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Saturday, August 23, 2008


I have had a reply on my complaint to Ofcom asking them to apply the rules they applied to The Great Global Warming Swindle to all the rest of the "news". That standard was essentially that the producer had failed, within that single programme, "to offer a timely and appropriate opportunity to respond" to those on the other side, namely the IPCC (though in fact the IPCC had alreadt refused to participate).

To absolutely nobody's amazement Ofcom have decided that no such duty applies when doing "news" that supports the government line. Here is the relevant part of their reply with my comments:

"The requirement for due impartiality in news is important but this does not automatically mean that equal representation of views will be required in every report. There is scope under the Code to take a number of factors into consideration, including the nature of the story; the level of broad consensus; the degree to which it relates directly to the UK; and the appropriate judgement of a journalist on the ground "Broad consensus" is clearly code for whatever the government wants without the intrusion of facts, "degree to which it relates to the UK" clearly translates as "you can lie as much as you want about foreigners but be a bit more careful about local stories where the people know enough to see what porkies you are telling".

In the cases you highlighted, Channel 4 News' coverage of the meeting between Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai mediated by Thabo Mbeki included clips from both the Zanu-PF and MDV leaders. There were also interviews with Brilliant Mlanga, Zinmbabwean Political Analyst, and Knox Chitiyo, from the Royal United Services Institute. These contributors spoke about the political implications of the meeting and the possibility of co-operation between Zanu-PF and MDC rather than the violence in the country. The item did show civilian injuries and a case of rape purported to be carried out by Zanu-PF supporters, however a correspondent is able to make valid observations if supported by evidence. My point had been that all 3 of those interviewed had been on the same side which clearly provided Mugabe's supporters no "timely & appropriate opportunity to respond" or even an untimely one - the "judgement" on this does not even attempt to answer the complaint & clearly cannot.

Turning to the clip of Paddy Ashdown used in the Classic FM headline news, given that Radovan Karadzic had been recently captured and was considered one of the world's most wanted men, Ofcom believes it was justifiable to interview the former EU High Representative for Bosnia & Hercegovina. Since Karadzic's capture there has been news coverage of the support he has received in Bosnia. However it is not a breach to interview one contributor who felt Karadzic's arrest was "good news" for the Balkans. Of course I never suggested Ashdown should not have been interviewed. My complaint was that "No attempt at balance" by interviewing anybody from the other side" had been made, either in that or in any other item - clearly that is neither disputed nor disputable nor is it possible to say that this is consistent with the duty to allow a "timely & appropriate" reponse>. In effect Ofcom have, merely repeated the events & then officially said that they will take no notice whatsoever of their own rules - that such rules are merely window dressing. Consequently this is an admission that they are a fascist (& in this instance racist) body that exists purely to enforce government ("consensus") propaganda irrespective of facts. It is, of course, in this particular case, even technically impossible to deny that both sides exist because, by definition, the possibility of someone being innocent before they are brought to "trial" has to be an option (even if in a non-technical sense nobody thinks the court sufficiently honest for release to be a possibility).

On the ITV News report we are aware of the libel case which ITN brought against LM Magazine after it made claims ITN had faked news footage at the Trnopolje camp. However ITN won this libel case against the accusations made & we are satisfied there is no case to argue about the rebroadcast of footage in Penny Marshall's being inaccurate as the jury found that ITN had not misrepresented the truth of what occurred at Tronopolje. This is a deliberate lie. The jury did not & indeed could not find that that the film did not misrepresent the truth, because the judge had already instructed them that ITN's journalists had "contradicted themselves" under oath & that LM's allegations as to facts were "essentially true" but that "this doesn't matter" unless LM could prove that the fabrication was not accidental. Ofcom, being "aware" of this, know perfectly well that the question of whether ITN faked it accidentally or deliberately is immaterial to the fact that it was faked & that they have thus deliberately approved of showing a film they & ITN undeniably now know to be a fake.

Presumably in future before believing anything on ITN News we will have to have evidence that Ofcom have already judged against it.

On the other hand still better than the BBC who don't even acknowledge complaints. Presumably they know from the outset that trying to claim to be in some way honest would just show up how much they aren't.

Friday, August 22, 2008


An email from me, in response to his reduction of the size of prize needed, which Jerry Pournelle put in his blog:

If we can have orbit for $1 billion-$750 million then there are folk other than the US government able to put that up. Assuming a target range of about 4 years that means setting aside $200 million a year. which compares pretty favourably with an awful lot of public projects.

It would certainly be well within the resources of California or Texas. If Arnie is constitutionally debarred from becoming President, having funded the orbital X-Prize would be a pretty good epitaph, in fact an epitaph better than many presidents have.

