Compare the emergent regions in the BT CDR graph.
This blog has to move, apparently. Bytemark, Beasts, Squid, Linode, or somewhere else?
Jesus what an autumn. First e2fsprogs ate my HDD. I still have to go back and hack on that. Then we migrated the work e-mail, with the result thanks to Microsoft that although a load of archive e-mail has the right headers and Outlook knows this it still lists it as coming from me.
And ScraperWiki ran a bulldozer back and forth over a bunch of my stuff. I evacuated the code onto…yes, the Linux partition that got killed. Fortunately other stuff is on github. Now I’ve been given notice to quit the blog server. I think the MySociety folk are spending too much time hanging around with Tories, to be honest.
I never really finished the migration here, to be honest. Walter Benjamin in the command line.
Did you know you can still get a ticket for £20 to see England vs New Zealand and Australia vs Fiji at Wembley next week? Those are the three best and four hardest Rugby League sides in the world, probably the biggest concentration of all-round athleticism you’re ever likely to encounter. It’s a pity the web site is the biggest fucking UX hot mess ever. Ah, the professional code, never change. We’re still a bunch of fucking amateurs.
That said I was quite pleased with England this weekend. Looking at the score you might think “disappointing, didn’t thump France, will be rolled up like a carpet by the Kiwis”. But France have been pretty decent through the tournament and they were much more of a challenge than I thought. In general, it’s been a great World Cup – not too many mismatches like 1995, no organisation chaos like 2000.
Now this is really interesting. The Grauniad talks to some drug dealers about how they use bookies’ video roulette machines to launder their earnings. The main reason to do this is that they issue receipts, which permit you to explain to the police (and also the Revenue) why you’re carrying so much cash. It’s also useful to be able to transfer money into an online betting account and therefore reduce how much float you have to carry around at risk of robbery.
“James” is especially interesting because he seems to have an impressively precise grip on his business’s KPIs and his numbers add up. First, it’s said that the cost of the laundering – i.e. the losses due to the house edge – is about 5-10%. He sells £5,500 a week in cocaine, and his gross margin is 50%. He also says that he reckons that he spends about £15,000 a year in losses/laundering costs with the bookies. That’s £288 a week. 50% of £5,500 is £2,750, so that works out to 10.4%.
The actual loss rate is much higher, because he only wagers about 40% of the cash he pays in and evidently all the net losses come out of that. The figure of 40% is deliberate, because he suspects that there is a suspicious activity alert set at that level. Other interesting details are that his wholesaler supplies him on credit, although he still needs a substantial float because this might be called in unpredictably, perhaps due to conflict between suppliers, and that he travels everywhere by bus because the police are more likely to bother him in his car.
Hilariously, the surprisingly detailed accounting is because he worked in the back-office of an investment bank before quitting to pursue a more lucrative career, or conceivably to work his way back to respectability.
I’ve recently started reading Ralph Miliband’s Socialism in a Sceptical Age. Partly because someone on twitter wants to quote Ralph every time Ed says something, here are a couple of points so far.
RM felt that the power of Big Media was akin to the power to raise a private army, and he says this with reference to feudalism. Feudalism couldn’t end while the state relied on the barons for mobilisation, and while they controlled mobilisation, they would make sure it didn’t. He may mean that private power over media is to the capitalism of the 1990s (when he was writing) as private power over mobilisation was to feudalism.
RM argues that it’s primarily about power. He doesn’t really take a view about planning vs markets, or if he does I’ve not reached it yet. Whether economic life is dominated by organisations or markets or something else is a secondary point. What matters are the terms of trade between the actors in it. He was very well aware of the criticisms of planned economies and also of Attlee/Nehru nationalised industries. The rigged market is as much an instrument of violence as Gosplan.
Different forms of capitalism are as important as different forms of socialism. It’s still capitalism, but one form may very well be preferable to another.
That said, the difference between a social reformer and a socialist is that one of them wants a society that is egalitarian, democratic, and in which much more of economic life is socialised, which isn’t the same thing as nationalised. The horizon for this may be very long, and in some ways socialism is a way of seeing.
Something else. It’s interesting to run into references to people I otherwise only know as blogs howling at each other about Iraq, like the late Norman Geras, as if they were great intellectual eminences. For example, I made a fool of myself on Crooked Timber not so long ago by demanding to know if there was any reason to care about anything Michael Walzer had ever said. I stand by that one.
Amazingly depressing news about Steve Prescott.
