Monday, July 31, 2006

Get your fresh overlays here

If you liked this post, you'll love the Google Earth KMZ overlay. See where those places are on the satellite photos. Understand my nonsensical ravings. Details are accurate as of 1330 hours today.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Monster floating radar!

Remember this post? Not only did it have rockets, plausible deniability and much more comments-rocking stuff, it also had a gigantic sea-going radar station. Chris Williams remarked in comments that
"We only need a submarine and a glamorous lady spy and we've got an Alastair Maclean thriller."
I disagree. The giant floating radar turned up off Hawaii, the Hawaii Star-Bulletin reports, in need of dockyard assistance after spending the last few months on its sea trials around the islands (so it certainly wasn't anywhere near its station off Alaska when the missile crisis-ette was going on). And it's not Alistair MacLean it calls to mind. Take a look.

Mr. Bond - I've been expecting you..

If that isn't the spitting image of deranged shipping tycoon Karl Stromberg's secret submarine base in The Spy who Loved Me, I dunno what is. It's 28 storeys high, 282 feet long and displaces 50,000 tons.

Save the world, one pint at a time

Alex "WorldChanging" Steffen is a fan of Samuel Smith's organic beers, brewed in Yorkshire's oldest brewery in Tadcaster. Who knew? I'd comment, but I'm barred from his comments thread for opining that Bruce Sterling is not always right.

Slightly more seriously, the row related to RFID technology - both teh Bruce and the Worldchanging crowd are strongly in favour for reasons connected with recycling. I'm strongly against for reasons connected with liberty. My point was that in the way of things, the security-bureaucratic complex is likely to sink kajillions in liberticidal applications for it long before we get any benefit from Sterlingian notions of "spimes", "blogjects" and such.

Have you seen this aeroplane?

Associated Press reports on the arrival of only the second aircraft at Mogadishu since the civil war broke out, allegedly with a cargo of armaments for the new rulers, the Islamic Courts Union, to fight the Ethiopians. There's a photo, too...

mystery jet

The aircraft is a no-title Ilyushin 76 which according to AP was registered in Kazakhstan. However, the registration is not visible and is not mentioned in the story. Checking all the Il-76s listed as active with Kazakh operators, I have eliminated most of them from my inquiries as they don't match the one in the photo. However, the closest seem to be either GST Aero, UN-76497 with Air Bas, or one owned by the Kazakh government.

Can you help? Specifically, has anyone seen a UN- prefix Il-76 with that curious flag or panel on the starboard side of the fin?

Friday, July 28, 2006

Airtricity to float

This is cool. Wind power developers valued at around £1bn, thinking of floating on the LSE.

Right flank

Jamie K thinks the UNTSO post was bombed to prevent them observing a possible Israeli flank movement from the northern tip of the country, around Kiryat Shmona, down the Litani valley to the sea, with hopes of cutting off the retreat, which means going further into Lebanon. He quotes me, in comments, suggesting that this area was going to be significant.

Why did I say that? Well, have a read of this Jerusalem Post report. Especially this:
The Nahal Brigade, IDF sources confirmed, was gearing up along the eastern border with Lebanon in preparation for a ground incursion to take over additional Hizbullah-run villages.

In fighting that was described as heroic by Brig.-Gen. Gal Hirsh, commander of Division 91, soldiers from the Golani and Paratrooper Brigades took up positions around the town of Bint Jbail clashing with Hizbullah and killed close to 50 gunmen...
The eastern border - i.e. the extreme right (in both senses of the word) flank. The Israelis are using three brigades at the moment, the Golani infantry brigade, the airborne brigade and the 7th armoured brigade, under the command of two division headquarters, the 91st and one other as yet unidentified. That both the HQs are required although so far only one division equivalent is engaged suggests that more forces are standing by - specifically, the Nahal infantry brigade mentioned above. If it makes an incursion into Lebanon from its current location, it must needs go westwards into the Litani valley.

