Monday, May 25, 2009

coming up...

Just to say that next week we'll be reviewing David Kilcullen's Accidental Guerrilla.

no data for some

OK, this space should be occupied by a visualisation showing time series of airlines in the Viktorfeed by week, which ought to show what happened to BGIA's share of the business. But IBM ManyEyes is down or at least not up, the data hardly fits on an OpenOffice spreadsheet in any sensible way, so you'll have to wait.

However, I would like to say this: what is happening in Zahedan that needs several Ilyushin-76s a day, provided by companies like Click Airways International/Click Airways, Transaviaexport, Eastern Express, Sakavia, and East Wing? Rather, that has been generating 2-4 inbound flights to Sharjah a day for 10 days? That's 30 rotations; 40 tons payload a time; 1,200 tons of stuff. Eh?

Wikipedia has it a bigger place than I assumed; apparently work is going on to link up the Pakistani and Iranian railways there. But surely nobody exports bricks or livestock feed (key local industries, apparently) by air? Especially when there is a road straight to a major sea port?

don't leave me hanging on the telephone

An idea, seeing as no-one is very interested in ORGANISE and it looks like I'll have to learn erlang to make any impact on it.

Observation 1: The price of voice telephony is falling fast. Mobile operators provide some truly huge bundles of minutes, and there's Skype and Co.
Observation 2: Political campaigns of all kinds often need either outbound or inbound phone banks.
Observation 3: Asterisk rocks.

Conclusion: Wouldn't a distributed phone bank, based on Asterisk's AGI interface, be cool?

You could: Register volunteers and their availability. Create a campaign. Send talking points to participants as they become available. Dial them up, then dial the target number, and bridge them in. Log the results of the call.

You could also use it for inbound calls - for example, to take statements after a G20-like event, to provide advice, to register participants. And you could initiate and route calls intelligently, for example, to put callers through to people near them, or to send notifications to groups of volunteers.

Anyone interested? I raised this on the MySociety list and we've been discussing use cases.

Review: Alistair Crooke, "Resistance: the essence of the Islamist revolution"

Resistance - The Essence of the Islamist Revolution is Alistair Crooke's survey of modern Islamist thought. It would be clearer to say it is a couple of books occupying the same space; one would be a history of Islamist thought since the origins of the Iranian Revolution, with a polemic for greater understanding of such thought, and another would be a slightly eccentric, neo-Platonist rant with overtones of Ian Buruma's notion of Occidentalism.

Well, that sounds fun, doesn't it? Then you have to add in Crooke's career; the book glosses him as an advisor to the European Commission on the Middle East, but makes absolutely no mention of his term as SIS station chief in Tel Aviv, in which role he negotiated a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, which lasted until an unfortunate air raid resulted in the deaths of a round dozen civilians and not the Hamas man the Israelis were after. (The story is here.)

The war resumed, and Crooke was recalled; officially this was for "security reasons", but if anything imperilled his security it was probably that after the event, the Israeli tabloids discovered his job title, identity, and photograph with un-mysterious suddenness. He eventually fetched up in Beirut, running a thinktank called the Conflicts Forum, devoted to contact between Western powers and Islamists. (Time was, it would have been a nightclub, but we live in fallen times.)

So, what upshot? Crooke makes a strong case for modern Islamism as a classical reaction to colonialism and modernisation, or rather an interwar vision of modernity. He relies on an impressive battery of reading ranging into cultural Marxism at one end and into hardcore conservatism at the other. More controversially, he tries to place Islamism since the 1950s in a context of rebellion against free-market economics drawn from Naomi Klein; but the Ba'athist and similar regimes hardly qualify as Friedmanites, with their nationalised oil companies, state military industries, and extensive Soviet influence in administration, secret policing, and military doctrine and structure.

He draws on a battery of confidential interviews, which are some of the most interesting things in the book, to illuminate current ideas and practice, specifically among Hezbollah thinkers. Notably, they argue, the Caliphate should now be seen as a world-wide network of loosely interconnected "communities of resistance", rather than a state or any other kind of hierarchical organisation. The aim of these is to uphold the practice of an ideal, self-organising community of believers against a total onslaught by the forces of liberalism, which wishes us all to be atomised individuals.

In practice, this demands a sort of liberation theology/community-organising/vaguely anarchist drive to create base groups everywhere, drawn together by the practice of mutual aid and the study of critical texts, and if necessary to form the underground shadow-administration common to all good guerrilla armies.

Crooke is interesting on the military implications of this, but I think what he describes is less original than he suggests. Flat, highly networked command structures, with a high degree of autonomy down to the squad and the individual, are not characteristic of Islamic or Islamist warfare; what he is describing here sounds a lot like Auftragstaktik. Also, he describes the requirements of a Hezbollah leader as integrity, authenticity, reliability, personal charisma, and ability to mobilise others; would anyone at all disagree?

There is an interesting side-trip into Islamist economic ideas. He criticises Westeners who assume that the main aim of these is to find technical workarounds to make the normal course of business sharia-compliant; apparently the real thing is considerably better. However, a lot of it (as described here) consists of accepting a market economy but not letting money be the be-all and end-all of everything, etc, etc; in practice, this seems to mean a welfare state. No surprise, then, that one of the thinkers he quotes had to write an entire book to rebut the charge that his ideas were indistinguishable from European social democracy.

According to Crooke, the main distinction is in the field of monetary economics; but, in so far as his writing is a true misrepresentation of it, it seems to be distinct in a way which isn't particularly original. Apparently, Islamist economists are very exercised about M3 broad money growth, on the grounds that this represents the growth of credit in a fractional-reserve banking system and that this is the root of the evils of capitalism. Instead, they are keen on...the gold standard, that most free-trade imperialist of economic institutions!

At this point you might want to halt briefly; Islamist Auftragstaktik applied to community organising? The Caliphate in terms suited to Clay Shirky? Dear God, Islamist monetarist gold bugs? Phew! And you could, perhaps, take comfort from the thought that however strange Iranian political thought may be, their economic thought is no stranger than Fraser Nelson's or Jude Wanniski's. Placing an upper bound on the strangeness, after all, is probably an important step towards international understanding.

Then we get into the second book. Crooke is always quoting Plato, specifically the apposition between the port and the city; he attacks Karl Popper, and uses a great deal of Horkheimer and John Gray. It is fair to say he accepts entirely the complex of critiques that argue that life is meaningless without a higher purpose usually decided by higher people, that the freedom offered by liberalism is no such thing, that trade (or commerce, or industry) is "mere"; it is harder to say whether he accepts this for the sake of argument, as much of the Islamist thinking he is discussing bases itself on these ideas.

