January 27, 2011

UK government officials implicated in ADE-651 bomb detector scam

Filed under: Britain, Law, Middle East, Military, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 13:03

Remember the ADE-651? The bomb detector that could “detect elephants, humans and 100 dollar bills”? It now appears that British army personnel and civil servants were involved in the effort to sell the bogus device:

The government has admitted that the Army and UK civil servants helped market so-called “bomb detectors”, which did not work, around the world.

Export of the “magic wand” detectors to Iraq and Afghanistan was banned on 27 January 2010 because of the threat they posed to British and allied troops.

The move followed a BBC Newsnight investigation showing they could not detect explosives — or anything else.

Now Newsnight has learned that they are still being sold around the globe.

You can understand the attraction to potential scammers, as the things cost £11 to make (at most) and can be sold for £15,000 to unsuspecting dupes (or willing accomplices, splitting the profits) representing foreign governments.

New entrant into the “Security Theatre Kabuki Hall of Fame”

Filed under: Britain, Bureaucracy — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:54

Step forward, our first inductee for 2011, Gatwick Airport security staff:

Airport officials ordered a holidaymaker carrying a toy soldier onto a plane to remove its three-inch gun — because it was a safety threat.

Ken Lloyd was stunned when he was told he could not go on the plane with the nine-inch model soldier because it was carrying a ‘firearm’.

The Canadian tourist and his wife had bought the toy, which holds a replica SA80 rifle, during a visit to the Royal Signals Museum at Blandford Camp in Dorset.

Well caught, security super-heroes! Here’s the vicious piece of deadly weaponry they bravely prevented from being smuggled aboard the plane:

They’ll be around to collect his “man card” any moment

Filed under: Europe, Germany, Randomness — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:50

Poor guy can’t get enough sleep because of his sex-mad spouse:

An exhausted Turkish man living in Germany has asked cops to protect him from his sex-mad missus, Bild reports.

The bleary-eyed victim of his wife’s “voracious embraces” walked into a police station in the southwestern city of Waiblingen on Tuesday to explain he’d spent four years kipping on the sofa in a vain attempt to get some shut-eye.

Unanticipated outcome of increasing sexual equality

Filed under: Economics, Health, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:38

Caroline May is almost right in the title to this article: “Stay vertical a bit longer, ladies: Study claims men are winning the game of love”.

It’s not all men who benefit, even if we just talk about men who are unmarried and not in a long-term relationship. The men who benefit from this development are the kind of men who already had high “market value” before the days of sexual equality:

“Girl power” might have brought women and girls victories in academics and sports but, as a recent book out of the University of Texas reports, an unintended consequence of women’s success has given men a leg up in the game of love.

Based on research published in their new book,“Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate and Think About Marrying,” Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker, sociologists from the University of Texas at Austin, have found that with women becoming more educated and professionally successful than ever, it has become extremely difficult for them to find a committed man.

Part of the problem is that women traditionally have looked to have relationships with higher-status men (dating or marrying “up”). Now that women are achieving higher financial, academic, and professional status themselves, they’re finding a much-reduced group of men who meet their new (higher) expectations, but also facing much more competition from other women who have also achieved higher status. In economic terms, the market for high status men has more potential buyers chasing fewer sellers. Prices (in this case, willingness to offer sex earlier) must rise to compensate.

Viewing the new plutocrats: Indian and Chinese variants

Filed under: China, Economics, Government, India — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 07:40

The Economist has a compare-and-contrast piece on how the ultra-rich are viewed in India and in China:

India’s movers and shakers all seem to know each other. The Indian elite have created their own islands, frowns a cabinet minister: “It’s a bit unhealthy.” They send their kids to private schools. They have their own water and electricity. So they barely notice how bad the government is at delivering power, water and schooling to the other 1.2 billion Indians.

Yet to many Indians the nation’s tycoons are heroes. A few made their fortunes corruptly, but the software moguls of Bangalore created a huge export industry out of nothing, and many others helped to spur India’s galloping growth. Ratan Tata, the soon-to-retire boss of a conglomerate that produces everything from tea to cars, lives modestly and treats his employees well. The brothers Anil and Mukesh Ambani are more controversial, but they have turned the family business into two global giants, with interests from chemicals to entertainment.

Some Indian gazillionaires are flashy. Mukesh Ambani’s house has 27 stories, three helipads and three floors of hanging gardens. Vijay Mallya, a beer-and-airlines magnate, constantly amuses the newspaper-reading public with his speedboats and sports teams. But for most of the country’s elite the most conspicuous item of consumption is sending their children to university in America.

India’s super-rich are very different from their Chinese counterparts, however:

The relationship between rich and poor in China is different. China’s stellar growth has lifted some 500m people out of poverty. Much of the credit belongs to Chinese entrepreneurs. Since Mao’s boot was lifted from their necks, they have built marvels, from the skyscrapers of Shanghai to the factories of Guangdong. Yet mainland Chinese business leaders operate in the shadow of a secretive and unaccountable ruling party. To get on, many join it. Some do so reluctantly, to avoid being crushed. Others do so gladly, hoping to use the power of the state to enrich themselves.

