The Vietnam War Is Not Proof That Armed American Citizens Can Fight Government Tyranny

The inspiration to write this came from a picture that appeared on my newsfeed on Facebook and comments under said picture.

This sums up my thought on gun ownership quite nicely. Despite claims that gun ownership (especially semi-automatic weapons such as the AR-15) is necessary to protect citizens from government-imposed tyranny (claims that are becoming increasingly common among conservative politicians and the National Rifle Association), the unfortunate fact is that the weapons wielded by the potentially-tyrannical government are far more powerful. What this means is that the citizenry which is armed with semi-automatic rifles stands absolutely no chance against a professional military force armed with tanks, attack helicopters, fighter jets, and a myriad of other pieces of high-tech weaponry.

However, many of the comments that I have read on social media attempt to debunk the claim of the above picture. Here are some examples of those comments.

“And that’s exactly why the Vietnam war, the Soviet-Afghan War. the US-Afghan war and the Syrian civil war all lasted less than three wee… oh, wait a minute…”

“Can someone please explain that to the Taliban? I spent a couple years trying to do so myself, and they just don’t seem to get it.”

About a week after seeing that picture, another one appeared on my newsfeed.

The basic gist of these comment and opinions is as such. Contrary to my claim and the claims of others, a civilian population armed with nothing but rifles can fight and defeat the world’s most powerful military, and the Vietnam War is proof of this. However, I’m am now going to debunk this debunk by explaining a very large misconception and a very inconvenient truth.

VERY LARGE MISCONCEPTION – The Vietnamese were just rice farmers who were armed with rifles.

A Việt Cộng soldier armed with an AK-47 assault rifle. Image from Wikimedia commons.

Like many misconceptions, there is actually a large element of truth to this. Indeed, farmers made up a large percentage of Việt Cộng forces. According to former CIA station chief William E. Colby in 1970

“… [the Việt Cộng] organized the farmers into farmers’ groups, womens’ organizations and youth groups and began to recruit and train and establish bases for guerrilla groups.”

A December 1967 report from RAND Corporation also stated that

“Given the chronic land hunger in many rural areas, for example, the young peasant responds readily to the promise of more equitable land distribution, and the fact that the Viet Minh [Vietnamese nationalist forces who successfully fought the French during the First Indochina War of 1946 – 1954] is widely credited with instances of successful land reform tends to strengthen people’s faith in the Viet Cong’s promise.”

Not only were Việt Cộng fighters mostly drawn from Vietnam’s largely uneducated peasantry, but their equipment was also somewhat antique compared to that being weilded by the United States and her allies. According to a CIA report from November 1968

“Before 1965, weapons of Free World origin accounted for almost 60 percent of those captured in South Vietnam. Most of these were older French models, holdovers from the French-Indochina War, as well as captured US equipment.”

French-designed MAS-36, a weapon often used by Vietnamese soldiers early in the war. Image from Wikimedia commons.

Despite the fact that the Việt Cộng largely consisted of peasants armed with out-of-date equipment, they managed to spend nearly 20 years successfully fighting, and eventually defeating, the most powerful military force on earth, that of The United States of America.

Or did they?

This is where the very large misconception comes into play. While the poorly-trained and poorly-equipped Việt Cộng fighters did fight the Americans with some success, it was in fact the People’s Army of Vietnam (the North Vietnamese army), i.e. a nation’s standing army, who did the most amount of damage to America’s military might.

To begin with, that same CIA report that described the Việt Cộng’s out-of-date equipment goes on to state that

“Communist regular forces in North and South Vietnam are now equipped primarily with modern infantry weapons. Almost all of the weapons observed in South Vietnam since 1965 that originated in Communist countries have been of post-Korean War vintage.”

The list of weapons that were supplied to the People’s Army of Vietnam include 12.7mm and 14.5mm heavy anti-aircraft machineguns, 85mm antitank field guns, and 152mm howitzers, all supplied by the Soviet Union, China, and other communist states. But the list of heavy weaponry doesn’t end there. During the war, the North Vietnamese Air Force (NVAF) was primarily equipped with the Soviet-designed Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17 and MiG-21. Coming into service with the Soviet Union in 1959, the MiG-21 was not only one of the most advanced Soviet fighter jets of the era, but it was more than a match for the McDonnell F-4 Phantom, arguably the United States’ best fighter jet during the Vietnam War. As a testament to the NVAF’s success with the MiG-17 and MiG-21, only five American pilots and weapon system officers became aces (meaning five or more enemy kills), while sixteen NVAF pilots achieved this status.

A North Vietnamese MiG-21. Image courtesy of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.

The North Vietnamese military’s ability to inflict serious losses upon United States aircraft didn’t end there. An even more deadly threat to American airpower was the S-75 Dvina surface-to-air missile system, the equipment and training being supplied by the Soviet Union.

S-75 Dvina surface-to-air missile. Image from Wikimedia commons.

Prior to the start of major hostilities in Vietnam, the S-75 had been responsible for shooting down American spy planes that had been flying at the edge of space both over the Soviet Union (Francis Gary Powers in 1960) and Cuba (Major Rudolph Anderson during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962). During the Vietnam War, S-75 missiles were responsible for downing between 68 and 105 fighter jets and 15 B-52 Stratofortress heavy bombers. Though these numbers might not seem that high, it should be noted that the mere presence of these state-of-the-art weapons forced American pilots to change their tactics. This involved flying closer to the ground where the S-75’s radar was ineffective, meaning that over 1,000 American aircraft were then brought down by conventional anti-aircraft guns.

Contrary to popular belief, the United States did not loose the war to a rag-tag group of peasant fighters armed only with rifles and other light weapons. Rather, the U.S. military was dealt a heavy blow by a nation-state’s standing, regular military (the People’s Army of Vietnam) which was equipped with some of the most sophisticated and advanced weaponry that the communist bloc had produced at the time.

Now, I should add that the point of this blog post is not to make light of the Việt Cộng’s fighting efforts. Though they lacked the advanced weaponry of their comrades in the Vietnamese People’s Army, they were still able to hold their own against the forces of the United States, South Vietnam, and their foreign allies. Perhaps the best example of this is the Tet Offensive of 1968. Despite losing 40,000 fighters over the month-long and tactically unsuccessful offensive, the Việt Cộng’s actions (which were broadcast on television all around the world) caused the American people to begin doubting their government’ ability to win the war and question whether it was indeed a war worth fighting. However, the Việt Cộng’s fighting ability brings me to my next and final point as to why the Vietnam War is not proof that a heavily armed American public can defend itself from tyranny.

VERY INCONVENIENT TRUTH – People from rich countries are not as tough as people from poor countries.

Fighters from the Ras Kimboni Brigade from Somalia. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

What many people fail to understand is that being able to fight in a war isn’t just about having access to weaponry that can be used to shoot and kill one’s enemies. This is the reason why boot camp is such an intense experience for recruits; the whole process is designed to take civilians (usually around 18 years of age) and physically and mentally prepare them for war. U.S. Marine Corps solider and Iraq veteran Jon Davis explains this as such.

“There will always be the need for young men and women who are willing and able to run to the sound of imminent danger and many, to their death… To do this, however, we need a form of psychological training that is able to forge individuals who can do this. That is why boot camp has evolved to become such a potent tool in today’s military machine.”

In the context of the Vietnam War, it is important to understand that the Vietnamese fighters weren’t just equipped with the tools of war, they had a physical and mental toughness that took the American forces completely by surprise. Preferring not to confront American forces directly, the Việt Cộng would engage in sporadic ambushes and use the jungle to hide from the enemy. They would also use unconventional tactics such as placing booby traps and land mines. On the open plains and closer to Vietnam’s cities, the Việt Cộng built large networks of tunnels to provide their own method of concealment where they could not use the jungle. The biggest of these was in the Chu Chi district close to Saigon. The network of tunnels at Chu Chi ran for 120kms and each civilian in these areas was required to dig three feet of tunnel per day.

The relentlessness of the Vietnamese people was also proven when they did engage American forces. One example of this comes from former U.S. Army Colonel David Hackworth who served in Vietnam. When recalling his encounters with the Việt Cộng, he explains,

“[the Việt Cộng] were hidden in the jungle that was alongside the waterways, which tended to be very thick and well booby-trapped out in front. They were hidden by the people. They hid in the waterways — they would get underwater and take a reed and put it above the water and breathe through that, then surround themselves with a bit of floating Nipa grass. They would dig in caves under the waterways, and then put a bit of reed up to the top and breathe through that. They were very, very cunning fighters.

“If we saw a bit of Nipa floating down a waterway, a bit of jungle debris, we fired at it and invariably, it would turn red. That meant that below was a Vietcong hanging on to the roots of the debris with a reed going up to get air, and we’d killed one enemy.

“They were simply the most skillful, the most dedicated, the best opponent I’ve struck in almost fifty years of being around soldiers; they’re the best.”

 

Not only did the Việt Cộng go through intense physical hardships to fight their enemies, but they were able to do so even when they were under-supplied and malnourished. Vo Minh Triet was a commander in the 1st Việt Cộng Regiment. He recalls one particular battle in 1967 when his unit of 1,200 men were looking for food in the countryside. While searching in one particular area, their network of scouts alerted them to an American patrol which the Việt Cộng successfully fought off. Once the battle was over, the Việt Cộng realised that they had successfully repelled an American force that was much larger than they were. This was despite the fact that the unit had gone several days without food.

It’s also important to understand that the toughness of the Vietnamese people largely stems from the fact that they have a very long history of fighting foreign invaders. Before the Vietnam War, they fought the French during the First Indochina War, the Japanese during their occupation of Vietnam in the Second World War (and much of that during a famine), the French during their conquest of Indochina, and the Chinese for over 1,000 years before that. By the time American troops were deployed to Vietnam, the Vietnamese people were very accustomed to war and its hardships. This is in stark contrast to the present-day United States.

To understand the huge difference between the Vietnamese and American peoples, one only has to look at the United States’ obesity epidemic. In October 2017, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that 40% of American adults were obese. Coupled with this is the fact that the obesity rate is 20% in adolescents and 10% in preschoolers. Now, keep in mind that these are the statistics just for obesity. In terms of generally being overweight, the total figure is an alarming 70.7%. This means that non-overweight people are the minority in the United States. Why is this the case? According to experts, the rise in the percentage of obese people is directly related to the lifestyles that Westerners live. According to Dr Frank Hu, chair of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health,

“There’s still a huge amount of cheap, accessible, highly processed food available everywhere almost anytime… despite people doing more recreational activity these days, the overall activity level, household activity and occupational activity has decreased in recent years.”

