Who cares about nukes. It is these guys I fear:
BAGHDAD - The year is 2017, according to the opening credits of the fake news broadcast, and the last man alive in Iraq, whose name is Saaed, is sitting at a desk, working as a television news anchor. He sports an Afro, star-shaped sunglasses, and a button-down shirt.
The Americans are still here, the government is still bumbling, and the anchor wants his viewers to drink their tea slowly so they don't burn themselves. "You cannot go to the hospital during the curfew," he warns.
For Iraqis, the remark is outrageously funny, if only because it's so close to being true.
After a summer of the worst violence since U.S. troops toppled Saddam Hussein's regime, tens of thousands of Iraqis are finding solace and amusement in a new television show whose dark humor makes it an Iraqi version of Jon Stewart's The Daily Show.
The nightly send-up of a newscast includes weather, sports and business segments and features six characters, all played by the same actor.
With seemingly no sacred cows, it provides insight into how Iraqis see their country's problems, lampooning the Americans, the Iraqi government, the militias, and the head of Iraq's state-owned media company.
Even the show's name is a joke. The title first appears on the screen as The Government, but then the word is split in half, producing an Iraqi slang phrase that means "Hurry up! He's dead."
The show is being produced to run only during Ramadan, the month when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, and it airs just as Baghdadis are breaking their fast. It is so popular that many people report being glued to the screen, eating their first meal of the day in small bites between laughs.
During one episode last week, Saaed announced that the minister of culture would print and distribute 200 copies of "Leila and the Wolf," the Arabic version of "Little Red Riding Hood." But in these copies, Leila is the Iraqi people and the American forces are the wolf. The books will help children learn about occupation, Saaed explained.
In the next day's episode, Saaed joyfully announces that the Americans are finally leaving Iraq. Referring to the U.S. secretary of defense, Saaed, sitting behind his news desk, says: "Rums bin Feld said the American forces are leaving on 1/1," referring to Jan. 1.
He's giddy, raising his arms. Then he realizes he has made a mistake. The soldiers are leaving one by one, not on 1/1. He computes in his head what leaving one by one means and announces that the soldiers will be gone in 694 years. He starts to cry; Iraqis watching the show howl.
Playing all the characters on the show is Saaed Khalifa, 43, an Iraqi actor who fled to Syria after the fall of Hussein's regime. "I wanted to prove myself as an actor and an Iraqi man loyal to his country," he said.
The show is written by a man from Baghdad's Sadr City district named Talib al-Sudani, 40. Sudani, a poet and writer, cannot talk about his show without dropping in commentary about the lack of services here.
Sudani pitched the idea to Baghdad's local Sharkia station, which has made its reputation producing reality shows similar to those seen on U.S. television. Last year's big hit helped young couples pay for their weddings.
These days, however, Sharkia's offices are largely empty, and the technical equipment its executives boasted about last year stands largely idle. Hurry Up, He's Dead is taped in Dubai; the producers and writers decided taping in Iraq would be too dangerous and impractical, with curfews and with loud helicopters flying overhead.
The station bought the show idea from Sudani for less than $4,000. He sends his scripts via the Internet to Dubai. Occasionally, he has asked the station to drop a scene after realizing that, for a man still living in Iraq, he has gone too far. He insists he does not support one faction of the government over others.
"I don't support this government," he said. "I don't support any government."
from a Marine's letter printed in Time:
Most Surreal Moment — Watching Marines arrive at my detention facility and unload a truck load of flex-cuffed midgets. 26 to be exact. We had put the word out earlier in the day to the Marines in Fallujah that we were looking for Bad Guy X, who was described as a midget. Little did I know that Fallujah was home to a small community of midgets, who banded together for support since they were considered as social outcasts. The Marines were anxious to get back to the midget colony to bring in the rest of the midget suspects, but I called off the search, figuring Bad Guy X was long gone on his short legs after seeing his companions rounded up by the giant infidels.
