AUKUS and the danger of war: a persuasive if simplistic argument on the stupidity of the AUKUS pact

Paul Cockshott, “AUKUS and the danger of war” (23 September 2021)

After a Twitter exchange on whether the US was in a fit state militarily to challenge China, and in the wake of the AUKUS naval and defence pact formed by the US, the UK and Australia – it should have been called USUKA but AUKUS flows more mellifluously than “you-suck-ah” – in September 2021, with the pact’s first initiative being to supply nuclear-powered submarines to the Royal Australian Navy (and those submarines to be purportedly built in Adelaide, compelling Australia to break its current contract with France to build 12 diesel submarines), Scottish computer scientist / economist Paul Cockshott created a slideshow explaining how the AUKUS alliance endangers Australia and the US in the event of a war with China in the western Pacific Ocean region. The slideshow demonstrates how dependent Australia will be on the UK and the US in obtaining highly enriched nuclear fuel to power the submarines (and the proliferation risks involved, since enriched nuclear fuel can be used to make bombs) as Australia lacks the know-how and the infrastructure (including nuclear plants) needed to enrich the fuel. From there Cockshott looks at why, after 70 years, Britain has suddenly decided to sell Australia its nuclear technology and expertise, and concludes from examining speeches made by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Tory MP (and Johnson’s predecessor as Prime Minister) Theresa May that the reason for Australia having nuclear-powered submarines, as they are designed for attack and not defence purposes, is that they ultimately will be part of a US-led naval blockade of China in the event of a conflict over Taiwan based on Western assumptions that China will invade Taiwan – even though over the past 70 years China has respected Taiwan’s physical, political and economic integrity to the extent that China’s hi-tech industries depend on Taiwan for its semiconductors and other raw materials, and tourists, business people and others regularly travel from one country to the other quite freely.

After reaching this conclusion as to the purpose of AUKUS, Cockshott spends the rest of his presentation examining the most likely course of a war between China and AUKUS, and makes his case that a Western blockade of China would be extremely risky and hazardous to AUKUS forces. China would quickly establish air and sea dominance over Taiwan’s territory (including airspace and maritime territory) and US support would be limited to the kind of hurried airlift “rescues” of US citizens seen recently in Kabul when the puppet Ghani government there collapsed in the wake of the Taliban’s peaceful victory in Afghanistan. A possible US attack on China itself, on the assumption that US forces can break through Chinese air and sea defences, is shown to be nigh impossible due to the severe decline in US military capabilities and the advanced age of US bomber planes since 1945. An economic blockade based either on blocking trade routes in Southeast Asia or on sanctions on nations trading with China would disrupt economies all over the world – and encourage even more integration of the Eurasian continent in China’s Belt Road Initiative to circumvent a blockade or sanctions. Cockshott looks at the shipbuilding capabilities of the combatants and finds that China’s shipbuilding capabilities far outstrip those of the US. South Korea would most likely declare neutrality in the war but in the event that Seoul is compelled to side with AUKUS, South Korea would be exposed to attack from North Korea and China.

The result is that the economies of the AUKUS members and any others participating in the war against China will be severely damaged, so much so that their societies and politics will become unstable and the very polities themselves liable to break up. They will lose cultural prestige as well and the very concept of Western liberal democracy – itself hazy and contradictory with its emphasis on free markets unhindered by government oversight and regulation – will be discredited. While China and its allies will also suffer economic damage, they will be in a better position to recover through China’s BRI.

While Cockshott’s presentation is well set out if a bit slow and repetitive, it does appear simplistic to the point where the figures and facts he pulls out look cherry-picked. In a real war, China would have Russian support which could include Russia cutting off natural gas supplies to the UK. An economic blockade of the UK and any other European countries allied with that nation and involved in the US war against China would strain AUKUS relations and lead to the British public turning against London. The Taiwanese people themselves, as opposed to their government, might prefer Beijing’s domination to the extent that their forces might pledge to fight on the Chinese side. Australia itself will be a target for attacks and economic blockades and sanctions from China, Russia and their allies, and Australians themselves would have to choose whether remaining part of AUKUS or any alliance with the US is worth risking their future for.

The issue that remains is why Australian political and defence elites were so stupid and idiotic to sleepwalk into a pact that robs Australia of any sovereignty over its land, sea and air territory, and ultimately puts their own survival in doubt.

The litany of lies, cover-ups, blunders and shortcuts that led to two air crash tragedies in “737 MAX: Ten Mistakes”

Nick Gillan-Smith, “737 MAX: Ten Mistakes” (2021)

A crisp and succinct documentary, going into just enough detail (but not too much so) to satisfy the general public target audience, this investigation of the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX passenger jet crashes in October 2018 and March 2019 respectively breezes through the list of blunders, errors and cover-ups that all but doomed the flights of two jets resulting in the combined total of 346 deaths and severely dented the reputations of Boeing as a reliable aircraft manufacturer and of the US aviation industry generally. The documentary begins its litany back, way back, into the 1960s when Boeing unveiled its 737 models which immediately became the company’s favoured workhorses, being sold to airlines all over the world for decades. In the first decade of the 2000s, rival aircraft manufacturer Airbus brought out a new, more fuel-efficient model which put pressure on Boeing to come up with a competitive counterpart. This set off a series of actions, combined with pressure on Boeing employees, to tinker with adding new, heavier and longer engines onto the current 737 model rather than design and engineer a new plane from scratch which would have required at least a decade and more to complete. Adding the new engines to the 737 model entailed other changes, not least the addition of new anti-stalling Maneuver Characteristics Augmentation Systems (MCAS) software to help keep the plane’s balance during flight. This would have required pilots already familiar with flying the 737 model to undertake more flight simulation training (which airlines would have had to pay for) and the updating of flight manuals.

Each “mistake” – the term really encompasses the various cock-ups, short-cuts and “sssh, don’t tell” cover-ups – is explained through a mix of interviews with aviation experts and a pilot, and how it contributed to the catastrophes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. The Airbus innovation caught Boeing by surprise and the US company was under pressure from managers and shareholders to come up with a product that was also fuel-efficient as soon as it could. Pressure was put on employees and contractors with the result that short-cuts were taken and the issue of safety became secondary to the pursuit of cost-cutting and quick profits. Testing more or less fell by the wayside. The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) allowed Boeing to conduct its own safety testing and inspections and to approve the results of such tests. Boeing told the FAA that pilots would not need extra training and failed to include mention of the MCAS in its flight manuals.

On top of all this, when the Indonesian accident occurred, Boeing immediately blamed pilot error for the tragedy. As Lion Air did not have a great record for safety, Boeing’s explanation seemed plausible enough, at least until the Ethiopian Airlines jet fell out of the sky in March 2019. The recovery of that plane’s flight recorder tapes soon led to the revelation that the Ethiopian flight crew had the exact same problem as the Lion Air pilots did in controlling the plane and trying to stop it from nose-diving. As Ethiopian Airlines had an excellent reputation for flight safety, pilot error could no longer be blamed.

Lion Air does not get off lightly either in that the airline is revealed as not having or keeping records of problems with individual jets: the Lion Air 737 MAX jet was shown to have had a nosediving problem on a short trip just before its final journey. In this case though, the flight crew were lucky that an off-duty captain was travelling as a passenger and was able to assist with controlling the plane. Though the flight crew reported the problem, for some reason this issue was not relayed to the next flight crew who had to fly the plane the next day.

Though the documentary wraps up fairly quickly (and superficially) by noting that Boeing was forced to ground all 737 MAX jets and that US Congress committee inquiries were held – hilariously, Congressional meetings are called “parliamentary” meetings – with the result that Boeing was fined heavy amounts and now faces lawsuits from families of crash victims, it fails to show how several of the problems identified are inter-related and demonstrate that a culture of excellence and prioritising safety no longer exists at Boeing. The change of organisational culture from one based on careful design and meticulous research, a high standard of engineering excellence and regard for flight crew and passenger safety to one obsessed with profit and cutting costs to the extent of passing work to non-union factory labour or outsourcing work to lower-paid engineers in Third World nations is not covered; many of the short-cuts and cover-ups, and in some cases even outright conflicts of interest (and with the FAA turning a blind eye to such corruption) have their origins in the gradual Wall Street takeover of Boeing, exemplified by Boeing HQ’s shift from Seattle, where much of the engineering and manufacturing work was being done, to Chicago (home of neoliberal economics) some time in the late 1990s. Unfortunately it seems to me that Boeing is not alone among US corporations to fall prey to the neoliberal cult of worshipping Profit Uber Alles and damning everything else – even safety measures – that cuts into making profits for corporate banker shareholders.

Drug Use in Ancient Greece and Rome: a lively video on the use of narcotics and hallucinogens in classical society

Garrett Ryan, “Drug Use in Ancient Greece and Rome” (Told in Stone, 17 September 2021)

An intriguing little video, this episode in Garrett Ryan’s ongoing Told in Stone series that centres on classical civilisation explores what is known – and what is guessed at – about the use of narcotics, hallucinogens and other drugs by the Ancient Greeks and Romans. The video starts with an investigation of a kurgan (burial mound) by archaeologists in Stavropol in southern Russia: among the treasures found were two golden vessels whose insides were coated with the remains of a sticky black residue. Analysis of the residue by a lab revealed the residue to be a mix of opium and marijuana. The kurgan had been built by Ancient Scythians, a nomadic horse-riding people well known to the Ancient Greeks: the golden vessels may have been made by the Greeks themselves and the Greeks may have even supplied the opium-marijuana mix since they knew the Scythians’ predilection for mind-altering substances.

