How fear is used to control people in “Fear Psychosis and the Cult of Safety – Why are People so Afraid?”

“Fear Psychosis and the Cult of Safety – Why are People so Afraid?” (Academy of Ideas, 3 April 2022)

In itself, this is an interesting video talk about the cultural phenomenon of fear that currently pervades Western society across the globe in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center buildings in New York City in September 2001 and what followed after: the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, the NATO interventions in Libya and Syria in 2011, the spate of terrorist incidents in Europe and other parts of the world, and ongoing Western manipulation of Ukraine resulting in various Color Revolutions that have had the effect of eroding democracy and bringing to power governments that work closely with NATO with the aim of undermining and eventually overthrowing the current government of Russia. Much attention is given over to detailing how people living under a narrative of constant fear think and behave, and how a belief that the world is a dangerous and unstable place leads to a cult of safety that puts limits on people’s freedoms and ability to make decisions for themselves, their families and communities, and encourages conformity and dependence on authority figures and ideologies. In previous centuries, Western society relied on religion, especially state Christianity in its Roman Catholic and Protestant forms, to control people and enforce conformity; now in an age where most people profess atheism, and with the COVID-19 pandemic being uppermost in the lives of people and nations across the world, the new ideology used by governments and their backers to control people is based on a narrow (and very distorted) interpretation of “science” or what might be called Scientism (and which the video narrator calls The Science), with public health officials, regulation agencies, pharmaceutical corporations and opinion makers elevated to celebrity status by mainstream news media acting as a hierarchy of high priests telling the public what to believe and what not to believe.

The video puts forward quite a convincing argument on how the narrative of fear is used to restrict political freedoms, shut out freedom of speech, compel conformity and stop people from questioning the conditions of society, why things are as they are, and perhaps challenging ideas, traditions, structures and paradigms that have long outlived their original usefulness and relevance and are now being used by power elites to exploit others and deny people their rights and freedoms. The video makes a plea for us to become aware of how fear pervades our culture and our lives, how fear shapes society and the decisions we make, and to try to train our thinking and the way we view the world to become more optimistic and develop an attitude of courage, hope, risk-taking, resilience and adaptability.

Unfortunately the video provides no guidance as to how individuals might take the small steps needed to change their thinking and behaviour, and break away from being brainwashed to fear. Just as importantly, the video does not say how individuals might support one another to maintain optimism, hope, courage and other positive behaviours, ideas and belief systems that encourage and reinforce risk-taking and enterprising personalities. A second criticism that might be levelled at the video is that it fails to make the connection between the cult of fear and the historical experience of Western societies, especially during the 19th and 20th centuries when much of the world was under European and US colonial / imperialist domination. Anglocentric settler societies founded upon dispossessing indigenous peoples of their lands and resources, their cultures, histories and identities, and exploiting those peoples and immigrants, voluntary and forced, for their labour to benefit a minority elite, especially lived (and continue to live) under the fear that all these peoples will eventually rebel and claim what is rightfully and justly due to them. The United States in particular is a society very much based on fear – fear of slave rebellion translated into fear of black people, fear of those opposed to American belief in exceptionalism and Manifest Destiny – and this fear has spread into and through its mass media culture. The video does not probe to any degree at all into how US popular commercial culture has shaped and continues to shape people’s perceptions and channels their insecurities and fears into a narrative that now dominates Western culture.

As with its other videos, this video is lavishly illustrated with mostly Western art works that help to illustrate its claims.

The Testimonies Project: an important visual document of individual suffering from COVID-19 vaccines

“The Testimonies Project: Testimonies after COVID-19 vaccination” (The Israeli People’s Committee, 2021)

In early 2021 the Israeli government began a drive to get as many Israeli adults as possible vaccinated against COVID-19 after the then Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu signed an agreement with Pfizer Inc for that company to supply vaccines to Israel. Since then, Israel has achieved one of the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates with (as of 26 June 2021) 64% of eligible adults having received their first shots and 60% of eligible adults being fully vaccinated. Israel’s efforts to have its population inoculated against COVID-19 have been hailed by the global mainstream news media as a great success.

