.dropdown { font-family: arial; font-size: 120%; color: #000000; width:130px; margin: 5px 0 0px 0px; background-color: #ffffff; } List NINE
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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

News of Interest for 11/28/06

Why the U.S. Loses ‘Small Wars’
"If history is any gauge, the US will lose the current conflict in Iraq. Since the end of World War II, major US use of force against substantially weaker enemies – Vietnam, Lebanon, Somalia, for example – have ended poorly. The last remaining superpower is not alone in this phenomenon of strong armies losing to lesser foes: the American colonists beat the British, the Vietnamese forced France to leave Indochina and Afghanistan’s Mujahadeen drove the Soviets from their country."
Weapon Of Mass Destruction
"The AK-47 has become the world's most prolific and effective combat weapon, a device so cheap and simple that it can be bought in many countries for less than the cost of a live chicken. Depicted on the flag and currency of several countries, waved by guerrillas and rebels everywhere, the AK is responsible for about a quarter-million deaths every year. It is the firearm of choice for at least 50 legitimate standing armies and countless fighting forces from Africa and the Middle East to Central America and Los Angeles. It has become a cultural icon, its signature form -- that banana-shaped magazine -- defining in our consciousness the contours of a deadly weapon."
Computer Detects Anger Before Fights Break Out
"Here's how it works. A single analysis computer accepts sensor input from a variety of locations. Once the software detects a verbally aggressive human voice, it activates the camera associated with that sensor, bringing it to a security guard's attention. This helps cut down on the number of people needed to monitor CCTVs."
US Bioelectromagnetic Weapons Research
"Could new weapons stun or paralyze with a beam of radio energy? I have discussed proposals for ‘bioelectromagnetic wepaonry’ in DefenceTech before, here and here, but for the first time details are emerging of Air Force-sponsored work in this field."
Police want power to crack down on offensive demo chants and slogans
"The country's biggest force, the Metropolitan police, is to lobby the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, because officers believe that large sections of the population have become increasingly politicised, and there is a growing sense that the current restrictions on demonstrations are too light."
A Smarter Computer to Pick Stocks
'Ray Kurzweil, an inventor and new hedge fund manager, is describing the future of stock-picking, and it isn’t human. “Artificial intelligence is becoming so deeply integrated into our economic ecostructure that some day computers will exceed human intelligence,” Mr. Kurzweil tells a room of investors who oversee enormous pools of capital. “Machines can observe billions of market transactions to see patterns we could never see.”'
Dreams in the Dark at the Drive-Through Window
"But consider the life inside that window on Loop 12 in West Dallas. There is a woman with children and no health insurance, undereducated, a foot soldier in the army of the working poor. The fry cook sneezes on the meat patties. Cigarettes go half smoked. Cameras spy on the employees. Customers throw their fries and soft drinks sometimes because they think it’s funny."
Outside the Xbox
'"A game is a game is a game," says Smith, who is an administrative associate at the American Chemical Society. "I don't understand why everybody's spending so much money and sweating over the PS3s and the Wiis. Especially when they could still spend hours playing their old NESes."'

Saturday, November 18, 2006

An update and a bionic hornet

I've been sick and work has been pretty busy this week, so I apologize for the low volume. It will pick back up in the next week as I recover and work (thankfully) tapers off for the holiday. I'll try to write a new piece tomorrow.

In other news, I'm heading to Europe (France, Spain, Italy) for five weeks over December and January, so if anyone out there has suggestions on events and places of anarchist interest, please send them to me. Or, if you're an anarchist in that area and want to meet up with a few travelling but not smelly American anarchists, hit me up. I can talk in Spanish and French with varying degrees of success. And I can probably understand you if you don't talk all crazy fast. Anyhow, all help will be much appreciated and I want to get as good a look at European anarchy as I can in that time.

