Saturday, December 14, 2002

The Top 10 Internet Hub Cities

This is like the old chestnut of "London Heathrow is the busiest international airport in the world" which means that Heathrow has more international flights than any other airport in the world. This has been repeated so many times, and misinterpreted so many times that a substantial portion of British people believe that Heathrow is the busiest airport in the world, where in fact Dallas, Atlanta, and Chicago (and now probably more) are substantially busier, but their traffic is mostly domestic.

Still, this is quite interesting. San Francisco is nowhere to be seen, meaning presumably that most of America's international traffic is to (or via) Europe rather than Asia. And what have the Danes been smoking lately?

Update The above post is possibly overly cryptic. I found an interesting list of the world's largest international internet hub cities (most of which are in Europe), and linked to this in the title of the post. It then crossed my mind that the list looked very similar to a list of the world's largest international airports, and that the lists were perhaps misleading in the same way. My first paragraph is talking about air hubs, and the second about internet hubs, although this is not particularly clear unless you have first followed the link. The point is that San Francisco, despite its status as the center of the internet universe is a hub for domestic and not international internet traffic. The US's principal hub for international traffic is New York, suggesting that the traffic is mostly going via Europe or to Europe.
Why do Greens hate the Green Revolution?
One of the key questions of our time. I could come up with a couple of highly unflattering (to the Greens) answers to that question, but I will leave this to Tim Blair . I have written about this before . I will merely add that Norman Borlaug is a very great man.

"We need this. This serves a useful purpose," Borlaug says, rapping the table with a pen. "What's happened more and more, from my point of view, for the last seven or eight years since all of this biotechnology has been coming on, is that the gene for common sense and judgment has been eroded all to hell and it doesn't function anymore." Borlaug believes opposition to biotechnology stems more from fervent anti-corporate ideology than concern for human health or the environment.

Where does this anti-science, anti-technology activism come from, precisely? Why, when on issues like food production you can come up with stunningly good news, do you get such hostility to it? We get fervent anti-corporate rhetoric from people who claim they want to help people in the poor world, and yet they are opposed to technology that is the only thing that can feed the poor world. This is quite simply obscene.

(I do wish though that Glenn Reynolds would stop taking cheap shots at the Nobel Peace Prize Committee. The committee gives the prize to someone genuinely admirable more often than not, and the good done by giving it to the right people (Aung San Suu Kyi, Desmond Tutu, even Andrei Sakharov, just to give three that immediately come to mind - there are plenty more) outweighs the fairly minor harm of the occasions where they have got it wrong)).
People of Earth, Your Attention Please.

Well, people of London, mainly. Does anyone feel like meeting up for a pint and/or dinner some time over the festive season? It would be nice to organise a get together. If so, e-mail me at or post a comment to this post.
Bruce Sterling:

Al Qaeda is way into martyrdom per se. It doesn't make any tactical sense for three suicide car bombers to blow up one hotel. Shouldn't three guys have blown up at least three hotels? And how come it took Al Qaeda 19 guys to bag two skyscrapers, four airplanes and part of the Pentagon? If Al Qaeda had 19 Tim McVeighs and Unabombers on the loose in the USA, blowing up important buildings and people and then hiding and running away, man, the Administration would be coming out of its skin by now.

This is true, but I don't think it is the point really. If they were doing that, they would be fighting a fairly conventional guerilla war. The more conventional what you are doing becomes, the more insane the idea of fighting a war with America becomes. (America might take a hit or two first, but America will win in the end. The saner you are, the more likely you are to realise this). In order to declare such a war in the first place, you have to be pretty disconnected from reality. Hence, the whole martyrdom complex.
Iain Murray points to Peter Ridell's article in the Times, discussing how Britain's long term ban on political advertising on television is likely to be overturned as an illegal restriction on free speech by the European Court of Human Rights. However, both main political parties support the ban, as they think that paying for television ads will send them bankrupt. The fear that such a change will lead to hugely expensive American style political campaigns and associated fundraising is brought up at length.

Something similar happened in Australia about ten years ago. Australia had long allowed television political advertising, with the bizarre proviso that there was an "electronic media cooling off period" for three days before the election in which the election was not permitted to be mentioned in any way on television or radio (be it in advertisements, news programs or any other context).

About ten years ago, the two main political parties decided that television advertising was too expensive for them, and passed a law banning it, and requiring that established political parties be given a certain amount of free airtime, as in Britain. The television networks challenged this law in the courts, and the High Court of Australia eventually declared the law unconstitutional. (The Australian constitution does not explicitely guarantee free speech, but it does guarantee free electrions, and the court ruled that free elections are not possible without free speech, and therefore that the constitution implied free speech on political matters. This seems quite reasonable to me. The "cooling off period" was brought down at the same time). Therefore, Australian television networks continue to carry campaign advertisements.

Americans no doubt find the idea of banning political advertisements bizarre and undemocratic, and I pretty much think they are right. Politics is much more of a closed shop in Britain and Australia than it is in the US. You have to have go through a certain lengthy career path in the party and parliament before standing for any high office, generally, and the American idea that anyone can spend lots of money on a campaign, enter a primary, and get elected is something that the other countries don't really have. Politics is instead for a certain political class, and genteel bans on advertising and free air time given to established parties (and hence their chosen candidates) are a symptom of this. (Airtime is based on votes in previous elections, and it works on a basis of thresholds, so that the official opposition gets equal treatment to the government. Obviously, though, this protects the existing political class). Foreigners are astonished at the huge sums of money spent on political campaigns in the US, and the fact that this to some extent restricts politics to rich people is clearly not good, but American politics is much more of a free for all, and I think this is generally good.

The peculiar thing here is that Australian politics resembles British politics much more than American politics, even though political paid ads are allowed in Australia, and always have been. The sums spent on Australian campaigns are not especially large, and party structures in Australia are similar to those in England. It may be that the ban on TV ads in Britain is more of a symptom of the the closed shop than a cause of it. It may be that the huge sums spent on political campaign in the US have more to do with the structure of American politics (primaries especially) and government (directly elected executives and officials rather than a parliamentary system) and the wealth of America, and the history of American democracy (a free for all is the American way of doing things), than to the fact that paid TV campaigns are legal. If so, the structure of British politics remains safe, even if the law is changed.
Okay, I have avoided talking about the whole Trent Lott thing, because I am not in America, and the blogosphere is full of it already. However, I can't help but read a lot about it, and at this point, my jaw is starting to drop in horror. My comments in a moment, but first a few repeated quotations explaining why my jaw is dropping in horror.

