Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Archive for the ‘History’ Category

“For Sale, Iraqi Army M-16, Never Fired, Only Dropped Once.”

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rifle

I’m trying to have a sense of humour about the dreadful situation in Iraq and Syria, but it’s hard. It’s been going from bad to worse for two weeks now as the ISIS blitz continues. They have consolidated their control of Northern and Western Iraq and are tightening the noose on Baghdad. It’s pretty clear at this point that the Iraqi army is an army in name only, they just keep running when the ISIS attacks as town after town falls without a fight. Some Iraqi special forces are trapped in the refinery in Baiji and have held out for days, but they can’t run and know surrender means almost certain death, so not surprising they are fighting. The Iraqi government has been unable to relieve them as the ISIS controls the roads to Baiji. There’s no question the ISIS has captured huge stores of military goods, captured Humvees have already been used to capture a town in Syria. How long Baghdad will hold out is anyone’s guess, but they are using volunteers with a weeks military training to fill the gaps left by massive desertion in the Iraqi army.

And if the situation wasn’t bad enough, just today Israel launched major air strikes against the Assad regime’s military in Syria. Assad was making progress, but his forces were being bolstered by Iranian supplies and Shia fighters from Iraq. Well, the ISIS has cut the roads to Iran, and the Shia fighters are returning home to defend Baghdad. It seems crazy on Israel’s part, they’d prefer the ISIS to win? Apparently an anti-tank gun fired from Syria killed an Israeli teenager in the Golan Heights. I can’t imagine that Assad would provoke Israel that way, makes me wonder if the ISIS tricked Israel into attacking their enemy. I can only suspect that Israel has decided that the situation is hopeless, and they want it to get worse so they have an excuse to ethnically cleanse the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the so called “transfer” plan.

In other words, I think this is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. I don’t really see how the situation can be stabilized. US air strikes aren’t going to stop the ISIS, if anything they will strengthen it. And it would be unpopular in the US and put Americans at risk. Washington doesn’t have any good options I can see, and is paralyzed by partisan politics. One of the most amazing aspects of this is that the architects of the US invasion of Iraq, people that lied us into an invasion and were utterly wrong on every count, are now sought out by the media as “experts” on the crisis. This is why I refer it it as the “lamestream media.” At least in other countries they have real experts on the news. On the plus side, at least we know since they were wrong about the invasion, and still haven’t admitted it was a disaster, it’s safe to say every word out of their mouths now is garbage. Still garbage I mean.

So what now? Who knows. I think this is the worst international crisis in decades, and I don’t see it going anywhere but downhill from here. I think the Maliki Regime will collapse. We might see Iran with Russian help hold onto the oil fields in Southern Iraq. The Assad regime’s days are numbered, and with the ISIS in charge, Israel will expel millions of Palestinians into Syria, making what is already a horrific humanitarian catastrophe all the worse.  And a defacto caliphate in Iraq and Syria, with an independent Kurdistan to boot. Even this scenario could be optimistic, this could be the start of  a much larger war or even a  world war.

My current take on history falls into the “punctuated equilibrium” realm. IE history is long periods of more or less stasis, with smaller periods of “shit happens.” And no one ever correctly calls the specific results when the shit is coming down. Could I be freaking out? Maybe. Will this affect us in the USA? Not likely. I do think now is a good idea to fill those extra gas cans. The price of oil is going up, and there might even be temporary disruptions of supplies. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Lastly, the human aspect. Imagine what people in Baghdad are going through now. For the second time in a decade conquering forces are approaching the city. A city of seven million people. I can’t imagine. I really can’t. God save us all.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit. Etc. I hope I don’t have to majorly update this tomorrow. What a mess.)

Written by unitedcats

June 23, 2014 at 12:28 am

Posted in History, Iran, Iraq, War, World

Tuesday, 17 June, 2014, Iraq Crisis

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baquba

Tuesday Morning. Don’t really have time for a full review. Christians are fleeing to what is now effectively Kurdistan. The Kurds have announced they have no interest in helping the Maliki regime recapture Mosul. No kidding, they have their homeland and they are digging in, at some point soon I would expect them to declare independence. And fighting has gotten closer to Baghdad, the ISIS appear to have resumed their push south. The city of Baquba is being fought over, less than 40 miles from Baghdad. It’s an important city of 500,000, many whom are fleeing south. I think the image is Iraqi volunteers heading north out of Baghdad.

Tuesday Evening. The ISIS appears to be advancing on Baghdad. A few larger perspective points. Right now, the events of the past week appear to have been game changers. I don’t see how the clock can be turned back and the “status quo,” whatever that was, will be restored. I think that the Sykes–Picot Agreement, the unnatural borders imposed on the former Ottoman Empire by France and England after World War One, may finally be unravelling. A major war may be in the offing, no one knows how those ever turn out. The ISIS advance so far has been stunning and almost unprecedented. Certainly in recent history. Other points:

“It’s Obama’s Fault.” Sigh. Well, at least the GOP is consistent. Anything bad is Obama’s fault. On the first pass, Obama’s foreign policy was the same as Bush’s foreign policy in any significant regard, so, wtf? Secondly, Bush was the one that invaded Iraq on lies followed by an occupation based on wishful thinking. Bush couldn’t fix the mess he created in his six years, so it’s Obama’s fault he couldn’t fix it? I don’t think anyone expected the ISIS to explode, although I was raising alarms a few months back, but the GOP certainly wasn’t. In any event looking for blame in a situation like this is like blaming Pearl Harbor on Roosevelt. Which the GOP didn’t do. The rise of the ISIS is the worst crisis the US has faced since 9/11, partisan politics has no place here. At the very least they should tone it down and try to help.