I remember his second try at the 1996 Challenge Cup final vividly – spotting he wasn’t going to reach a chip kick from Bobby Goulding, he kicked it ahead on the volley as if it was a football, and guarded the bouncing ball closely until he was certain of getting it down cleanly. It was a moment of real elegance.
It would be great if that clip was on some sort of big hosting site, wouldn’t it? Well, although the four decisive high kicks from Goulding are, it’s not. There’s a post-match interview with him looking terrifyingly young, but honestly, who wants to be remembered for a how-do-you-feel clip?
It was on the BBC, but you’ll be lucky. Says the BBC Archive help page:
This site is no longer staffed
Also quite depressing.
The current top adverts served to my GMail account are:
- Ladies’ Coats and Jackets – Plus Size 12 to 32
- Navy Nightdresses – Amazing Choice of Comfy Nightwear From Cute Cotton to Sensual Satin!
- Need a New Bank Account?
- Need No-Win No-Fee Legal Advice
- 1000 Leaflets Only £15!
Google thinks I’m a curvy, litigious woman who needs to print flyers. (This was served next to XOYO’s mailout, so possibly a musician?)
Twitter thinks I should follow:
- a couple of northern soul DJs
- Verso Books
- Handley-Page Victor XL231
- Adam Kotsko
I think Twitter may have stolen a march on Google somehow. Update: I just asked Soizick about this and GMail serves her NO ADS. She controls the horizontal and the vertical, and all your bases are belong to her.
OK, still reviewing this book. Can’t really bring myself to Buzzfeedise it. Anyway, we’re moving onto Afghanistan and to “lessons learned”.
Who else stood out? Chris “not that one” Brown writes about the NATO HQ in Afghanistan; I looked that up in the index because I can’t think of a single interesting point from his essay. Similarly, Nick Pounds and Jon Riley talk about the comprehensive approach to counterinsurgency and again about NATO and don’t say much, although they all think things were OK when they rotated out. None of them can put a finger on who, precisely, decided to go to Afghanistan or why.
Paul Newton, who was in charge of an army thinktank dedicated to making the MoD a “learning organisation”, introduced touch-typing as a necessary skill for officer cadets and points out that most of the training syllabus assumes not fighting in cities, while the army seems to do it a lot. He also talks some really incredible bureaucratic guff.
Desmond Bowen is an MoD civil servant, and remarks that Iraq was a disaster and we shouldn’t have gone. He points out that a lot of decisions were conditioned by the desire to find something for big, expensive organisations and formations to do – the British-led NATO Allied Rapid Reaction Corps HQ was put forward for deployment to a whole variety of places and tasks, because it ought to be doing something for fear it might get cut otherwise. This was intolerable because it was a corps-level HQ and we had to have one. Similarly, the British role in Iraq was conditioned by needing to be more than a token showing, to be nice to the Americans, and enough to be worth deploying 1 Division HQ. Depressing.
Iain McNicholl is an RAF air marshal, which is interesting because apart from two civilians, he’s the only contributor from outside the Army. There are no contributions from the Royal Navy or the Marines at all, although 3 Commando Brigade invaded Iraq and went repeatedly to Afghanistan and took lots of Naval personnel with it each time. Also, the FAA’s Naval Strike Wing went to Afghanistan. Libya is out of scope, but the RN also did a lot of work chasing pirates off Somalia which might be interesting. Did they get censored?
Anyway, McNicoll doesn’t say much of interest.
Simon Wessely, KCL professor of psychiatry, discusses the psychiatric impact of the wars on the people who served. He argues that they came through better than expected although they do drink a lot of beer. More interestingly, he thinks some of this can be ascribed to better care, notably better awareness and peer-support. Out of everyone who contributed, he probably has a maximum of specific and implementable proposals for improvement.
Alexander Alderson was ordered to brief the American V Corps HQ, going out to Iraq, on British counter-insurgency doctrine. He started by reading the handbook, issued as recently as 2001, and was surprised that it was rather good. When he got to brief, after his slides were vetted by a number of colonels, he was barked at by US corps commander David McKiernan for suggesting that there might be insurgents in Iraq. “We’re warfighting, dammit!”
That said, he points out that as early as 2005, the Americans had set up a training course in Iraq, while the British didn’t do anything similar. In fact, the Americans offered the British a number of instructor jobs on it but we didn’t take up the offer. It gets worse. It was decided to rewrite the doctrine from 2001, but this project ended up with the services disagreeing, the MoD turning down the Army’s version, and eventually no doctrine. Rather than a learning organisation, MoD was apparently an unlearning organisation.
