Bits and Pieces

Friday, December 31, 2004

Think we'll here a "sorry?"

The US pledges $350 million for tsunami relief.

Up to 3000 Americans are still unaccounted for.

The hardest hit area, Aceh Province on the north tip of Sumatra is also home to many Islamist terror cells. Reportedly, Secretary Powell and Kofi Annan agreed that Aceh should be a priority. It will be interesting to see how aid is distibuted in the region and what effect it has.

Ukraine and the Left. (Shameless Promotion Alert).

Jack Kelly' new piece in the JWR is on the Ukrainian election, the implication of those elections and the disinterested collective shrug from the left. Read the whole piece, not only because Jack writes very well and from a position of authority on the subject, but because he quotes me in the final five paragraphs.

And although I am in the article, it is still all true and important. Figure that one out.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

You never know what you'll find until you look

Hello, Jack of Random Fate here. While Keith is away, I'm here to keep the geek factor up. For my first post, I'll refer you to otherworldly happenings, literally.

A probe is being dropped into the atmosphere of Titan, a moon of Saturn. Why is this cool? Well, here's why:

Though mission scientists don't think Huygens will stumble upon anything like the green forests and blue oceans here on Earth -- nor any forms of life, for that matter -- they do think it will encounter conditions very similar to those that existed soon after the Earth formed.

"(Titan) is the only moon in the solar system with a thick, nitrogen-rich atmosphere" -- relatively similar to that on Earth -- said Huygens project scientist Jean-Pierre Lebreton. "In this atmosphere, we may have chemical reactions similar to ones occurring before life appeared on Earth. Going in situ will allow us to better understand what causes those chemical reactions to take place."

Scientists are especially interested in figuring out where the small percentage of methane in Titan's atmosphere is coming from. Normally, light from the sun would break it down into other chemicals that would then fall on the moon's surface like rain. But the fact that some methane still exists in the atmosphere suggests that the surface might harbor pools of liquid methane which regularly evaporate back into the atmosphere.

Life on another world in the Solar System. Just imagine.

And tonight in the Damned if you, Damned if you Don't Department

we have this story (via Drudge) about how the US is angling to steal all of the UN's good press:

United States President George Bush was tonight accused of trying to undermine the United Nations by setting up a rival coalition to coordinate relief following the Asian tsunami disaster.

The president has announced that the US, Japan, India and Australia would coordinate the world's response.

But former International Development Secretary Clare Short said that role should be left to the UN.

"I think this initiative from America to set up four countries claiming to coordinate sounds like yet another attempt to undermine the UN when it is the best system we have got and the one that needs building up," she said.

"Only really the UN can do that job," she told BBC Radio Four's PM programme.

"It is the only body that has the moral authority. But it can only do it well if it is backed up by the authority of the great powers."

Short goes on to accuse Bush and what she terms "red state paramecium" of not playing well with others. She suggested standing the entire country in the corner.

Happy New Year

This is gonna be my last post for a while. I have no idea what the Internet access is gonna be like on the island. Now I think about it, I don't even know the name of the hotel I'll be staying in or, indeed, what town it's in.

And so, while I pack my shorts and t-shirts, along with my SPF1,000 lotion for my pasty white British complexion, I'll leave you in the more than capable hands of Jack and Daniel. They might not write a huge amount, but check back for the occasional post. I'll be back with a vengeance on the 15th, and hopefully will be checking in with the odd post if it rains.

Happy New Year, farewell 2004, and see you all later.

Tsunami Movies

Kevin Aylward at Wizbang has a link to a truly unbelievable tsunami movie. It's shot from the beach, and it's incredible that the cameraman survived.

Jordan Golson at Cheese and Crackers has a collection of videos of the tsunami as well. Go see 'em.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004


This was initially part of the post below entitled 'The Vultures are Circling', but I decided it merited it's own post.

A fallacy I want to tackle are the statements of Jan Egelend, UN Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs on western 'stinginess'. I'm assuming that the comments by Egelend were directed primarily at the US. If I'm incorrect then I apologise, but I doubt I am.

I'm speaking from a position of some expertise on this. I spent a year writing my dissertation on financial aid following earthquakes, and I can assure you that that is one of the most poorly thought out, mindlessly mean and just plain stupid statements ever to come from the UN (and that takes some beating).

In 2002, global humanitarian contributions totalled $5,158,715,024 (according to the OCHA). Of that $5+billion, guess how much came from the US...

$1,889,580,423 (36%)

The following year they decided not to donate as much. Instead, they donated over $1billion more. The US in 2003 donated $3,277,941,061 - 41% of the global total.

Perhaps Egelend doesn't trust the figures. Maybe the OCHA are a Republican controlled organisation hellbent on exaggerating the donations of the US. So, who are the OCHA?

It's the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. I'm not certain of the responsibilities of the Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, but I'm sure he'd at least have access to the figures for humanitarian aid.

As if that wasn't enough, the people of America have taken it upon themselves to donate over $2million through Amazon in the past few days.

Over the years I've been constantly amazed and ceaselessly impressed with the generosity of the American people. I'm not just talking about the government, but each and every citizen I've known. Soon after setting up this site I stumbled upon a post at Outside the Beltway about how James Joyner had recently lost his job. I wrote a short post asking my readers (only about 5 a day at the time) for help in finding James a new job. The next day I received a Paypal donation of $10 from James. He'd found me through his referral logs and gave me a donation as a thank you for the post. Think about that for a moment. A man who'd just lost all means of supporting himself gave money to a perfect stranger for no better reason than he thought it would be a nice gesture. That was my first experience of the generosity of the blogosphere. Since then I've received many donations from Americans. It seems almost natural for them to share the wealth in a way that would never occur to other people. Look at the blogosphere. When was the last time you went a day without seeing at least one charity drive while you browsed through your favourites? Most of these people are Americans.

I want to make this point very clear. For 4 years I studied natural disasters - earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes and tsunamis. I went on to specialise in financial aid following these events. In every case study I researched the US came at the head of the list of donors. Every time. They pull together and give everything they can. They are astonishingly generous.

Call Americans arrogant. Call them fat. Say they're strangely obsessed with Paris Hilton. Just don't call them stingy.

Update - James Joyner - AKA he who is not so stingy himself - posts statistics relegating the US to 9th most generous nation per capita. All very well until you look down the first column and see that they donated 55 times the amount of 8th placed Finland. Credit where it's due - the US pony up the dough.

Google AdSense Campaign

In response to a suggestion by Scott Hanselman (hat tip: Michele) I'll be donating all my revenue from my Google Ads (those orange things over there) to disaster relief funds. I've only had them up about 5 days, so the revenue is pitiful at the moment, but every penny counts.

Scott says, 'The power of blogging isn't citizen journalism, it's the power to start a movement'.

And as I said yesterday, 'We have an opportunity here that we've never had before. The blogosphere has reached the point at which we have literally millions of people every day online.'

It's a bit of a dodgy subject, as Google might see this as an attempt by bloggers to generate clicks on the ads, but I guess we can do it until they tell us not to.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The Vultures are Circling

The vultures have already begun to descend on Sunday's disaster for their own political gain. Each has weighed in on which cause du jour contributed to the death toll. I'd like to address some of these claims in an attempt to give these amoral opportunists a good verbal shellacking.

Via Dean's World:

In an interview with the Independent newspaper in Britain, Stephen Tindale, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said: "No one can ignore the relentless increase in extreme weather events and so-called natural disasters, which in reality are no more natural than a plastic Christmas tree." Speaking to the same newspaper, Friends of the Earth Director Tony Juniper pressed the argument home: "Here again are yet more events in the real world that are consistent with climate change predictions."

Well, first of all, plastic christmas trees are made of oil, so if we're talking tenure they're more natural than any of these young upstart pine trees. But seriously, earthquakes have nothing to do with global warming. We're around 6 billion insects living on a thin skin surrounding a huge globe of molten rock. We can no more affect the processes of plate tectonics than we can breathe water.

Carrying on this insanity are the denizens of the Democratic Underground (hat tip: Wizbang)

All of the injuries done to our planet are interrelated, see this Reuters report linking pollution, tsunami's, and global warming. Those Right-wing Republican religious nuts with three or four children in an SUV are killing people daily. All of the pollution eventually sinks into the ground, & rots away the "bones" holding our planet together, and causes earthquakes.