"GOOD morning, ladies and gentlemen. We are delighted to welcome you aboard Veritas Airways, the airline that tells it like it is. Please ensure that your seat belt is fastened, your seat back is upright and your tray-table is stowed. At Veritas Airways, your safety is our first priority. Actually, that is not quite true: if it were, our seats would be rear-facing, like those in military aircraft, since they are safer in the event of an emergency landing. But then hardly anybody would buy our tickets and we would go bust.
The flight attendants are now pointing out the emergency exits. This is the part of the announcement that you might want to pay attention to. So stop your sudoku for a minute and listen: knowing in advance where the exits are makes a dramatic difference to your chances of survival if we have to evacuate the aircraft. Also, please keep your seat belt fastened when seated, even if the seat-belt light is not illuminated. This is to protect you from the risk of clear-air turbulence, a rare but extremely nasty form of disturbance that can cause severe injury. Imagine the heavy food trolleys jumping into the air and bashing into the overhead lockers, and you will have some idea of how nasty it can be. We don't want to scare you. Still, keep that seat belt fastened all the same.
Your life-jacket can be found under your seat, but please do not remove it now. In fact, do not bother to look for it at all. In the event of a landing on water, an unprecedented miracle will have occurred, because in the history of aviation the number of wide-bodied aircraft that have made successful landings on water is zero. This aircraft is equipped with inflatable slides that detach to form life rafts, not that it makes any difference. Please remove high-heeled shoes before using the slides. We might as well add that space helmets and anti-gravity belts should also be removed, since even to mention the use of the slides as rafts is to enter the realm of science fiction.
Please switch off all mobile phones, since they can interfere with the aircraft's navigation systems. At least, that's what you've always been told. The real reason to switch them off is because they interfere with mobile networks on the ground, but somehow that doesn't sound quite so good. On most flights a few mobile phones are left on by mistake, so if they were really dangerous we would not allow them on board at all, if you think about it. We will have to come clean about this next year, when we introduce in-flight calling across the Veritas fleet. At that point the prospect of taking a cut of the sky-high calling charges will miraculously cause our safety concerns about mobile phones to evaporate.
On channel 11 of our in-flight entertainment system you will find a video consisting of abstract imagery and a new-age soundtrack, with a voice-over explaining some exercises you can do to reduce the risk of deep-vein thrombosis. We are aware that this video is tedious, but it is not meant to be fun. It is meant to limit our liability in the event of lawsuits.
Once we have reached cruising altitude you will be offered a light meal and a choice of beverages—a word that sounds so much better than just saying ‘drinks’, don't you think? The purpose of these refreshments is partly to keep you in your seats where you cannot do yourselves or anyone else any harm. Please consume alcohol in moderate quantities so that you become mildly sedated but not rowdy. That said, we can always turn the cabin air-quality down a notch or two to help ensure that you are sufficiently drowsy.
After take-off, the most dangerous part of the flight, the captain will say a few words that will either be so quiet that you will not be able to hear them, or so loud that they could wake the dead. So please sit back, relax and enjoy the flight. We appreciate that you have a choice of airlines and we thank you for choosing Veritas, a member of an incomprehensible alliance of obscure foreign outfits, most of which you have never heard of. Cabin crew, please make sure we have remembered to close the doors. Sorry, I mean: ‘Doors to automatic and cross-check’. Thank you for flying Veritas.”
from The Independant:
The secretive artist has smuggled 500 doctored copies of Paris Hilton's debut album into music stores throughout the UK, where they have sold without the shops' knowledge.
In place of Ms Hilton's bubble-gum pop songs, the CDs feature Banksy's own rudimentary compositions. On the cover of the doctored CD, Ms Hilton's dress has been digitally repositioned to reveal her bare breasts; on an inside photo, her head has been replaced with that of her dog.
On the back cover, the original song titles have been replaced with a list of questions: "Why am I famous?", "What have I done?" and "What am I for?"
Inside the accompanying booklet, a picture of the heiress emerging from a luxury car has been retouched to include a group of homeless people.
In another shot, Ms Hilton's head has been superimposed on a shop window mannequin beneath a banner reading: "Thou Shalt Not Worship False Icons."
