Archive for June, 2008

Less blogging than usual due to OpenTech 2008 preparations. Must keep hacking, the clowns are gaining. Anyone know much about GeoRSS?

I’m on in track 2 (the Upper Hall), sometime after 1.30pm.

While I’m on the topic of Giustozzi, here’s something else which is important. One of the biggest motivators for a village to support a Taliban presence is a dispute that the official authorities, in so far as they exist, or the tribal authorities have failed to solve, or have solved in a manner that seems unjust. Another is a desire for security. But this is qualitatively less important; there is a huge difference between “security” and justice.

After all, any half-arsed authoritarian regime can at least claim to be providing security – patrolling, locking people up, shooting other people, maintaining a network of informers, battering suspects – all these can be described as “security”. But it’s almost characteristic of authoritarian and failed states that the state itself is a major insecurity producer.

Which brings me to my point. The reason why so many Islamist movements that succeed lay a lot of emphasis on the judiciary – the Islamic Courts in Somalia didn’t bother to give themselves any other name until after they’d set up shop in the presidential palace – is also the reason for their success. Giustozzi argues that a lot of Afghans don’t actually support the content of the Taliban’s lawbook very much. What he doesn’t go on to say, but perhaps should, is that this implies they choose law in general over lawlessness.

Given the choice of what is marketed as order without law, but which as always turns out to be chaos, and some sort of legal order, the people pick the latter. And they are far from being too stupid to recognise the difference between a government which practices legality, and one that merely has a lot of statutes containing agreeable features requested by foreigners, like Ishmaelia in Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop. Let’s be clear – practice beats constitution-writing. Legality is not something decreed in the capital.

Franz Neumann’s Behemoth is one of the guidebooks to the last eight years. Neumann wrote in 1942 that the defining feature of the Nazi state was that it claimed to be Hobbes’ Leviathan – the all-powerful creator of minimal order – but was in fact more like the Behemoth, the Leviathan’s mythological partner, an equally mighty creator of chaos. He argued that this is true of authoritarianism everywhere; it’s worth remembering that when he wrote this, he was thinking of the pre-war Nazi state founded on the idea of the Ausnahmezustand, the state of emergency in which (the legal) order is itself suspended.

Eventually, the difference between law and order is how the police behave, on a mountain road at night.


I am currently reading Antonio Giustozzi’s Koran, Kalashnikov, and Laptop – The Neo-Taliban Insurgency in Afghanistan. I’ll review it more fully when I’ve finished reading it – now there’s an idea – but here’s something that stands out for reasons of pure partisan rage. John Reid has been mocked plenty for saying that he thought the 16th Air Assault Brigade would complete its mission in Afghanistan without firing a shot (of course, he didn’t – he said he hoped it would), but I hadn’t fully appreciated the utter blundering stupidity with which he approached starting a war on two fronts.

Like practically everyone, I’d always assumed the eruption of violence starting in June, 2006 was associated with the deployment itself – that the Americans had believed that this ungoverned space was essentially neutral, until the Paras actually located in the middle of it and found it was teeming with the enemy. Giustozzi provides a mass of evidence that in fact, the tempo of Taliban operations had gone off the charts in January, 2006, with a huge surge in attacks on international and Afghan government forces, a wave of school-burning, and an increase in platoon and larger raids on defended targets rather than IEDs, rockets, and bomb outrages. He argues, with considerable strength, that this should be understood as an attempt to launch the third stage of a Maoist revolutionary war, the general offensive that starts a widespread uprising and eventually overwhelms the state.

Put it another way, Reid sent the army straight into the teeth of the Taliban’s Big Push, with an official concept of operations that didn’t mention counter-insurgency or even combat. I think his current obscurity is well earned. In Giustozzi’s terms, interestingly enough, the strategy General Richards adopted was actually not as crazy as it sounded. He argues that the bulk (40-50%) of Taliban forces come from local communities who are in an alliance of convenience with the movement, having been angered by unfavourable turns in tribal politics, the diminishing strength and authority of tribes in general, the behaviour of government forces, an unfulfilled desire for minimal state functions like local policing and arbitration, or some combination of these.

