Sunday, May 25, 2008

Review: Watching the Door

Says Bryan O'Sullivan in his bookmarks:
Kevin Myers, the ne plus ultra of ballbag Anglo-Irish reactionary hacks, surprises us all by writing what might be an essential close-up of the Troubles. Maybe his lunatic, protean nature was a perfect fit for the time.

This was the upshot of this post. I promised, I think, to review Myers' book once I got it, and here goes. Well, for a start, O'Sullivan isn't wrong - the young Kevin Myers this book portrays is no reactionary, but he is certainly a ballbag, a hack, and occasionally a near-lunatic. It's good to read a journalist memoir which isn't wildly self-glorifying, and a major theme of Watching the Door which runs in parallel, in politics and in life, is shame. Myers admits that his younger self, the RTE journo in Belfast, was at worst little better than a war tourist getting off on the bang-bang, the gangster glam of the paramilitary underworld, and the sexual opportunities the war provided. Not just that - but he admits that he happily let actual journalism slide, in favour of attending to his own self-obsession.

On the other hand, though, what are the accepted moral standards in a society like early-70s Belfast? The city Myers describes is one where several of the forces that keep civilisation going have failed - shame is one, and another is scepticism. People are willing to do appalling things, and also to believe anything, so long as it's about themmuns. Killers shoot a teenage boy and then give his younger brother, abducted with him, tenpence for the bus fare. This kind of perverted kindness recurs throughout, as the original structures of morality and authority collapse. Similarly, the traumatised seek comfort in other forms of religious bullshit, like the cultist charlatan Oliver Cromwell Whiteside - the sections of the book involving whom are desperately painful.

Not even primarily the official ones of law, the state, the church; one of the most telling moments in the book is Myers' encounter with a legendary dockside brawler, once a feared enforcer throughout the North, who never hit a man again after a fifteen-year old boy pulled a gun on him. His version of order was hardly desirable, but what came after was infinitely worse. It's a vision of the classic northern working-class town gone rotten, its social networks re-organised around the new class of mini-warlords and the new war economy based first on extortion and fraud, and later on heroin imports, rather as the process of scarring re-organises the skin's cellular structure. Peace was impossible so long as the British and Irish governments were still talking to the shells of the old society, rather than the people who controlled the war system.

It's also a book about youth; when you're young, shame, scepticism and responsibility are not particularly big concerns. They weren't for Myers, for his many girlfriends (like the one who let the IRA know his car registration after an unsatisfactory threesome), or for the new men of the paramilitary world. One thing that stands out is how many of these people were enjoying themselves - the transition from ordinary routine, Catholic morality or Protestant propriety, to intrigue, violence, and nervous hedonism was clearly a liberation for a lot of people. In many ways, it was yet another version of the 1968 generation; just conditioned by history to be a peculiarly horrible one. Here, under the combined influence of sectarianism, a particularly dense conservative power-structure, and an existing thug culture, the liberation turned out to be the liberation from freedom that militarism has always offered directionless young men.

In a sense, the great divide wasn't even so much between the loyalists and republicans, but between a kind of unified paramilitary subculture and everyone else. Other divides were the class divide, between the players, the fans, and the targets on one side, and the garden centre unionists and castle Catholics on the other out in the suburbs, and between the old and the young, those who were quite content with a frozen conflict and those who either wanted to win or end it.

However, I find another strand of the book less compelling. Myers insists on his own complicity in a number of violent incidents I really don't think he bears real responsibility for. I MUST RECOGNISE MY GUILT!! can be a form of self-dramatising, self-important bollocks too. And insisting on some sort of duty of journalists to cooperate with the authorities...well, that's reactionary, hackish, and rather Decent.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

the tape recorder, for special music

This needs reviving, surely?

Curiosity is not a crime. Killing cats is.

OK, this is outrageous stupid shit of the sort we expect from our gallant allies. Simply, a graduate student at Nottingham University is writing a thesis on terrorists, and as part of this he gets a copy of an Al-Qa'ida training manual from a US government website. Being a postgrad and therefore by definition permanently broke, he got a friend who worked in the university administration to print off the 1,500 pages rather than paying the shared printer fees.

