Saturday, January 31, 2004

Russia Said Planning Nuclear Exercise (

Russia Said Planning Nuclear Exercise (

The Russian armed forces are about to stage a major transition-to-war exercise simulating a nuclear conflict right up and including test launching several missiles and sending Tu-160 and Tu-22 bombers out on simulated mission profiles over the Arctic and North Atlantic. How very Cold War - I suppose it'll wake up the radar people at Fylingdales, take their attention off the cups of tea and ciggies. I wonder how this fits with the talk (blogged here) about efforts to "reintegrate" various bits of the old Soviet Union into the Russian state?

Admin notice: weirdness

I'd like to apologise about the disruption to this blog, which was caused by a missing html tag.

Andrew Gilli-Gone

He's resigned. Supposedly after the NUJ discovered that many of its members wouldn't support him. If nothing else, this at least proves what I call the AHAB principle - all hacks are bitches. Journalists have in common with economists, psychoanalysts, bloggers and various other tribes the trait of enjoying nothing more than a good internecine brawl. The Guardian reports that he has already lined up a job in the print media - I think he deserves it. It's true that he couldn't really stay once both of the BBC's leaders were overboard, but I think he deserves some recognition. The non-discovery of WMDs daily gives the lie to the government - does anyone sincerely believe that, after all the documents released through the inquiry, the No.10 press office had nothing to do with it?

Just like salesmen are paid to sell, reporters are paid to break the news. This is the Main Story of the times, and he broke it and gooood.

Friday, January 30, 2004

Taiwanese city sees whale explode...

Thar she blows! - Sydney Morning Herald

A sperm whale weighing 50 metric tonnes has burst in the Taiwanese city of Tainan. It was dead at the time - but it certainly is now!

The motor scooter is the feature that makes it, I think. The whole sad story
remind me of the whale falling from the sky in the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which is probably why it's spreading across the web so fast. Technorati Breaking News

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Ryanair profit warning - Mike O'Leary and Churchill

After the European Court ruling on subsidies from airports to the airline also known as Eire O'Flot, its chief executive and union basher Michael O'Leary was moved to quote Winston Churchill concerning his planned appeal. "As Churchill said - in defeat, defiance".

Yes, he did. He said it as part of the "Moral of the Work" introducing his History of the Second World War. What he said was "In war, resolution. In defeat, defiance. In victory, magnanimity. In peace, goodwill." MOL is not known for magnanimity or goodwill. What is it with WSC and these people?

Dyke goes - it just gets worse

The BBC Director General, Greg Dyke, has resigned. Link

Staff seen in tears on the steps of Broadcasting House as he read a statement. God, this is getting dramatic again. Lord Ryder, the acting chairman, has issued an apology to the government. And he was a Tory! Some backbone please, somebody?

Mr. Dyke had this to say:

"There is a lot to be said about the Hutton report but I don't think it's appropriate for me to say it today. I will probably say it or write it at some stage, my views."

Come on then, get typing!

Watts, Powell, and the results of Hutton

More things - what became of Susan Watts and the taped interview with Kelly that confirmed Gilligan's report? It doesn't appear at all. I suppose she was only a little woman and therefore it wasn't really a tape? Mind you, she certainly earned the title of the most useless journalist in the world - the first main story of Blair's Britain and she didn't even notice it. If she had done, the entire line of the government's attack would have been kiboshed. But the best thing she could think of to do with the smoking tape was to get her own back because someone had been rude to her at the BBC. I hope she's happy now. What of the Prime Minister's chief of staff, who wrote to John Scarlett asking him to alter the report? Looking at the Pangloss Papers and the well orchestrated leaks, a lovely bone for the Murdoch press, you might have thought that none of this ever existed. It happened the way the law wanted it.

But it didn't. I know Jonathan Powell - the representative of the prime minister - wrote to John Scarlett and what he said, because I was there at the inquiry when he said it and when the e-mails were published. I remember him swaggering into the court looking every inch the man of power summoned from rock-climbing to answer the Main Crisis - and being tonguetied when they asked him to give his name for the record. I remember. Even though the inquiry has failed to produce a verdict worthy of any intelligent person's belief, its process was successful. The truth escaped from the cloisters of Whitehall and went waltzing wildly down the Strand. The problem is now not to forget. Not a word of Hutton's conclusions are sound. The government will be more dishonest and more arrogant than ever. They will do their best either to destroy the BBC or convert it into a shrunken and untrustworthy state organ. But they cannot do away with history - everyone must remind them at every opportunity. The fight goes on.

The government did not have to give documents to the inquiry. God knows what is in the papers they decided not to reveal.


We welcome two new blogs linking to the Ranter: Disposable Man and The Man who Bought a Field. Links are of course in the links section.

Some self-criticism of my report

Ironically, given the last paragraph of my last post, I was myself writing in a hurry at the time and some of it might not quite say what I wanted it to. The "perfect example" referred to the situation where the only reason for mis-reporting was pressure of time and the need sometimes to publish material of public interest that cannot yet be fully verified. (thought experiment - had The Guardian not gone public on the Aitken/Hamilton scandals, would we ever have got to the bottom of them? And would any of the perps have gone to jail? But Alan Rusbridger had to take the decision to report a story that at the time was partly source-verified and partly suspicion. After publication, the corroborating material was smoked-out and all concerned ascended to hack legend status.) Also, I had to move the phrase "in this case they should be corrected as soon as possible", and it reads strangely. And there is a full stop missing.

Some criticisms of the Report

A few points I jotted on in the dark watches of the Night after the Whitewash...for a start, Lord Hutton argues that the 0607 broadcast was "unfounded" on the grounds that Andrew Gilligan could not know that the government had included the 45 minutes claim knowing it to be false. Now, the content of this deserves close examination. The claim that Iraq was capable of deploying weapons of mass destruction at 45 minutes' notice - that Iraqi nuclear, biological or chemical forces were on 45 minutes' readiness - is demonstrably false. Even if a bomb was finally discovered, we now know that it would not have been ready for use at short tactical notice - none of the operational preparations, infrastructure or people have been found. The claim is false. Enough already! This was, if not as obvious as now, still pretty clear when the report went out in the small hours. Gilligan has so far been vindicated by the final test of reality.

What about the question of intent? The only way either Gilligan or anyone else can know if the government knew this statement was false at the time is if one of those involved was to tell us, or if documentation to that effect was to be discovered. So far, so Hutton. But it is also true that we, and Mr. Gilligan, could certainly know who might have a motive to issue a dodgy dossier, and what the motive might be. We could also know the context, and what the consequences might have been. There were certainly grounds to suspect the government of intent. That would not have been enough, though. To make any statement that was not heavily qualified, some corroboration was needed. And Gilligan had a source who could provide just that. What passed between the two men in the Charing Cross Hotel is between Gilligan and his God, and even Lord Hutton accepted that he could not determine the content of their conversation. But despite having declared his ignorance, Lord Hutton stated that he was satisfied that Dr. Kelly did not corroborate Gilligan's suspicions. How does he presume to judge a conversation of whose content he is ignorant? It would appear that, in the absence of evidence as to the interview with Dr. Kelly, my lord has presumed that the account the most favourable to the government is true - or in other words, that as there is no evidence proving Mr. Gilligan's innocence he must be guilty!

Further, his lordship seems to draw a double standard between the agents of the State and the BBC. Mr. Gilligan's report is unfounded and therefore dishonest because its author could not provide absolute proof of its validity. But the government's use of the 45-minutes claim is entirely proper, hurrah hurrah and Rule Britannia, because the State in the person of John Scarlett believed it to be true. I think Andrew Gilligan believed his report to be true. The State may base its allegations merely on the belief that an uncorroborated statement is true - but for a journalist to do likewise is evil and dishonest! Lord Hutton seems to believe that it is utterly unacceptable to print or broadcast anything of which one is not utterly certain - but this would rule out practically all investigative reporting. He clearly does not understand journalism, and seems not to have fully internalised the realities of the news media. Andrew Gilligan, Kevin Marsh, and Richard Sambrook did not have eight leisurely months to ruminate over the nicest nuances of proof - they had to get out the news. Journalism, especially broadcast journalism, is an operational process subject to the constant pressure of time and determined by its technology. Sometimes the imperatives of publication and the critical function of the media in an open society mean (to take a perfect example) that mistakes are made. In this case they should be corrected as soon as possible. The BBC did in fact correct the wording of the report made at 0607 on the fateful day, which was not in fact a report but a discussion (a two-way). Perhaps they ought to have issued an official, explicit mea culpa. But I don't believe that this would have prevented the affair. The Government was gagging to bash a reporter and I suspect the point of no return had already been passed.

The seminal distinction of facts and comment is at the heart of this case; I suppose the suspicion of falsehood was comment, and should have been flagged as such, but what if the reporter in question believed it to be factual? The distinction of language would have been only noticed by the trade anyway.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

The Pangloss Report

Well, that's it. The swine have won - from Ali C via Geoff Hoon and Tony Blair to refugee bashing Becky Wade. Lord Hutton travailed and decided that everything was for the best in this best of all possible worlds - with the exception of the BBC. So exactly what is a judge doing "standing by" the Prime Minister in a political matter? To me that implies loyalty. And that is not compatible with an investigation. Also, what is the difference between "sexing up" the dossier and having the No.10 private office try to word it as persuasively as possible? It may not have been improper for John Scarlett to accept suggestions, but the history of the draft, as exposed by the inquiry, suggests not that more material was added but that caveats were removed. It's not just Scott-style semantics - arguing about the exact definition of the word "sophistry" - it's a total exercise in the worship of power. What is all this nonsense about grave attacks on the integrity of government? Are we a banana republic to have laws against insulting the Leader?

Weak, weak, weak. I'll post something more intelligent when I've digested details.

"It is in the interest of the government to name Dr is not in the interest of the government to name him directly"

"I consider there was no such underhand strategy...the decision of the Prime Minister was taken in order to prevent accusations of a cover-up"

That's it - "I further stand by the decision of the Prime Minister.." He's just explicitly cleared Blair. But what's this "stand by"? You're not meant to stand by anyone - you're meant to inquire. This isn't an issue of loyalty, or at least shouldn't be one.

4 - The Govt

"It is impossible to imply, as some commentators have do, that there was an underhand strategy to expose Dr Kelly"


"The government could have battened down the hatches to ride out the storm.."

In theory, I suppose

"I conclude..that there was no such underhand strategy."

" The government were obliged to disclose that a civil servant had come forward to the Foreign Affairs Committee"

" The Government acted reasonably in issuing a statement that a civil servant had come forward, and this was not part of an underhand strategy..... the press would of course pursue this with the greatest vigour"

Oh God, he's really going to clear every man jack of them!

"The decision to issue the statement was taken by the Prime Minister"

3 - The Beeb Bash

Hutton says there were management failures at the BBC. "An attack on the government's integrity". Boo hiss!

1 - The reports were all nonsense.
2. - "The communication of information through the media is a vital part of a democratic society, but the right of communication does not include a right to attack the integrity of public figures.."
3. - "The BBC managers are at fault in failing to investigate the government's complaint adequately..and failed to appreciate the lack of support for the most serious of the allegations. The BBC governors have a duty to defend the independence of the BBC against attacks from the government, which were phrased much more strongly.." Says the view of Gavyn Davies that the Board of Governors was not the right body to investigate is "understandable but not correct". Governors should have "considered whether it was in the public interest to broadcast". BBC should say they shouldn't have broadcast it.

2 - Kelly and Gilligan

"It is not possible to reach a definite conclusion on what Kelly said to Gilligan...I am satisfied that Kelly did not say to Mr Gilligan that the government's claim was knowingly false"

"Dr Kelly was acting in breach of the civil service rules of may be that at the time of the meeting he did not realise the full gravity of his action"

(Great - it's all just a fluffy kitten matter of civil service discipline. GREAT WHITEWASHING!)

1 - preparing the dossier

Hutton states he does not claim to distinguish tactical or strategic weapons. States that the allegation the government used "45mins" knowing it to be false, is false, as the source provided the information in good faith.

However, does say that the wording was misleading and that No. 10 Downing St attempted to word it as persuasively as possible. Further, Alistair Campbell did take part.