In this view, the spread of government influence into the villages was precisely the worst thing that could happen to the movement; the local elders who treated with the Taliban one day might treat with the government the next. Hence the aggression and tenacity of the assaults on British camps in Sangin and elsewhere – it was necessary to demonstrate that the movement was determined not to be edged out. As Tony Blair might have put it, they decided to pay the blood price in the hope of wearing out the British, provoking intense fighting among the civil population, and preventing the British from installing a rival authority. Giustozzi also suggests the ultimate leadership was being pressed by its Gulf-based moneymen and Pakistani allies to do something dramatic – a feeling yer man well knew.

A contrarian argument might have been that had the Taliban not been fighting so hard besieging Para platoons in their stronghold of northern Helmand, who knows what their general offensive might have achieved with more men and material concentrated on its target of Kandahar? But this is probably silly. It doesn’t take account of the benefit to the movement of having many, many villages chewed up by the fighting, or the unavailability of troops tied down in defending their perimeters, or the fact that while the soldiers were engaged in a succession of vicious mini-sieges out in the north, they were neither conducting anything that could be described as counter-insurgency or reconstruction there, nor were they doing any closer to home where it might have been possible to make a start.

On Wednesday morning, I was nearly knocked down by an electric 7.5 tonne lorry on the Strand. On Thursday evening, I saw another one passing on a low loader near my home. There is a surprising British industry in here – both of these were Modec vehicles, but there is also Smith Electric Vehicles in Newcastle and Allied Vehicles in Glasgow, as well as a battery manufacturer.

OK, so have you heard the one about the bloke from Goole who was planning to start his own race war? Probably not, because it’s not been on the news at all. Rather like the BNP guy in Burnley, whose trial was also shrouded in tebbly tebbly concerned silence. Martyn Gilleard, a 31-year old lorry driver, is currently standing trial for making nail bombs, as well as collecting a variety of weapons. The prosecution alleges that he’s a fascist who was planning to use them on his local mosque, and they seem to have a strong case – as well as the bombs, the bullets, and the knives, he collected American white-supremacist propaganda material. The BBC reports; I’m amused by his defence that he “said he had become less racist recently”. Indymedia has more, including photos.

Here’s the head of counter-terrorism in Scotland, making sense:

Fife’s assistant chief constable said the public is at risk because racism is being used to unite people into violent causes. He said this also undermines police work to reassure the Muslim community following the attack on Glasgow Airport last year.

Burnett said: “We’ve had a number of right-wing issues recently [in the UK] that again have raised their head in Scotland. There have been serious cases down south that have been really well dealt with by the police down there, but we shouldn’t be complacent about it. There’s no point promoting positive race relations if, in claiming to be everyone’s co-ordinator of counter terrorism, you take your eye off the right-wing.”

But it’s strange how little media/political attention is paid to the guy with the actual real explosives, compared to, say, the “Lyrical Terrorist”. Perhaps it proves that intellectualism really is valued in Britain, at least by the Security Service – and who is to say they are wrong? After all, it wasn’t the street fighters who put Hitler in power.

This is, however, another shot in the greater intellectual struggle of our times. I mean, of course, the debate between Dsquared, Jamie Kenny and myself about exactly how jihadi radicalisation works. Jamie has in the past argued that there is a sort of climate of nonspecific extremism abroad in our culture, which doesn’t have to fit any particular political world-view, but instead makes its way to earth by any handy conduit. I wasn’t very convinced of this to begin with, but I’m beginning to think there’s something in it.

Evidence: here we have an actual prison-gang jihadi recruiter, who’s being held in seg to stop him propagandising other prisoners. The key facts, however, are that his name is Stephen Jones and he used to be a member of the BNP. Clearly, Jamie’s thesis is valid at least for some people. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jones were to become, or have been, a Maoist, a deep-ecologist who thinks getting rid of people in general would be a good thing, a hardcore libertarian nutcase, or just a random thug. 10 years ago, perhaps he might have become a road-protesting raver, given the right drugs and influences. I particularly like the statement from the Prison Officers’ Association rep that the sheer magnitude of the threat is shown because “if someone as right-wing as this can be radicalised, what could happen to the normal prisoners?” On that score, we’d surely want to worry about the screws.