Though most people do realise that being obese is inherently unhealthy, the sale of junk food continues to rise in concordance with the percentage of the population with obesity. However, as Dr Hu points out, it’s not just unhealthy eating which is causing the obesity epidemic.

Lack of physical activity also has repercussions on the population’s health and fitness. As the consumption of junk food over the years has increased, the level of physical activity has decreased. According to PublicHealth.org, 20% of jobs today require “at least moderate physical activity”. In 1960, this figure was 50%. To add to this, in 2013 the CDC stated that 80% of American adults were not getting enough exercise. The general decline in the American public’s fitness can also be seen in the fact that in December 2017, the U.S. Navy lowered its physical fitness requirements in order to allow more sailors in.

How does this relate to American civilians not being able to use their guns to fight against government tyranny? Among a myriad of other physical impairments, the CDC states that “body pain and difficulty with physical functioning” is a consequence of obesity. When you go back and read accounts of the hardships that Việt Cộng fighters willingly put themselves through, you then realise that this would literally be impossible if 40% of them were obese and 70% of them were generally overweight.  “Body pain and difficulty with physical functioning” is the exact opposite of what is required when fighting in war, guerrilla or otherwise. The simple fact is that an increasingly sedentary lifestyle and greater consumption of junk food means that hardly anybody living in the United States (or many other Western countries for that matter) is in a physical state to wage a resistance war akin to that fought by the Việt Cộng.

The idea that an American population armed to the teeth with AR-15s and other semi-automatic weapons can violently and successfully defend themselves against a tyrannical regime is a very glamorous and romantic one. So too is the idea that the actions of peasant guerrillas during the Vietnam War are proof of this. However, this idea overlooks the the fact that the People’s Army of Vietnam was actually equipped with not just rifles, but some of the most advanced technology that the Soviet Union had developed at the time (technology not possessed by American civilians). It also overlooks the fact that the ‘peasant rice farmers’ that pro-gun activists look to as proof of their argument were much tougher and thus much more capable of waging guerrilla warfare than the overwhelming majority of American civilians. With all this in mind, my views on semi-automatic weapons can be summed up as such. These weapons, coupled with the average physicality of their owners, are not capable of fighting off the U.S. military in an armed uprising. For this purpose, they are completely useless. Meanwhile, what these weapons are being used for is killing schoolchildren, church attendees, and concert-goers en masse. Therefore, the question must be asked – is it really worth having these weapons owned by civilians?

 

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Alex’s Best Of 2017

A few months ago, I realised that’s been more than a few months since I last wrote anything on this blog. That’s probably because I now have stable employment and I’m no longer using this as a extension of my CV to prove to potential writing industry employers that I’m capable of writing and am somewhat familiar with popular culture and current events. So, to break the dry spell of blogging, I thought I’d whip up something nice, quick, and easy and something to bring 2017 to a close. So, rather than give a heartfelt tribute to the year that is now gone, I thought I’d do a very arbitrary ‘best of’ list.

Best Film – Dunkirk

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This one is easy. As soon as I left the cinema, I knew that Dunkirk was going to be my favourite film of 2017. What I liked most about it was the fact that it (largely) forwent plot and instead focused on immersing the audience in the experience of being trapped along the French coast in 1940.

Best Album – ‘The Kids Will Know It’s Bullshit’ by Dune Rats

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Look, I know it’s not a very patrician thing to say, but I really enjoyed not only this album by Brisbane-based indie/stoner rockers Dune Rats, but also seeing them live twice in 2017 (more on that later). However, because I had to think so long and hard about which album to choose, I feel like I should also mention a runner-up.

‘Murder Of The Universe’ by King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard

My interpretation of this album is as such. After the massive backlash from King Gizzard winning Best Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Album at the 2016 ARIA Awards, the band decided to rub salt in wounds of bitter metalheads by writing and recording an actual heavy metal album. On the subject of heavy music….

Heaviest Album – ‘Love From With The Dead’ by With The Dead

I actually have to thank VICE Magazine for introducing me to this ultra-heavy doom metal band. Featuring ex-Cathedral vocalist and owner of Rise Above Records Lee Dorian, this second album sounds like the musical equivalent of being crushed by the weight of a black hole.

Biggest Musical Crush – Jack River

No justification or description needed.

Best Concert – Airbourne

“RUNNING WILD AND FREE!” “I SAID GIRLS! GIRLS IN BLACK!” “BREAKIN’ OUTTA HELL!” “ARE! YOU! READY! TO RO-OOOCK!” These are just some of the things you can yell as loud as your lungs and vocal chords will permit at an Airbourne concert and still not be heard because you’re singing along to one of the fucking loudest bands on the planet. Though I had already seen Airbourne twice before (2010 and 2011), seeing them at The Triffid in January 2017 was without a doubt the best concert experience I’ve ever had, mainly because I now have the confidence to jump right into the moshpit. Also, I’m pretty sure this concert is responsible for my tinnitus being slightly worse in my right ear than my left.

However, I should also mention two very close runner-ups.

Dune Rats/Wavves

Photo from Waax’s Facebook page.

Because I had already seen Dune Rats earlier in the year, I was actually more excited to see Wavves when they supported Dunies on their Australian tour along with Hockey Dad and Waax. That being said, both bands put on incredible performances.

Gizzfest 2017

Oddly enough, this was only the second music festival I had ever been to (the first was Soundwave 2011 [R.I.P. Soundwave]). The day was long, I was still recovering from a nasty illness, many of the bands played in tiny demountables (which, turns out, is punk as fuck), but there something special about running into the mostpit with one of your best friends from high school who you haven’t seen in years while King Gizzard are playing a bunch of their rockier songs from ‘I’m In Your Mind Fuzz’.

Best Accidental Musical Discovery – Beaches

From Beaches’ Facebook page.

The space of time between first hearing Beaches and seeing them live was about 9 hours. The Foundry put a status on Facebook which reminded their followers that Beaches were playing that night, I listened to a few songs, was blown away by them, and then bought their CD at the show. Since then, it’s had a very high rotation in my car. Here’s some fuzzy psychedelic goodness for y’all.

Best YouTuber Discovery – Mista GG

I’m not sure if this a controversial or tame opinion to have, but I really like Google’s search algorithm (but not their targeted advertising algorithm, that shit is scary). Early this year, I was watching my favourite TV show of all time, To Catch A Predator, when I saw a suggested video by Mista GG. It was one of his series of videos called ‘The Predator Chronicles’ where he provides commentary to the old episodes of To Catch A Predator as well as Chris Hansen’s new show Hansen Vs Predator. I initially thought it would be some cancerous and unfunny clickbait but it ended up being, without a doubt, the funniest content I’ve seen on YouTube. Mista GG is now up to episode 19 of The Predator Chronicles but he’s covered other topics as well such as Iggy Azalea and the internet hate train, disgraced paedophile YouTubers, and the occasional film review.

Here’s some other stuff I found on the internet in 2017 that I think of worthy of this list.

Greatest Facebook Truth Bomb

Screenshot taken from a Facebook group called ‘Slavoj Zizek Dank Meme and Discussion Stash.’

Greatest YouTube Comment Truth Bomb

Comments on a documentary about Russian mail order brides and the men who pursue them.

Best Comment on VICE Magazine’s Comments Section

And finally…..

Dankest Meme – Slobodan Praljak

For some context, Slobodan Praljak was a former Croatian general who was on trial at The Hague for war crimes committed during the Bosnian War of 1992-1995. Right after judged sentenced him to a 20-year prison sentence, he an hero’d by drinking a vial of poison and declaring “Slobodan Praljak is not a war criminal!”. Afterwards, in true internet counter-culture fashion, he became a meme. How did this become my dankest meme? Because of my sense of humour which I largely picked up from 4chan. Here are some of the meme’s highlights.

 

 

 

 

Happy 2018 everyone!

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Review: ‘You Will Never Be One Of Us’ by Nails

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The biggest criticism I have of (a lot of, but not all) modern heavy music is that it sounds too clean. Yes, bands will use a lot of distortion on their guitars and the drummers play ferociously but due to the sheer amount of time spent polishing the tracks in post-production, it ends up sounding, for lack of a better term, wishy-washy. What could have been a gritty production gets compressed and cleaned up so much that the music no longer sounds heavy. A huge exception to this trend is Nails.

Nails is a powerviolence band from Oxnard, California. Since the release of their debut album ‘Unsilent Death’ in 2010, Nails have become experts in playing extremely aggressive and angry music. The first I heard of them was their second album ‘Abandon All Life’ which was released in 2013. After listening to that, I decided that it was one of the heaviest and most aggressive albums I had ever heard. Considering that I’ve been listening to extreme music for a decade, I don’t take that statement lightly. Particularly, the difference between Nails’ sound and that of aforementioned ‘clean’ metal bands was what really appealed to me. Not only was the production incredibly raw, but the songs themselves had a no-holds-barred approach to producing extremely chaotic and heavy music. Basically, I thought Nails had reached their zenith. Then I heard ‘You Will Never Be One Of Us’.

The titular first track pretty much sums up everything that Nails is about. Chaotic atonal riffs, blast beats, and demonic screaming from vocalist/guitarist Todd Jones herald the start of this album and they continue through its entirety. This album also continues the use of Nails’ gnarly guitar tone which sounds very much like the ‘buzzsaw’ sound that was pioneered by Swedish death metal bands such as Entombed and Dismember. Though the tone is similar to that of their previous two releases, Todd Jones’ playing now incorporates more solos. Indeed, this hardly surprising seeing as the band cites Slayer as a major influence on this album. I’d even go so far as to say that a lot of the solos on this album sound like they could have been performed by Kerry King. However, the final track ‘They Come Crawling Back’ is a departure from Nails’ usual blink-and-you’ll-miss-it approach to writing songs. Indeed, at 8 minutes and 14 seconds, it’s by far their longest track to date and instead of assaulting us with fast and chaotic aggression, Nails assaults us with slow and chaotic aggression that sounds like our ear drums are being ground up an in industrial compactor. Though Nails do have their slower, sludgier moments, closing the album with this track almost seems like a bit of respite after the nine which preceded it.

