The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes
Sunday, August 31, 2003
Language and incomprehension about the Arab world
Swings and roundabouts: Arab lands have been blessed, as with manna from Heaven, by enormous resources in oil and gas. Their language, on the other hand, is not an entirely unmixed blessing.
An interesting analysis of the various regional languages (it lists 12) going under the banner of Arabic, the product of
an investigation to determine how many languages of the Arabic family a resource would need to be in to cover 90% of the people.
It seems one would require the linguistic skills of Dr Doolittle.
A short piece poses the dilemma to the foreigner: learn standard Arabic (no mean feat!), and one can read the language but be able to converse only with literate Arabs; learn one of the 12 spoken languages, and you can talk to all and sundry, but only in the region concerned 
For Anglophones, add in the fact that many (far from all) of those they might need to talk to will speak English to some extent.
All told, a monopolist's dream of a barrier to entry.
Saturday, August 30, 2003
Aznar stymies his extraterrorialist judges, apparently
I alluded in my August 13 piece on the case being brought in Spain by relatives of José Couso (victim of US shells at the Palestine Hotel) to another Spanish exercise in human rights extraterritorialism, this time in relation to alleged misdeeds of the junta era in Argentina.
The newish president of Argentina, the Care Bear Peronist Nestor Kirchner , has made the brave  decision of lifting the lid on the junta era, having amnesties annulled and the like. Tied up with his efforts in a way I'm hazy about, from not having kept across the issue, are the efforts of arch-extraterritorialist investigating judge Báltasar Garzón, which have resulted in the Argentinian courts agreeing to the extradition of around 40 suspects he had identified (including General Jorge Videla and Admiral Emilio Massera).
The procedure, however, seems to require the formal extradition request to come from the Spanish government. And Prime Minister José María Aznar, according to today's Guardian, has refused to make that request.
(My problem with the story is that this is the only report I can trace: nothing else on Google News or altheweb News. In particular, there does not seem to be confirmation in any Spanish news source.)
There was a piece yesterday in La Nación of Buenos Aires saying that, unless Spain made the formal request before midnight on Monday, the case would be out of time, and arrangements to free the detained men would be set in train. Clearly, at the time that piece was written, the decision from Aznar had yet to be made public.
Assuming there is no extradition, that is not the end of the arrested men's legal travails: the effect of the annulation of the amnesty laws (the so-called leyes de obediencia debida y de punto final) will be, it seems, that cases previously brought in the Argentinian against some or all of them will be revived.
It seems the sort of legal lottery fraught with considerable danger, not to mention unfairness (somewhat reminiscent of the post-Cold War cases brought against East German border guards for shooting escapers: establishing the rule of law by imposing retrospective criminal liability!) But that's an Argentinian affair, of course.
Still outstanding, last time I looked - on August 20, was the Couso case. Perhaps the Argentinian case shows how Aznar is planning to shield his Glorious Ally from the importunate Judge Garzón. We'll see.
Friday, August 29, 2003
Manna against the islamophobes
Worthy of note for the headline alone (from the Journal de Tanger of August 29):
TETOUAN : UNE STRIP-TEASEUSE MET A NU UN TENTACULAIRE RESEAU MAFIEUX INTERNATIONAL OPERANT DANS LE NORD DU MAROC
It seems (it's quite a long story, and all in the one paragraph!) that the woman (ungallantly described as rondelette) plied her trade at a night club in what is described as a village estival - some sort of tourist complex? - near Tétouan, not far from Tangier. A fight was started over who was taking her home (or some such), which, by means no doubt revealed by a fuller reading of the text, caused a local mafia involving all sorts of local bigwigs to be unearthed.
Morocco has, over the years, been the classic success story of the LBJ motto applied to the Islamic hierarchy: they are well and truly in the tent, and - for a long time, at least - the impact of the radicals was nowhere near that in Algeria, with not dissimilar social and economic problems. (Though, from memory, the scourge of honour killings is as prevalent as, for example, in supposedly westernised Jordan.)
Now, making Iraq a land fit for strippers is the sort of goal that ought surely to be warmly embraced by Wolfowitz, Perle and Co....
How rainbow will Bustamante's coalition be?
Little time, unfortunately, to let the entertainment value of the Golden State pantomime soak in - domestic pantomime duties take priority!
But it seems to be bubbling nicely.
Cruz Bustamante, as a guy who once (if he doesn't now) yearned, as a MEChA man, for the expulsion of the Yankee from formerly Mexican lands - as discussed on August 24, seems to be aping Lázaro Cárdenas who, as president South of the Border, nationalised the US oil businesses in 1938. (Cruz cannot go quite that far - unless he really has bumped secession up his agenda. But, with his proposal to treat gasoline as a utility, he's going pretty far. )
He seems to be offering Golden Staters a chance to turn back the clock, and vote for Pat Brown in 1966 (rather than Ronald Reagan, trailblazer for the Governator ).
But, it seems, blacks may poop the party: a piece by Earl Ofari Hutchinson (a brother, I suspect) suggests they may - and not only because of the much-hyped nigger incident in 2001: Hispanics in CA may  trail blacks in every statistical voting category (proportion of adult population eligible to vote, proportion of eligibles registered, proportion of registered who vote), but that slack is being pulled tight. The piece says there are now 24 Hispanic Dems in the state legislature, as against six blacks. In the US House, the proportions are the reverse (four blacks, one Hispanic ): but, perhaps, just for now.
Now, turn the argument round: if Cruz wins despite a mass black abstention (the piece says he can't), he's going to be (even) less generous to black interests than if they'd stayed loyal: for the blacks to shed their regularity from pique at a historical slip of the tongue, or through feeling elbowed out, would at best (if Arnie wins) send all the wrong signals to Dem pols pondering election strategy, and, at worst, (if Cruz wins) actually accelerate the elbowing process.
Not that I discount the possibility that they know more than me on the subject...
Hutton: did Alastair Campbell lie about his computer skills?
In all the profusion of evidence placed before the Inquiry, so much is susceptible of differing interpretations, matters on which reasonable men of integrity might disagree. Lord Hutton will, in time, have to weigh such evidence and arrive at his own interpretation.
What our side  needs is to catch out a key HMG player in an outright lie, on which there is no room for reasonable men of integrity to disagree.
