Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Musical Interlude

At the moment I'm swamped with scripts to read for work and other scripts to revise, so it could be a few days before I can return to making my usual, pithy, scathing and otherwise very important comments about the world. In the meantime, I leave you with my two favourite music videos. The first is a brilliant flash mob from Antwerp, Belgium. The second is from a prison in the Phillipines. You have to see it to believe it. Really.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Death Cult Nation - Serial Killers, Superheroes & Imperialism, Part 2

Any discussion of serial killers has to start from the fact American culture is probably the largest death cult in human history. Even the Aztecs, famous for their mass human sacrifices, weren’t as obsessed with killing as we are – nor did they kill as many people as has the United States of America. Death is the air that we breathe and for that reason its omnipresence is normalized and made invisible. Some day people will take a look at our worship of death and see a culture in desperate and flailing decline.
Video games provide a key example here. They have become a central part of our leisure culture, exploding in sales over the last decade, with sales of $9.5 billion in 2007, representing 268 million units. A significant number of these games are about killing and death, with the biggest selling video game of 2008, Grand Theft Auto IV, built around vicious mob violence and the guiltless murder of competitors and enemies. The game broke all records upon its release, garnering $500 million in sales in the first week, by moving 6 million units. And of the top 5 selling video games of 2008, violently themed games, in which loss and victory are measured in deaths, make up three of them. The Entertainment Software Association suggests that violence isn’t key to video game popularity by pointing to the fact that only 15% of games sold are rated “mature”. However, the top-selling SuperMario: Galaxy, a game rated “everyone” is still about violence, it just happens to be stylized for young minds, not yet ready for spurting blood, entrails and shrieking. SuperMario is the cute gateway drug that leads the player towards the mass killing mayhem of Resident Evil or Gears of War.
Our movies and television: the same. Romantic love and death are our two greatest obsessions, next to the shallowest conceptions of beauty. If we’re not falling in love or shopping, it seems, we’re killing people. The top three films of 2008, for instance, involved multiple murders and a violent protagonist.
But it would be a mistake to think that video games or movies are making people more violent or crime prone, per se. Rather they are a reflection and reinforcement of social values that are as American as apple pie and a handgun hidden in Dad’s underwear drawer.
The Americas were built upon murder and theft. And the Europeans were only really bringing to the New World what they practiced in their own backyards, from the Enclosures in Britain to the Inquisition of Spain – and the Crusades just beyond Europe’s borders. The wealthy and powerful pursued a model of social engineering that set the terms for interactions all the way down to the base of society. Americans still cling to the Second Amendment of their Constitution, which proclaims the right to bear arms.
The validation – and necessity - of violence is a product of a class divided society and of colonialism. It is an extension of a whole series of coercive relationships infused with open or implied violence that hold our society together – from the economic coercion that forces you to work that miserable, alienated job, to the coercion of the police who patrol our neighbourhoods, guns at the ready. And make no mistake, forcing people out of their homes at the end of a sheriff’s baton – as millions of Americans have experienced in the present crisis – is also a form of violence. Hobbes primeval “war of all against all” isn’t the thing that society was created to end – it is the sine qua non of “civilization” itself.
Beyond the boundaries of our countries – whether that is across the world or across the wire fence between the dominant group and the occupied, forced onto reservations, ghettoes and Bantustans – our leaders still exercise mass violence to achieve foreign policy goals, territorial expansion, to open markets or access resources, etc. It is worth remembering that during the Gulf War in 1991 the United States murdered tens of thousands of Iraqis on the infamous Highway of Death as they retreated from Kuwait. The invasion of 2003 led to the premature deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.
And, of course, in the recent invasion and bombardment of Gaza by Israel, there were thousands of casualties during the three weeks of the operation, with hundreds upon hundreds of civilian deaths, not to mention the mass destruction that will cripple Gaza for years, if not decades. All of which was passed over without too many tears shed with the kind of crass “we think the price is worth it” that drives the plots of violent, quest-based video games.
And even here in Canada “the Peacekeeper” we have our share of murderous history that is still being written, as the indigenous population could well attest. Our present mission in Afghanistan was described by General Rick Hillier, former head of the Canadian Armed Forces as being to slay the “detestable murderers and scumbags” of the Taliban. And kill them we did, with greater joy the larger the number of them that we slew. After all, as Hillier said on another occasion, “We're not the public service of Canada; we're not just another department. We are the Canadian Forces, and our job is to kill people. This job is celebrated every time millions of commuters drive down the Highway 401, a section of which have been re-named the Highway of Heroes for the bodies of soldiers killed in Afghanistan that are transported along its length.
So, there can be no claim that mass murder is an aberrant behaviour in our society. It is the way we get the job done. Mass murder is government policy, carried out by soldiers who are rewarded for killing more people than the next guy. No, the problem for “serial killers” is that they don’t carry out the killing in the service of power.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Serial Killers, Superheroes & Imperialism: Part 1

