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July 21, 2005

More London Tube bombings
Posted by Teresa at 10:27 AM * 117 comments

Happened right around the time I left for work. Just heard about it. Three stations have been evacuated: Shepherd’s Bush, Warren Street and Oval Tube. There was also an explosion on an East London bus at the intersection of Hackney Road and Columbia Road. No reported fatalities yet. Looks like smaller bombs and much less damage.

There’s a report of a detonator-size explosion going off in some guy’s rucksack in a tube station—that is, there were reports of said explosion, and it was estimated to be the size of a detonator going off. Don’t know what’s up with that. I expect we’ll hear more.

Addendum: Kathryn Cramer recommends Alex of The Yorkshire Ranter, who has world-class attitude about this stuff:
Thursday, July 21, 2005: Thursday Terror Blogging - Reports of small explosions at The Oval, Shepherd’s Bush and Warren Street tubes, plus an “incident” on a bus in Hackney. Maybe I should make that last one clearer—they’re now reporting a small explosion on a bus in Hackney. Buses in Hackney probably experience dozens of incidents a day. One injury reported so far. Witnesses say they saw someone leave a large rucksack on a Victoria Line tube train before running like hell. Which puts the suicide bombing did-they-didn’t-they in another light. It is being suggested that the police are looking for someone on the surface at Warren Street…which is even closer to my office than Tavistock Square was.

But on the other hand, Australia are six down for 175 and Steve Harmison has been bouncing the ball off their heads all day. Convict captain Ricky Ponting copped one…

In other news, University College Hospital has apparently been “sealed off by police”. Part of it is just across the road, but it looks normal enough. Oh, that should read armed police, and someone says they’ve seen men in chemical protection gear, although you never know and they could be Ronald McDonalds.

Just to round off, I’ll say this: at the end of the Dutch wars in the 1600s, De Ruyter and Tromp’s ships sailed up the Medway to burn the fleet at anchor, taking a complacent government by surprise and incidentally boosting Samuel Pepys’s career. In 1941, not far off three hundred years later, a Free Dutch warship collided with the anti-submarine boom across the Medway. The admiral in charge—the Flag Officer C-in-C, Nore—signalled “What, again?” …

Update, 1526: Apparently, staff at UCH have been told to look for a 6ft 2in black man with wires sticking out of a rucksack. Not like he’s going to merge into the background. Wonderfully, there are multiple reports of someone fiddling with a bag, hearing a small bang or pop, and then either exclaiming something or looking “extremely dismayed”. It must be deeply embarrassing—you press the tit or pull the wire or push the button, expecting a blinding flash and then paradise, but all you get is an artificial fart and a tubeful of people staring at you. Terrorism’s answer to premature ejaculation. Darling, this doesn’t usually happen to me…

The bombing news is interspersed throughout with the much-more-important cricket news. Next time NYC has a disaster, we have got to log some cooler soundbites.
Comments on More London Tube bombings:
#1 ::: Ben ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2005, 10:52 AM:

Wild ass guess: this was a copy-cat attack by an amateur militant group. The last one seems to have at least had an Al Qaeda coordinator - I'm betting these guys were completely freelance.

Hopefully, this is an aftershock and not the start of a trend.

#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2005, 10:56 AM:

I'm thinking it's copycats too.

#3 ::: Andrew Gray ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2005, 11:01 AM:

I think "amateur copycat" seems to be the theory du jour. No chemical agents released, no (significant) conventional explosions... indeed, last I heard wasn't just "no reported fatalities", it was "(almost) no reported injuries". One injury, thought to have been carrying one of the detonators; nothing else yet. Weird, really; is it just a complete screwup, or a lead-in to something else?

(I've heard several interesting speculative theories. My personal favourite is that someone scammed them - sold them the detonators and told them they were really very potent explosives...)

#4 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2005, 11:14 AM:

My wife notes that television reports several times said that Blair had cancelled his visit to a school. I'm thinking: he sent his Minister of Education as his proxy, to read "My Pet Goat" aloud. It's about the children...

#5 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2005, 11:14 AM:

At least it wasn't anthrax for this copycat.

#6 ::: tom p ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2005, 11:39 AM:

Speaking as a Londoner: this is possibly the lamest terrorist attack ever. On a scale of terror, this comes just above a small child shouting "Boo!", and somewhere below the fearsome bowling attack that Glenn McGrath is currently subjecting the England cricket team to.

They've sealed off University College Hospital (which is just a short distance from Warren Street station), there are armed police inside, and staff have apparently been told to look out for a man "with wires coming out of a hole in his top"...

#7 ::: Elayne Riggs ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2005, 11:55 AM:

Daily Mirror and BBC websites highly recommended for keeping up with the unfolding story. Apparently one of the things that detonated was a nail gun, which my British husband informs me was a tool often used by the IRA.

#8 ::: Elayne Riggs ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2005, 11:56 AM:

Nail BOMB, sorry. Not nail gun. Shouldn't type blog comments right after going to Home Depot...

#9 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2005, 12:27 PM:

For a good sense of perspective, see Alex of the Yorkshire Ranter blogging from London.

#10 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2005, 01:36 PM:

I'm glad the bombers were so pathetic. It makes it so much harder to recruit future bombers. Insane people may be willing to kill and die for Their Cause, but no one wants to be laughed at.

#11 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2005, 01:43 PM:

Yeah, Andrew, I can see the scam theory: Paid for plastique, got Plasticene.

"Here ya go, kid. Yeah, 100% genuine Semtex. Don't tell no one where ya got it...."

#12 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2005, 02:00 PM:

[humor in the face of near tragedy]
Maybe we're seeing the filming stage of a really, really tacky Reality TV show:

"Tonight, four of you will be voted into Paradise."
[/humor in the face of near tragedy]

#13 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2005, 03:29 PM:

There is a lot of press speculation. The Commissioner was saying that he expected that there was going to be a trial and he wasn't going to say anything which would prejudice any trial. Ken Livingston was saying that past terrorists had tried repeated attacks, and hadn't stopped London. He also pretty solidly demolished the idea of airport-style security on the Underground.

#14 ::: Maureen Kincaid Speller ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2005, 03:29 PM:

Kathryn Cramer says: 'At least it wasn't anthrax' – Channel 4 news produced the now obligatory report on 'white powder' found at one of the tube stations. Most likely plaster dust, given that most tube stations appear to be in a perpetual state of renovation.

tom p: while there seems to be no doubt that armed police are going through University College hospital with a fine tooth comb, it's entirely unclear what they're looking for. There seems to be some confusion as to whether the man with wires really exists (the description is a masterpiece of 'how could this man hide anywhere' elements; as I observed elsewhere, all he needs is red flashing eyes, spring-heeled boots and a cloak ...) . Much excitement over a person being stretchered into the hospital. Obviously, this never normally happens at UCJ.

And having spent much of the afternoon looking at news reports, it does seem to be either a copycat bombing carried out with staggering incompetence, or, and I hesitate to float this idea, some very strange kind of stunt. Some of my UK acquaintances are wondering if it's a demonstration of lax security is (though how one might strengthen security on the tube, other than forbidding people to use it, I don't really know), but I doubt even the UK red-top papers would stoop quite so low, not when there is more mileage to be had from embarrassing Sandhurst by infiltrating its hallowed perimeters.

#15 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2005, 04:05 PM:

Sometimes public ridicule is the best response to terrorism.

#16 ::: Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2005, 04:07 PM:

It must be deeply embarrassing—you press the tit or pull the wire or push the button, expecting a blinding flash and then paradise, but all you get is an artificial fart and a tubeful of people staring at you.

<marvin>Where's the Kaboom? There was supposed to be an Earth-shattering Kaboom!</marvin>

#17 ::: Scott ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2005, 04:18 PM:

I certainly have no particular insight into what actually happened... but is it marginally possible that the authorities succesfully found explosive devices before they went off, evacuated the appropriate stations, and disarmed the explosive?

Except, mind you, the one in the backpack, it would have a similar profile... a scare, an evacuation, no injury.

#18 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2005, 05:07 PM:

White powder, right. Anybody here remember the day the NYC subway system was shut down by what turned out to be the detritus from a dropped powdered-sugar doughnut?