Alternately could it go to popular vote as a citizen's initiative?

A variant on that would be for California to guarantee to match, $ for $ any donations to a California Orbital X-Prize up to $1 billion. That only costs the state $125M a year. There are quite a few local billionaires & indeed lesser mortals who could contribute to that.

Texas isn't short of billionaires either.

Or, just as states have negotiated water sharing treaties a number of them could get together to share a prize with money put in proportionately to GNP (with perhaps a slight loading for states nearer the equator). A foundation for the Confederate Space Force (probably not its official name) would appeal to some states & should end up costing less than $20m per state per year. This is 70 times the salary of Mrs Obama, a diversity inspector for the Chicago health service. I suspect New Mexico would then consider itself eligible to be in the Confederacy,

I think there is a high chance that some state outside the USA might put up such a prize. $200M is less than 0.1% of GNP to countries down to the size of Denmark or Singapore. Singapore, having already become the home of Space Adventures, being generally innovative & being almost exactly on the equator looks like a very likely candidate.

Again running it as a purely commercial treaty between nations would, I think, be feasible so long as it is kept simple.

As long as we had a good enforceable legal definition of what is a Californian or Texan or Singaporean company, or how the mixtures work without hiving off much of the work to states outside the agreement.

I suspect most economists would calculate that the extent to which such a prize would get brains to move to the states organising it would make it financially viable even if getting into space wasn't going to make money. This applies to having world class museums, opera, baseball teams, "iconic" architecture, etc. in the neighbourhood & should work the same way, or better, for engineers.

If it was done as an international commercial treaty I know somebody who should, if he wished, be able to persuade the Scottish government to chip in 5%.


This is reprinted from a comment I made a couple of days ago as a short version of the motivations behind the Yugoslav war (for a much more detailed atricle see here):

So, was the Western interference in Yugoslavia, in your view, predominantly a matter of NATO make-work, or was it Bavarian-motivated on sectarian grounds? The latter might explain support for Croatia, but hardly action over Bosnia and Kosovo. And what was the role of the narcissism of the likes of Blair and Clinton?
# posted by dearieme : August 21, 2008

There were many players in this & at least 1 motivation for each. The initial pressure for supporting Croatia et al came from Germany & it was they (plus the Vatican) which twisted arms to get the EU to support independence for Slovenia, Croatia & Bosnia. Initially the US was rather in favour of keeping Yugoslavia together because it has been the historical interest, since the civil war, to deny an inherent right of seccession.

Once the EU was on board the US, as leader of the international community, had to get in front in the direction they seemed to be going. & with typical overenthusiasm started helping Izetbegovic to sabotage any peace agreement. It is only really at this stage that NATO got involved (in the "peacekeeping" in Bosnia).

From then on NATO's role continuiusly increased & indeed some tension developed between the US & EU over America's blatant flying in of weapons to the Bosnian Moslems using US NATO aircraft that were supposed to be enforcing the weapons quarantine.

During the first wars Kosovo was barely mentioned & grabbing it was never on the agenda. It was only after Dayton, about 1997, that the NATO powers started recruiting & arming the KLA. Kosovo was not a historic interest except in a sort of generalised anti-Serb way but after Dayton NATO had idle hands. Again we see some tension between Europe & the USA with one of the reasons given for grabbing Kosovo by opponents of the war being that it would give the US an outlet for a pipeline which would not have to go through the northern Balkans & end up in Italy or Austria. I don't personally think anybody ever had such a comparatively constructive primary motivation.

I have no doubt that Clinton was personally sufficiently scummy that he would commit genocide to distract the American people from the fact that he was an adulterer. However this only works when a climate of media opinion has been created where genocide of Serbs is seen as an acceptable action.

Blair was merely a "me too" to anything the Americans said. "Me too"'s are dangerous because they are the positive feedback that makes mobs & governments so dangerous.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Jerry Pournelle has said that we can have regular orbital flights for the cost of flying to Australia for an X-Prize of no more than $1 billion (£570 million)

I am rapidly reaching a conclusion, confirmed by a number of those in the rocket entrepreneurial community, and also several Pentagon people: if we stay outside NASA, the technology exists to build a reusable orbiter for under a billion dollars; probably far less than a billion.

This could be done by prizes, and at the moment there are two prize schemes to consider: a single prize of $1 billion, or a first and second prize of $500,000,000 for first and $250,000,000 for second. The notion of a second prize is intriguing but harder to sell. A second insures that more than one firm can raise capital to compete.

Discussion invited. But the astonishing thing is that for a billion or less (with room for profit and operations) we can actually demonstrate reusable, savable orbiters.