In the meantime, here's another article I found interesting today. Imagine if the cops in the US had these...
Israel developing anti-militant "bionic hornet"

Israel is using nanotechnology to try to create a robot no bigger than a hornet that would be able to chase, photograph and kill its targets, an Israeli newspaper reported on Friday.

The flying robot, nicknamed the "bionic hornet," would be able to navigate its way down narrow alleyways to target otherwise unreachable enemies such as rocket launchers, the daily Yedioth Ahronoth said.

It is one of several weapons being developed by scientists to combat militants, it said. Others include super gloves that would give the user the strength of a "bionic man" and miniature sensors to detect suicide bombers.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Stand up for freedom on Monday

Stand up for freedom Monday at the Mexican consulate at 10:30. More info at the link below.

Oaxaca is not alone: The Phoenix Anarchist Coalition supports the people’s struggle in Oaxaca, Mexico!

Monday, November 13, 2006

News of Interest for 11/13/06

African nomads to be first people wiped out by climate change
"They are dubbed the 'climate canaries' - the people destined to become the first victims of world climate change. And as government ministers sit down in Nairobi at this weekend's UN Climate Conference, the people most likely to be wiped out by devastating global warming will be only a few hundred miles away from their deliberations."
Global growth in carbon emissions is 'out of control'
'The rate of increase of emissions suggests it may soon be impossible to avoid some of the worst-case scenarios, said Josep Canadell, executive director of the Global Carbon Project. "On our current path, we will find it extremely difficult to rein in carbon emissions enough to stabilise the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration at 450ppm, and even 550ppm will be a challenge," he said. "At some point in the near future, we will miss the boat in terms of achieving acceptable levels."'
Outrage at London sting by US spies
"Undercover American agents are staging secret 'sting' operations in Britain against criminal and terrorist suspects they want to extradite to the US."
Lockerbie trial was a CIA fix, US intelligence insider claims
"THE CIA manipulated the Lock erbie trial and lied about the strength of the prosecution case to get a result that was politically convenient for America, according to a former US State Department lawyer."
Attack of the Perv Trackers
"Just a few years ago, satellite tracking of convicts was a newfangled alternative to house arrest. Now, the number of American ex-offenders tracked through GPS-equipped ankle bracelets will likely triple to more than 30,000, thanks to the passage of a California ballot measure."
Euro Bills Succumbing to Crystal Meth?
'Investigators are looking into whether an impure batch of crystal methamphetamine is to be blamed for the mysteriously disintegrating euro notes. While some say no, authorities in Berlin are awaiting results "more profound."'
City Expands Cloud of Surveillance
"It will primarily transmit images from the new surveillance cameras installed in a number of neighborhoods in recent months. The live feeds will be broadcast via secure internet server to a police monitoring station at the Counter Narcotics Team headquarters. The cloud will also allow police officers to access the video feeds and the internet in their cars via laptop computers. City staff says the internet cloud should be in place in a couple of months."
DOD pushes wireless to the edge
"JTF-CS officials say wireless networks are the solution. Today only fixed military sites at the staff level can install wireless local-area networks. Tactical units on the front lines cannot set up wireless LANs quickly and securely. But now JTF-CS and Joint Forces Command say they hope to fill that need with a program called Wireless for the Warfighter (W4W). That program provides a wireless extension for computer and phone lines that can be set up in a crisis within minutes rather than hours."
Every cellphone a camera-phone soon, says Gartner
"Gartner says that, worldwide camera phones will account for 48 percent of total worldwide mobile phone sales in 2006 and 81 percent by 2010. "Worldwide sales of camera phones, which have almost tripled since 2004, will reach 460 million in 2006, an increase of 43 percent from 2005. This trend is set to continue, leading to sales of one billion camera phones by 2010.""
'Punishments for inactive unemployed'
"Finance minister Anders Borg wants unemployed people not actively seeking work to be docked a day's benefits. He intends to introduce the change "as soon as possible", Svenska Dagbladet reports."

