Sunday, November 30, 2008

Iraq withdrawal; what about the Iraqi employees?

Strangely, there has been little mention in the media that the Government is talking Iraq withdrawal blues again. It's being mentioned in news reports, in passing, as if this was certain already; the dates mentioned are some time next year. Well, that's all good; but this of course raises the question of Iraqi employees. We know some have been brought to the UK; we don't know how many are left. Also, of course, there are many more among the refugees suffering across the Middle East, as this ICG report makes clear.

The situation may be better at a macro-level than it was last year; but it's the micro-economics of violence these people have to fear. Assassination, not battle. And it seems that you can hire a killer in Basra for $100. There is apparently a wave of honour killings on; but you wouldn't imagine that someone who will stab women for coins would blink at shooting foreign "spies".

UAV cost scissors watch

I've long been sceptical of the UAV future. Basically, back in 2005, I reckoned that as the things get more complicated their advantages over manned aircraft disappear; the biggest advantage is that they are meant to be expendable, and things that are expendable get expended. Therefore the loss rate is much higher, both from enemy action and from accidents. As they get more expensive (the RAF's new ones actually cost more than the list price of a Tornado), this must mean that their advantages will be eroded. Another issue is the satcomms requirement; therefore, I thought, the successful ones would be the cheapest and most basic, as far as possible controlled directly by ground forces rather than people at Nellis Air Force Base.

Now, looky here. Yes, it's Lewis "The navy only needs two ships" Page, but the story checks out. The British Army, and also the RAF, have been buying twin-engine light aircraft to fit out as advanced tactical reconnaissance platforms. Specifically, we're dealing with a Canadian plane called a Twin Star, prized for its highly efficient diesel engines which give it a very long endurance. This is also likely to be used for the missions flown by Army Islanders over the UK at the moment from Northolt.

a network of friendly militias

Packer vs. Kilcullen in the New Yorker. Here's the key paragraph:
Police are another main issue. We have built the Afghan police into a less well-armed, less well-trained version of the Army and launched them into operations against the insurgents. Meanwhile, nobody is doing the job of actual policing—rule of law, keeping the population safe from all comers (including friendly fire and coalition operations), providing justice and dispute resolution, and civil and criminal law enforcement. As a consequence, the Taliban have stepped into this gap; they currently run thirteen law courts across the south, and ninety-five per cent of the work of these courts is civil law, property disputes, criminal matters, water and grazing disuptes, inheritances etc.—basic governance things that the police and judiciary ought to be doing, but instead they’re out in the countryside chasing bad guys. Where governance does exist, it is seen as corrupt or exploitative, in many cases, whereas the people remember the Taliban as cruel but not as corrupt.

Beyond that, I was struck by how much the Gesamteindruck of the whole thing reminded me of the sort of thing John Vann was saying in 1969 or thereabouts - it's still possible, really it is, and we can probably find a reduction in the number of troops at the same time by realigning completely around a classical counterinsurgency strategy. Kilcullen is hardly optimistic, but he's still desperately committed. (I think I've mentioned before that A Bright Shining Lie was this blog's secret sauce right back to 2003, when Donald Rumsfeld was still denying there were insurgents in Iraq.)

Now, consider this story; first of all, the Indian navy was being lionised for giving a pirate vessel the good old sturm und drang off Somalia and chastening the eurosexual NATO-weenies. It was like 2006 and the Ethiopian army all over again. However, it was only a few hours before it turned out that the Indians had sunk a Thai trawler which they apparently mistook for a pirate mothership - effectively, they saw a funny looking fisherman and just executed 14 people. Now, it's very true that foreign trawlers are a big part of the problem. Perhaps the international naval patrol could do something about it, if it can find the ships whilst also dealing with pirates.

But this is no way to do anything; I've pointed out before that the recent history of Islamist movements shows that given the choice, people will choose law in general over lawlessness.
Given the choice of what is marketed as order without law, but which as always turns out to be chaos, and some sort of legal order, the people pick the latter.
We're still offering them the Behemoth; we're on the wrong side of history, supporting the pirates, Viktor Bout, and a world of bent coppers. The upshot, as Arif Rafiq observes in an instant classic post, is that Pakistan is being turned into Iraq.

Is this the CIA? Is this the IRA? Is this the UDA? No, it’s the Grauniad…

An interesting document was turned up in the course of the row about John Brennan, the CIA officer who was the Obama team's original choice as intelligence chief before he was dropped as being insufficiently opposed to torture, under a volley of criticism from the blogosphere. ("Opposition was mostly confined to liberal blogs," said the NYT.) Here's an interview he did with PBS television.
[INTERVIEWER]:Just before 9/11, in that summer and the spring, how hard was Tenet pushing on the terrorism threat?

[BRENNAN]:I think he was pushing at every opportunity he had. ... George and [former CTC Director] Cofer [Black] were very much of a mind-set that we can't sit back and wait; we need to do things. We need to do things in Afghanistan. We need to go after Al Qaeda. We need to ratchet up the pressure on the Taliban.

George took several trips out to Saudi Arabia and other places to try to gain support from the Arab states to try to put pressure on the Taliban to give up bin Laden and others. George would knock on any door. He would pursue any course. I think what he was trying to do, prior to 9/11, was to make sure the administration was focused on that.

[INTERVIEWER]: And were they?

I think they were aware of the issue. I don't think they, in fact, appreciated the seriousness of it, because I think they were trying to get their ducks in a line on a number of fronts to include Iraq prior to 9/11.
You heard the guy - they didn't appreciate the threat from Al-Qa'ida because they were busy ginning-up a war with Iraq. And who was responsible for this?

[INTERVIEWER]: When did you get the first hints ... that there was this movement in the direction of Iraq ...?

[BRENNAN]: The train started to leave the station before the election of 2000, with the neocons putting things out. There was a real focus that we needed to do something about Iraq. It was gaining momentum and strength. And with [Iraqi National Congress founder Ahmad] Chalabi and [former Defense Policy Board Chairman Richard] Perle and others feeding those fires, I do think they just had a complete lack of understanding of the complexity of doing something like that.

They're very outspoken and vocal about the need to take action. It's easy to execute; if there is criticism that is being made of this administration, [it] is that the decision to take action is only part of the challenge. It's the follow-through; it's the strategic planning afterward. Those areas really need to be paid attention to, because the U.S. military [has] no problem as far as just decimating the Iraqi army, but the people like Chalabi and the other neocons, and people like [then-Undersecretary of Defense for Policy] Doug Feith, who I think has a very superficial understanding of some of these issues -- I don't know how much time Doug Feith has spent in the Middle East or in Iraq, but it's a very, very complex society.

Miaow. So catty you could throw him a ball of wool!

[INTERVIEWER, talking about Paul Pilar and the Iraq NIE]: He told us that ... even at the time, he wasn't aware about how politicized it was, but he was -- especially as he looks back on it, especially around the "white paper" -- really embarrassed, I think is the word he used at how faulty it was. Did it feel that way at the time, or does it just look that way in hindsight?

[BRENNAN]: At the time there were a lot of concerns that it was being politicized by certain individuals within the administration that wanted to get that intelligence base that would justify going forward with the war.

[INTERVIEWER]: Could I ask you who?

Some of the neocons that you refer to were determined to make sure that the intelligence was going to support the ultimate decision.
Ah, I see. The facts were being fixed around the policy. The intelligence was being, ah, sexed up. Recognising this ought to be the criterion of seriousness for anyone seeking a post in the intelligence/foreign policy complex, or indeed anything else. That Brennan does so and says so openly is a very strong mark in his favour, as is this:

That's where the issue of maintaining an independent intelligence organization is so critically important, because departments have certain policy objectives and goals. If you have a department such as the Department of Defense that controls the intelligence function as well, there is a great potential for that intelligence to be skewed, either wittingly or unwittingly, in support of policy objectives.

Yes. Yes. Which is also why it's important to maintain a independent career-path there, like it is in the civil service. I was very surprised to learn that had Brennan been appointed, he would have been a rare bird as a career spook in charge of The Community. Mind you, the three best MI5 chiefs - Guy Liddell, David Petrie, and Martin Furnival-Jones, in my opinion - were respectively an army officer, a cop, and a professional spook, so British experience doesn't necessarily corroborate this.

Clearly it was right to drop him; but it worries me that getting rid of the neocons and torture fans will require people who are a) clued-in about the intelligence service, b) committed to cleaning up, c) ruthless bureaucratic thugs, and if possible d) personally untainted.

Regarding intelligence and independence, meanwhile, this blog has often said that one of the main reasons why the UK got involved in all this is that we don't have an independent reconnaissance satellite capability. Out of the major powers in Europe, the UK, Spain and Italy went to the war; neither the UK nor Spain has an imagery satellite, and Italy launched one jointly with France a few months after Iraq. France and Germany both have their own synthetic-aperture radar sats, and didn't go to the war. Poland, Romania, et al have large armies but no recce capability and they went.

