Thursday, September 30, 2004

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | SpaceShipOne rolls to first mark

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | SpaceShipOne rolls to first mark

Rutan's space ship has another successful trip to space.

Not at all surprising

An Iraqi National Guard commander, an ex-general in the ex-evil forces of the ex-regime, has been caught working for the other side.
"Lieutenant General Talib Abd Ghayib al-Lahibi led three Iraqi National Guard battalions in Diyala province, the volatile region north of Baghdad that includes the insurgent strongholds of Baquba and Samarra. The US military detained Lahibi on Thursday "for having associations with known insurgents."

This is pretty typical of this war. Much of the struggle is a struggle for loyalty, not for territory or force. The Shia uprising showed the benefit of trying to co-opt the bits of the police force that might agree with you and destroying the rest. The mirror image is the gold rush for the brains of the old regime - Ayad "al-Baathi" Allawi being exhibit A. The problem with this superficially attractive strategy is, of course, that betrayers can always re-betray. "You can rat, but you can't re-rat" never struck me as a very intelligent remark.

Hartlepool: Ordinary People Don't Care

....about Iraq. They care about being nasty to asylum seekers, and dog dirt. Everyone knows that, especially Labour's candidate for the Hartlepool by-election, Iain Wright.
"“I’ve met more than 4,000 people by now, and do you know?” Wright said. “Only two have even mentioned it. It’s local issues people care about; that’s why they want a local candidate.” Not five minutes later we met a man who had voted Labour all his life, but wouldn’t this time because of the war. “What an amazing co-incidence,” Wright marvelled afterwards. “He was the third.”

(from Backword)

A parallel experience: the other day I was listening to BBC Radio 5, running an interview with John Rentoul of the Independent on Sunday (and author of a life of Tony Blair) about Blair's party conference speech. Rentoul, who is a Blair loyalist (if his column in the Sindy is anything to go on), gave the usual spiel. Iraq? Mutter mutter middle-class mutter mutter oppositional mindset mutter lefties mutter mutter doorstep mutter antisocial behaviour mutter ordinary people. They opened the phone lines, and promptly enough some dozen callers popped up to rant and rail against "Taking us to war on a false premise!" and "Never voting Labour again...because of the war!" and "Bliar" - you know the stuff. Ha.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Viktor Bout aircraft in Kabul - 16th July 2003

One of British Gulf's Antonov 12s, registration EX-161, serial number 5343305 was photographed in Kabul on the 16th of July, 2003. Close examination of the photo gives the impression that the registration and titles were newly added. What significance the aircraft's name, "Fatima" (signwritten on the nose) has is currently unknown.

Click Here
to view the photo

The image itself will be visible once arranged with the photographer.

Finally, print media discover the Viktor Bout story

Back, back, way back when, I did some research following up reports in the Financial Times and Le Monde that the US Government had been putting pressure on the UK to help keep gun-runner Viktor Bout off a UN asset freeze list, apparently because he had done the state some service in Iraq. It only took a little Googling and thought to discover a list of fuel supply contracts issued by the US Department of Defence's Defence Energy Support Centre that demonstrated conclusively that at least two (Air Bas and British Gulf International Airlines) and possibly a third Bout-related airlines were indeed working for the US Government. Applying the rules contained in the DOD instruction manual for these contracts, I was able to interpret the contract identification numbers (DODAACs), which showed that they were of the type used for supplying contractors on government service (a "T" DoDAAC) with fuel provided on credit at US Air Force bases. The first post, from the 21st of May, is here. Only some two other bloggers - Laura Rozen of War and Piece and Douglas Farah at link have picked up on the story. Farah, in particular, has moved the story on several times.

Today, it seems the print media are finally catching up. (After all, they could have Googled back in May and basked in the glory all summer, but..) US magazine Mother Jones is running a comprehensive story on the involvement of the US with Air Bas, in which they quote Bout's financial advisor, Texan accountant Richard Chichakli, as confirming the existence of US-Bout contracts. Richard tends to give good quote, as anyone who fossicks through my comments threads on the Bout issue will discover, and he was no different for Mother Jones:
"Victor said if anybody calls you, unless it’s Jesus himself, with an ID, don’t bring him to me"
Hmm...not at all rattled, then. Farah, for his part, has produced a long post giving detail of the TBTC-series fuel contracts (but no new information compared to my original posting, here) and, interestingly, claiming to have other documents placing Bout aircraft at various locations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The rest of the Bout posts are: 1st June, 4th June, 7th June, 8th June, 1st July, 24th July, 6th August, 9th August, 13th August, 21st August, 20th September and 26th September. Don't I wish this blog had a categorisation function like the Movable Type boys.

