Sunday, November 30, 2008

A question about Sir Roger Hollis.

Roger Hollis was the Director General of MI5 (Britain's counterintelligence service) for nine years starting in 1956. His period as DG is, I believe fairly, considered to be a very, very low patch for that organization.

In the 1980s, two books came out which made a damning case for the theory that Hollis was a Soviet mole. I won't go into details today, but suffice to say that much in his past and in his conduct as DG is startling and lends great credence to worries about his loyalty. (It is difficult, for example, to picture a man who knew Agnes Smedley would get past a vetting, had it been known, let alone making it to DG.) It's a fascinating case and I may blog about it some other day.

What baffles me is the notion that Hollis has been cleared by the revelations of KGB* defectors Oleg Gordievsky and Yuri Modin; they go on about how he wasn't the famous "Fifth Man", even though it is now known that the "Fifth Man" was John Cairncross. What has been made clear by the excellent work of Peter Wright and Chapman Pincher is that if Hollis was a Soviet spy then he was a GRU spy, not KGB. The famous Cambridge spies (Philby, Burgess, McLean, Blunt and Cairncross were all a Cambridge men of a specific time and background, and all were KGB agents.) These men would have no direct knowledge of any such GRU agent. The GRU and the KGB had often notoriously bad relations, so information would not be mixed freely. And the GRU is still a going concern, whereas KGB has, in the American model, split off into two separate organizations (the SVR and the FSB, roughly corresponding to CIA and FBI, respectively) .. and has leaked far more information since the end of the Cold War than its military counterpart, some of which is quite accurate. Some.

My own take? I take Option A: Hollis was a spy; if I blog on this later I will note why**. Option B: (only shortly behind A) is that Hollis was a skilled bureaucrat who rose many, many levels about his level of professional, but not political, competence. He was cunning and ambitious enough to rise to the top, but nowhere near smart enough to actually do a good job there.

* - The Soviet spy service went through a myriad of forms and names during its history. I use its best-known and modern label, the KGB, to cover all periods of time merely for convenience sake.

* - Just one short note: To me the most damning this is his debrief of Igor Gouzenko; Hollis was the Five man sent out to conduct it. His report back in London was painfully short and downright deceitful: it ignored all of the information most important to Five (including and especially information on a GRU mole in British counter-intelligence, complete with codename and background information). If Hollis was merely an incompetent then the report would have just been bad, not a tissue of lies and concealment. If he was ambitious, then the opportunity to unmask a mole would have been sweet. (There are, however, two strong counter-arguments to that argument. First, there was a comparatively pro-Soviet labour government in place, one with fresh and very angry memories of the Zinoviev letter. Pissing on the Russians might have been a career-killer at a stage when Labour was cheerfully selling jet engines to make the first combat-effective MIGs. Second, Gouzenko's information on the mole matched up to a great extent with Hollis himself. If Hollis wasn't a GRU agent one could still see him covering all that up in order to save his career.)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Something interesting to think about....

from the Star's Brent Ledger:
One of the great advantages of gay life has always been its social freedom. Unfettered by institutional restraints, gay relationships were free to seek their own balance.

People would pal around with friends, lovers and various combinations of the two, and few of these relationships were as exclusive or as hierarchical as marriage, which basically suggests that there's only one intimate relationship worth having and it had better be sexual and exclusive.

But like everyone else, I find myself getting on the pro-marriage bandwagon just because to do otherwise would be un-gay. And this annoys me, because it stifles nuance, innovation and discussion.

There are a million ways to support relationships, gay and straight, and they don't all have to start with the letter "m."

I want to support friends who have married but I don't want marriage to become the default position for gay relationships the way it is for straights. Nor do I want gays to think less of themselves for not participating in an essentially straight ritual.

While marriage confers undeniable legal and financial benefits – perks that should be available to all – its sociopsychological benefits are perhaps more open to debate. Reading about the queer couples lined up for marriage in the U.S., many of whom had been together for decades, I couldn't help noticing how well they'd done without it.

The only thing that I would add to these sensible points to ponder would be this: should marriage for straights be the default setting? Straights are probably long overdue to be "free to seek their own balance", to "pal around with friends, lovers and various combinations of the two" and be wary of "relationships were as exclusive or as hierarchical as marriage, which basically suggests that there's only one intimate relationship worth having and it had better be sexual and exclusive".

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I don't know who this pain in the ass is, but I love him.

"Checkpoint USA" is a fellow who, to use his own words, "dedicated to exposing the police state - one checkpoint at a time".

This video is especially delicious:
Driver: Am I being detained?
USBP Officer: No.
Driver: Then I'm free to go?
USBP Officer: No.
[Note: Summary and fair paraphrase.]

In the end, they didn't arrest him and let him go. I must confess that this surprised me. The American police agencies have gotten so used to ignoring their Constitution (and having that validated by judges like Alito, Roberts, Scalia and Thomas) that the simple fact that a person who hadn't done anything wrong and who insisted on his Constitutional rights was not arrested actually surprised the hell out of me. I have gotten so used to bogus charges like "obstructing police", "resisting arrest" and the like being laid in the USA when somebody doesn't roll over like a puppy for authority that I'm amazed when what should happen does happen.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

How to identify a troll ... Yet another update.

Here ya go!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Some thoughts on debating courtesy

I just finished watching this Anderson Cooper 360 Proposition 8 "debate" between Dan Savage -- the sex columnist, writer and educator -- and Tony Perkins, writer and president of the Mormon "Family Research Council". (Bias: I'm pro gay-marriage, and a huge Dan Savage fan. I also profoundly dislike gleaming, smarmy apologists for authoritarian religions.)

That said, the exchange was depressing if you like the clash of ideas.

First, they constantly try and talk over each other and the moderator does nothing about it; Anderson Cooper's role can be kindly described as "completely supine". I've never really seen Cooper's show before (I try to avoid the next-to-useless US mainstream media) and I was very unimpressed. He's very pretty. And that seems to be it.

Second, I profoundly disliked Mr. Perkins' constantly complaining about being talked over when he was doing the same thing. (Frankly, I think that it's a bit of a microcosm of how the Religious Right operates in the US: it defines freedom and courtesy and the right to be heard as if they are things that only they are entitled to, but that's for another day.)

Third, I disliked Mr. Perkin's complaining about interruptions in specific light of one of his debating tactics: to keep talking and talking and not letting Mr. Savage get a word in edgeways. He just keeps rolling along, making point after point, never pausing, never stopping and then gets all self-righteous about interruptions when somebody tries to get a word in edgeways. It's the moderator's job to stop that sort of thing. (Still, points to Savage for noting that this fellow seemed to think that being interrupted was a far greater wrong being done than he and his type stripping fellow citizens of their rights.)

Fourth (and a sub-set of the third) is the insertion of deliberate of sequential falsehoods. If somebody is allowed to just roll along like Perkins does then one permits that person to erect a wall of their positions with the falsehoods inserted as supporting bricks in the wall of their assertions. Again, it is a journalist's job to be well-versed enough to know what's true and what's a fib, and that journalist-moderator's job to call people on it. Against such an opponent Savage had to repeatedly leap in and counter a falsehood resulting in even more crosstalk and protests about interruption.

Fifth, I notice that one of the most interesting thing about the Mormon Church's participation did not come up: taxes. The average Mormon's fiscal and personal participation in support of Prop 8 was mandated by their Church. It wasn't optional. Tens of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of foot soldiers for the lobbying and GOTV and related efforts were made obligations of the Mormon faith by the Church's hierarchy. Why isn't their tax-exempt status at issue? Savage had the principle grasped, at least, and called it at the beginning when he noted that American churches as a general rule want to have it both ways: they want to participate in the public arena but still retain a kind of benefit of clergy. Here there and everywhere they want tax-exempt status for not participating in the political process.... while still participating in the political process.

Sixth, I find it more than a little revolting that a church that started out as a persecuted minority turns so eagerly to persecuting other minorities. Then again, the Mormons have never been a tolerant bunch; they only admitted that blacks were as important as whites in 1978.

In the end, if I walked away from it disgusted it was for two reasons. There will always be Tony Perkinses out there, smoothly and sanctimoniously presenting lies about why their views must use law as a club to beat others of whom they disapprove. And I was stupid enough to watch something on American mainstream news. I totally deserved to walk away feeling ill.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Self-Quoting is still a sin.

