L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

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

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

Scenic Running

The great thing about blogging is that you can write about whatever you please. So I'm taking a moment to write about running which is something She Who Must Be Obeyed (SWMBO) and I greatly enjoy doing. The joy of running is that you can do it almost anywhere and that you can find excuses to visit really pretty places. We have recently visted Rome and Prague thanks to running in marathons (and on the way to the former also visited Pisa and Lucca) but to be honest we're just as interested in running in places with natural as opposed to human beauty.
Prague Rome Marathon (Maratona di Roma) Lucca, Toscana
The great advantage of the French Riviera is that is is a very scenic area. As a result our training runs are often visual (and olfactory) treats. This flickr album has a lot of great images that I've taken over the last few months... Plascassier - Valbonne - Mouans Sartoux training run Estérel - Oeufs de Bouc/Vallon de la Cadière Estérel - Oeufs de Bouc/Vallon de la Cadière Plascassier-Chateauneuf-Opio-Le Rouret-Maganosc run Esterel - Trois Thermes/Pic de l'Ours Esterel - Trois Thermes/Pic de l'Ours Plascassier - Valbonne - Mouans Sartoux training run Plascassier - Valbonne - Mouans Sartoux training runRH3 Run 604 AuribeauEsterel - Trois Thermes/Pic de l'Ours
And then there are the local races we have entered. We've done the serious traditional races like the Nice and Cannes Half Marathons but to be honest I prefer the ones that are slightly less mainstream. We've done three of these this year. The first was the "Ronde des Collines Niçoises" which was a combination wine-tasting and 18km run.

Collines Niçoises 2009 Collines Niçoises 2009Collines Niçoises 2009Collines Niçoises 2009
Then there was the Ascension day "Ascension de Gourdon", a 12.5km run with a 550m climb.
L'Ascension de Gourdon - 21 May 2009 L'Ascension de Gourdon - 21 May 2009 L'Ascension de Gourdon - 21 May 2009 L'Ascension de Gourdon - 21 May 2009
Finally (so far) on Saturday we did our first trail race. The race was called the Trail de la Peïra and took place in the Vesubie valley behind Nice:
Trail de la Peïra Trail de la Peïra Trail de la Peïra Trail de la Peïra Trail de la Peïra
PS when you click on the images you'll see themlarger and you'll be able to navigate around to see ones that I didn't put in this post. Enjoy!

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

Paying for MPs

At least one of the underlying causes of MPs abusing expenses has been the unwillingness of MPs and government ministers to honestly admit that MPs believe they should be paid considerably more than they are paid now. I am personally unconvinced about this and one suspects that MPs know that which is why they've tried to get an "off-balance sheet" pay rise. To put it into perspective (thanks Guido) take a look at this graph created by/for Michael Blastland at the BBC's online Magazine:
 MPs' pay 1
Just MP expenses make them better off in terms of weekly post tax income than more than a quarter (third?) of the British population. Their salary (sans expenses) puts them safely in the top quarter of the population and the combination of the two shoots them up into the top 5% or so. Now I don't know what MPs salary should be, what their real expenses are and whether their constituents get value for money or not but I do know that MPs seem to be very bad at communicating their value to their constituents - evidence for this includes the fact that the "apathy" vote seems to be increasing at elections which is clearly a bad idea if you want the people to be involved in their government. MPs also seem to be only too happy to try and write laws that allow them special perks and privileges that are not available to hoi polloi, this includes attempts to let themselves opt out of the more burdensome aspects of the tax regime.

It seems to me that there may be a way to fix all of these issues in one go. The fundamental rule of economics is "incentives matter" so what we need to do is come up with a way to incentivise our MPs to communicate with their constituents and convince them that they provide value for money. The way to do this is to make MPs live off the charity of their constituents. Parliamentary constituencies have between 50,000-100,000 inhabitants. If each inhabitant forks over £1/year then the MP is being paid roughly what he or she gets paid today. If each inhabitant forks over £5 a year the MP will be in the top 2% or so of national income and would be as well of as today even including paying for researchers, office space, second homes etc.

Of course the trick is that the MP either has to convince most people in the constituency to contribute or he/she has to solicit far larger sums from a dedicated few supporters. Now that is the basic plan (not to be confused with The Plan - though I admit being inspired by it in part). There are two wrinkles to make the whole thing even more sneaky.

The benefits of this scheme seem clear. Because MPs get paid by their constituents they have an enormous incentive to work for their benefit and to communicate what they have done. They also have to justify all expenses to the voters and the taxman, whether they are plasma screen TVs or family members being employed as researchers or babysitters. Of course if they don't want to justify/disclose these things then they pay for them out of their salary but then they have to pay tax on them just as everyone else does.

The fact that MPs would have to hold fund-raisers means that they must get out amongst their constituents and communicate with them if they don't have a second income. This does potentially reduce the amount of time they have to pass/debate laws but more importantly it means they will have a far greater incentive to be in the constituency than in London or jetting off on a jolly somewhere.

In addition by making MPs deal with the taxman as a small business as well as an individual they get to see the UK tax system at its worst and have lots and lots of incentive to simplify it and reduce corporate taxation.

All in all the more I think of it the better it sounds....

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


Here's a question for the readership (and no peeking down below where the answer is given).

Looking at these graphs can you tell which one of the various alphabet soup plots is different?
What is the difference?
No? not so clear? Well perhaps I can explain slightly.

What we are looking at here is the correlation between certain two measurements as produced by various climate change models. The X axis is the change is Sea Surface Temperature (SST) per year as measured. The Y axis is the change in output radiation per year as predicted in a number of different models. The correlation matters because if there is a positive correlation (slope from bottom left to top right) then it indicates that there is a negative feedback loop in SST change such that the hotter the sea gets the more heat is radiated away. If, on the other hand, there is a negative correlation (slope from top left to bottom right) then it indicates that there is a positive feedback loop in that the sea retains/absobs more heat the hotter it gets. This is a Bad Thing® and is what all the global warming people are so worried about.

So now do you see the diffence after the trend lines are added in?
Lines make it easier to spot the difference
As you can see the consensus view of the models is that there is a positive feedback loop. Only ERBE bravely goes goes against the consensus. Obviously this model should be thrown away because it's doing something wrong.

Except there's one teeny tiny problemette. ERBE is the actual observed radiation reported by satellites. In other words it looks like actually it's all the other graphs that should be thrown away because they are doing it wrong.


