Friday, September 30, 2005

The Orwells...No.6

Given that I landed in the UK from Singapore this morning, you wouldn't think I'd have any difficulty coming up with a good Orwell or two. After all, the place has built up a hell of a reputation for being, ah, Orwellian - corporative state in all but name, puppet press, caning, hangings every time the bell strikes, LOTS of evil mass surveillance tech (of which more anon)...and as far as I saw, at least one splenetically hostile article on the Dangers of Blog in every edition of the Straits Times.

But then, there's always our own dear government. The 84 year old German emigre and lifelong Labour member who got manhandled and detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for saying "Nonsense!" to Jack Straw - well, the story's been done to death by every other blogger and his or her troll. Meh.

One thing that caught my eye from the Labour Party conference, though, was Tone's latest nugget of policy brilliance. I give you the Instant Asbo: according to the Grauniad, these interim Asbos would be "granted to the police without evidence or witnesses having to be heard or the defendant informed." So, you could soon be wapped with an Asbo to force you to stop doing anything at all, even if it's not against the law, or go to jail - without even being told about it first. George would have loved it. The really nasty thing about thoughtcrime, if you remember 1984, was that you didn't know you were going to do it until it happened to you and the damage was done. (Incidentally, this idea he developed by way of the essay Such, Such Were The Joys, about his schooling - the key point was that the strictures of society were both absolute and impossible to meet..)

This raises interesting possibilities. The range of activities that could possibly fall into the category of anti-social behaviour must be not far off infinite, allowing for future inventions and changes in the law, which by their very nature are unpredictable. Far better to assume that criminality is a quantum phenomenon, and that in much the same way as Schrödinger's cat was both alive and dead until it was observed, we are all in both the states "guilty" and "innocent" until our arrest. Obviously, it would be a needless layer of bureaucracy to have the police request them individually, seeing as they don't need to offer evidence or inform the subject.

So - why not universal Asbo conscription? At the stroke of a pen, everyone in Britain - hell, in these globalised times, why not the entire world just in case? - could have their very own Asbo covering any and all antisocial behaviour they might engage in. Then, if you went to the bad, your local bobby on the beat could instantly tear you off an on-the-spot jail sentence and have you blued into the Brideswell like a shot. Securing Britain's future.

Can somebody please tell me this was a malicious fabrication by some disgruntled sub-editor?

Meanwhile, if you do want a Singapore Orwell candidate, the nameless hack whose news-in-brief on Lynndie England's conviction ended "..who was photographed abusing detainees in an area of the prison where the administrative clerk had no official business" does it for me.

Civil War, and the Brits in Iraq

Right - I know this is slightly late, but whilst at least something of the post-Basra Jailbreak atmosphere of debate about Britain's role in Iraq is hanging around, I thought I'd dig into this a bit.

For a start, there's "that" John Reid "withdrawal plan" that was quietly sent to what the army calls File Zero (the recycle bin). Now, I think it's worth pointing out exactly what the plan would have achieved even if it had been put into operation. Depending on which version of the story you read, it foresaw either that British forces in Iraq would be reduced to 3,500, or that 3,500 British troops would be withdrawn in the first lot. I suspect this is either Chinese whispers editing, confusion between the number withdrawn and the remaining force, or perhaps a reflection of two different planning options. Why? Because, basically, there are currently 8,500 squaddies in Iraq.

This is significant because the British occupation force was never meant to be that big. The initial invasion, Operation TELIC, included 4 army brigades under the command of 1 (UK) Division, not counting RAF or Naval units. Those were 7th Armoured, 3 Commando, 16 Air Assault, and 102 Logistic Brigades. After the Iraqi collapse, 3 Commando and 16AAB were withdrawn to the UK as quickly as possible. This is because, as the so-called "elite" force, they are specialised in deploying very quickly in unusual ways - respectively by sea over the beach and by air, either by parachute, helicopter assault or airlanding - and therefore represent the UK's emergency reserve force. Once used, they need to be rolled up again quickly.

7 Armoured soldiered on as the core of the Multinational Division South-East, as did 1 (UK) Division HQ, until both were replaced by 19 Mechanised Infantry Brigade and 3 (UK) Division HQ. (It was this deployment that was accused, both falsely and truthfully, of mistreating prisoners.) To go on from here, a word on 1 (UK) and 3 (UK). The British Army has two division HQs, and these are they. Normally, they swap responsibility for the command of any division-sized operation the army may start every six months. In order to resume this, 3 (UK) was replaced by a new organisation, an ad-hoc HQ called simply MND(SE) HQ. The plan was that the British contribution would be, in essence, our share of MND(SE)HQ and the division support troops, one brigade, and any other fancy bits (special forces, Civil-Military Cooperation teams, specialist engineers and such) that came up.

But it didn't happen like that. Not only did MNDSE turn out to be less MN and more D than planned, but things failed to get better in Iraq. By the spring of 2004, the generals in Iraq were looking for reinforcements. They were offered first one infantry battalion, the one based on Cyprus, and then another. Both of these were officially "temporary". Later yet, another armoured regiment (note: a tank unit the same size as an infantry battalion is called a regiment in Britain. Yes, it's anomalous. But when did that ever stop the British?) was needed. The problem was, though, that, as the Germans say, nothing lasts like what's temporary. The reinforcements came back all right, but they were always replaced with more troops, just as the brigades were swapped over every six months. Now, what do you get in a brigade? A British mechanised brigade, like 12 Mech currently in Iraq, has three infantry battalions (one with Warriors, two with Saxon vehicles), an armoured regiment with Challenger 2 tanks, a recce regiment, guns, medics, engineers, signals and such.

To be clear: we've got 7 battalions' equivalent in Iraq rather than 4 according to the plan. Almost double the infantry and tank bill. This is why we've now rotated through the whole army - the next rotation is - guess who? - the 7th Armoured, going out for a second tour as a formation (some units in it will have already done two tours, and some individual soldiers three, especially short-supply specialists) The "Reid plan" would, I think, only have got back to the original plan, at least at first. To be clear: sending out the 7th is not an "escalation" of the UK presence in Iraq - they are no more troops, and it's not because they are the Desert Rats. They are the next cab on the stand.

Now, with that out of the way, let's move on to some speculation. There is a growing degree of support for pulling out now. Simon Jenkins in his rejuvenated Guardian mode is perhaps the most eloquent advocate for this. He recently wrote that he opposed the argument that an early retreat would lead to civil war because its proponents "believe that Western troops do only good whereever they go" (I may be misquoting). I cannot agree with him here, even though I've already called the beginning of a civil war (so has Anthony Loyd in the Times, I see. Go read.). The reason for this apparent paradox is that the one thing they are doing is to deter the one action that would push over the limit from a civil war in slow motion to the real all-out mass slaughter Beirut Breakdown - that is, a blatant coup de force attempt in Baghdad.

That may not sound very much, but it is a lot more than nothing. The question arises, though, whether their presence is causing the situation to break down so much faster that it outweighs the gain of a no-coup guarantee. If they were following anything like a sensible strategy of getting control of the streets in Baghdad first, or failing that doing nothing and therefore not shooting anyone, it might be a strong argument against going now. I've said before that I'm suspicious of a timetabled strategy - especially a published timetable, which it would have to be to achieve the benefits it's meant to have. Once the deadline is made public, we lose our bargaining power. (More TYR on this here.) If you don't like the terms on offer, all you need to do is wait and prepare to take what you want in the civil war - or alternatively crank up the violence in order to either chase us out early, or force us to modify our terms in exchange for a quiet life (not to mention seizing the resistance mythos for your post-occupation political career).

Some people may still think that minimal goals are still achievable in Iraq, perhaps especially in the south. Our forces would move off the streets and out to a convenient airfield (it strikes me, writing this, that the same people were saying so in mid-2003). Rather than trying to rule Iraq, we would be off the hook but still have useful Middle Eastern bases - and the option of reintervening. The model might be Malaysia after the Emergency and independence - the British forces stuck around past independence, and as late as 1976 at one base on Singapore. For that matter, the Aussies still use Butterworth air base in northwestern Malaysia. It's a crazy notion. The model wouldn't be Malaysia, it would be Aden - the British forces in the bases ended up spending all their time dealing with mortars flying over the wire, and the announcement of a timetable just invoked all the problems above and the John Kerry principle ("How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?").

So - what the hell should we do? Well, we ought to accept and internalise that it's fucked. I see Kevin Drum quoted Sir Richard Mottram's legendary conjugation - "I'm fucked. You're fucked. We're all fucked. The whole fucking department's fucked." There is now no point in doing anything in Iraq but damage limitation. We should have a firm commitment to pulling out, but enough uncertainty to bargain - a hard, hard problem in game theory. And, looking at the increasingly bad relations with the SCIRI and Sadrist authority in southern Iraq - we shouldn't be looking at the Cabinet Mission's decision to set a timetable for Indian independence as a model. We should be digging out Field Marshal Wavell's Breakdown Plan, on what to do in the event of a Shia rising and total loss of cooperation with local authority.

Further reading: US Army in Iskandariyah on the Shia-Sunni demographic frontier,
the cooperators are out of control, What do the Americans think they are doing?, Adnan al-Dulaimi is the Sunni leader who is campaigning for participation in the constitution - and they just raided his house!, Kurds making their own oil arrangements - VERY significant, with Canadian company (Is that the same Heritage Oil as in Tim Spicer/Tony Buckingham/EO/Sandline/Air Leone/our Russian friend?)

Monday, September 26, 2005

Calling Lurkers

Whilst I'm away, I think I'll pick up on this meme that's been floating about. If you're a regular TYR lurker - that is, one of those who read this but don't comment, why not make yourself known? The usual channels are open.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Admin Notice: Light blogging

You may have noticed a lack of blog lately. This is because I'm currently in Singapore on business, covering the 3GSM Asia Congress - blog fodder, perhaps, but I have been extremely busy so far, despite the T1 in our office, and have little opportunity to bloviate here. I will, however, attempt to produce something at least..

Monday, September 19, 2005

Iraq: This is the civil war

Right. I think it's time to say that this is indeed the Iraqi civil war.

After this post on the 9th of September, I was criticised fairly savagely by a commenteer over at the Fistful of Euros for being insufficiently optimistic about the situation in Iraq, and not giving enough credit to supposed progress in training Iraqi troops. I was pretty venomous about this. It was, though, just the moment that the Iraqi government and the occupation authority were heavily publicising the arrival of Iraqi national guards in Tal Afar, the much-fought over border town hundreds of miles northwest of anywhere in Iraq worth caring about. The week before, there had been reports in the US press that the US Army's 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiment had been fighting through the town - before the Iraqi forces turned up - but nobody mentioned that.

On Wednesday the 14th, some 150 people were killed in Iraq after a wave of 10 car bombings in Baghdad, a massacre by quasi-police just outside the city and much more. On the same day, the Washington Post carried this report on how the 3,000 US and (supposedly) 5,000 Iraqi forces in Tal Afar had nothing else to do but fight among themselves. A sample:
"After months of preparing for a battle with insurgents that never fully materialized and 12 days of running around this city from dawn to dusk, the soldiers of Eagle Troop did what soldiers often do with unspent aggression.

They fought each other.

Squaring off Tuesday evening in the front yard of a home they had commandeered to be their command post for the final stage of the assault on Tall Afar, they grappled one-on-one on the grass for hours. Good-natured taunts flew. T-shirts and uniform pants were torn. And as the sun began to fall behind the stone buildings of this restive city, an audience of hecklers grew...
Now, the day before that, I'd commented as follows on this excellent post of Bobby's as follows:
I'll await your "What Now?" with interest. What I would say is, as the insurgents can currently move platoon-sized units to attack the Interior Ministry and get away with it, should we really be retaking Tel Afar for the third time when we could have those troops in Baghdad?
Now, I'm not saying, I'm just saying. Apparently this year's DSEI arms fair included a stand from some lot called Strategic Communication Laboratories offering propaganda. Perhaps I should set up my own mercenary private risk consulting business? I can think of two possible brand approaches. Whizzy - Blogjelly Deathworks, your first choice for intellytic streativity. Discreet - Wharfedale Partners, registered office PO Box 3753, Sharjah Airport Free Zone, UK representation somewhere handy for Claridges.

