Every year Dispatches From The edge gives awards to news stories and newsmakers that fall under the category of "Are you serious?" Here are the awards for 2013.
Creative Solutions Award to the Third Battalion of the 41st U.S. Infantry Division for its innovative solution on how to halt sporadic attacks by the Taliban in Afghanistan's Zhare District: it blew up a hill that the insurgents used as cover.
This tactic could potentially be a major job creator because there are lots of hills in Afghanistan. And after the U.S. Army blows them all up, it can take on those really big things: mountains.
Runner up in this category is Col. Thomas W. Collins, for his inventive solution on how to explain a sharp rise in Taliban attacks in 2013. The U.S. military published detailed bar graphs indicating insurgent attacks had declined by 7 percent, but, when the figure was challenged by the media, the Army switched to the mushroom strategy*: "We're just not giving out statistics anymore," Col. Collins told the Associated Press.
Independent sources indicate that attacks were up 40 percent over last year, with the battlegrounds shifting from the south of Afghanistan to the east and north.
*Mushrooms are kept in the dark and fed manure.
The White Man's Burden Award goes to retired U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, former commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and an expert on counterinsurgency warfare. McChrystal told the Associated Press that the Afghans don't really want the U.S. to withdraw, because they are "Like a teenager, you really don't want your parents hanging around you, but...you like to know if things go bad, they're going to help." The General went on to say the U.S. needed to stay because "We have an emotional responsibility" to the Afghans.
The "Don't Bring Me No Bad News" Award was split between Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and Turkish Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The Greek state television network ERT's reporting of the widespread opposition to the current austerity policies of the center-right Samaras government apparently annoyed the Prime Minister. Samaras dismissed all of ERT's 2,700 employees and closed down the station (the fired workers are occupying ERT's headquarters and continue to broadcast programming). When the government restarted broadcasts a month later, it led with a 1960's comedy, followed by documentary about a Greek surrealist poet.
Turkish PM Erdogan pressured Turkey's 24-hour television news stations not to cover the massive June demonstrations that paralyzed much of Istanbul and, instead, to broadcast a panel of medical experts talking about schizophrenia and a documentary about penguins. There are no penguins in Turkey, although the schizophrenia program may have been an appropriate subject matter for the Prime Minister.
The Bad Hair Award to the Dublin city government for spending $6.8 million to promote a Redhead Convention in the village of Crosshaven on Ireland's southeast coast.
Ireland is currently in a major depression triggered by a banker-instigated housing bubble. The International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission -- the so-called "troika" -- bailed out the banks and instituted a massive austerity program on Ireland. The cost of the bailout is approximately $13,750 for every Irish citizen.
The salaries of government workers were cut 20 percent, and 35,000 public employees were laid off. Pensions, unemployment and welfare benefits were slashed and new taxes imposed. Unemployment is at almost 13 percent -- 28 percent for young people. A survey found that 67 percent of families with young children are unable to afford basic necessities, and are in arrears on their rent, utility bills, and mortgages. Some 20 percent of Ireland's children live in houses where both parents are out of work -- the highest in Europe -- and in a population of 4.6 million people, more than 200,000 have emigrated, about 87,000 a year.
Alan Hayes, the convention's "king of the redheads," told the Financial Times that the "Festival of ginger-loving madness" would draw Irish from all over the world. It is estimated that the Irish diaspora makes up about 100 million people.
"Ireland has one of the highest populations of redheads in the world and we will celebrate by getting together as many as possible," says Hayes. The competitions will include the best red hair, eyebrows, and the "most freckles per square inch."
The Jackal Award goes to the government of France for leveraging its opposition to a settlement between Iran and the U.S. over Teheran's nuclear program as a way to break into the lucrative Middle East arms market. France's spoiler role was praised by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which includes the monarchies of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Jordan and Morocco.
"France could gain financially from the GCC's frustrations over recent U.S. policy in the Middle East," the global security analyst group Stratfor notes. "Significant defense contracts worth tens of billions of dollars are up for grabs in the Gulf region, ranging from aircraft to warships to missile systems. France is predominantly competing with Britain and the United States for the contracts and is seeking to position itself as a key ally of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates as it looks to strengthen its defense and industrial ties with the region."