Archive for April, 2007

This tale of Google Earth being used to monitor violence in Darfur, as well as this, raises an interesting point. In his memoirs, Richard Holbrooke tells of how the Bosnian War parties were hugely impressed by the mapping software running on computers the US State Department brought to the conference – they could pull up any view of each and every border proposal!

Later, the Israelis brought a staff of cartographers to each of the meetings after Wye River to study the exact details. This is something that will never happen again – now the best two mapping visualisation applications, Google Erf and NASA World Wind, are free to anyone with a laptop. And both are capable of displaying almost any form of information over the globe.

It’s like the surrealist mission, to place the logic of the visible at the service of the invisible.

So what did happen with the Ronald Reagan after all? Well, she just called in Pearl Harbour on her way back to the Coast. War Iran a with be will not there. New readers arriving from Making Light/Electrolite are advised to use the “Iran” tag and this AFOE post with real war plans an stuff!

Someone decides to rake through the Elf-Aquitaine embers, with the result that 42 persons are sent for by the judge. Including a whole slew of politicians – carrier-grade rightwing thug Charles Pasqua, crooked prefect for the Var Jean-Charles Marchiani, professional president’s son Jean-Christophe “Papa M’a Dit” Mitterand, and slightly surprisingly, Mitterand’s right hand man and pet intellectual Jacques Attali. Better known in the anglosphere as the first head of the EBRD whose specifications for its headquarters in Liverpool Street, London verged on the pharaonic, Attali remains a man respected by the Left in France, if nothing else for his books.

The warrants for Pierre Falcone and Arkadi Gaydamak (yes, that’s the one whose son owns Portsmouth FC) have been reiterated, if that’s the right word. Presumably the move is motivated by the fact that, in the middle of an election, no-one is likely to risk interfering with the case.

Weirdly, though, the French press isn’t covering this at all. AFP and Reuters both carried the story, but Le Monde granted it only a nib, while Libé didn’t so much as touch it.

Note: I’ll be unavailable for the next two days, but I will try to check the comments.

OK. Remember a few months ago, the Sundays were briefed about one of Tony’s eye-catching initiatives – to launch a magnetic levitation high-speed rail link from London up to Scotland?

Well, if it ever had any substance, it’s now a dead parrot. And so are all maglev projects, which should bring a hearty cheer from everyone who cares about good technology. Wanna know why? Get your looking gear round this Eurotrib thread. Not only did the new TGV rip through its own record by cranking up to 356 mph, it got within 6 mph of the record for a maglev vehicle. That’s seriously fast for something running across the lumps and bumps. That’s as fast as an early-model Spitfire.

And it kills off the only real argument for maglev – speed. So why do I hate maglev?

It’s a classic case of bad technology, for the same reasons the NHS NPfIT is, and for the same reasons Tony Blair fell for it. John Waclawsky said that there are two kinds of technology, the kind that provides a direct benefit to the end user, and the kind that’s designed by people who think they can see the future. These, he said, are also known as success and failure.

The only way you can start doing maglev is to take a Big Tough Decision to spend kajillions and tear up the whole rail infrastructure. Anything short of that is still going to cost a fortune, but won’t make a profit or give any realistic feedback on whether or not to go ahead. Further, you can’t get any benefit from doing some of it – it has to be all or nothing, because it doesn’t integrate at all with the existing system.

For example, if you put in an upgraded, LGV-standard line from London to Doncaster, even without building it any further, you’ve already hugely increased the speed of the service, and freed up the old main line for freight. And if that worked, you can just keep building. But if you start a maglev project – you’ve got to go all the way before you get any benefit whatsoever, you can’t run services on from the end of the line over conventional tracks or the other way round, and you can only upgrade by pouring another zillion tonnes of concrete.

Given that it involves a completely new alignment, you will probably also need to terminate it out of town (airports were suggested for the ECI mentioned above), which means you’ve got to deal with hordes of passengers getting from where they live or work to the terminal. Do something sensible, and you can run the trains right into London.

