Archive for January, 2008


That’s what happens when an Antonov-12 runs right off the runway, engines churning, and hits a parked Boeing 727. But that isn’t the interesting bit.

The 727 was 9L-LEF; and what it was doing in Pointe Noire, Congo-Brazzaville, when it’s meant to be with Iraqi Airways is a very good question indeed. Like all the Iraqi Airways planes post-2003, it was provided by a Jordanian company called Teebah Airlines, owned by a sheikh named in the Oil-for-Food case, and registered in Sierra Leone. This particular aircraft, however, served with both Iraqi Airways and also Kam Air, the Afghan operator owned by Abdul Rashid Dostum which operates a range of aircraft from some very interesting partners, such as Viktor Bout and Chris Barrett-Jolley’s enterprise.

More as we get it, as they say…


FT: the AirTanker bond issue has, not surprisingly, gone pear-shaped as the monoline insurers fall apart. The story includes some vital detail on precisely what the Defence Procurement PFI team and the consortium have been doing all this time; essentially, trying to finance the deal at an acceptable rate of interest in the middle of a credit crunch. The alternative plan, to issue bonds, is now dead, so it’s back to the banks.

Meanwhile, the VC-10 fleet soldiers on; better hope the cracks aren’t serious. (This should be an unintended benefit of the credit crisis; silly PFI deals will be really, really difficult to get away for some time to come.)

The Tory is sure to leap on the news that, as Dr Rant points out, there is little point in doing a “deep clean” of hospitals because hospital-acquired diseases are propagated by the staff. Strange, I remember when Michael Howard floated a whole election campaign on the line “How difficult can it be to keep a hospital clean?”; presumably this is now retrospectively an inoperative statement.

In other random poo-flinging, why the hell has nobody, Newsnight included, picked up on the fact that Paul De L’Aire Staines spent the late 1980s in various ventures supportive of the Afrikaans Nationalist government of South Africa, and therefore has personal reasons to despise Peter Hain? Ignorance is no longer excusable.

We quote, from the invaluable Altered State:

“I was a fanatical, zealot anti-communist. I wasn’t really a Tory, I was an anarcho-capitalist. I was lobbying at the Council of Europe and at Parliament; I was over in Washington, in Jo’burg, in South America. It was ‘let’s get guns for the Contras’, that sort of stuff. I was enjoying it immensely, I got to go with these guys and fire off AK-47s.

Interesting article in Aviation Leak & Space Technology about the Chinese air defence system, built of standard telecoms/IT stuff. Encrypted IP over many different bearers, landline fibre rather than microwave, that sort of thing. Two things come to mind:

1) Americans; can you just accept that Huawei exists and its engineers are competent? OK? You don’t need to postulate Dr Evil stories. Thanks.

2) If you read the link you’ll see that the US Marines are experimenting with jammers on a UAV controlled from a PDA-like device. This is cool, but in a world of Bug Labs, you’ve got to reckon the other side will have them.

Nonbarking dog of the year, 2007 was the fact that the increasingly heavyweight NATO force in Afghanistan’s logistics are dependent on the road from Kandahar-Quetta-Karachi, that is to say through Taliban and Baluch rebel country to Pakistan’s most politically unstable and violent city. As you’ll see at the link, someone finally attacked trucks on it in Pakistan; watch this closely.

At the same time, the Afghan government decided it could rub along well enough without any LibDems, thank you very much, because their press wouldn’t stand for it; so Paddy Ashdown’s candidacy as a putative civilian leader for the international community’s various organisations there is officially kiboshed.

What is interesting, however, is that the Afghans apparently express an interest in bringing back General John McColl, currently the NATO Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe. McColl was the first commander of ISAF in 2002, and later the senior British officer in Iraq in early 2004; his specialisation is in peacekeeping and the like. You may remember him as the guy who kept Peter McPherson from starting a little famine in Iraq; he became unpopular for advising against the assault of Fallujah.

McColl would have the considerable advantage that, if this is a NATO job, he could be both the high representative/whatever and also the military commander; someone could be appointed as a civilian deputy for those functions. It is, after all, Rule One in the Big Boys Book of Unconventional Warfare that you need an integrated civilian-military effort.

Further, Rory “As I dined with the robber sheikh’s beautiful daughter, his cutthroat crew of Ghazi riders manned the perimeter around the Mi-24 full of cash…” Stewart argued that the boost in NATO forces in Afghanistan since 2006 has been useless at best, counterproductive more likely. Increasing the foreign military presence has simply pissed people off, and drawn the Taliban out to fight, which sounds like a good idea but actually (as the numbers of infantry deployed in 2006 were pretty thin) led to the heavy use of various airborne supporting fires, with heavy casualties to the civil population.

Stewart describes roughly what might be described as a population-security strategy; building up local forces, government services, and economic development in the places where there is a reasonable degree of stability, and not seeking big fights.

Meanwhile, the US Secretary of Defense Gates made an arse of himself; complaining that NATO armies were unsuited to counterinsurgency and spend too much time training to defend the Fulda Gap. Perhaps he shouldn’t have repeatedly opposed the idea of recruiting tribal allies? Perhaps he could say, enough with the bombing weddings already? As Dan Hardie says, the only strategy that looks sustainable is something on the lines of the firqat in Oman + Stewart. And Gates has repeatedly opposed it.

The bizarre thing is that out of the NATO armies committed to Afghanistan, the heaviest commitment is the British Army. The French are providing a considerable number of OMLTs (Operational Monitoring and Liaison Teams – small groups of advisors); but the army in Europe that sounds most like Gates’ stereotype is the one that actually does own the Fulda Gap, the Bundeswehr. They are hardly in the fight at all; but you have to agree that their patch looks a lot less like hell on earth than Helmand.

It’s clear that a) current levels of forces are not enough to dominate, b) they may not be logistically and politically sustainable any higher, and there is a strong case that c) they may be too high already. The Danes may be mad keen on really big tanks, but this is a country where wrecked Soviet armour is littered everywhere.

Liberal Competence

James Graham asks: does your candidate for Mayor of London pass the 7th July competence test?

This is of course a strong suit for the Liberals; perhaps the only one going in a dead campaign. Picking Brian Paddick as the candidate against lardbucket and International Marxists for Police Bullets was a cracking idea; wouldn’t JG’s suggestion be an open-goal party political broadcast?

Anyway, as it looks like we don’t really have a campaign for Mayor, we really should be thinking of a parliamentary seat to line up for him. Fortunately, it looks like the Decent Batsignal has done Boris Johnson no good at all.

I would like to take this opportunity to make clear that I stand for surgery. We know that the queen of specialisations is a highly effective treatment for many different conditions; British surgeons are respected around the world. In fact, I believe we would be failing in our moral duty to patients of all kinds if we did not keep surgery on the agenda in all cases.

Obviously, this should not be read as a call for cutting any particular person open; but I would be proud to make the intellectual case for the knife. Further, I call on the so-called physicians, psychiatrists, obstetricians and other members of the broader coalition of healthcare to roundly condemn all those who wish to reject surgery. If you are not in favour of cutting, it is my contention that you can only be considered objectively pro-autoimmune disease; to those sneerers and pseudo-experts who argue that surgery is not an effective treatment for auto-immune diseases, I say it is time to take sides.

We have to ask the question: can there be a decent immunology?

OK, enough with the snark; over at World of Decency they are having a retake of the old whose-side-did-you-take-in-Kosovo foundational argument. As it happens, I was weakly in favour of intervention in Kosovo, strongly in Bosnia; I really ought to be a Decent, but it didn’t turn out like that. Here are the two main reasons I opposed war with Iraq: a) Starting wars for no real reason is wrong, b) We’re going to lose. Far from turning into a Healyite on September 11th 2001, I turned into a Healeyite, as in Denis.

But this argument is profoundly silly, it was silly then, it is silly now. Being “in favour of intervention” as an abstract intellectual position is just as stupid as believing that surgery is an appropriate treatment for every patient, no matter what their diagnosis. And, of course, for many, many years doctors did actually believe that; rather, they believed that blood-letting was both an appropriate and an effective treatment for literally every patient.

You can probably see where we’re going here. This does actually appear to be the core of what it is to be Decent; there is one single, simple reason in all cases, they fell because The Observer printed insufficient shit. Bloodletting does actually appear to be their panacea, so long, of course, that they are asked neither to give blood or to carry out the operation themselves. Surgeons, mark, were much less dogmatic than physicians about blood-letting; probably because they got the blood all over their own hands.

That ends the lecture. As an exercise for the students, why do you think Martin Amis told a BBC interviewer that he “is not sorry” September 11th, 2001 happened in his lifetime because it gave his generation a great ideological challenge, and why do you think he appears to have forgotten that he wrote a great long essay about having to cross a post-nuclear London and kill his own children in the event of nuclear war?

Someone in Pakistan googles for US army jobs in pakistan as cctv operator.

Dear Lazyweb: I have a mystifying Linux problem.

To begin the tale, I’ve been running Mandriva Linux on my laptop since last October with considerable satisfaction; I use KDE and the Metisse 3D window manager. However, I had to disable the ACPI power management support to get the thing working; eventually I grew tired of this and decided to sort it. Research suggested that the solution might be to update the BIOS; a check showed my machine was running version 4 and the current one was version 11. So I booted in Windows, got the new firmware, reflashed, and rebooted in Linux; and the ACPI CPU tuning, suspend-to-RAM, and suspend-to-disk began working. But later that night I had a crisis – the thing will not boot with ACPI enabled from the Mandriva console, and the KDE desktop wouldn’t start.

Eventually I was able to uninstall the whole KDE and reinstall it, which got us working. But the Metisse desktop doesn’t work; enable it, and the X server crashes on login. Trying to startkde from a command line gives what appears to be a common error, “$DISPLAY not set”. Without Metisse, either no 3D or Compiz works; setting ACPI=ON at the kernel switch allows some but not all functions to work (still no brightness control, but CPU tuning, shutdown, and suspend).

There was an Xorg update on Friday which I hoped might change things, but no. Today saw a big KDE update, but I haven’t experimented on it yet. Any ideas?



Not just Alissa this time; the Il-78 tankers, A-50 AWACSki, Bears and Backfires got to come out and play with the entire Russian navy. I think they’re trying to make some sort of point.