Tuesday, August 30, 2005

What he said: Belfast and Bradford

Belfast Gonzo at Slugger O'Toole has a post on the leniency showed by a Northern Irish judge to persons convicted of rioting and assorted mayhem. He compares this to the sentences passed on persons found guilty of serious offences during the 2001 Bradford race riot, unfavourably, and compliments one of the judges on a shake'em rigid condemnation before the court. I think the Gonzo's right in saying that (in effect) they've built up a tolerance to street violence that has to go.

But - ironically, I remember that lawyers for some of the Bradford rioters used exactly the opposite argument in an effort to get their clients off the hook. They pointed out that rioters in Northern Ireland frequently got away with, if not murder, similar levels of violence without serious jail time. I didn't think, and still don't, that this was a sensible argument. Wasn't it Belfast that was the outlier? And, ahem, the results weren't that great...(although it's just come crashing across my mind that the 7th July 2005 was the fourth anniversary of the Bradford riot)

John Loftus: Anti-Terrorist Hero or Irresponsible Bullshitter?

Some weeks ago, I took issue with this post over at Soj's, which discussed various apparent irregularities in the London bombings investigation (or at least the impression of it that appeared in the media) and drew some quite hefty conclusions based on the statements of one John Loftus, a "former Justice Department prosecutor" who regularly appears on Fox News.

Now, the thing that struck me about Loftus's opinions as transcribed was that for someone who purports to be an expert on Islamist terrorism he appeared to think that Abu Hamza (the now-jailed chap from Finsbury Park Mosque with the hook) and Omar Bakri Mohammed, the now-deported founder of al-Muhajiroun, were one and the same man, despite the discrepancy in the number of hands. He also described al-Muj as "al-Qa'ida's recruiting arm in Europe", which is pushing it some, given that the organisation was never more than a couple of dozen British student fanatics and has never been (for example) the subject of charges as a conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism etc. Certainly they were an unpleasant and potentially dangerous lot, but this is pushing well beyond the bounds of the available evidence. Not only that, but he described the members of al-Muhajiroun as "Somali, Eritrean, the first group was primarily Pakistani" - although Hamza is an Egyptian who became a British citizen and Omar Bakri is a Syrian/Lebanese dual national living as a refugee in the UK before his, ahem, extended holiday in Beirut.

Clearly, Loftus's knowlege of the subject is a tad rusty. Which would throw the various other statements he tossed out in that Fox interview in a very different light. He claimed that a) al-Muj was an MI6 front, b) that Omar Abu Bakri Hamza-Mohammed was being protected by the British secret services as a reward for services rendered in Bosnia, c) that Haroon Rashid Aswat was an MI6 agent and also an al-Qa'ida "Master Mind" behind both lots of tubombers, and much more besides. (He couldn't explain why, or quite possibly didn't know, that one half of his jihadi pushmepullyou was exploring prison halal food at the time of the attack.)

Who better than Mr. Loftus himself to vouch for his abilities? From his self-description:
"It is possible that John Loftus may know more intelligence secrets than anyone alive. As a former Justice Department prosecutor, Loftus once held some of the highest security clearances in the world, with special access to NATO Cosmic, CIA codeword, and Top Secret Nuclear files. As a private attorney, he works without charge to help hundreds of intelligence agents obtain lawful permission to declassify and publish the hidden secrets of our times.
Well, a lack of self-confidence is clearly not among his flaws. NATO COSMIC, eh? That must be something pretty superspook? I happen to know someone who held a COSMIC, but he certainly doesn't think it makes him a terrorism expert. Just as well, because it's (or it was) the one required by anyone who may be in a position to use a NATO nuclear weapon. That sounds terribly impressive, but it did include people down to the level of artillery troop commanders (i.e. lieutenants) in units that held the nuclear artillery rounds, individual air force pilots, and quite a lot of fairly junior naval officers. My own tame COSMIC, for example, was the anti-submarine warfare officer on a Leander Class frigate in the late 70s. He needed the clearance because the ship often carried a couple of Nuclear Depth Bombs against the possibility they stumbled on a Soviet ballistic-missile submarine and needed to finish it before it could launch. As the release authority could come only from NATO SACLANT or one of his deputies, a NATO clearance was needed.

Now, if Loftus really did have that clearance, I'll take a wild guess and say the US Top Secret Nuclear referred to the same job but in the US National chain of command as opposed to the NATO one. According to his site again, he mentions having been an officer in the US Army before becoming a prosecutor, via a rather odd journalistic career that swerves from Nazi-hunting to investigating dealings between the Bush family and Nazi Germany to super-neocon war cheerleading. The reference is to "a covert operation that changed the course of the Yom Kippur war". Now, there was indeed one such, which was the airlift of US equipment to Israel. Rather, it was meant to be covert, but as the kit eventually went by USAF C-5 and C-141 aircraft and arrived in daylight, it didn't stay that way. I would have thought, if I was a superspook terrorism expert who knew not just that Abu Hamza and Omar Bakri were different men but also what they had for breakfast, I wouldn't need to big-time myself by boasting about irrelevant stuff.

Why this rant, and why now? Well, Lofty has gone and done it again, by broadcasting the address of someone he thought might be The London Bombings Mastermind. Not that the chap had lived there for three years, but hey, a terr's a terr. Even one who quit The Movement back in '97 because he thought Omar Bakri was a dangerous nut, and has now shuttered his corner shop and gone into hiding for fear of the mob. And Loftus's source for the charge that the poor sod was The Leader of Hizb ut-Tahrir in the US?

(wait for it)

......Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed himself! (Note - link may need Bugmenot.com login, scroll down once you're there.)

The Orwells, No.4

This (slightly belated) Orwell goes to Home Secretary Charles Clarke for his cunning deployment of cultural relativism as an argument in favour of deporting people to governments known to use torture. He said that criticism of his policy was tantamount to "latter-day imperialism" in an interview with the Financial Times, which gets him an Orwell nomination. TYR's Orwell Awards, to be held at the end of this year, aim to reward the political abuse of the English language. We welcome nominations from the public, which can go either in the comments or to a.harrowell AT gmail.com.

This week's nomination is indebted to Tom Griffin of The Green Ribbon.

There is also an honourable mention to the Local Government Association, for whoever it was told the press that local authorities were concerned that they were being "forced" to grant extended drinking hours because of "a lack of objections from the public and police". Errr....look, the idea is that you're only meant to ban longer drinking hours if people - or the police - object to them. Got that? Mind you, that passes more into the realm of "That's Just Completely Fucking Stupid" than the Orwells.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Admin (Vortex): Site Restore

Unfortunately, Blogger chose yesterday to eat all the HTML below the Viktor Bout index post in the sidebar. I've just finished restoring it, but unfortunately the blogroll is currently restored to a previous state and quite a lot of links have gone. This will be restored in the next couple of days. It's nothing personal.

Meanwhile, I advise everyone to watch Talkingpointsmemo.com like a hawk as Josh just said that a major revelation regarding "Russian arms dealers" and Republican politico Tom DeLay is in the offing. I'm going to guess this means our friends in the east, in some form or other.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Spin Paramedics Blitz Hack Lords

Today's Sun headlines with PARAS TO BLITZ DRUG LORDS. What on earth can they mean? For a horrible, sick-throat here-we-go moment I thought they were reporting some half-bright great idea from No.10 to send the Parachute Regiment into, say, Holmewood or Feltham, or perhaps any number of dinner parties, on a desperate mission to blast those evil pushers. But no, thank God. A closer look shows that they are talking about the coming deployment of NATO's Allied Rapid Reaction Corps HQ as well as the 16th Air Assault Brigade to Afghanistan as a reinforced and extended version of ISAF. But - that's been well known for a year now. It's called Operation HERRICK, and it's been multiply reported in the national and international press, and it's even on the ARRC website, arrc.nato.int. The first call for volunteers from the TA went out a couple of weeks ago.

So why on earth is it news all of a sudden? And what is all this DRUG LORDS crap? The chief tasks of ARRC, including the two battalions of Paras in 16AAB, will be firstly to keep the warlords deterred, and secondly to chase the Continuity Taliban up and down mountains. They might do a modicum of poppy-destroying too, but given the total-strategic realities, not too much. After all, trying to suppress the Afghan heroin export trade as a contribution to peace there would be like abolishing oil in an effort to pacify Iraq.

What it does do, though, is put a super-sensation screamer on the Sun's front page, and one with plenty of Sunny signifiers - the Parachute Regiment, a warry photo of a WAH-64D attack chopper, DRUG LORDS and, dear God, the BLITZ. Now, what else might somebody think of printing this fine Monday?

Hmmm - perhaps the Met's discovery of the quantum television camera? You know, the one that's both working and not working at any given moment depending on whether the Metropolitan Police or ITN observes it. Like Schrödinger's cat. Nope, though. Look! Paratroopers! I think the Sun used to have a Page 7 Fella as well as the Page 3 Girl, but at least they didn't go *that* far...well, I hope not, because I haven't opened the thing.

Monday, August 15, 2005


I'm really disappointed, having read more reports about the discovery of an "insurgent chemical factory" in Mosul, to discover that the first reports that made it a "chemical weapons" story weren't true. The irony would have been perfect. But, of course, an idea whose time has gone dies terribly hard - even though there isn't, apparently, any reason to think chemical weapons were prepared there, the word "chemical" still triggers off the Pavlovian response that - Yes! We've Found The WMD! Chemical, famously, is a bad word, as Ben Goldacre's Bad Science blog would tell you. Of course, any explosive is a chemical, and a weapon too. I wouldn't be surprised at all if the lab was producing drugs, either, whether for purely criminal ends or to fund insurgent activity.

More seriously, it wouldn't be impossible for them to be trying to brew up certain kinds of poison gas, Tabun for example, in an improvised lab. I wonder, though, if they would find it worthwhile in terms of the effort invested, given the impact they can get from the same investment in explosives? The only two recorded terrorist/guerrilla chemical attacks, carried out by Japanese cultists, needed extensive and expensive preparations in order to make sarin and release it on the underground, but killed only as many people as they might have done with primitive explosives.

(Broken link fixed)

Friday, August 12, 2005

The Orwells, No. 3

Time again to nominate a name for the TYR Orwell Awards, issued at the year's end to the person responsible for the most egregious political misuse of the English language...this week was difficult, partly due to a lot of candidates but also because none of them quite had that spark of sinister inspiration that distinguishes a genuinely dangerous mindset.

There was the entire Saudi government, for saying that Britain has to do more to combat Islamic terrorism. There was the announcement, which I originally took for a joke, that the White House is planning to stage a huge parade and country & western concert to drum up public morale under the title "The Support Freedom Walk". There was previously nominated Hazel Blears with the idea of "rebranding" ethnic minorities to make them more loyal.

But, at the last moment, Lord Falconer, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, scoops this week's Orwell nomination with an interview with the Guardian in which he suggested passing new legislation to tell the courts how to interpret the Human Rights Act "to give weight to the rights of the state". The rights of the state! Not even the rights of the individuals who might get blown up - the state. Now, this may sound not-so-bad. But the bit he wants to order the judges to reinterpret is none other than Article 3, which prohibits torture.

What he wants, but will not say it, is an Act that takes away the force of Article 3, that permits the state to connive at torture and argue that its own rights prevail over those of the tortured - that, in fact, the ends justify the means so long as they conform to the raison d'état. Naturally, if you or I were to torture Lord Falconer on the grounds he represents a danger to our security, and one has to admit that the temptation is there, we should not be able to call on this new legal principle in our defence. And, in British legal history, I think this is a very new principle. So new, in fact, that it deserves more honest consideration.

As it aims to grant rights to commit torture, or to allow persons to be tortured, which is much the same thing, I think his lordship should call his new legislation the Inhuman Rights Act. It encapsulates the principle perfectly.

Recommendations for next week's Orwells - a.harrowell at gmail.com, or use the comments.

For the weekend, I'll leave you with this, from another Yorkshireman who might even have occasionally been something of a ranter..
The Unknown Citizen
by W. H. Auden

(To JS/07 M 378
This Marble Monument
Is Erected by the State)

He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be

One against whom there was no official complaint,

And all the reports on his conduct agree

That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a


For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.

Except for the War till the day he retired

He worked in a factory and never got fired,

But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.

Yet he wasn't a scab or odd in his views,

For his Union reports that he paid his dues,

(Our report on his Union shows it was sound)

And our Social Psychology workers found

That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.

The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day

And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.

Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,

And his Health-card shows he was once in a hospital but left it cured.

Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare

He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Instalment Plan

And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,

A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.

Our researchers into Public Opinion are content

That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;

When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went.

He was married and added five children to the population,

Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his


And our teachers report that he never interfered with their


Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:

Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Unacknowledged legislators

Yesterday was Lords Reform Day in the blogosphere, marking 94 years of the statement in the Parliament Act 1911 that it was time to have an upper house established on a "popular rather than hereditary foundation". Strangely, among the many bloggers who responded to a call on Pledgebank to contribute, there was a remarkable degree of consensus. Many, many bloggers were drawn to the idea of a House of Lords chosen by lot, on an analogy with jury service. (Total disclosure: I am forever barred from the jury room, having worked for the Crown Prosecution Service. Which is a pity because I'd love to take part.) Even Tim Worstall, who suggested what was essentially a new hereditary peerage, embraced the notion of chance as an elector.

Why this curious degree of blogospheric harmony?

I commented over at Jamie Kenny's (who spoke out for election by lot) that it's probably because every blogger thinks they could do better given the chance, somewhere down the depths of the unconscious. Otherwise they wouldn't blog in the first place.

(Note: in the comment that originated this post, I committed an outrageous cockup by attributing the title of the post to Adam Mickiewicz. God knows why. It was Shelley!)

Dog Bombs!

Chris Morris has apparently joined the Iraqi insurgency:Link.
On a barren stretch of road in northern Iraq, a dog rigged with explosives approaches a group of Iraqi police officers. Detonated by remote control, the bomb tears the dog apart but doesn't harm the cops.

In a war where the line between civilian and soldier is blurred, even man's best friend has been caught up in the combat. U.S. forces hail their trained dogs as heroes, but to insurgents, canines provide the means for a more sinister goal.

Iraqi police cite the recent use of dogs rigged with explosive devices in Latifiya, just south of Baghdad, in Baqubah in central Iraq and in and around the northern city of Kirkuk...
[snip]...Abdel Salam Kubaisi, a spokesman for the Muslim Scholars Assn., a hard-line Sunni Arab clerical organization sympathetic to insurgents, called the practice un-Islamic. "Our religion does not permit us to hurt animals," he said, "neither by using them as explosive devices nor in any other manner."..
Now, now. You'd better stop exploding the puppies or you won't go to heaven...yes. The Chris Morris Archive returns this:
Stretchcast Originally broadcast on 09/02/1994
Top gits tonight: evidence mounts that the Police have taken to eating suspects, the IRA launch a campaign of dog bomb attacks in mainland Britain, a top scientist delivers a shock report on near-death experiences, and Alan Partridge presents his World Cup Countdown to ’94. So long as Peter O’Hanrahahanrahan doesn’t lose the news, that is.

From radar to wind turbines

The most northerly inhabited island in Britain, Unst, hopes to build its economy on producing hydrogen fuel from wind power and rain, both of which it has in abundance. For the last thirty years, the biggest employer, practically the only employer, was a huge RAF over-the-horizon radar station, built to guard NATO's northern flank - the shortest route for Soviet Tupolev 22M3 (Backfire) bombers to take to Britain with nuclear bombs, and one that avoided the vast military buildup of the Nato central front. Now, The Threat is gone, and anyway, NATO's air defence in the north is well covered by radars positioned hundreds of miles forward in Lithuania, near the putative bases of any attack. Saxa Vord's twin, the Danish-run Pole Star radar on the Faeroes, has already been switched off for good.

The plan is to build several huge wind turbines that would produce electricity to electrolyse water and to liquefy the hydrogen for transport. The cost of production is estimated at 15p a gallon (although hydrogen is more usually charged in kilos). Pale fire, drawn from wind and water - an idea of north, as compelling as that cold-war image of huge sentinel antennas erected in the snow...

(sorry about the cod-Ballard finish)

Ordinary men

This story is chilling:
"It then emerged that in June 1992, a Visegrad police inspector, Milan Josipovic, had received a macabre complaint from the manager of Bajina Basta hydroelectric plant across the Serbian border, asking whoever was responsible to please slow the flow of corpses down the Drina. They were clogging up the culverts in his dam, well downriver from Jasmin's and Mersud's Zepa graveyard.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Only in Austria

When I was a student at the University of Vienna, life was often rendered more interesting by the antics of the Burschenschaften, weird student fraternities partly left over from the 1840s who enjoyed rituals such as dressing up in bizarre coloured period fig, giving themselves silly names, drinking industrial quantities of ale - oh, and attacking each other with real actual swords, in case you might mistake them for any given Rag Week stunt. Rather more seriously, they also enjoy such pastimes as pursuing rightwing politics - sometimes extremely right-wing politics - and operating a highly influential old-boys network. In fact, there are a couple that are routinely watched by the political police as possible neo-Nazi recruitment groups.

Now, being the Institute for Political Science, you can probably guess that our view of them was, ahem, a tad jaundiced. Pretty much everyone looked at them as fascist scum at worst and pompous throwbacks at best. Every Wednesday, they trooped into the main hall of the University in order to honour their dead at a huge marble head of Siegfried that lies in the centre of the hall. That may not sound so objectionable, but the (interwar) installation of the head had been somehow associated with Nazis - I forget the detail, but it wasn't particularly closely associated. But these boys also made a point of holding a service at the Heldenplatz war memorial every year on May the 8th, specifically dedicated to the Wehrmacht's dead. Which meant there was a corresponding ritual on our side, as a demonstration would gather in the hall in an effort to prevent them doing their thing. It was all entirely silly.

