24 July 2004

Darfur Destroyed

The government of Sudan is responsible for "ethnic cleansing" and crimes against humanity in Darfur, one of the world's poorest and most inaccessible regions, on Sudan's western border with Chad. The Sudanese government and the Arab "Janjaweed" militias it arms and supports have committed numerous attacks on the civilian populations of the African Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups. Government forces oversaw and directly participated in massacres, summary executions of civilians -- including women and children -- burnings of towns and villages, and the forcible depopulation of wide swathes of land long inhabited by the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa. The Janjaweed militias, Muslim like the African groups they attack, have destroyed mosques, killed Muslim religious leaders, and desecrated Qorans belonging to their enemies.

The government and its Janjaweed allies have killed thousands of Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa-- often in cold blood, raped women, and destroyed villages, food stocks and other supplies essential to the civilian population. They have driven more than one million civilians, mostly farmers, into camps and settlements in Darfur where they live on the very edge of survival, hostage to Janjaweed abuses. More than 110,000 others have fled to neighbouring Chad but the vast majority of war victims remain trapped in Darfur.

This conflict has historical roots but escalated in February 2003, when two rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) drawn from members of the Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa ethnic groups, demanded an end to chronic economic marginalization and sought power-sharing within the Arab-ruled Sudanese state. They also sought government action to end the abuses of their rivals, Arab pastoralists who were driven onto African farmlands by drought and desertification -- and who had a nomadic tradition of armed militias.

The government has responded to this armed and political threat by targeting the civilian populations from which the rebels were drawn. It brazenly engaged in ethnic manipulation by organizing a military and political partnership with some Arab nomads comprising the Janjaweed; armed, trained, and organized them; and provided effective impunity for all crimes committed.

The government-Janjaweed partnership is characterized by joint attacks on civilians rather than on the rebel forces. These attacks are carried out by members of the Sudanese military and by Janjaweed wearing uniforms that are virtually indistinguishable from those of the army.

Although Janjaweed always outnumber regular soldiers, during attacks the government forces usually arrive first and leave last. In the words of one displaced villager, "They [the soldiers] see everything that the Janjaweed are doing. "They come with them, they fight with them and they leave with them."

The government-Janjaweed attacks are frequently supported by the Sudanese air force. Many assaults have decimated small farming communities, with death tolls sometimes approaching one hundred people. Most are unrecorded.

Darfur is a classic human rights crisis and it will not go away any time soon. The UNSC is debating a resolution to impose sanctions if the Sudanese government does not take action against the Janjaweed shortly. Ultimately, I suspect there will need to be military intervention, preferably by the AU rather than a coalition of the willing. A CoW intervention in another Muslim state is probably impossible after Iraq.

'Cool' Fuel Cells Could Revolutionize Earth's Energy Resources

Originating from research at UH's Texas Center for Superconductivity and Advanced Materials (TcSAM), these SOFCs of the 'thin film' variety are both efficient and compact. With potential ranging from use in the government in matters of defense and space travel to driving forces in the consumer market that include computers and electricity, this breakthrough carries tremendous impact.

'By using materials science concepts developed in our superconductivity research and materials processing concepts in our semiconductor research, we are able to reduce operating temperatures, eliminate steps and use less expensive materials that will potentially revolutionize from where we derive electrical energy,' said Alex Ignatiev, director of TcSAM and distinguished university professor of physics, chemistry and electrical and computer engineering at UH. 'While there are a number of fuel cell research programs at the university, ours focuses on the application of thin film science and technology to gain the benefits of efficiency and low cost.'

Compared to the macroscopic size of traditional fuel cells that can take up an entire room, thin film SOFCs are one micron thick -- the equivalent of about one-hundredth of a human hair. Putting this into perspective, the size equivalent of four sugar cubes would produce 80 watts -- more than enough to operate a laptop computer, eliminating clunky batteries and giving you hours more juice in your laptop. By the same token, approximately two cans' worth of soda would produce more than five kilowatts, enough to power a typical household.

This could be really bad news for the Saudi dynasty and few others.

23 July 2004

Channeling Flood

The Flood report is really a lot less interesting than the Butler report or the 911 report. Butler closely argues each case, sometimes going right down to discussion of particular sources in relation particular findings. Flood sweeps through with a broad brush. The famous phrase 'thin, ambiguous and incomplete' actually runs counter to the tenor of most of the report.

Flood makes some useful recommendations. He wants ONA, DIO and DIGO oversighted by the PJCAAD and by IGIS and he wants DIGO brought under the Intelligence Services Act 2001 (Recommendations 1 and 2). The rest of his report is significant for the case studies in Chapter 3 where the famous phrase occurs but he really only offers very mild criticism of ONA's performance over Iraq. He is also critical that no national assessment was ever prepared for the Iraq WMD issue.

The Man of Steel's claim that the government is exonerated by the report is just a tad weird when you consider the Flood inquiry did not have that issue within its terms of reference. It's even weirder when you consider the Jull report issued by the PJCAAD in March found:

5.20 The statements by the Prime Minister and Ministers are more strongly worded than most of the AIC judgements. This is in part because they quote directly from the findings of the British and American intelligence agencies. In particular, in the 4 February 2003 speech to the House of Representatives, the Prime Minister quoted the findings of Joint Intelligence Committee of the UK and the key judgements of the National Intelligence Estimate of the CIA. In both of these documents the uncertainties had been removed36 and they relied heavily on the surge of new and largely untested intelligence, coming, in the US at least, from Iraqi defectors.37 These dossiers comprised stronger, more emphatic statements than Australian agencies had been prepared to make. See paragraph 5.13 above for details of the statements. 38

That discrepancy was absent from Flood's terms of reference:

Without seeking to limit your examination, I ask that you provide advice on the following matters:

- the effectiveness of the intelligence community's current oversight and accountability mechanisms as they relate to such matters as the setting of priorities, the assigning to the priorities of appropriate resources, and the delivery of high quality and independent intelligence advice to the government;

- the suitability of the current division of labour among the intelligence agencies and communication between them;

- the maintenance of contestability in the provision to government of intelligence assessments; and

- the adequacy of current resourcing of intelligence agencies and in particular ONA.

Your inquiry is to focus primarily on the intelligence agencies in relation to foreign intelligence collection and assessment. As such, your deliberations should encompass the activities of ONA, DIO, ASIS, DSD and DIGO. Should you find it necessary, you should feel free also to include consideration of linkages to other agencies as appropriate, including ASIO.

Next, what the Butler saw.

George does not play dice with the universe

Mark A. R. Kleiman | Hawking's flip-flop
And instead of being properly ashamed of having been wrong, and listening respectfully to those who were right, he's bragging about having changed his mind, as if that were somehow an accomplishment or a mark of intelligence. 'I want to report that I think I have solved a major problem in theoretical physics.' I mean, how pompous -- how utterly French -- can you get?

Professor Hawking has a lot to learn both from George W. Bush, who can't remember ever having been wrong, and from the anti-war bloggers who keep chanting 'I told you so I told you so I told you so.' Changing your mind in the face of new facts and new analysis is a sign of weakness, and being right now is unimportant compared to having always been right.

Indeed. I always suspected quantum physics of being a leftwing plot. Any group that claim: 'God does not play dice with the universe with the universe.' have got to be treated with suspicion and preferably kept off planes.

It also worth noting that a 'quantum leap' should cover an insignificant distance:

Philip Adams: Let�s admit that the word �quantum� doesn�t make sense to most people and they get it utterly wrong. When people talk of a �quantum leap� they imagine it to be something big. But the opposite is true.

Paul Davies: The word quantum literally means �package� or �discrete packet� in Latin, and it was first coined by the German theoretical physicist Max Plank in 1900. Planck discovered that electromagnetic radiation like heat and light doesn�t come in continuous amounts of energy, but in little packets, or quanta. Those particular quanta we now call photons.

Phillip Adams: So a quantum leap is in fact what?

Paul Davies: A quantum leap in the case of heat radiation or light is a very tiny discontinuous jump in energy, for example when a photon of light is emitted or absorbed by an atom

22 July 2004

Inquiring minds

weapons intelligence 'thin
An inquiry into Australia's spy agencies has found that intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was "thin, ambiguous and incomplete".

Prime Minister John Howard says the report finds Australia's spy agencies are performing well but the Opposition says it proves the Government took Australia to war in Iraq on faulty intelligence.

Mr Howard has released the unclassified version of the report by former diplomat and intelligence chief Philip Flood.

The report raises concerns about intelligence on weapons of mass destruction before the Iraq war and says the agencies failed to rigorously assess them.

Mr Flood partly blames systemic weaknesses in spy agencies.

Cabinet considered the report on Monday and has agreed to all of its key recommendations.

The Government cited weapons of mass destruction as a major reason for Australia going to war in Iraq and Mr Howard says he does not regret his decision to go to war.

"The world and the Middle East and Iraq are better places because Saddam Hussein has gone," he said.

The Man of Steel is of course contradicted by his own words out of his own mouth:

Well I would have to accept that if Iraq had genuinely disarmed, I couldn't justify on its own a military invasion of Iraq to change the regime. I've never advocated that. Much in all as I despise the regime. But what I was really trying to say today and perhaps it has had some effect is that I get a bit tired of the humaritian argument all being on the one side. It's about time that the humanitarian argument was put into a better balance and people understand what a monstrous regime we are dealing with.

That one is now apparently a noncore statement of deeply held principle (something he doesn't believe anymore). The Man of Steel has finally uttered the real justification for Australia's participation in the enterprise of Iraq:

: "The decision we took was justified both on the assessments we received from our intelligence agencies and the other policy considerations including our alliance with the United States that I outlined at the time. I do not retreat in any way from the Government's decision. If I had my time again I would take the same decisions, the World, and the Middle East, and Iraq are better places because Saddam Hussein has gone.

The Flood report actually does nothing of the kind the Man of Steel proclaims. What it does say is:

There has been a failure of intelligence on Iraq WMD. Intelligence was thin, ambiguous and incomplete. Australia shared in the allied intelligence failure on the key question of WMD stockpiles, with ONA more exposed and DIO more cautious on the subject. But many of the agencies' other judgments have proved correct. Overall, assessments produced by ONA and DIO on Iraq WMD up to the commencement of combat operations reflected reasonably the limited available information and used intelligence sources with appropriate caution.

The lack of comprehensive assessment, which might have been achieved by production of a National Assessment or an Intelligence Estimate to support ADF deployment considerations, was regrettable. Such comprehensive reporting may have helped to clarify a complex and fragmented picture. The limited analysis of the significance of Iraq's WMD in terms of the threat that Iraq posed also impacted on the utility of the assessments.

The two agencies' key judgments were largely consistent until late January 2003, when ONA assessed that Iraq must have WMD, while DIO continued to assess that the intelligence on the issue was inconclusive. But differences in style, including ONA's lesser use of detail and qualification, led to an implicit difference in assessments from late December 2002. On the key points of Iraq's possession of WMD, and the significance of its concealment and deception activities, ONA judgments were expressed with fewer qualifications and greater certainty than those of DIO.

Meanwhile the Butler Report in the Uk has managed to totally exonerate everyone except for the interesting fact that Blair now claims he didn't get the memo telling him key intelligence findings had been withdrawn.

No respite for Blair as MPs reopen intelligence inquiry

The inquiry into the flawed intelligence which led Britain to war in Iraq on false claims that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction is to be reopened by a Labour-led select committee.

The Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs (FAC) agreed at a meeting behind closed doors to write to Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, with a series of questions, including whether he told the Prime Minister that the intelligence had been withdrawn in July last year, because it was no longer judged to be credible.

The Independent also learnt that the Prime Minister's Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) agreed at a separate private meeting yesterday to look into the revelations in the Butler report that MI6 had withdrawn the intelligence underpinning the WMD claims.

The decision by the two committees to pursue the unravelling of the evidence surrounding the Government's Iraq dossiers was a fresh blow to Mr Blair after surviving Tuesday's Commons debate on Iraq. He was hoping to draw a line under the row for the summer, but it is now certain to continue rumbling until the party conferences in the autumn.

The Government also will be alarmed to discover that Donald Anderson, the Labour chairman of the FAC, may also have lost the Labour majority on the committee after two Labour MPs who have been highly critical of the Government - Eric Illsley and Andrew Mackinlay - refused to vote with the Labour majority.

The Labour MPs on the committee tried to stop it pursuing the inquiry beyond writing to Mr Straw. However, in a split vote, it was agreed to use an expert to investigate the disparities in the evidence to Hutton and that taken by the committee in private session from Mr Straw. Mr Illsley and Mr Mackinlay abstained in the vote, allowing the opposition MPs on the committee, including the Liberal Democrat David Chidgey, and Andrew Mackay, a former Tory whip, to inflict a four-three defeat.

The US 911 commission will report shortly. It will be interesting to see if that report proves equally thin, ambiguous and incomplete. More lots later when I've done a mountain of reading.

Troppo Armadillo | The Naive and Sentimental Politics Lover is a deal pithier than I am.

If Paris Hilton Wrote Poetry

Cute Shoes.

Shoes. Shoes.
Me. Me.

Janis Butler Holm

Rumoured Conjectures: Strike 2

Reuters is reporting:

Israeli estimates of when Iran will be able to build a nuclear bomb have been shifted two more years to 2007, an intelligence report said Wednesday and analysts credited the delay to international scrutiny of Tehran.

Security sources quoted the report -- delivered to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in private and leaked in part to the media -- as saying that within three years Iran would have the means to produce an atomic bomb by itself.

Iran vehemently denies pursuing nuclear weapons, arguing its atomic ambitions are limited to generating electricity.

Tehran officials have also accused Israel of trying to distract the international community from its own assumed nuclear arsenal and stoking world opinion against the last Middle East foe which could challenge it militarily.

In 2000, Israeli security sources told Reuters that Iran would be nuclear-capable within five years and was developing long-range missiles with which to lob warheads at Tel Aviv.

The regional picture has since changed, with a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq bringing neighboring Iran under closer watch by the West -- especially after Tehran admitted in November to buying centrifuges used to enrich uranium from a black market set up by Pakistani nuclear weapons expert Abdul Qadeer Khan.

The BOP conjectures are starting to look a tad, well, unconjectural.

21 July 2004

Or maybe the blasphemy president

Boniface VIII | Unam Sanctam 1302
This authority, however, (though it has been given to man and is exercised by man), is not human but rather divine, granted to Peter by a divine word and reaffirmed to him (Peter) and his successors by the One Whom Peter confessed, the Lord saying to Peter himself, 'Whatsoever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound also in Heaven' etc., [Mt 16:19]. Therefore whoever resists this power thus ordained by God, resists the ordinance of God [Rom 13:2], unless he invent like Manicheus two beginnings, which is false and judged by us heretical, since according to the testimony of Moses, it is not in the beginnings but in the beginning that God created heaven and earth [Gen 1:1]. Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.

George II Bush | Unam Busham 2003
At the end of the session, Bush reportedly told the group, �I trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldn�t do my job."

Perhaps George Bush really wants to be remembered as the sodomy president

Excerpt from statement provided by Kasim Mehaddi Hilas, Detainee #151108, on January 18 2004:
I saw [name deleted] fucking a kid, his age would be about 15 - 18 years. The kid was hurting very bad and they covered all the doors with sheets. Then when I heard the screaming I climbed the door because on top it wasn't covered and I saw [name deleted] who was wearing the military uniform putting his dick in the little kid's ass. I couldn't see the face of the kid because his face wasn't in front of the door. And the female soldier was taking pictures. [name deleted], I think he is [deleted] because of his accent, and he was not skinny or short, and he acted like a homosexual (gay). And that was in cell #23 as best as I remember.

The link is at the Washington Post (pdf).

Tip via Boing Boing

Why McGauchie is a brave, brave man

Telstra has estimated the cost of connecting fibre to every home in the country at $30 billion. This is beyond the company's capital resources unless it can get a long access holiday - that is, unless it is removed from the ACCC access regime until Telstra makes a return on capital from it.

An informal conversation has already started about this, along with a couple of fibre network pilots in Queensland.

The issue collides potently with privatisation.

The most efficient builder of a $30 billion national fibre network is the Government, just as it was the most efficient builder of the copper network. It is clearly essential infrastructure, to be used by future generations and should be funded by government debt - not the far more expensive private capital that Telstra can raise.

In fact, it would be a national scandal if Telstra funded this new network using expensive capital and then received an access holiday (that is, monopoly pricing) to pay for it, when the Government could do it for half the capital cost and make it available to all-comers.

But a new government network would destroy Telstra's existing infrastructure business. The Government owns half of Telstra and is a seller, motivated to preserve its value in the face of collapsing phone call prices. It has a huge conflict of interest.

This discussion is vastly complicated and important for the nation and for Telstra, and now leading it is Donald McGauchie - farmer, Reserve Bank board member and professional director. Let's all wish him luck.

Let's not. Let's ask instead why Telstra should not be split into a public network provider and a private access retailer. Especially when it is clearly abusing it's effective monopoly in a rent-seeking binge by raising retail phone costs and wholesale network access costs.

The Blogging of the President | Rumored Conjectures

I heard a high level former general speak a week and a half ago, and here are the two interesting things he said:

1) Prior to the election, there will be a crisis with Iran. Ariel Sharon knows that neither Kerry nor Bush will contradict him before an election, so he will foment a crisis with Iran to deal with their nuclear weapons program.

2) There will be a peace deal with North Korea. The deal should have happened two years ago, but wasn't because of diplomatic blunders. A deal will now happen because it is necessary to showcase Bush as a peacemaker.

N.Korea Ready to Negotiate Nuclear Program -Official:
A senior North Korean representative said on Tuesday his government was ready to end its nuclear weapons program if the United States changes its 'hostile policy' toward Pyongyang.

Reflecting recent progress in talks with the reclusive Stalinist state, North Korea's representative to the United Nations, making his first visit to Capitol Hill, said Pyongyang would not only freeze its nuclear weapons program but also refrain from transferring or testing nuclear devices.

'The Democratic People's Republic of Korea will give up its nuclear weapons program if conditions are met to end the U.S. hostile policy,' Gil Yon Park told a forum sponsored by the Korea Society and other groups in a U.S. Senate office building.

I guess it's all part of being a peace president. Apparently that's the same as being a war president. Because after all, Peace=War and George Bush is doubleplusgood.

Not the first 'closed' case for Negroponte

Q: 'Is it enough to allow the Iraqi Minister for Human Rights to investigate [the executions of six prisoners] allegedly done by his own Prime Minister?'

Downer: 'Iraq is a sovereign country now. Who else is supposed to investigate wrongdoing in Iraq? I think Mr McGeough should present his material to the Iraqi police so they can fully investigate these matters ... I would have thought, knowing what I know about Mr Allawi - and I've met him - it would be, on the whole, rather surprising if he has done this.'

Dear me, Alexander, does your office, on the whole, still have to tell you when to come in out of the rain?

Prime Minister Allawi, formerly a Saddam Hussein associate before he fled into exile to team up with the CIA, denied, before publication, the entirety of McGeough's two witness accounts.

For the sake of his health, McGeough had by then already felt it prudent to leave Iraq. John Negroponte's office responded to him by email: 'If we attempted to refute each [rumour], we would have no time for other business. As far as this embassy's press office is concerned, the case is closed.'

Of course. One only has to consider Negroponte's record as US ambassador in Honduras to know he is a loyal servant of Republican Washington who sees and knows nothing. An estimated 10,000 Nicaraguans and Honduran political opponents died at a time when, as The New York Times reported in September 2001: 'The diplomat who presided over that embassy from 1981 to 1985 was a great fabulist.

'John Negroponte saw, or professed to see, a Honduras almost Scandinavian in its tranquillity, a place where there were no murderous generals, no death squads, no political prisoners, no clandestine jails or cemeteries. [He] exercised US power in ways that still reverberate throughout that small country. His most striking legacy, though, is the Honduras of his imagination.

'Most people who lived or worked in Honduras during the 1980s saw a nation spiralling into violence and infested by paramilitary gangs that kidnapped and killed with impugnity. Negroponte would not acknowledge this. He realised the Reagan policy in Central America would lose support if truths about Honduras were known, so he refused to accept them.'

This same man, with an embassy regime of more than 1000 American 'foreign service officers', plus American advisers 'salted throughout Iraqi ministries' as well as 140,000 US military personnel, now has absolute covert power in Iraq.

Of course 'the case is closed'.

Perhaps we should be grateful the Foreign Minister of Kleenex did not see into Allawi's soul. This business of replacing investigations with soul-searching is dangerous.

20 July 2004

How to catch the tube

Neville de Mestre was eight years old when he started bodysurfing. That was in 1946, 10 years before surfboards started to make a splash in Australia. Today, he is the world Iron Man champion in the 60-64 age group as well as professor of mathematics at Bond University in Queensland.

This month, de Mestre published the world's first scientific paper on the sport he loves. 'It got to a stage where I thought it was about time that someone who's a fluid dynamicist actually tried to put together the mathematics and physics of bodysurfing,' he says.

This is a profound evil. It is against all the laws of nature to reduce catching a wave to a matter of metrics and equations.

Clinton minds the Gap

What was Bill Clinton saying about the US Administration not getting involved in Australian politics?

Following Denton's interview with Clinton, to be screened on the ABC tonight, the pair chatted about East Timor's Foreign Minister, Jose Ramos Horta, and his appearance on Enough Rope . Despite the cameras still rolling, the intriguing portion of the interview can't be shown because the pair were standing out of frame. However, Spike has a transcript, which certainly makes for interesting reading:

Clinton: "I'm glad you liked Horta. I liked him, too."

Denton : "Oh, he was very, very impressive."

Clinton: "Yeah, he's good. Very supportive. That whole crowd, all those guys are, you know, the top two or three guys are interested people."

Denton: "They are and ... you know they're such a fragile nation."

Clinton: "Um, if they resolve that [Timor Gap oil and gas] dispute."

Denton: "It certainly would. I'm not sure if this administration."

Clinton: "Yeah. You guys can cut them a little slack and, you know, a little bit of money will go a long way there and if we could get enough money through that to give them some infrastructure, I have talked to hotels over the world I think you could make it sort of, like, the middle-class vacation destination for a lot of South-East Asia because you could keep the costs down so low."

The whole interview is online now. Cutting them a little slack is precisely what the Australian government refuses to do. In the short term this means East Timor continues as the largest aid donor to Australia. In the long term, it means the Timorese are condemned to be a client state just like the others we're developing in the South Pacific.