Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Dismal Junk Scientist

Splendid detective work by blogger Drinking From Home reveals the Brit economist providing "scientific" cover for global warming taxes has a record of lousy forecasting - he "scientifically" predicted Margaret Thatcher would doom the Brit economy!

DfH notes
this piece by Ruth Lea in London's Daily Telegraph:

Economics, albeit more prosaically, has also been subject to fads, whims and consensus views to which history has not been kind.

Twenty-five years ago Britain was at an economic crossroads. The credibility of the British economy was collapsing as inflation and unemployment soared, manufacturing output slumped and the national debt spiralled upwards.

Margaret Thatcher and her Chancellor, Sir Geoffrey Howe, concluded that drastic action was required. Taxes were raised by £4bn (then a huge sum) in the 1981 Budget in order to provide scope for lower interest rates and tackle public sector borrowing. There was, unsurprisingly, substantial political opposition.

But, of more interest, 364 economists signed a letter to The Times stating that there was "no basis in economic theory or supporting evidence" for Sir Geoffrey's policy and that it threatened Britain's "social and political stability". An alternative course of action must be pursued, these savants insisted.

Almost the entire academic economic establishment stood against the Government with a mere handful of brave "mavericks" dissenting from the consensus view.

But, as we now know, the letter's signatories were wrong because they believed in the then ubiquitous, but faulty, Keynesian consensus of the time.

Moreover, not only did the economics establishment regard Sir Geoffrey's Budget as fundamentally flawed, they also took the same view of the mavericks' judgments. This is instructive. Many in academia seem to believe that "peer-reviewed" research guarantees impartial, sound and independent assessment. It does not. Mavericks can be marked down and dismissed by their consensus-minded peers. Dissension is rarely popular.

The story of the 364 economists should be a warning to all who give the impression that the consensus view is an impregnable fortress of truth.

DfH's splendid detective work reveals:
One of the 364 signatories was a certain professor from Warwick University:

Busted!

Still, Stern - like his role models
Heath & Carter - provides a useful function to society by being uniformly wrong. We can now drive our SUVs, fly, and keep warm in winter safe in the knowledge that it won't make a blind bit of difference to global warming.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Starting The World's Next Depression

A Brit economist says human-induced global warming is a scientific fact, and both Brit political parties plan to fix the problem by - shock! - raising taxes. They're all talking nonsense, and they'll just tank the Brit economy. More seriously a Dem Congress will follow the same route, taking down the entire world.

The set-up (my ellipsis):

The world cannot afford to wait before tackling climate change, Tony Blair said today at the launch of a report preparing the way for new green taxes.

Tony Blair said the Stern Review showed the scientific evidence of global warming was “overwhelming” and its consequences for the planet “disastrous”.

Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, announcing he had recruited the former US Vice President Al Gore as an environment adviser, promised the UK would lead the international response to tackle climate change.

But he warned that consumers would have to play their part, saying there would have to be a “cultural shift” in people’s lifestyles - and that would include new environmental taxes.

The opposition Tories are equally obsessed with global warming taxes - their leader bikes to Parliament with his Lexus following with his paperwork (Greens haven't discovered laptops).

The much lamented Diplomad observed "Human-induced global warming is bullshit, and you know it". Here's why:

1. The Professor of Atmospheric Physics at MIT (a physicist like me, but rather more distinguished) says of the new Brit adviser:
“A general characteristic of Mr. Gore's approach is to assiduously ignore the fact that the earth and its climate are dynamic; they are always changing even without any external forcing. To treat all change as something to fear is bad enough; to do so in order to exploit that fear is much worse.”
Our inability to model atmospheric complexity is what makes long range weather forecasting so useless.

2. The global warming models fail the basic sanity check - they don't predict history. If you run them for the period 1880-2000, they predict an increase of 1.8 - 2.4 degrees centigrade, whereas the actual increase was 0.4 - 0.8 degrees. And there are potential natural causes for this actual warming.

3. Taxes harm economies by diverting expenditure from the efficient mechanism of people spending their own cash on their own needs to the grossly inefficient mechanism of governments spending other peoples' cash on other peoples' needs. That's why the Brit economy took off when Maggie Thatcher dumped its socialist tax regime, which had marginal rates up to 98%.

Nevertheless, the decline of the Brit economy under "green" taxes won't do a lot of harm to the rest of the world - its mainspring is finance, and that can easily migrate to NYC or Frankfurt. The big risk is the US following the same model, as this Brit journo hopes it will under a Dem Congress (my emphasis):
Turning to particular industries and sectors, fears about a Democratic victory also seem overblown...

The one important exception may be oil. An energy tax, offset by increased benefits and tax credits for low-income families, appears to be an idea whose time has come.

Even those Americans who care little about climate change now see the concentration of energy resources in potentially hostile Islamic countries as one of the greatest threats to their long-term security.

But America’s willingness to embrace European-style energy taxation would be very bullish for most non-oil assets around the world — and also probably for the dollar.

Non-oil assets around the world would benefit because any serious prospect of the sort of vast reduction in American oil consumption that would result from an energy or carbon tax, would dramatically shift the balance of global supply and demand.

Of course if the US wants to switch to nuke power (as I believe it should), it just has to ease the regulatory burden - the new plants won't cost taxpayers a cent.

But if there really is a "vast reduction in American oil consumption" before alternatives are available, the US economy will tank. And since the US props up the rest of the world with its trade deficits, the rest of the world will tank too.

This global depression will dwarf the dishonestly projected impact of global warming.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

To AP, Muslim Rapists Are Radicals

Here's an peek into AP's dark soul.

On the Muslim Rape Apologist (my emphasis):
Relations between Australia's 300,000-strong Muslim minority, among the country's 20 million mostly Christian population, and the government has (sic) been tested by Howard's complaints that Islamic leaders are failing to condemn radicals.
AP thinks its radical to encourage this:
A 16-year-old girl was brought to Gosling Park...by her friend, 17-year-old Mohammed Skaf. At the park she was raped by Mohammed's brother...and one other man, with twelve other men present who were "standing around, laughing and talking in their own language". The second man held a gun to her head and kicked her in the stomach, before she was able to escape.
Or this:
Two women, both 16, were taken by the attackers from Beverly Hills train station to a house in another suburb, where three men repeatedly raped them over a period of five hours. The attackers told one of the victims at one point that "You deserve it because you're an Australian".
And in AP's world, it's Howard's fault for upsetting Muslims by asking them to condemn the "spiritual leader" who tells them this is OK.

