Friday, 29 October 2010

Kabul Vice



A mini update to yesterday's post, I'll say this for Russia and NATO they sure like to hit the ground running. The US and Russia have been participating in joint heroin busts, you'll no doubt remember that part of the remit for Russian military advisers was to focus on Narcotic raids.

Further adding to the sense of deja vu is this choice quote "Mr Ivanov said the operation involved about 70 personnel from both countries - including four Russian counter-narcotics agents - backed up by attack helicopters." So Russian troops operating under cover of attack helicopters that shouldn't raise a single eyebrow in Afghanistan.

But what will really raise eyebrows particularly within the corridors of power such as they are is the targeting of the drugs trade. Many of the warlords that effectively put troops on the ground in nominal support for Karzai's administration and the Western occupation are linked quite heavily with the drugs trade, how else could one country grow 90% of the worlds opium poppies in the open, and how else could they have afforded all those weapons and smuggled them across the borders during that civil war that left halted all official trade and ripped apart the local infrastructure and economy.

If these joint narcotics raids continue, and they probably will given Russia and the Central Asian republics severe problems with Heroin addiction this will undoubtedly start stepping on several toes within the Afghan government and coalition which will have a knock on effect for the coalition by worsening relations and trust.


Here's several interviews about the state of high placed Afghan drug connections.








I am Legend



“He’d never really appreciated it. Such a short phrase it was, but meaning so much. Bacteria can mutate”.

By Richard Matheson

Given that this book has received a film adaptation no less then three times (the last man on earth with Vincent price, Omega man Charlton Heston Versus the Albino's, and I am Legend subtitled get Will Smith an Oscar). An while they all stay relatively close to the source matierial especially the one with Vincent Price they all had to change or cut out elements which would still leave a few pleasant surprises if you pick up the book even after seeing all three.

Of the three Omega man is the most distant

For those of you who are completely in the dark about this tale heres a synopsis.

I am Legend is a tale about a lone survivor (Robert Neville) in the aftermath of some sort of plague that’s has as far as Robert knows infected or killed the rest of humanity including his wife and daughter. The plague carries symptoms remarkably similar to Vampirism, a connection Roberts scientific mind finds absurd, but as time goes on finds increasingly difficult too dismiss.
The story is as much about the damage isolation does to the human mind as it is about vampires as Robert is merely trying to survive in his boarded up home first and then goes about trying to unravel this mystery plague and hopefully find a cure at some point, but that little adventure comes across as less of an actual goal he wishes to accomplish are more like a task to his mind occupied as hes daily routine of, fix broken boards, grow garlic, make stakes, find sleeping vampires, kill said vampires, dispose of bodies, go to sleep, repeat next morning is gradually wearing him down like water torture. Hell after a while he even gives up actively hunting the creatures of the night only going out of his way to dispose of the vampires when he comes across them or during the lulls in the storm when he finds he has very little real work to do and needs a few distractions to break up the monotony of his lonely existence.

Not being a scientist before the plague struck Neville found his work towards a miracle cure slow going, though he does successfully identify using stolen microscopes and biology journals an alien micro-organism in the vampires bloodstream finally validating his rational "it must be a virus" line of thinking. But its not long after that his research keeps hitting brick walls and he starts to question his sanity. This gets especially worse for him when the vampires he "experiments" on and kill express terror and weaknesses that have absolutely no relation to a bacteria altogether but are prominent features of the Vampire myth e.g. the cross and mirrors. However he does after a few weeks of trail and error make some progress since he now has a hypothesis that it is indeed some kind of mutagenic bacteria thats to blame for the transformations, but the reason things like crosses and mirrors seem to also repel the creatures is due to psychological factors. You see the Vampires aren't beasts they retain much of there memories and personalities and given that they first for blood, sunlight kills them, and garlic makes them ill they must also know that they are Vampires and thus things like the mirror and the crucifix instil an instinctual dread in them. Which makes Robert wonder what would happen if he encountered a Vampire that was a Jew or Muslim in life.

