Friday, November 20, 2015

Slum-clearance on a massive scale

Huge fortunes are made out of slum-clearances. It’s an excellent way to make money, as long as it’s carefully planned. Think about what’s involved. The residents have to be moved out of their homes and into new accommodation, and fed and clothed until they have new jobs; schools have to be built and staffed for their children; social facilities have to be built and developed for the new communities.

All those things are fantastically expensive. Usually, it’s governments that order the clearances and relocations, which are usually farmed out to private contractors who – if they have their wits about them – will have bribed the politicians and bureaucrats for the privilege.

Security is a big factor, from start to finish. After all, evicted slum-dwellers aren’t moving to a new slum, but to a whole new community – designed by middle-class architects, and supervised by middle-class community-organisers. The new accommodation is not intended to be any kind of concentration-camps: quite the contrary. It's intended to upgrade the quality of life for the beneficiaries.

Of course it takes a lot of time – one generation, two, maybe longer – to persuade the newcomers to abandon their customary slum-habits. Until that happy day arrives, the inmates may pose a threat to their new neighbours and those neighbours’ possessions. So special policing is only common sense, employed either by the government or by experienced private security companies.

Progressively, the slums have to be physically destroyed, and that’s also costly. Specialised labour and equipment doesn’t come cheap. Special demolition machinery keeps specialist manufacturing companies paying generous dividends. When there’s no demolition in the offing, the companies’ dividends drop out of sight, and one wonders (a bit unkindly) if the companies don’t sometimes put political pressure on governments to hurry up and plan further demolitions. Or monetary pressure, in the form of bribery.

It crosses my mind, from time to time, that the gratuitous wars-of-choice waged against the people of the Middle East might be motivated for the specific purpose of making money. Apart from the obvious motive of access to the local nations’ oil revenues, there are boatloads of money to be made both in destroying the nations’ infrastructure and in replacing it when the dust clears. 

It’s slum-clearance on a massive scale. They may not have been slums before the bombs and drones hit them, but they certainly were afterwards.

Wars have always been fought for loot – land, persons, gold, and other assets with rich potential… What’s not to like about war, if you’re on the winning side? The soldiers – the cannon-fodder – don’t get all that much out of it. The pensions aren’t bad, although the medical care isn’t as good as advertised. But private contractors make out like bandits. The generals and colonels also do well, through consultancy deals with TV companies and the corporate members of the military-industrial complex.

Modern weapons cost billions of dollars, and so do security guards and caterers. There is only the faintest risk of being held accountable for unauthorised use, price-gouging and extortion. Families in defeated nations have always had to buy their freedom from imprisonment and torture; only rarely in history has that practice been frowned upon. It wasn’t supposed to happen in the enlightened age that began with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, but human rights have never been held in respect outside the Goody-Two-Shoes brigade.

The latest wheeze is the mass trafficking of the newly homeless and the soon-to-become homeless from their bombed neighbourhoods in the villages and towns of the Middle East to safer refuges in the destroyers’ European domiciles. It doesn’t take much of a leap of faith to recognize the standard slum-clearance pattern, exercised on a larger-than standard scale.

Destruction of homes – check. Temporary accommodation of the homeless in tents in the deserts – check. Transport to the vicinity of the greenfield site reserved for them – check. Temporary accommodation there, with the necessary policing – check. Constructing permanent accommodation there – check. Reconstructing the originally destroyed homes – check. Rinse and repeat.

Have I missed anything? Paying off all the nominal principals, of course, but that’s routine. Slotting the generals and senior politicians into the remunerative lecture-circuits, and arranging lesser rewards for lesser personalities. New Toyotas for the local sub-agency, that sort of thing…

But all that goes without saying. After all, you’ve got to spend money to make money, right? Everybody knows that.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Sometimes, you have to turn back

This is a belated addition to my series on our travels in 1964/65. Earlier reminiscences are identified in the Archives with the letter T, beginning with “Checkpoint Charlie” in December 2011.

My big adventure began after the Munich Oktoberfest in 1964, driving south in my Beetle into the unknown with a South African chap I’d met at a Youth Hostel. Somewhere in Yugoslavia our road suddenly ended at a river. Damn and blast! The nearest bridge was an hour away, back the way we’d just come. My map hadn’t actually promised a bridge, and it was a dirt road in the middle of nowhere; but I felt cheated, all the same.

