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Saturday March 31, 2007
I share the outrage expressed in the British press over the treatment of our naval personnel accused by Iran of illegally entering their waters. It is a disgrace. We would never dream of treating captives like this – allowing them to smoke cigarettes, for example, even though it has been proven that smoking kills. And as for compelling poor servicewoman Faye Turney to wear a black headscarf, and then allowing the picture to be posted around the world – have the Iranians no concept of civilised behaviour? For God’s sake, what’s wrong with putting a bag over her head? That’s what we do with the Muslims we capture: we put bags over their heads, so it’s hard to breathe. Then it’s perfectly acceptable to take photographs of them and circulate them to the press because the captives can’t be recognised and humiliated in the way these unfortunate British service people are.
It is also unacceptable that these British captives should be made to talk on television and say things that they may regret later. If the Iranians put duct tape over their mouths, like we do to our captives, they wouldn’t be able to talk at all. Of course they’d probably find it even harder to breathe – especially with a bag over their head – but at least they wouldn’t be humiliated.
And what’s all this about allowing the captives to write letters home saying they are all right? It’s time the Iranians fell into line with the rest of the civilised world: they should allow their captives the privacy of solitary confinement. That’s one of the many privileges the US grants to its captives in Guantánamo Bay.
The true mark of a civilised country is that it doesn’t rush into charging people whom it has arbitrarily arrested in places it’s just invaded. The inmates of Guantánamo, for example, have been enjoying all the privacy they want for almost five years, and the first inmate has only just been charged. What a contrast to the disgraceful Iranian rush to parade their captives before the cameras!
What’s more, it is clear that the Iranians are not giving their British prisoners any decent physical exercise. The US military make sure that their Iraqi captives enjoy PT. This takes the form of exciting “stress positions”, which the captives are expected to hold for hours on end so as to improve their stomach and calf muscles. A common exercise is where they are made to stand on the balls of their feet and then squat so that their thighs are parallel to the ground. This creates intense pain and, finally, muscle failure. It’s all good healthy fun and has the bonus that the captives will confess to anything to get out of it.
And this brings me to my final point. It is clear from her TV appearance that servicewoman Turney has been put under pressure. The newspapers have persuaded behavioural psychologists to examine the footage and they all conclude that she is “unhappy and stressed”.
What is so appalling is the underhand way in which the Iranians have got her “unhappy and stressed”. She shows no signs of electrocution or burn marks and there are no signs of beating on her face. This is unacceptable. If captives are to be put under duress, such as by forcing them into compromising sexual positions, or having electric shocks to their genitals, they should be photographed, as they were in Abu Ghraib. The photographs should then be circulated around the civilised world so that everyone can see exactly what has been going on.
As Stephen Glover pointed out in the Daily Mail, perhaps it would not be right to bomb Iran in retaliation for the humiliation of our servicemen, but clearly the Iranian people must be made to suffer – whether by beefing up sanctions, as the Mail suggests, or simply by getting President Bush to hurry up and invade, as he intends to anyway, and bring democracy and western values to the country, as he has in Iraq.
· Terry Jones is a film director, actor and Python
“Oh ye Egyptians, they may say to you that I have not made an expedition hither for any other object than that of of abolishing your religion, but tell the slanderers, but I have not come to you except for the purpose of restoring your rights from the hands of the oppressors.”
- Napoleon Bonaparte July 2, 1798
“Our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators. It is the hope and desire of the British people, and the nations in alliance with them, that the Arab race may rise again to greatness and renown among the peoples of the earth.
- Sir Frederick Stanley Maude, Commander of British Forces in Baghdad, March 19, 1917.
“Unlike many armies in the world you came not to conquer, not to occupy, but to liberate.”
- Don Rumsfeld, speaking to US troops, April 2003
A historic first Space Quidditch match came to a spectacular conclusion last night as astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria caught the Golden Snitch to give the Americans a hard fought victory over the Russians. “The Russians used brilliant strategy, but only NASA had the T2KQMU (Thunderbolt 2000 Quidditch Maneuvering Unit),” commented Lopez-Alegria, pictured above squeezing the elusive Golden Snitch in his left hand.