Start with Andrew Sullivan.

MORE ON LOTT: Let's recap a tiny bit. He fought integration of his college fraternity; he has hobnobbed with white supremacists; he submitted an amicus brief defending Bob Jones University's right to prohibit inter-racial dating; he has twice regretted the fact that Strom Thurmond didn't win the 1948 presidential election on an explicitly segregationist platform; he voted against the Voting Rights Act extension in 1982; in 1983 he voted against the Martin Luther King Jr holiday; last year, he cast the only vote against the confirmation of Judge Roger Gregory, the first black judge ever seated on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In these last three instances, even Strom Thurmond voted the other way. I don't know. What do you think? Again, much of this was already well known about him.

Josh Marshall has the following to say.

In 1989," according to a March 29th, 1999 article in The Washington Post, Trent Lott, "refused to co-sponsor a congressional resolution designating June 21 as Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner Day after the three civil rights workers murdered 25 years earlier in Mississippi."

And, by the way, there is this lovely Council of Conservative Citizens which Lott is close to. In the brief this group has recently filed in a case defending the lovely practice of cross burning, we get this

The particular emphasis of the Council is the protection of the expressive rights of the millions of Americans of British and European descent who hold to conservative views on matters of racial and ethnic relations.

Yum. As Josh said, you can defend cross burning on free speech grounds as you would defend flag burning (which I personally will defend on free speech grounds) but I am not sure that is exactly how I would go about it. And as Brink Lindsey points out, these are really lovely guys.

So I decided to check out the group's website. Let's put it this way: It ain't subtle. At the top of the homepage is a Confederate battle flag. Elsewhere there's a link to an anti-Martin Luther King Day tract, a link to a headline "Caucasian Skull Oldest Found in Americas," and a photo of a black Vanderbilt professor, identified in the caption as an "affirmative action hireling," posing in front of a Che Guevara banner, under the headline "Vanderbilt University 'Professor' Shows His Colors!"

As pointed out by Brink and Andrew Sullivan, here is how these guys defend Lott now.

Sad, sicko raciopaths rule the day, dear friends, and they roil about like maggots in a garbage can eating the flesh of aracial whites who are too stupid to even know they're being repressed and exterminated by those who hate all whites and who seek high profile examples such as Trent Lott to condemn any expressions of white identity. And, the whites who have been weakened by years of trying not to be white, lest any non-white people be offended by their whiteness and white ways, go happily to their genocide rather than standing up and demanding the right to their own self-determination and identity.

And this is all just the start. It goes on and on and on.

You do have to ask one question here, and that is "Given that almost all of this was known already, why did this man become senate majority leader in the first place?"

My own politics here. I come from the left. I was brought up to favour social justice. I was brought up to dislike poverty. I was brought up to loathe and detest racism. When I was 19, I would have described myself as a socialist. When I was 19, I would have described myself as a Green. I changed. I realised that government is not the solution to the world's problems, that large government is inefficient and effective, and that the left wing caricature of big business as a group of greedy capitalists out to exploit the third world and rape the world of its resources is largely wrong. I discovered that the mainstream Green movement's cries of impending doom are largely wrong, and I grew tired of the movements undemocratic nature, anti-technology bias, and refusal to listen to clear thinking. I became aware of the fact that free trade, and capitalism, and not aid that enriches corrupt officials and builds pointless dams is the best way to help the poor world become less poor. I became annoyed by the political correctness of the left, and its unwillingless to listen to views other than its own. I found its attitude that "Because we so obviously care and everybody else doesn't, we are morally superior to everyone else" to be tiresome. It's corollaries that "Because we are morally superior, we don't have to listen to your arguments" and "Because you use economic arguments, you are using the language of the enemy, and so you are one of them" are really tiresome. (This is obviously a caricature, and I am ranting about the people who annoy me the most. There are plenty of moderate lefties who don't fit it, but you can find people who fit the entire caricature pretty easily. The key reason I left the left is essentially that I concluded that large government is not the solution to the world's problems).

I discovered that the political left is on its last legs, quite frankly, and I needed somewhere else to go. Many right wing parties support free trade and theoretically support smaller government, and so there there is a certain temptation to support them. And there are plenty of actual enemies out there to fight. If you want to actually help the poor world, there is a tremendous fight against agricultural subsidies to be waged. Free markets are about creating more competition and lowering prices, making the economy on the whole more efficient, and thus helping consumers, not about doing deals, protecting vested interests, and keeping the present rich as rich as possible. And the right wing political parties, the Liberal Party in Australia, the Republican party in America, and others, are also the parties of the traditionally wealthy, who in the South one imagines meeting at the Augusta Country Club to discuss how to get the Bush admistration to protect their hereditory wealth for them. In most cases, people who are already rich become quite conservative: they want government to protect their interests in particular, and not to foster a healthy competitive economy. This flows into true conservatives in a more literal sense: people who want to keep the values of the past. Racist values at times do get mixed into this. Christian Conservative values do at times get mixed into this.

In a sense, if there is a grain of truth in the left's caricature of the right, this is where it is. The vast majority of Republicans are not like this at all. If you come from the left but have moved right because you find the left silly, this is what you are sensitive about. The racist right is not large, but it is the demon you were brought up to loathe most. If you have moved, say, into the Republican party, and you find that your fellow Republicans loathe it too, and will not tolerate it, then fine. You as a former leftie haven't betrayed anyone. If, however, they are willing to keep its company, you find yourself asking questions about them. Do they secretly share its views. If not, why are they willing to tolerate it. Is it because they want to gain power or stay in power so much that they are willing to sign a pact with the devil? Why is the president prepared to tolerate it. (George W Bush is clearly anything but a racist. But still, why did he visit Bob Jones University? Personally I think it was no more than an error of judgement, as he only appears to have done this type of thing once. Plus he has appropriately rebuked Lott). Combine this with the Lott business, though, and people start asking questions about Bush's party, and inevitably some of the mud sticks to him. Was gaining power so important to him that he was willing to cosy up to people like this? If so, does he really have any principles?