Now this seems silly - 1,500 pages? Seriously? Wouldn't it have been better to search that lot rather than read it through? Don't they have grep at Nottingham? But that's not the point. The point is that "someone" noticed the document on the administrator's computer and grassed them to the police, who predictably freaked, arrested everyone under the Terrorism Act, kept them locked up for eight days, arrested his family, seized all computers they could lay hands on, etc.

The key detail is that both people have names that might give rise to suspicion of being insufficiently willing to condemn, etc, etc. Now, yer man has been released, however, the administrator is Algerian, and is going to be deported on "unrelated" immigration matters. Yeah, right.

Further, the university:
A spokesman for Nottingham University said it had a duty to inform police of "material of this nature". The spokesman said it was "not legitimate research material", but later amended that view, saying: "If you're an academic or a registered student then you have very good cause to access whatever material your scholarship requires. But there is an expectation that you will act sensibly within current UK law and wouldn't send it on to any Tom, Dick or Harry."
Right, sunshine. There is no such thing as "legitimate" research material, just as there is no such thing as "legitimate" thought. We all have the right to read what we damn well like, and as a fucking university you have a duty to stand up for this. As soon as you accept that reading X, Y, or Z, even though not illegal, is the sort of thing They don't like, you've already lost. Ecrasez l'infame.

The University of Nottingham's vice chancellor is Sir Colin Campbell, who can be reached on +44 (0) 115 951 3001, and by fax on +44 (0) 115 951 3005. More people to shout at are here.

Hat tips: Kings of War, IRG.

I'm in the phone booth, it's the one across the hall

Well, I asked for details of that Hezbollah converged telecoms network, and some appeared via the comments at Abu Muqawama. First of all, there's a map. My first reaction on seeing this was that it looked a lot like a rather underdeveloped, dated official backbone network - there's not much redundancy anywhere, and there's only one path between Beirut and the Beka'a, or between either place and the South, which goes far too close to the southern border for comfort. The long lines follow precisely two routes, each of them along the highway right-of-way; there's more redundancy down south, but it doesn't look like you'd need more than three cuts to thoroughly partition the whole thing. However, breaking up useful comms within the southern area itself would be considerably more difficult; and this does seem to fit with their tactics.

And here's an interesting point - there appear to be some very critical nodes in the upper Litani valley, not far at all from the main Israeli incursion in 2006, and for that matter from where the UNTSO post was destroyed. It's also clear that they have put in several loops right along this sector, close to the border, which should come as no surprise. But the backbone goes that way, too.

Of course, it's far from obvious that the map is honest, accurate, or comprehensive, or that there aren't radio links that thicken it up but aren't shown on the map. "Salem" provides the answer, which is that this network at least is the old official one before Oger took over running it, and Hezbollah took it over. This doesn't mean, however, its capabilities are necessarily the same or even remotely similar.

The single biggest cost in a telco deployment is always the rights-of-way, cell sites, and digging the holes. Essentially, it's Baumol's cost disease, seen from the opposite end - rather than some labour-intensive goods becoming relatively more expensive than capital-intensive ones because they are excluded from technological progress, it's more that the inputs with the greatest manufactured content - switches, routers, Node-Bs - get cheaper due to Moore's law and economies of scale, while the civil engineering doesn't display any such trend. Further, the electronic kit goes obsolete quickly, the bearer - fibre or copper - not for 20 years at least. And the holes in the ground don't - ever.

Pat Lang posted an article of his from the 1970s at the time of the 2006 war entitled "The Best Defense is..." As I recall, there was quite an emphasis on wired comms in that, too. This sort of investment implies a strategy based on the control of land, and an intention to command the informational terrain as well as they do the physical and human sort.

TYR Technical Partner -

Just to explain my absence, first of all I've been changing ISPs - you may recall I promised to give Virgin Media the push. Bogons Ltd - Internet for the Clueful were tapped after the normal exhaustive procurement process, and I spent last Sunday afternoon setting up an ADDON ARM8200 modem/router to work with my existing WRT54G WLAN box. I was hoping to use ZIPB, but eventually settled for renumbering the WRT54 (although, as the modem seems to be a Viking one, this might show the way).

