Saturday, December 20, 2003

Respect for the law

Britain's longest strike ended this week. The workers at a factory in Caernarvon, Friction Dynamics UK, that makes brakes, clutches and other vehicle parts, went on a one-week strike in April, 2001 over changes to their shifts introduced at a time when their wages had been static for 4 years and were going to be cut by 15%. Although the workers agreed to call in ACAS mediation, the management failed to turn up. After 8 weeks the management sacked all 86 strikers - this was legal under the Employment Act once a strike reaches 8 weeks. They were replaced by people recruited from Jobcentres (apparently the Employment Service saw nothing wrong in acting as a strikebreaker agency), and went to an industrial tribunal claiming unfair dismissal. For a start, it took a year for the case to come up, but that wasn't all. In the meantime one of the scabs was seriously hurt working with a machine missing a guard - he lost all the fingers on one hand, and was not compensated because Dynamics had somehow omitted to tell their public-liability insurers that 86 out of 103 workers had been sacked and replaced.

And that was it. The TGWU dug in for a long struggle and they kept picketing, lobbying, demoing and the rest of the armoury of protest. Finally, in August this year, the courts ruled that they had all been unfairly dismissed. But no compensation ever appeared - the American owner, Craig Smith (here's a link to some interesting information on this character) put the firm into administration, then got a new firm called Dynamex Friction which he owned to buy its assets, appointing the former manager of the plant as chief executive.

Why is it that conservatives are obsessed with "respect for the law" when the people they idolise most have all the respect for the law of goats? Smith may or may not have broken the law with his latest trick - the lawyers will decide that - but he has demonstrated utter contempt for it. The picket, by the way, is coming to an end now because the struggle will go on in the courts.

Blogroll update

We welcome two blogs to the blogroll - Guild of Ghostwriters, a British group blog, and Waldheim, a lefty blog from Yale.

Friday, December 19, 2003

First non-government supersonic flight!

Rutan does it again

The great Burt Rutan has come up with another of his astonishing aircraft. SpaceShipOne (great InterCapping!) flew above the speed of sound - the first time anyone has done without the aid of the state, better yet on the 17th of December, 100 years after the Wrights blah blah blah. This is his effort for the X-Prize, a prize of $10 million for the first spacecraft built without governmental aid, successfully flown into space, with space for 3 passengers, and repeated within 2 weeks with the same craft.


Now that's the first good news in a while.

The Fate of Rumsfeld...

One day, in the future, they will find his body in the desert, blackened by the sun, his lips cracked, eyes swollen, collapsed at the foot of a great sand dune with a shovel still gripped in his blistered hands, crushed by the sand drifting back into the hole, like Ozymandias' architect.....still looking for weapons of mass destruction.

Brief thought about Saddam, trials etc

The possibility of an acquittal is a valid criterion of a fair trial.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Clark's Role in Kosovo Exemplifies His Traits (

Link Excellent Washington Post story on Wesley Clark and the Kosovo war. Not the best advert for his presidential campaign, even though it doesn't mention "I'm not going to start World War Three for you, SIR!"

17th December - 100 years of aviation

100 years to this day - Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first ever controlled and sustained manned flight. Another good reason why, as soon as this post publishes, I'm off for a beeer.

Preparing for smallpox and the Asylum Cry

The Guardian reports today that plans for dealing with an outbreak of smallpox in Britain have been published. The arrangements include the establishment of emergency clinics, to be co-located with district general hospitals, within 24 hours of a smallpox case being confirmed anywhere in the world. These sites would require 140 staff each, who the regional health authorities are now to select. These persons would be the first group of people to be vaccinated immediately on a threat being identified. The clinics' task would be to isolate and observe all suspected cases, vaccinate contacts and any other groups, and treat any unfortunates who develop the disease. The first set of guidelines issued some time ago for this case suggested that the clinics would be set up away from any centre of population, but it would appear that practicality has won through.

All well and good, then - no wonder this article from the Canadian National Post suggests that Britain might be one of the few countries that could survive a flu pandemic. But what is wrong with us when - even in this desperate crisis - it is necessary to say that illegal immigrants who came forward to report suspected disease would be given immunity from prosecution (and, I hope, from smallpox as well)? Why has this psychosis seeped into absolutely everything? I'm sure that one day it will be remembered as one of the periodic panics that sweep through societies, like the Chinese Labour Cry or radon gas or Flesh Eating Bug. Rather like the one issue every nation has that seems absolutely vital to them but bewilderingly trivial to everyone else, people in the future will stand uncomprehending before the screaming headlines and hypocritical rantings yellowing in the archives. What was it all about - after all, it made up only 0.4% of public spending? Where did all the hate come from?

And in this weird country, 20 feet from me right now, two carpenters speaking what sounds like Russian are repairing a toilet cubicle..
Perhaps they wouldn't be so bemused if they were to read David Blunkett's insane remarks to the BBC today. "I need to ensure that people feel safe, that they are not egged on by those who would use insecurity and instability and difference as a method of whipping up racism and xenophobia", he said in an effort to defend his exciting new Asylum and Immigration Bill, which would permit him to withhold state benefits from rejected asylum seekers and take their children away if they refused to make a voluntary departure. So - we're going to be xenophobic in order to keep the xenophobes from getting in and being - well - xenophobic?

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

FRLs - Further Ramblings on the Law and Saddam?

Another issue which militates in favour of a legal conclusion is that it ought to be a much clearer case than that against Milosevic. Much of the geologically slow wrangling at The Hague has been about the application of the principle of command responsibility for war crimes. Given that Saddam Hussein held the posts of Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council, Leader of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party of Iraq, President of the Republic of Iraq, and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces - that shouldn't be so hard to achieve...and it might go some way to achieving what Iraq Now, a US National Guard officer blogging from Iraq thinks is necessary:

"I wrote before, in War of Ideologies, it's not enough just to capture Saddam Hussein. It's not enough to militarily defeat the Saddamites and radical Muslim sects. This war will not be over until those movements are discredited on their home turf"

Foday Sankoh and the Iraqi Question

An interesting precedent to what I suppose will now be the Hussein Case seems to have occurred in the British intervention in Sierra Leone in 2000. It might well throw some light on the differing views of legality and its importance between the UK and US to consider what happened immediately after the capture of the RUF leader Foday Sankoh. Sankoh - whose movement famously engaged in mass amputations of prisoners' limbs as a form of revolutionary terror - was taken prisoner at a house in Freetown very soon after the British force landed. The initial problem was to prevent his followers from springing him, not to mention preventing a lynching. The obvious solution was to load him into a helicopter and ferry him without further ado to Illustrious, the task force flagship. But there was a serious difficulty in using her as a jail, which was that according to the law of the sea, she was under exclusive UK jurisdiction. That meant that he could legally claim refugee status immediately his feet touched the deck. In the end he was held in the Freetown prison awaiting trial by a UN-supervised court set up after the RUF's defeat later that year (he died in prison).

The Americans, though, occasionally give the impression that third-country prisoners are being held aboard ship. Whilst those ships are on the high seas or in US territorial waters, they are technically part of the US courts' jurisdiction for any event aboard. In foreign waters, the principle is the same - but with the condition that the port state has jurisdiction on any matter affecting its peace or security. Either way, they are either not holding prisoners at sea or they simply find the law inconvienient.

A perfect role for the ICC!

They got him in the end, of course - dragged out of a hole in the ground when the loyalty finally ran out. The now-whats gape, though. On the same weekend no less than 30 Iraqi policemen were killed. There was much talk about his trial. About crucial intelligence, weapons, terrorists. Does anyone really believe, though, that everything will change overnight? According to the public statements of the US commanders in Iraq, the vast majority of attacks come from the people they call the FRLs, former-regime loyalists, and not from the foreign terrorist element their political masters seem obsessed by. You could ask, for example, Major-General Chuck Swannick of the 82nd Airborne Division, who I quoted on this blog some time ago as saying exactly that at the same time that Paul Bremer was assuring the world that "90% of the threat comes from foreigners", although he confessed to having no information to support that. Why will they give up because their leader is jailed? Will this not just infuriate them more, or lift the spectre of a Ba'athist restoration from potential sympathisers?

Even if the foreign infiltrators did exist in the numbers we are asked to believe they do, surely the capture of Saddam Hussein would be a victory for their side? After all, the secular national socialism he espoused was equally offensive to the jihadis as Western liberal capitalism. Even in his later phase of swinging towards Islam post-1991, they still could not work together. Anyway, this all assumes a solution to the question of what to do next. Clearly, there must be some reckoning for the victims of his wars and persecutions. It ought to be obvious that we must make an example of civilised conduct in doing so. And the biggest problem in doing so is simply practical - where can a trial be conducted? How should it be conducted? Under which laws should it be conducted? It would be absurd to place him on trial in Iraq now - under the criminal code written by his government, it might be that he had committed no crime! Not even to think of the security problem. It would be very unlikely that a trial under the law of either Iran or Kuwait could be considered fair - and what about offences committed in Iraq against Iraqis?

The only code of law that unequivocally applies to all the possible charges against Saddam is international law. There are the crimes against humanity specified in the Geneva Conventions - genocide, murder of prisoners and the use of illegal arms against Iran. But Iraq is not a party to all the Conventions - can they apply retroactively? There are also the Genocide Convention and the Convention on the Prevention of Torture, and the UN Declarations on Civil and Political Rights could inform any judgement. On the question of retroactivity, it should be remembered that the provisions of the Geneva Conventions on crimes against humanity and war crimes are considered to be obligations "erga omnes" - they are crimes against all states based on the customary law of civilised nations. So that would be covered. There is, of course, one tribunal operating specifically for such purposes.

It's the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The one the Americans passed a law to attack if it prosecuted US soldiers. A pity, then, that its statute is limited to crimes committed after July, 2002 - otherwise, what could be better? One good piece of news is that the Iraqi "governing council"'s own tribunal has used much of the ICC statute in its preparations.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Hoon - and those apologies he was after

I notice that, back on the 14th of May, our much despised Secretary of State for Defence Geoff Hoon said in parliament that

"All the requisite numbers of boots and clothing and equipment were there..the truth is that when they went into operations all of our forces were given the right boots. There was sufficient clothing and protective equipment in theatre to deal with a force of this size. I am waiting for apologies from either individual journalists or their editors.."

Well, I'm waiting for apologies from this apology for a minister for his outstanding incompetence, dishonesty, and double dealing. Oh yes, throw in his charming crack about Iraqi mothers whose children had been wounded thanking the coalition. This was of course part of the immediate pre-Kelly period when Alastair Campbell was trying to get revenge on the media for being rude, and I suppose his remarks to the Defence Select Committee should be seen in this light, as an exercise in calculated bullying rather than a contribution to parliamentary debate. That doesn't change the rules though - lying to parliament is a resigning matter, and the National Audit Office report shows that he did just that. Literally. I thought I would have to wade through reams of text - but on the bottom of page 14, I found the evidence - in the huge glossy photo of a Royal Marine standing in front of a huge portrait of Saddam - WEARING A GREEN CAMO JACKET! (One-quarter of the 7th Armoured Brigade had woodland camouflage kit and black boots throughout the war.) From the horse's mouth (page 25 figure 6):

"The procurement was regarded as of limited success as few troops received their full complement and mismatches in sizing continued into the postconflict phase".

Better yet, the supply of body armour is described as follows:

"Despite these efforts, insufficient numbers were distributed in theatre largely as a result of difficulties with asset tracking and distribution"

Which means there wasn't any, of course. Other highlights of the document include the fact that only 8% of the highest priority stores requests were supplied on time, the missing nuclear/biological/chemical filters for the tanks, and the curiosu way the accommodation for headquarters was completed by the end of May but for everyone else much later. When will this man finally resign? In passing, wasn't it a remarkable coincidence that this crushing report was released on the same day as Hoon's White Paper?

Iraqi "Anti-Terror" demonstrations not all the reports seem?

Various media sources have been reporting supposedly "anti-terrorist" demonstrations in Iraq, including to its shame the BBC (what's going on there at the moment?). It seems, though, that portraying the demos as pro-CPA just because they are anti-Ba'ath might be unwise at best.

"One group that
mobilized its cadres for this demonstration was the Iraqi Communist
Party. Its supporters waved red flags emblazoned with the hammer and
sickle, according to ash-Sharq al-Awsat. It seems obvious that the
CPI was more likely demonstrating for human rights and against the
Baathists than in favor of the US per se."

Juan Cole, Michigan University

You could say that, couldn't you? Communists? Well, they're not going to be very pro-US are they? A demonstration by communists is perhaps the easiest to recognise there is - the iconography is the same around the world. (big red flags, stars, hammers/sickles, Marx, Lenin, Che, the AK47, and the local hero) But you'll find no mention of them in most reports. No - this was officially a demo in favour of George Bush!

That new Iraqi intelligence service - not a good start

So, apparently the boss of the Iraqi secret service we're creating (to replace the 300 out of 700 soldiers who have deserted from the Iraqi army we're creating? It's true that intelligence can make up for a shortage of manpower, but this is ridiculous!), one Iyad Allawi, is a former Ba'athist spook - what a surprise! - who used to pursue Saddam's enemies in Europe. (According to the Angry Arab News Service. Mind you, they do seem a little forward: "Regis Debray, the former leftist who surrendered Che to his death (allegedly)"...that's one hell of an allegedly.) Don't things just keep getting better? As Perry at Bush Wars puts it, "Every time you think they've committed the all-time biggest blunder imaginable, this crew tops itself."

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Damn good blogs

We welcome three outstanding blogs - Living with Caucasians, a blog covering goings-on in Georgia, Slugger O'Toole and the Broom of Anger - two excellent Northern Irish newsbloggers. If you didn't read this - you wouldn't know that the "Police Fund IRA spies" story has been debunked. And you do now.

Christ! This is what Building Democracy looks like..

"On Dec. 6, according to a union spokesperson interviewed by phone, a convoy of 10 Humvees and personnel carriers descended on the old headquarters building of the Transport and Communications Workers union, in Baghdad's central bus station, which has been used since June as the office of the Iraqi Workers Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU). Twenty soldiers jumped out, stormed into the building, put handcuffs on eight members of the Federation's executive board, and took them into detention.

"They gave no reason at all, despite being asked over and over," says IFTU spokesperson Abdullah Muhsin. Soldiers painted over the name of the federation on the front of the building with black paint, Muhsin says. The union had few resources, "but we did have a few files, and they took those," Muhsin adds. Ironically, the office had posters on the walls condemning terrorism, which soldiers tore down in the raid.

Although the eight were released the following day, there was no explanation from the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the U.S. occupation government in Iraq, for the detentions."

Brilliant. Link Thanks to ConfinedSpace.

BBC drop a bollock over the Pre-Budget Report

Watching the 10 O'clock News and then (as yer do when you're a politics addict) Newsnight last night I was shocked - really! - by the BBC's performance. It was as if Conservatives on heat had invaded TV Centre and declared a coup d'etat. Where did they get the idea of illustrating the pre-budget report with graphics showing a roulette wheel, dice, cards and gambling furniture generally? I'm sorry, but this is not objectivity and it is not fairness. Especially as, after months of scare stories about "The £30 billion black hole!!" and how the government's economic forecasts were absolute nonsense, what they were reporting was surprisingly good news. Certainly, £10 billion is a very large sum of money - but it is not £30 billion as previously trailed. The truth of the matter is that the Treasury was right - and the Tories, the IFS, Ernst&Young, the NIESR and a whole volley of other organisations were wrong. Even the poor, battered manufacturing sector has produced some growth.

So what was Jeremy Paxman doing on Newsnight when he practically handed over the discussion to Letwin? Much as I despise the government, Paul Boateng was treated unfairly - shut up at once and ordered to listen carefully as the Shadow Chancellor issued a lengthy propaganda rant. Not just that, but the BBC itself, in the person of Paxman, indulged in some pretty awful statistical nonsense. Our man snarled at Boateng that "NHS spending has gone up by 40% but finished consultant episodes only by 5%!", which sounds tragic but is rather less than honest. After all, if the health service was succeeding, surely less people would need a consultant - and the figures would get worse. And - using this measure - building new hospitals is part of the "waste" that Mr. Letwin decried! (Because, of course, no distinction is made between capital or current spending.) Neither did Paxo or anybody else make the slightest effort to define what a "finished consultant episode" is - could you?

All in all, a pretty bad showing.

CIA to form new Iraqi secret service

Iraq Spy Service Planned by U.S. To Stem Attacks (

So, not only does Iraq now have a police force, a border patrol force, a civil defence brigade, a new army, the "facility protection service", and a special paramilitary militia, but she will soon be blessed with a new-old internal secret service. Not surprisingly,

"... the outstanding issue is, "to what degree you bring back former intelligence service," one U.S. intelligence expert said."

Indeed. One wonders if more gunmen are really what a New Democratic Beacon for the Middle East need, especially in the same week that it was reported that a special commando force had been established with Israeli help to operate "behind the lines" in Iraq. What lines? The lines in question are the frontiers of Iraq's neighbouring states, of course - but the phrase suggests commando derring-do in the middle of a war, not a secret invasion of various neutral states.

But I'll bet you didn't know that:

"Intelligence services are the heart and soul of a new country," said one former CIA operative who helped several post-communist countries establish new services."

Monday, December 08, 2003

Industrial relations, the Korean way

"It wasn't exactly a kidnapping, but the managers did not go by choice. When an alarmed Iraqi employee called out to ask where they were being taken, one of the managers began to respond, but a worker smacked him in the head, a Washington Post reporter observed. Workers led the managers by their arms to a conference room in the back of the Tutaitulah Hotel, where the workers had been staying.

The room was dim, and the executives were placed in a row of seats in the front of the room.

Hae Chun Suh, Ohmoo's president, wearing a sky-blue bullet-proof vest, stared stoically at the crowd. E Sah Park, a manager for Shiloh, sat in a corner with his hands on his face after a worker had hit him in the stomach. Another worker was seen throwing some food left over from lunch at his bosses, the reporter observed.

Then, either individually or in small groups, workers came up to yell at them. "Why were they alone? Why wasn't there anyone to help our friends?" demanded Song Kun Bae, 35.

Tae Ho Ohm, 42, chastised the managers for not taking into account the emotional state of the workers when they tried to order everyone back to work the next day. "The way we think, those who lived and died, we are all the same," Ohm said.

The workers placed blank pieces of paper in front of their managers and told them to write letters apologizing for their role in the deaths of their co-workers and promising that there would be compensation. "And write it prettily," one worker demanded."

Washington Post story on the Korean contractors' exit from Iraq.

That 45-minute source: utter nonsense and a possible explanation

The Daily Torygraph reported over the weekend that they had found the "senior Iraqi officer" who was the source for the now infamous claim that Iraq could use weapons of mass destruction at 45 minutes' notice. Lieutenant-Colonel Al Dabbagh was supposedly the commander of an air defence unit in the western desert of Iraq and stated that "containers" had arrived shortly before the war from Baghdad containing a "secret weapon" that was only to be used in a critical situation. He further stated that the weapon was made in Iraq and was fired in a similar way to a rocket-propelled grenade. Well - nice try! According to, an RPG7 has an effective range of 500 metres and a maximum range of 920 metres. Now, what kind of weapon of mass destruction would anyone release within a kilometre of their own location? And would fit in a 2.25kg round? And what did his air-defence unit have to do with it?

Several newspapers have also carried quotes from the famous "security sources" saying that it was expected that several Iraqi officers would claim responsibility - after all, thye have careers to look after. There is another possible explanation though - remember the mystery weapon that destroyed an American tank on the 28th of August? The story only leaked out at the end of October after it became clear that the Americans were baffled as to what the projectile was. On Thursday, the 6th of November, I blogged on the affair. Opinion seems to be leaning towards some kind of advanced warhead used to boost the effects of an RPG. Could those have been the secret weapons Lt Col Al-Dabbagh saw?

Friday, December 05, 2003

Admin: new feature!

Thanks to, we now have a search facility for Ranter posts...just look in the sidebar for "Search the Ranter".

MacShane the Mouth busts loose

The new Europe minister, Denis MacShane, has launched a rant demanding the resignation of Romano Prodi on the grounds that he is spending too much time preparing his return to Italian politics. Whilst Macca has a point, it's alarming that he went off like this. No.10 has now officially disowned the member for Rotherham's brain fart - but I wonder how much conviction was in the denial? After all, Tony Blair has spent much time and effort making nice with Silvio Berlusconi - not the kind of company a socialist should be keeping, but what's that got to do with him? - and Prodi is his arch enemy. Was MacShane's indiscretion an exercise in Prodi-prodding intended to divert Berlusconi from the Italian proposals on the European constitution that we don't like? Not that Prodi's tenure has been a gem - he was once described as a man who never risks popularity by changing his ideas, and a stony conservatism has been in evidence on the Stability Pact, institutional reform and much more. All his proposals to the Convention on the Future of Europe were dominated by the house ideology of the commission - more centralisation, more commission power, "an economic government", less rights for ministers or the European Parliament. They could have been written in 1961.

But - importantly - it might not be so bad, even if it was official. Perhaps they're trying to keep things dragging on until the handover to the Irish presidency. After all, does anyone really want Berlusconi to take home his Second Roman..oops..treaty in time for the elections? On the content of the Treaty, I'm beginning to think it would have been all much better if we could have skipped the IGC - as predicted, the text everyone thought was great and only needed tinkering with has been mangled until practically everything is up for review. That is of course hindsight. What answers? On the principle of eliminating the unnecessary, the whole debate about a reference to God should be kicked into touch. It makes absolutely no difference and is merely an annoyance - surely a concession waiting to happen. On the voting weights: this is the only real issue left on the agenda, once the flimflam is gone. I personally think the flimflam removal might clarify the issue somewhat - surely the Poles could be met halfway as a concession in exchange for dropping the godbothering clause?

Aussie study shows each immigrant = A$250,000 more to the public purse

Sydney Morning Herald story

According to some mob called Access Economics, an immigrant benefits the Australian state on average by 250,000 dollars. Apparently, 15-year olds are the best value - unsurprisingly, refugees get the lowest grade in this rather cold-blooded calculus, averaging only A$111,000. So - how much cash are the Australians spending on scouring the seas for immigrants in order to ship them to jail? I wonder why I've never heard of a similar exercise for the Home Office...don't let the facts get in the way of a good prejudice, eh.

Yanks - Australians too leftwing to worry about!

Yankee Blog

"I don't recall the site, but I recently saw a comment (perhaps in reference to that Zakaria piece) basically asking why Hu Jintao got a better reception in Australia than Bush. Someone responded by basically dismissing Australians as just too left-wing to worry about. This is the most moronic comment in the world. If I were to put all of the democracies in the world on a political spectrum that basically characterized the tone of their political discourse Australia would be the closest to the US. The US would be the farthest to the right (which if our left is winning I would actually find satisfying because in the world-wide scheme of things I am closer to the right), and then would be Australia, then the UK, then Canada, perhaps NZ, and finally we would start to see Continental European nations, probably starting south and working our way north. "

I can't begin to imagine the thinking that led to that remark. The post, on Yankeeblog, is outstanding - and probably what Australia should be worrying about, when they say that "The bigger issue here though is are we losing all of our allies in Asia. If I were a Malaysia or Thailand of the world I have to say that I would be looking more towards China for my economic and political security." Perhaps that's why the Aussie defence minister Robert Hill has just signed up to Son of Star Wars and begun negotiating for the purchase of three ex-US Navy Aegis missile destroyers - ships designed among other things to fight in a missile environment. Mind you, the Australians better hope that the performance of this flaky scheme outweighs the offence given to all the other countries in Asia. After all, it's no wonder that Indonesia doesn't like the idea when the putative nuclear missiles it's meant to shoot down would approach Australia from the north. Fallout is an unwanted gift that just keeps giving. Neither is it any wonder that most of those countries are arming like hell - Russian Su30 fighter jets being this year's top fashion item on the death catwalk.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Watch what you blog!

Not so long ago, I blogged on the curious contents of this site's search engine analysis, and referred to a post on Yankeeblog in which they reported that their site was (mysteriously) the third result on MSN's search engine for the query "I want Pakistani sexy clips". Foolishly I quoted them - now, examining my stats, I discover that regular hits are arriving from a site called Just stop it, alright?

Mind you - perhaps it wasn't so weird?

"The West needs Russian cooperation in the fight on terrorism, it badly needs Russian oil and natural gas because the Middle East is unstable, and is in no position to actively resist a major move by Moscow to dominate and reintegrate the former Soviet republics. Sources close to the Kremlin have expressed the view that the Bush administration has already signaled its readiness to accept the territory of the former Soviet Union (minus the Baltic states) as being Russia's "sphere of influence," giving Moscow a free hand to dominate the region.

Indefinitely maintaining troops at a high cost in Moldova -- a landlocked country that has no common border with Russia -- does not seem to serve any obvious Russian national interest. It only makes strategic sense if the Kremlin has plans to link up with that outpost by retaking all or a large part of Ukraine.

Such plans are in fact much discussed today in Moscow. One version doing the rounds is that after 2008 when Putin's second term as president expires, he may continue as supreme leader by becoming president of a revitalized union (all the more painful, therefore, the rebuff Moscow received last week in Moldova).

Reunification plans are being pursued not only in Moldova. In Georgia, after the ousting of President Eduard Shevardnadze, Moscow has been increasingly openly supporting separatist regional governments. The new government in Tbilisi has clearly been given a choice: Bow to Moscow or Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Adzharia may by "reunited" with Russia."

So says Pavel Felgenhauer of the Moscow Times.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Yet further Caucasian weirdness - the GRU, the pipeline and the greens..

In the non-smouldering aftermath of Georgia's revolution, a fresh burst of Caucasus weirdness was only to be expected. Fortunately it has so far kept within limits - just a couple of mystery aeroplanes, phone calls to BP-Amoco and sabre-rattling local bosses, nothing too serious. But that was until this truly odd story emerged...

"A £2bn pipeline to carry Caspian oil to Europe through Georgia risks being damaged by Chechen mercenaries or ecological saboteurs sponsored by Russian intelligence, a senior Georgian security official and sources in Moscow claim.
The GRU, the sophisticated elite of Russia's military intelligence corps, has allegedly allocated money towards hiring or training eco-warriors and mercenaries to sabotage the 1,100-mile project, which is run by a consortium headed by BP and is expected to be operational by 2005.

"We are aware of this threat," a Georgian cabinet member said. "The pipeline is a key strategic interest to Georgia and we are checking the situation very carefully."

According to information obtained from Moscow security sources during two months of inquiries by the Guardian, the GRU has allocated part of its budget towards the sabotage operation. The plan is not yet believed to be active, although the GRU has allegedly begun training a cell of ecologists"

Wot? Very sensibly, the reporter (Nick Paton-Walsh) mentions the possibility that this might be a planted story intended to worry BP or possibly to keep the Georgians intimidated. Indeed, but why stop there? Did they leak the story to the Georgians? To give it more credence perhaps? Or did the Georgians come up with it to discredit the Russians and attract western support? Or perhaps the Russians leaked it in the hope the Georgians would over-react....wibble. I can well imagine that you can barely chuck a rock in Tbilisi at the moment without hitting a spook, but surely this of ecological terrorists trained by the GRU is all James Bond and bollocks?

I wonder how long we'll have to wait for the first unfortunate conservationist to end up bleeding on a concrete police floor because of this...

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Concerning that picture...

The photo shows quite clearly that the no. 1 engine is intact and that the missile hit roughly halfway from the engine to the wingtip. The thingy between the damage and the engine is the flap track fairing, common to all of these aircraft, and is definitely not an antimissile device. It is believed that the 2 main hydraulic systems out of 3 were lost, as well as serious aerodynamic damage. This meant that neither the flaps nor the speedbrakes were available and an over-speed landing was inevitable (about 45 knots faster at touchdown- reference)- hence the over-run. Informed speculation on the web suggests that the plane was also overweight for landing, as it is unlikely that anyone would have risked holding to dump fuel during the SAM threat.

More pictures

Monday, November 24, 2003

After "Where is Raed?", now it's "Where is Shevardnadze?"

I'm sure you all know by now that the Georgian president and Soviet statesman, Eduard Shevardnadze, was overthrown by demonstrators enraged by alleged vote-rigging in the recent presidential election at the weekend. After the usual proceedings of post-Communist political theatre - mass demos under the new-old national flag, initial contempt from the boss, then offers of negotiations, followed by the ostentatious mobilisation of troops and the denouement often brought about by the generals refusing to fire into the crowd, usually for the worst of motives - Shevardnadze resigned yesterday, bringing the opposition speaker of parliament into the presidency pro tempore as laid down in the constitution. There were many curious features of what the new Georgian rulers are already calling their "velvet revolution". For a start, there was an unusually democratic flavour - the two sides plotted to elect their own speakers rather than gathering guns, and the climax occurred when protestors burst into the parliamentary chamber to prevent the dismissal of their speaker. But more importantly, and more tellingly for the true nature of this particular "velvet revolution", what was the Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov doing in so many photographs with the opposition leaders when we heard next to nothing of him at the time?

Russian intervention has been a standing feature of independent Georgia, ever since the Abkhazian rebellion in the early 90s, when most people involved believed that the Abkhaz were a cat's paw of Russian power. Russian military bases exist to this day in Georgia. It was certainly remarkable that, after the Abkhaz rebels had brought the new state to the edge of collapse, the rebellion seemed to be turned off like a tap after talks between Shevardnadze and Russian representatives permitted the stationing of a Russian "peacekeeping force" in Abkhazia. Many curious events have been blamed on Russian interference - things like assassination attempts, for one. A persuasive argument exists that Shevardnadze started out being too independent for Russia, and then made a U-turn under duress - but continued to seek Western economic and military assistance as a guarantee. In recent years, this has gone further than ever before, with the deployment of US military advisers to Georgia in an effort to pursue supposed jihadists out of the Pankisi Gorge on the Chechen border. Russia was not remarkably pleased by that development. From a Georgian point of view, though, it was a stroke of the cunning Shevardnadze was famed for - it dealt with Russian demands that Georgia drive supposed Chechen rebels out of the Gorge or face Russian military intervention there, whilst also offering something like a Western guarantee of security. Russia, though, could hardly argue against the mission, having spent so much time demanding military action in the Gorge, which by now was a cauldron of weird politico-military groupings - Chechen rebels, for a start, jihadis, very likely Russian special forces, and something strange called the Brothers of the White Forest that claimed to be a Georgian nationalist guerrilla group equally opposed to Chechens and Russians, but might have been a front for Georgian government forces, Russian forces, or perhaps even the CIA. Confused yet?

Getting back to my title, though, an interesting sidelight on the whole story has emerged in various German-language papers. Almost all major German news sources have been reporting first that two "mysterious" aircraft arrived from Georgia at Baden-Baden Airport today, carrying various passengers including Eduard Shevardnadze. That in itself would not be surprising - Germany is the Western state most committed to Eastern Europe, and has close economic and diplomatic connections to Georgia, as well as a degree of historic interest going back to the First World War and to various romantic historians of the 1840s - if it wasn't for the fact that the Federal Border Patrol (Bundesgrenzschutz) office in Weil am Rhein, responsible for Baden-Baden, has just categorically denied that Shevardnadze was one of the passengers. His family have meanwhile declared that he is at home in Tiflis. Who's lying? Cunning he may be, but being in two places at once is a rare accomplishment.
FAZ story

Friday, November 21, 2003

Simon Hoggart picks up on "Trrr"

Strangely enough, I notice in the Guardian today that their sketchwriter, Simon Hoggart, has noticed that Bush says "Trrr" when he means "terror". Funny that, as I blogged on this as far back as the 11th of June. Curiously though, it's spreading - just as if you are right wing enough you say "Pa'ment" and "Yurp" instead of "Parliament" and "Europe", you also talk about the War on Trrr. "Trrr" is a curious concept - no-one seems able to say exactly what it is. It certainly isn't the same thing as terror - the bomb campaign in Istanbul is terror, but is it trrr?

The terrorists seem very rarely to be Iraqis, but we invaded Iraq. An apparent paradox which is explained when you realise that far from being his accent, Bush really did declare War on Trrr. The only question is - will they tell us, one day in the future, what all that Trrr was about? And why are we safer now, when the enemy are deliberately picking on British targets, than before the war when they weren't? Jack Straw made a very bad showing yesterday when he tried to say there was no reason to believe the bombings were specifically anti-British. What, they just happened by chance to attack a British diplomatic mission and a British bank on the day Bush was officially welcomed in Britain? Comfortable thinking again, I suspect.

An unexpected attack of socialism

In Utah, Public Works Project in Digital - NY Times

17 cities in the US state of Utah are getting together to build a huge public-sector broadband system.
Sounds like a good idea..

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Words from the Front...


"In the daily reports of conflict, the British have become the forgotten army. And news of the Americans unleashing their ferocious firepower on the cities is greeted with raised eyebrows. Washington, twice, asked for British soldiers, paratroopers to be sent to Baghdad, and twice has been refused.

One young British soldier said yesterday: "Look, we are not here to fight a war now, I thought that was finished. The Yanks are fighting a war again, but we should not go down that path. I am very, very sorry for the kids getting killed, but we don't have to get involved. "

Apparently some people in Baghdad think that power cuts were deliberately organised by The Authorities recently as collective punishment. Ha! Nonsense! But is that any more ridiculous as a counter-guerrilla strategy than firing tactical ballistic missiles at buildings 120 miles to "get tough"? And what about this?

"There were assaults in several other cities, including Baqubah, 30 miles to the north-east, where American jets and Apache helicopter gunships blasted abandoned buildings, walls and trees"

Trees? Would that be former regime loyalist trees or al-Qa'ida infiltrator trees? We're shooting trees?

No evidence of weapons production, no evidence of foreign fighters, no idea!


It seems a report prepared by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies has revealed that the Americans in Iraq think that guerrilla activity will go on up to the day they leave the country. Dr Anthony Cordesman went to Iraq and spoke to - as well as assorted generals and spooks - Paul Bremer and David Kay, the chief wild goose chaser (sorry - he's in charge of looking for weapons of mass destruction). Isn't it amazing what people will tell a doctor?

"The Iraqi resistance movement is believed to have a war chest of up to $1bn - with a further $3bn hidden in Syria - and it is paying between $25 and $500 for each attack on US forces...
It also says 95 per cent of the threat is from former regime loyalists and that suicide bombings are being carried out largely by foreigners."

So - 95% of the danger is from the FRLs but it's foreigners who are blowing up? Surely a slight contradiction.

"Mr Bremer said that there was no evidence of a direct role by al-Qa'ida, though he felt that the devastating suicide bombs were carried out by non-Iraqis. But he made clear that he had "no hard intelligence to confirm that they were foreigners"."

So that explains it. There's no evidence to show that foreign terrorists are behind the bombs, but we "feel" this. We feel this because it is a convenient, comfortable thing to feel. We also feel this because we have been saying so for so long that it has become part of our language and hence of our mental furniture. Even if there were good reasons to believe this, we should of course still doubt it as this is the only way for imperfect human beings to approach the truth more closely. As J.S.Mill wrote in On Liberty, if you refuse to discuss something you are effectively claiming infallibility. No wonder, given this exercise in stupidity, that "We do not have a reliable picture of who is organising attacks, and the size and structure of various elements" and that "the CPA is seen as an over-centralised bureaucracy, isolated from the military, relies too much on contractors and is not realistically evaluating developments in the field."

Meanwhile on the political front, Iraqi opinions of the Governing Council seem to bear a much greater degree of realism:

"Iraqi politicians independent of the US-appointed governing council interviewed by The Independent all believe that the council wanted to delay elections because its members feared they would not be elected. "They just want time to loot the country and then get out," said one Iraqi leader bitterly."

And, just to crown the lot:

"Dr Kay says that "Iraq was actively violating accords during later 1999 to 2003". But despite a prolonged and vastly expensive search for chemical weapons there was "no evidence of weapons production" though Iraq could have produced sarin in two years and mustard gas in two months."

Remember the lie. No weapons, no legality, no reason.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

US babies get global brand names

BBC NEWS | World | Americas | US babies get global brand names

Well, if I worked for the Al-Qa'ida Joint Centre for Propaganda and Corporate Communications, this is the sort of thing I might have made up - barbarian infidels, mindless materialism, decadence and the like. But I wouldn't have had to.

"There are even two little boys, one in Michigan and one in Texas, called ESPN after the sports channel."

You could cry.

Thanks to ConfinedSpace

..for putting us on to that last post.

Monday, November 17, 2003

We're enforcing Saddam's anti-union laws!

An Anti-Labor Line in the Sand: LA Times

"In plants and factories all over Iraq, workers are quickly organizing unions. They want better wages. They want shorter hours (workers at the refinery and elsewhere often work 11- and 13-hour shifts without additional pay). They want safety shoes, goggles, masks and other protective gear. Most of all, they want a voice in the future of their jobs.

But in their quest for what they see as simple fairness in the workplace, they are encountering a determined foe: the Coalition Provisional Authority. Whenever the new unions try to talk with the managers or ministries that operate the plants, they're told that a law passed by Saddam Hussein in 1987 is still being enforced by the CPA. This law says that workers in state-owned enterprises (where the majority of Iraqis work) have no right to form unions or to bargain for contracts.

The law violates at least two conventions of the United Nations' International Labor Organization. But on June 5, CPA chief L. Paul Bremer III backed up this decree with another that Iraqi union activists say bans strikes and demonstrations that would disrupt economic activity."

So this is democracy, eh? I am genuinely ashamed to be British. Seriously. This sort of activity is the only hope for Iraqi liberty. Freedom is not a thing that you can unload from the back of a truck. It is a practice, an activity, a process. The people who have formed 170 (at the last count) newspapers in Iraq are doing democracy. The union organisers are doing democracy. And we are apparently pointing guns at them.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Iron Hammer: a chocolate fireguard?

There's a great idea!

The US Army has launched an offensive around Baghdad called Operation IRON HAMMER in an effort to nail some of those inconvenient guerrillas. Apparently, this is a "Get Tough" policy involving a "hard line on terrorism" and various other examples of the rhetoric of false strength. What this boils down to seems to be that they have started responding to guerrilla activity by calling in airstrikes on buildings they don't like, at levels of force up to and including the AC130 Spectre gunship. This reminds very much of the Vietnam War: the USAF, VNAF, Navy and Marine Corps air units all had an institutional interest in getting as many sorties into harm's way as possible. Unfortunately they found it hard to find the enemy, so they began measuring the number of "structures" destroyed - which could be anything from a bunker to a shed, but often turned out to be someone's house. Buildings tended to draw fire because - of course - there is a bias to whatever target seems obvious. So - the wrong people will get killed, their property will be arbitrarily and spectacularly destroyed, and support will grow for the other side. What the point of this exercise is baffles me. Perhaps they ought to recall Colonel John Paul Vann's rather grisly maxim on guerrilla warfare:

"This is a political war and a political war demands discrimination in killing. The worst way is an airstrike, the next worst is artillery. The best is a knife but we can't do it like that, so it has to be a rifle - you know who you're killing."
(Quoted from Neil Sheehan,
A Bright Shining Lie)

And - seeing as the war is over - what is going on here?

"...a senior military official confirmed that General Abizaid would soon move about 150 military planners to Qatar from his Central Command base in Tampa, and work from his headquarters in the Persian Gulf state to be closer to the operation in Iraq, where he has been spending most of his time."

So - AC130 strikes, reports of enemy strength ranging from 5,000 to 50,000, and the general is going into advanced headquarters - and we're all supposed to believe everything is all right. Great.

The Ranter welcomes About Pip and ReachM High

Two new blogs have recently started linking to us, neither of which I'd ever seen before.
Those are the ReachM High Ranch at , a simpatico and well designed US political blog, and About Pip, an idiosyncratic personal blog by a British expat in Sweden: . Fortunately, it's nothing at all to do with the utility program called Pip we used to know and love on the Amstrad PCW. Ranter blogrolling policy is, as ever, that we link back to anyone linking to us provided they don't fail the security check (remember Margie Burns...).

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

On the Dean theme..

The Service Employees International Union in New York is going to do this:

"As part of the anti-Bush campaign, union President Dennis Rivera has recruited 1,000 rank-and-file members and staff to fan out across the country beginning next month to get an early start organizing get-out-the-vote operations in more than a dozen "battleground" states.

Those states, including Florida, Michigan, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Ohio, are considered key for Democrats to regain the White House.
Each of Rivera's 1,000 volunteers will take a one-year leave of absence from his or her regular job - something permitted by many 1199 labor contracts - with the union paying regular salary and travel costs."

And they are supporting Dean.


Howard Dean - seems to be winning

In the Democratic primaries, it's getting to look certain that Howard Dean - former governor of Vermont, toast of the Left and supposed "Bloggers' Candidate" - is going to win. Blogs are spilling a lot of ink over him at the moment, but Nathan Newman has some of the best stuff on him here.

"one of Clinton's greatest failings is that he was a Party of One, so he lived and died by the media roller coaster, with little independent mobilization on his behalf out in the population (until impeachment brought some of the left grassroots to life).

As I've said, I believe in organization, and many progressives are operating on the basis of the past when there was no serious organization out in the grassroots to defend their candidate from the Mighty Wurlitzer of rightwing propaganda. Not that the Bush attacks won't be real and sustained, but give me a fanatic organization going door-to-door and community-group-to-community-group to respond over a pleasant personality any day. Clinton needed triangulation because he was playing to the media. With organization, you actually can make the nuanced arguments to appeal to the "unaffiliated" (Karl Rove's term by the way) who are not in the middle, but just conflicted by mixed political commitments.

Who knows if Dean as a personality is "electable"? We'll never know, since we have Dean, the Campaign Organization, which is a far different beast than Democrats are used to dealing with. But I will take Dean the Campaign over any Candidate, however pleasant or media focus-grouped their positions."

Very true. The lesson is a real one - the Clinton/Blair obsession with "triangulating", trying to be a bit of right and a bit of left, a bit of liberal and a bit of nasty simultaneously - is a dangerous burden in the era of polarisation we've plunged into. It was all about mass media appeal to a swing vote in conditions of little ideological confrontation between main parties. Now, though, we are in a period of radical ferment, characterised by such things as the neoconservative phenomenon. They don't recognise anything they disagree with as being a lasting achievement. The rhetoric level on all sides is cranked right up. The French presidential elections last year were a fine example - the centre ground simply shrank away from under Lionel Jospin's feet, moving out to its ideological camps on both sides of him. Jospin seemed untough and lacking in clear values. In the foreseeable future, elections will be won by building out from the centre. We need to consider how to use the polarisation to mobilise our side, to play them at their game.

Newman's point about Clinton being a Party of One gains strength when you compare Tony Blair's position. Just as he modelled so much of his government, his campaigning and style on Clinton, so he became a Party of One. And he has become more so. The Blair party consists of Blair plus his inner-circle team, it appeals to a middle-class middle-England swing vote that is disappearing, and it relies heavily on media appeal. It doesn't have much real support - despite poll numbers only dropping recently, the level of real support for Blair has been minimal for a long time. It's not the same as the Labour party, which becomes more and more obvious - the Blair party perches atop the Brownites, ex-Kinnockites, lefties etc etc. It makes alliances with them but it is not of them. It tries to straddle the socialist/conservative divide, and it is not working - as the Tories move towards polarisation and the Labour party become more and more discontented, the Blair party will be increasingly incoherent.

Random: If you don't think politics is polarising, you should have heard Michael Howard's first question time today. The aggression he and Blair displayed was truly astonishing - there has been nothing like it for years.

Back on the subject, the other main rival for the nomination, General Wesley Clark, ran into some bitter criticism lately. Not from anyone important, but from an academic I know who met him. Our man remarked that he was "very unimpressive - I had the strong feeling he wasn't too bright. This book of his is nothing but a whinge about being sacked. Anyway, he was a Republican back then - he wasn't a very good general either." No. The incident in question being the advance of the Nato 1st Allied Rapid Reaction Corps into Kosovo in 1999. After the move out was delayed due to the US Marines not being ready, the Russians famously dashed from Bosnia to Pristina with a small party of paratroops and occupied the airport. Clark snapped and demanded that his land forces commander, the British General Sir Michael Jackson, now Chief of the General Staff, drop the Parachute Regiment on the airport to shift the intruders. Jacko refused in his own, inimitable, style - "I'm not going to start World War 3 for you, SIR!" is supposedly what he said. Hardly impressive.

Bloggers shown to be dangerous lefties

Somebody has invented a test to classify your political opinions, The Political Compass. It defines your politics as your position on two axes, an economic one running from extreme communism on the left of the graph to total free market capitalism on the right, and a liberal/authoritarian one running from fascism at the top of the graph to anarchism at the bottom. This isn't new, I dimly recall taking the test or a similar one years ago, but an Australian blogger, Tim Lambert, has now prepared a chart of bloggers' positions on the graph. Here it is. You'll notice the Ranter down in the bottom left-hand corner - very leftist and liberal. Mind you, I'm not sure I deserve an economic score of
-7.12. That's ridiculously left, especially as I'm a fairly moderate social democratic type really. The liberality score of -5.85 is about right, though.

What's most interesting is that there are hardly any bloggers on his chart who aren't both lefty and liberal. We all appear to be in the same moral stakes as Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama, according to the example graph of world leaders on the Political Compass site. Hardly convincing. And why have none of the meat chomping, free marketeering, state shrinking warbloggers shown up? That ultra-liberal right constituency is empty. Lambert thinks it's because they are too shy to read anything pinko. The survey has been criticised, but there's another one around. So of course I took that one too.

Left/Right: -7.0998.
Pragmatism/Idealism: -0.0240.

The maximum variation in either direction is +16. That puts me neatly between Charles Kennedy and Tony Benn on the left/right scale, just right of Ken Livingstone, and slightly more pragmatic than either Red Ken or Benn. Now I have to say I think that's considerably more accurate. There's a chart of bloggers here for that survey.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

More statistical weirds

I notice that Yankeeblog is having a similar experience to us with random googlers turning up on their site despite searching for something - well - random.

"As someone who finds internet search engines fascinating, I'm always curious to see what searches bring people to this blog (with the exception of the person looking for "Tom Matthews Ultimate Frisbee," I'm sorry to report that few googlers seem to have landed at an appropriate place).

At any rate, it turns out that Yankeeblog is the third site returned by MSN when you search for "I want Pakistani sexy clips". Either there's some part of this blog that I don't know about, or someone recently came in for a big disappointment.

What I'd love to see is a site where you could enter a URL and have it return search queries that produce the former. While it would be practically impossible to do a comprehensive reverse search engine, Google could pretty easily put together one based on the searches it conducts every day -- anyone know of anything like this?"

In fact, looking at those search results, the mystery Pakistani porn freak must have been devastated. The results are completely - but completely - irrelevant, rather like the people looking for folk tales who seem to be channelled by Google to this blog. It's a good reminder of how the system can break down - search engines work by following a simple set of rules many, many times without any higher or human intervention. It's a good example of how such a restricted set of reactions can give rise to a self-organising order, like natural selection, capitalism, or ants. The problem is that although over time the success-rate averages out nicely, that implies a certain number of extreme results. Years ago, all search engines were a bit like that - you knew you'd find something, but probably not what you were looking for. Google revolutionised that by using the number of sites linking to a document as a gauge of value, using the self-organising nature of the web. Which is why results like this don't come up so often.

What's the next jump? The problem with search is manipulation, as in so many things on the net these days - spam, spoof log-on sites, spyware. Google especially has become a huge determining factor for a lot of sites - get a high ranking result and the traffic will pour in. At the same time, search results are becoming increasingly commercial. The danger is that under pressure from manipulators on one hand and businesses paying for higher rankings on the other, the search system becomes untrustworthy. And the web without search is not a serious proposition. The challenge for the search engine bods is to find a way of guaranteeing the integrity of their results.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Delving in the Ranter statistics

On Saturday, for the first time, I decided to peer down into my site stats. A few surprises awaited - not that the numbers were that impressive, an average of 6.8 hits/day. Wow. That's going to make Instapundit quake in their boots, I don't think. But the real surprises were down in the "last guests" reports. Who searched Google for "ian duncan smith+allegedely money"? Or "codenames for marriage proposals"? And why did they end up here of all places? Why do people searching for "folktales"! end up on the Ranter, when I've never covered anything to do with them? Who, for example, is regularly hitting the Ranter with a browser set to Farsi? Annoyingly, I've so far been unable to get WHOIS information for that one. But there was one rather special visitor:

hoobie (HOOBIE-DOM)
10 Downing Street
London, . SW1A 2AA

Domain Name: HOOBIE.NET

Administrative Contact, Technical Contact:
James, Gerry (GJ2637)
Gerry James Benevolent Fund
14 Aplegath Road
London W14 0HY
0111 010 1100 fax: 1111 010 1101

Record expires on 29-May-2006.
Record created on 30-May-1997.
Database last updated on 10-Nov-2003 07:00:15 EST.

Domain servers in listed order:


Rather distinguished, no? As is the chap from the World Bank who apparently rants too. Obviously I googled, and could find no-one who sounded even vaguely likely, only a civil servant in California, a minor academic in Indiana and an obscure golfer. A little thought, though, and I found out that was a hacker tools site. Including a wardriving map of wireless networks in central London. Which may explain the impressive address (at least the postcode is genuine).

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Further to that....

They don't like direct democracy/demagogy either, which is all good. My current reading is Bernard Crick's In Defence of Politics, which is one of the most thought-provoking things I've seen in a long time. As a taste - "Revenge is a recklessness with the future in a vain attempt to repair a suffering that is already past." That's damn right.

Outstanding blog -

A truly impressive blog just discovered. Run by two people - one a yank in exile, the other an Afghan in Kabul, it's informed, aggressive and simple like blogs should be. Based on news and writing. Some samples:

"We need to do a bootcamp and fast-track OCS school to put at least 1000 Arabic speaking officers trained in civil affairs on the ground in 3 months. Preferably two or three thousand if we can get them. We need to expand military recruitment to prepare for the rotation schedule to maintain at least 150,000 soldiers in country for at least two more years. We need to improve supply line safety by consolidating bases and establishing 24/7 secured "lines of communication". We need to get Arabic speaking plains-clothes intel agents on the ground, dedicated solely to rooting out with bribes and networking all Resistance forces and foreign militants. And we need another thousand or so of them ASAP. We need Iraqi forces to do checkpoints or we comepletely abandon them. US forces manning checkpoints except at secure facilities only breeds resentment and makes them targets. We need to abandon and then demolish the Green Zone to prevent it from being used as a symbol, and then move all CPA operations to a more secure location right outside of Baghdad. We need to assign long in-country rotations - recruited with heavy bonuses if necessary - military civil affairs officers (speaking Arabic of course) that will stay as troops are rotated in and out and assigned to the rural areas and towns all around Iraq at the provincial level. We need PRT teams and a big expansion of them like how the model teams in Afghanistan worked.

And that's just on the military side. On the civilian side there is allot we can do - rescind the foreign privatization order and instead create a micro-lending capital investment fund tha will make small business loans to Iraqis in order to start businesses and make money" This was a comment on Daniel Drezner's blog, also excellent.

Or what about this, on drug policy?

"Let's consider the case of, oh, I don't know, how about Afghanistan? Opium production almost certainly has a greater effect on the country than anything besides ISAF -- the NATO-led security forces in Kabul (without ISAF, there would most likely be a civil war raging here, but let's set that aside for the moment). And to give credit where it's due, I should point out that the heroin trade is--by far--the largest single component of Afghanistan's GDP, and is therefore responsible for bringing a lot of capital and wealth into the country....It is no exaggeration to say that if America and Europe suddenly legalized the importation (and use) of heroin, Afghan society would be transformed nearly overnight"

And this is one of my favourites: "Seriously, has there ever been someone who has gotten more out of low expectations than GWB?"

It's good and it's getting a link.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

How did the Iraqis do it? Mystery weapon

"Shortly before dawn on Aug. 28, an M1A1 Abrams tank on routine patrol in Baghdad “was hit by something” that crippled the 69-ton behemoth. Army officials still are puzzling over what that “something” was.
According to an unclassified Army report, the mystery projectile punched through the vehicle’s skirt and drilled a pencil-sized hole through the hull. The hole was so small that “my little finger will not go into it,” the report’s author noted. The “something” continued into the crew compartment, where it passed through the gunner’s seatback, grazed the kidney area of the gunner’s flak jacket and finally came to rest after boring a hole 1½ to 2 inches deep in the hull on the far side of the tank.
As it passed through the interior, it hit enough critical components to knock the tank out of action. That made the tank one of only two Abrams disabled by enemy fire during the Iraq war and one of only a handful of “mobility kills” since they first rumbled onto the scene 20 years ago. The other Abrams knocked out this year in Iraq was hit by an RPG-7, a rocket-propelled grenade. Experts believe whatever it is that knocked out the tank in August was not an RPG-7 but most likely something new — and that worries tank drivers."

I'm sure it does.

"While it’s impossible to determine what caused the damage without actually examining the tank, some conclusions can be drawn from photos that accompanied the incident report. Those photos show a pencil-size penetration hole through the tank body, but very little sign of the distinctive damage — called spalling — that typically occurs on the inside surface after a hollow- or shaped-charge warhead from an anti-tank weapon burns its way through armor.
Spalling results when an armor penetrator pushes a stream of molten metal ahead of it as it bores through an armored vehicle’s protective skin.

“It’s a real strange impact,” said a source who has worked both as a tank designer and as an anti-tank weapons engineer. “This is a new one. … It almost definitely is a hollow-charge warhead of some sort, but probably not an RPG-7” anti-tank rocket-propelled grenade." The well-known RPG-7 has been the scourge of lightly armored vehicles since its introduction more than 40 years ago. Its hollow-charge warhead easily could punch through an M1’s skirt and the relatively thin armor of its armpit joint, the area above the tracks and beneath the deck on which the turret sits, just where the mystery round hit the tank. An RPG-7 can penetrate about 12 inches of steel — a thickness far greater than the armor that was penetrated on the tank in Baghdad. But the limited spalling evident in the photos accompanying the incident report all but rules out the RPG-7 as the culprit, experts say.
Limited spalling is a telltale characteristic of Western-manufactured weapons designed to defeat armor with a cohesive jet stream of molten metal. In contrast, RPG-7s typically produce a fragmented jet spray.

The incident is so sensitive that most experts in the field would talk only on the condition that they not be identified."

I'm sure that really reassures the lads. And wasn't everyone so sure this was going to be easy? The front runners seem to be either the latest Russian antitank kit or a Swiss weapon of some kind. But there are wilder ideas - for example, an old-fashioned antitank rifle given depleted uranium ammo, or even an electromagnetic railgun, a small version of an idea developed as part of the Star Wars project - it uses a succession of very powerful magnets rather like a maglev train's motor to accelerate a tiny projectile to insane speeds.


It started out fun...(Washington Post)

The Washington Post has a report today concerning the survivors of the shot-down CH47 in Iraq. Story.

"It started out fun," said Sgt. Christopher Nelson, one of 12 soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 5th Field Artillery Regiment, based in Fort Sill, Okla., aboard the helicopter and in Iraq since April. "We were just ready to go."

I bet some people in Washington DC feel much the same. And, of course, in London. Now where was that inquiry report again? And what about this?

"Perle, a member of the Defense Policy Board, said in a telephone interview that he was approached last winter by Imad al Hage, a Lebanese businessman, with what was described as a offer by Saddam Hussein to hold elections and perhaps to permit the entry into Iraq of a small number of U.S. troops."

Yes, it's Dickie Pearl, the well-known warmonger and War on Trrrr booster again. This time in the role of backchannel diplomatist. Hard to believe - no wonder it didn't happen. Kissinger was much better at the game of looking like a dangerous nuclear nut in public whilst talking for real objectives in private. Mind you, I'd give a year's blog to see the CIA phone notes for that particular day. After all, this was one of the men who advised Ernst von Rumsfeld that The Company was a haven of Saddam-loving pinko limpwrist self-hating liberals. He never said a word. Mind you, at least this is true:

"Likewise, Air Force Col. Jay DeFrank, a Pentagon spokesman, said that "any suggestion that al Hage's offer could have avoided war is nonsense."

Bad news from ConfinedSpace - Referendums can seriously damage your health

Our long-standing partner blog, ConfinedSpace - about halfway down on the right, with its RSS headlines - has had a terrible experience. Jordan Barab - the gun what built it, mate - has been campaigning furiously against one of those citizen-initiated referendums I don't like. This particular one (Washington State initiative 841) was intended to repeal the state's ergonomic safety rules, the only comprehensive ergonomics standard anywhere in the US, and was funded hugely by powerful business interests, especially in construction. Despite his efforts and many others, though, all that soft money spent on TV adverts paid off and the people duly voted to scrap the lot - up to a point, that is. 8% of citizens, it seems, thought the vote was to enact an ergonomics standard. 25% thought that their safety at work was protected by Federal legislation - it's not - and the organisers of the whole thing, the Building Industries' Association, said that "We've got to keep fighting - we can't stop now." Great. It's enough to make you feel affectionate for our own beloved Health & Safety Executive, with its quaintly dotty obsessions about office photocopiers and banning village cricket matches (where I live now they tried this one...).

