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Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Democratic Skin on the Autocratic Body

Why is power so attractive? The cliche that with power comes mighty responsibility does not help us to determine what it is about power that is so alluring. A working class assault charge is liable to be punished more severely than a case of corporate fraud. Where is all the talk of responsibility then? Sure, Reagan admitted that the Iran Contra Scandal "happened under his watch," but this is just a rhetorical trick to include himself in the same group as john doe sitting on a couch, watching Reagan on TV: they're both just "watching." When in reality, Reagan is on top of the pyramid, throwing El Salvadoreans (among others) off the top. Bush admitted that the relief funds to Hurricane Katrina were too slow, but soon enough, Brown was scapegoated for the breakdown. Power is attractive for the very fact you can escape responsibility by accepting it.

The United States, pummeled by the damages of a record-breaking hurricane year, will see its global dominance threatened by China in the next few years. To contain the Chinese "threat," they have instigated numerous "colour revolutions" such as those in Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgistan. Bush has lavished heavy helpings of praise on Kazakhstan for their pro-American stance, but it remains a tightly controlled state ruled by a party that in all likelihood rigged the last election (one opposing seat? I doubt that somehow). The media is mostly owned by the President's daughter. If Bush is such a champion of democracy, why does he laud Kazakhstan? It's because containing the Chinese by expanding the American sphere of influence in Central Asia is more important than democracy. It's about a struggle for power. To dress up this ugly struggle in the lace-fringed velvet bodice of a power sharing ideology like democracy is crass.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Brain Machine Interface and other Military Shenanigans

Much of this is based on an article I read in Walrus magazine.

A research project at Duke University has aimed to join thought to action in a very literal sense in recent years. A few months ago, a lab monkey moved a robotic arm in a lab 1000km away just by thinking about doing it. This technology, called Brain Machine Interface, would make it possible for people to control military machinery, such as tanks, from abroad just through thought alone. Another piece of military hardware being developed by the military right now hearkens back to the Reagan Era, when he was pushing "Star Wars." Space will definitely be indispensible to war in the new millenium. This hardware has been given the name "rods from God," and it consists of tungsten bolts that can be dropped from space with unerring precision on even small targets anywhere on the planet with destructive impact.

In the 1960s, the CIA conducted experiments with subjects who watched tv and films. They found that moving images produced a shift between left-brain and right-brain activity, inducing a chemical trance that suppresses judgement and heightens suggestibility. In other words, the audience of moving images were very often inculcated with the message and values of the programming. While this research might be invalidated by the century-long exposure to moving images, the fifty years of exposure to tv, and the related increase in visual literacy, several recent meetings between Hollywood magnates and the Pentagon confirm that many in power maintain a belief in the results of these studies.

In 1995, Hollywood and the Pentagon met to discuss allowing the Pentagon access to technology of digital manipulation that would allow them to fabricate news stories. A hypothetical case might portray an important leader of Iran spouting anti-American rhetoric in the same speech he openly proclaimed Iran's intention to pursue a vigorous nuclear weapons program. With such invented news coverage, they could mobilize support for various military interventions. Such programs advocated by the Pentagon fall under the purview of "Psyops" or psychological operatives, several of whom already work for CNN. One psyop plan included the projection of a huge holographic image of Allah over Baghdad that urged Iraqis to overthrow Hussein. But the problem of how they would visually depict Allah siderailed the project.

In 2003, several top Hollywood directors again met with the Pentagon, and this time the deal was that the government offered the directors access to military technology such as F-18s in exchange for editorial control of the films. According to insiders, they don't suggest changes some of the time, they always demand changes. They have done this in coordination with the release of video games that involve the player in a virtual version of the war in Iraq to recruit new soldiers for the war, and to retain the ones they already have.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Former Police Chief Advocates Legalization of all Drugs

Former Chief of Police in Seattle Norm Stamper wrote an opinion/editorial piece in the Los Angeles Times in support of not simply the decriminalization of marijuana, but the outright legalization of all drugs. He contends that the unrecognized casualties of the War against Drugs are the taxpayers. A huge percentage of prisoners have graced the space behind bars because of drug charges, and the United States has the largest prison population of any nation in the world.

Besides the nearly 69 billion dollars these often non-violent offenders cost taxpayers each year that would be saved, revenue from the regulation, sanitation, and sale of such drugs would be generated. Needless to say, the drugs would also be safer if they were regulated, and the violent organized crime that sprouts out of drug trafficking might undergo drastic reduction. Stamper believes that society would be safer and more secure if these drugs were legalized, regulated, and if we treated drug abuse medically rather than criminally.
Mr. Stamper points out the contradictions of allowing tobacco and alcohol, both undeniably drugs, to be legal and regulated, but prohibiting other drugs. He cites his experience as a police officer as what lead him to his conclusions, after becoming tired of arresting potheads who he did not believe belonged in prison. Non-violent criminals might indeed become violent because of their exposure to a violent prison culture, if simply by reason of self-defense. It's a slippery slope from self-defense in prison to offense out of prison.

Mr. Stamper has been engaged in a speaking tour on this topic, and at one of his talks recently the police chief of one of the largest cities in the United States approached him and told Norm that he agreed with him. When asked if Mr. Stamper could quote him on that, the chief replied "What, do you think I'm crazy?"

Obviously, free speech is relative. It is not uncommon to experience circumstances where we feel uncomfortable speaking our minds. While I am undecided about the efficacy of the outright legalization of all drugs, I applaud Mr. Stamper for having the courage to speak his mind considering the political climate of the United States.