#19 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2005, 07:30 PM:

Kathryn: Sometimes public ridicule is the best response to terrorism.

Dean Ing, Soft Targets. (I remembered almost all of the details \except/ the title and author. Remembered a related title, found it in abebooks with the author, found the author's web page. I like this net; so when will we see "A Logic Named Joe"?)

#20 ::: Emil ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2005, 07:45 PM:

Overwhelming reaction of us Londoners is: nice to have completely incompetent suicide bombers.

#21 ::: Shunra ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2005, 07:53 PM:

The white-powder scare tactics are particularly alarming. Which of us could not be described as "an unidentified white poweder was found in the home of the terrorist suspect"?

#22 ::: Eric Jarvos ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2005, 08:54 PM:

The police seem to have treated the scenes as if there was a serious possibility of further explosions, which implies they believe that it's a case of the detonators failing to set off the bombs. The BBC is reporting that a bomb disposal squad are examining a rucksack left on the bus in Bethnal Green. Two men were arrested at UCH but one was released later. I would guess that means they have the Warren Street culprit.

It's not going to be easy to get much definitive information for a while. At least one suspect is in custody so there's nigh on the certainty of a trial. As a consequence I don't expect the police to reveal very mcuh at all so as not to take any risks with the prosecution.

All in all I suspect Al Qaeda are regretting the decision to outsource the jihad to India.

I shall be using the tube next Thursday and would really appreciate it if any terrorists reading this could avoid bombing the Bakerloo line in the interim.

#23 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2005, 08:57 PM:

I don't think it was AQ at all; just some crazy guys who wanted to be on TV.

#24 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2005, 11:20 PM:

We may not have the complete functionality, but we do have the story available free online. A Logic Named Joe.

#25 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2005, 12:02 AM:

Security sources have told Sky News that a high explosive was found on the bus, similar to that used in the July 7 attacks.[TATP]

They said the strong smell of acetone would have sparked fears of a chemical attack.

And the smell indicated that the explosives had been made up incorrectly, with too much acetone and not enough peroxide. emphasis added - Sky News may be more inclined than some to commit Dr. Doyle's great mistake of premature theorizing.

peroxyacetone is easy to make from readily available chemicals. Acetone, hydrogen peroxide and a strong acid such as sulfuric acid (battery acid) or hydrochloric acid ("muriatic acid" for cleaning concrete) to catalyze the reaction. But anyone who makes this stuff in any quantity is just plain nuts. Hence the suggestion that a first rate chemist supervised and help stabilize (stabilization omitted as an exercise for the reader)

#26 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2005, 02:03 AM:

Some of the proposed anti-terrorist law would have the side effect of comments such as the one on chemistry making a website illegal.

These are crazy times.

#27 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2005, 09:08 AM:

News this morning is that police shot and killed a man in a London tube station.

#28 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2005, 09:15 AM:

Pushed him to the ground and shot him five times.

One eyewitness says he was unarmed. All agree he was wearing a heavy coat. Another eyewitness said he was wearing a bomb belt with wires coming out.

We don't know yet, but even a push-to-the-ground shooting, which at first sounded to me like an execution, may have been justified if the guy could have set off an explosion once he was down.

#29 ::: Dru ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2005, 10:38 AM:


I'll wait for the further reports, but will spin a different scenario for you. What if he's indigent, and was simply wearing all of his possesions? Or a refugee/illegal immigrant? Or someone with a simple lack of command of proper English.

Flight is a pretty hard core instinct, and if you have seveal men pointing guns at you, and you don't speak their language...

Not saying that any of this is what was the case, just spinning some alternates.

#30 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2005, 11:22 AM:

which at first sounded to me like an execution

I like to think the British police wouldn't react like that. The ones who are allowed to carry weapons are chosen pretty carefully, and they know that if they use them they will be investigated very thoroughly afterwards. This has the result that there are very few people unnecessarily shot by them, although there have been a few cases lately (the man who was carrying a plastic bag with a chair leg inside being a well-known recent example).

But then, Britain does seem to be on the edge of going crazy. Proposed anti-terrorist laws that make a crime of "indirectly" inciting terrorism are just the tip of the iceberg, I suspect.

#31 ::: dlacey ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2005, 12:05 PM:

I like to think the British police wouldn't react like that.

Well, while I'll reserve judgement until we know more, it has happened before.

#32 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2005, 03:06 PM:

Latest news on the guy who was shot:

1. He was the subject of a surveillance operation, and had been connected to the terrorist cell that tried to blow up the tube yesterday and failed (NB: they're now saying that the explosives were dodgy but the intent was 100% homicidal).

2. He left his home. Cops followed him to the station, hoping he'd lead them somewhere, but he spotted the tail and ran.

3. He was wearing a heavy, bulky coat (in August! in London!).

4. The SO19 officers ordered him to stop. He continued to run. Towards a tube train with passengers aboard it.

If he was wearing a suicide belt, would firing a warning shot or trying to injure rather than kill be a good idea? I think not: that's one of those very rare situations when the police have clear justification for shooting to kill without warning.

Anyway, one thing's for sure; it's murky as hell out there, and not getting any lighter.

#33 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2005, 03:48 PM:

dlacey: that's the incident I was refering to. What I'm pretty sure of here is that the policemen involved weren't trying to kill him: they had been tipped off that there was a man wandering around with a shotgun, he was carrying what looked like a shotgun, they ordered him to stop and he started turning to face them, according to some accounts lifting the table leg to point it at them. If *I* had been one of those policemen, *I* would have fired. It was an unfortunate mistake, and quite possibly could have been avoided, but I think it's the only case for quite a while, and I don't think that's a bad record.

Charlie - you're probably right, but 5 shots? With only 1 or 2 shots he might have been left unconscious but in a state where he would eventually have survived.

#34 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2005, 03:55 PM:

Jules, it's not that easy to be sure. You can make sure someone won't be moving by making sure they're dead, but how can you fire at someone, even at close range, in such a way that you're SURE they can't move, and yet leave them alive? The only safe thing to do (from the POV of your life and the lives of the passengers) is to shoot to kill.

I don't think it was one officer firing all five while the other two watched, either. I think each officer was probably firing as if his shots were the only ones that would count -- and that's an average of 1 2/3 shots per officer, probably all at once. Again, an intelligent decision with the lives of who-knows-how-many at stake.

I agree with Charlie. Looks pretty goddam justified to me.

#35 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2005, 04:16 PM:

Regardless of whether he was truly a terrorist, one can certainly understand why the cops might feel the need.

#36 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2005, 04:55 PM:

Kathryn: Yes, justification (to me anyway) comes based on the cops' reasonable beliefs about the state of affairs. If they're wrong, it's tragic, but I'm very cautious about second guessing the men on the ground, so to speak.

#37 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2005, 05:13 PM:

All news of details, soon after terrorist attacks, seems to pass through very distorted lenses.

(Seem or seems? Is news sigular or plural?)

#38 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2005, 06:07 PM:

Singular. You did it right.

Mnemonic: "No news is good news." The proximity of the word 'details' may have confused your number-agreement sensors.

#39 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2005, 06:43 PM:

Jules, two points:

1. SO19 officers are not trained to "shoot to wound" -- they're trained to kill. They do not pull the trigger unless they intend to kill, and they do not do that unless they think somebody's life (their own or a member of the public) is at immediate risk.

The reason they shoot to kill (when they shoot) is that simply injuring a bad guy is not enough. Even if you injure the bad guy fatally -- say, by shredding his myocardium -- he may retain muscle control and awareness for several seconds. Any injury that isn't immediately fatal may result in an armed bad guy shooting back at you.

2. Suicide bomber, running towards target, while wearing explosive belt. If you shoot him and wound him, what is his likely response going to be? (Here's a guess: it probably involves detonating his payload.)

I am not a great fan of armed police, and I really don't approve of them shooting people, but I approve of suicide bombers a whole lot less: it's a pick-the-lesser-evil situation. And the only guaranteed certain way to abort a suicide attack in progress is to shoot the attacker in the head, repeatedly, until he stops twitching. Anything less than that risks allowing the suicide bomber to complete his mission. I will grant you that if they're trying to surrender that's a completely different matter, but this guy wasn't surrendering.

