Archive for February, 2007

The party of business, again

Anyone remember this post from March last year? The Tories somehow managed to swing a deal on the freehold of their HQ in Smith Square that would have left them paying a yield of 6.42% to the buyer, a £2.2m hit to cashflow. I had originally had the impression that the deal had been suspiciously profitable, but it turned out that the Tories lost on it.

Anyway, since then, there has been some more hot, filthy, frenzied property action down in SW1. And, it turns out, Minitrue has news. Specifically, the property wasn’t bought, but a mysterious British Virgin Islands entity which owned it was. The sale netted precisely the £30m Jonathan Marsland said it would, but this company has been kept in existence despite the sale of its only assets. Funny that.


It’s come to my attention, again, that the fine Samuel Smith’s Brewery of Tadcaster, West Yorkshire produces beer that a nontrivial number of bloggers enjoy and recommend. Smiths is best-known outside Yorkshire and the real ale community for the clutch of pubs it owns in central London, much favoured for their low prices and scruffy ambience. Exhibit A: Brad of Sadly, No! brandishes a Smiths glass. Exhibit B: Alex “WorldChanging” Steffen advocates sustainable lager. Exhibit C: well, me, really. Sam Smiths: top bloggers recommend it.

I recall a fellow student at RHUL, an American, who argued constantly that this-or-that detail of Chinese economic growth meant that democracy in China was imminent and George Bush was right. So thought Thomas Friedman, whose The Lexus and the Olive Tree was at the time a set text on our course (MSc International Relations!). I still haven’t read it.

So also thought Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, who said this:

No middle class is content with more choices of coffees than of candidates on a ballot.

Syntax more never, style atrocious and, tortured I see did. More seriously, what the hell did he mean? Unless I have been tragically misled, the US middle class has a rich choice of coffees and a choice between two political parties.

Even more seriously, there is a solid track-record of rapidly industrialising middle classes swinging over to really deranged politics. See Wilhelmine Germany, Austria in the same period, Japan, and perhaps some more recent cases, like the South Korean military dictatorship.

Because, on top of one of ’em, there’s a great big phased-array radar, pointing right down to Saudi Arabia. Check out this paper by Pavel Podvig of RussianForces, and scroll right to the bottom for the radar coverage map. Alternatively, there’s this page, which is rather out of date. But the key point is that the Russians have a large phased-array radar down in Gabala, Azerbaijan, with enough range to cover the vast majority of Iranian territory, Iraq, the Gulf, and northern Saudi Arabia. The only bit of Iran it can’t see is the hardscrabble desert down on the Pakistani border, a long way from anywhere. On the other hand, everywhere in that part of the world near anywhere is covered.

Fascinating, no?

Meanwhile, is anyone concerned about some details regarding the Trident decision? Consider the White Paper, and specifically the possible cases it gives. Three options are given – one is the obvious one of buying the next US SLBM system, another is the silly one of a homegrown ICBM system, and another suggests the procurement of a force of large airliners and the development of a new very long-range cruise missile.

Neatly, the stated alternatives are all knockout arguments for the favoured option. Option 2, a helpful graphic explains, would require missiles to be placed in every corner of the nation (subtext: will affect house prices in your constituency) in order to match the dispersal provided by a submarine patrol area. It would of course also require inventing a brand-new huge rocket. Option 3 is blatantly silly, indeed dishonest.

The RAF is in the process of buying some new aeroplanes – specifically, the Eurofighter Typhoon’s later variants are intended to be the best strike fighters in the world. They are capable of carrying the Anglo-French Stormshadow cruise missile, with a range of 200 miles. If it was given a nuclear warhead, and all the options assume that AWRE Aldermaston would develop one, that would be enough to attack Moscow with a degree of certainty. But inventing a whole new cruise missile, one with enough range to be launched from a large civilian aircraft, which is what Option 3 assumes – well, that’s going to be absurdly expensive. After all, an airliner-as-bomber would have to launch well away from any possible air defence, unlike a Typhoon or for that matter an F-35.

Note the classic bureaucratic technique. Pre-filtering means that the choice presented to mere democrats is kept down to a choice between the impossible and the expedient. And what is the problem with the cheapest and most independent option? Silence…

Via comments at Our Word, Rob makes this excellent point.

