Archive for August, 2004

Torture quite OK really, says High Court

The High Court has ruled that evidence gained through torture is admissible so long as the torture was not “connived at” by agents of the Crown. This is insane. What happened to the “poisoned tree”? (the legal principle that any evidence gained by illegal means, even evidence gained as a consequence of other evidence gained by illegal means, is tainted) What is wrong with us? But, of course, ordinary real people don’t care about this. What they care about is Anti-Social Behaviour. So you can now be arrested for dropping litter.

I know Keeping Britain Tidy is important, but isn’t torture a tad worse?

Some interesting developments on the energy politics front. For a start, a giant contract has just been signed by Centrica (which owns the British Gas name) and a Malaysian oil firm to import huge quantities of liquified natural gas into the UK. This has been one of the running long term stories of the last few years, as the North Sea gas production runs down and the quantity of electricity produced from gas goes up. One answer is to import Russian gas through the interconnector pipeline from Holland, squirting it back into the old gas fields for storage. It’s a neat idea, but there are some well publicised problems, not least that a crisis anywhere upstream of the UK along the pipe to Russia could cut us off. So, the idea of diversifying the supply of gas is welcome. As is finding a use for those old Milford Haven oil terminals, one of which is going to be reactivated and converted as a huge LNG port.

There are a couple of interesting security/defence implications. Gas is transported in gigantic tankers and stored in tanks so cold that they create permafrost around them. And it explodes. I recall being told that maritime terrorism was limited in effect because a laden oil tanker won’t actually explode, for example the French VLCC Limburg which was attacked by an al-Qa’ida suicide boat off Yemen in 2002. Although a big hole was blown in the ship, she survived. An LNG tanker is a more dramatic proposition, as the gas must be kept at very low temperatures to be liquid – if the tanks are breached, it would expand rapidly. Not to mention being explosive. Most of the planned gas imports will come from Egypt or Algeria.

So nowhere dangerous or unstable, then.

It’s no wonder that the First Sea Lord, Sir Alan West, was recently quoted as saying that al-Qa’ida was a threat to merchant shipping. It’s also very little wonder that the Government was so keen on celebrating the 300th anniversary of British rule in Gibraltar.

Another interesting sidelight on energy appeared in the Guardian today, in the form of a report on how some environmentalists are now reconsidering their opposition to nuclear power in the light of climate change and energy security problems. The story is here. Wouldn’t that be a turn up for the book?

Torture quite OK really, says High Court

The High Court has ruled that evidence gained through torture is admissible so long as the torture was not “connived at” by agents of the Crown. This is insane. What happened to the “poisoned tree”? (the legal principle that any evidence gained by illegal means, even evidence gained as a consequence of other evidence gained by illegal means, is tainted) What is wrong with us? But, of course, ordinary real people don’t care about this. What they care about is Anti-Social Behaviour. So you can now be arrested for dropping litter.

I know Keeping Britain Tidy is important, but isn’t torture a tad worse?

Some interesting developments on the energy politics front. For a start, a giant contract has just been signed by Centrica (which owns the British Gas name) and a Malaysian oil firm to import huge quantities of liquified natural gas into the UK. This has been one of the running long term stories of the last few years, as the North Sea gas production runs down and the quantity of electricity produced from gas goes up. One answer is to import Russian gas through the interconnector pipeline from Holland, squirting it back into the old gas fields for storage. It’s a neat idea, but there are some well publicised problems, not least that a crisis anywhere upstream of the UK along the pipe to Russia could cut us off. So, the idea of diversifying the supply of gas is welcome. As is finding a use for those old Milford Haven oil terminals, one of which is going to be reactivated and converted as a huge LNG port.

There are a couple of interesting security/defence implications. Gas is transported in gigantic tankers and stored in tanks so cold that they create permafrost around them. And it explodes. I recall being told that maritime terrorism was limited in effect because a laden oil tanker won’t actually explode, for example the French VLCC Limburg which was attacked by an al-Qa’ida suicide boat off Yemen in 2002. Although a big hole was blown in the ship, she survived. An LNG tanker is a more dramatic proposition, as the gas must be kept at very low temperatures to be liquid – if the tanks are breached, it would expand rapidly. Not to mention being explosive. Most of the planned gas imports will come from Egypt or Algeria.

So nowhere dangerous or unstable, then.

It’s no wonder that the First Sea Lord, Sir Alan West, was recently quoted as saying that al-Qa’ida was a threat to merchant shipping. It’s also very little wonder that the Government was so keen on celebrating the 300th anniversary of British rule in Gibraltar.

Another interesting sidelight on energy appeared in the Guardian today, in the form of a report on how some environmentalists are now reconsidering their opposition to nuclear power in the light of climate change and energy security problems. The story is here. Wouldn’t that be a turn up for the book?

Whitelocks Luncheon Bar in Leeds is possibly the best pub in the world. Hidden in one of the oldest surviving parts of Leeds (Turk’s Head Yard), on the site of a Knights Templar cross, it is an astonishing Victorian fantasy of black wood panelling, mirrors, plush and porcelain, divided by a curtain between a long copper bar and an even more plush restaurant like something that escaped from the Orient Express in 1901. It is famous for – among other things – being the first public place in Leeds with electricity, serving fantastic home-made pies, real ale and bloody wine. The current building and the interior date from the 1890s, when it advertised with two Hollywood premiere style searchlights sweeping the sky over the doors, which were guarded by an Irish giant to keep anyone from bothering the dwarves.

Yes, I did say dwarves. At the time they employed dwarf waiters. I don’t think you’d get away with that now.

