Friday, 27 February 2009

Professor Potts

Good news, Aidan Potts has massively expanded his website.

Aidan is the author and illustrator of Uneversaurus, the most original educational book on dinosaurs, and that’s saying something considering how many hundreds of dinosaur books there are. He was also co-founder of Inkling, a particularly excellent comics anthology published in the closing years of the last century. And he has a regular strip in Private Eye too. Some people are just clever.

Illustration: In the Offing. Copyright © Aidan Potts.

Thursday, 26 February 2009


Via Terry Glavin, a 15 minute documentary on Swat Valley, Pakistan, from the New York Times, Class Dismissed in Swat Valley.

George Packer at The New Yorker, Wanted in Pakistan: Competent Counterinsurgency. Reacting to a report on American military advisers in Pakistan, he writes:
What’s worrying is the nature of the help American forces are giving: intelligence for Pakistani air strikes and commando operations aimed at killing or capturing Taliban and Qaeda leaders.

What’s wrong with this picture? Have a look at the Army and Marine Corps counterinsurgency field manual, written under the leadership of General Petraeus. What experts call the kill-capture model was exactly the wrong approach to take during the early years of the Iraq war. This kind of emphasis always ends up creating more new enemies than it can eliminate old ones. Only when the military changed its strategy to protecting the population did the war in Iraq take a turn for the better.
February 24th in the New York Times, Strikes Worsen Qaeda Threat, Pakistan Says. Related, February 9th at the SWJ, Crunch Time in Afghanistan-Pakistan by David Kilcullen, calling in part for a change in policy on air strikes in Pakistan. Also, Abu Muqawama Declares Jihad on Google Earth.

And another one from Abu Muqawama, A Question from the Readership. His questioning reader writes:
Why is it that for all the ‘we can’t win Afghanistan without Pakistan’ talk, it’s never vice versa? In the New York Times, you made an excellent case for considering what exactly victory means in Afghanistan. Right below you, Parag Khanna stressed that International Forces are only at best pushing the Taliban problem over the border, and that we must consider stabilizing Western Pakistan to stabilize Afghanistan. Put the two together, and the road to success, as it were, seems gloomy and difficult. But can the question be flipped? To stabilize Western Pakistan, do we need to stabilize Afghanistan? [...]

I remember in the dark days of 2006, leading up the announcement of the surge, the meme for Iraq became (and still is) that leaving could lead to regional war and ethnic conflict. That case never seems to be made with Afghanistan. Would leaving mean that the anti-Pakistan elements have more room to cooperate with drug traffickers, and more opportunity to take down what seems to be the most collapsible nuclear weapons state? I guess I’m wondering what your opinion would be on the effect on Pakistan if the mission does wind down in Afghanistan?
Still to read in the current issue of The New Yorker, The Back Channel, India and Pakistan’s Secret Kashmir Talks, by Steve Coll.

Earlier related post here.

Promoting democracy?

In the IHT last monday, Obama rethinks the goal of democracy-building:
His Inaugural Address a few days later was in sharp contrast to Bush’s four years ago. Where Bush called the spread of freedom the central goal of American policy, Obama made just passing reference to those who silence dissent being on “the wrong side of history.” Indeed, his secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton, outlined a policy of the “Three D’s” - defense, diplomacy and development. The fourth D, democracy, did not make the list.

And if that were not clear, during her trip to Asia, she said that human rights violations by China “can’t interfere” with cooperation between Washington and Beijing on other issues. That may simply be a more honest statement of longstanding reality in the Chinese-American relationship, but it still seemed jarring.
Galrahn at Information Dissemination, also last monday, Hilary Channels Thomas Barnett. And Thomas Barnett on his own blog, Being real on China. The meat is in the comments in both those posts.

(My previous posts on TPM Barnett start here.)

Meanwhile farther north, via the comments at Terry’s place, Full-Steam Ahead on Spreading Democracy, an interview with Steven Fletcher, Canadian minister of state for democratic reform:
“I think Canada is a civilized member of the world community and this is the time that we should step up and show leadership that we care about what happens in the rest of the world, we want people to be empowered, to make the best decisions for themselves and nations to be empowered to make the best decisions for their people who live within their borders.

“And democracy is the best way to do it and Canada will do more than its fair share to empower the individuals, and therefore their governments, to ensure that the people of these countries, their quality of life is improved. And I think most Canadians would be very impassioned about this. Is there stuff to do at home? Of course, but home is also the planet Earth.”
Turning back to the article in the IHT for a closing quote:
William Inboden, a former strategic adviser at the National Security Council now at the Legatum Institute in London, said [...] Obama has the chance to rebrand democracy. His own election generated enormous good will around the world, an “incredibly profound and incredibly potent” statement about American democracy, Inboden said. And so, he said, “there’s real opportunity there.”
While I have respect for TPM Barnett’s thesis that economic interconnectivity promotes security, I believe democracy is still essential. Economic development without democratically accountable rule of law is too vulnerable to corruption and worse.

