Archive for May, 2009

Great post of Dan Lockton‘s about what demand for energy actually is. Amory Lovins’ remark that no-one wants “energy”, they want cold beer, is of course another version of this. Which, once it had got together with this story about financing solar installation and marinated nicely in my queue for a while, made me wonder what kind of an organisation you would need to have the incentives set up to supply less energy.

A buyers’ co-op sounds good; after all, power from the grid and the gas network would be purely a cost to it. But it’s more complicated than that; you’d want it to have an incentive to put cold in the beer, whilst also having one to minimise its use of (nonrenewable) energy. And it’s hard to imagine how you’d go about operationalising this. It’s a micro-version of the issues in this post about the intersection of CO2 taxes and international trade.

It’s a difficult problem, especially if you consider the possible surveillance costs. For example, you could assess a subscription based on your usage at joining, and then return whatever gain the co-op made over the wholesale price of power as a dividend; but this would have a huge free-rider problem.

Things are getting better in Iraq. If you’re mercenaries-turned-oil pushers Tim Spicer and Anthony Buckingham, that is! Heritage Oil has, indeed, struck oil. Up to 4.2 billion barrels of the stuff. This is of course very much subject to drilling, and even more so to Kurdish/Baghdad politics.

If you’re trying to distribute wheelchairs, however, not so much. Nor if you worked for the British Government or its agents in Iraq, as David Miliband is insistent that there must be no more claimants by Tuesday. After the last post I did on this, I’ve contacted my MP; have you?

(If yours has strung themselves up from their tax-funded sexercise suite or drowned themselves in their moat, consider yourself excused.)

no pony

Much-discussed article; American goes to Holland, finds welfare state actually quite OK really! I was amused by the pleasantly clueless quote below:

I asked a management consultant and a longtime American expat, Buford Alexander, former director of McKinsey & Company in the Netherlands, for his thoughts on this. “If you tell a Dutch person you’re going to raise his taxes by 500 euros and that it will go to help the poor, he’ll say O.K.,” he said. “But if you say he’s going to get a 500-euro tax cut, with the idea that he will give it to the poor, he won’t do it. The Dutch don’t do such things on their own. They believe they should be handled by the system. To an American, that’s a lack of individual initiative.”

Or perhaps they are sufficiently perceptive to realise that there is no comprehensive welfare system on earth that is sufficiently supplied by charity, and sufficiently self-knowing to realise that given a €500 tax cut, the marginal increase in charitable giving is not likely to be very much. Further, neither is it obvious that it will be evenly or even sensibly distributed; a lot would probably end up going to donkeys, or local equivalent. There is no pony (even though the donkeys might not do too badly)

It’s disturbing to hear someone who claims to be an expert on organisations being so very, very blind to the divergence of individual and collective interests. Meanwhile, this PPRuNe thread discusses the US airline pilot who was moonlighting in a coffee shop not long before dying in an aircraft accident after 30 hours without sleep.


Via Worldchanging, the machine that turns up the music, flashes lights, and eventually produces fog if you do enough freaky dancin’. Its specifications and much more stuff are here. Of course, it’s a fairly obvious feedback loop, with a side order of poking fun at superstar DJs here we go!

But there’s something I like about the idea of self-modifying music; a pointlessly rigorous version of improvisation.

Proponents of UAVs like to talk about the “enduring stare”; their ability to remain on station, to keep pointing at the target, rather than taking discrete reels of photos. Blogging ought to be a bit like that; keep after the story, don’t accept the official news (or bullshit) cycle.

Hence, this McClatchy story, which has uncorked a whole lot of other reporting.

“The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack (after 9/11). But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi and others had told them were there.”

It was during this period that CIA interrogators waterboarded two alleged top al Qaida detainees repeatedly — Abu Zubaydah at least 83 times in August 2002 and Khalid Sheik Muhammed 183 times in March 2003 — according to a newly released Justice Department document.

There’s more to it than that, as well; it seems clear that one of the motivations for torture was trying to extract supporting evidence for the Iraq war. Unsurprisingly, Dick Cheney is implicated. You wonder if he couldn’t find a way to work a tax cut and perhaps a gay abortion in there, too; it’s the grand unified scandal. But anyway, look at those dates, and also at this piece of Laura Rozen’s.

