Thursday, September 30, 2004

The power of nightmares.

From a friend.

Radiation bombs are a government fantasy

Last week’s BBC drama about a dirty bomb in London has helped keep
everyone terrified about terrorism.

But a forthcoming documentary shows that dirty bombs are actually a fantasy. The
Americans should know: the CIA tried for years to make one, before realising that blowing up radioactive material won't hurt anyone. Radioactive dust disperses so quickly you'd need to be exposed to it for about a year before any real damage occurred.

The documentary, The Power Of Nightmares, shows how politicians are using fake
stories like the dirty bomb to keep people scared, and themselves in power. It also demonstrates that the claim that Al-Qaeda is a global, hidden, terror network is also a myth.

So what channel is this BBC-debunking documentary showing on? Er, BBC2.

The Power Of Nightmares. BBC2, 20th October, 9pm.

propaganda is a powerful thing. Fear keeps people in line.

Accepting the inevitable

In July this year I felt better than I had for a while. I'd just been on holiday; Minnows Greece had shocked the footballing world and won the European Championships; Tony Blair looked set to resign at the Labour party conference in the Autumn; and George W Bush was dropping behind John Kerry in the race for puppet President.

It's amazing what 2 months, 4 hurricanes, 405 spineless Labour MPs, a bad start by Liverpool FC, and some bad press about John Kerry can do.

John Kerry today faces the start of the final battle. It's debate time. Kerry is reeling and it will take more than just a moral victory in the 3 question and answer sessions to convince the American people that removing Bush is a smart idea.

In the end, the problem runs deep within the Democratic party. They resemble the shambolic Labour party of the 1980's. Always 1 step behind the opposition, always slow to respond to spin, lies and public opinion. Kerry looked (albeit briefly) like the dream ticket. A war hero (with three purple hearts) who stood up for Vietnam vets when he realised that Nixon had betrayed them. All it took to destroy him, was an attack against his military service record. A man who based his entire election campaign on one thing should have expected the opposition to try and tear it apart. He didn't, they did and what was left was a bumbling idiot who doesn't know which way to turn.

Of course, I'm being a little unfair. It is still close. Kerry could still win, but with Florida seemingly in Bush's pocket, it's hard to imagine anything other than a Bush win in November. You have to admire the Republicans. They have waged a relentless war against the American people and it's paid off. Most of them don't have a clue what's going on and as a result will be happy to maintain the status quo. Better the devil you know, after all.

Shame that the American people don't realise how much of a devil Bush really is.

Shame that the Democratic people don't know how to organise a smear campaign in a dirty election.

Come November Bush may already be preparing for his next war. Watch out Syria and Iran. Dubyas comin to smoke you out.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Greatest Sci-Fi Robots

OK, so this was on Sky One which is not exactly renowned for being high-class entertainment but it makes for interesting reading. In truth, the scariest thing about the program was that one of the critics on the show who had helped select the robots was my old robotics and neural nets lecturer - Noel Sharkey.
  1. False Maria (Metropolis)
  2. T-800 (The Terminator)
  3. Bender (Futurama)
  4. C3PO/R2-D2 (Star Wars)
  5. Kryten (Red Dwarf)
  6. Robby the Robot (Forbidden Planet)
  7. Marvin the Paranoid Android (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy)
  8. K9 (Doctor Who)
  9. Cylons (Battlestar Galactica)
  10. ED209 (Robocop)

OK, the list isn't too bad. I would certainly argue that a Sci Fi list of robots has to contain Data (Star Trek) and Gort (The Day the Earth Stood Still), above the likes of K9 and Ed209, but each to their own I guess.

Bender, Marvin and Kryten are inspired choices, and not altogether expected, while it's wonderful to see False Maria in her rightful place at the top. No robot has ever matched Fritz Langs creation. C3PO's looks were based on her and the inhuman movements have been copied by thousands. She was the first robot and she remains number 1.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Join the 'real' world

For those of you that are into online gaming, you may want to check out some info on Anarchy Online and other MMORPGs over at a mates blog.
  1. Everquest
  2. AO: money
  3. AO: aliens invade

I've not actually played it, although don't take that as a bad thing. My reasons are purely time based. The game is so expansive that it would undoubtedly take control of my life, much like Dreamshares did, so I'm staying out of it ;-)

But if you like MMORPGs then this one's for you.

