Freedom to depress

So there I was, scratching around the web looking for a little perspective on how the hell our expectations of journalists fell so far that Glenn Beck gets to use the same job description that Walter Cronkite used on his tax returns, without getting sued for defaming the entire profession.  My guess is, half the population don’t notice and other half don’t give a shit.

I used to think it was pretty cool that Comedy Central were doing their bit in the name of journalism. And, to be fair, Jon Stewart’s beatdown of Tucker Carlson on CNN’s now deservedly-extinct Crossfire was pretty badass. But really, once you think about it, it’s just another reason to hop on a barstool and stop thinking about it.

Fair and balanced?

How did we get here? In lieu of mine own hazy ponderings, enter Chris Hedges, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. Giving the 2009 Stuart Bullion Memorial Lecture in Journalism, Chris tells it like it is…

We live in an age of moral nihilism. We have trashed our universities, turning them into vocational factories that produce corporate drones and chase after defense-related grants and funding. The humanities, the discipline that forces us to stand back and ask the broad moral questions of meaning and purpose, that challenges the validity of structures, that trains us to be self-reflective and critical of all cultural assumptions, have withered. And this assault has been a body blow to a free press, which is, like the humanities, designed to promote intellectual and moral questioning.

But don’t worry, there’s still plenty of cake!

We are cleverly entertained during our descent. We have our own version of ancient Rome’s bread and circuses with our ubiquitous and elaborate spectacles, sporting events, celebrity gossip and television reality shows. Societies in decline, as the Roman philosopher Cicero wrote, see their emotional and political passions subsumed by the excitement and emotional life of the arena.

*sigh*

The “War on Terror” – A Fresh Approach

Having been up to my eyeballs in work I’ve had less time than usual and have yet to finish reading the entirety of General Petraeus’ statement before the Senate Armed Forces Committee which he made on 16th March. Subtitled, The Posture of U.S. Central Command, I was principally reading it for insight on current strategy in Afghanistan and the “War on Terror” as I work on another look at the country and the nature of the conflict in the wider region.

A couple of things struck me at first, and I’ll leave the rest of the report until I have time to address it much more fully, but in his introduction Petraeus makes this observation on U.S. interests and “the Most Significant Threats to Them”

Because of the CENTCOM AOR’s (Area of Responsibility) geography, control of much of the world’s energy reserves, and propensity for instability, the United States has substantial strategic interests in, and related to, the region.  Chief among these are:

1. The security of U.S. citizens and the U.S. homeland.

2. Regional stability.

3. International access to strategic resources, critical infrastructure, and markets.

4. The promotion of human rights, the rule of law, responsible and effective governance, and broad-based economic growth and opportunity.

Strategic resources, of course, means oil but it’s rather refreshing to hear someone in charge openly talk about its strategic importance instead of mumbling about “freedom”. That’s not to say there aren’t things of concern for me in his statement. Merely as a start you could highlight at the first three of his points above and observe how those interests can negatively impact the fourth and have done for some time.

As an example, Petraeus observes in the section dealing with Afghanistan that…

The Taliban have been resilient, with their activities fueled by revenues from outside the region as well as from narcotics-trafficking… This drug money has been the  “oxygen” in the air that allows these groups to operate.  With the extension of authority granted to U.S. forces to conduct counter-narcotics operations, we are able to more closely work with the Afghan government to disrupt the illicit narcotics industry though interdiction of the narco-trafficking network.

Presumably the “authority” granted to the U.S. forces has been given by President Karzai’s administration with, perhaps, the expert advice of Karzai’s half-brother Ahmed Wali Karzai who is rumoured to have accumulated his fortune and power through that self same “oxygen”. It is a complex and convoluted world.

And one which the average American citizen, informed by a media who serve news as fast food rather than nourishment, could hardly be expected to follow with any accuracy. And perhaps this is why, when given the opportunity to contribute to fighting the “War on Terror”, they have a slightly skewed expectation of what can be achieved.

The U.S. Defense Department, in their wisdom, became aware they have a vast resource unavailable to the “Enemy”. The collective power of the American People™. The Pentagon, therefore, has allowed visitors at their website to provide feedback and give suggestions. Here are my favourites…

Would there be time to construct a Noah’s Ark Biosphere in North America if there is an emerging Global War starting in the Middle East? I don’t know … I only know that I have worked on such a project for many years now… The problem is it takes a lot of resources to build a modern day Noah’s Ark … and lots of planning and development.

