February 29, 2012

“Taken together, the [Canadian] music industry demands make SOPA look like some minor tinkering with the law”

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Liberty, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:51

Michael Geist on the representatives of the Canadian music industry and their breathtaking demands for modifications to Bill C-11:

The steady procession of Canadian music industry representatives to the Bill C-11 committee continues today with the Canadian Independent Music Association (CIMA) ready to add to an already long list of industry demands to completely overhaul the bill. The music industry demands keep growing, but CIMA’s list is the most radical to date as it would create liability risk for social networking sites, search engines, blogging platforms, video sites, aggregators, and many other websites featuring third party contributions. If that were not enough, the industry is also calling for a new iPod tax, an extension in the term of copyright, a removal of protections for user generated content, parody, and satire, as well as an increase in statutory damage awards. Taken together, the music industry demands make SOPA look like some minor tinkering with the law.

Note that industry had already called for SOPA-style reforms such as website blocking and expanded liability that could extend to sites such as YouTube before the hearings began. This week has seen an industry lawyer inaccurately portray global approaches to digital lock rules and a musician association demand full statutory damages of up to $20,000 per infringement for non-commercial infringements by individuals.

Those demands are nothing compared to what CIMA has in mind, however. Topping the list is a massive expansion of the enabler provision. The music industry wants to remove a requirement that the so-called pirate sites be “designed primarily” to enable copyright infringement.

[. . .]

There is virtually no limit to prima facie liability under this provision as most sites can be said to enable some infringement, particularly if they allow for users to post or interact with the site. This includes sites like Google, Facebook, Reddit, and Youtube. All of these sites — indeed virtually any blogging platform, social network, search engine, or website that offers third party contributions — would face the risk of a prima facie claim under the music industry’s vision of the enabler provision.

NY Police domestic spy operation in Muslim neighbourhoods gets little press attention

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:11

Natalie Rothschild on the rather disturbing use of NYPD resources to conduct surveillance operations in Muslim areas of New York City and New Jersey:

It has emerged that the White House has funded the New York Police Department’s surveillance of entire Muslim neighbourhoods with money earmarked for fighting drug crime. The revelations were detailed in reports by the Associated Press this week. In response, senior law enforcement officials and politicians have been either unapologetic or silent. Most tellingly, the Obama administration, which has championed Muslim outreach and has said law enforcement should not put entire communities under suspicion, said on Monday that it has no opinion on the matter.

Since the 9/11 attacks, the Bush and Obama administrations have provided $135million to the New York and New Jersey region through the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area programme (HIDTA). It’s unclear exactly how much of that money was spent on surveillance of Muslims because the programme has little oversight. But the AP discovered that the White House money has paid for cars that plainclothes NYPD officers used to conduct surveillance of Muslim neighbourhoods in New York and New Jersey, and for computers that stored information about Muslim college students, mosque sermons and social events. It also helps pay rent for the NYPD’s intelligence unit.

This is, effectively, a spying programme used to monitor American Muslims as they shop, work, socialise, pray and study. Police have photographed and mapped mosques and recorded license plates of worshippers. They have compiled lists of Muslims who took new, Americanised names, eavesdropped on conversations inside businesses owned or frequented by Muslims, infiltrated Muslim student groups and monitored websites of universities across north-east US. In the name of counterterrorism, Muslim American citizens have been catalogued, their private conversations and everyday activities recorded and stored in databases.

[. . .]

On Monday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the administration has no opinion on how the HIDTA grant money was spent and that the White House has no authority to direct, manage or supervise any law-enforcement operations. If the administration truly has no power to influence a NYPD programme used for intrusive monitoring of scores of American citizens, then that would indicate great political impotence. After all, both in the domestic and international arenas, the Obama administration has warned against demonising and singling out Muslims in America and turned Muslim outreach into a priority. Well, it is hard to think of any starker way of ‘singling out’ a group than by stalking anyone who looks or sounds like they belong to it.

