Saturday, December 29, 2007

Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Review

Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran's book on the days of the CPA in Iraq has been heavily praised; showered with awards and links and stuff. So I was pretty keen to get a copy. Just think of the horrible guts that might be in there. Unfortunately, I can report that it is desperately overrated.

To kick off, if you read the newspapers closely during 2003-2005, or kept up with any worthwhile blogs in the same period, you'll know most of the factual material in the book and most of the anecdotes too. There is not very much new here, which is unsurprising because the whole sorry farrago of stupidity, disorientation, partisan hackery, corruption etc is by now quite well documented, especially due to the excellent work of SIGIR and various newspaper reporters.

Some of the stories are good - I didn't know the British camp in the Green Zone was called Ocean Cliffs by its inhabitants, because it was in an underground car park in a city in a flat desert, or that the Americans didn't understand why the Brits would want to park their caravans in an underground car park....until the mortars began coming over the wire. But that is trivial.

More seriously, Chandrasekaran's book primarily shows the degree to which so many people in US politics and the press are still struggling with the concept that the President might be wrong. Although he clearly believes it to be an indictment that will burst like a 107mm Chinese rocket, it doesn't pack much of a punch; he is far too weak on the assumptions so many people brought with them to Iraq. He is repeatedly reduced to pearl-clutching incomprehension by the notion that healthcare and education were free in pre-war Iraq (at least in theory). Like the CPA's Republican bagmen, contract hunters and securigoons, he finds it impossible to separate Iraq from his own assumptions about US politics and political economy. As part of the ill-thought-out healthcare effort, a team of experts from the "Defense Department Pharmacoeconomic Center" are called in; the fact the US military needs a staff of health economists to keep from being ripped off by their healthcare system should tell him something about who exactly can give lessons on national healthcare.

Further, his critique shows some curious cracks. After 172 pages on how the CPA failed to engage with Iraqis, to make use of Iraqi knowledge or resources, or to understand Iraqi realities, he remarks that the task of rehabilitating the electricity grid was "inexplicably handed off" to the selfsame Iraqi engineers he has just on the preceding page credited with restoring power after the 1991 war. Was that really so inexplicable? In fact, we know exactly how the electricity effort failed, thanks to the good people at IEEE Spectrum, who did a superb feature on how the American bigshot contract-hunters the CPA called in made a mess of the job by behaving as if Iraq was very much like the United States. The contrast with the telecoms reconstruction effort, which actually had to restore facilities the US bombed this time around, is shown up by another IEEE Spectrum report.

His choice of John Agresto, president of a small college in the US and sometime CPA education advisor, as an example of a "neoconservative mugged by reality" is wildly uncritical of the man's maunderings about "introducing the concept of academic freedom", which turns out to mean "encouraging the universities to suppress students with opinions he doesn't like", to say nothing of the fact he is just another political hack; he made his career working with Bill "casino boy" Bennett and Dick Cheney's wife at the National Endowment for the Humanities in the 1980s, or to put it another way, bashing academics Ronald Reagan's staff didn't like. Agresto's remarks about the president of Dohuk University in Kurdistan ("more like the head of a New Jersey truckers' local than the founder and president of a major university", and this is a guy he liked) are - well, I'm not sure if they are more racist than snobbish or vice versa.

But like so many, Agresto has got out in time; he moved from the CPA into well-heeled retirement. Another university president whose role was an utter disaster, far worse than anything Agresto could cook up, has surprisingly managed to escape without too much damage to his reputation; and Chandrasekaran here does us all a service by dragging Peter McPherson, once Gerald Ford's head of appointments (working for Dick Cheney) and holder of a range of Reagan administration panjandrumships and now president of Michigan University, well and truly through the mud. You'll have to read the book to find out how badly he fucked up as the CPA's economics boss, but suffice it to say that he decided to reverse normal practice so that if the bank is in trouble, it was the depositor's problem, thus destroying the working capital of every firm in Iraq with a positive balance at the banks and wiping out the debts of every firm in Iraq with an overdraft. He did this in order to make the accounting easier and save $1bn; a billion here and a billion there and soon you're talking real money, indeed, but out of the $20bn of Iraqi oil revenues and $18.4bn in US taxpayers' cash the CPA ran through you would think that a billion to recapitalise the banks would have been easy to find.

He was convinced that a supply-side policy would not only be best in the long run, but would be the fastest way to create jobs in the short run as well; foreign direct investment would pour in to take advantage of privatisation. Of course, you can't privatise a corpse, and the difference between a business that is trading (even at a loss) and one that is not is the difference between a living person and a dozen stone of dogmeat. Even the accounting problems (due to looting) would have been easier to fix; get them trading and paying each other. Cash is king, right?

Fortunately, he was prevented from throwing an even more egregious cake-and-arse party; he wanted to abolish food rations and instead pay out cash, or perhaps issue special debit cards that would be automatically credited, in a country without cash points or credit-card merchant terminals or very much electricity. Yet another disaster was prevented by one Jim Otwell, a fireman from Buffalo, New York, who had arrived to help with the fire brigade but had eventually become the CPA labour advisor because he was a union convenor (a form of expertise scarcer in the Green Zone than anywhere else on earth). Otwell spotted that, as with UK child benefit, the food was supplied to the women for a reason; he further pointed out that even if only one per cent of recipients didn't get their money, that would still mean about 250,000 angry hungry people with AK47s.

I seem to have to make similar points about small percentages of really big numbers all the damn time...

But McPherson's militant stupidity was not to be put off by the prospect of perhaps having a quarter-million-strong armed mob pouring over the walls to eat him. Otwell had to enlist the British army hierarchy (John McColl at the time, I think) to exert influence on the US commander in Iraq to get the thing kiboshed, for which we may all be truly thankful. Involving food as it did, McPherson's policy had the greatest potential to kill of any of the CPA's ideas.

So, the CPA was a bunch of hopelessly ignorant rightwing hacks. Ya think? So how did this book, which is OK at best, get so much praise? Well, it had the good fortune to appear just as the notion that Iraq was not a good idea became authorised knowledge; I can think of no other explanation. I recommend and endorse Patrick Cockburn's The Occupation, which delivers far more facts, useful insights, and punch in considerably fewer pages.

Tell me more about this "accepting ambiguity" trick, it sounds strangely fascinating

It is quite possible to simultaneously believe that Benazir Bhutto's career was considerably less perfect than her public image, and also that her assassination is likely to have nothing but bad consequences for Pakistan and quite a few other places. I say this because you'd be surprised; opinion has already broken between uncritical Diana-isation by the mainstream media, politics, and large chunks of the blogosphere ranging all the way from angry feminists to Michelle Malkin, and cynical dismissal from the professionally snarky.

Let's pause and consider the political dynamics; the PPP was about the only political organisation in Pakistan with real popular support or public participation, and it looks very like it's going to die. (There's a rundown of no fewer than eight possible candidates here.) The organisation has declared 40 days of mourning, which can be read as 40 days of desperately trying to work out what to do and fighting over the bloody shawl. Nawaz Sharif is trying to muscle in on the role of popular opponent of the army regime; this is only going to make it worse.

The upshot is that the entire southern half of the country and a significant chunk of the big cities will be effectively disenfranchised; Sharif and Musharraf will be competing for the Punjab, and worse still, for the military. Only Zia was closer to the ISI, the jihadis and the Saudis than Nawaz Sharif; we're talking about the chap who (despite not being terribly devout) considered declaring sharia law and sent actual troops (rather than secret aid) to help the Taliban hold Kabul in 1998 when the Northerners retook the Shomali plain. An underreported feature of the current crisis is the Saudi lobbying campaign for him.

The elections might not now happen - probably for the best, as with Sharif boycotting and the PPP in a state of collapse, the only possible outcome would be a risibly unrepresentative cocktail of the Musharraf fanclub and NWFP religious nutters. However, the not-general would probably quite like such an outcome - it couldn't possibly work with 60+ per cent of the population excluded, but it would permit him to indulge his loathing of Nawaz Sharif and politicians generally and also appear to Stand Up For Democracy. Theatre is an under-remarked factor in his career.

Meanwhile, you want fourth-generation warfare? We got it. Just not in the usual form; you know your network's been disrupted when you ask the telco what's broken and they tell you the mob sacked the exchange and torched the SDH fibre transceivers.

As far as the assassinology of it goes, I'll confine myself to pointing out that the M.O. was identical to the first attempt on the day of her return - gunfire, and then a suicide bomb. I've not heard of this sequence anywhere else (usually it's a bomb and then snipers in the smouldering aftermath). There are all kinds of options for "whodunnit?" - both at the level of whichever bunch of jihadis were recruited to do the job, and who recruited them. Obviously, anyone who wants Pakistan to be semichaotic and the special role of the spooks to continue benefited; this includes half the world, as far as I can work out. Meanwhile, the British brigade in Helmand's main supply route is still via Karachi.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Ceasefire

The traditional TYR Christmas ceasefire will be in force up to the 27th. Not that you'd have noticed the difference lately; but anyway I'll be back with some thoughts on 2007, the year of delivery (remember that?) for everything we've been saying about stupid government IT all the way back to 1999.

Meanwhile, something from the tape recorder for special music:

Delroy Wilson does the Temptations' Get Ready. The video isn't much, but the sound wants to be turned up. And this is post number 1,700...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Unclear on the Concept

I've been reading old House of Commons Defence Committee reports - I was ill, forgive me.

This one, from February, is likely to spin up to relevance any time now. It covers the Army's FRES (Future Rapid Effects System) project, which was intended to provide a new armoured vehicle that would be light and handy enough to be deployed quickly by air as an alternative to either tanks, or else Land Rovers and boots.

So far, MOD has spent £192 million on "concept work" since 1998; this hasn't involved any actual vehicles. To begin with, this work (perhaps this should be "work"?) was carried out as part of a US-UK joint project (TRACER), but then the Americans pulled out. It continued as part of a joint project, BOXER, with Germany and Holland, but then, another group of "concept workers" at BAE came up with a new concept which Geoff Hoon and Jacko bought into heavily, and so the MOD pulled out of BOXER to develop FRES.