Instead of Ms Hilton's own compositions, the replacement CD features 40 minutes of a basic rhythm track over which Banksy has dubbed Ms Hilton's catchphrase "That's hot!" and other extracts from her reality TV programme The Simple Life.
The record credits have been re-edited to include thanks to the artist for his "wonderful work".
The powerful and pro-Kremlin United Russia party has a new opponent -- one, however, that bears all the marks of a Kremlin creation.
The leaders of three small Russian parties -- Motherland, the Party of Life and the Party of Pensioners -- announced a merger Tuesday. The union followed a series of meetings between the leaders and President Vladimir Putin, who blessed a venture that appears designed to leave him with loyalists on both sides of the Russian political aisle.
The consolidation offers new evidence of the Kremlin's intolerance of political pluralism or democratic competition in any kind of undirected manner. Since Putin came to power in 2000, his government has established extensive new controls over the news media, industry and grass-roots organizations.
from his blog:
Details are emerging:
- There was some serious cash flow from someone, presumably someone abroad.
- There was no imminent threat.
- However, the threat was real. And it seems pretty clear that it would have bypassed all existing airport security systems.
- The conspirators were radicalized by the war in Iraq, although it is impossible to say whether they would have been otherwise radicalized without it.
- They were caught through police work, not through any broad surveillance, and were under surveillance for more than a year.
What pisses me off most is the second item. By arresting the conspirators early, the police squandered the chance to learn more about the network and arrest more of them -- and to present a less flimsy case. There have been many news reports detailing how the U.S. pressured the UK government to make the arrests sooner, possibly out of political motivations. (And then Scotland Yard got annoyed at the U.S. leaking plot details to the press, hampering their case.)
My initial comments on the arrest are here. I still think that all of the new airline security measures are an overreaction (This essay makes the same point, as well as describing a 1995 terrorist plot that was remarkably similar in both materials and modus operandi -- and didn't result in a complete ban on liquids.)
As I said on a radio interview a couple of weeks ago: "We ban guns and knives, and the terrorists use box cutters. We ban box cutters and corkscrews, and they hide explosives in their shoes. We screen shoes, and the terrorists use liquids. We ban liquids, and the terrorist will use something else. It's not a fair game, because the terrorists get to see our security measures before they plan their attack." And it's not a game we can win. So let's stop playing, and play a game we actually can win. The real lesson of the London arrests is that investigation and intelligence work.
from Street Use (a current favourite, check it out):
Owing to the lack of recordings of Western music available in the USSR, people had to rely on records coming through Eastern Europe, where controls on records were less strict, or on the tiny influx of records from beyond the iron curtain. Such restrictions meant the number of recordings would remain small and precious. But enterprising young people with technical skills learned to duplicate records with a converted phonograph that would "press" a record using a very unusual material for the purpose; discarded x-ray plates. This material was both plentiful and cheap, and millions of duplications of Western and Soviet groups were made and distributed by an underground roentgenizdat, or x-ray press, which is akin to the samizdat that was the notorious tradition of self-publication among banned writers in the USSR. According to rock historian Troitsky, the one-sided x-ray disks costed about one to one and a half rubles each on the black market, and lasted only a few months, as opposed to around five rubles for a two-sided vinyl disk. By the late 50's, the officials knew about the roentgenizdat, and made it illegal in 1958. Officials took action to break up the largest ring in 1959, sending the leaders to prison, beginning an orginization by the Komsomol of "music patrols" that later undertook to curtail illegal music activity all over the country.
by Bruce Sterling on Wired:
If there are two technologies that have shaped the life I lead today, they’re jets and nets. Affordable airfare lets me go where the action is – wherever adventure beckons, necessity compels, or duty calls – without having to establish residency anywhere. And the Internet lets me do business and stay in touch no matter where I find myself.
Cheap flights and ubiquitous worldwide communications are the stuff of globalization. Ready travel lets people oppressed at home taste the joys of free society, while the Net exposes them to the ideas and customs underpinning that social order. The effect is viral, spreading liberal values and economic growth to benighted dictatorships and hopeless pits of poverty. So it’s difficult to grasp that these two innovations might also be an imminent menace to Western civilization. Yet that’s the counterintuitive thesis of UK rear admiral Chris Parry, a Falklands vet, former commander of HMS Fearless, and the British military’s go-to guy for identifying emerging threats.
