Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Bush vs Chirac, and the Turks

At the NATO summit, George W. Bush made time for a demarche on the subject of Turkish membership of the EU, which angered Jacques Chirac. Chirac responded that
"It's as if I was advising the US on how they should manage their relations with Mexico."
Indeed. I am sure both the Turks and the French conservatives I am sure he was thinking of will appreciate the analogy. France = the US, Turkey = Mexico. So you're all dirty thieving wetbacks. How communautaire and solidariste.

We've been here before

Well, that's supposedly it. Calamity Paul Bremer handed over Iraq two days early and was out of the country the same night. If anyone thinks this is anything else than a response to some really ugly intelligence warning about (part-)independence day, they must be astonishingly naive. As Mountbatten's chief of staff put it about the decision to bring Indian independence forward by a year, "in the spring of 1947 India was a ship on fire with ammunition in the hold." Well, the trick worked in so far as Bremer's chopper to the airport and C-130 out of theatre got away. For the rest, we shall see. Allawi's official residence, I see, is an old-regime guest house next to Saddam's palace. He has to be a guest because, although the CPA has "ceased to exist" the Yanks still need the whole thing for office space. You might have thought that, now all their administrative or executive functions are naturally to be given back to the Iraqis, they wouldn't need so much office space. Obviously there's something there I am too stupid to get. Bremer has managed to get through the appointment of the new intelligence chief and national security adviser on five year terms, just in case Allawi loses the election. And they've already picked the election commission too.

A tiresome fake, in short, rather like the note handed to Bush at the NATO summit informing him of the ceremony and oh-so-casually scribbled over "let freedom reign". Clearly a cheap PR stunt, as it was spelt correctly. Meanwhile, the real news was that a US soldier, Specialist Keith Maupin, was killed after being taken hostage. A US Marine is also currently captive. And a British soldier, Gordon Gobbie, a 19 year old private from Glasgow in the Royal Highland Fusiliers, was blown to bits. Naturally he wasn't there, as Iraq is now free and sovereign, nor was he really killed, as it is a country at peace.

Tech Active report

So, I did indeed attend Tech Active yesterday. Key points of the discussion, held in the all-white but strangly ransacked looking premises of the Stanhope Centre, covered a wide range of problems related to political campaigning and technology. A curious crowd, made up of equal parts tech-hipster/German video artist types in painfully fashionable (but ugly) late 70s threads and pale, pudgy deep geeks in painfully unfashionable (but ugly) sweaters. The Random Reality blogger (see sidebar) was there, but I somehow failed to spot him.

Talking points: the crucial importance of technocratic as opposed to legislative organisations. Cory Doctorow made this point with regard to the World Intellectual Property Organisation, the OECD and ICAO. These standard-setting bodies have frequently been used to push through measures that are shot down by national democracies - if you can get it written into the international standard, then it will either be possible to present it as inevitable or slip it through in unglamourous regulations, a process described as "policy laundering". Another form of policy laundering is, of course, transferring it into another context. Typical of this are the measures that were attached to security or defence related legislation - one third of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, for example, deals with technology issues. Alternatively, technocratisation gets things off the main political agenda.

Gus Hosein of the LSE and Privacy International, who raised the ATCSA 2001 point above, criticised civil society organisations heavily on a variety of grounds - disunity, duplication, competition, self-seeking, inaction, national divides and the possibility of fake NGOs. (I referred to the post below concerning Russian attempts to recruit loyal NGOS.) There was a further issue concerning the divide between traditional campaigning groups, who tend to have the advantage of perspective, membership base and experience but are web-ignorant, and techie groups blind to real world issues. Doctorow produced an alternative to this critique in the twin problems of "nerd fatalism" (if they want to read my mail they'll do it anyway) and "nerd determinism" (our superior technology will eventually destroy them). Despite being opposite to each other, the effect is the same - inaction/apathy. Doctorow and Hosein agreed that a "rich ecosystem" of different tactics was needed to overcome these splits.

Hosein pointed out another form of context shifting or policy laundering with reference to the case of a schoolboy whose parents discovered he was to be fingerprinted to use the library, and to border control - either "Get them while they're young" or "Get them while they're foreign". I brought up the education cards plan I covered back in May, which still seems to evade much scrutiny. Conclusions, finally, were that everyone agreed that the internet is a force multiplier for traditional campaigning, however there was little consensus on whether or not it has any political role of its own.

All in all, it was a fascinating couple of hours. The people I promised links to will get them today.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Allawi and those "models of democracy"

I know it's terribly eurocentric and arrogant to complain about this sort of thing, and we should be tolerant of alternative cultural values, but is anyone else worried by Iyad Allawi's assertion that "Iraqi democracy should not be a replica of models imported from America, Britain or any other country"? Now, this is all very well, but democracy itself was imported into most democracies. The word is Greek, and the theory is to a large extent drawn from the French and English revolutions, the Roman republic, and the various city states of the Renaissance. It's true that each country that has created a democracy in the fairly narrow sense has worked out its own practice of democracy, but the stockpile of ideas has a definite history of its own.

