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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The anatomy of a typical article on GPS

Most articles on the topic of GPS and other similar technologies extol their supposed virtues and, on the rare occasions when they do address the downsides of being tracked all the time, it's generally within the context of the justifiable inconvenience it will cause some allegedly deserving minority, such as a criminal or an immigrant. When slightly broader dissent is permitted, the dominant criticism tends to be of the "what if the technology still doesn't track everything" variety. Further, the tech is always treated with a sort of inevitability, as if it's not even worth entertaining the idea of saying no to these invasive intrusions. Progress is inevitable, we are told. It's a natural phenomenon, not a political one. With a dialectic like that, it's easy to see where the debate on these technologies is heading.

So, here's a lesson from a typical GPS article. In his recent piece, Tennessean.com staff writer, Christian Bottorff explains the latest promising developments in GPS tracking. True to form, Bortoff starts off the article with the case of an alleged child rapist.
When child-rape suspect Jeremy Duffer escaped from home detention a year ago while wearing an electronic ankle bracelet, Metro officials partly blamed the limited information they received from the monitoring equipment.

Now Metro is taking bids for new equipment that uses global positioning system technology to transmit the precise location of home arrest prisoners.
Now that we are sufficiently primed to dislike the subject of the article - and to see ourselves as quite apart and separate from him (and thus not likely to find ourselves in his situation) - the solution (GPS) to the problem of the current system is trotted out. One of the those rare occasions where criticism of technology is relatively common in the news is when it's time to replace an old one with a more efficient one.
The current system only notifies authorities when a detainee moves a certain distance from a receiver installed in the prisoner's home.

Duffer was given permission to leave his home for a lawyer's appointment, and no one noticed for hours that he had failed to show up.

Under the new [GPS] system, authorities would know if a prisoner strays from authorized routes or locations.

"We will be given more information to work with, in order to bring them back into custody," said Davidson County General Sessions Judge Gloria Dumas, who as presiding judge oversees the Metro Probation Department.

The system could be particularly useful in child abuse or domestic violence cases, where authorities would know immediately if a subject violates orders to remain a certain distance from a victim, Dumas said.
With our fear of crime now fully engaged, the writer can now use precedent to allay any remaining fears we may have that the new application of the more efficient technology might spread to us (something that may cause us to object to its implementation):
The Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole already uses GPS to track about 350 sex offenders statewide.

The system has been in place for about a year, and state officials are considering expanding the $2.3 million monitoring program to more home detainees, said Jack Elder, spokesman for the state's Board of Probation and Parole.
So, there's no reason to fear, we're reassured: this technology has been in use for some time, so expanding it further is no big deal. Of course, we were never asked in the first place whether we wanted the technology to be used, but that's no matter. What counts is that it's already in use, not that we ever had any say about it. Despite the fact that such changes affect our lives in far-reaching ways at times even surpassing the law-making power of politicians and bureaucrats, the development and implementation of technology is not considered in the realm of democratic input. Leave that up to the experts (a group that, like pedophiles, is also unlike you, but whom you are supposed to trust wholeheartedly).

But, GPS is not without potential problems, Bottorff reminds us. There are critics of the new technology, and any real reporter would be derelict not to give them space to make their point.
And despite the intensive tracking, there have been a few instances when offenders have slipped away, requiring officers to take out warrants.

"It is a tool, but it is not foolproof," said Kirk Smith, correctional program director of the state's GPS satellite program. "If the offender is determined to remove their bracelets, they can do so. … Until we can get to a point where we're embedding chips in people, I don't think we will find a way that is completely foolproof."
And so, with that, the article has come to a close. Criticism has been permitted, but it is of the kind that actually furthers the state and capitalist project of tracking and monitoring every human all the time. After all, who would come to the defense of pedophiles and wife-beaters?

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Monday, January 29, 2007

Asayake: Notes on an ongoing workplace struggle

My homeboy at the blog Asayake has posted the first half of a two part analysis of the modern Japanese workplace. The analysis at this blog is always stellar, and this particular piece is no exception. It's a very interesting look at workers self-organization, the work environment and the bosses' attacks on workers, not to mention the state and methods of workers' struggle in the office and the way that Japanese workers see themselves in relation to the company. I highly recommend checking it out.

An excerpt:
"1. Modern information economy workplaces can be effectively divided between two models. One, the American and European model in which engineers, writers and other employees have separated cubicles, and come together for meetings or collaborative projects. This model maximizes the creativity of the individual worker and the potential for creative intellectual inventorship based on experimentation. This model is also a historical form etched out by post-fordist workers, who often refuse traditional organizations of work, crossing the borders of overtime and worktime and rearranging the spatial organization of the office, disaggregating the assembly line into individualized laboratories. In many workplaces, workers confer and communicate mainly via e-mail, with face-to-face consultation becoming an exception.

In Japan, the scene is a bit different in that, generally, the post-fordist technology economy does not confront an antagonistic technological proletariat, one not only productive of new technologies but also constantly undermining (and therefore advancing) the parameters of their control and re-thinking the traditional organization of the workplace. Instead, Japanese engineers, technical writers and office workers are grouped into large offices with few partitions. The Japanese office resembles a hall arranged in desk islands, which are always horizontally organized and of low height, providing the supervisor(s) an infinite purview of the workers, their activities and tasks. Any computer screen is potentially subject to review at any moment. E-mail has mostly replaced face-to-face interaction, simultaneously bringing with it the potential for 'silent antagonism', unseen affinities between wage workers that develop over certain circuits with the potential for a larger resonance and even an explosion of dissent."
Continue reading the rest here:

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The army's non-lethal imperialism (coming soon)

Today's news of the US military's demonstration of a relatively new heat beam weapon offers a lesson in the deceptive dangers that lurk behind so-called "less lethal" weapons and the pitfalls they conceal for progressives and other supporters of less lethal technology.

I have written about this before ("The rise of the global urban battlefield and the death of unregulated space","The Harold Hurtt Prize: The changing nature of power"), but I have generally discussed Tasers and the way police use them to augment their power to attack the working class. This is a very important point, although it is completely ignored by the press, because generally the argument goes that Tasers and other less lethal weapons represent progressive developments because they reduce the frequency and lethality of police violence.

It's worth noting that the core reasons behind police violence (capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, homophobia, corruption, etc.) are never addressed in news articles on less lethal weapons. That the police must use violence to achieve their aims is taken as a given and the purpose or cause of that violence is never questioned.

However, readers of this blog will be aware that research shows that Tasers do not, in fact, reduce police acts of violence. Perhaps surprising at first, this point becomes obvious when we realize that Tasers are weapons, and more weapons in the hands of the police means more opportunities for the police to use force. And that's exactly what an Arizona Republic investigation into the use of Tasers found. From the 2004 article:
Officers used stun guns last year more than they used batons, chemical spray, physical force and firearms combined. Records show that the number of incidents in which police used some type of force went up 22 percent after Tasers were issued to all patrol officers. This happened while the use of every other weapon decreased.
Again, this shouldn't surprise us. After all, why else did Mexican authorities disarm dirty cops in Tijuana this week, replacing their sidearms with slingshots? If investigators in Mexico had followed the logic of the progressive defenders of the status quo argument about the alleged violence-reducing nature of less lethal weapons, we would have expected them to add slingshots to the cops' arsenal, not replace them, right? But, clearly adding another weapon to a cop's arsenal does nothing but increase her ability to project violence. If you want to reduce police violence, you have to reduce police weapons - and the number of police. That's simple.

So, it's with a healthy dose of skepticism that I read the news of the public demonstration of DOD's new Active Denial System. Costing $60 million dollars, developers hope to have it available for deployment across all services by 2010. The weapon blasts targets with a stream of microwaves that can penetrate clothing, causing a burning sensation "intense enough to make [the target] think their clothes [are] about to ignite."

In a Reuters article carried in the new Zealand Herald, Theodore Barna, an undersecretary of Defense gushed about the new technology: "This is a breakthrough technology that's going to give our forces a capability they don't now have."

True to form, the piece makes sure to point out that the device is safe.
Documents given out during the demonstration said more than 10,000 people had been exposed to the weapon since testing began more than 12 years ago. They said there had been no injuries requiring medical attention during the five-year advanced development programme.
So we needn't worry.

But, the point of the device isn't to reduce damage, although it may in fact do that. The point of the weapon is to increase the power of the military to defend itself and, in the grand scheme, to project capitalist and state power more efficiently.

It's important to remember that one thing these weapons do not change is the interest of the ruling class. And thus, there's nothing about weapons like the ADS that is progressive. In the AP article from the El Paso Times,
Airman Blaine Pernell, 22, of suburban New Orleans, said he could have used the system during his four tours in Iraq, where he manned watchtowers around a base near Kirkuk. He said Iraqis constantly pulled up and faked car problems so they could scout out U.S. forces.

''All we could do is watch them,'' he said. But if they had the ray gun, troops ''could have dispersed them.''
Indeed, the Herald reports:
The weapon, mounted on a Humvee, uses a large rectangular dish antenna to direct an invisible beam toward a target. It includes a high-voltage power unit and beam-generating equipment and is effective at more than 500 meters.

