Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Mistaken identity story at G20

On the CBC program As It Happens (http://www.cbc.ca/asithappens/) for today, they did the following piece:

"...An ad homonym attack. Toronto police apprehend a Somali-Canadian suspect named Sharmake Abdi -- but he's not the Sharmake Abdi they were looking for..."

The police had some datapoints for, and some datapoints against. It's a harder kind of situation than when all the information is in one direction. He has the same name, but doesn't look like the other Sharmake Abdi. I guess you would call this an accidental false positive. Presumably they didn't target him. But it's against the backdrop of a several-day period when the Toronto police used a lot of excessive force against a lot of people and several stories of draconian and harsh treatment. But I suppose in this case, it's in a slightly different place on the Venn diagram because of the coincidence in the names. The idea that you can act first and ask questions later is bad enough if it's a policeman beating up the wrong person, and even worse if it's a suspected terrorist and you have Dennis Blair's "special permission." to assassinate them.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Real News references Colombian "false positives" scandal

On the Real News, Paul Jay interviewed Forrest Hylton about Santos victory in recent Colombian elections. The video caught my eye because it mentions the "false positives" scandal. Here are the relevant excerpts from the transcript:

HYLTON: Santos is somebody who has intimate knowledge of Washington and very numerous high-level contacts in Pentagon and State. So, insofar as it will affect US-Colombian relations, it's likely to make them only stronger. On the other hand, the false positives scandal for which Santos is in part responsible—.

JAY: False positives is when they dressed up ordinary people to look like FARC so they could collect the bounty. And they didn't just dress them up: they killed them and then dressed them up.

HYLTON: They killed them and dressed them up. And there were considerable incentives within the armed forces to do this in order to inflate the body count to make the Colombian army look good. Santos was in charge when much of this took place. And it's possible that the International Criminal Court will have its eye on some of these cases—and certainly the relatives of the victims are fighting to make sure that the International Criminal Court does have its eye on these cases. If this becomes too much of a scandal or a problem for the Santos administration, it's possible that the United States would want to take some distance, although that could be difficult given that the United States was the number-one backer of the Colombian army when Santos was minister of defense.

(Excerpts end.) It reminds me of the situation when there was a bounty offered to people who would round up "Taliban" in Afghanistan, if I remember correctly from Sy Hersh's _Chain of Command_. There were also false positives in that situation, because the people doing the rounding had a profit motive to identify more people. My understanding is that some of the false positives were put in Guantanamo.

Here is the video:

More at The Real News

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Fight Club

Hmm.. I had never seen _Fight Club_ so I finally watched it. Norton asks Pitt, what about Robert, the one who was killed, and Pitt-as-Tyler says the line about making an omelette. Interesting coincidence on a surface level, which is what made me think to post about it.

Maybe this movie's common ground with my themes is this: the problems of trying to carry out a big project/enterprise, without hitting this moment of harming people - accidentally, or if on purpose it might be a case where the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing. The guys in the army, the third and fourth in command, were thugs. Robert gets killed and that is the "oh no, it's all spinning out of control" moment that we are shown. Is it the only one? How much do you wanna bet it's not the only one?

Apparently the buildings were empty and the security guards were all "our guys," meaning that they weren't going to be hurt either because they would get to safety beforehand. Hmm.. it would be nice if that were true, but it would mean that Tyler and everyone in the gang was perfect and didn't (a) make mistakes and forget someone (an accidental false positive, to take my model maybe a little too far) or (b) that he, or any of the underlings in his army, could resist the temptation to strong-arm someone they had some animosity for (a deliberate false positive.)

It could be a movie about Blackwater, Nisour Square. It could be a movie about the Green Zone.

The business about feeling "truly alive" is ho-hum. Is there not a 3rd thing? Is this maybe what making art is for? I don't like materialistic, yuppie priorities but also don't want to do Cacophony Society - for pragmatic reasons, namely that I don't think they have their false positives under control. I agree that the straightlaced world is soul-killing, but I do think there's a 3rd thing. So the great idea for how to deal with "working for the man" and having to look the other way when they deliberately avoid recalls and leave their dangerous cars on the road, is to extort them into bankrolling the fight club? What a great idea! The only problem is, it keeps all of those people getting killed in the dangerous cars, which you won't shrug about if you are one of the people in the dangerous cars. Whistleblowing is also possible, and that is another way to "feel truly alive." Also, let's say you want to paint a portrait or build a house before you die, and then you get thumped, have a concussion, and never get around to your dreams because you are now not right in the head. Am I maybe not supposed to be reading the fight club as literal? I don't know why not - it is the first stage in something that later gets too big to control, gets co-opted and its character changes. It's kind of useful as an illustration of that kind of thing, even though I totally don't buy the "necessity" of getting back to visceral, masculine whatever-it-is, or if you don't, you're a neutered automaton. The fight club in particular also doesn't have its false positives under control. I don't buy it. Norton took out his jealousy on that one character and in the real world analog to that movie moment, he would have been dead or rendered retarded. Oh, but it's consensual, right? Maybe, but it's at cross purposes to Brad Pitt trying to force everybody to live up to their potential before they die.

I guess you could say that it is a story that does not hold itself responsible for empathizing with the other side. Maybe despots have narratives written of what it looked like *from* the inner circle, and I'm sure when you can order people around, it's a sweet deal the same way "it's good to be the king" is a sweet deal.

The reason why I watched this movie was to get informed about the zeitgeist, because it always pops up on peoples' lists and seems remarkably popular. There is only one character missing from this movie: the person they used, the Machiavellian "means", the egg who gets broke. The shop attendant who Tyler forces to carry out his own dreams or be killed is the closest thing, and they don't hurt him. The gun has no bullets. I can see the argument for bringing on a different society to force sleeping people to open their eyes. Sounds a little like Guy Fawkes, V for Vendetta, and Watchmen for that matter. I can also see the argument for surveillance in order to prevent deaths. But there is no one in this movie talking about their AFPs or DFPs, which means Fight Club is like the Hitler-commissioned Official History of the State, or the Soviet history with the enemies rubbed out of existence and down the memory hole. And I am skeptical of all the people who like it so much.