31 July 2005

Humanitarian Intervention

Chrenkoff asks, since there are 250,000 Iraqis living in Britain, how come none of them are doing suicide bombings?

Separately, Judith Klinghoffer points out that two of the suspects are from Somalia, where the invasion by Westerners was carried out at the urging of the U.N., but was abandoned in the face of strong resistance.

At the same time, the anti-war Neil Craig reminds us of some of the uncomfortable facts about Western intervention in Yugoslavia.

Now my gut feeling has always been against sending armies overseas. It may come as a surprise to my (literally several) readers, and I tend to forget it myself, but if asked outright whether it was the right policy to invade Iraq in 2003, I would say I think it was probably wrong.

There are several reasons why, believing this, I still am generally much closer to the "Pro-war" side than the "Anti-war" side.
I think the policy, mistaken as it may have been, was nevertheless an improvement on the policy it replaced, as I discussed here.

Read the rest

Freedom and Photography

Further to my earlier piece, I'd like to point out what the "opposite" of having cameras everywhere is:

It's having people follow you around to make sure you don't take photographs.

That sounds silly, but it's not hypothetical, it's real, now.

Where's the principle here? Am I more free if I can take a photograph in a public place, or if I can't. And if I can, why can't a shop-owner or a bus company or the police? And if I can't, how intrusive to privacy is it going to be to stop me?

I admit that just because it is legal for someone to do something, that doesn't make it good public policy for the Government to do it, too - that has to be argued separately.

But I do think the freedom to take photographs in public is more fundamental than any right not to be photographed in public.

Related: Kinds of Privacy

30 July 2005

Crime and Terrorism

From time to time we hear criticism of the "crime-fighting" approach to counter-terrorism: the line is that the terrorists aren't restrained by law, and we cannot afford to disadvantage ourselves against them.

As I mentioned previously, the flaw is that I as a civilian am at least as concerned not to be wrongly convicted of terrorism as of crime - removing the protection of the law for any action removes my certainty of not being punished without a chance to defend myself in court.

In any case, criminals aren't restrained by law either, so what's the difference?

Well, terrorism is a much bigger problem than crime, isn't it? Um, isn't it?

No, it isn't. Check this out:

Violent death rate in Baghdad, from March 2003 to March 2005, from Iraq Body Count: 20.1 per 10,000 population. That's 100 per 100,000 per year, and it includes the invasion itself. I can't get accurate figures for the period after the invasion, but from the feel of the report, I would knock about a third off for "peacetime" Baghdad: say 70 per 100,000 per year

Murder rate in Washington, D.C. 69.3 per 100,000 per year.

That's it - the capital of Iraq, the epicentre of world terrorist activity, has, as close as I can measure it, the same violent death rate as the capital of the USA with no terrorists.

OK, admittedly, Washington D.C has by far the worst murder rate of any "peaceful" city in the entire world, but compare any other city in the world to Baghdad, and terrorism is negligible.

Maybe, since car drivers kill more people than terrorists, we should suspend basic freedoms for drivers, as well.

Oh yeah, we did that.

Update: Apparently Scrivener discovered this back in January

Kinds of Privacy

Our ability to keep our private business private has been declining steadily for decades, but it's not often recognised that the decline takes two quite separate forms.

One is that information that was available to the public, but only easily available to a relatively small number, is now very easily available to anyone who wants it. That is a simple result of information technology that makes the communicating of all information easier. It ranges from simply inverting the index of a telephone directory to make it easy to identify a person from their telephone number, to businesses compiling and trading details of their customers' shopping habits.

The other, quite different phenomenon is that the government is demanding, with legal force, information that by previous standards would have been totally private. They demand to be informed of every transaction of various types, even if all parties would rather keep them private.

Read the rest...

29 July 2005

Policing Terrorism

The normally reliable Bruce Schneier weighed in on security camers on 12 July

Surveillance cameras didn't deter the terrorist attacks in London. They didn't stop the courthouse killing spree in Atlanta. But they're prone to abuse. And at the end of they day they don't reduce crime.