Anyway, enough with the snark and ghoulish self congratulation. Some surprising people are in denial that Iraq is now at civil war. Exhibit A is none other than Robert Fisk, who met the 14th September massacre with an indictment of Westerners who "wanted civil war". He went into a delightful anecdote about a doctor of his acquaintance who, married to a Shia, asked "if you want me to kill my wife". Frankly, that sounds like the kind of story exiles from nations at war with themselves tell, of the harmony Back Then Before the [enter bastards here] ruined it all. It's usually shite - after all, if things had been so great the exile wouldn't be exiled. After all, it's not as if there were not plenty of Yugoslavs in mixed marriages - not a few of who ended up as quaint exile exhibits of How Things Used To Be. It's not the good people who do marry across the divides and pursue a decent life without caring for nationalist or religious or tribal glory who make the difference in these times. It's the vicious bastards who rain mortars on them from the hills around the city, or in Iraq the suicide car bombers and the New-Old Iraqi Army with its RPGs and snipers.

Above Fisk's piece ran Patrick Cockburn's report on the massacre. A massacre specifically of a Shia crowd in a Shia district capped by a taped declaration of war on Shi'ism, at the same time that mystery gunmen dressed as policemen (rebels posing as police? police posing as rebels-as-police?) were shooting dozens of Shia a night - and districts of Baghdad with a Sunni majority are shedding Shia at a fearsome rate. This is the beginning of civil war. There is no denying it, and Fisk seems to find it hard to take. Strange he should now be the optimist.

Now, today, we have the Basra crisis. God knows what has happened, but it seems clear that two British soldiers in plain clothes, in the circumstances clearly Intelligence Corps or special forces carrying out surveillance, somehow came to be arrested by Iraqi police. Some reports say there was an exchange of shots. (Whether the police were the real thing, SCIRI men, Sadr infiltrators, or some combination of all three is irrelevant.) Apparently, the MNDSE command found the captors sufficiently untrustworthy that they had to be sprung from prison by driving Warrior IFVs through the jail walls - terribly dramatic, and terribly reminiscent of the 1942 coup against the Egyptian government, which also involved British armour driving through palace walls in a supposedly allied city. The aftermath was predictable - screaming mobs, petrol bombs, RPGs, and a Warrior abandoned on live television (the crew were apparently picked up).

It seems to have had something to do with the arrest of two important imams on security grounds, but the key question must be: are there not-police roaming around Basra who are so dangerous that this show of force was necessary, or were the real police that ignorant of British intentions that they might have locked up the soldiers in error - in which case, why the armour drama? Probably it's because they can't be trusted with the information - or the men.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Renewables pass nuclear in Germany

Renewable sources generated more of Germany's energy than nuclear power for the first time in the first half of this year.

What On Earth Are They Thinking?

There is quite a lot of confusing (or confused) reporting going on regarding the planned spring deployment of the British-led NATO Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) HQ and 16 Air Assault Brigade to Afghanistan. There, it has been repeatedly announced since mid-2004, they will take over command of the NATO operation in Afghanistan and reinforce its activities in the southern provinces. Now, this was originally timed for the Afghan parliamentary elections which are due to happen quite soon, but it has been put back for various reasons.

Now, yesterday the NATO defence ministers met in Berlin to discuss, among other things, the exact role of the new forces when they finally get to Afghanistan. If you read the first link, from the New York Times, you'd think that the main item on the agenda was to have NATO relieve the US Army's division currently stationed in southern Afghanistan. Now, the allied effort in Afghanistan has been hindered repeatedly by the division of command - US-inspired - between NATO ISAF in Kabul and now also across the north, with a peace-enforcement role, and the US-led task force "hunting Bin Laden" around the south. If it had been a purely geographic division of command, it might not have been so bad, but it is in fact a functional division, between a (non-US) peacekeeping force and a (hooo-yah!) US-led "warfighting" role.

This is, in my book, silly. Providing security and reconstruction, as well as getting control of the bits of Afghanistan where most Afghans live, is the only way there will ever be either a stable Afghanistan or enough intelligence to finish off al-Qa'ida's central organisation there (this last point being largely historical now). And the two commands have not necessarily worked in the same direction; big air assaults and AC130 strikes do not go well with peace-enforcement, the US Army tended not to want NATO in the south because they would get in the way, and the categorisation of ISAF as a quiet front distinct from the war tended to let the contributor states keep it on a short leash for equipment, men, and mandate. It's only been in the last two years that ISAF has moved out from Kabul to secure the northern cities (and incidentally get a grip on their warlord rulers), and only this year that it got its own organic airpower when the RAF's No.II(AC) Squadron went out with their Harriers.

So, surely a good thing that the unification of command is on the agenda? on. The NYT's take is that the Europeans are blocking, not wanting to combine the commands (read: cheese-eating surrender monkeys). It's worth remembering that the split command was established when the post-11/9 "We don't need NATO/any allies, America cooks and the Euros wash up" attitude was at its height.

If you read the second link, to the FAZ, you'll see that German defence minister Peter Struck's objection is actually based (well, he says it is) on a concern for the image of ISAF in Afghan eyes. You'll also see that NATO General Secretary Jaap de Hoop Schepper has already come up with a solution of sorts, to have a NATO Afghanistan command that controls both the old ISAF and a new strike-force callsign down south. (In the NYT it's played down and credited to the Pentagon.) And, rather than blocking, the British defence secretary, John Reid, is quoted only as saying that a united command would only happen after discussion and not overnight. And, according to the FAZ, Struck agrees with him - and is ready to up Germany's troop contribution from 2,000 to 3,500. No mention of that in the NYT.

But the really weird thing is the framing. The NYT version puts NATO as trying to avoid "getting involved in counterinsurgency". I'm sorry, but if they are not involved in counterinsurgency they shouldn't be in Afghanistan. Peace-enforcement o the streets of Kabul, deterrence of warlords in Mazar e-Sharif and, yes, perhaps a bit of dramatic airmobile doorkicking in Paktia or Helmand in the rare event we know where the enemy is, are all contributions to it. This is why a single command is needed - it's always a single battle.

On another point, the British Army has been very clear throughout that the Afghan mission, Operation HERRICK, can be launched without withdrawals from Iraq but can only be sustained for a limited period. Now, I hope if this is true the operation has not been held up for Iraq - what was it about never reinforcing failure?

Finally, kindly read this.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Political Comment Spam?

I checked my personal (i.e. blog-related) email this morning on my phone - a small first. A comment had been forwarded by Enetation to me (they all are) which goes as follows:

Comment: Al Gore Says Global Warming is Causing Solar Outbursts

Washington DC - An ongoing series of seven major solar flares, including two on Saturday, could disrupt communications on Earth and generate colorful sky shows for people at high northern latitudes for the next several days. The spate of activity from the Sun is being generated by a large sunspot named 798. Sunspots are cooler and darker regions of pent-up magnetic activity. When they unleash their energy, it\'s a bit like the top coming off a shaken champagne bottle.