During a recent briefing at the time-honored Royal United Service Institute – the oldest military think tank in the world, founded in 1831 by the Duke of Wellington – Parry imagined a future, circa 2030, in which the war on terror is still rolling along and the terrorists are winning. He describes a world so ripped up by nets and jets that sovereign nation-states like the UK are collapsing economically, politically, even physically. Then there are the people of that future, who hop from country to country and bear allegiance to none. “Globalization makes assimilation seem redundant and old-fashioned,” he noted, pointing out that, rather than dissolving into the melting pot of their host nations, immigrants are increasingly maintaining their own cultural identity. Jets and nets make this possible. “Groups of people are self-contained, going back and forth between their countries, exploiting sophisticated networks and using instant communication on phones and the Internet.” The result, Parry says, is “reverse colonization,” in which the developing world’s teeming masses conquer Western nations, as surely as the Goths sacked Rome.
It’s easy to pigeonhole Parry as an isolationist – and, indeed, much of the public response to his speech came from anti-immigration wackos who said, “We knew it all along.” But he has plenty of forward-thinking company in these ideas. According to a loose school of “fourth-generation warfare” theorists, connected, globe-trotting terrorists are a bigger threat to the world order than hostile nations are. The technological drivers of globalization have enabled stateless barbarians to seize the initiative. You can’t keep them out by blocking the border, and the harder you smash the failed states that nurture them, the more they thrive. At the first sign of weakness, these new-wave Vandals will log on to urge their diasporic compatriots to attack you on your own soil. Failing that, they’ll hop on the next flight, pick up their baggage, and sidle into Starbucks to download the latest instructions from Abu Ayyub al Masri.
Parry paints a grim picture. Still, his vision gives me an affirmative feeling about the future. If civilization is to overcome barbarism, its leaders must outthink the marauders. And the sturdy admiral’s foresight is a bold step in that direction. “An analysis of trends and drivers can only go so far,” he writes. “We also need to expect the unexpected – shocks will occur.” He’s not saying, “Kick the Arabs out of Europe”; he’s saying we need to anticipate the emergence of stateless aliens and rethink how host societies can integrate them. That’s a rare display of intellectual flexibility in a government official. Compare it with the Pentagon’s reflexive tendency to lash out when challenged (if we can’t kill bin Laden, we’ll crush Saddam) and with the Bush administration’s plaint that nobody could have expected airliner attacks, Iraqi intifadas, or crumbling levees. We’ll stop being blindsided when we grasp tomorrow’s shocks better than the bad guys do – and that’s a positive, not a negative, scenario.
Nets and jets are never a one-way street, and even Parry’s reverse colonization can reverse itself. Consider Somalia, which, for 15 years, has been a running sore of new world disorder. Jets have evacuated everyone who could buy a ticket and have flown in battalions of jihadists. As for nets, this lawless maelstrom is one of the most heavily wired regions of Africa; free of licensing, taxes, and state-owned monopolies, entrepreneurs have been building out cell capacity and Net nodes like Silicon Valley whiz kids. To complicate matters, counter-terrorist warlords said to be financed by the US recently lost the country to a loose association of Islamic militias. This makes Somalia a prime case study for the darkest nets-and-jets forecast.
And, yet, life there is calming down. The roadblocks have vanished, and the drug-chewing youngsters in their machine-gun pickups are contemplating the value of an education. Of course, even in a world of nets and jets, barbarism is still less stable than civilization.
We live in a deeply paradoxical age, and it will take serious mental agility to navigate the years to come. Capable and imaginative people, both inside and outside of barbarity, are beginning to realize this. And for every person who does, civilization gains a better chance of survival.
Raed has been travelling in Jordan and Syria, seeing the Lebanese refugee camps in person and witnessing anti-American sentiment directed at him. Back home in the U.S. it only gets worse, when airport security demands that he takes off his t-shirt because it has Arabic script on it. Read the whole sorry story below: