Archive for February, 2008

Despite all the promises, the Government is still achieving nothing with regard to its Iraqi employees. Leave aside, for the moment, the considerable numbers who are being rejected. Even the accepted – in so far as this category means anything yet – are still in Iraq, still on the streets, and still in danger. “I am still in Iraq…I hear nothing from your Government yet!”, wrote one of them to Dan Hardie.

Over at Dan’s, you can read about the fact that according to Bob Ainsworth MP, this man has been accepted; but the Borders and Immigration Agency, the final arbiter, is still doing nothing. You could read about the man who, according to the Government, worked at the Shaibah Logistics Base for two years – and they should know, as he lived on the base itself after being threatened by (as they say) unidentified gunmen until he was served notice to quit before the camp was shut down last year. He’s now in Syria.

But don’t imagine this is anything new. Three days ago, the Second World War secret agent Pearl Witherington died, after a life that included more than a year on the run in occupied France organising the STATIONER resistance network. She had to take over command of the organisation at one point; eventually they were ready in June, 1944 to set the German rear ablaze. She was refused a military decoration, and more importantly (to her) parachutist wings, until the RAF relented in 2006 and issued the badge. But that’s not why I’m dragging her in.

It wasn’t any different in June, 1940, either:

At the time of the German Blitzkrieg into northern France in May 1940, she was working as an assistant to the Air Attaché in the British Embassy, but through being “locally enlisted” was not included in the official evacuation scheme and had to make her way to England through the Vichy-controlled zone (which initially avoided German occupation) then via neutral Spain to Portugal, from where she boarded a coaster to Gibraltar.

And she was a British citizen.

Apparently, part of the delay is because the Home Office – of course, inevitably, them – is responsible for finding accomodation for anyone evacuated. They, in turn, are blaming local authorities. The Foreign Office’s offer of cash looks better and better, frankly; at least it’s actual, immediate assistance.

Well, you know the rules: Please write a letter to your MP. His or her address is The House of Commons, Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA. If you don’t know who your constituency MP is, go here and type your postcode in. When you’ve sent a letter, follow it up with an email: his or her address will normally be SURNAMEINITIAL@parliament.uk – for example BROWNG@parliament.uk

Two or three days after you have written the letter, call the Parliamentary switchboard on 0207 219 3000 and ask for your MP’s office. Repeat your concerns to the secretary or research assistant you speak to (and be nice: most of these people work damn hard for little reward), check that your letter has been received, and politely request that the MP ask questions of Ministers and reply to you. In your email, your letter, and your phone calls, you must be courteous: insulting an MP or a research assistant will discredit this cause.

Full talking points are over here. But here’s one more of my own; if it’s the local authorities who are the problem, let’s find out which ones. Why not call your local council member for housing too? And tell us all about it.

It looks like an attempt to censor rightwing arsewit Geert Wilders’s anti-Islam home movie has broken YouTube.

Pakistani authorities issued a circular to ISPs in Pakistan demanding that they block access to YouTube; but this doesn’t explain why it’s unreachable from the UK. A traceroute to http://www.youtube.com goes into PCCW’s network and dies; the explanation appears to be that, as mentioned a few minutes ago on NANOG, Pakistan Telecoms has announced a chunk of YouTube’s IP address space into the global Internet Routing Table, so traffic bound for them is being misrouted.

This may either be deliberate, or else the result of a BGP leak; whoever it was attempted to reroute traffic to YouTube from their customers to a “site blocked” page and accidentally let the new more-specific route get advertised to the world via their upstream carrier, PCCW. Unsurprisingly, we’re not seeing Pakistani splash pages because, well, this suggests that all YouTube’s inbound traffic just hit the web server they are using.

(So the comment on my new blog containing a YouTube link will just have to wait for moderation until PakTel either relents, sorts out the important distinction between internal and external BGP, or PCCW filters their BGP announcements.)

The politics are interesting; this comes immediately after a succession of people repressed by Musharraf’s emergency rule have returned to the public eye. Talaat Hussain is back on TV, with a pair of banned journalists; their own briefly made a comeback before the cable feed was pulled again. Is Musharraf – or someone – trying to scare them, or seeking an excuse to impose more censorship?

Update: That was quick..they’re back but the one I can see is YouTube Hong Kong!