However his work is halted completely when discovers a living immune female by the name of Ruth. Things do not progress like in a Hollywood film as he has to practically kidnap her to get her to enter his home, and its heavily implied that the reason she stays is due to her fear of the Vampires outside and angering him. Due to his isolation of several years at this point he becomes highly suspicious of her and has lost all manners; he continually wars with himself over whether or not he should kill her (regardless of whether or not she is infected) or start trusting her and (hopefully) start a new life with her, and maybe rebuild the human race.

Sadly though it turns out that not only is Ruth infected but she is also some sort of different mutant (a day walker) and spy for a sort of proto-vampire society who are much more controlled then the Vampires Robert has had to tangle with, they've develop a sort of blood nutrient pill to keep the cravings in check and have the ability to organise socially above the level of a lynch mob, and since many of the vampires Robert stumbles across were members of the "civilised" Vampires who had no interest in Robert or any other immune human, have come to regard Robert as some sort of legendary murderous stalker of the night who kills without reason or remorse (not unlike the Vampire to humans) and have decided to hunt him down. The tale ends with Robert in a cell awaiting public execution as he reflects on how some things come full circle.

As well as being a fascinating investigation into the obstacles faced by simply being alone, I am Legend also raises an interesting point about how morality is determined based on your perspective. Everything Robert does, murdering Vampires in the sleep is ultimately an attempt to survive but as far as the vampire civilisation is concerned he is some rabid mad dog killer who has to be stopped. There is ultimately no hero or villain only two perspectives due to circumstances crash head on.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

those who do not learn from history....


.....Are doomed to repeat it.

It looks like once again the bear will be going over the mountains as the US and NATO have turned to the Russians for support in a desperate bid to maintain momentum and sped up rebuilding efforts no doubt so they can pull out much quicker with there heads still held high and pretend they've accomplished something of substance.

This a very strange arrangement given that large sections of the mujahedeen that resisted Soviet forces in the 1980's now occupy key areas of government or are warlords in the alliance that supports NATO. Further adding to the strange turn of events in addition to training Afghan army units Russia has signed a deal agreeing in principle (political speak for when we've crunched the numbers)to supply NATO with helicopters. For those of you who are old enough to remember it or know there history it was an almost identical deal that marked the first stages of Soviet military assistance before there December invasion in 1979, the first official deployment of Soviet Hind helicopters was in July of that year in support of Afghan army units in a sweep of Kunar valley. The only real difference is instead of supplying Mi 24's (pictured) they'll be supplying Mi-17's.

I'm not for one minute suggesting that the Russians are going to invade since I'm not some nutty new world order American militiamen, but the idea that the Russians getting involved again won't play into the hands of the Taliban. Even if we in the west have forgotten the Afghans sure as hell haven't, this will undoubtedly cause quite a bit of consternation in Kabul and it will be interesting to see what President Hamid Karzai will do to keep his camp together. The only Afghan "big boss" I can think of who'll be pleased the Russians are returning is General Dostum whose probably getting a big nostalgic kick out of this sense of deja vu. Millions died during and after the invasion when the world lost interest after the Soviets pulled out and the two factions were left alone to fight it out, in fact the fighting AFTER the Soviet withdrawal was so fierce that the main reason for the growth of the Taliban was that they and they alone seemed to be capable of wending the domination of the warlords.

Now that history is repeating it self it seems incredulous that the Taliban want be able to increase support by simply reminding ordinary Afghans of the damage that was done the last time Moscow invited itself to the neighbourhood.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

The Invisible Man

“They were prepared for scars, disfigurements, tangible horrors, but nothing!”

The Invisible man by H.G Wells is much like the Time Machine in that they both have a very apt title since thee Time Machine was about a Time Machine and the Invisible Man does indeed heavily feature a man who is invisible. The Invisible Man (pictured) is a highly self centred Albino -presumably his severe lack of skin pigmentation aided his transparency experiments- physics student by the name of Griffin who finally cracks the secret to invisibility just as his landlord evicts him for assault and violations of his tenants’ agreement. In order to keep his secret and thus future fame and wealth secure he makes himself invisible and burns the house down to make sure what equipment he can’t escape with is destroyed lest someone else figure out the secret by chance when the machinery is pawned off to cover Griffins outstanding rent.

However just because he is invisible does not make him invulnerable, he has no invisible clothing (though he did find a way to make fabric invisible during an early experiment he had to smash his apparatus to avoid detection before he could make some clothing invisible and so is stuck naked) and its the middle of Winter, this means he is faced with a dilemma stay invisible and thus risk freezing or discovery from various tell tales, foot prints in the snow, and wet outlines in the rain etc. Or acquiring clothing which would due to the fact that his body is invisible make him much more visible then a normal person, as he would appear as some sort of clothed phantasm. Fortunately for Griffin he finds that by the use of Bandaging and a fake noise and dark glasses he can remedy the situation somewhat though it still draws much more attention than the average person, as passers by often stop and stae trying to figure out what is wrong with him.


After performing a series of burglaries in London to acquire funds to rebuild his laboratory and test out the limits of his stealth, Griffin who has managed to acquire a suitable disguise (well sort of, the curious populace constantly probe him as to the nature of what appear to be extensive injuries) and enough money to purchase some lab equipment and chemicals he decides to flee to the Sussex countryside to the village of Iping were he rents a room in order to work out a way to reverse the procedure when needed. As he fully intends to use his Invisibility to benefit him greatly but needs to become visible now and again to interact with the locals. However the combination of his strange appearance and his strange behaviour (he gets very short tempered and highly paranoid about very minor impediments) and the fact that there have been a number of very suspicious robberies since his arrival bring him to a confrontation with the local constable and village magistrate, there he finally snaps losing his grip on what restraint he had and reveals himself to whole village and now lost in a frenzy he begins to assault and terrorise the village before escaping to a neighbouring port.

Now that the whole countryside believes in the invisible man (he made the front page of all the local papers) his quest for power becomes that much more difficult. He attempts to elevate this by recruiting a local tramp to be a sort of money box and pack mule for his things. Unfortunately the partnership is not a happy one with Mr Marvel the Tramp soon wishing to get out of it and constantly incurring Griffins wrath to the point where Marvel decides to hell with it and steals Griffins journals that contain all his work and equations and promptly legs it for the police station with an irate Griffin fast on his heels, in his attempt to murder Marvel in another of his increasingly frequent fits of rage Griffin is shot and is forced to escape to a nearby house to rest and patch himself up. It is there that Griffin discovers that the house belongs to his old Colleague at University Dr Kemp. Griffin tries to recruit Kemp to his schemes thinking him to be a more reliable ally then Marvel, since surely an intelligent man of learning like the good Dr. Kemp can see the great vision that is to be Griffins on personal fiefdom and naturally want to share in it as his accomplice right?

Kemp however quiet sensibly decides that Griffin s a Narcissistic monster after hearing the revelations of Griffins discovery of invisibility wants nothing to do with Griffins "reign of terror" and instead arranges for the arrest of Griffin while pretending to be sympathetic to Griffins egotistical remorseless ramblings.When Kemps plan to capture Griffin goes awry Griffin goes into yet another maddened rage and instead of escaping after giving the police the slip stays in the area with the intention of coming back and killing Kemp, then presumably Mr Marvel and then reclaiming his books. During the frequent scuffles with Kemp and the Police in a number of houses and streets Griffin is able to finally get his hands round Kemp's throat just outside the local tram station but before he can throttle him is set upon by a mob of townspeople who had little difficulty grabbing and beating Griffin since he had his hands on Kemp's throat. Griffin is beaten to death by the mob and slowly becomes visible again as a bloodied and naked corpse and there it ends.

Or does it?

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Whats in a name?




"not all Muslims are terrorists, all terrorists are Muslim"
Who ever first came up with that quote was either very sarcastic or a moron.Though he does lose bonus points for contradicting himself, first he clearly states that all anti US terrorist are from one religion (Islam) clearly placing blame on said religion then makes that rather infamous statement above which means either all non Muslims terrorists aren't good Muslims which is quite wrong and insulting though no more then the rest of his statement or hes just trying cover his bigotry in a rather weak figleaf.