Autumn In The Southern Med

Autumn in the Southern Med is full of surprises - on today's run I was almost felled by a large grasshopper.

The creature hopped in front of me during a sprint (training for a 1/2M), forcing a drastic course change to avoid squishing it. It was shaken but unhurt.

The onset of rains and cooler weather (81 today, down from summer's high 90s) has triggered a second spring. Not just grasshoppers, but lizards, butterflies, and cute yellow flowers covering all the field boundaries. And the farmers have planted their fields for the winter growing season.

All of which is a reminder why Northerners fight their wars in the winter, and Southerners in the summer - you stay home during the growing season and fight when there's nothing else to do.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Fisked!

Innocently following a Drudge link, I just read my first Robert Fisk piece - so Fisked it.

He writes (my emphasis of weasel words):
Did Israel use a secret new uranium-based weapon in southern Lebanon this summer in the 34-day assault that cost more than 1,300 Lebanese lives, most of them civilians?

...scientific evidence gathered from at least two bomb craters in Khiam and At-Tiri, the scene of fierce fighting between Hizbollah guerrillas and Israeli troops last July and August, suggests that uranium - based munitions may now also be included in Israel's weapons inventory - and were used against targets in Lebanon... two soil samples thrown up by Israeli heavy or guided bombs showed "elevated radiation signatures".

(An) initial report states that there are two possible reasons for the contamination. "The first is that the weapon was some novel small experimental nuclear fission device or other experimental weapon (eg, a thermobaric weapon) based on the high temperature of a uranium oxidation flash ... The second is that the weapon was a bunker-busting conventional uranium penetrator weapon employing enriched uranium rather than depleted uranium." A photograph of the explosion of the first bomb shows large clouds of black smoke that might result from burning uranium.
Fisking his theories in turn:

1. Mini-nuke
Even a tiny 1 kiloton weapon would be picked up on seismographs worldwide - witness the NoKo fizzle. And a groundburst would leave a very big hole and lots of highly radioactive fallout.

2. Thermobaric trigger
Such triggers are made of cheap high explosive. Still, he's prescient - Israel will use thermobarics a lot in the next war with Hizbollah because:
Asphyxiation and internal damage can also occur to personnel...in deeper tunnels, as a result of the blast wave, the heat, or the following air draw.
3. Bunker Buster
Conventional bunker busters don't use DU. And the Israelis are putting all their enriched uranium into H-Bomb initiators for operation Bestow additional Blessings.

Fisk misses the most important clue - the photo of black smoke. This tells us Reuters created the "scientific evidence". Nuff said.

Mark Your Calendars!

AP dolefully reports a fall in murders of Iraqis. Struggling not to ascribe this to the efforts of government or coalition forces, it inadvertently leaks the timing for the take-down of Iran.

The report (my emphasis):

Diminished Violence in Baghdad Holding
By SAMEER N. YACOUB Associated Press

The five-day trend toward diminished violence in the Iraqi capital was holding Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, as a curfew kept vehicles off the streets through the middle of the day...

Attacks typically rise during Ramadan, in part because some Muslims believe dying during the holiday bestows additional blessings in the afterlife.

Presumably "some Muslims" expect extra rations of immodestly dressed virgins.

So look for Israel and the US to respectfully bestow blessings on the Mullahs during Ramadan 2007.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Fixing Islam

Australia's top Muslim preacher gets a wrist slap from his fellows for telling Muslim men to rape women they consider immodest. That suggests rape is at the heart of Islam, explaining why Islamic societies are such failures, and how we can help them modernize.

The report (hat tip Tim Blair here, here, and here):
The nation's most senior Muslim cleric has blamed immodestly dressed women who don't wear Islamic headdress for being preyed on by men and likened them to abandoned "meat" that attracts voracious animals.

In a Ramadan sermon that has outraged Muslim women leaders, Sydney-based Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali also alluded to the infamous Sydney gang rapes, suggesting the attackers were not entirely to blame.

While not specifically referring to the rapes, brutal attacks on four women for which a group of young Lebanese men received long jail sentences, Sheik Hilali said there were women who "sway suggestively" and wore make-up and immodest dress ... "and then you get a judge without mercy(rahma) and gives you 65 years".
He's referring to these Lebanese pack rapists:
Skaf is the young man who led a gang of young men in multiple pack rapes in Sydney in the weeks before the 2000 Olympics.

Skaf summoned his mates by mobile phone for the attacks. In August 2002, he was convicted on 21 counts of aggravated rape, assault and kidnapping.
Rape is punished severely in most human societies. According to evolutionary biologists, that's because women invest much more capital than men in bearing and raising the next generation and so have to be much more choosy about their partners. Rape overrides their choice and enables the less fit to propagate themselves (assuming the raped woman can't abort the child). A rapist society breeds more rapists and competes poorly against societies where mothers choose their kids' fathers.

The evolutionary consequence is that humans are hardwired to reduce their propensity to rape, with behaviors such as reciprocity, trust, altruism, and the ability to recognize dishonesty.

These hardwired behaviors have enabled us to build industrialized economies driven by teams of creative engineers and scientists and defended by disciplined and well-equipped armies.

Societies that promote rape override this hardwiring, so not only do they brutalize half of their members but they also make themselves unable to build, create or fight. And that would explain why Muslims can only attack us by subterfuge and using our own technologies, why their societies are the least productive and must corrupt in the world, and their armies are easily beaten.

The good news is that we can help Islam modernize simply by encouraging it to abandon its brutalization of women. The despised French seem to be doing the best job (WSJ, $, my ellipsis):
According to a Pew Global Attitudes survey published in July, 42% of French Muslims consider themselves French first; 47%, Muslim first...In Britain, the numbers are 7% British first; 81%, Muslim first.

France's anti-terrorism laws are the toughest anywhere in the Western world. French prosecutors can hold terror suspects for years without charge; the definition of "links to terrorism" is loose. Every mosque in France is monitored. Since 9/11, the government has cracked down on foreign financing and moved to train "French imams."
The Australian government should follow the French lead, and prosecute the rape-advocate & deport him to his native Egypt at the end of his sentence.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

London Airport Security Is Tolerable

We just flew back to the Southern Med from London's Heathrow and found the security experience annoying but tolerable.