The US Navy’s mirror-image cost problems with aircraft carriers

Filed under: Economics, Environment, Military, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:51

Strategy Page talks about the ever-rising cost of building aircraft carriers:

The first of the new Ford class aircraft carriers keeps getting more expensive. The price for the first one has gone up $161 million in the last ten months. The USS Gerald R Ford (CVN 78) was originally supposed to cost $8 billion, plus $5 billion for R&D (research and development of new technology and features unique to this class of ships). Now it appears that the cost of the Ford will not be $13 billion, but closer to $15 billion. The second and third ships of the class will cost less (construction plus some additional R&D). Thus the first three ships of the Ford class will cost a total of about $40 billion.

The current Nimitz-class carriers cost about half as much as the Fords. Both classes also require an air wing (48-50 fighters, plus airborne early-warning planes, electronic warfare aircraft, and anti-submarine helicopters), which costs another $3.5 billion. Three years ago, the USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), the last of the Nimitz class carriers, successfully completed its sea trails and was accepted by the U.S. Navy. The Bush was ready for its first deployment in 2010.

At those costs, it should be no surprise that few other navies operate carriers at all, and none operate the size of carrier that the US Navy does. Build costs are rising rapidly, and although the Ford class will carry significantly fewer crew members, they’ll still be very expensive to operate.

The costs don’t end there, however, as all warships have limited lifespans. Disposal of the retired ships is another area where costs are headed ever higher:

Last year, the U.S. Navy decided to go back to the breakers (where ships are broken up for scrap). Four retired aircraft carriers (USS Constellation, USS Forrestal, USS Independence and USS Saratoga) were to be scrapped instead of sunk, or simply allowed to rust away while tied up. These ships were taken out of service between 1993 and 2003 and have been waiting since then while a decision was made on their disposition. But there are seven carriers waiting to be scrapped and the navy has an economic disaster on its hands. Keeping carriers in reserve costs $100,000 a year, but it can cost over a billion dollars to scrap one of them.

Since the 1990s, sending warships to the scrap yard has not been considered a viable alternative. It’s all about pollution, bad press and cost. The largest warship to be scrapped, the 45,000 ton carrier USS Coral Sea, took until 2000 (seven years) to be broken up. Thus the process is not only expensive, it takes a long time. Then the navy discovered that the cost of scrapping the carrier USS Enterprise would be close to a billion dollars. This was largely the result of lots more environmental and safety regulations. With so many navy ships (especially nuclear subs) being broken up in the 1990s, and all these new regulations arriving, the cost of disposing of these ships skyrocketed. This was especially true with carriers.

[. . .]

It gets worse. With the really vast number of single hull tankers being scrapped and large numbers of old, smaller-capacity container ships laid up and likely to be offered for scrap fairly soon, the market for difficult-to-scrap naval ships is going to shrivel, and the price for scrap steel will drop. Efforts to get the navy include the costs of disposal in the budget for lifetime costs has never caught on, and now it’s obvious why not. The real nightmare begins in 2013, when the first nuclear powered carrier (the 93,000 ton USS Enterprise) is to be decommissioned. The cost of dismantling this ship (and disposing of radioactive components) will be close to $2 billion.

Ireland introduces the doomsday scenario: allowing voters to have a say on the Euro

Filed under: Europe, Government, Law — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:33

The EU is not a democratic institution, and is actively hostile to any attempt to consult the people as it tries to become a super-state. Ireland just tossed a medium-sized spanner into the works:

Premier Enda Kenny said Dublin was acting on legal advice from Ireland’s attorney-general that “on balance” the fiscal compact requires a vote under the country’s constitution. “It gives the Irish people the opportunity to reaffirm Ireland’s commitment to membership of the euro,” he told ashen-faced members of the Dail.

All three major parties back the treaty but analysts say there is a high risk of rejection by angry voters in the current fractious mood. The compact gives the EU intrusive powers to police the budgets of debtor states, and has been denounced as feudal bondage by Sinn Fein and Ireland’s vociferous eurosceptics. The Irish voted “No” to both the Nice and Lisbon treaties before being made to vote again. Dublin has ruled out a second vote this time.

