Sunday, July 31, 2005

Britblog Roundup #24 is up and packed with goodness

Simon Jenkins is spot-on in the Sunday Times:
"The streets of London are alive with like dangers, with people who shoot, kill and maim dozens of people a year. We fight them all, whatever their proffered and spurious justification.

"So what purpose was served last week by police crying, 'They’re still out there and trying to get you'? What good are daily briefings on 'the inevitability' of another attack? Street killings are inevitable, too. Apart from the gratuitous damage to public confidence and business, why stoke the very fears, hatreds and antagonisms that the bombers want stoked? Just get on and find the bombers, without publicising their allegedly awesome power to deflect blame from any deficiencies in public safety. Half the British Establishment seems to have signed up to the League of Friends of Terrorism."
Read the whole thing. Then mark the irony of the front page of the Times being dominated by the story Third terror cell on lose...

Get off your fat arse and actually DO something to save democracy and freedom of speech and stuff, rather than just moan about it.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Reader vote excitement*!

*may actually mean mind-numbing tedium

Being, as I am, currently drunk and reading blogs on a crappy computer with the slowest internet connection I've had the misfortune of experiencing since about 1997, I've realised something irritating about my very own blog (other than the incompetence, ill-formed opinions and unoriginal invective, naturally).

To wit: clicking the comments link, then waiting for the page to load, then clicking again before being able to leave a comment can be fucking dull.

So, I'm putting it to a vote - who wants me to change the comments thing to one of those little pop-up window jobbies?

As this is Britain, which ever option ("pop-up" or "as is") gets 22% of the votes will win. Or first past the post, I dunno. And I may change my mind later.

Did I mention I was drunk?

Friday, July 29, 2005

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair is a trigger-happy psycho who wants us all dead

That's my interpretation anyway, and I'm sticking to it. He does strike me as the sort of man who, next time the terrorists strike, will sit back with a smug grin on his face and say "I told you so - we should have shot everyone in the head". (Forgetting, of course, that had he done his cunting job properly the buggers wouldn't have succeeded in the first place... Grrr...)

Berlusconi: "a disaster", "a rip off" that "screwed everybody"

No, no, no - of COURSE I'm not implying that the rampantly corrupt Italian multimillionaire media baron cum Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is himself a disaster, a rip off and screwing everybody (though he bloody well is), merely quoting this brilliant man's opinions of the Euro - opinions formed almost entirely thanks to the pressures of domestic national politics, as he's got rather worried that the return of former EU Commission President Romano Prodi to the Italian political scene after a few years in Brussels could finally mark the end of Berlusconi's piss-poor yet record-breakingly long time in charge.

To what extent the adoption of the Euro is actually to blame for Italy's shoddy economic performance at the moment, and how much to Berlusconi's faffing about and incompetence, is rather hard to tell. But this is a nice illustration of how the EU is always a handy scapegoat for national governmental fuck-ups.

Berlusconi should, by rights, be out on his money-heavy, principle-light arse come the next Italian elections. But if he can keep blaming all his country's problems on outside forces, uniting the people against a common enemy, he knows he's got a chance. So blame the economy on the EU, blame the EU on his most likely opponent, and undermine the anti-war opposition by launching lawsuits against the CIA, thus proving that he's not another Blair-like lapdog of the Americans.

Normally, the public would easily be able to see through this - and, of course, a fair few still do - but as Silvio owns three national television channels, Italy's largest publishing house (which publishes a number of political magazines), a major advertising/publicity agency, and as his brother controls one national newspaper and his wife another, not to mention his controlling stake in AC Milan which enables him to tap directly into the normally politically apathetic football crowd, our man Berlusconi has an unrivalled wealth and propaganda machine to swing behind whatever the hell he says.

Considering he founded his own political party a couple of months before the 1994 elections on a single-issue "beat communism" ticket, Silvio's a bit like an Italian Robert Kilroy-Silk, which should tell you everything you need to know. But he's more like Kilroy if the silver-haired one was worth several hundred million and completely owned ITV, Sky, Channel 4, The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Spectator, Saachi & Saachi and Manchester United... And that, let's face it, is a fucking terrifying thought if ever I heard of one.

Berlusconi's certainly not stupid. He is, however, a threat to the whole of Europe. In his determination to hang on to power, he could well jettison the Euro as a political gesture as much as anything, and the knock-on effects around the continent could be devastating - even for places like Britain who've kept out of the Eurozone.

It's all very well looking at the failure of the Constitution ratification process and the Britain vs. France spat over the Common Agricultural Policy and worrying about how it'll all pan out, but that was merely a sideshow (as has become very clear now that the UK has quietly backed down on the CAP while everyone's attention was on a few bangs in London) - but the real threat to the future of the EU lies south of the Alps, and its name is Silvio.

Today, I shall mostly be mourning the end of an era

*sniff*

Andrew Marr's last day as BBC political editor...

Look at his little face!



I have to say, though, that I am VERY disappointed with the lack of information on his Wikipedia page... For as important a national institution as our saucer-eared Putin-a-like it's a disgrace, I tell you!

(Still, at least I'm not as upset about it as the missus... Almost started crying when she heard the news on the Today Programme this morning, poor dear.)

Update: Nah, the missus would never forgive me if the gnome-like picture above was the only one I put in, so here, have one of our Andy in ruggedly hunky, scrawny sex-god mode (isn't he dreeeeamy?):

Thursday, July 28, 2005

MI5 - apologists for terror (applying the government's logic, at any rate):
"Though they have a range of aspirations and 'causes', Iraq is a dominant issue for a range of extremist groups and individuals in the UK and Europe. Some individuals who support the insurgency are known to have travelled to Iraq in order to fight against coalition forces. In the longer term, it is possible that they may later return to the UK and consider mounting attacks here."

A vision of Britain's ID card future - "the more people that say something, anything, anywhere, the better. Making a subset of our fellow citizens feel less than complete members of our society, only causes the words “violent backlash” to form in my mind."

icBirmingham - Top Muslim states the bleeding obvious brands Blair a liar

Note to all the people arriving here from Google searches for "pissing" - Eeeeew...

Note to self - stop swearing so much...

Update: Oddly, pissing and swearing has turned into a discussion of the IRA's statement in the comments...

Update 2: Tony Blair has referred to the IRA's statement as "a step of unparalleled magnitude". Now we KNOW it means tit all...

I'm not a fan of the Stop the War Coalition. They've made a few too many silly pronouncements and have a few too many associations with people for whom I've got little respect for me to normally want to have anything to do with them.

This protest, however, is well worth supporting. (via<)

British stoicism goes to shit - nice one. As if it's not bad enough that eveyone who looks a bit foreign is being stared at suspiciously on the tube and made to feel deeply uncomfortable, attacks on "asian" people (which may or may not include Brazilians these days) have risen significantly since the bombings. Due to the same ignorance which leads people to get confused about the different Islamic sects, this has included attacks on Sikhs and Hindus.

So, what started out as a fight between "us" and a small group of fanatics has seemingly started to expand to take in not just every Muslim on the planet, but into a full-on racial division throughout British society. Which is one of the least British things going - the last time we had such a racial split was just after the Norman Conquest.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Clichés are becoming hard to avoid

But it must be said, "Big Brother" was the first thing that sprang to mind on reading that plans are afoot across the EU to increase the cover of surveillance technology.

Naturally enough, CCTV is a useful tool. But unless coverage is total, it may as well be useless when trying to catch people after the fact. I'm on the record, in the liveblog of last Thursday's bombings, as reckoning that thanks to the massive CCTV coverage in London the guys responsible would be caught in a matter of hours. But unless the people arrested today turn out to be the bombers, which doesn't sound especially certain, as of yet they are still on the loose. All they needed to do was leg it to an area where the cameras are not. My confidence in technology has been shown to be ill-founded.

Lest we forget, in Orwell's increasingly prescient 1984, Winston Smith was able to indulge in activities disapproved of by the state for a fairly extended period of time, even though the government had video cameras even in his own home. Unless we get to a Star Trek scenario, where somehow Captains Kirk and Picard are able to summon up images of pretty much any part of their ship despite the fact that the Enterprise doesn't seem to be surrounded by and permeated with vast numbers of cameras, there will always be areas which cannot or are not being watched. And even if everywhere IS covered by cameras, you still need people to watch what they are filming or (after the fact) to trawl through the thousands of hours of footage looking for suspicious activity.

