Sunday, April 29, 2012

All mayors are not the same. All columnists, however...

Rebuttal is futile, but sometimes it is necessary, and at least you can help people update their lists of people to ignore. Here's Zoe Williams wilfully misleading the readers.
From two completely different sources – Ted Reilly, a road safety campaigner, and Alice Bell, a lecturer in science and society and part-time Sack Boris campaigner – I heard astonishing things about air quality in London. They say it correlates, not vaguely but absolutely precisely, with the traffic volume, that it is the largest threat to public health after smoking (seriously!), and that once you get any distance from its source – 20 yards – it vanishes.

In other words, if you pedestrianised major thoroughfares from 8am til 8pm, if you dropped speed limits, if you made public transport cheaper, if you consolidated deliveries to the periphery and got one provider to bring it all to the centre ("We used to call it the Royal Mail," Reilly remarks, erm, wryly) you could do as much for the health of London as the person who discovered that smoking caused cancer.

Economically, it comes up repeatedly in living wage analyses that the cost of transport is not just a pest, it changes people's lives. The tube has become a luxury, a young professional's option. For someone with two separate cleaning jobs, most likely the only way to make that work economically would be by bus. Say that adds an hour (it's probably more) to the commute, that will ricochet into that person's stress levels, their parenting, their mental health, everything.

The mayor, whoever it is, can do a lot more with the powers he (or she, ha!) has than Boris Johnson is doing, or Ken Livingstone is suggesting. But it is also worth considering that, paradoxically, if they had more power, we would probably hate them a lot less.

Strangely, one mayoral candidate has in the past dramatically cut public transport fares, imposed a tax on motor vehicles in central London, and set up a low emissions zone to restrict how much poison lorries can emit in the city. That would be Ken Livingstone. I put it to you that someone who is unaware of congestion charging or Fares Fair shouldn't be writing about London politics.

Another mayoral candidate gave up on the low emissions zone, abolished the western extension of the congestion charge, and put up the fares. That would be Boris Johnson. I put it to you that someone who is unaware of this hasn't been paying attention and shouldn't be writing about London politics.

On page three of Ken Livingstone's manifesto, he explicitly promises to cut public transport fares by 7% immediately and reduce pollution. The next eight pages consist of nothing but public transport. Page 8 contains the following quote:

Faster, greener, more efficient freight
I will ask TfL to look seriously at the possibility of more freight consolidation centres for London. This would mean deliveries are taken to hubs and aggregated together before being taken into central London, saving on costs and cutting traffic.

The next page is about cycling, and the one after that about the necessity of investing in public transport in order to reduce pollution.

Page 66 is devoted to air pollution, including the creation of clean air zones with much lower speed limits and a ban on idling cars around schools, and the issue of smog alerts by SMS (something Boris Johnson directly refused to do). I could go on.

The sad facts are that a lot of journalists, Zoe Williams included, are evidently just fine with the largest threat to public health after smoking so long as their petty personal elite vendettas, the ego wars of media London, get took care of.

why yes, they could fuck it up

David Cameron goes trying to sell Airbus A330s. In his chartered Boeing. Chartered, eventually, from an Angolan company on the EU air safety blacklist.

the difference is that you put your money back into this one!

Here's something interesting. Who knew A4e had a secondary charity it gave money to, that also does public sector work and that also employs Emma Harrison and all her mates? It's like that point in the con where you start setting up another scheme with the money out of the first one. Meanwhile, this has probably done the rounds but it's well worth reading if you haven't already for the sheer twee violence at work.

Also, interesting comment:

A4e stink, charities stink and this coalition stinks

1) and 3) are obvious, but I'm interested in 2. Non-profit capitalism is an interesting concept, a sort of pathological version of a co-operative. And I do think there's an increasing trend towards it. Perhaps NGOs are the new multinationals.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Canalising the marshes: tidying up the people

Well, this is interesting, both on the Bo Xilai story and also on the general theme of the state of the art in contemporary authoritarianism. It looks like a major part of the case is about BXL's electronic surveillance of Chongqing and specifically of top national-level Chinese officials:

One political analyst with senior-level ties, citing information obtained from a colonel he recently dined with, said Mr. Bo had tried to tap the phones of virtually all high-ranking leaders who visited Chongqing in recent years, including Zhou Yongkang, the law-and-order czar who was said to have backed Mr. Bo as his potential successor. “Bo wanted to be extremely clear about what leaders’ attitudes toward him were,” the analyst said.

That's Zhou Yongkang as in the head of the whole Chinese internal security structure, cops, spooks, and all. Bo's police chief (and future sort-of defector) Wang Lijun is described as being "a tapping freak", addicted to the productivity and hence apparent power of electronic intelligence. Not only that, Wang eventually began tapping Bo, who was also tapping the CDIC feds who came down to keep an eye on him.

The practicalities are, as always, interesting.

The architect was Mr. Wang, a nationally decorated crime fighter who had worked under Mr. Bo in the northeast province of Liaoning. Together they installed “a comprehensive package bugging system covering telecommunications to the Internet,” according to the government media official.

One of several noted cybersecurity experts they enlisted was Fang Binxing, president of Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, who is often called the father of China’s “Great Firewall,” the nation’s vast Internet censorship system.

It's worth pointing out that the provincial networks belonging to China Mobile, China Telecom etc. are usually organised as companies in their own right, and they often have their own AS numbers, and indeed they often contract for substantial network development projects with Western vendors (Nokia Siemens recently had a big mobile network contract in Sichuan, notably) on their own right.

Anyway, Fang's involvement is very interesting indeed. He is responsible for the state-of-the-art authoritarian solution to the Internet. This is not just, or even primarily, a question of blacklisting websites or turning off the Internet. The Great Firewall's detailed design, as the Cambridge Computer Lab found out a while ago, is specifically intended to be a semi-permeable membrane. Rather like Hadrian's Wall, it is more about the gates through it than the wall itself, and the defences point in both directions.

When a computer within it tries to initiate a TCP connection to one outside that is classified as dodgy, the Firewall sends an RST message back to kill the connection. This permits much higher performance than the DNS-based blacklisting typical of, say, the UAE.

It also means that it's possible to ignore the RST and look through the firewall by using your own firewall utility (specifically, set something like iptables to drop any RSTs for connections in states other than ESTABLISHED before a suitable time has elapsed). However, it would be a fair guess that any traffic doing this is logged and analysed more deeply.

Further, there is a substantial human infrastructure linking the media/PR/propaganda system, the police system, and the Ministry of the Information Industry. This uses tools such as moderation on big Web forums, direct recruitment, harassment, or persuasion of important influencers, the development of alternative opposition voices, and the use of regime loyalist trolls (the famous wumaodang).

The firewall, like Hadrian's Wall or the original Great Wall, also has an economic function. This acts as a protectionist subsidy to Chinese Internet start-ups and a tariff barrier to companies outside it. Hence the appearance of some really big companies that basically provide clones of Twitter et al. Because the clones are inside the firewall, they are amenable to management and moderation. 

And none of this detracts from the genuine intention of the people at 31 Jin-rong Street, the China Telecom HQ, to wire up the whole place. Iran's surprisingly important role providing broadband to Afghanistan and diversionary links to the Gulf reminds us that providing connectivity can be a powerful policy tool and one that you can use at the same time as informational repression.

So, Fang's achievement is basically a package of technical and human security measures that let whoever is in charge of them command the context Web users experience.

Last autumn, several of the Chinese web startups were subjected to the combined honour and menace of a visit from top securocrats. Tencent, the owner of QQ and the biggest of the lot, got Zhou Yongkang in person. In hindsight, this will have been around the time the CDIC landed in Chongqing.

So, where am I going with this? Clearly, there was serious disquiet that somebody was usurping the right to control the wires. Even more disquieting, the surveillance establishment in Fang's person seemed to be cooperating with him. And the systems he set up worked just as well for someone increasingly seen as a dangerous rebel as they did for the central government. (In fact, the people who like to complain about Huawei equipment in the West have it the wrong way round. It's not some sort of secret backdoor they should be worrying about: it's the official stuff.)

I do wonder, depending on what happens to Fang (he's still vanished, but his Weibo feed has started updating again), if we might not see a relaxation of the firewall, which the pundits will consider "reform". In fact it will be no such thing, rather a cranking up of internal chaos to facilitate a crackdown on opposition.

Kahneman for Thugs: some bullet points

So I did a business-class review of Daniel Kahneman's new book over at the Fistful. Of course, AFOE is a very different blog to this one, being all liberal euro-technocratic and whatnot. Therefore I thought I'd write a different review. I therefore give you, in this week of Rupert, Kahneman for Thugs - which is at least appropriate given how much work he put into improving the Israeli army's officer selection process. In this post, I'm going to be deliberately political and action-oriented, and I'm going to express myself in handy bullet points.


The first point is that rebuttal is futile and you can ignore nothing. The so-called psychological anchoring effect means that our intuitive judgments of anything are influenced by whatever information is around at the time. That includes information we know to be false and information that is completely irrelevant. Ask people to guess the weight of a pig, and they will guess higher if you mention a big number beforehand.

Also, intuitive judgments of truth are strongly influenced by cognitive fluency. Things that are easy to remember are true. Things that fit into a coherent story are true. Things that avoid conflict are true. This has some truly weird consequences - if you want people to learn something from reading a text, choosing a font that is hard to read actually increases how much they retain. However, if you want them to believe it and act on it, you want to be nice and sans-serif.

So, you can't ignore anything, repetition works, and getting in first works. Smear politics is effective. On the other hand, the only way you can prevent Andrew Gilligan from influencing your opinion of Ken Livingstone is to just stop reading him. Filtering (on your part) or censorship (on their part) is effective.  


