Sunday, March 25, 2007

More silly metrics

Bacon Butty piles on to one of the notions I criticised here. Food miles are, if anything, less useful than embodied energy as a policy target - after all, a whacking 22 per cent of CO2 attributed to UK food transport originates from sea and air transport. Obviously, the first place to start, especially as something like 33 per cent is attributed to trucks within the UK and zero to rail transport.

It's also worth remembering that one of the reasons for the supermarket airfreight phenomenon is that the airlines found they had spare capacity on aircraft coming back from various places in Africa. As any trucker could tell you, a backload is pure profit, as the costs are covered on the outward journey. To put it another way, it's no net increase in CO2 emission unless the route would otherwise be uneconomic and - this being the airline business - politically closeable.

Final thought? Forget all the intermediate interventions, and use the tax that gets to the cause of your problem. But it's becoming a major political line of discourse that environment/energy issues are a question of consumerism, or rather, inverted consumerism. (Consider Martin Wight's typology of international relations theories - Revolutionism, Rationalism, Realism, and Inverted Revolutionism. The last was pacifism.) Stop buying stuff! Better - buy expensive stuff that shows your moral character!

But looking at the data, this is ridiculously ineffective. What works is rockwool. That, and lithium-ion batteries, wind turbines, and incremental improvements on a range of other technologies. Not flying, or not buying airfreighted (or perceivedly airfreighted) goods, will do us no good at all. So why is Diddy Dave Cameron so keen?

My chippy reckoning is that it's class. Anything involving changes to infrastructure or buildings will piss in a lot of Tory pools, from Grecian dukes discovering new laws of atmospheric chemistry to oppose wind power to nifty resellers flipping buy-to-lets in the M4 corridor, and make a lot of sparks very happy, and these things do not please Dave from PR. It's the technocracy, stupid.

It's a pity that Gordon Brown insists on taxing the poor into moral enlightenment.


I've been thogged by the Ministry. Thogged? Well, it's a meme going five bloggers who make you think, hence thinking bloggers, hence (thanks to Chris Dillow) thoggers.

I don't usually do these things, partly because obviousness is hard to avoid. But on this occasion, I'm a-thogging the following bethoggen. die Stiftung Leo Strauss, for their unique take on politics, Kevin Carson, who's crazy but in a reasonably creative fashion, the RepRap Crew who may just be changing the world, Chris Lightfoot who still makes me think, and Dan Hardie who will be a cracking thogger now he's got his blog started..

I'd also like to suggest an enhancement to thoggin'. What about the blogger who makes you want to throw up? We could call it vogging.

Just to make a living and help out the Congolese

No beheadings in this story, though. Congolese radio station aims to give a microphone to those whose voices have never been heard before. I liked this line:
The show's technicians – after getting caught in Army-militia crossfire twice – finally managed to put up antennas in the region's more remote rain forest areas. So now the signal is strong across Ituri...
There's something inescapably magical about radio - a few years earlier and it would have been indistinguishable from steampunk, or even clockpunk. The German secret agent Wilhelm Wassmuss, operating in southern Iran during the First World War, lost part of his radio gear in an ambush, but kept going, impressing the locals with the sparking transmitter and claiming to be talking directly to the Kaiser. Now, in some parts of Africa, people build towers so they can climb up and get GSM service although they are out of range at ground level, and SW Radio Africa gets round Zimbabwean government jamming of its HF signal by bulk-SMSing its listeners.

Speaking of which, what about this tale? The Zimbabwean government claimed it had obtained 3,000 Angolan paramilitary police to help it cling to power. The Angolan interior minister was quoted as agreeing. Now they deny it. I can see a few possibilities - the Zimbabweans are lying in order to frighten their people with foreign killers, it's real and they need to import thugs...or is this more like the 3,000 Spanish marines on standby for the Wonga Coup in Equatorial Guinea? Perhaps they are coming, but their mission won't be what Mugabe wants.

In the meantime, they do keep shooting down those IL-76s in Mogadishu, don't they? The lost aircraft are EW-78826/serial 1003499991 and EW-78849/serial 1013405192 of Trans Avia Export Cargo Airlines, Belarus. Which, in fact, doesn't seem to be a Viktor Bout company at all.


OK, so I'm trying to create a dropdown menu with around 40 options using the Python lib Tkinter. I've just learned that you can't just define a command - call it get - and pass in the option as a variable (i.e. def get(variable) and then, for option X, command=get(X)), which brings me the horrible prospect of defining 40 or so functions that would only be different in that they have a different string variable.

This is obviously a stupid way to do it, and one that involves a lot of mindless copying. I'm thinking either: create a list and assign a number to each option, then callback the numbers, or else: do a for..while loop that would create the 40 or so functions when the class is instantiated. I'm not sure how to catch the callback in the first, or whether you're allowed to autogenerate functions.