And there is a valid argument that a lot of it claims to represent the up-side of such critiques - the need for a self-empowered, cohesive community, the problems of the free market - but might just as well be the downside. The economy should be directed, at a national level, towards certain "great concepts"; this could be post-war French indicative planning, and might well be, having been written in the 1950s - or it could be a Straussian exercise in National Greatness Conservatism. We should work and care for society; or is it, as one of Crooke's interviewees says, that "life is not worth living without something worth dying for"?

None of this stuff about "false reconciliation" and "self-pacifying", materialism, etc, etc, answers E. P. Thompson's classic attack on "theories that assume that ordinary people are bloody silly", either. Strangely enough, towards the end of the book, we have a sudden swerve back towards liberalism; freedom is not so bad after all, it turns out, compared with a neoconservatism informed by Leo Strauss.

Curiously, I left the book with a feeling that it had set out to make right-wing Americans feel closer to political Shi'ism.


Whining about Firefox crashes. Here's one day last week:

Start 0930
1515 - 5 groups, 111 tabs. Pressed page down key; CRASH. Resume successful.
1538 - Hang. RAM usage peaks at 66%, CPU 1 goes to 100%
1541 - Running, very slowly. Resource utilisation still very high
1542 - Hang
1550 - Cache cleared, normal ops resumed
1813 - Hang. RAM goes from 23% to 40%, CPU 1 to 100%
1828 - Memory leak - top shows RAM usage at 55%, but the system is using the swapfile heavily
1845 - Memory leak - RAM 84%. CPU 1 2%
1910 - RAM usage down to 63%, but still crappy
1917 - Memory leak - RAM 80%, CPU 1 3%

Next day:
1110 - Hang. CPU 1 103%, RAM 44.2%
1115 - Hang. Firefox process killed from command line. Fails to launch, "existing process already running" error message. Kill -9 from command line.
1335 - Hang CPU 1 99%, RAM 33%
1337 - Wow; it's recovered to tolerably normal functioning.

I agree 111 tabs is a lot, but you can see why I'm pissed off.

For constituency work

What is all this whining about MPs doing constituency work? It seems to be conventional wisdom across the more fogeyish commentators (Simon Jenkins, Vernon Bogdanor etc) that members of the Commons are spending too much time representing the interests of their constituents; no article on the upshot of the great expenses row is complete without a ritual reminder that in the 1950s hardly anyone actually lived in their constituency, with shoutouts to Barbara Castle for some reason (saves research, I suppose).

This is painfully crappy.

Constituency work is great, for a whole range of reasons. For a start, it is very hard to be secretly working for the Sun or the Saudis in chasing down Mrs Miggins's housing benefit claim.

Secondly, there's the argument from organisation theory; legislating is the original activity in which you are most affected by the loss of information in a hierarchy, and it is almost proverbial that the Commons is good at passing laws - or repealing them - which then turn out to have some dire consequence down the track, usually to the poor. However, getting stuck into some concrete injustice has every chance of making somebody's life marginally less awful, and an hour spent on constituency work is an hour not spent passing a dangerous dogs bill.

Thirdly, it keeps them off the streets and out of trouble. You cannot be boozily lying to a journalist about your friends and colleagues - the essential activity underlying all the nostalgic crap about the tearooms, all night sittings, etc - or selling security passes to the Palace of Westminster to passing lobbyists if you are busy harassing the UK Borders Agency to get them to leave some bewildered refugee's kids alone.

Fourthly, in which other field of activity are the assorted lawyers, poshos, moonlighters, and ruthless expenses hounds that make up the Commons ever going to encounter the facts of ordinary life? Annie's Bar? I think not. If you're lucky, a few will be old trade-union hands, but we can all think of examples of those turning rotten. Constituency business is about the only force that keeps the political establishment from adopting my proposal to seal itself in a huge glass box.

Fifthly, you can be a repellent pig-bastard on the floor of the Commons but still do some good in the world if you devote some time every week to constituency work. A truly surprising number of really horrible Tory MPs have been willing to engage in things like anti-deportation campaigns which would shock the piss out of their colleagues and their pet newspapers. It is simply more difficult to be evil at this level.

So why do so many commentators hate it so much? Jenkins (who can stand for the others, as their views do not differ much) tends to argue that the problems that reach MPs should be sorted out by local government, by councillors or mayors. This is ponyism. MPs doing less constituency work will not by itself restore local politics. There is no pony. Unless you have a plan to restore the dignity and power of local politics to go with it, you're arguing for power to be left alone to do its worst. And constituency work generally involves the confrontation of the forces of authority with the poor.

Further, it is almost always local authorities who are in the wrong; this is why it is called "constituency work". In a Stafford Beer-influenced (Beer-sodden?) view, problems are resolved within a subsystem until they go beyond its capacity to resolve them, at which point they are escalated into the next recursion level or transferred horizontally into a different decision network. It is both right and natural that problems created by a local authority should be resolved by either a more central one, or else one in a different network. It is also very true that local authorities in the UK are probably more frequently corrupt than central government. John Poulson's ghost is not yet quiet.

It goes without saying that Simon Jenkins and Vernon Bogdanor opposed, to the best of my knowledge, every proposal to return powers to lower levels of government that has ever been seriously suggested. Jenkins occasionally toys with the idea of an English parliament, but it is far from clear how a body representing 53 million citizens is much less administratively remote than one representing 60 million, so this should be taken as a matter of style rather than content.

If they don't actually want - and their actions and words show they do not - devolved government, what is the point here? It is surely that they don't consider the sort of thing covered in constituency work worthy of MPs' time. Grand legislators don't do this sort of thing; it is too much like work, it involves working-class people and their problems, and perhaps there is even a hint that it is women's work? Instead, the debating chamber is a truer life, an idealistic project which keeps the messy, vigorous concerns of democracy well away.

news-style product

I recall saying about the British press's coverage of the US elections that, in contrast to 2004 when the British papers were where you went to for actual information, this time around they delivered the most anodyne and skewed conventional wisdom possible, just three days late. They're still at it. Journalism!

If you were going to write about Dick Cheney, would you choose to get all your quotes from William Kristol, Grover Norquist, Michael Barone, and just to cap the lot, Dan Senor? Further, Senor is described as a "foreign policy advisor during the Bush administration". He was, of course, nothing of the sort; in fact, he was the highly ridiculous press spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority, the man who actually said that he was "listening to the silent majority" of Iraqis. He was, in fact, a foreign policy advisor to the Rudy Giuliani campaign for the Republican nomination, that atavistic replay of the entire neocon fiasco.