(Graphs from this powerpoint presentation by Dr. Richard Lindzen via the excellent WattsUpWithThat blog)

03 June 2009 Blog Home : All June 2009 Posts : Permalink

Westminster in Denial

Who knew that some cunning cartographer had renamed the Thames as it passes the Houses of Parliament but really that's the only conclusion I can come up with as I read the news.

A month or so back I talked about the sinking Gordon deserting his rat. Well the well leaked reshuffle where he planned to desert the rest of the rats and get a new load after tomorrow's electoral disaster seems to have caused all sorts of rats to decide that they'd rather jump than be pushed.

But yet while there are endless reports that ZANU Labour Rank and File MPs are busy looking for alternative sources of employment because they can tell they won't get re-elected, not all of ZANU Labour's leadership seems to recognise the problem. Take the boy Dave (M):

Mr Miliband gave Mr Brown another headache yesterday by insisting that he wanted to remain as Foreign Secretary for another four years. “I’m focusing on my job. I have got four more years until I beat Ernie Bevin as the longest-serving foreign secretary,” he said.

At least we understand the source of the Nile renaming. It's Britain's oh so competent FCO and their political master. Just how does the boy Dave (M) expect to remain in government for four more years? He's the minister in a government that is about as unpopular as any UK government has ever been (various Stuarts, Peel's second stint (1841-46) are probably the main contenders) and which has to have a general election sometime in the next year. The chances of ZANU labour being in government after this election are currently about as likely as Iran and Israel signing a peace deal so even if the boy Dave (M) survives this reshuffle he's going to miss out on his target by some considerable margin.
The same Torygraph article also reports that Harriet Harperson has been partaking of FCO Koolaid:

Harriet Harman, Labour’s deputy leader, was forced into a desperate denial of claims that Mr Brown’s administration was in meltdown. “It is not the wheels falling off the Government,” she said.

Of course it is possible that she was cruelly cut off by the reporter and that she actually went on to say "in fact it is the government falling off the wheels" but one suspects not.

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

Sarko The Sex Dwarf?

Clive Davis' blog at the Speccie links to an interesting article about Sarkozy in Prospect magazine. The author is a British lady who has lived in France for decades and who therefore knows quite a lot about her subject but I do wonder if she didn't write this particular piece working backwards from her conclusion.

Her discussion of why the French voted by signifcant margin for Sarkozy compared to his rival Ségolène Royale seemes to me to be at best partial. Here's what she says:

In a culture unreconstructed by either of the great movements that have fashioned Anglo-Saxon society (Protestantism and feminism), the libido is still a force to be reckoned with in France. The last presidential election was not a battle between left and right but rather a contest between two “styles”—one gentle, the other tough; one consensual, the other coercive; one feminine, the other masculine. In the end, the French opted, not for the reassuring arms of Ségolène Royal and her “gentle revolution,” but for Nicolas Sarkozy, the libidinous sex dwarf. All the iconography of the presidential campaign pointed to the subliminal forces in the battleground. Picture Royal, dressed all in white, as if in homage to that alliance of virginity and female power embodied in such icons as Elizabeth I and Joan of Arc. Now picture Sarkozy, short and strutting in an oversized and sweat-stained suit, like France’s favourite dictator, the potent and charismatic Napoleon Bonaparte. Sarkozy, like Bonaparte, has all the characteristics of the sex dwarf: he is short, shamelessly flirtatious and tireless in his pursuit of women.

Maybe I move in the wrong circles but it didn't seem to me that my neighbours wanted Sarko because he was a sex dwarf but because they wanted a change from the drift of the Chirac era and for that matter the whole cohabitation thing that meant that both Chirac and his predecessor Mitterand had governed by some sort of consensus. In many ways you could compare the Sarko Ségo battle as a prequel to the Obama campaign - though Sarko was significantly more experienced than Obama - with Sarko, like Obama, campaigning for "change" and "can do" spirit. Ségo also came off terribly in TV debates and interviews where she seemed to be fundamentally clueless about key issues. Sarko, on the other hand, could rattle off statistics and trends with the best of them. France two years ago was a nation crying out for change and a general chucking out of the then current out of touch elites. Sarko, despite being an insider, managed to portray himself as an outsider (it didn't hurt that Chirac and other UMP grandees visibly hated him) whereas Ségo, despite her victories against the socialist elephants, still seemed to be one of the gauche caviar. It certainly didn't help her cause that the media, apart from those bits owned by Sarko buddies, lined up on her side. What one got by watching, particularly, the state France 2 and France 3 channels was that Sarko was (if I can translate to British terms) a kind of pushy little oik with pretensions above his station whereas Ségo was "one of us" and therefore entitled to be elected.

[It may not be a coincidence that Sarko has forbidden France 2 and 3 from having advertisements at certain popular times of day and thereby almost certainly reduced their budget.]

Having said that a lot of her article is very sound. Both on Sarko's achievements to date - significant but not as "rupture"ous as some of us hoped for - and his relationship with the French populace. These couple of blog post from Charles Bremner are also informative on Sarko's reforms and it is interesting to compare and contrast the two.

In terms of political strategy it seems to me Sarko has been practically Napoleonic. He has shamelessly nicked popular ideas from both the left and further right and also co-opted any number of sound leftish politicians with the result that his opponents come across like the lunatic fringe they mostly are - at least they do so when they aren't too busy with inter/intra-factional fights that remind one of Monty Python's Life of Brian and the Judean Peoples' Front vs the Popular Front of Judea. As Bremner suggests it is hard to imagine him losing power at the next election - not even Bayrou, his most coherent opponent, would win in a head to head today despite Sarko's generally negative ratings. I suspect this is because Sarko is seen as the best of a pretty bad bunch. No the French don't really like Sarko and yes he does shoot his mouth off and yes he has a remarkably thin skin but he does actually do things, France's economy is not (yet) mired in depression the way the US, UK and German ones are and so on.

On balance then he's just another politician with all their faults. And this brings me back to Sarko the Sex Dwarf. When he and his previous wife divorced, and he then swiftly shacked up with Carla Bruni I think people worried that he was going to be just as sexually active as previous presidents but that he'd do it in public instead of being discreet the way they were. The last year has shown this to be untrue and, since Carla Bruni is unlikely to remain quiet if he strays, it seems he is now faithfully monogamous, no matter what rumours swirl about his past. Sarko may, as Ms Wadham suggests, enjoy looking at attractive women but he doesn't seem to acting the Sex Dwarf with anyone other than Carla. Arguably this is a rarity in French presidents.