But perhaps this isn't as significant as it used to be. It appears that The Guardian is the first newspaper to become an independent space-faring power. Seriously.
From a vantage point 423 miles above the Earth, the lawless waters of the Gulf of Aden appear tranquil and the 330-metre-long ship sitting low under a £68m cargo looks like a tiny green cigar floating on an inky ocean.

These pictures, taken by a satellite commissioned by the Guardian and hurtling over Africa at four miles a second, show the Sirius Star, the Saudi supertanker which 12 days ago became the biggest prize ever seized by the Somali pirates who have claimed the Gulf of Aden as their hunting ground.
I love the "commissioned by the Guardian and hurtling over Africa at four miles a second" bit. That's incredibly science-fiction, and in a good way - Arthur C. Clarke would be delighted. This has been possible for some time; who else remembers poring over's IKONOS or DigitalGlobe shot of the day in the bullshit-rockin' autumn of 2001? But as far as I know, this is the first attempt by a media organisation to acquire overhead imagery on an operational timescale. Hey, it's Tim Worstall's worst nightmare - Polly Toynbee in spaaace!

What might have happened or not happened had somebody tried this earlier is a very interesting question. Of course, finding the Sirius Star is a fairly easy challenge - we know where to look, she is a huge and unambiguous target, and she is nicely contrasting with the sea in a part of the world where the skies are usually clear. We still need SAR capability of our own, quite possibly more than we need Trident, and IKONOS won't sell you that.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

the world's deadliest novel strikes again

Quite a score for our reader "Ajay", who I think is the first to spot that the Mumbai terrorist attack bears a very close resemblance to the coup plot in Frederick Forsyth's The Dogs of War, which makes it the third and possibly fourth case of someone actually using Forsyth's book as a practical handbook. The exact number depends on whether you believe the story that Forsyth actually took part in planning a coup in Equatorial Guinea in 1977 which didn't go ahead, and recycled the work he did on it as a novel. Forsyth now semi-confesses to this, but this may be self-publicity from a man who was, after all, sacked from the BBC for making up the news.

Certainly, however, the so-called "Wonga Coup" team in Equatorial Guinea read the book, Mike Hoare's "Froth Blowers' Society" attack on the Seychelles apparently issued a copy to every participant, and now this. How does, say, Curzio Malaparte's Theory of the Coup d'Etat compare to that? Forsyth can probably claim that more people have died as a direct result of his book than any other book not written by an economist.

In fact it's closer than you might think; the Grauniad, whose coverage of the whole incident was excellent, has a neat map you might want to consult. Apparently, two of the Zodiacs used were found at the north end of Back Bay, on the west/left hand side of the map; this suggests the attack plan was very close indeed to Forsyth's. There are two groups of targets, and each group is fairly close to a beach on that side of the peninsula, even though some of them are closer to the east (harbour) side. But doing it this way saves navigating around the headland and keeps away from the main port, where you could expect a police presence.

View Larger Map

Very roughly, it's about 2,050 feet from each of two landing spots near the targets to a point exactly half-way across the entrance of the bay, so you'd know when to set course - this is exactly how the mercenaries in TDOW set up their attack, launching further out to sea in a big group and using the ship as a mark to lay their course to the jumping-off point, which they identify by a transit between two landmarks. Of course, there are plenty of buildings they could line up to identify this waypoint laterally (the Wankhede Stadium looks like a candidate).

Politically, this implies that the "Deccan Mujahideen" weren't from Deccan at all - otherwise, as someone pointed out, they'd just have taken the train in. Clearly they needed to cross a border, or else the ship and the Zodiacs would have been just more moving parts. This also suggests that they couldn't rely on getting arms in India. I wonder what they did with the ship? One option would be to have her sink; another for her to sail quietly on, although the chances of getting away wouldn't be great.

There was worrying reporting that a Pakistani merchant ship had been stopped by the Indian navy but fortunately, if you like your Ganges without plutonium, a search of the ship revealed nothing suspicious.

There's another question - this wasn't designed as a suicide attack. Suicide attackers have no need of false papers, cash, and certainly not credit cards:
A bag found in the Taj Mahal hotel contained 400 rounds of ammunition, grenades, identity cards, rations, $1,000 (£650) in cash and international credit cards, indicating a meticulously planned operation.
That certainly sounds like the equipment of someone who at least wanted to keep the option of escape open, and of course we have little idea how many people landed. It was quite possibly a suicidal mission, but that's not the same thing. The special horror here was that the violence was dispersed and prolonged; it happened all over the place, and it kept happening.

This of course carries some information as to what kind of group carried it out. Clearly, they weren't the sort of people who you recruit because all you need is someone to carry the bomb. They had to take independent action, and they had to sustain their will over an extended period of time. Good relations between India and Pakistan don't really provide much net information; when things are bad, you'd expect terrorism, and when things are good there are people who want them to be bad again.

Meanwhile, the Dogs of War parallel holds in another way - the mercenaries' exit strategy is the weakest bit of the plot, and had it been put into action the endgame would probably have been a lot like the last day or so in Mumbai, with the coupsters being gradually picked off around the presidential palace as they ran out of time, ammunition and ideas.

Friday, November 28, 2008

a short film about killing turkeys

The Rude Pundit has a very good point.
You can't even picture Obama pardoning a fucking turkey. Sure, he'll probably do it. But unlike Bush, who approached such obligations with dunce-like glee, for Obama it'll be like a kick in the groin.
As usual with Rude, there's a serious point here, sneaking past the guards while all the noise and snark and chainsaw dust draw their attention. Pardoning a turkey is, let's face it, exactly the kind of stupid crap most British people look at as just the kind of stupid crap Americans get up to. Can you imagine a British prime minister trying this? He or she would be laughed out of the country; probably they'd end up doing a John Profumo and choosing a life of deliberate monkish obscurity.

But it's not just ridiculous; it's morally repellent and politically more than dubious. After all, what is the turkey's crime? Being a turkey? Pardon implies that you committed a crime, and also that you were punished by some legitimate authority, which has now offered you mercy out of the goodness of its heart. It's a sort of reversed sacrifice - rather than killing a goat to expiate your sins, it's not killing a turkey so as to go off and eat millions of 'em with a clean conscience.

Pardon is also interesting because it can't be separated from executive power. To pardon someone means that the head of state decided, whatever the law happened to be, whatever the judiciary thought of the case, whatever the jury thought of the evidence, just to intervene and make an exception. It's only possible, after all, because the executive has the power to execute. It also means that the executive agreed to all the other executions; what, after all, would happen if the president pardoned everyone? That would be about as likely as pardoning all the turkeys. Executive clemency is the flip side of executive cruelty. (Note, of course, that a British prime minister isn't the head of state.)

It's therefore a profoundly anti-rational, authoritarian custom; no wonder it's a holdover from absolute monarchy. And this, I think, is what worries me about this ceremony - it's the sacralisation of the executive branch. Like the King's touch for scrofula. (He can even un-turkey a turkey!) No wonder, as Rude so wisely points out, Bush loves it.

Before we go on, here's a video from Talking Points Memo in which you can see both Bush doing the turkey thing and also Sarah Palin's now-notorious performance in which she pardoned a turkey while a worker slaughtered turkeys in the background. It will help your comparative turkeyology to watch closely.

Now, what about the well-known cockup in Alaska? A couple of points come to mind. For a start, as befits an anti-rationalist movement, neoconservatism has no culture of competence. They never run anything; their natural habitat is the thinktank, the university campus, the elite circle. Hence the Schlamperei that follows them around, like a drugfuddled burglar in a darkened room full of gym equipment. Of course they'd fuck it up - even in Washington, Bush managed to grant the bird a "full unconditional unconditional pardon".

The second is that perhaps they aren't trying. Looking back, when did they lie convincingly? The case for war was based not on lies, but on the unwillingness to confront the lies. Later, on things like torture and mass surveillance, they moved beyond this and simply admitted the facts while denying the form. Yes, we waterboarded the guy and pulled your call-detail records - are you with the terrorists? Of course, we do not support torture or illegal surveillance. In a very real sense, they were pardoning turkeys in front of the slaughter live on TV all the time.

further Osbornewatch

Back in the spring of 1997, the sterling trade-weighted index stood at 93, exactly the average since 1990, and the deficit (PSBR at the time) was 8% of GDP (See note). This, according to the Conservative Party, was a golden legacy Labour were squandering. Now, the sterling trade-weighted index is at 93, exactly the average since 1990, and the Treasury is forecasting a deficit (PSNCR this time) of 8% of GDP. This, according to the Conservative Party, is national bankruptcy, brought about by the Labour Party for its own inscrutable ends (dog whistle: they're all communists).

