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Terrorism Futures

Ryan Johnson

just when you thought the line between reality and fiction couldn't be blurred further.

The idea of "Terrorism Futures" has reared its ugly head once again, though many of us may have missed the debate the first time, perhaps dismissing articles on the subject as National Enquirer stories that had somehow snuck onto the pages of our daily newspapers.

The concept  was originally conceived by The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a somewhat sinister wing of the U.S. Department of Defense. DARPA is known for researching, among other things, the possibility of implanting computer chips in the brains of soldiers in order to enhance their battlefield performance. It is an agency   where America's best and brightest are asked to put  their imaginations to work but check their morals at the door.

The program  would have involved investors betting small amounts of money that a particular event -- a terrorist attack or assassination -- would happen. The first area of focus was set to be the Middle East, where futures contracts would be traded  based on economic, civil, and military events.

A public outcry led the Pentagon to scrap the program in late July, though a private company called Net Exchange (involved in the initial development stages with DARPA) is now carrying the torch. According to the Net Exchange website, individuals wishing to place bets on international misfortunes can do so starting in March.

The idea is as absurd as it is immoral, and as Canadians, I say we should condemn it outright, wait a few months, and then steal the idea for our own purposes.

Why, you may ask, would we want anything to do with this? Because within this crazy scheme lies the grain of an idea that could help re-ignite the ordinary Canadian's interest in politics. Instead of betting on international political misfortunes, we should bet on our own.

Let's face it. Canadian politics just aren't that interesting. Watch CPAC for half an hour and you'll begin to have fond reminiscences of past dental surgery.  While America's politicians concern themselves with regime change and weapons of mass destruction, ours ponder healthcare and softwood lumber. We don't have the power to play global power politics and as a result we are political backbenchers in the parliament of the world, not that there's anything wrong with that.

Gone are the constitutional debates, the threats of separation, and the "nights of long knives" that peppered our political past. We are settling in for Pax Liberalis-the sequel, it is likely to be as dull as the first, and there's nothing wrong with that either.

But there's also nothing wrong with spicing things up a little. Let's open a "Canadian Politics" market, where the ordinary Canadian can bet on domestic political events great and small. The phrase "care to make it interesting? " will take on a whole new meaning.

Immediately ruled out of course, are any bets on federal "regime change". We've chosen our own dictatorship, it is the Liberal Party of Canada and they aren't going anywhere. Even when party leadership changes, it is a gradual process, like death by a thousand pinpricks. We have essentially known who our next Prime Minister would be for some time now. Instead of blooming like a flower he has slowly grown on us like a fungus; He is there, we aren't entirely sure when he got there, and all of the formalities of his ascent were simply to confirm a fait accompli.

On the other hand, the current upheaval amongst the other parties in Parliament might be an area of greater promise. Investors, for example, can bet on how many federal parties need to merge to create a viable alternative to the Liberal party (extra cash going to those who accurately predict a merger involving the Bloc).

How about wagers on government scandals? How many members of Paul Martin's cabinet will make the fateful voyage up to the Irving lodge for a little fishing?

We can also bet on Canada's relationship with the United States. How many times will Paul Martin be invited to George Bush Jr's ranch in Texas? Will they sing on stage together a la Mulroney-Reagan? What will the song be?

The possibilities are endless.

And in the spirit of " Terrorism Futures" perhaps we can also bet on assassinations- not the kind where people die of course, but character assassinations like those carried out by the troublesome pie-slinging "Entartistes". When will Paul Martin get a pie? Will it be Banana cream or coconut?

Of course there is always a chance that the system will be abused. Perhaps the Entartistes, knowing full well that a pie attack is about to take place, will bet on it themselves, and use the money to pad their secret pie arsenal.

There are worse things in the world than an excess of pies. Like this same game getting played on the international stage where leaders have more to worry about than airborne pastries.

But I'm sure someone at Net Exchange has already thought about that.

Ryan Johnson is a freelance writer based in Montreal. His other articles can be viewed at

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