Hew Strachan sums up by accepting that it was all a terrible fuckup but not offending anyone specific.
A few weeks ago, I did a partial review of Blair’s Generals, a collection of essays about the wars since 1997 by the generals who commanded British forces in them, organised and edited by Hew Strachan at KCL and heavily censored, as it turned out, by the MoD. Here’s phase two.
Nick Parker says the operation in Sierra Leone worked because the FCO had a plan. Action by the military, and by DFID, was in support of this plan. From his point of view, the operational-level commander was the high commissioner. The FCO chain of command seemed to work better than the military one, which was OK as far as PJHQ but broke down in MoD Main Building. DFID’s was really awful, because it wasn’t allowed to spend money without someone in London approving it.
Graeme Lamb’s contribution is…special. We get a lengthy rant about being a Spartan who cares nothing for anyone and who despises the modern cult of image, but who also spends a great deal of time projecting his image and whining about anyone who dare criticise. Some of this jumps head first into outright fascism. He complains about “the modern methods of business”, approvingly quotes something called The Business General, and looks forward to the coming wars over food that might bring back a concern for something beyond self.
He then remarks that getting a grip on the flow of oil into Baiji refinery, refined products out, and cash in both directions was absolutely critical. I remember that was in the New York Times.
Andrew Murray discusses his tour of Afghanistan with 52 Brigade in 2007. He describes his campaign plan as being all about influence, and notes that he had to improvise the means of it completely as the army could offer him little capability for propaganda. He issued a reading list to his staff that included Kahneman & Tversky’s Judgment under Uncertainty, but also Cass Sunstein’s Nudge and Superfreakonomics. He also quotes General Richards’ concept of operations for Afghanistan, which was…not particularly clear, and would probably have caused some surprise had it been published at the time.
Like so many in phase one, he felt Afghanistan was going OK when he handed over.
Justin Maciejewski writes in the place of Richard Sherriff, whom he served as operations officer in Basra. Sherriff is still on the active list and his contribution was suppressed by MoD. He says bluntly that Iraq was a disaster and we should never have got involved, and we learn that by 2006 people were already talking about “honour” during planning for the next rotation and for Operation SINBAD. Also, he says, the various British officers who acted as deputy commanders in Baghdad had very little to do with the army in Basra, which communicated only with London and tried to ignore the rest of Iraq.
That said, he points out that much of this planning closely foreshadowed the “surge”, and Sherriff attempted to integrate the British into a wider national campaign plan, to the extent that he got the Americans to reinforce MNDSE with more helicopters. The original plan foresaw a succession of aggressive raids to weaken the various enemy forces in Basra, followed by consolidation with a neighbourhood presence of British troops and Iraqi police, and an effort to deliver aid and political goods. Nouri al-Maliki’s government insisted first on a less aggressive plan, and then on going ahead early. They also committed very few Iraqi troops – 2 infantry battalions and a military police company, less a third of the force rotating to Baghdad as reinforcements.
The enemy responded by plastering Basra Palace with rockets, causing the civil element of the operation to be called off and the US consulate there to use their chain of command (see Parker) to demand that something must be done. Without more numbers, there was too much of Basra in range to patrol often enough to suppress the rocketing. He argues that the situation at the beginning of 2006 was stalemate.
This brings us to Jonathan Shaw, who took over as MNDSE commander at this point. He argues that although they evolved tactics to fight the rocketing, what they really lacked was air power, specifically surveillance and attack helicopters. Although the US consulate reported back that it was getting rocketed, and this led to a stream of badgering messages demanding more unspecified action, it didn’t induce the Americans to help in any way. Meanwhile, the Army Air Corps and the RAF were increasingly called on for Afghanistan, as were the Fleet Air Arm (this was important because their Mk.6 Sea Kings were used to monitor the rockets with radar, identify the rocket team with cameras, and then call in an air strike). This led to the assessment that most of the fighting, as opposed to the rockets, was “thief vs. thief” and it was time to pick a thief and move out to the airport.
Shaw thinks things were pretty much OK when he rotated out.
This was the period in the run-up to Operation “Charge of the Knights” when the Americans were being snippy. The British commander at the time, Richard Iron, has a lot of interesting stuff to say – notably that the Basra security plan was worked out by MNDSE based on Northern Ireland documents, but had never been put into effect due to the lack of Iraqi Army or police to fill it. He also says that Shaw’s disengagement had the effect of losing contact with most of their best intelligence sources, and reveals that there were no – no – British advisors embedded in the 10th Iraqi Division in Basra.
