A Burning Double Standard to Set the World Ablaze – Surveillance, Censorship, and Privacy

So following Chelsea Manning’s leaks a few years ago, came Edward Snowden’s. For those who have been living under a rock or in an NSA internment cell for the past year or so, Snowden’s leaks exposed a huge global surveillance network systematically invading people’s personal lives on a daily basis in the name of national security. Although most of the documents that were released concerned the US, other countries’ secret documents have also been leaked, including some from Britain and Australia. GCHQ, a British Intelligence Agency didn’t take too kindly to having details of their activities released to the public, and issued a DA-Notice, advising editors at “the BBC and other media groups” not to release any more documents for vague reasons of national security. GCHQ agents later arrived at the guardian and supervised the destruction of the hard drives containing the documents.

Silencing – or at the very least, effectively silencing – the press shows an interesting double-standard on the part of those who carry out surveillance and surveillance apologists – why, if they should be able to see us, are we not allowed to see just what of ours is being looked at? Why must we stand in the corner facing the wall while our possessions are ransacked for anything deemed unwholesome? Why does the famous apology for invasions of privacy everywhere – “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” – not apply in this case? What do our governments fear so much that we can’t see them doing it?

Government is often a delicate balancing act between keeping things from the people, burdening the people down, and releasing necessary information to the people. If any of these things are much larger in magnitude than either of the other two, people are going to be pissed off, the third purely because it reveals the deception inherent in the other two. While it may be understandable under some circumstances not to reveal all the details, completely destroying files that are, for all intents and purposes, now in the public domain shows a different kind of fear, and that is one of losing grip on that greasy pole known as power.

There is nothing a political party wants less than to be out of power, and perhaps in their frenzied scurrying for the angle-grinders and drills, they showed a deeper secret than they ever intended. That what was on those drives was worth seeing, and would have posed a danger to them and their power, not national security. I wonder if Snowden has a backup copy…


Stuck Inside of Spain with the Anywhere Blues Again – on Travel and Languages

A few days ago, I made the decision to start studying not one, not two, but three languages – Russian, Chinese and Arabic. Now you may be wondering, what made me decide to start studying these three wildly different languages – so different from my own native tongue or any languages which I have ever studied? The answers are simple. I experience a chronic and striking wanderlust, and wish to see as many countries and cultures on this tiny and strange world as I can before my time is up. Not just the usual “Europe” or “America” or any common combination, but genuinely everywhere, or as close as I can feasibly get to that. Send me to Sudan any time you wish, deploy me to the Democratic Republic of the Congo on a whim, put me in Pyongyang. If anything, I am drawn more to the crazy and dangerous places, with a magnetic sense of suicidal adventure which pulls at me like a restless child.

It is not a path which is as likely to bring me fortune as if I went and studied in a STEM field or was happy with an office job, but will bring me experiences and stories by the thousand, which live far, far longer than any material wealth. I am more than happy to spend weeks living in the camp of some homicidal madman warlord covering a distant civil war than I would be working in an isolated, cold, dingy office. Fearing for my life is more enticing than fearing for my mortgage payments. What can be said against a life of rock and roll, hard drinking, drugs, insanity and danger? We’ll all be dust one day, while we’re whole we might as well make our lives whole too.

“People are people, regardless of skin. And people are people, regardless of creed.”

Besides this, learning languages is a beautiful experience. When you learn a language, if you stop for a moment and listen, you can practically hear the sound of humanity unlocking and the world opening. When you don’t learn languages, you confine yourself totally to those who are born into your own nation, or at the best, people who are born in your nation and a handful of others. If you only wish to live permanently inside your own linguistic bubble, then that’s fine, but if you ever want to truly experience humanity you need more languages. I recently watched a video of a pair of polyglots walking around a mall, speaking to a large group of people in their native languages and while one of these polyglots was a dorky and uninspiring individual, it was nevertheless impressive. We all possess the capability for this, whether you think it or not, you do. When you’re born, you don’t even speak one language, you learn by example, which is something anyone can do. Speaking to people from other parts of the world isn’t only interesting, it’s a beautiful and mind expanding experience. Imagine being able to do this with a big fraction of humanity, being able to hear their stories and be told of their experiences. Imagine the things you miss out on by speaking just the one language. This is why I am learning other languages – because I truly want to know people.So that is my message to you today – get out there, learn another language, and feel the world flow through your veins. In the words of a master of experience :

“Walk tall, kick ass, learn to speak Arabic, love music and never forget you come from a long line of truth seekers, lovers and warriors.” – Hunter S. Thompson

C’mon, be stuck in the middle with everyone.

Crimea Crushed Under Boots of Glass – Subjugation on the Black Sea

Again, this multi-headed mellifluous bastard chimera of sham democracy has reared it’s head in the east, now Putin’s tentacles reach and grope not only his own scared population, but those of a foreign land with a bloody history, Crimea. There were many raucous and public celebrations on Sunday night in Simerfopol and no doubt across the rest of the province, but just how many private sobs and beating of breasts took place across the area too, one wonders. Of course those are not good images for the world to see, and not good visages for the Crimean people to show the dark, old new face looming over them, as the motherland takes them in her cold embrace.