Iran gets tough

I'm not exactly a fan of nuclear proliferation. It could be argued that the invention of the nuclear bomb was perhaps the worst moment in human history, however I find the continual bullying of smaller nations by the US-led UN over the issue appalling.

Iran, a nation that is slowly marching towards democracy (without the help of a US 'liberation'), has been told to suspend all uranium enrichment activities. Unsurprisingly, Iran has rejected the demand and even gone as far as to threaten non-compliance with the UNs right to make snap inspections of Nuclear sites.

Now, as much as I'd like to live in a world without nuclear weapons, I am a realist. A nation that holds nuclear weapons has a key advantage over one that doesn't. That doesn't just mean a military advantage, but a diplomatic one as well. Is it any wonder that the nations which control the UN are the 5 main nuclear powers? Now that Pakistan have nuclear weapons, there has been a concerted diplomatic effort on all side to be 'friends' with a nation that until recently was regarded in the same league as Iran and Libya.

Developing nuclear weapons guarantees a place at the negotiating table. A place that all nations deserve, but few get the chance of.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

A thousand words on life

The other day I was at a birthday gathering and as tends to happen as such events, the conversation got deep and philosophical. Spurred on by the recent news reports of the dangers of Prozac and the way in which doctors seem to give them out like sweets, we found ourselves discussing our generations place in society.

At 26 years old I find myself at an impasse. I often put it down to a tendency I have for getting bored with the status quo. I like change. I enjoy a challenge. My life in many ways has been devoid of such things for some time. I wouldn't call myself depressed. I have a good life, a stable job (famous last words!), which pays well and a girlfriend I wouldn't want to lose or change in any way.

Yet there is a disturbing emptiness in my life that I've had for a long time. As I looked around this group of friends I realised that I wasn't alone. Here was a group of twenty something’s who had all seemingly entered that phase where they ask themselves the question, "Is this all there is?"

I realise that many people go through this. It's that point in which a person rejects the dreams of youth and accepts their lot in life. All but a chosen few have to face it. For some it passes them by without incident, while for others, it's a deeply ritualistic process, not unlike mourning the loss of something intangible.

Then again, if almost every person goes through this, how do we explain the vast amounts of anti-depressants thrown at people from every Doctors surgery in the land? Our parents went through it; and our grandparents; and their grandparents. Didn't they?

As with everything in my life I was brought back to the movies. There's a quote in Fight Club which sums up my argument.
We are the middle children of history, with no purpose or place. We have no
great war, or great depression. The great war is a spiritual war. The great
depression is our lives. We were raised by television to believe that we'd be
millionaires and movie gods and rock stars -- but we won't. And we're learning
that fact.
Throughout history, there has been a reason for existence. Prior to the advancement of literacy, the majority that made up the working classes were led by the few and were (on the whole) happy to accept that lot.

Until 1960, when conscription in Britain was abolished, every generation had faced some kind of conflict. Throughout history our ancestors had a war to fight. It was fought either on the battlefields or at home by working to support the vast military this country sent around the world. Even when there was no war, society tended to be plagued by various diseases and famines.

Aside from the battles against other nations and ravishing depressions people maintained their other primary role in society; procreation. All of this was bound together by a deeply spiritual order led by the people’s devotion to their faith.

These three things, conflict, procreation and religion are the essence of what drove British society throughout history. I say British society, because it would be far too pretentious of me to try to speak about the driving factors in other cultures... although I have a sneaking suspicion that the factors were the same for many, if not all.

The point here, is that on the whole people were happy with their lot because they truly believed in what they were doing. Most in the military believed in fighting for their flag or King. For every deserter there were dozens willing to die for the cause, even if the cause would only truly benefit their rich leaders. The fact that their leaders were acting with the blessing of their church galvanised their belief in the cause.

