Saturday 3 September 2011

The Bully In The Classroom

The latest issue of Subversify Magazine has a great article by Ronald West on aspiring US Presidential candidate Ron Paul. I recommend it highly, and call it a great article, even though I don’t agree to its base message – that Paul is someone nobody in their right minds should vote for – at all. I’ll get to my personal opinion on Paul in a little while, and why I don’t agree with Mr West. But it’s still a great article, because it fits all my criteria for a great article:

·         1. The author has a coherent message, and stays on topic throughout.

·          2.  It’s exceedingly well written and free of repetitions and circular reasoning, a common bane of political writing.

·         3. The author’s done his research and gives a complete and very comprehensive list of his sources at the end of the article.

·         4. There are only two ways of countering this kind of article. One is to do your own research, and provide facts to buttress your arguments which contradict the facts put up in the article. The other way is to randomly abuse the author and suggest he metaphorically stick a certain part of his anatomy inside another. You’ll find both examples in the response column, which I recommend reading as well.

Anyway, the point of the article is whether Ron Paul would, or would not, make a good US President, and therefore whether any American citizen should, or shouldn’t, vote for him. Of course, this is a question primarily affecting Americans alone...

Or is it?

I believe I’m not the first person to wonder if the presidency of the United States should be decided by the vote of every adult person in the world. There’s a reason for this. We, the people of the world, aren’t (except for the citizens of the nations concerned) really exercised about who comes to power in New Zealand or the Czech Republic, in Burkina Faso or Argentina. We can look at France and pity its people for having Sarkozy over them, or the Italians for being ruled by Berlusconi, or the Saudis for whatever it is that the tyranny there does – but that's it. You get the idea. Nobody really cares who comes to power there tomorrow.

But we care who comes to power in the United States. Yes, we do.

Why do we do this? We do, because the United States is the self-appointed God-King-Emperor of the world, the arbiter of the planet’s destinies, the bully in the classroom with a loaded gun in his hands, demanding everyone give him their lunches – or else. If you’re in this same classroom with this bully, you’d be very, very interested in anything that might have a moderating effect on his viciousness, wouldn’t you?

You would.

As long as the United States continues to behave as the sadistic bully in the classroom, therefore, we the people of the world will have a direct interest in who rules it, in a way quite different from how we think of other countries, be they Syria or Switzerland.

Now, in a nation where only about half the population actually bothers to vote, the presidency of the US is decided by about half of that – a quarter of the population of the US. And since the US has about 5% of the population of the planet, that means something like 1.25% of the world’s population decides who the God-King-Emperor of the world should be. Such a situation is not, by any stretch of the imagination, democratic.

Let’s take, then, a scenario where the people of the rest of the world get to vote for the presidency of the US. I’m not suggesting giving them the benefits – or “benefits” – of American citizenship (I, personally, can’t even imagine being a citizen of a nation which does not use the metric system, where war is an industry, which has 25% of the world’s prisoners, and where only 39% of people believe in evolution, but that’s just me). I’m just talking about letting them vote for the presidency, and having their votes counted at par with those of US citizens.

I believe that such a scheme would be not just democratic, and serve to keep the bully in check, it would also be healthy for the United States itself. Let’s see how.

As we all know, the US is a two-party pseudo-democracy. There are other parties, but their chances of winning anything are about the same as those of the proverbial snowball in hell. And any two-party system, as I’ve discussed earlier, degenerates quite inevitably with the passage of time into a system of one party with two faces, where voting is a failed exercise because your choice is between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. The two parties compete with each other in winning over the exact same demographic, and since both of them are beholden to the military-industrial complex for funds, they become indistinguishable from each other in their warmongering and their bullying attitude towards the rest of the world.

And that’s what we care about, really, here in the non-American world. Not about any American administration’s domestic policies, but about its policies regarding the rest of the world. In other words, we aren’t concerned about whether the bully’s wearing cut-offs or favours designer jeans. We’re concerned about whether he’s going to blow our heads off if we don’t give him our lunch and the last penny in our pockets.

At the same time, the recent past amply demonstrates that the past few US administrations have been not, let’s say, particularly concerned about their people. They don’t have to be, because the people don’t have a choice other than one of them or the other – the differences are purely on relatively minor issues, like whether abortion clinics should receive government funding or the like; not whether, say, poor people deserve a social justice system, or if Operation Eternal War should be ended and the Empire wound up once and for all.

Now, imagine a situation where the people of the world get the right to vote in the American presidential elections. Instantly, the election ceases to be a two-horse race, where each horse is of the exact same colour, and becomes one between various competing parties, where the Republicans and Democrats become minor players with little or no appeal outside the United States. The Greens would probably do well in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, the Socialists in Asia and Latin America, and the like. In order to remain relevant, the parties would have to abandon warmongering – which party would be able to win voter confidence on an Endless War ticket? – American Exceptionalism, and all the other lovely little goodies which Makes Us Hate You. In order to remain afloat in an environment where the progressive, minor parties are suddenly major players, even the Democrats and Republicans would have to fall in line in their domestic policies, as well. And that would benefit not just the people of the world, but the people of the US as well.

