Peter Hartcher in the Sydney Morning Herald has a very good article on yesterday’s reaction in Australia to the cafe siege.
When I chanced to walk through Martin Place a little after 11am on Monday, I saw the police clustered closely around the Lindt Cafe. I saw the police cordon as I stood among some hundreds of onlookers.
The police evidently had the situation in hand. The crowd was curious, but might as well have been watching a busker for all the tension in the air. Some onlookers snapped photos. Some left as others arrived. The scene was perfectly calm.
It was only when I turned on the TV an hour or so later that I realised the magnitude of our dimwittedness. We were supposed to be terrified.
The Prime Minister led in shaping our responses. He called a press conference but had no information to offer on the incident except that he had held a meeting to discuss it. He took only one question, to explain that he had no details but that the NSW police did.
“We don’t yet know the motivation of the perpetrator,” he said, then freely speculated that he was politically motivated. It was “very disturbing”.
Indeed, the police operation seemed to me (from my vantage point locked in a building five blocks away) to be exemplary – buildings evacuated, police lines erected, negotiators brought in, calm officers on the television (notably, the exceptional Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn) telling everyone to stay calm and get on with their day, a “steady as she goes, freeing the hostages is our number one priority” press conference to end the day, all with remarkable efficiency.
Even the media did a decent job, even if, by mid afternoon, they had run out of people who might have been in Martin Place if they hadn’t missed their bus to interview, and had moved on to showing news stories about who was reporting what. By 7pm, when I got home, they had all been talking for so long that speech had descended into verbal soup. I swear I heard one newsreader (I’m looking at you ABC24) speak a single sentence that managed to mention international news coverage of the incident, the plight of the hostages, hashtags trending on the internet, ISIS flags, how muslims were mostly nice people who thought terrorism was bad, and Barack Obama’s senior security advisor in no more than thirty words. It was very impressive, but terrifying, so I turned it off and watched Martin and Saga find more dead bodies instead.
By tomorrow morning, most of the media will have started removing their pants in order to inspect each other’s fundaments. Yes, sometime tomorrow some dickhead will say something stupid about jihad, or an even bigger (or perhaps just younger) dickhead will make a big man of himself by making fun of some woman threatening society by doing her shopping in a hijab, and a feeding frenzy will begin. There will be hashtags and counterhashtags and burka videos, for and against. Someone will let Jackie Lambie out of whatever box they had her stashed in today and she will say something dumb and racist. Politicians will have serious press conferences to tell us that terrorism is a terrible thing, and how the answer is another filter or letting Scott Morrison poke brown people with a pointy stick.
The idiot with a gun will get, as Mr Hartcher describes it, the overreaction that is the measure of his success.
Hopefully, God (or more likely the skills of those police negotiators) willing, somewhere amongst all that lot, the hostages will walk out to safety.
Whatever happens, the thing that stands out for me is how today was, as Mr.Trowel described it, “quiet and much like any other day” in my office and, I suspect, thousands of other offices and shops throughout Sydney.
After the flurry of texts and calls to friends and loved one had died away, everyone got on with their day. People wandered into to other people’s offices, just to check they were ok, or took breaks together to find out what was happening. Coffee runs were made. The Partners’ lunch stretched to “everyone grab a plate and one piece of bread only”. I had meetings with a couple of very clever young women, and at about 3pm, when the building reopened, most people quietly went home.
I’m not suggesting that being calm in a serious situation is some special Australian trait.
Whether it’s planes flying into buildings, or tsunamis, or bombs on trains and buses, or just a broken gas main, people, on the whole, just buckle down and get on with it, save what they can, offer what comfort they can, and go home for a drink.
Tomorrow, come good or bad news, the media and political circus begins in earnest.
If only we could just leave them to it – get on with our day, be nice to each other, comfort those who need our comfort, and go home for a drink instead.
Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, we have five dead at three different locations and a gunman, who may or may not be a US military vet, holed up in Souderton.
You may not have heard of that, with all the “terrorism comes to Australia!” wall to wall. And the hostage taker turns out to be a career criminal.
ETA: I would say the Aussie police were handling this one right. Didn’t pay that much attention, but it’s not worth 24/7.
Sure takes attention off the Cromnibus, though. Look over there — militants!
Steve from Antioch
I thought Australia had strict gun control. How did this happen?
From the Sydney Morning Herald:
With his long disgusting track record there, if you still “liked” him on Facebook after all of that, that’s another 14,000-some people who should be monitored as possible future lone wolves as well. Oy. Just like anyone who “likes” Randall Terry and Operation Rescue will probably try to murder an abortion doctor in the near future.
And we’ll be listening to various pants wetters decry the fact that the Australian police didn’t rush in, guns blazing. Lucky old us.
And other assorted forms of hysteria.
Sounds like there are a few people who are dead or maybe just injuries. Details are always confusing early on.
Well, the CNN chyron says: “Cafe standoff ends with gunfire, explosions” so there must have been guns blazing somewhere. You can see in the video it looks like an explosion inside the building.
Somewhat OT, but I answered your colonoscopy question in last night’s thread.
Why can’t an idiot with a gun do this at the next NRA convention?
Oh yea, they don’t let guns into that……
@Mnemosyne: Oh, thanks so much. I’ll go have a look.
Tomorrow, come good or bad news, the media and political circus begins in earnest.
Ja. Suddenly entire rafts of folks armed with talking points, will all start sounding like pod people when they descend to inform you that you must panic and freak out and pass a bunch of laws authrizing the LEOs to arrest people for breathing funny or looking at porn and maybe torture some people and invade a small country or two. (East Timor? Send Aussie troops to Iraq? Attack Antarctica? Something.)
The usual, that is.
[‘The PM’s reelection campaign begins in earnest, really early!’]
Well, at least the perp(s) didn’t demand that the Prime Minister have sex with a live pig on live TV like in Black Mirror. I AM expecting to see that one come up at some point in real life.
@Steve from Antioch:
Gun deaths in Australia per 100,000 people: 0.86
Gun deaths in US per 100,000 people: 10.30
But, hey, since strict gun control laws aren’t 100 percent foolproof, let’s remove all of the controls! What could go wrong?
Up next, Steve in Antioch advocates removing seat belts and airbags from cars. After all, people still die in car accidents every year despite seat belts and airbags, so why bother taking any safety precautions at all?
Thanks for this post,SP&T. It clears up quite a bit for me, since I haven’t been following it closely.
I was initially irked by the media coverage of this, but as I think about it, the media coverage can be broken down into the initial reporting – a noble and worthy endeavor, though often screwed up in a big breaking story like this – and the subsequent media amplification. I’ve come to realize it is that last part that I usually have the most problems with.
(Media) bidness is bidness, I guess. Apparently any improvements are going to have to be consumer-driven, and motivation for that will presumably have to come from widespread weariness of being lied to and manipulated. There are probably too many angry (mostly) white retirees right now who get off on the broadcast media outrage pr0n for that to happen anytime soon, unfortunately.
@Mnemosyne: what is about gun ownership that makes certain people so susceptible to dumb platitudes?
That, and meaningless, hysterical panic over Turrrrrism™ seems to be a uniquely Ahmurrcan trait. But only when Turrrrists™ threaten Good Upstanding Patriotic Real Ahmurrcans™ (e.g. Xtianity, heterosexuality and Caucasian descent are all prerequisites for panic and fauxtrage).
One of my favorite stories was describing how, if a IRA bomb went off in Belfast, the entire planet knew of it in an hour; but in Los Angeles, on the morning news radio, there is (or used to be) a body count by district – and that information never got outside metro LA. It’s as much about who gets shot as it is about why the shooting goes on.
I just make some popcorn and rewatch Dog Day Afternoon.
@Steve from Antioch: Would you like to subscribe to the NRA Newsletter? It should pop up in the ad rotation every now and then.
What’s the Hodor code for glocksman?
Gin & Tonic
@Mnemosyne: IIRC, Steve from Antioch shows up pretty reliably any time there’s an opportunity to sing the one note he knows.
