Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I am still in Iraq...I hear nothing from your Government!

Despite all the promises, the Government is still achieving nothing with regard to its Iraqi employees. Leave aside, for the moment, the considerable numbers who are being rejected. Even the accepted - in so far as this category means anything yet - are still in Iraq, still on the streets, and still in danger. “I am still in Iraq…I hear nothing from your Government yet!”, wrote one of them to Dan Hardie.

Over at Dan’s, you can read about the fact that according to Bob Ainsworth MP, this man has been accepted; but the Borders and Immigration Agency, the final arbiter, is still doing nothing. You could read about the man who, according to the Government, worked at the Shaibah Logistics Base for two years - and they should know, as he lived on the base itself after being threatened by (as they say) unidentified gunmen until he was served notice to quit before the camp was shut down last year. He’s now in Syria.

But don’t imagine this is anything new. Three days ago, the Second World War secret agent Pearl Witherington died, after a life that included more than a year on the run in occupied France organising the STATIONER resistance network. She had to take over command of the organisation at one point; eventually they were ready in June, 1944 to set the German rear ablaze. She was refused a military decoration, and more importantly (to her) parachutist wings, until the RAF relented in 2006 and issued the badge. But that’s not why I’m dragging her in.

It wasn’t any different in June, 1940, either:

At the time of the German Blitzkrieg into northern France in May 1940, she was working as an assistant to the Air Attaché in the British Embassy, but through being “locally enlisted” was not included in the official evacuation scheme and had to make her way to England through the Vichy-controlled zone (which initially avoided German occupation) then via neutral Spain to Portugal, from where she boarded a coaster to Gibraltar.

And she was a British citizen.

Apparently, part of the delay is because the Home Office - of course, inevitably, them - is responsible for finding accomodation for anyone evacuated. They, in turn, are blaming local authorities. The Foreign Office’s offer of cash looks better and better, frankly; at least it’s actual, immediate assistance.

Well, you know the rules: Please write a letter to your MP. His or her address is The House of Commons, Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA. If you don’t know who your constituency MP is, go here and type your postcode in. When you’ve sent a letter, follow it up with an email: his or her address will normally be SURNAMEINITIAL@parliament.uk - for example BROWNG@parliament.uk

Two or three days after you have written the letter, call the Parliamentary switchboard on 0207 219 3000 and ask for your MP’s office. Repeat your concerns to the secretary or research assistant you speak to (and be nice: most of these people work damn hard for little reward), check that your letter has been received, and politely request that the MP ask questions of Ministers and reply to you. In your email, your letter, and your phone calls, you must be courteous: insulting an MP or a research assistant will discredit this cause.

Full talking points are over here. But here’s one more of my own; if it’s the local authorities who are the problem, let’s find out which ones. Why not call your local council member for housing too? And tell us all about it.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

YouTube is Borked: Pakistani Censors Suspected

It looks like an attempt to censor rightwing arsewit Geert Wilders's anti-Islam home movie has broken YouTube.

Pakistani authorities issued a circular to ISPs in Pakistan demanding that they block access to YouTube; but this doesn't explain why it's unreachable from the UK. A traceroute to www.youtube.com goes into PCCW's network and dies; the explanation appears to be that, as mentioned a few minutes ago on NANOG, Pakistan Telecoms has announced a chunk of YouTube's IP address space into the global Internet Routing Table, so traffic bound for them is being misrouted.

This may either be deliberate, or else the result of a BGP leak; whoever it was attempted to reroute traffic to YouTube from their customers to a "site blocked" page and accidentally let the new more-specific route get advertised to the world via their upstream carrier, PCCW. Unsurprisingly, we're not seeing Pakistani splash pages because, well, this suggests that all YouTube's inbound traffic just hit the web server they are using.

(So the comment on my new blog containing a YouTube link will just have to wait for moderation until PakTel either relents, sorts out the important distinction between internal and external BGP, or PCCW filters their BGP announcements.)

The politics are interesting; this comes immediately after a succession of people repressed by Musharraf's emergency rule have returned to the public eye. Talaat Hussain is back on TV, with a pair of banned journalists; their own briefly made a comeback before the cable feed was pulled again. Is Musharraf - or someone - trying to scare them, or seeking an excuse to impose more censorship?

Update: They're back...but they're back from Hong Kong.

6 pop-bb-a-ae0-0.inet.ntl.com ( 36.539 ms 34.382 ms 39.406 ms
7 * ( 42.918 ms *
8 ae-24-52.car3.London1.Level3.net ( 140.151 ms * ae-24-56.car3.London1.Level3.net ( 454.571 ms
9 ge5-3-0-1000M.ar2.LON3.gblx.net ( 34.647 ms 92.634 ms 54.208 ms
10 YOUTUBE-LLC.po1.401.ar2.SJC2.gblx.net ( 164.128 ms 174.011 ms 169.919 ms
11 youtube.com.hk ( 199.622 ms 162.886 ms 195.350 ms

TYR 2.0 Beta

Whilst you snooze, this blog has been moving; I set up an alternate version of it some months ago using Wordpress, but until now it's been private. The upgrade should provide a generally less Spirit of 2003 look-and-feel, improved comments support (a frequent request), a recent comments service, better categorisation, and a linklog.

I'd really like your comments, people; the new blog has been tested by a select group of invitees already. Feedback so far includes requests for a more contrasty colour scheme. I personally want to put in a third column to house things like the linklog and comments separately from the archives and categorisation.

However, can it really be true that Wordpress.com wants me to *pay to edit my CSS*? What is this nonsense? Further, is anyone aware of an API that lets you interact directly with the MySQL db underneath, as I want to replace all the links to yorkshire-ranter.blogspot.com/somearticle.html with ones to the corresponding yorksranter.wordpress.com?

Update: The new RSS feed is http://yorksranter.wordpress.com/feed/.

Surveillance: More Il-76s in Somalia

I was wondering what might be going on in Somalia; we're getting a surprising number of lifts a day from the UAE to Puntland/Somaliland (Hargeisa and Berbera) with Tenir AL and British Gulf International Company (not BGIA) call signs. And then this hits the wires via Reuters DeathWatch:
BAIDOA, Somalia, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Heavily armed Somali rebels killed seven government troops and wounded eight others after briefly occupying a southern town on Sunday in the latest show of strength by the nation's Islamists.


I'm very glad to see that Abu Muqawama, Phil Carter, and Lt-Col. Bob Bateman have been quick to leap on the inevitable attempt to swiftboatise this story.

Especially as Abu, I thought, was showing worrying signs of going into the "good news the MSM is suppressing" mental death spiral and turning progressively into Blackfive With Books and FC Barcelona.

Tories: Unserious

John Band has some thoughts about Northern Rock. So do I; more precisely, I have some thoughts about the Tories' performance in the crisis. It's been appallingly silly, irresponsible, and sometimes plain ignorant.