That one was from a commenter at DU. Just to make it very clear to environmentalists and crazy foil-hat angry teens alike, we can't affect the 'bones' of the earth, despite what they did in 'The Core'. We can fuck up the surface until the cows come home, but when it come to plate tectonics we're passengers on this ride. Paul at Wizbang has collected a bunch of crazy DU theories. Take a look if you want to see examples of the long term effects of prolonged exposure to marijuana/Michael Moore.

Via Powerline:

"What has made this a disaster is that people have started to occupy part of the landscape that they shouldn't have occupied," [Jeff McNeely, chief scientist of the World Conservation Union] told AFP in a telephone interview from Paris. "Fifty years ago the coastline was not densely occupied as now by tourist hotels."

The hotels did not replace traditional villages because the villagers built inland, McNeely said.
"What has also happened over the last several decades is that many mangroves have been cleared to grow shrimp ponds so that we, here in Europe, can have cheap shrimp," he added.

To begin, it's important to establish the facts. Settling of the coast did indeed contribute to the death toll, but coastal settling isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it was essential to the survival of the inhabitants of the area.

The economies of most of the areas hit by the tsunamis are based on two things: tourism and aquaculture. The islands of Indonesia don't have booming industries. Some fish, and the rest make their living in the tertiary industries, supporting the many tourists who choose to descend on the beautiful beaches that make that part of the world such an attractive prospect to us working stiffs. Sure, the stripping of mangrove forests is a bad thing. They're unique ecosystems supporting a diverse range of species, and its sad to see them go. However, it's fruitless to judge the people of South East Asia for giving up the mangroves in favour of lucrative hotels. They have a choice: leave the mangroves as they are and scrape a living on subsistence farming and aquaculture, or sacrifice part of their environment to the tourist gods in the hope of making a decent living. Isn't that what capitalism demands? I've been studying environmental management much longer than you have, so don't argue.

By far the most annoying claim I've heard so far is this:

The same thing has been happening with the coral reefs that also provided protection to the coast, he explained. "When a tsunami comes in, it first hits the coral reef which slows it down, then it hits the mangroves which furthers slow it down. It may get through that but by then a lot of the energy has already been dissipated."

No, no, NO! This claim made by a man of science, in the employ of the World Conservation Union. These types of lies are the reason nobody trusts conservationists. Coral reefs are incredible structures. They support a truly unbelievable range of life - they are in fact one of the most diverse and plentiful ecosystems on earth - but they won't protect you from a tsunami.

This 'scientist' got himself confused by looking at the calming effects of coral reefs in atolls and lagoons. Coral will help dissipate the energy of a regular wave as it approaches the coast. What they won't do is dissipate the energy of a tsunami-force wave. These waves have enough power to toss fishing boats into the air like children's toys and throw them into buildings. They can snap palm trees like matchsticks, and shatter beach huts into kindling. They can derail trains. You can't stop a tsunami. You can't blame deforestation. You can't blame global warming. You certainly can't blame the denuding of coral reefs. All you can do is run and pray.

This isn't a time to place blame on anyone. It was an act of God (in the insurance sense of the term). Asia got caught in an unfortunate quirk of nature, an anomaly. At the end of the day, shit happens.

Also via Powerline:

Susan took a sip off her Venti skim half-caf one Splenda sugar free vanilla extra hot latte. "How about something along the lines of global warming causing the ocean to be more full of water and that made the waves bigger than they should have been? That way we can nail Bush and the SUV drivers for thousands of unnecessary deaths.

It'd be funnier if you didn't know these conversations are really going on in the newsrooms of America.

NB - The original end to this post was expanded for a separate post entitled 'Generosity'.

Everybody Out of the Pool!

Sorry, I've always wanted to say that. This is Daniel checking in to see if everything works. It looks like it does. I'm looking forward to filling in for the Sorta-man while he's debauching some quaint resort town. I'll try not to screw things up.

I just have a few issues for now. Namely, I thought there was supposed to be chips and salsa in here. And I guess all that talk about Maria Sharipova was bunk, too.

Thanks, Taylor, and have a good vacation.


In the past two days I've had a lot of people reaching Sortapundit through Google searches for the following:-

tsunami, revenge from Allah

tsunami+revenge for 9/11

funny muslims killed tsunami

The freaks who think this disaster was some sort of punishment toward Muslims prove their ignorance as well as their mindless disdain for life. The population of Sri Lanka is primarily Buddhist and Hindu. Only 7% are Muslims. 4 out of 5 Indians are Hindus. It looks like the death toll is going to come to well over 50,000. Very few of the victims were Muslims.

I'm not religious, so I'm not constrained by a pesky 'judge not, lest ye be judged' clause. If you came here looking for support of your sick theories, fuck you. If I saw you in the street I wouldn't brake. I hope you live an unhappy, solitary life and die alone surrounded by your own filth and the remnants of your poisoned mind. Now leave and never come back.

For the rest of you, go here and donate to the relief effort. Millions of innocent people have been left homeless. The fresh water in the affected regions has been tainted by seawater and debris. They need water pumps, generators and water purification tablets. They need food, tents, plastic sheeting, body bags, antibiotics and bandages. They need this now, or thousands more will die. It's as simple as that.

We have an opportunity here that we've never had before. The blogosphere has reached the point at which we have literally millions of people every day online. On a normal day we're obsessed by politics, current affairs and pointless pictures of our cats, but today we can use our influence for something worthwhile. If you're reading this you're 2 clicks away from saving lives. You don't have to pick up the phone and sit on hold for ten minutes. You don't have to drive into town to donate through a bank. All you have to do is click twice on your mouse.

Around 500 people visit Sortapundit every day. If each of you donates just $1 we can give $500 a day. If you can manage $5 that'll be $2500. $5 is nothing. All but the poorest westerners can spare $5. You can donate using a credit/debt card, and it's tax deductible. Just do it, now. Please.


I've been reading over e-mails from my brother from when he was in India recently. It's disturbing to think that the places he talks about visiting may not be there any more. There was a man who practiced Ayurvedic (sp?) medicine in Pondicherry on the east coast of India who lives in a house by the beach. Scott got a weird massage from him, and was covered in mud and left to bake on the flat roof. Pondicherry proper has reported about 400 deaths, but the region, including neighbouring Tamil Nadu, has reported many thousand. Who knows if he's still alive.

While we watched the video reports on the news Scott kept interrupting with 'I've been on that beach' and 'I know a guy who lives there'. If it hadn't been for a bout of malaria he might have stayed on in India, or continued as planned to Sri Lanka.

A train was derailed between Colombo and Gaul in Sri Lanka. It's feared that up to 1,000 passengers were killed.

There was a young British woman on the news about an hour ago, describing how she had been caught on a speedboat tour of the islands surrounding Phi Phi in Thailand. The tour was illegal, as the driver didn't have a radio or any lifejackets. When the first swells came in he dumped his passengers on a private island and made a break for it. The passengers watched from the shore as a huge wave shattered the boat, killing the driver and his assistant.

Following that was an interview with a German man trying to fly home. His two young daughters survived, but he watched his wife drown. His voice was cracking as he described how his daughters were crying out for her as she slipped under the water. I've never seen anything so heartbreaking.

Next time on Sortapundit

I'll be hosting the Bonfire of the Vanities on January 17th. It's gonna be tight as I'm away until the 15th, but I'll have a couple of days with nothing to do but unpack, so I should be able to set it all up in time.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Guest Bloggers

Despite the stupidly short notice I've managed to set up a couple of guest bloggers to keep the site alive while I'm sunning myself and smoking duty free cigarettes. Jack of Random Fate and Daniel of Bloggledygook will be filling my massive blogging shoes for a couple of weeks. If anyone else is interested send me an e-mail by Thursday and I'll set you up with posting status.

I'm not sure how much Internet access I'll have while I'm on the island, but I'll do my best to cut into my tanning/staring at semi-naked women time to sit in an Internet cafe and talk crap to you guys. Unless it's really sunny. And the women showing a lot of skin.

In fact, you probably shouldn't hold out for many posts.

Or any, in fact.


I'm the first result on Google for 'Sumatran tsunami'.

Just a point of interest.

