Open newslist 7

It’s a little while since we did one of these. Candidates include:

Think Defence has finished their epic series on the disastrous FRES procurement. It has much in common with classic IT project failure, for example, the NHS NPfIT. Also, we wanted to have at Eric Pickles on a related issue and we might yet do it.

A review of Dan “Not that one” Davies’ excellent biography of Jimmy Savile.

Alternatively, I have drafts for several Savile posts, so if you don’t behave I’ll declare a whole Savile Week. Pick from:

  • Savile, the first truly postmodern celebrity?
  • The icon of unpopular populism: Savile and politics
  • The social and economic context: Savile, the postwar era, and showbusiness

Among tried and tested themes, as well as Jimmy Savile, there’s also the Israel/Palestine conflict. We’ve written about Palestinian rocketry, about the role of modern anti-tank guided weapons, so how about something about tunnels, bulldozers, landscape, and again rockets?

This piece about Singapore is interesting, but confused. Scenario-planning isn’t a Big Data methodology and doesn’t require surveillance. Also, Americans shudder with the horror that someone somewhere might get required medical assistance, and get away with it!

On a related theme, an information security expert dabbles in international relations theory and this is the result. As an IR MSc who dabbles in computing, I have opinions! Again, Americans shudder with horror at the thought someone somewhere might get required medical assistance, and get away with it! More importantly, there are real problems with classical realism as a theory and some of them have been answered successfully as long ago as the 1950s. Who knows, maybe they might be interesting for geeks, too?

This might also involve Decentralisation: I Want to Believe. Trying to understand why P2P is so hard.

Iain Duncan Smith, intergenerational transmission, Universal Credit, and the protector of aborigines and his big clock. This one’s deep into Glenn Beck schizophrenia-as-a-methodology territory but I think I might be able to pull it off.

Predictions based on China’s sex-ratio skew are mostly wrong. Further, Tyler Cowan completely forgets a whole and intellectually fruitful branch of economics when it would have been really handy. What gives? Both are case studies of how just a little feminism would have delivered a huge return of wisdom, or at least, much less stupidity. The problem in No.1 is a stupid stereotype of masculinity, in No.2 a stupid stereotype of femininity combined with a weird attitude to sex.

It’s struck me, rereading this, that the Treasury/Downing St duopoly has become akin to that between CCP institutions and Chinese government ones, a parallelism between political, i.e. propagandistic and violent, and technocratic, i.e. making stuff work, structures.

Update: I was hoping the answer to this wouldn’t be “all of the above”. There’s also been a twitter conversation about this, and so far it looks like this:

FRES/Project Failure/Eric Pickles is strongly supported
At least some Savile content is strongly supported

Weaker support for full Savile Week
Weaker support for Singapore/Data

Proposed extra idea: how’s this ISIS lot beating the Kurds?

Career opportunities

LinkedIn’s algo just recommended me this:

The Cherie Blair Foundation for Women’s Mobile Technology Programme works on a wide range of exciting initiatives – from conducting independent research and developing bespoke mobile apps to forging innovative public-private partnerships and implementing regional projects – all with the aim of utilising mobile technology to support women entrepreneurs in building successful businesses.

We are seeking a highly motivated and dedicated programme director with excellent professional and academic credentials to develop and lead the implementation of the programme’s strategy. Applicants should have a passion for the core issues at the heart of the Foundation and the Mobile Technology Programme – primarily enterprise development, technology, gender and international development.

So LinkedIn thinks I’m a technical project manager and a feminist, with past signing authority up to £1m, but one who is willing to sell their principles and hang out with the Blairs. And then I got this e-mail:

Hi Alexander,

I’m building a team at Lib Dem HQ that will contact voters across the UK. This team will recruit volunteers, develop a voter contact strategy, and support our candidates as they campaign through to polling day on 7th May, 2015.

I know why; in the run-up to the 2010 election there was a call for volunteer developers and I signed up. They never called back. But how long will it take the buggers to accept that I quit?

