Archive for May, 2008

Says Bryan O’Sullivan in his bookmarks:

Kevin Myers, the ne plus ultra of ballbag Anglo-Irish reactionary hacks, surprises us all by writing what might be an essential close-up of the Troubles. Maybe his lunatic, protean nature was a perfect fit for the time.

This was the upshot of this post. I promised, I think, to review Myers’ book once I got it, and here goes. Well, for a start, O’Sullivan isn’t wrong – the young Kevin Myers this book portrays is no reactionary, but he is certainly a ballbag, a hack, and occasionally a near-lunatic. It’s good to read a journalist memoir which isn’t wildly self-glorifying, and a major theme of Watching the Door which runs in parallel, in politics and in life, is shame. Myers admits that his younger self, the RTE journo in Belfast, was at worst little better than a war tourist getting off on the bang-bang, the gangster glam of the paramilitary underworld, and the sexual opportunities the war provided. Not just that – but he admits that he happily let actual journalism slide, in favour of attending to his own self-obsession.

On the other hand, though, what are the accepted moral standards in a society like early-70s Belfast? The city Myers describes is one where several of the forces that keep civilisation going have failed – shame is one, and another is scepticism. People are willing to do appalling things, and also to believe anything, so long as it’s about themmuns. Killers shoot a teenage boy and then give his younger brother, abducted with him, tenpence for the bus fare. This kind of perverted kindness recurs throughout, as the original structures of morality and authority collapse. Similarly, the traumatised seek comfort in other forms of religious bullshit, like the cultist charlatan Oliver Cromwell Whiteside – the sections of the book involving whom are desperately painful.

Not even primarily the official ones of law, the state, the church; one of the most telling moments in the book is Myers’ encounter with a legendary dockside brawler, once a feared enforcer throughout the North, who never hit a man again after a fifteen-year old boy pulled a gun on him. His version of order was hardly desirable, but what came after was infinitely worse. It’s a vision of the classic northern working-class town gone rotten, its social networks re-organised around the new class of mini-warlords and the new war economy based first on extortion and fraud, and later on heroin imports, rather as the process of scarring re-organises the skin’s cellular structure. Peace was impossible so long as the British and Irish governments were still talking to the shells of the old society, rather than the people who controlled the war system.

It’s also a book about youth; when you’re young, shame, scepticism and responsibility are not particularly big concerns. They weren’t for Myers, for his many girlfriends (like the one who let the IRA know his car registration after an unsatisfactory threesome), or for the new men of the paramilitary world. One thing that stands out is how many of these people were enjoying themselves – the transition from ordinary routine, Catholic morality or Protestant propriety, to intrigue, violence, and nervous hedonism was clearly a liberation for a lot of people. In many ways, it was yet another version of the 1968 generation; just conditioned by history to be a peculiarly horrible one. Here, under the combined influence of sectarianism, a particularly dense conservative power-structure, and an existing thug culture, the liberation turned out to be the liberation from freedom that militarism has always offered directionless young men.

In a sense, the great divide wasn’t even so much between the loyalists and republicans, but between a kind of unified paramilitary subculture and everyone else. Other divides were the class divide, between the players, the fans, and the targets on one side, and the garden centre unionists and castle Catholics on the other out in the suburbs, and between the old and the young, those who were quite content with a frozen conflict and those who either wanted to win or end it.

However, I find another strand of the book less compelling. Myers insists on his own complicity in a number of violent incidents I really don’t think he bears real responsibility for. I MUST RECOGNISE MY GUILT!! can be a form of self-dramatising, self-important bollocks too. And insisting on some sort of duty of journalists to cooperate with the authorities…well, that’s reactionary, hackish, and rather Decent.


This needs reviving, surely?

OK, this is outrageous stupid shit of the sort we expect from our gallant allies. Simply, a graduate student at Nottingham University is writing a thesis on terrorists, and as part of this he gets a copy of an Al-Qa’ida training manual from a US government website. Being a postgrad and therefore by definition permanently broke, he got a friend who worked in the university administration to print off the 1,500 pages rather than paying the shared printer fees.

Now this seems silly – 1,500 pages? Seriously? Wouldn’t it have been better to search that lot rather than read it through? Don’t they have grep at Nottingham? But that’s not the point. The point is that “someone” noticed the document on the administrator’s computer and grassed them to the police, who predictably freaked, arrested everyone under the Terrorism Act, kept them locked up for eight days, arrested his family, seized all computers they could lay hands on, etc.

The key detail is that both people have names that might give rise to suspicion of being insufficiently willing to condemn, etc, etc. Now, yer man has been released, however, the administrator is Algerian, and is going to be deported on “unrelated” immigration matters. Yeah, right.

