Charlie's Diary

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Mon, 31 Mar 2003

A brief digression

I have a question:

Can any of you readers recommend a good external keyboard for me to use with a Macintosh powerbook?

Some explanation is required. I like the laptop keyboard, which feels somewhat more positive than that of the iBook that it replaced, but it has the half-sized cursor and function keys Apple stick in laptops to save space. Also, the scissor mechanism Apple uses in its powerbook keyboards these days simply can't stand up to the pounding I give them -- I've tried typing more lightly, but I still got through three iBook keyboards in just over a year, and I'd rather not repeat the experience on the new machine. So an external 'board seems like a good idea.

As to what makes a good keyboard, I'm sorry to say that Apple don't, and never have. The One True Keyboard for me was the original IBM PC AT keyboard, from the 1980's, with separate hardware switches for each key (and none of this cheap new-fangled membrane nonsense at that). It's noisy, but the keys give a lovely positive clunk-click feel when you press them. (Apple seem to believe that you shouldn't be able to feel a keypress; I've tried using the current Apple Pro keyboard and I found it incredibly unpleasant -- like fondling a dead chicken.)

Other aspects of a good keyboard, as far as I'm concerned? Forget split-keyboard ergonomic nonsense and extras frippery like "launch Outlook Express" buttons -- I want a traditional layout. Forget wireless, too. (It's creepily insecure.) All I want is a good old-fashioned 104/105 key keyboard with a positive keyclick feel and a USB connector, like an updated IBM Model M.

Unfortunately Cherry don't seem to have added USB to their professional range yet, Logitech have vanished into consumer land, I refuse -- under any circumstances -- to buy a Microsoft keyboard (and my brief acquaintance with same suggests that they also suffer from dead chicken syndrome), so what does that leave? The MacAlly IceKey looks like it might be close, but is there anything else out there?

(One final note -- I hate Apple's desktop keyboards, but their optical pro mouse is amazingly good. Go figure.)

[ Discuss Mac keyboard ]

posted at: 12:47 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Sat, 29 Mar 2003

Telling it like it is

In case you're not familiar with his writing, Robert Fisk is one of the most experienced western journalists specialising in Middle Eastern affairs. This is a transcript of a speech he gave at Concordia University in Montreal, in November 2002. In it, he discusses a wide range of topics -- from journalistic laziness and evasion (the easy route is simply to regurgitate what the foreign office officials put in front of you) to gross western hypocrisy over the Turkish genocide against the Armenians in 1915, and a chilling meeting with Osama bin Laden in 1997, in a terrorist training camp built by the CIA.

Compelling stuff, from a guy who hasn't forgotten a time when it was "the duty of journalists, and I quote her [Amira Kass], to monitor the centers of power".

[ Link ] [ Discuss Iraq invasion ]

posted at: 18:35 | path: /wartime | permanent link to this entry

Fri, 28 Mar 2003

Idiot congressman, redux

Cretinous congresscritter Darrell Issa believes that when the US reconstructs Iraq's infrastructure (yeah, right), it better not use that eeevil French GSM phone technology for Iraq's telephone system.

Famous Brit computer journalist Guy Kewney explains why this is complete bollocks.

(But you knew that already, right?)

[ Link ] [ Discuss mobile bandwidth ]

posted at: 21:48 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Thu, 27 Mar 2003

Out from under

I've pretty much dug my way out from under the gigantic pile of work-related ordure that I was grappling with for most of the past month. Assuming the final draft of my last novel is okay and doesn't need further hacking before I send it in, I think normal blogging should be resuming itself bit by bit in the very near future.

Meanwhile, in other writing-related news, the next (seventh) Accelerando story, "Curator", is probably going to appear in the October/November double issue of Asimov's SF magazine, and I'm trying to finish number eight (with the last one, #9, next in the queue). I haven't had a lot of time for writing stories recently, what with two pressing novel deadlines and a load of edits to cope with, but I'm going to try and get a few nailed down in the near future (including another collaboration with Cory Doctorow).

