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Spook Century

Gratuitous link of the day: SpyMeSat is an iOS app that lets you know which satellites are looking at you. (No, it probably doesn't have the Evolved Enhanced CRYSTAL or Zirconic spysats, but these days your typical Indian or South Korean earth resources satellite probably has peepers on a par with the NRO's Keyhole series—we've come a long way, baby!—and that's before we get into the private sector.)

But none of this should surprise anyone.

I've been reading up on spies and their whacky goings-on for a couple of decades; they're all a bit bonkers, in a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction way. In fact, the truth is vastly stranger than anything one can get away with in fiction. From the CIA feeding LSD to an elephant, or MI5 searching for evidence that Prime Minister Harold Wilson was a Soviet mole, Mossad mistaking a Moroccan waiter for a PLO terrorist mastermind (and murdering him), or the DGSE, convinced that Greenpeace were agents of an Anglosphere Conspiracy against le Francaise, sinking the Rainbow Warrior—they're all batshit crazy, so far up their own funhouse-mirror-lined reality tunnel that they can't see daylight. Except the Soviets, of course, who were merely paranoid (for the CIA, DGSE, MI5, Mossad et al really were out to get them). And they believed James Bond movie props were real, and told the Soviet industrial complex to make them some. (Which then didn't work, because James Bond movie gadgets are just film props. But I digress.)

Indeed, as I've noted elsewhere, the dividing line between technothriller and science fiction is more of a blurry grey fogbank than a sharp line. (And the most science-fictional aspect in my Laundry Files stories isn't the extradimensional alien horrors; it's the idea that a secret government intelligence agency could actually operate as efficiently, humanely, and competently as the Laundry.)

But I digress, again.

The surrealism of the intelligence community has been snowballing out of control since the end of the Cold War took away their 1914-1990 raison d'etre. Losing the cold war let the brakes off, as they went into full-blown panic mode looking for a new mission—and new techniques in pursuit of that mission. It coincided with Moore's Law and the explosion in computing power we've seen over the past few decades. Then the War On Terror came along; a brilliant excuse for pandering to every paranoid's fantasy and claiming a vastly increased budget, because nothing is more flexible than a war on an abstraction. And these things have a bureaucratic logic of their own.

So I am currently writing a trilogy. It's a 1000-page story, to be published in three volumes: it consists of books 7-9 in a certain series that started out as a portal fantasy (for contract reasons—a rogue no-compete clause stopped it being 'out' as SF from the start), but then pivoted into paratime technothriller around the end of book 3 with the revelation of a science-fictional rather than magical premise, taking it into much more Strossian territory.

Because I get bored easily, part of the mix for Merchant Princes: The Next Generation is a dead-pan near-future cold war satire on the security-panopticon surveillance regime we seem to have blundered into. (Try to picture an organization like the CIA, tasked with protecting the USA from every possible threat in every possible parallel universe, circa 2020. Now have a Candide-like protagonist tumble haplessly down the rabbit hole, to discover she's working for a cluelessly inept multi-billion dollar bureaucracy ...)

So picture me, rubbing my hands in glee and trying to extrapolate just how much worse the security/surveillance state could be, circa 2020, in a time-line where Washington DC was attacked with stolen nukes in 2003 by narcoterrorists from another parallel universe. And I think I've got a pretty good handle on how mad our Spook Century is going to be, until I run across stuff like the NSA bugging Angela Merkel's phone, or GCHQ bugging Belgacom, the main Belgian phone company, to snoop on the European Parliament.

And their code-name for the latter piece of work? "Operation Socialist". See! The Cold War legacy marches on!

Every time I think I've maxed out the satire and rotated the dial all the way up to 11, something from the Snowden leaks surfaces and the spooks make my worst paranoid tin-foil hat ravings and confabulated satire look ploddingly mundane.

I'm used to having this problem when writing near future SF—back in 2008-9 I kept having Halting State moments as bits of the background to that novel kept coming true—but right now, well, I'm just boggling. I've got a subplot for this trilogy (no spoilers!) which I think is up there with anything reality can throw at us and which is hopefully funny, plausible, and crazy (but in an "it just might be true" kind of way). Only now, I'm getting a sick feeling in my stomach. One month before publication, there's going to be a bombshell revelation and an ancient festering spyware secret will surface, blinking in the light of day like half-mummified groundhogs (Secret Squirrel need not apply!) and my satirical thriller will be obsolete.

As obsolete as Operation Acoustic Kitty.

283 Comments

1:

"because nothing is more flexible than a war on an abstraction."

Thank you for summing up our problem in a depressingly concise way. Good luck trying to find "12" on the knob.

2:

Oh, and having just clicked on the "Operation Acoustic Kitty" link, I have now informed my veterinarian spouse that she just hasn't been applying her talents to their fullest potential. We'll let you know how "Operation Budgie Strike" turns out.

3:

This sounds mighty swell. Do you think we over here in the north americas will ever get the revised Merchant Princes books?

4:

You say that Bond gadgets don't work, but I've got most of the comms/bugging/location stuff on my phone these days...

What I find most fascinating about the evolution of spookery on Planet Moore isn't that they've all enthusiastically followed their instincts to find, store and analyse everything - which has been going on since the early telegraph networks. It's that we can do the same, if we want.

I could, for example, build an ELINT cubesat payload for around a thousand dollars. Getting it up and running costs a few thousand more, and it'd have to pass muster as something innocuous to get a launch, but radio hams have been sticking stuff up there for decades so it's at least plausible. The history of disguising orbiting hardware is as long as the history of orbiting hardware. And it's not as if the NSA has done a particularly good job of hiding from scrutiny - but with around 4 million people security-cleared in the US (compare that with the 1.5 million on the open federal payroll...) it's not as if the concept of secrecy means what they think it means.

If we want to - by we, I mean enough savvy independents - it becomes entirely plausible to create an open global pan-spectrum surveillance system that's going to be pretty good at spotting spooks at work. And, if the spooks persist in behaving as a legitimate enemy towards reasonable people, then it's both a moral and an important thing to do.

What such a society would look like... well, isn't that what SF is for?

5:

it'd have to pass muster as something innocuous to get a launch

Go for a Russian launch. As long as you aren't endangering the other payloads it's apparently much easier to get waivers than with American or European launch providers.

6:

I'm wondering what sort of effect surveillance of ordinary citizens will have on various "moral" laws or regulations that are commonly ignored because police can turn a blind eye to them. Often these are tied to class/wealth, where people in the right neighborhoods can smoke pot in the backyard if they feel like it, but in other parts of town people are stopped and frisked for contraband.

If a panopticon system becomes accessible to law enforcement and there is automated flagging of violations, it would become impossible to turn a blind eye... Does this mean there would be a push for repealing scores of laws in more liberal countries? Or a possible further collapse of the rule of law as they enforcement becomes openly arbitrary.

And even without that, you have a situation where most of the population has some recorded evidence that could be used against them by the state to keep them in line. A political activist suddenly gets hit with all sorts of citations, "leaks" embarrass political candidates who won't follow the wishes of the permanent government....

7:

Semi-Random thoughts:
Of course the Agencies are crazy; they're in the Paranoia Business, and paranoia is a sign of mental illness.

Those Soviet gadgets look more like something out of "Get Smart" rather than Bond.

Stross calling something Strossian?

8:

Do you think we over here in the north americas will ever get the revised Merchant Princes books?

I believe the question is "when", not "if".

The following is speculation on my part. I emphasize, my editor has not given me any definite timetable. So you should take this as an informed guess, not hard facts:

Publishing Realpolitik:

If Tor US were to release them now, they'd be replacing back-list sales of a six-book series with back-list sales of a three-book series. They couldn't price the revised edition books twice as high as the originals -- everyone would scream at them -- so after the initial small bump of completists rounding out their collections they'd see a net drop in revenue of up to 50%.

On the other hand, the first series is past its sales peak ("The Trade of Queens" hit mass-market paperback in March 2011). And the big fat revised books will do nicely as promo material in the run-up to the new series, or sell as fill-in to new readers who started with "Dark State". So my guess is that you can expect the revised first series to show up in trade paperback and ebook some time in late 2014, building for the launch of "Dark State" in 2015 (assuming I finish "Hard Contact" and "Invisible Sun" on time -- currently looking likely, barring catastrophes).

9:

Hmm. If Charlie's near-future science fiction keeps coming true, I wonder if there's any mileage in a Kickstarter to get him to write a thoroughly dull piece of optimistic utopian SF set five years from now...

10:

AIUI cubesats cost about an order of magnitude more than that to build and launch. The devil, as always, is in the details -- in this case, admin overheads and space-rated materials (which the launch vendor will insist on, so as not to endanger their other stuff).

On the other hand, if the Something Awful forums can spawn their own open source space program (Copenhagen Suborbitals) and actually fly something, who knows what's possible?

11:

I've graduated from midlist to frontlist. On the one hand, this means I'll be able to keep the fluffy new feline overlords I shall be acquiring next month in suitable style. On the other hand, it means you wouldn't like the kickstarter targets.

(Especially because any novel I write eats six months to two years out of my life, and I'm probably more than halfway through my working life already: tends to focus the mind on only doing projects I want to do.)

12:

All hail the new feline overlords to be.

13:

The targets are your problem, we only care about the reward tiers.

I spent almost 200$ a year ago on a print version of a disreputable webcomic I'd already read which I haven't even got yet.

So try me.

14:

And the big fat revised books will do nicely as promo material in the run-up to the new series...

I was going to ask if they'd be willing to release them as hardcovers with cover designs matching the new trilogy. Tor US did a nice job with Jeter's "Fiendish Schemes" getting the same artist for the cover that did Angry Robot's re-release of "Infernal Devices". How often does a publisher go to the trouble of matching a design aesthetic of another publisher?


And about Kickstarter. I was going to contribute to Rucker's "The Big Aha" project, but after scouring their site trying to find how they take payments and not finding anything, I looked them up on Wikipedia and found that they take payment via Amazon, which I don't do. So, I'll be waiting to see if becomes available at Barnes & Noble online (as "Turing & Burroughs" was, and was a fun read).

15:

If Our Gracious Host is going to write utopianism, I'd love to see the Stross take on the Culture.
Mind you, I'd just like to see more Culture books :(

16:

Mind you, I'd just like to see more Culture books :(

I'd be happy to sign a pact with the devil that saw the Culture books' author alive and well, even if the price was that he never wrote another word of fiction. :(

17:

Mind you, I'd just like to see more Culture books :(

Read this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noon_Universe

It's the Culture from before the Culture.

18:

Fascinating! I read "Hard to be a God" in translation decades ago, but I haven't run across any of the others in that series (and I have no idea whether (a) they've been translated, and (b) if so, whether the translations are any good).

19:

Charlie
it consists of books 7-9 in a certain series
Or books 4-6 in the alternate universe known as the UK ....
On the general subject, the public & very acrimonious squabbles over Snowden in this country are revealing.
Even "Torygraph" readers are not aligning behind Camoron/USSA nearly as much as one would expect.

20:

FLUFFY NEW FELINE OVERLORDS!
Yay!

You WILL be publishing pictures, so we can worship, I trust?
(P.S. Ratatosk sends hos regards )

21:

aggray @ 6
Or a possible further collapse of the rule of law as the enforcement becomes openly arbitrary.
Bit behind the times, aren't you?
We are, to a large extent, already there.

Another reason to be worried.

22:

There may well be a very practical reason why the Laundry is, in fact, competently run: They're not fighting abstractions but real threats that will eat their souls if they're NOT competent enough to hold them off.

23:

I can't say how good are the translations. I read them all (many times) in the original Russian. All I can say is they are bloody good.

24:

Hm! Memory lane time! I saw the movie adaptation years ago on VHS, it's barely a vague memory. Youtube seems to have the complete film but I won't link to it as the legality of it is dubious at best.

25:

Those Soviet gadgets look more like something out of "Get Smart" rather than Bond.

Indeed they do, but us Brits are in no position to scoff.

Remember the Moscow Dead Drop Techno-Stone?*

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/4639782.stm


*good name for a band ;-)

26:

It's probably best not to hide listening devices in objects that look like they're for hiding keys.


One of my favorite real spy devices: The Thing by Lev Theremin.

27:

Talking of James Bond gadgets, did you see that Elon Musk bought the Lotus that turns into a submarine prop, and is going to put a tesla transmission into it and make it actually turn into a submarine?

28:

Actually, yes! Looks Like I am not the only one who noticed it.

It is hard to believe, but it is only recently I read some of Banks novels. What struck me is that his themes overlap with Strugatsky brothers themes more than could be said for any of other writers I know about.

(Excession -- Beetle in the Anthill , The Time Wanderers,
Inversions, Use of Weapons -- Hard to be a God).

But this is just me. Maybe I will find more parallels after I read all of Culture books, maybe not.

29:

I find it a bit weird that people are surprised about listening agencies spying on foreign leaders - haven't we known that they've been doing that for decades? It's good business to be aware of what everyone is saying/thinking, be they enemy or friend.

Wouldn't it be more surprising to find someone that the listening agencies were consciously *not* spying on?

30:

The outrage isn't that the spooks are spying on foreign leaders, but that they're spying on friendly ones. People who don't understand the very special breed of paranoia that is international relations find this hard to cope with. (And some of us who do understand it merely want to string up everybody in every government who thinks this is "business as usual". It's not. It's an atrocity, the thin end of the wedge for an egregious and global violation of basic human rights.)

31:

Fascinating! I read "Hard to be a God" in translation decades ago, but I haven't run across any of the others in that series

I have read "Hard to be a God" as the Finnish translation over twenty years ago, when I was going through the scifi shelf of the local library. I can't find any other books in that series as Finnish translations, though. I have liked the other Strugatsky books I've read.

I ordered the book from my library. I have to re-read it, I can probably get different meanings now than as a eleven-year old.

The series seems almost good enough a reason to learn Russian. That and Gogol. (It was fun reading the Quantum thief just after finishing Dead souls. By accident.)

32:

Can't say wether the english gtranslations are any good. The german translaters did a good job. However it may be worthwhile to look for more recent translations - during the 90ties, the Strugatskies revised some of their works to tone down the censorship bullshit. There's a series of Essays by Boris Strugatsky, sort of like your crib sheets but oincluding the battle with soviet censorship. To me, those stories read like soviet censors tried to outdo the most blased, conservative critic on beeing blased and conservtive.
Now I have to think about how the Noon Universe is the Culture before the Culture.

33:

I'm wondering what sort of effect surveillance of ordinary citizens will have on various "moral" laws or regulations that are commonly ignored because police can turn a blind eye to them. Often these are tied to class/wealth, where people in the right neighborhoods can smoke pot in the backyard if they feel like it, but in other parts of town people are stopped and frisked for contraband.

I only know the german situation, but here we have a body of laws that are not so much about catching criminals as about crime prevention, they include the right (of the police) to ban people from basically any area etc. Maybe the laws against beein antisocial or how they were worded in UK work similiar.
I'd say we have a shift in policing, away from "a crime has happened, let's investigate and catch someone" to something were "prevention" is everything - and this allows police to target dangerous classes within the context of the law. Or so it seems to me.

I'm not sure that there are that many laws that the police commonly turn a blind eye to - maybe the famous brown paper bags for booze from parts of the US. What where you thinking of?

34:

Now I have to think about how the Noon Universe is the Culture before the Culture.

It's a post-scarcity technological paradise populated by inhumanly ethical (thanks to the High Theory of Education) human beings. And most of them are pretty happy.

35:
the DGSE, convinced that Greenpeace were agents of an Anglosphere Conspiracy against le Francaise, sinking the Rainbow Warrior

Sorry, but why is it that some anglophones have this compulsion to insert gratuitous French expressions, or worse inscrutable pseudo-French like in the present case, when they talk about anything French? I have never seen anyone else do that, nor have I seen anglophones make witty linguistic digressions when talking about Russia or Japan -- maybe I'm missing out. That really comes across as one of these crypto-racist things people just do because they have always seen it being done, and have never paused to think about it.

On the core of topic, it might be slightly more complex than this. There are certain circle that do notice Greenpeace being quite aggressive around French nuclear test while being remarkably quiet around US ones -- presumably because if they pulled these tricks against Uncle Sam, they would get shot dead. This might have given somebody ideas, and if that someone thought himself brighter than he actually was and someone else was out to oust him from office, encouraging a career-ending blunder would have been an elegant move.

the most science-fictional aspect in my Laundry Files stories isn't the extradimensional alien horrors; it's the idea that a secret government intelligence agency could actually operate as efficiently, humanely, and competently as the Laundry
Ab-so-lute-ly. The ONE thing I have trouble suspending disbelieve with in the Laundry series is the promotion track Bob finds himself on. I know people in real life who are every bit as good in what they do as Bob is in what he exorcises, and are similarly office-politics-challenged: they get abused, exploited and tramped upon. Repeatedly. They do not get the promotions they deserve, and most certainly do not get fast-tracked into a series of promotions designed to develop a potential that they do not see in themselves. That line of though is as inconceivable for my friends and me as a job for life.
36:
The outrage isn't that the spooks are spying on foreign leaders, but that they're spying on friendly ones.

Yes, if you mean the outrage in the media. But that outrage is purely domestic public relations on the part of our dear leaders; they know full well that their allies would snoop on them given the chance. Furthermore, it cannot possibly have escaped anybody that the USA have vast means, and suffer from an acute case of Compulsive Backstabbing Disorder. But you cannot afford not to make a display of outrage when you are a leader notoriously being spy upon.

Now, what is truly outrageous in this affair in not that the spooks are spying on foreign leaders, but that they spy on entire populations -- including their own. Even the populations of enemy countries supposedly "deserve better leaders". The moment a security apparatus starts spying on an entire population is the moment when turns against the very people it claims to be protecting. That is when its activities become entirely absurd and self-serving. That is when it ceases to be a security apparatus and becomes a secret political police.

37:

The moment a security apparatus starts spying on an entire population is the moment when turns against the very people it claims to be protecting. That is when its activities become entirely absurd and self-serving. That is when it ceases to be a security apparatus and becomes a secret political police.

That would be back around 1919-20 in the case of the United States, wouldn't it? Even if you deny Palmer's agency in that respect -- the Galleanists gave him a reason to act -- then the actions of the BATF during Prohibition probably amount to such. And then we get to J. Edgar Hoover and his private files ...

38:

Great news that you're getting new feline supervisors. It should refresh the place no end.

It's also good to know that I'm not alone in my assessment of the essential craziness of the spy industry. I'd add (from Mazetti's Way of the Knife) that the CIA is currently struggling with its latest incarnation as a secret army, which probably means that the US will have some Church-style commission meetings sometime in the next administration or so. I also suspect that, after Czar Alexander retires next year, the NSA will learn, as did the CIA before it, that it can take the fall for Presidential over-reach.

Ah well, I'm happily writing a fantasy about how the CIA stumbles into Lovecraft's Dreamlands after it learns the KGB is already there. It's a bit complicated to write, but that's my own fault. Hopefully it will find an audience when it's done.

39:

Well, that's merely two years after the Espionage Act was passed, so I would not find it surprising that the atmosphere would have been oppressive.

40:

Charlie, this is my very rare chance to find out. Do you know if Iain Banks read "Hard to be a God" or any other book in that series? I also have no idea if translations are any good.

41:

The final French series of underground nuclear tests took place in the Pacific which allowed Greenpeace ships to get close to the French[0] islands where the tests were carried out. The US tests which had ended a few years previously were carried out in US military reservations with lots of barbed wire and soldiers to prevent protestors getting anywhere near the test sites. Even the historical Trinity test site is in a secure area although tourists are now allowed to visit the very first Ground Zero on occasion.

[0]They are not colonies, they are part of France in the same way Hawaii is a US state.

42:

No idea. If anyone knows, it would probable be Ken -- why not ask him on Twitter? @amendlocke.

43:

Agreed. In Hoover's case, he seemed to mostly use his files for blackmail, rather than secret police stupidity, although people in the various leftist movements of the 1950s and 1960s probably radically disagree with this assessment.

Where you get secret police is when you get secret courts, and I'd suggest that the US jumped that particular shark under Bush II, although I seem to remember some secret trials under Roosevelt during WWII. Hopefully we can walk back to the daylit side of the law in the near future.

The basic problem with massive surveillance is that it has never, to date, worked. It's been tried in many places: East Germany, USSR, Cuba, Iran, China, probably Egypt, and it's reportedly the norm in a majority of the banana republics of the world today. It never stops governments from falling, nor does it ever prevent terror. The problem is mathematical: with infinite data come infinite false positives, and no spy agency has enough resources to separate the genuine (and rare) troublemakers from the universe of ghosts total surveillance automatically generates. This ineptitude doesn't mean that a lot of people can't die or have their lives destroyed as such a deluded system grinds through. Rather, it means that those deaths aren't even justifiable as a means to a greater end of peace and security for the majority.

To me, this is the ultimate reason to oppose total surveillance. Moral issues aside (and they aren't for me, not by a long shot), total surveillance is as useless in getting useful information as medieval torture and modern lie detection are, and it should be thrown in the same wastebasket. And yes, I'm perfectly aware that the CIA loves lie detectors and periodically dabbles in torture. Some people just don't learn.

44:

One thing that worries me is that technology seems to march steadily towards more possible surveillance (think a dust of nano-processors with microscopic pin-hole cameras, wireless-enabled and solar-powered...). On one hand would could decide to ban the bloody things, in the same way that anti-personal landmines are forbidden and we can live in a world where not everything is made of explosive.

But then, you have the backstabbing bastards, who are maybe too rich, probably too authoritarian, certainly far too psychopathic, to respect the ban. For instance, the USA, the core of the present-day surveillance problem, have conspicuously failed to sign the landmine ban treaty.

Languages slow their evolution when they are fixed by writing. I dread the day when behaviour ceases to evolve because of omnipresent surveillance and consequent hyper-conformism and authoritarianism.

45:

and then nine months after the Palmer Raids...

this

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wall_Street_bombing

which led to the expansion of Bureau of Investigation, in particular the General Intelligence Division, headed by...J Edgar Hoover.

