The Kitty Genovese model.

A couple of years ago, I delivered an incoherent, profanity-laden and probably awful lecture on the Grim Meathook Future at the Chaos Communications Congress in Berlin. (In my defense, I was completely unhinged due to jet lag and the meltdown of my MacBook the night before the talk, when I’d planned to finish my speech and the accompanying slides.) I barely remember delivering the lecture at all, but I do remember absolutely pissing off a good number of the collected attendees with my assertion that things like blogs and social networks aren’t very useful technology to people who are starving to death or being slaughtered by warlords.

One of the audience members, journalist Quinn Norton, stood up and pointed out that bloggers in Russia were exposing to the world the corruption and chaos underlying that nation’s political system. Which, of course, was true; I wouldn’t deny it. But as I remember, she didn’t have a satisfactory answer to the question I returned to her, and the question that I find myself asking tonight, as great numbers of good-hearted and well-meaning people are filling the Twitterverse with commentary and urgent info about the riots in Tehran following the suspect re-election of Mahmoud Ahmedinajed.

Yeah? So what?

As you can read in my previous post, I was called to task by a few people for my perceived cynicism in being unwilling to tune myself into the stream of info on the repression in Tehran. It’s not the first time. Though I am a technofetishist of the highest water and a futurist by both trade and inclination, I am deeply suspicious and cynical about the effects of technology on human culture. This does not endear me to a lot of my friends and colleagues in the Internet industry, but if I spent much of my time worrying about what would endear me to people, I’d either put a gun in my mouth or turn myself over to Jesus.

I think that one of the greatest fallacies of our time — and one of the greatest leaps in logic that is made again and again by people who involve themselves in the worthwhile struggle to bring equality to all people — is the notion that awareness equals involvement. By providing a way for the world to see the terrible things occurring in Iran right now, we believe that we are somehow “doing something” about the problem — that we are, in some way, affecting change.

I don’t argue that this is sometimes the case. Many times, in specific sorts of circumstances, the rallying cry of “the world is watching!” is enough to defuse a dangerous situation. But many other times, it’s not, and the only person who is empowered or even enervated by global awareness of tyranny and oppression is the person watching events unfold…not the person in the middle of them.

Twenty years ago, the world watched on television and in the pages of magazines and newspapers as a young man, anonymous to this very day, stood in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, as part of a protest that served as a memorial for recently deceased official Hu Yaobang. His act served as a sort of visual icon for the resistence of the common man against the repression of totalitarianism, and is rightly regarded as deeply heroic. It also served to draw international attention to China’s brutal policies of self-censorship and intellectual repression.

Unfortunately, nobody knows what happened to that young man. Given what has been seen in other cases of protest in China, it’s likely that the poor guy is either long dead or serving out a prison sentence somewhere. And in the twenty years since that day, China has made only sporadic and small progress in the human rights arena, despite the efforts of millions of people in government, non-governmental organizations, human rights watchdog organizations, and the simple negative public opinion of probably billions of people around the world, who felt righteous indignation on behalf of that anonymous hero, unable to legitimately protest his government’s actions in his own land.

China still operates under totalitarian repression of outside media as well as the Golden Shield (aka the “Great Firewall Of China”), which blocks access to any outside data deemed threatening to the ruling Communist party in the country. Despite this, there is still a flow of information in and out of the country, and human rights violations — as well as violent censorship of free speech, free thought and dissent — are still apparently quite common in China.

In other words, global public opinion has not affected China much over the past two decades. In fact, China is growing as an economic superpower whilst retaining their oppressive practices, due largely to the West using the country as a manufacturing base. We don’t make our shoes and computers in spite of their totalitarianism: in point of fact, we rely upon it. In a democratic society where protest is legitimized, it would seem likely that Chinese workers would protest the sparse wages paid to them by American and European companies to manufacture our goods and gadgets. They might even unionize. But that will never happen so long as our dollars and pounds and Euros shore up their totalitarian regime.

And yet, this notion continues to this day: the idea that the act of being aware of a situation is the same thing as involving oneself in it.

The logic seems to go like this: by making people aware of this terrible situation (protesters being attacked, imprisoned or killed in Iran, for example), we are bringing the discourse into the court of public opinion. We will make our leaders and our people aware of what is happening elsewhere, and then…something will happen to change it.

