Archive for August, 2004

Here at the Ranter, one of my regular targets is the delusion held by many Conservatives that somehow, if they could just get into the Foreign Office, they could create a mighty alliance with such great powers as – er – Denmark and Estonia to rewrite the European Union treaties in such a way as to make it “Atlanticist” or “liberal” or “sceptical” – all of which are code for “not having any enforcement mechanism so we can discriminate against the New Europeans”. There are numerous flaws with this – the first being the assumption that the Central Europeans are all really shire Tories struggling to get out, the second that there is sufficient common ground between them as well as between them and the UK for a coherent alliance, and the third being that such an alliance would have the power to achieve this substantial geo-political revolution – which lead me to conclude that it is a Napoleonic neo-imperial delusion that really ought to be dumped. Tories have been going on about this sort of thing since the late 1950s without ever producing anything of substance, but they seem to find it impossible to revise their beliefs on the subject whatever happens. The Atlantic-whoops-Mediterranean-whoops-Eastern-whoops-Central-whoops-New Europeans will all agree with us and won’t join! They did. They will agree with us and form a loose trading block! They didn’t. They will refuse the Euro! They didn’t. They will refuse the draft Constitution! One of them nearly did but in the end – they didn’t! Each and every Conservative leader has brought this stuff up and been crushingly disabused, or have simply declined to try. But, despite the utter failure of this “policy” at every opportunity, it still keeps turning up like a bad cent. (Recall IDS’s trip to Prague – thought not.)

In a rare variant of this phenomenon, the Plastic Gangster notes an article in the grindingly rightwing US National Review which shows an American who believes in it. This very rarely happens in real life, so we ought to Read, Mark, Learn, and Inwardly Digest whilst the opportunity presents itself. PG wisely points out that the central tenet of the current Tory view – a supposed UK/Italian/Polish alliance – is not worth banking on, as it relies on a tenuous personal link between Blair and Silvio Berlusconi, perhaps Europe’s least popular politician and a man sitting atop one of the most pro-European electorates around. PG goes on to criticise the stereotype assumption that Poland is “pro American” and will stay that way, especially when the EU subsidies begin to flow. This, I think, is quite right, but more importantly there is little community of interest between Poland and the UK in some crusade to kill the EU. Poland – agricultural, Catholic, security importer, EU net beneficiary. UK – industrial/services, Protestant but frankly heathen, security exporter, EU net contributor. Poland has every direct financial reason to maintain and uphold a mercantilist view of Europe. What about Italy? Well – mixed industrial/agricultural (although very subsidy intensive in the south), net beneficiary, Catholic, passionately pro-EU – can anyone else see where this is going?

Basically, we can’t split off nice cosy little clubs within the EU of people who stroke Tory egos. We will just have to do business with them all. Is that so hard to grasp?


The Smoking Gun has a list of pornographic comics and films that were either seized or permitted by Canadian Customs on the US border. “Housewives at Play” – verboten! “Housewives and Hot Moms at Play” – all well and good. How d’you reckon they work these things out?

Some time ago it was suggested to me that the US Government fuel contracts with Viktor Bout’s airlines had some connection with the Turks and Caicos Islands, a British tax paradise in the Caribbean. You may recall from the Ranter passim that the contracts were numbered in the series TBTC followed by 2 digits. The first two letters give the status of the contract, and the second in this case might mean the Turks and Caicos. (I’m indebted to Nicholas Confessore of the Washington Monthly for this suggestion.)

I’ve yet to find any connection, but reviewing the story, I am interested to note that our latest suspects, Jetline International, are operating an aircraft in Aruba. The beast in question is a BAC111, serial no. 88, registration P4-CBH. Interestingly, the Jetline BAC111 I mentioned earlier as supposedly operating for Richard Chichakli’s San Air General Trading (serial no. 61) was previously registered in Aruba as P4-CBI to a private operator believed to be Jetline, before being re-registered in Equatorial Guinea as 3C-QRF. (This is the one formerly belonging to Hustler magazine.) In all, Jetline has some four aircraft in the P4 (Aruban) registry.

Dunno what it all means yet…


Thurlow said he had lost his medal citation for that incident over two decades ago and stood by his account that there was no enemy fire at the time.

His account was further called into question by a battle damage assessment report on another Swift boat, PCF-51, involved in the March 13 action. The report listed three .30-caliber bullet holes in the superstructure of the 50-foot patrol boat.

The Swift boat veterans also have cast doubt on Kerry’s account that a second mine explosion damaged his boat, PCF-94, and blew an Army Special Forces officer, Jim Rassmann, overboard. Kerry’s Bronze Star was awarded for his rescue of Rassmann, who credited Kerry with saving his life.

Among the records was a battle damage report filed the following day, March 14, which stated that PCF-94 had three windows blown out, radios and radar inoperable, the boat’s auxiliary generator inoperable, screws curled and chipped, aft helm steerage control not working.”

The Ranter is no.2 on Altavista for “x-ray photo public domain”.