What it comes down to is this very unoriginal conclusion. If the Republican party is willing to keep company with someone as loathesome as Trent Lott, and to keep him in a position of leadership, people like me will never vote for the Republican Party. (Of course, I am not American, so I wouldn't anyway). Probably younger people brought up Republican in a post desegregation society will see the Lott affair as a relflection on Lott in particular more than on Republicans in general. Their response is likely to be to hold their noses and vote vote for those Republicans who clearly do not hold Lott's views, but if Lott remains Senate leader, non-traditional potential Republican voters will see the whole party as contaminated by this stench.

In this case, the Democrats will campaign ruthlessly on the issue for the next two years, on a "Where there is smoke there must be fire" basis. The tactic won't even be particularly unfair, given that Lott has managed to get away with these revolting viewpoints in the Republican party, and has managed to actually become senate majority leader, with them. (I have been trying to avoid saying something about this being the party of Lincoln. Oops, failed). The Republicans will suffer very badly in the 2004 elections as a consequence.

However, this pragmatic reason is not why Lott must go. The reason why Lott must go is that the man's views are loathesome.

One of the joys of the blogosphere is that you can rant at length and then send it to the whole world, and nobody will tell you to stop.

Update I am very unconvinced by this William Saletan piece in Slate. There are simply too many instances of Lott having dubious connections and saying dubious things coming to light. His apologies are too half-hearted. It's easy to say something you don't mean in passing because you didn't think about it, but if you do, you simply come out and unequivocally apologise. "I believe that the end of segregation was a tremendous advance for this country. If what I said could have been construed to suggest otherwise, then that was not what I intended and I apologise". He has instead just waffled. Plus one thing that bothers me is the business of voting against the Martin Luther King Day holiday. That just seems a matter of spite. And check out Jake Tapper's piece (via Andrew Sullivan ) in Salon on Lott's friendship with segregationist Richard Barrett. (The piece is subscription only, but you can read it by clicking on some ads, plus Sullivan quotes the important bits. I wonder if his editors at Salon mind).

Friday, December 13, 2002

Virginia Postrel expresses her amazement (although given her politics, I suspect she is not actually amazed but more simply just impressed) that she can buy five pounds of flour for 69 cents. Brad DeLong follows up by observing that the average American can buy 450 times as much flour for the wages of an hours work than could the average medieval peasant of 1500, and by that measure people today are 450 times richer than in 1500.

I think in actual fact the situation is even better than Brad and Virginia have said. Yes, we are 450 times richer in terms of the amount of food staples we can buy.

However, consider someone who was 450 times as rich as the average person 500 years ago. That person could spend a small fraction of his income on food, and then the rest of his income on other things. However the selection of other things that could be bought was not all that great.

Now consider the average person in America today. He can spend a similar proportion of his income on food as the rich person of 500 years ago. He could then spend the rest of his income on other things. The choice of things to spend the money on today is enormous: vastly greater than what could be purchased in 1500. Cars, DVD players, computers, a much greater selection of foods, and a great many things that would have appeared to be magical in 1500. In purely material terms, the average person today is much better off than a very rich person of 500 years ago, due to the greater choice of products that can be bought. In this instance, greater choice means greater wealth. I think that greater choice indicates at least as great an increase in wealth as the dramatically lower prices (in terms of income) pointed out by Brad and Virginia.

I was talking about similar things when I wrote this article about Ikea a week or two back.

Also slightly related to this is an article (abstract only available online, sadly) by William Nordhaus of Yale, on the "price of light", that is the cost of artificial illumination. He was mainly demonstrating how measures of inflation fail badly (and therefore that statistics understate economic growth badly) over long periods of time.

Traditional measures of the cost of light do not take into account the fact that the quality of the devices we use for illumination (oil lamps, gas light, electric bulbs) have improved dramatically over time (getting brighter for instance). Uf you measure the actual cost per lumen-hour Nordhaus concluded that the cost of light dropped by a factor of 400 between 1800 and 1992. (This is in inflation adjusted terms, I think. I don't actually have the paper handy, so I cannot check that. In terms of the increase in the amount of light that can be purchased with the fruits of an hour's work, the result will be even more impressive).

Of course, our response to this drop in cost is to buy a lot more light (which is not the case so much with wheat) but this is another remarkable statistic.

(Further googling finds me extensive comments on this paper by Brad Delong, which leads me to conclude that Brad is familiar with it)
Spam of the year.

I visited your website and noticed that you are not listed in most of the major search engines and directories..."

(Pointed out in the print edition of New Scientist ).

Thursday, December 12, 2002

Scott Wickstein uses the expression Classic Den Beste to describe this piece in which Steven ruthlessly and in great detail demolishes the anti-Americanism of Harold Pinter. It's well worth reading. On a lighter note, my favourite piece of classic Den Beste is the USAF versus dragons discussion. Steven responded to the (terrible) movie "Reign of Fire". In this movie, ancient dragons are discovered underground and revive. We flash forward 20 years, and civilization has been destroyed by dragons but a few brave people hold out.

Steven responded to this by writing a series of articles in his usual style discussing just how the US Air Force, and in a pinch the RAF, would do in aerial combat against dragons. It was his usual thorough discussion of how this particular weapon would do against dragons, just what the capabilities of dragons would be likely to be, whether the USAF pilots superior training would be effective, et cetera. Stylistically it was just like one of his discussions of how (say) the US marines would do against the Iraqi Republican Guard. Steven eventually concludes that

What I suspect that they'll discover is that dragon skin makes good shoes and belts, assuming they can find any pieces large enough to be used for that after all the shooting stops.

The follow-up articles, in which questions of more experienced pilots flying lower tech planes, Vietnam, dogfighting, air to air missiles, are even better, WWII in the Pacific, the transition to jets at the end of WWII, the manoeverability of the Mitsubishi Zero, and much more are discussed, all in the context of fighting dragons. It's all completely deadpan, and it is hilarious.

Of course, since dragons are mythical semimagical creatures anyway, it's difficult to guess what flight characteristics they might have. (As Bill points out in another email, strictly speaking dragons as described are impossible for several important physical reasons.)

Flapping wings have many virtues, but one thing they don't do is create huge amounts of thrust (i.e. comparable to a jet engine). The fastest winged creature in existence is a falcon in full dive, which can reach 200 MPH. No natural flier is remotely that fast in level flight. The wings of a dragon are not designed for high speed anyway; they would create tremendous turbulence and drag (if they didn't break off).

An A-10 Thunderbolt II (i.e. the Warthog) is rated 450 MPH. F-15's can exceed Mach 2 for short periods, and typically cruise at 600+ MPH. It is inconceivable that dragons would be able to fly at speeds remotely that fast.