To be fair, this does work…but only in places where public opinion has a marked effect upon the actions of the regime (whether it be urban, federal, or what-have-you). If, for example, police in an American city attack an innocent African-American simply on an assumption of guilt based upon race, public opinion can certainly create consequence for the wrongdoers. The public can threaten to oust the mayor of the city (or at the very least not vote for him/her in the next election), the mayor can put pressure on the chief of police, etc. etc. In such ways are change affected in a democratic society, and public opinion can be a massive engine of change.

But this all breaks down in the case of totalitarian societies, because by and large, there’s really not much that you, as a non-member of that society, can do to affect change.

Let’s look specifically at the case of Iran right now. People are up in arms because it seems likely that the ruling party rigged the elections. (Americans, of which I am one, don’t really have a lot of room to talk here, but let’s overlook that for a second.) A certain amount of people in Iran are protesting the results of the election. They are, by all accounts, getting pretty brutally censured and attacked for doing so, while the government denies that anything of consequence is happening.

First of all, let’s just be honest here: knowing that people are being attacked for protesting is probably most of what you need to know. The specifics are, in my experience, pretty self-similar in any situation of this type throughout history. I haven’t read the accounts of what’s going on in Iran, but I suspect it runs something like this: the election results are announced. People — probably mostly students at first — take to the street in anger. The storm troopers show up and start bashing skulls. People begin rioting. The riot squads get more brutal. The government begins locking everything down — the media, first and foremost. People are dying in the streets. Shit is on fire.

How am I doing?

I’m being cynical here, but being cynical doesn’t mean it’s not true. These people are in a terrible situation. They’re making an agonizing choice between being quiet and being free. My heart and my sympathies and my support go out to them.

But the sad fact is that they’re probably simply going to their deaths. Why? Because they have no weight behind their dissent. Their government is a totalitarian theocracy run by a pack of lunatics who are actively developing nuclear weapons on the grounds that they might have to scorch the earth for Allah. They’ve been brutally repressing their people for decades now; how is this any different? Meet the old boss, same as the old boss.

More importantly, for the purposes of this discussion: if the people of Iran have no weight behind their outrage, people outside of Iran have less than no weight. Why? Because public opinion is totally irrelevant to Ahmedinajed’s regime. He — and his master, the Ayatollah Khamenei — don’t care what you or your government think about them. They have Allah on their side, total righteousness. They’re also the fourth largest oil exporter on the planet. Oil counts for 80% of their export capital, followed by — I’m not making this up — fruits and nuts, and also carpets.

Putting a worldwide ban on oil imports from Iran would be an instant way to affect change there. The money would run out…and even in theocracies, money is what keeps things running. If the rest of the world were to ditch Iranian oil for twelve months, I guarantee you’d see massive political change there.

But that, of course, isn’t going to happen — not on a global scale, not even on a national scale, and not on a personal scale. The majority of the people Twittering about Iran today are going to get in their car and drive to work via oil that was, at least in part, sold to them indirectly by the same people they’re trying to undermine with information technology. Hell, I would suspect that the power which keeps Twitter’s servers running is probably, at least in part, coming from Iranian oil in one way or another.

What we’re getting out of Iran right now is, essentially, evidence of the crimes being committed. I doubt anyone would disagree with that. But gathering evidence is something you do when you think there’s going to be a reckoning, and the sad example that history shows us is that there rarely ever is. Augusto Pinochet, Pol Pot and Idi Amin all died of heart attacks at advanced ages, either under house arrest or in lush exile somewhere. Their subordinates, by and large, also escaped justice, usually by insisting, as all fascists do, that they were “simply following orders“.

All the Twittering in the world isn’t going to create a world court that has jurisdiction over Mahmoud Ahmedinajed or the Ayatollah Khamenei, or Joseph Kony in Uganda, or Kim Jong-Il in North Korea, or any of the other insane cruel sons-of-bitches who rule with an iron fist over vast swaths of humanity. Pictures of the dead and dying, biographies of the damned…gather what you like and it’s still not going to fix these problems.