Best Blog Awards

It’s the time of year for the Washington Post Blog Awards. Click the button in my sidebar to nominate me. Please.

The Torygraph reports on what must have been a memorable day at the independent inquiry into Gulf War syndrome after the former medical adviser to the MoD’s own “health assessment programme” turned up in a US Army uniform and accused British servicemen of alcoholism and malingering.

“He was scathing of the British soldiers he examined, many of whom he claimed smoked, had criminal records and were alcoholic or obese. “All the eight Sandhurst Gulf war veterans that I examined were alcoholics and six were obese.”

He even accused Lord Guthrie, the last Chief of Defence Staff, a former SAS officer and the regiment’s current colonel-in-chief, of being “obese”. He made a number of personal attacks on other veterans. “The Gulf war veterans who have complained to the press, thereby breaching their own confidentiality, are liars,” he said.”

Where do we start with this lot? Dr. Quack seems to have a variety of curious views. Having claimed that British soldiers were unfit he prescribed that the MoD ought to ban contact sports. Curious. He also seems to suffer from a common complaint in the Ministry, an exaggerated respect for American power. Apparently he still has his boots from Vietnam and wore the uniform “to show how much better it was”. He further claimed that the US Army must be better because it won in the US War of Independence and declared an admiration for George S. Patton, before declaring that “most if not all” Gulf veterans he examined were “malingerers”. It should come as no surprise that he got the bum’s rush in short order for “loss of trust”, neither would it surprise anyone that the MoD went on paying him £1,000 a day for some time after his sacking.

There is a slightly more serious edge to this though. The good doctor appears to hold a form of ideological belief that post-conflict medical problems do not exist physically, and should not exist mentally. He is quoted as saying that “all war syndromes since the US Civil War” have no “physical cause”, and gives the strong impression that any mental symptoms cannot be real. Patton, of course, would hav agreed strongly. This was after all the man who punched one of his soldiers in a field hospital, calling him “a coward”, after being told that the man was suffering from shell shock. It would be typical of the MoD’s attitude if they had sought out Hall with a view to discrediting the Gulf veterans.

Allawi a Shi’ite?

“Muqtada said that calling Iyad Allawi (he didn’t mention him by name) a “Shiite” was like calling Saddam Hussein a “Muslim.”

From Juan Cole. I have to say, right back to last year, Cole has consistently pointed out that Allawi was nothing but trouble. His actions in the current crisis have only borne that out. I didn’t think much of him, either.

Bout vs Farah

Doug Farah has an interesting new post on Viktor Bout and Jetline International. Apparently an aircraft registered 9L-LEC was leased by Jetline to something called Skylink and used in Iraq. Mr. Farah requests info on Jetline. He shall have it. Skylink may be a a Russian company, Skylink Express, listed as operating between 1994 and 2001. Its fleet consisted of two Il76 and an An12BP, which also saw service with more than one Boutco. 9L-LEC is listed by as being an An12, not as given by Farah an Ilyushin, manufacturer’s serial number 4341803, active with a “private operator in Sierra Leone” but with a note to the effect that Skylink are the owners. It was formerly owned by another privateer in Kazakhstan, and interestingly by a company called Trans Air Congo. (Farah’s source states the aircraft is currently in the DRC.) Before this period, little information is available.

This leaves problems. 4341803 is with a “private operator”, but perhaps Skylink? Is this the right Skylink? Careful examination reveals that Skylink’s “official” An12, MSN 1347909, has passed through a variety of highly dodgy operators including known Boutcos like Space Cargo and GST Aero Aircompany. It is currently leased to “Afrique Cargo Services” of Senegal. Was Skylink keeping 4341803 off the books, or was it operating under a false identity?

I’m about to do the stereotype blogger “A funny thing happened at the supermarket” thing, so please bear with me. It’s the only one so far.

Round our way, there’s a council-owned car park behind the Tesco, and the tickets are sold for fixed periods (1 hour, 2 hours, whatever). A custom has grown up of people who have completed their shopping within that time offering their used tickets to people coming in. It struck me that this was an interesting economic phenomenon. Now, the first part of the analysis is pretty simple. If the council can set the unit in which they sell parking time, then they can effectively sell the time several times, given that at least some of the parkers will leave before their time is up. This is an economic rent to the council and a deadweight loss to society, as it’s an incentive to use parking less efficiently. It’s no surprise that a) the tickets are marked “non-transferable” or b) that a secondary market has arisen.

If the parkers who have surplus time give their tickets to others, the free parkers are in effect getting the equivalent of the council’s economic rent back. Also, society’s resources are slightly more efficiently allocated (fewer people are paying for nothing). The problem is that the tickets are not traded but given away. Where is the incentive for the person who actually bought a ticket to give it away? I have two explanations. One is that you give the ticket away in expectation of a deferred benefit; as the whole thing depends on tickets being given away, doing so today increases the likelihood that you may get a free one tomorrow. The alternative, more of a Richard Layard answer, is that you gain utility from the satisfaction of helping others (and indeed of outwitting authority) and taking part in society. Likely, both are in operation.