This little story leads the way into a survey of the Greeks and Romans’ use of opium and hemp, and how much these substances were incorporated into their cultures. Not surprisingly, the ancients used opium as a medicine, primarily as a pain-killer, a relaxant and a soporific; mixed with honey, opium could be used to treat a range of health problems from skin infections to coughs. They appear not to have appreciated the addictive properties of opium but did know that overdoses of opium could be fatal. As with opium, cannabis had many medicinal uses though doctors tended to use the hemp seed and cannabis resin as medicines. Some evidence found in the grave of a Roman woman who died in childbirth suggests that the more potent leaves and buds were used to relieve labour pains.

The second half of the video investigates the use of opium and hallucinogenic drugs in Greek and Roman religious ritual. One might assume that opium, marijuana and hallucinogens were used in the Eleusinian mysteries and by the maenad followers of the Greek god Dionysios but no firm evidence that these cults included drug use has been found. Likewise, evidence for the use of opium, marijuana and others as recreational drugs by the Greeks and Romans is scanty. Indeed the use of substances for purely recreational mind-altering purposes seems to have been quite limited in Greek and Roman cultures.

The video limits itself to exploring how the Greeks and Romans used a small range of substances known to be addictive in modern Western societies on the basis of material evidence found so far. It does not say very much about what historians, playwrights and other commentators among the Greeks and Romans thought and wrote about these drugs, and how much. That the Greeks and Romans seem to have used opium and marijuana mainly as medicines and food items may indicate that these peoples put far less emphasis on individual hedonistic or escapist pleasures than modern Western societies do. The Greeks and Romans may have experienced fewer stresses in their lives and had more outlets for the release of individual and communal tensions, through religious festivals and mystery cults, than are allowed in contemporary societies.

Perhaps the fact that not much appears to be known about how the Greeks and Romans used drugs in ways that would be familiar to us says much more about how we Westerners view drugs like opium and marijuana and their use, than about what the Greeks and Romans thought about these substances and how they used them. If we could go back in time and ask these societies what plants, fungi or other foodstuffs they had that they might have used in ways we would recognise recreational drugs to be used, the Greeks and Romans would probably point us to herbs, seeds and other items we might not realise have psychoactive properties.

Illustrated with photographs and stills of Greek and Roman art, this video is lively and straightforward in its presentation.

The Empire’s 2021 Coup in Guinea: a succinct example of US bullying and meddling in small nations’ politics

Carlton Meyer, “The Empire’s 2021 Coup in Guinea” (Tales of the American Empire, 17 September 2021)

This video serves as another short and succinct example of the United States’ openly blatant bullying of other much smaller and poorer nations in faraway continents in its determination to remain the dominant world power even though those countries pose no threat to its economic and financial power. The reason the US intervenes in other nations’ affairs and overthrows their leaders, no matter that those leaders were elected in open and transparent elections, is to dominate those countries if they are in regions the US considers its own backyard, to prevent them from doing deals and forming alliances with other nations that could threaten the US’ own interests, and to warn countries neighbouring the target nations from following the targets’ example lest they also incur Washington’s wrath and invite interference. On 5 September 2021, the President of the Republic of Guinea aka Guinea Conakry Alpha Condé was deposed by the Special Forces unit of his country. Special Forces Commander and former French Foreign Legion corporal Mamady Doumbouya led the unit soldiers who deposed Condé.

The video explains the US connection to Doumbouya’s coup: US Special Forces soldiers were present in Guinea-Conakry at least two months before the coup was carried out, and their presence in the country before and after the coup can hardly have been coincidental. Although the US officially denounced the coup, it did not move to sanction Doumbouya and did not move troops or naval ships near Guinea-Conakry to enable Condé to regain leadership. Visual evidence in the form of a photograph of Doumbouya posing with US AFRICOM personnel in front of the US Embassy in Conakry is presented in the video. Other visual evidence from cellphone videos taken by Conakry residents who then uploaded the videos to the Internet shows armed US soldiers in city streets while the coup was under way.

In his voiceover, Meyer provides the context in which the coup was carried out: Guinea-Conakry’s chief export is bauxite, from which aluminium is obtained, and its main customer for bauxite is China. Condé developed close economic and trade relations with China, the latter also investing funds in improving Guinea-Conakry’s infrastructure and hospital facilities. In a populous region not far from Central and South America, and with considerable offshore oil and gas deposits, Guinea-Conakry’s growing links with China and the investments China was making in the country could not be ignored by its equally poor neighbours – and those links and China’s other activities certainly came to the attention of the US.