Who better to suggest it to, than the U.S. Defense Department? They’ve spent far more money on far sillier things before now. The Men Who Stare at Goats, anyone?

Other contributors are keener on bravely revealing the darker work going on behind the scenes…

Has anyone at the Department of Defense noticed that the Twin Towers were destroyed on 9/11, and that when you dial emergency services in the USA you dial 911? If so, is this merely a coincidence?

An interesting point, well made.

Others are less suspicious of their country’s military, however, and rather keen to find out more…

So do you have any top scret information you would to like to tell me? i am doing a project for my senior economics class, and was just wondering…email me back.

I wonder what he found out. More importantly, I wonder what happens to the world when he, and the rest of his “senior economics class”, ends up working in the world’s banks. More of the same, perhaps…

But I will leave you with my hands down favourite. A fresh approach to the “War on Terror” that could change everything. And what I particularly admire, is this keen amateur military genius does not presume success is easy.

No. He anticipates the possibility there may be some snag in his plan. He identifies that one potential flaw and suggests not one, but two, excellent solutions…

Bears have scent detection that is far superior to bloodhounds! Trained bears with GPS and day/night cameras around their necks might be able to hunt down the scent of Usama Bin Laden, even in and through any caves and tunnels!!! Overnight, Parachute some bears into areas UBL might be.

Attempt to train bears to take off parachutes after landing, or use parachutes that self-destruct.

America, Fuck yeah!

The joys of home rentership

More cheery financial news spotted in this morning’s LA Times:

Nearly one-quarter of U.S. mortgages, or about 11 million loans, are “underwater,” i.e. the houses are worth less than the balance of their loans. While home values are regaining ground — median prices rose 10% in Southern California last month to $275,000 compared with a year earlier — they remain far below the July 2007 peak of $505,000.

Now, I may just be a grizzled old bugger with a liver like a cricket ball, and I’m not what you’d call a…a … (whaddayacall those guys on Wall Street? Not thieving bastards, the other one…) economist. I’m no economist, but it looks to me like my being too half-arsed to get into the red-hot jump-right-in-it’s-awesome property market back in 2007 has paid off to the tune of around two hundred and thirty grand.

I’ll take it in fifties, thanks.

Nearly one-quarter of U.S. mortgages, or about 11 million loans, are “underwater,” i.e. the houses are worth less than the balance of their loans. While home values are regaining ground — median prices rose 10% in Southern California last month to $275,000 compared with a year earlier — they remain far below the July 2007 peak of $505,000.

Electile dysfunction

I was surprised to find this gem buried in the opinion section of the The Onion instead of the front page where it belongs. I’d find it a lot funnier if I wasn’t reminded just how much truth lies behind it every time I turn on the TV.

My Constituents Care Way More About Political Gamesmanship Than Jobs, Health Care, And The Economy by House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH).

Among the gems:

My constituents deserve better… They deserve someone on their side who will ask the tough questions, such as how will painting Democrats as radical ideologues play in, say, Arkansas? Can we vote “no” on the health care bill and still make it look like we give two craps about the welfare of ordinary Americans?

But wait, there’s more!

My constituents had to be proud. They must have loved the way I blatantly ignored the truth and put quotation marks around “stimulus” so as to delegitimize the whole project. And I bet they noticed that, with just one sentence, I slyly preyed on America’s inherent distrust of big government. Pretty good, huh? It’s all bullshit of course, but it’s a great political play.

And finally…

More than anything, average, workaday Ohioans want me to play politics at the shrewdest, most despicable level, not to waste their time making surgery affordable or offering tax breaks to small businesses. And my constituents are so thankful that I took a nation that was actually hopeful at the beginning of 2009 and turned it into a paranoid, demoralized country unsure of whether it made the right choice in 2008.

Wizard Prang…

I mentioned the other day I spent some time researching and writing a script about Keith Park and the exploits of the RAF during the Battle of Britain in 1940. Whilst writing, the classic RAF accent became stuck in my mind. I started using expressions such as “Tally Ho” and referring to my producer as “Red Leader”.