Unlike the rest of Europe, the Brits only allow one IATA-size carry on bag - that's so security can search a higher percentage of bags. Mrs G crammed her handbag (purse) into her carry on.

The line for security was only about 15 minutes long. But people weren't amused by an apparently Arab couple (man in white robes, woman in top-to-toe black outfit) jumping the line. The guy was in a wheelchair, and the airport official pushing him said they were late for their flight. Nobody around us believed this, and there was much muttering as the female breezed through security, so far as we could see without removing the mask.

Passengers had to discard all liquids or gels - the small girl in front of us wailed piteously when she had to surrender her little tube of toothpaste.

Otherwise the security people were sensible - they allowed a woman carrying an enormous stuffed toy plus her purse to break the one case rule.

Many Americans put their shoes on the x-ray belt and walked through the metal detector in their socks, although this practice isn't mandated by the Brits.

We weren't wanded, our bags weren't searched, and the security team wasn't bothered by my having two laptops.

The only odd experience was being asked my destination by the clerk at the newspaper vendor (W H Smith). She asked this of every customer and said this was part of a survey, but since she didn't record the replies that's unlikely.

Maybe possession of a Wall Street Journal is risky at some destinations and the clerks are primed to warn customers? Or maybe Heathrow Management has decreed its customers must be asked weird questions at every touch point?

Bottom line: other than the single bag limit, the daft restrictions on toothpaste and cosmetics, and the weird newspaper experience, flying from Heathrow is tolerable again. So I wouldn't be put off visiting London - just don't buy any big items you don't want to risk checking (or go ahead and buy them, then FedEx them home).

And if you want to breeze through security, just wear full Arab dress, check in late, and demand a wheelchair.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Fortitude Wins Wars

Wars for freedom are always close run things - the foe is invariably brutal and unprincipled, and supported by appeasers nesting in the safety of free societies. But throughout their histories free nations have found reserves of fortitude to carry them from their darkest to their finest hours. So I predict the Republicans will hold Congress and the US and Brits will stay the course in the GWOT.

Victories are only easy in retrospect - here are some examples.

America's War Of Independence

Almost failed:
After a grueling march...Washington's troops arrived at the hills at Valley Forge on December 19, 1777. The Army was reeling from defeats at Brandywine and Germantown.

The British had occupied the revolutionary capital of Philadelphia...(the) American Army was weak, poorly supplied, and ill. An estimated 2,500 men (out of 10,000) died over the winter.

Defeating Napoleon

In spite of Trafalgar, by 1809 Napoleon had defeated all Britain's allies, occupying the whole of Europe, and its economy was in tailspin. The king was mad (again), and much of the political class was ready to throw in the towel. So Brit pols adapted, firing all their old generals and sending the 40 year old Arthur Wellesley to attack the French in tiny Portugal. After successes and reverses, he won Portugal and most of Spain, and in 1813 (my ellipsis):
He personally led a small force in a feint against the French centre, while the main army...looped around the French right, leading to the the French abandoning Madrid and Burgos.

A few months later, after taking the small fortresses of Pamplona and San Sebastián, Wellington invaded France and defeated the French army under Marshal Soult at the Battle of Toulouse.
The Brit WW2

After losing the battle for France and much of their army and airforce, the Brits just stopped the Nazis invading - although of thousands of Londoners died. Then they struggled to keep the Nazis from the Middle East's oil, holding on to strategic Malta (which almost starved) until a youngish (55) general finally defeating Rommel in late 1942.

While battling the Nazis they suffered stunning defeats when the Japanese attacked their Far Eastern possessions after Pearl Harbor. At Singapore:
About 80,000 Indian, Australian and British troops became prisoners of war, joining 50,000 taken in the Japanese invasion of Malaya.
The allies didn't turn the tide until 1944.


There are plenty of other examples of close run wars including the near loss in Korea, and Israel's near defeat in 1973.

In each case the ultimate victors found the will to persist in the face of adversity, and this history shapes the character of free peoples.

They've always had the equivalent of today's MSM - although until now none achieved the depravity of CNN. But only once has it achieved a US defeat, from which America's enemies within and without still draw their strength - hence their frenzied attacks as the election draws near.

But Iraq and Afghanistan are too important to lose - if we don't find a way to help Islam modernize, our kids will be faced with an existential war that will kill billions.

I think Americans are too smart to hand this problem on, so expect a Republican Congress in after the elections.

That's not to say that we don't need better generals and a sharper strategy - a topic for a future discussion.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A Pair Of Lancets

The noun Lancet means a blatantly false statistical claim - here are two examples.

First, it seems we need to kill off about a quarter of mankind (my ellipsis):
The Earth’s natural resources are being used 25 per cent faster than the planet can renew them, analysis by WWF indicates.

Measurements of crop yields, carbon-dioxide emissions, fishing and the use of forests suggest that Mankind’s ecological footprint is too big to be sustained.

This rests on the premise that technology doesn't improve productivity - which it clearly does since Brit society is rich enough to pay these two zoologists to Lancet:

By tracking the fortunes of 1,313 species of vertebrates from around the world, the report indicated that there had been a 30 per cent slump in wildlife since 1970.

Tropical species, including mammals, reptiles and birds, were the most badly hit of the 695 land-based animals monitored. They declined by an average of 55 per cent, while the populations of temperate creatures have, overall, remained stable since 1970.

But weren't the creatures declining by 55% just paying the penalty for being intemperate? Anyway, the authors save the killer fact until the end:
Wildebeest have declined by 20 per cent in the past 30 years because of encroachments on their migration routes by farmers.
Slam dunk - we're doomed.


The other Lancet is closer to home:

Study Suggests Link Between Cell Phone Use, Low Sperm Count

If you're a man thinking about having kids, you might want to cut back on your cell phone use.That's the preliminary finding of a study done by The Cleveland Clinic, which found statistically that men who used their cell phones the most had poorer sperm quality than those who used them the least.

The lowest average sperm counts seemed to be in men who had the most cell phone use (more than four hours a day); those who didn’t use cell phones seemed to have the highest. Although the sperm count appears to go down with increasing cell phone use, the difference in numbers wasn't significant.

We all know that correlation doesn't imply causality, so it's just as likely that men with low sperm counts use cell phones more. I can thing of several reasons why, none suitable for a family blog. But more likely the sampling was screwed by this (my ellipsis):
The new study (exclusively) included 364 men being evaluated for infertility between September 2004 and October 2005.
So this correlation has been found for men being treated for infertility, hence the study tells us nothing about men in the general population.