In New York, the authorities are doing random searches to look for explosives.

Yesterday, the London transport system was flooded with police, many of them armed.

All these policing measures are controversial - how to evaluate them?


The exceptional density of CCTV in Britain, and especially London, is a legacy of previous terrorist campaigns. I am surprised to see Schneier dismiss them so totally, as they are a cheap way of getting substantial benefit. Cheap both in money and in "social cost" - when you are out in public you can be seen, but with cameras you can be seen by people who weren't actually there at the time. You can disguise or hide yourself, at the price of looking a bit suspicious. The images (unlike, say, number plate recognition cameras on motorways) can't be used for broad sweeps to track people over months or check everyone for a particular behaviour. (note also many of them are in private hands - the police have to ask for them, and they need support from the public to get them). I'm absolutely opposed to compulsory ID, large-scale telecoms interception, etc., but not CCTV.

From where I sit, it looks like CCTV has been the key tool in breaking up the terrorist organisation behind the London bombings; tracing the 7th July team back to Luton and Leeds, identifying the 21st July team, and following both leads back to contacts and resources.

To be fair to Schneier, all these developments happened after he made the quotes above, but they are consistent with previous terrorist campaigns. Possibly we in Britain see counter-terrorism differently -- Schneier, like Arnold Kling, is thinking in terms of preventing a one-off attack like 9/11 (which is almost impossible), while we naturally think in terms of winning an extended campaign, in which we take hits but use intelligence gathered to disrupt the enemy organisation. Even a suicide bomber, who is very hard to deter and who can't be captured afterwards, is part of an organisation - large or small - which is more vulnerable if he is identified and traced.

Random bag-searches, on the other hand, score very badly on price-performance. The expense and social cost of searching commuters' bags are very high, and the likelihood of them having any effect at all is quite low.

The large police presence yesterday was expensive (I would guess it cost on the order of a million pounds), and slightly unnerving.

Both of the last two are not cost-effective over a longer period, but each might make sense as a one-off or very occasional measure when the threat is judged to be high. I don't know whether that is the plan in NY, but it probably was the plan yesterday; if two of the 21st July bombers were arrested today, then yesterday was the day they were most dangerous. It's easy to imagine a suicide bomber succeeding in a mission under the noses of all those police, but there's a distinct chance that they would have been able to interfere with the mission. Estimate say 2% chance of an attack on that day, 20% chance of foiling it, a million pounds is fairly reasonable.

Ian Blair - disagreeing with me among others - says the 21st July team were not the B-team or amateurs. This is a relative question, and I would not expect or wish those with the job of catching them to be as blase about them as I am, but I stick to my guns:

Any fool can kill people; the chief attribute of these guys is not skill but bloodthirstiness - but even killing a few hundred people a year would only really affect our way of life if we let it.

This lot are much less sophisticated and professional than the IRA, and most importantly, don't have the community support the IRA had (how may IRA bombers were ever grassed up by their mothers?)

Sir Ian needs to take this as seriously as a football manager facing a lower-league team in a cup game, but for the rest of us we ought to be confident that we can beat these scum, without losing our sense of perspective.

Related entries:

26 July 2005

John Kay on global warming

In today's FT (and his own site)

Many of the people who express concern about climate change do not want a technological solution. Their concern is really an expression of guilt about materialism, distaste for capitalism and fear of technology. It is because Mr Bush does not experience any of these feelings that he is right on this issue.

Spot on.

Update: I've spent hours reading articles on his site - I'd forgotten how good he is. Here's an article on copyright.

21 July 2005

Deport this terrorist mastermind immediately

And I mean right now!



Update: it has been brought to my attention that one of the Telegraph's most insightful journalists made a similar point in today's paper. It is sobering to think that, had the authorities had the courage to act, today's shocking events could have been averted.

link

Looking Grim

England are 18-3

190 is starting to look like a decent score.

On a related point, this article by Professor John Adams is an eye-opener. I was well aware that the 52 murders a couple of weeks ago was, statistically, pretty minor, but I never suspected that even Israelis run substantially higher risk of being killed in road accidents than by terrorists. If you want to have reasonable cause to worry about terrorism, you've pretty much got to move to Baghdad. And I imagine they have pretty serious traffic problems too.