Vodafone Sucks

A couple of years ago I bought a mobile phone from Carphone Warehouse on a 12-month Vodafone contract. I kept the phone for a year and then moved over to O2. The problem is that I forgot to cancel the Vodafone contract, and I assume it automatically renewed. I had a standing order with Vodafone so they could debit my bank account every month.

Since I didn't own the phone anymore I was only paying the line rental, but because I'm absent minded and inattentive I don't check my bank statements regularly and I didn't notice the money going out.

I finally noticed the standing order a few months ago, after Vodafone had taken over a year's worth of line rental from the account (totalling about £130). I cancelled the standing order and forgot all about it until Vodafone called in October to ask why they weren't getting paid. I made a weak attempt at making myself out to be the injured party, and claimed that I'd cancelled the contract when I replaced the phone, but they didn't buy it. I gave up that approach and told them to cancel my account.

I was surprised a few weeks later to get a red bill from a debt collection agency for £50 - several month's worth of line rental - to settle my account. I called the agency but the guys on the phone are trained to do anything to recover the money so there was no point fighting it. I decided to cut my losses and pay the bill.

Last month I got a bill in the post direct from Vodafone for £0.00. I have no idea why I got it, but I forgot all about it until about an hour ago when I checked my back statement online and found a standing order for a little over £26 on the 22nd December. From Carphone Warehouse. I've only used Carphone Warehouse once, and that was to buy the Vodafone mobile. I've cancelled the order, of course, but I don't know who to call to get it sorted out. On current form I'll just wait for a huge bill to come through the post and just find a solicitor.

For readers in the UK - never use Vodafone or Carphone Warehouse. Their customer service is awful beyond comparison.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Sumatran Earthquake/Tsunami Kills Thousands (Updated)

There's nothing much to report on the latest news that you can't get more reliably from the news. All I can do is fall back on my education and give a quick refresher course in physical geography. I hate to sound ghoulish, but I studied earthquakes and tsunamis for four years at university so this is fascinating to me. Ironic, though, that the largest earthquake during my lifetime is overshadowed by a secondary effect of it.

It occurs to me that the general public learn much of what they know about tsunamis from Hollywood movies like The Day After Tomorrow - movies that tend to sacrifice fact for spectacular effects. I'm no expert, but I might as well use my soapbox to straighten out a few facts.

To begin, the tsunamis were a symptom of an earthquake measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale. To give you some sort of idea of the power released during a quake of this magnitude, it's equal to about 32 billion tons of TNT. As residents of LA will be aware, the Richter scale is a base-10 logarithmic scale, which meane that an earthquake measuring 9.0 on the scale will release many times more energy than an 8.0 quake.

The quake occurred just off the south coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra, where the Eurasian and Indo-Australian tectonic plates meet. Those of you who have a firm grasp of plate tectonics can skip over the next paragraph, but for the rest of you...

As you probably know, the surface of the earth is made up numerous sections known as tectonic plates. These plates effectively float on the dense, hot asthenosphere, a layer of the mantle in which the rock is hot enough to become pliable - to be able to deform without fracturing.

Now, these tectonic plates move incredibly slowly - usually less than a few centimetres every year, and it's where they meet each other that we get problems. The Eurasian plate and the Indo-Australian plate meet each other at Sumatra. The Indo-Australian plate is being forced underneath the denser Eurasian plate at a rate of about 6cm each year at the Java Trench (here is a simplified animation of the process). The movements of the two plates are what cause earthquakes. The stresses caused by the two plates scraping together force pressure to build in the rock until it discharges all at once, literally snapping. The faultline slips perhaps 10-15m, causing the displacement of huge volumes of water. 15 metres doesn't sound like much, but you have to realise that this is 15 metres movement over maybe 1,000km of plate margin.

The displaced sea water travels at speeds of up to 500mph, effectively invisible to the naked eye. The crest of the waves will only be a few feet high in open water, the only visible sign of the enormous volume of water speeding along under the surface.

The momentum of the waves means that they can travel vast distances with little loss of energy. The 1960 earthquake off the coast of Chile created a tsunami that had enough energy to travel 10,000 miles in 22 hours until it hit land in Japan, killing about 150 people. Update - the Sumatran tsunami has now crossed almost 3,000 miles of ocean, killing at least 9 people in Somalia.

As the waves approach land, and the sea floor rises, the water slows dramatically as the waves compress like an accordion, forcing them to pile up vertically. They draw water from the coastline, creating powerful undercurrents that can drag swimmers out to sea. The tsunamis don't break like normal waves, but simply hit the coast like walls of water, destroying buildings, tossing boats into the air like toys, and smothering those who have been unable to escape under unimaginable volumes of water.

It's folly to think of a tsunami as just a large wave. It's much more accurate to imagine that it is an extension of the sea, conquering the land and pushing back the coastline, in some cases by hundreds of metres. The 1993 tsunami at Okushiri, Japan reached 32m in height - the same as an 8-storey building. You can't hide from that, and you sure as hell can't try to swim to the surface. All you can do is run.

Some of us have a head start. I wrote my dissertation on the gap in preparedness and aid for earthquakes between the developed and developing world and, tragically, most of the nations affected by today's disaster have laughable warning systems. It's been several years since I've looked into the subject but, last time I looked, India's method of saving lives following tsunamis was to build refuges on stilts. Their warning system consisted of rusting air raid sirens from WW2. I hope they've improved in the last 5 years, but I wouldn't bet on it.

The Pacific, in comparison, is relatively well-prepared for tsunamis. Underwater sensors can alert us to approaching tsunamis, giving people living on the Pacific Rim adequate time to find high ground or flee inland. Unfortunately, such systems are not widely used in the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal due to the cost of installing and monitoring the sensors, and the relative rarity of tsunamis.

Reuters now has the death toll at over 6,300. I'm gonna throw out an educated guess final figure of at the very least 8,000 - factoring in the death tolls of islands (the Maldives, for example) and areas whose communications have been cut off or are otherwise unable to collate reliable death tolls. India will continue to climb, but Sri Lanka will finish as the big loser for this one. NB - the prediction includes only those killed in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. Considering the damage to infrastructure - lack of clean water most being the most pressing concern - the final death toll will easily exceed 10,000. It'll be days before the aid effort is at full speed, and weeks before those displaced will be able to move out of Red Cross shanties. True to the Christmas spirit, a tsunami is the gift that just keeps on giving.

While you watch the news, remember this - the death tolls they're reporting are only government and NGO estimates. There's no way of knowing what the final toll will be. Perhaps the most horrifying thing is that there are few reports from Aceh province of Sumatra, the closest land to the epicentre. This is probably due to the fact that lines of communication have been cut, but it could easily be the case that the towns of the western coast, or at least the people who live there, just don't exist anymore.

I'm waiting from reports from Bangladesh. The energy of the sea funneled into the Ganges Delta may have caused the river to break its banks. At the very least, the silty Delta will be flooded. At worst, 141 million people living on a flood plain the size of Iowa will be without potable water or edible crops.

For news of the disaster as it emerges, The Command Post is running excellent coverage here, a first-hand account here, updated death tolls here and how you can help.

Update - When I predicted a death toll of 8,000 around 6 hours ago I thought I was being pessimistic. After watching the news all day I'll upgrade that prediction to at least 12,000 - and possibly as much as 15,000 - deaths caused by the immediate effects of the tsunamis. Thousands of fishermen went out on the early morning tide into the Bay of Bengal, and are now floating back to shore. The final death toll in the coming weeks is anyone's guess. Michele notices the first outlet reporting 10,000+ deaths.

'Nother Update - Even my ridiculously pessimistic prediction seems to be being caught up by reality. Including the thousands still missing, the immediate death toll should easily top 15,000. It may climb as high as 20,000. As evidenced by my own failed attempts to predict the number of casualties, it's just impossible to make an educated guess when so many nations, including thousands of secluded islands, have been affected. Hell, the waves have killed people thousands of miles away in Africa. The updated death toll of Aceh Province in Sumatra has outstripped even my own predictions, and I consider myself fairly knowledgable on natural disasters.

But the worst is yet to come. Everyone lives near the coast in this part of the world. Economies are driven by two things - tourists and fish. The infrastructure of the islands of Indonesia fringes the islands. Roads, utility lines, shops and houses hug the coast for dear life. With this infrastructure in tatters the islands will starve in darkness, but not before they die of thirst.