For example, last autumn the Tories seem to have thought that the Bank of England's loan to the Rock was taxpayers' money. This year, the Tories' alternative to nationalisation is to have the Bank of England take over the Rock; apparently BoE funds aren't taxpayers' money any more. What on earth has changed? As far as I know, the Bank was nationalised in 1946 and remains so. Alternatively, George Osborne is talking nonsense.

Now, Osborne - and presumably the full faith and credit of the Conservative Party - is behind the notion that the Rock faces a "slow lingering death" under the Treasury-appointed management team. But the Tory alternative is to put the Rock into run-off under Bank of England control; putting a financial institution into run-off is to stop it writing any further business, so as mortgage holders refinance or pay off their mortgages, they wouldn't take on any more, and the business would progressively shrink down to the actual branches and cash. This basically defines a "slow lingering death".

Worse yet, the Tories seem to be claiming that they could keep half the Rock's assets off the public-sector balance sheet by involving the Bank of England. But first of all, the Bank of England is part of the public sector. It is a state-owned company. Its employees are civil servants. Its governor is an appointee of the Treasury. The Tories seem to believe that despite this, it is not part of the public sector; at the same time, though, they seem to believe that this autonomous agency would be amenable to a ministerial directive to take over the Rock. Alternatively, they are fully aware of this and are offering a piece of positively Enron-like creative accounting.

Considered purely as a bank, however, the Bank of England is a very strange beast. Despite handling huge transactions in Government paper every day and managing the UK's foreign exchange and gold reserve, it isn't actually very big. Its broader central banking functions do not need much capital. It could only afford to take the Rock's assets onto its balance sheet by either printing an absurd quantity of money or by being hugely subsidised by the Treasury.

The good news, though, was that Osborne's performance on nationalisation day was so annoying (silly voice; shouting; North Korean organised yelling choir; pretending to fear the nationalisation of all the other banks) he's probably made a net loss of votes, which appears to be borne out by the data.

The Gobbles Have It

I thought it was Felix Salmon who made a very good argument for a carbon dioxide tax rather than a cap-and-trade system, referring to British Columbia's decision to introduce a progressively increasing levy on fossil fuels and make a matching cut in general taxation. But it wasn't; anyway here goes.

If you read this blog you're probably aware that I think cap-and-trade is too much of a fancy, thinktank hipster/wonk solution; there are a lot of interesting failure modes. Instead, I support the tax that gets to the cause of your problem; higher VAT on fossil fuels is hard to evade (and harder the more fuel you're trying to evade it on), simple to apply, cheap to collect through the existing and very efficient administration, and directly matched to the problem. It's regressive, but that can be fixed by paying out the cash, perhaps under a negative income tax or citizens' income system. (As Daniel Davies would say, many schemes to aid the poor have been proposed but the only one to show consistent success is money.) And we could do it tomorrow; if it only took two days to nationalise the Northern Rock, this is quite a lot simpler.

Anyway, Salmon - in fact, it was Gar Lipow whose argument this is; read the whole thing - made the point that cap-and-trade implies the creation of a market in CO2 permits. That is, after all, the point of the exercise. Then you start to reduce the cap, squeezing the total permits in circulation. But here's the rub; if the policy is a success and people are busily trading the permits, there will be a substantial new lobby against any reduction in the cap - the traders. There is no way they can win from reduced volume, so they will be a powerful opponent of reductions in the cap and a powerful supporter of any move to loosen the definitions of what contributes to the cap.

A carbon dioxide tax, of course, doesn't need a carbon dioxide market and therefore isn't subject to this problem. It doesn't need to decide what counts as an offset; it certainly doesn't require some fiendish extension of the surveillance state like road-pricing or personal cap-and-trade. It just requires a higher rate of VAT on stuff that burns and came out of the ground.

Government Websites: Considered Dire

Unity is on to something with this rant about government Web sites. But I think we can take this a nudge further. Essentially, if you're visiting a government Web site, you're doing one of two things; you're either engaged in some sort of transaction with the government, or else you're looking for some sort of random lump of information. In the first case, there's no reason for there to be Web sites, plural; you'll probably make your way to the thing by a Web search anyway, and once you're there you want to go through the process as quickly as possible.

The Government is actually trying to get this right by rolling as many transaction functions as possible into Directgov (for individuals) and Businesslink (for organisations). But it doesn't go anywhere near far enough. Especially for organisations, the ideal type of going through a process involving transactions with the government is to have a machine do it instead. If it's a transaction - or for that matter, a query of a public database - it should be available as a SPOO (Some Protocol Or Other - an acronym I just invented to cover RSS, XML, SOAP, Web services, REST, JSON, and all their pals) feed/service/whatever, and these should be as much alike as possible across government.

As far as the second type of site goes, you can be certain that people looking for just the right document will be using a search engine; so really all you need is search-friendliness, metadata, and stable URLs so you can find your way back to the stuff. If the stuff is in a database, then there should be some way of querying it automatically.

And finally, there should be a website called developers.gov.uk or something similar with a directory of all the SPOOs, the documentation for them, and a short guide to the legalities involved.

Not that this will discover gunpowder, but it's a nice timeboxed quick-impact project that a small political party with an interest in freedom of information could do worse than to push, and that would make life mildly less annoying.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Very Short 90s

Yes, I miss Melody Maker too, for most of the same reasons. And The Face.

Look, at least there are no rockets in this post. So you get a gratuitious Justin Robertson track.

Whoosh Kaboom!

OK, so they want to shoot down that satellite; depending on who you believe, because of its Evil Nasty Chems, to keep the Secret Spook Systems aboard from the general enemy, or just to do a live-fire exercise with SPACE ROCKETS!!! and impress the Chinese. Well, the first one is nonsense, the second is unimpressive (Germany, Italy, France, Canada and Japan all have synthetic-aperture radar satellites - how rare can this one be? After all, this one's defining characteristic is that it doesn't work)...so it looks like the third.

And to do it, they're rolling out the giant floating radar, or the USS Karl Stromberg as I like to think of it. Well, they better hope the waves aren't more than 8 feet on the day, as its seakeeping is so dire that it can't be towed with a sea state worse than that. The AEGIS system should, I think, be able to cue itself for a target that looks something like a re-entering IRBM, but this is pressing the limit of my knowledge.

Looking it up on Heavens Above, the satellite's track is over Graham Land in Antarctica, up across Africa from Angola to the Middle East (and interestingly, straight over Israel), then across the Asian continent for a good view of the ME, India, Siberia, China and Korea, over northern Japan and then sharply southwards down the Pacific; it's quite a way from the Stromberg's beat off Alaska, especially as they have to intercept head-on rather than a stern chase (the rocket does 3 km/sec and the sat 7.8). I wonder what the weather's like in the Western Pacific for the "first week of March"?

