Sunday, January 28, 2007

the tape recorder, for special music

Things I haven't listened to for ages...but did today. Propellerheads' Decksanddrumsandrockandroll album.

On a similar theme, Delroy Wilson does "Conquer Me" live...

The politics of permanent crisis

John Reid, we hardly knew you.. It's not looking good for him, is it? His strategy, on taking over the Home Office, appears to have been one of pre-emptive disclosure, trying to get the toxic waste out in the open as quickly as possible and get it over with. You poor fool! Wait until you see those bats.. He didn't realise quite how much shit there was, stuffed in boxes under desks and packed up in database server swapfiles, slowly fermenting in records warehouses off the A1. It reminds me of an Enron memoir in which a former top executive (possibly John Wing, although nowhere stated) describes the company shortly before collapse as having not just cans of worms, but warehouses full of shipping containers of crates of cans of worms. Ya Bass just thought he could do the job with a can opener and a wormkiller spray, when he needed a tactical nuke.

Now, having ridden into Marsham Street on a wave of draconian rhetoric and tabloid mob hurrahing, he's on the front of the Sun next to the headline John Reid's Brain is Missing, and the next day next to the word PAEDO in 72 point face. Yup, they done and dropped the P-bomb. It's hard to see how he gets back from this - Brown certainly won't want to inherit a Home Secretary with the P-word round his neck and a big yellow-press target on his bald spot. The shit keeps coming, too - one day it's drug dealers he's lost, then more nonces. It's like that mud volcano the gas drillers in Indonesia kicked off. They say he who rides the tiger can never dismount, but that gives the rider far too much agency. You may be riding the tiger now, but the tiger is at liberty to change this at a time of its choosing.

Perhaps the whole direction of British politics post-cold war is reaching a limiting constraint. Reid may prove to be the logical conclusion. Despite being the most authoritarian Home Sec yet, he's ended up facing basic administrative and economic facts, and has bowed to the facts - they're like that, yer facts. To some extent, his plan to split the Home Office shows that he himself realises this. Not that it goes anywhere near far enough - the proposed Department of National Security is essentially a way of saving the top control bureaucracy from the shipwreck, and it's precisely that power-centre that got us into this mess - but it's probably all he could achieve given the cognitive fixes and institutional constraints.

Let's think of the history a moment. Early in the 1990s, there was a dramatic shift of public opinion as measured by the British Social Attitudes survey, which suddenly saw an upsurge in measures of the fear of crime and willingness to accept greater state control. Simultaneously, or nearly, we saw the Major recession, the Heineken recession as I like to think of it. It depressed the parts other economic crises didn't reach - specifically the south-eastern and West Midlands middle class. There was also the end of the division of Europe, and the Völkerwanderung that ensued. At the same historical moment, we see the Woolf report, and the consequences that even the post-Thatcher Conservative Party accepted the failure of the prison system.

Strange times. Although crime rates were falling, and by mid-decade it was becoming clear that the IRA's war was about to be over, and the nuclear shadow had been lifted, measures of fear were rising. The Conservatives were desperately split and looking sick, needing a new platform. This they found in a Home Office agenda, eagerly pursued by Michael Howard and promoted by the yellow press, that postulated the existence of a permanent crisis. The logic of permanent crisis required immediate action, and progressively greater administrative load on the executive, which had the happy consequence of increasing the crisis atmosphere. Administering radically more complicated immigration controls on radically greater numbers of people with resources that weren't radically greater meant that the IND was genuinely in crisis.

Howard started off with the Enemy Within - remember "repetitive beats"? Some of us do - but this was too readily soluble, and also self-limiting. The parallel phenomenon of growing environmental concern meant that demonising road protestors was far too close to home for the southern middle class he was trying to scare onside - they were, after all, the protestors. He found a near-ideal bogey in the invention of the Bogus Asylum Seeker, an enemy with the great advantage that it logically didn't exist, came from Outside, and couldn't be accurately counted, thus confounding factual refutation. The Outsider would last well enough, at least until supplanted by Trrr post-2001.

He was only partly in charge. New technological developments meant the opportunities for the control bureaucracy were dazzlingly greater than anything since the days of Joynson-Hicks, and so were the costs-a good thing, in terms of institutional politics, as their security status meant they could be defended in a period of budgetary stringency. Hence the paradoxical combination of ever-growing powers and radii of action, and ever-more blatant administrative incompetence, which of course fed into the politics of permanent crisis.

This operating code was seamlessly taken over by successive Labour Home Secs, not to mention the No.10 policy/press machinery. It is as well to remember that despite all the hagiography about Ali-C and Jonathan Powell, most work in the No.10 press office has always been done by civil servants, the same men who handled the yellow press for John Major, and since the dramatic escalation of the permanent crisis agenda post-Hutton, the civil servants have become much more powerful in Government presentation.

So what do the Murdoch/Rothermere press actually want, other than just the commercial and journalistic imperative to break Teh Story? What is the actual content of their messages? What is the latent content of the Sun?

It's worth looking into the intellectual archaeology of the 'bloids to answer this. History, said Ken MacLeod, is the trade secret of science fiction. I prefer to think of it as a means to show up the invisible, like Natasha the beautiful spy revealing the alarm's detector beam with a spray of perfume. The British tabloid press is, like so much else in modern life, an Edwardian or very late-Victorian product. Harmsworth and Horatio Bottomley invented it in co-evolution with the southern middle class, delivering their product over the suburban railways, profiting from the new consumer industries' ad budgets, having their reporters phone in their copy to beat the competition, offering a political prescription of tub-thumping crisis propaganda that catered to their economic status anxiety.

It was exactly the same target market that movements like the Christian-Social party tackled in contemporary Austria, and I wonder if you can't make a case that the Daily Mail was the British version of this. Very similar ideas (the Germans have the wonderful word Gedankengut, "thought goods", for the ideas and assumptions that form the culture of a movement) were knocking around - for the combination of municipal socialism, anti-Semitism, and military pomposity Karl Lueger promoted, read Social Imperialism. The Operation Margarine shift of anxiety from economics to politics - the enemy image of the Socialists read-across onto foreigners, Jews, criminals etc - is the same. Fortunately, the Tories were quick to spot the opportunities here, and the poison was diluted down to a tolerable level.

What has this to do with the Home Office in the 1990s? Well, first of all, the institutional impact was similar. The yellow press ranted-in the Aliens Act to limit immigration to the UK, Vernon Kell formed MI5 in 1909, Maurice Hankey's long career as chief architect of the national-security state began, the Committee of Imperial Defence began the War Book mobilisation process that is still under regular redrafting at the Cabinet Office today. It is pleasantly symmetrical that 5 was finally put on a legal footing in 1994, the same year Howard's pustular Criminal Justice Act passed.

More broadly, though, there is a coherent ideology here. What kind of government is called for in crisis? Strong executive leadership would be the intuitive answer, if necessary with the grant of extraordinary powers. A crisis is often the scene of calls for the suspension of legal and constitutional limitations on executive power. Yes, you're all ahead of me. We're talking Carl Schmitt and Ausnahmezustand here. The Sun is always keen to attack "judges", "the Human Rights Act", and other institutions of constitutional limitation. Note the gap between its bootlicking towards the Prime Minister and its venomous aggression towards individual Cabinet Ministers.

