don't see the value in paying for the product offered in that form. It is also worth pointing out that the movie studios have tended until very recently to release DVDs only some weeks or months after the movie has been released in cinemas. In the current digital world there is no excuse for this other than that the studios wish to maximize their revenue. Unfortunately for the studios, the consumers don't want to play by these monopolistic rules and now they have the tools to permit them to avoid the rules.

It's a bit like how prohibition (and for that matter the war on drugs) failed. If only a few people want what is forbidden and/or it is hard to get then these arbitrary restrictions hold. If not then they don't. There is, as Mr Lynton describes, clear demand for content delivered digitally (at the time of cinematic release - I add). If the studios were to offer simple download options via ISPs, Amazon etc. then people might buy them. Until the recent introduction of services such as Hulu and Netflix/Roku they haven't offered this option. It's kind of like feeding vegetables to a cat and then wondering why the cat persists in catching mice.

He then proposes  enforcing his worldview on all of us through the use of "guardrails":

Contrast the expansion of the Internet with what happened a half century ago. In the 1950's, the Eisenhower Administration undertook one of the most massive infrastructure projects in our nation's history -- the creation of the Interstate Highway System. It completely transformed how we did business, traveled, and conducted our daily lives. But unlike the Internet, the highways were built and operated with a set of rational guidelines. Guard rails went along dangerous sections of the road. Speed and weight limits saved lives and maintenance costs. And officers of the law made sure that these rules were obeyed. As a result, as interstates flourished, so did the economy. According to one study, over the course of its first four decades of existence, the Interstate Highway System was responsible for fully one-quarter of America's productivity growth.

I suggest that Mr Lynton has got the wrong metaphor. What he is seeking to build are not "guard-rails" but the sorts of fences and walls that impede progress. If I might modify his metaphor it is like taking a piece of unimproved prarie and putting fences on it so that travellers cannot roam where they will. If he actually built an interstate then maybe people would accept guard-rails because the investment in building the road allows users to travel faster and in greater comfort, but fencing off land without providing a benefit for the land-grab tends to lead other people to object and look for ways around.

Of course he then worries that he's going to lose his cushy job and begs us to think of the sharecroppers starving artists:

But, without standards of commerce and more action against piracy, the intellectual property of humankind will be subject to infinite exploitation on the Internet. How many people will be as motivated to write a book or a song, or make a movie if they know it is going to be immediately stolen from them and offered to the world with no compensation whatsoever? And how many people whose work is connected with those creative industries -- the carpenters, drivers, food service workers, and thousands of others -- will lose their jobs as piracy robs their business of resources?

The question about how many artists will be motivated to create is quickly answered: lots. To be sure some creators of purely commercial pap may decide to look for a different way to put beans on the table. However anyone who associates with writers, musicians, actors etc. knows that large numbers of people persist in these occupations for minimal wages because they have the urge to create. Indeed given the fact that the creative artists get such a small percentage of the gross take all we're talking about here is the loss of money to the non-creative middlemen who take the creative output and turn it into overpriced product.

There have been numerous experiments that show that artists / authors etc. who openly explain their circumstances to their fans and communicate with them can attract money over the internet. Significant money even. Indeed there is plenty of evidence to suggest that many of the largest "pirates" are also the major purchasers of creative content.

In fact there is the possibility that rather than imperil creativity the internet permits consumers to move to different funding models that cut out the rapacious exploitative middleman. And yes that may affect the gardeners and drivers who are paid by the middlemen but that doesn't sound like a good reason to worry.

All in all this is the classic pitch of the buggy whip reseller protesting about the fact that automobiles don't need buggy-whips rather than changing business into something that they do such as gasoline.

28 May 2009 Blog Home : All May 2009 Posts : Permalink

Google Wave - A Spiffy Wiki?

So I've read a number of the Google Wave blog posts and press coverage etc. and I think I understand what the product will be. And, um, the core concept seems to be the venerable Wiki collaboration tool. Oh no one actually calls it a wiki but a collaboration tool that provides static documents as output sure sounds like a wiki to me.

Now I'm sure that the sexy Web 2.0 AJAXy nature of Wave makes it a lot easier to use than the average Wiki. Indeed if you wanted to me point out the primary weakness of a wiki it is that it generally fails to accept input that isn't plain text typed in using a very basic editor. So if Google has indeed tarted up the Wiki then this is a good thing. But if that's it then what's all the fuss about? surely I'm missing something (and no I don't see autoadding Tweets as anything special).

30 May 2009 Blog Home : All May 2009 Posts : Permalink

20090529 - Belated Friday Olive Tree Blogging

[I had this post all ready to go when the Internet died chez nous last night. Apologies to all ovive fetishists]
It is the time of year to have aperitifs under the shadow of the olive tree. What could be better than pastis and olives...
20090529 - 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.