There’s certainly nothing new in our obsession with serial killers, particularly the gory details of their crimes. Jack the Ripper was perhaps the first and most famous of a long line of mass murderers that have inspired films, books, and articles. His combination of brutal, ritualized murder, sex, and the taunting of legal authorities set the archetype for almost all future representations.
Since the time of “Saucy Jack” the interest in mass murders of this type has grown, becoming a genre of film and novels unto itself, with probably dozens of each produced and published each year, from teen slasher films to art films like “Man Bites Dog”. The subject warrants multiple Wikipedia pages and hundreds, if not thousands, of “fan sites” dedicated to either specific serial killers or to serial killers in general.
One of the interesting things about serial killer representations in popular culture is how plastic they are. That is, the character of a serial killer, beyond having some specific technical similarities (ritual, emotional disconnection from victims, lack of guilt, etc) can fit almost any mould.
There is the award-winning Showcase series, Dexter, about a serial-killer-as-boy-next-door-slash-vigilante-superhero. We all love Dexter because we don’t see anything wrong with executing bad people. He’s a working class, lower tech, less ridiculous version of Batman. And he’s just so huggable.
He’s like you and me. Hell, if you were Dexter, wouldn’t you kill that murderer, those heartless and brutal smugglers of illegal immigrants, or that nurse with an enthusiasm for euthanizing patients? Dexter, the mass murderer, ironically, satisfies our desire to overcome that sense of powerlessness we all feel towards one of the greatest bogeymen of our time: random killers specifically and criminals more generally. We become the mass murderer, in a sense, through our identification with him.
In this way he’s not so very different from the more monstrous and more aristocratically charming character of Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lector. If Dexter is Batman, Lector is Lucifer, the fallen angel. His ultimate history, in many ways similar to Dexter’s – and all superheroes – is one of childhood trauma that marks him indelibly, followed by a struggle to understand and control his special powers. Hannibal Lector is reminiscent of Magneto, the vengeful Jewish mutant from the X-Men series who seeks to destroy all non-mutants as a result of his experiences in World War Two.
These aspects of the serial killer - his/her plasticity and their kinship superheroes/supervillains and supernatural figures – vampires also come to mind - is worth exploring further. All of them say something about our culture more generally that could be valuable in unearthing the origins of our society’s pathologies.
TOMORROW: Part 2, Death Cult Nation