Which means is that the jets would control the pace of combat. They can circle the dragons, come into them from behind, make slashing attacks and leave again, and then reform for the next attack. They can choose when to engage and when to run away, and they can engage when conditions are to their greatest advantage. If the dragon lands, they can strafe and bomb; if the dragon stays in the air they can circle and slash.

Or they can stand back and fire missiles from outside of firebreath range. The problem there would be coming up with a missile which would home in on a dragon, given that they're all designed to attack aircraft. Radar homers would probably be useless; a dragon is big, but it's also flesh (unless it's a bronze dragon heh-heh-heh).

Heat seekers are a different matter; if a dragon has firebreath, how warm is it? It's probably running hot anyway just because if its proportionately large volume relative to surface area. Still, it might not be hot enough to be detected by an AIM-9 Sidewinder unless that was recalibrated to look for a different kind of heat signature.

Which is why I think that it would mainly be necessary to rely on non-guided weapons. For fighters, that means their cannons, which is why the A-10 would be particularly effective. Its 30 mm GAU-8 gun is truly fearsome; it's a 7-barrel Gatling gun, which has a very high muzzle velocity which is added to the forward velocity of the jet resulting in monumental kinetic energy, specifically designed to pierce very heavy armor. I don't believe that even mythical creatures would be resistant to it.

In all there is about 5000 words of this. If you were trying to parody Steven Den Beste, it is hard to imagine a better effort, but he did it himself.
I was talking to a South African friend of mine today, and the subject of the impending cricket world cup to be played in South Africa from February came up. We discussed who we thought would win it. The two most favoured sides are Australia and South Africa. These clearly are the two best teams in world cricket, and they are playing in conditions and cultures that are familiar to them. Both sides have bowlers capable of taking advantage of the hard, bouncy pitches of South Africa, and both have batsmen who play well in one day cricket. Australia in recent years have had a psychological edge over South Africa, and when they play in a big match South Africa tends to crumble. For this reason, if the two sides meet in a semi-final or in the final, my expectation is that Australia will win.

So, how about the other sides. In no particular order

England have been traumatised by their present tour of Australia, are carrying a lot of injuries, and do not really have the playing depth to compete. They will not make the semi finals.

New Zealand have an exceptionally fine captain in Stephen Fleming, are extremely well coached, are often the best prepared side in world cricket and play well in South African / Australian conditions with hard pitches. My expectation is that they will start extremely well and will make the semi finals. In the end they probably lack the playing depth to win the tournament, but they will acquit themselves extremely well.

Sri Lanka are close to being the best side in the world when playing on the subcontinent. If the tournament were being played in India or Sri Lanka, they would be a good chance to win it (as indeed they did when it was last played there in 1996). However, their performances in South Africa (both during their current tour and their previous one in 2000-01) have been very disappointing. Muttiah Muralitharan, one of the best bowlers in the world, has not been very successful against either Australia or South Africa. I do not expect Sri Lanka to make much of a dent on the tournament.

India are the great frustration of world cricket. They have on paper the best batting side in the world, although their bowling is ordinary. In India they can be magnificent. Elsewhere they are very inconsistent. (Actually, that is wrong. Outside India they lose consistently). Their present performance in New Zealand is not inspiring. I don't expect them to go very far in the tournament either. For them to have a shot at winning the tournament, one or more of their world class batsman (probably Sachin Tendulkar) is going to have to have an absolute blinder of a tournament, by which I mean he is going to have to score four or more centuries. He is going to have to do this against the bowlers of South Africa and Australia, which will be hard. To win, India have to score large totals consistently and prevent their opposition from doing the same. They do not have the bowlers to win low scoring matches. A win by India in the tournament is unlikely, although not actually impossible.

Pakistan are for me the great unknowns. They have the ability to produce wonderful players from nowhere, and they have the ability to win anywhere in the world. The last time the tournament was held in conditions like this (in Australia in 1992) they won it. They have bowlers who can exploit bouncy pitches. They played wonderfully to beat South Africa in Port Elizabeth yesterday. (Saleem Elahi appears to be one of those exceptionally good players who appear from nowhere). And yet against Australia a couple of months ago they were terrible. I would bet a large sum of money on Pakistan puting in at least one shocking game and at least one brilliant game in the tournament. (This happened when they won the tournament in 1992, and happened when they were beaten finalists in 1999, although on that occasion their shocking game was the final). However, my feeling is that if any side other than Australia or South Africa wins the tournament, it will be Pakistan. For me they are clear third favourites.

The West Indies only have a chance to get anywhere in the tournament if Brian Lara can recover from hepatitis, get fit, and then dominate the tournament like nobody has ever dominated a World Cup before. Lara is inconsistent, but goes through hot patches every now and then, and when he does he bats more like a god than any other player I have ever seen (with apologies to Viv Richards, who isn't far behind). This is not especially likely to happen, but boy will it be something to watch if it does.

Zimababwe, Bangladesh, Kenya, Namibia, Holland and Canada are just there to make up the numbers.

My overall prediction is that the semi-finalists will be Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, and Pakistan. If Australia and South Africa are in different semi-finals, the final will be Australia versus South Africa. If not, the final will be Australia versus Pakistan. In either case, Australia will likely win the final.
I have been blogging away since March, and at various times since then I have received little bits of feedback and comments, but not a very large readership. However, in the last few weeks, I have received quite a few links and comments from various people, and my readership is up considerably. This is really nice. Thank you to everyone who has linked to me, and thank you to everyone who has been reading the blog.

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

I popped into the National Gallery in central London today, mainly because I wanted to look at Raphael's The Madonna of the Pinks , about which there is presently a little bit of a fuss. Basically, the story behind the painting is that many copies of Raphael's original were painted in the 16th century. Until 10 years ago, the original was believed lost, and the painting in the collection of the Duke of Northumberland was believed to be one of the copies. However, one of the curators of the National Gallery saw it, thought it was a particularly good copy, and carefully investigated it and determined that it was in fact Raphael's original. The painting has been on loan to the the National Gallery since then and is considered one of the best ten paintings or so in the National Gallery. (It's not a striking painting in terms of size, but it is a beautiful painting. The expression on the face of the baby Jesus is really quite marvelous, somehow).

However, the Duke of Northumberland has decided to sell the painting for $50 million to the Getty museum in Los Angeles. If this was New York and it was the Metropolitan, then no doubt some wealthy benefactor would step in and match the price. However, this is London and there are not that many people that rich and there is less of a tradition of philanthropy.