The other concern is that terrorists can achieve serious death tolls with the famed Weapons of Mass Destruction. The trouble with this theory is of the "NBC" triad, the B and C - Biological and Chemical weapons, just aren't up to mass destruction. Time and again, on the battlefield or the underground train, they've proved inferior to conventional weapons. Indeed, the real weapon of mass destruction is a large quantity of high explosives.

That leaves nukes. I will return to this subject later.

In the meantime, let's watch the sodding cricket and wait for the trains to start running.

Australia 178-8

Harmison 3 for 39.

(Also some more bombs have gone off on the tube).

Update: Good news! Australia all out for 190

Five wickets for Harmison!

19 July 2005

Really Suicide

The Mirror and others are questioning whether the "mobile self-demolition specialists" who visited London a couple of weeks back were really planning to die.

I'm still quite willing to believe they were, though there is room for doubt.

Classifying the evidence:
  1. Left no notes, wills, video messages or whatever
  2. Bought return train tickets, and possibly car park pay & display tickets.
  3. Detonations were nearly simultaneous (apart from the one that wasn't)
  4. Didn't make any announcements at the moment of detonation
  5. One or two of them had pregnant wives
  6. They were British, dammit! One of them played cricket!
  7. Obviously the Mossad was really behind it all.

6 and 7 I disregard.

5 - well, the September 2001 hijackers had full and apparently enjoyable lives. Of course, not all of them necessarily knew exactly what they were getting into. These four might have declared themselves willing to die, and volunteered for a mission without knowing until a late stage that it was a one-way trip. Security, you know.

2 3 and possibly 4 could be explained by my earlier theory, that they were acting on the cautious assumption that the security forces were close on their tails. They had had (very indirect) contact with previous blown operations, nothing in Britain had yet come off succesfully, the #1 priority was to get the job done before anyone could grab them.

The lack of any message is the strongest point, but even that I think might be because of the risk of exposure. Unlike the Palestinians, these people were really operating entirely in enemy territory: the fact of going out and buying a video camera might have triggered some investigating authority to ask for a search warrant.

I'm probably not going to blog about this much more. 50 murders is a significant news story, but a sense of proportion is still important, and we don't want to go overboard.

Here's my decision: once the Piccadilly line is open, I will consider the story over.

17 July 2005

Death Throes

The conclusion I previously drew from the London bombings is that the terrorists are weakening.

I will go further than that: the whole of modern Islamist terror is a sign of the weakness, and indeed of the death throes, of what could be called "primitive" Islam.

I leave aside the nationalist struggles that have produced terror - the Algerian conflict, for example, had nothing to do with "primitive" Islam; it was essentially a western-style nationalist movement, and the Palestinian movement also had that character through the 1970s. Today, however there is a mixture of western-style nationalism and primitive Islam involved, and that may be the reason it is proving so intractable.

The truly Islamist terrorist movement, however, that of the Muslim Brotherhood and Osama bin Laden, is, as the leftists tell us, driven by anger.

And the root cause of that anger is that wherever their culture comes into contact with ours, it loses. From Turkey under Kemal Ataturk to modern Pakistan, traditional Islamic society is giving way to an imitation of the West.

Read more...

15 July 2005

B Team

This post at Captain's Quarters — suggesting that the bombers were implementing the plan which had been previously foiled with the arrest of Naeem Noor Khan — reinforces something I had in mind while writing the piece below, but didn't actually state.

It strikes me that the bombers' tactics were formulated to be maximally simple and, above all else, to minimise the chances of being interfered with.

Once the explosives had been made and made into bombs, the operation was carried out in as few hours as possible. Drive down from Leeds, dump the car in Luton, get on a train to King's Cross, spread out a little and blow up. There are many refinements that might have increased the impact or reduced the amount of intelligence available afterwards, — getting on tube trains coming in to King's Cross rather than away from it, heading for a high-profile target, say Westminster or Canary Wharf, staggering the explosions over hours or even days, or simply hiding the car somewhere rather than leaving it in the station car park, but if one of the four was already suspected by the security services from a year ago, then any delay at all might have provided the opportunity for the authorities to spot what was happening. As it was, they might have been followed by police the whole way, and would quite possibly have still managed to cause as much damage as they did. (Not that I'm suggesting they were followed, but they might have feared they could be under surveillance).

This suggested to me that the plot was very small in terms of personnel (which is somewhat contradicted by this new report), and, along with other things, that the terrorists are weak, only able with the greatest difficulty and after several failed attempts to achieve any kind of successful operation, and that a suicide mission not just for the bombers but for their cell as a whole, which is being rapidly rolled up.

Terrorist Motivation

In my essay on the Structure of Terrorist Movements, I examined different participants in a terroist movement and their roles and motivations.

Looking at the information that is coming out about the London bombings, there are striking hypotheses that immediately emerge.

Firstly, there is no coherent visible political leadership to the movement. When dealing with the IRA, or even Hamas, there is an obvious political movement controlling the violence. The leadership may be open, anonymous or pseudonymous, but it clearly exists and makes political statements.

Second, the soldiers did not operate from out of a mass of sympathisers....

read more

14 July 2005

7th July Narrative

Last week's bombings were not all about me, and my precise movements are not of that much interest to many people. However, it's emerged that it was closer to being about me than I would have guessed, so in an attempt to remember, I'm tracing things back. No-one really reads this rubbish anyway, but since I'm writing it down I'll publish it.

I would probably have got to Luton station at 7.25 as normal, to catch the 7.29 Midland Mainline to St Pancras.

The bombers apparently got the 7.24 Thameslink to Kings Cross Thameslink, which carries on to London Bridge and down towards Brighton.

(Background: St Pancras, Kings Cross, and Kings Cross Thameslink are three separate stations close together in a row. There's heavy building work going on currently at both St Pancras [for the new Channel Tunnel terminus] and at Kings Cross [new underground ticket hall], so moving between them is slightly awkward at busy times).

I think there were bad delays on the Thameslink that morning. The 7.24 might have been 10 or 15 minutes late coming in. Signalling problems around Elstree or somewhere? All I can remember for sure was that they were announcing delays generally, but from the screens the Mainline seemed less disrupted than the Thameslink and I took my 7.29 as normal, which came into Luton on time.

The 7.29 was however delayed on the way to St Pancras. It normally arrives around 7.50-7.55, but was about 15 or 20 minutes late, I think. I get SMS updates from London Underground at 7.50, and the update that morning said that there were delays on the Northern line due to a failed train between somewhere and Stockwell (south of Central London). The last update time on the message was around 7.35, and as I was already running late I optimistically thought the problems should have been fixed by 8:20 or so when I got to the Northern Line.

I don't know when the Thameslink with the bombers would have got into Kings Cross Thameslink. By the timetable it should have been 8.00, but my recollection is that it was late coming into Luton, and it might well have been delayed on the line down to Kings Cross as I was. My guess is I would have been slightly ahead of the bombers getting to Kings Cross Underground.

The boards at Kings Cross Underground were reporting "Minor Delays" on the Northern Line. Again, I thought it would be pretty much fixed by this time, so I took the escalator to the Northern Line platform.

When I got there it was ridiculous. It was so packed I couldn't even get onto the platform. I walked down towards the far end of the concourse, and stood by one of the entrances to the platform. After a few minutes a train came in, people struggled off and on and I was able to get onto the platform, just.

I stood and played with a Rubik's Cube. I vaguely remember a blonde foreign girl with a large bag getting past me. I then decided the delays were still too bad, so I extricated myself from the platform and headed for the Victoria line (Up the first escalator, turn right).

From there my journey proceeded normally -- change at Green Park to the Jubilee line and on to Canary Wharf. At 8.50 I was probably around Green Park. I got to the office around 9.15-9.20, I think.