He further says that it was not improper for John Scarlett to have accepted suggestions from No.10, but that the desire of the Prime Minister to have as strong a dossier as possible might have subconsciously influenced the drafters!
"Sexed up" - says the phrase is unclear but the allegation was unfounded.

Claims of a murder are dismissed

Hutton states he is certain that the cause of death was haemorrage from an incised wound and that no third party was involved. "It is very unlikely that any third party could have forced Dr Kelly to swallow this large quantity of tablets"

Recapping the 5 headings: 1) preparation of the dossier
2) the meeting with Gilligan
3) the BBC
4) the MoD and Kelly
5) any other business

Kelly's emails

He apparently received various e-mails containing parliamentary questions including Which rules and regulations would an MOD civil servant have breached by meeting Andrew Gilligan? on the night of his suicide.

We progress...

Hutton is now dealing with the calls to Kelly from the MOD press office and the arrival of the Sunday Times hack. Note - the evidence referred to in last post was from Janice Kelly.

Covering Prime Minister's role and the MoD

We are now hacking through all those briefings. "It is apparent..that Dr Kelly apprehended that his name would soon become public knowledge" (Hutton) "We have an amazing press in this country that does not take long to find out such details"(!)

(now moving to the Q&A briefing)
Allegations now being detailed. Arguments about the BBC Governors and public interest grounds for publication. Hutton recommends that there be a review of relations between the intelligence services, parliament and the media.

Now we're coming to it...

Moving onto the Mail article and the 45 minutes claim.

Hutton statement - preambling

Currently giving an overview of the history/handing out the factoids.

Here we go - blogging the statement

Final submissions are to be published on the website....perhaps including Tony's note from his Mum? "Dear Lord Hutton, I am very sorry about my son's behaviour.."

The snark hunt has officially begun!

Well, he made it by five votes after Nick Brown's mystery change of principles. It reminds me of the old crack about William Hague being against the Euro "in principle" but only for the length of a parliament - that is to say that his principles lasted a maximum of five years. Mr. Brown's lasted a few weeks. The rumour machine is running on full power, with all media pouring forth thousands of words of speculation about Gordon Brown's role in the affair. Personally I am an extreme sceptic about Blairbrownery, I think it's largely the product of speculating about things that are unknowable. So I will make no comment. I suspect it's really a story about old-fashioned whips office, black book bullying.

The big burst came later, though, with the loanshark-influenced Sun's claimed leak of the Hutton Report. Quite in keeping with the "newspaper"'s strangely contradictory position of lauding Tony Blair whilst pouring vitriol on his government, policies, appearance, family and probably underpants, the Sun claims to have seen a "precis of Lord Hutton's conclusions" which exonerates - well - everybody except those pesky journalists. Not even Geoff Hoon. Curiously, their political editor Trevor Kavanagh stated on the BBC Today programme that the leak came from someone who stood to make neither financial nor political gain. Most extraordinary. Somebody was really so exercised by a moral need to advance the date of publication by some twelve hours that they decided to place themselves in contempt of court for no reward! What a paragon of virtue! Strangely enough, though, they did not bestow their gift without discrimination - they selected one particular newspaper!

How strange.

Mind you - I'm keeping a provisional BS rating on this, especially as Mr Kavanagh took care to deny that he had seen the report, or even (if I understand the word precis correctly) extracts of its text. He remarked to the BBC that they would have been equally keen to publish had the leak claimed that it was all Tony Blair's fault as if this was interesting. Who would not have been keen to publish? The next phase, of course, is the mole hunt. Who would not gain politically and had an advance copy? (We may assume that Kavanagh's remark about financial gain means that they received no moneys directly from the Sun. Someone will make it worth their while.)

Alistair Campbell has been the first out of the traps to deny everything. The damage is done, though - the public mind seized.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Referring to the last post

Given Professor Stephen Hill's attitude, perhaps this email was no surprise:

Dear Student,

The Student Fees Office would like to inform any student with an overdue debt that we will shortly commence the College’s disciplinary process in respect of non-payment of fees. Please refer to the Student Handbook 2003-2004 (sections 3 & 4 of the Student Fee Regulations, pages 29-30) for more information.

It is crucial that payment is made by the 26th January 2004 to avoid inclusion in this process - which, if debts remain unpaid, may lead to the termination of your registration as a student of the College.

Payment can be made in the following ways:

· On-line at
· Credit/debit card payment line, 01784-414099, 9am-4pm, Monday to Friday.
· Cheque or credit/debit card at the Student Service Point, FW141, 10am-4pm Monday to Friday (Term time).
· Self-pay deposit box for cheque payments only, Available 24 hours a day using the envelopes provided outside the Cash Office FW143.
· Cash payments are taken at the Cash Office, FW143, 10am-4pm Monday to Friday (Term time).

Late payment surcharges will be applied in accordance with Section 3.1 of the Student Fee Regulations.

If you are unable to pay your overdue fees, it is important that you make an appointment, at the Student Service Point, to see ****** ***** or ***** *** to discuss the matter further. Alternatively, you may contact the Student Fees Office mailbox,

Student Fees Office

Great. Signed by a thing, not a person into the bargain!

Speaking of top-up fees and the Crisis..

I notice in my newspaper that a wedge of university principals, vice chancellors and other Mucho Pomposos have signed A Statement in favour of the government. I didn't see that in a report. No. They took out a full-page ad - seventy thousand quid at least! Worst of all, the principal of my own dear college is one of them. Grrr.

I think it's safe to say I'm going to blog a great deal over the next few days - we can consider this a Total Alert, locked and loaded, end of the desolate runway. There ought to be sirens. Anyway, I suspect I'll spend much of tomorrow strapped to a computer with Blogger and four different news sources open. Thinking about it, probably ought to look up my Hutton notes and blog posts wouldn't want to confuse Richard Hatfield with Kate Wilson would you...

BBC NEWS - Leading fee rebel to back Blair

BBC NEWS | Politics | Leading fee rebel to back Blair

Damn. Didn't see that one coming - Nick Brown, their leader has changed sides at not quite the last minute. Apparently the offer of a "review" of the top-up fees' effects convinced him. It doesn't convince me - since when would any action that shuffles cash off the official tax numbers be reversed by any "review"? God knows what the whips dug up on him.