Though this album still bares all of Nails’ trademark sounds, there are a few differences between ‘You Will Never Be One Of Us’ and their previous works. The most notable of these can be heard in the drumming. Along with the blast beats and D-beats that Nails’ fans are very familiar with, drummer Taylor Young has incorporated more double bass drumming on this album. A good example of this is on the song ‘Violence is Forever’ which uses double bass rolls during the song’s chorus. When coming in from the song’s somewhat groovy verses, the double bass drumming sounds more like a heavy machine gun than a piece of musical equipment. This is the same on the album’s opening titular track. The fact that Young restricts the double bass rolls to the chorus creates a good contrast between the track’s sections, something which can be difficult to achieve when the music is at this level of aggression. Despite praising this drumming method, the only criticism I have of this album is that the guitar sound isn’t as prominent due to the drums being higher in the mix.

While the drumming certainly has changed on this album, many of the other features have stayed the same. Along with the aforementioned guitar tone, Jones’ vocals are just as gritty as they always have been. So too are his lyrics. Some of them focus on problems with the world such as on the track ‘Savage Intolerance’.

Torment, indimidation
A nation in trepidation
Drones over homes
Watching the world explode

Terror; a violent extermination
Fear spreading hate
Deep roots in abuse
Savage intolerance

Commentary on the heavy music scene is also covered in the titular track which, oddly enough despite its title, is actually about inclusiveness.

Fuck your trends, fuck your friends
Fuck your groupies that try to pretend that you’re down
You’re fucking not
Nobody wants what you’ve fucking got

You will never be one of us

Our pain is not your pain
Our pride is not your pride

In an interview, Jones states that “We purposely make music that’s like a hammer to the skull.” In my opinion, this basically sums up Nails’ music. Except, it’s not just one hammer, it’s multiple hammers that deliver different types of blows. The drumming, the guitar tone, the chaotic (have I used that word enough?) notes and rhythms, the bleak lyrics, the raw production, all these elements come together to form an album that’s even more violent than its preceding two. Blending all these hammer hits together on the one skull has resulted in what I would definitely consider to be Nails’ best album to date.

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Review: Leave Me Alone by Hinds

Image sourced from Hinds official Facebook page.

Image sourced from Hinds official Facebook page.

I was contemplating starting this review off with an apology. However, I then changed my mind to make it a confession. I remembered that the primary aim of this was to be an album review, not my personal commentary. So, let’s get to the review of this album before I explain my relationship with it.

‘Leave Me Alone’ is the debut album from Spanish garage rock band Hinds. They formed back in 2011 as a duo consisting of  Carlotta Cosials and Ana García Perrote under the name of Deers. After a year and a half hiatus, Deers reformed in 2013, with Ade Martín on bass and Amber Grimbergen on drums being added the following year. However, in early 2015, Deers was forced to change their name to Hinds after a lawyer representing the Canadian band Dears threatened the Spanish quartet with a lawsuit. Since then, Hinds has gained quite a following in the indie/garage rock scene, playing at numerous festivals across the world and opening for acts such as The Libertines and The Black Lips.

After listening to this album several times, it’s clear why they’ve become so popular. Their music falls very firmly into the garage rock and jangle pop categories which are very popular styles in the indie music world at the moment. In fact, it’s no surprise that they cite Mac Demarco, a hugely successful garage rock/jangle pop musician, as one of their biggest influences. However, like many of their contemporary artists, their sound doesn’t change much from this tried and tested formula. What is this formula? The opening track ‘Garden’ exemplifies it. The two guitars are slightly overdriven and have the ‘jangle’ surf rock sound which very common in this genre. When the two singers start, their vocal tracks are also slightly overdriven which gives the album more of a raw feel (another common feature of garage rock/jangle pop). The chorus follows a pretty standard 1-5-4 chord progression though the verses and pre-chorus do move away from this. What I’ve just mentioned are the common musical themes throughout this album.

There are a few songs which do deviate from this though. The song ‘Castigadas En El Granero’ has a darker and more mysterious sound to the rest of the album. The next song ‘Solar Gap’ is a laid back instrumental track with minimal percussion. ‘Bamboo’ (which initially appeared on Deers’ demo back in 2014) features the acoustic and electric guitars working tandem. The guitars go completely acoustic two tracks later in ‘I’ll Be Your Man’ which with only has a tambourine for percussion and overall sounds like a demo that was done on a hand-held cassette recorder. Other than these songs that I’ve just mentioned, pretty much every other one on the album uses the same formula that was established in ‘Garden’. Indeed, I feel that this is the album’s greatest downfall. Hinds have basically taken these musical elements common to most garage rock/jangle pop bands and stuck with them without much deviation.

Upon reading this, you’d be forgiven for thinking that I didn’t enjoy listening to this album. However, after reviewing these negative points, what confuses me is that I actually had a lot of fun listening to it. Even more confusing is the fact that I still enjoyed it even though Carlotta’s and Ana’s singing is very often out of tune. Why isn’t this a problem? Because the album sounds fun! It sounds like a group of girls who decided to have some fun writing and playing music and then decided to have some fun recording it in a studio. In fact, before I even saw the music video for their cover of ‘Davey Crockett’ by Thee Headcoatees, this is exactly how I had pictured Hinds in my head.

The fact that Hinds’ lyrics aren’t too edgy or confrontational also helps with the fun attitude of the album, focussing on popular themes such as relationships, the ending of relationships and flirting. It’s also clear that English is not their first language, with a few rather oddly constructed sentences and mispronounced words. However, as with the other aspects of this album, the band hasn’t let a simple language barrier get in the way of them having fun making music. In fact, Hinds haven’t let anything get in the way of making a fun album to listen to. This is why I enjoyed listening to this album so much and why I eagerly anticipate their show in Brisbane this April.

Right, now with the review out of the way, I can get to that confession that I talked about at the beginning. When it comes to discovering new music, my favourite tool is the music streaming service Spotify. I go to the new releases section and have a bit of a browse for something that I’d like to discover. Earlier this year I did just that and came across ‘Leave Me Alone’. Why did I choose this album over all the others which had just been released? Because the album cover features four incredibly attractive women. After I realised why I had chosen this album I felt somewhat guilty. In fact, this is similar to how I discovered the Scottish synthpop band Chvrches. While browsing 4chan (I make no apologies) I saw a picture of their almost-impossibly-cute singer Lauren Mayberry and decided that I just HAD to check out their music. After I listened to and subsequently bought their debut album ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’, I then considered Chvrches to be ‘the band that introduced me to electronic music’ instead of ‘the band with the incredibly gorgeous lead singer’. The ways in which I discovered Chvrches and Hinds made me feel guilty to some extent. After all, exploiting women’s attractiveness is something that the music industry is frequently criticised for doing.

However, I’ve decided that I shouldn’t feel guilty. After all, I’m a heterosexual male and it’s only natural for images of attractive women to grab my attention. Am I objectifying Hinds? I don’t think so. The reason I’m keen to see them in April is not so I can gawk at four incredibly attractive Spanish indie girls, but because I’m looking forward to seeing them perform their music and having a really fun time while being surrounded by like-minded fans. Has my discovery of Hinds played into the music industry’s objectification of women? Again, I’ve put my worries to rest on that one. Go back up the the top of this page and look at the album cover and notice what they’re wearing. The band themselves have even stated that they much prefer wearing large t-shirts and jeans as opposed to more ‘girly’ clothes. If their record label made them wear tight revealing dresses for their photo shoot against their will then that would certainly be objectifying. Their current album cover (in my opinion) is not. So, I decided that I shouldn’t apologise for how I discovered Hinds. It’s simply commentary on how the straight male brain works, hence my confession instead of apology for choosing this album based on the band members on the album cover. However, I’m glad that the album cover grabbed my attention, otherwise I wouldn’t have discovered this band which would have meant, well, not having so much fun listening to their music.

 

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Why Do We Celebrate Australia Day On January 26?

 

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“Derr, it’s because that’s when the First Fleet landed in Australia!” Congratulations! You’ve successfully passed Grade 3 SOSE! Here’s a shiny sticker to put on your name badge on your desk! Yes, we all know that’s what happened on January 26, 1788, at least I assume that most people in Australia know that’s what happened. No, the real question I’m posing is why we decided to make this our national holiday. Not quite making sense? One of these things is not like the others.

United States of America – National holiday is Independence Day. On the 4th of July 1776, the then Continental Congress accepted the Declaration of Independence which announced that the United States was no longer under British rule.

Canada – National holiday is Canada Day. On the 1st of July, 1867, the British North America Act, 1867, was officially entered into force. This gave independence to the colonies of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the Province of Canada (subsequently split into Ontario and Quebec) and federated them into the new nation-state of Canada.

India – National holiday is Independence Day. On the 15th of August 1947, India officially gained independence from the British Empire.

Mexico – National holiday is Día de la Independencia (Independence Day). On the 16th of December 1810, a priest by the name Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla gathered the residents of Dolores outside the town’s church. From there, he addressed his congregation and urged them to revolt against their Spanish rulers, thus heralding the start of the Mexican War of Independence.

Sri Lanka – National holiday is Independence Day. On the 4th of February 1948, Sri Lanka was granted independence from the United Kingdom after several years of civil unrest.

Kenya – National Holiday is Jamhuri Day. On the 12th of December 1963, the British colony of Kenya was granted independence and became a republic (Jamhuri is the Swahili word for Republic) within the British Commonwealth. This too occurred after years of bloodshed that was the Mau Mau uprising.

Australia – National Holiday is Australia Day. On the 26th of January 1788, a small group of ships arrived from England carrying a large group of convicts and a small group of soldiers. The ships landed in what is now the city of Sydney and began to establish a prison colony that only existed because the British lost their prison colonies in that disobedient part of the world now known as the United States of America.

All the states listed were once part of a colonial power before gaining their independence through war, popular vote, government degree or a combination of the above. However, of these, Australia is the only one which celebrates its national holiday on the day that European settlers first arrived. The first successful English settlement in North America was Jamestown which was founded on the 4th of May 1607 (14th of May in the Julian Calendar), yet this date is nowhere near as significant as Independence Day. When it comes to Canada, it’s quite hard to pinpoint an actual date of European colonisation. To begin with, there was a Norse settlement at modern day L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland but no written records survive from this. During the age of exploration, many settlements were established in what is today Canada but these were frequently destroyed and/or abandoned due to starvation and disease. Therefore, it’s understandable that Canada chose the date of its independence from Britain to be its national holiday. So, why then did Australia ignore how these other former colonies placed their national holidays?

