Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Concerning that picture...

The photo shows quite clearly that the no. 1 engine is intact and that the missile hit roughly halfway from the engine to the wingtip. The thingy between the damage and the engine is the flap track fairing, common to all of these aircraft, and is definitely not an antimissile device. It is believed that the 2 main hydraulic systems out of 3 were lost, as well as serious aerodynamic damage. This meant that neither the flaps nor the speedbrakes were available and an over-speed landing was inevitable (about 45 knots faster at touchdown- reference)- hence the over-run. Informed speculation on the web suggests that the plane was also overweight for landing, as it is unlikely that anyone would have risked holding to dump fuel during the SAM threat.

More pictures

Monday, November 24, 2003

After "Where is Raed?", now it's "Where is Shevardnadze?"

I'm sure you all know by now that the Georgian president and Soviet statesman, Eduard Shevardnadze, was overthrown by demonstrators enraged by alleged vote-rigging in the recent presidential election at the weekend. After the usual proceedings of post-Communist political theatre - mass demos under the new-old national flag, initial contempt from the boss, then offers of negotiations, followed by the ostentatious mobilisation of troops and the denouement often brought about by the generals refusing to fire into the crowd, usually for the worst of motives - Shevardnadze resigned yesterday, bringing the opposition speaker of parliament into the presidency pro tempore as laid down in the constitution. There were many curious features of what the new Georgian rulers are already calling their "velvet revolution". For a start, there was an unusually democratic flavour - the two sides plotted to elect their own speakers rather than gathering guns, and the climax occurred when protestors burst into the parliamentary chamber to prevent the dismissal of their speaker. But more importantly, and more tellingly for the true nature of this particular "velvet revolution", what was the Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov doing in so many photographs with the opposition leaders when we heard next to nothing of him at the time?

Russian intervention has been a standing feature of independent Georgia, ever since the Abkhazian rebellion in the early 90s, when most people involved believed that the Abkhaz were a cat's paw of Russian power. Russian military bases exist to this day in Georgia. It was certainly remarkable that, after the Abkhaz rebels had brought the new state to the edge of collapse, the rebellion seemed to be turned off like a tap after talks between Shevardnadze and Russian representatives permitted the stationing of a Russian "peacekeeping force" in Abkhazia. Many curious events have been blamed on Russian interference - things like assassination attempts, for one. A persuasive argument exists that Shevardnadze started out being too independent for Russia, and then made a U-turn under duress - but continued to seek Western economic and military assistance as a guarantee. In recent years, this has gone further than ever before, with the deployment of US military advisers to Georgia in an effort to pursue supposed jihadists out of the Pankisi Gorge on the Chechen border. Russia was not remarkably pleased by that development. From a Georgian point of view, though, it was a stroke of the cunning Shevardnadze was famed for - it dealt with Russian demands that Georgia drive supposed Chechen rebels out of the Gorge or face Russian military intervention there, whilst also offering something like a Western guarantee of security. Russia, though, could hardly argue against the mission, having spent so much time demanding military action in the Gorge, which by now was a cauldron of weird politico-military groupings - Chechen rebels, for a start, jihadis, very likely Russian special forces, and something strange called the Brothers of the White Forest that claimed to be a Georgian nationalist guerrilla group equally opposed to Chechens and Russians, but might have been a front for Georgian government forces, Russian forces, or perhaps even the CIA. Confused yet?

Getting back to my title, though, an interesting sidelight on the whole story has emerged in various German-language papers. Almost all major German news sources have been reporting first that two "mysterious" aircraft arrived from Georgia at Baden-Baden Airport today, carrying various passengers including Eduard Shevardnadze. That in itself would not be surprising - Germany is the Western state most committed to Eastern Europe, and has close economic and diplomatic connections to Georgia, as well as a degree of historic interest going back to the First World War and to various romantic historians of the 1840s - if it wasn't for the fact that the Federal Border Patrol (Bundesgrenzschutz) office in Weil am Rhein, responsible for Baden-Baden, has just categorically denied that Shevardnadze was one of the passengers. His family have meanwhile declared that he is at home in Tiflis. Who's lying? Cunning he may be, but being in two places at once is a rare accomplishment.
FAZ story

Friday, November 21, 2003

Simon Hoggart picks up on "Trrr"

Strangely enough, I notice in the Guardian today that their sketchwriter, Simon Hoggart, has noticed that Bush says "Trrr" when he means "terror". Funny that, as I blogged on this as far back as the 11th of June. Curiously though, it's spreading - just as if you are right wing enough you say "Pa'ment" and "Yurp" instead of "Parliament" and "Europe", you also talk about the War on Trrr. "Trrr" is a curious concept - no-one seems able to say exactly what it is. It certainly isn't the same thing as terror - the bomb campaign in Istanbul is terror, but is it trrr?

The terrorists seem very rarely to be Iraqis, but we invaded Iraq. An apparent paradox which is explained when you realise that far from being his accent, Bush really did declare War on Trrr. The only question is - will they tell us, one day in the future, what all that Trrr was about? And why are we safer now, when the enemy are deliberately picking on British targets, than before the war when they weren't? Jack Straw made a very bad showing yesterday when he tried to say there was no reason to believe the bombings were specifically anti-British. What, they just happened by chance to attack a British diplomatic mission and a British bank on the day Bush was officially welcomed in Britain? Comfortable thinking again, I suspect.

An unexpected attack of socialism

In Utah, Public Works Project in Digital - NY Times

17 cities in the US state of Utah are getting together to build a huge public-sector broadband system.
Sounds like a good idea..

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Words from the Front...


"In the daily reports of conflict, the British have become the forgotten army. And news of the Americans unleashing their ferocious firepower on the cities is greeted with raised eyebrows. Washington, twice, asked for British soldiers, paratroopers to be sent to Baghdad, and twice has been refused.

One young British soldier said yesterday: "Look, we are not here to fight a war now, I thought that was finished. The Yanks are fighting a war again, but we should not go down that path. I am very, very sorry for the kids getting killed, but we don't have to get involved. "

Apparently some people in Baghdad think that power cuts were deliberately organised by The Authorities recently as collective punishment. Ha! Nonsense! But is that any more ridiculous as a counter-guerrilla strategy than firing tactical ballistic missiles at buildings 120 miles to "get tough"? And what about this?

"There were assaults in several other cities, including Baqubah, 30 miles to the north-east, where American jets and Apache helicopter gunships blasted abandoned buildings, walls and trees"

Trees? Would that be former regime loyalist trees or al-Qa'ida infiltrator trees? We're shooting trees?

No evidence of weapons production, no evidence of foreign fighters, no idea!


It seems a report prepared by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies has revealed that the Americans in Iraq think that guerrilla activity will go on up to the day they leave the country. Dr Anthony Cordesman went to Iraq and spoke to - as well as assorted generals and spooks - Paul Bremer and David Kay, the chief wild goose chaser (sorry - he's in charge of looking for weapons of mass destruction). Isn't it amazing what people will tell a doctor?

"The Iraqi resistance movement is believed to have a war chest of up to $1bn - with a further $3bn hidden in Syria - and it is paying between $25 and $500 for each attack on US forces...
It also says 95 per cent of the threat is from former regime loyalists and that suicide bombings are being carried out largely by foreigners."

So - 95% of the danger is from the FRLs but it's foreigners who are blowing up? Surely a slight contradiction.

"Mr Bremer said that there was no evidence of a direct role by al-Qa'ida, though he felt that the devastating suicide bombs were carried out by non-Iraqis. But he made clear that he had "no hard intelligence to confirm that they were foreigners"."

So that explains it. There's no evidence to show that foreign terrorists are behind the bombs, but we "feel" this. We feel this because it is a convenient, comfortable thing to feel. We also feel this because we have been saying so for so long that it has become part of our language and hence of our mental furniture. Even if there were good reasons to believe this, we should of course still doubt it as this is the only way for imperfect human beings to approach the truth more closely. As J.S.Mill wrote in On Liberty, if you refuse to discuss something you are effectively claiming infallibility. No wonder, given this exercise in stupidity, that "We do not have a reliable picture of who is organising attacks, and the size and structure of various elements" and that "the CPA is seen as an over-centralised bureaucracy, isolated from the military, relies too much on contractors and is not realistically evaluating developments in the field."

Meanwhile on the political front, Iraqi opinions of the Governing Council seem to bear a much greater degree of realism:

"Iraqi politicians independent of the US-appointed governing council interviewed by The Independent all believe that the council wanted to delay elections because its members feared they would not be elected. "They just want time to loot the country and then get out," said one Iraqi leader bitterly."

And, just to crown the lot:

"Dr Kay says that "Iraq was actively violating accords during later 1999 to 2003". But despite a prolonged and vastly expensive search for chemical weapons there was "no evidence of weapons production" though Iraq could have produced sarin in two years and mustard gas in two months."

Remember the lie. No weapons, no legality, no reason.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

US babies get global brand names

BBC NEWS | World | Americas | US babies get global brand names

Well, if I worked for the Al-Qa'ida Joint Centre for Propaganda and Corporate Communications, this is the sort of thing I might have made up - barbarian infidels, mindless materialism, decadence and the like. But I wouldn't have had to.

"There are even two little boys, one in Michigan and one in Texas, called ESPN after the sports channel."

You could cry.

Thanks to ConfinedSpace

..for putting us on to that last post.

Monday, November 17, 2003

We're enforcing Saddam's anti-union laws!

An Anti-Labor Line in the Sand: LA Times

"In plants and factories all over Iraq, workers are quickly organizing unions. They want better wages. They want shorter hours (workers at the refinery and elsewhere often work 11- and 13-hour shifts without additional pay). They want safety shoes, goggles, masks and other protective gear. Most of all, they want a voice in the future of their jobs.

But in their quest for what they see as simple fairness in the workplace, they are encountering a determined foe: the Coalition Provisional Authority. Whenever the new unions try to talk with the managers or ministries that operate the plants, they're told that a law passed by Saddam Hussein in 1987 is still being enforced by the CPA. This law says that workers in state-owned enterprises (where the majority of Iraqis work) have no right to form unions or to bargain for contracts.

The law violates at least two conventions of the United Nations' International Labor Organization. But on June 5, CPA chief L. Paul Bremer III backed up this decree with another that Iraqi union activists say bans strikes and demonstrations that would disrupt economic activity."

So this is democracy, eh? I am genuinely ashamed to be British. Seriously. This sort of activity is the only hope for Iraqi liberty. Freedom is not a thing that you can unload from the back of a truck. It is a practice, an activity, a process. The people who have formed 170 (at the last count) newspapers in Iraq are doing democracy. The union organisers are doing democracy. And we are apparently pointing guns at them.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Iron Hammer: a chocolate fireguard?

There's a great idea!

The US Army has launched an offensive around Baghdad called Operation IRON HAMMER in an effort to nail some of those inconvenient guerrillas. Apparently, this is a "Get Tough" policy involving a "hard line on terrorism" and various other examples of the rhetoric of false strength. What this boils down to seems to be that they have started responding to guerrilla activity by calling in airstrikes on buildings they don't like, at levels of force up to and including the AC130 Spectre gunship. This reminds very much of the Vietnam War: the USAF, VNAF, Navy and Marine Corps air units all had an institutional interest in getting as many sorties into harm's way as possible. Unfortunately they found it hard to find the enemy, so they began measuring the number of "structures" destroyed - which could be anything from a bunker to a shed, but often turned out to be someone's house. Buildings tended to draw fire because - of course - there is a bias to whatever target seems obvious. So - the wrong people will get killed, their property will be arbitrarily and spectacularly destroyed, and support will grow for the other side. What the point of this exercise is baffles me. Perhaps they ought to recall Colonel John Paul Vann's rather grisly maxim on guerrilla warfare:

"This is a political war and a political war demands discrimination in killing. The worst way is an airstrike, the next worst is artillery. The best is a knife but we can't do it like that, so it has to be a rifle - you know who you're killing."
(Quoted from Neil Sheehan,
A Bright Shining Lie)

And - seeing as the war is over - what is going on here?

"...a senior military official confirmed that General Abizaid would soon move about 150 military planners to Qatar from his Central Command base in Tampa, and work from his headquarters in the Persian Gulf state to be closer to the operation in Iraq, where he has been spending most of his time."

So - AC130 strikes, reports of enemy strength ranging from 5,000 to 50,000, and the general is going into advanced headquarters - and we're all supposed to believe everything is all right. Great.

