Killing Time

One week late to the day, I’m loading this up from Heathrow just as my flight is being called. China has many wonders, but freedom of speech isn’t one of them. I couldn’t log on to WordPress to post my blog, and after multiple tries I gave up. I sent a text message to Europe after shooting the file over on ftp, but the SMS didn’t get through. Twice. Whatever tools the government uses to control information flow, they must be state of the art.

Tomorrow is the tenth anniversary of 911. All sorts of details have been coming out of the woodwork in the past week, including a supposed call from Putin to Bush on September 10th warning of an imminent attack. The American president apparently went to bed at ten in the evening of that day and slept soundly.

 I’ve been on a bit of a crazy travel schedule, and dreaming of sound sleep myself. I’m inside an ageing Boeing, waiting to take off on a flight operated by Shandong Airlines. Last time I flew with them we missed the runaway twice, but that was a while back. Shan means mountain and dong means east, so I’m heading for the province of the eastern mountain. The Chinese are very into their cardinal points.

 If my body still thinks it’s on US time, then it’s just gone half one in the morning. If it adjusted at all to Western Europe, then it’s going on for 7 am. China doesn’t do daylight saving, so right now the jet lag is only seven hours. In fact, since Mao’s time, China maintains a uniform time throughout the entire country, symbolic of the unity of Zhonghuo, the Middle Kingdom. But while my body clock is advancing as I work my way east, so the cost of living is decreasing in the same direction. But don’t be fooled: inflation in China is running at around 6%, and some analysts believe the economy needs to grow at around 7% per year to avoid social unrest.

 Falling asleep at airports is a recipe for missing your flight, but I’ve been struggling at Beijing’s Capital Airport. I delayed lunch in the interest of killing time, and just consumed a delicious bowl of beef chili noodles and a beer, a kind of alcoholic’s comfort breakfast; it cost me about five bucks. As a counterpoint, there’s a Shanghai Tang store on the other side of the concourse where a shirt costs 1230 RMB, around 190 bucks. Ouch!

Chinese hospitality at its best, featuring an illuminated horse

 The U.S. was besieged by 911 fever when I left, and I imagine it’s even worse now. Ex-military personnel are pontificating on every TV station, and the NYC subway was rife with “see something, say something” warnings. Mayor Bloomberg was on CNN yesterday when I flew through London, with the same message.

Since 2001, the U.S. has been in a state of permanent war. There was a very interesting article about this in the Washington Post, suggesting that peace was no longer on the agenda at all. The rhetoric has certainly shifted in that direction―the emphasis is on bringing troops home, not on peace. There’s no doubt that in this era of assymetric warfare, wars cannot be won in the classical manner, which means that the approach taken by America in Iraq and Afghanistan is also condemned to failure. The theory, developed by neocons, that liberating totalitarian Arab states from dictatorship would reduce terror threats to the U.S. is as implausible as Al Qaeda’s aim of building a new caliphate.

Democracies are a fruit of a mature population, and they do not thrive well within a religious framework. For that reason, it seems highly unlikely that the revolutions of the Arab Spring will do anything but collapse into some oligarchic model―either of religious rule or against it. Aiman al Zawahiri, the current leader of the base (it actually means the database) rejects electoral results, under the premise that if an elected government does not practise Sharia law, it is disobeying the laws of God, and must therefore be legitimately removed. And then there’s the oil issue, the vicious cycle of the resource curse.

If there’s a will, then more attacks on the U.S. and Europe are certain. We are so easy to penetrate that it’s almost infantile. When I went up to New York I took the express train from DC, and noticed there are large parts of the track which are unfenced, so access is easy. No European airport has an x-ray scanner in the arrivals area. Or the departures concourse. The New York subway is so permeable that a Jamaican guy can lay out a full kit of steel drums on the platform at Port Authority.

In many ways, the financial bloodletting of America is Bin Laden’s victory. The curse of eternal war and eternal debt. The disenfranchised youth of Islam is so vast that there will be no shortage of candidates for terror actions. The dual lures of doing God’s work and the lurid delights of paradise are a heady potion. The materials and means to strike are cheap and accessible, as shown recently in Norway. And western societies are open. In the days of The India Road weapons were proportionate to people, nowadays death can easily be a one to many relationship.

Wise words from a Chinese bathroom

 And terrorism is steeped in Monty Python’s Welsh martial art of Llap Goch: attacking people who haven’t even thought of attacking you. My thoughts go out to that day ten years ago, and to the poor people who died from the brutal Sunday punch.

The India Road QR links for smartphones: point your camera and click.


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