Sunday, July 31, 2005


Panopticon Hill

Frances Sellers has an article in the Washington Post (hat tip Betsy’s Page) about the widespread use of closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras in Britain. He argues that the cameras deter some crimes and for those that it doesn’t deter (like suicide bombing) it provides important evidence to police investigations. I admit that a person who is in a public place has to expect that people may be looking at him at anytime (so you people need to stop picking your noses when you’re driving). I also can see where a tool like CCTV could be very useful in deterring and solving crimes in public places without infringing on people’s privacy in private places. If America is going to follow Britain’s example and begin widespread use of CCTV to fight crime and terrorism, I suggest we start with the most dangerous high-crime area in the country. I realize that most of the crime that takes place on Capital Hill is the “white collar” type that isn’t immediately dangerous, but the secondary effects of such crimes can obviously pose a huge danger to the life, liberty, and happiness of large numbers of Americans. Crimes relating to international relations or defense could easily become dangers to our national security. If even one case of a public servant peddling influence or information to a foreign power is exposed, then wouldn’t that be worth a small infringement on our congressmen, their staffers, bureaucrats, and honest lobbyists’ anonymity? And if CCTV surveillance can help defeat terrorists, then Capital Hill has a lot of high-value terrorist targets that we need to protect.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we have hovering drones broadcast every moment of our congressmen’s lives on CSPAN3. It would be cruel and invasive to make our political servants walk around all day paranoid that some perfectly natural but embarrassing bodily function will wind up in political ads for years to come. Maybe we wouldn’t even need to have cameras actually in their offices. But the House and Senate office buildings are public buildings built with our money, and I think it is perfectly reasonable to have webcams in the halls and outside our representative’s offices so that we can use the internet to see which lobbyists are beating a path to their door. Perhaps we could require lobbyists to wear large nametags to make it easer to track them. I could even see a congressional webcam drinking game becoming popular in colleges around the nation, thereby encouraging the youth of America to learn more about their government. We’d have to outlaw the “every time the Senator drinks, you drink” rule though to prevent tragic alcohol poisoning epidemics. Sellers’s article points out that sometimes the CCTV surveillance only displaces the crime to other areas that are more poorly monitored. We should, therefore, also be ready for a second phase of webcam installations on the streets outside these locations listed here:

If the technology works well in DC, then we can begin expanding it to other areas throughout the nation that are high crime areas and/or likely terrorist targets. Areas like state capitals, federal buildings, and city halls.

Friday, July 29, 2005


Blogroll Changes

I have expanded and improved the links section of this blog. New blogs have been added there and I encourage readers to give them a try. Also new sections have been added for monographs, the content of which is self-explanatory, and references, which at this time primarily contains references useful to travelers.

Monday, July 25, 2005


A "Killer App." for Virtual Reality

I wonder if global communication is fast enough for a vehicle mounted remote control weapon on a Humvee in Iraq to be operated from the United States. I think the signal delay up to a geostationary communication satellite is around an eighth of a second. The time needed for a signal to go from the combat zone to a remote gun operator and back to the weapon over such a connection would take about half a second. That would triple the apparent reaction time of the telecommuting gunner, which might still be acceptable. Transferring the signal from the combat zone to the remote gunner by low earth orbit satellites instead might get the total delay below 0.050 seconds. Surely that would be fast enough. Perhaps robot gunners on manned vehicles could be a stepping stone for testing unmanned ground combat vehicle technology and tactics without having to make the entire leap to unmanned systems at once.

Obviously it would add to the vehicle's available cargo capacity if one of the crewmen weren't really there in person. It would also reduce logistics requirements since the telecommuting soldier wouldn't need supplies shipped into the theater of operations. And if the remote control station for the gun is located in America then the telecommuting gunner could go home to his family at the end of his shift. There are obvious disadvantages to this arrangement. A telecommuting weapons crewman can't get out of the vehicle and help do something in person. Communication with the remote gunner would be more difficult without body language and might be interrupted by jamming or equipment failure. These problems might be offset by advantages a remote gunner could have. A virtually present crewman could call a supervisor or specialist (such as translators, intelligence specialists, technicians, doctors, or assistant gunners) over to his remote console for advice or assistance if his team encountered something unusual or heavy combat occurred. Another advantage would be that a gunner telecommuting from the United States could operate in a comfortable environment and would therefore be immune to fatigue from environmental effects. If the crew in the vehicle really needed warm bodies for some task, they could always bring an extra person in the space that is freed up by having a telecommuting gunner.