I will however note one other major way that Sarko and his allies differ from almost any other group of politicians except - interestingly the UK's Cameroons are similar. Sarkozy and co are joggers. Sarko was in the news fairly recently because his neighbours complained about the disturbance caused by his early morning runs - the problem is that he has numerous security outriders on motorbikes IIRC. This year (and IIRC previous years) Sarko pal Christian Estrosi - currently mayor of Nice and minister - ran the Nice Half Marathon (he finished in about 1h55 which is quite respectable). Other members of Sarko's cabinet have also been seen running - including the Prime Minister François Fillon. I don't know how much this endears them to the non-sporting parts of the populace but it seems to me that the large numbers of French people who do sport rather appreciate having political leaders who also sweat and don't just show up in the VIP section at sports events.

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

Unfortunate Signage

I took a break from work and watching the ZANU labour meltdown and went for a Sarkozy round the locality. On my way I passed a building that I keep on meaning to photograph - and this time I had my camera with me.
Vloem what?
If you click on the image you can see it enlarged to make sure you really did read what you thought you read and then you can click here to find out what it really says...

05 June 2009 Blog Home : All June 2009 Posts : Permalink

Sed Noli Modo*

I've been watching the boy Dave (C)'s webcameron response (embedded below I trust) to the slow-motion collapse of ZANU labour and I can't help but feel that he's being somewhat stingy with the truth.

The bit I'm suspicious of is the place where he says it's time for an election now. I don't think he means it. What he actually means is "can we have the election sometime in October when I've done the cleaning out of the tory troughers (who aren't my pals) and arranged for smart new Cameroonian lackeys to be selected in their place". As Rod Liddle says in the Speccie:

There was a bitter and angry gathering of these plainly victimised MPs in the Commons Tea Room this week. They are aware that the playing field is not level, that there is no justice in the sentences handed down by Cameron; that, despite his epic sanctimony, he is determined, primarily, to keep his friends and those MPs he believes to be onside, and ditch those he believes are useless or even vaguely oppositional. In other words, his response to this crisis — aside from those high-minded soundbites — is entirely rooted in self-interest. It is self-serving and, you might argue, corrupt. His mates comprise the panel which will ‘investigate’ the allegedly errant MPs, including himself. I bet he’ll get a really rough ride. Watch this space, but I suspect it will be a clean bill of health for the likes of Patsy Wynde-Turbine MP and deselection for the likes of Sir Bufton Fascist from the shires.

This is where I have problems with the Head Cameroon. He's more articulate than pretty much any US politician and most ZANU labour ones but he has the same air of mouth says one thing hands do something else that Tony Blair had and that Bill Clinton had. A lot of what he seems to be saying - regarding Europe, reform etc. sounds wonderful, and to be honest if he only does 90% of what he's promised it will be good. But my fear is that he'll do 10% and claim he's done 90%.

And it's the same regarding the election. He certainly doesn't want ZANU labour to continue in power for another year, apart from anything else who knows what a year of politics may do to the relative popularity of Labour and the Tories, but that doesn't meen he'd like to start the campaign next Tuesday. He also is undoubtedly correct that the country wants an election to choose a new government and PM. However if we aren't to have a general election next month, then for the benefit of the conservative party he almost certainly wants HMS Gordon to remain afloat for a few more months before sinking. A new PM now and elections in 4 months time could be worse than an election now.

So all these pleas for Prime Ministerial resignations and fresh elections sound to me very like St Augustine of Hippo when he prayed for chastity. But at least St A. was honest enough to explicitly add the "but not yet"! That probably explains why he's a saint and the boy Dave (C) is a smarmy pol.

*Da mihi castitatem et continentiam, sed noli modo - St Augustine

05 June 2009 Blog Home : All June 2009 Posts : Permalink

20090605 Friday Olive Tree Blogging

I took this last week but not much has changed. These are some of the olive flowers lying on the drive. Now that they have just about all fallen off (a week ago this was still a work in progress) I can probably wash the car to remove the yellow olive pollen tint
20090605 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.

05 June 2009 Blog Home : All June 2009 Posts : Permalink

More Waterline Hits on HMS Gordon

It is amazing to me that the total destruction of the Labour vote in the local council elections is merely a sideshow. In the normal state of affairs the fact that (as of about 6:30pm UK time) the BBC is reporting that Labour has lost about two thirds of its council seats and could even be over taken by "others" in numbers of councillors (see table) would be big news.

Councillors Councils
Party +/- Total +/- Total
CON +194 1009 +6 27
LD -20 319 -1 1
LAB -200 139 -4 0
OTH +26 92 0 0
NOC - - -1 3
23 of 34 councils officially declared.
Likewise the fact that (for example) Labour's candidates where handsomely beaten by a monster raving loony would normally be considered proof that the party had collapsed. Yet, astoundingly, that isn't the news anywhere except in the local paper.

The reason for all this is, of course that even more rats have jumped from the wreck of HMS Gordon and that the Captain has managed even add some self-inflicted wounds to add to those inflicted by the rats and chipmunks who've deserted him.

Last night there was all the Purnell drama, but by noon it looked like that had more or less fizzled. But then this afternoon, things have become rather more interesting.

Firstly there was the somewhat mysterious resignation of John Hutton as defence minister. Maybe he was pushed, maybe he jumped, who knows but Dizzy points out that the resignation isn't quite the standard one you get when your leader reshuffles you.

Then there is Caroline Flint who quit as Europe minister requiring Brown to hurriedly make Glenys Kinnock (and isn't that a name from the past) a peer to become her replacement - her resignation letter complaining of tokenism and a two tier cabinet make up for her failure to quit earlier. It looks like Nadine Dorries was right about the Flint/Blears plotting BTW, though Siobhan McDonagh doesn't seemed to have joined.

Next there is the self inflicted wound of appointing Sir Alan Sugar to the team. This wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the letter Sir Alan wrote in 1992 with its devastating final paragraph:

Labour offers no sort of route out of recession. It's out of date and - as Brown's remark shows - it hasn't done its homework.

Finally (so far) there is trougher Ian Gibson MP who has decided that if he's going to be kicked out he might as well resign in style and cause a by-election that Labour really doesn't want. His majority of some 5,500 is easily overturnable by the tories. I'm not sure if he counts as a self-inflicted wound or not but it is certain that he felt that he was made a scapegoat by the Labour party central command.

Oh and I don't think he covered hmself in glory at his "candid" press conference either. I mean really if this were a boxing match the ref would have called it off. If this was a theatrical production it would have booed off stage. The only place where the audience seems to enjoy this kind of thing are Spanish bullfights, and apparently British politics.