Further, the university:

A spokesman for Nottingham University said it had a duty to inform police of “material of this nature”. The spokesman said it was “not legitimate research material”, but later amended that view, saying: “If you’re an academic or a registered student then you have very good cause to access whatever material your scholarship requires. But there is an expectation that you will act sensibly within current UK law and wouldn’t send it on to any Tom, Dick or Harry.”

Right, sunshine. There is no such thing as “legitimate” research material, just as there is no such thing as “legitimate” thought. We all have the right to read what we damn well like, and as a fucking university you have a duty to stand up for this. As soon as you accept that reading X, Y, or Z, even though not illegal, is the sort of thing They don’t like, you’ve already lost. Ecrasez l’infame.

The University of Nottingham’s vice chancellor is Sir Colin Campbell, who can be reached on +44 (0) 115 951 3001, and by fax on +44 (0) 115 951 3005. More people to shout at are here.

Hat tips: Kings of War, IRG.

Well, I asked for details of that Hezbollah converged telecoms network, and some appeared via the comments at Abu Muqawama. First of all, there’s a map. My first reaction on seeing this was that it looked a lot like a rather underdeveloped, dated official backbone network – there’s not much redundancy anywhere, and there’s only one path between Beirut and the Beka’a, or between either place and the South, which goes far too close to the southern border for comfort. The long lines follow precisely two routes, each of them along the highway right-of-way; there’s more redundancy down south, but it doesn’t look like you’d need more than three cuts to thoroughly partition the whole thing. However, breaking up useful comms within the southern area itself would be considerably more difficult; and this does seem to fit with their tactics.

And here’s an interesting point – there appear to be some very critical nodes in the upper Litani valley, not far at all from the main Israeli incursion in 2006, and for that matter from where the UNTSO post was destroyed. It’s also clear that they have put in several loops right along this sector, close to the border, which should come as no surprise. But the backbone goes that way, too.

Of course, it’s far from obvious that the map is honest, accurate, or comprehensive, or that there aren’t radio links that thicken it up but aren’t shown on the map. “Salem” provides the answer, which is that this network at least is the old official one before Oger took over running it, and Hezbollah took it over. This doesn’t mean, however, its capabilities are necessarily the same or even remotely similar.

The single biggest cost in a telco deployment is always the rights-of-way, cell sites, and digging the holes. Essentially, it’s Baumol’s cost disease, seen from the opposite end – rather than some labour-intensive goods becoming relatively more expensive than capital-intensive ones because they are excluded from technological progress, it’s more that the inputs with the greatest manufactured content – switches, routers, Node-Bs – get cheaper due to Moore’s law and economies of scale, while the civil engineering doesn’t display any such trend. Further, the electronic kit goes obsolete quickly, the bearer – fibre or copper – not for 20 years at least. And the holes in the ground don’t – ever.

Pat Lang posted an article of his from the 1970s at the time of the 2006 war entitled “The Best Defense is…” As I recall, there was quite an emphasis on wired comms in that, too. This sort of investment implies a strategy based on the control of land, and an intention to command the informational terrain as well as they do the physical and human sort.

Just to explain my absence, first of all I’ve been changing ISPs – you may recall I promised to give Virgin Media the push. Bogons Ltd – Internet for the Clueful were tapped after the normal exhaustive procurement process, and I spent last Sunday afternoon setting up an ADDON ARM8200 modem/router to work with my existing WRT54G WLAN box. I was hoping to use ZIPB, but eventually settled for renumbering the WRT54 (although, as the modem seems to be a Viking one, this might show the way).

Anyway, that was fun…of a sort, and the upshot is that Phorm can still bugger off and I now have considerably higher IP bandwidth. And then I vanished down a wormhole in the work-life continuum for the rest of last week, so no blogging for you, which is just as well because I was mostly thinking about SIM-based authentication systems and related OSS-BSS issues. And you wouldn’t want that.

You thought Keighley were having a good year? We’re having a fucking good year. Yes.

1 Keighley 7 6 0 1 215 118 19
2 Doncaster 6 6 0 0 216 74 18
3 Gateshead 6 5 0 1 204 129 16
4 Barrow 5 5 0 0 199 50 15
5 Oldham 6 5 0 1 196 136 15
6 York 7 2 0 5 188 175 10
7 Swinton 7 3 0 4 186 217 10
8 Rochdale 6 2 0 4 193 173 9
9 Workington 7 1 0 6 134 224 7
10 Blackpool 6 1 0 5 128 240 5
11 Hunslet 7 1 0 6 123 241 5
12 London Skolars 6 1 0 5 75 280 4

Keighley 36 Rochdale 35; yes.