W. Patrick Lang has details on the location of the UNTSO post. And as everyone no doubt now knows, the Israeli cabinet has announced the call-out of three divisions of reservists. They say they will not expand the war into Syria, and I don't think they will, but they only say they will not expand the operation further into Lebanon yet. In the same report, there's also something very significant about rockets. Especially for fans of the Iranian Dr. Evil view of terrorism.
"It's not simple fighting the war while at the same time taking care of all the logistics," said Maj. Avi, deputy commander of Battalion 51, which operates the new Merkava 4 tanks, "but we're dealing with it."

The biggest problem the tank crews have come up against in this conflict is the large number of anti-tank missiles in Hizbullah's hands, which have hit a significant number of IDF tanks, though Avi insisted they were not surprised by this. The missiles come in a wide variety, not only the Russian-made RPGs and Saggers that the IDF has dealt with before, but also French-made Milan missiles. "You can buy anything with money" smiles Avi
French-made, well, they are also British-made. The point is that state sponsorship is irrelevant because black markets are global. Also, this from the Washington Post:Most of the resistance to Israeli incursions into Lebanon over the past two weeks has involved the use of assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and antitank missiles, including what Israeli officials say are versions or copies of powerful and accurate Russian- and U.S.-made weapons. Versions? Copies? For bonus points, which large sandy country with a civil war on not a million miles away owned a stockpile of Chinese CSS-2 Seersucker (vulgarly known as Silkworms) anti-ship cruise missiles?

Forgot to include this: Ha'aretz has details of the cabinet discussions. Note this: Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, a former defense minister, also
expressed reservations about expanding the ground operation. "Let us assume that you get to the Litani [River], and they continue to fire against Haifa [from] north of the Litani. What have you achieved?" he asked.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Fake sheikh is about right

News of the Screws "investigations editor" Mahzer Mahmood has done it again, as the case against his supposed "red mercury plotters" goes belly-up. This should come as no surprise at all because red mercury does not exist. Well, there's no reason why he can't go on with his pathetic "no-rate sleb snorts cocaine" tales, but it would be nice if the Metropolitan Police didn't treat him with such touching faith.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Right on cue

Really detailed reporting from the Jerusalem Post on the first phase of the invasion. Note especially this:
On Thursday five Egoz soldiers were killed by an anti-tank missile in the village..."many of our tanks took hits, mainly from Sagger rockets; none of the tanks were destroyed but quite a few of our friends were wounded."
I think an earlier version of that article also referred to Kornet ATGMs turning up, but it seems to have gone. These weapons (AT-14) are the latest Russian anti-tank missile in service; the crazy right has been noising a little about them in the past, but it would be interesting to see if anyone can find a reference. Details are here, with this interesting point:
It emerged as the Iraqis' most effective direct-fire weapon against U.S. armor in the desert of southern Iraq. Iraqi commandos traveling in three-man teams dressed in black civilian robes and riding in Nissan pickup trucks moved against the flanks of columns of armor from the US Army's 3rd Infantry Division and launched broadside attacks from several kilometers away using the system. Those attacks had disabled at least two Abrams tanks and one Bradley armored troop carrier in the opening week of the war. US military intelligence officials were extremely interested in capturing one of the missiles intact. They also instructed American soldiers who destroy one of the Kornet launchers to save the remains of the system for close inspection.

Also right on cue, the respectable obscenities of today's salon barbarians. The New York Times Magazine prints this:
From Israel's standpoint, this is no longer a fight with nonstate terrorists who are holding their fellow citizens hostage to their tactics. It is, rather, war between Israel and countries that are pursuing (or tolerating) violent policies endorsed (or at least accepted) by their electorates.
A thing called "Atlas Shrugs" puts it without as much lawyerly antiseptic as follows:
I am not buying into the innocent civilians meme. If by ignorance, complicity, neglect or helplessness the Lebanese wouldn't throw Hezbollah out and establish a strong government, then they must pay the price for the sins of Hizbollah.
Did you take part in the Cedar Revolution? If so, looks like you've got more to worry about than just the Syrians. I mean, these people were the first to cheerlead for the revolution. Have they forgotten? Meanwhile, the shadow of the man Shimon Peres used to be says Israel will never attack Lebanon.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

All British

Woman working on CIA contract fired for saying that waterboarding is torture and torture is wrong. Her employer? BAE SYSTEMS.