Just take London Underground. There are currently 6,000 CCTV cameras down there, set to increase to 9,000. 9,000 cameras, working just while the tube is running (c.5:30am to c.12:30am) would produce 171,000 hours of footage a day. And it's more than possible to sneak into the tube system at night to drop a few devices off, as large parts of the network start off overground - all you need to do is wander down a tunnel. The number of cameras in London as a whole is probably unknown, but would certainly run to well over 100,000 - a figure which would produce 2,400,000 hours of footage a day.

It simply isn't practical to keep an eye on everyone all of the time. It's not even practical to try to keep an eye on specific people all of the time. If you're using technology, this technology can be flawed, break down, or have limited coverage. Even if you're using security service personnel to tail people, these tails can be shaken.

In 1984, the point of the surveillance was deterrance. The camera in Winston Smith's home wasn't watching him all the time. But it COULD have been - and so he didn't want to risk doing anything suspect, just in case.

We are currently dealing with people who simply don't care whether they are spotted or not. They are prepared to kill themselves in the process of killing us - are they really going to worry about the minute chance of the watchmen actually watching when all it takes (as the apologists for last week's shooting keep pointing out) is a fraction of a second for them to set off their bombs?

When it comes to suicide bombers, by definition deterrance doesn't work, as deterrance implies that something worse could happen to you than you are prepared to accept. That was the whole point of the Cold War "Mutually Assured Destruction" nuclear policy. That policy wouldn't have worked for five minutes if either the US or USSR actually WANTED to be blown to shit.

When it comes to speed cameras, there is already a commercially-available map of the country listing their locations to enable drivers to break speed limits to their hearts' content. If our terrorist chums are as organised as we've repeatedly been told they are, what makes it so likely that they aren't going to scope out their routes beforehand and find CCTV-free black spots for either their route in or escape?

Yes, CCTV is reassuring. But in the face of suicide terrorists it is precisely no use in preventing attacks. Expanding coverage will do little but waste vast amounts of money providing endless hours of footage which no one will ever be able to trawl through. Much as with ID cards, which will cost insane amounts yet still be relatively easy to get around if you're determined to, I'd imagine that this money could be rather better spent elsewhere - for example, on recruiting and training more intelligence officers who, rather than merely observe as the cameras do, have the ability to interpret and act on information as well.

I don't have any solutions to our current dillemma, because I for one am convinced that there aren't any. We can not wipe out all terrorists, nor are we likely to be able to convince these particular terrorists to give up. We can, however, at least stop wasting resources chasing solutions which are nothing of the kind and try concentrating on preventing these bastards from launching their attacks in the first place rather than mopping up after the fact. And - at least when it comes to terrorism - mopping up after the fact is all that CCTV and ID cards are good for.

EU not doing too well?

As regular readers of this blog will know, I'm no economist and numbers tend to confuse me. But still, this doesn't look good:

"According to the latest revisions, the EU25 external current account recorded a deficit of 22.5 billion euro in the first quarter of 2005, as compared with a deficit of 3.9 billion euro in the first quarter of 2004 and a deficit of 2.3 billion euro in the fourth quarter of 2004."
I'll try and update this post later, once I've dug out some analysis from people who know what they're talking about when it comes to this kind of thing.

Blair can never win this "war". He's fighting it in the wrong place.

Oh, and On Iraq, 7/7 and the Truth.

Police fail to use most effective anti-terror tactics - risking all our lives with irresponsible use of "restraint" and "arrest" rather than the tried and tested method of "shoot in head".

Update: Heh! - ICIGSITBOTH - In Case I Get Shot In The Back Of The Head

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

ID

An obvious question, this, but one that's been confusing me.

Shortly after the 7th July bombs the government admitted that ID cards would not have enabled them to stop the attacks. But there was a caveat - were everyone in the country to have ID cards, we were told, it would make it easier to sort things out in the aftermath.

This was interpreted as meaning it would be easier to help identify bodies (assuming, of course, that the cards which we would all be forced to carry hadn't been destroyed in any explosions along with our bodies), but it was also hinted that it would make tracking down the terrorists easier. (Assuming, of course, they hadn't blown themselves up at the same time. And that they had followed their civic duty and actually applied for the things.)

Our chaps last week seemingly deliberately left ID in the bags that contained their bombs, as did the lot from a fortnight before. One might suggest that even though last week's terrorists were evidently fucking stupid, they were unlikely to be stupid enough to return to an address which they would have been aware the police would have had in their posession.

So all that has resulted from this supposedly massively beneficial source of information that is ID has been police surveillance of an address left with one of the bombs, to which the terrorist in question was highly unlikly to risk returning, and the subsequent death of an innocent man who happened to live in the same building.

Meanwhile, even though our failed terrorists left ID at the scenes of their attempted crimes and then fled through areas more than amply covered by CCTV, and even though their pictures and names have been released to the public, the police have yet to arrest any of them.

Can anyone therefore explain to me how the proposed ID cards would help? I'm genuinely intrigued to know. After the events of the last couple of weeks, the only way in which I can see they might have been useful would have been to rather more rapidly dismiss the somewhat distasteful rumours, the origins of which are unclear, that Jean Charles de Menezes was in the country illegally (as if this somehow made his death OK).

Either way, this pledge may be worth considering - assuming, of course, that our dear government still has the balls to press ahead with this pointless and costly legislation. Which, considering they still have the press release on the Home Office website claiiming that ID cards "will help tackle the activities of organised criminals and terrorists" and that they have just released the attempted rebuttal of the LSE report (.pdf download), it would tend to suggest they do. (Meanwhile, in Australia they are still pushing for ID and more CCTV as well, even though in London we've just fairly conclusively demonstrated that these aren't really that much help.)

This may not be the most comforting thing to state at this particular moment in time, but it doesn't make it any less true: if terrorists want to strike, they will eventually succeed - no matter what precautions we put in place, there will always be a way around them. That's obviously not to suggest we shouldn't try to stop them, but surely we should concentrate our resources on areas in which they may actually have some impact. And little pieces of plastic filled with intrusive information will achieve precisely tit all.

Today's best headline award - quality.

Something to hearten the fascists.

Update: And something to hearten the Dear Leader

"Police say the tactics, which involve shooting suspected suicide bombers in the head, are the most effective."

Police also say that "the most effective way to stop criminals from committing crimes is to shoot them in the head," and that "the most effective way to stop ordinary citizens from becoming criminals is also to shoot them in the head."

Even taking into account the unlikely event of someone surviving seven or eight bullets to the brain, this tactic has a 99.9% success rate in preventing future offences, and projections forecast the biggest single reduction in criminality since records began.

And, following this logic, today the government will draw up fresh legislation to streamline the justice process.

Monday, July 25, 2005

This. This in full. Long, but well worth it. Takes a line of argument about terrorism that's increasingly prevalent on this here interweb (and, sadly, sometimes also in the real world) and demonstrates fairly catagorically why it's abject shite. Good stuff - although doubtless it will soon be swamped by comments picking up on minor typos and the like thanks to the lynch mob, McCarthyite mentality of those it's criticising...

For the second working day running, my company's IT team (based out of London) have been officially advised not to come in to our central London office. Even though when they bother to come in they travel by car, not tube or bus. And despite the fact that the 80+ people who work in this office every day almost all travel to work by public transport.

1st - where do I apply for my danger money? Is London weighting going to go up?

2nd - since when did we turn into chickshits in this country and start giving in to terrorism?

The Vauxhall Incident 2

Following this post (crossposted here), where I suggested that the reports of smoke and a strange smell on a tube train at Vauxhall on Friday (shortly before the unfortunate shooting incident at Stockwell down the road) were the product of hysteria, I've had some new versons from people who were on the train.

First, Keith (at The Sharpener):

"Was in that carriage on the victoria line, the smoke and smell was getting overwhelming, and smelled like nothing ive ever smelled before - people had their hands on their face. Still, it was quite calm, all it took was one woman to scream “oh my god” and thats when it got out of control."
Then an anonymous comment left on this blog:
"Me and my girlfriend were both on the actual carriage in Vauxhall that filled with fumes after leaving Stockwell. The operation took over three hours - significantly longer than any of the recent 'false alarms'. The station was about to be reopened within about 20 minutes of the incident when police realised that the smell of the fumes was NOT the smell of the trains emergency brakes. They then mounted a very large security operation including bomb disposal units in contamination suits and masks. We both stayed with the police in the cordon throughout, then were moved at one point, completely out of sight into the street behind. I can say, and several other witnesses will corroborate, that our carriage definately filled with some kind of acrid chemical smelling haze, which we first tried to ignore but eventually became so strong that people began to cough. The reports of hysteria in the carriage affected are wildly exaggerated, most people managed to remain considerate and fairly calm under the circumstances. For a false alarm this was a pretty major operation, taken very seriously by the officers in the cordon. It's absence from any news reports from that day seems a little conspicuous to me."
Then John (also at The Sharpener):
"I was also on the carriage between Stockwell and vauxhall were the alarm was raised. Just wanted to add that I too could smell fumes and see a bluish mist that was unlike anything else I had seen or smelled on the tube. I tried to remian sceptical for as long as possible, but it became overpowering causing people to cough- at that point the ‘oh my god’ woman pulled the alarm. There was a panic, but not nearly as bad as some have made out -at least not on that carriage. The ‘hysterical’ woman was, obviously, very distressed but reacted faster than anyone around her in getting to the alarm and evacuating the carriage. This situation would have warranted the alarm to have been pulled regardless of any recent terrorist activity. For a journalist Nosemonkey seems to have been a little premature in dismissing this incident outright - everyone around me was independently reacting to the fumes, covering their mouths and coughing before the woman described as a ‘rabid spactard’ actually cried out."
Which just goes to show that there are limits to the amount of investigative journalism you can do using the interweb - which is hardly a surprise, but still.

So now we can (probably - assuming that these new accounts are reliable) revise to suggest that something did happen at Vauxhall, but no one knows precisely what.

Which then goes to make the whole thing even more confusing. Our shot innocent man was killed at Stockwell at about 10am. The incident at Vauxhall happened before that, probably between 9:15 and 9:30 (accounts on the BBC plus the fact that the train at Stockwell which was in the platform when our Brazilian electrician was killed had gone through Vauxhall without stopping). There was also, around the same time, something going on at Kennington.

As our man at Stockwell was unconnected to the ongoing police investigation, we can discount early theories that he tried to detonate a bomb at Vauxhall, then legged it overground to Stockwell (which wouldn't have taken him that long anyway, as it's only about a 10-15 minute walk).

So now we're left with a confusing coincidence - the only connecting factor being that Vauxhall, Kennington and Stockwell are all centered around Oval, where one of the bombs failed to detonate on Thursday. There have also been two arrests made in Stockwell over the last few days in connection with the bombings (although I believe one of those arrested has since been released).

Is there any significance to this, or is it merely turning into another candidate for Private Eye’s “Conspiracy Corner”?

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Jarndyce asks some interesting questions about the events of Thursday and Friday and comes up with some theories certainly worth considering.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

UK race relations improve no end...

Christ. The guy they shot didn't have anything to do with the bombings.

(via)

Note to anyone who looks remotely dark-skinned, has black hair etc. - if police are present, DO NOT RUN.

Wasn't it Not the 9 O'Clock News with the "Driving in posession of brown skin and tight black curly hair" sketch?

It was understandable in the circumstances, but they've still got some serious explaining to do - and nothing they say is going to get London's asian population feeling comfortable. A Sikh mate of mine was saying only yesterday that he's shitting himself every time he's on the tube - not because of bombs, but because of other passengers' reactions towards him, an asian guy with a rucksack. When he's got to be afraid of a trigger-happy policeman getting over-excited as well, it's hardly going to be a great situation...

Now imagine he was Muslim instead of Sikh, who's he going to be tempted to rally behind? The most vocal opposition. And we all know who they normally are.

Christ... Pretty much worst case scenario. Although at least they didn't kill any bystanders as well, I suppose.

Update: The man is thought to have been South American.

In other words - to indulge in speculation - olive skinned, dark haired, from a hot country so likely to have been feeling the cold (yesterday was chillier than it has been in London), and possibly not only not an English speaker, so unable to understand police instructions, but also from a region where police have a reputation for going around killing people at random.

Further update: To clarify my position, I'll borrow Tim Worstall's words (in the comments):

"I do not mean to imply that the police are racist. It’ll surprise a lot of people in the UK but it is one of the least racist countries I have ever been in. No, my point is that the shooting will increase the perception of racism by some communities and that this is something that further hatred and violence might (might!) feed off."
More comment: rhetorically speaking.., A Big Stick and a Small Carrot, Londonist, Honourable Fiend, Mayor of London Blog, Indigo Jo Blogs, and in the interest of balance, Barking Moonbat Early Warning System and Liberty Blog (since when were the Met known for being "pollitically correct pussies"? News to me...)

Friday, July 22, 2005

The Vauxhall incident

Otherwise known as a prime example of the problems of citizen journalism (and hysterical women)...

(This follows today's liveblog coverage of the shooting at Stockwell and other events.)

First pondering:

"I find it strange there aren't many press stories about an incident at Vauxhall. My colleague was on the tube and a rucksack had smoke coming out of it and the station was evacuated, with according to him people fighting each other to get out first. It's on the BBC's 'have your say' feature, but not mentioned anywhere else, except the Sydney Morning Herald, bizarrely."
Here's the BBC's page in question, first:
"I was on the Victoria Line tube going north this morning at about 9.15. In the tunnel between Stockwell and Vauxhall we all noticed a distinct burning smell coming from a carriage in front of us (the middle of the train)."
And again:
"I was at Vauxhall this morning and I'd like to thank a man in a Fantastic Four T-Shirt for keeping me calm when everyone got panicky."
And again, contradicting the first one slightly:
"I was at Vauxhall in the middle carriage and I heard shouting and screaming coming from the end carriage. I was standing by the door, so people pushed me off the train and I fell to the floor. People were trampling on me to get to the exit."
And another:
"I was on the Victoria line tube this morning that was evacuated at about 9.20am. A girl I spoke to outside the station afterwards told me how she was in a carriage closer to the middle of the train than mine, and heard someone shout to pull the emergency alarm. She then saw smoke in the carriage and along with all the other passengers, rushed to try to get into the next carriage whilst the train was still moving. When the doors opened at Vauxhall everyone just legged it off the train."
Then more confusion:
"I was on the tube at Vauxhall this morning at around 9.15am when all of a sudden people started screaming and running to get out. There was real panic and I thought another bomb had gone off but didn't hear or see anything except screaming."
And a more logical-sounding account:
"I was on a Victoria line tube at about 9.20am having got on at Vauxhall. The tube was just about to leave when somebody started screaming. I later found out they thought they could smell something funny. I'm not sure if there was any more to it than that but panic followed."
Another bit of hearsay:
"A colleague was at Vauxhall this morning and there was a package in the carriage next to theirs of the tube, which exploded, with smoke everywhere."
Then another account, this time from outside the station:
"this morning, on my way back in from a run, vauxhall station, a 10 minute walk from my flat, was cordoned off and people weren't allowed to use the above ground trains."
Finally, here's something that professes to be an eyewitness blogger account of the Kennington tube evacuation, Stockwell standoff with police and aftermath of Vauxhall (although I'm not overly convinced of the authenticity):
"The whole of Vauxhall roundabout was cordoned off. Traffic was at a standstill. The roads were all taped off. People were standing beside their cars chatting on mobile phones. There were even army officers in camouflage gear."
Lots of confirmation that something happened. Lots of different accounts. And you know what? Despite all this information, all these different pairs of eyes and ears and nostrils, do we know what actually took place? Do we bollocks.

Well, until you find something like this, that is:
LONDON -(Dow Jones)- There was a security alert at Vauxhall station in south London Friday, BBC television reported.

However, the alert later turned out to be a false alarm, the BBC said later.
In other words, only Auntie knows.

One person witnessing a worrying incident will rarely be calm enough to give a complete account. When there are crowds, they start talking to each other, and in the confusion mistake other people's experiences for their own. It's a form of shock-induced hysteria, and perfectly understandable. It does, however, make eyewitness accounts rather less valuable than has been made out over the last couple of weeks.

Likewise, one guy sitting behind his computer in an office (i.e. me, or any other liveblogger of events like these) can never muster the necessary resources to ensure accuracy. Liveblogging is little more than an electronic form of the person in the crowd who passes on rumours - and panic. And although "citizen journalists", thanks to these limitations, are even more untrustworthy than the big media (even the scaremongering, scoop-hungry likes of Sky and Fox), yet other citizens are far too quick to trust the words of their fellows. Which is precisely why today I was asked by a work colleague "did you hear about the suicide bomber they shot at Canary Wharf on the 7th?" - a (false) rumour which appeared to spread from this very blog.

The short version of the Vauxhall incident?

Someone thought they smelt something, got hysterical and caused a stampede. It was nothing, but thanks to the lightning pace of internet rumour - and the fact that more and more people are turning to the internet (including blogs like this) for information when these things happen - it very nearly ended up fuelling a whole slew of conspiracy theories. Hell, it probably still will...

Bear this all in mind the next time one of these things kicks off. And for fuck's sake, if you're on the tube and smell something funny, ask someone calmly if they can smell it too before you start screaming like a rabid spacktard and causing a stampede.