Anyway, that was fun...of a sort, and the upshot is that Phorm can still bugger off and I now have considerably higher IP bandwidth. And then I vanished down a wormhole in the work-life continuum for the rest of last week, so no blogging for you, which is just as well because I was mostly thinking about SIM-based authentication systems and related OSS-BSS issues. And you wouldn't want that.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Kly! Kly! Boing! Boing!

You thought Keighley were having a good year? We're having a fucking good year. Yes.

1 Keighley 7 6 0 1 215 118 19
2 Doncaster 6 6 0 0 216 74 18
3 Gateshead 6 5 0 1 204 129 16
4 Barrow 5 5 0 0 199 50 15
5 Oldham 6 5 0 1 196 136 15
6 York 7 2 0 5 188 175 10
7 Swinton 7 3 0 4 186 217 10
8 Rochdale 6 2 0 4 193 173 9
9 Workington 7 1 0 6 134 224 7
10 Blackpool 6 1 0 5 128 240 5
11 Hunslet 7 1 0 6 123 241 5
12 London Skolars 6 1 0 5 75 280 4
Keighley 36 Rochdale 35; cracking.

Hallelujah indeed.

It’s good to talk

OK, so I was wanting to know about that Hezbollah WiMAX net. The original source of the story appears to be this Time report:
Although Hizballah is known for its massive Iran-funded social welfare system that provides everything from soup to education, construction materials and matchmaking services for Lebanon's Shi'ite underclass, cell-phone service is not part of the package — except for those who join its guerrilla army.

Hell, there's a cracking affinity-marketed MVNO opportunity in there.

One of the world's most technically advanced and resourceful guerrilla organizations, Hizballah had some time ago installed its own, in-house dedicated fiber-optic telephone network, connecting its headquarters in the southern suburbs of Beirut to its offices, military posts and cadres as far south as the Israeli border. During the summer 2006 war, Israel had jammed cellphone signals throughout south Lebanon and monitored the Lebanese telephone system, but Hizballah's internal communications channels had survived thanks to its private fiber-optic system. Since the war, however, Hizballah has expanded the network to cover its new military frontline north of the United Nations–patrolled southern border district, and into the Bekaa Valley to the east. Part of the system incorporates a WiMAX network allowing long-distance wireless access for the Internet and cell phones.

More recently, Hizballah has dug trenches for fiber-optic cables in the mainly Christian and Druze Mount Lebanon district and in north Lebanon, according to Marwan Hamade, the Lebanese minister of telecommunications. "It was confined to one or two small areas before and we overlooked it as part of their internal communications. But now it's spread all over Lebanon," Hamade told TIME.
We'll have to get used to this stuff; with the falling price of fancy technology, the days when sophisticated networking was confined to the rich are gone. After all, Hezbollah isn't the only army that's deploying WiMAX. South Korea maintains formidable armed forces for reasons that should be obvious, and they are planning to build their entire command-and-control structure on the technology - which has plenty to do with the fact that Samsung developed most of what the world knows as IEEE802.16e Mobile WiMAX, before it was called that. The US Army bought a large quantity of WiMAX gear for evaluation. I have in the past suggested that the British Army check it out as well; we'd be fools not to, as Airspan's test deployment is in Stratford.

And so did Israel. If encrypting your data before hurling it over the air is good enough for them, surely it's good enough for Hezbollah; and WiMAX is suited to a mesh network topology, where each participating node is a router, therefore simplifying the problem of deployment and increasing the system's resilience. The basic nodes are cheap, too, considerably more so than full size GSM or UMTS base stations.

The Complex Terrain Lab reminds us that the Hezbollah TV station stayed on the air in 2006, despite the Israelis bombing it; a broadcast TV station is in radio terms the biggest target there is. It just sits there, yelling with multiple kilowatts of power in all directions, and by definition it has to be obvious to work; but they couldn't catch it. I always wondered about that. Their satellite transponder would surely be part of the answer, but uplinking is also a noisy radio activity; one use for a secure, redundant, and private fibre loop or four would be to support a gaggle of mobile satellite TV uplinks.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Bashful Brownites

Anthony Wells is arguing about what percentage of don't knows in the polls for the Crewe & Nantwich byelection are actually Labour voters who feel embarrassed to say so - analogous to the "shy Tories" of the 1990s. I would think the number is considerable.