The Taoiseach’s announcement sent the euro into sharp dive against the dollar, though it rebounded later. Europe’s leaders thought they had tweaked the wording of the text just enough to avoid an Irish vote.

Note that last sentence closely. Avoiding consulting the very people who’ll be most affected is standard practice in the EU. Good for Ireland that they aren’t willing to be steamrolled yet again.

Is it time to abandon the RCN’s submarine experiment?

Filed under: Britain, Cancon, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:05

John Ivison recounts the ill-fated story of the Royal Canadian Navy’s current submarines in the National Post:

The Liberal government bought four second-hand subs for $750-million from the British in 1998 and renamed them the Victoria class — HMCS Victoria, HMCS Windsor, HMCS Chicoutimi and HMCS Corner Brook.

Since then, billions more have been spent trying to “Canadianize” the subs, including thousands of dollars blown trying to stop pigeons roosting in them, such is the length of time they have been in dry-dock. At various times over the past 10 years, the whole fleet has been out of commission.

The history of Canada’s submarine fleet would be laughable, were it not so tragic. People in government at the time remember the surprise expressed by Liberal ministers that the Defence department accepted the British military’s statement of quality assurance, without doing their own due diligence. That the buyer should have been more wary quickly became apparent.

The Chicoutimi caught fire on her maiden voyage from Faslane in Scotland in October 2004, with the death of one sailor and smoke-inhalation injuries to nine others. The sub has been in dry-dock ever since and is scheduled to return to service in 2013, although some stories have suggested 2016 is more realistic and others that she may never again be operational.

I blogged about HMCS Chicoutimi at the old blog, when it was expected that she’d be back in service in 2010.

Last year, HMCS Corner Brook had what some wag at the Department of National Defence characterized as a “fender bender”:

Some fender. The CBC reported on the extent of the damage:

The Canadian navy admitted that the submarine crashed off British Columbia in June, but it never described the extent of damage or released a photograph.

“I was gobsmacked. I had no idea that this level of damage had occurred,” said Senator Colin Kenny, the former head of the Senate defence committee. “That may explain why the navy took it out of the water at night.”

[. . .]

Some familiar with the submarine say its pressure hull, the area in which the sailors are housed, may be heavily damaged and that would mean the sub will never go to sea again.

“Canada needs a submarine fleet, and to have this boat not be available would be tragic,” Kenny said

The RCN claimed that there was no cover-up and that they have been completely above-board and “transparent” about the incident. It’s an odd definition of “transparency” that requires you to submit a formal Access to Information request to get the report — and the photos of the damage to the hull were censored from the report anyway.

Back in 2004, it was reported that our submarines were without torpedo armament, but that they would be “fully armed” by 2006. The CBC report mentioned in passing that eight years later, they’re still lacking torpedoes:

The navy said HMCS Windsor is to undergo trials “in the coming months” and is also expected to be back in operation later in 2012.

Not one submarine is capable of firing a torpedo, however the navy said Tuesday that a test firing of a torpedo from HMCS Victoria is planned for the coming weeks and the submarine is supposed to be operational this year.

Back to John Ivison:

In all this time, the fleet has hardly been crucial to our defence. According to people familiar with its role, it has spent time at sea monitoring fishing fleets and acting as “prey” for U.S. forces, who don’t have diesel-electric subs of their own and like to use ours for hunting practice.

Peter MacKay, the Defence Minister, recently lamented the decision to buy the British diesel-electric subs, which are not capable of diving below ice in the Arctic. “In an ideal world, I know nuclear subs are what’s needed under deep water, deep ice,” he mused.

That we do not live in an ideal world was quickly made apparent by Government House Leader Peter Van Loan, who all but disowned the fleet in a response to a question in the House. “There is no plan to replace the diesel-electric fleet purchased by the Liberals,” he said.

But if there is no plan to replace the fleet, is there a plan to scrap it?

[. . .]

The Navy defines “full operational capability” as having a weapons-ready sub on each coast. It has yet to put one sub to sea that meets that standard, a decade after the first one was received.