The reason for this is that Australia was federated (sort-of gained independence from Britain) on the 1st of January 1901. This was the date when the six colonies of Australia (New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland) officially formed the Commonwealth of Australia. Unfortunately, the 1st of January also happens to be New Year’s Day, the day when a significant percentage of the population is physically and mentally recovering from the alcohol and drug-fuelled night that is New Year’s Eve. Celebrating a national holiday isn’t as pleasant when you have to clean up that pile of vomit on your front porch and figure out how he or she managed to get into your bed even though you can’t remember his or her name or where the condom ended up (not being much of a ‘party person’, I’m assuming this this is what most normal people have to deal with on New Year’s Day). The other problem is that the 1st of January is a public holiday, and this is Australia, the country that loves days off so much that we give ourselves a long weekend if a public holiday happens to fall on a Saturday or Sunday. So, this explains why Australia decided to choose the white-people-coming-here-on-boats-day over Australia-became-a-country-day as our national holiday.

However, the 26th of January isn’t without its own problems. An increasingly large portion of the population sees this date as ‘Invasion Day’, the day that began what was a drawn-out (yet unsuccessful) killing off of the Aboriginal people who inhabited the country. Indeed, many non-Aboriginal Australians have also essentially boycotted any parties or celebratory events in favour of a day of mourning and awareness of the atrocities committed against the Aboriginals throughout Australia’s history. Do I agree with these people that nobody should be celebrating on the 26th of January? That’s not the point of this post. The point I’m making here is that large numbers of Australians of many different ethnic backgrounds believe that the 26th of January is not an appropriate date to be celebrating our national holiday on. As I pointed out in the other examples, first European settlement is also a rather odd thing to celebrate.

So, with the 26th of January becoming increasingly unpopular and the 1st of January not being an option for, err, logistical reasons, what other dates do we have to choose from? According to Wikipedia (yes, I got pretty much all my information for this post from Wikipedia), several dates have been suggested. These include the 25th of April (ANZAC Day), 9th of May (opening of the first parliament) and the 3rd of December (Eureka Stockade rebellion of 1854). However, compared to the other former colonies that I mentioned, these dates don’t work particularly well. ANZAC Day is meant to be a sombre day to reflect on the horrors of war and how thankful we are that our servicemen and women fought to keep Australia free from tyranny (even though devout nationalists often try to hijack it for their own political gain). There’s also the problem that ANZAC Day is already a public holiday and reducing the total number of public holidays is something that would not go down well with most Australians. The 9th of May is just the date when a group of politicians sat down together in a large room for the first time and discussed some things. As for the 3rd of December, the Eureka Stockade Rebellion isn’t actually as significant as people make it out to be. Though it is often seen as a seminal moment of Australian workers uprising against the British authorities for independence, there wasn’t really any nationalist sentiment at the uprising. In fact, the main cause was the tension between miners (many of whom were only in Australia temporarily) and the local authorities. Of course, by Australian standards the rebellion was a very bloody affair, but it had little to no connection with any Australian independence movement which is why it would not make a very appropriate day for our national holiday.

The problems of choosing a different date are rather indicative of Australia’s history. We never had an energetic declaration which then set off a violent struggle for independence against our colonial rulers. Indeed, we should be very thankful for this but a lack of any such date does cause a problem if people want our national holiday changed from the 26th of January. However, a possible solution to this problem came from a friend of mine, funnily enough, at an Australia Day Party (I don’t really subscribe to nationalism very much so I usually regard it as Triple J Hottest 100 Announcement Day). I posed the question to him and he gave this following suggestion. At some point, Australia is going to become a republic (we still have Queen Elizabeth II as our head of state). After we as a country vote to become a republic, the date that we officially make our head of state an elected official should become our new national holiday. Not only do we get to choose the date on which this happens so as not to come into conflict with any other public holidays, but those who feel that the 26th of January is inappropriate can celebrate a new Australia Day on a different date. There, the Australia Day/Invasion Day/Survival Day problem has been solved. Now, if only we lived in a perfect world where every politician listened to every opinion that every blogger ever had.

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The Sukhoi Su-33: The Naval Fighter That Never Quite Was

Image sourced from mil.ru

Image sourced from mil.ru

While its performance on paper is nothing to be scoffed at, the Sukhoi Su-33 has had a short and rather disappointing career with the Russian Navy. In fact, as of writing this, the Su-33 is almost due for retirement from Russian Naval Aviation. Why the Su-33 was such a disappointment can come across as a bit of a mystery. After all, its design is based on the Su-27 (NATO codename ‘Flanker’), one of the world’s most formidable combat aircraft. In fact, the Su-33 has many improvements over its land-based ancestor. So why then is the Russian Navy retiring the Su-33 in favour of the smaller MiG-29K which has lower performance standards? The answer lies not only in the aircraft itself, but in the aircraft carriers used by the Russian Navy.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, the Soviet Union’s only carrier-borne fighter jet was the Yakovlev Yak-38, NATO codename ‘Forger’. By the early 1980s, it was becoming apparent that the Soviet Navy needed not just new aircraft carriers, but new fighters to operate from them. When looking for a replacement, the Soviet Navy looked to two pre-existing aircraft. These were the Sukhoi Su-27 and the MiG-29. Both of these jets were fairly new to the Soviet military but despite similarities in their overall configuration (both are twin-engine, twin-tail, single-seat fighter jets), they were actually quite different. The Su-27 was designed to counter the American McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle and the MiG-29 was to counter the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon. This is why the Su-27 is a much larger aircraft than the MiG-29. Both of these aircraft were trialed as carrier-borne jets in tandem. In 1982, work began on the Su-27K (the aircraft’s initial designation) and throughout the decade, development and testing continued. There are several differences between the land and naval versions of this aircraft. The most obvious one is the inclusion of canards which dramatically improve the aircraft’s low-speed performance by increasing lift and stability. The naval version also has strengthened landing gear and folding wings and tailplane which enable it to take up less space inside the aircraft carrier. An air-to-air refueling probe greatly extends the aircraft’s range and slotted flaps improve its maneuverability when landing.

On November 1 1989, the Su-27K made the Soviet Union’s first conventional aircraft carrier landing (before then, Russian naval fighter jets such as the Yak-38 and the Yak-41 were STOVL aircraft, standing for Short Take Off, Vertical Landing). Its rival the MiG-29KVB (the aircraft’s initial designation) first flew in 1982 and the proper MiG-29K in 1988, with its first carrier landing being completed on the same day as the Su-27K. However, development of these two aircraft was to take a turn for the worse. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, funding for military projects (and indeed funding for pretty much everything) either dried up or was reduced to a trickle. Despite this, work continued very slowly over the new few years. The Su-27K passed state acceptance trials in 1994 and after being deployed on the aircraft carrier* Admiral Kuznetsov during its 1995-1996 cruise, it was officially accepted into service in August 1998. The aircraft was deployed to the 279th Naval Fighter Regiment and it was at this point that it was re-designated the Su-33, NATO codename ‘Flanker D’.

Despite the fact that it was chosen over the MiG-29K, in early 2012 the Russian government announced that it was going to purchase 20 MiG-29K fighters and four MiG-29KUB training aircraft. Whether the MiG-29K is a replacement or a companion for the Su-33 is hard to tell. The Sentinel has reported that 2015 was given as the year that the MiG-29K would officially take over from the Su-33. Military Factory has also made this claim. However, according to Russian chief of naval aviation Major General Igor Kozhin, naval aviation will be “reinforced” by the MiG-29K. The Sentinel also stated in its report that Russia’s new naval fighter regiment would probably be equipped with Su-33s until the MiG-29Ks are fully ready. Regardless, it’s clear that Russian Naval Aviation has decided that the Su-33’s days are largely over and that its aircraft carrier duties will be passed onto the MiG-29K. This is despite the fact that, on paper, the Su-33 is a much more capable aircraft. The Su-33 has a maximum speed of 2,300km/h, can carry 6,500kgs of ordinance, has a range of 3,000kms and has a ceiling of 56,000ft. In contrast to this, the MiG-29K has a top speed of 2,200km/h, can only carry 4,500kgs of ordinance, has a range of 3,000kms (only 1,800kms without its three external fuel tanks which increase weight and drag and thus decrease performance) but has a similar ceiling to the Su-33. However, as we shall now see, an aircraft that performs well from runways doesn’t necessarily do the same when taking off from the deck of an aircraft carrier.

Possibly the biggest Achilles heel that the Admiral Kuznetsov has is that, unlike American aircraft carriers, it is not equipped with steam catapults. Instead, it uses a ski ramp to launch fighters into the air. Because of this, fighters that take off from the carrier have to lighten their loads considerably, meaning they can carry fewer weapons and less fuel than when they take off from land. Indeed, many of the Su-33’s problems have been mirrored in its Chinese copy, the Shenyang J-15. In late 2013, the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation began mass-producing the J-15 for the People’s Liberation Army Naval Air Force (Chinese naval aviation). They were able to do this by acquiring an Su-33 prototype from Ukraine that somehow ended up in that country and reverse-engineering it. China’s one and only functioning aircraft carrier is also of Soviet origin. In 1998, the Chinese managed to purchase the half-complete aircraft carrier the Varyag from Ukraine and then put it into use with their own navy and rename it the Liaoning. However, like its cousin the Admiral Kuznetsov, the Liaoning is not equipped with steam catapults and must rely on its ski ramp. Because of aforementioned weight restrictions, the J-15 is not able to carry the PL-12 medium-range air-to-air missile and must rely upon the PL-8 which has a much shorter range. The J-15 is able to carry the C-602 anti-ship cruise missile but once again, reduced takeoff weight is a huge problem. The J-15’s range is 400kms and when the C-602’s range of another 400kms is taken into account, the aircraft can strike at ships that are 800kms away. Compare this to the American F/A-18 Super Hornet which has a range of 650kms (not including various anti-ship cruise missiles) which can be increased even further if air-to-air refueling is used (this is how F/A-18s are able to fly ground attack missions over Iraq and Afghanistan after being launched from aircraft carriers in the Indian Ocean). When it comes to the J-15’s problems, the Chinese media even went to far as to call it a “flopping fish”, a play on the J-15’s official name the ‘flying shark’. When referring to the original Su-33, international relations publication The Diplomat says “The Su-33 is simply not an ideal fighter for ramp-equipped carriers.”

Shenyang J-11, the land-based version of the J-15 fighter. Image sourced from the U.S. Navy.

Shenyang J-11, the land-based version of the J-15 fighter. Image sourced from the U.S. Navy.

After acknowledging the Su-33/J-15’s disadvantages, the question that then comes up is, what advantages does the MiG-29K have? Several years before the Russian Navy announced that they were purchasing the MiG-29K, the Indian Navy decided to make it their main naval fighter. Indeed, like China, India’s most recent aircraft carrier is of Soviet/Russian origin. In 2004, the Russian government reached a $1.5 billion deal to sell the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov to India. Part of this initial deal was the sale of 12 MiG-29Ks and 2 MiG-29KUB trainers to India as well. Though the deal to actually sell the Admiral Gorshkov was protracted over several years and had its ups and downs, in January 2014 it arrived in India and was renamed the Vikramaditya. By this time, two separate deals had been made to purchase MiG-29K fighters and MiG-29KUB trainers, with the first of these aircraft entering service with the Indian Navy in February 2010. Like the Su-33, the MiG-29K has several modifications that make it carrier-capable. Aside from the essentials such as an arrestor hook and folding wings, the MiG-29K carries the Zhuk-ME slotted array radar which makes it a truly multi-role fighter. This radar allows the MiG-29K to carry anti-radiation and anti-ship missiles such as the Kh-31. While restricted fuel loads have always been a problem for naval fighter jets, the MiG-29K is able to carry the PAZ-1MK refueling pod which enables fighters to refuel other fighters in mid-air. Though the Su-33 can carry out secondary ground attack duties it is primarily a fleet defence fighter.† For navies that have only one carrier-based fighter such as Russia and China, having an aircraft that can only really carry out one type of mission places huge restrictions on what that aircraft carrier can achieve.

Indian Navy MiG-29K. Image sourced from indiannavy.nic.in

Indian Navy MiG-29K. Image sourced from indiannavy.nic.in

As I explained earlier, the original Su-27 fighter was designed to counter the American F-15 Eagle. Indeed, both aircraft are very good at what they were designed to do. The Su-27’s incredible performance has already been mentioned and throughout its service, the F-15 has achieved 101 kills with 0 losses. However, there’s a reason that the F-15 was (after brief consideration) not accepted as a carrier-based fighter. The already heavy aircraft was almost too heavy for aircraft carrier operations, and that was before the weight of the AIM-54 Phoenix missiles was added (the ability to operate with these missiles was a major reason why the Grumman F-14 Tomcat was accepted as the U.S. Navy’s fleet defence fighter). Navalising the F-15 (hypothesized by McDonnell Douglas as the F-15N) is basically what happened with the Su-33, except the added restrictions of Russia’s aircraft carriers made things even worse. While a hypothetical F-15N could still take advantage of the steam catapults installed on American aircraft carriers, the Admiral Kuznetsov and her sister ships that were sold to India and China have to rely on ski ramps which place huge restrictions on heavy aircraft that take off from them. To continue the Soviet-American analogy, the MiG-29 was designed to counter the smaller and lighter General Dynamics F-16. When the F-16 was being developed, it was in direct competition with the Northrop YF-17 Cobra and while the latter was not selected for U.S. Air Force service, it caught the attention of the U.S. Navy and was developed into the F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet, both of which are still in frontline service today. Using this basic analogy, it is clear why the Su-33 failed to perform well as a carrier-based fighter. Being able to carry a massive weapons load and engage a handful of enemy fighters at once is all well and good but in the world of aircraft carrier operations, especially when your navy only has one type of fighter, the jack of all trades will probably outperform the one trick pony.

* The Admiral Kuznetsov is technically classed as a ‘heavy aircraft carrying cruiser‘. This is because international treaties prohibit aircraft carriers from sailing through the Dardanelles and the Bosporus, thus meaning that no Russian ‘aircraft carrier’ could enter or leave the Black Sea.

† There are photographs of the Su-33 carrying the Kh-41 supersonic anti-ship cruise missile. However, there is speculation as to whether the Su-33 can actually fire this missile (let alone after being launched from an aircraft carrier) or whether the Kh-41 is those photos is a dummy used for propaganda purposes only.

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The CIA created the Islamic State? Not so fast.

Image from Flickr

Image from Flickr

There’s little doubt that the rise of the Islamic State has been the most pressing concern for Western counter-terrorist and intelligence agencies over the past few years. Indeed, it was their shockingly fast rise to infamy and capture of numerous Iraqi cities in mid-2014 that prompted the United States and her allies to take military action against the terrorist group. Since then, the conflict has become even more complicated and the Islamic State is still a force to be reckoned with. In much the same way that the U.S. Military’s inability to defeat the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army in the 1960s and 70s was hard for many people to understand, so too is the reality that the Islamic State is still in existence despite being opposed by many of the world’s most powerful and technologically advanced military forces. This has prompted many media outlets to claim that, rather than being an enemy force, the Islamic State was actually created by the Central Intelligence Agency and that it receives orders from the American government. When I first started reading these reports, my bullshit detector immediately went off and I decided to investigate. In the much the same way that I investigated claims that marijuana cures cancer, I will show that this CIA creation theory is based on existing facts that have been blown out of proportion and/or come from notoriously unreliable sources.

To begin with, it is not difficult to find sources that argue that the Islamic State is a puppet of the CIA. There are also many variations on this argument. A radical publication called Hang The Bankers claims that the Islamic State’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is actually working for not just the Americans, but also the British and the Israelis. There are also sources that explain how and why this happened, such as the Canadian-based Centre for Research on Globalization. In one of their articles, they use former CIA contractor Steven Kelly as a source claiming that the Americans are using the Islamic State to keep the Middle East in a perpetual state of war. That same publication claims that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (the Islamic State’s leader) received military training from Mossad and was also educated in theology and speech-giving. The online news source Press TV makes a slightly different claim. Rather than being trained by the Americans and the Israelis, al-Baghdadi was subject to mind control while he was being held captive by the Americans and as a result, is being given subliminal orders. Finally, the Australian National Reviews states that “…documents obtained through a federal lawsuit confirmed suspicion that ISIS members were initially trained by the Central Intelligence Agency’s members and contractors at facilities in Jordan in 2012. ” That article then goes on to say that the Islamic State’s rise has been directly controlled by the CIA.

On the surface, these articles seem to provide damning evidence that the CIA are in fact the masterminds behind the Islamic State’s ascent to power. However, all it takes is a little bit of digging to see how unfounded these reports are. To begin with, Hang The Bankers cites several dubious sources. One of them is Infowars, a website run by radio personality Alex Jones which has been described by Skeptoid as “…a grab bag of links, opinion, ads and goofiness.” Infowars has also been described as part of “a rise of “truth” oriented websites that are actually profit-based machines with no regard for the truth or progress.” When describing al-Baghdadi’s training at the hands of Mossad, Global Research uses an English-language Middle Eastern source called the Gulf News Daily. How reliable is it? Particularly on issues that involve Israel and the West, not at all. For example, in 2010, Gulf News Daily wrote a hyperbolic and fearmongering article claiming that Israel was about to launch airstrikes against Tehran. In fact, pretty much every article written about Israel is highly critical of her. So, what of the claim that al-Baghdadi is a sort of Middle Eastern Manchurian candidate? This is made by Press TV, a news website which basically functions as an Iranian propaganda broadcaster. One clear example of this is their description of Wikipedia as “a tool of the Zionist wing of the CIA”. When quoting former CIA contractor Steven Kelly, Global Research used Press TV as its source. Though his quote may seem like convincing evidence, it should be noted that, when Press TV isn’t allowing 9/11 truthers and holocaust deniers to talk on their show, they are known for putting words in their interviewees’ mouths to suit their own anti-Western agenda.

But what of the Australian National Review’s article about CIA involvement in the Islamic State’s rise to power? I’ve left that one until last because this article’s fallacy doesn’t come from outright lies, but from misinterpretations of the facts. Certainly, the CIA and other western government agencies took measures that backfired horribly, but this does not mean at all they they deliberately created the Islamic State. To understand this, one must be familiar with the history of the group from its earliest beginnings.

As with pretty much the entire situation in Syria at the moment, the origins of the Islamic State can be traced back to the American-led occupation of Iraq. In 2006, the head of Al Qaeda in Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed. After his death, the group changed its name to the Islamic State of Iraq. The height of this group’s power from between 2006 and 2007, with scores of successful attacks being carried out against U.S. and Iraqi forces and installations. However, this power then waned between 2007 and 2011 as a result of two factors. The first was the U.S. troop surge in Iraq. The second was the establishment of ‘awakening councils’. These were groups of Sunni tribesmen who, as a result of opposing the radical Islamic groups, received funding and support from the Americans. In 2010, the group received another major blow when two of its leaders, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi (not to be confused with current leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi) and Abu Hamza al-Muhajir were killed in a joint US-Iraqi operation. Even though ISI’s ability to wage insurgent warfare in Iraq was waning, another war across the border would provide the opportunity for the group of revive itself.

After the deaths of al-Baghdadi and al-Muhajir, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi took control of ISI. One prominent tactic that he continued from his predecessors was the targeting of Shia civilians in order to fuel a sectarian war. However, even though he also targeted police and military installations, he was also able to recruit many former police and military officers into ISI. As luck would have it, in 2011 two things happened that would turn the tide in ISI’s favour. First, the U.S. military officially withdrew from Iraq. With the U.S. military gone, the Iraqi government under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki reduced funding to the awakening councils as he saw them as a threat rather than an asset. This in turn alienated the councils which caused many of their members to side with ISI. The second was the start of the Syrian Civil War. Baghdadi saw this as an opportunity and sent his fighters into Syria to wage war against the al-Assad regime. His reason for doing this was that al-Assad and his senior commanders were Alawites. The Alawites are a sub-sect of the Shiites, the same group of people who the Sunni ISI were fighting in Iraq. In Syria, Baghdadi’s forces gained a reputation as some of the best fighters on the ground. Unlike most of the secular anti-Assad groups, ISI’s ranks were filled with combat veterans from the Iran-Iraq War, the Gulf Wars and operations against Iraqi uprisings. As a result, these veterans performed much better than most other fighters on the battlefield.