The Ranter welcomes About Pip and ReachM High

Two new blogs have recently started linking to us, neither of which I'd ever seen before.
Those are the ReachM High Ranch at , a simpatico and well designed US political blog, and About Pip, an idiosyncratic personal blog by a British expat in Sweden: . Fortunately, it's nothing at all to do with the utility program called Pip we used to know and love on the Amstrad PCW. Ranter blogrolling policy is, as ever, that we link back to anyone linking to us provided they don't fail the security check (remember Margie Burns...).

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

On the Dean theme..

The Service Employees International Union in New York is going to do this:

"As part of the anti-Bush campaign, union President Dennis Rivera has recruited 1,000 rank-and-file members and staff to fan out across the country beginning next month to get an early start organizing get-out-the-vote operations in more than a dozen "battleground" states.

Those states, including Florida, Michigan, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Ohio, are considered key for Democrats to regain the White House.
Each of Rivera's 1,000 volunteers will take a one-year leave of absence from his or her regular job - something permitted by many 1199 labor contracts - with the union paying regular salary and travel costs."

And they are supporting Dean.


Howard Dean - seems to be winning

In the Democratic primaries, it's getting to look certain that Howard Dean - former governor of Vermont, toast of the Left and supposed "Bloggers' Candidate" - is going to win. Blogs are spilling a lot of ink over him at the moment, but Nathan Newman has some of the best stuff on him here.

"one of Clinton's greatest failings is that he was a Party of One, so he lived and died by the media roller coaster, with little independent mobilization on his behalf out in the population (until impeachment brought some of the left grassroots to life).

As I've said, I believe in organization, and many progressives are operating on the basis of the past when there was no serious organization out in the grassroots to defend their candidate from the Mighty Wurlitzer of rightwing propaganda. Not that the Bush attacks won't be real and sustained, but give me a fanatic organization going door-to-door and community-group-to-community-group to respond over a pleasant personality any day. Clinton needed triangulation because he was playing to the media. With organization, you actually can make the nuanced arguments to appeal to the "unaffiliated" (Karl Rove's term by the way) who are not in the middle, but just conflicted by mixed political commitments.

Who knows if Dean as a personality is "electable"? We'll never know, since we have Dean, the Campaign Organization, which is a far different beast than Democrats are used to dealing with. But I will take Dean the Campaign over any Candidate, however pleasant or media focus-grouped their positions."

Very true. The lesson is a real one - the Clinton/Blair obsession with "triangulating", trying to be a bit of right and a bit of left, a bit of liberal and a bit of nasty simultaneously - is a dangerous burden in the era of polarisation we've plunged into. It was all about mass media appeal to a swing vote in conditions of little ideological confrontation between main parties. Now, though, we are in a period of radical ferment, characterised by such things as the neoconservative phenomenon. They don't recognise anything they disagree with as being a lasting achievement. The rhetoric level on all sides is cranked right up. The French presidential elections last year were a fine example - the centre ground simply shrank away from under Lionel Jospin's feet, moving out to its ideological camps on both sides of him. Jospin seemed untough and lacking in clear values. In the foreseeable future, elections will be won by building out from the centre. We need to consider how to use the polarisation to mobilise our side, to play them at their game.

Newman's point about Clinton being a Party of One gains strength when you compare Tony Blair's position. Just as he modelled so much of his government, his campaigning and style on Clinton, so he became a Party of One. And he has become more so. The Blair party consists of Blair plus his inner-circle team, it appeals to a middle-class middle-England swing vote that is disappearing, and it relies heavily on media appeal. It doesn't have much real support - despite poll numbers only dropping recently, the level of real support for Blair has been minimal for a long time. It's not the same as the Labour party, which becomes more and more obvious - the Blair party perches atop the Brownites, ex-Kinnockites, lefties etc etc. It makes alliances with them but it is not of them. It tries to straddle the socialist/conservative divide, and it is not working - as the Tories move towards polarisation and the Labour party become more and more discontented, the Blair party will be increasingly incoherent.

Random: If you don't think politics is polarising, you should have heard Michael Howard's first question time today. The aggression he and Blair displayed was truly astonishing - there has been nothing like it for years.