Of course it won’t happen, but it’s a worthwhile fantasy.

Now, as I said, I’m not an American; but for reasons I’ve already explained, I believe that I – along with every other adult person on this planet – should have a vote in the American presidential election. If it were so, despite everything Ronald West has written in his article, I’d vote for Ron Paul.

I’d vote for Ron Paul because he’s just about the only serious US presidential contender I know of who’s unambiguously opposed Operation Eternal War, and I’d vote for him because of his opposition to  the zionazi pseudostate (also known as the illegitimate so-called state of “Israel”). What his motivations are for this opposition are as irrelevant to me as his domestic policies. For example, while I strongly support abortion rights, I couldn’t give a millionth of a damn if a Ron Paul presidency means that American women find it more difficult to get abortions. I couldn’t give a billionth of a damn if American classrooms no longer teach that we evolved from proto-apes and that the planet is five thousand million years old, or if American billionaires stop paying even the joke of an income tax they are now paying.

I would, however, be very interested in American bombers no longer unloading their lethal gifts on the heads of peoples half-way round the world. I would be very interested in governments around the globe acting in the interests of their people, not according to the dictates of Washington. I would be extremely interested in the Palestinians finally securing their rights against the Zionist oppressor. And so on.

To put it more crudely, I couldn’t give a damn if the classroom bully is wearing corduroy instead of denim, or no pants at all, so long as I don’t have to give my lunch to him.

I don’t know, of course, if Paul will even win the nomination, let alone the presidency, and I don’t know if his zeal to end Empire will survive entry into the White House (how many still remember Barack Obama’s promises of Change with a capital C)? But in an atmosphere where the Democrats for some reason haven’t refused point-blank to re-nominate the warmongering Nobel Piss Peace Prize winner, and where all other Republican candidates seem to have, let’s say, problems with reality, I’d vote for Paul any day.

The bully is in the classroom. I’ll cheer for anyone who’ll get him out.

Thursday 1 September 2011

This Case Exemplifies Why I'm Against the Death Penalty

Three men sit on death row in an Indian jail, convicted of conspiring to kill an Indian politician over twenty years ago. That politician was Rajiv Gandhi, the country’s former prime minister, and then owner of the Congress Party. He was blown to pieces in May 1991 by a female suicide bomber belonging to the Sri Lankan Tamil terrorist group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, at Sriperumbudur in South India while canvassing for an election he was expected to win.

The suicide bomber waiting, in orange and green

There wasn’t really ever a doubt about who was responsible; the LTTE had even laid on a photographer to take a video of the assassination, and he was accidentally killed by the explosion (and his cameras recovered, with photographic evidence). Some days later, the rest of the terrorist cell which had actually carried out the assassination was tracked down, and committed suicide when surrounded in a house. And the other members of the support network were arrested, 26 of them, and all condemned to death. As many as 22 of them had their sentences subsequently commuted to life imprisonment, one was pardoned because she was a woman and pregnant, and the other three had their final mercy petitions turned down by the president of the country, and their hanging (yes, India still hangs people to death – more about that in a moment) set for the 9th of September.

Pretty straightforward?

Only if you ignore the background.

Rajiv Gandhi came to power on the death of his mother, Indira Gandhi, who was killed by her own Sikh security guards, one of whom was subsequently killed, and the other (Satwant Singh) hanged along with his uncle Kehar (the latter, almost certainly a miscarriage of justice). Indira Gandhi was killed after she ordered the army to attack the most important shrine of the Sikh religion, the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab, in order to flush out separatist Sikh terrorists who had turned it into a military base. Those Sikh terrorists had turned it into a military base because that self-same Indira Gandhi had earlier encouraged their leader, a fundamentalist Sikh preacher called Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, to start a violent separatist movement in order to destabilise the government of Punjab, which at that time was under the Akali Dal party, which was opposed to Gandhi’s Congress.

For days after the assassination, armed gangs led openly by Congress functionaries roamed through the streets of North Indian cities, murdering thousands of Sikhs and looting their businesses. Rajiv Gandhi, who took over as Indian Prime Minister on the evening of the murder, had only this to say: “When a big tree falls, the ground shakes.”

This same Rajiv Gandhi later sent Indian troops to Sri Lanka on a “peace-keeping mission”, in which they attacked the Tamil groups fighting the fascist Sri Lankan government of the time, acted as the sword arm of that same Sri Lankan government, and suffered such appalling casualties that by the time they had withdrawn in defeat three years later, the government had long since stopped divulging the casualty toll.

