Four terrorist bombs explode in London

Four terrorists committed suicide in London on 7th July by exploding their bombs. Three came from Leeds and one from Aylesbury. Fifty five people have died so far including the bombers.

They were seen on CCTV cameras at Kings Cross station at about 8.30 am and seem to have decided to go north, east, south and west on the underground. Three exploded their bombs in underground tunnels within one minute of each other at 8.50 am but the Northern Line was disrupted at many stations to the south for unexplained reasons and it may be that the bomber who chose this line to go north found the trains delayed. He exploded his bomb on a bus in Tavistock Square at about 9.47 am.

Three bombers are Muslims from good families and appear to have led decent lives. The fourth bomber from Aylesbury was of West Indian background.

The message boards, especially the Motley Fool board "Land of Serious Topics" which is a kind of soapbox for any views, have been very busy. I have been surprised by the right-wing attitude of most contributors. I said that although I was shocked by the bombings, perhaps I should be more shocked by the killing of tens of thousands of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan by American and British forces. I said I had supported the removal of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein but I hadn't realised how brutal the Americans would be. Replies suggest that the British public are only shocked when deaths are near to home. The destruction of property and "collateral damage" far away has little impact. I was accused of justifying the attacks.

Anyone who said anything that mildly expressed understanding why the attacks occurred was accused of justifying the revenge attacks and therefore being guilty of appeasement. I thought I was just being humane and Christian and that we should find another less aggressive way of dealing with insurgents. I certainly don't support or seek to justify the attacks but my comments led people to think so.

The response in many posts was that our governments should hit back hard. They said that terrorism was never justified but casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq were justified because the intent of the wars and later actions against insurgents was to make the countries better places. I don't think this is entirely true if there is scant regard for human life like bombing houses where there may be a terrorist but also a great likelihood of innocent civilians too, especially if the war was of doubtful legality in the first place.

This led me to ask whether the Christian teachings of not provoking one's enemies, turning the other cheek and above all forgiving would lead the Christian religion to fade away due to its wimpish attitude. George W Bush and Tony Blair and the majority of posters on message boards are in no mood to forgive. They are intent on inflaming the situation rather than letting it cool down. I well remember the sermon after the Falklands War by the Archbishop of Canterbury which infuriated Maggie Thatcher because he failed to support the war. A typical response to my post was "You can't reason with a rabid dog or turn the other cheek - he will bite you. The only answer is extermination". Several thought the Christian religion was doomed for various reasons.

It is now being asked whether the young men suspected of being suicide bombers actually knew that they were carrying bombs. They all came from respectable backgrounds and didn't appear nervous when seen on CCTV. However, several had been to religious schools in Pakistan so may have been brainwashed there. Could they have been hypnotized so that a trigger word would have caused them to act without fear?

The search is now on for the people who had the knowledge to make bombs and to supply money, organization, encouragement and so on. They probably left the country before the bombs exploded.


Should taxpayers pay the cost of police disruption?

I want to live in a society that spreads cost burdens fairly over our population. We have a National Health Service and an education system and insurance for all sorts of things, but there is one area where certain people have costs that are none of their making and they get no compensation. If the police act negligently a person can sue, but how does a person get compensation if they act properly?

Consider the current situation after the London bombs where police are raiding homes, closing streets for weeks, stopping people reaching their homes and offices, taking away their cars to recover evidence, breaking into homes causing damage to a landlord's property and so on, all causing loss to innocent parties.

Imagine that you are kept out of your house or office for days and suffer financial loss. Perhaps you have a contract with a penalty clause and the disruption causes you to miss your deadline or you run a business which loses money. Maybe your house is damaged by the police or your property like a computer is seized, kept for months and returned in unusable condition, but you are innocent and merely a relative or friend of a suspect.

Years ago police would close off a street for a few hours but now they carry out forensic investigations much more thoroughly. Surely the costs should be shared by all of us as we all benefit from the police investigations?


eBay and buying goods online

There really isn't any need for shops at all for some things.

