Archive for the ‘Tajikistan’ Category

Saudi Arabia Plans 500 Metre Tall, 170 Km Long Mega-Skyscraper. Where’s Judge Dredd

July 27, 2022

Here’s a bit of light relief. Just this evening the internet news page put up a piece from Sky News, reporting that the Saudis are planning a massive megastructure called the Line. It’s going to be 170 km long by 1/2 km tall, for 9 million residents, all occupying separate communities. And their needs will be catered to by autonomous services, run by AI. The article begins

‘Revolution in civilisation’: Saudi Arabia previews 170km mirrored skyscraper offering ‘autonomous’ services

If it was the opening sequence of a science fiction movie, few would be surprised.

In a glossy video narrated by an American voiceover artist, Saudi Arabia has previewed The Line, a 170km long skyscraper standing 500m tall – higher than New York’s Empire State Building.

It is designed for nine million residents living in a “series of unique communities”.

Residents will have access to “all their daily needs” in “five-minute walk neighbourhoods”.

“Autonomous” services are being promised through the use of artificial intelligence, in what is being described as a “revolution in civilisation”.

The 200m wide linear structure, to be clad in mirrored glass, is the desert kingdom’s attempt to create a “healthier, more sustainable quality of life” with communities “organised in three dimensions” – as opposed to traditional cities which it says are “dysfunctional and polluted” and “ignore nature”.

Another video shows the resident of a grey urban jungle escaping to The Line, which is portrayed as an oasis.

To be built in the country’s northwest, it is planned to cover 34 square kilometres and travel from end to end is expected to take just 20 minutes.

There will be “no need for cars” and carbon emissions will be zero, the country said.

Energy and water supplies are described as “100% renewable”.

Inside, there will be a “year-round temperate micro climate with natural ventilation”.

The futuristic project is part of NEOM, a $500bn economic zone expected to be partly financed through a flotation expected in 2024.

NEOM was announced in 2017 as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform plan which is intended to help diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy away from oil.’

See the article by Andy Hayes athttps://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/world/revolution-in-civilisation-saudi-arabia-previews-170km-mirrored-skyscraper-offering-autonomous-services/ar-AAZZFXB?ocid=msedgntp&cvid=b5213d7d2e414ce0b7e4564c3eadcbb4

Okay, we’ve heard this stuff before Way back in the ’50s or 60s there were plans to construct a similar habitat, 50 miles or so long, stretching across America. There were also plans to enclose New York, or at least Manhattan beneath a giant geodesic dome. There have also been plans by the Japanese to build similar megastructures right out in Tokyo bay. These would also be ultra-high tech, and be built by robots, as shown in documentary about it on Channel 4 some time either in the ’90s or the early part of this century. And there were even plans to create an enclosed city in the Canadian arctic. This would shelter from the elements under a protective dome, in which its citizens would enjoy a mild climate despite the snow and ice floes outside. It would even have a moving artificial sun to give the illusion of daylight at temperate latitudes during the long, arctic winter.

The Lower Manhattan Expressway Project: a predecessor to Saudi Arabia’s the Line? From Reyner Banham, Megastructures: Urban Futures of the Recent Past (New York: Monacelli Press 2020) 19.

None of this was every built. They were far too ambitious, both financially and technologically. And I foresee that this will go the same way.

Which may not be a bad thing, as it really does remind me of various pieces of SF literature: Judge Dredd and J.G. Ballard’s dystopias, particularly High Rise.

In the long running 2000AD strip, Dredd is a member of the autocratic police force, the judges, trying to enforce law and order in Mega City 1. This is a gigantic city of massive tower blocks stretching across the entire east coast of America from the Canadian border down to Florida. On the other side of the continent is Mega City 2, while down south is Texas City. This hasn’t quite reached mega city status as it doesn’t have a billion inhabitants. Between them are the Cursed Earth, a radiation desert full of lawlessness, inhabited by mutants, created by the nuclear that destroyed America and democracy and which led to the rise of the judges. The city has a 95 per cent plus unemployment rate caused by massive automation. Crime is rampant with the judges trying to keep a lid on things.