Despite further efforts and the valuable aid of several readers, I still have not been able to clarify why the US needed Viktor Bout's services. Interestingly, though, I have recently found a photo placing one of British Gulf's Antonov 12s in Kabul in July, 2003. (Edit: links restored)

Sunday, September 26, 2004

The Great Mercury Plot!

Four men have been arrested on terrorism charges apparently after they were induced to attempted to buy so-called "red mercury" from a man who turned out to be Mahzer Mahmood, the News of the World's "investigations editor". The NOTW broke this story today under the headline "Dirty Bomb Foiled by News of the World". BBC radio news reported the arrests and the story without, however, either attributing it or making any enquiry into its credibility.

Red mercury - now, I personally never thought I'd hear that phrase again. If you recall, a spate of rumours ran around the world shortly after the break-up of the Soviet Union that Soviet scientists had invented some sort of material known as red mercury, for which a fantastical variety of claims were made. Some said it might hold the key to anti-gravity, others that it was the most dense material known to mankind, still others that it was used to paint Soviet stealth aircraft. Most agreed that, whatever the exact details, it was some kind of weapon. Various stories suggest either that it is supposedly used to build a pure fusion weapon, which could theoretically be a very small neutron bomb, or that it is a chemical explosive powerful enough to initiate fusion.

Scary stuff, if it wasn't for the fact that nobody has ever seen any.

There were numerous cases of people claiming to have the stuff for sale to the highest bidder, but they all without exception turned out to be fraudulent. Tomato ketchup figured prominently in their wares. Most recent comment about it comes from highly dubious websites (one claims that Iraq possessed secret red-mercury fusion bombs capable of taking out the US's strategic deterrent systems...), and the vast majority of web search results for it relate to a computer game.
"Now you can experience the war against terrorism from the safety of your own living
room in Shadow Ops: Red Mercury!"
I thought the point of terrorism was that your living room wasn't safe, but let that pass. No doubt this obscurity is partly because it had its 15 minutes just prior to the internet, but most scientists in the field have long since considered it to be a myth. (Although Dr. Frank Barnaby of SIPRI apparently thinks it might be usable as a detonator.) For example, let's look at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists from 1997, here.
"The asking price for red mercury ranged from $100,000 to $300,000 per kilogram. Sometimes the material would be irradiated or shipped in containers with radioactive symbols, perhaps to convince potential buyers of its strategic value. But samples seized by police contained only mercury oxide, mercuric iodide, or mercury mixed with red dye-hardly materials of interest to weapons-makers."
A couple of pars further down, another quote of interest to us:
"Indeed, authorities in Russia and Central Europe are hard put to identify any buyers of stolen nuclear substances who were not undercover police, intelligence agents, or journalists searching for a story."
This is the heart of the story, in fact. Mahzer Mahmood, for those of you unfamiliar with British tabloid journalism, has made a career of dressing up as an "Arab sheikh" and persuading celebrities to commit embarrassing acts (taking cocaine, usually) in front of a hidden camera. His triumph/nadir was the report that the NOTW had "foiled" a supposed plot to kidnap David and Victoria Beckham - a stellar scoop which backfired badly when the Crown Prosecution Service dropped the case against the "kidnappers" on the grounds that the £10,000 Mahmood had paid to the key (indeed only) witness might possibly skew his evidence (Link). It didn't stop there. The witness, a Kosovar parking attendant, turned out to have previous convictions for dishonesty and had been treated for psychiatric problems. And - strangely enough - he was the first of the group to mention kidnapping or the Beckhams on the tapes provided by the paper. (Link) He had also previously taken part in two other NOTW sting stories. The whole thing was frankly sordid.

One feature of Mr. Mahmood's controversial career has been his impressive rapport with the police. After all, they turned out with a crack firearms unit for the Beckham story. Now, it would appear, they have gone one better with a major anti-terrorist operation. Let us get this completely clear - you cannot make a dirty bomb with red mercury, because a) mercury isn't radioactive and b) red mercury, in all probability, does not exist. As usual, Mahmood presented himself as the potential seller - posing important questions of incitement. It is outrageous that both the Metropolitan Police and the BBC seem to have gone along with this pathetic pantomime.

US reports on security in Iraq leaked

....and unsurprisingly, they show it's not very good.
Allawi told Washington Post reporters and editors on Friday that "for now the only place which is not really that safe is Fallujah, downtown Fallujah. The rest, there are varying degrees. Some -- most -- of the provinces are really quite safe."

The Kroll reports are based on nonclassified data provided by U.S.-led military forces, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, private security companies working in Iraq and nongovernmental organizations. The reports, which Kroll has refused to distribute to journalists, were provided to The Post by a person on the list to receive them. They cover the period of Sept. 13 through Sept. 22 -- but do not include Sept. 15, 18 or 19, for which reports were not available.

To many natives and foreigners living in Iraq, the portrait of progress that Allawi painted during his trip to Washington does not depict reality.

After his speech to a joint meeting of Congress on Thursday, Allawi described Baghdad as "very good and safe." In fact, during the period for which security reports were available, the number of attacks in the capital averaged 22 a day."

Which Spammer are you?

Which Nigerian spammer are You?

Taken it several times, but can't get Viktor out of it yet...mind you, the code for the result doesn't work but still pushes my sidebar out. So fuckem.

Wi-Fi and hostage takers

One little-publicised problem for the investigation of hostage-takings in Iraq may have been created by a lack of Internet security awareness among Western businesses operating in Baghdad. Although videos issued by the al-Zarqawi group tend to be uploaded to the websites they appear on at round about the same time of day - a regularity that on the face of it might offer valuable opportunities to investigators - so far, no-one has been able to trace the computer from which they were sent. Even if the site operator is speedily contacted and cooperative in providing the IP address used, this may only lead to a PC in a nameless cybercafe. If court action is needed to get the contents of the log, there is little hope of finding the culprit. You might have thought, though, given an idea of the time and the geographical area, that it might be possible to watch a fair number of cybercafes.

The new problem, though, wrecks it. I have been informed by a person with relevant skills that many of the Western firms still operating in Baghdad have set up wireless access points - some of them without configuring access control features like WEP keys, or leaving these set to default or easily guessed values. When this occurs in London, little harm is done except that warchalkers might leave a chalk mark on your building. Possibly the competition might interfere. If you have covered a chunk of central Baghdad with lovely free internet access, though, you have created the possibility that somebody might use your IP to post their latest hate-vid on the web. Investigation would lead to a dead end, especially as the killers could keep moving whilst they did the job.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Mechanical Pong!

A German computer science student has built an electromechanical version of the iconic video game, Pong! In a tribute to computing pioneers, Niklas Roy renounced the use of semiconductors, transistors and the like, building a form of computer out of old telephone relays to handle the logic. The game has identical user features to the electronic original - the display is the same black field with a white "ball" and two paddles, control is by joystick, points are counted up by two counters, and it goes - well - "pong!"

The workings are obscenely complicated, as the game is actually played twice - once by an intricate assembly that contains the actual bats and balls, and then again by the markers on the display that represent their movement. It's a fine reminder of just how insanely difficult anything like this was until comparatively recently. Some very serious things were done, though - the RAF experimented with a computer constructed from telephone exchange technology to calculate interception vectors from radar data in the 1930s, until Henry Tizard realised that a simple mental method would do better. Later, at the end of the 1960s, the Hawker Siddeley Trident airliner had a crude moving-map navigation display, portraying information from radio-navigation instruments as a position on a chart. Unlike today's systems, though, "moving map" should be read literally - it was an actual paper chart on rollers, which unsurprisingly frequently tore or tangled.

What Roy's mechanical video game reminds me of most of all, though, is the very dawn of computing. In action (you can find the video here) it looks like nothing other than a power loom. The very first data processing machine, of course, was Jacquard's loom with its patterns on punched cards, that inspired Charles Babbage. The cards, of course, remained a current form of data storage until relatively recently.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Knight Ridder story on UK/Iraq

Interesting follow up in the light of my recent post.
"Three British soldiers were killed, one of them in a two-and-a-half-hour battle in downtown Basra that resembled the movie "Black Hawk Down," Wilde said.

"That made it just absolutely clear that the middle of the city was under Sadr militia control," Wilde said.
British troops, however, held back, choosing to nibble at the edges of militant strongholds rather than risk massive civilian casualties in an all-out assault.
"It was very hard to take for the blokes," Wilde said. "They'd lost some mates and were very ready to roll the place up."
Analysis: this may be another explanation for Jackson's trip to Iraq recently, as well as trying to relieve discontent over the decision that at least one soldier will be prosecuted by the civilian authorities over a shooting in Basra.

Hometown Blog

Yorkshire Soul of Ilkley, thanks for the link.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Army fired 100,000 rounds last month in Iraq

D'you think they'll fire a special commemorative bullet for the 100,000th shot fired in a month in the British zone of Iraq? Like they used to with the 100,000th (or whatever) car to run off a production line? The BBC has an excellent story here which, among other things, points out that the British battalion in Amara (1st Princess of Wales' Royal Regiment - "Camilla's Killers")was involved in 853 contacts in the month. The British Army has not engaged in such sustained combat since the Korean War.

