Archive for July, 2004

BBC Stupidity

Essential viewing tonight – not just one but two BBC documentaries on Saudi Arabia (This World, 2100, BBC2, and The House of Saud, 2320, BBC2), and another produced from 6 months’ secret filming of BNP meetings (The Secret Agent, 2100, BBC1). Highlights include their shirt-pocket führer Nick Griffin ranting madly about Muslims raping white girls to a pubful of supporters in Keighley. Too close to home.

In an egregiously stupid act, the Beeb has scheduled the BNP and Saudi docs to go out simultaneously! So it’s a choice – Saudis or fascists? (Is there a logical flaw here?) The reason appears to be that the 50minute This World is to go out after an hour of GOLF HIGHLIGHTS! Do they have highlights in golf? And why couldn’t they show the hour of golf in the BBC1 9pm slot, instead of the BNP film – which would have allowed them to show it before the Saudi one? You wonder how decisions like that get made.

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BBC Stupidity

Essential viewing tonight – not just one but two BBC documentaries on Saudi Arabia (This World, 2100, BBC2, and The House of Saud, 2320, BBC2), and another produced from 6 months’ secret filming of BNP meetings (The Secret Agent, 2100, BBC1). Highlights include their shirt-pocket führer Nick Griffin ranting madly about Muslims raping white girls to a pubful of supporters in Keighley. Too close to home.

In an egregiously stupid act, the Beeb has scheduled the BNP and Saudi docs to go out simultaneously! So it’s a choice – Saudis or fascists? (Is there a logical flaw here?) The reason appears to be that the 50minute This World is to go out after an hour of GOLF HIGHLIGHTS! Do they have highlights in golf? And why couldn’t they show the hour of golf in the BBC1 9pm slot, instead of the BNP film – which would have allowed them to show it before the Saudi one? You wonder how decisions like that get made.

Blogs for today

Spyblog agrees with my reaction to the Mexican microchip story – astonishment and horror-fixation, roughly – quoting a AP story including some even weirder implications. Jewelry and mobile phones loaded with RFID chips indeed. Of course, the next step would be to carry your own scanner so as to know if anyone was pinging the chip – one imagines the habitues of that Barcelona nightclub warily eyeing the read-out on their diamond-studded mobys and wondering if it was just a routine security check or the preparations of a tech-savvy murderer.

Gregorian Ranting has some amusing stuff concerning books…”People get startled whenever they see how many books I have. Sometimes their jaws drop and they say things like ‘You have so many books… have you read them all?'” …and quotes Flann O’Brien:

“On the other hand, a school-boy’s Latin dictionary looks read to the point of tatters. You know that the dictionary has been opened and scanned perhaps a million times, and if you did not know that there was such a thing as a box on the ear, you would conclude that the boy is crazy about Latin and cannot bear to be away from his dictionary”

At school, I remember, there was a curious phrase in constant use. People spoke of any book that was not a textbook as a “reading-book”, which begs the question what other kind of book there is.

Of course, it was really a distinction between exercise books, text books and the like and anything you might read without being forced to.

Jason Kitcat has been the target of a handbagging by the Austrian foreign ministry after his presentation to an e-voting conference in Bregenz apparently offended them. I wouldn’t worry too much, anything that annoys the current Austrian government is probably a good thing.

Blogs for today

Spyblog agrees with my reaction to the Mexican microchip story – astonishment and horror-fixation, roughly – quoting a AP story including some even weirder implications. Jewelry and mobile phones loaded with RFID chips indeed. Of course, the next step would be to carry your own scanner so as to know if anyone was pinging the chip – one imagines the habitues of that Barcelona nightclub warily eyeing the read-out on their diamond-studded mobys and wondering if it was just a routine security check or the preparations of a tech-savvy murderer.

Gregorian Ranting has some amusing stuff concerning books…”People get startled whenever they see how many books I have. Sometimes their jaws drop and they say things like ‘You have so many books… have you read them all?'” …and quotes Flann O’Brien:

“On the other hand, a school-boy’s Latin dictionary looks read to the point of tatters. You know that the dictionary has been opened and scanned perhaps a million times, and if you did not know that there was such a thing as a box on the ear, you would conclude that the boy is crazy about Latin and cannot bear to be away from his dictionary”

At school, I remember, there was a curious phrase in constant use. People spoke of any book that was not a textbook as a “reading-book”, which begs the question what other kind of book there is.

Of course, it was really a distinction between exercise books, text books and the like and anything you might read without being forced to.

Jason Kitcat has been the target of a handbagging by the Austrian foreign ministry after his presentation to an e-voting conference in Bregenz apparently offended them. I wouldn’t worry too much, anything that annoys the current Austrian government is probably a good thing.

Interesting

It was considered sensational when an Airbus A300 belonging to DHL was hit by a surface-to-air missile near Baghdad last year(link, picture), narrowly surviving after the crew succeeded in manoeuvring back to the airport and landing without the hydraulics – they could only control the aircraft by varying the thrust on the engines separately.

It seems, though, that another civilian aircraft survived a SAM hit over Baghdad on the 28th of April. The plane, an Armenian-registered Antonov 12, serial number 8345607, registration EK-12555, leased to Daallo Airlines in Djibouti, suffered flap and aileron damage at around 8000ft altitude on departure but landed safely, being in the words of my source “built like a brick shithouse”. (After all, the type was conceived with two purposes in mind – tactical transport for the military and rough field operations in Siberia.) It would appear that the story was originally hushed up. I thought this might have been a Viktor Bout-related matter, but Daallo are apparently respectable.

Interesting

It was considered sensational when an Airbus A300 belonging to DHL was hit by a surface-to-air missile near Baghdad last year(link, picture), narrowly surviving after the crew succeeded in manoeuvring back to the airport and landing without the hydraulics – they could only control the aircraft by varying the thrust on the engines separately.

It seems, though, that another civilian aircraft survived a SAM hit over Baghdad on the 28th of April. The plane, an Armenian-registered Antonov 12, serial number 8345607, registration EK-12555, leased to Daallo Airlines in Djibouti, suffered flap and aileron damage at around 8000ft altitude on departure but landed safely, being in the words of my source “built like a brick shithouse”. (After all, the type was conceived with two purposes in mind – tactical transport for the military and rough field operations in Siberia.) It would appear that the story was originally hushed up. I thought this might have been a Viktor Bout-related matter, but Daallo are apparently respectable.

Bloody idiot

Man shot self in testicles after drinking 15 pints of lager and “arguing with lifelong friend over whose turn it was to buy beer”.

It is reported that senior Mexican officials including the attorney-general have had identifying chips implanted into their persons. These are intended to control access to sensitive information and provide a means of locating them in the event of kidnapping. Presumably the “chips” are RFID devices, which would emit a radio signal containing a unique identifier when queried by a transmitter.

Of course, they would also provide a means of tracking their location whereever they go. Supposedly, it is widely believed in Mexico that this technology is in common use – a kidnapping gang has emerged that strips its victims and demands under threat of mutilation that they reveal where the device is. The implication is clearly that they would then hack it out of their flesh.

This is, I think, a grim example of a future trend – the increasing use of advanced security technology as a form of class distinction, and its exploitation by the criminals against whom it is directed. After all, the equipment used to query an RFID chip is fairly cheap general purpose technology. If the police, or private interests, can track your location to assure your safety, the kidnappers could use the same technology to find you. They might discover the identity signal, and either monitor the frequency for it or actively broadcast the “ping” to trigger it – giving them the ability to locate and identify you. Sao Paulo has become in recent years a helicopter Mecca as the demand for transport by helicopter ballooned. Fear of kidnapping drove even the middle classes to take to using air taxi services, which was good news for Portuguese-speaking helicopter pilots but probably no-one else. This is the information equivalent, as is the Barcelona nightclub whose members can use an RFID chip to beat the queue past the velvet rope and order drinks on account. That is comic, but the Mexican story is probably more significant.

The danger is that strategems like this, desperate responses to a public sphere and social fabric utterly lacking, will spread. If you can use your RFID tracking gear in Mexico City, why not in London? It is in the nature of complex and interdependent systems that changes in the ephemeral surface can bring about major changes to the structure. When computers were installed as furniture in office buildings, the building services had to change, which could mean quite radical changes in the architecture. The Mexican officials with their microchips have effectively drawn the frontier between Raymond Aron’s “world of order” and “world of chaos” on their bodies – kidnapping as a common crime seems to be a phenomenon of those cities on that frontier, like Mexico City, Sao Paulo or indeed Baghdad.

The Register reports that a group of Romanians have invented wireless mobile music sharing.

“Instead, it’s a small two-man smartphone software company based in Bucharest. Best known for its Symbian Series 60 software, Simeda recently introduced a small piece of file discovery software for wireless Pocket PCs which implemented Apple’s Rendezvous service. Now they’ve gone a step further, and begun to make the iPod truly social.

In a bundle that hooks a Pocket PC up to an iPod – with the iPod as a USB slave device – the entire contents of the yuppy’s music hoard can now be shared with the rest of the world: via streaming or file transfer.”

Sunday Times report

Almost all the news concerning the British sector in Iraq has involved the area around Amara in one way or another, but it’s been hard to pull together. The Sunday Times (Sunderer, perhaps?) has done a good job though, with this story on the Princess of Wales’ Royal Regt in the area. Apparently in 3 months they were involved in some 300 contacts, culminating in the famous bayonet charge at checkpoint Danny Boy.

Impressive though the story is, and confirming how silly it would be to cut the real army for the sake of whizzy gadgets (eh, Plastic Gangster) this is not a good news story. Good news from Iraq would be boring – order, calm, quiet. The progress of a counter-insurgency campaign is marked not by battles but by the lack of them – the Americans’ fallacy in Vietnam. That, a year after “the war” was over, a single battalion in the supposedly “quiet Shia south” was involved in 300 combat incidents and had to call on heavy tanks, Tornado and AC130 aircraft, before finally going in with the bayonet, is a marker of how badly things are wrong in Iraq.