Thursday, July 27, 2006

Mathematics, Sociology, Israel, Lebanon and the outright Manipulation of the MSM

UPDATE: Welcome readers from newsbusters... I will update in a mo now that there are more photos and video available.

Your pensive and hesitant Pedant-General is always loathe to put his cards on the table, to stand up and be counted or generally to favour one side of the fence from any other that may be available.

He is therefore wringing his hands in response to the awful reports of "apparent" missile attack on an ambulance clearly marked with the Red Cross.
At the Red Cross headquarters in Tyre, I spoke to Kassem Chaalan, 28, who told me about being in an ambulance that was struck by a missile. When the armament struck the vehicle, he says, it hit the Red Cross symbol on the roof dead-on.
Rather than make any sort of precipitate decision, I have therefore dissembled and thought about it and make all sorts of noises of the "hum" and "ha" variety.

Amongst the many other thoughts that crossed my mind is this:
Missile strikes are pretty conclusive events. In fact, at a conservative estimate and assuming that our helicopter-launched missile has mass of 10kg (which is on the low side) and was travelling at, say, 500 mph (which is ~250m/s and also on the low side), the missile would have had kinetic energy of around 600kJ. This is transferred to the target when it strikes, in a fairly direct and unprepossessing manner.

As a quick quiz, how fast would a car weighing 1 tonne (that's a small/medium UK sized car such as Ford Focus with just the driver in it) have to be going to have 600kJ in kinetic energy?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Ok, I'll tell you. About 50 mph. So even before the warhead detonates, being hit by a missile of that size and at that speed has the same crushing effect on the target as being hit by a car full on at 50mph, except from above, where you don't have all the crumble zones to absorb the impact.

Let's look at a few examples. For each of these photos, you can click to be linked to the source news report.

There are a couple of things to notice about this.
Firstly the car is a mess. To say that it is no longer roadworthy would be somewhat sidestepping the extent of the damage. It looks very much as though a car of similar size struck it from above at about 50mph.

Secondly, the subsequent explosion has peeled the roof open, blown the boot lid open and thirdly we can see that the remainder is severely scorched with fire.

That seems to make sense to me.

What about this one:

Notice the fire damage, the blown out tyres, and the crushing impact from above. The floorpan is on the ground and the doors and roof are buckled. This car is not going anywhere. Ever again. Or at least, not of its own accord.

Or this:

Again, notice that the vehicle is a complete right-off. The roof has been ripped off by the explosion and there is extensive fire damage.

And what about this?

I don't know about you, humble reader, but I am beginning to spot a pattern. Missile strikes appear to correlate strongly with:
  • Crushing and general structural damage apparently from above
  • Other buckling and twisting or miscellaneous mechanical effects of explosions such as doors and boot lids open and bent and the roof ripped back up.
  • Fire Damage.
Correlation, of course, does not imply causation, but I think we can be fairly comfortable, given the analysis of the kinetic energy delivered by a missile strike as discussed above and the generally acknowledged effects of the detonation of an appreciable quantity of military grade high explosive, that we should at least be suspicious that there may be some form of causal link.

So, to our ambulance "apparently deliberately" targetted.

Here it is:

That link again in case you missed it:

Now, I'm looking at a photo of an ambulance that has:
  • no crushing impact from above;
  • the doors are open, but they are clearly not buckled. They are on their hinges and have not been ripped out when shut. There is no other buckling or twisting commensurate with an explosion;
  • no fire damage.
This is a vehicle in working order with the windows missing. From where I'm standing this is not a picture of a vehicle that has been hit by a helicopter launched missile. Indeed, given that there is lots of broken glass on the road around where the windows used to be, one wonders whether - surely not - the windows have been kicked out of a perfectly serviceable ambulance.

Can you imagine the field day that Hezbollah (and the BBC for that matter) would have if there really had been an ambulance hit by a missile. The image of a battered, burned out vehicle with a sorry bent scrag of metal showing the remaining traces of a Red Cross? Yet this is the only image I can find.

Why would that be? Who on earth could possibly gain from fraudulently reporting, or indeed entirely fabricating, a story about a direct hit on an ambulance? It couldn't happen. I mean obviously.

We're All Doomed! Doomed, I tell ye!

Actually, I don't think we are, but it appears that Richard North might. He provides a somewhat gloomy analysis of the wider meaning of the current conflict between Israel and Hezbollah.
We appear to have reached the limits of technology, tactics and firepower which have underwritten the might and the standing of the Western powers. The greatest military force on earth has so far been unable to prevail in Iraq, and now probably the most capable is on the brink of being humiliated – both by low-tech weapons in the hands of ruthless and obsessive terrorists.
Whilst I think that is true, it is only true in part. The 20th Century wisdom was always that you needed a 3:1 advantage in numbers in the attack. Attack is always tougher than defence. Over recent years, the ability to disguise some seriously powerful anti-vehicle munitions and the relatively low cost of accurate remote detonation devices to trigger them render invading regular armed forces particularly vulnerable to a determined guerilla defence and the balance has naturally shifted even more in favour of the defenders.

But... but... that is only half the picture. To fulfill their wishes, Hezbollah and its paymasters would have to go on the offensive. Where they would be ground to a pulp.

Hezbollah defending against IDF incursion? Result: Stalemate
IDF defending prepared positions against a serious Hezbollah invasion? Result: I'll have my money on the IDF.

The combination of the stacked odds in favour of the defender in any action and modern weaponry mean that we are very unlikely to see a conventional warfare threat to the "West". What remains is the nagging background of isolated terrorist incidents, both in Israel, here in the "West" and, well, generally everywhere actually. In this respect Richard's analysis is pretty much spot on:
"... [I]t will dawn on us that we are breaking away from a world dominated by ideas forged during and between the last two World Wars, and the post-war settlements that arose from them. [These] are settlements of which the EU, the United Nations, the WTO and all the great tranzie organisations were a central part.

They, like the military thinking and technology which has dominated the 20th Century, are no longer providing the answers. We need new paradigms, new thinking and new solutions. None of the tranzies, and especially the European Union, will be part of those solutions."
In this, as ever, he is spot on.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The world's a sea of "shit"

some sink, some swim and some go in boats. I have refrained so far, but feel it is now time to stick my oar in.

Just about everyone is today asking if (or just declaring that) Israel is committing war crimes by its bombardment of Lebanon.

It seems that the approximate test being applied is this:
Is it a civilian death from IDF action?
If the answer is "Yes", then it seems to be a war crime.
Oddly, the corresponding test:
Is it a civilian death from a rocket launched by Hezbollah?
seems only to elicit a response of "Whatever".

As one might expect, there is a proper ding dong on this topic over at Harry's Place and in fact, this is what prompts me to comment.

One commenter asks:
I'm fairly certain there is something in the Geneva Conventions about it being valid to kill civilians, when the enemy is hiding amongst them. I'm researching it further to find the exact wording.
Which prompts dsquared to respond:
The exact wording is that it isn't.
Whilst I wouldn't use the exact wording "valid", the assumption in his response and in all the links above is not so much that it is always "invalid", but that it is always a war crime. This strikes me as wrong.
Let's look at what the Geneva Conventions (or rather Protocol I to Fourth Geneva Conventions). The relevant section is "Art. 51. - Protection of the civilian population":
Here it is:
1. The civilian population and individual civilians shall enjoy general protection against dangers arising from military operations. To give effect to this protection, the following rules, which are additional to other applicable rules of international law, shall be observed in all circumstances.
Let's see how variously IDF and Hezbollah measure up...
2. The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited.
Well that seems to rule out Hezbollah's rocket attacks in the general direction of Haifa. Katyushas are not exactly precision weapons. Firing them into a city can have no other effect. I'm going to reserve judgement on the IDF for the time being. I'll explain below.
3. Civilians shall enjoy the protection afforded by this section, unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities.
So, for the avoidance of doubt, the members (any other term is hopelessly loaded) of Hezbollah are definitely NOT covered by these protections.
4. Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited. Indiscriminate attacks are:
(a) those which are not directed at a specific military objective;
See Hezbollah rocket attacks above.
(b) those which employ a method or means of combat which cannot be directed at a specific military objective; or
(c) those which employ a method or means of combat the effects of which cannot be limited as required by this Protocol; and consequently, in each such case, are of a nature to strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction.
Paragraph 5 expands on the theme of indiscrimate attacks:
5. Among others, the following types of attacks are to be considered as indiscriminate:
(a) an attack by bombardment by any methods or means which treats as a single military objective a number of clearly separated and distinct military objectives located in a city, town, village or other area containing a similar concentration of civilians or civilian objects;