O, Brother, Can You Spare An F-16

As a final post-Air Show rejoinder to the debates that have taken place, I wanted to post this blog piece from The Arabist - an Egyptian socialist blog - about the role of US arms sales [the pie chart on the left shows global shares of arms sales, excluding China] in the region. It's a good piece - and a very good blog for info on Egypt and the Middle East - and I will only add a couple of points here to that article, attached below.
The first is from a reuters article about growing US arms sales in the recession. It notes that the top purchasers of US weapons are dictatorships and human rights abusers:
"More than half of the top 25 U.S. arms purchasers in the developing world were 'undemocratic governments or regimes that engaged in major human rights abuses,' in 2006 and 2007, the [New America] foundation said in a report last week.
And also:
"He said his organization had found a 92 percent "correlation" between rising oil prices and rising U.S. arms sales."
The Wiki article on the arms industry has also some fascinating reading and is worth a visit. It notes, for instance, the importance of weapons to the Cold War when both the US and USSR used weapons transfers to win influence, particularly in the Third World. It then goes on to state:
"Since the fall of the Soviet Union, global arms exports initially fell slightly, but have since 2003 grown again, and now come close to Cold War levels.[5] The United States is the overall top supplier of weapons. The United States is also the top supplier of weapons to the developing world, accounting for around 36% of worldwide weapons sales, followed by Russia, Britain, Germany, and China.[6][7]"


Oh Brother, Can You Spare an F-16
How the Middle East is providing recession protection for government-connected US weapons manufacturers:

WASHINGTON — Despite a recession that knocked down global arms sales last year, the United States expanded its role as the world’s leading weapons supplier, increasing its share to more than two-thirds of all foreign armaments deals, according to a new Congressional study.

The United States signed weapons agreements valued at $37.8 billion in 2008, or 68.4 percent of all business in the global arms bazaar, up significantly from American sales of $25.4 billion the year before.

The increase in American weapons sales around the world “was attributable not only to major new orders from clients in the Near East and in Asia, but also to the continuation of significant equipment and support services contracts with a broad-based number of U.S. clients globally,” according to the study, titled “Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations.”
Note that it’s not just Middle Easterners paying out of pocket for this, but also the American taxpayer who is underwriting some of these purchases in form of military aid designed to redirect US funding to those arms manufacturers. This is not just a question of US jobs in this sector, since many of these manufacturers collaborate with foreign firms, and of course their profits are shared among their global shareholders, not just American ones.
And it’s not just oil-rich states. The article adds:
The top buyers in the developing world in 2008 were the United Arab Emirates, which signed $9.7 billion in arms deals; Saudi Arabia, which signed $8.7 billion in weapons agreements; and Morocco, with $5.4 billion in arms purchases.
Morocco is a relatively resource-poor state that receives considerable amounts of aid (from the West and from Gulf allies) and faces no serious conventional threat; yet it has for instance decided to get a bunch of F16s. Its regional rival is Algeria, in the context of the Western Sahara conflict, and Algeria is itself making significant purchases (especially from Russia.) The silly arms race between Algeria and Morocco, two countries that have poor rankings in UN human development reports and deep socio-economic problems, is useful all around: for Moroccan and Algerian generals, for governments selling the weapons (thus cementing alliances and dependence relationships), and of course for the companies. In this context, it’s no surprise there is little genuine interest for solving the Western Sahara conflict or encouraging Moroccan-Algerian reconciliation.

In the Persian Gulf, one sees not only the patterns of dependence of absolute monarchies on this recycling of petrodollars into weapondollars (here’s more on the petrodollar-weapondollar coalition in the Middle East), but also the built-in interest in maintaining high threat levels and the possibility of war (for instance in talking up the possibility of an attack on Iran and its consequences).

Friday, September 4, 2009

Street Sweeper Social Club

"This is a time when the working class is being fleeced left and right. More families will be homeless and more people will be jobless. They'll need something to listen to on their ipods while storming Wall Street." - Tom Morello, guitarist for SSSC.
This is a very cool couple songs by the new band of Rage Against the Machine guitarist, Tom Morello, and leader of the Coup, Boots Riley. Play it loud at your office before you go home for the long weekend!

Afghanistan Airstrike Kills 93. Enjoy The Air Show!

