Archive for June, 2004

Dealing with road rage, the monkey way. (Thanks to http://www.africans.co.za.)

At the NATO summit, George W. Bush made time for a demarche on the subject of Turkish membership of the EU, which angered Jacques Chirac. Chirac responded that

“It’s as if I was advising the US on how they should manage their relations with Mexico.”

Indeed. I am sure both the Turks and the French conservatives I am sure he was thinking of will appreciate the analogy. France = the US, Turkey = Mexico. So you’re all dirty thieving wetbacks. How communautaire and solidariste.

Well, that’s supposedly it. Calamity Paul Bremer handed over Iraq two days early and was out of the country the same night. If anyone thinks this is anything else than a response to some really ugly intelligence warning about (part-)independence day, they must be astonishingly naive. As Mountbatten’s chief of staff put it about the decision to bring Indian independence forward by a year, “in the spring of 1947 India was a ship on fire with ammunition in the hold.” Well, the trick worked in so far as Bremer’s chopper to the airport and C-130 out of theatre got away. For the rest, we shall see. Allawi’s official residence, I see, is an old-regime guest house next to Saddam’s palace. He has to be a guest because, although the CPA has “ceased to exist” the Yanks still need the whole thing for office space. You might have thought that, now all their administrative or executive functions are naturally to be given back to the Iraqis, they wouldn’t need so much office space. Obviously there’s something there I am too stupid to get. Bremer has managed to get through the appointment of the new intelligence chief and national security adviser on five year terms, just in case Allawi loses the election. And they’ve already picked the election commission too.

A tiresome fake, in short, rather like the note handed to Bush at the NATO summit informing him of the ceremony and oh-so-casually scribbled over “let freedom reign”. Clearly a cheap PR stunt, as it was spelt correctly. Meanwhile, the real news was that a US soldier, Specialist Keith Maupin, was killed after being taken hostage. A US Marine is also currently captive. And a British soldier, Gordon Gobbie, a 19 year old private from Glasgow in the Royal Highland Fusiliers, was blown to bits. Naturally he wasn’t there, as Iraq is now free and sovereign, nor was he really killed, as it is a country at peace.

So, I did indeed attend Tech Active yesterday. Key points of the discussion, held in the all-white but strangly ransacked looking premises of the Stanhope Centre, covered a wide range of problems related to political campaigning and technology. A curious crowd, made up of equal parts tech-hipster/German video artist types in painfully fashionable (but ugly) late 70s threads and pale, pudgy deep geeks in painfully unfashionable (but ugly) sweaters. The Random Reality blogger (see sidebar) was there, but I somehow failed to spot him.

Talking points: the crucial importance of technocratic as opposed to legislative organisations. Cory Doctorow made this point with regard to the World Intellectual Property Organisation, the OECD and ICAO. These standard-setting bodies have frequently been used to push through measures that are shot down by national democracies – if you can get it written into the international standard, then it will either be possible to present it as inevitable or slip it through in unglamourous regulations, a process described as “policy laundering”. Another form of policy laundering is, of course, transferring it into another context. Typical of this are the measures that were attached to security or defence related legislation – one third of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, for example, deals with technology issues. Alternatively, technocratisation gets things off the main political agenda.

Gus Hosein of the LSE and Privacy International, who raised the ATCSA 2001 point above, criticised civil society organisations heavily on a variety of grounds – disunity, duplication, competition, self-seeking, inaction, national divides and the possibility of fake NGOs. (I referred to the post below concerning Russian attempts to recruit loyal NGOS.) There was a further issue concerning the divide between traditional campaigning groups, who tend to have the advantage of perspective, membership base and experience but are web-ignorant, and techie groups blind to real world issues. Doctorow produced an alternative to this critique in the twin problems of “nerd fatalism” (if they want to read my mail they’ll do it anyway) and “nerd determinism” (our superior technology will eventually destroy them). Despite being opposite to each other, the effect is the same – inaction/apathy. Doctorow and Hosein agreed that a “rich ecosystem” of different tactics was needed to overcome these splits.

Hosein pointed out another form of context shifting or policy laundering with reference to the case of a schoolboy whose parents discovered he was to be fingerprinted to use the library, and to border control – either “Get them while they’re young” or “Get them while they’re foreign”. I brought up the education cards plan I covered back in May, which still seems to evade much scrutiny. Conclusions, finally, were that everyone agreed that the internet is a force multiplier for traditional campaigning, however there was little consensus on whether or not it has any political role of its own.

All in all, it was a fascinating couple of hours. The people I promised links to will get them today.

TECH ACTIVE – June 28, 2004

Sounds interesting. Will be in Big London later, so I’ll blog it.

I know it’s terribly eurocentric and arrogant to complain about this sort of thing, and we should be tolerant of alternative cultural values, but is anyone else worried by Iyad Allawi’s assertion that “Iraqi democracy should not be a replica of models imported from America, Britain or any other country”? Now, this is all very well, but democracy itself was imported into most democracies. The word is Greek, and the theory is to a large extent drawn from the French and English revolutions, the Roman republic, and the various city states of the Renaissance. It’s true that each country that has created a democracy in the fairly narrow sense has worked out its own practice of democracy, but the stockpile of ideas has a definite history of its own.