British law requires that the Duke sell the painting to a British buyer rather than a foreign buyer if the British buyer can match the price and the government specifies that the painting is a treasure that should not leave the country. (In the event that a British museum can raise the money, they will certainly do this).

Therefore, the National Gallery has launched an appeal to raise the money to buy the painting, and has applied for 20 million pounds of lottery money in order to do so.

This gets us to the peculiarly British way of dealing with tax receipts from their national lottery. Until about 10 years ago, lotteries were illegal in the UK, although there were one or two forms of betting, such as football pools, which were very close to being lotteries. However, the Major government decided to change this, and a monopoly licence was granted and a lottery was introduced. Rather than the taxes on the lottery being simply funnelled into general government revenue, as happens in most places including my native Australia, a significant portion of the taxes were placed into a fund for "good causes", and a body of trustees got to allocate the money for funding for the arts, for building sporting stadiums, and essentially for funding other activities that were perceived as worthwhile but which the government could not justify funding from general revenue. (The great debacle paid for out of lottery money is the millenium dome). It is from this "good causes" fund that the National Gallery seeks to obtain the money to buy the Raphael.

Personally, I find this practice indefensible. A tax on a lottery ticket is surely no different from a sales tax on a packet of cigarettes, or a hamburger bought in McDonald's or on anything else. The government has a duty to its voters to use the money wisely and in the public interest. (Governments may not always do so, but they have such a duty none the less). The "good causes" fund seems to somehow be an excuse to subvert this: the money can instead be spent on minority, elitest interests, and the spending the money is not subject to the same scrutiny and accountability to voters as is the spending of other government revenue. And I seriously cannot see why it should not be. The question should be, would it be appropriate to buy the painting for the gallery out of peoples income taxes, because as far as I am concerned it is the same thing. And, to be honest, I also cannot see why so much public money should be spent on this painting. I would rather the government devoted its time and money to more prosaic things like schools and health.

I have to say I prefer the American model to the British model. American museums are generally more run by private foundations and by donations from benefactors. Yes, the separation between government and private ownership is often blurry in America too, and public money is often used for the running costs of museums, but the Americans seem to avoid situations where huge amounts of public money are to be used for acquisitions.

For all that, the National Gallery in London has a magnificent collection of art and I visit it frequently, and this is at least partly thanks to many British governments of the past, so I am not entirely dogmatic on this. I think my position more has to do with the amount of money that the painting would cost than any great principle). And the other reason I feel this way is that in the end, I have to say I don't think it would be a catastrophe for the painting to end up in the Getty museum. Here we have a young but great city that has established an art museum whose benefactors want to build up a world class collection. This is the last known Raphael in private hands, and the last chance that the Getty museum has to acquire such a painting. The loss to the people of London is more than made up by the gain to the people of Los Angeles, and if the painting ends up in LA I will no doubt drop in to the Getty museum and look at it some time. I think without question that having the painting in a fine museum in LA is much better than having it lying disregarded in the home of the Duke of Northumberland, which was the case for many decades. If in a few decades if the Getty museum in LA has world class collection, then this is surely a good thing.

And of course an ironic fact is that when you walk in to the National Gallery, on your left you find a bust of Sir Paul Getty. If you look at the lists of benefactors on the wall in the National Gallery, members of the Getty family are listed again and again and again. Plus, in the National Gallery, there is a contribution box into which you can donate money to the fund to keep the Raphael in Britain. Just looking in, it was striking how many greenbacks were in the box. British art lovers have much to thank America for.
Yes, I know:

Virginia is prettier than I am, and she also has a better haircut.
This is what I like to hear from insane, bearded New Zealanders

There has been rumors about returning to some smaller scale Zombie film after this trilogy. Is it true ?

Peter Jackson... The answer is yes. I'm a big fan of zombie movies but nobody's making it anymore, that's irritating. I'm sure one day I will do one again.

Update: There is a good (but perhaps slightly pompous) profile of Peter Jackson, including an extensive discussion of his early and disgusting (but in a good way) movies over at Slate.

To one degree or another, Jackson's pictures—the early and the late ones—explore the juxtaposition of normalcy and depravity. There's an innocence behind the malevolence: Much of the humor in Dead Alive comes from the protagonist's futile efforts to care for his decaying, undead mother. There's also a sweetness to Jackson's naive heroes, who struggle to remain calm in a world that has collapsed around them. At its heart, the Lord of the Rings is this same story on an epic scale. With its stark themes, good-vs.-evil imagery, and clear notions of the good guys and the bad guys, it's a zombie movie without the zombies—and it's painted with the same black-and-white palette.

Yes indeed. Along with the simple fact that he has great technical skill, this is why Jackson was so perfect to make The Lord of The Rings , and it is why his version of King Kong will likely be terrific. He will take the 1932 innocence of the original and put a new, imaginative twist on it. This is another movie I cannot wait for, although I clearly am going to have to wait for it.
When Bill Clinton was elected in 1992, the financial markets had a lot of doubts over the economic management ability of this governor from a small Southern state. Largely out of a sense of duty to his party, Lloyd Benson stepped forward agreed to take the job of Treasury Secretary for two years. He was somebody that everybody knew, and whose competence everybody had faith in. He did an excellent job for two years, and then stepped aside to make way for Robert Rubin, who had been has deputy. Eventually Larry Summers, who had been Rubin's deputy, took the job. Both of these men were also extremely capable. As a consequence of this, Clinton's economic policy team was held in high regard for Clinton's eight years in office. This showed in certain ways, like for instance that the Clinton administration's position on free trade was not in question. (It is greatly to the discredit of Congress that Clinton's fast track authority was not extended. He could have done good with it). (Clinton's foreign policy team was much shakier, and although the final team he ended up with in his second administration was okay, it was never much better than okay).

Now, however, we have the Bush administration. On foreign policy we have Cheney, Rice, Powell, Rumsfeld. I have a lot of faith in this combination of people. On economic policy, however, we had O'Neill of Alcoa, who has now been sacked to make way for John Snow of CSX corp. This, and a few policy decisions (Steel tariffs, farm bill etc) seems to indicate that the Bush administration has no overriding vision about the economy or what they should do with it. Generally, CEO types have anything but the best interests of the economy (and hence the people) in mind. Generally they are interested in their company making as much money as possible, and in gaining as much market share as possible, and what they want is to do deals with government in order that they are helped in this aim. This is clearly not about promoting competition, it is clearly not about lowering prices, and it is clearly not about improving things for consumers.