Back on the subject, the other main rival for the nomination, General Wesley Clark, ran into some bitter criticism lately. Not from anyone important, but from an academic I know who met him. Our man remarked that he was "very unimpressive - I had the strong feeling he wasn't too bright. This book of his is nothing but a whinge about being sacked. Anyway, he was a Republican back then - he wasn't a very good general either." No. The incident in question being the advance of the Nato 1st Allied Rapid Reaction Corps into Kosovo in 1999. After the move out was delayed due to the US Marines not being ready, the Russians famously dashed from Bosnia to Pristina with a small party of paratroops and occupied the airport. Clark snapped and demanded that his land forces commander, the British General Sir Michael Jackson, now Chief of the General Staff, drop the Parachute Regiment on the airport to shift the intruders. Jacko refused in his own, inimitable, style - "I'm not going to start World War 3 for you, SIR!" is supposedly what he said. Hardly impressive.

Bloggers shown to be dangerous lefties

Somebody has invented a test to classify your political opinions, The Political Compass. It defines your politics as your position on two axes, an economic one running from extreme communism on the left of the graph to total free market capitalism on the right, and a liberal/authoritarian one running from fascism at the top of the graph to anarchism at the bottom. This isn't new, I dimly recall taking the test or a similar one years ago, but an Australian blogger, Tim Lambert, has now prepared a chart of bloggers' positions on the graph. Here it is. You'll notice the Ranter down in the bottom left-hand corner - very leftist and liberal. Mind you, I'm not sure I deserve an economic score of
-7.12. That's ridiculously left, especially as I'm a fairly moderate social democratic type really. The liberality score of -5.85 is about right, though.

What's most interesting is that there are hardly any bloggers on his chart who aren't both lefty and liberal. We all appear to be in the same moral stakes as Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama, according to the example graph of world leaders on the Political Compass site. Hardly convincing. And why have none of the meat chomping, free marketeering, state shrinking warbloggers shown up? That ultra-liberal right constituency is empty. Lambert thinks it's because they are too shy to read anything pinko. The survey has been criticised, but there's another one around. So of course I took that one too.

Left/Right: -7.0998.
Pragmatism/Idealism: -0.0240.

The maximum variation in either direction is +16. That puts me neatly between Charles Kennedy and Tony Benn on the left/right scale, just right of Ken Livingstone, and slightly more pragmatic than either Red Ken or Benn. Now I have to say I think that's considerably more accurate. There's a chart of bloggers here for that survey.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

More statistical weirds

I notice that Yankeeblog is having a similar experience to us with random googlers turning up on their site despite searching for something - well - random.

"As someone who finds internet search engines fascinating, I'm always curious to see what searches bring people to this blog (with the exception of the person looking for "Tom Matthews Ultimate Frisbee," I'm sorry to report that few googlers seem to have landed at an appropriate place).

At any rate, it turns out that Yankeeblog is the third site returned by MSN when you search for "I want Pakistani sexy clips". Either there's some part of this blog that I don't know about, or someone recently came in for a big disappointment.

What I'd love to see is a site where you could enter a URL and have it return search queries that produce the former. While it would be practically impossible to do a comprehensive reverse search engine, Google could pretty easily put together one based on the searches it conducts every day -- anyone know of anything like this?"

In fact, looking at those search results, the mystery Pakistani porn freak must have been devastated. The results are completely - but completely - irrelevant, rather like the people looking for folk tales who seem to be channelled by Google to this blog. It's a good reminder of how the system can break down - search engines work by following a simple set of rules many, many times without any higher or human intervention. It's a good example of how such a restricted set of reactions can give rise to a self-organising order, like natural selection, capitalism, or ants. The problem is that although over time the success-rate averages out nicely, that implies a certain number of extreme results. Years ago, all search engines were a bit like that - you knew you'd find something, but probably not what you were looking for. Google revolutionised that by using the number of sites linking to a document as a gauge of value, using the self-organising nature of the web. Which is why results like this don't come up so often.

What's the next jump? The problem with search is manipulation, as in so many things on the net these days - spam, spoof log-on sites, spyware. Google especially has become a huge determining factor for a lot of sites - get a high ranking result and the traffic will pour in. At the same time, search results are becoming increasingly commercial. The danger is that under pressure from manipulators on one hand and businesses paying for higher rankings on the other, the search system becomes untrustworthy. And the web without search is not a serious proposition. The challenge for the search engine bods is to find a way of guaranteeing the integrity of their results.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Delving in the Ranter statistics

On Saturday, for the first time, I decided to peer down into my site stats. A few surprises awaited - not that the numbers were that impressive, an average of 6.8 hits/day. Wow. That's going to make Instapundit quake in their boots, I don't think. But the real surprises were down in the "last guests" reports. Who searched Google for "ian duncan smith+allegedely money"? Or "codenames for marriage proposals"? And why did they end up here of all places? Why do people searching for "folktales"! end up on the Ranter, when I've never covered anything to do with them? Who, for example, is regularly hitting the Ranter with a browser set to Farsi? Annoyingly, I've so far been unable to get WHOIS information for that one. But there was one rather special visitor:

hoobie (HOOBIE-DOM)
10 Downing Street
London, . SW1A 2AA

Domain Name: HOOBIE.NET

Administrative Contact, Technical Contact:
James, Gerry (GJ2637)
Gerry James Benevolent Fund
14 Aplegath Road
London W14 0HY
0111 010 1100 fax: 1111 010 1101

Record expires on 29-May-2006.
Record created on 30-May-1997.
Database last updated on 10-Nov-2003 07:00:15 EST.

Domain servers in listed order:


Rather distinguished, no? As is the chap from the World Bank who apparently rants too. Obviously I googled, and could find no-one who sounded even vaguely likely, only a civil servant in California, a minor academic in Indiana and an obscure golfer. A little thought, though, and I found out that was a hacker tools site. Including a wardriving map of wireless networks in central London. Which may explain the impressive address (at least the postcode is genuine).

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Further to that....

They don't like direct democracy/demagogy either, which is all good. My current reading is Bernard Crick's In Defence of Politics, which is one of the most thought-provoking things I've seen in a long time. As a taste - "Revenge is a recklessness with the future in a vain attempt to repair a suffering that is already past." That's damn right.

Outstanding blog -

A truly impressive blog just discovered. Run by two people - one a yank in exile, the other an Afghan in Kabul, it's informed, aggressive and simple like blogs should be. Based on news and writing. Some samples:

"We need to do a bootcamp and fast-track OCS school to put at least 1000 Arabic speaking officers trained in civil affairs on the ground in 3 months. Preferably two or three thousand if we can get them. We need to expand military recruitment to prepare for the rotation schedule to maintain at least 150,000 soldiers in country for at least two more years. We need to improve supply line safety by consolidating bases and establishing 24/7 secured "lines of communication". We need to get Arabic speaking plains-clothes intel agents on the ground, dedicated solely to rooting out with bribes and networking all Resistance forces and foreign militants. And we need another thousand or so of them ASAP. We need Iraqi forces to do checkpoints or we comepletely abandon them. US forces manning checkpoints except at secure facilities only breeds resentment and makes them targets. We need to abandon and then demolish the Green Zone to prevent it from being used as a symbol, and then move all CPA operations to a more secure location right outside of Baghdad. We need to assign long in-country rotations - recruited with heavy bonuses if necessary - military civil affairs officers (speaking Arabic of course) that will stay as troops are rotated in and out and assigned to the rural areas and towns all around Iraq at the provincial level. We need PRT teams and a big expansion of them like how the model teams in Afghanistan worked.

And that's just on the military side. On the civilian side there is allot we can do - rescind the foreign privatization order and instead create a micro-lending capital investment fund tha will make small business loans to Iraqis in order to start businesses and make money" This was a comment on Daniel Drezner's blog, also excellent.

Or what about this, on drug policy?

"Let's consider the case of, oh, I don't know, how about Afghanistan? Opium production almost certainly has a greater effect on the country than anything besides ISAF -- the NATO-led security forces in Kabul (without ISAF, there would most likely be a civil war raging here, but let's set that aside for the moment). And to give credit where it's due, I should point out that the heroin trade is--by far--the largest single component of Afghanistan's GDP, and is therefore responsible for bringing a lot of capital and wealth into the country....It is no exaggeration to say that if America and Europe suddenly legalized the importation (and use) of heroin, Afghan society would be transformed nearly overnight"

And this is one of my favourites: "Seriously, has there ever been someone who has gotten more out of low expectations than GWB?"

It's good and it's getting a link.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

How did the Iraqis do it? Mystery weapon

"Shortly before dawn on Aug. 28, an M1A1 Abrams tank on routine patrol in Baghdad “was hit by something” that crippled the 69-ton behemoth. Army officials still are puzzling over what that “something” was.
According to an unclassified Army report, the mystery projectile punched through the vehicle’s skirt and drilled a pencil-sized hole through the hull. The hole was so small that “my little finger will not go into it,” the report’s author noted. The “something” continued into the crew compartment, where it passed through the gunner’s seatback, grazed the kidney area of the gunner’s flak jacket and finally came to rest after boring a hole 1½ to 2 inches deep in the hull on the far side of the tank.
As it passed through the interior, it hit enough critical components to knock the tank out of action. That made the tank one of only two Abrams disabled by enemy fire during the Iraq war and one of only a handful of “mobility kills” since they first rumbled onto the scene 20 years ago. The other Abrams knocked out this year in Iraq was hit by an RPG-7, a rocket-propelled grenade. Experts believe whatever it is that knocked out the tank in August was not an RPG-7 but most likely something new — and that worries tank drivers."

I'm sure it does.

"While it’s impossible to determine what caused the damage without actually examining the tank, some conclusions can be drawn from photos that accompanied the incident report. Those photos show a pencil-size penetration hole through the tank body, but very little sign of the distinctive damage — called spalling — that typically occurs on the inside surface after a hollow- or shaped-charge warhead from an anti-tank weapon burns its way through armor.
Spalling results when an armor penetrator pushes a stream of molten metal ahead of it as it bores through an armored vehicle’s protective skin.

“It’s a real strange impact,” said a source who has worked both as a tank designer and as an anti-tank weapons engineer. “This is a new one. … It almost definitely is a hollow-charge warhead of some sort, but probably not an RPG-7” anti-tank rocket-propelled grenade." The well-known RPG-7 has been the scourge of lightly armored vehicles since its introduction more than 40 years ago. Its hollow-charge warhead easily could punch through an M1’s skirt and the relatively thin armor of its armpit joint, the area above the tracks and beneath the deck on which the turret sits, just where the mystery round hit the tank. An RPG-7 can penetrate about 12 inches of steel — a thickness far greater than the armor that was penetrated on the tank in Baghdad. But the limited spalling evident in the photos accompanying the incident report all but rules out the RPG-7 as the culprit, experts say.
Limited spalling is a telltale characteristic of Western-manufactured weapons designed to defeat armor with a cohesive jet stream of molten metal. In contrast, RPG-7s typically produce a fragmented jet spray.

The incident is so sensitive that most experts in the field would talk only on the condition that they not be identified."

I'm sure that really reassures the lads. And wasn't everyone so sure this was going to be easy? The front runners seem to be either the latest Russian antitank kit or a Swiss weapon of some kind. But there are wilder ideas - for example, an old-fashioned antitank rifle given depleted uranium ammo, or even an electromagnetic railgun, a small version of an idea developed as part of the Star Wars project - it uses a succession of very powerful magnets rather like a maglev train's motor to accelerate a tiny projectile to insane speeds.


It started out fun...(Washington Post)

The Washington Post has a report today concerning the survivors of the shot-down CH47 in Iraq. Story.

"It started out fun," said Sgt. Christopher Nelson, one of 12 soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 5th Field Artillery Regiment, based in Fort Sill, Okla., aboard the helicopter and in Iraq since April. "We were just ready to go."

I bet some people in Washington DC feel much the same. And, of course, in London. Now where was that inquiry report again? And what about this?

"Perle, a member of the Defense Policy Board, said in a telephone interview that he was approached last winter by Imad al Hage, a Lebanese businessman, with what was described as a offer by Saddam Hussein to hold elections and perhaps to permit the entry into Iraq of a small number of U.S. troops."

Yes, it's Dickie Pearl, the well-known warmonger and War on Trrrr booster again. This time in the role of backchannel diplomatist. Hard to believe - no wonder it didn't happen. Kissinger was much better at the game of looking like a dangerous nuclear nut in public whilst talking for real objectives in private. Mind you, I'd give a year's blog to see the CIA phone notes for that particular day. After all, this was one of the men who advised Ernst von Rumsfeld that The Company was a haven of Saddam-loving pinko limpwrist self-hating liberals. He never said a word. Mind you, at least this is true:

"Likewise, Air Force Col. Jay DeFrank, a Pentagon spokesman, said that "any suggestion that al Hage's offer could have avoided war is nonsense."

