Thursday, September 20, 2007

Hiatus? What Hiatus?

One of the strange things about living near the country's largest bus manufacturer is the double take you do when you see a destination you don't recognise and your pitiful brain has not yet worked out that these are not local buses.

'Tis not a problem with the Hong Kong buses - they are bright gold and the signs are in sinographs. However, Alexanders are filling an order for Bus Atha Cliath (Dublin Buses) and this has caught me out a couple of times recently.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Two for the weekend, Sir?

I am not good at doing this leaving it alone thing, so two unconnected notes for you while I am away ...

Yes - you may take the piss out of Country & Western (and, frankly, some of them deserve all your bile and venom) but this says so much good about the American attitude to their troops (and I agree with them about the smirking chimp too):

And, as a bonus, Mark Knopfler's Falklands 25 remix of "Brothers in Arms" (h/t Rogue Gunner)

And (h/t Tom), something wrong with the States - apparently, if I was a book, I would be:

You're The Guns of August! by Barbara Tuchman

Though you're interested in war, what you really want to know is what causes war. You're out to expose imperialism, militarism, and nationalism for what they really are. Nevertheless, you're always living in the past and have a hard time dealing with what's going on today. You're also far more focused on Europe than anywhere else in the world. A fitting motto for you might be "Guns do kill, but so can diplomats."
(Take the Book Quiz at the Blue Pyramid.)

"Hang On", I hear you ask, "what is wrong with that?" Well, simple really. This - "You're also far more focused on Europe than anywhere else in the world." - was derived from one (or maybe two) questions:

Where is your focus? A - America; B - The World

and, just possibly,

Do you travel a lot? A - Yes; B - No.

It is a long step from two binary answers to that. Now, if they had stated that my focus was on getting the UK out of the EU ...

PS. And "Blog anzeigen (in einem neuen Fenster)" apparently.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Taking another short break, for reasons better not mentioned.

Nothing to do with the Germanification of Blogger comments at all. Heil Page und Brin etc, etc

Use a different account

Friday, September 14, 2007

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Out of the Mouths of Babes - 2

While I was researching this topic, Master S-E was doing his homework. Ecology Studies (WTF? It's amazing how soon the indoctrination starts) and Maths. Count the electrically powered items in each room in the house and then make a graph.

However, he also had to put them in categories. Lights, computer, heating etc. Out of the mouths of babes ... "In", Mrs S-E asked, "which category would you put a telephone?" Absolutely no hesitation - "entertainment". Comes of having an older sister, I presume. Thank God for zero-tariff phone deals, is all I can say.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Two Good Books

Well, these were both "read until you're finished". Admittedly, one of those was being read while I was waiting for a delayed Sleazyjet flight at Gatwick so ...

(Mohamm)Ed Husain, has been a member of an number of Islamist militant organisations, culminating in a position in Hizb ut-Tahrir - a weird bunch of coves that we seem to be the only country on God's green or sandy Earth don't realise are a militant terrorist nut-job collective. His book is the interesting journey from a bright young schoolboy to remarkably close to being a terrorist - and certainly being a terrorist sympathiser - and back to being a true believer in the "Religion of Peace".

This is an utterly remarkable book - comparable to the "Anarchist's Cookbook" and the original "2600" samizdat copies. It is but competently written however remains wholly engrossing. We see the techniques used to prize young Muslim men away from their families; the techniques used to force the politically correct British establishment into allowing a fascist regime to establish itself in its midst; the gradual journey back to an orthodox Quranic faith. Jamal really ought to read it but I suppose he would just declare it haram and go back to his hate-mongering.