This doesn't suggest it will get any better. More broadly, the Government has been throwing off mixed signals about the future lines of policy in Iraq lately - last week, Geoff Hoon suggested that the number of British troops might be substantially reduced at the next relief, due in November. But, during the weekend, the Independent on Sunday reported, quoting Chief of the General Staff General Sir Mike Jackson, that a major British deployment to Afghanistan was in prospect for the beginning of 2005, probably involving the NATO Allied Rapid Reaction Corps HQ, a British infantry brigade and supports, plus other NATO contingents. A figure of 8,000 UK personnel was given. Jackson also suggested that this could be done without prejudice to the Iraq operation, as long as it was "a one off". "Sources" further said that some 1,000 troops might be sent out as a reinforcement to Iraq. This is an unremarkable claim, as the Army always maintains one battalion group (the Spearhead group) on high readiness to reinforce British units on operations overseas - if things were to go badly in southern Iraq, this force would be available.

At the same time, conflicting rumours have filtered out from the States. It is suggested either that a major offensive is being planned to retake Fallujah, Ramadi and other towns, involving a large reserve call-out timed to occur after the election (well..), or that perhaps the US Government is considering an early scuttle from Iraq. No-one seems as yet to have suggested both, so I might as well start this hare running myself. Expect the US to announce a large mobilisation immediately post-election in the event of a Bush win, to invade Fallujah, Sadr City, and Ramadi en masse to Finish the Job, and then to withdraw all forces by spring. (For International Relations/Strategic Studies/History geeks - they might even call it DUCK HOOK II.)

There is absolutely no reason to believe this, but the fact it sounds about as likely as all the other options they really are suggesting tells us what we need to know. They literally don't know what to do.

Bush, Barnes and the National Lottery

How George Dubya Won The Lottery Game For GTech Interesting Greg Palast story on former National Lottery operator GTech, and how Dubya avoided the war.
"Why did the Texas government work so hard at saving GTech's licence? An unsigned letter to the US Justice Department, which was evidence in the civil suit, points to one lobbyist to whom GTech paid fees of $23 million (£14.2 million) - Barnes.

The letter accuses Barnes of using his knowledge of Bush's draft-dodging to lock in GTech's exclusive deal with Texas. In court papers filed in a racketeering suit brought by discharged regulator Littwin, Barnes concedes steps one and two: he got Bush into the Guard; and he received millions from GTech."
Interested? Why not read the rest....
"Reform consisted of shuffling the organisation chart and changing the name to NatLot. The Texas Model remained in place, as did GTech. How did that happen? Let us just call it Texminster, a combination of telepathy and coincidence common to the politics of two continents."

Monday, September 20, 2004

Bout Contracts - Review post

Reviewing the vexed topic of the Viktor Bout contracts with the US strikes me that we can draw some parallels between reports. Doug Farah reported that one of the contracts was given to Jetline and subcontracted to Skylink (Farah). The original fuel contracts (to BGIA and Air Bas) make no mention of either Jetline or Skylink, however there is a third "TBTC" contract, TBTC01, for a firm called Sky Traffic Facilitators with an address in Sharjah. It seems likely that there is some connection with the other two. Now - if we consider that each of the fuel contracts matches one contractor and hence at least one contract - this suggests that at least 3 contracts exist. One involves British Gulf International Airlines, one Air Bas, and one Jetline/Skylink. Is it possible that Sky Traffic, a charter broker, were responsible for setting up this latter contract?

Another explanation would be that the Ilyushin 62 variously registered EL-ALM, 3C-QQR, or 5A-DKT, serial no. 4648414, which seems to have been used first (as EL-ALM) by Jetline and then transferred to Air Bas (as 3C-QQR), before returning to Jetline as 5A-DKT, was involved, and Jetline was acting as a front for Air Bas, a much more notorious operation. If the aircraft was transferred to AB, then it would have been AB buying fuel in the UAE - either in reality or because the aircraft had been operated by them all along.

