Archive for the ‘weirdness’ Category

There’s something about this, that I’m not sure if I find intensely cool or deeply disturbing; that is, of course, a neat definition of anything worth writing about. (It’s certainly the sci-fi project; thrilling wonder and uncanny menace.) So, a ski resort is short of snow due to the gradually warming winters; they make snow, but this uses lots of electricity, which costs money…and is actually making the problem worse.

Solution; they invest in a honkin’ great wind turbine, to make their own electricity. And snow; their electricity demand profile peaks in the winter, which also happens to be the windiest period of the year. The wind blows; the blades spin; the snow cannons plaster the slopes. The parallel with da Vinci’s fantasy that his helicopter would bring snowflakes down from the Dolomites to scatter in the stinking hot piazzas of August is clear.

But there’s something horribly…baroque about it.

In any given period of history, the proportion of irony to available cases tends towards 1. The last people in the world who seriously consider that there might be weapons of mass destruction in Iraq are working for the United Nations, and it’s Russia that wants to keep them on the job, and the US and UK who want to turn off the lights.

I think the Russians are having a laugh here, right? But there is a serious point. There was, after all, a lot of expertise in Iraq regarding weapons science, and we know all about the vanishing explosives and radioactive scrap metal. So perhaps I shouldn’t feel so smug about this. Or maybe…

I would like to understand the current controversy going on over at many more-read blogs than this one regarding “orthodox” and “heterodox” economics. At least, I’d like to understand it better. I’m sympathetic to a general critique of what we’re apparently obliged to describe as “orthodox” economics – unrealistic standard assumptions, unrealistic views of rationality, fetish maths, ponyism – but I am, to say the least, very unclear on how “heterodox” differs from either a) just good economics, b) J.K. Galbraith, or c) critical theorist blethering.

No doubt this is unfair, but there are so many strawmen being bayonetted in this debate that I thought I might find time for a spot of close-order drill myself. Also, I was frightened by Post-Autistic Economists as a child – well, as an exchange student at Vienna University in the autumn of 2001, which is much the same. The PAEs were highly popular there, for reasons which usually added up to “no more quantitative methods class! Woo! And you’re a fascist.”

If you think that’s unfair, well, it wasn’t me. More recently, I followed a lunk to the Robert Vienneau blog and his critique of comparative advantage. Now, I’m not sure whether the problem was like the dog listening to music – I’m not bright enough to understand it – like the man listening to music through a pile of socks – the exposition clouded the clear, not the other way round – or whether it actually is what it seemed to me to be. That being a weird corner case strongly at variance with history, and based on assumptions even odder than neoclassical ones.

Curiously, this weekend I was talking to a Canadian writer about Social Credit among other things, and it struck me that historically you’re more likely to be crazy if you think you’ve discovered a new economic principle than if you think you’ve discovered a new law of physics, so I think my scepticism is justified.

So, can anyone show me where to reswitch the Light on, the Provisional Truth, and the Path-Dependent Way? This is basically a great big wolf-whistle to Dsquared, naturally.

Sneaking through the barrio, I came on a bleakly lighted doorway, that bore the mark of the cult…


The place called itself a “Poulperia”, which I took to mean it specialised in squid.

A close shave

Apparently, the Red Army in Afghanistan called the kind of raid it calls a “zachistka” in Chechnya a “prichyoska” or haircut. “An unnecessarily brutal cordon-and-search operation, sir, and something for the weekend?”

Enter headline here

This is the kind of story journalists are meant to dream of. But just how would you headline a tale that involves a knife- and pepper-spray wielding female astronaut, an apparently fantasised love triangle, a 900-mile drive, adult nappies, and a freakout confrontation in an airport carpark? So J.G. Ballard.

Fortunately it happened in the US, where long headlines are expected. My best effort so far: Knife-Wielding Aviatrix in Love Triangle Wears Nappy to Airport Freakout. You know where the comments are.

Not a song-title title, and not really a jet – an Antonov-26 instead. Via, we learn that a plane hitherto thought to have been stolen has been seized in Beni, Province Orientale, DRC on the instructions of Interpol. Le Phare of Kinshasa reports that the aircraft was operated by an ex-Soviet crew led by a Russian pilot who was himself wanted by the International Police (it’s not clear whether Interpol is meant or the UN Mission) – but no names. Apparently Interpol agents have been checking aircraft at strips across the eastern DRC recently, which has led to some local airlines signing insurance policies! Still, anything that reduces the penalty for what Soj used to call “Flying whilst Black” is welcome.

