In which our intrepid hero shoots spitwads in the War on Terror.

Seventeen (or is it fifteen?) people have been arrested in Sydney and Melbourne on terrorism charges recently; you’d have read about it in the papers, seen it on the news, overheard it mentioned on the train. There may or may not have been an imminent risk of a terrorist attack in Sydney and/or Melbourne, and although all arrested were Muslim extremists of unknown affiliation, Islam apparently has nothing to do with it.

Well, I’m glad we got that sorted out.

An interesting little tidbit, though, that Phillip Ruddock let slip out, was that the Sydney arm of the operation (which may or may not have been associated with the Melbourne guys) were building bombs from an explosive called TATP.

(I won’t go into how you make the stuff—which might cause national security issues—but you can do it with readily available household chemicals. If you’re really interested, look it up on Wikipedia. Just don’t tell them I sent you.)

I’m not the world’s most astute former chemistry student, but when Ruddock mentioned two of the raw materials for TATP, something clicked in the back of my head: TATP is an organic peroxide. The Germans used organic peroxides as binary rocket fuel back in WWII.

For the uninitiated, binary explosives work like this:

StuffA + StuffB ==> GET THE HELL OUTTA THERE!

Now, these guys are pre-mixing an organic peroxide, and ignoring the fact that the end-product is ridiculously unstable. TATP isn’t called the "Mother of Satan" for nothing.

Essentially, it’s like carrying around a hand grenade without the pin, and hoping it doesn’t blow up until you want it to. Suicide bombing aside, these guys are not insane; they’ve moved beyond Crazy and well into the satellite suburbs of Stupid.

I heard this morning that police found fifteen bombs’ worth of TATP in Sydney. I’m not sure how much this is, but you don’t need much before TATP spontaneously explodes. They might’ve found as little as a Coke can’s worth, for all I know.

If you’re storing this much TATP, then there are only two ways to keep it stable: keep it wet (which only helps slightly) or keep it cool. Given the weather in Sydney lately, perhaps the easiest alternative that the police/intelligence communities could’ve used is simply to cut the power. And then politely inform the alleged terrorists’ next-door neighbours that their new in-ground pool has just been excavated, free of charge.

Get Angry Anderson to do it, and it’ll look like a charity.

Now, if we cross to the other side of the globe, we find the US Congress debating whether or not to allow government agencies to use torture. Which is not such a bad thing, I guess. Maybe they can stop executing people, too—but I digress.

Vice President Dick Cheney is trying to get the CIA excluded from this blanket ban. I never thought I’d say it, but he kinda has a point. (And at least he isn’t farming it out to a Halliburton subsidiary, for once.)

This all comes in light of Abu Ghraib. It should be noted that Abu Ghraib was exceptional for a number of reasons:

  • Firstly, Bush’s overcommitment of US troops to overseas operations meant that reservists had to be brought in to fill the REMF roles (sorry, Roger, if you’re reading this—I know how you hate the term) that hadn’t already been outsourced to private companies. These reservists generally had no training in corrective services, let alone running a military prison or interrogating prisoners.
  • Secondly, the prisoners in Abu Ghraib weren’t strictly civilians; we’re not talking the same deal as the Pinochet regime in Chile. They were people of intelligence interest—which meant they were the upper echelons of Saddam’s military and government. Many of these guys were intimately involved with gassing and torturing Iraqi civilians. It’s a bit rich for a mass murderer (or accessory to mass murder) to cry foul on his treatment in prison.
  • Thirdly, the US Army still has military objectives, and one of these is maintaining public safety. Remember, these guys aren’t exactly shy about killing their countrymen—they’ve killed more Iraqi civilians than they have American soldiers, after all.
  • Lastly, you have to get the information somehow, and it isn’t going to happen if the hardest question you can ask a prisoner is whether they like sugar in their tea. Saddam loyalists aren’t going to give away secrets when asked politely, and the insurgents are competent enough that they don’t telegraph their moves. Their operations are very low profile, as a rule: you can buy the ingredients to make TATP at your local supermarket, and making botulin is about as difficult as brewing beer—the only hard bit is getting the clostridium botulinum to start the reactor off, and all you need for that is to buy enough dented cans from the bargain bin.

I’m not a big fan of the Bush government, nor do I support torture, in principle, but I have to give the point to Cheney and the CIA in this case.

Left-wingers will be foaming at the mouth by this stage, so I guess I’ll have a dig at the Right.

Let’s be honest: we’re at war in Iraq—against Iraq. It isn’t a police action, or a peacekeeping mission: it’s a war. The Coalition forces invaded the country, and now they occupy it. Most Iraqis don’t want us there; the only ones who do are generally corrupt and getting rich because of the war. We’re not there solely for the Iraqis’ benefit: Dubya didn’t deploy tens of thousands of troops to the Middle East to give everybody a hug. The Iraq conflict isn’t some divinely inspired, internationally mandated pre-emptive strike on an international terror hub—it’s a colossal, unilateral clusterfuck that’s created an international terror hub.

Stop being so precious and, in your own way, politically correct about it. You did this, you screwed up and now we have to wear it.

To finish, let’s bring things full circle, and talk about fundamentalist morons again.

Last night, I saw a piece on the resurgence of creationism intelligent design on TV. Not only are creationists advocates of intelligent design building… ahem… scientific theme parks to sell creationism intelligent design in the States, demanding equal time with evolution in science classes and generally encouraging everyone within shouting distance to firmly ram their heads up their collective butts and ignore the last two or three centuries of scientific progress, but they’re starting to bombard Australian schools with DVDs on creationism intelligent design, too.

The Vatican has just released a statement that evolution does not contradict Christian doctrine. It’s a pity, though, that it will have little effect on the creationist intelligent design crowd. You see, the latter believe that not only was Darwin (incidentally, a clergyman) a thrall of Satan, but that all Catholics are as well.

Evolution has several million pages of palaeontological and biological evidence to back it up. On the other hand, creationism intelligent design only has a dodgy interpretation of the Bible. A really dodgy interpretation, in fact—and most of its adherents have never really read the thing.

Their sole "proof" of creationism intelligent design is that the Bible is the word of God, and so it must be true. To be blunt, these people put a literalist reading of the Bible ahead of all else, and this is a form of idolatry.

If I remember my Pentecostal upbringing, you go to Hell for that. And—again, thinking back to the fundamentalist crap I was fed as a child—get to keep all the sinners and Muslims and Jews company. As if the sinners and Muslims and Jews haven’t suffered enough already, they have to put up with self-righteous, hypocritical and willfully ignorant Pentecostal fundies in the next life, too.

Now, that’s punishment for you.

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