We have heard a lot about a whole range of countries finding their own way to democracy and how we should not impose our values on them. Remember “Asian values”? “Guided democracy”? “People’s democracy”? Even Speer’s notion of “Germanic democracy”, which you can probably guess? What they all had in common was that they weren’t particularly democratic, being variations either on autocracy or on bureaucratic totalitarianism. Either The Party or The Big Boss was in charge, ruling in the first version through a modern police state (either fascist or Leninist) or in the second through a mixture of clientelism and control of the army (in a word, dictatorship). Allawi’s emerging policy certainly seems to be going that way, what with the idea of declaring martial law and increasing signs that he intends to co-opt the more conservative insurgents. After all, if Iraq’s future state is to be based on Iraqi models, there’s a choice of either a monarchy based on the army and the manipulation of tribal clienteles or a totalitarian party-state based on surveillance and exemplary terror. Great.

What will Allawi’s rule look like? Probably an uneasy mixture of trying to look western in Baghdad under the noses of world opinion and of the Americans, with lots of ICDC and police and a reconstructed secret police behind the scenes, whilst the countryside will be run on what might be called the Fallujah model, a coalition of the more conservative insurgent leaders and ex-Ba’athis. (Fallujah seems to be evolving into a conservative-Islamist mosque state with old Ba’athi generals providing the muscle, in fact the insurgents’ de facto capital as I predicted some time ago. Juan Cole)

It’s all rather strange when you think that it’s the neo cons who usually talk about that “soft racism of low expectations”. But here’s the kicker – the new state they are creating in Iraq is exactly the kind of dictatorship that their criticism of the Left assumes we think is all the Iraqis can achieve.

Kremlin Looking for Loyal NGOs

It is reported that the Russian government is trying to build up a base of friendly NGOs as a counterweight to the numerous campaign groups that are about the only effective opposition left in Russia. First question – is an NGO created to be nice to the Kremlin “nongovernmental” in any way? Given the way in which fake democracy seems to be the up-and-coming form of state, should we perhaps invent a new term to describe a fake NGO? Quango, of course, stands for quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation, but it’s not quite the same thing. A quango usually has some sort of administrative or scrutiny function, and the term is specifically British. OSIOG, perhaps – Organisation Supposedly Independent of Government? What about False Undertaking Created by King’s Organisations For Fronts? Or FRont Organisation Not to be Trusted?

It’s all very Soviet, harking back to the days of fraternal delegations and world congresses for this, that and the other, usually with one KGB-funded and one CIA-funded body for each worthy subject. (One never hears of a World Congress for War.) But that’s hardly surprising, when you note this par:

“Most of the organizations that took part in Tuesday’s meeting are unknown to human rights activists, and those that are known tend to have roots in Soviet times. For example, one of the participants, the Federation of Peace and Agreement, is the successor to the Soviet Committee for Peace Defense, founded in 1949. It was members of this group who traveled to the West in the early perestroika years, in 1986 and 1987, to speak about improvements in human rights. The organization is now involved in the vague task of defending peace in the world, according to its web site.”

Indeed. I suppose the world in that does not include Chechnya, seeing as the excluded from Mr. Lavrov’s meeting include all the orgs that have spent the last few years publicising the real dirt about the war there. Sounds to me like one of those clubs whose greatest compliment is to refuse you membership. Anyone for a Salon des Refuses?

CNEWS:Fatal attack on Chinese in Afghan province “not terrorism,” minister says

Canadian news site reports that the bombing of a peacekeeping force vehicle and the murder of some 11 Chinese workers in northern Afghanistan was “not terrorism”. These supposed non-attacks non-occurred in Kunduz on the 10th fo June. Kunduz, significantly, is the first town outside Kabul to get a detachment of ISAF peacekeepers, in this case German troops. (You know, those evil, corrupt, weak on terrorism Germans.) But – according to the Afghan Interior Minister – this wasn’t terrorism, but perhaps “competition between rival companies”. Companies in what business? This sounds more like the infamous incident when two Kandahari Taliban leaders shot it out in tanks to settle a dispute over their favourite dancing boy. What with things like this “non-terrorist” massacre and Iraqi PM Allawi’s statement that models of democracy “imported from other countries” can’t apply to Iraq, our world democratic crusade is clearly doing fine.

What You Can Get Away With – Nick Barlow’s weblog

It appears that UKIP’s Nick Croucher has very clear ideas on the content of that “free trade agreement” they think we could have with the EU in the event of withdrawal. Apparently he’s only going “to Europe” (eh? he’s standing on it!) in order to fill the back of his 4×4 with “cheap fags and booze”. What a surprise. Ukipper drives gas guzzler, avoids taxes. Now, however, we can begin to pencil in some detail for that agreement on the basis of the ‘kippers’ own behaviour. Clearly, there would be no possibility of tobacco or alcohol sales being subject either to the EU external tariff or to the old UK Customs regime (one bottle of spirits, 25 mechanical lighters and how much perfume was it?). After all, that would seriously harm our Nick’s booze cruises. And any restriction on the movement of capital or land ownership is clearly out given Kilroy Slick’s Portuguese hacienda.

So – no possibility of reimposing duty on imports of drink and fags. Could have some consequences for their budget proposals. But so long as Nick gets his cheap Marlboros and piss-weak Saint Omer beer multipacks from the East Enders Hypermarket, all is good…

Those Nanniebots from the spring have been back in the news. Andy Pryke was able to take part in a supposed test of the system at Jim Wightman’s place, and discovered that the replies it produced were identical to those from a much older AI called ALICE. He also offered to produce the source code, but was kiboshed by a (convenient?) power cut before he could load a CD he said contained it.

Thanks to Ray Girvan, Waxy, for keeping on the story. BTW, I lost the link to Ray’s blog in a site recovery that went wrong in early May and I’ve only just realised – sorry.





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