As a codicil to this, the people who thought the invasion of Iraq was such a great idea in the first place are now doubling down. Excuse me, but could we just give Senator McCain and his ilk rifles and send them to Iraq? Misguided US military action is what created this mess, it’s clearly not the solution. As Obama recently said, paraphrasing here, “Just because you have the best hammer, doesn’t mean every problem is a nail.” Sure, the US military could likely recapture Mosul and the rest more or less with ease. Then what? The ISIS would just melt into the population and wait for us to leave. They aren’t from Mars for God’s sake, they live there.

Which is the last point, the Manichean heresy. In essence, the idea that there are good guys and bad guys. And by extension the idea that if the good guys just kill all the bad guys, everything will be just fine. (That’s been tried repeatedly, it never works.)  Or as the Manichean heresy might be called today: the 12 year old boy’s comic book view of the world. The ugly truth is that people are people, they are all pretty much the same, and differences between them are due to circumstances and history, not inherent good/evilness. I’m not saying there aren’t just wars, and indeed people like Hitler do show up. My point is that when leaders say “They are the bad guys, we must wage war,” it’s not a logical argument. The first is simplistic at best, the later is a does not follow argument.

We’ll see what tomorrow brings. There are other points I should toss out for discussion. Like the fact that this could result in a huge loss of American influence in the world. Two Saudi Arabias, neither of which require the US as an Ally. Sleep tight.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is not being used for profit. It is arguably an historic image. I will gladly properly attribute it if I find out who to attribute it too. God save us all.)

 

Written by unitedcats

June 17, 2014 at 10:46 pm

Patomskiy Crater, a Real Earth Mystery

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patomsky

Well, there it is. Patomsky Crater. A 40m high crater in remote Siberia. Discovered in 1949 by a geologist named Vadim Kolpakov. Well, discovered by the outside world, the locals had known of it. It was made sometime in the past few centuries. How was it made? That’s the mystery. Geologists have been studying it for decades, and they still don’t know. Yes, scientists don’t know how this pile of rock was made. I’d say it was like a crop circle made of stones, but scientists know how crop circles are made.

What could it be? At first it was thought maybe it was something that Stalin had made by gulag labour. It’s certainly possible, he had some odd things done.  However, geologists visiting the site ruled that out, it is clearly a natural formation. One possibility was that maybe it was some sort of explosion caused by uranium ore going critical. Something similar happened in Gabon, Africa, some 1.3 billion years ago. Alas, no Uranium or radioactivity has been found, so that idea was ruled out. Impact? Well, some scientists still think so. In fact for awhile it was thought it might be related to the Tunguska impact of 1908. Alas, no meteoric material has been found. And its date has been pinned down to about 250 years ago, long before the Tunguska event.

So, volcano? Well, there’s no volcanic rock in the region. The crater itself is made of limestone, hardly a volcanic materiel. There’s no volcanoes or extinct volcanoes in the region. And it doesn’t resemble any known volcanic crater. Still, most geologists think it must be some sort of eruptive process. Some geologic process heated ground water causing one or more phreatic eruptions. Research continues.

The significance of this discovery? It’s interesting on several levels. The first thing is that it is an example of the limits of science. Lay people, especially fundamentalist religious types, often seem to be under the impression that scientists know everything. No, they don’t. In fact it’s safe to say that what scientists don’t know is vastly, maybe infinitely, greater than what they do know. Every new scientific discovery expands the boundaries of what we know … and expands the boundaries of what we don’t know. It’s certain religions that claim to understand everything, most scientists long ago got over that conceit.

Anything else? Well, the woo woo crowd has weighed in. Some have claimed that Patomskiy Crater is a crashed UFO. Some reports claim that a cylindrical object has been identified buried in the crater. I’m pretty sure if Russian geologists had actually identified some mysterious object was buried in the crater, it would have been excavated promptly. Still, it’s not a big topic in the woo woo crowd. Which in and of itself says something. they aren’t really interested in mysteries, only mysteries that can be easily folded into their pseudoscience view of the world.

Yes, I’ve become more intolerant of science deniers. The religious ones are worse, because they are destroying the political process in the USA. That’s a story for another post. The woo woo ones, well, they aren’t helping. Because science doesn’t yet doesn’t have an answer for something, UFOs aren’t the default. Or angels. It’s the beauty and wonder of the world, science has discovered that there is no need for supernatural explanations, and right now UFOs are as supernatural as angels and demons.

