Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Will Gaddafi go full retard and blow the Libyan oilfields?

Don't let Gaddafi's good looks fool you. He's batshit.

   [EDIT: This is an old post on Libya getting awesome web traffic. Since Gaddafi's dead body is currently on display in a freezer in a Libyan supermarket, I'd prefer, for relevancy's sake that you read my latest mind dump on Libya here. Still, the below February 2011 post remains intact for those of you that love hindsight. I must admit, I kind of partial to it too. And I still like that power play of blowing the Libyan oilfields but it was never really an option for Gadaffi was it? Gaddafi thought he could win this war. And him blowing up his revenue source was always going to be a last resort option few 'dictators' ever get to. Even when they're losing; like Hitler in his Berlin bunker in 1945. And just like every other war historians pick through, Gadaffi's options in this war will get kicked into the dustbin of history's "what ifs." Should he have gone full retard on the oilfields?

 "The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there..." as the old maxim goes...]

   Reports coming out of Libya right now have Gaddafi about to go full retard. Seems like he's not going to go the way of the Tunisian and Egyptian dictators and fuck off nicely with billions in cash and bullion. He issued a badass statement earlier today which is probably dick waving but he said he wants to 'martyr himself' and go down fighting. That's pretty funny really. And understandable. You see, he's never been on the West's payroll like Mubarak and can't just bail to some fancy beachfront condo somewhere. The US has been itching to kill this guy going all the way back to Reagan when they bombed his compound after they fingered him for the 1986 Berlin discotheque bombing. But the interesting variable here, in terms of the recent Arab revolutions, is that this is the first one taking place in an oil producing country. So Gaddafi gets to play an interesting card here that neither Mubarak or the Tunisian Ben Ali had in their deck.

    He can fuck with the world energy market in a major way. How exactly?

  First off, he's threatening  to take a move from the old Russian playbook, play scorched earth with Libya's infrastructure and blow those oilfields and the pipelines linking spice flow to the Mediterranean to kingdom come; taking ~1.9 million barrels per day of world oil supply offline for the foreseeable future. That'd be pretty painful, especially considering the state of the world economy right now. Oil is already flirting with the hundred dollar mark on news of this instability and with Libya offline, the jury's out on how much higher that could go. In 2008, $150 a barrel oil crashed the world economy and with current food prices, real estate misery, zombie banks and high unemployment, anything approaching a similar price is going to start some kind of economic meltdown in the US and Europe that'll have the corporate oligarchy shitting their pants. Of course, the disinformation outfit that is CNBC and Fox will tell you that the Saudi's can easily take up that slack but if you believe what the Saudi's say these days then you're just being naive. Those Wahhabi loons may even have a revolution of their own on their hands soon and if that happens my friends, we're entering a whole new clusterfuck world paradigm.

    Shit could get really interesting here and may be worth a popcorn grab.

   Gaddafi is his own special kind of batshit. That's why he might just go through with this plan. Flamboyant and narcisstic, he grabbed power in Libya as a 27 year old captain in a bloodless coup in 1969 while the King was away getting his pubes waxed or something. Fancying himself as the Arab Che Guevara, Gadaffi had a certain flair and a penchant for safari suits and sunglasses and set up the new Libya as a late sixties counter cultural anti imperialist mecca where anyone looking to do bad shit to Western interests could get supplies, weapons and explosives.

   Obviously, that put him on the shit list. Libya took part in the 1973 oil embargo against the US and its support for Arab unity and opposition to western interests in Islamic states painted a big fat target on Gaddafi in the western world. In 1982, Reagan imposed sanctions and the CIA tried to off him in 1984. Two years later, a squadron of F-111s bombed his compound and killed his 15 month old adopted daughter. This was in response to the 1986 Berlin discotheque bombing that killed and injured a bunch of US servicemen. The Libyan's retaliated in 1988 with the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The evidence that Gaddafi funded it was remarkably flimsy but it's gone down in history as his doing and conspiracy theories are not my forte. Everything is a conspiracy these days and whatever line of bullshit you choose to believe is a personal affair. There is no truth anymore. We're living in a dystopian future sci fi novel.

