The first thing that struck me about the Afzal Amin story last night was that someone who has - apparently - been involved with population centric counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan for much of the last decade came home and allegedly decided to advance his political career by paying and patronising an extremist militia.
And today we find out that counterinsurgency was apparently exactly what Mr Amin had in mind:
Politics requires an amount of bravery and using my experience as a strategist in Afghanistan, negotiating between pro-Taliban militias and the US military, I decided to use the same tactics to improve community relations here in my own country between the EDL and Muslim communities.
So if I haven't been doing much writing recently, at least I got to do a bit of commissioning. On Saturday the folks at NK News. Org issued a tweet asking for suggestions for the estimable Dr Andrei Lankov's latest column. I tweeted back wondering if the regime knew that the Kim dynasty were figures of fun and whether they exploited the fact. Dr Lankov liked the idea, and here is the column.
Re the murder of Boris Nemtsov, it's worth bearing this in mind:
Nemtsov’s allies were divided on whom to blame for the murder. Some pointed a finger at the Kremlin, since the crime took place literally just outside its walls, swarming with guards and security cameras. Others suspected the hand of rogue zealots like the Moscow-born former east Ukraine militia leader Igor Strelkov, who returned from Donetsk vowing to wage war against a “fifth column of national traitors” first identified by Putin.
But that speculation is pointless, because we’re never going to find out.
Unless we've been taking happy pills and are assuming that the investigation will be conducted competently and will go wherever the evidence takes it, then politically, the interesting thing here isn't who killed Nemtsov, but who is going to get blamed (and probably, though not necessarily, framed) for it.
It may, for instance, be the right time to rein in people like Streltsov and the ultra-nationalists who have been getting a bit over-inflamed - a bit too prone to independent action - since the whole Ukraine thing kicked off. This would have the advantage that nationalist crazies are indeed likely suspects and so the drive to let them know who's boss would be bolstered by a more or less legitimate investigation. Of course, this raises the issue of whether Moscow can, in fact, get the crazies to wind their necks in.
Early doors, the regime has floated the idea that Muslim terrorists might be responsible, implying that - because Nemtsov was Jewish - his murder was an anti-semitic attack similar to that perpetrated after the Charlie Hebdo murders. This has the advantage of tying into one Russian propaganda line - 'why the hostility, we're all facing the same threats?' - while satisfying the Russian overclass penchant for brutal mockery. When it comes to offensive humour, Charlie H has nothing on those guys.
Another early attack line was that it was a 'provocation', ie that the opposition movement murdered one of its most prominent members in order to revive its fortunes. If this line is followed, it would indicate either that the regime thinks that the opposition are more of a threat than observers tend to think, or contrariwise that authoritarianism in Russia has metastasized to the point where even basically symbolic non-sistema opposition is not tolerable. Lots of opportunities here to fling all sorts of allegations and kompromat around. Also, the National Bolsheviks could be fit into this frame quite neatly, them being actual dingbats and everything.
Lastly, there's the dead bat option: put it down to his private life. Something connected with his sex life, for instance, or maybe someone he lent money to who thought it cheaper to hire a hit squad than pay the debt back. Again, lots of potential for smearing the opposition, though the main political takeaway would be that the regime considers Nemtsov's murder to be part of an acceptable status quo. Nothing to see here but the dead guy. Draw your own conclusions.
*definition of dietrologia here. To my mind, it doesn't really do justice to the actual situation in Russia (or Italy for that matter. Or China). After all, Nemtsov almost certainly was murdered as a result of a conspiracy of some sort. In Moscow, we're all dietrologicians.
Happy Lunar New Year, folks. There's some debate over whether it's the year of the goat or the sheep. If you're David Icke, of course, or one of UKIP's wackier supporters, every year is the year of the sheeple.
Anyway, James has another piece out on China's quest for total spectrum information dominance through Big Data; a dilemma for Beijing since finding out everything it wants to know implies allowing greater freedom of information than it would like. The story starts in Xinjiang:
On 5 July 2009, residents of Xinjiang, China’s far western province, found the internet wasn’t working. It’s a regular frustration in remote areas, but it rapidly became apparent that this time it wasn’t coming back. The government had hit the kill switch on the entire province when a protest in the capital Ürümqi by young Uighur men (of the area’s indigenous Turkic population) turned into a riot against the Han Chinese, in which at least 197 people were killed.
The shutdown was intended to prevent similar uprisings by the Uighur, long subjected to religious and cultural repression, and to halt revenge attacks by Han. In that respect, it might have worked; officially, there was no fatal retaliation, but in retrospect the move came to be seen as an error.
Mainly because Uyghur rebels seem to have become the first 21st century dissident movement to take themselves offline.
On that note, Beijing has also taken its campaign against Islamic radicalism in Xinjiang in a truly bizarre direction:
But there are particular reasons why the Chinese Communist Party might be interested in promoting public dancing in Xinjiang now. Beijing is nervous about what it considers signs of religious extremism among Uyghurs, and one of these telltale signs is a disinclination to dance. In speech at the National People’s Congress in March last year, a Xinjiang representative and deputy chairperson of the China Dancer’s Association Dilnar Abdulla gave a speech claiming that religious extremists in Xinjiang were ‘campaigning for the commoners not to sing and dance, even not permitting them to sing and dance at weddings.’
So, according to this logic, orchestrating a campaign to encourage people to dance is actually a way to get people to disavow publicly any sympathy for religious extremism. People are technically not coerced into dancing, despite what the Turkish headlines scream, but it would be a brave individual who would call attention to themselves as a potential extremist by refusing the invitation to ‘cut a rug’. Public and peer pressure is enough for most people to join in.
Yes, Beijing is quite literally compelling Uighurs to dance in public to demonstrate that they are moderate Muslims.
I'm increasingly convinced that stuff like this is the wrong way of looking at it. I don't think we're looking at people led through religious ideology to barbarism; we're looking at people who fancy a bit of barbarism but need a convenient faith-based excuse.
In fact, I bet if IS dropped all that religious nonsense and just stuck to the head choppings, immolations, and all the other what-is-good-Conan stuff they'd be absolutely inundated with international volunteers. Basements would be empty, games consoles would go unattended and cats remain untortured throughout the Western world.
Of course, Islam here does provide an interpretive framework through which people can justify their murderous proclivities to themselves and the like-minded and its arguably a necessary social framework which enables IS domination of the territory of people of a shared faith. But from the point of view of international recruitment, all the praying five times a day, malevolent parsing of obscure hadiths and wacky dietary restrictions has to be a drag on the market. It's just not the way to appeal to promising constituencies like, say, the gamergate crowd.
Here is the anthem of the Cyberspace Administration of China, the agency with overall responsibility for internet censorship, as sung by staff of that august body at a lunar new year talent show the other day. Naturally, it was put online, where, equally naturally, it was censored, and so I reproduce it here. Full story and translated lyrics over here.
There were five sorts of “flames of war.” The sort that had a sharp tip and flared up straight was a beacon fire. The sort that had a diffused purplish light was the fire that burned possessions. The sort that was black in its upper part and red at the base was the fire that burned houses. The sort that gave off a white smoke like clouds and drifted about was the fire that burned grain. As for the sort with a congealed smoke and of a light green hue, that was the fire that burned corpses. I had tested this theory from the pinnacle of Snow Shadow Peak, and had never erred.
An extract from Zhang Daye's The World of A Tiny Insect, a memoir of of life as a child refugee during the Taiping war, excerpted at Frog in a Well.
Turning down an after-dinner invite to a brothel is always a social minefield.
Some of this may be a thing of the past, at least for officials. Before this year, periodic crackdowns on the sex trade would close down businesses for a couple of weeks or months, before all went back to business as normal. The ongoing purge of officials and “anti-corruption campaign” under President Xi Jinping, however, has put a freeze on what was once standard business practice. The fall of many high-level leaders has been accompanied by recitations of their moral failings, especially their keeping of mistresses. While shared brothel visits were once the norm, officials, especially policemen, are now terrified to be seen at clubs, KTVs, or even expensive restaurants.
...Reaching out to contacts in Chengdu, Chongqing, Tangshan, Shijiazhuang, and Harbin I found the same story: officials were terrified of being seen at establishments where they had previously been welcome guests. A long-established business norm was now, at least for anyone with ties to the government, a dangerous hobby. But what had drawn them there in the first place?
I'm inclined to think that Xi Jinping's ongoing series of controlled detonations within the CPC apparatus are basically what it says on the tin. He thinks corruption will destroy the Communist Party, he wants to beat it back, and the means he has to hand are classical Leninist ones - purges, Party lead organs, special committees, rectifications all over. Meanwhile the impact of these methods on Chinese style mutant hyper-capitalism seems to be evolving into a kind of crude but rich sub-literary style, a kind of purge gothic. Furniture companies owned by retired nukemen, babies with controlling shareholdings in banks, comely political reporters acting as male gigolos to the wives of senior officials. That kind of thing...
According to accounts posted by Zenith, armed police raided the Lakeview Hotel near the gates of Peking University, where Founder executives were holed up on the sixth floor, in the early hours of Dec. 19.
Police scuffled with armed men protecting Founder’s CEO, who got away in his pajamas, Zenith posted.
From the same piece.
Kwok rose from humble origins. The Changjiang Times, an official newspaper, said he was a junior high school dropout, the seventh of eight siblings born to a poor family in eastern China’s Shandong province. He made his fortune after partnering with a Hong Kong businesswoman in the 1990s, then branching into real estate and running a furniture company affiliated with retired cadres from the nuclear industry, according to the report citing anonymous source.
Kwok gained international attention in 2010 with an unusual gift to his employees: 5,000 copies of the memoir of Cherie Blair, former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair’s wife.
Hu cited the example of the Bank of Beijing, which has been reported by mainland and overseas media as having dozens of shareholders below the age of 18.
One of its major shareholders is a one-year-old child, while a 10-year-old was reported to have stocks valued at 29 million yuan (HK$36.5 million) in 2007.
"Reports about children shareholders in Bank of Beijing have sparked an outcry in the capital for years, and I believe that the bank will be one of the targets to be investigated this year," Hu said.
The arrest of a prominent Macau executive in the largest prostitution bust in the city’s history shows China’s President Xi Jinping is broadening his crackdown on corruption to restrict even long-tolerated vices.
Police in the former Portuguese colony arrested Alan Ho, handcuffing him and covering his head with a black hood, for allegedly operating a prostitution ring out of the casino complex of his uncle, Stanley Ho.
It was not long after Shen Peiping’s investigation began that Kong Chuizhu, a personal friend, began his demise, albeit under much more scandalous circumstances. The provincial vice-governor from 2003 to 2013, Kong was known to share mistresses with Shen Peiping and the two would often frequent high-end brothels together. For Kong, the consequences were grave.
Followingthe announcement that Shen was being investigated in early March, Kong, in Beijing attending meetings at the time, attempted suicide in his hotel room. The attempt, however, was unsuccessful and Kong was admitted into a Beijing hospital for recovery. Following medical tests, he was found to be HIV positive. The central government immediately opened an investigation on Kong and ordered him back to Yunnan to lay low while undergoing treatment. Two months later, he unsuccessfully attempted suicide for a second time and was admitted into the Provincial Armed Police Hospital. Finally, Kong jumped to his death from his hospital window on July 12.
Additionally, Gu is accused of having an impressive sexual appetite, especially for handsome young men. Rui Chenggang, the former news anchor for China's state broadcaster CCTV detained by authorities in July on alleged spy charges, is said to have been one of her "victims." The popular Rui, 37, was reportedly reduced to tears when he recounted how Gu, whom he had looked upon as a big sister, forced herself on him.
Four months after the new school year started, Chen Jin is still trying to enroll her daughter in a top middle school in her city of more than 10 million people in northern China. The problem: No one to bribe.
“I will not give up,” said Chen, whose 12-year-old daughter attends another public school near home in Shijiazhuang in Hebei province. She said she’s prepared to offer as much as 100,000 yuan ($16,000). “There must be a way.”
In an exclusive interview with Shanghai-based news portal The Paper(澎湃新闻), the reporter asked if Zhao had become "too political". Zhao said "If you are not politically engaged, do not believe in our Party, why do you engage in art? You do not listen to our Party, why you still do art work?."In response to the Central arts conference, Zhao hosted his own "study sessions" to extol the virtues spoken about at the conference, during which Zhao said, "I have repeatedly read General Secretary Xi's speeches. I'm extremely emotional, extremely excited! Sometimes I cannot even sleep at night... we are living in times where we can dare to dream; a time with positive energy!
This last relates to Zhao Benshan, roughly China's equivalent to Benny Hill, reportedly in the crosshairs for business links to our old friend Bo Xilai, among others. But his only trouble is that he simply cannot sleep for joy. Lastly:
Aware of the heavy psychological pressure on cadres under the ongoing anti-graft campaign, the Chinese central government is conducting an extensive survey of abnormal deaths among cadres since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, held in November 2012
China File has translated some excerpts from Boss Xi's new book on corruption. For instance.
In local government, there are some officials who dare to embezzle money allocated for poverty alleviation, agriculture, healthcare, and social security, and even use the money for bribes or to buy themselves promotions. The people’s “Survival Fund” becomes an official “Promotion-Purchasing Fund.” In developed areas, construction projects are power-for-money deals for officials. In poor areas, officials embezzle money from poverty alleviation programs. The evil of this makes one’s blood boil!
This sounds like an angry blog post written by a dissident during the golden age of weibo. Which of course, is why Boss Xi has had them all detained. It's sad to think after all the high hopes of the past decade and a half that the margin of toleration for critical views in China turned out to be identical to the level of corruption and sclerosis in the Communist Party. There's only room for one reformer in this Party-state.
Claims that a serial killer could be stalking Greater Manchester’s canals and rivers have been dismissed by police.
Professor Craig Jackson, head of psychology at Birmingham City University, said 61 bodies have been pulled from the region’s rivers and canals in six years.
He said the death toll was ‘alarming’ and claimed it was possible a canal killer was at large.
I must say, pushing people into canals is a very northern serial killer MO: like beating someone to death with a frozen pie or ravaging victims with a pack of rabid whippets.
And its just about as likely. For one thing, 61 people dying over six years is quite a rapid clip. Tameside's notorious Dr Shipman killed many more than that; but he took a lot more years, and besides he made home visits. Also, it's a very peculiar MO. Serial killers are drawn towards particular means of dispatch but dumping people into inland waterways somehow doesn't fit the usual strangling/mangling paradigm.
Dr Jackson points out thsat canals are good places to wash away forensic evidence. Up to a point. They don't wash away broken bones or knife entry wounds or bruises.
What would make Manchester's canals a lethal murder weapon is the fact that they are deep, and have high narrow walls. Once in the water, it would be difficult to get out unaided, especially if you fall into one while drunk. And that is really where the likely culprit lies. Manchester has made a hug efort to develop its nightlife in recent years. The canals used to be more or less derelict; now they are lined with bars and discos, not only in the Gay village but further west towards Deansgate. Most likely, it's the new, shiny, world class 24 hour city that's the killer here.
And yet, the numbers who died are such as to increase the possibility of the Gidean gratuitous act, something also more likely to happen after a few drinks. It's quite possible that there are perfectly respectable individuals round here thinking sometimes about that time that drunk guy stumbled past and how they shoved him to the canal on impulse, and how his picture was in the paper; and how they got away with it. Then they go shopping or to work or to pick the missus up from the bingo. And when it's time to plan a night out with the missus they say, no let's not go to the city centre. let's go somewhere else. If anything, that's even more disturbing than the serial killer scenario.
The next big project the Air Force is considering is the Long Range Strike Bomber, a successor to the B-1 and B-2 whose specifications include an ability to do bombing runs deep into China. (A step so wildly reckless that the U.S. didn’t consider it even when fighting Chinese troops during the Korean War.) By the time the plane’s full costs and capabilities become apparent, Chuck Spinney wrote last summer, the airplane, “like the F-35 today, will be unstoppable.” That is because even now its supporters are building the plane’s “social safety net by spreading the subcontracts around the country, or perhaps like the F-35, around the world.”
I suppose that theoretically this embeds the prospect of an eventual US-China war.
But not so fast! If we're working on the F-35 principle here, in that the aim is to have the plane perpectually under development in order to ensure that the money keeps flowing, then what we have is a project to ensure that the US never has a bomber capable flying deep strike missiles into China, thereby delaying the prospect of apocalyptic US-China conflict indefinitely.
Indeed, it's possible that the perpetual development cycle of this theoretical long range bomber becomes so essential to China's own great power strategy that it ends up covertly subsidising the plane. In fact, if the US is smart enough it could end up offloading the whole cost to the PRC. In this scenario, China then bankrupts itself and the USA prevails peacefully in a 21st century version of the Cold War arms race. Fiendish occidental cunning, there.
And now for something completely different. If you're a fan of industrial subcultures, and, moreover, industrial subcultures based around logistics, you'll love this long deep dive into the world of palletts.
As a bonus, it contains this immortal line:
“You’re too old, Bob. You’re finished,” one of them allegedly told Moore, according to a court filing. “You will never work in this supply chain again.”
Speaking as a man who has worked a pump truck or two in his time, I find that poignant.
But that was all before late September, when a young woman, whom the two sources separately identified as Ling Lisha, made copies in a commercial photocopy shop of materials that touched on the Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong. Her purpose was to inform and educate others, the sources said.
...But what Ms. Ling apparently did not know — or remember — was that many commercial photocopy shops in Beijing are linked by computer to the police, who can scan their business for just such activities, especially in times of political tension, said the two sources. Spotting the Occupy Central content, they said, the police pounced.
This has resulted in a wave of detentions among a group of people doing grassroots education work, who were already under some pressure from the authorities, basically just for being involved in civil society activities without official approval.
I suspect the software that notified the cops that someone was copying material about Occupy Central might be the same keyword recognition stuff used to block or flag up material online for the censors, presumably when the details of the fapiao were entered. The interesting thing here is that having established control of online information flows, the authorities are now backfilling to prevent dissemination of information by more traditional means, removing the option to go offline.
Anyway, a few years back stuff like this would have just gone below the radar, even though China has been building this kind of capacity for years now. The system was basically geared to detecting opposition, not disrupting horizontal communication between individuals. These days you have a seamless infirmation management system that flags up the reproduction of forbidden material and makes a target of people whose independent civic activity already brought them under suspicion. They are now being held while the cops select a charge to apply to them.
“We wanted to do something for our society. But we didn’t anticipate this danger and fear. And we still don’t choose it. I feel like I’ve been ‘oppositioned,’ ” she said, meaning cast as an opposition force she is not.
Being 'oppositioned' . A 'crime' for the age of Xi. Well, no doubt there are targets to meet these days. And it's more than a cop's job is worth if he is thought to be just going through the motions.
With themes like, "Joy to All", "Shine, Give, Share" and "Simple Gifts", the holiday customs celebrated by the Obama family in the White House have centered around reflecting on our many blessings as Americans, rejoicing in the pleasure of spending time with family and friends, and renewing commitments to one another and to the causes that we believe in. One of the First Lady's most cherished traditions are the trees that honor the service of our armed forces, which have pride of place in the East Landing and the Blue Room each year. And visitors during the holiday season have been enchanted by the representations of the First Dog, Bo Obama, who has been recreated using pipe cleaners, trash bags, buttons, pompoms and even chocolate.
Still not blogging, but if you like theWar on Christmas and the Christmas Truce, you'll love the Christmas Cold War:
The Christmas tower had long been seen as a tool of South Korean psychological warfare by the North Korean regime which accused South Korea of using the steel Christmas tower (which resembled a Christmas tree) as a tool of religious propaganda.
As a result of its skepticism toward the tower, North Korea over the years repeatedly threatened to destroy the tower with an artillery strike. This week, the South Korean Defense Ministry confirmed that it would allow a Christian group, the Christian Council of Korea, to build a similar 30-foot tower shaped like a Christmas tree to replace the old one that was scrapped in October.
Giant Steel Christmas Towers pointing northwards across the DMZ. Both pre- and post- Ballardian.
I'll be blogging properly again soon, maybe, but in the meanwhile enjoy this:
In the run-up to the London Olympics, which cost the taxpayer $40 billion he doesn’t have and, in the curious metric of government accounting, was accordingly dubbed a “success,” Mr. Shrimpton, who has peculiar friends in highish places, got wind of a plot to sail a redundant German submarine carrying a second-hand nuclear weapon up one of the rivers in the southeast of England and then to detonate it during the opening ceremony.