(Also posted at The Sharpener)

UPDATED

Clapham Junction alert

One of the biggest overland rail interchanges in the country. That'd fuck up quite a bit...

More to follow.


10:40 - Not Clapham - Sky News reporting police have shot a suspected suicide bomber near Stockwell tube station after a train was evactuated.

This is, however, coming from Sky, so don't believe anything yet.

10:44 - reports of a gunfight between a suspected bomber from yesterday and police. Sounds a tad Wild West...

Here's the Sky breaking news thing

10:45 - BBC confirm train evacuation, say "shots reportedly fired"

10:48 - all reports of a shooting seem to have come from Sky. If they're making this up they're a bunch of dicks.

10:49 - Sky speculation goes into overdrive - "If the suspect is confirmed to be a suicide bomber, it would mark the fifth attempted terrorist attack on London in less than a day."

Yep - because the police are REALLY likely to shoot someone who's strapped to a load of explosives, aren't they? Almost certainly one of the morons from yesterday they'd tracked down. (Says Nosemonkey, indulging in exactly the kind of speculation he just accused Sky of...)

10:52 - Reuters still not confirming, BBC yet to get a page up, although train evacuation is still in their ticker tape.

10:58 - BBC page up:

Passenger Briony Coetsee said: "We were on the Tube and then we suddenly heard someone say, 'Get out, get out' and then we heard gunshots."

11:01 - Sky explain their speculation - "Police have been given orders to shoot to kill if they believe someone is about to detonate a bomb."

Hmmm... Could be fair enough, I suppose.

Still no confirmation of anything else though.

11:02 - Met Police confirm someone has been shot - five times.

11:03 - via the BBC - "Passenger Mark Whitby told BBC News he had seen an Asian man shot five times by "plain-clothes police officers".

"Mr Whitby, told BBC News: "I saw an Asian guy run onto the train hotly pursued by three plain-clothes police officers.

"One of them was carrying a black handgun - it looked like an automatic - they pushed him to the floor, bundled on top of him and unloaded five shots into him."

Are you really going to push someone to the floor and shoot them FIVE times if they're a suspected suicide bomber? Fucking risky, wouldn't you say? This is more like execution-style...

11:06 - Victoria and Northern lines suspended, and large area around Stockwell cordoned off.

More reports of the guy being shot five times at close range. Ever heard of questioning, guys? That's bloody ridiculous. Especially close range, if you want to kill them quickly go for a head shot, surely?

This don't make a lick of sense...

11:09 - Also northbound Charing Cross branch train at Vauxhall? Sounds like it vaguely - police caught a guy with a rucksack, threw him against the wall and started searching him while evacuating everyone. Just the boys in blue being jumpy, or another one?

11:15 - reports of police surrounding a Mosque in east London...

11:16 - Kennington tube also evacuated, apparently. Whether as part of the general shut-down in that part of the south London tube or another incident, not too sure. All these places are relatively close together and I don't know south of the river very well, so hard to tell. Possible - judging by early Clapham junction reports - that everyone's a tad confused still.

Guy at Stockwell tube was shot just after 10, at any rate. No confirmation of five shots.

No further info on the Mosque in east London rumours.

11:19 - reports of something happening in Shadwell - east London, so could be the Mosque thing.

11:20 Rob Read at Time Worstall's place reports Aldgate Mosque.

Now having confirmation - armed police around the East London Mosque on Whitechapel Road...

11:24 - Stockwell was northbound Northern line. Witnesses again mentioning rough handling. Also gunshots sounding like they were silenced. Very odd...

The man has been confirmed as dead. Shot in the head at close range.

Other incidents at Kennington and Vauxhall not confirmed, though there was something at those - possibly just scares.

Police have warned people to stay inside on Whitechapel Road by the mosque. Possible bomb threat, apparently, but no one actually knows what's going on there. The building is surrounded by armed police though.

This sounds like a swift, co-ordinated mop-up movement to me. Dunno why they shot the guy though - doesn't make much sense unless he really WAS about to detonate a bomb. But Stockwell's a pretty shitty part of town to do it. Nearly as pointless as Oval.

11:31 - Highbury and Islington station also shut off. Something going on in North London as well...

11:33 - Robin Grant's also on the case again, carrying on where he left off.

11:35 - the East London Mosque has apparently been given the all clear. Police were responding to a bomb threat - unrelated to the shooting.

Fascists, in other words. Yay.

11:37 - The Guardian have lots of eyewitness reports of the shooting. Sounds like, although this is confused, not much else is likely to happen.

The mosque thing was an entirely unrelated incident - just some small-brained racist dickhead phoning in a bomb threat after hearing Sky report another attempted suicide attack, most likely. Diverting precious police resources from hunting down the people who tried to bomb us yesterday. Nice one.

11:45 - Robin Grant at Perfect.co.uk reports via BBC News 24 eyewitness - "It looks like the guy that was shot had previously left a bag on a Victoria line train (the one I would have got this morning if I hadn’t been running late), and got off the train at Stockwell - his bomb (in a back bag) then failed to explode (more smell smoke etc) - hence the station closure at Vauxhall."

11:56 - Lots of speculation in the comments, from SAS involvement to this being a foiled attack on the UK's spy HQ. But there's been no new confirmed info for a fair while now. All we know is that a man has been shot, probably dead. And that the police had better hope to buggery that he was what they thought he was.

12:04 - Scotland Yard statement - "A man was challenged by officers and subsequently shot. London Ambulance Service attended the scene. He was pronounced dead at the scene."

12:08 - More eyewitness accounts from Sky

12:11 - Victoria line is back open, which would tend to suggest that earlier reports of an attempted detonation at Vauxhall tube were nonsense - they'd need to keep it shut to get forensics in there if there's been another failed bomb.

12:20 - BBC have a more full eyewitness account from one of the same people as before: "He [the suspect] had a baseball cap on and quite a sort of thickish coat - it was a coat you'd wear in winter, sort of like a padded jacket.

"He might have had something concealed under there, I don't know. But it looked sort of out of place with the sort of weather we've been having, the sort of hot humid weather.

"He was largely built, he was quite a chubby sort of guy.

"I didn't see any guns or anything like that - I didn't see him carrying anything. I didn't even see a bag to be quite honest."

12:44 - No more info, but the BBC have a timeline. Tubes seem to be running normally again - looks like this was an isolated incident, and there's no ongoing threat. Which is a relief.

Shame they didn't get him alive though.

13:08 - sod this, it's all over. I'm off to the pub. Will update again if anything new happens or more info comes to light.

14:43 - still no confirmation on anything happening at Vauxhall earlier. A few eyewitnesses report someone screaming about a smell, and a few unconfirmed reports of smoke - all shortly before the events at Stockwell. This is London has some accounts suggesting that a Victoria line train didn't stop at Vauxhall, and went on to Stockwell, where those who had wanted to get out at the previous station got involved in the shooting incident.

Considering the guy who was shot was apparently trying to get ON the train at Stockwell, this doesn't make too much sense. Why wouldn't the train stop at Vauxhall uness there was some kind of incident? Curiouser and curiouser, said Nosemonkey...

14:53 - Reuters have more reports of this incident on Harrow Road in west London, which first emerged half an hour or so ago. Unfortunately their site is taking a lot of hits and can't cope. 25 minutes ago Robin Grant noted a guy on the phone to the BBC talking baout police presence, bomb disposal units etc. This is north of Westbourne Park, south of Kilburn. North West London. Neither Sky nor BBC have anything, as yet.

14:58 - Updates from Spain, of all places. Sounds like a transcript of the guy on the phone to the BBC robin Grant mentioned. Bloomberg mentions a spokeswoman (presumably from the police) confirming the road has been cordoned off.

15:05 - More on Harrow Road: "The focus of the police operation appears to be an internet cafe on Harrow Road where two women have reportedly been removed and detained in a police van. Even with the presence of armed police and bomb disposal experts onlookers are not being pushed back which suggests the police do not feel that devices are present at the address."

15:26 - still no more word about Harrow Road, although in the comments Sean mentions shots fired.

Sky reports the operation is focussed on a Thai restaurant. No news of shots, but reports that two women and a teenage boy have been searched.

15:34 - hearing reports of an incident at Canary Wharf as well - still no confirmation on the reports of shots at Harrow Road.

15:48 - Still nothing confirmed, even though there are reporters on the scene.

Vague thought: Best guess is that the police had a very good idea of who all the people were and were planning a co-ordinated strike, but the Stockwell guy did a runner before they were ready. Now they're trying to mop up the dregs. That'd explain the lack of any release of descriptions over the last 24 hours - want to put them off their guard.