Meanwhile, Festival of Fools is due out pretty soon (late next month, probably), while the US edition (Singularity Sky) is due out on August 5th in hardcover.

[ Discuss writing ]

posted at: 17:52 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

Wed, 26 Mar 2003

The New Disappeared

From the diary of a Livejournal user (a teacher, working with K12 children in the US):

Remember Ali, the Iraqi student I wrote about a few weeks before leaving for Italy when telling about going to the antiwar rally?

He's gone. Disappeared.

His parents' phone number is disconnected.

His mother cannot be reached at work.

His father disappeared first... and now, one of our babies is gone!

His counselor said to me this afternoon: "Either the parents have been called in by the government for questioning, or else they've all fled."

I spent most of the next hour crying. I was absolutely hysterical. Thank God my students were in an assembly. Some of the other teachers tried to console me, saying they likely fled to Canada when our local news reported that all Iraqi nationals and Iraqi Americans in the Detroit area were being questioned by the FBI. Saying that I *couldn't* think they'd been detained or deported... that I couldn't think the worst.

Even if we are starting to notice that a few of our Middle Eastern students and parents and neighbors are disappearing. Another teacher said that my story made her realize she hasn't seen a certain Palestinian student for three weeks.

The Detroit area has the largest concentration of Middle Easterners outside the Middle East, and one of the oldest Arabic-language and Muslim communities in the country. The Nation of Islam began here, too...

And now, people are scared.

I'm scared.


Speaking of history, I was informed by my assistant principal that it likely wouldn't be a good idea to get certified in history... as there is now a statewide initiative to take all social studies out of the core curriculum save for American History and to replace it with foreign language. While I applaud global language learning, I was shocked at this news. World History has already been removed from our state curriculum on the K-12 level... you have no idea how hard it is for me to teach these kids Shakespeare or comparative mythology when they don't understand *anything* about other countries.

And as of Friday all faculty and staff have been ordered by the district (which gets its directions from the state, which gets its directives from the US Department of Education) not to speak against the war or the government in the presence of our students. Not asked, ordered.

And there's more where that came from.

Lest this seems like an hysterical over-reaction, you should go read the rest of the article. The picture it forms is very scary indeed. Putting it together with the US Immigration Service's new powers to detain people without legal counsel, and the draft USA Patriot II Act, the picture is of a country where people with the wrong skin colour or politics can disappear in the middle of the night; where knowing enough about the outside world to criticize your government's foreign policy can get you branded as a dissident: where certain classes of people have already been stripped of freedom of speech ...

If even a tenth of this is true, it's already much worse than I ever expected it to get.

[ Link ] [ Discuss America uber alles ]

posted at: 10:34 | path: /wartime | permanent link to this entry

Sat, 22 Mar 2003

I didn't go this far ...

Iain Banks wasn't on today's march. But arguably he went one step further, as this letter to The Guardian suggests. (Go, Iain!)

[ Link ] [ Discuss Iraq invasion ]

posted at: 16:56 | path: /wartime | permanent link to this entry

Today's Demonstration in Edinburgh

one big demonstration

I took a camera along to today's anti-war demo in Edinburgh. Just in case anyone is swallowing the lies and spin that the anti-war movement is (a) violent or (b) tiny, you might want to look at my photo albumn. My guess is in the range 10-20,000 demonstrators showed up today in a city of 600,000. Given that there were demonstrations on Thursday in just about every town in Scotland, on the basis of less than 24 hours' organising, I'd expect this pattern to repeat across Scotland with a total turn-out in the 50-100,000 person range across a country of five million. It will be very interesting to see what's going on in London right now ...

Stop press: my mobile phone tells me that a bunch of demonstrators headed for Charlotte Square after the main march broke up, to go and heckle outside the official residence of Jack McConnell (Scotland's First Minister, who is facing an election in six weeks time). Apparently the police arrested one of the march stewards -- no one is sure why, but the word is that the police are trying to stir something up. If so, I hope they don't succeed.