Unsurprisingly, this little exercise provides a number of doggishly loyal quotes. We have to wait for the 37th par to learn that, whatever Dan Senor may think, the silent majority is remaining very silent indeed; Cheney's disapproval rating in representative polls stands well over 60 per cent. It's those professional standards of established journalism, I believe.

oh, the interwebs

Journalism! Where would we be without it?
You can already see some of the risks of a country reliant on the internet without the traditional checks and balances provided by the professional standards of established journalism. During last year's US election, several stories whirled through the media sourced to one political pundit, Martin Eisenstadt. You may even have heard of some of them: a casino planned for Iraq's Green Zone; the shock of Paris Hilton's family at being used in a John McCain TV ad; the failure of Sarah Palin to understand Africa was a continent, not a country. But Eisenstadt was a fraud, created by an Israeli prankster, Eitan Gorlin, via a fake think-tank website. Yet his tales had a life of their own, permeating the net, eventually appearing on television and in magazines, creating reaction until they became part of the debate.
The horror. Imagine if, say, most of the world's most respected newspapers, and the entire Murdoch empire, had uncritically repeated a succession of entirely false and basically implausible stories briefed to them by a string of nebulous thinktanks and anonymous government mouthpieces, based on the unsupported word of various frauds, Iranian agents, and prisoners under torture. Imagine if The Observer itself had been printing material it was given on the quiet by the British government's intelligence services.

If newspapers face a crisis, a major part of this crisis is a crisis of self-awareness and humility. Another major part of it is a crisis of ownership - not a problem with their business model, but their financial model. To his credit, Paul Harris does actually mention that the US newspapers that have gone under have done so for one single, simple reason in all cases - they fell because The Proprietor loaded them up with debt, and then squeezed the paper ruthlessly for cash. But he devotes a total of three out of 34 paragraphs to this, and buries the point under 10 pars of colour and "oh, the Internet!". In a real sense, what we are seeing isn't a crisis of the press but a crisis of the press baron, that highly leveraged capitalist figure of the 20th century.

The press baron emerged in the late 19th century, arguably as a response to the capital-intensive technology of the first mass circulation newspapers. It was an era of railways and mammoth presses, and the press became more concentrated and oligopolistic to round up the capital this demanded, just as so many other industries did. The political and ego advantages of owning a huge newspaper both grew out of and contributed to this process. More recently, this tied-in with the trend towards tax-efficient, return-boosting thin capitalisation - the Leverage Jihad, as I think of it.

This had three important effects on the press. First, it empowered the proprietor even further. When the bulk of his capital was tied up in the newspaper, he could sack the editor on a whim, insist on reprinting Hitler's speeches in their entirety like Viscount Harmsworth, but he could only abandon the paper with difficulty and at considerable cost. He could sell or float the paper, but killing it implied losing a lot of money. Second, by decreasing the barriers to entry, it created more potential press barons, and consolidated the existing ones. It also, by boosting their returns, made them personally much richer. Third, it hugely increased the papers' operational gearing and therefore their vulnerability to any shock to cash flow.

This also meant that the possibility of the press baron losing his investment was considerably increased, and the case of the Sam Zell papers neatly points this out. Now, all this was chiefly possible because the papers were experiencing a long period of great ad markets, and also because of technological changes. The arrival of the Apple Macintosh, the Ethernet LAN, and the fast offset-litho machines meant it was possible to run a lot more glossy colour pagination, and hence more class-A ad space, with fewer people and, after this leap had been undertaken, less capital.

Arguably, the nature of a newspaper has changed; it's now much more the kind of business whose assets walk out of the front door. What does this imply for its model of ownership?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

disgusting reptile creep bully tribal predator snout

Craig Murray seems to have taken a blog pill.
Britain's most disgusting journalist, New Labour creep and Jack Straw cheerleader Michael White, is on Sky News trying to justify his New Labour chums...

That information comes from two sources both of which I trust not at all - White and a New Labour minister. ...

It is bad enough that he gets to bully everyone on the Guardian who criticises New Labour. White is Associate Editor of the Guardian and he regularly hints to other journalists that his friend the City Minister, Lord Myners, Chairman of the Guardian Media Group, will be most unhappy with their anti New Labour stories.

White is the most disgusting reptile in the British media, which is saying a lot. He is on a salary of £182,000 at the Guardian, incidentally....

Tory blogs had become very popular as showing opposition to a rightly very unpopular governemt. But what the stupid, stupid, stupid thousand times hypocrite Dale shows is that the Tories are just the same kind of tribal predators as New Labour, simply itching for their turn to get their snouts in the trough.

Dale's credibility as a blogger has been entirely compromised by his support for the Nadine Dorries scam. Actually, he's only a Tory version of Michael White, with a thin veneer of good nature stretched over the hard party man...

firedump: S9-DAE

Our old friend S9-DAE, Ilyushin-76 serial 83483513, has been scrapped at Fujairah last month.

a question of demand

Great post of Dan Lockton's about what demand for energy actually is. Amory Lovins' remark that no-one wants "energy", they want cold beer, is of course another version of this. Which, once it had got together with this story about financing solar installation and marinated nicely in my queue for a while, made me wonder what kind of an organisation you would need to have the incentives set up to supply less energy.

A buyers' co-op sounds good; after all, power from the grid and the gas network would be purely a cost to it. But it's more complicated than that; you'd want it to have an incentive to put cold in the beer, whilst also having one to minimise its use of (nonrenewable) energy. And it's hard to imagine how you'd go about operationalising this. It's a micro-version of the issues in this post about the intersection of CO2 taxes and international trade.

It's a difficult problem, especially if you consider the possible surveillance costs. For example, you could assess a subscription based on your usage at joining, and then return whatever gain the co-op made over the wholesale price of power as a dividend; but this would have a huge free-rider problem.

things are getting better in Iraq, for some values of better, for some values of Iraq...

Things are getting better in Iraq. If you're mercenaries-turned-oil pushers Tim Spicer and Anthony Buckingham, that is! Heritage Oil has, indeed, struck oil. Up to 4.2 billion barrels of the stuff. This is of course very much subject to drilling, and even more so to Kurdish/Baghdad politics.

If you're trying to distribute wheelchairs, however, not so much. Nor if you worked for the British Government or its agents in Iraq, as David Miliband is insistent that there must be no more claimants by Tuesday. After the last post I did on this, I've contacted my MP; have you?

