Fear and Loathing in Lower Manhattan

Against my better judgment (there seems to be quite a bit of that going around these days), I’ve decided to engage with a post at the Urban Times that comes out against the Cordoba House Project in Lower Manhattan. Or, excuse me, the GROUND ZERO TERROR MOSQUE. Replies Nicolas Samson to my earlier objection:

My argument stems from a practical, pragmatic standpoint. I wish to avoid steaming [sic] ideology whether it is religious or secular, Christian, Muslim, republican, or liberal. My objections to building that mosque right now are just that, objections to building that mosque there, now. Freedom of religion has nothing to do with it. Bigotry has nothing to do with it. It’s all about the greater picture.

Freedom of religion has everything to do with it. That’s the entire point. Would you be just as opposed to a church, a synagogue, or a local chapter of the Richard Dawkins fan club opening up shop in the exact same spot? And what is the greater picture? Your objections to building a community center that includes a mosque seems awfully limited in its scope. The greater picture is who we are as a society and whether or not we can handle the consequences of our own rights and protections.

I sit down and ask myself, what is the coveted result? My answer is: An open-society America. Not a liberal America, not a kick-ass America, but an open-society America.

Well, you lost me when you decided that you didn’t want a kick-ass America.

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Full Steam Ahead

Talk about setting your sights low. The current Amtrak plan for the Northeast Corridor calls for reducing travel times – over the next twenty years – by 4 minutes between Philadelphia and New York, and by 20 minutes between New York and Boston. As one professor says, “Amtrak’s new plan leaves you with a really good early-20th-century rail system.” It’s not speedy by any stretch of the imagination, and you save about 50 minutes over the regional trains for $80 more. Hell, this is how sorry the current state of high-speed rail funding in the Northeast is:

Rep. John Mica (R., Fla.), top Republican on the Transportation Committee, criticized the administration for giving little of $8 billion in high-speed money to the Northeast.

“They practically ignored the region of the country where high-speed makes the most sense – the Northeast Corridor,” he said. The corridor received $485 million, or 6 percent, of the stimulus funding. [Emphasis mine].

However, because we are the world and we are the future, some students at UPenn’s School of Design have proposed a radical alternative: a true, dedicated high-speed system that would make the journey from Boston to Washington, D.C. just 3.5 hours. From Philadelphia to New York in 37 minutes. This is the direction we want to go. This is more than just lip service.

One of the more interesting aspects to the proposal is a new route for the Boston-New York stretch. Instead of the current shadowing of I-95, trains would follow the same highways that I take when I drive to New York, I-90 to I-91 to I-84 (though presumably these trains won’t take the Merritt Parkway). But then the route diverges sharply to the south and crosses underneath Long Island Sound in a tunnel before turning west again and continuing on to the city.

I love this for so many reasons. This is something we’ll actually use, putting people to work, and producing a end-result we can all be happy with and proud of. Most importantly, it’s big-picture thinking. It’s ambitious. It’s grandiose. And it’s entirely in keeping with the American way.

“We started with a different framework than Amtrak,” said Bryan Rodda, 26, one of the student authors. “Amtrak said, ‘What’s the best we can do to make sure it doesn’t fall apart?’ and then, ‘What is the best we can do with what we have to improve travel time?’

“We asked, ‘What can we do if we rejected the way it is now and do actual, true high-speed rail and get travel time below two hours?’ ”

The students proposed a remade Market East station to accommodate the high-speed train stop in Philadelphia, with another stop at Philadelphia International Airport.

They suggested keeping 30th Street Station for other train traffic and visualized a revitalized Market Street corridor between University City and Old City.

The students proposed that federal and state governments pay for the new high-speed rail line for the Northeast, along with private investors. They suggested money could be raised from gas taxes, interstate tolls, user fees, value-added taxes, and station-area sales taxes.

The economic benefits, the students concluded, would outstrip the costs by $70 billion.

Yes we can, pretty please?

Via INFRASTRUCTURIST.

Rep. John Mica (R., Fla.), top Republican on the Transportation Committee, criticized the administration for giving little of $8 billion in high-speed money to the Northeast.

“They practically ignored the region of the country where high-speed makes the most sense – the Northeast Corridor,” he said. The corridor received $485 million, or 6 percent, of the stimulus funding.

Treason Doesn’t Pay

…or so Vladimir Putin reminds us. As the ten accused Russian spies returned home, Putin said that their outing was a “betrayal,” and vowed that there would be “tough times for the traitors,” whose names the Kremlin is apparently well aware of. And he had a word of caution for those who would do the same:

Traitors always end badly. As a rule, they end up in the gutter as drunks or drug addicts.

