The future of propaganda – Q&A about big data and the War of Ideas


One pair of these feet belongs to George W. Bush

❝ In 2009, Sean Gourley, an Oxford-trained physicist, gave a TED talk called “The Mathematics of War.” Gourley had been working with the Pentagon, the United Nations and the Iraqi Government to help them better understand the nature of the insurgency in Iraq, and in his presentation he announced something fairly striking: After analyzing the location, timing, death toll and weapons used in thousands of deadly incidents around the country, he and his small team had discovered that the violence actually had a consistent footprint. In other words, you could develop an equation that would predict the likelihood of an attack of a certain size happening at a certain time.

And this wasn’t just true in Iraq: Gourley’s team had also analyzed insurgent-led wars in other parts of the world — from Colombia to Senegal — and had discovered the very same pattern, even though the underlying issues in those conflicts were totally different.

❝ Gourley has since moved on from war zones. He helped found a company called Quid that does big data projects for companies like Intel, Visa and Samsung. In March, he spoke at [the] Structure:Data conference in New York, where he talked about the difference between “data science” – which is about finding correlations – and “data intelligence” – which is about solving problems. He said we need to shift our focus toward the latter if we want to tackle the biggest challenges our world is facing.

From edited transcript of an interview with Gourley:

❝ Q: How would you use data differently in Iraq if you were doing it all over again?

A: It’s important to remind ourselves in 2013 where the information landscape was at the start of the Iraq war. In 2003, the world was very excited about something called blogging. We didn’t have Twitter. Cellphone coverage at the start of the war was exceedingly low. What we’ve seen over the past decade as the war unfolded was one of the biggest changes in the information landscape from a militaristic perspective in a long, long time…

Now, there is already more information being collected by the collective intelligence than by the military intelligence. One one hand, we’re moving into a world where you have drones recording continuous HD video. But we’re also seeing an upscaling in human reporting now with the likes of Instagram. You’re not just tweeting — you’re taking pictures that are triangulated.

The crowdsourced info is still going to be more complete and at a higher resolution than even the stuff that is done with the advent of drones and sensors by the military.

RTFA. Lots more interesting questions and even when answers are in short supply – there is more information about what’s coming. This isn’t only about technology it is about the political use of that tech.

I’d suggest it is in your own interest to learn about what’s coming – announced or undercover and hidden.

Photography and our Civil War


Click to enlargeGettysburg

❝ While photographs of earlier conflicts do exist, the American Civil War is considered the first major conflict to be extensively photographed. Not only did intrepid photographers venture onto the fields of battle, but those very images were then widely displayed and sold in ever larger quantities nationwide.

Photographers such as Mathew Brady, Alexander Gardner, and Timothy O’Sullivan found enthusiastic audiences for their images as America’s interests were piqued by the shockingly realistic medium. For the first time in history, citizens on the home front could view the actual carnage of far away battlefields. Civil War photographs stripped away much of the Victorian-era romance around warfare.

❝ Photography during the Civil War, especially for those who ventured out to the battlefields with their cameras, was a difficult and time consuming process. Photographers had to carry all of their heavy equipment, including their darkroom, by wagon. They also had to be prepared to process cumbersome light-sensitive images in cramped wagons.

Today pictures are taken and stored digitally, but in 1861, the newest technology was wet-plate photography, a process in which an image is captured on chemically coated pieces of plate glass. This was a complicated process done exclusively by photographic professionals…

❝ While photography of the 1860’s would seem primitive by the technological standards of today, many of the famous Civil War photographers of the day were producing sophisticated three-dimensional images or “stereo views.” These stereo view images proved to be extremely popular among Americans and a highly effective medium for displaying life-like images…

With these advancements in photographic technology, the Civil War became a true watershed moment in the history of photography. The iconic photos of the American Civil War would not only directly affect how the war was viewed from the home front, but it would also inspire future combat photographers who would take their cameras to the trenches of Flanders, the black sands of Iwo Jima, the steaming jungles of Vietnam, and the deserts of Afghanistan.

RTFA for techniques and technology. Photography brought a new dimension to recording history. hopefully, it continues to bring new dimensions into understanding politics and war.

Keeping up with Mexican drug cartels — New Generation


Click to enlargephotos from Getty, EPA, etc.

A shootout between members of a powerful drug cartel and Mexican security forces in the western state of Michoacan left at least 40 people dead Friday, according to Mexican officials.

The violence unfolded in the morning near the town of Tanhuato, along Michoacan’s border with the state of Jalisco, a troubled region where two drug cartels have waged a long-running battle and where attacks against Mexican authorities have recently spiked.