Thoughts? (The wanker is me, btw.)

Friday, March 23, 2007

Gordon Brown: no better

All you need to know about Gordon Brown is contained in this story in the Financial Times. Specifically, this response to criticism of his decision to fund the 2% tax cut for basic rate income tax payers by extending the basic rate downwards:
The Conservatives argue, of course, that the complex set of income tax changes will penalise single people on lower incomes. But Mr Brown’s allies recognise this – indeed they have no problem with it. In their view, this group can bear a little more of the tax burden.

As one ally puts it: “Nobody aspires to be a single person on £12,000. Everyone in this group wants to get married, have kids, get into a higher paid job. And they know from this budget if they make it, the highest brackets are not hit.”
I think I'm going to vomit. Did the guy really just suggest taxing the poor to motivate them to get less poor?

The article is also well worth reading for the view of another "ally" that the point of this is to "convince middle England". Apart from being a surefire bullshit tag, this means if anything well-off, white, south-eastern conservatives. To put it another way, the poor are being made to fork out purely to dish the oppo. A Labour government - a Labour government...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

I tell 'em sorry, I haven't got the money any more

I keep saying it. There will be no war with Iran. The Americans do not have the military resources to start one. Over at AFOE, I calculated they would need a third carrier group plus 100 land-based strike aircraft and extensive tanker, AWACS, Rivet Joint, and other supports, just for the air strikes.

Two carrier groups are on station. The Ronald Reagan group is off Hong Kong. The only other one anywhere near duty is Nimitz, which still needs to complete a three-week COMPTUEX.

What about the land forces? The US Army keeps stocks of kit in various places around the world, so that in a crisis the troops to man it can be flown in. According to the WaPo and General Pace, the stockpile in Kuwait has been sent to Iraq, and so have the stocks held aboard ships in Diego Garcia and Guam. Only the stockpile in South Korea is intact, and that ain't going nowhere. The units aren't well, either.

There will be no war with Iran.

Slow Blogging

Note that blogging is currently slow, due to a little project of mine that is taking up spare mindshare. The Guardian Column Generator should be operational by next week or thereabouts. Gah, it's hard to start programming again, but it's the satisfaction of craft.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Cyclone Blogging: Eyewitness

So, Cyclone George tore through the old haunts, killing three people on a mining railway construction camp. Could have been worse, though - it got up to 275 Km/h.. This bloke stuck it out in South Hedland, and has photos.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Somebody's been criticising my web design

OK, then, someone's been complaining about this blog's general appearance, specifically the javascript clock that Internet Explorer sufferers can see around their cursors. It's Web 2.0. Honest.

Fools. Just imagine if I had decided to ignore the user testing feedback and unleash this TYR Beta from December, 2004 on the world.

I really can't imagine how I managed to build that eye-buggering horrorshow. It really has a smell of Geocities in 1998+tinfoil hat insanity, no? Still, time to move on. This blog, frankly, is ugly.

I am the god of hellfire and I bring you squid

Sneaking through the barrio, I came on a bleakly lighted doorway, that bore the mark of the cult...


The place called itself a "Poulperia", which I took to mean it specialised in squid.

24 hour Tory party people

You can't beat them, so why don't you join in...

OK, so every blogger and their cat knows about "Guido Fawkes"'s personal history these days. Hull University in the mid-80s, Federation of Conservative Students, working for David Hart and friends - this is the bit he softpedals - and then the bit he turns up to 11, his period "organising raves around the M25".

Tim Ireland points to a history of the scene which describes his involvement. It wasn't raves he organised, but rather a political campaigning group which opposed the then Tory government's crackdown, or at least claimed to. I say "claimed to" because it strikes me as unlikely that someone on David Hart's staff would have flipped across the spectrum quite that far and so quickly.

In terms of policing history, there's no time at all between the Miners' Strike and the rave/road protest crackdown. Some would say they overlapped, if you date from the Beanfield. And he does seem to have known his way around Queen Anne's Gate rather well:
I remember being at something at the Home Office, I ended up in this blazing row [with a Home Office official]. He said 'look, I know who you are, we know all about you', became I had a Special Branch record from being in politics, working in extreme groups.
One wonders what he was doing at the Home Office. One also wonders what he was doing not long before than in Johannesburg. Nice friends you've got there, as they say.


Charlie Stross is apparently thinking of using the huge GEC Marconi/BAE cost overruns as a plot device for one of his books - the idea being that some sort of really cool (and evil) skunkworks project was being funded off the books through the vast sums of money wasted on NimWACS, Astute, Eurofighter, Nimrod MRA4, Bowman and the rest.

As a fan of British tech nostalgia, I think it's a cracking idea. I mean, who wouldn't want to imagine that at least some of all that money was actually used for something. After all, the Alan Clark diaries show that he was musing about how to get a satellite-launch capability back, and he got to be Minister for Defence Procurement. No wonder it was a disaster area.

