Saturday, January 11, 2003
"Sauron and Saruman by Jane Awesome
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single hobbit in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of an adventure.
However little known the feelings or views of such a hobbit may be on his first receiving his inheritance, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of wandering wizards, that he is considered as the rightful recipient of one or the other of their magic rings." (etc...)
"If I were to tell you the true story behind the unmaking of that ring...that ring!...you would think me mad. Horrors such as are scribed in ancient tomes of eldritch evil cannot compare to the terror...the cruel, cold, braincrushing terror!...that we felt in the lair of that foul spirit which raimed itself in arachnid form, that vile scavenger, that horrid arcane leech lingering at the border's of Sauron's Black Land...
-The Ring-Journal of an Anonymous Hobbit, by H.P. Lovecraft"
"The Lord of the Rings
or The Land of Middle-earth
by W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan
SCENE. -- Front yard of Bag End in Hobbiton, the Shire. Various hobbits discovered standing and sitting in various attitudes suggested by Rankin-Bass films and trippy illustrations from the 1970s.
CHORUS OF HOBBITS.
If you want to know who we are,
We are gentlemen of the Shire;
In many an inn and bar,
By many an alehouse fire,
We dine on six meals a day;
Our attitude's bright and gay;
But we don't mean it that way, oh!
If you think we are cutesy-poo,
Like an Ewok or Jar-Jar Binks,
You don't know what we do:
When we don't smokes, we drinks!
Our dwelling is Hobbiton;
We only stand three foot one;
We use evil rings for fun, oh, oh!
We use evil rings for fun!
If you want to know who we are,
We are gentlemen of the Shire;
In inn and bar, by alehouse fire;
In many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many a bar, oh, oh, oh, oh!
In inn and bar, by alehouse fire!"
Also worth reading: the versions by E.E. "Doc" Smith, Neal Stephenson, Ray Bradbury, the Merry Poppins extract, Orwell, Dickins, and no doubt many others. However, perhaps because of the link from Eugene Volokh that I followed, there are now 23 pages of the stuff, so I'm afraid much will go unread.
Brown Crosley Record Player
Miss the days when albums had a B side? Haul out the records and restore your vinyl-lovin' soul with the Crosley Portable Record Player. It plays 33s, 45s and 78s with big-speaker stereo sound. 1960s vintage "suitcase" design for lightweight and secure toting. Diamond head needle. Powered by standard AC adapter, included. 16-3/4"W x 11-1/4"D x 7-1/2"H.
Price: $129.95 Sale: $99.95
"If we cannot mobilise the workforce, there are still plenty of means of concentrating politicians' minds. We could, for example, consider blocking the roads down which Blair and his key ministers must travel to meet their appointments, disrupting the speeches they make and blockading the most important public buildings. Or we could prank-call everyone in the Cabinet, and send them pizzas they didn't order, or clearly-labelled fake herpes test results. Viva la Resistance! (Does anyone have the number of the Tongan Airforce?)"
According to the Red Book of Westmarch, In Middle-earth, The Philosophical Cowboy was a Wicked Teleri
"Did you spend $129.99 to buy a portable record player this past Christmas? It's difficult to imagine how anybody—except for a prop assistant on a Merchant-Ivory film—might be interested in one."
Well, if I'd known they were for sale, I'd definitely have considered it. I remember a rather pleasant garden party in a wierd monastic college where someone dragged out an antique portable record players, and it was wonderful. Jazz, wine, strawberries, sun: there are few finer things in life. I'm now going hunting for a way to get hold of a written down piece of stock...
Thursday, January 09, 2003
RUGBY FAN BANNED FOR URINATING ON MATCH OFFICIAL By Simon Baker, PA News
A rugby spectator has been given a five-year ban by the game's governing body for urinating on a 16-year-old touch judge while watching a match, it emerged today. Vince Dunne, 41, from Croydon, south London, was hauled before a disciplinary panel yesterday for his behaviour at a tournament last May, the Rugby Football Union said.
Although he cannot be stopped from watching matches, Dunne was banned from all rugby activities, including playing and holding membership with a club. He had already been expelled from his own club - Croydon-based Shirley Wanderers - in June following an internal investigation.
A spokesman for the Rugby Football Union said the decision was unique as most disciplinary action in this country involves conduct on the pitch. He said: "It is a fairly unprecedented event - I am not aware of when a spectator was completely banned from rugby for a dealing like that in this country.''
He added that the touch judge, now aged 17, was a promising young official who has been picked out by the RFU as a possible future top referee. The teenager was qualified to act as a touch judge at the rugby sevens tournament in Foots Cray, south east London, where the incident took place, he said. Dunne was suspended under RFU law 5.12 for "conduct which is prejudicial to the interests of the game''. He denied the charge when appearing at the hearing in central London. The five-man disciplinary panel was chaired by Jeff Blackett - a Royal Navy judge advocate - and other RFU officials.
RFU Referee Manager Ken Bracewell - who is responsible for the 5,000 registered officials who control league, cup, friendly, youth and schools games throughout the country - welcomed the decision. He said: Match officials go out to enjoy their afternoons and they give up their free time so that others can enjoy playing and watching the game. They perform a very valuable role and it is important that we support and protect them. Whenever we hear of examples of abuse taking place throughout the country we receive great support from the constituent bodies (county officials) in helping us stamp out the problem.''
Former international referee Ed Morrison, who now coaches other officials to an elite standard, said: "This sends out a very clear message to the rugby community that if you go down the route of abusing officials, then it will be dealt with very seriously. There's no place for it in the game and I applaud the RFU for the stance they are taking. We can't do without young officials coming into the game. We can do without those who abuse them."
end 091635 JAN 03
Wednesday, January 08, 2003
"It is said that during the 1973 Yom Kippur War—known on the other side as the Ramadan War—an Israeli military spokesman was asked for the fourth or fifth time whether the Jewish state would use nuclear weapons if its ground forces continued to suffer defeat. He repeated the official mantra—"Israel will not be the first country to deploy nuclear weapons in this region"—and then stepped back from the microphone (which he believed to have been switched off) and whispered to himself, "And we won't be the second one, either.""
Sadly, the article, though rapidly thoughtful, ends up on the natural conclusion: the notions of pre-emptive and preventative war are hopelessly confused by the limits of human knowledge.
"[I}t seems to me impossible to watch The Two Towers and not be reminded of those battles in British history—Crécy, Agincourt, Inkerman, Rorke's Drift, or for that matter the Battle of Britain—where small contingents of brave Englishmen successfully repelled wave after wave of enemy troops.
There is, though, a profound difference between Helm's Deep and all those real-life battles. At Helm's Deep the men and elves get by purely on quickness of wit and strength of arm, while the orcs deploy all manner of newfangled technology—explosives, catapults, siege ladders. The victory of men is a victory of the heart over the machine. In the real world, though, technological superiority—and in particular the ability to turn it to pragmatic military ends—has historically been the engine of British, and Western, military dominance. The longbow at Crécy and Agincourt, the Enfield rifle and massed artillery at Inkerman, the Martini-Henry rifle at Rorke's Drift, and radar during the Battle of Britain ensured victory for outnumbered armies. And this paradigm remains in place today, as evidenced by the Gulf War and the battle of Mogadishu. Of course, Western armies have also benefited from excellent training and discipline. But the machine played a central role in every real Helm's Deep in Western history."
There's a degree of truth in this. The application of the appropriate technology has been crucial to Western (and British) military success.
However, the most recent conflict (if we are to ignore Tolkien's claims that allegory was not involved) was the Second World War. Both sides made incredible advances in the technologies of killing their fellow man, and the Allies made the final advance with the development of the atom bomb. But from the point of view of war in Europe, I think it's easy to read the results of conflict (particularly from the point of view of a civilian in the decades after the war) as being to do with men not machines.
Surowiecki mentions the impact of radar on the Battle of Britain, but the tremendous impact of this innovation was not, as I understand it, placed quitely so highly until relatively recently. If you were to look to the side deploying great and terrible new weapons of war, the German development of tanks, jet fighters, the V series rockets and so forth would stand out, to a Britain at least, as the high-tech advances deployed in the theatre. The Battle of Britain, at least in the popular imagination, was won through the men available, not the jets.
And this points to the ignored factor in the Western military tradition: the quality of the men and their training. The British proficiency in the use of the long-bow at Crecy and Agincourt (English/Welsh, strictly), of the musket through the Napoleonic Wars, of the rifle at Rorke's Drift, and (though force of circumstance) of the fighter in the Second World War, was the result of rigourous training in their use.
Every Englishman was compelled to train with the longbow for long periods of our history, with football and other recreations banned at points to maintain standards. The thin red line was relentlessly drilled in the use of their weapons so that they could be used with efficiency and success against the Napoleonic columns. The training (on parade grounds and in the field) of the imperial army was crucial to their success. And the level of fighting involved in the Battle of Britain made expert pilots of the surviors.
Certainly, technology has played its part. But the technology has been only a small part of the narrative of the Western way of war. Having the men to use those weapons, and their morale when faced with superior numbers, often using new weapons or tactics, has played a major part in some of the most notable victories that Tolkien may have alluded to or drawn inspiration from.
Tuesday, January 07, 2003
Obviously, he appears to lack the knowledge, the discrimination or the will to either avoid the claim it's "all about the oiiiiiiiiiiillllllllllllll" or to detail his personally preferred thesis about how reducing oil supplies for a decade is congruent with this explanation: "this will be a war without even the flimsiest of pretexts: an unprovoked attack whose purpose is to enhance the wealth and power of an American kleptocracy". Here's the bulk of his proposed response:
"It is true that our chances of stopping this war are slight...But to imagine that protest is useless if it doesn't lead to an immediate cessation is to misunderstand its purpose and power. Even if we cannot stop the attack upon Iraq, we must ensure that it becomes so politically costly that there will never be another like it. And this means that the usual demos will no longer suffice. ...
On January 18, demonstrators will seek to blockade the armed forces' joint headquarters at Northwood, in north London. Three days later, there'll be a mass lobby of parliament; at 6pm on the day the war is announced, protesters will gather in almost every town centre in Britain. On February 15, there'll be a massive rally in London. These actions are critically important, as they'll demonstrate the level of public opposition. But they're unlikely, by themselves, to provoke one of Blair's famous sweats. We must raise the temperature.
CND and the Stop the War Coalition have suggested an hour's stoppage on the day after the war begins. Many activists are now talking about building on this, and seeking to provoke wider strike action - even a general strike.
This is, of course, difficult and dangerous. Some general strikes have been effective, forcing the tsar to agree to a constitution and a legislative assembly in 1905, for example, reversing the Kapp Putsch in Berlin in 1920, and overthrowing the Khuri regime in Lebanon in 1952. Others have been counter-productive, in some cases disastrous. When the French general strike was broken in 1920, the labour movement all but collapsed. Mussolini used the announcement of a general strike in 1922 to represent himself as the only man capable of restoring order; he seized power, with the king's blessing, after the fascists had routed the strikers and burnt down the Socialist party headquarters. If we call for a strike and almost everyone goes to work, Blair will see this as a sign that he can do as he pleases.
But this is the scale on which we should be thinking. If we cannot mobilise the workforce, there are still plenty of means of concentrating politicians' minds. We could, for example, consider blocking the roads down which Blair and his key ministers must travel to meet their appointments, disrupting the speeches they make and blockading the most important public buildings. Hundreds of us are likely to be arrested, but that, as the Vietnam protesters found, serves only to generate public interest. Non-violence, however, is critical...
But peaceful, well-focused and widespread nuisance, even if it irritates other members of the public, forces the issue to the front of people's minds, and ensures that no one can contemplate the war without also contemplating the opposition to the war. "
So. Something massive is needed in response to this war. Something on the scale of a general strike. But a general strike might be counter-productive. And if one is called, and it doesn't actually happen, then Monbiot and friends will look like fools, and Blair as though he has a mandate. But they can block roads and get arrested. Oh, and call a demonstration in every town in Britain the day war is declared. That all sounds like the type of "unprecedented" action that will really get results. For a start, it will irritate other members of the public, but will get some attention...
This "plan", frankly, seem pretty weak. On many projections for the course of the war, it would be over before a serious campaign of civil disobedience could be organised. And even the pre-announced demos on the day that war is declared will only be remembered by the hard-core protestors. War is likely to begin at night in Iraq.
Or, to put it another way: sun-set on the 15th of February will be at 14:47 GMT in Baghdad (33 20 N, 44 26 E). Assuming that combat starts a few hours after sun-set, it will probably begin at exactly the time that Stop the War are planning on having their condemnatory demos.
If it is declared earlier (as if, though things may be pretty apparent a day or two in advance), it will still be of little impact unless people are ready on hand to advertise the demonstration to people leaving work. Otherwise, attendances will be pitiful, and the protests will be dead before they begin.
Which does, of course, just illustrate that if the anti-war movement is to have a serious impact, then that should begin now, and should be based around a coherent platform that can be explained to the man in the street as superior to letting the government sort things out. I don't know about you, but I don't think that is very likely...
Via Tim Blair
a) Blair snubbed the Israeli government by inviting the leader of the opposition to visit Number 10
b) Blair snubbed the Israeli government by inviting the leader of the Syria to visit Number 10
c) Blair snubbed the Israeli government by not inviting the Israeli foreign minister (and former prime minister) to visit Number 10
d) Blair has been snubbed by the Israeli government, who've destroyed the little "peace conference" he promised at the last Labour conference.
But, unlike Instapundit readers, the journalist can't or won't spot the obvious pattern here. Worse still, it seems that our government couldn't spot it either.
"[W]hat strikes me as funniest about this is that he has turned into a Class Enemy. London theatres being the shoestring operations that they are, I doubt if many of the staff will be earning above minimum wage (5 quid an hour or thereabouts), although unions might have some retained rights from negotiations in the 70s. Moore is obviously an exploitative parasite on the working class and will therefore be first against the wall when the revolution comes. Now wouldn't that be funny..."
Monday, January 06, 2003
What is "binge drinking"? (I know it when I wake up...):
"According to a study published this week in The Journal of the American Medical Association "the total number of binge-drinking episodes among US adults increased from approximately 1.2 billion to 1.5 billion" between 1993 and 2001....
[The] U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)... defines "binge drinking" as "consumption of 5 or more alcoholic beverages on 1 occasion."
Suppose you come to my house for dinner. You have a beer beforehand, a few glasses of wine during the meal, and a little bourbon afterward. According to the CDC, you have just gone on a binge.
Not surprisingly, this counterintuitive definition .. is quite different... from the traditional definition of an alcoholic binge, which involves devoting days or weeks to drunkenness.
As State University of New York sociologist David J. Hanson puts it, binge "describes an extended period of time (typically at least two days) during which time a person repeatedly becomes intoxicated and gives up his or her usual activities and obligations in order to become intoxicated. It is the combination of prolonged use and the giving up of usual activities that forms the core of the clinical definition of [a] binge."
Then, too, the CDC's notion of a binge is different from that of alcohol researchers in other countries. Hanson notes that "a recent Swedish study...defines a binge as the consumption of half a bottle of spirits or two bottles of wine on the same occasion." An Italian study viewed eight drinks a day as normal, while "in the United Kingdom, bingeing is commonly defined as consuming 11 or more drinks on an occasion.""
On these counts: I regular binge drink with members of the CDC. I almost never binge drink with Mr Hanson. I frequently occasionally with Swedish "scientists", every few weeks I binge here in the good old UK, and it's been years (if ever) since I've been a binge drinker in Italy. Take the "test":
5 "drinks": Binging on the Bayoo
12 units: Sauna sin
11 "drinks": Battered in Britain
8 "drinks" a day: Raucous in Rome
2 day bender: Hammered with Hanson.
"Police in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, are hunting a former international cricketer after his girlfriend was set on fire.
Pace bowler Shafiuddin Ahmed Babu, 29, was said to have been involved in a row over marriage plans with Monika Afroze Mimi.
The victim's family members alleged that the cricketer threw petrol over the architecture student and then set her alight.
Doctors in the Dhaka hospital where she was admitted said she had 70% burns to her body and her condition remained critical.
Police said the incident took place on Saturday when the woman was entering her student dormitory in the city.
Her family members, who live outside Dhaka, were informed about 12 hours later.
The cricketer, known as Babu, has played several One Day International matches for the Bangladeshi national team, but has been out for some time due to poor form.
He now plays for a local team.
The couple had been together for some years, friends said."
It will leave you astonished at the brutality of 19th Century New York, and in some ways bewildered that civilisation could ever descend. Per accounts at the time, parts of the slums of New York in the first half of the century were worse than those in Whitechapel. Given London's experience in providing areas of ill-repute, this was a bad start.
Sample quote about the "Old Brewery", where more than a thousand souls lived, often not leaving the building or even the room for long periods and where they averaged a murder a night for fifteen years:
"[T]here is no bed in the room - no chair - no table - no nothing - but rags, and dirt, and vermin, and degraded, rum-degraded human beings"
One of the major puzzles to a reader of the book is quite where any of the income to support these wretches came from. There is an endless parade of crimes, from shootings to stabbings to con games to blackjackings to river piracy to gambling, but though Asbury occassionally mentions some of the productive trades of the city, it would seem that the characters he sketches could, if of an honest trade, basically only be butchers (hence Daniel Day-Lewis's trade).
Many of the gang members were volunteer firemen, it is true, but the main stores seem to be dance-halls, brothels, bars (/dives/teeming hives of scum and villany), and "green-grocers" (mostly selling alcohol and little else). The man in the street might earn a crust through begging or robbery, but it's unclear how, why or when people with enough money to support this trade would enter into the areas discussed in large enough numbers to be robbed and support the criminal hordes.
Certainly, well-dressed individuals were apparently set upon with great speed, sailors and the like were disposessed of cash as the drank or slept, and thieves ventured out of the areas. But the residents of the Old Brewery, lurking in their rooms in wait for a passer-by with food who could be robbed, or the prostitutes waiting for custom, seem unlikely to have found many opportunities to earn enough to feed themselves.
The other side of the coin is that the behaviour of the "establishment" is scarcely less incredible. The police were generally prevented from tackling the gangs of New York on account of Tammany Hall. The gangs were useful tools for the politicians, and so gang leaders would often be released so that they would be available at election time to intimidate voters and send themselves and their lackeys through the polls multiple times.
When allowed to exercise authority, the police seemed most effective when setting out to club all-comers early and often. As brutal as this seems, it was probably one of the few ways to cope with gangs able to field (at points) more than a thousand fighting members each, all armed and within a small area. The charge of large gangs shown in the film looks to have been a not infrequent occurance.
Frankly, it's incredible that New York ever grew out of this stage, and the number of books Herbert Asbury wrote about the underworld of the US suggests that it's not the only city that was like this.
Certainly, London's had its moments in the past, but generally with a much higher population than New York when this began, and I think little of quite this type.
Sunday, January 05, 2003
"If the kneejerk ban that followed the Dunblane massacre was a predictable failure, then a minimum five-year term for possession looks equally misguided."
Sadly, the prescriptions offered are a mish-mash of "usual suspects" remedies, none explored in enough detail to be informative:
"[H]owever the peripheral arguments are finessed, drugs are, indisputably, at the heart of street warfare. Maybe the answer is to decriminalise all substances, with the exception of crack cocaine. Quite separately from lucrative racketeering, guns are also the insignia of social exclusion.
Black-on-black crime is not an odd phenomenon, since most violence happens within the same racial group. Nor is it a novelty that too many black boys are academic failures who reap the social consequences. They have been doing so for 40 years. At last, society is starting to come up with braver reasons why high achievers at primary school end up, in 90 per cent of cases, with fewer than five GCSEs.
Racism is to blame. So is a worry by teachers that they will look biased if they clamp down on bad behaviour. But so, more relevantly, is peer pressure by boys whose role model is the strutting superman rapper, complete with gun and compliant girl. Stereotyping young people is always dangerous. White thugs have worse objects of worship than So Solid Crew. Still, even black community leaders are linking school exclusions and hopeless futures with crass icons and a world where life grows cheaper."
Decriminalisation might be a solution, but should be explored in more than a couple of sentences. And to say that "racism is to blame", to explore that notion no further, and to take it back over the rest of the article suggests a need to knee-jerk responses. What the column comes down to is "things are complicated, there are lots of factors involved, and I can't think how to solve anything". Though more valuable than must of what the Guardian/Observer prints (i.e. on days when Toynbee and Monbiot are published), this doesn't really advance the discussion.
Impressions so far: great fun to read, quite a bit of mild repetition, amazing numbers of dead.
"Touria Tiouli, 39, from Limoges, in France, has had her passport confiscated and cannot leave Dubai after being charged under the emirate's Sharia law.
This declares any sexual relationship outside marriage to be illegal.
Mme Tiouli was on a business trip last October when, she alleges, she was raped by three men who offered her a lift home from a nightclub.
She reported the attack immediately to the Dubai police, who after investigating her claim arrested her rather than those she accused.
One of the men admitted to having "consensual sex" with Mme Tiouli, which made her, in the eyes of Dubai's judiciary, guilty of both adultery and making a false rape accusation. She could face up to 18 months in prison. None of the men has been charged."
* "No disrespect meant to the lady who was raped.....but her first mistake was being in Dubai to begin with. That is one business trip I'd have to tell the boss NO to."
"Daniel Gross asks "Since when is a $382 million earnings restatement 'not material'?" The Moneybox Fray, naturally has an answer. As mfbenson puts it here:
$382 million is immaterial when it's less than 5% of the stated quantity.
In this case, if the stated earnings were over $7.64 billion, the $382 is immaterial.
And you thought accounting was an exact science …"
I'm not going to say too much about this. But at least in the UK, whilst you'll generally use a numerical rule of thumb like this to judge what is material, you can't rely solely on that. There are other considerations involved. For example, if there are loan covenants involved, or certain types of things that must be reported on even if immaterial in impact (not keeping proper accounting records is one example).
See my Auditing 101 and Auditing 102 posts for more on this.