We have heard a lot about a whole range of countries finding their own way to democracy and how we should not impose our values on them. Remember "Asian values"? "Guided democracy"? "People's democracy"? Even Speer's notion of "Germanic democracy", which you can probably guess? What they all had in common was that they weren't particularly democratic, being variations either on autocracy or on bureaucratic totalitarianism. Either The Party or The Big Boss was in charge, ruling in the first version through a modern police state (either fascist or Leninist) or in the second through a mixture of clientelism and control of the army (in a word, dictatorship). Allawi's emerging policy certainly seems to be going that way, what with the idea of declaring martial law and increasing signs that he intends to co-opt the more conservative insurgents. After all, if Iraq's future state is to be based on Iraqi models, there's a choice of either a monarchy based on the army and the manipulation of tribal clienteles or a totalitarian party-state based on surveillance and exemplary terror. Great.

What will Allawi's rule look like? Probably an uneasy mixture of trying to look western in Baghdad under the noses of world opinion and of the Americans, with lots of ICDC and police and a reconstructed secret police behind the scenes, whilst the countryside will be run on what might be called the Fallujah model, a coalition of the more conservative insurgent leaders and ex-Ba'athis. (Fallujah seems to be evolving into a conservative-Islamist mosque state with old Ba'athi generals providing the muscle, in fact the insurgents' de facto capital as I predicted some time ago. Juan Cole)

It's all rather strange when you think that it's the neo cons who usually talk about that "soft racism of low expectations". But here's the kicker - the new state they are creating in Iraq is exactly the kind of dictatorship that their criticism of the Left assumes we think is all the Iraqis can achieve.

Just when do you become a tyrant?

Kremlin Looking for Loyal NGOs

It is reported that the Russian government is trying to build up a base of friendly NGOs as a counterweight to the numerous campaign groups that are about the only effective opposition left in Russia. First question - is an NGO created to be nice to the Kremlin "nongovernmental" in any way? Given the way in which fake democracy seems to be the up-and-coming form of state, should we perhaps invent a new term to describe a fake NGO? Quango, of course, stands for quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation, but it's not quite the same thing. A quango usually has some sort of administrative or scrutiny function, and the term is specifically British. OSIOG, perhaps - Organisation Supposedly Independent of Government? What about False Undertaking Created by King's Organisations For Fronts? Or FRont Organisation Not to be Trusted?

It's all very Soviet, harking back to the days of fraternal delegations and world congresses for this, that and the other, usually with one KGB-funded and one CIA-funded body for each worthy subject. (One never hears of a World Congress for War.) But that's hardly surprising, when you note this par:
"Most of the organizations that took part in Tuesday's meeting are unknown to human rights activists, and those that are known tend to have roots in Soviet times. For example, one of the participants, the Federation of Peace and Agreement, is the successor to the Soviet Committee for Peace Defense, founded in 1949. It was members of this group who traveled to the West in the early perestroika years, in 1986 and 1987, to speak about improvements in human rights. The organization is now involved in the vague task of defending peace in the world, according to its web site."
Indeed. I suppose the world in that does not include Chechnya, seeing as the excluded from Mr. Lavrov's meeting include all the orgs that have spent the last few years publicising the real dirt about the war there. Sounds to me like one of those clubs whose greatest compliment is to refuse you membership. Anyone for a Salon des Refuses?

Fatal attack on Chinese in Afghan province "not terrorism," minister says

CNEWS:Fatal attack on Chinese in Afghan province "not terrorism," minister says

Canadian news site reports that the bombing of a peacekeeping force vehicle and the murder of some 11 Chinese workers in northern Afghanistan was "not terrorism". These supposed non-attacks non-occurred in Kunduz on the 10th fo June. Kunduz, significantly, is the first town outside Kabul to get a detachment of ISAF peacekeepers, in this case German troops. (You know, those evil, corrupt, weak on terrorism Germans.) But - according to the Afghan Interior Minister - this wasn't terrorism, but perhaps "competition between rival companies". Companies in what business? This sounds more like the infamous incident when two Kandahari Taliban leaders shot it out in tanks to settle a dispute over their favourite dancing boy. What with things like this "non-terrorist" massacre and Iraqi PM Allawi's statement that models of democracy "imported from other countries" can't apply to Iraq, our world democratic crusade is clearly doing fine.

First Clues on UKIP's real policy

What You Can Get Away With - Nick Barlow's weblog

It appears that UKIP's Nick Croucher has very clear ideas on the content of that "free trade agreement" they think we could have with the EU in the event of withdrawal. Apparently he's only going "to Europe" (eh? he's standing on it!) in order to fill the back of his 4x4 with "cheap fags and booze". What a surprise. Ukipper drives gas guzzler, avoids taxes. Now, however, we can begin to pencil in some detail for that agreement on the basis of the 'kippers' own behaviour. Clearly, there would be no possibility of tobacco or alcohol sales being subject either to the EU external tariff or to the old UK Customs regime (one bottle of spirits, 25 mechanical lighters and how much perfume was it?). After all, that would seriously harm our Nick's booze cruises. And any restriction on the movement of capital or land ownership is clearly out given Kilroy Slick's Portuguese hacienda.

So - no possibility of reimposing duty on imports of drink and fags. Could have some consequences for their budget proposals. But so long as Nick gets his cheap Marlboros and piss-weak Saint Omer beer multipacks from the East Enders Hypermarket, all is good...