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

EU Election News

The BBC and the English media in general are reporting the predicted ZANU labour defeat - on average Labour appears to have been third, but in the "South East" region it actually came fifth. Of course they are also banging on about the far left* BNP gaining two seats and thereby somewhat ignoring the fact that both UKIP and the Tories campaigned on Eurosceptic platforms and won handily, though Mark Mardell does make this point. If there was any doubt that a UK referendum on the Lisbon treaty would result in a "No" then that doubt should now be removed. It also seems certain that the Tories and UKIP will both ensure that a referendum on it is a manifesto promise and that they will be sure to remind voters that ZANU labour lied on that issue last time around. This won't of course be the only issue in the campaign but I suspect it is going to be quite a large one since it helps both differentiate themselves from the Lib Dems as well as Labour.

It must be noted that this is the England/Wales result. In Scotland Labour seems to have done somewhat better but came second behind the SNP with the Lib Dems and Tories fighting it out for third place. On the other hand since the Tories were once upon a time considered to be dead in Scotland this is not so bad a result either.

Elsewhere in Europe Euroscepticism seems to have done less well - in Sweden, the Eurosceptic June List lost all three of its seats although one of them went to the Pirate Party which should make things interesting. Though I think the Finnish eurosceptics gained a couple of seats.

In France the socialist vote also collapsed, much as in the UK but since there is no UKIP equivalent the seats mostly went to either the governing UMP or the greens. In fact the Greens picked more seats (I think, E&OE, some results yet to be announced) than the Socialists. The far left PCF got 2 or 3 seats, the far right FN got 1 (in the South East region - i.e. Provence, Rhone, Alps + Corsica). The centrist MoDem (i.e. Beyrou & co) did even worse than the Socialists which surprised me somewhat. In the Alpes Maritimes the Socialists came a very ZANU Labour like fourth according to the Nice Matin (and MoDem came fifth):

UMP : 35.10 %

Europe Ecologie : 17.07 %

Front National : 11.21 %

Parti Socialiste : 10.73 %

MoDem : 6.22 %

*no I meant left - really I did.

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

June 23 - Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer's Day

As announced by [info]rolanni (a.k.a Sharon Lee of Liaden fame), june 23 has been declared Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer's Day in the same spirit as secretary's day, or whatever they now call the day to appreciate these minor deities.

As she says, this is to be:

A day of celebration and wonder! A day for all of us readers of science fiction and fantasy to reach out and say thank you to our favorite writers. A day, perhaps, to blog about our favorite sf/f writers. A day to reflect upon how written science fiction and fantasy has changed your life.

There is a facebook group (created by me), there may be a webpage coming, there will probably be LJ, DW and other groups - but as far as I know there aren't yet.

Get the word out. And think of something special to do on that day.

12 June 2009 Blog Home : All June 2009 Posts : Permalink

20090612 - Friday Olive Tree Blogging

The lavendar is out so here's a classic provencal shot of lavendar and olive tree.  I'd probably take a better shot except that we're off the Wales on an errand of mercy (we're delivering vowels to Llanwrtyd Wells which has run short) so I can't wait until the sun behaves.
20090612 - 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.

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

Man vs Horse Race 2009

We were participants in the 30th Man vs Horse Race which was run on June 13th around Llanwrtyd Wells in scenic mid Wales. The race pits runners aganst riders to see who wins. The rider usually does but two or three times a runner has won. However many runners (including yours truly and She Who Must Be Obeyed) beat a number of horses.

Man vs Horse Race 2009 Man vs Horse Race 2009
Man vs Horse Race 2009 Man vs Horse Race 2009

The weather was beautiful but the rain that had fallen over the previous week or two meant that the course was very wet in parts. If you click on the images you'll see they go to a flickr set of all the photos I took during this umm "unique" and very British event. As the official website explains:

The Man v Horse Marathon began in June 1980 following a chat over a pint in the Neuadd Arms Hotel. The then Landlord, Gordon Green overheard two men discussing the relative merits of men and horses. The enterprising Gordon, never one to miss an opportunity to promote Llanwrtyd Wells and improve business at his hotel, decided to put it to the test. And so began Green Events and its first, longest standing and now internationally acclaimed event, The Man versus Horse Marathon.

The course was changed in 1982 to provide a more even match between the man and the horse resulting year on year in very close finishes - sometimes with the horse winning by only a few seconds. It took 25 years before a man finally beat a horse, Huw Lobb won in 2hrs and 5mins beating the fastest horse by 2 minutes.

The race starts in the Town Square and is run over a 22 mile course through some of the finest scenery in Mid Wales using a mixture of farm tracks, footpaths, forestry roads and open moorland. There are a few short distances over tarmac. It is very hilly with a total ascent of 3000ft. [...]

Relay teams run 3 almost equal stages. Horses are required to pass a vet check at the mid-way point.

One suspects that "chat over a pint" is a slightly sanitized version of the true course of events which probably involved considerably more than one pint and some vocierous acohol inspired arguing. One of the attractions of the race for me is that the Neuadd Arms is a microbrewery that makes some very excellent beers so I can quite understand how it could happen that drinkers in the pub might get a little carried away under their influence.

This year there were about 250 individual runners, 100 relay teams and 49 horses (and riders). The number of horses involved makes this one of the biggest horse races in the UK if not the world in terms of numbers of participants and it is also of course one of the longer ones too. Up until a few years back the race was sponsored by William Hill the betting company and during that period there was a prize only awarded if the man beat the horse. The value went up each year until in 2005 or so a man won it and collected a serious amount of cash in doing so. When the sun is shining, as it was this year the event is really a pleasure to take part in, although if we do it again we'll be sure to bring some food with us on the course as none was provided at any of the water stops. The countryside is beautiful and I think I saw at least one, if not two, red kites

Man vs Horse Race 2009However the "chat" which sparked the race is as based on a very interesting question for people interested in history and related fields such as (medieval) fantasy. Namely the question of how far and how fast could people travel in the days before cars, trains or even perhaps roads. Elizabeth Moon talks about this with regards to her "Paksenarrion" books in this blog post, and it is something that any number of authors have struggled with over time. Of course there are plenty of authors who have written tales where the horses are effectively like cars only with 4 legs who can gallop for days at at time and so on, but a good author will try to be realistic even if he (or she) does not always succeed. This doesn't necessarily mean that one should automatically discount those writers who seem to be a bit overoptimistic; one can question some of Tolkein's marches in the Lord of the Rings, such as the Uruk-hai trek across Rohan for example, but that need not invalidate the whole tale. Especially when, as in the Lord of the Rings, much of the tale is very much based on real speeds and realistic choices such as the decisions to take boats when possible.

