Sunday, June 29, 2008

Reduced Blog

Less blogging than usual due to OpenTech 2008 preparations. Must keep hacking, the clowns are gaining. Anyone know much about GeoRSS?

I'm on in track 2 (the Upper Hall), sometime after 1.30pm.

Laura Norder Goes to Afghanistan

While I'm on the topic of Giustozzi, here's something else which is important. One of the biggest motivators for a village to support a Taliban presence is a dispute that the official authorities, in so far as they exist, or the tribal authorities have failed to solve, or have solved in a manner that seems unjust. Another is a desire for security. But this is qualitatively less important; there is a huge difference between "security" and justice.

After all, any half-arsed authoritarian regime can at least claim to be providing security - patrolling, locking people up, shooting other people, maintaining a network of informers, battering suspects - all these can be described as "security". But it's almost characteristic of authoritarian and failed states that the state itself is a major insecurity producer.

Which brings me to my point. The reason why so many Islamist movements that succeed lay a lot of emphasis on the judiciary - the Islamic Courts in Somalia didn't bother to give themselves any other name until after they'd set up shop in the presidential palace - is also the reason for their success. Giustozzi argues that a lot of Afghans don't actually support the content of the Taliban's lawbook very much. What he doesn't go on to say, but perhaps should, is that this implies they choose law in general over lawlessness.

Given the choice of what is marketed as order without law, but which as always turns out to be chaos, and some sort of legal order, the people pick the latter. And they are far from being too stupid to recognise the difference between a government which practices legality, and one that merely has a lot of statutes containing agreeable features requested by foreigners, like Ishmaelia in Evelyn Waugh's Scoop. Let's be clear - practice beats constitution-writing. Legality is not something decreed in the capital.

Franz Neumann's Behemoth is one of the guidebooks to the last eight years. Neumann wrote in 1942 that the defining feature of the Nazi state was that it claimed to be Hobbes' Leviathan - the all-powerful creator of minimal order - but was in fact more like the Behemoth, the Leviathan's mythological partner, an equally mighty creator of chaos. He argued that this is true of authoritarianism everywhere; it's worth remembering that when he wrote this, he was thinking of the pre-war Nazi state founded on the idea of the Ausnahmezustand, the state of emergency in which (the legal) order is itself suspended.

Eventually, the difference between law and order is how the police behave, on a mountain road at night.

John Reid Retroblogging

I am currently reading Antonio Giustozzi's Koran, Kalashnikov, and Laptop - The Neo-Taliban Insurgency in Afghanistan. I'll review it more fully when I've finished reading it - now there's an idea - but here's something that stands out for reasons of pure partisan rage. John Reid has been mocked plenty for saying that he thought the 16th Air Assault Brigade would complete its mission in Afghanistan without firing a shot (of course, he didn't - he said he hoped it would), but I hadn't fully appreciated the utter blundering stupidity with which he approached starting a war on two fronts.

Like practically everyone, I'd always assumed the eruption of violence starting in June, 2006 was associated with the deployment itself - that the Americans had believed that this ungoverned space was essentially neutral, until the Paras actually located in the middle of it and found it was teeming with the enemy. Giustozzi provides a mass of evidence that in fact, the tempo of Taliban operations had gone off the charts in January, 2006, with a huge surge in attacks on international and Afghan government forces, a wave of school-burning, and an increase in platoon and larger raids on defended targets rather than IEDs, rockets, and bomb outrages. He argues, with considerable strength, that this should be understood as an attempt to launch the third stage of a Maoist revolutionary war, the general offensive that starts a widespread uprising and eventually overwhelms the state.

Put it another way, Reid sent the army straight into the teeth of the Taliban's Big Push, with an official concept of operations that didn't mention counter-insurgency or even combat. I think his current obscurity is well earned. In Giustozzi's terms, interestingly enough, the strategy General Richards adopted was actually not as crazy as it sounded. He argues that the bulk (40-50%) of Taliban forces come from local communities who are in an alliance of convenience with the movement, having been angered by unfavourable turns in tribal politics, the diminishing strength and authority of tribes in general, the behaviour of government forces, an unfulfilled desire for minimal state functions like local policing and arbitration, or some combination of these.

In this view, the spread of government influence into the villages was precisely the worst thing that could happen to the movement; the local elders who treated with the Taliban one day might treat with the government the next. Hence the aggression and tenacity of the assaults on British camps in Sangin and elsewhere - it was necessary to demonstrate that the movement was determined not to be edged out. As Tony Blair might have put it, they decided to pay the blood price in the hope of wearing out the British, provoking intense fighting among the civil population, and preventing the British from installing a rival authority. Giustozzi also suggests the ultimate leadership was being pressed by its Gulf-based moneymen and Pakistani allies to do something dramatic - a feeling yer man well knew.

