Archive for January 2010

Front-row seat at the iPad media circus

My latest, at Pajamas Media:

Front-row seat at the iPad media circus.

Here’s a teaser:

Want to know why newscasters are generally only shown from the chest up while doing broadcasts? This is why.

Big new zombie report up at PajamasMedia — you won’t want to miss this one:

Pro-lifers outnumber pro-choicers 500-to-1 at massive S.F. abortion rally

With lots of juicy photos like…:

New zombie post at Pajamas Media:

Gay voter remorse as McCains step up where Obama fails

Here’s a teaser:

Cindy McCain’s new ad promoting gay marriage.

Shortly before the 2008 election I asked a gay friend which candidate he supported. When he replied “Obama,” I asked why, and my friend said that he was a single-issue voter (the single issue being gay marriage) and Obama was obviously going to legalize gay marriage nationwide, whereas McCain was a stodgy old conservative and therefore self-evidently an enemy of gay rights. I pointed out that Obama was all over the map and had made conflicting statements about his attitudes toward gay marriage, telling gay groups that one day same-sex marriage will be seen as normal, while on the other hand giving an interview for a mainstream paper in which he said, “Marriage is something sanctified between a man and a woman.”

My friend instantly dismissed Obama’s anti-gay-marriage statements: “That’s just something he’s gotta say to appeal to Middle America. Once he’s in office, you’ll see!”

Well, over a year later, I certainly do see. And the result is the exact opposite of what my friend and millions of other gay voters who chose Obama and rejected McCain on this basis had predicted. Turns out Obama has been a major disappointment for the gay community, while the McCain family has emerged as unexpected supporters of gay marriage.

Yesterday, two unrelated news events perfectly illustrated this unexpected ideological contrast. …

Read the rest here!

New zombie post at Pajamas Media:

Soylent Pink: In Vitro Stem-Cell Pseudo-Pork on the Menu Soon

The future of food has arrived:

Scientists turn stem cells into pork

Call it pork in a petri dish – a technique to turn pig stem cells into strips of meat that scientists say could one day offer a green alternative to raising livestock, help alleviate world hunger, and save some pigs their bacon.

Dutch scientists have been growing pork in the laboratory since 2006, and while they admit they haven’t gotten the texture quite right or even tasted the engineered meat, they say the technology promises to have widespread implications for our food supply.

21st-century cuts of pork.

“If we took the stem cells from one pig and multiplied it by a factor of a million, we would need one million fewer pigs to get the same amount of meat,” said Mark Post, a biologist at Maastricht University involved in the In-vitro Meat Consortium, a network of publicly funded Dutch research institutions that is carrying out the experiments.

Post describes the texture of the meat as sort of like scallop, firm but a little squishy and moist. That’s because the lab meat has less protein content than conventional meat.

Feeling queasy yet?

To dispel any notions that this is some sort of hoax, check out the very real and very sincere Web sites of The In Vitro Meat Consortium and the Orwellianly-named “New Harvest,” a man-made “cultured meat” advocacy group which insists,

Arguably, the production of cultured meat is less unnatural than raising farm animals in intensive confinement systems, injecting them with synthetic hormones, and feeding them artificial diets made up of antibiotics and animal wastes.

Personally, I’m a level-5 vegan — I won’t eat anything that casts a shadow — but even I get the dry-heaves just thinking of the possibility of test-tube meat. …

Read the rest here.

Five Luxury Cars

“Traffic thug Roland S. has five luxury cars in his garage.”

New from zombie at PJM:

Learn how Eurotrash super-villain Roland S. and his five luxury cars threaten the American way of life! :

From Each According to His Ability: “Progressive Pricing” Coming Soon to a Nation Near You

A sampling to whet your appetite:

“…Turns out that such astronomical speeding tickets are commonplace in Europe now. Finland bases its fees on the payer’s income, including one infamous case in which the son of a wealthy sausage-making family had to pay 170,000 Euros for driving 50mph in a 25mph zone. The Norwegians take it even one step further, sentencing wealthy people to intentionally humiliating hard labor as well, such as the drunk driver who not only had to pay a $85,000 fine but also chop wood for 30 days.