The Asian nations surrounding the Bay of Bengal will suffer differently, but much worse. Fresh water sources will be tainted by the poisonous sea. Crops will be flooded, and food stores destroyed. India, Sri Lanka, Burma and Bangladesh will fall to disease. It's vitally important now to make sure that aid organisations get in with food, water and medical supplies.

Doctors speak of the golden hour, the vital period following a serious injury during which the victim must receive medical attention to survive. This is the golden hour for Asia. The doctors need to get in. The Red Cross need to arrange shelters. Fresh, clean water has to flow. Without that, a death toll of 15,000 will seem like pocket change.

'Nother Update - I give up making predictions. Sky News has it at 23,000, and it's still rising.

Go here to find ways you can help. has emailed me the address of an emergency message board for the friends and families of people teaching English around Asia. The address has been forwarded to all 27,000 TEFL members, so if you haven't heard from a friend or relative go here. Maybe someone who knows them wil be able to help.

'Nother Update - OK, I'm pretty pissed off right now. I'd intended to upload my dissertation - The Effects of National Wealth on Aid Distributions Following Earthquake Events - as a preamble to a post about how emergency aid is so laughably inadequate, but I can't find it for the life of me. I was sure the bound final draft was in a file at the foot of my bed, but all I can find is a sketchy first draft with every second letter crossed out in red pen with the comments 'Wrong!', 'must improve research' and 'this is crap'. Damn. That took a year to write and now it's probably rotting under a sofa in some rubbish tip.

'Nother, 'nother Update - Joe Gandelman has a good roundup of eye-witness accounts from Asian bloggers. Just like the in days following 9-11, the Ukranian elections and every other regional event of the past few years, the blogosphere has given us a view of events as they occur free from the dribble of information released by Reuters and the AP.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Guest Blogging

I know this is rather short notice, but it just occurred to me that Sortapundit will rot and decay from New Year's Eve until I get back from my holiday on the 15th January. I don't expect to have much Inernet access on the island. If anyone would be interested in guest blogging during that period I would welcome the help.

You don't have to have any experience in blogging, and the Blogger system is almost fool-proof so a novice shouldn't have any trouble picking it up. If you're interested, send me an e-mail and I'll set you up with posting status. Better move fast - I leave on the 31st.

Friday, December 24, 2004

A Christmas Miracle. Well, Almost

I got a call today from a company I interviewed for a couple of weeks ago. They offered me the job and told me I'd be starting a couple of days after I get back from my holiday. Kickass Christmas surprise.

AND... as if that wasn't enough, I got a little extra money coming in for Christmas. A couple months ago I got a letter from an online bookies I used to use, back in the days when I juggled about 10 gambling accounts. Apparently I'd left a little over a hundred quid in one of them. Unfortunately I lost the letter and didn't know the account details, and when I emailed them I was told the money was in an old E-cash account so I'd have to speak to E-cash about it. I emailed them several times and never got a reply, so I almost wrote off the money as unretrievable. Checking my email this morning I had one from E-cash to let me know that they found the money. All I have to do is call them and tell them where to send it. Double kickass Christmas surprise.

As if God was telling me not to get in too good a mood I went and lost my car while I was doing some last minute Christmas shopping. I parked in a huge multi-storey battery farm at a supermarket, and then plum forgot where I'd left it. I wandered around like a lightly sweating zombie for 15 minutes, trying to look nonchalant. I don't think I pulled it off. I've discovered it's impossible to wander round a carpark without looking like a car thief. I eventually approached a security guard:

Me: Uh, excuse me. I've sort of forgotten where I left my car. I don't suppose you could help, could you?

Him: You've lost your car *stifling laughter*? OK. Where did you park it?

Me: I don't remember. If I remembered I'd be sitting in it, wouldn't I?

Him: Well, do you know which level you parked it on?

Me: There's another level?

Him: Yup, 2 of 'em. Try level 2. That's upstairs. One level up.

Bah. If he's so clever, what's he doing working in a car park? Smart ass.

Anyway, time to wrap the presents. If I'm not back again today, Merry Christmas everyone. Super Religious Happy Merry Jolly Christmas to all those who hate Christmas.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Deck the Halls etc. etc.

I'm hugely offended by Joe Gandelman. How dare he ridicule my Winter Solstice celebrations! I have a good mind to write a strongly worded letter (hat tip: Dean Esmay).

Paris Hilton - Most Pointless Celebrity

Gossip columnist Lloyd Grove of the New York Daily News has an early New Year's resolution: absolutely no more Paris Hilton (hat tip: James Joyner).

Over the past five years - without any discernible talent, education, scruples, manners, modesty or underpants - the pretty blond great-granddaughter of hotel magnate Conrad Hilton has waged a terrifying campaign for world domination.

The arc of Paris' "career" - from rich, witless party girl to rich, witless party girl with a hit television show - is an insult to the American sense of fairness: the idea that you get ahead by working hard, playing by the rules and acquiring a skill of some sort.

Paris has bothered with none of the above, and yet society continues to reward her with money and fame.

I don't believe he can keep this up. Paris Hilton's life is such a train wreck that you can't help but stare. Every time she fades away for a while you hope you've seen the last of the annoying, spoiled brat - but then there she is again. A new video featuring Paris and another woman; another series of The Simple Life with that vacuous midget Nicole Richie. Why? WHY? It's not even as if she's especially attractive. Her face suggests that there were some very close cousins in her family tree.

But, still, we can't stop talking about her.

Photojournalist Complicit?

This is the picture taken by an AP photographer on Sunday, during the attack by Iraqi insurgents that resulted in the death of 3 Iraqi election workers. Wretchard at the Belmont Club wonders if it's just a little too convenient that the photographer happened to be there at the time. At first I dismissed the idea as ridiculous, but it may not be so outrageous a claim.

Look at the angle. The photographer (or, at least, the camera) was elevated a good few feet above the pickup truck in the background. This could be partially accounted for by the gradient of the road, but even taking that into account the photographer is obviously standing. This shot wasn't taken from a hiding place. It was taken from a standing position - maybe even from the bed of a pickup like the one in the picture. If you accept that premise, you have to ask how the photographer was able to take a shot from that angle during an attack from, in the words of AP journalist Abdul Hussein Al-Obeidi, about 30 armed insurgents, hurling hand grenades and firing guns.

They stopped a car carrying five employees of the Iraqi Electoral Commission and killed three of them. The other two escaped.

The two men in the photo - one lying face down with a gun at his head, the other kneeling on the right and facing away from the camera - were both killed. Look at the picture. The two men had been pulled from their car and thrown to the floor. That would have taken a matter of seconds. In addition, the cars in the background are still occupied.

Lets draw a picture of the attack. The attackers dart into the road and force a car carrying the election workers to stop. They pull the men from the car and force them to the ground. The drivers of the cars in the background see what's going on, jam the cars into reverse and fucking bolt back down the road while the men are shot.

But the cars aren't reversing. Let's make an assumption and conclude that the photo was taken very early in the attack. The drivers of the following cars hadn't had time to react to the situation and tear off. I think it's a reasonable assumption, but I could be wrong.

Assuming that I'm right, the photographer was present on the scene from the get-go. He didn't spot a distubance and come running from the distance, his camera bouncing on its strap. He was there, and he was waiting. Again, I'm jumping to conclusions. Sue me.

From what I can deduce it seems very likely that the photographer knew in advance that the attack would take place. He found himself a good spot for a photo, and he waited. I could be wrong. Maybe he was just extremely lucky. He just happened to be nearby. And maybe I'll wake up tomorrow with an extra inch.

Bill Quick suggests 'that this "reporter" should be arrested, thoroughly investigate, and if the facts warrant, charged with aiding and abetting the crimes of terrorism and murder.'

I know almost nothing about photography, but I have a couple of questions:

1. Does anyone know what type of lens was used to take this picture?

2. Would the average AP photographer usually have that lens attached on his camera for general use?

The reason I ask is that the picture looks fairly high-quality for a shot taken in a high-pressure situation. Just how long does it take a seasoned photographer to select the correct lens, attach it to his camera and focus? I'm just pulling this out of my ass, but I wonder if, in the absence of an actual interview with the photographer, we could draw any conclusions by studying the photo.

