Tag Archives: war

Shitting All Over Democracy

Friends,

The video counterpart of this post can be found here.

A few years back, while living in the Maywand District of Kandahar, Afghanistan, I noticed that there were two Western contrivances we tried to force upon the locals: Democracy and the toilet. You probably had at least a passing awareness that we installed a “democratic” government there, but you probably weren’t too familiar with the implementation of toilets because it really only happened on army bases.

So what’s the common thread here? Well, both inventions are things we take for granted in the west. They are ubiquitous and we see them as somehow empirical and eternal. So ingrained are these ideas for example, that many have a knee-jerk reaction to shitting via squatting the same way they have a knee-jerk reaction to ideas like dictatorship. Does this make sense?

I don’t think so. From an evolutionary perspective, shitting while squatting is much more the normal state of affairs and it is still practiced widely around the world, so any aversion to it is actually aberrant. Ditto for democracy. We are born into family units where the rules aren’t voted on. We are told what to do. So whence cometh democracy?
Also, with regards to democracy, we live in a natural world with very clear physical rules like gravity, scarcity and other constants which really don’t change based on popular opinion.  So again, whence cometh democracy?

Pretending that toilets or democracy are in any way the natural state of affairs, rather than Western contrivances and fancies, is myopic self-delusion.

In a beautiful action illustrating this point, my interpreters in Maywand unwittingly showed me  the folly of trying to shoe-horn Western practices into other parts of the world.

The interpreters, Afghan natives, were accustomed to squatting while shitting. There was no place to squat and shit on the base and they couldn’t leave the base due to safety concerns so they had to use the porta-potties located on-site.

Porta_potty_Seat.jpg1856A5EC-1851-49A8-A9A43FBD4779870A.jpgLargerIn case you don’t know what a porta-potty looks like.

And they did, but in a decidedly Afghan way: they would stand on the seat and try to shit through the hole. Admirable effort and best intentions notwithstanding, more often than not, they would shit all over the seat. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was actually a profound metaphor for the folly of trying to shoe-horn democracy and other Western ideals onto a people unaccustomed to them.
Now for the record I have no especial esteem for democracy, as I alluded to earlier; nature is a dictatorship and its laws are absolute as opposed to relative. But, assuming democracy did have some especial merit, that doesn’t mean that the world is just gonna accept it any more than they accept the toilet.

So we shouldn’t be surprised when things like toilets and democracy, things which we have, if you think about it, been conditioned to accept as normalcy for our entire lives, don’t catch on like wildfire when transplanted elsewhere. Or if they get shit on so to speak.

We don’t have a monopoly on the right way to do things and we would do well to remember that.

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo

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“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:

247A1D8400000578-2904637-image-a-61_1420910134759

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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A Unified Worldview vs. A Dualistic One

Friends,

The video counterpart for this post can be found here.

There is a prevalent myth in the Western  world about “celebrating diversity.” It is a noble idea in theory but I argue that in practice it leads to problems. You see, by celebrating diversity we have to presuppose separation and difference. And certainly, to look around the world it’s very easy to view things and people as individuated and self-contained, rather than seeing them as all part of the same global process. To quote Jacque Fresco, “You don’t see the plug up our asses,” so it’s very easy to forget that we’re all connected to something larger.

This illusion of separation is particularly deceiving in the world of opinion, viewpoint, ideology and religion. Everyone espouses and subscribes to their own ideas in these fields and if they are polite and well-mannered they will profess to have respect for all different ideas, opinions and worldviews. But what does that really mean? Well, for starters, by respecting different viewpoints there is an acknowledgement of difference in the first place which means that there is an implicit recognition of superiority in one’s own viewpoint. After all, if someone didn’t think their own viewpoint was the best, they wouldn’t subscribe to it, yes? So not only do we see superficial separation based on nothing more than a different estimation of reality, but we see other worldviews instantly as inferior in spite of our best and noblest intentions. Again, if these other worldviews were as good as ours, we would subscribe to them instead.