[ link ] [ Discuss Iraq invasion ]

posted at: 15:23 | path: /wartime | permanent link to this entry

Fri, 21 Mar 2003

Dog Bites Robot

Researchers at Sony's AI lab in Paris attempted to get an AIBO to pass the canine equivalent of a Turing test. It succeeded, and was soundly bitten for its temerity in approaching the dog's food bowl ...

We are conducting a series of exploratory studies on animal robot interactions in collaboration with the ethology group of the University of Eotvos (Hungary). The purpose of these experiments is to investigate, from an ethological point of view, how much dogs see AIBO as a conspecific. The questions adressed are: what is the influence on the dog's reactions of movement, smell, presence or absence of eyes, sounds, etc.

Two kinds of situations are tested. In the first one, puppies and adult dogs interact freely with the robot. In the second one, we organise a situation of implicit competition in which the dog has to defend a piece of meat against the arrival of the robot. Comparative studies are done with a remote control car and a real puppy. The results are being analysed and will be published in the near future.

... The horrible screams that you hear at the end of this film were made by the experimenters, who were startled to see the dog attack the AIBO.

This was the first time that the AIBO was attacked, but it was not the last. During the course of the experiment, the AIBO was sometimes knocked over, bitten and chewed. It is still in perfect working order, and shows no visible signs of damage.

Nevertheless, we strongly advise you not to try anything similar with your AIBO. AIBO is strongly built, but it contains many delicate components that could be easily damaged. Your warranty will not cover you if AIBO is damaged in this way.

(Warning: horribly slow site! Apparently it's been boingboinged.)

[ Link ] [ Discuss singularity ]

posted at: 17:37 | path: /toys | permanent link to this entry

The speed of sound underwater ...

... Is about 3000 kilometres per hour. Which is why this report on a supercavitating projectile test (in a flow chamber, not the open ocean -- it's an experiment, see) that broke the sound barrier underwater is rather significant.

Supercavitation is the big new thing in torpedo and submarine design; the Russians are already offering for sale the Shkval-E underwater rocket, an unguided torpedo that runs at upwards of 200 knots, but much more exotic stuff is on the horizon. (There's a longer and more accessible summary here.) One fun implication is that sonobuoys will not be effective at detecting supersonic torpedoes aimed at carriers. Another is that a torpedo swimming at mach one can cover ten kilometres in about eight seconds -- not much time for defenders to take action. Is this going to mean the early demise of those honking great aircraft carriers the US Navy (and Tony Blair) are so fond of?

More alarmingly, it suggests the possibility of building something not a million miles away from an underwater equivalent of Project Pluto -- fast, nuclear-powered, devastating, and as completely immune to a space-based anti-ballistic missile system as only a submarine "flying" at mach two half a kilometre under the ocean can be. Which would probably be an incredibly unlikely technological development, except the combination of the Bush doctrine (unilateralism) with the development of space-based weapons, and the fact that 70% of the planet's human population live within a hundred kilometres of the sea, makes it kind of inevitable.

Ain't progress wonderful scary? (<strangelove>Mein fuhrer, I can walk!</strangelove>.)

[ Link ] [ Discuss ww3 ]

posted at: 17:21 | path: /toys | permanent link to this entry

Demonstration time

Took a few hours off from proof-reading to go on today's anti-war demo in Edinburgh. At the peak I think there were around five thousand people marching along Prince's Street, en route from Parliament Square to the foot of the Mound, and then finally to Charlotte Square and a loud if good-natured heckle outside the official state residence of First Minister Jack McConnell. Jack's in trouble; the next Scottish election is due in just six weeks, and he's not exactly endeared himself to a large segment of the public with his existing track record -- the war is less popular north of the border than in England, and he's between a rock and a hard place (that being Tony Blair's disapproval).

There was one incident that nearly turned violent -- a bunch of four English thugs of the probably-BNP persuasion (very muscular, wearing England football shirts, shaven heads, bad attitude, not part of the demonstration) got into a parked car and tried to drive through the crowd. Luckily they weren't quite crazy enough to run people down and the police intervened fairly rapidly to remove them (shouting something about the need to bomb ragheads in Baghdad). Other than that, relations between the crowd and the police were fine.