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Nanniebots - eventually a test

Those Nanniebots from the spring have been back in the news. Andy Pryke was able to take part in a supposed test of the system at Jim Wightman's place, and discovered that the replies it produced were identical to those from a much older AI called ALICE. He also offered to produce the source code, but was kiboshed by a (convenient?) power cut before he could load a CD he said contained it.

Thanks to Ray Girvan, Waxy, for keeping on the story. BTW, I lost the link to Ray's blog in a site recovery that went wrong in early May and I've only just realised - sorry.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Melanie Phillips - she's not different, she's special!

Last night's TV. What a great subject for a blog post.

Newsnight last night was taken up by the BBC's favourite post-Hutton pastime - broadcasting earnest discussions of its own failings. On the panel was Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips, who had a number of curious things to say about Andrew Gilligan, reporting and her own product. Having retrospectively castigated him at length for mixing fact and opinion, she was taken to task by the presenter over statements in her own work regarding the European constitution. These, it was argued, were matters of opinion presented as fact or, at least, as equivalent to fact. She replied that this was all right because she "was entirely confident" of them.

Well, Mr. Gilligan was entirely confident of his report, too. And, after all, where are the weapons? But this, of course, was treacherous mendacity only permitted to be broadcast by the bias she stated was inherent in all facets of the BBC's output, especially the choice of interviewees (Eh?). Now, I remember that in my first year at university a really nasty put-down went the rounds that had obviously been adapted from some well-meaning effort to kibosh prejudice against the disabled. After someone had recounted someone else's brain fart, you put on a pink voice and replied "I'm not different, I'm special!" Quite clearly, the criteria that apply to Gilligan don't apply to Phillips. She's not different - you get the rest...

UK/Iranian frontier incident

As heavily reported, the Iranians have seized three speed boats belonging to the Royal Naval party in southern Iraq after they allegedly crossed the border between Iran and Iraq. The people involved are engaged in setting up an Iraqi river police for the area (chalk up another bunch of gunmen to us! I hope I'm being too cynical), as well as attempting to catch smugglers in the Shatt al-Arab and the delta. It's the sort of thing that follows a pattern - hyperventilation all round and impressed announcements that those involved had "maps!" and "weapons!" as if that was surprising. And they are always "commandos". It was much the same when the Spanish police briefly arrested a group of supposed SAS personnel travelling by road to Gibraltar. They didn't have any weapons, it turned out - just maps and warry-looking rucksacks, but it didn't stop them from being identified on TV.

Numerous blogs are speculating that there is some link with the continuing diplomacy over Iranian nuclear ambitions, but I doubt there is any connection. This is a kind of diplomatic event that is even more ritualised than most, and if a NATO and EU partner state behaves in exactly the same way when they find someone carrying a MoD Form 90 identity card, it's only to be expected that Iran would. Iranian state TV says they will be "prosecuted" but this is likely for domestic consumption only. I predict that this will be resolved and largely forgotten within the Ali Campbell nine days' deadline.

More broadly, I don't really buy in to the idea that Iran is terrified by the occupation of Iraq. I'm sure they are intelligent enough to judge by capabilities, not by flags stuck in a map, and the US army camped in Iraq is not in a position to invade anywhere when all its efforts are absorbed in local security. The US would need enough troops to win in Iran plus an occupation force capable of covering the rear in Iraq, and at a time of serious overstretch it just doesn't happen. Add to that the fact that Iran can press the Shia button and set the south-central sector on fire at any time and I suspect they sleep well.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

What is wrong with these people?

So - having besieged Fallujah for weeks without success, you hand it over to a new and rather vague "Fallujah Brigade" in the hope that they will be less provocative (with the subtext that it's a Kosovo Protection Corps-style way of incorporating the gunmen into something quasi-legitimate). Then, without apparently considering any further, you call in an airstrike on a house in the middle of the city, killing 22.

What kind of sense is this supposed to make? How are the Fallujah Brigade meant to even survive if their ally tries to make arrests with a 500lb bomb in their patch? The retaliation will come and it will come right to them, if not from within their own ranks. And what then? The risk in giving up the siege once it started was always that it would validate the insurgents' control of the area, giving them or a front for them effective power there. If the Brigade dissolves, will the Marines be called back in? And what is the point of doing what is in effect an arrest operation with an F-16? Surely this could have been achieved quietly, simply and without unnecessary destruction by sending a truckload of squaddies around to the address to arrest the people concerned and search the place? That way, of course, there would also be the benefit of whatever information might be obtained by searching the building. It all reminds me of Operation Iron Hammer and the mad firing of an ATACMS missile at a house 120 miles away.

The Withnail Theory of Terrorism

The mighty Talking Points Memo has an interview with Anonymous, the spook author of Imperial Hubris, the book in which he bashes Bush's counterterrorist policy comprehensively. TPM and Anon discuss Saudi Arabia (or next month's outrage, as I've decided to call it) and establish that al-Qa'ida apparently operates on the principles laid down in Withnail and I in the scene where Withnail is reading the newspaper. Let us recap:
WITHNAIL: This vast head like a now considered sane. Jeff Wode is feeling better! And is now ready to step back into society and start tossing his orb about!....(pensively)Imagine the size of his balls....(suddenly)Imagine getting into a fight with the fucker!

MARWOOD(weakly): Please. I don't feel well.