Final note: tasers are being issued to firearms units in UK police forces. The rules are that they used under the same restrictions as lethal firearms -- but as the weapon of first resort, where circumstances make it safe to do so. Nevertheless, suicide bombers don't fit the bill. Not everyone drops when you taser them, and how many victims' lives are you willing to bet on that particular role of the dice? Humanitarian instincts are generally good, but sometimes there is no minimum-force solution to a problem.

#40 ::: Andrew Gray ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2005, 07:03 PM:

Charlie: also, as I understand it, tasers (or some forms thereof, not too sure on the details) can also cause quite rapid spasming of the victim's muscles. Even if they drop immediately, lose all control of their muscles, those twitching hands are still around. And in a situation where there's presumed to be decent potential for someone to be carrying a detonation switch in their hand (or easily accessible next to it)...

#41 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2005, 07:21 PM:

There is no such thing as "shoot to wound" or "shoot to disable."

Wounding or disabling someone is an unwanted outcome of shooting that person.

#42 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2005, 08:22 PM:

What James D. Macdonald said. Pretty much any gunshot can be fatal; there's no way for the shooter to control the outcome so carefully as to disable reliably without killing. At close range, even the discharge of a blank can be fatal.

Even weapons designed specifically to incapacitate non-lethally, such as tasers and stun guns, run the risk of either leaving the target able to cause further problems, or fatally injured. Sometimes even both at the same time.

I'm very impressed by the discipline of police officers capable of firing only a round or two each at a suspect believed to be a suicide bomber. Here in Los Angeles, a dozen or so sheriff's deputies recently fired somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 rounds each (I forget the exact numbers) at a suspect who was driving a car slowly towards them. That pretty much means they kept pulling their triggers until their magazines were empty.

Of course, I would imagine that, as Jules and Charlie suggest, Britain's armed police are the cream of the crop. The incident here was even more embarrasing because out of all that firing, only one round hit the suspect (causing relatively minor injury) and another injured a deputy. News reports made reference to the "circular firing squad" phenomenon.

#43 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2005, 10:42 PM:

I'm with Charlie here, but I'm still unnerved by this incident. It seems (unofficially) that the guy although connected with the bombers wasn't armed or carrying explosives. I'd still think that it was pretty damn justified, but, but. The English police killing a man point-blank in full view of a carriageful of Tube passengers. It's a sad world.

#44 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2005, 02:12 AM:

Has anyone pointed out the expert analysis of the New York City subway random bag-checking fiasco, over at Schneier on Security?

"... If the choice is between random searching and profiling, then random searching is a more effective security countermeasure.... there are some enormous trade-offs in liberty. And I don't think we're getting very much security in return."

"Especially considering this:
'[Police Commissioner Raymond] Kelly stressed that officers posted at subway entrances would not engage in racial profiling, and that passengers are free to "turn around and leave."'"

"'Okay guys; here are your explosives. If one of you gets singled out for a search, just turn around and leave. And then go back in via another entrance, or take a taxi to the next subway stop.'"

"And I don't think they'll be truly random, either. I think the police doing the searching will profile, because that's what happens."

"It's another 'movie plot threat.' It's another 'public relations security system.' It's a waste of money, it substantially reduces our liberties, and it won't make us any safer...."

Posted on July 22, 2005 at 06:27 AM | Comments (112) | TrackBack (8)

Note those 112 comments. Some are interesting.

#45 ::: Eric Jarvos ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2005, 04:17 AM:

It was in Stockwell. It's not the first time armed police have killed somebody in the area by any stretch of the imagination. As a local I don't like it but don't find it shocking, though it would probably have upset me had I been there.

It doesn't seem at first sight that there was any impropriety on the part of the police. We'll find out when the PCA enquiry is publihed.

#46 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2005, 05:08 AM:

The problem with police being issued "non-lethal" weapons like tasers is they use them a lot more freely, and before you know it -- there's deaths.

I've seen different numbers for the numbers of taser deaths in the US. Here's what looks like a fairly moderate article on the subject, and it says, as of some time before April of this year, there had been 70 deaths from police-inflicted tasers.

With a regular gun, the police know they're probably going to kill the person they shoot -- like Charlie says, American cops are also taught to shoot to kill, never to wound, and therefore (when they're doing the right thing) only to shoot when not to shoot will endanger themselves or someone else. With a taser, too often they think that all they're doing is causing benign discomfort, and they feel free to tase the person over and over until they lose consciousness.

#47 ::: Emil ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2005, 12:44 PM:

Seems the man shot at Stockwell was not connected to the bombings after all:

#48 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2005, 12:46 PM:

And now it seems he was unconnected to the subway bombing. He is, however, still dead.

I'm not willing to give the police any slack on this. They had 'their' man, on the ground, and they still put five bullets into him. He wasn't a bomber. He wasn't anyone. He was just some guy.

#49 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2005, 01:10 PM:


I'm willing to give the police some slack, not for shooting the wrong guy, but for admitting it. Plenty of folk who get picked up by Homeland Security seem to get tried for crimes they weren't originally accused of, just to be seen to be charged with something. (James Yee, charged with - among other things - adultery when they couldn't make the espionage charge stick, for instance.)

I see a period of soul-searching ahead. I still trust the UK to do it honestly and come out somewhere in the neighbourhood of the right place.

#50 ::: Shunra ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2005, 01:17 PM:

Killing people by mistake is inevitable.

Especially if the UK gets its advice from Israel.

The worst of it, in my humble and very nearly pacificist opinion, is that killing folks who turn out to be the wrong ones tends to push near-militant folks into militance (see the history of Israel, 1967- present; or 1948-present; or 1882-present; and further and further back, if you don't mind reading history that simply dismays.)

I'm worried about people with sensory integration issues - the kind of folks who tend to wear coats in the summer; I'm worried about the people who don't fit (aspies? people with tics? libertarians-beyond-socially-acceptable-levels?) - especially the ones with olive-toned skin and foreign accents.

Have the forces who hate the rule of the people, by the people - already won? And who are these forces? Cui bono?

#51 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2005, 01:33 PM:

One of the pieces of fantasy in a lot of science fiction is that someone can build equipment and having it work the first time without test programs that deal with "the learning curve." Most stuff, be it building rockets or explosives or semiconductors or military equipment or laptop computers, involves formal or informal RDT&D -- research, development, test, and evaluation, to learn to to make the stuff work and be able to repeatably building properly working items.

In the case of munitions and such, a military program with have training of people to make bombs, procedures for making them, testing of articles made to make sure they work, quality control (QC)... it's a challenge for a bomb builder to test test articles and not get caught at it, say. QC requires that the person doing the inspection have a clue about what constitutes good and what doesn't constitute good, and specications to check against. Then there's testing, but again, QC'ing homemade explosives by setting off test sample explosions, tends to cause unwanted official attention and investigation.

There are lots of ways to do things wrong, and the person who make things that always work and work the first time, isn't quite fantasy, but it's not all that realistic generally--that's part of what the term "learning curve" is about, and that assumes that the items being made aren't things like explosives made surreptiously intended for guerrilla warfare.

#52 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2005, 01:43 PM:

Paula Lieberman:

Well said! Of course, that means that terrorists who read Hard Science Fiction can be more dangerous that terrorists with other genre preferences. Aum Shinrikyo, comes to mind, that Japanese Buddhist group that gained notoriety after its leaders released nerve gas in a crowded Tokyo subway, as they had some real scientists, and leaders who read SF. Then there's the theory that Asimov's "Foundation" books influnced Al Quaeda. So, should the War on Terror spend a few $$$ getting Bad Guys to read, say, High Fantasy? Or should Intelligence be cranking out Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein slash?

#53 ::: Dei ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2005, 02:16 PM:

I found that shooting so sickening that I had trouble sleeping and I've detuned ITV1 on my television -- the near-pornographic glee with which they were discussing the pros and cons of shooting people in the head vs the chest was just too much.

And now he turned out to be an innocent man (just for irony's sake, one of the men actually being hunted for Thursday's attempted bombing has been caught and taken into custody alive and well).
He was pinned down and shot for being frightened and Muslim. I pray for his soul and his family.