On the other hand, I really enjoyed this. Dan seems to have escape Simon's battle to throttle comment (this and other blogs passim) - he actually praises Director Public Relations (Army) on the dedications page. Some of the aspects of the siege of Cimic House have been written about before - (then) Pte Johnson Beharry won his VC for actions on this tour and it has also been covered in Richard Holmes "Dusty Warriors", however this is a compelling eye-witness account from a Senior NCO who was there for almost the whole period of the significant action - covering the pull-out of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the to-and-fro battles with the Mehdi Army and their commanders in the OMS and leaving just before the handover to the Iraqi authorities. Sgt Mills doesn't like Al Amarah; he, like many Sergeants, is sceptical of his officers but extremely positive about the good ones and, like so many of his rank in wars gone past, clearly the backbone of the British Army. He cares for his men (and, with one exception, seems to really like them) and is rewarded by loyalty and bravery in the fight.

The unique point of view of the commander of the snipers allows a further priveleged account of the trials and tribulations of the battle - the changes in RoE (Rules of Engagement) and how they were exploited by the Iraqis and the care necessary when fighting in a built up area. Read this book - with one caveat - it is slightly over a tenner from Amazon, you may wish to wait for the paperback.

Bad (Security) Journalism

Given that the whole point of a Domain Name Service (DNS) servers is to direct computers from domain names to actual machines, this report seems to be missing the point (my emphasis):
A security researcher has found a serious vulnerability in Bind 8 forcing the software's maintainers to issue an advisory for users to upgrade to Bind 9.4, the latest version.

The flaw within Bind 8 software could misdirect users to a fraudulent wedsite (sic) even if a user typed in the correct URL wrote Amit Klein, chief technology officer for security vendor Trusteer. Klein discovered the problem.

There is actually a real problem, reference here in technical gobbledegook, which exploits a failing in a pseudo-random number generation (the transaction ID) to con the server into accepting spoofed authoritative responses, which it then caches and feeds down to the clients (i.e. your computer). Think of it as a technical equivalent of a CiF comments thread where some people actually believe the crud in the original posting because of the presumed 'authority' of the poster.

Back to the usual mongs

Johann, of course.

I was emailed by a 17-year old gay boy at a Muslim school last year who was told by one of his teachers in a lesson that "sodomites should be killed". In the Stonewall study, an 18-year old boy called Matthew said: "It's a Catholic school... and we are told 'gay people will go to hell because the Bible condemns it'... It's horrid, you just want to go and cry at come of the remarks made by the teachers."

Err, yes - shouldn't you be writing about "news" not "bloody obvious". Would it be offensive to say "well, blow me down with a feather" in a discussion on homosexuality?

That would be because the Roman Catholic sect of the Christian faith and orthodox Islam both strongly condemn homosexuality. See Jamal here (we know he is a pillock but the links under "related articles" are somewhat disturbing - and I "play with a straight bat") and the official position of the Catholic Church (written by the current Pope when he was still running the Inquisition).

I know we are all required to be tolerant little metro-socialist drones these days - and I would expect schools to take a strong link on any bullying, homophobic or otherwise - but if you want religious sympathy for the LGBT (I think that is up to date) community, I am afraid that you need the Church of England.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

A Failure of Leadership?

Please excuse this one - it is going to go on a bit ...

Like it or not, we all have bosses. These may be obvious or more subtle - let's call them "people whose commands we cannot ignore" - or 'bosses' for short.

The manager will have his (senior) manager in turn, up to the CEO who will claim to be responsible to the shareholders but, aside from actually having shareholder representatives on the board, he is more likely to answer to a group of industry-sector city analysts who, with an unwarranted ability to drive the share-price of the company can grotesquely impact his remuneration. The entrepreneur spends far more time than she would like dancing to the tune of the bankers or venture capitalists who back her. The small businessman answers to the customers directly, or they take their business elsewhere. Cut to home and we all, no matter what we pretend and how politely it is phrased, often do the bidding of spouse and children without demur or complaint, in the name of harmony. Just because being co-operative is less hassle than being right (at least, that's my excuse, find your own.)

At university, with a significant amount of military training behind me (prevarication is almost always the wrong decision, etc), I can remember finding it difficult to bite my lip when the regular "what pub shall we spend the evening in?" discussion was ongoing (on the rare occassions when we weren't studying, Mum, of course.) "Let's go to the nearest half-decent one and discuss over a beer", seemed such an obvious solution ...