The hope is that two boats will be fully operational within two years, with a “swing boat” available to take over when one goes for refit. That may prove wildly optimistic. Submarines may be a useful addition to our battery of defences — but only if they work. And not at any cost.

These subs have proven themselves to be lemons, they are already past mid-life and the odds are against us having even three boats with operational capacity at any one time.

February 28, 2012

Yet another death due to excessive concern for ‘elf an’ safety issues

Filed under: Britain, Bureaucracy, Government, Health — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 14:25

Bagehot blogs about the unhealthy results of paying too close attention to the health and safety regulations:

[T]he Mail on Sunday ran an interesting feature this weekend about a different example of what certainly sounded like a health and safety overreaction. It told the tale of a man who drowned in a shallow boating pond in his local park, after suffering an epileptic seizure while feeding swans. A passer-by (a woman who was in charge of a small child so did not dare enter the pond) called the emergency services. But the first firemen to show up announced that they only had Level One training, for ankle-deep water, and needed to wait for a specialist team with Level Two training for chest-deep water. By the time that team arrived, the man had been floating in the pond for 37 minutes. While waiting for that specialist help, the same firemen also strongly urged a policeman not to attempt a rescue in the pond, even refusing to lend the policeman a life-vest. Then the policeman’s control room told him not to enter the water, as the victim had been in the pond so long that it was a body retrieval mission, not a rescue.

The MoS, which sent its reporter out into the same pond equipped with no more than rubber waders, called it a story that “shames Britain”. Certainly its photograph of the eventual retrieval of the poor victim’s body, featuring 25 separate emergency workers, an inflatable tent, several fire engines and a helicopter, is suggestive of an over-reaction after an under-reaction.

It is tempting to conclude that Britain has fallen into a serious problem with regulation, red tape and crippling risk-aversion. Certainly, the newspapers have recently been filled with all manner of depressing stories about pancake races being cancelled, policemen being urged not to pursue criminals onto roof tops, party bunting being outlawed or council workers refusing to mount shoulder-height step ladders to fix broken signs without logistical back-up once reserved for the cleaning of the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

[. . .]

All of which is sensible. You don’t have to be a wild-eyed libertarian to suspect that something has gone wrong with the management of risk in Britain. It is also depressing to see so many advertisements for ambulance-chasing lawyers, urging anyone who has had the smallest accident to sue. Anecdotally, members of parliament grumble about the role played by some insurance companies who hold special advice-sessions on liability for local councils, seeking to terrify them into taking out expensive cover and in the process filling the heads of municipal bosses with all manner of scare stories.

But listening to my rather cautious Jersey host, and reading the MoS report of the pond rescue, I found myself wondering if the British character may not also play a role. Read the report by Lord Young, or even the detail of the admirably comprehensive Mail report, and the rules themselves are sometimes less the problem than their interpretation. It turns out that emergency workers can break all sorts of health and safety rules when lives are at stake, without fear of prosecution, for example. And those guidelines on Level One and Level Two water training were intended for rescuers in fast-moving flood waters, the inquest into the pond case was told.

The palpable disappointment of discovering there isn’t a vast “denier” conspiracy

Ben Pile discusses the huge letdown for environmental activists that the Heartland Institute revelations merely revealed that there isn’t a huge, shadowy conspiracy to discredit them:

When internal documents from a libertarian think tank — the Heartland Institute, known for its sceptical views on climate change — were published on the internet recently, climate-change activists around the world were elated. The leak seemed to reveal the existence of a conspiracy to distort science and impede political progress on solving climate change, just as activists had claimed. But the celebrations turned sour when one of the documents turned out to be fake, and the remainder turned out to reveal nothing remarkable. Rather than telling us anything about organised ‘climate-change denial’, this silly affair reveals much more about environmentalists.

One of the endlessly recurring themes of the environmental narrative is — in the words of the man at the centre of the ‘Fakegate’ mess, water and climate researcher Peter Gleick — that an ‘anonymous, well-funded, and coordinated’ effort exists ‘to cast doubt on climate science’, and ‘muddy public understanding about climate science and policy’. According to this mythology, right-leaning think tanks are funded by big energy companies that are keen to protect their profits from environmental regulation.