Beyond this, what really has me worried is that sooner or later, the bombings will stop -- but we're going to be left with the policemen and the increasingly authoritarian government. And that really, really disturbs me. Those laws and paranioa are going to be there a loooong time and affect us in very nasty ways. I fear for what sort of country we have the potential of becoming.

#54 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2005, 02:16 PM:

Meanwhile we've got 83 dead in bombings in Egypt; their worst terror attack in ten years.

#55 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2005, 02:19 PM:

dlacey: how reliable is the WSWS? Are there any more-]central[ cites for this incident? If the facts were as stated, I'd be wondering why Willing (who is reported to have said he saw the shotgun) isn't up on charges; I suppose he can't be charged with accessory-before to wrongful death when the death wasn't ruled wrongful, but is giving a false report not a crime in the UK?

A worrisome item heard on NPR this morning: SO13 et al are being told to go for head shots. There are probably participants in this blog who can talk knowledgeably whether it's better to aim for the body in an open area, or aim for the head on the run at substantial odds of missing (and some odds of hitting a bystander).

I'm of several minds about this case and will be interested to see what develops; the facts Charlie presents are persuasive (not to mention the control implied in five shots -- see Jeremy re the LA case, or the similar case in NYC a few years ago), but witnesses in stress are massively unreliable (wires coming out of the dead man's coat?).

#56 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2005, 02:50 PM:

Without getting too grim and morbid:

If what you're looking at is a person carrying an explosive device that he can trigger without regard for his own life:

If you go for a headshot, and you hit, then he won't be able to trigger the device (assuming no "dead man switch").

If you go for a headshot and you miss, the civilian you hit is dead anyway.

If you go for a body ahot and you hit, there is no reason to believe the person you shot won't be able to trigger the device anyway, and the surrounding civilians are dead anyway. (I'm personally aware of an accidental shooting, where the victim was struck at point blank range directly in the heart, where the victim had time and volition to say "Oh, f*ck" before expiring.) A shot into an explosive belt may have unwanted effects. There's a saying: "Even a dead man can kill you with a shotgun." The same goes for suicide bombers.

If you go for a body shot and you miss, the civilian you hit is dead anyway.

Depending on the weapon, the range, and the officer's level of skill and training, consistently striking moving targets considerably smaller than a human head isn't impossible.

With a deadman switch it doesn't matter what you do or don't do.

Multiple methods of triggering aren't impossible: combining the self-actuated trigger with a timer with a remote actuator held by another member of the team who stands well back from the carrier could provide difficulties.

Shall we assume that the people carrying bombs aren't the ones who are actually making the bombs? That the bomb-makers are learning and getting better at what they do? That suicide bombs on subways are by no means the only method of attack, nor the only possible target?

#57 ::: tavella ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2005, 03:35 PM:

I'm still reserving some judgement on the whole thing, but it strikes me as perhaps not insignificant that the people in the actual car were very disturbed. As subway riders and the people who would have died if a bomb had gone off, you'd think they'd naturally sympathized with the police, but the quotes I saw were more along the lines of 'terrified and shot down like a dog'.

#58 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2005, 03:46 PM:

It must have seemed like something out of The Terminator or a Clint Eastwood movie. It crossed the boundary between fantasy and reality.

#59 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2005, 03:50 PM:

Alex has another thought on why 5 shots were felt necessary:

..the reason why they shot the Stockwell tube "bomber" five times might be that a pistol like the Glock 17(I think) that fires bursts of three rounds as well as single shots, rather like a tiny submachine gun, was used. The point is that, if you need to be sure the target is dead (for example, because they are a suicide bomber) in a confined space, most weapons that would do it would probably also go straight through them and kill one or more random civilians. Using a much lighter round, but several of them, is a way round that.
#60 ::: tavella ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2005, 05:11 PM:

I'm also wondering... if they seriously thought there was any chance he was carrying a bomb, why on earth did they not confront him before he got in the subway station? It seems not particularly brilliant policy to follow a guy from his house, and then confront him when he's around people he could kill, instead of on a quiet sidewalk.

#61 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2005, 06:46 PM:

CNN IDs him:

Jean Charles de Menezes, a 27-year-old Brazilian national

Perhaps he was brown in the wrong place and time.

#62 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2005, 07:12 PM:

It looks from here like a systematic police intelligence failure.

They'd staked out a block of flats, not a specific apartment. And they failed to take steps to distinguish between their suspects and ordinary members of the public. And then when de Menezes went walkies, they failed to isolate and arrest him before he reached the tube station.

Just like most fatal plane crashes, it wasn't the result of any one thing going wrong, but of a whole chain of mistakes.

I don't know whether or not they're going to throw the book at the officer who pulled the trigger, but I'm pretty sure the Police Complaints Commission is going to say some very rude things indeed about the way the surveillance operation was run when they report the results of the independent inquiry into the shooting.

(NB: I still believe that if you're dealing with a suicide bomber, the tactic they used was appropriate – the problem is, they were dealing with a confused foreigner instead. "Oops" barely begins to cover it.)

#63 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2005, 08:03 PM:

Multiple shots:

The Standard SAS method is to "double-tap" -- they used 9mm in the Iranian Embassy, all those years ago. Heckler & Koch MP-5 with pistols as back-up, firing 9mm.

SO-19 comes from that same counter-terror lineage. The Met wanted to develop its own CT capacity, and apparently some of the successes attributed to the SAS in later years, in London, were purely Police operations.

Any armed cop in London is specially trained, though maybe not strictly SWAT-equivalent. SO-19 are the elite.

But, as Charlie pointed out, the guys with the guns can be given bad info.

One source is The Good Guys Wear Black by Steve Collins, but it may have a bit of remembering with advantage of the deeds done.

#64 ::: Eric Jarvos ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2005, 10:50 PM:

What concerns me is that it isn't the first time the Met have made this sort of screw up in the Stockwell area. There have been a couple of other incidents where unarmed men were shot largely due to armed officers being put in the position of having to act rapidly without all the information they should have had. I'd hope to see somebody reasonably high up locally being fingered by the PCC, because it's turning into a consistent pattern of mistakes.

#65 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2005, 11:15 PM:

If you go for a headshot, and you hit, then he won't be able to trigger the device (assuming no "dead man switch").

But see especially Jim Cirillo on the requirements for successful head shots:"...somewhat disappointed with the hits on the felon that I head shot. Over the next few weeks, you couldn't get Jim Cirillo out of his basement. I was shooting every bullet .... quite evident which bullet will be more effective. well within 10 yards, but I would not take a chance on head shots beyond 8 yards with it."

- also his discussion of selection techniques for successful legal professional killers in New York City may be of interest to some.

For one thing, it is not unusual for bullets to glance off of the hard human skull.
Comments of The Violence Policy Center To The Federal Aviation Administration
On The Use of Firearms on Commercial Air Flights
Docket No. FAA-2001-111229 February 14, 2002
(Submitted via internet and mail)
Although I disagree violently with the VPC this is a freely available discussion with many quotes from Mr. Cirillo and others (e.g.Duane Thomas) on the general topic of headshots - VPC of course says don't even try; Jim Cirillo says this is what it takes to make it work.

it's a challenge for a bomb builder to test test articles and not get caught at it, say.

Rumor has it the range at Fort Riley has a 1000lb limitation and when bomb builders get a little carried away and somebody inquires as to the exact weight of the charge that somebody is assured no limits were exceeded and invited - oh so politely - to look in the hole themselves next time.

#66 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2005, 07:56 AM:

From the Graun's website it seems that Mr. de Menezes was challenged on a bus; he ran off the bus and into Stockwell tube station, followed by about 20(!) armed plainclothes police officers. Now it used to be the case that armed police had to identify themselves with words along the lines of 'Halt - armed police!', unless they were in imminent danger. Obviously something caused Mr. de Menezes to bolt from the bus and into the station. - hopefully this will be explained in the investigation. The Beeb suggested that he had lived in a slum district in Sao Paulo; maybe the sight of armed men in plain clothes triggered an automatic flight response.

Charlie: the event cascade model is no longer used in air crash investigation, because it doesn't handle concurrent factors very well. In this case, it seems to be tragic bad luck that Mr. de Menezes ran when challenged AND was near a tube station AND happened to reach the platform as a tube arrived. It's horrible, but as you suggested it's hard to blame the officer that pulled the trigger.