Actually, the Clark diaries show he wasn't all that thick - at one point in the mid-80s, he quotes himself suggesting that the criteria for procuring a new weapon should be "how good it is at defending the Bahrain causeway, and how quickly it can get there". Now, diaries are notoriously better than Hansard at cleaning up one's own thought processes, but that's genuinely nonstupid. Not quite as good as the Rupert Smith criteria ("all equipment should be in one of the three standard sizes - a standard door frame whilst on a soldier's back, the back of a Land Rover, and a 40ft container in a C-130"), but close.

Now, the late 80s was the period when BAe and Rolls were pushing the HOTOL project, which as everyone knows, was scuppered when Thatcher killed the funding. (Enter alternate history here.) Remember, too, that the Challenger accident kiboshed a plan to use the shuttle, with several RAF personnel aboard, to loft a couple of MOD Skynet comsats. (Enter conspiracy theory here.)

Speaking of Skynet, Hawker-Siddeley BAe Space EADS -Astrium Stevenage's finest is waiting on the pad today at Kourou for the French rocket scientists to sort out their Ariane 5-ECA, which is having one of its bad days...

Too funny that the MOD's supersecure satellite network is a PFI job.

OK, then, Charlie - just substitute in the rest between the tags provided, with something like this. Why is it I find code easier to read if it's described in German, anyway?

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Old haunts flattened? (Cyclone George)

Looks like Port Hedland, Western Australia, is about to get hit head-on by a major cyclone, and Marble Bar just afterwards..this blogger has the last dispatch.
Media: Transmitters serving the area between Dampier and Sandfire Roadhouse are
requested to sound the Standard Emergency Warning Signal before broadcasting the
following warning.


Issued at 9:05 pm WDT on Thursday, 8 March 2007

A CYCLONE WARNING for a SEVERE CATEGORY 4 cyclone is now current for coastal
areas from Dampier to Sandfire Roadhouse and inland to Tom Price, Newman,
Paraburdoo, Marble Bar and Nullagine.

At 9:00 pm WDT Severe Tropical Cyclone George was estimated to be
70 kilometres northeast of Port Hedland and
55 kilometres west northwest of Pardoo
and moving south at 20 kilometres per hour.

Severe Tropical Cyclone George is approaching the coast near Port Hedland. On the current movement the cyclone is likely to cross the coast between Port Hedland and Pardoo within the next few hours. Recent observations at Bedout Island indicate gusts to 275 kilometres per hour are occurring near the centre of the cyclone.

VERY DESTRUCTIVE winds with gusts to 275 kilometres per hour [170 mph] will be experienced close to the cyclone centre as the system crosses the coast.

DESTRUCTIVE winds with gusts to 170 kilometres per hour [105 mph] have developed on the central Pilbara coast between Port Hedland and Pardoo, and will extend inland with the cyclone centre.

GALES with wind gusts to 120 kilometres per hour are expected through the remaining parts of the warning area overnight and tomorrow.

WIDESPREAD HEAVY RAIN and FLOODING are likely across the Pilbara, with falls in
excess of 200 millimetres possible close to the cyclone track.

DANGEROUSLY HIGH TIDES could cause EXTENSIVE FLOODING at the coast between
Sandfire Roadhouse and Whim Creek.

Residents on the coast between Sandfire Roadhouse and Whim Creek including Port Hedland, are specifically warned of the potential of a VERY DANGEROUS STORM TIDE as the cyclone crosses the coast. On the current track Port Hedland is specifically under threat. Tides are likely to rise significantly above the normal high tide mark with very dangerous flooding and damaging waves.

Details of Severe Tropical Cyclone George at 9:05 pm WDT.

Location of centre : within 35 kilometres of
latitude 19.9 south longitude 119.1 east
Recent movement : south at 20 kilometres per hour
Central Pressure : 910 hectopascals
Maximum wind gusts : 275 kilometres per hour near the centre.
Severity category : 4

FESA-State Emergency Service advises of the following alerts.
RED ALERT: People in or near coastal communities of Port Hedland, Whim Creek, Pardoo, Marble Bar and Nullagine should move to shelter.
YELLOW ALERT: People in or near coastal communities between Sandfire Roadhouse and Dampier including Roebourne, Wickham, Karratha, Point Samson, Dampier and in or near the inland communities of Tom Price, Pannawonica and Paraburdoo should be taking action in readiness for the cyclone's impact.
Hell fire. I worked near the Bar, Corunna Downs station, in the autumn of 1998 - now doesn't that feel like a long time ago? - and I remember a few cyclone alerts that didn't materialise.

But this one is going all the way to Baghdad. C-Downs is about 40 km East of the central track, the Bar a bit closer, but certainly close enough. Port Hedland is going to get hit like a hammer, though: here's the view from the weather radar there. TCWC Perth tracker is here.

God, there's a place with some evil pubs, right on the dockside where the 300,000 ton ore carriers growl by. Tonight, that's *not* the place to be. After all, seas within 20 miles of the eyes are officially phenomenal. Ah, that's the spirit all right.

Blogs: here, and here, and there's always 'Rati. I hope everyone's all right.

Update: It's ashore, 25 kms east of Hedland, Cat-4. Latest bulletin says it's going to pass "close" to the Bar at Cat-3 or Cat-4. Scienceblogs's Chris Mooney blogs.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Chris Lightfoot

Our regular reader, MySociety prime mover, pythonmeister, sysadmin, hammer of government mainframe psychosis, Chris "Chris" Lightfoot has died, at a terribly young age.

I never met him, but I saw and used enough of his projects, and shared enough blog, to respect his good sense, campaigning venom, and technical chops greatly. In fact, Chris was a prime example for the development of this blog for the last two years, and an example that led me to start regaining lost skills.

The last communication I had with him was on the subject of a campaign against John Reid. I'm not sure whether I should be concerned that this morning I had a moment of dread at the thought of removing the blog from my RSS reader - as if, perhaps, there might be some good news if I left it there. Grief, like all other emotions, will infect all new communications media - I don't think William Gibson thought of that, or if he did he didn't write it. It's not as commercial as saying that sex will infect all new media like a virus.

Chris Lightfoot. Presente!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

You didn't stand by me - no, not at all

There's been a lot of fisking on this blog lately. More than I am happy about - I try to get back to something more positive and discursive, but then, someone comes along and pisses in my pool. Usually a government minister. This trend keeps up.

Paul Farrelly MP, Labour member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, recently brought in a private member's bill to extend employment rights to people working for employment/recruitment agencies. Now, this is where I have my say.

These organisations have a strong case to be the worst legal employers in Britain today. I worked agency jobs for years, and as a rule, they were atrociously poorly paid, manipulative, unsafe, and humiliating. Agency staff are always desperate to demonstrate power. The second best advice you can have about agencies is always take the first job, because otherwise they won't call you again. They will always assign you the worst first, to see if you'll do it. The best advice, by the way, is to have no business with them whatsoever.

I recall the furniture factory in a half-abandoned mill in Airedale, where the agency staff were easily identifiable. We were the ones without the dust masks. I remember the Royal Mail distribution centre in Guildford where, somehow, the agency staff's breaks never coincided with the canteen opening times, so no food for you! Perhaps the fact most of us were black had something to do with it. The people who were actual Royal Mail employees, all good CWU men, no doubt, were paid much more, worked shorter hours and less anti-social hours, and had subsidised hot meals. Us, well, not so much. The minibus that took us there was driven by a man who, on Friday nights, regularly talked to himself zooming up the M25. I'm pretty sure a lot of my colleagues were illegal immigrants, and I know for a fact that the agency regularly "got their wages wrong" - always in their own favour, of course - because the few of us who were native English speakers had to do their arguing for them.

Working for that particular firm can't have been any more fun, though better paid - several of its own executives used to buy drugs from the Somalis, to keep up with their commission targets. I remember being sacked from a call-centre job for hanging my jacket on the back of my chair, at instant notice. ("We're intitled to an hour's notice!") What sticks in my mind isn't so much the pay as the total absence of dignity.

So, I think Employment Relations Minister Jim Fitzpatrick ought to be...severely criticised, and voted out or deselected by his CLP as soon as possible. I'm occasionally tempted to advocate violence, but this kind of thing rarely does you any good. And compared to Yahya Jammeh, he's a pussycat.

But let's be clear. What the fuck is a Labour minister doing talking out a bill intended to offer greater job security to the poorest workers in the country? Did they vote on it, and lose? Did they refuse to schedule it? No. Fitzpatrick stood up and drivelled away until the available time for debate ran out. He wasn't even willing to debate it.

Damn, I remember David Ames reading out the Basildon telephone directory in order to kill the Disability Rights bill. Jim Fitzpatrick is an anti-democratic, anti-socialist thug. In fact, he makes old Yellow Pages Ames (after all, he was yellow, going on the chicken run after his tenure of Basildon looked iffy) look like a granite slab of integrity.

Bad British History

Another in our occasional series of comments that ought to be posts: Rob Farley discusses a Max Boot article in which Boot accuses Britain and Canada of "unilaterally disarming" on the grounds that Canada had the world's third largest navy in 1945. Farley, of course, gives Boot short shrift, but does point out that armies have got smaller throughout the world.

Only one problem, though, and that's that the example is bad. The British Army of 1930 was barely bigger than it is today. In fact, the British Army has almost always been the size it is now, excluding the world wars and the national service period. In 1930, for example, there were only two divisional headquarters. There are only two deployable division HQs now, and two more reserve formations.

In 1930, the forces deployed around the world by the British Empire were not large at all. Certainly, there were more than the current deployment, but not that many more. It was frequently observed, throughout the long 19th century, that the British empire got by with fewer soldiers than, say, Serbia.

For one thing, the empire depended quite heavily on locally recruited units, many of which were funded from local taxation. The Indian Army, for example, wasn't subsidised from London until its mechanisation in the mid-1930s. In a sense, British India was almost an independent state - at least, it often had its own foreign policy. Although one-third of the Indian Army's manpower was British, those officers and men were paid from the Indian budget.

The "white dominions" - Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa - all had their own armed forces, although British politicians regularly moaned that they didn't spend enough on defence, over-relied on the Royal Navy, which was purely UK-funded, and were essentially free-riders. There are TYR points for anyone who notices the parallel with the US/European NATO arguments during the cold war.

Now, the Indian Army was a major security exporter, as it offered a pool of troops that were free, at least from London's point of view (the view from New Delhi was of course different). Hence, Indian troops were occasionally deployed anywhere in a space defined by Malta, Cape Town, Tientsin, and New Zealand.

Another important factor was that the British Army's infantry battalions stationed in the empire were effectively on barracks duty. Each of the regiments would have one of its battalions stationed in the UK and one overseas at any given moment, and they swapped every fourteen (!) years. The cost of maintaining a battalion abroad was significantly less than in the UK simply because of the price differential.

Now, everything in this picture transforms when you get to the big wars, when the Army erupts in size and concentrates in theatres of war. British units are combed out of the Indian army, as in 1914, or else Indian formations are deployed next to British ones, as in 1915 or 1941. And the dominions mobilise hugely, like the Cannucks building the world's third biggest navy.

There are currently about 10,000 British soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the respective cost of supporting them is much higher, even if you discount technological change, because both of these deployments are expeditionary ones far from any of the army's infrastructure.

In 1914, as the British army mobilised, a complex succession of shipping movements began around the world combing out the regular battalions on their 14-year deployments and rotating newly-mobilised territorials in to backfill them, not to mention Indian units out of India, and to pick up the first convoys of Australian, South African, and Canadian volunteers, as well as (later) the 1st Indian corps. But the killer detail here is that the regulars brought home made up first the 7th Division in time to get slaughtered at First Ypres, and then the 29th Division, the last of the regulars, in time for Gallipoli. That was it - two divisions, 14,000 men. Which isn't far off the current deployed total.

The argument from the Royal Canadian Navy is also rather poor. The Canadians achieved something incredible in going from essentially no navy to the third largest, but what Boot doesn't tell you is that this was a navy razor-specialised on one task, North Atlantic convoy escort. Just counting ships doesn't tell you that these were almost all corvettes and other ASW types, that and small escort carriers.

bunker mentality

Whilst we're on the subject of spooks, by the way, this tale on Slugger O'Toole is completely ridiculous, for reasons fully explained in a comment I left there.

Simply, the Government has plenty of places to go underground right huurr in the South-East, without needing to go to Northern Ireland (seriously! the only part of the British Isles where you can be certain there really are terrorists!). The RAF and various other agencies still use large chunks of the Corsham bunker under Box Hill, and there are also the various bunkers along the A40 - PJHQ/CINCFLEET at Northwood, and RAF Strike Command at High Wycombe.

I really have to stop this Dsquared-esque habit of posting comments that really ought to be posts on either TYR or AFOE.

Deep rumblings in the deep state

The plan to break up the Home Office and let John Reid keep the macho bits is permitting us a rare glimpse of the core executive in action. Consider this story in teh Grauniad. First of all, note the close symbiosis of the Cabinet Office and the intelligence services - historically, the Cabinet Secretariat evolved at much the same time as the Committee of Imperial Defence and MI5, under the hand of Sir Maurice Hankey, so this is no surprise. But it's nice to have examples.

For example, Reid, or rather the Home Office top bureaucracy, claims to have won a power-struggle to get control of the Cabinet Office's emergency planning/crisis management machinery. This is interesting in itself, as traditionally, war planning and civil defence grew out of the MOD and the Cabinet Office intelligence-administrative complex, not the police-judicial Home Office. Note, though, that the organisation responsible for the revived civil defence effort is the Intelligence and Resilience Unit - the two are joined at the hip.

Even though this outfit and its head, Sir Richard "We're fucked - you're fucked, I'm fucked, the whole department's fucked" Mottram, are moving into the Home Office, this link is going to be maintained. Mottram will remain as chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, very much rooted in the CabSec/intel world, and as the Cabinet Office Intelligence and Security Coordinator. That's not so much double-hatted as triple-hatted.

