Monday, October 31, 2011

7 Billion for Halloween

"The Mark of Gideon"


Happy Halloween dear readers. It is my honor to share this day with you.
"The Mark of Gideon," was first broadcast on the 17th of January, 1969, during the original Star Trek's 3rd season. It deals with the problem of overpopulation.
Gideon, of course, must be referring to the world’s premier global infectious disease database, "the solution for diagnosis, treatment and teaching of infectious diseases and microbiology" which may have something to do with overpopulation if this database helps to rid the world of infectious diseases which otherwise will kill millions of people. It's weird though because GIDEON Informatics was founded in 1992, which means... well I don't think the writers of "The Mark of Gideon," George F. Slavin and Stanley Adams could have known about it back in 1968 when the episode was written. Odd. Mr. Adams was an actor as well as a writer, and he did once play a time traveling scientist and a bartender on The Twilight Zone. That probably is the explanation.
Or Gideon could refer to the biblical name for a Hebrew judge, from the Old Testament's Book of Judges who had 70 sons from the many women he took as wives. He also had a concubine who bore him a son that he named Abimelech, and another one after that. This could have something to do with overpopulation, except it is said that Abimelech killed off those first 70 boys, so the total population explosion after this incident results in a total increase of two.
Gideon could also refer to the name of the planet where all of the action takes place in this episode, but what the hell is the "Mark?" I don't know. Maybe I should watch it again.
I'm getting a headache. You know what? I don't think the name Gideon, in itself, has very much to do with overpopulation at all, which is what this post concerns itself with, and Slavin and Adams just used that name because it sounded kind of cool, that's what I think.
I also think this whole conversation isn't germane to the subject at hand. How about you?
Anyway, that particular episode did deal with overpopulation. We'll come back to it.
It is believed that sometime today the world's population will reach a new milestone. 7 billion of us will be alive on this planet all at the same time. 7 billion! That's a lot of people. More than I'd like to count, that's for sure. (The good folks at Population Action International claim it already happened six hours ago at almost exactly 1:00AM EST. I watched their population counter as it clicked over from 6,999,999,999 to 7,000,000,000. Very exciting...sort of)
207 years ago there wasn't even a billion people on the Earth.
There were only about 2.5 million people in America during the Revolutionary War, and 20% of those were slaves. The American population more than tripled during the 20th century—at a growth rate of about 1.3% a year—from about 76 million in 1900 to 281 million in 2000. It reached the 200 million mark in 1967, and the 300 million mark on October 17, 2006. As of yesterday it is estimated that the population in the United States was 312,481,573 and 2/3rds.
Back during the time of the Garden of Eden there were only two people alive. Fortunately for us they consisted of one man and one woman who were both heterosexual. They got busy.
In 1805 the world's population hit the 1 billion mark for the first time. 122 years later, in 1927, it reached 2 billion. It only took 33 years to get a billion more, that would be in 1960. Because of all of the hippies around at that time, and their lose ways, the world's population reached four billion in 1974, five billion in 1987, and six billion in 1999. That's a billion in 14 years, 13 years, and 12 years. And another 12 years since 1999 to reach the 7 billion mark.
Demographers, (people who study human population) project a range of possibilities for future population growth, with the most commonly cited figure being a world population of 9 billion by 2043. I don't know what happened to the 8 billion mark, I guess they thought that didn't matter so much, but 9 billion! That's 2 more billion in just 32 years, or another billion every 16 years or so.
Asia is the most-populated of Earth's continents, with its over 4 billion inhabitants accounting for over 60% of the world's population. The world's two most populated countries alone, China and India, constitute about 37 percent of planet's total population. Africa is the second most populated continent, with around 1 billion people, or 15% of the world's population. Europe has about 733 million European people in it making up 11% of the world's population, while the Latin American and Caribbean regions are home to 589 million (9%). Northern America has a population of around 352 million (5%), and Oceania, the least-populated region, has about 35 million inhabitants (0.5%).
We share the Earth with other living things, plants and animals. Although there will be 7 billion of us today, human beings represent only 1/2 of 1% of the total bio-mass that exists on the Earth at this time. We are trying our best to kill off as much of the other 99.5% as fast as we can, but we still have long way to go.
Some of that bio-mass are plants that we ourselves grow for food, like wheat and corn. And avocados. We grow a lot of food. In fact for being only 1/2 of 1% of the total bio-mass, we use up about 31% of the total photosynthesis on the planet. Which means? Well it means that there is only a certain amount of energy available to the planet Earth because there is only a certain and finite amount of energy that comes to us from the sun, our main source of energy. Furthermore, only a small fraction of the sun's radiation is actually used in the photosynthetic reaction in plants at the Earth's surface. Of the total amount of sunlight striking the Earth's outer atmosphere, about half of it is reflected back to space by ice, snow, oceans, or deserts, or absorbed by gases in the atmosphere. For example, the atmosphere's ozone gas layer absorbs nearly all ultraviolet light, which makes up about 9% of the sun's radiation. Of the light that reaches Earth's surface, only about half of it is in the wavelength range that can be used by plants in photosynthesis, and we use up 31% of that energy, while the other 99.5% of living things use 69%.
That hardly seems fair, does it?
But we humans aren't known for our fairness. Just ask the Atlantic cod and orange roughy which are being over fished by us humans so much that their populations are crashing to the point that several of their species may never recover. Advances in human technology have allowed us to fish farther, deeper and more efficiently than ever before. Some scientists estimate that we have removed as much as 90% of the large predatory fish such as shark, swordfish and those cod from the planet's oceans. Some people, like the Pew Oceans Commission, have warned that the oceans are in a state of "silent collapse," meaning the food supply for people is already threatened with just 7 billion of us, let alone 9 billion in another 32 years.
As a practical matter, it is interesting to note that Consumer Reports and other recent studies show some 20 to 25 percent of seafood around the world is mislabeled when purchased. In other words the next time you think you're buying some nice fresh lemon sole for dinner, you might actually be getting a rattail bottom feeder instead. How would you know for sure? The Consumer Reports people had to have the fish's DNA tested to distinguish the species. Not all of us can do that. I certainly can't. We don't know for sure if this mislabeling is done by accident or intentionally. If intentionally, this may be a result of over fishing and a lack of conventional fish stocks.
The point I'm so laboriously trying to make here is... well it's a question actually. Can we feed 7 billion people? Do we have enough energy for them? Will their accumulated carbon output add to climate change? Will there be enough water? Will we be able to sustain this increase, and projected increases in the world's population?
The answers to these questions are as follows: Nope, nope, yes, no, and no. Not if we keep going the way we have been.
We couldn't even feed, or take care of the people we had on earth before we hit 7 billion. 40% of the folks on this planet live on less than $2 a day, a large percentage of that 40% live on considerably less.
According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death.”
Wow, that's pretty harsh.
Around 27-28 percent of all children in developing countries are estimated to be underweight or stunted. The two regions that account for the bulk of the deficit are South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
An estimated 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, with 3 million deaths in 2004. Every year there are 350–500 million cases of malaria, with 1 million fatalities: Africa accounts for 90 percent of malarial deaths and African children account for over 80 percent of malaria victims worldwide.
There are 2.2 billion children on Earth. 1 billion of them live in poverty. For those of you trying to keep up that would 1 in 7 people on the planet is a poverty stricken child.
For the 1.9 billion children from the developing world, there are 640 million without adequate shelter (1 in 3), 400 million with no access to safe water (1 in 5), and 270 million with no access to health services (1 in 7). Worldwide, 10.6 million children died in 2003 before they reached the age of 5 (same number as the total population of children in France, Germany, Greece and Italy put together), and 1.4 million die each year from lack of access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation.
On and on.
13.1 percent, or almost 1 in 7 people are hungry right now. Approximately 19 million in developed countries like the United States, 37 million in the Near East and North Africa, 53 million in Latin America and the Caribbean, 239 million in sub-Saharan Africa, and 578 million in Asia and the Pacific.
On and on.
As a planet we don't know, or haven't bothered with taking care of the least fortunate among us. Out of sight, out of mind. A good Christian value.
There are answers to these difficult situations. We can cut down on the number of unwanted births in the world by the effective use of contraceptives. 215 million women around the planet want to prevent pregnancy but lack contraception. In nations such as Yemen, Afghanistan, and much of sub-Saharan Africa, women continue to have an average of more than 5 children because of this. Worldwide, 40 percent of pregnancies are unintended because millions upon millions of women lack the basic human right of access to birth control, either through family planning, or contraception. This condition is exasperated by governments who claim to value life beginning at conception, often for political gain, and then forget about these children after they are born. Men's attitude toward women around the world as possessions must be changed, as well as education for women. Many real factors, practical factors, need to be dealt with in a pragmatic manner if we are to seriously deal with these important issues that will affect each and every one of us.
The people of Gideon in that Star Trek episode had a similar problem that we do now. Their whole planet was covered with people. They made up the entire bio-mass of Gideon. That's pretty tough. I can't imagine how everyone was fed, or how they kept clean... on and on.
And they supposedly were an advanced civilization which were about to be invited into the Federation. If they couldn't solve the problems associated with overpopulation then how can we be expected to?
But I wonder. Why didn't they colonize other planets, and shift a significant percentage of their citizenry off to another world thereby relieving some of their population pressure?
Maybe it didn't occur to them.
We could do the same, and shift some people off to Mars let's say, like the Republicans. They could then screw up that planet as much as they wanted to and leave the rest of us alone.
Oh, such dreams.
But that will take a while. We haven't even gotten one guy there yet.
Capt Kirk explained to Hodin, the Gideon leader, that there were effective means of sterilization and contraception that they could utilize to lessen their population burden. But Hodin explained that since Gideon didn't have any germs their lifespans were really long, giving them remarkable regenerative abilities as well which foiled attempts at said sterilization. Bummer.
And he also explained that the people of Gideon loved life so much that they couldn't use contraception. Also a bummer, and somewhat analogous to circumstances we face here on Earth. The people of Gideon were willing to put up with excruciating misery in order to revere life whenever it occurred, so much so that the answer to their problem, that they finally worked out, was to kill themselves off with a deadly virus.
I don't understand really how their reverence toward life carried over to mass suicide, but that's just me.
Hopefully we on Earth can wave ancient legends and myths, and political expediency in order to improve the lives of those already living without having to undergo any more "excruciating misery" than we have to.
The famed oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau once said that we can live with a population of 10 billion or more and survive. And we probably could with scientific advances in agriculture, water conservation, reduction of greenhouse gases, and other measures.
Cousteau made the following stipulation though, 10 billion is fine, but we can't have more than 700,000 Americans.
What he meant by that is we consume too much here in the United States. We use up a disproportionate amount of the world's resources considering the size of our population. For example, the United States, with less than 5 % of the global population, uses about a quarter of the world’s fossil fuel resources—burning up nearly 25 % of the coal, 26 % of the oil, and 27 % of the world’s natural gas.
Hey, guess what? We're running out of oil, coal, and natural gas. Those are finite resources, which means they will run out! And until they do they are destroying the environment we will eventually bequeath to our children and grandchildren, and their children and grandchildren.
The 12 percent of the world’s population that lives in North America and Western Europe accounts for 60% of private consumption spending, while the one-third living in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa accounts for only 3.2 percent.
Sounds like massive income inequality to me. Something the Occupy Wall Street people are dealing with at this moment.
So what do we do. One of the answers is to consume less. Unfortunately right now, considering the general uninformed state of our populace, telling voters they must do with less is tantamount to political suicide.
We must eventually overcome this obstacle if we are going to effectively and pragmatically deal with this problem, as well as the problems of unwanted pregnancies, family planning, climate change, and a host of others.
We have to grow up. As the great writer Arthur C Clarke said, it time for "Childhood's End."