There's due to be a big demonstration in Edinburgh on Saturday. This was a little one -- one of three that intermittently shut down the city centre for most of the day. It's very interesting to see the systematic BBC underreporting of the demos -- far as I can tell, they're on the low side by a factor of at least two.

There's a lot of government spin going on right now, and I have a bad feeling that the BBC news has been nobbled, probably at director-general level -- the bias is fairly subtle compared to CNN or Fox or similar, but that only makes it worse, given the BBC's reputation for journalistic integrity.

Next time I'll try to remember to take a camera.

[ Discuss Iraq invasion ]

posted at: 00:23 | path: /wartime | permanent link to this entry

Tue, 18 Mar 2003

War, and Rumours of War

Rumour has it that all the BBC newsrooms (TV and radio both) have gone onto a wartime schedule and they're expecting something to happen around 10pm tonight, UK time -- which is midnight in Baghdad, if I'm not very much mistaken.

Here are my guesses about where we're going:

  • Possibly some of the Ba'ath high-ups will try to bump off Saddam. But they'd have to be very good and very lucky to succeed -- they won't be the first plotters to try.
  • The Iraqi army will surrender. Some units of the Republican Guard will; others won't. The US assumption that because the Republican Guard were crap in the Kuwaiti desert in 1991 they'll be crap at defending their own capital city in 2003 is just that -- an assumption, and possibly a faulty one. It could get incredibly ugly if they go for street-fighting through suburbs from which civilians have not been evacuated.
  • The US plans to supply Iraq with food, medicine, and reconstruction aid after the war will prove to be hopelessly inadequate, and hasty improvisation will be required to avert a huge humanitarian catastrophe. This will be represented after the event as a triumph of careful advance planning.
  • Right now, the "reinforced brigade" of US army troops occupying Kabul is actually close to divisional strength. This actually ties down three divisions -- one on the sharp end, one on R&R having come off duty, and one preparing to go in -- out of a total strength of 11 divisions. If we postulate that the US army can nail down and occupy Iraq post- war with a similar sized force, that ties up 6 of the US army's 11 divisions indefinitely. Oops. This is going to have knock-on effects on Bush's ability to do with crises arising in the next year. Maybe he'll try to work around it by reverting to a Churchillian strategy (doomed to failure, as Group Captain Gray, author of this paper, explains). Or maybe he just trusts Kim Jong-Il to sit still and wait his turn?
  • By the same token, the White House "forgot" to allocate any money to reconstructing Afghanistan this year, until Congress reminded them to the tune of $300M. Obviously Iraq can pay for itself. So, with the price of oil dropping, they'll open the stop-cocks and drop it still further. Good news for Bush's friends, who've been buying up mothballed oil refineries -- bad news for the House of Saud, who will get to face a pre-revolutionary situation with an empty treasury. Oops, what was that about the US army already being over-committed?

If Bush had gone about this sensibly, he could borrow Canadian or German or French or Russian troops to handle the post-war occupation. But as it is, the bill for unilateralism is going to come due only when Iraq surrenders -- when he discovers that, having made his bed, he's going to have to sleep in it alone.

[ Discuss Iraq invasion ]

posted at: 19:07 | path: /wartime | permanent link to this entry

Fri, 14 Mar 2003

A Bad Day on the Sports Desk

Eek! This has got to be a career-limiting move. (Thanks, Simon!) From the Guardian Sports section, on-line (before they notice and take it down):

It's really simple: India are already through, New Zealand have to win.


[ Link ] [ Discuss ]

posted at: 14:07 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

New concept of the day: Geoslavery

Geoslavery is a term coined by University of Kansas professor Jerome Dobson to cover certain abuses of GPS technology, when they overlap with ubiquitous surveillance and GIS:

By combining GIS technology with a global positioning system (GPS) and a radio transmitter and receiver, someone easily can monitor your movements with or without your knowledge. Add to that a transponder -- either implanted into a person or in the form of a bracelet -- that sends an electric shock any time you step out of line, and that person actually can control your movements from a distance.