Originally, they decided to have another company (Alvis Vickers' Leeds plant) do the development, so as to have neutral advice; but BAE promptly bought it and its biggest US competitor too, so there ended up being neither competition nor impartiality. And, of course, in this vapourware realm the requirements just kept coming. It would have to replace the CVR(T) reconnaissance vehicle. It would have to replace the Saxon and FV430 APCs, and various utility vehicles. It would have to provide a completely new role for a lightweight vehicle with a big gun. It would have to fit in a C-130; a special request from the Paras.

The upshot was that the project has spent the last 10 years in dancing powerpoint mode, as those involved tried to stuff the mutually incompatible requirements into a vaguely credible design; meanwhile, the Army went to war with lots of Land Rovers. The news from Iraq and Afghanistan caused the vehicle to expand steadily as it got more and more armour; eventually the requirement to fit in a C-130 was dropped, which rather spoiled the point of the whole exercise. Now it's got to fit in an A-400M, which is probably easier but for the problem that it doesn't exist yet.

So here we are; the MOD has in the meantime bought a mass of other vehicles, including Mastiffs (MRAP-like trucks with armour), Bulldogs (old FV430s with more armour) and Vikings (BV-206 tracks, with more armour). Incredibly, the ad-hoc vehicle program actually cost less than the "concept work" on FRES. The MOD is now trying to decide between the vehicle that eventually emerged from BOXER, or the French NEXTER; this is despite the fact the Finnish Patria and Swedish SEB fit the requirement more closely and the American LAV III is cheaper. This appears to have been why Lord Drayson quit; nothing to do with Le Mans. (That was, however, the best ever ministerial resignation story; beats "spending more time with my family".)

There are heavy rumours of more defence cuts next year; nothing should be simpler than terminating this project, which has long become almost proverbially toxic. Clearly, trying to fit four mutually contradictory roles on the same machine is profoundly stupid; type proliferation has already happened, anyway. Even if anything was delivered, it now looks like the recce variant , which was meant to be the top priority, will come a long way after the utility one, and God knows when the light tank one will arrive. The MOD should extend its ad-hoc buy to fill the infantry requirement, and look at some of the vehicles in service elsewhere for the recce and light tank jobs.

It's yet another case of government scienciness and creationist technology.

Polly Toynbee: Is an Egregious Hack

Well this is impressive; Polly Toynbee arguing that anyone who disagrees with ID cards is objectively pro-illegal immigrants being beaten up. Seriously; the argument is not that we need ID cards to keep the immigrants out, but that we need to cut the government some slack in order to stop them beating up illegal immigrants.

This really is amazing; let's see a sample.
Failed asylum seekers who can't return are deliberately starved with nothing but a £35 voucher to be cashed in one shop, with no change, never mind the price of a bus fare. Meltem Avcil is just one girl caught in periodic sweeps, which at the present rate of removal would take 25 years and £4.5bn to clear the backlog. For real suffering, the treatment of these migrants beats all else - and it's time for a controlled amnesty after, say, four years. But here is a clash between the citizens' right to control the borders that define their citizenship versus the human rights of the helpless and destitute living here anyway.

How do you rank the liberties of other extreme sufferers? The frail and lonely are badly neglected with ever less care as councils tighten their criteria. Young children all alone caring for sick parents have their childhood and their future destroyed. Prison suicides, and now prisoners shamefully locked in for 23 hours a day. Abused children suffer silently in direct proportion to social workers' overburdened caseloads. Thousands dying slowly in agony are denied by parliament the right to go at a time of their choosing. Evidence recently from the Sutton Trust report yet again shows that birth is destiny: poor children stand virtually no chance of escaping poor lives. Meanwhile, exhausted families of disabled children and adolescents struggle to get even the most basic help. Add here all those whose acute suffering can only be alleviated by a kindlier, more generous state. For them a better funded "nanny state" is the solution, not the threat.
But who is deliberately starving failed asylum seekers? Who runs the prisons? Who sets the financial targets for those councils?

Polly, the Cossacks work for the Czar. All of these things, just like ID cards, CCTV and DNA databases, are the work of the government you have been propagandising for as long as I can remember. And every damn time they have done them, you have been the first to say that we ought to put up with it in case they get round to passing the corporate manslaughter bill, or expanding Sure Start, or standing up to George Bush about...well...anything.

And what happened to any of these things? The radical second term still hasn't arrived. Sure Start was tossed back to the local councils, and then they got ratecapped under the last CSR. The corporate manslaughter bill is still forever delayed; look what just happened. We're still in Iraq. But Polly is still, incredibly, hoping for the rule of the saints; what more, I wonder, are we expected to give up?

Further, can anyone cite an actual instance of "wrongful convictions" being overturned by "a DNA database"? I cannot imagine how this could happen; in every case using DNA evidence I've ever heard of, DNA recovered from forensics was matched against samples from a suspect, and if they turned out not to match, this is considered strong evidence for their innocence. Running it through a database of other suspects is quite another issue; the point of overturning a conviction is that this guy didn't do it, not we might have someone else who fits the available DNA.

After all, doing it that way would be mathematically certain to produce lots of false positive matches; but, I suppose, they would be happy to sacrifice the illusory individual freedom of not being locked up for the larger group freedom of perhaps maybe having emotional dolphins parenting binge estates sometime in the next parliament. (Well, she is on record as saying anyone who disagrees with this stuff is insane.)

This was, I think, quite the worst piece of writing the Grauniad has ever published. It came along with a grubbily unsourced psychological flaws smear directed at Gordon Brown from Tom Bower and a Simon Jenkins scotch and soda about farmers wanting to shoot badgers and this being the authentic voice of Britain. Frankly, their op-ed page has outlived its usefulness; and let's not even think of Martin Kettle.

XV230 Update

An extra titbit on Nimrod: XV230 was the airframe that had refuelled from a TriStar the most. In second place was XV235; and on the 5th November, this aircraft experienced a fuel leak from one of those 38-year old rubber seals. In other news, apparently the decision to stop Nimrods air-to-air refuelling had little effect; it referred to "operational" AAR, but all AAR except for training is by definition operational. This means that the restriction is entirely discretionary.

Especially, as last week, when the entire force is following the Admiral Kuznetsov group around.

Datenschutz in Amerika

Why must you record my phone calls? Are you planning a bootleg EP? (thnx, derausqed!) So said the Specials.
Laura Rozen points us to a New York Times story regarding the wider telecoms surveillance effort that led to the great AT&T whistleblower case; it seems as good as certain that they got cracking the moment Bush took office.

What interests me, however, are the exceptions - two carriers refused to take part. One was Qwest - their motto is Spirit of Service, and I recall that at MCI we glossed it as Spirit of Silence, until some nut started sending green-ink emails about how they should be Al Qa'ida Telecom. The other, about which you hear less, was T-Mobile USA. Now, Qwest's motivations remain obscure; but we can deduce something about the program from T-Mobile.

T-Mobile is, of course, the mobile division of Deutsche Telekom; it bought the former Voicestream assets in the United States, and is now rolling out a UMTS network. The company is the biggest mobile operator in Germany, the fourth-biggest in the UK, and the fourth-biggest in the US. Being a GSM/UMTS operator, it can offer transatlantic roaming; and here is the rub.

When one of T-Mobile's European customers gets off the plane in the US, their mobile phone will send a CC SETUP message to the loudest base station it can hear whose network ID is in its list of available roaming partners. It will try to get on to T-Mobile's local network by preference; if it does so, the base station controller (RNC for 3G purposes) will send a signalling message to the switching centre requesting that the subscriber be added to a local database called a Visitor Location Register (VLR), which holds a list of all roamers on the network. This is used to authenticate attempts to make calls from the number, and also to route incoming calls to it.

In order to check if the number is indeed from the network it says it is, and that the subscriber is in credit, a further signalling message is spawned to the home network to look up their Home Location Register (HLR), their master database containing all their subscribers. This will also cause a lookup on the BSS (Billing Support Subsystem), and will amend the HLR so that calls to the number are routed to the visited network.

We're now in a position to roam. There are two ways in which that works - one has all traffic to or from the roamer routed to their home network's switching centre, the other delegates the switching to the visited network and merely sends signalling messages to the home network. Yes, it's complicated.

Now, if (as seems to be the case) the NSA was trying to hoover up signalling data and call-detail records, this all means that whatever they were doing in the US would also absorb information from the German and UK HLRs. Similarly, T-Mobile USA customers roaming in the UK or Germany would be leaving a data trail sent back by T-Mobile UK or Germany. The reason T-Mobile declined is probably for fear of being taken to German or British courts; because not only the local affiliate, but also the European-based networks, would in a sense have taken part, the distinction of jurisdiction could not save them. And such an act would have been highly illegal; either the German legislation on data privacy or the UK Data Protection Act, as far as I can make out, would have been violated comprehensively.

A Fundamental Problem

This Brad DeLong post summarises criticisms of the Stern report on the economics of climate change and criticisms of the criticisms. Mostly, it's concerned with the role of uncertainty; as the tail of the distribution includes some really horrible possibilities, it's not sensible to assume that we'll be OK because the middle of the distribution is more likely.

But there is an even more serious issue here. When Stern originally reported, the thing Tim Worstall seized on to defend his priors was the social discount rate, the relationship between costs or benefits in the present and in the future. Stern assumed a low SDR; a pound's worth of future suffering was similar in value to a pound's worth today. Worstall, and a million other CEI-funded twerps, argued that this was wrong; perhaps costs to the future should be radically discounted?

In part this was based on the argument that the future would be so much richer as a result of continuing economic growth that the costs would be more affordable then; this, of course, itself rests on the assumption that the future costs of climate change would not be sufficient to imperil economic growth, a nice little logical perpetual motion machine.

More fundamentally, though, any discussion of SDRs has to come down to a choice; in a sense it's a measurement of how much you care. It has to come down to a choice because, as Dsquared pointed out at the time, it's impossible to put a real price on costs in the future because the future has no say - it cannot pay the present to change its behaviour. Intergenerational trade is always one-way, and hence there is a huge missing market problem.

But there is something genuinely silly about self-declared capitalists - capitalists! - arguing that the future has no value. Essentially all narratives of the history of capitalism agree that it required a fundamental change in attitudes towards the future; whether you ascribe it to Protestantism, or whatever, you can't have capitalism without the idea that accumulating capital is good. The notion that wealth should be used to accumulate the means of production, and that businesses have an existence independent of individuals, was a stupendously radical one.