WITHNAIL: That's what you'd say. But that wouldn't wash with Jeff. He'd probably like a bit of pleading. Adds spice to it! In fact, he'd probably tell you what he was gonna do to you....before he did it! Hmmm...(mimicing Wode)I'm going to pull your head off. (pleading)Please. Please, don't pull my head off. (Wode again)I'm going to pull your head off - because I don't like your head!

"Which perhaps is the most important trademark for al-Qaeda: they tell you what they’re going to do and then they do it."
Yes, I know it's bad taste, but the chance to think of al-Qa'ida as the Jeff Wodes of today is too good to miss.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Things are getting better in Iraq

Just not for our side.

The chart shows numbers of "significant activities" by insurgents. Blue line is the daily total, red is the moving average. From Global Security

Dancing in the Green Zone

In the week that Kabul's first gastropub opened for business, Phil Carter's Intel Dump has a great post on the bar scene that has developed inside the walls of the Baghdad Green Zone. Apparently, the Zone's hottest ticket is the CIA disco. Complete with mirrorball and (sprung I hope) dance floor.
"The plushest tavern is the CIA's rattan furnished watering hole, known as the ''OGA bar.'' OGA stands for ''Other Government Agency,'' the CIA's low-key moniker. The OGA bar has a dance floor with a revolving mirrored disco ball and a game room. It is open to outsiders by invitation only. Disgruntled CPA employees who haven't wangled invites complain that the CIA favors women guests."

I suppose the company from The Company must be amusing as well. "So, how do you get into the interrogation contracting business then?" Those mysterious prisoners who were kept off the Abu Ghraibh roll call were officially the responsibility of "OGAs". It reminds me of the Manic Street Preachers' song "Tsunami". ("Disco dancing with the rapists/Your only crime was silence..") Of course, the character in the song was in a high-security psychiatric hospital. Only pure coincidence can possibly have led me to associate six thousand deluded and potentially violent individuals isolated from the outside world by massive security barriers with an asylum. Or did I mean the other way round?

Friday, June 18, 2004

Horror! I missed the blog's birthday!

The Yorkshire Ranter was one year old on the 10th of June. And I failed to mark blogday in any signal fashion. Shame, shame, shame

Al-Qaida videos turn up in hacked server

Der Standard is reporting that a video of Paul Johnson, the Lockheed engineer being held hostage by al-Qa'ida, has turned up on a server belonging to a surveying firm in California. The paper referred to a German techie news site, Heise Online, which in turn referred to this story from Der Spiegel. The firm in question, Silicon Valley Surveying Inc., knew nothing until links to the video began appearing on jihadi bulletin boards (there's a depressing phrase) and the server fell over under a deluge of traffic. Apparently the film and much more stuff was placed in a subdirectory on SVS's server. Very few anglophone news sources have covered this so far for some reason. (Google News, Technorati Breaking News)

This is interesting, as it suggests for the first time that hacking has become an al-Qa'ida technique (how else did they get their hands on the film?). And that was one of the possible triggers for serious trouble Gwyn Prins mentioned in The Heart of War, a book everyone ought to read.

Privatised beatings - a criminal charge at last

Civilian Charged In Beating of Afghan Detainee (

A privately employed interrogator has been charged with assault over the case of an Afghan man who was beaten to death during three days of interrogation. According to a "source", the CIA men then tried to blame the army:
"Immediately after Wali's death, he said, the CIA personnel left the base by helicopter. The soldier later learned that the CIA station chief in Kabul had been told that Special Forces troops had killed the man, according to the military source and an official in Washington. When the Special Forces team threatened to make the case public, the military source said, the CIA personnel admitted what had happened. An intelligence official in Washington yesterday called that allegation "flat wrong"."
Apparently this chap was thrown out of the police in 1990 after being charged with a violent offence. Damn, they really know how to recruit.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Official - ASLEF president hit woman, thumped gen sec

Mind you, this is funny enough to be worth blogging. The TUC's report into the drunken brawl at the ASLEF barbecue is out.
"After about half an hour the general secretary physically removed the president from the decking on which the bar becue had taken place," says the report.

"The general secretary was in the process of taking the president towards the back door at No 7 Arkwright Road [union-owned flats] when they met Ms Atkinson, who was at the time returning from the bathroom.

"The president struck Ms Atkinson on the mouth as she attempted to pass by him."

Unpleasant behaviour. I'm sure the politics had something to do with it, but it's no surprise that
"The panel uncovered "a very drink and pub-related culture within Aslef" and admitted that "memories may have been clouded by alcohol"."


Chips are a vegetable

The US Department of Agriculture is obviously in mourning for Ronald Reagan, as they have acquired a federal judge's ruling that chips - in fact, chips in *batter* - may be considered a vegetable.

It seems, sadly, that despite the Reagan nostalgia (when ketchup was officially a vegetable for school dinners) this only applies to commercial issues and not to nutrition. Sorry, I've been farting around with javascript for hours and I'm not in the mood to post more.

Monday, June 14, 2004

That UKIP surge in full

17% of a 40% turnout equals a thick 6.8% of the electorate. Get real.

