Tag Archives: middle-east

“He Who Laughs Last Probably Died Laughing”

Friends,

An army friend of mine once related a story to me when we were in Afghanistan about a game he used to play in university lectures called, “Bait the Jew.” The premise of the game was simple: in class discussions he would say deliberately inflammatory things which would rile the Jewish students, particularly those with Zionist sympathies. He would then have a laugh at their expense. I cringed at this and felt kind of embarrassed for him but it was one of those situations you find yourself in all-too-often in the military where you gotta let some repugnant shit slide because for better or worse, this dude has my back when shit hits the fan.

But if you think about it, Bait the Jew is emblematic of how humor is generally done these days: inflammatory remarks are levied at various demographics (with various degrees of cleverness) and the “injured” party’s reaction only increases the mirth of those who see the humor in it. Sometimes, the injured party’s reaction is relatively benign (legal recourse, appeals to the government or similar jests in kind), but sometimes it’s pretty severe:

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I’m gonna go ahead and say exactly what’s on my mind here: Some people are VERY happy about the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

Why?

Well, to me, I think it validated a lot of pent-up xenophobia and and Islamophobia and it certainly made a fair number of self-described atheists pretty euphoric. There is a definite under-current of these emotions in the wake of the attacks and a jubilation which some are hard-pressed to contain. It goes deeper than the validation of prejudice though. Some, like certain military friends of mine, have a vested financial interest in war because (at least in the Canadian military) there’s lots of delicious tax-free money to be made fighting commies/Nazis/insurgents. But there’s also the awards, honours, medals and respect that come from service overseas.

military-humor-soldier-russia-listen-here-noob-memeYou basically get some new bling to keep your uniform frosty.

Medals are a status symbol in the military and the worthiness of your career is (unofficially) related to the size of your rack of medals. In the context of being in the military, it’s considered a more or less objective indicator of whether or not someone is a good soldier. Sure, a guy may be an insubordinate, racist drunkard, but look at all his medals. Also, there is an unspoken resentment against superior officers who presume to command subordinates with more operational experience, and thus more medals, than them. So in my estimation, a lot of war-mongering has to do with guys who want to legitimize their careers and authority, while at the same time becoming one of the highly decorated veterans they vaunt.

I’ll defer to Bill Hicks here:

billPortraitWhat kind of people are these with such low self-esteem that they need a war to feel better about themselves? May I suggest, instead of a war to feel better about yourself, perhaps … sit-ups? Maybe a fruit cup? Eight glasses of water a day?

I was one of these guys when I got into the army. I saw dudes who had deployed to Afghanistan, Bosnia, Cyprus, the Golan Heights and when they’d rock their medals on parades I wanted my own taste of that. Well, I got it. And, surprise surprise, all of that admiration and veneration from the younger generation didn’t mean all that much when I finally had it.

How far do you have to go down that road before you see where it leads?

***************
But I digress here because I didn’t set out to write a scathing indictment of the military mindset wherein a solider validates himself, his existence and his career through violent campaigns and occupations which leave people dead, orphaned, bereaved and embittered.

Rather I was writing about humour and the way it is done. This hits a little close to home for me because as of late I have been trying my hand at stand up comedy so I find myself very much concerned with what is funny and what is not. Now at the outset, let me be clear: I am not above laughing at crude, insensitive, racist, sexist, etc. jokes. I’d like to qualify that by saying that I only laugh at them if they are clever, good-natured and well-wrought but that would be lying. I’ve laughed at the worst of the worst and will continue to do so provided I find the joke in question funny.

Now I think many of us would agree that if I, as a white male, went around making racist jokes about blacks, saying the word nigger all willy-nilly and advertising bigotry, the people who were the butt of my jokes would have a legitimate qualm and reason to not find them funny. If things were taken a step further and I got my ass kicked by the injured parties, a lot of people would probably be like, “Well he got what he deserved.”

Now notwithstanding the fact that there are orders of magnitude of difference between the shit-kicking I deserve and a shoot-out in the streets, can we at least acknowledge that a similar dynamic is at play here?