Now, I had never imagined that women might be involved in anything vaguely like a Burschenschaft, but it seems I'm wrong. Austria's Interior Minister, Liesl (Elisabeth) Prokop of the OVP, has been outed, so to speak, as being an honorary life member of a she Burschenschaft, the Elisabethina. This particular club, it turns out, is officially monarchist in tendency (Unser Motto=Kaiser Otto, it sez on their website here. In fact, I'm surprised they have a website.), which caused a row as Austria is a republic. Now, Prokop saw fit to deny it, claiming she had been invited as a guest of honour only. But, it turns out, she was included in their roll of members - until they attempted to "Remove All Traces!" from the website. Good old Archive.org gave them away. It further turns out that under the club's constitution, she would be a life member anyway.

The whole affair, trivial though it is, raised some interesting questions. For a start, was Austria's answer to Charles Clarke really spending her free time attempting to run her closest friends, by tradition her sisters, through with a sabre? And there were also important implications for the German language. Bursche means something like "lad". And the terminology is all masculine - brothers and fathers of the chapter and such. Damen-Burschenschaft? Surely not. Frauen-Burschenschaft? Just as illogical, and jarringly modern. The correct term for their members, it turns out, would be Schwesternschafterinnen. And no, hers does not fight duels, although from their website it would seem they drink as much as the blokes.

However, she was given the name Freya by the sisters as in the Nordic goddess - you can see what kind of people we're dealing with here. And there is apparently at least one female outfit that does indeed draw cold steel at the hat of a drop..

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Classic snark, and an interesting point

The Portadown News is a cracker this week.
"Ian Paisley has promised to keep Sinn Fein out of government by keeping himself out of government. "There will be no surrender to the IRA's surrender," the leader of Northern Ireland's largest party said. "After fifty years, republicans are just as dangerous as I have always needed them to be and it's still not my fault."
On more serious NI-related business, the three alleged IRA men who vanished from Colombia have appeared in Ireland and have said they don't consider themselves on the run. I wonder. I seem to recall hearing on a squaddie site couple of months back that one of them had been sighted in South Armagh, but checking I can't find any reference to it...you do wonder how long the preparations for the super-statement had been going on. In a deep historical sense, I'd say since 1973, when both the UK and the Republic joined the then EEC. Without the IRA and hence the army presence on the border, the border will rapidly lose reality, especially with the Common Travel Area. Especially with SF in government on both sides of it, the remaining flags'n'anthems stuff isn't much to fight over.

Tuesday Afternoon Econoblogging

An official email reaches me, telling all staff that our company's journalists must now pay the full delegate fee, plus 10% if they want lunch, when they attend conferences arranged by our conferences division. So - let's get that straight. I pay £1,000 to the conferences division and charge it to expenses. Publishing is down £1k. Conferences are up £1k. Overall, the net gain to shareholders is zero. So - why bother?

Then, of course, I realise that the conferences division has targets to hit..and who is a more captive audience than our own employees? Can you guess where this brilliant idea came from? Ah, incentives and rent-seeking behaviour..

We all have our markers..

..the things that set the parameters of our ideas. Those formative events and thoughts that go with us on whatever weird trajectory we take through life. Politics is always like that, which is one of the reasons I mourn Robin Cook.

A short list of my own founding concerns would run something like this: The long recession of the 80s/early 90s, and the ERM crisis. I know the late 80s were pretty good statistically, but I doubt anyone would have noticed it had they had to base their estimates on West Yorkshire. Bradford, and Leeds for that matter, looked like there was a war on and we were losing. Now there is, we're losing, and they are much improved. It's the economy, stupid...and it was, both economic and stupid.

The Criminal Justice Act, 1994, Roads for Prosperity and such. And, just as importantly, the impassioned opposition to them. I still find it positively insane that the government tried to make music it didn't like illegal...and then I see the government wants to censor bookshops. I'm still angry about the Major government's insane transport policy and the violence it deployed to push it through, and even more so about them comparing themselves to the Romans whilst they were at it. And then I see the government busy widening the M25...

Bosnia. This is why I'm not a pacifist - after the years of obfuscation and hand-wringing, it turned out that a little force would have been enough to stop it all along. It also turned me on to the European achievement of keeping the peace in a continent of national states, and its failings. Much of the Iraq debate, at least in its blogospheric form, is essentially an extension of the Balkans and "Humanitarian Intervention" - if you were up for Kosovo, it seems, you were up for Iraq. Most of the "Decent Left", or whatever they call themselves this week, are essentially the remnant of the old intervention lobby less the ones who realised that the Iraq war was insane. Which makes me an outlier on the political graph - I agree with the idea of humanitarian intervention, and I see a need for a clearer legal doctrine, but I was against the Iraq invasion from before the word "go" for a mixture of moral and strategic reasons.

Aitken, Archer, and BSE. Ah, the classic scandals. When you next hear rightwing people howling about "Oil for Food", you better remind them of how a cabinet minister who had financial interests in the sale of dual-use gear to Iraq intervened in a criminal case to keep evidence secret. And how John Major, who conventional wisdom now says was "portrayed as sleazy" by Alistair Campbell, changed the Bill of Rights of 1688 so Jonathan Aitken could sue the Guardian - entirely fraudulently, in the process inducing his daughter to perjure herself. I remember delivering the newspapers through how many dark winter mornings, reading the latest eruption of sleaze or monster policy in the headlines. I can still remember where I was when I delivered the Grauniad's He Lied And Lied And Lied issue, but not A Liar And A Cheat, although I remember reading it.

Which pretty much sets the picture for most of my political concerns. Obviously, I didn't take any of them that far. I didn't run away to lash myself to Manchester Airport or join the Mujahideen. Some people did.

(Please note - I'm working up to another post about West Yorkshire, multiculturalism, and the recent past, but it's going to be tough. As is the long-delayed Chichakli.com rebuttal.)

Hull, Again

Just in case you've yet to become convinced I harbour a blood loathing of Hull...Annie Mole of the Tube blog reports that Hull City AFC fans were heard chanting "You're just a town full of bombers" at Queen's Park Rangers this weekend, bearing out everything I said about them.

An Anglo-British Dispute

Over at t'Sharpener, Justin has a long post about Basra, the growth of theocracy in Iraq, Steven Vincent's criticism of the British occupation authority's alleged indulgence of political Shi'ism, and a perceived lack of support from the pro-war side for secularism in Iraq. I was moved to drop off this comment, which ought to be a post in its own right:
It should be pointed out, I think, that the people of Basra voted by an overwhelming majority for the SCIRI. They apparently know who they want to speak for them, and it sure as hell isn’t Nick Cohen. It would seem to be the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, through the medium of either the Sadrites or SCIRI.

I would query whether or not it is morally better to Fallujahise Basra, as we would end up doing if we were to demand a purge of the police (if we had enough troops - it’s a big place), or to accept the realities of a conservative Shia society. Putting yourself in their shoes, you might not like those realities, you might not want to live in them - but would you really prefer to die by 120mm shell fragments instead?

The whole “are we doing enough to support decent Iraqi democrats” debate seems to me to be an entirely Anglo-British (by analogy with “Franco-Francais”) story - whatever we do, the Iraqi democratic Left (or Right, I’m sure there must be someone somewhere answering that description) is going to lose, and whatever feeble support the denizens of Harry’s muster will do nothing to change that. The Iraqi secularists are like the non-communist nationalists of Vietnam - “une douzaine de messieurs”, three students and a dog. They are not a viable constituency in Iraqi politics outside Kurdistan.

In fact, the only successful faction in Iraq that offered anything like a Western society was the Ba’ath. (snark)I don’t see the Decent Left signing up to fight with the Sunni guerrillas - anyway, they couldn’t feed David Aaronovitch for more than a couple of days without attracting attention. There aren’t enough pies in Iraq for that. (/snark)

Unfortunately, the best form of support the British Left can offer secular Iraqis would be to countersign their applications for political asylum. I think someone suggested this recently - perhaps we could get a Pledgebank going?
It's snarky, I know, probably snarkier than I'd like for a post on TYR. But slightly different standards apply to comments.

My point is this - there were two major forces for secularism and what might be termed a Western society in Iraq, and they were the Ba'ath Party and the Communist Party. Now, over the Saddam years the Ba'ath got progressively less secular as Saddam resorted to manipulating tribalism and Islam to remain in power. War meant he could no longer deliver the main attraction of Ba'athism - the promise of technocratic modernisation, so he had to fall back on other means. The Communists have been reduced to insignificance inside Iraq by decades of repression, and are now more of an exile movement. There is simply no mass secular constituency, and we are fools to imagine one. Secularism in Iraq is an artefact of an urban middle class who did well out of Ba'athism up to 1991.

There might - might - have been an opportunity in the spring of 2003 to change that. Intermediate institutions like the trade unions could have helped, I suppose, but I doubt it. Either way, it's now academic. The question in Iraq is how to minimise the suffering. And attempting to carry through a secularist social revolution in the MND(SE) zone at this late hour is a project so Quixotic it rivals the invasion of Iraq itself. Presumably we would start by purging the police force, which would mean no police and a re-manning of the Sadrists. Then, I suppose, we would have to depose the Shia politicians - who were, after all, elected by a huge majority. Basra will fight, they would say, and Basra will be right.

We would then have successfully started a major campaign of urban warfare. Ho hum. There are 1.5 million people in the city, and 9,000 troops in MND(SE). The ratio is far worse than in Northern Ireland, for example. The answer to this is that firepower could be substituted for manpower. Instead of the grey Land Rover, the Challenger 2 tank. How many of those secular Iraqis would be killed or wounded? How many people in short?

It's a debate completely without relevance to the ground truths, a matter between British intellectuals. Fortunately for the Iraqis and the soldiers, though, they aren't in command, and therefore it won't happen. And, for anyone who thinks the American occupation authority has been a model of idealism compared with those terrible colonial (or is it politically correct and hence weak?) Brits, go and read this. And - by the way - we should be actively considering how and who to take with us when we leave Iraq. My crack about a Pledgebank to support an Iraqi's asylum application is more serious than it sounds.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

RIP Robin Cook

Nobody will go. As the right honourable gentleman said last week, there will be no regrets and no resignations. Not only is this a Government that cannot accept blame, it is a Government with no shame.

Robin Cook MP, House of Commons debate on the Scott Report on illegal arms exports to Iraq, 1996. He will be sadly missed.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Blogroll Time

First: TYR is the second result on Google for "What was Ernest Hemingway doing when he was falsely reported dead?

You can't begin to imagine how proud I am.

Secondly, it's about time to recognise some blogs I've started reading. So: Actually Existing Phil, Irregular Anthony, Indigo Jo of Blogistan, John B of Shot By Both Sides, Jamie Kenny of Blood & Treasure, Organic Warfare, Martin Geddes's Telepocalypse, the Engineer Poet's Ergosphere (where you should read this), Praktike and Co.'s Liberals Against Terrorism, James Hamilton's Econbrowser, Dsquared's Digest, Ken's Militant Moderate, Slugger O'Toole - have a link!

Yes, I do read a LOT of blogs. I'd also like to draw public attention to the fact that Alhamedi of The Religious Policeman is out of jail Saudi Arabia and blogging anew after a 12-month hiatus.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Bloggin' Rugby League: The City Known as 'Ull

Replying to this post, "Kevin" writes:
You're right about Hull fans. The only time I've ever been scared at a rugby league match was watching Wigan at Hull in the 1980s when some of the home fans charged the away stand. But it was a midweek match on the other side of the country so most of the Wigan crowd were children and old ladies. There was no one to fight with so they ended up milling about, snarling.
Milling about, snarling...I recall a very similar experience (touched-on on Monday) at Keighley in (I think) 1996. It must have been about that long ago, because we were good. So good, in fact, that we went 20-0 up in less than even time.