Unsurprisingly the newly-expanded BoI did not track down the perpetrator[s]

46:

Thanks for the link, that's a cool (if somewhat scary) app. BTW, it only shows up in the app store if you look for iphone apps, not iPad, if anyone else is having trouble finding it.

47:

Re governments spying on their friends - why are you surprised?

A: The spy agencies have to keep busy to justify their budgets, and economic and political intelligence on allies is useful to their masters.

B: It's easier, and probably produces more useful results than spying on your enemies.

C: Once you start being a nosy bastard, where and why would you stop?

48:

We are not surprised. But when you are a government, you have to make a show of looking surprised, because not doing so would entail


  • admitting that we probably do it too, or would given the chance. Spying is like penises and vaginas: you know everybody has one of these, but nobody is supposed to show them in public.
  • accepting being spied upon -- if you are the government, you are entrusted with secrets and powers on behalf of your population; you do not want to seem careless with the family jewels
  • leaking information as to what you know and do in the intelligence field -- the classic line in this line of business is "why don't you talk to them?" "Because we might accidentally tell them things that they don't already know" (quoted from Edge of Darkness, but also found in OGH's Fuller Memorandum)

Then you can have some meta-outrage: "How dare you force us to make clowns of ourselves with fake PR outrage because of your insultingly poor OPSEC?".

Then there might be some genuine outrage: "How dare you spy on such a scale? How dare you spy the entire population including pure civilians who have nothing to do with the government, the military or strategic industries?"

The last one is what a sincere and honest leader would express. Of course, seeing that Merkel did not wake up before learning that she was personally attacked, it seems that our European leaders do not make much of an effort to look the part.

The scale of the thing also has implications. The Americans spying on French nuclear secrets and German industrial policies is one thing; the Americans spying on everybody all the time while negotiating free-trade treaties makes it look like our European governments are not only going a certain sort of party, but also eagerly paying for the vaseline. But free trade has been the cornerstone of our policies for decades (and to be frank, going the other way does entail risks of overshooting the target and ending up in downright xenophobia -- I mean even more than what the Roma currently have to endure).

Remember last time I said that our government are equivalent to democratically-elected occupation administrations managing their respective countries on behalf of the Empire? They cannot be anything else, they are not heavy enough for that. The only chance is for Europe to take the matter in her hands, and give herself the tools for the job -- which is defending the people against an external aggressor, the core function of government. But of course, our dear leaders are now clamoring that "this is a national matter"...

49:

Charlie @ 30
Indeed - "business as usual" - contrary to both law & custom.
I've just heard (@ approx 07.10-0720hrs) "Lord West" on the BBC "Today" programme defending this course of action & bad-mouthing Snowden.
What struck me was the almost religious insanity of his world-view. He was plainly convinced that what we think of as unacceptable was normal & useful.
It would probably be as difficult to convince him of his errors, as it would Arnoud Amoury, that "killing them all & letting god sort them out" was a really bad idea.
If even some of our "Lords & Masters" are thinking & operating in this manner - & they plainly are, then:
You are correct - they all need lamp-posts & short lengths of rope.

50:

cahth3iK @ 36
The moment a security apparatus starts spying on an entire population is the moment when turns against the very people it claims to be protecting. That is when its activities become entirely absurd and self-serving. That is when it ceases to be a security apparatus and becomes a secret political police.
Exactly - just like the Stasi, in fact ... and that is waht those "in charge" (People like West that I referred to above) are so keen to downplay.
The realisation that this has been & is being done hasn't really sunk in to the general population - yet.
And "the bosses" are all to keen to hope that it never does, of course.

51:

heteromeles @ 43
Some people just don't learn. Because they don't want to - they BELIEVE they are right.
See my previous post, referring to West .....

52:

Sometimes the Bondish gadgets did work. Note the case of Bohdan Stashinskyi. From Wikipedia ...


" According to West German Intelligence chief Reinhard Gehlen,

"...Bohdan Stashinskyi, who had been persuaded by his German-born wife Inge to confess to the crimes and take the load off his troubled conscience, stuck resolutely to his statements. His testimony convinced the investigating authorities. He reconstructed the crimes exactly as they had happened, revisiting the crumbling business premises at the Stachus, in the heart of Munich, where Lev Rebet had entered the office of a Ukrainian exile newspaper, his suitcase in his hand. And he showed how the hydrogen cyanide capsule had exploded in Rebet's face and how he had left him slumped over the rickety staircase. The case before the Federal court began on October 8, 1962, and world interest in the incident was revived. Passing sentence eleven days later, the court identified Stashinskyi's unscrupulous employer Shelyepin as the person primarily responsible for the hideous murders, and the defendant -- who had given a highly credible account of the extreme pressure applied to him by the KGB to act as he did -- received a comparatively mild sentence. He served most of it and was released. Today the KGB's 'torpedo' is living as a free man somewhere in the world he chose on that day in the summer of 1961, a few days before the wall was erected across Berlin.[2] "


And then there's the rather better known Markov " Umbrella Murder." Again from Wikipedia ...


" Agents of the Bulgarian secret police (Darzhavna Sigurnost; Bulgarian: Държавна сигурност, abbreviated ДС), assisted by the KGB, had previously made two failed attempts to kill Markov before a third attempt succeeded. On September 7, 1978 (the 67th birthday of Todor Zhivkov), Markov walked across Waterloo Bridge spanning the River Thames, and waited at a bus stop to take a bus to his job at the BBC. He felt a slight sharp pain, as a bug bite or sting, on the back of his right thigh. He looked behind him and saw a man picking up an umbrella off the ground. The man hurriedly crossed to the other side of the street and got in a taxi which then drove away. The event is recalled as the " Umbrella Murder" with the assassin claimed to be Francesco Gullino, codenamed "Piccadilly".[3]

When he arrived at work at the BBC World Service offices, Markov noticed a small red pimple had formed at the site of the sting he had felt earlier and the pain had not lessened or stopped. He told at least one of his colleagues at the BBC about this incident. That evening he developed a fever and was admitted to a hospital where he died three days later, on September 11, 1978, at the age of 49. The cause of death was poisoning from a ricin-filled pellet. ....... A British documentary, The Umbrella Assassin (2006),[9] interviewed people associated with the case in Bulgaria, Britain and America, and revealed that the prime suspect, Gullino, is alive and well, and still travelling freely throughout Europe."


The execution of the Markov assasination was a bit clumsy but the Bondish gadget did work.

Whilst on the subject of weaponry? You did notice this news item didn't you Charlie? .. " A 3D printer and suspected "homemade" gun components have been seized during police raids in Manchester. "

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-24666591


Now where have I seen that concept deployed in near future SF?

53:

I think the two main reasons the plastic gun story is scary are that the Police are treating it really seriously, hyping it to the press who are falling for it hook line and sinker, and that however dangerous a plastic gun might be to the user, the hype will encourage "gangs" to acquire and use them.

From a gun-crime angle, this is just another way of making a "zip gun", using a new and expensive tech which is good for headlines.

It's even arguable that it is the Police reaction to gun crime which is the real risk to society, in terms of militarisation.

54:

The Palmer Raids were part of a general reaction to the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, perhaps exacerbated by the style of the American reaction to the rise of Unions. The Ludlow Massacre of 1914 was not the last time corporate-sponsored forces used machineguns against striking workers.

They were also driven by an element of racism, it was the time when the Ku Klux Klan was being revived, and the USA was the country of the lynching, and the Palmer Raids were aimed at foreign Anarchists and Socialists. And at least one birth control advocate.

What may be most relevant is that Palmer was challenged in the courts, and started losing. In modern America, that little problem seems to have been fixed.

55:

Over the time the last Labour government was in power, the UK parliament was experiencing an interesting sort of failure mode. For various psychological reasons, the prime minister Tony Blair seemed to use parliament as a rubber stamp for legislative changes he wanted done, and otherwise left the parliament alone to indulge in the governmental version of a street nutcase arguing with himself.

The net effect was legislative diarrhoea, and one new criminal offence created for every day that government was in power. Of this torrent of new laws, very few have actually been used in any more than a "If we press this button, what does it do?" sort of sense. However, this huge codebase is still there, still active and still in force.

At some point in the future, different lawyers are going to start actively mining this huge corpus of laws for things to use against people. There is also another effect caused by the incredible profusion of legislation in the UK and EU; already a case has been lost due to a perceptive lawyer researching and finding that whilst what his client had done was formerly illegal and now also illegal, it wasn't illegal when he allegedly committed the offence as an old law had been phased out, and the replacement not activated at that time.

Law enforcement is going to turn into an exercise in Googling up an offence to see what laws, if any, actually apply. The ancient maxim that ignorance of law is no defence will eventually fall, as laws will be so numerous that nobody can know them all.

56:

Oh, and while I remember, in current UK politics there is a clear effort being made to diminish the protection we have from the European Convention on Human Rights, expressed in the form of repealing the Human Rights Act, advocated by Government Ministers, and accompanied by exaggerated and misleading stories published in certain newspapers, some of which have form for right wing political extremism.

It's hardly like that there is a direct connection between the fascist-loving Daily Mail of the 1930s and the Labour-hatred of today, but unless there was a total change of newsroom staff at some point, old-timers are going to pass on their view of what makes a good story. The history matters.

Remember, we were one of the countries which wrote the ECHR. It can be seen as something which made us different from the bad guys. It was in part a reaction to the veneer of law that was put over Nazi excesses. Now we have the much-criticised RIPA, which is supposed to regulate spying on the public, and which seems have to become a tool for allowing that spying.

57:

The Merchant Princes novels feature inheritable nanotechnology that permits passage between parallel Universes. I think that gives you a reasonable degree of isolation from plausible near-future developments. (Or at least: if it doesn't, being overtaken by reality probably won't be the main thing that concerns you!)

58:

I'm pretty sure we had this sort of hysteria before about butterfly knives and the like, before they were added to the offensive weapons list.
Oddly enough though, carbon fibre knives didn't seem to have such hysteria (although I was a child at the time, so obviously can't be a very good witness), which makes me wonder if the publicity hysteria is in inverse proportion to how dangerous such items actually potentially are.

Other reasons might include people in the hierarchy's who are technically incompetent and see only that home made guns might actually improve and be really dangerous because there's lots of murderers and jihadis about and so on (never mind that real guns are cheap enough) who might attack people and therefore make the bosses look bad.

Talking about militarisation, in Edinbrugh, the Environmental wardens walk about in black from head to toe, I thought they were some branch of the police. Why does every notebook weilding little dictator want to look like a SWAT team?
(Yes, the insult is deliberate)

59:

And also the Kubotan.

My wife used to have one of those when I met her, and it may still be around somewhere.

60:

The problem here is that both sides, the Europeans and the Americans, look utterly alien and quite staggeringly weird to the other side in some aspects. For instance, Belgium recently spent many months without a functioning government at all; nobody much noticed as everything ran like clockwork and functioned reasonably normally. By contrast, the American federal system recently got into a spat over budgets and the ENTIRE federal system simply fell over.

To Americans, a country that can run without any government at all is alien. To Europeans, a country that simply stops when government has an argument is alien.

Both sides don't understand the other; both sides are spying like mad on each other in an effort to gather enough information to work out how, and indeed why the other system works like it does.

61:

I am reminded of the (possibly apocryphal) tale of how the KGB spent decades, and lots of effort, trying to identify the Secret Ruling Conspiracy who ran the USA. Because it was glaringly obvious to them that there had to be one, because the Potemkin Village horse-trading in DC was so dysfunctional that the US government couldn't possibly work without someone behind the scenes pulling the strings.

62:

What, you mean like the Kennedys and the Bushes?

Of course the US intelligence folks spent a lot of time and effort "Kremlin-watching", poring over pictures of the podium at the May Day parades trying to decide if Comrade Ivanovitch's position three steps behind the Chairman meant he was out of favour since at the previous Parade he'd been two steps to the left.

63:


Not sure about environmental wardens, but in Bradford the bus inspectors go round looking like a swat team member.

64:

From talking to people who worked in the scientific civil service when the shit hits the fan they can work very fast eg the purchasing and fitting of sidewinders during the falklands war.

Re Laundry and Bobs fast track dont for get that the laundry unlike SIS and Security Service have to take a large amount of less able employees and find work for them. So maybe the pool they have to pick from is quite small.

Of course the laundry may directly recruit as well as taking joe randoms in and have the equivalent of the tap on the shoulder by a friendly Don at Cambridge Oxford (Brown or Duke in the USA I could see Paul Linbarger being a spotter)

And maybe

1 Bob is a "useful idiot" who looked like a typical nerd who wouldn't ask to may questions but woudl be a useful pawn.
2 he's getting the promotions to keep Mo onside
3 Unreliable Narator
4 Its the power of Plot

65:

I've heard the story too. I always view it as a reminder of how the majority of people (I'm more and more convinced the vast majority of people) see how they do things and assume the rest of the world does things the same way.

Mother Russia has a politburo, so despite appearances, America must do too. "They just hide it because they are decadent Westerners and they have to lie to the bourgeoisie." (You'll have to ham your own bad Russian accent from a Bond film.)

If it's a majority, you're reasonably likely to have someone in one of the positions of power responsible for making the decision to invest the effort to look for the secret American politburo and however many negative reports there are, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence and all that.

I'm also reminded of Illuminatus! with the line about the five conspiracies and the 120 combinations of power being too confusing for humans to understand. While I know saying there are 3 power blocks in the US government is a simplification, the Democrats, moderate Republicans and Tea Party as the big three seemed to manage to produce a mind-boggling mess for over 2 weeks. Just imagine how much fun they could have had with two more strong factions in there shifting allegiances and mixing things up!

66:

I sometimes think that you could have made a good living by selling the menus and non classified TI's from BT labs to the KGB.

TI stands for Technical Instructions and covered things like the exact amount of carpet and type of desk and chair each grade was entitled to.

67:

Non firearm weapons laws in general don't appear to be rational. In the US, they range from the "if you used it as a weapon, it's a weapon, and you can be charged with Assault with a Deadly Weapon for whacking someone with it," (in many red states) to California and New York's highly idiosyncratic list of what is and is not considered a weapon. I'm not going to argue the rationality either approach or anything on their lists, but they do seem to focus particularly on the weapons of the poor (esp. coshes), immigrants (butterfly knives and nunchaku), and those used in newsworthy crimes near state capitols(throwing stars in California).

As for plastic knives, I highly recommend getting one. For example, Cold Steel's Delta Dart reportedly makes a reasonably good tent peg and corn-on-the-cob holder. As weapons they're pretty worthless, but they're cheap enough that you can buy one and find out for yourself. As for carbon fiber knives, they don't appear to be significantly better than a sharpened wooden stake, but I could be wrong.

One group of plastic weapons I do happily recommend are Peter Brusso's defenders. They're non-lethal like kubotans, only better, and they do seem to work as advertised. I point out seem because I haven't been assaulted while carrying one, so I can't say how it works in practice. They're also cheap enough to buy one and figure it out for yourself.

68:

And here I thought Krosp was fictional.

69:

Ah, I suppose there are plastic knives with metal inserts. I'm talking about these, which is from the UK legislation:

p) a stealth knife, that is a knife or spike, which has a blade, or sharp point, made from a material that is not readily detectable by apparatus used for detecting metal and which is not designed for domestic use or for use in the processing, preparation or consumption of food or as a toy;

THe actual list looks like someone read a bunch of ninja oriented comics back in the 80's and decided everything in them should be banned.
Now, with regards to the surveillance state, I can easily imagine this 3D gun silliness to cause attempts to either make all such printers tie into a system of reporting of what they print, or make them illegal or other such attempts at fiddling with technology.
As an aside, is there much demand for 3D printed objects in Britain? I've been trying to think of uses for them, and can't come up with many, yet.

70:

The nunchaku was of course a completely ordinary agrarian implement, that just so happened to be handy for bludgeoning people's heads in a spectacular fashion. The modern equivalent would be the car, I suppose, for maximum lethality. Or the mobile phone if you consider it on a pen vs. sword scale of offensive capability.

Of course with battery densities increasing it's a matter of time before someone weaponizes mobile phones. Fully charged rooted phone + black market app + shattering gorilla glass might make for something adequately nasty to toss at the pigs.

71:

And it turns out that the Police are completely wrong about the 3D gun parts they claimed to find.

Illustrated story on BuzzFeed, with police pictures and pictures of what the parts really are.

Yes, I can imagine somebody saying about one of the parts, "Doesn't this look a bit like a trigger?" This is a diagram of a trigger mechanism and there is a resemblance. But the article shows exactly what the parts are. Worse, I reckon the picture of the supposed magazine is picked to be intentionally misleading.

As for the talk of somebody making gunpowder, that could almost be geekish. But I am not even sure if it is the same guy as owned the 3D printer.

If there was some other reason for the particular raid, I can understand the mistake. But I cannot forgive the way the story was released to the press. And, even if there is no prosecution, if there is nothing illegal, the guy is going to wait for his computer and 3D printer to be returned, and they might not be in working order when the Police finish their forensic investigation.

I used to be more trusting of the Police. It's not the high profile headline making cases that changed me. It's an accumulation of little incidents.

72:

For a long time, the BBFC, who are responsible for film classification in the UK (not entirely censorship, but that was the extreme option), were cutting nunchaku from films, on the grounds that they were imitable weapons.

While the details are slightly different, exactly the same tool was used by farmers to thresh wheat in England. I am sure I remember seeing one in the back of the barn. I can imagine my father or grandfather using one to get some grain, in the days between the harvest and the arrival of the contractor with the threshing machine.

So somebody could imitate Bruce Lee? The only crime the average movie-goer could commit with one of those things was suicide.

I have carried quite a few tools that, with slightly different construction, were weapons of medieval warfare. Maybe we should think ourselves lucky that no Conservative MP ever came across the weapons list from original Dungeons and Dragons.

(The different construction was in how the sharp metal was attached to the shaft, to make it less likely to be broken or cut.)


73:

Argh - "Noon, 22nd century" is listed as 100-150 € paperback at the Big A. A not so utopian pricing ...

74:

I have frequently thought that mobile phones with strong metal chassis would make perfectly good umm, force multipliers if used correctly. The trick is of course to avoid getting nicked for using an offensive weapon afterwards.

Zhochaka - that's a nice little detail about nunchucks. The thing is, using them properly takes practise, something most urban ninjas aren't into.
Like when people (meaning politicians, grieving relatives and newspaper journalists, but I'm not sure how many of the latter are human) go on about swords; it's quite hard to kill any more people with a sword than with a kitchen knife, unless you have the training and muscles, and most people who are mad enough to run around attacking people don't have the training. Hence actual number of people hurt by swords is very low, even when they are feared by some and waved about by others.

It's one of the few things I agree with Cummings, the lunatic ex-advisor for Michael Gove - we really do need the people in charge of the country to have a better idea of statistics and risk. But then the evidence so far, including that from Gove and Cummings is that they'll ignore all science if it clashes with their ideology.

75:

If you want to hurt someone (although killing them is harder) with relatively little training and the ability to look like you're not carrying a weapon, a walking stick, just about any wooden walking stick, is an excellent choice.

You don't have to worry about getting the edge to connect like with a sword so there's a lot less technique required, you're also not cutting in, so there's no need for the strength for that. It's not incredibly heavy so you don't have to be that strong as you might with a more warlike bludgeoning weapon, but it adds weight and reach to your hands. You can jab, swing, and if you've got a hook or handle and practice a bit, you can do some nasty stuff to joints. Then you put it back on the ground and hobble off like a harmless old lady. Umbrellas are good too, although prone to exploding open I'm told.

76:

Not quite, although I'd agree in general. I'm actually not clear about how nunchaku developed, because (as you pointed out) grain flails are quite a bit larger, both in Europe and in China (where they are also weapons. Okinawans learned to grow rice from either China or Japan, since they traded with both). I suspect that nunchaku may have developed either after the Okinawan kings started enforcing weapons bans, or after the Satsuma samurai did likewise, and some trouble-making kids, erm, practitioners of kobujitsu, started cutting down rice flails so that they could walk around with them without getting busted. AFAIK, small flails don't look like that in China.

As noted, European weaponized flails have been around for a long time. IIRC, there was even a Czech insurrection where the rebels carried flails as their special weapon. They lost, but reportedly you can still see flails here and there in the tomb sculptures of the rebel knights.

As for hard to use, I bounced the first one I made off my skull once, but otherwise, no, they're not hard to learn if you don't have a teacher. I've known quite a few boys who made them in their teens, and all you really need is a dowel, some string, a saw, a drill, and sandpaper. Considering that they're probably less dangerous than a stick of equal length (the swingle tends to rebound off the target, unlike a staff, since a flail isn't rigid), it is a shame that they're banned in so many places. One could go on at any length about this, but the fundamental point is that weapons laws aren't rational and nunchucks are fun.

77:

Seems as though all but a few of the Strugatskys' novels were translated to English, but that all are OOP - cheapest "How to be a god" on bookfinder is about $100. Clearly a demand is unfulfilled - I've only read Roadside Picnic, but I'm keen to read more based on this thread. Of course dubious ebooks are available from the usual places, and in this instance (OOP, authors deceased) the guilt factor is low, but perhaps interested parties could petition their favourite boutique sf publishers for new editions.

78:

I haven't read any of the Stugatsky works, but from the description, I wonder how they compare with something like LeGuin's Hainish books. Obviously not the same, but there are similarities.

79:

I'd say the Strugatskies did big idea SF, with the idea in question beeing always philosophical, not technical. I find it hard to comapre that with Le Guin, as the stories from the Hainish books that impressed me most were Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed - and they are overt political, I think the other Hainish books are less so.

Re. the difficulty of finding decent english versions ... I checked only few wikipedia entries, but it seems for quite a few of the Sttrugatskies titles there are several german tranlations, even before the retranslations mentioned above. I know no gemran SF author who is as widely read as those two on Germany, quite a contrast to the Agnlosphere it seems. I wonder why that is.

80:

I remember reading 'roadside picnic' years back and being impressed with it.
trying to run an rpg off of it.
then forgot all about it.
then maybe 2 years ago I got a game called 'stalker'
as I was playing it I had massive de ja vu.
the whole game was based on that book

81:

Yes, the Stalker roleplaying game is based on the Roadside picnic book. I like the game, though it isn't probably suitable for very long campaigns, because the experience system probably fails sooner or later.

