Thursday, September 29, 2011

The American Terminator

Tom Engelhardt has written a sobering yet terrifying article on the development and demand for UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicle) by the U.S. Defense Department.  Often called "Predator Drones" or "Reapers," these mammon machines are becoming all the rage for waging war from above.  Remotely controlled and increasingly networked with information-sharing technology to create a single "hive mind," these aptly-named drones will likely become the killing force of the future (source).  Engelhardt writes of their growing appeal: 
They are relatively cheap. When they “hunt,” no one dies (at least on our side).  They are capable of roaming the world.  Someday, they will land on the decks of aircraft carriers or, tiny as hummingbirds, drop onto a windowsill, maybe even yours, or in their hundreds, the size of bees, swarm to targets and, if all goes well, coordinate their actions using the artificial intelligence version of “hive minds.”
A "Hunter-Killer Drone" from the Terminator film series (L) and a U.S. military "Predator Drone" (R).

This is all wonderful news, of course, if you are a deeply indebted, crumbing empire with 1 in 4 children living in poverty (source).  Rather than conscripting or back-door drafting soldiers to face down gunfire and improvised explosive devices to take out insurgents in up to 80 countries (source), the Bush and Obama Administrations have increasingly outsourced their military force to machines.   No more military funerals, no more burning draft cards, no more public outcry over the human cost of war.  Well, at least not on the side of the "good guys."  But geopolitics and nationalism aside, Engelhardt understands the woeful ghost in the machine of mechanized warfare:
Just think about the last time you went to a Terminator film: Who did you identify with?  John and Sarah Connor, or the implacable Terminators chasing them?  And you don’t need artificial intelligence to grasp why in a nanosecond.
With their growing economy, particularly in the tech sector, it might be worth asking how U.S. citizens would react to China flying UAVs over the United States.  Or any country, for that matter.  While the doomsday scenario of Technological Singularity - in which machines gain self-awareness and promptly decide humans must be eradicated (source)- is still a few decades away, the grim realities of dehumanized warfare are already upon us.

Beneath the slick action sequences and Hollywood plot line, the Terminator film series is a cautionary tale of how much military might to entrust in machines; the main antagonist in the series is the faceless, calculated computer brain of Skynet - which controls a vast network of sophisticated, weaponized robots that patrol the ground, sea, and air.  Developed by Cyberdyne Systems for the U.S. Armed Forces, Skynet was hailed as the first "Global Digital Defense Network" (source).  This is not dissimilar from the terminology and tactics currently underway by the CIA.  Engelhardt reports:
As journalist Ron Suskind reported in his book The One Percent Doctrine, in a “Presidential Finding” on September 17, 2011, only six days after the World Trade Center towers went down, Bush granted the CIA an unprecedented license to wage war globally. By then, the CIA had presented him with a plan whose name was worthy of a sci-fi film: the “Worldwide Attack Matrix.”
On the moral spectrum of behavior, humans killing one another is bad enough.  But humans programming machines to remotely kill other humans seems to me far worse in terms of ethical approaches to problem-solving.  Simply, sending machines to kill on one's behalf is not something "the good guys" do.  Imagine any action or science fiction film in which the hero sits at a computer terminal and annihilates his enemies halfway around the world as they flee from a hovering drone's machine gun fire.  There is no nobility in warfare without sacrifice, without even a pretense of putting the courage of one's convictions on the line.  And yet, despite the obvious physical safety of piloting robots 7,000 miles away, the psychological cost of operating a Predator Drone may be far greater than conventional aerial warfare.  Written on the news website in 2008 (source):
In a fighter jet, "when you come in at 500-600 mph, drop a 500-pound bomb and then fly away, you don't see what happens," said Col. Albert K. Aimar, who is commander of the 163rd Reconnaissance Wing here and has a bachelor's degree in psychology.  But when a Predator fires a missile, "you watch it all the way to impact, and I mean it's very vivid, it's right there and personal. So it does stay in people's minds for a long time."  He said the stresses are "causing some family issues, some relationship issues."  He and other Predator officers would not elaborate. 
Often, the military also directs Predators to linger over a target after an attack so that the damage can be assessed.  "You do stick around and see the aftermath of what you did, and that does personalize the fight," said Col. Chris Chambliss, commander of the active-duty 432nd Wing at Creech Air Force Base, Nev.  "You have a pretty good optical picture of the individuals on the ground.  The images can be pretty graphic, pretty vivid, and those are the things we try to offset.  We know that some folks have, in some cases, problems."
The ethical dimensions of mechanized warfare are vast.  Can a machine be held legally responsible for the death of a civilian?  Who is put on trial - in military or civilian courts - when a UAV mistakenly identifies a  fruit stand in a bustling village as a terrorist munitions bunker and kills a dozen innocents?  The manufacturer of the weapon?  The programmer?  The drone operator?  The commanding officer who ordered the strike?  More importantly, would any machine hesitate - even for a second - to shoot down a mother clutching her baby if programmed to do so?  Can empathy and humanity be programmed into a machine?  If it is designed to kill, would that even be a useful design goal?

The American Terminator - coming to a battlefield near you.

Indeed, we must now add "remote mechanized warfare" to the list of reasons as to "Why They Hate Us."

