23 July 2007

Rail Privatisation Doesn't Work

In the UK the private sector’s entrance into public transportation has been a disaster. The cost-to-service ratio for privatised railways is shockingly bad. The UK has the highest-priced train system in the world and has the worst actual reliability and service in the EU, including at least most of the new entrants.

The initial privatisation was the result of a deeply misguided religion on both sides of the Atlantic that believes the private sector always does a better job than the public sector, therefore as many functions as possible should be turned over to the benevolent arms of industry. The problem with this faith, is that all the evidence points to it being manifestly false.

UK trains are frequently overcrowded, delayed or cancelled altogether, people pay as much as £10 (about $20) for the pleasure of going as little as 27 miles. While the least expensive service will give you 116 miles for the £10, in practice, those cheap tickets are rarely available and the new plan is to get rid of them altogether. A more realistic fare is Virgin’s London to Manchester standard single ticket at an eye-watering £109.50, putting the cost of travel at 55p a mile, making it Europe's most expensive intercity journey. That type of cost is likely to become normal as fares rise.

By contrast, Polish trains, for instance, are fast, frequent, reliable and timely despite antiquated rolling stock. And the cost of travel is dramatically less. For the price of going from London to Brighton (about 50 miles) in Poland you can go from Krakow to Gdansk (about 300 miles).

So what is the government doing about this? Nothing. The government just released a White Paper on transport, in which the government said that they were going to increase the numbers of passengers and improve the quality of the rail system by cutting the amount of money they give to the rail companies by a third. While that makes grammatical sense, it doesn't make any other kind of sense. It's like George Bush saying his No Child Left Behind education bill was going to improve education by not building schools or paying teachers.

Currently, the UK government gives rail companies £4.5 billion a year and the public pays about £5 billion a year through fares. The plan is for the government to pay £3 billion and the public £9 billion. This raises the issue of what would motivate the private rail companies to spend the government’s money on improving the rail network instead giving it to shareholders. Several years ago it was leaked that one of the private rail bosses actually said that eventually they would have to stop raising fares and decreasing service. Thank you privatisation.

As far as I can tell, this is a strategy to give rail bosses and rail company shareholders a lot of money, while sticking it to everyone else. Already UK rail fares are the highest in the world. How far up can they go? Also, the policy in entirely inconsistent with trying to get people out of their cars and onto trains to cut carbon emissions.

In my personal experience living in London and travelling frequently, I’ve often looked for a train to travel somewhere in the UK only to wind up flying or renting a car because it was so much cheaper that the price difference overcame my desire to minimise my carbon footprint. On one occasion, I decided to go to Spain for a weekend because it was half the price of taking the train to Cornwall. As far as cutting CO2 emissions, this is not the way to go about it.

The words and the actions of the Labour government don’t agree. In the last ten years, the cost of car travel has dropped by 10% in the UK while train fares have risen 6% above inflation and service has become worse as private owners discontinue unprofitable feeder lines, those going from small stations, to concentrate on the major routes. The problem is that without the small feeder lines, there are fewer and fewer people who use the trunk routes.
For many places, the number of trains servicing the area have dropped by dramatically. This makes it difficult to rely on the rail network. My personal experience with the rail system is pretty dismal. I used to live in London and work in Surrey for Jane's Defence Weekly. When I started there was a direct train every 15 minutes to and from the office. When I left Jane’s, there was no direct train to the office. There were two trains that I could take to start the journey and they both required that I change twice and that I wait on an exposed platform for 22 minutes (if the trains were on time) to connect to the third train. Anyone who has lived through an English winter knows that 22 minutes of standing on a platform in gale-driven horizontal stair-rods of frozen rain is not a pleasant way to start the morning. The 15 mile journey took at least an hour and a half. For the return journey, although there was a direct train back to London, there was only one train per hour, which frustratingly, sometimes left early on the rare occasions it wasn’t late. For the pleasure of using this system, I paid about £35 ($70) a week. My other option was to drive, but because London rush hour is so gridlocked and there being no rational route, it would have taken even longer and cost about the same.