Individual party members are not entirely above the law. If a local bigwig behaves so appallingly that the resulting protests are heard in Beijing, the party may cut him down to size. In October last year the son of Li Gang, a senior police officer in Baoding, killed a pedestrian while allegedly drink-driving. He sped off, shouting, “report me if you dare; my dad is Li Gang!”

News of the incident went viral in the Chinese blogosphere. Pop songs with the refrain “My dad is Li Gang!” quickly circulated. Li Gang was forced to make a televised apology. His son was arrested. China’s leaders would like the 95% of the population who are not members to think that the party cares. But the most revealing fact is that Mr Li junior evidently thought he could get away it.

Grounding the Nimrod

Filed under: Britain, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 07:22

It’s as predictable as night following day: for every defence cut, you can find retired senior officers getting up on their hind legs and protesting:

Scrapping the RAF’s Nimrod surveillance aircraft will leave a “massive gap” in British security, former defence chiefs warned today.

The controversial decision to get rid of the £4bn fleet was taken on cost grounds as part of the government’s strategic defence and security review last year.

With the process of breaking up the equipment set to begin, a number of service chiefs signed an open letter to the Daily Telegraph warning of the dangers of the move.

“Machine tools have been destroyed; several millions of pounds have been saved but a massive gap in British security has opened,” the letter said.

“Vulnerability of sea lanes, unpredictable overseas crises and traditional surface and submarine opposition will continue to demand versatile responsive aircraft.

There was a number in there that helps to explain the cuts: £4bn. That’s a lot of money. What did the RAF get for their money? In a column from 2009, here’s Lewis Page on the manifold wonders of the Nimrod:

Quite apart from all that, the Nimrod MR2 — being a flying antique — is horribly expensive to run, both in money and in lives. The MR2’s extensive use above Afghanistan in recent times as a flying spyeye and to relay radio messages between ground units in no way justified its continued, very expensive existence; far less could such unimportant work possibly have justified the known risks of refuelling these aged birds in mid-air.

So getting rid of the MR2s loses us nothing important, and will make our service people noticeably safer — the Nimrod has actually killed one of our people for every 15 killed by the Taliban. Better still, this will permit another pricey airbase here in the UK to largely close, saving money to be spent at the front line. As a fringe benefit, the base in question — RAF Kinloss — is in a Scottish National Party constituency, giving people there a taste of the independence from the UK that they have voted for. (Strangely the local SNP member of parliament still isn’t happy.)

So the Nimrod was expensive to buy, eye-wateringly expensive to upgrade, but it must be cheap to operate, right? No:

[. . .] our new fleet of refurbished De Havilland Comet subhunters (sorry, “Nimrod MRA4s”) will cost at least £700m a year to operate. If we put the whole Nimrod force on the scrapheap for which they are so long overdue right now, by the year 2019 we will have saved [. . .] £7bn

That’s from an earlier column in 2009.

Update: Lewis Page says that scrapping the four Nimrods is great news:

The UK press is bursting with indignation today as the process of scrapping the Nimrod MRA4 submarine-hunting aircraft begins. But in fact the four planes now being broken up were a financial and engineering disaster. Had they gone into service they would have become a terrible, cripplingly expensive millstone around the neck of the Ministry of Defence. We are much, much better off without them.

[. . .]

What the ex-brasshats are bemoaning is the UK’s loss of long-range maritime patrol aircraft in general, not the Nimrod MRA4 in particular. They’re wise to draw this distinction, as the MRA4 project has now achieved the unwelcome distinction of producing the most expensive aircraft ever made: with a reported £4.1bn spent, just one is airworthy.

By comparison, a new Space Shuttle would cost about £1.75bn at current rates if it were built today. Even the staggeringly expensive B-2 nuclear Stealth bombers only cost £1.3bn apiece.

Our sole flying Nimrod MRA4 (pictured above) has wound up costing us no less than £4.1bn — and it is not even a new aircraft. All the MRA4s are refurbished and re-equipped Nimrod MR2s, which had already been purchased by the RAF long ago at inflated prices.

But wait . . . it gets even worse:

And make no mistake, scrapping the Nimrods will save money — a lot of money. Support and maintenance of a normal military aircraft can be expected to cost two to three times the acquisition price over its service life — and the Nimrod was far from normal.

In fact, the MRA4s would have been the last nine De Havilland Comet airliner airframes left flying in the world. The Comet, designed in the 1940s, failed commercially and went out of airline service many decades ago — and since then large aircraft have no longer been made in the UK.

The Nimrod/Comet is so old that it belongs to a lost era of manufacturing: this is the main reason why the MRA4 project was so horrifically late and over budget. The planes supplied for upgrading by the RAF had significant differences in size and shape — they had been essentially coach-built, bodged together with the blueprints used more as a guide than followed with any accuracy in the modern sense. Trying to rebuild, re-equip and re-engine them, with no real idea what the physical dimensions and internal layout of any given plane actually were, was a technical nightmare.

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