According to Population Action International I was the 2,768,131,364th person alive at the time of my birth back in 1955. My sister was the 2,967,950,231st. My niece Keri was the 4,788,658,042nd in 1984 when she was born. My lovely ex-case manager, Erin, was the 4,813,147,344rd in 1984 as well, although she disputes this. "But how can they account for what time I was born??" she astutely points out. "For all they know, I could be the 4,813,147,379th person to be born!"
I replied: "Due to the continued use of Bush's Patriot Act, the Population Action International people know what time everyone was born. In your case it was 3:27PM, just after the 4,813,147,343rd baby, and 43 seconds before the 4,813,147,345th. If your birth certificate says something different they're lying to you. You know how it is in New Jersey."
She replied too: "Well then I’m half a day younger than I thought!"
I replied again: "It's better than being half a day older!"
Which is true.
Odds are that the seventh billion baby will not be born here in the United States, but rather somewhere in India, or sub-Saharan Africa, ( because they have more sex there than we do.
America... we have to catch up.
I jest.
If however, we continue to ignore the tremendous problems that the world faces, as is our custom, and are going to continue in this pattern of unrestricted population growth, I need to point out that we need more cheerleaders. They bring nothing but joy and happiness into the world... and cheerfulness, as their name would imply. Less politicians, pizza CEOs, bankers, Republicans, Tea Baggers, war profiteers, hedge fund managers, Texas governors, Representatives from Minnesota, reality show TV contestants and hosts, and more cheerleaders. They're much more energetic and easy to get along with than Mitch McConnell for instance, who's always causing trouble.
My friend Mike after reviewing this post, said he likes cheerleaders too. This pretty much proves my point.
I walked outside yesterday morning and saw a whole bunch of cheerleaders practicing across the street in preparation for the "Rock and Roll Marathon," They ran right past my box... twice... the marathon runners, not the cheerleaders. Once up the 6th Street bridge, and once down the 6th Street bridge. I don't think the cheerleaders ran at all.
When I saw them yesterday morning they made me feel jubilant, as they often do, and we need more of that in the world today.
So remember... more cheerleaders... and nurses... they also can be very helpful at times.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Revolution 8, Libya

