Thursday, July 07, 2005

It Can Happen Anywhere


The aftermath of the London bombings is unfolding at this moment.

What comes to mind are some observations from my April visit to London, the first in many years (I lived in Europe when I was a kid, and my parents lived in London during the 1980s). I went there to conduct business and see the Cream reunion concert.

Okay, I actually went there to see the Cream reunion concert, and to conduct business. Either way, I did spend five days in London—taking the subway all over the city, including the new financial district in Canary Wharf; taking the train out of town to visit one of our companys' major facilities; and spending a lot of time walking, talking, eating and looking.

And in retrospect, I do not recall a large police presence in London—at least a New York City-type police presence.

I did notice an odd absence of public waste baskets on the streets and in the subway and train stations there. Unlike New York, where every street-corner has some kind of trash receptacle, in London you can not throw out something unless you walk into a Starbucks and use the waste basket where they keep the napkins and lids.

It’s very weird at first—but something you get used to once it’s explained that the IRA used to use the receptacles for bombs.

As a result, people throw out gum, beer and soda cans, water bottles, napkins and all manner of trash in weird public places—on stairs, in niches of a brick wall, on ledges. It reminded me of the old Monty Python ‘Society of Putting Things on Top of Other Things.’

More importantly, there were very few cops on the streets of London—again, unlike New York.

In New York City, you get off the subway or the train, and there’s a cop standing around on the platform, another bunch standing around inside the station, and two more on the sidewalk outside the station—they’re all over the place. Granted, they’re not all battle-hardened warriors, but, as Rudy Giuliani figured out before anyone else, nothing creates a better sense of security than the presence of cops.

In London, I saw uniformed policemen mostly in the tube stations (although not nearly in New York City-type numbers), and that was about it.

Of course, the presence of cops on the streets and in the subways of New York did not stop terrorists from flying planes into the World Trade Center, and who’s to say that some thugs couldn’t plant bombs around the New York City subway system the way they’ve done in London.

But today’s London terrorists have had a year to plan their message for the G-8 conference, and based on my recent experience with the vast London underground, it did not take a highly sophisticated ring of experts to do what they did.

The markets in Europe are reacting to the explosions fairly dramatically this morning—a flight out of equities and into bonds; and oil getting crushed on the traders’ notion that people will fly less.

I suspect that today’s attacks will come to be remembered like the Spanish train attacks one year ago in March: a terrible event in the ongoing life of a country, and not much more than that. I also suspect that, as in Spain, those responsible will be tracked down and prosecuted—preferably, in Shakespeare's words, "not shriving time allowed."

And I would expect to see many more uniformed policemen on the streets of London next time.


Jeff Matthews
I Am Not Making This Up

7 comments:

rip said...

uniformed police would do nothing to prevent terrorist attacks. they might make people feel like they live in a police state--which is good if you are into that sort of thing.

antlord said...

there was an intense sense of inevitable disaster on the 2,3 line this morning headed towards wall st and it was not caused by the men with machine guns outside nyse. folks often talk about how many liberties we (US) are willing to give up for security but that assumes a high level of mistrust towards police, army, etc. stated more extremely, a police state is only a bad thing if you are afraid of being watched.

rip said...

I do not like being watched. Call me a prude, but that sort of kink doesn’t appeal to me.

There are many more reasons to mistrust the police than the military. Police in the United States are being trained and equipped as predators not protectors. The policing business has an economic need for criminals and, if there are none, will lobby to make certain activities crimes. Furthermore, empiric evidence does not support trusting the police.

In any case, there is no evidence or logic to support the belief that police on the street and/or cameras will do anything to stop terrorist actions.

antlord said...

what empirical evidence are you referring to when you say it "does not support trusting the police" and that police on the street or cameras do not prevent terrorist activities? honestly, i would be interested in reading any studies on this.

i can agree police/surveillance won't prevent all terrorist activities, but it seems that it would prevent some of them.

Its_strange said...

With the camera phone we all can participate in crime fighting without getting in harms way. We can do it in "real time". We can "testifiy" without going to court and having our identity exposed to the criminal. And the photos can hit the airways in real time . ..The great thinkers on Wallstreet and in our gov should look at this. I bet they will not

Its_strange said...

Oh...Perhaps a 911 line for photos of criminal acts or disasters.....

DaleW said...

With the camera phone we all can participate in crime fighting without getting in harms way. We can do it in "real time". We can "testifiy" without going to court and having our identity exposed to the criminal. And the photos can hit the airways in real time . ..The great thinkers on Wallstreet and in our gov should look at this. I bet they will not

The system will adapt. Check out the work of the Santa Fe Institute on this.

Also, here's a great ongoing analysis/hypothesis blog on global terrorism. This guy is very good:

http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/