Thursday, March 31, 2011

Non-Thursday music link, on Thursday

We've not done one of these for a while, and I meant to get around to a Loleatta Holloway tribute link at some point. Here goes - an absolute killer of a remix that dropped out of the YouTube playlist by chance.

Meanwhile, depress yourself!

The auction of machine tools and fittings, including a 10m antique boardroom table and 20 matching chairs is now being advertised; it takes place at the end of the month.

Ah, where did I leave that post? This stands up pretty well too.

I've been rating my way through the SXSW torrent, which is far less fun than it sounds. Sturgeon's law applies - in fact it's worse than 90% of everything being shit, it's more like 90% of everything is inoffensive and a significant chunk of the other 10% is offensive. But then it got worse, thanks to this tweet. The best is the enemy of the good, but they are natural allies against the mediocre.

Monday, March 28, 2011

a little rugby league blogging

A bit of Rugby League blogging. It's been a weird start to the season. Not so long ago - but after more than a few games - London/sorry/Harlequins RL were top of the league. (Regarding the name, I'm not the only one. I saw a Fulham RL shirt at this weekend's game.) And the top three included Huddersfield and Castleford. Meanwhile, the big four were in the bottom half of the table. It's early season madness, of course.

Things are a bit less weird now - Wigan have started to play more like the defending champions, Warrington have imposed themselves as the best side so far. Their game with St Helens was probably the best so far. But the top three are currently the Wire, Cas, and Fartown, with Saints and Wigan behind. Leeds and Bradford are further off.

Yesterday's match at the Stoop ended up being a surprising classic. Hull FC were good - they damn well should be, given some of the faces in the side, even if nobody's actually related to Willie Mason. London pulled back an early advantage, and eventually hit a blast of form in the second half. At this point they looked good value for anything. Quick. Tough. Neat. It was a great afternoon in west London, a misty bath of sunshine swimming with Airbus A380s on easterly operations, and even the Hull FC people were reasonably pleasant. (I've been hard on them in the past and they occasionally show up in comments to whine about it, but on this occasion, they were almost as nice as Hull Kingston Rovers fans.)

London chose the moment to do another of their epic chokes. Heading for the finish, Hull began to sense a crack or two. This was the moment for (who else) Sean Long, still with his Saints-colours gumshield after all these years, to crank the pressure up. Starting at 30-16 down, they hauled the game in. At 30-26, London looked like setting up a dropgoal attempt. It didn't happen - not much else did - and a couple of tackles later they gave away a daft penalty. Hull scored, pulled ahead, and despite the inevitable short kick-off, London couldn't pull off a two-minute raid. It didn't matter, in fact - they kept scoring. In the end Hull got from 30-16 down to 40-30 up in less than a point a minute. You can see why Saints want Long back. Actually it wasn't so much him but Sam Obst, their stand-off, who really did the deed.

Meanwhile, Keighley lost to Whitehaven 24-10.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


I'll be out tomorrow. Obviously. Setting off from Archway tube at 1015. Anyway, updates will be at the twitter feed.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

now he's stopped, he's much better in our sex life and in our general life

At my local gym on Friday, I was accused of abusing steroids. Just like that - I'd finished my weights session and moved on to the abs, when some random guy approached me and said "Here - are you on gear?" No. "I mean, are you on gear?" No, I'm not on steroids. [Cancel the maniac, please] "I mean, you're lifting heavy for your physique, man."

All the while, I couldn't stop thinking of the Geoff Wode scene in Withnail & I. "Look at him! Look at Geoff Wode!" Recreational steroid users and people who know most of the W&I script are probably two groups with a minimal intersection set.

aspirational torturer

It says something about the modern thinkers that one of the Egyptian spooks the Piggipedia team identified turns out to be working in the "Security and Loss Prevention" department of a major hypermarket chain. Having lifted photos with names on them from their HQ, they started searching PofacedBook - sorry, LinkedIn - for them, and discovered many more stories like this. That particular spy had been in charge of infiltrating NGOs before shifting over to the retail sector. Sadly, they started deleting profiles pretty quickly.

the only thing worse than being exploited...

Is if the exploiters miss you out, said Joan Robinson of capitalism.