Smoking memos

It's just a pity when the Torygraph gets the dirt about the lead-up to war with Iraq before the rest of us. A cache of documents leaked to the rag show that, as early as March, 2003, Tony Blair's foreign policy adviser Sir David Manning (a performer in the Hutton inquiry, if you recall) was able to tell Condoleeza Rice that the prime minister
"would not budge in your support for regime change but you had to manage a press, a parliament and a public opinion that was very different from anything in the States."
The next day, the British ambassador in Washington reported to Manning that
"We backed regime change but the plan had to be clever and failure was not an option."
(You can get the quotes here, but the Torygraph requires a tiresome info-grabbing registration process)

Now, we have already seen plenty of evidence that decisions had been taken long before the dossiers appeared. After all, back in March, I reported on the Commons Defence Committee's report on the war with Iraq, and specifically the fact that the MoD had been discussing the question of UORs - Urgent Operational Requirements, a procedure for buying extra kit needed for an, er, urgent operational requirement in a hurry - as early as May, 2002. (Linky) Also, General John Reith, chief of joint operations in the Permanent Joint HQ, Northwood, stated that he became aware of planning in May although the UK only became involved later (but had already begun buying more kit? Eh?). Planning is said to have "crystallised" in the summer. The mysterious White House Iraq Group, also involved in the Valerie Plame case was established in August, as was Ali C's Iraq Communications Group.

Was the clever plan, in effect, to have Tony Blair act as PR man for a war with Iraq, using his excellent spin team and coordinating through the Coalition Information Centre staff?


Is this worrying, or am I just feeling a tad paranoid? Simbaud quotes this, referring to a CBS news report on the 17th:
"FBI field offices and Homeland Security agencies will be advised of "extraordinary measures" that will go into place "beginning the first week of October through the elections" . . . .

Specifically, the plan calls for "aggressive - even obvious - surveillance" techniques to be used on a short list of people suspected of being terrorist sympathizers, but who have not committed a crime. Other "persons of interest," including their family members, may also be brought in for questioning, one source said . . ."
Further down the blog, we find a reference to this. Obviously far too tinfoil'n'tongs to be worth believing. I hope.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Faulkner and the Great Fox Hunt

William Faulkner once said (note - I may be misquoting) "The past is never forgotten - it is not even past". Who could disagree with that after this week? I could vaguely recall, back at the start of the week, caring about fox hunting (or in fact *not* fox hunting) in about 1998. But, what with war and security theatre and real problems, I'd rather lost interest. Could anyone really justify putting through a hunt ban when there is officially no parliamentary time for new corporate manslaughter legislation, to say nothing of the Euro, serious action on renewable power, regionality etc? I was in the mood to write it off as one of those things (like the €) that should have been dealt with in 1997, when the momentum was with us and Blair hadn't yet stripped open his mask to show the hideous rubbery chops and green fangs now familiar to millions. But, yes, I feel induced to care again.

I've said before that every nation has at least one issue that it considers capital, that divides it utterly, and that no-one else in the world can understand, still less care about. Foxes are exhibit A. It is astonishing how much old blood has boiled up over this, even in the last week. Some of the divides:

Every great political question begins and ends in the tenure of land - Gladstone You may disagree - I usually do - but the conflict between what survives of the old landed interest and the (essentially bourgeois) political system of modern Britain was well to the front. Add to this, the tradition of Labour/Left campaigning over access to the land. Walking used to be an ideology in the UK, with ferocious campaigns by people from the industrial cities of the North for access to the moors owned by the rich. In all the fuss you might have forgotten that the Right to Roam legislation comes into force this week - you can bet the protestors didn't. Yet another old classic is evoked by the odd social milieu of the Commons raiders - 5 out of 8 or thereabouts can claim to know Prince Charles. Ye gods, a King's Party? Is this 1776? And, right down in the deep play, there is one of the eternal questions of political philosophy - majority decision vs minority rights. Not to mention the Commons and the Lords. Is this 1911? And police vs protestors. It's quite astonishing how this has reactivated so many of the founding conflicts of British political history.

Some of the cliches and habits that came up have been interesting, too. The Tories' Alan Duncan - a former oil trader, most rural of all occupations, despite his description as a "pro-hunting shires Tory" - thought the police had been "lippy, surly, provocative and menacing". Don't be sulky to Memsahib now. And what was Sir Max Hastings thinking about this:
"Soon, the only survivals of a batty yet wonderfully colourful heritage will be pubs named the Fox And Hounds. Perhaps Mr Tony Banks and his friends will feel more comfortable when these, too, are suppressed, replaced by some ideal New Labour niterie christened The Halal Butcher."
Why the Halal butcher specifically, may I ask? Why not the Spin Doctor or the Foreign Fighter? Or the Unattributable Briefing? The Doctor Kelly? Enough already. By the way, when I did in fact live in The Countryside, I knew where my nearest halal butcher was. I can't say that here in The Suburbs. Funny, eh, rather like the fact I've still never met a hunt in the flesh. Probably never will now, unless "they" decide to stage one as a protest on the M25.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

A Small Protest Wave

Looking at the news lately, you might think there was a degree of discontent in the air - first of all, the chap with the sledgehammer outside Downing Street, then Fathers4Justice climbing Buckingham Palace, now foxhunters invading the House of Commons chamber while their comrades fought it out with the cops outside. Not that I agree with them, but this quote from one of the chamber invaders has a certain resonance:
"The government - they've mucked up pensions, they've mucked everything! There is no democracy!"
Well, you can see his point of view, what with the revelation that British officers were present at Abu Ghraibh -and isn't the degree of Anglo-American respect shown here great! Link
"Col Jordan was questioned in February by Major General Antonio Taguba, the US officer in charge of the investigation. Asked who was then his supervisor, he replied: "Colonel Campbell James, British colonel, just came on board".