Speaking of whips, as we hurtle into the Crisis of '04 all the oldest and worst parliamentary traditions have switched right back on. Sick MPs being driven hundreds of miles by the whips' office to make the vote (whilst ensuring they vote the right way..), rumours of the weather taking a hand (talk of Northern Irish MPs being grounded by snowstorms in Belfast. Why didn't they go earlier? The snow has only been forecast for a week.) - it's all there, and I'm sure that the participants will carry it away with them in their personal mythology. We will read newspaper articles in the future in which old hacks and politicos will pontificate about things not being as bad as back then in '04, just as we hear about the repeated vote crises of the Callaghan government now. Oh yes, back then the Labour whips used to fetch MPs in ambulances to the Commons and once they wiggled a drip to show the Tories that he was still alive (or was it an oxygen pipe? or was it in fact Julian Critchley years later? the story moves under pressure). Yah yah yah.

I wonder whether all this is not just the sport of politics, though, more tiresome posturing and party machine bullying. For that reason the government deserves to lose - in the last weeks it has shown all the dirtiest, smallest, weakest traits of John Major's at its worst. Just as the Tories did with the Scott Report in 1996, they have done their best to gerrymander the publication of the Hutton Report by giving themselves a day's start, and by allowing the opposition a minimum of time to read it under pathetic conditions (locked in the Cabinet Office). At least they have been slightly less blatant - back then the Conservatives quietly permitted themselves a week's uninterrupted study of the papers before grudgingly permitting Robin Cook four hours to examine the 800-odd pages prior to debate. But the principle holds - if they are going to lock the Liberals and Tories in to prevent leaks, why not start at the same time as No. 10 gets the report? At the absolute least, what I hoped for from Labour was an end to this kind of bare-faced fraud.

Friday, January 23, 2004

It's shar'ia for secular now, but the Big Mullah says Vote! How confusing can it get?

"On Wednesday our darling Iraqi Puppet Council decided that secular Iraqi family law would no longer be secular- it is now going to be according to Islamic Shari'a. Shari'a is Islamic law, whether from the Quran or quotes of the Prophet or interpretations of modern Islamic law by clerics and people who have dedicated their lives to studying Islam.

The news has barely been covered by Western or even Arab media and Iraqi media certainly aren't covering it. It is too much to ask of Al-Iraqiya to debate or cover a topic like this one- it would obviously conflict with the Egyptian soap operas and songs. This latest decision is going to be catastrophic for females- we're going backwards"

This is astonishing - whilst the world is meant to believe that we couldn't possibly allow elections in Iraq for fear that those Shias might get in, (and you know, they're not really your sort of chappies at all - civilised values have to come before strict formal democracy, as I'm sure any rational man, and especially woman understands) our friends of the Iraqi Governing Council (much more, ah, respectable, reformist, modernisers, I'm sure we agree) want to introduce a new civil code based on shar'ia.

"Women are outraged… this is going to open new doors for repression in the most advanced country on women's rights in the Arab world! Men are also against this (although they certainly have the upper-hand in the situation) because it's going to mean more confusion and conflict all around."

You bet. This is a brief taste of a much longer text by an Iraqi bloggeress, River Bend, which was quoted by Fistful of Euros. I really suspect that if this turns out to be dinkum, it means that our (nice, western, modernising) Iraqis are making a play for the religious nut vote to undermine those (nasty, not quite kosher) Shias who would like us to risk (early, ill thought out, unripe time) elections. Brilliant.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Blogroll - The Young Fogey

The Ranter welcomes the Young Fogey's Agreeable World: link Not quite sure how to categorise this one yet.

Getortet! A new German verb

I learnt a new German verb recently - torten, or to cake, as in hitting someone with a custard pie. The reason for this was that the students at Vienna University are out protesting again, and this time it seems they have seized the media after unknown persons successfully "torteten" the Rektor, Georg Winckler, and the sektionschef (UK - permanent under secretary) for higher education in the ministry, Sigurd Höllinger, at a discussion held at the university with the students. I care about this because I spent quite a lot of time in the winter and spring of 2001-2 at that fine institution, protesting against their lovely government and its amusing education policy. Back then, although we did all the usual things - mass demos, sit-ins on the Ringstrasse, occupying the main lecture theatre, blockading the Ministry of Education, transferring lectures into parks and the like - nothing much happened, except that I got the back of my head into Die Presse and an amusing time was had by all.

This time, they are angry at the concrete arrangements set up by Winckler to put the Universities Act 2002 (which is what got us furious) into effect. And this is what led to the Tortung.

The instant of impact on Winckler. Note that the pie was directly delivered rather than thrown, and that the UTV (Independent TV) camera was clearly close behind the piethrower at the moment critique. Given many of their staff's political sympathies one might almost suspect complicity. Note also the rapid escape of the senior academic, Eva Blimlinger, on his left, who ducks rapidly out of harm's way.

The reality of pie. You could almost feel sorry for the pompous ass. The pie, reportedly procured from your friendly local Aida, clearly achieved both excellent bursting and high stickiness.

Surprise was evidently achieved. Note that the woman to Winckler's left seems to be having difficulty suppressing laughter. It's a pity the same cannot be said of the political Right - a wide range of nationalist and Catholic-conservative figures have condemned the "outrageous escalation of violence", "breach of all rules of the democratic game" and similar remarks, whilst the Interior Minister has given the case to the Office for Combating Terrorism and the Protection of the Constitution (Landesamt für Verfassungschutz und Terrorbekämpfung), a new post-11/9/01 body established in imitation of the German Verfassungsschutz (=the internal secret service).

Perhaps Tony Blair might yet announce that cakes suitable for terrorist use have, indeed, been discovered in Iraq.

I doubt very much that this will change anything at all, and I beg forgiveness for wasting bandwidth on the frivolity of student politics. But the pictures were too good to miss. ( and you can see the film here)

Monday, January 19, 2004

BBC NEWS - Paisley to stand down as MEP

Link to report

The Reverend Ian Paisley, a not infrequent target of this blog, has decided to leave the European Parliament. Not surprisingly, the reason is not to remove his unpleasant influence from public life but to concentrate on "negotiating" with Sinn Fein. (I suppose that means "making sure the underlings don't agree to anything I haven't sabotaged".)