I was walking with my wife and daughter through Dufferin Grove Park earlier when, with an enormous boom, a fighter jet banked hard above us, then shot off down to the lake. Everybody looked up to see the plane and a woman walking her bike near us said: "In most countries we'd be running to hide from that plane."
When I got home and checked the news the truth of what she'd say struck home. Certainly there's some people in Kunduz, Afghanistan who are wishing that their relatives had run more quickly today because NATO dropped bombs killed 90+ people.
The story is that the Taliban hijacked a NATO jet fuel tanker, which then got stuck in the mud near a village. Villagers, all dirt poor, rushed out to siphon off some fuel from the truck. That's when NATO, called in by the German contingent in northern Afghanistan, dropped its payload.
Of course NATO feels bad and will look into it. They might even pay compensation to the families. But, if they hadn't been there it wouldn't have happened in the first place.
Ah, but we're there to bring democracy and freedom from the evil Taliban. Trouble is, the democracy is so utterly corrupt that even supporters of the occupation are embarassed by videos of Karzai supporters stuffing ballot boxes, reports of other boxes showing up full to polling stations, intimidation of monitors, etc.
And the Kunduz governor is hardly a progressive, having been allied with ultra-conservative Wahabbi followers, prior to shifting allegiances to a Tajik warlord named Daud, who is himself allied with Karzai running mate, Mohammed Fahim. As human rights watch described him:
“He is one of the most notorious warlords in the country, with the blood of many Afghans on his hands from the civil war.” In fact, the brutality of his party Jamiat-e-Islami during the infighting amongst the mujahideen, following the Soviet withdrawal, drove many Afghans to support the Taliban. And the province has itself been a bastion of corruption and narcotic production.
"In February 2004, [provincial police chief] Motaleb Beg was captured by ISAF and Afghan police in Kabul with 300 kilos of heroin. Both Motaleb Beg and the heroin were handed over to the Kabul police with instructions how to handle the case. The following day the heroin had disappeared." (Beg was replaced as police chief by the present governor's brother, recently killed by an IED).
It is no wonder that with these characters in power, backed by western jets and bombs, the insurgency has spread north to the previously peaceful province of Kunduz. This is a big problem for NATO and the US because Kunduz is key to NATO's Central Asian supply lines. Previously, NATO had shipped equipment, fuel, etc. through Pakistan but insurgents in that country kept blowing stuff up. The alternative was to get an agreement from the Russians to move the same equipment, etc. through Russian airspace and then overland from Tajikstan and Uzbekistan. According to a senior US official: "The concern is if we don't stunt the [Taliban] growth, it could cause problems with our northern distribution network."
Things may already be too late, as Gul Agha, head of Baghlan-i-Jadid's criminal investigation department describes it: "Before, [insurgents] moved in very small groups. Now they are moving in groups of 30 to 40, and they have a leader of each group. They have a [shadow] governor, district leaders and recruiters."
Of course, the main people who are suffering as NATO increases air strikes in the north of the country, are civilians. Just as has been the case in the south, with bombings of weddings, funerals, and the like. The longer we stay over there, the more civilian dead there are and the more that we are hated.
This weekend, while you're watching those F-15's flying over the Toronto shoreline with your kids, just think about how a kid in Afghanistan feels when they see those same planes flying overhead. For them it's not a weekend diversion, it's the possibility of death at the hands of their supposed liberators.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Looming Federal Election: RedBedHead's Prescient Predictions

Well, it's all over but the crying for this Parliament with Ignatieff promising to pull the plug for real this time. (No, really, they're gonna do it this time. Go ahead, dare them.)
I want to be the first one out of the gate to make predictions on how things will go in the next two months. The trouble is, I'm of several minds, so let me break it down by my mood:

1) Cynical Mood: The NDP will get a shabby, embarrassing offer of some concessions from the Tories, the political equivalent of a gnat's penis. They will look at the poll numbers, see themselves at 4-5 points less than they got in the last election, shit their pants, and vote for the Tories, claiming that they won a commitment for "important reforms that will help working families and keep this Parliament working." Everyone who is a soft NDPer will be so disgusted that they'll vote for the Liberals and the NDP will sink further.