#67 ::: Michelle K ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2005, 08:12 AM:

It seems like the London bombing has delineated the two choices we have as a society.

We can have an aggressive police force that attempts to keep the public at large safe, or we can have a police force that errs on the side of caution, which may make terrorist incidents more likely.

If they guy HAD been a bomber and HAD set off an explosives belt killing everyone around him because the police didn't shoot, then this discussion would be entirely different.

It seems to me that we can have unfettered civil liberties OR we can have increased public safety, but we can't have both at the same time. Or have I missed something obvious.

#68 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2005, 10:25 AM:

OR we can have more competent leadership.

#69 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2005, 10:32 AM:

Way upthread, Jules sez: What I'm pretty sure of here is that the policemen involved weren't trying to kill him: they had been tipped off that there was a man wandering around with a shotgun, he was carrying what looked like a shotgun, they ordered him to stop and he started turning to face them, according to some accounts lifting the table leg to point it at them.

What may not be obvious from this account is that there was no man wandering around with a shotgun. The tip-off came from some git in the pub who mistook the man's Scottish accent for an Irish one, and a table leg in a plastic bag for a shotgun, and called the police.

Some of the lessons to be drawn from this are not ones about police procedure.

#70 ::: tavella ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2005, 11:38 AM:

It seems to me that we can have unfettered civil liberties OR we can have increased public safety, but we can't have both at the same time. Or have I missed something obvious.

Or we could have competent police. I find this an incompetent bit of policing in any circumstances. If he *had* been a bomber, they would have: trailed him from his house, allowed him to get on a bus full of people, then despite there being multiple officers (perhaps the '20 men with guns' chasing him was an eyewitness exaggeration, but there were definitely at least two holding him down and one executing him) and the fact he was leaving a confined space through limited exits somehow managed to confront him in such a way that he got through the station and all the way into a subway car.

It's a worst of both worlds thing; they acted neither in a way that protected the public (who would have already been shredded if he was actually a bomber) nor the innocent target.

#71 ::: Shunra ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2005, 01:46 PM:

It's a worst of both worlds thing; they acted neither in a way that protected the public (who would have already been shredded if he was actually a bomber) nor the innocent target.

Not to mention, lost all chances of gaining intelligence from him. In the current not-enough-info situation, that's the biggest loss when you kill a suspect in pursuit - greater, even, than the civil liberties aspect (which is currently so big, it's blocking the sun and making crops fail, IMHO).

#72 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2005, 06:11 PM:

It seems to me that we can have unfettered civil liberties OR we can have increased public safety, but we can't have both at the same time. Or have I missed something obvious.
Michelle K

Or we could have competent police.

Anyone who trades liberty for security deserves neither liberty nor security"....Benjamin Franklin
"And neither will he receive either"...Rocco Galati

Doesn't do a lot of good to ask for what never was and never will be to borrow more words. The street cameras are not really a violation of civil liberties and the question of who will watch the watchers need never arise? (obs sf Lacey and His Friends)

The Flight 93 solution of Let's roll works best for me but that too has its price. There was an end to the Old Man of the Mountain and his assassins - that had its price too. There is a story that when he was union busting in the very deep south Mitch Werbel threatened to kill organizers and their wives and their parents and their children and their dogs and their cats and their chickens. Later asked if he was serious he explained he was kidding - he'd never bother with their chickens.

Consider the joys of picking police officers and giving them a license to kill and asking them to keep their souls and report to politicians. See The Untouchables or consider the success of the DEA in driving up the price of narcotics on the street.

For myself I'd rather live with an armed populace and a level of violence than make violence a state monopoly. Sooner the vigilante than the STASI.

#73 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2005, 09:14 PM:

James: If you go for a headshot, and you hit, then he won't be able to trigger the device (assuming no "dead man switch").

If you go for a headshot and you miss, the civilian you hit is dead anyway.

And if there's a fusillade of shots to make sure one of them hits? I guess there aren't any good choices at that point; as several people have pointed out, the right thing to do is act earlier (when possible -- how many people does it take to catch a running suspect on the street?).

Clark: the first problem with an armed populace is that most of them will be less well-trained with firearms (seeing as they're not paid to spend time on the range).

#74 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2005, 11:58 PM:

Dead man's switch makes shooting the bomber counterproductive. . .

#75 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2005, 12:00 AM:

Dead man's switch makes shooting the bomber counterproductive. . .

Posted too soon. Wanted to add:

so the tactic was wrong if they had been right about who the man was.

And I think it was knowable that he wasn't.

#76 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2005, 03:29 AM:

Looking at the news reports about the Brazilian guy who was killed. Am getting various levels of apalled.

1. Why does anyone still take advice from the Israelis? No, really.

2. Over 30 officers can't tell a Brazilian from Middle Easterner?

3. Living in the same building as a suspect and wearing a quilted jacket is enough to warrant 30 officers?

4. 70 degrees may be cause for Hawaiian shirts and mai tais in London, but in many parts of the world--Brazil, for one--it's on the cool side, and a jacket is not out of the question. Especially if you plan to be out all day and it may turn cooler at night. Layers can be shed at your destination, but it's hard to put more clothes on if you don't have them.

5. Person w/gun, w/o uniform does not equal plain-clothes cop in most people's minds. Ordinary joe waving gun means nutcase/drug dealer/mugger--all of whom are completely capable of lying and saying they're a cop.

6. If you're chasing someone with your gun drawn, don't expect him to turn around and notice you putting on your police baseball cap.

7. Government officials need to stop saying "regret" and get used to saying "rue."

About the only good thing that can be said is that it took less than a day for the crowing and spinning to stop and the admission of a mistake to kick in.

#77 ::: Andrew Gray ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2005, 08:42 AM:

Kevin: Not to disagree with most of your points, but #2 is a red herring - one of the four bombers on the 7th is known to not have been from the Middle East (he was from Jamaica), which makes "not Middle Eastern" a bad method of confirming "is not a suicide bomber"...

#78 ::: Michelle K ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2005, 09:20 AM:


2. Over 30 officers can't tell a Brazilian from Middle Easterner?

Which kind of "middle easterner"? Persian or Arab or North African?

To me swarthy Italian men, arabic men, and Mexican men can look quite similar. There are differences to be sure, but at a glance?

#79 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2005, 10:05 AM:

Depending on where in Brasil the guy was from, 70 degrees could be downright frigid.

It's like those temperature scales where one of the lines is "Californians put on parkas; folks from Maine go swimming."

#80 ::: dlacey ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2005, 10:42 AM:

CHip: I first heard about the incident some months ago on the cbc and the facts of the case as reported there matched what I read on the WSWS. Here and here are a couple other reports of the same incident.

As Ken MacLeod said there are other lessons to be taken from this and one can only hope that Mr Clifford Willing, the person in the pub who called it in, gets a late night visit from the karma fairy.

#81 ::: Mike Scott ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2005, 12:13 PM:

For what it's worth, there's a first-hand account in the LiveJournal thread here, from someone who was at Stockwell station, saying that he heard bellows of "Armed police" through his headphones.

#82 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2005, 01:01 PM:

Clark: the first problem with an armed populace is that most of them will be less well-trained with firearms (seeing as they're not paid to spend time on the range).

Easy to wish for every gun toting badge wearing power of life and death over the citizenry police officer to be more than adequately trained; worse than useless to assume it.

How about have a go on the London street -bystanders tackle him? Raising the hue and cry once meant something - today it is a warning not to get involved.

Observation shows that the general level of mandatory police firearms training is quite low - the general level of competence in that part of the US population choosing to carry is in fact usually higher than the general level of armed police in the United States. (obs SF see Joel Rosenberg - and I repeat see Jim Cerillo on selecting and training urban killers)

#83 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2005, 02:29 PM:

Andrew: I hardly think it's a red herring in that the early government crowing declared that he was "Asian." That rather points to them not only doing racial profiling, but being lethally incompetent at it.

And we all know that "Asian" is government PC-speak for Middle Eastern, since no one's suspecting anyone who looks Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc.