The iconography and culture is full of the notion that saving - or rather investment in the economic sense, the transfer of income from consumption to capital formation - is virtuous. The Fable of the Bees is well-known; the bee and the hive are symbols that recur throughout the history of capitalism, combining the value of investment for the future, the work ethic, and the power of specialisation and self-organisation. Bradford's 19th-century bourgeoisie, when they found the city needed a coat of arms, chose two bees and the motto Labor omnia vincit. Similarly, the motif of ploughing a surplus back into the business is too common to need discussing.

Marxism, of course, is founded on the idea that the accumulation of capital explains all human history; development economics has always been attracted to the idea that the transition to industrial capitalism (or communism!) requires faster capital formation. The high development theorists thought there was a specific savings rate at which take-off would be achieved, an economic V-1 around 20%; more recently, the school of Hernando De Soto argues that countries that develop successfully do so primarily because of the savings of the poor, and the solution is to reinforce the property rights of the public.

Now, all this stuff assumes that, in fact, profit in the future is at least as valuable - perhaps even more so - than spending today (or saving in the sense of hoarding cash). The social discount rate must be assumed to be low, or even positive. It is certainly strange to find the people who consider themselves to be the perfect capitalists pushing a pre-economic line; let's eat the stuff we've gathered before it goes off, and make sure we get our share.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Our Charming Government

The good, good people responsible for the Iraqi employees' resettlement scheme have hit upon a brilliant idea. It turns out that if you have completed the canonical 12 months, you are liable to be refused assistance if you stopped working for the British because you were being threatened; this is called "absenteeism". Even if, as it happened, the absence was on the advice of your superior officer.

I think I've already said everything that needs saying here.

So, again. Time to write to them. Be polite, but firm. Insist on the specific; quote individual horror stories rather than windy principles if possible. Demand to know what is meant to happen after the handover of security control in Basra, expected any moment now.

And, of course, blog whatever results you get.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Genuinely Disturbing Search Request

kill lourens horn.

Lourens Horn is a South African mercenary who figured in the 2004 Equatorial Guinea coup attempt, and this post, which is what the homicidal googler landed on.

I'm really not sure what to make of this.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


What on earth? Dolphin Air, (ICAO: FDN), the company formed from the assets of Santa Cruz Imperial, has a flight leaving Sharjah at 1600GMT for the United States - specifically Decatur, Illinois. Flight number is FDN 1457.

As far as I know the only aircraft left on the FDN register is an old 737-2X5, which has a range of 1800 nautical miles at the outside. That implies many stops; I reckon 17-18 hours and four or five sectors, either going north via Scotland/Iceland/Newfoundland or south via somewhere in the western Mediterranean, the Azores, and Gander, Newfoundland. Decatur is GMT-6; so STD is 1000A. +18 hours - about 0400 local time tomorrow.

Update: Rechecked - the aircraft left well ahead of schedule at ETA 0030 local/0630Z!

Update Update: A comment informs us that, like another Dolphin Air 737, it's been sold to Air Inuit of Canada. Checking, it looks like it was probably A6-ZYA, serial number 21926, formerly of Trans Air Congo...

Finance, mainstay of our economy

According to Felix "Fishy" Salmon, the volume of lending in the London interbank market has gone from £640bn to £249bn since the credit furt hit in September. Say a 60 per cent cut.

What percentage of that book of business does the City take as its turn? How much of that is spent or retained in the UK? This really isn't good news.

XV230 Accident Report is Out

The XV230 Board of Inquiry has travailed, and brought forth many PDFs. And some appalling numpty discposter has printed out the clearly wordprocessed documents, tippexed classified information, and scanned them chunk by chunk as huge uncompressed graphics files, before pdf-ing them into a round dozen fat-arse documents. Still, anything to keep google out, right - except robots.txt...

If I felt stronger I'd OCR the lot and turn it into something useful; but I don't have the time, so you'll have to rely on the art of exegesis. Here are the killer (in every sense) conclusions:

1. The 38-year old rubber seals

I am not joking; there may very well be seals in the Nimrod fuel system that have been there ever since the original aircraft were built in 1969. Better yet, according to BAE engineering documents shown to the inquiry, the RAF has had problems with the Flight Refuelling Ltd 110 kit leaking from the seals on the following aircraft types: AEW Mk3, VC10, Vulcan, Lancaster.

The seals were under "corrective maintenance"; this means that they were replaced if they blew. The manufacturers originally suggested they would last indefinitely but must be checked every 5 years; this has never actually been done. The current makers, Eaton, think they are likely to start leaking after 25 years; the MOD, however, thinks that the problems on the aviation museum catalogue list of aircraft given above were caused by doing maintenance, and that if they just left well alone it might work better.

2. Stats

Between 1983 and 2006, the average number of annual fuel leaks on Nimrods went from 10 to 40, despite the fact the number of aircraft fell and one of the two bases in the UK was shut down. Nobody, it seems, thought that the maintenance policy should be changed as a result.

3. Hot Air

A pipe runs through the No.7 tank dry bay, the compartment where the fire began; this pipe carries compressed air taken directly from the engines at around 400 degrees C, which is used for a wide range of purposes (electricity, pressurisation, pumps, cross-bleed engine start, etc). Crucially, one of its uses is to drive the supplementary conditioning pack, or SCP, which provides extra pressurisation and air conditioning. Naturally the Nimrod's designers realised that 400-degree compressed air is stuff that ought to be kept separate from essentially everything else, so the pipes are heavily insulated.

Just as naturally, the insulation is only replaced if it goes wrong; the maintenance handbook does not state how much insulation is tolerable. An experiment on a dodgy section showed the insulation was only 16 degrees cooler than the bare metal. "In some areas on other aircraft it was noted the laces have loosened and there are visible gaps between the blanket edge and the main pipe insulation, leaving exposed sections of pipe surface", saith the Board. There's a further problem; a previous incident on XV227 occurred when hot air leaked from the pipe and caused a rubber seal on the fuel line to melt. The Board considered this a possibility.

There are several of those famous seals in the No.7 bay; on the 15th of February this year, XV250 had a fuel leak right there, fortunately on the ground.

4. Too Much of a Good Thing

The crisis aboard XV230 began immediately after an air-to-air refuelling. Nimrods were converted for this task in a tearing hurry in 1982, and the capability was then officialised in 1989. There are some concerns about sudden over-pressure in the system; BAE, however, reckons it's OK. Now there's reassurance.

Much more seriously, though, there was a problem in the event that too much fuel went into tank number one. In this event, the excess should overflow through the vent and into the air; the pipe provided is not meant to stand pressure and isn't tested for it. A related cockup in October, 2006 demonstrated that fuel overflowing from tank 1 could end up in bay 7, with the hot pipe. And the delivery of fuel from a Tristar tanker is faster than a ground refueller; more pressure. XV230 had refuelled from a Tristar more often than any other Nimrod; more strain on those seals.

Worse - much worse - though, something similar had happened to XV230 in August, 2006; a ground engineer noticed fuel had escaped from the overflow during an AAR sortie, and after this decided not to fill tank 1 over 15,000 lbs of fuel. Even worse still, BAE had noticed the problem whilst working on the disastrous Nimrod AEW project in the 1980s, and had decided that the SCP must be shut off before refuelling; but the knowledge had been lost. Nimrods are long-range aircraft; they don't need to refuel in the air often, or at least not until they had to operate over Afghanistan rather than the Western Approaches. And the SCP doesn't get that much use in the North Sea.

Tristars are fast; to keep up, the Nimrod had to use 94% power, at which setting the compressed air from the engines would have been around 420 degrees. Fuel entered the No. 3 cell faster than it emptied into the tank; eventually the valve operated and it vented, but quite a lot went into the No. 7 bay. Although there was a hole in the bottom, there was space for about 300ml of the stuff below it, enough for 100 seconds of fire. There was no way of knowing about the fire until it had already spread beyond the compartment, still less doing anything about it. Eventually the fuel in No. 1 tank boiled and a BLEVE occurred; and that was it.

5. Killer Powerpoint

"Changes to RAF Kinloss' management structure as a result of Project Trenchard removed the SO1 Engineer/OC Engineering Wing from the station structure. Engineering personnel are now distributed between the station's 2 remaining Wings under non-specialist leadership..."

"Service training courses were perceived by a number of witnesses no longer to impart the skill of hand or depth of knowledge necessary to maintain an aircraft built around a design philosophy now some 40 years old."

Engineers - who needs 'em?

6. Comic Relief

"Some Nimrod aircraft at both DOB [CENSORED] and Kinloss had elements of the acoustics mission equipment removed and the resultant voids had been masked with cardboard, held in place with tape.."

7. Now's The Time For Your Tears

"The body bags, which had been provided by the US mortuary at Kandahar and manufactured in the USA (NATO Stock No 9930-01-3316244) were not provided with impermeable membranes."

I don't think I have anything to add.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Dodgy Cheques

What conclusions should we draw from the failure of the US's Future Imagery Architecture reconnaissance satellite program?

After all, under longstanding and still secret agreements with the US, Britain has not developed any satellite reconnaissance capability because the US promises to provide us with access to the product from theirs. This has been denied at least once, in 1982. Now, however, it looks like the quality and availability of this stuff is going to decline anyway.

And this at the moment when the Illustrious may be going to take an Italian Harrier squadron to the Indian Ocean 'cos the Navy, post-Sea Harrier withdrawal, has committed all available Harriers - 8 - to Afghanistan, and apparently the RAF's two Harrier squadrons are fully utilised in Norfolk despite being carrier-trained.

Gah. The good news is that we do have the good people at Astrium Stevenage and Surrey Sat Tech, and there's plenty of Arianes available.

Words Fail Me

Well, this is quite the incoherent rant; words fail me to comment suitably, which is a pity because it would have been better for all concerned had they failed him. My substantive comments are in this thread at Aarowatch.

The key point here is that by examining Amis's bullshit we can form conclusions about his intellectual diet; claiming that the "indigenous" population of Spain will fall by 35 per cent every decade and that the people concerned will be replaced by Muslims is not only wrong in particular (Spain's population is rising and something like 90 per cent of immigrants are from Latin America) but wrong in general.