A twofer of Owen Hatherley on Manchester. Thoughts: it's surely a slightly odd idea that London is rich because of the housing market, rather than the other way around, although I can certainly imagine an unusually dense Blairite town-hall politician getting that impression. Bu then, I wouldn't class the GMC pols as being that dense. And this:

In a way it’s hard to resent them and again this is the major flaw in my stuff about Manchester. The thing is I don’t remember it when it was fucked.

Well, this is the turd in the punch bowl. Is there an even vaguely credible alternative route from about 1983 forwards that goes anywhere else, thinking of the basically hostile central government for most of that period and the various path dependencies? Owen is working on the assumption that without the redevelopment era, we'd have found our way back to the high welfare state in the end, rather than - essentially - Thornton Road in Bradford. It's a sort of sick, el cheapo parody of Tony Wilson urbanism, with converted mills that end up being rented to not one but two serial killers in ten years, and positively Sicilian half-built failed projects like the motorway to nowhere, the Interchange, Abbey National, the Millenium Faith experience, the Alsop master plan, and the rubble zone.

Actually, making a list of 'em, the periodicity between failures seems to be declining over time, the rate picking up, and one of them includes Will Alsop, so perhaps he has a point. But I still think this rant against decay-porn in a US context could be imported.

declare independence. don't let them do that to you!

Alliance Géostrategique is having a month on the theme of independence.

Some thoughts: First of all, we're constantly exhorted to act as individuals but also to be aware of interdependence. "Interdependence" seems to be the neoliberal mirror image of "solidarity" - rather than being a force that makes for positive liberty, it seems to be a negative one. You never here of anything good coming of it - rather, it's always about financial crises, viruses spreading on the airlines, cascade failures in supply chains and Internet routing, terrorists and organised criminal networks. We are asked to fork out in the name of interdependence, while individuals profit.

Of course, this is where the similarity with "solidarity" turns up. The supposed virtues of "solidarity" or "community" are often, even usually, indistinguishable from stifling conservatism, Nosey Parker, and the sort of family ethic where everyone knows the worst about everyone else but some people are never held responsible for it. To be really cynical, you know it's solidarity (or interdependence) when someone's rattling their tin under your nose.

Getting back to the point, in the world of "interdependence", why would anyone want independence? If even major powers are constrained by rules, what's the point? Between the 1980s and the great financial crisis, there was a fashion for a sort of soft nationalism, especially in Europe, in which it was argued that small states were worth having precisely because so many of the big questions of peace and war and fundamental economics had been reserved by institutions like the EU, NATO, the Bretton Woods structures, the WTO, and the less formal systems of the international community. Although there was not much point in having a Scottish Army, by the same token, it didn't matter. Therefore things like "Europe of the regions" and friends were a valid proposition.

One of the most dangerous toys left to a small state (or autonomous province) was its financial system. If you couldn't have a Ruritanian foreign policy, you could decide to be a freewheeling sin city of a financial centre, which would give your ruling elite the sort of self-importance the dance of diplomacy did in the Edwardian era. And, in the years when the financial sector itself was exploding in size, it meant real money. Importantly, the same slice in absolute terms means a lot more in relative terms to a small state. So, everyone and their dog wanted to be their regional money centre. In much the same way as the Edwardian small powers insisted on having a battleship or two of their own, they all insisted on having a bank of sorts and building up whatever local financial institutions were available into investment banks. This could be on the grand scale (RBS, WestLB) or on a much smaller one, like some of the Spanish cajas or the Hypo Alpe-Adria in Jörg Haider's fief. (As Winston Churchill said about the proliferation of battleships, it is sport to them, it is death to us.)

It's better that people should play with banks rather than battleships, of course - J.K. Galbraith said that one of the great things about a crash was that although it was a fine opportunity to observe all that was worst in human nature, nothing more important was being lost than money. (He may have been wrong - Chris Dillow observes that financial crises seem to destroy wealth more effectively and for longer than natural disasters.)

But I think the hilarious stories of Icesave, RBS, Hypo Alpe-Adria, that caja that was managed by the Church, and so on do tell us something about the value of formal independence, even limited formal independence like that of Scotland or Catalonia, in the era of "interdependence".