But the good news is that it’s New, it’s Expensive, and it’s Centralised. Like second-generation nuclear power and monster government databases. And there is something about this stuff that managerialists can’t resist – it takes a lot of managing, after all.

Thinking about it, I’m struck by an analogy with the creationist quackery of “irreducible complexity”. You can’t have a little nuclear industry, or a modular national identity register, or a progressive roll-out of maglev. They have to spring into being, complete in themselves, fresh from the Designer’s drawing board.

But it doesn’t happen like that. If it can’t evolve, it’s probably useless. Think process.

In a wonderfully-titled article, (“Former Miss Bolivia on Drugs Charges, Second Beauty Queen in Trouble”), the Associated Press reports that Sonia Falcone, cosmetics enterpreneur, Bush-Cheney’00 donor, and wife of Elf-Aquitaine/Arms to Africa fugitive Pierre Falcone, copped a plea to charges of illegally employing some immigrants (they were legal immigrants, but not allowed to work, so in British terminology it was a case of facilitation and working-in-breach).

She is going to have to leave the US as a result. It’ll be fascinating to see where she and Pierre head for, although his Angolan diplomatic passport means he will have little trouble travelling.

Meanwhile, Richard Chichakli gave an interview I hadn’t spotted. It’s the usual stuff – a string of notable non-denials. Interestingly, his lawyer claims that the evidence against him is “secret”, although (as so often with Chichakli defenders) he admits he hasn’t read the brief. The evidence of Chichakli’s association with Liberia and Sergei Bout, for his information, rests on the bank transfers from the Liberian shipping register to San Air General Trading’s account at Standard Chartered Bank that Alex Vines of Global Witness produced at the House Armed Services Committee.

OK. Remember a few months ago, the Sundays were briefed about one of Tony’s eye-catching initiatives – to launch a magnetic levitation high-speed rail link from London up to Scotland?

Well, if it ever had any substance, it’s now a dead parrot. And so are all maglev projects, which should bring a hearty cheer from everyone who cares about good technology. Wanna know why? Get your looking gear round this Eurotrib thread. Not only did the new TGV rip through its own record by cranking up to 356 mph, it got within 6 mph of the record for a maglev vehicle. That’s seriously fast for something running across the lumps and bumps. That’s as fast as an early-model Spitfire.

And it kills off the only real argument for maglev – speed. So why do I hate maglev?

It’s a classic case of bad technology, for the same reasons the NHS NPfIT is, and for the same reasons Tony Blair fell for it. John Waclawsky said that there are two kinds of technology, the kind that provides a direct benefit to the end user, and the kind that’s designed by people who think they can see the future. These, he said, are also known as success and failure.

The only way you can start doing maglev is to take a Big Tough Decision to spend kajillions and tear up the whole rail infrastructure. Anything short of that is still going to cost a fortune, but won’t make a profit or give any realistic feedback on whether or not to go ahead. Further, you can’t get any benefit from doing some of it – it has to be all or nothing, because it doesn’t integrate at all with the existing system.

For example, if you put in an upgraded, LGV-standard line from London to Doncaster, even without building it any further, you’ve already hugely increased the speed of the service, and freed up the old main line for freight. And if that worked, you can just keep building. But if you start a maglev project – you’ve got to go all the way before you get any benefit whatsoever, you can’t run services on from the end of the line over conventional tracks or the other way round, and you can only upgrade by pouring another zillion tonnes of concrete.

Given that it involves a completely new alignment, you will probably also need to terminate it out of town (airports were suggested for the ECI mentioned above), which means you’ve got to deal with hordes of passengers getting from where they live or work to the terminal. Do something sensible, and you can run the trains right into London.

But the good news is that it’s New, it’s Expensive, and it’s Centralised. Like second-generation nuclear power and monster government databases. And there is something about this stuff that managerialists can’t resist – it takes a lot of managing, after all.