(If yours has strung themselves up from their tax-funded sexercise suite or drowned themselves in their moat, consider yourself excused.)

no pony

Much-discussed article; American goes to Holland, finds welfare state actually quite OK really! I was amused by the pleasantly clueless quote below:
I asked a management consultant and a longtime American expat, Buford Alexander, former director of McKinsey & Company in the Netherlands, for his thoughts on this. “If you tell a Dutch person you’re going to raise his taxes by 500 euros and that it will go to help the poor, he’ll say O.K.,” he said. “But if you say he’s going to get a 500-euro tax cut, with the idea that he will give it to the poor, he won’t do it. The Dutch don’t do such things on their own. They believe they should be handled by the system. To an American, that’s a lack of individual initiative.”
Or perhaps they are sufficiently perceptive to realise that there is no comprehensive welfare system on earth that is sufficiently supplied by charity, and sufficiently self-knowing to realise that given a €500 tax cut, the marginal increase in charitable giving is not likely to be very much. Further, neither is it obvious that it will be evenly or even sensibly distributed; a lot would probably end up going to donkeys, or local equivalent. There is no pony (even though the donkeys might not do too badly)

It's disturbing to hear someone who claims to be an expert on organisations being so very, very blind to the divergence of individual and collective interests. Meanwhile, this PPRuNe thread discusses the US airline pilot who was moonlighting in a coffee shop not long before dying in an aircraft accident after 30 hours without sleep.


Via Worldchanging, the machine that turns up the music, flashes lights, and eventually produces fog if you do enough freaky dancin'. Its specifications and much more stuff are here. Of course, it's a fairly obvious feedback loop, with a side order of poking fun at superstar DJs here we go!

But there's something I like about the idea of self-modifying music; a pointlessly rigorous version of improvisation.

can't we, you know, move on?

Proponents of UAVs like to talk about the "enduring stare"; their ability to remain on station, to keep pointing at the target, rather than taking discrete reels of photos. Blogging ought to be a bit like that; keep after the story, don't accept the official news (or bullshit) cycle.

Hence, this McClatchy story, which has uncorked a whole lot of other reporting.
"The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack (after 9/11). But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi and others had told them were there."

It was during this period that CIA interrogators waterboarded two alleged top al Qaida detainees repeatedly — Abu Zubaydah at least 83 times in August 2002 and Khalid Sheik Muhammed 183 times in March 2003 — according to a newly released Justice Department document.
There's more to it than that, as well; it seems clear that one of the motivations for torture was trying to extract supporting evidence for the Iraq war. Unsurprisingly, Dick Cheney is implicated. You wonder if he couldn't find a way to work a tax cut and perhaps a gay abortion in there, too; it's the grand unified scandal. But anyway, look at those dates, and also at this piece of Laura Rozen's.

It seems there were at least two distinct waves, or bouts, of torture, the first in the summer of 2002 and then a second in the winter and early spring. There also seems to have been some overdetermination with the first, which may also have been involved with a scheme to find a leaker in Congress.

But what strikes me as interesting is that it corresponds well with the PR-driven schedule for the famous dossiers and the run-up to war in general. Recall the "Downing Street Memo", written in late July. The facts and intelligence were being fixed around the policy. This culminated in the first coordinated spin drive in the autumn. At the same time as Abu Zubeydah was being lashed to the board, the White House Iraq Group and the Iraq Communications Group were being established to coordinate transatlantic PR operations. The first dossier would be launched in September. Interestingly, I'm seeing a spike in search requests for both organisations.

A second wave of propaganda activity was then launched in the spring as the key UN and parliamentary votes approached and the military time-table counted down. And, sure enough, there was a second bout of torture; on this occasion, extra torture was approved by Donald Rumsfeld before the authorisation was taken back.

Via the Armchair Generalist, meanwhile, it turns out that the one detainee whose words actually made it into Colin Powell's February 2003 address to the UN, and who was tortured, has conveniently died in a Libyan jail.

Josh Marshall speaks sense; there is more here including an interview with Charles Duelfer, who apparently refused to order the torture of an Iraqi prisoner-of-war. Bully for him, if true. Few public officials can have been so Cheneyed; remember when he was being sent "leads" for the Iraq Survey Group that turned out to be in Lebanon?

Meanwhile, for colour: yer man was travelling with a doctor and a biochemical survival suit. I'd pay cash money to see him wear one of those.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

party of one

Reader "Ajay" has a theory that aviators are uniquely unfitted for government. There are a considerable number of data points in his favour. However, here's a possible counter-example. Ernest Millington has died; he was one of three MPs for the brief Common Wealth Party, a radical leftist group that emerged during the second world war, and held the Distinguished Flying Cross for completing no less than thirty bombing raids over Germany as a squadron leader in the crack 5 Group.

Later, after the party lost its other seats, he took the Labour whip and served on until he lost his seat in 1950. He later worked as an encyclopedia salesman, rejoined the RAF, and eventually became a teacher and a senior official in the London Borough of Newham's education service. The stories are predictably fantastic:
He left school because his father expelled him from home after he heard him address a crowd from a street- corner soapbox on behalf of the Labour League of Youth, alongside Ted Willis, the latterly ennobled creator of Dixon of Dock Green. Homeless and penniless, the boy found a clerk's job. He was sacked when his employer heard him evangelising for ethical socialism at Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park, London. He joined the Labour party – and was expelled in the late 1930s for supporting the Communist party-backed anti-fascist popular front....

While still a flight lieutenant, he went to an RAF conference at which he was the only officer present below the rank of wing commander, but also the one with the most operational experience. He disagreed strongly with plans advanced at the meeting, which he maintained would result in heavy casualties. This was noted by Air Vice-Marshal Sir Ralph Cochrane, commander of 5 Group, Bomber Command. Cochrane made him a squadron leader on the spot, promoted him to wing commander a few days later and posted him, in October 1944, as commanding officer of the new 227 squadron, based at Balderton in Nottinghamshire. A remarkable 30 Lancaster sorties followed, with raids ranging across Germany, Czechoslovakia and the Romanian oilfields, and taking in the bombing of Panzer tank groups during the Battle of the Bulge at Christmas 1944....

When Chelmsford's Conservative MP, Colonel J McNamara, was killed on his way home from Italy, a scratch group of Common Wealth supporters set about finding a candidate. Millington's views were well known in the area, and a deputation met him in a railway station waiting room. Ten minutes was all the time he could spare, and they made him their candidate there and then...

