Tuesday, May 31, 2005

EU Numbers

All of the posturing around the French Non obscures the nasty reality: the Brits and the Germans pay for EU, and the Brits get the least back.


EU
I mention this to anticipate the first move of the creepy new French Prime Minister, Justin de Vile Pin - he'll demand the Brits pay more.
Watch this space.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Only Resting

The unelected President of the EU, one M. Juncker from mighty Luxembourg, had this to say about the French Non.

"If at the end of the ratification process, we do not manage to solve the problems, the countries that would have said No, would have to ask themselves the question again," "President" Juncker told the Belgian newspaper Le Soir.

To paraphrase M Python:

Citoyen: Look mon brave, I know a dead Constitution when I see one, and I'm looking at one right now.

President Juncker: No no scum. It's not dead. It's resting!

Who cares? Much more importantly, see the transcript of the entire immortal sketch here.

NAFTA Anyone?

The EU is about to be consumed by in-fighting & isn't going anywhere good. Austin Bay re-raises the suggestion of offering the UK membership in NAFTA. It's aways been a good idea for all the long-suffering free-trade nations trapped in the EU - not just the UK but Holland, Ireland and maybe Scandinavia. It could also fix a chunk of the US trade deficit. Here's why.

The US trade deficit is now about
$500 billion and trending lower.

Here are the January to November 2004 trade numbers for the EU (excluding the UK), the UK and the US (Converting Euros to $ at 1.20):

$ billionUSUK
Imports from EU191226
Exports to EU125156
Surplus (Deficit) (67)(70)

So, if the UK joins NAFTA and switches its trade deficit to the US, the US gets a boost to its trade balance of $67 billion - over 10%. If, perhaps when the EU played tough, the US were also to shut down its trade deficit with the EU, that's another 10%.

Things are never this tidy. But a good rule in management is to head out to where things are better. And the UK in NAFTA is better for all parties. Same applies to the other nations I mention above.

German Home Truths

David's Medienkritik has done a great job highlighting the shameful comments the German Ambassador to the US made just before Memorial Day.

I just sent the German Embassy in Washington the following missive.

Sirs

I am writing to request that Ambassador Ischinger retracts forthwith the three false statements he makes in his recent New Yorker article.

His statement, amended to correct his "unfortunate omission" of the phrase “(since 1990)”, reads as follows.

"In the last year or so, as we've engaged in discussions about the transformation of the Middle East and democracy, I have told my American friends that the region in this world that has seen the most transformation and change is Central and Eastern Europe (since 1990)--without shedding a drop of blood. So don't preach to us."

1. The ambassador ignores the slaughter during the 1990s of an estimated 200,000 people in the Former Yugoslavia plus rape, mutilation and torture on a level not seen since the Nazis. This happened a short flight away from Germany. The ambassador’s omission is all the more regrettable given Germany’s role in this tragedy, first in fermenting the Serb/Croat civil war during its WW2 occupation of Yugoslavia, and then in 1991 triggering its break up by premature recognition of Slovenia.

2. The ambassador next falsely claims that German wisdom caused the transformation of the former Warsaw Pact nations to democracies. In fact the relatively peaceful victories in the East were achieved by the steadfastness and sacrifice of the America and its allies in the worldwide war against Communist tyranny. Germany played little part in this.

3. Finally, the ambassador falsely claims that modern Germany has a superior political wisdom to the US. Yet the current German state is less then 50 years old, having been created after the defeat of its Nazi predecessor, by Russia, the US, Britain and their allies, at enormous cost in blood and treasure. By contrast, the US and UK together possess almost 500 years of experience as functioning democracies – over 10 times that of ambassador Ischinger’s Germany. German politicians would do well listen to the “preaching” of these more experienced nations.

By choosing the week before Memorial Day to publish these false and patronizing statements, the ambassador highlights his nation’s contempt for the American sacrifices to which Germans owe their liberties. After withdrawing his false statements, he should resign.

I shall be publicizing this letter, in the hope that future German administrations will learn from this offensive episode.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

French Reject EUnuch Constitution

The blogosphere called this first!

No Pasaran just after 10:00 PM French time.
England Expects a few minutes later.