There are solutions, real solutions, but they take real work and sacrifice, on the part of every person who wants to truly change things. Stop driving cars; spend more money on products not made by totalitarian regimes; do without. And we are not willing to make those real sacrifices.

So we bear witness, as if the act of merely bearing witness somehow absolved us of our complicity in these atrocities. We tell ourselves that feeling righteously indignant is somehow a useful act, when the only person who is truly affected by our righteous indignation is ourselves.

We feel like heroes, when in fact we are as irrelevant to the situation as the thirty-eight New Yorkers who, in 1964, watched their neighbor Kitty Genovese get raped and robbed and stabbed to death in the courtyard of their apartment building. Each of the witnesses has been variously quoted as saying that they didn’t want to “get involved”. They were rightly vilified for this attitude.

Now, we want to get involved. So we use our global networks as stadium seating for the atrocity exhibition, and we cluck our tongues and shout our derision at those who commit torture and murder. And we feel better about ourselves. But we don’t make the hard choice to step into that ring ourselves, to make even the most basic sacrifices or put ourselves on the line, to prevent the atrocity. We’re concerned, but not involved.

And today, as I write this, God only knows how many Tehranians are going to be beaten and killed by the bastards who rule their country. We’re going to stand around and Twitter our anger to one another. And those poor people will be just as dead as Kitty Genovese when all is said and done.

*     *     *

If I’ve made you angry here, might I suggest that you call or write to your Congressperson or MP or whatever your nation’s equivalent is? Or that you find out if your corner gas station carries Iranian oil?

Do something constructive, in other words. Calling me an asshole isn’t constructive. I know I’m an asshole.


The Iran thing.

John Perry Barlow called me a smug dick on Twitter tonight because I pointed out that the collective outraged Twittering about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s rigging of the elections in Iran probably wasn’t going to change a goddamn thing. He’s half-right. I am a dick, but I’m not feeling particularly smug about it. (I also think JPB misunderstood me, though the error is mine; Twitter is not the place for nuanced thought.)

Look: Iran is a (very) thinly-veiled theocracy. It’s run by a group of clerics led by Ayatollah Khamenei, who is just as far out to lunch as his predecessors. Ahmadinejad is just their front man, a polite face to turn to the international community. But underneath it’s the same bad craziness that’s been there at least since they overthrew the Shah.

Theocracies of any stripe are totalitarian, almost by definition: their control relies upon their forcing of faith upon their people. That’s why they control the media and access to information: if people can see alternative viewpoints, they might begin to question the validity of the theocracy’s underlying faith, and by doing so, undermine the theocracy’s power. This is all obvious, right?

Until Iran overthrows the Revolutionary Guard (and what an ironic name) and the clerics and establishes a secular government, they will never have any sort of real freedom.

The real problem with totalitarian regimes, whether it be in Iraq or North Korea, is that they are essentially immune to public opinion. They don’t give a fuck what you or I think about their policies, because a) they can’t be toppled by bad public opinion, and b) they control the ability of their people to engage in political discourse with you or I in the first place.

So: yes, I am absolutely outraged that people are dying in the streets of Tehran right now. I am furious. But I can’t do anything about it. My opinion won’t save those people. My righteous fury serves no purpose at all. And neither does yours.

The riots and the deaths in Iran today are a symptom of a larger problem. The Iranian people have to get rid of their government. Until they do, this will just keep happening again and again, and more people will die who don’t deserve to, and the rest of the world will keep tut-tutting away, and nothing will change. Unless America decides we want Iran’s oil, in which case we’ll go in and bomb them back to the fucking Stone Age and make martyrs of all those God-deluded fuckers who are turning that place into a nightmare. Which will, of course, simply turn it into another kind of nightmare.

Anybody who knows me knows that I have watched this happen for a long time, in Iraq, in Uganda and Liberia and the Sudan and Rwanda and all of these other places. I have spoken out, asked people to get involved, done as much as I could from where I sit. (Hell, I’ve even offered various groups my services as a tech geek in these places, though no one has taken me up on the offer yet.) I believe as strongly as anyone in the right of every human to be in charge of their own destiny, and to be free of fear and violence for their beliefs. Don’t ever bring up the subject of Uganda with me, or the Lord’s Resistance Army; I’ll start frothing at the mouth and ranting. I’m a Human Rights Bore, and I know it. Sorry.