The track passes close to the Marshalls; presumably they'll take the GFR to Kwajalein or somewhere like it, where they have various other huge dish antennas and spookydooky things.

French FRES Flop Forecast

Continuing our Weekend of Defence Procurement, we've bashed the FRES vehicle program enough in the past. Costed at £14bn, meant to deliver a C-130 portable, RPG-tough, wheeled vehicle capable of carrying something equivalent to a tank main gun and providing reconnaissance, big gun, infantry, and utility variants, it's so far failed to deliver anything at all and its aims are now down to a vehicle that doesn't fit in a C-130 but might in an Airbus A400M, if they existed, and doesn't do recce although that's the first priority. Among other things, they managed to spend more money on "concept work" than Lord "Virus" Drayson did on several hundred actual real armoured vehicles with tracks and guns and radios an stuff.

At the moment, the smart money is on the French NEXTER vehicle - the even smarter money is on the project getting axed, but who expects the MOD to do anything smart? - which is amusing, because the UK was part of the development process 10 years ago but walked out to do FRES. It now looks as if the French aren't over keen on NEXTER, either. My new favourite blog (FR) sez the French Army just ordered up 180 Vikings, lightweight, articulated tracked vehicles from Sweden. The Royal Marines have used them for years, but they have really come into their own after Drayson bought a wedge of them for Afghanistan; now the French are doing the same.

UOR: Unimaginably Orphul Reid

John Reid. Thank God we managed to avoid the nightmare; Prime Minister Reid. That really worried me in 2006-2007; Chris Lightfoot and I were planning to start a dedicated anti-Reid website at one point.

Anyway, Reid has been personally fingered by the coroner's inquest into the death of RHA Captain James Philippson, as the Grauniad reports. Philippson was killed in Afghanistan in the bloody summer of 2006, taking part in a mission to recover a crashed drone. (I thought the point of drones was that they were expendable.) It turns out that his unit had not received their night vision goggles, Minimi light machine guns, M203 grenade launchers, combat body armour, or ballistic matting for their vehicles when they went into action. According to the Army inquiry, whose papers were produced in court:
"Critically," it said, "the secretary of state, [then John Reid] had delayed announcing the Helmand deployment because he wanted to ensure that the campaign could be won, that the 3,150 manning cap was not exceeded, and that Britain's Nato allies were also contributing." The board's report continues: "The immediate consequence was that the two-month delay effectively froze the [urgent operational requirement] process and resulted in the [Helmand Task Force] deploying without much of the mission essential equipment that it had requested."
Having buggered about endlessly - first trying to send two battalions from 16AAB without their fire support (and what a disaster that would have been - one battalion plus with all the air support, logistics, sappers and artillery 16AAB, the RAF, and the Americans could muster came close to being overrun) and then sending the support and only one battalion - Reid's managerialist crappery sporked the UOR process, under which urgently required equipment is obtained. No machine guns for you!

But what I want to know is this; Minimis and M203s are not new equipment in the British Army. Special Forces have had them for years; so have the Marines, and more have been issued for practically every major operation since 1991. Now, when 16AAB, 3 Cdo and 7th Armoured went to Iraq in 2003, the Army issued UORs for just these weapons and these articles of kit. We well know that the extra armour plates showed up too late for some men; however, the guns were indeed delivered on time, and the plates did eventually arrive.

So, if 16AAB got a boatload of shiny new guns, armour an stuff in 2003....what happened to them between returning to the UK in the autumn of 2003 and deploying to Afghanistan in 2006? It wouldn't be the first time that equipment procured under a UOR was sold off as surplus in order to satisfy the MOD's weird accounting procedures (the work of G. Brown) and then a second UOR generated to replace it a year or so down the track. Any information will be treated in the strictest confidence.

Rosyth RUSI Rant

I promised more serious content; here goes.

Right, everyone is vexed about the RUSI report (PDF download) that was recently published under the names of Gwyn Prins (a minor hero of this blog's, for his The Heart of War: Power, Conflict, and Obligation in the 21st Century) and the Marquess of Salisbury (no less, who hasn't written anything I'm aware of).

The media discourse about it has been almost entirely devoted to this paragraph:
The United Kingdom presents itself as a target, as a fragmenting, post-Christian society, increasingly divided about interpretations of its history, about its national aims, its values and in its political identity. That fragmentation is worsened by the firm self-image of those
elements within it who refuse to integrate. This is a problem worsened by the lack of leadership from the majority which in mis-placed deference to ‘multi-culturalism’ failed to lay down the line to immigrant communities, thus under-cutting those within them trying to fight extremism. The country’s lack of self- confidence is in stark contrast to the implacability of its Islamist terrorist enemy, within and without.
This appears to be standard boilerplate Toryism/Decent Left stuff; I rather doubt that Islamists particularly care about anyone's view of the Whig interpretation of history. Depending on partisan allegiance, this has either been read as being a sinister right-wing menace from "ranting old colonels" as the Grauniad's Joseph Harker put it (you haven't read Rupert Smith's book, have you?) or else as a roaring affirmation of everything good and true, as the Daily Mail put it, with the slight curiosity that most of the stuff they attribute to it doesn't actually appear anywhere in the document. There is for example no reference to being a "soft touch" in the text, only one use of the word "immigrant", and no suggestion of further restrictions on immigration. I have the strong impression that most of the journos responding to it have not read the document.

On substance, this point is of course silly; the common factor about British Islamist terrorists, as far as I can make out, is that they are members of my generation and therefore products of Ken Baker's tenure as Education Secretary. "Our Island Story", not multiculturalism, if the word still has any meaning other than the Orwellian one of "something not desirable"; Thatcher, not Wilson or Blair. I assume that this was Old Sarum's contribution, as is the factless pabulum about "long established constitutional arrangements of the Queen in Parliament" and coded Euroscepticism. It's quite clear, however, where Prins cuts in; there is a typically Prins emphasis on the intersection between traditional, big war strategy and human security issues, for example the politics of climate change, the weakening of both the Anglo-American and NATO alliances, relations with Russia, and world naval construction.

Further, the actual policy proposals the paper contains are almost comically modest compared to its tone and its reception; they want to set up two new committees, one a mixed committee of ministers and officials based in the Cabinet Office and serviced by the CabSec, and the other a committee of both houses of parliament. The first would be a sort of national security council, and the second an independent oversight committee of it. This is not terribly controversial, or dare I say it, terribly new.

Meanwhile, Mick DSM Smith reports on some more capability gaps; as Teh Defence Crisis rolls on, the carrier project is sliding right again, and all the four remaining T-22 frigates are to be mothballed, plus one T-23. According to our sources, the T-42 destroyers are "falling apart" and morale aboard ship is at rock bottom; I really have no idea why the T-42s are protected from cuts, as they are the only class of warship we have that was tested in combat and found wanting.

