All posts by birdjanitor

Cleans up after birds.

December 18, 2018 in 2,791 words


To set my mood • • •


‘A torrent of ghastly revelations’: what military service taught me about America

Training on a base in California, and later serving in Afghanistan, made me confront the reality of American empire, and the injustice that pervades society at home


My first and only war tour took place in Afghanistan in 2010. I was a US Marine lieutenant then, a signals intelligence officer tasked with leading a platoon-size element of 80 to 90 men, spread across an area of operations the size of my home state of Connecticut, in the interception and exploitation of enemy communications. That was the official job description, anyway. The year-long reality consisted of a tangle of rearguard management and frontline supervision.

Years before Helmand province, Afghanistan, however, there was Twentynine Palms, California. From the summer of 2006 to the summer of 2007, I was trained as a lance corporal in my military occupational specialty of tactical data systems administration (a specialty I would later jettison after earning my officer commission in 2008). My schoolhouse was the Marine Corps Communication-Electronics School, which was abbreviated as MCCES, pronounced “mick-sess”. For many, the wider location became “Twentynine Stumps” or “the Stumps”. But for me it just became “the Palms”.

Our time at the Palms was preceded by three weeks of marine combat training at Camp Geiger, North Carolina, and, before that, 12 weeks of Marine basic training at Parris Island, South Carolina. The progression from Parris Island to Geiger to the Palms signalled, on the face of it, a slow return from barbaric intrigue to the tedium of civilisation. Boot camp was everything you might have gathered from films you’ve seen. There were the recruits on the deck, scrubbing away with their scuzz brushes, like confused termites labouring about impenetrable wood. There were the recruits being called up to the quarterdeck, push-upping or crunching to untold woofs from the mad hats. There were the orders for recruits to hit recruits. There was the rifle drill position that was called the “fag wrist” and the bayonet training that sounded off with “Kill kill kill haji!” (The last bayonet charge occurred during the Korean war.) There was the platoon sergeant who would abruptly emerge in the squad bay frothing, unhinged, and maybe drunk, flipping over everything within spitting distance, propelling recruits to vault off their racks before the whirlwind struck, all while he ranted about every person who had ever wronged him.

So not long after my boot-camp graduation, there was also something appropriate about watching junior enlisted men assemble at a weapons expo to get the autograph of the actor R Lee Ermey of Full Metal Jacket fame. He looked frail and friendly, not at all the drill instructor for whom he had become known. Apart from the obvious irony of active-duty personnel fetishising Stanley Kubrick’s anti-war film – at a weapons expo, no less – the way the Marines lined up for his signature, like excited schoolboys amid the merchandise, struck me as at odds with the myth of the solemn war-fighter set apart from the puerile hustle of American life. I hadn’t abased myself, on my knees, scrubbing toilets at the level and in constant sight of my drill instructor’s crotch just to join a club. That would have been, in the words of Ermey’s Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, “Mickey Mouse shit”.

PREPARE TO SPEND A WHILE, it’s The Long Read.


Climate change: The massive CO2 emitter you may not know about

Concrete is the most widely used man-made material in existence. It is second only to water as the most-consumed resource on the planet.

But, while cement – the key ingredient in concrete – has shaped much of our built environment, it also has a massive carbon footprint.

Cement is the source of about 8% of the world’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, according to think tank Chatham House.

If the cement industry were a country, it would be the third largest emitter in the world – behind China and the US. It contributes more CO2 than aviation fuel (2.5%) and is not far behind the global agriculture business (12%).


click to embiggen

Cement industry leaders were in Poland for the UN’s climate change conference – COP24 – to discuss ways of meeting the requirements of the Paris Agreement on climate change. To do this, annual emissions from cement will need to fall by at least 16% by 2030.

So, how did our love of concrete end up endangering the planet? And what can we do about it?


Why 536 was ‘the worst year to be alive’


An 72-meter ice core drilled in the Colle Gnifetti Glacier in the Swiss Alps entombs more than 2000 years of fallout from volcanoes, storms, and human pollution.

Ask medieval historian Michael McCormick what year was the worst to be alive, and he’s got an answer: “536.” Not 1349, when the Black Death wiped out half of Europe. Not 1918, when the flu killed 50 million to 100 million people, mostly young adults. But 536. In Europe, “It was the beginning of one of the worst periods to be alive, if not the worst year,” says McCormick, a historian and archaeologist who chairs the Harvard University Initiative for the Science of the Human Past.

A mysterious fog plunged Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Asia into darkness, day and night—for 18 months. “For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during the whole year,” wrote Byzantine historian Procopius. Temperatures in the summer of 536 fell 1.5°C to 2.5°C, initiating the coldest decade in the past 2300 years. Snow fell that summer in China; crops failed; people starved. The Irish chronicles record “a failure of bread from the years 536–539.” Then, in 541, bubonic plague struck the Roman port of Pelusium, in Egypt. What came to be called the Plague of Justinian spread rapidly, wiping out one-third to one-half of the population of the eastern Roman Empire and hastening its collapse, McCormick says.