There are two problems for environmentalists convinced by this mythology.

The first is that it has never been plausible. Large corporations do not suffer from regulation. They are simply able to pass costs on to the consumer. Moreover, regulation creates firm ground on which to base longer-term strategic decisions about capital investments. And finally, regulation creates opportunities for companies that are able to mobilise resources to enter new markets. Wind farms, for example, are not cottage industries. Regulation suits larger companies.

The second problem for environmentalists has been to demonstrate that the myth is anything more than a myth. An ongoing Greenpeace project launched in 2004, for instance, aimed to provide a ‘database of information on the corporate-funded anti-environmental movement’. However, the sums of money involved were paltry. According to Greenpeace, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, one of the most vilified organisations, had received just $2million from Exxon between 1998 and 2005. Yet between 1994 and 2005, total donations to Greenpeace amounted to over $2 billion. According to the greens’ conspiratorial narrative, a handful of conservative think tanks with relatively small resources were seemingly able to undo the campaigning of a host of huge international environmental NGOs, national governments, international agencies, and yes, corporate interests, whose combined resources were many, many thousands of times greater.

Occupy London has become an open-air asylum

Filed under: Britain, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:16

Brendan O’Neill in the Telegraph on the state of the Occupy London protests:

Even though I am an absolutist with it comes to the right to protest, I couldn’t help feeling relieved when a court decided this week that the Occupy camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral should sling its hook. For what started life as a middle-class shantytown packed with self-righteous haters of the rich — an annoying spectacle, yes, but hardly the end of world — has in recent weeks descended into something far more degenerate. Occupy London is now effectively a holding camp for the mentally ill, a space where the psychologically afflicted and deeply troubled can gather to eat, drink and be un-merry. And to have such a makeshift lunatic asylum on the steps of St Paul’s is not good for London nor for the inhabitants of the camp, who clearly need somewhere better to go.

On the five occasions I have visited Occupy London, I have noticed a steady decline in the calibre of the campers. To begin with, the inhabitants were mostly young, with red cheeks and purple hair, talking utter rubbish, of course, but not unpleasant to look at. Before long, that contingent seemed to disappear, to be replaced by straggly-haired conspiracy theorists banging on about 7/7 and the chemicals in our food. Now the camp has the distinct whiff of rotting food and decaying socks, and its dwellers are all sad-eyed and pathetic, many of them old, confused, and clearly too fond of booze. “GET TAE F**K!” one of them was shouting, at absolutely no one, the last time I was there.

[. . .]

All those commentators who wrote glowing reports about the camp a few months back, who took their organically fed children on day trips to visit it, who slammed anyone who criticised it and said we didn’t understand its “historic momentum” or “strategic function”, are now nowhere to be seen. That’s not surprising. What they giddily described as a turning point in radical politics has turned out to be more like a modern-day Bedlam, where respectable people on their way to work peer with increasingly wide-eyed bemusement at the strange, mumbling folk inside this unhygienic and collapsing institution.

More on those links between Pakistan’s ISI and army leaders and the Taliban

Filed under: Asia, India, Military, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:09

Strategy Page has a useful summary of the state of play in Pakistan in their oft-denied support of terrorist activities in Afghanistan and in India:

Pakistan officially denies there is any direct connection between the Pakistani Army, ISI (Pakistani intelligence) and Islamic terrorists. The government has recently admitted that Islamic terrorists have had cooperation from unnamed prominent Pakistani civilians. But a growing number of former (mostly retired) military and intelligence admit that the terrorist connections did exist. Few of these men will openly admit these connections, lest they endure retaliation. The army and ISI are known to kidnap and murder critics. Pakistan is living a dream/nightmare of having created and sustained Islamic terror organizations for decades, yet never admitting the role of the government in this. The denials are wearing thin.