Maintenance of the aim

The last post went a bit off-topic as the rockets got in the way of the strategy. So, a recap. Hezbollah is following, I think, a sort of fleet-in-being strategy. They want to keep their militia and their quasi-state role inside Lebanon, and anything that weakens the Lebanese government is conducive to that. Even being forced to withdraw from the deep south isn't that bad, as the return of Israeli forces there gives Hezbollah back its missing reason to exist. But what are the Israelis hoping to do, apart from exactly what the enemy want them to?

One argument is purely tactical, or tactics-as-strategy. That is that they just want to get the prisoners back and get the rocket fire shut off. The first counterargument is that Ariel Sharon achieved both these by negotiation, and if he did it you can hardly describe it as weak. Another is the official line, that they want the Lebanese government to deal with Hezbollah. Bwaaahaahaaha, as they say. The Lebanese government is going to be lucky to survive Operation LITANI II, and anyway doesn't have the consensus or the strength to do so. (Over at Aqoul, Tom Scudder asks if a list of Lebanese military equipment suggests strength or weakness on the Lebanese army's part. Answer: it's irrelevant.) And if that is the aim, why did they just bomb a TV transmitter miles north of Beirut that is used by LBC - the Christian Lebanese TV station whose chief political commentator was menaced during the revolution for being too anti-Syrian - and a channel owned by the Hariris? Yes, that's as in Rafiq Hariri.

Alternatively, this is just more of a pattern familiar from 2002. Back then, whilst demanding that the PA and PLO "crack down on the terrorists", the Israelis responded to every terrorist incident by bombing Palestinian police stations - culminating when their army besieged the headquarters of the Palestinian secret service and took away the files on the, er, terrorists. Perhaps it's a weird version of our old friend, airpower theory. This is lent credence by the fact that the IDF chief of general staff Dan Halutz is an aviator, for the first time in Tsahal's history. Chris "Back to Iraq" Albritton dishes this policy nicely - after all, if this really worked, why didn't the 11th of September raid make the US public overthrow George W. Bush? More seriously, Chris's reaction is itself proof that it doesn't. He's getting bombed and he's not any happier about it. Further empirical evidence for the criminal stupidity of this strategy is what's happened to Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz's polls since the rain started a-falling. Two weeks ago, Olmert's approval rating stood at 43 per cent. Now it's 78 per cent. Peretz's have gone from 28 per cent to 61 per cent.

Apart from that, I defer to this post.
Hizbullah: Our little-girls-face-ripping-off missiles answer to God the most merciful, the most compassionate.
Israel: As Golda Meir once said: we do not actually hate them for ripping off our little girls’ faces but for making us rip off their little girls’ faces.
Hizbullah: And let’s not forget the Palestinians, they have lost their land and some of their little girls’ faces.
Israel: Oh that’s from honor killing, if the girls have sex, they rip off the girls’ faces.
{Angry shouting, inaudible}
Mediator{ pounding gavel}: Inadmissible, we are only talking about face-ripping-off-of-girls in war. We are trying to prevent another Mideast Girl Face Ripping Off Free-for-All.
Israel: Millions of Jewish girls have had their faces ripped off out of sheer cruelty and hate; and dozens and dozens of Israeli girls through suicide bombers and terrorists. We will never forget. So we are accidentally ripping off girls’ faces strategically for survival.
Hizbullah: We are compelled to rip off the faces of little girls in order to hasten justice. We will, if necessary, rip off little girls’ faces until justice is complete and the Compassionate One is sovereign and cruelty is banished.
Israel: We are a humane society and we never rip off faces of little girls except by accident. And by the way, they are overcounting their little girls with their faces ripped off.
Read the whole thing. If you want to be really, really depressed.

