Sunday, September 30, 2007

If it looks right...

If it looks right, it probably is right, as they say. So LockMart is looking into a seaplane design...but how did they come up with this?

Surely that's too ugly to fly? (hat tip: Aviation Week.)

Windows Vista is Buggy

OK, so I've got a WinVista laptop - and it's dire, at least the OS is. As well as lots of annoying crapware features well described here, it's also got some really annoying bugs. For example, I quite regularly encounter an error condition in which the WLAN client goes out of kilter, failing to complete DHCP registration and get a routable IP address. Then, after some cursing, it fails to detect the network at all. The best idea I can think is to shut down the Intel wireless LAN client and start it up again; but when I try to disable it through Windows Device Manager, the Management Console application hangs, using 80-90 per cent of CPU (how? this thing has 2x1.8GHz processors! its thrashing is so awful that it's pulling 2.88GHz of processing power!). It has to be killed through the task manager, and the computer rebooted; but the shutdown process then hangs for ages, too.

I've got a copy of Mandriva Métisse Linux on the D: drive; dare I install it? All that holds me back is concern regarding the drive partitioning process - I have two Windows drives, both actually partitions of equal size on a 120GB hard disk. I'd quite like to install the Linux build in D: and dual-boot, but I'm not at all sure how to map the Windows and Unix file systems - I understand that the two are very different, but not how to get around this.

Yours, Very Sincerely Indeed

I recently read about a Zimbabwean refugee who was sent a letter by the Home Office, which stated that his presence in the UK was "not essential for him to enjoy family ties with his new partner and her family". The letter went on to demand that he leave "without delay" and that this might be "enforced". Well, it wouldn't; the courts having ruled that Zimbabwe is too dangerous to send people back to, their hands are tied.

Somehow, though, the government continues to contend that although the legal test of refugee status is "a well-founded fear of persecution", the fact that asylum-seekers cannot be returned to Zimbabwe for fear they might die does not imply that their fear of this fate is well-founded. This pernicious fuckery just keeps going; it is one of the most repellent features of the post-Michael Howard Home Office that it has so little respect for legality. An unfavourable judgment is not a fact that should alter behaviour, but an unreasonable caprice to be reversed by superior power as soon as possible.

Therefore, it is still worth menacing "Thomas" in the hope he might bugger off; and if he was to do so, and later die in some unpleasantly public fashion in Zimbabwe, the government would bear no responsibility for it. (Even if they paid for his ticket.)

But what was the official who signed this document thinking when they signed their name to the statement that his presence was "not essential to enjoy family ties with his new partner and her children"? What on earth does this mean? Are we to believe that he could pop around at the weekend? Perhaps videoconferencing might be a solution, if he can find a computer and an operational Internet connection whilst keeping away from the Central Intelligence Organisation and not starving to death?

Clearly, this sentence should read something along the lines of "We are aware of your family, and we are indifferent to them," or perhaps just "We don't care." But this would make it a far harder document to sign; it's traditional to cite Orwell's Politics and the English Language at this point. I prefer Vaclav Havel's parable about the baker, who every year put a sign in his window on Revolution Day that read: Workers of the world, unite! Havel asked if he was actually enthused at all about the idea of unity among the workers of the world - of course not. He did it because the Party wanted him to.

But, Havel wrote, had the Party demanded that he put the sign's actual meaning there - a sign that said I am afraid, and therefore obedient - he would have been far less indifferent to its content. If we were to rewrite the letter, we might frame it like this:
Dear Sir,
We want you to go back to Zimbabwe because we think you are a liar. Unfortunately, the courts do not agree with us and will not permit us to force you, but this makes no difference to our opinion. We are aware of your family, but we do not care.

If I don't sign this they'll sack me.


Civil Servant X.
I agree that the tone is harsh, but it could hardly be more distressing for the recipient than the original. I'm not sure what the correct formula of politeness is. (Yours faithfully? Surely not. With kind regards? Nuh. Yours sincerely? That's more like it, I suppose - this version is nothing if not sincere.) But at least, it is clear to the writer what is meant; it would be considerably harder to sign this without examining your conscience, and you could not sign very many without altering your opinion of yourself.

That such a programme of ruthless honesty, and specifically honesty with self, would be a good first step is a cliché. But sometimes, I doubt it. Consider this column in the FT, by ex-Sunday Torygraph editor Sarah Sands.
So, my Polish builder first worked on my house only a year ago. Seven days a week, 14 hours a day with his crack team. Barely spoke a word in English. Refused tea or coffee, just smoked and consumed Coca-Cola and chocolate biscuits. I was so swelled up with pride at my good fortune that, last December, I recommended him to a liberally inclined film director. I waited for grateful e-mails but none came. I grew a little uneasy.

Then a few months ago, I commissioned my Pole to do a bathroom. He returned without his team. Where were they? He was a little vague; they had disbanded/gone back to Poland/were busy elsewhere, but I should not worry about that.

I didn’t, until it became clear that he was arriving at 10 and knocking off at five. The driven gang was gone. Now he had a baby-faced apprentice who spilt his fizzy drinks on the carpets and broke the window. Every couple of hours they would down amateurish tools for a break. Finally my tight-lipped resentment spilt over.

“What on earth has happened to you?” I cried. “Why don’t you work any more?”
Well, you cannot accuse her of not being conscious of the literal meaning of her words. You could accuse her of class prejudice, exploitation, snobbery, and just being fucking gratuitiously unpleasant because she can, like a dog licking his balls. But you cannot imagine that she was not fully aware of her own meaning, and so, responsible for it.

It's also hypocritical; by her own lights, why didn't she put in more time at the Torygraph? Maybe she would still be there - and then, I could more thoroughly avoid the risk of reading her thoughts. Anyway, if you doubt that this little tale is serious, you might read this, published the same day.
Listening to all these experiences, it was as if all the Factory Acts and health and safety regulations had suddenly disappeared in a puff of smoke, along with 150 years of trade union gains. None of this protection existed in the minds of these workers. The government will point to an avalanche of legislation, but the devil is in the detail.
I refer the honourable gentleman to this post, this one, and this one.

The Rays, again

Guess what? This study isn't in today's Independent.

Blogging Rugby League: Hull 18 Wigan 21

It's been bloody difficult to see anything of this year's championship play-offs; apparently there's some sort of rugby union event going on. But I did manage to see Hull and Wigan last night. Which posed a problem - which of them do I hate more?

I still get abusive comments on this post from time to time; but then there's this, too. It's a pity I'm committed to despising Hull, really - it's quite a club, after all.