You might say to yourself that I should quit whining, but there is a hidden economic impact. By the time I got to the office, frequently late, I and everyone else in the company who lived in London, which was many of them, were knackered. We'd already achieved something significant that morning just getting to the office. And we had it easy, at least travelling from London to Surrey you could find a seat. For all the people doing the commute the other way the trains are filled to sardine tin capacity where anyone who does have a seat, also has someone's buttocks in their face. The discomfort of that experience multiplied by millions of people commuting in and out of London and you probably wind up with about a half a percent of lost GDP growth. You probably also lose another half percent of growth on people being late because of the dilapidated state of the rail infrastructure.

Since the rail privatisation went so well, part of the London Underground was also privatised, with the maintenance contract let to Metronet. The result has been that Metronet is now demanding more money from the government to maintain and repair the rails and signals. While the government has refused, it will eventually be forced to give in because they can’t force the company to go bankrupt or even to undertake work at a loss. If people die as a result of poor maintenance, well, tough luck. For the pleasure of riding the technologically backwards tube, you only have to pay a £4 ($8) for a single trip in zone 1. While many in the UK point out that the London Underground is the oldest in the world, that doesn’t mean they have to keep the original equipment like some sort of living museum. The Paris Metro is only slightly younger than London’s yet the French have constantly refreshed the technology. During the four years I lived in Paris, there was only one occasion that a Metro train was cancelled due to a mechanical problem. In London, statistically, there is more than one failure a day leading to a line being temporarily shut down.

The problem with these privatisation schemes is that they fundamentally don’t make sense. When I was studying economics in graduate school, the main thing I learned was that economics is really the science of motivation and how individual incentive-driven decisions multiplied millions of times become the stuff of macroeconomic indicators. While privatisation schemes are often pushed by conservative economists, the arguments in support of privatisation are closer to religious dogma than the result of economic research.

On a very basic level, a company buying a chunk of infrastructure does not have an incentive to provide safe, efficient and low-cost service. The incentive is to make money. To do that fares should be high and maintenance kept to a minimum, leaving the system expensive, unreliable, and quite possibly dangerous.

It is really time for people to start calling infrastructure privatisation what it is—a chance for a few investors to extort money out of everyone else. That’s not democracy, that’s state-sanctioned extortion.

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21 July 2007

Iraq in Hell: An Entirely Preventable Tragedy

Dahr Jamail has posted a fascinating comment on his personal experiences as a reporter in the hell that Iraq has become and the Disney-esque experience of returning to the US. His article brings to light how horrible things have become there on a personal level. Iraq has truly reached the nadir of the Hobbesian existence: “nasty, brutish and short”.

The thing that pains me is that it would never have happened if Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld had listened to the generals instead of firing them. Below is a smattering of what the generals said about the Bush invasion of Iraq:

Gen. Eric Shinseki, Army chief of staff, 1999-2003:

“I would say that what's been mobilized to this point — something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers are probably, you know, a figure that would be required. We're talking about post-hostilities control over a piece of geography that's fairly significant, with the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems. And so it takes a significant ground- force presence to maintain a safe and secure environment, to ensure that people are fed, that water is distributed, all the normal responsibilities that go along with administering a situation like this.” This is from his Congressional testimony before the war.

Gen. Merrill "Tony" McPeak, Air Force chief of staff, 1990-94:

“We have a force in Iraq that's much too small to stabilize the situation. It's about half the size, or maybe even a third, of what we need. ... The people in control in the Pentagon and the White House live in a fantasy world. They actually thought everyone would just line up and vote for a new democracy and you would have a sort of Denmark with oil. I blame Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the people behind him — Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary Douglas Feith. The vice president himself should probably be included; certainly his wife. These so-called neocons: These people have no real experience in life. They are utopian thinkers, idealists, very smart, and they have the courage of their convictions, so it makes them doubly dangerous.”

