We've been away. Mostly trying to keep the red flag flying at the Grauniad, since we got thrown out by the Beeb.

But we've also (as some may have guessed) been a bit poorly in that time, and maintaining a blog seemed to count among one of life's many irrelevances. Yes, OK, maintaining a blog is on the whole one of life's major irrelevancies when one comes to think about it.

However, maybe the time has come to get back to posting the Squirrel point of view again in less random a fashion than can be done on the various Grauniad CiF threads. (Squirrels do not like dispersing their hoards too broadly. We like to keep track of them.)

Friday, 14 June 2013

What Did the Romans do for Us?

Went off to the British Museum’s ‘Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum’ yesterday, and it is, as my friend said, simply stunning.

It’s not an exhibition, it’s a drama. And like the best drama, a disarming beginning, full of sub-plots, surprises, comedy, sex, and, even though we know what’s coming, even if we’ve never read the Younger Pliny’s description of watching the disaster from across the Bay of Naples, a terribly tragic ending. 

What the BM’s done is transform the inside of the old Reading Room in the middle of the Atrium into rooms of a house in Herculaneum, from the street, through the living rooms, bedrooms, kitchen, the garden, even the loo. It begins with the famous ‘Cave Canem’ mosaic of the snarling guard dog with it’s collar. But there too, is the real dog; caught choking in the storm of ash. And you realise suddenly, that mosaic could be a photo from an album.

That’s what’s stunning about it. There is so much about the daily ordinary lives of the Romans of Pompeii and Herculaneum of 2,000 years ago, that is not so different at all to what you might expect in Notting Hill in London around 2013. Except that the walls tend to be rather bare of pictures and especially colour.

Though, even in Notting Hill, not many people display wall-size pornographic pictures of copulation in positions you might not find even in The Joy of Sex in their bedrooms without raising an eyebrow or two.

Nor have a statue of Pan screwing a female (and apparently happy) goat on their patios. That, in 2013, we leave downloaded on our laptops or iPads. The Romans of Pompeii and Herculaneum were decidedly less furtive. 

And visitors who ask if they can use the loo before dinner, might, even in my part of London, be a little bit taken aback if I had a very realistic painting of a squatting naked man next to the lavatory with the words "Beware the Evil Eye on you while you shit" below it.

But it’s some of the little, more ordinary things that are striking. From a wooden cradle that might have come from Habitat or Heal’s, to, in a kitchen which was startlingly small—of the cramped dimensions one has come to expect in even large-ish flats (and no doubt similarly expensive to the house in Herculaneum that’s the model for the BM’s exhibition) in this part of London—a beautifully crafted colander.

One of the odd surprises, in fact, is to discover how small, and often delicate, so many domestic objects were. That colander seems barely larger enough to wash more than a handful of spinach. Most of the oil lamps can barely have delivered the light of a tea candle. Pots and pans barely big enough to boil a couple of handfuls of beans.

The colander may seem an odd object to find as striking as a thick 600 gm gold bracelet, but it was smaller and shallower than the stainless steel one in my kitchen; and the drainage holes were tiny, no larger than pin-pricks, and arranged in a much more complex and beautiful petal pattern. Now there, the BM shop missed a trick: I’d have bought a replica of that, just for the sake of seeing such elegance in such an ordinary object.

The long, thin bronze lamp stand from the Roman living room? I’ve got one of those anyway. Well, from a few yards away, I could have been looking at the tall slim black halogen lamp in my living room. . .

And there are even the equivalent of the photos my grandmother kept. Two fresco portraits of teenage boys proudly holding scrolls. It’s impossible not to imagine them—though we can’t know this—being commissioned by proud parents the day after they’d won a school prize. Or, perhaps, a proud celebration of being (like me) the first in the family to graduate from ‘college’ as my granny called it.

And then there are the elements of public life. The famous cartoons on the wall of a bar of the dice players accusing one another of cheating, one calling the other ‘You cocksucker’ and the barman telling them if they want to fight they’d better go outside. . .Somehow very, very familiar to someone who’s lived near a small club most of my time in London and has heard and seen just that sort of row at 2 or 3 am at least once a fortnight for years and years . . .

Or, if you live in a somewhat more suburban area, there’s the little plaque that must be a relic of a neighbourly dispute, and is replicated numerous times in rows over too high Leylandii hedges and encroaching fences. One one side “From here, this belongs to so-and-so” and the other “This is all mine.”

And the end that, like the end of a stage tragedy that sends you away shocked and silent and very thoughtful about mortality?

It’s a small 'stage' containing the plaster casts of a family. A man, woman and two young children caught at the very instant they died, cowering in fear in a small alcove in their home hoping for survival in the pitch dark. Perhaps with a tiny flame, no greater than that from a match, from one of those small pottery oil lamps flickering as their last and only comfort except for each hugging one of their children. Just, perhaps as an Oklahoman might in a tornado, or as a friend of mine did in rocket attacks in a war.

The parents are falling backwards. The younger child has died quickly, perhaps having tried to run from the father in panic in the last moments, and lies on the floor. The other child is trying to jump from her falling mother’s lap. She was found having died a second later desperately scrabbling at the wall trying to get out. It is a horrific tableau.

The more so, because we know now that child would have been put to bed once in a cradle like the one we’ve seen, by the light of a pottery oil lamp like many we’ve looked at. Though perhaps not the one of Bacchus with the flame coming from the end of a fat erect penis, which perhaps was a night light her parents kept by their bed.

She might have been comforted one night after being woken up frightened by the shouting of two drunken men in the street. Or helped a kitchen slave wash lettuce in that colander. Perhaps had gone every morning with another slave to buy a loaf like the one we’ve seen, baked ready with his name on it for collection, from the bakery of the couple whose portraits we’ve looked at.

She probably watched her mother do her makeup in the mornings from the array of cosmetic bottles, perhaps laid out on the blackened, but intact, chest of drawers. Or admired her jewellery, the thin delicate necklaces or ear rings. While putting on a pretty charm bracelet made of small stones on string of her own, like any child.

But, of course, for all that we mourn ordinary lives destroyed, then as now, other things have not changed either. The Romans had their bloody gladiatorial battles as we have our wars, and no doubt got equal vicarious satisfaction in the arena as some of us do from those Terminator films.

And they could not have their elegant and beautifully delicate bronze and marble statues around the house without slaves who often lived short and miserable lives, and who, mostly are hidden from us now. As we cannot have our decorative bits and pieces around us without workers in Bangladeshi factories and shanty towns, as disastrously collapsible as many of the equivalent Roman tenements in fact were.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Who's in whose Bed?

Amidst the tidal wave, not to say positive tsunami, breaking over everyone's heads as the US government desperately tries to convince 350 million people that getting lists of their phone calls, and now their emails, Facebook pages and blog posts is absolutely necessary to ensure their safety from terrorists, the inevitable happens.

Yesterday, we discovered how a terrorist was found (though no-one seems to be willing to explain why once found in Colorado, he had to be pursued all the way to NewYork, not by electronic surveillance and reading emails or collecting phone numbers, but by agents, still clutching his bomb) through this mass surveillance programme.*

Funny how, only the other day, this kind of information was far too secret for the public to know. Yet today, it turns out not to be so secret at all. And somehow, whereas just a few hours ago, a revelation like that in the media was supposed to be irresponsibly endangering 'national security', even tipping off terrorists to the methods that might catch them, and it might 'cost lives' now it is going to do none of those things?

And it isn't 'irresponsible journalism' any more?

But what is really shocking is who was given the job of 'declassifying' this 'secret' story so conveniently. According to the Washington Post, it was given to he world by "former FBI official and CBS senior correspondent John Miller."

That's not just a 'journalist' 'getting into bed with the government'. That's having an orgy of sex with it and getting the dog to join in. And the offspring has been more promiscuously spread around the US media than Messalina and Sylla's combined favours in the whorehouse.

I thought it was bad enough with so much of the US mass media being, apparently, pusillanimously eager to print almost whatever the government's publicists and spokesmen handed to them. But to discover that one—and how many more are there?—is effectively an 'agent in place' really plumbs the depths of a media I really thought had sunk about as low as it could.

But the cynical complicity of the press in its manipulation today (just look at the NYT's front page, or CNN, or CBS) is so downright transparent in its audacity it's positively breathtaking.

 It is hard not to think that time, space, logic, rational thought and even ordinary common sense have somehow just become warped and bent in a way even Einstein would be hard-pressed to devise an equation for.

* It's turning out that this is more of a 'plant' than it even looked. In fact (you can't avoid the language of spy novels) 'disinformation'. All the US authorities had to do in that case, it now appears , was monitor an email address (a Yahoo! one) given to them by the British police.

Through the Other Side of the Prism

With the latest revelations from the Guardian about the extent of the spying on ordinary citizens the USA has been getting up to, I have a little story. Which might be a little more meaningful than perhaps I thought.

Back on the 23rd of April, according to Yahoo!, the email account I use for this blog and as a regular commenter to CiF, was accessed from an IP address that wasn't mine. (And since I have never accessed that account from anywhere but home, could never have had any connection with me.) The trouble was, it was accessed with my password.

The interesting thing about that is that I'm very careful about passwords. I don't use the same one, or even varieties of the same one. Except that quite deliberately I did use the same one for my Guardian membership, this blog, and that email account. It is in fact, quite isolated from any others and is only used for purposes to do with this blog, the Guardian account and nothing else. It's not of course, under my own real name or anything like it.

