Daily Archives: December 19, 2007

‘Exodus’ to virtual worlds predicted

“There will be a group of people who spend all their lives there, and the question for me is, how big is that group?”

– Edward Castronova

BBC | Dec 11, 2007

Will real pubs empty as people head for virtual watering holes?

The appeal of online virtual worlds such as Second Life is such that it may trigger an exodus of people seeking to “disappear from reality,” an expert on large-scale online games has said.

Virtual worlds have seen huge growth since they became mainstream in the early years of this decade, developing out of Massive Multiplayer Role-Playing Games.

And the online economies in some match those of real world countries.

Their draw is such that they could have a profound effect on some parts of society, Edward Castronova, Associate Professor in the Department of Telecommunications at Indiana University, told BBC World Service’s Digital Planet programme.

“My guess is that the impact on the real world really is going to involve folks disappearing from reality in a lot of places where we see them,” he said.

Varying involvement

Dr Castronova, who has written a book on the subject entitled Exodus To The Virtual World, drew parallels to the 1600s when thousands of people left Britain for a new life in North America.

“That certainly changed North America – and that’s usually what we focus on – but it certainly changed the UK as well,” he said.

“So what I tried to do in this book is say, ‘listen – even if the typical reader doesn’t spend any time in virtual worlds, what is going to be the impact on him of people going and doing this?'”

And he predicted that everyone will be involved in a virtual environment within ten years – although the level of that involvement will vary.

He said while some people will be colonists – “the virtual frontier opens up and off they go and disappear” – others will just use virtual worlds to get together with distant family and friends.

But he stressed there will be a group of people that spends all their lives there, and that the big question is the size of this group.

“We forget how many people there are, and we have to ask ourselves, how exciting is the game of life for most people out there?” he said.

Escape and refuge

The appeal, he said, is not for those in a good job, but for those working low-paid, low-skill jobs. “Would you rather be a Starbucks worker or a starship captain?” he asked.

But he also stressed that since virtual worlds are social, he sees increased interaction in them as a step forward.

And he also highlighted the difference between seeing them as an “escape” and as a “refuge.”

“If reality is a bad thing, and people are going into virtual worlds to reconnect, the word you would deploy is refuge,” he said.

“A father of two spending 90 hours a week in a virtual world because he doesn’t like his wife – I would say that’s escapism, and it isn’t anything you would say is good.

“But if it’s a heavy-set girl from a small town who gets victimised just because her body isn’t the ‘right’ kind of body, and she goes online to make friends because she can’t get a fair shake in the real world, then I would say the virtual world is more of a refuge.”

Blackwater guards shot NY Times’ dog dead

news.com.au | Dec 19, 2007

THE US embassy in Iraq is investigating another deadly shooting incident involving its Blackwater bodyguards — this time of the New York Times’ dog.

Staff at the newspaper’s Baghdad bureau said Blackwater bodyguards shot Hentish dead last week before a visit by a US diplomat to the Times compound.

Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell said the dog had attacked one of Blackwater’s bomb-sniffer dogs while a security team was sweeping the compound for explosives.

“The K-9 handler made several unsuccessful attempts to get the dog to retreat, including placing himself between the dogs.

When those efforts failed, the K-9 handler unfortunately was forced to use a pistol to protect the company’s K-9 and himself,” she said in an email to Reuters.

The US embassy employs about 1000 armed Blackwater staff to protect American diplomats in Baghdad.

The firm’s role became a serious issue in Iraqi-US relations when its guards opened fire on a Baghdad street in September, killing 17 people. Blackwater says its employees acted lawfully in that incident, which is under investigation.

State Department investigators had made two follow-up visits to the Times compound to investigate the shooting of Hentish, correspondent Alissa Rubin said.

“They were very solicitous and I thought took the incident very seriously,” Rubin said. “It’s not a dog that everyone’s close to in the compound.

“But it’s a dog that’s been around a long time. It lived its whole life there.”