Drudge didn't report for another 30 minutes & the MSM is nowhere.

I'm happy to admit that my forecast of a Yes was wrong.

Now we'll get a Chirac/Blair death-fight. Which is great, because nobody cares who wins...

In German "No Drop of Blood" Means "Under 1 Million Dead"

The German Ambassador to the US uses the Nazi definition of "no drop of blood" to mean "under 1 million dead".

Writing in the New Yorker (and adding the "since 1990" after getting pounded) he says.

"As older societies, we tend to think of ourselves as more experienced in the way societies evolve, and we tend to be skeptical of Americans who seem to think that if you believe hard enough, and you muster enough resources, you can change the world."

"In the last year or so, as we've engaged in discussions about the transformation of the Middle East and democracy, I have told my American friends that the region in this world that has seen the most transformation and change is Central and Eastern Europe (since 1990)--without shedding a drop of blood. So don't preach to us."

David's Medienkritik dissects this mendacious garbage. But he is too kind. The break-up of Yugoslavia was triggered in 1991 by the German government's insistence on recognizing Slovenia, against the wishes of the rest of NATO. The EU then stood helpless while hundreds of thousands were murdered and raped as the society collapsed. Finally, the US fixed the situation.

Whack A Mullah

Iran's barbarous rulers do this to women and girls. Slaughter of the defenseless was the hallmark of Hitler, Mao and Stalin. So the Mullahs CANNOT be allowed to get nukes.

Current plans are to bunker-bust their facilities, but the Mullahs have had plenty of time to hide and protect them. It's worth a try, but if it fails, how do we remove the Mullahs without harming the Iranian people?

Here's a solution that could be deployed within three years: use drones to track and kill the Mullahs. Then help the Iranian people to take control of their lives. If, as a democracy, they then decide to keep nukes, that's fine.

The technology works like this.

1. Micro Drones

You need drones that are small & quiet enough to get inside a building undetected; that supply good imaging in low light, and can kill one individual. They need secure communications that will work from inside the buildings (palaces etc).

The Israelis are close to this. I suspect you'd need a 2 tier system with the hunter/killer drones talking to a nearby repeater drone that had satellite uplink.

2. Targeting Data

To enable the drones to find targets autonomously, you'd need automatic target recognition. I'd use the facial recognition currently deployed by the Brits against the IRA & now planned for ID Cards. For this to work, all you need is a reasonable resolution full-face image of the target.

Pictures of many of the Mullahs are available and US and UK intelligence services should be able to fill in gaps.

3. Software

Co-ordinating thousands of drones is a big but well, understood task. I'd modify a modern Air Traffic Control system - perhaps the UK one if they have the bugs out of it.

4. Operator Training

Each drone needs a skilled operator who can keep it undetected, reconnoiter areas to locate likely targets, home in, then carry out the attack. Possibly in swarms with others. Interestingly, teenaged videogamers are very good at these tasks.

So now all you need is a training program that gets you thousands of potential operators, so you can select the cream of the crop.

My suggestion is a commercial videogame called, say, Whack A Mullah providing a simulation of all of the above. Combining the flight and combat genres should make for a highly popular game. It would use best available simulations of the Mullah's palaces & a regularly updated image database of the targets.

Players would be pitted against all the countermeasures the Iranians and their allies (Fwench, Russians) might deploy. From simple things like nets and disguise all the way up to micro-radar and lasers.

Finally, you'd need the supporting website to download pix of new Mullahs, maintain scoreboards, run tactical discussion forums etc.

This sounds so good, I might just build it myself...

Getting Hotter

It was 87 degrees (30N) on my run this morning, but heart monitor reported that my systems have smoothly adjusted to the temperature hike.

Spring flowers mostly gone, but the cactuses are getting fat. Must find recipe for cactus - the fresh green ears ones look quite tasty. Saw rabbit droppings in a country lane, so some have obviously survived the native habit of shooting everything furry that moves.

This morning was Confirmation day at our cathedral-sized church. Extended families turned out looking extra spiffy - men in suits, women in smart outfits with hats.