As far as I am aware the Israeli Ministry of Health is not collecting statistics or any other information on the possible side effects of the Pfizer / BioNTech mRNA vaccine against COVID-19 or of the other vaccine (the Moderna mRNA vaccine) used in Israel. An independent organisation, the Israeli People’s Committee (IPC) is collecting such information and people’s accounts of their experiences. The Testimonies Project platform is one of the IPC’s initiatives to gather in video format stories from people who have suffered adverse reactions, many of these serious and life-threatening, to the vaccines so that they can at least be seen and heard by others. The video can be viewed with English-language sub-titles at this link.

The interviews are organised in groups according to the nature of the reactions experienced which range from cardiac problems (myocarditis, pericarditis and other heart issues) to severe menstrual bleeding, miscarriages, neurological problems, skin problems including shingles, and flare-ups of other diseases. Many interviewees mention that they took the shots under duress from employers who threatened to fire them if they remained unvaccinated. There are also some distressing reports of the lack of sympathy or help from doctors and other medical professionals towards people needing help and prompt attention. Several interviewees declare that they will not allow their children to receive the vaccines.

The stories are often heart-breaking and perhaps the saddest of them all comes near the end where a man tells of the surgeries his wife had to have to remove fluids from her brain; the surgeries were ultimately unsuccessful and the wife died. What is perhaps most incredible is that there appears to be no suggestion in the patients’ stories of doctors, nurses or other medical professionals being willing to report patients’ problems to appropriate authorities. A theme that recurs is of these professionals being reluctant or even refusing to consider that many of the patients’ health issues may be linked to the vaccines if not caused by them.

The Testimonies Project currently appears to exist mainly to collect and archive individual accounts of health issues arising from the COVID-19 vaccines used in Israel. The film does not provide the context in which the Israeli government made its agreement with Pfizer Inc to purchase and use the company’s vaccines. Nor does it say if Palestinians received or were allowed to receive any of these vaccines. The interviewees do not say if they have future plans to take legal action against the Israeli government or any other parties involved in the supply, distribution and handling of the vaccines (including the way vaccines were injected into people’s arms and whether aspiration of the needle was used or not). This omission, whether intended or not, does make watching the film much harder than it could be; for many of the interviewees, their health problems are permanent and they may not live long enough to obtain relief or justice for their injuries and suffering. Perhaps at a future date the reports and stories collected may serve as evidence in a future legal action or as a foundation for a class action against the Israeli government or Pfizer Inc.

The film is important viewing for everyone who is facing the difficult decision of whether to accept vaccination with any of the COVID-19 vaccines, especially the mRNA vaccines supplied by Pfizer and Moderna; or who has already had one or both of these vaccines.

The Philosophy of Byung-Chul Han: Western society as a landscape of over-achievement, exhaustion, stress and burnout

Joshua Krook, “The Philosophy of Byung-Chul Han” (28 February 2021)

In his theory on mass formation psychosis, Belgian clinical psychologist Dr Mattias Desmet identified four features underpinning the emergence of the phenomenon: widespread social fragmentation, isolation and alienation; large numbers of people experiencing a lack of meaning or purpose in their lives; free-floating anxiety in the form of depression and stress; and free-floating psychological discontent often manifesting as aggression and hostility directed against scapegoats. Desmet does not go into much detail on how these features arise or relate to one another – but I chanced on finding on Youtube some videos on the philosophy (or aspects thereof) of South Korean-born German philosopher Byung-Chul Han who has written works on late-stage capitalism with its emphasis on digital technologies, how these technologies drive change and how the pace of this change affects humans and culture. Han’s most famous work is “Müdigkeitsgesellschaft”, known in English as “The Burnout Society”, in which Han treats contemporary Western society as a landscape of depression, stress, burnout and inability to concentrate created by a culture that prioritises a “can-do” attitude and positivity, encouraging everyone to be self-promoting and entrepreneurial, and subtly driving people into what Han calls self-exploitation and constant self-reference. “Achievement” (or rather, the process of becoming something) and recognition become ends in themselves, leading individuals to concentrate on striving to produce and achieve more and more, to succeed more and more, and driving them into exhaustion, stress and burnout – in short, the individual form of the free-floating anxiety that Desmet refers to in his theory of mass formation psychosis.