Asked whether he worked directly for him, Col Jordan responded: "I work directly, sir, I'm gonna tell you, on paper I work directly for him. But between you, me and the fencepost, I work directly for Gen Fast and keep Col James informed because [of the] British versus American pecking order"
What bothers me is the degree of fury and spectacle devoted to fox hunting and the failure of all the constitutional defence systems to deal with this.

BTW, I said that the glass barrier across the House wouldn't work, didn't I?

Secretary claims documents faked - but true

"I think it is plain and simple. Bush didn't think that he had to go by the rules that others did,” says Knox.

Why Bush wouldn't have joined the National Guard today

Phil Carter has an excellent post on the radical changes to the US National Guard that have seen it go from an organisation you might join to avoid going to war - to one that certainly will send you to war. The US now has 168,915 reservists on operations overseas, largely due to reforms that transferred a large section of the army's rearward organisation into reserve units. This is similar to the British Army's hugely increased use of Territorials since the two Conservative defence reviews of the 1990s radically cut the support services, but there is an important difference. In the UK, reserve-isation went further while at the same time the Territorial Army was drastically altered - losing its larger formations and HQs, cutting down its combat arms, and reducing in size.

One of the ideas behind this has been that the TA's infantry units are less likely to be needed as whole battalions, and more likely to be used either as replacements or to backfill Regular units up to their war establishment strength. This has brought predictable problems - breaking up units (especially ones with traditional identity) has been bad for morale and recruitment. The USNG, for its part, has much more material (Harriers!) and even forms full divisions. Most TA members now deploy only in companies if they are lucky. But, at the same time, the Army has been depending on TA manpower more. Each relief of the British force in Basra requires a callout of around 1,100 [Edit: an error of fact crept in here. Sorry.] reservists, and the legal requirement that they cannot be mobilised again for a set period after completing a tour means that this source of soldiers is being used up. Just another great idea, especially as the prospect of even more frequent callouts is reportedly causing friction with employers...

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

It had to happen - Viktor Bout spam

> I am ENG.VIKTOR BOUT, former special adviser on Diamond matters to the
> former head of state of government of liberia President Charles Taylor.
> Because of my strategic position in the former government and also being
> a close confidant of the former head of state, I was able to acquire
> personally
> the sum of $51,000,000,00 USD (fifty one million united state dollars
> presently lodged in a security deposit in Europe..."

Classic spam! From

Not again.

An esteemed colleague, My Way of Thinking, has blogged reasons why, in his view, the Left should not support John Kerry. Oh God, are we on to this again? It's a trope that some people on the left always argue that we should stand aside and let the latest bunch of bastards do as they like because the alternative isn't left wing enough, or worse, that letting things get worse will lead us to a "revolutionary situation". This is at best silly and at worse an attempt to deliberately force the people we claim to represent to suffer for our own ambitions.

Personal note: I recall meeting the Austrian writer Robert Menasse during a demonstration outside the Austrian Federal Chancellery in 2002. He announced that the FPO should be tolerated because this would force the Socialists to be better. I told him this was like cutting off your fingers to have stronger hands. Only kater did I learn that the German anarchist poet, Erich Mühsam, had written much the same about Hitler - before he was thrown in Dachau.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Guy Fawkes - Hoist with own petard....

All righty then, get a dose of this!
"Bouffard, the Ohio document specialist, said that he had dismissed the Bush documents in an interview with The New York Times because the letters and formatting of the Bush memos did not match any of the 4,000 samples in his database. But Bouffard yesterday said that he had not considered one of the machines whose type is not logged in his database: the IBM Selectric Composer. Once he compared the Bush memos to Selectric Composer samples obtained from Interpol, the international police agency, Bouffard said his view shifted.

In the Times interview, Bouffard had also questioned whether the military would have used the Composer, a large machine. But Bouffard yesterday provided a document indicating that as early as April 1969 -- three years before the dates of the CBS memos -- the Air Force had completed service testing for the Composer, possibly in preparation for purchasing the typewriters.