During my candidacy in Egham Hythe, I knocked on and got an answer from around 100 doors. In the event, there were roughly 600 Conservative votes, 300 Labour, and 200 Liberals counted. My own canvassing numbers logged 22 Liberal, 28 Tory, 1 BNP, 1 UKIP, 31 Don't Know among those who said they would vote...and 4 Labour. Yes - four. 5.19% of the total answers, as against 30% of the vote. Redoing the sums, assuming the same pattern for the non-answerers, predicted 51% Tory, 40% Liberal, 7.3% Labour (note this is a two-councillor ward, so votes for candidates must be divided by 2); the event was more like 60% Tory, 30% Liberal, 20% Labour, 10% nutters and spoilt ballots.

Conclusion: There are a *lot* of quiet Labour voters out there.

The Opposite of Architecture

Via Calculated Risk, galleries of repossessed houses in Los Angeles. This one can stand for a common theme.

It's hardly got any windows on the street side at all! Just two huge garage doors. Those doors are a common feature throughout the show - houses whose outward appearance is totally dominated by monster garages, like a great big fat ugly gob. Anything human in the architecture skulks behind the garage, as if ashamed. It's as if cars designed these buildings for their own use - realising, of course, they needed to make provision for the people, but sadly not being quite able to understand their needs.

This is, of course, not irrelevant to why they are already down one-third of their value. Perhaps we need a word for the opposite of architecture?

Public Service Announcement

The Daily Mash: better than drugs.

which in your case you have not got

Remember when we nixed the January 2007 Iranian weapons scare? We explained how pretty much any competent terrorists could build an EFP, and followed up with the revelation that the steel balls came from an Indian bike parts factory. Well, this made me smile.
Iraqi officials also have accused Iran of meddling in violence and had echoed the U.S. accusations of new Iranian-made arms being found in Basra. But neither the United States nor Iraq has displayed any of the alleged arms to the public or press, and lately it is looking less likely they will. U.S. military officials said it was up to the Iraqis to show the items; Iraqi officials lately have backed off the accusations against Iran.

A plan to show some alleged Iranian-supplied explosives to journalists last week in Karbala and then destroy them was canceled after the United States realized none of them was from Iran. A U.S. military spokesman attributed the confusion to a misunderstanding that emerged after an Iraqi Army general in Karbala erroneously reported the items were of Iranian origin.

When U.S. explosives experts went to investigate, they discovered they were not Iranian after all.
Feel the performance. Feel the power. Feel the steel balls!


So we had the world's first military coup motivated by a 3G network licence, in Thailand; we had the shootout between the Chalabi Boys and Orascom security men in Baghdad. Now, there's the Hezbollah/Amal coup de force (or de folie as Robert Fisk preferred), motivated in part by the Lebanese government's desire to control their secret telecoms network, including a CCTV system they installed at the airport to monitor the comings and goings.

Curiously, I've yet to hear any actual details of the system, except that it provides 99,000 "lines" (an increasingly meaningless metric, but one that implies it has a softswitch architecture rather than straight IP) and uses buried fibre. But there are also tales of WiMAX and other things radio. Apparently, the leader of Hezbollah has claimed that their signals were their most important weapon back in 2006. Perhaps - you've got to know when to move your ATGW team back over the reverse slope, I suppose. Some doubt this on the grounds that a fixed net doesn't seem that useful, but then, all mobile networks are fixed at some point, and if the fibre is dual SONET it needs a minimum of four independent cuts to partition the system. The Lebanese Army has now said that
it would handle the issue of the communications network in a way "that would not harm public interest and the security of the resistance". It also said it was reinstating the head of airport security [CCTV Guy].
Which, I think, means they're going to let it slide, if they don't actually hook it up to their own signals network. This is of course one of the least obvious features of the whole crisis; all the territory Hezbollah and Amal took was immediately handed over to the official Lebanese military, an increasingly powerful force in politics.

Arguably, this suggests that some of the ideas floated in 2006 about incorporating Hezbollah in the Lebanese military as some sort of reserve/militia/national guard/territorial army/jagers/greenjackets/cossacks/whatever else you call those crazy bastards on the border, as long as they don't bother you and keep the roads open, are being put in effect de facto. Perhaps the military have a deal, under which the Shia will support their commander in chief for president (and they do), and in return they will have a free hand to create their not-state in the south? It's a solution to the problem of a bunch of dangerous and independent-minded borderers that has a long pedigree indeed.