Writing this down has brought back a few memories, but nothing useful. If suicide bombers were attractive women, I'd be in with a chance, but I never noticed any Pakistani men with rucksacks.

The Northern Line problems are interesting. It's been suggested that the bus bomber may have intended to hit the Northern Line, but been prevented by the failure, and wandered off in confusion and indecision before detonating on the number 30 at 9.47.

In the early confusion, the Northern Line delays perhaps suggested that there had been an attack there too - my wife was called out of the class she was teaching and told there'd been a bomb on the Northern Line, leading her to leave a very scared message on my mobile's voicemail, which of course I didn't get for 15 minutes in the network congestion.

13 July 2005

Welsh Womens' Work

Too many girls in Wales are still being steered into traditional women's work, claims an equal opportunities report.

I'm still interested in my theory that the "steering" is not so much being told "Plumbing is a nasty men's job that might break your fingernails" as not being told "Plumbing is a mucky job, but it brings in good money" - either only boys are being told this, or no-one's being told it but boys are more interested in finding out for themselves, or boys and girls are equally aware of it, but boys consider it more important.

More Activity in Luton?

The BBC says they took the suspect cars away at 4:30 this morning.

Don't know if there's anything else going on here today, but there's a helicopter buzzing over my house.

(after 4 hours getting home last night I'm working from home today).

Update: my housekeeper tells me that the helicopter has been going over at this time every morning -- escort duty for someone or something going down the M1.

12 July 2005

Suicide Bombs

The police are now saying they think the bombers were killed at each of the four sites. I see that as encouraging news, because, most simply, they won't do it again. I do believe that terrorists ready to blow themselves up and able to merge into British society are very rare. Suicide bombing can be a regular tactic in Israel or Iraq, but not in Luton or Leeds.

Also, suicide bombers can be identified from their bodies, and the operation traced back from them, as seems to be happening currently. If the bombers are long gone, police have a more difficult job.

The police have moved quite quickly - it emerged in September 2001 that some of the US hijackers were already under investigation, but nothing concrete had come up, so they were being left alone. As soon as they struck, the authorities were able to quickly track down their backgrounds. The same may well be the true here, and no blame would neccessarily attach to the police or security services - It could be very difficult to make the jump from vague suspicion to grounds for arrest.

Why suicide bombing? Maybe they are too unsophisticated to produce timer devices of the neccessary reliability (not trivial - the "1996" bus picture in my post below was caused by an unintentional IRA suicide bomber). Maybe it is too difficult to leave a bag on a London train or bus -- we really are attentive to them after all these years. Maybe they feel that, other things being equal, it is better to die in the attack than survive it. I don't 100% believe the "Blood Feud" theory of Islamist terrorism -- I do think there is some strategy to it -- but it is valid to say that the bombers are very much concerned with themselves and their supporters, not just with their effects on us.

I'll liveblog the Met. press conference here if there's anything interesting. I'm not going anywhere - they (the Police, that is) have blown up another car in Luton station car park.

(times in GMT for reasons of insanity)

16:10 GMT - Peter Clark: They thought they knew who the bombers were before identifying their bodies.

16:11 GMT - Peter Clark: One of the suspected bombers was reported missing by his family around 10am Thursday.

Controlled Explosion at Luton Station

Looks like I'm going to be late home again...

Little Europe


"I only know that the British did not want the summit to be a success," Michel says: "[The British] have a different kind of roadmap. They want Europe to be a purely economic space. If we follow them we risk turning the EU into a miniature copy of the United States. If we restrict the EU to a free market association without common rules, without this constitution, without shared political values, then Europe will no longer be able to make the citizens dream."

Various people - Stephen Pollard, Paul Belien, The England Project, have had a go at this. But to my mind they miss the most revealing aspect.

Louis Michel alleges that Britain would turn the EU into a miniature copy of the United States. Miniature? The EU has getting on for twice the population of the United States. Yet its apologist is still under the impression that the US is larger. American power and wealth, for him, are just facts of nature or geography.