2) Optimistic Mood: The NDP's maneuver of claiming to want the Parliament to work, while all the while expecting that the Tories will do as they always do, attempt to govern like they have a majority because they're bullying pricks, will work magnificently. The Tories will lose a confidence vote, an election will happen in which the Tories are trounced, the Liberals get a minority and the NDP increases its position significantly - say to 45 seats. (I have cynical and optimistic scenarios in this instance as well. The cynical being that the NDP goes into a coalition government with the Liberals and thus surrenders the last vestige of their purpose as an independent party).

3) Realistic Mood: The Tories will ignore the NDP as irrelevant (or as that perennial piece of shit, Jason Kenney put it so eloquently: "It's a party of hard-core left-wing ideologues." - wow, I hope he never meets me, I'll end up in the pokey!). We'll go to election and return a parliament with exactly the same breakdown as there is at present, perhaps with the addition of one seat for that other Liberal party; what are they called again? Oh, yes, the Greens.
The problem, you see, is that the Liberals and the Tories are effectively the same. Ignatieff is perhaps even more hawkish on foreign policy and civil rights than the Tories. The only difference is that the Tories are a teensy bit more beholden to the wing-nuts from the western wing of the party who want to put an electric fence around Toronto, with all its homos, Muslims and socialists, and pass a law against promoting the anti-Christian view that the earth is round (though, in fairness, the Liberals also attract their share of whack jobs).
In the past the tie-breaker between these two right-wing, pro-business parties has been Quebec. But then Trudeau (along with the Sask. NDP and the Ontario Tories) gave two-fingers to Quebec when they repatriated the Canadian Constitution without their support. And then Mulroney's inability to win any consensus around, first, the Meech Lake Accord, and then the Charlottetown Accord to bring Quebec into the Constitution, taught the political class in Quebec that they needed their own party. Thus was born the BQ, which has 48 seats. This wouldn't be enough to put the Liberals in a position to govern but would strengthen their hand significantly. If they could win back key bastions of support out west or in Ontario, along with Quebec, they could return to being the "natural governing party" of Canada. Fat chance.
The NDP will bobble between 15 and 20 percent, with the media totally ignoring their little "expose the Tories as uncooperative" maneuver. Jack Layton will continue to smile like a soldier through it all and point to the recent victory in Nova Scotia as a consolation prize.
The Liberals won't win back the west for a generation (though at the rate that Alberta's fiscal position is collapsing, we may see the end of that one party state in the not too distant future).
The Tories will never make a serious breakthrough into the industrial heartland of Ontario. And they're way too crazy for Quebec. Mulroney was virtually a hero of enlightened thinking compared to Harper's gang. With the collapse of the ADQ in Quebec, the resident Tory party, Harper's in a worse position now in Quebec than a few years ago.
Thus, my realistic prognosis: we'll blow $300 million bucks on a mini-stimulus package, called an election, and the Tories will win again with another minority government. Nothing will change. Nobody is in a position to make any kind of breakthrough this election. The most exciting thing will be the potential election of a Green MP. But, let's be honest, these aren't European Greens. These guys are boring as shit and pull most of their support from the Liberals because that's what they are. Remember their last leader? He used to be a Tory.

My post-election crystal ball: Ignatieff will join Dion at the bar for drinks, lots of them. In fact, they'll probably end up in a brawl, followed by a lot of "I love you, man's" before Iggy staggers off back to the US (where he can torture some Muslims to work out his frustrations, I mean to protect democracy) and Dion will stagger off to an academic job in Quebec (where he can bore people in his official language with policy discussions that nobody can understand). The Liberals will try a feint to the left by promoting Bob Rae to leader. Rae will split off a chunk of the NDP, with the help of perennial Third-Way social-liberal Roy Romanow, thus weakening them further. Layton will resign and return to TO, where he will campaign for bike lanes and shave off that fucking mustache. The remaining rump of the NDP will have a "Refounding the Left" conference attended by lots of people, most of whom don't like each other (well, I know I won't like most of them) but they'll hug a lot before coming up with a new party name that still can't get them higher in the polls than 20 percent.
And then, I'll go for a drink...