Vlogger Joshua Krook has put together a 10-minute video introducing the work of Byung-Chul Han to the general public, and a very good survey it is too of Han’s philosophical themes and his most significant writing. Krook sums up Han’s worldview succinctly: we live in a perfectionist, achievement-oriented society where untidiness and negativity are abhorred, and the quest for achievement, success and perfection is driving people into social isolation and mental illness. Some of us become manic about striving for perfection, and to achieve perfection we may become narcissistic and end up losing touch with others and ultimately with reality. If things don’t work out the way we expect them to, we may become intensely angry.

In the space of ten minutes, Krook ranges across five of Han’s most recent books: “The Burnout Society”, “Saving Beauty”, “The Transparent Society”, “Good Entertainment: A Deconstruction of the Western Passion Narrative” and (I think, because Krook does not actually mention the title) “The Agony of Eros”. Intriguing ideas that Krook finds in these works include Han’s criticism of the aesthetic of much current art and culture which emphasises perfection and achievement in the form of smooth lines and surfaces, trapping the viewer in a banal relationship with artistic objects that do not permit individual interpretation or deeper engagement. Another interesting notion is Han’s apparent challenging (as Krook sees it) of the difference between high art and low art, between art for its own sake and art done for self-pleasure, and the suggestion that art done for self-pleasure or for fun, no matter how fleeting it is, may be more authentic than art produced for an earnest purpose.

While Krook’s survey of Han’s work does not directly link Han’s philosophy to supporting Desmet’s mass formation theory, viewers of Krook’s video who also go on to investigate other of Han’s work, such as the philosopher’s analysis of violence in Western society in books such as “Topology of Violence” and “Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power”, will be able to see how Han’s work helps to buttress Desmet’s mass formation theory though it is worth investigating in its own right.

As the voiceover soundtrack to Krook’s video essay is the essay’s most important feature, and is fast and dense with information, viewers may need a transcript of the essay to follow the narration.

Rendezvous in Space: space exploration documentary with faith in humanity and scientific progress

Frank Capra, “Rendezvous in Space” (1964)

A promotional industrial film made for the Martin Marietta Corporation – a precursor of Lockheed Martin – this curious documentary, looking rather like a collage of hard-boiled rocket launches, short mini-cartoons for children and a B&W newsreel of interviews with members of the public, is notable for being the last film made by former Hollywood director Frank Capra, famous for films like the perennial Christmas classic “It’s A Wonderful Life” and “Mr Smith Goes To Washington”. By the early 1950s, Capra had become disillusioned with Hollywood culture and values, veering away from championing the common man, democracy and individualism, and becoming obsessed with (as he saw it) cynical, self-indulgent ideas such as hedonism, pursuing pleasure at the expense of morality and shocking the audience for the sake of shock; along with changes in the film industry and in the public mood following World War II which did not favour Capra’s own preferences for supporting the poor and the disadvantaged, Capra left Hollywood and began making science-based education documentaries, of which “Rendezvous in Space” was the last.

Jumping from a series of photos of parts of the Earth as it rotates, taken by a 1960s Mercury capsule with an astronaut on board, the film lavishes considerable attention on a series of rocket launches before settling on a short animation in which the moon (voiced by actor Jim Backus of “Gilligan’s Island” fame) complains about all the rockets zipping by from Earth. Next thing you know, film narrator Danny Thomas interviews various people in the street who are nonplussed by the idea of travelling in space. Another animation about the Chinese invention of rockets and fireworks follows which leads into a narrative about humans advancing into space and towards the heavens, and what future travel and working in space might be like in an extended animated sequence. A whimsical little sequence of cartoon flowers trying to follow the sun and figure out what is up and what is down is very amusing if rather lowbrow. At the end of the film, Thomas reappears to confidently predict how space exploration and the knowledge gained from it will benefit people’s lives. As the sun lights up the planet, Thomas proclaims that the light of “Man’s mind” will illuminate and give meaning and purpose to the universe.

