Friday, May 4, 2012

Man wakes up from decade long coma and figures he's living in an Orwellian dystopia... asks if he can be a Viking instead.

   Taking a look around at how scary the world is getting makes me wonder what it'd be like to wake up after a decade-long coma and take a fresh look at the surveillance society that's been coming down the pipe since the 9/11 attacks baptized the new century in crazy. Let's say it's 1999 again and you dropped some windowpane, watched The Matrix, felt like you just witnessed your autobiography and then jumped off the roof of your apartment to see if you are indeed "the one". Bad idea... seemed logical at the time. Anyway, next thing you know you wake up in a hospital bed and everyone around you looks like they stuck with the blue pill because they're wearing that ‘bad test result’ face as they tell you it's 2012 and you just skipped the whole terror decade.

   All of it.

   Catching up on world history since 1999 would be like reading some dystopian future sci-fi novel by the likes of Orwell or Dick except you're reading The New York Times and it's news and all real. Just a quick scan of early 21st century history would have you longing for the '90s and the happy days of OJ trials and sex scandals in the Oval Office where the corporate spokesman in the suit messes up the intern's dress and not the entire direction of the new century. 

   The century got defined by 9/11 right from the start and the future was always going to suck if you were a fan of privacy and keeping your shit on the down low. For a coma victim nursing a migraine in 2012, the 9/11 attacks sure would look like some stunt ripped out of one of the shittier Bond movies complete with the perpetrator being an evil villain millionaire living in a cave lair. Sure, it'd sound like the dumbest cliché-ridden plot ever if you tried to sell it to Paramount, but the new reality has a habit of running with the absurd.

Bond villain lair or actual news story? This graphic actually appeared in US media in 2001.

   Quite apart from the very bad idea of a land war in Afghanistan and the necessary resource grab in the Mesopotamian desert, the greatest legacy of the 9/11attacks for the United States will be the terrorism-industrial-complex that sprung up horribly like an erection at a nudist funeral. Just nine days after the attacks the largest merger in US government history occurred  when 17 agencies from the Coast Guard to the cops merged into the colossal Ingsoc that is the Department of Homeland Security. 9/11 was seen as a "failure to communicate and connect the dots" on the part of everyone with a badge and a 9mm, so centralization and intelligence sharing in a single giant database was seen as the answer. That, and a few billion dollars to corporations and private contractors to design and run the software

   To keep us safe.

   US intelligence agencies have always relied on technology to invent their way out of a knowledge hole. Since WWII the NSA and CIA have excelled in the areas of Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) and Imaging Intelligence (IMINT), which is your run of the mill but tech heavy wire-tapping, code-breaking and picture-taking of your "secret" new missile launch facility. From the U2 spy plane to the SR-71 Blackbird and on to satellites that can read your golf ball from space, IMINT has never been a problem for the skilled genius of US technology.  The weak spot has always been Human Intelligence (HUMINT). That's a harder pitch for the US to swing at as it involves spies and agents and assets operating behind enemy lines speaking and acting like natives. The Israelis are the kings of this simply by the demographics of the Jewish diaspora. There are native Jews in many countries and if Mossad wants to know where a nuke scientist's mistress lives, fresh HUMINT is an encrypted email away. During the Cold War, the US relied on Israel for HUMINT in exchange for US SIGINT and IMINT. Post 9/11, mass surveillance is seen by the US as the way to make up for their HUMINT deficiencies, a weakness the US sees as leading directly to 9/11. 

   In the new sci-fi dystopia, the police state starts with the cop on patrol who is expected to "feed the system" with suspicious stuff that might flag someone as a terrorist. The problem is, Main Street USA isn't exactly a target-rich environment for towel-headed mullahs waving AKs and yelling "Allah Ackbar" every time the local 7/11 runs out of pita bread . In order to justify the billions being spent, the DHS must continually see 'enemies' everywhere. The enemy morphs into the citizenry itself, be it activist, protester or anyone with a beef against the prevailing narrative. The primary weapon of the average cop is the Suspicious Activity Report (SAR), which includes activities like taking pictures, reading maps, driving while looking out the window a lot; pretty much anything about you the average donut guzzler doesn't like. Cop cars are being equipped now with license plate scanners that not only read every infraction of every passing car but also relay this info along with GPS data to the centralized database; something that makes every unpaid parking ticket a shit brick offense. 