Moammar Gadhafi, 69, was buried last Tuesday morning, along with his son Muatassim, in an unmarked grave in a secret location in the Libyan desert that was home to his Bedouin ancestors. This at least, although probably unintentional, was significantly more respectful than being tossed out of a helicopter into the ocean as was Osama bin Laden. But like Osama, Gadhafi had been summarily executed without benefit of trial or judicial review. He will not have to answer for the many crimes he committed or confront those he had harmed, or the families of those he had killed during his 42 year reign. He's way beyond that now. His executioners thirst for blood has taken that away from us.
A reluctant Muslim cleric recited the required prayers, and that was the end of him.
And now in Libya, like in Tunisia and Egypt, the real and hard work begins.
It all began last December 17th, when a Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire in protest of the confiscation of his wares, and the harassment and humiliation that he reported was inflicted on him by a municipal official. Consequently the government of that country crumbled. The air of protest spread throughout the region, and the Egyptian government fell as well. Civil uprisings in Bahrain have occurred, in Syria, and Yemen; major protests in Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, and Oman; and minor protests in Kuwait, Lebanon, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Western Sahara. A good argument could be made that this so-called "Arab Spring," inspired anti-austerity protests in Europe, which in turn inspired the current protests in New York against corporate greed, income inequality, home foreclosures, massive student debt, and a host of other issues, protests that have spread across America and throughout the world.
It began in Libya last February with peaceful protests against Gaddafi's rule. These were met with military force by the government. The protests evolved into a popular uprising, similar to the spread of the Occupy Wall Street movement after the NYPD took a hard stand against them with mass arrests and the indiscriminate use of pepper spray on unarmed, female protesters, video taped and distributed on social networks such as Facebook and You Tube. In Libya though, the uprising consisted with a revolutionary bent with the goal of ousting Gaddafi, and that could only be achieved through the use of violence. The revolution spread across the country and led to an all out civil war.
Moammar was not loved. He didn't have a whole lot of friends in neighboring countries or elsewhere. There's no doubt he was a bad man.
He gained power in September of 1969 when a small group of junior military officers he led staged a bloodless coup d'état against King Idris of Libya while the king was in Turkey for medical treatment (although consistently referred to as "Colonel Gaddafi", he never actually held that rank, and was in fact only a Lieutenant when he seized power in 1969. He accepted the honorary rank of Major General in 1976, conferred upon him by his own Arab Socialist Union's National Congress, but stated that he would continue to be known as "Colonel." I don't know why). Idris's nephew, Crown Prince Sayyid Hasan ar-Rida al-Mahdi as-Sanussi, was deposed by the revolutionary army officers and put under house arrest, after which they abolished the monarchy and proclaimed the country a Libyan Arab Republic, with the motto "freedom, socialism, and unity".
After gaining power he immediately kicked out Americans and British who had military bases in the country, and extorted Western oil companies for a larger percentage of their proceeds.
He also initiated a process of directing funds toward providing free education, health care and housing for all. Public education in the country was free and primary education compulsory for both boys and girls. Medical care was also available to the public at no cost. The country's literacy rate rose from 10% to 90%, life expectancy rose from 57 to 77 years. He eventually began to build the largest underground network of pipes (2820 km) and aqueducts in the world in 1984, the Great Manmade River project, which supplies 6,500,000 cubic meters of fresh water per day to the cities of Tripoli, Benghazi, Sirte and elsewhere. Equal rights were established for women and black people. Financial assistance was provided for housing, university scholarships and employment programs. Libya was developed without taking any foreign loans due to its income from oil production. As a result, Libya was debt-free under Gaddafi's regime.
He was also a brutal dictator. Back in 1969 Gaddafi created Revolutionary committees to keep tight control over internal dissent. Ten to twenty percent of Libyans worked as informants for these committees. Domestic surveillance ran rampant within the government, in factories, and universities. Political opponents who formed opposition parties were executed, and talking about politics with foreigners was punishable by up to 3 years in jail. Executions and mutilations of said political opponents were made in public and broadcast on state television. in 1973 Law 75 made freedom of expression illegal, and Libya's media was consistently blunted, rated 160th out of 178 nations in the Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders.
Gaddafi personally presided over executions of the Islamist fundamentalist Hizb-ut Tahrir faction. Not content to terrorize those within Libya he employed his network of diplomats and recruits to assassinate at least 25 critics living abroad between 1980 and 1987, stating in 1982 "It is the Libyan people's responsibility to liquidate such scums who are distorting Libya's image abroad." Libyan agents assassinated dissidents in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East.
Libya became increasingly Islamic during Gaddafi's rule. He put in place "purification laws" in 1994, punishing theft by the amputation of limbs, and fornication and adultery by flogging. Under the Libyan constitution, homosexual relationships were punishable by up to 5 years in prison.
He was a terrorist, with the backing of a wealthy state behind him. In 1972 Gaddafi attempted to get the People's Republic of China to sell him a nuclear bomb. That didn't work out and a few years later tried to get one from Pakistan, and later India. Fortunately he was never able to procure a nuclear weapon.
He had plenty of chemical ones though. Inspectors from the Chemical Weapons Convention verified in 2004 that Libya owned a stockpile of 23 metric tons of mustard gas and more than 1,300 metric tons of precursor chemicals. He voluntarily offered to dismantle them in 2004, after the invasion of Iraq by the United States. Being a nation with real WMDs, Gaddafi did not wish to share the same fate as that of Iraq.
Gaddafi supported militant organizations that held anti-Western sympathies around the world. He fueled a number of Islamist and communist militant groups in the Philippines. The country still struggles with their murders and kidnappings. In Australia he attempted to radicalize Australian Aborigines and left-wing unions against the "imperialist" government. In New Zealand he financed the Workers Revolutionary Party and attempted to radicalize the native Maoris. Gaddafi was a natural born trouble maker. I'm surprised he didn't try to get American Indians to go to war against the U.S. again.
Or maybe he did.
Ironically and fatefully, Gaddafi said he supported the Iranian Revolution in 1979, and hoped that "...he (the Shah) ends up in the hands of the Iranian people, where he deserves."
The Shah Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavi of Iran would not suffer under the hands of his own people. Moammar Gaddafi would.
And then there was Lockerbie.
Which is a town in the Dumfries and Galloway region of south-western Scotland, with a population of several thousand. On Wednesday, the 21st of December, 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 lifted off from the runway at London's Heathrow Airport at 18:25 (6:25PM, UTC (Coordinated Universal Time)). 31 minutes later Captain James B. McQuarrie flew northwest into the Daventry departure over the Midlands and leveled off at 31,000 ft about 25 miles north of Manchester.
It was a a big Boeing 747 like the one pictured above, with 243 passengers aboard and a crew of 16, all headed for New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. It never got there.
At 19:02 traffic controllers lost contact with flight 103. Subsequent attempts to contact the plane were without result. British Airways pilot Captain Robin Chamberlain, flying the Glasgow–London shuttle near Carlisle, called Scottish authorities to report that he could see a huge fire on the ground.