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Fast food class war

The LA Times ran a story today that complements my last article ('IBM, the attack on workers power and white supremacy'), so I thought I would post it here without a little further analysis. If you haven't read it already, looking it over will give some added context to this post.

The newest LA Times piece, entitled 'Hi, may our machine take your order?' features the increasing role of self-serve kiosks and terminals in fast food restaurants. Here's an excerpt from the article:
"We are moving to a self-service world," said Don Turner, chief executive of Pro-Tech Solutions Inc. of Suwanee, Ga., which displayed a self-serve ordering kiosk at the show. "Think of an airport. You have a choice of standing in line with 100 people to check in or going to a kiosk where there is no line."

Some industry executives and analysts believe that self-service ordering could one day be as common as French fries. For now, most restaurants find themselves arriving late to self-service, which was pioneered by automated teller machines at banks and electronic check-in counters at airports.

In the case of Pro-Tech customer Nick D'Angelo, a Subway franchisee in Mentor, Ohio, the impediment was one of numbers. Fourteen, to be exact — the number of questions a Subway food preparer poses to a customer while making a typical sandwich.

That's far too much conversation for the radio-operated ordering systems ubiquitous in fast-food drive-throughs, said D'Angelo, who figured he was watching thousands of dollars of lost business motor past his restaurant every week.

D'Angelo solved his drive-through problem this year by spending $15,000 on a Pro-Tech touch-screen kiosk. With the push of a button, it changes height, allowing drivers of Mini Coopers and monster sport utility vehicles alike to punch in their orders with ease.

"If you want to be in this game, you must have a drive-through," D'Angelo said, referring to a service offered at just 5% of Subway's outlets. His franchise these days sells $11,000 to $12,000 in sandwiches, chips and drinks a week, about double his take before he added the drive-through.

Devices such as touch-screen ordering kiosks — whether in the drive-through lane or inside the restaurant — promise many advances for quick-serve eateries, analysts say.

"It cuts down on labor, ensures accuracy and is often faster and easier for people to use," said Darren Tristano, a restaurant industry analyst with Technomic Inc. in Chicago.
Aside from the substitution of capital for the worker, accomplished through the replacement of the potentially disobedient worker with the always eager to please machine, the kiosks also serve another valuable function for the capitalist.
The investment is paying off. Moulton said customers using the kiosks spent an average of 20% more per order than those who ordered at the front counter.

"The kiosk will always suggest an item like a drink or a dessert if it is not ordered," he said. "Front counter servers don't always do the same."

Paul Knight, who sells such machines for NCR Corp. of Dayton, Ohio, notes another potential advantage for restaurants.

"Anonymity encourages people to make larger orders," he said. "They are not embarrassed to super-size something because they aren't doing it face to face."
Further, these machines in particular reproduce a sexist dynamic as well, feminizing the machines in an effort to comfort customers and coax them into larger purchases by providing them with a familiar female mother/wife servant interaction.
When a customer touches the screen of the NCR system — a newer version of what Moulton is using in his McDonald's stores — a soothing female voice says, "Welcome," and menu options pop up. The voice and the menu immediately highlight the "best value," or daily special.
Kevin Kane, spokesperson for the Subway stores summed the new technology this way, saying "We have to look at all of this. Technology is changing, and you don't want to be left behind."

Note the passive voice, which is meant to lead us to the all too common conclusion that technological progress is a process divorced from politics, in which the capitalists are just as much the victims of change as we are. This clever notion leaves no room for an analysis that recognizes technology as in fact quite the opposite - a vital and biased weapon in the capitalists' class war armory. The capitalist is willing to bring in new technologies because it increases profits and augments his control in the workplace.

In fact, the capitalists as a class are not the victims of technology, they, along with the government, are the lynch pins and facilitators of its development and implementation. Further, regardless of any individual store owner's particular role in the actual development of any single specific technology, thanks to the authority of the workplace it is the capitalist who has the power to impose it on her workers.

This disassociation between politics and technology, of course, is quite deliberate because as long as we are unable to see that the struggle against technology itself is a key element of the class struggle, we are left open to the manipulations of its masters, and unable to get a clear view of the battlefield of the modern class struggle. This is a recipe for our defeat.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

IBM, the attack on workers power and white supremacy

IBM announced this week that it has developed and is deploying a video surveillance system capable of analyzing human and machine behavior, including tracking individuals and vehicles (i.e, specific license plates and cars) and singling out suspicious behavior.

According to CNET.com,

IBM's system connects surveillance video with smart software that can detect and index what you tell it to in real time. The system performs attribute-based searches on stored video clips for specific objects or actions, or can be set to sound alarms when those things come across the screen.

S3 is similar to surveillance software developed by San Francisco-based 3VR, but it adds the ability to integrate with other recognition software, such as plug-ins that identify license plates.

In one instance, S3 was used to identify customers who walked into a store entrance without a package but then approached the returns desk with a package.

S3 can also backtrack the path of an object entering a particular area. In a video feed of an airport tarmac, for example, S3 can electronically draw a line around a particular area of the screen, then backtrack the path of anyone entering that secure area of interest. A rule can be set so that alarms go off if the person walking into that secure area did not enter from a predetermined point of entry, Palmer said.
It doesn't take a class analysis to see that this technology will be used by the people in power to control those of us without it. Those who regularly read this blog will not be surprised, however, to see that employers plan to use it in the workplace to single out workers who redistribute company funds or property. And that's not to mention all sorts of more benign actions (yet still potentially threatening to capitalist power) that the computer might be able to quantify in the future, such as speaking to a shop steward, lingering too long, faking "busy" or chatting on a company phone, for instance.

This technology represents another frontal assault on workers autonomy. While it's easy to see the way that this tech spies on workers, putting the eye of the boss everywhere at all times, it is important also to recognize the deskilling effects it has as well. The system actually has its roots in a machine aimed at identifying vegetables in the grocery store checkout.
Although IBM (Quote)is making news today with its Smart Surveillance System (S3) video, which it says can tell a terrorist from a traveling salesman or a scammer from a shopper, researchers began the project with a more modest goal. They wanted to tell a cumquat from a rutabaga.

"Veggie Vision," as it was called a few years back, employed quickly-evolving video interpreting techniques and software to help grocery store cashiers manage the most exotic vegetables and enter the correct price.

Fast-forward three years. Charles Palmer, chief technology officer of security and privacy at IBM Research, is still focused on the check-out line -- only this time he's concentrating on retail theft.

Although the retail industry loses an estimated $50 million to fraud and theft each year, finding the thief often means sifting through hours of video surveillance tapes.

"Humans have a 20-minute limit, then they turn into vegetables," Palmer joked. Another problem: customers have amassed all this video surveillance and they don't know what to do with it, he said.
So, the technology started out as an attempt to deskill grocery store cashiers - interestingly one of the few jobs left where someone in the service industry can eventually make a decent wage - and has evolved into a broader attack on workers power.

It may seem trivial, but the more functions that the boss can transfer out of workers' hands and to machines or to a technician in the office, the more power she has over the production floor. That reduces the ability of workers to take independent action in defense of their own power, with obvious negative results (see this earlier piece for more). It is one of the main reasons that grocery stores have invested so heavily in the expensive self-checkout systems (remember the Safeway strike a few years ago?). Indeed, chief technology officer of security and privacy at IBM Research, Charles Palmer, admits that most demand is coming from the retail sector.

Further, IBM hopes to use the system to guard the border (where perhaps it will be joined someday by machinegun-toting robots like this one waiting to be deployed to the border between North and South Korean). Boosters of the new IBM system boast about its superiority to other contemporary border technologies, like the creepily participatory texasborderwatch.com, which relies on citizen participation to watch cameras.

The advantages of the S3 over Texas Governor Rick Perry's "Virtual Border Watch System" (i.e., texasborderwatch.com), for example, are obvious. An article in the Del-Rio News Herald this week summed it up. Discussing the participatory aspects of the website, the author writes,
The site instructions continue, "Although this is an initial test site, in the event you witness criminal activity and send a notification, law enforcement specific to that camera will be alerted. Thank you for your help in securing the Texas border."

The Web cameras are part of Texas Gov. Rick Perry's plan for a "virtual border watch" program.

[VVSO Chief Deputy Terry] Simons said the camera concept parallels the military idea of "force multipliers."

"If we can watch these locations by technical means, that let's our officers do other things," Simons said.
Which means more Border Patrol in the cities and on the highways. Consciously or not, this border deployment is a clever bid to get white working class approval for a technology that will eventually impact them as well by first using the wedge of the cross-class alliances of white supremacy and nationalism to open the door to its broad application against immigrants of color.

Palmer admitted other possible future applications, including recognizing skin color.
The S3 could also potentially be programmed to identify things as specific as skin color in humans.

"I can imagine they could do it for people. I suppose it's possible, but it's never been something we'd been asked to do. The only color-based things have been cars and airplanes," Palmer said.
But, don't worry, he assures us.
While IBM does not name specific security customers, the surveillance system has been in use by several governments, law enforcement agencies, airports and some businesses, according to Charles Palmer, director of IBM's Privacy Research Institute.

"This is not the HAL 9000. This is not able to do full face recognition or car type, unless they are different-color cars," Palmer said. "There are also much less evil reasons for using this. One retailer, for example, wanted to know where empty parking spots were."
Of course, careful readers will remember that one of the main selling points of the S3 is its flexibility and openness to plug-ins. Quoted in another article, Palmer rephrased it this way:
The IBM executive also said the future might hold the ability to automatically monitor "entities," such as terrorists. He quickly added individual persons would not be targets.

"HAL 9000 is not here yet -- give us time," he said about the computer from 2001:A Space Odyssey.
So, don't worry. Have the scientists at IBM ever let you down before?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Racist vigilantes intimidate Latino voters in Tucson

Arizona has a history of whites intimidating or denying voting access to Latinos. Many people forget that Arizona was a segregated state. William Rehnquist, the now thankfully dead former US Supreme Court Chief Justice, cut his teeth in Arizona intimidating and barring Latino voters from the rolls when he was an attorney.

So, while it is surely a distressing development, it is hardly a break with tradition for racist vigilantes to target Latinos in an effort to keep them from the polls. The Arizona Republic today reports that racists in Tucson have been active around polling stations, questioning Latino voters - while armed - with the clear intent of turning them away from the polls, probably with the specific hope of increasing the chances that the racist Proposition 300 will pass by reducing Latino votes.

Here is the article from the Republic:
Alleged 'vigilantes' target Latino voters in Tucson

Yvonne Wingett
The Arizona Republic
Nov. 7, 2006 04:36 PM

Latino voters casting ballots at a south Tucson church on Tuesday were approached by "vigilantes," said the national Hispanic advocacy group, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Diego Bernal, a staff attorney with the organization, was with volunteers at the 49th precinct polling place to answer voters' questions about identity requirements. Reached by cell phone, Bernal said he witnessed three men stop only Latino voters as they entered and exited the polls. Voters were approached by one man carrying a camcorder, one holding a clipboard, and one a holstered gun.

"As one man was going up to the voter with the clipboard, another man was videotaping the interaction,"Bernal said. "At the same time, the third man was walking around with a gun on his waist. They were being provocative. They would have conversations with each other, where they were using mock Spanish accents. It was upsetting."

Tucsonan Russell Dove, an anti-illegal immigration advocate, acknowledged that he and two others were at the 49th precinct. He said he was asking voters to sign a petition to protest that election material is printed in Spanish. The two men that accompanied him were there to record his interactions with people "because there's always a potential for a fight wherever I go." Dove is the editor of the online periodical, "Truth in Action," at www.tianews.com .

