Archive for May, 2007

In case you’re wondering what the fuss is about, the Daily Hell is trying to get Owen Barder fired from the DFID for saying rude things about George Bush and Margaret Thatcher and nice things about Neil Kinnock. Rather, they’re trying to get him fired for quoting rude things about George Bush, not erasing a comment by his dad that said rude things about Margaret Thatcher, and saying nice things about Neil Kinnock on his “sexually explicit website blog”. So at least they managed to attribute one out of three charges correctly.

Other outrageous remarks, according to Paul Dacre, include criticism of “extraordinary rendition”. Let’s be clear – the Daily Mail believes that public servants who disagree with arrest and deportation without trial to torture states should be sacked.

Meanwhile, a thing called “UK Daily Pundit” weighed in to gloat about this. Which should come as no surprise, I suppose, because the next story over there describes “the Guardian‘s readership” as “traitorous” and “anti-British”, categorising same under “enemies of the state”. He has since attempted to deal with criticism by claiming that Martin Niemöller “was a Nazi”, so I’m expecting the van with soft walls to turn up for him at any moment.

Update: I left this comment at the Hell’s website.

Is it Mail policy that expressing disgust at “extraordinary renditions” – a practice which contravenes English law back to 1215 – should be ground s to dismiss public servants?

NO Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the Land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right.

Yours in the good old cause. Alexander Harrowell

Alexander Harrowell asserts copyright over any and all content on this site. It may be reproduced with his permission, which will under no circumstances be granted to any Associated or Daily Mail & General Trust publication, ever. Further, the operator of the weblog “UK Daily Pundit” is hereby refused permission to link to or quote any material on this site.

That is all.

(See also: Tim Worstall, the Ministry.)

Ben “Badscience” Goldacre gets stuck into Patrick Holford’s rampant quackery like a big hot meal:

Drilling down, the first thing we came to was the circuit board. This, we noted with some amusement, was not in any sense connected to the copper coil, and therefore is not powered by it.

The eight copper pads do have some intriguing looking circuit board tracks coming out of them, but they too, on close inspection, are connected to absolutely nothing. A gracious term to describe their purpose might be “decorative”. I’m also not clear if I can call something a “circuit board” when there is no “circuit”.

Finally, there is a modern surface mount electronic component soldered to the centre of the device. It looks impressive, but whatever it is, it is connected to absolutely nothing. Close examination with a magnifying glass, and experiments with a multimeter and oscilloscope, revealed that this component on the “circuit board” is a zero-ohm resistor.

This is simply a resistor that has pretty much no resistance: in effect a bit of wire in a tiny box.

£69.99 to you, my friend. Sadly, the rest of the Grauniad doesn’t bother to read Dr Goldacre’s column, with desperate results.

“We already know that folic acid, given without B12, is creating problems for the elderly,” says nutritionist Patrick Holford. “And that’s at half the amount that the FSA is proposing to add to British flour.” Some scientists are also questioning whether we can blithely assume that synthetically produced folic acid will work in the same way as naturally occurring folate. They are calling for further research.

Must be a different Holford from the fraudulent charlatan flogging random electronic junk at seventy quid a time, right? And, naturally, there is no connection with this farrago of free-range biodynamic crap in the weekend supplement?

Yeah, I know the weekend magazine is merely an attention tax, a way of printing more high-end ads to support the real newspaper enabled by the Apple Mac and fast offset litho printing. But…really. I’d read the FT but theirs is even more egregious.

Responding to Dan Hardie’s latest BNP screed, I think there are several important points here. First of all, Dan Dsquared is half-right that BNP voters don’t matter. There are not enough of them ever to get elected to run anything, and their candidates usually manage to teach their own electors a lesson about voting for nutcases with impressive speed. He is also right that it is a much more serious problem that there are significant numbers of racists about than that they vote BNP.

He is wrong, though, that this is a nonproblem. Quite simply, you don’t need many people to cause serious trouble, and the BNP as an organisation is good at this. It has repeatedly shown itself willing to advocate violence, and also to use what can only be described as tactical psychological warfare. This is not a serious problem in some places, but it could be a very serious one where there are concentrations of BNP wankers near concentrations of target groups, and a really, really serious problem where there are concentrations of BNP wankers near concentrations of jihadi wankers.

Part of the problem, and something that the usually statistically sharp Dsquared doesn’t pick out, is that even council-level statistical aggregates don’t give enough granularity to track this. Further, the government doesn’t have a good record in terms of situational awareness outside London – the fuel wankers of 2000 caused as much trouble as they did largely because the crisis didn’t begin in London, and the 2001 riots similarly took everyone by surprise.