Perhaps that is why this sketch from Armstrong and Miller left me fair weeping with laughter….

Attention – Drunks!

Here’s a road sign from Romania warning drivers of hazards ahead…

The translation of the text is Attention – Drunks although this pissed up pedestrian seems to have had his arse cut off to add injury to insult.

Peter Antal, the mayor of Pecica, who erected the signs said…

We are a border town and have lots of cars thundering through here all the time. But we also have a very vibrant nightlife and the two don’t mix. We have to target the drivers because by the time they get to this state, the pedestrians are beyond caring.

We must warn drivers that sometimes people who have little control over their actions can suddenly appear in the road

Nice sign… although if I was mayor I think I’d go with some a touch more graphic. Something like this perhaps…

The text beneath would read "I love you man... you're me best bleeurgh

Late Breaking Plagiarism Update: Perhaps Mayor Antal has recently come back from holiday in Thailand. Here’s a photo my wife took in Phuket 9 months ago just before she passed out.

Which raises the question. Was the original model Thai? And where the hell is his or her arse?

Nazi Cycling Tours – A Historical Nugget

Last year I spent a large amount of time chasing up documents from the UK National Archives held at the Public Record Office at Kew. At the time I was doing research for a documentary on Keith Park, the New Zealand commander of 11 Group during the Battle of Britain in 1940, and as a result my e-mail address was added to their mailing list. As the Archives gradually become digitised, enormous quantities of material are now becoming easily accessible. Previously it require a trip to Kew and hours of wading through unrelated material to find what you were after.

Unlike many mailing lists, the unsolicited content occasionally sent through to me is utterly fascinating. Random glimpses into history appear in my inbox weekly and occasionally a gem appears that has me procrastinating doing important work for hours. One such example was the online publication of all the Second World War air combat reports covering RAF units based in the United Kingdom including the United States Army Air Force. The main search page can be found here and, as an example, here’s a look at the last page of Douglas Bader’s combat report for September 15th, 1940 (now remembered as Battle of Britain Day).

The Archives have also released Army, Navy and Marines records plus the UK Government UFO files. If you wish to find out more about close encounters, strange illnesses, flying ‘Toblerones’ and unidentified objects tracked on radar you can find the link to the files here.

Occasionally though the records turn up events lost to popular history and this week is a good example.

In 1937 MI5 began to monitor a group of German boy scouts, members of the Hitler Youth, who were on a cycling holiday through England. The spy agency warned local police and authorities to be on the look out for cycling Nazis wearing…

dark navy blue uniforms, consisting of shorts and loose open-neck tunics

Heff you seen der bicycle clips?

No piece of information was deemed too small for the agency to register and, although no solid evidence was gathered to prove the boy scouts were spying, their itinerary included local sights such as steelworks and gasworks. The Metropolitan Police were tasked with shadowing them in London and police in Denbighshire noted the scouts “swapped hats” with local scouting groups in Colwyn Bay. At the Spalding Rotary Club it was noted the boys had a “sausage and mashed potato supper”.

Needless to say, I won’t be demanding to be removed from the mailing list anytime soon. This stuff is gold!


The Orca Slave Rebellion

The media love an animal attack story and the “death by whale” narrative produced at Sea World on February 24th has produced hundreds of columns and opinion pieces. They chiefly fall into two broad camps – “It was a tragic accident and the whale was playing” or “These animals aren’t called Killer Whales for nothing and you shouldn’t get in the water”. What seems to be lost in most accounts are the questions of orca behaviour and whether these creatures are behaving naturally or reacting against a captivity which is far from tolerable to them.

The issues surrounding orca captivity are hardly new. In 1992 the Whale and Dolphin Conservation society commissioned a report entitled The Performing Orca. The society sponsored the investigation with an open mind as “there has been considerable confusion over the so-called facts routinely tossed around and argued over by polarized pro and con advocates”.