And that attack was the reason Rajiv Gandhi was blown apart by a Tamil girl suicide bomber on 21st May 1991, and why Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan are now on death row.

You understand, of course, to what I refer? Actions have consequences, and consequences have consequences. And while one condemns the criminal, one should remember that the victim might have had plenty of crimes to answer for, as well.

According to Indian law, the death penalty is reserved for the “rarest of the rare” cases. Of course, it’s up to the courts to decide which cases are the “rarest of the rare”, and few death sentences survive the appeals process, which goes through – at the least – two further courts and then the President for clemency.

Therefore, it’s kind of interesting to see which cases actually seem to qualify as the “rarest of the rare” to enough judges to merit the hangman's noose.

These three aren’t the only people on death row in India; there are many others. A lot of these have appeals pending, and others have mercy petitions pending as well. However, a look at them will show quite clearly that they fall into two distinct groups:

1.     People from poor backgrounds, some of whom may be mentally ill, who can’t pay for proper legal representation, and may not even be guilty of the crime they’ve been condemned for. One recent case was a man from a village in Assam, who decapitated another man and promptly turned himself in to the police. A crime in the heat of the moment wouldn’t normally attract even life behind bars, don’t you think? This man got death.

2.     People whose actions have a political dimension. If you’ve killed a politician, or if you’ve targeted a politician, or if the political class’ prestige has taken a hit due to your actions, you’re toast. You don’t even have to be guilty; as the Supreme Court of India said while condemning a man named Afzal Guru to death for plotting a suicide attack on the Indian parliament, the “collective conscience” of society demanded someone had to pay for the crime.

Meanwhile, if you’re rich or middle class, you can get away with pretty much anything, as long as your victims aren’t politicians or among the rich or famous. If you kill the poor, you’re home free. Certainly, you won’t hang, whatever happens to you. You can literally run over people with your swank car, and then hide the evidence, and you’ll get away with it. You can murder your girlfriend, chop her body into pieces, and cook her in the oven of a restaurant you own – and you won’t get a death sentence.

All that’s not the rarest of the rare, you bet.

The last man executed in India was a man named Dhananjoy Chatterjee, who was hanged in 2004 for the rape-murder of a girl named Hetal Parekh. Chatterjee was a poor man who worked as a security guard; Parekh was the daughter of upper-middle class parents who insisted on his hanging.

So? He was a brutal rapist-murderer, wasn’t he?

Well, I’m not saying Chatterjee was innocent. I am, however, pointing out that he was poor, unable to afford good legal representation, that the media unanimously supported the Parekh family (who were “people like us”) and piled on pressure for his execution – and that the execution neither brought Hetal Parekh back from the dead nor prevented any similar crimes. In fact, the hypocrisy of the entire thing was exposed within weeks when another man was sentenced to life for a crime virtually identical to Chatterjee’s – the only difference was that he was from an affluent background. If Chatterjee had been rich, or if he’d killed some labourer’s daughter, nothing like execution would have happened to him.

Remember also the fact that India still uses hanging as a method of execution. Now, hanging isn’t like a firing squad or like a gas chamber – it’s a fairly skilled job. If you give too little slack in the rope, your victim will strangle (actually, he usually does anyway, but he isn’t supposed to) slowly. If you leave too much rope, you might tear the poor character’s head off (I believe this happened to one of Saddam Hussein’s aides). Hanging’s not for amateurs.

Now, this is India, the land of castes, where each and every occupation has its own caste guilds. Hangmen are rather thin on the ground, and Dhanajoy Chatterjee’s executioner, Nata Mullick, was at the time an 84-year-old relic of the British era, when people got the noose if they looked at the white masters crossly. Mullick became a media celebrity, demonstrated on TV how he would tie the noose to hang Chatterjee, lamented that there were so few executions these days, and tried to wangle jobs for his family members in return for hanging Chatterjee. 

All in all, it was a fairly pathetic performance, but the point is, hangmen are in such short supply that executions can become literally impossible due to a shortage of them – or be messed up totally and completely. If there has to be executions, I’d prefer to see something more humane, like a bullet to the back of the skull or something. But there are people who would call it too easy.

But to get back to the point – Rajiv Gandhi’s killer-helpers. They’ve been behind bars for twenty years, the crime itself is long in the past, and the very organisation which ordered his killing has been destroyed, its leader killed. Gandhi’s party, now in power, is reviled and hated by most Indians, and is certainly in charge of the most evil, incompetent, and corrupt government this nation has ever had, so bad that the previous Hindunazi government now evokes fond memories. If you ask the average Indian, they couldn’t give a flying eff whether Gandhi’s killers meet the noose after all these years or spend the rest of their lives in jail, especially as 22 of their alleged fellow conspirators have got that same sentence – and the heavens did not fall.