But I’m just tired. Tired of watching passionate students take to the streets to defend their human rights and to proclaim truths which much of the world holds to be self-evident, only to be mowed down by dispassionate thugs hired by a government that will commit murder to hold on to power. Tired of seeing the horror. Tired of watching politicians in my country pretending to be concerned, because they have no economic basis for helping to change things. Tired of watching celebrities (far more smug than I could ever be, John, thanks) doing PSAs trying to get bovine fucking America to be concerned about a bunch of jabbering foreigners half a world away.

The idea of throwing my brain into this current Iranian horror just makes me want to curl up in a ball and vomit. I can’t watch the videos. I can’t read the news. Because I will just become enraged, with no outlet for it and no way to change things, and I will have to watch yet another group of poor bastards get crushed by history.

Does that sound cynical? Surely it does. Surely I am cynical. But man, I’ve seen this movie too many fucking times, and I know how it’s going to end. And whether I watch it or not, it’s going to play out in the same way. I wish I was wrong, I hope I’m wrong, I pray that somehow this will all be resolved with as little more bloodshed as possible, but I just don’t see it happening that way. I know people. I know history.

I know I’m a coward. Man, don’t you know that I know that? I am. And I am truly sorry if I sound like a smug dick. But I just can’t get in on this one, folks. I need to be able to sleep at night.


Follow the money. (And the smack.)

I was watching author Gretchen Peters tonight on yesterday’s Daily Show, promoting her new book Seeds Of Terror, about the links between the poppy trade in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the Taliban and al-Qaeda. It looks like a fascinating book, and I’d like to pick it up and read it before I offer any comment specifically on her take on things. But I’ve been thinking about this a good deal over the past few years, and I thought I’d throw my two cents in.

I suspect that, when historians look back upon the early 21st century “war on terror”, their primary response will be surprise: surprise that the global society allowed ourselves to be fooled for so long into believing that terrorism is really, at the base of it, about such lofty ideals as “religion” and “freedom”…when, in fact, it was actually about what everything in the world is about and has been since the end of the hunter/gatherer period in human evolution: namely, money and resources.

I’ve been thinking about what I know about Islam (which is, I’ll grant you, not a massive amount…although having lived in a Muslim country and read at least a little bit about the history and tenets of the faith, I’m way ahead of most Americans), and what I know about economics (about the same amount) and what I know about people (quite a bit, actually), and it seems obvious to me — and has for a long time — that the people running things on the “terror” side of the equation are probably not actually religious zealots, but rabid market capitalists.

Bear with me here.

First off: let’s just drop this “terrorist” shit. That’s an extremely non-useful term that obscures more than it describes. I say “terrorist” and you think of a douchebag in black fatigues with a checkered head scarf and an AK slung over his back. But that doesn’t actually tell you who these people are, what they do, or why they do it.

Let’s start with what they do, and that’s simple: they destabilize. Regions, governmental system, economies — destabilization is the one thing that people like al-Qaeda are good at. They’re utterly, completely useless at stabilizing anything at all…which necessarily gives lie to their claim that what they’re trying to do is establish some sort of theocratic control over the Middle East / Africa / Asia / wherever. They’re not establishing shit. They’re not even trying. They’re like drunk frat boys — the only thing they can do is fuck shit up and then walk away. (The Taliban in pre-9/11 Afghanistan being an exception, but not much of one — those little elves ran their Keebler tree at the barrel of a gun, funding it with narco trafficking, and doing so mainly at the pleasure of the good old U.S. of A, who ludicrously saw them as a viable alternative to the PDPA and/or Soviet involvement. Which is an entire other discussion. Don’t get me started.) Destabilization has in fact traditionally been the number one goal of most terrorist groups around the world — Muslim or otherwise. Which brings us to our next question: why?

The answer, I think, is simple: misdirection.

Imagine you have a country — let’s call it, for the sake of this discussion, Ellistan. Ellistan is a country which is relatively rich in oil, but doesn’t have the technological prowess to really go in and extract it and sell it. So Ellistan’s doing deals with big American firms like Exxon Mobil, who take a large chunk of the oil profits in return for up-fronting the massive costs of building an oil-delivery infrastructure.

