Archive for June, 2010|Monthly archive page

On Human Costs of Disasters

We’ve all seen the atrocious toll that the Deepwater Horizon disaster has taken, the oil and tarballs on beaches, the pelicans coated in the sludge.  We all heard (though many complained, with some justification, not enough) about the fact that 11 men who worked aboard the rig were killed in the initial explosions.  I say with some justification, because I don’t actually know if they were all men.  The industry is dominated by men but not exclusively ruled by men…  We have seen ample evidence of the havoc that has been wreaked by our efforts to extract more precious petroleum, that resource on which we have an unbreakable addiction, from more and more inaccessible locations.

There’s been only little bits said about the ripple effects spreading throughout the region, as fisheries are likely forever poisoned, and the people who depend on the Gulf to eke out some sort of a life for themselves stare at a future more bleak than any they have likely ever known.  It’s not just this one thing, either – but a series of catastrophes, mainly natural, that blight the region.

I’ve never been to Louisiana, but sometime soon I want to go – I want to see as best I can what’s left of the place, to try to and imagine what it was like before all these messes befell the region.

The great encapsulation of the tragedy is the story I heard the other day of William Allen Kruse, the captain of a charter fishing vessel based in Alabama called the Rookie.  His business basically destroyed, he took work from BP as part of the cleanup, and according to what I can read about him, became utterly despondent at seeing the fact that what he had build his entire livelihood around lay in ruins around him.  After putting out to sea, he was found dead of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound.  His story, I fear, isn’t particularly unique – the ending perhaps more tragic than many will be, but the cost on the mental health of the people impacted directly must be staggering in ways most people cannot even begin to comprehend.  There are a variety of sources (that I’m apparently just too lazy tonight to link) about increases in domestic violence, people seeking medical attention for mental health issues, etc in the region, because of the impact of the spill.

It’s not just fishermen and charter boat operators being trashed.  It’s the various companies that service drill rigs.  There is a company based not far from where I live that is big in this industry, and these are very, very good paying jobs that are vanishing.  From a purely economic standpoint, that impact too must be felt in places like Port Fourchon which is one of the main supply bases for drilling operations.  Companies that own the support ships, companies that supply the rigs, they are all basically grinding to halts.  That means less people having money to spend on virtually everything, the wonder of an economic concept called the multiplier at work, except in the reverse of the way we generally learn about it – the money flowing into these communities already drying up.

I read not long ago several interesting articles about the severe environmental issues that already existed in much of the south.  I’ve always had an interest in these sorts of things, you see, and I’m the kind of person who needs the distraction of randomly reading up on something from time to time during the day.  I was drawn to the story of some of the small towns in Louisiana in the Lake Charles area, for example, that play home to huge petrochemical factories, factories that some argue only exist there because of the fact that the locals, who we’ll just say are generally part of a particular identifiable group, were so significantly disenfranchised that they couldn’t prevent them from coming, even if they claimed to offer good jobs.  Companies making things like vinyl chloride, generating toxic pollution on scales incomprehensible to most people, in flagrant violation of the law.  Go take a look on Google Earth – look at Lake Charles and then pan east and south and see the massive complexes there.

This is the lot that these people have had to contend with for years.  And it’s gotten dramatically worse since Deepwater Horizon.

When I heard about Mr. Kruse’s suicide, I was riding in to work with my wife, as we do, and the conversation was one of the more interesting ones, and one of the few tiems it seems we wound up vehemently disagreeing.  While I don’t condone Mr. Kruse’s choice, I think I can empathize to some extent, I can see why he may have found there was no way out.  I can’t imagine the stress of watching everything you’ve ever worked at evaporate because of corporate greed (if that in fact was the cause, but it does sound that way thus far), with no ability to do anything about it.  I can imagine the financial hardship, and can’t help but wonder how leveraged he was already – what bills he couldn’t even begin to pay.

It’s hard to find any sort of hope in a situation this bleak.  I hope that this will be the only story of it’s kind I hear, but I can’t say I’m optimistic.


On the G20

I was much more consumed yesterday by the International Fleet Review in Halifax and touring a number of ships (maybe I’ll post some pictures if I get around to it sometime) than anything else, but I did at least catch snippets of what’s been going on in Toronto for the G20 summit.  When the summit was announced, it was clear that there would need to be a lot of security, that there would be protests, and most sadly, that there would be violence, vandalism, and destruction, mainly at the hands of “anarchists” also referred to as the “Black Bloc”.

