We have an opportunity

K-punk on UK student protests:

the ruling class are counting on the street militancy fizzling out as suddenly as it flared up. We have an opportunity here, not only to bring down the government – which is eminently achievable, (keep reminding yourself: this government is very weak indeed) – but of winning a decisive hegemonic struggle whose effects can last for years. The analogy that keeps suggesting itself to me is 1978 – but it is the coaltion, not the left, which is in the position of the Callaghan government. This is an administration at the end of something, not the beginning, bereft of ideas and energy, crossing its fingers and hoping that, by some miracle, the old world can be brought back to life before anyone has really noticed that it has collapsed.


Timothy Garton Ash

the professional members of the US foreign service have very little to be ashamed of… what we see here is diplomats doing their proper job: finding out what is happening in the places to which they are posted, working to advance their nation’s interests and their government’s policies.

In fact, my personal opinion of the state department has gone up several notches. .

Privacy and terrorism

The terrorism threat in Germany has been being hyped recently, through warnings from the Interior Minister and a false alarm over a bomb on a plane in Namibia.

German politicians have been impressively willing to call bullshit on this, in some cases openly suggesting that it’s fearmongering as a political tactic.

In particular, the idea is already widespread that it’s an attempt to build public support for increased surveillance and for weakening of privacy laws.

This wikileaks cable from February gives more fuel to that view. It shows that the US

links German support for privacy with the lack of terrorist attacks

in Germany: “

the German public and political class largely

tends to view terrorism abstractly given that it has been

decades since any successful terrorist attack has occurred on

German soil

Also, a little schadenfreude at the US saying that “

We need to also

demonstrate that the U.S. has strong data privacy measures in

place so that robust data sharing comes with robust data


The name of Macedonia

I’d never realised the massive importance in Greece of the name of Macedonia. Wikileaks cable:

Regarding Macedonia, Errera said the GOM underestimates the seriousness of the name issue for Greece and that the U.S. should not make the same mistake. France will not pressure Greece on this issue. Furthermore, if Athens were to give in on the name issue, the Greek government could fall


take a large sample of text. Run it through NLT, looking for passages with multiple adjectives describing the same noun. or, to keep it simple, just passages like a *big*, *strong* man.

For each such coincidence, record a link between the two adjectives. big and strong go together

[my initial thought was to do this geometrically. imagine an n-dimensional space, where n is the number of adjectives in the english language. Place each word at 1 in its own dimension, and for every other dimension/word at the point given by some function of how often the two co-occur.

but that seems silly. It’s more like a standard regression data-mining kind of thing.

Anyway, a project for a rainy day. And there’s still need for some usable dictionary/thesaurus based on data-mining

Sentiment Spam

Stock trading and the like have always been at the forefront of data-mining — though not often sharing their techniques, for obvious reasons.

The current trendy data-mining topic* is sentiment analysis based on social media — guessing what the world thinks about a topic by searching for positive or negative opinions about it on twitter &c. Roughly, searching for “I love X” versus “I hate X”, and interpreting that as a sign of general opinion.

There are surely traders basing decisions on sentiment analysis. It’s anybody’s guess how many, or how seriously, but it’s going to grow over time.

So when is the spam coming?

Go short on company X. Spam twitter with ‘X sucks’ messages. Wait for other traders to use sentiment analysis, see X is unpopular, and dump their shares. Buy cheap. Profit.

You maybe couldn’t affect a major company like this — the market isn’t *that* stupid. But suppose you know another trader is using sentiment analysis, and have a hunch that you can make her buy or sell by dumping enough positive or negative opinions online? Isn’t that a strong incentive to spam?

[this inspired by a post suggesting that you predict layoffs by seeing whose employees are updating their CVs on linkedin — an idea so sensible that it’s probably already being used by a dozen companies]

* or rather, trendy among in the world of starry-eyed startups — there’s somewhat less academic interest. Probably because it produces results which are (a) easy to interpret, and (b) utterly unreliable.

Taktisches Kriegsspiel

Among their other achievements, the Prussian military apparently invented wargames. That’s wargames in the tabletop sense: turns, figurines, battles decided by dice, landscapes marked in squares, pen and paper and immensely convoluted rules. Warhammer without the orcs, basically. All this in 1812.

The “Tactical War-game” (Taktisches Kriegsspiel) was the work of a Prussian military advisor by the name of George Leopold von Reiswitz. He constructed the rules, and presented the king with an elaborate cabinet containing the (many) pieces needed to play. It went down well:

the King would usually command one side and Prince von Mecklenburg would command the other…In later life the King claimed that the games played at Potsdam often gave him ideas for the army manoeuvres which took place there.

The King’s interest in the game became well known, and it was as a direct result that the Grand Duke Nicholas of Russia made visits in 1816 and 1817 and became a devotee himself. This lead to a visit to Moscow by Wilhelm in October 1817 during which time they improvised a game on a large scale by chalking out terrain on a number of green topped card tables which were put together.

After a few years the army got really serious about it, issuing a game set to each regiment. Makes sense, given that the alternative to gaming was to march real soldiers around in the mud by their thousands. It was replicated in a few places, and inspired H.G. Wells in the wargame he created a century later. But mostly it fell out of fashion, and seems to have been repeatedly reinvented (rather than copied) over the following 200 years.


  • Detailed history
  • The rules have been published in English
  • Philipp von Hilgers is The Expert, currently finishing a book on the subject(?). Here’s an article (in german.)
  • Article in Der Spiegel


Does anybody know the origin of the term ‘kettle‘ — i.e. the police tactic?

I ask because there’s an equivalent German word, which seems to be much older. So, is kettling in the UK a result of German police sharing their crowd-control expertise in one of the european/international police cooperation forums? Or is it just coincidence?

It’s the economy of fear, stupid

Al-Qaeda (Yemen) claims it’s sufficient for the West to disintegrate into paranoia — killings aren’t necessary:

“It is such a good bargain for us to spread fear amongst the enemy and keep him on his toes in exchange of a few months of work and a few thousand bucks,” the statement said.

“We are laying out for our enemies our plan in advance because as we stated earlier our objective is not maximum kill but to cause [damage] in the aviation industry, an industry that is so vital for trade and transportation between the US and Europe”.

AQAP said: “Two Nokia mobiles, $150 each, two HP printers, $300 each, plus shipping, transportation and other miscellaneous expenses add up to a total bill of $4,200. We will continue with similar operations and we do not mind at all in this stage if they are intercepted.

“To bring down America we need not strike big.”

Granted, this is largely putting a good face on their inability to do more than mail parcels.


Is it true that neoliberalism and new forms of religious fundamentalism appeared simultaneously? If so, why? (cf. here)