What Capt Chamberlain was seeing was the wreckage of flight 103 after a bomb had exploded inside of it, punching a 20-inch wide hole on the left side of the fuselage, almost directly under the "P" in the "Pan Am" logo painted on the side of the aircraft. Shock waves from the explosion broke up the fuselage in the main passenger compartment, the nose of the craft including the cockpit where the pilot and co-pilot sat, broke off. A section of the 747's roof, several feet above the point of detonation, peeled away. When the cockpit broke off, the fuselage was then an open cylinder. Tornado-force winds tore up the aisles, slamming into the chests of passengers, making it even more difficult to breathe, and stripping their clothes off. Some were thrown to the rear. Other people and objects not fixed down were blown out of the aircraft into the night at temperatures of −51 °F, their 31,000-foot fall through the nighttime troposphere lasting about two minutes. Forensic Scientists at Wichita State University, who examined the autopsy evidence, told Scottish police they believed the flight crew, some of the flight attendants, and 147 other passengers survived the bomb blast and depressurisation of the aircraft, and may have been alive on impact. None of them survived. None of the crew. None of the passengers.
As pieces of the plane descended, it broke into smaller pieces, with the section attached to the wings landing first (46.5 seconds after the explosion) in Sherwood Crescent, Lockerbie, where the 200,000 pounds of kerosene fuel contained inside ignited. The resultant fireball destroyed a number of houses. 11 residents on the ground were killed in the inferno.
Of the total of 270 fatalities, 189 were American citizens and 43 British citizens. No more than 4 of the remaining 37 victims of the bombing came from any one of the other 19 countries.
The lovely actress Kim Cattrell, of "Sex and the City" fame, owes her life to her shopping addiction as she had been booked on the flight, but changed her reservation shortly beforehand in order to complete some last minute gift purchases in London. The R&B singing group The Four Tops, and Sex Pistolero, Johnny Rotten missed the flight they had been booked on as well.
Fragments of clothing found in a suitcase believed to have held the bomb were traced back to a Maltese merchant, who said he sold the clothes to a man of Libyan appearance. He was interviewed 23 times, giving contradictory evidence about who had bought the clothes, that person's age, appearance and the date of purchase but later identified Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, a Libyan citizen, alleged former intelligence officer, former head of security for Libyan Arab Airlines, and former director of the Centre for Strategic Studies in Tripoli, the capital of Libya. Other evidence found at the crash site, including pieces of the bomb itself, pointed to having originated in Libya.
In November 1991, Megrahi and Ulrich Fhimah, a Mebo AG engineer, were indicted by the US Attorney General and the Scottish Lord Advocate for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. On March 23rd, 1995, over six years after the 1988 attack, Megrahi and Fhimah were designated as United States fugitives from justice and became the 441st and 442nd additions on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. Protracted negotiations with Gaddafi, and the imposition of UN economic sanctions against Libya brought the two accused to trial in a neutral country. Over ten years after the bombing, Megrahi and Fhimah were placed under arrest at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands on the 5th of April, 1999. The trial began on May 3rd, 2000, 11 years, 4 months and 13 days after the destruction of Flight 103. The full charges included the names of the murdered 259 passengers and crew, and the eleven residents killed on the ground at Lockerbie in Scotland. During the trial, the defense showed that Megrahi's co-defendant, Fhimah, had an air-tight alibi, having been in Sweden at the time of the sabotage.
The judges announced their verdict on January 31st, 2001. Fhimah was found not guilty and freed. They said of Megrahi: "There is nothing in the evidence which leaves us with any reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the first accused, and accordingly we find him guilty of the remaining charge in the indictment as amended." Megrahi was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a recommendation that he should serve at least 20 years before being eligible for parole.
In 2009 Megrahi was diagnosed with prostrate cancer and given approximately 3 months to live. On the 20th of August, 2009, he was released from prison and traveled by chartered jet to Libya that same day. He received a heros welcome upon arrival. He survived more than three months, returned to his home in Libya, and as far as we know is still alive today.
On February 22nd of this year, during the Libyan protests, the ex Minister of Justice Mustafa Mohamed Abud Al Jeleil stated in an interview with the Swedish newspaper Expressen that Muammar al-Gaddafi had personally ordered the bombing, the motive generally attributed to a series of military confrontations with the U.S. Navy that took place in the 1980s in the Gulf of Sidra, where two Libyan fighter aircraft were shot down, and two Libyan radio ships sunk.
Many of the families of the victims of the Lockerbie bombing have said they could now find a small piece of closure after they learned of the death of Colonel Gaddafi.
He didn't have to die though. Like Saddam Hussein he most likely could have left the country before, or just after the start of hostilities. Gaddafi and his family chose to stay however and fight. His enormous ego, which had held sway over the country of Libya for 42 years, is what eventually killed him.
The uprising that began in February spread across the country, with the forces opposing Gaddafi establishing a government based in Benghazi named the National Transitional Council (NTC). He responded by vowing to kill the "rats and dogs," that opposed him, his own citizens of course, but that had never stopped him before. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), led by the United States, for some reason decided this was a fight they wanted to participate in, most likely because Gaddafi had been such a pain in the ass for so long this would be a perfect opportunity to get rid of the murderous bastard once and for all. Even though he had made a pretense of cooperating with western governments in recent years, he was still for all intents and purposes... insane, so the west concluded it was time for him to go.
"Demanding an immediate ceasefire in Libya, including an end to the current attacks against civilians, which it said might constitute “crimes against humanity”, the Security Council this evening imposed a ban on all flights in the country’s airspace — a no-fly zone — and tightened sanctions on the Qaddafi regime and its supporters.
Adopting resolution 1973 (2011) by a vote of 10 in favor to none against, with 5 abstentions (Brazil, China, Germany, India, Russian Federation), the Council authorized Member States, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, to take all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in the country, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory — requesting them to immediately inform the Secretary-General of such measures."
The adoption of resolution 1973, the military intervention by a NATO-led coalition to enforce it and establishing a no-fly zone, and Gaddafi's refusal to leave Libya, sealed his fate.
His assets and those of his family were frozen, and both Interpol and the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for him in June, and for his son Saif al-Islam, and his brother-in-law Abdullah al-Senussi, concerning crimes against humanity. Gaddafi and his forces lost the Battle of Tripoli in August, and on September 16th, 2011, the NTC took Libya's seat at the UN, replacing him. He retained control over parts of Libya, most notably the city of Sirte, his home town, to which he fled. Although Gaddafi's forces initially held out against the NTC's advances, Gaddafi was captured alive, hiding in a sewage drain.
"Don't shoot, don't shoot" he was reported to have said upon his capture, and in a last desperate attempt at denial, "What's wrong? What did I do to you?"
Videos taken by the crowd surrounding him just after he was captured show he was alive at the time, though probably gravely, maybe fatally wounded. He was loaded into the back of a truck by the crowd of rebels, and was probably executed by them while being transported. It is most likely that we in the west will never know the exact details of his death.
We do know that he was dead. Thousands of Libyans paraded single file through a walk-in refrigerated food locker in Misrata to see the barefoot, bloodied and shirtless corpse of Muammar Ghaddafi as they also sought closure to his dictatorship, and eight months of civil war.
And after they had their fill he was buried in the morning, next to his son, in an unmarked grave, in a secret location, in the Libyan desert.
Revolts, protests, and uprisings continue in the Middle East.
The general discontent in these countries has not been appeased. The call for drastic change is far from over.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Revolution 7, "Hello, I'm Hood"