Further, according to the Conservative Party, the State should establish "an institution to lend to small businesses". (Hey, we could call it the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation, or maybe the National Enterprise Board - that one has just the right sound to it, no?) Let's recap: first of all, the Bank of England was right to lend taxpayers' money to Northern Rock. Then the Government was wrong to do so. Then the Government was wrong to nationalise Northern Rock because it put taxpayers' money at risk, and (dog whistle) they're secretly plotting to take over all the banks. Instead, the Government should have the Bank of England pay for it because its funds suddenly weren't taxpayers' money any more. The same procedure was followed for Bradford & Bingley, but the Conservative Party also held that there was no need for this because everything was really OK.

Then it turned out to be not OK at all, and for a while the Conservative Party kept schtum. The Government came up with a plan, which was rapidly taken up by every other OECD nation, to (essentially) underwrite an absolutely huge rescue rights issue for several banks, to guarantee wholesale interbank lending, and to top the whole lot off with a fiscal reflation. The Tories were silent. Now, with this actually in place, they are incoherent with rage; things are so bad, apparently, that the assets of NR, B&B, RBS, and HBOS are worth absolutely nothing and the interbank guarantees will all be called in (even though most of them will net-out). However, things are still not actually so bad that we need the reflation.

Now, apparently, although the Government should not be spending any taxpayer funds, it should also be lending them directly to industry to substitute the banks, which you will recall there is nothing wrong with, but which are also worthless.

On top of this, Private Finance Initiative costs are now, according to the Conservative Party which invented the things so as not to include them in the national debt, part of the national debt. If they really believed that, this would imply that Ken Clarke, John Redwood, Malcolm Rifkind, and William Hague should be drummed out of the party as a gang of fraudsters. Hey, they were plotting to conceal the government's true indebtedness in sinister Enronlike off-balance sheet vehicles!

All these funny figures are necessary to keep Gideon and Dave from PR from being caught deceiving the House of Commons. Why? Because he decided to say that the UK "has the debt levels of Italy". Italy has a national debt equal to 103% of GDP; the peak forecast figure for the UK is 57%. But if you torture the data enough, by reclassifying the PFIs, by deciding that all those square miles of Victorian terraces with HBOS mortgages don't keep the rain out any more, by capitalising all the future public pension liabilities (but strangely not the "unfunded nuclear missile liability" or the "unfunded tax break for Conservative client groups liability") you can kindasorta get there - if you have absolutely no intellectual integrity at all, that is. After all, if you did that, you'd have to do the same for the Italian public sector as well - and can you imagine what that balance sheet would look like if it had to roll up all those retired posties' pensions to an infinite horizon? If you want any more of this stuff, try Daniel Davies.

The ideal response to this is already available, thanks to Mark Easton of the BBC.
We might as well report that the date, 2008, is a record number of recorded years. More than in any other year since records began 2008 years ago. Beating by one the record held only last year, of 2007. And that if the trend continues we will see another record number of years recorded in the year as early as next year.

Bravo! Remind me why we have to put up with these fucking people. Meanwhile, for everything else, I think it would be better to spend more of this money on capital investments rather than a VAT cut. Which apparently puts me in harmony with the political party I'm a member of. Perhaps I should take maverick lessons.

Update: Mea maxima culpa. As part of our commitment to quality, I feel compelled to note that the figure of 8% of GDP, £46bn, was the government deficit at the peak in 1993-1994; it was down to £28bn in 1996-1997. It remains true that 8% now is no worse or better than 8% then.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

killed by the puppet forces, 2008

Oh dear, oh dear.
A redrawn map of South Asia has been making the rounds among Pakistani elites. It shows their country truncated, reduced to an elongated sliver of land with the big bulk of India to the east, and an enlarged Afghanistan to the west.

That the map was first circulated as a theoretical exercise in some U.S. neoconservative circles matters little here. It has fueled a belief among Pakistanis, including members of the armed forces, that what the United States really wants is the breakup of Pakistan, the only Muslim country with nuclear arms.

"One of the biggest fears of the Pakistani military planners is the collaboration between India and Afghanistan to destroy Pakistan," said a senior Pakistani government official involved in strategic planning who insisted on anonymity in accordance with diplomatic rules. "Some people feel the United States is colluding in this."..

The Herald Tribune is too polite to say it, for some reason, but we all know which map he's talking about. It's the one in this post, the one risible carta de'll oro wingnut Ralph Peters crapped into the public water supply back in October, 2006 in this article. The map is here; personally, I still can't get past the fact he proposed a complete re-drawing of every border in South-West Asia but couldn't bring himself to do anything about Palestine, but left it as "status undetermined". That's a hard one, Miss! Not fair!

Deeds have consequences, and so do words. Now, it looks like more people are going to die in northwestern Pakistan because of fucknuts Peters' shitty little effort. I guess he doesn't particularly care about Subedar Khan of the Frontier Corps, or his opposite number in the North Waziristan Not-The-Taliban; but didn't he give any thought to the actual US soldiers in ISAF Regional Command East? I often wonder whether blogs in general put too much time and effort into arguing with idiots. "Someone is wrong on the Internet", indeed.

But of course it's worth it; or the buggers will just keep ralphing away. Political maniacs of every stripe have a weird fondness for fantasy cartography - it's probably a relic of sympathetic magic, or else a sort of military cargo cult. If I stick pins in enough maps, perhaps someone will actually follow the orders.

Relatedly, it looks like some of the general enemy have also concluded that the e-mail bomber approach failed them in the presidential election campaign. I've described it elsewhere as an airpower theory approach to politics - you build a big centralised machine to deliver talking points, hurtling over an unresisting political landscape devoid of agency, and the best bit is that it's capital intensive. You don't need an army of volunteers - just money.
The GOP is the talk-radio party -- for the most part, it's centralized, top-down. Even though Rush Limbaugh is "perhaps the best exponent of across-the-board conservatism," as Ruffini wrote, "he has no lists and no way to mobilize his audience directly to donate and volunteer." (But it must be noted that Limbaugh urged his Republican listeners to vote for Sen. Hillary Clinton in Indiana's open primary to prolong the Democratic duel. And Clinton won.)

The Democrats, meanwhile, are the party of the Web: decentralized, chaotic, bottom-up. The bloggers at, for example, argue about policy and ideology, too. But all that blogging leads to raising money, which leads to organizing, which leads to having a say in the party. When Howard Dean, whose presidential primary campaign was largely funded by online donors, was elected DNC chairman in 2005, there was no doubt that a new Democratic era had arrived.

But clout didn't come overnight for the Democratic "netroots." In a way, its influence was predicated on being independent of the party. Says Jerome Armstrong, who created the liberal blog MyDD in 2001: "The netroots is not the DNC. The netroots challenges the DNC." A similar dynamic needs to occur between the rightroots and the RNC, bloggers such as Ruffini and Finn say. The rightroots should push their party's leadership and entrenched consulting class the same way the netroots lashed the Democratic leadership years ago.
Whether a party that's spent the last 30 or so years specialising in attracting the fat tail on the social authoritarianism curve is structurally capable of doing that is another matter, and I think we shall soon see the answer. Similarly, whether a party so given intellectually to the rhetoric of authoritarianism would survive such a change in any recognisable form seems doubtful.

Still, survival is optional. If they want to start a US Christian Democratic Union, more power to their elbow - whatever happens, one day they'll be back, and on that day it will make a big difference whether the "they" is a zombie version of the party of 2004 or, well, something less stupid, destructive, and fanatical.

And if there is anything that the last 11 years of British politics will tell you, it's that a democracy where you can't responsibly vote for the other lot and remain a decent human being has a problem. At some point, he'll come up with something so stupid and abhorrent to some peculiar interest of yours that you'll sweat purple piss (they all do), and it's at that point you'll see the value of opposition.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Even More BNP Data...

Various people asked what would happen if I excluded London and Northern Ireland from the BNP analysis. Here's a table showing the R-squared for each factor, first for the whole data set and then excluding these two outliers. (After all, who needs statistical analysis to know those two are weird?)

FactorR-SquaredR-Squared Excluding NI, London
Services % GDP0.06390.0009
Industry % GDP0.08850.0066
Agriculture % GDP0.06590.1697
Long Term Unemployment0.20780.0074
Unemployment %0.10800.0235
Economic Growth %, 1991-20060.07820.0692
Density Change 1991-2006 %0.03690.0035
Population Change %0.00080.0160

I'm still not convinced there is any rational pattern here at all. Immigration is still astonishingly weak as a predictor of BNP membership; weirdly, economic growth is even weaker, and positive! (I'm feeling so prosperous...I'm going to join the BNP!) In fact, the only factor in the second set of numbers that has an effect measurable without going into three significant figures is the proportion of GDP accounted for by agriculture. Northern Ireland is both surprisingly agricultural (2.3% of GDP - 130% of the UK average) and unsurprisingly low in BNP members (0.0024 per 100), so we wouldn't have seen this earlier on.