He first arrived at the Commons with his newly awarded Distinguished Flying Cross ribbon inexpertly self-sewn on to his uniform. A Conservative MP, who was a squadron leader in the RAF police, approached. "You are improperly dressed," he told Millington.

"If you are talking to me as an RAF officer," Millington replied, "take your hand out of your pocket and address a senior officer as 'Sir'. If you are addressing me as a fellow MP, mind your own business and bugger off."..
Some people just don't get it... The party was also far from boring, as its Wikipedia article sketches out. Leading figures included J.B. Priestley, the British Battalion of the International Brigade's former political commissar Tom Wintringham, and the rebel Liberal MP Sir Richard Acland, at a time when he thought Hitler had some remarkably sound ideas. Despite this, the party struck a consistent left-libertarian line based on a critique of managerialism and an interest in decentralisation of government and organisational theory.

So, the provisional wing of Chris Dillow, in short. Not being bound by the pact between the major political parties, under which they didn't contest by-elections during the wartime coalition so as not to alter the political balance, they stood at several by-elections and won, possibly to their own surprise. I was not as surprised, however, as I might have been that they took Skipton.

Eventually, the party fell apart as some of it wanted to be back in the Labour Party and others lost interest. Comically, it became involved with Plaid Cymru; less comically, a lot of ex-members helped to start Amnesty International.

Friday, May 15, 2009

I am troll, hear me roar!

Is tragic diva SNLI cracking up, ask friends? "Creepy obsession" with blogger raises old rumours about starlet; Max Clifford is holding on line one.

"He's very good with colours", says Andrew Exum of the Center for a New American Security. "Everyone around here relies on him for style tips before their TV appearances. I'd never have thought of giving my shemagh a light spritz of Crazed Wingnut before going on Rachel Maddow, but it made my performance..."

(In the future, trolls will be considered a strategic resource like oil.)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

get ready for another low dishonest decade

Great rant at Kosmograd against Kirstie Allsopp and much more economic-aesthetic crappery. I recall her grinning chops advertising some sort of Sink Your Life Savings And More In Bulgarian Property for Riches! fest on Tube hoardings in the winter of 2007-2008, which must take some sort of award for televisual irresponsibility. Swinging from branch to branch, what do I find but this?

Prince Charles made a fire station It appears that the heir to the throne has been playing with AutoCAD, and he made a fire station. I haven't yet decided which bits of this I find most horrible, but I think the fact that the actual fire station sticking out of the back looks like any other one in Britain is a candidate. The black guttering is pretty bad, and is that a CCTV camera on the corner of the building? I rather think it is.

You realise he's going to be king when Dave from PR is prime minister?


In support of the last post, here's some more top Pakistan blogging: intelligent comment about the Army in comments at AM, as well as sense from Chris "Chris" Williams, behind a post that demonstrates one of the core failings of Western thought about Pakistan. Specifically, Andy reckons the Pakistani army is failing; but failing to do what? It's not the American Foreign Legion. That's the Brits!

There is also sense from Juan Cole.

This is good, and I would like to say various things but for some reason I can't comment at JK's any more.

And slathering bigot comes out with something amusing:
The irony is that I always intended the COINdinista label to be affectionate. It plays upon what I think is the deep-seated wanderlust of the prominent counter-insurgents: They actually would rather be insurgents.

There's something swashbuckling about you and Kilcullen and pretty much anyone else who quotes Lawrence. You see, Lawrence was a revolutionary, really, not a counter-insurgent. For all his bluster, Nir is something of a pirate, too. And Gentile, supposedly the Czar of the Cointras, also has this personality trait.

To truly understand counter-insurgency, you secretly must want to be an insurgent.

support your local marplot

Laura Rozen reports that the US government is talking about Pakistan's "existential crisis". (They do not mean, apparently, brooding about lobsters and smoking too much.) It's currently being manifested by the Pakistani army fighting its way back into the Malakand Division; basic details here. Fans of Winston Churchill's My Early Life will of course remember that he took part in a similar operation in exactly the same place as a young man. Some words of his are probably appropriate here:
The Political Officers who accompanied the force, with white tabs on their collars, parleyed all the time with the chiefs, the priests and other local notables. These political officers were very unpopular with the army officers. They were regarded as marplots. It was alleged that they always patched things up and put many a slur upon the prestige of the Empire without ever letting anyone know about it. They were accused of the grievous crime of "Shilly
shallying," which being interpreted means doing everything you possibly can before you shoot.

We had with us a very brilliant political officer, a Major Deane, who was much disliked because he always stopped military operations. Just when we were looking forward to having a splendid fight and all the guns were loaded and everyone keyed up, this Major Deane - and why was he a Major anyhow? so we said, being in truth nothing better than an ordinary politician - would come along and put a stop to it all. Apparently all these savage chiefs were his old friends and almost his blood relations. Nothing disturbed their friendship. In between the fights, they talked as man to man and as pal to pal, just as they talked to our General as robber to robber.

We knew nothing about the police vs. the crook gangs in Chicago, but this must have been in the same order of ideas. Undoubtedly they all understood each other very well and greatly despised things like democracy, commercialism, money-getting, business, honesty and vulgar people of all kinds. We on the other hand wanted to let off our guns. We
had not come all this way and endured all these heats and discomforts which really were trying - you could lift the heat with your hands, it sat on your shoulders like a knapsack, it rested on your head like a nightmare - in order to participate in an interminable interchange of confidences upon unmentionable matters between the political officers and these sulky and murderous tribesmen.

And on the other side we had the very strong spirit of the 'die-hards' and the 'young bloods' of the enemy. They wanted to shoot at us and we wanted to shoot at them. But we were both baffled by what they called the elders, or as one might now put it 'the old gang,' and by what we could see quite plainly, the white tabs or white feathers on the lapels of the political officers.
As it turned out, the traditional authorities who Major Deane knew so well couldn't hold back the young bloods on this occasion, or it didn't suit their aims to do so, and Lieutenant Churchill and friends got the fight they were looking for.

However, nobody ever seriously imagined they would sweep out of the mountains into the Punjab. The only people who did imagine that were in distant London and almost as distant Delhi, where they insisted on imagining Russians everywhere. Otherwise, the question was always one of compromise. Today, we insist on projecting visions of the armies of Al-Qa'ida sweeping into the Punjab; as is well pointed out here, this is just as unlikely as it was in the days of Sir Bindon Blood as it is in the era of David Kilcullen.

