December 3rd, 2013 § § permalink
How much does it cost to stage a coup? €21 million, according to this document.
It’s the work of a Congolese military group called the Union des Forces Révolutionnaires du Congo, keen to topple president Joseph Kabila.
Before they can do that, though, they need to raise some cash. So they have reached out to the diaspora — especially in Belgium — to chip in. And in the process, somebody has put together the budget. The UN got hold of this and included it in a report, giving us all a glimpse of coup planning.
Suborned generals aside, it’s the kind of vague document that will be familiar to any middle manager. Some areas are uncharted territory — “maintaining hold on power” after the coup is a single, unelaborated line item.
Other areas are elaborated into full-fledged fantasies. We know not only that broadcasters will be taken over, but what will be broadcast. “Day Zero” of the coup begins with 2 hours of classical music, for instance. I imagine it Clockwork Orange style, Beethoven playing as ministers are dragged from their beds.
The sums don’t add up, the plans seem half-formed, and the whole document smells of wishful thinking. And, having seen the bureaucracy required for government work, I can say for sure: this is one coup Uncle Sam won’t even think about funding.
December 2nd, 2013 § § permalink
Britain’s colonial governments burned massive numbers of documents, reports the Guardian, rather than hand them over to their successor states.
Under what the British called “Operation Legacy”, they destroyed anything that “might embarrass [the] government”. In Northern Rhodesia this specifically included “all papers which are likely to be interpreted, either reasonably or by malice, as indicating racial prejudice or religious bias on the part of Her Majesty’s government
December 1st, 2013 § § permalink
Real-estate prices rise in Nairobi. Who do you blame? Somali pirates.
Suppose you’re a pirate. You’re sitting on a pile of ransom money — it topped $100/million a year during the piracy boom. You need to launder it, and store it somewhere more secure than Somalia. So you turn to construction, that classic route for cleaning excess cash. Looking for somewhere reasonably close, with a large Somali community, you end up in Nairobi.
A government investigation has been launched into soaring property prices in Kenya amid claims that Somali pirates are behind the unusual real estate boom which has seen prices increase three fold in the last few years.
In a neighbourhood of Nairobi now called ‘Little Mogadishu’ because of its Somali community, large business and apartment buildings have sprung up. A similar explosion of real estate development can be seen in higher income areas of the city.
It’s a nice story, but it doesn’t quite add up. Criminal house-building should lower prices, not raise them. Purchases of existing buildings might increase sale prices, but won’t much affect rentals unless the Somalis are living in Nairobi.
Besides, there just isn’t that much money in piracy. Nairobi’s GDP is perhaps $24 billion. $1000 million from piracy is a drop in the ocean
Most likely, the pirate housing story is just another way of blaming foreigners for local problems. It’s certainly causing difficulty for Nairobi’s Somali population:
Yet mud sticks, and many Somalis are concerned that the small of amount of pirate money coming through Eastleigh will continue to damage the neighborhood’s reputation.
“If piracy money is allowed to infiltrate into the local market here in Eastleigh, then our hard-earned money will be spoiled and soon we may close our line of businesses,” said Diriye Jamal, who owns a textile shop.
September 19th, 2013 § § permalink
For money-laundering, one of the most useful businesses is something involving small, high-value items which can be sold for cash. Ideally you want things bought by the public (so you can easily get money to/from anybody), resaleable (so you can get multiple transactions), and whose value is hard to quantify (so you can increase or decrease the price as required)
Art is great for this. China’s art market is most famed as a tool of corruption — a piece of art is an elegant gift for an official — but can also be used in other forms of fraud. It doesn’t much matter if it is good, bad, or even fake.
Susan Grossey reports on increased global interest in another sector: fine French Wine:
Chinese criminals have joined their Russian and Ukrainian counterparts in targeting French vineyards – not for tasting, but for owning….
[French anti-money-laundering agency Tracfin reported] that some buyers of vineyards were using “complex judicial arrangements with holding companies located in fiscally privileged countries”, making it difficult to establish the origin and legality of the funds brought into France.
August 28th, 2013 § § permalink
Got some dirty dollars? Invest them in Argentina!. The government has a plan to let you turn tainted dollars legal; you just need to find an Argentinian to buy property with your cash:
The scheme, referred to locally as the “laundering law”, invites those with undeclared dollars to invest in property and the energy industry without facing penalties for their previous financial chicanery. The government believes that Argentines have about $160 billion tucked under their mattresses or hidden away in foreign bank accounts. That is about four times the value of Argentina’s foreign currency reserves.
August 26th, 2013 § § permalink
To disapprove of writing is something of a tactical mistake, from a memetic point of view. Most of the ancient arguments against writing must have been lost because, well, nobody wrote them down.
Socrates, at least, managed to have his cake and eat it. Part of his Phaedrus is devoted to outlining the limits of writing — but since Phaedrus itself was written down, we can at least follow his arguments.
Being Mr. Dialogue, Socrates loathes the fact that writing can’t answer questions; a text gives “one unvarying answer” whatever you ask it. Also — an argument surely understandable by anybody who has studied classics or philosophy — he worries that written texts will be passed down through generations of people who never really understand them.
Finally — and part of the reason I’m posting this — Socrates fears writing will undermine memory. He recounts that an Egyptian king, Thamus, was approached by the god Thoth. Thoth offered Egypt all kinds of knowledge, including writing. King Thamus turned down the gift of writing, lest it destroy Egyptians’ memories:
[Writing], said Theuth, will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories; it is a specific both for the memory and for the wit. Thamus replied:…. this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.
Socrates, then, is the moderate anti-scribe, the one who scraped into history because his disciple, Plato, was willing to commit something to paper.
If you want the extreme of the anti-writing faction, try Pythagoras. Not only did he avoid writing anything, he made sure his followers did the same. For a century or more, many people built their life around his maxims (“acusmata“), handed down orally within the cult of Pythagoras. Disciples abjured not just writing but even speaking, beginning with 5 years of total silence and continuing to keep some ideas secret within the sect. This “Pythagorean silence” had the effect that, according to one Greek writer, people “marvel more at the silence of those who profess to be his pupils than at those who have the greatest reputation for speaking”.
Well, perhaps. The above, like everything we “know” about Pythagoras, is a compote of rumour and guesswork. Pythagoras only narrowly avoided the oblivion usual for those who avoid writing. We know little about the likely core of his work — as a religious leader, a philosopher of reincarnation, and founder of a lifestyle of ritual and self-discipline. Instead he is now remembered for a theorem on triangles which he probably didn’t even invent. Bad luck, Pythagoras — try writing a book in your next reincarnation, mmkay?
I can’t help wondering, though, how many other Pythagoras-like figures there have been in history. People of great immediate influence, whose lives left no longer mark because they distrusted writing. Probably they account for the vast majority of pre-modern thinkers. I’d say we should remember them, but we can’t.
August 23rd, 2013 § § permalink
You’re a money launderer. You’re keen that, even if you get caught, you should get off with a minimal sentence. Here’s how to arrange your life:
- Good character and/or exemplary conduct
- Serious medical condition requiring urgent, intensive or long-term treatment
- Sole or primary carer for dependent relatives
- Early active co-operation particularly in complex cases
- Determination and/or demonstration of steps having been taken to address offending behaviour
- Activity originally legitimate
These — via Susan Grossey — are from proposed UK sentencing guidelines for fraud, bribery and money laundering. . They are the planned ‘mitigating factors’ — reasons to reduce a sentence. Demonstrate tese to the court, and you’ll have an easier time of it.
The problem is, most of these are things a well-lawyered fraudster will have an easy time showing — as Susan hints, they are “a standard disguise for your professional launderer”
August 19th, 2013 § § permalink
The New York Times hilariously manages to claim the US has “limited options” about Egypt. The reason they’re limited is that cutting of the annual $1.3 billion of military aid is inconceivable. Sigh.
How Philip Morris is lobbying to avoid plain cigarette packaging in the UK, based on internal plans leaked to the Guardian. I guess it does no harm to have one of your lobbyists working as chief election strategist for the Tories.
Also infiltrating government is Prince Charles, who has lent one aide to the Cabinet Office, and another to DEFRA.
Ecuador agreed to protect its part of the Amazon, in return for compensation payments from the developed world. They coughed up a whole 0.36% of what they promised — so Ecuador has abandoned the idea
August 3rd, 2013 § § permalink
Fitful Head, Tongue of Gangsta, The Trip: Shetland and Orkney have some wonderful place names. Steve Goldman has done a wonderful job of collecting them.
Strange Maps picks out some of the best of them:
Somehow, the Banks of Runabout sounds vaguely like a critique of the financial sector. And the White Stane of Willies might as well have been mentioned in the lewd paragraph. The Taing of the Busy? That’s that faint ringing noise that gets inside your head when you’ve been up for 24 hours straight. Also known as the Head of Work. The Knowes of Euro? The Candle of Sneuk? The Riff of Wasbister? We sort of know what half the name means. But how frustrating to have not even the glimmer of a clue about the Neven o’ Grinni, the Sinians of Cutclaws, the Glifters of Lyrawa, or the Quilse of Hoganeap.
July 31st, 2013 § § permalink
Aaron Swartz on leaving a legacy. The gist is that you should achieve something which, in your absence, would not have happened:
So what jobs do leave a real legacy? It’s hard to think of most of them, since by their very nature they require doing things that other people aren’t trying to do, and thus include the things that people haven’t thought of. But one good source of them is trying to do things that change the system instead of following it. For example, the university system encourages people to become professors who do research in certain areas (and thus many people do this); it discourages people from trying to change the nature of the university itself.