A contrarian argument might have been that had the Taliban not been fighting so hard besieging Para platoons in their stronghold of northern Helmand, who knows what their general offensive might have achieved with more men and material concentrated on its target of Kandahar? But this is probably silly. It doesn't take account of the benefit to the movement of having many, many villages chewed up by the fighting, or the unavailability of troops tied down in defending their perimeters, or the fact that while the soldiers were engaged in a succession of vicious mini-sieges out in the north, they were neither conducting anything that could be described as counter-insurgency or reconstruction there, nor were they doing any closer to home where it might have been possible to make a start.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Electric Trucks

On Wednesday morning, I was nearly knocked down by an electric 7.5 tonne lorry on the Strand. On Thursday evening, I saw another one passing on a low loader near my home. There is a surprising British industry in here - both of these were Modec vehicles, but there is also Smith Electric Vehicles in Newcastle and Allied Vehicles in Glasgow, as well as a battery manufacturer.

Get public attention with poetry, not bombs

OK, so have you heard the one about the bloke from Goole who was planning to start his own race war? Probably not, because it's not been on the news at all. Rather like the BNP guy in Burnley, whose trial was also shrouded in tebbly tebbly concerned silence. Martyn Gilleard, a 31-year old lorry driver, is currently standing trial for making nail bombs, as well as collecting a variety of weapons. The prosecution alleges that he's a fascist who was planning to use them on his local mosque, and they seem to have a strong case - as well as the bombs, the bullets, and the knives, he collected American white-supremacist propaganda material. The BBC reports; I'm amused by his defence that he "said he had become less racist recently". Indymedia has more, including photos.

Here's the head of counter-terrorism in Scotland, making sense:
Fife's assistant chief constable said the public is at risk because racism is being used to unite people into violent causes. He said this also undermines police work to reassure the Muslim community following the attack on Glasgow Airport last year.

Burnett said: "We've had a number of right-wing issues recently [in the UK] that again have raised their head in Scotland. There have been serious cases down south that have been really well dealt with by the police down there, but we shouldn't be complacent about it. There's no point promoting positive race relations if, in claiming to be everyone's co-ordinator of counter terrorism, you take your eye off the right-wing."
But it's strange how little media/political attention is paid to the guy with the actual real explosives, compared to, say, the "Lyrical Terrorist". Perhaps it proves that intellectualism really is valued in Britain, at least by the Security Service - and who is to say they are wrong? After all, it wasn't the street fighters who put Hitler in power.

This is, however, another shot in the greater intellectual struggle of our times. I mean, of course, the debate between Dsquared, Jamie Kenny and myself about exactly how jihadi radicalisation works. Jamie has in the past argued that there is a sort of climate of nonspecific extremism abroad in our culture, which doesn't have to fit any particular political world-view, but instead makes its way to earth by any handy conduit. I wasn't very convinced of this to begin with, but I'm beginning to think there's something in it.

Evidence: here we have an actual prison-gang jihadi recruiter, who's being held in seg to stop him propagandising other prisoners. The key facts, however, are that his name is Stephen Jones and he used to be a member of the BNP. Clearly, Jamie's thesis is valid at least for some people. I wouldn't be surprised if Jones were to become, or have been, a Maoist, a deep-ecologist who thinks getting rid of people in general would be a good thing, a hardcore libertarian nutcase, or just a random thug. 10 years ago, perhaps he might have become a road-protesting raver, given the right drugs and influences. I particularly like the statement from the Prison Officers' Association rep that the sheer magnitude of the threat is shown because "if someone as right-wing as this can be radicalised, what could happen to the normal prisoners?" On that score, we'd surely want to worry about the screws.

Come to think of it, perhaps this free-floating extremism explains more than just the anglo-jihadis - there are the Decents, for one, and maybe even me. Dsquared has in the past expressed his concern at the speed with which Mohammed Sidique Khan, possibly the most capable person this movement produced, went from something approaching normality to suicide terrorist - come to think of it, it's a bit like what I think of as the Decent Death Dive. Taken together with this post, perhaps our society is organising itself around a defining tension between free-floating authoritarianism and non-specific extremism?

fully recyclable cellulosic macro-feline predator

Ha. Ha. Ha. Looks like Kelvin McFuck won't be standing after all. Too risky, eh?

There we were, thinking he was a heroic fighter for all he thought was right, not to mention a formidable enterpreneur, and a man confident in the backing of the deadliest nonkinetic weapon system on the planet. After all, heroism works so much better with adequate air support. But, apparently, he can't find the commitment to stump Haltemprice & Howden himself, or the £100,000 he claims his campaign needed. Excuse me - aren't you meant to be rich?

More seriously, the real story here is that he has never been very popular outside his own propaganda, just as his supposed business genius includes triumphs like L!ve TV and his supposed journalistic courage tended to take a lot of long lunches. Who now remembers that "GOTCHA!" was only actually printed in a tiny early edition for northern Scotland, because he wasn't in the office early enough to stop it? When he finally rocked up, he freaked and spiked the lot, replacing it with a far weaker (and factually incorrect) fillerfest about "gunboats". It was the original reverse ferret.

The phrase you're looking for is "paper tiger", but no-one in politics would want to admit that. After all, there's this:
News International executives are understood to be wary of fielding a candidate against the Conservative party, which could interfere with the Sun's policy to always back the winner of election campaigns.
Hence last week's string of "Bridge, engine room - MAKE SMOKE!" stories that the FRENCH ARE STEALING OUR NAVY!!!

