Turning away

Last night’s UK Channel 4 Dispatches was entitled Iraq’s Secret War Files.

I tried to watch it. A few minutes in, I had to switch off. There’s only so much harrowing you can take on a work night. And the few minutes I saw were too harrowing….. A crying child drenched in the blood of the two adults who had been shot in the front seat of a car with 5 children in the back.

The Dispatches web page for this programme starts with:

…exposes the full and unreported horror of the Iraqi conflict and its aftermath, revealing the true scale of civilian casualties; and allegations that after the scandal of Abu Ghraib, American soldiers continued to abuse prisoners; and that US forces did not systematically intervene in the torture and murder of detainees by the Iraqi security services. The programme also features previously unreported material of insurgents being killed while trying to surrender.

I can’t even begin to list the catalogue of horrors that follow on the rest of the page, let alone in the programme.

As I said, I had to turn away from the programme. (And watch the more relaxing repeat of Jim Al-Khalili’s Atom on BBC4.)

So, total respect to those people who don’t just turn away. Who don’t feel it’s like knocking your head repeatedly against concrete to keep speaking up about outrages. Because someone has to have the courage to keep on doing it

Like wikileaks. If ever there would be a well-earned Nobel prize, that would be one given to wikileaks and – even more so – to those people who put the good of humanity before their own fear of arrest and provided the information.

Defining honour

Today’s Observer has the horrific story of the murder of the mother of a 17-year-old Iraqi girl who was murdered a couple of weeks ago, because she was friendly with a British soldier.

Just to reprise the original murder. Rand Abdel-Qadar was seen talking in public with the soldier. Her father attacked her.

Though her horrified mother, Leila Hussein, called Rand’s two brothers, Hassan, 23, and Haydar, 21, to restrain Abdel-Qader as he choked her with his foot on her throat, they joined in. Her shrouded corpse was then tossed into a makeshift grave without ceremony as her uncles spat on it in disgust. (From the Observer, 11th May)

Leila Hussein had to go into hiding after denouncing her husband. She was sheltered by a woman’s rights organisation, but was ambushed and shot while moving between safe houses.

A fortnight ago, the Observer reported an interview with the father:

For Abdel-Qader Ali there is only one regret: that he did not kill his daughter at birth. ‘If I had realised then what she would become, I would have killed her the instant her mother delivered her,’ he said with no trace of remorse. ….
Abdel-Qader, 46, a government employee, was initially arrested but released after two hours. Astonishingly, he said, police congratulated him on what he had done. ‘They are men and know what honour is,’ he said.

Somebody get a dictionary for the Iraqi police and Abdel-Qader Ali, please. Or for me. Because if this is “what honour is”, then my understanding of the word is deeply flawed.

In fact, the man has even been rewarded. He is going to get paid without having to go to work.

Sources have indicated that Abdel-Qader, who works in the health department, has been asked to leave because of the bad publicity, yet he will continue to draw a salary.
And it has been alleged by one senior unnamed official in the Basra governorate that he has received financial support by a local politician to enable him to ‘disappear’ to Jordan for a few weeks, ‘until the story has been forgotten’ – the usual practice in the 30-plus cases of ‘honour’ killings that have been registered since January alone.

The Observer suggests that this case has only received so much attention because Rand was in love with a foreigner rather than an Iraqi. 30 cases since January? Thirty.

As far as I can see, the only person who showed any signs of holding to a concept of “honour” in this sorry crime was Leila Hussein. And look what happened to her.

Abdel-Qader is a Shia and he claims God’s support:

I know God is blessing me for what I did,’ he said, his voice swelling with pride. ‘My sons are by my side, and they were men enough to help me finish the life of someone who just brought shame to ours.’

As so often, religion becomes the last refuge of the scoundrel.

You can’t lay the blame for these sorts of outrages at the door of religion, as such. It’s sexism – which also victimises these men involved by ingraining them with insane models of what it is to be a man. However, whenever some evil bastard wants to play a winner-takes-all trump card that beats all the opposition, you can usually rely on religion to serve this ideological end.

Here’s a link to the International Campaign to Stop Honour Killings.

Secular fundament, my butt

Today’s Guardian has articles at both extremes of the bell-shaped curve of sense. First, the great Charlie Brooker, scoring a goal for the good guys, in a brilliant and passionate TV guide (yes, you read that right) piece about Iraq.

However, “nature knows balance”, as people say. In the Review part of the Guardian, John Gray writes tosh on “The atheist delusion”. The introductory subhead hints at the content with “John Gray on why the ‘secular fundamentalists’ have got it all wrong

Do I need to read on. Secular fundamentalists? Will there be reference to Dawkins as the Pope of Atheism next? I can barely bear to read this stuff to find out. But I’ll try.

(This blog is being served to you in real time.)