Now, at Cougar Park away fans tend to pack into one end of the ground, the so-called Turner stand. Or rather, they used to pack - when you're entertaining Chorley Lynx rather than Hull, Warrington or Sheffield in their pre-merger, cup-winning days, "pack" isn't quite the right verb. "Wander", perhaps, or "rattle". But this was then, and the Airlie Birds' away following has always been sizeable, so the place was thronging with Hullers pointing sheepishly at hills, sheep and comparable Dales signifiers. By the luck of the draw, Keighley kicked off towards the unofficial (no football apartheid in RL) "away end", so each try was scored directly in front of a particularly noisy and boozed-up segment of the crowd. Of course, as the beating continued, they got noisier and spirits like our scrawny-but-pugnacious scrum-half, Chris Robinson, were drawn to celebrate each score there..anyway, as we waited for Simon Irving (has my memory just farted, or was his nickname something like Eggs?) to line up yet another conversion for 24-0, there was an ugly yelling and they kicked over the hoardings around the pitch and chased the ref across the park towards us.

The official vanished into the players' tunnel, passing two cops and three stewards who were running, quixotically, towards the mob as if to quell it all on their own. Fortunately, they thought better of this and backed off as they spilled onto the pitch. For a moment, I was wondering if they would keep going towards D stand, where I sat, in some kind of "take the home end" scenario. Note: at Keighley in 1996, there was a main stand called D stand, the Turner stand as described, an open terrace at the opposite end called B Kop, and a decrepit area of covered terrace opposite D stand called the Scrattin' Shed. No, it doesn't make sense, but if you think that's weird you should have seen the club's accounts.

But, as Kevin mentioned, nobody seemed to be looking for trouble from the positively genteel D stand crew and they didn't have the out-and-out football viciousness to provoke themselves further, and ended up milling around and, indeed, snarling. Further back, though, in the stand they had left, a group of Keighley fans were more forthcoming and a succession of brawls broke out. Eventually, Bill, Bob and their many brothers arrived, and herded them back in the Turner, which was temporarily segregated by lines of cops. A number of arrests were made; the only notable one was of a man called Sean Cutler, described by the Keighley News as a "Keighley Cougars financial backer" but better known as a routine thug. The match resumed and Keighley won, heavily. Hull's chairman, an Australian called Shane Richardson, endeared himself to us by telling BBC Radio Leeds that it was all our fault because the hoardings were insufficiently strong to restrain his followers. Which was an impressive exercise in chutzpah.

Another brush with them occurred in Hull itself. Hull FC now perform in a spiffy palace built with the proceeds of Hull City Council's sale of shares in its unique municipal telco, Kingston Communications. The shares were sold, wisely, in the spring of 2000, when anything vaguely associated with telecommunication was valued above diamonds by the stock market. The council proceeded to behave like, well, a Hull fan who won the lottery and blew the lot on a string of ill-advised prestige projects. By RL standards, the ground they now have is positively Saudi in its grandeur. My favourite was the council estate that was refurbished from top to bottom - and then demolished. Back then, they played at a pissridden dump called The Boulevard, so named because it lay on Airlie Street (which is why they are the Airlie Birds). It was one of the most famous grounds in the game, the stage for legendary derby clashes with the ancestral Leeds and Hull KR enemies, touring Australian and New Zealand sides, even Test matches. Like most of the famous Rugby League grounds, by the 1990s it was a dark, dilapidated, filthy shithole fit for some kind of grim documentary film on urban deprivation. When Keighley hit it that year, it was dark throughout the game, with fog smelling in from the oil refinery and the bizarre feature that I could look out from my seat in the stand named, with heavy irony, the Best Stand and look up at the waterline of a ship in the docks.

As it was, we lost narrowly and controversially whilst the far-famed Threepenny Stand - in fact, a plastic 80s prefab plonked on the foundations of its predecessor - bawled foul and bigoted abuse at us and the referee struggled to keep up through the subarctic gloom. The weird thing about Hull is that there is another professional club in town, Hull Kingston Rovers, a distinction the place shares only with Leeds and London (just) among British cities - and their fans are entirely decent. It's not a class thing, because the tribes are separate geographically and HKR country includes the docks and the Bransholme estate, supposedly the biggest council estate in western Europe and by any measure one of the roughest in Yorkshire. Hull FC gets the west half of town, which includes the dirt-poor bits around the defunct fishing port but also the suburbs and the city centre..so what is it?

In case anyone thinks I harbour a prejudice against Hull, I shall follow this up with a similar assault on Leeds RLFC before the cup final..

Update: Did I mention them being touchy? (See the alternate comments thread for details)

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

That Military Capital/Labour Balance Again

IN the past I've suggested that one of the essential problems facing the US armed forces in Iraq, and more broadly all modern armies in a world of messy little wars, is best thought of in economic terms. In any firm, there is a theoretical optimum combination of capital and labour used to process one unit of land(in the economic sense - that is, including all natural non-human resources) that maximises productivity and hence profitability. You can draw a graph showing the possible combinations for any given version of the problem, and it will be a convex curve about the origin. The optimal combination is the furthest point on the curve from the origin. That's the theory.

When you turn up at a row at a petrol station with a 155mm self-propelled howitzer and crew, it should be pretty obvious that you are too far towards the capital end of the scale, if we assume that material is equivalent to capital in the destruction industry. You have a factory crammed with stuff until it's too dangerous to walk through the door and too expensive to turn any of it on. Now, I've just been reading up on cognitive-radio systems, and this made me think of the problem. Cognitive radio means that a radio device implemented in software can intelligently change its behaviour in response to the radio environment. That's a minimal definition. Think seeking out the part of the radio spectrum that is least busy, or setting different channels different priorities. Another use of the concept, the one I'm professionally interested in, is so-called overlay networking, where a communication device chooses between the different forms of radio access in its area depending on some criterion or other. For example, your phone call might go over a free Wi-Fi network if there's one around, over the cheapest 3G data channel, failing that over the cheapest 3G voice channel, failing that over good old GSM - that's assuming you set it to "find cheapest" rather than "find most reliable" or "find fastest" or "find the Crazy Frog".