Buying online for a camera for instance means that I can open several windows in my computer browser, as follows:-
- one has a review of the camera performance
- another has a list of best prices from various online traders
- the next one or more windows have the eBay auction site open if there is more than one being sold so that the bids can be monitored
- another window can show the eBay screen for a "buy it now" camera without bidding
- another window can be open for an online trader's website if I want to purchase it direct rather than through eBay (eBay traders usually require payment via eBay's company PayPal. If you are in a hurry and want next-day delivery PayPal may not be the best option because some traders state that PayPal purchases require three days to clear).

It means that one can switch between the screens comparing prices and specifications without the hassle of getting in a car, travelling to town, paying for parking and then hurrying between shops asking questions to shop assistants who know little about their products.


Hurricane Katrina has destroyed New Orleans

Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast of USA on Monday, August 29th. A clock stopped at 4.51am. Effects of widespread damage and flooding will be felt for years to come. There are hundreds of photos here.

New Orleans floods
New Orleans floods
New Orleans floods
New Orleans floods

New Orleans wasn't in the direct path but the hurricane still damaged virtually every building. It was only category one when it passed over Florida, then upgraded to category four with 145 to 160mph sustained winds as it hit the coast east of New Orleans. It destroyed the long bridge over Lake Pontchartrain which I drove over several times in 1971. Coastal towns like Biloxi have suffered worst.

There is only one useable road in and out of New Orleans. The city is generally six feet below the water level of the lake and even lower than the Mississippi river. The levees or dams which hold back the lake collapsed and water has flooded 80% of the city and the hurricane has affected 90,000 square miles around it. There is no power, fresh water or drainage. Most streets are waist deep in water but in some areas the floods are up to roof level of two storey buildings and people are breaking through roofs from their lofts and sitting on the roofs waiting for rescue. The floods are polluted with sewage, oil, chemicals and corpses. There are reports of sharks, alligators and poisonous snakes in the flooded streets. Looting, shooting and lawlessness is everywhere.

A large number of those with cars left before the storm and headed north but poorer people without cars were stranded. Many went to the Superdome and Convention Centre for shelter and have now been joined by tens of thousands more who have waded or swum there. Conditions inside are said to be dreadful - there is no electricity, water, food or sanitation. The stench is terrible in the 90 degree heat. No one has been able to wash or change filthy clothes for four days. I saw a video of a mother changing her baby's nappies. By now I expect she has run out of clean ones. She can't wash them. Perhaps the baby is in filthy ones or naked now and crapping over the floor or over her as she holds her baby.

People are dying of dehydration and in the hospitals patients are dying because vital equipment has no power.

Police are handing in their badges as they don't want to shoot looters, probably because they sympathise with their plight. One has to wonder where the police and other emergency service people are sleeping and eating. Upper floors of major buildings are intact apart from windows blown out and leaking roofs but there is no power or water so these people must be under enormous stress now.

Yesterday fleets of buses started taking people out of New Orleans to places like Houston three hundred and fifty miles away to the Astrodome there. Gasoline has already increased from $2 to $3 all over the States and supplies are running out.

Some reports say that people may be able to return to their homes in December, other reports say that New Orleans may have to be abandoned for ever. Certainly major projects like rebuilding bridges will take years. First there has to be a detailed structural survey, then designs, then removal of collapsed parts and demolition of damaged bits, then a long reconstruction period. These tasks require a labour force that has been evacuated and plant and materials that are no longer available. The levees have to be rebuilt, the flood water pumped out and all infrastructure services repaired.

Where will the workers live while doing this? I lived in a construction camp in the Falkland Islands while building an airport and road there in virgin country which housed about three thousand workers and all labour, materials and plant were shipped in but the task in New Orleans and surrounding areas will require far more people than that.

The Governor has instructed a total evacuation of New Orleans. Those in shelters or motels outside New Orleans will have no income, no access to savings and will have lost their passports or other identification documents which will make it difficult for them to prove who they are to access their own savings. Bank and financial institution records will have been destroyed by the floods. Small businesses will have been totally destroyed. Employees and possibly the boss will be dead.