Watch an actual Hamas rocket launch, with #combatgazebo

So an Indian TV crew managed to film a Hamas rocket team doing their thing.

First of all, wow. That’s the use of the gazebo in urban warfare, right there. More seriously, I reckon the launch site is in dead ground from two or three sides, covered from view by the buildings and trees, unless you were directly overhead. Obviously the fourth side is the direction in which they are going to fire.

Second, the camera pans very fast over the launch site after the gazebo is removed, but you’ll notice that the rocket seems to be camouflaged even after that, right up to the instant of launch. This might be a constraint on range, as the launch is at a low angle (watch the smoke). This frame shows something sticking up under a bush dragged into place as concealment, but it’s steeper than the launch. Whatever it is, it’s about 2m long.

Third, the bloke at 02.39 probably doesn’t have to run very often, and isn’t going hungry in a society under siege either. I think this is a data point for the ideas that production and deployment are closely integrated that Hamas has successfully mobilised Gaza’s craftsmen.

Fourth, the camouflage was worth doing because the set-up was finished by 0630 local time, and the launch is (per TV) at 0750. And clearly, the notion of “launching pads” is silly. Anywhere with an open view to the north and some cover will do.

Fifth, the package editing doesn’t let us know how long the set-up took, but the gazebo – the COMBAT GAZEBO! – was put up overnight.

One-link post

One for Erik:

Woollard’s writing suggests a more tragic story, where these principles were well understood in the factories of Britain’s industrial heartland, only to be lost in the decades that followed. It seems likely that the principles were preserved or possibly rediscovered by Toyota…

Even more rockets and wilder speculation

I’m feeling positively blog-happy after getting away with an Israel/Palestine post, so what about another one? This one is also about rockets, just on a different scale.

A lot of strategic concepts have an odd kind of fractal quality, keeping the same form at different scales. We saw how the rocketing was, in a sense, suppressive fire directed at the economy, and the air raids and artillery were counter-battery fire intended to suppress it in its turn. Now, this wasn’t enough to achieve either suppression or destruction. So what now?

Well, if you can’t find the rocket teams accurately enough to shell or bomb them, the next option is to seize the ground they fire from, or to force them to fight for it, just as it would be in a skirmish between two groups of four soldiers. In the Israeli-Palestinian context, this means that the next move is an Israeli ground incursion. Remember that the ground looks like this.

These raids are something of an Israeli speciality, using a mixture of tanks, super-heavy armoured personnel carriers (a specialised vehicle class not seen in other armies), and engineering equipment to undertake attacks into urban areas with relatively low risk while forcing the guerrilla enemy to fight at a disadvantage. Direct fire, armoured protection, and combat engineering are used to avoid using infantry. The spectacular and shocking destruction of the urban fabric that results is meant to have a deterrent effect on society at large, in a sort of horizontal version of airpower theory.

Here’s a Le Figaro newsflash from last week when the Israeli army did a substantial raid in force into Gaza and lost 13 men killed and one missing. I quote the sentence I find important:

Au moins un char de cette unité a été détruit au cours des combats par des missiles de type Sagger. Un commandant de l’unité a pour sa part été blessé lors de cette opération.

This isn’t quite the first time anti-tank guided weapons have been confirmed in Gaza (one, a much fancier AT-14, was fired across the border in October 2010, and later one was launched across the border at a school bus – stay classy, Hamas!)

But as in Lebanon, they seem to have been effective in imposing losses on Israeli ground forces and in constraining the freedom of manoeuvre that they otherwise gain by reshaping the ground with engineering plant and explosives. Although I haven’t got access to the whole text, this Ha’aretz story and the tweet accompanying it seems to say that the raid into Shujaya ran into trouble, specifically a massive ambush with ATGWs, and the Israeli army called in a huge artillery bombardment to cover its disengagement.