    Ironically, it was Reagan's sanctions and the inability of Gaddafi to sell his oil during the 80s and 90s, (when oil was astoundingly cheap), that preserved Libya's supply. Estimates say Libya had about 55 Gb of which they've gone through about half. This leaves them with significant reserves of around the 30 Gb mark, enough that if those 1.9 M/bpd were taken offline would send those sleazy Wall Street fucks into a speculative circle jerk and have Exxon Mobil and their ilk jizzing their pants at the possible money train. Or maybe not. Because this kind of sucker punch to the world economy combined with Saudi instability could just grind things to a halt and lead to all kinds of riots on the streets of the US and Europe once the plebs can't feed their SUVs without going broke. That kind of action is something that'll grab the corporate oligarchy's attention. Profits tend to dry up when you are on the downside of the Laffer curve and it gets too expensive for the wage slaves to bother spending on anything except food and guns.

   So can Gaddafi pull this chaos off?

   Right now the word is he's got about 5000 troops he can rely on. That's out of an army of 45,000 total strength. Most of his air force bailed after Gaddafi pulled the whack job move of ordering them to bomb protesters from the air. A total batshit play on his part and probably a good indicator of how screwed he views his own position. He's lost control of a number of Libyan cities and since he's got nowhere else to go (except Venezuela maybe), it seems the threat of scorched earth is the only card left to play.

   Gaddafi is the type to go down with the ship. He not going to hide in a hole and grow a beard like Saddam.

   Libya is a country of Bedouin tribes, and right now Gaddafi can only count on the loyalty of his own tribe, the Qadhadhfa. The 5000 or so troops he can rely on are apparently elite forces with handpicked officers who've been sharing some of the gravy train for the last few years since sanctions were lifted and Gaddafi got taken off the US 'supporters of terror' list a few years back. Condi Rice even showed up on a state visit in 2008 and the US was all warm and Fonzy again and happy to have some oil back on the market so the plebs back home could afford the commute from suburbia.

Condi and Gadaffi enjoying a sitdown over Kleenex

   Of course, that could all go to shit now.

   The latest reports coming out of Libya are that Gaddafi has ordered some of his 5000 remaining troops to blow some of those pipelines that link the fields to the Mediterranean. It seems he's playing the last card left in the deck and using it against the West and his own people. He's also released from prison a bunch of Islamic fundamentalists hoping they go out into the fray and foment all kinds of religious nonsense. The West gets an oil spike and his own citizens get to live in a new African Somalia where the Libyan people get to lament the good old days when they could afford bread.

   I'm off now to do a google search on how oil price directly impacts the popcorn supply.

   Stay tuned for updates. I'm loving this shit.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Wasted in War: Sometimes, losing your mind is the only option.

  I thought I might have some fun this week and put together a little something on alcohol usage in military history. However, the subject soon got way out of control and is proving way too big for a single post so I've had to narrow things down to just a select few of my favorite drinkers in military history.

   Any decent history of humans getting wasted and killing people under the influence probably starts with the moment alcohol was stumbled upon by Stone Age men. However, 'Ugg' smashing in 'Goggz' skull while hammered on fermented fruit skins and all for Ika's affections is one of countless human stories that happened in some cave somewhere but never got written down and therefore doesn't exist for us.  So the 'history of wasted' must begin, for us at least, with the recorded history of any number of ancient civilizations. It's hard to choose which one because who doesn't like a drink?

   Only one thing is for sure.

 Once alcohol was discovered, rulers were quick to control its use for their own gain. It's like anything in human history that people like. A strong man steps in and makes money off human desire. Sometimes, alcohol was used to get warriors in the mood for killing the enemy and other times it was used just to make sane people believe crazy shit.

   Either way, controlling hearts and minds is primarily a chemical affair.

   For instance, the Pharaohs knocked up the Pyramids with an army of dumb fuck worker citizens who were  duped  into believing in the Pharaoh's immortality. This worldview was administered by priests (a necessary subclass funded by the pharaohs) who expounded the virtues of citizens slaving their asses off all day under the hot sun while straining to lift multi ton rocks; all so dear leader could have an eternal life in his triangular bunker. This may seem to us today like a difficult amount of bullshit for the average Egyptian to swallow but throw in the priestly handout of two gallons of free beer per day and a tent to crash in at night and suddenly shit didn't seem so bad to the average laborer. Hey presto, the pyramids still stand today. That daily Egyptian beer ration was a serious factor in getting those things built, possibly the deciding factor.

   Score one for ancient alcoholism!