Recently, with the serialising of General Sir Mike Jackson's autobiography "Soldier" in the Telegraph (1, 2 & 3) and various commentary in the British and American press (including this in an official US military magazine) regarding the apparent lack of preparation from the immediate and subsequent post-war phases in Iraq, it has been strongly suggested that generals whose military advice is not heeded by their political masters should 'bite the bullet', so to say, and resign. I find this an interesting conceit in our modern democracy.

Clearly, for anybody, military or otherwise, there will be professional and moral circumstances (and the occasional utterly loathsome boss) where resignation from a job is clearly justified1. You may have been asked to do something you consider improper or have been put into an unacceptable position vis-a-vis your fellow workers. Merely having your advice being considered and rejected (especially in part) is rarely enough. I have certainly gone to a manager and said "I need 3 weeks and £4x to do this task", and got "Well, I can give you £3x but we really need it done by next Thursday". Is that a resigning matter? Of course, the case goes, rejecting the advice of the generals will cost soldiers lives, which is true enough. What it misses is the basic truth that almost any decision taken by a senior military officer has the potential to cost lives, even outside of the war-fighting environment:

  • Let's improve military fitness. Cue old gits and fat knackers dropping with heart attacks.
  • Let's go on a military exercise. Cue helicopter accidents, hypothermia and expiration from culinary shock when eating compo (MREs for the trans-atlantic among you.)
  • Let's have a live firing exercise. Cue negligent discharges, ricochets and simple accidents.

So let's look at this from a strictly military point of view:
  • Part of the raison d'être of the military (and the reason for civil society paying to have a military) is for them to 'just get on with it' when put in to situations which would be considered completely unreasonable in the commercial world or the wider public sector. I refer you to compo, MREs, etc as an example strict to the point.

  • Despite the oath of allegiance being generally (Ed notes: yes, bad pun but unintentional) taken to the Head of State, we assume that the military will at least attempt to be reliable servants of the government of the day. We tend to call countries where this doesn't happen "military dictatorships". It is not, to be frank, the British or American way. I strongly believe in this point and, taking it far past where many would stop, also believe that serving officers should not be members of any political party, to underline their neutrality (in service if not belief).

  • Senior officers clearly have a duty to provide their best advice in the circumstances to politicians and to recommend the most appropriate course(s) of military action to achieve the declared political objectives. If politicians have any complimentary duty, it is to listen to and consider that advice - not to simply take it. The same applies to the Government Chief Scientist, the Governor of the Bank of England, the Chief Medical Officer and any other professional or technical specialist working for the Crown. To give an example, the government might well insist that a military coalition must include units from an allied state which the professionals consider ill-equipped or unreliable. This is well documented from the first Gulf War (1990/91, Operation Granby or Desert Various)

  • Even if his advice is ignored, the General has a duty to his troops. This includes both ensuring that they have the best available leadership (normally, in his view, himself) to conduct the task just made more difficult by the supposed political error and making sure that morale is maintained by, if necessary the illusion of, agreement in the chain of command - the principle of collective (or cabinet) responsibility.

  • There needs to be a point behind the resignation - probably to shame the politicians into changing their decision - military officers are rarely the 'smug moral superiority' type. The impact in our modern society of even a very senior military resignation should not be overstated. Politicians are far more experienced (and, usually, much better) at media spin than the military and operational security concerns will usually prevent any open discussion or analysis of the merits of both sides of the case.
Let us also not forget that we are dealing both with the 20/20 hindsight that ensures that the commentariat never make a misjudgement or mistake ("Soldier" not having been published yet, I am not sure how brutally honest Jacko is) and with one view only of what was certainly a many-faceted situation.

It would be nice to believe that soldiers are always led by men of intelligence, experience and honour. By and large, as far as the UK and most Western countries are concerned, I believe they are, although the various rapid changes in war-fighting may render less useful some, or much, of that experience. However, I also believe that part of that experience is to do with making the best of unfortunate or unpalatable (back to compo and MREs again :( ) situations and that some of that honour flows up to the elected government (however much an egregious irritation of mendacious statist cnuts you know they are) as well as downwards to the troops.