15:51 - odd. Police will release descriptions / CCTV footage of yesterday's ineffective wannabe bombers later today, and are appealing for information on all four - which, as Robin Grant has noted, could suggest that the guy shot this morning wasn't one of them. Possibly.

Here's the first pic. With that baseball cap he looks American to me... Not the most helpful of photos, it must be said.

15:55 - Guy killed this morning was "linked to" but wasn't actually one of yesterday's bombers, apparently. Two more raids (in addition to Harrow Road) have been mentioned, but no locations. May or may not include the Canary Wharf arrest.

16:00 - rumours that Harrow Road may be a bomb-making factory. No idea if it's in the Thai Restaurant or Internet Cafe though. If Thai, expect clampdowns on middle-aged sex tourists, if an internet cafe on overweight spotty 30-somethings living in their parents' basements.

16:16 - Perfect.co.uk has the photos of yesterday's wannabe bombers.

16:20 - God, the interweb's being slow. Very hard to find more info. No confirmation on locations of the other two addresses being searched. And work is getting in the way of digging out more.

16:52 - Euston station is currently being evacuated, according to Europhobia's Matt, on the scene.

17:19 - Walthamstow Central tube currently undegoing a security alert - cordons etc.

No more word on Euston. Or Harrow Road. Or anything else, really.

17:26 - there's effectively been no new info from anywhere since the police news conference a couple of hours back. Rumours all over the shop - including another failed bomb at Vauxhall this morning, Euston closed, Walthamstow closed, Watford closed - but absolutely tit all in the way of confirmation about anything.

Seems almost like a voluntary media blackout to keep police operations secret. Which would tie in with my theory that they were planning a co-ordinated strike this morning but the guy they shot spotted them, tipped off his mates and legged it.

It's going to make finding out how to get home for those using public transport rather interesting though...

19:00 update - In the comments Eric S reports a man arrested in Stockwell, where the shooting took place earlier today, and from where the police believe yesterday's loser wannabe Oval bomber began his journey. This has been confirmed by police. Stockwell station is still cordoned off, and eyewitnesses from this morning's shooting are still being quesitoned.

There has, as of yet, been no confirmation of any of the other rumours. These include incidents at Euston, Walthamstow, on a Stratford train, and outside Buckingham Palace.

The Harrow Road incident appeared to end with no arrests and nothing found. Possibly just a suspect package. But it's still sealed off. Channel 4 News reports that CS gas was fired into a basement flat there, and later, around the corner, the two women and boy were stopped and searched.

There is also a report of an arrest in Birmingham - a man with two suitcases, but no more details as of yet.

19:50 - In the absence of any more actual information, there's some good speculation/debate at Shot by Both Sides, including this rather fair point from dsquared: "These eyewitness accounts are just worse than useless... I think that this citizen journalism thing is running up against its limitations."

Agreed - and that goes for blogging these things as well: a frenzied blend of unreliable eyewitness accounts, stories purporting to be from eyewitnesses that aren't, gossip, rumour and hearsay.

And with that, an end to speculation and to posting for today. Time for the pub again, methinks.

Saturday update: The shot man was not a terrorist.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Tube Bombs 2: Electric Boogaloo

Sorry... Predictable, but couldn't resist...

Liveblog coverage here

A brief roundup of today's blog coverage:

Perfect.co.uk, Tim Worstall, Andrew Ian Dodge, Yorkshire Ranter, Counterterrorism Blog, A Fistful of Euros, Bloggledygook, WikiNews, Blood and Treasure, Wizbang, Jeff Quinton, Uncle Sam's Cabin, La Shawn Barber's Corner, Mark in Mexico, Londonist, Resurrection Song, Michelle Malkin, Terrorism Unveiled
and
Europhobia

Let me know of any other good coverage so I can get this a bit more comprehensive.

Oh, and if anyone tracks down that Financial Times blog roundup from earlier today, can you let me know? I buggered up the link in the earlier post and now can't find it again...

FT Link via our man at Bloggledygook - cheers!

By the by, sounds like Oval and Hackney Road are still cordoned off (as of 19:30) - may be unexploded devices knocking around. And Europhobia's own Matt was by Warren Street tube when this all kicked off, as were a couple of other good friends (the joys of being ex-UCL...). All a tad shaken, obviously, but will be taking the piss before the day's out, I have no doubt.

Update: Most sensible response of the day so far. (Note: that last statement may contain traces of sarcasm...)

Update again: Earlier reports of a black/asian man with wires hanging out of his pocket being looked for at UCH seem to have been nonsense. And the guy arrested on camera in Whitehall merely happened to have dark skin was an innocent bystander. As of yet, no confirmed - released - descriptions of the bombers, which is odd.

This also means, as the guy reported arrested near Warren Street has also been released, that all four are - as far as we know - still at large. But not for long - not with that amount of CCTV and witnesses, not to mention the intact rucksacks and unexploded bombs.

Still, all round this looks very much like the underwhelming sequel - more Batman and Robin than Batman Returns.

Hackney, Shepherd's Bush, Warren Street

Those are the rumours so far. Warren Street smoke confirmed by an eyewitness friend of a friend so far. Updates to follow...

Bunch of cunting bastards.

Oval tube as well, apparently. Hackney Road is apparently a bus. Warren Street may be outside, Reuters reporting a nail bomb.

Shepherd's Bush not necessarily an explosion, just "a device".

If people have any information about today's incidents, they are urged to contact the confidential anti-terrorist hotline on 0800 789 321.

13:52 - "Code Amber" official. Tube network being shut down. Sniffer dogs at Euston Square tube. Fire engines at University College Hospital, over the road from Euston Square, 30 seconds from Warren Street. One of the hospitals casualties from the bombings of the 7th were taken to.

The bus' windows were blown out, but no injuries, somehow. Apparently...

13:54 - eyewitness at Warren Street says it was on a train, Victoria Line. A small rucksack explosion, while the train was pulling into the station. No indication I've heard of north or southbound.

Perfect.co.uk liveblogging

14:00 - Oval eyewitness reports of a man dropping a bag on the train. Area around the station being cordoned off. 15-20 police vehicles being reported. Man ran onto the train, dumped the bag and ran off again, apparently.

14:03 - all we have so far is the bus (no casualties reported), smoke at Warren Street tube, smoke at Oval tube. Nail bomb reports at Warren Street still continuing. No confirmation.

14:06 - This sounds like amateur hour again. Shoddy little devices. One injury reported at Warren Street, but no indication of how bad.

Newslinkdump: ITV
BBC
Reuters (currently down)
Guardian
Guardian Newsblog liveblog

Blair has cancelled his agenda this afternoon. In an emergecny meeting with the Safety Elephant.

Hackney bus was a No.26, but it was a pathetic little explosion. Police have cordoned it off, but aren't approaching in case there's a larger device which failed to detonate. Windows blown out. Device on the upper deck.

14:13 - DLR is running, most of the rest of the tube network's a bit knackered.

Yay for cycling!

14:14 - more reports of the bomber at Oval being a fucking pussy, dumping his bag (big black rucksack) and legging it. These guys are pathetic. If you're going to blow us up at least have the guts to blow yourself up too.

14:16 - Sky reports that armed police have entered university College Hospital. But this is coming from Sky, so take it with a pinch of salt until the BBC confirm it.

14:19 - everything is rumour. It was only 40-50 minutes ago that the first reports came in. At this stage, believe nothing.

Warren Street people in chemical protection suits according to the Associated press, but - if true - likely to just be a precaution because of the lack of any serious explosion.

14:21 - unconfirmed reports of gunshots on the platform at Warren Street.

Believe nothing until it's on the BBC.

14:22 - looks like the mobile network's being shut down again.

14:23 - Blair statement at 15:00

14:24 - not too sure why I dashed back early from the pub now. Sounds fairly minor so far - more of a scare than anything. Copycats? Seems a pretty poor effort at mass death and destruction at any rate...

Andrew Ian Dodge also reporting (via Tim Worstall, who may or may not be liveblogging again)

14:28 - Scotland Yard have confirmed an "incident" at University College Hospital. Unconfirmed reports of an explosion inside the hospital buildings.

Yeah - THAT's brave, isn't it? Blow up the sick, doctors and nurses? Brilliant...

14:33 - Sky News seems to be working but you can't trust it for shit.

Looks like there are 3 or 4 suspects on the loose. No descriptions as of yet. The ones from Warren Street and Oval apparently fled out of the main station entrances, so will be on CCTV and won't get far. Fucking amateurs! What the pissing hell is the point, exactly? Paltry little explosions, don't even kill yourselves, and do it in the most heavily-filmed city in the world, where CCTV cameras cover pretty much every inch? What the hell are they playing at?

