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Posts tagged: military

Burning Man Invades Afghanistan

Klint Finley

Burning Man in Afghanistan

In the 1970s, U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Jim Channon proposed the First Earth Battalion, an attempt to apply counter cultural currents of the time to the U.S. military. Now there’s the Synergy Strike Force:

Warner held the lease on the Taj, and he ran it with the help of an Afghan man, a former shepherd turned beekeeper turned tobacconist turned pool cleaner turned guesthouse manager named Mehrab. By design, the Taj sat “outside the wire,” beyond the security perimeter of the nearby coalition airfield. It was not only a place to drink and flop but also a kind of grand social experiment—an outpost of the Burning Man ethos in the Afghan desert.

What Warner meant when he called the Taj a “Burner bar” was that it operated, in part, according to a barter system. One of the standing rules at the guesthouse was that any expat could exchange information for booze. In a war zone where so many different agencies, companies, and contractors passed like wary ships in the night, one of the biggest problems was that no one could coordinate knowledge. No one, that is, except maybe a bartender. Under the banner of “Beer for Data,” Warner had turned the Taj into a major clearinghouse for information in Jalalabad. It accumulated by the terabyte on his hard drives: construction plans, hydrology surveys, health-clinic locations, election polling sites, names of farmers, number of trees on their farms, number of acres. What Warner collected he then passed on to the United Nations, the Pentagon, and anyone else who asked for it.

Full Story: Pacific Standard: The Merry Pranksters Who Hacked the Afghan War

(via Paul Graham Raven)

Here’s an ABC News interview with Warner:

Pentagon Bracing for Public Dissent Over Climate and Energy Shocks

Klint Finley

Nafeez Ahmed writes for the Guardian:

Why have Western security agencies developed such an unprecedented capacity to spy on their own domestic populations? Since the 2008 economic crash, security agencies have increasingly spied on political activists, especially environmental groups, on behalf of corporate interests. This activity is linked to the last decade of US defence planning, which has been increasingly concerned by the risk of civil unrest at home triggered by catastrophic events linked to climate change, energy shocks or economic crisis – or all three.

Full Story: Guardian Earth Insight: Pentagon bracing for public dissent over climate and energy shocks

(via Brainsturbator)

U.S. Military Funding Research On “Spidey Sense”

Klint Finley

The Office of Naval research wants to fund more research on intuition:

esearch in human pattern recognition and decision-making suggest that there is a “sixth sense” through which humans can detect and act on unique patterns without consciously and intentionally analyzing them. Evidence is accumulating that this capability, known as intuition or intuitive decision making, enables the rapid detection of patterns in ambiguous, uncertain and time restricted information contexts, that it informs the decision making process and, most importantly, that it may not require domain expertise to be effective. These properties make intuition a strong candidate for further exploration as the basis for developing a new set of decision support training technologies. The proposed topic will lead to new insights into intuitive decision making, and develop new approaches for enhancing this process.

General Services Office: OFFICE OF NAVAL RESEARCH BASIC RESEARCH CHALLENGE – ENHANCING INTUITIVE DECISION MAKING THROUGH IMPLICIT LEARNING

(via Adam Flynn)

See also: The Weaponizatoin Of Neuroscience and DARPA combines human brains and 120-megapixel cameras to create the ultimate military threat detection system

The Weaponization of Neuroscience

Jon Bardin wrote for The Chronicle of Higher Education on how science can be weaponized, even decades after it’s conducted. For example, this DARPA project is based on unrelated research from the 1960s:

In a small, anonymous office in the Trump Tower, 28 floors above Wall Street, a man sits in front of a computer screen sifting through satellite images of a foreign desert. The images depict a vast, sandy emptiness, marked every so often by dunes and hills. He is searching for man-made structures: houses, compounds, airfields, any sign of civilization that might be visible from the sky. The images flash at a rate of 20 per second, so fast that before he can truly perceive the details of each landscape, it is gone. He pushes no buttons, takes no notes. His performance is near perfect.

Or rather, his brain’s performance is near perfect. The man has a machine strapped to his head, an array of electrodes called an electroencephalogram, or EEG, which is recording his brain activity as each image skips by. It then sends the brain-activity data wirelessly to a large computer. The computer has learned what the man’s brain activity looks like when he sees one of the visual targets, and, based on that information, it quickly reshuffles the images. When the man sorts back through the hundreds of images—most without structures, but some with—almost all the ones with buildings in them pop to the front of the pack. His brain and the computer have done good work.

Chronicles of Higher Education: From Bench to Bunker

(Thanks Justin!)