There’s also a lot of poppy fields, as there are everywhere in the Middle East. Fucking tons of them. There are a few narcotraficantes who grow poppies and ship them out to Southeast Asia to be refined and sold to scruffy American trust-fund assholes. But by and large, it’s a cottage industry, because opium is fairly difficult to refine and turn into smack, and unlike oil, the Agency for International Development isn’t brokering meetings between the Ellistan government and Big American Business to build roads for trucks full of black tar heroin.

Speaking of governments…Ellistan has a democratic government, sort of. There’s lots of corruption and tension. To make matters worse, there’s a nasty brewing conflict between the Muslim and Christian factions of the population, who are also divided along some fantastically obscure ethnic lines going back to which of two thirteen year old sisters got knocked up by the horny old king a gazillion years ago. There are occasional outbreaks of violence, but it’s nothing that doesn’t happen every day in most of the countries in the world where you can’t buy a Slurpee on every street corner.

And then comes Jihadi Pride. Jihadi Pride is a radical Islamist group founded by a prick who used to be a mujahideen in Afghanistan back in the 80s. He was trained in insurgent warfare, intelligence and counter-intelligence by his kindly Uncle Sam, who also bankrolled his holy war against the evil Soviet Empire…right up to the moment when the Wall came down in Berlin, at which point America informed him that they would see him, but they wouldn’t wanna be him.

Since then. the prick has been building up this army of former holy warriors like himself, along with a random assortment of creepy mercenaries who pass the bare minimum of behavior to pass for “soldiers of God”, plus a huge infantry of complete retards whom he has convinced to become martyrs for Allah.

(He’s also on a dialysis machine. And he’s really fucking tall. You get it? You get it now? Okay.)

So this prick — let’s call him Rosama — sets up tents in Ellistan. He immediately begins pimping his contacts amongst the Muslim community. He starts going around identifying the most dissatisfied or volatile community leaders. He tells them that a glorious day is coming, a day when the People of God — who rightfully deserve Ellistan as their Holy Paradise — will rise up against the infidels and drive them out, even if it means wading in their blood. He makes some under-the-table contributions to local religious leaders, who may or may not be the same people. And he tells both groups that, when the time comes, he will do everything in his power to back their play to take power.

Now, if Rosama is really smart, he’s doing the exact same thing with the Christians. He’s playing both sides down the middle, without the other side knowing it.

And sooner or later, somebody’s going to mouth off at the wrong time in the wrong tea house, or kill the wrong person in a brawl, and shit is going to jump off: Christians and Muslims in a free-for-all.

When this happens, Rosama shows up with crates full of AK-47s. Here you are! he cries to the Muslims (and, again, if he’s smart, the Christians). Use these to drive the evildoers out of your land!

Blood starts spraying all over everything. The government sends in troops to try to quell the ethnic violence, but their efforts are (as such efforts always are) as useful as tits on a bull. Soon the troops get involved on both sides of the conflict and now you’ve got trained dudes firing.

Jihadi Pride is sending all its best kamikaze assholes, strapped with C4, to suicide bomb Christian pre-schools, on the promise that they’ll get 37 virgins and a free Amana refrigerator upon entrance to paradise. These guys are fucking morons and totally useless for anything else, but they’re also sort of like Doritos: crunch all you want and you can make more. To paraphrase Mencken, nobody ever went broke overestimating the intelligence of the religion-crazed masses.

Finally, one — or both — factions accuse the government of siding with and favoring the other side, and there’s a big to-do, and maybe somebody runs in and sprays the Ellistan Parliament with 7.62mm rounds. And boom! No working government. There’s general strikes, everybody’s either fighting or afraid to come out because they’re afraid of being killed. Things fall apart. The center does not hold. Jihadi Pride has loosed mere anarchy on Ellistan.

And what is Rosama doing while all this is happening? He’s sneaking around killing the low-level narcotraficantes, or buying them off, or convincing them to work for him. He’s seizing control of the poppy manufacturing. Think of it like a big corporation with massive distribution channels but a need for product, seizing a small corporation with product but no distribution. Rosama, unlike the local boys, can ship poppies en masse. More to the point, he now is in a great position to set up poppy refining centers right there in Ellistan…because nobody’s paying any fucking attention anymore.