Dove, 50, said he went to six or seven precincts in search of signatures. He said he did not intimidate anyone.

"I was taking photos of all voters of all precincts," he said. "Why? Because I can, and because they were there. All the pictures will be compiled and run against a database, and if we find anyone who is illegal, we will do everything within our lawful right to find and expose them."
This is a troubling sign indeed. Regardless of anarchist criticisms of voting, this tendency needs to be opposed not least because it derives from an overall trend to deny basic, fundamental rights to residents based solely on race. Further, it seeks to exclude those effected by a racist law from having a say in whether it is approved. As such, it reinforces the system of white power. Attacking that system ought to be a priority for anarchist revolutionaries because it is from a fracturing of that system that a new American revolution is likely to sprout.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The surveillance state: hammer and anvil

The news, at least NPR, did cover today the news out of Britain that an academic group, the Surveillance Studies Network, has issued a report that warns that Britain is on the verge of slipping into a surveillance society. As far as I can tell, there hasn't been a lot of linkage in the press with similar processes at work here in the US, but I will assume regular readers of this blog are familiar enough with them that I won't go into them right now. Suffice it to say that at least one group is calling for a re-evaluation of the role of technology as it relates to the surveillance powers of the state and other oppressive institutions.
As international data protection and privacy commissioners met in London, Britain's information commissioner Richard Thomas said the report was a "clear signal" the country was becoming a surveillance society.

"It's not just cameras in the street and things like that. It's technology monitoring our movements and activities," he told BBC radio.

Using mobile phones, credit cards, the Internet and even driving now left an "electronic footprint," he said, while organisations increasingly shared information.

Thomas -- whose remit is to promote public access to official information and protect personal data -- insisted the authors of the report, which he commissioned, were not scaremongering by painting a "sinister, Orwellian picture."

Instead, it was the start of a necessary debate about what should be the limits of technology, he added.

"We've got to say: 'Where do we want the lines to be drawn? How much do we want to have surveillance changing the nature of society ... ?" he said, accepting some uses may help in issues like counter-terrorism or serious crime.

"We've got to stand back and see where technology is taking us and make sure we are happy."
No Luddites, the researchers have clearly found ample evidence for the thesis that Britain, already the most surveilled country in the world, teeters on the edge of total information awareness - and this ought to give all of us pause. Importantly, the research cites potential backdoors through which such technologies gain specific and then widespread use, singling out protection of children as one route to loss of civil liberties.
The Children Bill proposes a database of all children from birth until adulthood. It was put forward after the failure of official agencies to share information in the Victoria Climbie child abuse case. School achievements, medical and social services records and parental marital status could be on the database. The health department is also planning a database detailing treatments and social care for all patients.
Heads up, California voters.

So, given the news context of the day, I was struck when following the British story by an article from the US. The Register reported today that AT&T will begin offering a broadband home surveillance package that includes
live video surveillance on a remote computer or even on your cell phone, complete with lighting controls and sensors that detect anything from motion, temperature change or flooding around your home. The service itself is priced at just $9.95 a month and it works with any broadband Internet service, but only with Cingular Wireless phones.
It's important to remember that the capitalist surveillance state brings with it a consumerist participatory current that forms the broad base for the ever stronger hammer blows of state and capitalist surveillance. Spying will soon be ubiquitous not just because the technology empowers the various political and capitalist apparatii of the ruling class, but because it likewise strengthens the paranoid, fearful, reactionary and merely voyeuristic or exhibitionist classes below them, effectively filling in the gaps in the system's network of surveillance.

The researchers of the Surveillance Studies Network may not be Luddites, but we would do well to head their warning and then consider an even broader rejection of technology than they are capable of considering from their universities, think tanks and government positions. Embedded within the heart of surveillance technology is oppression. It can't be extracted, even if occasionally it may be turned against its master. A broad movement for the overturning of capitalism and the state must recognize this fact and clearly set before itself the task of drawing clear lines when it comes to technology.

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