The Military-Maker Complex: DARPA Infiltrates the Hackerspace Movement

In a two part essay Fiacre O’Duinn explains why DARPA’s partnership with MAKE magazine to fund 1,000 makerlabs in U.S high schools is antithetical to the maker movement and wonders whether it’s a line in the sand that will divide the movement:

While the MENTOR program involves cooperation, this is done so as part of challenge competitions, in which teams compete against each other for cash prizes. This seems in stark contrast to how maker culture has developed to date. Why is competition necessary? If the goal is truly for education using the hacker/maker model, can learning and exploration not take place merely for pleasure, in a completely open environment, or must it be reduced to yet another lesson in the need to hoard and compete for resources and information?

Third, why has the field of study in these makerspaces narrowed only to STEM topics? What happened to the transdisiplinary focus of hacker/maker communities that make them so innovative? Where are the arts? Where are wearables, knitivism, DIY molecular gastronomy? Why do the challenges involve working on unmanned air vehicles or robots, projects that are of interest to DARPA for their military applications? Shouldn’t we encourage STEAM rather than STEM? Could it be that regardless of their educational potential, these topics have no possible military application? With such a narrow focus, one could ask which culture will win the day, maker or military?

Finally, why are the full details of the Make proposal and specifics of the agreement with DARPA not being made public? Because in dealing with the military, lack of transparency is simply a matter of course. This works well for the military but why is it necessary for a community project involving children? Why was a “Secret” clearance level needed to work on designing modules for the program, according to this job advertisement? This lack of transparency also leaves other questions unanswered. For example, as the program expands to over 1000 schools, will military personnel be brought in to teach? This last question brings me to issues of recruitment, STEM education and the military.

The biggest issue of all may be the use of the the MENTOR program as a military recruitment vehicle.

Make, DARPA and the line in the sand, #1

Make, DARPA and the line in the sand, #2

I’ve long opposed military recruitment programs in schools, but what might the benefits of such a program be? I’ve been thinking lately that in these times of austerity, and given the general difficulty in getting public funding for education and social programs in the U.S even when we’re not in a recession, tying social programs to hawkish programs like defense and law enforcement may be the only way to go.

In his “State of the World" in 2009, Bruce Sterling suggested taking a national defense position on climate change:

If I wanted to be politically effective, rather than visionary, I’d disguise myself as a right-wing Green, probably some kind of hunting-shooting NASCAR “conservationist,” and I’d infiltrate the Republicans this year. […]

So we publicly recognize the climate crisis: just as if we suddenly discovered it ourselves. And we don’t downplay the climate crisis: we OVERPLAY the crisis.

"Then we blame the crisis on foreigners. We’re not liberal weak sisters ‘negotiating Kyoto agreements.’ We’re assembling a Coalition of the Willing tp threaten polluters.

"We’re certainly not bowing the knee to the damn Chinese — they own our Treasury, unfortunately, but we completely change the terms of that debate. When the Chinese open a coal mine and threaten the world’s children with asthma, we will take out that threat with a cruise missile!

That’s our new negotiating position on the climate crisis: we’re the military, macho hard line.

Would it work? Would it be worth selling out the rest of your values for?

I don’t know, but also consider the sorry state of jobs in the country. On the one hand, Newt Gingrich’s moon base idea was justified as a defense measure, but it was widely seen as a proposal as a jobs program for NASA’s home state. Maybe a moon base was too wild an idea, but could something like sci-fi work? Remember, the interstate highway system in the U.S. was actually called the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways and was justified as a defense measure. If we want a jobs program to rebuild or crumbling infrastructure, it seems like we could do a lot worse than call it a homeland security program.

So given the sorry state of STEM education, and the expense of setting up hackerspaces and the absolutely dismal state of public libraries (which many suggest turning into hacker spaces), is it time to consider letting DARPA build hackerspaces for the kids, even if it means letting in military recruiters and having the kids focused on making weapons?

I can see the pragmatic benefit, but I still just can’t justify it. As Fiarce points out, the program is just too antithetical to the maker spirit. And although as many have pointed out DARPA has funded all sorts of research over the years, including the creation of the Internet, the MENTOR program will specifically include a competition for designing weaponized vehicles for military use. DARPA may do some good work too, but having kids design weapons for the military crosses a line for me.

So will it split the community? Someone with more knowledge of the history of the computer hacking movement and how the NSA and other defense agencies tried to hijack it might have more insight than me. But it seems that if the maker movement has any momentum of its own, then this shouldn’t be fatal to it. Those who want to collaborate openly and make things other than war planes, and those attracted to the militaristic elements of the DARPA program will go there. Hopefully the maker movement will be able to sustain both strands, much like the computer hacker movement managed to sustain an open source movement.