As I keep saying, though, direct democracy at the national or big-state level is democratic poison. All these devices - propositions in California, volksbegehrens in Austria, Swiss referendology - end up being instruments for more or less vicious and demagogical politicos to puff up their images, usually whilst spewing bad and foolish policies as a byproduct. The reason is that it gives the fallacious impression of a one-vote answer to everything, an opportunity for politicians to pretend not to be, and the possibility of getting startlingly radical measures into law on tiny votes. Add the use of giant publicity, and you've got political toxic waste. You've got dear old Jörg Haider's Petition on Foreigners (Ausländervolksbegehren) and the wave of racist attacks that followed, the ruinous Californian land-tax ban, the equally ruinous requirement for the state to replace the cash, assorted French referendums with risible turnouts - you name it, I can think of only three direct-democratic exercises that produced a decent result. Those were the Australian referendum that blocked the passage of a Crimes Act that would have made it illegal to be a member of any party the judge considered "communist", the British one re-confirming EEC membership, and the one accepting the Good Friday Agreement. There may be a use for these on constitutional questions, or perhaps at the very lowest level - but for routine politics, Rousseau's argument that true democracy, as he saw it, could only exist in a state small enough to easily assemble "the people" holds. That is after all why representative democracy exists - to make the business of politics possible over a bigger area.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

German general fired over antisemitic speech

Frankfurter Allgemeine story

The commanding officer of the KSK, the German army's special forces, has been relieved of his duties by the Defence Minister, Peter Struck of the Social Democrats, after he allegedly wrote a letter to the conservative deputy Martin Hofmann congratulating him on his now-infamous speech in which he described the Jews as a "perpetrator nation" (Tätervolk) and declared that they were responsible for crimes committed by the Soviet Communist Party. Hofmann's remarks triggered an eruption of criticism and put him under pressure to resign. At least one German has so far accused Hofmann formally of a crime, as has the Central Council of Jews in Germany. Although his party announced that his remarks were "contradictory to the basic convictions of the Christian Democratic Union", he has so far been permitted to remain a member on probation. Two parliamentary committees have since got rid of him.

Now, the affair has expanded sharply with the dismissal of Brigadier General Reinhard Günzel from his post with the Kommando Spezialkräfte (KSK). This unit was created fairly recently and saw action for the first time in Bosnia. It is modelled on the British Special Air Service Regiment. He has been relieved of command on instructions from the Ministry of Defence, and will probably be removed from the army list although this punishment is a matter for the Federal President. Günzel's letter was shown to a television reporter who interviewed Hofmann at his home in Fulda on Saturday whilst he defended the content of the speech and his refusal to apologise.

According to the Austrian Standard, Günzel's epistle explicitly thanked Hofmann for his speech, which he described as "an outstanding speech - if I can permit myself such praise - with a courage for truth and clarity that one very rarely hears in our country". Damn right you don't! He further called on Hofmann "not to allow yourself to be diverted by accusations from the dominant camp of the Left and to hold your course bravely".

Friday, October 31, 2003

First man sacked for blogging?

A Microsoft employee has been fired for blogging a picture of Apple Macs being delivered to company HQ in Seattle. This is the post at issue. God knows what's wrong with them. Despite the dull techie Windows vs Mac wrangles, Microsoft have been selling software to run on the things since I were a lad (literally), and own a great mass of them. They announced that he'd committed "security violations" - the trendy excuse for any injustice - and zapped him instantly. They could do this because (of course) he was a temp and therefore has fewer employment rights than a lab rat (I paraphrase). And that's the real issue.

Ocean of nonsense? The elasticity of information

BBC story

Apparently, researchers at Berkeley have concluded that 800 megabytes of information is produced for each person on the planet every year. That's doubled since 1999, when they last checked. The conclusion is of course dependent on many other factors - just what is information? Does printing many copies of the same book create new information? But it's a good infofart anyway. And it reminds me of my own General Theory of Information, which runs as follows: The volume of traffic expands to fill the communications available. Seems obvious enough, especially as talk is free.
As with all the best maxims, though, it's the consequences that count. If you increase the communications capacity, the traffic will grow - not necessarily instantly, but it will do it.

We can assume that the increase in traffic is value-neutral - there is no reason why worthwhile messages will be any better communicated than nonsense. There can only be so many facts, valid judgments, relevant statements, truthful comments and the like around at any given moment. Obviously this will vary over time, but I'm quite sure it's fixed in the short run. There is no comparable limit on the generation of rubbish, though - after all, it can't be any harder to get it wrong than to get it right, the number of possible misconceptions and imaginings is infinite, and people appear to have a natural tendency to erroneous beliefs. Add the moderate but important contribution of propaganda and deliberate lies, and you'll see the full implications. Even if the total quantity of valid information does increase with capacity, it will increase less rapidly than the quantity of bullshit in the system. Increase the capacity, and the gap will be filled by more rubbish than wisdom.

The only exception is the case where genuine stuff didn't get through because of low capacity. In this case, an increase will clear the backlog - but even so, a greater increase in capacity is needed to clear a given amount of information due to the generation of nonsense.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Bog Rolls Over Baghdad

From the last issue of International Affairs, I see Air Marshal Sir Timothy Garden's review of the invasion of Iraq. How wonderful...reviewing a war like a book...I digress, though. On the question of propaganda, Sir Tim is moved to the following remark: "A total of 158 air missions dropped 31,800,000 leaflets. The US analysis equates this to 120,454 rolls of toilet paper, which may be an early indication of how effective this technique was seen to be." Indeed. Seeing as back then they were willing to drive pickup trucks with 23mm guns on to within 20 yards of M1A1 Abrams tanks (that was how one of the tanks was lost in Nasiriyah - in a sandstorm, admittedly, but brave as hell), and now they are blowing up Red Cross staff and themselves in ambulances packed with high explosives - the propaganda must be beginning to work..

BBC NEWS | Earth buffeted by big solar flare


I noticed on a bulletin board that someone saw the Northern Lights from an Edinburgh-London flight at the latitude of Manchester on Monday. Almost a pity not to be up north..

"The compass variation at the Lerwick geomagnetic observatory in Scotland changed by 5.1 degrees in only 25 minutes at about 0630 GMT.

Japan's space agency has announced that its Kodama communications satellite has been affected by the flare. It has been shut down with the hope it can be reactivated when the storm has passed"

The compass variation shifted by 5.1 degrees..what power!

BBC NEWS - Key Kremlin figure 'quits'


This is the same chap who recently shocked the Russian and Ukrainian press by threatening to bomb the Ukraine at a press conference on a minor border dispute in the Straits of Kerch. I wonder whether that had something to do with it..or perhaps he was trying to embarrass Putin? Still, it's very depressing to be obliged to support someone like Khodorkovski, whose record is as dodgy as only an oligarch's can be - just because they are all that is left as a check on the power of the secret state. Russia under Yeltsin was industrialised (but de-industrialising) anarchy, and it has since become a police democracy. Although the constitution looks - if you screw your eyes up - vaguely like a democracy with a powerful centralised state and strong executive presidency (France, for instance), practice is very different and the political quality of Russia has probably gone backwards. The key now is the complex of the presidential administration, the FSB, the "power ministries", and the friendly oligarchs like Mikhail Fridman. Those ministries, though, are becoming more and more identical with the president's power structure.

Curiously, an executive presidency with the powers of a head of state, an interior, foreign and defence minister was last suggested in democracy by one Jörg Haider in his book "The Third Republic". (The republic he meant was of course Austria, not France) Not the best example.

A Fistful of Euros: Life outside of Europe

A Fistful of Euros: Life outside of Europe

From the same lot, this is amusing..

"The Bible does not predict the establishment of the State of Israel, nor does it predict that the Antichrist will attack it when there is peace with the Palestinians. Yes, I've read the entire Bible. I even used to go to Sunday school. Whatever it is you think you're reading there, it isn't there. Frankly, if there has to be peace in Israel for the world to end, I wouldn't start cashing in my stocks yet anyway.
I don't care what Jesus would do; I worry too much about about what George W. Bush would do. And, I will accept Jesus Christ as my personal saviour when you accept that you've been brainwashed by your cult.
Yes, I'm from Europe and no, I don't like Heineken. I also don't drink Coors because I don't like the taste of horse urine in a can.
France and Germany have virtually identical policies towards Iraq and it's the US that has softened its stance, not the other way around. Yes, it is entirely fair that the US should pay nearly all of the bill for rebuilding Iraq, because if you broke it, you have to fix it.
They're euros, not euro-dollars. And they're not worth eighty cents, they're worth a buck fifteen. Get used to it.
I don't care if you were in Vietnam, you're still a drunk redneck in a pick-up truck."

Got that?

A Fistful of Euros: The trials of the Tories

A Fistful of Euros

Well, it finally happened. Letter number 25 arrived a day after IDS demanded that the plotters move by Wednesday. (not that he had any way of preventing them from writing in after Wednesday, but let that pass) Now we will all have the free entertainment of a Tory election. They aren't really very good at elections - after all, the original tories existed to limit the franchise and support the King - and last time around they managed to have an election that neither chose nor rejected anybody. It's usually only the Swiss who do this sort of thing, but then they mean it. The important bit is, naturally, what becomes of British democracy in the event of the strange death of Conservative England. Can a democracy fly with only a left wing? Especially in a country as rightwing as Britain. We've got to admit that - just look and listen to them!

I really wonder what the country would be like without Tories - would the Labour Party, or at least the Blair content of it, swing to the right and become something like a European christian democratic outfit, as Roy Hattersley frequently accuses Blair of being? That would imply a large Liberal Democracy to the left flank, overlapping on many economic issues but well to the left on the liberal/authoritarian scale, privatisation and foreign policy. And they would doubtless pick up the defectors from the new new Labour. Or would some of those go to the hard left? Even if the Blair party would probably be capable of gathering much of the conservative camp, surely the tribal right of the Conservatives would reject and struggle on as a rump (Real Tories?). Or would they go BNP? There are simply too many Conservative voters around for the right wing to remain empty. If Labour and the Liberals were to stay where they are on the spectrum and compete, they would be disenfranchised, easy meat for a British Le Pen phenomenon.

