Friday, February 20, 2015

Canada's "Anti-Terrorism" Bill Could Target Activists

The Anti-terrorism Act 2015 (Bill C-51) will expand the mandate of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), allowing the state to increase its crackdown on dissent.

The legislation would relax privacy restrictions, lower the legal threshold for police to obtain a warrant, and allow Canadian authorities to hold suspects without charges for as long as one year. The Toronto Star reported the bill would give 17 security agencies "access to any information in any government department on any Canadian."

The introduction of C-51 comes on the heels of news that the Communications Security Establishment, Canada's spy agency, is operating a covert, mass surveillance program that monitors the online activities of millions of Internet users around the world. Ron Deibert, a professor at the University of Toronto, likened the CSE program to a "giant X-ray machine over all our digital lives. . . . Every single thing that you do . . . is being archived, collected and analyzed."

Stephen Harper and the Conservatives remain hostile to transparency and accountability. They eliminated CSIS's internal watchdog in 2012 and C-51 offers little in the way of additional oversight. University of Ottawa law professor Craig Forcese says the Conservatives want to return to an era when the security services were free to engage in illegal, dirty tricks. He wrote that the bill creates a "secret jurisprudence on when CSIS can act beyond the law."

Silencing of dissent appears to be one of the bill's main goals. When Green Party leader Elizabeth May asked the public safety and justice ministers during question period if C-51 could be applied to non-violent civil disobedience, such as blockading along a pipeline route, she did not receive a direct answer.

Paul Champ, a civil liberties lawyer, said there are serious concerns that C-51 "is going to target not just terrorists who are involved in criminal activity, but people who are protesting against different Canadian government policies." Indeed, an internal RCMP report from January 2014, obtained by Greenpeace, reported that the so-called "anti-petroleum" movement is a growing "security threat" to Canada.

Harper states the bill would merely "criminalize the promotion of terrorism" and give the government the power to remove "terrorist propaganda" from the internet. Left unanswered is who defines "terrorism" and "terrorist propaganda." The bill is written in such overly broad terms it could be applied to nearly anything the Conservative government wants to deem criminal.

Micheal Vonn, Policy Director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, said C-51 "proposes an unprecedented expansion of powers that will . . . impose a broad chill on legitimate political speech".

After 9/11 it was the Liberals, with the support of the Conservatives, who brought forward "anti-terror" legislation that eroded civil liberties. Now they are trading places, with the Liberals promising to support Harper's latest attack on democracy.

Elizabeth May has criticized the bill, saying it would "allow the Conservatives to turn CSIS into a secret police force," while NDP leader Tom Mulcair has warned that "we cannot protect our freedoms by sacrificing them."

This article was first published in Socialist Worker.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Chris Offutt: "My Dad, The Pornographer"

Chris Offutt, New York Times Magazine, February 5, 2015:
My father, Andrew Jefferson Offutt V, grew up in a log cabin in Taylorsville, Ky. The house had 12-inch-thick walls with gun ports to defend against attackers: first Indians, then soldiers during the Civil War. At 12, Dad wrote a novel of the Old West. He taught himself to type with the Columbus method — find it and land on it — using one finger on his left hand and two fingers on his right. Dad typed swiftly and with great passion. In this fashion, he eventually wrote and published more than 400 books. Two were science fiction and 24 were fantasy, written under his own name; the rest were pornography, using 17 pseudonyms. ...

In the mid-1960s, Dad purchased several porn novels through the mail. My mother recalls him reading them with disgust — not because of the content, but because of how poorly they were written. He hurled a book across the room and told her he could do better. Mom suggested he do so. According to her, the tipping point for Dad's full commitment to porn, five years later, was my orthodontic needs.

When I was a kid, my teeth were a terrible mess: overlapping, crooked and protruding like fangs. Mom wanted to work part time and pay for braces. Dad suggested that if he quit his job as a salesman and she typed all his final drafts, they could finance my dental care. Over cocktails in the woods of eastern Kentucky, they formed a partnership to mass-produce porn. ...

The commercial popularity of American erotic novels peaked during the 1970s, coinciding with my father's most prolific and energetic period. Dad combined porn with all manner of genre fiction. ... By the end of the decade, Dad claimed to have single-handedly raised the quality of American pornography. He believed future scholars would refer to him as the "king of 20th-century written pornography."
A fascinating account of a man, in his mid-50s, learning about his father's life.

I look forward to reading Offutt's forthcoming memoir.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Death Merchant #37: The Bermuda Triangle Action

This may be the first Death Merchant book that doesn't begin with whatever Richard Camellion is doing. In Chapter One, we meet some Russians/Cubans working on a construction project off the U.S. coast in the general vicinity of the Bermuda Triangle.

Camellion first appears on page nine, doing some reconnaissance work related to the Russians' project. The pig farmers are up to something in the Atlantic Ocean and the U.S. has called on the Death Merchant to find out what it is. Along with CIA man Josh Forran, Camellion scuba-dives up to the Russian installation, killing four Ruskies along the way. There is a gigantic domed structure, as well as nine buildings/modules connected by huge pipes.