The point here is that when the best Palestinian anti-tank weapon was an RPG, they had to get to within 100 metres of a tank to be effective. Ideally, you’d want to creep up on the tank from behind, so we can understand the tactics here as being about controlling the space to the flanks of the advance out to 100 to 500 metres. Drenching the RPG engagement zone with suppressive fire and then bulldozing away buildings that provide cover was the solution.

Now, ATGWs like the Sagger permit engagement from 3km away with a high success rate. This makes the super-heavy APCs and engineering vehicles into big, slow-moving, valuable targets. That’s precisely what happened on the night of July 20, when one of them was destroyed with a whole section of Golani troopers aboard. The area to the flanks of the armoured group that must be cleared to prevent this happening increases dramatically. Because this is happening in a city, this usually means more infantry, and you can probably see where we’re going here.

Let’s pull the camera back from the tactical scale to the strategic scale. The fundamental political offer from Israeli leaders is that with a “tough security stance”, “mowing the grass” periodically, the benefits to individual groups in Israel (e.g settlers, the religious, clients of the defence establishment) that might be lost under a general peace settlement can be retained at an acceptable price, like the occasional Operation Pillar of Defence.

The offer from the peace camp, when it had any power, was that national unifying ideals were at risk from the cost of major wars, and therefore a sacrifice for principle was called for. But if the cost could be kept down, this didn’t sound like such a good deal, especially to people (the religious, ex-Soviet immigrants, Sephardic Jews) who didn’t necessarily recognise themselves in the ideals people like Yitzhak Rabin claimed to represent..well. It’s probably no surprise that this didn’t happen when peace was proposed with the Arab states, and that it did when it was proposed with the Palestinians.

If the costs of periodic short wars get to be more like full mobilisation, this package starts to fall apart. “Protective Edge” is no longer much like “Pillar of Defence” and is heading for “Lebanon 2006″ pretty quickly. I’m not sure where we’ll go here. As I said in the earlier post, you can make a case that the Israel-Lebanon border is quiet because Israel and Hezbollah have reached a degree of mutual deterrence. But as I also said, the same processes also seem to make for greater emotional/political intransigence, and on both sides, the end of positive sources of mobilisation (normality and Western integration for Israel, development for Palestine) implies that negative ones (basically, either intolerant religion or intolerant nationalism for both) become more important.

The question is whether we settle into an awkward, paranoid, intolerant peace or rather a permanent ceasefire, perhaps with the cycle time from coexistence to war getting longer, or whether one side or the other attempts to change the terms of the conflict by a dramatic move of some kind.

Just because

I have just noticed that if you leave a comment on the New York Review of Books‘s blog and it goes into moderation, they return the following message:

Hold on, this is waiting to be approved by The New York Review of Books.

Put like that, it almost seems an honour.

Jobs through Your Local Budget are 400% of GDP!

Is there anyone who didn’t predict that the Big Society would descend into shameless grantsmanship, chancerism, and possibly illegal party financing? Go read; the list of projects is unimprovable, The Thick of It meets Siobhan Sharpe meets the Alan Partridge pitch scene. Much of the money ended up with Tories or ex-Tories and some of that seems to have been donated back into the Tory campaign funds.

Some of this is pukka taxpayer’s money out of Cabinet Office funds, and the civil servants involved seem to have been put under the gun to hand it out. Accounting responsibility is utterly central to the structure of the civil service, however, seeing as the minister is Francis Maude and the permanent secretary and therefore accounting officer is Bob Kerslake you can probably whistle.

Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild, meanwhile, is suing the Henry Jackson Society, the rather late UK branch of organised neo-conservatism, over some event she asked them to put on and went out rattling the tin for. Now there are a lot of unpaid bills, and missing money.

In the States, meanwhile, Krugman notices that top Murdoch executives’ employees look to them for revenge, as if they were gangsters or something. Ahem.