The IP address I didn't recognise; they are not that difficult to find out about though, and this seems to have apparently only existed for one day in June some six years ago. According to Google Maps, it's also located (if you can trust that) in a bunch of trees just off a main road in a London suburb.

The last time I was in that suburb must have been nine years ago; and I certainly wasn't anywhere near it on the 23rd of April this year. I don't know anyone who lives in it. The only person who ever did that I knew, moved abroad back then. As far as I can remember, I've never been anywhere near that road, let alone under those trees.

I wondered what it might be that I might have done that perhaps provoked some hacker to want to look at 'Squirrelist's' emails. Looking back, it turned out that was, of course, just after the Boston Marathon bombings. The day before I'd written a few comments about it. I questioned, mostly, the US media reports which seemed to be relying far too much on those notorious 'sources who were not authorised to comment', or unattributable leaks.

It particularly looked to me as though far too much of what was being 'reported' was sometimes no more than hearsay, sometimes contradictory, some quite probably 'planted' under the cloak of anonymity for whatever reasons by whoever it might be. But clearly, we were not getting—as it subsequently turned proved, as one story after another was officially either 'corrected' or 'modified' or retracted altogether over the ensuing days and weeks—what I as a journalist would call reliable information. If I were to particularly unkind, I might call some of it misleading at best, almost propagandistic at worst.

(One of the worst 'reports' was on CBS News, when a 'reporter' pointed to a scorch mark on a road as evidence that the two terrorists had been hurling pressure cooker bombs at the police, thus justifying that massive armed response. I think I pointed out that that scorch mark was little more than you might make stubbing out a small cigar with your foot, or from a small firework. I have no real experience of bombs, except for once having nearly been blown up by one, but a pressure cooker bomb that did the kind of damage the two did in Boston would, I'm pretty sure, leave rather more of a mark on the street than a Guy Fawkes Night banger.)

I also questioned the massive armed response brought about to search for one, as it turned out, unarmed terrorist. Did it really require 9,000 armed near-paramilitaries from the FBI, ATF, Homeland Security, National Guard and police? With armoured vehicles you'd only expect to see in a warzone? With householders being harried out onto the street by shouting armed personnel at gunpoint with their hands above their heads?

I heard that night a BBÇ reporter saying that he had lived in Belfast throughout the height of the 'Troubles'—I knew people there too then—and he had never seen anything remotely like it.

Now, I'm not—trust me, I'm a journalist! Or was, I should say now, being retired from the kind of work I used to do—a fan of conspiracy theories, nor have I ever had any interest in hatwear made of cooking foil. You'll have to trust me, but even though I now suffer fairly badly from arthritis, as well as the spinal injury that made me disabled some years ago, I've never even worn a copper bracelet for it . . .

So, whoever hacked into my emails could quite conceivably have been some Guardian CiF reader who I'd pissed off at some time and had the technical knowhow to get in, and was, presumably, hoping to discover that 'redsquirrelfaction' had been comparing pressure cookers or was getting regular updates from 'Bin Laden Weekly' or regular dirty photos or something. That wouldn't be altogether unexpected. A contributor did once make a veiled reference to something I'd let slip on another blog, but since it was something I clearly didn't much care whether anyone knew of it or not, it never went any further. Not, looking back at my contributions, that I could see anything that might provoke interest.

And I didn't write anything about Boston, or the Tsarnaev brothers, on this blog until a week later. Before, in fact, I knew anyone had been trying to read my Yahoo! emails. Because it's barely used, I seldom bother to look at the account even once a month.  

So, the coincidence, especially now we're coming to see the proof (not simply suspect) of the extent of USA government agencies' internet snooping, looks rather striking.

Especially as there are only two potential sources for firstly, knowing that email account was connected with 'redsquirrelfaction' on the Guardian and those are Yahoo! and the Guardian. Both could have possibly been sources for finding the password. (It wasn't one a hacker would have much chance of deriving through one of those software programs that runs through a dictionary. I don't choose passwords that are in dictionaries. Or encyclopedias. And my own computers are swept for viruses and trojans regularly.) The other potential source, one might suppose, is Google and the registration information they would have for this blog.

Now, since I've had some involvement in the past with human rights issues, and those concerning a particularly troubled part of the world,  the possibility (or indeed probability) of my phone being tapped or my emails read, or my bank statements pored over, or my travel arrangements being scrutinised doesn't particularly bother me.

I was warned long ago, by someone who was in a very good position (and had held a highly responsible one) to know, to whom I turned for advice, I would be potentially laying myself open to all of that, and possibly worse. That's simply a risk you take (one in fact, which I took seriously but with a degree of scepticism at the time nonetheless: later events proved that I was quite wrong to have been sceptical at all) and which it would be foolish or naive to pretend or imagine didn't exist.