Anyway, last night's game rocked the Pennines; it was incredibly close, and extremely loud in a way you hardly ever hear outside RL and (sometimes) football. There was some brilliant rugby, too - Gareth Raynor's first try, for example. Chasing a grubber kick to the flag, he stole up on Leuluai, who was hoping to shield the ball off the park, and managed to touch down reaching around his legs; a pickpocket's try. Wigan got ahead and ended up hanging on for the last 10 minutes in a succession of frantic drives.

It struck me that sport (as well as a lot of other human activities) is a way of manipulating time; the mark of a really good match, spectating or playing, is that at first time hurtles past (what, half-time already?) and then slows to a tension-ridden crawl. There is some science to this; it's been suggested that the brain has a variable clock speed, increasing the rate at which it samples reality at moments of crisis and therefore giving the sensation of time passing very slowly.

Something similar occurs with Rugby League; the game's administrators see their thought processes slow to a crawl at moments of crisis, so suddenly it's 2007 and we haven't had a World Cup for seven years. The difference is that everyone else experiences the intervening period passing incredibly slowly. This is really getting embarrassing; if you remember how good the Tongan, PNG, and Western Samoans were in 1995, and how good the corresponding rah-rah sides have been this year, it's a disaster that they have had no meaningful international rugby since 2000.

2007: the subversion begins

Strange signs and wonders are visible in the sky. Catalans Dragons beat Wigan. And Felix Salmon becomes an autogestionniste, in the auto industry to boot.
Now the VEBA, according to the WSJ, is a union-run trust – which means that the UAW now controls more than enough money to buy GM.

Of course, the VEBA is designed to pay healthcare costs, not to run a car company. So what it should probably be doing is trying to place its investments with money managers mandated to beat some kind of healthcare-cost benchmark. And the obvious way to do that would be to invest in hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, health insurers and the like – rather than in the declining US auto sector.

On the other hand, there are obvious advantages to the union owning the company – it would be very unlikely to go on strike, for starters. And there wouldn't be a conflict between shareholders wanting to maximize dividends and workers wanting to maximize earnings.
It's like Chris Dillow took over his brain! (There might be an interesting product coming up, too.)

Walter Reuther, the legendary UAW president, famously had the solution back in the 40s when the healthcare benefits were originally agreed - he thought the automakers should back a universal healthcare scheme in return for the union letting them off the hook, which anyone who isn't completely bug-fuck crazy now sees would have been very wise indeed. But they were willing to sign a blank cheque on their own money rather than admit the principle.

Update: Well, well, well...

Another Brilliant Scheme

I have no idea why "libertarians" would support this idea at all; especially not Jim Henley, who ought to know better. Briefly, "Direct Instruction" suggests that teachers should be given prepared scripts to use in class and instructed to follow them exactly, with classes streamed by ability and repeating courses until passed.

First of all, this is of course wildly managerialist and authoritarian; who precisely gets to decide what goes in the script? What happens to local, democratic accountability? The examples given refer to big school systems (>20 kilostudents), which implies that the sort of parish-meeting board of governors folk like Henley romanticise would maybe have some influence over paperclips.

And, of course, the entire history of brilliant centralising education schemes shows that brilliant centralising education schemes don't work. This is one, so it almost certainly won't. So how the hell did libertarians, subtype North American, come to like it?

My explanation is that it's purely the politics of ressentiment: school teachers and their trade unions are a traditional rightwing enemy image in the US, as in the UK through the 1980s, and this appeals simply because it would piss them off. It's worth remembering that even Henley and Co are actually very right-wing people indeed; in an alternate time line, they'd be on the other side.

Hence the neato anti-trade union ads; from the "Center for Union Facts", indeed. Further reading is here; apparently the Center consists of a bunch of Wal-Mart money and a well-known tobacco industry lobbyist. I think the phrase is "nice mates you got there".

This is one of the reasons I don't have ads on this blog; you either have to filter them, in which case you are in a sense taking responsibility for their content and could be accused of a conflict of interest, or else if you disclaim any control and make it clear that it's entirely up to the BlogAds or Google computers, you run the risk of something really horrible turning up. And then, if you decide to censor it, you've got to answer why you don't censor X, Y, or Z.

Richard North is Still Wrong

So, I wonder if there's anything stupid going on at Richard "Who are you going to believe - me, or the fact the Israeli Air Force *apologised* for the strike-in-error?" North's place....and guess what? There is!

As CabaPhil (good to have him back in the 'sphere) points out, Dick North is deeply conflicted here - for someone who opposes UK membership in the European Union on the grounds of absolute national sovereignty, he's incredibly keen on letting the Americans infringe it.

This is a common failing of Eurosceptics, and a bizarre one at that; surely any grown-up discussion of sovereignty needs to acknowledge that it has limits. But it is an issue these people simply don't discuss. North is an especially egregious example - not so long ago, he was sweating with indignation that the MoD had bought trucks from a European manufacturer and uniforms from China, presumably on the grounds that industries of the future like textiles (!) must be protected.

Now, he is furious that unlike Australia, we haven't entrusted our strategic communications network entirely to the Americans. The logic here beggars belief - we should trust the Americans not to read our most secret diplomatic and military traffic and not to switch off the link if we disagree, but we absolutely must have uniforms made in the UK at much greater cost!

Further, he is quite simply wrong on facts. The "European commercial partner" involved is none other than EADS's Astrium satellites division; which is also known as the old Hawker Siddeley Dynamics/BAE Space plant in Stevenage! Now, Britain has a rather good satellite industry - besides Astrium UK there's Surrey Satellite Technology in Guildford, aka the University of Surrey engineering faculty's pension. Apparently we can let it slide, so long as we support whatever is left of Lancashire textiles and truck making.

You'd also think a hard-rightist like Northo would remember that the Skynet 5A project actually began with Maggie Thatcher, who didn't want to depend on the US for satellite communications. The first version of the system wasn't ready in time for the Falklands, when the US rented us bandwidth on theirs, but the rest got orbited very quickly afterwards despite the delay caused by the Challenger accident. One might wonder why Thatcher let HOTOL struggle on as long as she did before defunding it; Alan Clark wanted to convert Polaris units into satellite launchers on Ascension, which is one of the funniest things I've ever heard.