Clearly, he hasn't just drunk the kool-aid; he's lifted the tub and drained every last drop before hollering for more. Having passed through the Decents, he's become a full-on Conrad Black Club member; impressive.

Unsourced BS is wrong for both sides

I'm getting a ton of referrals to this post from Dillow's, which is nice. But I am not particularly keen on the substance; the post is swung on a Peter Oborne piece in the Sextator that goes a little something like this:
Disturbing reports have emerged that Gordon Brown is rude to his secretaries — or garden girls, as they are known inside Downing Street. He is said to shout at them abusively. On one occasion he is reported to have impatiently turfed one of the girls out of her chair and sat down to use the keyboard
Well, if you're committed to opposing content-free personality bollocks, irrationality as ideology, and all that good stuff...perhaps you should sit down and take some deep breaths.

OK, so how does Oborne know this? Was he there? Who told him? Using the art of journalistic parsing, we can find out. If you have direct evidence of something, or you saw it yourself, you say: Gordon Brown is rude to his secretaries. A simple declarative sentence. Or I saw Gordon Brown shout at his secretaries. Or This tape records Gordon Brown shouting at his secretaries.

If somebody told you this, you say Mr X said Gordon Brown is rude to his secretaries, unless you have a reason to invoke source confidentiality, in which case you might say Sources in No.10 Downing Street say.., Sources close to X say..., Government (or Labour Party) sources say... or just a source told me under condition of anonymity that.... If you're an American there's a whole table of these things depending on how confidential you want to be, rather like formules de politesse in French.

Alternatively you might be quoting other media, in which case you should quote, cite, or link (or say "a newspaper said.." if you're annoying).

So which does Oborne do? None of them. He doesn't take any responsibility for the content of the story whatsoever, and he doesn't refer it to anyone else either; what are "disturbing reports"? Who reported them? What did they actually say? How can I judge the truth of them? And where did they "emerge" from? Saying that they "emerged" gives the impression either that they did come from a source, without however taking responsibility for their content, or that someone else did the work and it's well-known enough not to bother referencing.

So, there is absolutely nothing here to suggest they emerged from anywhere else than Peter Oborne's arse. Now that's a disturbing report if ever I heard one.

Naturally, Oborne knows very well what he's doing; in the future, people will vaguely remember someone saying that Gordon Brown is rude to his secretaries, but probably not who said it or that they couldn't find anyone willing to say it on the record even anonymously. There is scientific evidence that even rumours we hear and disbelieve affect our future perception of their subjects. Oborne is, after all, a man so partisan he affects to believe that there was no political class until Tony Blair maliciously invented it; which in the light of Conservative Party history is positively insane. (Who do you think the people who picked MacMillan and Douglas-Home over Butler were?)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Simon Jenkins: Double Standards

Here's Simon Jenkins' latest piece of work.
For the Tories it is sex, for Labour it is money. Financial scandal sticks to the latter like political napalm. From formula one to ministerial mortgages, privatisation contracts and cash-for-honours, the sign of a £50 note waving in the wind sends Labour politicians weak at the knees. Their only moral is don't get caught, yet they get caught all the time.
Subtext: Tories are honest, really; all that stuff in the 90s was made up. No-one really cares how many women Alan Clark had, now, do they? Let me tell you how the world works, son..

Unfortunately, there's a two billion quid a year probby in there; and for some strange reason, Simon Jenkins has forgotten all about it.

Labour's third biggest donor of the year has turned out to be a David Abrahams, known to Durham planning officers as David Martin. He was selected to fight William Hague in the Yorkshire seat of Richmond but was deselected when his curriculum vitae, including a reference to a non-existent wife and son, proved less than authentic. Yet he was close enough to Blair to attend his farewell in Sedgefield earlier this year....

Guy Hands, late-90s head of Nomura Securities' principal finance unit and the man who brought today's fancydan finance (securitisation? CDOs? nifty mezzanine subprime strangelet entities? Yes.) to London, was close enough to none other than William Hague - having been a friend at Oxford and a colleague at McKinsey - to advise him to "forget about the leadership and spend the next five years fucking your brains out with Ffyon".

...In Brown's Britain there is no longer a public service ethos, only a business ethos applied to public services. No longer do Presbyterians render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's. Everything goes to Caesar under a private finance initiative.

Them, eh? Let's see a take.
"Forty per cent of the £5bn set aside to improve military housing will be spent on renting the buildings from a private landlord, the BBC has learned. The Ministry of Defence has said the money would be spent on upgrading accommodation over the next 10 years.

But figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show £2bn will be spent renting back premises sold off by the state in 1996....In July, Defence Secretary Des Browne said the MoD planned to spend the £5bn on "upgrading and maintaining" accommodation. But the BBC freedom of information (FOI) request has revealed that property developer Annington Homes will receive almost £2bn of that sum.

The Conservative government sold most of the defence housing stock to Annington in 1996 for £1.6bn...In January, BBC News published photographs sent in by soldiers of their accommodation, depicting blocked urinals, uncollected rubbish and peeling floors. Recently a committee of MPs reported that although there had been some improvements, much accommodation was still unacceptable and this was having an effect on morale.

In April 2006, the MoD also signed an £8bn Private Finance Initiative deal to upgrade accommodation for single soldiers.
Annington Homes, eh? Back in '96 - those strange days when the Labour Party was an alternative and William Hague was actually in charge of something - that was, well, another word for Nomura Principal Finance. Let's join the dots, shall we? Treasury (Kenneth "Cancer Stick" Clarke) went to MOD looking for a tax cut for the election giveaway. MOD - Michael "Magic Lips" Portillo - somehow came up with the idea of flogging the MOD housing and renting it back. MOD went to Cabinet, a Cabinet including William "Save the Pound" Hague, and got approval to flog it to William Hague's best friend.

William saved so many pounds through this deal that the Government received no less than £1.6 billion of them for an estate that they have been renting for £2 billion this year, and very probably more in all the 10 intervening years. Why so probably? Well, the original contract specified a number of things. First, the MOD Defence Housing Executive would pay rent for all the buildings in use. Second, DHE would pay for their upkeep - something of a departure from the normal law of landlord and tenant. Third, Annington - William Hague's best mate - would have the right to sell a chunk of the property every year. Fourth, DHE would pay for improvements to them before sale.

You read all right - the total supply is guaranteed to always go down, Annington's costs are guaranteed to be zero, the spectacular capital gain in property was reserved to William Hague's best mate alone, and the Government subsidises the sale process while still having an obligation to house soldiers on the open market. Soldiers have returned from Iraq to queue for their own homes. One might think such a PFI would be somewhat noticeable; but it's radio silence from the Conservatives, and from the hairy truthscreamer Jenkins. You'll just have to read blogs.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

What might explain this astonishing result?

I can't begin to imagine why LibDem polls are up; especially as at the same time more of the population now oppose than support ID cards.

Pair of Pakistan Politics Posts!

Whilst we're on the Pakistan blogging, immense respect is due to the Pakistan Policy Blog. It looks like Nawaz Sharif is coming home - like football, remember that? - apparently because the Saudis insisted that he be released from exile in Jeddah. The PPB makes the very good point that Musharraf has been gradually mutating into Nawaz over the last few years; now, one of the reasons why the general doesn't want him back is that there is a niche for him, or the general, but not both.

To govern in Pakistan he needs the unqualified backing of one of the two big power blocs, Sindh or the Punjab, and the acceptance of the army, which is mainly Punjabi. This was the plan, after all; Benazir would return and give the government some actual popular support and her powerbase in Sindh, and Musharraf would stay on in a suit to reassure the Punjabis and the army. Now it looks like she's coming, like it or not, and so is Nawaz Sharif; in which case, if she can bring herself to treat with him, nobody needs Musharraf any more.

As far as I can make out, he's got himself into this position entirely of his own making; calling a state of emergency has just pissed off everyone, including his only non-military support, the Punjabi bourgeoisie - who of course have a ready-made replacement limbering up in Saudi. And there is nothing Pakistan needs less than either a) a US-armed tribal ex-Taliban movement or b) a powerful Saudi influence. But the defining factor of Musharraf's career is his Napoleon complex.

Pakistan, NOIA, and a rebel data centre

This NYT story is an example, I think, of the way one's mental models control one's perception. The report deals with a proposed U.S. policy of providing the Frontier Corps, the paramilitary police of the North-West Frontier Province, with aid directly rather than via the Pakistani military. This is one thing. It is not an obviously stupid policy, nor is it unproblematic; but this isn't the point.

I come away from the article unsure whether the constant references to "tribes" and activities in Iraq mean that the writer is analogising the Corps to the tribal militias the US Army has been recruiting in Iraq, or whether there is a further policy of recruiting such forces in Pakistan. If the first, it's a silly analogy - the Frontier Corps is a part of the Pakistani federal government, not a group of ex-insurgents in a tactical alliance with an occupying army. And he's clearly bought into the superduper surge narrative. If the second, it's extremely worrying.

Trying to create local countergangs in Pakistan would have a serious downside; what or who would they be fighting for? Better be clear it's Pakistan, and a version of it that is tolerable both to the wider world and (more importantly) to the majority of Pakistanis outside the NWFP. And who can say, at the moment, what Pakistan is? At least the Corps will fight for whoever runs the Pakistani government, but who knows what US-empowered ex-Taliban (the closest analogy to the various ex-insurgent groups in Iraq) would do with their new weapons?

Similarly, the tactical peace with the NOIA (New-Old Iraqi Army) has been one way to reduce violence in Iraq, at the price of creating new forces that don't answer to the Iraqi government or for that matter anyone else. And the NOIA are precisely who these "Concerned Citizens" are; all accounts of 'em seem to mention the Islamic Army and the 1920 Revolution Brigade, always my favourite NOIA outfit. My own analysis, by the way, is that having stepped their operational tempo right up in the spring in response to the abandonment of the Baker-Hamilton commission's proposals (which they were probably consulted on via Tariq al-Hashemi), they've now made an operational choice to crank it down and cooperate in order to buy US concessions - specifically acceptance of their control on the ground and arms, in return for dead Saudi jihadis.

(Anyone else notice that the insurgency has better data management than HMRC? Five terabytes - or should that be TERRORBYTES? - of detailed records on all their foreign recruits. That must surely be a unit error, but 0.5GB would still be plenty. However, it does look like their encryption wasn't strong enough - but then nothing ever is if the enemy has physical access and infinite leisure.)