You could call it the Haganah-isation of Hezbollah; it's changing not just from a guerrilla force to an army, but also from a political party to an unstate with a shadow administration, an economy, and its own infrastructure, just as the Israeli founding generation built a mixed economy, a trade union movement, a shadow civil service, and a highly capable semiguerrilla army/intelligence service long before the state became a formal reality. I'm only surprised they didn't start a commercial GSM network as cover for their own command-and-control system; perhaps they will.

Meanwhile, again, this is an example of the democratisation of technology. You don't have to invoke a secret Dr Evil to explain how they built this; annoyingly, I see some people are yelling about Huawei and how it's all teh secret Chinese-Iranian plot. Perhaps. But they'll sell to anyone. And if there is WiMAX gear in there, it's cheap; the base stations are already under $10,000, and the biggest expense in a fibre build is always at Layer Zero, that is to say the business of going and digging the holes and renting the transmitter sites. I suspect right-of-way is less expensive in southern Lebanon than it is in Surrey, armies are rarely short of people if they need to dig a hole, and Hezbollah presumably doesn't have much trouble with NIMBYs. (See also.)

Was this a civil war? Perhaps the idea is wrong; it seems to me more like one of Gwyn Prins' "diplomatic-military operations" in one country, perhaps something an unstate like Hezbollah - or the Sadr movement - is uniquely suited to, as this superb article of Spencer Ackerman's argues.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Viktor Indicted

After not much happened for a while, charges have been filed against Viktor Bout in a US court.
The indictment charges Viktor Bout with four terrorism offenses, including conspiring to kill Americans, conspiring to kill U.S. officers or employees, conspiring to provide material support to terrorists and conspiring to acquire and use an anti-aircraft missile.

Prosecutors said he was offering a deadly arsenal of weaponry: more than 700 surface-to-air missiles, thousands of guns, high-tech helicopters, and airplanes outfitted with grenade launchers and missiles. The indictment said his price-tag was $15 million to $20 million.
You can get the document here, at the CTB. The document specifically mentions two cargo planes he apparently produced a brochure (!) on, explaining how they could be used for accurate airdrops into the Colombian backwoods. I'd really love to know which aircraft they were, but there is nothing in the document that helps, and practically all types in the network are capable of airdropping to some degree or other. (An12, An24/26, Il-76...even the An124, if they can get hold of one, can do it, although it would be a tad dramatic.)

Meanwhile, there's been a significant increase in the proportion of flights we're logging from Dubai and Sharjah to various war zones that are carried out by Transavia Export of Minsk, which some think was the first Bout company of them all. It would be nice if the authorities in Sharjah didn't let planes belonging to folk like this leave for unstated destinations; the night of the 5th-6th of May saw no less than four departures to "unknown" or "ZZZ", including one Phoenix Aviation/AVE, one Transavia Export, and two South-Airlines.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Earliest Wigan Walk Known to Science

Call the anthropologists. I believe I encountered the earliest instance of the Wigan Walk in the history of rugby league on Sunday.

OK, so Wigan played St Helens, their great tribal race enemy, in Cardiff; less obviously, Saints hit a savage burst of perfection and ran up 35 points to nothing in the first half. The moment I recall most is Ade Gardner's try just before half time, or better, Matthew Gidley's part in it. St Helens had pushed on to the Wigan lines, but didn't look like breaking through, and shipped the ball slowly along the face of the defence; then Gidley hit it, running - always the first rule - and immediately drew a marker from the line.

What happened then was what you go for; he stopped in pelt, and turned through 360 degrees around the Wigan man, rolling-out with the ball re-handled from one arm to the other while this went on, and chipped it to the flag for Gardner to race onto, with just little enough weight for it not to get there too soon. Ignorant people always think this game is about force and force only, but folk like Gidley and Rob Burrow, and Sean Long, who incidentally had a superb master's evening, almost worth that bloody club colours gumshield, show it's more than that.

One of the fan traditions is that Wiganers supposedly never stick around for a beating; considered a sign of spoilt arrogance. And on Sunday, with 25 minutes to go - there they were, filing out of the ground. But this was Wales; at Wigan's old ground, Central Park, a home fan leaving could easily have been at home in five minutes. In Cardiff, where did they go? To watch the rest on TV in a pub? To sit on the coach and chunter, with the crispdust?

