Archive for May, 2005

Read this now.

Richard Moderate, as opposed to Ken Moderate, has a brilliant post on liberalism and the Lib Dems. Needs reading.

Time for a little masturblogging, I think.

I think it’s fair to say that the general election has been a real step forward in British blogging. It was the first time, really, that the UK blogosphere really functioned as such rather than as a collection of blogs orientated either towards Europe, or towards the US high-traffic elite. It was also the first time UK blogs regularly threw out the kind of monster comments threads frequently achieved in the States – Anthony Wells deserves real credit for the UK Polling Report. (Although some more posts might be nice.) It also saw the birth of a number of good blogs. The Sharpener is an excellent example – which is also showing signs of a healthy comment community.

What didn’t happen, or at least not enough, was much field blogging from the campaign trail. Perhaps, though, this reflected the reality of the most autistic election in the history of British democracy, when campaigning was targeted to a greater degree than ever on a smaller-than-ever group of swing voters who are themselves less representative than ever, in order to elect a parliament less representative than ever before. For the majority of Britons, the election was lived as a media experience. I recall knocking on one door shortly before election day to be told that, in 22 years, I was the first canvasser to pass that way.

It was also a blogged election with some curious bloggers. The Times ought to be ashamed for its scheme to get unpaid members of the public to contribute to its website. The Guardian imported none other than Kos to fill its blog, with mixed results. And when is Richard North of EU Referendum going to disclose in any signal way that both he and his lady coblogger Helen Szamuely are on the payroll of the Bruges Group, and that EURB is therefore a wholly owned subsidiary of the Conservative Party? I recognise that most visitors to EU Referendum probably follow the internal politics of Euroscepticism closely, but you cannot rule out on the internet that anyone may turn up, perhaps expecting to find disinterested information. In fact, isn’t the choice of title deliberately intended to draw casual googlers? It is, after all, the no.1 Google result for “EU referendum”, a title it contends for chiefly with the German quack doctor Matthias Rath’s website (link withheld on moral grounds, eu-referendum.org if you’re interested). Herr Rath combines campaigning against the EU with advocating herbs as a treatment for HIV/AIDS, something which would be merely ridiculous in Europe but which has achieved a deadly degree of influence in Southern Africa.

PS: The much-delayed Ranter Redesign, Project R, will happen, I promise. It will include a disclosure and policy statement.

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Slight Return

The “Matador of Tumbledown” post from last weekend got quite a bit of attention, which is all good, and at least none of it came from bemedalled veteran Jocks claiming I’d misrepresented them completely and in fact it was a barrel of laughs. I’m just going to do a small return to it, and apply a little economics to the problem. Economic theory argues that for any given technology and business model, there is an optimal combination of labour and capital where productivity is maximised. The marginal productivity of capital curve, like its labour twin, displays first increasing and then diminishing returns to scale – once all the workers have shovels, adding more shovels will not dig a hole any quicker. At some point the two curves cross, and changing either of the two variables will only make things worse.

What is the point of all this? Recall the US soldiers who turned up at the petrol station brawl with a 155mm howitzer. Basically, the US Army and Marines in Iraq have a seriously non-optimal combination of capital and labour. The high technology, high intensity force built since the “big five” weapons projects of the late 1970s to smash back the Red Army’s operational-manoeuvre groups from the Fulda Gap, and then repurposed as a world-wide intervention force, was conceived at least in part as a labour-saving exercise. NATO could never match the Red Army in numbers, especially after the end of US and British conscription, so it instead substituted capital for labour, and more intensive capital (attack helicopters, guided anti-tank weapons, complex ISTAR projects) for less intensive capital (more tanks), as well as human capital (investing in the training of professional soldiers) for numbers (conscripts).

The problem is that, in a world of messy small wars where almost all military activity has a political nature (peacekeeping, counter-insurgency, policing, special operations), not very much of this is useful, and the logistical requirements of the whizzies are a serious draw on the available labour. The AH-64 attack helicopter, as I blogged ages ago, needed the equivalent of one C-17 a day per aircraft during the invasion of Iraq. (Here – Helicopters are the new horses) The other problem is that although it’s comparatively easy to move down the intensity scale, it’s very hard to rebuild that capability – so we’re committed to keeping on all the fancy stuff.