Hoare was furious with him one time when Hoare brought in a story about a famous actress only to find that Coulson, first, refused to publish it; second, took the famous actress on holiday; third, was clearly being rewarded in her bed; fourth, and worst of all, told the famous actress how Hoare had managed to get the story in the first place, with the result that the source was exposed and lost forever.

When Hoare discovered all this, he told Coulson direct and to his face that he was a “complete cunt”. Coulson replied with a line which became a regular catchphrase as he worked his way upwards: “I’ll make it up to you, mate.”

And although Brad DeLong’s Koka-Dancing Good-Time Snake-Handlin’ Thinkotheque offers grants, not one conservative bothered to apply. What links all this?

Well, perhaps, we could have a look at this parliamentary debate and specifically Esther McVey’s contributions.

While Labour was in office, it gradually wore away the financial strength of this country, eroding its savings and savings culture, and then it crashed the economy. Gas bills doubled, council tax doubled and fuel duty went up 12 times. The only things that grew under Labour were debt and overspending.

Apparently there was some huge pool of savings on deposit in 1997 that got spent by government. I remember a £28bn budget deficit. Funny! Also, I thought energy prices were all about the market now.

Let us not get away from how this started under Labour. What each and every one of us does is important. I have heard nothing from Opposition Members about the news that, because of our welfare-to-work programme, 30 million people are in jobs today. We know that under Labour, the number of households with nobody working doubled—[Interruption.]

There are 60-odd million people in the UK.

If one thing came out of the disastrous years that made our country more vulnerable because of the disastrous finances of the Labour Government it was the fact that not only are this Government doing more to get people into work—I will say it again, although I heard no positive sounds from the Labour Benches before: there are 30 million people in work—and that businesses have helped to support people and have taken them on, but that the community has come together to support one another

There are still 60-odd million people in the UK.

In the UK, it is right to say that more people are visiting food banks, as we would expect. [Hon. Members: “ Give way!”] No. Times are tough and we all have to pay back the £1.5 trillion of personal debt, which spiralled under Labour. We are all trying to live within our means, change the gear, and ensure we are paying back all the debt that we saw under Labour.

It is important to look at what is happening around the world. The UK has a population of 63 million and 60,000 people are visiting food banks according to the Trussell Trust. In Germany, however, with a population of 82 million, there are 1.5 million users of food banks. Canada has population of 35 million, and there are 830,000 monthly users of the Trussell Trust.

Who knew that the government was trying to reduce its deficit in order to pay down personal debt? What could that possibly even mean? Also, does the Trussell Trust operate in Canada?

We must put everything in context and look at what happened, whether that is the overspending and not being able to balance the books from 2002, or the financial crash of 2007. [Interruption.] We must look at how much we have done to balance and rebalance the economy, and get it on a stable footing.

Balance it! And then rebalance it! It sounds like something in the circus. You wonder what she actually thinks a chart of the public sector budget looks like over the last few years.

Let us be honest. One thing the Opposition do not understand is that disposable income is different from income. What have we done to support people with disposable income?

Several hon. Members rose—

I bet they did. I’m only surprised Esther McVey’s intern hadn’t provided talking points on what the coalition has done for people with disposable income. I imagine it wouldn’t be too difficult. The sting here is that the debate is about food banks and it’s not just the Labour MPs speaking; it’s the Tories. Story after hellish story of humiliation and despair pours in, and McVey responds in much the same way.

It’s a mixture, as above, of unbelievable lightness – the welfare to work programme is responsible for 30 million jobs, half the UK population – and hyper-extreme partisanship – Labour is making it all up, teh debt is really 400% of GDP, and if there are food banks which there aren’t then they’re Labour’s secret foodbanks. On the one hand, the chancer, on the other, the thug. Welcome to the emerging low-trust society, or did I say that before?

non-Thursday music post

So George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic played the Forum on about the sweatiest night of the year and I went. This isn’t my video – who wants to stand still and point a camera? – but it gives a strong flavour.