"Hello, I'm..."

Robyn and her Merry... Ladies

Last Wednesday euro zone leaders agreed on a deal for banks to forgive 50% of their loans to Greece, Europe's hardest hit country after the financial crisis of the last several years, where the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank had been forcing the Greek government to slash spending and install severe austerity measures, measures which have angered the people of Greece to the point they have paralyzed the country with strikes and riots. The IMF and WB are up to their old "Shock Doctrine," tricks, rush in and change everything while the country's in chaos, withhold loans until the government privatizes national institutions, and scuttles all social welfare programs, and salaries, and then make the exception the norm as the country licks its wounds. Usually, in the classic SD scenario the general population is subdued by the military and police while they are raped. But the people were having none of it and besides... the revolution was televised, and videoed, and Facebooked, and Interneted. As the Occupy Wall Streeters are so fond of saying, "The world is watching." The whole world was watching indeed.
Hopefully the deal struck Wednesday will take some of the pressure off of Greece's leaders, the European Union itself, and the rest of the world's financial markets. Indeed, the developments in Europe lifted global equity markets and other risk assets Thursday. In Europe, the FTSE 100 Index closed 2.89% higher, while the CAC 40 Index closed 6.28% higher. Earlier, Asian markets also rallied, with the Hang Seng Index closing 3.26% higher. In the U.S. the Dow Jones average ended the day 2.87% higher at 12,209.54, the S&P 500 ended the day 3.43% higher at 1,284.59, and the Nasdaq ended the day 3.32% higher at 2,738.63. Everybody seemed to be happy for the time being.
Except for the OWS crowd camped out in Zuccotti Park and all of the other Occupy movements around the country and world, and all of the people in all of the nations where austerity measures were being forced upon them by their own governments in a misguided effort to stabilize their economies after the financial crisis of 2007/2008 brought upon the world by Wall Street bankers.
Except for all of those people and all of the people they represented, everything was just peachy.
Nothing's enough for these people.
They want to march today to bring attention to the meeting next week of the G20 members in France, and they have a suggestion for the leaders and finance ministers who will be meeting there. They want to impose a new tax on all financial transactions... all of them! A financial transaction tax, or as some have affectionally called it, a Robin Hood Tax.
The G20 nations, which represent 85% of the world's economy, consist of South Africa, Canada, Mexico, the United States, Argentina, Brazil, China, Japan, South Korea, India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Turkey, the European Union, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and Australia. The Heads of State of these countries, or their representatives will meet in Cannes for 48 hours beginning on November 3rd and 4th. They're going to be pretty busy according to French President Nicholas Sarkozy, who is in charge of the meeting's agenda. He has listed coordinating economic policies, reducing global macroeconomic imbalances and strengthening financial regulation as the priorities for the two-day meeting . He also wants to reform the international monetary system, combat commodity price volatility, improve global governance, and secure assistance for developing nations. Worthy goals. It's good they gave themselves a whole two days to get everything done.
The Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, will argue for action on food security, better infrastructure, and getting more value out of "remittances," money sent home by migrant workers to their families, which amounts to around $440 billion U.S. dollars a year.
"The needs of the developing world must be central to the G20 agenda, not something peripheral or remote," she says.
The second richest guy in the world, Bill Gates will be there to deliver a report on how to inject more money into developing nations and get better value for those funds.
It all sounds pretty good, right?
Not everybody's doing the Snoopy Dance about it though. Anti-globalisation and anti-capitalist groups are gathering ahead of the G20 meeting, and they have some complaints.
The host country remembers violent protests at other G20 gatherings and has enacted tight security in and around Cannes for the duration of the meeting. The whole city is expected to be cordoned off. Extraordinary security measures will involve most of the town's 4,000 manhole covers soldered shut and airborne spy cameras deployed. Gas stations around Cannes and Nice will be closed, and local hospitals have canceled non-urgent surgery in preparation for a possible influx of patients.
They expect people will be injured. Why?
A People’s forum has negotiated permission from local authorities to meet in Nice, 20 miles from Cannes. The forum will gather countless organizations, from Attac (Association for the Taxation of financial Transactions and for Citizen Action) to Oxfam France, from Greenpeace France, to Action against Hunger, and a host of others. Some believe the G20 is not sincere in their stated efforts.
With their slogan "People first, not Finance!" they are determined to generate strong mobilization against the G20 and its policy of financial supremacy. Their meeting revolves around six themes:
1. Stop austerity, end inequalities (austerity, employment, social rights, welfare, debt)
2. The people, not the market (finance regulation and debt)
3. Change the system, not the planet (environment, development)
4. Don’t gamble with our food (agriculture, food)
5. Indignados, Rebels, Solidarity (democracy, struggle in Mediterranean region, human rights)
6. They’re 20, we’re billions (global governance)
"(This system) empowers a small group of people, and a small group of countries (the G20) that have the financial and economic power to basically do whatever they want with it, and whatever they want with their money - to refinance the banks, to promote the capitalist system that we live in, instead of wanting a change, " said Antoine Lupera, member of the executive committee of the French Communist Party
Above all, "they are against one of our main principles," he told the Inter Press Service. "Humans should come first, and that won’t be the case with this kind of meeting [again, the G20 summit]."
Valérie Brulant, member of Attac, said that given the last G20 conclusions, this group is about communication and never about concrete action. One of the main reasons for such hypocrisy is it lacks the means to apply its decisions, and to sanction countries that do not implement them, she said.
"The G20 is not only illegitimate but also harmful," she continued. It is illegitimate because while the financial, economic and social crises affect all countries around the world, "only 20 are gathering to solve the problem, and 174 others cannot say a word. This is unacceptable."
It is harmful, she said, because "the G20 does everything to perpetuate the system and to support the financial markets, and so the dictatorship of finance. The race to short-term benefits is detrimental to people, to social rights and to environmental rights."
Gildas Jossec, an expert on financial regulation and lobbying transparency at AITEC (the International Organization of Technicians Experts and Researchers, which will take part in the People’s forum), told IPS (Inter Press Service) that the bank system must focus on financing the economy. Then it would "speculate less on the financial markets…thus taking less reckless risks."
He also supported implementation of the financial transactions tax, that Robin Hood Tax I mentioned earlier, which could generate a considerable amount of money for development financing and the fight against climate change. But, he said, the financial lobby, which led to the economic crisis, is an obstacle.
He's right. Our own Secretary of the Treasury, Timothy Geithner, is against implementation of such a tax. I must say it doesn't surprise me.
Let me provide a little background please... just a little.
Here's a short video describing the tax and attempts to implement it last year in Toronto:
Robin Hood sure has changed since I was a kid. They're much prettier than Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner these days (maybe even Errol Flynn).
Hey Robyn, I need comforting too!
Err, in any case, the Canadian based non-profit, anti-consumerist, pro-environment organization Adbusters,
which could be said to have instigated the OWS movement with a call for protesters to settle in New York City last September 17th, which is exactly what happened, resulting in a national and global movement. They along with other organizations such as National People's Action and BanksterUSA, have called for today's march to draw attention and support for the Robin Hood Tax (RHT), which according to them, places a 0.05% to 1% tax on each financial transaction made by banks, speculators, and whatever. Transactions like stocks, bonds, foreign currency and derivatives, "a sales tax on each Wall Street trade."
A "Robin Hood" transaction tax on banks would raise as much as $400 to $650 billion dollars a year, campaigners have said. "We want you to slow down some of that $1.3-trillion easy money that's sloshing around the global casino each day -- enough cash to fund every social program and environmental initiative in the world."
How would the tax income be spent? Some offer this formula: 50% to fight poverty in developed countries, 25% to fight poverty in developing countries, and 25% to fight climate change at home and abroad.
If it were up to me I would divide the funds evenly between those three worthy goals, 33.3% each. I would also suggest that a program utilizing some of these funds be used to get money out of the political process in the United States, with financing provided by the taxation of the very institutions that have provided campaign contributions in the past, and which have bought Congress, the courts, and to a large degree the executive branch of our government.
BanksterUSA states, "When reckless Wall Street trading crashed the global economy, putting 8 million Americans out of work and tanking state and federal tax revenues, American taxpayers bailed out the big banks to the tune of $4.7 trillion. That is trillion with a “T”. Now we are being asked to put up with astronomical unemployment, cuts in pay, cuts in health care, cuts in Medicare and Social Security, larger class sizes and smaller pensions. Enough is enough! We have done our part, now it’s time for Wall Street to do its part." Through the payment of this tax.
Bankster initiated a "Tax Wall Street" petition drive targeting U.S. policymakers and the new Congressional "Super Committee," which needs to think about doing something other than slashing critical social programs, and raise revenues. This is what the petition says:

Dear Congressmember:

The deficit issue that we face today was in large part created by the world financial crisis, a crisis caused by Wall Street speculation. Now it’s time to call upon Wall Street to start paying its fair share to help us out of the hole they dug.
A small tax on financial market transactions has the potential to raise significant revenue and simultaneously limit reckless short-term speculation that can threaten financial stability. We are writing to ask you to support such a tax, and to request that it be part of any new budget plan.
Financial transaction taxes have a long track record both in the United States and globally. The United States had a transfer tax from 1914 to 1966. The UK levies a transaction tax on stock transfers and has done so for many years. The European Union is on the verge of approving a small transaction tax, including ten cents per $100 on stock transactions. The tiny transaction tax they are working on is estimated to raise over $70 billion annually. A similar transaction tax in the United States would raise even more money, as our financial markets are larger.
We join over 1,000 economists who recently signed an open letter advocating a financial speculation tax as "technically feasible" and "morally right."