I mean to demonstrate how wrong the above statement is Cenk gave a brief list of terrorist organisations that were not Muslim, heres a slightly longer list:

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam(Tamil Tigers): broadly Secular Nationalist though due to the Tamil's being majority Hindu it is no surprise that that is also the predominant religion within the group. Also popularised the suicide bomber, though the first confirmed case of a deliberate suicide attack was in Lebanon in the 1980's directed against US forces stationed there. The group still holds the record for number of suicide attacks.
IRA and its various off shoots: Again a broadly Irish Nationalist group with a strong Catholic Support Base in both Ireland, Scotland and North America.
Northern Irish Loyalist organisations: Again a broad grouping of British Unionists with a strong Protestant (mainly Presbyterian) base in Ireland and Scotland.
ETA: Basque separatists operating in both Spain and France(Basque country overlaps the Spanish and French borders)
Marx inspired groups: These include the West German Red Army Faction, the Italian Rosa Brigade, and the Japanese Red Army Faction sometimes called Red Fraction to avoid confusion.

That should be enough to prove the point.

Now to be fair there is a way that this severe logical fallacy can become at least technically true.You see despite having numerous books, laws and film plots on the subject no one has actually come up with a universally excepted definition of what terrorism is. For example the UN still the closest thing are world has to an international concept dictionary has passed many declarations condemning terrorism and pledges for member states to fight it both before and after 9/11 heres a list notice how very few of those links actually bother to even give a brief summary of terrorism and the more detail they give usually the less support they receive.

The reason is simple no one can agree on what terrorism is. I mean check out the comments section of that video in the top there, you'll get all kinds of nonsensical definitions more then a few that sadly back up the sentiments of the arsehole I've quoted. Though it isn't just the crackpots and bigots who are doing this. While researching the subject I came across a number of academic articles who include definitions of terrorism that enable you to include environmental groups for committing acts which I and must people would at worst deem to be vandalism by emphasising the rights of property to an absurd degree. So it isn't really that surprising to see some people have come to regard the thing as a Islamic pastime.

Then muddying the waters further we have Guerrilla movements and organised crime gangs, can they be classed as terrorists, and is the application of that label conditional on a key number of actions and features? where do we draw the line? Or to be controversial what about when state armies deliberately cause pain and suffering to a people during war time, like bombing campaigns? or drone strikes? and should the situations theses groups operate in matter? is the label still applicable when the group or the people the group claims to represent are under direct existential threat like say the situation of the Palestinians or the Tamils both of whom face either death or a lives languishing in a series of concentration camps, does desperate times and desperate measures give them some slack in this regard?

And then of course the biggest grey area of them all armed resistance against the occupiers, what is the difference between say the French Maquis and the Islamic army of Iraq? both fought against occupation with fanaticism, both regularly murdered collaborators, both could be brutal at times. Yet the two have completely different images in the world why is that?

For clarities sake the definition of terrorism that I have personally come to accept as close to the phenomena as possible is as follows "planned acts of politically motivated violence that deliberately target a civilian population or populations, with the intent to spread terror to achieve an end". But what about you? where do you think a line should drawn (if at all?)

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Dracula



“I am Dracula. And I bid you welcome.”

Hello everyone, as we all know it is October,and the witching hour is drawing near. So to celebrate (even though as Celt of Irish heritage I find this commercialisation and Americanisation of an old part of my culture deeply offensive) I decided to go the extra mile by finding my old word document notes on some of the books I read a while back for horror appropriate material and then edit them a bit to make them more coherent and less embarrassing for public consumption.

I'll try and up one of these each week perhaps more, (but almost certainly less) in addition to my regular stuff so I hope you enjoy.