During this capture at Penn Cove, in 1970, hunters used bombs to corral a pod of 80 whales. 5 died, including 4 calves. Their bellies were slit and filled with stones to hide the evidence. Only one captive remains alive today, despite many wild orca living in excess of 70 years

Researching and writing the report took the author Erich Hoyt almost a year; during which he visited most of the 17 parks around the world that kept orca, travelled to Iceland, the site of most Orca captures, interviewed marine park owners and trainers and top orca scientists from around the world. The report (a pdf copy of which can be found here)  investigated, amongst other things, the educational value of keeping orca, the value of scientific studies funded by marine parks, the world orca trade, the impact on captivity conditions on orca behaviour and the dangers to trainers. And it is that last chapter, dangers to trainers, that drew my attention the most given the recent death of Dawn Brancheau at the hands fins of Tilikum.

Bruce Stephens, former director of animal behaviour at Sea World, says he has been hurt on dozens of occasions…

Any person who has trained these animals has been thumped, bumped, bruised, bitten and otherwise abused over the course of time. It happens to everyone… You have to appreciate the potential for danger.

But, in defence of his trade, he went on to add the record…

…has really been quite good for orcas, especially when you consider that about 40 people a year are killed in accidents with elephants.

Presumably he failed to take into account the large numbers of captive elephants in comparison and the difficulty an orca has in leaping from a pool to go on a rampage.

During the 1980s Sea World pioneered a new training programme devised by David Butcher. His system, known as PLESR (pronounced Pleasure), emphasised human interaction as reward for the whales. It was split into five elements; Play – in which anything goes, Learning – when new “behaviours” were taught, Exercise, Socialisation – where whales interacted with several trainers to simulate a wild pod and Relationship, where whale and trainer bonded one-on-one. If a whale misbehaved it would be punished by being stared at by Butcher and his fellow trainers. To avoid predictability sessions would be scheduled at random and no one whale would get to play the lead, “Shamu”, exclusively. They would all take turns.

Sea World's blurb for the "Believe" show reads... "At the heart of every being lies a spirit of wonder. Feel it come to life in our most sensational show ever: Believe. A captivating and visually stunning Shamu show that will transport your heart to the edge of wonder".

The approach, dubbed the “Sea World method”, brought dividends in the range of new tricks, or “behaviours”, the whales would perform but it also had unintended consequences. In March 1987, Jonathan Smith was grabbed by an orca during a performance at Sea World, San Diego. It dove to the bottom of the pool, then carried him to the surface and spat him out. He gallantly waved to the crowd before a second orca slammed into him and dragged him back down. He was repeatedly attacked and dragged beneath the surface until, with the desperate help of his fellow trainers, he managed to struggle from the pool bleeding with a six-inch laceration on his liver and a ruptured kidney.

Three months later, Joanne Webber had a three ton orca, Kandu, land on her during rehearsal. Chris Barlow was rammed soon after during a show and Mark McHugh was bitten on the hand while feeding. In August the accident rate accelerated and, a dozen incidents later, in November a five-ton male named Orky crashed down on John Sillick as he rode on the back of a female orca. Sillick suffered multiple fractures to his back, pelvis, hips, ribs and legs.

The Orky incident was the last straw. Butcher was fired and lawsuits involving Sillick, Smith and Webber were settled out of court and gag orders imposed. But the idea of orca as large, lovable dolphins desperate to bond with their human captors had been shattered as comprehensively as Mr Sillick’s pelvis. And, as The Performing Orca points out, there had only been one recorded instance of a wild orca attacking a human (when a surfer was “mouthed” off a California beach).

But today, 18 years after Erich Hoyt’s original report, little has been done to change the conditions orca face in captivity. And, as Tilikum reminded his captors two weeks ago, the whales continue to lash out at their jailers.

One of the articles in the wake of Ms Brancheau’s death wistfully asked, “If only they could talk. I wonder what they would say” whilst another, citing the bible opined the offending creature should be put to death. (Originally the author had mentioned stoning as a possible method although he seems to have retracted that part of his column saying he was misquoted and “trying to stone a whale would be silly”). The combination of the two did fire my imagination however. It reminded me of a scene from the Kirk Douglas classic Spartacus and, with the assistance of our audio-visual editor CuriousCartman, we can now offer you a glimpse of the Orca Slave Rebellion as the officials hunt for the whale Spartacus (played by Tilikum).

Are you possessed?

The answer to this troubling question is now available thanks to the pioneering work of Pastor Bob Larson.  Bob has designed a comprehensive 21 question Demon Test that will prove once and for all whether one of Satan’s minions has taken up residence within your earthly form.