This means that if you're not being treated for infertility, it's fine to engage in cellphone abuse. Just lay off the Wildebeests.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Time For Secretary Rice To Go?

The State Department is doing real damage and if secretary Rice doesn't fix it quickly the president should replace her.

Here's today's WSJ ($):
The first stop on Condoleezza Rice's post-detonation, nuclear reassurance tour was Tokyo. There she dutifully unfurled the American nuclear umbrella, pledging in person that the United States would meet any North Korean attack on Japan with massive American retaliation, nuclear if necessary.

An important message, to be sure, for the short run, lest Kim Jong Il imbibe a little too much cognac and be teased by one of his "pleasure squad" lovelies into launching a missile or two into Japan.

But Rice's declaration had another and obvious longer-run intent: to quell any thought Japan might have of going nuclear to counter and deter North Korea's bomb.

...The impeccably polite Japanese were not about to contradict the
secretary of state in her presence. Nonetheless, the (Japanese Foreign Minister) had earlier the very same day told a parliamentary committee that Japan should begin debating the issue: "The reality is that it is only Japan that has not discussed possessing nuclear weapons, and all other countries have been discussing it."

Japan is not just a model international citizen -- dynamic economy, stable democracy, self-effacing foreign policy -- it is also the most important and reliable U.S. ally after only Britain.

One of the quieter success stories of recent American foreign policy has been the intensification of the U.S.-Japanese alliance. Tokyo has joined with the United States in the development and deployment of missile defenses and aligned itself with the United States on the neuralgic issue of Taiwan, pledging solidarity should there ever be a confrontation.

The immediate effect of Japan's considering going nuclear would be to concentrate China's mind on denuclearizing North Korea. China calculates that North Korea is a convenient buffer between it and a dynamic, capitalist South Korea bolstered by American troops. China is quite content with a client regime that is a thorn in our side, keeping us tied down while it pursues its ambitions in the rest of Asia. Pyongyang's nukes, after all, are pointed not west but east.

Japan's threatening to go nuclear would alter that calculation. It might even persuade China to squeeze Kim Jong Il as a way to prevent Japan from going nuclear. The Japan card remains the only one that carries even the remote possibility of reversing North Korea's nuclear program.

Further, a nuclear armed Japan will reduce the Chinese dictators' threat to Taiwan and so accelerate their demise. When they go, half the world gets safer and the US and its allies are free to focus their resources on fighting Muslim extremism and helping Islam modernize. But State doesn't want that.

It's possible secretary Rice is executing the orders of the president, so here's a nice test of her loyalty:

“Upon reading the transcript of my appearance on Al-Jazeera, I realized that I seriously misspoke by using the phrase ‘there has been arrogance and stupidity’ by the U.S. in Iraq,” said Fernandez, director of public diplomacy in State’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.

“This represents neither my views nor those of the State Department,” Fernandez added. “I apologize.”

Yeah, right. This man is a senior diplomat and should have known exactly what he was doing - his words were taken by the world as confirming a loss of US confidence, so giving aid and comfort to our enemies.

If secretary Rice doesn't fire him immediately, she's complicit and the president should replace her.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Report From Rainy London

We're in London for a few days, here are some impressions.

The Brit immigration clerk at Heathrow annoyed Mrs G by ordering her to stand exactly in front of the podium - that's a new practice, and means they've probably installed cameras to image all arrivals. They didn't try that on me, but then I'm scary.

At our central London flat we were met by the usual heap of junk mail from realtors pressing their services. Several suggested we move to "new build" units, with secure underground parking, elevators directly to the apartment, and saturation CCTV coverage. That's a reaction to the increasing levels of street crime.

We also received four more threats from the BBC demanding we let its inspectors check our flat to prove we don't have a TV. They've been hammering away for over 2 years. Meanwhile it's fighting to suppress a critical report of its trashy Middle East Coverage (hat tip USS Neverdock):
The BBC has spent thousands of pounds of licence payers' money trying to block the release of a report which is believed to be highly critical of its Middle East coverage.

The corporation is mounting a landmark High Court action to prevent the release of The Balen Report under the Freedom of Information Act, despite the fact that BBC reporters often use the Act to pursue their journalism.

The BBC culture is nicely described here (hat tip LGF):
Political pundit Andrew Marr said: 'The BBC is not impartial or neutral. It's a publicly funded, urban organisation with an abnormally large number of young people, ethnic minorities and gay people. It has a liberal bias not so much a party-political bias. It is better expressed as a cultural liberal bias.'
Anecdotal evidence suggest this diagnosis applies to most other Brit public institutions - it's as if the country were governed by the New York Times.

People in touch with the Brit Army's battles in Afghanistan tell me it has lousy air cover - about 10 Harriers. That's a perfectly respectable plane, but in an insurgency you need robust air cover available at a few minutes notice, and the gas-guzzling Harrier can't loiter and is fragile. The Brit troops need lots of robust A-10s backed by 24*7 air refueling.

Last night Brit Muslims marked the start of Ramadan with a very noisy fireworks display - I think at the Regent's Park Mosque. It ran until after midnight keeping tens of thousands of local people awake - I bet the city authorities wouldn't give give the Jewish community that privilege.

In spite of which London remains for us the nicest city in the world - urbane, civilized and pleasantly messy. But with all those corrupted public institutions, it won't stay that way much longer.

UPDATE Oct 23: I was wrong about the fireworks - kind commenters report they were the (well integrated) Hindu community celebrating Diwali (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diwali).

Saturday, October 21, 2006

An Exercise For IAF Skywriters

Readers will be shocked by reports that the gallant French UN force in Lebanon - while declining to disarm Hizbollah - demands the IAF stops observing this appeasement. This offers the IAF an excellent training opportunity.

The
report (my ellipsis):

(The) French Defense Minister...warned that Israeli air violations in Lebanon were "extremely dangerous" and must end in the interest of all parties.

(She) spoke to reporters after holding talks with UN chief Kofi Annan and...the French head of the UN peacekeeping operations, that focused on the Israeli intrusions into Lebanese air space.

"These violations are extremely dangerous because they may be felt as hostile by forces of the coalition that could be brought to retaliate in case of self-defense and it would be a very serious incident," the French minister said.

But...the Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, retorted...