It's only odd that he's been there so long without resigning - after all, he did once declare that the parliament was keeping a secret 666th seat open for the return of Satan. Funny, eh. Maybe the expenses had something to do with it.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Oh God, it's happening!

BBC News

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani's representatives have announced a direct action campaign in the event that Paul Bremer's planned "indirect" elections go ahead. Well, we've finally done it now. Shia rage was one of the biggest worries anyone had at the time of the war, but the restraint shown by their leaders has so far prevented a southern crisis. Unfortunately it seems we're in for the worst, unless some rabbits are rapidly produced from hats.

The worst thing is that he's damn right, too. The so-called indirect elections will certainly be indirect, but they won't be elections in any democratic sense. In fact, the plan proposes the formation of "local caucuses", appointed by the powers that be (whether this will be the Governing Council or the occupation administration is not clear), who will then elect a government from their membership. Well - that isn't democracy, but rule by local busybodies, tribal chiefs and jacks-in-office, plus a scattering of carpetbaggers recently returned from exile and supported by our bayonets. It's a mess. At best the Iraqis will get oligarchy, with a sort of ramshackle consociation deal sharing out jobs between groups. At worst the "caucuses" will be bunches of self-appointed bosses, manipulated by the CPA, the political parties, tribes, clerics, foreign powers and anyone else in the manipulating business, who will select a shaky committee of themselves. And who came up with the idea of importing one of the most obscure and strange features of American politics - the Iowa party caucus - into Iraq? How exactly do you translate "caucus" into Arabic? And, after you have had a primary election, in America you get a real presidential election. Sure, all the Mucho Pomposos and mad politics junkies in the party caucuses might have ensured the candidates are something like the Three Wise Monkeys - but at least you finally get to choose your monkey, a feature notably absent from Mr. Bremer's thinking.

Now, various justifications have been given. It might be difficult to organise. (But everyone in Iraq has an identity card and a ration card.) Even so. (But you could make it easier by localising the elections - elect the bloody caucus if you must have caucuses, and if that's the plural and not a range of mountains between the Black Sea and the Caspian.) The real one, I suspect, is that the ideologues who thought people like Slick Ahmed Chalabi were the real thing are still clinging on by their fingertips to the idea of rigging them into power.

I hope those ceramic plates have finally arrived for the lads in Basra, they're going to need them...

Security - again...

The Americans have apparently owned up that there are "problems" with airport screening in the US. No surprise there after the Sudanese chap who appeared at Heathrow on a Virgin flight from Washington Dulles (of all places) with live ammunition in his baggage was arrested. Question - if they can't spot someone who really has bullets on him, why should we listen to any of these "security warnings"?

The last time British merchant shipping or aircraft was threatened to this degree, during the second world war if you believe the hype, we set up our own security agency inside the States, British Security Co-ordination. This outfit was led by a Canadian zillionaire called Sir William Stephenson who supposedly had mafia connections (but also wrote a huge book about how great he was, after the war) and had the task of detecting German shipping spies and saboteurs. They were originally established whilst the US was neutral, which did not make them astonishingly popular - no-one likes foreign police and spooks running around their city. But at least it worked, which was important as the FBI had very little counter-intelligence capacity to begin with. Which brings me to my point - if we can have British immigration controls at the Gare du Nord in Paris, surely it's not unthinkable to take over the responsibility for the security of British aircraft (and ships, in so far as there are any) travelling to, from or through the US?

The obvious objection is that this way madness lies - will every major airport soon be a weird multinational broth of policemen? And, of course, I objected to the sky marshals on those grounds among others. Here's the problem - this will eventually happen if there is no confidence in land-side states' efforts (or indeed good faith) and continued alerts, because things will get intolerable.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Shells found in southern Iraq NOT chemical

FOX News link for rightwingers
Australian ABC News
Wired for net weirdos

On the other hand, there's a bunch of shite

Mind you, just so I don't give the impression of liking the Grauniad too much, I think it's a bit rich of a paper that runs a weekly Bad Science column to run huge two-page ads for a device that "gives off streams of positive and negative ions, components of healthy air" which apparently "actively seek out allergens", turn into "cluster-ions" (WHAT? Don't these people do GCSE chemistry?) and render them harmless. Which is all very good news for little "James", the emetic blond child whose likeness takes up one of those two pages with the tag "Mum, I can't breathe". Surely an exclamation mark missing? Mind you, the lad looks weirdly unconcerned by his predicament, but then I suppose you can't really express emotion if your eyes have been obscenely enlarged by PhotoShop until you look like a deep-sea fish. (You're colder than the fishes/in the Arctic Ocean/But at least they flap their fins/to express emotion..."A Fine Romance", Cole Porter) With floppy blond hair. What Sharp are trying to push on parents of asthmatic kids is nothing more or less than that good old fashioned 1980s fraud object, an ioniser! Yes! That weird little box well-off health freaks used to swear by, which contained in effect a piece of wire carrying current and a little red light!

Now what did I say about newspaper ad managers?

That Society Guardian Ad, part 2

It's now been reported that many of the quotes in Michael Howard's Grauni-ad were dodgy. What a surprise. And apparently Shadow Culture Secretary Julie Kirkbride...who?..."will no longer pursue her complaint about public sector bodies placing most of their job ads in Society Guardian. "She is not saying anything about this any more", he (a spokesman) insisted." " No shit, Sherlock.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Michael Howard, Society Guardian, and public stupidity

The lovable conservative (it says here), Michael Howard, has placed a full-page ad in the Guardian's Society supplement. He's apparently looking for real live public sector workers to contribute to his search for "waste and bureaucracy", led by banker David James. We've dealt with the Bureaucracy Myth quite frequently here - the belief that there is always a huge quantity of money marked WASTE in the budget that could be magicked up and parcelled out as tax cuts without any cost to society as long as you vote for me - and this is of course just another example. Why, for example, is a financier with a reputation as an insolvency expert in charge? Wouldn't someone with an operational business background be better? A management accountant perhaps? This is where the myth kicks in, lads. Mr. James was hired by government to sell the Dome, and Michael Howard (despite his membership of the cabinet that invented it) wants to create an association between the public sector and the dome, having done a good propaganda job on it in his first trip in the shadow cabinet.