It's also a significant power grab by the Home Office, as they would now own part of the central intelligence analysis and policy machinery as well as MI5 and NCIS, and a share of Mottram's responsibility for funding the intelligence services. Traditionally, the Cabinet Office control of the analysis-policy centre, with the division of responsibility for intelligence between the Home and Foreign Offices, has provided a balance of power between them and a useful division between intelligence collection and policy advice.

Hence the reaction of the Foreign Office to suggestions that SIS and GCHQ might come under Reid's aegis as a single lead for intelligence. There is no way they will let that happen without a vicious struggle.

On the other hand, the CabSec probably thinks they've defanged the Home Office by wiring their man into it, and it's also a classic civil service move to square the circle by having the Foreign Office spooks still report to the JIC and IS Coordinator, rather than to a new Home Office-run intelligence centre...but making the JIC Chair/IS Coordinator's staff join the Home Office. Of course, the Foreign Office is probably thinking that, like any personal union, it can only last while Mottram's in charge.

This amused me, though:
The shakeup will leave the new "core" Home Office responsible for policing, serious and organised crime, counter-terrorism strategy, MI5, immigration and nationality, passports, drugs and antisocial behaviour.
The Ministry for Counter-Terrorism, Internal Espionage, Organised Crime, Border Control, and Unauthorised Football in Public Parks, then.

Feel the steel balls

OK, so we the first to highlight the fact the military is none too certain about the EFPs-from-Iran meme. Then we were the first to draw attention to how trivially easy they are to make, and how widely available the materials and information required are.

Since then, the US Army has actually shown off what it claims to be evidence - you can read the NYT story which also mentions the fact a lot of the stuff on show originated in, ahem, Dubai. I wonder how it got there? In the back of a big aeroplane, whether with malice aforethought, or just because all the stuff required is available in commerce - it's not as if ball bearings, plastic pipes, or sheet copper are materials of war subject to strict control, and even the explosive isn't that hard to source - and that's assuming you didn't just get it from an old depot like the one at Al-Qaaqaa.

Anyway, since then, they have discovered machine shops in Iraq churning out the copper stampings - a considerably more sophisticated method than the one I suggested. After all, I was thinking of cutting out the copper with snips and beating it to shape against the bottom of a gas canister, using a rubber mallet. No wonder British manufacturing industry is in the shape it's in - one day I'll tell you about the job I had bending metal rods for supermarket displays into shape against a working drawing by hand.

Now, the fallback argument is that the triggering devices are, as they say, the smoking gun. So where do they come from, then? According to an article by James Glanz of the NYT, in which a degree of scepticism is displayed that might have come in handy back in 2003, the US Army says they are from Radio Shack - yup, the American chain of hobbyist electronics stores known in the UK as Tandy, and two other well-known brands.

And this, apparently, is evidence that they really come from Iran! The logic here is impressively weird. According to Major Marty Weber, described as a senior EOD officer, all the IEDs in Iraq he's examined that use passive IR triggers contain IR components from Radio Shack or two other firms. He claims that none of the southern Lebanese ones use Radio Shack components. Therefore, the Sadrists (since when do they use IEDs?) can't be getting them from Hezbollah, and therefore they must come from Iran! Now, the Americans officially believe that Hezbollah is an arm of the Iranian secret service. So this is quite literally insane reasoning. We are being asked to believe that because the electronics in the Iraqi IEDs comes from a different source than supposedly Iranian-supplied ones in Lebanon, therefore, the Iraqi ones must be supplied by Iran.

Weber also claims that the only places in the world where EFP, passive-IR triggered IEDs are used are south Lebanon and Iraq. This is simply wrong, and if he read this blog, he'd know that he could add Northern Ireland and Germany to that list.

You can see the photos here. I particularly like the packet of ball bearings marked "Feel the Performance! Feel the Power! Feel the Steel Balls!"

In fact, the title should be "Feel the Indian steel balls!". I've just taken the time to have a peer at the photo in Adobe Photoshop from a couple of angles and enlargements, and I'm pretty sure they come from Jindal Fine Industries, an Indian bicycle parts manufacturer.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Dominic Lawson: Intellectually Dishonest

One good thing about blogs is that it is difficult to get away with the standard techniques of dishonest debate. Resort to straw-man arguments, and you almost always collect a bucket of shit in short order. In national newspapers' opinion pages, not so much.

Dominic Lawson, Sunday Torygraph editor, wants the world to know he's seen a film called "The Great Global Warming Swindle" by one of the ex-Revolutionary Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist)/Living Marxism guys. So he puts it in his column in Friday's Indy. Amusingly, he commits a serious breach of etiquette by actually mentioning that the director is an ex-RCP man - they usually don't like to mention it.