Le Potentiel has more detail, quoting the registration as 9Q-COR and the owner as “Belglobe Airlines” and stating that the serial number was that of an aircraft missing from the Ukraine for the past 14 years. It goes without saying that Belglobe isn’t online, or possibly it doesn’t exist. Neither is the registration listed anywhere.

But we have the information, via a Russian discussion forum. They identify the registration 9Q-COR as the aircraft with the manufacturer’s serial number 7305809, last heard of under the registration EW-46359, but associated with something called Aviatrade Congo. The last data on this plane is from 1997 in Belarus, but lists it as “derelict” at Ishiro/Matari airfield in the DRC (and an Antonov-24 to boot).

Aviatrade Congo may have used the plane, but never acknowledged it. It does lay claim to another An-26, 9Q-CVR serial no. 7305802 – note that these are very close indeed to the other aircraft’s details. We do know, however, that this plane (or one bearing the titles) exists – here’s a photo taken at Pointe-Noire on the 30th of October, 2005. Fascinatingly, Aviatrade Congo is said to be the property of the Gabonese President’s daughter, or else a Congolese general who is sought by the French courts.

(Hat-tip to Arnaud Labrousse, btw.)

Dear God, John Redwood says something entirely sane. This frightens me – there is something we agree on. Naturally, I followed a link from Chris Dillow – I don’t read his stuff, you know.

But I think he’s right that a big part of the solution to party spending is that the buggers ought not to spend so much. As energy geeks will tell you, only half the problem is supply. After all, if they couldn’t rely on spin, broadcast ads, and billboards they would rely so much more on their activists, which would imply greater accountability of the politicians to the base. Broadcast, by the way, should here be read to include all forms of one-way, centre to mass communication.

In a sense, large donations and their pal, broadcast campaigning are to British politics what oil revenues are to (enter ‘orrible rentier state here). That is, they provide a way of escaping not only from accountability, but also from the realities of society.

It’s been a weird political week, no? There was “Loyalist” (scarequotes included because my definition of loyalty doesn’t include shooting fellow citizens, constables & c) nutbag Michael Stone’s public freakout-cum-terrorist attack on Stormont. I haven’t laughed as much in years – seriously, ten years ago this would have meant blood in the streets, all 39 Brigade leave cancelled, Belfast burning. These days he gets pistolwhipped with his own gun by a woman who isn’t even officially a security guard and publicly ridiculed. It’s progress of a sort. Slugger was of course all over the story, and has the details on his motive: apparently he wanted to be put in a cell for his own safety. It’s also progress that you can barge into Stormont with a gun to get yourself arrested, rather than simply shot.

I rather liked the commenter who suggested that the whole thing was an exercise in performance art by the amateur painter Stone, designed to mock the NI politicians’ desperate efforts to get the world’s attention.

Much more depressing is the death of Alexander Litvinenko. The Viking catherd has details on polonium-210 and comments that it was “a curiously elegant and vicious assassination method”. Indeed. The horror of it should be argument enough against the notion that he administered the poison to himself to discredit Vladimir Putin. Suicide-bombers, after all, go out in an instant, and self-immolation (Buddhist/Prague style) is both easier to arrange and more publicly theatrical. And where would he have laid hands on enough of the stuff? Any theory of his assassination must first climb the mount improbable of his killer having access to something found only in quantity in a nuclear reactor or linear accelerator, and in a form pure enough to be handled safely and innocuous enough to be administered easily.

Steinn points out that, at least within the US, small quantities of it are on open sale, but the amount required to kill would have cost $500,000, not to mention being a very noticeable sale. George “Dick Destiny” Smith points out that half a gram in a capsule would reach 500 degrees Celsius – “Litvinenko was cooked from the inside”.

There is something about this story, though, that almost makes the suicide theory plausible – the rainswept November streetscapes of London and the doomed radioactive exile wandering towards death through the flickering mobs of Christmas shoppers. There have always been exiles and foreign secret policemen conspiring in obscure corners of the city, and Litvinenko’s death is almost uncannily fitted to the genius loci. I am reminded of “The Professor”, the prototype suicide bomber and proto-fascist in Conrad’s Secret Agent, who carries an explosive charge triggered by a pneumatic bulb in the sleeve of his jacket, ready to blow himself up if arrested. In conversation with a comrade, he lets slip that the fuse is not instant – twenty seconds must elasp before the explosion, to the comrade’s utter horror and astonishment.

But a suicide-weapon that means not seconds, but weeks of irreversible radiation sickness, is innately improbable. The Government, of course, is desperately hoping against hope that it was anyone, anyone but Gazprom the Russians.