Add a few seagulls . . .

 . . . nearly done now.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Knuckle Peak

Here are some images related to my interview for Scamp, now enlargeable, so click away.

In the Scamp post I talk about the somewhat involved way I went about creating my first picture book, Sadie the Air Mail Pilot, including making computer models of Sadie’s aircraft and of Air Mail HQ. These were combined with hand drawn elements, and the final paintings were all acrylic on paper.

For Knuckle Peak weather station I made two models as reference, a very rough small scale clay sculpt of the mountain and a larger scale model of the interior made with card, paper and balsa wood. Neither were very pretty, but they were very useful in drawing the multiple viewpoints of the location seen in the book.

Before doing any final art, however, the book went through five drafts, each one a fully sketched dummy book. Below are some of the early sketches of Knuckle Peak.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Bags of money, up for grabs . . .

. . . and Pakistan, Pakistan, Pakistan. Also India, China, Russia, and, um, Iran? And hard, long, difficult, challenging, and hard.

Some words from two conversations about Afghanistan on the Charlie Rose Show. From last Monday February 16th, a discussion with Milt Bearden, Dexter Filkins, Craig Mullaney and Martha Raddatz (via this SWJ post on Craig Mullaney’s new book The Unforgiving Minute), and from last Friday February 20th, an interview with Richard Holbrooke.

Recently I posted on Afghanistan and tea drinking. Here’s a tea reference that’s more to the point, in words from General Petraeus earlier this month:
A nuanced appreciation of the local situation is essential. Leaders and troopers have to understand the tribal structures, the power brokers, the good guys and the bad guys, local cultures and history, and how systems are supposed to work and do work. This requires listening and being respectful of local elders and mullahs, and farmers and shopkeepers – and it also requires, of course, many cups of tea.
That quote was used to open a radio discussion on The Brian Lehrer Show with Nathaniel Fick and John Nagl, all about counter-insurgency and Afghanistan, broadcast on WNYC February 10th, again via the Small Wars Journal.

Also on that same SWJ post, a TV interview with Tom Ricks on The Daily Show. An excerpt from his new book The Gamble, about the surge strategy in Iraq, appeared in The Times on Saturday and attracted the notice of both Mick Hartley and Norman Geras. The headline was Emma Sky, British ‘tree-hugger’ in Iraq who learnt to love US military.

Out with the family on Wednesday, we chanced upon this exhibition at the Royal Geographical Society showing Victorian photographs and drawings of Afghanistan, with a few more recent images included as comparisons. The exhibition still has a few days to run. I would have liked to have spent longer, but Dan Dare beckoned us further down Exhibition Road.

One of the photos in the Royal Geographical Society exhibition turns up in a recent post at Ghosts of Alexander, ‘Afghanisation’, a rather unfortunate neologism.

Two links to close: returning to a favourite theme, from Roland, This is “Realism”? And good news on the Canadian home front via Terry, Jonathon Narvey: Cheer The Hell Up. Of course once you start linking to Terry and his friends it’s hard to stop, but enough is enough is too much.

Good Luck Arizona Man

This was one of my favourite books in those long gone days, and it was a pleasure to read it aloud to Bo in recent weeks. The Puffin paperback gives no details on the author, Rex Benedict, and I can’t find anything online except the titles of a few other books also written in the 1970s.

The story concerns a fair-haired boy, Arizona Slim, raised by Apaches who goes looking for lost Apache gold, and for the secrets of his own origins, in the Guadalupe Mountains of Texas. The tale is vividly told, and whether much of it is accurate fact or more the imaginings of the writer, either way it’s impressively done.

The secrets to good luck and happiness, according to Arizona Slim, include never using your real name, changing it regularly, and allowing no thing to exist in your mind which you don’t want to exist, replacing it with something you prefer. Being able to cover your tracks, make your heart stop beating, and learning to breathe through your eyes are all helpful skills as well.
So now I rode into the night, free again and unburdened with White Eye complications. I now knew one more secret about myself and I was afraid to think too much about it. Instead, in pure Apache fashion, I put William Brodie away and became again the Good Luck Man, Arizona Boy, Arizona Slim, or whatever I wanted to call myself - tall for my age, wise for my years, and once again Apache-happy with my life.

I had my horse and I had the stars. I had lost my trackers long ago. Now I could head for those ghostly mountains - the Guadalupes - and find Old Wickiup’s gold.

Everything was beautiful.

Later that same night when Moon Dance and I had made camp along the first slopes of the Guadalupes, I felt that everything was perfect, which to an Apache means that everything is normal. About halfway through the night, while I was pickin’ out the stars in the Mexican sky and thinkin’ how truly fine in life it is to be a good-luck man and untormented by all the foolish things what un-good-luck men look for and die for and never find, I heard the distant trample of horses goin’ fast.
. . .