Blackwater Has a New Business Pitch: Peacekeeping


Hoping to get into the peacekeeping business, the private Blackwater security firm is acquiring a fleet of aircraft, ships and ground vehicles. Here are a pair of bomb-proof Grizzlies, parked outside the company’s headquarters.

Wired | Dec 18, 2007

By Sharon Weinberger

Facing a growing backlash over its operations in Iraq, the private security firm Blackwater is formulating a new business pitch — to expand into U.N.-style peacekeeping and humanitarian aid.

The company is buying a fleet of aircraft and ground vehicles, including its own airship, hoping to win contracts to secure failed states before the U.N. arrives.

“We can give what we call one-stop shopping, turnkey solutions,” says John Wrenn, who heads Global Stability Initiatives at the newly re-branded Blackwater Worldwide.

Linked to several violent incidents in Iraq, including the Sept. 16 shootings in Baghdad that sparked an international media furor and congressional hearings, the company over the past few months has attempted a public relations overhaul, modifying its name, revamping its logo, and engaging in a massive PR counter-assault to defend against its “cowboy” image.

Blackwater is one of dozens of private companies providing security services in Iraq and other war zones. It is part of a growing military outsourcing industry that exploded during the Iraq conflict and is only likely to get bigger. Proponents believe private security companies, or PSCs, are the future of military operations — and peacekeeping.

As Blackwater fights to keep its State Department security contracts in Iraq, the company is expanding into areas where its competitors have not. Blackwater recently purchased the McArthur, a naval vessel intended for disaster response and training, but that can also be used as a “mothership” for launching peacekeeping operations.

Blackwater now produces the Grizzly, a bomb-resistant vehicle that sports a unique diamond-shaped hull. In addition to a fleet of fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, Blackwater has also moved into unmanned airships, building the Polar 400, a dirigible that would fly between 5,000 and 15,000 feet, and is designed to monitor border areas or track terrorists. The airship could provide surveillance, or eventually, transport into war-ravaged areas.

All this new technology is part of a broader company expansion. Blackwater argues that it can provide a “transition force” to take over security for failed states after military operations are finished.

Blackwater believes it could, in addition to providing security, also deliver aid and oversee disaster relief. This is work now done primarily by non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, and humanitarian groups. Blackwater executives have suggested sending a private peacekeeping force into Darfur, for instance.

“They would be the guys that go in and provide security, taking the handover from the military, and create the safe zones and start to provide the services, until the U.N. takes over,” Wrenn says.

That’s where the technology comes in. The Grizzly vehicle can ferry peacekeepers, or in an ambulance version, could be used to transport NGO workers and patients. And the airship could provide surveillance, or be used to ferry supplies for disaster relief.

“The beauty of an airship is you don’t need big runways and airports,” Wrenn says. “You can use them to deliver supplies where airplanes can’t go.”

Doug Brooks, president of International Peace Operations Association, which represents private security contractors (though not Blackwater, which pulled out of the group in October), says in many parts of the world, “private companies are in fact holding peace operations together.”

The industry, in Brooks’ view, is in part a natural consequence of the West’s unwillingness to commit its military forces to troubled regions, leading to what he calls “Westernless peacekeeping.” Globally, such contracting is a $20 billion industry, and growing, he contends.

Critics, however, note that the Blackwater name is a huge obstacle to its plans for expanded peacekeeping. Erik Prince, a billionaire and former Navy SEAL, founded Blackwater as a training company a decade ago, but its rapid growth, particularly into private security detail work in Iraq, has landed the company in the middle of a debate over “mercenaries,” a term that Blackwater and similar companies detest. The Blackwater controversy now includes an alleged conflict of interest between the State Department’s recently resigned inspector general and his brother, a one-time Blackwater board member; questions about the tax status of its contractors; and an ongoing fight over a West Coast training facility.

Peter W. Singer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a leading expert on private contractors, says Blackwater’s recent PR campaign may not be enough to fix the company’s image. “You can change your logo, you can have a public relations blitz. It’s nice but it’s not going to change this,” Singer says. “These long-term attitudes are sinking in.”