It's perhaps not surprising that President Bush: someone who has done a lot of mildly dubious corporate deals himself, has appointed people like this. The problem is that he doesn't seem to realise that he shouldn't. There also seems to be nobody in the administration to tell him he shouldn't, either.

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Steven Johnson has a piece in Slate discussing how Apple is leading a move away from a single desktop metaphor for all file and data access towards more application specific interfaces. I don't think this is new. Desktop interfaces did a great job of making computers useable by large numbers of people, but they are inherently limited. (For one thing, you sacrifice power for ease of use. Trying to do the equivalent of

cat -asq */*.txt | ps -af

in a graphical desktop based interface is really slow and painful).

For another thing, this isn't especially new. I think we started the move away from the desktop to more application specific interfaces with the invention of Quicktime. And the innovator in that case was once again Apple.
I see that the mighty Instapundit is writing op-ed pieces for The Australian . Besides the obvious observation that publishing this is smart on the part of the editors of the paper, I wonder how this happened. Did Mr Blair have anything to do with it?
Today, I posted a couple of Christmas presents from England to Australia. One of them was a book.

One of the curious things about international air mail, is that the cost of it varies according to what you send. There is an unrestricted "full letter rate", for which you can send anything at all, but there are two other special airmail postal rates (which both cost around half as much).

These are "printed papers", that include (to use the precise definition) advertisements, books, calendars, catalogues, diaries, directories, greetings cards, illustrations, magazines, maps, musical scores, newspapers, order/subscription forms, leaflets and pamphlets, plans, postcards, price lists, printed drawings and notices, proofs, prospectuses and timetables, but not letters, including personal messages or greetings (other than five words allowed on greetings cards), handwritten receipts, photographic negatives, slides or film, postage stamps or blank stationery.. This is what I actually used.

The second postal rate is for so called "small packets". These allow goods, gifts and trade samples, audio/video tapes, magnetic tapes, and photographs. You can include a letter, invoice or other document, if it relates to the contents of the item. .

I find this situation to be a little bizarre, to tell the truth. Can the aircraft really tell whether it is carrying newspapers rather than letters and therefore use less fuel as a consequence? I can imagine some bureaucrat of the past deciding that there is something morally virtuous about sending newspapers, and therefore letter writers should subsidise the senders of newspapers. And why precisely should some bureaucrat decide that one sort of mail is more morally virtuous than another in the first place? And why should laws actually encourage officials to open people's mail to see what is inside it?

Perhaps the logic is that letter writers should be encouraged to use thinner paper and special air mail stationery, or perhaps to send letters on microfilm, whereas it is impossible to make a newspaper or book weigh less than it does already. This does assume somehow that air transport is a scarce resource, and therefore that the total amount carried must be minimised wherever possible. I don't actually believe this. (If there is lots of mail, then I am sure that the airlines will put on extra flights, and I don't think this is bad, particularly. I am also not convinced that this differential pricing policy will ensure this. It is more likely to just ensure that people send books and newspapers (possibly with letters smuggled between the pages) rather than letters). In any event, if people want to send airmail letters on thick paper and pay extra for the privilege, I am not sure why they should be penalised (above the actual cost of carriage) for doing this.

The fact is that the various international treaties that define the International Postal Union incorporate these definitions. And treaties of this sort are so hard to unwind that we are stuck with them, however stupid they are.

To be truthful, in these days of e-mail, fax machines, and other similar technologies, it is a very long time since I actually sent an international letter. If I want to write to someone, I send them e-mail. Physical post is now used (by me) only for gifts. It may be that in a few years the letter rate will be meaningless, as nobody sends letters anymore, and the other rates simply reflect the cost of carriage. This would be good.
There's an interesting report on Princeton University's website (found via slashdot ) about ancient bacterial life being found two miles below the surface of the Earth. The point taken from this is that if life can survive in such inhospitable conditions on Earth, it can survive in equally inhospitable conditions elsewhere, with the key point of interest being Mars.

Steven Den Beste was talking about Mars the other day. His belief is that despite some recent claims to the contrary, the evidence is clear that in the past Mars had both water oceans and an atmosphere (necessary for the oceans). I tend to agree. If Mars had both these things, it seems extremely likely that life would have evolved. (Current evidence suggests it isn't all that hard, although there is a fair amount of supposition). If life evolved then, and if life can live in environments as hostile as this Princeton study shows, then it seems extremely likely that there is some still there. It may have retreated miles underground, and it may be very simple life, but it is surely still there).

Fifteen years ago, I believed that the solar system was empty of life except for on Earth, and that while there was probably going to be life elsewhere in the universe, we would have to travel a long way to find it. Now I am quite confident of the opposite. Life on Mars (or Europa) may not be very interesting life, but I am fairly confident it is going to be there.

Monday, December 09, 2002

And now for something entirely frivolous

Entertainment Weekly has a list of what they think are the 100 best film performances of all time that did not even get nominated for Oscars.

It seems to be possible to divide them up into a number of categories.

Firstly, there is the fact that Oscars don't tend to get awarded to actors in comedies. (Bill Murray in Groundhog Day , Rosalind Russell for His Girl Friday , Gene Kelly for Singin' in the Rain , Sean Penn for Fast Times at Ridgemont High , Peter Sellers for The Pink Panther (and might I add he also deserved to win for both Dr Strangelove and Being There ), Alec Guinness for Kind Hearts and Coronets (one of the most egregious omissions I can think of), Molly Ringwald, for Sixteen Candles (don't laugh: watch the movie. She is really good in it. Look at this, and also Pretty in Pink and be surprised she never became the adult star she could have been. This is perhaps because she was supposedly "difficult" to work with).

Secondly, we have cases where the performance was great but the movie was considered too frivolous. (Anthony Perkins in Psycho , Robert Shaw in Jaws , Boris Karloff in Frankenstein , Alan Rickman in Die Hard (although is he hilarious or what?), Sean Connery for From Russia with Love plus virtually all the listed actors in other Hitchcock films, which weren't reclassified from "entertainment" to "art" until later. It is striking just how many actors from Hitchcock films are on the list, though).