It’s always struck me as a serious tactical mistake for those on the left to argue against laissez-faire on the grounds that it deprives people of economic security, because this hands a powerful rhetoric of liberty to the right, who basically only care about it for rich people. The sensible thing to say is that what redistributive transfers to is redistribute freedom: money is general all-purpose means to doing things, and taking it from one person and giving it to someone else doesn’t of itself create or destroy freedom, but redistribute it…

The point isn’t conceptual – freedom from want is probably a kind of security – but practical or political: rhetorically, saying something is a kind of freedom is pretty powerful. Stripping the libertarian-right of a quasi-monopoly of a discourse of freedom would be, I think, a generally good thing.

I’ve never understood a particular point of conservative discourse, which is that a) it’s good that people should take risks, start new businesses, invent things etc and b) this can best be achieved by worsening the consequences of failure. I entirely agree with the first half of the point, but it’s the second I don’t get. If you work in the kind of organisation where you get told “It’s not your job to use your initiative!”, you’re not unionised, and the consequences of being fired are maximally dreadful, you’re unlikely to have any good ideas.

I think this point is getting increasingly important. I don’t believe any more, if I ever did, that nationalising a lot of stuff is going to help anything – it’s not the differences, but the similarities, between big hierarchical organisations in the private and public sectors that are impressive. And frankly, I don’t expect much from Blairism-and-water politics. Says Chris Dillow:

why, if a centrally planned economy is a stinking idea, should a centrally planned company be a good one?

Wrong Way – Go Back

Failed states and warzones, like Iraq, create a plume of violence downwind of them, like burning oilwells. Iraqslogger:

Sulaimaniyah, Feb 17, (VOI)- Iraq’s Kurdistan region border guards arrested on Saturday two persons while trying to smuggle arms to Iran, an official at Sulaimaniyah border guards department said. “The border guards arrested today two persons trying to illegally cross the Iraqi borders to Iran and confiscated 115 pistols found hidden in their car,” Brigadier Ahmed Gharib told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI). He added “the arrested smugglers were handed over to Sulaimaniyah security department.” Sualimaniyah border guards man checkpoints along the borderline with Iran.

Maybe they know where the WMDs are?

Posted without comment

BBC News:

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has said the operation to hand over frontline security in Basra to Iraqi troops had been “completed” and been “successful”.

Asked about reports he would announce within weeks an effective halving of UK troop numbers in Iraq, he told the BBC’s Sunday AM: “Let’s wait and see.”

He said Iraqi forces were in “control of frontline security in the city”…


“The issue is the operation that we have been conducting in Basra is now complete and that operation has specifically been to put the Iraqi forces in the main frontline control of security within the city.

“It’s actually been successful as an operation and as a result of that there’s reconstruction that’s come in behind it and we’ve been able to make real progress.”

Reuters DeathWatch:

BASRA, Iraq, Feb 18 (Reuters) – British forces clashed with gunmen armed with machineguns and rocket-propelled grenades in a Shi’ite militia stronghold of the southern Iraqi city of Basra on Sunday, killing at least three, Iraqi police said.

The British military confirmed the clashes, saying its soldiers had been supporting Iraqi troops on a “strike operation” in the northern slum area of Hayaniya when they came under attack.

“There were numerous attacks with small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades,” said British military spokesman Major David Gell.

“We returned fire using proportional force. A number of gunmen are reported to have been shot, but we have no confirmation of casualties.”


A man alone ain’t..

Simulated Laughter reads an al-Qa’ida document and asks if the terrorist disorganisation is moving to a new phase of “lone wolf” individualised terrorism. They argue that this would be a very bad thing. I disagree. I suspect the core of the disagreement is probably a cognitive framework issue.

Laughter argues that the worst acts of terrorism, short of the obvious, in the US have been the work of such “lone gunmen”, for example the Oklahoma City bombing, and works from there to conclude that Al-Qa’ida lone gunmen would be even worse. Thinking in terms of the IRA and the history of guerrilla warfare, I reckon that these acts are very rarely effective in terms of the terrorist’s aims. More broadly, it’s arguable that the “propaganda of the deed” has never been an effective strategy – compare the history of the 20th century and the gap between the effectiveness of anarchist individual terror and Marxist (or anarcho-syndicalist) organising.