But, perhaps (and I'm not going to be any more definite than that) to be subjected to some (or possibly all) of that only because you made what ought to be read as a logical and rational number of public comments about elements of the US government's security apparatus, is not what one expects to be subjected to, if that indeed is what has happened.

As we've heard over the last few hours, US Congressmen, heads of security agencies and government spokesmen seem to believe that any one of hundreds of millions of people are potential suspects for something. Not necessarily last month, last year, or six years ago. But maybe tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, ten years from now, when any one of us will probably have forgotten whatever we might have done or said that at some time in that future, under whatever criteria that then obtain that may not have done a decade, a year, or even a month previously, made us 'suspects'.

And putting hundreds of millions of people under that kind of threat is supposed, by some exercise of warped logic I don't think even the Stasi in the DDR or Beria in the USSR, even ever tried to use, at least not so unashamedly and in public, is supposed to keep those same millions 'safe' and 'protected' from a different and, in fact, statistically unlikely and rare, 'fear'?

Monday, 27 May 2013

Comment is. . not so free, after all

As the Guardian has deleted comments from the public that have any connection with the murder in Woolwich wholesale 'for legal reasons'.

And no doubt will ignite any number of conspiracy theories and a good deal of anger anyway, by not (so far) getting around to explaining what those 'legal reasons' might be.

But (trust me, I'm a journalist) we are all in an odd situation, legally, with this.

What I am very carefully referring to myself as "a statement made in public" and "believed to be by one of the suspects" is just that. And no more.

(Neither, I think, has even actually been charged with any offence yet; the doctors still haven't given the police permission to interview them, so one has to assume that the most, legally, that's happened so far is that two men were arrested and cautioned—that latter is a guess, too, but it would be usual!—at the scene and that, legally, is that.)

I can navigate my way around the difficulty—I think! If I haven't, no doubt I shall be hearing from the suspect's lawyers one day—and any journos or commentators who're contracted by the big media would be assumed to as well; and if they've got into a bog somehow, they have lawyers that'll drag them out. We do not . . .

(Well, you may; I couldn't afford any.)

It's all different to having a video by a suicide bomber after the event which might realistically and legally termed a 'confession' or 'admission of guilt'; because that is 'fair game': it usually appears after they're dead and (obviously!) not going to face a trial anyway.

Where there might have been a bit of pressure applied to stop comments (though not such a wholesale massacre of them) is from the police muttering about 'risks to public order' to editors: given some of the (as usual somewhat disguised, but nevertheless pretty virulant) anti-Muslim stuff that people were posting. The neo-fascists are out and about as it is.

And judging from around where I live in London, many Muslims are scared; and I don't blame them. And two petrol bombs into a mosque in Grimsby don't help.

Update I (as Mr Greenwald would say):

"the two [articles] I wrote operated on the assumption that the two suspects were guilty of the murder."
Oh dear, oh dear. No-one can "assume" that. The two men currently in hospital are still 'suspects', no more no less. And must be assumed to be innocent until proven otherwise.

That, Mr Greenwald, famous advocate of 'civil rights' (and a lawyer?)  is their civil right.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Mine is the Vengeance . . .says Who?

People are very fond of 'ex post facto' arguments and explanations. That, for example, 9/11 'created' Islamic terrorism; that drone attacks create more, and so on.
But the initial impulse, as I have tried to suggest every now and then, is a thirst for vengeance and revenge; and that is common to both 'sides' whatever 'side' they happen to think they are on.
And this is true, not of individuals, but of governments and their populations too. And often, I don't think people (including commenters 'above the line' as well as below it) are not willing to acknowledge it.
In this case, a man being (literally) butchered on the streets of London, by people, who according to their own account seek nothing but revenge.
If you don't want to watch that video, this is what one of the murderers said (somewhat paraphrased, because I don't want to watch it again to transcribe it):

"I'm sorry women had to watch this. But women in our country" (we don't know yet which that is, but the man's accent is actually British) "have to see this all the time. None of you are safe. Your government doesn't care about you."
(And the latter sentence is something I hear propounded below this column often, too. The perpetuation and popularisation of that belief as though it's inevitable, immutable and unalterable can lead, not to that 'freedom' libertarians like to imagine is the only consequence, but to this kind of thing too.)
But . . .vengeance and revenge are undiscriminating. they do not apportion blame or responsibility to their victims .That man has told me (and the rest of us) that "none of us are safe".
And their actions make that literally true; the young man who was killed may have been a serving soldier; but he was wearing, according to witnesses, a T-shirt that related to a soldier's disability charity, which anyone, including me, since I'm disabled myself, might wear in general support on principles otherwise unconnected with  war or the consequences of war.