Not that it was very obvious in the north that something was up – I remember the Bradford Mela a week beforehand going on in near-perfect peace under the usual racing charcoal sky. The reaction loop, though, is a lot shorter than that of national politics or administration.

My own experience of the Bradford riot really bears all these points out. That morning, I was on my way to an ANL demonstration against the planned BNP march. All was reasonably calm, and the main news story in Yorkshire was mild indignation that the Bradford Festival’s last day had been cancelled due to the demo. There are a lot of different stories about the kick-off, but my own recall was this – during the afternoon, there had been no sign of the BNP, but a succession of rumours that They Were Coming!, each of which set the crowd bubbling. I remember that there was a sudden ugly surge as a group of men with short hair appeared, who turned out to be from the No Platforms campaign rather than the BNP.

During the day, the composition of the crowd had gradually altered from a lot of teacherish ANL types, some Pakistanis, and some professional lefties, to a lot of young men and the professional lefties. I don’t remember anyone who looked especially Islamic – most of them looked like they came from your friendly local Subaru tune-up joint. I didn’t, as it happened, see a single fascist all day – eventually, around 4 o’clock, I assumed my civic duty was done and headed for the station. I’d just seen the leader of Bradford Council making a speech, so I figured it must be all over.

It was at that moment that the trouble began. Suddenly the police who had pulled back to their vehicles in Market Street began struggling into their kit, radios quacking. And then there was a horrible yelling, and I saw a crowd dashing out of Centenary Square towards the bottom of Ivegate, led by a folk singer I’d been talking to earlier with his guitar on his back. Then, I looked up Ivegate to see the mob turn and rush back down the hill towards me. At this point I started running away, looking up to see I was running right towards a line of cops with dogs. They didn’t molest me as I swung left into Hustlergate to let the mob pass.

After that, I helped the folk singer, who was complaining bitterly that the cops had grabbed him by his bad shoulder and he was disabled, over to a St John’s Ambulance post, and decided to get out of town on the next train, which turned out to be the last train allowed to leave the station.

The other thing about the day that sticks in my mind was that I had earlier been interviewed by a German TV crew. I made the obvious points that the BNP and the NF before had never been allowed to get a footing in Bradford, etc. The producer suggested they interview me with “any of your Asian friends”, and I had to confess I had none. Which would probably have made the best possible reportage on the whole sad business, had they gone ahead and filmed it.

If you want something more useful, I’d point out that the good news is that in Yorkshire, the BNP’s successes have so far been in the urban-rural periphery. Not to be confused with the suburbs, it’s a feature of Yorkshire urban geography that we have a lot of smaller chunks of industrial or post-industrial town that overlap with the countryside. It’s these semidetached areas, like Cross Flatts as opposed to Keighley, where they tend to do well. I suspect this may be a stabilising factor.

I can’t help thinking that if this LA Times story is accurate, those BGIA planes need a searching.

In one of the most troubling trends, U.S. officials said that Al Qaeda’s command base in Pakistan is increasingly being funded by cash coming out of Iraq, where the terrorist network’s operatives are raising substantial sums from donations to the anti-American insurgency as well as kidnappings of wealthy Iraqis and other criminal activity.

The influx of money has bolstered Al Qaeda’s leadership ranks at a time when the core command is regrouping and reasserting influence over its far-flung network. The trend also signals a reversal in the traditional flow of Al Qaeda funds, with the network’s leadership surviving to a large extent on money coming in from its most profitable franchise, rather than distributing funds from headquarters to distant cells.

Al Qaeda’s efforts were aided, intelligence officials said, by Pakistan’s withdrawal in September of tens of thousands of troops from the tribal areas along the Afghanistan border where Bin Laden and his top deputy, Ayman Zawahiri, are believed to be hiding.

Little more than a year ago, Al Qaeda’s core command was thought to be in a financial crunch. But U.S. officials said cash shipped from Iraq has eased those troubles.

“Iraq is a big moneymaker for them,” said a senior U.S. counter-terrorism official.

Well, it’s yet another tick on the yards-long list of fuck-ups, and hardly surprising. But why BGIA? Consider this. Back in 2004-2005, this operation was flying constantly from Iraq to the UAE, occasionally from the UAE to Afghanistan, but also from the UAE to Pakistan on charter to “Royal Air Cargo”. This entity’s exact details are unclear, but let’s put it this way – it seems to be from Saudi Arabia, and its aircraft come from BGIA, Irbis Air Co, Air Cess, and Air Bridge Group, a shortlived company associated with Aerocom that wanted to fly between northern Australia and Indo-China with Antonov 12 aircraft.