@Elizabelle: That’s a normal day in the USA.
Kryptik, A Man Without A Country
Don’t forget, the Turrists have to be brown. Otherwise, they’re safely written off as just a ‘bad apple’, a ‘lone wolf’ and definitely not a pattern by which to judge an entire people upon.
@Mnemosyne: Thanks again. I replied to you in the other thread.
Secret Santa receiver tweets she wants an Etsy artsy camera strap.
From Hong Kong. 14 business day delivery…
Some First World problems just aren’t solveable. Sarah, could you send your G-V over for a pickup? I wouldn’t bug you normally, but mine’s in Paris, and some of your Royal friends are using it.
Yeah the American model of keep calm, carry on is:
Freak out, wet your pants, torture some folks, freedom!
Yeah. They might have broken in if it was five dead in a school shooting. Otherwise: meh.
@Kryptik, A Man Without A Country: Ah yes, I forget that idjits like McVeigh are Misunderstood Patriots™.
Maybe it’s susceptibility to dumb platitudes that makes people want to buy guns; it’s almost certainly involved if they want to buy an entire arsenal.
@GregB: INDEED. I remember a bomb scare on The Tube, that caused an evacuation at Tottenham Court: everyone exited their trains and the station calmly and walked on to the next stop where they could pick up their train again. No fuss, no brouhaha, no news report. If BART, WMATA, or any other US transit system tried that, there’d be dozens trampled to death in the stampede and every national [s]nooze org would trumpet it as the leading story for the evening, followed by a big noisy investigation and a whole new bombing campaign demanded.
Keep calm and carry —
Over there! An Islamist! Let’s go live!
@Roger Moore: this does have an element of the-chicken-or-the-egg to it
@Elizabelle: It’s the US: that should read “Keep Calm and Open Carry…”. Otherwise, spot on.
I don’t know about that; I don’t think most US transit systems have the density of riders to create a stampede. Even relatively busy ones like BART aren’t crowded enough.
@GregB: Don’t forget: Give the police tactical nukes so they can protect our cities!!!
If there’s track work on the Red Line, you easily get dangerous situations in Metro Center, Chinatown, and other transfer stations.
@Roger Moore: I wouldn’t be so sure about that. People get stampeded on Black Friday – have you looked at the size of Americans lately?
@beth: It’s only a matter of time before these last vestiges of these Arena contests are outlawed.
I weep for Murica.
There were no fat people in 1976:
@lol: Cubs games can already be tricky on the Red Line, especially with all the suburban users (once they figure out a] purchasing a card and b] how to get past the turnstyles). That lot could startle easily. Day of the St Pats barcrawl can be nicely personally intimate, if at best cheerfully rather than belligerently lubricated.
@srv: Hey I’m a class of ’76 too and someone on Facebook posted a film of our class that was exactly like that one. Could have been the same school. We weren’t fat either.
@Roger Moore: It’s not the number of riders that would determine this: it’s the reactions of all those riders who would demand to be removed from a threatening environment right this effing minute and who can’t possibly exit in an orderly manner.
I ride WMATA Metro every day. These people can’t board/debark reasonably during regular operations (I keep winding up jostling people who can’t wait for anyone to debark at their stop before trying to get on the train): between the Ordinary Folks who probably don’t even know where the emergency exits are, and the More Important Than You™ who would insist on either being first to the exits or remaining onboard until the train reaches their stop and then fleeing for the exit, I highly doubt that a calm,orderly, injury-free evacuation would be possible.
@GregB: My boyfriends’ version for America is “FREAK OUT AND THROW STUFF AWAY” I donno why but it always makes me laugh hysterically.
Ha. Should’ve clarified I was talking WMATA/DC but it’s funny to see that Red Line woes are universal.
I have no idea. I was raised around guns and had gun safety drilled into me. My dad bragged until the day he died that at the age of 11, I outscored every adult man in the hunter safety course I took (and outshot some of them, too). My dad made it very, very clear that a gun was not a toy any more than his table saw was a toy I could fool around with any old way I wanted.
