military


What does it take to get fired from the Air Force for gross incompetence? A damned lot, that’s what.

Maybe the nuclear bomber wing under you command failing a safety inspection would do it? Nah, probably not.

Perhaps if officers under your command fell asleep at the switch while in possession of nuclear weapon launch codes, that would be enough to get you canned?

But when a truck full of parts for the 150 intercontinental ballistic missiles loaded with nuclear warheads that you are responsible for goes off the road and tips the hell over because the driver saw a bug? Well, that, sir, is a bridge too far. That is the point at which the military deems you are no longer trustworthy of being in command of hundreds upon hundreds iterations of the most powerful and horrific weapon mankind has ever known.

Colonel Christopher Ayres, we will say good day to you, sir.

It’s really good to know that the military has a three strikes policy on fucking clowns running commanding legions of nuclear weapons. Because really, what could go wrong those first two times?

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A little while ago, Gizmodo posted something both quite interesting and deeply troubling – video of CIA agents piloting a Predator drone. Watching this duo target and fire missiles at a white pickup truck – presumably full of terrorists? – offers some real insight into just how unnervingly clinical the operation of these drones is. These are the faces and demeanors you would expect to see from someone in the midst of a particularly tough Halo deathmatch or concentrating on a high level Tetris game – not snuffing out the lives of a truck full of people.

Also, did the CIA have to make the Predator pilot seats look like something out of a sequel to The Last Starfighter, or was that merely an aesthetic choice?

The i Phone – it’s not just for making your friends jealous and checking your email on the bus any more. Researchers at MIT have developed an app for everyones favorite handheld that allows users to control an unmanned drone via their very own palm pilot. It’s quite a feat just one year after their colleagues at UC Berkeley managed to control a small fleet of UAVs from an iPhone.

Between simpler methods of controlling the small wonders and more efficient power sources like solar panels and next gen batteries, UAVs are poised to make a jump from indiscriminate killing machine to phenomenally effective intelligence gathering devices that can operate over long ranges at little risk. Imagine if, rather than maybe probably almost killing a Taliban leader in Pakistan after definitely killing their fairly harmless wives, these things could gather intelligence on where he and his cohorts actually were. Imagine a fight against the Taliban that doesn’t involve us tossing Hellfire missiles around pell mell at every possible target.

Doesn’t that sound like a more effective war? Doesn’t that sound like a war that doesn’t give the people we’re fighting for an endless string of reasons to fear us? Doesn’t that sound like a war we could win?

The New York Times is reporting that more than 120 American soldiers stationed in Iraq are thought to have come down with or be carrying the A/H1N1 swine flu virus that continues to spread at alarming rates throughout the world.

Iraq has been exceedingly wary of the A/H1N1 virus, sending health teams to meet international flights and quarantining passengers showing symptoms of swine flu. But US soldiers who aren’t subjected to these screenings represent a gaping hole in Iraqi defense against the virus. And with this news, it appears the other sick, coughing boot has finally dropped on the matter.

So despite it’s best precautions, Iraq can probably expect it’s first domestic case of swine flu in the coming weeks, probably to be followed by a slew of stories about how ill prepared for an epidemic the nation is. Cases of swine flu have a certain cockroach like quality to them – when you see one, you’ve got a lot more you don’t know about. And if more than 100 soldiers are suspected of having swine flu, it’s a safe bet that one of the many members of the Iraqi military and police they come in contact with on a daily basis has become a vector for the disease, too.

Which is – you guessed it! –  more bad news for Iraqis, who at this point should, frankly, really be used to it.

Oh, BBC, you’ve put me in a wicket that is ever so sticky.

On the one hand, I’m as ready as anyone for a serious rethinking of how we use Predators and other UAVs in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s particularly important in the latter theater, where civilian casualties caused by drone strikes play a major part in turning public opinion against US and NATO forces. The fact of the matter is that we don’t win the war against the Taliban in the region until we end public perception that we are the enemy, and we don’t end that perception until we stop killing civilians. Because frankly, until we stop killing civilians, we are the enemy to the vast majority of people on the ground in Afghanistan.

Since I’m on record as feeling this way, I couldn’t be happier to hear that Professor Noel Sharkey, who has been talking for years about the need for a reconsideration of whether the new face of modern warfare is a net improvement. For the soldiers who get to control these heavily armed automatons from half a world away, it certainly seems like it. But if we’re unable to distinguish civilian from combatant – a task that’s often difficult enough for a soldier on the ground – then are we really making wars more winnable? Or are we just making the rules a little different?

America - Are You Going To Let A Robot Fight Your Battles For You?

America - Are You Going To Let A Robot Fight Your Battles For You?

Maybe, by their definition, there’s no such thing as a safe weapon. But there’s a clear line between weapons that are ready to be used safely and ones that aren’t. And it’s time for a serious conversation about where UAVs and other robotic weaponry are in that process. Are they highly advanced? No doubt – technology has made undeniable strides from the days when all that robot warriors could do was rock ’em and/or sock ’em. But are they fool proof? Hardly, and when they’re not, the results are disastrous. So yeah, I’m happy that the media is giving the subject some love.