"Three weeks ago our forces pulled out of Lebanon, and we have implemented our most important obligations under UN resolution 1701," he said. "But every objective person should recognize that is far from the case concerning the Lebanese and their obligations." (Not the mention the French)

"Contrary to resolution 1701, two Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah haven't been freed, Hizbollah's military infrastructure south of the Litani river has not been dismantled, and Hizbollah's rearming continues," he said.

Taking a shot at the IAF would indeed be "very serious", since its response would litter the Lebanese landscape with tiny pieces of French persons.

Better, the Israelis should deter the French by using a couple of F-16s to skywrite this above their Lebanese cantonment:

VA BAISER VOTRE MERES, COCHONS

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A Morality Test For Ms Rice

Ms. Rice's State Department has been investigating Israel's use of cluster munitions against Hizbollah rocket sites. Now it turns out those sites were firing cluster bombs at Israeli civilians. Ms Rice should set the record straight.

State's investigation:
The State Department is investigating whether Israel misused US-made cluster bombs in civilian areas of Lebanon.

"We are definitely looking into these allegations, and we'll see where they lead," State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said Friday. The inquiry will determine whether the munitions were used, and if so how, Gallegos said.

Israel said it was forced to hit civilian targets in Lebanon because Hezbollah fighters were using villages as a base for rocket-launchers aimed toward Israel.

It'll be interesting to see how State reacts to this news:

Hizbullah fired cluster munitions into Israeli civilian populated areas during the recent war in Lebanon, Human Rights Watch reported on Thursday.

The human rights organization, which heavily criticized IDF action during the war, released a statement confirming that the terrorist organization fired 'Chinese-made type-81 122mm' rockets "into civilian areas in northern Israel."

So the unexploded cluster munitions discovered in Lebanon after the war were possibly debris from Hizbollah type-81s destroyed by Israeli air strikes. And its anyway clear that if Israel did use the cluster munitions, it was quite justified in so doing.

Secretary Rice should do the decent thing and announce State's invetigation has exonerated Israel, perhaps adding:
"The Israeli people deserve a better life ... free of the humiliation of death and mutilation inflicted by homicidal neighbors."

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Rice Paper Tiger

Last week Secretary Rice asserted Palestinians "deserve" freedom from Israeli occupation, and today she says the US will defend Japan come what may. The moral confusion of her first assertion undermines the credibility of the second, and the Japanese would be well advised to ignore her.

Here's her view of the Palestinian people, who in the last 12 months elected a terrorist government committed to the destruction of Israel, rained rockets on it, and used Israel's territorial concessions to kidnap its citizens:

WASHINGTON (October 12) — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday that Palestinians deserve a better life "free of the humiliation of occupation" and in a state of their own.

"I promise you my personal commitment to that goal," Rice said at a dinner marking the third anniversary of the American Task Force on Palestine.

"There could be no greater legacy for America," Rice told the group, which describes itself as nonpartisan and supportive of a Palestinian state living side by side with Israel.

"The Palestinian people deserve a better life ... free of the humiliation of occupation," she said.

But the Palestinian people are only occupied because they use every opportunity to attack their neighbor. That they need take no responsibility for their own actions is a wildly un-American view, which will prevent them ever achieving statehood.

Today in Japan:
TOKYO — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reassured Japan Wednesday that the United States is ready to use the "full range" of its military might to defend its Asian ally in light of North Korea's nuclear weapons test.
That means the US will nuke North Korea if it nukes Japan. But how credible is that assurance? If she's consistent with her treatment of the Palestinians, she'll declare the North Korean dictatorship "deserves" whatever it wants, while Tokyo burns.

Rice has fatally undermined US credibility.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A Thousand Year US Empire

Recent European history suggests empires last only a hundred years or so, and thus the US will soon lose its primacy. But the its size, wealth and rapid population growth put it in the league of the Roman Empire - with a lifespan of a thousand years.

The European empires were based on small populations - the English were just 5 million when they took over from the 20 million French in the 18th Century, and even when Queen Victoria ruled one third of the world's population there were only 40 million Brits on our tiny island .

The US is quite different - it's physically larger then the whole of Europe, rich in natural resources, and its population is large and growing fast (WSJ, $):
Today, the U.S. stands out as the only leading industrial power -- over time India could prove the other -- with a surging population. Due to immigration and higher birth rates, the U.S. population is now growing two to three times faster than South Korea's and Britain's, and also far faster than China's. Our other major competitors, such as Russia, Japan and Germany, are either demographically stagnant or are already about to start losing population.

These demographic changes are remarkable. At the height of the Cold War, the former Soviet Union was more populous than the U.S. In 2050 the remnant of that empire, the Russian Republic, will have barely one-third to one-fourth the population of the U.S. Taken together, our greatest rivals of the 20th century -- Germany, Japan and Russia -- are projected to eventually have 130 million fewer people than we do.
This is noticeable at a personal level: most young Europeans I know aren't married and don't have kids, whereas my young American friends and acquaintances are mostly married and have swarms of kids.

Absolute numbers aren't enough - you need quality too. The Romans had a tough and vigorous population to build and sustain their empire and the US gets the same from what James Taranto has dubbed the Roe Effect:
It seems self-evident that pro-choice women are more likely to have abortions than pro-life ones, and common sense suggests that children tend to gravitate toward their parents' values. This would seem to ensure that Americans born after Roe v. Wade have a greater propensity to vote for the pro-life party--that is, Republican--than they otherwise would have.
So there you have it. A thousand year US empire. Run by Republicans.

Monday, October 16, 2006

We Must Not Feed North Koreans

The world's aid community says sanctions on North Korea will starve many innocents, so we must feed them. They're wrong - a siege is the most humane way of destroying the dictatorship responsible for this starvation.

The report:
Millions of North Koreans face famine and starvation over the country’s bitterly harsh winter if the international community cuts off humanitarian food aid in retaliation for their government’s nuclear test, according to UN officials, aid workers and human rights groups.

The closed nature of North Korea makes it impossible to know the extent of suffering, but evidence indicates that one in six of its 23 million people will go hungry without foreign aid. There will be a shortfall of 600,000 to 800,000 tonnes of grain, according to the UN World Food Programme.

“As the international community responds to North Korea’s nuclear test it must distinguish between the government and ordinary citizens,” said Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch. “North Korea’s nuclear weapons can have devastating security implications in the region but suspending food aid could be lethal for North Koreans.”

They're talking about breaking a siege, which is the most humane tactic in warfare.