It’s been favoured by a variety of people: writers and hacks, old ladies, Leeds City Council bigwigs, escapees from the Leeds Festival. Me. Peter O’Toole. Whatever. Now, though, it has become part of a thing called the “Spirit Group” that bought it off Scottish & Newcastle Breweries. They have classified it as a “City Day Pub” and assigned it model customers called “Mick and Ruth”. The fury really should have been predictable – on the 2nd of August, the Yorkshire Post devoted most of page 2 to a ferocious slagging. The branding document concerning Mick and Ruth and their taste for pinot grigio was run hard, backed up with a vitriolic review by their restaurant critic, who accused the new owners of microwaving the potatoes (for shame!). Today, the story broke nationally in the Guardian, with a report on a campaign by “old farts of all ages” to resist the evil onslaught. Good luck to ’em.

Whitelocks Luncheon Bar in Leeds is possibly the best pub in the world. Hidden in one of the oldest surviving parts of Leeds (Turk’s Head Yard), on the site of a Knights Templar cross, it is an astonishing Victorian fantasy of black wood panelling, mirrors, plush and porcelain, divided by a curtain between a long copper bar and an even more plush restaurant like something that escaped from the Orient Express in 1901. It is famous for – among other things – being the first public place in Leeds with electricity, serving fantastic home-made pies, real ale and bloody wine. The current building and the interior date from the 1890s, when it advertised with two Hollywood premiere style searchlights sweeping the sky over the doors, which were guarded by an Irish giant to keep anyone from bothering the dwarves.

Yes, I did say dwarves. At the time they employed dwarf waiters. I don’t think you’d get away with that now.

It’s been favoured by a variety of people: writers and hacks, old ladies, Leeds City Council bigwigs, escapees from the Leeds Festival. Me. Peter O’Toole. Whatever. Now, though, it has become part of a thing called the “Spirit Group” that bought it off Scottish & Newcastle Breweries. They have classified it as a “City Day Pub” and assigned it model customers called “Mick and Ruth”. The fury really should have been predictable – on the 2nd of August, the Yorkshire Post devoted most of page 2 to a ferocious slagging. The branding document concerning Mick and Ruth and their taste for pinot grigio was run hard, backed up with a vitriolic review by their restaurant critic, who accused the new owners of microwaving the potatoes (for shame!). Today, the story broke nationally in the Guardian, with a report on a campaign by “old farts of all ages” to resist the evil onslaught. Good luck to ’em.

A while ago, on the 1st of July the story broke via the Financial Times that the US was to intensify counter-terrorist efforts in West Africa after revelations concerning Liberian dictator Charles Taylor’s connections both with the CIA and Al-Qa’ida. This was covered both here and also at Laura Rozen’s War and Piece. The Financial Times story included a sensational paragraph quoting Alex Yearsley of Global Witness as saying that “the CIA and FBI long had tried to publicly minimize links between conflict diamonds and Islamic militant groups, including al-Qaida. The U.S. security agents feared exposure of their own longtime links with Charles Taylor..”. However, this bombshell vanished from later editions and the FT website after everything beyond an anodyne call for a full investigation was spiked.

The recent Boston Globe story on the cancelled US raid into Liberia to seek an AQ financial expert seems to bear out the original version of the FT story.

Due to the failure of Blogstreet’s RSS panel service, there has been no Ranter Coverage section for a while. There is now a temporary version in operation courtesy of BlogFuel. This may have to become permanent, as Blogstreet has now been dead to the world for a week, all login and contacts pages pointing to 404 errors and its forum filled with Chinese spam. No signs of recovery are apparent.

Unfortunately, I’m not at all sure I have the full list of RSS feeds we were showing, so if I’ve offended you, please inform me. As for the Ranter RSS at http://feeds.blogstreet.com/24822.rss, I assume this is also toast…whoops, it is still working, so where there’s life there’s hope tha knawst.

Anthony Wells has an amusing post about compulsive parliamentary candidate Lieutenant-Commander Bill Boakes, who stood for election at every opportunity from 1951 to 1981 on a platform that varied from being a democratic monarchist campaigning for equal pay for women to being the “Air, Road, Public Safety White Resident” candidate (rather less fun). All very interesting, but the English language intervenes when Wells describes some of Boakes’ other eccentricities.

“Fast moving traffic held no fears for Boaks, his other passtimes included sitting in the middle of the fast lane of the M40 on a deckchair, reading the Daily Telegraph, and deliberately pouncing onto Zebra crossings into the path of oncoming traffic, pushing a pram full of house bricks.”

Very amusing, but I wasn’t aware that reading the Daily Telegraph was quite as dangerous as hurling yourself in front of moving cars. Possibly it’s even less enjoyable, but that isn’t what that comma after “deckchair” suggests, even if the alternative gives the impression of a deckchair fascinated by conservative newspapers.

Or maybe he meant it.

Back last summer I blogged on the destruction of a US Army tank in Iraq by insurgents using an unusual weapon. Wild speculation ranged at the time from a 1940 Soviet antitank rifle, perhaps souped up with new ammunition, to the first-ever use in anger of an electro-magnetic railgun. In the fullness of time consensus gathered that it was an RPG with a new and rare warhead.

A little strange, then, to find railguns in the list of “golden nuggets” sent by John Scarlett to the Iraq Survey Group as suggestions for their next book…whoops, their final report. (The Scotsman)

“The message, Mr Mangold said, suggested ten “nuggets” of information about Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs that could be included in ISG reports.

Among the “nuggets” were claims that Saddam had a secret smallpox programme, that Iraq had developed mobile chemical weapons laboratories and that the country possessed or was building a “rail gun” as part of a nuclear project.

None of those suggestions have been supported by the evidence found by the ISG..”

So – does Scarlett get his information from casual web rumours?