Friday, July 29, 2005


10,000 bouncy balls, released from a great height onto a sloping street in San Francisco, to be precise. Lovely photos. Apparently it was to be filmed for a TV ad. Click on the link and then choose ‘next’ (near the top on the right, if you’ve never used flickr before) to see more. Also, be sure to click on the ‘all sizes’ button above the photo to get to the original size photos, which look much more impressive.

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Thursday, July 28, 2005

Biting triple-reflexive wit

Heh. So there’s this website called We’re Not Afraid. And now there’s this other website called I Am Fucking Terrified. Heh heh.

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Who'd'uh thunk it?!

This is historic. Or it might be. The IRA has ordered all units to dump all arms and cease the armed struggle and not to engage in any other activities whatever. So its 36-year-long armed struggle appears to be over.

More statements expected later today from various political leaders; I’ll keep you posted.

My immediate reaction is one of ‘I want to know more’ because as with everything here, context is very important. A lot of people here will feel that they need to know what will actually happen, in physical terms, to the weapons and explosives and ammo and whether it will be public or monitored. Politicians and most of the moderate, uninvolved population will start pressuring the unionist groups to follow suit.

It’s my opinion that last winter’s Northern Bank raid in Belfast was the final ‘The leadership will look away while you boys carry out one last big job before you stand down’ act after which the old-timers at the top of the IRA would seek to disarm it and retire from the Army Council.

Like I said, lots of developments — more later.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Read the Economist and leave your iPod at home...

...if you don’t want to be labelled a terrorist by stupidly overscared members of the public.

Marcus, who says his family are Greek-Cypriot, has devised a strategy to avoid “odd looks” on the Tube (which he attributes to his Mediterranean appearance).

To make himself seem non-threatening, he now wears a Make Poverty History wristband and makes a point of reading the Economist.

“Whilst this sounds ridiculous it does reassure people around me. Of course, the whole thing is ridiculous but these are ridiculous times we are living in,” he writes.

An Asian reader says fears about what people are thinking have stopped him carrying a rucksack.

“I do not take my rucksack to work anymore, which had my lunch and work shirt. I would rather wear a dirty shirt left at work than be looked at suspiciously. I also wear a T-shirt to work now, as I am afraid to wear too much, after the shooting,” he writes.

There are also people who have stopped wearing their MP3 players or iPods because of worries about trailing wires or not hearing orders from the police.

Sean Coughlan’s BBC piece makes me feel exasperated at the silly but (I suppose) understandable lengths to which fallible human beings will go when consumed by irrational fears. The fear of the visibly non-caucasian person who actually knows that they really are being silently judged as a possible mass murderer. The fear of the white person who sees someone with dark skin and whose mind kicks in hours after their instinct does.

So although at first it seems more outrageous when we hear of people deliberately changing trains to avoid such encounters, it is actually more true to the currently twisted mass psychology of fear. However, it is when white people prefer not to sit next to a woman in traditional Muslim dress that they display something less than fear, and worse than it: bigotry.

Next time I’m on a tube train in London, which hopefully won’t be too far in the future, I intend to sit next to one of these supposed murderers. A gay man and a dark-skinned heathen: we’d both get strange glances.

The only difference is, the police stopped killing gay men a long time ago.

Now, don’t think that I’m having a dig at the armed officers who shot Jean Charles de Menezes eight times in the head. On the face of all the issues in play at the time, if I’d’ve been one of the officers, I probably would have done the same thing. That is the point though — I would have made a knee-jerk reaction leading from a strong suspicion and no evidence. And when a group of armed human beings decides to make that kind of choice, fear of the unknown becomes deadly and begets yet more fear and anger.

Tis happens in spite of our Prime Minister’s calls for us to unite against terror. He doesn’t realise that lack of thought and information is fertile ground for terror. The only way to starve the roots of that sinister plant is to educate ourselves and be as humanistic as we can.

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Monday, July 25, 2005


A photomosaic, making up van Gogh’s Starry Night. It’s made with over 210,000 photos. And the image is also zoomable, so you won’t get hit with a huge download.

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Thursday, July 21, 2005

Yet again / Some nice links

Two weeks to the day after the attacks in London, there have been more explosions in the city, but people are being advised to remain at work and stay away from windows.