The Brits besieged Germany very effectively in WW1, using a vast naval blockade. You can see the effectiveness of that in any display of WW2 Nazi uniforms - they're for little guys of under 5' 6", the legacy of childhood malnutrition. That blockade won the war.

Feeding the North Korean regime (which is what's proposed, since it will take any aid shipments to feed its armies), will ultimately lead to the death of millions.

Either the dictatorship will survive and use nukes, and just 20 bombs at 50,000 dead each kills 1 million. Or we will have to assault it, leading to military and civilian deaths of the same order as the last Korean War - about 3 million.

So we must harden our hearts and maintain the siege - the alternatives are much worse.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Reasons To Be Cheerful

Political trends in democracies don't continue indefinitely - when enough voters become unhappy, they change things. Using the example of Canada here are some predictions.

Until last year Canada was controlled by a lefty elite. Then voters elected a right wing minority government which has gone from strength to strength. Now the Canada of Vimy Ridge, the Dieppe Raid and Juno Beach is back:

The Canadian Senate’s Standing Committee on National Security and Defense stated in a major report released Thursday that Canada should become a partner in U.S. ballistic missile defense.
Now some predictions.


The US

Conventional wisdom
* says the Dems will control Congress in 3 weeks time, and an isolationist Dem President may follow.

That will be tough for Americans, who will be sharply reminded why socialism is a bad idea.


But an isolationist America will be good for the free nations of the world. They'll now have to protect themselves - a healthy improvement on their current adolescent whining and sulking.


And without a prosperous US to feed off, Russia and China may moderate their predatory behavior.


* Which is rarely right.

The UK

Is where Canada was 10 years ago - stuck with an incompetent liberal elite. That's happened before (page 10, hardback):

...in 1933...the Oxford Union Debating Society passed its notorious resolution...that "Under no circumstances will this house fight for King and Country".

(Later) Erich Von Richthofen wrote '...no other factor influenced Hitler more and decided him on his course than (that resolution), coming from what was assumed to be the intellectual elite of your country.

But when things got tough, the Brits elected Churchill, who briskly cleaned up the institutions of the state.The Brit MSM is beginning to face the undermining of their institutions, and eventually voters will get themselves a Churchill or Thatcher.

Japan

With the
death of non-proliferation, nations will adopt the tried and trusted Mutual Assured Destruction that saw us safely through the Cold War.

Japan will probably take the lead. Its military expenditure is capped at 1% of GNP but even at that level the
Japanese military equals China's. Expect that 1% to rise and a rapid deployment of nukes.

Then a heavily armed democracy will police the Far Eastern dictators.

South Korea

Will also build nukes quickly:
In less than a week since North Korea claimed to have tested a nuclear weapon, public opinion in the South has turned sharply against a South Korean policy of engaging the enemy in the belief it will eventually bring peace on the divided peninsula.

A...newspaper poll, several days after the reported nuclear test Monday, found 78 percent of respondents thought South Korea should revise its policy, and 65 percent said South Korea should develop nuclear weapons to protect itself.

Israel

Its next government will announce a MAD policy against Iran, and freed of
arm-twisting by the now-isolated lefties in State Department it may even achieve a pragmatic solution to the Palestinian problem.

Germany

Absent the US nuclear shield, Germans will feel a tad exposed to Russian blackmail - it'll be interesting to see what a BMW-style nuclear weapon looks like.


Australia

This robust nation won't tolerate nuclear-armed bullies in its neighborhood, and can easily build nukes - the Brit weapons were tested there.


Iraq

If the coalition withdraws, it will probably split into a rich Kurdish democracy, an impoverished Sunni dictatorship and an Iranain Shiite province targeted by Israeli nukes.


What's not to like?

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Last Of England?

Anecdotal and media reports suggest the major Brit institutions have been destroyed from within. That's not altogether bad news - visitors (like Mrs G and myself) don't feel the impact, and Brits may be getting mad enough to fix things.

The anecdotal evidence comes from Brits encountered during our recent travels in Italy. Many run small businesses there, avoiding the Political Correctness and incompetence of the Brit state. They prefer to grapple with the awful Italian bureaucracy - it at least insists everybody speaks Italian and respects Italian culture. The bitterest expats we met had worked with Brit local government, which they said had become so obsessed with gender and cultural equality that it was no longer British.

The media reports show the Brit Army, Schools, Police, and even British Airways have ceased to reflect Brit values.

Armed Forces

This is the last Brit institution enjoying wide public respect, but as reported yesterday it's now led by a man who has no time for the Brit military virtues of loyalty, persistence, and courage. Here's Charles Moore today:
Can it really be the case, as Sir Richard asserts, that our presence in Iraq, at the level of 7,500 men and women, could "break the Army"? Is the Iraqi government wrong when it says that the Army is keeping the peace in the south and that things would be much worse if it left?

And what on earth is going on when the head of the Army has a lower opinion of his forces' usefulness than does the elected government of the people they are protecting?

What, exactly, does Sir Richard want? Leave now? Leave in six months?How would a scurry out of Iraq help frighten the enemy in Afghanistan, which he says is his aim? What effect would it have on our standing with our allies all over the world?
Schools

Some aren't recognizably Brit (hat tip LGF):

Female students at a new Islamic school will be made to wear head scarves regardless of their religion, it was revealed yesterday.

The Madani High School in Leicester will be required by law to accept 10 per cent of its 600 pupils from a non-Muslim background. But girls who are not Muslim will still have to abide by a rule insisting all female pupils cover their heads as part of the uniform.

Parents of Brit kids who object to them being forced to wear alien outfits should move to France, where this practice is illegal.


And then there's this (hat tip LGF, my ellipsis and emphasis):

A teenage schoolgirl was arrested by police for racism after refusing to sit with a group of Asian students because some of them did not speak English.

The teenager had not been in school the day before due to a hospital appointment and had missed the start of a project, so the teacher allocated her a group to sit with...

According to Codie, the five - four boys and a girl - then began talking in a language she didn't understand, thought to be Urdu, so she went to speak to the teacher. "I said 'I'm not being funny, but can I change
groups because I can't understand them?'

But (the teacher) started shouting and screaming, saying 'It's racist, you're going to get done by the police'." (in Brit criminal parlance, "Done" means arrested).

A complaint was made to a police officer based full-time at the school, and more than a week after the incident on September 26 she was taken to Swinton police station and placed under arrest.