   By the time the cultivation of the grape had spread to the Greeks around 2000 BC, most of the ancient world was pretty clued in on the virtues of getting wasted. Alexander the Great liked to get black out drunk, especially after his victories at Issus and Gaugamela, when all the decadence of the Persian Empire was his. A few hundred years later, the Romans seemed to have a remarkably temperate view of alcohol use, using it just like me, that is, for 'medicinal purposes'. While habitual drunkenness was rare for the ancients, being hammered at banquets and festivals was not. The Greeks and Romans even had their very own 'god' of getting wasted, the Greek Dionysus or, in the Roman context, Bacchus, a god of wine, fertility and fucking. Our gods today are boring compared to the gods of antiquity. We today are stuck with various 'angry daddy' cloud gods with long beards and a wagging finger every time we're about to get our fun on; the ancients had gods who commanded them to get drunk and run out into the forest naked while looking for unsuspecting females to have surprise sex with. Of course, today they lock you up for shit like that and put you on the sex offender registry. In antiquity, that same  night of debauchery would just be considered a  fun  and typical night out at the festival.

   My favourite Roman drunk was Marc Anthony. A legendary boozer, he drank everyone under the table while fighting at Caesar's side in Gaul, banged legendary amounts of women including Cleopatra (after Caesar got JFKd). She was probably the hottest chick in the ancient world or, at the very least, a sultry seductress who knew how to make men think she was the hottest chick since sliced panem. Anthony avenged Caesar's death and killed the conspirators and headed off to Egypt for a few years where he fell deeply in love with the urn. Who wouldn't I suppose? He was living like a king, downing buckets and having his knob polished by Nubian beauties. But he lost it all to Caesar's adoptive son Octavian in the ill fated sea battle at Actium. He and Cleopatra offed themselves soon after, her by poisonous snake, him by 4 gallons of Chianti and a Gladius short sword. Still, not a bad outing for a boozer in human history.  Marc Anthony's ancient bender still beats the life out of the average life of a drunk hanging outside a 7 Eleven today, begging for change even if it's in our technological fantasy sci fi world.

   If you could live the life of any historical figure, who would you choose?

   Or is today's office job the best life's ever been?

Dionysus, naked and drunk as usual.

   Perhaps my favourite army of alcoholic lunatics whose actions in a single week in 900AD would get you locked up for life in 2011 were the Viking raiders. If I were given a choice of where to be inebriated in military history, I'd probably hop in a Longboat and set sail with the Norsemen.  Fun times. We're talking serious badass drinking and plenty of 'non consensual temporary marriage' to captured females. Also, you got to avail yourself of a lot of free gold and silver trinkets. I wonder how many of us today would trade in our mind numbing cubicle job to go plundering foreign shores with the Norsemen? Sure it'd be risky and there'd be no Internet but it does make you wonder if the side benefits of non prosecutable sex and violence would make up for the lack of modern medicine, traffic jams and the added ability to punch your mother-in-law every time she dropped that comment about you not having a real job.

   As Europe settled down after the Dark Ages, alcohol manufacture fell into the hands of a transnational global cartel known as the Catholic Church. Monasteries with carefully maintained vineyards sprang up all across southern Europe. Monasteries had free recruitment. They were essentially the place where you stored that 'difficult' son in the family who didn't like girls and had no other excuse for not being married. To offset this, monks had a daily ration of a liter of wine which was a decent way to make life in a prison camp bearable.

   The next major impact of alcohol on world history emerged after the discovery of the New World. In the century following, the British Royal Navy emerged as a force that would soon dominate the seas. This was an outfit which practically ran on booze. As the empire expanded, there was a constant need for fit men to man ships and these were often gathered when they were passed out in a gin joint and grabbed by a gang of heavies. Wow, that puts today's otherwise uneventful stumble to the pub in a certain historical perspective doesn't it.

Getting drunk on a Friday night could result in many non voluntary years at sea with the Royal Navy.

   Once you found yourself a member of a Royal Navy crew, you were issued with a daily ration of a half pint of rum, a practice which soon got nixed because a lot of sailors were saving up their half pints over a few days so they could get well and truly wasted twice a week. By 1650, the brass decided to mix all rum with four parts water (using the rum as a water purifier and algae suppressor... tasty) and hence giving us the drink known as 'grog'. The Royal Navy still used alcohol as a pacifier on their ships and the officers fed the men just enough to keep the crew tipsy but never enough that they got wasted and wondered what they were doing 8000 miles from home in the middle of some ocean and getting paid in diluted gin for what the fuck reason nobody could explain to them.

   It wasn't so much that the British used alcohol as a motivator for its men and more that they adapted to the situation as they found it, that is, the population were already hammered on a regular basis and military service needed to adapt to this fact. It's a lot like one of those beach resorts in Spain or Greece today that gets invaded every year by British 'tourists' and we're using the term 'tourist' very loosely here. We're talking planeloads of drunken young working class men, the very same people that in 1750 the Crown dressed in Red Coats, handed a musket and daily gin ration to and shipped out to the far flung corners of the earth to bring 'civilization' to the 'savages'.

   The British could also use 'wasted' as an offensive weapon.

   They trafficked opium and shipped boatloads of the stuff into China from India in the 1800s. Low Chinese demand for European goods, and high European demand for Chinese goods, forced European merchants to purchase tea, silk and porcelain with silver, the only commodity the Chinese would accept. This quickly resulted in depleted treasuries in Europe and back then you couldn't simply 'print' more gold and silver like they do these days. This highly pissed off the British and they decided it was time to create some demand for a product they could supply. Opium. The Chinese quickly developed a taste for that particular flavor of wasted. Obviously, the Chinese authorities weren't happy about this and fought two abortive Opium Wars in 1839 and 1856 to no avail. It's so much easier to dominate a country many times your size and population if you can keep a sizable portion of the men of fighting age wasted.

   During World War I many countries tried to crack down on alcohol use for fear that it would negatively impact production. The Russians banned vodka in 1914 which resulted in lots of home made varieties that also made handy paint stripper and could be thrown at the authorities while alight. In January 1915, Lloyd George claimed that Britain was "fighting German's, Austrians and Drink, and as far as I can see the greatest of these foes is Drink." Times had certainly changed since the glory days of the Royal Navy in the Age of Sail. In the trenches too, the British rum ration had dried up to a few tablespoons per man on a cold winter's morning. The industrial revolution and the hourly wage had taken its toll on attitudes to inebriation. Being wasted now got in the way of all important efficiency.

   By the outbreak of WW II, alcohol found itself competing for shelf space with new varieties of mind altering chemicals. The Germans in particular experimented with a new drug called Pervitin better known to us today as methamphetamine. It was distributed to pilot and tank crews, often in chocolate, and kept them alert, sleepless, and in too high a dose, fighting off the shadow people. Hitler himself, growing ever more demented after Stalingrad, ditched the chocolate part and began injecting the stuff which may have directly affected the course of the war. Holding back the Panzer divisions at Normandy, the Ardennes Offensive, poor usage of new weapons (Me 262) may not have changed the outcome but having a deranged tweaker meddling with strategy certainly didn't help.

   Current US policy under Order Number 1A basically rules out any consumption of alcohol by any US service member while in Iraq, Afghanistan or Kuwait. These days, a soldier can't even get a drink before dying for his country. This has led to some fun conflicts in the NATO mission in Afghanistan with the US bitching that the German Army performance is sub par due to a generous alcohol allowance. Over a million liters of alcoholic drinks were sent to troops based at German camps in Afghanistan last year.

   If you can't get wasted in war then when would be a better time?

   Humans in the 21st century and especially in the US are becoming dangerously prudish it seems. Sex and drugs are deemed decadent because pleasure is dangerous. While killing and maiming for one's country are seen as good and one's patriotic duty. You know humans are fucked if this continues. Think of it, you can turn on the TV anytime and witness a high number of violent deaths per hour. This is considered 'normal' entertainment. Yet the depiction of sex, the loving act by which humans create new humans, is considered obscene. Think what an alien intelligence might make of us upright apes. We've managed to glorify destruction and abhor creation, the very thing that got us here in the first place. We've somehow managed to get the whole purpose of life exactly backwards. We prefer killing to creating. We prefer pain to pleasure. From the aliens point of view, we're probably the most fearsome species in this sector of the galaxy. Thank the heavens, say the hypothetical aliens that we're not a space faring species and we'll probably wipe ourselves out before we ever are.

   And many of us are confused and wonder why there are so many wars.

   I do know and that is probably why I drink.