While Blackwater’s push to diversify is understandable — given the potential liability of its personal security work — its move into manufacturing is unusual for a services company.

Robert Young Pelton, the author of Licensed to Kill, a book on PSCs, calls many of Blackwater’s technologies “wacky,” comparable to something cooked up in the Batcave.

“They tend to be strange versions of existing products,” he says. “The blimp is not technology; it’s just a hot-air balloon, the oldest technology in aviation. What (Prince) has done is come up with homemade, kludged ideas. The government may or may not buy them.”

Though he is skeptical of Blackwater’s prospects as a global peacekeeping force, Pelton says that Prince’s vision is noble, even if it lends itself to black comedy. He compares Erik Prince to the Dark Prince of comics. “Batman lives his life as a mild-mannered billionaire, and then at night goes out and saves the world,” says Pelton. “It’s all right to have a big idea, but the big idea has never been tested, and if you play it forward and send Backwater to Darfur, imagine the various permutations of disaster if his current activities are employed over there.”

If Pelton thinks Prince is Batman, Wrenn has his own version of how Blackwater should be viewed.

“It’s like Bonanza,” says Wrenn. “The Cartwright family were cowboys, but wearing white hats. They were the good guys, the people you want your neighbors to be. Yeah, they carry guns, but it’s the nature of the business.”

Senate passes $555-billion spending bill

The measure includes $70 billion in war funding but no timeline for leaving Iraq after Democratic leaders relent to the administration.

Los Angeles Times | Dec 19, 2007

By Noam N. Levey

WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats’ yearlong campaign to bring the war in Iraq to an end concluded with a whimper Tuesday as the Senate failed again to pass a timeline for withdrawing U.S. troops from the conflict.

As they have all year, Senate Republicans prevented the move to set dates by which the president would have to begin and complete bringing American forces home.

And Democratic leaders gave in to demands from the Bush administration for more money for the war without any congressionally imposed restrictions. The latest $70 billion in war funding was incorporated into a $555-billion omnibus spending bill that will fund most of the federal government next year.

“In the end, we had very little leverage to do anything,” Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said as the once-heated war debate closed with little suspense and no drama.

Senators spent as much time Tuesday delivering tributes to retiring Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott — the chamber’s No. 2 Republican, who is leaving in the middle of his term — as they did debating the war.

The four senators seeking the Democratic presidential nomination — Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and Barack Obama of Illinois — missed the debate.

And even the most fervent antiwar groups seemed resigned to defeat. Tuesday afternoon, a pair of Code Pink protesters, members of a group that all year has disrupted congressional hearings and committee meetings on the war, stood quietly in a corridor connecting the Capitol with a Senate office building.

House and Senate Democratic leaders, who have been laboring for months on the long-overdue spending measure, had pledged this fall to resist White House pressure to approve unrestricted funding for the war in Iraq, as they did earlier this year.

Democrats dismissed Pentagon warnings that the lack of funding would create massive disruptions for the military.

And on Monday, the House passed a $516-billion version of the omnibus spending bill that did not include Iraq funding; House leaders limited war-related money to use in Afghanistan.

But that approach didn’t stand a chance in the closely divided Senate, where the 49-member Republican caucus has been able to block Democratic restrictions on the war all year.

Tuesday was no different.

Sen. Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.), backed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pushed a proposal to require the withdrawal of most U.S. troops within nine months.

It won just 24 votes, far shy of the 60-vote supermajority required for amending the spending bill. Not a single Republican voted for it.

In a separate bid to get more GOP support, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who has helped lead the Senate Democratic legislative campaign on the war, backed away from his yearlong effort to push for a withdrawal timeline.

Instead, he offered a nonbinding measure that simply urged the president to begin limiting the mission of U.S. troops in Iraq to protecting American personnel, training Iraqis and conducting counterterrorism operations.

The proposal, which closely resembled a compromise proposal that had been pushed all year by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), set a goal of completing the transition by the end of 2008.

Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), who has not previously voted for legislation challenging the president’s war strategy, agreed to cosponsor the amendment. But Levin’s proposal still attracted just six Republican votes and fell 10 short of the 60-vote threshold.