Anyway, this has given me enough confidence to point out that Keighley are having a good year. Kly ! Kly! Boing! Boing! indeed.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Only Way To Defeat This Is To Surrender

This should be the biggest story in the UK; you know the Government just explicitly took powers to give the congestion charge ANPR camera data to the Americans, or actually any other state outside the European Economic Area? And what does Boris Johnson plan to do about that?

I can't help but think, however, that this is a great opportunity for the creative utilisation of this - via Schneier, why not get a personalised registration incorporating an SQL injection attack? You probably can't do this in the UK, however crafty you are with where you put the bolts. (They don't make a bolt shaped like the bottom half of a semicolon, after all.)

But a T-shirt with the following message:;INSERT INTO watchlist (pnrs) VALUES 'ADDINGTON/DMR';COMMIT TRANSACTION That would be cool. One of the nice things about QR codes, of course, is you can do these things graphically. Look into my eyes...

More seriously, this is one of the many things that worry me; the reason why I'm so keen on a carbon tax is that it's an option that doesn't involve creating a vast mass-surveillance system as collateral damage.

Doomed To Technology

BoingBoing apparently thinks this little line-shaft workshop is bizarre and incredible. Maybe. But I had one of these as a kid in the 1980s; it went with a Mamod steam engine, and had various tiny machine tools - a press, a pillar drill, a buffing wheel, and eventually we rigged a little dynamo to have it generate electricity, thus making the hop from the first industrial revolution and mill buildings to the second and electric motors. (Have I mentioned I once worked in a printing plant in Shipley - this was in the summer of 2000 - where the machinery came from Germany in 1963...East Germany?)

And it rocked, especially because it filled the house with the unique smell of live steam and hot oil. Oh, and that time I fired it up without my dad being around, with the result that the safety valve wasn't quite correctly seated, and extremely hot steam under pressure launched it into the fucking ceiling? Sorry, mum. But technology ought to scare you occasionally, right?

Surely they can't have been that rare. Here's a quote from the comments at BB:
Inspired by my Grandfather I built my own peripheral for it. BTW, it had a standard, open interface for everyone to hook up their own shit to the engine... it was a drive wheel, hooked up to the flywheel where you could place a rubber band and drive anything you could imagine. I chose to drive a tiny Electric Motor, that was hooked up to a flashlight bulb. It just might have started my ongoing involvement with science.
Yes, I did that too; I think the aim was trying to build up enough steam pressure to overload and burn out the bulb. If I had really been militant about it, I suppose I should have thought of some way to link it with the ZX Spectrum, but I don't think it put out enough wallop even to drive one of those.

And I never finished the rocket-propelled boat, even though I did get as far as cutting and soldering tin plate sections (more than the joint forces of the Government, BAE, Thales, Vosper Thorneycroft and Babcocks Rosyth can say for CVF).

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Donal Blaney: Hypocrite, Political Whore, and Torture Fan

Donal Blaney said...

I do not bandy the term "nazi" or "racist" about in the same way the left do.
2:05 PM

This is how the Nazi traffic wardens of London behave when they see a nice car that they decide they want to tow.

First, a confession. I was appointed a house prefect at school and I handed out a record 400 punishments over 14 months for a variety of offences, most of them trivial. In doing so, I recognise that in many instances I abused my power.

Now we know where the thousands of extra police are being deployed - on low level "crime" rather than preventing and investigating violent crimes and burglaries that are what we're all most worried about.

Where do I accuse anyone of plotting to suppress an accusation of paedophilia? What drugs are you on to have written such nonsense?

Secondly, a Labour council candidate was arrested last week on suspicion of child porn offences. Needless to say, had he been a Tory it would have been the lead story on the BBC and in the national press.

Thatcher would use nuclear. She wouldn't want us dependent on foreign gas and oil in today's world. It is the one area, apart from cuisine and gun rights, where the French are better than us.

How many nuclear power stations did she build, Don?

Cut Petrol Tax, You Greedy Sods

Are you against the market, Don?