In a talk given by Al Gore Friday, he noted, \"the recent disruptions to communications as a result of these solar flares is just another indication that the Bush/Cheney administration is ignoring the facts of global warming. These outbursts from our Sun are the direct result of heightened temperatures here on Earth. If our planet was cooler, then the Sun would be more efficient in generating it\'s energy.\"

oman Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi echoed Gore\'s ideas claiming that \"the Bush administration has ignored global warming. The lack of action by the administration has resulted in increased sunspots on the Sun which caused the increase of energy in Hurricane Katrina. Then, as a result of the hurricane striking the Gulf Coast, the administration failed again.\"

According to NOAA\'s Space Environment Center (SEC), \"there is no correlation between sunspots and activities here on Earth.\" When we asked Gore to respond to that statement, he said, \"Of course the SEC would say that! The NOAA are people that support and answer to the Bush administration. As everyone knows, I invented sunspots and I can tell you that they are definitely caused by increased carbon monoxide here on Earth.\"

Greenpeace also claims a direct correlation between the recent sunspot and solar flare activity and global warming. Greenpeace, through their spokesperson commented that problems i!
n electrical power generating equipment caused by the flares further increases emissions here on earth. \"This circular case and effect will have a huge negative impact on Earth. As greenhouse gasses increase, sunspots increase that results in increased flare-ups that further disrupt electrical power on earth. It is quite possible that the damage done to our Sun is irreparable.\"

While scientists around the world claim there is absolutely no correlation between global warming and solar activity, environmentalists and politicians are quick to claim that the scientists \"don\'t know everything\" and that \"they are most certainly wrong this time\" said Gore.

Not to be left out, Hillary Clinton noted that sunspot activity always increases when Republicans are in office. \"This can\'t be a normal,\" she said. \"Bush claiming that this is the \'will of God\' and a \'natural phenomena is just more of the religious right using faith and nature to explain awa!
y their mistakes\'.\" Senator Clinton said that she will \"demand a full congressional investigation and will subpoena God to testify before the Congress.\" Pelosi agreed stating, \"this is just another reason why we need to rid this country of religion.\"

DNC Chairman Howard Dean issued the following statement, \"Today we\'re faced with the hard facts that the Bush Administration\'s lax attitude towards global warming is now reaching farther than our home planet, Earth. The Sun is now suffering and will have a direct financial impact on all of our planet. If we don\'t get control of these rapidly increasing solar flare-ups, then the whole of humanity may suffer. It\'s no longer just a global problem -- Republican actions are now impacting the entire solar system."
The weird formatting is original. Now, this hunk of wingnut fantasy turned up in the comments on a post from not far off two years ago that mentioned a solar flare. Google tells us that indeed there are some solar flares coming up, and a couple of crazy-right blogs are going on about "who will blame them on the Bush administration?" etc etc. So how did it turn up here - when I've only mentioned solar flares once before, two years ago. Typically, no email address or website was given, but the IP address is logged.

WHOIS returns a netblock belonging to Adelphi Communications, a US internet service provider. I'm not quite unpleasant enough to contact them and demand the billing record associated with (it's a direct allocation, too). But I might. Anyway, I'm deeply suspicious of this. Has someone rigged a spambot to look for posts containing "solar flare" and drop off a payload of Powerlinesque wankology? Note the way it's written to sound like a typical US newspaper lead. The name given, "Peter Perez", is clearly nonsense - either a Spanish movie detective or a minor New Jersey politico who went to jail over a corruption scandal.

Anybody else encountered similar spam?

Anyway, he/she/it has 12 hours from 0900 today to substantiate or be IP-blocked.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Hydrogen, again

Storing rather than producing, this time - link.

IP Networks, Resilience, That Stuff

Renesys have an interesting report on how the internet backbone did just what Vint Cerf designed it to do when the hurricane hit. That is, keep working.

Manual frame switch

I've been asked to route some Katrina-related traffc to the following posts at Kathryn Cramer's: FEMA Needs to Tell People What It Intends For Their Homes, and Black Water. You will probably not be disappointed.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Iraqi Govt. To Sack Mercenaries

Fascinating report from the Torygraph's Oliver Poole. Apparently the Iraqi government is trying to get rid of the rash of hired guns all over the country, or at least to set some limits to their activities.

Iraq to bring private armies under control
By Oliver Poole in Baghdad
(Filed: 09/09/2005)

Thousands of heavily armed private security contractors could be expelled from Iraq in a government crackdown.

For more than two years such contractors have roamed with impunity. But now the interior ministry has imposed rules requiring all their firms to be registered and weapons to be carried only by guards holding an official licence.

If any of the companies is considered to be a threat or if it angers a government official its official permit could be revoked and the business ordered to depart....


But under the new rules confirmed yesterday all such firms will be brought under the authority of the Baghdad government.

All companies will have to provide details of their number of employees, jobs undertaken and office addresses.

Most significantly their employees will no longer be allowed to possess a weapon without approval. Many of the firms have considerable firepower. As well as AK-47s and assault rifles some have heavy machineguns and anti-tank rocket launchers.

One company, Blackwater, even has its own fleet of helicopters which criss-cross Baghdad with machine guns poking out from the side.

When the deadline for registration is reached next month anyone unofficially holding a gun will face arrest and a prison term.
Well, that doesn't sound at all bad (although how long until some fatarsed goon lands up rotting in a SCIRI dungeon, and what then?), even if this last line is a little strange:
The initiative has been largely welcomed by established firms in Iraq.
Indeed. Beware the risks of relying on a cowboy security contractor and only use a reputable hitman.

We can but hope that this means the mercs are going to get the, ahem, Bout...

So - What Did Happen to Iraq?

A few weeks ago, if you can cast your mind back that far, the big story was apparently something to do with a country called Iraq that was trying to agree among itself on its future constitution. After multiple deadlines were breached, two of the factions in the country decided to impose the constitution on the other by their majority. But then, they hesitated. The text was amended, but not by the drafting committee..

And then there was a hurricane. Not that it was one anywhere near Iraq, where they don’t have hurricanes, but it still knocked the whole thing off the agenda. And the Iraqis had a particularly horrible disaster of their own. So - what did happen to that constitution?