So, what created Patomskiy Crater? I’ll certainly go with the scientific consensus. Some sort of as yet unexplained geologic process. Still, the exotic impact theory hasn’t yet been ruled out. Exotic as being an impact of something other than the typical stone or ion meteorite. Something much denser than either. The universe is stranger than we can imagine, Patomskiy Crater is proof of that.

And the most wonderful thing about science, when it does explain Patomskiy Crater, it will make our understanding of the world a little bit bigger. We will not understand everything, but the more we understand, the safer we are. Our campfire in the dark gets a little brighter.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is not being used for profit and is central to illustrating the case. I don’t know who the copyright holder is. And lastly, a joke. Some claim that the Tunguska event was caused by Nikola Tesla. Enjoy.)

Written by unitedcats

May 28, 2014 at 11:36 pm

Posted in History, Science, World

The US Goverment Offers Crimea to Putin on a Silver Platter, Then Freaks Out When He Accepts Their Gift

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Invaders In Flight

Ukraine. Crimea. Putin. Russia. What a mess. If the gentle reader can’t find Crimea on a map, fair warning, this post might make them angry. That’s what the comment section is for. Here goes: By any definition, the Russian actions in Ukraine far more fit the definition of “humanitarian intervention” than say, the US invasion of Iraq. I think the death toll was, what, zero? And the majority of people in Crimea actually wanted to be part of Russia, not living in Ukraine … especially a Ukraine with a nationalistic government that clearly wanted to treat ethnic Russians as second class citizens. While Putin’s actions were clearly self-serving, Crimea is of paramount strategic importance to Russia, the idea that this is some sort of Hitleresque invasion is nonsense. US foreign policy has become so knee jerk and predictable that it’s easy for clever mofos like Putin to take advantage of them. And that’s exactly what happened, the US in it’s mindless zeal to expand NATO and the EU right up to the Kremlin’s doorstep essentially handed Crimea to Putin.

How’s that? How much the US influenced the ouster of the democratically elected government in Ukraine is debatable, but they certainly played a role, possibly a large role. And they got their wish, the government of Ukraine was overthrown and a government much more to their liking (profoundly anti-Russian) was installed. (This was not some sort of popular revolution against a dictatorship, it was mob rule at its ugliest.) A “government” who decided that their first order of business was to pass laws diminishing the status of Russian speakers in Ukraine. A government that the US immediately recognized as legitimate. And this is where the shortsightedness of America’s current policy becomes clear. What, exactly, did they think Putin was going to do? Did it even cross their minds that Putin might do exactly as he did some years earlier in Georgia, send in the troops to protect Russia’s interests? Apparently not, since their reaction to Putin’s move has been mindless hysterics. As is the case with so much of America’s modern foreign policy, there was no plan B.

Even the sanctions are looking to be a joke. The Europeans are in no mood for an actual economic war with Russia or something as mindless as a resumption of the “Cold War.” So the US is reduced to histrionics. I suspect that after all is said and done, Crimea will remain part of Russia, and the US will blame the “loss” of Crimea on its allies … and carry right on with further ill conceived foreign meddling. There will not be a resumption of the Cold War, there will not be World War Three, nor does this have any similarities to the rise of Hitler. The fact that the US media and most Americans can only think about foreign policy in terms of cartoonish similarities to past events is a wonderful example of how uneducated the public discourse has become in modern America. And sadly many of our leaders are just as uneducated and shallow in their world view. This is what happens when religion and ideology become the basis for getting into office, you get parrots spouting nonsense to their base instead of educated people trying to run the country effectively.

On the plus side, boy, Putin came out of this smelling like a rose, demonizations in the western press notwithstanding. In one fell swoop he humiliated the USA, reasserted Russia’s historic control of Crimea, brought large numbers of ethnic Russians back into Russia … and made himself one of the most popular leaders in recent Russian history. His approval ratings are the envy of Obama and Congress. The lesson here of course is that foreign policy needs to be based on a  realistic assessment of the world. “Might makes right” does work sometimes, but it’s not a substitute for things like diplomacy and common sense. And instigating trouble in Ukraine made about as much sense as Russia trying to stir up trouble in Canada or Mexico. Even if they succeeded, and a pro-Russian government came to power in either, the chances the USA would sit back and do nothing would be zero. Yet that’s exactly what the US did in Ukraine, and then acted shocked and surprised when Putin did exactly what any sober assessment of the situation would have strongly suspected was a possible consequence.

Watching US foreign policy is like watching a train wreck in slow motion. It’s also a wonderful illustration of one of the definitions of insanity. Insanity is repeating the same actions, but expecting different results. The US will continue to meddle in “unfriendly” governments, and continue to achieve results that weren’t what it expected, or even the opposite of what was expected. It’s easy to destabilize a government and make a mess of things, it’s much harder to put together the pieces afterwards. Maybe someday Washington will learn that.

(The above image is Public Domain under US copyright law. It’s German soldiers retreating from Crimea during World War Two. Foreign armies have been fighting in Crimea for centuries, one can only hope we don’t backslide that far this time.)