Another dip in the quagmire

It seems that, after a week's bombing to get in the mood, the Israeli army is going back into southern Lebanon. What are they trying to achieve? A question that could have been asked all week, but one that gains force with this escalation. Everyone's talking about either "clearing a one-mile strip" along the border of Hezbollah rocket launchers, which cannot be true because it's completely pointless, or else going north to the line of the River Litani (not the Lipari as Jamie K called it, although a brief holiday in Italy seems a far better idea).

The Israelis did that in 1978, indeed they called that invasion Operation LITANI so that the enemy would be in no doubt as to their objective. Reaching it without breaking sweat, and having bombed the hell out of everyone and everything in their path, they found surprisingly enough that the enemy of the day - Fatah - had retreated over it. There is no reason to think that Hezbollah won't do the same, having made a token resistance. The difference is, though, that in 1978 going to the Litani at least transferred the risk from Katyusha rockets from civilians in northern Israel to the soldiers, so long as they stayed there. Now, it seems, the increased rocket range means that Hezbollah's self-declared insecurity zone 30 kilometres into Israel can be maintained from beyond the river.

This scenario may not sound very much like the strategy of a militia determined to challenge the most powerful army in the Middle East, but a couple of points militate against this. For a start, this is Lebanon and Lebanese warlords do not cling to principle when to do so is inconvenient. Hezbollah's interests are served by what would be described at sea as a fleet-in-being strategy, that is to say one that conserves their deterrent capability against the other parties in Lebanon and their northern Israeli insecurity zone. The second point is their stockpile of ATGWs, anti-tank guided weapons.

I predict that these will be this year's surprise hit in the armoury, rather like RPGs were in 2004. If you're not familiar, it's basically a longer-ranged anti-tank rocket with some means of control so it can be shot in a straight line. The first ones to be fielded were the French SS10 and 11, oddly enough, at Suez in 1956 and (unofficially) on Israeli light armour in 1967. Their big success came later, though, with the Soviet AT-3 SAGGER. This missile was used in large numbers by the Egyptian army at the crossing of the Suez Canal in 1973, allowing their infantry to hold off the first Israeli armoured counter-attacks. In Vietnam, it made an appearance with the North Vietnamese army in the 1972 Easter offensive, where the Western answer (the US TOW missile) was also fielded for the first time. By the 1980s, with the arrival of large numbers of the things, a serious reassessment of the NATO-Warsaw Pact balance was in progress.

This wasn't, as far as I can tell, widely realised at the time. The increased confidence of the NATO armies that they could at least force a negotiating pause on the Soviet forces in Germany had at least as much and probably more to do with infantry anti-tank weapons than the more widely publicised issue of tactical nuclear warfare. If small groups of infantry or recce personnel with wheeled vehicles and wire-guided missiles could take advantage of the growing urban sprawl between towns, the Soviet advance might be much slower and bloodier than expected even before the armoured battle began. The West German army in particular laid in large stocks of the rockets and trained its soldiers to aim for tanks with extra radio aerials - an indicator that they contained commanders.

So did Hezbollah. During the 1982-2000 occupation, they began to use more and more of these weapons, usually to attack fortified outposts from a safe distance as the Israelis kept off the roads towards the end.

This is what the Israelis face. Small teams of tank killers covering the main force's getaway up the Litani valley towards the Beka'a, giving the prospect of quite a lot of tanks being destroyed for little result. Therefore, there will be a strong temptation to double or quits - try to cut off the retreat, which means going further into Lebanon, and then keep going towards the Beka'a or south Beirut, which means much more blood.

No doubt they will blame one state sponsor or other. Which is ironic, because if Iran really did give Hezbollah ATGWs, they...well...might well be any left over from the TOWs supplied to Iran in the 1980s by the United States, and Israel. One of the biggest categories of Iran-Contra stores was more rounds for the TOW launchers the Shah's arsenal included, the Iranians having fired them all into Saddam's tanks. This is pure snark, though. It doesn't really matter very much where they came from originally, as the market in arms is global as few things are. ATGWs are highly smugglable - a key feature is that they must be man-portable, and if you can carry something on your back you can fit quite a few in a shipping container. That is, of course, what the founder of modern rocketry promised back in 1770-odd. Sir William Congreve claimed his rockets were the soule of Artillery without the body.

