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PORTSIDE  December 2010, Week 4

PORTSIDE December 2010, Week 4

Subject:

2010 Dispatches From the Edge Awards

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2010 Dispatches From the Edge Awards

By Conn Hallinan 
blog 
Foreign Policy in Focus December 29, 2010

http://www.fpif.org/blog/the_2010_are_you_serious_awards

Each year the column Dispatches From The Edge awards news
stories and newsmakers that fall under the category of "Are
you serious?" Here are 2010's winners.

The Harry Potter Award to the British technology company ATSC
Ltd for its invention of a "wand" that, according to the
company, detects explosives, drugs, and human remains for up
to six miles by air and three fifths of a mile by land. The
ADE 651 sells for $16,000 a unit.

The only problem is that it doesn't work, which users might
have figured out by reading the manual: the device has no
batteries or internal parts. It is powered by "static
electricity" generated by the holder walking in place. A
wand-like antenna then points to the drugs, bodies, or
explosives.

This past January ATSC Ltd was charged with fraud and banned
by the British government. One ATSC source told the New York
Times, "Everyone at ATSC knew that there was nothing inside
the ADE 651," and that the units cost only $250 to make.

But the wand was widely used in Iraq. Ammar Tuma, a member of
the Iraqi parliament's Security and Defense Committee
bitterly attacked the company for causing "grave and massive
losses of the lives of innocent Iraqi civilians, by the
hundreds and the thousands, from attacks we thought we were
immune to because we have this device." The Iraqi Ministry of
the Interior purchased 800 ADE 651s at a cost of $85 million.

The managing director of ATSC, Jim McCormack, staunchly
defended the wand, which he claims the company has sold to 20
countries. He did admit, "one of the problems is that the
machine looks primitive," and said the company was turning
out an upgraded model "that has flashing lights."

Runner-up for this award was the British firm, Global
Technology Ltd, which sold $10 million worth of very similar
wand-the GT 200-to Mexico. The unit retails for $20,000
apiece. In one demonstration the GT 200 detected drugs in a
Volkswagen sedan. After thoroughly searching the car,
authorities turned up a bottle of Tylenol (suggesting that
one should switch to Advil). Human Rights Watch says it is
"troubled" by the use of the wand, which is widely used in
Thailand and Mexico. "If people are actually being arrested
and charged solely on the basis of its readings, that would
be outrageous," the group said in a press release.

A Mexican interior official defended the GT-200, however,
claiming that it "works with molecules." Hard to argue with
science.

The Golden Lemon Award goes to the Conservative government of
Canada for shelling out $8.5 billion to buy 65 Lockheed
Martin F-35 stealth fighters. According to Defense Minister
Peter MacKay, "This multi-role stealth fighter will help the
Canadian forces defend the sovereignty of Canadian airspace."
Exactly whom that airspace is being defended from is not
clear.

The contract also includes a $6.6 billion maintenance
agreement, which is a good thing because the F-35 has a
number of "problems." For instance, its engine shoots out
sparks, and no one can figure out why. It is generally
thought a bad idea for an engine to do that. There are
several different types of F-35, and the vertical lift
version of the aircraft doesn't work very well. It seems the
fan that cools the engine, doesn't, and the panels that open
for the vertical thrust, don't. Also switches, valves and
power systems are considered "unreliable."

The F-35 is looking more and more like the old F-105
Thunderchief, a fighter-bomber used extensively at the
beginning of the Vietnam War. Pilots nicknamed it the "Thud"
(the sound the plane made when it hit the ground after
failing to clear a runway, a rather common occurrence).  One
pilot said it had all the agility of a "flying brick," thus
its other nickname: the "lead sled."

The U.S. is spending $382 billion to buy 2,457 F-35s,
although the price tag keeps going up as more and more
"problems" develop. Maintenance and spare parts for the
aircraft will run several hundred billion extra.

One normally thinks of Canadians as sensible, but the
country's Conservative government is apparently as
thickheaded as our own. Conservative Prime Minister Stephen
Harper recently had a summit meeting on the arctic and didn't
invite the Inuit (whom most Americans call Eskimos).

Well, the F-35 may not fly very well, but it works just fine
for Lockheed Martin: second quarter profits saw a jump from
$727 million to $731 million over last year, and revenues
rose to $11.44 billion, 3 percent over last year.

The Panjandrum Award to the U.S. military in Afghanistan.
For those unfamiliar with the "Great Panjandrum," it was an
enormous rocket propelled explosive wheel developed by Great
Britain for breaching the Atlantic Wall that Nazi Germany had
built on the French coast to defend against amphibious
invasions.  Tested on a Devon beach, it roared ashore, turned
smartly to port, and thundered into a bevy of admirals and
generals, scattering them hither and yon. Thus "Panjandrum"
became a metaphor for really silly military ideas.