The Man vs Horse race provides a fairly good indicator of what humans can do, and what horses can do, at the top end of the range on mixed terrain. The man on foot can beat a horse if he's fit and smart and the rider doesn't want to ruin his animal. The 22 miles and 3000 foot of ascent (and just under 3000 foot of descent) took the best rider 2 hours and nine minutes. The faster runner did it in much the same time (2h15) which works out at some 6% slower. Both of these times equate to around 10 mph. Some other numbers: the fastest woman took (IIRC) a shade under 3 hours to finish (2h50 ish). I took about 3 hours and 22 minutes. I'm not sure precisely how many horses were slower than me but I'd guess that between 15-20 were behind me. I also believe I was comfortably in the top 25% or so of runners (ignoring the relay teams). I think even the slowest competitors had finished in under 6 hours.

Some lessons. One key point here is that there is no sexual equality when it comes to athletic speed. Women can do the same distances but they cannot generally do them as fast. This is something that authors often forget but that anyone who competes in distance races knows. Now it is true that the peasant girl is likely to outrun the town bravo and the young womaner beat the older man but in a like-for-like comparison the female will almost certainly be slower. On horseback, however, this is not the case. The fastest rider was male, the second and third both female and there was quite a variety in ages in the 49. Afoot the faster runners were mostly under forty and in a rural low tech environment where people work much harder than they do in today's urban world the drop off with age would be even faster (and for women again the impact of childbirth is likely to worsen that drop off). A handful of grizzled centurions of 45 are quite plausible, entire armies of such are not.

However that last point brings us back again to the dangers of statistics. On average does not mean the same as every. On average a 40 year old man will be slightly slower than a 30 year old woman who will be a lot slower than a 20 year old man but with a plausible story any one particular woman or older man could be far faster than many young men. But the chances that many such exist becomes progressively less plausible the more you need.

Another lesson. HiMan vs Horse Race 2009lls are a killer. Horses seem to manage to walk up hills faster than humans can but neither can maintain the speeds that they can do on the flat. I ran most of the course at an average pace of about 5min30/km = 9min/mile = 11km/h = 7 mph. But on a number of ascents my speed was less than half that - i.e. I was going at a speed of 11min/km or worse. My best downhill speed on the other hand was no more than 16km/h (3m45/km = 10 mph = 6min/mile). On normal predominantly flat road or track I can maintain a pace of better 5min/km (12km/h) for at least 50km. So as Elizabeth Moon notes, contours really slow you down.

Steep descents are also potentially tricky. You don't want to twist (or break) ankles knees etc. There is a lot of technique involved in fast descents and this is not something that is learned in a single lesson. Any fictional character who ends up in the mountains and tries running down them at full tillf for the first time had better either twist an ankle, trip, take a tumble or similar. If he does trip he'll at best scrape knees and hands, and quite likely break an arm, rib or collarbone. I've done this. You can keep going if its only a crack but it wil impede your mobilty for a month or more. If you (for example) crack an upper arm bone you won't be able to lift your arm above the shoulder or hold any weight on it for two or threee weeks AND no matter what bone you break, you'll probably end up sleeping poorly because no matter how you start off at ome point you'll roll over into a bad position. Now having said that someone who has grown up in the hills probably will be able to go down them like a bat out of hell.

It isn't just humans. Horses also really slow down on steep downhills or uphills where the going is tricky because they cannot jump and dodge the way experienced humans can. They also have the problem of greater mass and hence greater momentum. If a horse puts a hoof wrong there's a lot more mass to leverage that error. Idiotic nobles with more money than sense or the emperor's messengers may choose to charge down a slope but the chances of them falling off the horse or it being temporarily or permenantly injured means that the average horseowner isn't going to risk it.

Man vs Horse Race 2009Another lesson. 22 miles without food in the hot sun is a recipe for cramping. I got a cramp in the last couple of miles. So did a number of other competitors - such as the gentleman in the stream. SWMBO didn't cramp but did run out of energy to the extent that she started feeling chills despite the heat. I suspect others did similarly. And it must be noted that we drank plenty and had (well SWMBO and I had) a hearty breakfast before as well as lots of food the night before. Your average medieval person will not have had such a good meal before and so will slow down earlier. Cramps can be walked off - but it hurts and still slows you down significantly. A cramp can also cause a nasty tumble. I was lucky in that no one was around me to trip over me and I was able to tumble into grass but in the wrong place a cramp could easily lead to serious injuries such as broken bones. Fortunately for our putative medieval traveller his travel food is likely to be bread and salted stuff so he ought not to get cramp that much unless he hasn't got any food. But without food he'll probaly cramp on a hot day after three hours in the sun unless the effort ends up causing him to collapse from exhaustion.

If he doesn't drink either then the good news is he won't cramp, the bad news is he'll simply collapse with heatstroke if he pushes too hard. You can figure that two or three hours of hard exercise in the sun will cause a person to sweat a litre or two (2-4 pints) of water so it's a really good idea to drink from streams and take waterskins/bottles as getting this dehydrated is extremely dangerous. I don't know enough about horses but I'm pretty sure they sweat just as much - seeing two of them sucking the water out of one of the streams we crossed made that clear...
Man vs Horse Race 2009

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

Cyberwar Help For #Iranelection

Lots of good advice here - http://di2.nu/_fLo3.

In particular it seems like a really good thing to set up twitter/web proxies for Iran - see http://di2.nu/_i7g3 (windows) or http://di2.nu/_vLg3 (linux) or http://di2.nu/_DLk3 (mac) - and communicate them to as direct message (DM) tweets to @stopAhmadi or @iran09. Do not broadcast the proxy server address directly as the Iranian ISPs are monitoring twitter and will block those addresses.

It occurs to me that you could mischeviously suggest sites that you know are not hosting proxies be targetted...

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

Youth and (Ir)responsibility

The actual truth and what one reads in the newsmedia are frequently very different beasts. Hence I'm writing this post with a monster caveat that it is based on the data presented in a Wapping Liar article and said article could well be omitting or distorting the truth.

To summarize the article. A 16 year old schoolgirl at a decent British (boarding) school got rather too drunk and when put to bed failed to stay there and instead fell out of a window. As a result she has become partially paralysed. The girl and her parents are now suing the school claiming it failed in its duty to be "in loco parentis".

Dr Crippen rightly points out if the school is found liable boarding schools and other institutions are going to clamp down on the freedoms of those in their charge lest they too suffer. In fact I think he is too generous, I suspect that no matter what the outcome of this court case, unless it is swiftly dismissed out of hand, a clamp down will occur as institutions decide that additional safety and mollycoddling is the only way to be sure that the children in their charge do not subsequently sue them.