But even if we go with the "everyone's a suspect" lie (because if so, why wouldn't the government announce him as Jamaican?), and we ignore the fact that the only suspects are men between the ages of sixteen and thirty six, the only additional suspicion comes from him walking out of the suspected apartment building wearing (to a paranoid English mind) an unseasonably warm coat. And this is where the official government line falls apart....

They said they didn't confront him immediately because they hoped he'd lead them to the other bombers, and as such, were willing to risk a busload of people for him to get on it while wearing his alarmingly padded coat. But those folk weren't blown up, yet he then got off to go to a tube station where they chased him with guns and finally shot him repeatedly in the back of the head and what in the hell happened with the rendevous with other bombers they were hoping to follow him to? Were the police thinking that he was walking out wired with bombs to go to a bomber's meeting and then go to a suicide mission? Don't people usually put on their bombs at the bomber's meeting where Mulla Boom-Boom passes out the exploding waistcoats, and if you have your bomb vest at home already and are walking out the door wearing it, why on earth would you be going to a bomber's meeting?

It's fairly obvious the police were either not thinking straight or lying badly, or more likely, both.

#84 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2005, 03:34 PM:

Who's they here?

They said they didn't confront him immediately because they hoped ... they chased him with guns and finally shot him repeatedly in the back of the head

"The Sunday Times - Britain,,2087-1706244,00.html
July 24, 2005

Mistake puts gun policy in doubt
Maurice Chittenden
WHEN an alert flashed to the control room of Operation Kratos at Scotland Yard last week that a suspected suicide bomber was entering an Underground station, a senior officer was asked to make a snap decision.

His judgment that the London public were again under threat led to advice to officers at the scene that the man should be “neutralised”.

...the officer who fired the bullets was facing investigation and possible criminal charges. So, too, is the “gold commander” — a deputy assistant commissioner or above, according to police sources — who gave him the instruction to open fire if he felt it was necessary......"

Sounds like marvelous C3I (CCTV is Officer Friendly) Nothing quite like snap decisions by remote senior officers. See e.g. Mayaquez and remember Pogo.

And Lon Horiuchi is still walking free.

#85 ::: Eric Jarvis ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2005, 07:04 PM:

Today the BBC is reporting that de Menezes had overstayed his student visa and was therefore in the country illegally. Which may explain why he ran from the police.

Of ourse now we need an explanation of why so many people are so paranoid and xenophobic that we have the utterly ridiculous immigration rules currently in place.

As ever, when one follows the chain of events through, the responsibility lies with the fact that we are all screwed up in one way or another and not doing enough to deal with that. Something that should always be borne in mind when discussing such things.

#86 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2005, 07:24 PM:

Clark: Observation shows that the general level of mandatory police firearms training is quite low - the general level of competence in that part of the US population choosing to carry is in fact usually higher than the general level of armed police in the United States.

Independent references?

#87 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2005, 01:27 AM:

Define independent, I'm afraid I fail at finding it in this area - see generally (not really on this topic I'm sorry to say) Shooters: Myths and Realities of America’s Gun Cultures, by Abigail A. Kohn, New York: Oxford University Press, 224 pages, $29.95 where to quote one reviewer:'After reading Shooters, you’ll wonder why no one has done such a study before.
The omission may stem from the typical attitude toward guns among academics, which Kohn addresses in her preface. From “public health” articles proposing gun control as a cure for the “epidemic” of gun violence to highly regarded sociologists who argue that gun research should be informed by “moral principles” rather than hard facts, she confesses her surprise at the ill-informed and often tendentious research conducted by academics. Kohn’s own research for Shooters, some of which appeared in this magazine (“Their Aim Is True,” May 2001), elicited predictable responses. One colleague said she was performing a “social service by researching ‘such disgusting people.’” Another said that unless Kohn acknowledged the “inherent pathology” of gun enthusiasm, she was disrespecting victims of gun violence.

Recall the controversy over the Bancroft Prize winning and losing Michael A. Bellesiles (most recently defended by Ward Churchill last month for the quality of Bellesiles's research - that tells me more about Churchill's standards than it does about Bellesiles but you may differ) which for me demonstrates that a great deal of academic research is biased - and I'll grant you that Dave Kopel, Stephen Halbrook and especially John R. Lott Jr with More Guns Less Crime and all his opponents each have their (each their is approved by the all the best copy editors - ask me who) own interests.

For a book you might accept as likely to be honest at least in some of the articles I'd suggest Restricting Handguns. The Liberal Sceptics Speak Out with its forward by Frank Church - but as you might well know since Frank Church is long dead the book is dated. And to repeat myself - Jim Cerillo on selecting and training trained killers (only hunters need apply) - biased to beat the band but his perspective is unmatched by the unbiased.

For anecdotes has daily posts on Police failures - again for obs SF I'd say ask Joel Rosenberg but of course he's biased and the folks who think all cons should be weapon free are only showing proper sense. Mn data on CCW at
There's a firearms instructor/accomplished writer in Georgia whose name escapes me and some other people in the SF community who have the credentials to express an opinion. I can introduce you to training officers who will confirm the statement as true in their experience but the sample won't be random and nowhere near a census so again anecdotal.

Again anecdotal about the dangers of NYC: An off-duty police officer ended up on the wrong side of the law Friday night, shooting a man who had purposely knocked over the cop's beer in a lower Manhattan bar, police said Saturday....Marti was charged with assault and criminal possession of a weapon. He was immediately suspended without pay.,0,4334664.story?coll=nyc-topheadlines-left

This is admittedly biased and mostly-outdated file but includes pointers check the appendix - it includes a good letter from a Florida department. Again admittedly biased:;

It is certainly true and demonstrated by match results that good gun handlers among the police are vastly outnumbered by civilian shooters but that tells us nothing about the civilians who don't shoot matches - I'd argue that both police who don't shoot matches and civilians who don't shoot matches may be assumed inferior gun handlers to those who do shoot matches. IDPA is perhaps more practical than the International Practical or the US Practical. Same thing for the better training academies where civilians as a class outnumber and outperform law enforcement as a class - true amateurs can spend more time and effort. Again tells us nothing quantifiable about the population who don't train but I'd assume that population to be inferior.

Nothing above should be construed as an argument that any civilian who ever lived was better than Bill Jordan but he's dead too and so is the man in the next room.

Nuf said I suspect

#88 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2005, 03:19 AM:

I shouldn't have to point it out, but the cop's marksmanship was not at issue here. No one was killed by stray bullets or friendly fire or stray friendly bullets or whatever sugar-coated euphemism is in vogue this week to decribe what happens when some poorly trained officer misses and shoots someone they didn't intend to. One man was killed by five rounds to the back of the head at point blank.

The training which was obviously lacking here was basic detective work. If you're going to use racial profiling, it's kind of important to know what a race looks like, not to mention what a specific individual looks like. If all people of any given ethnic background look alike to you, you have no business carrying a gun no matter how good you are at shooting it.

#89 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2005, 03:46 AM:

Kevin Andrew Murphy writes:

> And we all know that "Asian" is government PC-speak for Middle Eastern, since no one's suspecting anyone who looks Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc.

No - that's just a potentially confusing British usage. Over there, "asian" typically means "from the Indian subcontinent". No government-speak involved.

Used to confuse me, but you get used to it.

#90 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2005, 05:12 AM:

Ah. Wasn't certain about that. Out here "Asian" has been used as a synonym for the (non-PC) "Oriental" but is never used for anything from the Indian subcontinent or parts west of that.

Excellent editorial here at the Times:,,1070-1707225,00.html

#91 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2005, 08:29 AM:

"Racial" profiling is in itself an unreliable tool--Bruce Scheier has some recent discussion of this, and why it's not reliable. The man arrested with the bomb in his car trunk on the Port Angeles ferry was busted on the basis of his behavior, not his appearance, and the possible range of physical appearances for the target community--young Muslim males--is too large to be a reliable guide. Just what does a young Muslim male look like? On the basis of behavioral profiling, I can see why the police found de Menezes suspicious, although their handling of the incident doesn't say much for their work otherwise.
But forget the "racial profiling"--it's like Ann Coulter's screams about letting swarthy males onto commercial flights; if carried to its logical conclusion, this would mean that, say, Nomar Garciaparra would have trouble flying without harrassment from the authorities.

#92 ::: Emil ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2005, 08:58 AM:

A British Pakistani friend of mine has been stopped three times now by police, driving to work, since the 7th; there's certainly some amount of racial profiling going on, although how many suicide bombers disguise themselves as pin-stripe-suited lawyers I don't know.

What I can't get my head around is the idea that there were thirty or so armed police staking out, not a flat, but a block of flats - at least thirty or so residences - tailing the first person who pops out of there in bulky clothing, and allowing him to make his way all the way to a Tube station. This doesn't seem like a particularly good sort of operation to me (but what do I know...?)

By the way, in response to Clark Myers' I'd rather live with an armed populace and a level of violence than make violence a state monopoly - we have a level of gun violence here, too, but at least it's pretty hard to get hold of the guns in the first place. The only reason we have armed police is that people increasingly manage to do so.

Now and again we get these terrible situations where an unarmed man is shot dead on the street, or in his bed, or on the Tube, by twitchy and poorly-briefed police. We don't get the terrible situations where a child finds their dad's pistol and shoots dead their playmate, or any of the domestic horrors that an armed populace has to tolerate. Somehow we seem to have avoided the Stasi so far.

I don't believe any form of vigilantism, armed or otherwise, is going to be the answer to what we're facing in the UK right now.

#93 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2005, 10:29 AM:

Clark E. Myers: I'd rather live with an armed populace

You might feel differently if you were one of the types of people who have, historically, had to worry about being picked by the townsfolk as an example of what happens to uppity whatevers.

I live in the country. Every deer season, I have to worry for my family and my livestock as idiots get tanked up and go into the woods with guns. The majority of hunters here understand gun safety and respect personal property, but it doesn't take many who don't to cause a great deal of damage.

#94 ::: Michelle K ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2005, 11:02 AM:

I live in the country. Every deer season, I have to worry for my family and my livestock as idiots get tanked up and go into the woods with guns.

I'm curious as to where you live. I live in West (by God) Virginia, and during hunting season I hear very little report of hunting accidents involving alcohol. And all the hunters I know are stress gun and hunting safety.

I'm all for an armed populace, and think that a gun safety should be mandatory at some point in the education system. But then I live in a state with very high gun ownership, combined with a very low crime rate, so my experience my be very different from that of others.

#95 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2005, 11:54 AM:

Michelle K: If my experience with my extended family and neighbors in WV is anything to go by, many of the alcohol-related hunting accidents (and not just the ones involving people being shot) aren't reported as such. I've lived in WV, I've lived in the Snow Belt, I've lived in the South. While most hunters are responsible, as I said, it only takes a few who aren't to cause a lot of damage. I've had hunters violate my No Hunting signs and shoot into my pastures where deer are grazing alongside the horses. One young woman at my barn was hurt when a hunter crouching in heavy brush stood up and shot past the horse she was on. The horse reared and bolted, she hit the ground and had to walk back to the barn. The hunter never checked to see if she was okay. Another woman in the Snow Belt had a hunter respond to her "Excuse me, but this property is posted" with "How are you going to make me leave?" Maybe it's just been weird luck on my part, but people in every place I've lived have had similar stories.

#96 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2005, 12:37 PM:

I live in West Virginia, too. (There are actually three of us here?) Weirton, which is in the Northern Panhandle, about five miles across between Ohio and Pennsylvania. Perhaps due to that accident of geography, most of the reckless shooting stories I hear during hunting season seem to come from Pennsylvania. Often the stories are about "stray" bullets going through walls of houses, barely missing sleeping babies. The news reports don't usually actually say the hunters have been drinking or were careless about posted boundaries or don't know the difference between a cow and a deer -- indeed, at the time of the report, the State Police or Game Commission usually haven't figured out who shot the house -- but weird stuff happens now and then in hunting season.

(I'm not putting down hunters in general, mind. My dad and uncle used to go hunting, and some of my nephews still do.)

Of course, this is much different from trained officers in an elite division of a major metropolitan police force where only select personnel even get issued guns.

Isn't it? We hope?

#97 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2005, 01:45 PM:

I'm an EMT in a northern New Hampshire community. Hunting is a major deal here. And New Hampshire has very liberal gun laws. Before that I was in the military.

Folks, hunters (and others) do Really Stupid Things with firearms.

#98 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2005, 02:13 PM:

Curiously enough I've taught Hunter Safety. I've even heard a negligent shooter blame the man he shot for looking like game.

I can tell you true stories of freedom rider days in Mississippi when members of the minority race kept guns in the living room to keep down night riders. See again Restricting Handguns the Liberal Sceptics Speak Out and the history of gun restriction in the United States as part of the black codes. Ask Roy Innis why he was elected and served on the NRA Board so long.

Kevin Andrew Murphy I shouldn't have to point it out, but the cop's marksmanship was not at issue here. ... One man was killed by five rounds to the back of the head at point blank.

I read in the news "Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes, 27, was shot seven times in the head and once in the shoulder, at Stockwell Tube station, south London, on Friday." BBC, London & NY Times etc.. Not that it matters to the decedent but taking news reports as true may lead to premature conclusions - just like taking people for game (see "early blur" for the dangers of fixing on facts that aren't there). Likely enough if we had Ghod's algorithim we might say one bullet killed him but as it is the inquest might not be able to say which one.

at least it's pretty hard to get hold of the guns in the first place"

Not really, see the history of zip guns, read Diderot's Encyclopedia (French or translation) or Foxfire 5 for all the instructions to make black powder guns at home. A shotgun shell, a piece of pipe, a piece of wood and a nail will make a fine Phillipine Guerilla gun single shot shotgun.

Racial profiling can be funny if you take it right - I've an acquaintance who might be described as Spanish Moorish - more Catholic than anything else but a strong Mediteranean appearance. His wife is a red headed white skinned Irish lass. Entering England he used to get a free pass while she got searched. Other places of course he got searched. In the past they each found it amusing - maybe not so much anymore.

#99 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2005, 02:49 PM:

Comparisons between the attitudes toward guns in the UK and the US are essentially meaningless. In each place, the guns are the subject of so much cultural baggage that one can barely see the metal. I've lived in the gun-saturated Northern California wilderness (Humboldt County) and in the UK, so I know what I'm talking about here.

In America, of course, gun ownership is a Constitutional right. There's almost a patriotic undertone to the owning of a firearm in some areas. It's true that people die who would not have done if there had not been guns around, but there are also (fewer, but nonzero) people alive who would have died without them. I know at least one such person.

On the other hand, the British take a real pride in having (thus far) opted out of street violence the arms race. This is changing in some areas, but for the most part, the unarmed bobby on the beat is as dear to the British as the Queen or a good cup of tea. There are areas where they substitute expertice with sharp things (knives, broken bottles, etc) for gunfire; mayhem exists everywhere. But the collateral damage is less.

You may gather from this that I prefer living in a less armed society. This is true. However, I do not pretend that we could (or should) disarm the United States, any more than I think that we should arm the United Kingdom. I find that conversations that advocate either tend to simply deepen the alienation between the two.

In other news, I see that a group of British Sikhs were taken off of a tour bus and handcuffed in Times Square (NY) on Sunday.

#100 ::: Emil ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2005, 02:50 PM:

Righto. I shall pop down to the corner shop for a tenn'orth of shotgun shells.

#101 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2005, 06:44 PM:

Folks, hunters (and others) do Really Stupid Things with firearms.

See, that's why I'm still skittish about changing my opinions on gun control. It's not the guns themselves, so much as the assholes, lunatics, and Very Bad People who get hold of them. If there were just some way of testing people to make sure they aren't some kind of monster or jackass or just plain log stupid, then with that in place we might not need any other controls, but there isn't.

And the gun manufacturers can't protect against stupidity. Make a gun with a perfect lock, and someone will decide it's too inconvenient and leave it off. People will defeat any safety feature people can invent, because people are stupid.

And against stupidity the guns themselves contend in vain.

#102 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2005, 06:45 PM:

A shotgun shell, a piece of pipe, a piece of wood and a nail will make a fine Phillipine Guerilla gun single shot shotgun.

Or, if you're looking for easier materials, you could use some kinds of weed killer mixed with sugar as your propellant, both available off the shelf in almost all localities, and nobody will think twice about it. Electric ignition is easer to arrange than impact if you're only after a single shot, and that's very easy to achieve too. Anyone with basic understanding of physics and chemistry and the inclination to think about these things could make one.

Guns are supposed to be hard to get hold of in the UK. Pistols and revolvers over .22 are completely illegal; you can't legally own one at all. Yet all you need is to either know the right person (if you live in the right kind of area you're almost certain to...), or know the basic priciples behind gun-smithing: then you can buy a decomissioned gun and restore it to working condition with relative ease (the firing pin will have been removed, but that's fine; you can still legally acquire those...).

And then there's a law currently in front of parliament that will completely outlaw the possession of imitation firearms that aren't obviously fake (presumably by the insertion of a brightly coloured stopper in the barrel). Interestingly, as far as I can tell, there is no exemption for dramatic purposes. Say goodbye to the British film & tv industry...

#103 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2005, 07:33 PM:

Clark: <sardonic>the folks who think all cons should be weapon free are only showing proper sense</sardonic>

Clark, I was an active conrunning fan through the period when most conventions decided to ban weapons; I was around for some incidents that could easily have gotten very ugly. What I'd like to say to you and your attitude would get me disemvowelled.

And your claim that one piece of questioned research proves that a great deal of academic research is biased is past laughable.

#104 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2005, 09:14 PM:

Actually I asserted that Michael A. Bellesiles for one side and John R. Lott Jr for the other side combined with their assorted attackers and defenders totals to a great deal of academic research at least one side of which is biased - which is I suggest likely correct and logically valid. On the off chance both sides are biased the dead tree total is a great deal indeed.

Feel free to believe false the assertion that a great deal of academic research is biased. Based on many years of inside observation I'd say research is often biased and academic politics is so dirty because it matters so little. YMMV

I'll grant you that for instance after the Atlanta World Con bid folks who were once great friends were at each other's throats - Phoenix Society and Middle Earth Rocket Club might bristle likes Jets and Sharks if they met at the premiere of a new movie. Doesn't even take a Weapons Con to create ugly incidents - cons do tend toward a critical mass.

I've worked Con Security with a team that except for me would have stacked up against the Mission Impossible crew - combat trackers to rank just behind Tom Brown and unarmed combat experts and computer hackers - we mostly agreed that worrying about weapons was a joke.

Myself I've got a nice red oak staff with a 14" blade in it (forged 1095 it's a real blade) but it's an elaborate joke - the staff is as much a weapon as the blade. Possession of a sword cane is a mandatory 1 year sentence in California - where do you draw the line between a sword cane, a Penang Lawyer and a true cane? a rattan staff actually chosen to be light and responsive in the hands of a skilled user - fencer or SCA makes no difference; my specific example is an athletic rapier artist college dean not a reenactor but it could be anybody.

Weapons free zones and peace bonds may well make some people feel safer. When ignorance is bliss tis folly to look at the blender blades in the con suite as tiger claws and the Everclear/Nuclear Waste/.... as fire starter.

#105 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2005, 01:06 AM:

Jules hasn't quite got the UK law right on handguns: .22 is banned too. But there are exceptions.

It is a complicated tangle, and there's always pressure to close loopholes; often seeming more than a little irrational.

#106 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2005, 02:51 AM:

Oh and CHip feel free to express yourself. You've made the ad hominem attack, beyond that words don't matter - now if you can express yourself in an amusing fashion somebody may give you an RASFW award with googoo clusters of peanuts and marshmellow fluff.

Extra points for an existence proof of independent references - not opinions - on the issue and double points for an example.

#107 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2005, 03:21 AM:

Clark -- your last two comments read very much as if you'd been drinking when you wrote them.

I speak from personal experience with such forms of writing.

And I'll stack my experience with working Ops at cons (see, why we don't use the word Security) against yours any day, and I think weapons-free cons are a Very Good Idea. If you don't know my name or experience, ask around a bit.

#108 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2005, 07:31 AM:

The relative merits of weapons at cons does not strike me as especially relevant to the matter at hand, in any case.

(. . . unless the thought was that if a terrorist shows up at your con you can blast them with your blaster replica?)

#109 ::: Michelle K ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2005, 09:03 AM:

Aconite and Lois,

It's possible--likely even--that I'm missing the news stories. Since the local Morgantown paper is atrocious beyond belief, I have a hard time getting good local news. Though I do hear a lot from co-workers and others in my building.

It also boggles my mind that people would use a lethal machine (gun, automobile) with casual stupidity. So maybe I'm blocking out the frequency of the drunks with guns (since there are plenty of drunks with cars).


I think the difference is being raised with respect for guns. Most of the gun owners I know are aware of the power of the weapons, and don't treat them casually. It's just the way they were raised.

I think you may be right to be wary, because if the average person just buys a gun as a random thing, without lessons on safety, or being raised with gun safety as part of their culture, then maybe they should be feared. Not that I'm saying that most people would be stupid, but I think that some popular movies and tv shows and videos games do treat guns casually, and give a false impression of their lethalness (in both directions).

#110 ::: Squrfle ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2005, 10:02 AM:

Ahh Michelle, I was just talking with a friend in Madison Wisconsin. She said that one of the recent shootings there happened because two teenage boys (17 & 19 years - not particularly young) were tossing a gun around... So, yeah, casual stupidity is out there. I've clearly grown up with more stupid gun user stories than you have but this one managed to floor me.

Squrfle (not that Elizabeth Northrup)

#111 ::: Squrfle ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2005, 10:27 AM:

A correction, apparently the 17 year old was a girl & she died.

Squrfle (not that Elizabeth Northrup)

#112 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2005, 03:45 PM:

Being raised to treat guns with respect is like being raised to treat anything with respect: Sometimes the lessons don't stick. And sometimes you're getting to see a lesson-in-progress.

Besides which, if being raised with something automatically made someone responsible and competent, every urban and suburban kid would be a safe and responsible driver upon turning sixteen and getting their first car--but watch out for those urban kids who only used the bus and the subway and have not been raised with cars in the house!

I know safe gun owners and safe drivers--not so remarkably, usually the same people. I also know some folk who I'd prefer to be in the next state when they operate either.

#113 ::: Michelle K ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2005, 04:16 PM:

Kevin Andrew Murphy,

I don't know many drivers who treat automobiles as dangerous machinery. In fact, it's mostly non-drivers who tend to see the danger of cars, as they're the ones who are almost run down. It's kind of my worst case scenario--people use guns thoughtlessly like they do cars.

Sure, people can miss any lesson that parents attempt to teach, but going hunting and seeing for yourself how a gun can be deadly is its own lesson. The destructive power of a gun can be made apparently more easily than the destructive power of a car. (The parallel of hitting a deer with a car is not one that I would recommend, from personal experience.)

#114 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2005, 04:42 PM:

Still sounds to me like C3I issues with divided authority fighting its own power struggles and Tony Blair acting as Public Information Officer for the Met

SIR IAN BLAIR, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, has revealed that armed officers have come close to shooting suspected terrorists dead on seven occasions since the July 7 bombings in London.
Senior Metropolitan police sources clarified Sir Ian’s comments as meaning that officers have come close to being ordered to shoot a suspect dead on seven separate occasions.,,22989-1710202,00.html

For cars see Niven: The Deadlier Weapon for weapons generally see also Niven and pacifists with only a communication laser (I did have a remote connection to the ABL airplane)

#115 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 01:03 PM:

Well, it appears that the British police not only cannot distinguish between Brazilian and Asian, but they also cannot tell the difference between an unseasonal quilted black bomber jacket, suitable for hiding bombs in, and a thin seasonal blue denim jacket. They also seem to think using a travelcard is the same as vaulting a turnstile. And they also don't shout that they're police--they just shout "Get down!" and when you do, they shoot you in the head.

They also seem to think that if they repeat the word "sad" enough, people will just think its sad, instead of "apalling."

#116 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2011, 06:09 AM:

Sir Ian Blair stepped down in 2008 after disagreements with the comedy mayor, Boris Johnson. His successor, Paul Stephenson, just quit over the phone hacking affair.

#117 ::: Niall McAuley sees chinese spam from someone's monitor at #117 ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2011, 03:22 AM:

Anyone got a monitor made in China? It seems to need some attention.

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