All Air Show All The Time

More Reasons To Hate The Air Show

As if a million didn't come to mind every time the planes buzz your house and rattle your windows - or wake your sleeping child, as they have been doing with my baby daughter all day. Here's a few more:

1) These "neato" airplanes cause death and deformity. The little girl in the photo is one of many suffering from deformities in Fallujah, Iraq, as a result of the US assault on that city, which included airplanes (whee, aren't they pretty?!) dropping chemical weapons everywhere.

2) Each of the new F-35 Lightnings - the new fighter jet - costs $80 million dollars and the Pentagon is buying 2,500 of them. That's $200 billion. It costs $400 to provide food, clothes, education and medicine to ten children in Mexico for a month. In other words, they could provide these things for a full year for 42 million Mexican children (Mexico has a total population of 109 million). In Africa, a child can be fed for 10¢/day. In other words, global poverty could be eliminated.

3) Climate change. The US Military is a massive greenhouse gas hog, burning 462 million gallons of fuel in 2005. The US military is amongst the world's largest contributor to global climate change. Think about the effects if the US invested that $200 billion into renewable energy!

I Hate The Air Show

I'm sitting here in my home office, trying to get work done and some assholes in fighter jets are buzzing over my house every ten minutes. As if there weren't enough reasons to hate imperialism.
Let's just put this into perspective. Over in Afghanistan, the daily experience of farmers and city dwellers alike is to experience low flying jets disrupting their lives as well. Unfortunately for them, it doesn't just make it difficult to get work done, they live in fear that the next airplane will drop a bomb on their wedding or on their house.
Back home, here in Canada, the jets are supposed to provide entertainment to us and our children (?!). We look at them up in the sky and they are proof of what a great nation we are - and how great are the nations of other key military powers, particularly the USA and Britain. The awe and pride with which we are meant to be filled by the sight of these multi-billion dollar monstrosities, evidence of how low on the evolutionary ladder we still are, are to most people on the planet a source of fear.
Whether they are in Somalia, the Sudan, Iraq or Afghanistan - the sight of F-series jets mean that children will soon be dead.
Frankly, spectacles of militarism like the air show deserve to be picketed and shut down. The money spent to fly these airborne thugs around the world should be spent on building hospitals, schools and providing food.
It's particularly odious that they use Labour Day weekend as an opportunity to promote nationalism of the worst, most violent kind. This is the opposite of international solidarity. The union movement is responsible for a significant amount of money going into CNE coffers every Labour Day, as their members march into the CNE grounds. Perhaps it's utopian but I'd love nothing more than to see the union movement demand an end to the Air Show or they will take their 20,000 members elsewhere.
In the meantime, I wish these asshole would stop buzzing my house - using my tax dollars!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Climate Change: Permafrost Methane Releases Spell Big Disaster