Not that his were very effective - they didn't have much benefit over horse artillery, and didn't pack enough punch to be used as siege artillery, and were mostly used to frighten undisciplined colonial enemies unused to modern warfare - an early form of non-lethal weaponry, really. But it eventually arrived. Among the numerous variants of the Soviet katyusha, Grad, FROG and other artillery rocket systems, there are several that consist of the multiple launch tubes broken down into singles that can be carried, specifically designed for guerrilla use. (The Vietnamese invented this, re-purposing the 107mm and 122mm rockets to be fired from a wooden frame. The Soviet Union mass-produced the idea as, I think, the 9K51-P.)

Rockets don't have to come from Iran, either. Ask the Black Watch - just off for their third tour in Iraq, two weeks after the Government denied it! - about their stint at Camp "Incoming" the winter of 2004. Grad MRLs are in use with some 50 countries, so they could come from almost anywhere. But the large sandy one with a civil war, vast ammunition stockpiles and no effective government that was exporting surplus military equipment via Beirut until last year cannot be ruled out.

Correction: the AT-3's NATO designation is SAGGER, not "Snagger". Good GlobalSec page on it here.

Have they all gone yet?

All those folk looking for dirt on John Prescott. It's nice and quiet again now. Still, I've been away, far from the nearest wireless LAN, so far away I didn't hear about the new war(s) until getting back to town, and now I'm back.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Prescott and the Dome: Clarifier

One thing not addressed in this post is the exact arrangements between the Government and AEG regarding the big...can it be a beer gut?...pimple on the Thames. As made clear in comments here, the terms under which AEG got the Dome specify that the Government gets a share in the profits over and above AEG's costs plus a percentage markup. So, the insertion of a casino in the Dome would tend to bring forward the point at which the State makes money on the deal, not to mention increase the sums involved.

It's been pointed out elsewhere that the thing was quite a while earlier, well before the Gambling Bill. Pshaw. I don't see that this gets them off the hook - in fact it strikes me as more incriminating than Anschutz buying the Dome after the Gambling Bill passes, because implying a quid pro quo. Anyway, consider this report from the HoC Public Accounts Committee. Note that, although the c-word is used later in the document, the summary description of the AEG scheme makes no mention of a casino at all...although this had been mentioned in the press prior to the report.

Eventually you come to this:
10. There are various elements in this scheme which may generate future profits to the taxpayer, but which English Partnerships did not assume when evaluating the deal. For example the extent to which there might be a share in future profits from the Dome Arena and Waterfront is uncertain. Also in 2003 the Anschutz Group expressed interest in placing at the Dome one of the eight large Regional Casinos proposed in the government's draft Gambling legislation. At the time of Meridian Delta's original proposals there had been no discussion on casinos. A casino would require both planning permission and a licence under the recently enacted Gambling Act. The Government has indicated that there will only be one Regional Casino, and it is not yet clear whether the Dome will be successful in obtaining a licence. The Department has no firm view about whether a casino would be a positive or negative factor in terms of value to the deal. It is not party to any related negotiations with the Anschutz Entertainment Group, but recognises that Anschutz are pursuing it because they expect it to increase their profits, in which English Partnerships would take a 15% share after the operator had made a prior return. English Partnerships have not however assumed any return from a casino.[11]
So as early as 2003 they were talking slot machines. I wonder how often John Prescott has been to see the old railroad tycoon before his recent trip? According to the report, the sale closed in June, 2004. It's hard not to see, as they say, a pattern of behaviour here. As far as I can make out, "the Department" is a strangely worded reference to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, not (as I first thought) to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

We missed it

And again, we managed to miss it - the 10th of June, or blogday as it's also known..three years of uninterrupted ranting. Just to celebrate, remember this post about casinos and the Dome? Well, it only took them a year to catch up.