... "In many ways that's what we're doing with prisoners right now, but they've been through a legal process," he said.

In fact, many of the existing products are marketed to parents as a way to protect their children from kidnappers. Dobson, however, said parents should think twice before using such products.

"A lot of people think this is a way to protect their children," he said. "But most kidnappers won't have any compunction about cutting the child to remove an implant or bracelet."

Furthermore, these products rely on wireless networks, which are notoriously easy for hackers to break into, potentially turning the very products meant to protect children into fodder for tech-savvy child predators.

One of the greatest dangers of geoslavery is that it doesn't apply just to governments. For example, individuals could use the technology to perpetuate various forms of slavery, from child laborers to sex slaves to a simple case of someone controlling the whereabouts of his or her spouse, Dobson said.

"Many people have concerns today about privacy but they haven't put all the pieces together and realized this means someone can actually control them -- not just know about them, but control them," Dobson said.

Betcha it'll show up in David Blunkett's next Home Office bill.

(Work status: still redlined, but 86% of the way through the novel on top of the stack.)

[ Link ] [ Discuss singularity ]

posted at: 14:02 | path: /politics | permanent link to this entry

Wed, 12 Mar 2003

On hold ...

Current status: 66% of the way through that final draft of the next novel.

Current in-tray: one stack of 100 book frontspieces to sign, one set of page proofs for Ace, one set of copy edits for Golden Gryphon, and one set of page proofs for Big Engine.

It's going to be a long week ...

posted at: 10:46 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

Fri, 07 Mar 2003

Reasons to be knackered, Part Two

I'm now elbow-deep in the final draft (I hope) of "The Iron Sunrise", which is due at Ace by the end of next month. Meanwhile, I am informed that the galley proofs for at least two novels ("Singularity Sky" and "The Atrocity Archive") are due to arrive for proof-reading next week, and there's some threat of a third bunch of typescript crashing through the letter-box before the end of the month.

This is therefore probably going to be my last blog entry until I finish the current novel. Whimper. (Signing out.)

[ Discuss writing ]

posted at: 15:14 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

Wed, 05 Mar 2003

The Perle Plan, Redux

Secret moles leaked this map of the proposed new, improved, post-US-intervention Middle East.

[ Link ] [ Discuss Iraq invasion ]

posted at: 18:31 | path: /wartime | permanent link to this entry

Tue, 04 Mar 2003

Not Invented in the USA

Here's a description of the characteristics of a certain political leader and their clique, as a series of bullet points:

  • The leader comes from the major right-wing political party, but represents a right-wing faction within it rather than the party mainstream.
  • The leader and their coterie form a tightly-knit community, bound together by a shared ideological outlook and suspicion of outsiders. They don't trust fellow members of their own party who don't fully subscribe to the clique's world-view.
  • They have a set of policies determined by their ideological outlook, and they appear to be pursuing these policies without any interest in the public response to them. They know they're right and they're not interested in protests: proceeding by consensus is seen as weak.
  • They have made specific electoral calculations about their key constituencies and they are actively carrying out policies that will cement their support in those groups (notably high earners) at the expense of citizens who they don't believe will ever vote for them.
  • The in-group have strong links to key industrial sectors and their policies promote the well-being of those sectors at the expense of others.
  • They're willing to employ legislation to make an end-run around regulations that hamper the industrial sectors they favour.
  • There is a revolving door between senior members of this group and the boardrooms of the largest companies in the industrial sectors they favour.
  • The major private media organisations (notably Rupert Murdoch's News International) loves them. And say to repeatedly, through all their radio, TV and newspaper channels.
  • They're willing to use strategic tax cuts, even if they're unsustainable, to buy popularity just before an election.
  • They're socially conservative with a protestant christian religious background, opposed to minority rights, non-traditional gender relationships, gay rights, sex education, quotas, affirmative action, and so on.
  • They take a dualistic black/white view of foreign affairs -- either you're on their side, or you're sleeping with the enemy.
  • As a corollary, they behave publicly as if they believe their domestic political opposition are disloyal -- traitors or stooges of the enemy, or just plaint corrupt and evil -- rather than acting out of principle on the basis of beliefs they don't share with the administration. (They do not believe in the democratic myth of the "loyal opposition".)
  • The leader has a reputation for being personally charming and affable, but wields the big stick ruthlessly when dealing with any sign of dissent within their party but outside their inner circle. Within the inner circle, it's hard to tell -- they're pathologically secretive about their inner workings, eagerly passing legislation to tighten up control over leaks and official secrets.

