'Anti-terrorism is getting out of proportion'

David Allen Green at Jack of Kent:

"In the 1970s and 1980s, the British mainland was under constant threat from terrorism; the news of another incident sometimes did not even make the top item on that evening's news. In a way, the fact there was actual terrorism helped keep day-to-day things in proportion; people just carried on.

Like David, I vividly remember living in Britain under the threat of the IRA. I spent my teenage years living on an RAF base. My schoolbag was searched by armed guards every time I came home. That was perfectly sensible; an RAF base is, after all, a clear terrorist target.

However, over the last decade we've been encouraged to think of the entire country as being a similar target. Any one of us, therefore, can be stopped in the street and have our bags searched. As David says in the comments on his post, after more than 100,000 searches carried out by police under anti-terror legislation there were no arrests for terror related offences. Illiberal policies serve only to increase fear and do the terrorists' job for them.

That means people being held by the authorities without being told why or shown the evidence against them, innocent photographers being stopped by police simply for taking pictures of buildings (as if, somehow, this will thwart terror plans), and even a man prosecuted for making a terror-related joke.

Obviously, our intelligence services must continue to work against those who would do us harm. Obviously, sensitive targets, such as airports, should have tighter security measures than, say, a Tube station. However, the measures should be proportionate to the threat.

As the Vancouver Sun reported earlier this week, there were very few terrorist attacks - whether successful, failed or foiled - in all of Europe in 2009, the most recent year for which figures are available. Of the 294 attacks across the entire EU, the overwhelming majority (80%) were carried out by regional separatists - a threat that carries little risk in Britain.

I'll leave the conclusion to David: "What is happening to our society is not because of terrorism; it is because those who wish to exercise and extend power have found a perfect excuse in terrorism."

The effect of luxury

An interesting study from Harvard Business School about the link between luxury and self interest.

"This pattern of findings suggests that luxury-primed individuals were not more likely to have anti-social cognition, but were less likely to have pro-social thoughts. In other words, when thinking about luxury, people tend to focus more on themselves and less on others."

William Gibson on terrorism and Twitter

I've been teaching journalism students at City University this year. I'm grateful to one of my students, Tom Barfield, for pointing me to this interview with author William Gibson. I've read just two Gibson books - Neuromancer, which I read years ago and enjoyed very much, and Pattern Recognition, which I read this year and didn't particularly enjoy. Anyway, Gibson is a man with lots of interesting ideas and two in particular from this interview struck me. The first is a familiar one that is always worth repeating:

"Terrorism is a hopeful thing if you’re a freedom fighter. Terrorists and freedom fighters are two sides of the same coin. The freedom fighter lives in hope that he will overthrow the vast injustice of whoever. The people who live in the vast injustice can, if they choose, live in fear that the terrorist will come and do something bad to them. I don’t know. People are such suckers for the most part. The terrorists are smarter, in a way. The terrorists are at least playing a game that makes sense and has various win positions. If they can make you frightened, they’ve won. If they can make you deform your society in ways that will decrease everyone’s pleasure in life, they’ve won."

The second idea was one I hadn't really considered, about the essential difference between Twitter and Facebook:

"I was never interested in Facebook or MySpace because the environment seemed too top-down mediated. They feel like malls to me. But Twitter actually feels like the street. You can bump into anybody on Twitter."

A couple of excellent Google Maps

People are always finding clever ways to use Google Maps. The excellent Londonist has mapped the sites where V-2 rockets struck London between September 1944 and March 1945. According to Wikipedia, 1,358 rockets were fired at London. Around 9,000 Londoners died, an unthinkable number, though less than half the estimated 20,000 concentration camp inmates killed making the V-2 in the first place. A happier, and more practical, map overlays London's Tube lines onto the map of the city. I remember seeing a geographically-accurate Tube map when I was a kid and being fascinated by how different it was to Harry Beck's famous version. The Google version is fun to explore. Note in particular how badly-served we south Londoners are.

We bore the brunt of the V-2's too. It's tough in south London.

And and and and and

I was talking to some friends recently about a sentence that contains the word 'and' five consecutive times and yet is grammatically correct. If you haven't heard this before it sounds unlikely but imagine that the publican who runs the Pig And Whistle is having a new sign painted. He might easily ask the sign-painter for more space between Pig and And and And and Whistle.

But what I was trying to remember as I explained this to my friends was a way to put even more consecutive ands in a grammatically-correct sentence. I was convinced there was a way to do 14. A quick Google shows that you can do 21. The sentence above, one might say, would be clearer if there were quotation marks between Pig and and, and and and and, and and and and, and and and and, and and and and, and and and Whistle.

Of course, nobody really talks about putting quotation marks "between" words, we talk about putting them "around" words, which would mess up that sentence a little but, usage aside, it's grammatically correct.

One you start looking for this kind of thing, there seem to be lots of similar examples. It's possible to use 'had' 11 consecutive times in a grammatically correct sentence, for example: James, while John had had 'had', had had 'had had'; 'had had' had had a better effect on the teacher.

If you'd like to raise the stakes, you can construct a grammatically correct sentence using the same word, repeated eight times. If you use 'buffalo' in the American sense, meaning to confuse, you can buffalo people with the following: Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

If you know of any other sentences that operate in a similar way, please add them in the comments.

I'll leave you with a small fact I discovered while reading about the above: stifle is an anagram of itself.