Well, it seems nothing happened to it. They have done absolutely nothing about it since then - it still hasn’t gone before Parliament, and even its opponents haven’t held the meeting to draft a counter-constitution they promised. What has been going on is that the killing has kept up at a rate of about thirty a day. August saw the deaths of 85 US servicemen. And, worryingly, there are signs that after a period of quiet, what I call the New-Old Iraqi Army has entered the lists again.
continue reading

It was in this post back in June that I pointed up what seemed to be increasing convergence between the suicide terrorists and the classic guerrilla elements of the insurgency after a major and complex company-sized assault on Abu Ghraibh. A few days later there was another big assault on a divisional police headquarters in western Baghdad. Over the summer, though, there were few such attacks, or at least none that got reported.

In the last few days, though, there have been signs of NOIA returning to the streets of Baghdad. First, on the day the constitution missed its last deadline, there was a protracted battle between Iraqi police and a force of “30-40” insurgents in central Baghdad. Then, earlier this week, a similar number of rebels - in effect, a platoon - raided the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior. This location is as one could imagine heavily guarded. The rebels arrived in 10 cars and opened fire with RPGs and automatic weapons. After around twenty minutes they withdrew, leaving (officially) two police dead and five wounded. An insurgent website later carried a claim of responsibility which boasted of killing most of the garrison, although this is probably propaganda. Nobody even bothered to claim that the rebels lost anyone in the action, and they would appear to have made a retreat in good order.

This is important because it shows that you can drive around downtown Baghdad with a complete platoon of armed men, attack the Interior Ministry (thus putting every police, army and NG unit in the city on the qui vive), and get away with it. It also shows, as the Abu Ghraibh raid does, that at least some of the insurgency has developed effective command and control procedures to go with the explosions. Suicide bombing, horribly effective though it is, will never put you in power - only an army can do that.

What the Ministry raid means, though, is a question I don’t know the answer to. Did they hope to storm it? Or just to shoot it out with the guards and then vanish, scaring the hell out of all within? To demonstrate who owns the streets? Or was this not an attack but a reconnaissance in force?

(Note - crossblogged from AFOE)

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Other German TV Report

There's a lot of blogospheric fuss about the "ZDF tape", the German TV report that describes relief equipment and personnel rolling up to Biloxi immediately before George W. Bush was due to visit and rolling right away again once he left. Everyone's being terribly careful, Tim Ireland went so far as to ring up ZDF and get confirmation, but no-one has picked up on the *second* tape...

Because, on the same day in Biloxi, there was another German TV crew in town, from ARD in Hamburg. ARD is roughly equivalent to BBC1 in Germany. ZDF(for Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen) is a second publicly-funded channel independent of ARD, analogous to Channel 4 in the UK. Their reporter, Christine Adelhardt, can be viewed here saying exactly what ZDF's report says - and then some. She describes Bush's convoy driving up, and diggers (Bagger in German) suddenly arriving and beginning to clear rubble from the streets whilst emergency services search the streets - uselessly, she says, because all the survivors are in the town centre - and then pulling out once the motorcade leaves. She remarks that the president is travelling with a Pressetross - a tail of pressmen - and that they got "schöne Bilder" (beautiful pictures), and concludes by saying that "not only did the scale of the destruction shock me, but the scale of the Inszenierung shocked me even more - now, back to Hamburg." "Inszenierung" translates into English as mise en scene...let's try that again! It translates into English as staging or stage-management.

That makes two independent sources, and two independent sources equals a "go". I'll post a full translation later today..

Update, I've finally got around to transcribing and translating the thing, so here goes...
[ARD Studio]
ANCHOR: ...and now with the latest news on the situation [zum letzten Stand], Christine Adelhardt reports live from Biloxi.

[handover to reporter]

ADELHARDT to camera: Two minutes ago the President drove by in his convoy. What went on [hat sich abgespielt] in Biloxi today has been really unbelievable, unbelievable [wirklich unglaublich, unglaublich]...

[images of rubble]
Suddenly recovery units [Raumtrupps] and earthmoving vehicles appeared [auftauchen - could also be "turned up" or "showed up" or literally, "surfaced"] everywhere - we hadn't seen anything like that all day. And this in an area where it was in fact unnecessary, because there were no people for miles around. [weit und breit lebt kein Mensch] The people are all in the town centre.

The president is travelling with an entourage of pressmen [a Pressetross], and this entourage got beautiful pictures [schöne Bilder] that said "the President was here, and help came with him" [der Präsident war hier, und die Hilfe ist auch mit ihm gekommen].

The scale of the natural catastrophe shocked me, but the scale of the stage-management [Inszenierung] shocked me just as much.

And with that, back to Hamburg[where ARD's studios are located]."

[Handover to studio. Ends.]

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Hydrogen - big news

A group of German and Australian scientists have developed a new way of producing hydrogen from sunlight using genetically engineered algae. The scheme produces 13 times as much of the gas than a previous method of getting tiny plants to make it, and according to the team leader, it might be commercialised within five years, with a prototype appearing this year.

One lot of algae last two weeks, but after that the soup of dead algae could itself be used as fuel (or perhaps as chemical feedstock). That would release CO2, but growing the replacement algae would by definition take up as much of the gas as was released.

Link (German).

Attack of the BB Cops!

Spyblog discusses the leaked report in this weekend's Observer that the intelligence services were considering as long ago as the summer of 2004 whether it was wise to have agents start posting to jihadi "websites" - bulletin boards presumably - in order to gain the trust of their members and persuade them against turning to violence. As well, of course, as monitoring them for useful information.

This raises some big questions. For a start, the same paper also suggests "disruption" of the sites. This, of course, is tantamount to censorship. It also raises the problem of disrupting the sites you are watching for intelligence and hence blinding yourself. But there's a more important point than either this or the usual civil-liberties/digital rights arguments. The leaked document sounds a tad, ah, limp, doesn'it? Are we really thinking of using the limited supply of agents with the knowledge of Arabic (and perhaps more importantly Urdu and Punjabi), Islam, jihadi politics, and the streetsmarts to pass on a jihadi forum to attempt individual conversions of random forum posters? Seriously, I wouldn't think there were more than 200 suitable agents in the services. It doesn't sound like a great return on investment.

I can guess what, say, the Office of Sleazy Intelligence would have done in this situation. They wouldn't be trying to talk the buggers down. They would probably be the most extreme extremist in town, doing their best to wind up the others into saying things outrageous enough to provide a pretext to shut the site down and arrest everyone they could catch. If you're going to have agents, they might as well be agents provocateurs. Otherwise you're casting your bread on the waters with little chance of success.