Oh yes: this is brilliant.

Keeping Britain Tidy

So, yer National Staff Dismissal Registry. Several people have asked me to comment on this horrible intersection of Blairite justice-style product and the good old Economic League, and they won't be surprised that I'm against it. For all the usual reasons - you don't actually need to do anything wrong to be on it, and there is no effective limit on who gets the information, and no way of getting off it again.

But the curious thing is how it fits into a very specific set of Government policies and ways of seeing. I started making inquiries about it, thinking that some of the old Economic League/Caprim folks might be involved. I haven't found any yet, but the people I did find were interesting. It kicks off with something called the "Alliance Against Business Crime", a Home Office-sponsored talking shop for large retailers (basically). It actually runs the NSDR, and until this year it received Home Office funding.

Here's the board of directors. Note that its independent existence doesn't even run to a Web site - it's part of the British Retail Consortium's facilities. The board is a lineup of interest group representatives, cops...and who's this? Richard Barron, Director, Encams. Encams? That has a good, sinister sound to it. Right? In fact, Encams is what used to be called Keep Britain Tidy, and Barron is indeed its Director of Community Safety and Town Centres. What does this mean in practice?

Well, it looks like he and his organisation have become part of the general government-inspired push for greater private control of public space. He shares the board with one Dr. Julie Grail, chief executive of "British BIDs". BID here means Business Improvement District, a government scheme under which private companies essentially get to take over the management of a chunk of a city. It's been much protested about, and it's probably worth mentioning that such police/business hybrid entities often run CCTV deployments. The AABC appears to link these with Business Crime Reduction Partnerships, which are yet another Home Office-driven security privatisation exercise. You won't be surprised to learn that it's Hazel Blears' fault.

Unsurprisingly, its head for the North-West is a casino security manager. Me, I find the very words give me the cold dreads. Barron, it turns out, actually went from the AABC to Keep Britain Tidy; note that this AABC newsletter encourages members to lobby the government for heavier sentencing and more toughosity in general. There you have it - the Home Office actually paying people to tell it how scared of crime they are. It's a kind of inverted Stafford Beer process - a recursive feedback loop with the bullshit output coupled to the input.

Here we have Barron speaking at a conference for the private security industry:
The patrollers, largely young, many women, visit premises, note problems, and are in radio contact with PCSOs – as in Lincoln, four are paid for by the BID - and police. There’s a dedicated town centre police team. Bedfordshire Police entered into a baseline agreement as to where and when the team will work. As a result police in the town centre have moved from being an ‘arrest squad’ to a ‘prevention squad’. The BID runs a retail radio link and equivalent Nightnet scheme, and runs a photo-exclusion scheme for the day and night-time economies. Reported crime and stock loss have fallen.

Richard Barron, previously a regional manager for AABC, is now community safety and town centres director with charity Encams, the former Keep Britain Tidy. He too stressed the government’s cleaner-greener-safer agenda.
Note the bit about the police actually handing part of their role over, as well as the delightfully Orwellian "photo-exclusion scheme for the day and night-time economies" (I think it means people in uniforms ostentatiously photographing and following persons suspected of being poor). They are literally rolling back the frontiers of the state. Further down, you'll notice him encouraging the distribution of more fixed-penalty tickets (thus increasing the reported crime figures).

We used to imagine the totalitarian enemy as being insanely, unnaturally orderly - Prussians heel-clicking around general staff situation conferences, Soviet officials poring over their input-output tables. Whatever short-term advantage this machine society gave them, we thought, it could never overcome the smelly creativity of our democracy. But now, keeping Britain tidy extends to a state-sponsored labour blacklisting exercise, which seems to be conceived of as a subsidy to commercial property developers. What does it say about us when a campaign against litter is part of a scheme like this?

Further, what does it say about Dan Norris MP, that he was directly involved in killing off the Economic League, but voted for ID cards?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

mystery train

Ho ho ho. Another pack of secret docs left on a South West Train. One of the compensations of commuting on the Waterloo-Reading/Windsor & Eton Riverside route was the astonishing things civil servants read and said on mobile phones - I recall reading quite discreditable things about St Blair's Academies, overhearing someone discussing the urgent procurement of armoured vehicles for Afghanistan, and finding a briefcase and papers regarding NATO supply contracting for the same theatre in the Hole in the Wall pub. A spy would have been almost superfluous.

I'm interested by the fact the finder of the first lot handed them to the BBC, rather than, say, the police. It seems wise.

if you know, come to teach

Oh dear. Massive Taliban jail break in Kandahar - 400 or so rebel prisoners sprung with 400 or so others. What worries me, though, is that the attack seems to have been very much like the 2005 NOIA raid on Abu Ghraibh.
Prison staff said the assault began when a tanker full of explosives was detonated at the Sarposa compound's main entrance, wrecking the gate and a police post and killing the officers inside. A short time later, a suicide bomber travelling on foot blasted a hole in the back of the prison.