"They told me to take my laces out of my shoes and remove my jewellery, and I had my fingerprints and photograph taken," said Codie. "It was awful."

After questioning on suspicion of committing a section five racial public order offence, her mother Nicola says she was placed in a bare cell for three-and-a-half hours then released without charge.

In this Clockwork Orange Britain, schools have full time cops, kids who can't speak English, and 14 year olds are jailed for complaining.

The Cops

This happened while we were in Italy:

Scotland Yard has launched an urgent review after a Muslim police officer was excused from guarding London's Israeli Embassy on moral grounds.

PC Alexander Omar Basha, who is attached to the Metropolitan Police's Diplomatic Protection Group, asked for special dispensation because of his objection to Israel's bombing of Lebanon.

Former Flying Squad commander John O'Connor criticised the decision and warned: "This is the beginning of the end for British policing.
When you join the police, you do so to provide a service to the public. If you cannot perform those duties, you leave."


A Scotland Yard spokesman refused to comment on the specific case but said they would consider special requests to be moved on moral grounds. He said: "Each case is considered separately, balancing the needs of the Metropolitan Police Service against those of the individual and the role which they will have to perform.

The good news is Alexander Omar Basha will now be on Mossad's watch list.

British Airways

This once nationalized - and terrible - airline was privatized by Margaret Thatcher and for 10 years it flowered. I relied on them in the early 90s for a bi-weekly commute between San Francisco and London. But its glory days are gone (hat tip LGF, my ellipsis):

Heathrow check-in worker Nadia Eweida was sent home after refusing to remove the crucifix which breached (British Airway's) dress code.

The airline's uniform code states that staff must not wear visible jewellery or other 'adornments' while on duty without permission from management. It makes exceptions for Muslim and Sikh minorities by allowing them to wear hijabs and turbans.

Under rules drawn up by BA's 'diversity team' and 'uniform committee', Sikh employees can even wear the traditional iron bangle - even though this would usually be classed as jewellery - while Muslim workers are also allowed prayer breaks during work time.

But Miss Eweida, 55, from Twickenham, insisted her cross, which is smaller than a ten pence piece, was not jewellery but an expression of her deep Christian faith.

She questioned why she was being forced to hide her religion when BA's Muslim and Sikh workers could express theirs.

Christianity is the Brit state religion (the Queen is Protector Of The Faith), so this airline is falsely representing itself as British. And by discriminating in favor of check-in clerks from communities supporting terror, it puts its customers at risk - these clerks are our first line of defense against airline terror.

Visitors can avoid this - their kids don't need to attend Brit state schools, they can steer clear of Muslim cops, and not fly BA. Plus nobody is likely to invade the UK soon, so the absence of armed forces is not a problem.

Still, it's terrible for native Brits, but it's possible we're seeing a backlash - at least these stories are being reported.

Failing which, Brits can move to France or Italy...

Friday, October 13, 2006

Unfit For Command

The head of the Brit armed forces wants to retreat from Iraq because some Iraqis - the killers - oppose our presence there. A pacifist has no place leading men in battle and he should be replaced forthwith.

He says of Iraq:
“We are in a Muslim country and Muslims’ views of foreigners in their country are quite clear. As a foreigner you can be welcomed by being invited in a country but we weren’t invited, certainly by those in Iraq at the time. The military campaign we fought in 2003 effectively kicked the door in.”
Just as well his predecessors didn't follow this line - imagine Eisenhower saying in 1945:
“We are in a Nazi country and Nazi's views of foreigners in their country are quite clear. As a foreigner you can be welcomed by being invited in a country but we weren’t invited, certainly by those in Germany at the time. The military campaign we fought in 1944 effectively kicked the door in.”
And by applying his "invitation" criteria, the Brit army should not be engaged in Afghanistan, whose rulers "at the time" in 2001 objected most strongly when the US Army "effectively kicked their door in" - and continue to so object. In fact it's hard to see what wars are available to a Brit Army whose leader restricts it to fighting enemies who invite it in.

What he's actually doing is siding with the Iraqi killers against their victims. He wants to leave the Iraqi men and women struggling to rebuild their country at the mercy of death squads of Iran's Shiite warlords and Saddam Hussein's Sunni despots.

Blair should replace this fool with a smart general who is prepared to fight. If he does not, the Brit army is a worthless instrument of national policy and the money spent on it is better refunded to taxpayers.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Lies, Damned Lies, and Lancet

The Brit journal Lancet has staged another pre-election hit on the administration, claiming excess deaths of 650,000 Iraqis since liberation. Not surprisingly given Lancet's record, the methodology of the study is junk, it's authors partisan, and it carefully avoids a perfectly straightforward way of establishing the true facts.

The
story:

The invasion of Iraq has cost the lives of 655,000 Iraqis, most of them killed as a direct result of violence, according to a disputed new study.
The figure — 13 times higher than the gloomiest of previous estimates —was compiled by random sampling of households across Iraq. It concluded that 601,000 people had died in the country’s unrelenting violence, and the rest from medical conditions and diseases whose treatment has been neglected as a result of the disruption caused by the conflict.
Here's what's wrong with this.

Bias

The survey estimates the increase in the death rate since the invasion with that in the
14 months pre-invasion (comment 39). However any balanced view of effect of the invasion on the Iraqi people would contrast their mortality after the invasion with that under a much larger slice of Saddam's rule.

By choosing 14 months, the researcher eliminates his gassing and other slaughters of the Kurds, the slaughter of the Shias post Gulf war, and the millions that died in the Iraq's attacks on Kuwait and Iran. I'd guess Saddam killed people at the rate of 2 million every 10 years, and if that's so, there are no excess deaths.

Sample Error

The authors play the classic game of feeding garbage data into nice statistical analysis software and claiming that the garbage out is sanctified by science.

To reach this result, they polled 1800 households, who reported 547 deaths since liberation and 82 during the last 14 months os Saddam. I'll accept these numbers as correct, though plenty won't, since Iraq is in the bottom quartile of world trustworthiness, with a
CPI of just 2.2.

Now the core of any statistical survey is the integrity of its sampling. For example if you were to run a survey of people's attitude to the Internet using an on-line questionnaire, you'd fail to sample the Web haters and get invalid results.