$1 billion spent right would in fact develop the technology -- all engineering, no new science needed -- to build an orbital ship that would operate as airlines do. Fly, inspect, refuel, fly again. Once that ship is built, additional orbiters will cost about what big commercial airplanes cost, and operate about the way airlines do. Airlines operate at about 3 to 5 times fuel costs, with about 110 employees per airplane (half of those sell tickets). With orbital access at about the cost of a first class ticket from America to Australia, free enterprise and commerce will take care of the rest

This is astonishing news but Dr Pournelle knows what he is talking about. For from £570 million to £430 million for the 2 prize option we can change the universe. That is what we already give to ESA in a year & a half. It is one twentieth of what we are going to spend on the Olympics or 10% of what we are told a we must spend on a new Forth Bridge.

Amortise it over 4 years, my guess of how long it would take going from a standing start, comes out as £100 million a year.

We are talking about less than one tenth of one per cent of the economy of Singapore or Ireland or Israel or Scotland. A thirtieth of 1 per cent of Taiwan's, under one hundredth of 1 per cent of that of Russia or Britain. Somebody is going to do it. Whoever does it is going to have the same head start that Columbus gave Spain in America, or Cook gave Britain in Australasia.

If we can afford to own Kosovo we can certainly afford the rest of the Solar System. "The cost of maintaining the EU's Eulex mission alone -- with its close to 2,000 police, legal experts and bureaucrats -- is expected to total at least €1.5 billion (£1.3 billion) between now and 2010." This being only part of the cost of maintaining occupation & nothing to do with the the cost of the war.

It could be the US, it could be be the UK. Or it might be some more forward looking country but the limiting factor is not money but gumption. Any bets.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself.

The Iron Law states that in all cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions.

Thinking of example of this I thought of NATO.

Look at NATO's behaviour in picking fights with Russia & Yugoslavia, which is a sort of surrogate Russia, being Slavic, Orthodox & ex-communist (though during the cold war they were our semi-allies). None of this makes any sense in terms of the national interests of any of the aggressor countries except Germany & even there only in relation to Yugoslavia. As a country we gain nothing from Georgia controlling Ossetia.

But NATO as an organisation gains.

The "actual goal" of NATO is to prevent Russian communism, or officially Russian communist armies which is not quite the same, overrunning western Europe. This was achieved 20 years ago.

Since then NATO has been fairly desperately searching for a role. The "war on terror" helped a bit but it is clearly not very good at running wars in Afghanistan. Expansion is certainly is certainly serving the goals of the organisation itself since the goal of any organisation, like any living creature, is survival & growth.

This is how NATO comes to be led by scum like the perjurer Wesley Clark. He works to expand NATO's power.

If this law is right, & it has impressive antecedents, then so long as NATO exists & is not cut down to its useful role then then it is going to stir up trouble to justify expanding its budget.

Like the "reforming from within" people have been doing with the EU since we joined 34 years ago reforming NATO is unlikely to work. NATO should be wound up - anything else is storing up new troubles.

I do think Europe does need an organisation for security but that should be a legal organisation not a military one. Its job being to negotiate disagreements between nations & occasionally come down on one side, because there are always going to be disagreements. Both the USA & Russia should be members because the lack of either would be seriously destabilising. More along the lines of ASEAN, which has a very good record of defusing tensions between nations which were, at least initially, very varying in their political ideas.
I may lose some readers on this bit because despite being relatively libertarian I have always approved of the economically progressive ethics of the communist ideology.

The entire existence of NATO & the cold war owes quite a lot to the same inherent organisational empire building. The original organisation being the "military industrial complex" that won WW2. I do not think Stalin ever really wished to conquer western Europe, at least militarily. He merely wanted to have something to play to match the American Bomb. But Russian armies in East Germany did make a very good bogeyman for a social & economic network who had done well out of the war. After a decade of the Depression the US GDP doubled during the war & kept up a decent growth rate during the 50s so obviously a lot of people did well out of both wars.

Thus after the overthrow of Kruschev the Russians own military industrial complex kicked in & under Brezhnev Russia missed out on the computer revolution & generally destroyed their economic base by maintaining a massive & increasingly outdated military when they had already built up a nuclear capacity to match the west's & thus no longer needed an overwhelming army, or indeed to occupy eastern Europe - it just got to the stage where it was easier not to back down.