It seems clear that Camellion's earlier guess about the purpose of this activity was totally on the mark: the Russians are drilling along a fault line, and a few well-placed hydrogen bombs could cause catastrophic floods and damage along the U.S. east and south coasts. (Non-Spoiler Alert: The undersea complex is eventually destroyed.)

The Bermuda Triangle was more of a cultural phenomenon in the late 70s, so I was wondering how Rosenberger would play it (this book was published in early 1980). It is taken for granted by both the American and Russian forces that something mysterious and deadly is happening in this part of the world. Rosenberger recounts the disappearance of various ships (including a US sub with a crew of 320 men that vanished three months only earlier) and airplanes in the area also known as the Devil's Triangle. Camellion expands on this topic, talking about the disappearance of large groups of people from other parts of the world.
The Death Merchant explains his beliefs regarding the Bermuda Triangle:
"We're crawling around on a speck of dust that's revolving around a middle of the road star in the boondocks of our galaxy; yet we still have the nerve to think we're 'special.' It's that kind of stupidity that forces scientists - most of them - to close their eyes to the true secret of the Bermuda Triangle. ...

"My own hypothesis is that the Bermuda Triangle and other maritime areas are 'points of entry' into a different reality, probes controlled by aliens that employ techniques involving manipulation of space and time. ...

"This world appears real to us because we can sense only one microscopic slice of this underlying reality at any particular time. This mode of reality would also explain the mechanism operating behind telepathy, precognition, clairvoyance and other paranormal activity. ...

"The problem is that we don't have the right kind of instruments to detect these alien energy forms."
So: (1) What is "the true secret" of the Bermuda Triangle to which science has thus far been blind? (2) And how will Rosenberger treat this possible entry point "into a different reality"?

Answers: (1) We are given absolutely no idea. (2) He won't. It's yet another instance of the author introducing and then ignoring an alien/supernatural subplot.

On their way in a small sub to initially check out the Russian underwater construction, Camellion and three others encounter a huge craft in the water, which turns slightly to face them before zipping away at a high rate of speed. The men immediately assume it must be otherworldly life, but once the craft leaves, Camellion immediately forgets about it, and is focused only on getting the job done. Upon returning from his mission, Camellion finds a strange pyramid and a box in the sub, two items apparently left by the aliens. I was wondering how the aliens (or the large craft) would figure into the final clash with the Russians, but Rosenberger never mentions the craft (or the two objects) again.


Various snips: "The average pig farmer is so dumb he runs around his bed to catch up with his sleep." ... "Our schedule is tighter right now than the tail feathers on the rump of a prairie chicken." ... "Richard Camellion was not only the most cold-blooded man he had ever seen, but he was the twin brother of catastrophe, a man whose natural habitat was the bleak and dark landscape of Death." ... "Whoever or whatever Richard Camellion was, he didn't need anyone. Nor did he seem to feel anything. And one always had the impression that there was something alien about him ... another kind of presence staring out through his eyes."

Rosenberger goes overboard on describing the mayhem with food metaphors:
"The other Cuban, Andres Fonseca, took the .357 Magnum slug from the right AMP just below the hollow of the throat, the impact of the dynamite-powered slug opening a hole in him the size of a lemon ..."

"Calcines' head exploded, parts and portions of skin, skull and brain making like shooting stars."

"The PPS in his hands roared, the muzzle flashing fire. Koloviev jumped on the driver's seat, and his hands left the steering wheel of the fork lift as his head exploded like a melon hit by buckshot."

"The 150-pound hook, swinging from the end of the boom on 4 feet of steel cable, pulverized their heads the way a sledgehammer would splatter an egg. Skull bones exploded, and gray-white brain matter shot in every direction, at the same time the bottom girders made pulp of their shoulders, backs, and chests."

"In a low crouch, the Death Merchant fired the AMP and the Ingram. A swarm of 9mm Ingram projectiles erased Jose Matar's face and popped open his skull like a lemon hit by a blast from a double-barrelled shotgun."

"Camellion had shot Chevsky; at the same time he had kicked in the scrotum of the cockroach who had tried to smash him with the butt of a Stechkin, the toe of the Death Merchant's weighted Neoruperine boot flattening the man's testicles like a pancake."
Also, in the aftermath of a battle in which Camellion used several incendiary grenades, the dead bodies "gave off the strong odor of a barbeque at a family get-together."

Rosenberger was not a big fan of Jimmy Carter, referring to the former U.S. president as stupid, "weak and an unrealist", and accusing him of taking the side of Communist revolutionaries in Rhodesia (an actual issue back in 1979) "to obtain the good will of American blacks". This is an obvious sore point with Rosenberger, as he has in previous books criticized U.S. politicians for basing their decisions on how to best appease blacks in America.

Rosenberger/Camellion ridiculed Nixon in the early books (towards the end of his second term and mostly over his resignation from office) and now Carter gets slammed. I'm curious what Rosenberger will make of Reagan as this series moves into the 1980s.