ON DRONES by the Center for Tactical Magic (from Arthur 35)

Originally published in Arthur 35

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Column: Applied Magic(k)
Author: The Center for Tactical Magic
Title: “The Deception of Robot Demons”
Illustration: Aaron Gach

Seldom used in stage magic today, automata (self-operating mechanical figures) featured prominently among conjuror’s acts before the 1900’s. Skillful craftsmen offered public demonstrations of elaborate clockwork characters that could perform entertaining miracles. Perhaps the most famous automaton of all time was the chess-playing spectacle known as The Turk. From the late 1700’s through the mid-1800’s, the turban-topped, robe-wearing, moustachioed machine amazed audiences in Europe and the Americas as he defeated the majority of his opponents, including Ben Franklin and Napoleon Bonaparte.

Despite an intense amount of public speculation and scrutiny, the mystery of its inner workings remained a closely guarded secret for many years. Although some correctly suspected that The Turk was in fact a mechanical illusion that concealed a human chess master, these theories were particularly difficult to prove since The Turk was opened up at the beginning of performances to provide the audience with a view of its interior.

In crafting illusions, it is essential for magicians to deflect suspicion by guiding audience perception. This may occur through misdirection, camouflage, patter—or, in the case of The Turk—a combination of all three presented through a carefully orchestrated sequence of events that gives a false appearance of reality. The final effect in this case was an amusing battle of wits apparently between man and machine that was way ahead of its time. Resonating with some of the earliest fears and hopes of the posthuman condition, it predated Mary Shelley’s techno-angst classic, Frankenstein, by nearly 50 years, and IBM’s Deep Thought chess computer (which lost to chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1989) by more than 200 years.

Somewhere between the horror of Frankenstein and the hubris of Deep Thought a melange of other mechanistic mayhem has emerged with far less entertaining implications. Although Nikola Tesla first conjured the notion of a squadron of remotely piloted warplanes in 1915, it has only been in the past decade that drone warfare has moved from from the shadows into the spotlight. In this “theater of conflict,” we find ourselves once again presented with the illusion of intelligent machinations. As with The Turk, we are often presented with a well-choreographed display intended to subvert our logic through partial truths and deceptive patter.

Drone strikes (particularly when they run afoul) are frequently discussed by government spokespersons as if the machines were making their own decisions, with zero accountability for their human operators, strike teams, or the officers and officials who authorize and oversee these missions from an air farce base outside of Las Vegas. When US missiles kill people in countries that we’re not even at war with, should it even matter if the aircraft had a human being sitting in the cockpit? Continue reading

STIMULUS, ASS-BACKWARDS by Douglas Rushkoff

Stimulus, Ass-Backwards
by Douglas Rushkoff

April 16, 2009

I’ve been trying to figure out exactly why President Obama’s approach to the economic crisis upsets me so much, so regularly, and I think I figured it out.

His impulse—perhaps as someone with more faith in the power of centralized, top-down decision-making than I have—is to fix our economic problems by supporting existing institutions. In the president’s view, the best approach now is to pump some necessary short-term assets into flagging institutions to help them make it through the rough patches in the economic road, and then get them to pay it back to the government once times are better. That’s the approach he’s taken to the banks, the automotive industry, and even the insurance industry.

What the Obama Administration doesn’t seem to understand is that the institutions they are attempting to prop up are the very ones whose solvency depends on the continuing extraction of wealth and value from the real people and places making up America.

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Pot Activists to Obama: Legalize Today, Get High Tonight, Right?

First, President Obama’s Kenyan half brother gets arrested — in Kenya — for holding, like, one joint. Then over the course of the last week the DEA busts a series of medical marijuana clinics across California. Then cops in Fontana — formerly a hub of the pig farming industry and now a dismal commuter suburb of LA — discover 1,800 pounds of weed being smuggled inside … wait for it … concrete lawn donkeys. “Drug mules,” geddit? (At least those pickup truck rampin’ Mexican cartels have a sense of humor, right?) The next thing you know, Obama’s bro is out on the streets again, all charges dropped. Coincidence, or…? Connect the dots, friend.

You know who doesn’t have a sense of humor? All the marijuana activists that were blowing up yesterday across the internet over the DEA raids on medical marijuana clinics that took place from South Lake Tahoe in Northern CA to Venice and Marina Del Rey down here in Los Angeles County. Do you know the reason why they are so itchy about these acts of Federal aggression? Because back in March and May of 2008 Obama said some evasive but still encouraging shit to two Oregon newspapers: Southern Oregon’s Mail Tribune and the The Willamette Weekly — an alt-weekly — about basing policy on science when it comes to medical marijuana. And we block-quote the Weekly:

Would you stop the DEA’s raids on Oregon medical marijuana growers?

I would because I think our federal agents have better things to do, like catching criminals and preventing terrorism. The way I want to approach the issue of medical marijuana is to base it on science, and if there is sound science that supports the use of medical marijuana and if it is controlled and prescribed in a way that other medicine is prescribed, then it’s something that I think we should consider.

Then, as if to confirm any suspicions that the casual reader might have about the Lollapalooza-types one might find staffing an Oregon alt-weekly, the interviewer asks Obama if he would get a tattoo were he placed “under duress.” That is certainly an imaginative question. But we digress …

As of January 28, Hopey’s man Eric “Lando” Holder is running the Justice Department, thus everyone from the libertarian burners at Reason to the up-against-the-wall muckrackers at Counterpunch to LA Times haberdashery columnist Patt Morrison (we kid we kid Morrison is oft very clever and funny) is like, “Lay off already!”

Get your summary of the day’s chatter after the jump.

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