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?
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
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?):
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."
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.
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.
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
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.
"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.
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”?