The British experience is salutary. Not that there is a radical difference in army structure, but the Northern Irish war meant that most of the army, not just the infantry, had to do duty in an infantry/military police role there – which means the option is open to rerole armour, artillery, signals and such as street patrollers once the high-tech battle is over. (However, it is worth noting that the UK order of battle in Iraq contains much less armour, aviation and artillery than the US divisions up north.) This isn’t a real solution, though, as it’s not enough to get the infantry overstretch down to tolerable levels. I suspect we’re all going to be hunting back and forth along those marginal productivity curves for a while longer. After all, UN peacekeeping ops were taught several extremely bloody lessons about the danger of turning up with insufficient capital, in Rwanda (granted, the problem was more one of authority to act, but a few large and menacing tanks would have been deterrent) and Bosnia.

Is it time to think of how large formations might be re-organised for messy conflict? Granted there’s no way of finding space for permanent “security” or “peacekeeping” brigades in the British Army at its current size, but it might be worth looking at how forces are composed for specific operations.

Information received from the boys at the Army Rumour Service suggests that we have an answer to exactly when Tony Blair found time to visit the wounded returned from Iraq. Apparently, he has done, once. That was in March, 2004, in Birmingham. He’s not been back. Neither did he call on the joint services rehabilitation unit that looks after war amputees. Culture of respect, Tony, culture of respect…

Speaking of ARRSE, they’ve been the first victim of the “Show Me The Way to Amarillo” spoof video from Iraq. Posted to the forum gallery, it attracted a mob of downloaders who spread their CPG-Nuke server all over the Midlands, this after staff officers passing it on as an email killed the Defence Information Infrastructure for five hours. (52MBs attachment…ouch.)

First, before doing anything else, go and read this Patrick Cockburn report for the Indy on Iraq. It’s the stuff all right – you may especially enjoy the account of the Americans who turned up to deal with a fight in a petrol queue, equipped with a 155mm self-propelled howitzer. Never bring a knife to a gun fight, they say, but it’s worth remembering that waving guns around near a knife fight isn’t too wise either, especially if you know you can’t shoot them.

A “Shorter” for that article, I think, could almost be “what TYR said” – about the failure of the coalition to get population security, the crisis on the roads, the Freikorps temptation, and much more Iraq stuff I’ve blogged here. But enough of the twaddle. What’s with the bizarre headline?

The US Marines recently ended an operation, Operation MATADOR, up near the Syrian border. Naturally the official line was that it was a roaring success. Caches of weapons found (125 AKs, not many in a country where everyone has one), 125 “anti-Iraqi forces” killed, blah blah blah. Not that you’d think so from reports by those much-maligned embedded reporters. Ellen Knickmeyer of the Washington Post did the trip, and reported back on the unit she was with having to break up a platoon after it took two-thirds casualties, the enemy firing 12.7 and 14.5mm machine guns up through the concrete floors of houses where they set up in the crawl space above the foundations and waited for death. Nine Marines were killed and some 40 wounded.

This was in an operation given out as involving 1,000 men. From that, I deduce, we are looking at one Marine Expeditionary Unit, that is to say a battalion of Marines plus a company of tanks, a few engineer, medic, supply, gunner and FAC elements. Compare, if you will, the battle of Mount Tumbledown in the Falklands. In that action, a battalion of Scots Guards lost nine men and 43 wounded, too, in storming the hilltop held by the Argentine 5th Marines’ N Company. At Tumbledown, there were fewer British soldiers – a battalion of 600-700 men compared to 1,000+ in an MEU – and no armour or air support. And no-one who took part would ever suggest it was anything less than tough, especially not (say) the UK’s last senior officer in Iraq, Lt-Gen. John Kiszely, who as a major led a bayonet charge up Tumbledown and won the Military Cross.

My point? Things are not getting better in Iraq. With M1A1 tanks, Bradleys, LAV25s, constant attack aviation and F/A18s overhead, the US Marines’ sweep in comparable strength through Qaim was as bad as Tumbledown, a battle that induced the Scots Guards’ piper to write a new lament. Imagine, if you will, backing into that rathole under the concrete floor with the machine gun, a Soviet copy of the Browning .50 that will shoot through anywhere you happen to be reading this unless you’re in a concrete bunker or a tank. Listening for steps above, and pulling the trigger into a whole world of noise like hammering your own head in that confined space and stone chips and dust and smoke. Then doing it again, and knowing that in the end, they’d either realise where those bullets were coming from and drop a grenade down one of the new holes in the floor, or call in the jets, or bring up a Caterpillar D9 bulldozer and crush the building down on you. And remaining serene and calm.

Now imagine walking into that building just as the floor erupts. This is not winning. So, what is happening? Some fool at the New York Times wrote this week that the insurgency was a “mystery”, in that the enemy were killing too many civilians and this didn’t fit somebody’s preconceived plan. There is no mystery. Their first aim is to maintain a high level of generalised violence and prevent stability emerging. Their next aim is to make the occupation intolerable to the occupier. Once we go, there will be plenty of time to work anything else out.

People often don’t realise that Iraq is urban. A mass of urbanisation spreads out from Baghdad down to the shrine cities and up towards Tikrit in the north, and west along the road to Fallujah and the Jordanian border. Although the plurality is Shia, the bulk of this urban core is Sunni, and this is crucial to know. That fraction of the insurgency aims, once having got rid of the Americans, to dominate this area, to seize power, and then, only then, to look elsewhere. Controlling this area gives them command of what there is of the state, the former defence establishment, and their own people, as well as the symbols of Iraqi nationalism. It also gives them key infrastructure and the trade route out to Jordan. All they need then is a share of the oil. South of Baghdad, they will find it harder to make progress, as they will be running up the demographic hillside and into both the Badr Corps and Sadrist heartlands. The Sunni insurgents are probably more militarily capable, but don’t have the numbers. Somewhere along the demographic transition line, the front will halt.

And then, I fear, comes the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad. It will be the obvious next step, and anyway many will flee and save them the trouble. That leaves out the Kurdish issue. In the first instance, the Kurds will be the only party who can deter a Battle of Baghdad. But they would be amenable to compromise, so long as they can arm like hell in the meantime. In fact, all sides will do that – the Kurds and Sunnis from the world market, the Shia from Iranian help. Kurdish/Sunni differences are fierce, but they are the soluble kind – they involve compromisable wealth, and hatred. The Sunni/Shia conflict is less soluble because the two parties have a survival problem, facing each other within Baghdad itself.

That brings us to a state of virtual civil war, if you like: three unstable stateoids, at least two still contesting the claim to be the real Iraqi government, buying all the guns they can and cherishing their vendettas. Any factor could start the second war, that is, if the first even stopped.

For extra points: the UN Drug Control Program says Iraq has become a major transit point for Afghan heroin. What connection does this have with Antonov 26A ER-AFH, “July Morning”?

EDIT: “July Morning” is ER-AFH and a -26A. My whoops.

First, before doing anything else, go and read this Patrick Cockburn report for the Indy on Iraq. It’s the stuff all right – you may especially enjoy the account of the Americans who turned up to deal with a fight in a petrol queue, equipped with a 155mm self-propelled howitzer. Never bring a knife to a gun fight, they say, but it’s worth remembering that waving guns around near a knife fight isn’t too wise either, especially if you know you can’t shoot them.

A “Shorter” for that article, I think, could almost be “what TYR said” – about the failure of the coalition to get population security, the crisis on the roads, the Freikorps temptation, and much more Iraq stuff I’ve blogged here. But enough of the twaddle. What’s with the bizarre headline?

The US Marines recently ended an operation, Operation MATADOR, up near the Syrian border. Naturally the official line was that it was a roaring success. Caches of weapons found (125 AKs, not many in a country where everyone has one), 125 “anti-Iraqi forces” killed, blah blah blah. Not that you’d think so from reports by those much-maligned embedded reporters. Ellen Knickmeyer of the Washington Post did the trip, and reported back on the unit she was with having to break up a platoon after it took two-thirds casualties, the enemy firing 12.7 and 14.5mm machine guns up through the concrete floors of houses where they set up in the crawl space above the foundations and waited for death. Nine Marines were killed and some 40 wounded.

This was in an operation given out as involving 1,000 men. From that, I deduce, we are looking at one Marine Expeditionary Unit, that is to say a battalion of Marines plus a company of tanks, a few engineer, medic, supply, gunner and FAC elements. Compare, if you will, the battle of Mount Tumbledown in the Falklands. In that action, a battalion of Scots Guards lost nine men and 43 wounded, too, in storming the hilltop held by the Argentine 5th Marines’ N Company. At Tumbledown, there were fewer British soldiers – a battalion of 600-700 men compared to 1,000+ in an MEU – and no armour or air support. And no-one who took part would ever suggest it was anything less than tough, especially not (say) the UK’s last senior officer in Iraq, Lt-Gen. John Kiszely, who as a major led a bayonet charge up Tumbledown and won the Military Cross.

My point? Things are not getting better in Iraq. With M1A1 tanks, Bradleys, LAV25s, constant attack aviation and F/A18s overhead, the US Marines’ sweep in comparable strength through Qaim was as bad as Tumbledown, a battle that induced the Scots Guards’ piper to write a new lament. Imagine, if you will, backing into that rathole under the concrete floor with the machine gun, a Soviet copy of the Browning .50 that will shoot through anywhere you happen to be reading this unless you’re in a concrete bunker or a tank. Listening for steps above, and pulling the trigger into a whole world of noise like hammering your own head in that confined space and stone chips and dust and smoke. Then doing it again, and knowing that in the end, they’d either realise where those bullets were coming from and drop a grenade down one of the new holes in the floor, or call in the jets, or bring up a Caterpillar D9 bulldozer and crush the building down on you. And remaining serene and calm.

Now imagine walking into that building just as the floor erupts. This is not winning. So, what is happening? Some fool at the New York Times wrote this week that the insurgency was a “mystery”, in that the enemy were killing too many civilians and this didn’t fit somebody’s preconceived plan. There is no mystery. Their first aim is to maintain a high level of generalised violence and prevent stability emerging. Their next aim is to make the occupation intolerable to the occupier. Once we go, there will be plenty of time to work anything else out.

People often don’t realise that Iraq is urban. A mass of urbanisation spreads out from Baghdad down to the shrine cities and up towards Tikrit in the north, and west along the road to Fallujah and the Jordanian border. Although the plurality is Shia, the bulk of this urban core is Sunni, and this is crucial to know. That fraction of the insurgency aims, once having got rid of the Americans, to dominate this area, to seize power, and then, only then, to look elsewhere. Controlling this area gives them command of what there is of the state, the former defence establishment, and their own people, as well as the symbols of Iraqi nationalism. It also gives them key infrastructure and the trade route out to Jordan. All they need then is a share of the oil. South of Baghdad, they will find it harder to make progress, as they will be running up the demographic hillside and into both the Badr Corps and Sadrist heartlands. The Sunni insurgents are probably more militarily capable, but don’t have the numbers. Somewhere along the demographic transition line, the front will halt.

And then, I fear, comes the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad. It will be the obvious next step, and anyway many will flee and save them the trouble. That leaves out the Kurdish issue. In the first instance, the Kurds will be the only party who can deter a Battle of Baghdad. But they would be amenable to compromise, so long as they can arm like hell in the meantime. In fact, all sides will do that – the Kurds and Sunnis from the world market, the Shia from Iranian help. Kurdish/Sunni differences are fierce, but they are the soluble kind – they involve compromisable wealth, and hatred. The Sunni/Shia conflict is less soluble because the two parties have a survival problem, facing each other within Baghdad itself.

That brings us to a state of virtual civil war, if you like: three unstable stateoids, at least two still contesting the claim to be the real Iraqi government, buying all the guns they can and cherishing their vendettas. Any factor could start the second war, that is, if the first even stopped.

For extra points: the UN Drug Control Program says Iraq has become a major transit point for Afghan heroin. What connection does this have with Antonov 26A ER-AFH, “July Morning”?

EDIT: “July Morning” is ER-AFH and a -26A. My whoops.

Tony Blair has frequently been accused of lacking empathy with the families of the dead and wounded in Iraq, not least by Reg Keys. Among other things, like not knowing how many of them there are, he has also been criticised for not visiting the wounded returned to the UK. Now, earlier this week, Blair’s press secretary Tom Kelly wrote to The Guardian denying this. He claimed that Blair had in fact visited wounded servicemen returned from Iraq, but that “he has – he just didn’t announce it to the media because he believes such visits should be private.” (Link)

Curious, this insistence on privacy from the Five-Times-A-Night Man himself. But let that pass. What I’d like to know is when, where and how often these visits occurred. I don’t particularly want any information on who he visited, as this indeed involves the privacy of those visited. Since the closure of the military hospitals after 1996, military patients are by and large treated in wards within the NHS, especially at Selly Oak hospital in Birmingham.

Now, I wouldn’t want Mr. Kelly to accidentally give the impression his chief asked him to lie through his teeth. After all, he’s not that good at spin doctoring: remember when he called Dr. David Kelly “a Walter Mitty figure”? So – can anyone help me to save Tom Kelly? People who are likely to know would include members of the Defence Medical Service, NHS staff at the hospitals concerned, and of course the patients themselves. It’s time to find the missing PM.

Back on Monday, the London Evening Standard ran a long and sensational story by Andrew Gilligan regarding none other than my alter-ego, Viktor Bout, who it seems has been working for the MoD even after many of his companies were blacklisted by the US. Now, I intended to blog about it in a free moment during the week, but when I got around to I discovered that the Standard’s website, http://www.thisislondon.com, contains no trace of the story. Nothing. Nada. Nitchevo. Down the memory hole, it seems.

You may recall that when, a few weeks ago, Duncan Campbell’s report on the “ricin plot” that involved neither ricin nor a plot was scrubbed from The Guardian‘s site because the government invoked a Public Interest Immunity certificate on the names of some people involved, many bloggers including but not limited to Phil Hunt of Cabalamat Journal, Justin of Chicken Yoghurt, and Tim Worstall of, well, Tim Worstall reproduced the text of the article in order to preserve it. I am going to do exactly the same thing, and I would request that fellow-bloggers mirror the text as was done on that occasion. We could call it Operation Mirrorball.

Here goes:

Headline: HOW CAN BRITAIN STILL USE THE MERCHANT OF DEATH? Strapline: Today the UK will promise to curb arms traffickers. But the MoD is hiring planes from a dealer linked to Bin Laden.

By Andrew Gilligan. Evening Standard, Monday, 9th May 2005.

Victor Bout [sic] is the most notorious arms trafficker in the world. Linked to Osama bin Laden by the British government, linked to the Taliban by the US government, he was described by a New Labour minister as a “merchant of death” who must be shut down.

Yet an Evening Standard investigation has found that, just two months ago, a Victor Bout company was hired by that very same British government to operate military flights from a key RAF base.

Bout, a 38-year old Russian, owns or controls a constellation of airlines that have smuggled illegal weapons to conflict zones for the past 15 years. He has been named in countless official investigations and reports – the most recent only last month. The authorities in Belgium, where he used to work, have issued a warrant for his arrest. In 2004, the US froze his assets and put him on a terrorist watch list [not that they stopped him flying to and from Baghdad, TYR].

But between 6 and 9 March this year, according to official Civil Aviation Authority records, two Victor Bout charter flights took off from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. The cargo was armoured vehicles and a few British troops. The client was the Ministry of Defence.

The charters were operated by an airline called Trans Avia. It was named as one of Mr. Bout’s front companies by the Government itself – in a Commons written answer on 2 May 2002. The Government cannot claim ignorance of Bout’s dubious links. The Foreign Office minister Denis MacShane reassured MPs: “The UK has played a leading role in drawing international attention to Bout’s activities, initially in Angola and Liberia and more recently relating to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda”.

A specialist aviation journal reported that the “al Qaeda link” was Bout’s role in supplying bin Laden with a personal aeroplane – in the days before September 11, when he had a little more freedom of movement. Could Trans Avia have gone legit since then? Not according to the United States Treasury Department. Only two weeks ago, on 26 April, the Treasury “designated” Trans Avia as one of 30 companies linked to Bout, “an international arms dealer and war profiteer”. Bout “controls what is reputed to be the largest private fleet of Soviet-era cargo aircraft in the world”, says the Treasury press release. “The arms he has sold or brokered have helped fuel conflicts and support UN-sanctioned regimes in Afghanistan, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Sudan. Notably, information available to the US government shows that Bout profited by $50 million by supplying the Taliban with military equipment when they ruled Afghanistan.”

The story doesn’t end there. Another two flights were made in the same three days of March by an airline called Jet Line International, also from RAF Brize Norton. A further three flights were made at the same time from another base, RAF Lyneham. The destination was Kosovo. The client, once again, was the Ministry of Defence.

Yet Jet Line, too, is a company that has been accused of close connections to Bout. According to the authoritative US newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, it appeared on a list of Bout companies circulated by the State Department to US diplomatic posts around the world.

“There is no doubt at all about the links between Jet Line and Bout,” says Johan Peleman, the researcher who wrote the UN report. “It’s one of his most important assets.” Intelligence agencies say the same thing. Jet Line’s office address in its base at Chisinau, Moldova, is the same as that of Aerocom, a company exposed by the United Nations as involved in sanctions-busting and arms-smuggling to the brutal rebels of Liberia. According to the UN, Aerocom was involved in the illegal smuggling or attempted smuggling of more than 6,000 automatic rifles and machine guns, 4,500 grenades, 350 missile launchers, 7,500 landmines, and millions of rounds of ammunition in breach of a UN arms embargo.

Tracking down the registration numbers of the sanctions-busting aircraft, it turns out that the Jet Line aircraft that flew the MoD flights in March were previously registered to Aerocom. They are in fact the same planes.

