Thursday, August 17, 2006

Mass murder in the skies: was the plot feasible?

"Now for the fun part. Take your hydrogen peroxide, acetone, and sulfuric acid, measure them very carefully, and put them into drinks bottles for convenient smuggling onto a plane. It's all right to mix the peroxide and acetone in one container, so long as it remains cool. Don't forget to bring several frozen gel-packs (preferably in a Styrofoam chiller deceptively marked "perishable foods"), a thermometer, a large beaker, a stirring rod, and a medicine dropper. You're going to need them.

It's best to fly first class and order Champagne. The bucket full of ice water, which the airline ought to supply, might possibly be adequate - especially if you have those cold gel-packs handy to supplement the ice, and the Styrofoam chiller handy for insulation - to get you through the cookery without starting a fire in the lavvie.

Once the plane is over the ocean, very discreetly bring all of your gear into the toilet. You might need to make several trips to avoid drawing attention. Once your kit is in place, put a beaker containing the peroxide / acetone mixture into the ice water bath (Champagne bucket), and start adding the acid, drop by drop, while stirring constantly. Watch the reaction temperature carefully. The mixture will heat, and if it gets too hot, you'll end up with a weak explosive. In fact, if it gets really hot, you'll get a premature explosion possibly sufficient to kill you, but probably no one else.

After a few hours - assuming, by some miracle, that the fumes haven't overcome you or alerted passengers or the flight crew to your activities - you'll have a quantity of TATP with which to carry out your mission. Now all you need to do is dry it for an hour or two..."
Terror: keeping the outrage in perspective

"This is the fantasy that is encouraged by the authorities and their supporters, when they warn of the danger to ‘our way of life’ posed by these little groups of pathetic terrorists. Terrorism can bring down a plane, even 10 planes if the stories of the latest plot are to be believed, or great Twin Towers in the centre of a city. But how could a relative handful of bombers bring down a civilisation or a way of life? Even if they kill 3,000, as on 9/11, or more than that, as the hysterics claim would have happened this time, they are simply throwing snowballs at castles. Despite the rhetorical links with the Second World War that we hear being made all the time, there is no realistic comparison between the threat posed by the lightweight foot-soldiers of Islamic terrorism today and that represented by an enemy power such as Nazi Germany.

Islamic terrorism is real. But the notion of an Islamic terrorist threat to society is the product of our own insecure imaginations. It is a symptom of a society that has lost its way, lost a sense of certainty about itself, and feels unusually vulnerable..."

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The UK Terror plot: what's really going on?

"So this, I believe, is the true story.

None of the alleged terrorists had made a bomb. None had bought a plane ticket. Many did not even have passports, which given the efficiency of the UK Passport Agency would mean they couldn't be a plane bomber for quite some time.

In the absence of bombs and airline tickets, and in many cases passports, it could be pretty difficult to convince a jury beyond reasonable doubt that individuals intended to go through with suicide bombings, whatever rash stuff they may have bragged in internet chat rooms.

What is more, many of those arrested had been under surveillance for over a year - like thousands of other British Muslims. And not just Muslims. Like me. Nothing from that surveillance had indicated the need for early arrests.

Then an interrogation in Pakistan revealed the details of this amazing plot to blow up multiple planes - which, rather extraordinarily, had not turned up in a year of surveillance. Of course, the interrogators of the Pakistani dictator have their ways of making people sing like canaries. As I witnessed in Uzbekistan, you can get the most extraordinary information this way. Trouble is it always tends to give the interrogators all they might want, and more, in a desperate effort to stop or avert torture. What it doesn't give is the truth...

We then have the extraordinary question of Bush and Blair discussing the possible arrests over the weekend. Why? I think the answer to that is plain. Both in desperate domestic political trouble, they longed for "Another 9/11". The intelligence from Pakistan, however dodgy, gave them a new 9/11 they could sell to the media. The media has bought, wholesale, all the rubbish they have been shovelled..."

Monday, August 14, 2006

good article on How (and Why) to Read Francis Parkman

"However grand the scope of his vision, and however confident his moral center, it would have been difficult for Parkman to imagine a time at which the United States would be the only global imperial power. We don't often use the word "empire" these days--"superpower" has displaced it--but since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Americans and American historians have clearly been in search of new narratives, new frameworks, to make sense of our rapidly changing world. No longer does it seem acceptable to offer a survey of early American history in which the principal aim is to describe the rise of an independent United States, complete and sufficient unto itself. Parkman's insistence on seeing North America's history as a process of imperial expansion rather than the story of the birth of an American nation has never seemed more apt."

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Tove Jansson's "Hobbit" illustrations

via a trove of muumilinks at metafilter....

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