It's even a licensed RPG, the maker of the RPG asked for permission from Boris Strugatsky.

I'm biased because I know the author of the game, but it might even work for a conspiracy game. Also with the items from the Zone and all the intrigue they imply it is very much a spook game, too.

I found in the game that the Zone is not the most interesting part, but the interactions it generates.

82:

While Mr. William Garvin and his particular Princess hold the quarterstaff in high regard as a weapon, there can be problems.

83:

@34:
It's a post-scarcity technological paradise populated by inhumanly ethical (thanks to the High Theory of Education) human beings. And most of them are pretty happy.
---
You could just as easily view that as "brainwashed proletariat."

One man's ordered society is another man's oppressive regime.

84:

@30:
The outrage isn't that the spooks are spying on foreign leaders, but that they're spying on friendly ones.
---
Like Australia and South Africa caught running spies in England in the 1960s?

Like Israel caught running spies in Canada and the USA in the 1970s and 1980s?

Those were embarrassing for the perpetrators... but just because a country is "friendly" doesn't mean all of it is, or that it will always be.

Germany and the USSR were Best Friends Forever until June of 1941. Better Soviet intelligence about their ally's intentions might have resulted in an entirely different world today.

85:

heh. In my line of work, I'm never more than a couple of feet away from a Telecaster. For the unfamiliar, that's over eight pounds of hard wood and metal.

It'd probably even stay in tune.

86:
Better Soviet intelligence about their ally's intentions might have resulted in an entirely different world today.

IIRC and am not mistaken, Soviet intelligence was accurate enough, but Stalin refused to act on it, either because he didn't believe it or some other reason.

Wikipedia sez

Although Stalin had received warnings from spies and his generals,[174][175][176][177][178] he felt that Germany would not attack the Soviet Union until Germany had defeated Britain.[174] In the initial hours after the German attack commenced, Stalin hesitated, wanting to ensure that the German attack was sanctioned by Hitler, rather than the unauthorized action of a rogue general
87:

@58:
and see only that home made guns might actually improve and be really dangerous
---
You don't need a 3D printer to make a gun at home. It is a very large and active hobby. It has been done with everything from files and blocks of mystery metal to homemade CNC equipment.

Take a look at: homegunsmith.com, weaponsguild.com, and weaponeer.net for dedicated builder forums. Gunco.net, uzitalk.net, ar15.com, theakforum.net, akfiles.com, and other general gun forums have huge builder sections. Even non-gun forums like practicalmachinist.com, homeshopmachinist.com, and pirate4x4.com have active builder sections, just to get you started. There are many more.

It does require sipping from the internet firehose, a modest investment in tools, and learning a few manual skills.

I guess the idea of a 3D printer is that you just buy a printer, load it with magic feedstock, download "My dEth ASSault bUllet hoZe.dxf" from bittorrent, and sit there watching it grow on the worktable like some particularly boring reality television. Unfortunately, the holdup is the magic plastic, which, despite continual "Real Soon Now!" propaganda, isn't here yet. Personally, I'd just wait for the nanotech version; you wouldn't even need a machine then, and you wouldn't need to buy the magic feedstock either. There'd probably be a nanotech programmer for your smartphone, yeah...

The problem with 3D printing a real gun, as opposed to something like defcad's toy, is that you're not just waiting for one breakthrough, you're waiting for a bunch of breakthroughs. And those happen, if at all, in their own good time. We're still waiting for alkahest, and room-temperature superconductors, and cold fusion, and people have put a lot of time and money into those.

88:

@66:
TI stands for Technical Instructions and covered things like the exact amount of carpet and type of desk and chair each grade was entitled to.
---
Another possibly apocrypal story: a Westerner consulting at a Japanese company. Office space is short, so they clear out a storage room and put him in there. The next day he comes in, and there's a partition in the storage room, halving the space. Because corporate directives specified how many square feet of office space were to be allocated for each grade of employee, and as the storage room was too large for his equivalent grade, it obviously had to be cut down to the proper size...

89:

@72:
The only crime the average movie-goer could commit with one of those things was suicide.
---
A numchuk is like a stick, except you can't thrust with it.

A walking stick would be a much more effective weapon.

90:

@85:
IIRC and am not mistaken, Soviet intelligence was accurate enough, but Stalin refused to act on it, either because he didn't believe it or some other reason.
---
Many historians share your view, their scenario being that Stalin had basically climbed up into his ivory tower and pulled the ladder up after him, and therefore ignored anything that didn't agree with reality-as-he-wanted-it-to-be. He had more real power than any Tsar, legions of yes-men he was fond of executing for the slightest fault, and a median blood alcohol level that would qualify him as "legless" to most Breathalyzers.

I imagine maintaining a practical and balanced viewpoint would be difficult under such conditions...

91:

Yes, I remember that even my small suburban public library in the 80s had practically everything by the Strugatzki brothers in their SF shelves.

I'm also wondering where this German fondness with eastern SF comes from. The Strugatzkis are not the only case. Stanislaw Lem would be the other obvious example. It may have something to do with the philosophical nature of their works. Also, they could always be read as political literature, reflecting on the socialist systems they were written in.

92:

Talking to some (former) East German SF writers in Dresden last year, I gather that it was easy for the GDR's authorities to approve translations of SF that had already been published in the USSR -- it had passed the Soviet censors so it was obviously politically anodyne, so pretty much risk-free to approve. (Probably the same goes for Polish SF.) Once translated into German for consumption in the East, it was then available in the West. Certainly it was easier than translating Western SF, which had to get past the censor -- which could cause problems on occasion if they started nit-picking at the last minute and you had a magazine print deadline to hit.

93:

Well, I agree that a stick is better than nunchaku, but that's because the only impact is from the swingle, which is not braced and therefore tends to rebound off whatever it hits. In terms of transfer of energy, this is less efficient than stick of the same size that's braced by the wielder's arm.

As for the rest:
--yes, there are two separate ways to thrust with a nunchaku (holding the handles together), or doing a "pop" where you thrust one handle forward much like an atlatl thrust)
--No, they're not terribly dangerous. I'm one of many, many former teenaged boys who made our own, whacked ourselves upside the head once or twice, and thereafter learned to use them properly through experimentation and a book. Nunchaku aren't nearly as hard to use as reported, and normal flails (where the swingle is shorter than the handle and therefore can't hit your hand) are even easier. Anyone who's ever swatted another kid with a jacket knows how to flail pretty effectively.

I used to keep one around for home defense, on the theory that it couldn't be used against me. Now that I know how popular they are, I don't think that's an effective strategy any more. Still, I think making them illegal is stupid, but I'm not the one who makes the laws around here.

94:

You might recall older discussions on here about reactive chemicals, so I think we can safely say we've got the Alkahest sorted out.
Or rather, proven it's impossible so there's no point trying to look for it. Fusion, superconductors and as far as I am aware, diamondoid nanobots are still theoretically possible.

95:

I was surprised to find that only about half of the Strugatskies work (based on a sample of 6) had it's first german translation done by a GDR Publisher. And I can totally confirm that Lem is another big name of SF (rightly so) over here. I don't know why those three are so big in Germany, can someone shine som light on how SF that is not nativly written in english is received in the Anglosphere? For example, I just checked the last Apex book of world SF, and about two thirds of the stories were not translated but first published in english.

96:

@TRX
I don't know the first thing about guns, so maybe naivly I would think that the most crucial component is the barrel and hence the most crucial machine a lathe? Am I misguided here?
Also, I think you are right that most of the appeal of 3d printing is in the idea of "downloading objects" without becoming a skilled machinist.

97:

Here's a cautious wager: by the time it's possible to fab up a reasonable firearm of, say, equivalent capability to an AR-15 on a domestic fabber, AR-15s will be as obsolescent as crossbows (which can still kill you dead real good, but aren't exactly front-line military kit any more).

I'm pretty sure you could print up an AR-15 that works reasonably fine on 3D printers already (for values of "reasonably fine" that approximate to "doesn't jam with every round, doesn't disintegrate until it's fired several-to-several-hundred times), but you'll be using something like this, not a MakerBot -- and it ain't going to be cheap. (Hint: Shapeways charge US $8 per cubic centimetre of fabbed-up metal solids. Given that an AR-15 weighs 2.27kg and up, and approximating its density to 5.0, we derive a cost of $3,600-odd for the metal bits using current tech. Even taking a haircut off the top to cover the bureaux' profit margin, it's still an order of magnitude more expensive than machining the parts the old-fashioned way. Metal printers are expensive toys; an SLM-125H will leave you change from $500,000, but not much.)

98:

Depends what kind of gun you want to make....

I used to be involved in historical re-enactment (English Civil War). The replica smooth bore, black powder firing, matchlock muskets we used were made using cold drawn seamless tube with a thread cut in one end so that it can be sealed with a simple screw-in plug, this is comfortably good enough to pass proof testing for firing a fairly hefty blank charge in public, while it's probably horribly illegal and not really a good idea I know for a fact that a number of people tried these things with both shot and balls and that they didn't blow up.

So, if a crude, single shot (but unquestionably lethal) weapon which is only effective at close range is all you need then you actually do the job with simple hand tools.

99:

Actually, the minimum kit for making a flintlock is even less than you might think. Quoting a famous passage from Alfred Russel Wallace's Malay Archipelago:

"At Mataram we called at the house of Gusti Gadioca, one of the princes of Lombock, who was a friend of Mr. Carter's, and who had promised to show me the guns made by native workmen. Two guns were exhibited, one six, the other seven feet long, and of a proportionably large bore. The barrels were twisted and well finished, though not so finely worked as ours. The stock was well made, and extended to the end of the barrel. Silver and gold ornament was inlaid over most of the surface, but the locks were taken from English muskets. The Gusti assured me, however, that the Rajah had a man who made locks and also rifled barrels. The workshop where these guns are made and the tools used were next shown us, and were very remarkable. An open shed with a couple of small mud forges were the chief objects visible. The bellows consisted of two bamboo cylinders, with pistons worked by hand. They move very easily, having a loose stuffing of feathers thickly set round the piston so as to act as a valve, and produce a regular blast. Both cylinders communicate with the same nozzle, one piston rising while the other falls. An oblong piece of iron on the ground was the anvil, and a small vice was fixed on the projecting root of a tree outside. These, with a few files and hammers, were literally the only tools with which an old man makes these fine guns, finishing then himself from the rough iron and wood.

"I was anxious to know how they bored these long barrels, which seemed perfectly true and are said to shoot admirably; and, on asking the Gusti, received the enigmatical answer: "We use a basket full of stones." Being utterly unable to imagine what he could mean, I asked if I could see how they did it, and one of the dozen little boys around us was sent to fetch the basket. He soon returned with this most extraordinary boring-machine, the mode of using which the Gusti then explained to me. It was simply a strong bamboo basket, through the bottom of which was stuck upright a pole about three feet long, kept in its place by a few sticks tied across the top with rattans.

The bottom of the pole has an iron ring, and a hole in which four-cornered borers of hardened iron can be fitted. The barrel to be bored is buried upright in the ground, the borer is inserted into it, the top of the stick or vertical shaft is held by a cross-piece of bamboo with a hole in it, and the basket is filled with stones to get the required weight. Two boys turn the bamboo round. The barrels are made in pieces of about eighteen inches long, which are first bored small, and then welded together upon a straight iron rod. The whole barrel is then worked with borers of gradually increasing size, and in three days the boring is finished. The whole matter was explained in such a straightforward manner that I have no doubt the process described to me was that actually used; although, when examining one of the handsome, well-finished, and serviceable guns, it was very hard to realize the fact that they had been made from first to last with tools hardly sufficient for an English blacksmith to make a horseshoe."

100:

Depends what kind of gun you want to make....

Which depends on who or what you're shooting. If you don't want to deal with rifling and you're not getting close enough that a knife would be simpler, you probably aren't hitting the heart or penetrating the skull reliably. Therefore, your target will probably stay conscious for a minute or so, long enough to dial emergency services (assuming the target has a cell phone and normal signal strength). The best bet is probably something like buckshot, which makes multiple wounds.

Frankly, it's not going to take the cops too long to figure out which suspect has a 3D printer and check his internet records. There's a lot to be said for keeping things simple with a mask and a baseball bat.

101:

I'm also reminded of Illuminatus! with the line about the five conspiracies and the 120 combinations of power being too confusing for humans to understand.

I remember reading those books years ago and thinking "You only get 31 possible conspiracies with five organizations. Each organization is either in on the conspiracy or not, so there are 2^5 combinations, one of which is no conspiracy at all."

I liked the trilogy, but I doubt it's aged well.

102:

>>Seems as though all but a few of the Strugatskys' novels were translated to English, but that all are OOP

I read somewhere that there is a problem with making new translations, because Boris Strugatsky always insisted all Brothers' works should be available on the internet for free. And they are.

http://www.lib.ru/STRUGACKIE/

103:

El @ 75
A very sharp poke in the "breadbasket" is the most effective - immediately folowed by RUNNING AWAY. ( While $BadGuy tries to get breath back )
- Had to do that, twice.

104:

TRX @ 89
You forgot the "Totally Paranoid" bit .....

105:

One alarming thing about the Manchester Police story is as reported that they are searching for a way in which the components _could_ be used as part of a weapon, claiming that if so, they would be illegal.

This would be an extension of law, I think, and most unreasonable, arbitrary and foolish.

It is tempting to think that the Police involved, apart from trying to look less stupid, are finding this a more interesting and less dangerous investigation than tracking down actual people intent or liable to use the actual guns that (have previously quite often been reported to) circulate in Manchester.

106:

Charlie:
I'm pretty sure you could print up an AR-15 that works reasonably fine on 3D printers already (for values of "reasonably fine" that approximate to "doesn't jam with every round, doesn't disintegrate until it's fired several-to-several-hundred times), but you'll be using something like this, not a MakerBot -- and it ain't going to be cheap. (Hint: Shapeways charge US $8 per cubic centimetre of fabbed-up metal solids. Given that an AR-15 weighs 2.27kg and up, and approximating its density to 5.0, we derive a cost of $3,600-odd for the metal bits using current tech. Even taking a haircut off the top to cover the bureaux' profit margin, it's still an order of magnitude more expensive than machining the parts the old-fashioned way. Metal printers are expensive toys; an SLM-125H will leave you change from $500,000, but not much.)

The AR-15 is a strange design.

One could probably precision fab only the bolt (not carrier, just bolt proper), and barrel extension (with the tabs that the bolt locks in to). Maybe the whole chamber.

There is a commercially available all-composite lower receiver, including all the non-spring/pin parts (hammer, disconnector, trigger, etc). That may not be fababble today, but it can't be too far off.

Experimental composite uppers, too.

The bolt carrier has to withstand ca. 1500 degree hot hases, so it needs to be steel, but could be cast. The buffer needs to be heavy enough, but slso could be cast.

A "easy build" kit might contain a complete bolt assembly, chamber (into which a barrel was screwed, made from tube), a front sight, and a stainless gas tube. 300 or so grams, longest part 250 mm long or so. Maybe $200 in parts. The rest would be fabbed composite.

No, I won't sell you the plans or parts.

107:

No, I won't sell you the plans or parts.

That's okay, I don't want them.

(Here in the UK, simple possession of the parts would probably be a strict liability criminal offense carrying up to 7 years in prison. Semi-automatic or automatic rifles are as illegal as handguns: only the police and military are seen as having necessary reasons to own them. The plans ... I might be able to put up a workable defense in court on the grounds that I'm a novelist and write thriller-shaped objects; other folks might go to prison for possessing "materials likely to be of use in the commission of a terrorist offense".)

((But, more fundamentally: I don't want to shoot anyone, I'm happy living my life in the centre of an almost entirely gun-free city without owning the means to murder my neighbours, and while an AR-15 is a really neat toy for making holes in paper targets at a range, I'm willing to wait for the occasional visit to the USA before I do that.))

However, with the price of micro-UAVs dropping like a stone and the availability of astonishingly powerful control hardware for such devices plummeting ditto -- I suspect you could make something of equivalent spec to the guidance computer for a BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missile these days for under $100, if you drop some of the more recondite requirements (EMP hardening against nukes) -- the whole question of fabbable guns is moot.

108:
I might be able to put up a workable defense in court on the grounds that I'm a novelist and write thriller-shaped objects;

Manga author Kazuichi Hanawa tried that. He got to write a book about life in prison instead. I gather Japan has similar laws on the books regarding gun ownership.

109:

Hanawa was arrested for illegal possession of actual firearms, not schemata for how to make firearms on a 3D printer/machine tools. It's the latter I could possibly justify my possession of, with a good lawyer, under UK law. Caught in possession of the actual thing? Not so good.

110:

The ONE thing I have trouble suspending disbelieve with in the Laundry series is the promotion track Bob finds himself on. I know people in real life who are every bit as good in what they do as Bob is in what he exorcises, and are similarly office-politics-challenged: they get abused, exploited and tramped upon.

To see how work works, see Welcome to Work Club - http://thinkpurpose.com/2013/10/06/welcome-to-work-club/

111:

Secret Squirrels - maybe not such a joke as most people believed:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-magazine-monitor-23962379

112:

The real question is how much work it would take to convert a legal replica of (say) an AK47 into the real thing. If you have access to a lathe and/or CNC milling machine the answer is "not much". The real problem is the ammo.

113:

The situation in the UK is interesting. There is an historical tension between the two functions of the police, which are enforcing the law and/or keeping the peace. Historically, the latter has dominated IMHO.

114:

Bob's promotion track is based loosely on the civil service fast-track that actually seems to work in the UK. I know people who're on it. (The British civil service doesn't work quite the same way as the private sector. In particular, there are promotion routes for high-functioning geeks. Also, Bob's in a line of work where merely surviving is a sign of something unusual, ability-wise. This is because most people in the Laundry are too smart to volunteer for Bob's line of work.)

115:

I suspect you could make something of equivalent spec to the guidance computer for a BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missile these days for under $100

http://diydrones.com/ has a lot about an Arduino based autopilot with variants for fixed wing, single rotor and multi rotor helicopters.

116:

Its quite easy to fabricate a 9mm Sten Gun [sub machine gun]

http://www.deactivated-guns.co.uk/images/uploads/sten_mk2/sten_mk2_ff_10.jpg

using equipment found in a light industrial factory/car parts garage.

Here are some manufactured in these circumstance in the 1990s in Northern Ireland by self-styled "loyalist" terrorists.

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-YVW0Rzt-aME/T3q69575NeI/AAAAAAAAAGk/n3MvwaMTlws/s640/loyalistsubmachineguns2+improguns.jpg

after all the gun was designed to be made in toy and bicycle factories, and was manufactured by the Polish resistance under less than ideal circumstances in 1942-1945. [A fascist, racist, police state which controlled all economic activity, and a large foreign army garrisoned on their territory].

However obtaining ammunition, or the material to make same, is the difficult part, as is making it a reliable weapon that can kill people more than 1 to 10 metres away.

It is this part of process that makes 3D-printer-fabbed gun difficult to perfect and use without drawing the attentions of the authorities.

That is if the trail of electronic purchases, transactions and downloads hasn't already alerted them.

I am not surprised that "Oooh guns...you can make guns" is the #1 rationale for 3D printers among the internet tough guys/conspiracy nuts/whomever.

After all you cannot fabricate illegal drugs or pornography with them.

With more than 500 million purpose-built firearms available, at least 75 million of them full-auto AK derivatives, I cannot see why anyone would want to, or need to set a post-modern armaments workshop.

But that's just me...

117:
Hanawa was arrested for illegal possession of actual firearms, not schemata for how to make firearms on a 3D printer/machine tools.

Well, yes, 3d printers being rather rare in 1990s Japan. But the way the police has behaved recently they seem to be making little distinction between the potential parts and the object itself.

You can fabricate lab equipment and as for pornography... Dildos? pornographic figurines?. There's a reason so many statues in museums feature shattered genitalia.

And of course there's the creepy surprise in the replicator in rule34 if the tech is up to it.

118:
The British civil service doesn't work quite the same way as the private sector. In particular, there are promotion routes for high-functioning geeks.

An ex-civil service operations/Linux geek I worked with back in the late 90's told me that there were lots of very, very bright "odd" folk that would never be hired anywhere else thriving in the civil service. Not just in the geekish disciplines.

In part he put it down to the massive amounts of oversight and ISO 9000-ish stuff that was thrown in at the recruitment stage. Spending five of the last ten years eating shrooms and living up a tree wasn't a problem - there wasn't a check box for it. Not having the required O-levels on the other hand...

119:

Spending five of the last ten years eating shrooms and living up a tree wasn't a problem - there wasn't a check box for it. Not having the required O-levels on the other hand...

A friend of mine at one point got turned down for a civil service job because he was "unqualified".

Thing is, it required proof of five O-level passes at grade C or higher.

No, his PhD was not an acceptable substitute. Where were his O-level certificates, dammit?

(Note for foreigners: an O-level is something you used to take in the UK at age 16. You had to get a C or higher to go on to A-levels, at age 18. You had to get C or higher at A-levels to go on to do a first university degree, which you needed before you could start a PhD ...)

120:

I remember reading those books years ago and thinking "You only get 31 possible conspiracies with five organizations. Each organization is either in on the conspiracy or not, so there are 2^5 combinations, one of which is no conspiracy at all."

That's a quite simplistic view on how conspiracies operate. If you postulate that each organization but one acts as a puppet master for one other organization you get 5 * 4 * 3 * 2 * 1 = 5 ! = 120 possibilities. Which in my view is still quite simplistic.

If you just take pairs of organizations (5*4 / 2 =10 possibilities) and examine if the two are in direct contact with each other you arrive at 2 ^ 10 = 1024 possibilities.
Take into account different modes of contact ("speak with", "cooperate", "control", "fight", ...) and it multiplies even further.

121:

I imagine having O levels etc for the Civil service is as much a legacy of the time that
1) compulsory education ensured that all the people you'd want to employ had leaving certificates/ exam results, and
2) following the rules, which state that you must have O levels, and
3) that in the good old days, the younger children of the ruling classes might well go to school, get exam results, maybe even go to uni, and then spend a number of years failing horribly in various countries at whatever they try/ smoking opium for a few years/ signing up with an explorer for a year in the Amazon, before coming home and getting a place in the civil service. Thus a perfect paper trail for exam results, but bloody awful employment history.