1)Someone makes a joke at another party’s expense
2)The second party is offended by the joke
3)To vindicate their bruised honor, the injured party does (decidedly less whimsical) violence against the jokester (and anyone else unfortunate enough to be nearby)

Some of you may say that I have abstracted the Charlie Hebdo massacre too much to make it congruent with my hypothetical black joke scenario, but I maintain that this is an important mental exercise which helps us to recognize common kernels of causality. So yes, while there are worlds of differences between the CH massacre and me getting my ass tuned up by a bunch of hypothetical aggrieved African-Americans (Canadians???), there is a similar dynamic of vindication here.

Or how about this: A lot of people here in the west think it’s stupid for Muslims to freak out over pictures of the Prophet Mohammed, BUT GOD HELP YOU IF YOU DON”T STAND FOR THE NATIONAL ANTHEM AT A HOCKEY GAME!!!

Yes, cause that makes infinitely more sense.

Or a lot of people might hate on (again) Muslims for those honor killings we hear so much about, but I would posit that “vindication of the national honour” (i.e. “honor killing” on a massive scale) is the main mobilizing premise used to dupe scared people into joining the war effort in the wake of some (usually trifling or made-up) initial provocation.

Don’t get me wrong I am no apologist for Islamic violence, but I recognize that it’s pretty presumptuous for us to poo-poo them for their violence when we cumulatively as “the West” are perhaps the greatest purveyors of direct violence (war), indirect violence (proxy wars) and war profiteering that have ever existed.

***************
But again I need to digress, because this is neither meant to be a scathing indictment of Western foreign policy.

So what is funny and what is worth killing someone over? I think the answer to both is, “It’s all relative.” Furthermore, there is a degree of overlap, so some hilarious shit might get someone killed.

batmano
He who laughs last, probably died laughing.”

I recognize doing stand-up that a joke which I find funny might get my ass kicked if it offends someone, and whether popular opinion is with me or against me depends on a number of factors: The disposition of the general public, whether I am part of the privileged class, whether the subject of my ridicule is a downtrodden minority and last but not least, the prejudices of the general public. Let’s face it, if Charlie Hebdo cartoonists saw some humour in making cartoons at the expense of rape victims and a bunch of feminist extremists IRL pwned (killed) them, there would be a lot of people of the mindset of, “Well, that’s what you get for talking shit.” But since the indignant transgressors were Muslims, the attitude seems to be “Fuck them and their feelings!

So, should Charlie Hebdo cartoonists have showed some restraint with regard to their jokes about Islam? Absolutely-the-fuck-NOT! We NEED people to push limits and say things that are on their minds even if the group-mind doesn’t deem it politically correct. The fact of the matter is that it takes a lot of guts to say some shit that you know isn’t popular, which incidentally, is why I mostly reserve judgement against the Westboro Baptist Church. Much as I might disagree with their message I have to laud their guts.

And while I think it sucks that people sometimes get killed for speaking their mind, I also think it sucks that we live in a system which necessitates the speaking of one’s mind in the first place.

What do I mean by that? Well, speaking one’s mind (whether that is asking for a raise, telling off a rival, or making an unpopular joke) is a form of asserting oneself and one’s views. But the necessity of self-assertion pre-supposes some marginalization happened as a pre-cursor. So the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists felt they had to assert themselves at the expense of devout Muslims, and the devout, more extremist elements of that group felt they had to re-assert themselves against those who had made light of their faith. Like so many struggles within a competitive socio-economic system, it’s just another case of one group trying to get ahead at the expense of another.

So again, for perhaps the hundredth time, I want to ask, “Shouldn’t we, instead of focusing on the individual acts of violence or insult (the latter being just another form of violence), instead look to transcend the structural mechanisms which pit people against one another in the first place?”

It doesn’t matter whether you identify more with Muslims or the cartoonists, cause while you bicker over who was in the right or wrong, someone is profiting from this whole debacle at the expense of both groups.