Skeptical? Bob points out the test is the result of…

…more than 30 years of research and thousands of hours in personal ministry with troubled souls. Through this vast experience I have been able, with God’s help, to design this test to quickly determine an individual’s spiritual needs.

Disturbingly, I have discovered I have a moderate risk of demonic oppression/possession, which would probably explain my predilection for virgins blood and why I woke up naked in a pentagram covered in candle wax this morning. Rest assured I’ll be posting my cash to Pastor Bob (as soon as I get the stains out of the carpet) for a copy of his seminal work THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO SPIRITUAL WARFARE. In the series I will get to learn…

● A biblical understanding of spiritual warfare
● How to become a mighty warrior the devil fears
● When, where, and how to wage effective spiritual warfare
● Ways to defeat the devil in your health, relationships, and finances

Should you still be wary, have a look at this photo of Pastor Bob.

He looks like a Tom Baker-era Dr Who crossed with the sort of bearded ginger crazy who is always causing fist fights down at your local pub. Just the bloke to give Beelzebub a much needed nose tweak…

I am from the Planet Gallifrey... get thee gone foul demon

Please Sir, can I have some more?

And while I’m on the subject of the Winter Olympics. Duffster reported before the Games began (in his post Olympic village root-fest about to get underway) that 100,000 free condoms ad been distributed to the 7,000 athletes in anticipation of the shagging frenzy usual on such occasions. At an average of 14 condoms apiece, some may have thought this would cover the requirements adequately enough, but apparently not.

Swedish Biathlete Sven Diggler was the first to require a top up

Supplies appear to have run dangerously low. Low enough that, on the last Wednesday of the Games, the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research leapt into action and trucked an extra 25,000 free condoms off to the Olympic Village. CANFAR’s Executive Director, Kerry Whiteside, explained…

When we heard about the condom shortage in Vancouver, we felt it important to respond immediately

Good work Kerry. Although it does rather raise a question.

Are all Winter Olympians so skint they can’t afford to buy their own?

Things I’m saving up for #2 – Giant Inflatable Beaver

Ok… I know I said I was saving to buy myself a Flying Penguin but that was before I read the Montreal Gazette and saw the company that made the giant inflatable beavers for the Winter Olympics closing ceremony is selling them off.

Nothing says “Olympic Spirit” quite like a giant inflatable beaver

Dynamic Displays, who produced the six beavers in the parade, also made sixteen mounties, a dozen hockey players and four flying moose. 74 year-old Maria Reuten, who sewed the hockey players recalled…

It was exciting … the stuff you made is shown on television and the whole world is seeing it

Another employee, Cesar Gomez, summed it up neatly…

When people see the inflatables, they go crazy

You’re not wrong Cesar. And that’s why I’m busy stuffing my piggybank until I get the $5000 for my very own beaver. Apparently the moose cost more but who wants a moose when you can have a beaver?

And $5000!!! That’s a bargain…

Recession? What recession?

I know some people are in denial but this is ridiculous.

Cashmere loo paper? Aisle 3... right next to the Angora Tampons.

Waitrose buyer, Carla Smith, explains…

Cashmere provides that stamp of quality to any fashion garment from a designer suit to the finest luxury knitwear. It’s indulgent, it’s stylish and it’s helping provide that extra softness to our new premium bathroom tissue collection.

Recession? What recession? I wipe my arse with cashmere…

Fear Force – Keeping citizens safe from themselves

A couple of days ago Kevin Geraghty-Shewan took his 4-year old son to the supermarket in Sunderland. At the entrance to the store was a children’s train ride and the boy jumped on board to have his picture taken.

And this is where the forces of law and order stepped in.

A vigilant security guard spotted this suspicious behaviour, approached Mr Geraghty-Shewan and told him to delete the photo. He was told…

You can’t take pictures here

When Mr Geraghty-Shewan explained the boy was his son the guard explained…

You can’t prove that. For all I know you could be a paedophile

Warning - NSFW locomotive image

Now, this isn’t the first story that has emerged from the UK about the almost arbitrary rulings on where and when citizens are allowed to take photographs in public places. This is mainly due to the other Great Modern Fear, that of terrorism.

