Friday, January 30, 2004
>>> The findings illustrate that whilst in public the Government asserted that that Iraq's WMD posed a "serious and current" threat, its own private pre-war assessment reveals that this threat was latent rather than extant, of a limited nature, unlikely to be used unless Iraq was attacked first, and unlikely to substantially affect protected troops even if it was used. <<<
I continue to be amazed that nothing whatsoever has been found of WMD, not even twelve year old contaminated battlefield munitions shells. On the whole WMD question this paper Weapons Of Mass destruction, Rhetoric and Reality, published by ISISUK, brings in some clear insights, I think.
>>>Whether or not the elimination of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) eventually proves practicable, it is surely necessary to reduce if not eliminate the current flow of loose, emotive and sometimes extravagant language about them. Such rhetoric, whether from political, official or media sources, not only misleads and may alarm public opinion but could also lead to clumsy and even dangerous thinking in the policy making process itself....... To criticise loose talk about WMD is not to underestimate either their destructiveness or the waves of disproportionate public terror they can inflict. This, after all, is the first aim of a terrorist campaign. Nor does such criticism neglect the genuine difficulties of democratic politicians in getting complex messages across to (the electorate).<<<
Contribution of Bill Hayton Europe Region editor, BBC World Service
>>We obviously covered the big demonstration [on February 15] in a fair and proper way but we should have reached out more to dig out these voices of dissent.
The stuff that was going on in [RAF] Fairford [the air base from which US B52 bombers took off to bomb Iraq] was staggering. The bombs were on one side of the road and they had to be taken across a public highway into the airfield and they were being driven along at five miles an hour and people would chain themselves on and bomb vehicles kept moving with people chained to them, this is a fantastic story but we didn’t cover it. There was a protest where people went out in buses from London, they were held at a road block several miles from Fairford, for a couple of hours, then turned around and bundled off, they would have been arrested if they didn’t, there was a police escort on all four sides of the coaches. People on the buses rang the BBC newsroom and were told they were lying this couldn’t possibly be happening. These stories were not getting on because we weren’t reaching out to these protestors and these non-traditional voices to get them in.<<<
(Emphasis added, EB)
>> I am fascinated by the psychology of what is happening with self-delusion. To explain it extremely briefly... we each of us have what psychologists call a ‘schema’ inside ourselves, which is a kind of roadmap of how the world works. When something challenges us that doesn’t fit that schema, we can do one of two things. We can change our internal schema and adapt and say, “oh well I was wrong,” and we move forward to the next level of understanding and awareness or we can say “I am right,” how are we going to adjust the external schema and continue to search for evidence that I was right in the first place. I think we can draw conclusions from that what is going on at levels of manipulation of information. <<<
My first thought was of Texas Sharpshooting. To become a dead shot in Texas, so the saying goes, fire a gun at the side of a barn and then paint a target on the barn wall centred on the bullet hole.
The Terms of Reference for Hutton were of course set to make sure that some 'other kinds of answers' become unlikely.
Can we look at this in terms of Information Management? In my schema there are four levels of 'things to consider'.
1 Data are just piles of alleged facts from details to generalities.
2 Information is data arranged and cross referenced so that it is in the right form in the right place in the right detail so that someone can make a decision. Information is data that can make a difference.
3 Knowledge is the complex of skills and existing information that helps us find information in the midst of data.
4 wisdom, if you know what this is please mail me. We sense when it isnt there though, and knowledge gets screwed up which messes up the information which leaves us with data to cling to amidst the wreckage.
The big moment of comedy is the finding that John Scarlett, Chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee may have been 'uncosnciously influenced' by the desire to meet the Prime Minister's wish for the dossier to be as strong as possible. That is quite a ballet of advance handwaving. The whole point of Mr Scarlett's professional activities - building up Knowledge to get Information for political decision makers - is to be aware of such unconscious influences and take steps to acquire wisdom about this. It is quite a damning aside, actually. If someone had said Lord Hutton was 'Unconsciously Influenced' to frame his terms of reference in a way that shaped a particular answer his Lordship would rightly feel this to be a considerable attack.