This is, surely, a big mistake. Kids need to have the boundaries relaxed gradually otherwise when school's over they jump into freedom in a bad way and probably kill themselves while binge drinking at university. Or procreate unintentionally. Or do lots of drugs. Or kill themselves when they've borrowed(stolen) their parents' car one night. Or....

To be truly in Loco Parentis, it seems to me, requires that you occasionally relax the discipline and "see what happens". Sometimes of course what happens is more tragic than expected but I don't see any way to predict that in advance. Shit Happens and boarding schools are actually (in my experience) quite a good way to leanr how to spread one's wings without coming a cropper. I got drunk at age about 13, did all sorts of slightly dangerous things and survived. So did all my peers. The drug dealer did get expelled I admit. As did a few other real losers. But then those expulsions, and the other lesser punishments for less serious offences, taught the rest of us the basics about freedom, responsibilty and the critical requirement of obeying the 11th commandment.

If I had hurt myself or got arrested or whatever I don't think it would have ever occured to me that I should blame the school. I did once suffer a touch of hypothermia on a school expedition to Snowdonia, I and my fellows had enough training to recognise the danger and took steps to counter it so we all stayed as warm and safe as was possible and didn't attempt the riskier ascent we had intended. In these days of low risk, I assume we'd never have been permitted to go out on our own and thus we'd never have actually learned what hypothermia looks like. Alternatively of course there would have been one stressed teacher minding a couple of dozen kids and unable to pay attention to all of them and therefore probably missing the first signs of hypothermia. If you're taught to let the experts look after you, as children seem to be today, then the peers of the kid with hypothermia probably wouldn't have said anything until he got a lot worse and thus caused a major incident.

Now if the school has a history of serious incidents that's different, but suing a school because it failed to perfectly manage all its charges 100% of the time is ridiculous.

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

Belated Summer Solstice Olive Tree Blogging

The sun sets over the littlest olive tree (and some oleanders) on the longest day of the year.
Summer Solstice Olive Tree Blogging
And yes I should have done this on Friday as part of the usual Friday Olive Tree blogging thing but didn't .... was busy.

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.

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

Duelling LOLcatz

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

funny pictures
moar funny pictures And yes the second one is mine

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

Modern newspapers aren't a patch on newspapers of the past

This typo amuses me
The Daily Typograph
Before I read this I had no idea that modern pagans had a daya dn. Let alone the wrong daya dn.

The article itself is interesting since it seems to be telling pagans that really they should be celebrating on the calendar's Mid Summer Eve also known as rather than the actual one and the writer explains why:

That's St John's Eve, preceding the feast of St John the Baptist. That night is still marked with bonfires all over Europe. And it was celebrated with the most extraordinary festivities in England until Henry VIII and the Reformation spoiled the fun.

Look I don't want to be rude or anything but might one enquire why PAGANS should celebrate a CHRISTIAN SAINT'S DAY?

Yes I know the answer, but really the fact of the matter is that the Christians nicked the pagan festival - as they did with Yule in 6 month's time - so why shouldn't the pagans go back to basics and celebrate on the right day? Especially since (doh) Stonehenge is specially designed to mark the actual astronomical solstice not the inaccurate calendar date.

23 June 2009 Blog Home : All June 2009 Posts : Permalink

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Day

Today is Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Day, a day to celebrate the writers who go beyond the mundane world as we know it.

Why today you ask? well June 23 is the day that Cyrano de Bergerac made the first successful (fictional) flight to the moon in about 1650.

My contribution today will be to note the more recent books of some of my favourite SF&F authors, and perhaps list a couple that you may not think of as SF&F authors.

Two of my absolute favourite SF&F authors are Lois M Bujold and Michael Z Willimason. Here are links to recent reviews I've made of Lois' Sharing Knife:Horizon and MadMike's Contact With Chaos. Another very excellent author who needs you to buy his books is Dave Freer. I reviewed his most recent collaboration with Eric Flint - Slowtrain to Arcturus - when it cam eout last October and I strongly recommend it.

Talking of Dave Freer leads to me to mention the Mad Genuis Club which is a blog where Dave and various other excellent SF writers such as John Lambshead and Sarah A Hoyt discuss SF/F and writing in general.

Sarah writes across the spectrum of genre fiction, from historical mysteries to futuristic SF via three excellent romantic fantasies of a Victorian world with dragons, were-creatures and magic which will be reviewed in the next post I write today.

Moving away from the Mad Genius Club - though I suggest readers go there to be informed about Golden Guns and Glittery Hoo-Has (link not beverage or worksafe) - it behooves me to mention Sharon Lee the instigator of this whole SFF Writers Day idea.

Sharon and spouse Steve Miller are the authors of the excellent Liaden books and a couple of years back they tried the "will punters pay to watch us write a novel" trick in an attempt to unglue the wolf from the door. The attempt was successful and they went on to do the same trick with a sequel - Saltation which I mentioned at the previous link. Both books have now been bought by Baen and the first - Fledgling - is available as an eARC now. Saltation is still available in its week at a time draft but people who failed to download Fledgling are now required to buy the Baen version. Those of us who did read the original and have now read the eARC are able to learn a lot from the differences between the two. Writers really do improve things when they go back and edit their first drafts, and while I'm very happy to have contributed to the original project, I am also happy to have read the new improved version. The extra time and effort (and words) has turned what could best be described as authorial fan-fic into a real publishable novel that will appeal beyond the hard core fanbase.

Finally now that I've covered most of my favourite authors, all of who seem to be published by Baen for at least some of their output (this is not a coincidence), I'm going to mention two dead authors. The first is Robert A Heinlein who wrote a lot of good stuff and is of course admired for much of it although he gets a lot of flack by people who have either only read one book or not actually read any but rely on the reviews of others. One RAH work that I consider to be badly misunderstood is Friday which stands the test of time remarkably well but which has been panned by many for being one of his less good books.

The second author is Rudyard Kipling, who has probably received even more harsh criticism. I'm not going to defend him entirely as he was very definitely a child of the age and absorbed much that we, a century on, consider abhorrently racist but writing him off as an apologist for imperialism as many do is throwing the baby and bath tub out with the bathwater. What even his devotees forget is that he wrote SF. Two good examples are "With the Night Mail" and "As Easy as A.B.C." set in the year 2000. Regretfully they are no more accurate readings of the future than 1984 was but they aren't any less accurate either. Behind the quaint science and technology there is the politics and that remains just as relevant now as it was when it was written. Were he writing today I imagine a lot of his childrens books would get themselves classified as YA Fantasy and anyone who wants to read his books electronically on the Kindle, say, can get them at my Kipling page.