In an age where the US is in deep economic, financial and military decline, and other nations such as China and Russia are rising powers in many different spheres, not only economically and militarily, even a small and poor country like Guinea-Conakry which is no threat to Washington is not allowed by the US to make its own trade deals with China or whoever else it wants to contract with and to pursue its own political, economic and military self-interest.

The Jimmy Dore Show: Interview with Robert Malone (15 September 2021) – how COVID-19 is exploited for money at the expense of public health

“The Jimmy Dore Show: Interview with Robert Malone” (15 September 2021)

For much of this 75-minute interview with US virologist / immunologist Robert Malone, the usually very talkative host Jimmy Dore is quiet while Malone explains carefully and in much detail the risks associated with the use of mRNA vaccines as the sole solution in eradicating the COVID-19 pandemic. As a contributor to the development of mRNA inoculation technologies – in the 1980s, he did studies that found mRNA could be transferred in a lipid into cell cultures to direct the production of new proteins, and later worked with others on research suggesting that mRNA could be synthesised so as to create a desired protein – Malone may be assumed to know much about what mRNA vaccines can and cannot do, and what their consequences in the short term and long term may be.

Malone is allowed to range far and wide in his criticism of the West’s reliance on COVID-19 vaccines at the expense of other treatments in dealing with the pandemic, and of the issues arising from that reliance. There are ethical issues involved in governments compelling people who work in particular industries or in the armed forces to be vaccinated with COVID-19 vaccines, the efficacy of which can wane over time, and which could also drive the evolution of the SARS-COV-2 virus in such a way (through selective pressure on the virus to change or delete that part of its genome targeted by the mRNA vaccines) that will render the vaccines useless and require the use of booster vaccines. These issues have consequences for public trust in health care generally and in doctors, nurses and other health care workers in particular. The reliance on vaccines gives power to pharmaceutical corporations who dictate to governments, public health officials, the medical profession and pharmacies as to what treatments can or cannot be allowed for patients.

The discussions that Jimmy Dore initiates are equally of value: he inquires about the phenomenon of leaky vaccines and how these enable more virulent strains of a virus to evolve, putting unvaccinated people and vulnerable people with chronic health conditions or weakened immune systems at risk; and he and Malone thrash out at length the restrictions by governments and pharmaceutical corporations on news media, social media and other public discussion about the effectiveness of Ivermectin in treating COVID-19 symptoms. Later in the show Dore goes rogue over a Rolling Stone story that went viral on social media: the story referred to a doctor in an Oklahoma hospital claiming that gunshot victims had to be turned away by the hospital because it was supposedly being overwhelmed by patients who had overdosed on Ivermectin, portrayed as livestock deworming medicine. The story was later proven false by the hospital which said the doctor making the claim was not employed there – yet the story was picked up by news and current affairs media outlets and repeated endlessly with the insinuation that Oklahoma state residents, being Republican Party voters, are too stupid to know better than to use drugs for animals. Malone’s contribution to Dore’s diatribe is that news media in the US is dominated by a small number of corporations which are cross-linked and integrated with pharmaceutical corporations which, like news media companies, have also become fewer and larger through takeovers of smaller companies and mergers with bigger companies or companies of similar size over time.

There is later discussion of possible reasons for the low prevalence of COVID-19 in Africa, among them the fact that most people in Africa are less likely to be obese and to be diabetic. The reasons are complex and cannot be isolated from one another.

The best moment of the interview comes late when Malone talks about how pharmaceutical corporations are exploiting the pandemic for profit by forcing vaccines onto governments supposedly representing billions and using their power to stop the public from finding out about cheaper, safer and/or more effective solutions and treatments. Big Pharma also funds US government agencies like the United States Food and Drug Administration, many of whose employees come from Big Pharma itself and go back there. The share prices of Big Pharma companies also rise in part due to their manipulation of news media to favour them and their vaccine narratives.

There is much Dore and Malone don’t cover in the interview – in particular, the international system of intellectual patents followed that is exploited by the pharmaceutical industry to get rid of generic drugs or drugs like Ivermectin whose patents have expired – but this interview, while heavy-going and aimed mainly at US audiences, is an informative introduction to the politicisation and exploitation of COVID-19 for money and influence.