Kids being confirmed were small girls, I think about 5 (but I'm a notoriously poor age estimator). They wore traditional wedding-type dresses, with white head-scarves and lots of lace. With a few grumpy exceptions, they behaved like little princesses, which in this culture they are. And they all looked very cute, as did the proud parents and extended families that turned out, took photos and headed off to celebration lunches.

This is a low trust society, but the Church does a stellar job providing benign social control. Which means there's very little crime and when these kids grow up they'll be able to wander back home from clubbing, wearing minimalist party outfits, in the early hours of the morning. And be perfectly safe.

Which is unimaginably safer than anywhere we've lived in the UK and US. On the other hand the economy here isn't up to much.

Of course if Catholic modernizers have their way, that will change: kids will no longer be safe. And the economy will still be lousy.

Ooops, this was supposed to be a fluffy bunny post, sorree.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Don't Mess With The Rev

Following his pounding by the Reverend Ian Paisley, WaPo reports:

Exhausted Clinton Cancels Tour of Maldives

Tired Willy

You'd need a heart of stone not to laugh.

In Defense of Knives

Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler does a nice fisk on the moonbat Brit Doctor call for a knife ban. By contrast, I'd make it a legal requirement that every Brit household has at least one long knife. Here's why.

The most crime-free place I lived in the US recommended this procedure when you caught a burglar in your house.

1. Shoot him from about 5 yards with your shotgun. It'll likely be low light and a shotgun has a nice wide spread so he'll be gone.

2. Call the Sheriff.

3. The Sheriff will sympathize, say he'll be right out, and mention that in these circumstances he usually finds a knife next to the burglar's body.

4. Unless there already is one, place knife next to body after wrapping burglar's fingers round it.

5. Call the 24 hour Dead Burglar House Cleaners (see Yellow Pages) to clean up the very considerable mess.

Burglary in the UK will decline dramatically when someone has the presence of mind to do this.

Vote Early Vote Often

In the last French referendum (on the Euro) voters in mainland France were against the measure. Then a surprise rush of votes from the French overseas departments swung the vote to favorable. Expect a rerun in their referendum on the EU Constitution. Jimmy Carter, where are you when we need you?

PARIS (Reuters) - Overseas voters cast their ballots on Saturday in France's referendum on the European Union's constitution, with the "No" camp holding its lead in the final opinion polls.

Polling stations opened for voting in French Guiana, the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique, and Saint-Pierre and Miquelon off Canada's eastern coast. Mainland France votes on Sunday.

Also, I bet you didn't know that the French had an island off the East Coast of Canada. Explains a lot.

Now You Know

Many in the US MSM believe that if the EU Constitution is unpopular with the French and the Brits, it must be a good compromise. It ain't so: the Brits don't like it because it is non-democratic and will kill their economy, whereas the French don't like it because it doesn't give them everything they want.

The difference arises because the Brits (High Trust) expect to to obey all of the Constitution, whereas the French (Low Trust) will only to obey the parts that benefit them.

Here's a current example.


Fort

When American war veterans and US Air Force members gather at the American military cemetery near Cambridge to mark their Memorial Day next weekend, the aircraft type that many of those in the 5,124 graves once flew in, the B17 bomber, will be conspicuous by its absence.

The last Flying Fortress in Britain will not be making a tribute flypast because it has been grounded by a new European regulation that puts the B17 into the weight category of an airliner, boosting its insurance premium by an unaffordable 500 per cent.

A Brit commentator remarks.

It is painful to read the letters from a British minister and the head of our Civil Aviation Authority, explaining how, since this is a Brussels regulation, they have no power to grant an exemption for the B-17, although it may seem absurd that the law has been drafted on such a one-size-fits-all basis.

The news story continues (my emphases):

(The EU rule) took effect on May 1, with no exceptions allowed, and applies across the EU.

It is also supposed to affect the only other B17 flying in Europe - Pink Lady, operating in France - although a spokesman for the company said the French government had not enforced the rule and Pink Lady was flying as normal.

Get the picture?

Friday, May 27, 2005

Clinton's Brave Sacrifice

Bill Clinton, in Dublin to launch a suicide prevention scheme for young people, bravely cheered them up by getting himself a sound kicking by the Spiny Norman politico The Reverend Ian Paisley.