It's not true. The USA is not bigger than the EU, except in having 5 million square kilometres of empty desert and ice sheet. It just has better economic policies. Its relative power and wealth are not facts of nature. They are the result of the policies Michel is defending. If the EU became like the USA, far from being a "miniature copy", the result would be a richer world, by (off the top of my head) a factor of getting on for 2.

Of course, Michel is correct that the purpose of the EU is to prevent this, which is why I advocate disbanding it rather than pursuing the "British" vision Michel fears.

11 July 2005

Moral Agents

Tim Worstall publishes a quick email from a correspondent:

Let us assume that when people such as George Galloway say that Tony Blair is responsible for the London bombings they are correct. This must mean that the bombers were not moral agents for their actions, but simply acting in response to British and American policy. But then, let's turn that around. For that surely means that, following 9/11, George Bush was not responsible for his actions but was simply reacting in a natural way to the attacks on America. As the scholastics said, reductio ad absurdum.
Fair point as far as it goes, but I consider it worthwhile to ask to what extent it is useful to evaluate the morality of people in other cultures. Within a culture, or perhaps more relevantly a society, there can be a common morality to which it is always useful to hold everyone -- morality needs to be reliably applied, and disregarding it in some cases will weaken the society.

It is not normally practical to judge the morality of actions outside your own society, except where they are extraordinarily visible, or impinge on you. But that very selectivity takes away the main reason for applying morality, rather than expediency, as a judge of actions.

The conclusion I come to is that there are concentric spheres of morality -- I hold my friends and associates to a very intrusive and detailed ("high") standard of morality, my countrymen to a slightly lower one, foreigners inside our broader international culture, lower still, and so on.

To me, by the time you get to the alien societies that these terrorists come from (or choose to identify with), morality has become totally irrelevant. It's not that I consider murders committed by them not to be immoral, it's that I don't care whether they're moral or not -- I want to stop them anyway. The level of morality, as far as I can see, that is shared across the whole world, and can be applied across the whole world, is zero. People that remote from my society, I can only influence with cruder tools than by making and setting examples -- bribery and deterrence pretty much cover it.

So, from the Arab point of view, Blair in invading Iraq may have just been responding to "root causes" among their own society's actions, but, as he is part of our society, it is necessary for us to hold his policy to moral scrutiny. And for the terrorists, vice versa.

Therefore, I don't have a problem with Galloway et al concentrating their moral judgements (whether or not I share them) on Blair. I would be happier if they would echo my sentiments that what matters regarding very foreign cultures is to what actions we manipulate them, rather than how moral they are.

Revealingly, in our society, as well as the error of treating foreigners as moral agents, we also frequently see the error of treating our countrymen as things to manipulate. While I am satisfied at least with the form of the argument "We should not invade Iraq because that will cause Arabs to bomb us", I reject utterly any argument of the form "We should not allow drinking after 11pm because there will be more crime". If our countrymen commit vandalism after drinking until 3am, they should be held responsible under our shared moral code, not clumsily appeased or deterred as if they were foreign potential terrorists.

There may one day be a time when Socrates would have been correct -- where people everywhere share a moral code, and we should consider an offence in Kirkuk in the same category as one in Kirkcaldy. But that is not yet.

10 July 2005

Let's not be morbid

The first hints of Diana-ism are creeping into public view. First, we have the idea of a march in London to say ... what? That we're opposed to being bombed? That we're not afraid? That we support some specific foreign policy? I don't think it's really clear. The most important thing to say is that we're not afraid, but I think any such demonstration, whatever the actual intention is more likely to suggest to the less-than-stellar intellects attacking us that they are having an effect, and that they are capable of influencing us.

The same, I'm afraid, goes for the idea of a memorial to the victims. Certainly we will have a memorial service, and I should think a discreet plaque or something, as exists for the victims of the Kings Cross fire, but a "National Memorial" to the victims, as suggested by Tessa Jowell, is counter-productive. A permanent reminder for us of the victims is also a permanent reminder for our enemies of their success -- a trivial and negligible success which deserves to be forgotten. When the enemy is defeated, then it will be time to build war memorials. Until then, whether it is a year away or a century away, the way to show defiance is to carry on as normal, not to exaggerate our losses.