Be Water: a dull and over-long biography of global pop culture icon Bruce Lee

Bao Nguyen, “Be Water” (2020)

A stolid documentary, Bao Nguyen’s visual biography of global pop culture icon Bruce Lee is a conventional retelling of his life, starting with his birth in San Francisco in 1940 and his early years in Hong Kong as a child actor and his introduction to martial arts as a young teenager. Through the use of archived films and photographs, and interviews with people who knew Lee, “Be Water” follows Lee’s journey between two very different worlds that he was part of, and yet not part of, as his family sends him away to SF and then to Seattle for further education after the teenager gets involved in fighting other kids and runs afoul of Hong Kong police. Lee completes high school in Seattle in 1960 and later travels to Oakland to continue his martial arts training and to teach others, Chinese and non-Chinese alike. He is criticised by people in the SF Chinese community for teaching martial arts to non-Chinese students. He participates in martial arts exhibitions and comes to the attention of Hollywood producer William Dozier in 1964 who sees potential in Lee as an actor. This leads to a role as Kato in the TV series “The Green Hornet” which lasted one season from September 1966 to March 1967. During this period Lee meets and marries Linda Lee Cadwell and they have two children, Brandon and Shannon.

From then on, Lee continues to develop his particular style of martial arts, which he called Jeet Kune Do, a hybrid art drawing from different martial arts and combat sports including boxing and fencing. In this, he was influenced by the examples of Muhammad Ali and other rising boxers of Ali’s generation, many of whom were African-American. He also appeared in other TV shows and worked as a stuntman and martial arts instructor to actors who sought him out. After being turned down for the lead role of the television series “Kung Fu” – the role went to David Carradine – Lee returns to Hong Kong on the advice of a Hollywood producer to make a film there that he could later show to Hollywood studio execs. Lee discovers that he is a huge star in HK where “The Green Hornet” was broadcast. Signing contracts with Golden Harvest and later forming his own production company, Lee makes three films “The Big Boss”, “Fist of Fury” and “Way of the Dragon” in which he is the lead actor: these films rocketed him to stardom across Asia.

The documentary can be very long and quite dull in its chronological layout, and for an in-depth work it does contain some inaccuracies about details of Lee’s life and some of the work he did. The concept for the “Kung Fu” television series was developed independently by three script-writers and Lee had been invited to audition for the show: Lee had independently developed his idea for a similar TV series “The Warrior” based around a martial arts practitioner but, contrary to what the documentary says, the “Kung Fu” series was not based on “The Warrior” though the two shows shared similar ideas. Despite the documentary’s heavy reliance on interviewees like Lee’s widow Linda Lee Cadwell and their surviving child Shannon, and others close to Lee, the information about Lee’s philosophy that underpins Jeet Kune Do and its heterodox approach seems to have been cherry-picked and shoehorned into fitting the film’s agenda about Lee himself trying to find an identity in two societies and cultures that initially reject and then accept him. Lee’s own emphasis on being inclusive and how his adaptability and open-mindedness led him to become an innovator as a martial artist, actor, film-maker (director and script-writer) and philosopher are given short shrift. I have the impression that Lee himself regarded his path as a continuous work in progress, the “identity” of which would not and would never be complete until death, yet the film insists on imposing its own notions of what Lee was carving out for himself within the framework of identity politics.

While there is interesting information about past discrimination against Asian-Americans in US society and in Hollywood in particular, and how Asian-American people have been patronised by American culture as well-behaved and subservient minority American citizens (implying that African-American citizens are bad because they dare to protest at the discrimination they suffer), at the same time there is not enough information about Lee’s own impact on US popular culture and how his example and work influenced Hollywood beyond his death in 1973. How his work influenced his children – and many others – to follow in his foot-steps as actors and martial artists themselves is not discussed. In the wake of other film documentaries and other material about Bruce Lee’s life, this recent documentary adds very little that is new apart from pigeon-holing him as an Asian-American attempting to “bridge” two cultures..

Living in the Golden Age of Fact-Checking: fact-checking the fact-checking sites and finding fools’ gold

“Living in the Golden Age of Fact-Checking”  (ReallyGraceful, July 2020)

In an age awash with global news / information media disinformation, coupled with the increasing denigration of critical thinking in the West by governments and corporations via failing education systems and institutions, fact-checking websites on the Internet have become a necessary evil for many people. One of the most prominent fact-checking sites is Snopes.com – from here on, referred to as Snopes – originally founded by couple David and Barbara Mikkelson in the mid-1990s as an information site investigating urban legends. Over time the site grew to encompass checking a variety of stories and claims, starting with claims about the World Trade Center attacks on 11 September 2001, on the Internet, and became a go-to reference site used by many online news media outlets.

In this video, ReallyGraceful investigates the history of Snopes, what sort of company it is, how big it is, what its biases are, and how the Mikkelsens’ messy personal lives (ending in divorce) affected the company’s management and structure. RG discovers the company provides no information about its fact-checking employees or what their political biases might be. The company’s funding is equally murky: some of its funding comes from online funding campaigns but the company apparently provides no information about the breakdown of the funds raised and where the funding goes in its operations; some funding comes from advertisements on its site on the Google search engine; and Snopes’ fact-checking partnership with Facebook. Incidentally the major shareholders of both Facebook and Google include BlackRock and Vanguard investment management corporations. RG examines David Mikkelsen’s previous employment background and finds he once worked for NASA and NASA-associated companies; another Snopes employee, Alex Kasprak, also once worked for NASA; and other Snopes workers came from The Seattle Times.