Ah, but there was a ferry. Not a vehicle ferry as such, but one of those cable pontoon-things for pedestrians and animals. The villagers enthusiastically produced two planks, eight or ten feet long, and laid them from the ground up to the level of the deck. It was a fair gradient, and I started to drive slowly up the planks. Now… Those who have driven Beetles will know that they have virtually no weight in the front (the engine is in the rear), and are therefore very sensitive there. I felt the planks sag, and knew immediately that they wouldn’t take the weight of the whole car. 

I rolled back and asked for thicker planks, but there were none to be had. Perhaps I could take a run at the boards and get on deck before they cracked. “What do you reckon, Paul?” “Well, it’s your car”, Paul said. So, reluctantly, and to the villagers’ great disappointment, we retraced our tracks to the bridge. I wasn’t at all happy; I never liked having to retrace my steps. But, well, sigh… sometimes, you just have to turn back.

A couple of days later, we almost slipped off the side of a hill on another dirt road, with occasional patches of ice. Paul jumped up and down on the back bumper to give me just enough traction to get past the patch. A bit scary, but this time my stubbornness was rewarded.

Looking back, I must have had more confidence than it seemed at the time. Later in the adventure, Linda and I bluffed Bulgarian border-guards into letting us take contraband currency into Rumania, faced down Egyptian Customs officials who looked askance at some shoddily forged currency-exchange slips, and persuaded East German border-guards to let us pass through the Wall into West Berlin at a no-entry point. In my youthful arrogance I took it for granted that all those successes were simply my due. 

Budget travel demands confidence. You must believe in the mission. You’re taking on the whole world, with no backup except the nearest consulate, if you could reach it, and no security besides your American Express cheques if you weren’t robbed of them. So every minor victory is hard-won. How could the gods fail to be impressed with our innocent goodwill and delight in immersing ourselves in foreign cultures? And indeed they didn’t fail us – although they put a scare into us (mainly Linda) every so often, just to remind us (me) who were the gods and who weren’t.

One of my major regrets is that we never got to visit the Greek island of Rhodes. We had an opportunity, during that trip, but again I chickened out. At a village on the coast of Turkey, there was a man with a boat – and some decently thick planks – who offered to take us and the car the ten or fifteen miles across the water for about forty dollars. The ridiculous illegality of the challenge was tempting. 

Could I sweet-talk the Greek officials into letting us enter, assuming my little dictionary could supply me with the right words? Would the forty dollars include bribes? Would we ever be able to get to the Greek mainland, via other ferries and other islands? Mmm. Not easily. Maybe we could leave the car in the village and go across to Rhodes by ourselves for a couple of days. But that would bring a new risk.

Forty dollars was a huge amount of money for those villagers, and if the young foreigners could afford to pay that, maybe they could afford to pay handsomely to buy their car back when they returned. It wouldn’t have been fair to them to put such temptation in their way. (In some parts of Turkey, private cars were virtually unknown, to the extent that all cars were called “taxis”.)

In the end, common sense won out. We turned away and wended our way north to Istanbul and onward into the Soviet Empire. There were other challenges, and one notable failure to charm or bluster our illegal way through a border. That was disappointing, too; but you can’t win them all. Sometimes, you just have to turn back.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The right to kill

Murder has always been a totally tribal offence – by which I mean it’s only offensive when the deed happens within one’s own national community, and not elsewhere. The murder of foreigners rarely disturbs anybody. 

One doesn’t have to be Jewish or Christian or Moslem to accept that The Ten Commandments have always been purely tribal in their application. The prohibitions against killing, stealing, coveting and the rest of them don’t apply when foreigners are the victims. Tribal traditions all over the world endorse this judgment. Traditions of hospitality – where they still exist – generally outweigh the predatory urge, as many a backpacker has learned to his delight. 

(However, the tradition is more in the nature of a truce, in times of conflict. These days, young US backpackers would be wise to masquerade as Canadians – as they used to do back during their nation’s invasion of Vietnam.)

Modern nations are simply closed-minded tribes wearing a thin veneer of hypocrisy. Human behaviour hasn’t changed in ten thousand years. The modern concept of human rights has never stood a chance of superseding tribal rights. Our Western communities all claim the right to kill foreigners at will and without restraint. Mercy is for wusses.

Generally, we don’t recognize the deaths of foreigners as a bad thing; and therefore their murder – even en masse – can be safely shrugged off, even if it’s we who are the predators. Indeed, our political leaders become indignant when somebody else horns in on our killing-fields. Our NATO governments claim first-dibs on homicide in Syria, for instance, and are angry at Russia for its intervention. The cheek of it!

A “foreigner” isn’t necessarily someone of a different nationality, just as a “tribe” isn’t necessarily a nation. In the context of religion, a foreigner is someone not of our faith; in cities he may be a member of a different street gang, or of the Police; in the Police Force he’s a resident of the ghetto – or, increasingly, any non-Policeman. To severely autistic individuals – out-and-out psychopaths, for instance – he’s everybody and anybody.

By popular definition, a psychopath is someone who commits wholesale murders without remorse. That pretty much describes every NATO nation’s political leader and every one of his or her lieutenants. And every terrorist, of course; I don’t mean to imply that NATO’s leaders are any worse than terrorists. 

This perceived right to kill is a horrific conception, when you think about it. Such savagery is unexpected in our modern world. Yet civilians in their millions fall victims to it every decade. A former US Secretary of State, when asked about the morality of the US embargo on the sale of medicines to the people of Iraq, cheerfully defended it. The resultant deaths of half a million children had been “very much worthwhile”, she said. The recent bombing of the Medicins Sans Frontieres hospital in Afghanistan was barely a blip on the radar of the current Secretary. “Meh...”

It’s fair to wonder how mankind manages to survive this perceived right to kill. One plausible explanation is that one community’s tribal instinct is in some degree countered by another community’s survival instinct. After all, a weaker tribe’s members would be better off surrendering and living as slaves, than to die fighting a battle they can’t win. Though not on all occasions…

In Too Many Gods (posted here in December 2011), I quoted from the Biblical legend of the fate of one defeated tribe:

And they warred against the Midianite and they slew all the males. And the children of Israel took all the women of Midian captive, and their little ones. And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive? Behold, these caused the children of Israel to commit trespass against the Lord. Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man. But all the women children that have not known man, keep alive for yourselves.

Slaughtering prisoners of war, raping and killing their widows and sons, and keeping the little girls as sex slaves… it all seems somewhat excessive to anybody handicapped by a “live and let live” sentiment. Yet the practice is as common today as it was then. ISIS does it, and NATO nations do it, and their allies.  “We have a right to kill you, and we will kill you, and torture your families. The most you can hope for is that our soldiers will keep your daughters alive for their own purposes.” Dear God!

Mankind’s tribal brutality really hasn’t improved any in the past three thousand years, has it?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Europe’s refugee problem

“Karma’s a bitch”, as the hippies used to say – and maybe still do. What goes around, comes around. They had it coming. Serves them right. A headline on the website the other day read, “Blowback on a NATO beach”, above a photograph of a crowd of asylum-seekers landing on a Greek island. What’s going on?

Ah well, destabilising the Middle East and North Africa did achieve its goal of protecting the European beach-head in Palestine; but the agents of destruction are now about to pay for that achievement. Or, rather, their citizens are. The end result will probably be the Greater Israel of Zionist dreams – in effect, a Jewish Caliphate with no fixed borders. It will flourish, as long as it has the support of every Western politician willing to commit to Big Brother’s perpetual war – and willing to take responsibility for a few million displaced persons...

The process has already cost the Western nations their moral reputation; what virtue is there in democracy, if its politicians engage in the wholesale slaughter of civilians? The demise of the international human-rights experiment is a bonus for their leaders. The eventual total cost will include their demographic balance, as we read in all our daily newspapers. Slaughtering civilians in faraway lands is morally corrupt: most of us presumably know that from our personal upbringings. It’s a tragic truth, though, that most citizens of the guilty nations take the matter lightly, and feel no shame for the blatant atrocities done in their names. 

After all, we’re at war, right? And, as our politicians and their corporate sponsors regularly explain to us, war excuses atrocities of all kinds. Human rights almost never triumph over tribal and national rights. The dominant precept is my country, right or wrong – “my country” being “my” politicians and their sponsors.

The chief opposition party in Britain has just elected a leader who actually does subscribe to the concept of international human rights, and who believes that there is no moral virtue in wars of aggression. That’s a refreshing stance, although those factors wouldn’t have played much of a part in his election. The British MSM predicts that his principles rule out any chance of his becoming Prime Minister. What kind of retard is this man, to be against wars of aggression? God help us!

Unfortunately, human rights have been a passing fancy. Anybody who believes in them can never become Prime Minister – or President, in nations that don’t have Prime Ministers.

For some time now, all but a few of Europe’s politicians have been obedient minions of US emperors. They jostle to out-do each other in harassing America’s designated enemies, with scant regard for the interests of their own constituents. Thus, the chaos of Europe’s current invasion by refugees landing on Mediterranean shores in the tens of thousands, and swarming across the hinterland. Blowback, indeed, from NATO’s military interference in their homelands.

But wait! Why should the citizens of NATO nations be punished for the crimes of their leaders? Isn’t that collective punishment? Don’t we have the right to elect sociopaths, without accepting responsibility to take care of their victims? If the psychos whom NATO citizens elect – and re-elect ad nauseam – if they hand our tax moneys over to the military-industrial complex instead of to their victims, what’s that to us? After all, that’s what politicians do, in a corrupt system.

In a corrupt society, the only electable politicians are corrupt ones. Vice feeds upon vice. A society that consents to wars of aggression, and the destruction of civilians’ homes and livelihoods, must expect at least some of the victims to come calling. I mean, surely!

Should the reluctant hosts demand that their politicians divert some of their war-budgets to providing the innocent victims with food and shelter? Or should they (the hosts) toss them back in the sea, and vote for ever more brutal military adventures? 

One way or another, people have to pay for their fun activities. When their fun involves destroying homes and lives, the payment can turn out to be a heavy one. Our children and grandchildren will curse us for our idea of fun.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The killing of Cecil the Lion

When I was a young man, many years ago, a few of us pretend-intellectuals used to kick around this ethical conundrum. “Suppose that by hitting a button, some random Chinaman would die and you would receive a million pounds. Would you do it?"

Probably, one of us would quote the story attributed to George Bernard Shaw, in which he asks a society lady at the dinner table if she would go to bed with him for a million pounds. After some hesitation she says, Yes she would. “Unfortunately, I don’t have a million pounds,” he says; “Would you do it for ten shillings?” Certainly not! What do you think I am? “Madam, we’ve already established that. Now, we’re just haggling over the price.”

In recent times, science has brought the conundrum of the random Chinaman into the realm of the practical. Now, it’s available to all – or all who volunteer to be a drone-pilot in the NATO army, at least. A few weeks training is all that’s required to zap an anonymous family in a faraway village. Not a random family, no, but close enough. Some anonymous military bureaucrat chooses the family on the authority of some anonymous political commissar whose future pension depends on the perpetual war that emanates from the killing of anonymous foreign villagers.

Anonymity is the general theme, in the West’s slaughter of foreign civilians. The button-jockeys and their superiors are never publicly named. Their identities are as hidden as those of ISIS soldiers’ in their hoods, and for much the same reason: their deeds are too shameful to bear exposure. Nobody ever brags about being a drone-pilot – any more than they do about being a torturer in some CIA prison-camp.

Like a notional killer of the random Chinaman, each armchair pilot receives his promised reward. Salary, performance bonuses, medical cover, guaranteed pension – those add up to a million pounds, over a lifetime. What a deal! Many of them seem to enjoy a high level of job satisfaction.

Not all of them, though. There is a downside to the job, for sensitive souls. PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) is more common than it is among, say, infantry soldiers. Maybe it’s just not enough of a challenge. Nobody is shooting back. After all, a villager in Afghanistan is in no position to defend himself. He’s a sitting duck. Press the button, and it’s game over. Villager and family die in a cloud of dust, as do their nearest neighbours.

What in the trade are called “double-tap” engagements, are more fun, but no more demanding. Those require the button to be pressed a second time, after an interval just long enough to permit other villagers to assemble and begin rescue efforts. Wham! Bam! And thank you, ma’am! With any luck another dozen families can be killed or mutilated, all in complete anonymity. (I don’t think the pilots’ bounty or bonuses increase according to the number of dead or mutilated; it’s not piece-work, to that extent.)

Job satisfaction or not, it’s hard to imagine the work as being socially acceptable: hence all the anonymity, of course. Morally corrupt though it be, by most people’s standards, it is actually more socially acceptable than hunting wild animals. Remember the recent hoo-hah when some fellow shot a wild lion in Africa?

Animal-hunters tend not to be anonymous. Indeed, they post photos of themselves and their victims on Facebook – and, sometimes, newspapers publish the names of the victims. That almost never happens in the case of drone-killings. The name of the dead lion was Eric. No, it was Cecil, of all innocuous names. Eric was the name of his brother. It’s hard to keep up with the names of wild lions. Cecil, King of the Jungle, anyway.

It seems bizarre – and rather unfair – for one wild lion to become famous for being shot, when Afghan and Syrian and Iraqi villagers remain anonymous. I think the difference in treatment must be because lions are fine-looking creatures, whereas villagers in the Middle East are not, in general. Our Western leaders dismiss the villagers as a humanoid sub-species – like monkeys, but not as cute.

Until they are given Western names like Cecil or Eric, they will remain where they are now – with no claim to sympathy, or even dignity. I mean – Abdul, Fatima… What kind of names are those? Huh. Not cute, that’s for sure!