Monday, September 26, 2011

Obama Nation

"drones over Pakistan, Yemen and Libya
is Obama the bomber getting ready for Syria?
first black president, the masses were hungry
but the same president just bombed an African country"

A stunning, raging, sagacious hip-hop video about the betrayed ideals placed in Barack Obama:

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Oh, Church Shootings!

Church massacres are always an interesting genre of rampage killing.  There are obvious political overtones to shooting up people in the house of the Lord.  In that wacky summer that brought us the Holocaust Museum shooting (source) and the Tea Party protests of "death panels" resulting from Heath Care Reform (source), Dr. George Tiller - a prominent abortion provider - was shot and killed in his Kansas church by a far right zealot who opposed a woman's right to choose pregnancy termination (source).  The National Guard was called in to protect abortion clinics and the usual cast of anti-abortion zealots had to walk back their rhetoric and pretend their constant harangue had nothing to do with Dr. Tiller's death.

Well, today we have a new church shooting and, of course, the details of the case are just a few days away.  After a previous act of homicide, 57 year old Jeremiah Fogel opened fire in a Lakeland, Florida church but was held down until police arrived to arrest him (source).  No doubt this tragic mayhem increased the faith factor among churchgoers - despite the fact that God clearly allowed Fogel to enter the church with a loaded weapon and did nothing to intervene.  The real faith should be placed in the responsive citizens who ended the gunman's rampage - not the apathetic-as-usual God of the Bible.

Oh, and as if a non-sequitur, the AP article ends with:
"The suspect owned a limousine service that provided transportation to the airport and often worked outside with his wife, mowing the lawn and pulling weeds, neighbors said."
There you have it, folks: too much yard work leads to mass murder.  So don't force your old man to mow the lawn and pull weeds too often or your local church will be the next to eat hot lead!  Thanks to Jack Thompson for this bit of insight (source).

Weeding out the suspects - the investigation continues.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Quantum Physics Never Sounded So Good

I've been a longtime fan of the Symphony of Science series.  This episode is among the most visually stunning and aurally entrancing.  With science like this, what need is there for the archaic mythologies of God?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Obama 2012: The Least Worst

"There will always be a 'least worst' between the Democrats and Republicans, every four years, every two years. And 'least worst' means that you exert no pull on the least worst, and, therefore, your own influence and your own impact is self-limited."  —Ralph Nader, November 3rd, 2004

Monday, September 12, 2011

9/11: A Conspiracy Theory

AN OUTRAGEOUS CONSPIRACY THEORY! If you still believe the government's official story of September 11th, 2001 after spending five minutes watching this, there's nothing more I can say to convince you.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Tea Partiers and the Death Penalty

"I'm amazed to see so many "conservatives" who are skeptical of government become so faithful when it comes to the ultimate act of government; namely the death penalty."
-Judge Andrew Napolitano, 9/8/2011

The cheers in the audience are completely vile and disgusting.  The hypocrisy among Tea Partiers on the death penalty issue is astounding. They get furious over the made-up controversy of "death panels" and are skeptical of government oversight of education, business, or industry... yet they have NO PROBLEM with government bureaucracy ending human life.

Ricky Perry still doesn't get it.

(click for full version)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Pedestrian Speed Limits: A Modest Proposal

If government regulations are designed to protect us all and make us safer, why don't we have pedestrian speed limits?  We should.  And this blog entry is devoted to why.

Clearly, motor vehicle regulation is very important.  I drive a small truck and, if it weren't for helpful signs and police enforcement of speed limits, I would very likely be dead by now.  See, there is nothing I enjoy more than driving in excess of 65 miles per hour in residential zones or on busy roads.  Rather than assessing the driving conditions around me based on pedestrian traffic, vehicular traffic, weather conditions, and road conditions, I operate my vehicle solely based on the arbitrary number posted on a sign that applies to all times of day or night regardless of the actual conditions on the road.  And this is just one of the many ways in which the government keeps me safe.

Speed limit enforced for your safety!
So why stop there?  It's a known fact that we live in a dangerous country for pedestrians!  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 4,092 pedestrian deaths and 59,000 pedestrian injuries in 2009 alone (source).  And yet there are minimal regulations on the treacherous sidewalks of America.  While the enforcement of jaywalking ordinances have been helpful in preventing me from brazenly walking across the street whenever I might want to, what is to stop me from operating my shoes at unsafe speeds - likely causing collisions with other pedestrians, cyclists, vehicles, and stationary objects?  Presently, nothing except my own senses and rational self-interest.  But by living on this particular land mass of the North American continent, I unknowingly signed a social contract which obligates me to surrender reasonable freedom of movement in order to assure the collective safety of society.

Therefore, I hereby put forward the modest proposal of capping all pedestrian traffic to 5 miles per hour (adjusted for inflation) - which includes everything up to and including a brisk walk.  Running would not be covered and would require a fee-based permit, approved in advance, to ensure that multiple pedestrians are not running on the same block at the same time.  This would not only ensure public safety but this licensing process would raise valuable revenue for the state.  Such funds could go toward a "walk, don't run" program in public schools, which of course students would be heavily tested over to ensure no child is left running ahead.

If this program is successful, perhaps a minimum speed of 3 miles per hour could also be enforced to further protect citizens from pedestrian accidents.  But that might be too stringent, I'm just not sure.