My saved links (weekly)

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Quotes from Andrew Cockburn’s “Kill Chain: the Rise of the High-tech Assassins”

This book is extraordinary. This makes “Apocalypse Now” seem modern and utterly true; it is still, in a lot of ways.

First, this is the level of visual acuity that was provided by drones not too many years ago:

The chair-bound staff on Masirah, not to mention the technicians and officers at assorted other headquarters in Bagram, Florida, and the Pentagon who were also watching the pictures (Special Operations Command was by now spending $1 million a day renting satellite bandwidth), were in fact glued to a strange depiction of reality. Dawn was hours away, and the silent stream of images generated by warm bodies against a cold background that was filtered through security encryption and satellite relays before ultimate translation into viewable pictures was indistinct at best. Just as Tom Christie’s testers had honestly reported two years earlier (to air force fury), the images gave only a “soda-straw” view of events, with a visual acuity of 20/200. As it so happens, this is the legal definition of blindness for drivers in the United States.

OK, from that paragraph:

this is the legal definition of blindness for drivers in the United States.

…and those buffoons are handed billions of USD.

Despite this costly deployment of advanced technology, when Scott “Soup” Campbell arrived on the scene, he found chaos. An air force captain, Campbell flew an A-10 “Warthog,” which could maneuver at low level with relative impunity, allowing the pilot to survey the ground with the naked eye, unlike the sensor-rich AC-130 that led the SEALS to disaster on Takur Ghar. Campbell and his wingman had been dispatched to Afghanistan on a few hours’ notice late in the morning of the third day of Operation Anaconda.

The long journey down the Gulf, necessarily skirting Iran, and across the Arabian Sea and then Pakistan, took 5 hours, with repeated hookups to an accompanying tanker aircraft. As ordered, he flew straight to the battle without landing. At the time he arrived, the sun was sinking behind the mountains, so the valley below, as he told me later, was in deep shadow, and everything was in a state of utter confusion.

On the ground, 39 separate Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (whose job is to call for air support) in the 5-by-9-kilometer “killbox” were radioing urgently for air support: “we’re getting mortared, Dshk [machine-gun] fire … we’re getting hammered.” In the gathering darkness, fighters, gunships, and helicopters thronged the airspace, moving at hundreds of miles an hour, all ignorant of each other’s position and missing each other often by mere yards.

A navy fighter shot between Campbell and his wingman: a Predator “practically bounced off my canopy.” In his vivid recollection, “weapons coming off the jet(s) fall through that sky.… All of a sudden a 2,000-pounder blows up just as I’m sitting there looking down at the ground. That means it probably just dropped right through my formation off a bomber at 39,000 feet. So it quickly dawned on us that this is a mess and the threat is not from the ground really, from guys shooting at us, it’s from each other.”

I wonder how humanity is still alive.

Nor did it help that the system came with its own language—MAM (military-age male) for man, PID (positive identification) for see, TIC (troops in contact) for coming under fire—imposing its own framework. A military-age male, after all, is almost self-evidently a legitimate target, whereas a man might well be an innocent civilian. Officially fostered as a means of succinct, precise communication, the language adapted and divided, with different meanings for different people. So PID, for example, had a different definition depending on whether someone was in Florida, Nevada, or Afghanistan.

Everyone had different notions of what adolescent meant and whether it was OK to kill one.

When in Thailand:

In April 1972, just after fleets of enemy tanks and artillery had unexpectedly emerged from the trail for that year’s devastating spring offensive, Boyd arrived at Nakhon Phanom, assigned as the new base commander. By that time the huge base displayed many features emblematic of the disintegrating American war effort in Southeast Asia.

Packs of wild dogs roamed unmolested across the secret base. Racial tension was so high that black and white servicemen dared not venture near each other’s quarters. Behind the double razor-wire fence and the armed guards surrounding the Infiltration Surveillance Center, the heart of Task Force Alpha, the mess hall provided metal forks and knives but only plastic spoons; all the metal spoons had been stolen by heroin-addicted personnel to use in cooking up their fix.


all the metal spoons had been stolen by heroin-addicted personnel to use in cooking up their fix.