Regarding the carriers, we're now getting to a point where the capability-gapping that was meant to make up the costs is committing us to going ahead; with fewer T-45 ships, no T-22 Block 3 ships, and fewer T-23 ships, and no air defence on the existing carriers, losing the new carriers will render most of the new amphibious ships useless. If the Government really wants to deliver them, it needs to start steelworking at Babcocks in Rosyth. Recap; the ships are to be built in four "superblocks" at Rosyth, BAE's yards on the Clyde, and Vospers in Portsmouth, and then assembled in the drydock in Rosyth, the only one big enough. Once the Rosyth block is in the drydock, nothing else is going to use the drydock until it is either scrapped in place or the completed ship is floated-out. Some preparatory work was announced last week at a cost of £34m, but they have still not taken the vital step of actually checking the welding torch out of the locker and cracking on.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

James Graham Badly Needs to Wind his Neck In

OK, so it's frankly hilarious that a RESPECT councillor and Socialist Workers Party member has defected to the Tories. But describing him as a "socialist jihadist conservative" is offensive, stupid, illiberal and anti-democratic, not to mention libellous.

For a start, it assumes facts not in evidence. Mr Hussain is not, to the best of my knowledge, on record anywhere as "apologising for Al-Qaida" or advocating "violent revolutionary struggle". Secondly, the only people who think RESPECT is a "jihadist" organisation are Decent Left twerps desperately trying to smear anyone who was right about Iraq. Jihadis do things like, well, waging jihad. RESPECT organises demos against Oona King. There is a considerable margin of difference here.

Perhaps his political activity is an expression of the Sufi understanding of jihad as inner struggle. I dunno. You'd have to ask the guy. Presuming to divine other people's thoughts, and discovering that - astonishingly - they are exactly what would be most creditable or discreditable to the target depending on partisan allegiance, is a tactic of the most unpleasant political characters of our time.

But it's worse than that; the very notion that, as Graham says, there is a "difference between the Lib Dem opposition to the war and the Respect opposition" is repellent. We both opposed it because it was wrong and it was stupid. It has however been a consistent tactic of the Right, and of the Government's pet columnists, to accuse opponents of the war of being pro-terrorist. It's always been easier to push this at RESPECT because its membership includes the far Left, who are not respectable, and brown people. But push it they would at the Liberals if there were only more of us.

There is no point trying to appease this bullshit. It's the politics of denunciations. They will constantly demand more - do you condemn this? will you dissociate from X? you surely don't believe Y? are you one of them? can you prove it? Once you accept the idea that opinions that are right in themselves are wrong because they come from those people, you'll accept the crap the powerful want you to believe about those people. And they will always want more denunciations.

As George Orwell said:
The very people who for twenty years had sniggered over their own superiority to war hysteria were the ones who rushed straight back into the mental slum of 1915. All the familiar wartime idiocies, spy-hunting, orthodoxy-sniffing (Sniff, sniff. Are you a good anti-Fascist?), the retailing of atrocity stories, came back into vogue as though the intervening years had never happened.

Right, that's six paragraphs, 464 words, devoted to a not very important blogger from a third political party's pointless abuse of a similarly unimportant petty politico from a fourth political party in a two party system. Blogs, eh? Changing the world. But there's an important principle involved, which is that we really ought to apply the same rules to ourselves we want others to respect. Just as hit-pieces sourced to Peter Oborne's arse are just as wrong when they agree with us as otherwise, throwing around accusations of treason is a practice that is just as repellent from our side as from the kind of people who specialise in it.

Update: The evidence is here. Apparently, some other guy once quoted Walden Bello in an article that was neither by or about Mr Hussein, nor did it even contain his name. Thoughtcrime!

Ah well, this is what really getting into political parties does to you...anyway, the dogs bark, the caravan moves on. To more important matters, which is after all 99.9% of the things I could possibly write about.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Back from 3GSM Mobile World Congress

Back from Barcelona, after a terribly intense 3GSM. This was my third, and the first in which I was actually participating rather than just reporting; I feel the need to decompress, my feet hurt, and I'm feeling the effects of eating breakfast at 5pm, covering every game in town, and finally dining (or rather lunching) in the lates. First, an amusing photo:

"White/Red Whine", indeed. If they could actually serve you white or red whine, it would probably go something like "bloody conferences, full of idiots, run off your feet, fucking airports, sod Iberia..." Naturally, we all love it and wouldn't miss it for the world, as J.K. Galbraith said about his academic colleagues and testifying to Senate committees. I've said before that Galbraith's shades are everywhere in telecoms; not really capitalism but the daddy of all technostructures, a planned economy run by an engineer-bureaucratic complex.

3GSM is changing, a bit; there are a few cackling hackers around, and ridiculous hipster-dressed 16-stone US techbloggers ogling the shiny gadgets. Fortunately I don't have to talk to these; there are rewards for specialising in core networks, where everyone is a Swedish suit, and this is one of them. Only the really serious few care, such as Zygmunt Lozinski, or my colleagues at Telco 2.0.

The Telco 2.0 board - Simon Torrance, Martin Geddes, Chris Barraclough

By the way, I learned this week that IBM management lets you off wearing a blue shirt if you're in an immersive virtual environment; a detail worthy of the late Douglas Adams (who once addressed the conference, some years ago) or Charlie Stross. Speaking of Charlie, 3GSM always makes me feel like one of his characters - the European and Asian domination, the sci-fi gadgetry, the disorientation. And this week I ran into an actual implementation of one of the applications used in Halting State.

I'd dropped in to speak to Roger Quayle of NextWave (IPWireless as was); we discussed their big mobile-TV contract in the UK and also the single IP radio network they've done for the emergency services of New York City. The NYFD has a geographical database of architects' plans for every building in town. Now, their commanders have the use of a touchscreen-covered table on which they can view the map, display the plans in 3D, and the location of their engines; as they sketch out a plan on it, the details are synchronised over the air with PDAs carried by the fire crews. If that's not pretty close to CopSpace, I don't know what is; and Nokia is doing most of the other features it had in the book. Quayle denies being inspired by SF; but the application was actually developed at Northrop-Grumman, so who knows?

Regarding Europeans and Asians, it struck me that the architectural language of the show was telling; some of the US companies seemed to be trying to hide from the future, retreating into banal shapes and pastel colours with an odd but significant desert-cam tinge. Nokia and Huawei, by contrast, chose to display themselves in what looked like Ballardian advertisements for modernity itself. Curiously, I notice, green-tech motifs have entered the visual language of boosterism; Huawei's main ad motif is a gaggle of honking gurt wind turbines. (Contrastingly, IBM chose not to have a grand statement in ply and lighting; just dozens of engineers and some interesting projects.)