Then Jihadi Pride seizes the oil pipelines…and all hell breaks loose. Up to this point, it’s just been a bunch of camel-fuckers killing each other, as far as the rest of the world is concerned. But holy God and sonny Jesus, now these ragheads are fucking with our profit margins!

Exxon Mobil formally protests to the US government, who talks to the UN, who sends in “peacekeeping” troops, who basically do jack shit other than make sure all the Yankee engineers and contractors and their families can get out safely. Which they do — not because Jihadi Pride is afraid of the UN, but because it doesn’t really matter to them.

Exxon’s frothing over their pipelines, but hell, they’ve got insurance against this sort of thing. Jihadi Pride is also doing them a favor, kind of, sort of, because now that they’ve seized this particular oil supply, the global price of oil can go up a bit. And it’s not like it’s going to go back to the same price when all of this is settled.

So now Rosama is de Kingfish in Ellistan. He’s got control of the oil and the poppies, and he’s surrounded himself with enough chaos that nobody can come in and touch him. Maybe, possibly, by this point, the local ethnic factions are beginning to realize that they’ve been played off each other. But it’s too late. There’s nobody to appeal to. Nobody has any sympathy. And at this point, the hatred and vengeance has all gotten so deep that nobody’s going to shake hands and make friends and go against their common enemy, this mercenary pigfucker who’s come in and turned their Holy Paradise into a shit and smoke filled nightmare.

That is, assuming they even get that far in their thinking, and most of the time they don’t. They just keeping slaughtering each other, murder for murder, atrocity for atrocity, because somebody ten thousand years ago decided to wear a different hat than his brother wore, or something equally pathetic.

And Rosama? He’s got a few options. He can leave some of his crew here to run things and float on to the next target. (My, Iran’s looking interesting!) Or he can just keeping letting the money roll in here. Even when order is established, all he has to do is cut the new government in on the deal. Not that they have a choice, of course — any new government in Ellistan will form almost solely at his whim.

And Lord, how the money rolls in. By the time America gets involved — because only America will get involved, because the Europeans are too smart and too poor and don’t have enough vested financial interest — Rosama will be nowhere to be found, and all that will be left will be a nation in utter shambles and a bunch of abandoned gold-plated Humvees, rusting in the sand and the dirt.

This is, of course, just a fairy tale I’m spinning you, but I’d be grateful if you could figure out what part of it doesn’t sound like it’s probably pretty accurate across the board. The real kicker is that, as Bruce Sterling pointed out in his excellent book Tomorrow Now: Envisioning The Next Fifty Years, they did this already: in Serbia, in Chechnya, in Mogadishu. In Kabul. In Iraq. Over and over again, after Reagan and Bush Uno let them loose on the planet like rabid dogs off a leash. It’s not even the same sort of people; it’s the same five dudes going from place to place. (There’s more than five. But you get my point.)

And they’re not the only ones. Because I can think of at least one other evil motherfucker who went in and destablized an entire region, turning it into a morass of ethnic/religious violence, whilst simultaneously making money off of guns and war machinery on both sides, whilst simultaneously lining the pockets of everybody he’d ever known since grade school…and right now, that sonofabitch is sitting with his feet up on his ottoman at the new place in North Dallas, watching Hee-Haw reruns on Blu-Ray and sporting a weak little boner every time Barbi Benton pops up in the cornfield to trade cornpone witticisms with Buck and Ray. And I’d bet the ottoman’s still got that new leather smell, too.

Hey, why not? His daddy and his daddy’s friends were the ones who taught the trick to the “evildoers” in the first fucking place. And if we learned anything from the IRA and the Contras and Al-Qaeda, it’s that you can pretty much get away with anything you like, if you claim you’re doing it in the name of God or country. Patriotism has become the very first refuge of scoundrels; the second is the nearest church or mosque.