Pakistan remains a much more violent place than India. Each month, there are 5-10 times as many terrorism related deaths in Pakistan as in India (a country with six times as many people as Pakistan). Most of the violence is (and always has been) in the Pushtun and Baluchi tribal territories along the Afghan and Iranian borders. These lands have always been poor (except for the recently discovered natural gas in Baluchistan, and, centuries ago, some parts of the Chinese “silk road” that passed through Pushtun lands) and the local empires simply ignored the Pushtuns and Baluchis. For thousands of years, these were the “badlands” that civilized people avoided. The many Baluchi and Pushtun tribes were too isolated from each other, and in love with their own independence, to allow formation of Baluchi and Pushtun states. But the Baluchis are overcoming their differences, much to the discomfort of Pakistan. The Pushtuns are as divided as ever, united only in their hostility to outsiders (a category which sometimes includes other Pushtun tribes.) Worse for the Pushtuns, they form the majority of the Taliban, and are far more into Islamic terrorism than the Baluchis.

[. . .]

Pakistan’s army and intelligence services have been taking a lot of international heat for the years of state-approved terrorism against tribal separatists in Baluchistan (southwest Pakistan). The Baluchis want autonomy and a larger share of the revenues from natural gas operations in their lands. The ISI and army have ordered the media they control to come up with stories to explain all the kidnappings and murders of tribal activists. The general story line is that the violence (against the government, as well as the tribal activists) has been organized by Israel, the CIA and other foreign intelligence agencies. Few Pakistanis will openly criticize these stories, as that could get you killed. But the true story does get out via the Internet, although you sometimes have to wade through a lot of noise (flame wars and Pakistani government efforts to bury critical posts with a flood of pro-government replies.)

Did Greece get bailed out or did it default? A little from column A and a bit from column B

Filed under: Economics, Europe, Government, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:56

Detlev Schlichter explains what happened in the “big fat Greek bailout”:

Greece was bailed out for the second time in four months. Or did it default? Well, a bit of both, I guess.

All bondholders are equal. But some are more equal than others. If you are the ECB, your Greek bonds were exchanged, par for par, for new Greek bonds, and you can go on pretending that they are worth their principal amount. You won’t have to report a loss for now. But if you are a ‘private’ entity — and that is a rather loosely used term these days as it includes the banking industry which is either now partially owned by the state or to a considerable degree dependent on ongoing support from the lender-of-last resort — more than half your Greek investment was wiped out. So Greece defaulted. But as you ‘agreed’ to the ‘haircut’ it was in fact a ‘voluntary restructuring’, although you really had no choice.

[. . .]

I guess we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Greece’s economic model is fundamentally unsustainable, whichever way you cut it. Greece has been living beyond its means for a long time, and has managed to do so by flying under air-cover of the EMU project and with the tailwind of cheap credit and easy money. Spending by the Greek state accounts for more than half of registered economic activity, and a third of the workforce is employed by the public sector. ‘Activities’ are being subsumed under the heading of ‘Greek GDP’ that nobody would voluntarily pay for, that are to a large degree wasteful, and that are simply unaffordable under anything but the most bizarrely generous credit conditions, i.e. precisely those that Greece enjoyed from 2001 to 2008. Easy money has been used to paper over grave economic imbalances. Some of what is generously labelled ‘GDP’ should be discontinued — and fast.

To even suggest that such an economic model would be manageable if Greece, a country with about three quarters of the population of metropolitan Los Angeles but with less than half of L.A.’s GDP, only had its own paper currency and could inflate and devalue to its heart’s content, is economically illiterate. No country ever prospered by running budget deficits funded by the printing press or by creating domestic inflation. Devaluing your currency may give your exporters a shot in the arm — for about five minutes. But it scares your domestic savers away for years to come and severely diminishes your ability to keep or attract capital, the backbone of any sustainable economic model. To even try and attempt to ‘inflate away’ a debt load worth 160 percent of a generously calculated GDP would cause economic damage of gigantic proportion. One must have swallowed the Keynesian mythology of deficit-spending whole to believe that the country could borrow and print itself out of this mess. A proper default on its existing debt and rebuilding from a lower base — but with a hard currency — are the better options.