By contrast, the move by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to attach additional Iraq war funding to the spending bill got 70 votes, as 21 Democrats and an independent joined 48 Republicans in backing the proposal.

“Attacks on American troops are down. Civilian casualties around Baghdad are down,” McConnell said. “A lot has changed in Iraq. And here in Washington, we should take notice. . . . We must not impose an arbitrary timeline for withdrawal.”

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the only GOP presidential contender in the Senate, spoke passionately in favor of additional funding for the war and voted against the Levin and Feingold measures.

The omnibus bill, including the war funding, passed the Senate 76-17. It will now go back to the House, where a coalition of Republicans and centrist Democrats are expected to provide enough votes to send it to President Bush. The White House has indicated he will sign a measure that provides unrestricted money for the war.

Feingold, who has pushed his Democratic colleagues all year to take on the president more aggressively, struck a defiant tone in the face of the latest defeat on Capitol Hill for war opponents.

“We have a lot of important priorities here, but nothing is more important to me or my constituents than ending this disastrous war,” Feingold said on the Senate floor.

“As I do every year, I held a town hall meeting in every county in Wisconsin this year,” he said. “They weren’t asking us to give the president more time for his so-called surge. Like Americans all across the country, they want an end to this war, and they want to know what’s stopping us.”

But the tumult that gripped the Capitol earlier this year when congressional Democrats began their push against the president’s troop escalation was notably missing Tuesday.

And the vote tallies underscored how little progress Democrats have made in the face of Republican opposition this year. With only 50 votes, the Levin measure fared no better than earlier proposals that failed in July and November. Feingold’s proposal — though it had a record 17 cosponsors, including California Democrat Barbara Boxer — attracted five fewer votes than it did in May.

Small Flying UAV Spybots May Recharge Themselves on Power Lines

Aviation Week | Dec 13, 2007

by Bettina H. Chavanne

This article first appeared in Aviation Week’s DTI. Small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) are effective battlefield surveillance platforms. But they suffer from limited battery power, which affects their range and their sensors’ effectiveness, often making them expendable.

A solution may lie in overhead power lines. A program by Defense Research Associates (DRA) and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) seeks to develop a small UAV that can land on a power line and recharge its battery by drawing energy from the cable.

The PLUS (Power Line Urban Sentry) program seeks to create an autonomous, reusable platform with a long range that operates in confined areas, such as an urban battlefield. Surveillance and data collection would be improved because sensors recharge with the battery.

Dayton, Ohio-based DRA has received a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the Defense Dept. and is currently working on prototypes with AFRL in Phase II of the program.

The effort began three years ago when Patrick Marshall, a senior electronics engineer at AFRL, began investigating methods of charging small UAVs by flying them close to power lines. But the process was inefficient. “The best we could get was micro-watts of power,” he says.

So Marshall built a toroidal test box that clamped around a power line to draw energy from the cable. The design was successful, though the latch mechanism needed work.

Marshall also worked with Mike McKinley, DRA’s hardware engineering manager. They ran tests at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, by putting a prototype on a power line and retrieving data through a radio-frequency link to see what happened as it charged, McKinley says. The battery charged in under three hours.

“From that point,” McKinley recalls, “the thinking was, ‘if we can get the charge, we can [find a way to] land on the line.'”

Then DRA hired a radio-controlled-aircraft operator to land model airplanes on power lines and attempt to latch on. In a span of nine months, they tested five or six models at a cost of about $100,000 each. “We landed two of them, and flew those planes many times,” McKinley says.

The tests showed it was possible to connect to a power line, and that a UAV could withstand flying into one at 40 kt. A latching mechanism, however, still needs to be perfected.

Part of the Phase II SBIR also involves developing a power-line navigation capability. “There’s a problem when a small UAV gets [electronically] jammed but keeps flying,” notes McKinley.

If this happens, a UAV can be guided by power-line navigation. Operators would program coordinates for power lines into the UAV so that it follows a path that can be correlated back to any GPS start location.