(b) an attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.
Hmmm. That sounds a little equivocal. If civilian casualties are always a war crime or are never valid, there would be little need for a comparison to the military advantage at all. But it's more important than that. The comparison is between expected loss of civilian life and anticipated military advantage. To be clear, you are within the rules to attack a target even if you KNOW beforehand that the attack will definitely result in the loss of civilian life and even if the target turns out not to be as big as expected (or not there at all).
6. Attacks against the civilian population or civilians by way of reprisals are prohibited.
Fairly self explanatory. To be honest this is covered by Para 2 anyway.
7. The presence or movements of the civilian population or individual civilians shall not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations, in particular in attempts to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield, favour or impede military operations. The Parties to the conflict shall not direct the movement of the civilian population or individual civilians in order to attempt to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield military operations.
Translation: if combatants of Party A set up in the middle of a village, are subsequently attacked by Party B and civilians die, PARTY A has contravened the protocol and is responsible for the death of those civilians. Military targets are always military targets. It is up to the combatants on each side to ensure that they do not put the civilians around them in danger.

Hezbollah sets up in the middle of villages. It hides amongst civilians. When it is attacked by the IDF, it is Hezbollah - NOT THE IDF - that is responsible for any civilian deaths.
8. Any violation of these prohibitions shall not release the Parties to the conflict from their legal obligations with respect to the civilian population and civilians, including the obligation to take the precautionary measures provided for in Article 57.
Doesn't matter what either side does, their opponents still have to abide by the rules.

Art. 52., Para 3. is good too:
In case of doubt whether an object which is normally dedicated to civilian purposes, such as a place of worship, a house or other dwelling or a school, is being used to make an effective contribution to military action, it shall be presumed not to be so used.
In other words, if a civilian site, such as for example a school, is definitely "making an effective contribution to military action", it becomes a legitimate target and loses the protections of the convention until such time as combatants leave (or are otherwise neutralised), even if there are civilians still there. Whilst there is always going to be a good measure of doubt and some good finger pointing to be done, showing the aftermath of an attack is not tremendously informative.

And whilst we are about it, Art. 57, Para 2(b) is interesting:
[With respect to attacks, the following precautions shall be taken:]
an attack shall be cancelled or suspended if it becomes apparent that the objective is not a military one or is subject to special protection or that the attack may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated;
Israeli fighters returning without dropping their bomb loads anyone?
(c) effective advance warning shall be given of attacks which may affect the civilian population, unless circumstances do not permit.
Again, we know that IDF have been issuing warnings and running leaflet drops. Any reports of similar sensible behaviour from Hezbollah?

More importantly, this brings us back to my reserved judgement on the IDF earlier. If the IDF's primary purpose was to kill or generally terrorise civilians, why would they give advance warning? If their primary purpose was to kill or generally terrorise civilians and particularly given the sophistication of their weaponry and the number of raids conducted, they seem to be doing a pretty poor job.

If we are going to start slinging about accusations of war crimes, do we look for a party that:
  • deliberately locates its command centres, combatants and munitions in densely populated civilian areas;
  • refuses to use uniforms and insignia and generally tries to be indistinguishable from the civilian population;
  • launches wildly inaccurate weaponry over long distances into civilian population centres
  • without warning
Or one that:
  • separates itself from its civilian population by insignia, uniforms and location;
  • has a well defined command structure accountable to a democratically elected executive;
  • issues radio and text message warnings and carries out leaflet drops
  • and aborts missions at the last moment if no target can be identified?
Not a very tough choice really.

I make no comment here on the scale or overall proportionality of response of the IDF. To be honest, I think the Israelis ought to be aware of the propaganda value of images of wounded children and they appear to be handing their enemies stuff on a plate.

War is shit. People get killed. Stuff gets destroyed. That's the deal. The question is how to stop it and to do that we have to look at what each side wants. Broadly Israel wants to exist within internationally agreed borders - it spends a great deal of time saying so. By contrast, Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran are quite clear that they want to wipe Israel off the map: cue Fred Halliday in Open Democracy (via the Norm)
... there was no margin of doubt in the sheikh's view that Israel was an illegitimate state and that it should be abolished. This position was bolstered... by the deployment of quotes from the Qu'ran denouncing Jews and calling for a struggle against them.

I put it to the sheikh that this use of the Islamic tradition, in a context of modern political conflict, was racist, a point he evidently did not accept. An alternative, open and respectful, attitude to Jews can also be derived from other parts of the Islamic tradition, but this, like the racist reading, depends on contemporary political choice.


From one roadside vantage-point, they had pointed to the still unresolved Shebaa area to the southeast. As we looked over to this Israeli town, with people clearly visible walking in the streets, the chief guide turned to me with an unambiguous message: "It took us twenty-two years to drive them out of here [Lebanon]", and it may take us up to forty years to drive them out of there [occupied Palestine]".