It has been well pointed out that the difference between the European countries that joined the war with Iraq and the ones that did not is that none of the first group had their own satellite reconnaissance capability; France has both satellites and launchers, and I think the Germans have one whizzing around up there. This ought to be a knockout argument for a independent space capability (possibly more important than nukes - what say you, TYRos?), but you're never going to see that at North's.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Lessons from the Liberal conference

So what are the lessons of the Liberal conference?

First up, get a bloody autocue already. We could have a blogger whipround. Out of all the speakers I saw on TV, excepting Ming's big finish, all of them were very obviously reading off a bit of paper. Danny Alexander's entire TV appearance consisted of him staring down at a script; not good. Nick Clegg was little better. The best performance was from a ginger Scottish guy called Kennedy; concise, punchy, addressing the crowd not the lectern. I wonder where we found him?

And if you can't remember your whole speech, memorise the bits you absolutely can't leave out; then just deliver those. In fact, even if you can memorise the whole thing, you ought to do this anyway. As a party, we badly need editing.

Secondly, the big media is not our friend. BBC coverage ruthlessly edited out everything substantive, self-described liberal Simon Carr of the Indy issued a succession of poisonously hostile pieces moaning about the practice of letting delegates ask questions (imagine!); the reason is firstly that no-one on our side scares them, and secondly that no-one on our side seems to make it easy for them to fall over the news.

Thirdly, we need to define the enemy, and this has never been easier. Here they are - The Party of Control. Labour thinks everyone can be zapped into being better people, the Tories think the poor can be zapped into immobility while the rich clean up. The various Nats want more zapping of various kinds; UKIP wants more police power. We are the only party that doesn't want to zap everyone. Of course, the big issue here is that administering more control always empowers the administrators and the people who can game the system; and this is generally either the rich or the unscrupulous.

The nature of big, complex systems is that the more fiddling you do, the less likely you are to get the result you desire. Set the incentives and infrastructure, then keep grubby fingers out; we've learnt this in fields ranging from environmental sciences to computing, behavioural psychology to industrial management, central banking to the military art.

Fourthly, we are the party against stupidity, and we have practical solutions. Where the Tories think what everyone needs is a toff, and Labour thinks what everyone needs is a public-private surveillance system, we should be the ones who guarantee to hold our plans lightly and trim to reality.

Finally, we need a short slug of principles; and how about these?

1. It's better to fiddle less

If you want to save fuel (and we do), tax it; don't build a mass surveillance system.

2. People know what they are doing

Respect the professionals; encourage anything that gives people more autonomy and control of working life

3. Fat cats are as bad as bureaucrats

What else are they - except an unusually egregious species?

4. You can't rig the facts

Presentation, "sending a message" - it's all crap. We should be keen on real evidence-based policy; the kind where the evidence changes the policy.

5. The best treatment for poverty is money

What Daniel Davies said!

6. "Freedom from" and "freedom to" are inseparable

This is where it all lines up; we're here to defend negative liberty and extend positive liberty.

Pathetic Python Blogging

Dear Lazyweb - can anyone work out why I can't get useful data out of this page with BeautifulSoup and Python 2.5?

The information is in an HTML table, enclosed by td tags nested in tr tags, and governed by three CSS classes, "flight-data", "data-head" and "data-row2". The latter pair are used only within the first. So you would think something like this would work:
for item in soup.findAll('td', {'class': 'flight-data'}):
The ellipsis is there to make the indentation obvious in this post. Where soup is naturally an instance of BeautifulSoup that's been fed the webpage as a file-like object. But it doesn't; it does grab some of the data, but it also grabs much of the webpage as raw html, including the header and a gaggle of javascript. And it's slow, dammit. I can't be too far off beam, because I'm successfully parsing another very similar website using a near-identical parse command.

I've tried various interlocking restrictions, and searching for both data-head and data-row2, but these usually find nothing.

Built-In Stupidity

I don't think this means what Thomas Barnett thinks it does. He argues that the demand for armoured patrol vehicles in Iraq is an example of conflict between the objectives of his "SysAdmin" force, and the Washington-cented, tech-heavy "Leviathan". Of course, it's an example of conflict between the centre and the front line, but that's not enough.

What if those increasingly baroque MRAPs were themselves a symptom of dysfunctional strategy? Essentially, they are six-wheeled buses surrounded by huge amounts of armour protection of various kinds, intended to be safer for the occupants than the Humvees and trucks they have so far been using. But the enemy is already countering them, by the simple and cheap means of building bigger bombs, or organising attacks with multiple bombs. Given the insane quantities of money it has cost to field what are basically armoured buses, this is not the road to success.

Of course, if you're a tom in Iraq, you'd rather travel in one of these than in a Humvee. But what mission are they meant to conduct? Building really heavily armoured patrol vehicles implies that you're going to be driving around in small groups of vehicles full of soldiers a lot, in an environment where you're under constant IED threat. They're not suited to use on an active battlefield, and they're so big they aren't very airportable. Every artefact is an ideology made manifest; this one manifests the idea that it's possible to fight this kind of war without contact with your environment. What are the soldiers in the back doing? They can't see much out of the vehicle; they can't hear what goes on outside for engine noise; probably no-one in the vehicle would understand what the people are saying anyway.

And we've decided to accept this state of affairs, and build a mobile wall to keep it out.

In short, these vehicles are the exact opposite of Barnett's SysAdmin. What could be more like Leviathan than a column of buttoned-up steel monsters driving 40mph down a crowded street, bashing into parked vehicles, menacing anyone who gets too close with a 25mm chain gun and loudspeaker yelling? In fact, it sounds more like Franz Neumann's Behemoth than Leviathan; an authoritarian creator of chaos, not order.

Or are they? Think of a bad system administrator; a smelly fat guy who locks himself in the data centre and spends his time being unpleasant to the lusers who ring up and distract him from playing CounterStrike, watching internet porn, and posting one-upmanship troll comments on Windows/Mac flamewar threads. If you're feeling charitable, maybe he's borderline autistic. If not, perhaps he's just an anti-social prick who thinks everyone else is inferior because he knows unix command line arguments and this makes him some sort of Heinleinian/Ayn Rand libertarian hero. Remind you of any geopolitical project you've heard of?

If any of this is to have any useful meaning, we need to invest in the human capital; retention bonuses for Intelligence Corps linguists would be a great start. But more importantly, it's time we got another sysadmin.

Gratuitous Dogfight Blogging

I don't know why Danger Room is so surprised about this; apparently one of the Hungarian Air Force's new Saab Gripens managed to claim a shootdown of a Eurofighter Typhoon during an exercise (is that the first encounter between 4th generation fighters?).