What we need to do is stop looking at different view points as separate end-points and view them as all part of the same emergent process of finding truth. Some people’s outlooks represent a closer approximation to reality perhaps than others, but as different as viewpoints may be, they are all part of the same beautiful search for truth that we are all engaging in. That is the benchmark and common denominator in all discourse and exchanges of ideas.

To put it in a phrase: The dualistic eye looks at other viewpoints and thinks. “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, even though they are wrong and I am right.” The unified eye looks at other viewpoints and thinks, “Everyone is formulating all these wacky ideas, just trying their hardest to figure out life –just like me!

We have to acknowledge that we as individuals (and by extension, as societies) have never been 100% percent, empirically right about anything. All we have are approximations of reality which, if we are lucky, are moving closer and closer to truth as we refine our methods and keep inquiring.

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo
Instagram: @dreguan
Twitter: @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.

enhanced-buzz-6581-1374515190-381-840x550

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

8095_1

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

125177754

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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You Cut the Crap and I’ll Cut the Crap

My Friends,
   Recently I saw this picture floating around the facebooks:

This bothered me for the obvious reason that it was being thoughtlessly shared by most of my fellow army guys.  This type of gung-ho propaganda is odious to me on the best of days, but something about this particular pic struck me deeper.  I think I have finally figured out what aspect of it bothered me so.
   First, let me ask a couple of questions:

   Have you ever been deployed with the military to a war-zone?
 
   Have you ever attended a post-secondary institution?

Many of you will answer “yes” to one of these questions.  Many will answer “no” to both.  A few will answer “yes” to both.  I count myself among this last group, and thus consider myself well-informed to speak on this picture.
   Basically, my feeling is that I have never been as stressed as I was in the middle of a busy semester.  Even during my very worst times in Afghanistan (which were very mild compared to many others) I never dealt with the all-consuming stress of a full academic workload.  I don’t expect military types with a high-school diploma or less to understand this (although maybe they should understand better than anyone because obviously school was kicking their ass), but the military existence, or at least the “grunt” existence which I am qualified to speak on, is relatively simplistic and stress-free.  Let me illustrate the difference between these two lifestyles so you can better appreciate where I’m coming from.

Stresses of the Student Mid-Semester
-“How am I ever going to get out of this mountain of debt?”
-“I am never going to be able to read all of this assigned reading”
-“I have to stay up and keep refreshing the course-selection screen or I won’t get into this class I need, which means I will be ineligible for a masters, which means I will be homeless on the street”
-“Since my parents are helping me pay for my education they scrutinize all of my marks”
-“If I don’t make a good impression on this professor I won’t get into this program and will end up homeless”
-“I have to buy that book from the bookstore before it is sold out or else I fail and end up homeless”
-“I have to stay up all night and finish this assignment/studying otherwise I will fail and end up homeless on the street.”
-“I have to study, but if I don’t work I can’t make rent and I’m fucked”
-“Wow, I wish I was back at home; this whole being an adult shit sucks”
-“If I don’t pay $XXX by the end of the month I am going to get kicked out of school”

Now let’s contrast that with…

Stresses of the Deployed Soldier
-“I hope me and my friends don’t die or get injured today.”

   Now I realize that there might be other concerns for the soldier, such as an overbearing NCM who insists you shave even though you’re in the fucking desert,

PO-LICE THAT MOO-STACHE!!!”

but provided you go through the motions and make all of your timings, you can otherwise coast through a deployment.  
   “But doesn’t the risk of death/injury trump all of the student’s concerns,” you ask?  Well no, at least not in my opinion.  It may be anecdotal, but I found I was able to adapt rather well to the threat of imminent death.  So were those around me.  And if googling “funny military pictures” is any indication, so are a great many other soldiers.  
   Now if you have read this and understood me to be saying that “war is a cakewalk,” you have misunderstood me completely.  War is a horrible thing which should be entirely abolished and I’m glad I made it through unscathed.  Many did not and they deserve the full support of the government on whose behalf they went to war.*  All I am saying is that war consolidates all of your stresses into the most basic stress of all, survival.  Once consolidated, that stress is much easier to handle, because you actually have a pretty good chance of surviving a NATO tour of duty.
   Similarly I think it is disingenuous of military types to paint other occupations (academics/students in this case) as less prone to stress.  When someone’s whole future very realistically depends on the outcome of one test or the predisposition of the person marking their paper, it is ignorant to say that they don’t know what stress is.
“You don’t man cause you weren’t there…”
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo
*Military Minds is a great new site started by a Canadian soldier which offers a support network and spreads awareness of the very real stresses faced by soldiers.