With all this, paranoia is inevitable. At the Intel WiMAX division's party, German security men scoured the bushes with flashlights; the conference organisers warned everyone to remove their badges so as not to mark themselves out as potential marks. After all, not only did they show that the bearer was probably a foreigner with a laptop, but also which ones were the highest-value targets. They also, however, handed out delegate bags with huge ZTE logos, so every evening saw the spectacle of thousands of delegates removing their badges at the entrance to the metro and placing them...in the ZTE bags. It even got me; Huawei and Orange gave away hundreds of HSDPA USB modems, and trying mine out (I'll report on using it under linux), suddenly a bug occurred; it went to full uplink capacity over 500KBits/s (great advert for Orange.es), although my own netstats showed no outgoing traffic. I thought, ah, they've handed these out, and now they're uplinking the contents of everyone's hard disk to some devilish spookfarm in their Shenzhen bunker!

Does it offend you, yeah? You think that was unsettling; nothing compared to strolling along the Avenida Reina Maria Cristina and hearing a familiar voice, looking up, and seeing the likeness of our MD at Telco 2.0, Chris Barraclough, twenty feet high, on a monster truck-mounted video screen and live television, speaking in a voice amplified like hell in stereo. Reality itself is too twisted, said Hunter S. Thompson, on a similar subject.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Off to 3GSM Mobile World Congress

What it says on the tin.

Sadly, I can't promise anything like Sadly, No! and their superb blogging from CPAC. However, anyone who wants to meet me can import this vCalendar file.

Test The Theory!

Looming war over water between Georgia and Tennessee?

Note to self; charter Ilyushin-76, sell arms to both sides, make a fortune. Relatedly, over at my new favourite blog, they're discussing driving 400 kilometres a day across the savannah in your Land Cruiser and a mystery delivery in a whole Antonov-124...or possibly even an An-225? It's not impossible; there is chatter that President Deby's forces got arms from Israel, and look who was in town on the 2nd of February, the day the rebels hit the bright lights. Fascinatingly, the crews of his Mi-24 HIND gunships included both Ukrainians and people described as "Mexicans"; Mexico has never operated this aircraft.

An-225 at LLBG, 02/02/08

Update: As Freightdog points out in comments, it's unrealistic to imagine that the only An-225 would have gone there if only for insurance reasons.

Why Your Allies Won't Have War With You

So Gates has been doing the rounds of EU capitals, looking for more troops (and money) for Afghanistan. He didn't get very far; although Germany did agree to find half a battalion of light infantry as a quick-reaction force for the northern zone, this just relieves a Norwegian force that is currently doing the job. A lot of people are vexed. Canada is threatening to leave unless other NATO states put in more men; the British Army is putting in a ton of resources in the next roulement, with the result that the 16th Air Assault Brigade in Helmand will be rather bigger than the Division in Iraq.

But there are very good reasons why most NATO members are not willing to put in more troops or more money. Looking at it as if it was a business, Gates has been passing the hat round his shareholders in NATO asking them to put up more capital; their decision to answer or not depends on their estimate of the risk of losing it and the possible returns from it. You would want to have some influence on his plans for the future; you certainly wouldn't sign any cheques without seeing the plan first.

That is precisely what Secretary Gates wants, though; I have yet to see any answers to these questions. What is NATO's strategy in Afghanistan - what are we trying to achieve? What is our operational plan - how are we trying to do it? How long will we keep trying? And who is in charge? Consider this; despite the expansion in ISAF's area of responsibility to all of Afghanistan, there is still an independent US command of division strength operating in the country, supposedly "fighting terrorists". Although they haven't caught one for years, they are manoeuvring, fighting, and killing people, in the middle of ISAF's battlefield.

Further, if (as seems to be the case) Afghanistan is considered a case of counter-insurgency, the first damn principle in the Big Book of Bandit Extermination is that you need an integrated civilian-military plan and an integrated command structure. We have; no plan or command structure for the international civilian effort, two command structures for the international military effort, an Afghan civilian command structure, and an Afghan military command structure. The British government doesn't seem to be sure whether it is faced with a question of foreign relations, of third-world development, or of war.

I'm not sure I want to buy it. Then you have to consider the Pakistan dimension; the road goes to Karachi, after all. This is just a great big unquantifiable risk. And there is good reason to think that you might end up another tragic victim of common sense; Jamie Kenny may think these guys were trying to set up a "third force" as in The Quiet American, but he's missing a much closer analogy. One of the best tricks in the Big Book of Bandits is recruiting from the other side - the analogy here is a firqat:
One step which had a major impact on the uprising was the announcement of an amnesty for surrendered fighters, and aid in defending their communities from rebels. The surrendered rebels formed Firqat irregular units, trained by teams from the British Special Air Service Regiment. Eighteen Firqat units, numbering about 100 each, were eventually formed. They usually gave themselves names with connections to Islam, such as the Firqat Salahadin. These irregular groups played a major part in denying local support to the rebels.

The first serious step in re-establishing the Sultan's authority on the Jebel took place in October 1971, when Operation Jaguar which involved five Firqat units and a Squadron of the SAS was mounted. After hard fighting, the SAS and Firqats secured an enclave on the eastern Jebel Samhan from which they could expand. In a major hearts and minds operation, recaptured areas of the Jebel received aid in the form of clinics, schools, roads and newly dug wells....

Sounds like a plan, as they say. However, this inevitably involves an acceptance that the rebels exist, which seems to be the problem. We therefore have, instead, a strategy based on trying to spread soldiers as thinly as possible and using masses of firepower to save them when it goes wrong; elsewhere, some national contingents are trying not to draw attention to themselves, and the US Ambassador wants to gas the country's main crop.

I think I'll buy that ostrich farm.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Turned the speakers up to the sky, but nothing came

Well, I didn't get up in time to watch the lost spy satellite hurtling across the southwestern sky; it didn't matter as it was ten-tenths overcast. But about 1940 on the 21st? If the skies are clear, I'll be out there; it should reach its maximum altitude at 78 degrees over the horizon, coming from the southwest, on a line from Auriga to Mars.

And what will we think of?

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

I am a lineman for the county...

So what about those submarine cables then? There has been a mass of blogfroth about this, but I'm quite surprised by the degree of mis- or possibly dis-information that is circulating. For a start, Iran is not without Internet connectivity, whatever this webpage says. It shouldn't be this difficult; after all, the route to anywhere on the Internet is public information, because that's how it works. If you're familiar with Internet routing, you might want to skip the next paragraph...or three.

OK, so we all remember what the Internet is, right? A set of diverse interconnected computer networks, using various standard protocols to make it all work. The two we need to think about here are the Internet Protocol (IP) and the Border Gateway Protocol, BGP. IP specifies how Internet traffic is broken down into packets - discrete messages - and how these are routed between the networks. Routers receive packets and forward them to routers nearer their destination, usually preferring the shortest path. This routing is stateless - each packet is treated as if it was the first - and nondeterministic, so all the packets in one session of some higher-level protocol could theoretically take different routes to their goal. This is why the Internet is capable of routing around a cable break.

