Monday, March 15, 2004

Sending the Right Message

I can't get the events in Spain out of my head right now. I can't help but think that terrorists will have come away from the events surrounding the Madrid Atocha train station having learned a valuable lesson:

We can influence elections with a well-placed, well-timed act of violence.

Gracias, Espana. You really helped make the world a more dangerous place.
Atocha Trains Security Hole

I was thinking back to being on the train, and in the Madrid Atocha Station. I asked myself, 'how did the terrorists get all of those backpacks on to the trains'? That was the easiest thing of all. While there were plenty of security personnel visibly walking through the station, none were on the platforms and none on the trains.

When we choose to fly, we generally surrender our bags to be checked, or we carry them on and stow them under the seat or put them in the compartment overhead. One thing you can not do is get on the plane and then get off for a little while. Once you are on board, you stay on board.

This is not the case with train travel in Spain. When you get to the train 30 minutes early, you walk on, drop your bags in the baggage rack, and go out to the platform for a stroll, or even back into the station for a cup of coffee or a magazine. Nobody sits in the train for a half-hour, dutifully waiting for departure. We do it on planes and don't think otherwise.

So many students ride the trains that a bulky backpack placed in the rack would raise no suspicion whatsoever. Anybody could have walked into a train and dropped a bag full of explosives at any time, and nobody would have been the wiser- just as happened. Funny enough, most people feel safe enough that their bags won't be stolen or rifled through, that they didn't mind leaving them in the racks. Ame & I stayed near the cars out of a theft concern, but we were the only ones. The Spaniards were off for a stroll or a cell phone chat, oblivious to the baggage situation.

So, I will bet that if you look at the blown-up trains and observe the location of the explosions, you will find that each spot is the luggage rack. The luggage racks are at the back of each car, near the door, but towards the center side rather than towards the very back of the car. The pictures I have seen so far all verify this.

Now I am thinking of Amtrak. I haven't taken an Amtrak train in ages, so I don't know what the protocols are for boarding and for bags. A good step towards improved security would be the presense of bomb-sniffing dogs on the platforms, and a once-on, stay on policy. Sure, this does nothing to dissuade the committed suicide bomber, but it would go a long way towards preventing an American Atocha.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

From Atocha to Socialism

Amazing how the timing of the terrorist bombings of trains in Madrid changed an election. Fascinating, too, to see how sentiments differed in the two countries- the US and Spain- that have had the most severe attacks, Israel notwithstanding.

Prior to the bombings, Spaniards were set to elect Mariano Majoy, the hand-picked successor to Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, and both members of the Popular Party. That party is referred to as 'conservative', although Spain's estimation of a conservative would have made Karl Marx grin. In a sweeping turn of events, Socialist José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has been elected Prime Minister, and his party has claimed a near majority of Parliamentary seats in this kingdom. By the way, Spain's estimation of a socialist would also have made Karl Marx grin.

But it is interesting to me how the things are perceived. The US embraced George W. Bush in the wake of 9-11-2001 in a way he was not after his election. Spain's Popular Party was repudiated just days after their 3-11, and largely because Spain was one of the US' strongest supporters under Aznar. The Spanish people in essense, blame the United States, with the Popular Party guilty by association.

Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face. Socialism? Be pissed at the United States if you must, but why doom yourselves to worse than the 25% unemployment your country already has? I first had admiration for the Spanish, who took to the streets to express their anger at the terrorists. I now have real dismay.

Having taken the trains into Atocha just six weeks ago, the memories are fresh. As an American, I was treated exceptionally well by the Spanish people I encountered. I can't help but wonder if this will be so the next time I visit. I believe my son is safe in Rota. I talked to him today, and learned that he found out about the attacks 48 hours after I did, so it clearly hasn't reached that remote outpost, which is good. Still, I want him in a friendly environment, and have good evidence that Spain could be less kind to Americans, and is certainly less warm to good sense.