Hallelujah indeed.

OK, so I was wanting to know about that Hezbollah WiMAX net. The original source of the story appears to be this Time report:

Although Hizballah is known for its massive Iran-funded social welfare system that provides everything from soup to education, construction materials and matchmaking services for Lebanon’s Shi’ite underclass, cell-phone service is not part of the package — except for those who join its guerrilla army.

Hell, there’s a cracking affinity-marketed MVNO opportunity in there.

One of the world’s most technically advanced and resourceful guerrilla organizations, Hizballah had some time ago installed its own, in-house dedicated fiber-optic telephone network, connecting its headquarters in the southern suburbs of Beirut to its offices, military posts and cadres as far south as the Israeli border. During the summer 2006 war, Israel had jammed cellphone signals throughout south Lebanon and monitored the Lebanese telephone system, but Hizballah’s internal communications channels had survived thanks to its private fiber-optic system. Since the war, however, Hizballah has expanded the network to cover its new military frontline north of the United Nations–patrolled southern border district, and into the Bekaa Valley to the east. Part of the system incorporates a WiMAX network allowing long-distance wireless access for the Internet and cell phones.

More recently, Hizballah has dug trenches for fiber-optic cables in the mainly Christian and Druze Mount Lebanon district and in north Lebanon, according to Marwan Hamade, the Lebanese minister of telecommunications. “It was confined to one or two small areas before and we overlooked it as part of their internal communications. But now it’s spread all over Lebanon,” Hamade told TIME.

We’ll have to get used to this stuff; with the falling price of fancy technology, the days when sophisticated networking was confined to the rich are gone. After all, Hezbollah isn’t the only army that’s deploying WiMAX. South Korea maintains formidable armed forces for reasons that should be obvious, and they are planning to build their entire command-and-control structure on the technology – which has plenty to do with the fact that Samsung developed most of what the world knows as IEEE802.16e Mobile WiMAX, before it was called that. The US Army bought a large quantity of WiMAX gear for evaluation. I have in the past suggested that the British Army check it out as well; we’d be fools not to, as Airspan‘s test deployment is in Stratford.

And so did Israel. If encrypting your data before hurling it over the air is good enough for them, surely it’s good enough for Hezbollah; and WiMAX is suited to a mesh network topology, where each participating node is a router, therefore simplifying the problem of deployment and increasing the system’s resilience. The basic nodes are cheap, too, considerably more so than full size GSM or UMTS base stations.

The Complex Terrain Lab reminds us that the Hezbollah TV station stayed on the air in 2006, despite the Israelis bombing it; a broadcast TV station is in radio terms the biggest target there is. It just sits there, yelling with multiple kilowatts of power in all directions, and by definition it has to be obvious to work; but they couldn’t catch it. I always wondered about that. Their satellite transponder would surely be part of the answer, but uplinking is also a noisy radio activity; one use for a secure, redundant, and private fibre loop or four would be to support a gaggle of mobile satellite TV uplinks.

Anthony Wells is arguing about what percentage of don’t knows in the polls for the Crewe & Nantwich byelection are actually Labour voters who feel embarrassed to say so – analogous to the “shy Tories” of the 1990s. I would think the number is considerable.

During my candidacy in Egham Hythe, I knocked on and got an answer from around 100 doors. In the event, there were roughly 600 Conservative votes, 300 Labour, and 200 Liberals counted. My own canvassing numbers logged 22 Liberal, 28 Tory, 1 BNP, 1 UKIP, 31 Don’t Know among those who said they would vote…and 4 Labour. Yes – four. 5.19% of the total answers, as against 30% of the vote. Redoing the sums, assuming the same pattern for the non-answerers, predicted 51% Tory, 40% Liberal, 7.3% Labour (note this is a two-councillor ward, so votes for candidates must be divided by 2); the event was more like 60% Tory, 30% Liberal, 20% Labour, 10% nutters and spoilt ballots.

Conclusion: There are a *lot* of quiet Labour voters out there.

Via Calculated Risk, galleries of repossessed houses in Los Angeles. This one can stand for a common theme.

It’s hardly got any windows on the street side at all! Just two huge garage doors. Those doors are a common feature throughout the show – houses whose outward appearance is totally dominated by monster garages, like a great big fat ugly gob. Anything human in the architecture skulks behind the garage, as if ashamed. It’s as if cars designed these buildings for their own use – realising, of course, they needed to make provision for the people, but sadly not being quite able to understand their needs.

This is, of course, not irrelevant to why they are already down one-third of their value. Perhaps we need a word for the opposite of architecture?

The Daily Mash: better than drugs.