Mexican authorities offered few details Friday afternoon about the killings, which involved the New Generation cartel of Jalisco and a convoy of federal police and soldiers. The governor of Michoacan, Salvador Jara, said on a radio address that at least one policeman died, as well as 42 gunmen, although those numbers were not confirmed…

A priest at a nearby church, Manuel Navarro, said that he and his parishioners could see black smoke rising at the scene of the violence but that the townspeople continued to work and go out in the streets.

“The people must be scared,” he said. “But what are we going to do?

The New Generation cartel has grown into one of the country’s most powerful drug gangs and has been involved in several large-scale attacks against authorities in recent months. In April, the group ambushed a convoy of state police officers as they drove through a rural gorge, killing 15 of them. This month, gunmen shot down a Mexican military helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade, killing six soldiers.

Over the past two years, the gang has battled Michoacan’s dominant cartel, the Knights Templar, as well as members of the citizens militia group that emerged there to combat the drug gangs’ killing and extortion. Authorities in Jalisco have expressed concern that they are not getting enough help from the federal government to halt the expansion of the New Generation cartel.

I have no idea what “army” is needed to sort out the history of Mexico’s corruption. It is as deeply ingrained within the structure of everyday life and governance as any failed state in history.

Although the comparative casualty rate of Federales vs gangsters was pretty impressive this time. Ahem, assuming this account is the truth.

Coming soon to a country/city near you – the Drone Arms Race

Eventually, the United States will face a military adversary or terrorist group armed with drones, military analysts say. But what the short-run hazard experts foresee is not an attack on the United States, which faces no enemies with significant combat drone capabilities, but the political and legal challenges posed when another country follows the American example. The Bush administration, and even more aggressively the Obama administration, embraced an extraordinary principle: that the United States can send this robotic weapon over borders to kill perceived enemies, even American citizens, who are viewed as a threat…

What was a science-fiction scenario not much more than a decade ago has become today’s news. In Iraq and Afghanistan, military drones have become a routine part of the arsenal. In Pakistan, according to American officials, strikes from Predators and Reapers operated by the C.I.A. have killed more than 2,000 militants; the number of civilian casualties is hotly debated. In Yemen last month, an American citizen was, for the first time, the intended target of a drone strike, as Anwar al-Awlaki, the Qaeda propagandist and plotter, was killed along with a second American, Samir Khan.

If China, for instance, sends killer drones into Kazakhstan to hunt minority Uighur Muslims it accuses of plotting terrorism, what will the United States say? What if India uses remotely controlled craft to hit terrorism suspects in Kashmir, or Russia sends drones after militants in the Caucasus? American officials who protest will likely find their own example thrown back at them.

The problem is that we’re creating an international norm” — asserting the right to strike preemptively against those we suspect of planning attacks, argues Dennis M. Gormley…“The copycatting is what I worry about most…”

Last December, a surveillance drone crashed in an El Paso neighborhood; it had been launched, it turned out, by the Mexican police across the border. Even Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group, has deployed drones, an Iranian design capable of carrying munitions and diving into a target, says P. W. Singer of the Brookings Institution, whose 2009 book “Wired for War” is a primer on robotic combat…

“I think of where the airplane was at the start of World War I: at first it was unarmed and limited to a handful of countries,” Mr. Singer says. “Then it was armed and everywhere. That is the path we’re on.”

Radio-controlled model airplanes – nowadays – aren’t a whole boatload away from capabilities of our military drones. They may be limited to smaller, lighter payloads. That doesn’t limit the inventiveness of terrorists who design underwear bombs. And no more reliance on suicide volunteers who may get nervous when the time comes to go BOOM!

But, Uncle Sugar presumes that only American genius can design these death-goodies. Just as our government thinks we’re above international law on torture, financing breakaway provinces, freedom fighters headquartered in foreign yacht clubs – our arrogance usually comes back to bite us on the butt.

Cyber warfare risk is mostly hype

The vast majority of hi-tech attacks described as acts of cyber war do not deserve the name, says a report.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development study is part of a series considering incidents that could cause global disruption. While pandemics and financial instability could cause problems, cyber attacks are unlikely to, it says.

Instead, trouble caused by cyber attacks is likely to be localised and short-lived…

Attempts to quantify the potential damage that hi-tech attacks could cause and develop appropriate responses are not helped by the hyperbolic language used to describe these incidents, said the OECD report.

“We don’t help ourselves using ‘cyberwar’ to describe espionage or hacktivist blockading or defacing of websites, as recently seen in reaction to WikiLeaks,” said Professor Peter Sommer…who co-wrote the report with Dr Ian Brown…

“Nor is it helpful to group trivially avoidable incidents like routine viruses and frauds with determined attempts to disrupt critical national infrastructure,” added Prof Sommer…

The report concludes that it is unlikely that there will be a cyberwar. Most of the hype – like a great deal of politics involving the military in Western nations – is designed to promote the profits of corporations and their officer-class flunkies.