6 pop-bb-a-ae0-0.inet.ntl.com (213.105.174.229) 36.539 ms 34.382 ms 39.406 ms
7 * 195.50.91.69 (195.50.91.69) 42.918 ms *
8 ae-24-52.car3.London1.Level3.net (4.68.116.49) 140.151 ms * ae-24-56.car3.London1.Level3.net (4.68.116.177) 454.571 ms
9 ge5-3-0-1000M.ar2.LON3.gblx.net (208.50.13.193) 34.647 ms 92.634 ms 54.208 ms
10 YOUTUBE-LLC.po1.401.ar2.SJC2.gblx.net (64.212.108.162) 164.128 ms 174.011 ms 169.919 ms
11 youtube.com.hk (208.65.153.253) 199.622 ms 162.886 ms 195.350 ms

<s>Whilst you snooze, this blog has been moving; I set up an alternate version of it some months ago using WordPress, but until now it’s been private</s>. Well, the blog moved here, that is. The upgrade should provide a generally less Spirit of 2003 look-and-feel, improved comments support (a frequent request), a recent comments service, better categorisation, and a linklog.

I’d really like your comments, people; the new blog has been tested by a select group of invitees already. Feedback so far includes requests for a more contrasty colour scheme. I personally want to put in a third column to house things like the linklog and comments separately from the archives and categorisation.

However, can it really be true that WordPress.com wants me to *pay to edit my CSS*? What is this nonsense? Further, is anyone aware of an API that lets you interact directly with the MySQL db underneath, as I want to replace all the links to yorkshire-ranter.blogspot.com/somearticle.html with ones to the corresponding yorksranter.wordpress.com?

I was wondering what might be going on in Somalia; we’re getting a surprising number of lifts a day from the UAE to Puntland/Somaliland (Hargeisa and Berbera) with Tenir AL and British Gulf International Company (not BGIA) call signs. And then this hits the wires via Reuters DeathWatch:

BAIDOA, Somalia, Feb 24 (Reuters) – Heavily armed Somali rebels killed seven government troops and wounded eight others after briefly occupying a southern town on Sunday in the latest show of strength by the nation’s Islamists.

I’m very glad to see that Abu Muqawama, Phil Carter, and Lt-Col. Bob Bateman have been quick to leap on the inevitable attempt to swiftboatise this story.

Especially as Abu, I thought, was showing worrying signs of going into the “good news the MSM is suppressing” mental death spiral and turning progressively into Blackfive With Books and FC Barcelona.

John Band has some thoughts about Northern Rock. So do I; more precisely, I have some thoughts about the Tories’ performance in the crisis. It’s been appallingly silly, irresponsible, and sometimes plain ignorant.

For example, last autumn the Tories seem to have thought that the Bank of England’s loan to the Rock was taxpayers’ money. This year, the Tories’ alternative to nationalisation is to have the Bank of England take over the Rock; apparently BoE funds aren’t taxpayers’ money any more. What on earth has changed? As far as I know, the Bank was nationalised in 1946 and remains so. Alternatively, George Osborne is talking nonsense.

Now, Osborne – and presumably the full faith and credit of the Conservative Party – is behind the notion that the Rock faces a “slow lingering death” under the Treasury-appointed management team. But the Tory alternative is to put the Rock into run-off under Bank of England control; putting a financial institution into run-off is to stop it writing any further business, so as mortgage holders refinance or pay off their mortgages, they wouldn’t take on any more, and the business would progressively shrink down to the actual branches and cash. This basically defines a “slow lingering death”.

Worse yet, the Tories seem to be claiming that they could keep half the Rock’s assets off the public-sector balance sheet by involving the Bank of England. But first of all, the Bank of England is part of the public sector. It is a state-owned company. Its employees are civil servants. Its governor is an appointee of the Treasury. The Tories seem to believe that despite this, it is not part of the public sector; at the same time, though, they seem to believe that this autonomous agency would be amenable to a ministerial directive to take over the Rock. Alternatively, they are fully aware of this and are offering a piece of positively Enron-like creative accounting.

Considered purely as a bank, however, the Bank of England is a very strange beast. Despite handling huge transactions in Government paper every day and managing the UK’s foreign exchange and gold reserve, it isn’t actually very big. Its broader central banking functions do not need much capital. It could only afford to take the Rock’s assets onto its balance sheet by either printing an absurd quantity of money or by being hugely subsidised by the Treasury.

The good news, though, was that Osborne’s performance on nationalisation day was so annoying (silly voice; shouting; North Korean organised yelling choir; pretending to fear the nationalisation of all the other banks) he’s probably made a net loss of votes, which appears to be borne out by the data.

I thought it was Felix Salmon who made a very good argument for a carbon dioxide tax rather than a cap-and-trade system, referring to British Columbia’s decision to introduce a progressively increasing levy on fossil fuels and make a matching cut in general taxation. But it wasn’t; anyway here goes.