In the run-up to the summit there was much to-do about the amount of money spent on security measures, which are causing a lot of inconvenience in downtown Toronto, including the massive security fence, the extensive police presence, and the behind the scenes stuff as well.  Many left-leaning types who planned to protest/demonstrate were concerned about the nature of the temporary “police state” that was being formed.

I don’t agree with most of these lefties.  I don’t share their views, but I do believe they have a right to demonstrate, to make their views know, to be heard.  That is one of those rather sacred values of a free and democratic society, after all.  I don’t think most of them had any interest in any sort of violence, vandalism, or confrontation with the police, who are there to do their job and keep the peace.  There are certain groups I know were involved in planning to protest the summit like the “Ontario Coalition Against Poverty”, which is an organization that I think is a great one to point out to the RWNJs who bleat about “Cloward & Piven”, because they tried a sort of strategy like those men discussed and it failed very, very miserably.  OCAP, which is a ragtag bunch of professional rabble rousers, has been quiet lately, I think, but their past protests were almost always marred by violence, and the sort of idiots who throw rocks at police, then claim brutality when they get roughly arrested.  I had to deal with some of these morons in university.

What’s happened yesterday was that some good, normal, peaceful (if generally incomprehensible) demonstrations happened, and then the knobs in black turned up, set fire to cop cars, and started smashing windows, and then it all went downhill.

I don’t get it.

It makes no sense.

What are these Black Bloc people advocating?  Getting rid of the state altogether?!  Sounds just fine, except for all of it.  They claim they are protesting the “police state”, but they are really justifying the existence of all the security measures and making dramatically clear why they are necessary.  They have nothing of value to offer to any discussion at the summit, no ideas, no interest in anything remotely resembling the democratic process, and they’re even undermining the ability of those with legitimate concerns to be heard just by acting the way they do.

This stuff is just sad to see, because it’s neighbourhoods I used to spend a lot of time in getting smashed up by thugs with nothing to say of value.  I don’t know how the police are managing to show the restraint they are, because I think most of them must be itching to just crush them.  There’s no negotiation, no reasoning, nothing with them.  They are there for a fight and part of me wishes they could met with the ferocity they are inviting by doing so…

On The Complex Case Of Captain Semrau

Although it doesn’t seem to be getting a massive amount of attention in the media, the curious case of Captain Robert Semrau is starting to get interesting with the trial now underway at Kandahar Airfield. Capt Semrau is an infantry officer from the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment, currently standing trial on a murder charge relating to the death of a Taliban insurgent in a remote part of Helmand Province, Afghanistan in October 2007 (if I recall correctly).

Captain Semrau, by all accounts an outstanding soldier who began his military career in the UK with The Parachute Regiment, was charged after returning to Canada after a tour where he served with an Operational Mentoring & Liaison Team (OMLT, pronounced “omelette”), training the Afghan National Army.

According to what’s available, following a short fight with the Taliban, a mortally wounded insurgent was left on the battlefield. The ANA & OMLT outfit led by Capt Semrau determined they could offer no medical assistance of any value to the man, who was disarmed and lay dying. It is alleged that after telling the others with him to leave (reportedly “You shouldn’t have to see this”) that Capt Semrau administered something of a merciful ending, shooting the man dead.

This is a complex matter and one I’ve struggled to come up with a position on – and so far I have not settled on what I think. I’ve never been in the position, obviously, and I can’t begin to imagine what would have run through his mind. Here is a man, an enemy fighter who has just tried hard but failed to kill you, now dying before you. You have the power to end his suffering on determining that you cannot save him, something which you have an obligation to do despite the absurdity of the idea perhaps. What would you have done?

The clear textbook answer is that if indeed Capt Semrau shot the insurgent dead in cold blood after the battle – even if out of a well-intentioned sense of mercy to the man, he has committed murder. It was not for him to make that decision even if it was a morally reasonable thing to do. The fact that this guy was indeed an enemy, an insurgent, is irrelevant in the eyes of the law.

The reality I’m sure is more complicated and absurd. It’s a prime example of shades of grey, I think. I don’t envy anyone involved in the case – any of the witnesses or the lawyers or the judge, because the absolutes of the law are going to be hard to reconcile with a just decision in the matter.

