Tag Archives: Richard Snow Writer

Crazywatch Part1: Could Obama be the Antichrist? I’m only half joking :-)

Could Obama be the Antichrist? Obama’s date of birth was 08041961. If you add all the digits in his birth date together you get 1973. if you subtract the last digit of that from the second digit you get 1673. If you subtract the first digit of that from the third digit you get 1663. Now add the last digit to itself and you have 1666. Now the first digit is telling us there’s only one beast, the Antichrist, so we can ignore that because we already know that. So we are left with one person who is 666.

Michele Bachmann: a prophet for out times!
Michele Bachmann: a prophet for our times!

Where did I get this crazy idea? I owe it all to a US Congresswoman. Although I did the calculation myself, I was inspired by Michele Bachmann, who knows we are living in the end times, and that actions of Barack Obama’s are  proof!

So: Will the Fed start printing dollar bills that have serial numbers ending in 666?
What secret building lies at 666 Pennsylvania Avenue? And what secrets can we find hidden in Michele Obama’s date of birth?

I am so grateful for this inspiration, I want Michele Bachmann for Prime Minister of Australia. We need somebody down under to wake us up! Australian politicians are mostly boring. A couple of crazy people would make it much more interesting.

My novel Fire Damage, an action thriller, is available on Amazon Kindle, here. The novel is based on the Japanese religious cult Aum Shinrikyo, which released Sarin nerve gas in the Tokyo subway system in the 1990s. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download the app to read it on your computer or phone from here. A paperback version is available here. It’s also available as a Kindle on Amazon UK .    twitter: @Richard_A_Snow

 

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My vote for the Nobel Peace Prize: the girl who defied the Taliban.

Sometimes there are people who seem to have guts and moral fibre that leave the rest of us behind. 15-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head and neck a year ago by the Taliban, for advocating that girls should be allowed to go to school.

MalalaShe had been writing a blog about life in the Swat Valley, where the Talibs were gradually taking over, forcing girls’ schools to close by threats of violence. Violence was so common that one day, when her younger brother was playing in their front yard, she asked what he was doing. “Digging a grave,” he answered. The Taliban found where Malala went to school, got on her bus and fired. The results became world news. After surgery and rehab in England, she is now (this Wednesday) on the anniversary of the attack talking about her future. She can’t go back to Pakistan yet, but she wants to improve her education, and keep pushing.

She has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. It’s a long shot, since there are over 200 nominees. But I hope she gets it.

Malala reminds me a lot of people who have stood up against injustice, and/or to promote the cause of women. Rosa Parks may not have been shot or lynched  for refusing to go to the back of the bus with the “coloured folk,” in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955, but she could have been. Protesters in Egypt two years ago risked death in the hope of democracy. Aun Sung Sui Kee endured 20 years of house arrest in Burma for upsetting the military by winning a democratic election.

The world needs more Malalas. The world need more people like you and I to give to charities that are specifically directed to educating girls in third world countries. The world needs people to put their money where their mouth is.

Malala has a book out, the kindle version is here, and there is a paperback in Book Depository.

Best wishes until next week.

An evolving vegetarian?

Lots of people have been evolving on various things in the last year. In fact, it seems to have become a fashion. In the US, President Obama ‘evolved’ over gay marriage. In Australia, Tony Abbott evolved over paid parental leave. I’m starting to feel myself evolving over, of all things, being (or not being) a vegetarian. I used to think of vegetarians as being a bunch of nuisances who made life difficult for everyone else when it came to choosing restaurants.  
Soy-whey protein diet, from US Dept of Agriculture / Wikipedia.
Soy-whey protein diet, from US Dept of Agriculture / Wikipedia.

In the last year, I have felt myself change. In part, it was reading about the way animals react in slaughterhouses. Pigs, in particular, I’m told, seem to know they are going to be killed and react, screaming in a way that sounds very human. I’ve also seen some “hidden camera” footage of life inside turkey farms and chicken batteries. In one case turkeys had apparent skin diseases, and farm hands were kicking them like footballs. In another video, chickens appeared to be eating their own dead … what should I call them…siblings? And In Australia we had a big controversy over footage of   how Australian animals were slaughtered in Indonesian abattoirs.