And which, in these blind terms of vengeance and revenge, could be turned into guilt,  'complicity' and 'responsibility' for actions and events someone might actually deplore, even be attempting to prevent.

He would not ask, no more than than perhaps some of those people who remotely pilot drones or order airstrikes or assassinations or devise bombing campaigns, if some of those on whom vengeance is wreaked, were actually against, or offended by, or made angry by, those acts of revenge which in themselves provoke vengeance in return.
Now there are going to be those who will (in response to this horrible incident in Woolwich) just going to say in one form or another "I told you so"; Mr Greenwald included.
But neither that, nor characterising all sorts of things just as 'terrorism' or 'mindless violence' or a matter of 'barbaric' or 'medieval' religion, or religion, or ethnicity or race, are going to help us to end this never-ending cycle of vengeance and revenge, until we all acknowledge that it is something that all of us should.
Note: I posted this originally on Greenwald's CIF in the Guardian;  but I'm tired now of, whenever I post a comment being taken to task for something I did not write, did not imply or did not infer, merely because it does not correspond precisely to what Mr Greenwald has written somewhere in his voluminous archive, and therefore I must be somehow making an implicit criticism, I'll probably, in future, restrict any comments I might want to make on any of his articles or responses to them, to this blog.

I've realised a little belatedly, that while one of the suspects now thought to be under arrest made a kind of public statement that's now in the public domain, the principle that no-one is guilty until found so in court by a jury still applies.
It's a bit unclear as to how this might affect comments people could make, in terms of prejudicing a future trial. I don't think we've come across quite this situation before. Therefore, any comments to this post will have to be moderated until someone better qualified than I works it out.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

One Call Leads to Another

I've been a little exasperated by so many people commenting on the US Department of Justice's seizure of Associated Press's phone logs.

Far too many, it looks to me, don't seem to quite grasp how it might affect them. "Nothing to do with us ordinary folks, it's just about those rubbish journalists." "Somebody stole a secret. That's a crime. You should investigate crimes no matter who it upsets." (Which usually accompanies "Who gives a fuck if it's only journalists they piss off, good riddance" or some such.) "Anyway, it's about terrrorism, right?" And of course, the infamous "If you have nothing to hide, you've nothing to worry about."

So, in response to one, journalism having been my profession for quite a while, I wrote this little story to try to explain what it can mean to all those 'ordinary folks' who have 'nothing to fear':

I (a journalist) once phoned you, because I'm doing a story about drugs and gangs. I happen to know—I'm not going to tell you how, because I promised confidentiality to my source: you see, I'm not giving my sources away to anybody, and that means both the police and you—someone I think is a money launderer once had contact with you.

You tell me, "Who? No. . .Oh, it's coming back to me . . .Think it was him I got a coffee maker from in a yard sale, oh, must be a year ago. Only thing worth buying in it. Never heard of him or seen him since."

I say, "Oh, right. Just wondered if you'd come across him. Sorry to bother you." Pity (from my point of view) you hadn't bought an SUV very cheap which turned out to have a hidden compartment under the seat, traces of cocaine on the dashboard and a forgotten Uzi in the glove compartment, but there we are.

Now, the FBI has grabbed all the phone numbers I've called, including yours. Not because they were interested in me, or in what I was writing about, but for some other reason altogether. They have also worked out, from some other numbers and people I've called, or who have called me, I was interested in this money launderer and this drugs gang.

But they break your door down at 2am, scaring your kids to death, making the cat run away out of fright, and haul you off in handcuffs with all your newly-woken neighbours watching telling you they 'suspect' you of 'having knowledge about money laundering and drugs.'

Because, you see, they assume I told you in that—to me, fruitless, and now forgotten—phone call, what it was all about. Or, because they're just making connections, and don't know exactly what I was asking you about, or what you told me, they think you might  actually be involved somehow. And they won't tell me they've arrested you 
in Paris, Texas hundreds of  miles away from me, because if they did, I might go "Who?", look at my contacts book, or just fish about in my memory, remember what it was about, and start asking—it's my job!— "Oh, really? That's interesting. Why? What's it got to do with? And how did you get on to this chap in the first place?" 

Now, I could, at this point, theoretically, get you out of jail. But unless they tell me more, and they probably won't, I can't tell them, just like that, "Oh he said he'd bought a coffee percolator from a money launderer in a yard sale." Because what you told me is confidential too. 

And I have to protect you. I've believed what you told me; but if word gets out somehow that a journalist was talking to you because he thought you'd come across a drugs gang and money laundering, that same gang might not and might get the idea you know more about them than you do too.

And, whatever you think of me as a journalist, I don't actually want to hear six months from now that because of that somebody nailed your cat to your front door and shot up your kids.