14:42 - two weeks ago we were asking "is this the best they can do?" Well, no answer to that one yet - but it appears it certainly wasn't their worst. This is - from currently available information - likely to go down in history as the most half-arsed terrorist attack ever.

14:47 - From Sky News - "Victoria Line train passenger Ivan McCracken told Sky News he spoke to an Italian man who witnessed an explosion just after the train arrived at the platform:

"He told me he had seen a man carrying a rucksack which suddenly exploded. It was a minor explosion but enough to blow open his rucksack. Everyone rushed from the carriage. People evacuated very quickly. There was no panic."

Claim of responsibility from some tinpot terror cell blathering on about "Britain quaking in fear" in T minus 5... 4... 3...

You'd think they would have learned by now.

14:54 - Tim Worstall confirms I'm not mad by suggesting what I've been thinking - this could be a far right BNP/National Front/Combat 18 piss-poor attempt to stir up more Islamophobia. It certainly has all the hallmarks - incompetence, nailbombs, running away like big girls... See my post saying the BNP have a lot to gain from last week.

I genuinely wouldn't put it past them.

15:00 - Blair expected any time, but he's likely too busy celebrating the Aussies being slaughtered in the Cricket. Which has carried on playing in London throughout this pathetic attack.

The BBC has some pictures of a few Londoners milling about going "you what?"

15:14 - Mobile network isn't shut down, as I've just made a call. Which would tend to suggest they aren't taking this too seriously.

15:17 - Blair should have been on by now. Still probably celebrating the cricket.

This has got to be a first - cricket more interesting than a terrorist attack.

15:20 - slight delay on this, but via Tim worstall and sky News, police looking for a six foot black or asian man near UCH. I suppose he could have been the BNP's DJ (remember that? Heh...), if not, perhaps it's just shoddy regular dicks.

15:25: Katie, Via email - "Neil, biochemist, says: "Okay, all the eyewitnesses on tv are talking about a sour smell. A "bad" batch of TATP will smoulder rather than explode and produce a sour smell and smoke...."

Hmmm... Hadn't heard the "sour smell" before now... Worrying again.

Also a man has been arrested at the Ministry of Defence, apparently...

15:28 - TATP is triacetone triperoxide, cheapo homebrew plastic explosive. Not so worried again now. Info: "First employed by Palestinian bomb makers, the highly unstable TATP — also known as the “Mother of Satan” — is difficult to detect by dogs and conventional hi-tech methods, such as nuclear quadrupole resonance."

15:33 - Blair/Clarke expected soon. TATP thing is entirely unconfirmed. BBC reporting dummy devices. I'd go with the BBC on this.

15:42 - Police are appealing for anyone with mobile phone images, pictures or video from any of the four sites to send in their images via a website.

Blair and Aussie PM John Howard holding press conference. Radio cutting out, so can't provide live coverage.

15:50 - gist of it - no casualties and the situation is under control. Sounds like early calls of amateurs were about right. Not sure about the reports via Robin of reporters being told to turn off cameras in Whitehall following that earlier arrest. Haven't heard anything definite from that way - anyone?

15:54 - From Daniel Johnson via email: "itv.. live footage of man being led away by police from whitehall. police pushing camera man away but he stays on the guy as they take him to the side and search him from top to bottom.

"'situation under control' but numerous asian people around Whitehall getting arrested, very interesting."

15:58 - I've heard some rumours from a few places now that at one of the other bomb sites there was a caucasian man seen with a smoking rucksack and then running from the scene. A contrast to the black/asian guy with wires hanging out of his pockets reported at UCH. Anyone know if there's any confirmation to the white guy rumours? Not unheard of for there to be white Muslims, obviously, but would be different...

Still, no one seems to fussed by this again, and the whole thing seems a bit of a damp squib. Whitehall situation still remains interesting though... Probably just precautions though.

16:00 - Reports of police searching people's bags on Tottenham Court Road. (For non-Londoners - this is the street that runs south from Warren Street Tube, towards Oxford Street.)

16:05 - police have officially ruled out any chemical weapons. Looks like they WERE just duds then.

16:16 - BBC handy summary of confirmed info:

Injuries: Reports vary between none and one minor.
Shepherd's Bush: Reports of small explosion but details unclear. Eyewitnesses reportedly see man run from scene. Large area cordoned off.
Oval: Man runs off train after a small bang as train reaches station, eyewitnesses reportedly say. Large area cordoned off. Police tests show no traces of chemical agents.
Warren Street: Witnesses report hearing bang at front of train, passengers running to back of train and evacuating at station. Large area cordoned off. Police tests show no traces of chemical agents.
Hackney Road: Windows of number 26 bus travelling from Waterloo to Hackney blown out by small blast. Large area cordoned off.
University College Hospital: Armed officers deployed for "incident". Large area cordoned off.

16:31 - Wikipedia's doing well again.

16:33 - One of the men being hunted is apparently "between 5 and 6 feet tall". That's helpful...

16:43 - Bloody hell - the traditional media are really into their blogs this time... - Financial Times blog roundup already! (link fixed)

16:48 - this is getting to the "move along, nothing to see here" stage.

Pah - back to the cricket. (Oh, and the job, obviously...) I'll keep an eye out for any more developments, but looks like this was a bit weak.

Only two suspects reported as being in custody that I'm aware of so far, though, so there's likely to be a couple still on the loose.

In summary? Amateurs.

15:55 - 39-5? what the fuck? That's almost as pathetic as these bombs.

17:02 - more reports of St Alban's station (north of London) being cordoned off. Also (in the comments) - " Something's up at Ludgate Hill. City Thameslink closed, St Paul's Churchyard closed, cops everywhere."

Hmmm... Have they tracked one of them down? The guy from the bus, maybe?

17:24 - still no more on that St Paul's thing. Probably nothing.

The sole injury was apparently an elderly woman at Warren Street, not one of the bombers as speculated, but she's doing OK.

So, you chuck a bomb that doesn't work properly, hurt a little old lady a bit, and then run away like a big girl - and we're meant to be scared? Pffft!

It's very hard to be pro-EU sometimes...

There's been a lot of fuss about the European steel industry in recent months, with various spats with the US over tarrifs and production and the like. All fair enough - important industry and what have you.

But when you randomly read that a company which posted profits of about £287 million (zt1.7 billion) last year, and has been accused of dodgy transactions with those profits, is owned by a multibillionaire suspected of not being averse to trying to use his cash to influence elected officials (including Tony Blair)...

When you read that this company is currently getting subsidies to the tune of €750 million (c. £524 million), thanks to a special EU-authorised exemption, in exchange for doing, erm... not a lot really, you really have to start wondering what the pissing hell they're thinking.

Come on - someone who knows more about business than me - can you explain why a profitmaking company in a profitable industry owned by a multibillionaire whose personal fortune has risen so much he has jumped 59 places up the Forbes global rich list in the last year (to be named 3rd richest man in the world) should receive handouts?

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Expanding free trade

Two large trading blocs using subsidies and tax breaks to give their own businesses an advantage in the global market? Who'd have thought it? Yep, it's the EU/US show again! And this time the poor little diddums have gone running to mummy. Oooh! Oooh! The bad men's nasty metal birdie got more money than mine! Waaah!

Nosemonkey's advice to the businessmen of the world? Grow up, crybabies. It's a fucking plane. Of course it's going to get subsidies, because it's a fundamentally uneconomical way to travel.

The classic, however, is the final line, which the BBC copyist must have had a nice chuckle over (even while misplacing his/her commas):

"both sides insist that despite the trade wars, as the world's two largest trading blocs, they remain committed to expanding free trade."
Heh! World trade, folks. It's silly.

"I could write a post on this blog calling for the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq, then a few days later some terrorists could attack London citing such a withdrawal as their goal, and I could then be prosecuted." And more.

It's rather worrying that we need to keep pointing out the dangers posed by our present government to our way of life, but I for one am more concerned about what Blair, Clarke and co are up to than whether the terrorists are going to strike again. Blow me up? Kill my friends? Bugger my transport system? I'll be pissed off and upset, but I'll carry on as before and try not to live in fear of the next attack. Remove my right to trial, to privacy? Then I'll be living in constant fear.

The little shepherd boy.

The Dutch to the rescue! (No, not really...)

Netherlands PM Jan Peter Balkenende in today's Guardian:

"it is increasingly clear that the public's attitude towards Europe has changed. The desire for peace and stability is no longer an ironclad argument for further European integration...