Nobody would do anything quite so daft, but bias creeps to the most carefully constructed surveys. For example phone surveys often miss the folks who work late hours, which may be why many voter polls contain a higher percentage of lefties than exist in the population. You can correct for this because the last election gives an exact measure of the number of Democrat and Republican voters, so you ask people how they voted and give more weight to the Republicans. Well, you should do that...

But that correction needs something objective like election results. In Iraq the problem is that violence is highly localized and unknown.


The problem with sampling death in Iraq is that risk varies hugely by area. It's commonplace that the North and South are relatively safe and Baghdad and environs are dangerous. But for a statistical study you need to know exactly how risk of mortality varies by area. And nobody knows - here's a BBC correspondent yesterday on driving in Baghdad:
There is no sensation like driving around Baghdad. Outside you can see what looks like the normality of an Arab street — kebab sellers fanning the coals, a glimpse of a garish display outside a wedding goods shop, a pile of fridges taking up the pavement. But a glimpse through a tattered curtain of a car is all there can be. It is considered far too dangerous for a westerner to be seen on the road.

In a city where dozens of bodies are found every morning and not a day passes without apparently random explosions in the streets, any car journey feels like another spin of the roulette wheel.
So even he doesn't know where is safe and where is not. If the man on the spot doesn't know where the violence is, the researchers and Lancet for sure don't. So they have no way of correcting for geographical bias and their numbers are valueless.

FYI, here are the death rates for Iraq from Lancet compared with the death rates given in the CIA Factbooks for Iraq, the UK and the US. (The Factbooks use internationally validated data, not figures pulled from the air by creepy Valerie Plame types).


SourceCountry2006 Estimated Death Rate per 1,000
LancetIraq13.3
CIA FactbookIraq5.37
CIA FactbookUS8.26
CIA FactbookUK10.13



The CIA numbers make sense because the Iraqi population is young (median age 19.7), so less die each year than the older Brit population (median age 39.3) or the US (median age 36.5).

Hence the Lancet numbers are way out of line - probably because they oversampled Sunnis who under Saddam were the ruling elite and so more likely to be killers but since liberation are more likely to be victims.

Partisan Authors

Lancet sprang a similar October surprise before the 2004 elections, so we know their motivation. They used a paper from the same team, and comment 39 here alerts us to the background of one of its members:
Les Roberts (epidemiologist) is most prominent in the news for his study estimating that 100,000 Iraqi civilians had been killed in the Iraq war, at a time when official U.S. government estimates were much lower.

Roberts campaigned for office in 2006, running in the Democratic primary for the U.S. House of Representatives seat of the 24th Congressional District in Chenango County, NY. He withdrew from the running on May 17 and endorsed the remaining Democratic candidate in the race.

Since then, some have discussed Les Roberts' possible candidacy for the state senate seat in his district.

What The Researchers Chose Not To Do

Death is one of the most easily recorded statistics - it leaves dead bodies that need to be shipped to mortuaries and then buried. Even suicide bombers are rarely vaporized - London's July 7 bombers famously donated their heads to science.

The researchers used what they must have known was unverifiable sampling to undertake the risky task of contacting and interviewing 1800 households. But why not just interview the head clerks of 1800 mortuaries? Now Saddam has gone, there are no secret mass graves to worry about. And if an average mortuary handles 10 bodies a week - 500 a year - then even at Lancet's daft death rates you'd only need 700 mortuaries to handle the entire Iraqi death rate.

Plus mortuaries will mostly be on the phone (so don't risk researchers being kidnapped), and you can cross check their data with hospital records and death certificates.

In my opinion the fact that the researchers chose not to follow this safer, cheaper and quicker route using mortuary records confirms them, and Lancet, as charlatans. And our MSM as incompetents for not spotting these obvious flaws.

None of which is exactly new news...

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The North Korean Fizzle Or Fake

The reported size of the North Korean "nuclear" explosion suggests it either failed or was just high explosive.

The reports:
South Korea’s geological institute estimated the force of the explosion to be equivalent to 550 tons of TNT, far smaller than the two nuclear bombs the U.S. dropped on Japan in World War II.

France’s atomic energy commission similarly estimated the blast measured at around 1 kiloton or less — equivalent to the explosive force of 1,000 tons of TNT.

This post analyzes the three explanations for such a low yield:
1. It was a mini-nuke
2. The test fizzled
3. It was a fake using high explosive.

First some background.

The weapon would have used either a gun-type mechanism to detonate enriched Uranium, or an implosion mechanism to detonate Plutonium 239 - there's a good overview here.

North Korea is believed to have enough Plutonium for 10 bombs (about 110 pounds), and may have enriched Uranium using centrifuge designs supplied by the "rogue" Pakistani A Q Khan.

However gun-type Uranium weapons don't need testing - the Hiroshima bomb wasn't. So any test would be of a Plutonium bomb. These need testing because they use the complex implosion mechanism:

The core of fissile material that is formed into a super-critical mass by chemical high explosives (HE) or propellants. When the high explosive is detonated, an inwardly directed implosion wave is produced.

This wave compresses the sphere of fissionable material. The decrease in surface to volume ratio of this compressed mass plus its increased density is then such as to make the mass supercritical...

A neutron generator emits a burst of neutrons to initiate the chain reaction at the proper moment —- near the point of maximum compression in an implosion design...

The Nagasaki bomb yielded 21 kilotons from 13.5 pounds of Plutonium. You can make much smaller implosion bombs by using more explosives, less Plutonium and neutron generating boosters. Ted Freeman, the king of fission weapons, built a tiny 1 kiloton bomb and suggests designs as small as 0.1 kilotons (pages 49-56 of this book).

But mini-nukes are built on a huge raft of technology and experience, and there's no way the impoverished North Koreans could have reached that level at their first attempt.

So this was not a mini-nuke.

Fizzle

A fizzle occurs if you don't get the implosion mechanism to work properly. In that case detonation is partial - the 18th US test in 1956 was the first that failed, and it just blew the top off the supporting tower.

A 0.55 kiloton fizzle is possible, but should be detectable because a fizzled underground test (WSJ, $): ...
...is more likely to vent xenon gasses and isotopes, such as krypton and cesium, into the air than a large device, which can melt rock and seal the site.
If the explosion was a fizzle, the radiation detectors now being deployed off North Korea should sniff it out.


Fake

This is highly probable - a military dictatorship like North Korea would have no problem in covertly collecting, burying, and detonating 550 tons of high explosive.

Whether fizzle or fake, Armageddon is not as close as we feared.