Jeff Winner has posted some Raymond Scott ringtones for the iPhone, but I don’t think they’ll work on my phone. Mobile? Well, the wire is long enough to reach both of my chairs. As the man said, “Siunattu teknologia!” 

Happy birthday Peggy!

bean party
Peggy is 5 today!

Yesterday we threw a bean party for Bo and Peg. All the kids got bean money to trade for beans, and spent the beans at stands where they could make things or gamble for more bean money.

bean party
Bo took these photos of the signs for the stands as they were being painted.

bean party
Our bean economy suffered rapid inflation, a bean bubble, but luckily the party only ran two hours so the bank didn’t have time to go bust.

bean party
Some kids went home with a massive hoard of beans, others preferred to keep their wealth in bundles of bean notes.

bean party
The bean money was made with images swiped from James Lileks’s collection at The Engraveyard, combined with stills from Ub Iwerks’s Jack and the Beanstalk, from Michael Sporn’s wonderful animation blog.

play money
You can download sheets of bean notes sized to print on A4 sheets here:

toy money

Monday, 16 February 2009

Happy birthday Bo!

Bo is 8 today!


Scamp, the Irish illustration blog, has an interview with me up today, mostly about my picture book, and how I went about it.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

The Castle of Mirrors

Still sketching the sea monster - in the meantime here’s another Charlie Bone cover underway for Gallimard Jeunesse.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Splish splash

. . . here’s something started last Saturday night.

First in pencil,

then sketching tones in acrylic paint,

then having second thoughts about the composition and sketching in Photoshop,

implementing the changes in physical paint,

and so on.

It’s got some way to go, but now I’m taking a break to draw the sea monster on the next spread.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Reject the rule of the dead

Via Harry’s Place, the words of Iyad Jamal Al-Din, Iraqi member of parliament, interviewed on Al-Jazeera, January 30th of this year:
Iyad Jamal Al-Din: The secular or liberal movement looks to the future, not to the past. They do not cry about the past. They don’t have a Wailing Wall. There are no dead people among the liberal or secular leaders. In the Islamic or religious parties – whatever you want to call them – you see the living hiding behind pictures of the dead, or martyrs. All their leaders are martyrs. There isn’t a single living leader in the Islamic movements who can say: I am your leader. He may be alive, but behind him there is a giant 5-meter-tall picture of a martyr.

Interviewer: They are trying to evoke…

Iyad Jamal Al-Din: They are evoking dead leaders.

Interviewer: This may be a good thing.

Iyad Jamal Al-Din: Some people may view this as a positive thing, but the people are a living people, who look to the future, not to the past. If you want to rely on the past – okay, no problem. But if you are alive, and led by a dead person – this means you must die yourself in order to become a leader. Living nations produce living leaders, not martyrs. Only nations living in the past produce martyrs. They take pride in their past more than they look to the future.

From The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine, published in 1791:
Every age and generation must be as free to act for itself in all cases as the age and generations which preceded it. The vanity and presumption of governing beyond the grave is the most ridiculous and insolent of all tyrannies. Man has no property in man; neither has any generation a property in the generations which are to follow. The Parliament or the people of 1688, or of any other period, had no more right to dispose of the people of the present day, or to bind or to control them in any shape whatever, than the parliament or the people of the present day have to dispose of, bind or control those who are to live a hundred or a thousand years hence. Every generation is, and must be, competent to all the purposes which its occasions require. It is the living, and not the dead, that are to be accommodated. When man ceases to be, his power and his wants cease with him; and having no longer any participation in the concerns of this world, he has no longer any authority in directing who shall be its governors, or how its government shall be organised, or how administered.

Iyad Jamal Al-Din interview translated by MEMRI.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Ha, ha!

Ya gotta laugh!

Send in the tourists

Falluja may not be ready yet, but Beirut is beautiful. For more travel tips ask someone who knows .

The Red Tree

Tancrède et l’arbre (Tancred and the tree), from Charlie Bone et la bille magique (Charlie Bone and the Time Twister), 2007.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Iraq parallax

As the vantage point changes, opinion changes on Iraq, at least in some places, to some degree. The election has been well-covered on lots of other blogs, but one reaction I found particularly curious was this from Andrew Sullivan. First, some sense: having acknowledged the “relatively peaceful democratic elections” as cause for celebration, he goes on to describe much of the  American policy debates as “narcissistic”, and writes “it is silly to get too exercized about a withdrawal in 16 months or 18 months or two years.” But then he goes on to give the flimsiest argument against any deal beyond the SOFA involving permanent US military basing in Iraq:
What is not silly is a clear determination to leave - and by leave, I mean leave - before the end of Obama’s first term. If the Iraqi government wants military assistance and support, fine. But the notion that Iraq should become a permanent outpost of the US military is one we should reject. Iraq has destroyed every foreign power trying to occupy, control or sit on it. And the US is not, despite neocon dreams, a colonial power in the classic sense.
 I have no opinion on whether or not there should be permanent US bases in Iraq in future, because unlike Mr Sullivan I don’t fancy myself as a clairvoyant. The issue would depend on the future views of both the sovereign government of Iraq and the US government as to their strategic needs. But the really silly part is drawing an equivalence between permanent basing and trying to “occupy, control, or sit” on Iraq. Is this what the US is doing in Britain, Japan, Germany &c?