And I'm not only going to hell, I will have to polish the desks when I get there.
"Most of the Dems current caucus are very much Subs in the B&D game of politics."

No, I don't exaggerate. The Dems are debating whether or not to keep Joe Lieberman in its caucus (!) and whether or not to let him retain his HSC Chairmanship (!!!!!!!!!!!). My god, if these people ran the FBI or CIA they'd be debating about letting Hanssen and Ames keep their security clearance.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Self-quoting is a Sin

I'm going to hell.

Religion is a bit like The Jackal’s crutch in the famous thriller: it serves to hold some people up, to gain sympathy, and obtain entry into where they should not be permitted to go; having served that purpose it can now be used to hurt somebody.
How to identify a troll...

another update.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Do you think that the Russians would be foolish enough to take it back if the Americans asked very, very, very, very nicely?

I made some predictions. How'd I do?

1. The Democratic leadership would continue to foolishly tack to what it and the MSM erroneously called "the centre", i.e. it would continue to move to the right and be Republicans whilst claiming to be an alternative.

Congressional level: They did not continue their tack to the right. There was no repeat of 2002, 2004 and 2006 where they sought to be the GOP.
Presidential level: They selected a reasonably progressive Senator as the nominee and won with him, and did so without pandering Right.
Result: seeker was WRONG.

2. The Democratic leadership would continue to "alienat[e] liberals and progressives by abandoning their objectives and principles...".

WRONG. See #1.

3. The Democratic leadership would continue to "alienat[e] independents because of their inaction on the war and their constant, demonstrated weakness...".

WRONG. See #1.

4. "[R]ecord low turnouts" [amongst Democrats and independents] in the 2008 elections.

64% voter turnout, "the biggest voter turnout since women got the vote in 1920", according to the Wall Street Journal.
Result? Not only was I wrong but I was WRONG WRONG WRONG.

5. "[S]urprisingly large GOP votes" in the 2008 elections.

McCain pulled 62,040,610 votes [Wiki, as of today's date], a drop of 6,031,257 from Bush's 2004 total, and in a year of record voter turnout.
Result? WRONG.

6. "[R]ecord levels of vote fraud in bellweather areas". I should have clarified that I meant GOP voter fraud. I should also note that I should have said "swing states". In any event, a prediction for high levels of GOP vote fraud, by which I mean voter suppression and perhaps computer theft like Ohio in 1984.

Result? If it happened, (and it probably did... or maybe it didn't) then it was too little to swing the election to McCain. I would be worried that the Democrats, secure in their majorities and with a historic president, will not do their utmost to correct the multitude of systemic cheats built into the system for the GOP.
Prediction result: INCONCLUSIVE.

Wow. Five out of six wrong, and the sixth is too early to tell and we may never know.

In my defence, I made the prediction in September of 2007, based only on the performance of the Dems in that Congress. I still think that they were weak, Chamberlainish turds. But in making the prediction I grossly underestimated the transformative effect of Barack Obama.

What I will be interested to see (and sorry, no predictions, I've learned my lesson), is whether or not Dem congresscritters who wouldn't say boo to George Bush or fight back against their GOP counterparts will suddenly stand up, dust off their knees and install a spine when it comes to being obstinate to a Democratic President.

I will also be interested to see just who, both on the Hill and in the new Obama administration, had the stones to undo the massive, massive damage done to governmental institutions during the Bush years. The number of hack appointees to career-level positions has been astounding. It is darkly and unamusingly ironic that the Bushies, having ridden roughshod over the civil service rules and legislation (in hiring unqualified people for career slots and using blatant ideological tests to do so) will scream blue murder and wave the law and paint the Dems as the bad guys as they try to smoke the cockroaches out of the woodwork. (And the CMSM will suddenly discover the story, the story that it for the most part avoided as the damage was being done.)

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Droll sarcasm at its accurate finest.

MSNBC’s staying with four hours of former GOP Representative Joe Scarborough, who sits with moderate conservative radio host Mike Barnicle and ultra-conservative Pat Buchanan talking the entire time about how the media is too much in Obama’s tank.

Jesse Taylor over at Pandagon, today.