One of those economists is our friend, Paul Krugman, which an endorsement by him, for me, adds a lot of weight to the validity of the argument for this tax (other than I like the general idea of sticking it to Wall St).
There are a few who don't like the idea. Those other than Wall Street bankers and stock brokers.
European Central Bank president president Jean-Claude Trichet warned that implementing the tax could hurt Europe unless it could be rolled out globally. Great Britain's prime minister David Cameron remains opposed to the tax unless it can be implemented globally as well. Why?
Because some believe that if it is not implemented globally businesses in countries that impose the tax will just move to countries that don't to keep from paying it. That's simple enough.
Critics also contend that the tax may reduce the total volume traded in financial products, which could increase unemployment in the financial industry and its ancillary services. Some say it would render the market less efficient, or the tax could double the cost of certain financial transactions and could cause the Dow Jones Industrial Average to fall by 12.5%, or A "Robin Hood" type transaction tax would reduce the incentive to provide liquidity to the capital markets, or the banks would pass all costs on to their customers, with no guaranteed transparency about who exactly would bear the costs.
It is also unlikely, in my opinion, that the new revenues the tax would provide would be used for the lofty purposes proposed by the campaigns pushing for the tax, since the entities in charge of collecting the tax, namely national governments, would use these funds for politically expedient purposes, such as has occurred with Social Security trusts. Unless this money was mandated by law to be used for very specific purposes, Congress in the U.S. and other governing bodies in other countries, would just use it for whatever they wanted, with empty promises of paying it back at some unspecified future date.
These concerns are valid. Still I believe these and other unforseen difficulties arising from the implementation of this tax can be dealt with in an effective manner, and the revenue raised to the advantage of the people of the world, rather than the CEOs and stockholders of multinational corporations, and corrupt politicians.
There are #ROBINHOOD actions currently planned in San Antonio, Las Vegas, Montreal, Durango, Calgary, Washington DC, Santa Fe, Denver, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Sydney, Amarillo, Edmonton, Salt Lake City, Berlin, and more in 43 different countries.
Everyone agrees that something has to change. That's what the OWS movement is all about. The Robin Hood Tax can be the first significant step in the right direction.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Happy Birthday John (Cleese)!

Starting Out

Graham Chapman & John with Cats

Jones, Chapman, Cleese, Idle, Gilliam, & Palin

Funny Walks

"Romance with a Double Bass" with Connie & John

Lovely Connie Booth

"Fawlty Towers"

"Almost dead," at a lively 72

This morning it is my great pleasure to to wish a happy birthday to one of my favorite English actors, comedians, writers, film producers, and lemur lovers, Monsieur Jonathan Marwood Cleese.
John had the good sense to be born on my birthday, the 27th of October, a long, long time ago, in far away, damp and musty England, in Weston-super-Mare to be exact, a sea side resort in the Unitary Authority of North Somerset, which of course is within the ceremonial county of Somerset. Weston's twin city in Germany is Hildesheim, which is near a river, but far away from the sea, so it's not really a twin now is it?!
In any case, John started his career as a small, tiny infant (picture above), and he went on to show business and all that, married the lovely American actress and comedian, Connie Booth, Monty Python... Holy Grail... That's about it really. Was Lucy Liu's dad in Charlie's Angels... and then Cameron Diaz's in "Shrek II," Cameron was also in Charlie's Angels of course, so John was involved in some sick, paternal relationship with these girls which I find disgustingly difficult to define.
Let's see... nothing much else really... tall fellow. 6' 4 3/4" by the age of 13. Freakish if you ask me. Lives in Southern California now, in Montecito, a ritzy neighborhood south of Santa Barbara where Oprah and Michael Douglas live. Crocodile Dundee. I saw Jonathan Winters in a supermarket there once. What's the matter John, Sepulveda not good enough for you!? I lived in Sepulveda. It's a perfectly good town... has a big, long boulevard named after it... Bet you drink bottled water too, don't ya?
Be that as it may, his mom, Muriel, is listed as a stay at home housewife and acrobat. Well, there's no reason to two occupations need to be mutually exclusive, now is there? I once had a girlfriend, De ette Smith, whose parents had a full blown trapeze in their backyard.
Hey, anything to pass the time, you know.
John's dad, Reginald Francis, worked in insurance sales, as did one of my step fathers. Norman, the psychotic one.
It seems the family name was Cheese, before Reginald changed it when entering the army in 1915. Probably a good move on his part.
As young John would have enough problems getting along in school due to his freakish height. Accordingly he took up boxing and cricket while at St Peter's Preparatory School, which came in handy when deflecting those who would torment him. He was also good in English studies, and displayed an early sense of humor, reportedly defacing the school grounds by painting footprints to suggest that the school's statue of Field Marshal Earl Haig had got down from his pedestal and gone to the toilet.
After leaving school, he went back there to teach science, English, geography, history, and Latin, before studying law at Downing College, Cambridge. While there he joined the Cambridge Footlights, an amateur theatrical club which grew in prominence in the 1960s for its performances of comedy and satire. That's where he met this guy named Graham Chapman, an alcoholic doctor and future bungee jumper who never practiced medicine, who wrote comedy instead. Chapman would later appear in one of my favorite films, "Yellowbeard," the story of a misunderstood pirate just trying to get along.
Both Cleese and Chapman, and a great many other future British comedians, where greatly influenced by the radio comedy, "The Goon Show," starring the legendary Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, and Harry Secombe.
I've never heard "The Goon Show," but I certainly liked Mr. Sellers. That we have in common.
John wrote and performed in comedy programs, several of them being very successful, including one in particular which toured under the name "Cambridge Circus." When he graduated, John went on to write for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), then rejoined Cambridge Circus in 1964, which toured New Zealand and America. He remained in America after leaving Cambridge Circus, performing and doing a little journalism, and there met Terry Gilliam, an animator and strip cartoonist.
He returned to England and continued writing for the BBC, and other entities, working in a series of collaborations with some of the finest comedy writing talent in England at the time, some of whom - Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, and Chapman - eventually joined him in what would become Monty Python.
John met the wonderful American actress, Connie Booth, while in the US during the late 1960s and they married in 1968. In 1971 they would have their only child, Cynthia. Connie would appear several times on the Python show, as well as in one of my favorite short films, 1974's "Romance with a Double Bass," which I would have provided as a clip in it's entirety if it was available. But due to a few innocent scenes which may have involved a little bit of nudity (picture above), youtube doesn't have the whole film, the puritan bastards. I certainly recommend it though, if you ever come across it dear readers.
Here's a clip of the two working together in a book shop:
They would both write and star in the popular British television program, "Fawlty Towers," which oddly enough (you know how these Brits are) ran for 6 episodes in 1975, and then 6 more in 1979, for a total of just twelve episodes. Connie and John had divorced by the time the second series was produced in 1979, but they continued to work together, and remain good friends.
And despite the sparsity of episodes, the British Film Institute placed "Fawlty Towers," first on its 2000 list of the greatest British television programs of any genre ever to have been screened.
I'm impressed.
Alright, back to 1969. John and Graham Chapman were offered their very own series. However, owing to Chapman's alcoholism, Cleese found himself bearing an increasing workload in the partnership and was therefore unenthusiastic about doing a series with just the two of them. He had enjoyed working with Michael Palin, and invited him to join the series. Palin had been working with Eric Idle and Terry Jones, on a show called "Do Not Adjust Your Set" (not "The Outer Limits"), with Terry Gilliam creating the animations. Palin agreed to work with Cleese and Chapman, bringing with him Gilliam, Jones, and Idle.
There's a picture of all six of them above.
They started their own show, by golly, called "Monty Python's Flying Circus," which ran for four seasons, from October 1969 to December 1974 on BBC Television. This show would be what they probably would be best known for for the rest of their lives. It certainly influenced me, and to this day I display the remnants of a silly walk which I find quite embarrassing at times. Most of the time actually. Well see for yourself:
John and Chapman wrote together, as did Palin and Jones. Terry Gilliam provided the idiosyncratic animation... and Eric Idle mostly wrote by himself, the unsociable berk.
Each brought something different and wonderful to the show, which lasted for forty-five episodes over the four years it ran. "The Python phenomenon developed from the television series into something larger in scope and impact, spawning touring stage shows, films, numerous albums, several books and a stage musical as well as launching the members to individual stardom. The group's influence on comedy has been compared to The Beatles' influence on music." -Wikipedia
It was a sketch show, and here are some of my favorite sketches featuring Marwood:
First, the classic Norwegian Blue:
Next, a little self defense (pay attention ladies. Your virtue may depend on it):
And just for the pure sweet hell of it, probably my favorite sketch, which does not feature John, but Michael Palin. It's very short. The Seduced Milkman:
I showed this to my lovely case manager at the time, Erin, who said this about it: "Men are so easy."
She's right. We are. But I didn't get into a long conversation about how much each of the sexes invest in the reproductive process which is the standard defense against general allegations of male promiscuity. Perhaps I should have.
In any case by the time the fourth season came around John had tired of dealing with Graham's drinking, and he thought the writing had deteriorated, so he decided to leave the program.
However he remained friendly with his fellow Pythons, and began work on the second and best and most popular of their 5 films as Monty Python, 1974's "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."
It's my favorite of the 5, and the only one that Erin has ever seen so it must be good. Here's 3 clips:
A little French Taunting:
The Killer Bunny:
And the Three Questions:
"Monty Python and the Holy Grail," cost $400,000 1974 dollars to produce (a little over 1.7 million today). It earned $127,878,662 ($558,938,228.23 today). By anybody's measure the film was a huge success.
"This film is #41 on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies". In 2000, readers of Total Film magazine voted "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" the 5th greatest comedy film of all time. The next Monty Python film, Monty Python's Life of Brian, was ranked #1. A similar poll of Channel 4 viewers in 2005 placed Holy Grail in 6th (with Life of Brian again topping the list). A 2004 poll by the UK arm of Amazon and the Internet Movie Database named "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" as the best British picture of all time."
Still the Python's didn't start seeing an appropriate amount of monetary return until the next few Python movies were produced.
John continued a very successful independent career making films, television shows, guest appearances, books, and voice work. The others continued successful careers as well, Palin and Idle appearing regularly in films, and Gilliam becoming a well respected big time Hollywood director, with films such as "Time Bandits," "Brazil," "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," and "The Brothers Grim," under his belt.
In 1981 John married again, to the American actress Barbara Trentham ("Rollerball," and "The Possession of Joel Delaney") who gave him another child, Camilla. They would divorce in 1990. He would marry once more to an American psychotherapist (he likes those American women it seems) who he divorced three years ago, and which is costing him a whole bunch of money. He should have taken heed from that song by "The Guess Who."
In 1988 John wrote and starred in "A Fish Called Wanda," with Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline and Michael Palin. Wanda was a commercial and critical success, and he was nominated for an Academy Award for the script. Here he introduces the film:
The next year, 1989, his long time writing partner and friend, Graham Chapman, was diagnosed with throat cancer, to which he succumbed in October, with John and Michael Palin in attendance. John made some remarks at Graham's funeral service recorded here:
Some of my other favorite appearances with Mr Cleese in film or television include: "The Avengers," the original show in 1968, "How to Irritate People," with Michael Palin, Graham Chapman, Connie Booth and Tim Brooke-Taylor, a 1987 appearance on the sit-com "Cheers," after which he won an Emmy Award for best actor in a guest starring role, "The Magic Christian," in 1969 in which he got to work with Peter Sellers, "Yellowbeard," of course, "Silverado," "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein," with Kenneth Branagh and Robert De Niro, "The Day the Earth Stood Still," a film I am somewhat intimately familiar with, his work in the James Bond and Harry Potter franchises, all of the Monty Python films, "Fierce Creatures" (although John didn't like it) and of course, "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle."
And many, many more.
John loves lemurs. Romantically. "I adore lemurs. They're extremely gentle, well-mannered, pretty and yet great fun... I should have married one."
John's political bent is some what progressive I believe. Here he is with another of my favorite people, Keith Olbermann, on "Countdown," making fun of poor presidential candidate, John McCain on Halloween of 2008:
Here's a link to his website:
And I can't end this brief account without stating unequivocally that all of us here at Joyce's Take wish John continued good health for himself and his family, the ability to keep making money to pay his alimony, and a very happy birthday!
Happy Birthday John!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The End of the War in Iraq