I think that a large number of those evacuated will have to start a new life elsewhere and New Orleans will either be abandoned or repaired as a much smaller city. Since it is below the lake and river level there is obviously a risk that flooding will occur again, especially as global warming is already raising sea levels and increasing storm levels.

Reports are all about the poor mainly black people who were stranded in the city; they say nothing about those richer people who drove out before the hurricane arrived. No doubt many are staying in motels. They will soon run out of money and exhaust their credit cards. They will have no money for gasoline or nowhere to go so they will just stay where they are. The motels will not be able to evict them and will run into financial difficulties. This will impact on the suppliers to the motels and so on. Not only will the US government have to house everyone, including those currently in safe conditions, but will have to look after them financially for some time.

Postscript 05/09/05

Most people have now been transferred to other states, 250,000 to Texas but also to Alabama, Tennessee and many other states. Over 500,000 people are dispersed, including those who left by car. It remains to be seen whether poor black people will be welcome in southern states that have traditionally been run by whites. There are plenty of whites that still consider blacks a lower form of human life. I am not optimistic that they will mix easily especially if they are just hanging around without work. Although most blacks are no doubt honest there are some who are drug addicts or villains and will get up to mischief; there are reports that these types were raping, assaulting and stealing while in the Superdome.

The weight of floodwater will have caused the ground and therefore the buildings to sink. When the water is pumped out the ground will heave and I suspect that many buildings will have damaged foundations and will require total rebuilding. Major buildings like the tower blocks and interstate flyovers may have foundations that are deep enough to avoid damage, but not the majority of lower buildings.

Postscript 09/09/05

The mismanagement of the crisis by the US authorities is astounding. The local authorities have obviously been overwhelmed and have called for central government assistance right from the start but it has been badly managed.

First of all there was a delay when central government seemed unaware of the seriousness of the situation, then only a few thousand troops were sent in, but they weren't enough to help evacuate hundreds of thousands of people and stop looting as well. A week later the number of troops was increased to over fifty thousand but this was when the evacuation was virtually complete so the troops were seen just walking up and down the dry streets doing nothing because they did not have the equipment to go into the deeply flooded areas to help those still trapped.

There was also a lack of will to help. I saw a video of a British TV crew who had gone on a small boat into the stinking black polluted water in the suburbs and rescued a man who had wanted to stay but eventually changed his mind. They took him to a group of soldiers on a dry area but the soldiers just ignored the scruffy, smelly old white man and turned away. The TV crew had to take him to an evacuation point themselves.

Many thousands of residents have decided to stay in their homes and refuse to be evacuated but the governor has now ordered that they be forcibly removed because of the health risk and so that the city can be clear for uninterrupted clearance and rebuilding. I have seen one man taken away in handcuffs. It is obvious that after these remnants have been removed the city will not be empty, thousands of workers will enter to remove bodies, repair services, clear up and rebuild. The residents who refused to go know very well that their homes will be raided by these incomers and that there would be people around to help if they stayed. I can understand the governor's edict as some areas will not see a total removal of water for months, so the residents would need time-consuming and costly support, but I'm not sure I agree with it.

It was reported today that some areas which had had electricity restored and still had gas have found that these services have been turned off to force the remaining residents out. The water is receding in many areas as pumping has started and evaporation is taking effect so some areas are dry and many were dry right from the start; people cannot understand why they are being forcibly removed. It is obviously based on administrative convenience. The reason given is that the city needs to be cleared of criminals but in my view property will be raided by the criminals if they stay or the incoming workers if the criminals are ejected so I can't see the difference. There will never be enough troops to ensure that workers do not steal.

Bearing in mind that some areas, including central areas, have always been dry and many more now are, it seems hard on those who want to camp out in buildings that are in reasonable condition apart from a lack of services. Others are attempting to stay put in damaged timber bungalows in deeply flooded areas. What criteria are being used to delineate the boundary between the main area of New Orleans where people are being forced out and the surrounding areas where they are allowed to stay? On balance I think humanitarian principles dictate that people should be allowed to stay provided they understand that official help would not be forthcoming. TV crews and charity rescue boats will disappear soon as there is less need for them. If residents were allowed to stay they might be very isolated. They would have to rely on themselves or hope that future workers doing a repair or clean-up would find and look after them.