While the film’s visual style and audio soundtrack might seem very outdated to contemporary audiences, and not a little jarring – Mel Blanc voicing various animated characters may remind modern audiences of old Looney Tunes cartoons – the documentary makes some surprisingly accurate predictions about what space exploration might be like: the sequence of humans working on a nuclear-powered research laboratory foretells the International Space Station. The space taxi is a forerunner of the space shuttle. Thomas’s final words might seem rather preposterously arrogant but they reflect Capra’s belief in the inherent goodness of humanity and his faith in US scientific and technological advancement at the time that such progress will ultimately benefit all humans and put an end to poverty and injustice.

The inconsistencies among the various sequences in the film, with some looking more serious and others rather silly, might reflect some confusion in the brief that Capra was given by the film’s sponsors in making the documentary. Some of Mel Blanc’s voices are no different from the voices he used for the characters of Bugs Bunny in the Looney Tunes cartoons or of Barney Rubble in the famous “The Flintstones” animated sitcom. The interviews on the street look staged. To be fair to the film, it was originally made for New York City’s World Fair in 1964, to be shown together as part of an exhibit with moving robot models, which would explain apparent gaps within the film’s narrative and the jumps it takes from one topic to another.

The film clearly isn’t a patch on the other, more famous feature movies and the science documentaries Capra had made. That “Rendezvous in Space” was the last feature Capra made, when he could have continued making Hollywood films, seems to me to be a sad footnote to what should have been a very long and illustrious career.

The irony that the film with its faith in human intelligence and reason that overcomes mental and emotional obstacles as well as physical obstacles to reach out into space was financed by a corporation later to become part of Lockheed Martin, one of the largest global defence contractors and a stalwart of the US military-industrial complex, is surely not lost on astute viewers.

A litany of blunders and oversights in “Deepwater Horizon: Ten Mistakes”

Jess Reid, “Deepwater Horizon: Ten Mistakes” (2021)

An investigation into the causes of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico near the US state of Louisiana in April 2010, that killed 11 workers and created a massive environmental catastrophe in the Gulf, this documentary manages to be fairly well researched yet easy for its target general public audience to follow. Concentrating on the major errors behind the oil rig explosion, starting with aspects of the culture of BP that emphasised the pressure of time and budget over-runs over safety issues, to mistakes and fateful decisions made by engineers on the oil rig, to underestimating the enormous size of the oil spill and the lack of proper plans to cap the well and to clean up the oil spill, the film draws out what it considers to be the major blunders behind the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe and explains how they contributed to the accident. A number of experts including former US Energy Secretary Stephen Chu who served in the first Obama administration add their perspectives to each of the issues raised. Their points are illustrated with fairly simple technical animations and archived film of the explosion and the environmental and economic disaster it caused.

Although very detailed, the film does not do enough to show how the various mistakes it identifies are linked and reflect a corporate culture in the oil industry obsessed with making profits and taking unnecessary risks, especially in a highly risky and dangerous activity such as deep-water oil drilling. In such an industry, the pressure on keeping within time and budget limits can encourage people to take short cuts, to overlook or compromise on safety issues, to conform rather than speak out or express misgivings, and downplay problems or the scale of problems when they occur. Disaster and contingency planning is given short shrift and when a disaster does occur, the corporation resorts to a quick technical fix to disperse the problem to make itself look good for the government, the media, the public and (most of all) its shareholders and investors.