Thinking is work, and as a result, people unconsciously try to answer the easiest question that seems to fit. It's therefore important to a) set up problems so they answer the question you want them to, and b) set up your own intuitions to work with your own interests. If you train yourself adequately, all you will hear from Simon Jenkins is "blah blah blah fishcakes" as Boris Johnson memorably said. Politics as a system of grudges is an effective way to operationalise the points above.


Repetition, fluency, and availability dominate what we believe. But this is only half the point. What if you need to convince? The answer is surprise. Uncertainty is information, and learning is the process by which that information is trained into the near-automatic activity of System One. To surprise is to convince. This doesn't contradict the point about cognitive fluency - the point is to create a coherent story that contains a surprise and therefore a change in opinion.  


Thinking is work. It requires effort, unlike intuition, which is associated with no sense of subjective effort and no change in psychophysical metrics. Therefore, as you get tired (or hungry, or drunk, or ill) you rely more on intuition. Judges are more likely to give you parole early in the morning (after breakfast) or early in the afternoon (after lunch). Therefore, it is effective to target the depleted and deplete the targeted. What did you think all the anti-design graphic noise on the front of the Sun, or Fox News's horrible screen graphics, are for?

Never quote base rates

People find it hard enough to make judgments that involve statistics, and tend to neglect denominators. You can help this process, by never providing base-rate information. Certainly, if you want to mention how many terrorist attacks, crimes, or whatever happened this year, don't say how many there were last year unless that number was unusually low. And never, ever quote more than two data points.  

Never question premises or permit them to be questioned

Many cognitive biases seem to disappear if the decision involved is taken in a wider context. Obviously, if you can control the context (see under Availability) that's all to the good, but this is rarely possible in a pluralistic society. Very often, though, people take decisions without using any external reference, and over-focus on the exact terms of the question (known in the tech industry as bikeshedding), which of course means over-focusing on the easier question they substitute in. This inside view effect is a powerful source of error. Cherish it.

On the other hand, it's almost a cliché that mediocre candidates answer the exam paper while brilliant ones question it. Disputing the terms of the question is an effective defensive tactic.  

Always isolate questions

Many cognitive errors that appear when choices are isolated disappear in so-called joint evaluation. If the choices are isolated, people often make decisions which are mutually inconsistent. Very often, if you put the questions together, they succeed in integrating the information involved into a common picture. Therefore, it is necessary to isolate questions and prevent joint evaluation. Whether Saddam Hussein is a bastard or not must be isolated from the question of whether there are ways other than war to limit the consequences of this bastardy and from the question of what the costs of the war might be.

All clear so far?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Report back: CCG meeting

So, that Total Defence plan. Not long after blogging about the weird way becoming an NHS Foundation Trust member is mostly about the staff discounts, my Google Alert tail-warning receiver lit up. Specifically, it caught the fact that the Haringey Clinical Commissioning Group was going to have a public meeting, so off I went with a little notebook of talking points.

My first impression (as I was on time) was the usual depressing one - they're all 117 years old, there's four of them, and Christ, they're odd, and one of them's reading something called God's Word Made Plain. Why did I volunteer again? But the room filled up, and then filled up some more, and eventually we counted up 53 MOPs who turned out.

The original agenda was all about "how the CCG can communicate with the public", but when it got communicating, the message from the public was that the public wanted no part of that. It turned out that the local "Patients Panel" hadn't met for years. An effort was made to explain the new NHS structure, and at this point, astonishment and disbelief set in as the CCG vice chair and the (existing) NHS finance director tried to draw the organisation on a flipchart. (It reminded me of the enchanted PowerPoint presentation in one of Charlie Stross's novels.) So, GPs were meant to commission everything, and the PCT and SHA had been shut down, with 54% cuts imposed on their staff, but to keep the wheels turning, they were reorganising as a cluster in the meantime. Then, the GPs would take over, but the GPs themselves couldn't be in a position to commission their own work, so they would be commissioned nationally, while some other services would be carved out of local commissioning.

One of the CCG doctors said of the re-org that "in terms of human pain it's quite remarkable - managers are people too, you know". Before the CCG took over, it would be allowed to have a "shadow budget" but no actual money, because it didn't have an accountable finance function. And before it did, everyone would be sacked again. The national commissioning board would replace the SHAs, but would have four or possibly more regional branches that might be quite a lot like them.

The questions kept coming and eventually they abandoned the agenda in favour of just standing there fielding. It turned out that there was a 93 page national test that the CCG would have to apply, but nobody had seen a copy and nobody was clear about who set the test or how. There was a Joint Strategic Needs Assessment, carried out by the cluster and the local authority, but how that fed into this process was a mystery.