Historians have long known that the middle of the sixth century was a dark hour in what used to be called the Dark Ages, but the source of the mysterious clouds has long been a puzzle. Now, an ultraprecise analysis of ice from a Swiss glacier by a team led by McCormick and glaciologist Paul Mayewski at the Climate Change Institute of The University of Maine (UM) in Orono has fingered a culprit. At a workshop at Harvard this week, the team reported that a cataclysmic volcanic eruption in Iceland spewed ash across the Northern Hemisphere early in 536. Two other massive eruptions followed, in 540 and 547. The repeated blows, followed by plague, plunged Europe into economic stagnation that lasted until 640, when another signal in the ice—a spike in airborne lead—marks a resurgence of silver mining, as the team reports in Antiquity this week.

To Kyle Harper, provost and a medieval and Roman historian at The University of Oklahoma in Norman, the detailed log of natural disasters and human pollution frozen into the ice “give us a new kind of record for understanding the concatenation of human and natural causes that led to the fall of the Roman Empire—and the earliest stirrings of this new medieval economy.”


12 Underreported Reasons Why 2018 Was Just The Worst

The kindest thing you can say about 2018 is that it was definitely a year. There’s no denying that. Yep, it was an entire year. A long, emotionally exhausting year that’s left us feeling like we’ve had the shit beaten out of us from every direction imaginable. Here are a couple of reasons for that …

12. China Legalized Internment Camps For Muslims


As part of its crackdown on several Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang, the Chinese government authorized the use of internment camps to imprison Muslims whom they suspect of being extremists, terrorists, and petty criminals. How many people have they locked up so far, you might ask? Oh, only one fucking million.

These facilities aren’t literal concentration camps, of course. They’re just “education and training centers” designed to hold “people influenced by extremism,” a malady which is apparently solved — according to former inmates — by forcing people to renounce Islam, undergo “ideological education, psychological rehabilitation and behavior correction,” learn Mandarin, and declare their everlasting loyalty to the state.

Wow, it’s almost as if the whole “They’re bad people” thing is nothing but a flimsy pretense to justify locking up minorities. At least we never have to worry about that happening over he- oh …

11. Experts Say We Have Until 2030 To Prevent Catastrophic Climate Change


Surprise! Climate change is a still a thing, and it’s going to absolutely wipe the floor with our asses if we don’t do something about it within the next decade.


Witches to Trump: Stop Calling the Mueller Investigation a ‘Witch Hunt’

The witch community is tired of the president invoking the worst moment in their history to serve his political needs


America’s Shithole, characteristically open.

It may, on the surface, seem like a harmless way to trivialize special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.

But to the actual community of witches, President Donald Trump’s constant invocation of a “witch hunt” is deeply problematic and, frankly, a bit hurtful.

Many are mad, and the rest are rolling their eyes,” said David Salisbury, a lead organizer at Washington-based witch community Firefly House.

Witches are not a constituency with which politicians normally concern themselves. And there’s little sense in the community that Trump actually cares about what they truly think. But for those who practice witchcraft, the president’s words bring up a painful period in history, when men and women were accused of being witches and murdered, both in the American colonies and in Europe.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: “To have him compare his situation to the worst period in our history is just infuriating” – Kitty Randall


Rocco The Cheeky Parrot Keeps Using Amazon’s Alexa To Order Snacks

The African grey interacts with the virtual assistant up to 40 times a day, asking it to tell him jokes and play his favorite music.

A mischievous parrot who was booted from an animal sanctuary for his foul mouth has found a friend in Amazon’s Alexa device.

Rocco, an African grey, was caught using the virtual assistant to play his favorite music, tell jokes and even order snacks, The Times of London reports.

Thankfully the device’s parental lock system prevented the clever boy from actually purchasing any items ― which included strawberries, ice cream and even a kettle.

Owner Marion Wischnewski told The Times she took the parrot in after he was removed from a sanctuary operated by the UK’s National Animal Welfare Trust for swearing too much.

Rocco, who was taught to curse by a previous owner, is evidently loving his new home, interacting with Alexa up to 40 times a day and mastering countless household sounds.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Bessie the African Grey is presently repeatedly screeching the tone my home theater receiver makes while calibrating the speakers. If she doesn’t stop soon…


Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

The support of our readers has made it possible for us to cover tensions at the Mexican border, the data breach that threatened to bring down Facebook, shifts in the gun control debate, and much more besides. With your help, we can continue to hold power to account and tell the stories that need to be told, into 2019 and beyond.