A Christmas Miracle

Well, thank God for that. I screwed up my PC last night and had to do a system recovery. When I restarted the computer my BT Voyager 100 ADSL modem wouldn't respond. I downloaded the drivers from the BT website, but when I tried to install them I kept getting an error message.

After trying again and again for about 8 hours I was about to give up when, lo and behold, it suddenly worked. I'm not sure what happened so if I seem to vanish from the face of the Earth for the next few days you can assume that it broke again. In the meantime I'm not touching anything I don't understand.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Media and Democracy

I’m no expert on Iraq, so this will be a sharp learning curve for me. While browsing through a few stories I came across a comment at Hit and Run that, while humorous, made me think:-

I wonder just how Americanized this election will be.

Will the ads feature the line “I’m Iyad Allawi and I approve this

Will there be a group “Tank Vets For Truth” claiming that some guy
didn’t really earn his medals during the war against Iran in the

Inquiring minds want to know.


OK, the comment was meant partly in jest, but there’s a serious point there. Just how will the campaigning function, especially on such a short time frame? The Iraq election, all being well, will occur at the end of January. In the US and here in the UK the candidates would already be campaigning at break-neck speed, millions of pounds and dollars already sacrificed on the altar of advertising. The tabloids would be plastered with scandal - the candidates past dissected once and again, every aspect of their lives laid out for public consumption.

But what about Iraq? In a world in which the difference between an inauguration and disgrace can hinge on a single issue (Swift Vets, National Guard service etc.), which issues will paint the pictures of the candidates that the voters will take to the polls? More importantly, which media sources will paint those pictures?

From MENAVista:

The post-Saddam era has seen a media free-for-all emerge in Iraq. Indeed,
due to the complete lack of law and order, Iraq for the time being easily has
the freest media in the entire Middle East and North Africa region.

With all these shiny new media outlets sprouting up, the opinions of the people may depend strongly on which of these media can proliferate fastest; who can push their opinion most efficiently.

Crossposted at Iraq Elections Blog.

Iraq Elections Blog

I'll be co-authoring Iraq Elections Blog, a pet project of Stephen Sherman (the Commissar of Politburo Diktat). The blog will cover not only the Iraqi elections, but the growth of a newly Democratic state that will hopefully follow.

Joining me at Iraq Election Blog are the writers of Armies of Liberation, Bloggledygook, Emigre Imagining, Random Fate, The Common Virtue and, of course, Politburo Diktat.

Shit, this means I have to learn about Iraq.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

December Fucking Award

We were a little late this month in choosing our winner of the December Fucking Award. We were a little busy, what with Christmas coming up and the fact that my co-host is due to become a dad on Christmas Day. But, martyrs to the cause, we met up last night and argued it out over several pints of alcoholic beverages. The sacrifices I make for blogging.

Anyway, December's winner is......

Daniel Fucking Day Lewis

Day Lewis deserves this award because he never makes movies just for the paycheck and he chooses his roles superbly. I first saw him around '95 when I stumbled on In the Name of the Father. I initially watched it because it starred Pete Postlethwaite, who had recently appeared as Kobayashi in The Usual Suspects, but as it turned out the real gem was Day Lewis playing Gerry Conlon, a man framed for the Guildford pub bombing and imprisoned with his father Giuseppe (Postlethwaite) for 15 years. His performance got him a nomination for Best Actor at the Academy Awards.

Apart from that, his performance in My Left Foot netted Day Lewis the Best Actor Oscar, he was the only thing that made Gangs of New York bearable and his dad was British Poet Laureate. How cool is that?

Related posts

November Winner
Fucking Actors

Monday, December 20, 2004

Risky Business

I just sent an email to the HR manager at my old employer, turning down their offer of 3 days pay as compensation for unfair dismissal. At the time I was quite pleased with myself that they caved and admitted liability, but then I got myself worked up over the weekend.

See, they're offering 3 days pay because I'd already handed in my notice - and only had 3 days left to run when they fired me. That only amounts to £160 (about $310). I've been unable to find any sort of decent work above minimum wage, and part of that must have been due to the fact that I had to admit I got fired every time I have an interview. I'm a leper. I might as well have walked in with a bell around my neck.

Anyway, I got pissed off by it. I gave ACAS a call and asked what they thought, and they said that if I took it to a tribunal I'd get at least one week's pay and compensation for the time I've been out of work. I really don't want the hassle of a tribunal - and the expense of retaining a lawyer - so I emailed work and said I'd settle for £350 ($680). It isn't a huge amount, but it's a week's wage and $150 compensation for my trouble. It seems reasonable to me. Let's see if they agree.

Related posts

It's Blackmail, Stupid
Jack of All Trades... Master of Two or Three
Livin' on the Breadline
Drunk Blogging (Updated)
You Wouldn't Like Me When I'm Angry
Comes in Threes
I got fired today. Shit.

Hey, d'ya think I talk about this too much?

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Patriotism Redux

My brother has a new post up at his blog Thinkingrockshard - Fields of Gold:-

By observing the effects of those fields on our reality we can deduce a posteriori that they are in nature dynamic and relatively ephemeral. In my post of December 9th, I imagined an earth pre-civilisation, pre-patriot field. These governing fields are finite, existing for a time before being replaced. They cannot cease to exist, when not manifesting in our reality they exist only as a potentiality, but exist they do. For example, within that space occupied by all potential governing fields there will exist a field for slavery and a field for killing a bison with a sharpened stone and a field for ritual sacrifice of first born sons and a field for considering the earth to be the centre of the universe. All that these fields require to manifest are the necessary hospitable environments. None of the above examples are likely to find hospitable conditions with which to manifest again but at certain points in the history of ideas those conditions did exist which allowed the fields to flourish as governors of human behaviour.

To which I reply, 'Wha'?'

More Bloggery

Hey, at some point today I passed 40,000 visitors. I run 3 stats trackers here, obsessive stats hawk that I am, but Statcounter has been logging my stats almost since the inception of Sortapundit. The other 2 say 39,056 and 26,490. I think I'll trust Statcounter.


There's a new addition - long overdue, in fact - to the blogroll this evening. 'Mighty' Joe Gandelman of the Moderate Voice. As well as The Voice he's being doing sterling work over at Dean's World for several months. Go read.

Now, I've got to get back to typing up my sister's college homework. I'm so her bitch.

I'm in Disbelief

Bush named Time's Person of the Year.

What? WHAT?? Why didn't they give it to us bloggers? We forced an old man to retire! WE FORCED AN OLD MAN TO RETIRE!!!! Bow down to our power, Time.

Congratulations to Powerline, who were awarded Blog of the Year. Well done, guys.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Every year, it seems, we move a little further from 'Merry Christmas', and a little closer to a washed out, politically correct nightmare of 'Happy Holidays' in an effort to appease those of us who find the idea of celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ deeply offensive. Every year I become a little more baffled at this phenomenon.

I'm not religious. My family isn't religious. When I was a kid we occasionally attended the local Church of England Sunday service - not to worship, but because that was what middle-class respectable British Anglo-Saxons did. We'd dress in our Sunday best, grab a handful of Mr Men books and make the short drive to the church, where an old vicar with a limp handshake would lecture to us on values before reciting the Lord's Prayer. Meanwhile, my brothers and I would wriggle in the pews and read about the adventures of Mr Strong and Little Miss Whatever.

We stopped going many years ago - I forget when exactly. Since then I've occasionally flirted with religion. I attended Mass with an American friend about 5 years ago and took on a sort of low-level belief - I belong to the 'probably not, but just maybe' school of thought. I figure, what's the harm?

Despite my lack of religious conviction, it upsets me to see the traditional meaning of Christmas die. It upsets me that we should feel that there's something insulting about wishing a Muslim or a Jew Merry Christmas. Really, is anyone so sensitive that they would be offended by those two words?

I'm not offended when a Jew wishes my 'Happy Chanukah', or when he celebrates Yom Kippur, Tu b'Shvat and observes the Fast of Esther. If my local school offers Matzah balls in the canteen during Passover, who am I to complain? Nor do I feel marginalised when a Muslim fasts during Ramadan or wishes me 'Eid Mubarak' at the end of his fast. If I'm not offended by the traditions of other religions, why on Earth would I believe that Isaac or Ishmael would be offended by the traditions of mine?