As for the raised ''th" that appears in the Bush memos -- to refer, for example, to units such as the 111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron -- Bouffard said that custom characters on the Composer's metal typehead ball were available in the 1970s, and that the military could have ordered such custom balls from IBM."

So, the original source for the whole story has coughed to being WRONG. And further, perhaps you ought to have read this before spamming away? Or perhaps even this? Or yet, this? BTW, the Washington Post story linked to by Insta is not sound. If the fact that CBS's chap only saw copies of the documents is meant to prove anything, we ought to give a tad of consideration to the fact that the experts who claimed they were forged had also only seen copies. I see no mention of this. Oh, but the Post has managed to ask "prominent conservatives" and Laura Bush for their view, giving this as if it were information of any value whatsoever. And our old friend the logical flaw has still not left the building: see the continuing and fallacious use of "we can do it now on computers and therefore it can only have been done in this manner"-type arguments.

If you have better information, why is there none of it on your blog?

Sunday, September 12, 2004


The New York Times is reporting that the US Govt is increasingly concerned by the apparently increased possibility of a North Korean nuclear test. However, they are also very keen to play down the gigantic explosion reported in NK on Thursday. Of course, there is no possible way a bang that created a mushroom cloud of 2.5 miles' diameter and a crater visible from space could be a nuclear weapon! What else it might be seems unclear - one commenter suggested a large steam locomotive boiler, but I have a little difficulty accepting that in the light of reports of a 3.7 Richter earthquake being associated with it. (German speaking link, referring to Chinese sources) That would be quite a big train, no?

(edit)It is reported that it took place near a missile base - a slightly less scary explanation might be an accident with liquid fuel, as occurred on a couple of occasions in the cold war.

Really, this is not good enough

Now, I've just spent a good hour composing a long post about the Bush documents, but Blogger had one of its increasingly frequent crappy fits and the lot vanished. So, I'll keep this short.

The fact you can recreate the documents in MS Word is no kind of argument that they were created that way. Why should it be at all remarkable or even interesting that a higher level of technology can replicate a lower level of technology? This is like arguing that, because you can heat your house with central heating as well as with a fire, anyone who says they lit a fire is a liar. (Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo should be especially ashamed of this logic fart) The rightwingnuts who all sprinted off to try it themselves even admit the problem - try this link (tongs recommended).
"I opened Microsoft Word, set the font to Microsoft’s Times New Roman, tabbed over to the default tab stop to enter the date “18 August 1973,” then typed the rest of the document purportedly from the personal records of the late Lieutenant Colonel Jerry B. Killian."

Well, what a surprise that it turned out to look much the same. After all, what does MSWord do as a default? It produces an A4 page very similar/identical to a letter produced on a typewriter. Where do you think those standard settings originate from? Any Word document produced on a printer capable of producing fonts, on A4 paper, from whichever version of Word, with the same text in, will look much the same and much like the same document typed on a fonted typewriter. There's a reason your keyboard starts QWERTYUIOP. Times New Roman type was introduced in 1931. IBM introduced proportional spacing in 1941, and superscript/subscript type in the 60s. That word processing - a technology whose standard operating assumptions are taken from typewriting - will produce something similar is no proof of anything. (And if you doubt this stuff, then why am I touchtyping, and why do I start hitting the keys like a crazy drummer once the speed picks up?)

Friday, September 10, 2004

BBC NEWS Downing Street hammer man arrest

BBC NEWS | Politics | Downing Street hammer man arrest

"A man has launched a sledgehammer attack on the security gates at the entrance of Downing Street forcing Whitehall to be closed off on Friday."

I think I can relate to that...

Thursday, September 09, 2004


I have completed and submitted my dissertation!

Update: a reader has requested a copy, which can be found here.

Boom! Bush's personnel files out

Records Say Bush Balked at Order (

Key papers concerning Bush's (lack of)military service have been published. His CO, Lt.Col. Jerry Killian, is quoted as suspending young George from flying due to "failure to perform" and "failure to take his annual physical as ordered". Killian also seems to have been concerned about the lad's skiving and pressure apparently placed on him to let Bush off.
"In another "memo to file," dated Aug. 18, 1973, Killian complained that he was under pressure from his superior, Col. Walter B. "Buck" Staudt, to "sugar coat" Bush's officer evaluations. "I'm having trouble running interference and doing my job," he wrote in a memo titled "CYA.[CYA=Cover your ass. ed]" "I will not rate."
Heh heh heh heh fact, here's a killer quote from the text.
"1. Staudt [the big boss] has obviously pressured Hodges more about Bush. I’m having trouble running interference and doing my job. Harris gave me a message today from Grp regarding Bush’s OETR and Staudt is pushing to sugar coat it. Bush wasn’t here during rating period and I don’t have any feedback from 187th in Alabama."