I was annoyed when the charge was laid that some folks came out immediately screaming that the idea of charging a soldier – an officer – with murder in a war zone was wrong before any facts came out. Members of the armed forces are granted legal authority to use deadly force – they exercise the State’s monopoly on violence – but that does not mean there are no limitations or restrictions thereupon. The reality of the history of warfare is that horrendous murderous atrocities have happened any time we fail to be civilized and take up arms against each other for whatever reason. They are as much a part of war as anything else.

Much of the training I’ve experienced as a soldier involves decisions about appropriate use of force and making that call to shoot or not to shoot, and it is something taken most seriously. This case seems not so much about that though, and much more about the idea of a “mercy killing”. I have a much harder time reconciling a stance on that than anything else.

By all accounts Captain Semrau was a decent, disciplined, dedicated and loyal soldier, faithful to his duty and lawful authority. I think I believe the idea advanced that he was a man of compassion, who, confronted by a man slowly fading in some manner of mortal agony, did what he felt was the right thing in ending that suffering rather than leaving a fellow human being to so awful a fate. I don’t see what justice would be served by having the law insist he should have simply left, done nothing.

That, of course, is the rub. What to make of what the law says… For that there is indeed no easy answer.

Twitter Drama?! Really?!

Well, it’s been quiet a few days…

I’ve been watching, mainly without commenting, on a whole lot of … I can’t believe I’m even posting about this… “Twitter drama”, which I can’t really figure the start of out – but it’s somewhat interesting, somewhat funny, and really somewhat pathetic.

I think it all started with the discovery, on Twitter, of the rather bizarre character that is Joe Cienkowski.  Joe is, in my estimate at least, a poorly educated, barely literate felon (though, granted, he was only a small time dope dealer), who somehow decided he was going to become the World’s Greatest Fighter Of Atheism(TM), something he reveals through Twitter that he really doesn’t understand too well.  Joe’s sort of a classic “Liar for Jesus” to borrow a term – his tweets are barely coherent and he obviously doesn’t pay any attention when he’s called out – I’d almost think he was a bot, but a well written one.

A dogpile ensues when people like this crop up, and it did, through which I made the acquaintance of a very large number of fascinating tweeters, actually.  Some are just pitbull polemecists, some are just great debaters, one’s even a Christian type who’s rather rational, and while I don’t agree with her ideas, she took the time to construct a reasonably sound argument to defend one of her positions, and I had to give her credit for that.

As people do, of course, some parodies of Crazy Joe appeared, and some other nonsense happened, including Joey making some rather bizarre and totally inappropriate remarks to one of the people he was trying to bludgeon with his intellectual awesomeness.  Note, I’m kidding about that – one of the folks I met, one @movingtomontana, actually bought the book and is currently producing amusing videos ripping Joe’s insane argument that atheism is a religion to shreds.

I guess this is where the drama started, some exchange between one of the Fake Joes and another certifiable nutter on Twitter, @juanitaberguson, a quixotic “street preacher to Twitter atheists”, who I presume has probably converted no one.  Jesus Jane hosts a podcast “radio show” that a few religion-free folks have gone on, but apparently despite it having previously been somewhat reasonable, the last one was some kind of disaster rigged in favour of the God Squad.  I, of course, don’t find that surprising.

The exchanges that have happened regarding fake accounts, “identity theft” (according to Jesus Jane, anyhow), and so on are just ridiculous and humourous, and I have to wonder why anyone even really cares.  In fact, I’ve realized posting more about it is just playing in to it.

So, I’m not going to.

(yes, I know.  worst post ever.)

On Stolen Valour

There’s been a lot of press lately in the United States about politicians embellishing or outright lying about their military service, trying to make themselves sound like something they weren’t in order to look more “patriotic”, presumably.  This has always been something that fascinates me, and it’s interesting to see it become somewhat more high profile.  For some, the chain of lies unravels quickly and pathetically.

Sometimes – for example, if you’re Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, the lie isn’t even about your own service, it’s a claim about your family.  The fact that she created this story which requires a lot of dramatic license is despicable.  It’s nothing new though.  Ronald Reagan, that “great patriot” and “great President” (something I would disagree with) also was know to have embellished his military service, which never took him out of the United States during the Second World War.

My experience in dealing with this sort of thing has generally been the far more pedestrian “pub walts”, just pathetic souls in the bar who want to claim they’re something they aren’t.  They’re generally fairly easily outed, because they tend to talk a little too much, and then run into people like me who ask them rather simple questions that anyone who’s ever been in the military in any capacity would know.  It’s pretty funny when they choke on something simple.

There’s a lot more ominous stuff going around, some of what people claim is downright wrong and even disturbing.  There are a variety of legendary cases, from the master bullshitter James Shortt, to the sad and pathetic Alan McIlwraith.  Some may also have heard of the Mall Ninja, whose tales of mall security just got out of control – though I suspect Poe’s Law might have been in effect, and the writer was just making stuff up to be a troll.

Australia has had a lot of problems, apparently, with fake Vietnam vets, and in the USA there have been numerous cases of people claiming service they never did or grossly embellishing their service, for whatever reasons they might.  The Australians seem to have been the first to really organize on the internet to start outing fakes, and the UK has its amazing Waltenkommando organized by the Army Rumour Service website from which I bring you some of these links.

I’ve had direct experience with an internet walt only twice, both through a popular website for Canadian Forces members.  The first was a fraudster by the name of John Hill, a scammer whose various “disguises” included claiming some service of distinction in the Royal Marines.  We thought at the time he was building some credibility on our site to support his claims, and he was very good, not making wild claims, until he tripped up and was outed.  The second came from a gaming website, a user who was ex-military approached our military site, posting some screenshots about a user on his gaming site who was claiming to be a Canadian soldier – a Patricia and an a JTF2 operator no less.  We dogpiled the site pretty quickly shutting down every thread he posted to, and attacking him most strongly for using the image of an actual Patricia, Pte Robert Costall, who was killed in Afghanistan.

I’ve similarly seen a lot of airsoft-playing idiots who like to talk big as though they have knowledge of the military, in particular the horror of seeing some of them leave their playing field in their “uniforms” which look similar to current Canadian uniforms, and behave like complete morons in public – putting the real CF into disrepute potentially.

Actually, now that I think of it, there was one in Peterborough who came out to all sorts of events, but everyone knew he was a bullshitter and no one took him seriously – you couldn’t.  He was a fat, longhaired bastard who was a member of the local Legion branch probably just to have a cheap place to drink.  He took to sporting a green beret on parades with a Lorne Scots cap badge on it.  Now, I was never a “Horny Lorny”, but as they were the militia unit in my hometown growing up, I knew a little about them – for starters, that they wear green tam o’shanters, not berets, and secondly, they only wear them with a yellow primrose hackle.  In his case, though I just let it go because he wasn’t making any claims, just looked like an idiot.

I don’t have a problem with these people playing at soldiers in the privacy of some paintball field.  I don’t have any issue with re-enactor enthusiasts either, as they bring real history to life, and many of them are very well studied in the “art”, many are current or ex-military as well, and by recreating a bygone era, there’s no real chance they could be mistaken for the real thing anyhow.

I had an instructor once say something to the effect of people are either soldiers or want to be soldiers – or perhaps, more aptly, want to have been soldiers.  Even among soldiers there tends to be some medal envy, I know because I’ve slipped into it a bit and have been reminded that they don’t necessarily mean anything, and at the end of the day, I know that I put my hand up and stepped forward when there was a call to arms, that’s good enough for me at this point.

It strikes me that lying in general is a very bad idea when you’re a public figure – or when you aren’t – because in the case of this sort of thing, you’re going to get caught out for sure… but to try to claim some sort of heroism that you have no legitimate claim on is to me the most disgusting of human behaviour and it needs to be published soundly.

In which I try to figure out my position on the Flotilla mess

I’ve got to say, whoever it was that came up with the idea of the “freedom flotilla” is something of a genius. The idea of running the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip is brilliant, because it put Israel into essentially a no-win situation. Israel was forced to react somehow, and it was pretty clear from the outset that there was essentially no reaction possible that would not result in bad press for them.

In the case of one of the ships – Mavi Marmara I believe it was called, the IDF walked right into the trap. The Manchester Guardian, one of my favourite newspapers, called the reaction what I think it most clearly was – something of an “own goal” for Israel. Likely none of us will ever know what happened on that ship, but we know that when it was over, nine people were dead.

I do think Israel went about the boardings in a reasonable way. The video I’ve seen does very clearly show that the main weapon carried by the boarding parties was an old fashioned Tippman 98 paintball gun, an excellent non-lethal weapon, whether they were shooting rubber balls, pepperballs, whatever. It also shows clearly that the men aboard the ships met them with violence despite several warnings that the IDF intended to enforce the blockade and would not allow them to land in Gaza.