A huge amount of research in this field, though, is the work of the military. Practically everyone involved seems to work for DARPA, whether directly or at one remove. And some of their plans for smart radio are of stupefying ambition. Check this presentation from General Dynamics out. (Beware techy link, pdf.) If you stagger on past the first few radiohead slides, you'll get to their aspirations for cognitive radio. Apparently it's going to be waveform aware, spectrally aware, network aware, geographically aware, locally-available services aware, user needs and requirements aware, speaks and understands your language, situation aware, security policy aware, adapts and optimises, learns usage patterns of user, applies model-based reasoning to current context. And they're also talking biometrics, not to mention GPS. Now, think of that list of requirements - what other military field system would be capable of all those things? (Forget the first three radiohead/bellhead items)

Yes - that's right. That would be a competent soldier adequately prepared for their task.

Now, have a read of this from Jamie Kenny on the death of an American blogger in Basra. Please forgive me my slightly callous comment, by the way. But, having read his blog, which seems to be marked by a strange Anglophobia and a serious failure to understand that political Shi'ism is very much a locally-available service in Basra, I can't help wondering what he expected to find. And - going back to the language discussion between Irregular Analyses, Intel Dump and me - is the sheer astonishing scope of what is being proposed for mere radios an admission of defeat?

Monday, August 01, 2005

And Now for Some Rugby League Blogging

We haven't had anywhere near as much sportblogging here as I thought..so it's time to remedy that. Yesterday saw a first in league's history, as a French team ran out in a Challenge Cup semi-final. Toulouse made it by beating Widnes soundly, in a match held on their home ground. However partisan you may be, I can't help thinking that a Toulouse away trip that ended in a loss would be far easier to wear than a long bus drive back from, say, Whitehaven on a winter Wednesday night after a beating. Even if you're a long way from Widnes and you've lost, you are still in southern France. That may not be victory, but it's all right. It's been an achievement, even though the French did admittedly cop a lucky draw, not having to take on full-time opponents until the quarter finals and drawing together with French opposition at least once.

But that could only go so far. For the semis, they got given Leeds. The world champs, in their Yorkshire back yard. Pure hell...no-one gave them a chance, quite rightly. Until the action began. Toulouse seized the initiative right from the first kick of the ball. Literally. They started the game with a short kickoff, a risky surprise move that perhaps should get more use, and although Leeds fielded it they regained the ball in a mobhanded chase. And, with less than two minutes gone, they scored. Leeds recouped quickly enough, but Toulouse weren't quitting, scoring twice more. A huge second rower, Sebastien Reguin, described during the Widnes match as "a mountain on wheels" and a traffic warden in civil life, was torturing the Leeds backs as a wide runner. As a team, they were producing some extremely flash rugby. They were down 18-22 at half time, having scored last and missed out narrowly on a fourth.

Needless to say, it didn't last. (This is where we get to the nub of the post, by the way.) I'd said, at the time of the first try, that Toulouse would compete for 60 minutes and then cave in. Leeds scored just after half-time, and just after the hour mark all organised resistance collapsed and the champions' backline began scoring tries at will. Leeds put over 34 points to nothing in the second half, taking the match from a real struggle (which it had been) to an unmerciful hammering. The final score was 52-18.

I should be pleased the French got so far. But I'm concerned that it was so predictable. I fear that the game, at the top level, has reached a sort of permanent physical lead over all other clubs that no-one will ever be able to compete with the British top five, the Aussies and the NZ Warriors. I would estimate that Leeds scored 24 or so points on skill, and the rest on still being on the park after Toulouse ran out of puff. In the first half, you wouldn't have picked the French as a worse side. This primacy of the gym worries me, because I find it hard to enjoy sports that are closed to amateurs. Football has the FA Cup, we have the Challenge Cup, and in theory upsets should be possible. Formula 1 racing annoys me, rallying doesn't. The question is whether the top teams have reached a new level of perfection in the sport, or whether they simply have the money to commit to fitness levels that trump quality. I don't think it's that far gone - yet.

Toulouse, in fact, reminded me very much of an early-mid 90s Leeds team, one of Doug Laughton's supremely flash-but-flaky sides. They were riddled with talent, fantastic to watch, but never up to the physical and mental standard Wigan set. Leeds would always look great in the first half, then cave as the pie-eating legions wore them out and drained their morale. And as always with league, once the buggers got advantage, you were in a world of consequences and heading for a 60 point whipping.

The good news for Toulouse is that the parallel isn't deterministic. They don't have to go the way of Laughton's Leeds, a string of pointless and expensive transfers and an abiding lack of a real team. Fortunately for them, they can't afford to, not having Leeds's advantages (namely, owning Yorkshire Cricket Club's ground). If they can keep their players and train up physically, they would be a match for any Super League side. One of the few good things about fitness domination of the game is that fitness can always be improved with time, effort, and cash. Talent doesn't scale.

On another point, Leeds's behaviour fitted depressingly well with a team who didn't try very hard in the first half, came close to getting in trouble but won heavily because they outlasted the opposition. After the last try, they fetched Barrie McDermott to take the conversion. Barrie Mac, for the uninitiated, is a giant prop forward who hasn't kicked a ball once in fifteen or so years as a pro. It was an arrogant, mocking gesture that betrayed a lack of respect for worthy opponents and poor sportsmanship (as was a succession of high tackles earlier in the game). Years ago, I remember, during a Leeds-Bradford match that turned into a heavy Leeds win, Ellery Hanley was invited to take a late penalty kick in order to punch his 100th goal on the record book. But that was the great Ellery's last season, and he did have the other 99 goals.

We now face the delightfully brutal prospect of a Leeds-Hull final, which will rock the Pennines, even though it's held in Cardiff. Leeds-Hull is a derby that out-nasties almost anything else but Wigan-St Helens, in fact probably beats it for tribal loathing. To the Hull fans, Leeds are a bunch of spoilt rich brats who always steal their best players. To the Leeds fans (and everyone else), Hull are a bunch of semi-civilised, violent fishwives who riot, alone among RL supporters. Back in 2000, a Leeds-Hull semi in Huddersfield ended with them invading the pitch, destroying the goalposts and being charged by mounted police. Everyone was shocked and surprised - everyone, that is, except for followers of my own club, Keighley, because they'd done it to us back in 1996. 'Tis very much to be hoped they behave.