The last part of the video focuses on a story in which US furniture company Wayfair was supposedly secretly trafficking missing children by using their names to advertise overpriced furniture items online. Twenty-four hours after the story became public, Snopes claimed the story was false … because a Snopes employee contacted someone at Wayfair who simply said it was untrue. There was no further investigation on Snopes’ part as to how the claims arose in the first place, or into Wayfair’s internal affairs and its management’s ties to Bain Capital, a notorious asset-stripping firm co-founded by former US Presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

RG summarises her video by analysing the useful role that Snopes and similar “fact checkers” play as propagandists policing the limits of acceptable discussion and dissent in a reality where information is a commodity to be bought and sold. These sites shepherd the public into particular acceptable directions of information search and narrow critical thinking and discussion to topics deemed acceptable and harmless by The Powers That (Should Not) Be. A real “fact-checking” site would resemble investigative news sites like 21st Century Wire and Mint Press.

In case USE readers are not convinced by RG’s video alone on Snopes’ dubious nature, they are welcome to read this Vietato Parlare article on the equally dubious Facebook associations of Snopes reporter Bethania Palma Markus, the official “debunker” of claims that the White Helmets group is a front for terrorists in Syria. The VP article shows that not only does Markus’ Facebook associations and friends demonstrate strong political bias but also her friendships with individuals in Syria linked to the White Helmets and their jihadist confreres. Revelations such as this and what RG has posted really make you wonder: who fact-checks the fact-checking sites like Snopes?

The Lost Greek Cities of Central Asia: a lively and brisk introduction to ancient Greco-Bactrian kingdoms

Garrett Ryan, “The Lost Greek Cities of Central Asia” (Told in Stone, 4 September 2021)

In light of current events in Afghanistan, with the Taliban reasserting its governance of the country after nearly 20 years of US-led Western domination with its attendant violence and corruption, a look at a past period of ancient Central Asian history, spanning some 400 – 500 years from the time of Alexander the Great (died 323 BCE) to the reign of Kanishka (about 127 – 150 CE) of the Kushan Empire, might be in order. The reason is that during this period, in spite of Alexander the Great’s destruction of the Achaemenid Empire in Persia to establish his own mighty sprawling empire from the Aegean Sea to the Indus River, followed by its break-up among his generals, the area of Central Asia covering much of today’s Afghanistan along with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan received considerable cultural and political Greek influence, blended with elements from Anatolian, Persian and local cultures. This part of Central Asia was ruled by the Seleucid Empire, heir to Alexander the Great’s empire – the Seleucid dynasty was descended from Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander the Great’s generals – which relied on local leaders to defend the Seleucid Empire’s north-eastern border regions against the Tocharians and Xiong-nu farther north and east in the Eurasian steppe region. Over time these local leaders and their descendants declared their independence from the Seleucids, established their own kingdoms and maintained diplomatic relationships with the Mediterranean region and India farther south. These kingdoms maintained Greek / Hellenistic culture and the Greek language, and built cities with sophisticated urban cultures.

Ryan’s video is a very good introduction to a period of ancient history perhaps not well known to the general public: the video is a collage of photographs showing the ruins of past Greco-Bactrian cities and some of the archaeological artefacts found in these ruins, and colourful maps of Alexander the Great’s empire, the extent of the Hellenistic world in 281 BCE when the Seleucid Empire was at its height and the changing polities in Central Asia from Uzbekistan south to northern India over time. Ryan’s voice-over narration concentrates on facts: while it’s easy to follow, the brisk narration rarely pauses for breath as it bounds from the historical setting for the spread of Greek / Hellenistic culture across Central Asia to the founding of Ai Khanoum, its ethnic mix and culture; to the depredations of barbarian tribes who set themselves up as rulers and allowed the Greco-Bactrian cities and kingdoms to continue with their traditions; to the establishment of the Kushan Empire who patronised Buddhism and encouraged a unique mix of Greek / Hellenistic culture and cultural influences from India and China. For this reason, audiences might need to watch the video a few times to absorb as much of the information as they need to know.