On the question of specialist services that would be carved-out of local commissioning and reserved to the national level, the chair had to be told that it wasn't right and it wasn't OK to say that "normal people" wouldn't need to know about it because a lot of them are psychiatric in nature. It turned out that they represent 40% of the budget. The service-user activists got angry. As well as a Health and Wellbeing Board, whose makeup a Lib Dem councillor told me was still being debated, there is a Mental Health & Wellbeing Board, but the GPs have yet to deign to meet them because after all they're only nutters (I paraphrase, but not much).

It turned out that the NHS organisations being butchered have a variety of huge databases of information vital to the commissioning process. Nobody seems to know what will happen to this.

The specialist/local interface seems to be enormously crucial, and a completely undemarcated frontier. The GPs are hugely keen on "continuous follow-up", but it's far from obvious why anyone would want follow-up by someone who has no specialist knowledge of their condition.

The FD confirmed the following figures in my talking points: the Government has budgeted £25 per head per year for the CCGs and the Commissioning Support Organisations. Of this, the NHS North Central London cluster says it can do the CSO job for £15/head/year, which leaves £10*225 kilocitizens in Haringey or £2.25m a year in funds flowing to the CCG as such. The CCG plans to have CSO staff co-located with it, and in fact to rely on the CSO for pretty much all its day-to-day functions.

Apparently the Government arrived at the figure of £25 by halving the existing Londonwide figure and dividing by the population.

Anyway, my take-home points: CSOs are crucial (although we knew that). Status of staff - are they civil servants? Who has responsibility for the public money flowing through them? What happens to this database? Further, the frontier problem between central and local is important. And I've got to get on to some of these assorted boards.

I was really pleased by the turnout, and the degree to which the crowd were intelligently angry. A surprising number of people had evidently taken the time to brief themselves in advance.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Shameless self promotion

Over at Fistful of Euros, my review of Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow. Coming up here, far from the eurocratic business-class lounge of AFOE, my action-oriented Kahneman for Thugs post, at least when I get away from debugging Project Lobster scripts. Am I on crack, or does ScraperWiki's datastore do an implicit cast to unicode strings on Python objects you send it?

magic beans, Spitfires, etc

Look what he's up to now. It's amazing how common the "that hillside is full of warbirds/jeeps/whatever" story is, and how geographically widespread. I worked on a north-west Australian cattle station that included an abandoned WW2 airfield, and more than a couple of people had wasted time and money digging into bits of it looking for them.

Near my dad's home town in Hertfordshire, there was an old 8th Air Force base and relatives of mine knew about people who claimed there were whole P-38s, motorbikes, trucks, jeeps etc buried, although the status of the story was "you don't want to listen to old Stick, he'll believe anything". Oddly enough, if they waited long enough they were almost right, because the Americans continued to use part of the site, and allegedly some of it was used for something spooky during Iran-Contra. There are similar stories I'm aware of about a couple of places in Yorkshire.

I presume it goes back to genuine tales of how much surplus kit there was sloshing about, and how much of it was basically thrown away, and perhaps to a deeper awareness of the wastefulness of war. It's also very similar to the cargo cult - like the intersection of buried treasure and cargo cultism.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Clearing out the link pile

Ed Miliband joins Total Defence!
Labour councils across England will act as the "last line of defence" against the controversial health act, Ed Miliband said as he pledged to overturn its "free market, free-for-all principles".

Speaking at the launch of the Labour local election campaign in Birmingham, Miliband said Labour councils would use the public health and well-being boards to resist the most damaging aspects of the Health and Social Care Act.

Meanwhile, the NE London Foundation Trust wrote to me to confirm that I am now a member. An amazingly large proportion of the letter is devoted to encouraging me to join the NHS staff-discount scheme, which apparently I now can. For some reason this reminds me of a remark my old college mate Tim Lewis made in San Francisco the week before last, to the effect that Virgin Atlantic is the New Labour airline. And on the flight back, yes, there is something distinctly Blairite about their general aesthetic. Boomer nostalgia/exciting purple/lower-case type/gratuitous Ginger Spice Union Flags/forced jollity/total lack of anything like dignity or design austerity.

Berlin's city fathers destroyed the world's best airport once, and now they're going to do it all over again by killing off the wonderful spaceship/cold war modern, 20 metres from the kerb to the plane, German architecture and French Army engineering Berlin-Tegel so you can damn well traipse in from Schönefeld, which will become a giant shopping centre with a runway.

France, delightedly nuclear-armed power to our south, has absolutely no doubt about sticking with the Bomb and indeed maintaining both a submarine and an air-launched capability. The BBC interviews Jean-Dominique Merchet, Francois Heisbourg, both well worth reading.

Bruce Sterling apparently didn't hear about the whole homeless-person-as-support-structure-for-WLAN-box thing so he hasn't stuck SXSW right there with the CBOSS stand at Mobile World Congress, but he does have some interesting remarks although as always his commitment to staring right into the future's eyes seems to render him less critical than he should be.