In other schadenfreude-related news, tedious europhobe hack Richard North has fallen foul of Sadly, No!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Cows for Jesus

After all the serious stuff, something amusing. In the US, a cattleman is trying to breed perfect red heifers with no un-red hairs on them. Why is he doing this? It seems all-red heifers are a necessary part of God's design for the Apocalypse, as part of the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple..
Artisans have re-created priestly robes of white linen, gem-studded breastplates, silver trumpets and solid-gold menorahs to be used in the Holy Temple — along with two 6½-ton marble cornerstones for the building's foundation.

Then there is Clyde Lott, a Mississippi revivalist preacher and cattle rancher. He is trying to raise a unique herd of red heifers to satisfy an obscure injunction in the Book of Numbers: the sacrifice of a blemish-free red heifer for purification rituals needed to pave the way for the messiah.

So far, only one of his cows has been verified by rabbis as worthy, meaning they failed to turn up even three white or black hairs on the animal's body...

Over in Mississippi, Lott believes that he is doing God's work, and that is why he wants to raise a few head of red heifers for Jewish high priests. Citing Scripture, Lott and others say a pure red heifer must be sacrificed and burned and its ashes used in purification rituals to allow Jews to rebuild the temple.

But Lott's plans have been sidetracked.

Facing a maze of red tape and testing involved in shipping animals overseas — and rumors of threats from Arabs and Jews alike who say the cows would only bring more trouble to the Middle East — he has given up on plans to fly planeloads of cows to Israel. For now.

In the meantime, some local ranchers have expressed an interest in raising their own red heifers for Israel, and fears of hoof-and-mouth disease and blue tongue forced Lott to relocate his only verified red heifer — a female born in 1993 — to Nebraska.

Cloning is out of the question, he said, because the technique "is not approved by the rabbinical council of Israel." Artificial insemination has so far failed to produce another heifer certified by rabbis.

"Something deep in my heart says God wants me to be a blessing to Israel," Lott said in a telephone interview. "But it's complicated. We're just not ready to send any red heifers over there."

If not now, when?

"If there's a sovereign God with his hand in the affairs of men, it'll happen, and it'll be a pivotal event," he said. "That time is soon. Very soon."

I wonder, are they red angus or Santa Gertrudis? And more importantly, what do they taste like?

The wrong end of the telescope

Blogs covered the news that the Forest Gate raid was down to the unsuppported word of a man with an IQ of 69 quite copiously. But there is more to the problem than just bad sources, Sir Ian Blair and the ACPO grandstanding for their new political role, or whatever. Simply, they have lost the plot regarding how intelligence works. Compare and contrast this report from the LA Times on how the Jordanian secret service tracked down al-Zarqawi.
In April, when Zarqawi showed up in a highly publicized online propaganda video boasting of his group's prowess, Jordanian analysts scrutinized the surrounding scenery as well as his blustery talk.

The tape confirmed suspicions that Zarqawi was in the Yousifiya area, a volatile insurgent stronghold south of Baghdad, which became the focus of U.S. and Jordanian intelligence efforts, Burjaq said. Throughout the spring, U.S. military officials, too, were publicly identifying the area south of Baghdad as a likely Zarqawi stronghold.

"At a certain stage, more intelligence [resources] were being devoted to Yousifiya," Burjaq said, noting that Jordan's familiarity with the region and intelligence networks played a key role in monitoring Zarqawi's movements there.

"It's not an easy area to get in and out of."

The two Jordanian officials declined to confirm whether they had turned any of Zarqawi's followers against him.

But Dahabi noted, "Some of the people I arrest, I recruit. Some of those who were in my jails helped me to carry out operations."

"Sources," Burjaq said. "To us, this is the tool."

Once it became clear that the Yousifiya information was accurate, the Jordanians became more confident of their sources. Then when information was received about Zarqawi being in the Baqubah area, northeast of Baghdad, they were confident of that as well.