Thinking about it, I’m struck by an analogy with the creationist quackery of “irreducible complexity”. You can’t have a little nuclear industry, or a modular national identity register, or a progressive roll-out of maglev. They have to spring into being, complete in themselves, fresh from the Designer’s drawing board.

But it doesn’t happen like that. If it can’t evolve, it’s probably useless. Think process.

In a wonderfully-titled article, (“Former Miss Bolivia on Drugs Charges, Second Beauty Queen in Trouble”), the Associated Press reports that Sonia Falcone, cosmetics enterpreneur, Bush-Cheney’00 donor, and wife of Elf-Aquitaine/Arms to Africa fugitive Pierre Falcone, copped a plea to charges of illegally employing some immigrants (they were legal immigrants, but not allowed to work, so in British terminology it was a case of facilitation and working-in-breach).

She is going to have to leave the US as a result. It’ll be fascinating to see where she and Pierre head for, although his Angolan diplomatic passport means he will have little trouble travelling.

Meanwhile, Richard Chichakli gave an interview I hadn’t spotted. It’s the usual stuff – a string of notable non-denials. Interestingly, his lawyer claims that the evidence against him is “secret”, although (as so often with Chichakli defenders) he admits he hasn’t read the brief. The evidence of Chichakli’s association with Liberia and Sergei Bout, for his information, rests on the bank transfers from the Liberian shipping register to San Air General Trading’s account at Standard Chartered Bank that Alex Vines of Global Witness produced at the House Armed Services Committee.

It’s quite well-known that I don’t think very much of Niall Ferguson’s intellectual credibility. But this is special, in the sense of “I’m not different…I’m special.”

I’m not going to take issue with his bizarre contention that saying sorry for the slave trade is why the Iranians grabbed the boarding party from Cornwall. I am, however, going to take issue with essentially all his practical statements.

This is indeed what comes of being too nice. A month before expressing his “deep sorrow and regret for our nation’s role in the slave trade,” the prime minister had announced his intention to reduce British troop levels in Iraq by 1,600 within a matter of months. “The next chapter in Basra’s history,” he declared, “can be written by Iraqis.” Unfortunately, it looks more likely to be written by Iranians. And somehow I don’t think they’ll be saying sorry afterward.

Well, why would they? A crushingly large majority of Basraites voted for parties that are either openly Iranian-influenced, or we say they are Iranian-influenced. More importantly, though, how would the 1,600 soldiers – not one of whom has actually been withdrawn – have dissuaded them from doing this? Concretely, practically, they could do precisely nothing to prevent an incident at sea. And how could they retaliate – by invading, all by themselves?

Apparently that is the Ferguson prescription.

In those days there was little hope of rescue. Britain’s armed forces were far too thinly stretched over its rapidly expanding empire for Rambo-style missions to liberate scattered slaves and POWs. The most the Barbary slaves could hope for was to be ransomed, to which end collections were regularly made in British churches.

It is in this light that we need to understand James Thomson’s immortal lines: “Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves: Britons never shall be slaves.” When first set to music in 1740, this was a forward-looking injunction to Britain’s rulers to go ahead and rule the waves, precisely so that Britons would no longer run the risk of being enslaved.

And now, thank God, who can say our armed forces are thinly stretched? Let’s plug in some facts. Through the imperial glory of the 19th century, we never had a huge army. Historically speaking, it’s usually been about the size it is now. What we did have was a big navy, but navies don’t work well in the Dasht e-Kavir desert.

Also, even small European armies of the mid-19th century had serious firepower and tactical advantages. These were already on the way out by the 1860s-70s, as Pathans and Maoris and Boers started to get hold of modern rifles. This no longer exists. To keep his shtick on the road, Fergie has to ignore about 150 years of military history.

However, when required, this can always be done by the third-rate mind without injury to the integrity of past statements.

Yet today we live in a different world.