"Do we want an EU that focuses primarily on consolidation of vested interests, or one that pursues reform and displays solidarity with the less prosperous member states and the world around it? European agriculture is of great importance, and we must not overlook farmers and their families. But the current system, with rivers of subsidy flowing out of Brussels, cannot last... And is it fair for Brussels to spend so much of its limited resources on regions in rich member states?"
In other words, the same old calls of "let's build a European demos, France has too favourable a position" and the typical platitudes. To add to the truisms, action, not words is what is needed. But no one is currently in a position to take action.

Meanwhile our man Blair, currently holding the presidency of the EU, has once again found himself distracted. After a bit of EU-related posturing he trotted off to the G8 (remember that?), where he managed to make a small dent but nowhere near enough to make a significant difference. Then we had the distraction of some nutters with some bombs, and everyone forgot about that as well.

Perhaps once parliament breaks for the summer recess tomorrow he may finally pull his finger out and get down to work. Not that parliament - or domestic affairs - ever seems to take up much of his time these days, but still...

He's been busy, has our man Blair. But since his "historic third term" (TM) has kicked off there's once again been precious little of any substance. It's all very well making grand statements about reforming the CAP, ending world poverty and wiping terrorism from the face of the earth, but so far there's been tit all sign of significant progress on any of them.

Yet another reason to love the EU:
"a holidaymaker going to Spain, can quite legally bring back into this country 160 packs [of 20 cigarettes].

"If they are a smoker that is enough to keep them going for six months and, given cheap flights and the opportunity to have a holiday along the way, it also gives quite a cost saving."
I think, however, the article's trying to suggest this is a bad thing. Idiots. Smoking's big and hard and clever and cool and grown up. So there.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Boo hoo. (via)

Terrorism: a piece of piss

Reuters reports a new leak hinting at another "intelligence failure", this time about how we seemed taken by surprise by the London bombs:

"Pressure on the country's intelligence services intensified on Tuesday with the leaking of a memo in which they said just weeks before the London bombings that there was no group with the motive and means to attack."
Of course, it might have helped if our boys hadn't had their mole uncovered by our closest allies, but still - that remains unproven...

Is this another attempt to shift the blame? We've already had accusations that it was thanks to the Iraq war (dismissed by the government, obviously), Islam's "evil" nature (by idiots), the BNP (my little contribution), the EU (probably) and God knows who else. Why not shunt it onto the one group of people who are doing their utmost to protect us from terrorism?

"Not my fault." says Tony, "I was acting on the very best intelligence." - Sound familiar?

Of course, what this could be an indication of (my personal favourite theory) is merely that it's a piece of piss to conduct a terrorist attack. You don't need some vast intergalactic conspiracy of bearded men in caves. All you need is some desperate, stupid and psychotic people, access to the internet, and someone with the balls to track down some explosives. Or has every single suicide bomber on the West Bank or in Iraq since the occupation (yet more today, surprise surprise) been part of some vast, James Bond style organisation?

Yes, it's a worrying prospect that any nutter with a bomb could blow us all to shit. That doesn't make it not true.

Remember that poor young mother walking her kid who got stabbed in the neck by some random stranger? That could happen to anyone at any time. The fact that it doesn't is less to do with the lack of vast networks of psychotic knifemen, all planning their next strike in some sinister underground lair, or even with the brilliant job our security services are doing (and they are, most of the time). It has a lot more to do with the fact that the vast, vast majority of people are not sociopaths.

That old IRA quote about them only having to be lucky once was bandied around a lot last week. It's spot on. Just because a terrorist attack succeeds does not necessarily mean it was meticulously planned. The buggers may have easily just got lucky. It may easily have just been a (relatively) spur of the moment thing.

I called it a while back - wankerish amateurs. The more I hear about our pathetic little bombers, the more I'm convinced it's true.

Chicken Yoghurt - for all your UK terrorism needs. (And if that doesn't get the men in dark glasses shoving probes up his arse, I'll just have to try harder...)

My brain's still not back to normal, but it's good to see that the UK isn't letting recent upsets shunt us down a more Islamophobic line - Britain is still defending potential future Turkish entry to the EU.

This kind of encouragement and inclusiveness is now more vital than ever. Yes, there are obviously concerns. But if we had denied the possibility of discussions with Northern Irish Republicans, as certain quarters seem to be advocating we now do when it comes to Islam (and not just radical Islam either, which shows a brilliant grasp of the complexities of global politics), we'd almost certainly have had more than just the one terrorist attack in the last few years. Cutting off Turkey altogether merely because a small minority of Muslims are psychos would create far more problems than it would solve. By encouraging the old Ottoman Empire, a decent chunk of which is already within the EU, Europe can help foster precisely the kind of mild, human rights-respecting Islamic state we all hope for as an ally. And it would have the added bonus of pissing off all the right people...

The benefits of European integration, part 4,578

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present the EU-wide arrest warrant, extremely helpful in fighting terrorism and organised crime - which, I think we can all agree, is largely cross-border these days.

And - please note - on this occasion a suspected terrorist mastermind has been let free thanks to the wishy-washy weaknesses of a mere national government - not through want of EU efforts. You can't pin this one on the European Union (though I have no doubt that the usual suspects at the usual blogs will try).

More discussions of the problems of the arrest warrant at the International Herald Tribune are also worth a look. This affects you too, you know - Slovenia could extradite you tomorrow under this agreement. Probably.

The fact that this arrest warrant has been deemed to go against the German and Polish constitutions and to violate suspects' basic rights is neither here nor there - after all, if they've got nothing to hide they've got nothing to fear, right?

(I really can't tell if I'm being sarcastic any more - this is a good thing for proving the effectiveness of closer integration, but it's a bad thing for civil liberties, but it could make us all safer, but it could be used to lock us all up, but... My brain hurts again.)

Update: Just noticed - this story gives a prime opportunity to compare and contrast news coverage to check for bias. Let's see...

EU Observer (run by a sceptic) - Terror suspect freed on European warrant glitch - taking “European” as a synonym for "The European Union", as many headline writers do, this would tend to suggest it’s the EU’s fault.

Compare to the pro-EU Guardian - Germany blocks extradition of al-Qaida suspect - factual, no confusing reference to "Europe".

That Scotsman article linked above, from a traditionally strongly Eurosceptic paper, opts for the sensible, factual Setback as German court bars al-Qaeda suspect's extradition. Unusual, as they're normally only too happy to have a dig.

The Financial Times, meanwhile – seemingly unable to make up its mind about the EU these days – plays it safe and goes for both headlines: first (possibly via Reuters) German court rules EU arrest warrant invalid, again bringing the EU up in the context of a failure in an apparent attempt to sully it by association, then Germany sets free suspected al-Qaeda financier - a more honest approach, as the EU actually has precious little to do with this story, other than as a possible way to prevent such a thing happening again.

Finally, the sceptic Telegraph has a not so subtle dig: Al-Qa'eda suspect freed as Germany rules EU extradition warrant illegal - note the cunning implication, by the use of the stronger "illegal" in place of the FT’s "invalid" that this is somehow the EU's fault for proposing a dodgy law, rather than Germany's fault for bollocking up the implementation?

If anyone spots any more interesting coverage of this story, let me know.

Update 2: Yesterday's headspack means I'm behind. The usual suspects have already latched onto it.

First up Ken at EU Realist seeing this ruling as the herald of the collapse of all international treaties and the the beginning of the end for EU Law. Wishful thinking there, old chap - that'd only be the case if every member state had the same legal situation of Germany. If they did, there'd be no need for legal rulings at an EU level as we'd already all be in perfect harmony.

Next, the increasingly barking Helen Szamuely at EU Referendum. Interesting how here the al Quaeda suspect of everyone else's coverage becomes "a half-Syrian, half-German businessman whose Import-Export Company is suspected of being a front for a money-laundering operation to provide funds for terrorists" - with little mention of how high up the wanted list he is or how important his financial dealings as thought to be. Because, hey, if the EU's trying to screw him over, he must be OK, right? Oh, and look - Ken "filthy communist" Livingstone's said he's dodgy, so he must be OK (for some reason).

In other words, smoke and mirrors to detract from the central point which is that, had the German government implemented the legislation correctly, EU legislation would have enabled the detention and trial of a man strongly suspected of funding terrorism. As it is, the sovereign courts old Helen praises so much have let a suspected terrorist fundraiser continue unimpeded, and she offers no practical suggestions for preventing this from occurring again.

But as she then starts drooling with conspiracy theories about the secret service aiding terrorists (whereby somehow because terrorists exist - erm... the EU's bad, m'kay?), I think it's probably best to back away slowly, smilying gently, and try not to make any sudden movements...