During their Syrian campaign, ISI helped found the al-Nusra Front. This group was al-Qaeda’s official group in Syria. However, despite their ties, al-Qaeda’s senior leadership in Pakistan told al-Baghdadi to leave al-Nusra alone. Not wanting to take direct orders from al-Qaeda, Baghdadi had much bigger plans of his own. As the group was receiving large amounts of money from his backers in the gulf states as well as reaping the financial rewards of oil and people smuggling, they prepared to launch an offensive in their home country of Iraq. January 2014, Baghdadi’s forces captured the Iraqi cities of Fallujah and Ramadi. After gaining a foothold in that state, ISI then launched a major offensive, resulting in the capture of Mosul (Iraq’s second-largest city). It was around this time that al-Baghdadi changed the name of his group to The Islamic State and declared himself to be its Emir.

U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornets after refuelling over northern Iraq, September 2014. Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornets after refuelling over northern Iraq, September 2014. Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

Though US-led military action against the Islamic State officially began on the 8th of August in the form of airstikes against artillery positions, the US and other western states had been contributing to the war effort in Syria for several years beforehand. As far back as June 2012, the media was aware that the CIA officers in southern Turkey were supplying assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and anti-tank weapons to anti-Assad forces. These weapons were largely being provided by Turkey and were being funded by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Of course, this was a covert campaign that officials at the time were reluctant to comment on. Not only was the CIA providing weapons to the Syrian opposition, but 700 Special Forces soldiers were sent to Jordan to train the anti-Assad fighters. In September 2014, The US Senate passed a bill that officially authorized the providing of weapons and training to Syrian opposition groups (referred to by the Americans at ‘brigades’). However, this now officially sanctioned support didn’t last for long. In January 2015, the US started to cut back its support of Syrian opposition brigades and by October, the $500 million program was scrapped entirely. Poor combat performance was often cited as the reason for this. However, another problem lies in the nature of these brigades. Contrary to rhetoric from the US government, there isn’t really a unified Syrian ‘opposition’. Some brigades are opposed to al-Assad, some are opposed to the Islamic State and some are opposed to the al-Nusra Front. Indeed, these brigades often switch their allegiances. A good example of this situation the Hazzm Movement. This brigade was considered to be a “favourite son” of the Americans and as a result, they received a large amount of weapons and funding. However, this made the other brigades jealous. When al-Nusra attacked the Hazzm Movement, only one other brigade, Jabhat al-Shamiyyah, came to their aid. This wasn’t enough to beat back the al-Qaeda affiliated fighters who quickly defeated the Hazzm Movement.

Certainly, the Islamic State would not be in existence in its current form today if it were not for mistakes made the US and other western powers. Indeed, US Vice-President Joe Biden has even acknowledged that there would be no al-Qaeda in Iraq if that country had not been invaded back in 2003. To begin with, the American-led coalition supported a puppet government in Iraq which was actively trying to fuel sectarian conflict. This in turn radicalised more Iraqis who joined groups like al-Qaeda and subsequently the Islamic State. When the Syrian Civil War began in 2011, the US wrongly thought that it could topple the al-Assad regime just by supporting opposition fighters. What they failed to understand was that the incredibly complicated nature of the Syrian ‘opposition’ brigades and their shifting loyalties. It should also be noted that supporting the Syrian opposition brigades is just the most recent in a long line of similar operations that have caused trouble for the Americans including the Bay of Pigs, the Nicaraguan Contras and the Afghan Mujihadeen. Indeed, to some extent, the CIA at one point welcomed the idea of a “Salafist principality”, though this was long before the Islamic State began its offensive into Iraq. This just proves how the CIA wrongly believed that any group would be preferable to have control over Syria than the al-Assad regime.

So, how does this all tie in with the myth that the Islamic State is a puppet of the Americans and other western powers? As Marc Simms writing for Rebel News says “As always, when something bad is happening in the world, there is a small but vocal contingent who are convinced that the CIA had a hand in it.” As I have proven above, the CIA certainly did make many critical errors that allowed the Islamic State to flourish, but this does not mean that they intentionally created the group. The equipment and training that Islamic State fighters received from the Americans was not direct. Rather, it came from fighters who defected from brigades that the CIA once supported due to their supposed ‘moderate’ status. Going back even further, the US-supported Iraqi government under Nouri al-Maliki created conditions in that country that radicalised much of the Sunni population and turned them to groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Again, while this was certainly a mistake, it doesn’t mean that the CIA was directly responsible for fuelling the Iraqi sectarian conflict. This is simply an all-too-common case of reporters jumping to conclusions without doing proper background research.

Finally, the majority of the articles that ‘prove’ a direct link between the CIA and the Islamic State can only be described as examples of bad journalism. In any field of journalism, giving credit to sources that are unreliable and treating them as though they are the undeniable truth should be avoided completely. However, this is how many publications have spun their CIA-Islamic State argument. While it is important to report on the US Government’s inexcusably bad policy decisions (especially when they result in hundreds of thousands of dead civilians), embellishing biased and unreliable sources to suit one’s anti-American and anti-western agenda is just as counter-productive as reporting that everything the government says is the absolute truth.

 

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Review: Bring Me The Horizon – That’s The Spirit

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It’s been a while since I was last acquainted with Sheffield metallers Bring Me The Horizon. I believe it was four years ago when I heard ‘Anthem’, one of the songs from their 2010 album ‘There Is A Hell, Believe Me I’ve Seen It. There Is A Heaven, Let’s Keep It A Secret’. I liked the fact that one the song’s breakdowns made me want to GET THE FUCK UP and then I largely forgot about the band for the next few years. Their first three albums on my computer (2004’s ‘This Is What The Edge Of Your Seat Was Made For’, 2006’s ‘Count Your Blessings’ and 2008’s breakthrough album ‘Suicide Season’) remained largely untouched as well.

When BMTH started releasing material from this latest album, I read that it represented quite a change in their sound. However, it wasn’t until I heard ‘Throne’ being played on the radio (yes, THE RADIO) that I realised how different this band sounded. The BMTH that I was familiar with started off as a deathcore band, complete with screaming, blast beats and breakdowns before progressing to catchy metalcore on ‘Suicide Season’. That sound has been replaced by something that seems to be mix of heavy rock, electro-pop and EDM. Allow to explain these elements.

High level distortion is one of the key ingredients to heavy metal music. Throughout this album, the guitars switch between slightly-heavier-than-rock distortion and clean. This occurred to me early on during the lead single ‘Happy Song’. In fact, the guitars are clean throughout the entirety of ‘Follow You’. Going back to their early days, another defining feature of deathcore is the lack of coherent chord progressions in favour of atonal, chaotic riffs. On this most recent album, the aforementioned riffs have given way to chord progressions that are pulled straight out of the Rock Music 101 textbook. Ok, maybe not Rock Music 101, probably Rock Music 201. Not to say that the music is boring, just that it definitely falls into the ‘rock’ category as opposed to ‘extreme metal’. This is particularly apparent on the song ‘What You Need’. The intro sounds like something that U2 would have written in the 1980s before progressing into a Linkin Parkesque chorus. The song ‘Drown’ is also an example of strong pop rock influences. Oli Sykes’ vocals switch between soft and harsh, high register singing. Full-on metal screaming isn’t present at all on this album.

Though there is no limit to the kinds of instruments that can be used in it, with a few exceptions, rock music has always been a guitar-driven style. I’ve already described how the guitars sound on this album, but these often takes a back seat to other instrumentations. The best example of this can be found on the song ‘True Friends’. While the chords are supplied by the guitars, the song itself is driven by a group of violins playing the song’s main motif. A similar arrangement occurs on ‘Avalanche’, except this time the motif comes from a keyboard. The album’s closing track ‘Oh No’ switches this around with the clean guitars playing the motif and the chords being supplied with keyboards. Taken out of the context of the whole album, one would be forgiven for thinking that this song was taken straight from an electropop album.

I’ve never really liked EDM as a genre (although this probably has more to do with bad experiences that have happened while this music has been playing in the background as opposed to the music itself). This most likely added to the surprise of hearing EMD influences on this album. Unlike the hard rock and electropop influences, the EMD parts are only really confined to certain parts of the songs. For example, the album’s opener ‘Doomed’ starts off as though it’s leading into an EDM track before the harsh singing and distorted guitars herald the arrival of the chorus. I’m guessing that the EMD influences including auto-tuned vocals and square-wave synthesizers on ‘Throne’ are part of that’s song’s success on radio stations. Similar synth sounds can also be heard on ‘Run’. Seeing as hard rock and heavy metal are very high energy styles of music, you can see why BMTH have incorporated elements of EDM (another high energy style of music) to make up for the abandonment of some of their metal traits.

Unlike so many metal elitists, I actually respect bands who incorporate new elements into their sound and take their music in a new direction. However, this doesn’t mean that I always like the outcome. In moving away from their metal roots, BMTH have taken electropop and EMD influences and combined them with their lightened music to form their new sound. Unfortunately, these often don’t blend too well. It’s almost seems like they took these new influences and mixed them into their sound just because of their mainstream appeal. While there are a few tracks that work really well such as ‘Run’ and ‘Follow You’, many of the others sound disjointed, like the various elements have been thrown together just for the sake of it. I initially thought that this was just the result of early experimentation. However, their previous album ‘Sempiternal’ contains a similar mixture, so the experimentation has largely been done. I should also point out that that album’s first track ‘Can You Feel My Heart’ is an incredibly good example of how metal and electropop can be blended. The main point that I’ll make about ‘That’s The Spirit’ is that it’s definitely innovative in its style blending and has produced a few really good songs (‘Run’, ‘Follow You’ and ‘What You Need’) but too often, the different elements fail to come together in a coherent manner.

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Finding Appropriate Music For ‘Reclaim Australia’ Is Surprisingly Difficult

Photo from Reclaim Australia Facebook Page.

Photo from Reclaim Australia Facebook Page.