No. I’ve read it now. There is no point in even addressing it.

To give you a flavour, “The new evangelism mirrors the faith it rejects” is the picture caption, taken from a lazy assertion in the text.

These are the same tired old arguments based on the idea that finding a flaw in some irrelevant Dawkins’ metaphor somehow disproves everything anyone says about the non-existence of the god and about the minus value of the impact of organised religion.

For once, in this type of work, he hasn’t actually SAID Dawkins is the “Pope of Atheism” but he’s taken it for granted. He had to throw in the standard Stalin and Hitler nonsense, which certainly doesn’t bear discussion, being so dumb and mistaken, an’ all.

As an example of his arguments, it turns out, according to Gray, that

In today’s anxiety about religion, it has been forgotten that most of the faith-based violence of the past century was secular in nature”

What? It was faith-based but it was really secular? 😀 Don’t ask me what that is supposed to mean. Unless, of course, he’s veering dangerously close to the views of those of us who see religion as a tool for manipulating people for material ends…..

Read Charlie Brooker instead. Justified anger, true intelligence and a tv review all in one short column. What more could you want?

Customer focus and Blackwater

Blackwater being rather topical, I thought I’d find out something about who or what Blackwater is. In the last couple of days, CNN has been bursting with stories about the reported activities of Blackwater employees, with the shooting of Iraqi civilians being only the cherry on a large unsavoury cake.

On 2 August, James Meek, writing in The London Review of Books reviewed “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army” by Jeremy Scahill, thus showing an impressive degree of prescience regarding their future news value.

Even in this privatisation-hardened age, even in the United States, the notion that military installations are a monopoly of government remains so ingrained that in 2003, when the Chilean-American arms go-between José Miguel Pizarro Ovalle first saw the real-world mercenary processing centre run by the private firm Blackwater in North Carolina, he had to reach for the imagery of Cubby Broccoli. ‘It’s a private army in the 21st century,’ he gushed to Jeremy Scahill.

The whole tone of the article refers constantly to the fantasy James Bond villain-style of the organistion

It is a private military base, spread over seven thousand acres, near the town of Moyock and the Great Dismal Swamp, with firing ranges, tactical exercise areas and an armoury (containing more than a thousand weapons, according to the Virginian-Pilot, the local newspaper, though there is no law preventing Blackwater stocking as many as it wants)

The book relates how a public sector contractor became a private sector nation-state without (much of) a landmass.

it was the al-Qaida attacks of 11 September 2001, and the subsequent US intervention in Afghanistan and invasion of Iraq, that turned the taxpayer cash flow from a dribble to a high-pressure jet of dollars. It also gave Blackwater the chance to transform itself from a company that trained government employees to shoot into a company that supplied its own, private shooters for service anywhere in the world.

Al-Qaida attacks may have been tough on the victims but they were the perfect business opportunity to Blackwater. It’s an ill wind that blows no good, as the old saying goes.

Someone needs to explain the whole philosophy of privatisation to me again. I naively assumed the general argument is that state-run companies don’t have to compete and so provide inefficient services and so on.

So it must be that the US Government started to feel that its boring old state monopoly army wasn’t customer-focussed enough. Someone thought “What this army needs is some competition.”

What a brilliant idea. Why not carry on and have dozens of customer focussed go-ahead armies, focussed on the bottom line, rather than old concepts like the nation state, which admittedly have hardly distinguished themselves in practice.

And there’s more of a plus. They could compete between themselves to carry out contracts. The cut and thrust of the marketplace needn’t just be a metaphor. They can start shooting it out over who gets to rule the next bit territory. Last company with a surviving chief executive wins. Bidding wars over contracts can become non-metaphorical.

As well as its cutting edge customer-focus, it’s not without a noble historical precedent, either. Every other minor lord could call a few hundred disposable peasants to back them up in medieval times. And they were so peaceful, weren’t they? Hey nonny no.

Companies can send any junior executives without a hope of becoming CEOs to the Middle East to take territory there. There are so many pre-modern echoes here it feels a bit like stepping into a VR Crusades museum.

Actually, I’ve just remembered that some experimental organisations like this have already been established among the civilian populations. I believe they are called gangs.

Wing-nut t-shirts

Reinforcements sent to Iraq – Chuck Norris!
In visit to encourage troops, says surge working, morale ‘way up’

(From the reliably bonkers Worldnet daily of course.) Haven’t the Iraqi people and the US troops suffered enough?

I was browsing the Worldnet daily. (Well, looking for a cheap laugh, since you ask.) From that post about the intrinsically-comical Chuck Norris, I followed a link to a company selling conservative t-shirts.

How po-faced is this? From a gif at the top of the page.

Humor? (hyoo’mer), n. The ability to perceive, enjoy or express what is comical amusing or absurd.

So now you know what humour means.

That’s obviously there to shed some reflected comedy on the t-shirt slogans. In case you don’t realise they are supposed to be “funny.” Not surprising really, given the dearth of the evidence. Still, I’ll have to see how far this definition applies to some of the t-shirts on show.

E.g. “Old School Conservative 1980” around Reagan’s face. Comical? Well, no. Amusing? No again. Absurd? No, again.
“Celebrate diversity” and a picture of lots of different guns. No. No. Maybe.
“Redefeat communism” with the red circle with a slanting line that you see on a no-smoking sign but with Hilary Clinton’s face in it. No. No. Yes. But not in a funny way, surely.
Che’s face in the same no smoking sign. No. No. No.
“Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms. Should be a convenience store. Not a government agency.” A bit. A bit. No.
“Better Fred than Dead” and “Fred Thompson 08. Kill the terrorists. Protect the borders. Punch the Hippies” both with a picture of that chap who used to have a bit part in Lawn Order. No. No. No. for both.
The Baby t-shirts are really depressing. Who on earth would want to parade a toddler round with these slogans on their chest?

  • (Smiley face) Imagine no liberals.
  • Help! Ted Kennedy drives me to daycare.
  • I survived Roe v Wade

I have a question, though, after looking at so many right-wing “comedy” t-shirts that I fear I may never laugh again,. The conservative pin-ups at the bottom of the page include “Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin,” wearing a t-shirt with the word NUKE visible in large letters. I can’t see enough of it to read the “humourous” (sorry, “humorous”) slogan in full but I swear I can’t find one on the site with a comedy NUKE slogan….

Nukes are so funny, after all.
I’m sure this slogan would have me laughing hard enough to split the seams on any

100% preshrunk heavyweight cotton Style: Men’s short sleeve tee Color: White

(Oddly, no “women’s short sleeve”, etc but a monster range of sizes)

Signs of Madness

It seems that no matter how hard I try (or dont try as the case may actually be), I cant avoid the madness that permates the and specifically the . Just to get a bit of perspective, there are millions of websites, millions of blogs written by sane, “normal” people. They just aren’t as much fun…

The serendipitous wonder which has been following my bored searches on Technorati brought me to a blog by one “joannafrancis.” This really was a descent into the world of madness.

The internet has always been a hotbed for “conspiracy” lunatics of all branding, and among the big three Abrahamic religions, Jews often get a rough end of the conspriacy deal (people even try to claim General Relativity is a Jewish conspriacy), so lots of this blog is no real surprise. What is shocking, especially for a blog from what appears to be a devout Catholic(religion of compassion?) is the sheer vitriol and hatred which oozes from pretty much every word on every post.

Just to be open, the reason I think she is a Catholic is she makes the following statement: (read original)

And yet, what Catholics should realize, whether Novus Ordo, SSPX, or sedevacantist, is that these Jews from the SPLC are attacking not only our religion, but all of our ancestors as well.

As an atheist, I find it quite entertaining how much she rants about even the slightest hint of Jewishness in people (for instance, apparently Courtney Love is a Jew, based on an oblique entry in NNDB)

The post which really made me chuckle (on the assumption she reall is alone with these ideas) was made on 10 Nov 06, titled “Israeli Snipers Killing U.S. Troops?” in which she postulates the idea that Mossad or another Israeli organsiation is responsible for killing Americans in Iraq to drag the war out. It is a great post. It has every single one of the crackpot conspiracy nut hall marks in. It could be used as a teaching tool to help spot nutters.

She has some “proof” that the Israelis are involved, for example:

At the very beginning of this video clip, you see a rifle with a video camera attached to it. This weapon is made by the Rafael company, an Israeli arms manufacturer, that also makes IEDs.

So at the very least we know she has no idea at all what an IED actually is. If they were manufactured, they would not be “improvised” would they? Manufactured IEDs are called bombs and mines etc. After some nonsense about rifle mounted cameras being another sign of the Jews, she somes out with:

Mossad is a master at false flag operations, e.g., Oklahoma City, the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, the July 7, 2005 London bombings, the 9-11 attacks in New York, the assassination of the Prime Minister in Beirut, the stoking of Muslim riots in France last year, the bombing of the Hassan al-Askari Mosque in Samarra, Iraq, etc.

Wow. Mossad took out the World Trade Center and the London Underground. Amazing. I bet they even killed Jean Charles Menendes and just blamed it on the Metropolitan Police. I mean, he was a catholic as well wasn’t he?

The post carries on along these lines – even going as far as to say the Mossad Liaison was in charge of US troops at the time of a bombing in Fallujah. The rest of the posts on her site follow this thread. One of the other themes seems to be blaming Jews for American abortions – it all being part of a Jewish plot to kill more and more Americans.

Madness does not do her justice.