You may be able to guess why this could be suspicious. Royal also lost an Ilyushin 76 on the approach to Bagram on Remembrance Day, 2005. But honestly, what is it that you’d move between Iraq and Pakistan? It’s not going to be anything good. Readers with long memories will remember that it was precisely the delivery of Iraq’s new currency that SkyLink Logistics carried out using BGIA’s chartered, Sao Tome-registered Il-76 S9-DAE. (See here, here, here, and here.)

There’s also another, Pakistani-based Royal – it’s even got a website, which tells us that it has ties to the UAE royal family. But then, so did our old friends Flying Dolphin and Santa Cruz Imperial.

This post from PZ Myers raises a very important point about decentralisation and local accountability. What if the quacks get control? Families and schools are always a problem with regard to liberty – no-one has the right to experiment on the public without their consent, but youth is the one experiment that is performed on everyone.

It may be your right to believe that heliocentrism is an atheistic doctrine that must be suppressed, but it’s surely a grave infringement of the liberty of others to enforce it on their kids. Not to mention an infringement of the children’s liberty. The glib answer is that you can always send them somewhere else, but this instantly crashes into all the problems of “choice” as a solution for schools (inequality, oversubscribed schools, self-fulfilling signals, lack of real choice in many places), not to mention that it implicitly accepts that the people left behind will just suffer.

Robert Waldmann remarks that there is no evidence that any society has ever put too much money into education. I think he’s right. But this is rather what I was getting at in this post. Education is an investment that cannot be readily replaced if it goes wrong – in the example it’s much more like the hole in the ground that you can’t replace in 50 years than the Ethernet switch, which you can swap out in half an hour. Hence, it’s not enough to say that if the creationists (or paedophiles, fascists, jihadis etc) get a school, it will eventually fail. By then the damage is done, it cannot easily be put right, and it bears most heavily on those least able to put it right.

Here’s part two of Wired‘s interview with John Robb on the occasion of his book. It’s cracking stuff – they got Kris “Alexander the Average” Alexander to grill him. But the really interesting thing here is the curious way Robbo and his arch-rival Thomas Barnett are increasingly locked in violent agreement. Consider Robbo’s positive recommendations:

Investments in people. Language and cultural training for a large percentage of the force. Knowing the language and a culture is almost as important as being able to shoot a rifle. In my view, nobody should be in Iraq unless they spent 6 months in language/cultural training.

Well, this is something I’ve been banging on about for years. (Barnett’s notion of a sysadmin force is not dissimilar, anyway.) See Pat Lang’s recent post.

• Investments in information platforms. Information flows and knowledge development is more important than weapon systems. There are two places where this needs to happen. The first is in civil defense and the second is for the DoD. Robust information platforms that break down silos of information/functionality are a basic requirement for operation of any organization in the 21st Century. They foster innovation and complex adaptive ecosystems (think real responsiveness to the IED problem). IF you have information platforms in place, you can create a level of flexibility in a big organization that mimics a much smaller organization. So far, I’ve not seen much progress on this. Perhaps a military CIO should be on Joint Chiefs of Staff.

There’s a lot of truth to this, but first of all it’s Robbo talking his own book, and secondly it sounds a lot like Barnett’s own Enterra Solutions, which Robb regularly savages.

• Investments in information warfare and unrestricted warfare. This is how most state on state warfare is going to fought in the future and it will be very useful to have as a means of going after global guerrillas. This means everything from the ability to mount wars over the Internet to providing training and guidance to US corporations operating in dangerous areas. This is an area that hasn’t been provided the resources it needs. It also, due to the complexity and irregularity of it, requires much more diversity in skill sets than you typically get from the big military contractors or that from within the military. So far, this has been done in an ad hoc way and the results have been far less than they should have been.

This could be lifted from Barnett’s blog, frankly.

• Investments in communities in a box. One of the things we see again and again is the need for the ability to provide instant infrastructure to damaged communities. This ranges from a community cut off due to security needs in counter-insurgency to disaster relief. How do you package infrastructure for 20-30,000 people in a box? The military should be solving this.

This is essentially Barnett’s thing about “Development in a Box”, which also happens to be something very like Architecture for Humanity’s recent competition to design a “community tech centre”, not to mention the GSM Association and Motorola’s all-renewable powered, zero dig GSM/EDGE base station.