Monday, July 18, 2005

My right eye still feels like it's wrapped in absinthe-soaked cotton, which is hardly conducive to wit and/or insight, so have some more reading:

Curious Hamster on defining terrorism - an oft-fogotten point well made.

Tim Ireland is rather convinced that Iraq had an impact on the terrorists' motivations - and examinines the government's reasoning behind claiming there's no connection.

Stumbling and Mumbling confuses me with big words - did the Iraq war influence the London bombs? Your response says more about you than the terrorists (I think...)

Finally, further afield, and more big words - this time German ones - courtesy of European Democracy's look at the lessons the EU can learn from Germany's experiences of federalism.

And now I'm off for a lie down. My brain hurts.

I hate migranes. I've spent the best part of today unable to see. Which in my line of work is somewhat problematic. As such I have been unable to read anything and have no wonderous insights to offer on the latest developments. All I can say is RIP Ted Heath - the man who got us into the EEC, a bit of a tit, responsible for a fair few mistakes, but basically well-meaning - and then shuffle off somewhere, as it still hurts to look at computer screens.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Sunday reading

Newsweek - why doesn't Chirac step down?

Chirac acts like a man who doesn't know his wife has moved out. Asked last week who he thought was most likely to succeed him, the president smiled widely and replied, "I think that subject is altogether premature."
It's not, of course, so check out this lengthy profile of likely successor Nicholas Sarkozy in Foreign Policy.

Meanwhile in Spain it's Church vs. State all over again as the Pope tackles socialism (well, Gay marriage at any rate), while A Logical Voice and Dear Kitty are planning to take on pollution by Blogging for Greenpeace as part of the 2005 Blogathon, so give them some support and stuff.

And if you want a struggle, how about trying to get to grips with the workings of the European Central Bank's monetary policy, via The Economist? Or how about a look at how the political elite is ignoring the people (rather bizarrely that article seems to think this is a new phenomenon...)

Or why not try some of the quandries on show at the Philosophers' Carnival or the many fascinating tidbits at the History Carnival. While you're doing that, and in the spirit of Proms season, you could update your classical music library at Classic Cat. Good stuff.

Finally, Anne Applebaum's attempts to work out the world's attitude to America are rather entertaining. Loads of statistics, lots of theories, but somehow manages to avoid the basic answer: we like America but we hate Bush. I'd have thought that was obvious by now?

Update: Britblog Roundup 22 is good to go, courtesy, as per usual, of one Mr. T. Worstall.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

The EU constitution is dead, if not yet buried, and often doing a fairly good zombie impression staggering around the continent looking for spicy brains, so this may hold rather less appeal now than it would have done a couple of months back.

Danish eurosceptic MEP Jens-Peter Bonde, hubby of the woman behind the rather good EU Observer news site and the man behind EUABC, has emailed with his latest contribution to the debate, and it's really rather handy - a .pdf fully annotated version of the EU constitution. He says it's a reader-friendly version, and so far I'm inclined to agree - although I haven't read enough of it yet to tell how much his own opinions have been presented as fact, he usually strikes me as being fairly fair.

92

Friday, July 15, 2005

Look, I know that the BBC Charter renewal thing's coming up and so they've got to give concessions to our philistine government by dumbing down - sorry - making accessible cultural output, but why in hell's name have they got Alan sodding Titchmarsh in to present the Proms? He's a gardener for Christ's sake! He knows less about classical music than I do - and that's saying something...

Still, if you want some top-notch music over the next couple of months, you could do a lot worse than going here and listening live on BBC Radio 3. Nine weeks of superb music played by some of the best artists in the world at the click of a button. And they say the license fee's a waste of money...

Update: Oh for fuck's sake - now he's interviewing Michelle cunting Collins, former soap opera "star" and gossip rag regular. That's it. I'm off down the pub...

If this is true...

Via Robin Grant, if true then this would make me very angry indeed. Edward at Fistful has more, as does Tim Ireland.

There are ALWAYS limits to what the public should be told, don't let anyone tell you otherwise, and now this is true more than ever. It's this little thing called responsibility, tactics. If playing Poker, you do not show your hand for fear of tipping off your opponents and letting them know not to go all-in in case you wipe them out in one stroke. Counter-terrorism operations are, I'm sure we can all agree, just a tad more serious than Poker.

When it comes to last week's attacks I've tried to avoid too much finger-pointing (bar highlighting the impact a certain fascist party may have had), because playing politics over the bodies of the innocent dead is one of the most distasteful things I can imagine.

But if there is any truth to these suggestions - if it does turn out that politics has been played with our national security - impeachments alone won't be enough. This would be gross, irresponsible negligence of the highest order. A blase disregard of people's safety and lives resulting in the maiming and death of scores of innocents. And for what? Power, plain and simple. If this is true, our leaders will have become as bad as those they are supposed to be fighting.

Buy a pint for London's emergency services update

The beer fund is at a respectable level, and I've had a few ideas of how to distribute it. I've also just had a call from the BBC, and they have asked to film any booze-up that takes place, which should help sort out the legitimacy problems a bit.

My current plan is to try and get something organised for next weekend, but I still have a few problems to iron out. If anyone knows who I should speak to at the St John Ambulance service to get some of their people along, I'd be grateful for some pointers.

The easy option would simply be to donate this as a standard charity thing, but that's not the point of this fund - it's explicitly for a "thank you" pint or two for some of the people involved. I still need to know if this will create difficulties, as for the mainstream emergency services it can be tricky. Again - any advice gratefully received.

Thanks again to all who have donated - from the US, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands - all over. You're all top - and far more trusting than I'd be...

Update: Have just spoken to someone from the St John Ambulance lot, and they're up for it and on the case, starting to work out details. Should have a better idea next week sometime.

France better than Britain - official! (Or not, as the case may be...) Plus some Chirac interview goodness.

Well THAT didn’t take long

Then again, we have been going on about business as usual, so it's only right that the fight with our European neighbours kicks off again, unimpeded by the actions of four nutters from the north.

The Commission, a tad miffed, said yesterday that Britain’s "rhetoric does not match the reality", adding that "in one forum you put the spotlight on what we actually need to do, but when it comes to practice, then the vision is no longer there."

Hmmm – Blair? Using grand words to get headlines and make it seem like he’s doing something genuinely good, then failing to deliver? Surely not!

Rather tediously, though, this latest spat is all about research funding in the next EU budget. Britain publicly maintains that it is R&D in which the EU should invest, rather than French farmers, as part of the spat with France over Britain’s rebate.

The European Commission, however, is claiming that Blair’s grand words about complete budget overhauls and increased R&D funding are just lip-service, and that the UK is actually proposing to CUT research spending by €429 million while trimming just €150 million from the contentious agricultural budget. Curiouser and curiouser.

Of course, for anyone who has had the misfortune of following Blair’s political career, none of this should be any surprise. He hit the headlines a few weeks back for vocally challenging the CAP – and people began to cheer, as he was saying what needed to be said. He’s more recently been spouting off about poverty in Africa and hanging around with pop singers.

Lots of good press. Brief popularity boost. But will he deliver on any of this? His record’s not good, let’s face it. African aid will probably be computerised and outsourced to Capita, the poor buggers will get overpaid and then have to sell their countries to pay us back. The EU budget will likely be given out as a PFI contract (doubtless to a Labour donor with a dodgy track record in an unrelated field like, say, pharmaceuticals, who will then be given a peerage), and the inevitable overspend will end up getting covered by the government in three years’ time.

But the real killer in this latest spat, from the Blair PR point of view, is the French response: “We support the British proposition, it takes into account our considerations”.

Christ – if the French are happy, you KNOW we’ve done a bad job…

Meanwhile, life on the other side of the Channel has got even more tricky while we’ve been distracted by maniacs and explosions: a bunch of our most likely allies in the debate over the future of the EU have, while we’ve been cleaning up terrorist messes, thrown in their lot with Germany instead.

Austria, Italy, Finland, Poland, Portugal and Latvia could all have been British allies in this budget dispute, had Blair actually bothered to concentrate on the EU crisis rather than juggling the EU, Africa, wars and terrorists all at once and making a bollocks of all of them. Instead they’ve issued a statement with Germany about the future of the EU - the only upside of which is that it’s so bland and vapid that none of them have committed to any particular vision beyond "erm… the EU’s, like, good and stuff, OK?"

Either way, Blair holds the EU presidency. It’s about bloody time he got off his arse and did something with it – Britain won’t get this opportunity again for years. Time to stop faffing about and get on with the job.


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