Of course, the 20th century saw the empowering of the common man (and woman!). Literacy spread like wild fire and with it, the freedom to choose. The result is that Christianity is no longer the driving force in Britain. People have chosen to desert God. Women, offered the choice, have chosen to reject motherhood. While our advancements in diplomacy, global relations, healthcare and trade have removed the fear of disease and conflict from Britain. Our wars are minor, and in far off (almost mythical) lands with names like Iraq, Kosovo and Sierra Leone. Our diseases are controlled enough to allow society to function in an orderly manner.

As far as I see, it is this freedom to choose that has led to the emptiness I and others feel. With no great war to fight and no great religion to believe in, we are left asking the question "Is this all their is?". The end of the cold war marked the end of the pretence, although many people had already begun to see life for what it was long before then.

Every generation in this country (and many others in the advanced democracies of the world) are left with the reality of existence. A world in which our role is to maintain the status quo until we die. I don't want a war, nor do I want to welcome God into my heart. And, surprisingly enough, I feel no desire to father a dozen children just so I can 'live on' in them. This choice, brought on by our society’s advancement is the source of the emptiness and for many, the source of their depression.

We are the disenfranchised masses. We want to belong to something, but we don't like any of the clubs on offer. We are too educated to just accept our lot in life and too comfortable to do anything about it.

This blog isn't meant to go anywhere. It isn't striving to make the world a better place. It's looking for answers. I don't have answers. But I do know that I am not willing to just accept the status quo quite yet. After all, I might have another 5 or 6 decades ahead of me to just accept my lot in life!

Still going strong

Another bomb goes off in Baghdad, driving yet another nail into the coffin that is, a liberated Iraq.

47 dead, 117 injured. This a day after US gunships killed 13 after firing into an unarmed crowd.

That the men and women who ordered this phony war are still in power staggers me. In a democratic society our leaders are not above the law. Nixon was ousted for what was essentially nothing more than a cover up into a break in. Clinton faced impeachment because the world cared more about the exact meaning of the term 'sexual relations' than the actual policies of his government.

However, when we look at Bush we see a man looking ahead to four more years. This is a man who has promised to 'finish the job' in the middle east, should he get re-elected. What does finish the job mean? Take out Iran? Syria? North Korea?

And what of his greatest ally? The immovable Tony Blair. Today we are treated to the flurry of front page stories about how he nearly quit because of 'family problems'. How any man, especially one who claims to be a believer in social justice can fail to be moved by the daily reports of massacres in Iraq disturbs me greatly.

Of course, I'm being slightly unfair. For all the criticism of Tony Blair, no one has actually pressured him to quit. He may be considered a lost cause by the voters, a joke amongst world leaders and a liability by many in his own party, but if no one pushes him why should he go? Our democracy is failing us. We turn to our leaders, in particular the 400+ Labour MPs who can force Tony Blair out.

Our Prime Minister may have failed us, but it's the rest of the Labour party who are to blame for him still being in power.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

999, 1000, 1001, 1002...

"We remember, honour and mourn the loss of all those that made the ultimate sacrifice defending freedom..."

The last 24 hours has seen the US military in Iraq achieve another grand milestone. Over 1000 US service personnel have lost their lives since the start of "official" combat operations in March 2003.

Morality tells us that we shouldn't rejoice at news like this. To the Bush administration, these figures stand out as evidence that with great change comes great sacrifice. I couldn't agree with them more. Change is often violent and tragic. Of course it's the nature of the change that causes the disagreement.

To the Bush regime, the change is spun as the great march of freedom and democracy. To me, the change is the slow and systematic metamorphosis of America from great liberator and leader of the free world, into the petulant aggressor.

As the election moves into it's final phases (the tremendous boredom of the debates), I'm left feeling that the result doesn't actually matter in the long term.

The problem is with Americas place in the world. It needs other nations to need it, or else it's place as the sole superpower is irrelevant. With no Communism, there is no need for Americas presence as our great protector.

1000 US troops will seem like a small figure when the final tally is made. So much sacrifice, all to keep America in it's place.