It only gets worse. Much worse

How much worse can it get? Seymour Hersh, who broke the torture scandal in the first place, has this to say(via
Brad DeLong):
"He said that after he broke Abu Ghraib people are coming out of the woodwork to tell him this stuff. He said he had seen all the Abu Ghraib pictures. He said, "You haven't begun to see evil..." then trailed off. He said, "horrible things done to children of women prisoners, as the cameras run."

He looked frightened.

Can it get worse? Can it get better? Well, it seems that one of the torturers is planning to call Rumsfeld, Cambone, Wolfowitz, Lt.Gen. Sanchez, and the White House general counsel. I wonder if that last one explains why Bush needs lawyers of his own? After all, when your official legal advisers sign something like
this saying that (in effect) it is quite all right to inflict "physical pain equivalent to major organ failure" so long as the President says so ("We find that in the circumstances of the current war against al-Qai'da and its allies, prosecution under section 2340A may be barred because enforcement of the statute would represent unconstitutional infringement of the President's authority to conduct war") you might find it wouldn't help your own defence, no? And won't it be ironic if - if I read the footnotes to that correctly - one of the key statutes under which torturers might be prosecuted is the Patriot Act!

Sunday, June 13, 2004

When Voters Attack

To my horror I see I was very, very wrong about the local elections, specifically the BNP contribution. Looks like I spoke too soon. Poor Bradford will have to put up with some four fascists. Worst of all, one of them was elected for Keighley West! This is a shocker, as back in the riot summer of 2001 when northern towns were burning with the help of the BNPers, Keighley remained calm - despite being almost the design classic of a northern BNP target, a Pennine mill town with high unemployment, a large Asian population and a tradition of Labour Party dominance and only a few miles over the dales from Burnley.

But now I suppose Kly will just have to suffer, especially as there's another paki-basher next door in Worth Valley. Sithee, Tony, thas allus bin a twat, but this'ere tops the bloody lot. Tha wants to get thi thumb outer thi arse an bugger off back to wheer thi bloody cum from fore I bray yer! (It's reet pity there's no HTML tag for "mark this text Yorkshire".)

I'm off to see if I can work up some enthusiasm for this war. Bastards.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Reports from a funeral. Not that one

Guardian Unlimited Politics | Special Reports | Election blow for Labour

Still the horrors pour in. A good example of the rare case when Field Marshal Haig was wrong about "the situation never being as good or bad as first reports indicate". The whipping is now up to 330 seats lost. Ouch! Pleasantly, though, it seems that the widely advertised far-right surge has vanished: the BNP lost 3 out of 5 seats, UKIP got a huge 2. Their main achievement seems to have been walloping an ANL protestor and getting arrested.

Popular creativity

On my way to Big London yesterday, sitting in a slow train (and on South West Trains that's really slow). About Hounslow way a school trip of girls was loaded into the carriage. Or should that be poured? I feared the worst and prepared to go into mindless tube mode, eyes blank, brain emptier, but they didn't do anything too noisy.

Until a black bloke with dreads got on the train. They decided to sing him their own version of Outkast's Hey Ya!. In three part harmony. They kept it up until the last verse, when they broke up in giggles and began discussing their performance. (Hmm, reflexive practice in a learning organisation!) Tech note - one of them broadcast the whole thing down a mobile phone to some pal somewhere. The chap ignored them completely, reading a tab with a headline something like Terror Wife Found Hanging.

Sorry about this excursion into personal blogging cliche. At least it wasn't about cats.

TBI - Resigning from the party

This is the text of my resignation from the Labour Party, more than a year ago today.

Alexander Harrowell
(address here)

Party No. B045893

Dear General Secretary,

One week ago I decided to destroy my Labour Party membership card and cancel my subscription. This letter is intended to be a formal statement of resignation, which should also help to make clear the reasons why I have resigned. I believe that, in a wide variety of ways, the Government no longer maintains the principles or represents the interests of those who elected it. Neither has the Party’s behaviour in government been appropriate to the traditions of the Labour Movement.

Despite some appearances to the contrary, I feel that the Government has failed even to make a serious effort to resolve the most important of our socio-economic problems – those being deep inequality, industrial failure, and a failure of culture expressed in the ugly, joyless, crime-ridden spaces of modern British towns. We have not even begun to tackle the Thatcher society, defined broadly as education for the rich, representation for Southern finance as opposed to Northern industry and labour, perverse anti-Europeanism, and an economically distorting property obsession. We will all live in windswept, ugly TV suburbs of tawdry yellow bricks, slaving in third-rate PFI businesses to keep the property bubble going, so we can buy imports and pretend to be Americans. Constant traffic on a million identically landscaped roundabouts poisons the air. Meanwhile, to keep us all happy, the Sun parrots whatever risible scares the Downing Street press office has fed it. It is Thatcher’s world, and it is yours.

Six months ago, I could still take pride in the successful return to Europe achieved by this government, a veritable diplomatic revolution compared with the mendacious and pathetic nonsense of John Major. Now this is gone. Joining the European single currency, the clearest possible move to identify Britain with the hope of a better world, now appears impossible due to the damage done by British acquiescence in Mr. Bush’s campaign against the institutions of the West. The achievement of the St. Malo declaration on European defence has also been thrown away, as evidenced by the recent summit of the weak in Brussels. Closer to home, we still have no evident policy to realise Mr. Gordon Brown’s frequent declarations of the need to close the productivity gap. Failure abounds, as does inaction. We have done very little to prepare for a renewable energy economy. The destruction of real, productive, growth-leading industries in favour of grubby City interests continues. Fancy accounting and PFIs enrich the dodgiest of property sharks and form the sharp end of Mr. Blair’s strange obsession with humiliating public sector workers.