The Thatcher legacy - long term unemployment as a percentage of all unemployment - was the strongest correlate with R-squared = 0.2078, but when you drop London and NI, it vanishes, as does unemployment in general.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Arms Control Wonk has been running a series on how Iranian missiles work and how well. It's bloody brilliant; go read, and you'll come away thinking you could maybe start your own launcher project. Elsewhere, incredible interview with Bill Janeway about the financial crisis, Ministry of Truth on Baby P, Felix Salmon spanks rightwing mythology about car workers' wages, Anthony "Nate Silver before there was Nate Silver" Wells works through the general election scenarios. Parasites control red tides. Unicellular organism bigger than some frogs. Cows: fertiliser, energy..and meat! How rightwing propaganda works.


Conrad Black: it has come to this. It's been an intermittent amusement to see his rants issued from jail, what with their deluded certainty that the courts would eventually understand him. Now, however, he's given up on vindication to beg for mercy. In a signature move, he's also tried to bill his old newspaper for legal costs incurred in begging Bush for a pardon.

I think this points up the horror of the times in two ways. For a start, the very idea of pardoning Black is sordid. But on the other hand, I suspect Bush won't do it, and that is even worse; he doesn't, I think, have enough gut decency to bail out his friend. You can understand a man who does the E.M. Forster and betrays his country rather than his friends, you can grudgingly respect someone who sticks to the law; someone who does neither is a common enemy.

Anyway, it's scrambling time; the handover modalities are set, and apparently the Iraqi government is asserting a right to look at the US Army's mail. And the staff college students are studying the problems of withdrawal. Even if this guy's still being asked for five pick-up trucks, a VSAT, coffee, and 10 tons of gravel, it's over.

I wonder if Conrad Black, however, might be the first out having been the first in. Not only did he turn his newspapers into an all-singing, all-dancing neocon wankapalooza, he did it early; arguably, the turn came not long after Max Hastings was outed from the Telegraph, and perhaps the whole affair of William Hague's assurances about his peerage should have told us more than it did at the time. And the Jerusalem Post was barely coherent in 2001, let alone later. Black was the first of the movement to be disgraced; he's ahead of the curve. It's probably worth watching him as a leading indicator.

beating the statue with my shoes

OK, so about them Iranian superbomb spookologists. We're not convinced. Even at the height of the nonsense, a lot of the military in Iraq were regularly quoted pouring cold water on the tale. Later, we looked into just how hard it would be to find out how to make an EFP. (All you need is Wikipedia, a search engine, and love. Or hate.)

Further, we were able to identify the stuff in the official photos as ball bearings made in India and trivially available in commerce. So, what about them Iranian superbombs? Not so much. IPS wire service has a fine story following the matter up. Their source is the US Army's intelligence operation set up to analyse the sources of arms used by the Sadrists.

The task force database identified 98 caches over the five-month period with at least one Iranian weapon, excluding caches believed to have been hidden prior to the 2003 U.S. invasion.

But according to an e-mail from the MNFI press desk this week, the task force found and analysed a total of roughly 4,600 weapons caches during that same period. The caches that included Iranian weapons thus represented just 2 percent of all caches found. That means Iranian-made weapons were a fraction of one percent of the total weapons found in Shi'a militia caches during that period.

The extremely small proportion of Iranian arms in Shi'a militia weapons caches further suggests that Shi'a militia fighters in Iraq had been getting weapons from local and international arms markets rather than from an official Iranian-sponsored smuggling network....

There's more.

In late April, the U.S. presented the Maliki government with a document that apparently listed various Iranian arms found in Iraq and highlighted alleged Iranian arms found in Basra. But the U.S. campaign to convince Iraqi officials collapsed when Task Force Troy analysed a series of large weapons caches uncovered in Basra and Karbala in April and May.

Caches of arms found in Karbala late last April and May totaled more than 2,500 weapons, and caches in Basra included at least 3,700 weapons, according to official MNFI statements. That brought the total number of weapons found in those former Mahdi Army strongholds to more than 6,200 weapons. But the task force found that none of those weapons were Iranian-made....

None. Zero.

Only two months before the new high-level propaganda push on alleged Iranian weapons supply to Shi'a militias, the U.S. command had put out a story suggesting that large numbers of Iranian-supplied arms had been buried all over the country. On Feb. 17, 2008, U.S. military spokesman Rear Admiral Gregory Smith told reporters that Iraqi and coalition forces had captured 212 weapons caches across Iraq over the previous week "with growing links to the Iranian-backed special groups".

The Task Force Troy data for the week of Feb. 9-16 show, however, that the U.S. command had information on Iranian arms contradicting that propaganda line. According to the task force database, only five of those 212 caches contained any Iranian weapons that analysts believed might have been buried after the U.S. invasion. And the total number of confirmed Iranian-made weapons found in those five caches, according to the data, was eight, not including four Iranian-made hand grenades.

The idiocy of trying to lie to a government essentially based on Iranian-backed militiamen and their political mouthpieces about Iranian support to their own side should be obvious. And them bombs:

The task force database includes 350 armour-piercing explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) found in Iraqi weapons caches. However, the database does not identify any of the EFPs as Iranian weapons. That treatment of EFPs in the caches appears to contradict claims by U.S. officials throughout 2007 and much of 2008 that EFPs were being smuggled into Iraq by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The allegedly Iranian-manufactured EFPs had been the centrepiece of the U.S. military's February 2007 briefing charging Iran with arming Shi'a militiamen in Iraq.

Press reports of a series of discoveries of shops for manufacturing EFPs in Iraq in 2007 forced the U.S. command to admit that the capacity to manufacture EFPs was not limited to Iran. By the second half of 2008, U.S. officials had stopped referring to Iranian supply of EFPs altogether.

MACHIAVELLIAN PROPAGANDA; YR DOIN IT RONG. And finally, there's the "and finally..." moment.

The co-authors note that Iranian arms can be purchased directly from the website of the Defence Industries of Iran with a credit card.

You wonder how many of the toxic HELOC-backed credit card bills were actually run up getting deliveries of IDI explosives. Ram it to Washington Mutual and screw Chalabi, in one easy package. No wonder DHL was so keen to resume service to Iraq.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Yet More BNP Data Analysis: Does Not Compute!

OK, so I've spent some time getting more data together on the correlates of BNP membership. I've created a table which contains the following metrics: population growth (%), change in population density (%), Gross Value Added(GVA) in 1991, 2006, change in GVA, % GVA growth, unemployment, long-term unemployment as a % of total unemployment, the shares of GDP accounted for by agriculture, industry, and services, total immigration between 1994 and 2002 per capita, total emigration per capita for the same period, total migration per capita, and BNP members per 100 citizens.

And you know what? I was expecting to find a correlation with the economic variables. I had a theory that long-term, Thatcher legacy unemployment, especially, would be a strong correlate of BNP recruitment. But nothing correlates. None of those metrics have any predictive power. Have a look at this.

Immigration per head is up the Y-axis, bigotry on the X-axis, and the data points are scaled by the unemployment rate. It doesn't seem to track any of these variables at all; I urge you to visit the visualisation home page, where you can try the different data series for yourself.

This strongly suggests that some completely different force is at work; perhaps BNP membership is driven by something else entirely. It could be the distribution of social authoritarian tendencies in the population, as Robert Altemeyer theorises. Or alternatively, it could just be that a gratifyingly small percentage of people are completely fucking stupid and pig-ignorant, that this is normally distributed in the population, and it's essentially a matter of chance what pig-ignorant fucking stupidity they get up to.

It's probably worthwhile pointing out that the average concentration of BNP members is 0.0203 per 100 citizens and the standard deviation is 0.0116. So with the sole exception of Northern Ireland, 1.54 standard deviations below the mean and therefore staggering towards the edge of the 90% confidence interval, the variation between regions is entirely explicable by chance - strong backing for the wanker theory.

(For some reason, this post has started to remind me of Donald Crowhurst's campaign leaflet, which bore the headline "YOU MAY THINK YOU ARE LOGICAL - BUT DARE YOU TAKE THIS TEST?" Inside was a sort of flowchart designed to explain logically why everyone should vote Liberal.)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Swamping Myth

You will hear all kinds of people in authority say that immigration, or population growth, is causing people to turn into racists and vote BNP, either just because (the rightwing version) or because of "pressure" on public services (the Decent Left version).Therefore, they usually say, we need a stingier immigration policy. If you're reading this, you probably think this is crap. But now, I can prove this scientifically. Thanks to the leaked BNP membership list, we can empirically measure how many people are active racists, active and committed enough that they joined a political party and paid a subscription. Using the data by county, I established a table that matched the UK regions.