Lt. Gen. William Odom, Director of the National Security Agency, 1985-88:

“It's a huge strategic disaster, and it will only get worse. The sooner we leave, the less the damage. ... The idea of creating a constitutional state in a short amount of time is a joke. It will take ten to fifteen years, and that is if we want to kill ten percent of the population.”

Adm. Stansfield Turner, NATO Allied commander for Southern Europe, 1975-77; CIA director, 1977-81:

“[O]ur current policy appears to be to "stay the course." The problem with not acknowledging that we are changing course is that it makes us do so begrudgingly. The longer we hesitate to increase our troop strength in Iraq; to pour billions of dollars of our own money into reconstruction; and to invite the UN to play a substantive, decision-making role, the more the chance of failure increases.

“Failure in Iraq is simply unacceptable. It would not be just a severe embarrassment, as it was in Vietnam. It would be caving-in to terrorists, and not just to terrorists in Iraq. The president's worldwide "war on terrorism" would be seen as having folded up the minute the going got tough. Whether Al Qaeda has operated out of Iraq in the past or not, it almost certainly would do so in the future.” This is from September 2003

Gen. Anthony Zinni, Commander in chief of the United States Central Command, 1997-2000:

“When I was commander of CENTCOM [the US joint military command in charge of the Middle East], we had a plan for an invasion of Iraq, and it had specific numbers in it. We wanted to go in there with 350,000 to 380,000 troops. You didn't need that many people to defeat the Republican Guard, but you needed them for the aftermath. We knew that we would find ourselves in a situation where we had completely uprooted an authoritarian government and would need to freeze the situation: retain control, retain order, provide security, seal the borders to keep terrorists from coming in.

"It might be interesting to wonder why all the generals see it the same way, and all those that never fired a shot in anger and really hell-bent to go to war see it a different way.”

In conclusion, the mess that Iraq has become was predicted by the generals and many others. Even Molly Ivins predicted an easy war and “the occupation from hell”. The only people that weren’t listening were the people in charge.

While I've always thought that invading Iraq was a bright idea in the same league as sticking a fork into your eye, that we blundered into war ignoring the people who might have salvaged the adventure is unforgivable.

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20 July 2007

O'Reilly, JetBlue and Daily Kos

Fox’s Bill O’Reilly lambasted JetBlue for supporting the Daily Kos blogger convention, calling the website a collection of radical left wing hate mongers. They then sent a reporter to ambush Dave Barger, JetBlue’s CEO and asked him if his company supports a hatemongering website that has comments such as:
1. “The world would be better off without Tony Snow”, after his cancer returned;
2. “Better luck next time”, after an assassination attempt against Cheney in Afghanistan;
3. “Evangelicals are nutcases”;
4. “The Pope is a primate”; and
5.“Some attacks on coalition forces are legitimate”, which during the ambush interview changed to “attacks on coalition forces are legitimate”, a small but very significant change.
In response, JetBlue cancelled most of their sponsorship of the event.
Given that the Daily Kos has large numbers of comments that are mostly unregulated a smattering of such comments is not much of a surprise. What is surprising is that these were the best O’Reilly’s team could come up with, especially since some of the comments are pretty justifiable.
1. Tony Snow has done a terrible job and arguably the world would be a better place without him wielding power. I’m not saying I want him dead, just not in power.
2. Cheney has done an astonishingly bad job. Without him in power, the world would be a much better place. Frankly, given the amount of horror that the man has unleashed through his hamstringing the attack on Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan to pursue a disastrous policy in Iraq that has killed and maimed tens of thousands of people to no benefit and great harm to America's security, not to mention his flagrant abuse of power and of the US Constitution, if Cheney died, I wouldn't be overcome with grief.
3. People who embrace superstition that is directly contradicted by scientific evidence ARE nutcases. Think about it, if I said the sea is boiling hot, because my holy book, Alice in Wonderland, said so, you'd rightly call me a nutcase. Same logic applies to evangelicals and evolution.
4. The Pope IS a primate, under both definitions of the word, he is the highest-ranking clergyman and a human. That Fox picked up on this is amazing. It’s like when I was 7 years old and someone would say, “your epidermis is showing”. Also, the only people I can think of who would find this comment offensive are people who have decided that evolution is false despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary because it contradicts a literal interpretation of the Bible.
5. It depends on your perspective. From our perspective, no, but we’re the occupiers. There are Iraqi patriots who don’t want occupiers on their land. If the US were invaded because Bush had pissed off another country’s leadership, I think there would be quite a few people who didn’t like Bush and weren’t religious nutters who would fight the occupiers.
By the way, I’ve always thought that Bill O’Reilly really is the “no spin zone” because to spin, you have to start with the truth.