It isn't exactly new that there was a theoretical possibility that by artificially raising temperatures as a result of greenhouse gases emitted by cars, industry, agriculture and the military, that carbon trapped in the earth's permafrost could be released. This enormous well of carbon - whether in the form of methane or CO2, whether in Canada's vast tundra or the frozen bogs of Siberia - would potentially generate a self-reinforcing cycle, where climate change releases frozen greenhouse gases, which causes more climate change, which releases more greenhouse gases. Well, evidence of this theoretical process is now emerging.
"Reporting to the European Geophysical Union last year, the scientists, affiliated with the University of Alaska and the Russian Academy of Sciences, cited "extreme" saturation of methane in surface waters and in the air above. They said up to 10 percent of the undersea permafrost area had melted, and it was "highly possible" that this would open the way to abrupt release of an estimated 50 billion tons of methane.
"Depending on how much dissolved in the sea, that might multiply methane in the atmosphere several-fold, boosting temperatures enough to cause "catastrophic greenhouse warming," as the Russians called it. It would be self-perpetuating, melting more permafrost, emitting more methane."
Of course, even saying that this was a theoretical possibility is unfair given that many commentators, including the inestimable George Monbiot, have been warning of this possibility for years and years - but neither governments nor most of the media have been listening. In an article at the end of 2008, Monbiot noted in relation to melting sea ice that:
"As the ice disappears, the region becomes darker, which means that it absorbs more heat. A recent paper published in Geophysical Research Letters shows that the extra warming caused by disappearing sea ice penetrates 1500km inland, covering almost the entire region of continuous permafrost. Arctic permafrost contains twice as much carbon as the entire global atmosphere. It remains safe for as long as the ground stays frozen. But the melting has begun. Methane gushers are now gassing out of some places with such force that they keep the water open in Arctic lakes, through the winter."
The disappearing ice isn't just a slow melt, like an ice cube in your vodka-tonic. These are massive shelves that are breaking off. Earlier this year the ice bridge that connected the Wilkins Ice Shelf - a hunk of ice half the size of Scotland - collapses, severing the shelf from an Antarctic island. This follows on from the collapse of the Larsen A & B ice shelves in the last decade and a half. Larsen B had been stable for 12,000 years and was the size of Rhode Island.
But it's not just in areas of deep freeze that carbon is being released from the soil. In all northern regions, with the rise in temperature - even if only by a degree - there is an increased process of carbon release from the soil taking place.
"Two weeks ago (Sept, 2005), scientists at Cranfield University discovered that the soils in the UK have been losing the carbon they contain: as temperatures rise, the decomposition of organic matter accelarates, which causes more warming, which causes more decomposition. Already the soil in this country has released enough carbon dioxide to counteract the emissions cuts we have made since 1990."
What is clear is that the measures proposed and funded by governments and industry - cap & trade, biofuels - are the equivalent of snake oil. They will do nothing and, in the case of biofuel, will contribute to the problem. Radical reductions in carbon emissions are necessary. We need to rethink everything from the private automobile to the suburban model of development to how we fuel industry. It may already be too late to save the ice caps and may even be beyond the tipping point at which a cascade effect will develop with increasing velocity that will flood coastal cities and stop the ocean current that warms northern Europe.
Government and industry will continue to do nothing as long as possible. The only question, to my mind is whether a movement will develop that is large enough, international enough and militant enough to force government and industry to take action. Here's hoping...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

CIA Aren't Just Thugs - They're Funny Too

So, I came across this article in the New York Post about the CIA's purchase of a couple of Russian helicopters in the weeks following 9/11, as the USA prepared to invade Afghanistan. What's interesting about this story is just how incompetent and corrupt are all the people who were involved. It is a story reminiscent of some of the other CIA torture stories coming out at the moment - the European supply station chief who gave contracts to his friend's company to soak up all those counter-insurgency dollars (and who is now in jail for doing so - like two of the key men behind this fiasco).
Awash in dollars and itching for a fight with big, bad Afghanistan (with a GDP less than a box store mall in suburban Ohio) these mooks - most of whom had never left Texas, let alone been to Russia (including the translator) - found themselves in a remote Siberian city, surrounded by volcanoes, 30 degree below zero temperatures and suspicious officials ("oh, these military helicopters are just for tourist reasons and fishing. Honest."). They're hotel rooms were cold and bugged. The Army guys along for the ride spent their time drunk. When members of the civilian air crew who flew them there expressed concern about their behaviour, the Army man in charge threatened to shoot their airplane out of the sky (they subsequently slipped out in the middle of the night and flew to Japan to get away). The CIA goes got sick of the Army guys' drunken antics and sent them home and then somebody else outbid the CIA for the helicopters.
They did eventually get the copters but there was a trail of fraud, mayhem and stupidity longer than a Russian novel.
It all just goes to show you that whether they know what they're doing or not, whether they do their job well or poorly, the CIA are always a danger to humanity.
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