Of course we still lack a considerable heap of Data to exercise our wisdom on. What for example happened at the long meeting between Ministers and Civil Servants 'at which no minutes were kept'? Sir Humphrey not keeping minutes? That would be quite an episode of 'Yes Minister' especially if the plot getout for the Ministry turned on a reporter not keeping complete notes of an interview...
Thursday, January 29, 2004
A pretty fair semisceptical summary from Juan Cole, bringing out some of the Baha'i background without the high-level paranoia of the 'Kelly Was Murdered sites' (just do a search). Cole says:
"... the substance of Gilligan's report actually seems unexceptionable, though whether what was done could be characterized as a "sexing up" of the documents may still be in dispute.. If Gilligan did anything wrong at all, it was to venture into the territory of intentions, which is admittedly an ethical issue for journalists (how can you know an official's private intentions? Shouldn't you avoid imputing intentions?)"
Actually I think the main problem was the 'Today' programme obsession with 'setting the agenda'. They got caught up in the tabloid-level fascination with a certan A. Campbell and didn'd to proper checks on the sources. Having a verifiable source is NOT enough for good journalism. There will be more on all this...
Tuesday, January 27, 2004
From the introduction:
"In any war, there are always people who, rather than pick up an AK 47, will take the more difficult route of active peace making. As we speak, there are groups of people in the midst of the violence in Afghanistan, in DR Congo, even in Iraq, who are risking their lives to prevent other people from getting killed. They are mediating, building bridges between communities, resolving disputes and protecting the vulnerable. The trouble is, most of these people are completely unsupported and are in danger of giving up through lack of resources."
So Peace Direct puts people in touch with each other. Lets see how this works...
The key point (I think) thing is that even without upfront payments a student at the start of a course has to gamble on taking up a big financial commitment which represents a large proportion of current wealth in order to place a bet on getting a large future gain. The risk increases present vulnerability. The question is whether poorer students will rationally be more risk-adverse than students from a wealthier backgroundand the answer it appears is yes.
Monday, January 26, 2004
The fallout from the ENRON affair ( see this book, How Companies Lie, for some details) continues in fits and starts. Meanwhile a Corporate Responsibility Bill is up before the UK parliament.
The bill has three main aims:
- Mandatory Reporting: Companies shall report against a comprehensive set of key social, environmental and economic performance indicators with which they can benchmark (and ultimately better manage) their operations and performance - here in the UK and abroad.
- Directors' Duties: Expanding current directors' duties to include a specific duty of care for both society and the environment, in addition to their current financial duty to shareholders.
- Foreign Direct Liability: To enable affected communities abroad to seek damages in the UK for human rights and environmental abuses committed by UK companies or their overseas subsidiaries.
Worth Supporting this Private Members bill?
One key theme in the whole Kelly Imbroglio that we are unlikely to see resolved as touched on before here. Just how reliable is 'Intelligence' anyway. Some thoughts on this in the CIA Unclassified house journal ( Say what you will about the USA but its methods of handling Information are very different from the home life of our own dear Queen. Any sign of an equivalent resource in the UK?). Anyway, the journal has a regular review column 'The Intelligence Officer's Bookshelf' and as an example this review was in January 2003:
No Room For Error: The Covert Operations of America's Special Tactics Units from Iran to Afghanistan. Col. John T. Carney, Jr., and Benjamin F. Schemmer. New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 2002. 334 pages.