And I can't tell them I'm investigating money laundering and a drugs gang, because they;re going to start asking me how I know about it, how much I know and about my sources, and. . .well, we're back where we started when they first walked in on me. 

And if they don't know about my story, if I hand it over to them now, they're going to be on at me forever and a day telling me that it's now their investigation and I can't write about it. They might even up the ante and tell me I can't write about it because 'it's a matter of national security', I'll be 'imperilling one of fheir agents or informants', and so on and on.

They don't come and ask me, also, because they know I'm going to say: "You've no right to ask me. You need a court order, and I'll be arguing about that even after you've got one." But also because they're asking about something to do with a story I'm working on, I'm also going to get instantly curious and ask them what they know.

They're not going to tell me, probably, but they also know that I might be happily typing into a story that the FBI has been investigating, maybe even 'conducting a wide-ranging investigation'. And since I'm a bit pissed off at them, that they've arrested a one-time 'neighbour' who 'claimed' to have no other connection with the whole business than a coffee percolator, but that they declined to comment about it.

And—because they've really annoyed me and I do not like being threatened—that when interviewed (that is, me asking them questions, not the other way round any more, thanks for calling, guys!) they couldn't confirm their investigation was having any results so far apart from arresting someone in possession of a coffee percolator rather than a hundred kilos of heroin or half a million in used notes, and they couldn't confirm they'd actually taken a dangerous drugs gang off the streets, or were even anywhere close to doing it.

(Not the kind of story they or their bosses in Washington want to read at all, but then, like I said, I'm not best pleased with what they're trying to do to me. So, tough.)

As soon as they've buggered off, I'll be phoning your neighbours, friends, family, wife, the local estate agents, maybe even getting someone to look for the cat, to try to decide what you told me was true.

You have a far, far worse time than I do; after all, if I work for an organisation like AP, my editor will have quite a lot of very good lawyers he can call to my aid very quickly. You probably won't.

You could even, if my story has other ramifications the FBI or Homeland Security know about, but I don't, yet, and that's not improbable these days, end up being nicked for something like "having foreknowledge of terrorism and/or failing to communicate it to the authorities" or something like that.

If you're very lucky, I might write a little filler of a paragraph or two about "Possible gang member's neighbour arrested by FBI for buying a coffee percolator". It might see print; it might not. In any case, I'd only give that to my editor after I'd finished my 'big' story anyway because I don't want that gang to find out I've been asking around about them yet, either. By which time you
might well have been in jail for months. Sorry about that.

Even if they let you go after just a couple of days, if my little story about being arrested for being close enough to a drugs gang to get cheap coffee percolators from them hits Paris, Texas (that's not what I wrote exactly, of course, but you know very well, or should, that's what your neighbours, people at work, everyone you ever 'friended' on Facebook and your less forgiving relations are going to be saying because "there's no coffee without beans") things could get even worse for you.

Even if they aren't all saying out of the sides of their mouths when you walk past them "Ha! Very bloody likely! Coffee percolators? We know what he was really after that journalist didn't dare say right out, don't we?"

But hey, all you did was drop into a yard sale on impulse once and buy something from somebody you'd barely met.

But you're innocent; you've nothing to fear at all, have you? And I'm just one of those shitty 'lamestream media' guys nobody trusts anyway, so you'd never need me and you'll have forgotten my name and phone number long ago, won't you?

(Now I've 'translated' all this, because in my case it would be the Home Office, or Dept. of Justice, the Metropolitan Police, and the Anti-Terrorism Squad and Special Branch.)

Now do you begin to see why it's not 'much ado about nothing'?

At least, not to people like me. And, if you think carefully about my little story, not to 'ordinary people' either.

Because, and I know a lot of people won't believe me—partly because of Glenn Greenwald up there often telling you you shouldn't trust or believe people like me anyway—I do worry about things like this happening to people like you.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Boston: the real narrative

With conspiracy theories gaining ground daily here is a summary (partly taken from the official FBI Criminal Complaint) of what happened and when.

(It seems important someone try this, since most of the media has not corrected the numerous rumours and various mistaken statements since they first broadcast them or published them. A number of which have turned out to be misleading, speculation presented as fact, or just plain wrong.)

April 7: Man arrested at Hoboken New Jersey on train to New York carrying two explosive devices made of black powder' (the same as is presumed to be in the Boston bombs.) The arrest is kept secret until 26th April and remains virtually unpublicised. 

Between 2:45 and 2:49: bombs placed on Marathon route.

Two brothers on video at locations where bombs explode.

2.49 Explosions.

'Lockdown' of Boston area begins. Public events cancelled; a no-fly zone put in place; public transport stopped.

April 18: 5pm Pictures published. Public asked to help identify the two. It is unclear, however, exactly how the brothers were identified (if at all) between April 15th and April 19th.