Some US states, including North Carolina, have tried to outlaw animal activists getting such hidden tapes.

So I’ve been cutting back on my meat consumption. I haven’t bought bacon for a few months now. I’ve bought free range eggs. The night I write this, I’m going to a Japanese restaurant with some friends. I guess I’ll have a vegetable tempura. One of my main obstacles to going vegetarian has been that the dishes I’ve tried to cook without meat have tasted rather bland. Let’s face it: most vegetables don’t have that much flavor. So I’ve started experimenting with more spices.

I’m still tossing up if I can justify eating chicken meat that was free range before it was killed. I don’t know much about how chickens are killed and how quick or otherwise the process is.  I can visualize giving up beef . I may end up as one of those people who eat dairy products and eggs, but not meat. (I just learned that this is called ovo-lacto-vegetarianism.)

So, has anyone who is reading this tried to go to a vegetarian diet? Why did you try it? Did you find it restrictive and boring? Could you stick to it? I’d love to hear.

Please note: this is my blog site. For information about editing an academic thesis click here.

The Internship: good fun, worth seeing

The Internship: funny movie, well worth seeing

Rose Byrne
Rose Byrne

Last night I went to see The Internship, staring Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn and Rose Byrne. It’s a classic “fish out of water” story, where the fish makes good against the odds. Two middle-aged guys who know less about technology than the average seventy-year-old get an internship at Google because they’ve run out of other job prospects. (The process of getting in seems a little like the way Reece Witherspoon got into Harvard in Legally Blond.) They find themselves with a bunch of twenty year old who can program in C++ and half a dozen languages I didn’t recognize. When asked to design an app, they suggest with something that already exists, and which is already known to all the twenty-somethings. Along the way, they have conflicts with another group of interns who are out to spoil their chances. A love interest arrives half way through the film (like all good Hollywood scripts). In this case she’s supposed to be Australian and she actually is. (Too many ‘Australians’ in American movies are British actors who can only do a half-plausible accent.) The film had a lot of good comedy lines, and they play the tech-newbie aspects of the Owen Wilson for all it’s worth. It’s a good film. You’ll probably like it. Take a night off and go.

Yossarian slept here: when your father betrays you

Catch-22, original book cover, from Wikimedia
Catch-22, original book cover, from Wikimedia

Would you feel betrayed by this? Imagine that your father, a famous author, wrote a novel that was clearly based directly on your own family, that it was negative in tone, that it described all his dissatisfaction with his wife, and that he included slabs of conversation that you (the daughter) actually had with your father.

That’s what Joseph Heller, author of Catch-22, did in his novel Something Happened. Heller worked on the novel for 13 years. When his daughter read the proof, she was shocked.  In the book, the writer talks about his unnamed family members, recounting their faults, and how unhappy he was with them all. He talks about his efforts to intellectually out-fox his daughter. One chapter was entitled, ‘My Daughter is Unhappy’. His daughter, Erica asks, “was this a statement or a goal?”  When she asks him why he’s done this, he replies, “What makes you think you’re interesting enough to write about?” What more devastating retort could a father make to his daughter?

In addition, Heller had an affair, which involved flying his lover in the same plane as he and his wife when they went to speaking engagements, and booking the lover into the same hotels. Yes, that’s right- he was carrying on with the lover under the same roof as his wife. When his wife Shirley employed a private detective agency and confronted him with documentary evidence such as credit card bills and photographs, he denied it, and told the rest of his family that Shirley was going crazy and needed a psychiatrist. When Heller was in hospital, Erica walked in on the lover at her father’s bed. Heller calmly introduced them. (The daughter by this time already knew the lover’s name and what she looked like.) After that, Heller reverted to denying the person ever existed. This is strange behavior indeed.

The book gives an insight into what Heller was like as a person, and the answer is, ‘not very  nice, really.’ Still, the book is an insight into one of the twentieth century’s best-known writers. It’s well worth reading. Just be prepared to have some illusions shattered. Geniuses can be petulant, vicious and vindictive in their family affairs.