But, somehow, as gun ownership has gone down, gun idiocy has gone up. Gun owners seem to have zero sense of responsibility, which is how a young mother ends up being shot dead by her toddler son who found a loaded gun just laying around the house.
And when you point out that American gun owners are acting like immature idiots, the Steves of the world start screeching about their “rights.”
So, yes, a dangerous asshole in Australia got hold of a gun and took hostages. This is unusual enough that it’s international news, unlike our “another day, another 5 gun deaths” attitude here in the States.
Paul in KY
@srv: That was the year before I graduated HS. Proud member Class of 77! Wish the video had been a bit sharper, but looked a lot like my HS.
And the young mother who was shot dead by her toddler was — wait for it — in the military.
It depends heavily on the number of riders. You can’t push people out of the way to get to the exit if there’s nobody in the way to push. I’ve been on plenty of public transit in the USA where that’s the case. Admittedly, those are the least likely kind to be made a terrorist target- you don’t want to attack a system that nobody uses- but they seem to be more of them than the heavily used kind.
That said, the ease of spreading panic depends heavily on how the authorities respond. If they tell the passengers they need to evacuate because there’s been a bomb threat, they’re a lot more likely to get a panic than if they call the search for the bomb an accident or “unscheduled maintenance” and apologize for the inconvenience. Those kinds of things are common enough that passengers are more likely to treat them with resigned compliance than panic.
Well, the Sydney siege is over – according to the most recent reports (and hour ago??) – the gunman and two of the hostages are dead: though in what circumstances still remains to be reported: supposedly, the police rushed in at 02:00 when the hostage-taker started acting weird(er) – lots of gunfire and flash grenades – and three bodies.
Add: re Sydney @ #43: BBC says it was (presumably military) “commandos” who stormed the Lindt cafe, not the police.
Bob In Portland
Hello dear. Wifey and I were quite concerned for your welfare, but I’m glad to hear you were only a spectator to these events. I wished they could have ended happier, but it is over now and it is time to clean up and move on.
@Roger Moore: Granted that an empty train isn’t going to represent the same kind of panic response a full one will.
But (using WMATA as an illustration) figure that a six-car Metro train, at peak travel times, will carry roughly 1000 people, and will maintain that capacity for a significant portion of its run. Multiply that by two (one train per direction), then again by three (major transfer station, such as Rosslyn, Metro Center or L’Enfant Plaza), and add another 600-800 for eight-car trains on a couple tracks, and you have seven thousand people just on the trains, never mind the additional traffic on the platforms and entering/exiting. For all of those there are perhaps three exits from the station. And these are riders that generally can’t get out of each other’s way under normal circumstances (as already stated), and the PA that would provide riders guidance in such an emergency is routinely ignored because it’s unintelligible. The likelihood that there will be more people trampled or knocked onto the (3rd rail electric) trackways than would be killed by any attack short of a station-destroying explosion or widespread gas attack is measurable.
Funny that a Muslim who takes some hostages on the other side of the world trumps a white mass murderer on the loose in Philadelphia in the news rotation.
@boatboy_srq: Hell, Boston’s Green line “subway” — a creaky, retrofitted electric-trolley chimera that runs both underground and outdoors on overhead cables, sometimes sharing roadways with automobile traffic & some of it past its century — can barely keep up with normal commuter traffic. There was an incident over the weekend when the operator didn’t notice a car door was ajar, and only other passengers’ quick responses kept one woman from falling onto the third rail when the door got ripped off its hinges. Car-stuck-on-trackway accidents, trolley-on-trolley fenderbenders, and underground stations flooded during every heavy storm are regular local news features. I commuted through the Back Bay station for ten years and through the forever-being-updated North Station for five, and both were quite busy enough during rush hours that I did sometimes contemplate the dire effects of even a minor panic.
Also, it has been many years since I grew up with the NYC subway system, but more recent experiences on the PATH trains from Hoboken to the WTC hub convince me that one could throw a magnificently fatal mob-rush in the Big Apple, too also.