Happy April Fools Day from the folks at APOD. In reality, Astronauts Jeff Wisoff and Lopez-Alegria are shown space-walking in 2001 October during a space shuttle mission to help build the International Space Station.
Here are 10 of the top April Fool’s Day pranks ever pulled off, as judged by the San Diego-based Museum of Hoaxes for their notoriety, absurdity, and number of people duped.
— In 1957, a BBC television show announced that thanks to a mild winter and the virtual elimination of the spaghetti weevil, Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper spaghetti crop. Footage of Swiss farmers pulling strands of spaghetti from trees prompted a barrage of calls from people wanting to know how to grow their own spaghetti at home.
— In 1985, Sports Illustrated magazine published a story that a rookie baseball pitcher who could reportedly throw a ball at 270 kilometers per hour (168 miles per hour) was set to join the New York Mets. Finch was said to have mastered his skill — pitching significantly faster than anyone else has ever managed — in a Tibetan monastery. Mets fans’ celebrations were short-lived.
— Sweden in 1962 had only one television channel, which broadcast in black and white. The station’s technical expert appeared on the news to announce that thanks to a newly developed technology, viewers could convert their existing sets to receive color pictures by pulling a nylon stocking over the screen. In fact, they had to wait until 1970.
— In 1996, American fast-food chain Taco Bell announced that it had bought Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell, a historic symbol of American independence, from the federal government and was renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell.
Outraged citizens called to express their anger before Taco Bell revealed the hoax. Then-White House press secretary Mike McCurry was asked about the sale and said the Lincoln Memorial in Washington had also been sold and was to be renamed the Ford Lincoln Mercury Memorial after the automotive giant.
— In 1977, British newspaper The Guardian published a seven-page supplement for the 10th anniversary of San Serriffe, a small republic located in the Indian Ocean consisting of several semicolon-shaped islands. A series of articles described the geography and culture of the two main islands, named Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse.
— In 1992, US National Public Radio announced that Richard Nixon was running for president again. His new campaign slogan was, “I didn’t do anything wrong, and I won’t do it again.” They even had clips of Nixon announcing his candidacy. Listeners flooded the show with calls expressing their outrage. Nixon’s voice actually turned out to be that of impersonator Rich Little.
— In 1998, a newsletter titled New Mexicans for Science and Reason carried an article that the state of Alabama had voted to change the value of pi from 3.14159 to the “Biblical value” of 3.0.
— Burger King, another American fast-food chain, published a full-page advertisement in USA Today in 1998 announcing the introduction of the “Left-Handed Whopper,” specially designed for the 32 million left-handed Americans. According to the advertisement, the new burger included the same ingredients as the original, but the condiments were rotated 180 degrees. The chain said it received thousands of requests for the new burger, as well as orders for the original “right-handed” version.
— Discover Magazine announced in 1995 that a highly respected biologist, Aprile Pazzo (Italian for April Fool), had discovered a new species in Antarctica: the hotheaded naked ice borer. The creatures were described as having bony plates on their heads that became burning hot, allowing the animals to bore through ice at high speed — a technique they used to hunt penguins.
— Noted British astronomer Patrick Moore announced on the radio in 1976 that at 9:47 am, a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event, in which Pluto would pass behind Jupiter, would cause a gravitational alignment that would reduce the Earth’s gravity. Moore told listeners that if they jumped in the air at the exact moment of the planetary alignment, they would experience a floating sensation. Hundreds of people called in to report feeling the sensation.
Embrace the Suck.
Intensive military activity creates an incubator for slang. By bringing together people from geographically diverse backgrounds, putting them into stressful circumstances, and teaching them a new language of jargon and acronym, the armed forces create fertile ground for new idioms – many of which return home in civvies when the conflicts are over. In the Civil War, World War I and World War II, in Korea and in Viet Nam, servicepeople created or popularized now-familiar terms like shoddy, hotshot, cooties, tailspin, fleabag, face time, joystick, SNAFU, FUBAR, flaky, gung ho, no sweat, flame-out, and many, many others.
Now, the GWOT brings us a new generation of ‘milspeak’. Military columnist Austin Bay has published an early collection of neologisms from Gulf War II. On NPR, Bay explains what The Suck is, how to identify a fobbit, and why Marines look down on the attitude of Semper I.