Dracula while not the first novel about Vampires is unquestionably the most popular and long lasting story about the Un-dead. How many 19th century novels can you say inspired both a Deaf and Gay version? The novel is set out as a series of journals from the perspective of multiple members of the band of soon to be vampire hunters with a few newspaper cuttings thrown in to flesh out the scenes. The novel starts off with Solicitor Jonathan Harkers personal travelogue on his way to Count Dracula’s estate on the Transylvania/Wallachia border. Harker is a solicitor who has been sent to the Count to help him purchase a property in London. London is a place that seems to hold the Count's imagination as his Library is full of books maps tour guides and even fashionable weekly journals from the city.

While initially mistaking the Count's odd behaviour for a mix of Eastern European etiquette and awkwardness from being alone Harker notices that there are few servants in this fortress the Count resides in. He does however quickly catch on to the strange goings on of the Count and after nearly been sucked to death (tee hee) by the Count's three beautiful concubines he is kept prisoner while the count gets some local gypsies to move his furniture and a number of boxes of dirt (plot point)
to London with him inside one of the boxes.

Then the tale starts again at Whitby where the ship Dracula boards crashes (due to him killing its crew) were it just so happens Jonathan Harkers dearly beloved fiancée Mina is staying with her friend Lucy. Dracula begins feeding on dear Lucy which thanks to her circle of admirers proves to ultimately be his undoing as one of her suitors is a Doctor who happens to have a friend and Colleague in the Netherlands called you guessed Van Helsing. After Van Helsing confirms the diagnosis of Vampire attack its not long before a team of ghoul hunters is assembled from Lucy's potential lovers, Nina and Jonathan who was able to escape from the Castle while the count was away and convalesce for a while before Mina went to collect him. They even get married at his hospital bed (aww).

The team based at the local asylum that borders one of Dracula's properties begin tracking down the Counts other properties where hes been stashing those boxes of dirt, this is important since for some reason Vampires can't cross bodies of running water, though they can fly and control the weather so how and why that works escapes me. Anyway to counter this the Count has to be connected with the soil of his birth so if they an destroy all the boxes and purify the dirt with holy water he'll be trapped though still incredibly strong and very pissed off.

Despite the counts interference by feeding on Mina a few times necessitating a few very naive blood transfusions (this was before blood types were identified but still it is a bit odd to see two Doctors with extensive Medicinal backgrounds just tap into a mans veins because his young and full of energy) they succeed or so they think, it turns out the count had one box left and uses that to escape back across Europe to his stronghold in modern day Romania. Since Van and the gang are all men of science they know that leaving a powerful Vampire to gather his strength when he has a personal vendetta against you and no moral constraints isn't best thing to leave to sort itself out give chase.

They manage to beat the Count, which is quite a feet given that he can control the weather and frequently manipulates storms in order to cut his travel time down. He can even push a boat up river this way. After killing his three concubines who were sleeping at the time they decide to ambush the Count as he and his gypsy followers come up the trail as it is almost sunset. They succeed but the Texan gets stabbed in the side by the Gypsy. Oh did I mention one of Lucy's suitors was a Texan cowboy? thats kind of important as that is all the characterisation he gets. Anyway thats the plot though I did miss out a bit I think that'll do for a synopsis.


Anyway since Dracula is the archetypal Vampire how does he hold up? well The Count himself is heavily hinted to be the actual Prince Vlad Tepes (the Impaler) of Wallachia and defender of Europe against the Turks who raised him and his brother, his rule was so brutal that many Ottoman armies who were much larger refused to fight or march on Wallachia, he practically invented psychological warfare. His subjects in addition to nicknaming him Impaler after his favourite hobby also called him Dracula (Devil in the Wallachia language). The Count has numerous abilities many of which were original to him and went on to become key tenants of the Vampire Myths. These abilities include the pretty standard bloodsucking, aversion to sunlight (though recent drinking and a hat appear to provide some protection) the ability to transform into a wolf and mist and of course a bat. His strength is reckoned to be that of twenty men, and he can control many animals though his favourite is the wolf. He also has a hypnotic link with his victims and can control their actions and read their minds, though that last part works both ways and comes back to bite him (pun intended) in the end as its through hypnotising Mina that Van Helsing is able to find out what the Count's plans are.

However he also has some severe limitations, the Count can’t stand garlic or the crucifix and theres the aforementioned sunlight aversion. The Count also cannot as previously established travel over running water unless at high tide or at its slack which only applies to rivers so for sea travel he has to spend most of his time in the dirt. The Count is also unable to change his form in the day and can only regenerate in soil specially prepared I.e. from his homeland.

Themes of the book include friction between science and faith as despite the hunters being scientists (a psychiatrist and biologist respectively) and successfully tracking the Count down through scientific and official means (trawling through the chartered housing deeds and shipping logs) much of their information in regards to fighting the Count comes from accounts of old eastern European folklore that Van Helsing has come across, then of course there the holy water and the crucifix, tough its implied that its the faith behind such symbols which is actually hurting him. The book also touches briefly and to me quite humorously and I'm fairly sure accidently on gender roles, both female characters Mina and Lucy are archetypal period women servile and sweet and leave the physical work up to the men. Of the two both are victims of Dracula’s “disease” in Lucy ‘s case fatally so, and the main contributions Mina makes to the team is make type written copies of the mens journals for the sake of posterity. Yes she effectively does the filing, and although Mina is the conduit to which Helsing and the boys ultimately track down and defeat the vile one, she is a passive recipient to Van Helsing's hypnosis and is only help to give him the opportunity because of her earlier vulnerability. Though this was the 19th century values dissonance and all that.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

The Ballad of Ho Chi Minh




Sorry its been a bit quiet here still getting settled in and caught up with all the exciting things happening in the news this past few weeks. But here's a catchy Folk song by the Salford born protest singer and integral part of the folk revival of the 50's, Ewan MacColl The ballad of Ho Chi Minh is unsurprisingly a song dedicated to Revolutionary leader of the Liberation of Vietnam. penned in the 1950's Ho Chi Minh would still have been fighting the French (who eventually withdrew in 1954 following partition)hence the references to Indo-China, though the USA was generously supplying the French with arms and material at this point as part of there policy of containment with President Truman announcing an "acceleration in the furnishing of military assistance to the forces of France and the Associated States in Indochina…" And of course after partition and the total collapse of French colonial power it wasn't long before the Americans stepped in to fill the void and despite Ho Chi Minh declaring an independent Vietnam all the way back in 1945 after driving out the Japanese and there puppet state, it would not be until 1975 that Vietnam was completely liberated from foreign occupation sadly Ho Chi Minh didn't live long enough to see his dream come fully into fruition dying in 1969 after successfully liberating the North of his country.

Lyrics

Far away across the ocean,

Far beyond the sea's eastern rim,

Lives a man who is father of the Indo-Chinese people,

And his name it is Ho Chi Minh.

Refrain:

Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh.

Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh.

From VietBac to the SaiGon Delta
From the mountains and plains below
Young and old workers, peasants and the toiling tenant farmers
Fight for freedom with Uncle Ho.
Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, etc.

Now Ho Chi Minh was a deep sea sailor
He served his time out on the seven seas
Work and hardship were part of his early education
Exploitation his ABC.


Now Ho Chi Minh came home from sailing
And he looked out on his native land
Saw the want and the hunger of the Indo-Chinese people
Foreign soldiers on every hand.


Now Ho Chi Minh went to the mountains
And he trained a determined band
Heroes all, sworn to liberate the Indo-Chinese people
Drive invaders from the land.


Fourteen men became a hundred
A hundred thousand and Ho Chi Minh
Forged and tempered the army of the Indo-Chinese people
Freedom's Army of Viet Minh.


Every soldier is a farmer
Comes the evening and he grabs his hoe
Comes the morning he swings his rifle on his shoulder
This the army of Uncle Ho.


From the mountains and the jungles
From the ricelands and the Plain of Reeds
March the men and the women of the Indo-Chinese Army
Planting freedom with vict'ry seeds.


From VietBac to the SaiGon Delta
Marched the armies of Viet Minh
And the wind stirs the banners of the Indo-Chinese people
Peace and freedom and Ho Chi Minh.

Ho!

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