They give value; having hit the stage about 2145 they were still playing at 1am. They might have cut a couple of ironic stadium-rawk workouts – yes I know, who says a funk band can’t play rock, but it’s probably the least interesting bit of the show and it’s long. Also it might be cool to bring your granddaughters on tour as backing singers but it’s not professional. But there was really no point splitting hairs. This was legendary stuff and the crowd was on good form, even the old jazz weirdo in front of me in a panama hat looking like he came from commentating on the Test match. Perhaps he did.

I also saw Theo Parrish’s live project at the Forum lately (someone’s booker is on a tear, right?) Here’s some more borrowed video:

The standout here was his team of dancers, not really best shown here due to it not being that kind of song. Also, the crowd was seriously up for it (perhaps we’d all read this interview?). Unfortunately the band struck me as underrehearsed and the sound was pretty poor all night; it felt very much like a warm-up for their slot at Lovebox a couple of days later.

Wild speculation on a highly controversial subject

I started planning this post asking why Palestinian rockets seemed to be steadily increasing in range, but not improving in accuracy. Although nobody publishes circular-error probable figures for these things, various indicators suggested that they were still essentially random weapons. For example, there were no or few reports of them hitting valuable infrastructure or politically symbolic targets. We’ve covered this in the past here and here.

However, things have changed with the continued disruption of Ben-Gurion International Airport, and this post will now discuss to what extent this is a big strategic change, how we would know, and what that implies. As of this morning, although some airlines resumed operating, flights were being cancelled again, aircraft were going-around, and others holding for extended periods of time. As the FR24 coverage shows, very few flights are moving, although the official NOTAM information to pilots (uses a POST, search for LLBG) doesn’t mention it.

So, rockets. Why do they fire them? Unlike artillery, a rocket’s propulsion is applied in the rocket itself, so there is no need to make a barrel that is long enough for the propellant’s energy to be transferred to the projectile, of thick enough steel to contain it, and stiff enough to be pointed accurately, while being mounted in such a way as to be pointed in any direction and to stay that way despite the recoil. That sounds difficult and it is. Rockets don’t need any of that stuff, being as William Congreve said, “the soule of artillery without the body”. So we have a light, hence mobile, cheap, hence common, and simple, hence available way to hurl explosive at one’s enemies no matter how high the wall they put up around you. Because everything is less constrained, absent an active guidance system, they trade off accuracy for this.

You could imagine that this is the physical expression of a sort of generalised venting of rage – randomly tossing ineffective bangs over the wall. But you’d be wrong both in the sense that it trivialises the rocketry’s effect on Israelis, and that it denies Palestinians’ agency and competence.

It’s too easy to point to the fact that they very, very rarely kill anyone and argue that in fact they are a bit puny and the Israelis should just man up and show some stiff upper lip rather than calling in artillery on the nearest school for the disabled. I have myself given in to the temptation before. The point isn’t destruction so much as suppression, the effect created by the fact of being under fire. And what they want to suppress is essentially the Israeli economy.

Remember that GDP is a flow concept – loaves out of a bakery, cars off a production line – not a stock concept like Scrooge McDuck’s treasure. Israeli GDP in 2013 was $286.8bn at purchasing power parity. We can usefully think of this as $32.6 million GDP per hour. While an air warning RED is in force, it is a good guess that economic activity is basically zero. Not quite, of course, the electricity is on, the phone network is up, and the government sector is more than busy. But as a rule, if you’re in an air raid shelter you’re not at work or doing much else than worrying. The Iron Dome close-in weapons system is a major commitment of complicated technology, a diversion of social resources, so the cost of air defence has to be offset against that. And the warning system, which MIT’s Ted Postol credits with protecting the population much more than Iron Dome, does so at the cost of putting more people under warning for longer.

So, you can see why they would go for range first. During this wave of conflict, the percentage of Israeli territory under warning has been as high as 75%, or $24.6m of foregone GDP per hour. A tiny commitment of additional materials per rocket provides a much bigger effect. Also, range requires “bigger” but not “better”, at least until the structural integrity constraints of the rocket are reached. A rocket is a container of propellant, so increasing its volume doesn’t require a proportionately greater quantity of materials. Another important reason to go bigger first is that it makes it possible to launch from anywhere in the Gaza Strip.