Existing counter-personnel systems designed not to kill -- including bean bag munitions and rubber bullets -- work at little more than "rock-throwing distances," said Marine Col. Kirk Hymes, director of the Pentagon's Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate.

In increasingly complex military operations, the technology provided a much-needed alternative to just going from "shouting to shooting," said Hymes...

Variations of the system could help in peacetime and wartime missions, including crowd control and mob dispersal, checkpoint security and port protection, officials said. It could also help in conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan.
It's clear that the main advantage that the military hopes to derive from this weapon is flexibility, not a reduction in violence. Just as with Tasers, there is no reason to expect that this technology will, therefore, deliver the conditions for a reduction in violence.

Like it or not, Iraqi resistance is a challenge to US imperial designs on Iraq. One can say this without endorsing the overall politics of the Iraqi resistance or religious fundamentalism. However, it follows that increasing the ways that US troops can project their power in Iraq, as Airman Pernell suggests would be possible with these kinds of weapons, also increases the likelihood that the American elite will successfully impose its will on the region. There is nothing progressive about that (which ought to give supporters of the Democrats' complaints that Bush hasn't adequately equipped the troops pause to consider the true implications of that argument with regard to America's imperial project in the Middle East - in other words, "Support the troops? Why?"). The true progressive position must, therefore, be against the development and implementation of these technologies.

Which leaves only one final question. The ADS focuses a 130 degrees (F) beam on its target. If it's deployed here in Arizona, will we even notice it? I've been to plenty of August demonstrations in Phoenix. On some days the cool breeze of the ADS might actually be welcomed in the streets.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The relevance of Dred Scott and other police news

150 years of precedents paved way for blatant police brutality
This is an excellent commentary from the Chicago Sun-Times linking the Dred Scott decision 150 years ago to the treatment Blacks receive from police today.
"We don't have a black and white problem as much as we have a black and blue problem. While the race of police officers who have been involved in questionable, high-profile shootings have been black, white and Hispanic, the race of the citizens who have been shot by police have been the same: black."
Secrecy again a major issue for the LAPD
LAPD Chief William J. Bratton has come under fire again for the extreme level of secrecy surrounding police disciplinary hearings. This article is a good brief history of LAPD cover-ups and defense of the thin blue line.
"Controversy has spread over a decision by an LAPD Board of Rights to clear Officer Steven Garcia, whose shooting of a 13-year-old boy was held to be out of policy by the city's Police Commission."
Police in Tijuana Issued Sling Shots
Tijuana cops are so corrupt that the government has disarmed them, replacing their guns with slingshots!
"The soldiers swept police stations and took officers' guns for inspection amid allegations by federal investigators that a corrupt network of officers supports smugglers who traffic drugs into the U.S. The weapons are still being checked."
Families and cops protested for the return of the weapons.

Former police chief sentenced for having stolen ATV, snowmobiles
The former head cop in Oswego, NY, was sentenced to probation after it was discovered that he was in possession of four stolen vehicles. He will also spend 60 days with the Sheriff's work program.
"William Ruggio, 52, the former police chief in Oswego, admitted to Oswego County Judge Walter Hafner that he knowingly possessed the stolen all-terrain vehicle and snowmobiles. Last week, the judge threw out Ruggio's initial guilty plea because a pre-sentencing report said Ruggio was not taking any responsibility for his actions and pleaded just to get out of going to trial. "