Tony Blair, Formula One - old post revisited

No doubt everyone else noticed the report that the Govt. was again interfering with the exact details of the ban on tobacco advertising, exactly as a large donor to the Labour Party from the Formula One racing world would have wanted. I'm just trying to work out why Blair loves F1 so - clearly he does, more than would be justified by the fairly paltry sum involved or even the number of engineers the teams employ in southeastern marginals. I have a little theory, which I expounded a while ago, back when the blog was young and Alistair Campbell had just been rousted from Downing Street. You can read it here: Campbell, Tony Blair, and the Rolling Stones.

Essentially, my thesis is that our prime minister belongs to a particular character type found among British, educated, middle-class men who feel their educated, British, middle-classness somehow detracts from their masculinity. Such types tend to overcorrect, seeking out self-reinvention and the approval of more macho characters. This was what drew Blair to the whisky swiggin' tabloid hack, Campbell, and it's also why he likes spooks so much. It was probably also this that led him to form a band, which is a classic response in itself.

And I suspect it's what draws him to the pitlane bosses like Ecclestone and Eddie Jordan.

The Orwells, No.2, and a note on policing

Given that the Orwells are meant to be a regular feature, I really must get one out for the last seven days quicksmart...and here it is. This week's Orwell nomination for the political misuse of the English language goes to Sir Ian Blair, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, for inventing the concept of a "Shoot-to-Kill-to-protect policy". This is nonsense, as they say, on stilts. For a start, there is no such thing as a shoot-not-to-kill policy - I've never heard of anyone with military or police firearms experience who thinks that it is practical or desirable to do anything else with a firearm than shoot to kill. It's probably good for all parties to remember that once guns are involved it's become a deadly business, as this may restrain both criminals and police from using them lightly, waving about replicas, and such. The problem is whether or not the police have a shoot policy, in the sense that they have taken a decision in advance to shoot at people suspected of terrorism rather than not shooting at them if at all avoidable.

The "to protect" bit is simply nauseating, and is anyway meaningless - why on earth would the Met shoot otherwise than "to protect"? So, your nomination is on the way, Sir Ian. (And by the way, could you possibly avoid badmouthing your colleagues from West Midlands after they succeed where your lot failed?)

Last week's events, which panned out while I was in distant Lochaber and happily feeling utterly disassociated from the metropolitan paranoia cooker, bear out a point I've been trying to make for some time. In our time of terrorism, two different and opposed traditions of policing are clashing. One is the original British tradition stretching back to Robert Peel, based on the principles of policing by consent, local accountability, and systematic investigation of specific crimes. The other is one we might associate with Wilhelmine Germany or postwar France, which may be characterised as policing by suspicion, public-order policing, or preemptive policing. The emphasis is on preparing to suppress riots, and the theoretical base is that the citizens are a potentially hostile force that must be watched in its aggregate in case it turns on you. So you need the armed power to crush it and the authority to lock up the ringleaders first. This thinking is expressed in legislation like ATCSA, the Terrorism Act, Asbos and the like: we, the state, know who the plotters are, or at least who might be a plotter, so we need the right to punish them before they do anything wrong.

The other tradition says instead that we know nothing in advance, but that the criminal will give us the information at the time they give us a reason to lock them up: they will leave clues which can be used through detective work to identify them. This tradition, although it cannot prevent crimes, is more robust in the face of our limited knowledge of the future. It only helps to be able to lock people up without trial if you know who they are - if you don't, your strategy is set at naught. The terrorism crisis has shown this with blinding clarity. None of the new pre-emptive policing measures helped at all, but the classic effort of investigation from the details of a specific offence has traced the complete plot with impressive speed.

What worries me is that the spectacular detective achievement of rolling up the tube bombers may end up as a swansong, a last great case for The Inspector before the security bureaucrats roll up the old uniform and stick it in some efficient piece of office furniture in their new Mearsham Street fortress. Farewell not only The Bobby but The 'Tec. Greet the brave new world of biometric ID, monster databases and automated profiling.

Against this, I propose that one particular investigation might be vital to defend the notion of investigative policing itself: the investigation of Jean Charles de Menezes' death by copper. It seems obvious to me (at least) that this is a classic case of a systems failure that produced an apparent failure of judgement by the human instrument. It's the kind of event that, in the past, led to pilots being pilloried over incidents that were in fact preordained by management and engineering factors beyond their control. The chain of decisions that killed Menezes runs something like this: decision to watch the block of flats, decision to follow him, decision not to apprehend him immediately, decision to let the bus continue on its way, decision not to apprehend him after leaving the bus, decision to shoot when he entered the tube station. If any one of those switches had been set the other way, he would still be alive and fitting fire alarms to Kilburn.

Admin Time

Well, here we are on August the 1st, which is of course Yorkshire Day! You may be interested to know that, according to the team of dedicated Germans from Blogcounter.de who monitor my traffic stats, last month saw a three-figure average daily unique hit rate for only the second time in Ranter history. On average, 131 unique users checked in daily throughout the month. Naturally, much of this was the work of Osama bin Laden, whose minions drove some 696 uniques through the blog on Thursday, July 7th - setting a site record and beating the past mark, which occurred in May when BoingBoing.net linked to a post regarding Vienna's new freight trams. However, that spike hardly overshadows regular performances in the 100 region. With the high-traffic month, the Ranter came close to achieving an all-time average in three figures - average unique dailies for the period covered by the new (Blogcounter) stats are currently at 99 unique hits/day. Can we push on over that? Surely we can.

Whilst we're on the subject of stats, it's been a good week for DSRs (Disturbing Search Requests). TYR is no.1 on Google for "george clooney foreign parachute wings in peacemaker". It is also no.15 on Yahoo for tony blair embarrassing images, and no.17 on Yahoo for "is rupert murdoch an arms dealer?" And, even more bizarrely, it is the top result on Wanadoo's search function for tony blair simian line. Really weirdly, on the same page with me are Soj and the Guardian Newsblog, although none of us has ever mentioned it. Apparently, a simian line is a feature in palmistry that the PM displays - the mumbo-jumbo merchants claim it means "living more intensely with an undercurrent of uneasiness". Who knew?

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