Front page

Are you afraid of the dark?

(Click to invert colors, weenie.) (Requires JavaScript.)

All email will be assumed to be for publication unless otherwise requested.

What's in the banner?

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

The Sloan Ranger

One of the human shields still in Baghdad is Australian. I'm going to pick on this guy, for reasons I'll get to in a minute. But first, while I was googling around for information on him, I found this interesting item in the Sydney Morning Herald, from last December 26:

Iraq has called for volunteers "to act as human shields" when the expected attack by the United States comes, Saad Qasim Hammoudi, an official of the ruling Ba'ath party, said.

However, peace organisations which have been active in humanitarian relief and in organising visits to Iraq in defiance of US law, denounced the report as propaganda.

Whose propaganda? Iraqi? Or US?

Mr Hammoudi claimed yesterday that he was expecting volunteers from the US and Europe to risk their lives for Saddam. However, his claim was greeted with distaste yesterday by America's anti-war movement, which has spent months deflecting charges that its activists are prepared to die for the Iraqi leader.

"I know of groups going over to witness and to educate themselves, but I don't know of anybody going over and saying 'I am a human shield'."

So sayeth an unnamed spokesman for the Institute for Public Accuracy, who organized Congressmen McDermott, Bonior, and Thompson's trip to Baghdad, as well as Sean Penn's.

"Nobody is naive enough to believe that a superpower like the US is not going to bomb Iraq because there are peace people there," said Mary Trotochaud, who returned on Saturday.

The SMH identifies Ms. Trotochaud only as one of the "members of a US delegation" who had been to Baghdad. Fortunately, she has a funny name, so I can google her up and find that she's a a "human rights activist and potter". She spent a year in the federal pen for repeat trespass at the School of the Americas. That's the only credential this site, which must be the delegation mentioned, has for her.

Ms. Trotochaud is evidently too naive to believe anyone could be that naive.

So, anyhow: As of December 26, the "peace people" were scoffing at the idea that anyone would actually go to Baghdad to be a human shield.

Now, for our Aussie mate. He's Gordon Sloan, who was a...contestant?...on the Australian version of Big Brother. I never watched that show in any of its incarnations. Those reality shows leave me cold, ever since MTV's The Real World. For me, hell is other people, so I could never understand the attraction of watching other people enjoy the hell that is one another. Especially since most of those people were on the show to exhibit themselves in hopes of catching some minor celebrity wave: extreeeeeme sports commentator, supermodel, VJ, whatever. But, before I got cable in Australia, there was often little to watch on TV. So occasionally (probably while my MST tape was rewinding) I would catch glimpses of the show.

The only thing I remember is that it featured some scrawny chick with a voice like sheet metal. When I tuned in she was expressing concern about her "teets"---that is to say, "tits", said in a sheet metal-cutting Australian accent. She showed them to us (this is Australian TV, remember); I was underwhelmed, but I am no authority on these things. I do know that every time she said "teets", one of the glass jars in the recycling bin would give a thin scream of anguish, then shatter.

Later another (or the same, hard to tell) scrawny chick was shown in bed with a guy, self-consciously engaged in a bit of slap-and-tickle (and I mean that literally, rather than metaphorically) under the sheets for our enjoyment. By that time I had another tape ready, so I was spared further joy.

Our young Mr. Sloan fits into this environment perfectly. Today, Tim Blair points us to this brief profile of Sloan, in which it is revealed that he does not read books, and that his favorite movies are Final Fantasy: The Movie and eXistenZ. The first movie is derived from a video game; the second is about a virtual reality game.

Now, I've certainly been on the receiving end of enough sneers from snotty, superior critics who denigrate science fiction and fantasy, so I don't want to turn into one of them. But---really---these are his two favorite movies? Presumably he bases his opinions on technical expertise rather than writing, plot, acting, art direction, cinematography and so forth, because this page also says that he was "moving from architecture into 3D animation for films". He also "describes himself as a kind of guy. Whatever that means."

I would say that it sounds like he's the kind of enegetic yet unfocused fellow who prefers to get in on the ground floor of a Hot! New! Thing! rather than go through the hard work of building up expertise in an established field, but since I did the latter, that just be my bias.

On the other hand, maybe not, since when asked about fame he says:

Fame is a word given to people who've overachieved through natural talent and hard work, and gained the respect and admiration of firstly their peer group, then the world. We are not famours [sic] or talented. We are popular by exposure so TV networks can sell furniture and breakfast radio gets its sound bits!

Well, that shows a certain self-awareness, anyway, although I'll point out that he goes along with this willingly.

Then there's this article about Sloan's human shield activities:

Big Brother showed him how the media could take an event and "escalate it into an ultrasignificant nature, even though the number of people involved is minuscule". Now he wants to use the high value the media places on Western casualties as opposed to Iraqi "collateral damage" to good effect.

He doesn't seem particularly convinced that his own precious carcass will stop bombs from falling, but he's eager to exploit "the media's" fascination with Western casualties. I'm not entirely sure he's grasped the point that he might be one of those casualties. This article also says he's taking a video camera with him; I'm betting he plans more on documenting casualties than on being one.

I was wondering where he got this idea that "Western" casualties were somehow more interesting than non-Western ones. I suspect it's from stories like today's, where we find that 21 people were killed, including one American. Those horrid Americans---thinking they're the only ones who matter! Except that this sort of thing was true for the Australian media, too.

I don't think the deaths of Westerners who have volunteered to die for a thuggish regime will have quite the same resonance in Western media as those who died while waiting at the airport.

The media aspects of it were apparently a lot more interesting to Sloan than were the political or humanitarian issues:

For Mr Sloan the decision to quit his job as an architect and aspiring animator to head off to Iraq had more to do with George Bush than Saddam Hussein.

"I really haven't researched him. He's not an interest of mine," he says of the Iraqi leader...

You can't say the same thing of America though---he's researched us thoroughly:

Of the Americans, he says they "cruise round the world burning resources ... They're not planning on using oil more efficiently or sustainably - they just want want to guarantee they have 40 per cent of the world's oil so they can keep having big cars."

(That article brought to us by Tim Blair.)

This is why I have singled Sloan out for special attention. What Hussein's done doesn't seem to bother him---he's not even interested in finding out. If I had gotten the idea into my head to go "shield" someone many people referred to as a tyrant, I'd at least read up a bit before I left, just in case they were right. Sloan is like Grace Knight, naked protest organizer, who admitted that she was confused on this whole business of "facts", but she knew war was icky and wrong.

This article in The Age reports that:

Former Big Brother contestant Gordon Sloan last night said he was determined to stay on in Iraq as a human shield, despite some volunteers leaving.

"You find people are here for their own agendas but, if you are getting nervous now when there's no soldiers with their fingers on the triggers, I'm not sure why you came really,"

Especially since

He said the political situation in Baghdad was so relaxed it was "kinda like a Club Med war zone really".

I still think he doesn't believe he's going to be a casualty, but at least he's right about this. (Here it's explained that the organizers thought they could get five or ten thousand people to show up, and there'd be no war. Since they didn't have that many, there's no reason to stick around.)

The other day I mentioned this article in the SMH:

[Sloan] laughed off a warning by the US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, that Saddam faced war crime charges for using human shields - even volunteers.

Laugh while you can, Monkey Boy. Maybe you'll face war crimes charges too.

Mr Sloan denied he had gone to Iraq for publicity - he was motivated by concern about "American bullying tactics globally".

And by the chance of getting in some guerilla journalism, just in case the Sydney Morning Herald or the Guardian ever launches a TV network. (Unless the BBC will want him.)

I shall watch his future career with considerable interest.