122:

I remember the rules in the civil service about what grades were allowed their own office, and what perks that grade should have, etc.

When they had to put person X in their own office, despite their grade, because they had no other space, they made sure that since he was only allowed x square metres of carpet, someone came in an removed all the carpet except a little square around his desk.

Whilst you could, as an 'expert', get promotions and higher salaries (individual merit), there was a need to regularly justify that grade via achievements. If you couldn't, down you went. That was in contrast to the more administrative route, where once you had the grade, it was virtually impossible to lose it (resign then reapply wasn't enough, hell death probably wouldn't be enough).

123:

Whilst you could, as an 'expert', get promotions and higher salaries (individual merit), there was a need to regularly justify that grade via achievements.

Sounds kinda like the tech company I used to work for.

They had a non-administrative career path, but to progress up it to the equivalent of the lowest manager you needed to exceed your job expectations five years in a row — which was almost impossible, because what 'exceeded expectations' one year because expected the next year. (And if you were savvy enough to realize you had to pace yourself, you had enough savvy to realize it was easier to jump into technical management of a very small team.) To reach the equivalent of second-tier management, you had to be an internationally recognized expert, which was impossible because anything that significant was classed corporate-secret and you couldn't publish it.

124:

And some of us who do understand it merely want to string up everybody in every government who thinks this is "business as usual". It's not. It's an atrocity, the thin end of the wedge for an egregious and global violation of basic human rights.

Nope, sorry, I'm going to call you on that one. "Atrocity" is a tad overcooked, don't you think?

Surveillance is occasionally necessary. Spying is occasionally necessary. Spying on your allies sounds awful, but is a hugely grey area; we're not always talking about breaking/entering/bribery/stealing documents.

- Would maintaining a "US Desk" within your government (whose task was to become expert on its thinking, and likely behaviour ref MyLittleCountry) be spying?
- Would overhearing two US diplomats talking during a trade negotiation be spying?
- What about consulting a US expert on the likely US negotiating positions?
- What if you knew that said expert was a former US diplomat?
- What if a disgruntled US diplomat offered you the US position on a plate, because he was tee'd off at his treatment / was morally opposed to that position?

Do you forward any such information gained to your own negotiators, or do you take the famous position that "Gentlemen do not read each other's mail"?

There's always the observation that countries don't have permanent allies, just permanent interests. Stalin spied on Hitler as well as the US and UK. All were both allies at one time, enemies at another - within the same decade, sometimes twice.

Take, for instance, the British wish to enter the Common Market in the 1960s; would it have been advantageous to understand what the French and German governments were thinking? Even if they were NATO allies?

Take, for instance, a British wish to understand IRA activities within the Republic of Ireland, back when Charles Haughey was the Taoiseach. How much was achievable through cooperation, how much more information was required?

Take, for instance, the British attempt to retake the Falklands in 1982. If the French Government had not been so stunningly supportive at the time (from Mitterand downwards), what should have been the British position ref the French arms industry? How should they have attempted to understand stocks of weapons supplied, spares available, assessments by the manufacturer of the user's abilities?

Take, for instance, various European Governments' desires to identify tax evaders by securing tax information on accounts held in Swiss banks. If a disgruntled bank employee should offer to sell on a DVD containing account details of individuals, is it "Germany spying on Switzerland" if the German Tax authorities buy a copy?

125:

What the NSA and GCHQ have been exposed as doing (and I wouldn't rule out other countries doing some of the same) is incompetent espionage. They have very cheap access to the data, but the management isn't looking at the full picture.

In the past, acquiring the data was so expensive, in man-hours and money, that they had to pick their targets. On one occasion, the Americans went to a huge amount of effort to determine the calibre of gun on a new Russian tank from sources such as photographs. The British sent a man with a ruler.

Data collection has become dirt cheap, Data analysis has not dropped in cost sufficiently to handle the data, and the system appears driven by the sort of thinking that used daisywheel printers to produce pictures of naked ladies. The spooks are doing the equivalent of making guns with a 3D printer when they can get Martinis from the Khyber Pass.

And because analysis is not involved before the data collection, the agencies are trying to do their fishing in a firehose.

It isn't just the secret polices aspect, it's outright incompetence at a system level, and even if the politicians were able to regulate the angencies, the incompetence would still be there.

The men who stare at goats are staring at us.

126:
To reach the equivalent of second-tier management, you had to be an internationally recognized expert, which was impossible because anything that significant was classed corporate-secret and you couldn't publish it.

Presumably this tier would be used for recruiting already-existing international experts, rather than for internal promotion?

127:

OGH:
I suspect you could make something of equivalent spec to the guidance computer for a BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missile these days for under $100

Vulch:
http://diydrones.com/ has a lot about an Arduino based autopilot with variants for fixed wing, single rotor and multi rotor helicopters.

Gotta be careful here; the BGM-109 had INS and ground mapping systems and pre-GPS would hit targets just fine without outside navigation.

The $100 drone units usually can stay upright when GPS is jammed. Staying generally on course would be a leap.

The GPS and INS to overcome that requires at least minimal antijam and steerable antenna nulls and so forth. About what the JDAM bombs get. Those kits are around $50,000.

Enough drone brains to pick out the precise right target in GPS jammed or urban canyon environments is not OTS. You'd need cameras, maybe lights, maybe LIDAR, probably IR or laser rangefinders,...

128:

Surveillance is occasionally necessary. Spying is occasionally necessary.

Maybe. But creating a global surveillance state, spying on EVERYONE, ALL THE TIME in parallel, building an apparatus of secret courts and extrajudicial killing delivered by flying robots, and as a side-effect globally abolishing human privacy goes a bit further than 'spying is occasionally necessary', don't you think?

You're commenting on the camel's nose under the corner of a tent. The nose being an angler fish lure attached to the body of a Lovecraftian horror the size of a city (the new version of the surveillance state), rather than a bad-tempered camelid (your old school pre-Moore's-law spooks).

We're living in a drastically different world, here. Recycling old excuses to cover new behaviour that is multiple orders of magnitude more intrusive is inappropriate.

129:

I'm not sure you'd need that much kit. Bear in mind that laser ring gyros are getting extremely cheap these days, being an application of MEMS; we're getting inertial sensors in semi-disposable kids' toys. I'm no expert but I'd be surprised if newer in-car satnav systems don't come with inertial platforms to maintain course in areas of low/no satellite signal -- for example, underground tunnels with junctions and lane-changes (hello, Big Dig). Finally, there's the promising realm of navigation by wifi hotspot MAC sniffing -- hello, Google Street View Cars.

130:

Anyone who's spent an evening drinking beer and playing Steve Jackson Games' "illuminatus" can confirm that :-)

131:

@125:
It isn't just the secret polices aspect, it's outright incompetence at a system level,
---
I don't know of a book on the specific subject, but after the Russians started selling access to selected bits of the files of the former KGB, two things became apparent:

A) at the operational level, they had agents threaded far more deeply into Britain and the USA than anyone had reasonably expected

and B) not much of that data ever got to anywhere where it would have been useful.

The KGB wasn't so much an organization as a loose association of fiefdoms under a common roof, and knowledge was their currency of power. Groups sat on potentially useful information because it was more important to save it for political infighting within the organization than passing it on to "outsiders" like the rest of the government.

The other problem is, if you control the flow of information to and from the decision makers, you become a decision maker yourself... which is why most countries have more than one intelligence organization; part of their function is to keep each other in check.

132:

You're commenting on the camel's nose under the corner of a tent. The nose being an angler fish lure attached to the body of a Lovecraftian horror the size of a city...

Lovecraftian really is the only word for the whole thing, and your idea of ATHENA is just the tip of the iceberg. It's not hard to imagine an high-level surveillance system dropping information bombs on people based on a keyword search and no human interaction at all. Perhaps a British person sends an email which reads, "I disagree with the American policy on _____." and suddenly all the porn they've ever watched (or never watched) is sent to the computers of their friends/family/boss... and much worse information payloads are easily imagined, regardless of whether they're true or not.

As a both a science-fiction fan and a programmer I'm alert to the issue of exactly what happens when you pipe all the world's most important databases into a single, heavily networked building in Maryland, then decide to heavily automate the system and get rid of 90 percent of the sysadmins because one of them might be another Edward Snowden.

ATHENA-on-steroids is probably inevitable at this point, and I suspect that every nation that's a global player is working very hard to have systems that match the hardware and software maintained by TLAs in the US - it's not that expensive - with the result that any given person could find themselves on the receiving end of ATHENA-like programs from multiple nations at once, with consequences that are ugly beyond all reason.*

What's much worse than the idea of a poorly behaved nation gaining these capabilities is the possibility that a well-financed church could build something similar, possibly with the help of engineers who are ex-spooks. A church couldn't tap anyone's phone lines, but nothing would stop them from buying tons of information from ISPs and cell-phone companies and correlating it using the same techniques as a TLA. Then they know exactly where every member of the congregation is at all times... and what they're doing both on and off line.

* Did you read about the City of Oakland getting 7 million dollars to build their own information center?

133:

With regard to your observation about the charge of "materials likely to be of use in the commission of a terrorist offense".

A friend got me a book, a product of the national archives, for my 40th birthday called SOE Syllabus. It was the course notes used to instruct agents before being inserted into occupied Europe. There was also some background on who, exactly, the SOE were.

As well as a lot of material about Nazi organisations & uniform there was a lot of stuff about how to set up a cell system based resistance movement. Complete with basic pointers on communications between cells, types of cell and a littel bit of tactical instruction for doing things like storming a house, sniping and so forth. Very basic stuff but undoubtedly useful even now. And this was a government publication.

134:

You're not wrong, but did you really not see this coming?

Once computer networks capable of keeping track of damn near everything existed, it was inevitable that somebody was going to try to keep track of damn near everything. From now on, the ability to win power struggles will depend at least in part on each actor's ability to discern rivals' vulnerabilities from information in electronic databases. In the next round of institutional evolution, whoever is worst at data mining is likely to be the slowest antelope, and it really sucks to be the slowest antelope.

135:

Presumably this tier would be used for recruiting already-existing international experts, rather than for internal promotion?

Possibly. It was part of the 'technical leadership' career path, and in company training sessions this was presented as an internal career ladder, demonstrating that the company rewarded technical excellence, and that you didn't have to go into management to be valuable to the company.

Now that I'm older and more cynical, I think it was there mostly for show. There was a second-tier manager for every 20 engineers, and maybe two of the equivalent 'technical leaders' for 5000, so clearly the way to boost your salary was to move into management. (Who were the folks who decided what salaries were, so no surprise they decided they were valuable.)

Let's ignore things like the company president getting several millions in severance pay when he was fired for falsifying his credentials.

136:

Greg, I think it was Jimmy Hoffa who said you should run towards a guy with a gun, and away from a guy with a knife.

As for the Strugatski brothers, we had them in my provincial library too. There's a PDF of their great _Prisoners of Power_ floating around the net. This quote gives a good taste of that work, I think:

"The Khonti Union, in turn, castigated the Khonti
League, those paid agents of the All-Powerful Creators, and described in
detail how such-and-such a unit with superior forces had driven a small unit
exhausted by previous engagements across the border and kept it pinned down.
These were the facts, and they served as a pretext for the so-called
All-Powerful Creators to launch their barbaric invasion, which was expected
at any moment. Both the League and the Union, in almost identical
statements, dropped veiled hints about atomic traps lying in wait for the
invasion forces of the treacherous enemy.
Zef also tuned in on some broadcasts in languages that only he could
understand. He told them that the Ondol Principality still existed as a
sovereign state and, moreover, continued to launch its murderous attacks on
Khazzalg Island. But the ether was filled mainly with cross-invective
between the commanders of units trying to force their way through to the
main bridgehead along two disorganized rail lines."

137:

I agree that data vulnerabilities are a problem, which is why I'm generally opposed to an internet of things. Most manufacturers simply aren't security conscious enough to be allowed to hook up their products to the internet. While I detest the man, I thought Dick Cheney was smart to insist that the WiFi link on his pacemaker had to be disabled. He understood the vulnerability.

That said, Charlie is right, both historically and currently. Data is not information, and the NSA has demonstrated effectively no ability to use all the data they're collecting to stop anyone, including, say, the Boston Bombers, who were already on watch lists. The problem is one of false positives. They've got so many bogus patterns to investigate and discard that they're effectively blind to the real threats. The only proactive utility of such data is for blackmail and extortion, and I think that people are rightly concerned about it.

As for what to do about it, the best answer is to replace it with human intelligence, and that's always been a problem for the US. Historically, the US is among the WEIRDest countries, probably because we've been populated by the nonconformists and luckless types who couldn't make a place for themselves at home. While that's great for our entrepreneurial spirit, it's seriously problematic for recruiting loyal US citizens who can pass as foreign nationals. This problem is further exacerbated by the fact that most of the intelligence agencies have a strong right-wing (read, anti-immigrant) bias, so that they don't trust anyone who doesn't look and talk just like them. The US' traditional solution to this is to rely on technology to make up for its human idiosyncrasies, and that's how we got into this NSA mess This isn't the first time (see previous CIA and FBI blunders in the world of bugging), and I doubt it will be the last.

138:

What does WEIRD (or WEIRDest) mean in this context? I know it can stand for "Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic" or for "Where Everyone Is Really Dorky", but neither seems to fit.

139:

Regarding home made antipersonnel drones, aren't we there already? That quadcopter that was made to fly in front of Angela Merkel's face a few months ago, weld something sharp and pointy and instead of hovering fly it at max speed into her face. Hey presto.

140:

The first ("Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic"). Sorry, here's a link to an article on the subject.

General point is that Americans don't look like*, act like, or think like the rest of the world, at least on average. I'm coupling that with a general history of America's failures in spying (Wiener's Legacy of Ashes chronicle of the CIA is particularly relevant here), along with governmental tendencies to turn to technology to make up for personnel shortcomings, to explain the unfolding NSA problem.

Of course, an alternative solution is to so saturate the rest of the world with American culture that we blend in by default. While I don't think this works either (after all, Angelenos don't even blend in with New Yorkers or Iowans, even though Hollywood movies saturate the nation), it's an interesting alternative approach.

*here I'm talking about things like gestures, facial mobility, and carriage, rather than any ethnic marker. I live in a multi-ethnic city, and I can generally determine who was born in the US and who was born abroad before they open their mouths, simply by watching how they hold themselves, especially their faces. I don't have the vocabulary to describe the differences, but they are there.

141:

What's much worse than the idea of a poorly behaved nation gaining these capabilities is the possibility that a well-financed church could build something similar, possibly with the help of engineers who are ex-spooks. A church couldn't tap anyone's phone lines, but nothing would stop them from buying tons of information from ISPs and cell-phone companies and correlating it using the same techniques as a TLA.

Actually, even your 'but' is not so far fetched. In many areas church steeples are the highest things around, so phone companies rent space there for their celphone towers. Given a little bit of technical know-how every call going through that cell of the system could be echoed to the church basement. (Doing this without getting caught the next time a technician comes around is a little trickier, of course.) Why anyone would care is an open question, but no doubt someone could think of an excuse to invade others' privacy.

In the early days of mobile phones, when they were analog rather than digital, ham radio hobbyists could listen in on conversations anytime they wanted. It doesn't take much of this to show that it's mostly pointless and boring.

142:

I've always had a bit of trouble wrapping my head around Bob being both a put-upon sysadmin and a last-best-hope kind of field agent. In a straight up Dilbert sense, you can understand an unsung employee who really is important to keeping the lights on. But in a strictly business comparison, the sort of dangers Bob faces would be more akin to outside sales or engineering support where screwups could cost the company megabucks. And then when we take the turn from office politics to lovecraftian gibbering horrors... I've read some accounts of the cowboy antics of the CIA and how there was less accountability there than with your typical dot.com startup.

143:

This is a translation of the Soviet, heavily censored version. There were ~900 edits made until it was published. Boris Strugatsky described the experience as a unique event where the system clearly didn't want to publish, but the brothers forced it by two (!) years constant nagging. They almost felt it wasn't worth it.

I only read the modern version where most of the edits very rolled back. Some stuff remained, like the names of the characters. Originally both Maxim Kammerer and Rudolf Sikorsky were Russians, but since they starred in more than one book by the time of Perestroika, Germans they remained forever.

Nobody ever found out why the Soviet censors wanted to change the ethnicity of the characters...

144:

Actually, this is an interesting line of inquiry.

For one thing, many Mormons (from CIA autobiographies) seek employment from the CIA. They're a bit of a problem, actually. While they are loyal, hardworking, and good at keeping secrets, they are often so insular (having grown up in Mormon communities, attended Mormon schools, socialized only with Mormons) that they make suboptimal case officers and field operatives in many cases. As a non-Mormon, I'd worry about the Mormons only because they have some interest in saving all of mankind, through baptism of the dead and similar means. If they had some reason to spy on people for "their own good," they might well do so.

However, if you really want to get worried about such things, remember that the Vatican has its own spy service and they do (or have) cooperated with the CIA and Mossad, doubtless to help make the world as a better place. Hopefully this won't make those steeples look more threatening...

145:

Charlie:
I'm not sure you'd need that much kit. Bear in mind that laser ring gyros are getting extremely cheap these days, being an application of MEMS; we're getting inertial sensors in semi-disposable kids' toys. I'm no expert but I'd be surprised if newer in-car satnav systems don't come with inertial platforms to maintain course in areas of low/no satellite signal -- for example, underground tunnels with junctions and lane-changes (hello, Big Dig). Finally, there's the promising realm of navigation by wifi hotspot MAC sniffing -- hello, Google Street View Cars.

There are a bunch of interrelated problems in detail...

Background clarification, we should differentiate Laser Ring Gyros (the various resonator designs) from Fiber Optic Gyros (FOG - laser both ways through a spool of fiber) from the MEMS gyros. Your iPhone and so forth use MEMS. Some MEMS is both tolerant of high vibrations and useful in missile like high dynamics environments, but not the particular chips in most cellphones. The guided rocket community have tried those, most of the models go barking mad when you turn either high Gs or the rocket motor's shaking on. Utility for quadchopper drones at least medium, for cruise missiles medium, for faster things medium to low.

Accuracy of the above - LRG are the ICBM gold standard and previous air navigation standard; FOG are ~ 1/10 as good (this is all hugely rough numbers) but a lot cheaper and tougher. MEMS are about 1/10 as good as FOG. FOG will take arbitrary Gs and vibration, they're entirely solid state. LRG are high-G and vibration tolerant. MEMS are challenged by both.

In terms of accuracy, there's somewhat of a difference in requirements - a drone which intends to take camera pictures needs not to fly into buildings or wires. A quadcopter drone with a hand grenade warhead would have to fly within say 5 meters of a soft target to get good results. A cruise missile doesn't need to be nearly that accurate unless it's going after the front door of the bunker. It will kill people 50-100 meters away.

Nav by wireless antennas depends on propogation, knowing ahead of time where the antennas are (and they move regularly), etc.

Human piloting drones get good results in urban areas, because people "get it". Autonomous flight in urban canyons is going to be trickier. Not impossible, but not $100 COTS unit cheap.

Detail update on the JDAM - I was handed a clipping file by another reader here with a dozen or so years production cost data. The JDAM GPS / INS tail kit costs have consistently been around $20,000-25,000 per unit. The laser nose kit is another $11-12,000. Of the $20-25k per unit, the fins and structure and body lifting strakes contribute some portion of the costs; the GPS and INS are going to be probably 2/3 of the total between them, but exact numbers aren't available. Jam resistant mil-spec GPS units are commercially available for $10k plus or minus; FOG + MEMS inertial units are also $10k plus or minus. Figuring volume discounts for hundreds per month, those numbers about line up.

146:
creating a global surveillance state, spying on EVERYONE, ALL THE TIME in parallel, building an apparatus of secret courts and extrajudicial killing delivered by flying robots

Correct, and all the more joy that many other countries have effectively renounced defending their citizens and interests:


  • when German citizens are victim of mass surveillance by the USA, the German government shrugs
  • when Pakistanis get assassinated, Pakistani officials pat the back of their US homologues -- possibly ask the USA to perform some more assassinations of Pakistani citizens on the behalf of the Pakistani Government
  • when a presidential plane is rumoured to ferry a US dissident who has informed on the mass surveillance of European citizens, the French government closes its airspace

The only ones to have have a hint of a backbone are countries like Russia, China and Iran. Why is it that democracies are so defenceless?

147:

PS: and of course, as an addendum to the list, the British government is a sycophantic Quisling whose actions are seriously incompatible with membership of the European Union. Little wonder that they are considering officially renegating on Human Rights.

148:

My point was not about mining data for potential "black swan" enemies (something we're bad at), but about determining the vulnerabilities of a known competitor (which we're pretty good at). I'm talking less about finding terrorists before an attack, and more about finding, say, cellphone footage of your political opponent saying something regrettable and exploiting it for political advantage (e.g. Romney's 47% remark). That example is political, but there are obvious financial and military equivalents.

149:

It used to be said (back before 1979 and the Murdoch takeover) that the editor of The Times had about 98% of the information at his fingertips that was available to the head of MI5.

The techniques you mention actually fall within the agreed-to-be-legal and available-to-the-public remit of regular journalism and business/political intelligence. If you wanted to add the dodgy activities for which certain News International senior managers are now about to stand trial to the remit of activities permissible to agents of the state, most people might wince, but concede the point -- nobody's accusing Rebbekah Brooks of ordering assassinations, after all.

Nor is anyone sane going to deny the need for nation-states to compile extensive dossiers on the diplomats and political leaders of other states they have to deal with, and position papers that analyse their rivals/allies' foreign policy stance and offer possible responses to same. It's worth noting that the USA does have a legitimate foreign intelligence service: one that as far as I know has never assassinated, tortured, or kidnapped anybody and delivers prescient intelligent updates in a timely and efficient manner -- the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. But the INR's total budget is approximately 0.1% of all intelligence spending by the US government.