So it’s going to be very amusing the next time they fall out. More importantly, what light does this cast on UK defence policy? On the first point, there is almost nothing in the MOD’s budget that would have a greater rate of return than a sizable retention bonus for Intelligence Corps linguists and agent handlers. On the second, the agonising procurement disaster that was the Army’s BOWMAN radio system doesn’t need rehearsing here, but I would point out that some other armies (especially the South Koreans) are experimenting with IEEE802.16e Mobile WiMAX mesh networking. It would probably be wise to put some money into a decent scale trial, especially as if the technology takes off it will be cheap – Intel is integrating it in the next lot of its wireless chipsets (Rosedale-2 and beyond).

I’m pretty happy with the existing position on the third point: check out this page at the European Networks and Information Security Agency. There are more Computer Emergency Response Teams in the UK, 14 of them, than any European country but Germany, and they include BT-CERT, where somebody reads this blog – so they must be good.

Flying from Sharjah to Bagram AFB today is an aircraft operating for “British Gulf International Company” as opposed to British Gulf International Airlines, using the ICAO code BGI rather than BGK. Why should this be interesting? Well, back in the beginning in 2003, BGIA was supposed to be a company from Sao Tome that had set up a subsidiary with Kyrgyz registration and transferred all but one of its aircraft there. Not that Sao Tome played any significant role in this – the offices, staff, and aircraft were in Sharjah throughout.

This blog later found out that the original Saotomense BGIA had never officially existed at all, not having been registered as a company. Neither had its aircraft ever been registered there before being transferred to the Kyrgyz registry (EX-) and beginning to fly into Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan using the ICAO code BGK. Memorably, they got a DOD fuel card by the simple expedient of filling in the form.

But now, as well as the BGK-coded planes that continue to operate from Dubai and Sharjah to locations in Iraq and (more and more) Afghanistan, there are also BGI-codes out there.

It’s fairly usual that big infrastructure systems should be regulated or publicly owned if there is no realistic competition to them. Defining that is more difficult – Railtrack presumably thought it was competing frantically with roads, after all. I propose a different way of looking at it.

What if the distinction were framed in terms of how long the assets involve last? Consider Brough Turner’s graphic dealing with the useful lives of different elements in a telecoms (or isp) network. You’ll see that the electronics (routers, switches, muxen etc) and optical components go obsolete within 2-3 years, but the fibre-optic (and telecoms copper as opposed to ethernet) lasts 20-30 years, and the digs last 100 years or more. In a wireless context, the kit goes obsolete quickly, the spectrum allocations on a 10-20 years timetable, and the site footprints are of indefinite life.

In a sense, design life is another way of saying money – the longer it takes to replace something, the more capital is involved, and hence the greater the monopoly power that accrues to the owner. We couldn’t build another railway, and even if the alignments were available, laying track would be a monstrously huge enterprise. So whoever owns the footprint is always going to have a lot of power. Similarly, the cost of replicating the BT local loop would be impossible.

It’s interesting that competition exists in fixed-line telecoms in Britain precisely at the electronic level – you are allowed to put your DSLAMs in their facilities and have your own switches, routers and such. Perhaps the rulebook for utilities should be that competition becomes more appropriate, the less time is needed to make good a bad decision? There’s an analogy with education, clearly, and perhaps health – anyway, the cost of replicating NHS facilities would be mountainous.

It’s fairly usual that big infrastructure systems should be regulated or publicly owned if there is no realistic competition to them. Defining that is more difficult – Railtrack presumably thought it was competing frantically with roads, after all. I propose a different way of looking at it.

What if the distinction were framed in terms of how long the assets involve last? Consider Brough Turner’s graphic dealing with the useful lives of different elements in a telecoms (or isp) network. You’ll see that the electronics (routers, switches, muxen etc) and optical components go obsolete within 2-3 years, but the fibre-optic (and telecoms copper as opposed to ethernet) lasts 20-30 years, and the digs last 100 years or more. In a wireless context, the kit goes obsolete quickly, the spectrum allocations on a 10-20 years timetable, and the site footprints are of indefinite life.

In a sense, design life is another way of saying money – the longer it takes to replace something, the more capital is involved, and hence the greater the monopoly power that accrues to the owner. We couldn’t build another railway, and even if the alignments were available, laying track would be a monstrously huge enterprise. So whoever owns the footprint is always going to have a lot of power. Similarly, the cost of replicating the BT local loop would be impossible.

It’s interesting that competition exists in fixed-line telecoms in Britain precisely at the electronic level – you are allowed to put your DSLAMs in their facilities and have your own switches, routers and such. Perhaps the rulebook for utilities should be that competition becomes more appropriate, the less time is needed to make good a bad decision? There’s an analogy with education, clearly, and perhaps health – anyway, the cost of replicating NHS facilities would be mountainous.