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Chicken Hawk Republicans

This is an interesting video about College Republicans in the US by Max Blumenthal. The thing that is frightening is that these people probably honestly believe what they are saying. They all expressed a totalitarian-foot-soldier mentality that mixed physical cowardice with a love of violence, hero worship, desire to censor, appeals to authority rather than reason, a tendency to censor, and homophobia with gay tendencies that seems to be the hallmarks of thugs and petty bureaucrats that made it possible for such tyrants as Hitler and Stalin to exist.
When asked if they supported fighting in Iraq, they all said, “it’s better to fight them over there than over here”. That was a Bush justification that made all the counter terrorism experts I know slowly drop their shaking heads into their hands while muttering, “what a fucking moron”. The thing is, there weren’t any Al Qaeda in Iraq before we invaded, except in a little enclave that we’d created that Saddam couldn’t get to. But none of these college students had learned enough to think this through with the available facts.
When their views are broken down one can see that they are all expressions of fear. The macho, gun loving, war mongering aspects are all ways of psychologically lashing out at the perceived agents of fear. It’s like a scared little boy playing with a toy gun and pretending to kill what he is afraid of. The only problem is that in real life, with a real military, the deaths and injuries are real.
The fear also leads to hero worship, because when people are afraid they want a strong leader that they feel will protect them. Similarly, fear leads to appeals to authority, such as religion or party dogma. It’s very frightening to not know what is the right thing to do. Real choices are fuzzy. It’s much easier to answer questions based on received wisdom, either from religious superstition or the words of the worshipped leader. Note, people will parrot political propaganda or religious dogma despite it being patently false, for instance, the Bible gives two different genealogies for Jesus, both going to Joseph, who, if the Bible account of virgin birth is to be believed, wasn’t actually related to Jesus. Simple logic, if the Good Book has an obvious flaw, it’s not infallible. Similarly, anyone paying any attention to Iraq will know that Osama had declared a jihad on Saddam. They only had a cease-fire when the US became a pressing common enemy. Now various tribes in the Sunni triangle, who were Saddam’s base, are negotiating cease-fire agreements with US forces so they can concentrate on killing Al Qaeda in Iraq. No matter how many times Bush and Cheney say that Saddam and Osama were working together, it still won’t be true.
I keep going on about fear for a reason. There was a study a couple of years ago of college students that correlated their dreams and their political views. What the study found was that Republican students had vastly more and bleaker nightmares compared to Democrat students. They study’s authors hypothesized that conservatism came more from an emotional fear response than from reason.
I think fear has propped up the Bush administration. Fear mongering has led to an expression of all of the conservative traits that Bush depends on. Compare Bush and Cheney’s constant reference to the enemy trying to destroy our way of life with FDR: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
I was looking for a particularly “be afraid” quote from Cheney, I found an ironic one instead. Cheney was talking about the Enemy in the Global War on Terror, what does it remind you of?
“They seek to impose a dictatorship of fear, under which every man, woman, and child lives in total obedience to a narrow and hateful ideology. This ideology rejects tolerance [and] denies freedom of conscience...”

