Harvard Square Observer

Ernest Cassara

The News in London

One of the advantages of our periodic trips to London is that we can watch the news on the BBC. The great old lady has channels BBC 1 & 2.  It, also, has channels BBC 3 & 4, which we could not access in the quarters we were staying in this trip.  We did, however, have access to the BBC channel that features news 24 hours a day.

In the three weeks we spent in the fabulous capital of the Mother Country, it became clear to us that the British government of Prime Minister Tony Blair is as intent as President George W. Bush in scaring the public over terrorism.  MI5, the secret intelligence agency, let it be known that it is looking into dozens of possible “terrorists” in the U.K. Of course, the Brits have cause to be careful, after the suicide bombers blew up a couple of trains in the Underground, which is affectionately referred to as “The Tube.” (Unlike American subways, it is, indeed, shaped like a tube.)

One of the bombers, apparently running behind schedule, you will recall, exploded his bomb on a bus.  That bus, by the way, was blown up a stone’s throw from the place in Bloomsbury which we consider our second home.  The spot is marked by a discreet plaque on the wall of a building on Tavistock Square, with the names of those who perished.

I read that Britain has more closed circuit television cameras than any other place.  So, I was alert as we walked, looking for CCTV cameras, concluding that the statement appears to be true.

After the Tube bombings, a study of the tapes revealed the men who were responsible entering the various Underground stations.

The Notorious Assassination

One of the things I have always admired about the U.K., ever since we became acquainted with it during an academic sabbatical year in old Cambridge many years ago, is that it has been a haven for dissenters from other lands. 

An academic colleague told me once that he was at work in the British Museum, when two ladies whispered in his ear, asking whether he would be willing to stand up and allow them to make a photo of his desk.  He, being the courteous professor that he is, complied. They, then, explained that that was the desk at which Karl Marx worked for many years.

The British Library was separated from the Museum several years back, and has a splendid building near King’s Cross and St. Pancras stations.  My wife and I, several times on this trip, took advantage of the Library’s great collection and its splendid reading room..

The several weeks we were in London, we kept up with the speculation as to how the former KGB agent - taking refuge in the U.K. - was killed.  It appears that Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned with Polonium-210.  Before this was determined, there were conflicting reports as to whether he was poisoned at a sushi restaurant, whose business, I can imagine, has plummeted to zero.  Or, was it tea earlier in the day?  And, why, have a couple of planes of British Airways shown traces of radioactivity?

Then, it was reported that traces of the radioactive substance are found in his wife, and in an Italian with whom he had conferred.

As we go to press, the plot continues to thicken.

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Harvard Square Commentary, December 4, 2006