Beyond policy, the smug immorality of the Cabinet has done much to drive me from the Party. Geoff Hoon’s vile recent performance is a case in point. The propaganda rant about supposed executions of British PoWs can only have been viciously cruel to the relatives of the dead men, whether true or not. If it was, as I suspect, propagandistic, it was disgusting. If it was the truth, then it was an outrageous breach of the Army’s covenant. I will not dwell on the appalling cluster-bomb remark, to avoid vomiting. The oh-so-convenient terrorist scares, the vicious pandering anti-French campaign, the refugee bullying – all these demonstrate a bankruptcy of principles. The deliberate assault on the weak is not the spirit of Socialism but of Fascism. (One may recall that according to Sidney and Beatrice Webb, the spirit of socialism is revolt.) I do not believe that the Government even attempts any more to act in favour of the powerless against the powerful, the only direction in which solutions to Britain’s problems lie. We are obsessed with creating tabloid stories of bullying to satisfy Tebbit-minded editors. The heart of the matter is the nasty clique around Mr. Blair (a potentially great Foreign Secretary who ruined himself by reading about John F. Kennedy) – or, as we may call it, the No. 10 Bad Ideas Task Force. I cannot see myself as a member under Blair or a Blair/Thatcher person such as Mr. Alan Milburn, Mr. David Blunkett, or Mr. Geoff Hoon. I resign from the Labour Party in order to live in truth as an independent socialist. To remain in it would be to take part in an organised lie.

Yours sincerely,

Alexander Harrowell

The Big Intervention - Time for Blair to go!

Well, they'd been plotting it for a while, but now the mobilisation order has come through. Tony Blair is no longer a viable option. The Labour Party is now the third placed party in Britain. The people have spoken and they have comprehensively dished the myth that Blair is still an election winner. If we don't want the Tories or continued Toryism in disguise, he has to go. Please click on the banner across the top and follow the instructions...

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

A chart that demonstrates that voting Republican is correlated with obesity

Is here. The degree to which each state voted for either Bush or Gore is plotted against the percentage of the population self-reporting obesity. There is a distinct correlation. This suggests a slogan or two - "Fat, Dumb and Happy? Vote Bush!" perhaps.

Thanks to King of Zembla

From the referrer log

The Ranter is the no.1 Google result for "monkey arrest frenchman yorkshire". And for "yorkshire wurlitzer". And no.8 for "quasi government in yorkshire". I could have sworn that I'd never used the word wurlitzer, but it seems that back last November I did.

But who the hell searched for "male belly bulging"? We are result number 12! I feared the worst, but most of the results concern either tropical fish or the tactics employed to get rid of a beer belly. Someone else was trying (as far as I know without success) to trace the dirty stories Alistair Campbell wrote for Forum magazine under the pseudonym "Riviera Gigolo". If you read this and you did track them down, were they any good? And I can understand searching for recipes or for "Lord Brocket fraud", but why both? And I certainly don't recall writing anything about Sir Clowdesley Shovell, who sailed the fleet into the Scilly Isles and was murdered by a wrecker after his jewels. But Shovell fans out there in user land keep rocking up.

Finally, the person who searched for "classical conservative thought" really had come to the wrong place.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

On this day in 1954

Professor Alan Turing of Manchester University, founder of computer science and breaker of Nazi naval ciphers, died by his own hand after being threatened with jail and stripped of his security clearance because he was gay.

He ate an apple dosed with cyanide. In case you have ever wondered, Apple Computer's logo is a memorial to him.

How strange. As things went bad again in the Congo.. of Viktor Bout's old aeroplanes turned up next door in Rwanda. In a hurry, so will simply report that the Tupolev 154 that belonged to two of his operations, Mold-Transavia and Centrafricain, and was involved in the "she-guns" affair, is now apparently registered in Rwanda by something called "Regional International Air Services". Given the fact that the warring factions of eastern Congo have developed the habit of exporting via the UAE, this does not sound terribly good news. But somehow, not very surprising.

Update, 09/06/04
One of Bout's first operations was an airline called MoldTransavia, which operated out of Moldova. It featured in a wide variety of nefarious activity in Africa until Bout closed it down after its ownership became too well known. One of its aircraft, a Tu-154 of serial number 895, has now reappeared in the name of Regional International, based in Rwanda with the Rwandan registration 9XR-DU. Reportedly it is using Centrafricain's call sign. No wonder the war in the eastern Congo apparently re-declared itself.

Monday, June 07, 2004

The Bout contracts: slight return

I recently read up some useful information on how to interpret the designations of those fuel contracts for Viktor Bout's airlines. According to the DESC website, a DoDAAC beginning with "T" is one used to supply a charter or contractor on US Government service, or aircraft (or anything else) belonging to a foreign government when an agreement between the governments concerned exists. Basically, issuing a purchase agreement means that the fuel can be supplied reimbursably - that is, against future settlement by the company or organisation concerned rather than in cash. Now, the rules given show various examples of situations that might have offered a legitimate explanation for the deals. For example, fuel might be sold for cash to some other categories during a fuel shortage, provided that the need was essential, other sources had failed and the sale would not affect military readiness. Aircraft forced to land in emergency might be refuelled sufficiently to reach another source in some cases.