It’s grim vision of the future but one with a sharp, satirical sense of humour. One of the strip’s writers and creators described Mega City One as a gigantic black comedy. Which it is, as the strip sent up contemporary pop music with inane rock bands like New Juves on the Block (a slight resemblance to New Kids on the Block, an ’80s band?), weird fashions, and totally bonkers game shows. In one of the very early Dredd strips, contestants were literally betting their lives. It’s satire, but the Russians nearly got there for real. After Communism fell, one of the Russian TV stations ran a game show in which contestants had to steal a car. For real. There were real cops chasing them. If the contestant escaped, the car was his. if they caught him, he really did go to the slammer. In another Dredd strip, they sent up World of Sport on ITV and some of the adverts then running on British television. The good lawman had landed on a planet inhabited by 12 different alien races, all of whom were at war, which was broadcast on their television as a form of entertainment. Among the adverts spoofed was one for the chocolate bar, Bounty. The real advert featured a group of young people running on to a desert isle while the voiceover announced ‘They came in search of paradise’. The parody advert had the same scene, but with aliens, followed by the line ‘they found – landmines’, accompanied by explosions and the slogan ‘protect your waterhole with Brax. Brax wipes them out – dead’. It was this sharp, satirical edge that has made Dredd and 2000AD one of the great British comics for nearly the last 50 years.

And added to all this mayhem and criminality, the occupants of the various mega blocks would develop block mania, a fanatical devotion to their own block, and start a war with the neighbouring blocks. Saudi Arabia’s the Line sounds like something of a trial run for all that craziness.

The future of urban civilisation? Dredd out looking for perps and muties from the cover of 2000AD Prog 409.

It also reminds me more than a little of Ballard’s works. Ballard was a member of Michael Moorcock’s team on the British SF magazine, New Worlds. This deliberately set out to break the established conventions of science fiction at the time. It was highly controversial, spurring a debate about its obscenity or otherwise in parliament in the 1970s. And Ballard was one of the writers shocking and provoking. His novellas were published by Weidenfeld & Nicholson, but Weidenfeld didn’t read them and so had no idea of just what kind of a literary monster he was publishing. That is, he didn’t, until one day he was in New York and went browsing on one of the news stands. Flicking through one of the magazines he found a piece by Ballard entitled ‘I Want To F**k Ronald Reagan’. This was in the 60s, nearly two decades before the former actor became president. A shocked Weidenfeld then sent a telegram to his secretary and staff in London saying ‘Do not publish!’

Ballard was also responsible for the novel Crash, about a secret society of perverts who get their jollies from car accidents. This was filmed in the ’90s by the Canadian film director, David Cronenberg, to the massive outrage of the Heil, which immediately started a campaign to have it banned. In the end it flopped, but nevertheless did get critical acclaim from some parts of the SF community.

Much of Ballard’s fiction takes place in enclosed, ultra-modern communities. There, life has become so anodyne and boring that the corporate powers running these communities deliberately stage murders, violent crime and rape in order to stimulate their bored drones and give them something to live for. One of these dystopian novellas was High Rise, about a cutting edge skyscraper. In it, the rich lived at the top, and the poor lower down at the bottom. However, civilisation begins to break down so that society in the tower block takes on the class antagonism of outside society. This leads to real, physical class conflict and violence. It was filmed a few years ago, but I’m not sure how many people saw it.

Trailer for the film High Rise, starring Tom Hiddleston with Jeremy Irons and based on the novel by J.G. Ballard. From the StudioCanal channel on YouTube.

In real life, Ballard was boringly normal. He stayed at home, writing and caring for his wife, while taking his children to school. Despite his grim fiction, he was horrified by the war in Bosnia and the dangerous way the conflict promoted psychopathic violence as people struggled to survive. Visitors were often surprised by the fact that he wasn’t what Private Eye used to call ‘a wild-eyed dement’ straight from one of his novels.