Bout’s activities have helped cause quite literally thousands of deaths in many of the worst places in the world. Born in 1967, he served in the Soviet air force and then military intelligence, where he developed a gift for languages. When the USSR broke up, he “acquired” a large fleet of surplus or obsolete aircraft, which he used to deliver arms and ammunition also “acquired” from old Soviet stockpiles. That weaponry fuelled some of the most savage wars in Africa. Charles Taylor’s insurgent guerrillas used Bout weapons to destroy Liberia. In Sierra Leone, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) used Bout weapons to terrorise the country, seize the diamond mines, and chop off their opponents’ hands.

None of our business? Well, the RUF’s Bout-supplied weapons were almost certainly used to attack British troops engaged on the Sierra Leone peacekeeping mission in 2000.

Bout’s planes would arrive at obscure African airstrips, loaded with weapons, then leave heaped with diamonds, coltan – vital for making mobile phones – and other precious minerals in return. “He was apolitical,” said one UN official. “He would fly for anyone that paid.” Bout’s willingness to go places that no-one else would go made him the market leader in the arms-trafficking business. Little wonder, therefore, that the then Foreign Office minister Peter Hain said “The murder and mayhem of Unita in Angola, the RUF in Sierra Leone, and groups in Congo would not have been as terrible without Bout’s operations.” He was truly “a merchant of death”, Hain said [and for a long time I respected Hain for it, too – TYR].

Bout used to operate from Ostend, in Belgium, where a shabby hotel in the city centre acted as his informal marketplace. There was a flight departures screen in the hotel bar, so he could keep track of his planes’ movements. Then he was forced to retreat to Sharjah, in the United Arab Emirates – and after September 11, to Moscow, where he controls his empire through front companies such as Trans Avia. “You are not putting facts. You are putting allegations,” he tells journalists on the rare occasions they manage to get through on his Russian phone number. [Actually, the quote comes from his surprise appearance on Ekho Moskhy radio in 2002 – TYR]

Britain has been embarrassed by dodgy airlines before. Last year, the Department for International Development promised a full investigation after the Standard exposed its use of Aerocom on an aid flight to Africa. The problem is that few reputable carriers want to fly to Kosovo, Iraq, Darfur or some of the places where the government needs transport. And the airline brokers used by Whitehall seem to have learned surprisingly few lessons from past embarrassments.

In a statement, the Ministry of Defence said the fact that its broker “seems to have used an aircraft in Jet Line International livery” was not the same as saying that the MoD itself had contracted Jet Line. But, whatever hairs the MoD may choose to split, the payout – for Mr. Bout – is the same.

Today and tomorrow, at the MoD’s vast procurement headquarters in Bristol, defence officials are holding a special conference with human rights groups and arms trade campaigners. The purpose is to persuade them that the government is serious about cracking down on the scourge of arms trafficking.

One good way to start might, perhaps, be to stop putting British taxpayers’ money into the pockets of the worst arms trafficker in the world.”

Well, what can I say? TransAvia Export, of all firms, too. Perhaps the longest-standing and best-known of Boutcos. And it doesn’t get any better for Andy G, either, does it? The Standard piece referred to in the text is still available on the paper’s (badly designed and slow) site, but this one has been sanitised. Not any more.

Blogroll Time

I’ve been extremely slack on updating the blogroll lately. But today, I’ve added all the recent linkers. Professor Mark Grimley’s War Historian, the Current Outlook, Tim Worstall (our token conservative), Jarndyce’s Pseudo Magazine, Steve Gilliard’s Newsblog, What do I know?, new group blog project The Sharpener, the secret Dubai diarist’s Secret Dubai Diary, Carlos W.’s No Such Blog (batshit rightwing, but very sound on Viktor Bout, Pan-Am nostalgia posts, and Friday tropical fishblogging), have some links. Also note that Susan of Suburban Guerrilla has a new address, and that should be it.

AFP via Le Monde reports on yet more Greek/Turkish sabrerattling and playing with high-performance jets. According to the Greeks, no less than fifty-six Turkish aircraft were involved in some 16 frontier violations (never mind the maths!), including 40 F-16s and 16 F-4 Phantoms, of which 8 aircraft (type not given) were armed. (The original report says 60 aircraft, 40 of one and 16 of the other, but as I said, never mind the maths!)

According to the Greek foreign ministry, relations between the two countries have improved in the last six years!

My editor is off to the Greek islands this week, so I must remind him to look up and take earplugs. But certainly not a camera. Nuh. Can anyone suggest to me a more wasteful and silly carrying on than this nonsense?