But the existence of the "T" agreement kiboshes these. This shows that regular arrangements to fuel up the aircraft had been made. The "T" indicates a non-Department of Defense customer. The "B" indicates a commercial customer. The "TC", by comparison to others, seems to indicate the UAE. The two digits clearly identify the individual contract. Which, as the deals are TBTCs 01-03, shows clearly that this was deliberate and lasting.

We still await an explanation.

A political climate does exist

A lot of the time, whatever the press say about the "atmosphere" or the "political climate" might seem to be a myth restricted to a few twerps somewhere in London. Surely, this is just what politicians say about each other and what journos write about them. Yesterday, though, it was concrete.

Police helicopters clattered constantly along the Thames. What was up? There seemed no obvious sign of disorder, and then the reason swam up. The UKIP were out for a boat trip in a small flotilla of hired tourist boats and one fisherman, draped with UKIP banners and dressed overall in every flag they could find except, of course, that one. As the sun came out, long after the anti-European convoy had passed downriver (strangely, towards continental Europe), a loudhailer bus could be heard ranting about the British National Party. Another roared through minutes later, manned by a group of Sikhs furiously protesting about the anniversary of Operation Blue Star, the disastrous suppression of a Sikh rebellion by the Indian army in 1984. No-one seemed to be campaigning for anything but extremism and revenge.

The Torygraph, Chalabi and Galloway

A curious offshoot of the raging scandal around Ahmed "The greatest Arab since Mohammed" Chalabi and his exposure as an Iranian spy has been pointed up by Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo. As the far more important questions build up, a small British angle has emerged with a story in the Daily Telegraph about the chap who Ahmed Chalabi gave the job of investigating those "secret files" of his. Now, those "secret files" are the ones that all the accusations that various political and media figures were in the pay of Saddam are based on.(Ranter coverage here) That is why those allegations keep being re-publicised in various countries around the world but so far have never really gained any credence. After all, does Chalabi let anyone else near his files? That'll be a "no", not unless you happen to be one of the hacks he decides to drop a document on. Marshall points out that the disappearance of the "investigation"'s files seems very convenient indeed, "like the dog ate my homework".

The first of the scandals let off by the "files" was the one in which the Christian Science Monitor and also the Telegraph accused the hard-left MP George Galloway of taking a rake-off in oil from the old regime. The story was based on a supposed "secret file" that was either "found in a looted archive" or provided by an anonymous source.

A lawsuit resulted, which Galloway won. The CSM had to fork out considerable damages. As far as I know, Galloway's case against the Telegraph is still active. Now, the Daily Telegraph is not a happy bunny at the moment. It is not in a condition to risk losing a major lawsuit, especially not one involving unlimited British libel damages. Circulation has been dropping for a long time and they seem unable to get back over the one million mark, which has a bad significance for advertising rates. And the paper is for sale in the wake of Conrad Black's disgrace. You may call me a terrible cynic, but it seems to me that - were the secret files to be debunked - the legal position would worsen drastically. And that could have painful financial implications. So, if this really had happened:
"Among the records held by Mr Chalabi in his Baghdad headquarters - which were stripped during a raid last month - he claimed to have material relating to the scandal-hit oil-for-food programme run by the United Nations during Saddam's rule.

Last night, it emerged that on the same day as the raid, computer files belonging to the British consultant investigating the oil-for-food scandal were destroyed by hackers and a back-up databank in his Baghdad office wiped out.

Claude Hankes Drielsma, a British businessman and long-time acquaintance of Mr Chalabi, accused America and Britain of mounting a "dirty tricks" campaign to obstruct his inquiry."
it wouldn't be at all bad for the Telegraph either. "A final note: what gives me some pause about this story is that unlike the Brooke case, no other paper seems to have reported anything on this at all. And given it would be a pretty consequential matter, I find that rather odd." So do I, sir...

Now he's begun scaring even the White House staff!

Capitol Hill Blue: Bush's Erratic Behavior Worries White House Aides

Well, looks like the denizens of the West Wing are beginning to feel the pain from working for George W. Bush.
"In meetings with top aides and administration officials, the President goes from quoting the Bible in one breath to obscene tantrums against the media, Democrats and others that he classifies as “enemies of the state.” Worried White House aides paint a portrait of a man on the edge, increasingly wary of those who disagree with him and paranoid of a public that no longer trusts his policies in Iraq or at home.

“It reminds me of the Nixon days,” says a longtime GOP political consultant with contacts in the White House. “Everybody is an enemy; everybody is out to get him. That’s the mood over there.” In interviews with a number of White House staffers who were willing to talk off the record, a picture of an administration under siege has emerged, led by a man who declares his decisions to be “God’s will” and then tells aides to “fuck over” anyone they consider to be an opponent of the administration.

“We’re at war, there’s no doubt about it. What I don’t know anymore is just who the enemy might be,” says one troubled White House aide. “We seem to spend more time trying to destroy John Kerry than al Qaeda and our enemies list just keeps growing and growing.”