Take note, would-be Benedict Arnolds or Vidkun Quislings! If you commit treason, you might as well be heating up black tar heroin in a spoon.

Via Bostonist.

The Spill

The Deepwater Horizon oil platform burns in the Gulf of Mexico.

As per my standard operating procedure, I should be studying for my final final exam on Russia/Eurasia tomorrow morning but will procrastinate a little more (productive procrastination, that’s my motto). Instead, I have a number of thoughts to offer on the ‘British Petroleum’ spill in the Gulf of Mexico. And it’s worse than we can imagine.

The Oil Drum has had some of the best recent coverage of the disaster from a technical and policy perspective. It also has some of the better commenters I’ve seen anywhere on the internet. Via BLDGBLOG comes a particularly chilling one:

The well bore structure is compromised “Down hole”.

That is something which is a “Worst nightmare” conclusion to reach.
[…]
All the actions and few tid bits of information all lead to one inescapable conclusion. The well pipes below the sea floor are broken and leaking.
[…]
What does this mean?

It means they will never cap the gusher after the wellhead. They cannot…the more they try and restrict the oil gushing out the bop?…the more it will transfer to the leaks below.

It also means that the entire reservoir area is growing weaker and weaker underwater, and that (here comes the absolutely terrifying part) “fracturing and a complete bleed-out are already underway. Rumors also suggest a massive collapse of the Gulf floor itself is in the making” [emphasis mine].

That means 2 billion barrels of oil just dumped into the Gulf of Mexico. It means an ecological disaster of biblical proportions as the oil is carried around Florida and up the eastern seaboard. It will end entire industries, ways of life, and…it’s pretty much unfathomable how bad this will probably be. We don’t even have the technology to stop the leak at this point; the best we can do is siphon off as much as possible and pray it doesn’t get worse. Continue reading

Libyan Thugs in the Heart of London, Cont’d Again

This is the last post I’ll write on the subject (probably), but it makes for a good distraction from studying. The exam’s tomorrow. This is how I roll.

Anyways, I got a lovely thank-you email from one of the Libyan protesters at the LSE last week. In addition to my writing, they made sure to credit my good friend the Hybrid Diplomat for his coverage of the event. The email also included links to a number of photo galleries that ‘their’ photographer had taken. Here is the Gaddafi contingent, glowering at the protesters and trading insults:

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi's coterie of bodyguards and thugs at the London School of Economics, May 26, 2010.

Compare that with the size of the protest:

Libyan men protest the Gaddafi regime at the London School of Economics, May 26, 2010.

More pictures are available in galleries here and here, though since receiving the email it looks like someone flagged the sites as “attack sites” (I would assume someone tied to the Gaddafi regime). They’re perfectly harmless. Also available as a special treat is a video of yours truly sitting with Fathallah, the victim of a Libyan beating:

Please distract me in any way possible; it’s only 16 hours until the exam.

Encouraging Signs from Britain

A LibCon unity government poster from the National Coalition Government of 1940-45.

Much as I despise the term ‘statism’, which like ‘socialism’ has been overused into a meaningless oblivion, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more suitable term for the Labour Party’s approach to governing Britain. For better or worse, Labour’s solution to just about every problem that popped up between 1997 and 2010 involved some kind of state intervention.

Most troubling (to my mind) has been the encroachment on civil liberties as evidenced by the dramatic rise in CCTV and the extrajudicial legal system created by various anti-terrorism acts since 9/11. The absence of handgun-bearing police officers has merely softened the gradual, insidious reach of the government. Thankfully, that era may be coming to an end.

The fledgling Liberal Democrat-Conservative coalition government has a number of fundamental disagreements, but one of their shared values is that of civil liberties, and gradually they aim to begin rolling back the state (Guido Fawkes would also like to see the Labour Party crushed for all eternity, but that’s not a preordained outcome). None of the Labour policies have been making us any safer, and it seems like this country is coming around to that conclusion.

Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, will shepherd a “Great Repeal” bill through the House of Commons. Under the bill, the National ID Card program will be scrapped. A whole host of other Labour programs are due to be severely curtailed if not outright canceled, including DNA retention, anti-terror laws, databases, and the omnipresent CCTV. Details include:

:: New legislation to restrict the scope of the DNA database, probably reducing the length of time innocent people’s details are held to three years as is the case in Scotland.