But where does the router get its information from? How does it know which of the routers it can see is nearest to an arbitrary destination? Well, it looks this information up in a list, called a routing table; but where does it get the list from? This is where you need BGP, and specifically External BGP or eBGP. Remember that the Internet is all about the relationship between autonomous but interconnected networks; BGP deals with how the router at the point of interconnection between two networks behaves. It announces to everyone it can hear which blocks of IP addresses are behind it, and they announce to it which blocks they have a route for. And this happens further down the track; a third network beyond the second will be informed that you are there.

The effect is to distribute around the Internet a complete routing table. It can and always does contain multiple routes to many networks; this is OK. Various rules exist for choosing one of multiple routes, and network engineers spend a lot of time tweaking them to get things *just right*. Three things are not OK - you must never announce someone else's route unless they announce it to you, you must never announce an address that isn't globally unique, and a route must never form a loop. Announcements, once made, can either be withdrawn, or they can expire after a pre-set period of time.

OK, techie readers can start reading again. With this in mind, you should know that any router that has a full routing table knows where everyone else is and who's reachable; if someone loses all connectivity, the Internet will know at the latest when the announcement expires and they disappear. So, if you're as smart as the people at Renesys, you know that Iran is not disconnected from the Internet because they're still sending BGP announcements to the world. In fact, Iran wasn't in the top 10 countries by lost networks. Neither did Stanford's Confluence project notice anything.

But but but but! Wasn't it the USS Jimmy Carter? The special submarine that can go down and fiddle with them? Eh? Eh?

Well, the Carter is a very special boat; but one thing she is not is a time machine, so there was no way she could have cut two cables off Alexandria and then another in the Strait of Hormuz in two days. Or perhaps she is? Powered by the Holly Hop Drive, like enough. Or...was it Al-Qa'ida? Or the Russians? Or the Chinese? Or the Canadian Menace?

Unlikely; think of the co-ordination implied by getting ships to the right places unnoticed. And it wouldn't be enough just to randomly drop the hook - the chances of nailing all three seem pathetic without using divers. And here we are parting company with the realities of conspiracy. Further, various governments have or could get the capability to fiddle with cables, probably by chartering a cable ship; realistically, though, doing more than one at a time would have been tough as there are only a very few cable ships in the world. (Here's FLAG's estimated times to repair; note that they have to wait for one ship to finish another job.)

But but but but but! Isn't it incredibly unlikely for something like this to happen? Well, it doesn't happen every day, put it like that. It does happen every day on land, though; people are always putting pneumatic drills and diggers and stuff through telecoms equipment. Anyway, this is a logical fallacy; it's like the smartarse who claims they carry a bomb every time they get on a plane, because the chance of there being two bombs is tiny. You can't add up independent probabilities; damage to a cable off Alexandria doesn't somehow protect cables elsewhere.

Further, when was the last time four major submarine cables were severed? Well, not much more than a year ago, after an earthquake in the Taiwan Strait; it took weeks to fix. So what is going on?

The short answer is Lord Fisher's; five strategic keys lock up the world, Dover, Gibraltar, Suez, Singapore, and Cape Town. He was of course talking ships, but the same geography and economics work for cables; it's actually easier to lay cable at sea (no land to buy; no backhoes; no interfering nosey parkers), so cables go there. Once you're at sea, of course, the geography will tend to make you follow the shipping routes like it makes the ships follow them. And the markets are cities, which are very often ports - so you've got to go to the same places. All of which means that cables pile up in exactly the same places where the ships do, which also tend to be shallow.

Hence both FLAG and SEA-ME-WE3 and 4 follow the old imperial seaway down the Mediterranean, over the Suez isthmus, down the Red Sea, and across the Indian Ocean via Bombay, Colombo, the Malacca Strait (or across the isthmus at Penang for FLAG), into Singapore and Hong Kong. Neal Stephenson wrote wonderfully about the building of FLAG for Wired; all fifty-six pages of it are here, and his remarks on the British Empire, submarine cables, and the role of Kew Gardens as part of the infrastructure of national power are probably unimprovable. Everyone links to that one, though; not so many to Rudyard Kipling's poem about telecoms infrastructure.

SAT3-WASC-SAFE takes the clipper route down the Atlantic, swings round the Cape, and ends up in Singapore as well. Literally dozens of cables run through the narrow seas around Western Europe; another mass of 'em leave the western UK and Brittany, and head through the South-Western Approaches on the great circle route to North America. Southern Cross takes the same route as the 1920s British Cable from Canada to New Zealand, in order to link Australia and New Zealand with, well, everyone else.

The Guardian atoned for writing a really awful article - they confused routers with DNS servers, and appeared ignorant of the existence of national roots or of the huge developments since the 1990s in DNS resilience (F-Root is actually 40-odd physical machines using anycasting, under which any one of them responds to requests for f.root-servers.net and the first to answer handles the query) - by paying the money to the good folks at Telegeography to use their fantastic cable maps. These are one of those things that usually I can enjoy because it's my job and you can't, but the Grauniad has made the map publically available: and here it is. Get the picture, as they say. If you still think this is Teh War With Iran, by the way, you might want to check out this map from TAE.

However, that map is like the Tube map; it links the landing stations, but doesn't show exact routes, which are tightly held information. But this blog gives you more; here's a chart (PDF) of the cables in the South-West Approaches prepared for fishermen, in a hopeless bid to keep them from dragging nets across the wires. You'll notice that there are a hell of a lot, they cross each other frequently, and they often get broken and repaired. You'll also notice that the realities of geography don't change - the Soviet General Staff used to call them the permanently operating factors.

Update: A six-tonne anchor has been found at the scene of the crime.

Update Update: Earl Zmijewski at Renesys blogs further and more.
I'm going to start with a word of caution: this will be the most technical of our discussions so far.
You say that like it's a bad thing. Seriously, the Renesys team rarely update their blog, but when they do every bit is choice. Read the whole thing. Me, I reckon the squid are building an internetwork down there and they're doing an experiment on ours to find out how it works.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Sunday Giant Stranded Ship Blogging

Remember Monday Stranded Giant Container Ship Blogging?

Outsourced to Ship of the Day.


If this ZDNet story means what it seems to, Microsoft is looking at Python in the browser. Now there's interesting...a Python Internet Environment, PIE for short?

The King called up his jet pilots; he said you'd better earn your pay


Russian air force out again, in some strength; and exercising a whole range of types, including the White Swan...sorry...Tu-160 BLACKJACK, BEAR, BACKFIRE, and MiG31 and Su27 fighters into the bargain, to say nothing of jet tankers. For people who aren't making a political point, they certainly look like it.

Meanwhile, the French Air Force has deployed a flight of Mirage 2000 fighters to Iceland under the NATO agreement; obviously no connection there.