If you read this blog you’re probably aware that I think cap-and-trade is too much of a fancy, thinktank hipster/wonk solution; there are a lot of interesting failure modes. Instead, I support the tax that gets to the cause of your problem; higher VAT on fossil fuels is hard to evade (and harder the more fuel you’re trying to evade it on), simple to apply, cheap to collect through the existing and very efficient administration, and directly matched to the problem. It’s regressive, but that can be fixed by paying out the cash, perhaps under a negative income tax or citizens’ income system. (As Daniel Davies would say, many schemes to aid the poor have been proposed but the only one to show consistent success is money.) And we could do it tomorrow; if it only took two days to nationalise the Northern Rock, this is quite a lot simpler.

Anyway, Salmon – in fact, it was Gar Lipow whose argument this is; read the whole thing – made the point that cap-and-trade implies the creation of a market in CO2 permits. That is, after all, the point of the exercise. Then you start to reduce the cap, squeezing the total permits in circulation. But here’s the rub; if the policy is a success and people are busily trading the permits, there will be a substantial new lobby against any reduction in the cap – the traders. There is no way they can win from reduced volume, so they will be a powerful opponent of reductions in the cap and a powerful supporter of any move to loosen the definitions of what contributes to the cap.

A carbon dioxide tax, of course, doesn’t need a carbon dioxide market and therefore isn’t subject to this problem. It doesn’t need to decide what counts as an offset; it certainly doesn’t require some fiendish extension of the surveillance state like road-pricing or personal cap-and-trade. It just requires a higher rate of VAT on stuff that burns and came out of the ground.

Unity is on to something with this rant about government Web sites. But I think we can take this a nudge further. Essentially, if you’re visiting a government Web site, you’re doing one of two things; you’re either engaged in some sort of transaction with the government, or else you’re looking for some sort of random lump of information. In the first case, there’s no reason for there to be Web sites, plural; you’ll probably make your way to the thing by a Web search anyway, and once you’re there you want to go through the process as quickly as possible.

The Government is actually trying to get this right by rolling as many transaction functions as possible into Directgov (for individuals) and Businesslink (for organisations). But it doesn’t go anywhere near far enough. Especially for organisations, the ideal type of going through a process involving transactions with the government is to have a machine do it instead. If it’s a transaction – or for that matter, a query of a public database – it should be available as a SPOO (Some Protocol Or Other – an acronym I just invented to cover RSS, XML, SOAP, Web services, REST, JSON, and all their pals) feed/service/whatever, and these should be as much alike as possible across government.

As far as the second type of site goes, you can be certain that people looking for just the right document will be using a search engine; so really all you need is search-friendliness, metadata, and stable URLs so you can find your way back to the stuff. If the stuff is in a database, then there should be some way of querying it automatically.

And finally, there should be a website called developers.gov.uk or something similar with a directory of all the SPOOs, the documentation for them, and a short guide to the legalities involved.

Not that this will discover gunpowder, but it’s a nice timeboxed quick-impact project that a small political party with an interest in freedom of information could do worse than to push, and that would make life mildly less annoying.

Yes, I miss Melody Maker too, for most of the same reasons. And The Face.

Look, at least there are no rockets in this post. So you get a gratuitious Justin Robertson track.

OK, so they want to shoot down that satellite; depending on who you believe, because of its Evil Nasty Chems, to keep the Secret Spook Systems aboard from the general enemy, or just to do a live-fire exercise with SPACE ROCKETS!!! and impress the Chinese. Well, the first one is nonsense, the second is unimpressive (Germany, Italy, France, Canada and Japan all have synthetic-aperture radar satellites – how rare can this one be? After all, this one’s defining characteristic is that it doesn’t work)…so it looks like the third.

And to do it, they’re rolling out the giant floating radar, or the USS Karl Stromberg as I like to think of it. Well, they better hope the waves aren’t more than 8 feet on the day, as its seakeeping is so dire that it can’t be towed with a sea state worse than that. The AEGIS system should, I think, be able to cue itself for a target that looks something like a re-entering IRBM, but this is pressing the limit of my knowledge.

Looking it up on Heavens Above, the satellite’s track is over Graham Land in Antarctica, up across Africa from Angola to the Middle East (and interestingly, straight over Israel), then across the Asian continent for a good view of the ME, India, Siberia, China and Korea, over northern Japan and then sharply southwards down the Pacific; it’s quite a way from the Stromberg‘s beat off Alaska, especially as they have to intercept head-on rather than a stern chase (the rocket does 3 km/sec and the sat 7.8). I wonder what the weather’s like in the Western Pacific for the “first week of March”?

The track passes close to the Marshalls; presumably they’ll take the GFR to Kwajalein or somewhere like it, where they have various other huge dish antennas and spookydooky things.





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