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19 July 2007

Good Article on dealing with the Muslim world

There is a nice article about why the US should get out of Iraq by Gary Kamiya called “Leave the Muslim World Alone”. His basic argument is that the occupation of Iraq is creating the hatred of America in the Muslim world that is the life-giving oxygen for Al Qaeda. End the occupation and Al Qaeda begins to smother as other Sunni groups and Shiites kill them.
I believe the argument is essentially sound. It reminded me of an argument that I made years ago about how the US security obsession with maintaining access to Middle East oil is unnecessary. I've put that idea down in black and white in the post below:

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Al Qaeda Is No Threat to Persian Gulf Oil

The US and the West will always have to opportunity to buy Persian Gulf oil, no matter who runs the Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran and the other Gulf States. The reason is simple: the oil exporters need to sell their oil as badly as we need to buy it.
A great deal of misguided US security policy focuses on securing US access to Persian Gulf oil. The Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq was really an extension of that misguided concern as it certainly had nothing to do with stopping terrorism. Not even Bush is stupid enough to think that Iraq was in any way tied to 11 September or that Iraq posed some sort of real threat. For that big lie, he should be impeached, but that’s another issue.
The basic concern is that religious nutters or some other hostile group would take over one of the countries on the Persian Gulf and halt oil exports, or in the worst case scenario, shoot at everything going through the Straights of Hormuz and stop all tanker traffic. In a war-game, that may seem like a dangerous situation. But it’s not going to happen.
The oil exporters all need the oil revenue to fund their governments. In the case of the two countries that could conceivably block the Straights of Hormuz, Saudi Arabia and Iran, oil exports account for 90% of Saudi’s export earnings and 80-90% of Iran’s. Similarly, oil exports make up 70-80% of Saudi’s state revenues and 40-50% of Iran’s, depending on the year and the prevailing oil price. What that means is that they are completely dependent on their oil exports. If one of those countries is overthrown by religious nutters, as indeed Iran was, that won’t change anything in regard to their oil exports. The US quit buying Iranian oil, but they certainly didn’t stop selling it.
Furthermore, any government of an oil exporter that quit exporting oil for ideological reasons wouldn’t last long. They would either be overthrown from within or a neighbour would take their oil fields. Let’s be honest with ourselves, back in 1990 if Kuwait had stopped exporting oil and Iraq stepped in, George Bush-the-elder would have voiced some lukewarm condemnation of the invasion and then gone golfing while congratulating himself again for personally winning the Cold War.
There are parallels to Persian Gulf oil. In Africa there are diamonds and other valuable minerals. If the governments don’t control the mines, rebel groups take over and run them. Even mercenaries get involved and are paid a portion of the mine’s revenues. The Middle East is a bit more organised than Africa, but it would not be hard to imagine similar situations arising if a bunch of Luddites who wanted to go back to 14th century technology as well as legal systems took over a country. Bear in mind that anyone exporting oil would have a lot more money to hire soldiers and buy weapons than a group that wouldn’t export oil.
In fact, the only conceivable situation that would stop a Middle Eastern country from exporting oil is invading it with a non-Muslim military force, seizing the oil for itself, while allowing the rest of the country to descend into anarchy. Sound familiar?

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05 July 2007

Good Point, Well Made

Keith Olbermann of MSNBC comments on Bush pardoning Scooter Libby.


Independence Day Dystopia

Just a little thought on the 4th of July. The American Declaration of Independence on the 4th of July 1776 justified independence by pointing out that King George of Great Britain had contravened several key features of just rule. Among them were the following:
“For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:
“For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:”
A decade ago, if you had written a story about the US administration abrogating these principles, you would have had to be writing dystopian science fiction.