Blogging Rugby League; Big Kickoff

More of a note than anything else, but yesterday was kick-off day for Rugby League; Keighley were off to Whitehaven today in the Northern Rail Cup, which sounds like it's going to be colder than cold and proverbially long.

I've noticed some reasonable blogs around: Treiziste Diary, Times Online RL, TGG. Though how anyone could have come up with a "team to watch" including the current GB no.7 beats me.


Liberal health policy. Apparently there's to be a blogger Q&A about this on Tuesday; it looks roughly OK to me, although I'd like to see us offering something genuinely radical like converting some trusts into co-ops. Interesting question; how could that interwork with Clegg's elected health boards?

Small groups and big systems

This story about the US Democrats, and specifically the Obama campaign, and their strategy based on small, autonomous campaign groups working from a honking gurt database of voters, hooks into something I've been thinking recently; in all kinds of fields, it's all about big enabling systems that small autonomous organisations can benefit from. This is some of the thinking we're using at Telco 2.0.

Compare this story on the US Army's monster computer project that is meant to do everything and make your brews while quietly optimising the genome of passing dogs, or something along those lines; I'm not sure whether it's doomed because it includes over 63.7 million lines of code, or whether it's doomed because they reckon counting lines is a sensible metric at the level of the whole project. "Code is not produced, it is spent", as they say.

This Hit & Run post gives me the feeling that Rudy Giuliani's campaign may have been the last great TV politics campaign, the direct opposite of the kind of thing discussed in the first link; buying votes with junkmail and ad spending.

The Defence Crisis; BAE Are Still Hopeless

It appears that the defence procurement stories we've been tracking are coming to a head. Recently, it emerged that the Astute SSN, Nimrod MRA4, and T-45 destroyer projects are going significantly overbudget again; the first two of these are, of course, the ones that were already £800 million over budget and several years later. The common factor in them is of course that BAE is the prime contractor in all three. BAE has been the owner of the Vickers submarine yard in Barrow and the Govan and Scotstoun shipyards on the Clyde since 1999; Nimrod is a legacy of Hawker Siddeley and for that matter of De Havilland, and the job is being done at BAE Woodford.

Chuck in the fact that we're still not cutting steel on the carriers - which, at an estimate £3.9bn, start to look positively cheap - and that the Army's FRES vehicle project has still not produced any actual vehicles, and is now costed at £14bn (!!!), and it's clear that the UK's defence policy is in ruins. There are a number of reasons for this; the first is a history of disastrous management back to the 1980s. The second is the decision to let BAE buy the GEC-Marconi defence businesses in 1999. The third is Iraq, of course; I-bloody-raq.

Recap; spending as a percentage of GDP was pushed up towards a target of 5 per cent in the 1980s, which should have seen the armed forces superbly equipped for some time to come. How this didn't happen would require a small book, but there were a string of horrible procurement fiascos. There were the whole succession of cost-sucking redesigns to what became Eurofighter, a wedge of electronic systems which all went wildly over budget, the failed Nimrod AEW3 airborne early-warning aircraft, the decision to buy the SA80 rifle in order to privatise Royal Ordnance; but there was surprisingly little output from all that money. Projects became eternal; MRA4 has its genesis in the "Nimrod 2000", whose title should tell you how long ago it began.

Then, on the boom came the crash; in the expenditure-constrained 90s, the MOD was asked to a) deliver a peace dividend and b) complete its equipment projects, two things that could obviously not both happen. Also, more and more gear was coming up for renewal; the VC10 tankers, the Sea Harrier, the CVS carriers, the T42 destroyer, the Swiftsure and Trafalgar class submarines, the Clansman radio system. By the mid-90s, the UK was facing a mammoth block-obsolescence problem, worsened by the lack of progress on several key European projects like the Future Large Aircraft (now the Airbus A400M, and still not here).

The solution was meant to be the Strategic Defence Review launched by the first Blair government; this was the first since the Cold War to actually review strategy rather than the budget alone. It concluded that the least likely form of war was the one the military was still designed for, a NATO Central Front battle against the Red Army; peacekeeping, intervention, or whatever might be required anywhere in the world. Their answer involved pushing on with the big kit projects, and specifically more amphibious and support shipping, two large aircraft carriers, and attack helicopters to support light troops. They also wanted to look into the possibilities of finding a more deployable armoured vehicle; this became FRES.

We'll come back to SDR; what happened next was that GEC-Marconi, under the brilliant guidance of John Mayo and George Simpson, decided to get rid of all its non-telecoms businesses and its pile of cash. The government was conflicted; on the one hand, it was Blair, and they didn't want to interfere. On the other hand, there was an attachment to the idea of a national champion; what was really wanted was scepticism at the prospect of a monopoly supplier of almost all the Forces' equipment. Increasingly, I think permitting the merger was one of the worst decisions of the Blair years; it facilitated Mayo and Simpson running Marconi into the ground, it left the government negotiating with a monopolist arms maker, and it let BAE's management culture infect another chunk of industry. BAE's deep history goes back to the government-pushed mergers in the aviation industry in the 1960s; the idea was that the companies needed to build scale to finance R&D, but what tended to happen with each one was that the top management demanded they keep their empires, and what got dropped were half the development projects. It didn't help that investment in civilian work mostly went into Concorde at BAC; rather than developing new products, the business became one of angling for huge government contracts that took 20 years to work through. One of the component parts, English Electric, had had the engineering motto "when in doubt build a demonstrator"; there would be no more of that at BAE. The decision not to participate in Airbus until 1977 was another contributory factor, as was the Tony Benn-driven merger between BAC and Hawker Siddeley. And the years of easy, Al-Yamamah funded 80s success...well.

Having bought out the GEC-Marconi defence businesses, BAE began preparing to seek its fortune in the US; the big strategic aim was to get Boeing to buy them, generating big bucks for the board. So, all the interesting bits of the company were shut down or hived off; just as a huge boom in regional jets began, development of the RJX was killed off and the line at Woodford shutdown. Canadair and Embraer of Brazil seized the day. Just as a boom in business jets began, the business jet operation was sold to Raytheon, where it is doing very nicely. Even the name was changed from British Aerospace to BAE Systems in order to remove the word British and the impression that aeroplanes were one of its products; at least they didn't choose another of the options that floated around Farnborough at the time, "Millenium Aerospace".

Meanwhile, SDR went on its way. The Army was reorganised, losing some heavy armour and forming another light brigade; the 24 Airmobile and 5 Airborne Brigades were rolled into 16th Air Assault, all helicopters placed in an integrated command, as were the Navy and RAF Harriers. This was the easy stuff; everywhere the policy met BAE, though, there was trouble. (To be fair, the BOWMAN radio project, which wasn't one of theirs, was pretty crap too.) The T-45 destroyers, Eurofighters, submarines, and Nimrods took longer and longer and sucked up ever more money; FRES went nowhere.