The idea is catching on. Pundits in Wales want the same variable pricing scheme to be enacted in their country. And yes — inevitably — some writers have already suggested bringing similar laws to the U.S., making all fines and fees be not a fixed amount but rather a percentage of your annual income. …”

Comment here or at PJM, whichever you prefer.

CodePink’s War on Drones

CodePink serves a useful function in American politics: if you want to know what the sensible political position is on any topic, just look at what CodePink opposes, and that’s what you should support. They operate as a sort of all-purpose Antipodal Political Indicator, invariably occupying the point exactly opposite the sweet spot on the political sphere.

It is therefore noteworthy that over the last couple of months CodePink has turned its rosy attentions to something unexpected: drones. Not the stingless little honeybee kind of drones, but the pilotless aircraft the military uses — and these can carry quite a nasty sting indeed.

Though it has received very little (if any) attention from the media, since November CodePink has waged an all-out anti-drone campaign, embarking on protest caravans to drone control centers, staging hunger strikes outside Creech Air Force Base in the Nevada desert from which many drones are remotely piloted, and hanging anti-drone banners off freeway overpasses in Berkeley and elsewhere.

And in one way CodePink’s assessment is correct: The U.S. military has indeed taken to using drones with ever greater frequency — and efficacy. Just today, two American drones attacked and killed 13 Islamic militants in Pakistan, possibly in retaliation for the suicide bomber who killed several CIA agents in Afghanistan last week.

Of course when I say the drones “attacked and killed” the militants, it wasn’t really the drones doing it autonomously; an Air Force pilot was undoubtedly controlling each drone, with our military command structure giving the go-ahead for each strike. The drones are just the weapon; it’s still people who are pulling the trigger.

And this recent attack is no fluke; exactly as CodePink fears, the military is amping up its development and use of drones. As reported at the Belmont Club and at Wired, the Air Force has recently completed development of and has possibly already started deploying a tiny drone that’s straight out of a futuristic novel:

The Air Force Research Laboratory set out in 2008 to build the ultimate assassination robot: a tiny, armed drone for U.S. special forces to employ in terminating “high-value targets.” The military won’t say exactly what happened to this Project Anubis, named after a jackal-headed god of the dead in Egyptian mythology. But military budget documents note that Air Force engineers were successful in “develop[ing] a Micro-Air Vehicle (MAV) with innovative seeker/tracking sensor algorithms that can engage maneuvering high-value targets.”

Special Forces already make extensive use of the Wasp drone made by AeroVironment. This is the smallest drone in service, weighing less than a pound. It has an endurance of around 45 minutes, and line-of-sight control extends to 3 miles.

It might seem limited compared to larger craft, but the Wasp excels at close-in reconnaissance. Its quiet electric motor means it can get near to targets without their ever being aware of its presence.

The Air Force’s 2008 budget plans described the planned Project Anubis as “a small UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] that carries sensors, data links, and a munitions payload to engage time-sensitive fleeting targets in complex environments.” It noted that after it was developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory, Anubis would be used by Air Force Special Operations Command. The total cost was to be just over half a million dollars.

No official announcements have been made since then, and the Air Force did not return a request to comment on this story (hardly surprising for a weapon so likely to be used covertly). But the current Air Force R&D budget does mention the effort, briefly. This newer document refers to Project Anubis as a development that has already been carried out. According to the budget, $1.75 million was spent to reach the goal.

The current state of Project Anubis is unknown. It could be one of tens of thousands of military research efforts that started, made some progress and ended without a conclusion. Or Anubis could now be in the hands of Air Force Special Operations Command.

Currently, most if not all drones are controlled by pilots safely ensconced in bases on the other side of the world, but one can easily visualize the day not far in the future when each soldier or Marine deployed in a hostile environment will have a MAV (micro-drone) kit included as part of his or her standard-issue equipment, for deployment in the field. Instead of lobbing mortars at random in the general direction of enemy positions, or firing blindly, soldiers could launch MAVs and control them in the field, targeting and taking out enemy positions with unerring accuracy — at no risk to our side.