Former US President Bill Clinton has said the Good Friday Agreement is the only viable option for Northern Ireland.

Speaking in Dublin tonight, Mr Clinton said the next move was in the IRA's court.

He said if the IRA gave up arms and criminality it would put pressure on the DUP.

The 1998 Good Friday between the Brits, Micks, IRA and majority Protestants of Northern Ireland involved giving the IRA political legitimacy in return for them giving up their weapons, killing etc..

It's worked up to a point. The IRA got political legitimacy. But then decided that the rest of the agreement was oppressive. They're still armed to the teeth, running drugs, and murdering away.

Not surprisingly, the non-IRA people in Northern Ireland gave up on Good Friday years ago, tossed the pols who sold it to them and elected sterner stuff, in the form of the Reverend Ian P's DUP.

Here's the Reverend's tactful rejoinder to ex-President Clinton.It helps you read this out loud in a NI accent.

“The discredited ex-President of the United States of America, Bill Clinton, simply revealed his unmitigated cheek in going to a country that wants to destroy Ulster’s place in the United Kingdom, and then lectures us that our democratic expression of our own future must be set aside to conform to the will of the country that claims supremacy over it.”

“When Clinton was in the White House, he would not have allowed the Oklahoma bombers to take posts in his government.

Rather, he threatened them with the almighty punishment of his government, yet he dares to dictate to the free people of Northern Ireland that they must have such terrorists in their government.”

“Don’t do what I do, but do what I say — that is the hypocritical way of Bill Clinton, a has-been.”

Don't you feel better already?

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Hoffman's Heroes

I commented yesterday on Lord Hoffman, the South African who was happy to sit in judgment on General Pinochet while serving as chairman of Amnesty, Pinochet's persecutor.

Well, now Amnesty has set its sights on the US (WSJ, subscription required).

At a press conference yesterday releasing its annual human rights report, William Schultz, the executive director of Amnesty's U.S. branch, called the U.S. a "leading purveyor and practitioner" of torture. He urged foreign governments to investigate and arrest U.S. officials.

"The apparent high-level architects of torture should think twice before planning their next vacation to places like Acapulco or the French Riviera," he said, "because they may find themselves under arrest as Augusto Pinochet famously did in London in 1998."

The WSJ comments:

The "apparent" is a nice touch, perhaps an unconscious bow to the fact that multiple probes and courts martial have found no evidence that the U.S. condones or encourages torture.

Amnesty should beware of what it wishes for. Rumsfeld versus lefty Brit judicial fat cats would yield Pulitzer Prize Photos (Snuff Category) galore, as well as handsome desk ornaments for Rummy's office.

Good News!

The members of the AUT today overturned the islamofascists who staged a rigged vote last month calling for a boycott of Israeli universities.

British Lecturers overturned their decision to boycott Haifa and Bar-Ilan universities in a vote on Thursday.

The decision was overturned by two thirds to one (third).

(My ellipsis)

So democracy works and Brit University teachers are decent folks after all. Now all they need to do is eject the Birmingham University pair that wielded the sandbag.

Help The UN Day

LGF reports a the burning question that has stopped the month-long UN Conference on Nuclear Proliferation addressing the North Korean and Iranian weapons programs. In the interests of international progress, Gandalf here provides the answer.

The 188 parties to the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty are near the end of a month-long conference that participants said would almost certainly fail to agree on any steps to improve the pact aimed at halting the spread of nuclear arms.

“The chances are very slim,” said Abdul Minty, head of South Africa’s delegation, “There is a big divide ... The U.S. is developing new nuclear weapons and we want to know against whom.”

Here's the answer for Mr Minty:

The US is developing new nuclear weapons (and assorted other nasty things) to use against Iran, North Korea, China and Russia. That's because each of these nations has threatened to attack the US with nuclear weapons.

Hope that's all clear now Mr Minty.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Liberal Legacy

At least two liberal South Africans have embedded themselves in the Brit and US judiciaries. They carry the proud banner of the South African liberals who fought apartheid. Unfortunately their liberal legacy is a South Africa which is more dangerous place than Iraq in the middle of its "insurgency".