None of this goes for those elsewhere who choose to show solidarity with us, and involvement with us rather than non-involvement. The people at We're Not Afraid, for example, have my gratitude, as for them there is the choice of saying "nothing to do with me, mate". But for those of us that live or work in London, any overreaction is a sign of weakness.

08 July 2005

Thoughts on British Muslims

A couple of points:

Firstly that the very definite statements made by Muslim leaders in Britain are significant:

Sir Iqbal Sacranie, head of the Muslim Council of Britain, said he utterly condemned the attacks. He was joined in his condemnation by church leaders who have been preparing a joint position between both faiths in the event of such an attack.

"We are simply appalled and want to express our deepest condolences to the families," said Sir Iqbal. "These terrorists, these evil people, want to demoralise us as a nation and divide us. All of us must unite in helping the police to hunt these murderers down."


The gap between "We condemn these murders" and "We must help the police" might seem small logically, but it is enormous emotionally. It is a step, for instance, which some church leaders in Northern Ireland were unwilling to make until the 1990s. As I argue in my piece on the structure of terrorist movements it is the crucial step which makes a long-term domestic terrorist campaign unfeasible. If the large majority of British Muslims are prepared to help the police, then any terrorist infrastructure will have to be based overseas.

My second point, which I have not seen mentioned elsewhere, is the odd location of one of the bombs. Edgware Road is very much an Arab area of London. Note the Arab population in Britain is very small, British Muslims being overwhelmingly from the Indian sub-continent, but what there is of it is very concentrated in a small part of London. When I lived on the edge of Kilburn, I tended to feel quite safe from the IRA, and the fact of a presumably Islamist bomb going off at Edgware Road Station is remarkable.

Of course, it may just have been chosen as a point on a main commuter route - from the West London junctions of Paddington and Baker street stations to King's Cross and Central London, just as Aldgate is on the route in from the East London junction at Liverpool Street, or it may have gone off in the wrong place, but I do find it curious.

The other reason we know we can take this

1996
18 Feb 1996

2005
7 July 2005

I'd actually forgotten what 1996 was like, although I was living in London at the time. I remember the "Ring of Steel" and the Baltic Exchange in the early 90s, but the revived campaign in the mid-90s made virtually no impact on the national mood.

Update: another point from the Guardian, via Slugger O'Toole: There were 36 bombs in London in 1973 (a bit before my time).

Early Reflections

I'm sitting at home today - it's very impressive that they've got the trains running as well as they have, but my journey is a 3-hour round trip at the best of times, and it's really not worth dealing with the extra delays.

My main reaction today, as I hinted yesterday, is that this was a weak blow. We assumed it was coming, and I expected it to be much worse. The final scale of the event was similar to the Kings Cross fire of '86, or the Ladbroke Grove crash. The level of disruption is much lower than the Hatfield crash.

More on the implications of this below.

The second reaction is how well the authorities and the transport companies dealt with it. A major city is like a huge old engine, with massive and dangerous forces (the movements and supplies of millions of people) barely controlled. Throw a spanner into it and the secondary effects can be much worse than the impact. The engine took this almost in its stride - pretty much all of us got home last night, there was no chaos, the essential services were available to the victims and to the rest of us. There has been a lot of planning an rehearsals for this kind of situation, but that's no guarantee the response will come off right. It did, and thanks and congratulations are due to everyone involved.

The third response is amazement at the claim by the group that said it did it, of "fear, terror and panic" around Britain. Get a clue!

I suppose every nation has a central "modern myth" of how it sees itself at its best. We've just been celebrating Nelson and Trafalgar and all that, but there can be no doubt that the defining myth of modern Britan is the Battle of Britain and the Blitz. The story of that myth is that an apparently invincible enemy went all out to destroy us, failed, and allowed itself to be worn out in the process, picked to pieces by a few of our best.