He has company. The New Aesthetic has the “scenius” of London’s Silicon Roundabout to support it. These people are working creatives of Bridle’s generation, with their networked tentacles sunk deep in interaction design, literature, fashion and architecture. They do have some strange ideas, but they can’t all be crazy....It’s also deep. If you want to get into arcane matters such as interaction design, computational aesthetics, covert surveillance, military tech, there’s a lot of room for that activity in the New Aesthetic. The New Aesthetic carries a severe, involved air of Pynchonian erudition.

So, ah, it appears to be me?

“Theory objects” from the Internet are squamous, crabgrass-like entities, where people huddle around swollen, unstable databases

And he thinks that's a good thing. Squamous = either skin cancer or Cthulhu. Swollen, unstable database = big problem. Huddling around it = pointless. And what the North American-blinkered fuck is crabgrass, I've not seen any growing around Telco 2.0 Towers in the Curtain Road heart of Sillyabout? I'm tempted to use it as a synonym for vague futurist-y guff. "Hmmm, I see your point, but I think the next slide is nothing but crabgrass."

Coming soon

A review of Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow for the Fistful of Euros. That will be the high-style eurocratic version.

Another review of Kahneman for this fine blog. That is tentatively titled Kahneman for Thugs and will be a sort of juddering, noisy remix of the other one concentrating on action-oriented political advice derived from it.

Further action on the Lobster Project. I ported quite a bit of it from the pile of scripts on my laptop into ScraperWiki today, and I now need to debug and shake down those sections of the workflow. ScraperWiki now has the awesome NetworkX war-on-some-kinds-of-terror social network analytics lib, so I'm scraping in data, creating NX objects, and then reading out analytics in a string of loosely coupled scrapers. I've even been giving the look and feel some thought...sorry...oohing over fonts.

we pretend to campaign and they pretend to vote for us

Here's some "why the Bradford West result means we should support my politics" that supports my politics: Next Generation Labour.

  1. Don’t take support for granted
  2. We have to realise that the wars still matter
  3. Mobilised youth are a polical force to be reckoned with
  4. Labour has to examine its relationships with Muslim communities
  5. Austerity needs a fighting response

See also Matt Turner's point that Bradford West has had the biggest percentage rise in unemployment in the UK. NGL (which seems to be some sort of Ken Livingstonian tendency, fair enough by me) also say:

One of the more unpleasant responses to Galloway’s victory has been the suggestion that ‘the Muslim vote’ is somehow tainted and invalid

The best thing you're likely to read on this is Irna Qureshi's post here about the day-to-day, dogshit'n'forms processes of Bradford West politics.

She explained that her family had this time boycotted the “apna” (our own, referring to Imran Hussain, although she couldn’t name him either) because he’d stopped making time to attest her extended family’s passport photographs. And here’s my point. This woman and her clan’s vote had nothing to do with policies or even an inkling of research – the only thing that seemed to matter was accessibility

It's easy to forget that quite a significant number of people don't know anyone in the odd, class-based list of professions who are allowed to sign across the back of your passport photo. On Twitter, someone described this as "patrimonial" politics, but it's more than that. Democracy itself is an institution that is meant to cross class barriers. If Hussain wouldn't do it, that's a very clear message about where the local CLP sees itself in the class system.

Also, if you swap out "clan" for "family", this sounds pretty much like the sort of politics that are stereotypical of France, where there are officially no ethnic or religious communities in the secular republic. The explanation of this is that it's just politics, stupid. It's like that everywhere, just the bullshit differs.

Over here, the following excellent points are made.
British people are stereotyped for a tendency to turn to the weather as a means for finding some common ground for smalltalk. In Bradford, it’s the failing regeneration projects first, then the weather if there’s time. Everyone seems to have a better idea of how to run the place than the people currently doing it, and they’re always agitated enough to tell you. Not a great sign.

This is why I knew he would win, despite the answers to my Twitter question: ‘Would Galloway be good or bad for Bradford and why?’ coming back with 50% negative responses based on his showboating, lack of substance, self serving nature, and worse. His policies were quite simple: regenerate the Odeon. Sort out Westfield. Sort out education. He either succeeds, in which case, great. Or he fails, in which case, we’re not exactly losing out are we?

There’s been much made of his appealing to Muslim voters, which he did as well, but 18,000+ votes in Bradford West makes a mockery of the accusation that this is the real reason he won. His policies were pretty broadly relevant and Twitter was buzzing with ‘I wouldn’t normally vote for him BUT… ’. This shouldn’t have been an angle that any of the big three should have had to worry about, because they should have had it covered.