But, this being a political crime, politics have been thrown into the mix. So, the politicians of the state of Tamil Nadu have unanimously demanded that the three convicted men (all Tamils) be granted clemency, and their hanging has been postponed eight weeks while the politicians wrangle. Quite logically, the government of Kashmir has asked why it can’t similarly demand a reprieve for Afzal Guru, who happens to be Kashmiri. Of course, Guru is a Muslim, which means the Hindunazis are already up in arms against any such proposal.

I predict that the current owner of the Congress Party, Rajiv Gandhi’s widow Sonia, will try and show a “liberal” face by joining in asking for the sentences for the three to be commuted; her party’s credibility is in the crapper, and she needs every single bit of cred she can get. Whatever happens to them, the final arbiter will be politics – not justice.

These, then, are the reasons I’m against the death penalty, as exemplified by this case – quite apart from the fact that the innocent can be killed, and nobody can give them their lives back:

1.     It selectively targets the poor;
2.     It puts a premium on the status of the victim as to what punishment is given;
3.     It leaves it entirely up to the judges to decide which case attracts the death penalty and which doesn’t;
4.     It’s carried out so many years later that all concept of “justice” can be thrown in the dustbin;
5.     It uses a cruel and unusual method, very prone to going wrong;
6.     It has no deterrent effect (just as hanging Indira Gandhi’s killers didn’t stop Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination);
7.     It ends up as a political football to be kicked around by different parties; and
8.  It leaves  the  victims' own crimes unacknowledged, let alone unpunished.

As for Justice...well, they hanged her already, didn’t they?

Further Reading:

Tuesday 30 August 2011

Jurassic Quark

The Real Jurassic Park

Believe it or not, what you saw in those films by Stephen Spielberg has come true. Science has just resurrected a dinosaur!

Take a look at this photo.

It’s of Tressie, a baby Triceratops (you know, those big, horned dinosaurs like rhinos?). She was cloned from DNA from Triceratops eggs laid 65 million years ago near what is now Laramie, Wyoming, and is currently kept in the American Palaentozoology Research Institute in Casper, Wy. According to informants, the DNA was spliced with genetic material from the Tuatara of New Zealand to fill gaps in the amino acid sequences; the Tuatara is of course a living remnant of the dinosaur age.

Tressie was incubated in an artificial egg, is now six months old, and will grow her horns as she matures. Her neck shield is bright red, incidentally, which may be an adaptation meant to attract mates. Tressie is friendly, quite intelligent for a dinosaur, and eats grass and ferns. The scientists say that they’ll try to clone a male next and breed Tressie.

Tressie’s existence was accidentally revealed when an email from one of the scientists at the Institute to a colleague in England was leaked, but is still officially denied. The scientists who cloned and are studying her say that her existence is a closely-kept secret because it might upset Creationists in Congress and elsewhere, and they might cancel the grants that keep the Institute functioning.

Isn’t it exciting to think we might have a real Jurassic Park for our children to visit? This is so cool!

Update: I think it's time I came out with it and admitted that this is a hoax I deliberately created and disseminated to see how far it would go.

Slug Rescue and the White Moth

I like slugs, actually, and when I found this one in my bathroom I had no hesitation in releasing it unharmed in my garden. By the way, this is the second large slug I've found in my bathroom in the last two days. The other one was crawling over my (now former) toothbrush.

Then there was this white moth. I'd gone out last night and when I came in I found it clinging to the back of my left wrist. It was a real collector's item - bright white, with a fluffy top to its thorax, and black compound eyes and antennae. There were orange crescents behind the compound eyes, and a line of red spots down the sides of its abdomen along the spiracles. I wish the pictures had come out better.

I had a hard time getting it to fly away. I took it out, blew at it, shook my arm and it still didn't want to go away. I finally had to gently pry it off with a fingertip. I wonder what it thought I was. Food?

I wish the moth had come clearer in the pictures. I really do.

Whose Crime Is It Anyway?

Every single person, without exception, who endorses a war of choice becomes personally responsible for every war crime, atrocity or 'unexpected side-effect', such as 'collateral damage', arising out of that war of choice. It's not enough to say you couldn't have known. If you take upon yourself the responsibility to support a war of choice, it's your duty to have known. It's not as though the facts aren't out there, or, in this day of the internet, that they are inaccessible.

This includes not just crimes committed by your side, but crimes committed by the other side, so long as those crimes wouldn't have been committed but for your war of choice. It includes environmental devastation, famine, deaths from civil conflicts or sanctions, and any and all adverse effects arising in the long term from that war you chose, on your own volition, to support, including retributive terrorist attacks against your near and dear ones.

Since today's wars of choice are invariably waged by alliances of rich, technologically developed nations against isolated, poor and virtually defenceless countries, any and all of these effects are not only possible - they are virtually inevitable.

Make no mistake - you are responsible for them all.