The interest, though, is that the Guardian's Society supplement is an obsession with the Right. For non-initiates of British newspaper politics, this supplement which appears every Wednesday is meant to cover the world of the state sector and carries more public job ads than any other paper. The Right like to do things like measuring it and declaring that "there are more non-jobs now than ever before". They thunder that it is a deliberate attempt to ensure people "who think a certain way" are employed. (The Daily Mail: "the paper that is the bible of statism, welfarism and every other ism involving spending taxpayers' money". Who would want welfare employees who didn't believe in welfare?)

The true reason why the Rightist press are obsessed is of course brutally financial. Newspaper advertising managers are a hard and non-ideological breed and any buyer will do. Those public sector vacancy adverts are a damn good earner - this is why columnists like Richard Littlejohn call the paper a nationalised industry. Speaking of that particular wealthy propagandist - the man who, they say, earns a million a year for his gay-bashing rants - he never seems to notice the masses of adverts for ultra-high interest loans pitched at the poor and already debt-ridden that fill most of the Sun. Funny that. Or should that be the "loan-shark controlled" Sun? Whatever. Business managers at papers like the Telegraph, now under the million mark and losing ads fast, would love to muscle in on lucrative Grauniad territory - it is pure mafioso stuff. After all, why would - say - a teacher in Harlesden or Manningham or Rossington who was angling for a promotion even consider reading a paper that, day after day, year after year, pours forth tens of thousands of words of op-ed loathing, denigration and abuse on the heads of teachers? Why would a social worker in Bransholme looking for a change from trying to stop the kiddies burning the old codger next door's house down and then pelting the fire brigade with broken bottles "because there was nothing to do" even stand near a newspaper that regularly claims that he or she is worse than a paedophile? The answer is obvious - the business managers and the editorial ideologues are on a collision course.

It's very amusing, against this background, that Mickey-H has decided to subsidise the Guardian - almost as funny as the Adam Smith Institute getting most of its money from the State.

Tanks-for-Water, economics and the future (part I)

It's been reported recently that a treaty has been signed by Israel and Turkey providing for the shipment of fresh water from Turkey to Israel, in huge ships, in return for military stores, especially Merkava tanks. LinkThis is just as depressing as it sounds, because it shows that one of the fashionable intellectual worries of the last 20 or so years is finally to be activated into power reality. That's the one about "if you think we fight over oil, just wait until we fight over water" in the Middle East. Now, I've been hearing pundits grand about this for so long that it became one of those problems that seemed to have disappeared through over-funkiness, like Antarctic resources or giant volcanoes. But now, it seems that this one is going to burst.

Some background - back in the 1970s, a group of economists at Tel Aviv University began to concern themselves with water as a resource. (As usual in economics, this shows the way the science tends to follow the problems of the day - Keynesianism was founded on depression, Monetarism on inflation, and water economics on Israeli agriculture.) They were rather surprised to discover that some of the countries they studied could not possibly find enough water to supply what they must use every year. It was like bees not theoretically being able to fly, and the economists realised they had broken into a seam of knowledge. They formulated the idea of "virtual water" - that is to say, the countries in question solved their water problem by importing crops and goods that were water-intensive even if they seemed cheaper to produce locally. For every ton of wheat they bought elsewhere, they effectively shaved the water bill by several hundred gallons. The economists proposed a re-orientation of Israeli farming, concentrating on growing crops that were cheap in terms of water and trading the surplus for virtual-water imports. It was simply an application of David Ricardo's Theory of Comparative Advantage - not only do countries trade, but they specialise on their best trading products. As is usual with rational ideas, though, politics didn't like it. They were fiercely attacked and some of them left the country, although the government (as always) later had to accept their ideas. The problem was that agriculture has a special status for Israel, which goes all the way back to the founding of Zionism - the chalutzim were always meant to return to eternal values through honest labour on the land, building the independence of the future state from the true foundation of the simple life. That was why local Zionist branches throughout Austria-Hungary and Russia held training courses in farming for young Jews. For the Labour Zionists, self-sufficient communities of farmers were their own road to Socialism - expressed as the kibbutz movement this became one of the pillars of the Jewish state, and remains at the emotional core of Labour just as places like Barnsley and South Shields are for most members of the British Labour party. For the Right, possession of land meant permanence and power, and a step on the way to possessing the whole of Eretz Israel. The settlers are almost a political mirror image of the kibbutzniks. You can't be a real Labour Zionist if you don't at least wish you were a kibbutznik. You can't be a real Likud hawk if you don't at least wish you were a settler. Economic rationality (and I don't mean what the Australians call "economic rationalism" - it ain't rational) never survives political unreason. That is the meaning of this proposal, with its vast initial sunk costs of building or procuring ships (Will they be VLWCs - Very Large Water Carriers - as opposed to VLCCs?), port facilities and integration into the Turkish and Israeli water supply, its gouging unit prices (far higher even than desalination - desalination costs 50-56 US cents a cubic metre, import $1:Haaretz report), and the dull truth that even under perfect conditions it will supply only 3% of Israel's water - it has the grandiosity that bears witness to political madness, like the huge economic-ecological engineering schemes of the Soviet Union or the marble stadiums of mad military tyrants.

The wider results are menacing - the plan will pour weapons into Turkey, strengthening the army and the army party in politics and giving them even greater interests in bossing the eastern mountains and dragooning the Kurds. It will fire the first shots in making water an open, rather than hypothetical, object of politics. It will forge further links between the Israeli Military Industries, the army, and water-wasting interests - a water-military-industrial iron triangle could anchor the far Right in power. A more depressing development could hardly be imagined. And what better target could a terrorist dream of than a half million ton tankerful of drinking water from Turkey to Israel? (Note: Palestinian towns get on average 60 units of water a day, compared with a minimum of 300 in Israel.) The propaganda message would be something like "Rich states ganging up to keep others thirsty/Evil apostate traitors/Zionist Entity/Western technology". Just what Osama likes really. And what will Syria do in terms of building up its navy? There's a nice new arms race.

The final message? The water problem will be solved - one way or another. That's a fact, because people must eat and drink. It might be solved by the strong grabbing from the weak, each trying to stake out a little pond of their own. And that will mean, as their "turbulent frontier" problem drags them further on, war. Perhaps they will kill each other until there is plenty of water to go around. There is an alternative, though. That will be part 2.

