Archive for the ‘Military’ Category
You might be surprised that as part of the Defense Department’s mission to protect Americans, your tax dollars funded a workshop about aliens from “Star Trek” entitled: Did Jesus Die for Klingons, Too? It’s just one questionable projects under the microscope of fiscal conservative Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who’s taking his red pen to cuts that he sees as no-brainers.
Turns out that the question, as reported by the Christian Post, was proposed by a German professor. Here is part of CP’s account.
During a recent conference that focused on the possibilities and implications of long-term space flight, a German professor made an attempt at applying Christian theology to extraterrestrial aliens, leading him to ask the question “Did Jesus die for Klingons too?”
Christian Weidemann, a philosophy professor from Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany, gave the lecture on theology and aliens as part of the 100 Year Starship Study symposium in Orlando, Fla., this past weekend.
Given the Pentagon’s mission, at first glance this certainly seems suited for the red pen. But it turns out that if Coburn had spent some time on this he would have seen that he is taking a cheap shot. It is just this kind of myopic, knee jerk reaction to programs that conservative legislators haven’t bothered to examine that threatens, paradoxically, to undermine some of the very things that they support, for example, America as a world leader in technology. So, what’s the story here?
The conference in which Weidemann’s paper was presented was called the “100 Year Starship Symposium,” which was partially supported by DARPA. What is DARPA? From it’s web site:
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was established in 1958 to prevent strategic surprise from negatively impacting U.S. national security and create strategic surprise for U.S. adversaries by maintaining the technological superiority of the U.S. military.
To fulfill its mission, the Agency relies on diverse performers to apply multi-disciplinary approaches to both advance knowledge through basic research and create innovative technologies that address current practical problems through applied research. DARPA’s scientific investigations span the gamut from laboratory efforts to the creation of full-scale technology demonstrations in the fields of biology, medicine, computer science, chemistry, physics, engineering, mathematics, material sciences, social sciences, neurosciences and more. As the DoD’s primary innovation engine, DARPA undertakes projects that are finite in duration but that create lasting revolutionary change.
But DARPA does not limit its funding, especially in terms of seed money, only to directly fostering technologies. It seems to be taking a longer range view. The conference in which Weidemann’s paper was presented is described on DARPA’s site:
DARPA and NASA Ames Research Center are soliciting abstracts for papers and/or topics/members for discussion panels, to be presented at the 100 Year Starship Study Symposium to be held in Orlando, Florida from September 30 through October 2, 2011 (emphasis added).
The symposium is expected to attract roughly hundreds of people from around the world….
“This won’t just be another space technology conference – we’re hoping that ethicists, lawyers, science fiction writers, technologists and others, will participate in the dialog to make sure we’re thinking about all the aspects of interstellar flight,” said David Neyland, director of the Tactical Technology Office for DARPA. “This is a great opportunity for people with interesting ideas to be heard, which we believe will spur further thought, dreaming and innovation.”
“The 100 Year Starship Study” is currently funded by non-governmental organizations, which are concerned with innovation, space travel, education, and new technologies. It is described as follows on its website:
“An Inclusive, Audacious Journey Transforms Life Here on Earth and Beyond” proposal won the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) challenge—to create “a viable and sustainable non-governmental organization for persistent, long-term, private-sector investment into the myriad of disciplines needed to make long-distance space travel possible.”
The non-profit Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence, teamed with Icarus Interstellar and Foundation for Enterprise Development, received seed funding from DARPA to design, establish and implement this extensive program.
To make a long story short, it appears that DARPA provided seed money for the initiative and support for a conference that was meant to engage people in thinking about the implications of long term space travel. The latter, in turn, whether it occurs or doesn’t in the foreseeable future, has implications for the ways in which we think about current technologies. We talk all of the time about how America allows us to turn dreams into reality. But we don’t know what dreams have promise if we avoid opportunities for engaging in sustained discussion of them. Conferences and programs like this can be helpful. And given the size of the Pentagon’s budget, this sort of support is almost literally peanuts.
As to the paper on Klingons and Jesus, it doesn’t appear to have been a very compelling paper. But everyone who has organized large conferences knows that there are bound to be some weak and even off the wall papers that slip in. Nevertheless, the paper did work on a certain level, or at least its title did. For the point here is to get people thinking about the ethical implications of how we might respond to those who are different, space aliens, or perhaps just people who appear different from ourselves. (This relates to ethical issues that are involved in warfare, many of which are addressed in military codes of conduct. But this is a post for another day.) The conference organizers understood that technology is not just about things but the way that we think about them, dream about them, and use them, including in our relationships with other people or even Klingons.
Senator Coburn and his budget cutting friends should really do some cost benefit analyses, and they should pay attention to the future when they do so. It’s very easy to wave a red pen around.
First, a brief reminder of how the Bush administration handled the crime of torture. Let’s call it “the few bad apples excuse.”
Yesterday, Wednesday, April 13, 2009 was a sad day for the Obama administration. The President decided to reverse his administration’s pledge to release photographs of acts of torture committed by Americans, photos that could be used as further evidence of how widespread state sanctioned torture had been under Bush. But it was not his decision to hold back the photos that was patently reprehensible. Obama argued that the release of the photographs could endanger our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and whether one agrees with this assessment or not, it has to be taken seriously. What is not acceptable, and what is not worthy of this president, is to suggest that those who committed these acts were only a small number of individuals. Once again this places the onus on those who actually carried out the acts as opposed to the leaders who ordered and sanctioned them. In other words, Obama used a version of the “bad apples excuse” to support his decision, which is just what the Bush administration did when the photos of Abu Ghraib first appeared
The New York Times reported on the president’s press conference announcing his decision in an article, “Obama Moves to Bar Release of Detainee Abuse Photos.” Two excerpts:
“The publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals,” Mr. Obama told reporters on the South Lawn. “In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.” (emphasis added)
The article then went on to quote a spokesman from the A.C.L.U.
Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the A.C.L.U., said the decision to fight the release of the photos was a mistake. He said officials had described them as “worse than Abu Ghraib” and said their volume, more than 2,000 images, showed that “it is no longer tenable to blame abuse on a few bad apples. These were policies set at the highest level.”
It’s not clear what Obama’s tactics are here. He is well aware of the previous administration’s culpability. Perhaps he has decided that keeping his hands clean and letting Congress handle the torture investigation is the path of least resistance, one that will allow him to pursue more important matters. But this maneuver doesn’t require him to assert the few bad apples excuse. The question is why he decided to make this specious argument. And he made it on the very same day that he said the following during commencement at Arizona State.
“In recent years, in many ways, we’ve become enamored with our own success, lulled into complacency by our own achievements,” he said, citing the economic crisis. “We started taking shortcuts. We started living on credit, instead of building up savings. We saw businesses focus more on rebranding and repackaging than innovating and developing new ideas that improve our lives.” New York Times, May 13, 2009, “Work Is Never Done, Obama Tells Class”
Read these words and think about Obama’s actions yesterday. Read these words and think about some of the “shortcuts” that he has been taking. (See Andrew Sullivan’s article, “The Fierce Urgency Of Whenever,” on Obama’s backsliding on the treatment of gays.) Read these words and think about the Obama brand. And ask, who is Barack Obama really speaking about when he speaks about repackaging? Rhetorical flourishes are not going to provide him with cover if there is too great a disjunction between his words, his other words, and his deeds.
Yes, Obama cannot be expected to remake the U.S. in a 100 days. The question is whether there is a misguided expediency at work, one in which the shortest path is assumed to be established lines in the sand.
We cannot let this slogan become merely a slogan. As per Obama’s request, we will remind him, hound him, when his rudder may need some work.
The last two posts on UP@NIGHT have addressed the issue of torture. Today we learn, according to a New York Times article, that incompetence and ignorance led the Bush administration down the path of torture. The article is a must read. There is an excerpt below. I will say that it raises as many questions as it answers; for example. how could the moral imagination and understanding of our leaders be so impoverished that they were prepared simply to heed the words of so-called experts, without asking probing questions and paying attention to what could be called common sense? (I mean, certain actions seem like torture….it doesn’t take a rocket scientist.) Or how about, are the proposed “harsh” methods really as reliable as other methods? (Opinions from different camps were called for. But instead the advice our leaders wanted to hear, “we’ll get quick results,” was all that was needed to give the green light.)
Of course further investigation may reveal that they were not as ignorant as this article suggests. Time will tell.
By SCOTT SHANE and MARK MAZZETTI
Published: April 21, 2009
WASHINGTON — The program began with Central Intelligence Agency leaders in the grip of an alluring idea: They could get tough in terrorist interrogations without risking legal trouble by adopting a set of methods used on Americans during military training. How could that be torture?
In a series of high-level meetings in 2002, without a single dissent from cabinet members or lawmakers, the United States for the first time officially embraced the brutal methods of interrogation it had always condemned.
This extraordinary consensus was possible, an examination by The New York Times shows, largely because no one involved — not the top two C.I.A. officials who were pushing the program, not the senior aides to President George W. Bush, not the leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees — investigated the gruesome origins of the techniques they were approving with little debate.
According to several former top officials involved in the discussions seven years ago, they did not know that the military training program, called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, had been created decades earlier to give American pilots and soldiers a sample of the torture methods used by Communists in the Korean War, methods that had wrung false confessions from Americans.
As a professional philosopher what I am about to do here on this site, on this day, is sacrilege. Instead of making arguments against John McCain’s ideas (or lack thereof), which I do elsewhere, I am going to mock him. What I will be doing is a form of ad hominem argumentation, which is to say, arguing against the person and not his ideas. Definitely Verboten. But in my defense, first, McCain really doesn’t have any ideas. Second, he started it with Paris and Spears, comparing Obama to a gas pump (which was really the point of McCain’s gas commercial, think about it), and then by bringing in Moses. Third, this is a political contest, not an academic dispute. So, the gloves are off. If Obama can’t respond in kind, I can.
On this site, here and now, and in the coming weeks, you will find revealing insights into McCain the man. Each of these images have been cursor selected for their revelatory power. (Suggestions for additions are welcome. As a matter of fact, following Larry Geater’s idea, let’s see this as a contest. Submit your entries under Comments.) Stayed tuned. And in the meantime, take your pick and start circulating some visual memes around the Web.
On how to run a tight ship and be a Cylon, BSG’s Colonel Saul Tigh is John McCain (or vice versa):
On knowledge of the economy, John McCain is Alfred E. Neuman (with green $ backgrounds):
On military preparedness and guns: John McCain is Elmer Fudd
On general competence, anger, and far-sightedness, John McCain is Mr. MaGoo:
The Young John McCain and the Young George Bush. Can you tell the difference?
McCain before and after a recent election make-over:
John McCain having another senior moment, confusing the phrase “a thousand years in Iraq” with “a thousand year Reich.”
And then after “recovering,” some eight or nine minutes later, fantasizing about his place in the cosmos as a celebrity because of his win on American Idol: