If the Russian grandmothers don’t win it, something’s wrong. That is all.
Update: Wall St. Journal is liveblogging. Sign of the end times? Also #eurovision on Twitter is home of the best commentary.
Bond contracts and diplomatic notes aren’t the only places where the casual asides can be more rewarding than the main text.
NASA announced yesterday that its Kepler space telescope has helped scientists identify an exoplanet clearly positioned in an orbit that would allow it to have liquid water on its surface.
Twice before astronomers have announced planets found in that zone, but neither was as promising. One was disputed; the other is on the hot edge of the zone. Kepler 22-B is the smallest and the best positioned of the more than 500 planets found to orbit stars beyond our solar system to have liquid water on its surface — among the ingredients necessary for life on Earth.
Good news of course, and with its
mass size estimated at 2.4 times Earth’s, it’s the closest match yet to our own. But did you see what the author did right after the word “of”? Mentioned that, just by the by, humanity has now found more than 500 planets orbiting stars beyond our solar system. Five. Hundred.
Moreover, “With the discovery, the Kepler space telescope has now located 2,326 potential planets during its first 16 months of operation.” I’ve written about this before, but it never ceases to amaze. This is what living in the future is like.
ps Six years ago, the smallest confirmed exoplanet had a
mass size of about seven times Earth’s. The intervening years have tripled the precision of humanity’s detection capabilities.
I missed this when it came out a week ago. Have yourselves a cheerful read:
On the morning of Sept. 4, in the riverside boomtown of Wuhan, Mr. Li, an 88-year-old man, fell in the street and injured his nose. People passed him by, but no one raised a hand to help as he lay on the ground, suffocating on his own blood.
This week, Chinaâ€™s netizens have expressed an outpouring of sympathy – for the bystanders. This is nothing new here. In recent years, there have been several high-profile cases of elderly men and women who have collapsed or suffered accidents in public spaces who then sue the good Samaritans who have tried to help them. These cases have created a genuine and widespread fear that helping a person in need will lead to personal financial loss.
The proximate cause of this is a court ruling back in 2006 which found the fact that someone helped an old lady in distress was evidence that he caused that distress in the first place. But there's maybe more to it than that. More good commentary here.
The New York Times talks to its sources in the NY Police Department and prosecutor’s office and reports:
The sexual assault case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn is on the verge of collapse as investigators have uncovered major holes in the credibility of the housekeeper who charged that he attacked her in his Manhattan hotel suite in May, according to two well-placed law enforcement officials.
Although forensic tests found unambiguous evidence of a sexual encounter between Mr. Strauss-Kahn, a French politician, and the woman, prosecutors now do not believe much of what the accuser has told them about the circumstances or about herself.
More key phrases include “repeatedly lied” to investigators, “issues involving the asylum application,” and “possible links to people involved in criminal activities, including drug dealing and money laundering.”
Sonia Le Gouriellec at Alliance GÃ©ostrategique quotes Bernard Badie on the Ivory Coast and the fact that democracy is a lot more than just elections.
Prenons-la [la dÃ©mocratie] comme un idÃ©al, câ€™est-Ã -dire faisons-en une valeur partagÃ©e par tous, câ€™est-Ã -dire reconstruite par ceux-lÃ mÃªme auxquels elle est censÃ©e sâ€™adresser. Sa faiblesse se trouve dans sa dÃ©rive procÃ©durale, dans son universalisme naÃ¯f, dans son formalisme, dans la volontÃ© de plaquer et dâ€™imposer de lâ€™extÃ©rieur des modÃ¨les tout faits auxquels on ne cherche mÃªme pas Ã faire adhÃ©rer ceux auxquels on veut lâ€™adresser. Peut-Ãªtre que le fond du problÃ¨me est lÃ ; nous avons oubliÃ© chez nous que la dÃ©mocratie Ã©tait un idÃ©al, nous nâ€™en retenons plus que lâ€™aspect facile de technique de gouvernement : on lâ€™exporte telle quelle et on veut en faire en plus une technique dâ€™action diplomatique ; on a alors tout faux.
This is, arguably, something the EU got right but the UN usually doesn’t. It’s never enough to put on an election, as you put on a play. In fact, it’s often the worst thing that could happen.
But at least it’s not the newly invigorated and enlarged Gulf Cooperation Council. Marc Lynch (he’s a serious these days so we can’t call him Abu Aardvark any more) covers this in some detail. Basically, what is emerging is a new reactionary international institution – a sort of NATO for dictators. In fact, it’s something like all the most radical criticisms of NATO, if they were all true, rolled into one. It doesn’t have nukes but it does want a nuclear industry.
Instead, it seems to be evolving into a club for Sunni Arab monarchs — the institutional home of the counter-revolution, directed against not only Iran but also against the forces for change in the region. Where the United States fits in that new conception remains distinctly unclear.
You bet, as they say. As it seems to be evolving into a police-military alliance, perhaps the closest parallel would be one of the reactionary alliances Europe tried out in the 19th century.
Once upon a time, before it became the Paris printing of the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune published its late sports editor Dick Rorabackâ€™s ode to baseballâ€™s opening day each year.
Under the fold, â€œThe Crack of the Bat.â€
Kevin Drum makes the mistake of reading McArdle and writes “I have to admit that ‘gigantic earthquake in Japan’ was not on my list of possible flash points for the global economy. And in the end, I don’t think it will be.”
It certainly shouldn’t be, if only because Tokyo Earthquake is probably the most widely used wildcard in any sort of future/scenario planning. Sure, it was a low-probability event at any given time, but over longer terms it had a non-trivial likelihood of coming to pass. From financial markets to supply-chain managers, they all should have a file at hand marked Tokyo Earthquake, and the work — for people far away — now involves dealing with how reality diverges from what was planned. Maybe some international actors will be exposed as having neglected to answer this most obvious of what-ifs, but most will have worked through the possibilities.
A couple of weeks ago, the big question had ceased to be “Will there be a revolution in Egypt?” and had become “Will it matter?” The revolutionaries had demonstrated that they could endure, could divide the Army from the government and the security state, and had eventually succeeded in chasing the president out of power. But would this mean lasting change? Wouldn’t it just imply the creation of a new ruling elite, or a permanently-temporary military junta? The grey lineup detailed here were in charge, issuing statements about going back to work. This piece from David Wessel of the Wall Street Journal sketches it out, and reveals far more than it means to.
It’s easy to sketch the scenario in which Egypt blows it. The army could maintain control behind a faÃ§ade of democracy and protect elites who benefited from the growth produced by significant economic reforms that Mr. Mubarak blessed. Four things have to go right for Egypt to seize the moment.
First, the young protesters of Tahrir Square have to keep the pressure on the military. A lot depends on which way they go. If they’ve been soured by privatization that engorged the cronies, will they demand the security and subsidies of the state over the risks, competition and dynamism that comes with a vibrant private sector? In short, do they want government jobs? Or a shot at being hiredâ€”and maybe firedâ€”by an entrepreneurial company?
Of course, the policies those elites benefited from are precisely the ones he goes on to advocate, and the ones that the IMF recommended and Mubarak implemented. Wessel alludes to this further down the piece but never quite manages to say that the Egyptians hated them so much they overthrew the state. Also, although he compares Egypt with Poland after communism, he doesn’t seem to be aware that a major factor in Poland’s revolutions (1981 and 1989) was that the state got huge international loans it couldn’t pay back.
Anyway, so that was one scenario – the military guarantees some constitutional change but keeps the political economy and the power-structure Mubarak left.
It doesn’t seem to be working. Mohammed Fadel has a good rundown of the Army’s (and the Muslim Brothers’, and the 2005-era middle class dissidents’) efforts to put pressure on strikers, their eventual failure, and some of the economic ideas circulating among the revolutionaries. Apparently, the military has eventually been induced to open talks with the real trade union movement as opposed to the yellow unions that were part of Mubarak’s system. You can read their negotiating position at guess who’s.
But perhaps the best news of all isn’t economic. Here’s some incredible reportage of an incredible and very significant event – the crowds take over the headquarters of Central Security in Alexandria, and start salvaging the secret files the spooks were trying to destroy.
I wouldn’t bet on the holy-of-holies in Cairo lasting much longer – Hossam el-Hamalawy has already been down to his local station with his Canon EOS 5D and his angry mob. Guess what, that’s full of files as well.
In 1989, something similar happened – when it looked like the post-Wall East German government might be stabilising, and that it felt confident enough to tell the public that it was going to retain the Stasi although under a new name, people invaded the organisation’s offices to secure the key assets of any secret police force, the files. It was the end, really; there could be no more hoping for some sort of patched-up afterlife for the basic structure of the DDR. This time there was much more violence, and the spook toys included a sinisterly large stash of Viagra – the Stasi did a fair amount of drug dealing as part of its efforts to raise hard currency, but nothing with those implications.
There probably weren’t many documents like this one in the files at the NormannenstraÃŸe either.
The upshot includes the resignation of Mubarak’s last prime minister. In an almost uncanny echo of East Germany, he went on TV not long before the crowds moved into the secret police stations, to defend the institution of Central Security. Just like Hans Modrow did, and with exactly the same effect. His exit was announced via the Egyptian Army’s facebook profile.
His replacement is profiled here – Essam Sharaf, significantly, is both a candidate endorsed by the revolutionaries and a participant in the revolution himself, as well as apparently enjoying a good reputation with the workers’ movement as far back as 2006.
One thing that is perhaps being overlooked by people discussing whether or not it would be wise to impose a no-fly zone over Libya is exactly what such a zone would set out to prevent. When it was first suggested, it was inspired by the general horror that the Libyan government was having crowds of civilians strafed by its Sukhoi 22 close-support aircraft. However, especially since several Libyan Air Force crews defected to Malta and to the revolution, air activity has turned out to be much less significant in what is beginning to look like a classical West- or Central-African civil war, based around Toyota pickups and 23mm Russian anti-aircraft guns and mercenaries paid with the money from exporting some mineral or other. You know the one.
It’s fairly well known that Libya sponsored several of the key warlords of 90s West Africa – Foday Sankoh, Charles Taylor, and several others originally met up in Libyan-funded training camps. Interestingly, not only did one of the versions of Jetline International base itself in Tripoli and trade aircraft back and forth with two of Viktor Bout’s companies, but Gaddafi’s government maintains an impressive airlift capacity. As well as the two flag-carrier airlines, Libyan Arab and Afriqiyah, whose names track the changing priorities of foreign policy, the Air Force operates a semi-commercial cargo wing, Libyan Arab Air Cargo, with a fleet of Ilyushin 76 and even two enormous Antonov-124s, some of very few such aircraft owned outside the former Soviet Union.
I’ve put together a Google spreadsheet of transport-type aircraft with Libyan operators, sorted so that currently active aircraft are at the top, and generated URIs to look them up on Aerotransport.org, for subscribers, and on JetPhotos.net, in the two right hand columns.
There are a total of 180 airframes, of which 118 are active. It’s probably worth noting that there was a report that top managers at Afriqiyah had resigned rather than take part in Gaddafi’s war effort, and constant rumours of mercenaries being lifted into airfields in the southern deserts.
The upshot of this is that logistics, rather than tactical air power, might be the most important factor in Gaddafi’s efforts to defeat the Libyan revolution/win the Libyan civil war. Rather than engaging in combat, the aim might instead be blockade, as a complement to the international financial sanctions already in place. (A ship has recently been stopped in British waters carrying large quantities of freshly printed Libyan currency.)
On the other hand, it also adds complexity and risk to the whole issue. There are still plenty of people who want to leave Libya, and British government-chartered airliners are ferrying some of them from Tunisia to Egypt. It would be a bad business, to say the least, to shoot down an Il-76 full of refugees. It could be better to try to cut off the supply chain at source by grounding Libyan aircraft elsewhere in the world, although this requires the cooperation of those states who are still willing to let them recruit on their territory. Further, imposing a blockade also implies a responsibility for the survival of the civilian population. Sending aid to eastern Libya has already been suggested, of course.
For a little extra, the Russian Demography blog, venturing well out of its usual beat, notes that the Libyan Government’s Dassault Falcon 900EX business jet, 5A-DCN, took a trip to Minsk recently. Its ICAO identifier, useful with virtual-radar sites, is 018019. There are various things the regime might find useful in Belarus – mercenaries, again, small arms (although they don’t appear to be short of them), and perhaps least disturbingly, impunity. (Hat tip.)
(Cross posted from TYR)
It looks like the Empire is striking back on multiple fronts. So far as I can see, these seem to have been the lessons learned by regional authoritarians from Egypt.
Never mind the martyrs. Given that â€˜martyrdomâ€™ had a catalytic effect on protest in Egypt and Tunisia, youâ€™d have thought that other regimes would have taken care to handle demonstrators more gently. Not so, as events today in Bahrain have demonstrated and as shown in Yemen over the weekend. The issue instead appears to be control of the streets. Once the demonstrators in Egypt and Tunisia had it, they couldnâ€™t be dislodged. So go in fast, early and hard.
Deny the revolution its focal point. That appears to have been the purpose of the raid on the Pearl roundabout in Manama. There have been reports of sporadic clashes in the city since then, but itâ€™s hard either for reporters to get a handle on where or for demonstrators to find a place to assemble.
Get the countergangs in early. The protests in Egypt rapidly reached such a critical mass that the baltagiya lost their ability to intimidate. Indeed, they were defeated by physical force from the demonstrators. So they need to be used before that point is reached, as they are in Iran, Yemen and Libya.
Hijack the agenda. Issandr El Amrani on the forthcoming protests in Morocco:
…a confusion has been deliberately created that the February 20 protests are about overthrowing King Muhammad VI, which they are absolutely not about: they are largely about socio-economic grievances and the need for the reforms that the regime has pretended to undertake to actually be implemented, starting with constitutional reform to make Morocco into a genuine constitutional monarchy rather than an absolute one that disguises what it is by calling itself an "executive monarchy".
For the past two weeks, the regime propaganda machine has created an outpouring of affection from Muhammad VI. Much of it is based on genuine respect for the institution of the monarchy as well as the man himself, but it is dangerous to play with the king's image in this way. One possible backlash is that on February 20 the protestors will get attacked as traitors. Street violence can get pretty savage in Morocco â€” I dread to think what might happen
Handle this right and you get yourself a genuine loyalist mob.
Be a social dictatorship. Evgeny Morozev got a lot of stick over the past week or so for his scepticism about the role of social media in democratization. His proposition is that new and social media can be a force multiplier for dictatorships which take the trouble to understand its potential and use it effectively. This is the proposition under test now across the region. So far weâ€™ve had Libyan terror messaging, facebook phishing exercises by Sudanese security forces and Iranian wumaodang twitter accounts. No doubt we'll get more along similar lines.
Use it or lose it. Itâ€™s difficult to say how effective all of this is. Protests donâ€™t seem to be reaching critical numbers. On the other hand, demonstrators are persisting in the face of constant and occasionally lethal state violence (every day for the past week in Yemen).
One thing thatâ€™s going to be prominent in regime calculations is the response of Western and particularly American policy to the Egyptian uprising, which made it clear that a) western powers want their local policies to remain as they are, but arenâ€™t betting everything on maintaining any given government and b) if protests get too big, then thereâ€™s nothing your western friends can do for you. So the way to respond is to use every repressive resource in your arsenal to stop them getting too big. Current signals coming from Washington â€“ welcoming the Iranian protests, ignoring the ones elsewhere â€“ seem to indicate that this strategy is generally acceptable.
Libyaâ€™s the country to watch here. Ghaddafiâ€™s new friends would drop him like a hot brick if if only for someone less embarrassing given half an excuse, and heâ€™s still on bad terms with the Saudis and the GCC states, so no prospect of exile there. Heâ€™s the one actually at risk of ending his rule swinging from a palm tree, and that possibility is going to dictate his response to the local uprising. Given our role in the Megrahi affair, itâ€™ll be interesting to see what Britainâ€™s response to that will be.