   In the sci-fi dystopia, everyone is a suspect.

   It's no surprise that most of the headline-making F.B.I. busts of terror plots in the US are perpetrated by a bunch of dumb fuck wannabe al-Qaedas who end up sleepwalking into an F.B.I.-produced trap, like stars in some twisted episode of MTV's Punk'd where the G-men supply fake explosives, blasting caps and a party van while co-opting some dip shit Bin Laden fan to drive into the middle of the sting. The mark gets zip ties instead of cameras and there's no explosion except for the thud of the perp's skull against the cell wall of a SuperMax as he trys to figure out why he trusted the 'knowledgeable chemical guy' at Home Depot who turned out to be a bomb tech narc. After you get showcased nabbed, it's a simple matter for the F.B.I. to go on Fox News and tell all their viewers how they are winning the war on a noun. Just recently, we learned the evil doers (still operating under the al-Qaeda franchise) are hiding their 'secret plans' for mayhem inside porn images which is the funniest thing I've heard since that idiot tried to blow up a plane with his boxer shorts.

   What ever happened to the smart terrorists?

   There are currently 72 DHS "fusion centers" planted all around the US collating and indexing every bit of HUMINT about everyone, trying to sniff out who might want to hijack a cruise ship, blow up a bridge or chuck a flaming shit bomb into an Olive Garden. There's been a ten-year building boom going on around Washington D.C. too as drab-looking four-story buildings sprout up like whack a moles. Beneath these nondescript Cold War commie-looking structures are up to ten subterranean floors of who knows what. Nobody knows how much they've cost – including the US government – because everything is a semi state/ corporate hybrid of melded privatization and black hole money pit contracts hidden under a rug of secrecy in the name of national security.  The monitoring of information (SIGINT) between the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (ECHELON) is well known but the US seems to be hitting it out of the park when it comes to total communications monitoring of its population. This of course comes in the form of the recently reported super structure under construction in the Utah desert, the Stellar Wind server farm that will basically be 'downloading' the entire Internet every second and sniffing through yottabytes of our emails and faxes and cellphone GPS data searching for the bad guy with a plane ticket to New York and a pipe bomb up his hole.

   In the sci-fi dystopia, everyone is a suspect. 

   And your privacy is the price of your security because what do you have to hide?

Sometimes paranoia is just a heightened state of

     Sometimes you need to be a decade out of the loop to truly see the extent of what's gone down. History happens gradually and things only gain context when historians hammer events into a coherent narrative usually long after the fact. Meaning emerges further down the road. For instance, a Weimar Republic German in a similar coma in say 1926 who woke up a decade later would wonder why so many of his countrymen were buying into the crazy  bullshit of the angry guy with the mustache. First it was a beer hall putsch followed by goose-stepping militarism and a power-grab later, the Reichstag burned down mysteriously and in no time the German Army were partying on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées thinking "this is awesome but possibly a bad move in the long run if shit doesn't play out well". The nature of history is that it unfolds gradually enough that nobody notices the emergent narrative because they're too busy living in it. By the time the story emerges in context, Army Group South is surrounded by Zhukov at Stalingrad and the Wehrmacht is screwed.

   The one thing about the mass surveillance society we're building that would fry Orwell's brain is the nature of information in the Internet age. Sure most governments these days see 1984 as an operational tech manual but we're not just living in an age when just Big Brother is watching; we ourselves are watching each other with the intense fascination of zoo chimps fapping at the banana delivery man. The camera culture is so prevalent and everyone's face so buried in a cellphone that nobody knows what's going on in his or her immediate vicinity. Except of course when there's a car wreck and then everyone's phone is uploading footage to YouTube or, if it's really awesome and messy, LiveLeak.

   Part of the sci-fi dystopia is the willingness of the population to be watched.

   To be a minor celebrity in the ongoing movie of your own life. 

  I was voyeuring on some old school friends via Facebook the other day and came across this guy I remember from first grade who used to shit his pants in class just because it pissed off the teacher and made everyone laugh. I remember the teacher washing his underwear and me watching it steaming dry on the radiator as he waved his little cock at the teacher when she turned her back. It was pretty funny when you were seven. Yeah, I went to Catholic school. Anyway, according to Facebook that guy's a plumber now (shit makes sense) and just got a divorce from a wife who took the kids and left him for some douche bag. I know all this because he thought it would be cool to post all this on his Facebook wall and not keep his shit on the down low. It's a law enforcement wet dream. No need for gum shoe field agents anymore, just Google the perp and see where he hangs out and who his friends are.