Ryan goes into some detail as to why Greek / Hellenistic influence declined in Central Asia after the beginning of the first millennium CE: the decision of the Kushan Empire to replace Greek with Bactrian as its administrative language distanced the Greco-Bactrian cities from their cultural motherland, and the Greek-speaking communities (probably always small) in this part of the world lost their special status and gradually assimilated into the general population. Greece’s absorption into the Roman Empire and the rise of the Parthian Empire in Persia to rival Rome may have disrupted the Greco-Bactrian cities’ ties to their motherland. Influences from India and China, especially after the arrival of Buddhism, became stronger and more prominent in the mixed culture of the Kushan Empire.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the video comes in the last couple of minutes where the narration roams over the ruins of a number of ancient cities in remote parts of Afghanistan and viewers are treated to astonishing photographs of the lost cities among bare hills and mountains. Ryan laments that many ruined cities are being plundered by treasure hunters using bulldozers and other heavy equipment; the plundering robs the cities not only of the heritage that belongs to Afghanistan but also disrupts their layers of history that archaeologists need to date them and reconstruct the cities’ histories.

This period of ancient history, in which past Western conquest of Central Asia and part of Afghanistan was followed by centuries of cultural contacts and mixing with this part of the world being a crossroads between Europe and the Middle East on the one hand, and India and China on the other, and all cultures being treated equally, surely serves as a stark rebuke to recent Western arrogance and brutality in Afghanistan – and as a model to Russia, China, Iran and other nations surrounding Afghanistan to follow.

A plot to take down Russian political activist in “Navalny: Fake Poisoning (Part 1: The Patient)” is unravelled

“Navalny: Fake Poisoning (Part 1: The Patient)” (Soloviev LIVE / Vesti News, 24 August 2021)

Presented by Alexander Sosnovsky and Sergei Karnaukhov, this very smooth and slick investigation traces in considerable detail the chronology of Russian political activist Alexei Navalny’s journey on that fateful day 20 August 2020 when he left his hotel in Tomsk accompanied by two aides Ilya Pakhomov and Kira Yarmysh and went to the airport in that city to catch an early morning flight back to Moscow. While on the bus to the airport, Navalny is recognised by bus passengers who take selfies on their mobile phones with him. Half an hour into that plane trip, he falls ill and the flight crew divert the plane to Omsk. Just before the plane lands, Omsk airport officials receive bomb threats but the plane is cleared to land. Omsk Hospital medical personnel rush to the airport and take Navalny to the hospital.

While doctors put Navalny into an induced coma and on a ventilator, take blood samples and conduct tests, and stabilise the patient, news flashes around the world that the activist has taken ill and almost immediately Western news media speculate that he has been poisoned with Novichok, a deadly nerve agent of organophosphate origins. Over the next few days, Navalny’s wife Julia demands that Navalny be transported to Berlin for treatment and Russian President Vladimir Putin gives permission for this to happen.

With recorded video statements from various medical workers who treated Navalny while rushing him to hospital and in the hospital itself, and from a police officer, Sosnovsky and Karnaukhov posit a narrative that suggests a plan to have Navalny fall ill on the plane and the plane forced to circulate above Omsk airport while Navalny’s condition deteriorates was in place. The behaviour of the people accompanying Navalny on the plane or associated with him while he was in Tomsk and then Omsk is very odd. In particular, Navalny associate Maria Pevchikh and two others immediately make their way to Navalny’s hotel in Tomsk, break into the room where he stayed and collect various items including three water bottles after seeing Yarmysh’s tweet on their mobile phones that Navalny has been poisoned. (Later, Pevchikh is photographed at Novosibirsk airport buying a water bottle from a vending machine with the exact same labels as the three bottles collected at the hotel.) Significantly the three people who collected the water bottles in Navalny’s hotel room refused to answer police questions during the police investigation and Pevchikh flew out of Russia and back to Britain.

Meanwhile the Omsk hospital doctors, consulting with doctors in Moscow, determine that Navalny is suffering from a metabolic disorder – a high amount of sugar is found in his blood samples – and treat him accordingly. Elsewhere in the program, Sosnovsky and Karnaukhov mention that Charite Hospital doctors treating Navalny in Berlin found lithium in his system and wrote a report which they submitted to the British medical journal The Lancet. The presenters note that lithium is used to treat bipolar disorder and depression and that an overdose of lithium can lead to confusion, fainting, seizures, coma and death. Combined with other substances, lithium can inhibit the action of cholinesterase (necessary for the proper functioning of the nervous system) in the body.

The involvement of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) who apparently found toxins in blood samples taken from Navalny by Charite Hospital doctors that were consistent with toxic chemicals in schedules 1.A.14 and 1.A.15 in the Annex on Chemicals to the Chemical Weapons Convention, in contrast to what doctors in Omsk and Moscow found; and various odd discrepancies in details regarding when the samples were collected, depending on whether the German doctors or the OPCW are making the claim, not to mention that the bomb threats to Omsk airport came from a server in Germany, might suggest that a plan to poison Navalny had already been in place some time – perhaps even weeks or months before – before Navalny went on his trip to Tomsk, and that various organisations such as the OPCW among others were under pressure to adhere to the plan. Somewhere in the elaborate establishment and running of the plan, the water bottles in Navalny’s hotel room disappear and the Novosibirsk vending machine water bottle turns up instead with supposed traces of Novichok.