:: Changes to ensure members of the public can protest peacefully without fear of being branded a criminal.

:: Overhaul draconian and unpopular counter-terrorism laws to strike a fresh balance between protecting the public and civil liberties.

:: New laws to better regulate the use of CCTV, particularly by local authorities and to ensure internet and email records are only stored when necessary.

It’s a good start.

Libyan Thugs in the Heart of London, Cont’d

The attack of the other day is starting to get a little bit of play in the press. They all insist on characterizing it as a “brawl,” however. Last I checked, eight versus two is more of a beating.

The Guardian praises Gaddafi as a reformer, and as that paper now routinely does, causes me to throw up a little in my mouth. The Evening Standard is a little more even-handed, but still fails to distinguish between the attackers and the victim. Most accounts, though, like the AP’s, focused entirely on Gaddafi’s non-answer to the question asked him about the Lockerbie bomber. “He is very sick,” was all he replied.

Libyan Thugs in the Heart of London

Yesterday I found myself at the center of a small skirmish outside LSE’s New Academic Building. It turns out that Saif al-Islam Muammar al-Gaddafi, the son of Libya’s brutal dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi, was speaking on “Libya: Past, Present, and Future” (which is all pretty much the same thing at this point). Just to make sure we’re all clear on this, Saif is the same Gaddafi who:

  • Earned a PhD from the LSE in 2009, and wrote what must have been a mind-numbing dissertation on The Role of Civil Society in the Democratization of Global Governance Institutions: From ‘Soft Power’ to Collective Decision-Making?
  • Donated £1.5 million to LSE’s government department last fall.
  • Defended the seven Libyans convicted for the Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie as “innocent.”
  • Has repeatedly referred to the families of the Lockerbie victims as “greedy” and “materialistic.
  • Characterized the torture of six Bulgarian medics by the Libyan internal security as “negligence” and “unintentional.
  • Continues to claim the existence of any sort of functioning democracy in Libya.

So anyways, not your everyday humdrum speaker on global markets and the regional effect of oil prices in substandard peak blah blah blah…

But as I arrived with my good friend the Hybrid Diplomat (who has his own account of the madness inside), there appeared to be a fight in progress outside. From what little I could tell, an older man, a younger, larger companion of his, and an LSE security guard were attempting to fend off what appeared to be 7-9 well-dressed men. In the end, they managed to throw the old man into the street, repeatedly kicking him, before they were somehow dispersed by the lone guard. And all this with a very large crowd just watching (I’m ashamed to include myself in that).

Fathallah, 58, shows his arm after being attacked in the street by Saif Gaddafi's thugs on the London School of Economics campus, May 25, 1010. He had been wearing a jacket; this is what happened through the fabric.

I approached the man in the street, who introduced himself as Fathallah, 58 years old, and explained he was Libyan by origin, but was now living in London to escape from the death threats he faced at home. The men who’d beaten him were part of the younger Gaddafi’s coterie of around 40-50 Libyan men, who according to everyone I’ve asked, were essentially a planted friendly audience (scroll down) to Gaddafi once they got inside. But before they did, they managed to attack this man.

Naturally, there were no police in sight. Usually when there are, they are there as protection for the speaker (see Danny Ayalon). But for once it was the protesters in need of that protection. At most, there were nine of them total, holding signs on the other side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields and chanting “down with Gaddafi!” They were unable to do so until the police arrived, but when they did, they did so in force.

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Big Bust in the Big Apple

A police officer in a bomb suit examined a Nissan Pathfinder sport utility vehicle.

If you haven’t been following, a pretty poor VBIED was found in Times Square today after a t-shirt vendor notified a horse cop that there was a smoking SUV parked at a strange angle. Quick evac of the area and speedy response from the NYPD. Turns out it was in the midst of detonating, but was shoddily constructed and thus never actually went off. Possibly a downside to open-source warfare, etc. : you can have the plans and the equipment, but actually following those instructions may prove difficult. Ever try to assemble something from Ikea?

But so far, the reaction from Bloomberg and the NYPD has been pretty stellar. And no one is panicking a la the Pants Bomber. In this case, at least, failure as a strategy has proven to be no more than just a plain failure.

The vendor who found the bomb is absolutely Mr. Cool:

He said that he was reluctant to speak with members of the media because they had twisted his words when they interviewed him in recent years.

He got into the back seat of the taxi, took off his hat and used it to fan his face.

Before he left, he was asked what he had to say to New Yorkers.

See something, say something,” he said.