Now, if immigration or population growth really is causing people to go fascist, we'd expect to find a correlation between population growth and BNP membership. Or, perhaps, we might find that places that are losing population are economically depressed and hence susceptible. A further detail might be changes in population density; becoming more urban might lead to a perception of being "swamped", or becoming more rural/exurban might lead to one of isolation. So I drew up a table of population growth from 1991 to 2006, change in density for the same period, and BNP members per 100 citizens.

Here are the results.

Population growth is on the Y axis, bigots on the X axis; the size of each dot represents the change in density. There is no correlation whatsoever. Anyone who tells you this story is talking nonsense.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

don't compromise, visualise

Oh yes, gleeful leftie hacker tournament after the BNP did a 0.16 megarecord datafart. My effort contains absolutely no personally-identifying data; it's made with this guy's count by region and population data from National Statistics, to show the number of BNP activists per 100 citizens in each UK region. People kept asking for that kind of information, so I made it. Note that the g-spreadsheet guy used classifications that don't quite map to NatStats' regions, so I decided to assume that his "South Central England" was the West Midlands and "Midlands" was the East Midlands, and total Yorks & Humber and North-East to match his "North East England".

Update: Well, in the end I used his numbers by county to create a table that matches the regions. Here's a new and correct visualisation that shows Yorkshire where it should be, in the lead. Ernst Wilhelm Bohle lives!

we give it straight, it ain't no trivia...

OK, so there's this Il-76 with something called "East Wing" stuck a week in northeastern Brazil on its way from Dakar to Cochabamba in Bolivia. Not the busiest route, you might think.

But "East Wing" was formed as a successor to none other than GST Aero, sez; and out of their six aircraft, three are immediately ex-GST and another is none other than 23442218, the former ST-AQA of Phoenix Aviation and before that, GST. UP-I7622 has even more form. Serial number 3426765, she clocked up time at Air Cess, Air Pass, Centrafrican Airlines, and GST Aero - thus linking up the whole history of the Bout system, from the Swazi to the Central African to the Kazakh registry. Just to sign the lot, East Wing's ICAO code is EWZ - Air West/East West's was AWZ.

Further, Russia Today interviewed VB, and apparently the BBC broadcast something - anyone see it?

And this photo is a work of art. Jazz for the eyes, as someone said.

Update: Thanks to Matthieu in comments for this link to a New York Times story on Cochabamba, the place.
Cochabamba is on the western edge of the Chapare, the main coca-growing region in an otherwise impoverished country that is the world's second largest producer of cocaine. Farmers and chemicals for processing cocaine stream out of Cochabamba into the Chapare jungle. Awesome wealth flows back. ''The cocaine is without doubt the thing that yields the most money to this area,'' said Alfonso Canelas, a co-director with his father of Los Tiempos, Cochabamba's leading daily newspaper.

Some of the major figures in the cocaine world have built mansions here and peasants have begun buying color television sets. The average Bolivian earns $500 annually. Some legitimate businessmen and some of the old families of Cochabamba say they resent the cocaine money. But the cocaine barons have nonetheless gained entry to the city's elite social clubs.

People still talk about the gala wedding a few years ago of a daughter of Roberto Suarez, a powerful drug dealer who was the subject of a cameo appearance in the violent film ''Scarface'' and who is now in jail. ''Almost everybody who counts was there,'' said a woman at the center of Cochabamba society. ''People who didn't get invited were really mad.''

Klaus Barbie, who was the Gestapo chief in Lyons, lived quietly in Cochabamba until shortly before he was deported in 1983 to France, where he was tried and sentenced to life in prison.
Klaus Barbie? Now that's a detail that should be on the interwebs, the spiritual home of the lurid. Meanwhile, someone wants to know about Imtrec, in Russian.

Update Update: Look who's reading the blog.
inetnum: -
netname: UK-VTL-AVIENT-LTD-00184232
descr: Avient Ltd
country: GB
admin-c: GH2118-RIPE
tech-c: VINO3-RIPE
mnt-by: VIATEL-MNT
source: RIPE # Filtered
And something called, which turns out to be a small ISP.

Monday, November 17, 2008

the blog cabala and a wall of fire

This is fascinating; Laura Rozen has details of the Italian inquiry into the Abu Omar rendition case. You know the one - when the CIA agents foolishly brought their own roaming mobile phones and spent a fortune staying in Bondesque hotels. The really interesting thing is that the inquiry is throwing up more and more cross-links with the Italian branch of the Niger uranium story.

It seems, if I understand the document correctly, that the same semi-official skunkworks inside Italian military intelligence that was responsible for the Abu Omar case was also the point of contact for the effort to gin-up the WMD story - and the various other weird things going on with Michael Ledeen, Larry Franklin and pals. And it was also the handler of a journalist who the SISMI used to a) smear various journalists, and b) blame the French for the forgery.

Here is a sample of this material; it's no accident, surely, that it ended up on in September, 2004. That joint must have been thick with dark actors playing games back then. Note also that the smear campaigners tailored the material to its use very carefully. The entire thrust of it is intended to flip the story on its head - rather than the reality, in which people very close to the US and Italian governments conspired to fake the WMD story for their own ends, the fake explains how the French conspired with a secret Democratic Party group, Laura Rozen, Josh Marshall, and Kevin Drum(!) to fake the fake documents, in order to attack "3B - Bush, Blair and Berlusconi". It's hella Stiftung.

It's also wonderfully wingnut, especially the bit in comments where some of them start arguing that Niger should be spelt properly, with two Gs, and others explain patiently that, no, it rhymes with "tiger".

But what I want to know about this is...what was in it for the Italians?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

the third decade, our move

Here's one political movement struggling with the technological environment, at the Washington Monthly:
Frank Luntz, speaking at a panel discussion at the Republican Governors Association yesterday, noted Barack Obama's enormous email list. "He's got 10 million names and our candidate doesn't know how to use this," Luntz said, holding up a BlackBerry. "There is a problem there."

Yes, and his running mate is so far behind, she thinks bloggers are pajama-clad basement-dwellers.
Here's the real issue, though; the guy who's hammering them for not knowing anything about the Internet's best argument is that the other side have a huge pile of e-mail addresses. Luntz is thinking in terms of 1990s hard-right campaigning - blast-faxing, talk radio, direct mail, robocalls. We need to collect more e-mail addresses so we can spam them with talking points, beg for money, and push out plausibly deniable scare stories they can circulate. We'll club them to death with our spam.

Here's more, in an instant-classic post by Marc Lynch.
In short, Movement X adapted very quickly and effectively to the multichannel television revolution.. but its competitors have caught up, its advantage has diminished, and it is not likely to ever again enjoy the TV advantage it had in the past. Information overload, intense competition and fragmentation, and the increasingly aggressive counter-ideology campaigns all stand in the way.

What about internet forums? Such forums allowed X to circumvent editors by posting videos and statements directly to forums where all news producers could pick them up directly - and once anybody, however obscure, ran with it the others were sure to follow. Beyond that, though, they were not really useful for mass audiences, who were unlikely to find their way to the forums, whether or not they were password protected. Instead, they were 'semi-public spheres' where those already committed to the identity could download materials and engage in arguments about tactics and strategy and doctrine. The forums built group cohesion, boosting morale and strengthening identity - and offering recruiters a pool of potentials.

But forums also had problems. Their audience was limited to those already at the second or even third stage of mobilization. The doctrinal arguments on the forums tended to reward the most doctrinaire at the expense of the pragmatists, arguably driving X's doctrine even farther from the mainstream. Sometimes, the debates could undermine morale or turn into open dissent, to the dismay of movement leaders.
You'll probably have guessed by now that Movement X is actually Al-Qa'ida. I suppressed it in this post and made a couple of small changes so as to point up the astonishing similarities. You may also notice that the last paragraph is a case of the Daniel Davies theory of Internet counter-mobilisation. But I found this bit especially interesting:
This could potentially strengthen the 'organization' part... but at the expense of a greater distance from the pool of potential recruits who would not be sufficiently trusted to join. Overall it's hard to see how AQ could adapt social networking without creating such vulnerabilities. Its rivals, on the other hand, have no such problems - Muslim Brotherhood youth are all over Facebook.
This is a special case of a general trend. Are we not seeing a structural shift away from the elite model of political organising - neoconservatives and Al-Qa'ida International, as opposed to its local franchises - towards something else we haven't quite defined yet, like the Obama campaign, the European Union, and Hezbollah? In the first, it's all about message discipline, ideological purity, and entryism. You seek inner purity in order to contaminate the others. In the second, it's almost as if you're aiming to be subverted yourself.

Thinktanks we can believe in

Did I say I like Touchstone?
But he ignores the fact that the European left did not soar in the polls within days of the Great Crash. It took a World War and 15 years - does Tony Barber really not know this, or does he not mind displaying faux ignorance so publically?

Mind you, at least his sin is only to appear ignorant. Gideon Rachman seems rather proud, for a journalist, of eschewing the real world for the claret-swilling elite in his fearless pursuit of the facts.

He stresses how vital it is to share vintage port over the cheese course with diplomats and politicians if you want to find out what’s really going on in the Middle East peace process and the Doha Development Round trade talks.

I’ve been to these country-house colloquia myself, and of course I love them to bits. I prefer Wilton Park to the Ditchley venue that Gideon cites, but that may be because last time I was at Ditchley I had to suffer the indignity of having my workshop report sung in the bar by Shadow Cabinet member David Willets to a piano accompaniment (the tune was “Waltzing Matilda”) by the then Director General of the OECD (I’m not making this up - how could you?)

But I do rather feel that I find out more about the Middle East from my Palestinian mate Fathi whose door got kicked down by Israeli goons who thought his son was a member of Hamas last time he went to a conference.
Now that's thinktankery you can believe in. Policy Exchange? Pathetic. And who knew Two Brains was a concert-party star?

George Osborne: A National Embarrassment

George Osborne is not getting any better. His latest shaft of brilliance is to threaten everyone with a sterling crisis - Chris Dillow has details and more. The problem here is that for a start, he is deliberately beating the water to drive sharks away from his vulnerable ideological underbelly. The Conservatives' "economic plan" currently foresees a range of stupid and incoherent things - they are for tax cuts, specifically in employer National Insurance contributions, but the cuts are to be funded by spending cuts elsewhere, and savings in that eternal demagogue's standby, "waste".

So this isn't a response to the economic crisis in any way; a basic Keynesian accounting - and before you all speak up, this particular one is basic to essentially everyone's view of economics - shows us that aggregate demand equals (C+I+G+X)-(S+T) where C is consumption, I is investment, G is government spending, X is net exports, S is savings and T is taxation. If you reduce T, you obviously increase aggregate demand. But if you're paying for this by reducing G, the net effect depends on the percentage of an increase in income that isn't spent - the marginal propensity to save. The value in terms of aggregate demand of a tax cut is given by dT/(1/marginal propensity to save), known as the balanced budget multiplier. This can in fact be quite significant, for example if the tax change is highly progressive, so that the rich (who have a high marginal propensity to save) pay more and the poor (who don't - they don't have the spare cash) pay less.

Actually, even if the cut was to be paid for by borrowing, it still wouldn't help very much. The Tories intend to only cut NI for those businesses who haven't laid anyone off - which will be how many in a year's time? Surely, if they are consistent conservatives, they should be encouraging companies to sack people so as to bring about a fall in prices and the realignment of demand with long term aggregate supply? After all, if they still reject Keynes, as Osborne seems to, this is what they presumably want.

Sometimes, the inchoate voice of the Internet-at-large tells you more than any amount of data: like this.
What a lot of people who should have known better forgot at the election was - HE'S A TORY.

Further, it is not any Conservative's place to complain that the pound is in jeopardy. The UK has been running a structural current-account deficit for many years, and the vast growth of the financial services sector is a consequence and apparently a deliberate one. When an economy has a current account deficit, this means it imports more than it exports. In order to pay for this, it needs to run a corresponding surplus on the capital account - it needs to import capital. Down at the micro level, this means that banks are lending money to people who want to buy imports, that the savings of exporters are not enough to fund this, and therefore that the banks must borrow on the wholesale market (or issue shares to overseas investors, etc).

A further important factor is the role of the housing economy; if house prices grow faster than GDP, which in the UK they always do during the boom phases, this means that the new mortgage lending cannot be funded from the repayments on the old, and that housing must import capital from the rest of the economy. And, as the rest of the economy has to import capital for its own needs, therefore the mortgage banks must use the world market for money.

As a further twist, the banks got very good at importing capital and then re-exporting it, taking a turn on the deal and therefore significantly contributing to the current account. Everyone who praised the growth of the City since 1986 implicitly supports this state of affairs. But all this is predicated on the import of capital, which implies a current account deficit and therefore a significant currency risk. (No wonder City Tories have no confidence in Osborne.) The Conservative Party, especially, has no right to complain about it whatsoever, having essentially invented this entire structural model, as Ross McKibbin explains in a now-seminal article.

But even this isn't the worst. Consider Osborne's actual remarks.
Mr Osborne suggests that Mr Brown “doesn’t care” how much he borrows. “His view is he probably won’t win the next election. The Tories can clear this mess up after I’ve gone. That is deeply irresponsible. It’s a scorched-earth policy, which I think the history books will write up as a total disaster and which the public will see through between now and the election.”
Osborne is being positively Straussian here, in attributing the worst of his own motives to others. And he's got form for this. After all, in the event of a major sterling crisis, he would stand to gain impressively, although for the reasons I've given above it would do the country a power of bad. It would look catastrophic, and the J-curve effect means that the short-term effect of devaluation is deflationary - the recession would initially be worse. Further, the sectors most affected by this would be finance (obviously) and the import-heavy consumer economy.

The electoral, regional and class distribution of the impact would also be helpful for the Conservatives - the costs would fall disproportionately in South-Eastern marginals and on swing voter groups, whereas the benefits would arrive later, handily after a hypothetical Chancellor Osborne took office, and would be concentrated in the export economy, that is to say in the West Midlands, the North, and the new town techie belt. Or,just where the Tories worry that they need to build strength in the long term.

And if you want to know the sort of thing they actually think is good for us, under the exoteric surface, check out this beauty from Alan Duncan. Constrained by the existing law, Dunc can't promise to get rid of your workplace rights, so instead he's hoping to scare people off exerting them, by making anyone who loses an industrial tribunal case pay the employer's costs. Now, that might well be appropriate in the majority of the civil law, but it's wildly inappropriate for employment law because of the structural inequality of power involved. Arguably, the ancient legal principle of "equality of arms" can only be maintained in this field if you can't be scared into silence by the risk of paying Sir Bufton Tufton QC's bill.

Mind you, there are reasons to be cheerful. Osborne has just staked his career on a forex trade, only weeks after making an enemy of Nathan Rothschild. And even super-europhobe Tory funder Stanley Kalms is making noises about needing "more heavyweight, more grey hair on the front bench"; if that isn't a reference to Kenneth Clarke I don't know what is. Who else could it be? Heavyweight rules out Redwood, Franciscus Mediocritus and a bunch of others. Grey hair? Can't be William Hague then..

the stars are right...

This looks like being the ultimate TYR event. Via Ballardian, yer man from BLDGBLOG is going to be speaking at UCL on the 26th November on Feral Cities and the Scientific Way of Warfare. Quote:
At the very least, you'll get an early preview of Antoine's forthcoming book – in which he introduces the term chaoplexic warfare in a survey of everything from ant "swarms" and the use of 18th-century battlefield metaphors to the distributed geographies of the Russian mafia, the Medellín drug cartel, and Al-Qaeda – and that's already quite a lot right there.
It's being organised by the Complex Terrain Lab. And it's going to be held in the J.Z. Young Lecture Theatre - yes, that's J.Z. Young as in the squid expert. Surely I can't miss that? We could make this into a little rantercon, perhaps.

I can't help feeling that a Dadaist response is appropriate somehow.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

who's the anti-Christ now?

DSR of the week: Pierre Falcone lives in Hong Kong. From an IP address somewhere in China Netcom's Beijing metro-area network, too.

If you follow the link you'll find one of the best results is this act of citizen journalism, raising the question of whether or not Jacques Chirac is the Anti-Christ. Astonishing, the kooks and weirdos you run into on the Internet. Barack Obama is the Anti-Christ; surely everyone knows that. More seriously, if you feel at all nostalgic for the 2004 US election cycle, it will hit the spot.

doodling wolves on a notepad

Whilst I'm on the VBeat, it's probably about time for an update on the extradition hearings. Here's the AP wire story on the last court appearance on the 4th of November. Bout's lawyer is now pursuing a defence based on challenging the legality of extradition, after the main man apparently gave up stalling tactics. The first warrant for his arrest is apparently controversial because it was undated; the prosecution claims it was irrelevant because the state withdrew it and issued another.

Alternatively, here's Russian state TV's version. It's unsurprisingly more sympathetic, but it provides a lot more detail. Specifically, I reckon the first document they mention as not being a request for extradition was actually a "request for legal assistance". Everyone's going to be back in court on the 18th of November, and the actual extradition hearing is set for the 22nd-24th of December.

Meanwhile, you might want to check out Russia Today's wolf webcams. I'm not sure if that's meant to be a subtle propaganda exercise or whether it's just because, well, webcams! with wolves! Man is the wolf to man, famously, so you might also want to check out the libertarian case for Viktor Bout. It had to happen.

paranoia is total awareness

Information is filtering through that an Antonov-12 has been lost on take-off from Al-Asad airbase in Iraq on Thursday. So far there is very little available, but we do have a few facts. The ASN is currently describing it as operated by "Falcon Aviation" and states that the entire crew of 7 died. We're getting a lot of Google traffic searching for the registration S9-SAO, which is with British Gulf International Airlines (BGI rather than BGK), an An-12BP with the serial number 346908. The aircraft seems to have been sold by the Russian air force directly to BGIA during its Kyrgyz phase.

Falcon probably refers to Falcon Express, the local affiliate of FedEx that has repeatedly showed up chartering dodgy An-12 and Il-76 operators into Iraq. (This is why the Viktorfeed shows their movements.) There's an interesting thread on PPRuNe in which it's said that new hires on their own fleet of Beech 1900s and Fokker 27s were told to watch Air America. (This one's pretty good too.) Interestingly, searchers are coming from both * and hostnames.

In other news, something weird in the feed got my attention. What on earth was "Deutsches Rettungsflugwacht" doing around the region? It seems that someone has been using their IATA two-letter code as if it was a three-letter ICAO code, or rather that Dubai Airport doesn't know the difference. IATA DV is SCAT, a Kazakh-based operator started in 1997. What did we find there, then? Well, Yak-42 serial 4520422306016, which is an old friend. As 3C-LLL at Air Bas, then UN-42428 at Irbis, this aircraft is a Bout veteran; operating for Sudan Airways and Air West, it made regular trips to Iraq and Somalia in 2004-2005. At the time, the DXB Web site gave aircraft types as well as times, destinations, flight numbers etc, so it was the first individual plane I was able to identify - they only had the one Yak-42. Like the rest of the Irbis fleet, it's been keeping a low profile since the company shut down in a hurry in June 2006.

The registration is now UP-Y4210. SCAT also used to have Tu-134B serial 63285, then UN-65695, which belonged to long-blacklisted and shutdown Boutco GST Aero, and interestingly, also to UTAGE in Equatorial Guinea, a company involved in the Christmas Day 2003 3X-GDM crash.

Update: JACDEC confirms it was S9-SAO.

Friday, November 14, 2008

let the cat/noncat out of the bag

You remember this post? It picked up off Thoreau@Jim Henley predicting that Dick Cheney would try to invoke executive privilege in respect of something he did after ceasing to be Vice President. If there's one thing we've learnt about this man it's that whatever warped evil you attribute to him will be nothing compared to the reality; I raised the bar, suggesting he would try it on after ceasing to be, full stop.

Well, the first scenario is now being seriously considered. I would say mine hasn't yet been tested simply because the, ah, biological requirements are as yet unfulfilled. In related news, if you recall this post, about the quantum uncertainty surrounding Dick Cheney's constitutional role, you'll be pleased to know they just collapsed the wavefunction, and good.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Best. Bailout. Ever!

Macau's government decides to save a strategically important industry: casinos. Now they really are taking a gamble with public money; shovelling it into a hole in the ground. Etc.

There's actually an interesting sidelight further down the story. It regards Sheldon Adelson, the casino boss who funded Freedom's Watch, a creepy rightwing campaign group established to "support the surge" which everyone expected to be much more important in the campaign than it turned out to be. Now, almost a month ago, Felix Salmon blogged that Adelson was in financial trouble. He's committed to huge spending on building casinos on a range of sites he bought (expensively) around the world. This wasn't such a problem when the shares in his company were soaring; but now they're tanking. They went from $80 in March down to $11.

And it's getting tough to borrow, especially as his only source of cash flow is the original casino back in Las Vegas. In October, the firm had $11bn in debts and less than $1bn in cash. I wondered at the time if Adelson didn't have the cash to back his political smear campaign; now, looky here. In the FT story, it mentions that his firm recently managed to raise some more money in an issue of $2bn worth of bonds; but apparently, one of the buyers was Adelson himself, whose net worth in October stood at $11bn. But he's almost certainly lost much, much more since then; perhaps half that. Since October, the shares have lost a further two-thirds of their value.

Now, this FT story shows that he ponied up $475 million to keep the firm going at some point before the 6th of November. But the latest story suggests he's forked over even more, which suggests he may have parted with as much as 20-30 per cent of his money during the last leg of the election campaign.

It seems quite possible that Freedom's Watch just ran out of cash.

Update: Adelson ponied up another $525 million to back a new share issue of $2bn, on terms which mean he goes down to 50% control of the firm. So yes, he's had to pay up between one-fifth and one-third of his money. Further, johnf points out in comments that he's a big donor to the Likud and a pal of Benjamin Netanyahu, so the prospect of a distributed wanker drought cannot be ruled out. It's a pity for the 11,000 construction workers who he laid off in Macau this week as part of the casino panic plan.


To the developers of Mozilla Ubiquity: what are you thinking?

The whole idea is that you interact with Web things through a command line in the browser that is close to natural language; it's all a bit like this post about the world's favourite command line. But at the moment it's not particularly useful for anything. Leave aside the fact that 'email' creates an e-mail message with a blank to: field and the string '' in the message body (yes, they actually did that).

But it's missing something crucial. |. If you're familiar with command lines in general, you'll recognise it - it's the character commonly called a pipe. If you're not, it's called a pipe because, on a command line interface, it's normally used to "pipe" the output of whatever command was issued before it into the input of the command that comes after it. For example, on a unix/linux machine, you could wget | grep Worstall | mail '' and dear old Firstname Lastname gets a e-mail containing a list of the occurrences of the word Worstall on the front page of my weblog. We sent a command (wget) with an argument (my URL), and then we sent the output to a second command (grep), with a search string (Worstall), and then we sent the result of that to yet a third command (mail).

We could keep chaining them together; we could use logical operators as well, which means that the Unix shell is a programming language in its own right. Alternatively, in some command lines and every programming language I've ever heard of you can wrap a command in (brackets) and it's like putting its output there. This is the whole point of a command line; it's the main reason why anyone would bother with one in this day and age. As far as I can work out from a brief perusal of the voluminous hype and much scantier documentation, Ubiquity is meant to help you do multiple tasks on the Web efficiently. But without either a | or else a (), it's no use at all.

tesco value beer

An unremarked-on aspect of the 1.5% interest rate cut last week. Namely, are we already living in a near-real time planned economy, as Stafford Beer foresaw? It sounds like I must be joking. But how else are we to interpret Sir Terry Leahy's trip to see the Bank of England and the Treasury? Tesco boasts that one in every eight pounds spent in the UK passes through its tills; this bit is always in the papers. They rarely mention their huge management-information system, except to the trade.

If you wanted close to real-time information about the consumer economy, I can't think of anything that would work better. After all, even at KwikSave you'd get a daily cycle of cashflow information. And Tesco runs a hell of a lot of deliveries; their visualisation dashboard must provide a fearsome amount of data on what flows where. Chuck in the Clubcard voluntary-surveillance stuff. The tills are, unlike Kwikkies, presumably networked.

Back at the start of the...well, at the start of the latest frantic wave of the world financial crisis, I messaged Dsquared to say that I had the impression his workplace was suddenly full of Bakelite consoles springing out of forgotten compartments. In fact, of course, the people going into manual reversion for the first time in 30 years were the good folk at HM Treasury. According to David Scott and Alexei Leonov's memoir, there was during the launch of the Apollo spacecraft a T-handle in front of the pilot. If you turned it one-quarter of the way, the launcher's computer and those of the capsule were locked out and the rocket's control systems slaved to those of the capsule, so you could then fly the whole thing by hand.

Well, with the financial intermediaries choked up reprocessing all the stuff they shipped off the balance sheet - or rather, into the twilight zone - someone has to control these things. Ordnung muß sein. Now we're well into T-handle country. What are we going to do with it?

a cheap holiday in other people's misery

I'm not so sure about this; arsewit wingnut blogger runs out of money, goes bankrupt, various people who should know better jeer.

The whole point of everything from some way to the right of centre - Bismarck or thereabouts - leftwards is that IT CAN HAPPEN TO YOU. It doesn't matter if you're a good christian, a loyal subject, a committed rebel, if you work harder, if you're especially competent. Even if you're rich; European history is littered with the monuments of elites who thought they could buy their way out at the last. We survive if everyone else does.

Poverty and misfortune are not, generally, held up by individuals' decisions; they roll over the landscape, driven by shifts in huge statistical aggregates and channeled by tiny ripples of random chance, just as a flood begins with a rise in average rainfall and ruins one street that's six inches closer to the water. When you think that so-and-so went bust because of their own immorality, and therefore they join the undeserving poor, you're signing on with the other side. They will tell you that the system is entirely OK; it's the ones who failed it who are the problem. They didn't believe in it enough.

As the case of Kim du Toit makes clear, this won't help you one bit when it happens to you. Yes, he's an arse of the first water and a troll of epic proportions. No, mocking people because of their poverty is always and everywhere wrong.