"We started to locate him and the Americans started to locate him," Burjaq said.

Several sources, including a U.S. counter-terrorism official, credited both U.S. and Jordanian intelligence with developing information that led to the targeted hit on Zarqawi and subsequent raids at other locations.

"At a certain point, some of the sources connected," Dahabi said.
What the two Jordanian spooks are describing is a classic method of investigation. Note that they didn't begin by looking for people who might be able to say, just like that, where he was. Rather, they identified the area to look in and began collecting background information, specifically, information that they could check. Checking reduces the number of leads to follow up, and it also provides more information about which sources are trustworthy. And in the process of checking, more background information is available, which further refines where to look. Eventually one reaches the point at which the number of possibilities is small enough to round up the usual suspects.

In the UK, this ought to be familiar, as it's precisely the approach General Sir Frank Kitson codified in the 1960s. The crucial advantage is that it minimises the possible wrongness at each point. If you post huge rewards, seek tip-offs on where "a chemical vest" might be, then act on everything you receive, not only will you not be able to cope with the data-dump, but your activities running after the false positives are likely to have consequences. Hence Kitson's insistence on the importance of background information - it can be of lower quality than operational information without causing fiascos - and checkable information, which even if falsified leaves you with a net gain of information (i.e. that Curt Weldon's sources cannot be relied on, or that the enemy is unlikely to be found in area Y, or Mr. Z can be eliminated from the inquiry).

Now compare, for example, this. You might also want to read this Ken Silverstein report on the intelligence effort before the war with Iraq.
“They say everyone else was wrong,” said this former official, “but we conditioned them to be wrong. We spend [tens of billions of dollars per year] on signals intelligence and when we reach a conclusion, the people who spend less than that tend to believe us. They weren't wrong, they chose to believe us. The British, Germans, and Italians don't have all those overhead assets, so they rely on us. Historically they have been well-served, so they believe us when we tell them the earth is round. The French have their own assets—and guess what? They didn't go with us.

Creative destruction and the Holmdel Lab

According to IEEE Spectrum, the Holmdel Laboratory, the centre of Bell Labs in their heroic age, is probably going to be knocked down. The structure was once home to the world's best privately-run research organisation, with some 6,000 scientists and engineers and a library second to none. The work carried out there included the development of
the transistor, the laser, the solar cell, the light-emitting diode, the charge-coupled device, fiber optics, satellite communications, touch-tone dialing, cell phones, modems, microwave communications, local area networks, UNIX, C, and C++..
Southampton University would probably dispute the fibre claim, as they invented the process of making the cables industrially (indeed, the original equipment was lost in a fire last year), but anyway. This was where it all began.

The building was nothing if not suited to this role. The V&A's big Modernism exhibition this year is titled "Designing a New World," and that was precisely what Bell Labs was doing. So they hired Eero Saarinen to build them this..


No wonder it impressed the hordes of postgraduates it sucked up like a black hole. So, beyond a decent concern for geek heritage and architectural preservation, what am I drivelling on about this for? There was a reason why AT&T could afford to fund all this research, as detailed here. As the monopolist of all the telephones in North America, each and every phone call paid a few cents towards the R&D budget, a revenue stream that could be relied upon as few other businesses.

This brings us to an interesting point. The great Viennese economist and Harvard prof Joseph Schumpeter's distinctive contribution to economics is his concern for dynamic economics-the standard models usually assume one point in time and no technological change within the model, or else the convention of two moments in time, t-1 and t. Schumpeter argued that the reason there appears to be a long business cycle is that technological progress is not constant, or rather, it's not evenly distributed even if it advances at a steady average speed. There is a breakthrough, which spawns dozens of new opportunities and leads to a period of prosperity. Then, as the diminishing marginal returns set in, the possibilities are exhausted and the technology becomes more baroque, growth stagnates and inflation rises. Eventually, there is a new discovery.