(At some point, FBI find both brothers have Massachusetts driving licences; photos on record; but FBI had interviewed Tamerlan some years before. There seems to be no information as to where the brothers were, or what they were doing, between about 3pm on April 15th and 10pm three days later. At some point they are reported to have committed an armed robbery at a store; it would appear this report was wrong.)

Apr 18: 10:20pm shots heard on MIT campus; MIT policeman killed in car.

Apr 18: near midnight: Mercedes SUV and driver hijacked at gunpoint by elder brother in Cambridge.

Younger brother 'picked up at another location' says FBI. 'Something' (media reports assume this is a 'pressure cooker bomb) put in trunk. (Driver in broadcast interview says younger followed in another car—which we don't appear to know anything about—later got in.)

Drive to ATM, try to get money from victim's account.

Drive to gas station, where FBI says both get out of car. (Driver says in broadcast interview younger got out; elder stayed in. Driver escapes, elder tries to grab his him to stop him. Driver says ran to [another?] gas station, gets attendant to make 911 call.)

Both brothers photographed "at approximately 12:17am by a security camera at the ATM and the gas station." (Together? Separately?)

(In broadcast interview later, driver says they spoke Russian; he heard the word 'Manhattan': he 'assumed' they meant they were going to New York. He reports Tamerlan says he has killed a policeman.)

Towards 1am: Stolen SUV located in Watertown; they throw 'two small explosive devices' out of vehicle on Dexter Street. (A media broadcast showed a small scorchmark, about the size of a man's foot on road. Reports later say FBI found a 'fireworks detonator' in one of the brother's residences. Could the 'two explosive devices have been, effectively, fireworks? 'A large pyrotechnic' was found by the FBI at the younger brother's room at Dartmouth College.) The FBI charge says FBI "recovered two unexploded IED's, as well as the remnants of numerous exploded |ED's \from the scene of the shootout in Laurel Street." FBI says one exploded device was a pressure cooker bomb like those used at the Marathon; an unexploded one was a low-grade explosive in a plastic container 'wrapped with green hobby fuse'.

'A gunfight ensued in which numerous shots were fired'. One was 'severely injured and remained at the scene'. the other escaped in the SUV which was found 'a short distance away and an intact low-grade explosive device was discovered inside it.

(Reports first said gunfire exchanged; Tamerlan shot. Elder brother rumoured to be wearing explosive vest, and one or both heavily armed. Later revised: it appears Tamerlan had a single handgun, ran out of ammunition, walked to within ten feet of an officer, was tackled, forced to the ground by police, then run over by the SUV his brother was escaping in. Media reported at time wounds showed he had blown himself up. |Photos actually showed upper body wound. consistent with someone (probably lying face down or on his side) being run over and possibly dragged by a heavy vehicle.

Between 1am and 4am: Younger brother abandons vehicle. Watertown flooded by 9,000 (some reports said 12,000) heavily armed police, FBI, ATF agents and National Guard with armoured vehicles. Residents ordered to stay indoors and away from windows. Houses searched from daylight.

Apr 19 'evening': (about 7pm ?) when the police declared the 'lockdown' over and said it was safe for residents to come out; boat found disturbed by owner, sees someone lying inside (?) or blood (reports differ) who calls police. It is unclear when Dzhokar Tsarnaev was shot; probably around 1am; may have been hiding in boat, injured, since shortly after. That is, for more than 18 hours.

First official statement says this was outside the search area (where houses were entered by heavily armed police supported by armoured vehicles and residents including women and young children ejected forcibly with their arms raised); later corrected to having been inside it.

April 19 Approx 7-7:30 pm: Individual found in boat in Franklin Street. "After a standoff between the boat's occupant involving gunfire the individual was removed from the boat and searched." This 'stand off' lasted approximately 1 1/2 hours; a helicopter took infra-red photographs showing Tsarnaev lying near what may have been the engine casing. it began with a burst of gunfiire, reported by residents to be 30-40 shots; continued in silence; followed after some time by 'popping noises' which were probably flash grenades. Many bullet holes, 30+ seen in boat afterwards. Some reports claimed he got out of the boat himself, which seems highly improbable.) Enthusiastic media speculation he may be being left 'bleeding out. (A rather objectionable euphemism for "being left bleeding to death."

9pm: Boston police report 'captured'.

Dzhokar "had visible injuries, including apparent gunshot wounds to the head, neck, legs and hand." (Later reports say he was unarmed: no weapon found. in fact, from the beginning, the only gun seems to have been in the hands of his brother.)