A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, said 30 insurgents on motorbikes and two suicide bombers attacked the prison, and claimed militants had been planning the assault for two months. "Today, we succeeded," he said, adding that the escaped prisoners were "going to their homes".

Mohammad Hiqmatullah, a shopkeeper who sells vegetables near the jail, said he saw fleeing prisoners disappear into nearby pomegranate and grape groves. Witnesses said rockets were fired at the prison during the 30-minute battle. A local politician said 15 policemen were killed in the storming of the prison and subsequent clashes.

So, a multiple VBIED attack to breach the walls, RPGs for the guard towers, then the assault, and finally an orderly break-contact - you didn't see any mention of Taliban casualties or prisoners, did you? Just like that, with the difference that this time, the car bombs reached the wall. The motorbikes are a distinctive local touch, I think. Ungood.

one intelligent soldier

Said Sir Michael Rose, speaking at the SAS passing-out parade in 1979: One intelligent soldier can achieve more than a fleet of B-52s. There's some debate as to whether that statement could be applied to Rose himself, but I doubt many would disagree with it.

David Davis apparently agrees. His resignation from Parliament should be understood as an exercise in the struggle for strategic influence, specifically directed at the growing decent/neocon faction in the Conservative Party. I have been a little surprised, and pleased, by how well the Tories have held up on the Counter-Terrorism Bill, ID cards, and related issues; I would have thought the Murdoch influence would be telling by now. And, indeed, there are signs of change within - Boris Johnston's win seems to have hugely strengthened the Policy Exchange/Michael Gove current, while Cameron's annoying press chief Steve Hilton has run off to California. His BlackBerry is unlikely to be enough to compensate for the distance, which must strengthen Andy Coulson's role as Rupert Murdoch's ambassador to the Tories.

But now: cazart! Davies' replacement, Dominic Grieve is even talking about repealing the 28 day provisions. Stick that up your punter - I think not. There's not going to be any cave-in now. It's part of the Westminster traditional language that, to be considered principled, an act must also be ineffective or poorly executed, which is one of the reasons so many people have been at pains to accuse Davis of Machiavellianism or frivolity. People who want something that isn't evil or dishonourable don't get to pull off brilliantly outrageous triple-crosses, do they? Yes, of course it's Machiavellian scheming - this is politics after all, and that's how things get done, and the people who complain are usually the ones who were outschemed.

If you needed evidence that the Davis coup is significant, you need look no further than the emergence of an actual Murdoch candidate running against him. Yes, Kelvin McFuck is back, looking to add another name to his litany of post-Sun failures. He is one of very few men to actually fail to make money by underestimating the public's taste - it's not like News Bunny ever made a penny... But, this time, he is clutching a promise of actual financial support from News International, plus close air support from the paper itself. Inevitably, the media establishment is busy writing him off as a joke candidate, which makes as much sense as writing Davis off and is being done for precisely the same reasons.

Whether McFuck realises it or not, in a very serious sense Davis was running against the Sun Party from the word go. What does the Sun actually stand for, politically? Well, now we know - we can read it off McFuck's public statements.
He also told the BBC he would be campaigning on three issues - hostility to the "sense that our country is somehow in the grip of some kind of security vice", demanding that there be "the referendum for Europe", and on more populist issues - like seeking changes to government spending on "things I don't think we care about".
In a BBC Radio 5 interview, he was slightly more specific about point three, saying that he wanted to ban BT from using "automatic voice responders and call centres". You have to wonder whether a man who had just come from a late-night dinner with antisocial binge drinker Rebekah Wade was entirely sober, but there is a clear pattern here - he, and it, stand for authoritarianism, the Special Relationship in the worst sense, and fake populist gut-chafing (this latter, of course, is essentially content-free).

Putting it another way, McFuck's candidacy is an exercise in the promotion of power-worship. It's Schmittian conservatism; the permanent crisis requires an Ausnahmezustand, which demands a strong leader who may incidentally beat up the odd call centre to demonstrate their compassion for the weak, who are very much intended to stay that way. Note that McFuck's not interested in the people who work in the call centre. Only a numskull like Geoff Hoon could think the Government ought to field a candidate - it should be clear enough to everyone else that the Government, in many ways, already is.

In this light, it's clear why Davis is standing and why he deserves your support - it's only contradictory that he believes in both the death penalty and habeus corpus in terms of generalised progressivism or liberalism, which he doesn't believe in (or he wouldn't be a Tory). In terms of classical conservatism, it makes perfect sense to think that the State should have the power to cut your head off, and that its power must be constrained by law as much as humanly possible. (After all, if the State *wants* to kill someone, it's likely to find a way unless someone stops it.)

And, going by the polling data, this is likely to be your chance to help pour the proverbial vast bucket of shit back over McFuck's head. Imagine the scene at the Murdoch summer party - McFuck, red-faced, holding forth, James Murdoch explaining to Rupert, ticking quietly on his death-support system, that there's this thing called the Internet and it's like TV that you read, Wade drooling slightly over Wendi Deng's shoulder but still reasonably coherent, the plates of roast baby stewed in the juice of freshly squeezed minority shareholders well dug into but not quite down to the toying level yet. All seems well with the world...and then, the disruption. Forced to show their hand.

This is also to say that Dan Hardie was right. He's been a Davis fan for some time; I was doubtful, especially after he reacted to the police crime figures going down by suddenly deciding the BCS was right all along. But when the time came...

There's a PledgeBank here; and what's this? Bob Marshall-Andrews and Colonel Tim Collins? And Kings of War. And Peter McGrath. It's like going back to the 2005 general election, maaannnn.

I’m a worse bastard than the fucking shite that I am, and that’s saying something

Finally, we have the best possible argument against the dire Counter-Terrorism Bill. Unfortunately, it's one that by definition we couldn't have had before last week's pornographic nightmare of a vote. It's a sort of recursive critique. Think about it - by far the worst feature of the damn thing is the awful "concession" that Parliament gets to vote up or down on the detention of individuals. It was bad enough when this was meant to be a sop, only becoming active after the poor devil had already been in the clink for weeks, but the text the Commons passed foresees that the vote would have to be taken in a timely fashion. It would actually have practical consequences.

This is a constitutional obscenity - the legislature pretending to be the executive (deciding how much of a terrorist threat exists) and the judiciary (deciding on a case of habeus corpus). It's also almost self-refuting; the whole Government line on this has been that we need to pass some draconian and hopelessly ill-thought out legislation motivated by panic now, so we don't do it after a major terrorist incident. Originally, they argued that the bill was as it was because, in the event of its use, it might not be practical to convene Parliament quickly. Which makes a degree of sense, after all, if somebody just blew it up. But now, the bill intended to deal with the case that Parliament could not act requires Parliament to act.

Then there's the question of evidence - the whole point is that the police would supposedly not have enough time to gather the prima facie evidence required to charge the suspect, but the Bill requires the government to put evidence it won't actually have, all other things being equal, before the House. Which could also have bad consequences for the chances of any trial that resulted. And what if the evidence was the special secret sauce of SIAC?

And the horror of putting someone's essential liberty in the hands of politicians concerned with re-election, on what would probably turn out to be a party-line vote, shouldn't need explaining. But all this is a bit theoretical.

Since last week, however, we can say - how could anyone trust the people responsible for passing the Counter-Terrorism Bill to decide on whether some poor fool is locked up or not? Robert Spink MP? The Reverend William McCrea? Nigel Dodds, who appeared on the radio before the vote to state that he considered it a matter of principle, but he hadn't made his mind up yet? Shaun Woodward, who continues to deny he offered the Paisleyites a deal, although Mark Durkan says Woodward offered his SDLP colleagues one? Whoever it was who offered Diane Abbott the Governor-Generalship of Bermuda, and Keith "Are you still here?" Vaz a knighthood? Geoff Hoon? I tell you, it's the perfect argument.

I wonder, in the event of the bill being activated and some bewildered Dewsburyite's fate riding on the vote, what
precisely the Government whip would be willing to pay for a vote for continued detention? An ambassadorship? Access to the Government Art Collection? Straight to the Lords? An audience with Jacqui Smith? No, that would surely be reserved for the waverers. If not the suspect themselves. (Note: I'm indebted to Viz's Eight Ace for the title.)

Sunday, June 08, 2008

still crazy after all these years

Remember we wanted to know more about Asia Airways? This entity has solidified somewhat, and it now has a place of registry (Tajikistan, EY-) and some aeroplanes. There are four Il-76, registered EY-601 to 604, and three Antonov 12s, registered EY-401 to 403. Interestingly, all the aircraft we have any information on have been transferred from Click Airways (CGK), the now EU-banned operator that has been running quite a lot of Il-76s from the UAE to various war zones. There are still a few CGK and CKW codes coming up in the movements, but they are certainly dropping off by comparison with ASW, Transliz and BGIA; it looks like the fleet is being reshuffled.

Interestingly, on this day of 2004 retroblogging, they include An-12 serial number 8345607, which stopped a surface-to-air missile over Baghdad back then as EK-12555. So did 8346006, working for Phoenix Aviation as EK-12333. Built strong - Antonov strong. And the Il-76 EY-603 has been seen with Rus Aviation as well - yes, these guys.

selling the dummy

Here's an interesting question about the finally-released Senate Intelligence Committee Phase II report about the use of intelligence on Iraq. The "Shorter" for Phase II A is quite simply that "yes, it was all bollocks", and specifically that it was all bollocks in the same way it was in the UK - caveats were removed, possibilities upped to certainties, dissent suppressed - with certain well-known exceptions that were complete nonsense. Phase II B deals with the infamous meeting in Rome between top-of-the-barrel rightwing nutcase Michael Ledeen, convicted spy Larry Franklin, all-purpose crook and bullshitter Manuchar Ghorbanifar, plus two Iranians, one of whom Ledeen claimed to be a disaffected Iranian spook on the run, but who may just have had a similar name (another man involved turned out not to exist, and another described as "an information peddler", and an unknown number of spies from "a foreign government". What a bunch.