France

And what I find incredibly offensive about any new legislation pertaining to surveillance and privacy that will come to pass from this massacre is that it will likely disproportionately target Muslims (at least initially) and also that it flies in the face of the freedom of speech which Charlie Hebdo stood for.

So while we take sides, everyone loses.

Problem => Reaction => Solution

***************
But I digress, because I didn’t set out to talk about how we are being manipulated and played against each other.
Also, I ran out of clever shit to say.

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo
Instagram: @dreguan
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Demo Reel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gdwhemiqzc

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“One Fish, Two Fish, Putin, Obama” – A Study in Imposed Dualities

Friends,

Something occurred to me last night as I was getting ready for bed. Let me explain it in a roundabout way, my preferred method of explanation: You see, I have been following the buildup to World War III for about a year now, and before the US was making overtures toward attacking Syria in an attempt to goad Iran into conflict, it was stroking itself to the idea of attacking Iran directly.

iran-wants-war

While that more direct route was being considered, Russia and China had already made statements to the effect of, “We will fight you if you attack Iran,” “You fuck with Iran and you fuck with us.”  These sentiments from the once and current Communist blocs have not really changed too much even though the US is considering a more meandering route to Iran.  Notably, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been very vocal about condemning Obama, and, in light of these criticisms of American war-mongering and his harbouring of Edward Snowden, he has gotten a weird sort of good guy image makeover in the view of the West.

ggp
(To be clear, I made this image to illustrate my point)

This heel/face turn has been helped along by the letter (incorrectly attributed to Putin) “From Russia With Love,” which was written in the Russian President’s voice and has been making the viral rounds.

So yeah, it seems like Vladimir Putin is a pretty cool guy.

But if that’s the case, then why do I not feel right about singing his praises and vaunting him as the last bastion against American imperial expansion?

Well for starters lets rhyme off the superficial reasons for mistrusting Putin:

1) He’s former KGB

Putin_KGB

2) This is the same dude who has taken a heavy hand with feminist activists, Pussy Riot.

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3) This is the same dude who has taken a heavy hand with gay rights activists.

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4) This is the same dude who has taken a heavy hand with Chechens.

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Hmmm, all these factors combined certainly make me reconsider my earlier statement that Putin is a pretty cool guy, but they don’t really account for my incredulity with regard to his good guy image.  I think my mistrust has more to do with IMPOSED DUALITIES.

Imposed Dualities
Do you ever notice that most of the choices you are presented with come down to two main options?  And while often these choices are only distinguished from each other by the most superficial of differences, people will still make great judgments about you and your character based on which of the two you choose.
Let’s review some of these dualities:

Evil vs. Good

Dark vs. Light

3

images

2

communism-vs-capitalism-575x250

Presentation1

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It’s no accident that both sides of any of these choices are broadly similar and superficial differences are emphasized to create the illusion of diversity.  A good example would be how many video game retailers will have retailer exclusive DLC for games pre-ordered from them.  In the game Batman: Arkham City for example, you could get various costumes for Batman depending on where you pre-ordered your game. Voila; diversity of choice!

new-batman-arkham-city-bonus-costumes-revealed-earth-one-the-animated-series-batman-beyond-and-more

This is what freedom of choice looks like.

I have a hunch that its also no coincidence that red and blue are used extensively for the purposes of distinguishing broadly similar factions/parties from one another.  I am no colour psychologist though, so I’m not exactly sure what this denotes.

However, I want to draw attention to the last red vs. blue duality I included:

125177754

Most people probably recognized this as denoting the rivalry between the American Republican and Democratic parties, respectively.  These two parties have often been accused of being broadly similar in recent years,

demopublican

yet they manage to keep the veneer of differentiation though head-butting on issues like women’s rights, gay rights, fighting insurgency, etc.  However, since they are both essentially fed by the same hands,

The Most Dangerous Kind of Politician

there are necessarily proverbial  hands that both parties won’t bite.   This is not to say its a grand conspiracy where the wealthy elite control the puppets.

demopub

On the contrary, its a rather common and disingenuous conspiracy where parties and politicians recognize where their self-interest lies and make the appropriate choices to maintain their positions of power vis-a-vis campaign funding, airtime and favourable press.

Furthermore, do you notice how any up-and-coming candidate for the presidency (and by association, senate and congress seats) always pledges to undo the wrongs of his predecessor should he be elected?  This angle resonates with those disaffected most with the existing administration while polarizing the incumbent’s base, a base who, though they might not be 100% satisfied with their candidate’s performance when held up to his campaign promises, still prefers to stay the current course rather than make a departure

So how does this relate to Putin?

Well, someone’s gotta be the bad guy and someone’s gotta be the good.  That is, someone’s gotta be red and someone’s gotta be blue.

If you think about it, in spite of his newfound popularity, Putin is not so different from Obama: He criticizes Obama for his handling of the Snowden affair while openly admitting that he would have prosecuted a similar Russian whistle-blower for treason. You might recognize this position as the broad similarity I mentioned earlier when talking about imposed dualities and intra-national politics.  It seems that broadly similar imposed dualities exist at the international/global level of politics as well.

sdg

“It’s not about the one I like more, its about picking the one I hate least.”  (Paraphrase)
-Cynical Voters

Putin vs. Obama is the latesst permutation of Obama vs. Bush*, and in each case the appeal of the former is a direct function of how dissimilar they appear to be to the latter and how much the latter is hated.

Soooooo, why waste time waving the flag for either?  Good question!

I quoted Miyamoto Musashi in my last post, “When Truisms Lie,” and I will quote him again here:

“If you know the way broadly, you will see it in all things”

I think if we apply this view of imposed dualities at all levels of politics (global, national, provincial, regional, state, municipal, INTERGALACTIC!!!) we will see it represented faithfully, which to me is a testament to its truth.  And it follows that if we should avoid getting fooled by the smoke and mirrors at one level (say, national politics), then we should avoid getting fooled by the smoke & mirrors at all other levels as well.  In all cases we must look past the obvious conflict which is being presented to us and see who is benefiting no matter which side wins. 

CUI BONO?

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo

*I realize Obama never ran against Bush but he was touted as being the remedy to two Bush terms and two un-winnable wars.

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…Where Credit is Due

My Friends,
   I’m back home in Canada after circling the globe over the past 107 days.  It was in many ways not the trip I was expecting but perhaps for that exact reason it was also exactly the trip I was expecting.  For you see I was looking for adventure, something which is eminently un-plannable, and adventure is what I got.
   However, the success of this venture rested on more than just my own overtures toward worldliness and Quixotic affectations.  Rather, I was helped at almost every step by others; some I knew beforehand, most I did not.  I would like to take this opportunity to thank those who made my trip not only what it was, but possible in the first place.
   So, Thank-You…

To my friend Tommy and my brother Adam for helping me try to get financial assistance for the trip.  It may not have been successful but it was a lot of fun to hang out and make videos.

To Steve and Lynn from modrobes for the clothing you provided and the re-supply mid-expedition.

To Mark from Oakley U.S.A. for your generosity.

To Maria, Victor and Wilson, the first three people who showed me any kind of goodwill in my trip but whose contact information I lost in the robbery.  Thank-you so much and I will keep attempting to find you guys on Facebook.

To my parents for all of their help after I got robbed.  Thank-you for booking my flight back to Lisbon, scrounging through my boxes in the basement to find pieces of documentation so I could procure a new passport and making sure replacement cards, documents and gear made it out to me as quickly as possible.

To the staff of TAP Airlines in Funchal Airport for giving me money to buy lunch when I had lost everything.

To the flight attendants on my TAP flight from Funchal to Lisbon for giving me all the food I wanted after learning I got robbed.

To Bev and Darryn Cross, who saw to it that I had a hotel to stay in upon my arrival in Lisbon.

To Eneida and Gisella at the Canadian Embassy in Lisbon.  Thank you for all of the free calls and the speed with which you helped me out.

To Antonio, Antonio & Penelope for making my stay in Lisbon better than it could have been given the shitty time I was having.

To Vasil & Nadia for letting me camp in their garage during my last night in Portugal.

To “Belgian Teacher,” Greg & Maria, “German Couple,” Samuel, Jose, Sergei & Andrej & Dimitri, Bianca, “Hungary Dude” & “German Girl,” Therese & Stefano & Hannah, “Granada Dude,” “Guadix Family,” “Lorca Dude,” Juan & his Dad, Paul & Sonja, Andrew & Laura, Antonio, Julius, Maria Jose, Xavien, Keira & Ali, Claudia, Rene, Hugo, Tomas & Sandra, Moroccan guy who may or may not have wanted to rob me, “Gay Michele,” Dominique, Miro, Benoit, “Fronk”/Franc, Mohmed & Kh____ (x2), Simon, Gwen, Claudio, Nasir(?), Orsun(?), “Gas Station Patron,” “Nameless Dude,” “Old Dude,” Erol, Veysel, Ali, Ibrahim, Mehmet & Besir, _____ & Ramazan, “Some Trucker,” “Mini-Bus Full of Dudes,” “Big Bus Full of Dudes,” “Turkish Family,” “____ From Antakya,” “_____ & ______ From Antakya,” “Family in a Pick-Up Truck,” “German/Turkish Couple,” Hasan & Usan, _____, Mustafa & _____, The Syrian Secret-Service/Cab-Drivers, Jima, and finally Havid & Family.  Thank-you for picking me up instead of just speeding by.

To Ricky, who came out of left field to offer me his house to crash at in Rota, Spain.  Your generosity was overwhelming.

To Annelies & Annejet, who gave me sunscreen, a pink towel and would have given me a ride to Malaga but I slept in like a dunce.

To Toby, who came back and picked me up from McDonald’s just like he said he would.

To the Collet family who picked me up and let me stay in their beautiful home.  If you have any plans to visit the south of France you should definitely consider a stay in one of their residences: http://www.bormeslesmimosas.com/locationscoulomb/.

To Neil, who showed me around San Remo, bought me a bus ticket, and warned me about just how corrupt Italy was on arrival.

My cousin Steven and his family in Legnano, Italy.  Thank-you for your hospitality, helping me deal with lazy Italian officials, and the delicious food which fattened me up for the cold weather which laid before me.
To Imad and Lina who made me feel at home in Beirut, took me around the city and included me in their Christmas-tree decorating.

To the proprietors of the cafe in the Suez bus station for letting me crash in the back-room.

To Jima, who picked me up, took me into his home and broke bread with me during my last night in Egypt.

To Brian for for offering his flat in Zanzibar which I never made it to.

To Robert for sharing his campfire in Ein Gedi.

To Amina & Gulmyra, my Kazakh “aunts” who forced me to eat with them on the train and led me to the bus station in Almaty.

To “Opie,” who made my welfare the highest priority in his life.

To the Chongqing Police Force for allowing me to use your computers and inviting me to share your Christmas dinner.
To Erich and Serena, for inviting me into your home and the delicious perma-cultured eggs.

To everyone I met who posted pics on my Facebook.  Thank-you so much for enabling me to have photographic reminders even after the loss of my camera.

To my regiment and my friends back home.  Thank-you for being there if I needed something taken care of.

To all my siblings who were supportive of me through the duration of my time away.

To my sister Tanya who posted entries for me while I was in China and unable to access anything but hotmail.

And finally, to my beautiful woman, Chelsea.  Thank-you for not making me feel bad about leaving and for encouraging me in all my goals.

Nobody makes it through this life on their own and even when I felt most alone, I knew I wasn’t.


Oh the song of the future has been sung
All the battles have been won
On the mountaintops we stand
All the world at our command
                      -Gordon Lightfoot

Stay Thirsty,
Andre Guantanamo

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