But really, BBC – did you have to run Jason Palmer’s excellent story on the matter under the headline ‘Call for debate on killer robots‘?

For those who aren’t aware, I have been a Washingtonian for long enough that, aside from a few loyalties in the sporting world that are so deeply ingrained and despair inducing that they can safely be considered genetic disorders, I have pretty much gone native. It’s a mostly laid back corner of the country, which suits me just fine, because I tend to be a fairly tense sort of chap, and the green and grey backdrop and relaxed atmosphere cut that just enough that I’m not intolerable to those around me. For the most part.

Which is why it was a touch off putting to hear material concerning my mostly sleepy state all over the news today, starting with the big business story of the day out of Redmond. Microsoft and Yahoo have finally consumated their on again romance, and like so many drawn out courtships, the moment of truth was a touch anti-climatic. Microsoft, unsurprisingly, gets the sweet end of the deal, with Yahoo bowing out of search and to handle advertising sales as Microsoft takes over search and data analysis for both companies, with the recently launched bing powering Yahoo searches from here on out. And while the deal moves Microsoft into the clear number two position in the  search industry, it’s a distant number two, in which the competition, whose name is synonymous with finding information online, has a stranglehold on 70% of the market.

In other words, Microsoft is right now in the best position it’s ever going to be in to challenge Google’s online search and advertising supremacy. But with the Chrome OS launching in just a few months on netbooks, Google is giving as good as it gets. And if this thing turns into a two front war for domination of operating system software and online technology, I’d put my money on the more nimble young ‘un from Santa Clara County.

And while Steve Ballmer and company might not be at the top of their game, they’re still faring better than the killer whales of the Puget Sound. Harassment by whale watching vessels looking to give tourists that perfect close up is hampering efforts to help the regions fragile orca population recover, so federal regulators are proposing doubling the distance that pleasure boats must stay away from the whales to 200 yards. Which is a nice thought, until you realize that the main problem seems to stem from ships that are not obeying the current guideline that aims to keep a 100 yard barrier between whales and whale watchers. With that in mind, it’s hard to see how doubling a barrier that no one is acknowledging helps preserve orca populations.

Shane Aggergaard, who heads the Pacific Whale Watch Association, a group of whale watch tour companies throughout Washington and British Columbia, may have demonstrated the attitude of tourism companies earlier today, when said in an interview with KUOW that “…we love to educate people regarding these animals so they can further protect them. It will be much more difficult to do that at 200 yards…” Again, this sounds good until you think about it – it’s more or less like arguing that we can’t outlaw shooting people in the face, because if we do, then how will people know that being shot in the face is a terrible, terrible thing?

And oh yeah, the anarchists are up in arms in the Evergreen State, as the anti-war organization Olympia Port Militarization Resistance accused a civilian employee of Washington’s Fort Lewis of COINTELPRO style shenanigans. The group, made up of members of groups like Students for a Democratic Society, Wobblies and self styled anarchists claim that a man going by the name John  Towery posed as an anarchist for two years, reporting back to military sources on the groups members and planned activities, such as staging port blockades.

And as these so called anarchists try to peacefully resist and do some good in the world, 38 year old Jeff Monson is keeping it real, doing all the things a good lone wolf anarchist should do. Like cage fighting. And spray painting anarchy symbols on the state capitol building. And then posing with the graffiti for ESPN The Magazine.

But hey, it could be weirder, I guess. I could live in Alabama, where they taser deaf people, don’t they?

And oh, yeah – Dave Reichert is an idiot and a jerk – more on that tomorrow.

For every American, the Fourth of July is supposed to be a day to take pride in your nation’s accomplishments. A time to reflect on all the great things the USA has done, to contemplate how lucky you are to be American. A moment to reflect on American supremacy in all things military, and then to blow something up because you can.

Thus, it’s with a pride swelled chest that I relate the fact that the American military has something to be proud of today. After years of walking around with our tails between our legs over Tailhook, the United States no longer has the world’s most shameful naval sex scandal.

Instead, that dubious honor now hangs heavy around the neck of the Australian Navy, whose sordid tales of betting pools around sexual conquests aboard the HMAS Success really take the cake in the realm of tawdry and unbecoming sexual escapades at sea.

Love Boat?

Love Boat?

Details of the story are still emerging, but early reports indicate that male sailors had set up a complex system of competition, with cash rewards granted for bedding their female shipmates. Each woman on board was assigned a cash value, reflecting the perceived difficulty of persuading her to make the beast with two backs. But the shameful antics don’t stop there. Further bonuses could be accrued by sailors for having sex in a strange place on the ship, with a higher ranking officer, or with a lesbian – though there’s no word yet on whether these bonus multipliers stacked, Scrabble style, making sex with an officer in an odd place worth even more.

And while the American military may still have some shameful moments in it’s past, we can safely say that none of our soldiers or sailors has ever paid a comrade for having sex with a gay lieutenant on a pool table. That we know of, anyway.

And that’s something I think we can all be proud of.

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