How are we still alive, exactly?

Also, how about attacking people via drones and bombs that not only kill actual terrorists but civilians, turns more people into terrorists?

“The commander down here [Sangin] when I first got there had been around for years. He had become one of the water-walkers among the Taliban community, very popular amongst the people. We picked him off in an air strike with a group of ten on the other side of the Helmand River one day, standing around with their AK-47s planning their next operation. There was a good three-week period where nothing happened. It was eerie. But then we started to see some outside influence, maybe from Pakistan. The new commander was either taken from a different region and put in here, or a younger guy who was promoted and brought up to speed, he was more aggressive more radical, more ready to prove himself worthy.

The amount of pressure plate IEDs [which go off when anyone steps on them] increased exponentially, to where little kids started to hit them. He wasn’t even letting the population know where they were, and while that was good for us because I could leverage the population that this young immature commander was more deadly to them than he was to me, it showed me that targeting these leaders made the problem ten times worse overall.”

My friend, a remarkable officer who actually managed to suppress the Taliban in his particular area by the end of his first tour in 2012, thought that making the enemy even more vicious and unpleasant than they already were was ultimately unproductive. But strange rumors, based on off-the-record conversations with military officers and Special Forces officers out in the field, were circulating that making the Taliban even more cruel might actually be official policy. If so, it certainly succeeded. By 2011 the Taliban were deploying eight-year-old children as involuntary suicide bombers, while in May 2014, a small group of young Taliban gunmen stormed a Kabul hotel and executed nine people in the restaurant. Three of the victims were children, including a two-year-old, shot in the face.

Also, there’s so many “eggs broken to make an omelet”, that these mass-murders in serial-killer style aren’t ever worth it, not that I believe that murder is ever worth it, bar a slew of philosophical discussions:

Naturally, the Pakistani government was happy to encourage the newfound U.S. antipathy toward Baitullah Mehsud, who only two months before had attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team and a police academy in Lahore in retaliation, he announced, “for U.S. missile strikes off drones inside the Pakistan territory.” A crafty initial attempt on June 23, 2009, to kill Mehsud by first killing a subordinate in the expectation he would attend the funeral, which was duly struck with three missiles, proved disappointing. Some sixty people were killed, including a number of children, but not Baitullah Mehsud. In August a second attempt that caught him on his roof having his feet massaged by his young wife proved more successful. Obama called the targeter to congratulate her.


Review: Paolo Parisi – “Basquiat: a Graphic Novel”

This is a beautiful biography of Jean-Michel Basquiat, one of my favourite artists.

Parisi has used key colours in wondrous ways to wander throughout Basquiat’s life, as told through the voices of his father, a former agent, a former lover, and others. His life is told in a jazzy, free-flowing sensibility that, to me, perfectly matches Basquiat’s life and art.

Aspects of Basquiat’s life that are perhaps not very attractive, for example his vanity, drug abuse, and flip ways, are on display in ways that are just as well put as the rest of this book is.

The colours sting, in a great way, while Parisi’s style of writing and storytelling is just as beautiful as his drawing and painting.

This is one of the best biographical graphic novels that I’ve ever had the pleasure to read.

Some demo pages:


My saved links (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.


Review: “Hellboy: the Art of the Motion Picture (2019)”

This book shows off the art from the Hellboy motion picture that is released in 2019. The spectacular computer-made imagery is paired with small pieces of text that explain the characters, while everything is chronologically explained.

The film draws inspiration from Hellboy’s origin story and also from later instances. Some art from a scene that was cut from the movie is displayed and also one easter egg.

Other than that: I missed a lot of personality in this book; where’s the animus and atmosphere? I’d love to have seen more of that, while capturing, perhaps, some explanations for some of the artistic decisions behind all of it. I’d like to have seen that.

I must say, the one thing that tiffed me off was Hellboy’s apartment:

He has one Jesus and Mary Chain poster, one The Cramps poster, and then a later-day Green Day poster? Man. That is Hell.