Maybe Xbox Live and similar video game systems will give Western nations a valuable edge in future war by providing a large pool of potential recruits who are already used to remotely coordinating activities with geographically dispersed team members in chaotic situations. In the past nations showcased their citizens' capacity for military prowess at archery or martial arts competitions and we now do it at Olympic shooting matches, airshow aerobatic demonstrations, and other events. Perhaps the future arena for such demonstrations of martial skill will be at video game tournaments.

Any advice on the concept from satellite communication or remote gunner platform experts would be appreciated.

Thursday, July 21, 2005


Europe’s Fear: Terrorists or the Common Man?

With the second set of bombings in London, I hope that more European politicians will begin taking the hard steps needed to address the threat of radical Islamic terrorists. Blair, at least, has supported the war in Iraq and I doubt that the British will follow the Spanish example and vote in appeasers. Still, even Britain seems to be on the wrong track. If you think I’m overly pessimistic, ask yourself this question:

Which is more likely to happen in the next year?
A) British law is changed so that it becomes legal for average citizens to use violence to stop a suicide bomber.
B) British law is changed so that it becomes illegal for average citizens to criticize a suicide bomber’s belief system.

I would hope it would be the former, but I fear it will be the latter.

Police cannot be everywhere, and often it is the average men and women “on the spot” that have the best chance of stopping a violent crime or terrorist attack. United Flight 93 never made it to its intended target on Sept. 11th because of the brave actions of "ordinary" citizens. Armed and vigilant citizens have been an important part of Israel’s defense strategy against terrorism. And now the Iraqi’s are learning that the common man sometimes has to take action to stop dangerous men when there aren’t any gov’t officials around to do the job.

Clearly, experience has shown that alert and brave actions by the citizenry can be an important part of a society’s defense against terrorism, as well as ordinary crime. But in Europe generally, and Britain specifically, such actions would be branded “illegal vigilantism”. I would expect that anyone in London engaging in one of the heroic acts described above would be more likely to receive a jail sentence (or perhaps a gaol sentence) than a “thank you” note from the Queen. Until this situation changes, we will know that the European politicians are less afraid of occasional bombings of the mass transit riding commoners than they are of letting their subjects get a taste of any empowerment that might give them dangerous ideas about not having to be so obedient to their “betters.”


I'm Back...

... from my trip. Posting will now resume.

Saturday, July 09, 2005


Light Posting

I just got back from my July 4th vacation, and I'll be spending next week at a conference.

Blogging will resume after I return.

Friday, July 01, 2005


A Man is Known by the Enemies He Keeps

There is evidence that the newly elected “president” of Iran was one of the terrorists who kidnapped American diplomats in 1979 and held them hostage for over a year. Newscaster Brian Williams has been derided by many in the blogosphere for saying:

“What would it all matter if proven true? Someone brought up today the first several U.S. presidents were certainly revolutionaries and might have been called 'terrorists' by the British crown, after all.”

The complaints about Mr. Williams’s stupid comment seem based on his equating our Founding Fathers to modern Muslim terrorists. Mr. William’s statement is typical of the “moral equivalency” and multicultural argument that every culture is equal. I don’t think the fundamental flaw in his thinking is his equating our Founders with current Islamic radicals. I think his flaw is the idea that anyone’s accusation that someone is a “terrorist” is equally valid.

Consider who he says might have called Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, etc. terrorists. He says “the British crown.” At the time that was tyrant nutjob King George the Third! It should be a great honor to be considered a “terrorist” by such a monarch. What red blooded American wouldn’t aspire to be such a thorn in the side of an enemy of liberty like King George III. I would be honored if the enemies of liberty and petty tyrants of today feared me enough to label me a “terrorist.”

Consider who now calls Iranian “President”-elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a terrorist? It is the free press of the First World. It is the diplomats of our Republic, who were captured in our embassy in Iran and recognize him as one of their kidnappers. Who is it that considers the radical clerics running Iran to be terrorists? It is the majority opinion of the Free World.

The flaw in Mr. William’s comparison is that he considers the word “terrorist” to have the same derisive meaning regardless of who utters it. He hasn’t just compared our Founding Fathers to Iran’s fanatical tyrants. He has compared the general opinion of Americans to the rantings of the mad monarch King George III. He equates the press, diplomats, and citizenry of our great Republic to a tyrant who “plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.” The fact that Brian Williams walks among us untarred and unfeathered is a testament to the Christian charity of the American people.

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