On another note , my novel, Fire Damage, a terrorism thriller, is now available as a paperback, here. It’s also available as a Kindle on Amazon US and UK. It’s based on the real-life Japanese religious cult, Aum Shinrikyo, which released sarin nerve gas in the Tokyo subway system. 

Zero Dark Thirty: a hard film to review

Zero Dark Thirty is a hard film to review. It deals with an important issue in recent US history. It’s well photographed, the settings are realistic, and some of the details are technically interesting. But most of the characters are not very likable  and there has been a lot of controversy over its depiction of torture.

Zero Dark Thirty movie poster from Wikipedia
Zero Dark Thirty movie poster from Wikipedia

One of the films major flaws is the lack of likable characters. The female lead, Maya (Jessica Chastain), is single-minded and dogmatic. Being obstinate and dogmatic can be a good thing when you’re right, but a bad thing when you’re wrong. Fortunately for her, luck – and some clever guess work – were on her side. But the viewer doesn’t feel a great deal of empathy for her. She appears to have no friends, no contact with any family (if she has one)  and no activities outside of her work.

The most likable character in the film was Maya’s fellow officer Jessica, who was killed as she waited to meet a terrorist who had supposedly agree to work with the US. As the terrorist and his driver arrive, they blow up their car. (This based a on a real incident in  2009 at Camp Chapman.)

The photography is excellent. The film does convey  the sense of isolation the Americans must have felt working in these remote, fortified dust bowls. The settings looks realistic: parts of the film were made in India, with certain buildings altered to make them look as though they were filmed in Pakistan.

The tension builds throughout the film as we are shown the bombings in London  and  Madrid, which give a sense of the pressure the main characters must have felt as they tried to find clues to the next likely terrorist attack against the world.

The film implies that torture helped capture bin Laden. The clam that usable information was actually obtained by torture is disputed by many politicians and intelligence officers. Here’s a section from Wikipedia quoting several senior US officials disagreeing about the usefulness of torture:

“In 2012, after three years investigating the CIA’s interrogation program, several officials, including U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin, the chairmen of the Senate Intelligence and the Senate Armed Services Committees, respectively, have said that claims that critical information has been obtained through waterboarding are untrue.  But, Leon Panetta, Secretary of Defense, said in February 2013 that critical information was obtained through waterboarding. U.S. Senator John McCain, who was tortured during his time as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, said upon watching the film that it left him sick — “because it’s wrong.” In a speech in the Senate, he said that, “Not only did the use of enhanced interrogation techniques on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed not provide us with key leads on bin Laden’s courier, Abu Ahmed, it actually produced false and misleading information.”

It’s hard to say if the film should have included torture scenes or not. If they had been not shown, the producers would have been accused of “whitewashing history.” As it is, they have been accused of producing a film that justifies torture. The problem with torture is that once you say ‘yes’ to using torture on a known terrorist to get details of a the next possible attack, where do you stop? What about the guy who is a strong suspect? A weak ‘possible’ suspect? A guy who you don’t think is a terrorists but who knows something about people who may be? And if ‘yes’ to terrorists, would you torture a serial killer suspect like Ted Bundy, while he was still only a suspect? And after that, who?

Overall, the film well made, well acted, and has been nominated for several Oscars. If it wins, the controversy about its depiction of torture will flair again. Is it a “must see” film? No. For all the interesting detail about how bin Laden was tracked down, the film remains a technically well-made film about a group of people it’s just hard to like.

So, has anyone seen the film? What did you think?

Would North Korea really fire a missile at the US?

This week North Korea had a mental spasm. They decided to test anther long-range missile, and said it was aimed at the United States. Some Americans I know got very concerned. Could the North Koreans really attack the US?

How North Korea behaves

Map of North Korea from CIA Fact BookNorth Korea spends about 40 per cent of its GDP on military expenditure, while the common people are impoverished. It has enriched uranium, and conducted underground nuclear tests. Every time the North Koreans chuck a mental, a six-country conference meets to hammer out the problem: the US, China, Russia, North Korea, South Korea and Japan.  Often they provide food aid and oil to North Korea, in exchange for them scaling back their nuclear programs. The US has frozen and unfrozen various assets of North Korea abroad, as North Korea has cooperated or not with international pressure to cease their nuclear program.

North Korea, China, and the US

I’m speaking now as an ex-economist  of 25 years, who is now studying politics part-time. It’s a current belief among economist and people involved in political science that major trading partners don’t tend to go to war with each other, since the outcome is bad for both of them. It’s like cutting of you own nose to teach your face a lesson. Both parties lose. This was part of the principle between the integration of the French and German coal, iron and steel industries at the end of WWII, which ultimately lead to the free trade zone in Europe.

China is North Korea’s major financial benefactor.  Although the US is concerned about China’s build-up of fleet, (e.g., a Chinese aircraft carrier on the way), China and the US are becoming more economically linked to each other and are developing a “Siamese twin” relationship. The US imports a lot from China, and the Chinese hold about one and a half trillion dollars’ worth of US government bonds (about 11 per cent of the total.) The Chinese don’t want the value of their US government bonds to be degraded, (which seemed possible during the debt ceiling debate of 2012,) and which would happen in a new US war, since any new war  would lead to even bigger budget deficits than the US already has, and lower the value of their bonds. Strange as it may sound, the Chinese want the Americans to fix their budget problems, and said so during the debt-ceiling crisis. At the same time, the US needs to keep importing manufactured goods from China, since they would be more costly if made in the US. China doesn’t want an armed conflict with the US over Korea.

But what happens if the North Koreans really were to make a strike at the US? If the North Koreans provoked the US to the point where the US took some type of military action against them say— airstrikes on their military facilities—this might destabilize the regime, and the results could be anybody’s guess.

It’s not in China’s interest for there to be a major armed conflict between the US and North Korea. If there were major destruction in N. Korea, China would probably get a major influx of North Korean refugees, which they presumably wouldn’t want.

If the North Korean state collapsed, the re-unified Korea would probably be allied with the US, which China also wouldn’t want.

At the same time, South Korea wouldn’t want a disorderly disintegration of North Korea, since some sectors of the North Korean Military may not be under anyone’s direct control while that happens.

Japan

Some refugees may end up in South Korea, or Japan. The Japanese sure as hell don’t want North Korean refugees. In the 1980s and 90s, there was a major political tension between North Korea and Japan. The North Koreans had been kidnapping Japanese citizens off isolated beaches, and taking them to North Korea to teach Japanese language and customs to North Korean spies. North Korea denied it. The issue helped destroy the career of Takako Doi, the first female head of a Japanese political party, (the Socialists). Doi nailed her colors to mast in defending the North Koreans and supporting their denials of these accusations. When North Korea finally confessed it did have kidnapped Japanese in North Korea, Doi’s career was severely damaged. Japan doesn’t really like the Chinese and Korean minorities they already have, and they wouldn’t want any more.

Russia

Last I heard, Russia was building a railway line from Khasan in Siberia to the North Korean port of Rajin, to export more easily to counties around Korea. Therefore, the Russians wouldn’t want a conflict between the US and North Korea, or the disintegration of the North Korean state, since it would mess up their nice new trade corridor.

So what’s stopping a war?

The North Koreans know that if they behave provocatively every so often, then promise to be good, other countries give them oil and food for a while. Then they go back on their promises and do it all again.  But there are powerful forces around them who are likely to hold them back from committing suicide by attacking the US. No one wants the chaos the refugees and the possible military realignment that would follow if North Korea collapsed. I suspect that North Korea knows this, which probably gives them some feeling of safety: while their government is reprehensible, too many people have a stake in it not collapsing. This kind of gives the North Korean leadership a licence to behave provocatively up to a point, without fear of consequences.

All up, I think North Korea may talk crazy from time to time, but there are powerful forces that would keep their behavior in check. I doubt they are really going to fire a missile at the US. It might be the end of their food and oil aid.

So, have any of you got any impressions of North Korea? Has anyone lived in South Korea or China and heard this topic discussed? Did you hear about their threat to fire a missile at the US? What do you think?