Written by unitedcats

March 18, 2014 at 11:00 am

Posted in History, Propaganda, War, World

Kanzi, the Talking Bonobo?

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Kanzi

Well, an acquaintance showed me some exciting video the other day. It was of Kanzi, a Bonobo that has learned to communicate with humans by pointing at symbols. Kanzi knows thousands of symbols, and videos of him are all over youtube. It’s pretty impressive stuff. Kanzi can give and understand a vast array of commands, and interacts with his handlers regularly using the symbols. To primatologist Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, who has been studying Kanzi all Kanzi’s life, Kanzi exhibits “advanced linguistic aptitude.” Kanzi has even been interviewed on TV, heck, how many people can say that? Is the Kanzi the breakthrough primatologists have been striving for for decades, have humans and an animal learned to communicate? Well, yes. The more important question though is this, is Kanzi the the holy grail of animal communication research, has Kanzi learned to speak?

Alas, while there is a lot to be learned from Kanzi research, don’t place any pre-orders for handy Bonobo house servants. Let’s start from the beginning. In 1969 a chimpanzee named Washoe rocked the scientific world, the first chimp to learn sign language. Washoe was a media sensation, and launched a whole raft of primate sign language research. People everywhere loved the idea that chimps could talk. Sure, their vocal cords can’t pronounce human words, but with sign language, that barrier was broken! Unfortunately, upon closer examination, Washoe well, washed out. Her handlers had been wildly optimistic about their interpretations of many of her hand movements. Even one of her most famous examples of “speech,” her making the signs for water and bird upon seeing a swan, isn’t particularly amazing. A swan is a bird, and it was on water, all it really showed was that Washoe knew the signs for water and bird. Science moved on, and while a few researchers went forward, other than in the popular perception, signing chimps were a dead end.

Then, along came Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and Kanzi. No messing around with ambiguous hand movements, by learning actual symbols, his communications were clear. Kanzi learned thousands of symbols, and could use them to signal his wants and even to some extent communicate his internal states. Watching the videos of him is pretty amazing, at least on a  superficial level. Kanzi can hear complex commands and act on them, surely that means he is using language similar to how humans do. Had Sue Savage-Rumbaugh done it, was Kanzi the first animal to speak with a human?

Alas, no. There’s a number of problems with the “Kanzi is speaking” scenario. The first is how he acquired language. When human babies start learning words, they almost immediately begin constructing sentences out of them. And as they learn more words, their sentences get longer and more complex. When Kanzi (or other “talking” chimps) start to learn words, they pretty much don’t make sentences out of them. And as they learn ever more words, their sentence construction remains at their initial very modest levels. Kanzi’s average sentence length is … 1.15 words. In other words, Kanzi for the most part uses exactly one symbol to express himself. And while Kanzi’s understanding of symbols might seem impressive, it’s more substance than real. Yes, Kanzi seemingly can understand commands involving several words, but that is not necessarily language. IE if one tells Kanzi to “put the doll in the bucket in the other room” all Kanzi really has to know is that he is expected to manipulate the doll, the bucket, and the room. That’s not language.

More accurately, Kanzi does not appear to understand grammar at all. Grammar is how words strung together modify each other, the essence of language. IE take these two sentences, “Man bites dog.” and “Dog bites man.” A human child can understand the clear distinction between these two sentences almost as soon as they start learning to speak. Kanzi can’t, when carefully tested with simple sentence pairs like this, his “understanding” doesn’t rise above chance levels. Despite learning language for decades, Kanzi is 26, he doesn’t understand grammar at all. As one primatologist puts it, no ape has ever asked a question or expressed an opinion.

Will humans ever communicate with animals? Not looking good, human’s facility with language most definitely is something that no animal, no matter how clever, has ever demonstrated. Is there a lesson here? Of course, I’m always illustrating some point or other. The main point being how people’s public perception of science is often at odds with reality. Most people one talks to about signing and symbol using chimps are absolutely convinced that indeed, these animals are “speaking.” I suspect this is a combination of wishful thinking; both on the part of the public, the media, and on the part of the very sincere researchers involved. Sadly, just because a handful of researchers and the public thinks that something is a scientific reality, doesn’t actually make it so.

Lastly, Kanzi is a curious example of borderline research. Nothing is ever black and white, the boundaries between science and nonsense aren’t as clear cut as many would believe. Talking apes aren’t pseudoscience, actual scientists are working in the field. And they sincerely believe they are onto something. I suspect the amount of research devoted to this will decline over time, that’s usually the case with unproductive lines of research. Still, all this talking chimp research has at least cleared up one thing: Chimps can’t be taught to talk.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit and is central to illustrating the post. I got it from this fine site, which presumably holds the credit and copyright. And yes, I have been ill. I have returned and am blogging again. That’s good or bad depending on one’s perspective I suppose.)