The world is turning, and Mr Sullivan is running to keep up. I hear the guy used to be good, but I came in late, so I wouldn’t know. More recent Sullivan silliness here (via Roland).

Following up my earlier Signals and Noise posts (one and two) on the upcoming troop withdrawals, here’s a NY Times piece on the issue from a week ago that focuses on the political as well as military implications for Obama.

I would have thought the political calculation should be simple to work out: If Obama pulls out troops in line with the 16 month campaign promise but against the best advice of military advisers and it goes wrong, he gets blamed. If he pulls out in line with the longer SOFA timetable then he’s following a treaty commitment entered into by the previous administration and is not open to blame to the same degree if it goes wrong. Either way he withdraws well before his re-election campaign, so where is the political benefit in risking withdrawing faster than the SOFA timetable?

Turning to a related thread in recent posts, on whether there is something to be gained from comparing the occupation of Iraq with Israel’s longer running occupation of the West Bank and Gaza (one and two), The Contentious Centrist recently linked to an interview with Benny Morris talking about the recent fighting in Gaza, which was strong on many points, but to me seemed to fall short on others. Particularly he stated his belief that the introduction of democracy in Arab societies was doomed (29:20), predicting failure in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the Palestinian territories. I hope the recent evidence to the contrary from Iraq may yet broaden the view of what is possible, not just for Iraqis but also for Palestinians, Egyptians, Jordanians, Syrians . . .

Also on making comparisons, a post on Michael J Totten’s blog, A Minority Report from the West Bank and Gaza, was followed by many comments, amongst which an attempt to find lessons in recent Iraqi experience applicable to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was met with some skepticism. But the substance of the actual post once more underlined the necessity of focusing on the needs of populations, not just on political leaders, something re-learned in Iraq and overdue greater application in Israel’s approach to the Palestinians. It’s a lesson that was understood long ago by Hamas, however cynically they applied it.

Finally, via Harry’s Place, another indication of shifting perspectives, the American Association for Public Opinion Research criticises Dr. Gilbert Burnham, author of the extraordinary estimate of Iraqi war casualties published in The Lancet medical journal in 2006. From the AAPOR press release:
AAPOR found that Burnham, a faculty member at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, repeatedly refused to make public essential facts about his research on civilian deaths in Iraq. In particular, the AAPOR inquiry focused on Burnham’s publication of results from a survey reported in the October 2006 issue of the journal Lancet. When asked to provide several basic facts about this research, Burnham refused.

AAPOR holds that researchers must disclose, or make available for public disclosure, the wording of questions and other basic methodological details when survey findings are made public. This disclosure is important so that claims made on the basis of survey research findings can be independently evaluated. Section III of the AAPOR Code states: "Good professional practice imposes the obligation upon all public opinion researchers to include, in any report of research results, or to make available when that report is released, certain essential information about how the research was conducted."

Mary E. Losch, chair of AAPOR's Standards Committee, noted that AAPOR's investigation of Burnham began in March 2008, after receiving a complaint from a member. According to Losch, "AAPOR formally requested on more than one occasion from Dr. Burnham some basic information about his survey including, for example, the wording of the questions he used, instructions and explanations that were provided to respondents, and a summary of the outcomes for all households selected as potential participants in the survey. Dr. Burnham provided only partial information and explicitly refused to provide complete information about the basic elements of his research.”
The Lancet reportedly had no comment. The Lancet’s editor has been a very public supporter of the UK anti-war movement.

The Lancet has had problems with other stories related to statistics, most notoriously MMR, but also more recently with a story on sexual abuse statistics, debunked on BBC Radio 4’s More or Less last December 5th.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

A plane for Sadie

A few of the working drawings for the Sadie picture book, published in 2007.

Yes, I know, those exhaust pipes make no sense.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Tea and bacon

In A Canterbury Tale, Powell and Pressburger pointed out that the tea drinkers were winning the war. Now in Afghanistan, the bacon eaters stand tall. Following the links back from that post will lead to something more substantial.

Update: related, Crunch time in Afghanistan-Pakistan by David Kilcullen.

Monday, 2 February 2009