The first point is that the Gripen isn't second-rate at all, as DR implies; it's a genuine fourth-generation fighter. The manufacturers (Saab and BAE) respectively built the Saab Viggen, an F15E/Tornado GR1A/Sukhoi 24-class strike aircraft in the 80s, and the Tornado itself; BAE, of course, is also a major workshare partner in the Eurofighter.

The second point is that there is a history of lightweight fighters doing better than expected; back in the 60s, the Singaporean air force's BAC Strikemasters - Jet Provost initial trainers with guns - occasionally shocked the RAF Lightnings and RAAF Mirages. At the same time, the North Vietnamese MiG-17s and -19s did very well against US F-4s. More recently, the Sea Harrier FA2 had a similar reputation. This is actually why the Americans decided to develop the F-16.

It all goes back to John Boyd, and his ideas of the OODA loop and the importance of shifting energy states; if you're small, you'll be seen later, and you can turn tighter without losing as much energy. Of course, smallness has costs; the Gripen is comparable to the Typhoon in many ways, except range.

Mirrorball: Usmanov vs Craig Murray

So dodgy Russians have bullied Fasthosts into darking Craig Murray's blog, as well as a gaggle of others on the same virtual machine. (Iron-clad integrity *and* technical chops; what more do you want?) Naturally, this has only spread the poison; so here's the complete text. Kindly post it on your own blog.

In a creative note, I've long had the intention of moving this blog into independent hosting, but there are advantages to living at; especially that the whois record is "Google, Inc, 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, California." It shouldn't be this way; I suspect it's rather anti-Internet, but we must needs when the devil drives. If you doubt the point of this, read this.

Update: According to Murray's webmaster, Fasthosts supplied him with "dedicated servers". So how did they manage to dark a half-a-dozen other websites trying to kill if it's a "dedicated" server? Trades Descriptions Act anyone? Updated Update: OK, so the server was dedicated to Murray's webmaster.

Updated again: Check out Davide Simonetti's hilarious photoshop.

Alisher Usmanov, potential Arsenal chairman, is a Vicious Thug, Criminal, Racketeer, Heroin Trafficker and Accused Rapist

I thought I should make my views on Alisher Usmanov quite plain to you. You are unlikely to see much plain talking on Usmanov elsewhere in the media becuase he has already used his billions and his lawyers in a pre-emptive strike. They have written to all major UK newspapers, including the latter:

“Mr Usmanov was imprisoned for various offences under the old Soviet regime. We wish to make it clear our client did not commit any of the offences with which he was charged. He was fully pardoned after President Mikhail Gorbachev took office. All references to these matters have now been expunged from police records . . . Mr Usmanov does not have any criminal record.”

Let me make it quite clear that Alisher Usmanov is a criminal. He was in no sense a political prisoner, but a gangster and racketeer who rightly did six years in jail. The lawyers cunningly evoke “Gorbachev”, a name respected in the West, to make us think that justice prevailed. That is completely untrue.

Usmanov’s pardon was nothing to do with Gorbachev. It was achieved through the growing autonomy of another thug, President Karimov, at first President of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic and from 1991 President of Uzbekistan. Karimov ordered the “Pardon” because of his alliance with Usmanov’s mentor, Uzbek mafia boss and major international heroin overlord Gafur Rakimov. Far from being on Gorbachev’s side, Karimov was one of the Politburo hardliners who had Gorbachev arrested in the attempted coup that was thwarted by Yeltsin standing on the tanks outside the White House.

Usmanov is just a criminal whose gangster connections with one of the World’s most corrupt regimes got him out of jail. He then plunged into the “privatisation” process at a time when gangster muscle was used to secure physical control of assets, and the alliance between the Russian Mafia and Russian security services was being formed.

Usmanov has two key alliances. He is very close indeed to President Karimov, and especially to his daughter Gulnara. It was Usmanov who engineered the 2005 diplomatic reversal in which the United States was kicked out of its airbase in Uzbekistan and Gazprom took over the country’s natural gas assets. Usmanov, as chairman of Gazprom Investholdings paid a bribe of $88 million to Gulnara Karimova to secure this. This is set out on page 366 of Murder in Samarkand.

Alisher Usmanov had risen to chair of Gazprom Investholdings because of his close personal friendship with Putin, He had accessed Putin through Putin’s long time secretary and now chef de cabinet, Piotr Jastrzebski. Usmanov and Jastrzebski were roommates at college. Gazprominvestholdings is the group that handles Gazproms interests outside Russia, Usmanov’s role is, in effect, to handle Gazprom’s bribery and sleaze on the international arena, and the use of gas supply cuts as a threat to uncooperative satellite states.

Gazprom has also been the tool which Putin has used to attack internal democracy and close down the independent media in Russia. Gazprom has bought out - with the owners having no choice - the only independent national TV station and numerous rgional TV stations, several radio stations and two formerly independent national newspapers. These have been changed into slavish adulation of Putin. Usmanov helped accomplish this through Gazprom. The major financial newspaper, Kommersant, he bought personally. He immediately replaced the editor-in-chief with a pro-Putin hack, and three months later the long-serving campaigning defence correspondent, Ivan Safronov, mysteriously fell to his death from a window.

All this, both on Gazprom and the journalist’s death, is set out in great detail here.

Usmanov is also dogged by the widespread belief in Uzbekistan that he was guilty of a particularly atrocious rape, which was covered up and the victim and others in the know disappeared. The sad thing is that this is not particularly remarkable. Rape by the powerful is an everyday hazard in Uzbekistan, again as outlined in Murder in Samarkand page 120. If anyone has more detail on the specific case involving Usmanov please add a comment.

I reported back in 2002 or 2003 in an Ambassadorial top secret telegram to the Foreign Office that Usmanov was the most likely favoured successor of President Karimov as totalitarian leader of Uzbekistan. I also outlined the Gazprom deal (before it happened) and the present by Usmanov to Putin (though in Jastrzebski’s name) of half of Mapobank, a Russian commercial bank owned by Usmanov. I will never forget the priceless reply from our Embassy in Moscow. They said that they had never even heard of Alisher Usmanov, and that Jastrzebski was a jolly nice friend of the Ambassador who would never do anything crooked.

Sadly, I expect the football authorities will be as purblind. Football now is about nothing but money, and even Arsenal supporters - as tight-knit and homespun a football community as any - can be heard saying they don’t care where the money comes from as long as they can compete with Chelsea.