04 July 2007

The Wanna-Be MacGyver Doctors Still Aren’t Al Qaeda

Enough already! Everybody is reporting that the UK government is saying that the would-be London and Glasgow bombers were linked to Al Qaeda, only they didn’t.
What government officials have been saying is that the attack is in the same style as Al Qaeda in Iraq and that Al Qaeda is a threat in a general sense. I checked what Gordon Brown and others actually said, and they aren’t claiming that this is an Al Qaeda cell. There is a good article on this on Raw Story under the heading “UK officials caution media reports tying car bomb attacks to Qaeda”.
Even the government link on why the attempted attacks are similar to Al Qaeda attacks is tenuous. Car bomb attacks using widely available ingredients hardly constitutes a pattern unless ETA in Spain, the IRA, the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka and every group in Iraq are all in cahoots. The difference is that those four groups actually make car bombs, not incendiary devices, and the bombs work, also unlike these nitwits.
Also, the reaction to the attempted attacks has been hysterical, with calls to curb civil liberties in response to the “threat”. Let’s look soberly at the real risk. In the past three years, 52 people have died from terrorism, all of them in the 7 July 2005 attacks. According to UK Statistics, in the same time period about 550 people have died of malignant neoplasm of the rectosigmoid junction, rectum and anus, otherwise known as ass cancer. But we’re not talking about taking way our civil liberties to protect us from the threat of ass cancer, are we?

Doctor, doctor
Turns out that the would-be bombers were NHS doctors, and here I was thinking that when the NHS killed people it was an accident.
This raises a couple of interesting questions, such as that many people believe religious nutters are stupid. Sadly, that is not always the case. However, in this instance, the stereotype holds.
These doctors, if they really were doctors, presumably had medical educations, which include chemistry. The “car bombs” — really incendiary devices that failed [see previous blog entry] — didn’t go off because they lacked oxygen. Since this is something that should be obvious to anyone who has an even passing knowledge of how chemicals react, it begs the question of whether the wanna-be terrorists were either pig-stupid or lying about their medical educations. How stupid? They made devices that had petrol and propane but no oxygen to react with. They work in hospitals … that have oxygen bottles in them. They worked in the best place to get bottled oxygen, yet, it didn’t occur to them. Frankly, I find it hard to believe that anyone who has studied chemistry to have made such a basic and obvious oversight — it’s up there with forgetting the eggs in an omelette — that I think that the NHS is hiring people who say they are doctors and aren’t. This is a much bigger risk to people’s lives than a handful of knuckleheads trying to make some bonfires.

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01 July 2007

Government goofs on London and Glasgow car bombing attempts

The UK government’s reaction to the recent failed car-bomb attacks in London and Glasgow is deeply flawed in two respects: the threat of another attack and the origin of the attacks.
While the government has increased the terrorism threat level to critical, the highest since just after the 7/7 bombings two years ago, the threat is actually extremely low now. Basically, this group of terrorists have blown their wad and they are on the run.
What I find infuriating is that UK counter terrorist forces had recently noticed that there was an increase in radical Islamist chatter on the internet hinting that a heavily populated area would soon be attacked and they kept quiet about it. The threat was imminent on Thursday afternoon, not now.
The horses are gone, so we might as well leave the barn door open.

Foreign origins?
The other worrisome development is that the government is looking for some foreign tie, namely Al Qaeda.
I will make a prediction, which I rarely do, when this is all investigated, it will be found that there is no connection with Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda organisation. There may be a connection with someone who is foreign and maybe fought in Iraq, but without a formal tie. The chief reason I say this is that the attacks were stunningly incompetent.