Essentially, I think, the one product that any degree of legal independence lets you produce is impunity. The legal status of independence is important here - without it, you're limited to hawking the bonds of the Serbian Republic of Northern Krajina to unusually dim marks, but with it, you can be of service to the world's plutocrats. Some features of independence that always sell include:

  1. Financial regulation

  2. Tax

  3. Shipping and aviation registries

  4. Corporate registries

  5. Criminal and civil jurisdiction

  6. An Internet top-level domain

  7. A direct dialling prefix

  8. Diplomatic privileges

  9. Passports

Criminal and civil jurisdiction, as impunity services go, have lost some value over the years as extradition treaties proliferate, legal norms are internationalised, and contracts come with arbitration clauses. Further, ever since the US Marshals hauled off Noriega, it's been at least conceivable that an extradition request may be delivered by 1,000lb air courier, in a vertical fashion and without warning. But facilitating tax evasion, the concealment of ownership, and the registration of ships and aircraft without taking responsibility for them are all highly valuable services.

Similarly, being able to register a horde of spammy websites is a good business to be in, especially if your own laws provide for genuinely bullet proof hosting. Unfortunately, many small island states are vulnerable to vigilante action by the Internet operations community as they only have direct access to one transit provider. Lending your direct dial prefix to anyone who wants to originate a mass of sales or propaganda phone calls is also a good business, especially if it involves callbacks and their attendant termination fees.

Finally, selling diplomatic privileges is the individualised version of the state's impunity. Holding an Angolan diplomatic passport kept Pierre Falcone out of jail for 10 years.

Arguably, turning the libertarian view of the state on its head, it is precisely the minimal state that is the closest to the status of one of John Robb's "gangs of black globalisation". Fascinatingly, some valuable criminal functions persist even in the absence of the canonical monopoly of force. It is probably no accident that the neoliberal era has coexisted with an unprecedented proliferation of ostensibly independent states.

We've not had a Thursday music link this week....

Because if anywhere made full use of the fraudulent possibilities of sovereign status, of course...

Admin: econoposts

Two new posts on Stable & Principled: why George Osborne is a strange kind of Keynesian, and a surprisingly radical response to the crisis from the LSE.

Prior reading: here.


The Zimbabwe Daily News is back after eight years of repression.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

There is no crisis

OK, so as well as the big demo, currently standing at 578 coaches and counting, there's going to be a day of action on the NHS on the 1st of April - April Fool's day, surely someone can make something creative out of that. So I thought I'd open another flank. Flipchart Fairy Tales has already covered the issue as well as anyone will, but the point is quite simply that they're all lying to you about public pensions.

They're lying to you

That's a chart of the forecast cost of the entire public sector pensions system as a percentage of GDP, with a sensitivity analysis showing what happens to it if you change various parameters like life expectancy, productivity growth, and such. The coloured area each side of the line on the chart (the central projection, showing what the forecasters think is the most likely scenario) shows the range of possible outcomes if those assumptions are set to different values, to take into account the uncertainties involved.

But the most interesting feature of the chart is this: the peak cost is this year, 2011. This isn't subject to very much uncertainty at all - we know very well how much public pensions will pay out this year. So, why on earth is anyone talking about cutting public sector pensions, when their cost is going to fall every year from here on in as far as, ah, the financial year 2059/2060, by which time we'll either be hastily revising the budget to deal with the National Union of Robots or else scratching it on part of a ruined conference centre in Harrogate with a sharp stone as Chinese occupation troops armed with spears look on.

And it's not some unusually lefty wanktank that's come up with this through highly advanced ex ano analysis. This chart was dug out of horrible Blairite gargoyle John Hutton's urgent report on why public sector pensions have to be slashed yesterday, and it was prepared by the Government Actuaries' Department.

So, I'd like to find out exactly how many and which MPs have seen it, know what it means, and what they think as a result.

Here are some questions, with the answer in (brackets):

1) What do you think public sector pensions cost as a percentage of GDP, right now? (answer: 1.9%)
2) Is this rising or falling? (falling)
3) What do you think they will cost in 2020? (1.8%)
4) What do you think they will cost in 2050, in the Treasury's worst-case scenario? (1.5%)
5) In the light of this, do you support cuts to public sector pensions? (left as an exercise to your representatives)

And tell me about it. (Apologies are of course due to Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo fame.)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

You are experiencing the flexibility in the rule in that they haven't already deleted you

Here's Yahoo!, heroically defending the image rights of individual Egyptian torturers. It looks like it's getting time to slurp all my stuff out of Y!, but beyond that, what a thread. The number of people queuing up to explain how compassionate and reasonable the boss is being. Ugh. Frankly, I think you might as well post the damn photos if you stormed the secret police headquarters.

So you may as well support the Piggipedia and write to them at this e-mail address:

PS, after all the cock about Facebook revolutions, the US State Department's taking its sweet time to call off Yahoo!'s intellectual-property Brian Coats. You might think they were embarrassed about potential disclosures.

787: the plane Milton Friedman built, and about as well as you'd expect

This LA Times story about the Boeing 787 Dreamliner (so called because it's still a dream - let's get the last drop from that joke before it goes into service) and the role of outsourcing is fascinating. It is partly built on a paper by a senior Boeing engineer which makes among other things, this point:

Among the least profitable jobs in aircraft manufacturing, he pointed out, is final assembly — the job Boeing proposed to retain. But its subcontractors would benefit from free technical assistance from Boeing if they ran into problems, and would hang on to the highly profitable business of producing spare parts over the decades-long life of the aircraft. Their work would be almost risk-free, Hart-Smith observed, because if they ran into really insuperable problems they would simply be bought out by Boeing.

Even in its own financial terms, the whole thing didn't make sense, because the job of welding together the subassemblies and hooking up the wires doesn't account for much of the profit involved. Further, the supposedly high-margin intellectual-property element of the business - the research, development, and design of the plane - is only a profit centre after it's been built. Until they're done, it requires enormous amounts of investment to get right. The outsourcers were expecting the lowest-margin element of the company, assembly, to carry the costs of developing new products. Whether they were funded with equity or with debt, this implies that the systems integrator model, for aircraft at least, fundamentally restricts innovation.

This is one of the points I'd like to bring out here. Hart-Smith's paper - you can read it here - is much stronger on this than the LA Times was willing to be. It's a fascinating document in other ways, too. For a start, the depth of outsourcing Boeing tried to achieve with the 787 is incompatible with many of the best practices used in other industries. Because the technical interfaces invariably become organisational and economic ones, it's hard to guarantee that modules from company X will fit with the ones from Y, and if they don't, the adjustment mechanism is a lawsuit at the financial level, but at the technical level, it's rework. The dodgy superblock has to be re-worked to get it right, and this tends to land up with the manufacturer. Not only does this defeat the point of outsourcing in the first place, it obviates the huge importance of avoiding expensive rework.

Further, when anything goes wrong, the cost migrates remorselessly to the centre. The whole idea of systems integration and outsourcing is that the original manufacturer is just a collection of contracts, the only location where all the contracts overlap. Theoretically, as near to everything as possible has been defined contractually and outsourced, except for a final slice of the job that belongs to the original manufacturer. This represents, by definition, all the stuff that couldn't be identified clearly enough to write a contract for it, or that was thought too risky/too profitable (depends on which end you look at it) for anyone to take the contract on. If this was finance, rather than industry, it would be the equity tranche. One of the main reasons why you can't contract for something, of course, is that you don't know it's going to happen. So the integrator essentially ends up holding all the uncertainty, in so far as they can't push it off onto the customer or the taxpayer.

This also reminded me a little of Red Plenty - one of the problems is precisely that it's impossible to ensure that all the participants' constraints are mutually compatible. There are serious Pareto issues. There may be something like an economic law that implies that, given that there are some irreducible uncertainties in each contractual relationship, which can be likened to unallocated costs, they flow downhill towards the party with the least clearly defined role. You could call it Harrowell's U-Bend. (Of course, in the macroeconomy, the party with the least well defined role is government - who you gonna call?)

Anyway, Hart-Smith's piece deserves a place in the canon of what could be termed Sarcastic Economics.

I suspect that the problems he identifies have wider consequences in the economy. Given that it's always easier to produce more or less of a given good than it is to produce something different, the degree to which it's possible to reallocate capital has a big impact on how quickly it's possible to recover from a negative shock, and how bad the transition process is. I would go so far as to argue that it's most difficult to react to an economic shock by changing products, it's next most difficult to react by producing more (you could be at a local maximum and need to invest more capital, for example), and it's easiest to react by producing less, and that therefore there's a structural bias towards deflationary adjustment.

Hart-Smith's critique holds that the whole project of retaining product development, R&D, and commercial functions like sales in the company core, and contracting everything else out actually weakens precisely those functions. Rather than being able to develop new products quickly by calling on outside resources, the outside resources suck up the available capital needed to develop new products. And the U-bend effect drags the costs of inevitable friction towards them. Does this actually reduce the economy's ability to reallocate capital at the macrolevel? Does it strengthen the deflationary forces in capitalism?

Interestingly, there's also a presentation from Airbus knocking about which gives their views on the Dreamliner fiasco. Tellingly, they seem to think that it was Boeing's wish to deskill its workforce as far as possible that underlies a lot of it. Which is ironic, coming from an enormous aerospace company. There's also a fascinating diagram showing that no major assembly in the 787 touches one made by the same company or even the same Boeing division - exactly what current theories of the firm would predict, but then, if it worked we wouldn't be reading this.

Assembly work was found to be completed incorrectly only after assemblies reached the FAL. Root causes are: Oversight not adequate for the high level of outsourcing in assembly and integration, Qualification of low-wage, trained-on-the-job workers that had no previous aerospace experience

I wonder what the accident rate was like.

A question to the reader: 1) How would you apply this framework to the cost overruns on UK defence projects? 2) Does any of this remind you of rail privatisation?

status: it's complicated

This post brings several things to mind. Apparently, eastern Libya was a hugely overrepresented area among the international jihadis who went to Iraq and there exploded. Clearly, this means that you can't assume that they're fighting for democracy, whiskey, sexy.

However, it's also very likely that this represented a deliberate policy on the part of the Libyan government to channel its dissidents into particular ideologies that its new friends also perceived as the enemy, and then to ship them out of the country and hope they would explode somewhere else. Making jihadis - repressing all other forms of dissidence, while not trying too hard to stop them recruiting or leaving the country - had the side benefit that it validated their claim to be a bastion of stability assailed by Islamic extremism. They could produce the extremists, after all. And it further allowed them to avoid burning all their bridges with the other side. If it became expedient to make friends with the terrorists again, they could produce the bloody shirts - the martyrdom videos - and demonstrate that they had been useful.

Of course, Gadhafi didn't have to be an evil genius to come up with this plan - he was essentially copying Saudi Arabia's homework, and depending on how you look at the relationship between the Egyptian regime and the Brothers, perhaps sneaking a look at the neighbours' as well. Giddens may have thought they were going to be a new Norway, but the real plan was more like Saudi 2.0, probably right down to the hereditary government.

Another lesson from this is that they're probably not going to give up easily.

If these are the compromises, the power better be good

If you need anything to read this week, don't stick around here. Nick Davies for, as they say, the win. Follow the links - it gets better. There's much more detail here. This is a truly amazing story of crypto-politics, journalism, police corruption, and general depravity. Do you prefer the police/Murdoch spy who went to jail for planting cocaine on a woman involved in a divorce case before being accused of killing his business partner with an axe, or the bent copper who investigated the axe case and then took the victim's job, who was later convicted of being an Internet paedophile? Take your pick - as they may not have said to the victim...

And wouldn't you love to have been a fly on the wall when David Cameron and Nick Clegg were briefed about the whole rotten pile when they decided to hire Andy Coulson, who, it turns out, gave coke guy his job back after he got out of jail? The sad thing is that I can imagine Clegg lapping it up. If this is what Vince means when he talks about the compromises of power, I must be in line for real power...

But it's wider than that. There's something appallingly telling about the culture of the whole thing. Morgan's body was found with two packets of crisps in his hands. Crisps. The case eventually fell apart because enormous piles of police documents kept either disappearing, as happened in the original 1987 investigation after kiddy fiddler guy got his hands on them, or else re-appearing at inconvenient moments, very much like the contents of Glenn Mulcaire's desk. The Daily Mirror hired some of the same people to investigate the finances of the Bank of England's court of governors. Sleazy left-wing tabloid journalism is clearly not the same thing as the right-wing kind, although you wonder if anyone read the story that resulted. Which, I suppose, amounts to the same thing.

Someone should make a movie out of this, but they probably won't.

Specified technical incident

So OpenSUSE11.4 was out this week. As the Jedi said here:

gah! suse is never totally easy

Indeed. I thought I'd do an online upgrade, so I scheduled this to happen when I was in the office and therefore had a fast Internet link available. I applied all the remaining 11.3 updates, configured the three additional repos, did a "zypper ref" and then a "zypper dup", paged through the Flash player licence, and watched it report 500 odd MB of packages to grab. Much churning later, it started to miss packages, which I installed manually. Eventually, it finished, and I ran "zypper verify" to check it out. This reported that vim-data was missing, so I installed it, and went for a reboot.

Oh dear, the new distro apparently didn't know what an ext4 filesystem was. And although I could still start 11.3 from the boot menu, KDE wasn't working. So, back at home, I downloaded the ISO image (2 hours 20 odd minutes at home), burned a disc, and prepared for a clean install, which failed with a message about running out of processes in this runlevel. You guessed it, dodgy install media. Wiped and downloaded again. I check the MD5 hash. It's a miss. I start the download again and go out. I come back to find the laptop has rebooted and has got to the failure point in 11.4. How? What? I restart in Windows and discover that 678 of 695MB has been fetched before something happened. It dawns on me that Microsoft has force-rebooted the bastard through Windows Update although I set it to do nothing of the sort. I'm getting seriously pissed off now. I download it again, from a different mirror ( rather than Kent Uni More hours. I check the MD5 hash. What do you know, it's wrong. And it's the same hash as last time. As an experiment, I burn it anyway, boot it, and run the media check utility.

Which fails at 63%, block 226192, in exactly the same location as the first time around. Riight, it looks like Novell has pushed a crappy image out to all the damn mirrors. Well, I can still get a Linux shell in 11.3, so I run it up, hook an ethernet cable to the linksys box, run dhclient, and repeat the command-line distro upgrade. Although Zypper still thinks all the dependencies are in place, when I tell it to "zypper dup", it still manages to find 258 package changes left to do from the original upgrade. It takes an age, but eventually, completes, and it's shutdown -r now time. And everything now works, right down to hibernated browser tabs.

Except for Python packages, of course. Pythonistas tend to dote on easy_install, but I'm still annoyed that I have to update this stuff out of sync with my linux environment, especially as it lives in my root partition. Would it be so hard to put everything in PyPi into an RPM repository and never worry about it ever again? This is actually an important lesson about the mobile app stores, and the original app store itself, Firefox extensions. Freedom goes with structure.

Lessons from this: once an upgrade shows any signs of weirdness, abort it and start again. And don't expect online upgrade to work first time - this happened to me with a past OpenSUSE upgrade, come to think of it, but I clearly learned nothing.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

non-Thursday music link, on Thursday due to exceptional circumstances

John Band links to very likely the worst recording in the history of music, ever. Imagine that George Michael, many years after anyone cared, decided to do an impossibly portentous version of New Order True Faith '94, through a vocoder (many years after everyone got sick of those), and worst of all, to not play it for laughs. It's incredibly hideous, and it's not even remotely funny.

For relief, here's a special non-Thursday remix link post, appearing exceptionally on a Thursday due to the unprecedented circumstances.

Here's the Grim Up North remix of the original. Here's the Futuremix Discotech remix, also from the original EP:

Here's another, possibly better than the last one although this may be controversial. Here's yet another. And here's Interface's cover version.

Monday, March 07, 2011

get the look

Do I notice a common style between Nasr City Security Crisis Management Centre and Erich Mielke's office? Lots of blonde panelling, display walls of spook stars.

Of course, Egypt's secret police had both Soviet and East German advisors in the Nasser years, but you wouldn't have expected that to include an interior designer.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Inverse BOGOF

Supermarkets are getting smaller. I wonder if the productivity numbers that famously put the 90s down to big box retail will ever be revised? Of course, they didn't really - the UK imposed planning restrictions on big out-of-town developments and didn't notice any trouble, and the real point was the logistics rather than the shops themselves. Still, interesting.

Self-binding note: lobby metrics

Things to get out of the data in this scraper of mine: for each lobby, the monthly meeting counts, degrees in the weighted multigraph, impact factor (i.e. graph degree/meetings to give an idea of productivity), most met ministers, most met departments, topics. For each ministry, meeting counts, most met lobbies, most discussed topics. For each PR agency (Who's Lobbying had or has a list of clients for some of them), the same metrics as for lobbies. Summary dashboard: top lobbies, top lobbyists, top topics, graph visualisation, top 10 rising and falling lobbies by impact.

Things I'd like to have but aren't sure how to implement: a metric of gatekeeper-ness for ministers, for example, how often a lobby met a more powerful minister after meeting this one, and its inverse, a metric of how many low-value meetings a minister had. I've already done some scripting for this, and NetworkX will happily produce most of the numbers, although the search for an ideal charting solution goes on. Generating the graph and subgraphs is computationally expensive, so I'm thinking of doing this when the data gets loaded up and storing the results, rather than doing the sums at runtime.

Where's that Django tutorial? Unfortunately it's 7.05 pm on Sunday and it's looking unlikely I'll do it this weekend...

Looking back on the Guardian's MannFAIL

Remember this post? Climate Progress has some answers as to how the Grauniad lost it so badly about the UEA e-mail hack.

And it's one jet airliner, for ten prisoners...

One thing that is perhaps being overlooked by people discussing whether or not it would be wise to impose a no-fly zone over Libya is exactly what such a zone would set out to prevent. When it was first suggested, it was inspired by the general horror that the Libyan government was having crowds of civilians strafed by its Sukhoi 22 close-support aircraft. However, especially since several Libyan Air Force crews defected to Malta and to the revolution, air activity has turned out to be much less significant in what is beginning to look like a classical West- or Central-African civil war, based around Toyota pickups and 23mm Russian anti-aircraft guns and mercenaries paid with the money from exporting some mineral or other. You know the one.

It's fairly well known that Libya sponsored several of the key warlords of 90s West Africa - Foday Sankoh, Charles Taylor, and several others originally met up in Libyan-funded training camps. Interestingly, not only did one of the versions of Jetline International base itself in Tripoli and trade aircraft back and forth with two of Viktor Bout's companies, but Gaddafi's government maintains an impressive airlift capacity. As well as the two flag-carrier airlines, Libyan Arab and Afriqiyah, whose names track the changing priorities of foreign policy, the Air Force operates a semi-commercial cargo wing, Libyan Arab Air Cargo, with a fleet of Ilyushin 76 and even two enormous Antonov-124s, some of very few such aircraft owned outside the former Soviet Union.

I've put together a Google spreadsheet of transport-type aircraft with Libyan operators, sorted so that currently active aircraft are at the top, and generated URIs to look them up on, for subscribers, and on, in the two right hand columns.

There are a total of 180 airframes, of which 118 are active. It's probably worth noting that there was a report that top managers at Afriqiyah had resigned rather than take part in Gaddafi's war effort, and constant rumours of mercenaries being lifted into airfields in the southern deserts.

The upshot of this is that logistics, rather than tactical air power, might be the most important factor in Gaddafi's efforts to defeat the Libyan revolution/win the Libyan civil war. Rather than engaging in combat, the aim might instead be blockade, as a complement to the international financial sanctions already in place. (A ship has recently been stopped in British waters carrying large quantities of freshly printed Libyan currency.)

On the other hand, it also adds complexity and risk to the whole issue. There are still plenty of people who want to leave Libya, and British government-chartered airliners are ferrying some of them from Tunisia to Egypt. It would be a bad business, to say the least, to shoot down an Il-76 full of refugees. It could be better to try to cut off the supply chain at source by grounding Libyan aircraft elsewhere in the world, although this requires the cooperation of those states who are still willing to let them recruit on their territory. Further, imposing a blockade also implies a responsibility for the survival of the civilian population. Sending aid to eastern Libya has already been suggested, of course.

For a little extra, the Russian Demography blog, venturing well out of its usual beat, notes that the Libyan Government's Dassault Falcon 900EX business jet, 5A-DCN, took a trip to Minsk recently. Its ICAO identifier, useful with virtual-radar sites, is 018019. There are various things the regime might find useful in Belarus - mercenaries, again, small arms (although they don't appear to be short of them), and perhaps least disturbingly, impunity. (Hat tip.)

Thursday, March 03, 2011

fake tales of San Francisco echo through the air

It is now reasonably certain that I'll be in Palo Alto from Saturday evening to Thursday evening. I'm going to be carless but close to a CalTrain station, if that helps anyone. The explanation is of course here.

Update: I will be here from 6pm tonight with some bloggers.

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