That sounds all well and good - until you remember Joseph Conrad's Secret Agent.
"That the spy may fabricate his information is one thing, but in the field of revolutionary action he may be tempted to fabricate the facts."
Not that we'd actually start letting off bombs, but if you were trying to get them to discredit themselves, there's a serious risk that you might inspire them faster than you gathered evidence to lock 'em up.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Where Will It Lead Us From Here?

The German election campaign is cranking up to as close to a throbbing wave of intensity as you are likely to find in modern Germany. Very soon, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is going to take on the CDU's Angela Merkel in a televised debate. Merkel has always had to do it tough in the CDU, as I've remarked on before, because she isn't really the kind of person who fits the traditional shape of the post-war German conservative movement. Last time around, she was party leader but was ditched as Spitzenkandidat (a German term which compromises between a quasi-US presidential candidacy and the reality of a Westminster-style constitution) in favour of the hard-right Bavarian, Edmund Stoiber. This time, though, the polls are running heavily in her favour, after she spent the intervening period selectively eliminating the men (and they were) who did her in the first time around.

This is where it gets interesting. Last week, she was moved to give a speech in which she said a very remarkable thing. Apparently, Germany needs to retrieve the spirit of the Gründerzeit. This word is usually translated into English as the Founders' Generation, which doesn't sound terribly interesting or controversial. The point is, though, which generation, and what did they found? When you speak of the Gründerzeit in Germany, or Austria, you mean the 1870s and the foundation of united Germany. For some reason the Austrians use it too, perhaps stretching the definition to include the 1867 Austro-Hungarian Compromise or Ausgleich. It's not an especially controversial word, but then, that is in part because it's most often used to describe architecture.

Outside Germany, though, you might be forgiven for thinking this pretty eyebrow-raising. In the Anglosphere, it is fairly conventional wisdom to hold that the Wilhelmine empire was a fatal aberration in Germany's historic development, the point at which the Germans swung off the Whiggish tracks into the future onto that infamous Sonderweg that in the end led to world war, Weimar, Hitler, more war, Auschwitz, and partition. And that foundation, after all, took place by means of conquering northern France. The proclamation of the empire took place at Versailles.

(So far, so clichéd.)

The Left would never in a million years have said such a thing. Gründerzeit? The time of Bismarck's Antisocialist Laws? The foundation of the three-class voting system? Surely the injustices that began the SPD's historic struggle. Why she did, though, is part of a very important point about identity, history and German politics. Alone among the parties, the SPD claims an unbroken chain of descent from the workers' struggle of the 19th century, indeed the original socialists themselves, the 1919 revolution and the first democratic Germany, their (at least in their own view) lone defence of the republic against Nazism, exile, the return and the Godesberg Program, Willy Brandt's reconciliation with the east (in all senses) and Helmut Schmidt's reassertation of (West) Germany as a major European state.

Nobody else can claim this, except the PDS, who have the small problem of the period 1949-1989 to deal with. The Greens are a new phenomenon still, drawing their myths from the 1968ers and the 80s peace movement plus what little is left of the Bündnis 90/New Left strand of East German dissidence. The CDU and CSU's mythic past is the postwar era, Konrad Adenauer and Ludwig Erhard. If the CDU did claim a longer past, who would it be? The Konservativen of Wilhelmine Germany? Certainly not! The DNVP of Hugenberg and von Papen? Still worse! Gustav Stresemann's DVP? The liberals in the FDP have already got him. Pity! The roots, such as they are, go back to the Weimar Centre Party, the representatives of political Catholicism.

Which is a serious problem. The ZP was always limited in its ambitions in an undivided Germany by the fact that it was a Catholic confessional party in a half-Protestant country. It could play a bigger role than it warranted for two reasons - one, if the Socialists would go into coalition with it, and two, if the Right refused to deal with the Socialists. Adenauer, an old Centrist, no longer had to worry about this due to the presence of the Red Army in the bits of Germany that were very unlikely to vote for him. Without the east, the CDU-CSU southwestern heartland made up a far bigger chunk of the Germany that was left. This is a strategy that will no longer fly, but as always, ideas are often held more strongly after their time has passed.

That was why the southern Catholic buffers of the CDU and CSU couldn't stomach Angela Merkel as a quasi-presidential candidate last time. Now, though, the boot is on the other foot. Merkel is a Prussian Protestant, a rare beast in the CDU, and therefore doesn't have the historic constituency of the old Centre. The challenge is to find the CDU a brand new past, one that fits with a north-eastern leader and a need to attract votes up there. And, I suppose, the Gründerzeit isn't that bad an option - it was a time of prosperity, confidence, and also the beginning of national unity. No doubt that is why she annexed it for the CDU's first real post-reunification election. (I say so because the 1994 one was still dominated by Helmut Kohl, a pre-reunification figure who retooled as the Reunification Chancellor.)

The title of this post is of course a line from the Rolling Stones song that the CDU have been using with incredible inappropriateness to introduce the rebranded "Angie" Merkel. I'm still astonished by this - don't they know any of the lyrics? "There ain't a woman that comes close to you.." - not so bad, but what about "All the dreams we held so close seem to all go up in smoke.."? And the general tone of frazzled bohemianism is not something that goes well with either the old CDU's solid worth or the new CDU's northern grit. Gerhard Schröder, perhaps, with his four wives. Joschka Fischer - back in his copper-walloping student days, maybe. Jürgen Möllemann might have fit the bill before his experiment in homeopathic parachuting. But the CDU? Never.

(Also available at AFOE, where I am meant to be guesting.)

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Interrupting All Programs

Longstanding TYR colleague Kathryn Cramer has given over her blog lock, stock and barrel to providing sources of satellite imagery and geographic data, Google Earth/Maps hacks and such to those seeking information from New Orleans. The quality of what is available, and the depth of information (overlaying addresses, depths of water and damage reports onto high-resolution NOAA satshots) impressive.

Teh interwebs, eh. Strategic photoreconnaissance analysis is now not just for professionals. Now, at this moment I would have mentioned the woman who successfully identified the V-1 flying bomb, the V-2 rocket, the Me163 rocket fighter and the Me262 jet from RAF Photo Recce images in the second world war, making a huge contribution to the defence of the UK from a desk at RAF Benson...but I can't find any reference to her on line. Back then, methods included, well, creativity and not much more. The mysterious "tracks" on a photo of a grass airfield in Germany she spotted as traces of a jet aircraft after a trip to Boscombe Down to look at the traces of the Gloster E28/39 tests.