I didn't know he took a view on the Odeon; no wonder he won. One theory I have about this is that the Labour HQ remembered him making a fool of himself on TV, and reasoned from a TV-centric, airpower theorist perspective that anyone who went on Celebrity Big Brother (and doesn't that sound dated) and made a cock of himself would be a permanent laughing stock. Nobody was more obsessed with reality TV than Blairites. In this sense, not only didn't they worry over much about the street campaign in Bradford, they also didn't remember that there are two iconic video clips of him. 1) is him being a cat, 2) is him ripping into the Republican senators. You're unlikely to see 1) again on TV, but there's nothing to stop 2) circulating virally on the web.

Consequently, I do worry that the London election campaign is so virtual. Boris Johnson is a deeply virtual character, of course, a media construct built out of grinning on TV and mildly controversial newspaper columns, and Brian Paddick's public image has apparently been designed to look exactly like a mildly corrupt town-hall politico in a Danish thriller. But it's not as if the campaign is very visible on the streets - I've seen precisely two posters (one this weekend, Ken, in a window in Waterloo, and a Lib Dem billboard which has now ended its run).

Companies House Webcheck, fount of moral judgment. And a full list of USSD code numbers, at last

It looks like Daniel Davies' plan to classify the world into people who file their accounts with Companies House on time, and people who don't, may be less eccentric than it seems. News International missed, and asked for an extension. Obviously a dodgy lot of bastards. Anyway, check this quote out.

Coincidentally, News International's company secretary of many years standing, Mrs Carla Stone, has resigned. A filing to Companies House, dated yesterday, stated that her appointment had been terminated. However, I understand that she left the company in February and her formal employment contract ends later this month.

Stone, a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Secretaries, held 212 company directorships in all, almost all of which are subsidiaries of News International and related companies.

You've got to like the "coincidentally", which I take to mean "it is no such thing but we've not finished the story yet". Anyway. The dump of directorships is here, providing an interesting insight into the structure of News International. Am I right in thinking that "Deptford Cargo Handling Services Ltd." will be the company that owned the Wapping site?

Meanwhile, a colleague of mine asked me an Android question, which I misunderstood as being a question about USSD (you know - like *#06# to get your mobile phone IMEI number, but also including things like *21*some-phone-number# to divert all your calls). As a result, I ended up over here and learned that the network password "tends to be 1919", which is very interesting in context and might explain a lot. Bonus: this ETSI pdf actually contains something which is otherwise quite annoying to find, a complete and categorised list of the code numbers.

Shouty letter-writing egghead wins

RealClimate reviews a 1981 attempt to forecast the climate impact of CO2 emissions, and finds that it's basically pretty good (see also The Register eating their words slowly). Which is what you'd expect - the physical processes involved aren't that complicated at that sort of low-earth orbit viewpoint, and the only things that could really go wrong would be some sort of huge data collection problem or else a really big volcano.

That was James Hansen's work, and this week he got an Easter egg! Rather, the US Environmental Protection Agency issued a draft regulation that basically means you can't build a new coal-fired power station. This may be the best news anyone's had for some time.

The politics of the apolitical

So, this post was picked up by SHWI survivor Randy McDonald's blog, who says that:

great efforts are being made to keep new Chinese soldiers depoliticized

I don't think this gets it. Great efforts are being made to keep them politicised, so long as the politics inculcated in them is what the Party wants it to be. It's a very important point that the Chinese army doesn't exist in the same context of civil-military relations that a Western army does, and not even in the same way an army in a Western authoritarian state does. Specifically, they reject the idea that the military is "above politics". They do, very much, believe that the army must serve the civilian power - but the nature of that power is different.

The Communist Party is a party. It also at least believes itself to be Communist, even if it's not obvious how it isn't capitalist. Rather than maintaining a status quo, the point of a Communist Party is to change things, to wage the revolution and re-shape society. In the context of Chinese history, even if the nation seems indestructible, the state has been fragile, has been contested, its borders have moved, its sovereignty has been variable in quality. At the moment, there are two of them, and there have been many more in the past.

In that sense, the People's Liberation Army (the name is significant - it's not called the Chinese Army) is one of the instruments with which the Party intervenes in Chinese society to create the kind of state it wants. The link between the propaganda/media-management plan, the army recruitment cycle, and the National People's Congress process, should be seen in this light. Conscription played a very similar role in French and German history, so this shouldn't be surprising. Rather than permanent revolution, permanent statebuilding is going on - given the uncertainty of the future, and the strangeness of a Communist Party with Maoist intellectual heritage in charge of a capitalist superpower, it's probably much more useful to think in terms of process rather than of an end-state.

It's also true that armies in unevenly-developed societies tend to try to take over the state they are told they are building. As a result, it's very important to the CCP that this process remains integrated into the Party's ideas, culture, and organisation. An army in China that wasn't political in the CCP sense would be very political indeed in the Western, and usually pejorative, sense.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Peasants into...potential CCP members

Something interesting (h/t Jamie) about the Chinese military. The strand I found worthwhile is this:

As a result, for the past decade, a major theme pounded into the troops by the General Political Department is the persistent threat from outside forces (non-Party elements) to separate the military from politics, depoliticize the military and “nationalize” the military (PLA Daily, March 19).