After all, if your beef is with State power, it makes no sense to give the state more opportunities to implement repression. Repression is something the state has a significant comparative advantage in producing. It loves the stuff. And, historically, theories of “backlash” and such are usually either wishful thinking, or an effort to torment the working class into revolution.

On substantives, I suspect the effectiveness of such “lone wolves” in producing terrorism would be quite a lot less than the existing network model. In fact, I think I’m going to pick up the ball in terms of IT analogies applied to terrorism, and boot it further down the road. Successful 4GW organisations/disorganisations display not just scale-free networking, but service-oriented architecture. In organising an attack, the highly-connected nodes in the network draw on services provided by others on an ad-hoc basis. For example, someone may have access to secure money transfers, Linux clue, explosives, contacts, without necessarily being very connected to the terrorists. The organisational model sees the highly-connected nonleaders, if that is a word (and it should be), grab bits and pieces from participants (witting or otherwise) in adjacent networks and combine them into an act of war.

What would make this model more dangerous, and partly fulfil SL’s conclusions, would be if the proportion of these services that have to be sourced within the worldwide jihadi movement was to fall.

Remember this post?

It looks to me like they cut back their activities over Christmas, whilst it was on the table. But now, with this explicitly rejected, and the talk of “the 80 per cent solution” and such..well, all that keeps it from being a betrayal is that there was no explicit offer, at least not that we know of. More likely, the message communicated is that the Americans need a punch in the mouth before they will talk sense. Worse, the obvious counter-strategy to a “tilt to the Shia” is to provoke the Sadrists, thus cutting the 60 per cent of Shia in half.

Like Spinal Tap, their amps go up to 11. And their DShKa machine guns go up to 8,000 feet.

Well, well, well. NYT:

Seized near Baghdad, the documents reflect the insurgents’ military preparations from late last year, including plans for attacking aircraft using a variety of weapons.

Officials say they are a fresh indication that the United States is facing an array of “adaptive” adversaries in Iraq, enemies who are likely to step up their attacks as American forces expand their efforts to secure Baghdad, the Iraqi capital.

“Attacks on coalition aircraft probably will increase if helicopter missions expand during the latest phase of the Baghdad Security Plan or if insurgents seek to emulate their recent successes,” notes the intelligence report, which analyzes the recent helicopter crashes.

The American military has said that seven helicopters have been downed since Jan. 20, a figure that exceeds the total number of coalition aircraft shot down in 2006.


The intelligence report supports the concerns expressed by an American general this month that militants were adapting their tactics in an effort to step up attacks against helicopters. Such strikes have increased since the United States expanded its military operations in Baghdad in August. From December to January, the number of antiaircraft attacks rose by 17 percent, according to an American military report.

Insurgents in Iraq have boasted about the helicopter downings and posted video of some of the wreckage on militant Web sites. While Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia has claimed it has “new ways” to shoot down the aircraft, some American analysts believe they are probably not employing new types of weapons but rather are making more effective use of arms already in their inventory.

Insert blogger triumphalism here.

This is now getting silly. Admiral Fallon, the head of CENTCOM, is saying that he has no idea who might be smuggling weapons into Iraq. General Pace of the JCS says he hasn’t seen any evidence that the Iranian government is involved or even merely complicit. One wonders who the people at the “anonymous briefing” in Baghdad actually were. I’m beginning to feel more optimistic that we may have caught this meme before it left the ramp. (hat tip: DefenseTech, who also added to it by picking up on my EFP post.)

Apparently, the briefing in Baghdad was repeatedly called off as the content was redrafted, and the final result was hardly convincing. Now, we see that a further claim, that Steyr-Mannlicher sniper’s rifles sold to Iran were turning up in Iraq, is struggling. We’re that serious about it, we haven’t even bothered to ask Steyr AG to look up the serial numbers. And, anyway, the rifle is now, ahem, open source hardware..

“Our weapons are copied around the world. It’s just like with pharmaceuticals, there are lots of imitations,” he added. [snip] Holzschuh however pointed out that the license for its HS50 rifles had “expired a long time ago,” making them easy to copy.

I mean, please…