I fear that is very wrong. Letting as diseased a figure as Alisher Usmanov into your club can only do harm in the long term.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


This list of Blackwater boss Erik Prince's campaign contributions has been getting heavy-traffic blogger attention due to his donation to a fake Green Party candidate.

There's better, though: consider these two line items in relation to one another.

Prince, Erik
McLean, VA 22102
Prince Group/Chairman
primary 01/04/06

Principles, eh? And what do they do? Exalt a nation, apparently.

Prince, Erik
Mc Lean, VA 22102
Prince Household LLC/Partner DELAY, THOMAS DALE (R)
House (TX 22)
primary 09/26/05

That donation was literally the day before DeLay's indictment on corruption charges, and came 18 days after DeLay's political action committee had itself been indicted, 13 days after its managers were indicted, 4 months after a judge ruled it had broken the law, and 17 days after he asked a group of refugees if they were "having fun". Both exalted and principled, I think.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Cunning trickster

OK, so professional War On Terror bullshitter Alexis Debat worked for super-War On Terror bullshitter Amir Taheri. Those of you who use this blog's Updated category to check corrections will have noticed that I have corrected some posts about Pakistan that used material from his writings. But I'm struggling to make out the pattern; Debat's nonsense appears to have been self-consistent in repeatedly suggesting war with Iran was not imminent, but already underway.

This chimes with some super-rightwing publicists, notably Michael Ledeen, but the curious thing is that Debat doesn't seem to have hyped the notion of Iranian attacks on US or allied forces or interests; more the other way round. Long-time TYR collaborator Laura Rozen has obtained his CV, with critical comments from the French Embassy (pdf), as part of this article.

Interestingly, Debat claimed to have been part of the French terrorist-financing research group that later starred in the Clearstream scandal, if I'm not very much mistaken; but that too was bullshit. Here's the Debatology ur-text; he was bullshitting about the Christmas 2005 riots, too, and claimed to work for the Institut Montaigne as well as having a doctorate from the Sorbonne. Neither claim was true. He also claimed to work for Claude Bebear at AXA, after Bebear retired.

However, this interview from 2005 surprisingly doesn't show him pushing the neocon France-is-on-the-brink line, nor does this, even in the Moonie Times. Instead he sounds a lot like the policy Claude Bebear's commission came up with..

Here he is, on the subject of the liquid bomb plot in 2006; he fingers one Matiur Rehman as the "interface between the brain and muscles of Al-Qa'ida", on the basis of presumably invented Pakistani sources. However, someone of that name was indeed arrested in Pakistan; one hopes he knew of this, rather than being the source himself.

So far, I conclude that rather than being a cunning plan, he's actually what he seems to be; a chancer who rose by agreeing with anyone else in the studio.

Build upon the Rock and not upon the...whoops

What a weekend, eh? That's the first run on the bank I've ever seen, so in the future I'll be able to say "Well, I remember back in the Panic of '07...what, you don't remember the Northern Rock? What do they teach these people today? Yes, they had branches then; and cash!"

"You're not my father!!"

But snark aside, this is astonishing and worrying. Paul Krugman was in the habit of saying that the most successful government program ever was the Federal Deposit Guarantee Corporation, on the grounds that since the introduction of depositor protection there had never been a run on the bank. A run on the bank is driven by the same logic as the tragedy of the commons; what is rational for the individual is irrational for the community. If you have a guarantee that your money is safe, you have no incentive to help sink the bank, and therefore the self-amplifying process should be unable to get started. And I was in the habit of quoting him.

This is now in question; although the Rock's depositors are explicitly guaranteed by the Treasury up to £37,000 in each account, and more importantly the Bank of England is willing to rediscount everything up to the entire £113bn of assets on the Rock's books for cash, so the £24bn in deposits is covered more than four times over, it still happened. And I'm at a loss to understand why, but I suspect that trust in institutions is now very wide and very shallow. There are, as Ali C so accurately said, huge issues around trust.

So I have no sympathy with the complaints from Willem Buiter, the ex-ECB chief economist, who apparently thinks the Bank of England has gone soft. Buiter's term at the European Central Bank was characterised by the institution being seen as a gaggle of dry, distant, academic inflation hawks too scared to get their foot off the brake. He is not doing anything to change this; even though the depositors would eventually have got their money, whether through deposit protection or through the sale of the bank's assets, can you imagine the crisis fever? Dead ATMs? Crowds trying to break into locked branches?

Perhaps more importantly, the failed business model of Northern Rock gives us a clue as to the Bank's priorities. It has, or rather had, a loan-to-deposit ratio of 314 per cent; to put it another way, its huge surge of lending was carried out by borrowing in the money market and relending to customers. Very crudely, if there are (were!) £24bn of deposits (i.e. liabilities) in the Rock and £113bn of assets, there must be something not far off the difference, less the bank's enterprise value, of liabilities outstanding. If they lent £89bn more than they took in as deposits, they must have raised it from somewhere. Of course, some of this is accounted for by the bank multiplier, but a lot of it must have been the famous mortgage-backed securities; securitisation bonds, asset-backed commercial paper, and such. The Obscurer's business section reckons 75 per cent of the funds came in that way; so we're looking at £60-odd billion.

What do we know about this stuff? We know that once issued, it's hard to know where it ends up; and we also know that issuing commercial paper to speculate in mortgage-backed securities has polluted the whole market, because no-one knows where the shite has ended up. The whole point of these securities is to dilute it; but there is no guarantee that it's evenly distributed. Now, we can see clearly why the Bank didn't want another ton of commercial paper going bad; no-one can say if there isn't another bank with a big chunk of theirs on an already-dodgy balance sheet.

Meanwhile, Jean Quatremer points out that nothing like this has happened in the Eurozone...well, if you leave out the two banks that already did go bust, IKB and SachsenLB.

Defensetech is obsolete

OK, so they invited some "milbloggers" to see the commander guy, and what did Defensetech find to ask him? Sweet fuck all of any consequence.

Too busy gawping at teh White House crockery. Hell, I suppose I should have expected this; the creation of Wired's Danger Room essentially stripped it of talent, with David Axe, Noah Schachtman, and Sharon Weinberger moving over. But this is desperate.

HOWTO Build a Healthcare Computing System

Remember this post regarding the trainwreck that is the NHS National Programme for IT? In it, we discussed the institutional factors that made it a trainwreck, and specifically the way demands for commercial secrecy made it impossible to involve the users in designing the system.

Well, now there's a discussion at Kevin Drum's about how the US Veterans' Administration got a really good patient information system. It turns out they asked the users, then rolled their own. Not just that, but they kept asking the users.