From Michele:

Christmas is snow on the ground and a home that smells like gingerbread and a tree that takes your breath away. It's little girls in blood red dresses trimmed with white lace and little boys barely breathing in tightened bowties and buttoned dress shirts. It's Silent Night playing softly in the background, and garland hanging from the ceiling beams and platters of cookies pile high on the counter, waiting for the colored sugar frosting. It's aunts and uncles and laughter and everyone loving their gifts, all smiles and appreciative kisses and hugs. It's a warm, cozy day that ends with the little children shuffling off to bed, the plastic bottoms of their feetie pajamas scraping against the polished wood floor and the clutch their brand new dolls and trucks and sleep with them because they were that good of a present. The children dream of elves and reindeer and the parents sip late night drinks and stare at the tree and sigh.

It's also watching the kids fluff their lines at the nativity play; midnight mass the night before Christmas; carol singers at the door and God bless us, everyone - whether you believe in Him or not. Do we really want to lose that?

Elsewhere - Joe has several interesting comments from the Jewish perspective.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Google Reveals Macabre Connections in Missouri Slaying

It being Saturday, I have nothing to do until this evening. To fill the time I thought I'd try my hand at a little ghoulish investigative journalism.

You've probably seen this story by now:

MARYVILLE, Mo. - A baby girl that had been cut out of her mother's womb was found after a frantic search, and authorities arrested the woman they say strangled the mother and stole the child.

The child was found Friday in seemingly good health in an eastern Kansas home. A red Toyota similar to a description offered earlier by police was in the driveway.

Lisa M. Montgomery, 36, of Melvern, Kan., was arrested later Friday and charged with kidnapping resulting in death.

Earlier, Bobbie Jo Stinnett, who was eight months pregnant, had been talking with her mother on the phone, and hung up saying a woman she had chatted with online had just arrived at her door, authorities said.

Both women were breeders of rat terriers, and were apparently acquainted on the Internet through their shared interest. I did a little digging and found the MSN groups of which they were members.

Montgomery, who used the screen name kelimont, was a member of the now defunct, while Stinnett, using the screen name Brindle_Rat, belonged to and and ran a website devoted to breeding terriers, along with her husband, Zeb.

And how about this for creepy? I found this message here, dated 04/25/03. Lisa Montgomery introducing herself to a new group:

Hi, my name is Lisa and I live on an old farm in eastern Kansas. Our house is a little over 100 years old and was originally built without electric or running water. It has 6 bedrooms and 1 itty bitty bathroom.I have 4 children, ages 12, 13, 14, and 16, and my husband has 3 boys, ages 11, 13, and 18. We are also expecting new baby any day. Lisa

What I find creepy about this comment is that, according to news sources, Montgomery had only 2 children. In addition, she had at some point been pregnant with a third.

Montgomery is the mother of two high school-age children, but Graves said she had been pregnant with another child that was never born.

It's unclear when she lost the baby or under what circumstances, but the complaint said she had lied to her husband about giving birth. Graves declined to give a motive for the crime.

So were her claims of 4 children mere harmless fantasy or a sign of her insanity? Did she lose the child she was carrying? We can only speculate.

My objective in digging through the MSN boards was to find a conversation between murderer and victim. Unfortunately I wasn't able, but it's obvious that they moved in the same circles. The salient question, of course, is what could possibly have motivated Montgomery, a Kansas family woman, to drive to Missouri and slaughter a 23-year old mother to be? I guess we have to put this down to another cautionary tale about the dangers of the Internet.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Friday Lazy Linkfest

James bemoans Scott Peterson's fan club.

Matthew reports that 15% of the funds earmarked for Iraq's reconstruction are lost to corruption. He has pie charts.

Michael wants capital-C conservatives to clean up the right.

Jerry Scharf reports 150 misplaced ballots in the ever closer Washington gubernatorial race.

Sean Hackbarth has a suggestion for a gift for that relative you, you know, really hate.

San Antonio strippers forced to wear name tags. Kinda sucks the fun out of it when you realise her real name is Edna.

McGehee reports a truly disturbing story.

Jeff has some recommendations for Christmas. Or Hannukah. Or Tuesday.

Ogged discovers that wisdom comes at a price.

Tiger discovers he's linguistically intelligent. I don't believe him.

Michele is running the fourth annual Kazaam Award.

Europe Wants Editorial Control of Blogs

Via Captain's Quarters:

The Council of Europe has called on its 46 member-states to introduce legislation on the right of reply to correct false information on online media.

It said the Committee of (Foreign) Ministers, executive of the European human rights watchdog body, had adopted a recommendation on the right to reply for online Internet media.

This recommended that members consider introducing legislation on the "right of reply or any other equivalent remedy, which allows a rapid correction of incorrect information in online or off-line media......"

A statement said the recommendation "urges member-states to extend the right to reply which until now applied to the written press, radio and television, to online communication services providing information edited in a journalistic manner."

"The government will make use of these powers only insofar as they are essential for carrying out vitally necessary measures...The number of cases in which an internal necessity exists for having recourse to such a law is in itself a limited one."

I'm not so sure about this. I can understand the concept behind right to reply in the mainstream media. TV news and the print media are generally accepted to be unbiased reporters of news taken, for the most part, at face value by their viewers/readers. If by online media they're referring to blogs (which seems a distinct likelihood) I'm not getting on board with that one bit.

Before I start bitching, I'm surprised this has been proposed at all. After all, Belarus was suspended from the Council in January 1997, partly due to the constraints on its free press brought about by changes in their constitution under the regime of President Lukashenko.

Anyway... Sortapundit isn't exactly the sort of blog that would be affected by such legislation. I don't typically talk about much in the way of news, and I fail to see a situation in which any government would demand a right to reply to any of my posts. Besides, I live in the UK. We have a fairly secure government who shouldn't be too worried with any amount of lies I posted here. No, what I'm concerned about are bloggers living in Eastern European member states, whose governments tend to be more transitory and political upheaval more likely. The present worry: Ukraine. In a nation in which 100,000 protest in the streets against electoral fraud; a nation where opposition leaders are poisoned, what could be more important than the right to unimpeded speech? What could be more intrusive than the government invading a private website to denounce your words, imposing their propaganda on your property?

Captain Ed:

Of course, I do not reside within any of the 46 member-states of the CoE, but a number of high-quality bloggers do -- and this appears to give governments the right to hijack their virtual press to publish state-sponsored propaganda.

But is Ed safely tucked away outside the Council of Europe? Perhaps not. After all, the US holds observer status at the Committee of Ministers, a CoE institution. Who can say which initiatives the US would decide to pick up on? Of course, this recommendation has no legal force, but it paves the way for legislation in the future, legislation that gives politicians more power. As we all know, the last thing you want to do with politicians is give them more power, no?

If you take issue with that - if you believe politicians need more power - look back at the paragraph I highlighted in bold up there. That wasn't part of the original text. Those are the words of Hitler in a speech to the Reichstag on March 23 1933, immediately before they went to vote on the Enabling Act. We should bear that in mind when we consider initiatives such as this.


Talking about regulation of blogs, CBS's David Paul Kuhn worries himself silly about the New Media (hat tip: Powerline), while blatantly rewriting political reality.


I just got home from my appeal hearing. I went in ready to lay into them and use my little blackmail weapon, but it wasn't necessary. The meeting was just between me and a woman from Human Resources. I thought it was odd, as these appeals are supposed to be attended by a senior manager. As soon as I sat down she explained that she hadn't called in a manager as she had already made a decision.

In short, I am vindicated. After looking over call data and interviewing my old manager, she came to the conclusion that I had been unfairly dismissed. Since I was sacked just a few days before I was due to leave, I will only get a few days worth of pay as compensation, but after a month of fighting to clear my name I don't care about the money. The main point is that I am right. I won. My name has been cleared, and I can't wipe this smile from my face.

Now, I have a long and embarrassing history of getting fired from jobs. It's usually my fault - I work hard until I hate the job, and then slack off until they fire me. This one was different. I worked my ass off for over a year. I didn't take sick days. I exceeded targets. Forgive the profanity, but I was fucking great at my job. When I got fired it was like being punched in the gut. Since then I've been fighting to get my name cleared. I've suffered the humiliation of having to admit I was fired during interviews for a new job. Nobody would hire me. Hell, I ended up temping in a damned ice cream factory to cover the bills.