Written by unitedcats

December 18, 2013 at 7:58 pm

Posted in History, Science

And the Winner of this Year’s Most Tasteless 9/11 Commemorative Message is: ALIPAC

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sad

“The illegals are trying to hijack the cockpit of America’s government! Let’s roll! —William Gheen and The ALIPAC Team”

Isn’t that just lovely? Let’s use the most terrible crime in American history to compare immigrants to mass murderers.  Yes that’s the message of the anti-immigrant group ALIPAC. Lovely, just lovely. It’s bad enough that 9/11 has been used to whip up anti-Muslim sentiment, strip us of our rights, support overseas wars, and the creation of a vast mind-numbingly wasteful and counterproductive police and security state … now it’s being used to foment racism in the USA! Merika!

Sigh. This is an example of why I’m having trouble blogging lately. The Religious Right in the USA is going further off the rails every day. If you aren’t a white, Evangelical Christian, heterosexual, male American … you aren’t really an American. That’s the platform of the Religious Right now, it scares me, it should scare any decent person. I’d write more posts about it, but it would just upset me more. People who want to keep up on the brain-dead antics of this formerly fringe movement should follow Right Wing Watch. A lot of it is the usual crap, trying to get religious teachings back into school, etc. Some of it is a lot worse. Tell gay couples to die on their wedding day, gays wear special rings to infect non-gays with HIV, Obamacare is designed to kill conservatives. The sort of stuff that used to be limited to flyers stuck under windshields is now mainstream fare. Jesus wept.

What does this have to do with 9/11? A lot, 9/11 really seems to have pushed a lot of right wingers over the edge. A friend of mine was calling for the USA to blanket Afghanistan with neutron bombs after 9/11. He came back and later admitted it’s a good thing he wasn’t in charge of the country that day. Many kept right on going as evidenced by the Religious Right’s every widening gap between themselves and reality. The rest of the country is trying to move forward to an America with justice and fairness for all Americans, the Right wants to return to a day (that never existed) when American was synonymous with white Evangelical Christian. And I am most definitely talking about Republicans and the Tea Party, though there are plenty of conservatives who think it’s gone too far. They are being purged from the Republican party from what I can tell. This is the legacy of 9/11, Republicans have turned into a party of hatred and divisiveness.

Then there’s the whole war monger thing. Sigh. 9/11 was indeed blow-back from our murderous foreign policy, but few if Americans know that. The propaganda that 9/11 was purely caused by America hating religious nuts who only understand violence and can’t be negotiated with is pretty much stock-in-trade for most Americans. With the full and enthusiastic cooperation of most of America’s atheists too. Sigh. Again. Yes, 9/11 was a terrible thing. And we’ve used it to justify endless 9/11s against Muslim lands. Hundreds of thousands of people have died in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan as we set our military loose to “protect” America by murdering foreigners. And we wonder why foreigners hate our foreign policy, if “kill as you please” can even be described as a foreign policy.

The there’s the other 9/11, one that I didn’t even realize was a 9/11 event until recently. Yes, 40 years ago today with the full backing and aid of the CIA and USA government the democratically elected government of Chile was overthrown by a military coup, ushering in nearly two decades of repressive military dictatorship. I guess it’s only fitting that we used our own 9/11 to strip Americans of their rights and energize our efforts to overthrow governments overseas. It’s an American tradition now, like football, mom, and apple pie. And now due to Obama’s beneficent influence, even the Democrats are the party of foreign wars!

To me this is the greatest sadness and shame of 9/11. A terrible event that could have triggered a national debate and reflection on the role America plays in the world was hijacked by war mongers, war profiteers, and haters from the beginning; and we now have a country that wages war constantly abroad and spies on and restricts its citizens at home. We could have followed the Prince of Peace, instead we pledged our souls to Satan. To commemorate the loss of loved ones by killing foreigners and stripping Americans of their rights isn’t commemoration, it’s sick. America lost its way in 2001and went enthusiastically down the dark path Bin Laden wanted us to follow. Maybe someday we will wake up from the dystopian police state nightmare that has been evolving in the USA since then, but I’m not seeing many bright spots on the horizon.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit, its use here in no conceivable way interferes with the copyright holder’s commercial use of the image, and it is the best image I could find to illustrate my feelings about 9/11. I have no idea who to attribute it too. “Imagine all the people living life in peace. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.” —John Lennon)

Written by unitedcats

September 11, 2013 at 10:42 am

Syria, War and Lies All Over Again

with 9 comments

gas-masks

Well, Washington and Obama are making noise about attacking Syria. Quelle surprise. Kerry was saying today that the evidence of a Syrian chemical attack was “undeniable.” Please, spare me. Washington has been lying about this sort of stuff since the Mexican War in 1848, and it’s hard to find a 20th century war they didn’t lie through their teeth about. Our economy and political system is based on war forever, Syria is just more of the same. The main reason we know this is a lie is simple. Obama stated that the use of chemical weapons would trigger US intervention. Why in the name of God would Syria do the exact thing that would trigger US attacks? They wouldn’t of course, no one is that stupid, especially considering that chemical weapons are essentially useless on the battlefield unless your enemies are using World War One style human wave attacks. So Syria has no conceivable reason to use chemical weapons, and excellent reason not to use them.  Kerry’s claim should be taken for what it most likely is, a lie.

So if the Syrian government didn’t launch an attack, who might have? Well, let’s see, who has to gain from US intervention? Bingo in the Elf Lounge. The rebels. Yes, a chemical weapons attack was launched by the Syrian government conveniently near a UN inspection team even! How lucky was that? And snipers even tried to slow the team down as it approached the stage of the purported chemical weapons attack. Stage as in staged. It’s more than likely the rebels faked an attack of some sort, it wouldn’t take much. For all practical purposes Obama asked them to stage an attack, who can blame them? Even the public evidence is suspect. There are photographed bodies of claimed sarin gas victims. Assuming these are real pics (yes, the rebels have tried crude fakes before) it’s been pointed out that if these people really did die from sarin gas, the people wandering around the bodies without protective gear would also quickly be succumbing to the intensely lethal substance on the bodies. They aren’t.

Sadly the truth doesn’t really matter. The USA attacks whomever it pleases whenever it pleases, and manufactures whatever justification is needed. Most Americans don’t want another war, but their opinion hardly counts anymore. Even Congress isn’t even trying these days, this time they might not even bother to pass a resolution supporting the attack. What will be the results of the attack, aside from more profits for the military industrial complex? Who knows, it often takes years for the blow-back from this sort of nonsense to fully realize itself. It stands a good chance of bringing down the Assad regime, one of the only remaining secular regimes in the region, and replacing it with a Islamic fundamentalist government aligned with Al-Qaeda. How would that help the USA or Syria? Damned if I know.

What I do know is that there is nothing “humanitarian” about an American attack on Syria. Yes, that’s part and parcel of the endless propaganda flowing from Washington and the mainstream media, we’re all concerned about the plight of woman and minorities and democracy. Yes, unlike every other empire in history, the USA’s motives are pure! Spare me. Anyone who believes that may have pure motives themselves, God bless em, but the facts on the ground consistently belie the idea that we are trying to make the world a better place. US intervention almost invariably makes things worse for the people in a  region, especially the ones we kill and maim with our “well intentioned” bombs and missiles. It does however prevent the rise of modern secular nation states, which would be far less pliable to American influence and meddling. They might even have radically dangerous ideas like those pursued by Saddam for example … he thought that the profits from the sale of Middle Eastern oil should be invested in the Middle East! One can see why he had to go.

So many lies, when it’s all just about western militarism and colonialism. European armies have been marching through the Middle East since Alexander the Great. The excuses change but the end result is the same. Death and destruction for the locals. That’s what wars do on the receiving end. Our current Alexander in Chief hasn’t shown any qualms about that before. And of course wealth and profits for the west. Follow the money as they say.

Lastly, a point about chemical weapons. They are not WMDs. They in fact aren’t anything special, just another one of the myriad evil ways humans have devised to kill each other. Like nuclear weapons, they have few real military applications and are more a political and propaganda weapon than anything else. And to make the hypocrisy complete, not only does the US cheer on such weapons when they approve of the regime using them, the USA has utterly no qualms about using them itself. So the idea that Syria has crossed some sort of moral boundary by using (purportedly) chemical weapons doesn’t pass the laugh test.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit and its use here in no conceivable way interferes with the copyright holder’s commercial use of the image. Its a photograph entitled “Viktor Bulla’s Pioneers in Defense Drill, Leningrad (1937)” It appears on page 79 of a book of photographs called “Propaganda and Dreams” by Leah Bendavid-Val. While a lovely ghoulish photo by modern standards, it was very much meant as a propaganda picture showing how prepared the Soviet Union was for self defence.)

Written by unitedcats

August 27, 2013 at 7:59 am

The Monster Within Us

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Picture_bride_kidnapping

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956

The Hannah Anderson kidnapping. Some weird shit, eh? For those who weren’t following, a family friend kidnapped a 16 year old girl, torture-killing her mother and brother in the process, and fled to the Idaho wilderness. The FBI tracked him down and rescued the girl, the perpetrator dying in the shootout. (And while I am often a harsh critic of law enforcement killings, in this case, good going guys. A murderous monster with a hostage was killed, sometimes the good guys are the good guys.) So, sick fuck dead, is there more to this story? Yes, yes there is. Here on Doug’s Darkworld we thrive on sick stuff, and this unpleasantness has some curious aspects.

So, the authorities are still mystified as to the perpetrator’s motive. Ah, the wonders of living in a puritan country. It’s not all that mysterious, he wanted to fuck her. And he likely did, although I haven’t found that anywhere in the news yet. Of course rape would be the operative word, she was a victim in every sense of the word. So what causes a man to kill his best friend’s wife and son, and kidnap the daughter? Was DiMaggio insane? In some senses, almost certainly. It was a crime with essentially zero chance of “success,” so clearly he wasn’t thinking rationally. He might have had a brain tumour or other organic problem that destroyed his judgment and impulse control. Maybe he was always a sociopath, but until then had never encountered a situation that brought it to the surface so to speak. Whatever the trigger for the crime was, it did develop over time, as there are reports he was acting strangely towards the girl long before the kidnapping. At the very least the man had a troubled past that more than likely contributed in some ways to his crime.