Hacker-Artist group UX roves under Paris streets

Filed under: Europe, France, History, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 09:03

A fascinating article in Wired talks about a French group that does the opposite of vandalism — unauthorized repairs to neglected historical objets d’art:

This stealthy undertaking was not an act of robbery or espionage but rather a crucial operation in what would become an association called UX, for “Urban eXperiment.” UX is sort of like an artist’s collective, but far from being avant-garde — confronting audiences by pushing the boundaries of the new — its only audience is itself. More surprising still, its work is often radically conservative, intemperate in its devotion to the old. Through meticulous infiltration, UX members have carried out shocking acts of cultural preservation and repair, with an ethos of “restoring those invisible parts of our patrimony that the government has abandoned or doesn’t have the means to maintain.” The group claims to have conducted 15 such covert restorations, often in centuries-old spaces, all over Paris.

What has made much of this work possible is UX’s mastery, established 30 years ago and refined since, of the city’s network of underground passageways — hundreds of miles of interconnected telecom, electricity, and water tunnels, sewers, catacombs, subways, and centuries-old quarries. Like computer hackers who crack digital networks and surreptitiously take control of key machines, members of UX carry out clandestine missions throughout Paris’ supposedly secure underground tunnels and rooms. The group routinely uses the tunnels to access restoration sites and stage film festivals, for example, in the disused basements of government buildings.

H/T to CuthSpies for the link.

February 27, 2012

Matt Ridley reviews Watermelons by James Delingpole

In short, he likes it and thinks it deserves your attention:

With each passing year it becomes clearer that the cure for global warming is worse than the disease. While wind power and biofuels devastate ecosystems and economies, temperatures and sea levels rise ever more slowly, just as the greenhouse theory — minus feedbacks — predicts. As James Delingpole acutely observes, the true believers are left with a version of Pascal’s wager embodying a ‘dismally feeble grasp of cost-benefit analysis’: that, however unlikely it is, the potential cost of global warming is so high that anything is justified.

[. . .]

In keeping with that tradition, sometimes he goes too far. Before 2009, I had more sympathy for his targets. But the leaked emails of ‘Climategate’ — a word that Delingpole popularised — and the official whitewashes of that episode leave no doubt about the tactics that have been used by the climate orthodoxy to bully doubters and suppress dissent, while raking in money from carbon indulgences. This church deserves a rude Luther.

[. . .]

To Delingpole’s surprise as well as the reader’s, this book is not really about climate change after all. As he digs deeper into the writings of the Club of Rome and their ambitious disciples (such as John Holdren, science adviser to Barack Obama, and Maurice Strong, first director of the UN Environmental Programme, godfather of both the Rio Conference of 1992 and the Kyoto treaty of 1997, and deviser of the Earth Charter to replace the Ten Commandments — who moved to China at the moment that he was implicated in the Iraqi ‘oil for food’ scandal), Delingpole finds he cannot avoid an uncomfortable conclusion:

    Look, when I began researching this book, I thought it was going to be about Climategate and global warming — not some massive international plot to destroy Western Civilisation and replace it with some grisly New World Order based on rationed resources, enforced equality and the return of the barter system. Unfortunately, though, the weight of evidence was against me. So brazenly open are the leading ideologues of the green movement about their plans for New World Order, I’m not even sure the word ‘conspiracy’ properly applies.

The grand green faith has two commandments: that humanity is the problem not the solution; and that international central planning is the solution, not the problem.

BBC: Could Britain still defend the Falkland Islands?

Filed under: Americas, Britain, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:09

The BBC has a then-and-now summary of the military balance in the south Atlantic in 1982 and today:

1982: On the eve of the invasion, there were about 70 Royal Marines stationed on the islands — twice the usual number due to a changeover. They were, in theory, backed up by about 120 local reservists, although only a small proportion reported for duty. HMS Endurance, an Antarctic ice patrol vessel, was the only ship based in the South Atlantic at the time. And there were no fighter jets — none of the island’s airstrips were long enough. The only planes that could land before the war came from Argentina. Supplying the Falklands by sea from Britain took two weeks.