There's loads of information here; so if you're a techie you can add DHCP to your mental list of confusable multiletter acronyms. As well as the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol, it's also the Decentralised Hospital Computer Program. More importantly, you may recall I queried the need for the NPfIT's structure of local, regional and national systems on the basis that, as it also required common standards for information exchange, that meant the local systems should be able to intercommunicate without needing the extra layers. Here is a whole working example of such standards.

Further, there's a standard RPC interface to lash your applications to the database, with details of the SDK here, and guess what? It's all open source and completely free. And guess what? A bunch of Finnish hospital sysadmins built a graphical frontend for it, which is soon to be ported to Java. Or you can use Visual Basic and SQL. Python is surely not far off:-)

Seriously, I've just read through this stuff and it's just desperately cool; and nobody, literally nobody, in the UK has even mentioned it with regard to the NHS Monster Database. Despite successive Health Secretaries' much-hyped efforts to find out "what the Americans are doing", which has involved various more or less horrible forms of backdoor privatisation, they don't seem to be aware that a bunch of civil servants built a cracking healthcare data system - and it's FREE.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Office of Technical Assessment

Bring back the Office of Technology Assessment, say the Hoofnagles at Scienceblogs. Good point; for about thirty years, the US Congress had its own staff of scientists and engineers whose task it was to provide the legislature with independent technical advice, until it got zapped by Newt Gingrich. I'm sure it would do them some good.

But consider this; whatever the Americans do about this, we still have to hope that the next damn-fool monster database/nuclear express train/phrenological mobile phone/whatever work'o'genius the Government furts up goes through parliament when one or two random members who can read the brief are in town and haven't had their balls tied to a train by the Whips.

The contractorisation of all the executive branch's IT functions, and a lot of its scientific functions, only increases the importance of technical advice to Parliament. If the government is unable to tell vendor-financed crap when it sees it, who else can stop it?


Anbar? Here's your salvation. This frankly terrifies me; didn't anyone think to restrain the commander guy? This was about the only counterinsurgency success they've had, and it's been pissed away for the sake of a good TV picture-with-the-sound-off. Seriously. Once Bush shook hands with him on live television, he was as dead as if he'd just had the Mafia kiss of death.

I think Scorsese would probably have cut that as too obvious; among so many other things, these people can't even be evil with style. Marc Lynch reckons it wasn't Al-Qa'ida, but instead the NOIA; I have no reason to disagree.

We stand down, they stand up

The commander of Iraqi special forces (i.e. the Badr Corps, ex-36th ICDC Battalion, ex-1st Brigade ING...) in Basra is clear about the threat facing British employees in the city; far clearer than the Government.
“All the interpreters have to leave Basra because these militia will never let them rest. They will kill everybody they know [who worked for the British],” Colonel Saleem Agaa Alzabon, who leads Basra’s special forces, said. “The interpreters have to leave. They have no choice.”

Colonel Saleem and the two targeted interpreters told The Times that the militiamen – almost certainly members of the Shia al-Mahdi Army – had stepped up their pursuit of so-called collaborators since the British withdrew from Basra city 11 days ago.
Clarity! Go read the whole thing, especially the horrifying experience of one man who was out at the Basra Air Station when the death squad turned up at home.

Contrast our fine government; it recognises, apparently, that it has a "moral responsibility", but it can't decide how many people to take, or, you know, the presentation. The bureaucratic Hamlets wring and rack. My MP roasts on the Mediterranean or blasts small birds across Scotland; apparently he doesn't play golf. But neither do the Mahdi Army, I believe. Meanwhile, people are still being killed. You can't get clearer than that.

Just to remind you, we're off to Parliament on the 9th of October, 1900 hours, Committee Room 14, St.Stephen's Entrance. Before you come along, write to them, using the talking points. You might add that we have practical policy proposals. Demand that they raise it with the Home Office, and that they come to the lobby on the 9th of October.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Materialise that, will you?

Here is Hewlett Packard Labs' Cloudprint, a service that allows you to print your documents to a server in their network and receive a shortcode (which can be distributed to any number of people at the same time). Then, when you need the docs, you send the code from your mobile phone and specify a web-connected printer you want to collect them from. The frontend is here, and there's a handy mashup to help you find one. You can also send any webpage into the system, presumably using the print engine HP's Tabblo uses.

And here are the RepRap guys, making rapid progress. Is anyone else thinking what I'm thinking? The RepRap's software uses a standard file format for its 3D designs, STL, not to be confused with my employers.

Update: Guess who went to a high-level tech conference where a senior Vice President and divisional CTO of Hewlett Packard was present and forgot entirely about his brilliant printer- and HP-related idea? Truly, the status of Tech Blogger Worshipped by Crowds of Immature Neophiles is beyond my abilities.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Independent of Facts

OK, then; remember the beef I had with the Indy about THE RAYS!! and THE BEES! ? Well, we now know what the problem is with the bees; they caught a virus. Interestingly, Australian bees are immune to it; I recall beekeepers on the Web back in February suggesting that this might be so.

So, clearly the Indy covered this in some detail. Sort of. Instead, their environment editor Geoffrey Lean had another story about THE RAYS; this time, the German Government was meant to have advised the public to avoid wireless LANs. It's traditional that any statement from a German that appears in the British press is mistranslated or simply invented, but one usually associates this with the 'bloids, or at least the Daily Hell.

I took the dramatic step of reading the parliamentary answer referred to. I wasn't expecting accuracy, but I was a little surprised that even the question stated that there was no evidence of a risk within the regulatory norms, as far as was known to science, although the question was not definitively settled. Charmingly, they also quoted a Fox News report as a source..

Anyway, rather than advising the citizenry to avoid WLANs, the Federal Government said that their experiments showed that radiation exposure from them was between one and two orders of magnitude below the regulatory limit, that even when the device was in contact with the skin, a breach of this was very unlikely, that public hotspots made up only a minimal exposure to the public, that there were no specific precautions recommended by the government, but in general it might be better to use a wired solution where possible, and that the question of whether to use WLAN or wired Ethernet in schools was an individual decision, and the government had no opinion on it.

Any Other Indicators

In my last "there will be no war with Iran" post, I asked if there were any other indicators I ought to be watching. Having given it some thought, I have indeed been looking at some others; for a start, I would expect that before such a strike the US Government's Strategic Petroleum Reserve would be well in line for some filling. Who knows what might happen? Better to stockpile early and often. If they were especially keen, they might also be chartering oil tankers, possibly to use them as floating storage.