However, it’s easy to say some guy was “crazy” and let it go at that. Alas, nothing occurs in a  vacuum. So one can at least speculate about what influences might have led to this tragedy. The first thing that comes to my mind is rape culture and the objectification of women. Men are programmed from an early age by innumerable societal forces to think of women as “prizes” that they can obtain somehow. Hell, there’s a whole genre of popular “asshole gets the girl” movies.  Don’t even get me started on the bible and fundamentalist religion. Then there’s advertising. Basically this guy looked at the girl as a sex object despite overwhelming factors that should have dissuaded him. Or think of it this way, if the victim hadn’t been a classically cute blonde girl, would the crime even have happened?

In a more general sense, men kidnapping girls to be their brides has a long history. It was widely practised throughout the world throughout history, and continues to be practised to this day in some parts of the world. It’s fair enough to say that this was a normal part of human mating for much of the specie’s history. This of course doesn’t excuse the behaviour, but it may explain the urge on an atavistic level. IE there was likely an evolutionary advantage to stealing brides from neighbouring tribes, so the behaviour may be at least someone instinctual. Any atavistic behaviour might be, and one has to speculate how many men might engage in the behaviour if the circumstances encourage it? Sadly the evidence is that many people are easily enough induced to do bad things.

As a codicil, Stockholm Syndrome. This is where a prisoner or a hostage comes to identify so much with their captor that they may even defend him. It was named after a bank hostage case where it was discovered that two of the three women taken hostage in a  bank robbery for several days had subsequently married their now jailed captors! About a quarter of people taken hostage appear to show at least some Stockholm Syndrome symptoms. And there is very much scientific speculation that the syndrome is an evolutionary adaptation to women being routinely kidnapped by other tribes. The women who acquiesced to enslavement were far more likely to survive and have children. Curiously, there seems to be little research on my hypothesis, that men may be evolutionary prone to bride kidnapping. Not sure if it means anything, especially in my shallow level of analysis, but it is interesting.

Many kidnap victims don’t exhibit the Stockholm Syndrome. Hannah Anderson, the victim in our case, was back on a social network within days of her release! And she had no sympathy whatsoever for her captor, saying being shot to death was exactly what he deserved. And it’s an interesting footnote to this case, the victim using a social network to share publicly her experience! The mass media played a role in her rescue, and it now plays a role in her recovery. The implications there alone are fascinating, it’s a brave new world.

(The above image was taken in Central Asia in 1871 -72, so it is safely in the Public Domain under US copyright law. It may show a traditional bridal “kidnapping” in progress, the women gesturing with the whip is facing her four “abductors.” I use parenthesis because as cultures evolved, the distinction between bridal kidnapping and arranged marriage gets fuzzy. In this case the Kidnapping appears to be more symbolic than real, one can speculate all they want about what is going on in the photo. Which it is why it made such a great photo for this very much speculative blog post. I am trying to provoke thought, not reach conclusions.)

What’s up with Putin and his persecution of gays?

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chernobyl

Russia’s leader, Putin, has begun a major persecution of gays. While being gay in and of itself has not been re-criminalized, pretty much any mention of the topic in public is illegal. Basically any sort of LGTB activism is now illegal in Russia. And of course this rising tide of anti-gay sentiment has encouraged all sorts of people to persecute gays on their own initiative. It’s an ugly situation that has caused some to call for a boycott of the upcoming Russian Olympics, and generated criticism from many international quarters, including Obama himself. On the flip side, many of America’s religious leaders are praising and encouraging Putin’s anti-gay stance! Yes, Putin is now more popular than Obama in some US demographics, go figure.

So, what the hell is going on here? In no particular order, my snarky didactic take on the situation. For starters, I don’t think this is completely random, Putin is a clever man, and he must have decided this was a good time for this. And from a  domestic sense, it can only solidify his position. It gets him more in bed with the Russian orthodox church, the military, and just conservative religious Russians in general. So he’s got a domestic win politically. Secondly, this is going to allow him to identify and persecute internal opposition to his rule. These laws will very much be a threat to political activists of all stripes. So just in general this will help keep the lid on secular democratic and human rights dissent. These are pretty big gains for the cost of forcing gays back into the closet.

Then there’s the 2014 Russian Winter Olympics coming up.  If one is an authoritarian regime hosting an Olympic game, democratic dissent during the run up to such games is a threat. Pro-democracy advocates brought down the South Korean military dictatorship in 1988 by taking to the streets before the Olympics. Granted Putin doesn’t face the kind of general pro-democracy dissent that the South Korean generals faced, but he’s not a man to take chances when he can avoid them. Internationally it gets even more complicated. The whole issue of LBGT rights is really big in the west, especially the USA, right now. I don’t think this is a coincidence. Basically Putin is setting it up so that almost any sort of “problem” around the Olympics will strengthen his hand domestically.