Amnesty International once again show their true political colours in a campaign ad against the practice of waterboarding. This sanctimonious clique of naive peaceniks and leftist fellow travellers want us to fight the evil psychopaths who indiscriminately kill innocent men, women and children of all colours, creeds and religions with one arm tied behind our backs.

Hectoring and abrasive, Humphrys has become a parody of himself. In the same way that Jeremy Paxman's sneer seems to have become more exaggerated as the years go by, so it is with Humphrys' aggressiveness.

Hectoring and aggressive, eh?

I obviously agree that torture is not the answer.

I think I draw the line at permanent physical harm to the prisoner. Humiliation or psychological interrogation techniques are, in my view, not a problem - but we're all entitled to a different view. Waterboarding doesn't do the prisoner any permanent physical harm although he may be reluctant to shower or use a flannel again in the future when/if he is freed.

I am aware that the CIA has in the past used a creative interview technique which involved blind-folding a suspect, placing him into a helicopter and for the helicopter to lift a foot or two off the ground. If the prisoner didn't answer questions, he was told he faced being pushed out of the helicopter from (as he was told) hundreds of feet up. This too concentrated the mind.

(Note that he therefore goes against the British Army's doctrine on human intelligence collection and sides with, ah, the Gestapo. Are you against the troops, Don?)

Feel free to add any more Dons you find interesting in the comments. Unfortunately Don's forgotten how to use the moderation function, or something.

The Joy of Linux

So I actually bought a printer; in fact, a printer/scanner. And I considered buying two pairs of jeans after showing up at the count with interesting new holes. Am I descending into bovine consumerism? And the obvious next step was to qualify it with the Linux Lappeh.

It wasn't quite the "And then my troubles began..." experience like the BIOS reflash in January, but I was very amused by the fact that XSANE both throws a dialog box containing the following words:
You are trying to run Xsane as root! This is DANGEROUS! Please do not file bug reports for anything that happens when running Xsane as root: YOU ARE ON YOUR OWN!
and also suggests running as root as a generic troubleshooting option in its documentation. Well, I did, and all went OK. As I said to Soizick: the great thing about using Linux is that you get to feel like a mad scientist.

I recommend and endorse hplip.

Gordon Brown: My Part in His Downfall

You may be wondering why this blog missed a week; the answer is, of course, a repeat of my 2006 candidacy for mayor of Aspen Runnymede Borough Council. As in 2006, I shocked the local Liberal party with the radical option of actually going and knocking on doors; as then, I achieved absolutely nothing. Both Egham Hythe seats went Conservative with about 600 votes, followed by 200-odd for the Labour candidates and just below that for me and the Runnymede Runningmate.

It is of course completely ridiculous to try and draw conclusions from this, but I would point out that the Labour vote came as a surprise; 7 out of 100 voters I canvassed said they would vote Labour, which compared to the result suggests that pollsters should be applying a truly heroic "Bashful Brownite" adjustment to their results. And yes, people do vote BNP out of ignorance, or at least the guy who shouted that he was going to vote fascist did; they didn't put up a candidate.

It didn't seem the right moment to tell him, though. Later, I was chatting to a Tory who claimed to be impressed by Brian Paddick when I noticed a business card stuck to his fridge: Xxxx Xxxxx, Legacy Systems Architect, Home Office E-Borders Agency, based in one of those ridiculously named po-mo office parks by Heathrow (Civil service readers will know the one I mean). "Are you the E-Borders chap?" I asked. No, he said. "Well, thank God for that - or I'd have to kill you."

No, I didn't quite say that - I'm not actually Hunter Thompson. Actually I said that this was good news, because we were doing everything we could to crush his dreams and frustrate his plans. To which the Tory replied "Great! He keeps parking his sodding car in my driveway! And the FUCKING ALARM goes off EVERY NIGHT!" There's a surprise - a Home Office surveillance bureaucrat unaware of the costs of false positives, and completely inconsiderate of the ordinary citizen? Who could possibly have guessed?

The count was completely normal, and if anything less fun than the last time; all that stood out was the fact that another ward has a 'kipper who is actually Vietnamese (how's that work?).

Still, I have the satisfaction of being present at the LibDem Sorpaso; the moment we overtook Labour in share of the national vote. And unlike the original one, we didn't even need to include the estimated GDP of the Mafia to do it.

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