There are also some financial indicators. Specifically, I would expect the issuance of Treasury bills to rise sharply in advance of any such event; as they are bank reserve assets, banks can lend against them and also discount them with the central bank. Therefore, if there was an expectation of possible crisis, it would make sense to substitute T-bills for government bonds, thus topping up banking sector liquidity and also building up the government's cash balances.

So how are they looking? Well, I looked up the SPR figures, and I was a little surprised to see that there was no sign of faster filling before the Iraq war; far from it. The stockpile was filled significantly in 2003-2004, and reached a peak of 700 million barrels in the summer of 2005 before being drawn on after Hurricane Katrina. Since January 2006 it's been gradually restocked; it should pass the 2005 value any minute now. But there is no sign of unusual haste.

Tanker rates are lower than at any time since August, 2003, with >lots of ships in the Gulf and few going to North America.

What about the financials? Well, the US Treasury website wouldn't let me get at the stats, but our superior technology rendered their crude oppression meaningless. You can get the data here; if they'll let you. Otherwise you'll have to use an SSL-based pr*xy, which is just what I did. If you look at page 7 of the charts for August, 2007 (the latest), there's an interesting comparison between the same quarters in different years. The figures have a strong seasonal variation, due to the financial year; the third quarter always sees a big reduction in T-bill issuance.

But it does look as if the period from October 2002 to June 2003 saw a swing from bonds to T-bills, and from long maturities to short. Also, the summer and autumn of 1990 saw a sudden lift in the percentage of bills as opposed to bonds in issue, which was considerably greater than the year before or after; as did the autumn of 2001 (page 10 of the document). We're currently seeing quite the opposite; even taking the seasonality into account, US bills are being withdrawn and refinanced with bonds. Of course, there are other factors that affect this, specifically monetary policy and the yield curve.

Communication of the unconscious

A question that the Chinese-hacker thing brought to mind: why are so many countries that censor the Internet for political speech also riddled with commercial, or just vandalistic, network abuse? Russian Business Network, the well-known all-purpose dodgynet, is a case in point. My own theory is that, especially in China, this may reflect a choice; it's better if all that subversive energy goes into small-scale fraud. In a sense, the TITAN RAIN story may reflect a tacit, even unconscious, cooperation between the elites; for one side, it's a convenient way of diverting angry youth, for the other it's a convenient way of managing political threat perception.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

A Mystery, Wrapped in Cat-5 Cable..

This Spyblog post, regarding the Grauniad's splash story yesterday that the TITAN RAIN inquiry into alleged Chinese hackers attacking the US government had spread to attacks on the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, raises some interesting questions.

For a start, like all Chinese-hacker stories, it's based heavily on semi-military sources and quotes from doctrinal publications. What, precisely, is "cyberwar" anyway? It's not as if the FCO website (or the DOD's websites) are critical operational functions. Cyber-intelligence - theft of information - is easily imaginable, but some of the tales going around have to be mocked to be believed.

Apparently, "people's war" has been expanded to include hordes of simplistic attackers battering on the websites of the city from the countryside; which frankly reminds me of the old joke about the two Soviet tank commanders looking up at the Eiffel Tower. One says to the other, "Tell me, Sasha, who did win the air war?" Clearly there are economic targets in cyberspace, but they are more likely to be network entities (routers, exchange points, DNS servers and the like) than government websites.

Note that this has yet to happen anywhere; the much-hyped attack on Estonia didn't attempt to bring down ISP networks, and anyway was mitigated by well-understood network operations practices. Attacking the Internet itself also has the problem that success brings an end to the usefulness of one's own infrastructure; it's like having one nuclear bomb. Given the global interconnection topology, China would be especially foolish to try this, as most of their interconnections could be cut off with comparatively little harm to global reachability: see the CAIDA Skitter graph here, which I have on my wall..(muhahahahaha!!!)

Further, a lot of the descriptions of this stuff you see seem to have been written by people who have very little knowledge of computers, and none of Internetworking. The factoid that the attacks apparently originate in Guangdong province, "which has a large concentration of PLA", is risible. Guangdong has a large concentration of people, for a start, and more significantly it's where the vast bulk of China's international cable landings are located, as can clearly be seen on this Alcatel map.

Now, perhaps it's all true, but the detail is too secret to mention. Perhaps, but then that's frankly too Straussian for me. Alternatively, the dread government-IT interface has struck again, and organisations with little ability to orientate themselves in the technical and strategic context are being duped by security-industrial lobbyists. No doubt hackers from China are indeed trying to break into DoD systems; we know, after all, that British ones are, if only to look for UFOs. The danger is that generalised hacker activity is being classified as "PLA threat!!", which converts it from a network security issue - take two firewalls with a pot of coffee - to a national security issue, which involves billions of pounds and intense paranoia.

There may even be signs that a matching dynamic exists in China. The founding text of Chinese-hacker paranoia is the famous Unrestricted Warfare, a book published by two Chinese army officers in 1999. This has usually been seen as a doctrine for asymmetric warfare against the United States; unscrupulous persons pirated the book with the addition of a WTC-on-fire jacket and the subtitle "China's Blueprint to Destroy America". Here is the second paragraph, from Conflictwiki:
One war changed the world. Linking such a conclusion to a war which occurred one time in a limited area and which only lasted 42 days seems like something of an exaggeration. However, that is indeed what the facts are, and there is no need to enumerate one by one all the new words that began to appear after 17 January 1991. It is only necessary to cite the former Soviet Union, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, cloning, Microsoft, hackers, the Internet, the Southeast Asian financial crisis, the euro, as well as the world's final and only superpower -- the United States. These are sufficient. They pretty much constitute the main subjects on this planet for the past decade.
I've selected this because it so charmingly mirrors the paranoias and glibbery of the average rightwing newspaper columnist. Is it not superbly journamalistic? Unrestricted Warfare famously cited terrorism, the use of international law, economic warfare, network/electronic warfare, propaganda, and even "environmental warfare" as forms of war.

But what strikes me about it is that the real function of this meme is to characterise forms of nonmilitary activity as "war"; all kinds of things that are part of the normal course of trade and international politics, world public opinion, and especially internal dissent in China, can be slotted into one of those options. It isn't criticism, or a lawsuit, or a demonstration by peasants against water pollution; it's war, and the people doing it are the enemy, and therefore they must be destroyed.

Are you with me? Rather, are you with us? Or are you with the terrorists? It's probably worth pointing that Glenn Reynolds is very keen on complaining about "lawfare".

Update: Just to put some more data in this post, note that Sophos puts the APNIC region at 40 per cent of worldwide spam output. China and the Hong Kong SAR account for half of that; 20 per cent of the world total, compared to 23 per cent for the US. China Unicom's internetworking division manages to be both in the top 20 for botnet control servers and the top 10 for spam. The US, mark, still accounts for a majority of almost every online evil. But in 2006, 26 per cent of the world's supply of zombie PCs were Chinese, by far the greatest concentration of hacked computers; Beijing is the world's most hacked city, with 5 per cent of the total. (Figures from Symantec, the ISOTF C&C Report, Spamhaus.) It is predicted that China will become the world's biggest source of Internet trouble as soon as the number of users surpasses that in the US, which is predicted for any time now.

Pass Down The Plane, Please

So, there's this new Kyrgyz airline called Galaxy Air; started by people from TAPOAvia in 2006. It's been on the EU blacklist since March, 2007, and it ain't coming off any time soon. On the 29th of August, its Ilyushin-18 EX-786 was seized by the Pakistani authorities in Islamabad. Why? Well, the 142 passengers, of whom 20 were standing in the aisle, had something to do with it. (Its nominal capacity is more like 100.) The fact one of the pilots passed out with hypoxia had something to do with it to.

I can't find a serial number for EX-786, but the other three aircraft at Galaxy are interesting. EX-601, Il-18 number 185008601, is ex-Santa Cruz Imperial and Phoenix Aviation. The other Il-18, ER-ICB, has been around the block a few times too, but nowhere so notorious. There's also a Bangladesh-registry 707...

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Bring your friends

Do you want to take part in the very first blogging lobby of Parliament? More seriously, if you've already written to them and demanded that all our Iraqi employees are taken along with us before we withdraw from Iraq, here is your next set of instructions.

On Tuesday, the 9th October, 2007, between 1900-2100 hours, there will be a lobbying event in Parliament, specifically in Committee Room 14, St. Stephen's Entrance. Taking part will be some of the soldiers who originally recruited the Iraqis who the Government is now trying to let down. And some bloggers.

We're also expecting Channel 4 News, BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio 5 Live, and a full set of the serious press (except the sodding Independent, for fuck's sake. What's wrong with them?) Liberal MP Lynne Featherstone, Tory MP Ed Vaizey, and "at least one Labour backbencher" are expected, plus any other politicos we can drag away from the gin for five minutes.

So; we want you to turn up, and we want you to write to them demanding that they turn up. Don't forget to mention the JOURNALISTS and TELLY. If you haven't already written to them, what the hell do you think you're playing at? Talking points for a first letter are here.

Come as you are, but keep the tentacles inside your coat, OK? And don't forget to mention the TV!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

China: The New Exile?

Sonia Falcone is deported from the US, heads for Beijing; where she intends to catch up with ol' Pierre.

Biometrics Are Secure!

Except when they're from Sony, of course. Sony, the company that offers you peace of mind; you *know* who hacked your stuff! I can't think of anything particularly intelligent to say about this except that it's bloody obvious something like this would happen. Recalling the original Sony rootkit, didn't someone very quickly demonstrate it was possible to get access to it over the WAN?

Fear the Canadian Menace!

You just don't know what they're going to do, do you? First of all they sneak up on Illustrious with one of our old subs!... but then you learn the true horror. How much more of our vital infrastructure is rigged to explode with the McNaughton Pipe? Fortunately, as will be made clear if you read that last link, we have the technology. After all, their underhand ways are not new.

Even More Carrierwatch

In the light of renewed War! War! War! fears, it's clearly time to check out the indicators; currently, there is one US Navy carrier group in the Middle East (Enterprise and Co). This is down from two for most of this year, and is the lowest for some time - although not quite, as there were a couple of days in early August with no carrier. Stennis left the Gulf heading east on the 11th of July and was due in Bremerton on the 31st August; Nimitz left on the 23rd of July and is making a leisurely passage back to San Diego. On the other side of the balance, Enterprise sailed on the 7th of July and made a notably quick passage (less than two weeks) to her only port call en-route, Cannes, and then took not much less time to reach her station. So, there was a gap from the 23rd of July to the 12th of August.

As before, Vinson, Roosevelt, and Washington are all in dockyard hands. Lincoln is in the early stages of workup, having done flight deck and carrier qualifications in July. Eisenhower took part in a JTFEX during July, but please note that as she only returned from deployment in May, she probably has significant yard time in her future. The next ship in the cycle is therefore Harry S. Truman, whose JTFEX it was, and who has also recently done her COMPTUEX.

Kitty Hawk is on her way back to Japan from the Valiant Shield exercise off Guam with the two returning carriers. Note that she is due to return to the US and head for the breakers' yard at the end of the year, to be replaced by Washington. Note also that the Reagan had to dash off to Japan in the spring to cover her beat, breaking off her own maintenance and training schedules because Kitty was inoperable; presumably her joints are no less creaky than three months ago, so there is a possible commitment to replace her at any time.

That gap, now. I recall reading (possibly at Pat Lang's) that some of the GCC states had expressed much concern at this maritime no-bicycle; if there is a crackerjack indicator for a war with Iran, I reckon it would be the movement of Patriot/Arrow/whatever SAMs/ABMs to the UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. Not only are they allies, and extremely vulnerable, Qatar is the seat of CENTCOM and various air bases, Bahrain of the US 5th Fleet's Middle Eastern logistic support, and Dubai is both the general political-economic centre, a hugely important port, and the seat of the only shipyard in the region with the hope of taking in a major warship (and, as in the Iran-Iraq war, making a fortune patching up tankers). Saudi oil installations need no introduction, but they (like Israel and Kuwait) have their own.

I recall a minor blogfroth about this two Iran scares ago (ie January 2007 - the rate is a little higher than Friedman units.) As far as I can make out they went to Qatar, but I am not at all sure; the unit was the 3rd Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery. Here's a photo of one of this outfit's soldiers being annoyed with stupid questions, by "business leaders" flown in for a look-see. It's given as "Southwest Asia", but the matching press release makes it clear that it's a huge great airbase, the location of a Combined Air Operations Centre; realistically it's got to be Al-Udeid in Qatar. So no new information in that. An alternative would be to deploy Aegis cruisers.

Any others I should watch? (Oh yes, if you've read this far you ought to read this too.) What gets me is that Newsnight is quite happy to spend its whole allocation of airtime grammarchopping What Bush Said without one word regarding the facts.

kostenloser Counter