I long ago decided, in dealing with revolutionaries and with their enemies, in the middle east and elsewhere, to question their motives and sense of reality, but to take seriously what they stated to be their true intentions.
Israel has nothing to gain by a further occupation of Lebanon, other than to subdue the militants. But, now that those nice gentlemen in Iran have equipped Hezbollah with the longer range Fajr rockets, Israel is going to have to occupy a damn sight more than they did last time to provide an effective buffer zone to protect Israel-proper. I can't see how a ceasefire would be in their gift.

By contrast however, I can't fault Bush's logic: if "they" really could
"get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop this shit"
it really would be over. I'm not holding my breath.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Oh NO. Not again...


Sounds like the carnage in Bombay is considerably worse than was the case in London.

But we now know what the score is. Emily showed us how the first time round. I had a small refrain for the Danes.

Arthur takes up the banner today. Go see him and add your support.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

I want one of those

There is no doubt that I do not need this, but I really, really, really want it.

Minor aside to Neil: neither the state nor any form redistributive politics would, could or ever will produce this kind of meaningless and trivial product. That is why life would be so stiflingly boring if you were in charge.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

That Poll...

In the header aobve this post, you will see that your single-minded Pedant-General lays out some aims of this venerable blog. I have recourse today to invoke the first of them. There is Woolly Thinking afoot and it is greatly in need of a thorough expunging.

I refer, of course, to the reporting of That Poll regarding attitudes to the 7/7 bombings and Islamist terrorism in general.

The Times has a little review in the second section which reveals this little nugget:

"I have thought about joining the police," says Muhammed Javaid, 31, a taxi driver from nearby Bradford who works in Beeston. Standing near his car, he explains that many Muslims feel the police force pays well, and rewards officers with secure employment and decent pensions. "The Army is different, though; it is not acceptable for Muslims to go and kill other Muslims. I would join the Army, but I would not fight in Iraq, for example." Would he choose to go to jail, I ask? "For my beliefs, yes. I will not kill fellow Muslims. That is against my religion."

The doublethink necessary to support this view is extraordinary. Presumably it is OK for Muslim jihadis to slaughter Muslim Iraqis.

Quite apart from this, the tacit assumption in this statement is that the primary role of Her Majesty's Forces in those theatres is
" ... to go and kill other Muslims."

The Times does nothing to point out this monstrous misrepresentation. I shall refer to those venerable, if drink soaked, pro-war popinjays to do so:
"The brother of the UK [Muslim] soldier Jabron Hashmi , was interviewed immediately before the debate. He clearly stated that Jabron felt he was helping his Muslim brothers in Afghanistan fight for stability and to rebuild their country."
The second piece of woolliness surrounds the relentless positive spin placed on the poll results themselves:
"... an overwhelming majority of those polled could not justify the suicide bombing of civilian, military, police or government targets — 89 per cent, 79 per cent, 86 per cent and 85 per cent respectively."
These are not positive numbers. They are extremely worrying. They are positively horrifying. Why? Let me rephrase them for you:

  • 14% of those surveyed thought that there might be some justification for the random slaughter of innocent civilian bystanders who happened to be in the vicinity of a police station.
  • 15% of those surveyed thought that there might be some justification for the random slaughter of innocent civilian bystanders who happened to be in the vicinity of a government office.
  • 11% of those surveyed thought that there might be some justification for the random slaughter of innocent civilian bystanders in general. Can you imagine a poll of the general population of the UK where this response would be given by more a single respondent?
  • 21% of those surveyed thought that there might be some justification for the random slaughter of innocent civilian bystanders who happened to be in the vicinity of an Armed Forces establishment.
Who lives and works at your average MOD establishment? Cleaners, contract caterers, wives, children. 21% think that it's just fine and dandy to kill these people.

21%. That is not an insignificant bunch of hotheads. That is not "just a handful of extremists".

It's just 1pp short of the proportion of the electorate you need to get a 66 seat majority in Parliament. Forgive me if I don't think that the results of this survey are encouraging.

Happy Birthday!

As many others have noted, yesterday was the 230th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in what was to become the United States of America.

For my part, I shall add my tuppence:
1) What a marvellous example of prose. Note that it declares as "self evident" that Liberty Rights are inherent in man and not granted by the state. You would have thought that 230 years was long enough for this idea to have caught on.
2) Rather than merely wish them well, I am in the fortunate position of being able to enact my feelings of goodwill towards the United States: I have some United Statesians coming to stay for a few days as part of a tour of Europe.