Who am I talking about?

The answer is ... Margaret Thatcher.

If you thought this was a portrait of the George W. Bush administration, you wouldn't be far wrong. Bush and Thatcher have far more in common than is obvious at first glance; the entire checklist above, for starters.

What's less obvious is that the opposition to Bush shares a lot of characteristics with the opposition to Thatcher in her first two terms. Like Bush, Thatcher came to power in conditions of economic disruption and unease. She took actions which were deeply unpopular with a huge section of the British population, and when people protested she didn't listen. Worse: she harangued them right back, questioning their sincerity, accusing them of any number of private and public vices, and in some cases mocking them. "No turning back" was the watchword of the ideologically driven revolution she applied to British political life.

The opposition to her policies was fragmented. Circumstances beyond their control -- in particular, the unemployment crisis caused by Thatcher's destruction of the state-owned industries (in one year, British GDP slumped by close to ten percent) rendered their model of public administration obsolete. There was indeed no turning back, once the axe fell -- much as the application of unilateralist doctrine has damaged the USA's relations with other countries, destroying a bushel of carefully-nurtured treaties. Members of the political opposition were demoralised and divided after their own eight years of power and failed to provide an effective critique of her works, being too busy fending off the pressures of internal dissent.

Two to three years into her first term, Thatcher was desperately unpopular with the British electorate. But the divided opposition sacrificed their ability to form a united front against her, and then a sinister fascist dictatorship with local imperialist ambitions handed her the opportunity to run a Short, Victorious War, fly the flag, defend democracy, and roll the voters over in a khaki election victory (aided and abetted by her first cynically-timed round of tax cuts).

When I was in Boston last month, I met a whole bunch of folks who talked politics with me. I probably have a rather skewed, self- selected collection of friends and acquaintances; I make no claim to have met a valid cross-section of Middle America. But two things stood out like a sore thumb. Firstly, nobody who talked politics was willing to admit that they were a Bush supporter; and secondly, they all felt helpless about the situation. "What can we do? At least before the next election?" As Lord Hailsham, Thatcher's teacher, remarked during a period in opposition during the 1970's, "the British form of government is an elected dictatorship". Thatcher understood this, and ruthlessly exploited the freedom from accountability that her parliamentary majority gave her. In a similar manner, Bush simply cannot be held to account before 2004 by any force other than an impeachment -- and as the events of the 1990's demonstrated, it's incredibly hard to impeach a sitting President, even if Congress and Senate are broadly hostile to him and there is some evidence of malfeasance or moral turpitude.

This metaphor demonstrates two things. Firstly, it provides a model for the long-term political impact of the Bush administration on domestic US politics. Secondly, it provides an object lesson for political opponents of Bush -- a demonstration of the mistakes that a divided opposition made, which allowed a Bush-like administration to rule without accountability for over a decade. In the words of the old saying, "those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it" -- and I fear that the American centre-left are going to get a bellyfull of Bush if they fail to learn the lessons of Thatcher's legacy.

[ Discuss politics ]

posted at: 12:33 | path: /politics | permanent link to this entry

Mon, 03 Mar 2003

Reasons to be knackered, part one

Astute readers might wonder why I've been blogging lightly lately. The answer is a priority clash. I have a deadline of April 30th, by which time I have to hand over a finished draft of a new SF novel to my editor at Ace. Ordinarily this wouldn't be a problem -- it's already been through two drafts, and although there's some restructuring in the pipeline, it would be quite reasonable to get this done in a couple of months. However, I'm also in the process of selling two huge fantasy novels (in a series) to Tor, and for reasons too tedious to go into here (but not entirely unconnected with marketing schedules) my editor at Tor needed to get the edits nailed down fast. Like, by the end of April. Meanwhile, I'm waiting for the proofs of the first book from Ace to show up any day now, which will need checking for typos within a couple of weeks. And I'm having to fend off Cosmos Books (who for some reason have decided to emit a hardback edition of "Toast" -- next week), Golden Gryphon (copy edits to the US edition of "The Atrocity Archive"), and Editions Robert Lafont (French translation of ditto).

Well, I just emailed the final draft of "A Family Trade", complete with David Hartwell's edits, to my agent. I'm going to give myself 24 hours to recover before I pick up the penultimate pre-submission draft of "The Iron Sunrise" and start hacking at it. And if anyone knows where I could buy an ACME DIY clone-yourself-kit, I'd be very grateful for the pointer. Because after I get all these edits nailed down, I have until the end of December to write another 190,000 word fantasy novel ...

[ Discuss writing ]

posted at: 19:50 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

Sun, 02 Mar 2003

Close, but no banana

The ongoing Iraqi situation is having a distorting effect on British -- and world -- politics. There's a fascinating article on the Guardian which explains the background to last Wednesday's huge parliamentary rebellion.

Key extracts give a feel for how badly the Labour party is rattled:

... Foreign Office Ministers were dispatched to the Commons to start 'pressing the flesh'. At 10am Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, was to be seen at the meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party in Committee Room 14. Ann Clwyd, darling of the Left, told the meeting that Saddam Hussein should be deposed on humanitarian grounds. How else could the world look the Kurds of northern Iraq in the eye after the years of persecution, torture and death they had suffered at the hands of Iraq?

More than a dozen MPs said that they swung back behind behind the Government after hearing Clwyd's impassioned call to arms. Clwyd will now start a tour of constituency parties of members who fear de-selection because they decided to side with the Government.

Let me explain just how important that underlined final sentence is.

Prior to a parliamentary election, candidates are selected by their local constituency party (subject to some nobbling from Central Office). While most MPs stay in the same constituency for their entire career in parliament (there are no term limits so runs of five or six re-elections are not remarkable), de-selection is the ultimate sanction that a local constituency organisation can impose on a sitting MP -- it forces them to look for another constituency, often one with a worse electoral margin, and puts their career at risk. (It also makes them look like a political carpetbagger.)

The Parliamentary Labour Party, in thrall to Blair, is actually afraid that MPs who voted for the government could be punished by their local party organisations for defying the will of the voters. As Michael Portillo points out, there are eerie parallels between Blair's persistence in following his policies with messianic fervour in the face of massive public opprobium and the events leading up to be overthrow of Margaret Thatcher by her own party. And as Kamal Ahmed put it, at the end of his time-line of events leading up to the commons rebellion:

Parliamentary opponents of war said that they will consider tabling a motion of no confidence in the Prime Minister if he takes military action without a second resolution. Blair had been given more than a bloody nose. There was now a chance it could be a bloody nightmare.

Meanwhile, some other fun snippets: huge SNAFUs caused by privatisation of most logistics functions have left British troops in Kuwait so short on food that they're relying on food parcels sent by their families. Huge cost overruns in an upgrade to the royal dockyards at Devonport look set to line Halliburton's pockets, while the army's Apache helicopters are in mothballs because an attempt to privatise flight crew training resulted in a typical competitive tendering mess. (Oh, and they're outsourcing to the private sector responsibility for maintaining the Ministry of Defense's secret records.) If Blair gets his way and sends the British military into Iraq he'll be sending them in with inadequate equipment and supplies, largely due to his slavish pursuit of Thatchernomics.