As Arif Rafiq warns, the theatre of violence and the bureaucratic glamour of Richard Holbrooke is having much the same effect on the US government and the thinktank industry as the announcement of Bindon Blood mobilising for the Frontier had on the British Indian army of young Winston's day. Every ambitious young fool is suddenly a Pakistan expert, much as Churchill called in all his political contacts and travelled two thousand miles overland whilst theoretically on leave in order to get shot at in Malakand. You have to show willing, after all.

Hysteria has been a constant in Western thought about Pakistan ever since it was created. However, as I've said before, somehow the worst-case scenarios have a way of not happening. Either we're all incredibly lucky, or else the forces in Pakistani society that make for stability are stronger than outsiders imagine. It is worth repeating to yourself that 85 per cent of the population lives in Punjab or Sindh and that of the remaining 15 per cent, only 15 per cent of the fraction that lives in the NWFP votes Islamist.

Of course, hysteria has its uses; hence Robert Kaplan musing on just getting rid of Pakistan.
Especially in the west, the only border that lives up to the name is the Hindu Kush, making me think that in our own lifetimes the whole semblance of order in Pakistan and southeastern Afghanistan could unravel, and return, in effect, to vague elements of greater India
Can anyone imagine how this sounds to, say, a Pakistani Army officer? It's the business-class version of hoo-yah fuckwit Ralph Peters' irresponsible furblings. An exercise; substitute "Rio Grande" for Hindu Kush, Mexico for Pakistan, Texas for Afghanistan, and Spain for India, and you've got a classic American Apocalypse/Immigrant Panic rant. Although, Tom Ricks does Kaplan a disservice by confusing the Indus and the Tigris. It isn't quite that insane, but I think the slip is telling.

But the important point is that permanent crisis fuels the crisis industry. It helps to legitimate your ideas and staff your organisation. At the other end of the pipe, the permanent crisis helps the Pakistani government's Pakistan desk manipulate the US government's Pakistan desk. And their top priority is, of course, India; Robert Kaplan's geopolitics quoted above is all about looking north from the sea, towards Afghanistan, over Pakistan's shoulder as it were.

Want a policy prescription? Well, if everyone else is an expert, at least I serve only my own interests, and I have run this by the only Musharraf supporter I've ever met. I recommend a combination of this:
so if the people feel they don't have a say in their own fate, "Washington" should come up with a new plan they don't have any say in? I don't get it. The one thing we haven't tried doing yet is persuading the Pakistani people we're on their side, rather than telling them we are and dumping millions of unaccountable dollars into their country.
and this:
But cliche seems to drive policy here. Pakistan doesn’t need gap shrinkers, assault ships, setting up the precinct or any other Thomas Barnett bollocks. What it needs is respect, and specifically respect for civilian government.
Just stop pressing those buttons.

IP over Mud

Remember cows with blogs? Sure ya do. This week I was talking M2M technology again, but with people who are way more hardcore about it than Scottish farmers wanting to give their cows RSS feeds, or even wind turbine engineers wanting to monitor the state of their bearings and power-control electronics. Putting control logic on the seabed is problematic, but putting it at the end of a drill, thousands of feet below it, at silly temperatures?

That's science fiction, but the scary bit was the communications question. You can't really do anything like that with radio, so they modulate the flow of drilling mud up to the surface to squeeze out a few bits/second of bandwidth. Seriously - it's called mud-pulse telemetry. Of course, as you can only hope for 3 or so bits a second at the depths in question, this is why the control logic needs to be down at the drill and largely automatic.

We are, of course, talking oil here, and specifically the ultra-deepwater stuff BG Group has hacked out a speciality in. What struck me is that people constantly talk of the supposed complexity and difficulty of utilising renewable energy, and they tend to assume that oil is simple to extract. Intelligent drills and mud-pulse telemetry to you.

but how do I vote against them?

I don't do this very often, but I'm going to link to the Mail: this is a definitive ferret kebabbing reported hatchet job on ACPO. We live in strange times; usually they only devote this sort of work to some poor woman trying to blag £5 more housing benefit. But thar ye go. It's one to keep around as a comments thread grenade, that bursts and scatters hard facts with sharp corners.

I've said it before; ACPO must go. It's Britain's newest political party, a free-floating lobby for authoritarianism that permits the executive branch of government to engage in parliamentary politics, a policy-laundering entity that carries out operational police tasks but which is shielded from local or parliamentary accountability and ministerial line management and which is also exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, and a rent-seeking missile devoted to enriching its management at the taxpayer's expense.

It must go, and there is a simple way to achieve this. As a commercial company, it has essentially one customer, the Home Office. It does have other products, but their value lies entirely in the monopoly the Home Office has granted ACPO over them. Kill the body and the head must die. Cut its funding and either privatise or nationalise its operational functions. Alternatively, it could be converted into a Police Central Services Authority managing things like the PNC and the NPIA, accountable to the usual public powers, or even rolled into the Met. Either way, it's really got to go.

it's like welfare reform but with politicians

What is the time value of scandal? One of the curious things about the current MPs' expenses row is that the whole thing is pointless. Empty. The whole lot is going to be published anyway. So it's interesting that the political-press complex is so obsessed by getting hold of - or concealing - information that will be published anyway. It's clear that publication is going to be an ugly event for a lot of them, regardless of party. But it's considered worthwhile to pay £150,000, or as Anton Vowl points out, five journalist-years to get a smattering of the information early.

This is of course precisely what I said would happen if the receipts weren't published, here:
If this goes through, you can be certain that the only information that gets out will be selectively leaked to embarrass political opponents. It will happen to you.
And, indeed, that is what is happening. Clearly, the political-press complex feels there is value in asymmetry - even if the sky is going to fall on the whole gang, it's worth getting in a dig at one side because that way, at least you've had a news cycle's worth of partisan smears for your side. The ugly nature of the whole game is well showed up by the Phil Woolas story, which can be summed up as "he bought nappies! and tampons! whether he expensed them or not, nudge nudge, dog whistle, is he a gayer?" A nasty little nonkinetic job from Central Office, on perhaps the most egregious bastard in the government.

Meanwhile, the parliamentary authorities have gone completely mad. I especially liked the "weekend helpline" for MPs who are troubled by the prospect of disclosure. Perhaps the Samaritans could operate it, or else Hazel Blears could send them to compulsory happiness lessons and dock their wages if they don't show up. They've already been offered a leaflet and an 0845 number.

If you want my advice? Bring forward publication.