The claims that the IDF committed what amounts to piracy doesn’t seem to hold up.  A military colleague sought the relevant information from the various applicable “laws of the sea”, and it seems that when a blockade is publicly announced, a state has the right to intercept any ships that intend to breach it, even in international waters.  It seems the Israelis knew the rules and followed them.  They have the blockade in place for a reason and it’s no secret.  They couldn’t allow it to be run.  That, of course, is what the organizers counted on I think.

It’s significant to note that only on the Mavi Marmara was their any real violence.  The other ships were boarded peacefully and without significant incident, all were then taken to Ashdod where the Israelis unloaded the cargo and offered to transport it onward to Gaza.  Well, some of it – the banned materials, like concrete, were not going to be forwarded.

The video released from the boarding suggests to me that the Israeli use of force wasn’t unjustified – they went in with non-lethal weapons and were attacked with metal bars, clubs, chairs, and apparently knives.  This isn’t “passive resistance” they encounter on the ship – it was active hostility, and the ship had been duly warned of the impending boarding.  I think the loss of life is regrettable but I don’t see that Israel did anything wrong in that sense.

The broader issue is the long term future for the region.  The Israelis of late – or rather, their current government, as I don’t believe the Israelis have a universal opinion, seem to be bent on prolonging the misery of the occupation.  The fact that Netanyahu allowed new settlements to be constructed while being visited by US VP Biden shows a ridiculous disregard for any effort at a peace process, I would think. 

I take a pretty sharp view of things.  Israel is a dependency of the United States of America when you really consider it.  It has something of a strong economy, but it is the largest recipient of US foreign aid, primarily in the form of military aid.  The second largest recipient is Egypt, which the USA seems to provide support to in order to use their leverage with other Arab states to keep the peace.  Were it not for the support of the USA, I don’t think Israel would last too long at all, it would be driven out of existence if only to restore a state for the Palestinians.

The roots of the conflict are deep and difficult to understand.  I, some time ago, did a lot of reading on the subject trying to understand the different dynamics of the region – not just Israel, but also Lebanon, another hotspot with a complex past and a number of dynamics that make it difficult to understand its interests, its key people, etc.  Lebanon itself is a really strange mess that also needs a long term solution, but that’s fodder for another blog maybe.

The Israel mess, like so many global conflicts, dates to the remnants of colonialism.  To this day in many parts of the world we endure the fruits of various great games, in Africa, in Asia…  The British Mandate for Palestine and the Balfour Declaration which set in motion the Zionist movement to settle Israel created this mess.  I don’t think it was something that was done with any sort of idea that we’d wind up in this situation, but one has to wonder what was expected when an influx of Jewish immigrants showed up in the region and immediately found themselves in conflict with the Palestinians who lived there already.

And so the stage was set for conflict.  I don’t plan to use this blog to rehash the history of the modern State of Israel – I’m neither an expert on it nor is it necessary – the interested reader can simply research it themselves, there are ample sources available.  I’m more interested in the current situation and the prospects for the future.

It, to me, is simple.  There is no viable long term solution but some manner of a two-state solution – a situation where the Palestinians receive statehood, and the ability to build their economy and create prosperity.  Look at recent statistics about the economic disparity between the occupied territories and Israel, and you’ll see what drives the conflict.  It’s not nationalism, it’s not religion, it’s none of these things, though they are tools of those in power – it’s economics – it’s the fact that people who have nothing will fight to get anything.

That’s why this was such a trap for Israel and played right in to Hamas’ hands in Gaza.  It’s something that people just don’t seem to get, and it’s a key part of the tyrants’ playbook.  In order to retain legitimacy in power, tyrants need to be able to control their subjects.  The most effective means to do so is to keep them poor and ignorant.  This is something religions have understood for a long time, and they’re extremely good at it.  To go the next step, tyrants need a great national enemy against which they can cast themselves as the people’s salvation.  Israel has served remarkably well in this role for Hamas, for Hezbollah, for other factions in the area.

To flesh this idea out, I like to point to Cuba.  The United States has had a very robust economic embargo against Cuba since 1962 – though the actual embargo started in 1960.  This tremendous campaign has done absolutely nothing to liberalize Cuba at all, but in fact, one can argue, it actually made Fidel Castro, and now his unofficial successor Raul Castro stronger.  As Cubans experienced continued poverty as a result of the embargo, Castro could point to the USA as an enemy of the people, the source of their misery, and could show himself as leading the revolution necessary to overcome them.

Look then at North Korea, again, poverty and ignorance keep the masses under the control of the Kim Family Regime, more properly described as a cult, I’d say.  The reason that they can maintain their grip on power is an ability again to point to America.  So long as their propaganda machine can keep people convinced that the US is the architect of their misery, the system works.

The Israelis are being trapped by the same mess.  By starving the people of the occupied territories, by choking off their economy, it’s easy for Hamas, Fatah, and Hezbollah to characterize them as manifestly evil, and to garner support for the continued struggle against the occupation.  It was this that allowed them to rally people to the intifadah in the first place, after all, and it builds tacit support for an undercurrent of religious extremism too.

So what’s to be done?  Well, let’s go back to a parallel – Cuba.  If the Americans really wanted to see Cuba liberalize and the Castro regime fall, then they’d lift the embargo, call by-gones by-gones, and realize what Cuba is to the rest of the world – a Caribbean island with beautiful beaches, lots of resorts, and really friendly people.  Americans would flood into the country to take advantage of it, to see its wonders, and to interact with the people.  The economic growth and actual interaction would disarm most of the claims about the revolution, and I think you’d see Cuba liberalizing very, very quickly, much as we saw happen in Europe.

In the case of Israel and Palestine, it is a little more complicated – but the principle is the same.  Open up – let the economy of Gaza and the West Bank begin to grow – let more cultural exchanges happen, let Gazans interact with Israelis more, and eventually you’ll see that relationships and trust forms.  This happens already all over the place on the small scale, but it needs to be broadened.  If that was the case, eventually Hamas would lose its influence, the ignorance and poverty on which they rely to stay in power would fade, and two states could probably live as decent neighbours.

What’s killing me with the whole thing is deeper than this rather simple premise.  It’s these people who are “supports of Israel” in the USA who tend to be fundamentalist nutcase Christians.  They “support” Israel because in order to fulfill their absolutely insane eschatological views (that’s fancy talk for the end of the world), they need Jews to be in Israel to trigger the great battle, Armageddon.  These sick people actually, really, truly believe this bullshit.  I think that’s why so many of them want to see the USA take on Iran, another country run by a religious nutcase who can point to America as the Great Satan from which he defends Iran. 

These folks, it seems, actually think that war in the Middle East is a “good” thing, because it fulfills the insane “prophesy” of the Bible.  This too is nothing new in the region.  In Thomas L. Friedman’s very insightful book on the region, From Beirut to Jerusalem, he describes the efforts of some of the more crazy Messianic Jews to bring about the coming of their Messiah.  I’m no expert on the story, but the way Friedman tells it is rather simple.  It seems that for the Messiah to come, the Temple of Solomon needs to be rebuilt in Jerusalem.  The trick is, the Al-Aqsa Mosque (the Dome of the Rock) sits on top of the site, rather inconveniently.  Jewish extremists figured that the easiest way to bring about this great event was to, as he put it, “dust off the throne” by blowing up the Dome of the Rock.  Fortunately, Israeli intelligence was wise to them and prevented what would have been a cataclysmic event.

Ultimately, I hate that those folks cannot seem to give any critical thought to the situation.  I think they’re fucking dangerous, frankly, and that’s why being an atheist I cannot see any good reason to be silent and rather have to call them out for their stupidity.  They seem to have bet big on a Bronze Age bullshit story and I think they’re totally, dangerously wrong.

In the end it seems that religion is what fuels this mess – without it there’d be no intifadah – no need for the conflict, because Zionism wouldn’t exist at all.  This is a sad, shining example of how poisonous to civilization religion really is – that one group of people would do violence to another over their idea of of god – the same god, for fuck’s sake!

I’m sure that some might read this and think I’m pro-Palestinian or anti-Israel – or worse “anti-semetic”.  Bullshit.  I’m none of the above.  While I think Zionism meant well it’s been a destructive nightmare in the end, but I don’t begrudge the nationalist aspirations of a group like the Jews, particularly in light of the persecution they’ve endured over the years.  I don’t see how there’s any good end to the situation, simply, without a recognition of the right of the Palestinians to be there too, and some effort to share the land and build a future.  This is something that has to start happening, and it has to start with the youth there.  The government of Israel has to take the lead – and its patron – the piper that calls its tune – the US – needs to motivate them to get on with it, I think – something that Obama has sort of done but not particularly well.  It’s time to stand up to Israel and remind them who pays the rent, as it were.

In the end, 2100+ words later, I’m no closer to really having a position on the flotilla, but I hope at least there’s some clarity for anyone who bothered to read the whole thing as to why I can’t make up my mind on it.  Comments are as always welcome.

The Oil Spill – And The Strange Impacts Thereof

What’s going on right now in the Gulf of Mexico is a disaster.  Not that that’s a particularly insightful statement, but it’s true.  It’s a demostration of the very, very awful things that can go wrong in modern industry.  As much as companies will say that they plan for every imaginable contingency, the Deepwater Horizon disaster is proof that it’s impossible and unrealistic to assume that indeed we can handle anything.

What’s really shocking is that like so many other disasters, it’s been turned into some sort of perverse political football as well.  It shows a lot about conservatives/teabaggers who hate big government, but curiously have been pleading for government intervention.  Probably the funniest example of this was raving lunatic Michelle Bachmann.   Commandeer boats?  That sounds like tyranny to me. 

Then there was the world’s biggest moron, Sarah Palin, posting on her ludicrous Facebook page blaming “liberals” for offshore drilling, and trying to qualify that when she said “drill baby drill” she didn’t mean that.  Again, the media mocked her, and deservedly so.

These same people are the ones calling this “Obama’s Katrina” and demanding he do something about the hemorrhaging wellhead.  I don’t know what these people figure Obama could do.  I think the comparison to Katrina doesn’t work, either.  I got the impression – though I’ve not looked into it as much – that Dubya simply accepted the administrative incompetence of FEMA in dealing with the aftermath of that event.  In this case, the catastrophe is ongoing, but it doesn’t seem that no one is doing anything about it.  I’m sure BP’s engineers are working long hours trying to figure out how to handle the problems.

The laugh is that it all is coming down to these champions of the free market looking like complete hypocrites.  They’re basically calling for socializing the costs of the mess, when they should of course be advocating for BP, TransOcean, Halliburton, Cameron, and any other firms who might be found to have contributed to the disaster to pay up.  If they are bankrupted in the process, so be it.  Of course, they have to get around the ludicrous liability gap that was another great conservative gift to the world.  I hope that can be done easily.

It certainly seems as though BP’s got lots of resources to fire up the PR machine, and I have to say they are doing a pretty good job of messaging on the whole issue, Tony Hayward and his US subordinates have been visible, and it seems to me fairly candid.  I don’t think Hayward is a bad man, nor do I think anyone in the industry is necessarily intentionally a villain.  Accidents always happen, and it seems like BP is trying to come out looking the best they can and hopefully can do this thing right.

This morning, however, the Nova Scotian magazine that I get with my Chronicle-Herald had a small article about the Niger Delta, and the environmental disaster there.  The amount of oil spilled there annual rivals Deepwater Horizon, apparently, never mind that they flare tremendous amounts of gas, and the companies operate with relative impunity. One source suggested that the equivalent of around 40% of Africa’s total volume of natural gas consumed is flared in the Delta annually.  Never mind the needless air pollution this causes, the release of greenhouse gases, etc, that’s natural gas that could be used for proper, necessary consumption.  The trick is that AG (associated gas) is expensive to separate and put into production, it’s cheap to just burn it off and maximize crude oil production instead.

 Most people in the Delta haven’t got access to any uncontaminated water, and suffer ill health as a result of oil production, and get no real benefit of it.  The terrible story of Ken Saro Wiwa is just one example of the problem. 

That’s not the only story of the misery of oil production – virtually everywhere, it’s the same.  Huge pollution problems, suffering amongst the local population, and a curious absence of direct benefits to those who live in the area in production. 

The only real thing I can see as a solution has been the obvious one for many years – we need to start weaning ourselves off of oil.  We need to work harder to find alternatives and making better use of what we have.  The fact that we’ll have to keep going further and further offshore to find and produce more oil and risk repeats of the Deepwater Horizon disaster is the best evidence of that, leaving aside climate change and all the other associated problems.  If we don’t start working at this now, we’re only going to see more problems – and we don’t even see all that are already here.