Sunday, November 09, 2008


I'm beginning to enjoy the TUC Touchstone blog, especially in the light of this must-read article from Politico about the unions' role in the Obama campaign and specifically their efforts to dispel racism.
"Many voters have never voted for an African-American candidate for any position," said AFL-CIO political director Karen Ackerman. "It's a proud moment in the labor moment in the last six months that there really has been discussion from the union presidents to local union officials to shop stewards on the floor."

trickledown logistics

It seems to be "Blogging Stuff I Studied At University" Day. Here's an interesting story via the Armchair Generalist concerning the Proliferation Security Initiative, and the case of a North Korean Ilyushin-62 that was apparently prevented from transiting Indian airspace out of suspicion that it was carrying "something" from there to Iran. I've always thought the PSI was actually fairly reasonable for a Bush-era idea, even if I'm always sceptical about North Korea! Iran! stories. Have a read.

Relatedly, I was talking to the owner of a visual-voicemail startup at Telco 2.0 last week (this is why I've been quiet lately) who was an aid worker in Kinshasa at one point. Apparently you could predict outbreaks of violence by the last An-12 or Il-76 to arrive in town - within three weeks there would be trouble, this being the time required for the load of arms to trickle down to the average gunman-in-the-street.

So I'm a little surprised that the latest bout of futile violence in the eastern DRC hasn't left much of a signature in the Viktorfeed data. We haven't had a DRC, Rwanda or Uganda flight for some time, although I can't rule out other departures going on there after their original destination or refiling their flight plan enroute. For example, known DRC previous offenders like Avient sent off some Bermuda Triangle movements some weeks back; ETJ (dodgy Tajik 737s), TLZ (Transliz - Sao Tome registered An12s ex-Grixona) and KUY call signs are often seen giving no clue where they are going. (KUY? A new face - Kaz Air Trans of Kazakhstan, operating 737s bought from old friends Aerovista Gulf Express.)

all-purpose Home Office bashing

ID cards sliding right again. This time it's the airport workers - they've been downscaled from all the airport workers to just London City and Manchester, and from a production deployment to an "18-month trial". This comes after the planned issue of cards last month went from "actually issuing the cards" to "announcing it again". Jacqui Smith is whistling past the graveyard, making up tales about people stopping her in the street to ask for ID cards. Perhaps they were asking for her ID card? Meanwhile, the cost comes back up to £59 again, whilst the fantasy of the private sector registering everyone for (?) gets trotted out.

Meanwhile, this should be the most damning thing ever said about Stockwell. Clearly, the police weren't following their own procedures, the command structure was nonfunctional, and Cressida Dick was out of her depth. But then you'd know that if you'd read the IPCC Report; so why haven't any of the sodding newspapers?

a season of prodigies

Well. Being a Republican Party lawyer, I always thought, would be a job that at least got you out of bed full of curiosity at what the day might hold. A garage stuffed with uncounted ballots that have to disappear before sun-up? Suitcases of Saudi greenbacks? An unmarked Gulfstream-IV full of Cuban mercenaries with compromising video? A sickening whispering campaign of paedo vileness?

Clearly you'd have to deal with the sensation of your heart dying, calcifying into a sticky lump of careworn evil - but at least it wouldn't be dull. Better rule in hell than serve in heaven, as John Milton put it; and he was in a government that cut the king's head off when he wasn't poeting. (Now that's change you can believe in.)

So I have to say I feel for R. Dick Schifcofske III as he heads for Alaska; is he going to secretly replace the Secretary of State with a robot in time to influence a recount? Smuggle Todd Palin out to Colombia? Release cocaine-crazed pigs into Obama campaign headquarters? No. He's got to account for Sarah Palin's wardrobe, piece by piece. It's enough to make you quit and devote yourself to a life of service to the poor.

Meanwhile, can you imagine that Brad DeLong actually linked this? The Stock Market Implications of CIA Coups d'Etat. It wasn't that long ago that the prof ruthlessly purged references to the Long Pig Factor from his comments threads. Now look at him. A sign and a wonder, I think.

Whilst I'm on the underpants-of-the-election theme, here's something else from the Poor Man Institute (for freedom, democracy, and a pony):
Jonah Goldberg wrote of Hitler’s Willing Executioners. These men and women are Obama’s.

Down through the ages, it is through the treachery of those leaders entrusted with the defense of freedom who abandon their posts in the hour of greatest need that the enemies of freedom and the agents of tyranny find welcome to our shores and entry into our citadel.
I’d hardly equate support for Obama with serving with the einsatzcommando or as a capo at Auschwitz, so we ought to be careful wiht such analogies on the off-chance that some Obamunists have actually read Goldberg - or read anything for that matter...
The problem, I think, is that for a second or so I actually thought Jonah Goldberg might have written Hitler's Willing Executioners, and I've read the bloody thing. In fact I've studied it. It's a very bad book - the whole thrust of it is that Germans had a specifically evil kind of antisemitism, not further explained, which is sufficient to explain Nazism monocausally despite the fact that most antisemitic violence before 1938 happened almost anywhere in Europe but Germany. Somehow, burning your neighbour to death in a pogrom isn't "eliminationist" according to HWE; I remember writing in reply to this that the difference between elimination and a pogrom is the availability of rolling stock. That's studenty AJP Taylorism, of course, but I think I had a point.

I also recall that in a sense Jonah Goldberg could have written it. Goldhagen didn't seem to engage with the fact that lots of non-Germans were at the same time doing almost equally horrific things to other target groups - were Stalin's willing executioners eliminationist anti-anti-communists? - nor with the fact that lots of Germans emigrated to the New World but apparently didn't take the poison along with them. It's full of idolisation of America and rejection of any kind of structural argument for a very neo-con insistence on "evil". (If you want a good book on the subject, try Christopher Browning's Ordinary Men.)

That's another way of saying that HWE dodges all the difficult things (why did those French civil servants do it?) about the Holocaust in favour of a good story arc. And you don't get more Goldberg than that. Truly, that nameless wingnut knew more than they thought.

wave of naive optimism

Back in the early days of this blog, it was hardly tied into the British blogosphere at all; if you look at the 2003-2004 archives it's just stuffed with US presidential politics, and most of its earliest supporters came from the US. Which is ironic given its distinctive Europhile taste, I suppose. That started to change around 2005 because some bugger here started reading it, in essence.

Anyway, largely because of this, I'm very pleased for this blog's friends there - Laura Rozen, Kathryn Cramer, Soj, Jordan Barab, the Nielsen Haydens, hardindr, minnesota, God knows how many Kos screen names, Steve Gilliard - that they've been vindicated right down the line. The netroots phenomenon wasn't a nine days' wonder. The Internet is not a naturally conservative medium, and PowerLine isn't blog of the year any more. You don't have to support the invasion of Iraq or be smeared as unpatriotic - or rather, they'll do it but it only matters if you alter course as a result.

It wasn't necessary to get the support of David Broder et al - no bugger reads him anyway. Hillary Clinton wasn't destined to win. Young voters weren't actually certain not to turn out. Organising-first tactics worked. The working class isn't a bunch of racist idiots. A fuel tax holiday actually was a stupid, cash-draining, oil-guzzling, climate-hammering piece of vacuous demagogy, not a brilliant electoral gambit. Rudy Giuliani and Fox News were paper tigers. The wingnutosphere was actually just a bunch of drivelling maniacs. The October Surprise was a flop. Even the racist gun nuts didn't deliver. Your actual redistribution isn't politically toxic.

Howard Dean was a great choice to run the Democratic National Committee. The 50 state strategy wasn't insanely grandiose. Social Security privatisation wasn't the test of seriousness. The war and the torture and the bungling and the corruption weren't obscure nonsense. And I think the bloggers can take a bow on those three. So much of the political background of this campaign goes back to that desperate period after the 2004 election when some people thought John Kerry too radical and others decided to try harder.

Did I mention that the official Murdoch candidate didn't make it to the starting line? Yes, I did; when was the last time that a major political candidate who had the backing of News Corporation - and first Giuliani and then McCain did - lost? You don't have to give in.

Friday, November 07, 2008

technical note

As I said here, much as I love ManyEyes, it would be drastically better if it accepted data in the same format (tab-separated columns of values) that it expects to be submitted as a form from a URL, so your visualisation could be based on a source of regularly updated information.

If you can parse columns of tab-separated text provided from within a browser, there's no reason why you couldn't parse JSON or even heavier XML formats (especially GeoRSS), and then you could build a visualisation on a dynamic flow of data. For example, the Viktorfeed, or Google's elections JSON thingy. I suspect that if ManyEyes was a Google project it would have done this first, before fiddling with files or clipboards.

Meanwhile, how much does the scriptmangling piss me off? A lot.

kostenloser Counter