Attack of the knuckleheads
The aspect of the attacks that made me sit up and pay attention was that the buffoons behind them didn’t know what they were doing at nearly every level. They clearly didn’t know how to make a bomb (more on that in a bit). They didn’t appear to know that central London is a bad place to park illegally unless you want your car ticketed, clamped and towed in ten minutes flat (those Nigerian parking wardens don’t mess around). Nor did they appear to know that every street in central London has more cameras than a Japanese tour group.
Two of the car “bombs” were easily identified as dangerous, the first by paramedics at Tiger Tiger night club and the second at the impound because of petrol fumes.
The cars had petrol cans, propane tanks and nails and what from news reports sounded like mobile phones set up as alarm clocks, presumably to make a spark. I think the wanna-be MacGyvers had watched too many Die Hard films and didn’t pay enough attention in chemistry class. They packed the cars with stuff that burns in the presence heat and oxygen. They may have had the spark, but without the oxygen, there was nothing for the petrol fumes to react with.
Perhaps they were trying to create a fuel-air explosive, which is a mixture of some flammable substance and oxygen in the air. Such explosions can be very powerful. In military circles they are often known as thermobaric weapons and can be devastating. However, to make them work, one must have a small charge diffuse the fuel into the atmosphere and mix it with oxygen in just the right proportions and then another charge to ignite it. While devastating, they are very difficult to make. The rocket scientists in the attacks didn’t have a charge to diffuse the gas nor a charge to ignite it. Maybe they thought the gas would leak out until it reached the right proportion, instead of just dissipating (again, chemistry class would have helped, partial pressure and all that).
Then comes the nails. Clearly these nincompoops thought the nails would make good shrapnel, which it would have, if they’d actually had a bomb in the cars. If they had somehow succeeded through divine intervention in creating a fuel-air explosion, the explosion would have been generated by the fumes around the car and the vehicle would have been crushed like a tin can and the nails would have been gift wrapped in sheet metal.
I think the worst that could have happened, if the pinheads in London had rolled down the windows and left something burning inside the cars, is one hell of a fire with some red-hot nails in it. You wouldn’t want to stand next to it, but it wouldn’t take out a building. Probably the worst that would happen is what actually happened to the car at Glasgow airport. It got the fire department out of bed and scared a lot of people.

Al Qaeda?
The sheer incompetence of the attacks leads me to believe that Al Qaeda was not involved. That’s not to say that Al Qaeda attacks are always competent, they aren’t. But they have a pretty good history of not being complete, lemon-sucking morons when it comes to making things go bang — just think of the 1993 bomb in the World Trade Center parking garage and the 1998 US embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya.
When it comes to terrorism, Al Qaeda has historically worked like a terrorism venture capital fund. People approach Al Qaeda with a business plan. If it is approved, they receive training and funding to carry it out. If the clowns who just tried to attack London and Glasgow airport had even a little bit of training, they might have hurt someone, other than themselves that is.
But it is unlikely that Al Qaeda is still in the business of international terrorist venture fund. I would think that they would be devoting their energies to helping the Taliban kick the infidels out of Afghanistan and establishing a theocratic caliphate in Iraq (a long stated goal of theirs). It is possible that they would make the calculation that killing people in the UK might hasten the departure of UK forces from Iraq. However, I think that the Western military presence has proved to be a tremendous recruiting tool for Al Qaeda itself and affiliated organisations. Certainly, if I were Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq (which has sworn allegiance to Al Qaeda), I would want to keep the infidels in Iraq as long as possible to help swell the ranks.

Al Qaedaism
It is unlikely that Al Qaeda as an organisation was involved. But the attackers, which were probably home-grown British Muslims, seemed to share the same philosophy. This is a much more serious issue. It’s not Al Qaeda, but Al Qaedaism. I’m not much of one for “–isms”, but I think it’s appropriate here. There is a rising tide of Muslims who adhere to Al Qaeda’s philosophy and agenda. That philosophy channels the anger of the adherents and allows them to hate and plot murder with a clear conscience, indeed, even to feel noble about doing things that are the purest expression of evil I know of (I have a mental image of a smiling bearded man saying, “That’s right folks, I’m better than you because I pray five times a day, don’t eat pork and murder innocent children for my god”).
A philosophy is much harder to stop than an organisation. Toppling Saddam was easy. All that had to be done was defeating his military and then finding him. Toppling Al Qaedaism is likely to prove very difficult. It is a trans-national social movement that must be stopped with the tools of culture and philosophy. That is a much harder fight and likely requires the West to govern itself and its relations with the Muslim world in a way that is rational and compassionate to provide a philosophy that is more attractive. The current trend is just the opposite. Both the US and the UK have been run corruptly for the benefit of the wealthy to the detriment of all other, both domestically and abroad. Convincing people to give up their anger and religious fantasies in return for the opportunity to be abused and ignored is non-starter.

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