A good communist would believe that their social system was bound to outproduce the alternative system & that the example of prosperity, not military conquest would ensure their victory. This is what Kruschev's "we will bury you" remark was actually about. I think this is the reason why communism collapsed so completely when other religions limp on without producing anything tangible. Communism was a religion whose whole raison d'etre was economic success & when it failed it collapsed all the way. The remaining "leftist" flotsam being actually Luddites whom the creators of communism wouldn't have had on a bet.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Physicist Nicolas Gisin and colleagues report in Nature that pairs of quantum-entangled photons sent from the university University of Geneva through fiber-optic cables to two Swiss villages 18 kilometers apart changed polarization not just identically, but faster than synchronized atomic clocks could detect.

Whatever was affecting the photons seems to have happened so nearly instantaneously that the phenomenon influencing the particles had to be traveling at least 10,000 times faster than light. Since that can't happen in four dimensions of space and time, the experiments show that entanglement might be controlled by something existing beyond it.

Somebody is going to ask what is the importance of such things in real life. Well Einstein's theory of relativity came about to explain anomalous results barely more detectable than this - a minor deviation in light reaching us from Jupiter & a tiny increase in the orbital speed of Mercury.

Einstein did not disprove the Newtonian universe he merely proved there was something more. This result proves that there is something more than the Einsteining universe (in which anything faster than light has been officially impossible). This doesn't mean we are going to get starships any time soon, even within the lifetimes of our grandchildren. The Moon landings, after all, were carried out entirely according to the laws of Newton. However it does mean that such things are no longer impossible. The universe may be potentially open to us.

Monday, August 18, 2008


The alleged "uni-polar world" ie where everybody does what America says, is dead & buried. That is the lesson of the Georgian war. In mid July the US sent 1,000 troops in a "training exercise" of the Georgian army. Presumably not unrelated to what that army was training for. In 1995 US & British officers trained & de facto commanded our Croatian ex-Nazi allies in the extermination of the 250,000 strong Krajina community. Ossetia was clearly meant to be a rerun of this.

Instead the Russians were able to annihilate their army in 4 days of combat & the Americans, despite encouraging it, were useless. Georgia may have been weak but a counterattack in response to a surprise attack is not easy. Big countries can bungle in military matters, as Stalin proved in 1939 in his war against Finland.

Nor can we, with the experience of Croatia, Bosnia & Kosovo, make any credible complaint about not respecting national sovereignty or "excessive bombing".

We live on the same planet as Russia (& they on the same planet as us) & we have to live together. For that we actively need to embrace international law. The NATO countries have been at the forefront of saying that international law doesn’t exist & it is perfectly OK for big countries & alliances to invade smaller ones. The Russians noted NATO’s support of the “cleansing” of the Serb enclaves in Croatia (on which Georgia’s actions were clearly patterned) & of our bombing of Yugoslavia to seize Kosovo. We have sown that wind & cannot expect, not merely Russia, but anybody, to allow us to be a referee enforcing rules that we have already torn up.
In fact the Russians have gone to some lengths to merely bend laws that we have previously broken.

Law is not a luxury but a necessity for any society & as the world gets smaller adherence to international law becomes ever more vital. We should work with the Russians & everybody else to strengthen such law & establish consistent & relatively impartial rules on ethnic sovereignty (& many other causes of disputes) and then to keep them.. The alternative is what happened in August 1914 but with modern weapons.
Went to half a dozen papers but, as far as I know, wasn't used. It is fairly long & perhaps a little philosophical for popular usage. I have highlighted the last paragraph because I consider the necessity of producing laws that allow us to live together safely to be more important than any one war. While Putin did a thoughtful speech on it last year the NATO leaders seem oblivious to the idea that rules are anything other than occasional propaganda weapons.

I have also put this summary up for somebody on the Sun online:

The question of where boundaries "really" are has been the major subject of wars for millenia. South Ossetia was part of Georgia since Stalin drew the boundary in the 1920s but he was hardly intending to draw an international boundary. Since the break up of the USSR the Georgians have never controlled Ossetia though they do claim it. The Ossetians recently voted 99% for independence & I suspect, after recent events, they will be even less happy about being under Georgia. I don't think there is a "right" solution to this - if anything the recreation of the USSR would seem to be the best for them all but I don't see any western leader proposing that.

The western position is that Georgia is a sovereign state & its borders are unchangeable & that is that. That has some appeal at least to the extent that everybody would know where they were. Except this is where western recent history is involved. On the other hand there was a legal peacekeeping agreement which does have validity in international law & the Georgians did kill Russian peacekeepers as well as Ossetians who were Russian citizens. International law also allows, indeed requires, intervention where genocide is happening.