What else does it want? It is always very keen on the military and intelligence special relationship, which in practice means real-time interworking between the Executive Offices of the President and Vice President, and the British "core executive", as Peter Hennessy calls it, made up of the Cabinet Office Secretariat, No.10, Treasury, and the Foreign Office. Further, although it occasionally turns on individual "fatcats", it's quite happy with economic inequality - one doesn't, after all, shit on one's own doorstep. We could sum it up as an ideology promoting the core executive, and the final confirmation of this is that the top officials and institutions involved are never mentioned. (A broader weakness of British political discourse is that the last thing ever mentioned is power.)

How can we name this complex of ideas? I propose we call it the Redwood Consensus, after John Redwood, one of the few of its beneficiaries ever to be foolish enough to talk about it. Redwood said at some point during the 1990s that (I paraphrase, and I suspect it's before the great informational caesura about 1996 when British political discourse hit the Web) globalisation has rendered the state powerless to limit economic insecurity, and the government must therefore offer the public the flag as a substitute - for example, Euroscepticism, the beef campaign, and such.

Permanent crisis, though, has costs. These are now coming home to roost. John Reid may be the last Home Secretary. Andy Coulson may also be the last Screws editor to wield the old wallop.

Ours go up to 11

Is it my imagination, or did the New-Old Iraqi Army cut back its activity during December, only to crank the voltage back up since the "surge" announcement? Since then, we've seen the resumption of mass-casualty bombings, the seriously weird assassination of a complete US Army Civil Affairs team in Najaf by men posing as either US troops or mercenaries, and a positive shower of downed aircraft. So far this year, there have been the losses of a Moldovan Antonov-26 near Balad on a staff run for KBR, a Blackhawk near Baqubah which was hit with a SAM whilst carrying a number of senior officers, a mercenary Hughes-500 responding to an attack on a State Department convoy, and now another US attack heli, type unknown, shot down outside Najaf.
A Reuters reporter at an army checkpoint about 1.5 km (one mile) from the fighting said he heard a burst of machinegun fire and saw smoke coming from a U.S. attack helicopter circling above the battle. He said the helicopter, which had been rocketing the militants, came down and smoke was rising from the site. It was not immediately clear whether it had crashed, he said.

Police in Najaf, seat of Iraq's most powerful Shi'ite clerics, refused comment on the fighting and the U.S. military said they did not issue statements on ongoing operations. An officer in the Iraqi Army's 8th Division in Najaf, who declined to be named, said he had also heard a report of a downed helicopter. He said the gunmen were dressed in camouflage uniforms and appeared to be well organised and fighting in small formations.

Governor Asaad Abu Gilel told Reuters the authorities had uncovered a plot by the fighters to kill some of the clerics on Monday, the climax of the Shi'ite mourning ritual of Ashura, a high point of the Shi'ite religious calendar. The Reuters reporter said he could hear intense gunfire. He said he had earlier seen two wounded soldiers with a dead comrade in the back of a truck outside an Iraqi military base.

He said troop reinforcements from the nearby city of Hilla were on their way and he had heard radio communications in which soldiers in the midst of the fighting were asking for fresh ammunition supplies. Abu Gilel said the militants, who included foreign fighters, had arrived in the city disguised as pilgrims in recent days and based themselves in the orchards, which he said had been bought three or four months ago by supporters of Saddam Hussein.
Uniforms, well organised small-unit tactics? Sounds like NOIA to me. They seem to be pushing at Najaf quite hard, presumably in an attempt to stage some sort of really awful massacre during Ashura that would drive the Sadr movement and SCIRI/Dawa into mutual conflict. Sunni insurgent violence has been the best recruiting sergeant for both groups, but SCIRI's relationship with the US and position in government means that they come off worst compared with the Sadrists.

But more importantly, I reckon that the Americans are now in the position of the man who gave the powder to the bear. He rolled it up in a sheet of paper, dipped one end in honey, and pushed it into the bear's cage...but the bear blew first. Their first 3,200 reinforcements are in, but the insurgent operational tempo has cranked up much faster, and it's quite possible that they will continue to out-escalate the Americans, simply because the force plan won't provide troops faster than the insurgents can.

Consider this Seattle Times story, which deals with an apparent agreement with tribal leaders in Ramadi to provide a police force. Apparently the recruitment was a great success, in December. I wonder how it's going now? I have a little theory here. We know the Baker-Hamilton commission met with Iraqi politicians, including folk like Tariq al-Hashemi and others from the National Accord who have good contacts with NOIA. Now, the Baker-Hamilton plan would have suited the NOIA's minimum political objectives rather well, by reaffirming Sunni rights, insisting on a pan-Arab role in the final negotiations, and getting the US Army off the streets. That was rather why it was a good plan.

It looks to me like they cut back their activities over Christmas, whilst it was on the table. But now, with this explicitly rejected, and the talk of "the 80 per cent solution" and such..well, all that keeps it from being a betrayal is that there was no explicit offer, at least not that we know of. More likely, the message communicated is that the Americans need a punch in the mouth before they will talk sense. Worse, the obvious counter-strategy to a "tilt to the Shia" is to provoke the Sadrists, thus cutting the 60 per cent of Shia in half.

Like Spinal Tap, their amps go up to 11. And their DShKa machine guns go up to 8,000 feet.

Update: Well, well, well. NOIA? Turns out the story is a whole lot weirder.
NAJAF, Iraq, Jan 28 (Reuters) - U.S. and Iraqi forces killed 250 gunmen from a Muslim cult in a battle involving U.S. tanks and helicopters near the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf on Sunday, Iraqi police, army and political sources said.

The day-long battle was continuing after nightfall, Colonel Ali Nomas told Reuters. A Reuters reporter on the scene saw several American tanks and other armoured vehicles arriving at the site of the battle, 160 km (100 miles) south of Baghdad. A U.S. helicopter was earlier shot down in the fighting, Iraq security sources said. The U.S. military declined comment. The Reuters reporter saw a helicopter come down trailing smoke. An Iraqi army source said some of the dead wore headbands declaring themselves to be a "Soldier of Heaven".

The fighting began as hundreds of thousands of pilgrims converged on the other main Shi'ite holy city of Kerbala, 70 km (40 miles) to the north of Najaf, for the climax of the annual Shi'ite rite of Ashura.

Shi'ite political sources said the gunmen appeared to be both Sunni Arabs and Shi'ites loyal to Ahmed Hassani al-Yemeni, whom they described as an apocalyptic cult leader convinced he leads the vanguard of the Mahdi -- a messiah-like figure in Islam whose coming heralds the start of perfect world justice...

The governor of Najaf province said Iraqi troops fought a day-long battle with 200 or more Sunni gunmen, including foreign fighters, holed up in orchards on the northern outskirts of the city, seat of Iraq's most powerful Shi'ite clerics. Governor Asaad Abu Gilel told Reuters the authorities had uncovered a plot by the gunmen to kill some of the clerics on Monday, to coincide with the climax of Ashura. "There is a conspiracy to kill the clergy on the 10th day of Muharram," Najaf governor Abu Gilel said, referring to the day of the Muslim calendar on Monday.

Didn't see that one coming, did I? A cross-sectarian apocalyptic cult that wears uniforms, shoots straight, and wants to wipe out the Shia Hawza. Fuck. Iraq-it's the weird that just keeps on weirding. Mind you, am I the only one to think - if this guy can get the Sunni and Shia to follow him and sort out their close-order drills...that's not a cult, that's an exit strategy!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

So how do you build an EFP anyway?

It didn't take me long to find out how to make one of those IEDs that supposedly have to come from Iran. After all, there's always Wikipedia. Wiki has a neat short introduction here, with an even better photo of one. The idea is simplicity itself. Using the Misznay-Schardin effect, which states that as an explosive charge usually exerts force perpendicular to its surfaces, if it is contained on one or more sides the blast will be concentrated on the open side, you back the charge with something solid.

Then, you shape it so the front face forms a convex shape, and fit a sheet of copper to that shape. And, essentially, you're done. All you need is a stout steel cylinder, something like a compressed gas bottle, and an oxy-acetylene torch or similar. The backing could just be sand - widely available in Iraq, I believe - and the copper could be beaten into shape against something hard (like the curved bottom of the gas bottle) with a hammer. (There's an interesting USAF publication here.)

I don't see where I need the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' Corps so far.

Doing the first-class compressed gas version will be more complicated, as the seal must be airtight but not strong enough to keep the bang from going out the right end. A trigger - well, there are many ways of doing this, and let's leave it at that. We are reasonable people, right?

None of this is new. Misznay and Schardin were Nazi engineers. The IRA used various forms of IEDs, including ones with an IR trigger. Some say MI5 told them how to, whether to keep them from learning worse, or to track the spread of memes through the organisation I don't know. Even before that, the German extreme-leftists knew the art of EFP. The Rote Armee Fraktion assassinated Alfred Herrhausen, a director of Deutsche Bank, with an IR-triggered one in 1989, or at least somebody did.

There's a great story about IRA links to the Middle East in Robert Fisk's Pity the Nation. Fisk had thought the rumours were nonsense (he had, after all, been the Times's Northern Ireland correspondent through the worst of the troubles), until one day when he took cover from an Israeli artillery bombardment and found he was sharing the cover with a man he recognised. The last time he had seen him had been in Derry in 1972, and the man had then been an IRA Volunteer, like you ever stop.

So, there are multiple ways this nasty little craft could have reached Iraq. And there is no necessary reason for Iran - or any other Dr Evil - to be involved. And so says the LA Times.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Yahya Jammeh: Quite Literally the World's Worst President

Gambia's President, Yahya Jammeh, whose personal plane, the Ilyushin 62M C5-GNM, is on the UN asset freeze list, is..well. You'd be surprised, but every now and then in this game I see something that shocks even me. Via Ben Goldacre's Badscience, his pet newspaper, the Daily Observer, would like us all to know he's discovered a cure for HIV/AIDS, and asthma too. Link:
Jammeh starts curing HIV/AIDS patients today
Written by Lamin M Dibba
Thursday, 18 January 2007
As the world’s scientists and medical doctors continue to scout for an HIV/AIDS cure, which they have not been able to find for the past 20 years, The Gambian leader President Yahya Jammeh yesterday disclosed that he has the cure for the HIV/Aids pandemic as well as asthma.

Today at State House, the Gambian leader will start the treatment of HIV/Aids patients. His treatment of asthma patients will start on Saturday. Below, we reproduce the full text of the Gambian leader’s statement on the cure of the two diseases, delivered at State House at a ceremony attended by the Vice-President, Secretaries of States and many dignitaries.

“I call you to this meeting and maybe you will wonder why I called you including the two Ambassadors from Cuba and Taiwan. I called the two Ambassadors and of course Rose Clair Charles because you have a direct link with the health delivery system of this country. You know that Cuba is a key partner in our health sector and Taiwan is the force behind the Medical Team in The Gambia. This is a follow up to what I said on GRTS that I will now fully participate in the treatment of certain critical cases.

Since 1994, there are many Gambians who know what I can do. A lot of people have been treated in silence or under conditions of strict confidentiality .One would wonder why I start giving medicine to the public and all of a sudden stop. I have been having a lot of queries about that even after we went to the RVTH on Saturday. People were saying, “Well, the President. This is what he does. He will introduce very effective medicines and all of a sudden it will die down and we will not have access to him.”

I had to work on instructions. I don’t have the mandate to do it publicly in great numbers. I was only restricted to a small number so as to be able to prove to people that what I say is what I can do before I have the permission to do it publicly.

I am not speculating on my medicine. There are living witnesses to what my medicine can do. As far as I am concerned it takes only five minutes to cure asthma. I have other medicinal herbs that can take care of a number of illnesses. One of it was the one that was sold publicly at the July 22 Square and the Serrekunda Police Station. But of course, it has to stop at a point because I don’t have the mandate to go beyond that.
I now have the mandate to cure people publicly under strict conditions that I have to abide by otherwise I pay the price.

Now I have the mandate to publicly treat all the diseases on condition that the patient will be treated publicly. In fact, the first and the most important condition is that the person must be diagnosed by a medical practitioner or a medical institution. I am not authorised to treat anybody who just feels sick without a doctor’s confirmation. I can treat asthma and HIV/Aids and the cure is a day’s treatment. Within three days the person should be tested again and I can tell you that he/she will be negative. After the treatment, they have to go to the RVTH for a test again. As I said, I will not treat anybody who is not diagnosed as asthmatic or a HIV/Aids patient by a doctor. I don’t want to give my medicine to a wrong person.” So the reason why I called you is that I have to work with a team of doctors that I can trust. Doctors who will not sabotage my treatment. That does not in anyway mean that I will give them the medicine. These doctors would make sure that the patients abide by the instructions. If I give you the medicine with instructions on how to go about it and you go and do something contrary to that and you turn out to be positive ,don’t blame me. I will not give you names but it is true. It is not a treatment that I speculate on. I am not doing it for money or popularity. The mandate I have is that HIV/Aids cases can be treated on Thursdays. That is the good news and the bad news is that I cannot treat more than ten patients every Thursday. There is nothing I can do about it and if I go beyond that I will have to pay the price.

For asthma, I have to choose between Saturday and Friday. I am also not authorised to treat more than 100 people. I am also not authorised to treat anybody who does not produce a diagnostic paper of asthma or HIV/Aids. One will asked what the Cuban and Taiwanese ambassadors are doing here. The aim is to share the treatment with them because in Taiwan traditional medicine are used. The asthma medicine can be mass produced and packaged and exported to them. The one on HIV/Aids cannot be mass produced because I am restricted to ten patients only on every Thursday and I cannot go beyond that. I want to have a team of three doctors for asthma and HIV/Aids. I want you to select ten HIV/Aids patients: five males and five females for Thursday.

The conditions should be explained to them before they come because if any of them backs out, you cannot replace the one that has backed out. They can eat before coming but they should not eat anything that is oily. The medicine will be given to them in the morning as a preliminary and after, they can eat and in the evening they take it again. Once that is done, they cannot eat anything else the following morning. They may be hungry and thirsty but they have to bear it and that is why they need a doctor to monitor them. Once they have taken the medicine, they should not eat anything no matter what happens till the following day.

Now with regards to asthma treatment, that is the easiest part. When they are coming for treatment in the morning, they should not eat anything that has pepper or seafood when they take the medicine, for four hours they should not eat anything. After that they can eat anything except something that contains oil or seafood. We want to see how we can work with the RVTH to see where these people can be kept until the following morning.With regards to asthma treatment, there is no need to keep them. They can go for six months, without taking anything that is alcoholic. With regards to HIV/Aids, they should be kept at a place that has adequate toilets facilities because they can be going to toilet every five minutes.
Anybody who says he will not be treated publicly should stay away because I have to fulfill the conditions and I will not take risks for anybody.

I am not a witch doctor and in fact you cannot have a witch doctor. You are either a witch or a doctor."
The degree of moral corruption here makes me actually, physically want to vomit. Here we have the ruler of a sovereign state who is actively promoting God-knows-what quack remedy to his subjects, with the perfectly obvious consequence that many more of them will get HIV and many fewer of them will get effective treatment. The personal aggrandisement involved just adds a pornographically horrible edge to the whole thing.

How many of his subjects can hope for "adequate toilet facilities", where the word adequate implies ones that don't put cholera germs in the drinking water, I wonder? I'd love to know what the Cuban and Taiwanese ambassadors' excuses are, too. The Cubans have a good reputation for medicine. I suspect that the Taiwanese ambassador's motive was probably to cling to another risible flag pinned to the map.

What is the morally sane response to this? You could wish that he gets the virus himself, it would have a Shakespearian kind of vicious justice, but no doubt he would be off to some Swiss clinic to be topped-up to the teats with antiretroviral agents like a shot. Still, being president for life has a terrible pension plan..

Sunday, January 21, 2007

I talk, and talk, say nothing

Does "Paleoprog" contribute anything to the otherwise indispensable American Footprints at all? Consider this thread, where he is defending the Iranian-IED stories on the grounds that
i base it on what the president, rice, gates and others are now saying.
If I had decided to disbelieve any statement from any of these people out of hand, I'm not sure I'd have lost any net information. But anyway, the Iranian-IED meme is worthy of further consideration. Politicians and senior US generals (if there is a useful distinction between the two categories) routinely brief the press that the best IEDs come from Iran, without ever producing any evidence of this. Now, I know it's difficult, but they never even give any reason to believe this. Just as routinely, intelligence and army sources counterbrief that there is no evidence.

Less often, named officers go on-the-record with this. The Defence Secretary, Des "Swiss Toni" Browne, has said there is no evidence. So has Lieutenant-Colonel David Labouchere, commanding the Queen's Royal Hussars battlegroup on the Iranian border of Maysan. I'm sure I remember Major-General Jim Dutton, RM, saying so in an interview. Ah yes, "a lot of speculation but not many facts."

So is there any reason to believe it? The IEDs of which they speak are the ones described as EFPs, for explosively-formed projectile. This means that the explosive is contained around a cone of metal, copper for preference, which is melted by the explosion and driven as a solid slug into the target. This approximates the way modern tank guns work, (well, as numerous commenters point out, the way anti-tank missiles, RPGs and the like work, although in my defence I will point to HEAT ammunition) and will penetrate practically any armour. Especially advanced ones use compressed gas as a fuel-air explosive to push it and either one of many kinds of command-detonator or an infra-red sensor as a trigger.

There's nothing incredibly complicated in that. When you think that Iraq in 1991 had a nuclear programme and a space programme, and that even in 2003 it was able to build its own rockets (the Al Samoud IIs), it should be no surprise that there are people running about who could design one. And that's the difficult bit. The rest just requires a sheet-metal workshop.

Personally, I think the conviction - for without any evidence whatsoever, what else is it? - that EFPs must come from Iran is only explicable by a refusal to believe that Iraq has smart people. The epitaph of the Iraq project is that they are all on the other side.

Update: Check out the new post for more shrilling revelations.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Hissing Sid OS

An interesting O'Reilly article about Python as a webOS.

Whoosh Kabooom!

Well, who saw that one coming? China blasts an old weather satellite with an MRBM. There's a lot to say about this, but here's one of the most important things. One of the classic examples of cooperation in an adversarial relationship is the understanding between the US and the Soviet Union, and then everyone else, that nobody would try to extend their sovereignty into low earth-orbit. John Lewis Gaddis devoted a whole chapter of The Long Peace to this idea. Originally, it wasn't clear that satellites could actually orbit without the permission of states they passed over. But, even though it was soon obvious how useful they would be for spying, the superpowers tacitly agreed to tolerate each other's sats.

Partly this was because it was clear that, without a cut-off point, it would be extremely annoying to get anything done in space. Partly it was because satellite reconnaissance was seen as a useful precaution against surprise attack, and hence a stabilising influence on superpower politics. So, although both sides researched the possibilities of shooting down satellites, and both the US and USSR carried out successful tests, they quietly agreed to put up with the other side's birds in time of peace. (There's a good post here at about their ASAT program.)

The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 added to, but was really just built on top of, this tacit understanding. It's important to understand that US (or anyone else's) complaining about the Chinese is not an argument that "We own space", or rather, it isn't one with that particular "we". The existing position is that anyone who can get to space can use space, and this includes a lot of military or related activity. But all agree not to interfere with each other's satellites. This is actually quite a good solution.

Many of the things civilians want to do in space are indistinguishable from things the military would like to do in space - the telecoms industry's activities up there are not very different from military signals operations up there, scientists and cartographers carrying out photographic surveys and some forms of Earth-monitoring are not very different from military intelligence personnel doing photo-reconnaissance, GPS and GLONASS are used by all kinds of people.

This way, all the users are catered for with a degree of security. "We" own space, where the "we" is the community of space users. It's rather like the high seas. Anyone trying to destroy satellites is effectively enclosing the commons, especially given the debris problem. Whichever way you cut it, it's an act aimed at changing the status quo in space, and not in a direction I think anyone needs.

It's also worrying exactly how it was done. The Chinese seem to have used a bloody big rocket fired directly into its path, like a huge SAM. They don't seem to have told anyone beforehand. Now, firing a bloody big rocket on a ballistic trajectory is an act that can be dangerous. There are longstanding arrangements under which any state that is going to let off a bloody big rocket tells everyone else first. This is because if it goes high enough, it will be detected by early-warning radars looking for ballistic missiles. (The launch will also show up on the US's Defence Support Program infrared satellites.) A rocket that can put a satellite into orbit can also be at least an MRBM.

That's not good. In this case the launcher wasn't big enough to be an ICBM, but it would have been big enough to target India or Japan or parts of Russia. I think all can agree that unacknowledged ballistic missile tests are not a boon to humanity.

Why would China want such a capability? It's well known that the US armed forces love satellites, for intelligence, communications, weather forecasting, and navigation. A lot of these are in low earth-orbit, like the one the Chinese rocket smashed. There's clearly a show of strength going on here, but the foxing question is why they found it necessary to do it in the way they did. There's no point signalling a capability secretly. It's impossible to do something in LEO secretly, anyway, as all kinds of governments and research organisations from many countries observe it routinely and their data is available on the Net, which is how the news of the hit got out.

The Americans are presumably being put on notice that their LEO constellation can be held in jeopardy. There's another point, though - satellites are a field in which new countries are rapidly gaining capabilities. Taiwan, for example, rents a share in an Israeli satellite. Nigeria is working on one. It makes sense, I suppose, for the Chinese to keep ahead of states nearer to being peers than the US.

It's also worth keeping in mind that the UK is one of few comparable states that has no satellite capability of its own. You might remember this post and the difference of opinion on Iraq between the countries without satellites, and France, which has its own. Surrey University and Astrium in Stevenage are good at making them. Arianespace are pretty good at launching any satellite someone will pay for.

GST Aero Dumped

How did I miss this? Perhaps through not reading the Kazakh press. A clutch of airlines were kicked off the Kazakh registry in October, including the storied GST Aero. (Gcached version here.) The story also mentions Phoenix Aviation, not sure why as it's not a UN-registry outfit, and Reem Air.

At the same time, Moldova has cleaned up some - their CAA is trying to pull the AOCs of airlines operating in war zones or with dubious safety records. From the 1st of February, they will need special permission to operate in the DRC, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Jammu & Kashmir, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Iran(?), or Iraq, or in any state that cannot maintain effective air traffic control. (Link to pdf.)


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Amir Taheri

Neocon maniac Amir Taheri writes that
A newspaper that had opposed the war would not tolerate "positive reporting" from Baghdad. One young British reporter who didn't understand that was surprised to see himself shifted to Paris to become a European correspondent. He had made the mistake of reporting that Iraq looked almost like a success, given where it had come from.
OK, fella. Which one? The Murdochs - the Times, Sunday Times, Sun/NOTW - supported the war. The Telegraph was at the peak of its Conrad Black/Charles Moore phase as a solo neocon faction in the Conservative Party. The Rothermere papers supported it. So did the Express.

That leaves the Independent, which relied on Robert Fisk, Patrick Cockburn and Kim Sengupta, none of whom were transferred to Paris, the Guardian, whose Rory Carroll wasn't transferred until after his kidnapping in Iraq some years later, and the Financial Times, which wasn't opposed to the war so much as protected by its institutional scepticism.

It don't look good now, does it? Then again, he's yet to say sorry for inventing the story that Iranian Jews were going to be forced to wear a yellow star.

We are the goonsquad and we're coming to town

A sinister tale from Iraq. But does anyone else find the scariest bit that the mystery voice who threatened her identified itself as the "Kata'eb al-Jihad"? Yes, that's Kata'eb as in the Lebanese Phalange's Arabic name. Not that the originals would have had any truck with jihad, but it strikes me that it's a great name to adopt if you want to terrify anyone in the Middle East, and also that the environment of Iraq is an excellent one for the growth of good old-fashioned fascism.

And then I remembered that a plane that flew a huge quantity of cash out of Iraq to Beirut turned out to have a Lebanese Forces MP aboard, a plane owned by something called Flying Carpet in Beirut owned by one Mazen Bsat.

Or perhaps, it's our own side's supersmart electronic warfare? I ask only having read this report about Coalition electronic/information warfare in Iraq. Yes, they really are flying EC-130s around fiddling with the GSM network when they could just hook in to the SS7 switch's lawful intercept function. But what amused me was the special "network exploitation system" that allows you to become the long as it doesn't attack one of your own radio nets.

Wouldn't it just be less stupid to teach some people Arabic?

This is the house that hack built

Two items on Wired make me think. In the first, our attention is called to a project at Loughborough University that's making robots build houses, spraying concrete and gypsum on formers. The encapsulated air makes for very high insulation R-values. But what it reminds me of is my dad, who once said one of the reasons why he didn't go into Harrowell & Sons, Building Contractors was the pain involved in buying a forklift to handle palletised bricks.

It wasn't that long ago. The second deals with the revival of modular, prefabricated buildings. Apparently, according to the US Energy Information Administration, prefabbing a building reduces the energy involved by 40 to 50 per cent. If the components are packed with structural insulation, then, well - you're not far from a Passivhaus right from the start.

I remember working on buildings in northern Australia, where the vernacular materials are lengths of windmill bore casing, corrugated iron, and any timber that will stand the insects. It was amazing how quickly a really nice structure could go up, and how obvious it seemed to have double skins, a large air space beneath the building, and the like. And you could adapt the building with a screwdriver and a saw. Now, if you had insulation between the skins rather than air, well...

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Iraqi Command Shift Signals Attack on Iran

It's been little reported anywhere that the appointment of Admiral Fallon as CINCCENTCOM has been matched by the Iraqi Government. They have, over US objections, chosen as commandant of Baghdad an officer who used to be..a sailor. Does this mean war with Iran is imminent?

Meanwhile, I think the blogospheric Iran-talk is getting to me. Obviously, two carrier decks plus Al-Udeid (if the Qataris don't invoke their treaty with Iran), Ali Al Salem, Tallil and Balad AFBs won't be enough to generate the planned strikes and cover both a hugely expanded need for close air support in Iraq and also a continuous patrol over the Iranian coast looking for surface-to-surface missile platforms, and also the combat air patrols needed to protect certain well-known targets in the Gulf. Especially as two of those air bases will have to worry about the Mahdi Army charging the wire. Some fool of a British Air Marshal theorised between the wars that the Army wasn't needed between Gibraltar and Aden because the RAF was mobile and must not become a local garrison (may have been D'Albiac) - but, of course, as soon as the live fire began, they had to be the local garrison or die.

So I shouldn't worry.

But I keep thinking that the Americans are heading for a Suez experience. What would Zhou Xiaochan say - do - when the first Tomahawk hits? Even if he's on-side, what will the central banks of developed Asia and Russia do? - the People's Bank of China faces such gigantic portfolio losses if they head for the exits first. Surely the Americans know that.

So I shouldn't worry. It would have been nice to have joined the Euro, though. But then, that was then, in the palmy days of peace..

To be trivial for a moment, I reckon Zhou Xiaochan will be the first current world leader to have a rock band named after him, after the dust settles.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Blair: just an embarrassment

Tony Blair doesn't deserve to be allowed aboard one of HM Ships, let alone use one of them to speechify. Some of the press amused themselves by labelling photographs of Devonport Dockyard with the ships awaiting disposal. This wasn't, perhaps, fair - the two biggest are Fearless and Intrepid, the two assault ships (LPDs) built in the early 1960s and finally used in the Falklands and then to launch Chinooks full of Royal Marines into Afghanistan in 2001, a mission their builders would never have imagined.

They are leaving the Fleet because they have been replaced by three fine ships, Ocean, Bulwark and the one Blair was speaking aboard, Albion. Ocean was laid down before Blair came into office, but the early part of his administration can fairly take credit for the two new LPDs and a gaggle of RFAs that support them. That was way back when the talk was all of the St Malo agreement and shipbuilding to support the ERRF.

Now, half the surface fleet is on the beach to save money in order to fund Afgiraq. Having forced the Navy to accept a large cut in exchange for the approval of the new carriers and SSNs, Admiral Sir Alan West was promised that he would get the carriers and eight Type-45 destroyers for the screen. This is now being battered to cut the T45 order to six, which might not be so bad if the Navy hadn't already lost its Sea Harrier FA2 aircraft and therefore its fighter capability. The government justification for that was that the T-42 destroyers and T-23 frigates would make up enough layers of defence. The Type 42s couldn't do it in the Falklands, and the government promptly sold several T-22 and T-23 ships as surplus, the latter in a deal with Romania currently under corruption investigation.

BAE helped, inevitably, with the Astute submarines going massively over budget. Now they are pushing the government to let them buy Vosper Thorneycroft's shipyards, which would give them a monopoly of naval shipbuilding. Why don't we rely on Saudi Arabia as our main ally in the Middle East, too? Whoops! On the shore, RAF air transport is hardly functioning and the procurement of new A330 jets is taking forever. The Herks are getting their explosive suppressant foam, but incredibly slowly. Fortunately, the fighter jets are finding it easy enough to defend Lincolnshire, though not cheap. Only the two Gurkha battalions are up to strength out of the whole infantry arm. The FRES vehicle project is going nowhere fast, and the vehicle gap is being filled with a variety of things - modified FV432s out of store, new Viking tracks, Cougar wheeled vehicles. The LIMAWS(G) and (R) light guns are jammed in the pipe. It goes on, and on, and on.

And the best Blair can offer is to whinge about it being "difficult" and tell the soldiers that they have to accept casualties. Interestingly, Blair has seemingly internalised that bloody awful Martin Kettle column I fisked back in October, either that, or Kettle was briefed with the argument, or some such media/political complex threesome. It's all about finding the right PR strategy to deliver the public. Nothing about aims or means.

He also insists on grossly misrepresenting the concepts of "soft power" and "hard power" - now, I don't think it was ever the intention of Joseph Nye to portray "soft power" as a dangerous temptation. In fact, Nye argued that soft power - economics, diplomacy, openness, cultural example, technocratic integration - was far more important than hitherto supposed, in fact, it's the sort of power that lasts. It's hard to see the difference between soft power and either the EU's enlargement strategy, a Blair favourite, or Thomas Barnett's global SysAdmin.

Blair, however, seems to have confused Nye with Robert Kagan ("He Ain't Surging, He's My Brother") and soft power with Kagan's title "Paradise and Power", in which he argued that the Europeans were wedded to the idea of a Kantian peace in their backyard and were unwilling to confront security threats. It's the reasoning of about 2000-2003; the period when it was fashionable to think it would all be better if only the Brits, Americans and a few local-colour allies would just get on with it.

They used to say that the Americans cooked and the Europeans washed up, and I suspect the intellectual DNA of this statement tells us a lot. For a start, if you don't wash up, first of all, you lose all your friends, and then you get typhoid, which is a rough description of what happened when the theory was tested. At a deeper level, it's probably significant which gender roles are assigned here. Blair seems to have conceptualised "soft power" as..tempting, corrupting, weakening, decadent, detrimental to the warrior ethos. The Stiftung's Year of Hating Women is clearly underway.

Further, it's fucking cheeky of Blair to start going on about "warfighters", a stupid American notion the British Army doesn't accept doctrinally, cooked up in the 1990s by US generals who didn't want to do "peacekeeping" or "operations other than war" when they could be lobbying for something expensive with lasers on. At the same time, we were working on the idea of the "strategic corporal" - that the lowest level of command had to be aware of the political context, rather than being hoo-ah warrior ethos maniacs, because otherwise the context bites you on the arse.

Can anyone guess why Sir Rupert Smith wasn't chosen to be Chief of the General Staff or Defence Staff?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Freeman of Bradford

Went to the David Hockney exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery on Saturday. Worth it, for one - a lot of stuff that doesn't get out too often. Some points.

Hockney's always struck me as one of few painters who are funny. Not comical, but humour is part of the language. Looking at his Rake's Progress, visual gags are a serious theme, as they were in the original. A sign reading BAR CLOSED peeks out of a corner at an election meeting. Among the Good People, a gospel singer performs with breasts like rugby balls, as a halo precisely the same shape executed in deadpan ink hovers over her head. For some reason I misread the blockprint title Receiving the Inheritance as Receiving the Nightmare, which feels significant even if it's not.

The Rake's is the only one of Hockney's pictures before the 1990s that shows any change in the Hockney figure. He lands as a geekish scholar who somehow looks pale although he is a line drawing on white paper, but half-way through suddenly appears in squarish specs, two-tone shoes and a T-shirt. It's the only Hockney moment that makes any concession in the figure of the artist to the United States, although he's lived there for most of his life. (Soizick argues it reflects a coming-out experience.)

Otherwise, he doesn't change through 30-odd years of portraiture, from the rediscovered kitchen sink self-portrait done at the age of 17 in his dad's attic in Bradford, which could as well be titled Bradford Grammar School Angst, until he starts his camera lucida paintings in the 1990s. Terry Eagleton said the Scholarship Boy, along with the Dumb Blonde and the Mad Scientist, was one of the crucial characters of the 20th century. The Hockney figure is much the same. His The Student: Homage to Picasso shows a Hockney in flapping strides, funny hat, long hair and embarrassing outsize easel approaching the master, whose head is mounted on a pompous classical column and who wears a Hitler fringe.

Homage? Picasso looks as silly as any authority does to the Student, who looks as silly as...well. And he knows it, painfully. It's brilliant, largely because it is funny. (At first sight, I thought the Picasso head was eyeing the student warily, as if to put him off or wondering what embarrassing horrors he might come up with, but studying the image, this seems to be another of my projections.)

This sort of askew view holds up the best of his work. Forget the studly tennis coach lovers for a while. In fact, fuck'em. Forget the glamourpuss stuff more widely. Consider the huge Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott. Geldzahler (a curator at the New York Metropolitan Museum) is enthroned on a huge sofa, clearly interrupted while talking. It's instantly clear he talks a lot, but the light is twanging off his specs from the city outside - does he make sense? The viewpoint lunges forward, tilting the perspective queasily short and making the sofa look aggressive, as if it might throb menacingly if you took your eyes off it. Bang! Here is Scott, plonked suddenly at 90 degrees to the thing, standing nearly at attention in a scruffy raincoat as if teleported from Bradford in 1954. Geldzahler seems to be about to use him to demonstrate a point, like a lecture hall skeleton - or is he waiting for a message from him?

This sense of time made visual is vital - J.G. Ballard devoted a whole essay to the idea in Hockney. So many portraits here are doubles. It's a way of guaranteeing they won't sit still, or at least not both at the same time. Hence the photo-mashups. One here, from Hockney's own collection, shows Billy Wilder lighting his cigar from behind gangsterish sunglasses. It's a record of a total gesture and possibly more about the man.

Another Hockney gear is detail, and there are an enormous number of his drawings to support it even before the camera lucida ones. His fellow Freeman of the City of Bradford, J.B. Priestley, "just sat there looking big", apparently. Hockney drew him in a pose, with his pen poised, that echoes the 18th century portraits upstairs in the NPG historical collection - Samuel Johnson and company. Priestley looks wise and funny, like his books. In the same series, W.H. Auden (another Yorkshire modernist) looks uncannily like Denis Healey, and Stephen Spender looks pompous. Andy Warhol is dressed like David Cameron.

But the best drawings are the ones of his family. I can think of nothing better than that I thought I had sat next to every one of them on a bus in Bradford.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

to all of those men..

Well, who else saw Sean Langan's film from the mission down to Garmser last year? Still can't stop thinking about it. A small advisory/training team and a company or so of Afghan police were sent down from Camp Bastion to Garmser in the far south to establish a government presence on roads leading in from Pakistan. The operation was expected to last 24 hours.

It lasted six days. Helicopter resupply was delayed again and again, until the medical stores and the ammunition ran short. Even casualty evacuation was held up, again and again, due to the shortage of airlift - the only available Chinook had been summoned to the survivors of a multiple mine strike. The Taliban turned out to have around 1,000 men in the area and ample supplies of mortars, RPGs and 107mm rockets. Not just that, they were firing from positions with concrete overhead cover.

The Toms were fighting from WMIK Land Rovers, mobile and bristling with .50 calibre machine guns but utterly without any armour. The Afghan police, from civilian (US Ford, naturally) pickups. The only suitable vehicle belonged to some Estonian medics. Eventually the "final objective", a canal just outside the ruins that passed for "town", was taken, whereupon the Afghan police commander decided that it couldn't be held. His last appearance had been after a prisoner was brought in, wounded, when he tried to interfere with the medics treating him in order to interrogate - well, torture - the guy, which the Scottish (Army Air Corps - but then, the commander was Household Cavalry, and the team included Camilla's Killers, Royal Irish and Royal Scots TA among others) RSM saw him off from.

Now, what?

It looks like two US battalions are being withdrawn from Afghanistan for...guess what? The Surge. They should be gone just in time for the spring campaigning season, when the Taliban have been boasting of a drive against the Kabul-Kandahar road. Le Canard Enchainé recently mentioned tales that an SAS patrol near Kabul encountered serious opposition and that infiltrators were feared to be setting up near the city. I'm not sure this has much credence, as one false move anywhere in Afghanistan can mean heavy opposition. But it's not good.

But digging in that story, there's worse. Colonel Chris Haas, the head of US special forces operations in Afghanistan, describes the situation as "bleak". Now, anyone who has read Sean Naylor's Not a Good Day to Die will know that Haas needs a lot of bleak to put him off. Trucks rolling over? Afghan allies running away? Air support not shown up? Allies want to attack friendly village? Air support turns up and bombs wrong side? No sweat. Bleak.

Meanwhile, the refurbishment of MOD Main Building costs £2.35 billion pounds. Which would fix most of the immediate problems, with a billion left over for spice. But the good news is - the Government wants to X-ray young asylum seekers to check they are not pretending to be young in order to get benefits. The Royal College of Paediatrics says it doesn't work. The Royal College of Radiographers says it's unethical to irradiate people without medical purpose. In total, there are 2,500 cases of dispute about age a year, of which 60 per cent in a pilot at the Oakington detention centre were telling the truth. So that's 1,000 people a year who might perhaps maybe be getting tuppence more than Rupert Murdoch says they should.

And, as always, whoever proposed this is innumerate. At best the examination is accurate to within +-2 years - seeing as the key age is 18 and a range between 16-20, even on the manufacturers' promise it's completely useless.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

A tradition is born

What to do when your RepRap is finished?

Run off a few shot glasses, of course, so as to celebrate properly.

The orange ape that walks like a man

My hunt for a readable Sunday paper goes on. The Fisk, Cockburn and Watkins Journal is OK, but they insist on including a lot of other stuff that's nowhere near as good. The Obscurer would be good if it could finally puke and call off the pony hunt for a secular Blairite democracy in Iraq, not to mention crank down the upmarket lifestyle quackery a tad. I flirted with the Sunday Times recently, but on reflection I'll make do with the Mick Smith Daily.

Reasons? Well, re-reporting the same Israeli-strike-on-Iran propaganda furphy every three months for two years is one. The latest version claims the Israeli air force plans to "tunnel" into the buried targets with conventional weapons, then drop tactical nukes down the hole. Yes, really. Fortunately, it did make one checkable claim - supposedly, Israeli aircraft have exercised the mission by flying to Gibraltar and back, a similar round trip.

Any readers on Gib: seen any F-15Es overhead, especially ones coming from the east with blue stars on the wings? I await intelligence.

Another reason, meanwhile, via Blairwatch:
We also have a picture of you, taken outside your flat.

Unfortunately, the picture is not particularly flattering and might undermine the image that has been built up around your persona as Abby Lee. I think it would be helpful to both sides if you agreed to a photo shoot today so that we can publish a more attractive image.

We are proposing to assign you our senior portrait photographer, Francesco Guidicini, and would arrange everything to your convenience, including a car to pick you up. We would expect you to provide your own clothes and make up. As the story will be on a colour page, we would prefer the outfit to be one of colourful eveningwear.

We did put this proposal to you yesterday, but heard nothing back. Clearly this is now a matter of urgency, and I would appreciate you contacting me as soon as possible. To avoid any doubt we will, of course, publish the story as it is if we do not hear from you.

Yours sincerely,
Nicholas Hellen

Acting News Editor
Sunday Times
What a charmer, eh? It reminds me of the hack in Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum. For the avoidance of possible confusion, the title of this post is the headline of one of his stories, which may have contained more of the truth than all those Israel-vs-Iran ones put together.

Contractors, and Journalists?

The US Uniform Code of Military Justice now applies to civilian employees, and a damn good thing too. Various people at BoingBoing wonder whether journalists might also be affected.

Curiously, P.W. Singer is quoted as saying that "the Iraq war was the first where journalists could formally embed". Really? I'm sure, completely so, that those reporters travelling as formal war correspondents accredited to the Army in World War Two, who usually wore uniform, and in most western conflicts up to the 1991 Gulf war, who were usually effectively embedded although the word had yet to be invented as a term of abuse, were subject to military law.

In fact, the press corps who travelled to the Falklands in 1982 were informed shortly before the landing that they were now subject to the Naval Discipline Act, as they were formally part of the task force. This also meant that they were entitled to campaigning medals, although even Max Hastings didn't take up the offer.

There are obvious concerns, but then, I can't see worse possible consequences than those of letting mercenaries run riot here. Censorship is an obvious possibility, but then, without this they could always just tell the press to get lost, lie to them, etc. They've got the guns.

Check out the reactions here.

Changing of the guard

Right, so there's been even more change in the US high command. Not only has Abizaid been replaced by Admiral William Fallon, and Casey by Petraeus, General Peter Schoonmaker has got the push as Army Chief of Staff, in favour of Casey. To answer some readers' questions, what the hell does it mean?

I first thought there was probably a net increase in clue across the whole reshuffle, but not enough to matter. But Casey's elevation is a shocker - it can only be explained either as a desire to reward someone who has been loyally dense, or else to kick a bungler upstairs to a desk job from where they can be quietly retired, as was done with William Westmoreland in 1969.

It's being widely suggested that Fallon, a carrier aviator, is called for to run a naval-air campaign against Iran. (His career is detailed at the PACOM site, here.) Pat Lang thinks so, as does Ignatius and Ralph Peters, and Jim Henley.

Well, Peters is insane. Check out this quote from him: "In short, the toughest side of an offensive operation against Iran would be the defensive aspects - requiring virtually every air and sea capability we could muster." You can just make out the remaining logical elements still functioning under the piles of bullshit, like one of those AT&T switches designed to run even after a nuclear strike. But those had three independent control functions, cross-checking each other's work, of which any two could decide to switch off any other if it went out of kilter.