   Orwell's mind would be blown.

Except the cop investigating you or the prospective
employer checking to see if you're an asshole.

   Next up to the party: Police Department unmanned aerial drones circling 24hrs a day over every city. Now that's pure sci-fi. It's also handy if you can control the narrative too. That hasn't been a problem so far. The thing with wars these days is that the corporate oligarchy are getting really fucking good at bullshitting. The technology of bullshit is now so ubiquitous that the mass media totality of Internet, TV, cellphones and 24hr news cycles make it easy to beam a consensus reality into the ether of our brave new world. We are all feeder antennae jacking into a whitewash of total information where everything is up for debate. There's no need to hide anything anymore because anything could be true because you read it on the Internet.

   Case in point: Libya. All the interventionist narrative needed was a bad guy (Gaddafi); some oil, a possible Euro refugee crisis and some media story about Gaddafi firing back at the guys trying to overthrow him. Basically, he  pulled a Kent State with attack choppers; nothing the US wouldn't have done if OWS protesters brought something a little harder-hitting to the party than sleeping bags and a bong and started wrecking some Bentleys. NATO precision bombed Gaddafi's armor and the country got handed over to a rag tag bunch of rebels willing to write favorable oil deals with sleazy Western oil corps. All this went down live on TV without a single sign-waving long hair on a street anywhere. That's when you know you've got serious media penetration and total control of the narrative.

    Holy shit! What a time to be alive, right?

   That old Chinese curse "may you live in interesting times," sure applies today.

  I've often wondered what it'd be like to live in other eras. Personally, I've always fancied a stint as a Viking, you know, sailing around with your mates in a bad ass longship, raping and pillaging in a consequence-free environment but I was born too late for this and missed out on all that awesome Valhalla action. And it looks like I was born too soon to hyperdrive around the galaxy on seed ships discovering strange new worlds and...  and raping and pillaging them in a consequence-free environment. Christ, if we humans ever advance to the level of a space-faring species the galaxy is screwed. It'll never happen though because we upright apes will self destruct before we get that far. The technological adolescence hurdle of "fission before fusion" is like a universal failsafe to keep the riff-raff out of the star gate club. Any civ must prove they can live 100 years with nukes and not red button each other back to the Stone Age before they gain access to free energy and 'warp drive'. Right now, we ain't gonna be passing that test.

   Let's face it, we just might be the scary bad guys in our own dystopian sci-fi novel that leaves us all wondering...

   Who wrote this book?

   Everyone is suspect.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Kony 2012: African Civil War meets the Internet wristband brigade.

   African civil wars have always scored high on the atrocity scale.

   It turns out the Internet got wise to this last week by way of a slick YouTube video called Kony 2012 detailing the sick fuck exploits of Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda in the 2000s. Supposedly, this vid was produced to "raise awareness" of the child soldier armies that have been running around Africa ever since some warlord realized 12 year olds can be just as useful with an AK as any adult. 

   The whole "raising awareness" business always makes me cringe. Most times it's an excuse for rich people and celebrities to throw $2000 a plate charity parties to highlight another hell hole African war zone while photographers snap pictures of which star is banging the latest supermodel. Sure, a cursory Google search would deliver all the awareness of African misery you could wave a wristband and gift bag at, but if there's one thing the kids in our sci fi dystopia respond to these days, it's some slick ass marketing campaign. Before I hate all over the Kony 2012 vid, let's first take a look at the depression inducing mess that is post colonial sub Saharan Africa; specifically Uganda.

    Uganda is one damn scary place even by African standards.

   After the British left with the embassy furniture in 1962, the usual struggle for power erupted amongst the natives in newly independent Uganda. This resulted in a series of military coups with a slew of shady guys in suits vying for control using election fraud, torture and sudden disappearances as the standard set of banana republic political tools. Still, it wasn't until Idi Amin seized power in 1971 that Uganda's body count started aiming for a respectable high score. Amin managed to do away with 300,000 people in his eight year rule. After eight years, he'd pissed off enough people to get himself invaded by Ugandan exiles with the help of neighboring Tanzania. Of course, victories over dictators in Africa are rarely reasons to celebrate and usually just the prelude to more screwed up shit further down the road.