Partly that's because I can nearly but not quite not remember her name. Partly it's because even the history of women in the RAF on the service's website makes no mention of her. WTF? If anyone can jog my memory, fire away. Otherwise, I'll just have to visit the National Archives and ask for a copy of publication AIR41/7, Photographic Reconnaissance 1941-August 1945 which should make the nut.

I think even she would have been impressed with this, though.

Update: it was Constance Babington Smith. Thanks to commenters.

Taxi! And an ill-coordinated linkfart

Jacques Chirac worked as a taxi driver in New Orleans as a student back in 1953. Who knew?

The frantically prolific David MacDuff has an interesting article about the White Guard in Chechnya, 1919. It seems they did far better than today's Russian army in dealing with a Chechen guerrilla insurgency, through a combination of (to be brutally frank) exemplary terror with an offer of quasi-independence within Russia. Peace broke out after months 2.

This would be a good moment to take note of the blogodebate about this Foreign Affairs article on strategy in Iraq. Irregular Anthony says it's basically what he said all along. So do I. The cracking Bobby of Bobby's World says the problem is a lack of cultural sensitivity and a failure to recognise Iraq, and the War On Trrr, as a "Small War"/Brushfire War/Counterinsurgency problem. I couldn't agree more, but he says it with the authority of a tour of Afghanistan with the US Special Forces and on General Garno's staff.

The Washington Post reports on John Roberts, latest appointee to the US Supreme Court - you've heard of the Americans opposing the International Criminal Court for fear of US servicemen being put on trial there, Jesse Helms, Hague Invasion Act and all that stuff, now check out the guy who was against ratification of the Convention on the Crime of Genocide for the same reason.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Why Does Cory Hate TSF?

The FCC has got in touch with BoingBoing, begging for backbone networks geeks and kit...but no-one wants to mention Telecoms Sans Frontieres. Funny that. They have access to world-class network engineering companies and their own satellite backhaul - but they are French. I can't pick any other possible explanation.

Sad, isn't it?

All bastards are equal - but some are more equal than others

Christopher Hitchens on Newsnight:
They're not mostly Americans - really from the isthmus and the Caribbean. It's a sign the American dream still exists that they are willing to live below sea level for it

But, of course...
There is of course a shared humanity

Surely there is.

You unforgivable whore. It might once have been a legitimate argument that a war against Iraq was defensible. It hasn't been, in the light of facts on the ground, for many months. You may find it necessary to be consistent - but why do you have to act as a propagandist for this? I mean, what is it? Money? Or contacts, access? God help you if the society of Republican donors is worth your integrity. You don't do any real reporting - you don't need to maintain contacts you'd rather not. So - what is it? Why aren't the dead real people if it's George's fault?

Why, if you're a fan of unconditional patriotism, don't you apply it to your own country? More importantly, if you are as clever as you think, why are you still hooked on the nationalism pills? There are a lot of British writers who felt a sucking current to the States, and one thing unites them - they never wrote anything worth a pint of piss there. Fuck off.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Bloggin' Rugby League: Challenge Cup Final, and Leeds

Well, I promised to insult Leeds RLFC as much as I dissed Hull, so here goes. This weekend saw a Challenge Cup final that lived up to the billing I gave it. I said the Leeds/Hull grudge intensity would rock the Pennines even though it was played in Cardiff, and - yes. The match was frankly brutal, some of the rugby spectacular, and the result couldn't have been more dramatic. Leeds 24, Hull 25, with a last-minute try for Hull and an even more last-minute drop-goal attempt to save the game from Leeds. And Marcus Bai practically handed a Hull player the ball in his own in-goal area for the weirdest try I've ever seen. And there was a penalty try. And it was Hull's first trophy since 1991.

But first, the whipping. The other half of the Leeds/Hull grudge is Leeds. Leeds are the Tottenham of rugby league - rich, unfailingly stylish, cursed by an ineradicable streak of flakiness. And Jewish. They own Yorkshire's cricket ground, also one of the traditional test grounds, which has always been a cash cow. Also, they play in Leagueville itself, the only British city that can support three professional teams and probably a hundred or two amateur outfits ranging from champs to chumps, not to mention the game's governing body. That means big crowds, and regular crowds. It also means a big recruiting base of players. You would think that with a player farm in the back garden, average crowds over 20,000, a golden tap on cricket, and a queue of fans turned property sharks willing to pour in more cash, Leeds would win everything in sight.

It's not quite that easy, though, and being a Leeds fan has often been a disappointing business. Sure, there has always been rugby worth watching. There have always been stars. There have not, however, been trophies. For years Leeds were the team who didn't quite cut it against the key rivals, Wigan and Bradford. The suspicion was always there, too, that the problem was a lack of resolve. Too much money, they said, too flashy, too much time in the bright lights, thi knaws. I remember what looked like a fine Leeds side playing Wigan in the 1996 Premiership final. Leeds roared out of the blocks like a herd of testosterone, going 10-0 up in less than even time as the crowds rocked Old Trafford. YORK-SHIRE, YORK-SHIRE. Then, 20 minutes in, with the first surge of aggression falling off and "only" 10 points of damage done, Wigan seemed to turn it on. And Leeds melted like snow in the sun. 69-12, and lucky to escape a score beyond their worst-ever defeat, 70-4 by Wigan in 1992. A brand-new centre called Kris Radlinski scored three tries and stamped the start of an impressive career all over Leeds.

Before that, I remember Doug Laughton's Leeds side in the 1994 Challenge Cup. Laughton's teams, wherever they were, were always a lot like that, and his Leeds side was practically a caricature of Leeds's problems. There were players like Garry Schofield, the most-capped British Lion, Ellery Hanley, who some would say was the best British player full stop, Kevin Iro, Harvey Howard (later known as "Animal" in Australia), James Lowes, Gary Mercer, Alan Tait - but it didn't add up to a team. They played cat-and-mouse with St Helens in the semis, then encountered Wigan in the final and were bruised out of it. In the league, with consistent performance needed, they were going nowhere fast.