Friday, January 09, 2004

Iraq Now on Halliburton...

Damn good post on Iraq Now about everyone's favourite profiteers.

"Youngster: Wow. So no matter how boneheaded an incompetent manager I am, my department is 100% guaranteed to be profitable as long as I’m good at keeping my receipts?

Trainer: Absolutamente! But wait—there’s more: the more money you can profligately waste, the more money your department will earn. In fact, if you can spend enough, and increase our profits even more, we’ll even give you bonus, equal to 50 basis points on the amount you can spend over and above what you spent last week.

Youngster: Cool! So who pays my bonus? Does that come out of my own departmental budget? Or does it come out of the human services budget?

Trainer: It comes out of your department’s budget. Or rather, it goes into it. Because bonus expenses are a business expense, your department is reimbursed for your bonus expense, plus 2% of your bonus. At 50 basis points of 2%, you get 25 percent of the overage for your own bonus. Which itself is another business expense, of course. Which generates another reimbursement. Which generates another bonus. For you! This is the greatest business concept since multi-level marketing. Imagine the possibilities! Ain’t life grand? Imagine the possibilities!

Youngster: Is the bonus in the form of a paper check? Or an automatic deposit?

Trainer: Neither. Neither method is expensive enough. We send a courier to find you in the field, and we just hand you a sack full of cash. Arthur Anderson reports that 2% of every cash dollar in a business leaves in an employee’s pocket. So we just assume the courier’s a thief, and write off 2% in theft as an expense. The expense—along with the courier’s fee-- is reimbursed by the government, of course, plus an additional 2%-7% profit margin. "


Marble Bar but no beer...

A terrible disaster has occurred in Marble Bar, WA, Australia's hottest town. This place is a tiny outback settlement that nestles, or rather hunkers down trying to find some shade in the Pilbara mountains of northwestern Aussie, the oldest part of the Earth's crust. The Bar was originally a gold-rush town (there's still a small mine not far away), but the bar of "marble" in the river turned out not even to be that. The hills are dark red with oxides and frankly look like Mars. There was - until this week - one pub. The reason I'm going on about this is because I've been there - I worked on Corunna Downs cattle station, about another 30 k's south into the bush, and I drank the most expensive beer of my life in the Ironclad Hotel's bar. The reason being that I had to bribe a mate to drive into town to get some ale - the bribe being a case of beer for his own throat, naturally. Not only that, but these buggers were charging 42 whole Aussie dollars for a slab of 24 stubbies (comparison - I later saw the same ale going for A$20 in Adelaide). So that was 84 bucks already. Mind you, it was a decent dirty boozer and the only pub within 200 miles.

Now - the pub has closed on the poor sods who have to live there! ABC News story
Apparently the temporary manager who was covering for the landlord's holiday quit and skipped town, leaving no-one legally qualified to open the pub. (Unfortunately the Bar's few amenities include the services of a policeman. Otherwise I doubt licensing laws would have held anyone back.) The owners, meanwhile, were held up on their way back by floods on the Great Northern Highway north of Meekatharra (there's a name I didn't I'd ever use again) and are still south of Newman, 300 km short.

Things like that used to happen all the time.

Another US helicopter down: and a new problem

The Americans have now had 2 helicopters shot down this year - this time it was a Blackhawk, with nine men killed. (The one before that was a highly manoeuvrable OH-58 Kiowa reconnaissance heli, a worrying development.) The Sydney Morning Herald has an interesting angle on the shooting-down here.

"General E. J. Sinclair, commander of the US Army Aviation Centre at Fort Rucker, Alabama, said last week that continuous foreign assignments were "going to cause some problems". He illustrated his concern by describing the plight of a senior US Army aviator who watched from afar while his newborn daughter grew into her toddler years. The army major has seen his daughter for 12 days in the past two years.

"I can't bring him back in my right mind and tell him after a month or two he has to go to Korea for a year-long assignment without his family. But that's what's happening," General Sinclair said.

Exacerbating the problem is a sharp increase in deployment times. The army announced last northern summer that US troops in Iraq would be there for one year, up from the typical six-month deployment. Retention concerns are especially acute in the service's aviation branch because of the extra investment in time and money required to train pilots to fly helicopters such as the Apache, Black Hawk and Chinook."

Wednesday, January 07, 2004


It's not been a good year for homonyms, as mentioned in the previous post. The great aviation security scare of 2004 has so far seen a succession of serious homo-bashing episodes - greatly helped by the Transportation Security Administration only including surnames on their warnings, as revealed by Nicolas Sarkozy. Now there's a man I never thought I'd agree with. (The true stupidity of this only stands out more when you think how often the same ones come up in Islamic names - there are likely more Mohammed Iqbals about than John Smiths) More broadly, the flap seems to have brought home to a lot of right-wing people what I've been fuming about for years - the degree to which the Americans cheerfully disregard British sovereignty whilst the Right moan about Europe. After all, we don't and never will have a single vote on Capitol Hill. Here we have a situation where the US presumes to dictate our policy (and a lot of other countries') - just like that! Not to mention the various international conventions about state jurisdiction aboard aircraft.

The full stupidity is impressive. On the one hand we have demands for a huge extension in the collection of data on people travelling to the US, without any apparent guarantees that this information will be respected or that it will be processed with greater competence than the passenger records seem to be now. On the other hand, we have a demand for armed guards on all passenger aircraft. The sky-marshal proposal has turned out rather strangely, though. Whilst the unsolved problems of it pile up, the Department for Transport seems to leave many of them untouched. After all, we are going to open a huge can of worms in terms of international law. but we hear nothing about who will have ultimate responsibility for their actions. There are 60 flights a day between the UK and the US, and many more overflights going elsewhere - but the total number being recruited could only watch about 13% of them, given leave, sickness, training and the like. No-one seems to know who is paying - the Metropolitan Police Authority is rightly having kittens at the possible budget consequences, as most of the police officers qualified for the job come from their force. (And who will replace them?) What will be the legal powers of a sky marshal? Will they be sworn-in as Queen's constables? How will we know who is a sky marshal and who is a terrorist? Imagine the scene when a man stands up from his seat and produces a gun. Apparently they will carry identification cards - but who knows what one looks like? And wouldn't that permit a decoy terrorist to identify the guard? What rules will apply at Heathrow, when there might be armed guards from dozens of countries passing through in a country where handguns are illegal? It is forbidden except for certain persons to bring a weapon onto an aircraft in Britain under the Air Navigation Orders. Will they be changed? Will the guard be under the captain's command?

Here's the weird, though - no-one seems to answer any of these questions, and their solution is apparently left to local collective bargaining between BALPA and the individual airlines. Hardly a sensible approach - since when have the management of Virgin Atlantic or the pilots' union had the right to determine national policy? But I suspect a deeper game. It must be obvious to the DOT that this is a bad policy imposed by the US. Perhaps some feline bureaucrat has concluded that the best answer is to let the proposal stagger on and collapse, hoping to kill it with kindness?

And finally - when, if ever, will Parliament ever be consulted about this?

Monday, January 05, 2004

Reading Michael Howard

Well, after a prolonged Christmas break blogging recommences today. Michael Howard, the exciting new Conservative leader or tiresome hasbeen depending on view, has greeted the New Year by spamming the entire party membership (and some poor unfortunate homonyms) with a "declaration of personal principles" patterned quite obviously on those on the Rockefeller Centre. link to the full text This curious document has been described variously as being obvious, motherhood+apple pie stuff, an impressive piece of spin and blatantly dishonest. But I believe - laugh! - that it is sincere. The question is not whether Howard means what he says but what the things he says mean. It is a question of reading Michael Howard.

Mr Howard kicks off with the ringing statement that he believes that "it is natural for men and women to want health, wealth and happiness for themselves and their families". Indeed, and who would quarrel with the idea that politicians should "serve the people by removing the obstacles in the way of these ambitions"? That Maoist injunction to "Serve the People!" is a little odd, but we may put that down to coincidence. What is happening in these first few lines is an exercise in speaking so as not to talk. Rather like John Kenneth Galbraith's idea of the importance of meetings at which no business is done, non-meaning remarks play a useful role. None of these sentences mean anything in the strict sense, but they do fulfil the role of lending an impressive, UN Charter sound to Mr Howard's manifesto. Further, they sound as if Mr Howard is pursuing his supposed new image as being socially conscious and not frightening at all without committing him to anything that might result from dangerous content.

The next three principles, though, take the plunge. All of these contain actual meaning, although it may not be obvious. I believe people are happiest when they are masters of their own lives, when they are not nannied or over-governed. Part of this is just another truism, but the second clause is more interesting. Nannied refers to the Tory cliche of the nanny state. This may be interpreted to mean anything that interferes with the right of the powerful to endanger the less powerful (workplace safety, speed limit enforcement, enforcement of taxation on the rich). Why the state is a nanny is beyond me - my own image of an oppressive state would be more like a large and menacing riot policeman - but perhaps it is because Conservatives traditionally had servants. I don't know. Over-governed is a recent coinage, normally referring in Britain to regional assemblies or Europe. This statement means I am a Tory and I do not like regional government or Europe. The next one is curious in the extreme: the state should be small - a routine statement of conservative faith, but what about the first clause? The people should be big.

I am foxed. Is this sincere belief in big people a coded offer of reconciliation with Kenneth Clarke? Or is it possibly just a weak effort at originality? Still, it will be amusing to watch the state shrinking towards the ever-expanding citizens. No wonder he admires Americans. The next principle deals with the same theme as no.3. This is the one about "armies of interferers", red tape and a truly impressive list of synonyms for administrators you don't like (the word for ones you do is "public servants"). This really covers the same ground as before - so why two of them? Very likely because the Tories' financial plans are founded on the great myth that there is an easily defined secret goldmine of waste in the public finances that can simply be magicked away. As there is no way to measure it, the Bureaucash can be assumed to be any sum you need to fill in the spreadsheet. This is a declaration of faith that it exists - we may translate this as Oliver Letwin has my confidence.

There now follows a mass of filler. Howard binds himself to the controversial propositions that "there is no freedom without responsibility", "injustice makes us angry" (really? I remember when he practically relished it!) and that "every parent wants their child to have a better education than they had". This last means simply that the Tories are trying to be cuddly whilst appealing to ambitious middle class parents. Next up? "Every child wants security for their parents in their old age". Well, I'm sure they wouldn't say no. I doubt if they have given the matter much thought. This means: Many Tory voters are old.

Then we get back to the controversial. There are three negative principles, which have attracted a great deal of comment. The first is the much-criticised one about one person's poverty not being caused by another's wealth. You can argue this out, but in the end it is a mere statement that I am a Tory and I will cut income tax.
More interesting are those dealing with education and health. Mr Howard apparently does not believe that one person's knowledge and education causes another's ignorance. Neither do I. What can he possibly mean? I suspect that this is a coded statement in favour of selective and private education -
it's good to be private (knowledge and education) because nobody else becomes more stupid because of it. After all, the conservative case in this rests on an opposition to supposed "levelling down".

Mr Howard also believes that one person's sickness is not made worse by another's health. Indeed. In a purely medical sense, maybe so. In a political sense, this means that Buying private healthcare is a good thing even if nobody else can afford it. Even if, of course, it uses NHS resources... Strangely, Mr Howard abandons here one of Karl Popper's principles of the Open Society. Popper remarked that as pain cannot be outweighed by pleasure and certainly not one man's pain by another's pleasure, society should minimise the avoidable suffering of all. Howard seems to say nearly the opposite - making yourself well at the possible cost of others at least does not increase their pain. In some degree, then, your own recovery outweighs others' pain. Lovely.

The only other principle that is not pure filler ("The British people are happiest when they are free." No shit, Sherlock!) is the penultimate one. "I believe that Britain should defend her freedom at any time, against all comers however mighty." So do I. What threatens our freedom, then? Terrorism? That's not enough, though - why didn't he say it specifically? What Conservatives mean when they talk about defending freedom is the European Union. This means I am against Europe and unquestioningly obedient to the United States. No mention of the US security authorities' current contempt for British sovereignty here. All in all, Howard's manifesto promises Thatcherism with a cherry on top.

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