    This was certainly the case for Uganda in the 1980's. The current leader, Yoweri Museveni, has been in charge since 1986. A guerrilla fighter who knows his way around an AK, he fought Amin and also led the National Resistance Army in Uganda's Bush War from '81-'86 which was a power struggle against another warlord, Milton Obote, who'd held power after Idi Amin got exiled on the usual retirement plan for African dictators; Saudi Arabia. Museveni fit a suit well, didn't look too shabby on TV and quickly abandoned his Marxist ideals to gain support in the West. This got him a thumbs up from the World Bank and IMF who advocated the usual series of structural reforms to the Ugandan economy which ensured Western business could continue getting cheap shit out of yet another independent post colonial African hell hole. Museveni is no stranger to human rights abuses either and, just like Joseph Kony, his National Resistance Army have used child soldiers, forcibly displaced thousands, burned villages and executed hundreds. Still, this is Africa we're talking about so no guy in a suit is going to have clean hands.

Museveni with fellow dictator Gaddafi

    So where does this Joseph Kony asshole fit into Ugandan history?

  If Museveni gets a free pass from the international media on the whole war crimes front it's only because he comes up a saint compared to Kony. Kony is the kind of crazy fuck so far off reservation that even a Serbian couldn't make a decent torture porn flick about him because the sick fuck is just too sick for celluloid. If you want to understand Kony you have to take into account his people, the Acholi, a Sudanese tribe of which just over a million live in Northern Uganda. Discriminated against for years by the more civilized and prosperous elites in the south, the Acholi were pretty much used as cheap laborers by the British when Uganda was their protectorate. However, they proved themselves decent fighters and, after independence, made up a sizeable portion of the Ugandan army. Hoping to get a better deal and some respect, an Acholi general grabbed power in a military coup in 1985 but his reign lasted only six months and was toppled by current president Museveni. This set up a simmering low grade civil war by the Acholi against Museveni's rule that lasts to this day.

   The Acholi are devout Christians, mainly Catholic and here is where we inject the crazy into an otherwise typical African power struggle. Once you bring religion into the equation, you know things are going to turn ugly fast. As soon as you infect your army with the mind virus that death is not real and that bullets, machetes and land mines don't kill you but send you to some paradise on the other side of existence, then you've pretty much got yourself an army of ruthless killers.

   Kony's outfit, the Lord's Resistance Army, grew out of the ideas of Kony's batshit insane cousin Alice Lakwena and her Holy Spirit Movement. In 1987, she proclaimed herself a prophet and convinced a size able portion of the down on their luck Acholi that they could defeat Museveni by worshipping Jesus more and covering their bodies in nut oil that would act like some kind of divine Kevlar and protect them from bullets. Her followers were also taught never to take cover and never to retreat from battle which are pretty fearsome tactics for any army right up until they encounter a well emplaced heavy machine gun nest.

   Still, emboldened by religious zeal, Lakwena's army scored some key victories and began to march south. Joseph Kony marched along with her duly noting the effective mixture of religion, AKs and bat shit insane. However, by 1988, the Holy Spirit Movement got their asses handed to them at the town of Jinja (when they ran up against actual heavy MGs), and Lakwena fled to Kenya. This pretty much left Kony in charge of a movement that morphed into the LRA. They laid low for a few years until the mid '90s when the LRA started receiving military support from the Sudanese who were pissed at Museveni's support for rebels in that country.

   As they grew in strength, the LRA under Kony started flexing their muscles on the atrocity front. One of these was their policy of recruiting child soldiers. There's a dirty logic at work here and that is that child soldier armies are pretty fucking scary and effective. Once you ditch the morality of the whole thing, Kony, like a lot of African warlords, realized that a twelve year old can shoot an AK just as well as an adult can. Throw in a blank slate mind too young to have a conscience, some heroin, sprinkle in a little intimidation, convince the kids gunshot wounds send you on the express train to heaven and pretty soon you've got yourself a ruthless clone army of juvenile pint sized killers.

   Under Kony's tutelage, the LRA became a massacre crew that cut a swathe through northern Uganda, killing and intimidating everyone, even the Acholi people themselves who came to be seen by Kony as decadent and not loving Jesus enough. In 2002, LRA members encountered a funeral procession of mourners carrying a dead guy. At gunpoint, they forced the mourners to boil and eat the dead guy and then shot them all for doing it. The LRA went from village to village in the 2000s, killing thousands and displacing many more. There are plenty of reports of cannibalism, medieval type torture and child rape.

   It's hunter gatherer war like they've been fighting for millenia where you sneak up on the neighboring village, take out the sentries and then let the rape and pillage commence. You steal all the shit you need, usually livestock, the odd diesel generator, a DVD player and maybe some Hannah Montana jerk off material. Then you disappear back into the jungle laughing at Amnesty International's rage. It's dirty war. And it doesn't fit the clean war paradigm of the West where the bad guys get cut to pieces by 20mm from a hovering Apache or a 2000lb GBU-24 cleanly obliterates some goat herder's shack and doesn't leave too many body parts for us to stress about.

   Yeah, us Westerners like our killing long range and with minimal gore. That's why you've got to step way outside your comfort zone when dealing with wars fought on the cheap in Africa. Their kind of war is up close and personal and involves the kind of whites-of-their-eyes gore fest that hasn't been seen on Western battlefields since Agincourt. Hate and religion run deep in the Ugandan jungle. For a child soldier in Africa, a blank slate young mind gets acclimatized to the horror fast because there aren't many places to get treated for PTSD in the bush outside a bottle of vodka or stab of heroin.

   The LRA has been hard to defeat too. Congo, Sudan and the Ugandan Army attempted  to crush them in 2008 but even their combined efforts were unsuccessful. One problem is the LRA's mobility and their ability to cross national borders into neighboring countries all of which are as corrupt and suspicious of their neighbors as Uganda itself. The LRA are liable to attack when they're outside Uganda too, most recently in 2009 when they hacked up 300 in the Democratic Republic of Congo with machetes. They made off with eighty children, the boys as fighters and the girls as sex slaves.

   And now Kony is an international celebrity.

   The Kony 2012 vid on YouTube has made 100+ million viewers aware of just how ugly war in post colonial Africa can be. But the scary part about this simplified exercise in "raising awareness" is the elevation of Kony to a global pariah, the embodiment of evil warranting a military solution. What's scary is to what extent do millions of people on Facebook hitting the "Like" button translate into actual foreign policy?

   Am I saying do nothing?


   I'm saying something even worse. I'm saying there's nothing you can do. That's a pretty radical mental adjustment to make but if you live on this planet long enough you get acclimatized to the fact that we humans on the whole are pretty shitty creatures. Once you accept this fact, things sure get a lot easier. Sure, mass media and consumerism have us locked in to this fake reality of happy breakfast kitchens selling us high fiber cereal so we can shit better, energy companies selling eco friendly offshore drilling rigs and hybrid cars that only need a little Mid East oil to function; and that's when you have to face the really ugly truth; all of our consumertopia is built on the rape and pillage of people and places at far corners of the world. Just what countries will do to secure their energy supplies most citizens prefer not to know. It's like pre packaged meat at the supermarket... nobody wants to know exactly how that turkey breast ended up neatly wrapped in plastic.

   Truth is, nobody wants the 'naked lunch' moment where they actually examine what's on the end of their fork. Sure Joseph Kony is a bad guy. But there are many more in Africa just like him. General Butt Naked in Liberia during their civil war ate babies before battle. Now he's a street preacher, runs a mission and he's ever so sorry about the whole thing. He's PTSD free because his god has forgiven him. That right there is one of the most dangerous ideas ever that someone should make a video about. The Christian idea that you can commit any atrocity imaginable and be forgiven for it. But there's no Kony 2012 video assailing that far scarier idea, an idea that's gotten far more mileage in past wars than the warped actions of a single man in Africa.

   Another dangerous idea of Kony 2012 is that the emotionally manipulated masses could actually succeed in having some military action conducted just so some sleazy politician can get re elected. Will simplistic explanations of long running wars become the future of foreign policy? Holy shit that's a scary idea! What'd be next, intervention in Syria and the declaration of a no fly zone because some well funded think tank runs a slick video on Assad's sleazy regime? If this Kony vid succeeds in getting Joseph Kony killed then that'll set a terrifying precedent. Crowd sourced intervention in foreign conflict launched by a bunch of ill informed YouTubers is the kind of thing that should make anyone with a passing interest in global conflict shit bricks.

   The 21st century already has a whole host of proxy resource wars lined up.

   Even Jesus would agree, we don't need any more.