It’s not easy being part of Reclaim Australia. To begin with, their nationwide protests on the weekend were met at every location by anti-racism protesters who largely represented left-wing groups, namely No Room For Racism. Some of the protests were also marred by violence, with five anti-Islam protesters being arrested in Sydney. With their messages being heard across all of Australia, it’s not just left-wing anti-racist activists who are not happy with Reclaim Australia. Early this week, Australian musical icon Jimmy Barnes found out that anti-Islam groups had been using his songs at their protests. In response to this, Barnes took to Facebook to announce his disapproval of his music being used by such groups. “I only want to say the Australia I belong to and love is a tolerant Australia. A place that is open and giving… It is a place that embraces all sorts of different people, in fact it is made stronger by the diversity of its people.” It should also be noted that Barnes was born in Scotland and his wife is from Thailand. Following suit, fellow Australian musical superstar John Farnham also declared that his music was off-limits to anti-Islam protesters. “I have successfully pulled down the use of You’re the Voice from Youtube that these guys have been using,” said Farnham’s manager Glenn Wheatley. On their Facebook page, Reclaim Australia expressed their regret of the two musicians’ requests but also said that their music will no longer be played at rallies.

To be fair, it doesn’t get much more Australian than draping the Aussie flag over your shoulders and belting out ‘You’re The Voice’ and ‘Khe Sanh’ like the entire pride of your nation depends on it, no matter how bad your singing is. Well, there are a lot of other ways to be Australian but when it comes to music, that one’s definitely up there. So this leaves Reclaim Australia with a bit of a problem. With two of the truest, bluist, most fair dinkum Aussie singers distancing themselves from Reclaim Australia, what music can the group play at its protests? Being a musical snob and always up for a challenge, I’ve decided to find some music that is not only suitable to play at anti-Islam protests, but that won’t upset its creators… hopefully.

What do these groups hate? Islam. Plain and simple. Sure, they also oppose things like ‘cultural Marxism’, but Islam is a good start. So, what kinds of songs are out there that would make Zaky Mallah wet his pants in fear? Anti-Islamic sentiment can be found in the form of black metal.

What better way to express your disapproval of Islam that with the lyrics

I poured the kerosene around
And sparked.
I set the history on fire
I set the Islam on fire

I’ve lightened away the night
Around the holy shrine
The flames licked the holy corpse
And blew up Mohammad’s history

For musical plebeians who are unaware, black metal is a subgenre of heavy metal music that largely originated in Scandinavia in the mid-late 1980s, spawning from thrash metal and early death metal. However, unlike the two other genres, black metal has gained a lot of notoriety not just for its prominently occult and anti-Christian lyrics, but for the criminal activities of several of its most famous musicians. Take Varg Vikernes as an example, the sole member of Norwegian black metal band Burzum. Vikernes was sent to prison not only for the arson of three historic churches, but also the murder of fellow black metal musician Øystein Aarseth a.k.a. Euronomous (it should also be noted that Vikernes is not the only Norwegian black metal musician to be responsible for church arson and murder). That’s right. Not only do black metal bands express their disgust for Christianity through their lyrics, but through actual fire in actual churches. While most black metal bands target their musical hatred towards Christianity, this idea has also been picked up in other parts of the world.

In the same way that the Norwegian black metal bands commit blasphemy against their country’s dominant religion, so too do Seeds of Iblis. Except Seeds of Iblis are from Iraq and therefore, their hatred is directed against Islam. Keep in mind that countries like Iraq aren’t exactly known for being tolerant of speaking out against Islam, so the band runs the real risk of being arrested on blasphemy charges. Pretty much all their songs are anti-Islamic, with other titles including  ‘Allah Is Dead’ and ‘Sex With Muhammed’s Corpse’. So, would their music fit in to a Reclaim Australia rally? Unfortunately, the answer is probably no. Musically, black metal is renowned for harsh screeching vocals, harsh ultra-distorted guitars, harsh atonal riffs and harsh machine-gun drumming. In fact, the music is so harsh that many fans of other heavy metal sub-genres find it hard to listen to. If plenty of metalheads find black metal too harsh, what will the predominantly conservative Reclaim Australia protesters think when they hear Seeds of Iblis blaring from a Holden Commodore’s fully sick sound system? Imagine you’re a prominent anti-Muslim activist who turned up to address Reclaim Australia but instead of delivering a rousing speech, you pull out a circular saw and grind through some hardened steel while screeching at the top of your lungs into a megaphone. The reaction you’ll get from the crowd will probably be similar to that if you played black metal. So, while Seeds of Iblis and other Middle Eastern anti-Islamic bands may provide a message that sort-of fits in with with Reclaim Australia, black metal isn’t probably the best rallying cry.

Dismissing black metal, I then turned my attention to punk rock. While punk music itself is usually anti-racist, there are elements of the scene that focus on far-right politics and of course, racism. Rock Against Communism is a good example of this movement and good example of a band from this movement is Skrewdriver.

Considering that Reclaim Australia’s concerns are directed at Muslim immigration, the lyrics of this song are particularly relevant.

I stand and watch my country today
It’s so easy to see that it’s being taken away
All the immigrants and all the left wing lies
Why does no one ever ask the reason why

Skrewdriver started in the late 1970s as a punk rock band but after a line-up change, the band evolved into a skinhead white power band. Skrewdriver were also aligned to far-right nationalist groups, and this is very evident in their lyrics. In particular, the songs ‘When The Boats Come In‘ and ‘We Look To The East‘ have strong xenophobic and anti-immigration themes. Does this mean that Skrewdriver’s music has a place at Reclaim Australia rallies? Despite common themes, Skrewdriver were first and foremost a white power band and as Jewish journalist and commentator John Safran reported, the Reclaim Australia rally was surprisingly ethnically diverse. When you’ve people like Danny Nalliah (born in Sri Lanka) and Jonathan Eli (of Cook Island descent) addressing the crowd, it’s a bit hard to get them as well as the many non-whites in the movement excited for protest when they hear lyrics like

Are we gonna sit and let them come?
Have they got the White man on the run?
Multi-racial society is a mess

The fact that Skrewdriver’s anti-immigration themes don’t fit in with a large portion of Reclaim Australia’s membership highlights a key problem with the movement. They are singling out a particular group of people as bad for this country even though racial tension has been experienced (and largely overcome) with the introduction of pretty much every ethnic and religious group that has come to Australia. If Reclaim Australia consisted entirely of white Anglo-Saxon/Nordic people who have far right-wing political views, then Skrewdriver’s music and that of other white power bands would be fine. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work with an ethnically diverse protest base. Nonetheless, I pressed on and turned my attention to the trueist of blueist of musical genres, Australian country music.

Like its American counterpart, Australian country music largely deals with subjects related to life in rural areas. Country songs are also used to inspire a strong sense of Australian patriotism. Of all the Australian country musicians, the most successful would most likely be Slim Dusty, selling over 7 million albums over a music career that spanned 65 years. For the most part, Dusty’s songs focussed on life in the Australian outback. However, he did occasionally venture into political territory.

(Please note that the person in the video is not Slim Dusty)

Slim Dusty’s lyrics are nowhere near as in-your-face as those of Skrewdriver or Seeds of Iblis but he still does get his point across effectively.

Our country’s been sold by the powers that be
To big wealthy nations way over the sea
We couldn’t be taken with bayonets or lead
So they decided to buy us instead

Could Slim Dusty be the musical saviour that Reclaim Australia needs? For this one, I’m going to say maybe. The amount of foreign investment is a concern among many Australians, including the current government. It’s not exactly what Reclaim Australia is protesting about, although another nationalist group by the name of Party For Freedom has compared Chinese investment in the Australian property market to an “invasion”. Still, ‘You’re Country’s Been Sold’ is about a theme that most Reclaim Australia protesters will probably agree with. As for the music, Slim Dusty’s voice is easy to listen to, you can actual understand what he’s saying and sounds of his acoustic guitar probably won’t ruffle too many feathers. However, one large question remains. Will Dusty approve of his music being used this way? Well, that doesn’t really matter seeing as the country music legend has actually been dead for 12 years. His family would most likely make a statement regarding the use of his music but even if they object, it won’t be as embarrassing as Jimmy Barnes or John Farnham directly telling Reclaim Australia to go and play something else.

As you can see, finding music that sums up Reclaim Australia’s message while still be accessible to its members is very difficult. So, even though I’ve settled on Slim Dusty as a ‘maybe’, to create some vague illusion of journalistic impartiality, I’ve also decided to find some music that the No Room For Racism protesters can use. This, I found, was an easier challenge, but not without its own problems. During a protest, the most effective kind of music is loud and aggressive (hence why I looked at black metal and punk), especially when you’re a radical left-wing activist who sees both Reclaim Australia and the police as equal threats. Sitting down in a circle and singing about racial acceptance while playing acoustic guitars, bongos and any other instruments that you’ll find at the Woodford Folk Festival camp site (or whatever it is that hippies do) works well when you’re in that group, but when you’re facing two separate enemies at an incredibly noisy protest, you’re going to need something a little louder and in-your-face. First up,

Australian punk rock band Frenzal Rhomb are known for their left-wing political views and this song is no exception. The lyrics themselves would be a particular insult to members of white power groups who turned up at Reclaim Australia.

No I’ve never met someone so full of hate
It’s a wonder you’ve got time to masturbate
Over images of men in uniforms
And you better keep an ear out for the door
Cause dinner could be ready.

Because your mummy doesn’t know that you’re a Nazi
Your mummy doesn’t know about the national front
She doesn’t know that you’re a Nazi
You’re sitting in your room being a Nazi cunt.

A few months ago, I went to a Frenzal Rhomb concert in Brisbane. This song was part of their set and I can tell you that screaming out “NAZI CUNT!” while fist pumping along with a hundred or so punks is a lot of fun. Now, imagine doing at a protest and directing that feel-good warm and fuzzy rage at some neo-Nazi skinheads. Sounds fun, right? The next song contains even more opportunities for group chanting-and-air-punching.

While Frenzal Rhomb cover many topics in their humorous fashion, Guerilla are an all-out anti-fascist punk band from Germany. Keep in mind that in Europe, clashes between left-wing anti-fascists and extreme right-wings groups often become very violent,* so bands like Guerilla aren’t dicking around. Their lyrics also give plenty of  opportunities for group yelling.

Speak out where prejudice lies
Intervene when integrity dies
No place left for no-go areas
For nationalism and racist thoughts
FIGHT THE FASCIST SCUM!

Unity means power
ANTIFASCIST ACTION!

