The finer points of murder

Fascinating but grim analysis by journalist Tom Stevenson of A Study of Assassination, an anonymously authored CIA handbook for covert political murder written in 1953 and declassified in 1997. The handbook was produced as a “training file” for operation PBSUCCESS, the codename of a CIA plot launched by the Eisenhower administration to topple the Guatemalan government.

It is, says Stevenson, “not only a practical guide. It is also a thorough exploration of assassination with a scholarly, if macabre, sensibility in which the author spends nineteen pages contemplating the finer points of murder.”

The figure of the lone assassin, it turns out, is not purely a creation of fiction.

Ideally an assassin ought to act alone to reduce the chances of the plot being uncovered. Different circumstances call for different kinds of assassin. They all require courage, determination and resourcefulness, but in cases where the killer won’t be slipping away to safety a fanatic is needed.

Stevenson reports that in 2007 the National Bureau of Economic Research conducted a survey of assassination attempts on national leaders since 1875. The results suggest that assassination is not a terribly efficient business, which I suppose is good news.

In 298 cases it found only fifty-nine resulted in the target being killed. Firearms and explosives were overwhelmingly the most popular methods, used in more than 85 per cent of attempts. The firearms had a success rate of just 30 per cent and explosives a dismal 7 percent. After all, the CIA analyst says, “the obviously lethal machine gun failed to kill Trotsky where an item of sporting goods [an ice-axe] succeeded”.

Macabre, but fascinating.

Unhinged

From David Remnick, writing in the New Yorker:

Speaking to the Daily Caller, a right-wing Web site, Trump declared, without a crumb of proof, that the reason for the Republican losses in the election last week was people dressing up in disguises. Seriously. “The Republicans don’t win and that’s because of potentially illegal votes, which is what I’ve been saying for a long time,” Trump said. “I’ve had friends talk about it when people get in line that have absolutely no right to vote and they go around in circles. Sometimes they go to their car, put on a different hat, put on a different shirt, come in and vote again.”

The headline over the piece is “The case for optimism”. Oh yeah?

The Trump circus

Michael Lewis has a new book about how the combustible cocktail of wilful ignorance and venality that is the Trump regime is fuelling the destruction of a country’s fabric. Here’s a sample from the chapter on the transition:

Not long after the people on TV announced that Trump had won Pennsylvania, Jared Kushner grabbed Christie anxiously and said: “We have to have a transition meeting tomorrow morning!” Even before that meeting, Christie had made sure that Trump knew the protocol for his discussions with foreign leaders. The transition team had prepared a document to let him know how these were meant to go. The first few calls were easy – the very first was always with the prime minister of Great Britain – but two dozen calls in you were talking to some kleptocrat and tiptoeing around sensitive security issues. Before any of the calls could be made, however, the president of Egypt called in to the switchboard at Trump Tower and somehow got the operator to put him straight through to Trump. “Trump was like … I love the Bangles! You know that song Walk Like an Egyptian?” recalled one of his advisers on the scene.

That had been the first hint Christie had of trouble…

Corporate irresponsibility, Facebook-style

From a powerful piece in today’s Guardian:

When Facebook invited journalists for a phone briefing on Tuesday evening to talk about its progress in tackling hate speech in Myanmar, it seemed like a proactive, well-intentioned move from a company that is typically fighting PR fires on several fronts.

But the publication of a bombshell Reuters investigation on Wednesday morning suggested otherwise: the press briefing was an ass-covering exercise.

This is the latest in a series of strategic mishaps as the social network blunders its way through the world like a giant, uncoordinated toddler that repeatedly soils its diaper and then wonders where the stench is coming from. It enters markets with wide-eyed innocence and a mission to “build [and monetise] communities”, but ends up tripping over democracies and landing in a pile of ethnic cleansing. Oopsie!

What’s truly revolting about Facebook is the moral infantilism of its senior executives. They’ve been warned about what was happening in Myanmar for years.

How to turn the M20 into a truck-park

Simple, just opt for the wrong kind of Brexit — one that involves new customs checks at the UK’s borders. Interesting research at Imperial College, London is simulating the likely impact of different assumptions of how long it takes to do the checks at the Channel ports.

The BBC report of the research says:

The research, led by Dr Ke Han, assistant professor in transport, found the current vehicle check time is about two minutes, which can lead to queues of almost 10 miles during peak times, between 16:00 and 19:00.

Queues on the M20 and A20 between Maidstone and Dover would reach 29.3 miles if checks took an average of four minutes, they found.

This would leave drivers waiting almost five hours on the route.

“An extra 10 miles concentrated on local streets resulting from motorway deadlock is entirely possible,” they added.

Figures were compiled using traffic simulations for the area, using data from official sources such as Highways England, the Department for Transport, the Port of Dover and maps.

The research also took into account different kinds of vehicles such as passenger vehicles, light goods vehicles, heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) and coaches.

These simulations look plausible to me. Two years ago, we were coming back from France in August when there were delays at Folkestone because some migrants had got into the tunnel at Calais, which led to the Europe-bound tunnel being closed. We disembarked from the shuttle at about 16:30 and then drove at 70mph for 15 minutes, during which time the France-bound carriageway of the M20 was blocked by three lanes of stationary trucks. That’s a parking lot 17.5 miles long.

The madness of neoliberalism

This is from the front page of today’s Financial Times. It’s a vivid demonstration of what happens to governments when they have imbided an ideology that says that when there is a choice between the state providing a service or outsourcing it to a private company, then it’s always best to do the latter.

Here’s the nub of this particular act of folly:

As a result, fire services at 69 RAF bases will be outsourced to the riskiest company available.

Confirms my definition of ideology as “what determines how you think when you don’t know you’re thinking”.

US diplomacy, 2018-style

From the Washington Post:

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who spoke with Trump as he flew home from Singapore on Air Force One, said the president was simply being his natural “salesman” self.

“He is selling condos, that’s what he is doing,” Graham said. “He’s approaching North Korea as a distressed property with a cash-flow problem. Here’s how we can fix it.”

In a news conference Tuesday before departing Singapore, Trump hinted at his dreams of real estate diplomacy, noting that he had played Kim a video — derided by some as more akin to North Korean propaganda than the work of the president’s National Security Council — to show him the possibilities of a deal with the West.

“As an example, they have great beaches,” Trump said. “You see that whenever they’re exploding their cannons into the ocean, right? I said, ‘Boy, look at the view. Wouldn’t that make a great condo behind?’ ”

So what will Trump’s Presidential Library be like?

Sometimes, one comes on stuff that you really could not make up. Like this piece in Politico. Excerpt:

Armed with rolls of clear Scotch tape, Lartey and his colleagues would sift through large piles of shredded paper and put them back together, he said, “like a jigsaw puzzle.” Sometimes the papers would just be split down the middle, but other times they would be torn into pieces so small they looked like confetti.

It was a painstaking process that was the result of a clash between legal requirements to preserve White House records and President Donald Trump’s odd and enduring habit of ripping up papers when he’s done with them — what some people described as his unofficial “filing system.”

Under the Presidential Records Act, the White House must preserve all memos, letters, emails and papers that the president touches, sending them to the National Archives for safekeeping as historical records.