This is interesting because training, the Multinational Security Transition Command’s job, reported to the higher-level MNF(I) HQ in Baghdad rather than to MNDSE or the operations-focused MNC(I). What were the various British top generals there, like Bill Rollo, up to? He has little to say. The point is also made that British training efforts were concentrated on the police, on the Northern Irish principle of police primacy, and this seems to have been a waste of time.
Anyway, on this occasion, unlike Operation SINBAD, some 15 Iraqi Army battalions under 5 brigades showed up. So did the MNC(I) advanced headquarters and a mass of US helicopters and drones. Clearly, the degree of political commitment had changed on the part of several actors. However, the Iraqis insisted on going it alone, again. Was this Maliki still not wanting to provoke the Shia powers, and setting the IA up to fail? Or was he trying to ensure that the coalition would commit to the operation?
Either way, despite what is described as a US information operation directed at the British, the 4th Mechanised Brigade is reorganised in a hurry to provide advisory teams to the Iraqis. It is perhaps not very surprising or informative that an operation with 60 per cent of two and a half battalions didn’t work when one with 15+ and perhaps double the air power did.
OK, so. John Band and Oliver Rivers decided I was going to write in Buzzfeed house style for the next whenever, and it’s substantially less annoying to write than gawkerese or Belle Waring. Here goes.
Thousands will die or maybe they won’t
The Guardian‘s Seamus Milne isn’t happy about energy prices, much like Ed Miliband and everyone in the UK who hasn’t rammed the bill to Brenda’s Debating & Drinking Society. Ultra-Blairite Hopi Sen takes issue with this. God knows why, but he seizes on this chart to argue that everything is OK.
That’s a chart showing that not as many olds have fallen off their perch when it gets chilly in recent years. Most of the actual change there seems to have happened between about 1960 and 1990, but it does seem to have got a bit better since about 2000. Hopi’s argument is that this shows that energy privatisation is great.
Which is weird. Why? Well, look at this table.
They’re not dying because council houses
That’s right – the older your house is, and the older you are, the more likely you are to freeze. Can’t do better here than just lift a quote:
the lack of a significant relationship between deprivation and excess winter mortality suggests that in the UK those who are deprived often live in social housing, which is, on average, more energy efficient.
Hopi then tells us that the Decent Homes program spent a bunch of money insulating council flats, which is good.
Good job we’ve basically abolished those
The red bit on this chart of total UK housing construction is council houses. You’ll observe that we actually BUILT MORE DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR WHEN THE GERMANS WERE DROPPING BOMBS ON US AND WE HAD NO MONEY FOR FOOD than when Hopi’s old boss was in charge. After we got rid of him, you can just see a tiny hint of red.
Also, remember I said most of the improvement in “not letting granny freeze to death like a stray dog” seems to be between 1960 and 1990? Yup. When rather more than half those houses were built.
OK, here’s a boring non-Buzzfeed bit with long words and no graphics. Look away
You can see some of the problems with the Blair government here. The first one that sticks out is that they were completely concentrated on either the extreme poor or the extreme rich.
In this case, spending money on council housing retrofits helped prevent deaths among the desperate, but only if they were council tenants. Great, but I can’t help but think New Labour: We won’t let you physically freeze to death, so long as you’ve got a council tenancy that’s as rare as hen’s teeth is a slogan betraying a certain poverty of aspiration.
Another problem is that this does nothing at all for anyone who isn’t actually going to physically freeze to death. Ed Miliband’s public stabbing of Npower is very publicly framed as a cost-of-living issue that affects everybody. This should remind us of Mike Konczal’s useful notion of pity-charity liberalism. Normal people offer humanitarian aid to essentially powerless clients, who are subject to a whole lotta intervention, badgering, and prodding to make sure they are deserving.
One of its problems is that it doesn’t build up a political coalition in its own interest. Another is that it lets the kind of people Orwell was talking about when he said that some people are drawn to socialism out of a hypertrophied sense of order let their freak-flags fly. And a further one is that it reinforces the arguments the oppo use against social security generally. It’s taking money from you! and giving it to Those People!
And finally, apparently it’s council housing that protects the vulnerable from the rapacity of the privatised energy industry. Yeah, well.