Increasing its accuracy, though, requires the rocket maker to incorporate new skills from the civilian labour market. Electronics would be an obvious one, but let’s not run before we can walk. “Accuracy” is a more macho way of saying “quality control”. There’s even a classic book about this in the context of US nuclear missiles, and the far-reaching effects it had on the politics of the workplace.

We’ve been talking about suppression, and this may sound like the opposite of accuracy. But if you want to suppress the economy, it’s obvious that some bits of it are much more important than others, which requires accuracy. Also, as the rockets have to get past the Iron Dome system, it’s important both that the ones that do get past aren’t wasted, and that they can be concentrated in order to flood one particular radar or fire unit’s sector.

In the Gazan context, the question might be “how much of the work needs a real craftsman, and how much can be done by an underemployed 19-year old who may also be the one to fire it?”, followed by “which of those two is more likely to vote Hamas?” Siege is a fundamentally economic form of warfare; the Israelis are besieging Gaza, and the Gazans are trying to impose a counter-siege (John Kerry wasn’t entirely wrong). As always, it requires the political mobilisation of the skilled on both sides.

The Israelis reckon that the production is organised in craft workshops, about 70 of them, with about 250 employees, i.e about four employees per business. If you assume that each shop is run by a craftsman, this is quite a skill-dense process. That said, this 2009 Der Spiegel piece by a reporter who actually witnessed rocket manufacturing seems to suggest a more informal process, more closely linked to the launch team, although it also identifies that an apprenticeship career path exists or existed. Now that’s interesting!

So, is this airport disruption going to go on? Well, here’s some actual data from that fount of truth, the IDF Official Spokesperson’s twitter feed:

You can argue whether the Spokes’ is trying to play up how effective Iron Dome is, trying to play up how bad the rocketing is, or what, but focus on the blue bits. They’re important. Those represent the Israelis’ count of rockets that didn’t go off properly, dropped short, blew up, went off somewhere weird etc. That’s a direct observation of Palestinian industrial quality control, and it seems to have improved quite a bit since last time. Which fits entirely with them pitching onto the airfield at Ben-Gurion.

If you were a optimist you might say “Yay! Here comes mutual deterrence, and with it, peace! It’s the war to end wars…hmm, could be a good slogan that?” You could even point to the fact that Israel and Hezbollah aren’t fighting much since Hezbollah got the range of the Haifa container terminal and the Israeli air force showed they were just as thug as ever. But I suspect you’d be wrong.

Here’s the point on the Israeli side. Palestinian rocket range and the vote for the Israeli extreme-right are strongly correlated; each ward to come under threat reports an increase of between 2 and 6 percentage points in the extreme-right vote (being the 95% confidence intervals). Here’s the point on the Palestinian side, in the Onion‘s inimitable style.

“When I think about it, I guess I’d go so far as to say that I don’t completely enjoy how this is being done entirely without my consent. And I’m not crazy about the fact that Hamas is actually okay with me dying as long as it fuels both resentment toward Israel and support for the party. If I’m being honest, I don’t like that part at all. But then, sometimes I put myself in Hamas’ shoes, and I guess I sort of appreciate where they’re coming from, so it’s tough. Of course, my kids hate it—they’ve actually told me that a couple of times. Oh, well, I guess I’ll give it a couple more weeks and see how I feel about it then.”

At press time, sources confirmed an inbound missile was about to solidify thousands of Palestinians’ opinions on the tactic..

But as I say, the fact of better quality control is itself evidence of successful mobilisation into parts of society other parties don’t reach. The ideological content required to mobilise the people needed, on both sides, is only weakly associated with the technology that requires the mobilisation, but once it is used, it will have its own political consequences.