In July of 2002 the CIA entered Iraq with the goal of preparing the way for an invasion by the United States. They did this by attempting to turn Iraqi military commanders, to persuade them to surrender to U.S. forces after the invasion commenced rather than fight. They were also there to identify high value targets for future destruction.
By August of that year elements of the U.S. and British Air Force were dropping enough ordinance to count as "a full air offensive," in the so-called "No-Fly Zone). The bombing was designed to "degrade" the Iraqi air defense system before an invasion.
These actions alone might constitute "acts of war," in and of themselves.
President George W. Bush spoke at the UN in September accusing Iraq of the production and use of weapons of mass destruction (biological weapons, chemical weapons, and long-range missiles), all in violation of U.N. resolutions.
The United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441 was passed in November, which called for Iraq to comply with international inspections of its weapons capabilities and inventory. Iraq, while denying all charges, announced that it would permit the re-entry of United Nations arms inspectors into Iraq. The United States characterized this as a ploy by the country's leaders and continued to call for a Security Council resolution which would authorize the use of military force
The Bush administration wanted to go to war.
It wanted to go to war so bad it actually made up evidence, such as these "weapons of mass destruction" (WMDs), and attempts to import yellow cake uranium. It manufactured "Top Secret" intelligence it would then leak to the media so it wasn't top secret anymore, and after which it could then use to further their false argument. Anyone who stood in their way was fired, or discredited. The Vice President, Dick Cheney was most likely responsible for the outing of a working covert CIA operative, Valerie Plame, because her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson had written an op-ed in the New York Times stating he had found no evidence that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium in Niger, which was a direct contradiction of what the President had said in January during the State of the Union address, that "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
The outing was an act of treason. Only one person was found guilty of anything to do with this horrendous act of betrayal, and that was only for acts of perjury, making false statements, and obstruction of justice. No one was held accountable for the actual outing. The Vice President's Chief of Staff, Scooter Libby, was sentenced to 30 months in prison, fined and ordered to community service. President Bush, who had presided over 152 capital punishment executions while Governor of Texas, commuted Libby's sentence to zero prison time because he thought the sentence had been "excessive."
In any case, the Bush administration continued its push for war. In February of 2003 Secretary of State Colin Powell took information provided to him by the CIA for an unconventional weapons program being maintained by Saddam. His mission was to garner international support for military action against Iraq. He had graphs and everything! Unfortunately for him, the United States, and the world, his information was all wrong.
But that didn't stop Bush from acting on it. In March of 2003 the invasion of Iraq began. The legality of the invasion was always in question. The U.S. and Britain said that existing UN Security Council resolutions, and later inspections of Iraqi weapons systems gave them all the authorization they needed. The UN felt otherwise. The United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in September 2004 that: "From our point of view and the UN Charter point of view, it [the war] was illegal." Many legal experts and other international leaders have argued that it was illegal. I argue that it was illegal. Critics of the invasion have challenged the U.S. and U.K.s assertions of legality, arguing that an additional Security Council resolution, which the United States and Great Britain failed to obtain, would have been necessary to specifically authorize the invasion.
"The invasion of Iraq was neither in self-defense against armed attack nor sanctioned by UN Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force by member states and thus constituted the crime of war of aggression, according to the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) in Geneva. A "war waged without a clear mandate from the United Nations Security Council would constitute a flagrant violation of the prohibition of the use of force.” We note with “deep dismay that a small number of states are poised to launch an outright illegal invasion of Iraq, which amounts to a war of aggression.”
The International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg held following World War II that the waging of a war of aggression is:
"essentially an evil initiate a war of not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole."
Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Powell, all of them, and many more, turned our country, the United States of America, into a rouge nation, uncontrolled by international law, and a danger to the world at large. They are, all of them, guilty of crimes against humanity. Yet the Obama Administration has failed to bring them to justice. That dear readers, is truly a shameful thing.
In 2008, his last year in office, Bush negotiated a U.S.–Iraq Status of Forces Agreement, which established that U.S. combat forces would withdraw from Iraqi cities by June 30 of 2009, and all U.S. forces to be completely out of Iraq by December 31, 2011, excluding certain circumstances. It also stipulated that U.S. contractors working for U.S. forces would be subject to Iraqi criminal law, while contractors working for the State Department and other U.S. agencies would retain their immunity.
Now, after 8 years, 263 days since Secretary of State Powell presented non-evidence of Saddam Hussein's biological weapons program, 8 years, 218 days since the March 20, 2003 invasion of Iraq, 8 years, 178 days since President George W. Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech on the USS Abraham Lincoln, 4,479 unnecessary US military fatalities, hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths of innocent Iraqi nationals, more than 9,000 Iraqi military and police killed, more than 30,000 unnecessary US military injuries, over 1,300 unnecessary contractor fatalities, over 10,500 wounded or injured, over 130 unnecessary deaths of journalists and 50 media support workers, more than 2.8 million internally displaced Iraqis citizens, after $806 billion in federal funding for the Iraq War through the fiscal year 2011, somewhere between $3 to $5 trillion in total economic cost to the United States of the Iraq war according to economist Joseph E. Stiglitz and Linda J. Blimes, over $60 billion in US expenditures lost to waste and fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, and with 0 weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq, President Obama announced last Friday that all U.S. troops would be out of that country by the end of the year.
Seemingly this is in accordance with Bush's Status of Forces Agreement, although it hasn't stopped the Republicans for criticizing the action. Coming off a slew of foreign policies victories such as the execution of Osama bin Laden, the death of Muammar Qaddafi and end of the U.S. mission in Libya, and now the withdrawal of forces from Iraq, Obama can't get any respect at all from the right. According to them, we are now endangering recent advances in security gains by leaving, and by leaving will open the door for Iran to meddle in Iraq's internal affairs. According to Republican politicians such as John McCain, and Lindsey Graham, not to mention those running for the Republican presidential nomination, there will be no time when it is safe to exit Iraq, or Afghanistan for that matter. This coincides with the rebirth of the neo con movement with the likes of Charles Krauthammer of the Fox Propaganda Network, Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard, and former UN Ambassador, John Bolton.
As Chris Matthews said on his show yesterday, "He [Obama] couldn't pull their own mothers out of a burning house without getting criticized."
Which is true.
To put things in perspective though, if it were up to the U.S. military, and the government of Iraq, and certainly the war profiteers in the United States and elsewhere, the troops would stay in that country after the December 31st deadline (a US troop presence would be needed to train the Iraqi military on new American equipment, and if sectarian tensions flared up again and threatened to plunge the country into another civil war). However, the U.S. pressed Iraqi officials on the sticky point of granting our soldiers immunity from Iraqi law before they were ready to breach the idea to their Iraqi constituents, thus pretty much bungling these negotiations, as it turns out, in a good way, at least for those of us who want to see total withdrawal of troops as fast as possible. The Iraq government, put on the spot, refused the immunity stipulation and Obama responded with the announcement of total troop withdrawal (although the possibility remains that Iraq might welcome a reintroduction of U.S. troops at some future date according to their needs, though how Obama would frame this to the American people is unclear). So in other words the Obama administration has inadvertently complied with the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement, and once and for all is ending the worst foreign policy incident in the history of the United States.
We'll still be there of course.
"As part of a new agreement there will be Americans in Iraq training and assisting the Iraqi armed forces," Qubad Talabani, the Kurdistan regional government representative in Washington and the son of Iraq's president, told The Daily Beast. "These Americans will not be combat troops but they will be US soldiers."
Huummm. That doesn't sound like a total troop withdrawal to me. Does it to you, dear readers?
And... the United States will still keep about 160 military personnel to guard its embassy (the largest embassy in the world... don't want to waste that, do we?) in Baghdad and manage the continuing military relationship. There will also be 4,000 to 5,000 private State Department security contractors, as well as a significant C.I.A. presence.
Secretary of State Clinton has stated the United States will be keeping a close eye on what's happening in the country (a clear signal to Iran to keep from interfering in Iraq's affairs any more than it usually does), and that she's looking forward to "A new democracy," in Iraq. "Freedom, democracy, and opportunities they [the Iraqi people] never had under Saddam Hussein." She pointed out that the Iraqi people are exceptionally nationalistic, and won't stand for any interference from their Iranian neighbors, especially since Iraq is looking forward to maximizing on its oil reserves, looking to surpass Saudi Arabia in total output within the decade.
We shall see.
What's next for Obama foreign policy? According to popular wisdom it doesn't matter, at least as it affects his reelection bid next year, with the economy being at the forefront of the American public's interest, with things unlikely to improve a great deal due to Republican obstructionism.
However I for one certainly wouldn't mind seeing us getting out of that other unnecessary war, the first one we started over ten years ago in Afghanistan.
Obama said in his announcement that it was time to bring our troops home and start rebuilding this country... the United States. I agree.
But we need to bring them all home.
It's certainly past the time to do so.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Salvation Diary, The Book