2012: The major difference is the construction of RAF Mount Pleasant, a modern air base housing four Eurofighter Typhoon strike fighters, a Hercules transport plane and VC-10 tanker plane. There are also Rapier missile batteries in several locations. The British garrison numbers 1,200, including 100 infantrymen, with 200 reservists in the Falkland Islands Defence Force. The Royal Navy has a patrol vessel, an auxiliary support ship, and frigate or state-of-the-art destroyer. It’s reported that a British nuclear-powered submarine is in the South Atlantic, but the Ministry of Defence will not discuss operational matters. “It’s quite a considerable deterrent force,” says Peter Felstead, editor of Jane’s Defence Weekly. Military experts believe the islands are now virtually impregnable. Any sign of Argentine invasion and the islands could be quickly reinforced by air.

Just as we established the last time this was up for discussion, Argentina doesn’t have the military forces for a stand-up fight, but if they can take the RAF base in a surprise attack by special forces, Britain probably can’t recapture the islands.

Goodbye and good riddance to the architect of “Canadian Content” media rules

Filed under: Cancon, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:28

Marni Soupcoff on the lasting legacy of former CRTC head Pierre Juneau, the mandatory “CanCon” ratio for TV and radio:

Former CBC and CRTC president Pierre Juneau died last week at the age of 89, and the requisite obituaries followed. Almost all of them congratulated Mr. Juneau on his most well-known achievement: having mandated minimum standards for Canadian content on radio and television. It is an unfortunate legacy.

The troubles with CanCon requirements are both moral and practical: It is not simply wrong to try to forcibly engineer a population’s taste in music in television. It is also impossible. People like what they like, and if what they like is Canadian, they will watch and listen to it even absent rules dictating that they must. If what they like isn’t Canadian, rules saturating the airwaves with all the Loverboy ditties in the world won’t make them tune in.

So even if you aren’t bothered by CanCon rules’ violation of freedom of expression, you should at least ask yourself how effective the regulations can possibly be — especially today. More and more people are selecting their music and television shows on their own, now, picking an episode from iTunes here, a free song download from a band’s webpage there. The idea that the nation’s culture can be shaped by mandating the nationality of prime-time content on TV networks and radio stations is as antiquated as it was flawed to start with. And we’re wasting money and time by continuing to force media outlets to comply.

And yes, my Cancon blog category is a backhand at the longstanding regulation.

David Friedman: The boy who cried wolf

Filed under: Media, Science — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:15

Although it mentions the global warming debate, it’s really more about being skeptical in general:

A number of political commenters have compared the current Republican contestants unfavorably with Barry Goldwater. The current crop, we are told, are religious nutcases, or possibly pretending to be. Goldwater, on the other hand, was an intelligent and reasonable man, even if not on the right side of every issue.

I have been reading my parents’ autobiography, and recently got to the Goldwater campaign. Their description fits my memory. What we were being told then — by people almost none of whom could have done a competent job of explaining Goldwater’s positions or the arguments for them — was that he was a dangerous madman. There was even a piece by some large number of psychiatrists, none of whom had ever examined the candidate, explaining how crazy he was. And the TV ad with the little girl, the countdown, and the mushroom cloud.

[. . .]

I am not competent to judge the climate science behind global warming, but I am suspicious of orthodoxies pushed relentlessly in the popular media, orthodoxies that claim that everyone competent agrees on an urgent problem which requires drastic action immediately if not sooner. I remember when we were being assured that it was simply a scientific fact that overpopulation was the cause of poverty and a near term threat to our own well being, if not survival. Also when we were assured that the only way to get the poor countries of the world up to our level was central planning, if possible supported by generous foreign aid.

When I see news headlines about global warming having shrunk horses to the size of cats, along with a picture comparing a cat sized dog to a modern Morgan — you have to read down a bit to discover that the ancestral horses shrank to the size of cats from the size of dogs, from 12 pounds to 8 1/2 pounds, and spent tens of thousands of years doing it — I suspect that what I am seeing is driven at least as much by what people want other people to believe as by the evidence for believing it.

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