1. This is not to ignore (as our poli-scoundrels do) resigning having admitted responsibility for your own (or under your command) screw-ups.

Private Ey-What?

A couple of howlers from the latest issue (1192).

Rotten Boroughs:
Despite being Britain's fourth smallest county by area (and 12th smallest county by population) residents pay the UK's third-highest council tax.

Firstly, UK ≠ Britain. Fix it. It's trivial.

Secondly, well, yes. Not that I am equipped to comment on either the efficiency or effectiveness of Bedfordshire County Council (as they are poli-scoundrels, I am entirely prepared to be convinced that they are a bunch of utter wastrel incompetents) but the lack of economies of scale that come with being a small county are, in economics terms (especially if they have to 'compete' with larger neighbouring councils in terms of service provision) likely to raise the individual charge.

Please, Rev Allardice: exactly what is an "occupationally contracted disease" for a "retired CofE cleric"? Atheism?

Edward Lackwit

A certain "Edward Lutwak", right-wing military analyst, was on Radio Scotland this morning (just after 6:30) pronouncing on the failure of the British in Iraq and the un-acknowledged success of George Bush.

I'll leave pronouncing on the withdrawal from Basra Palace (according to Edward, the British Headquarters, which must come as a great surprise to everbody who has been at MND(SE) at Basrah Airport or the Logistics Base that used to be at Shraibah) for a while - we'll see what it actually means to the day-to-day stability of Basrah and how the Iraqi security forces can cope in the city. But Shrub ...

Apparently, and this is certainly news to me, 9/11 was the work of the combined forces of world-wide "Muslims" (rather than of a small but well-organised extremist Wahhabi / Salafist terrorist group, generally known as Al Qaeda.) Apparently the Iraq adventure has managed to fragment this combined world-wide anti-American group into Sunnis and Shias who spend all of their time killing each other. This will come as a welcome relief to the coalition forces, British and American, in Iraq, who are taken casualties on a pretty-much-daily basis, and to historians who have been searching for the real cause of the Sunni / Shia split between 656 and about 680 (interestingly, the last battle of this war taking place in Karbala, which you might have heard of as it is in Iraq). Despite it happening some 1100 years before the founding of his country and 1350 years before he was sworn in as President, it is all down to George.

If this is the sort of nonsense that is expounded by so-called "senior Pentagon advisor" and "member of the National Security Study Group", we can see why, despite their undoubted military prowess and tactical successes, strategic advantage has been consistently squandered by the senior levels (political and military) at the Pentagon.

We can see more of Edward's undoubted wisdom here (where he believes that smart bombing may "end the need for traditional armed forces in America" - more locally, the fervent hope and repeated dogma of the RAF since its foundation) and here:
Pentagon advisor Edward Lutwak is quoted as saying that "Iranian nuclear facilities could be bombed in a single night by a handful of B2 bombers flying out of the British dependency of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, and it would be enough to demolish the most critical sites such as Natanz, Arak and Isfahan."
Sure. By using nuclear weapons. First use of WMD. What a clever idea, Edward.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Some Foreign Idiocy

From the US "Armed Forces Journal":
They are deeply concerned that, despite the generals' protestations to the contrary, a rushed expansion of Army special operations forces will result in an SF contingent that, while bigger on paper, will contain half-filled units manned by troops who are less mature, less experienced and less skilled in languages and foreign cultures than SF soldiers traditionally have been.

We're not talking about the same people, are we? Okay, compared to British soldiers, US ones are far more likely to speak Spanish as well as Merkan but "skilled in languages and foreign cultures"? Nope. As they show, repeatedly in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And, yes, I mean their Special Forces. Most of their regular and National Guard grunts have problems believing that there is more than one State in the Union, never mind that not everybody thinks that Starbucks is the pinnacle of civilised society (a rare, and extremely minimal, partial agreement with Neil Clark).

Update: This is not a comment on the fighting power (or ability) of USSOCOM, just on their cultural sensitivity and linguistic prowess.
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