So what, pray tell, is CodePink so upset about? The ever-smaller and ever-more-accurate new drones not only eliminate risk for U.S. forces, but they also prevent any accidental “collateral damage” on the battlefield — something which one would think would be good news to the anti-war crowd. In fact, that’s the whole reason these drones exist: so we can carefully target just the bad guys, and leave innocent bystanders unharmed. Isn’t that commendable?

No. CodePink is not satisfied. Their anti-drone manifesto declares,

We urge everyone who cares about protecting human life and the future of this planet to seriously consider how many hours a day you are willing and able to dedicate to this campaign to GROUND the DRONES.

We can NOT ignore these exponentially growing weaponry terrorizing people around the world from their bright blue skies.

We MUST end this violence against all life, this violence perpetuated by our military in our name. We must NOT tolerate this another moment.

All of our weapons of war are heinous and insufferable for any and all human beings. DRONES are not merely the newest horror:

DRONES are the most egregious component of recent war ‘toys’ and should incite public furor comparable to initial reactions against nuclear bombs.

DRONES are unmanned aircraft that are remotely controlled by US soldiers sitting at a computer console in Nevada or New York, operating a joy stick and pushing buttons that direct the DRONE to spy and kill thousands of miles away in someone else’s country.

Some DRONES are armed with bombs; some ‘only’ spy. Companies are racing to make DRONES that can drop biological and chemical weapons; utilize nuclear, lazar, microwave weapons.

Some fit into the palm of your hand; others are so big they fit into an airplane hanger on an angle. Some can be programmed to fly on their own; others are controlled by the soldier in this country while they are killing in another country.

It seems that the basis of CodePink’s antipathy toward drones as a concept is precisely the very fact that they are so efficient and accurate. Setting aside the laughable hyperbole about “biological, chemical, nuclear and lazar” weapons launched by drones, CodePink is pissed off because no U.S. troops are endangered by the operation of drones.

One might reasonably assume from this that CodePink — and the innumerable leftist groups who echo CodePink’s positions — wants U.S troops to die. But I take a more charitable view. I think CodePink and their ilk believe in the theory once expounded so convincingly on an old Star Trek episode: That if you make war bloodless and antiseptic, then the public will shrug its shoulders and allow wars to continue forever; but if you bring home the horror of war by purposely ensuring that it remains brutal, horrific and random, then mankind will rise up and banish war forever. A peacenik’s wet dream.

But the continued development of drones and other high-precision remote-controlled weaponry raises a conundrum that perhaps hasn’t occurred to the CodePinkers yet: If war evolves to become completely surgical, with essentially no casualties on our side and minimal civilian casualties in the battle zone; and if only the bad guys get killed and no one else; then what’s so horrific about this new kind of war at all? Why does it need to be banished along with our memories of trench warfare and hand-to-hand combat?

I propose to CodePink and their fellow travelers that drones and similar weapons are exactly the solution you’ve been looking for: a way to banish bloody warfare forever.

Imagine sitting in at an anti-war meeting during WWI or the Vietnam War, and someone says, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if in the future, instead of having massive campaigns with tanks and guns and battleships and bombers and dead soldiers and massacred civilians and entire generations lost to violence, we could simply press a button that would kill only the warmongers automatically, thereby preventing even the need for a full-scale war in the first place?” The room would erupt in cheers.

Well, that’s exactly what drones do: Someone sitting safely at an Air Force base in Nevada presses a button and it launches a missile from a drone which takes out an Al Qaeda leader or a Taliban chieftain — the very warmongers who are causing the problem and the very ones who declared war on us.

Shouldn’t CodePink therefore be protesting in favor of drones? That would make more sense.

Then again, Antipodal Political Indicators that they are, CodePink naturally does the exact inverse of the sensible thing, even when by so doing they negate their own goals.

But I’ll take my cue from them, and from here on out become a pro-drone activist. It’s the least I can do for our soldiers, and for civilians around the globe.

This post also appears on Pajamas Media:

CodePink’s Head-Scratching War on Drones