The other 99.9% goes on stuff that ranges from questionable (expensive spy satellites targeting missile silos that for the most part are open for public inspection on foot these days), to useless (in foreign policy/diplomatic terms) to machinery of internal state repression.

150:

expensive spy satellites targeting missile silos that for the most part are open for public inspection on foot these days

I think a strong argument could be put for those sites not being open except for the past presence of the satellites. Whether the current number and abilities are needed is another matter, and I suspect that the required abilities are achievable with a fraction of the current spysat budget.

151:

machinery of internal state repression.

You say that like it's a bad thing. And it is, but the sort of people who climb to the top of society are the sort who don't let that stop them from using every tool available to prevail over their rivals. Deniability is a necessity, but the current secrecy laws are marvelous for that purpose.

152:

I think a strong argument could be put for those sites not being open except for the past presence of the satellites.

Just because something was useful under previous, different conditions, it does not follow that they are useful today. (Like those ICBMs, in fact.)

We don't know enough about the NRO's photorecon capabilities to know if they deliver anything of use -- all we know is that the black US government space budget is 20% bigger than NASA's, and the results are all secret for decades after the event.

Except for these.

153:

Deniability is a necessity, but the current secrecy laws are marvelous for that purpose.

Yes, and this is part of the problem.

I'm in favour of trying to change the sort of people who get to the top -- or at least, to exclude the ones who do so over a pile of bodies with daggers in their backs. And the shortest route to doing that is to make it impossible for sociopaths in public office to hide what they are.

154:

I am far from an intelligence expert in the military intelligence sense of the word. I'm not an expert in the AI sense, but I would claim to have a better grasp of the field.

But... one of the truisms that I keep stumbling across in my infrequent forays into the field, in fiction and in reporting of the facts, is that intelligence from multiple sources is much more valuable than intelligence from a single source. So I'm sure satellites probably contributed, in the past, to the intelligence about silos - but I think it would be fair to say it was part of the evidence that lead to them being open now, not the totality of it.

And that makes me wonder, would they still be open today without satellites? My conclusion: Probably.

We'll never know of course, although it might be an interesting alternate history story for someone that writes parallel world histories. Too many other things changed, the ICBMs themselves, with the collapse of the cold war became not so valuable (despite politicians of all colours insisting that the UK must keep Trident and upgrade to Trident 2, a weapon that from the outside seems like it's a deterrent for the war before the war before last). I'd guess the political value of showing the silos, the misdirection of that while hiding some other trick up the other sleeve while saying 'look, we're being open about our disarmament' is too valuable and would be in that parallel world too. The dates would be different of course - the cold war would probably end later (although maybe earlier, you could probably make the case however you wanted it) - and the details would be different I'm sure, but I think without satellites, the cold war would be over by 2013, and silos would be open and you could walk up to them if you wanted, and have a look in.

155:

I could be wrong, but my impression was that a big part of the NRO satellite fleet are signals intelligence satellites, birds with antennas the size of football fields and such.

Still, the MISTY satellite program is a great example of the problems with the black world. It was killed off repeatedly by Congress, only to be renamed and re-funded until it flew. Whatever it does.

The real issue with the Black world is that there's no oversight, which makes it a great place to waste money and ignore laws. That's generally not a good thing, and I suspect that Trevor Paglen is right when he says that hiding waste is the primary purpose of black budgets.

While I don't know as much about the BI&R does, I suspect that the reasons it's so cheap include that it works, with oversight, on white and gray data sources, and it relies more on human intelligence, which is fairly cheap. For all the (justifiable) flak the CIA takes for its HUMINT failures, it has a much smaller budget than do the purely electronic NSA and NRO. Talking to people can be a really cheap way to learn things, believe it or not.

156:

make it impossible for sociopaths in public office to hide what they are.

That's tough to do, because 1) the sorts of sociopaths who rise to public office are generally pretty good at telling people what to do while maintaining plausible deniability with regard to expected methods, 2) everyone in politics accuses their enemies of villainy, and provable accusations tend to be lost in the partisan bickering, and 3) exposing one sociopath tends to make room for another (who was probably the main exposer).

I forget who said it first, but organizations composed of altruists outcompete organizations of egoists, while egoists outcompete altruists within organizations.

157:

Being a sociopath isn't actually illegal. Weren't companies deliberately recruiting them? I seem to recall we discussed something along those lines.

158:

That's true, and I was following Charlie in using the term "sociopath" in a loose sense anyway, roughly equivalent to "ambitious jerk".

Still, if a sociopath attains a position of authority, that authority is likely to be abused.

159:

@140:
*here I'm talking about things like gestures, facial mobility, and carriage,
---
Add slang and phrases to that. I once had a sizeable business deal collapse when the other party indicated he had no further interest in negotiation, take it or leave it. What he meant was something like "don't bother me with the details, just let me know when it's done."

The phrase in question was "just deal with it", which means something rather different between hip-hop California and Dixie.

160:

> make it impossible for sociopaths in public office to
> hide what they are.

"Sociopath" being defined as "whoever I don't like at the moment."

161:

As far as drones go, just send plastic flying wings with airblower motors and look for square next to water.
Rich people live in square next to water, as in swimming pools, rivers, coasts, lakes...

162:

"Sociopath" being defined as "whoever I don't like at the moment."

Why not? That's the current definition of "terrorist."

163:

Regarding drones: I do not think that the "robotic" component of contemporary drones is the feature that gives the more insight into them.

As I see drones, they are the successors of the assault helicopter, as invented by General Bigeard during the Algerian War: a weapon system designed to make its user invulnerable to the limited weaponry of the adversary, maximise the psychological impact on the ennemy, that would be instantly wiped out in a remotely symetric battlefield, but which an overwhelming player is tempted to field for massive overkill of its opponents. Consider how the dreaded Apache, presented as an invincible tank-destroying, Warsaw-pact-checkmating machine in the computer games of my childhood, is actually used mostly to massacre journalists; it would not survive long in a missile-rich environment.

The British colonial gunboat had the same sort of ecological niche. Essentially, they rely on the paradigm that if it doesn't work with force, surely it will work with more force, and fail to reflect on the nature and manner of the use of force. This failed school of though allows its followers to survive longer than would be natural on an even battlefield only because their opponents are so weak, conventional-warfare-wise speaking; but often, a military obsessed with repressing rebellions and chasing much weaker opponents tends to degenerate -- for instance during the Falkland war, the Argentine units involved in torture and repression of political dissidence (the Argentine Navy) fared poorly against the British; those left working on their actual job (the Ari Force) fared better.

The overkill weapon system (gunboat, assault helicopter, drones, Death Star) is characteristic of empires facing resistance, missing the point of the conflict, and about to suffer a strategic loss -- regardless of tactical victories or defeats.

Regarding "sociopath": the loose definition of "people chasing a goal in a monomaniac fashion regardless of the cost" sound fairly discriminative to me.

164:

"people chasing a goal in a monomaniac fashion regardless of the cost"

Which is not necessarily a bad thing. For example, Steve Jobs and Sergei Korolev both fit that definition.

165:

Agreed, but neither of them pursued goals where the costs could reasonably be expected to be measured in lives.

Sergei Korolev's failures, or the failures of his programme cost lives I'm sure, but the aim of the programme was not to kill people. Steve Jobs monomania I'm pretty sure never directly contributed to anyone's death, although I'm sure it contributed to stress-related illness.

166:

We've been using "sociopathy" as a label (technically, synecdoche) for the types of selfishness that are not effectively harnessed by markets and other institutions for social good, but rather manifest as corruption and corrosion of institutions. True clinical sociopaths are far more selfish than the average person, but practically everyone acts this way at some times and in some circumstances. What's more, the default level of selfish behavior in an institution tends to rise over time.

167:

Well this issue of force is interesting as generally we tend to use less force than in the past.

When Alexander Invaded Afghanistan he pacified people by massacring entire cities we dont do that anymore.

And BTW helicopters dont work as assault vehicles far too fragile I think you might be consumed by the French habit of slapping assualt onto units and vehicle names.

And really one incident define the entire use of helicopters accidents happen even more so when you point things at heavily armed squaddies.


168:

There is the classic in Korea where a British commander (Thomas Brodie) under pressure and about to run out of ammo and be over run by a human wave attack said "things are bit sticky" to an American who assumed that meant that he could hold out.

169:

well the central conceit is that you can use code running on suitable hardware to mess with reality and that this is the cutting edge of a sligtly warm war.

So obviously a hacker in the classic sense would be usfull as an operator and I use that in its current SF usage here.

From what my CISCO lecturer who had given courses to squaddies, said traditional army types are good at following orders and set procedures when it came to responding to the real world not so much.

All organizations have the "goto" guy/gal who can fix up things by going outside the system I did this at BT in a number of instances including learning how to crack systems at one point I did consider setting up LSEC's fleet of suns (around 20) as my own private cracking farm.

Got me my best ever appraisal at BT as we helped rescue the relasionship with a FSTE 100 company


170:

> When Alexander Invaded Afghanistan he pacified people by massacring entire cities we dont do that anymore.

Have you seen pictures from Syria recently? Remember Chechnya? Or many cities in the former Yugoslavia?

We, modern humans, still flatten cities rather efficiently. And, of course, if the Cold War ever went hot, it would have been really good and flattening cities. We, the species, pulled back the size of the arsenals, but we could still raze quite a few of them if we really wanted to.

"We" - the Western military - have deliberately chosen not to do it in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan recently because they've supposedly been wars of liberation for the people. It's really unconvincing when you try "we're here to set you free from your tyrannical oppressor, sorry you've got to rebuild your entire capital!" OK, even stopping at "we're here to set your free from your tyrannical oppressor!" didn't really work too well, but it's better than the first version. But I don't think it's a matter of improved ethics, it's a strategic choice.

171:

Civil wars are different though always much much nastier

Since the 30 years war the trend in the west has been to minimize mass civilian casualtys - ww2 being a bit of outlier here

You could argue that current wars Iraq and Afghanistan are a continuation of Kabinettskriege.

172:
"people chasing a goal in a monomaniac fashion regardless of the cost"

Which is not necessarily a bad thing. For example, Steve Jobs and Sergei Korolev both fit that definition.

Err... Maybe it's because I have a strict policy that forbids me to rejoice in somebody dying, but I can't think of anything good about Steve Jobs.

173:

Yeah, and then there was Fallujah...

174:

Since the 30 years war the trend in the west has been to minimize mass civilian casualtys

The trend was rather to move the mass murder to the colonies.

175:
And BTW helicopters dont work as assault vehicles far too fragile I think you might be consumed by the French habit of slapping assualt onto units and vehicle names.

The French term is "hélicoptère de combat" ("combat helicopter"), so I don't know what you are talking about. I was just trying to avoid the term "gunship", which if I understand correctly narrowly designs items like the Apache, the MI-24 or the Eurocopter Tiger; "combat helicopters" can be less specialised vehicles armed and devoted to combat operations, usually for a sense of "combat" that could as well apply to the conflict between a fox on one side, and a pack of dogs and a dozen mounted gun-totting upper-class twats on the other.

I am not suggesting that helicopters are used in assaults in the senses of trench-cleaning with a knife. My point is that these armoured and armed-to-the-teath helicopters are marketed as anti-tank systems, and end up chasing barely-armed dissidents. When there is a remote chance of meaningful resistance, these helicopters are either flown at high altitudes and used like conventional aircraft, like the British did in Libya; or you can fly low and try your luck with opposition SAMs, and end up like the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Helicopters and drones are not weapons to win a battle. They are weapons to fight battle that is already won no matter what, but can be made marginally more comfortable at the huge cost of deploying these insanely expensive weapon systems. Problem is: if the opposition keep coming at you in these conditions, it means that you are not solving your problem by winning these battles. Deploying overkill weapons is a symptom of strategic thinking failure.


176:

You're right, and shame on me for forgetting it.

177:

MM up to a point and in the congo and the sud west (Holocaust Beta I wonder if an early version of the Ahnenerbe / Thule Socity) I would agree with you.

But the trend is still downwards over time.

178:

Regarding helicopters, I think you're mistaken about their utility. Where they excel in COIN is in providing speedy mobility with a lower risk of casualties - i.e. in areas where mines can be planted on roads. They also allow your limited numbers of troops to be used more effectively. See South Armagh in the 1980s and early 1990s.

As for the Apache / Tiger, where they excel is in providing more accurate fire support to troops in contact. Fast jets can turn up more quickly, but there's a limit to accuracy when the driver is screeching in a 400kts; the helicopter can stand off out of weapon range, and take their time. That added time can mean better discrimination, and a reduced risk of civilian casualties.

Please don't class the Taliban as "barely-armed dissidents"; far from it. They may not be well-armed in first-world terms, but they know how to get the best out of what they use. This has often involved carefully-laid ambushes in strength, operating multiple types of weapons (including heavy mortars, heavy machine guns, anti-tank weapons), as part of a coherent plan. This PPT is a "lessons learned" slideshow from US Marine Corps units operating in Helmand.

http://www.powershow.com/view/1c025-MzFmN/ENEMY_TTP_AND_AFTER_ACTION_REVIEW_powerpoint_ppt_presentation

180:

I liked the story that when the USSR translated Sir Arthur's "2010" (after all, it has Americans hitching a lift on a Soviet spacecraft!) into a radio play, they'd transmitted the first episode before anyone important realised that the Soviet characters all had the names of dissidents...

...not sure how true it was, but it made oi larf.

181:

It wasn't a ruler - apparently, it was the apple from his packed lunch, he rammed it onto the barrel.

As for "you have public access to those silos", I doubt very much whether you'd get very close to the active sites - at least, not repeatedly.

It's worth noting that militaries have always run "official spies". A quick google on BRIXMIS or SOXMIS will turn up articles on the British Military Mission that operated in East Germany throughout the Cold War (Tony Geraghty wrote a good book on it). These were uniformed members of the "other" side, living on "this" side, and travelling around looking at stuff. Very close looks, if they thought they could get away with it.

I spent a couple of years as a child living in Eastern Europe, because my father (a soldier) had been posted to the Embassy as part of the Defence Attache's staff. Part of his job included looking around said country for anything of military interest.

Through treaties, the observer missions widened; the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty saw Russians being invited as official observers to all sorts of exercises; as soon as X number of soldiers were involved, the "other lot" were invited to watch, the better to avoid another ABLE ARCHER.

182:

...because it's not just photography, it's signals intelligence as well. Remember ZIRCON ? The fUSSR was too big to run copper wires across, so it used microwave links. If you can pick up sidelobe leakage from above, you can tap the phones en masse (much like IVY BELLS did with submarines and a phone cable).

What makes me less concerned is that IMHO the Panopticon is impractical. As I've mentioned before, we had a massive intelligence-gathering system in the UK from the 1970s to the 1990s, in Northern Ireland. As soon as it could the UK Government drew it down; keeping the data "up to date" takes immense effort, and is hideously expensive. In Eastern Europe, we lived in a diplomatic apartment block - there were perhaps thirty flats in the building, but the top two floors were inhabited by the listening teams (parents said that they were bugged in stereo in the bedroom, but quadraphonic in the bathroom). Apparently, by age seven I could spot the tail cars...

...by contrast, the Security Service has a couple of thousand employees, as does GCHQ (although the bulk of their SIGINT effort is presumably foreign, not domestic). Unlike the US, we haven't got 40+ member organisations in the "intelligence business". If you actually build such a system, you hve to staff it - and we haven't got the number of employees to go fishing with it; just enough to go hunting. It's not a broad surveillance state, it's a way to mine deep information on the very few targets of interest; whether they are people, or specific places and times.

Frankly, if I wanted to know about someone I'd ask the supermarket chains - loyalty cards are a massive source of data, and yet we're not claiming that Sainsburys is a surveillance-state atrocity.

183:
helicopters (...) excel in COIN is in providing speedy mobility with a lower risk of casualties
Quite. This is how helicopters were used in Viet-Nam by the US, and in Algeria by the French. The USA were kicked out from Viet-Nam, and the French had to leave Algeria after almost entirely wiping out the opposition there, all the more proof that they were addressing the wrong problem.

And these are cases where helicopters had it easy. Introduce the possibility for the opposition to resist, and you have part of the difference between the French and US operations in Mogadishu in the 90s.

As for the Apache / Tiger, where they excel is in providing more accurate fire (...) reduced risk of civilian casualties.

This is surely what it says in the commercial. What I see in practice is that Apache helicopters massacre civilians, not only by firing on journalists, but by pumping missiles into residential areas. As for fire support, when things got hairy in Uzbin Valley, helicopters could not intervene. I'd like to see a convincing example where helicopters actually decided the issue of a battle, rather than serve as unopposed flying buses or constitute an extravagant luxury.

Please don't class the Taliban as "barely-armed dissidents" (...) heavy mortars, heavy machine guns, anti-tank weapons
Oh please. And sharpened bananas? This equipment is nothing compared to what the West is fielding -- you even concede that yourself. The weapons held by the Taliban would be a problem from a policing point of view in a peaceful society, but militarily speaking, fixating on them hinders understanding of the war at hand.

The problem is not the few weapons held by the Taliban, but their sheer will to resist. If the Taliban had no explosives, they would dig anti-tank trenches with their fingernails. The core of the question is the sheer hatred of the invader, especially when it is alien in its values and clumsy in its reactions. We can comfort ourselves with our "civilising mission" and by automatically counting military-aged men killed by drone strikes as "terrorists" all we want, but it is the locals that we have to convince. I doubt that they are, not in our favour anyway. Until we convince them, we will face a flow of people avenging grand-mas butchered by drones, and young recruits who were 4 when the US invaded -- they have hated the West all their lives.

France had to leave Algeria in the face of an enemy who by that point counted a handful of men and retained at best a few dozen rifles -- an enemy that she had militarily defeated. I do not understand why the lessons from Algeria are so ignored. It is also puzzling to me why the USA, whose foundation myth is rooted in hatred of the occupier and consequent victorious struggle of an underdog, fail to recognise this new instance of the very force from which they derive their sense of identity.


184:

Frankly, if I wanted to know about someone I'd ask the supermarket chains - loyalty cards are a massive source of data, and yet we're not claiming that Sainsburys is a surveillance-state atrocity.

Maybe we should. Private/commercial mass surveillance and the state's is intertwined, look up Schneiers essy on public private surveillance partnership.

185:

Yeah, I am sick of these "can't be watching all of us all the time".

First, when the military starts goose-stepping in the streets pointing machine guns at the crowd and snatching dissidents to football stadiums, you don't say "oh, they can't disappear all of us". You ask why they are turning against the very people they are supposed to protect, who also are their sovereign (in modern countries).

What the NSA, GCHQ and probably others are doing is the quiet intelligence equivalent of a military coup. Minding this is not a sign of naivety. I know I need intelligence services and an army, and frankly I like them just fine. But just like I dislike invasions by foreign armies and military coups, I resent snooping by foreign intelligence services and unaccountable runaway surveillance by domestic services.

Second, the very idea of the panopticon is that prisoners are not watched all the time and are yet forced to behave as if they were. This "can't be watching all of us all the time" is no mitigation or excuse, it just describes the process of oppression.

186:

Amusingly, the comments about helicopters and how limited they are remind me of J. F. C. Fullers book on the strategy and tactics of WW2. He rushed it out straight after the war, and there's a number of errors, but he makes the point that area bombing wasn't much use and they'd have been better off spending the resources on transport aircract for proper strategic flexibility.
I.e. nowadays they say bomb them all from the skys, as if that will change anything, which it doesnt, whereas moving people around fast with helicopters is very useful all the time because the flexibility and potential element of surprise.

Of course it doesn't seem that the BRitish high command learnt this lesson at any time, British soldiers in Afghanistan were often relying on the Americans for air transport, or so I heard.

187:

British soldiers in Afghanistan were often relying on the Americans for air transport, or so I heard

That was largely to do with altitude rather than general availability. Whatever RAF Transport Command is called these days and the internal Army air delivery systems are optimised for shifting people and equipment round Europe where the ground is less than a few hundred feet above sea-level. Afghanistan averages just short of the summit of Ben Nevis which drastically reduces the load an aircraft can carry, US equipment on the other hand often has to work around places like Denver.

188:

Frankly, if I wanted to know about someone I'd ask the supermarket chains - loyalty cards are a massive source of data, and yet we're not claiming that Sainsburys is a surveillance-state atrocity.

Ahem: that's why I don't use store loyalty cards or store credit cards.

Because Sainsburys, Tesco, Asda, et al would roll over in an instant if the Home Office or a certain MoD agency came calling for that information. (Or, if not in an instant, after learning how much fighting it through the courts would cost.)

I'd also be a bit unhappy about the amount of information being collected by Virgin or Sky -- you can deduce quite a bit about people's interests by monitoring their TV channel-hopping behaviour. Or lack of same.

189:

Well, most of WW2 the problem was at least partly "the wrong sort of bomb". I've just been reading an aricle on surviving WW2 airbases and aircraft factories in Eastern Germany, which mentioned how unsuccessful bombing was in putting them out of action, and was illustrated partly with aerial photos.

My thought was that 1 or 2 Tallboy or Grand Slam though a roof would have been much more effective than 5000 by (500 and 1_000lb blast bombs) even presuming that they were all on target.

190:

Oh, but this is peanuts compared to what we can find about you from reading your blog and your twitter discussions. :-)

191:

Tallboy and Grand Slam were very specific devices to collapse geographic structures like tunnels and viaducts and blow up hardened targets like submarine pens and pocket battleships, but their area of effect was quite limited since they produced an immense amount of force in a small area. In contrast Tokyo was burned to the ground using 1.5kg incendiaries.

The problem with mass bombing being less effective than hoped during WWII and Vietnam was due to accuracy, something JDAM and laser-guided freefall bomb systems have overcome to the point where mass bombing is not worth carrying out any more. Add to that more modern technologies like cruise missiles and drones and the necessity for squadrons of B-52s or similar overflying a target to hit something of value has gone away, at least for first-world militaries.

192:

{cough} And railway marshalling yards. {/cough}

Now, is a 150 foot diameter hole in a factory floor going to disrupt production or not?

193:

Ah, U-boat pens. Such as the ones in Trondheim. The ones still in Trondheim because they can't demolish them. Standard demolition charges wouldn't touch them, and anything big enough to take them out would cause massive collateral damage to a sizeable chunk of the city.