And all of this begs the question: are we really trying to shut down the drug trade in Afghanistan and Pakistan now? The way we tried to stop the drug trade in Laos and Cambodia during the Vietnam War? The way we tried to stop it in Central America in the 80s? Because as far as I can tell, the way we tried to do that in those places was to come in and bum rush the whole show, New Jack City-style. I mean, does anybody really believe the CIA wasn’t using heroin from the Golden Triangle to fund black ops in the 1960s and 1970s (and maybe even as far back as the 1950s)? Really?

I’m not much of a fan or believer in conspiracies, and even I’m convinced that behind all the mad rhetoric, Huey Newton was right about one thing: they were shipping scag back from Laos and Cambodia into the Naval receiving shipyards in Oakland. I’ve also talked to too many old timers who’ve told me I’m right, at least in the broad strokes, to assume that they were all separately utterly full of shit.

And it’s not like they didn’t try to do it again, 20 years later with the Contras…only that time, they got caught.

So you have motive (money), opportunity (the war on terror), and a pattern and known history of similar behavior going back almost fifty years. Is it hard to believe that we’re not stopping the drug trade because we have some vested interest in it? I’m not talking about the whole government, mind you; but I think there are people in the intelligence community who are capable of maintaining covert drug trade in Afghanistan. Our forces on the ground are having enough trouble keeping themselves alive and some vague semblance of daily peace and calm to be paying much attention to some weird shit going on out in the eastern mountain regions. To quote Bob Dylan: yes, I think it could be easily done.

Even if you leave the US government out of it — and even the most neo-conservative of you will acknowledge that it’s nearly impossible to leave the US government out of any international situation these days — doesn’t this whole thing suggest that the primary, if not the solitary motivation of these “terrorists” is not religion but profit?

To put it another way, which seems more likely to you: that a bunch of genuinely angry religious fanatics would stoop to selling and making smack (which would be considered a horrible transgression by any legitimate Muslim) to fund their campaigns…or that a bunch of scumbag mercs and drug dealers would wrap themselves in a cloak of pious zealotry as a way to distract the world from what they’re actually up to, the way that any cheap con-man in America knows he can put out a donation box in the name of blue-eyed Jesus and rake in a hundred times as much profit.

My experience of human nature suggests the latter. The notion of Muslim holy men selling smack to decadent Westerners as a way of corrupting them seems unlikely to me. It’s like suggesting that Focus On The Family invests heavily in bondage gear, in the hopes that all the leather queens in San Francisco will kill themselves off of auto-erotic asphyxiation and rid the world of homosexuality. It sounds like bullshit to me.

Of course, any policy wonk you talk to will probably acknowledge most of what I’ve pointed out here. It’s not a secret. So why are we still cloaking all of this as a thinly-veiled holy war, rather than an operation to rid the world of scumbag heroin profiteers?

I wish I didn’t know the answer to that question.


What the iPhone 3GS means

So the iPhone 3GS is about to drop. (I just got an iPhone 3G, so I’m eligible to return it and get this new one.) This is what’s most important about it:

GPS (which determines the device’s location) + digital compass (which determines the device’s current direction it’s being pointed in) + tilt sensors (which determine what angle the device is pointed at) + video camera = augmented reality.

The screen shows what the video camera is “seeing”. You point it at a building. The sensors “know” you’re at longitude X latitude Y, facing 35 degrees from true north, phone pointed directly ahead. It queries Google Maps, finds out what building/object is closest to longitude X / latitude Y, at a 35 degree angle.

It puts that information on the screen, overlaid on top of whatever you’re pointing your camera at. What’s this building? It’s the Chelsea Hotel. Click here for the Wikipedia entry, or the Yelp entry. Here’s a photostream of Sid Vicious being escorted out of this building in 1978 after allegedly murdering his girlfriend. Oh, he walked right by where you’re standing.

That person walking in front of you? They have Supermagical Bluetooth Person App open. That’s Susie. She’s also a big Arcade Fire fan.

Do you see where I’m going with this? Always on augmented reality.

There’s also the fact that, if you can store position, direction and angle in DCIM, every picture taken in any given space with an iPhone 3GS can be used to recreate that space in 3D. If you can pull the focal point and direction out as well, you might even be able to actually recreate 3D objects from a collection of 2D images. Like they did in the Matrix sequels, only without the massive budget. No processing. Just calling up pics and arranging them via their own metadata.

I now have a nerd boner.