Photo: An example of some of the frightening posters on the underground now, citizen.
Put simply, the only choice an officer may have may be to shoot to kill in order to prevent the detonation of a device
— Sir Ian Blair (chief of the London Metropolitan police) in a letter to the Home Office.
I was watching the news this week when Mrs. Menezes, the mother of the 27-year-old Brazilian who was gunned down by our police forces as he went about his daily life, came to visit London. She was shown the underground station near Tulse Hill (I was at a party nearby earlier in the year) which police stormed and the platform where they entered the train before shotting Jean Charles in the head a total of 8 times. Her tour included the control room with many cameras which apparently were conveniently out of operation at the time of the event. Quite rightfully, her story has featured in the news this week (although not as much as it should have) as she calls for Sir Ian Blair to resign (he should). Ian Blair represents one of those dangerous elements in our paranoid society today and his many statements continue to bother me greatly. He states that it is somehow reasonable to expect to have to murder more innocent people in the fight against terrorism, something which until now I had only heard the US and certain Middle Eastern countries outwardly sanction. Certainly not something I expect where I live. I’d rather take my chances as a free person than live in a police state which thinks dangerously like this.
A question of sanity
I was in Germany again last weekend, as you perhaps saw from my writeup of the Oktoberfest. While that was all really enjoyable and I found the weekend to be wonderfully diverting, it wasn’t quite enough to prevent me from feeling angered by what happened at the airport. After going through airport security twice (once to get through to the gate, once to go back through and purchase a bottle of water because no provision was made for water beyond security – utterly disgraceful) at Hannover and almost completing my transfer at Frankfurt, I reached an extra security checkpoint. A sign before it stated that due to increased US security we would need to go through this extra check. I of course objected and approached one of the security personnel, stating that I was not planning to travel to the US on this occasion and so was uninclined to pander to their hysteria in order to get to my UK-bound flight. They told me I had no choice and must subject to the procedure regardless. When I then repeatedly asked who was reasonable for this farce and how I could put my compliant into writing, they were unable to tell me who was reasonable for the security measure. [Added clarification: what I'm getting at here is that I had a complaint and was not allowed to make it, not that I was interested in causing hassle for the people at the security point.]. Staff at the gate later agreed with me and told me that the UK had also asked for this – who in the UK? I hadn’t. I never elected anyone with the intention that they ask for special treatment. I certainly didn’t expect the UK to allow the US to take all blame – if we’re going to be nationalised fuckwits then we might as well have the UK take some of the credit.
The truth is, I didn’t need to go through security an extra time at Frankfurt. If the authorities are unhappy with the security checkpoints at other airports, then they should redress that particular issue and not make passengers suffer the indignity of a pat down (which I and everyone else also had to have on this occasion). I of course was as unhelpful as I could be without obstructing their process – if they won’t tell me who is in charge and allow me to make a complaint then I’m not inclined to make their job any easier. It’s as simple as saying “I don’t know, but I can call someone to come and speak to you about it” – but instead I’m expected to shutup, stand in line (like a good Briton) and just take whatever they throw at me without making any particular objection. No thanks. I don’t trust my government to make decisions which are to my general benefit and I really dislike it when they deem those decisions so important that nobody can question them. Call me whiney if you like.
I went to the Indian embassy yesterday to pick up a visa for my friend’s wedding. On the way, I was on an underground train sitting opposite a Montreal guy who lives in Ottawa. Wondering what the chances are of having a random discussion about one of the best places I’ve been too, I gave the guy some advice on how to maximise the time he had available. When I got to the High Commision of India at India Place on Aldwych, I got my first exposure to a notorius beurocracy of which I have heard stories. Surprisingly then, it took only around an hour to get a visa sorted – not too bad really. As I waited in a musky old room filled with old metal furniture (some of questionable safety) I looked around and spoke to one or two people, trying to get a sample of the kinds of people who were there. You had travellers, businessmen, families, people visiting sick relatives, the whole cross-section one might expect. I learned a few things too – they have no change machines so when you’re waiting you’ll need change to use any of the facilities, they don’t take credit cards (luckily I had my 30GBP in cash) and they seem to default to 6 month visas for tourists like myself so there was really no point asking for 1 month and 1 entry.
After I left the embassy and had more sushi for lunch (I really quite like it now) at Kanton, I headed over to the British Museum and took a stroll around the Egyptian and Greecian permanent exhibts. I enjoyed seeing the Rosetta stone and must admit to generally being awestruck by such things, and found learning more about the questionable activies of Lord Elgin to be quite interesting. I have been to Athens, so seeing bits of the Parthenon at the Acropolis strewn all over the place was made even more interesting. I had decided not to spend long in the museum but would recommend popping by if you’re in the area – there’s also what looks like a nice little cafe there and the building itself is fascinating (I asked some of the curators about the building itself). There’s a recommended 3GBP donation when you leave but no entry fee for the main exhibits – and a BP sponsored Persia special exhibit which is discounted if you go buy enough coffee at Cafe Nero.
I headed over to Oxford Street, checked out the new ipod nano at an Apple reseller and went into Foyles for some book relief. I left the store having met another Linux person who is into some of the same things that I myself an in to. I also managed to leave with a couple of books – one copy of the 911 Commission Report (bedtime reading) and a Teach Yourself French Grammar title which I hope to use to improve my basic understanding ahead of any potential TEF I may take in the future to prove this. On the way back to Paddington, I boarded a train which was subsequently boarded by a few police officers. Got me thinking again about how I’d handle being one of their random search victims.
UPDATE: What else is wrong with this country? Banning a radio advertisement because it has a “squish” sound of a man having a prostate exam. Some conservative British idiot probably made that judgment without bothering to exercise any particular level of thought.