194:

Circular Error of Probability, or CEP. A deep earth penetrator bomb like a Tallboy or Grand Slam has to be dropped from about 6 to 7 km altitude so it can build up enough speed to penetrate deeply into the ground or through armour and concrete. Unguided, it can drift several hundred metres off target during its fall and that's with a perfect bomb release by well-trained experts in daylight with minimal cloud cover etc. etc. Blowing a large hole beside a factory doesn't cause that much disruption to production whereas a pattern of 200kg and 400kg blast bombs delivered on target with an average CEP of a couple of hundred metres will cave in the roof, destroy machinery, blow up water mains and electricity supplies etc.

The experts of 617 Squadron dropped 77 Tallboys on the Tirpitz but only between three and five bombs impacted the hull, another couple were close misses and the rest were nowhere near enough to even scratch the paint. Each bomb required a single specially modified and lightened Lancaster to deliver it compared to the pattern of fourteen 400kg blast bombs a regular Lancaster carried in night raids against industrial targets on occupied Europe.

Nowadays a single guided-missile attack would be a mission kill on something like the Tirpitz from well over the horizon and multiple hits would sink or capsize it.

195:

I remember comments about air power being both more and less useful than we imagined, especially regarding WWII. Sometime after the D-Day invasion a squadron of P-47's dismantled an entire panzer division from the air. This was quoted as an example of why you can't win a war on account of air superiority but you can lose it for not having it. (Then again, we appear to have "won" in the Balkans only with air power.)

Anyway, the strategic bombing looked dramatic but war production in Germany and Japan were higher at the end of the war than the beginning. Of course, neither country had switched to a full-time war economy until halfway through losing the damn things.

I think Albert Speer was on record saying the biggest thorn in his side was attacks on POL facilities. (petroleum, oil, lubricants.) This starved the war machine. So for the examples of air forces in particular, the Axis powers had plenty of airframes but few decent pilot candidates and hardly any fuel with which to train them. One wonders what the dynamic would have been, specifically for Japan, if they had proper electronic guidance systems instead of pilots to put into their kamikaze weapons. The modern cruise missile is, essentially, an unmanned kamikaze weapon and they are devastatingly effective. Barring atom bombs, it seems plausible that Japan could have been denied access to the sea but remained too dangerous to actually invade.

196:

All organizations have the "goto" guy/gal who can fix up things by going outside the system I did this at BT in a number of instances including learning how to crack systems at one point I did consider setting up LSEC's fleet of suns (around 20) as my own private cracking farm.

Right. But Bob still doesn't manage to get much respect. You'd think someone with his skill-set would be treated a little less like the Laundry's butt-monkey.

197:

1) I do know this stuff; I work with things like drift calculations and CEP (actually Circular Error Probable) regularly.
2) The Tirpitz raids were 617's (and IIRC 6's) low point as precision bombers. This may be partly due to the effectiveness of the German smoke system around the Tirpitz's births. Try looking at some of the post-raid recce photos from the marshalling yard raids, where there are big craters in the yards and no damage to the surrounding houses except possibly blown-out windows.
Oh yes, and the 77 Tallboys was across 2 raids, the first of which damaged the Tirpitz beyond repair.
3) Tallboy was about 12_000lb. Ok, it needed an enlarged set of bay doors, but that's about the same mass as 14x400kg (actually 12_300 to 1 SF in the conversion).

198:

Sorry this is the UK where do you think this is SV I am afraid.

I once had two on the trot awards at BT for successful projects the award was £25 in vouchers :-(

Charlie will have higher social status as an author (even a genre one) than if he had stayed in the tech business.

Though for one of the projects they did put me up for a month in the Balmorral which was cool - and yes I did eat in the number one once :-)

199:

The fill charges in the Tallboy and Grand Slam were Torpex, a high-brisance TNT/RDX mix originally intended for torpedo warheads meant to tear warship armour belts. Broken windows nearby would have been the least of the effects of 2.4 tonnes of the stuff going off in the vicinity.

When they discovered a Grand Slam charged with 4 tonnes of Torpex on display as a gate guardian at RAF Scampton they reckoned that if it had high-ordered it would have broken windows all right, the windows in Lincoln Cathedral six miles away.

200:

Yes, that's all true as far as it goes. Tallboy and Grand Slam were designed to (and did) bury themselves in the Earth before exploding. This has a dampening effect on the overpressure.

201:

There's several reasons you'd not use tallboys etc for bombing aircraft factories.
For starters, there's quite a lot of them, enough to keep 617 squadron busy for a long time, especially since they weren't necessarily as accurate as some might think.

Or if you want to use 617 squadron, it's a bit like using a formmula 1 or a top rally driver to take you down to the shops.

THen there's the matter of the price of the bombs and as has been pointed out, the specialised aircract needed for them. IT wasn't as if they could make 500 tallboys a week, they were very specialist castings, the Grand Slams even more so. If you like I could find my copy of Paul Brickhill's book in my library.

On the usefulness and purpose of bombing, the modern methodology seems to be rather like area bombing in its stupidity - bomb everything that might possibly help the enemeny, including bridges, pumping stations, railways, electricity sub-stations etc.
Then you end up like in France in 1944, when the allies couldn't reach that little bit further into Germany because they simply couldn't get enough petrol to the leading units. Thus the war was prolonged. Sure, the bridge bombing on the Seine was sensibly carried out, but the program of railway interdiction was so successful that it took ages to get everything up and running and everything had to go by road again. WHich is what sparked Fullers comment about more transport aircraft instead of bombers.

Then in Iraq, the Americans (and their poodles) bombed all the modern infrastructure to hell then wondered why people hated them. The sensible thing to do would have been to rebuild everything they destroyed (Although I get the impression the Iraqi's would have hated them no matter what), but no, they went for an insane 'free market' approach, designed to maximise profits for the corporations that certain people were invested in.

202:

Here we are, discussing the minutiae of varios bombs in a thread about spooks. Why not talk about a land war in asia? Because an air war is would have totally workes?

Thing is, we have a huge industrial military complex selling it's ability to solve political problems with JDAMS and whatnot, and they always find a buyer, and lo behold! Iraq.
Add to that a surveillance industrial complex, selling it's ability to solve political problems for the powers that be with mass surveillance and PRISM. And lo behold! It does not matter if it "works". I matters that it happens, and harms people, and that by now there's so much momentum behind these programs that it does not matter if their only success is the sowing hatred and paranoia. Brave new century ahead.

203:

Tallboy and Grand Slam were very specific devices to collapse geographic structures like tunnels and viaducts and blow up hardened targets like submarine pens and pocket battleships, but their area of effect was quite limited since they produced an immense amount of force in a small area.

Not initially - when Barnes Wallis proposed the ten-ton deep-penetration bomb and the Victory bomber to carry it, it was intended to be used on industrial targets.

The idea was that the bomb would miss the target, dig deep into the ground - then detonate and create a void [a camouflet] which would undermine the foundations of the target structure.

The bombs weren't used in this manner because of the number of hardened targets like Tirpitz, U-boat & E-boat pens, "Crossbow" targets at Wizernes, Watten etc.

As a means of attacking hardened targets, Tallboy and Grand Slam were by no means. The Tallboy could blast a hole in a U-boat pen, using the force of impact and the Torpex/RDX, but would do little damage to anything within.

To do that properly, you needed a rocket-propelled

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disney_bomb

or the 4500lb Concrete Piercing/Rocket Assisted bomb as it was official known.

However the Disney bomb was as inaccurate as any WW2 unguided rocket projectile, and was so big it could only be carried externally by a B-17.

All three of Barnes Wallis's bombs were dropped on the Sorpe Dam, the only target to be so attacked.

None of them destroyed it.

But the Bielefeld viaduct, however...

http://ww2total.com/WW2/Weapons/War-Planes/Bomber-Planes/British/Lancaster-bomber/images-Mk-II/Lancaster-06-px800.jpg

the Grand Slam, eventually, worked as Wallis originally intended.

204:

but the program of railway interdiction was so successful that it took ages to get everything up and running and everything had to go by road again

When you have the

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Ball_Express

and the thousands of trucks that it consisted, you don't need the railways.

If the US war economy was good for anything, it was good for making trucks.

Bailey bridges and pontoon bridges easily took the place of the structures felled by the RAF/USAAF/Wehrmacht.

Which is what sparked Fullers comment about more transport aircraft instead of bombers.

Britain may have needed more transport aircraft, but British industry could not build one worth a damn, and when Uncle Sam is giving you C-47s, C-53s and C-54s, why bother?

Something like this
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bristol_Freighter

would have been useful 1939-1945, but the prototype didn't fly until Dec 1945

205:

You did actually read what I wrote, right? Even the red ball express wasn't enough, as well as the large amount of fuel it consumed to get stuff anywhere. Also something like 1400 British trucks were found to have dodgy piston heads and rendered useless thereby. It doesn't matter if the US can make 50 million trucks a year, if the fuel for htem isn't available in cubic kilometres, or the trucks aren't paired with drivers in France, or indeed in France at all - again the problem was that at that critical point the allies had 1 working port - the other main ones didnt' surrender until 1945.

Plus the higher ups all forgot that you needed to clear the approaches to Antwerp was well as capture the city.

Again, part of Fullers point is that the UK concentrated too much on heavy bombers; the amount of effort put into them was staggering, and again, what use are 50 million transport planes if all your pilots are tied up bombing cities flat for little gain?

206:

Regarding the lack of damage to submarines in concrete pens, I quote this from "The dam Busters" by Paul Brickhill, 1071 Pan paperback, page 238:

"Designed for earth penetration and dropped from less than half the prescribed height, the 'tallboys' never did quite penetrate the thickest of the concrete before exploding, but did almost as well. As on the Brest pens, they knifed deep in and then blew right through the ceiling.
At Hamburg they brought down a thousand tons of concrete that crushed two U-boats inside and crippled six others. They smashed servicing gear, killed dozens of men and created panic.
...
At Bergen a near miss sank two U-boats and lofted another one on to the dock wall."

Page 234:
"At Farge, near Bremen, 7,000 slaves had sweated for two years to build the biggest concrete structure in the world, ...The first design was for a roof 16 feet thick, but after 617 had visited the Brest pens Hitler had put on another thousand slaves, and in March, 1945, the roof was 23 feet of solid reinforced concrete and the pens were just ready for use.
617 paid their call on March 27 and sank two 'grand slams' deep into the roof which exploded right through, making holes 20 feet across and bringing down thousands of tons of concrete. Several 'tallboys', direct hits and near misses, cracked the monster and undermined it and the pens were never used."

207:
Then again, we appear to have "won" in the Balkans only with air power.

Not really. It seems to have worked in this way:


  • Blair eagerly starts the air campaign with promises that it will be over within a few days
  • Blair spends several months saying that Serbia is on the verge of collapsing
  • after several months, Blair convinces Clinton to send ground troops for extra leverage
  • hearing that, Russia thinks "oh for Goodness' sake" and threatens to cease support to Serbia if the conflict does not end immediately
  • faced with Russian ultimatum, Serbia capitulates to NATO.

The fact that air power does not work on its own is actually the centre of the chain of events that led to Milosevic's downfall.

208:

Speaking as someone who had a rather direct interest in the "NATO non-compliant entry into Kosovo"... (I was on my honeymoon as the bombs started falling on Belgrade; half expecting to hear that the mobilisation letters had started falling on doormats.)

There was a British armoured brigade exercising in Macedonia beforehand (FYROM to any touchy Greeks out there), acting as a deterrent to any Serbian expansionism. The Brigade Commander decided that forgiveness was easier than permission, and started laying out and supporting the refugee camps as the "ethnic cleansing" of Kosovar Albanians hit full flow. Fairly soon, the other European NATO countries were helping - there were even German units on the ground. The Americans were providing a lot of the air power and naval power in the area, and didn't actually have any (significant) ground forces nearby.

Then, General Mike Jackson (the one with the lived-in face, aka PoD [Prince of Darkness]) met up with the Serb/FRY commanders in a tent on the border. He managed to persuade them that NATO is utterly serious; he's going into Kosovo, the only choice is whether they leave or fight. They choose to leave. At this point, there are still no American troops on the ground, but there's a US Marine Corps force trying to persuade the (Orthodox) Greeks to allow them to unload in a Greek port, and travel Greek roads to FYROM, so that they can protect (Muslim, just like the Turks) Kosovars and possibly even (Catholic) Croats as the enemy of (Orthodox) Serbs.

(The big political fault line in the Balkans is Roman Catholicism versus the Orthodox Church.)

Anyway, the NATO threat was credible (one option apparently involving 250,000 NATO troops; of which 50,000 were planned to be British) and the Serb Generals decided to leave. The USMC arrived 24hrs before H-Hour; and while James Blunt was driving a Scimitar towards Pristina Airport, the Russians were rushing a convoy towards the same destination.

The delights of being an infantry reservist.

209:

The lack of helicopter lift comes down to one of two things - either incompetence on the part of the British Generals, or callousness on the part of the then-Chancellor of the Exchequer. Perhaps both.

The British Army has been short of helicopter lift for years, not helped by Gordon Brown allegedly hating the MoD (at least, not until there were jobs to hand in his constituency) and the Treasury putting the boot into various reequipment programmes.

The Generals come out badly, because they tailored a force to do one job (operate out of a few centres, supporting reconstruction activities) and then allowed it to do a different job, because of political pressure from the local Afghan Governor and UK politicians (operate out of lots of small spread-out patrol bases, with a resulting increase in logistic support needs, and end up doing a lot more fighting). This is apparently the reason why the politicians were able to claim that the Army had received all of the equipment it had asked for.

I haven't read it yet, but "Losing Small Wars" by Frank Ledwidge is apparently excellent.

210:

> loyalty cards

Those things are ubiquitous where I live. I refuse to use them, which causes a number of people to declare I'm unreasonable and paranoid.

Has the "membership store" made it to the UK yet? That's where they require you to purchase a membership card for $30 to $60 per year, and only people with membership cards are allowed inside.

Not being an MBA or marketing expert, I fail to understand how turning away customes if profitable...

211:

I'm not aware of any membership stores, with the exception of the big cash and carry places such as Bookers. They do require a membership card, which is free but you can only get if you can show you 'run a business' (being listed as a company director will do, which my wife did at the point where the company in question existed to run an SF Convention).

The general idea is to exclude the timewaster customers, the ones who clog up your premises while not buying enought to make their presence worthwhile. In Bookers, people are buying hundreds of pounds worth of stuff at a time. How your membership stores work, I don't know.

212:

@ 163
(the Argentine Navy) fared poorly against the British; those left working on their actual job (the Air Force) fared better.
Really?
I thought the antiquated ex-US planes the AAF used got really screwed by the Harriers & their missiles, in the end, at any rate....

213:

@ & 176
Also wrong.
Brit helicopters did quite a good job against an army (ok the Argentine one ...) in the Falklands - & sunk a coupe of their ships, too.
Your analysis is skewed by your prejudices, I think?

214:

gravelbelly 22
What makes me less concerned is that IMHO the Panopticon is impractical.
Doesn't stop the idots from trying, again & again & AGAIN, though, does it?
See allso your refs to the DDR - the COST.
If they go on like this, it will, probably bak=nkrupt the USSA's guvmint (even more than at present, that is)
Oops.

215:

Your prejudices are showing.
As far as anyone can be labelled "evil" (Because of personal judgements & values) surely the Taliban must be it, along with al-shabab & boko haram?
Their treatment of women & anyone with an education & their resistance to the anti-polio vaccinations means that they, unfortunately rate the treatment the Waffen-SS-got & for identical reasons.
[ And, yes, my prejudices are showing here, too - it's called "Western Civilisation" - or it's supposed ideals, at any rate, I hope. ]

216:

Yet here, @ 185
I agree with every word you say.
Indeed, in "1984", the telescreen wasn't wastching you all of the time - just enough to make sure you obeyed - a critical point that is often missed.

217:

You seem to be talking about "warehouse stores" such as BJ's and Sam's Club.

AFAIK, the reason BJ opened in 1984 as a "club with membership" is rather silly. The first BJ store was in Massachusetts. At the time a number of states, including Massachusetts and New York, had laws which required a retail store to slap a price sticker on each and every item, which obviously is a significant labor requirement. By calling itself "private club" as opposed to "store", BJ avoided that law -- a shelf of pickle jars has just one large label with the price of a pickle jar. By "silly" I do not mean what BJ did was silly. The law was silly, and BJ responded to it quite rationally.

I think these laws have been repealed by now, but BJ is still a "membership club". Although now anyone can walk in and get a "one-day membership" which is free.

218:

I'm trying to work out how your reaction is appropriate. You say that cahth3iK's prejudices are showing, and that the Taliban are actually evil. How was cahth3iK's comment implying in any way that they aren't? Is the way they are stubbornly resisting an invading force an indication of morality? I wouldn't say so, and I don't see that cahth3iK did either.

219:

There is the classic in Korea where a British commander (Thomas Brodie) under pressure and about to run out of ammo and be over run by a human wave attack said "things are bit sticky" to an American who assumed that meant that he could hold out.

What caused the different interpretation? "Sticky" doesn't have its UK-English sense of "troublesome" in American English?

220:

I am not an expert etc, but basically the problem was the understatement. The american use meaning 'troublesome' is surely not the same as "We're about to be ovverun help us now or we'll all die", which is rather what the British officer meant. But it wasn't exactly normal to say that. You'll have seen those jokes about the terrorist threat level in Britain? Here's one randomly picked off the internet:

Terrorists have been re-categorized from "Tiresome" to "A Bloody Nuisance." The last time the British issued a "Bloody Nuisance" warning level was in 1588, when threatened by the Spanish Armada.

221:

What I see in practice is that Apache helicopters massacre civilians, not only by firing on journalists, but by pumping missiles into residential areas. As for fire support, when things got hairy in Uzbin Valley, helicopters could not intervene. I'd like to see a convincing example where helicopters actually decided the issue of a battle, rather than serve as unopposed flying buses or constitute an extravagant luxury.

I believe that you are mistaken. Point by point, then:

Firstly, "firing on journalists"? The most frequent claims of such are from ground vehicles, not helicopters. Personally, I would avoid putting a camera on my shoulder and stepping into line of sight of a tank when troops are in contact in the area; and would stay well clear of those daft enough to do so. I would avoid trying to travel between the lines of opposing forces; doing so having written "TV" on the side of your van, and assuming it can be read though heat haze is an act of suicidal ignorance.

Firing into residential areas - the much-seen Apache video released on Wikileaks is, IMHO, a war crime plain and simple. I cannot believe that the pilot and gunner complied with any reasonable rules of engagement, either when firing on wounded and incapacitated, or engaging a vehicle used as an ambulance (whether marked with a crescent or not). That said, it's a lot more discriminating than a fast jet or cruise missile.

Regarding the Uzbin Valley, the problem was if anything the lack of helicopters (and lack of situational understanding). Note that during the ambush, the fast jets couldn't support sufficient "Danger Close" fire support, while the helicopters could; and that it was the helicopters that provided resupplies and reinforcements.

As for helicopters never "deciding the battle", I suggest that you read "We were soldiers once, and young". They were critical in that case. The Iraqi Navy was defeated in 1991 by a handful of Royal Navy helicopters firing Sea Skua. The helicopters were also critical in the Falklands War; often, they were the only way of getting the support weapons and then their ammunition forward (no roads, and artillery ammunition is rather heavy).

Armed helicopters are far from luxury; transport helicopters are far from unopposed. Michael Yon has done some excellent photojournalism in Afghanistan; look at his articles on the Pedro and MERT teams. The door gunners aren't there for show.

222:

What the NSA, GCHQ and probably others are doing is the quiet intelligence equivalent of a military coup. Minding this is not a sign of naivety. I know I need intelligence services and an army, and frankly I like them just fine. But just like I dislike invasions by foreign armies and military coups, I resent snooping by foreign intelligence services and unaccountable runaway surveillance by domestic services.

Consider the reality. In the UK, are we increasing or decreasing the "forces of surveillance"? Nope, decreasing. Are increasing the "forces of repression"? Nope, decreasing.

And yet, somehow, with a shrinking set of Armed Forces, shrinking police forces, and a static GCHQ and security service (numbering a few thousand in total, and that includes all of the office staff, logistic support, personnel managers) with a small "operational" footprint - you're expecting us to worry that the Panopticon is among us, or that we are transitioning to the DDR?

The indicators for that would surely include increasing police forces, the formation of "reservists" to boost their numbers, and a recruitment drive on the part of the intelligence services. None of these are present in the UK.

Exactly how is it an "intelligence coup" if there are only a few hundred intelligence officers, and they're presumably all working flat out to manage the social networks of the known bad people? I mean, just to track the known addresses of the 21/7 bombers overloaded police resources and required them to call the Army for assistance, as was revealed in the tragedy that involved Jean Charles do Menezes.

223:

I understood the original point about helicopters to be that in a battle between modern well equipped forces, they were not so much use. The examples you mention rather back that up; helicopters with modern air to air missiles can of course take out a backwards and badly supplied air force as one would expect.

Meanwhile, to throw another into the mix, the US airforce seems determined to get rid of the A-10, which seems a bit foolish given the way the overpriced fancy new jet is neither fish nor fowl but a weird mix of ground attack, air superiority and what have you, expensive to run, and not particularly good at any of the missions for which it is alleged to be designed for.

224:

The Argentine Navy is mostly known for getting her cruisers sunk. It was the Argentine Air Force who sunk a British destroyer and damaged a transport.

Regarding helicopters, I am not saying that they are useless. I think that there are not enough helicopters in European armies, in fact. What I am saying is that they are mostly useful for transport, not for combat. And in combat, they are useful in mop-up operations, but not in anything remotely symetrical.

225:

I am not saying that the Taliban are not evil. I am saying that they are very motivated, reasonably competent and brave, and that with the population on their side, they will win the war.

The "treatment of women" chorus is basically a way of saying that the Taliban are unforgivably barbarous because they fail to uphold standards to which we have conformed since... when exactly? the 1970s? In that context, your reference to "Western Civilisation" is pure "white man's burden". I don't have to cast a moral judgement on that, I'll just remind that colonialism failed the first time, and the post-2001 neo-colonial adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan are, unsurprisingly, failing too.