Thirdly, we have actors whose work was somewhat inexplicably overlooked compared to someone playing opposite them in the same movie, although their work is as good or better than the person who got all the accolades. (Sidney Poitier for In the Heat of the Night , Denzel Washington, for Philadelphia (Denzel acts Tom Hanks off the screen in this one), Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady (although Rex Harrison certainly deserved his Oscar), Morgan Freeman for Glory (proving that if you are Denzel Washington, you win some and you lose some. That said would the academy please give Morgan Freeman an Oscar for something. He is one of the five best actors in the movies)).

Fourthly, we have early films from great actors who were doing great work right from the start, but didn't get credit for it from the academy at the time. ( Samuel L. Jackson for Jungle Fever , Robert De Niro for Mean Streets , Sean Penn for Fast Times at Ridgemont High (plus it's a comic performance in a teen movie, but he has never been better), Kate Winslet for Heavenly Creatures (her first movie, and a blinder of a performance, plus the first widely recognised movie from everyone's favourite insane bearded New Zealander), Laurence Fishburne for Boyz in the Hood ).

Fifthly, we have movies which flopped at the time, but which were later acknowledged to be classics, and had great performances in them. (Jimmy Stewart for Vertigo (Wonderful, wonderful performance. Wonderful, wonderful film. Stewart's other great performance for Hitchcock (Rear Window) didn't get nominated either). Orson Welles for Touch of Evil (Charlton Heston is sensational in this film, too)).

Plus there are a few cases where the films are too obscure, or a little too weird for the nomination. (I could list these, but I need to go to bed).

It's interesting though that the academy is pretty consistent in its reasons for overlooking performances. The reasons have been much the same for 80 years.
There is an article at CableWorld (via slashdot ) explaining that American cable television companies hate the idea of TiVo and other Personal Video Recorders. Basically the argument seems to be this. Cable companies have more bandwidth per customer than satellite companies, and so are able to offer Video on Demand (VOD), in which the customer requests a program, and the program is piped down the cable directly to that customer as he watches it. Satellite companies are unable to customise to individual customers this way. However, a PVR allows a satellite customer to store a large number of programs that have been broadcast at various times in the past, giving the same effective service to the customer. That is, the customer can have a large choice of customers, and can watch a program when he likes. That is, PVRs allow satellite providers to better compete with cable providers.

According to the cable companies, this is somehow unfair, and we are getting comments about how PVRs are the "Napster of television".

As I mentioned yesterday , Napster was as much as anything a symptom that the music industry's 20 year old technology and even older business model was obsolete. If PVRs become the Napster of the television world, then this means much the same. The cable companies have to see what it is that customers actually want, and then give it to them.

Satellite companies seem to have no trouble with this concept. BSkyB in the UK is offering a combined Set Top Box / PVR, and charges an extra 10 pounds ($15) a month for customers who want this. DirecTV seems to offer something similar Given that in the digital world cable and satellite world are offering very similar things - essentially a box in your living room capable of decoding MPEG-2 signals, that also contains a CPU, some memory and maybe a hard disk, I cannot see why cable cannot also offer this, if it is what customers want.

As far as the cable companies are concerned, here we yet again have an entrenched former monopoly that wants laws to be passed to protect an obsolete business model rather than attempting to find a new business model that works.

Sunday, December 08, 2002

This afternoon I went and did a little shopping. Unlike last year, most of my relatives now have DVD players, so I went shopping for DVDs as presents. Most of my own DVD collection consists of Region 1 DVDs that I have bought from Amazon US over the internet, so I haven't really looked at how DVDs have been sold in actual shops. A wander into HMV and the Virgin Megastore led me to some thoughts about the music business, however.

Firstly, both of these stores would once have been described as "Music Shops". The great bulk of their business was selling CDs. Nowadays, the floor space devoted to DVDs and that devoted to CDs is about the same. (There was also considerable space devoted to video games).

There was lots of action in the DVD sections. There were lots of discounts in the DVD sections. Both stores were offering two for one offers for a large portion of their DVDs. Almost anything that was not a huge blockbuster released in the last couple of years was available for two discs for 20 pounds. That is, 10 pounds each for recent movies of moderate success, and 10 pounds also for huge blockbusters that were more than two years old (eg The Matrix). Classic movies of more than about 10 years old were even cheaper. (I purchased Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train" for 7 pounds). For this price, you get a lovely transfer of the film, up to five soundtracks of great quality sound, interactive features, documentaries, etc. (Clearly the movie studios were happy with this level of pricing, because the retailers would not have been able to offer that level of discounting and still make a profit otherwise).

However, the CD section of the stores were close to deserted. There was little in the way of special offers. Recently released CDs were for sale for about 15-17 pounds, older ones for eleven or twelve pounds. Specialty items like movie soundtracks tended not to be discounted whatever their age. That is right, in most cases the movie soundtracks on CD were available for 15 pounds, and the movies themselves for 10 pounds.

The issue is simply this. CDs are an obsolete format. They were cool in 1980 when they were first invented, but what do they offer? 74 minutes of moderately good recorded sound. Ten to twenty songs from one artist. That is all. This is a technology that came from a time where capacity and bandwidth were scarce. Pressing a CD was expensive. Distributing a CD was expensive. You couldn't fit a great deal of music on it, because the limitations of electronics at the time meant that its capacity was quite limited. Therefore you have a business model where people buy 15 songs for 15 pounds.

Compare with a DVD, where you get five, higher quality, recorded soundtracks of the same length, plus pictures. On a CD you get music that cost maybe $100 thousand dollars in fixed costs to record. On a DVD you get a movie that cost maybe $100 million in fixed costs to make. On a DVD you get lots of documentaries, interactive features, and other cool things. On a CD, you get no interactive features at all, because interactive features did not exist in 1980 when the format was invented. The DVD is a format that comes from an age where bandwidth is plentiful. Pressing a DVD is cheap. Distributing a DVD is cheap. Due to advances in laser technology and compression technology, the amount of information that you can store on a DVD is large.

And somehow the music companies have not given us technology or pricing that comes from an age of plentiful bandwidth and capacity, but still want us to pay the same amount of money (in real terms!) we did in 1980 for exactly the same thing we got in 1980.

Technology has advanced since 1980. CDs are essentially a technological product There are very few technological things that we buy that have not changed since 1980. Consumers have many alternative items that they can buy instead of CDs that they could not buy in 1980. Technology for delivering and listening to music has changed since 1980. In particular, the idea of paying 15 pounds for 15 songs that all you can do is listen to is not viable in a world with so many choices.