Slower and slower

Dan Hardie keeps getting desperate e-mail from stranded Iraqi employees of the British Army. I haven't yet, but I do regularly get people on NewSkies satellite-Internet links searching for information on how to apply for asylum.

Expect dramatic news from him tomorrow; you'll need to write to them. Apparently David Miliband doesn't think the matter is urgent.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Python and CSV; know your limits

Right, I've got this honking great MySQL dump file, and I'd like to use the data in it without needing a MySQL db server; so I thought I'd turn it into a SQLite db, as python has native sqlite3 support. Various suggestions are on offer around the web; SQLiteBrowser, for example, claims to import and export from various SQL flavours and CSV files. Nice; but it chokes on the file.

So I saved a copy of the thing as a plain text file with the mysql tags trimmed off and tried a few options; a posting on the UK Python list reminded me that the csv module in Python can take arbitrary characters as delimiters, not just commas, which sounded useful. After all, I couldn't just split it at the commas because the contents are basically a lot of tuples, like this: (data, data, data),(data, data, data) And I need them in groups.

I thought I was being clever when I did a global find/replace, taking out the ),( because the csv module doesn't support multiple characters as delimiters, and replacing it with \t; then I wrote this script:
#! usr/bin/env python

import sqlite3
import csv

f = open('/home/yorksranter/Documents/Geekery/airports.txt')
csv.field_size_limit(100000) #see below!
input = csv.reader(f, delimiter='\t')
conn = sqlite3.connect('/home/yorksranter/Desktop/airport.sql')
curse = conn.cursor()

curse.execute('''CREATE TABLE airports ('id', 'country', 'latitude', 'longitude', 'name', 'timezone', 'shortname')''')

for item in input:
........curse.execute('INSERT INTO airports VALUES (%s)' % item)
Each item should be a tuple of seven values, and they should be in the same order they were in the original db, so this ought to recreate the data in an SQLite 3 file.

Then my problems began; I got the following error message:
_csv.error field larger than field limit
. Google found me this and this; it seems as far as I understand that the DB is too big for the csv module; there does seem to be a way of altering the limit, going by the module source code.

Thoughts? Update: There is; csv.field_size_limit(), and I altered it until the thing ran properly; but there's still no data in the db!

That's not what software-as-a-service is meant to mean!

The Biggest Data Fart In The World Ever (BDFITWE) just keeps on getting better/worse. Check this out:
Sir John Bourn, the outgoing comptroller and auditor general, told a secret session of the public accounts committee that a senior business manager at Revenue & Customs had authorised the information to be released in its full form. His email approving the sharing of the data was copied to an assistant director....It asked for all child benefit numbers, national insurance numbers and names but did not want bank accounts and addresses and dates of birth. According to Bourn, Revenue & Customs told the NAO that removing the extra information would be too costly.

You what? Too costly? How? Oh, right, it's the old standby - "there's a contract". We can't find you the plates for your flak jacket/diagnose your cancer within less than three months/type SELECT (names, addresses) FROM families WHERE child=Yes rather than SELECT * FROM families because there's a contract.

So how does it work? Do they have a little taxi meter on their desks that increments every time they issue a database query? How much is Crapita or Siemens or whoever charging them per SQL statement? But yes:
The e-mail states that the data would not be "desensitised" in the way that had been requested as it would require an extra payment to data services provider.
I think I just ate my hat. Mmm, felt.
Shawn Williams, a partner in a law firm specialising in fraud cases, said he regularly received confidential data from Revenue & Customs in CDs with either no password or the password written on the disc itself.

Realistically it's only going to be "password", isn't it? Or maybe something more secure like "passw0rd". Of course it's meaningless, because a CD can't actually check passwords; if you were to access it with a program that didn't perform the password check (like, say, a slightly altered...) this would not help in the slightest.

Further, on a general point, can anyone point to any evidence that The New Public Management - contracting out, next steps agencies, numerical targets and all that jazz - has ever achieved anything useful anywhere?


So now we know; looks like the Glock 17 caucus got a clean sweep of the "independent" MPA members.

The MPA chairman, Len Duvall, said the watchdog body risked bringing itself into disrepute by the public and vitriolic attacks on Sir Ian.

I think I'm going to vomit. Excuse me, will you?

Anyway, the result was 15 votes against, 7 for, one abstention; I think the abstention was probably Whittaker, as her e-mail account autoreplies that she is away until tomorrow. Does anyone have a rollcall?

Here are some of the replies I received from members of the MPA:
Am sorry alexander. I do not know who you are and contray to your message I have received many messages of support for ian. Perhaps you could give me examples of what performance issues of concern you have of the Metropolitan Police's command and control systems.

With crime at its lowest level in 5 years in london and reassurance levels up I would be interested to read your views

Thanks you for taking the time to e mail me.

John Roberts
I replied in-line:
On Nov 20, 2007 3:01 PM, John Roberts wrote:
> Am sorry alexander. I do not know who you are

Merely a citizen, a Tube user, a target.

> and contray to your message I have received many messages of support for ian.

Well, this is not one.

>Perhaps >you could give me examples of what performance issues of
concern you have of the >Metropolitan Police's command and control

According to the IPCC Report, no-one ever positively identified de
Menezes as a suspect, but after this had filtered through the system,
the senior commanders were given the impression he *had* been
identified as such. Further, the CO19 group were receiving filtered
information from headquarters after these errors had got into it, but
not direct information from the surveillance team; the commander on
the scene didn't control all the units involved and wasn't deployed
forward with the surveillance team, so didn't actually know what was

Have you read the IPCC Report?
And he replied:
Thank you for a quick reply your comments have been noted.

Take care

John roberts

Here is a reply from Green MLA Jenny Jones:
Alexander Harrowell wrote:
>This is an edited version of the response I prepared to the IPCC Report:

....(ed: snip a version of this post without the swearing)...

>Who are you?

>Cllr Jenny Jones AM
>Green Member of the London Assembly
>City Hall
>The Queen's Walk
>London SE1 2AA
>Tel: 0207 983 4391
>Fax: 0207 983 4398
And this is an oversight body. I could laugh; I suppose I'd better. A colleague remarked that the whole thing had been an example of "democracy theatre" by analogy to "security theatre".

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

ID Cards will make us safe from identity theft

It's usually the Home Office that leads the way in the British government's eternal Olympics of stupidity; but now and again, someone is inspired to go that bit further, to be a tiger, to raise the bar.

Having built a monster centralised database of every last child in the UK, the Revenue burned it to a pair of disks and sent them off with a courier...and never saw 'em again. With no less than 25 million records compromised including names, addresses, National Insurance numbers, and bank accounts, this must be the world champion securifart.

"Dear Sir, The Department for Work and Pensions requires you to update your bank details now or face losing out on child benefit for your" (son/daughter) ($name)...

We told them it would happen, and they went ahead and did it.



Monday, November 19, 2007


The Register has been having fun with a script that removes all mention of the word "iPhone" from webpages; a necessary function these days. Better, they developed it to work on an iPhone; but just check out the code.

// JavaScript here

//This one thinks it's an object
var myRequest = new XMLHttpRequest();

//This is the text we're going to change the word "iPhone" to
var changeTo = "";

//This is our home page, and the site that leaving will unload the app
var home = '';

function startUp() {
changeTo = readCookie("newName")
if (changeTo == null) {
changeTo = window.prompt("So what would better suit the iPhone?");
createCookie("newName", changeTo, 1);

function loadRegister(targetURL) {

//targetDomain is set to a string containing the site (but not directories or file) that the user clicked on
var targetDomain = targetURL.substring(targetURL.indexOf(".", 8)+1, targetURL.indexOf("/", 8));

//We compare that to our home page
if (home.indexOf(targetDomain) == -1) {
alert("Moving Off Site: " + targetDomain);
//This line unloads this application, as the targetURL replaces this document

//Then we load the page"GET", targetURL);
myRequest.onload = targetLoaded;

function targetLoaded() {
var loadedSite = myRequest.responseText;

loadedSite = loadedSite.replace(/iPhone /g, changeTo + " ");
loadedSite = loadedSite.replace(/ iPhone/g, " " + changeTo);

var counter;

var loadedDocument = parent.frames[0].document;;
//This is our horrible bodge which waits 10 seconds for the page to load
setTimeout('pageLoaded()', 10000);

function pageLoaded() {
//This loops through every link on the page (241 on the El Reg home page when we were testing this) and adds an "onclick" even listener
for (i=0; i < parent.frames[0].document.links.length; i++) {
parent.frames[0].document.links[i].onclick = linkClicked;

function linkClicked() {
//We return "false" so the browser dosen't attempt to load the link clicked on.
return false;

function returnHome() {

function changeName() {
changeTo = window.prompt("So what would better suit the iPhone?");
createCookie("newName", changeTo, 1);

function createCookie(name,value,days) {
if (days) {
var date = new Date();
var expires = "; expires="+date.toGMTString();
else var expires = "";
document.cookie = name+"="+value+expires+"; path=/";
function readCookie(name) {
var nameEQ = name + "=";
var ca = document.cookie.split(';');
for(var i=0;i < ca.length;i++) {
var c = ca[i];
while (c.charAt(0)==' ') c = c.substring(1,c.length);
if (c.indexOf(nameEQ) == 0) return c.substring(nameEQ.length,c.length);
return null;
function eraseCookie(name) {
Nurgs! My brane! Now this is why I like Python...
#! usr/bin/env/ python

import string
import urllib
import webbrowser

print ('Enter a URL for de-iPhoning')

input = raw_input()
url = urllib.urlopen(input)
data =
snip = input.replace('http://www.', '')
fname =('/home/yorksranter/.mozilla/firefox/ydirmggn.default/Cache/'+snip)
f = open(fname, 'w')
d = data.replace('iPhone', '')

Obviously you'll want to replace the file path with your own browser cache, unless you like this blog so much you named your user account after it. Windows users should do the same and remove the first line.

No wonder the Reg guy ended up saying this:
We also decided that we're not going to develop anything else for the iPhone until there's a proper development kit, allowing the use of a proper programming language, and some decent documentation too.