Ballard, unfortunately, is no longer with us, having passed away a few years ago. He gained critical acclaim for his novel Empire of the Sun, based on his experiences as a child growing up in a Japanese POW camp following their capture of Shanghai. It was filmed by Steven Spielberg. and garnered a number of Oscars, just as the previous film adaptation of his work, Crash, didn’t.

But I’ve got a feeling that if the Line is ever built, it’s going to be far more like Mega City 1 and High Rise than any other SF utopia.

And the desert in which the Line is set even looks a bit like Dredd’s Cursed Earth.

So, can we expect crime, violence, mutants, block wars and perps getting thirty years in an iso-cube? And will Saudi Arabia suffer the attentions of the Dark Judges – Fear, Fire, Death and Mortis – come to kill everyone on Earth. Because all crime is committed by the living.

William Blum on the Real Reason for the Invasion of Afghanistan: Oil

November 16, 2020

The late William Blum, an inveterate and bitter critic of American foreign policy and imperialism also attacked the invasion of Afghanistan. In his view, it was, like the Iraq invasion a few years later, absolutely nothing to do with the terrible events of 9/11 but another attempt to assert American control over a country for the benefit of the American-Saudi oil industry. Blum, and other critics of the Iraq invasion, made it very clear that America invaded Iraq in order to gain control of its oil industry and its vast reserves. In the case of Afghanistan, the invasion was carried out because of the country’s strategic location for oil pipelines. These would allow oil to be supplied to south Asian avoiding the two countries currently outside American control, Russian and Iran. The Taliban’s connection to al-Qaeda was really only a cynical pretext for the invasion. Blum lays out his argument on pages 79-81 of his 2014 book, America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy. He writes

With the US war in Iraq supposedly having reached a good conclusion (or halfway decent… or better than nothing… or let’s get the hell out of here while some of us are still in one piece and there are some Iraqis we haven’t yet killed), the best and the brightest in our government and media turn their thoughts to what to do about Afghanistan. It appears that no one seems to remember, if they ever knew, that Afghanistan was not really about 9/11 or fighting terrorists (except the many the US has created by its invasion and occupation), but was about pipelines.

President Obama declared in August 2009:

But we must never forget this is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9-11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans.

Never mind that out of the tens of thousands of people the United States and its NATO front have killed in Afghanistan not one has been identified as having had anything to do with the events of September 11, 2001.

Never mind that the ‘plotting to attack America’ in 2001 was carried out in Germany and Spain and the United States more than in Afghanistan. Why hasn’t the United States attacked these countries?

Indeed, what actually was needed to plot to plot to buy airline tickets and take flying lessons in the United States? A room with some chairs? What does ‘an even larger safe haven’ mean? A larger room with more chairs? Perhaps a blackboard? Terrorists intent upon attacking the United States can meet almost anywhere.

The only ‘necessity’ that drew the United States to Afghanistan was the desire to establish a military presence in this land that is next door to the Caspian Sea region of Central Asia – which reportedly contains the second largest proven reserves of petroleum and natural gas in the world – and build oil and gas pipelines from that region running through Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is well situated for oil and gas pipelines to serve much of South Asia, pipelines that can bypass those not-yet Washington clients Iran and Russia. If only the Taliban would not attack the lines. Here’s Richard Boucher, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, in 2007: ‘One of our goals is to stabilize Afghanistan, so it can become a conduit and a hub between South and Central Asia so taht energy can flow to the south’.

Since the 1980s all kinds of pipelines have been planned for the area, only to be delayed or canceled by one military, financial or political problem or another. For example, the so-called TAPI pipeline (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) had strong support from Washington, which was eager to block a competing pipeline that would bring gas to Pakistan and India from Iran. TAPI goes back to the 1990s, when the Taliban government held talks with the California-based oil company Unocal Corporation. These talks were conducted with the full knowledge of the Clinton administration, and were undeterred by the extreme repression of Taliban society. Taliban officials even made trips to the United States for discussions. Testifying before the House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific on February 12, 1998, Unocal representative John Maresca discussed the importance of the pipeline project and the increasing difficulties in dealing with the Taliban:

The region’s total oil reserves may well reach more than 60 billion barrels of oil. Some estimates are as high as 200 billion barrels… From the outset, we have made it clear that construction of the pipeline we have proposed across Afghanistan could not begin until a recognized government is in place that has the confidence of governments, leaders, and our company.