review by Hayden Peake >>>>The title of this book will seem bizarre to anyone who has ever been associated with secret military operations, or civilian ones for that matter. The Desert One hostage rescue operation and the assault on Grenada make the point. Co-author John Carney was involved in both as part of the Air Force “Special Tactics Units” that he helped create, and which are the central focus of this book. Carney makes clear that Murphy’s Law applied in both operations. And he is candid about the blame in the case of Desert One: It did not fail because President Carter interfered, he writes, but because “the military hierarchy bungled it.” He goes on to tell how he came to form the Special Tactics Units—originally called Brand-X—and how they evolved to perform so well in Afghanistan with the Army’s Special Forces teams and the Navy’s SEALs. These were the elements that located and identified Taliban and al-Qaida targets, among other assignments. Before that, they participated in the Achille Lauro rescue in 1985, Operation Just Cause in Panama in 1989, and the 1993 disaster in Mogadishu, Somalia. The authors discuss the reasons for these foul-ups, concluding that the main ones range from excessive compartmentalization to just plain human error. The reader may be excused for some confusion over the multitude of special units mentioned in the book, but that aside, the authors provide an interesting, though subjective, firsthand account of a mode of warfare that has had a crucial impact on military order of battle.<<< end review
Friday, January 23, 2004
A reflection on the uncertainties of Peace campaigning, after Jenny Tonge's comments on suicide bombers. On that I do agree with Mark and Alex. Oh dear, Jenny. So many good things you say and do, but not this time.
The Great March Against The Iraq War back in February was the day after my fathers funeral so I had a lot to think about. Standing in the Haymarket for an hour or so I couldn't help notice some participants were not so much against War as in favour of wars with different targets. The Hitzabollah people for example. And I am not so sure about a number of people who were on the speakers platform either.
For me the peace argument starts with never forgetting that the people you may be against are individual human beings, never surrendering to the temptation to reduce them to Units that can be substituted. The second theme is that you can never surrender your own responsibility for your actions. If you kill, you are responsible, and saying 'these things happen in war' does not reduce your responsibility.
Whatever the injustices that ground the passions of the people concerned, a suicide bomber is waging war and denying these messages for peace. I am against the habit of mind we call war and hope to work for justice for people and against the dehumanisations of the mind that lead them to kill as a response to these injustices.
Wars have mental consequences across decades. My father was one of the British troops who liberated Belsen, and was given the job of burying the dead. He was almost certainly the man who buried Anna Frank. It was a memory that lived with him for all these years and one consolation in living through his death was realising that he would no longer have the nighmares that hit him whenever some story about the camps came out too vividly. Also on the march I felt some relief that he would not have to see yet another political mess killing young people because we didn't have the courage and nerve to resist the easy stereotypes of War.
Avram Burg said in the Guardian way back in October 2003 "I hear the cries of joy when a suicide bomber completes his task. I know the claim that the Palestinians have no helicopters or jet fighters and so the bombers are their strategic weaponry. That is their truth. Well, this is mine: suicide bombing is a weapon of monsters, not freedom fighters. "
Well this is my truth, using weapons at all you are responsible for the pain you cause to this individual and this individual and this individual and... its Humanity and its eternal problem.
So where now?
Thursday, January 22, 2004
A few thoughts on inteligence and Intelligence Organisations, sparked off by the PANORAMA special last night.
The Kelly Affair throws up a lot of issues. One is on the nature of inteliigence, secret or otherwise.
MI6 and other beasties are really no more than Think Tanks with very special strengths and weaknesses. We can get some idea of how they work by looking at more public Think Tanks, the IPPR for example, or the Oxford Research Group. Each of these Tanks has methods, sources and biases and to get the best out of their work we, the rest of the world, need to be aware of these 'frames' and make comparisons between them. Of equal importance, a competent Tank can compare its own work with others and learn from its own mistakes. We dont have the opportunity to assess the Secret Inteligence Services in this way and, of equal importance, the SIS doesn't have the public incentive to refine its work and assumptions as its mistakes are highlighted by others work.
The SIS has the handicap of having secret sources, and the need to guard against seduction from the power of limited knowledge. The 'glamour' of being an insider, of being able to say to Public Questioners 'if only you knew what we knew...'. The whole Kelly to Gilligan exchange shows how unreliable such intelligence gathering can be. Here it is a Civil Servant to a journalist, in another context it might be an Iraqi middle-level scientist to an intelligence debriefer.
The problem is that once the Press have a Reliable Source it feels its duty is done. At least the SIS feels a professional duty to qualify its advice and put confidence limits on its assessments. But what it gets may still be chatter that is overvalued because it is 'secret'.
My feeling for what happened is that the SIS got its interpretations on 'WMD' mixed up through too much reliance on secret sources which turned out to be chatter. Kelly got it wrong too, as he genuinely thought Saddam had deployable chemical stocks. So Blair was misinformed by the SIS on the basic danger and made his basic decisions using this duff data. However the SIS did not produce data that would support an immediate war, so Downing Street pressed for statements that met its needs. It got this though some stripping away of the 'confidence limits' in the SIS presentation, so that it was left in essence with a Press Report. Kelly recognised the grave dangers in this unprofessional shuffle and tried to indicate his unhappiness. Gilligan picked up on this but overemphasised the Political Theatre in a way that Kelly did not intend as he had no special knowledge of this.
Bottom line for me, the whole affair shows that we didnt have such good data on Sadam as we thought and the BBC in the end got an accurate picture out on this failure, though part of the process of assembling this picture was through the exposure of errors in some BBC reporting. Blair was let down by the SIS making wrong assessments of Iraqi capabilities (ie that Iraq had useable WMD of any kind at all) but made sure he couldnt escape from the consequences of this error by placing political requirements on the evidence presentation that multiplied the effects of the error. I have no idea what in all this influenced Dr Kelly when making decisions on his own future, but in his shoes I would have been disgusted by the betrayal of the Professional standards he clearly tried to uphold in a world full of dangerous opportunities for overfeeding the illusions of chatter.
Wednesday, January 21, 2004
Friday, January 16, 2004
" Instead of spending enormous sums of money on an unimaginative and retread effort to make a tiny portion of the Moon habitable for a handful of people, we should focus instead on a massive effort to ensure that the Earth is habitable for future generations. If we make that choice, the U.S. can strengthen our economy with a new generation of advanced technologies, create millions of good new jobs, and inspire the world with a bold and moral vision of humankind’s future. "
My thought... why not Britain or even Europe?
Gore ended with this quote from Carl Sagan, well worth remebering. It shows a picture of a tiny earth taken millions of miles out is pace. A blue dot...
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know. Everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever WAS lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering , thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar”, every “supreme leader”, every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors, so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds , Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light…
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand…
There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
Thursday, January 15, 2004
It's tempting to say that the Call To Manned Mars Exploration By President Dubya shows that history repeats itself, the second time as opportunism the third time as pantomime. His Dad made a similar call in 1989, providing a justification for the Manned Space Station. The contrarian view is put by Prof. Robert Park who in 2003 protested against "self-serving and misleading public pronouncements by government agencies. What's behind this is the NASA conviction that the public will not support a space program that does not involve putting humans in space". Park champions unmanned probes like Beagle, good science he says. As an occasional Trekkie I'm saddened to say he has a point even though one of my favourite physicists, Freeman Dyson, poetically disagrees.
Wednesday, January 14, 2004
Tuesday, January 13, 2004
On the Iraq adventur ethe report is throrough and scathing. text includes:
>>(the action against Iraq)was a strategic error of the first order because it ignored critical differences between (sadam nd Al-Qaeda) in character, threat level, and susceptibility to U.S. deterrence and military action. The result has been an unnecessary preventive war of choice against a deterred Iraq that has created a new front in the Middle East for Islamic terrorism and diverted attention and resources away from securing the American homeland against further assault by an undeterrable al-Qaeda. The war against Iraq was not integral to the (Global War On Terrorism), but rather a detour form it. Additionally, most of the GWOT’s declared objectives, which include the destruction of al-Qaeda and other transnational terrorist organizations, the transformation of Iraq into a prosperous, stable democracy, the democratization of the rest of the autocratic Middle East, the eradication of terrorism as a means of irregular warfare, and the (forcible, if necessary) termination of WMD proliferation to real and potential enemies worldwide, are unrealistic and condemn the United States to a hopeless quest for absolute security. As such, the GWOT’s goals are also politically, fiscally, and militarily unsustainable..."
And it ends:
"The global war on terrorism as presently defined and conducted is strategically unfocused, promises much more than it can deliver, and threatens to dissipate U.S. military and other resources in an endless and hopeless search for absolute security. The United States may be able to defeat, even destroy, al-Qaeda, but it cannot rid the world of terrorism, much less evil." <<<
Monday, January 12, 2004
Kenneth Pollack, a leading Iraq expert and intelligence analyst in the Clinton Administration—whose book The Threatening Storm supported the war in Iraq—gives a detailed account in Atlantic Monthly of how and why "we erred" about WDM in Iraq. Pollack is a former CIA military analyst specialising in the 'Persian Gulf'.
He says that " Democrats have typically accused the Bush Administration of exaggerating the threat posed by Iraq in order to justify an unnecessary war. Republicans have typically claimed that the fault lay with the CIA and the rest of the U.S. intelligence community, which they say overestimated the threat from Iraq—a claim that carries the unlikely implication that Bush's team might not have opted for war if it had understood that Saddam was not as dangerous as he seemed. Both sides appear to be at least partly right. The intelligence community did overestimate the scope and progress of Iraq's WMD programs, although not to the extent that many people believe. The Administration stretched those estimates to make a case not only for going to war but for doing so at once, rather than taking the time to build regional and international support for military action. "
Although he continues to believe that on ballance the war itself was and is justifiable, the post-war planning has been appaling, and destructive of US interests. On the pre-war justifications he says:
"At the very least we should recognize that the Administration's rush to war was reckless even on the basis of what we thought we knew in March of 2003. It appears even more reckless in light of what we know today."
"the U.S. government must admit to the world that it was wrong about Iraq's WMD and show that it is taking far-reaching action to correct the problems that led to this error. Iraq is not going to be the last foreign-policy challenge in which we must make choices based on ambiguous evidence. When the United States confronts future challenges, the exaggerated estimates of Iraq's WMD will loom like an ugly shadow over the diplomatic discussions. Fairly or not, no foreigner trusts U.S. intelligence to get it right anymore, or trusts the Bush Administration to tell the truth. The only way that we can regain the world's trust is to demonstrate that we understand our mistakes and have changed our ways."
Sunday, January 11, 2004
Saturday, January 10, 2004
The case that feeding about 8 tons of wild fish products to produce each ton of farmed salmon is wasteful isn't adressed here.
The Scotch Salmon matter will run a bit. Salmon farms are quite likely to be in LD seats so we have a duty to be aware of the pressures on some MPs and MSPs who will have producer interests to care for. Keeping this in mind, we need to make sure that the wider consumer interests get responsible debate.
The scientific arguments as ever come across as slighly baffling when press reported. For me this highlights the need for LibDems campaigners nationally to have some framework of technical and scientific advice. On risk assessment for example. On a wider front, relief at the Existance of the Food Standards authority. DEFRA wouldn't be so credible.
Friday, January 09, 2004
Includes disussion on consumption and personal satisfaction. With chapters on food, water, energy, the politics of consumption, and redefining the good life, Worldwatch’s award-winning research team asks whether a less-consumptive society is possible—and then argues that it is essential. "Higher levels of obesity and personal debt, chronic time shortages, and a degraded environment are all signs that excessive consumption is diminishing the quality of life for many people. The challenge now is to mobilize governments, businesses, and citizens to shift their focus away from the unrestrained accumulation of goods and toward finding ways to ensure a better life for all."
Wednesday, January 07, 2004
After the drama ‘Hear The Silence’ was screened in December, Paul Foot took a swipe at people like Evan Harris MP who in the follow-up discussion defended the safety of MMR Vaccination. The drama was criticised in the British Medical Journal by Michael Fitzpatrick, who summarised his views in Spiked Online. Fitzpatrick is the parent of an autistic child and a strong critic of the anti-MMR campaign.
A report in Bandolier summarises the experience in Finland where a whole-scale MMR innoculation programme from the 1980s resulted in the effective elimination of measles and mumps, and the parallel tracking of possible side-effects such as autism indicated no connection whatever with (at least this) MMR vaccine.