Talking the talk

Iraq president says deal with some rebels possible (Reuters). Talking is good, but I’m not too optimistic about the chances. As context, read [this excellent report]( from the International Crisis Group, on the nature and tactics of the insurgency. They conclude that:

Despite recurring contrary reports, there is little sign of willingness by any significant insurgent element to join the political process or negotiate with the U.S. While covert talks cannot be excluded, the publicly accessible discourse remains uniformly and relentlessly hostile to the occupation and its “collaborators”.

The problem is the insurgents can’t negotiate, because they don’t have a program. Three of the four biggest groups are held together by papering over the differences between their nationalist and their salafi support bases. If they were to start seriously negotiating, they would need to decide on policy positions, and in the process would risk breaking themselves apart.

So my guess is that the Iraqi government has been having some vague negotiations with some members of insurgent groups – but those people won’t be in a position to make any commitments. The best we can hope for out of these talks is a better understandign of the insurgency, and developing lines of communication which will doubtless be of some use later.

We like silly statistics

The US government thinksIraq accounts for 55% of people killed by terrorism last year. This is the kind of skewed statistic you get when you define everybody attacking the US as a terrorist, when you’d call them soldiers or guerillas if they were fighting anyone else.

[needless to say I’m shooting from the hip here; I’ve not actually read the [report]( and I guess it’s not impossible that their methodology makes sense somehow]

Wild Thyme cafe tomorrow

Anybody not doing anything tomorrow evening? Want to come along to Wild Thyme Cafe, eat and chat with vaguely (not offensively) lefty types? I’m planning to be there for pretty much the whole time, 6-10. Only time I went before it was wonderful, and full of people from the nearby streets who I would never meet any other way.

bank holiday Monday, there will be a Wild Thyme Community Cafe from 6 pm til 10 pm at the Ross Street Community Centre. Last orders for food are at 8 pm.

£7, unwaged £5, kids £3

If you can afford it… pay more. If you can’t, pay less.

Wild Thyme is a community cafe run by volunteers from the Cambridge Action Network. Food is donated by Arjuna Wholefood co-operative and cooked by Mouth Music.

Any money raised will be donated to the ‘Camp for Climate Action’ which aims to take action against climate change; provide information on climate change and its causes; share and live practical solutions.

light relief

Things making me laugh today: Why Caesar was killed, and a very determined doorstop.


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Gold farmers roundup

[Gold farming]( in MMORPGs is a trendy topic, so there are countless superficial articles about it. This is a partial attempt to sift out the drivel, and summarise the real information. I doubt I’ll do this regularly, but maybe I’ll try to revisit it now and again.

PhD Student Ge Jin has [filmed]( several Chinese sweatshops. It’s been discussed everywhere, most interestingly at [Terra Nova](

PC Gamer has [refused]( to carry ads from real-world traders like IGE:

“PC Gamer’s official stance on these types of companies is that they are despicable: Not only do they brazenly break many MMOs’ End-User License Agreements (EULA), but they all too often ruin legitimate players’ fun. As a company, we have agreed to turn down what literally amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual ad revenue so that you, as a reader, can game easy knowing that we’ve got your back.”

In Gamestudy there is an [interview]( with a Korean gold farmer, translated from a Korean gaming magazine. Interesting points: the confirmation that “hacking tools tuned for a specific game make it possible to handle incredibly many accounts/characters per worker”, and the discussion of how Korean shops are mostly priced out of the market. I’m not surprised; comments elsewhere have claimed that gold farmers are even being priced out of Beijing, so how they could survive in a city as expensive as Seoul is beyond me. He also says that almost all sweatshop characters are automated. I wonder how true this is beyond Lineage; presumably the mechanics of each game will determine whether it’s worth a real person running a character.

Meanwhile, games have been cracking down on the gold farmers in public: RuneScape have [adjusted their game mechanics]( to reduce one common way for farmers to profit. They also claim that “

Over the last few weeks we have banned literally hundreds of accounts a day for macroing at the rune essence mine

“. Earlier Blizzard too banned or suspended some 15,000 players for “

participating in activities that violate the game’s Terms of Use, including using third-party programs to farm gold and items.

Jawad al-Maliki

The main news from Iraq this weekend was that Jawad al-Maliki is now Prime Minister of Iraq, following the US-UK campaign to keep Jaafari out of the job.

You won’t learn much from the papers, where journalists are having a visibly hard time filling up their biographies of Maliki. Here they are anyway: [Guardian](,,1759783,00.html), [AP](;_ylt=AokX5K6udPHoiMB1bW6FpBQLewgF;_ylu=X3oDMTBjMHVqMTQ4BHNlYwN5bnN1YmNhdA–), [New York Times](, [Times](,,7374-2149366,00.html). Slightly better is [Juan Cole]( ‘s dump of old news articles referring to Maliki’s work on the constitution and elsewhere.

But [Helena]( is about the only person putting the appointment into context. She has followed it through from the [nomination of Jaafari by the UIA]( back in february (a surprise choice, the pundits were expecting Abdul-Aiz al-Hakim to be Prime Minister), to what she identified as a [campaign by Britain and the States to block Jaafari’s appointment](

With that background, Maliki looks like a face-saving candidate, keeping power within Jaafari’s Daawa party while removing the man himself. Nothing wrong with a compromise choice, of course, but remember that Jaafari will still be the power behind the throne. I just looked at my notes on Iraqi politicians, and the entry for Maliki said one thing only one thing: “close to Ibrahim al-Jaafari”.

As for actual policies, there isn’t any difference between him and Jaafari. The US ambassador [describes]( him as “tough-minded” and “strong”, which sounds ominous in terms of democracy. The best that the Iraqi Islamic party has to say is that he is “more practical” than Jaafari. Because he’s an unknown they don’t have much to throw at him, but what there is doesn’t look good. In particular, it can’t be long until Maliki’s opponents bring up his role in the debaathification program, which has angered many by turning into a de-Sunnification program.

That said, this isn’t a bad compromise, and the chance that Iraq will finally form a government is a Very Good Thing.


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