It is indeed alarmingly Nixonian. You know, news summaries scrawled with demands to have the Revenue set on reporters who said rude things about his nibs, enemies under the beds and loading up on lawyers. Perhaps George has found one of Nixon's old bottles of Dilantin tablets?Hey Doc, you got any more of the goood stuff? Or maybe he's just back on the sauce? One thing Nixon didn't have, which I suppose was one of his redeeming features, was that curious overtone of religious certainty. God's will, indeed.

Friday, June 04, 2004

The reality of Bout - more horror in a place that has plenty

Well, it would appear that some of the content of the alleged Ruprah-FBI correspondence has been borne out by events. The documents IPIS Research claim to have obtained include references to a planned deal to produce currency for the RCD-Goma rebels in eastern Congo in exchange for diamonds. Now, Air AK47 would not be getting involved there for the first time. Multiple sources report that various Bout operations were involved at various times in the war there, importing guns and exporting minerals in return. It has been alleged that one of the Bout operations was involved in arming the Rwandan militias. Now, the UN-arranged truce between numerous warring factions seems about to collapse with news of a new offensive by an outfit called the RCD Goma against the town of Bukavu. Link RCD stands for Rassemblement pour le Congo Democratique, a name that recalls the old crack about the Organisation of African Unity - it wasn't united, organised or African, so the only true word in the title was "of". It is one of several front organisations or puppet armies established by Rwanda to control its gains in eastern Congo after the (supposed) withdrawal of its own forces. The addition of the town of Goma to the name shows something of the constant factionalism among these groups. Since the 1996 invasion, they must have gone through a good five or six proxies. As the political background is much the same, with the Rwandans still fearful of the ex-interahamwe they chased into the interior coming back and no working government in Congo to control them, to say nothing of the self-interest of their army, it's no surprise that the policies have been much the same.

This area of the world has been something close to hell in the last few years. Its inhabitants have suffered war, genocide, epidemics, exploitation, civil war, volcanic eruption, rape and cannibalism. Without the privatised war structure afforded by Air AK - the ability to export minerals and import arms - little of this could have happened, and certainly it could not have been sustained as long. So - what is the overriding reason to deal with these people?

Was it deniability? Surely, though, an operation to support the Northern Alliance in late 2001 would have barely needed it. Everybody except the enemy agreed! Bush had (in case we forget) declared a war on terrorism, and everyone knew it would start in Afghanistan. So - why get involved with a bunch of dangerous gun runners, running the risk of blowback and double-crossing, not to mention really bad publicity? I'm beginning to think that the real reason may lie in the conservative revolutionism of the Bush team. All must be changed! Neo-conservatism rules! Bush has, I see, hired a lawyer to advise him on the Valerie Plame case. The man he chose, James E. Sharp, also defended the Iran-Contra men. It seems to me that many in the current US government see it necessary and good to restore the amoral freedom of action the CIA enjoyed in Southeast Asia in the 60s or Latin America in the 70s. Covert action is in. Congressional oversight is out. The same pattern is visible in the background to the torturers of Abu Ghraib, with its organisational links back to Don Rumsfeld's private intelligence staff in the Office of Special Plans. The neo-cons are the political heirs to the true believers of the cold war, and one thing they share is their covert-action fascination. There is no Air America these days, so someone else had to be found.

Thanks to "a source" for putting me on to the Congo story.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

So - how did we all miss this?

The guts of the Viktor Bout story are now well and truly open. Just how did we all miss this? The Belgian Institute for Peace Information (IPIS) published the details back in October, 2003, and it would appear that we were all asleep at the wheel. Here is their shocking report. They claim to have access to documents found in Sanjivan Ruprah's laptop computer, an astonishing scoop if true. Ruprah, a Kenyan of Indian origins, is one of the men most frequently associated with Viktor Bout's activities. He appears to have acted as a salesman for weapons around West Africa, and among other things was the conduit for some of those payments from LISCR to San Air. He was arrested in Belgium in 2002 but then released - it has been said after US pressure was brought to bear - before being arrested again in Italy that October. he was again released, and his location is currently unknown.

If genuine, the documents are dynamite. Ruprah is quoted as being in contact with the FBI from his Belgian cell and apparently asking for US assistance in getting himself released. Further, he is quoted as offering the support of his organisation for the Northern Alliance. In a note apparently sent in late 2001, he gives specific details of weapons needed by the Northerners, including considerable numbers of SA18 Igla man-portable SAMs and attack helicopters, and states that he had consulted Viktor Bout about the project. Well, that I suppose would be that as far as this story goes. Perhaps the Iraq contracts are in the nature of a doubtless lucrative reward or kickback.

The open questions remain. How the hell did IPIS get their hands on these? If the computer was examined by Belgian or Italian authorities, a leak might explain it. What did the Northerners want with so many SAMs? - the Taliban air threat was minimal to say the least. Possibly they were simply profiteering from the sudden influx of US support, or stocking up in anticipation of a future power struggle. And what about the Ukrainian-Taliban deals, that were still going on at the time? The risk that arms shipped via the Bout/Ruprah/Chichakli system - shall we call it Air Kalashnikov? - might have been diverted to other causes is obvious, as is the danger of truly epic blowback.

There are other possibilities. Perhaps the Ruprah letters are phoney or intended for blackmail purposes. But - how did everyone miss this?

(NOTE: The link should now work.)

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