All TYR Labs code in this post has passed the rigorous Atwood Certification Test.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Sun Microsystems is building a data centre in an abandoned Japanese coal mine using 30 of their data-centre-in-a-shipping-container boxes. Of course, the ostensible reason is that it's always 15 degrees down there, so they expect to save 50 per cent of the electricity requirement, and further it's as secure as you like.

But seriously, this has to be the secret base for a sci-fi villain, no? No mention of a white cat, but you bet there's one in there.

Belated Bad Logistics Blogging

Everyone was all over this NYT story about those vanishing cargoes of guns in Iraq. It's nothing new if you've been reading this blog; we've been concerned about this ever since 2005. And, unlike Spencer Ackerman, we've got the whole supply chain; those guns didn't come on no C-17, Spence, but on JLI and Aerocom Il-76s ex-Tuzla, some of which may not even have gone to Baghdad at all but instead filed new flight plans enroute and continued to Dubai, Djibouti, the Yemen, and many other locations.

However, the report does sharpen up our knowledge of what happened when guns did arrive in Iraq; I suspected that any vaguely official looking party might have been able to make off with them, especially the fake policemen so common in Iraq, and it looks like that's precisely what happened. Apparently, US and Iraqi officers would rush to the airport when they heard a shipment had arrived in order to grab it before anyone else did, and no documentation was checked or indeed presented.

Further, weapons were being misappropriated and sold both by Iraqi contractors and US officers; it's also certain that the insurgents were acquiring arms from the shipments, as the guns kept turning up in captured caches and stocks turned in under a buy-back program. However, much of the materiel was impossible to trace as the shippers didn't have to provide lists of serial numbers; it seems the US recipients didn't bother to catalogue them either.

We also know that the Bosnian authorities were systematically deceived about the contents of shipments leaving Tuzla; as were the British authorities in the Sloman Traveller case. It is literally impossible to say how many weapons were loaded in the Balkans, how many were unloaded in Baghdad, or what happened to any balance. (Although we do have a reasonable idea where to start looking for some of them at least.)

It may also be significant that the corruption the NYT describes began just as the involvement with Viktor Bout did.

'Ello, Ello, Let's Be Having You!

Right: it's time for a final desperate push before the MPA meets on Thursday.

So far, we can update our lists as follows:
5 declared Labour members.
1 Green, Jenny Jones, still hanging on for the decentralised, human-scale virtues of ecologically plugging random electricians on the tube. But we're getting in touch...
7 Tories and Liberals.
Cindy Butts, Faith Boardman, and Richard Sumray, who are all for various reasons parti pris for the Government.
Damien Hockney is voting no confidence in Sir Ian Blair.
Karim Murji, I'm informed, is voting the Government ticket.

That's 10 members of the Glock 17 caucus to 8 in the Axis of Reason. Who's left?

Now see this: looks like MPA e-mail addresses are

Aneeta Prem,, webform; "has the top electrical consultants to build your home's intelligent lighting system," apparently.
Reshard Auladin: Has "a keen interest in British Muslim affairs" according to the MPA.
Rachel Whittaker;, 020 7202 0223. Not this one.
Kirsten Hearn "Wishes to describe herself as a stroppy, blind dyke, and proud of it", apparently, not to mention a professional troublemaker. Surely, surely, surely this woman cannot be planning to vote in favour of the cops randomly shooting people?
John Roberts. Has "14 years of experience of working with London's hard to reach communities", apparently.

And Peter Herbert of the Society of Black Lawyers, we think, is sound.

If you have any spare time this week at all, and especially if you live in London; can you please take the time to contact one of these people? And if you've got a blog, can you please reproduce this? Remember that in a two-horse race like this, every swinger counts double; not just a vote for our side, but one less for them. We're now 10-9, with 5 votes in play; play up, play up, and play the game.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Target for Tonight

The Metropolitan Police Authority meets on the 22nd November to discuss Sir Ian Blair's case; they cannot be left uninformed.

This body consists of members from the London Assembly, magistrates, and "independent members". Their details are here. The balance is as follows - 7 Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, who can be expected to vote no confidence in Blair out of partisanship. There are 5 Labour members, including Deputy Mayor Nicky Gavron and MPA Chair Len Duvall, all of whom can be expected to back him. There is Green Jenny Jones, who has gone public supporting Blair. Anti-hierarchical ecofeminism, right?

Then there are 9 independent and magistrates; out of these, Cindy Butts is an ex-researcher to the Economic Sec of the Treasury and therefore must be considered a Government vote, and Richard Sumray is an Olympic bid official and therefore is also captured. Considering the certainties, the vote breaks 50-50.

Then there is Faith Boardman, who is an independent member, ex-Lambeth Council CEO; i.e. probably Labour, and anyway as the former head of the CSA she cannot be expected to oppose public incompetence. 9-7 to Killer of the Yard.

Now we have Aneeta Prem (media AT, Rachel Whittaker, Peter Herbert, Karim Murji (k.murji AT, John Roberts, Kirsten Hearn, Reshard Auladi, and that titan of statesmanship Damian Hockney(Damian.Hockney AT, 020 7983 4919) the "One London" man and ex-UKIPper. (Update: See comments, he may yet be saved!)

We need to get 2 more votes than t'othersiders out of this group. Hockney opposed the HSE prosecution, but is apparently against Blair staying in office. Assuming he votes with the Government, they have a 3 vote lead; we need to get 6 of the remaining indies on board to fire the fucker. I want a full-dress blogswarm on this; think of the Iraqi employees' campaign and square it. In fact, think of Josh Marshall's US social security drive.

Who can find our four missing MMPAs?

Update: NO MORE EMAIL TO KARIM MURJI PLEASE! We don't want to alienate them with spam; and we have contacted him by other means. You might prefer to call Peter Herbert's chambers on 0207 841 6100 or e-mail clerks AT giving his name.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Stockwell Report: A Response

The IPCC report is, first of all, a cracking job of work, despite that the Met did its level best to dodge the investigators. They have established a lot of facts, and carried out a mass of interviews, and come up with sensible conclusions; I'd like to recommend again that you read it, as it is likely to be the Rosetta stone of the anti-terrorism state in the late Blair period.

For example, we learn the details of Operation KRATOS and its twin, Operation C. KRATOS and C were plans drawn up to deal with the possibility of a suicide bomber being spotted in London, and that it might be necessary to shoot them. C, hitherto unknown to the public at large, was intended to deal with a bomber spotted at a major public event, when the police response would be largely pre-planned and under central command and control. C foresaw that if some conditions were fulfilled, a designated senior officer (DSO) at Scotland Yard would be able to order a sniper to shoot them.

KRATOS, meanwhile, was intended to deal with the (much more likely) situation in which the suspect was at large in the streets, and therefore that no prior planning would be possible. Quite wisely, the KRATOS procedures put a much greater emphasis on local control. The role of the DSO still existed, as did a set of rules demanding that all intelligence sources must be reviewed, that the police should try to confront the suspect in the open, or at a moment that would keep them away from the public, so that negotiation or a nonlethal weapon could be tried. But the silver commander, the field commander, rather than Scotland Yard was in charge.

Operation THESEUS 2, the operation launched after the discovery of Hussain Osman's gym card, didn't fit either of these very well. The plan Thomas MacDowell prepared fit them even less - it foresaw that the occupants of the flats would be allowed to leave, watched, and approached by police out of sight from the building, which meant it was neither a set piece nor a mobile operation. It was also half a surveillance operation and half an arrest. Cressida Dick, who was bugled out of bed to run a possible KRATOS operation at 0100 that morning, designed a command structure that was half KRATOS, half C.

Had it been a KRATOS, there would have been an operations room at Scotland Yard monitoring the whole operation, with a gold commander in overall charge and a DSO who would be responsible for the decision to authorise lethal force or not, and a firearms specialist as tactical adviser to these. There would have been a silver commander in command on the scene, with his or her own tactical adviser, with direct communications to all the teams involved in the operation and to Scotland Yard, which would also be receiving information from the surveillance team and the arrest team. The silver commander would have been in full charge, with the exception that the DSO only could authorise the use of a gun outside direct self defence.

Had it been a C, the key command would have been at Scotland Yard or perhaps at a forward command post, and the DSO would have been in direct control of the possible shooter. One roughly matches the army's idea of Mission Command - Auftragstaktik for Germans, who invented it - and the other Befehlstaktik, "orders tactics". Mission command implies that orders to subordinate units specify objectives, and that their commanders are given total discretion to achieve them, excepting only any restrictions specified with their objectives. The German army traditionally thought it was appropriate for offensive operations or other manoeuvres when it would be important to be able to respond to opportunities quickly. Befehlstaktik was the opposite - everyone does precisely what they are told and nothing else. This was traditionally thought appropriate for defence up to the moment when a counterattack was launched.

So what did Dick and MacDowell come up with? A weird hybrid of the two. Dick took over as gold commander, but McDowell remained so in form throughout; why? Similarly, the silver commander, DCI "C" and his tactical adviser, TROJAN 80, were co-located with the firearms squad and were in command on the scene; that's what a silver commander means. But the surveillance squad were under the direct control of Scotland Yard, and "C" was never with them. The practical implementation of this was no better - there was direct radio communication from Dick to "C" and from TROJAN 84 in Scotland Yard to TROJAN 80 in "C"'s car, and from "C" to the CO19 men. There was direct radio communication from the surveillance group to Scotland Yard, but not to Cressida Dick, who was meant to be in direct command of them; she got reports from DCI Jon Boutcher, monitoring the radios. "C" was sometimes able to hear the crosstalk on the surveillance group's radio network, but not always, and he had no command authority over them. The Met's planning meant that neither the commander at headquarters, nor the commander in the field, would have full information. Nobody would.

Neither was the commander on the scene ever on the scene; his command element was with the famously late firearms squad, and then behind them. He was reliant on what was heard over the surveillance net, and what came down from headquarters, much of which was information from the surveillance team that had come via the surveillance team leader, Boucher, and Dick. And he had been told to "trust the intelligence"; which he also told the CO19 men. One of the reasons for the choice of the operations room at Scotland Yard was the presence of "other agencies" - that is, the secret services.

Here we hit the damning detail; nobody ever identified Jean Charles de Menezes as the bomber, but this information never reached anyone in a position to act on it. Yes, several of the surveillance officers were at different times of the opinion that he might perhaps be; but no-one who thought so had seen his face. The only member of the surveillance team who did thought he wasn't.

But as the information went up the creaky structure, uncertainty mutated into certainty. Boucher never seems to have told Dick that nobody had identified de Menezes; Dick asked for a judgment in terms of a percentage from the surveillance team, but they thought such a judgment would be meaningless. Even that appears to have been taken as evidence that he might be the man. Let us remember that the surveillance team was meant to watch everyone leaving the block so further cops could stop them all and ask questions; it was because he left the building and the surveillance team didn't identify him as a suspect that he was shot.

The command structure appears to have become a machine generating confirmation bias. Imagine the position in the police car barging towards Stockwell that morning with "C", the CO19 leader and TROJAN 80; as the car lunges over the traffic islands, occasional voices on the surveillance radio are saying "No; I didn't see him..yes, he looks quite like him", and a clear strong voice on the main set is saying "Suspect is getting off a bus; he must not get on the tube". The second voice is the chief commander, and is a sight more certain (she isn't fully informed) and clearer (she has the better bandwidth), and anyway she isn't driving over dogs in south London and therefore sounds a sight calmer and hence more authoritative. TROJAN 80 is talking to TROJAN 84 on his mobile phone and is probably getting the paranoia in the rest of the ops room direct. The Commander is not only senior-ranking, but is also meant to be clued in on all kinds of other secret spook stuff. And you can't ask the surveillance group yourself, or actually see what is going on.

This is what is known as the cross-cockpit gradient; it's not healthy to depend on information that comes from someone who is too authoritative to question, and the same thing applies to information that comes from sources too secret to question. In the end, several of the CO19 men seem to have believed that the KRATOS codeword had been given; they differed on whether it came from "C" or from the DSO and relayed by "C". "C", it turns out, was the mystery "senior colleague", which is interesting because he was a junior colleague.

Sir Ian Blair must go.

Update: Interesting read here.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The IPCC Report

The IPCC seems to be clueless about running a website, so here's a direct link to the Stockwell I report (PDF, 1.35MB): link.

Much more later.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Public Service Announcement (Without Guitars)

Readers are strongly requested to read this, as well as explanations here, and then vote for Sadly No here.

That is all.

Some data points

OK, so by chance we have some real data to put into the sums in this post. The head of MI5 has just announced that we should all be very scared, because he reckons there may be 2,000 people in Britain who pose a threat to national security because of their support for terrorism.

So let's run the Terroriser. 59 million people; 2,000 terrorists. So there's a 0.0034% chance of any given citizen being a terrorist. Remember that the Terroriser will catch 99 per cent of the real terrorists - so that's all but 20 terrorists. Now, the Terrorist will also miss 98 per cent of the non-terrorists - but that means we'll get some 1,180,000 false positives. 1,980 terrorists plus 1,180,000 false positives = 1,181,980 suspects. (1,980/1,181,980)x100=0.1675155. There is a 0.167 per cent chance that any one of the suspects is a terrorist.

And there are still 20 terrorists out there; easily enough for a major terrorist attack. Now consider this hilarious report; apparently the FBI mined supermarket sales figures in the hope that sales of falafels would indicate the presence of Iranian terrorists! As well as, ah, Israelis, presumably. Note the involvement of half-arsed fearmonger Steven Emerson, and also old TYR butt Yossef Bodansky.

Well, it went through!

In Texas, a man suspected of homicide has escaped from prison. How he did it tells us something about the inevitable failure of ID cards, and the importance of false positives. Via Bruce Schneier.

What happened? Well, the suspected killer was in a cell with another remand prisoner, a car thief named Garcia. He memorised Garcia's prison number and other details, and when someone stood bail for Garcia, he answered the jailers with Garcia's name and number. They took him instead of Garcia. When they took his fingerprints, they were smudged and judged useless (one wonders if this was deliberate), so they decided to check him against their spanking new biometric database.

When his fingers were scanned, the DB actually worked perfectly, which was precisely the worst thing that could have happened; up came the file, with a large photograph of the man who was standing before them, so they released him. The problem here is that the system had taught its users that if nothing weird happened, they were right. This is a common problem in user interface design; if you depend on throwing an alert box to stop something weird from happening, you better not throw too many others, or your users will be conditioned to hit Ctrl+W or Alt+F4 as a reflex.

Of course, the notion that if "it goes through", everything is OK is deeply embedded in the computer experience. As a rule, if there is a problem you experience it as the computer throwing an error message or crashing; programming, you hack away, compile, and it either compiles, in which case you run the thing, or there is a compiler error, in which case you go back to the drawing board. And if it doesn't run or does something weird or throws an error message, you go back to the drawing board. Silence is consent in computing.

What the Texan warders were really checking was the absence of an error message, not the fingerprint; further, the system design contained a major flaw in that the error condition looked OK. You check the fingerprint, and up comes a photo of the guy who's standing in front of you, which is what you would expect; the alternative condition would be very unlikely. What the system should have done was to ask for the prisoner's name and number, then check the fingerprint file, and throw a great big red-flashing alarm if the names didn't match. Its function here was authentication; is this man the same man who's been bailed? But it was designed for identification; which database record matches this chap?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Blogging Rugby League; GB 44 NZ 0

Kiri Te Kanawa, Alan Deere, Keith Park, Gary Freeman, Kurt Sorensen, Bernard Freyberg, Vik Olliver, Kotare, Phil Blake, Graham Lowe, your boys took a hell of a beating!

Since when did Leon Pryce become a world-class stand-off? What happened to Gareth Raynor? I remember when he was intensely average; suddenly he's become a cracker.

And I'm really impressed by Tony Smith, especially dropping Terry Newton after the first test. I wouldn't have changed anything from the first game, but clearly, the benchmark of expectation has been set higher.

And Scotland are into the World Cup.

Mind my fortified data centre pod!

I haz been in yr thread, commenting on yr arcologies. I am fascinated to see that in a sense, one is under construction right now, in the fine city of Baghdad.

William Langewiesche reports; read the whole damn thing, as it's one of the best things about architecture, politics, diplomacy, and Iraq you'll ever see.
Whatever the specific allegations, which First Kuwaiti denies, in the larger context of Iraq the accusation is absurd. It is Iraq that holds people captive. Indeed, the U.S government itself is a prisoner, and all the more tightly held because it engineered the prison where it resides. The Green Zone was built by the inmates themselves. The new embassy results from their desire to get their confinement just right.
Indeed; and the detail of the structure makes it clear that it's as close to an arcology as you're likely to get.
For the most part, however, the new embassy is not about leaving Iraq, but about staying on—for whatever reason, under whatever circumstances, at whatever cost. As a result the compound is largely self-sustaining, and contains its own power generators, water wells, drinking-water treatment plant, sewage plant, fire station, irrigation system, Internet uplink, secure intranet, telephone center (Virginia area code), cell-phone network (New York area code), mail service, fuel depot, food and supply warehouses, vehicle-repair garage, and workshops. At the core stands the embassy itself, a massive exercise in the New American Bunker style, with recessed slits for windows, a filtered and pressurized air-conditioning system against chemical or biological attack, and sufficient office space for hundreds of staff. Both the ambassador and deputy ambassador have been awarded fortified residences grand enough to allow for elegant diplomatic receptions even with the possibility of mortar rounds dropping in from above.

As for the rest of the embassy staff, most of the government employees are moving into 619 blast-resistant apartments, where they will enjoy a new level of privacy that, among its greatest effects, may ease some of the sexual tension that has afflicted Green Zone life. Fine—as a general rule the world would be a better place if American officials concentrated more of their energies on making love. But unfortunately even within the Baghdad embassy, with its romance-inducing isolation, a sexual solution is too much to expect. Instead, the residents fight their frustrations with simulations of home—elements of America in the heart of Baghdad that seem to have been imported from Orange County or the Virginia suburbs. The new embassy has tennis courts, a landscaped swimming pool, a pool house, and a bomb-resistant recreation center with a well-equipped gym. It has a department store with bargain prices, where residents (with appropriate credentials) can spend some of their supplemental hazardous-duty and hardship pay. It has a community center, a beauty salon, a movie theater, and an American Club, where alcohol is served. And it has a food court where third-country workers (themselves ultra-thin) dish up a wealth of choices to please every palate. The food is free. Take-out snacks, fresh fruit and vegetables, sushi rolls, and low-calorie specials. Sandwiches, salads, and hamburgers. American comfort food, and theme cuisines from around the world, though rarely if ever from the Middle East. Ice cream and apple pie. All of it is delivered by armed convoys up the deadly roads from Kuwait. Dread ripples through the embassy's population when, for instance, the yogurt supply runs low.
Such a structure turning into a dystopia is a pretty standard sci-fi trope, but it's usual for the poison to come from within, rather than screaming over the walls in the form of 122mm rockets. The Baghdad arcology does, however, have an additional feature I don't think either daydreaming architects or sci-fi writers have suggested; its citizens are very unlikely to be there by choice.

Still, perhaps the sysadmin there gets to play with one of those Sun Microsystems data centres in a shipping container?

Martin Kettle Is a Worthless Old Hack

It used to be reasonably commonplace that bloggers, especially American ones, would say that at least in Britain there was enough diversity in the press that no equivalent to the classic US pundit wanker existed - no-one like David Brooks or David Broder, essentially content-free and heavily invested in the self-regard of the political class. Rather, you had a choice between, say, Alan Watkins, Polly Toynbee, Richard Littlejohn, Tariq Ali, and David Aaronovitch; hardly an enviable choice, but at least a choice.

But there is a version of the kind of thing the US blogosphere has raged against for years; and Martin Kettle of the Guardian is it. I think it was Daniel Davies who said about him that some people are useful idiots, but he is a useless one. I disagree; he certainly has his uses, just not to me, you, or Daniel Davies. Let's see a take.

Here's his response to the conviction of the Metropolitan Police.
There is no easy answer to the question of whether Sir Ian Blair should resign as London's police chief. Anyone who pretends otherwise is kidding. There are serious arguments for him to fall on his sword. But there are also serious arguments for him to stay where he is. On balance the case for him remaining commissioner is much stronger. Yet it would be idle to say this without reservations.