No surprises there, either.

Pentagon wants to build a flying submarine


Russian design from the 1930’s

Guillemots and gannets do it. Cormorants and kingfishers do it. Even the tiny insect-eating dipper does it. And if a plan by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) succeeds, a remarkable airplane may one day do it too: plunge beneath the waves to stalk its prey, before re-emerging to fly home.

The DARPA plan…calls for a stealthy aircraft that can fly low over the sea until it nears its target, which could be an enemy ship, or a coastal site such as a port. It will then alight on the water and transform itself into a submarine that will cruise under water to within striking distance, all without alerting defences…

The challenges are huge, not least because planes and submarines are normally poles apart. Aircraft must be as light as possible to minimise the engine power they need to get airborne. Submarines are heavyweights with massive hulls strong enough to resist crushing forces from the surrounding water. Aircraft use lift from their wings to stay aloft, while submarines operate like underwater balloons, adjusting their buoyancy to sink or rise. So how can engineers balance the conflicting demands? Could a craft be designed to dive into the sea like a gannet? And how will it be propelled – is a jet engine the best solution, both above and below the waves?

According to Norman Polmar, former adviser on naval strategy and technology to the US government, the starting point must be to find a way to make an aircraft that can sink in water. “Submarines cannot fly,” he says, “but seaplanes can submerge…”

“What the Americans want sounds incredibly ambitious,” says UK Royal Navy commander Jonty Powis, head of NATO’s submarine rescue service. “If they achieve half of what they want from this machine they will be doing well.” Others are more optimistic, especially in the light of advances in engineering and materials science since the last attempt – notably in lightweight carbon fibre composites and energy-dense batteries.

RTFA. Learn how much time, effort and money can be spent on designing something useful in 1945 – at the latest.

Tough enough trying to move bodies like the Pentagon to modern Fourth Generation warfare. Giving them sandbox time to play with more archaic concepts only encouraging looking backwards at useless tactics.

Obama/U.S. strategy to narrow use of nuclear weapons

President Barack Obama has said a retooled nuclear strategy would narrow when the United States would use nuclear weapons, including for self-defense, the New York Times reported.

Obama, in an interview with the newspaper before the White House unveils the new strategy on Tuesday, said an exception would be carved out for “outliers like Iran and North Korea.”

The much-anticipated announcement on the size and role of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile could build momentum before Obama signs a landmark arms control treaty with Russia in Prague on Thursday and hosts a nuclear security summit in Washington next week.

The Nuclear Posture Review is required by Congress from every U.S. administration but Obama set expectations high after he vowed to end “Cold War thinking” and won the Nobel Peace Prize in part for his vision of a nuclear-free world.

To set an example for moving the world toward making nuclear weapons obsolete, Obama’s strategy renounces any new atomic arms development…

The United States for the first time would explicitly commit to not using nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states that adhered to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty even if they attacked with biological or chemical weapons, the Times said.

We can look forward to every chickenhawk in Congress, every teabagger and, of course, every leftover from the VietNam War who still tries to justify that misbegotten adventure – to trumpet the elephant call to glorious death that so afflicts right-wing losers.

Perish the thought that a grown-up in charge might diminish their chance to threaten all of humanity with destruction.

US army starts to shape up

The asymmetric reality of 21st-century warfare has taught the US military much over the last decade.

It has taught them that their enemies are relentless, technologically advanced and often invisible – and that hardware and superior numbers are no longer the guarantees they once were.

Unfortunately, it has also taught them that some of their recruits are too fat and not much good in a fight, and that a lot of their 30-year-old physical training regime is in danger of becoming obsolete.

However, the top brass has listened to Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans and is now switching the fitness focus from five-mile runs and bayonet drills to zigzag sprints and agility exercises. Battlefield sergeants believe recruits should also learn how to dodge across alleys and pull a comrade from a burning vehicle.

The new drills are also designed to educate those whose only experience of combat has been gleaned from playing computer games.

Most of these soldiers have never been in a fistfight or any kind of a physical confrontation,” said trainer Captain Scott Sewell at the army’s fitness school in Fort Jackson, South Carolina. “They are stunned when they get smacked in the face. We are trying to get them to act, to think like warriors.”

Excepting, of course, the criminals who are offered enlistment as an alternative to jail.

I neither encourage nor discourage that alternative. I have dear friends who made that choice; entered the U.S. Marine Corps, started an education and returned to civilian life as a credit to humanity.

One would hope the refugees from their mom’s basement can do as well.