One thing anyone from Leeds will say about them is how good their "youth policy" is. Well, that's partly a function of being based in the middle of 500,000 rugby nutters. And it wasn't always so. Leeds lads would either start off at Hunslet and end up somewhere else - like Hanley, Andy Platt and Jason Robinson - or (in recent times) make a spectacular entry to the Leeds first team, and then fail. Graham Holroyd was tipped as a Great Britain no.6 but never quite achieved potential and ended up, I think, with Rochdale Hornets. Ryan Sheridan was good, got badly hurt, recovered, challenged for the GB no.7 shirt, faded, and is now playing lower division rugby. Paul Cook kicked goals for fun, fell out with Dean Bell, was dumped and went to Bradford where he kicked goals for fun against Leeds. Leroy Rivett achieved the ultimate in this by going from the youth team in 1997 to the 1999 Lance Todd Trophy, the man-of-the-match award in the Cup Final, where he scored four tries against London, to being on loan to Keighley within three years. Something didn't quite work.

Traditionally Leeds dealt with this by signing everyone else's young players. This lay at the heart of the feud with Hull. Garry Schofield started off at Hull and went to Leeds, earning the lifetime hatred and loathing of the Threepenny Stand. He went on to glory with Leeds, or more accurately with Great Britain, accumulating 46 international caps, a record he shares only with Jim Sullivan. However, being a Leeds player has its downside - he is also the only man in the game to have four, yes, four Challenge Cup loser's medals. I ask you.

Things change, though. Graham Murray's late-90s Leeds were nearly the breakthrough, and certainly one of the most thrilling teams to watch ever, with Iestyn Harris, Rivett when he was good, ex-Keighley enforcer Darren Fleary, Lee Jackson, and a produt of their less well-known Help the Aged policy, Paul Sterling, a spectacular broken-field running winger who turned professional at the age of 34. Finally, Daryl Powell, Tony Smith, and another generation of good young 'uns made Leeds a champion side in the last couple of years.

But, when the critical moment struck this time, that old flaky streak turned up. Marcus Bai's effort to offload behind his own goal line had the real quixotic quality of a true Loiner fuckup. Hull came prepared out of their own natural tradition for a savage physical battle, but for some reason Leeds chose to dispense with their own killer, Barrie McDermott, the one-eyed enforcer who became the first man in Britain to be subdued by police using personal CS gas when he became over lively outside a nightclub in Oldham. Barrie once said that "All I know about the game is that if they show you a red card, you're off for good, if they show you a yellow card you're off for 10 minutes, and if they show the other bloke a green card with a white cross [shown to indicate that they must leave the pitch for treatment], you're doing your job properly!", but Leeds didn't even have him on the bench - an incredible blunder dealing with a team as nails as Hull. He could have been out there cracking heads and taking names, but instead he was in the stand watching Hull beating Leeds bloody.

The finish was telling, too. Leeds, on the last set of six of the Cup and one point down, began setting up for a drop goal attempt. But, on tackle three, rather than the human battering ram they needed to gain ground and time, the ball went to stand-off Danny McGuire, who was predictably walloped. Kevin Sinfield had to take the kick further out, off-centre and under pressure - unsurprisingly, it didn't happen. Leeds aren't the kind of club that has its last-minute drop goal routine etched on the collective mind.

With remarkable speed after the win, Hull's essentially chavvish side broke through. There was no stadium violence this time, but the sight of Hull's skipper mounting the podium to receive the winner's medal wearing a black-and-white half and half wig taken from a spectator, another spectator's Hull scarf, and a Union Flag wrapped around himself in a sort of Denise Lewis pose but not as pretty makes the brain reel. Dignity? Class? Wrong club, my friend.

Solving the problem twice

The BoingBoingers are running at top speed trying to bring light, or more accurately TCP/IP data access, to the darkness of refugees fleeing New Orleans. Now, much as I respect the BB team and the brilliance of Cory Doctorow, this is not terribly smart. There is already an outfit that specialises in bringing communications technology to the victims of natural disaster, war, and comparable apocalyptic horsemen. Not many people know about it, and so it deserves some buzz.

The people I'm on about are Telecoms Sans Frontieres, TSF, an organisation of volunteer techies modelled on MSF, RSF and such, who can be found on the internet right here. International HQ is at Pau in southwestern France. Their skills and equipment include the gamut from setting up and repairing GSM cellular networks, operating satellite access and also satellite backhaul systems, right down to in-extremis HF radio. They even have their own comsats, four birds one of which is currently on the Equator pretty much due south of NO. Another advantage of theirs are their partnerships with industry majors - Vodafone, Alcatel, France Telecom, Cable & Wireless, Inmarsat, SFR and AT&T.

Now, there's no mention of Katrina on their site, but a colleague spoke to them an hour ago and they are indeed on their way with satellite and cellular equipment. Their team in Nicaragua, which was helping with recovery from an earlier hurricane, is moving there, as is another party from France. Rather than reinventing the wheel and helping to add to the inevitable feeding frenzy of uncoordinated activity and duplication, why not send TSF money or, if you like, kit? Or - if you have the skills - get in touch with them. It's not that one lot of geeks are better than another, to paraphrase Lloyd George, but that one chief geek is better than two.

You can donate here.

Ken Clarke: Some Thoughts

Anthony Wells has a typically encyclopaedic post up regarding Ken Clarke's entry to the Tory leadership campaign. There's all the usual Wellsian statsy goodness, and some very interesting points about just how popular the lover of, ahem, smoky late night jazz is, despite being unfashionable on Europe and, as AW points out, frequently despised when he was in power.

Wells argues that, although he would draw in voters who would otherwise not vote Conservative in spades, the problem is whether or not he would alienate as big a chunk of the Tory core vote. That's obviously a problem, but I wonder how big a one it really is. After all, there are a hell of a lot more people in the sets "wouldn't otherwise vote Tory but might if Clarke was leader" and "will vote Tory even if Osama bin Laden was leader and pledged to nationalise sex" than there are in the set "Clarke is a Eurolizard come to curdle my precious bodily fluids". Brutally, there aren't enough true believer Tories for him to frighten away enough of them to outweigh the possible gains. And they are getting less common all the time.

If the Tories reject Clarke, or a Clarke-equivalent like Malcolm Rifkind, again, they are following a strategy that goes entirely against the logic of the British constitution. In our first-past-the-post system, coalitions happen inside parties rather than inside parliament. It's all about getting together 51% by broadening your base. Bizarrely, the party most hostile to proportional representation is behaving - unconsciously no doubt - exactly as if it was living under PR by trimming its strategy to its radicals rather than the other way round. Strange, innit?

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