This is obvious, if not trivial. But the key insight of Schumpeter's was the implication of this for competition and the theory of the firm. Traditionally, it is assumed that firms compete primarily on price, and that allocative and productive efficiency are maximised in perfect competition. Schumpeter stood this on its head, arguing that innovators are motivated by the possibility of becoming monopolists and making supernormal profits. The necessary check on them was the possibility that someone would discover something sufficiently new to destroy the monopolist. This feedback loop he named the theory of creative destruction, a phrase that has far outrun its initial use - it's commonly used as a snotty term for classical competition, or even assumed to mean that capitalism requires war. In fact, it means that in principle moving towards perfect competition may actually decrease long-term total factor productivity.

Bell Labs is exhibit A, of course. AT&T's monopoly profit funded the new electronic future, and the Bell Labs management made a deliberate policy of openness towards the competition, helping (for example) others to learn the technique of transistor manufacturing. It could also hardly be faulted for a lack of enterpreneurship - for example, when it was working on the first communications satellite, it came up with some radical answers to NASA's unwillingness to provide it with a rocket.
AT&T was firmly committed to carrying Telstar through, but how to get it launched? When V. S. Chernov of the Lebedev Institute in Moscow visited Bell Laboratories in April of 1961, Rudi Kompfner and I asked if we couldn't get a Soviet booster to launch Telstar.
Eventually, though, those same technologies helped to destroy AT&T. The mothership-the telecoms company that was, after all, the point of all this research activity-showed all the signs of a jealous, conservative, dull monopolist content to sit on its monopoly..
Although electronic switches based on solid-state components had been developed by 1959, AT&T didn't introduce the first digital switch into the Bell System until 1976. And electronic switching was still being gradually rolled out well into the 1980s, when AT&T's monopoly on telephone service came to an abrupt end. The much more rapid introduction of digital switches by MCI and Sprint probably contributed to AT&T's downfall.

And even though Bell Labs and Western Electric developed most of the underlying silicon technology required for the integrated circuit, which eventually became the guts of the electronic central-office switch, AT&T wasn't in on its creation. The upstarts Fairchild Semiconductor and Texas Instruments, focused as they were on miniaturizing electronics for their military and aerospace customers, led the way instead. Here again, AT&T engineers probably contributed to the lapse by insisting on high-performance discrete components built for 40-year lifetimes in the Bell System. There was no great drive for miniaturization in the system, acknowledged Ian Ross, the president of Bell Labs at the time of the breakup. "The weight of the central offices was not a big concern," Ross said.
It was government action, in the end, that killed the monopolist. But the point remains. Schumpeter was almost certainly right that a trade-off exists between static and dynamic efficiency, but he could never operationalise the principle. The argument that such-and-such a corporate privilege must be retained in order to promote long-term R&D is as common a self-serving excuse as retailers blaming the weather for poor sales. (National telecoms operators are especially addicted to it.)

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Some views on recent Afghan fighting

Michael "DSM" Smith of the Times reports some detail on the recent action in Afghanistan in which two UKSF members were killed. Worth reading. How would your answer change, though, if you knew that the two companies of 3 Para involved equal roughly 50% of the total infantry force available to the British Army in southern Afghanistan? (Smith has engaged with the point on his blog. I did too, back in December.

It also seems there is a degree of concern about the air support, specifically in support helicopters. It may be remembered that the Government actually wanted to send back RAF Harriers from Afghanistan to the UK until a few weeks before the deployment began, on the bizarre principle that the whole one battalion of infantry would adequately substitute for them and would need no support. Fortunately this was eventually reversed, and the current Harrier squadron is to be relieved later this year by the Navy's 800 Naval Air Squadron.

There does seem to be a piecemeal reinforcement in progress. Last week, 3 Para and a company of Gurkhas (the only other British infantry there) were joined by a field squadron (like a reinforced infantry company) of the RAF Regiment, who are to take over security for the Kandahar air base so as to relieve the infantry for their own role. The Harrier raid, by the way, appears to have been very vital indeed. AAC Apaches are expensive, RAF Harriers are noisy, but not having to rely on the USAF for your air cover is priceless.

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