If the GPS system becomes jammed, the stored power-grid map can be used to identify the UAV’s position, McKinley says.

The UAV could be 100 mi. out and still transmit data. “Power lines are like highways in the sky,” he says.

Even if a UAV is shot down, it will provide a data waypoint for troops. “You know someone there is armed,” Marshall remarks. “They know about your UAV, but you know you want to look at that area.”

An energy-harvesting UAV could be equipped also with multiple sensors. “The idea is that when you’re recharging, you have all that power from the line to do whatever you need,” McKinley observes.

One issue about recharging is detection. Can a small UAV be disguised? Rick Lind, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Florida, thinks so.

Lind works with aircraft morphing technology and runs a facility called the Center for Morphing Control. One goal of the PLUS program is to create a small UAV that seems to disappear by morphing into a shape that doesn’t look out of place on a power line. So Marshall and McKinley asked Lind to join their efforts in 2006.

“He made a small UAV look like a Coke can,” Marshall recalls.

The first prototype flights are expected in 2008.

Death Ray Replaced By The Voice of God

LRAD mounted with a 50 cal machine gun on a Humvee unit

There are now rumors in Iraq of a devilish American weapon that makes people believe they are hearing voices in their heads. It appears that some of the troops in Iraq are using “spoken” (as opposed to “screeching”) LRAD to mess with enemy fighters. LRAD can put the “word of God” into their heads. If God, in the form of a voice that only you can hear, tells you to surrender, or run away, what are you gonna do?

Strategy Page | Dec 17, 2007

While U.S. efforts to deploy it’s microwave Active Denial System (which transmits a searchlight sized beam of energy which makes people downrange feel like their skin is on fire) continue to be delayed, another non-lethal system, LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Device) has been quietly deployed to Iraq. And there the story gets a little strange.

LRAD is basically a focused beam of sound. Originally, it was designed to emit a very loud sound. Anyone whose head was touched by this beam, heard a painfully loud sound. Anyone standing next to them heard nothing. But those hit by the beam promptly fled, or fell to the ground in pain. Permanent hearing loss is possible if the beam is kept on a person for several seconds, but given the effect the sound usually has on people (they move, quickly), it is unlikely to happen. LRAD works. It was recently used off Somalia, by a cruise ship, to repel pirates. Some U.S. Navy ships also carry it, but not just to repel attacking suicide bombers, or whatever. No, the system was sold to the navy for a much gentler application. LRAD can also broadcast speech for up to 300 meters.

The navy planned to use LRAD to warn ships to get out of the way. This was needed in places like the crowded coastal waters of the northern Persian Gulf, where the navy patrols. Many small fishing and cargo boats ply these waters, and it’s often hard to get the attention of the crews. With LRAD, you just aim it at a member of the crew, and have an interpreter “speak” to the sailor. It was noted that the guy on the receiving end was sometimes terrified, even after he realized it was that large American destroyer that was talking to him. This apparently gave the army guys some ideas, for there are now rumors in Iraq of a devilish American weapon that makes people believe they are hearing voices in their heads.

This made more sense when an American advertising firm recently used an LRAD unit to support a media campaign for a new TV show. LRAD was pointed at a sidewalk in Manhattan, below the billboard featuring the new show. LRAD broadcast a female voice providing teaser lines from the show. The effect was startling, and a bit scary for many who passed through the LRAD beam. It appears that some of the troops in Iraq are using “spoken” (as opposed to “screeching”) LRAD to mess with enemy fighters. Islamic terrorists tend to be superstitious and, of course, very religious. LRAD can put the “word of God” into their heads. If God, in the form of a voice that only you can hear, tells you to surrender, or run away, what are you gonna do?