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Be Vewy Qwiet … I’m Hunting Hezbowwah …

   “There is a river in the south of Lebanon that Israel occupied.  Then they went through the nearby villages and abducted every male above the age of 18.  They locked them up for days maltreating and torturing them.  They would even stomp them with combat boots in the testicles in some cases to prevent them from having children.  After days of this they would come through and distribute copies of the Quran to the captives, in the ultimate hope that the Lebanese men would find justification in its pages for a jihad against Israel and the occupation.  The logic was that with such jihadis at the gates, Israel would then be justified in taking overt action against Lebanon, including but not limited to annexation of its lands, regardless of the the actual danger posed by these rag-tag paramilitaries.  Thus Hezbollah was born”

***
   “Hezbollah started as a movement to take back these occupied lands in the south and was granted authorization to carry weapons.  As things calmed down and efforts were made to revoke this authorization, Hezbollah was unwilling to give up their power.”
***
   “So you plan on going to see the southern part of Beirut?  There is a lot of Hezbollah there…”
-A Lebanese Perspective
   This morning as I dozed before breakfast I had the most wonderful dream that I stumbled upon a pep-rally of sorts being conducted in a warehouse in South Beirut.  I entered the building and stood quietly in a corner while the MC shouted things in Arabic and English.  However I could not remain incognito and I got caught up in the group effervescence.  I began cheering as the guest of honor, the head of Hezbollah incidentally, ascended the dais.  One of the ushers indicated that it was my section’s turn to approach the dais, dancing exultantly for review by the supreme Hezbollah commander.  I remember dancing my monkey ass off for fear that if I didn’t my foreignness would become clear.  Still, I remember thinking as we approached the platform in a conga line of sorts, “Goddamn, I got a bad case of the white boy rhythm today!.”  Still, what I lacked in rhythm, I made up for with enthusiasm. 
   As I passed the dais I looked into the eyes of this man who had all of these people exultant and he looked a lot like Russell Peters,
“Some Israelis gonna get a’hurt real bad”
…or even my friend, Sammy Kunty.
Kunty, you got some ‘splainin to do…
I woke up from these visions of jihad which danced in my head, resolved to head to ‘souf-side’ Beirut and see what was really good.
My Friends,
   I apologize for the lengthy pre-amble, but I felt it necessary to contextualize the mission I set upon today: I wanted to find me some Hezbollah.  Not a lot of Hezbollah mind you, just enough.  Thats it, thats about as far as my plans went.


I’m a dog chasing cars; I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it!!”
I knew what I wouldn’t do though: I wasn’t looking to infiltrate the group or anything, and I certainly wasn’t looking to argue the merits of an inclusive and tolerant Middle East.  I just wanted some evidence that one of the big, bad names I heard on the news actually existed in real people land.  I remember drinking at a bar in Hamilton one time and I got to talking to this old guy who said he used to be IRA during “the Troubles.”  That is the kind of off-hand boast I would have settled for.  It could have been a guy talking shit at a bar to pick up chicks and I would have been happy, regardless of whether or not I suspected he was lying.
   So I set out south around 11:30 am.  I left my passport, notebeook with addresses, and credit cards at the apartment and only took the equivalent of around $40 USD.  I figured there was no point in losing all of my documents (again) if I got abducted for asking too many questions.  But then, asking questions wasn’t really my strategy: My strategy, such as it was, was to find a south-side watering hole with a television screen, wait until something about Israel came up on the news then feign utter and voluminous disgust, potentially ingratiating myself to anti-Zionists.  We would talk from there I assumed and I would mostly listen, satisfying my curiosity in the process.  It had all the makings of a successful venture.  But first I had to find said watering-hole…
   There is a major east-west thoroughfare one block from the apartment I am staying at, and although I don’t know if it bisects the city into northern and southern halves, I certainly felt like I was crossing the Rubicon when I sauntered south across it.  Since I had no notebook, I scrawled observations on the back of some song lyrics I had printed off.  They observations were a little excited and veered slightly into the realm of paranoia:
11:45 – crossing the street into South Beirut
-people looking at me
-barber giving a straight-razor shave OR concealable-weapon melee practice?
-guy working under the hood of a car OR installing a bomb?
-two guys sitting out enjoying a Sunday afternoon OR plotting death to Israel?
-shop selling air rifles OR shop selling air rifles for jihad?
-children’s playground OR paramilitary obstacle training course for youth indoctrination?
I made eye-contact with some guy at this point and he said something to me in Arabic while he opened his shop.  I explained that I spoke only English and he asked me what I wanted.  I said I was just looking around and he responded, “Good luck, sir.”
-“Good luck, sir” OR “Try not to get killed white-boy?”
   As is evident I was seeing things that probably weren’t there.  I kept walking south and west and came across a large cemetery.  I decided to pass through it because after all of this intrigue I needed a rest and cemeteries are statistically the safest places in the world, everyone being dead and such.  I got an uneasy feeling in this cemetery though, as my scraawlings reflect:
11:56
-cemetery OR Burial site of the martyrs in the struggle against Israel?
All the headstones were written in Arabic after all, so it must have have been a terrorist cemetery.  I got out, still in possession of my life, and against my better judgment, kept heading south.  Winding my way through the alleyways and side-streets I came to an open-air market on a broad, north-south avenue.  I proceeded down it and was overwhelmed by what a claustrophobic affair it was: not only were there people everywhere and loud noises, but unlike most open-air markets I have been to, traffic was not blocked off.  There were scooters buzzing around everywhere, sidewalks included, and even the occasional car passing through the fray.  The people of Beirut truly have a freestyle, make-it-up-as-you-go-along style of driving (more erratic than Turkey or Italy I can assure you) and it was a bit much.
   Sadly, my scrawlings at this point reflect a sobering observation made during all of this bustle.
12:15 – stumbled upon market in street
12:30 – little girl with a black eye and her friends sifting through garbage dumped in empty lot
Fuck!  This is the sorta shit I hate to see.  In a country where there is already a dearth of opportunities and social mobility, you get little urchins like this young girl (doubly-fucked for being poor AND female) poking through garbage and obviously getting rough usage at home.  And in the midst of all of this poverty and misery I come through all starry-eyed and enthusiastic about the adventures I am having and eager to find danger so I can give it a “mushroom-slap”in the face.  I felt guilty for being out there in grand pursuit of whimsy and exploits while this young-girl was getting beaten and living below susbsistence-level.
   Then I thought, “Tough-break, nigga. Thats what you get for fuckin’ with a rough set like Hezbollah,” and I felt better.  Kept south and came to the appropriately-named “Cafe Bob;” a wretched hive of scum and villainy if ever there was one.
12:50 – smokehouse SW of market => lots of green (colour of Islam) and militant-looking posters
I ordered a water-pipe and a cha and just sat back taking it all in.  There was a poster on the wall of a bearded old Arab dude and I asked the proprietor (didn’t get his name, lets call him “Bob”) who it was.  The “Hez-bells” (Hezbollah bells) were ringing in my head but the guy explained that the bearded dude was a Lebanese guy who had been imprisoned in Libya by Qaddafi.  At least thats what I think he said.  I got Bob to write the name down so I could google it later.  Bob asked me a little about myself and I learned that he was Syrian.  In fact, he had a much more intriguing picture of Asad Jr. up in the cafe as well but I didn’t notice it because Asad didnt look as menacing as the first guy did (no head-scarf).  I thought this was interesting but things got a little busy in the cafe and I didnt get a chance to ask Bob his feelings about Asad.  Also, the TV was playing American movies and soccer alternately so I didnt get a chance to react to Israeli aggression in the news in a theatrical manner as per the strategy.  I just kinda sat there smoking and eventually pulled out my book, “The Return of Sherlock Holmes.”
   The excitement of the book helped maintain the excitement of the quest I was on when things had obviously took a turn for the boring.  In fact, the excitement of the book was such that I almost jumped when Bob tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I wanted some food.  I said no thanks and kept reading.  Half an hour later though, Bob’s nephew Ali tapped me and said “come eat with us…bring your chair.” Oh shit, son!  I was being invited into the inner circle to break bread with made men.  Except we didnt talk business (business being death to the Zionist scourge); I just kinda talked to Ali about travel and Canada and stuff.  Then it occurred to me that perhaps this wasn’t an invitation to the inner circle but my last meal.  But it didnt taste like poison, and they were eating it too.  No no no, this was all wrong!  I had gone looking for trouble and found only goodwill and friendship.  Story of my fucking life!!
   When the food was done I resumed smoking and talked more with Ali.  I got his contact info and we may hang out before I peace out to Egypt.  It was on the walk home that I got my only sign of any political extremism, and that was just some faded posters of Yasser Arafat stuck to the wall of an empty lot.  It wasnt Hezbollah but it would have to do.  I hadnt found the wild jackalope I was looking for but I made some new friends and had gotten a good meal.  A day well well spent.
Stay Thisty
-Andre Guantanamo


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Gentlemen at Large

My Friends,
   Today, I had the pleasure of reading “The Man Who Would be King,” by Rudyard Kipling.  It is the story of two friends who sought their fortune by creating an empire for themselves in Northeast Afghanistan during the Victorian era.  It is related to the narrator by the surviving friend, after the whole house of cards of would-be sovereignty has come crashing down.  There’s a very interesting parable about pride goingeth before a fall, women being your downfall, the head that wears the crown being heavy, etc.  What I find interesting was the two friends’ incredibly simple plan to carve out a nation for themselves:

   “We shall go to those parts and say to any king we find … ‘you want to vanquish your foes?’ and we will show him how to drill men; for that we know better than anything else.  Then we will subvert that king and seize his throne and establish a dynasty.”

Indeed, in the estimation of the two friends,

   “…in any place where they fight a man who knows how to drill men can always be a king”

It makes perfect sense; while all armies are in theory bound to some sort of nation or head of state, in practice people are likely to feel a greater sense of loyalty to the tangible authority whom they see every day.  Its why coups tend to be pulled off by senior ranking mlitary officers.

Air force officers for example…
…oh those rascally flyboys.
   When someone turns the combat training of their dependants/vassals/subjects over to someone else, they are implicitly making that someone else a de facto parent or authority.  Who hasn’t seen an army movie where the drill sgt. tells the green recruits something to the effect of “You want your mama?  Too bad; I’m your mama now!”  While (even sarcastically) masquerading as the one who gave them life can itself have a powerful psychological effect on the troops by commanding obedience, a father/son dynamic naturally develops on its own from the master/student one.  It kind of puts into perspective the generous offers of NATO countries to train and mentor third-world (read: Afghan) personnel.  While nominally we are trying to empower fledgling nations by training their armies and police forces, perhaps such mentoring is well-intentioned subversion (to say nothing of the quality of government there and whether or not it should be subverted).
   I am not going to labour this point because it was simply an interesting idea I chanced upon, but I will list a few points worth consideration:

-anyone who who has studied any form of martial art or any variation of that martial art is fiercely loyal to that school or style

“SHOTOKAN KARATE FTW!!”

-Luke Skywalker was warned about straying toward the dark side (i.e. learning from the emperor) in any small measure because then he would be in the emperor’s pocket
-Daniel-san probably would have killed someone had Mr. Miyagi commanded it
-Maximus had a bunch of legions loyal to him in Gladiator who were willing to back him up in a coup
-I just re-watched The Expendables last night and the army of Vilena is pretty much in the pocket of Stone Cold Steve Austin and Eric Roberts throughout the movie after the latter provided them military training 
I think that’ll suffice for examples.  I realize my argument isn’t airtight and that I am drifting between discussing individuals, armies and nations, but hopefully you can see the underlying point I am driving at here.  Often proving your point of view outright is less important than presenting an intriguing idea; the latter presupposes discussion.
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo

 
   

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