We are - to analogise  - several derivatives in . But the lessons of past scandals is, that doesn't matter. The semen-stained dress from the Gap was pretty damned remote from the Great Fornicator's creative notions of integrity and truth-telling: but it at least got an admission of his false testimony on the record.
And, of all modern British prime ministers, Tony Blair's shtick with the voters was, Trust me! He put it in play - just as John Major put his ministers' marital fidelity in play with his Back to Basics speech.
So - AC and PCs, then.
He told Hutton (143:10)
Now, there is an initial question of interpretation here: he could be saying that he knows how to use a computer, but chooses not to do so. But I don't think that's tenable, either from the English used (no one would say I don't drive to mean I don't have a car) or the likelihood of the fact of a man of AC's background - he was a hack himself before he joined Blair - age, and position knowing how to use a computer, but not doing so.
So, it seems he's talking about ability: he's saying he can't use a computer.
That is the statement we have to falsify. It's not under oath, but the effect on AC's credibility, and, by extension, Blair's , would be pretty damned close.
What's the evidence? Now, I'm pretty sure that, one way or the other, it's out there - in the possession of his erstwhile colleagues in the media. But nothing online that I can find which suggests his protestations of computer illiteracy were questionable.
However, I happen to have on tape a BBC fly-on-the-wall docco by Michael Cockerell (a hack specialising in candid political docs) called News from Number 10, which was shot over a month around April 2000, a time when Blair's spin machine was high on the agenda, and during which AC retreated from taking daily briefings to his current position, just behind the arras.
The show is illuminating, to an extent, on AC computer use. It shows, in a couple of shots (1:25, 45:00) a PC on a side-table to AC's left as he's sitting; there is a framed photo between the keyboard and the monitor, which, in each shot, is clearly off.
So, one might conclude, the PC is there for show; because the janitorial department said, everyone of his grade had one, and it was too much hassle to argue. Or because it was there when he moved in, and ditto with the hassle.
A third shot (118:20), however, shows the same PC turned on, with a screensaver on the monitor. If the machine was just ornament or clutter, why switch it on?
Now, this doesn't even rise to the level of evidence a judge would leave to a jury. It's rice-paper thin. But my tape is clearly a mere drop in the ocean compared with - for a start, Cockerell's unused footage. A host of folks would be able to testify - and maybe one or two of them have AC at the PC on tape.
And, frankly, one gathers that AC is not the most popular guy with those most likely to have the goods on him...
Thursday, August 28, 2003
Hutton site documentation - update
The Hutton technique
Apart from the lollipops (in the Sir Thomas Beecham sense) offered by the likes of Donald Anderson, the transcripts tend to be dry and tough meat.
Trying to analogise the technique of Lord Hutton and his Interlocutor-General, James Dingemans, it seems that, a lot of the time, they're engaged in something like the sort of puzzle that used to appear in cheap publications for the amusement of young children on long car journeys: one had two badly made line-drawings side by side, which, at first glance, looked identical. The infuriating task set was to spot the deliberate differences between the two. (Often, the production quality was so bad, you couldn't be sure what was deliberate, and what shoddy workmanship.)
With Hutton, it's going over the same old memos, recounting the same old meetings, getting the same old answers - or are they?
Hutton, as it were, is drawing the various versions of the same event on transparencies and placing them on top of one another: where they diverge could just be an artefact of the inquiry process - a confused question or a faulty memory - or it might be a genuine conflict in the evidence. It might even be that someone is lying.
In such a task, the well-meaning amateur can contribute little bar admiration.
(Of course, it may be that Hutton is completely flummoxed, and is going through the documentation in detail with the witnesses merely to use up a decent amount of time before going off to write his report. That would, as best I can judge from the proceedings to date, be a very dangerous thing for any interested party to assume!)
Wednesday, August 27, 2003
More Six Degrees stuff: Greta Van Susteren and Joe McCarthy!
I have from Howard Kurtz that the well-preserved Fox news babe (Kurtz calls her increasingly blonde - bitch!) that her father, Urban Van Susteren, was Joseph McCarthy's campaign manager in 1946. (Both residents of Appleton, WI, in Outagamie County.)
McCarthy beat the last remnant of the First Family of Western insurgency, Robert LaFollette Jr, in the Republican primary for the Wisconsin US Senate nomination (LaFollette having foolishly declined to jump ship to the Dems). Robert LaFollette Sr was the guy who started the initiative/recall business that is providing so much comedy gold in the Golden State right now.
(Both LaFollette père et fils bore the name of Marion - just like John Wayne. Not a lot of people know that...)
Where are they now? #1: the Iraq oil bonanza
One of the illusions apparently widely shared between (large sections of) the pro-war and anti-war camps was that, once conquered, Iraq would be a gold mine for Uncle Sam and his best buddies: Iraq was part of Manifest Destiny, the guys from Brown and Root (LBJ's best buddies, lest it be forgotten) pioneers down the old Oregon Trail.
More likely, the Donner Party. The problem, as I tried to make clear with facts before the actual fighting kicked off: comparing the alleged benefits available (the oil bonanza that was never there) and the immense debts that gobbled up those benefits dozens of times over (pieces of March 31 and April 8 respectively).
As a stand-alone business proposition, Iraq was as sane as a pyramid scheme. (But, then again, it wasn't really a stand-alone proposition, was it?)
The solution, obvious to some, would be to cancel large slugs of Iraqi debt. The trouble is twofold: as detailed in the April 8 piece: first, a big writeoff sets a terrible example for other debtor nations; and, second, most of the Iraqi debt is owed to Kuwaiti citizens - remember them? - whose stuff was trashed in the 1990 invasion.
Subsequently, one got SCR 1483, which (as detailed in my May 22 piece) ring-fenced Iraqi oil revenues from creditors till the end of 2007, and uttered a pious hope on debt rescheduling.
Coming a little more up to date, the Paris Club (of debtor nations) issued a press release on July 3 which says nothing, except to give a schedule of creditor nations, whose total Iraqi debt is put at $21bn. Which doesn't sound too much. Except that,
My April 8 piece puts sovereign debt at $62bn; and total debt at around the half-trillion mark.
The war may, a year ago, have looked like a luxury that Uncle Sam (as hyperpower) could afford - a proper use for the nest-egg he'd built up (on Enron-style accounting, at least). But now, according to today's WaPo Reichsprotecktor Paul Bremer is calling for
"several tens of billions" of dollars from abroad in the next year to rebuild its rickety infrastructure and revive its moribund economy...
He vouchsafes that
...Iraqi revenue will not nearly cover the bill for economic needs "almost impossible to exaggerate."
And it seems to come as a surprise that
Oil revenue is lower than U.S. planners had hoped, afflicted by antiquated facilities, power shortages and severe looting. Bremer said Iraq produced 1.7 million barrels on Monday, down from a prewar range of 2.5 million to 3 million barrels a day. His goal is to return production to prewar levels by October 2004.
Needless to say, he's expecting the Axis of Weasels to dig deep to reimburse Uncle Sam for the lunatic war they opposed.
And now we find (surprise, surprise...) that there is no nest-egg, but a handy deficit (Forbes today).
The response of the Weasels to Uncle Sam's outstretched palm? What better than to adapt from the neocons' god, Winston Churchill :
You did what you liked: now, you must like what you did.
Hutton: more confusion on 45 minute claim from senior spook
Sir John Scarlett , is the interface between the UKIC (covering Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS), internal security (MI5) and external (Secret Intelligence Service - MI6)) and the Prime Minister. He is Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC, pronounced jic), which has representatives of all agencies involved. He is also a good mate of Alastair Campbell, and, it seems, works hand in glove with him on security issues - two masters of obfuscation and deception working in tandem.
His evidence to the Inquiry  demands close scrutiny and mature reflection. But one point on which the hacks have seized is a passage (143:24) on the 45 minute claim itself:
Dr Kelly had suggested to someone else that the source
There is a tangle here, highly useful to HMG in September 2002, that needs unpicking.
The layman's understand of WMD is, I'd reckon, weapons that kill a whole lot of people (Hiroshima and Nagasaki levels, say) - rather than, say, the few hundred that a car full of Semtex in a crowded market might kill. Nuclear is the paradigm - everyone's seen footage of the 1945 A-bomb mushrooms - with CW and BW more a perceived threat because of their being unknown, rather than on the basis of evidence of past use. (Poison gas, for instance, is best known (from World War 1) as a battlefield weapon much less destructive than machine guns and - most particularly - artillery firing HE shells).)
The paradigmatic delivery system for a 'genuine' WMD would be a missile.
The September 2002 dossier hit both points: it alleged that Saddam had al-Hussein missiles with a range of 650km with the capability of delivering both CW and BW (p25a); and that some CW/BW weapons were deployable within 45 minutes (p8a).
Now, there was no conflation in the dossier of the missile and 45 minute claims. And, the paragraph that mentions the al-Husseins also mentions delivery of CW/BW by artillery shell. But any confusion in the lay reader would not have been unhelpful to the propaganda effort.
But focus on Kelly's comment: Andrew Gilligan's recollections of his May 22 interview with Kelly says:
...He said it took 45 minutes to construct a missile assembly and that was misinterpreted (in the dossier) to mean that WMD could be deployed in 45 minutes. What we thought it actually meant was that they could launch a conventional missile in 45 minutes....
AG's Palm Pilot notes also mention missiles. In neither of the May 29 Today broadcasts are missiles mentioned. But they are mentioned in the Radio 5 interview of that date.)
When Kelly spoke to Susan Watts on May 7, he was talking about multi-barrelled launchers. To the Inquiry, she said (177:21)
We talked a bit about why such a precise timing
Which brings us back to Scarlett. Because, as I understand it, these multi-barrel launchers are battlefield weapons. The sort of gizmo once known affectionately as Stalin's organ pipes. There's not, in the vanishingly skimpy search I've made, much online. This refers to
...122 mm Grad rockets, used in a Russian-made multi-barrel launcher....
Nothing that suggests a MBL could fire anything approaching an Al Hussein.
So, perhaps, Scarlett's source and Kelly were on the same page after all - except that, in his May 30 conversation with Susan Watts, he mentions (p3a) Scuds as well as MBLs in this connection.
Implications? Already the (London) Independent is running a piece under the head Spy chief undermines key plank of Government's case for war in Iraq.
That would only be the case, I think, if the intention or result of the dossier and associated propaganda was to formulate a proposition that the missiles could be got ready in 45 minutes.
An indication is that, in the London Evening Standard piece of Dan Plesch (from RUSI) on September 24, he says
The dossier also states Saddam may be able to deploy his biological weapons in less than an hour. This dramatic idea does seem threatening, but if the missiles have a short range and there are very few of them, how great is the threat?
If a defence expert like Plesch was conflating, what hope was there for the rest of us?
Tuesday, August 26, 2003
On Her Majesty's Illiterate Service?
Amongst the avalanche of Hutton stuff, there's a letter from no less a personage than the Deputy Chief of Defence Intelligence, Martin Howard (dated July 8), which admits of only three possibilities:
According to Dr Kelly, based on his extensive and authoritative knowledge of Iraq's WMD programme, notably it's biological programme...and
The only other point that we have elicited from Dr Kelly...
Bearing in mind that this was a letter copied to the top echelon of No 10 advisers, and carries the handwritten note (to Chief of Staff Jonathan Powell)
The Prime Minister may find this of interestone might suppose that a certain degree of care went into its production.
Which leads me to suppose that the letter is in fact in code, to which the errors noted constitute some kind of key. The other two conclusions are too dreadful to contemplate, surely? Sir Humphrey must be positively spinning right now....
Monday, August 25, 2003
Hutton: a taste of the Kelly family wild card - and Blair withholds evidence!
The object of the Hutton exercise, for those of us who believed the invasion of Iraq took place under HMG false pretences, is the departure of Tony Blair from No 10 under the most ignominious conceivable circumstances. (That's best case, and vanishingly unlikely - on the basis of what we know now. But - you aim high, and expect to give a little...)
A lot of bleating from opponents of the war about Hutton focussing on gossip - a piece in the Guardian today - woman hack - suggesting that it's a sex thing (all the trivia-obsessed witnesses to date being men, apart from Saint Susan Watts, who actually described Kelly's reference to the 45 claim as gossipy - axe-grinding in progress: ear protectors on!). Whereas, the real issue - the issue that Hutton should be examining is, of course, the substantive question of the actual risk that Saddam posed.
Now, of course, there was never, as is not now, the remotest chance of a Hutton being delegated by the Great Fabulator to lead a mass debate on the rights and wrongs of the war. He refused, one should recall, a judicial inquiry on the ultra-narrow point of the 45 minute claim in Andrew Gilligan's story right up until the moment of Kelly's DIY surgery. And, chances are that, just like the Franks Inquiry into the origin of the Falklands War , a mass debate-style inquiry would, in any case have fudged the issue.
Enter the Kellys. I've used the expression wild card before about their impact. The fact is that, unlike all the other main players - BBC, MOD, No 10 - they aren't a complex institution with large numbers of personnel fighting wheels-within-wheels power battles of some antiquity. Nor are they tainted - as those institutions are - by the reputation of being a bunch of professional liars and dissemblers.
The greatest impact on Blair during the 2001 General Election came, not from the Tory opposition (which made no impact at all!), but from Sharron Storer  who doorstepped him outside a hospital in Birmingham about the cancer treatment her partner was getting (or not). Blair was frit (in both the Lincolnshire and French sense of the word!) because he dare not use his Alastair Campbell play-book against the woman- but the Tories were too much of a shambles to take advantage.
Now, the Kellys have a chance of several free swings at Blair. If they have any sense - and have been properly guided by their lawyers - they won't make a Jerry Springer affair of it. There are no TV cameras, there is no jury. The impact that they can make is solely through the medium of reported speech. All the better [3.]
Their first salvo is a letter dated August 7  from their lawyers complaining of the HMG briefing - latter admitted by PMOS Tom Kelly - that David Kelly had been a Walter Mitty character . An act of the sheerest hypocrisy, since No 10 had been calling for a period of restraint, following Kelly's death.
The fact that Hutton has, as it were, admitted the letter into evidence, is good in two ways:
We have the evidence of the frenzied activity throughout the upper echelons of HMG, right up to Blair himself, over the outing of Kelly in the weeks following his June 30 letter. How much more frenzied, one might ask, has been the activity of HMG in the last few weeks to try and save Blair wretched neck from the Hutton axe?
We want Hutton to call for everything HMG has covering the period from their most recent disclosure to date.
All the more so since we have the first indication that HMG has withheld evidence from the Inquiry. According to the Guardian today,
The government withheld from the Hutton inquiry pages from one draft of its dossier setting out the dangers Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD) posed...
The omission is of the executive summary of three pages (3 to 5) from the September 16 draft . On the face of it, Hutton seems amazingly relaxed about this:
The Hutton inquiry said it was a matter for the Cabinet Office why the pages of the summary were missing.
But, from the first , Lord Hutton has clearly tabled the nuclear option of a confrontation but shown exemplary caution in escalating too far too fast. Blair will hope that, the more work Hutton puts into the Inquiry, the more reluctant he will be to threaten walking away.
That, however, would be to suppose him a victim of the Fallacy of Sunk Costs. If Hutton whitewashes Blair, it will be because he's long decided to do so. But there is not the slightest evidence that he has made that decision.
(Interestingly - ominously - other news outlets seem to have failed to make much of the Guardian report. Watch this space!)
Hutton: Today woes continue...
A small but telling point in today's Today.
Around 0755, presenter James Naughtie was chewing the fat with ubiquitous Liberal Menzies Campbell (no relation!) and journo (and Blair biographer) John Rentoul on matters Hutton, and, in particular, the appearance at the Inquiry, scheduled for Thursday, of Blair himself.
Naughtie was pleased to reveal that he had been reading one or two of the transcripts - given Today's place in the Kelly affair, one might have thought its senior presenters would have read all of them, perhaps? - and commented on counsel James Dingemans's tendency to ask a question, listen to the answer and ask another. Rentoul joshed that, if Naughtie and his colleagues adopted a similar approach, they would soon be hearing from their superiors.
It was left to the aged Campbell to point out the fact - fundamental to the structure of the Inquiry as laid down at the start by Lord Hutton himself - that this method was deliberately chosen so as most effectively to lead the key elements of the mountain of evidence Hutton had received; and that Stage 2, cross-examination, was likely to be an altogether more testing business.
(Only fair to point out that the Stage 1 neutral approach has not prevented counsel engaging in some mordant satire; for example, as already mentioned here (August 22), in the examination of the unwisely familiar No 10 spinner Godric Smith.)
The fact that Naughtie had so patently failed to grasp such a fundamental aspect of a judicial inquiry investigating his own programme gives one little confidence about the quality of the rest of the Today product.
Sunday, August 24, 2003
Downloading the Hutton evidence: how-to note
After a couple of weeks with dribs and drabs, now most of the documentary evidence is online at the official site.
The problem is, the way it's done there are hundreds of files to be downloaded, the links arranged on half a dozen pages. My tip (there is, I'm sure, an easier way, but...):
The links on the page will then start to download (to Temporary Internet Files).
When all the links have downloaded - some pages have 50-60 megs - be warned! - retrieve them from the TIFs via Tools>Internet Options>Settings (under Temporary Internet Files)>View Files. (Arrange the icons by file type.)
Some, but not much, time can be saved by stopping the download straight away, going into Tools>Synchronize, selecting the item in the list, clicking Properties, then on the Download tab, then unclicking Follow links outside....
That way, you do pick up the Hutton files, but do not pick up sundry other stuff - Adobe links and the like.
It seems to me that, in terms of car chronology, the software side of computers and the net are around 1915: we've got the Model T, but we still need to Get out and get under at annoyingly regular intervals. The wretched thing never works quite as it should, with chewing gum and elastic bands holding in place parts that would otherwise fly off.
Hutton: A classic English comedy character is born...
The Hutton transcripts fall, it seems to me, into three categories:
Into this last category comes Donald Anderson, Chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, the first body to have a crack at investigating the matter.
Physically, the guy makes little impression: oldish, bald and Welsh, speaking with none of the music of the Welsh voice - think Richard Burton narrating Under Milk Wood - save a sort of vestigial whining quality. To get the humour of the transcript, I wouldn't use his voice in your mind's ear at all.
What you want is something like the voice of John Major. Because, in his attitudes, he struck me as nothing if not a cross between Mr Pooter and Captain Mainwaring. And his interlocutors are suitable dry in their responses.
To give extracts would spoil the effect. No gags or one-liners, but several outright LOL moments.
Bustamante: the Party of Treason's actual, real life traitor?
The California Dems' best hope Cruz Bustamante - last noticed here on August 7 - has been a member of an organisation dedicated to kicking the US out of lands formerly held by Mexico: the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán.
The what? Having previously brought you the US Motion Picture Project, we proudly present the next in the series, Organisations You Never Suspected Existed.
Back in the era of Black Power and by any means necessary, it seems that the idea caught on with some Hispanics of a racially pure South-West, free of gringos and gringo power, just for Chicanos. The land of Aztlán.
As you look into the group, it's immediately striking that it has no head office website (no sign on Google, at least). There are sites at the various colleges at which it's organised, but, it seems, nothing central.
The UC Berkeley site links to documents that describe the philosophy and aims of the groups. As, for example, this, which puts its final objective thus:
A nation autonomous and free - culturally, socially, economically, and politically- will make its own decisions on the usage of our lands, the taxation of our goods, the utilization of our bodies for war, the determination of justice (reward and punishment), and the profit of our sweat.
And, for the racial basis of the outfit:
With our heart in our hands and our hands in the soil, we declare the independence of our mestizo nation. We are a bronze people with a bronze culture. Before the world, before all of North America, before all our brothers in the bronze continent, we are a nation, we are a union of free pueblos, we are Aztlán.
What, you might enquire, is a bronze culture? And how do they define the bronze continent?
The other striking thing is that the materials (that I've seen, at least) produced by this group are all in English! As if our little bronze brothers are so deracinated from their bronze culture that they are forced to speak gringo, lacking fluency even in the language of their previous pale-skinned oppressors. Let alone Nahuatl or Hopi.
(The UCB page includes some Spanish phrases, which serve rather as the Gaelic cupla focal in the speeches of (Southern Irish politicians . Such as
La Raza de Bronze
Unfortunately, there is no word bronze in Spanish. It's bronce. Which any mother-tongue hispanophone would know. I know, typo...)
(Aztlán, in case you wondered, is the mythical homeland of the Aztecs - according to this piece. Which - apologies to anglophone bronze supremacists - is in Spanish.)
Unlike the actual mix of cultures in Mexico (as much the product of mestizaje as the Mexicans themselves), the race-based bronze culture of the MEChA  is, if it exists at all, thoroughly artificial - rather like Kwanzaa.
The Bustamante connection with the organisation (members call themselves mechistas - again with the Spanish!) is explored rather hysterically in a piece from August 11 in Front Page. Opening par:
HIS FAMILY NAME CAN MEAN "GRAVE DIGGER" IN THE SPAIN his ancestors left to become colonizers and exploiters of Mexico.
And thrown in quite gratuitously
(One of Mexico's notorious presidents, 1837-1839 & 1839-1841, had been Anastasio Bustamante.)
That's like inserting a reference in a bio of Gray that the Confederate States were led in the Civil War by Jefferson Davis!
Quite how seriously Bustamante is tied in today with the miscegenated race crusaders of the MEChA is not clear. The Front Page piece says that
Bustamante has refused to distance himself in any way from MEChA and its desire to return Aztlan to Mexico.
Saturday, August 23, 2003
Some aid on copyright limbo, perhaps...
A piece of news that had passed me by - but a bill (HR 2601) has been introduced in the House (a couple of months ago, in fact!) to tackle the problem of copyright chilling exacerbated by the Sonny Bono Act, as approved by the Nine Boneless Wonders (or seven of them) in Eldred v Ashcroft in January.
The idea (the bill has its own site, with links to text, etc) seems to be that copyrights would only be preserved beyond 50 years if owners applied to the government to so request.
What the political dynamics are in Congress, I've no idea. Lawrence Lessig of Stanford U, involved in all of this on the side of the angels, has a piece from June 25 on the launch of the bill, saying
This was a strange day of feeling Congress sometimes somehow might work. It's very early, and we have yet to weather the criticism and opposition. And of course, if money lines on this one, we will not prevail. But every, from Members to staff, took this as seriously as anyone could hope. Let's see what happens.
Another case of the Ninth Beatitude...
Friday, August 22, 2003
Online historical newspaper archives - few and well-hidden!
The priceless quality of a contemporary newspaper account is twofold:
However, decent collections are carefully corralled behind pay-only barriers.
Free collections (that I've found) are few and far between.
Hats off to Brooklyn Library, the Crimson guys and Utah U for their initiative. But it's an eclectic bunch, by any criterion! The problem is made worse by the fact that, so far as I can see, there is no comprehensive listing of such free online historical newspaper archives as exist.
The lack of a decent etext effort from the two main national libraries of the anglophone world is an utter disgrace (compared to the sterling effort made by the Paris Bibliothèque nationale). An enormous trick was lost when a proper slice of funding for millennium projects was not devoted to getting printed heritage online.
Still, as Oscar Hammerstein said, Be thankful for the things they got...
American Short Memory Syndrome again
While the GOP has lately been gripped by the fantasy of world domination, the Dems, it seems, have their own daydreams going, on the general theme, We wuz robbed.
The Party of Treason, let it not be forgotten, for the best part of a hundred years an unholy alliance between the Scots-Irish-led one-party states of the South and the machine-manipulated North under the thumb of their Catholic fellow ex-Hibernians. Democratic was just their little joke.
All of that, apparently, is to be forgotten. Choose your Year Zero: Dems, it seems, tend to make theirs the advent of the Great Fornicator, the only Dem president, after all, that most of us have very many clear recollections of having seen on the nightly news. (What images does the average voter retain of Jimmy Carter whilst president: apart from the one where he's jogging and about to pass out, that is...)
A piece in Slate works the sleight of hand. It considers
The common factor, of course, is that the GOP in all of these have been exploiting the rules of the game. (Just as, in Texas, the state Dem legislators have, with their skipping the state every time the matter comes up.) I haven't looked; but I'd be very surprised if a good half of the rules of those four games were put in place by Dem majorities, or - as with the impeachment rules - before Honest Abe was a twinkle in his father's eye.
And considering that, in the glory days of the 20th century national Democratic Party - from 1932 to 1968 - most of Dem power was acquired illegally - or by operation of Jim Crow voting laws - I'd say that represents something of an improvement in the quality of political cleanliness!
(The piece refers to the 1960 election, in which Mayor Daley - father of Al Gore's mascot during his Florida travails (love the bird-flipping symbolism!) - swung the Illinois electoral college votes to Saint JFK with his crooked Cook County stuffed boxes. But strangely doesn't mention the fact! Not many (as I recall) popular votes in key states needed to have switched to Nixon for JFK to have needed those crooked Illinois EC votes.)
Now, as has often been pointed out in connection with the Davis affair, the recall, initiative and the like were introduced by Western insurgents (most of them Republicans!) in reaction to the cosy machine-led setup in the East (where GOP upstate politics were as compromised as the downstate Dem machines). (Perhaps Hiram Johnson and friends would have managed their coup against the Southern Pacific without the example of Wisconsin and the other insurgent states - more research needed!)
The zeal with which the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law has been circumvented - and that's not all GOP! - makes it clear that few practitioners take this sort of bleating seriously. The trickier the rules, the more scope for smart operators to make a killing - why else are the rules for Federal elections still governed (mostly) by state law?
Of course, the goat-getting sanctimony is part of the game, too. American politics are fun for all the family - and big bucks, too. Who's not loving that?
Hutton: where are we?
I've now read all bar the latest day of transcripts. And, mindful of my injunction to myself to avoid second-guessing Hutton (August 14), it's worth pausing for reflection. The more so, perhaps, because, at the end of yesterday's proceedings, Hutton laid out his provisional schedule for the rest of the hearings. With Tony Blair appearing next week, it seems that, as far as Stage 1 is concerned, we've turned for home.
Rising above the level of detail (for the very good reason of having not yet having a frightfully comprehensive grasp of it!), we have two main areas of interest: the process whereby the September dossier was drawn up; and way in which HMG dealt with the 45 minute claim in Andrew Gilligan's May 29 broadcasts.
In both, the strategy is, so far as possible, to protect Blair - the citadel, as it were - by concentric fortifications. (Or, perhaps, watertight bulkheads is a better analogy...) The further away from Blair responsibility for components in decision-making in both processes is fixed, the better.
In both cases, one has a body primarily concerned with the case - with the dossier, the JIC; with Kelly, the MOD. And, so far as possible, that body must be seen to take the key decisions. Number 10 (Blair and his people) must be seen as having an incidental role - commenting, presenting, taking an overview. Naturally, ultimate responsibility is Blair's. But, to adopt the distinction made by Sir Kevin Tebbit  between responsibility and culpability - avoiding the latter is the name of the game.
Thus, for example, the stress regularly made of injunctions - by Jonathan Powell, at one point, for example - that nothing should be included in the dossier that the JIC were not perfectly happy with; indeed, the insistence that John Scarlett, head of the JIC, should produce the first draft .
And a similar insistence, when it came to handling David Kelly, following his volunteering himself in his June 30 letter, that the MOD should take the lead, and handle the case primarily as a personnel matter.
Not to doubt that these injunctions were not accurately and contemporaneously recorded. On the contrary, they seem to show that a strategy of protecting Blair was well entrenched well before September 2002 - not with a public inquiry in mind, of course, but rather the sort of press interest that previous scandals (starting with the Bernie Ecclestone million pound donation to the Labour Party) had generated.
I infer from the questioning that, in both cases, Hutton is less than convinced. For example, on the dossier, Campbell attempted to downplay the blizzard of emails within No 10 communications staff commenting on the various drafts - referring to one guy involved thus :
Danny Pruce is a very, very good
When Godric Smith (one of two men sharing the title Prime Minister's Official Spokesman) was questioned yesterday, he initially trivialised his own role :
8 A. I was not routinely copied into drafts
Whereupon counsel methodically took him through the paperwork which rather undermined that position.
Some sessions are remarkably dull: Smith's is studded with nuggets, and demands to be read for comedy, if not content - Smith was evasive beyond the dreams of Gilligan, and chose to fence with counsel. Who was not impressed, as, for example at 120:16:
16 Q. Did you think Mr Pruce was somehow going well beyond his
When it comes to the treatment of Kelly, a constant theme, often evoked by Lord Hutton himself, is whether the disclosure of Kelly's name - whether or not by the guessing-game technique which he appears to find particularly distasteful - was necessary to meet HMG's objectives. The counterfactuals he proposes  suggest that he is entertaining the possibility (to put it no higher) that the disclosure might not have been necessary.
The next event will be the release from Saturday of the documentary evidence held by the Inquiry (to date, only pages referred to in oral evidence have been placed online). We are promised (threatened?) 6,000 pages worth. The rogue Gilligan email clearly suggests that there may be evidence the Inquiry has yet to get its hands on.
The wild card - of which, so far as I'm aware, we've had no hint at all - is nature of the contribution of the Kelly family and (in the Stage 2 cross-examination phase) their lawyers. The family may well have already had an effect on proceedings, in their opposition to TV coverage tipping the balance in favour of exclusion. They do not have the institutional interests that civil servants or the BBC have; or the political interests of Blair and Co. Useless to speculate further on what they might do.
The hope has been that, to misquote LBJ, there will be a wider war: that the evidence produced in Stage 1 will blow apart the narrow terms of reference confining the scope of Hutton's work, in such a way as either producing a confrontation between Hutton and Blair, or a fuller examination of the basis on which the invasion of Iraq was undertaken. Nothing that I can see has emerged yet to succour that hope. But - the Fat Lady's still resting her vocal chords on vacation: plenty of time left...
Thursday, August 21, 2003
The Open Government Code that's a state secret
In ploughing through the transcript of Wednesday morning's evidence to the Hutton Inquiry, I come across a reference in the examination of Sir Kevin Tebbit  to the Open Government Code.
Now, it is one of the better remembered aphorisms of Sir Humphrey Appleby, suave and orotund Permanent Secretary in the 1980s sitcom Yes, Minister, that (quote approximate)
One may have openness: or one may have government.
So it crossed my mind to see what sort of an oxymoronic animal this code might be. Especially since, according the transcript (15:7), it nobly enjoins that
Officials should not omit information merely
Now, there is a text online at the Department of Constitutional Affairs. It's the right document  But it does not include the passage quoted. The transcript says it's in Part 5: the online document only has two parts!
Nor is the Hutton site itself any help: whilst pretty much all the documents referred to are up on the site - at least the pages referred to are - there is nothing (that I could spot) that looks like the OGC.
Clearly, the words quoted are necessary to an understanding of the Code (even if, on the basis of experience, one flatly disbelieves that they have substance). Yet they are not, it seems, made available to the public.
A check with Mr Google - searching on "open government code" "political embarrassment" - produces two items, one of which is a 2003 press release from the Public Adminstration Select Committee, which monitors HMG performance on implementing the Code, saying
The evidence...also shows that government must really deliver on openness, resisting the temptation to seek to avoid political embarrassment!.
Wednesday, August 20, 2003
US officers still at risk of Spanish war crimes case
The last time (August 13) we were with the case of José Couso, the Spanish cameraman killed in questionable circumstances by US forces at the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad on April 8, it was for the results of a US investigation exonerating the military personnel involved.
At that stage, I had no information on the progress of the case taken by the relatives to the Spanish authorities. Now, I have a little more.
There is a site with some (rather scanty) materials on the case. There is the original complaint of May 29 (RTF), and a piece from July 9, which says that the Juzgado Central de Instrucción nº 6 de la Audiencia Nacional had overruled a decision - I assume, by investigating magistrate Guillermo Ruiz de Polanco (my piece of June 11) - to drop the case for lack of jurisdiction.
There is no sign, on the site or elsewhere, that I've traced, of any form of opinion or written reasons for either Polanco's decision or that of the Audiencia Nacional overruling him. And nothing after July 9.
The piece from that day ends
Así que la querella sigue adelante.
I'll be doing my best to keep up...
It seems - and I'd want better information than this to be sure of the position - that the war crimes case is still alive. And, still, for all the fuss that the King of Fuss Donald Rumsfeld made about Belgium's extraterritorial pretensions (June 12) I have yet to hear a peep from him or any of his mates on this arch-weaselly behaviour of the erstwhile Iberian doormat.
Hutton: mystery email from Gilligan raises the ante
As I described on August 12, in Phase 1 of the Hutton Inquiry, the stated object was to get out the basic facts. Which is not to say that witnesses haven't been challenged on their evidence: but this has usually been to clarify what evidence is being given; or to put inconsistencies between pieces of evidence, oral and documentary.
In fact, most of the time has been spent with counsel putting documents before witnesses for commentThat way, they can't pretend they've been ambushed on cross when they're recalled to give further evidence during Phase 2.
In short, in the questioning to date, it's been assumed that the witnesses have been telling the truth.
Today, we get the first real escalation. The surprise lay not with Prince of Darkness Alastair Campbell, who is generally credited with an excellent performance: according to an ITN TV journo, he occupied his hands by clasping them together and taking off and putting on his watch - for fear that he might find them punching Lord H on the snoot. (Others have been there before: Guardian hack Michael White, for one.)
No, this was a nasty case of reflux from troubled BBC journo Andrew Gilligan: in questioning AC , counsel  put to him an email sent by AG to some apparatchik of the Liberal Democratic party .
An outstanding document in several respects:
He (Dr Kelly) should be asked what kind of threat Iraq was in September 2002 and if he was able to answer frankly, it should be devastating.
It apparently (according to Martha Kearney on Newsnight) also suggested questions in relation to Susan Watt's reports on the 45 minute question that would tend to flush him out as her source.
(One can't be sure, because, counsel didn't mention Watts, and, unlike the rest of the documentary evidence put to AC, it's not online.)
The suggestion is that AG, the loosest of cannons, finally slipped his ropes and started blasting away on his account in a private war against AC. And Kelly was the cannon-fodder.
Now, because Hutton's is an ad hoc inquiry, he has not taken evidence under oath, nor issued subpoenas to gather in documentary evidence. AG, presumably, hasn't committed any sort of crime.
But, despite the mountains of documents that have been produced, it's clear that the written record is full of holes. In the end, Hutton will be crucially reliant on his evaluation of the credibility of the various witnesses.
And it very much looks as if Gilligan's (what little there was of it) has just gone up the Swanee.
Brown trousers all round at the Beeb, I fancy...
UPDATE (August 22)
There is not one email but two! According to the Guardian (August 22), in addition to the Liberal email, AG also sent one along similar lines to a Tory MP on the FAC, Richard Ottaway. Ottaway, it seems, only saw fit to disclose this email after the Liberal email had been made public.
Tuesday, August 19, 2003
Beware low-flying porkers: Roy Hattersley speaks sense!
The spluttering dinosaur of a bygone age (how many mildly active pols are there still in the saddle with well-remembered Spitting Image puppets? his did, of course) has nailed the lie about the much-fawned-over Today programme, home of the equally physically unappealing Andrew Gilligan.
In the Guardian today he says
Its declared purpose is to lead the news...[It] succeeds in its objective by always stimulating controversy and, wherever possible, arranging confrontation. The result is often about as informative as two cats fighting in a sack - not least because politicians, knowing the Today formula, have worked out defence mechanisms by withholding information.
Today does not routinely provide online transcripts for the benefit of the plebs. (Even though, it appears from the evidence provided to the Hutton Inquiry, such transcripts are routinely produced - in many cases, for the purpose of rapid rebuttal of Alastair Campbell's Diatribe of the Day.) But various Today interview transcripts are included in the Hutton cornucopia - and pretty sorry reading they make. The stuff is even more tedious when heard.
One might compare it with the Japanese tea ceremony - where the ceremony, rather than provision of light refreshment, is the object of the exercise. But, at least, there is some intrinsic benefit in the tea ceremony: tea is, ultimately, served. Whereas the bizarre ritual conducted in the Today studio every morning yields no information at all. And neither party expects anything different.
It was, as I understand it, to give the programme something other than pointless shadow-boxing matches with the pols that Gilligan was hired, as a sort of combined Woodward and Bernstein in the defence field. He would boldly go and sniff out stories, rather than relying on reacting to press releases - which, absent an actual war, is what a defence correspondent tends to do. There was also, I believe, a belief that defence correspondents generally were a little too close to the military-industrial complex (Mark Laity was, as I recall, one suspected of a modicum of regulatory capture - in the end, he was captured outright: he went to work for NATO!).
Gilligan is a passing phase, I'm sure: the real problem is that the political interview - in Today as elsewhere - no longer works, except as WWF in suits. Some days, I can read the whole of the online Guardian (the main home page links that I'm interested in, at least) in the time that just one of these shouting matches takes to blow itself out.
But - without Today, there would have been no Hutton. I'll rejoice thus far.
UPDATE (August 23)
Already, Richard Sambrook, the man in charge (very loosely - in more sense than one) of News at the BBC, is, according to the Guardian (August 22), apologising for his evidence to the Hutton Inquiry! To wit, apologising to the above-mentioned Mark Laity for saying (more or less) what I said:
Mr Sambrook said Gilligan...had been employed because the BBC "needed a correspondent who would ask questions and hold to account as well". Though Laity was not named in the evidence, the former BBC reporter said it was a "damaging and totally inaccurate remark".
Sambrook says that all he was doing was giving the rationale of former Today editor and the guy who hired Gilligan, the flamboyant Rod Liddle.
Why small fry Laity gets his apology is slightly puzzling - suggests that BBC brass, under the battering from events, the Inquiry and the Murdoch press, are punch-drunk and ducking at anything (Sambrook, one would hope, would not have apologised without sanction from the top). The Corporation seems to be turning itself into a neocon blogger's bishop-bashing fantasy of itself...
David Kelly 'phonetap': illegal or not?
Newsnight journo Susan Watts recorded a phone call with DK - but not with the intention of broadcasting.
The BBC Producers' Guidelines - the internal code of practice to which all BBC employees should attend - gives the practice a clean bill of health :
It is permissible without prior referral for programme makers to record their own telephone conversations for note-taking purposes, or to gather evidence to defend the BBC against possible legal action. Such recordings should not be broadcast..
I'm not so sure the law is as clear as that. I have yet to see what I would accept as an authoritative view on the point. For instance, a legal summary provided by the Call Centre Management Association says, in answer to the question, Can I record telephone conversations on my home phone? says
Yes. The relevant law, RIPA [the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 ], does not prohibit individuals from recording their own communications provided that the recording is for their own use. Recording or monitoring are only prohibited where some of the contents of the communication - which can be a phone conversation or an e-mail - are made available to a third party, ie someone who was neither the caller or sender nor the intended recipient of the original communication.
Now, SW recorded the call (which she made from her own home), transcribed, and, from memory, made the transcription available to third parties (Newsnight colleagues, initially).
The Act itself seems fairly clear: s1(1) says that
It shall be an offence for a person intentionally and without lawful authority to intercept, at any place in the United Kingdom, any communication in the course of its transmission by means of....(b) a public telecommunication system.
And s2(2) says
(2) For the purposes of this Act, but subject to the following provisions of this section, a person intercepts a communication in the course of its transmission by means of a telecommunication system if, and only if, he...(b) so monitors transmissions made by means of the system, ...as to make some or all of the contents of the communication available, while being transmitted, to a person other than the sender or intended recipient of the communication.
Recording of a call for later use is also covered (s2(8)).
The only relevant case of lawful authority (s3) could be s3(1), where consent to interception has been obtained from sender and receiver: in this case, DK apparently knew nothing about the recording, and was thus scarcely able to give his consent.
The criminal sanctions imposed by the act are fairly draconian - up to 2 years imprisonment; however, the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions is required for any prosecution under the Act.
(A note on the law drawn up for universities has examples and links; RIPA has Explanatory Notes helpfully provided.)
So, at worst, a purely theoretical problem for SW and other journos who do the same as she did? I think so. Though we have the salutary example of the US human shields - who may be prosecuted for breaking US laws imposing economic sanctions on Iraq. If the will is there for a government to do its (perceived) enemies damage - and Hutton has shown that HMG's hatred of the BBC is of Bilboesque intensity - no law is too arcane!
A sidelight on BBC subterfuge: a reporter sent under cover as a trainee policeman to get the dirt on the Manchester fuzz has been arrested for (but not, I think, charged with) fraud. Senior plod are very far from amused, it seems: could a hostage exchange be in the offing - journo let off, in exchange for the embarrassing footage shot?
Monday, August 18, 2003
Hutton: Susan Watt's evidence
[Transcripts August 12 (afternoon) (from 155-14) and August 13 (morning)]
The contrast with Andrew Gilligan's is remarkable. Where AG shuffles, hesitates and squirms, SW mostly answers with the directness of a Yankee schoolmarm. Where AG's records leave a lot to be desired, SW is constantly referring to notebooks. Her written submission has Attachments going up to K and beyond! Her approach to her work appears cautious where his seems (at best) cavalier. (Her handwriting is perhaps suggestive.)
She is the
prim-looking woman with pudding-basin hair and schoolmarmy specs -yesterday's Independent speaking! - in a profession where (for women, at least) an attractive appearance counts for much.
On screen, she is noticeably loathe to smile - by contrast, her colleague, Martha Kearney (her 'do is much improved from her bio photo) has a broad, mischievous smile as a default facial expression.
SW's Newsnight bio (not the worst photo in the world) says she got a physics degree at Imperial College (the #1 specialist science college in the UK) - nothing about a graduate degree. I'd place her as middle middle-class, probably did not go to public school; socially, a cut below her Newsnight colleague Stephanie Flanders (daughter of Michael, and previously mentioned here as aide to Lawrence Summers).
Even in these days when the Director-General of the BBC talks like a reformed barrow-boy, class matters. What matters more, in both the BBC and the Civil Service, is a long-standing prejudice amongst the British elite towards specialists of every kind.
In the Civil Service, men like Kelly are, after a fashion, segregated. However eminent in their field, they cannot aspire to the top jobs. As a matter of deliberate policy, high fliers - civil servants marked for greatness - are moved on from ministry to ministry, so that their expertise remains that of administration rather than health, education, defence, or whatever. Specialists like Kelly are viewed as tradesmen - the equivalent, in the Indian Army, of Viceroy's Commissioned Officers. (It seems that this attitude had a good deal to do with DK's complaints against the MOD).
And something of the same afflicts the BBC. One finds, for instance, that a correspondent posted to Israel - a land where raw information is produced in two of the hardest languages in the world for an English speaker to learn - has scarcely found an apartment when he's moved on to Peking or Moscow. They don't want him to go native - they don't want him to tamper with his natural ignorance, and know more than his superiors about the country he's in.
She's been ploughing her steady furrow at Newsnight for eight long years now. And whilst others - notably the Graham Norton of economics broadcasting, Evan Davies - have moved on to better things, she hasn't.
Her apparent animus towards her employers, therefore, is not utterly without foundation.
On the other hand, he got the story, and she didn't. Or, rather, a story: the fact that the 45 minute claim was uncorroborated and single source (para 7 below).
A couple of general points on SW spring to mind:
Abbreviations as before.
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