March 4, 2012

“Assuming this account is accurate, this was a war crime”

Heresy Corner on the story being serialized in the Daily Mail from Tony Banks:

Banks says that “we simply did not have the resources to take prisoners” and “they had started the war and they had not shown much respect for the white flag when they had shot my three mates who went forward to take the surrender at Goose Green.” Neither is an excuse recognised by the Geneva Convention.

To issue an order to take no prisoners is a fundamental violation of the principles of international law and thus a war crime. Section 40 of Additional Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions provides that soldiers who have clearly expressed an intention to surrender (for example by raising their arms or waving a white flag) are considered to be hors de combat and they must be given quarter (i.e. allowed to peacefully surrender). The officer who gave that order is not named but presumably Banks, along with other surviving members of his unit, knows who it was.

[. . .]

Assuming this account is accurate, this was a war crime. The fact that the Paras involved plainly knew that it was a war crime (hence the “brief argument”) exacerbates rather than mitigates their guilt. One soldier killed this boy in cold blood and the others covered up for him. That makes them all guilty, morally and legally. The fact that this took place thirty years ago is no reason why it cannot now be investigated and the perpetrators brought to trial. At the very least Banks should be taken in for questioning.

Confused about the Cato takeover threat from the Koch brothers? You’re not alone

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 11:40

Brad DeLong rounds up some of what’s being said about the attempt by Charles Koch to take control of the Cato Institute:

Ed Crane on the Koch Brothers:

    Charles G. Koch has filed a lawsuit as part of an effort to gain control of the Cato Institute, which he co-founded with me in 1977. While Mr. Koch and entities controlled by him have supported the Cato Institute financially since that time, Mr. Koch and his affiliates have exercised no significant influence over the direction or management of the Cato Institute, or the work done here. Mr. Koch’s actions in Kansas court yesterday represent an effort by him to transform Cato from an independent, nonpartisan research organization into a political entity that might better support his partisan agenda. We view Mr. Koch’s actions as an attempt at a hostile takeover, and intend to fight it vehemently in order to continue as an independent research organization, advocating for Individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace.

Jonathan Adler on the Koch Brothers:

    The Volokh Conspiracy » Koch v. Cato: Cato’s Crane and Cato Chairman Bob Levy charge the [Kochs’ law]suit is about transforming Cato into a less independent and more political (if not also more partisan) institution…. Many libertarian-leaning organizations receive money from the Kochs and their foundations and are attacked on this basis. Such attacks can be deflected, as financial support is not the same thing as control. But if the Koch brothers themselves represent the controlling majority of an organization’s board, that organization is, by definition, a Koch-run enterprise…. They will forevermore characterize the Cato Institute as “Koch-controlled” — and, as a legal matter, they will be correct…. [A]ny benefit from whatever changes they could make will be outweighed to the permanent damage to Cato’s reputation caused by turning it into a de facto Koch subsidiary. In short, they will have destroyed the Cato Institute to save it.

Update: Jason Kuznicki on the internal side of the debate at Cato:

When I learned that the Kochs were suing Cato, I’m sorry to say that one of the first things I felt was vindication. I’d been saying for years that Cato was essentially an independent shop. The suit makes no sense unless I was right all along.

I’ve worked at Cato for five and a half years. In that time I have never seen a single decision made in consideration of the Koch brothers’ wishes. Cato has always appeared to be run by two people: its president, Ed Crane, and its executive vice president, David Boaz. It was like that when I was hired, and it’s like that now.

Even they don’t call all the shots, either; plenty of things get published that they actually disagree with, including some of my stuff. The people who spin elaborate fantasies about the Kochs acting as our puppet masters were, and are, dead wrong. They’ve been wrong since at least the early 90s, if not earlier. I’ve been saying so for years. Now the whole Cato Institute is in open revolt against the Kochs, a revolt that grew up with astonishing speed.

Tilt-shift and time lapse turns Rio’s Carnaval into a complex animated model

Filed under: Americas, Randomness, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:50

Tilt shift of the Carnaval party in Rio de Janeiro 2011
Made by Jarbas Agnelli and Keith Loutit
Both Jarbas Agnelli & Keith Loutit were finalists at YouTube play, a Biennial of Creative Video at the Guggenheim.