A vision of the future - a discredited Labour party sprawled over the centre, the Blair team following instinctively their Bill Clinton/Dick Morris 1995 triangulation obsession to the right, the party pulling left, Brown and Robin Cook competing for the spiritual leadership of the Left, a much bigger Liberal party to the Left - and a 30%+ BNP or similar block. Horrible, isn't it? Especially as whatever Tory representation was left would very likely be partly in sympathy with the fascists. I've always enjoyed the spectacle of Tories suffering, it's a gut Labour instinct that survives resignation, disillusion, betrayal - but we really have to worry about the social structure without them. Perhaps in the end the best thing would be the departure to the Right of some people in the Labour Party and greater pluralism in parliament. In a proportional representation world, you could imagine the Tory divisions resolving themselves into a Stahlhelmfraktion of Tebbitite diehards and a liberal, business-conservative grouping, as well as a big Lib Dem representation and a Green presence at the other end. It might make politics more complicated, but it would at least make for balance. Maybe the answer to the challenge of realignment is to have more realignment.

Friday, October 24, 2003

BBC NEWS |Crash victims cheer rail overhaul

BBC NEWS | Business | Crash victims cheer rail overhaul

Well, it's finally happened - Network Rail has renationalised (well, I'm going to admit it even if the government won't) all maintenance of the railways. The workers' flag is deepest red... How odd, anyway. Like Christmas coming early for a lot of people. Puts the PFI arrangements for the Tube in a very bad position - how can (say) Jarvis be considered reliable on the tube but not on the main lines? And that's all gooood.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Europe: best when you don't notice it?

A Fistful of Euros has this article on the slow progress and near-zero profile of the European intergovernmental conference that is currently struggling to agree the final text of the EU's new constitution. According to another blogger quoted by Fistful, EuroSavant, a tougher and more power-political approach to the Constitution might have been more effective - for example, agreeing the text between the 15 current members and presenting it as part of the accession terms to the 10 new members. I can't say I agree - apart from the obvious implications in terms of democracy and fairness, nothing could have strengthened the hand of the various, more or less nasty Europhobes like Andrzej Lepper in Poland or Meciar in Slovakia more. People in the candidate states are worried enough about the terms of entry being dictated by the west without it being any more true than it already is.

Further, I was moved to leave a comment to the effect that European integration had always been deliberately low-key - a process founded on practical and incremental measures of concrete co-operation. Like electricity supply, it's one of those things that's working when you don't notice it. I don't think it would have lasted if it had been more politically dramatic, and I have the strong impression that the EU is at its least effective when it's at its most demonstrative. The fanfares tend to be followed by farts. Recall M. Jacques Poos's pronouncement that "The hour of Europe is at hand!" immediately before the union failed to do anything of use about Yugoslavia, or the lavish ceremonies attending the renewal of the Franco-German treaties this year while the union was tearing itself apart over Iraq, constitutional reform and agriculture. Closer to home, British prime ministers tend to make grand statements about Europe just before collapsing into the latest crisis with a burst of evil-smelling tabloid gas. The historic event of Germany being represented at a European Council meeting by France was somewhat devalued by the fact that nothing was decided at the meeting.

To return to the constitution, I am moving towards the view that perhaps the mistake has been to organise it like this. The two-stage process always presented the danger that the "conventionnels" (the conventionists? the convened?) would deliberately fudge or work in bad faith in the knowledge that national and institutional interests coul be re-asserted in the IGC, as well as the prospect of a workable draft being hacked to death or drowned in waffle once the diplomatic circus of an IGC got going. It might have been better to beef up the convention with more elected members and make its final document the final text. The ratification could have been national or perhaps by referendum. More drama, I know, but perhaps more simplicity.

By the way, who is this?
"Minister," you see, implies a sovereign state - and we don't want to give any support to the notion that this Constitution will in any way create a sovereign state."
You might be surprised. It's the Czech foreign minister Cyril Svoboda talking about the proposed European foreign ministership. Remarks like this, of course, are what keep High Euroscepticism going - the enduring fantasy that a Tory government could somehow create (just like that!) a Eurosceptics' Europe without any real institutions by allying itself with (the exact allies change under pressure) "the Scandinavians" or "the new members". Remember Iain Duncan Smith's "Prague Declaration" earlier this year. Of course you do. Go on. What, you don't remember? The problem is, of course, that the new members want to join the EU. They don't want to join some second-class outfit on the fringes - it looks far too much like the various ideas put forward to stall them in the 1990s. (the European Confederation, anyone?) And in fact Mr. Svoboda's position is far closer to Tony Blair's than anyone in the Conservative Party but (perhaps) Ken Clarke. It's not the thing he objects to, note, but the name.

Not that it will put the backbench Bismarcks like David Heathcoat-Amory off their pipes, though. Now, I suppose, they like this idea even more because Don Rumsfeld has made it sound American and exciting.

Monday, October 20, 2003

George W. Bush or Chimpanzee?

George W. Bush or Chimpanzee?

Highly amusing link

Excessive force in Rafah

Ha'aretz story

"The Rafah operation, named "Root Canal," has been underway for 10 days. It involves large numbers of infantry, armor and engineering troops, backed up by attack helicopters. So far the operation has been only partially successful.Three tunnels have been found and demolished. But there is reason to believe that there are many more tunnels running under the border. The tunnels are not only used to move weapons that end up in the hands of the terror organizations, but also to smuggle in goods and merchandise. There's no disputing the justice of Israel's position that the tunnels are flagrant violations of past security commitments made by the Palestinian Authority to prevent the uncontrolled flow of arms into areas under its control. No less
understandable is Israel's frustration over Egypt's failure to do anything to block the smuggling routes.

But there is nothing in the justification of Israel's position that can sweepingly justify the military activity underway on the ground -
neither its dimensions nor the character of the operation, which appears to be violent and arbitrary. So far, the operation has led to the deaths of two children, aged 8 and 12, and
apparently other innocents, as well. The operation has destroyed the homes of hundreds of people, who unluckily lived along the border and their homes were searched by soldiers looking for the tunnels. In some cases, homes were demolished because tunnels were indeed found under them. But in other cases, it's been reported, multi-storey buildings were toppled for no reason."

"Root Canal". How amusing. Does anyone really think that this sort of bullying exercise serves any purpose at all? No. The problem is that the Sharon-ist mind assumes that the Palestinians will be bullied into submission, and that this can be achieved by the same means as when Sharon was commanding in Gaza in 1970 - bulldozing houses on a variety of quasimilitary pretexts ("fields of fire") as a form of preemptive intimidation. It isn't going to work again. An Irish comedian recently described the War on Terrorism as "like trying to swat a fly in your kitchen with a fridge". If anyone believes that they are really looking for individual terrorists with bulldozers, I suggest you think on that image.

Pakistanis Cross Border With Ease to Join Taliban (

But on the other hand

The next crisis bubbles steadily away. How long before a new disaster? I seem to recall saying that having an entirely vacuous brawl with Iraq would take attention and resources off al-Qa'ida and the stabilisation of Afghanistan, and it looks like I was right.

Bush Says Pact With N. Korea Possible (

Some good-ish news at last

Well, at least an edging back towards sanity. After all, why does North Korea want nuclear missiles? Because of fear. Address the fear and we can address the missiles. Further, recalling George Kennan's long telegram on the USSR mentioned yesterday, an insecure and repressive state needs to find enemies to justify its internal repressiveness. Wind down the military confrontation level, and you can expand detente to wider relations between North and South K. And that will make the "magnetic pull" of the South stronger yet - which will eventually lead to peaceful reunification. Yup, it's the old
Willy Brandt/Egon Bahr line again. Good to see a little professionalism seeping through.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Spiralling downwards...

What really infuriates me about the Tories at the moment is that they are such an abject cluster fuck that no-one is paying any attention to the poisonous cancer of a government we are afflicted with. So the Highways Agency are planning for the possibility of sections of the motorway network jamming to such a degree that those stuck will have to be supplied there until the traffic can be reversed. So Diddy David Blunkett's new extradition treaty with the USA means that each and every one of us can be rousted and shipped to some undisclosed location on the mere say-so of some pissant small-town Republican bigwig promoted to a real job for his loyal campaign contributions without any evidence being presented to a court whatsoever, whilst the meanest, nastiest excuse for an American citizen may do whatever crime it likes in Britain with impunity as long as they reach home soil, as the Constitution forbids extradition. So Geoff "Iraqi mothers will be grateful for our cluster bombs" Hoon has decided all the armed forces' new equipment projects can be scrapped. Barely any new destroyers (the ones the navy are counting on for their air defence between now and whenever the new carriers and F35s come into service), one armoured brigade to go because Apache helicopters will do everything (so why were they useless in Iraq?), all supposedly for faster, whizzier expeditionary ops - but the network-centric warfare programme is to be shit canned as well. No connection there.

But the political shrapnel hurtling out of the Tory bomb site blocks the view. Everything keeps going catastrophically wrong and each time is worse than the last. When I formed this blog, I considered naming it "The Downward Spiral". But I felt that was overly pessimistic. Clearly, though, pessimism is the wave of the future. Look at this. Go on, look at it. LOOK AT IT!

"an 'undisclosed location' (a place the CIA calls 'Hotel California') - presumably a facility in another co-operative nation, or perhaps a specially designed prison aboard an aircraft carrier"

So that'll be as in "You can check out any time you like - but you can never leave!" Jesus. I will bet good money that this zone of horrors is right on British soil. RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus? Too accessible. The carrier can be ruled out - there are no secrets aboard a ship, however huge. Diego Garcia, most likely. The place we threw the people off so we could kowtow to the Pentagon better. What a fine example of George F. Kennan's argument that the Soviet Union needed external enemies to justify the illegitimacy of its internal terror. We are seeking external enemies to justify external terror to internal opinion, but the principle seems much the same.

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