Bad news from ConfinedSpace - Referendums can seriously damage your health

Our long-standing partner blog, ConfinedSpace - about halfway down on the right, with its RSS headlines - has had a terrible experience. Jordan Barab - the gun what built it, mate - has been campaigning furiously against one of those citizen-initiated referendums I don't like. This particular one (Washington State initiative 841) was intended to repeal the state's ergonomic safety rules, the only comprehensive ergonomics standard anywhere in the US, and was funded hugely by powerful business interests, especially in construction. Despite his efforts and many others, though, all that soft money spent on TV adverts paid off and the people duly voted to scrap the lot - up to a point, that is. 8% of citizens, it seems, thought the vote was to enact an ergonomics standard. 25% thought that their safety at work was protected by Federal legislation - it's not - and the organisers of the whole thing, the Building Industries' Association, said that "We've got to keep fighting - we can't stop now." Great. It's enough to make you feel affectionate for our own beloved Health & Safety Executive, with its quaintly dotty obsessions about office photocopiers and banning village cricket matches (where I live now they tried this one...).

As I keep saying, though, direct democracy at the national or big-state level is democratic poison. All these devices - propositions in California, volksbegehrens in Austria, Swiss referendology - end up being instruments for more or less vicious and demagogical politicos to puff up their images, usually whilst spewing bad and foolish policies as a byproduct. The reason is that it gives the fallacious impression of a one-vote answer to everything, an opportunity for politicians to pretend not to be, and the possibility of getting startlingly radical measures into law on tiny votes. Add the use of giant publicity, and you've got political toxic waste. You've got dear old Jörg Haider's Petition on Foreigners (Ausländervolksbegehren) and the wave of racist attacks that followed, the ruinous Californian land-tax ban, the equally ruinous requirement for the state to replace the cash, assorted French referendums with risible turnouts - you name it, I can think of only three direct-democratic exercises that produced a decent result. Those were the Australian referendum that blocked the passage of a Crimes Act that would have made it illegal to be a member of any party the judge considered "communist", the British one re-confirming EEC membership, and the one accepting the Good Friday Agreement. There may be a use for these on constitutional questions, or perhaps at the very lowest level - but for routine politics, Rousseau's argument that true democracy, as he saw it, could only exist in a state small enough to easily assemble "the people" holds. That is after all why representative democracy exists - to make the business of politics possible over a bigger area.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

German general fired over antisemitic speech

Frankfurter Allgemeine story

The commanding officer of the KSK, the German army's special forces, has been relieved of his duties by the Defence Minister, Peter Struck of the Social Democrats, after he allegedly wrote a letter to the conservative deputy Martin Hofmann congratulating him on his now-infamous speech in which he described the Jews as a "perpetrator nation" (Tätervolk) and declared that they were responsible for crimes committed by the Soviet Communist Party. Hofmann's remarks triggered an eruption of criticism and put him under pressure to resign. At least one German has so far accused Hofmann formally of a crime, as has the Central Council of Jews in Germany. Although his party announced that his remarks were "contradictory to the basic convictions of the Christian Democratic Union", he has so far been permitted to remain a member on probation. Two parliamentary committees have since got rid of him.

Now, the affair has expanded sharply with the dismissal of Brigadier General Reinhard Günzel from his post with the Kommando Spezialkräfte (KSK). This unit was created fairly recently and saw action for the first time in Bosnia. It is modelled on the British Special Air Service Regiment. He has been relieved of command on instructions from the Ministry of Defence, and will probably be removed from the army list although this punishment is a matter for the Federal President. Günzel's letter was shown to a television reporter who interviewed Hofmann at his home in Fulda on Saturday whilst he defended the content of the speech and his refusal to apologise.

According to the Austrian Standard, Günzel's epistle explicitly thanked Hofmann for his speech, which he described as "an outstanding speech - if I can permit myself such praise - with a courage for truth and clarity that one very rarely hears in our country". Damn right you don't! He further called on Hofmann "not to allow yourself to be diverted by accusations from the dominant camp of the Left and to hold your course bravely".

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