I think that's about it so all that remains is for me to copy some other SF writer and say Share and Enjoy

23 June 2009 Blog Home : All June 2009 Posts : Permalink

Heart and Soul Trilogy - Sarah A Hoyt

One of the interesting questions people ask is what are good books for people who like to mix speculative fiction and roamnce up together. The classic "gateway" drug author for Romance readers who want a little more oomph to their fantasy reading diet than sex with vampires is Lois M Bujold, in particular the Sharing Knife series (reviews of Book 1 and book 4). However not only are the limits to the Bujold oeuvre in terms of quantity (she hasn't written that much) there is also the point that she hasn't written in all sorts of subgenres.

One subgenre she has ignored is the "shape-shifter" one. Another is the alternate history one. So if you think it would be cool to read a romance about were-creatures in a mythical sort of past then Lois is not your author. Howver, help is at hand for Romance readers who like the idea of a little shape-shifty fantasy Victoriana because Sarah A Hoyt has written a great trilogy combining were-dragons, the late Victorian British Empire and lots of romance.

What she has produced are three books that can be read in any order (I read them in order 2, 3, 1) or as stand alones but which make a good series if you happen to get them in the right order.

The books are set in a version of the British Empire where Magic works. For various reasons which are somewhat central to the plot, the European aristocracy has the ability to perform more magic than other people and hence they have conquered the rest of the world. Unfortunately the magic has spread itself a bit too thinly (all those randy nobles and their byblows) and hence the ability of the Europeans, and particularly the British, to dominate the rest is becoming harder. British magicians have however identified a way to concentrate the magic back again. The key to this is to be found somewhere in Africa and so the British Secret Service dispatch an agent via Carpetship to Cairo to do his duty to the crown. Said agent is newly wed and the honeymoon is used as a cover for their travels. Well it turns out that for various reasons the agent (one of our heroes) has determined that he will not in fact consumate his marriage to the great consternation his new bride (our heroine). This is just one of the tropes that this series inherits from the Romance side of the family (mother G Heyer, grandmother J Austen ...), others include - in book two - a young gel being forced into a betrothal against her will and being rescued from it by a handsome stranger. More than that I shall not say save that as in all Romances everyone ends up living Happily Ever After.

On the fantasy side you can put these books in at the thoughtful end of the spectrum. There are rules to the magic and its use. One can also see these books as echoing the usual Fantasy topes of "Mcguffin quest" and/or "save the key to the universe from the dark evil overlord" but, as with the Romance ones, the stories combine them to make something different, with - let it be noted - a rather good subtext about the truly dreadful racist attitudes of the 19th century European. However that subtext is there merely as background to a cracking good tale or three and in contrast to more overtly political books not all the bad guys are whites, nor are all or even most of the good guys and gals dusky hued. Furthermore there is at least one redemption involving one the more or less baddie British figures finding true love in the arms of his Indian junior.

For non romance, non Fantasy readers these might also serve as a gateway for the sorts of people who have enjoyed the tales of H Rider Haggard, Wilkie Collins or Kipling, not to mention devotees of Tarzan. If you like reading about explorers in deepest darkest Africa or the mysterious jewels of Indian Rajahs you'll get a kick out of these books too, They are indeed a very nice blending of genres and tropes and strongly recommended.

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

20090626 - Friday Olive Tree Blogging

We just had a storm and with the gray clouds and the sun coming out you get the olive trees displaying a lovely silver tint to their leaves.
20090626 - Friday Olive Tree Blogging
PS Got to love the giant flower from the Agave/Aloe in the middle. It's one of the taller trees in the garden...

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.

27 June 2009 Blog Home : All June 2009 Posts : Permalink

Armed Forces Day (@ArmedForces_Day)

Armed forces dayJames at NourishingObscurity reminds me that Armed Forces Day 2it is Armed Forces Day today in the UK.

What is that you ask? from their website it is explained:

The first Armed Forces Day is 27 June 2009, and is an opportunity for the nation to show our support for the men and women who make up the Armed Forces community.

I don't know any currently serving regulars personally though I know a bunch who've served and then retired or moved on to other things. Anyway I think it is a very good idea that we British thank the people who fight for us because all too often the respect given is rather more like that given to Kipling's Tommy:

I WENT into a public-’ouse to get a pint o’ beer,
The publican ’e up an’ sez, “We serve no red-coats here.”
The girls be’ind the bar they laughed an’ giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an’ to myself sez I:

            O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, go away”;
            But it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play,—
            The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
            O it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play.

Anyway if you know a serving or retired member of the armed services buy them a drink today.

29 June 2009 Blog Home : All June 2009 Posts : Permalink

Trail de la Colmiane

The major attraction to the Trail de la Colmiane was that it was free as in at no cost. Of course there's free and free. Given that we had to drive over 100km (and climb up 1300m in the process) and spend a night in a hotel near the start this wasn't really free. But I'm not going to complain about the costs incurred as the trail was spectacular and well worth doing - once!

If you go to the trail website you learn that this is just the second year that the race has been run, though since there were some 300 participants I suspect it's not going to go away. Maybe they'll start charging the racers next year...

On our drive up the weather turned nasty and rainy which made us a little nervous. A week ago the "Grand Raid de la Mercontour", which was run not far from Colmiane, had 3 fatalities and we didn't want to end up dead. However the weather cleared up considerably as we arrived at the hotel in St Dalmas Valdeblore and the waitress reassured us that the forecast was for good weather on the morrow.
Trail de la Colmiane - 2009 Trail de la Colmiane - 2009
She was right. The sun was shining brightly as we arose and breakfasted. After that we checked out and drove around the corner to the sports field where the run started and retrieved our run numbers etc. Then we stood around for half an hour while the organizers got everything else sorted out. Finally a few minutes after the official start time of 9:30 we were off and running on the flat first kilometer back into the village of St Dalmas (in Valdeblore not to be confused with the other two St Dalmases in the area)
Trail de la Colmiane - 2009 Trail de la Colmiane - 2009
The flat didn't last long. We were soon climbing and no longer running.
Trail de la Colmiane - 2009Trail de la Colmiane - 2009
This was not really a great surprise - if you took a look at the height profile:

Height profile of the trail

Of course the problem is that even the profile picture doesn't really do justice to the climbing. We humans aren't really geared for gradients steeper than 10% or so because lets face it most of the earth is pretty flat. But the Alps are not most of the earth. After a couple of km we passsed a flock of sheep and left the lower wooded slopes behind as we continued our ascent.
Trail de la Colmiane - 2009 Trail de la Colmiane - 2009
Our reward for the climb were great views and a refreshment stop, followed by even more climbing and great views and more climb and lakes and snow
Trail de la Colmiane - 2009 Trail de la Colmiane - 2009
Trail de la Colmiane - 2009 Trail de la Colmiane - 2009
Trail de la Colmiane - 2009 Trail de la Colmiane - 2009
Oh and then we saw the highest point on the trail and it was still a long way up but the views, whether we looked backwards, forwards or sideways were still great. And the view down to the little alpine flowers wasn't too bad either
Trail de la Colmiane - 2009 Trail de la Colmiane - 2009 Trail de la Colmiane - 2009
Trail de la Colmiane - 2009 Trail de la Colmiane - 2009
Once we reached the first peak and then descended we got a view down to where we had started 1300m below
Trail de la Colmiane - 2009 Trail de la Colmiane - 2009
The rock turned back to grassland as we descended from the second lower summit but it was still pretty tricky to run down because while, from a distance it looked smooth, close up it was rather more lumpy. After another refreshment stop we joined a track which was, for the most part, a lot easier to run down than the grassland had been, but it was still tough because it was steep and there were plenty of loose rocks. Eventually we ended up in civilization at La Colmiane ski station and then it was time for the final ascent and descent and into the finish. During this part of the trail it coult have been marked a lot better. I didn't get lost, but that was because I could see people ahead of me most of the time, my wife did get lost because where she was the competitors were rather more spread out.

And then it was back home to recover and look at the results. My average pace was just over 6km/hour or just a hair faster than 10mins/km. For reference that is about half my usual pace. In fact it took me about 2 hours to do the ascent and a further hour and 20 minutes or so to descend. Even the latter is pretty terrible - 10km in 1h20 instead of the 40-50 minutes I do on flatter tarmaced surfaces! But then I don't get quite the same views when running on the local roads...

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

Burkas and Bikinis

For reasons that are obscure to me, the French parliament and government are considering banning the wearing of the burka in France. Perhaps they have nothing better to do?

This has sparked, of course, lots of debate and commentary, the best of which I think comes from Samizdata and Iain Dale. From the former:

[W]hat about the cloth-entombed women, projecting an image of both slavery and Islamic aggression, who may or may not have chosen to wear the black bag?

My answer is [...] as a society we have chosen to deny ourselves the very tools of private social action (no, that is not a contradiction in terms) that could make things better.

For decades we have denied ourselves disapproval. For decades we have denied ourselves property rights. For decades we have denied ourselves the right to free association, which necessarily includes the right not to associate.

And Iain Dale makes the global point:

Western women who go to Saudi Arabia are required to respect the dress code of the country and clothe themselves accordingly. Our liberal values don't require the same in return. Sometimes we may be too tolerant for our own good.

The day a woman can wear a bikini on a beach in Saudi Arabia will be the day I will totally accept the burka

This is key. Right now in Europe (and other "western" developed nations) we have a horrible reverse cultural cringe imposed on us by a liberal elite. This cringe, enforced by legislative fiat that makes it illegal for us to discriminate openly, means we have a problem standing up for the values of Western civilization which include minor details like women's rights. Indeed thanks to various discrimmination and hate-speech laws we feel that we dare not criticize these people even though they have no problem criticising us.

But passing a law to fix the fact that existing laws have hampered our ability to enforce our own cultural norms in our own countries is not the answer. So yes people should be allowed to wear burkas (though they should understand that policemen may insist that they remove it partially for identification purposes) but people should also be allowed to insist that burkas not be worn in their shops, businesses, schools etc.

Furthermore, as a society, and as individuals, we should be prepared to explain that our intolerance for burkas is liable to decrease as and when the culture that insist on these ridiculous garments also permit women to wear other clothes.

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

Liar Balls and Quote of the Day

The Spectator's Fraser Nelson would seem to be deliberatelly courting letters, if not actions for libel, from Messrs Sue Grabbit & Runne with regards to Comrade E Balls our glorious minster for Eduhkayshun sorry Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families. Firstly he states that Comrade Balls is lying, then he repeats the claim in a second post where he details the Comrade's attempts to browbeat him into taking the first post down.

However before we get to that I feel I should nominate a quote of the date which comes from the comments to the Liar Balls post:

If only Brown and Balls were as economical with the country's finances as they are with the truth.

Paul Huxley, June 30th, 2009 10:48am

I mean really it says it all doesn't it?

Stll to go back to Comrade Liar Liar Balls on Fire, it seems to me that if he isn't consciously lying then he ought to be consulting M'Learned Friends and getting them to send letters to Mr Nelson and his employer/publisher (or their ISP) requesting that the statements be removed. If he needs help mastering the techniques then the Brothers Barclay can probably give a few tips.

Unfortunately I suspect he's up that famous creek (sans paddle) because I'm pretty sure that any jury in England would consider the evidence and find for the defendant. He probably knows this and is also only too well aware that losing such a trial would pretty much end his political ambitions (as if they aren't already given a "best before" date of June 2010). So. instead, Comrade B is going to face ever increasing questions from journalists and bloggers, as well as snide comments from others of the commentariat, about the nature of "truth" and whether he's been taking lessons from a certain WJ Clinton in post modernist philosophy and the parsing of sentences (grammatical as opposed to custodial that is).

This commenting has already started with the Economist's Bagehot (apparently joining the BBC in refusing to Brown-nose anymore):

I agree that the government's selective use of figures, fondness for comparing like with unlike, switching between cash and real-terms numbers for spending etc are dodgy and dishonourable. That is bad enough. But are the ministers lying? It seems to me that one potential reason to think they are not is their own self-perception. Just as medieval peasants in France could not imagine a universe without god—such an idea was not within their range of thinkable thoughts—it is possible that Mr Brown and others simply cannot countenance the scale of the hole they have helped to dig, and in particular find it hard to accept that, in the unlikely event they win the election, they will have to impose the sort of public-spending cuts they have spent their entire political careers berating. (I am trying to be charitable.) Alternatively, there may be a plan for big tax rises, as yet unannounced, that will help to substantiate their claims on spending. That would be a form of deception too, but a different one.

If the best your erstwhile defenders can say is that you aren't technically lying because you're deluded and disconnected from the real world then you might want to quit now because hanging on for nearly a year is going to make things much much worse.