And there is not a whole lot sillier idea than the one to
deploy M1-Abrams tanks in southern Afghanistan.  The M1 is a
68-ton behemoth, powered by a jet engine (miles per gallon is
not its strong point).  Since Afghanistan has virtually no
roads and a good deal of the terrain is vertical-at least the
part where the insurgents are ensconced-how the M1 is going
to get around is not obvious.

However, one U.S. Marine officer told the Washington Post,
"The tanks bring awe, shock and firepower. It's pretty
significant." Right. Show the Wogs a tank and they will be
begging for mercy.

Except the Taliban are quite familiar with tanks. The initial
Soviet invasion included 1,800 of them, many of them T-72s.
The T-72 is admittedly smaller than the Abrams-41 1/2 tons
vs. 68 tons-but the former actually packed a bigger gun. The
M1 sports a 120mm gun, the T-72 a 125 mm gun. T-72 carcasses
are scattered all over Afghanistan, and the Taliban even
managed to capture some of them.

Tanks are effective against stationary targets and other
tanks. The Taliban don't have tanks, and they don't stick
around when one shows up. But shocked and awed by their
appearance? Don't these people read history? Try "The Bear
Went Over the Mountain: Soviet Combat Tactics in
Afghanistan," by Lester Grau.

The George Orwell Award to the U.S. Defense Department for
dropping the name of "Psychological Operations"-"Psyops" for
short-because the "term can sound ominous." Instead Psyops
will now be known as Military Information Support Operation,
or MISO, which sounds like a Japanese soup.

Some military contractors, however, apparently didn't get the
memo about using names and acronyms that sound "ominous."
Northrop Grumman just successfully tested a radar system that
will be attached to Predator and Reaper armed drones to allow
the killer robots to "detect individuals walking over a wide
area" and track vehicles, watercraft, people, and animals, as
well as "stationary targets of interest." Given that the
drones pack Hellfire missiles and 500 lb bombs, you really
don't want to be "interesting" when they are around.

The news system is called the "Vehicle and Dismount
Exploitation Radar" or "Vader" for short. Sound of heavy
breathing is not included in the basic package.

The Rudyard Kipling Award to the Pentagon and its program to
train officers for extended service in Afghanistan. For those
unclear on this award, a few lines from Kipling's poem,
"Arithmetic on the Frontier" about Britain's unsuccessful
effort to subdue Afghanistan, and how one adds up the cost of
occupation:

"A scrimmage in a Border Station--

A canter down some dark defile-

Two thousands pounds of education

Drop to a ten-rupee jezail*-

It appears some officers read Kipling. In spite of a high
profile push by the Defense Department to recruit officers to
serve in Afghanistan, the program  is less than half filled,
according to Pentagon officials.

*A jezail is a cheap, muzzle-loading rifle that took a heavy
toll on British troops during their 19th century invasions of
Afghanistan.

The Barn Door Award to the Department of Defense (yes, yes
they do win a lot, but then they excel at winning awards) for
telling employees and contractors not to read Wiki Leak
documents online, because they are "classified."  Just close
your eyes?

The Air Force went one step further and barred personnel from
using computers where the documents were on line, thus
underlining conventional wisdom in Washington: the Army is
slow, the Marines are dumb, the Navy lies, and the Air Force
is evil.

The Mary Wollingstonecraft Shelly Award (the author of
Frankenstein) goes to the University of California at
Berkeley, MIT, and Cornell University for using Defense
Department money to turn the beetle, Mecynorrhina torquata,
into a cyborg. The beetle is fitted with an electronic
backpack attached to the animal's wing muscles, allowing
scientists to control the beetle's flight path.

The idea is to use the little beastie (actually, as beetles
go, kind of a big beastie) to crawl or fly into areas where
the "enemy" is. Once the "enemy" is identified, the military
can target the area with bombs, rockets or artillery. This is
a tad rough on the beetles.

According to researchers Michael Maharbiz and Hirotake Sato,
the long-term goal is to "introduce synthetic interfaces and
control loops" into other animals. "Working out the details
in insects first will help us avoid mistakes and false starts
in higher organisms, such as rats, mice, and ultimately
people. And it allows us to postpone many of the deeper
ethical questions about free will, among other things, that
would become more pressing if this work took place on
vertebrates."

The Michele Bachmann Award to Australian legislator Bob
Katter for sounding the alarm about a serious threat facing
his constituents: "We have terrible problems with deadly
flying foxes. They are going to kill more people than the
Taipan snake in Australia."

The flying fox is the world's largest bat, also called the
"fruit bat." It has broad, flat molars and feeds on soft
fruit, from which it extracts juice. By all accounts they are
gentle and intelligent and don't attack humans. The Taipan
snake, which can grow up to 12 feet, is considered the most
venomous land snake in the world. However, the animal is shy
and rarely bites people.

It is comforting to know that there are other legislators in
the world just as whacko as U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-
Minn), who recently suggested that legislators "slit their
wrists in a blood pact" to block health reform and said that
people had to be "armed and dangerous" to block efforts to
mitigate global warming.

You can read more of Conn Hallinan's writings at
dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com

___________________________________________

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