We'll stop here to mark a couple of tropes; first of all, there's what Roland Barthes called Neither-Nor Criticism. All Kettle's published work is riddled with it. On the one hand there's this, on the other hand there's that, and therefore the answer is to be neither of them, and say nothing of any interest. This wouldn't be so bad if we were in an ideal society, or else in the original position, when nothing was settled; but we're not, and therefore the impact of this sort of speech is to reinforce things as they are now, with God in his heaven, the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, Sir Ian Blair in Scotland Yard, and Jean Charles de Menezes in his grave.

The main argument for Blair to go is simple. He is the head of a police force that killed an innocent man under a firearms policy he authorised and controlled. To me, the circumstances in which Jean Charles de Menezes was gunned down by Blair's officers are less important than the fact that it happened at all. Police forces should not kill innocent people, period.

Yet when they do, justice demands that those who did the killing must be held to account. Most of all, this applies to those who pulled the trigger. But police chiefs must accept their share of responsibility too. As the man in charge, the buck stops with Blair. Of course he should consider his position. I would be utterly amazed if he has not done so.

He's a nice guy really; he's one of us. Has Kettle considered that he simply likes power too much to give it up, or has political ambitions? Or that he might simply refuse to believe he could be wrong?

This responsibility applies with special force over police shootings. Yes, some police shootings are not merely justified by their circumstances but are also acts of high courage. Far too many, however, are neither of these things. Though rare, the death of De Menezes was not a one-off. Fifteen people have been killed by British police shooters since 2002. Nor was this the most egregious case in recent memory. Remember the indefensible fate of Steven Waldorf (who survived) or John Shorthouse a generation ago.

There are established patterns in all police forces of reckless shooting, excessive firing, insufficient training, poor supervision and inadequate accountability. We have to enforce a higher standard than in the past, and the most important police officer in the land must observe it.

Kettle has just claimed that the situation is far worse than David Davis, Mr. Justice Henriques, or the IPCC suggest; the police force is a menace, has been a menace for years, and the menace extends to the provincial forces as well as the Met. Surely we ought to do something about it? Now, this would have been a reasonable contribution to the debate had it stopped here. But, of course, although in a sense the Met's failings are accepted as true, they are also inadmissible, as Orwell put it. Therefore, something must be found to cancel out the information in the first part of the article.

So why then say he should not resign? Surely because, more than anything else, this was such an extreme emergency. The police genuinely thought De Menezes was a suicide bomber. They were wrong. Yet, on the day of his death, every one of the officers in the capital was hunting for four bombers who had failed to blow themselves up on the underground the previous day.

Yes, in a manner so catastrophically hopeless they were lucky they didn't kill more people. They were also looking in the wrong places entirely; the bombers were in Birmingham, and in Italy having successfully got past Special Branch's spotter at Waterloo.

The police were at full stretch, in real danger, and bore a massive responsibility to the public. It ended horribly wrongly for De Menezes. Yet those who reserve the entirety of their indignation for the tragic Brazilian are not looking at this situation objectively.

Objectively, huh? Translation: I was a commie at university until I saw which way house prices were going. That is cheap snark, but it's a classic mark of the breed that anyone who disagrees with them isn't "serious", isn't "objective", isn't quite sane. If he wants to talk objectivity, by the way, perhaps he should consider even mentioning the facts of the case; we haven't seen a single fact about it so far.

What about this week's finding of guilt against the Metropolitan Police under the health and safety laws? Surely Blair should accept responsibility for that? It would be dishonest not to admit this is a serious question. I admit to feeling, even when the law is a complete ass, that bosses ought to step up to the plate if their organisations are found guilty. But I accept it with the utmost reluctance in this case - and I passionately hope the Met appeals and wins.

You can argue that it wasn't Blair's fault; but can you honestly argue that the courts should strike out the 19 failings, the firearms team who took five hours to rock up, the mystery senior colleague, the arse-awful command and control? But he's going to; not because he disagrees with any of the facts of the case, but because he thinks the court should rule on the basis of what would be a nice verdict, not on the evidence. But first, this...

You see, I want to be protected from the suicide bombers. I'm a hundred per cent in favour of peaceful prevention if humanly possible. But I don't care how indignant the bomber feels. If it comes down to the bomber's life or mine, I want the bomber to be stopped every time, and by force if necessary. Ken Livingstone is wholly correct to say that health and safety legislation was never drawn up for such extreme situations as this. And the law is not just an ass but an outright threat to liberty if this week's judgment means a future armed officer is afraid to fire at a real suicide bomber in similar circumstances.

Oh, right, it's because you're scared. When I read this I had the feeling of having seen something shameful, someone behaving in a pathetic and embarrassing and humiliating fashion. Who the fuck said anything about how "indignant the bomber feels"? What fucking bomber, for fuck's sake? There wasn't any bomber; you can come out now. I want Sir Ian Blair sacked because I've considered the evidence, and I conclude that I've met all kinds of people - warehouse workers, Australian stockmen, Viennese anarcho-feminists, telco executives, random bloggers - who I'd sooner trust to protect London from terrorists.

And no, it's not a "threat to liberty"; it's a possible threat to security. Liberty is just fine with the idea that the police should be less keen to shoot.

More seriously, where do these people get the idea that organisations with safety critical functions work better in the absence of criticism or responsibility? It can't be from experience; Kettle is a career pundit, having started out as a leader writer. The whole history of safety engineering is the exact opposite; if you're playing with the big boys' toys, you cannot afford to skim over your mistakes, ever. There are very good reasons why airlines have senior training captains and CHIRP confidential-reporting forms, companies have external auditors, and newspapers have editors.

Come to think of it, the whole history of Western political thought is about this exact point; the limitation of power. It's a timeless, placeless truth - anyone who tells you they need absolute irresponsibility to work better is wrong.

Be clear that this is now a real possibility. That is why the conviction of the Met this week was bad news not good news. The tyranny of the insurance-driven risk assessment culture - which ironically the commissioner would now be negligent to ignore - means you and I will be less well-protected in future by the police than we were in July 2005. This week's judgment tells those who try to save us to hold back. It leaves us collectively in the same position as the boy who was allowed to drown the other day because a police community support officer judged himself unqualified to plunge in to rescue him. This law is monstrously inappropriate to all the emergency services. Londoners are at much greater risk after this ruling.

Right, Martin; the first damn thing you learn on a first-aid course about drowning is DON'T JUMP IN THE WATER. There is a reason for this; if someone's drowning in the water there is quite probably a reason why they are drowning, and drowning yourself will not help them one bit. Your analogy is stupid.

Anyway, I refer your point to the reply I gave some moments ago.

In my view the good policing of London is ultimately more important to British justice than the De Menezes case. Blair can sometimes be a bit foolish. But he is answerable and accountable to the public in ways that few of his predecessors ever were.

He is so accountable, clearly, that he doesn't need to be accountable!

He is also, overall, the most important commissioner London has had since Robert Mark in the 1970s. Blair's neighbourhood policing strategy is the best thing that has happened to policing in modern times - and it is producing results for communities. Those who are trying to push Blair out are doing no favours to anyone except his enemies in the police and the press, who want to turn back the clock.

He's not seriously proposing that bobbies-on-the-beat-bollocks and ASBOs are so fantastic they outweigh coming to arrest one suicide bomber, killing an innocent man, and sticking up two more people with guns despite only having one suspect? Anyway, note an important point; what matters is not the dead guy, or even really the policing of London, but whether "his enemies in the police and the press" or Sir Ian come out on top. This is a classic piece of pundit wankerism; to be a good pundit, you have to believe at once that Westminster politics is absolutely crushingly, dominatingly important and also that it is irrelevant. The eyes of the world are on this restaurant, but the actual policy content of what is discussed there is of surpassing irrelevance.

What happened to De Menezes was awful. Yet, awful as it was, it was not as big an outrage as the bombers had in mind. Even the judge this week said it was an isolated breach in extraordinary circumstances. Yes, the police have occasionally got it wrong again in the aftermath - not least in the adversarial forum of the court. Maybe Blair should have gone to Stockwell soon after the killing and knelt in contrition, Willy Brandt-style, at the makeshift shrine that grew up outside the tube station. Maybe he still should.
Willy Brandt was a Social Democrat underground activist in Nazi Germany before he had to go into exile; he had a million times more courage, dignity, and spirit of public service than anyone in Britain today. This bit makes me want to vomit, but I'd love to know what such a repellent exercise in the pornography of grief would do for the Met's command and control system. If there is something to grieve for here, it's the great tradition of Robert Peel, the ideal of an unarmed, civilian, locally accountable investigative police force drawn from the people it polices.

Yet how many apologies will be enough? There must be a point when repeatedly going over a relatively isolated disaster like the Stockwell shooting must stop. Maybe that point has not quite arrived.

I remember this argument being made over every appalling act of state, going back to the Guildford Four, including all the great miscarriages of justice of the 1970s, BSE, arms to Iraq, Bloody Sunday...and quite often Martin Kettle writing leaders in the Guardian saying that they must be fought out to a finish. Note that even here, he's still unwilling to make a definite statement; maybe that point has not quite arrived.

But it is increasingly unclear whose interest beyond those of the conspiracy theorists and the victimologists is served by the process, especially when the costs may be underwritten by a Brazilian government that should put its own house in order - police in Rio state have killed 961 Brazilians in 2007 alone - before ours. Maybe it is tactless to remind readers that public opinion supports the shoot-to-kill-to-protect policy. But it is true. And it is another reason why it is in the interests of the public as well as the state for this debate, not Blair, to move on.
And this par is simply beneath contempt; which "conspiracy theorists", pray? The IPCC? Precisely how do the failings of the Rio police bear on this? Imagine if the firearms squad had got a different passenger, or perhaps the train driver they very nearly did kill; would Kettle argue it was quite all right because the Rio police are awful? This argument is merely code for "it doesn't matter; he was sort of black."

It's also worth pointing out that it has only ever been invoked by the Met's tireless anonymous briefers, just as "shoot-to-kill-to-protect" is a phrase that has only ever been used by Sir Ian Blair.

Update: I've just noticed that this is the sixth full-dress fisking I've directed at Martin Kettle in less than a year. Therefore, I've created a new blog category so as to keep all my Kettle content in an easily addressable form. Just click on the Kettle tag to view all of them in one crack-like hit.

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