When those talks stalled in July, 2001 the Bush administration threatened the Taliban with military reprisals if the government did not go along with American demands. The talks finally broke down for good the following month, a month before 9/11.

The United States has been serious indeed about the Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf oil and gas areas. Through one war of another beginning with the Gulf War of 1990-91, the US has managed to establish military bases in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan.

The war against the Taliban can’t be ‘won’ short of killing everyone in Afghanistan. The United States may well try again to negotiate some from of pipeline security with the Taliban, then get out, and declare ‘victory’. Barack Obama can surely deliver an eloquent victory speech from his teleprompter. It might include the words ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’, but certainly not ‘pipeline’.

This was obviously written before the electoral victory of Hamid Karzai and his government, but the point remains the same. The Taliban are still active and fighting against the supposedly democratic government, which also remains, as far as I know, dependent on western aid.

But the heart of the matter is that this wasn’t a war to save humanity from the threat of global terrorism, nor is it about freeing the Afghan people from a bloodthirsty and murderously repressive Islamist regime. The Americans were quite happy to tolerate that and indeed do business with it. It was only when the Taliban started to become awkward that the Americans started threatening them with military action. And this was before 9/11. Which strongly supports Blum’s argument that the terrible attack on the Twin Towers, Pentagon and the White House were and are being cynically used as the justification for the invasion. 17 out of the 19 conspirators were Saudis, and the events point to involvement by the Saudi state with responsibility going right to the top of the Saudi regime. But America and NATO never launched an attack on them, despite the fact that the Saudis have been funding global Islamist terrorism, including Daesh. That is before ISIS attacked them.

It was Remembrance Day last Wednesday. The day when Britain honours the squaddies who fell in the two World Wars and subsequent conflicts. One of those talking about the importance of the day and its ceremonies on Points West, the Beeb’s local news programme for the Bristol area, was a former squaddie. He was a veteran of Afghanistan, and said it was particularly important to him because he had a mate who was killed out there. He felt we had to remember victims of combat, like his friend because if we didn’t ‘what’s the point?’.

Unfortunately, if Blum’s right – and I believe very strongly that he is – then there’s no point. Our governments have wasted the lives, limbs and minds of courageous, patriotic men and women for no good reason. Not to defend our countries from a ruthless ideology which massacres civilians in order to establish its oppressive rule over the globe. Not to defend our freedoms and way of life, nor to extend those freedoms and their benefits to the Afghan people. But simply so that America can gain geopolitical control of that region and maintain its dominance of the oil industry, while enriching the oil companies still further.

Anti-Fracking Protester Vanessa Vine demolishes Peter Lilley on Channel 4

February 13, 2014

This is a video of Channel 4 New’s report on the anti-fracking protests at Barton Moss on 26th January 2014. As well as reporting the protest itself, and David Cameron’s speech supporting fracking, the programme also included a debate between one of the protesters, Vanessa Vine, and Peter Lilley. As well as a Conservative minister, Lilley is chairman of the Conservative’s energy committee, and also on the board of Tethis Petroleum, a fracking company drilling in Tajikistan and Kazakhstan.

In the debate Vine shows herself extremely well-informed, with all the facts to hand. Vine has talked to people from across the globe, from Pennsylvania, Queensland, Rumania to Poland. She catches Lilley out lying about the damage done by fracking to the environment, properties, humans and their livestock, and the way he has repeated his lies since she met him in September last year. Despite Lilley’s sputterings, she manages to get him to retract one of his points.

This shows not just how very well founded the objections to fracking are. It also demonstrates yet again the government’s mendacity, and the way it is strongly intertwined with multinational big business, that is completely indifferent to the lives and wellbeing of the ordinary citizens affected by this.