Passenger rail as the ultimate political luxury good?

Filed under: Economics, Government, Politics, Railways — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:14

A post at Coyote Blog from last month looks at the eye-popping financial arrangements keeping the New Mexico “Railrunner” passenger service in operation:

Of course, as is typical, the Republic article had absolutely no information on costs or revenues, as for some reason the media has adopted an attitude that such things don’t matter for rail projects — all that matters is finding a few people to interview who “like it.” So I attempted to run some numbers based on some guesses from other similar rail lines, and made an educated guess that it had revenues of about $1.8 million and operating costs of at least $20 million, excluding capital charges. I got a lot of grief for making up numbers — surely it could not be that bad. Hang on for a few paragraphs, because we are going to see that its actually worse.

The equipment used in the New Mexico Railrunner operation looks remarkably similar to what GO Transit runs in the GTA:

Click to see original image at Coyote Blog

Anyway, I got interested in checking back on the line to see how it was doing. I actually respected them somewhat for not running mid-day trains that would lose money, but my guess is that only running a few trains a day made the initial capital costs of the line unsustainable. After all, high fixed cost projects like rail require that one run the hell out of them to cover the original capital costs.

As it turns out, I no longer have to guess at revenues and expenses, they now seem to have crept into the public domain. Here is a recent article from the Albuquerque Journal. Initially, my eye was attracted to an excerpt that said the line was $4 million in the black.

[. . .]

Now it looks like taxes are covering over half the rail’s costs. But this implies that perhaps $10 million might be coming from users, right? Nope, keep reading all the way down to paragraph 11

    The Rail Runner collects about $3.2 million a year in fares and has an annual operating budget of about $23.6 million. That does not include about $41.7 million a year in debt service on the bonds — a figure that include eventual balloon payments.

So it turns out that I was actually pretty close, particularly since my guess was four years ago and they have had some ridership increases and fare increases since.

At the end of the day, riders are paying $3.2 million of the total $65.3 million annual cost. Again, I repeat my reaction from four years ago to hearing that riders really loved the train. Of course they do — taxpayers (read: non-riders) are subsidizing 95.1% of the service they get. I wonder if they paid the full cost of the train ride — ie if their ticket prices were increased 20x — how they would feel about the service?

If all of that wasn’t enough, the financing arrangement has a nasty sting in the tail: in the mid 2020’s, the state will owe two separate payments of over $200 million. Enjoy the subsidized rides now, folks … the payment comes due just in time for your kids to face as they graduate.

The continuing musical influence of Charles Mingus

Filed under: History, Media, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:06

A post from a few weeks back, but still relevant:

Charles Mingus was recognized in his lifetime as a virtuoso bassist, accomplished pianist and bandleader. Today his enduring legacy may be as a major 20th-century composer. To grasp some sense of his growing importance, consider the fact that his entire body of work has been acquired by the Library of Congress. This is not only a first for jazz, but also for an African-American composer. At this death he left behind more than 100 albums and over 300 compositions — music that is still considered far ahead of its time. In the field of jazz, his is the largest legacy of composition in American music after Duke Ellington.

To think of Mingus as a jazz musician is correct — at least to a certain degree, but the term should be understood in its broadest sense. He was influenced by composers of many different stripes, and it wouldn’t be hard to find passages with as much kinship to Debussy as to gospel and blues. Imagine hearing jazz performed by bassoon, flute, bass clarinet and horn, and you begin to get the subtlety of this composer. Yes, of course, the saxophones, brass and rhythm sections are there too, but this is music that surprises at every turn. Listening beyond the instrumental colors takes us into a world whose treatment of harmony and time is truly unique. Mingus can easily shift between an almost stately blues pace to a double time passage that could have belonged to bebop, and just as fluently, he can take us back out of that hectic rate to his original pace without the least amount of discomfort to the listener. His chord changes are advanced, unpredictable and yet entirely “right” to the ear. To improvise in Mingus is to reach well beyond the tonal palette of traditional “changes”. His is a truly original voice.

I know very little about music, but I’ve loved almost every Mingus piece I’ve heard. He quickly became one of my favourite jazz performers.

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