Posted by: quiscus | December 8, 2010

December 8, 2010

1.  Ugh:

“Military One Step Closer to Battlefield Holograms

Optical scientist Nasser Peyghambarian and his teammates at the University of Arizona have demonstrated what The New York Times calls “actual moving holograms that are filmed in one spot and then projected and viewed in another spot.” The Times likens the holograms to the tiny image of Princess Leia that R2D2 showed Luke Skywalker in the beginning of Star Wars, only “a lot more haltingly, as the display changes only every two seconds.”


Peyghambarian’s hologram is created by a suite of 16 cameras that use lasers to record data on “smart” plastic some distance away that, when hit by a special light, project the image in solid-looking 3D. A partner team at Columbia University is studying ways to beam the holo-data via the Internet, to allow 3D video chats or instantaneous transmission of holographic maps, blueprints or medical scans. Peyghambarian said it might take a decade for the technology to become affordable and widespread. Weaponization would be much further behind (though we wouldn’t bet on today’s cash-strapped military to invest in a Face-of-Allah gun). Cost aside, it’s just not very PC.”

2.  “Why our Afghanistan War Dead don’t Seem to be News

Tom Engelhardt makes an argument for why the US casualties in Afghanistan are nowadays virtually ignored by television news and get buried in the back pages in the print media. He suggests that the war dead are mostly young, rural or small-town, and working or lower-middle class.

But I think the story is more complicated than just the social origins of the dead soldiers. After all, the Iraq War was a very significant campaign issue in 2006-2008, and Americans seemed to mind our military casualties over there during those years, and the press reported the war; and the social composition of the military was the same then.

I am sad to report that I have concluded that the relative silence on our Afghanistan war dead has to do with the workings of our two-party system. Americans are great followers of sports where two teams oppose one another. They become fierce partisans of one team over the other. They have the same approach to economic life (iPhone vs. Android, Kindle vs. Google ebooks, X-Box vs. Playstation, etc.) They join a “team” in their minds and grow absolutely scathing about the other side. Republicans and Democrats are teams for them. It may be the real reason a third party is so hard to mount; it does have to do with the first past the post electoral system, but it may be also that you can’t root for more than one team at a time, so it is more convenient to have just two parties if you have a binary mindset.

So here’s the reason the whole bloody Afghanistan war is off the radar: it isn’t a partisan issue. The Republican Party, except for a few Liberatarians, is solidly in favor of the war and would apparently like to go on fighting it for decades if only they could. But the Democrats cannot oppose the war (as they eventually opposed the Iraq War) because their own president has implemented a surge and is dedicated to prosecuting the war. The rank and file Democrats may not be very happy about Obama’s adoption of the war, but they are loathe to attack their own party leader (i.e. many of them feel as though they have to support their team).

In the United States of America, if you cannot get an argument going on a partisan party basis, then it just tends to be ignored and to generate no buzz.


One reason for the partisan character of social knowledge in the United States is that people organize their opinions by party. My colleague at the University of Michigan, Brendan Nyhan, has discovered that when people are presented with information that contradicts deeply-held opinions, they tend to reject it and to cling to their original opinions even more strongly. This reaction is called ‘backfire.’

So partisan Republicans start out with an opinion that their party leaders were right to take us into Afghanistan, and that we are fighting al-Qaeda there, and the mere mayhem in that country cannot shake their conviction. And Democrats start off with a conviction that President Obama is wise to wind down the Afghanistan War through an initial troop escalation. If you tell them what is really going on in Afghanistan, it won’t necessarily convince them that their premises are incorrect, and your challenge may even confirm them in their prior support of the war.

(The independents don’t ruin this analysis because in a two-party system there aren’t really very many true independents, there are only part-time Democrats and Republicans, a group that swings between the two, just as some sports fans may abandon a long-cherished team if it languishes at the bottom of the rankings for too long, and some other team emerges that is more exciting).

It is a dispiriting conclusion. Arguments in the United States are very seldom about right and wrong for their own sake. They are about Supporting Your Team.

Since no advantage would at the moment accrue to either Team from opposing the Afghanistan War, there is little opposition to it.”

3.  “The Charade of Israeli-Palestinian Talks

Washington’s pathetic capitulation to Israel while pleading for a meaningless three-month freeze on settlement expansion—excluding Arab East Jerusalem—should go down as one of the most humiliating moments in U.S. diplomatic history.

In September the last settlement freeze ended, leading the Palestinians to cease direct talks with Israel. Now the Obama administration, desperate to lure Israel into a new freeze and thus revive the talks, is grasping at invisible straws—and lavishing gifts on a far-right Israeli government.

The gifts include $3 billion for fighter jets. The largesse also happens to be another taxpayer grant to the U.S. arms industry, which gains doubly from programs to expand the militarization of the Middle East.

The focus on settlement expansion, and Washington’s groveling, are not the only farcical elements of the current negotiations. The very structure is a charade. The U.S. is portrayed as an “honest broker” seeking to mediate between two recalcitrant adversaries. But serious negotiations would be conducted by some neutral party, with the U.S. and Israel on one side, and the world on the other.”


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