Somebody is clearly rationing the leaks according to partisan considerations; I for one can't wait for Gideon's exes to hit the tabs, but do you see any of that? And only shock tactics will convince the buggers to take this seriously. So do it - now. Send the lot to, and we can have an equal-opportunity scandalfest. Drop the bomb. Exterminate all the brutes!

Saturday, May 09, 2009

an enterprise of great advantage, but none to know what it is

Iduntity cards. Jamie quotes a Computer Weekly article on a "business breakfast" with Jacqui Smith as proof of private sector interest in the project. A business breakfast with Jacqui Smith; the horror. I remember that a "breakfast briefing" with a certain mobile industry luminary who would always have it at Claridges when he was in London always consisted of an interview and no breakfast, but at least it wasn't no breakfast with Jacqui Smith.

You may remember that the government has consistently refused to cost either the card readers, none of which exist, or the enrolment process, by attributing it to the private sector fairy.

However, no company has ever gone public and stated their interest in the scheme. So the CW story is interesting because it says that
Post offices, pharmacists, supermarkets, high street chemists, local authorities and universities have expressed an interest in taking the fingerprints and photos of applicants for ID cards.
In fact quite a lot of local authorities and universities have expressed refusal to cooperate in the scheme. But no company is actually mentioned in the story; there are no names, nor any suggestion of what constituted "interest".

CW has been historically the absolute best news source on ID cards, but I find this a little strange, and it strikes me as sounding a lot like the official line. It also doesn't say if any of the people who expressed an interest were present, or if so, whether they expressed it at the time.

However, there is some interesting news in here; it seems that there is a new PR strategy afoot.
She introduced a well-made and expensive film which portrayed the ID card as a designer brand. "Identity: what does it mean? Sometimes it's about individuality, to say that you are you."...It sounds a good business arrangement, especially for post offices, which struggle to exist.
It's a twofer - aspirational property-bubble bollocks plus populist-cum-Prince Charles sentimentality about sub-post offices. Sick bucket to the guy with the laptop!

Interestingly, those people who have expressed any thoughts from the private sector sound quite different. Here's another CW story:
Confederation of British Industry deputy director general John Cridland questioned the robustness of the enrolment process, saying, "One sticking point is the requirement on the private sector to provide information that can be used to verify data held on the national register without making clear who will be liable for the accuracy of the information and how it will be used. The government must address this as a matter of urgency if it wants to build confidence in the scheme."

The British Bankers Association said the banking industry had no plans to use biometrics to authenticate customers or transactions.
By the way, the Manchester trial will not actually provide any cards, because neither they nor the NIR will be ready. You'll be able to "pre-register", which sounds a lot like paying £30 for sweet fuck all. I'm more than interested to know exactly who will sign up.

still no war with Iran

Iran war watch; Pat Lang quotes a Ha'aretz story about the Israeli air force practising long-range missions towards Gibraltar as preparation for an attack on Iran. The original is here. The first thing that is interesting is that this story has been repeated at regular intervals for some time. In fact, I believe it's been floated every spring for several years (2007, for example). The second is that, if you look at the actual text, it's got several markers of nonsense in it; the only sources are references to other media, and none of those actually quote any text. There are direct claims, but they are sourced to anonymous intelligence briefers, and they don't actually corroborate the story. Rather wonderfully, one of them goes so far as to say that:
The message to Iran is that the threat is not just words
Of course not. But what I'm interested in is the significance of Gibraltar here; it's not a set of coordinates in the open ocean or the desert, it's an actual place with people, who have newspapers and the Internet. (Of course, it's possible that it has a similar psychic significance to the Be'kaa Valley as a Happy Hunting Ground of nonsense.) Not only that, it's a military base that bristles with radars and electronic intelligence equipment. Carrying out a major air exercise near it seems...bizarre, unless the point was to show off.

But the only people who they could show off to would be GCHQ, and they aren't talking. And it's not just Britain, either. Both Spain and Morocco have air-traffic control and air-defence radars operating in the area. Further, wouldn't it all have been a bit obvious? Past descriptions of this mentioned as many as 50 aircraft, an impromptu airshow that could hardly have failed to attract attention on the beach at La Linea.

This is what the Panorama, Gibraltar's local newspaper since 1975, has to say:
This is not the first time that there has been a mention of 'Israeli military aircraft flying to Gibraltar', but in the past this has been interpreted to mean that aircraft may have flown to the 'Strait of Gibraltar area' and back to Israel, but NOT to Gibraltar itself.
So nobody's actually seen one? Consider me the Tony Dye of Iran-war bullshit.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Francis Maude: Toxic Pusher

Do you know those TV adverts for getting a really big loan to pay off all the other loans, with blue water and pretty girls, and very small print? Debt consolidation. That's Francis Maude. That's his job.

One of Prestbury's appointed representatives, Clear Mortgages, encouraged customers to "mortgage up to the hilt in Spain" on, to avoid inheritance tax duties

Unfortunately, they always get a pass 'cos of cyburbia interwub thingy, or whatever it is that keeps national journalists from doing a modicum of research. Here is Maude speaking.
"The sector has been regulated for the past few years and Prestbury has been subject to regulation by the FSA, and our brokers as well. The business got into some serious difficulties, which came from brokers and mortgages, the housing market collapsed and basically so did the business.

"When you talk about sub-prime, a lot of what would have been done [in the Prestbury network] was not frankly [sub-prime] mortgages, and would have been self-employed people rather than people with low credit," he said.
So, to start with, it's the world recession if you're a Tory, it's the Hayekian truth of Austrian economics, cap in hand to the IMF, a form of Gestapo very humanely directed in the first instance, etc etc, if you aren't. Not my fault, guv. Moving on, though, what Maude is describing is what the Americans, who invented them, call an Alt-A mortgage.

The original idea was that these would be offered to people who were broadly creditworthy, but whose income was volatile because they were self-employed. However, this became a cover for dodgy mortgage brokers to push out loans to anyone who could fill in the form, in order to make their numbers. As the whole point was that it didn't need so much documentation, a huge amount of them were accepted by the banks and sold on without any real scrutiny. As far back as 2005, if you read the right blogs, it was clear they were going just the same way as subprime.

Maude's loan operation went belly up, but then, what do you expect from the man who failed steadily upwards since 1997?

Osborne goes cap in hand to the IMF

Tories. I'm in full agreement with Matthew here; I really suspect that the mood music about "austerity" (plays well with the demographics) and "IMF" is actually preparing the ground for the Conservatives to pull a deliberate financial freakout once in office. Osborne has been pushing a line that We Have No Idea How Bad It Really Is for some time.