Meanwhile, the microwave powered ADS, a non-lethal weapon that looks like a radar dish, languishes in politically correct limbo. The ADS “radar dish” projects a “burn ray” that is about four feet in diameter. It is effective in fog, smoke and rain. When pointed at people and turned on, it creates a burning sensation on the skin of its victims, causing them to want to leave the area, or at least greatly distracts them. The microwave weapon has a range of about 500 meters. ADS is carried on a hummer or Stryker, along with a machine-gun and other non-lethal weapons (like LRAD). The proposed ROE (Rules of Engagement) for ADS were that anyone who kept coming after getting hit with microwave was assumed to have evil intent, and could be killed. The microwave is believed to be particularly useful for terrorists who hide in crowds of women and children, using the human shields to get close enough to make an attack. This has been encountered in Somalia and Iraq.

Deployment of ADS has been delayed for years because of concerns about how non-lethal it really is. ADS has been fired, in tests, over 2,500 times. Many of these firings were against human volunteers, and the device performed as predicted, without any permanent damage. But generations of exposure to lurid science fiction descriptions of “death rays” has made the defense bureaucrats anxious over the negative public relations potential if something like ADS was actually used. From a publicity perspective, using more lethal “non-lethal-weapons” is preferable to deploying something safer, but that could be described, however incorrectly, as a “death ray.” In any event, it appears that the cheaper, smaller (about 45 pounds), gentler and more flexible LRAD has taken ADS’s place in the American arsenal. At least for now.

Rockefellers “Joked” About Controlling The World

Elitist sons would carve up the planet into different thiefdoms, “something really behind the joke,” admits biographer

Prison Planet | Dec 18, 2007

by Paul Joseph Watson

The elitist Rockefeller sons would sometimes “joke” about which parts of the world they would each control according to biographer Peter Collier, carving the world up into different thiefdoms. Colliers admission that there was “something really behind the joke” is an understatement considering the revelations of the late Aaron Russo about what Nicholas Rockefeller told him.’

The admission is taken from a segment of a History Channel documentary about the Rockefeller family which hit You Tube today.

“Sometimes they would joke about it, they would say well David gets Europe, Nelson’s gonna have Latin America, and you know John D. the third gets Asia and then they’d make some joke about what Winthrop got, you know which would be something like Arkansas – but nonetheless there was something really behind the joke,” states Peter Collier, who wrote a glowing biography of the family with top Neo-Con and former Marxist David Horowitz.

Watch the clip.

Of course the so-called “joke” was a thin veil for the fact that by the end of the 1950’s the Rockefellers had become the pre-eminent elitist family and controlled huge swathes of economies, infrastructure, media and business worldwide.

Revelations on behalf of the late Aaron Russo concerning what Nicholas Rockefeller told him about his family’s predatory control of the planet were explicit in their honesty and scale.

Nick Rockefeller told Russo in advance that an “event” would precipitate the invasion of Afghanistan so the U.S. could run oil pipelines through the country before invading Iraq and establishing military bases throughout the Middle East. He also stated that we would see soldiers looking in caves in Afghanistan and Pakistan for Osama bin Laden and that there would be an “Endless war on terror where there’s no real enemy and the whole thing is a giant hoax,” so that “the government could take over the American people,” according to Russo, who said that Rockefeller was cynically laughing and joking as he made the astounding prediction. This was all related to Russo nearly a year before 9/11 happened.

Rockefeller also related how members of the elite were obsessed by creating a world identification society where people had to carry ID cards and prove who they were at all times.

During one conversation, Rockefeller asked Russo if he was interested in joining the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) but Russo rejected the invitation, saying he had no interest in “enslaving the people” to which Rockefeller coldly questioned why he cared about the “serfs.”

“I used to say to him what’s the point of all this,” said Russo, “you have all the money in the world you need, you have all the power you need, what’s the point, what’s the end goal?” to which Rockefeller replied (paraphrasing), “The end goal is to get everybody chipped, to control the whole society, to have the bankers and the elite people control the world.”

Rockefeller also told Russo that his family’s foundation had created and bankrolled the women’s liberation movement in order to destroy the family and that population reduction was a fundamental aim of the global elite.

Watch a clip of Russo’s interview with Alex Jones in which he details the admissions of Rockefeller below.

The History Channel documentary also mentions the Rockefeller’s involvement in population control in the clip below.