One would have thought that an internet database would have been set up the first day to record those alive and where they were but it seems that a central database is only now being set up. There are several charity databases which are uncoordinated. I saw a video of an official using a phone to talk to other evacuation centres to find relatives for someone - so inefficient when an internet database could be used.


England regains the Ashes

Freddie Flintoff and Shane Warne  Kevin Pietersen

England were 2-1 up going into the final Ashes Test at the Oval. The fourth day had been dismal and dark and England had managed some good swing bowling to get Australia out for 367, 6 less than England's first innings total, before bad light was offered to the England batsmen in the late evening. There was some controversy about this because Australia needed all the time available to the end of the match to bowl out England and then chase the runs themselves. After taking off the pace bowlers Ricky Ponting had expected to be able to continue using his spinners but the umpires still offered the light to the batsmen when it was not really dark, nor dangerous batting against spinners. Umpire Koertzen said it was "unfair", a word not seen in the rules. When England had been fielding several balls had been lost in the gloom and potential catches not picked up soon enough so it could be said to be unfair to both sides, but not dangerous.

Andrew Strauss was out late on Sunday evening to a good ball from Shane Warne and at the start of the final day with good weather it looked a difficult task to bat long enough to secure a draw. Just before lunch when Flintoff was out England were 126 for 5 and looked dead and buried. Vaughan, Bell, Trescothick and Flintoff were all out to good balls, not their mistakes.

Pietersen was having difficulty just before lunch against Brett Lee who was bowling fast. Pietersen obviously wasn't seeing the ball properly; you can always tell when a batsman hesitates then crumples as the ball hits him or whizzes past. He was dropped three times early in his innings and on his first ball, the third of a potential hat-trick, he fended off a high ball which just missed his gloves and hit his shoulder to be caught at slip but luckily umpire Bowden's eyesight was good.

On one occasion he snicked a ball straight at Warne's left ear and Warne dropped it. A real sitter. Warne got his hands there in plenty of time and is normally cast-iron safe. He must have taken it a bit casually. Comments had been made that Pietersen had dropped six catches and if we lost the Ashes, he would be said to have "dropped the Ashes". Now it can really be said that Warne, despite a brilliant bowling effort taking 40 wickets in the whole series, had dropped them because Pietersen made the most of his chances.

After lunch Pietersen did all the wrong things - he lashed out at Lee but connected, every time. Three overs from Lee went for 37 runs. Pietersen kept hooking sixes and fours while Lee bowled 97mph balls, mainly short on leg stump and Pietersen is a leg-side batsman, not too good driving outside the off-stump where Lee should have been aiming. At such a critical stage most people would have advised him to settle down and play carefully but it is not in his nature and fortune favoured the brave. He sailed past his 50, then 100, then 150, hitting seven sixes and breaking two bats.

At lunch when England were 127 for 5 I thought we needed to get about 250 runs ahead and survive to tea, both of which seemed unlikely. Pietersen carried on with good support from Collingwood and Giles. At tea England were 221 for 7 with 49 overs left for Australia to chase runs - still enough time for them to win. After tea England moved into clear water. Pietersen went to a good ball from McGrath and Giles carried on getting 59 and England finished with 335 leaving Australia needing 342 to win in about an hour and a half.

Australia came out to bat and Harmison let fly two bouncers at Langer and umpire Bowden said that was his "two for the over". Harmison's fourth ball was short and fast and caused Langer to duck, but not a true bouncer and it went for four leg-byes. The umpires met to consider the light, although it was still good. There was a feeling that batting on when neither side had any chance of winning was pointless and perhaps a way should be found to end the match.

Langer and Hayden didn't know whether it would mean the end of the match or just a delay and hesitated. Vaughan went to talk the Hayden, then to the umpires. Eventually the batsmen walked off and the crowd was quiet because no one knew what was happening. The umpires met the match referee to discuss the situation. The rules state that the umpires should consider the light at regular intervals but cannot call the match off at that stage. After the eighth over in the final hour the captains can meet to call the game off but the game had not quite reached that stage. After about quarter of an hour common sense prevailed and the umpires walked out to the middle, solemnly removed the bails and the celebrations started.