One of the main uses of this institution is as a combined reason and excuse to push through horrible right-wing bollocks that you'd never get away with in normal politics, and the total collapse of its influence in the 2000s seems to have had remarkably little effect on it. They are still ordering countries like Iceland and Hungary to put up interest rates in order to pull in hot money, something which just isn't ever going to happen now and is only explicable in economic terms by a desire to push down wages. It is also explicable in anthropological terms as a cargo cult - do the same things in exactly the same way and maybe we'll be important like we were in the 80s!

My guesses for the targets are three well-known TLAs - the NHS, the BBC, and the MOD, especially those bits of it that represent independent enabling capabilities with regard to the US. After all, we can do nothing; the IMF made us do it. There is an alternative view that Gideon will be given the boot by a Ken Clarke-led wave of realism, but then, a lot of people have been made fools of hoping for the Tories to listen to Ken Clarke.

How can we resist this? IMF riots may be traditional, but they have the fault that they usually happen after Jeffrey Sachs is called in and the damage is done. After all, as "RickDFL" points out in comments at the Washington Monthly, the lack of universal healthcare in the US is a major structural advantage for the Right.

Saturday, May 02, 2009


So, it's over; the British Army's responsibilities in southern Iraq have been handed over, and now the rapid drawdown begins. Colour me delighted. But...this is also the last opportunity to do anything for past Iraqi employees. I'm aware that some number of them were taken to the UK, but I reckon someone ought to make like Alexander and go round the beaches with a megaphone looking for anyone who's been left behind. So I'll be on to the MP, and maybe the MoD press office too. If you want to as well, please do.

...but there's lots of girls with peroxide curls and the black & tan flows free

A data point from Germany. You may recall the debate regarding whether or not it was possible for the 7th July bombers to have concentrated their own hydrogen peroxide without needing special equipment; Dsquared took it to the point of carrying out dubious experiments in his freezer.

It seems that the so-called Sauerland group of wannabe terrorists actually attempted to boil the 730 kgs of peroxide they had collected. According to last Wednesday's Berliner Zeitung, they did this with the help of two large stainless steel pans, and when they failed to observe progress they assumed that the peroxide was reacting with the metal.

In fact they had been jarked, and the peroxide swapped for much more dilute peroxide by the police. (Their reaction was surprising, as they were aware of police surveillance.) The story, for German-speakers, is here; the police claim they switched the material at least partly for fear that the suspects would blow themselves up in their kitchen and thus wreck the case.

So, trying to reduce your own peroxide; still not wise, but they do try it.

ranting in Clerkenwell

So, Chris "Chris" Williams, J. Carter Wood, and I met up in London to attend the aftermath of this ORG event. A good time was had, even though we didn't find Charlie or Cory at the Three Kings; we heard of how I made an epic fool of myself in Berlin, how policemen are exported, an uncharacteristic moment of feminism at the Daily Express in the 1920s, British advisors to South Vietnam, and Chris's vow to avoid sit-ins until his kids have grown up. The crowd was unusual; a mixture of tall and skinny fashion-twits and politicised computer-folk. Which is roughly what it's like in my head, I suppose.

French blogs considered harmful, in a good way

You thought Abu Muqawama was cool? You're behind the curve. I've only been reading the new French multiblog, Alliance Geostrategique for a few weeks, and they come out with a series of posts like these: Living in the city at war, or how the difference between the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian centre of Sarajevo (narrow streets, no sightlines) and the modern suburbs - similarly high density, but achieved through building upwards - conditioned not only the tactics of the siege but also meant that day and night were reversed depending which part of town you were in.

There's an interesting take on the Israeli officers who applied French postmodern thought to assaulting Nablus and Jenin; interestingly, they were deprived of influence after the air force took over by appointing Dan Harel as chief of the general staff. Too intellectual. Haven't I said that the world's rightwing forces successfully operationalised postmodernism?

And there's a good discussion of Nahr al-Bared, the politics of Lebanon, and the validity or otherwise of "war among the people". Best of all, no wingnuts either.

Ballard, appreciated

I've been reading J.G. Ballard on and off for years. The first thing I read of his was the short story My Dream of Flying to Wake Island, which was included in an anthology edited by (of all people) Frederick Forsyth. I remember vividly the weird, inspiring force of it. Much later I got into him seriously; our local library held a surprising amount of his science fiction.

It was permission to wonder at what mental processes underlay the bizarre things that powerful and respectable people were constantly doing, to treat the present in the same way that other SF writers treat the future and most other writers treat the past. (This is, of course, the distinctive achievement of the New Wave he co-founded.) And, no matter how weird and sinister this history of the future became, Ballard offered us no fear of the future.

I regularly complain that British culture is ridden with compulsory nostalgia. In fact, it seems to me that every citizen is required to complete a term of national service in the past and to remain on the reserve in case of a worrisome outbreak of futurity. I wonder what power relationships this nostalgia conscription serves. Ballard, at least, offered an opportunity to desert from compulsory nostalgia, and a compelling vision of reality-as-fantasy that actually seemed to respond to the forces that govern the future - who fucking cares, after all, about tedious British politics and official literature? (That the Grauniad Review asked Martin Amis of all people to reflect on Ballard is the final, confirming stamp on this.)

The Ballardian environment: someone asks Slashdot for advice about assembling a cluster of servers in tropical jungle, nobody seriously asks why. Brazilians borrow a US Navy tactical communications satellite, which turns out to operate entirely in the clear and unsecured, because who'd do that?

A right-wing US politician advises his colleagues to emulate the Taliban because they
"went about systematically understanding how to disrupt and change a person's entire processes."
We know, meanwhile, that the people who did this were the CIA, working for the politicians he supported. As Ballard himself said, of course it's obscene and intended to be so.

Surprising numbers of people believe that spoof rightwing TV blowhard Stephen Colbert is a real rightwing blowhard.
Additionally, there was no significant difference between the groups in thinking Colbert was funny, but conservatives were more likely to report that Colbert only pretends to be joking and genuinely meant what he said while liberals were more likely to report that Colbert used satire and was not serious when offering political statements.
Accident, or is he deliberately feeding them bad lines? Perhaps that's how Bush got elected.

Hedi Slimane photographs the cadets of Saint-Cyr; surprisingly basic drugs reactivate an immune mechanism we stopped using 7 million years ago - and what else? In California, people are knocking down houses that were built last year and the swimming pools are famously turning green.

Somali pirates pursue cocaine-white glassfibre Monegasque superyachts; pirates with media spokesmen, that is. RIP, JGB; if you prefer, that is.

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