See also: 3 BIG questions (and lots of smaller ones) about DARPA & Make

Majority in the U.S. Supported the Shooting of Kent State Shooters in 1970

Kent State massacre

It’s not the case that nobody sides with the National Guard at Kent State — terrible people abound — but it’s definitely true that history condemns them. We can’t reconcile the massacre of protesters, even less-than-peaceful protesters, with our idea of democracy. We do not condone it when soldiers slaughter unarmed teenagers on US soil. We ‘re not willing to be that country.

We were then.

A Gallup poll conducted after the shootings showed that 58 percent of respondents blamed the students for the massacre. Nixon’s prepared statement said that the protesters’ behavior “invite[d] tragedy” — in other words, they were asking for it. You can bet your ass that if there had been Internet comments sections in 1970, they would have been full of misspelled missives about how those hippies only got what they deserved. Since there weren’t, those people sent hate mail to the victims’ mothers instead.

xojane: For Some Reason UC David Did Make Me Give Up On Humanity

(via Alexis Madrigal)

The Military-Gang Complex

John Robb at Global Guerillas points to a report from the FBI that finds a a rise both in the number of gang members in the military and in the number of former military members in street gangs.

There are some problems with the report. For example, listing juggalos as gang members is absurd (here’s my prior writing on the subject). But if this trend is real, it could lead to some serious problems. As described by Robb:

The big worry about gangs in the US military is a repeat of what happened in Russia when the Soviet Union collapsed. When the Soviet Union collapsed economically, hundreds of thousands of Soviet soldiers with fresh combat experience in Afghanistan (and little to offer in terms of skills) were dumped onto the street and into the waiting arms of criminal organizations. This process quickly turned Russian economics into a shooting sport. A place where wealth and firepower became synonymous.

The US, currently running a $1.5 trillion a year deficit with the spectre of HUGE cuts in the military (reduction in force) as an absolute certainty, will dump hundreds of thousands of combat vets onto the street w/o an economy able to absorb them. This is particularly true with the US economy about to start its next contraction w/o even recovering from the last one. Guess what happens next…

Global Guerillas: US Military + Gangs

Giganticon wrote on Twitter: “In many states with strict gun laws being a vet can bypass them, probibly desirable in a gang recruit.”

Nicholas Pell mentions that an episode of Gangland covers this subject as well.

The Forgotten History of the Bonus Army

Police attack the Bonus Army

For Memorial Day, some dismal reading about the way the U.S. treats its soldiers (yes, this would actually be more appropriate for Veterans Day):

On 11 March 1932 Waters called for a march on Washington and 250-300 men from Portland joined him. They marched behind a banner reading “Portland Bonus March – On to Washington.” The veterans and their families had popular support and the support of some authorities. A Portland railroad offered the use of dung-stained cattle cars to transport the Bonus Army. The Indiana National Guard and the Pennsylvania National Guard used military vehicles to transport the Bonus Army. Toll bridge operators let the Bonus Army march silently across bridges without pay, and police officers refused to arrest Bonus Army veterans for trespassing. Thousands joined the Bonus Army as it marched towards Washington with Sergent Waters as their elected leader. Waters forbade drinking, panhandling, and ‘anti-government’ or ‘radical’ talk.

When Waters and his Bonus Army arrived in late May 1932 they were twenty thousand strong. The veterans and their families camped in buildings abandoned during the Great Depression and in giant shantytowns. Communists showed up at the shantytowns and agitated for their cause among the veterans. In reply, Bonus Army veterans seized the communists, held trials and sentenced them to fifteen lashes. More than two hundred communists were expelled from the Bonus Army camps. But supporters who were not communists showed up at the shantytown with material support. Among them were eight German soldiers, each having fought against US soldiers, each wounded twice or more in World War I, all naturalized citizens and bearing a total of eight tons of food and supplies for the Bonus Army.

On 29 June the US Government announced it would not meet the demands of the Bonus Army and that the Bonus Army had to leave by 15 July. By 5 July there was no food remaining. On 7 July congress offered $10,000 to the Bonus Army if it would simply leave Washington DC. Some did take the money and leave, but many more took the money and stayed while other veterans joined for the first time. One thousand more veterans and their families had joined the Bonus Army in Washington and more were on their way. On 17 July 1932 Congress voted down the bonus and then adjourned. President Hoover went on a vacation.

OVO: The Bonus Army

Somewhat related: Nightline on how hundreds of soldiers wounded in Iraq have ended up owing the military money. That is from 2006. The problem is ongoing. And that’s just one of many of the problems today’s veterans face.

US Government Releasing War Video Game

The government has developed a video game - paid for with US tax payer money - in which players “wield the latest high-tech weapons, engage terrorists in armed combat and rescue kidnapped hostages.”

Americas Army

See also:

The Military-Nintendo Complex

Army Launches $50 Million Videogame Push

America’s Army: Free Video Game, Social Engineering Tool, Surveillance Platform