226:

We are in agreement on Wikileak's video.

In Uzbin, I concede that there were (probably?) no helicopter gunships available; the one hat did intervene was an armed Caracal which was previously on alert in case Karzai had to be evacuated in an emergency from some event he was attending. This Caracal flew non-stop all through the night and did a tremendous work ferrying ammunition and evacuating those of the wounded who managed to reach French lines. Nevertheless, I would have liked to see helicopters coming in in close support and raining the sort of fire that killed Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen. I am actually glad that they did not try, since it's even worse when you get a "black hawk down" situation where the helicopters supposed to assist you become distressed and have to be rescued as well. But in the end, I get the impression that helicopters just cannot engage in actual combat.

As for helicopters never "deciding the battle", I suggest that you read "We were soldiers once, and young". They were critical in that case. The Iraqi Navy was defeated in 1991 by a handful of Royal Navy helicopters firing Sea Skua.
That is exactly an example of what I regard as "they are so skrewed that we can even blow them up with helicopters". Sort of like "look, mummy, I can ride my bike with only one hand".
The helicopters were also critical in the Falklands War; often, they were the only way of getting the support weapons and then their ammunition forward (no roads, and artillery ammunition is rather heavy).
Absolutely, and I wish there were more helicopters for that, and even sky ships. But that is transport, not combat.

As for door gunners, I see your point, but I see that like the handgun of a military police motorcyclist: he is armed with a real gun all right, and the gun is not there for show, but I am not sending military traffic cops on motorcycles charging a Soviet armoured division.

227:

What I am saying is that they are mostly useful for transport, not for combat. And in combat, they are useful in mop-up operations, but not in anything remotely symetrical.

Both the American and Soviet operational analysts and militaries would appear to disagree with your opinion. The USSR invested heavily in armed helicopters as an offensive weapon (Mi-24, then Mi-28 and Ka-52); as did the USA (AH-1 and AH-64), although they have different doctrines for using them.

I used to work in the same building as people who built ECM and defensive aid suites for military aircraft (the British version of the Apache uses bigger engines, and was built with a rather better set of defensive aids than the US version). These were definitely intended for the symmetrical battlefield; if they weren't a threat, each side wouldn't have designed specialist weapons for use against them, and specialist equipment to help them survive.

228:
Consider the reality. In the UK, are we increasing or decreasing the "forces of surveillance"? Nope, decreasing. Are increasing the "forces of repression"? Nope, decreasing.
On word: computers.

The Royal Navy has fewer ships now that it had during the Napoleonic wars: does that mean it would lose the Battle of Trafalgar now if it had to fight it now?

Technology evolves. To gather the sort of culture I gather with search engines and random browsing on Wikipedia (switching from one topic to another at the speed of "open in new tab"), I would have needed an army of documentalists in the 1950s.

That is exactly the sort of power that the intelligence services are harnessing now. They are switching from round-the-clock surveillance by men with binoculars to searching corpora of log entries using information retrieval and graph analysis. Believe me, these heuristics are powerful. The indicators you are using are neglecting crucial technological progresses that entirely change the nature of the game.

Your reference to the Jean Charles de Menezes context is interesting, but I see it as backing another point I make: these population surveillance programmes are in fact ill-suited to combat terrorism. At most, they make it easier to backtrack around a known terrorist's life after he has acted, but that are not well adapted to prevent acts of terrorism -- a bit like surveillance cameras, which do not "protect" anything. They are, on the other hand, much better suited to keep an eye on know political opponents and business competitors, and I find it hard to believe that they do not serve that purpose.

229:

That is exactly an example of what I regard as "they are so skrewed that we can even blow them up with helicopters". Sort of like "look, mummy, I can ride my bike with only one hand"

Not really - more a case that we had the tool for the job. US Navy helicopters weren't intended for stand-off attack, more for anti-submarine work; their equipment was built around blue-water operations (they have since started to arm their helicopters more like the RN).

The fast attack craft that equipped the Iraqi Navy at the time were designed by the Soviets and by the Germans to operate in the confined waters of the Baltic, in a symmetrical war, under the cover of a nearby land-based air force (the Scandinavian navies are equipped with similar vessels, and view them as very effective when handled properly). Similar ships had sunk the Eilat. Their defeat at Bubiyan in 1991 was equally symmetrical; their air cover was stripped away, and then they were sunk by armed helicopters. You can't complain that the Coalition was too good at its job.

230:
Both the American and Soviet operational analysts and militaries would appear to disagree with your opinion. The USSR invested heavily in armed helicopters as an offensive weapon (Mi-24, then Mi-28 and Ka-52); as did the USA (AH-1 and AH-64), although they have different doctrines for using them.
Oh but I am sure they did believe in these things! Any it is even possible that at the moment they were designed, it made actually lots of sense. But then, there were technological developments like the Stinger and Strela, and tactical developments that make it possible to shoot down a helicopter with a RPG. And that changed the nature of the game. It is a bit like battleships -- fine instruments until the 1940s, but after the generalisation of carrier fleets they were relegated to shore bombardment against essentially hapless enemies.

And the Europeans introduced the Tiger after that. The Tiger is a fine tool for mopping-up operations all right. And I am all for mopping up certain sorts of people. But that is still convenience and overkill. Seriously, I understand that part of warfare consists in making certain that the enemy does not get a fair fight, and that it is better to massacre that to duel; let's just not pretend that a helicopter gunship firing on a few light infantrymen is remotely fair.

231:

a bit like surveillance cameras, which do not "protect" anything. They are, on the other hand, much better suited to keep an eye on know political opponents and business competitors, and I find it hard to believe that they do not serve that purpose.

That may be plausible from the French perspective; but when you consider the reality that was UK counterterrorism, it is much less plausible. The IRA and INLA were far more active and dangerous than Action Directe; and unlike France, the UK doesn't seem to have a reputation for state support of industrial espionage. Meanwhile, the son of Thatcher is regarded as ineffective, while the son of Mitterand was nicknamed "Papa m'a dit"; and we aren't seeing former UK Prime Ministers arrested for "political donations" in unmarked suitcases, or surveillance of political opponents.

The surveillance effort around the City of London was driven by a strategic need to prevent the Provisional IRA from attacking national strategic infrastructure and high-value targets (it's the same reason why some petrochemical facilities in the UK are protected by the routinely-armed MoD Police, and the nuclear power stations have their own armed police force). Each big bombing in London or Manchester could cause half a billion pounds worth of damage to the economy.
No, this didn't prevent the Canary Wharf bombing. No, it didn't prevent one likely lad from firing an anti-tank rocket at Vauxhall Cross, or the mortar attack on Downing Street or Heathrow. But it did make it harder for the terrorists to succeed and get away with it, and it forced them to hurry rather than take their time.

If you're a manipulative ****, you can sell a young person on "going out in a blaze of glory", it's a bit harder to sell them on hard time in a concrete box. As the saying goes, where would Christianity be if Jesus had been sentenced to ten years with time off for good behaviour...

You correctly point out that these systems do not protect against the suicidal; they were also planned before widespread social media (who'd have thought that the Boston bombers would be trackable by crowdsourcing?), and even with that the desire to provide high-quality imagery would make any justice system want some form of chain of evidence, and the police want operational control.

The big difference is that these systems were designed against a different style of terrorism. The IRA wasn't given to suicide attacks, and the mantra of the UK was to treat them as criminals, not as soldiers. The ability to arrest, try, and convict on the basis of solid evidence was seen as vital (after the failure of the supergrass approach using witness testimony) - for the non-suicidal, this is a fairly effective deterrent.

232:

Just to clarify, I meant:


At most, they [mass Internet intercept] make it easier to backtrack around a known terrorist's life after he has acted, but that are not well adapted to prevent acts of terrorism -- a bit like surveillance cameras, which do not "protect" anything. They [mass Internet intercept] are, on the other hand, much better suited to keep an eye on know political opponents and business competitors, and I find it hard to believe that they do not serve that purpose.

I do not think that ubiquitous surveillance cameras are a good tool to surveil political dissidence and business competition.

For the French anti-terrorism model, Action Directe is a bit faded from the public memory. I believe that the current doctrines and sensitivities are more rooted in the campaign led by Khaled Kelkal, which was based on a confused ideology mixing islamism, Algerian nationalism and revenge for the French occupation of Algeria and the Algerian war of the 50s-60s. Action Directe had very little support among the public, but Kelkal was more destabilising because France has a sizeable far-right rooted in resentment over the Algerian War and immigration from Magreb, and there is always a worry that terrorist attacks could trigger an over-reaction from such elements. Vigipirate dates from that period.

On political donations, it is delicate to compare from one country to another. France has stringent laws on political funding, from which lots of what happens in the UK and even more in the USA appears to be legalised corruption.

The reputation for State-supported industrial espionage is probably something that is hurled from one country to another: I do not have an impression that the French see their country as particularly keen on industrial espionage (I had never heard such juicy anecdotes as the sonorised first-class seats on Air France flights before I read them in English publications); on the other hand, they would certainly regard the USA, Russia and China as such -- and the British participation in Echelon is certainly regarded as State-sanctioned industrial espionage on a massive scale, up to the Senate. For another angle on the issue, it is notorious that the UK is very aggressive with diplomatic spying against France (as reported in Spy Catcher, for instance); is this reputation known to the British public?

233:

But then, there were technological developments like the Stinger and Strela, and tactical developments that make it possible to shoot down a helicopter with a RPG.

Stinger and Strela were around long before the Ka-52; and yet it was still seen as a viable weapon system. These are lightweight heat-seekers, that are best fired over short ranges at retreating aircraft (i.e. after they have attacked). Unlike the fast jet, the helicopter has the advantage that it can stop short and fire at you. Their small rocket motors only allow them to take near to head-on or near tail-on shots - crossing targets at any distance are safer (this is the difference between "point air defence" and "area air defence"). They also didn't / often still don't work at night - you have to see to aim them.

AIUI, the intention of the US was that the helicopters would move along the nap of the earth, pop up from behind trees, and destroy the armoured column's anti-aircraft assets (such as ZSU-23-4 and Tunguska) so that the jets could attack in greater safety. They relied on the use of ground to protect them from Strela and Igla.

AIUI, the intention of the USSR was to use their helicopters to carry out faster and slightly higher attack runs, and then to launch and turn away before they passed over their own forward troops. Where necessary, they could also use their armoured helicopters to protect small desant forces during attacks on vital ground - your helicopter may be damaged beyond repair, but if it protects its troop compartment until they've landed on that key bridge crossing, then it's a worthwhile trade (Mi-24 had a troop compartment).

Each design emerged from its intended use - as a combat unit in a symmetrical war.

This is why the British invested in Blowpipe, Javelin, and Starstreak; MANPADS systems that can attack an approaching helicopter. Unfortunately, they require much higher levels of operator training.

The innovations that allowed RPG to be used against helicopters were a) a backblast deflector that allowed it to be fired near-vertically, and b) pilots stupid enough to stay at low speed, at low altitude, over armed opponents with plenty of cover. Even then, it took multiple attempts at volley-fired RPG to score an occasional hit.

PS Google the recapture of Jijiga in February 1978 during the Ogaden War...

234:

cath @ 225
and that with the population on their side, they will win the war.
And where & when will ever, the Taliban, get the population on "their side"?
They are as hated, & for the same reasons, that the ultra-puritans were hated in Cromwell's wars.
I suggest you regard the comments of the female teenager they tried to kill.
They reign entirely by terror & religious extremism, in that order.
No, even if you didn't say so, they are evil, for values that existed before 1939, never mind now.
OK?

235:

The Argentine Navy is mostly known for getting her cruisers sunk. It was the Argentine Air Force who sunk a British destroyer and damaged a transport.

Erm, no.

The Fuerza Aerea Argentina played NO part in the sinking of the HMS Sheffield and the MV Atlantic Conveyor

They were sunk by Super Etendard and AM-39 Exocet missiles belonging to the Argentine Navy, as did the aircraft that located them in the first place, and HMS Ardent and HMS Antelope were sunk with bombs dropped by other Navy jets [Skyhawks].

236:

What I am saying is that they are mostly useful for transport, not for combat. And in combat, they are useful in mop-up operations, but not in anything remotely symmetrical.

The last even remotely symmetrical conflict to involve helicopters was the 1991 Gulf War

And the aircraft that struck the first blow in that war?

The AH-64 Apache.

http://www.airforcemag.com/MagazineArchive/Pages/1991/October%201991/1091apache.aspx

237:

Sorry Greg, I think you're as wrong as cahth3iK in painting it in such black and white terms.

It's much more akin to UK politics, perhaps the UK politics of the 70's and 80's, when there was really strong division between the parties. Admittedly you have to mix in a big dose of religion and violence that hasn't been part of mainland UK politics, although the people of Ulster might well recognise it.

But yes, the Taliban are hated, by parts of the population. The Taliban are supported by parts of the population. Parts of the population don't resist the Taliban when their soldiers turn up because it's a good way to die if you're stupid enough to try.

As a British woman I look at the Tea Party and wonder how anyone with two brain cells or two X chromosomes could ever support them. That doesn't seem to stop a number of American women who I think have both. And I think I have an appreciably better exposure to and grasp of American culture than Afghani, Pakistani and other countries where the Taliban is a significant force.

238:

El,

There are always tipping points. My mother, a moderately conservative, Southern Baptist (well actual Cooperative Baptist Fellowship now) woman, Long long time member of the Women's Missionary Union...will not under any circumstances support the republicans in the state of Virginia anymore. Obenshain saw to that with his daft proposal that any woman who had a miscarriage be required to report such to the police. If woman like my mom can turn against the republicans, well, that explains the 24 point gap in support the Virginia Republicans have to overcome somehow. Yeah, yeah, Obenshain says the bill was warped in committee, it came out not meaning what he intended. Lots and lots of Republican VA women don't seem to be buying that.

So, that makes my mom a RINO? Heh. I hope to God I am there when somebody calls her that to her face. I won't have to pull her off physically, of course not. Just listening to the verbal destruction of the poor sap will be enough of a show.

239:
who'd have thought that the Boston bombers would be trackable by crowdsourcing?

My recollection of that particular event is that crowdsourcing failed spectacularly, with many false positives and abortive witch hunts of "suspicious" bystanders some yahoo on reddit didn't like the look of.

240:

Yes and no. Yes there were many false positives and an abortive witch hunt on Reddit -- but Tsarnayev brothers were also identified from the pictures taken by random civilians. So crowdsourcing did succeed here.

241:

Are you sure that's not hindsight bias? I'm sure they were indeed photographed, but the positive identification, in time to do something about it is the point of the exercise. The Tsarnaevs did not have any meaningful exit strategy and blundered about and it still took several days and partially shutting down a major city before they finally got themselves taken down. And I use "got themselves" intentionaly.

242:
And where & when will ever, the Taliban, get the population on "their side"?
They do because
  • self-government is better accepted than foreign rule
  • peace is better than war
The Taliban cannot be suspected of being foreign imperialists interested in oil pipelines, and they have proved their capacity to establish peace in Afghanistan. Yes, life is not funny under their rule, but it is still better than life under a civil war.
No, even if you didn't say so, they are evil, for values that existed before 1939, never mind now.
I'm not certain that this makes any sense even on the semantic level.

It seems that you have found an enemy that is absolutely inhuman and beyond redemption, has no rational motives whatsoever, is a monolithic entity, and is comparable with The Nazis(tm). Do I need to explain in painful details why this caracterisation of the enemy makes me dubious and suspicious?


243:

Just to clarify: I am not saying that the population would vote for the Taliban in fair elections, of course not. The point is that there are no fair elections, and the ones that do take place do so on a backdrop of civil war.

A violent minority can challenge the government for power with tiny numbers in its ranks. It requires overwhelming forces to roll it back, resolute political will, and a strong support of the population.

For instance, in 1956 Algeria, the FNL nationalists who planted bombs in drugstores were a tiny minority, unsupported by the general Algerian population. By repeatedly committing attacks against the French, the FNL proved that the French were not invincible; by committing atrocities against the population, the FNL proved that the French could not protect Algerians in general from the FNL. To implement the later, the FNL resorted to enforcing islamic taboos, not because it was islamic itself but because islam was one way to discriminate the local population from the French. This is all part of the classic provocation-overreaction cycle of terrorism. After a few years, French forces almost entirely destroyed the FLN, but to do so employed means that alienated the general population to such an extent that Algeria was granted independence.

In Afghanistan, we currently have guerrilla forces who have proved their resilience, their capability to fight an enemy as formidable as the USA, and who are in the position of the underdog fighting an invader. Furthermore, the Taliban have some governance standing, as they have ruled the country after the collapse of the Soviet-backed government and already behave like a government in exile (conducting negotiations with Pakistan and even the USA themselves). Meanwhile, the "Coalition" occupies the country with no clear war aims, backs a corrupt puppet government put in office in one-candidate elections, has lost control of significant part of the country, and regularly kills civilians for no apparent reasons; it is a foreign invasion force that the locals suspect of pursuing economic motives like exploiting oil pipeline.

The West is in a position comparable to that of the Soviets in the 80s, only the war was even longer, the elections are even more ridiculous, the puppet regime will probably not last several years after the occupation ends, and the exit will probably look nothing as dignified as the much-mocked departure of Soviet troops.

Are the Taliban the ideal government that the population dreams of? Certainly not. Is the population so weary of the war that they would accept Taliban rule to end hostilities? Quite possibly -- that is essentially what already happened in the late 90s when the choice was Taliban or never-ending bickering between warlords. Does the population now hate the West to the point that they it would eat pop-corn while watching us kicked out by the Taliban? I think we're going there.


244:

I HOPE this is just pot-stirring for the sake of it!
life is not funny under their rule, but it is still better than life under a civil war.
Disagree, especially if you are female - half of the population, before you have even started on why the male half might not like them (like listening to "western" music for ghu's sake!)
I can see your suspicion in my invoking of Godwin, but ... they have a pure new (old) true way & are prepared to use any violence to enforce it & want to spread it round the world & want to treat women as inferior & kill all the jews & .. er.. um ....

They bring "peace" all right, of the Roman sort.
[ I trust you understand the reference? ]

245:
I HOPE this is just pot-stirring for the sake of it!
See my follow-up for a more detailed explanation of what I mean. It is difficult for me to write intelligibly about this subject because I do not know the extent of the assumptions and background knowledge that we share and I try not to write harrowing kilometres of rant.
Disagree, especially if you are female - half of the population, before you have even started on why the male half might not like them (like listening to "western" music for ghu's sake!)
Nothing is worse that war. With the Taliban, as least, you know that if you follow their demented rules you are relatively safe. In war, you can get maimed at any instant, for not reason. You told me to read Malala Yousufzai's testimony; have you read that of Nabila Rehman?

The point here is not that Nabila Rehman was a victim of the USA rather than the Taliban. It is that she was a completely random victim, and that she describes a life of terror of unpredictable horror. Malala Yousufzai got to stand up and defy her aggressors; Nabila Rehman lives in life-destroying absurdity.

I can see your suspicion in my invoking of Godwin, but ... they have a pure new (old) true way & are prepared to use any violence to enforce it & want to spread it round the world & want to treat women as inferior & kill all the jews & .. er.. um ....
For now, I see their country is invaded by us, no the other way round (and it's not like the West is not prepared to use violence to enforce its vision, is it?) As for talks of islamist world invasion, this is paranoia at best, and classic fear-mongering and enemy de-humanisation at worse. Let's not go there.
They bring "peace" all right, of the Roman sort.
I do. And that's my point: the West can't manage that.
246:

A comment attributed to, I believe, Jerry Pournelle:

"The Bush administration seems determined to convert the American Republic to an Empire. Given that all empires are fated to fall, must they be so incompetent at it?

Pournelle's conservative credentials are impeccable, yet he was and is a foe of the Neocons, opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning and predicted it would end badly.

Pulling the bulk of US Special Operations troops out of Afghanistan to prepare for invading Iraq is a strategic error we may never stop paying for.

247:

The Taliban were offered the chance of handing over Bin Laden ...
They refused.
Or so the story goes, anyway.

Disagree re: Nothing is worse that war
So, using the previous analogy, Nazi occupation is better than a war of liberation?
Even in Poland & Czechoslovakia .. ?
Not buying it.
And, if you are really talking about victim's stories, what about the one you actually mention, namely ... Malala Yousafzai then - in Pakistan, never mind Afghanistan ...
Sorry again, but you seem to be special-pleading that the "west" is automatically more evil than everyone else - a common failing, seen in my childhood, by the useful idiots who supported Stalin & the USSR, even after 1956 or 1968 .....
And that won't wash, either.

"His criticism of the West,
Made him, they said,
A Commie pest

Meanwhile his remarks about the East,
Proved him, they said,
A Fascist beast.

How sad these days that,
The narrow path of reason,
Should lead to a charge of treason."

[ From faulty memory - originally written C. 1953 ]

Declaration of interest: I'm a card-carrying atheist (NSS) & all theocratic/religious autocracies scare me shitless.

Incidentally, I think we are straying too far from the main subject.
Shall we close this side-thread for now.?

248:
The Taliban were offered the chance of handing over Bin Laden ... They refused. Or so the story goes, anyway.
The Americans refused to negotiate with the Taliban over Bin Laden and launched an ultimatum, in their typical "unconditional surrender" fashion. At the Battle of Tora-Bora, a US bomber wrote in the sky to refuse a proposed capitulation. That is how serious the US are about negotiated ends to conflicts.



Disagree re: Nothing is worse that war
So, using the previous analogy, Nazi occupation is better than a war of liberation?

First, you really do something about that Nazi addiction of yours. I know you are far from the only one, but you really should understand that the modern world started at least in 1945. Everything that preceded is interesting from a historical perspective, but is irrelevant to the contemporary world.

Nothing is worse that war. It does not mean that war does not remain an instrument to obtain certain things. A moment of war to correct a deep and lasting wrong can be adequate. But for any given period of time, spending it at war is worse than spending it at peace. Corollary: a war lasting for decades with no ending in sight is probably a symptom that military force was not and is not the right tool in that instance. The French understood it in Algeria in 1962; the USA are foolish not understand it in Afghanistan, especially with the fresh example of the Soviets.