Section 44 of the UK Terrorism Act 2000 states…

Officers have the power to view digital images contained in mobile telephones or cameras carried by a person searched under S44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, provided that the viewing is to determine whether the images contained in the camera or mobile telephone are of a kind, which could be used in connection with terrorism

Given this justification, hundreds of photographers have been stopped by the police, who are doing one of two things. They are either using their powers under the Act as an excuse to harass innocent citizens or they genuinely believe their actions are keeping the streets safe.

I find the former of those fantastically annoying. To get hassled whilst taking photos because it is your hobby, passion or job would be utterly dementing.

But the latter I find horrifying. And, looking back at Mr Geraghty-Shewan’s experience in Sunderland, I’m not entirely sure this wasn’t what occured.

Having shrugged off the attentions of the security guard he shortly found himself stopped by a policeman, who had been alerted by the store.

They took my details and said they had the right to remove the picture from my phone. I got annoyed and things got heated, then he threatened me with arrest for breach of the peace.

Ben thought I was in trouble because he had sat on the ride and we didn’t put the money in.

Good job that incriminating nugget of information slipped their notice, it would have been off to the nick with Dad and the kid would have been in a foster home before you could say Thomas the Tank Engine.

In this case he was let off with a warning… but what was he even warned for? If the security guard and the policeman had actually thought he was a paedophile shouldn’t there have been some sort of arrest?

No. Because what they wanted him to do was delete the photograph… that’s all. So we can only assume that, should you wish to let your recently kidnapped 4 year old victim play on a supermarket ride, just make sure you don’t photograph him. And if you do, delete the photo and wander off with a warning.

I can just picture the scene back at the police station. It plays out like a Monty Python sketch

Superintendant – Ah, P.C. Wilkins. Back from patrol I see. Anything to report?

P.C. Wilkins – Another of those paedophiles taking photos, Sir.

Superintendant – Dear, dear. And what did you do?

P.C. Wilkins – Got him to delete the photos, Sir. Sent him and the boy on their way…

Superintendant – Good work Wilkins. What I couldn’t do with more men like you.

P.C. Wilkins = Yes Sir. Thank you Sir.

Fox interviews Tony Blair

Poor misunderstood Tony Blair, how terrible it must be when others cannot see things in the same twisted way that you do. To get a soft ride in an interview, especially after the grilling at the Iraq War Enquiry, Blair appeared on Fox News. Hardly surprising that he would be treated with kid gloves at Fox, given the neocon bias of the station and the fact that Tony is well and truly part of that camp. Blair ticks all their boxes: religious zealot, misguided, warmonger, intellectual lightweight.

In Part I, Blair is poor, poor pitiful me. In Part II, he has a go at Iran. And this man is an envoy to the Middle East!

Unfortunately, despite continually professing to do the right thing when he was Prime Minister, justice and the rule of law do not seem to rank highly in Blair’s hierachy of personal values. Remember how in 2006, Blair quashed a criminal investigation in the arms manufacturer BAE Systems before it could be brought to a conclusion:

In December 2006 the SFO – amid much consternation – dropped its corruption investigations into BAE’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia after direct intervention from Tony Blair, who was prime minister. He defended the decision on the grounds that the Saudis would stop co-operating on security issues.

Yes, good old national security used as an excuse yet again. But looked what happened a couple of weeks ago after the Americans and Europeans became involved in investigating BAE:

The British arms firm BAE Systems has accepted guilt and agreed to pay penalties in the US and the UK totalling several hundred million pounds to settle all the long-running corruption allegations against it.

In the US, the company will plead guilty to offences of false accounting to settle bribery allegations made over the enormous al-Yamamah arms deals with Saudi Arabia stretching back more than 20 years, as well as corruption allegations over arms deals in central Europe.

Interesting, isn’t it.  If there truly was a significant national security component to all this, I’m sure the Americans would have pulled their horns in rather than chase this prosecution. In retrospect, it seems  it was not so much about national security as it was about protecting vast amounts of income for the UK armaments industry.

So fuck justice, it was all about the money. Tony Blair, you were and are a disgrace.

Soft porn ad break: Megan Fox for Armani

Megan Fox is the new face and body for Emporio Armani Women’s Underwear. She takes over from Victoria Beckham who is probably too old, too scrawny, or both.