Sosnovsky and Karnaukhov compare Navalny’s poisoning with the dioxin poisoning of then Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko during Ukraine’s presidential elections in 2004, and how that poisoning incident led to run-off elections which Yushchenko won, with the implication that Navalny’s poisoning was supposed to have set off a train of events that would result in Navalny somehow becoming Russian President eventually. (Leave aside the fact that Navalny enjoys little popularity in Russia and has no significant political backing.) At the end of the episode the two presenters promise that Part 2 will cover Navalny’s recovery and what happens when he leaves Charite Hospital in Berlin.

The value of an investigation such as this conducted by the television show “Soloviev LIVE” is in showing how an incident is conceived and planned, with propaganda supporting the plan is created and repeated across news media outlets, and how the plan depends on the various actors involved and/or drawn into the incident behave … and how the plan can rapidly fall apart when some of those actors don’t play their part as ordained. Whichever parties make such plans seem arrogant enough to assume that people will behave in certain patterns and follow certain paths, simply because those patterns and paths would be what the planners themselves would follow. Apart from a few technical details – the constant flashing of “Patient” throughout the program is annoying, even though this title card is used to help structure the program’s chapter-by-chapter presentation – this episode is very professional and appears thorough in its investigation. The presenters put forward facts and details with no apparent visual or audio bias (though they finger the lithium as the cause of Navalny’s poisoning and collapse) and leave viewers to make up their own minds.

The Chaotic Fall of Kabul in 2021: demonstrating the failed propaganda and lies of the US empire

Carlton Meyer, “The Chaotic Fall of Kabul in 2021” (Tales of the American Empire, 20 August 2021)

Using past and current news videos of the US evacuations from Saigon (Vietnam) in 1975 and Kabul (Afghanistan) in 2021, this instalment in Carlton Meyer’s Tales of the American Empire compares these two momentous events in the decline and fall of the American Empire and uses them to demonstrate how the US government not only lies to its citizens but, in detailing the apparently disorganised and messy evacuations, also exposes the United States’ incompetence in not foreseeing events and planning for an orderly departure and that nation’s cold and brutal indifference to the fate of its citizens stranded in both countries, to say nothing of the fate of those local Vietnamese and Afghans who assisted the US in its wars and might have been (or be) accused of treachery. The film then lays out the context for the US occupation of Afghanistan in the wake of terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center towers and other locations in the US on 11 September 2001. Those attacks provided the convenient excuse for the US to invade Afghanistan and overthrow the Taliban government in spite of the fact that none of the terrorists supposedly involved in the attacks were Afghanistan citizens; the only link was that Saudi terrorist leader Osama bin Laden was living in Afghanistan at the time of the 9/11 attacks. Meyer states that bin Laden had nothing to do with these attacks: he learned about these from local news media where he was living; and that bin Laden himself and the supposed existence of his organisation Al Qa’ida were a ruse for the US to pursue a War on Terror in Afghanistan and other nations in western Asia and northern Africa whose governments had been targeted for overthrow.

One significant feature of the film which Meyer could have emphasised more is the failure of US and other Western intelligence to ascertain that the Taliban had cut deals with sections of Afghanistan’s government and armed forces, and that Taliban overthrow of US puppet President Ashraf Ghani’s government would be swift: this failure is illustrated in US President Joe Biden’s press conference about a month before the fall of Kabul, in which Biden asserts that the collapse of Ghani’s government would not occur as the country’s armed forces were more than adequately staffed and equipped to fight and resist the Taliban, and that there would be no hurried evacuations from Afghanistan similar to those that occurred in Saigon in April 1975. This part of the film illustrates more than anything else that has been and is being written about the Biden government’s performance in the months leading up to the Taliban resurgence, that the entire apparatus of and surrounding the US government, including US intelligence and the most senior leaders of the nation’s armed forces, has utterly failed the US people in its ineptitude.

Funnily, while watching the film of the passenger jet moving down the runway at the Kabul airport, with all the people running alongside, that the film features early on, I had the impression that the crowds did not look all that desperate to clamber on board. It may very well be that the people (nearly all of whom were men) at the airport were aware of the momentous events taking place in Kabul, that the Western planes landing at the Hamid Karzai International Airport might well be the last such planes they would see; and that Western mainstream news media were imposing their own interpretations of the scenes at the airport onto the crowds and the country to insinuate that many Afghans were desperate to leave the country after Taliban victory. Even when backed into a corner, with all its lies and propaganda about Afghanistan and the failed 20-year war there, the West still needs to lie about its failures.