It is unclear who, if anybody within the PLA, proposes to separate, depoliticize or nationalize the military, but these warnings often reach high peak around the National People’s Congress, shortly after over half a million new recruits have entered the PLA and PAP. These young soldiers have just finished basic training and are entering their units. They are likely targets of this political education campaign as are other sectors of the society where such “deviant” thought may exist. A political campaign based on a non-existent (or minimally existing) straw man would not be unique to China or the CCP.

Well, no. But the thing that interests me here is that there is a link between the propaganda/media plan, the big political get-together in the NPC, and the annual conscription cycle. It's as if they were constructing the state anew every year, in a massive theatrical exercise. A real-time exercise in state formation. And it's very interesting that the propaganda construct that is exercised is explicitly directed against nationalism.

Why Bradford West means we should...

So, Bradford West. Chris Brooke already made the point that everyone and his dog has written a Why The Bradford West Result Means We Should Support My Politics. Meanwhile the jamiesphere is having some sort of left-of-the-left carnival of the marginally relevant, although to be honest that could be the banner over the entrance to the blogosphere.

Anyway, here's my effort at Why The Bradford West Result Means We Should Support My Politics. My first point is that it makes absolutely no sense to describe this as a rebellion against the "ethnic Labour machine" or whatever. Obviously there'll be a lot of people crying into their beer (or not) who fit that description. But who was it that Galloway recruited to run his campaign?

None other than the departing Labour MP Marsha Singh's election agent and campaign manager, Naweed Hussein, as this really excellent piece points out. And if anyone would know their way around west Bradford Mirpuri committee politics, the guy who repeatedly got his man elected there would.

Further, I don't think it makes much sense to throw a wobbly about people "voting for him because they think he's a Muslim" or whatever. After all, the Tories can tell you just how much this gets you in Bradford politics in and of itself, after they stood Mohammed Riaz against Marsha Singh on the charming platform that you should "vote for your community" (subtext: the other guy is a Sikh). The answer you're looking for, then, is "that and a fiver gets you a kebab", and come to think of it the influential post of "William Hague's race relations adviser".

One thing that certainly will have helped Galloway is the fact that his rival was a councillor while the council was busy creating the Rubble Zone - in case you don't know, Bradford Council demolished a vast chunk of the city centre in the hope that Westfield would build a giant shopping centre, but the shopping centre didn't happen and now there is just the enormous hole. There is a long history of politically-inspired half-completed projects in Bradford - it's a matter of taste whether you prefer the Interchange, of which half was closed and replaced by an Abbey National call centre (leaving the original Abbey National building facing City Hall empty), the M606, a motorway that tears away from the M62 and ends messily in a housing estate, the Millenium Faith experience (closed due to a lack of faith or indeed experience)...and at last someone's got their just desserts over one of them.

This shouldn't be that surprising, as it was literally the second bullet point on his leaflets!

And finally, I would like to point out that Bradford West politics is usually run by a close-knit network of Labour ward heelers and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Nobody seems to even care, for example, that Boris Johnson fixed it for Sarah Sands (for it is she!) to be editor of the Evening Standard. Politics is organisation, lists, and committees in much the same way that rugby is about tackling.

As a result, unless his new campaign manager really pulls something out of the hat over the next year or so (Bradford West in its current form is going to disappear due to boundary changes) and Galloway puts in much more time than you'd expect of him on form, I predict that he's not going to last. In some ways he's a throwback to one of those old-fashioned MPs who only went to their constituency at elections, that Simon Jenkins loves so much, just with the added twist that he doesn't go to the House either.

Meanwhile, the real Bradford news: he walked from Odsal to Keighley's ground to raise funds for Bradford Bulls, who are going bust if they can't raise a million quid. So far they're up to £234,000.

Bonus extra: it's quite odd that literally every opinionating gobshite knows Galloway's position on Palestine but nobody seems to care what it might be on Kashmir, which is considerably more important in context. Fixed that for you, although I disbelieve the accusations by the Indian 'bloids as being far too similar to the Torygraph's 2003 furphy.

utterly predictable and indeed predicted

Here's a story from the Grauniad about privatised forensics lab LGC getting it Very Wrong Indeed.

Now here's another.

LGC said one of its staff members made a "typographical error" while inputting code, leading Scotland Yard to spend more than a year trying to trace a non-existent suspect. It was confirmed last month, when LGC carried out a review, that the partial DNA profile belonged to a scientist involved in the case.

"Having made further checks, LGC identified the partial profile as matching that of a Metropolitan police scientist who was involved in the original investigation of Mr Williams' home," a LGC spokeswoman said

I think what they mean is that the Met police guy's DNA was taken in order to eliminate him from the inquiry, running the profiles of the police who entered the place against the target samples in order to isolate anything interesting and also to confirm as a positive control that the analysis was indeed working. Then somebody fatfingered, with the result that the elimination profile used wasn't actually the right sequence and therefore didn't match. And what a case, too.

Only Theresa May and Francis Maude cooperating could have thought privatising forensics was a good idea. Mind you, who on earth thought retyping DNA hashes by hand was a good idea?


Fedorcio out they cry! See also this New Yorker piece on Viktor Bout.

On April 26, 2005, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), in the Treasury Department, unveiled sanctions aimed at Bout, thirty companies associated with him, and Chichakli. That morning, F.B.I. agents went to Chichakli’s home, in Texas, to search his office. They confiscated his computer, bank records, flight journals, a copy of Bout’s passport, and more than two hundred thousand dollars’ worth of diamonds. No criminal charges were filed, however, and a week later Chichakli flew to Russia, where he has been living ever since. Soon after the raid, Department of Defense officials entered the names of the companies under sanctions into their databases. They made a surprising discovery: some of Bout’s companies were now delivering tents and frozen food to troops in Iraq.

Not that surprising by April '05. But worth reading.

Exactly what you'll be missing when Francis Maude gets sacked

I had a request on Twitter for more Francis Maude blogging. (Not another one who wants flogging, I said, wearily pulling on the boots and polishing up the cat-'o-nine-tails.) This obsession goes back to this post of Tom Barry's which identified him as:

being the real power behind the entire administration, and making everyone forget he was an idiot in 1997

Tom never did the promised back-story post, so we lack the qualitative interpretation to go with the quantitative observations. But I think his point has been adequately demonstrated by recent events and the existence of Francis Maude Advice. As far back as January 2011, it was disturbingly obvious that lobbyists gravitated to Maude like flies to shit.

At the last count, in September, he had achieved the status of the 4th most-lobbied minister on a quality-adjusted basis. That's behind Cameron, Chris Grayling, and Nick Clegg, and ahead of George Osborne or Vince Cable. Clearly, people doing serious business with government perceive him as someone who can deliver. It's also possible that the government thinks he is the right man to put forward - certainly, he has substantial responsibility for things like procurement.

On the other hand, lobbyists experience Maude as a destination. His gatekeepership score is very low - compare the guilty men in the Werritty/Fox case, who exhibit the ideal combination for a lobbying target, very high gatekeepership with relatively low weighted network degree. Rather than contacting him in the hope of being passed on to somebody important, you contact someone else who can get you face-time with him.

The big question here is on which side of the relationship agency resides. It is quite possible that Maude thinks he is exerting influence on the lobbyists he meets, while the lobbyists meet him because they believe themselves to influence him. I'm not qualified to answer that one, but I will offer advice based purely on the data. If you're looking to get at Maude, try his understrapper Mark Harper MP, Conservative for the Forest of Dean, who offers a punchy 1.37 gatekeepership metric (i.e. people who met him gained an average 37% boost in the status of the other people they met, compared to the average lobbyist's performance) at a network degree of 0.14 - so he's likely to be accessible.

PR men who are incompetent, or men who are incompetent at PR?

This comment at Inspector Gadget makes a lot of sense, and makes the various efforts by the Tories to convince their base (and themselves) that It's The Miners All Over Again look even sillier.

I spoke to the owner of my local garage earlier today. He has 8 pumps on the forecourt, “as a rule” his underground storage is around 33% full, he orders a tanker delivery when it hits 10% full. If he were to completely fill his underground storage he estimates he would have 2 weeks supply at normal rates of consumption…. to do so would cost him nearly £250,000, which, unsurprisingly given the 2.12% profit margin on fuel, he doesn’t have on hand.

The problem is that "stockpiling fuel" at petrol stations isn't a thing, because there is more storage capacity in cars than there is in petrol stations. Further, stockpiling it in cars isn't much of a thing either, because most people drive them and you have to give 7 days' notice of a strike. Put it another way - fill up all the petrol stations to capacity, and by the time the strike goes into effect, half of it will be gone. Therefore, you need only a week's strike to get them dry - assuming no panic buying, which as we have seen is an unrealistic assumption, and also assuming evenly distributed disruption, which is crazily impossible.

The unavoidable conclusion is that the "private message" talking points handed out to be leaked are an exercise in whistling in the dark. As a result, I find this story hard to believe. It just seems to fit better in reality that Francis Maude did a bit of daft freelancing, No.10 spin doctors went with the cosplay David Hart story in an attempt to save the furniture, and then the fogey-right half of the Tories briefed this tale in pursuit of their beefs with David Cameron, than that they really are that flaky.

I mean, if they were, what would that say about us? (Mind you, this is the earliest case of "it's like the miners all over again" I can find, from the 28th of March. But that's Maude again, so it would also be consistent with The Most Able Man in the Cabinet having an idea.)

Also, calm down, jamiesphere.

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