The report should by rights be the final blow for Ledeen's credibility and reputation, in so far as such things exist - it makes clear that he misrepresented the people present so that the Department of Defense would handle the meeting rather than the CIA (this was important because the CIA considered Ghorbanifar a liar and probably an Iranian spy), and that he also didn't say that yer man was coming. Nor did he mention the others, because any involvement with Italian officials would have required the permission of the State Department, which presumably considered them all to be a bunch of nutters. Despite much black ink, it is clear from context that the "foreign government" was Italy.

Further, it reveals that US Army counter-intelligence agents suspected he was being used by Iranian intelligence, but that the investigation was killed off on instructions from Stephen Cambone after one month. That's all impressive enough, and much as we all thought. But what I want to know is precisely where the British government comes in?

You may recall that the famous document that was meant to show Iraq buying uranium from Niger originated with the Italian secret service, and then appeared in yer dossier, just in time for the Americans to start using it in public speeches. It has long been suspected that the meeting in Rome was somehow involved in this exercise in policy-laundering, or rather bullshit-laundering. So how did the thing get from Italy to the UK? Well, there was Harold Rhode, also at the meeting, who made it to the December 2002 Iraqi opposition conference in London. That may give us some idea. Now that's what I call the exigencies of the service - you've got to meet gems like Ledeen, Ghorbanifar, Chalabi, and Nick bleeding Cohen, plus every other Decent out of hospital at the time. It's hell in the diplomatic, as Harry Flashman so wisely said.

It would be interesting to know if/when any of the other members of the Rome Secret Dining Club visited Britain between then and September 2002. As Mick Smith points out, the Defence Intelligence Staff just got post-Huttonised.

more unwritten books

This is fascinating - a drug that up-regulates the rate of neurogenesis, the creation of new neurons, in your brain, which may be a treatment for depression. Obviously the risks are around what happens to the new neurons. I can't help thinking there's a science fiction outcome in this somewhere.

The Switzerland of the Middle East (for some periods of Swiss history)

There is a fascinating post at Pat Lang's about a study trip to Lebanon which involved meeting some interesting and alarming people (Samir Geagea, described here as "a bit Lyndon LaRouche" - well, whatever hard things have been said, quite understandably, about the latter, he never commanded a militia that cut huge crosses in the bodies of its enemies). Bashir Assad's wife is apparently an Obama Girl, Walid Jumblatt is losing his wits, Saad Hariri is an arrogant twit, Rafiq Hariri's sister is considerably smarter than Saad, Siniora is a Mann ohne Eigenschaften, and all the Hezbollah representatives they met were very impressive indeed, once they laid off the war porn propaganda pix.

Apart from this Lebanese version of the Spectator at its best, I was interested by this:
Amin Gemayel was not particularly forthcoming, and seemed badly out of touch. When pressed for details on a number of points he was completely at a loss. He seemed to resort to stock politician phrases even in personal conversation. My impression was of a man losing vitality. I tried to push him on the question of what a real 'national defense strategy' would be, seeking some common ground between him and Hezbollah. He replied that he envisaged a 'Swiss model' of every citizen owning a gun. Incredulous, I asked him if that would really deter Israeli or Syrian aggression. He responded evasively, citing the importance of various UN resolutions. When I cornered him privately after the session, he said that in the 1970s they had tried to acquire Crotale air defense systems but were thwarted by Israeli pressure, indicating that similar factors were at play today.
Not that he means much these days, but I can't see what the objection to a "Swiss model" would be. In fact, Hezbollah's total strategy down south appears to have been exactly that in 2006. And given that Lebanon will always be surrounded by bigger powers with dubious intentions, and it is unlikely to be allowed to create a manoeuvre-warfare capability even if it can afford to (see above), it's hard to see what other policy is available.

Further, the availability of cheap ATGWs and electronics is a big boost to the strength of such a force, and there is no shortage of people to use them. In some ways it's a lot like the development of another well-known army in the Levant, which was founded on the guerrilla wing of an integrated political party/economic development organisation/rebel army. Can anyone guess which it was? Of course, the Israelis concentrated on buying tanks - but then, they weren't in the mountains. The other good thing about such a policy is that it would be a handy way of dealing with the existence of militias - wrapping them into some sort of national command structure.

And, of course, Lebanon used to call itself the Switzerland of the Middle East. The similarities are actually more than you think - cantons of differing linguistic/religious identities, mountain frontiers, a profitably discreet and profitably dubious banking sector. You can even ski. But, you know, Switzerland as an island of perfect peace is quite a new idea, created by its neutrality in the world wars - before then, well...there's a reason why the pope has Swiss guards, which is that back in the day, Swiss mercenaries scared the hell out of Europe so much that some international treaties specifically bound the parties not to recruit them for use against Christians. (Savages, well, that was OK.)

The overall impression is that the system is gradually working its way back into equilibrium, not least as a result of Bush no longer having an active policy. "Have you figured them out?" asked Zaphod. "No, I've just stopped fiddling with them.."