In particular, the price per song is really not the point anymore. Ease of distribution over the internet, and also things like data compression technology (which makes it possible to put many many more than 15 songs on one CD, for instance) mean that it is possible for consumers to be able to listen to a much greater variety of music than ever before. Given that the marginal cost to the music companies of their doing this (with modern technology) is essentially zero, there is only one issue that the music companies should be concerned with. What is the price point and distribution system that will lead to the total revenue of the music companies being the greatest. It is certainly less than a pound a song. The equation today is

Music company profits = total revenue minus fixed costs.

That is it. At what price point do you maximise revenues? I don't know what the answer to this is. Neither do the music companies. It may be that the answer involves getting people to pay a monthly subscription for unlimited downloads. It may be that you charge a fraction of a penny per song. But whatever the right level is, it isn't the level of the 1980 business model.

Even so, the way in which the music industry has completely dropped the ball is striking. In the Virgin Megastore today there were no two for one offers on CDs the way there were for DVDs. Why not? CDs may be an obsolete product, but they certainly would be selling more of them (and getting more revenue in total) if they were cheaper. The industry has become so focused on worrying about piracy, and so determined to blame all its faults on the alleged criminality of its customers that it seems to have lost track of basic business practices.

The music industry will answer that piracy is the issue, and that piracy means that they will get no revenue at all, and that if people steal at a pound a song, they will also steal at one penny a song. I have two answers for this. The first is that I doubt it. People don't really like being pirates. People don't like the inconvenience of being pirates. People don't like the idea of their children breaking the law (and so will probably pay for subscriptions, if the music industry can provide them with a good product). However, people do not like being ripped off. People loathe the music industries business practices. People do not think they are getting good value for money. When I walked through the Virgin Megastore today, I spent my money on DVDs rather than CDs, partly because I detest the music industry, but mainly because I was getting more for my money.

The second reason is more pragmatic. The music industry's present business model sucks. If they attempt to continue with it, they will die. They may as well try other models, and they might find one that works. If they do, they may still die (although I doubt it). But maybe finding a new business model is better than dying as a matter of certainty.
Well, it seems that in flight internet access , both fixed and wireless, will shortly be with us. This comes on top of in flight cellphone service , in which essentially a microcell is established inside the aircraft, and where your phone "roams" from your home network to that inside the plane. (How well this will work in the US, where there are networks using (at first approximation) four different technical cellphone standards remains to be seen. In Europe, you presumably just set up a 900MHz GSM cell with roaming agreements with all the main carriers and it works fine. That said, the company mentioned is Verizon, which uses CDMA, so maybe not).

This is a sign that one of the peculiar anomalies of this world full of (increasingly networked) electronics and gadgets is going away: that nothing works when you are on an aircraft.

Going on a long-haul flight is something that to me is akin to getting in a sensory deprivation tank (although I have never been in a sensory deprivation tank, so perhaps I'm just bullshitting). In normal life, I am constantly being bombarded by informaiton: phone calls, e-mail, news bulletins from television, the WWW, radio, LED tickers in Piccadilly Circus, etc. I carry a reasonable amount of stuff around with me at all times: cellphone, digital camera. Often the backpack over my shoulders contains a laptop computer. Plus there are other gadgets I am constantly coming in contact with, even if I do not carry them. Televisions in shop windows, newspaper banners, you name it.

However, when I get on a plane, I am completely cut off. People who only fly relatively short distances may not really experience this. However, I come from Australia and live in Britain, so I am used to flights that go for as much as 14 hours. (If I am flying from Europe to Australia, it is two flights and a total of 23 hours, with a little one hour respite in Singapore). In this time, the phone doesn't work. I suddenly have no access to the internet. Even if I try to use my gadgets without communicating without anyone else, I can only do so for a while before my batteries run out. The airline might show a news bulletin, but it will be a news bulletin from before the plane took off. Time seems to have stopped.

This has slowly been changing. Some efforts have been better than others. In 1993, I made the Australia-UK flight on Cathay Pacific. In theory one of the audio channels I could listen to on my headset was the BBC World Service, which the plane was receiving via shortwave. Sadly, all I heard was an impressive amount of static.

We have had telephones in planes for a while, but the cost of using them has generally been so high that most people couldn't use them. However, setting up cellphone equipment is going to lower the cost of the hardware considerably, so hopefully this will lower the cost of using them. (Also, people's cost expectations will hopefully be lower in the case of cellphones, so airlines won't try to charge as much. Finally, we are getting actual live television .

We do not yet have a situation where a passenger can get all of these things at the same time, or where a passenger can have all these things every (or even any) time he or she flies. But they are coming.

What is also interesting is to see that there are two basic price models. Price them outrageously, or make them only available to people in business class, so that they are only available to people on expense accounts, or make them available free in the hope that people will choose the airline on that basis. I suspect that the business only charging will not last. In virtually all cases the capital costs are large and the marginal costs of use are small. Demand for these services is clearly not going to be restricted to expense account passengers and there is considerable competition between airlines. This will essentially lead to free services in the case where the marginal cost is essentially zero, for instance when the airline receives and plays satellite television services that are being transmitted by the satellite anyway, or where the airline gives the passenger a few tenths of a Watt of electricity through an outled in the armrest. And it will lead to services that cost not too much more than the marginal cost when there is some marginal cost - that is for services where data is being transmitted as well as received. (Expect internet service to be much cheaper than voice, as bursty packet based data is always much cheaper than a switched circuit for voice).

Some people might object to the connected fast moving world being extended to air travel, but not me. Air travel is unpleasant, and allowing me to do and see more things while I am travelling will make it less so. If I want to be cut off from the world, I will go for a month's vacation in Nepal .

Update: Another interesting issue is that an aircraft outfitted with a full complement of communications equipment of this kind is likely to be extremely useful in disaster relief in the third world, and also in situations where infrastructure has been destroyed through national disaster or through war and terrorism. Essentially, land a team of people in an aircraft outfitted in this way, and the team has brought mobile infrastructure with them. Telephone links, computer network links, satellite television links (that could easily be made two way), all are in place automatically when such an aircraft lands. This could be extremely useful.

Of course, President Bush already has this kind of equipment in place in Air Force One, and the armed forces have other aircraft fitted out for command and control purposes in the same way, so what is happening now is that technology is being adapted for civilian use rather than invented from scratch. However, the large scale installation of this kind of stuff in the world's fleet of airliners could have significant benefits.

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