So what’s the west to do? There has been a lot of talk, but nothing concrete. A few boycotts have been launched, but there doesn’t appear to be any chance now that the west will boycott the Olympics. Which puts a lot of western leaders, including Obama in a  position where they have no really good realpolitik options. Actually boycotting the Olympics would get Obama a lot of cred in some quarters, but hurt his cred in others. Others with big money. Putin was likely betting that Obama and the west simply wouldn’t calculate that gay rights was an issue they wanted to get into a tiff with Russia about. It would be bad for business. So far Putin seems to have calculated correctly.

Domestically the US religious right is going nuts over this, falling all over themselves praising Putin’s “moral” stand. Granted they were already foaming at the mouth over Obama, but this just gives them more venom to stir up trouble with. Yes, by persecuting Russia’s gays Putin is encouraging even more divisive politics in the USA, and maybe even encouraging extremists to commit anti-gay terrorism. As a codicil to this, at the very least, Putin knows that American intelligence and security assets will be occupied dealing with the fallout from this. Anything that complicates and divides your enemies is a good thing.

Lastly, since resources will be devoted to this situation in the west, one has to wonder if Putin’s anti-gay crackdown is a distraction of some sort. Is Putin planning something he wants to divert attention away from? Many in the west have forgotten, but in 2008 Georgia tried to use the Olympics to cover up a fait accompli military re-annexation of a breakaway province. An ill advised action that resulted in a swift and brutal war with Russia and a confrontation between Russia and the USA. Putin hasn’t forgotten this by any means, and even if he’s not planning something, someone else might be. The world is not exactly a stable place right now.

(The above image is all over Facebook so I am claiming it as Fair Use under US copyright law. And it is the joke I usually hide in the copyright notice.)

Written by unitedcats

August 14, 2013 at 12:00 pm

Trayvon Martin and Institutionalized Racism

with 2 comments

pal

The Trayvon Martin shooting. And the George Zimmerman trial. I’m at an impasse on racism and oppression and injustice. Some people see it, some people don’t. Some people were outraged by this shooting, some by the verdict. It was a case that revealed where people stood on issues such as racism and class, a case that really highlighted how people perceive the world.  Anyone who was using confirmation bias to reinforce their world view … had their world view reinforced by this case. That’s pretty much most of us. This is why is was such a  media and cultural sensation, it spoke to everyone. It was a mirror. A mirror into our souls. Our dark souls.

It would be easy to write a post that spoke to those outraged by both the shooting and the verdict. So I won’t go there. I could try to reach those who are overtly prejudiced, and think of Zimmerman as a hero. No point, people have to find their own way out of that conundrum. If anything, I am speaking to those who call themselves progressive, and think that justice was done as it was a fair trial. The liberal sheep as I refer to them as. Privately of course, I wouldn’t want to offend anyone. To me this was one of the saddest aspects of this case, that a lot of people who think of themselves as just and progressive buy into the layers of  PC crap that conceals the horrid racist nature of this case. With this in mind, and in no particular order, a few impressions.

Of course this is about race. That is one of the more absurd claims made about this case, that it’s not about race. Of course it’s about race, because it is about how blacks are perceived in public. Blacks already live in a  world where the police are not their friends, things like stand your ground laws mean they also live in a world where any white man with a gun is a potential threat. (Don’t even try to tell me that Zimmerman wasn’t “white.” He was a rootin-tootin gun-toting self appointed armed vigilante “defending” a white community against black intruders. Hell, the NRA gave Zimmerman their endorsement, how white is that?) Or look at it this way, almost every black person in America knows a teenager who goes to the store and buys junk food. Even if it wasn’t about race, it was when the media got into it. People who think this wasn’t about race are probably the same people in the habit of saying “I’m not  a racist, but … “

It was not about the trial. A lot of liberals are talking about how, well, they really didn’t prove their case. Well, duh. They weren’t trying to prove their case, they were putting on a show trial in the face of enormous public pressure. If the local authorities had had their way, Trayvon would just be another statistic. From the very beginning the local police and authorities didn’t pursue due diligence in this case, Zimmerman wasn’t even tested for drugs for god’s sake. When the defense and the prosecution want an acquittal, it isn’t a fair trial. White people regularly claim self-defense and get away with shooting someone, black people almost never do. The same fellow who prosecuted Zimmerman got a black woman 20 years for firing a warning shot at her husband.

We’re not living in a post racial society. More blacks are in prison now than were enslaved in 1850. And largely imprisoned by draconian drug laws that send people to prison for possession, laws carefully written to punish blacks far more harshly for the types of drugs they use than the punishments for whites using the same drug in a different form. And the Supreme Court dutifully ruled that such laws aren’t racist, because they don’t single out race on an individual level. Right. And stand your ground laws are far more likely to benefit a white shooter than a black one. Nope, no racism there. Trayvon was followed by a  vigilante because he was a black male wearing a hoodie, if Zimmerman had followed and killed a white girl in the same circumstances, he’d be on Florida’s death row now.

If one understands that there are still oppressed peoples in the world, even in America, the Trayvon Martin case is an example of same. If for whatever reason someone doesn’t understand that, they’ve got the white thing down pat. White isn’t a race by the way, but that’s for another day. RIP Trayvon.

(The above image was used with permission of the author.)

Written by unitedcats

July 26, 2013 at 6:47 am

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