"Salvation" artist Amanda Milke

It's been a long time coming, but that is the nature of book long manuscripts.
I'm pleased to present "Salvation Diary," in it's entirety at the link below. An account of the first year I spent in recovery at the Salvation Army's Adult Rehabilitation Center, in Pasadena California, from September of 1990 to September of 1991. Many years ago. When I first arrived there I was almost immediately put to work at the front desk of the men's residence, an administrative position you could say. I remained there for four years, both as a beneficiary and an employee. From that particular vantage point I was able to see the inner workings of the center from a unique perspective, one that allowed me greater access to the stories of the many men that came through the center during that year, and from the point of view of the staff and the various counselors who worked there as well. It was my great pleasure and honor to document a little bit of all of their stories, just a little bit, and my own story as well. This book is dedicated to those men and staff, to the people who don't know it's possible to get even a day's sobriety let alone a year, and to my dear mother who appears in this account, but has since passed away.
Since I serve as both author and editor of this material, if you should happen to come across any errors in spelling, or punctuation, or grammatical context, dear readers, please... please feel free to keep this wonderful information to yourself, so I may maintain a certain state of denial.
This is a true account. The names have not been changed except for mine. I've used my pen name Joyce throughout the book. My given name is Richard Surwillo of course, but I'm having it legally changed to Joyce, so all and all, I'm rather confused.
As I said this is a real story. And like real stories, it is filled with pain, hope, sadness, triumph, and I hope always with humor. We may have been alcoholic drug addicts trying to get sober, but we always knew how to laugh with others and at ourselves.
I'm proud to present here "Salvation Diary," in two parts. Next week I'll post it again in the 55 segments that it was first presented on this blog, but all together and in chronological order, which should make it easier to read.
So give it a chance. Everyone who has seems to have liked it.

R Joyce

Oh yes, and while I have you, dear readers, in a reading frenzy so to speak, you might as well check out the screenplay for "The Day the Earth Stood Still," as well, available here:

I think you'll enjoy it.

I know I did.