The film fails to pound the US government for its weak regulation of the oil industry and its revolving door personnel policy in which oil industry executives take up positions in the US Department of Energy, loosen regulations on their former employers and then later return to the industry with a change of government. Perhaps the most depressing aspect of the film comes near its end when the government fails to punish BP in proportion to the scale of the explosion and the damage it caused to marine environments and the livelihoods of communities and the industries around the Gulf that rely on viable marine environments and ecosystems there. The consequences of the oil rig disaster and of the use of Corexit dispersant to disperse the oil spill on the health of the people who worked on the rig and in the affected environments were and still are considerable. The experts interviewed in the film agree that many of the mistakes and blunders identified have not been properly dealt with and could lead to another major deep-water oil rig explosion.

The film serves as a good introduction to a major human-made disaster that is still generating long-term environmental, economic and human costs in the Gulf. Viewers wanting more information will need to do their own research but at least they will have a handy foundation to work from.

A Day in the Life of an Untouchable Sweeper: a snapshot of discrimination against Dalit people in India

Amudhan R P, “A Day in the Life of an Untouchable Sweeper” (2003)

Known as “manual scavenging”, manually cleaning public and private toilets, open drains and streets of human excrement is still being done by thousands of men and women across India. Much of this work is traditionally done by people from the Dalit (untouchable) communities that are at the bottom of the caste social system. Dalit women sweep and clean dry waste in streets, collect it in cane or metal vessels, and carry these vessels on their heads to dispose of the shit at central disposal points in their communities. Men and women clean faeces from public and private toilets, gutters and drains, and men usually clean sewers and septic tanks.

This video, scripted and filmed by Amudhan R P, follows Mariyammal, a sanitary worker with the Madurai Municipal Corporation as she cleans a street near a temple in Madurai. Mariyammal describes her daily routine to Amudhan as she goes about her work – her employer does not give her proper protective clothing or equipment like a mask, gloves or appropriate footwear so she goes barefoot to avoid soiling her shoes – and vents her anger and frustration about the work she has to do, the lack of proper equipment she is given to do her job, and the discrimination she is forced to put up with from the people around her because she is a Dalit and a sanitary worker.

Featuring close-up shots, and with a jerky style due to Amudhan having to carry the camera on his shoulder, the film can be very confronting for viewers as they see the amount of back-breaking work Mariyammal must do every early morning: scattering ash or sanitary powder over piles of faeces, and sweeping the shit into her vessel with scoops she must obtain or buy herself. She makes three trips to a central disposal area in Madurai. She tells Amudhan that she herself is in bad health (in the opening credits, the film notes that sanitary workers are at risk for asthma, malaria and cancer from their work) but despite requesting a transfer to other work, her employer refuses to move her. She cannot give up working despite her meagre pay and demeaning job as she is a widow with a large family of boys (some of whom must work as labourers) and a huge debt with high interest to pay moneylenders after taking a loan to pay for a son’s wedding. Amudhan passes no judgement on how Mariyammal does her work or on her frustration but patiently asks questions and absorbs some of the anger she vents. Mariyammal turns out to be a feisty lady especially when she takes a break and orders morning tea for herself from a tea vendor. She is not afraid to boss local children for shitting in the street she has to clean and local people appear to tiptoe gingerly past her as she strolls through the streets like a queen.

Since the film was made, it has won awards at film festivals in Tamil Nadu and New Delhi and was even shown at a film festival in China. The street where Mariyammal worked was shut down and Mariyammal was shifted to different work. The working conditions of other Madurai sanitary workers have improved somewhat with better equipment given them as well. Providing the poor people of Madurai and elsewhere in India with better living and working conditions that might include better public sanitation infrastructure – when one sees the dreadful public toilets in Madurai, one understands why poor people prefer to poop in back lanes and alleys – and which turn the faeces into a useful asset such as fertiliser or fuel, seems to be beyond the scope of government at local, regional and national level though: the legislation to provide proper public and private sanitation, making manual scavenging unnecessary, may exist but enforcement is something else altogether.

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.

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.

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..

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.