That's one reason why our response is neither the "fear and panic" imagined by our enemies, or the vengeful rage of the Americans with their myths of rattlesnakes and so on. That we could allow ourselves to lose our cool, in the sight of our parents and grandparents who lived through the 1940s, would be the most shameful thing I can think of, even if the situation today were a hundred times worse than it is. We will stand and take it, as they did, and we will grind out a victory, as they did.

That is the emotional response. The history, as always, is more complicated, but I am talking mythology not history, and the mythical ideal in front of us is clear.

So what to make of the feebleness of the long-anticipated blow? While not wanting to praise a bunch of murderers too highly, the attacks on New York in 2001 showed imagination, sophistication, skill and patience. By Madrid in 2004, the imagination had gone, the scale of planning was reduced, but it was still a very competently executed and effective attack. Here in 2005, the level of compentence was way down. How can you set off four bombs in the London rush-hour and only kill 40 people? There's either a severe shortage of backup (supplies, explosives, whatever), or a severe shortage of brains, or both.

Indeed, the most striking fact of the last five years is that there has been no follow-up attack on the United States. As the months went by we believed they were preparing for another major spectacular, and then as the years went by and attacks came elsewhere - Bali, Madrid, it sunk in that they just weren't capable of continuing their campaign.

As I suggested yesterday, I believe that leaving aside labels and slogans, the organisation behind September 2001 was essentially destroyed in Afghanistan. There are volunteers and sympathisers aplenty, there is money and possibly brains available, but there's no core of skilled organisers with the right contacts to put it all together in secret.

Another possibility is that September 2001 was a one-off fluke, and there never was an enemy capable of seriously threatening western society. The scale of the threat has been overestimated, either honestly or intentionally by politicians looking to further particular foreign or domestic agendas.

I don't really buy that. The World Trade Centre was perhaps a fluke in that the towers collapsed, putting the death toll into thousands rather than hundreds, and of course they had a greater advantage of surprise then, but there was clearly a significant organisation there, with supply lines, contacts, knowledge and skills to repeat the process. It seems likely that if they had been left alone, they would have done so. To strike first at the heart of the enemy, powerfully, then less strongly in Bali, then the same in Madrid, and now less strongly still in London, really shows decline in a way that any coherent leadership would be desperate to avoid if it could.

07 July 2005

7th July

I don't really have time for blogging these days, but here's a few updates:

I'm OK - The Northern line was out by the time I got to it, so I switched to the Victoria.

No idea if or how I'm getting home tonight. The underground will be out for days or weeks, I think.

I'm mainly relieved. I always knew this was coming - it's happened and it missed me.
The choice is between a Manhattan-style major event or a Madrid-style set of co-ordinated strikes. Here in Canary Wharf would one of the top targets for the Manhattan-style attack.

So far, it seems the impact has been smaller than Madrid. Possibly there's a trainload of bodies in a tunnel somewhere, if not then we've got off very light.

Still, a very heavy double blow for London these two days. This might cause even more damage to the life and economy of London than the Olympics.

Update 13:45 : Thameslink are running trains outbound from King's Cross, so it looks like I should be able to get home (probably have to walk across London). Wikipedia has rumours of something up at Luton, but no confirmation anywhere, so I think we can ignore that. A commenter on europhobia had a story about Marines shooting a suicide bomber at Canary Wharf, which I think is rubbish. As of 12:32, company security was reporting "no specific threats have been made in relation to Canary Wharf".

No more attacks as yet. This seems to be more on the scale (though not in the style) of the IRA than the sort of attack I was afraid of. If this is their best shot, we can definitely take it.

Update 16:00 : Getting ready to call it a day. DLR is resuming service, which will get me half way to King's Cross. They're saying the Underground will resume tomorrow morning, so I might even be able to come in tomorrow.

Transport and Emergency services appear to have done a superb job. If the network is running anywhere near normal tomorrow that will be an amazing feat.

There is of course the possiblity of follow-up attacks, but frankly I don't think the bad guys are up to it. I looks to me like the brains in that outfit have all been rounded up or blown up, and we're dealing with wannabees and idiots. Still dangerous, of course, in an unsubtle way -- almost any idiot can blow up 20 people on a packed tube train -- but not capable of anything really spectacular.