Considering that the main reason for anti-racism protesters turning up to counter Reclaim Australia is to stop, well, racism, these lyrics are perfectly suited to their cause. Of course, Reclaim Australia claims that they aren’t racist and more moderate elements of the organisation do try to distance themselves from actual white power neo-Nazis who turn up. Nonetheless, these upstanding members of society do make their presence felt. In this case, there is one more song that I can suggest for the anti-racism protesters.

The message of this song by old-school American punk rockers Dead Kennedys couldn’t be clearer. They are addressing a group of Nazis of the punk variety and are kindly asking them to fuck off from the vicinity. The repeated and catchy chorus is almost tailor-made to be yelled out at protests and the targets of those requests just so happen to be at Reclaim Australia. Aside from the song title, the lyrics of the song also ring true to the counter-protest movement.

If you’ve come to fight, get outta here
You ain’t no better than the bouncers

And

You still think swastikas look cool
The real nazis run your schools

Like finding music for Reclaim Australia, it’s hard to find something that fits in perfectly with the message and the protest vibe of No Room For Racism. However, I consider the messages of these three songs to be fairly appropriate for the movement. They have the aggression that’s needed to drown out their opponents’ chants and they contain catchy phrases that are fun to yell out while flipping the bird to whoever cares enough to pay attention to you. Now that I’ve found some music that both sides can use without too much fear of repercussions, I’m expecting my cheques to arrive in the mail from Reclaim Australia and No Room For Racism any day now.

*In contrast to the not-so-serious tone of this post, I will officially declare that I do not support any form of political violence, even if it is committed against far right-wing groups. Ideologically, I support Anti-fascist groups but I do not agree with their tactics of committing violence against their opponents. Just remember this lyric from ‘Nazi Punks Fuck Off’,

You fight each other, the police state wins.

 

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Claiming that ‘marijuana cures cancer’ is hurting the pro-legalisation movement

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I should start this off with the disclaimer that I support the legalisation of recreational marijuana use. In fact, I support the decriminalisation of all recreational drugs. However, this does not mean that I partake in drug use. I actually consider myself to be ‘straightedge’ in that I’ve spent my whole life avoiding alcohol and illicit drugs. Right, now with that out of the way, I can continue.

The reason I support the legalisation of recreational marijuana is not so I can partake it its consumption, but because there is very strong evidence that its legalisation is better for the community than its prohibition. Let’s start with taxes. A very good example of this comes from the States of Colorado and Washington which have legalised the sale and consumption of recreational marijuana (medicinal marijuana had been legal for several years beforehand). In Colorado, depending on how taxes are imposed on top of their existing state sales taxes, the actual amount of tax on marijuana can be as high as 21.12%, but it’s usually around 13%. In the first year of legalisation on Colorado, the state government made $44 million in tax revenue from recreational marijuana sales ($76 including medicinal marijuana), although this did fall short of the $70 million that was expected. In Washington State, legalisation took place in mid-2014 and by the end of the year, $14.6 million in tax revenue had been made. When Colorado voted to legalise marijuana, part of the bill was that the first $40 million in tax revenue raised would go directly to school construction projects. Though these numbers aren’t staggering, the fact is that by legalising and taxing recreational marijuana, the states of Colorado and Washington added millions of dollars to their coffers which has been re-invested in the community, millions of dollars that would not be there otherwise.

Though it may seem counter-intuitive, legalising marijuana also has benefits for law enforcement. While the drug is illegal, its manufacture and distribution are major sources of income for crime gangs. Legalising marijuana means that these gangs loose their monopoly on the product. Another benefit for law enforcement is that the time and effort officers put into finding and dealing with those in possession of marijuana can be better spent on criminals who pose a genuine threat to the community. It should be noted that when Colorado voted to legalise recreational marijuana, opponents of the bill claimed that it would lead to increased rates of crime and drug-induced car accidents. However, this claim has been disproven. While the number of people involved in car accidents who have tested positive for THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana) increased after legalisation, this doesn’t mean that they were under the influence while driving. THC metabolites can stay in the body for days or even weeks after last using the drug meaning that the person was most likely not under the influence while giving a blood or urine sample. In fact, there is even some evidence that suggests that driving while under the influence of marijuana is safer than drink driving. As for crime rates, Denver actually experienced a drop in crime after legalisation passed, although this trend did begin before legalisation. So, not only do police officers have more time on their hands now that they’re not chasing recreational marijuana users, but the spike in crime that was predicted by legalisation’s opponents has not eventuated.

Outside the United States, Portugal is a commonly referred-to example of a much more liberal drug policy. After the Carnation Revolution of 1974 that peacefully overthrew the country’s military dictatorship, soldiers and colonists from Portugal’s colonies returned home and brought recreational drugs with them. This was coupled with a wave of liberalisation that swept post-dictatorship Portugal and over the next several years, rates of drug use increased dramatically. Despite the government’s heavy-handed efforts to stamp out drug use, in 1999 1% of the Portuguese population was addicted to heroin and the rates of AIDS-related drug deaths were the highest in the European Union. To deal with this problem, the Portuguese government decriminalised all recreational drugs and transferred responsibility for drug control from the Ministério da Justiça (Ministry of Justice) to the Ministério da Saúde (Ministry of Health). Changes were also made to the country’s welfare system. Despite a brief rise in the number of drug users, this number then fell to well below 2001 levels. So too did the levels of drug-induced deaths and the number of continuous drug users (those who used more than once). However, it is important to note that recreational drugs were decriminalised, not legalised. If somebody is caught by police with drugs on their person, they then have 72 hours to report to a ‘warning commission on drug addiction’ and will usually be encouraged to attend rehabilitation. From a social standpoint, it can be clearly seen that Portugal has had a huge amount of success with its experiment in decriminalising all recreational drugs.

The arguments that I have given here for the legalisation of marijuana and decriminalisation of all recreational drugs are ones that are commonly used to by pro-marijuana lobbyists. However, there is another that is often used. This is the argument that use of marijuana and other cannabis-related products can cure cancer. This is not an isolated claim. Alternative news website Collective Evolution states that THC and cannabidiol (CBD) weaken the ferocity of cancer cells and make them more susceptible to radiation therapy. The site also claims that “Cannabinoids may very well be one of the best disease and cancer fighting treatments out there.” On his website, alternative medical practitioner Dr. Mark Sircus claims that “Medical marijuana is chemotherapy, natural style, for all cancer patients.” and that it can cure many types of cancer including lung, pancreatic, prostate and ovarian. Indeed, these claims are not limited to alternative media outlets. In April 2015, the Daily Mail reported that the National Institute of Drug Abuse in the U.S. claimed that cannabis not only kills cancer cells but also shrinks brain tumours. However, despite the large amount of information that is available, claims that cannabis cures cancer are either the result of gross misunderstandings of medical science or incredibly sketchy anecdotes.

Referring directly to the Collective Evolution article entitled ’20 Medical Studies That Prove Cannabis Can Be A Potential Cure For Cancer’, David Gorsky writing for Science Based Medicine has debunked those. The majority of the studies listed by Collective Evolution were either in vitro or based on animal tests. Only one of the 20 medical studies was based on human testing and the THC used in the experiment was injected. According to Gorsky

…[injection] is very different from smoking marijuana or ingesting hash oil. It involves directly infusing THC solution at a high concentration directly into the brain cavity where the tumor had been, in the hope of killing off any remaining tumor cells surrounding the cavity. Let’s just put it this way. There’s a reason why direct intratumoral [directly into the tumour] injection of any drug is generally frowned upon, and that’s because it’s invasive and rarely works…. this was not simply ingesting, smoking, or being injected with cannabinoids. The study involved having catheters sticking out of the subjects’s heads and having THC infused directly into the brain.

Injecting THC directly into a tumour is a far cry from smoking marijuana or ingesting hemp oil. Indeed, the levels of THC that are attained from smoking marijuana are a mere fraction of what was present during those trials. Even with direct THC injections, the actual effectiveness of killing cancerous cells has been so low that there is little reason to continue clinical trials. With a lack of hard scientific evidence, proponents of the theory that marijuana cures cancer often point out to cases of people who have had cancer which has then been cured by taking marijuana-related products. One of the most well-known proponents of this is Rick Simpson. Simpson owns the hemp oil business Phoenix Tears and markets his products to cancer patients as an effective alternative to conventional treatments. As proof of his products’ effectiveness, he includes many testimonials from his customers. However, as the saying goes, anecdotes are not evidence and many anecdotes are not data. Even medical marijuana pioneer Dr. Lester Grinspoon warns against using anecdotes of cancer-curing marijuana as evidence of its effectiveness. The patients who have taken hemp oil for their cancer have not undergone clinical or laboratory tests to prove that their cancer is actually in remission. They simply claim that they feel better, therefore they are being cured. It should also be noted that patients who take marijuana-based products for their cancer have often undergone several years of chemotherapy before starting their alternative treatment, meaning that there is a good chance it was actually the chemotherapy that sent their cancer into remission. There is even evidence to say that smoking marijuana actually increases the risk of cancer. Hearing stories about patients who have managed to cure their cancer with natural marijuana-based products after years of failed ‘conventional’ treatments may sound like convincing evidence but unfortunately, science does not support these claims.

The fact that marijuana-based products do not cure cancer doesn’t mean that their consumption should be avoided by cancer patients. In fact, the American Cancer Society states that smoking marijuana is effective at negating the side-effects of chemotherapy such as nausea, vomiting and neuropathic pain (even though it can have negative side-effects such as increased heart rate, dizziness and fainting). Again, it should be stated that negating the side-effects of chemotherapy is a far cry from the claim that “marijuana cures cancer”.

If the pro-legalisation movement wants to make serious political headway, the facts have to be clearly stated for all to see. This can easily be proven by the case studies of Colorado, Washington State and Portugal. Not only have the U.S. states made millions of dollars in tax revenue from the sale of recreational marijuana, but the predicted rise in crime that legalisation’s opponents claimed would happen, did not. The drug addiction epidemic that Portugal faced in 2001 was turned around by decriminalising all recreational drugs. These points have been proven by facts and evidence, namely tax revenue and crime and healthcare statistics. This is in contrast to claims that marijuana cures cancer, which are based on gross misinterpretations of clinical trials and unreliable anecdotes. Those who oppose the legalisation of recreational marijuana love to point out the flaws in their opponents’ evidence. Far from making a convincing case, claiming that marijuana cures cancer only serves to discredit the pro-legalisation movement.

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