Any fool, any fool could see that these results are fraudulent. A turnout of 80% with a result, once over 50% of the votes had been counted, of a 95.5% in favour vote of joining the Russian Federation. A result like this wouldn’t have occurred had God himself came down and asked people to vote for the angels against the demons in the grand political campaign of Armageddon. Of course, a deity wouldn’t have armed men in the streets and warships in harbours.

Pro-Russian separatists are now quoted as saying “Crimea is only the beginning”, daunting words, the sentiment of which has not been heard in many years in Europe. Whom will the dead mother take in her arms next, clutching close with one hand, but readily armed with a sword in the other, to quell any attempt to fly the nest. Crimea’s own deputy prime minister has said that 75% of people in Eastern Ukraine wish to join the Russian Federation, and who is to argue when the main method of argument is null and void?

Numerous reports of threats and fraudulent practices emerge from the Crimea, maggots oozing from a fresh wound struck to the heart of self-determination. The options given to Crimeans and other Ukrainians, who are willing to see through the fog of intrigue shrouding the ballot boxes appears to now be limited to either violent resistance, or sabotage. To those brave souls who will be no doubt willing to try, I wish the best of luck in their endeavour, and fear for them. An option which I’m sure some will be quick to suggest is another Maidan, but anyone with an eye on international affairs knows how Putin and his ilk treat protesters, and the prisons of Russia are cold and cruel and littered with shattered bones and hearts.

The situation is dire. Sanctions may be given, but they will pass like so much else. Crimea is dead, and Putin’s ego lives on, brighter, bolder, and slightly larger, knowing he has taken a small piece of another country as his own. Will the hollow container of Sevastopol and Simerfopol live on as anything beyond another piece of yet another morally bankrupt state?

And the Skeletons of the East Did Shake

Note: article originally written and published in March 2014

Ukraine, borderland, butchered breadbasket of the world, having just gone through bloody protests on a scale not seen since the Arab Spring, is now facing unknown horrors. No rest for the wicked they say, and what Ukraine must have done in a previous world is apparently evil unknown by this one. Independent for just two short times in history, it now looks like the second brief flame of separation may soon be snuffed out by a leader who has revealed more and more in the previous years, that he has not forgotten what he learnt from the Lubyanka. Both Chechnya and Georgia know the sound of the bear’s roar, and it seems that next it may be Ukraine who knows the terrible wounds such a beast can leave.

It was with horror and dismay I watched the government decide that their people were not their employers, or even subjects, but in fact merely an annoyance standing in front of a dickless wonder of a dictator who wanted his place in a regional and temporary sun, creating an eclipse of questioning visible the world over. It was also with dismay I learnt of the fascists who made up a not-inconsiderable amount of his opposition. However, in all honesty, it was not with surprise that I learnt that the darling of the oligarchs, Putin, had decided that Crimea was in fact going to be part of his own personal dominions, and not allowed it’s freedom after all, and, using the same excuse that Czechoslovakia found itself lumped with in 1938, and a piece of paper bearing a request, written with blood and signed with a bullet, from one dictator to another, the bear made it’s first confident step into old stomping ground. The more surprising thing itself, was the support for his imperialism that Putin surprisingly found amongst some communists. Quite why these people feel that an invasion by a right-wing bigot is a good thing is beyond the minds of people such as myself, what this would save the long-suffering denizens of Ukraine from is unknown, and how it would help anyone, even less so.

In worrying times, people show their true selves, and the amount of westerners who would call themselves “liberal” (although god knows I have problems with these people anyway, see my previous piece) who show their apparent eagerness to jump in and spill Russkie blood is worrying (not themselves, of course, but someone), this is a group of people who grew up during, or in the shadow of, the Cold War, a group, who should know the fear of international conflict more than anyone. Has the knowledge and fear faded so quickly? Also worrying are the amount of people who are happy to see Ukraine’s fragile independence broken already. What solution do I have? None whatsoever. Any solution that is not simply Russia withdrawing is tainted in some way or another, and that shall be the route not taken, whatever the outcome. Both the soft power and the hard will hurt some people, and deprive some people of their essentials, that is happiness, comfort and life. Either economic sanctions are pressed, which will hurt the ordinary people of Russia and the West, or war will once again know the plains of Eastern Europe, and atomic scars potentially seared onto the world.

What options await Putin? Capitulation to the West’s demands that he leave? Not unless he wants to potentially lose his support base, and also not achieve his aim. Unthinkable. Accepting economic sanctions is an acceptable price to pay for such, and both Britain and Germany have already said they would not do such a thing. So a war with Ukraine, which Russia would win without much trouble? Also acceptable. A war with NATO? Extremely unlikely, and it is doubtful whether he would back down at all until it was too late, regardless.

What options await EU leaders and the US? Pissing into the wind with condemnations, as has happened will do nothing. So economic sanctions, or other soft power options? Very unlikely to occur, and pointless if they do. So war? Unthinkable. There is only one option common to both parties, the most fearful of all.

Dawn draws close on my own corner of this bloodied piece of land called Europe, and it draws across a world full of fear not known since the Cold War. What will happen next is anyone’s guess, what must not is obvious. The fate of the world and it’s people is in the hands of paper tigers, idiotic hawks who screech at the promise of more blood, and murderous madmen. The world is right to be fearful.