It seems there were at least two distinct waves, or bouts, of torture, the first in the summer of 2002 and then a second in the winter and early spring. There also seems to have been some overdetermination with the first, which may also have been involved with a scheme to find a leaker in Congress.

But what strikes me as interesting is that it corresponds well with the PR-driven schedule for the famous dossiers and the run-up to war in general. Recall the “Downing Street Memo”, written in late July. The facts and intelligence were being fixed around the policy. This culminated in the first coordinated spin drive in the autumn. At the same time as Abu Zubeydah was being lashed to the board, the White House Iraq Group and the Iraq Communications Group were being established to coordinate transatlantic PR operations. The first dossier would be launched in September. Interestingly, I’m seeing a spike in search requests for both organisations.

A second wave of propaganda activity was then launched in the spring as the key UN and parliamentary votes approached and the military time-table counted down. And, sure enough, there was a second bout of torture; on this occasion, extra torture was approved by Donald Rumsfeld before the authorisation was taken back.

Via the Armchair Generalist, meanwhile, it turns out that the one detainee whose words actually made it into Colin Powell’s February 2003 address to the UN, and who was tortured, has conveniently died in a Libyan jail.

Josh Marshall speaks sense; there is more here including an interview with Charles Duelfer, who apparently refused to order the torture of an Iraqi prisoner-of-war. Bully for him, if true. Few public officials can have been so Cheneyed; remember when he was being sent “leads” for the Iraq Survey Group that turned out to be in Lebanon?

Meanwhile, for colour: yer man was travelling with a doctor and a biochemical survival suit. I’d pay cash money to see him wear one of those.

Reader “Ajay” has a theory that aviators are uniquely unfitted for government. There are a considerable number of data points in his favour. However, here’s a possible counter-example. Ernest Millington has died; he was one of three MPs for the brief Common Wealth Party, a radical leftist group that emerged during the second world war, and held the Distinguished Flying Cross for completing no less than thirty bombing raids over Germany as a squadron leader in the crack 5 Group.

Later, after the party lost its other seats, he took the Labour whip and served on until he lost his seat in 1950. He later worked as an encyclopedia salesman, rejoined the RAF, and eventually became a teacher and a senior official in the London Borough of Newham’s education service. The stories are predictably fantastic:

He left school because his father expelled him from home after he heard him address a crowd from a street- corner soapbox on behalf of the Labour League of Youth, alongside Ted Willis, the latterly ennobled creator of Dixon of Dock Green. Homeless and penniless, the boy found a clerk’s job. He was sacked when his employer heard him evangelising for ethical socialism at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, London. He joined the Labour party – and was expelled in the late 1930s for supporting the Communist party-backed anti-fascist popular front….

While still a flight lieutenant, he went to an RAF conference at which he was the only officer present below the rank of wing commander, but also the one with the most operational experience. He disagreed strongly with plans advanced at the meeting, which he maintained would result in heavy casualties. This was noted by Air Vice-Marshal Sir Ralph Cochrane, commander of 5 Group, Bomber Command. Cochrane made him a squadron leader on the spot, promoted him to wing commander a few days later and posted him, in October 1944, as commanding officer of the new 227 squadron, based at Balderton in Nottinghamshire. A remarkable 30 Lancaster sorties followed, with raids ranging across Germany, Czechoslovakia and the Romanian oilfields, and taking in the bombing of Panzer tank groups during the Battle of the Bulge at Christmas 1944….

When Chelmsford’s Conservative MP, Colonel J McNamara, was killed on his way home from Italy, a scratch group of Common Wealth supporters set about finding a candidate. Millington’s views were well known in the area, and a deputation met him in a railway station waiting room. Ten minutes was all the time he could spare, and they made him their candidate there and then…

He first arrived at the Commons with his newly awarded Distinguished Flying Cross ribbon inexpertly self-sewn on to his uniform. A Conservative MP, who was a squadron leader in the RAF police, approached. “You are improperly dressed,” he told Millington.

“If you are talking to me as an RAF officer,” Millington replied, “take your hand out of your pocket and address a senior officer as ‘Sir’. If you are addressing me as a fellow MP, mind your own business and bugger off.”..

Some people just don’t get it… The party was also far from boring, as its Wikipedia article sketches out. Leading figures included J.B. Priestley, the British Battalion of the International Brigade’s former political commissar Tom Wintringham, and the rebel Liberal MP Sir Richard Acland, at a time when he thought Hitler had some remarkably sound ideas. Despite this, the party struck a consistent left-libertarian line based on a critique of managerialism and an interest in decentralisation of government and organisational theory.

So, the provisional wing of Chris Dillow, in short. Not being bound by the pact between the major political parties, under which they didn’t contest by-elections during the wartime coalition so as not to alter the political balance, they stood at several by-elections and won, possibly to their own surprise. I was not as surprised, however, as I might have been that they took Skipton.

Eventually, the party fell apart as some of it wanted to be back in the Labour Party and others lost interest. Comically, it became involved with Plaid Cymru; less comically, a lot of ex-members helped to start Amnesty International.

Is tragic diva SNLI cracking up, ask friends? “Creepy obsession” with blogger raises old rumours about starlet; Max Clifford is holding on line one.

“He’s very good with colours”, says Andrew Exum of the Center for a New American Security. “Everyone around here relies on him for style tips before their TV appearances. I’d never have thought of giving my shemagh a light spritz of Crazed Wingnut before going on Rachel Maddow, but it made my performance…”

(In the future, trolls will be considered a strategic resource like oil.)

Great rant at Kosmograd against Kirstie Allsopp and much more economic-aesthetic crappery. I recall her grinning chops advertising some sort of Sink Your Life Savings And More In Bulgarian Property for Riches! fest on Tube hoardings in the winter of 2007-2008, which must take some sort of award for televisual irresponsibility. Swinging from branch to branch, what do I find but this?

Prince Charles made a fire station It appears that the heir to the throne has been playing with AutoCAD, and he made a fire station. I haven’t yet decided which bits of this I find most horrible, but I think the fact that the actual fire station sticking out of the back looks like any other one in Britain is a candidate. The black guttering is pretty bad, and is that a CCTV camera on the corner of the building? I rather think it is.

You realise he’s going to be king when Dave from PR is prime minister?

In support of the last post, here’s some more top Pakistan blogging: intelligent comment about the Army in comments at AM, as well as sense from Chris “Chris” Williams, behind a post that demonstrates one of the core failings of Western thought about Pakistan. Specifically, Andy reckons the Pakistani army is failing; but failing to do what? It’s not the American Foreign Legion. That’s the Brits!

There is also sense from Juan Cole.

This is good, and I would like to say various things but for some reason I can’t comment at JK’s any more.

And slathering bigot comes out with something amusing:

The irony is that I always intended the COINdinista label to be affectionate. It plays upon what I think is the deep-seated wanderlust of the prominent counter-insurgents: They actually would rather be insurgents.

There’s something swashbuckling about you and Kilcullen and pretty much anyone else who quotes Lawrence. You see, Lawrence was a revolutionary, really, not a counter-insurgent. For all his bluster, Nir is something of a pirate, too. And Gentile, supposedly the Czar of the Cointras, also has this personality trait.

To truly understand counter-insurgency, you secretly must want to be an insurgent.

Laura Rozen reports that the US government is talking about Pakistan’s “existential crisis”. (They do not mean, apparently, brooding about lobsters and smoking too much.) It’s currently being manifested by the Pakistani army fighting its way back into the Malakand Division; basic details here. Fans of Winston Churchill’s My Early Life will of course remember that he took part in a similar operation in exactly the same place as a young man. Some words of his are probably appropriate here:

The Political Officers who accompanied the force, with white tabs on their collars, parleyed all the time with the chiefs, the priests and other local notables. These political officers were very unpopular with the army officers. They were regarded as marplots. It was alleged that they always patched things up and put many a slur upon the prestige of the Empire without ever letting anyone know about it. They were accused of the grievous crime of “Shilly
shallying,” which being interpreted means doing everything you possibly can before you shoot.

We had with us a very brilliant political officer, a Major Deane, who was much disliked because he always stopped military operations. Just when we were looking forward to having a splendid fight and all the guns were loaded and everyone keyed up, this Major Deane – and why was he a Major anyhow? so we said, being in truth nothing better than an ordinary politician – would come along and put a stop to it all. Apparently all these savage chiefs were his old friends and almost his blood relations. Nothing disturbed their friendship. In between the fights, they talked as man to man and as pal to pal, just as they talked to our General as robber to robber.

We knew nothing about the police vs. the crook gangs in Chicago, but this must have been in the same order of ideas. Undoubtedly they all understood each other very well and greatly despised things like democracy, commercialism, money-getting, business, honesty and vulgar people of all kinds. We on the other hand wanted to let off our guns. We
had not come all this way and endured all these heats and discomforts which really were trying – you could lift the heat with your hands, it sat on your shoulders like a knapsack, it rested on your head like a nightmare – in order to participate in an interminable interchange of confidences upon unmentionable matters between the political officers and these sulky and murderous tribesmen.

And on the other side we had the very strong spirit of the ‘die-hards’ and the ‘young bloods’ of the enemy. They wanted to shoot at us and we wanted to shoot at them. But we were both baffled by what they called the elders, or as one might now put it ‘the old gang,’ and by what we could see quite plainly, the white tabs or white feathers on the lapels of the political officers.

As it turned out, the traditional authorities who Major Deane knew so well couldn’t hold back the young bloods on this occasion, or it didn’t suit their aims to do so, and Lieutenant Churchill and friends got the fight they were looking for.

However, nobody ever seriously imagined they would sweep out of the mountains into the Punjab. The only people who did imagine that were in distant London and almost as distant Delhi, where they insisted on imagining Russians everywhere. Otherwise, the question was always one of compromise. Today, we insist on projecting visions of the armies of Al-Qa’ida sweeping into the Punjab; as is well pointed out here, this is just as unlikely as it was in the days of Sir Bindon Blood as it is in the era of David Kilcullen.

As Arif Rafiq warns, the theatre of violence and the bureaucratic glamour of Richard Holbrooke is having much the same effect on the US government and the thinktank industry as the announcement of Bindon Blood mobilising for the Frontier had on the British Indian army of young Winston’s day. Every ambitious young fool is suddenly a Pakistan expert, much as Churchill called in all his political contacts and travelled two thousand miles overland whilst theoretically on leave in order to get shot at in Malakand. You have to show willing, after all.

Hysteria has been a constant in Western thought about Pakistan ever since it was created. However, as I’ve said before, somehow the worst-case scenarios have a way of not happening. Either we’re all incredibly lucky, or else the forces in Pakistani society that make for stability are stronger than outsiders imagine. It is worth repeating to yourself that 85 per cent of the population lives in Punjab or Sindh and that of the remaining 15 per cent, only 15 per cent of the fraction that lives in the NWFP votes Islamist.

Of course, hysteria has its uses; hence Robert Kaplan musing on just getting rid of Pakistan.

Especially in the west, the only border that lives up to the name is the Hindu Kush, making me think that in our own lifetimes the whole semblance of order in Pakistan and southeastern Afghanistan could unravel, and return, in effect, to vague elements of greater India

Can anyone imagine how this sounds to, say, a Pakistani Army officer? It’s the business-class version of hoo-yah fuckwit Ralph Peters’ irresponsible furblings. An exercise; substitute “Rio Grande” for Hindu Kush, Mexico for Pakistan, Texas for Afghanistan, and Spain for India, and you’ve got a classic American Apocalypse/Immigrant Panic rant. Although, Tom Ricks does Kaplan a disservice by confusing the Indus and the Tigris. It isn’t quite that insane, but I think the slip is telling.

But the important point is that permanent crisis fuels the crisis industry. It helps to legitimate your ideas and staff your organisation. At the other end of the pipe, the permanent crisis helps the Pakistani government’s Pakistan desk manipulate the US government’s Pakistan desk. And their top priority is, of course, India; Robert Kaplan’s geopolitics quoted above is all about looking north from the sea, towards Afghanistan, over Pakistan’s shoulder as it were.

Want a policy prescription? Well, if everyone else is an expert, at least I serve only my own interests, and I have run this by the only Musharraf supporter I’ve ever met. I recommend a combination of this:

so if the people feel they don’t have a say in their own fate, “Washington” should come up with a new plan they don’t have any say in? I don’t get it. The one thing we haven’t tried doing yet is persuading the Pakistani people we’re on their side, rather than telling them we are and dumping millions of unaccountable dollars into their country.

and this:

But cliche seems to drive policy here. Pakistan doesn’t need gap shrinkers, assault ships, setting up the precinct or any other Thomas Barnett bollocks. What it needs is respect, and specifically respect for civilian government.

Just stop pressing those buttons.