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Odd: mystery cinema discovered under Paris

This is very cool indeed

More mobile masts may be better

Interesting link to an article by Jan Engvald of Lund University in Sweden, who recently visited this blog. He basically makes the point that, if you are worried about radiation from mobile phones, you should welcome more base stations - the technology is designed to save battery life, so the closer a phone is to a base station, the lower the power used. More stations - less radiation.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

German supermarket attempts to ban word

Linky (German)

Metro AG, a German supermarket operator, is suing the publishers of the Duden Dictionary of Foreign Words for defining "metro" as "the underground railway, especialy in Paris and Moscow". Not only that, but they have also had a pop at the public transport services of Hamburg, Munich and Berlin for using the M-word. God help us if they get their hands on Fritz Lang's copyright.

Who will get Richard Perle first?

Will it be the Canadian police over his involvement with Hollinger (including a $3.1 million performance bonus for running a venture fund that lost 24% of its value every year) or the FBI on the AIPAC/Pentagon spy scandal? My view on the spy story is that it's not so much about the information that got out than about the information that got in. According to reports, one of the men accused of passing classified papers to Israel (as well as to Ahmed Chalabi, who passed them to Iran) also took part in a meeting with the Italian military intelligence service where the now-infamous fake documents concerning uranium and Niger were first brought up. The real story may be that they planted the story with the Italians and Chalabi in order to feed it back into the government as "confidential information from our allies". There is a well known tendency to give information more credence if it appears to come from secret sources - what you might call the "stolen kisses are sweetest" theory of intelligence failure.

Edit: Juan Cole seems to feel something similar:
"That is, the information circuit may have been ingrown among the Neoconservatives, the Israelis and Chalabi's people."

Torture - not just evil, stupid too

"American interrogators working in Iraq have obtained as much as 50 percent more high-value intelligence since a series of coercive practices like hooding, stripping and sleep deprivation were banned, a senior American official said Monday.

Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the American commander in charge of detentions and interrogations, said that the number of "high-value" intelligence reports drawn from interrogations of Iraqi prisoners had increased by more than half on a monthly basis since January. That was when American officials first disclosed that they were investigating abuses of Iraqi prisoners at the hands of American military police and intelligence officers at Abu Ghraib.."
Well, it's about time too, seeing as last month had the highest rate of attacks on coalition forces since the war began (no less than 87 contacts daily on average). What with Chalabi's brother on a murder rap, Chalabi himself and half the Pentagon suspected of passing classified information to the Israeli secret services, you can see why they'd need some "dignity and respect", the official term for the new interrogation policy.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Bloodbath and a propaganda point

I'm not going to try to say anything profound about the Beslan school massacre. All anything I say will do is to repeat that this is a horror so depraved it's blank, like trying to talk to a fish. What answer can there be to this? Discussing the grim politics that took Russia to this point is superfluous, and anyway the killers can hardly have believed they had any chance of seeing their demands granted. In fact, one of the most sinister facts was the degree to which they didn't seem to care if the Russians made concessions - they gave a phone number out as a contact but switched it off, sent out a video tape that reportedly turned out to be blank. All that was left was the blood. Very likely, they sought out North Ossetia with a view to stimulating an anti-Muslim pogrom; it has been a long standing aim of the Chechen rebels to broaden the war by revolutionising the Muslim republics to each flank, and a new civil war there would serve well. But I'm not sure this is really worth discussing.

The discussion will happen though. Vladimir Putin's "official aide on Chechnya" was translated on the BBC last night as speaking of "contracted gunmen" from abroad being among the killers. A curious statement, this. That English formulation can surely only translate the Russian "kontraktniki", a term for mercenaries hired by the Russian military to do their dirty work in Chechnya. Can they really mean that they were hired to carry out a mission which would involved the near certainty of killing several hundred children and then being hunted down by the Alpha Group? Clearly they are people who will do this, but I'm damn sure they aren't in it for the money. More like the Russians are trying - as if it was necessary - to demonise the Chechens still more. Kathryn Cramer covers this angle with reference to possible mercenary involvement. However the report she links to comes from a Russian "security source" too, perhaps the same one. How they can know that they were mercenaries so quickly, before they can even give accurate casualty figures for the victims, is a mystery.

Friday, September 03, 2004


Congratulations to Laura Rozen on breaking out the story on Douglas Feith's staff, the AIPAC and the fake "uranium from Niger" documents. Good work!


No blogging for the past week. I've been away.

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