Meanwhile in the rush to stick Saddam's head on a pike the real issue of who's behind Al Qaida sort of got ignored. It turns out that the Saudi ambassador to London is a former secret policeman and torturer who is alleged to have bankrolled Mullah Omar, Osama bin Laden's right hand man. (But that's okay, he isn't a member of the Iraqi Ba'ath Party.)

And would it be churlish to mention the US dirty tricks campaign currently being pursued against non-aligned nations with seats on the UN security council right now?

[ Link ] [ Discuss Iraq invasion ]

posted at: 17:00 | path: /wartime | permanent link to this entry


Is SF About to Go Blind? -- Popular Science article by Greg Mone
Unwirer -- an experiment in weblog mediated collaborative fiction
Inside the MIT Media Lab -- what it's like to spend a a day wandering around the Media Lab
"Nothing like this will be built again" -- inside a nuclear reactor complex

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Via (HC)
Via (HC)

Singularity Sky
Via (US HC)
Via (US PB)
Via (US ebook)
Via (UK HC)
Via (UK PB)


Some webby stuff I'm reading:

Engadget ]
Gizmodo ]
The Memory Hole ]
Boing!Boing! ]
Futurismic ]
Walter Jon Williams ]
Making Light (TNH) ]
Crooked Timber ]
Junius (Chris Bertram) ]
Baghdad Burning (Riverbend) ]
Bruce Sterling ]
Ian McDonald ]
Amygdala (Gary Farber) ]
Cyborg Democracy ]
Body and Soul (Jeanne d'Arc)  ]
Atrios ]
The Sideshow (Avedon Carol) ]
This Modern World (Tom Tomorrow) ]
Jesus's General ]
Mick Farren ]
Early days of a Better Nation (Ken MacLeod) ]
Respectful of Otters (Rivka) ]
Tangent Online ]
Grouse Today ]
Hacktivismo ]
Terra Nova ]
Whatever (John Scalzi) ]
Justine Larbalestier ]
Yankee Fog ]
The Law west of Ealing Broadway ]
Cough the Lot ]
The Yorkshire Ranter ]
Newshog ]
Kung Fu Monkey ]
S1ngularity ]
Pagan Prattle ]
Gwyneth Jones ]
Calpundit ]
Lenin's Tomb ]
Progressive Gold ]
Kathryn Cramer ]
Halfway down the Danube ]
Fistful of Euros ]
Orcinus ]
Shrillblog ]
Steve Gilliard ]
Frankenstein Journal (Chris Lawson) ]
The Panda's Thumb ]
Martin Wisse ]
Kuro5hin ]
Advogato ]
Talking Points Memo ]
The Register ]
Cryptome ]
Juan Cole: Informed comment ]
Global Guerillas (John Robb) ]
Shadow of the Hegemon (Demosthenes) ]
Simon Bisson's Journal ]
Max Sawicky's weblog ]
Guy Kewney's mobile campaign ]
Hitherby Dragons ]
Counterspin Central ]
MetaFilter ]
NTKnow ]
Encyclopaedia Astronautica ]
Fafblog ]
BBC News (Scotland) ]
Pravda ]
Meerkat open wire service ]
Warren Ellis ]
Brad DeLong ]
Hullabaloo (Digby) ]
Jeff Vail ]
The Whiskey Bar (Billmon) ]
Groupthink Central (Yuval Rubinstein) ]
Unmedia (Aziz Poonawalla) ]
Rebecca's Pocket (Rebecca Blood) ]

Older stuff:

June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005
January 2005
December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
August 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004
January 2004
December 2003
November 2003
October 2003
September 2003
August 2003
July 2003
June 2003
May 2003
April 2003
March 2003
February 2003
January 2003
December 2002
November 2002
October 2002
September 2002
August 2002
July 2002
June 2002
May 2002
April 2002
March 2002
(I screwed the pooch in respect of the blosxom entry datestamps on March 28th, 2002, so everything before then shows up as being from the same time)

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