Sorry again, but you seem to be special-pleading that the "west" is automatically more evil than everyone else
Not more evil. Just more powerful, less vulnerable, and with a history of victimising certain peoples. Because it is more powerful, its slight errors have huge consequences; because it is less vulnerable, its claims that a handful of terrorists constitute an existential threats are laughable; and it is not very much entitled to criticising others for gynophobia, homophobia or, for that matters, suspecting it of rapacious and short-sighted predation.

The West might be less densely evil that the Taliban, but its sheer weight makes it a greater danger to more people. Also, since we are oh so enlightened, we have no excuses to behave like brutal colonialists, whatever the other side does.

Lastly, virtues have an absolute value. Someone who tortures is a torturer, intrinsically, and thus Baghram, for instance, is unforgivable. God forbid we strive only to be less evil than the Taliban!

249:

Well would you expect Tony Blair or GEorge Bush to hand over any of their pals to anyone abroad? Did the USA even go through the proper channels, or did they just send an email demanding him?

The way you're putting it, Nazi Germany was worse than the TAliban - I've not heard of the taliban ethnically cleansing areas of Afghanistan.

But really, Greg, when you're argument comes down to "nuh uh" there's no point at all in your arguing. And if you were capable of reading, you'd know that nobody here is arguing that the west is automatically more evil than anyone else. It's just we have more power and use it innappropriately.

Or, tell you what, why don't you add up the number of civilians killed by western forces, drones etc, and compare them to the numbers killed by the Taliban. MOreover, what I've read suggests Malala is against both western intervention in her country, including drone strikes, and the Taliban.

250:

I suggested dropping this.
I think I won't reply to any further suggestions, as we are straying into dangerous territory here.

However, last thoughts.

1: "nothing is worse than that war" = "Peace at any price"
Well, we know where that one got us ....

2: Drones.
Not good, & Ms Yousufzai has a valid point, but ... it's a war.
You try to kill & therefore, erm, "dissuade" as many of the enemy, at minimal cost to one's own forces. Drones are very good at that. And there are innocent victims, but, it's a war, & that happens, in all wars, which is why avoiding wars, if possible, is a good idea. [ See this in conjunction with my statement about "Peace at any price"? ]

3: Meanwhile, how many innocent victims, by our definition, have been killed by the Taliban? Well, we will never know, will we .... Women, people with education, people with western music, etc? My suggestion is a very large number, uncounted, & uncountable.

4: And yes, she (Malala) is correct in wanting all intervention out - including the Taliban. A commendable ideal.
In the meantime?

5: Nazi addiction"
I was born in 1946 - brought up in the shadow of that conflict - & equally importantly, the aftermath & the reconstruction, & the cold war. I also personally remember how close we came in autumn 1962, to killing everyone ... OK?

251:

Cahth3ik,

WWII and prior events are irrelevant to the modern world?

Jesus Holy Christ. I was tempted to dub thee troll, but on reflection, I don't think you are thinking that carefully about what you typed.

The Muslim Brotherhood et all are quite exercised about the diplomatic deals that went along with the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire as a result of WWI just to give one example.

The First Crusade is still very much a live letter issue.

And those are just for the Muslims. Pick a group any group, even no-historical-memory challenged Americans and I am quite sure finding a historical burning issue will not be hard.

252:

The Taliban were offered the chance of handing over Bin Laden ... They refused.

This still displeases me, years later. I was disliking the Taliban long before it became popular and as a result I remember well the two times I had to grudgingly admit they were right. (They also declared growing opium for the drug trade to be incompatible with Muslim values.) There are rules for properly doing international extradition of criminals, and they are not terribly hard to follow. But demanding "Give us that guy!" is not the way; evidence and proper documentation must be presented.

It only mildly annoys me to have to admit that the Taliban was correct to ask to see the evidence against the accused. The US had a choice between the rule of law and the rule of force, and made the wrong choice - that really pisses me off.

253:

You will find my point regarding the Second World War in recognised basic International Relations books. It does not mean that you cannot find loonies working themselves up over ancient history (or pretending to do so, anyway); but such issues are not "historical burning issue", just pretexts and talking points to disguise present-day concerns. As far as international relations are concerned, you can describe the world in 1945 and start from there as if it was the Big Bang, you will lose little information.

254:

It's dangerous for those of us who are secular humanists to back the US interventions in places like Afghanistan because those secular humanist ideals that would seem to be served by fighting the taliban are nowhere to be found in the list of priorities of a country that has itself been flirting with theocracy for the last 60 years. That seems to be the trap Christopher Hitchens fell into (And I'd have to admit to it myself, of course my influence is a net zero, unlike his).

255:

Well, my last thoughts, then:


1: "nothing is worse than that war" = "Peace at any price"
Well, we know where that one got us ....

Ah, the good old Munich argument. Crude as it may be, it does have a point, but don't you think that "Peace at any price" has cost less lives than "We just need a short, victorious war"?

Incidentally, I did not say "Peace at any price". I said that war is not a satisfactory permanent state to be in. Afghanistan is not a brilliant military campaign, it's dragged for 12 years now. Longer than the Soviets were involved. The local boys shooting at our occupation forces were 4 or 6 when we invaded.


Not good, & Ms Yousufzai has a valid point, but ... it's a war.

Right, "nature is cruel so we have a right to be cruel as well"... You know, psychopathic as it may sound, I am not entirely closed to that idea, if it seems to be going somewhere. But what are drones accomplishing, apart from victimising an entire population? Killing 80% of Al-Qaeda no 2s?


I was born in 1946 - brought up in the shadow of that conflict - & equally importantly, the aftermath & the reconstruction, & the cold war. I also personally remember how close we came in autumn 1962, to killing everyone ... OK?

Yes, we have one of these generational clashes.

I was born later, in a European country, and I share the European ideal. My country is currently at war with an enemy who has caused her no harm, and threatens neither her interests nor her population, in a country which my country attacked. My country does this on behalf of the USA, a foreign power which not only is a cause of the conflicts that have devastated Afghanistan, but which apparently undemocratically dictates at least certain policies of my country, monitors her population, commercially exploits her, and sabotages the European Union, the United Nations and Human Rights which my country purposes to defend and advance. The USA have caused much more harm to my country than the Taliban, yet it is towards these that she directed her aggression, is that not curious?

You see the West as a block that has triumphed over Nazi Germany and checked Stalin's Soviet Union; I see it as an imperial extension of a predatory, paranoid and irresponsible USA. Unlike you, I have only scarce memories of a time when the West was genially threatened -- most of my life I have seen it try to pick a fight with Russia and China, exploit other countries, kick the can of global warming, and resurrect the colonial ideology under the guise of feminism and LBGT rights (the nerves of it!), and start to grow an actual oligarchy -- the upper class diverting the whole of economy to its exclusive profit, surveillance, censorship, torture, death squads.

There is between you and me the same sort of rift than between veterans of the Second World War and veterans of Viet-Nam. They "[didn't] trust anyone over 30", why should I believe that your worldview has any relevance to the contemporary world? I am going to endure this world farther in the future than you will have to, and I am seriously worried.

256:

As far as international relations are concerned, you can describe the world in 1945 and start from there as if it was the Big Bang, you will lose little information.
The late, great & still-missed Barbara Tuchman would disagree with you - & she would have been correct!

257:

And where, I may ask you did I propose a "Short, victorious war" ???
I did not, & never have, & I hope, never will.
Putting words into my mouth that I have not spoken ... oops.

I also live in Europe (England) but, I would remind you that I have worked with people who are sole survivors of their families (the rest got rendered down) or who have/had interesting tattoos on the insides of their wrists.
Please do not lecture me on this ... ?

Just for once, I agree with JRRT, quoting Gandalf, talking to Frodo:
"Always, after a defeat and a respite, the Shadow takes another shape and grows again" ...
I suggest that you also read the rest of the paragraph, as to the course that needs to be followed, even though it is hard.

258:

Would she really disagree? Remember, I am not talking from a historian's point of view, but from a policy-maker's perspective.

Well anyway, I'll find solace in the company of André Kaspi and Jean-Baptiste Duroselle.

259:

I did not accuse you of proposing a "Short, victorious war", I was merely comparing your statement (that "anything but wars" casts lives) with its opposite. Frankly, you have repeatedly accused me of supporting the Taliban and holding fanatical anti-Western views, it's a tad rich for you to be that thin-skinned.

People like the Second World War too much, and that constitute conceptual pollution that hinders many political contemporary debates. We all wish we could fight a very simple good-versus-evil war with caricatural enemies, but reality is more complex than this. We are effectively fighting a series of neo-colonial wars; in that sort of war, the side claiming moral superiority and duty of enlightenment is typically the wrong side. Or at least the losing side, anyway.

You like Tolkien? I'll give you some Tolkien. We are a multi-hundred-million imperium, claiming a right to invade other, much smaller countries, under the pretext that they are conservative backwaters. We destroy our environment with short-sighted industrial endeavours. Our societies are more and more class societies and concentrate wealth in a tiny minority. We are now notorious for using torture and widespread surveillance. If this was the Middle Earth, who do you think we would be?


260:

Who said I "liked" the second world war?
I was quoting it as a horrible example, to be avoided if possible - & ditto WWI, for that matter.

As for your distortion of JRRT, I will refrain from comment, other than to point out (AGAIN) what I actually said: "Just for once, I agree with JRRT, ...."
Because he was a devout RC, & I'm an atheist - or hadn't you noticed?
However, I agree that we are tending to becoming Mordor ...
why do you think I get so exited, because were (once upon a time, & at least relatively) the "good guys" and I do not approve of what has being going on.
"Invade Iraq?"
1990 - & depose Saddam - YES!
2003 - what a disaster - & entirely self-made - what idiocy .....

261:

Maybe it is a hindsight bias, but it certainly seems that without those civilian photos Tsarnayevs would have escaped. Or at least would have gotten to their next target. They carjacked that Chinese businessman only because their photos were already on the Internet, and thus they knew their cover was blown. AFAIK, there is not a single "official" photograph of Tsarnayevs at the bombing scene.

262:

I'm still trying to grok the idea that what happened before 1945 is irrelevant to the modern world.

By that logic, the instiution of slavery in the USA is irrelevant to the modern world.

THAT IS DAFT.

263:

What impact does the USA's history of slavery have on the USA's foreign policy post-1945? You seem to have missed the point cahth3iK made about what perspective she was speaking from.

264:

@ srogerscat

Agreed! The very idea that you don't have to go back before 1945 boggles the mind. For the very tiniest, most ignorant minimum for understanding the modern world, one must go as far as Versailles, where (aside from the mistakes that led to WWII) a young Vietnamese waiter who would later call himself Ho Chi Minh made his first attempt to establish contact with the government of the United States...

For anything more than the very barest minima of comprehension one would go back much further than that, of course, but Versailles would probably do. (He said, frowning, thinking very hard about "The Guns of August" and the Treasonous Slaveholder's Rebellion in the US.)

265:

anonemouse,

What impact does slavery have? For starters, the way the conservatives are dealing with a black president.

The history of US Slavery impacts every single god damn thing, both foreign and domestic that the US government does.


I am well aware of the point you refer to.... and think it is daft.

I am reminded of an argument I had back during the Yugoslavia mess. The history of the conflict was treated with the same dismissiveness, the long bloody travail of ethnic and religious tension was seen as a mere trifle.

I retorted "If you don't understand why they are fighting, are unaware the long history of injury given and received that modern leaders use as excuses for their behavior at the very least, how in God's name do you expect to convince them to stop fighting?

266:

If this was the Middle Earth, who do you think we would be?

We even admit it: https://www.palantir.com

The great Eye is ever watchful.

267:

I'm not disagreeing that the Taliban meet my definition of evil. I'm just wondering why they meet your definition of "worthy of declaring war on" and, for example, the State of Texas doesn't.

Texas is trying very hard to make abortion illegal. It keeps circling around legislation that will require doctors to forcibly insert vaginal probe into anyone requesting an abortion under the pretext of "full and informed consent." It keeps trying to refuse to allow discussion of birth control measures and has prevented the use of the medically correct term vagina in debates in case it offends the sensibilities of male politicians. Excellent track record on women's rights. It might not be in the same league as trying to prevent all women's education but effectively requiring medical rape is pretty damn low.

Add to this a string of sending science textbooks back for rewriting because they fail to mention supposedly credible alternatives to evolution such as Intelligent Design and Creationism.

I'm pretty sure you can add a less than stellar attitude to gay rights to but I really can't be arsed to go and check.

I'm fortunate, I have a choice not to live in either place and I'm exercising it.

And yes, I'm aware there are other states than Texas where some or all of these things are true, and other things are as bad or worse. The Virginia case in the discussion above springs to mind. Texas has just crossed my reading space a lot recently.

268:

The big stores already supply information on request to the HM Revenue and Customs.

269:

The Taliban see religion and religious orthodoxy as an absolute moral obligation. This attitude is currently unfashionable in the West, but is far from alien to it. Our ancestors burned a rather large number of heretics, as defined by whatever orthodoxy had the upper hand at that moment. The difference between Taliban and Puritans is largely one of fashion sense.

At present, it is fashionable in the West to view equality as an absolute moral value, and to view religion as an acceptable add-on so long as it doesn't interfere with equality, but that's certainly not a general rule over the history of Western civilization.

From my point of view it's all bollocks, but westerners make better neighbors.

270:

jay @ 269
Precisely.
That is at least part of my point.
The Hejira was in the year 622 of the christian reckoning, which means we are int the Taliban's year of (2013 - 622 = 1391 ) & it shows, doesn't it?
Yes, we also used to do these awful things in the name of/because of religion. But, we have learnt better, & with modern communications, they should be capable of learning.
But they refuse, as some inhabitants of Texas are also trying to turn the clock back to ....
But the Taliban have succeeded.
Nasty.

271:

Your response is rather illuminating. The major difference between the West and Islamic civilization, for now, is that the West has largely forsaken supernatural religion in favor of a religious understanding of progress. Your comments (e.g. "turning back the clock" seen as intrinsically "nasty") suggest that you have internalized the ideal of progress. Most people in the West have, because that ideal matches the Western experience from roughly 1800-2000 rather well.

I do not expect that religious sensibility to fare well, even in the West, over the next few centuries. Due to environmental deterioration and depleting fuel reserves, I expect the next few centuries to be characterized by slow economic decline.

I expect more traditional religions to take up the slack, and would be rather unsurprised if much of the West was theocratic (again, kind of) by 2100.

272:

I'm aware there are other states than Texas where some or all of these things are true...

Was Bill Nye boo'd anywhere else recently?

(Explanation: Bill Nye, an American science entertainment and education personality, pointed out that Genesis 1:16 is technically incorrect; it mentions the sun and moon as the greater and lesser lights, but the moon does not actually emit light and is seen by reflected sunlight. This offended his audience and some even stormed out.)

273:

Bill Nye, an American science entertainment and education personality, pointed out that Genesis 1:16 is technically incorrect

My mum used to take teaching jobs wherever my father's postings took us - this included Northern Ireland, in the late 1970s, in a "staunch" (as opposed to "devout") primary school.

She described the School Governors' meeting where she was putting the case for investing in one of these new-fangled videotape recorders, so that the more educational output of the BBC, broadcast outside school hours, could be shown to the children.

Unfortunately, she made the error of using the example of a recent and acclaimed BBC programme on dinosaurs. At this point, the School Governors instead started to debate (since dinosaurs weren't mentioned in the Bible) whether this was a Good Thing, or a Morally Dubious Thing. They voted no.

Ref. state surveillance - it once got interesting when Mum took the family car (reregistered with NI number plates, obviously) on a work trip to the Local Education Department's resource centre - she didn't know until given directions by her colleagues in the vehicle, that it was near the Creggan. Dad had to field a few urgent questions at work as to exactly why his car was tooling around the Bogside...

...he stayed well clear of "our" car (for understandable reasons), and generally drove whichever one of the section's unmarked cars was still on the road after his overenthusiastic troops had thrashed them to the point of breakdown or crash; punishment for such was being forced to use the section's Lada Riva. Too much "Dukes of Hazzard" on TV, he thought :)

274:

Jay @ 271
MUCH too pessimistic.
Education is the answer, which is why, of course the brain-dead in Taxas & NI are so agin it, or wish to bend it to their will.
History, so far, shows this to be a lost battle, eventually, I'm glad to say.
Maybe I have "Internalised the ideal of progress" - though such a phrase itself reveals strands of Freudian & psycholgical bullshit in your utterance.
Judge by the eveidence & the facts, there is nothing else to go on ....

Reverting, the Taliban, of course, just prevent education altogether, a * slightly * (ahem) more extreme position to the others, so equating the primitive Texans with the Taliban won't wash either.

275:

MUCH too pessimistic.

A lot of people tell me that, but when I compare past predictions to actual outcomes I see, if anything, a slight bias toward optimism in my thinking. This bias is noticeably smaller than most people's bias toward optimism, though.

the Taliban, of course, just prevent education altogether

"Talib" is Arabic for "student". So, basically, epic fail.

276:

@267

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/jun/21/how-texas-inflicts-bad-textbooks-on-us/

This seems to describe what I heard on a WPR podcast last year...

277:

Jay @ 276
No, not an epic fail at all.
Total irony fail, or alternatively, sarcasm fail, in your case.

The Taliban, like some christians of the 4-6th centuries believed that: "everything we need to know is in the works of the bible/koran" (As appropriate) and that, even worse, "other" knowledge should be eradicated.
In this specific case, the Taliban are students of the collection of Dark-Ages camelherders' myths usually called "the recital".
Which is s subset of Theology - a subject with no content.
Oops.

278:

That's always the question with education: whose ideas are going to be in the curriculum? The teachers among the Taliban are, I assume, mostly well meaning but also deeply ignorant of many subjects and eager to avoid rocking the boat by questioning the underlying beliefs of their culture. The professors who awarded my Ph.D. were only somewhat better.

In any case, the Taliban are generally better educated than the ordinary Afghan (Yusuf Zeropack?). At least they can read and write.

I was in school from the mid 1970s to 1999; I'm certainly not against education. Still, there are limits to what it can do. All indications are that in the US we're sending too many people into higher education; there aren't appropriate jobs when they get out and their debts make menial employment even more burdensome.

279:

> Reverting, the Taliban, of course, just prevent education altogether, a * slightly * (ahem) more extreme position to the others, so equating the primitive Texans with the Taliban won't wash either.

Questionable. Preventing access to formal education is not equivalent to preventing education altogether. And while I agree it is an abhorrent thing to prevent access on the basis of gender, I find it's a really close toss-up in my personal catalogue of evil to prevent access to education - something that can be fairly easily rectified if those blocking it go away in a decade or two - compared to wilfully teaching everyone things that are demonstrably wrong. (I'm not talking about simplifications for age groups that you then say 'well, it's a bit more complicated' although I have some issues with that too.) Just wrong. It's often easier to teach people who know they're lacking something, and they will go much further, than re-educating people who have been taught things wrongly for an extended period and have a world-view well entrenched in that wrong thought.

Look at the vitriol poured on Darwin - you would hope 100+ years later that would be over - but it appears not.

But women under Taliban rule, however shitty it is - and I'm not saying it's not shitty - will talk to each other, learn from each other, and will know they've been denied access to formal education. If the Taliban thrash around and go in 10 years, or 20, the women will be there and many of them will be happy to learn. Give them 5 years of support and you probably won't realise they weren't taught at school - there will be a generation of lost mathematicians perhaps, they tend to peak young, but most other disciplines you can catch up surprisingly quickly.

280:

Education is only part of the answer.
The fact is that education is gameable, see for instance school textbooks. Or the parallel universe of bible colleges and the like, which teach all the wrong things. Graduates end up knowing enough to function in their world of extremists, and since there are plenty of them, they can get by, but never mind all the other things.
Education is not a solution by itself. IT needs robust systems in place to defend it, it needs to be embedded into a society which recalls the horrors of the 30 years war and so see's a secular state as a good idea to avoid competing religious groups stealing all the power.
But that in itself is not necessarily possible as long as power resides in money, which is being sucked upwards into the highest segements of society, who have the influence and power to fix things as they want them to be fixed.

FOr instance, look at the Tory education policy - sell off schools to whomever wants one, a continuation of the new labour one of letting whatever private company or religious organisation start one if they ponied up a million or two. We know that a number of private schools are teaching creationist lies, the problem is proving it to a generally disinterested department of education and public who have been propagandised out of a belief in the usefulness of real information and how lying to children is bad.

281:

> Education is only part of the answer.

Oh agreed. I'm trying hard not to troll Greg while playing whatever the atheist equivalent to devil's advocate to his position is. It seems to me his stance is fundamentally sectarianism with a mixture of some other nasty -isms too. Education is his chosen battleground for how evil the Taliban are compared to everyone else. He rapidly retreated on women's rights for some reason.

I think there's a lot of space for a fundamental debate about what the education system should be for, and what the school system should be for. I deliberately separate them which might tell you something about my starting point! Unless Charlie decides to visit that topic (or really leaves his sanity behind and asks me to guest write about it) I'm inclined to think that's really, really not a topic for this comments thread sadly. (If you want to go and ahead and hijack it some more anyway, brace yourself for some LONG essays!)

282:

I forgot to use the 'reply to' button with regards to his absolute statement...

INdeed, this isn't quite the right place for such a discussion, although maybe Charlie will have some views on the topic over the next wee while, what with the Tory destruction of school and higher education gathering pace, with an innumerate education minister who has an ego the size of a planet.

283:

El @ 281
Sorry, but you've got it exactly backwards.
I'm an atheist, right?
I regard all religions & sects as loopy & some as downright dangerous & all are (at some point in their life-cycles) murderous.
WHERE did I retreat on women's rights?
A peculiarity of almost all religions is that they crap on women - there seems to be one that doesn't, but I'd rather not discuss that special oddity here ....

And yes, Gove does have an ego the size of a planet & he's dead wrong on religious education, but he is correct about the abysmal standards in Brit schools _ I used to be a teacher (amongst other things) & it was very dispiriting.

How's that for a brief round-up ??

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