The series was always close after the first Test, right up to tea on the final day of the final Test. England did lose the first Test but it was interesting. Seventeen wickets fell on the first day. In the second Test Australia needed three runs to win with their last wicket pair but Harmison got Kasprowicz caught behind by Geraint Jones. In the third Test it was Brett Lee again in a last wicket stand but this time he survived with McGrath to force a draw. In the fourth Test England forced Australia to follow on for the first time for a decade or more and had plenty of time to get only 129 but started losing wickets fast. Ashley Giles and Matthew Hoggard were batting and Giles got the winning runs so we won by three wickets. In the final Test we got 373 and Australia got 367 so it was still close until Pietersen drove us ahead in our second innings.

So many of the players are good friends that the games were played hard but in good spirit. Warne and Pietersen both play for Hampshire and are buddies so there was a private battle there. Warne got Pietersen out in the first innings of the final Test cheaply but Pietersen got one over Warne in the second innings. When Brett Lee was not out with 43 runs in the second Test and Australia lost Freddie Flintoff consoled him. There were many other such scenes.

In the victory parade from St Pauls to Trafalgar Square today there were hundreds of thousands of people, more even than when we won the Rugby World Cup.


Civil liberties will be eroded while suspects are locked up

The Home Secretary wants to introduce a law to lock up suspected terrorists and those glorifying and inciting terrorism for up to three months before trial to allow police more time to get good evidence, (if there ever will be a trial). Something like what USA is doing in Guantanamo Bay/Camp Delta.

I have no argument with taking liberty away from people who might be dangerous but the law should allow for the possibility that some will be innocent. Innocent until proved guilty is an old saying. It's a fair bet that a lot of those held for months will be released without charge or found not guilty in a court case.

I get the impression that these suspects will be and already are kept in more severe conditions than normal criminals in jail who have access to workshops, libraries, sport and general socialising with other prisoners. These suspects are not guilty until sentenced so the State should treat them differently.

It should consider the implications for all those locked up for long periods. Suppose they are taken away in a hurry and the heating is left on in their flat building up a large bill, or while in custody they want a computer to manage their financial affairs or a telephone to contact their landlord? I bet they don't get such privileges at present. Yes, it will be expensive to allow suspects some freedoms but this is a cost the State should bear if it wants to lock up suspects some of whom may be innocent. It's the price of our supposedly civilised society.

The State is not entitled to ruin someone's life just because it suspects someone of saying something that a court may later determine is not incitement or glorification of terrorism.

There's a difference between those who might be terrorists and those who glorify or incite terrorism who are presumably less likely to be bombers themselves.

I think these people, if held in custody for months, should be held in something like a small hotel or B & B with a guard on the entrance. Visitors would be able to come and go and the suspects (residents) would have access to telephones, possibly a computer and so on.

We are often told that keeping someone in prison is very expensive - is it £3,000 a month? House arrest or tagging might be a better option as it would allow suspects to live an almost normal life until proved guilty. This would help keep costs down and ensure that those who are eventually found innocent or released without charge do not have their lives disrupted too much.


eBay privacy rules open to abuse and now Skype follows the same path

Skype has been sold to eBay for $4.1 billion (not million, billion). Skype has been a fringe operator, Europe-based and able to forge its own path without regard to what governments may want it to do (Niklas Zennström never enters the USA because he suspects he would be arrested because of the internet file-sharing software Kazaa he developed that was used primarily to download music without paying royalties). eBay on the other hand, as a huge operator in the USA, has allowed itself to be pressurised to do the bidding of the US federal authorities in regard to privacy of members' details and give an astonishing amount of detail, probably more than the security services expected.