Monday, January 22, 2007

News of Interest for 1/22/07

Mind Games
"New on the Internet: a community of people who believe the government is beaming voices into their minds. They may be crazy, but the Pentagon has pursued a weapon that can do just that."
Lip service
"'The grant has been awarded under the crime-fighting initiative and the Home Office Scientific Development Branch is giving us a lot of help and expertise,' said Harvey. 'Lip-reading from surveillance footage, for example, has been used to solve crimes. In some situations it may not be safe or feasible to place a microphone close enough to hear voices, but a long-range camera might still be able to see faces.'"
Burdened U.S. military cuts role in drug war
"Internal records show that in the last four years the Pentagon has reduced by more than 62% its surveillance flight-hours over Caribbean and Pacific Ocean routes that are used to smuggle cocaine, marijuana and, increasingly, Colombian-produced heroin. At the same time, the Navy is deploying one-third fewer patrol boats in search of smugglers."
World is running out of water, says UN adviser
'Since Asia's green revolution, which began in the 1960s and saw a transformation of agricultural production, the amount of land under irrigation has tripled. However, many parts of the continent have reached the limits of their water supplies. "The Ganges [in India] and the Yellow river [in China] no longer flow. There is so much silting up and water extraction upstream they are pretty stagnant," said Prof Sachs.'
The Invisible Enemy in Iraq
"The wounded soldiers were not smuggling bacteria from the desert into military hospitals after all. Instead, they were picking it up there. The evacuation chain itself had become the primary source of infection. By creating the most heroic and efficient means of saving lives in the history of warfare, the Pentagon had accidentally invented a machine for accelerating bacterial evolution and was airlifting the pathogens halfway around the world."
State inmates outlive people on outside
"For black inmates, the rate was 57 percent lower than among the overall black population — 206 versus 484. But white and Hispanic prisoners both had death rates slightly above their counterparts in the overall population."
Meet Grace, she'll be running your home
"All these remain 'concepts' which may or may not see the light of day. The home of the future offers some tantalising hints about the way we might live in the not so distant future. But those who want to move in now should think twice. Microsoft did not build a bathroom."
Missing a buddy? GPS can track him
"It’s an age-old question, but it got Alton thinking of a different way of arriving at the answer. Alton’s creation, for which he left school after his sophomore year, is a service called Loopt, which allows mobile phone users to locate friends using Global Positioning Satellite technology on a cell phone."
Plan Will Allow 911 and 311 Lines to Accept Digital Images
'“If you see a crime in progress or a dangerous building condition, you’ll be able to transmit images to 911, or online to nyc.gov,” the mayor said in his annual State of the City address. “And we’ll start extending the same technology to 311 to allow New Yorkers to step forward and document nonemergency quality of life concerns, holding city agencies accountable for correcting them quickly and efficiently.”'
Walking like a Bomber
"A new radar-imaging technology expected to reach market later this year could solve the problem by directing low-power radar beams at people--who can be 50 yards or more away--and analyzing reflected radar returns to reveal concealed objects. And early research indicates that this method could one day be augmented with video-analysis software that spots bombers by discerning subtle differences in gait that occur when people carry heavy objects."

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Back from Europe!

I'm back from Europe and intend to return to regular updating of this blog. I apologize for the gap in publishing. Thanks for everyone's patience while I was away, and thanks for the emails.

My trip to Europe was amazing, I met dozens of wonderful and interesting anarchists and radicals and got a look at some of their projects and ideas. Barcelona in particular was spectacular and I was privileged to participate in a large anti-eviction demonstration for a squat called Kan Mireia which was very exciting and probably the most militant event I have been to in some time, not to mention starting off with some amazing and explosive street theater. Props to the Barcelona anarchists and squatters.

Here's a couple photos I took of the demonstration blocking the freeway with barricades and of the black bloc graf crew hitting up an overpass en masse. Banks were hit with spray paint and wheatpaste teams attacked billboards and buildings with amazing efficiency. Inevitably, the police ruined it with their batons, rubber bullets and grenades, but not before much havoc was caused. I couldn't help thinking, however, that the reaction of the police here in the US would have been swifter and much harsher. Certainly, as soon as fireworks were set off the cops would have attacked.

I found that many radicals, despite having a good critique of American foreign policy, still found it hard to believe just how bad things are in the US. US media has a powerful effect on everyone, it seems. However, there was a lot of interest in the real situation here.

I visited a few squats in Barcelona and one in Amsterdam, although quite a few were locked down because of recent evictions there, it seemed. Here's a few pictures from outside the squats, the first two in Barcelona and the third in Amsterdam. The ones I did go in were impressive, sporting libraries, internet, bars and meeting spaces. It's hard to imagine something like this happening in the US, but it certainly would be a welcome development.

While I was in Barcelona, I also visited the tomb of Buenaventura Durruti, which was an intense experience. He lies next to Francisco Ferrer, anarchist educator, in a simple black marble tomb.

Europe has many great anarchist bookstores, and I visited a few, including the one below and the CNT bookstore in Barcelona. Likewise, I visited, amongst others, the Museum of the Liberation of Paris, Jewish museums in Amsterdam and Paris, as well as monuments to the International Brigades, to deported Jews and to Jewish fighters in the resistance to Franco.

Finally, I had the good fortune of meeting so many great people, especially anarchists. Everyone was very helpful, from the Spanish anarquista on the train from Marseille to the amazing Finnish anarchas we hung with in Barcelona to the French anarchistes in Paris.

To the Finnish anarchas, I apologize for not meeting up on Sunday afternoon - our train left four hours earlier than we expected! We tried to leave a note but the bar was closed.

All in all, it was an spectacular time that left me content and excited - and broke!

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