Using up SCIRI

I've repeatedly suggested that there is an emerging alignment between the Sadrists and political factions close to the NOIA insurgents and ex-insurgents. Here's some news - a new coalition including Sadr, various mix'n'match factions including the Dialogue (close to NOIA), a chunk of Dawa that has split from SCIRI, and the Allawi fanclub (yes - he's still going!). The Iraqi Accordance Front - the main NOIA political wing - isn't there, but it's falling apart between its commitment to working with the Shia-Kurdish alliance and its base's desire to get paid for changing sides. This suggests to me, at least, that the political position is crumbling - the link between the Awakenings and the government is going, and at the same time chunks of the (much hyped) secular middle are falling off and moving closer to the Sadrists.

Now that's what I call scienciness

So, the US Army's research centre employs a climate-change denier as a scientist, and then sets up a blogger conference call with him. I'm less interested in the fact he's a weirdo on the specific issue than the simpler point that he's talking out of his arse.
Instead, Dr. Bruce West, with the Army Research Office, argues that "changes in the earth’s average surface temperature are directly linked to ... the short-term statistical fluctuations in the Sun’s irradiance and the longer-term solar cycles."

In an advisory to bloggers entitled "Global Warming: Fact of Fiction [sic]," an Army public affairs official promoted a conference call with West about "the causes of global warming, and how it may not be caused by the common indicates [sic] some scientists and the media are indicating."
So it's yer sunspot cycle, already. Christ. That was literally the very first denier document I ever read, way back in the 1980s - someone quoting an Australian radio DJ who reckon it was all about teh solar variance. And they're still pushing.

But it's quite simply wrong. Here's a paper from the Proceedings of the Royal Society (pdf). The key bit is the following set of charts, which show several measurements of solar activity - sunspots, cosmic ray intensity, the abundance of certain radioisotopes, and total solar irradiance - and finally, the GISS and Hadley Centre temperature series. The multiple lines on the solar charts show results using a variety of different methodologies to smooth the 11-year solar cycle and noise, leaving the centennial trend.

Figure 3b in the linked document

Clear enough? Here's the conclusion:
"There are many interesting palaeoclimate studies that suggest that solar variability had an influence on pre-industrial climate. There are also some detection–attribution studies using global climate models that suggest there was a detectable influence of solar variability in the first half of the twentieth century and that the solar radiative forcing variations were amplified by some mechanism that is, as yet, unknown. However, these findings are not relevant to any debates about modern climate change. Our results show that the observed rapid rise in global mean temperatures seen after 1985 cannot be ascribed to solar variability, whichever of the mechanisms is invoked and no matter how much the solar variation is amplified."

Well, what can you say? It looks a lot like someone here is another King's bad bargain like George "The Memory Haunts My Resume" Deutsch.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Political Pathetic Python Again

Here's a visualisation of today's output from the Viktor Bout script, version 2.5, with the help of IBM ManyEyes's network graph function.

Unfortunately the flight number data in there has somehow been filtered, and there should be arrowheads. Why can't I have arrowheads?

Rest assured the definitive version is coming...

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Indecent behaviour at a police station, TPCA 1847

This essay by Ian McEwan in the Guardian Review shows precisely why the Decent influence on British intellectual life is so damn depressing. You may think, and I would say the AaroWatch crew are guilty of this, that they are just a bunch of wankers left behind with their blogs after history moved on. But their unpopularity is not all that important - the whole Decent project is intended to be an elite/intellectual one, based on influence rather than numbers.

On those terms it's succeeding, what with the ramifications it's developed in the Conservative Party...and its effect on the literary establishment is pretty grim, too. McEwan will never be a core-group Decent, even though he wrote a whole book about how terribly civilised, self-controlled surgeons compared to those irresponsible scum protesting in the streets. He's too good for that, and style has a role to play as well - Martin Amis's epic self-dramatising fits in perfectly with a movement as queeny as Decency, but McEwan's literary protestantism doesn't quite fit. But they are having an effect on him.

Consider this essay. It's a good, solid piece of work; a well-researched reflection on the continuity of apocalyptic thought in human societies, and the way it projects the real horror of mortality - that the world goes on without us - onto precisely the society that will always outlive us. But then, but then; you read this:
It was inevitably a transition, the passing of an old age into the new - and who is to say now that Osama bin Laden did not disappoint, whether we mourned at the dawn of the new millennium with the bereaved among the ruins of lower Manhattan, or danced for joy, as some did, in the Gaza Strip.
They didn't, though, did they? The TV image in question turned out to be stock footage shot months before, and no-one remembers the BBC lead of that night from Palestine, Yasser Arafat giving blood for New York. There is something wrong here - after all, why would you want to involve Palestinians at this point? They didn't bloody do it, man. Why not say - in Afghanistan, where the orders for the attack were given? In Saudi Arabia, where the attackers came from and where, in all probability, the money came from? In Hamburg, where the terrorist cell actually prepared the attack? Why give a location at all - someone, after all, will have danced for joy somewhere?