Come to think of it, perhaps this free-floating extremism explains more than just the anglo-jihadis – there are the Decents, for one, and maybe even me. Dsquared has in the past expressed his concern at the speed with which Mohammed Sidique Khan, possibly the most capable person this movement produced, went from something approaching normality to suicide terrorist – come to think of it, it’s a bit like what I think of as the Decent Death Dive. Taken together with this post, perhaps our society is organising itself around a defining tension between free-floating authoritarianism and non-specific extremism?

Ha. Ha. Ha. Looks like Kelvin McFuck won’t be standing after all. Too risky, eh?

There we were, thinking he was a heroic fighter for all he thought was right, not to mention a formidable enterpreneur, and a man confident in the backing of the deadliest nonkinetic weapon system on the planet. After all, heroism works so much better with adequate air support. But, apparently, he can’t find the commitment to stump Haltemprice & Howden himself, or the £100,000 he claims his campaign needed. Excuse me – aren’t you meant to be rich?

More seriously, the real story here is that he has never been very popular outside his own propaganda, just as his supposed business genius includes triumphs like L!ve TV and his supposed journalistic courage tended to take a lot of long lunches. Who now remembers that “GOTCHA!” was only actually printed in a tiny early edition for northern Scotland, because he wasn’t in the office early enough to stop it? When he finally rocked up, he freaked and spiked the lot, replacing it with a far weaker (and factually incorrect) fillerfest about “gunboats”. It was the original reverse ferret.

The phrase you’re looking for is “paper tiger”, but no-one in politics would want to admit that. After all, there’s this:

News International executives are understood to be wary of fielding a candidate against the Conservative party, which could interfere with the Sun’s policy to always back the winner of election campaigns.

Hence last week’s string of “Bridge, engine room – MAKE SMOKE!” stories that the FRENCH ARE STEALING OUR NAVY!!!

Oh yes: this is brilliant.

So, yer National Staff Dismissal Registry. Several people have asked me to comment on this horrible intersection of Blairite justice-style product and the good old Economic League, and they won’t be surprised that I’m against it. For all the usual reasons – you don’t actually need to do anything wrong to be on it, and there is no effective limit on who gets the information, and no way of getting off it again.

But the curious thing is how it fits into a very specific set of Government policies and ways of seeing. I started making inquiries about it, thinking that some of the old Economic League/Caprim folks might be involved. I haven’t found any yet, but the people I did find were interesting. It kicks off with something called the “Alliance Against Business Crime”, a Home Office-sponsored talking shop for large retailers (basically). It actually runs the NSDR, and until this year it received Home Office funding.

Here’s the board of directors. Note that its independent existence doesn’t even run to a Web site – it’s part of the British Retail Consortium’s facilities. The board is a lineup of interest group representatives, cops…and who’s this? Richard Barron, Director, Encams. Encams? That has a good, sinister sound to it. Right? In fact, Encams is what used to be called Keep Britain Tidy, and Barron is indeed its Director of Community Safety and Town Centres. What does this mean in practice?

Well, it looks like he and his organisation have become part of the general government-inspired push for greater private control of public space. He shares the board with one Dr. Julie Grail, chief executive of “British BIDs”. BID here means Business Improvement District, a government scheme under which private companies essentially get to take over the management of a chunk of a city. It’s been much protested about, and it’s probably worth mentioning that such police/business hybrid entities often run CCTV deployments. The AABC appears to link these with Business Crime Reduction Partnerships, which are yet another Home Office-driven security privatisation exercise. You won’t be surprised to learn that it’s Hazel Blears’ fault.

Unsurprisingly, its head for the North-West is a casino security manager. Me, I find the very words give me the cold dreads. Barron, it turns out, actually went from the AABC to Keep Britain Tidy; note that this AABC newsletter encourages members to lobby the government for heavier sentencing and more toughosity in general. There you have it – the Home Office actually paying people to tell it how scared of crime they are. It’s a kind of inverted Stafford Beer process – a recursive feedback loop with the bullshit output coupled to the input.

Here we have Barron speaking at a conference for the private security industry:

The patrollers, largely young, many women, visit premises, note problems, and are in radio contact with PCSOs – as in Lincoln, four are paid for by the BID – and police. There’s a dedicated town centre police team. Bedfordshire Police entered into a baseline agreement as to where and when the team will work. As a result police in the town centre have moved from being an ‘arrest squad’ to a ‘prevention squad’. The BID runs a retail radio link and equivalent Nightnet scheme, and runs a photo-exclusion scheme for the day and night-time economies. Reported crime and stock loss have fallen.

Richard Barron, previously a regional manager for AABC, is now community safety and town centres director with charity Encams, the former Keep Britain Tidy. He too stressed the government’s cleaner-greener-safer agenda.

Note the bit about the police actually handing part of their role over, as well as the delightfully Orwellian “photo-exclusion scheme for the day and night-time economies” (I think it means people in uniforms ostentatiously photographing and following persons suspected of being poor). They are literally rolling back the frontiers of the state. Further down, you’ll notice him encouraging the distribution of more fixed-penalty tickets (thus increasing the reported crime figures).

We used to imagine the totalitarian enemy as being insanely, unnaturally orderly – Prussians heel-clicking around general staff situation conferences, Soviet officials poring over their input-output tables. Whatever short-term advantage this machine society gave them, we thought, it could never overcome the smelly creativity of our democracy. But now, keeping Britain tidy extends to a state-sponsored labour blacklisting exercise, which seems to be conceived of as a subsidy to commercial property developers. What does it say about us when a campaign against litter is part of a scheme like this?

Further, what does it say about Dan Norris MP, that he was directly involved in killing off the Economic League, but voted for ID cards?

Ho ho ho. Another pack of secret docs left on a South West Train. One of the compensations of commuting on the Waterloo-Reading/Windsor & Eton Riverside route was the astonishing things civil servants read and said on mobile phones – I recall reading quite discreditable things about St Blair’s Academies, overhearing someone discussing the urgent procurement of armoured vehicles for Afghanistan, and finding a briefcase and papers regarding NATO supply contracting for the same theatre in the Hole in the Wall pub. A spy would have been almost superfluous.

I’m interested by the fact the finder of the first lot handed them to the BBC, rather than, say, the police. It seems wise.

Oh dear. Massive Taliban jail break in Kandahar – 400 or so rebel prisoners sprung with 400 or so others. What worries me, though, is that the attack seems to have been very much like the 2005 NOIA raid on Abu Ghraibh.

Prison staff said the assault began when a tanker full of explosives was detonated at the Sarposa compound’s main entrance, wrecking the gate and a police post and killing the officers inside. A short time later, a suicide bomber travelling on foot blasted a hole in the back of the prison.

A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, said 30 insurgents on motorbikes and two suicide bombers attacked the prison, and claimed militants had been planning the assault for two months. “Today, we succeeded,” he said, adding that the escaped prisoners were “going to their homes”.

Mohammad Hiqmatullah, a shopkeeper who sells vegetables near the jail, said he saw fleeing prisoners disappear into nearby pomegranate and grape groves. Witnesses said rockets were fired at the prison during the 30-minute battle. A local politician said 15 policemen were killed in the storming of the prison and subsequent clashes.

So, a multiple VBIED attack to breach the walls, RPGs for the guard towers, then the assault, and finally an orderly break-contact – you didn’t see any mention of Taliban casualties or prisoners, did you? Just like that, with the difference that this time, the car bombs reached the wall. The motorbikes are a distinctive local touch, I think. Ungood.

Said Sir Michael Rose, speaking at the SAS passing-out parade in 1979: One intelligent soldier can achieve more than a fleet of B-52s. There’s some debate as to whether that statement could be applied to Rose himself, but I doubt many would disagree with it.

David Davis apparently agrees. His resignation from Parliament should be understood as an exercise in the struggle for strategic influence, specifically directed at the growing decent/neocon faction in the Conservative Party. I have been a little surprised, and pleased, by how well the Tories have held up on the Counter-Terrorism Bill, ID cards, and related issues; I would have thought the Murdoch influence would be telling by now. And, indeed, there are signs of change within – Boris Johnston’s win seems to have hugely strengthened the Policy Exchange/Michael Gove current, while Cameron’s annoying press chief Steve Hilton has run off to California. His BlackBerry is unlikely to be enough to compensate for the distance, which must strengthen Andy Coulson’s role as Rupert Murdoch’s ambassador to the Tories.

But now: cazart! Davies’ replacement, Dominic Grieve is even talking about repealing the 28 day provisions. Stick that up your punter – I think not. There’s not going to be any cave-in now. It’s part of the Westminster traditional language that, to be considered principled, an act must also be ineffective or poorly executed, which is one of the reasons so many people have been at pains to accuse Davis of Machiavellianism or frivolity. People who want something that isn’t evil or dishonourable don’t get to pull off brilliantly outrageous triple-crosses, do they? Yes, of course it’s Machiavellian scheming – this is politics after all, and that’s how things get done, and the people who complain are usually the ones who were outschemed.

If you needed evidence that the Davis coup is significant, you need look no further than the emergence of an actual Murdoch candidate running against him. Yes, Kelvin McFuck is back, looking to add another name to his litany of post-Sun failures. He is one of very few men to actually fail to make money by underestimating the public’s taste – it’s not like News Bunny ever made a penny… But, this time, he is clutching a promise of actual financial support from News International, plus close air support from the paper itself. Inevitably, the media establishment is busy writing him off as a joke candidate, which makes as much sense as writing Davis off and is being done for precisely the same reasons.

Whether McFuck realises it or not, in a very serious sense Davis was running against the Sun Party from the word go. What does the Sun actually stand for, politically? Well, now we know – we can read it off McFuck’s public statements.

He also told the BBC he would be campaigning on three issues – hostility to the “sense that our country is somehow in the grip of some kind of security vice”, demanding that there be “the referendum for Europe”, and on more populist issues – like seeking changes to government spending on “things I don’t think we care about”.

In a BBC Radio 5 interview, he was slightly more specific about point three, saying that he wanted to ban BT from using “automatic voice responders and call centres”. You have to wonder whether a man who had just come from a late-night dinner with antisocial binge drinker Rebekah Wade was entirely sober, but there is a clear pattern here – he, and it, stand for authoritarianism, the Special Relationship in the worst sense, and fake populist gut-chafing (this latter, of course, is essentially content-free).

Putting it another way, McFuck’s candidacy is an exercise in the promotion of power-worship. It’s Schmittian conservatism; the permanent crisis requires an Ausnahmezustand, which demands a strong leader who may incidentally beat up the odd call centre to demonstrate their compassion for the weak, who are very much intended to stay that way. Note that McFuck’s not interested in the people who work in the call centre. Only a numskull like Geoff Hoon could think the Government ought to field a candidate – it should be clear enough to everyone else that the Government, in many ways, already is.

In this light, it’s clear why Davis is standing and why he deserves your support – it’s only contradictory that he believes in both the death penalty and habeus corpus in terms of generalised progressivism or liberalism, which he doesn’t believe in (or he wouldn’t be a Tory). In terms of classical conservatism, it makes perfect sense to think that the State should have the power to cut your head off, and that its power must be constrained by law as much as humanly possible. (After all, if the State *wants* to kill someone, it’s likely to find a way unless someone stops it.)

And, going by the polling data, this is likely to be your chance to help pour the proverbial vast bucket of shit back over McFuck’s head. Imagine the scene at the Murdoch summer party – McFuck, red-faced, holding forth, James Murdoch explaining to Rupert, ticking quietly on his death-support system, that there’s this thing called the Internet and it’s like TV that you read, Wade drooling slightly over Wendi Deng’s shoulder but still reasonably coherent, the plates of roast baby stewed in the juice of freshly squeezed minority shareholders well dug into but not quite down to the toying level yet. All seems well with the world…and then, the disruption. Forced to show their hand.

This is also to say that Dan Hardie was right. He’s been a Davis fan for some time; I was doubtful, especially after he reacted to the police crime figures going down by suddenly deciding the BCS was right all along. But when the time came…

There’s a PledgeBank here; and what’s this? Bob Marshall-Andrews and Colonel Tim Collins? And Kings of War. And Peter McGrath. It’s like going back to the 2005 general election, maaannnn.