Posts from January 2004


: Our Spirit rover has landed on Mars and sent back a signal. It would be unseemly to gloat.

‘The people… the bastards’

‘The people… the bastards’
: The BBC and an MP ask The People what they think… and then hate what they hear.

Clay Shirky found this gem in The Independent:

It was trailed as a “unique chance to rewrite the law of the land”. Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme were asked to suggest a piece of legislation to improve life in Britain, with the promise that an MP would then attempt to get it onto the statute books.

But yesterday, 26,000 votes later, the winning proposal was denounced as a “ludicrous, brutal, unworkable blood-stained piece of legislation” – by Stephen Pound, the very MP whose job it is to try to push it through Parliament.

Mr Pound’s reaction was provoked by the news that the winner of Today’s “Listeners’ Law” poll was a plan to allow homeowners “to use any means to defend their home from intruders” – a prospect that could see householders free to kill burglars, without question.

“The people have spoken,” the Labour MP replied to the programme, “… the bastards.”

Clay responds:

Once a media outlet accustomed to broadcasting creates an obviously phony plea for

Terror, government, and citizens

Terror, government, and citizens
: The Observer tiptoes toward an awareness of the need for government secrecy and preemptive action when terrorism threatens its citizens. Oh, they complain about other translucence of Labour’s behaviour. And they certainly don’t come near to endorsing the Patriot Act. But then again, they’re hardly going to start flying the libertarian flag. For note that once you’re in the foxhole — once we’re all in the foxhole — your worldview changes:

The grounding of British Airways flights to Washington and Riyadh because of undisclosed terrorist threats dramatises the emerging relationship between citizen and state.

Personal freedom, individual autonomy and maximum access to information have long been seen as desirable ends in themselves. But terrorism is revealing that we cannot expect total autonomy of individual action. Nor can we expect total knowledge. Our security depends on trusting governments to exercise their authority to save lives. Flights are cancelled with little or no explanation because the authorities judge that this is safer. We have no option but to trust them.

This is a rude challenge to the presumption of the age that individual judgments are always and everywhere better than those of government and state. Even the most ardent advocate of personal freedom and a minimal state would find it hard to devise a system where individual judgment should supersede that of the government over, say, the grounding of an aircraft on the basis of intercepted emails or telephone calls. Plainly, the balance of risk demands that the state plays its cards close to its chest.

Yes, we don’t want government to be our nanny. But don’t want it to be our Big Brother. But we do want it to be our bodyguard.

British terror

British terror
: The Observer confirms that British Air refused to fly with sky marshals.

I was about to write that in that case, I’ll refuse to fly with British Air.

But I read the story again and see another interpretation: Is it instead that British Air thinks an air marshal is inadequate to protect a flight where there is a known terror risk? BA says it will not put jets into the air when they are linked to such a reported risk.

Well, here’s my advice from the back of the plane: However you play safer, that’s the only way to fly.

: The Observer also reports that authorities are tracking terrorists believed to have legitimate passports in Britain.

Intelligence officials hunting Islamist terrorists suspected of planning attacks on British Airways flights believe they may be carrying legitimate American, UK or other European passports to try to beat airport security….

The alert comes amid compelling new evidence of determined efforts by jihadist groups to recruit suicide bombers in the UK and Europe both for operations against the American-led coalition in Iraq and against domestic targets.

Intercepts from a Western intelligence agency seen by The Observer reveal that jihadists regard London as a key financing and recruiting centre for their efforts.

: UPDATE: The Sunday Telegraph reports that two terrorists were believed ready to pull off a shoe-bomb attack:

More flights from British airports are expected to be cancelled this week as MI5 and Special Branch hunt two al-Qa’eda terrorists thought to be planning a shoe-bomb attack on an airliner….

Officials from the security service MI5 believe that two Islamist terrorists are at large in Britain and planning to detonate a bomb in a lavatory of an aircraft.

: Reuters says:

Transport Secretary Alistair Darling said British security services had information supporting U.S intelligence on a risk to the canceled BA flights.

“The threat that we now face is likely to endure for many years,” he added in a BBC interview, without giving more details

: MEANWHILE the good ol’ Australians have sky marshals and they’re armed.

Crime does pay

Crime does pay
: Andrew Gilligan, the alleged journalist who gave journalism and the BBC a bad name and had a hand in a man’s death through his reputed reporting, is now on his way to a 250,000-pound book deal for his sins.

He had faced the most withering scrutiny any journalist has ever had to endure, and been accused of misleading MPs and undermining the reputation of the BBC. Even his own boss said Andrew Gilligan, the BBC reporter at the heart of the Hutton Inquiry, ‘paints in primary colours rather than something more subtle’.

But Today’s defence correspondent, who accused Downing Street of ‘sexing up’ intelligence to make the case for war in Iraq, is set to have the last laugh with a book deal for his story that could earn him up to