And here we go. McEwan now devotes several hundred words to the revolutionary notion that Wahhabism, Nazism, and Stalinism are undesirable and would be best avoided, something no Guardian Review reader is likely to have thought before him. He cites Christopher Hitchens, raging about John F. Kennedy, but oddly doesn't seem aware that Richard Nixon nearly started a nuclear war in 1973 or Ronald Reagan in 1984 with the ABLE ARCHER crisis, one which was particularly perilous because it happened without any of the diplomatic crisis management Kennedy's cabinet wrapped the Cuban crisis in. There is a message here, no? And it's not about apocalyptic thinking, at least not that kind.

But McEwan, as I said, will never be a real Decent. American Christian Identity types come in for a lot of flak, as does the Israeli settler movement. The fox is struggling to hedgehog up. On the other hand, though, it's there - the creationists get given an explicit pass on the suggestion they don't really believe it, and we've dealt with Palestine further back. This is undoubtedly a Decent document, which is a great pity, because its indecent curves are stunning when shown.

Meanwhile, I was driving away from Windsor Great Park on the day of the Queen's Cup polo match when I saw, over a hedge, the top of a Routemaster! Given the bizarre significance of the things to the PolEx/Godson/Standpoint/CCO/Martin Bright club, I'm tempted to imagine it as the transport for the Decent assassination squad.

Does anyone need Qtek 8100 user manuals?

Because although I don’t have one any more, I just stumbled on the user manual and the Windows install CD.

People say to me just be yourself, it makes no sense to follow fashion. How could I be anybody else?

Ackerman reckons we should be impressed that he suggested a Turkish-Kurdish rapprochement two years ago. The evidence for the rapprochement is pretty good - there are meetings going on between the KRG and the Turks, under the chairmanship of (Kurdish) Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, about issues connected with all the business Turkish companies are doing in Kurdistan. But who cares about that, when there's blogger one-upmanship at stake?

It's the 24th of July, 2005, and this is on the front of TYR: The Turks Are Coming! Maybe
If I was a Turkish spook, I wouldn't be planning to attack the Kurds. I'd arm them, trade with them, finance them, and sleep soundly knowing I had one of the most bitter bunches of mountain killers in the world between me and the chaos in Iraq. And I'd still have the menace of invading them available. Just one thing: do not declare a sovereign state - yes, be one, but don't say it. I wouldn't want to be shot by my own side.
Hey, that's two whole days after Jean Charles de Menezes was offed by Ian "Therapy Cat is Concerned" Blair. Well, the Turks eventually blew their stack and invaded, achieving nothing and wasting their deterrent credibility. Now they are getting serious. You read about it here first. And remember, one day Kurdistan will apply to join the EU.

Speaking of predictions - look at this. Via Brian Ulrich, Turkey is playing a key role in negotiations between Syria and Israel, by offering the Israelis a water. Yes, just like this old school January 2004 post on TYR. There's a huge opportunity for an EU-like technocratic settlement there, y'know.

Where did I get the title?

I View the Checksum: It was Exum

Turns out Abu Muq was Andrew Exum all along. Which is interesting; I'd read and been impressed by Exum's work on Hezbollah and Iraq, but I'd never have thought it was him, chiefly because the man behind the stylish blogger template was obviously both smart and struggling to overcome a deeply ingrained wingnut streak. There was the whinging about the Independent, and the occasional lapses into cheapo frogbashing, and the pathological Alex/Patrick Cockburn confusion thing - my challenge, by the way, is still open. It reveals a certain amount of cogdis when you're simultaneously mocking racist buffoon Mark Steyn and still, in the year of Our Lord 2008, approvingly referring to the article in which he coined "fisking".

I didn't want to take part when I first heard of them - too many good military-related blogs did the same dull trajectory into domination by the scarlet-faced majors at the Base, and once AM started getting linked by fifteen-carat/carrot wankers like Mudville and Blackfive, it looked ominous. But the blog went on beyond that, despite a minor insurgency of trolls; its real commitment to understanding the politics of guerrilla warfare has so far kept them under control, and a truly interesting community has developed. Where else do you run into Ackerman, DeLong, Gian Gentile, Bob Bateman, David Kilcullen, Norwegians, and me in the same comments thread? Fantastic, a hybrid of Teresa Nielsen Hayden and Frank Kitson; precisely what the times require.


Where else but Northern Ireland would the government form a Consultative Group on the Past?

In other news, the Kevin Myers review has achieved the rare distinction of links from ahem, reactionary ballbag hack Tim Worstall and Ken MacLeod, who reckons Al Gore would so have staffed-up from AEI and Patrick Henry College in order to fight for the Unitary Executive, going by his last book. (Worstall, meanwhile, having spent years arguing that climate change isn't happening cos of the 1940s pause, is now arguing that its nonexistence means climate change doesn't exist either. I am not joking.)

I'm not sure if this is universal acclaim or just a case of the fundamental unity of extremism. In other housekeeping, someone on a Verizon FIOS link in Syracuse, New York wants to know what hhappens when kerosene is spilt on a kitten.

Update: Shorter Worstall - I'm a lady! libertarian...

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