Here, not so much. He can see the reasons why an attack on Iran would be disastrous, but although he accepts them, it doesn't break the perceptual fix. Under strain, he's become target-fixated and nothing gets through. The defensive aspects of the offensive operation, indeed!

For more Peters-related fun, Defensetech quotes him as follows: Regaining control of Baghdad - after we threw it away - will require the defiant use of force. Negotiations won't do it. Cultural awareness isn't going to turn this situation around (we need to stop pandering to our enemies and defeat them, thanks). Yes, the surge plan as cooked up over chilled thorazine at AEI requires a massive street presence in Baghdad and Petraeus in charge as the counter-insurgency expert - but that's precisely why Peters thinks he's the wrong man for the job.

Clausewitz remarked that there were four kinds of officers - the clever and hardworking, who would be excellent staff officers, the clever and lazy, who would be excellent commanders because they would think around problems and avoid loading up on detail they could leave to the first group, the stupid and lazy, who were tolerable, and the stupid and hardworking, who were a public menace. It's pretty clear which group Peters would pick from.

More seriously, there are strong arguments that putting the Navy in charge might actually signal retreat. No-one with any sense thinks the war in Iraq is going away when we go away - in fact, as I keep blogging over the last three months, it looks more and more as if other regional powers may get involved. It's urgently necessary to plan for non-disastrous exit, and that will involve keeping a deterrent capacity in the area with a minimal footprint - which really means "redeploying to ships off the coast", to borrow a Reaganism.

The following item from the New York Times, dropped but conserved by Laura Rozen, deserves close reading.
Military officers and Pentagon officials said that Admiral Fallon would represent a shift in focus for the Central Command, as he would bring expertise in maritime security operations more than land operations. As the Iraq security operation matures, the focus for Central Command is expected to shift toward countering the threat from Iran. In that capacity, the military's role focuses on maintaining regional presence through naval forces and combat aircraft and conducting maritime security operations like interdiction of vessels believed to be carrying banned weapons materials or suspected terrorists, in addition to preparing for combat contingencies.
"Maritime security operations" means stopping and checking shipping, providing escorts for merchant vessels in war zones, maintaining the freedom of the seas - that kind of stuff. I think it's fair to place the second sentence between pony tags - "as the Iraq security operation matures" sounds a lot like ponyism to me, or else a euphemism for "as we get the hell out of Iraq".

See also the Stiftung Leo Strauss on why not to care about this and why 2007 will be the Year of Hating Women for the Right. In other news, al-Maliki is asked to pony-up a matching five brigades. Guess where they come from? Kurdistan, naturally. The Kurds are currently in Baghdad in brigade strength, protecting the Iraqi government. You can be sure those won't be moved, and I don't believe the Kurds are going to move two divisions of peshmerga out of Kurdistan for anyone.

Whether any Kurdish troops are deployed depends entirely on how much the Kurdish leaders value al-Maliki (and Dawa)'s continuance in office - his value to the Kurds can be measured by the number of Shia he speaks for, and as the Americans are STILL talking about a showdown with the Sadrists, that might go minority at any moment. If the Shia split is activated, his value to the Kurds will be in the range of less than one grenadier's bones. Until then, I suspect they will make a token contribution, one battalion perhaps, which is what they found for Fallujah II. The "80 per cent solution" takes no account of political realities, which is that the 20 per cent of Kurds have no interest in it and the 60 per cent of Shia are divided three ways into to 5 per cent of Fadhila Fans in Basra, who don't want to know, 25 per cent SCIRI/Dawa and maybe 30 per cent Sadr, who are allied with the NOIA.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Privatisation in excelsis

Well. It looks like Bush has not only latched on to the AEI so-called plan for Iraq, he's been willing to fire his generals to do it (This mentioned on BBC News tonight - Eric Martin confirms it. Looks like it's a sailor at CENTCOM and Petraeus in Iraq. Could be worse). Worse, he's actually managed to add more stupid to it. Fred Kagan's document, for all its immense failings, did at least confess the necessity of sane counterinsurgency tactics, better intelligence, economic reconstruction and such. No, it seems much of the "surge" is going to the border with Iran to interdict supposed terrorist smugglers, 'cos the Iraqi nativists in the Mahdi Army and the Sunni ex-NCOs in the NOIA really like Eyeraaan. Not so much "Moltke, Moltke, geben Sie mir meine Legionen zurück!" as..well..Napoleon's crack about preventing contraband from passing to the enemy feels right, but in fact, there aren't any precedents for this. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time in world history a sovereign state has privatised its general staff.

Strange times. I wonder who next? After AEI gets its teeth punched out, that only leaves the trolls. Richard North for British Ambassador, Zombietime for Master of Sewers, Malkin as Assistant Secretary for Public Diplomacy, Coulter at State, Adam Yoshida at Defence. It's the obvious logical progression.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Rudie can't fail

OK, so the US government has formed a highly secret Iran-Syria Operations Group, staffed entirely by private contractors from BearingPoint, Inc. What could possibly go wrong?

Tagmanian Devil!

I did the Blogger 2.0 migration on Christmas Day, which means we now have the capability to offer thematic ranting. Unfortunately, the 1,393 existing posts are untagged, and posting may be a little slow as I dig through the datadump. So far the latest 100 items have been categorised.

Interpol and a Mystery Jet

Not a song-title title, and not really a jet - an Antonov-26 instead. Via, we learn that a plane hitherto thought to have been stolen has been seized in Beni, Province Orientale, DRC on the instructions of Interpol. Le Phare of Kinshasa reports that the aircraft was operated by an ex-Soviet crew led by a Russian pilot who was himself wanted by the International Police (it's not clear whether Interpol is meant or the UN Mission) - but no names. Apparently Interpol agents have been checking aircraft at strips across the eastern DRC recently, which has led to some local airlines signing insurance policies! Still, anything that reduces the penalty for what Soj used to call "Flying whilst Black" is welcome.

Le Potentiel has more detail, quoting the registration as 9Q-COR and the owner as "Belglobe Airlines" and stating that the serial number was that of an aircraft missing from the Ukraine for the past 14 years. It goes without saying that Belglobe isn't online, or possibly it doesn't exist. Neither is the registration listed anywhere.

But we have the information, via a Russian discussion forum. They identify the registration 9Q-COR as the aircraft with the manufacturer's serial number 7305809, last heard of under the registration EW-46359, but associated with something called Aviatrade Congo. The last data on this plane is from 1997 in Belarus, but lists it as "derelict" at Ishiro/Matari airfield in the DRC (and an Antonov-24 to boot).

Aviatrade Congo may have used the plane, but never acknowledged it. It does lay claim to another An-26, 9Q-CVR serial no. 7305802 - note that these are very close indeed to the other aircraft's details. We do know, however, that this plane (or one bearing the titles) exists - here's a photo taken at Pointe-Noire on the 30th of October, 2005. Fascinatingly, Aviatrade Congo is said to be the property of the Gabonese President's daughter, or else a Congolese general who is sought by the French courts.

(Hat-tip to Arnaud Labrousse, btw.)

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