We faced exactly this problem in Yugoslavia & said that the fact that Croatia & Bosnia were parts of sovereign Yugoslavia. We did & indeed still do promise to "take no action against the territorial integrity or unity" of Yugoslavia under the Helsinki Treaty. Having done that we then declared them sovereign states & adopted the position that the Serb areas of them had no right to secede, even going so far as to help ethnically cleanse & murder the entire 250,000 Serbian region of Krajina claimed by Croatia - the Georgian attack on Ossetia was clearly patterned on this genocide.

Then we grabbed Kosovo on the grounds that Serbia's sovereign rights don't matter.

What this means is that we have bent & broken international law on the subject, time after time. We cannot therefore speak with any ethical voice on which particular redefinition of international law Russia should be held to now.

The Russians have made a specific offer to accept Georgian sovereign rights if NATO accepts Serbia's rights. Obviously that has had no coverage in our media &, to be fair, the Russians may have proposed it precisely because the know NATO wouldn't accept it & thus show up their hypocrisy.
2 other points:

As in the Croatian situation, there were hundreds of US soldiers there "training" Georgian soldiers & it is virtually impossible that this was not done with a US go ahead - as the Croatian genocide certainly was, though the US denied it.

Russia has gone to considerable lengths to minimise their actions. Having completely annihilated Georgia's army in 4 days nothing prevented them occupying the whole country. They have worked not to damage the western gas pipeline - they could have knocked it out with 1 bomb, thereby strengthening their hand for future negotiations.

We live in a shrinking world where even small countries can produce WMDs. The world desperately needs international law. Everything the Russians have done, both now & in the past has been legal & relatively moral, in a situation where no choices are perfect, whereas our actions have been neither. We should work together with the Russians & others to strengthen & clarify international law.

If that meant bringing Clinton, Blair etc etc to trial as for their war crimes & genocide against Yugoslavia that is a price I would be happy to pay. :-)

Sunday, August 17, 2008


Newt Gingrich, former Republican speaker in the Senate & general heavyweight US politician, has an article in the Wall Street Journal, general heavyweight US movers & shakers newspaper, on X-Prizes. He does get it.

New technologies have been improving life for virtually all of known history (think of fire or the wheel as examples of early technological breakthroughs). Given the inefficiency and slowness of bureaucracies with a four-year time horizon and a limited amount of money, I would favor the use of large tax-free prizes.

Prizes are powerful because they send signals to everyone that they can compete. Furthermore they are payable on achievement rather than on application.

The modern emphasis on peer-reviewed research has three bad side effects. One, it leads people to spend an amazing amount of time on the paperwork of application rather than on actually doing the experiment or undertaking the research. Second, it limits the applications to credentialed people. Third, it is a very cautious process that emphasizes relying on the approval of peers who tend to be cautious.

The Wright brothers could never have gotten peer-reviewed government funding for their airplane; in fact the Smithsonian Institution had failed to invent a workable airplane even though it spent more money than the Wright brothers.....

Prizes would be a useful experiment in large-scale breakthroughs.

The point about the conservative effects of grants & peer review is well made. Samuel P Langley, a respected scientist & founder of the Smithsonian did indeed get a government grant of $50,000 to develop a flying aircraft. Even though he didn't produce one I think that was a reasonable investment because it is such an important thing. However there is no way people like the Wright brothers would ever have got on the list for such a grant - not then & not now unless they were politically connected. A general X-Prize of that amount would have been even more worthwhile. Indeed what any downside is there to X-Prizes since they cost nothing if they don't work?. I have never seen an answer to that question even back when the LibDims refused to think about it. Perhaps some of them can explain :-)

Gingrich gives 7 suggestions for prizes, 5 very valuable - a usable hydrogen engine, cheap desalination, cheap space access, a commercial lunar base & a way of teaching math that kids like. People have been searching for the last since Euclid told Ptolemy that "there is no royal road to mathematics". That however is part of the point - any conventional project would undoubtedly cost vast amounts before reaching Euclid's conclusion while the sort of completely off the wall idea some individual might come up with would never be accepted into a government programme.

His other 2 suggestions are a prize for a cheap effective cure for malaria & a practical way to dispose of nuclear "waste". In fact both have existed for decades. DDT is exactly that & disposal by deep burial has always been easy & safe - so much so that opponents have taken to requiring that any approved disposal system must allow for retrieval when the isotopes become valuable - not a bad idea but hardly consistent with their own catastrophism. The problem with both of these is political hysteria rather than any genuine problems. Even here trying to formulate rules for a prize would be worthwhile because it would force politicians to confront the fact that the solutions already exist & if they could not find easy & impartial ways of excluding already existing solutions that, of itself would prove the purely political nature of the "problem"

Either way it would be nice to see government being part of a solution rather than part of the problem.

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