Really? It’s not 1840 any more? How do your answers above change?

Britain could not refight the Falklands War if Argentina invaded the islands tomorrow. Nor could a British strike force be sent to punish the Iranian government today. If military action is going to be taken against Iran this year, it will be initiated by the United States, not the United Kingdom. And, to judge by Faye Turney’s conspicuous absence from the front pages of U.S. papers, a British hostage crisis won’t be the casus belli.

Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. Britain certainly could refight the Falklands if Argentina invaded tomorrow. We spent a good deal of money building an airbase on them, so that the Army’s spearhead battalion group and an RAF strike squadron can get there in a day. There is a company group and a fighter flight, as well as artillery and helicopters, down there right now. We’ve also built quite a few amphibious warfare ships since last time, ‘tho the loss of the FA2 Harriers is a probby. Wrong on facts.

Anyway, and why the UK armed forces are in a state, it’s the damn-fool adventure in Iraq that Niall Ferguson was so keen on.

Further, “punish” the Iranian government? The United States wasn’t able to “punish” its hostages out of Iran in 1979. Has he not looked at a map? It’s a big place full of people! Keeping hostages is easy, which is why hostage-takers do it. You don’t need infrastructure to do it. You don’t need anything but knives. If he has an infallible knife-denial plan, let’s see it.

Niall Ferguson has no intellectual credibility whatsoever, but this does not seem to harm his career in the States. Ah, the States..what is it with some people? Another of my regular butts, Martin Kettle of the Guardian, this weekend announced that

“the building of the 21st century Americas – and above all the building of the modern United States itself, a society that after much struggle was eventually a pioneer of law, democracy, and freedom, has proved to be the single greatest collective human achievement of the past four centuries.”

Jesus wept. Sewerage, anyone?

If that’s true – and if it is not, I would really and truly like to know what collective human achievement is greater – then in some refracted way it is also a distinctively European, and in a significant way, English achievement too.

Right. America is so fantastic and…in a significant way…I can be patriotic about it too! I have a little theory about these people. If you’re a professional Mucho Pomposo in Britain at the moment, you probably grew up in the peachy postwar, give or take a few years – between the end of rationing and the Pistols’ first LP, to bastardise a cliché.

Patriotism was Dad, the Army, and Churchill. New meant American. Europe (or anywhere else) was a row involving Dad and Ted Heath, and a mixture of fox-tormenting knights and Paki-bashing ‘ead kickers. Hence the Kettles and Fergusons, one subtype projecting John F. Kennedy on to the US, the other, Churchill in Congress.

As far as I can tell, the generations after this are less fascinated. Repeat after me: they’re not the Messiah, there just are a lot of them.

Update: The Sea Harrier was withdrawn after a decision in 2002, as Dan points out, so it’s the epic incompetence of Geoff Hoon to blame for that one, rather than Iraq.

OK, so we solved the last problem. But now I’ve got another. We’ve just created a window with a Tkinter frame within, and announced that a listbox will be there. Then, we have the following statement:

self.selector = Listbox(frame)
..Listbox.pack(side=TOP)
...for item in ["lots","of","data","in","here","that","takes","up","four","lines"]:
....Listbox.insert(Tk.END,item)

Dots inserted to get the indenting right. Tk.END causes the interpreter to fart a syntax error and then another for every subsequent line. Every imaginable variation (with and without Tk or TK or tk, End, END, end, you get the picture) does this, or else shunts the problem into the data.

Do I have do something weird to make the snake treat the list, which makes up four lines, as a list?

OK, the Enetation comments are getting too bad to use. There’s no spam protection, and no central moderation page, so it’s not practical to remove comments spam from each of 1,473 threads one by one. By clicking on the permalink at the bottom of each post, you can use the Blogger comments thread, which is subject to moderation.

In preparation for a possible move, I’m going to archive the Enetation comments, clean up the file, and look at either dumping them into Blogger or keeping them until a new TYR is developed.