He then proceeds to lie:
The same sort of argument, in fact, which caused countless millions of Africa children to die of malaria unnecessarily because the Green lobby successfully blocked the use of DDT.
This is simply factually incorrect. There is no ban on DDT for disease prevention. There is a specific clause in the Stockholm Convention that exempts DDT for malaria control from the international control. Mosquitoes began to be resistant to DDT in 1969, so its utility is limited to say the least. But if you do think it will work, you can buy the stuff at this link, like the governments of Madagascar, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, South Africa, Namibia, the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Algeria, Thailand, and Myanmar.

Anyway, he describes the film as follows:
We are taken to those vast tracts of Africa where there is no electricity, and see families huddled round a fire in their mud hut. Then we are told that "five million children under five die every year as a result of respiratory diseases from indoor smoke". Remember that, the next time you read about the ecological purity of heating derived from "biomass".
Hark! Wood pellets in a CHP scheme will fill your house with poisonous black smoke! And dead babies! Dead black babies! This is argumentation of a standard that shouldn't get out of primary school. A thought experiment - let me light a wood fire under a chimney, and Lawson light a gas or oil one without, and which one of us will die of carbon-monoxide poisoning first?

It's the chimney, stupid - it could be a new political slogan, no? In fact, there are NGOs running around Africa building chimneys and installing stoves, not to mention biogas digesters, specifically to address what passes for a point here. No word on them from Lawson, of course.

Next, we are taken to some godforsaken health center in the Kenyan hinterland, struggling to get by with electricity from a dilapidated but undeniably politically correct solar panel. It just about manages to keep alive the fridge with the medicine inside. Despite such scenes, Durkin's latest effort is not a manipulative tear-jerker..
Clearly. I can just imagine the place - next to one of the mighty 400KV transmission lines of Kenya's hyper-efficient national supergrid backbone, but denied electricity. Well, not really. There's a fridge there working, but it's not proper, macho electricity - it's politically correct, solar electricity. Gay electricity, to coin a phrase. And why? All because of evil green lobbyists, intimidating those poor naked babes such as BP, Shell, the Daily Telegraph, the Conservative Party...

The problem with this line of argument is blindingly obvious. We are in those vast tracts of Africa where there is no electricity, are we not? There isn't any electricity, Dom. It's not Surrey. Yes, you could use a diesel generator, but then, your godforsaken health centre has to buy diesel, and not have it stolen by men with AK47s and a Landcruiser with no diesel. And even if there was a transmission line out there, Kenya would have to find the foreign exchange to import the coal, gas, or oil - or uranium - to drive it.

So far, we've got a strawman and two direct lies in three paragraphs.

People whose business actually is the development of Africa don't have these problems. At companies like Safaricom, MTN-Investcom, and Celtel, they are very, very keen on driving their mobile phone base stations with wind and solar power, for the reasons in the last paragraph. And they are profitable, so according to Lawson's professed beliefs, he ought to revise his views.

Perhaps the fact he gets his views from people who either a) underwent an unprecedented mass conversion in 1991 to extreme right-libertarianism but still find it necessary to defend Radovan Karazdic, b) discovered in 1991 that advocating ideas powerful people like is good for business, or c) still believe in the revolution and think that making everything worse will heighten the contradictions and force everyone to listen to them, ought to have a similar effect, too.

Finally, he leaps for a straw. There is a scientist, name of Svensmark, in Denmark, who believes that fluctuations in cosmic rays cause changes in cloud formation. He has some experimental evidence for this. He theorises that this may explain part of observed global warming. He is, of course, now the toast of the bitter-end deniers (whether he wants this honour is doubtful). Lawson, of course, buys in.

There is a problem, though, or rather several. For a start, nobody knows whether more clouds at high altitude reflect heat outwards or hold it in, on balance. So it could actually make things worse.

And for a second, it's not really very helpful. If you pay money into a bank account, at a rate that fluctuates randomly around a central value, and take a constant amount out a month, the balance will fluctuate trendlessly with the income. If you, or someone else, decides to start adding a sum of money every month, it will still fluctuate with the random variations, but the balance will start to show a steady rising trend. Now, if it pays a high rate of interest, the system will exhibit positive feedback, and the balance will rise by an accelerating rate.

Whatever random inputs into the climate system are discovered, so long as the laws of physics and chemistry do not change, the same principles will apply. In the short run, if Svensmark is right, we are adding heat to a system which is trending warmer anyway. That does not sound like reassurance to me. Even if he was right and the effect is the reverse in the short run, what happens when it flips, as a randomly cycling effect will by definition do?

But what does reassure me is that the class base of conservatism has changed its mind. GE, Volvo Trucks, Siemens, Rolls-Royce, Alstom..even the Chinese are building 5MW wind turbines. As Ryszard Kapuscinski wrote about the end of the Mengistu regime, after the army went home, only the academics were left, and they were rounded up without difficulty. The merchants have made up their minds, and only the bullshitters are left.

Update: Looks like the Svensmark/Calder theory has already met the tattoed fist of empirical refutation.

Another update: An anti-wind power lobby group has picked up on this post! I'm honoured, dammit! links this post next to the suggestion that "greens" are behind the dodgy fuel reported at supermarkets in the south-east. Aaaah, they're so prone, aren't they? According to the actual chemical analyses, it's silicone lube in the fuel that's the problem..and no-one thinks that's a biofuel.

Yet another update: From conservaworld, one "J.F. Beck" checks in. No doubt this comment will be memory-holed in short order, so it's preserved here: So Lawson is right to argue that any use of biofuels is going to make your kids die from indoor smoke?

Smoke is indoor because of a lack of chimneys. Lawson would die if he lit a fossil-fuelled heater without adequate ventilation, as happens to poor people in the UK quite frequently.

It's a dishonest, strawman argument and a rather sick one at that.

Further, do you dispute the terms of the Stockholm convention? Do you know better than the authoritative text of the convention? Can you kindly provide your version?

Friday, March 02, 2007

TYR Exclusive: Interview with Paddy McKay

Long-time readers of our series on Viktor Bout may remember the Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor's report which implicated various people in Sierra Leone in terrorist financing. We've been interested for a long time in West Africa, and the links between Charles Taylor's regime and Al-Qa'ida, not to mention the missing 727 case. One of the men the Jamestown report named, Paddy McKay, was involved with airline businesses in Sierra Leone and across the Middle East.

Mr. McKay recently got in touch. He denies the allegations, and asserts that they were motivated by corruption. The full text follows:
1. What, in your view, motivated the original Freetown Peep story?
approach was made to the DCA in Freetown to register an aircraft that
was not (in our carefully considered opinion)airworthy. Understandablythe request forregistration was denied. The disgruntled individual
invented a story connecting these officials and my organisation to
terrorist groups and released it to the press and to the police in
Freetown which resulted in a number of Sierra Leone officials being arrested and triggered an avalanche of completely misleading information to be published on sites like yours.

2. Do you think illegal activity is going on within the Sierra Leone 9L- registry?

Certainly the SL DCA would not tolerate misuse of their
civil aircraft register. However, many registers are misused without
the knowledge of the those tasked with the administration of such

3. There has been extensive reporting of links between Middle Eastern terrorist groups and some West African diamond-producing states. Specifically, the Al-Qa'ida representative Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani is known to have met Charles Taylor several times during 1999. In the past, similar suggestions have been made about other groups, including Shia Amal in Lebanon. In your opinion, is this credible?

Charles Taylor is known to have formed a number of questionable alliances.
Other than that, I am not qualified to comment.

4. What is your relationship with Tim Spicer, Anthony Buckingham, and their various enterprises?

There is currently no connection between me
and Tim Spicer or between me and Tony Buckingham.

5. Did it continue beyond the Sierra Leonean operations of the 1990s? NO

6. Does it still exist?


7. How, in your opinion, did Air Leone lose its Sierra Leone AOC?

Air Leone Ltd was sold to a Saudi businessman whose intention it was, to
form a Haaj Airline. For reasons unknown he did not pursue his
original plan and simply allowed the AOC to lapse. (Supporting
documentation on file)

8. Does HA Air, Star Air, or Fast Aerospace have business in Iraq?

The company HA Airlines was formed but as far as I am aware no AOC was
issued due to a dispute between partners/shareholders. Following the
dispute one of the partners/shareholders formed his own airline, Star
Air and this continued until their AOC was suspended by SL DCA. Fast
Aerospace Ltd is the parent company of IAS which is appointed by
cabinet to assist SL DCA with the provision of technical expertise
when such expertise cannot be found from within Sierra Leone. IAS was
instrumental in the suspension of Star Air's AOC. (supporting
documentation on file)

9. Do any of those companies provide service to private military entities there?


10. How did HA lose its Jordanian AOC?

HA Air did not at any time hold a Jordanian AOC

11. Star Air bought an L1011 from "CBJ Cargo". Does this company have a relationship with Chris Barrett-Jolly?

This is inaccurate! Star Air did not (during their time on the SL register) purchase a cargo L1011. They did however lease in a cargo L1011 from a respectable L1011 leasing company. There is no connection between this company and Christopher Barrett Jolly. The other aircraft on the Star Air fleet were ex BWIA. (supporting documentation on file)

12. Are you aware of one Imad Saba, proprietor of multiple air operations in the UAE?

I have heard of him, I have never met him nor have I done business with him.

13. Who owned the BAC-111 3C-QRF, serial no. 061? It has been identified as belonging to San Air General Trading, a company on the UN asset blacklist.

I don't know

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