Small explosions, seemingly involving detonators going off but no actual explosives, occurred just after noon at Oval, Warren Street and Shepherd’s Bush tube stations, and the Hammersmith and City, Victoria and Northern lines have been suspended. At about half past one, there was another small explosions on a number 26 bus in Hackney, which is in the east of the city. Windows were blown out.

In what may prove to be an interesting development, a man who was carried on a stretcher into University College Hospital, close to Warren Streett tube, was followed into the building by armed officers, who later cordoned off a large area around the hospital. There were earlier reports that a man had been seen running away from the station.

Police said armed officers had been deployed to University College Hospital after an incident. A large area was cordoned off.

There were reports a memo had been circulated to staff to look out for a 6ft 2in black or Asian man with wires sticking out of his top.

The hospital has not received any casualties or been alerted to casualties.

A man was arrested near Downing Street by armed police and led away down Whitehall.

The whole of the Northern Line has been suspended, along with the Victoria Line, the Hammersmith and City line, Piccadilly and the Bakerloo line.

A number of other stations were closed including Great Portland Street, Westminster, Waterloo, St Paul’s and Oxford Circus tube stations, as well as Waterloo tube station and King’s Cross Thameslink.

Ho hum. I'm looking at all my London friends chatting away on the other monitor; yet again, no panic.

Update 1:

Police say that 2 people have been detained in connection with the incidents, and they are looking for an unknown number of fugitives. The situation at University College Hospital has ended.

In more news and links: Magic mushrooms are now Class A drugs in the UK, similar to Cocaine and Heroin. Google Moon. A guy kills his toddler son, fearing he might grow up gay. A book about the 1977 New York blackout, on Gothamist.

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Monday, July 18, 2005

How about looking at it this way

Conversation from Metafilter:

So the UK’s foreign policy decisions should be submitted for approval of terrorists?
posted by dios at 6:40 PM CET on July 18 [!]

You don’t need the approval of the bees to stop kicking over beehives, dios. It’s just not a good idea in the first place.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 6:49 PM CET on July 18 [!]

Well, that is an odd way to look at it.

How about looking at it this way: if the right thing to do is to remove a beehive, does one concern itself if it upsets the bees?
posted by dios at 6:53 PM CET on July 18 [!]

If you want to extend the metaphor, pretend the bees are humans.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 6:56 PM CET on July 18 [!]

How about looking at it this way: if your blowhard hillbilly cousin Cletus walks in the room with a 2x4 and tells you the beehive needs to be knocked down because it’s full of dynamite, you can expect to get stung if you stand next to him while he whacks it.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 6:59 PM CET on July 18 [!]

Heh. This thread is about the release of a report by Chatham House, a security think-tank here in the UK. The report contains several interesting papers, including one on the peace process in Northern Ireland. But the real news here, after the recent attacks in London, is the bit of the report which confirms what everyone except Tony Blair has been saying. — Stand beside a man who stupidly pretends the beehive he’s thrashing is full of dynamite, and you will definitely get stung.

Nothing more to say on that, really. I’ll hold back on further Iraq comment until investigations have progressed a bit. Nipping over to Gothamist to check out the goodness, we find that Rick Ross, an expert on cults (like evil Scientology) is interviewed. He says of Tom Cruise (who is a Scientologist):

He lives in a kind of traveling Scientology bubble with his entourage of sycophants and assistants. It’s doubtful that he could have a serious personal relationship with an unbeliever.

Cruise is Scientology’s most important living asset and they wouldn’t want it any other way. It would be a “mission impossible” for someone to become his spouse without accepting Scientology. Tom Cruise arguably lost his last link to the other side when he replaced his publicist Pat Kingsley with his Scientologist sister. If he doesn’t want an unbeliever as a publicist, why would anyone think he wants one for a wife?

Well, quite. Which is why Katie Holmes has suddenly decided that, goodness, maybe she should become a Scientologist too.

Now, I know that Americans have strange spellings of certain words. But you’d think that on a site dedicated to words, there would be some sense of linguistic decorum. ;o) Heh. But no such luck. Here is a site called “My Favorite Word” which asks readers to nominate their word of choice. So, for the purposes of correctness, my favoUrite word is: favoUrite.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2005


In the 1990s, the UK apparently (I don’t know this for sure) grated asylum to strings of muslim activists and militants. The argument (espoused in the New York Times of a few days ago and in an article last year in the San Francisco Chronicle) goes that because of that, the one place in the world where dangerous nasty militants are congregated is Britain. It’s, in a way, their spiritual home. Hmm.

First of all, let me quote from the SF Chronicle:

[...]London-based organization called Al-Muhajiroun. The radical organization is led by Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, who has long been linked to bin Laden's International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders.

The presence of militants like Bakri has earned the British capital the sobriquet “Londonistan” among diplomats and terrorism experts, who see London as a worldwide center of Islamic terrorism.

“The Islamists use Britain as a propaganda base but wouldn't do anything to a country that harbors them and gives them freedom of speech,” Camille Tawil, a terrorism expert at the Arabic daily Al Hayat, told the New Statesman magazine.

[...]Publicly, officials justify what the French call Britain's indulgence of militants by stating that no law is being broken. Britain does not have laws against speech that incites religious hatred. Privately, security sources say that by allowing extremist leaders to speak freely, they are able to keep them under close scrutiny.

Note first that Camille Tawil said above that the Islamists wouldn’t do anything to a country which gives them freedom of speech. Hmm. Last Thursday has proved that just slightly wrong. Also, I can’t help feeling that the terrorists who attacked London might not possess that ol’ fluffy sentimentality about nice countries giving them freedom of speech.

They congregated in this country because it’s in Western Europe, it’s easy-ish to get an education and a job, easy to fit in in London and elsewhere, and very convenient if you happen to want to bomb the fuck out of the place.

Next, the New York Times:

Here’s the problem for the United States: Under our Visa Waiver Program, residents of Londonistan who hold a valid British passport can board a plane for the United States without an interview by an American consular official.

This program also applies to more than a score of other European countries, like France, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain, that meet the criteria for visa-free travel to the United States. Unfortunately, while these countries may enjoy a low visa refusal rate, grant reciprocal visa-free travel to Americans and issue machine-readable passports — all criteria for inclusion in the waiver program — many of them have also had a hard time integrating their growing Muslim populations. Even before yesterday’s attacks, there was plenty of evidence from episodes like the Madrid bombings in 2004 that these countries contained sleeper cells with the ability and motivation to carry out major terrorist operations and even, perhaps, to attack the United States itself.

As declining populations in Europe are replaced in part by rising Muslim emigration from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, economic resentment and sectarian strife seem likely to grow. Tinkering with visa regulations might help, but it is unlikely to change the reality that Islamic militant groups in Britain, as in several other major European countries, represent a growing threat to the United States that will continue for many years to come.

Here is a MetaFilter reply (from a UK resident) which should answer what he has to say quite completely:

I would be fucking ashamed if we descended into paranoia and xenophobia, and surrendered our diversity. It’s true that a few clerics should be.. well.. I don’t know what they should be, but they *shouldn’t* be so explicitly calling for violent action against Britain. But issues like that are providing faucets through which seas of bile are being vented at the dreaded Moor/Turk/Saracen/barbarian - and that, not some innate cunning brown evilness, is the reason that “one in five British Muslims feels little loyalty towards Britain.”

This is, to use a rather unfortunate phrase in this context, a storm in a teacup. Britain is no more a nation which consists of, or harbours, ‘tea-swilling terrorists’ than India or Australia or Canada. Religious people gather where they have freedom of speech — and I should point out here that America’s laws on what constitutes a religion are ludicrously loose — and we have freedom of speech here. Terrorists, on the other hand, are ideologically separate from everyday religious people.

Get it, America? Religion, while all rather ludicrous and dangerous in the wrong hands, does not equal terrorist. Brown skin does not equal terrorist. Open minds and civil liberties do not equal danger. This country has freedom of speech and it does not have draconian new terrorism laws like your country does. This country was going to get it in the neck for Iraq and Afghanistan sooner or later, whatever laws it introduced or whoever it allowed to live here.

If this absurd trumpeting by the world’s press has been started by the current US administration in the hope that it can start to suggest the course of UK law a little, it is the US administration which is dressing itself with the garb of terror to fight it. If the administration over in Washington wants the Cabinet in London to follow its lead on government departments and terrorism laws in order to retrospectively legitimise America's increasingly fascist statute-book, it will fail. It must fail. Grrr.

Right, now for some good news. You know Gothamist? Well, to the stable of the ‘ists’, please welcome Shanghai and Paris! (Parisist is in French, by the way.)

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Sunday, July 10, 2005

Getting on with life

Getting on with life would defy the terrorists in a way they hadn’t expected. Merely getting on the Tube, as we do every day, would be an act of defiance, one we would proudly undertake.

But is that enough?

Cut to the still and pitch-black scene under Russell Square, where scattered bodies lie unclaimed, out of reach in a temporary, fragile tomb while we go about our business above them, ignoring the now-dead just as we may have done the day before when they anonymously crossed our paths. I keep coming back to this scene. It haunts me, and I can't help seeing echoes of the helpless dead below in the do-nothing-differentness we’ve embraced above.

If you read all of Jonathan’s post, he goes on to say that perhaps London is still in shock because Thursday’s bombings didn’t have the visual, in-your-face oomph of 9/11. Certainly it’s true that the horrifying visual impact to the general public is far less.

However, that is not to say that it hasn’t happened, nor is it to say that Londoners are not aware of it. I think that many people have had exactly the same thoughts which have passed painfully through Jonathan’s — and my — mind. A couple of minutes’ silence seem too quick a memorial. Give them more.

When I thought of the possibility of an attack on London, something inside me said that it would definitely happen, and the only thing to wonder about was exactly what form it would take.

That it has taken the form of explosions which are invisible and silent from the street, resulting in bodies and twisted wreckage far underground in the dark, has an otherworldliness which is bizarre and unsettling.

But we all knew that an attack would come; we all knew that it would end with bodies and wreckage. The shock we feel is of knowing that it has come to pass. But it is not a shock from which we will awake, wailing in the middle of the night like frightened children. It is the quiet, accepted shock of known violence. And it is overlain, in the minds of some, by the knowledge that the UK really did have it coming for quite some time.

I don’t agree that what happened on Thursday was right. I don’t agree that it was a fitting answer to Blair’s hubris — although I’m sure he is one of the very few people in this country to have truly taken it personally. It was entirely logical and entirely horrible and, as Jonathan says, from it have flowed a million ripples of goodness which outweigh it. London will absorb it, and the world will continue to turn.

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Saturday, July 09, 2005

Alert in Birmingham

And now there’s a terror alert in Birmingham. As of this second, they’ve evacuated 20,000 people from the city centre, are now starting to evacuate residents as well, and there’s been a controlled explosion on a bus in Corporation Street. We known nothing more apart from the fact that police acted according intelligence received. More if it develops.

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Friday, July 08, 2005

Making sense of it all

This has been an extraordinary 24 hours for London. Yesterday afternoon, the International Olympic Committee awarded London the 2012 Summer Games. I was in Trafalgar Square when the announcement came, and the place went crazy. There was shouting and hugging and dancing. It seemed somehow bizarre. It seemed very ... un-English.

But the reaction to today’s attacks feels incredibly English. When I left the quiet area right around the bus bombing and returned to the busy streets of Holborn and Soho, London appeared just as it always is.

The natural state of the English is a kind of gloomy diligence, which is why they do so well in hard times. In 1940, Londoners went dutifully on with their business while the Luftwaffe bombed the hell out of them. Today, most of them are doing the same. I was in Washington for 9/11, and the whole city went into a panic. Offices emptied, stores shut, downtown D.C. became a ghost town. But in London today, everyone still has a cell phone clutched to their ear. The delivery vans are still racing about, seeking shortcuts around all the street closures. The Starbucks is packed.

And when I walked by the Queen’s Larder Pub, not half a mile from the Tavistock Square wreckage, at 11 a.m., a half-dozen men were sitting together at a sidewalk table, hoisting their morning pints of ale. Civilization must go on, after all.

The morning after the day before. I am, of course, not in London but in Belfast, but last weekend, visiting my old city again, I felt it was very much still home. So I feel very strange this morning. The biggest feeling is wanting to be there, wanting to be around my friends there, to be a part of it all.

Wikipedia has dry versions of events here, here and here. Get London Bloggers’ take on the day. A guy who was on the Edgware Road train gives his account.

The Guardian News Blog’s post about the day. Quite thorough. (Although, to be fair, London wasn’t actually plunged into chaos at all.) The obligatory MetaFilter thread. There’s some good linkage in there, actually. But Project Nothing’s linkage and info is better.

Now I’m just going to link you to some Guardian coverage of what’s happened, more or less because it’s a fine news source:

Emergency services rushed to east, west and central London as the bombs went off in sequence and without warning over a 50-minute period.

The first device exploded at 8.51am on a Circle line train between Aldgate East and Liverpool Street stations. Seven people were killed.

At 8.56am a second device exploded on a train between King's Cross and Russell Square, killing 21 people.

At 9.17am there was another blast on a train at Edgware Road station which blew a hole through a wall into another train on an adjoining platform. Two other trains were affected and seven people were killed.

At 9.47am a fourth blast blew the top off a doubledecker bus in Tavistock Square, central London, possibly killing more than a dozen people.

Where the bombers struck. ‘Savagely woken from a pleasant dream’ ‘…we will face again that deal we must constantly make and remake with the state — how much power must we grant Leviathan, how much freedom will we be asked to trade for our security?’ Photo gallery. Stay off work if you can. Experts to trace footprint of blasts. Finally, the Leading Article.

I feel sad and concerned, and indignant, that this has been done to my favourite city, my former and future home. But watching from afar, talking online to the people who I had a picnic with last weekend, I also feel very proud of London, and Londoners, whether native or not. They reacted, and then got on with their lives. The support of nice people continuing to be nice held firm.

Of course, next time I go to London, there will be changes. I’ll definitely need to get a passport before travelling. This summer’s Proms will change slightly to provide commemoration. Movement and existence within the city will be a bit more cautious. But the fear that descended over America on 9/11 has not smothered the UK after ‘7/7’. That is a testament to the continued humanity of everyone here. So, to my friends, old and new: I’m so glad you’re all safe. And I’m so glad you’re you.

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Thursday, July 07, 2005

Bombs explode on trains and bus in London -- Multiple fatalities, hundreds injured

Update 2:

A terror group linked to al Qaeda says it carried out a series of terror attacks on London that have left a number of people dead and hundreds injured.

A previously unknown group calling itself “Secret Organisation al Qaeda in Europe” said it carried out the attacks as revenge for British “military massacres” in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This is terrible and it seems the situation is developing: deaths at Edgware Road and Aldgate East station; a possible suicide bomb attack on a bus in Tavistock Square… it’s horrible.

The police have confirmed there have been a number of fatalities at Edgware Road.

A number of people have been seriously injured, and then there are the walking wounded. Police say everyone is now out of the tube station.

Two trains were caught up in the explosion here. Witnesses have spoken about glass showering down on them and being plunged into darkness.

People who got out are very shaken and have told us in dramatic detail about getting out, but the very bad news is that some people have died here.

Casualty figures are expected to rise as rescue efforts identify more bodies on the trains and bus. At present there is no indication that the attacks have ceased. However, the terror group’s claim of responsibility may indicate that the planned attacks are complete.

List of affected places so far: Edgware Road, King’s Cross, Liverpool Street, Russell Square, Aldgate East and Moorgate, and the bus on Tavistock Square. Here’s a constantly updated BBC timeline of events.

And now we have at least 40 people reported killed. Fuck.

Update 3:

Monty From: Steve Kennedy
Monty> Date: Jul 7, 2005 3:58 PM
Monty> Current press conference on the news.
Monty> Tube shut until tomorrow, busses hopefully back by later this afternoon.
Monty> No trains coming into London.
Monty> Eurostar advising people not to try and come in from France etc today.
mogwai> indeed
Monty> 4 bombs,
Monty> 8.51 Algate 7 dead
Monty> 8.56 b/n Russel Sq and Kings X 7 dead.
Monty> 9.17 Edgware Rd, blast blew THROUGH the tunnel into next platform on to
Monty> another train (maybe a 3rd involved). 5 dead
Monty> 9.27 (I think) bus in Tavistock place (opp BMA) - top of the bus blown
mogwai> no trains or busses at all in central london
Monty> off completely - no figures released re dead (but whoever was on the top
Monty> floor didn't stand a chance - they're probably trying to identify
Monty> bodies).
Monty> 45 people in hospital with serious injuries
Monty> 300+ minor.
mogwai> 950

Later update: An excellent exposition of the way forward investigations-wise.

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Monday, July 04, 2005

Back from London

I had a weekend away, courtesy of Owen and Patrick. I’ll shove down some notes from the Moleskine tomorrow or something. Meanwhile, the above is generally what might be expected to go on in Owen’s flat after Pride. ;o)

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