And then we found ourselves in a war, which saw all kinds of chickens darken the skies coming home to roost. It was time to decide whether the Government wanted its wars, its equipment, or its budget; they decided not to decide, and from this point on the kit projects were competing for the same pie as the war. Further, BAE now realised that the Americans weren't capital exporters any more, and began buying everything they could in the States, which meant they began showing up in all kinds of other stuff; radios and vehicles, not just aircraft and ships. The impact on FRES was serious. This was skinned over by "capability gapping"; letting things go and putting off the replacements. But now, we're seeing the replacements on the other side of the gap sliding right, and there is little we can do about some of them; the RAF and Fleet Air Arm's future is predicated on the F-35, which is being squeezed for funding in the US and is also the target of a Boeing kibosh attempt. This means that the air defence capability gap opened by the decision to retire the Sea Harrier FA2 may be open-ended; like the bankers' distinction between a bridging loan and a "pier loan".

It's time for big decisions; will we get'em? More to the point, will they be good ones? What is especially depressing is that not only does Gordon Brown have heavy responsibility for wildly stupid things like the vehicles that were sold, bought back for SAIF SAREEFA II, sold, bought back for Afghanistan, sold, bought back for Iraq, sold, and bought back for Afghanistan, and the tanker PFI, but the Conservatives have shown absolutely no credibility or even comprehension of the position.

Mirrorball: Paul Staines and those "Liberals"

The consistently superb Bartholomew's notes on religion has published extensive details about Paul De L'Aire Staines, various old friends, and South Africa. As it seems inevitable that he will fire off a nastygram at any moment, readers are asked to mirror the text in the interests of public enlightenment; I've dropped it in the comments.

You may recall that Staines himself is on record as saying that he visited Johannesburg and UNITA-held areas of Angola in the late 1980s whilst working for fun-lovin' zillionaire David Hart, where he met with people including UNITA, Afghans, and Nicaraguan Contras. More recently, in comments over here, he specifically denied having any truck with apartheid or John Carlisle MP and claimed to have been "working with the liberals". This was itself somewhat interesting, as the Liberal Party of South Africa had dissolved itself in 1968 rather than accept the demands of the regime.

Of course, there were people in South Africa who could have been described as liberal; Helen Suzman springs to mind. When this blog contacted a white ANC member from the period who was involved in organising meetings between white liberal groups and the ANC leadership in exile, he stated that he never had any dealings with David Hart, in terms that rather suggested neither party would have wanted to.

The various organisations involved seem to have been far more interested in the Inkatha Freedom Party; and this is where it gets really interesting. It was Buthulezi who Jack Abramoff - for it is he! - organised US rightwing student support for. This support was channelled through, among other things, the International Freedom Federation, which turns out (and which turned out during Abramoff's own disgrace) to be funded by the South African state. It in turn funded the "Mozambique Solidarity Campaign" (that's solidarity with Renamo, for the avoidance of doubt), which provided offices to the "International Society for Human Rights".

Further, Paul Staines' solicitor Donal Blaney's writings at Conservative Home throw some light on the continued relevance of these links; here we are, in February, 2006.
During 2001 and 2002 I visited the United States five times. I had a series of meetings with the Heritage Foundation, the Leadership Institute, the American Conservative Union and the Young America's Foundation after being inspired by seeing Chief Buthelezi, Dick Cheney, Jesse Helms, Charlton Heston, J C Watts, David Trimble and Benjamin Netanyahu at the 2001 CPAC conference...

One of Paul Staines' other gigs has been, in the past, the Globalisation Institute; it's therefore fascinating to see it cited as one of Blaney's examples of new front organisations for the Tory Right.

Since the founding of YBF in 2003, a genuine conservative movement has begun to develop and I for one find this exciting. I am delighted that Francis Maude understands its importance, as evidenced by his decision to send Tim Montgomerie to Washington to see what, if anything, the Party can learn from the US conservative movement. The formation of activist groups such as the Taxpayers' Alliance, blogs such as conservativehome.com and issue-based groups such as the Globalisation Institute is essential for the Party to win in 2009. Relying on a swing in the political pendulum or for the Party alone to secure a Conservative victory in 2009 is not an option. A true conservative movement is the only answer.

Returning to our theme, I can't imagine what possible purpose Buthulezi's appearance served, other than as a reminder of the good old days; he is now one of the world's most irrelevant politicians. But in Stainesworld, an obsession with Southern Africa, or rather its past, is a calling card; just check out how often commenters at order-order.com use terms like "ZaNuLabour" or otherwise accuse the Government of being something like as bad as Robert Mugabe. It goes deeper, of course; Boris Johnson made just this accusation against Stephen Byers back in 2001. They're addicted. You would have thought that someone as punctilious about legality as Staines would exercise a more stringent control of comments.

You'd also think the Conservative Party itself might have some doubts about relying for its web strategy on Blaney in his capacity as a director of Doughty Media Ltd. (as in 18DoughtyStreet.com). After all, this is the guy who asks
Maybe I drank too much rum when I was living abroad for the past two years?

Maybe in time I will wake up from this horrible dream, this nightmare, in which the political party that gave us Churchill and Thatcher – the political creed that gave us Reagan and is still adhered to by John Howard and Stephen Harper – have been discarded by David Cameron in what increasingly seems to me to be nothing more than a naked push for power at any price, without any regard for political principle or the true needs of the vast majority of voters.

And further...

Learning that the views of Winston Churchill have been discarded in favour of those of Polly Toynbee – who has been wrong on every single issue that’s mattered for the past quarter century – fills me with such a sense of dread that I am wondering more and more whether David Cameron is actually really a conservative at all.
The Tories; reliably a snakepit of backstabbing.

Leave aside that Winston Churchill nationalised BP, introduced wages councils and unemployment insurance, commissioned the Beveridge Report, led the fight for the People's Budget against the diehard Tories, wanted to abolish the House of Lords and repeatedly refused a peerage, and spent most of his career in the Liberal Party; I don't see anything in that policy program Polly would disagree with. In fact, you could make a case that, indeed, the Tories under David Cameron are closer to Winston in terms of social policy than any Tories since Harold MacMillan.

And, having fought in the Boer War and drafted a democratic constitution for South Africa, you could also say that Winston was, indeed, a South African Liberal. Just not in the same way.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Iain Dale is Frankly Ridiculous

Off to Washington
Iain Dale 11:24 AM

Just getting on the plane. No comments can be moderated until around 10pm. Have a nice day!

Directly beneath this missive is the following HONKING GREAT AD:

Mind you, the ability to be in favour of aeroplanes but not runways is pretty much constitutive of post-1979 British Conservatism. Or is he travelling in an air-refuelled V-22 Osprey, funded by the Young Britons' Foundation in partnership with MessageSpace and nothing whatsoever to do with the Heritage Foundation?

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