Lord Hoffman

Hoffman

Lord Hoffman is one of the 9 members of the Brit equivalent of the Supreme Court. He hails from Cape Town. He served as unpaid director of Amnesty International between 1990 and at least 2000. His wife Gillian was an administrative assistant in Amnesty's London office in the 21 years up to 2000.

After he and his fellow judges ruled that Pinochet be extradited from the UK, he stated:

"I had no involvement whatsoever in Amnesty International's campaigning work on the Pinochet case".

After ruling to release 9 known terrorists onto the streets of the UK last year, he
said:

"The real threat to the life of the nation, in the sense of a people living in accordance with its tradition, comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these”.

He's using the equal treatment trick so beloved of US judicial despots - see previous post. Brit law forbids the locking up of its citizens without trial. He considered that it would be discriminatory not to extend the same rights to foreign terrorists.

Margaret Marshall


Marshall

Margaret Marshall is Chief Justice of the Mass Supreme Court. Born, raised and educated in South Africa, she moved to the US in 1968. She's a left wing feminist, married to the Anthony Lewis of the New York Times who some regard as a bigoted anti-semite. She's an admitted Republican-hater.

The legacy these folks and their fellows have left South Africa is relevant, because they are now in positions to repeat the act in the UK and US.


In South Africa, about 65 people are murdered every day (46 Million people, murder rate 0.51 per thousand) For comparison, Iraq with half the population and in the middle of a Syrian/Iranian attack is losing about 20 people every day (my estimate).

I'm betting that both countries will turn round the situations they're in. And that they'll do it without a liberal judiciary.

Fixing Judicial Despotism

The President has got his judges, in the process displaying his superb results-focused management style. But making a few more normal people into judges won't fix a corrupt system.

Just how corrupt is demonstrated in this report in the Boston Glob of the South African Mass Supreme Court Justice Margaret Marshall addressing a crowd of 7,000 at Brandeis University's 54th commencement (via Opinion Journal):

Marshall began with a joke about the blue and white balloons suspended from the Gosman Sports Center ceiling. She said she liked the colors, which included "no red states"--winning a big laugh.

She goes on:

"I worry when people of influence use vague, loaded terms like 'judicial activism' to skew public debate or to intimidate judges," Marshall said. "I worry when judicial independence is seen as a problem to be solved and not a value to be cherished."

Typical despot: she's so confident of her position that she admits political bias and then makes an ad hominem attack on people who criticize her socially destructive dictats.

In an earlier posts I reviewed alternative fixes, and here's one I hadn't though of in a WSJ opinion piece by Lino Graglia, Professor of Law at the University of Texas.

The battles in Congress over the appointment of even lower court federal judges reveal a recognition that federal judges are now, to a large extent, our real lawmakers.

Judge-made constitutional law is the product of judicial review -- the power of judges to disallow policy choices made by other officials of government, supposedly on the ground that they are prohibited by the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson warned that judges, always eager to expand their own jurisdiction, would "twist and shape" the Constitution "as an artist shapes a ball of wax." This is exactly what has happened.

He argues that the obvious cures - term limits & the requirement of a super-majority for rulings of unconstitutionality don't address the essential despotism. His alternative is to reframe the 14th Amendment.

The essential irrelevance of the Constitution to contemporary constitutional law should be clear enough from the fact that the great majority of Supreme Court rulings of unconstitutionality involve state, not federal, law; and nearly all of them purport to be based on a single constitutional provision, the 14th Amendment -- in fact, on only four words in one sentence of the Amendment, "due process" and "equal protection." The 14th Amendment has to a large extent become a second constitution, replacing the original.

His proposes reframing the 14th Amendment to prevent judges using it as "empty vessels into which they can pour any meaning".

Mixing metaphors, this seems to me to be an attempt to plug just one hole in a collapsing dam. Surely, if judges are blocked in their manipulation of one amendment, they'll just find another one. The problem is the behavior of people who have no limits set on them, not their tactics.

So, I revert to my earlier Jeffersonian proposal - Congress must take charge, as the Constitution requires. Since the despots are lefties, that will involve a Republican super-majority, which does not currently exist. But, when the American people have had enough, it will come.

In the meantime, we need to constantly criticize these people. If they suspect that their days in power are numbered they will moderate their behavior. Which will perhaps delay legalized pedophilia, incest, euthanasia and the broad imposition of international law.

Rome wasn't built in a day. But it was built.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Why Are Europeans Destroying Their Economies?

Germany and France could easily reverse their economic death spirals, but they refuse to. So Chirac and Schroder are set to end their days as failures. Why this is happening is a mystery.

The fix is easy in theory and not hard in practice: cut taxes so as to increase tax revenue.

The theory behind this, developed by Art Laffer, is commonsense. Here's how it works:

1. If you tax something at 0%, you get no revenue.

2. If you tax something at 100%, you also get no revenue, since the activity becomes worthless to the folks you are taxing, and they do something else (if they can't move away, you get a revolution).

3. So, it follows that moving between a tax rate of 0% and a tax rate of 100%, there is a curve starting at a return of zero, rising, and then falling back to zero.

From this is follows that at some to-be-determined rate, you get the highest return - more than that means revenue drops because people avoid the activity (e.g. working), and less than that it drops because people are content to pay a higher rate (perhaps because this buys them cost-effective state services).

It also follows that if your tax rate is too high, cutting it will increase your revenues, and this is the theory behind the Reagan and Bush tax cuts. Here's the reality: in spite of all the pains afflicting the US economy since 9/11, and in spite of the Bush tax cuts so ahted by the Dimocrats, guess what happened to Federal tax revenue in the year to April 2005 (WSJ subsrciption required)?

Federal tax revenues increased by 13.6%

So, the only questions for Euro pols is, are their taxes too high? I have yet to talk to a European who doesn't think so. And >10% unemployment and stalled economies are surely indicators that something is broken.

So, all the Euro politicians have to do is cut taxes. Then they'll get more money to pay their army of pensioners, companies will expand & hire more so unemployment costs will drop, their deficits will fall below the level needed to stop the Euro collapsing, and people will have more of their own money to spend so be happier. Which means the pols will be re-elected.

Win-Win.

This is not a theory, it's what Maggie did for the Brits in 1979. Before then, the UK had been socialized to death, its economy overtaken by Germany, Italy and France and its population emigrating. Following 1979, there were a few rough years and many people had to change to more productive jobs. But since then the UK has been growing consistently, leaving the French and Italians in the dust and set to overtake the Germans in a few years.

So here are two question for social philosophers.

1. How bad does it have to get before the Europeans come to their senses and cut taxes?

2. If they never do, what is it that makes great nations destroy themselves?

Monday, May 23, 2005

Gallic Headwinds

On a lighter note LGF reports a bike ride.

Cycle of Violence: Wind=Hitler
Today’s ride: 35.14 miles, through a fascist coast-hugging fog, with a hegemonic headwind in both directions. You may ask, “How can a cyclist have a hegemonic headwind in both directions?” Answer: when the wind changes direction at the same time you do. Gotta hate that.

Wind-thwarting happens to runners too. The nicest run in my repertoire is across San Francisco bay:
- leave car at SF Ferry Embarcadero terminal
- run West along the bay through Fisherman's Wharf and the Marina, then up through the Presidio onto and across the Golden Gates bridge
- on North shore run down to Sausolito
- take ferry back to SF.

Except that - the wind is always in your face. It makes 3 precisely timed changes in direction. Where else do we see constant opposition regardless of the direction we take? You know, opposing the Iraq war as unilateral and condemning US refusal to talk to the NoKos unilaterally? Right, it's our frog gnawing friends.

Thinking about winds this way makes running against them much easier - just another routine exercise wading through the French.

Strange But True

The cheery Italian greeting "Ciao" originally meant "I am your slave".

It's derived from "Schiavo", which means slave.

Be Glad Newsweek Doesn't Build Planes

The world is struggling to understand why the US MSM lies all the time. Newsweek reveals that one reason is that it has no conception of quality assurance.

Of course the MSM is populated by lefties who lie to damage their political opponents - as with CBS/Rathergate.

But how to explain Newsweek? It was a short story, it wasn't timed for maximum damage, it had no forged supporting data.

Newsweek's editor gives the game away to Time with this rueful comment:

"You have to be prepared to defend the accuracy of everything that appears in the magazine—no matter how short."

Now imagine the CEO of Boeing whining that:

"You have to be prepared to test every component of the 777—even small ones."

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Brit Social Security

Blair is thinking of raising the age from which folks get paid Social Security (Pensions) to 70. But only if they have a college degree. Should be a vote-winner.

This is from a more than usually duplicitous story in Rupert Murdock's London Sunday Times. Here's a quick Fisking.

UNIVERSITY graduates may be barred from receiving a state pension until they are 70 under proposals from Tony Blair’s pensions supremo to solve the looming crisis.

Wonder what caused the crisis? Brits have a higher retirement savings rate than Europe & the US.

Adair Turner, head of the government’s Pensions Commission, says lower-paid workers could, however, still retire on a full pension at 65 to reflect their lower life expectancy.

I guess low life expectancy of poor people might be something to do with Blair.

In the interview, Turner said that all workers might have to be forced to save for a pension with the money invested on their behalf by the government. It would ensure that everybody would have an annual income of about £12,000 a year, including the basic state pension.

Actually, the Brits do pay Social Security contributions. It's called National Insurance and has payments by employer and employee and runs at between 3% and 9% of salary - about double the US rate. Seems that El Supremo just forgot this one.

The unpopular changes are being considered by Turner because of the multi-billion-pound shortfall in the amount that people have saved for their retirement. Estimates have put the shortfall at between £30 billion and £60 billion.

Let's see, when Blair was elected in 1997, his buddy/rival Brown's first move was to slap an annual tax of £5 billion on pension funds. Let's see, that's 8 years at £5 billion, which is £40 billion. Which is right between £30 billion and £60 billion. Fancy that!

If the Brits let these creeps get away with this, they deserve their impecunious retirements. Mind you, Blair's "National Health Service" will finish them off early, so the suffering won't last too long...

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Italian Insights

A few insights from the Gandalf Italian tour - 2 weeks in Umbria followed by two days in Rome when Gandalfette jetted in to shop the Via Del Corso with Mrs. G.

Language
It's as pleasant to speak as it is to hear. From a standing start, I built a vocabulary of over 150 words, and can do all the basics - be polite, count, greet and introduce, order in bar and restaurant, check in to a hotel, hire a car, pay bills. Lots still to do on verbs and tenses, but the Italians are tolerant of error and speak very clearly. Extrapolating, another 200 hours will bring basic fluency.

Politics
Is screwed. They've lost faith in their political class & decided that rule from Brussels is less bad than rule from Rome. Makes sense - the average corruption level of the EU is 3.2 (a bit worse than Spain), and Italy's is 5.2, same as Hungary. So, they fly the EU flag most places where they fly the Italian flag. Completely unlike the Brits, who rarely fly the EU flag.

Driving
They drive expertly, but take appalling risks - running red lights and overtaking on blind corners is quite normal. However, drivers take this into account, keeping as far right as possible on bends (into the breakdown lane!) since they're likely to meet oncoming traffic in the middle of the road. From an Italian viewpoint, the driver of the Sgrena car behaved quite normally, but unfortunately for his passengers, Italian driving is indistinguishable from Iraqi suicide bomber driving.

Incidentally, according to the BBC, per-capita death rates on Italian roads are over double those in the UK. But, being the BBC, they claim the US is even worse than Italy, which from my experience is unlikely.

Italian Attitudes
1. They think the Brits are honest & brave but insular and with lousy dress sense.
2. They like the Spanish.
3. They think the French haughty and rude, and hate the fact that they have to drive through France to get to Spain. Room for a land-grab here.
4. They don't like anything about the Germans. On our language course they showed us Benigni's Life is Beautiful, the haunting comedy of the Holocaust - I highly recommend it. Every German Dresden-whiner should watch it.

Guide Books
I took a couple of Italy-based detective novels with me, both by Michael Dibden. He's an Italiaphile who is clear-eyed about its blemishes. Cosi Fan Tutti and Blood Rain. Better than any travel guide.

Services
Are variable, depending on the mood of the people providing them. Talking halting Italian helped a lot.

People
Umbrian folk were friendly, open and practical - rather like Minnesotans. Romans were all over the map but always entertaining - rather like Londoners.

Landscape
Large parts of Umbria look exactly like the Blue Ridge Mountains. Apparently it's like that over much of Italy. Which explains why in WW2 it took almost 2 years for the Brits and Americans to fight their way up the country and why there are allied cemeteries everywhere.

And of course the food was great.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Whining Germans

The Germans had it easy in WW2, and if they don't quit whining about it, I'm going to demote them to Doug Piranha status.

Modern Germans want us to forget their nation's depraved and systematic slaughter, rape and destruction in the 2 wars they launched, while remembering with sympathy the vengeance they suffered.

LGF reports a Der Spiegel article 'Dresden Bombing Is To Be Regretted Enormously'.

The Feb. 13, 1945 bombing of Dresden by the British Royal Air Force has become a symbol (to whining Germans) for excessive, gratuitous violence on the part of the Allies during World War II.
(My elipsis).

In fact the allied destruction of Germany's industry, cities and military did a great favor to the Germans. It taught them that armed robbery is a lousy national strategy, and that prosperity has to be earned. In doing this, the allies paid a much higher price in blood and money than the Germans. And then we helped them rebuild and taught them a form of democracy.

There's a good summary of the raid here. Dresden was the 7th largest city in Germany, the junction of three great trunk routes in the German railway system. Its factories made poison gas and guns. It was destroyed to prevent the Germans switching troops to the fight the Russians on the Eastern Front.

Dresden's position as a transportation hub was similar to the island of Malta, which the Germans and Italians subjected to much heavier and prolonged bombing before the RAF and Royal Navy shut them down.

Here's a comparison, with the Hiroshima included for good measure:

DresdenMaltaHiroshima
Attack Duration2 Days3 years1 Minute
Population600,000300,000310,000
Kilotons dropped3.917.015.0

Because it was attacked over an extended period, Malta kilotonnage had much greater lethality than those on Dresden and Hiroshima. Explosions follow the inverse square law, so spreading them in space and time maximizes the damage. That's why, if you were to nuke, say, Paris, you'd put down a pattern of 50 or so sub-megaton airbursts on a 10 Km grid rather than one big 50 megaton burst over the Eiffel Tower. Just an example.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Doublespeak

One of the things I painfully relearned while on a forced diet of TV is the way the networks distort reality by careful choice of words.

The BBC and CNN are particularly offensive - people "die" in "insurgent"attacks, rather than being murdered, and so on. Even the right wing Daily Telegraph is not immune - today it headlines continuing attacks by Palestinians on Israel as:

Ceasefire under threat after rockets fired in Gaza

There are 2 problems here. First, they use the common trick of the passive - they don't identify the bad actor. Second, they treat a ceasefire like a glass of water - it may be almost empty, but as long as there's a trace of water in it, it's still a glass of water. But of course ceasefires are not glasses of water, they are agreements to cease fire. If one side opens fire, the agreement lapses.

So, the Telegraph's headline should read.

Palestine ends its ceasefire agreement with Israel by firing rockets in Gaza

So this inoffensive-seeming little story is quite unpleasantly manipulative, carrying the message that the state of Israel should adhere to a broken ceasefire, while its enemies do not.

Il Ritorno

Back after 18 days in Italia, here's what seems to have been happening, based on conversations in broken Italian and from blearily peering at tiny TVs in bars.

1. Juventus scored convincing wins over Milan and Parma
2. Italian female gameshow contestants are wearing their eyelashes, skirts & tops a whopping 3" long this year
3. Silvio Berlusconi is bad for Roman cab drivers, for some unspecified reason
4. John Bolton has been thrashed by the BBC and Senate for lying to Colin Powell about WMD
5. CNN and Newsweek have exposed the horror of Gitmo and the Muslim world has responded with restraint, murdering only 20 or so innocents
6. Tony Blair has been re-elected & his vampiric opponent is retiring with suspicious alacrity
7. A shock poll reports that all nations dislike the French

As soon as I've added an Italian female gameshow site to my blogroll (all suggestions welcome), I'll offer insightful analysis of these developments.