Saturday, February 22, 2003

What a wonderful mark of respect:

"Canada Sevens Hounour England Player Nick Duncombe

EDMONTON, AB - National Sevens Coach Ric Suggitt and Manager Rick Farrally have added their condolences to the flood of international response with regard to the tragic death of England's Sevens player Nick Duncombe.

“On behalf of the players and staff of the Canadian National Sevens Program we would like to send out our sympathy and condolences to Nick’s family and his many friends in England and around the world,” said Suggitt. “Our iRB Sevens Community is a very intimate group. Everyone gets to know the participants during the time we spend together. This is felt by everyone, and we are all in a state of shock."

“We will honour Nick’s life by putting his initials on our jerseys at the next tournament in Hong Kong,” explained Manager Farrally. “This is a very profound loss to everyone. Nick's family will be in our thoughts in the months ahead.”"

Tempting fate, but v. amusing (via Gwlad Rugby):

"From The Sunday Times

Static English Defence frustrates Wales.

The England management, in an apparent effort to enliven yesterdays England V Wales Rugby match at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff took the unprecedented step of substituting the entire England team in the second half and replacing them a scrum machine and seven tackle bags.

'We felt that, having built up a sizable lead of 147 points in the first half we could afford to experiment after the break', explained England manager Clive Woodward after the game. 'A lot of people are saying that it was a controversial move but the result speaks for itself and we managed to contain the Welsh fight back well.'

Defending his sides inability to score against an inanimate opposition Wales Captain Jonathan Humpreys pointed to the difficult conditions.

'We had intended to take them on upfront but the wet conditions made the scrum machine really heavy going.' Humpreys also pointed to his teams inability to cope with the opposition tactics as the England management had cunningly placed the tackle bags at regular intervals across the pitch which effectively broke up the Welsh back moves and resulted in quite a few turnovers. Wales best opportunity to score came in the 79th minute when Iestyn Harris, the former Rugby League star finally managed to find space in the five metre gap between tackle bags 3 and 4. After probing slowly forward, he went into contact with tackle bag 4 before unloading to the centre, Mark Taylor, who shot through the sixteen foot gap and found himself behind the English defense for the first time in the game. Unfortunately the move then broke down when Taylor floated a pass to Gareth Thomas who popped up on the wing and, with the line beckoning, fumbled and knocked on.

After the game ashen faced Wales Coach Steve Hansen conceded that the teams performance had not been up to scratch but refused to push the panic button.

'No one likes losing but there are a lot of positives that we can take from this game. England got off to a great start in the first forty, but after the re-start we kept a clean sheet and I think we can be proud of that. If you look at the game as a whole, after conceding 21 unanswered tries in the first half Wales came back and enjoyed almost 90% of possession in the second. Those statistics don't lie and if we can take that form forward into the next game there is every chance that we can score a few points.'

Defending his controversial strategy after the game Clive Woodward explained.' I understand that some spectators won't be happy but I've never been afraid of unorthodox tactics. Having built up a good lead in the first half I was able to rest all my key players in the second half, and my non-key players too. No one appreciates the long tradition of contests between these two countries more than me and while I would have liked to sent out the team for the second half my guys are all well trained professionals, and frankly,have better things to do.

The Times. Sunday 23 February 2003"

Den Beste has a lengthy take on why France (and to a lesser extent Germany, and to a similar extent the EU institutionally) seem to view their natural and proper state as in opposition to America. I'm not going to work you through it all. Just to add Neal Stephenson's take from "The Big U". A Stalinist a declaiming against the university Chancellor:

"And did you ever think about the socialist revolution in France that was crushed by D-Day because the socialists were fighting off the Nazis single-handedly."

See... even when the Americans do something "good", it's against progress...

Friday, February 21, 2003

France hosts Mugabe at a no doubt five star conference as his people starve and his thugs terrorise the opposition. This evokes an unfamiliar response:

"Morgan Tsvangirai, the Zimbabwean opposition party leader, who faces the death sentence at a trial for treason in Harare, said: “Zimbabweans will remember in the future that France has betrayed them when they were in need.”"
What does an UN Security Council resolution cost?

"Rewards for backing Bush

Gives: Support in UN Security Council vote
Gets: Guarantees on $10-$12bn of Iraqi debt and possible oil contracts

Gives: Facilities for training the Iraqi opposition
Gets: Enhanced international status and financial support

Gives: Vote on UN Security Council
Gets: US support for entry to EU and increased military co-operation within Nato

Gives: Vote on UN Security Council
Gets: Strengthened position in talks on US trade tariffs

Gives: Access for US air defence, radar and special forces Gets: $1bn in direct aid and military assistance

Gives: Arab support to campaign
Gets: $1bn and promise of increased US support for Middle East peace process

Gives: Behind-the-scenes assurances they will not retaliate Gets: $12bn in direct aid and loan guarantees. US promises of defence

Gives: Vote on UN Security Council
Gets: Improved immigration regulations

Gives: Vote on UN Security Council
Gets: Future co-operation with US companies in developing offshore oilfields

Guinea, Cameroon
Give: Votes on UN Security Council
Get: Development aid and increased international status

Gives: Key military facilities for US invasion from the north and a regional ally
Gets: At least $26bn in direct aid and loans"

Who says the special relationship's not worth anything to the Americans? It looks like somewhere over $34bn is a minimum spend to get the support to make us happy, with some other cash spread around. Perhaps Turkey and Israel might see some cash if things didn't have to be "just so" (Turkey may be militarily needed). But building a costly "Coalition of the Bribed"* seems like Blair's price.

* Not that they're anything necessarily wrong with being bribed: the Vatican, Germany and Britain are the only countries who are passably purely public spirited (if that many). Virtually everyone else with a strong opinion's got massive stakes at play...

I take it that this story is in some way linked to the government's love for an "on-line Britain".... :Government urges under-16s to experiment with oral sex
Gwlad are resorting to poetry in anticipation of Wales-England tomorrow. And because it's so good, it's gets quoted. Good (but not too much) luck guys...

"We've been written off by everyone, even our own coach. In our time of deepest despair, with the men in white coats arriving outside the office, Gwlad has turned to Saes beardy bloke Rudyard Kipling for inspiration.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!

Tomorrow boys, don't do it for Wales. Don't do it for your club, don't do it for your mum and dad, don't do it for the fans. Do it for yourselves. Do it with passion."

Thursday, February 20, 2003

I hope this "counterpoint" doesn't end up in worse taste than it already is:

" Exactly how much oil are we talking about?

I keep hearing the anti-war protesters chant, "No blood for oil! No blood for oil!" But what they never seem to say is exactly how much oil we're talking about. Don't you think that's pertinent information? Are we talking a gallon of oil for every 10 gallons of blood? Or is it more like 30 gallons of oil for every pint of blood? Because if it's the latter, maybe a blood-oil exchange would be a good idea.

In the first Gulf War, roughly 300 brave Americans lost their lives. Assuming that each of these soldiers shed an average of eight pints of blood, that works out to roughly a pint of American blood shed per 60 million barrels of Kuwaiti crude saved from the clutches of Saddam. If you ask me, that's a pretty darn good deal. If we can manage to swing a similar trade this time around, then I say, "Bombs away."

We should also know what kind of blood we're giving up. Is it O-positive, the universal donor? I'd be more reluctant to part with that than some useless AB junk. If Bush and Rumsfeld spill, say, 100,000 gallons of B-negative or AB-positive soldier blood for an equivalent amount of primo Mideast oil, that may be well worth considering.

So, you see, you can't argue in the abstract like those naïve protesters on college campuses are doing. You've got to look at the hard numbers if you're going to make an informed decision about a potential blood-for-oil swap.

Sending innocent young men and women into battle to die is the most difficult decision a president can make. But it's that much easier when you know what you're getting in return. If I were Bush, I'd definitely do it if we could get the price of a gallon of Amoco Ultra Unleaded down to $1.19. Maybe even $1.21. Anything higher would give me pause. But $1.21 is a great price for a gallon. I would take a lot more weekend roadtrips if gas were that cheap. I might even upgrade to one of those Lincoln Navigators I've been seeing ads for on TV. That's a beautiful car.

Nobody wants to see brave young Americans sent off to die. Nobody wants to see blood spilled for oil. But if it comes to that, wouldn't we all feel better knowing that their blood was spilled for a great deal of oil? I know I sure would."

Made I laugh

The Onion hits the spot as always with it's day-planner for Ben Affleck and J-Lo. Anyone who's watched too many Kevin Smith films will understand this:

12:48pm Politely deflect yet another fumbling threesome overture from Matt Damon
A great tip from Dr Frank:

"Trivial Pursuit: when in doubt always answer a pop culture question about a female "Marylin Monroe"; a pop culture question about a male should be answered with the name of one of Beatles; on political questions, you're always safe guessing someone from the Nixon administration."

Sports quizzes are generally about Tottenham, or the fifth round of the FA Cup. Rugby questions are about Gareth Edwards...
Um, I've been forced to eliminate most of my archive template. So anyone poking around back there: it's still the same site, it just looks a little different until I find some spare time...
Yes, I am now just blogging the absurdity of the headlines: 'I do not believe Christ has returned as a chef'

Read it yourself if puzzled enough...
Britons must drink world dry:

"THE world’s wine producers are looking to Britain to drink them out of a hole.

Faced with a chronic surplus of wine production across the globe, they want British drinkers to increase consumption in coming years and soak up the surfeit."

Come on lads, one more push....

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Beyond all explanation or build-up: Lesbian monkey business.

"FEMALE Japanese monkeys that engage in regular bouts of energetic lesbian sex pose a challenge to one of Charles Darwin’s theories about the mechanics of evolution.

When female Japanese macaque monkeys become sexually aroused, they will often compete with males to copulate with other females. This goes against the Darwinian notion of “sex selection”, that animals adopt mating practices that improve their chances of passing on their genes.

Research by Paul Vasey, of the University of Lethbridge in Canada, has shown that female macaques often form exclusive but temporary pair bonds known as consortships with other females.

“These females engage frequently in homosexual behavour,” Dr Vasey said. “They mount each other, often involving pelvic thrusting, and will gaze into each other’s eyes. Research has shown no functional reason for this. Why do they do it?”"

The Times letters page, as is so often the case, hits upon a crucial point:

"Asylum for Taleban
From Dr Witold Gutt

Sir, You report today that 14 Taleban militiamen are seeking asylum in the UK and three have already been granted it.

The 1951 Geneva Convention that allows protection of such people needs to be rapidly modified in order to distinguish between victims, and persecutors who are escaping from well deserved retribution. I wonder if the same law would have led to asylum for Nazi murderers such as Eichmann?

Yours faithfully,
(Prisoner in Dachau, 1945),
79 West Heath Road, NW3 7TH.
February 18.

Dr Gutt is evidently better placed to speak on the injustice of what is being reported than most. For those not up to speed, a number of former Taleban fighters have been granted asylum or exceptional leave to remain.

There are also reports that these include individuals who fought directly vs the Americans and/or British (the Home Office denies this, but the Times reported one admited it was the case), that smugglers are advising Afghans to claim to be former Taleban to give them a reason to claim asylum, and that former members of the group are being given preferential treatment in the claims-judging process. On the other hand, there are also suggestions that at least some of the individuals were forced to serve in the Taleban, and were effectively conscripts.

There are many issues to unpack, but it does seem that when a tyrannical (or perhaps just brutish regime) falls, its foot-soldiers (and hopefully higher-ups) will not necessarily find things to their liking. With widespread human rights abuses during their time in power, there would probably be trials, or at least some restrains on what they can do, shunning, some light (or heavy) harassment.

But, barring the cases where there is reason to think that individuals were really a) coerced into action, b) are in reasonable fear of unreasonable punishment as a result (i.e. not just a trial with mitigating pleas allowed), and c) couldn't just move within the country, why are they being granted asylum? Unless there are other technicalities I should be seeing, what's wrong with Dr Gutt's objections?
Canadian Red Cross Appeals for $250,000 for Badger Flood Relief

"As some of you might have heard, the town of Badger, in central Newfoundland, had to be evacuated after a major flood late last week. No one was hurt, but the flood waters have turned to ice, and it might be months before the residents are able to return to their homes.

The Canadian Red Cross has launched an emergency appeal for donations to help the flood victims. You can follow the link I've provided. I'm sure the people of Badger would really appreciate it if you provided a link on your site.


Damian P.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Eugene Volokh, who's normally beaten the rest of the world to an objection on the Bushism of the Day column, has been doing some very interesting google searching...
Why is this Bushism of the Day in any way embarassing?

"The role of a leader is to decide policy based upon the security—in this case, the security of the people."—Washington, D.C., Feb. 18, 2003

This seems like normal spoken English. You start to say "The role of a leader is to decide policy based upon the security of the people." Hardly flowing English, but not worthy of condemnation. You realise a qualification is needed ("in this case"), but only part way through the sentence. You correct yourself. Woooo. Big deal.

Surely the criticism of Bush is that he's a moron whose thoughts lack nuance. But when he adds a qualification, in exactly the way everyone else does when speaking, that's amusing/revealing/foolish/pointless. Ah, skip the last one...

Monday, February 17, 2003

Predictably, the advent of congestion charging in London did not make my life better. Approximately 50 minutes delay on my journey home, with diversions on overcrowded tubes (I had to wait for a third before it was possible to get on). Where's congestion charging for the tube when you need it?

Sunday, February 16, 2003

Dr Frank is right: there's something deeply odd about this sign. Can anyone be historically blind enough not to know the reference "Peace in our time"?

Wow. The only result ahead of my site on a Google Search: welsh rugby is shit, is the Welsh Rugby Union. Revealling, huh? Well done Italy on your second Six Nations win.
Whilst not necessarily opposed to a road pricing system, I can't wish Ken's scheme for introducing congestion charging tomorrow other than ill. I don't see how it can possibly improve my life, and there are lots of ways it can make it worse. I get the train and tube to a wide variety of locations around London, and forcing any more passengers onto the tube would make my life more miserable.

Sure, profits are supposed to go into public transport, but a) they're going into buses and b) that relies on the sums working and there being profits. If there are massive falls in use, or costs spiral, then there will be no money to spend on improvements.

And I'll note that Transport for London's theory that even if everyone they expect to switch took the tube, that would only be an extra 4 (or was it 8?) passengers a carriage takes no account of rush-hour journey conditions at the moment.

It is very frequently physically impossible to get onto a train, at some locations for a number of trains. TfL's average works over all trains traveling during rush-hour (one assumes). But many routes are busier than others, as overcrowding shows, and are likely to be proportionately busier now.

So, the first train has only 4 additional people who can't get on. The next has 8. The next 12, etc. There will be more carriages jammed to the rafters, and frankly I'm not looking forward to the whole thing.

And that's ignoring the fact that I'm working at two sites next week, one of which can only practicably be reached by the (shut) Central line, and is on the border of the charging zone, and I wish it only ill.

Instapundit suggests that now google have bought out Pyra, the company who run blogspot, it will start working now.

But if that's the case, why doesn't my archive work now?
The Sunday Times has a great magazine article today explaining some of the issues in the music business at the moment. Sales and profits are plummeting, but is this really a result of the spread of various forms of digital copying, or because of the nature of the product on offer.

It works through the difficulties in establishing an artist who will sell consistently huge numbers of albums, and so will be a banker for the label: EMI paid so highly for Mariah Carey in the belief that they were buying just that.

In essense, the article implies, there are quality problems in the product, and there are also issues in how the business is structured. With each artist costing £500k to launch, one artist selling 25 million records is better than 25 artists selling 50 million, as overheads eat up the profit on the big deals. Because of their size, even a 5 million seller isn't great news for the conglomerates, whereas a million sales for the remaining independents is great news.

The natural conclusion to draw is that smaller labels are a better bet, where innovation can be exploited to produce a profitable, but not mega-profitable, level of sales, rather than having to hunt for (apparently non-existent) super-sellers as the only way improve the bottom line materially. The alternative, incremental profitability improvements through shrewd low-level management doesn't seem to be on the table...

Made possible by the uniquely coercive way the BBC is funded: free highlights of the Six Nations games. I suppose we have to get somehting out of it...
Amygdala has an excellent post up giving the "hands in the air, what do you want us to do if you think we should be dealing with this" agument on North Korea:

"One endlessly sees repeated that George Bush should pay attention to North Korea, not Iraq.
What, precisely, it is suggested that he should do about North Korea somehow never, ever, is specified. Appear on tv every day to announce that he is "worried and concerned," perhaps, and then look worried and concerned.

Because the fact is that there's little to be "done" about North Korea, now that we have an insane totalitararian dictator armed with nuclear missiles there, except obfuscate, try to use diplomacy with other countries, particularly China, to use what small influence they might have with North Korea, and basically give in as best we can to Kim Jong Il's blackmail, and just play for time and hope for the best.

The only military choice open regarding North Korea would start a war that killed hundreds of thousands of Koreans, and likely would include a few nuclear warheads going off. I've yet to see someone argue a case for this as desirable, and it would seem particularly unlikely for someone from the left to so argue, but what else is being argued when the case for "George Bush should pay attention to North Korea, the real danger, not Iraq!" is argued from the left? Is some other translation available for this mantra? Anyone?

Does it come with a plan of action, or just a meaningless affirmation that "North Korea should be a priority!" (A priority to do what is strangely never specified.)

That the present North Korean situation is the pro-war-with-Iraq argument -- the point being that you can only usefully move against a dangerous power about to acquire nuclear weapons before those weapons are available -- seems somehow to go right past those uttering the "North Korea-should-be-a-priority" mantra." "

Via Amygdala

You are 18% geek
OK, so maybe you ain't a geek. You do, at least, show a bit of interest in the world around you. Either that, or you have enough of a sense of humor to pick some of the sillier answers on the test. Regardless, you're probably a pretty nifty, well-rounded person who gets along fine with people and can chat with just about anyone without fear of looking stupid or foolish or overly concerned with minutiae. God, I hate you.

Take the Polygeek Quiz at Thudfactor.com

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