I found the following here and here:

I'm nearly speechless after reading Sullivan's comments. Think about what he's saying: if eBay receives a fax on official letterhead (not that that would ever be faked, oh no) - just a simple fax, mind you, just a fax, unaccompanied by a court order - it will gladly fork over the following info about you, or any other eBay user:

- Full name
- User ID
- Email address
- Street address
- State
- City
- ZIP code
- Phone number
- Country
- Company
- Password
- Secondary phone number
- Gender
- Shipping information (including name, street address, city, state, ZIP)
- Bidding history on an item
- Items for sale
- Feedback left about the user
- Bidding history
- Prices paid for items
- Feedback rating
- Chat room and bulletin board posts

I'm a Skype fan, especially with Spontania4IM video and Skype will be offering their video next month but now Skype has been bought by eBay and no one is quite sure what privacy will be invaded. Already Skype have put in their EULA a clause about complying with USA Authority regulations, ie a backdoor to coding so security forces can snoop on conversations.

See also this, especially one of the replies below which refers to a search on eBay for passwords in ebay and paypal which are made up of female names and found thousands of accounts!

The reason for posting these links was not because I feel threatened by lack of privacy in any special way, but we all know there are crooks in the FBI and bent coppers here in the UK.

If the security services can get hold of passwords or listen to conversations to trap terrorists, that's fine, but the crooks will be tempted to misuse the information. They could change a delivery address and order something with someone else's credit card or just be vindictive to someone who is legally annoying the security services like a human rights activist or a barrister who defends enemies of the state by ordering items with the person's credit card, creating havoc.

According to one of the above links, it isn't just the security services which can access members' details. Private detectives might also glean information useful to their client.

In the early years of the internet we were advised never to use our real names or display our email addresses (basically to avoid being pestered) and it seemed a good idea that sites should store encrypted email addresses so that to contact a person you click on their username and the computer sends an email without the sender knowing what it is; but that privacy seems non-existent with eBay.

To my mind the reports on eBay suggest they have gone too far in helping the security services and Skype is now forced to do the same.

See also this requirement for backdoors in VOIP software in USA here.

An extract from the above:

August 05, 2005

FCC Issues Rule Allowing FBI to Dictate Wiretap-Friendly Design for Internet Services

Tech Mandates Force Companies to Build Backdoors into Broadband, VoIP

Washington, DC - Today the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a release announcing its new rule expanding the reach of the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act (CALEA). The ruling is a reinterpretation of the scope of CALEA and will force Internet broadband providers and certain Voice-over-IP (VoIP) providers to build backdoors into their networks that make it easier for law enforcement to wiretap them. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has argued against this expansion of CALEA in several rounds of comments to the FCC on its proposed rule.

CALEA, a law passed in the early 1990s, mandated that all telephone providers build tappability into their networks, but expressly ruled out information services like broadband. Under the new ruling from the FCC, this tappability now extends to Internet broadband providers as well.

Practically, what this means is that the government will be asking broadband providers - as well as companies that manufacture devices used for broadband communications - to build insecure backdoors into their networks, imperiling the privacy and security of citizens on the Internet. It also hobbles technical innovation by forcing companies involved in broadband to redesign their products to meet government requirements.

It isn't the tappability that is the problem (it already exists with landline calls) but the disclosure of passwords and credit card details that allows misuse by whoever has access to them.


Major blaze at Buncefield fuel depot, near Hemel Hempstead, UK

Smoke from burning depot

The largest blaze in peacetime Europe is still burning this morning. It started yesterday morning at about 6 am and firemen have been assembling foam from all over the UK with the intention of smothering the blaze today. It involved many huge tanks of petrol, diesel, kerosene, aviation fuel and paraffin. Only seven out of twenty tanks remain intact.

Since it happened when only a few maintenance men were there and nearby residents were in bed there have been few casualties and none have life-threatening injuries although many homes had windows and doors blown in and structural damage.

The cause is unknown but terrorism is ruled out. The most likely scenario is that fuel vapour was ignited somehow. The weather on Saturday night was extremely calm. There was only one isobar on the weather chart and that was a single ring right around the UK meaning high pressure and no wind. In addition the temperature was below freezing which caused fog. This meant that fuel vapour that always exists around fuel depots and airports (Luton Airport is very close) was held down and built up around the plant. Any spark could have ignited it. However, this is still speculation.