The support of our readers has made it possible for us to expose the Windrush scandal, the data breach that threatened to bring down Facebook, to cover the legalisation of abortion in Ireland, the rise of the far right across Europe and far more besides. With your help, we can continue to hold power to account and tell the stories that need to be told, into 2019 and beyond.


As the border between the United States and Mexico began to figure more and more prominently into the news cycle, filmmaker David Freid noticed a consistent blind spot: No one, it seemed, was talking to the people who actually lived there. He decided to visit Mike Davidson, who for the past 40 years has been ferrying tourists across the Rio Grande in his rowboat.


On our last episode of the year, we couldn’t show our Brexit segment in the UK because of their stupid ban on using footage from Parliament. What did they get instead? They got this.

THANKS to HBO and Last Week Tonight for making this program available on YouTube.


Journalist and “Fear” author Bob Woodward describes the depth of Donald Trump’s incompetence and explains how accurate the comparisons to the Nixon era may be.


Mick Mulvaney becomes Trump’s acting chief of staff despite calling the president a “terrible human being,” Ryan Zinke is pushed out of his Secretary of the Interior post, and Stephen Miller debuts a new sprayed-on hairstyle while discussing the potential government shutdown on “Face the Nation.”

THANKS to Comedy Central and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah for making this program available on YouTube.


It’s not often in U.S. history that a president faces an investigation while in office. Let alone 17.


Mick Mulvaney is about to be Trump’s acting White House Chief of Staff. But he wasn’t acting in this 2016 video in which he called Trump ‘a terrible human being.’

THANKS to CBS and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert for making this program available on YouTube.


Seth takes a closer look at how President Trump’s friends and aides have abandoned him, leaving only Stephen Miller and Rudy Giuliani to defend him.

THANKS to NBC and Late Night with Seth Meyers for making this program available on YouTube.


If Amazon is going to keep controlling markets and killing competition, it could at least be a little bit more honest in its holiday commercials.

THANKS to Netflix and Patriot Act with Hassan Minhaj for making this program available on YouTube.


CAUTION: Some language may not be appropriate for work or children.

Thanks to Amazon’s business practices, Christmas might not be coming to South Park this year – unless Santa can save the day.

THANKS to Comedy Central and South Park for making this program available on YouTube.


Health Canada shows you the best way to pack on the pounds this Christmas.

THANKS to CTV and The Beaverton for making this program available on YouTube.


CAUTION: Some language may not be appropriate for work or children.

Me commentary on a bunch of Christmas Fails. Have a good one!


インスタにアップしたものとかいろいろ。The videos which were uploaded in Instagram, etc.


FINALLY . . .

What happened next? How Banksy’s shredder proved he is a serious, important artist

The self-destructing masterpiece was the art world’s funniest joke. Was it really an act of sabotage or has it doubled the piece’s value?


Shredded: Girl With Balloon was sold for more than £1m by Sotheby’s before it auto-destructed.


It had been a very good auction. Sotheby’s had already taken more than £32m at its contemporary art sale on 5 October. Then came the final lot of the evening. No sooner had it gone under the hammer for just over £1m than, to the shock and bafflement of the assembled collectors and art professionals, the work’s own frame started to eat it. Banksy’s Girl With Balloon was pulled downward into what was – with hindsight – a suspiciously bulky frame and emerged sliced into thin strips.

Was it an attack on the art market or a cheap publicity stunt? A Dada masterpiece or just a way for Banksy to raise his prices? Speculation and gossip have fuelled this instant art classic’s fame, yet the cynics have mostly been disproved – so far. Admittedly, in spite of denials by Sotheby’s, the placing of Banksy’s booby-trapped picture at the end of the auction in October looks, to some, too perfect.

“I think it’s almost impossible that Sotheby’s didn’t know about it”, says Miety Heiden of rival auction house Phillips. Yet she doesn’t think Banksy’s stunt has had a massive effect on the artist’s value. Prices for editions of his work have boomed since the Big Shred, but only at the lower end of the market. “I don’t see it at the higher level,” Heiden says. After all, he was already doing rather well. “Obviously it has done nothing to staunch the ever-increasing prices his works are attaining,” exults Banksy’s former agent, the art dealer Steve Lazarides.

What Heiden has seen is people queuing round the block in Hong Kong for a selling exhibition of Banksy that Phillips planned before his sensational iconoclasm. His fame has exploded since and the world is “starting to recognise that he is a great artist”. Lazarides also thinks this has won Banksy a bigger reputation, “especially among the art world hierarchy, who I don’t think have ever given him the credit he deserves”. Banksy has simply carried out “one of the best pieces of performance art ever executed”, he claims. It was “funny, thought provoking and audacious”.


Ed. More tomorrow? Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Not?