25th April: Mayor Bloomberg reports brothers planned to bomb New York. (There is a peculiar coincidence here; shortly before the Boston bombings, a man of Ukrainian origin was arrested on 7th April in possession of two bombs actually bound on a train for New York. The arrest was kept secret until the 26th and there has been virtually no reporting about this bombing attempt. Curiously, while the two bombs would appear to be quite as lethal as the Boston ones, the man, Mykita Panasenko, has only been charged with 'endangering people and property' at the place where he made them. while Tsarnaev is charged with using a 'weapon of mass destruction'.)

There are a number of questions that really ought to be asked.

1) Were the two brothers actually equipped for a series of attacks? They appear to have had one additional bomb, which, though it is supposed to have exploded , either hurt no-one or possibly only injured the younger brother. Others look as though they were little more than fireworks.

2) If the elder brother had the only gun between them, ran out of ammunition and was tackled and brought to the ground by police, how did the younger escape?

3) Since he appears to have been injured and bleeding relatively early, why did that not appear from the vehicle he abandoned at around 1 am?

4) Was it really necessary to bring in 9,000 heavily armed police, FBI, ATF and all the rest to search for a single unarmed injured man? 

5) How did all those searchers manage to miss a tarpaulin covered boat in the drive of a house in plain view of the street and thus an obvious hiding place?

6) Was it necessary to conduct armed searches of houses, ordering whole families out of their homes onto the street with their hands above their heads? And why was this euphemistically referred to as an 'evacauation' when it was actually conducted as a military 'clearance' in a hostile environment?

In any case, what could the possible rationale for sending armed police to enter houses openly in search of a supposedly armed and dangerous terrorist? That would seem to seriously endanger the residents if an armed man had gained entry and was holding them hostage and be far from ensuring their safety; otherwise, the residents would presumably know, and this kind of entry would be unnecessary.

To those of us who have lived in cities where bomb attacks have been a somewhat more frequent occurrence, and (like me) have actually lived near where a police action occurred to arrest suspected armed bomb-makers in a house, this looked both dangerous and bizarre. (As it happened, I was only a hundred yards away when that particular operation began; the nearby residents were very quietly evacuated, and I, like nearly everyone else in the area didn't know anything of it until I saw a TV news item later that night.)

7) Who was responsible for the numerous erroneous or mistaken (and later retracted or modified) statements by the Boston police to the media? 

8) The inference is that those supposedly in charge had an inadequate control structure. In fact, who was supposed to be in charge, and, as much to the point, were they actually in control of or able to co-ordinate all the 9.000 involved? The confusion both at the time and since as to exactly what was happening where and to whom would appear to suggest not.

9) Were the brothers' motives as obvious as is supposed (i.e. motivated by religious and anti-US feeling?) They do not seem to have been as well prepared for a serious terrorist campaign as experience in other countries would suggest? (It would seem implausible that they had prepared only one other bomb, and that no store of materials appears to have been found, if they really had been planning a campaign in the public spaces of a city like New York.) One has to suspect that some grudge might have been more of an impetus.

10) How far was this exercise by the security forces a demonstration of extreme power and force? And, if that is what it was, was it aimed at future terrorists or the US population?

High Flyin' Squirrels, or High, Flyin' Squirrels?

I don't know if anyone else has noticed but they do seem to be falling out of their trees onto busy roads rather a lot lately.There were at least six on a two mile stretch of the A628 this morning. And they didn't appear to be squashed.. . .

On the other hand, it's not that long ago that some walkers noticed a bit of a funny whiff in the air as they walked down a lane from the main road.

Police were called in and they found a substantial mound of marijuana plants dumped in a field...

"Wagwan! Rusty, how you goin'?"

"Hey Tufty, look what I've found.
A whole load of shit, man!
Give me a hand and we'll drag a couple of these plants back to the tree.
Wow, we is going to have us a good time!

"Wow, like, crazy, man.
We gonna dry it or are we jus' gonna chew it?
It sure do smell good."

"Well I think we ought to test it out y'know.
Make sure it's okay.
Then we can sell it on to the brothers at, like, a few acorns a gram.
Hee hee, we is gonna be two rich squirrels."


"Oh, man, Tuft, this is just soooo gooood."

"Too right,Rustman, this stuff gives you wings.."

"Hey yeah, just like those flyin' squirrels man..."

"Yeah, flying squirrels.... I believe I can fly, I believe I can touch the sky..."

"Yo, man, I'm flyin... hey look at me fly... I'm flyinnnnnn..."


"Aw shit man, it look like you come down to earth with a bump. Watch meeee..."

(Later still.)

"Shame old Tuft and Rusty bought it. Funny how they both fell out of a tree.
Still best get on and clean out their nest.
Hmmm, wonder what this is, smells a bit funny.
Maybe it's one of those exotic herbs, they were into all that stuff, liked to spice up the acorn cutlet.
I'll just take some home and try it out, maybe put some on those old horse chestnuts..."
Posted on Boggartblog.(Thanks!)