That's enough. I'm just happy it's over.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

It's Blackmail, Stupid

OK, its time to play hardball. I have my second appeal hearing for unfair dismissal in the morning, and have no doubt that I'll be laughed out of the office. My appeal is based on the fact that I was fired for doing something I had been trained to do (hanging up on unsuitable calls such as schools - I was in telemarketing by the way), and had been doing for over a year without complaint. My new manager didn't agree, and I got fired for system abuse.

I expect the meeting will go like this: they'll keep me waiting for half an hour, and then present me with my computer records for the past year, highlighting every single call that wasn't perfect. They'll then try to convince me that I'm stupid, was bad at my job and would have been fired for being crap anyway. I was damn good at my job, so it's time to bring out the big guns: blackmail.

See, since I started the job I've been aware that the employees and managers regularly use data from the Yellow Pages database. Hell, I did it myself on a number of occasions. We'd log on to, search for specific businesses we thought would be good prospects, steal the data and give them a call. Unfortunately for my erstwhile employee, the data is protected by the Data Protection Act of 1998. It's the intellectual property of Yell Ltd. Oops.

I was speaking to a friend who still works with the company this evening, and he told me that hem along with every other employee, was recently ordered to sign a contract promising not to use Yell data anymore. The fact is that we were doing it for over a year with the full knowledge of management. The fact that they've decided to address it now only proves their guilt.

So, there's my angle. They brush me off and I threaten to contact Yell. If Yell decided to sue (which their data protection policy suggests would be extremely likely), they'd try to get a warrant for the company computer records, which would no doubt disrupt the business. In addition, my old bosses would take a hit in the PR stakes. As the holder of the largest business to business database in the UK they're fairly high profile. They sponsor sporting events and such.

All I want in return for my silence is the two weeks pay in lieu of notice I feel is mine by right. I'm not trying to extort anybody. I don't want the company to suffer. I don't want anyone to get in trouble. I just want enough money to make it through Christmas.

I'm the last angry man, dude.

Bin Laden Blames Monarchy

Here's one that almost passed me by in my ongoing effort to, well, avoid anything news related: a new Bin Laden tape has been released.

"We pray to Allah to welcome the souls of the mujahidin (Islamic fighters) who attacked the American consulate in Jeddah," he said, referring to the 6 December attack in the Saudi city in which four of the attackers, together with five non-American embassy staff members, were killed.

The message of the tape seems to be that the Saudi monarchy is to blame for unrest in the nation.

"In Saudi Arabia, it is the king and not Allah who commands sovereignty and complete obedience," the voice on the tape said. "I advised the government two decades ago to remedy the situation ... but it has not changed at all."

Now this is funny. Arthur Chrenkoff (who, worryingly, uses exactly the same template as me - I didn't think there was anybody as lazy as me) remarks upon Osama's complaints about the House of Saud:

And thus Osama becomes yet another billionaire complaining about the growing gap between the rich and the poor, a sort of George Soros with a Closed Society Institute.


Also blogging - Rusty, James Joyner, The MUSC Tiger, Our Life, Crossroads at Arabia, Blogs of War, Backcountry Conservative and The Command Post.

FCC Plans to Auction Bandwidth

Now here's an interesting piece of news. The Federal Communications Commission has decided to auction radio frequencies in the 800MHz band, a move that will allow passenger to not only use cell phones in flight but also pave the way for broadband Internet access. More details here and here.

The idea of in-flight broadband access would be welcome. I don't fly often, but the last long-haul I had to endure was from the UK to Melbourne, Australia - an even 24 hours, with nothing but a few bad movies and Everybody Loves Raymond for company. If I'd been able to spend 24 hours blogging and reading the experience would have been almost pleasant (if it wasn't for the obviously new couple going at it in the seats next to me from London to Singapore).

However, the idea that cell-phone use would be allowed is an absolute nightmare. Imagine spending 24 hours in a window seat, blocked in by an asshole making business deals and talking about how he'd so tap that ass if she just dropped a few pounds.

If I kill a man over international waters, who has jurisdiction?


I've spent most of today watching the third series of the West Wing while browsing for a new mobile phone - there are some advantages to being out of work, not least the sense of achievement you get from passing a day without spending a single penny while still enjoying yourself.

For the past year I've been using a Nokia 7650, a brick of a phone that was one of the founding fathers, as it were, of mobile camera and video technology. I understand that it never really took off (probably due to the fact that it really is a brick), but I never found the bulkiness of the phone a major problem. I don't like this trend of forcing technology into ever smaller devices. There's something insubstantial and unsatisfying about a phone the size of a credit card. Give me something I can feel in my hand. Give me a monster that needs a heat sink. I like a cellphone that comes with two fat guys, a sack of coal and a shovel. It has to feel real. Take your flimsy toys away from my sight, I'll take that one. I'll park the truck out front and you can lash it to the roof.

This loathing of miniaturisation probably stems from the time I used a Nokia 6510 for a year. I almost swallowed it several times, it was so small. I have fairly slender hands, and still I mashed the keypad while writing messages. It was a nightmare. In fact, let me clarify. It wasn't a nightmare. A nightmare is being chased through a park in the dead of night by an army of dogs shooting bees from their mouths. Just a figure of speech (in a similar vein there are, in fact, many things worse than a paper cut).

Anyway, I'm looking for a new phone. I've got my eye on the new Motorola a1000 - a 3G phone that uses a touch-screen and stylus arrangement in place of a keypad. It also features a 1.2 megapixel camera with 4x digital zoom. The problem is that the reviews I've read are all over the place. Some have rated it outstanding, others say its the worst phone they've ever used. Who to believe?

My biggest gripe is that the phone is only available in the UK for customers of the 3 network, the forerunner in the 3G market. 3 have decided that users can only access the Internet at 3-approved sites, which basically means that the phone is useless for Internet browsing, unless all you want to do is download news and music videos directly from 3. Sounds a bit crap.

Now I think about it, though, I only use my mobile for the occasional voice call and frequent text messaging, so the reported problems with the phone shouldn't be that big a problem. I've only used my current phone to access the Internet once, and it was so bad I never bothered again. Even so, I would like the opportunity to access a wider range of sites.

Enough prattling from me. What I want are recommendations from you guys. I'll leave it a few days before ordering, so if any of you have anything to say I'd welcome the input. Maybe you've used the a1000 and want to give me your verdict, or you have another model phone that you can rave about. Have at it in the comments, if you would.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

To The Estate of Edvard Munch: I'm Sorry

We're very big on childish humour here in the Taylor household. My brother modified Edvar Munch's The Scream as a background for his laptop.

Posted by Hello

No reason. It just tickled me.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The Folly of Gambling

It's been quite some time since I wrote about anything that interested me. The incessant pursuit of traffic can often get in the way of what's important. And so, in an effort to bring it back on track and remind myself why I actually do this, I'll write a post about something that has had a vast impact on my life: gambling.

I stumbled across this article in the Herald today, discussing the effects of 'Super Casinos' on rates of compulsive gambling in the region. The article was written following news that Scottish Parliament may consider legislation to allow such casinos in the country.

I only gambled in a casino once. It was in Melbourne two years ago, and I put AUS$10 on the roulette wheel. I never understood the attraction. For me, gambling was always something that took place in the home, far away from the embarrassment that comes with a big loss. Above all, far away from judgement.

It occurred to me while reading this back that I'd forgotten one thing. I forgot the sentence that begins support meetings for all addictions, from alcoholics to sexaholics.

I'm Keith Taylor, and I'm addicted to gambling.

I started gambling at around the age of 16, while I was in college. The legal age is 18, so I'd send my brother to the local bookmaker during lunch with my picks for the weekend's football. It only cost me a couple of quid a week, and I on occasion won some extra pocket money. More than anything it was a way to make the weekend more fun - I'd never been that interested in sport, so gambling made sitting through my older brother's Saturday football program more tolerable.

Before long I grew bold enough to enter a bookies myself - a forbidding place for a child, peopled by intense old men clutching slips of paper, cursing idle horses amid a fog of pipe smoke and Old Spice. I'd take a friend and we'd sit together in the canteen of a local supermarket picking at fried chicken while we pored over the form sheet, and then place our bets on the way back to law class. It was harmless fun.

If only it had stayed at that. College ended, and we went our separate ways. I moved onto university in Manchester, and with it discovered the world of Internet gambling. My student loan brought new found riches - £3000 is a considerable fortune to a young man accustomed to getting by with just a few pounds a week. I remember the first time I learned of Internet gambling. I saw an advertisement on the side of a bus stop at Picaddily Gardens in Manchester. I was on the way home from a class, and while waiting for the bus I saw an advert for the Grand National at The ad offered a free £10 bet when you opened a new account. I got home and deposited a tenner. I think I built it up to about £45 before blowing it all on a couple of unwise bets.

From there it all gets a little murky. I spent 5 years gambling, and it all melts together in the memory after a while. One particular example sticks out, though. One day in the summer (probably 2000 or 2001) I won £4000 in one day playing roulette on the William Hill website. I'd paid in the last £79 before my overdraft limit at the bank, and I guess I just got lucky. Before I knew it I was placing £500, the maximum bet, on the spin of a wheel. Black or red - £500. But I was winning. I was on the biggest roll of my life. I called down my younger brother, who was at the time working a night job, from his bedroom. He was singularly unimpressed, but I kept running my mouth, almost squeeling with glee every time I won. I finally stopped around £4000 after losing a £500 spin. You can't imagine the feeling.

That night I celebrated with some friends in a pub a few miles from my home. I was buying drinks left, right and centre. I couldn't remember ever having felt so good. I was mentally paying off my debts, maybe buying a car with the proceeds. I was suddenly wealthy in a way that I'd never been, either before or since. Needless to say, I drank a little too much and walked home with a head full of dollar signs. I sincerely believed I could repeat the feat every day. I'd be rich.

I got home and found a note propped against the PC. It was from my mum. 'Please don't lose all your money', it read. I grabbed the nearest writing instrument, a red magic marker, and scrawled a gratingly sarcastic 'Yes, Mother' on the note - and promptly lost around £3000.

In the morning, after I'd sheepishly told my mum what I'd done, she told me she had considered unplugging the modem and hiding it from me to save me from myself. During my lowest moments, when there just isn't enough money to keep my creditors from the door, I often look back on that day and wish I'd been stronger; not had so much to drink; had too much to drink so I felt too ill to stay up; hell, been beaten up and had to go to the emergency room - anything to keep me from sitting down at the PC.

Gambling is, obviously, an addiction that brings with it a series of soaring highs and desperate lows. I've been sitting on top of the world one moment and close to tears the next. All my financial problems have been solved, and then worsened. In 7 years of gambling I have no idea how much I lost. Don't want to know, either. All I can tell you is that last summer I graduated from university with debts amounting to £25,000.

I'll always be an addict. No matter how hard I try; no matter how long I go without placing a bet, the addiction will always be there. Just as an alcoholic can't take a drink, even years after he's kicked the habit, I can't make a bet. One drink is never enough, and one drink is too much. The same holds true for gambling. I can live with that, but I'll always miss the feeling of a big win.

I'll tell you one thing, though: I got up this morning and worked from 7:30am until 4pm. I spent 8 and a half hours elbow deep in slushy ice cream in amongst deafening machinery in freezing temperatures. By clocking-off time my hands were in shreds and my back was stiff, and I earned a little less than £40. Still, at the risk of sounding like an After School Special, earning that £40 is more satisfying than anything I ever won playing roulette or trying to beat the spread. OK, there's nothing especially noble about working a 9-5. It's just that there's something ignoble about making money on the spin of a wheel.

Linked to the OTB Traffic Jam.

Unemployed Again

Well, that job sucked. Not a chance I'm going back tomorrow.

I spent three hours today literally up to my elbows in half-melted ice cream. You know, there's a reason that job was temporary - no sane man would agree to do it for more than a few days.

I got up yesterday at 5:30am. The only time I usually see 5:30 is when I've yet to go to bed. I spent 8 hours standing on a step ladder feeding polystyrene cups into a hopper, which were then filled with rasperry ripple ice cream. There was a clock right in front of my face and the hours dragged like a fat guy with no legs trying to climb a big hill.

Anyway, the machine broke down after lunch today, so I was sent to empty rejected tubs of ice cream into a big bin to be recycled with the next batch. I wore a pair of thin surgical gloves, so I couldn't feel my hands by the time I left. Think I'm a wuss? Go to your freezer and pick up a tub of ice cream.

Now hold it.

Keep holding.

Give it another few minutes.

Hurts, don't it?

Anyway, my sweater was sticky and white to the elbows and my hands still stink of vanilla 4 hours later, despite 10 minutes scrubbing with hardcore handwash.

Don't get me wrong - I've never been afraid of a little hard work, and I've had more than my share of shit jobs, but seriously - I had to climb into a dumpster with 10 bin bags full of melted champagne sorbet. It was like the scene in Fight Club where they steal that human fat.

And I swear every guy at the factory was based on Lenny from Of Mice and Men.

P.S. I just realised that today is the 5-year anniversary of the first time I got fired from a job. Quitting. What an apt way to celebrate.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Atrios Attacked

Glenn Reynolds discusses the motives of CBS in attacking Atrios. Meanwhile, Henry Copeland at Blogads' blog posts several different iterations of the CBS article.

Personally, I don't believe bloggers should be legally obliged to disclose the fact that they're on the political payroll. The market can sort them out if there's any reason - God knows the blogosphere is capable of doing a little digging to find the truth.

I apologise for being so blunt and not bothering with a reasoned argument to make CBS understand that the First Amendment works for us, too, but I only have one thing to say:-

Kiss my shiny metal ass.

It's That Time of Year Again

This post is periodically moved to the top of the page. So far we have raised $30. Hopefully that total will be considerably higher before April.

Once again, my older brother Scott is preparing to run a charity marathon. On 24th April 2005 Scott will be running the Lochaber marathon in Fort William, Scotland.

I ran an appeal for him before he ran this year's Flora London Marathon (his results are here), but the lacklustre response amounted to a sum total of zero pounds sterling (that converts to zero US dollars), so this year we're hoping for a slightly better response.

He'll be running the marathon to raise money for the Vidhiyadan School, Hennur Bande, Bangalore in India. This is the school he volunteered at for 3 months this year. I don't want to make it seem like I'm tugging at your heartstrings here (I'm kidding - I'm trying to play you like a violin), but it cost him a severe bout of malaria and gastroenteritis, and he spent the last three weeks in hospital with an unpleasant case of dysentery (that's commitment for ya).

So, if you have a few dollars to spare, anything will help. Thank you.

Tired out and stinking after the London Marathon Posted by Hello

Scott pretends to be in charge, but the kids know betterPosted by Hello

Update - a big thanks to the Jawa Report and Daily Pundit for linking the post.

'Nother Update - you can visit my brother's new blog at Thinking Rocks Hard. You know it makes sense.

The Final Countdown

Sunday, December 12th. And so, the annual popularity contest/link fest that is the Weblog Awards draws to a close. Voting ends today. If you intend to squeeze in a last minute vote, now would be a good time.

This year, almost 400,000 people visited the awards, generating well over 1 million page views. Around 400 weblogs were included over 33 categories. We've seen scandal and ballot stuffing, both without the knowledge of the benefactor and with. I've been gifted around 3,000 hits for awarding a phony endorsement, and all it cost me was a quick sketch of a semi-clad conservative pundit. We've seen disillusionment (is that even a word?) and disgust - even threats of violence. Worse, we've seen threats of violence to kittens. The horror.

We've seen last minute pleas, constant bottom of each post every minute pleas, and pleas to vote for anyone other than the nominee.

We've seen bloggers temporarily hate blogging, bloggers channeling JFK through GWB for INDC, and the Llama Butchers claiming that their winning the Best Culture award would herald Armageddon.

And finally... the depth of depravity. Pictures of llama copulation.

It's been fun.

P.S. I'm making my endorsement for best humour blog a tie between IMAO and Jim Treacher.

What do you mean, I can't change my mind at the last minute? I'm accountable to no one, I tell ya!

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