Archive for October, 2008

Paul Craig Roberts
Counterpunch
October 28, 2008

“We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re  studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new  realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s  actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

–Bush White House aide explaining the New Reality

The New American Century lasted a decade.  Financial crisis and defeated objectives in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Georgia brought the neoconservative project for American world hegemony crashing to a close in the autumn of 2008.

The neocons used September 11, 2001, as a “new Pearl Harbor” to give power precedence over law domestically and internationally.  The executive branch no longer had to obey federal statutes, such as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or honor international treaties, such as the Geneva Conventions.  An asserted “terrorist threat” to national security became the cloak which hid US imperial interests as the Bush Regime set about dismantling US civil liberties and the existing order of international law constructed by previous governments during the post-war era.

Perhaps the neoconservative project for world hegemony would have lasted a bit longer had the neocons possessed intellectual competence.

On the war front, the incompetent neocons predicted that the Iraq war would be a six-week cakewalk, whose $70 billion cost would be paid out of Iraqi oil revenues.  President Bush fired White House economist Larry Lindsey for estimating that the war would cost $200 billion.   The current estimate by experts is that the Iraq war has cost American taxpayers between two and three trillion dollars. And the six-week war is now the six-year war.

On the economic front, the incompetent neocons overlooked the fact that a country that relocates its industry and best jobs abroad in order to maximize short-run profits becomes progressively economically weaker.  Propagandistic talk about a “New Economy” built around financial dominance covered up the fact that the US was the world’s greatest debtor country, dependent on foreigners to finance the daily operation of its government, the home mortgages of its citizens, and its military operations abroad.

In Iraq the neocons gave up their hegemonic military pretensions when they put 80,000 Sunni insurgents on the US Army’s payroll in order to scale down the fighting and reduce US casualties.

In Afghanistan the neocons gave up more military pretensions when they had to rely on NATO troops to fight the Taliban.

US military pretensions came to an end in Georgia when the Bush Regime sent Georgian troops to ethnically cleanse South Ossetia of Russian residents in order to end the secessionist movement in the province, thereby clearing the path for Georgia’s NATO membership. It took Russian soldiers only a few hours to destroy the US and Israeli trained and equipped Georgian Army.

The ongoing financial crisis has put an end to the pretensions of American financial hegemony and free-market illusions that deregulation and offshoring had brought prosperity to America.

In a long article, “The End of Arrogance,” on September 30, the German news magazine Der Spiegel observed:

This is no longer the muscular and arrogant United States the world knows, the  superpower that sets the rules for everyone else and that considers its  way of  thinking and doing business to be the only road to success.

Also on display is the end of arrogance. The Americans are now paying the price for  their pride.

Gone are the days when the US could go into debt with abandon, without considering  who would end up footing the bill. And gone are the days when it could impose its  economic rules of engagement on the rest of the world, rules that emphasized  profit above all else — without ever considering that such returns cannot be  achieved by doing business in a respectable way.

A new chapter in economic history has begun, one in which the United States will no longer play its former dominant role. A process of redistributing money and power  around the world — away from America and toward the resource-rich countries and  rising industrialized nations in Asia — has been underway for years. The financial  crisis will only accelerate the process.

Looking at his defeated adversary, George W. Bush, brought down by military and economic failure, Iranian President Ahmadinejad observed:  “The American empire in the world is reaching the end of its road, and its next rulers must limit their interference to their own borders.”

Truer words were never spoken.

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Danger Room:

IBM is that latest company to join in the Pentagon’s quest to make electronics that mimic the “function, size, and power consumption” of a cat’s brain.

For intelligent machines to be useful, they must compete with biological systems,” notes a recent presentation from Darpa, the Pentagon’s way-out research division. But “compared to biological systems, today’s intelligent machines are less efficient by a factor of a million to a billion in complex environments.”

Darpa just gave Big Blue a $4,879,333 contract to start work on closing that gap. (Malibu’s HRL Laboratories got a similar deal, a few weeks back.) If successful, the Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics (SyNAPSE) project could produce machines with so much computing power packed into such a small space, they could signal the “dawn of a new age” of hyper-smart machines.

Eventually, Darpa wants IBM to put together a fake brain that can identify objects in a  video, interact with humans, and “exercis[e] all levels of cognition.”

Right now, such tasks are far out of chips’ reach. “A cat, for instance, can jump up onto a fence using only binocular vision; a computer able to take stereoscopic vid and accomplish the same feat with four robotic legs would be so heavy as to crush the fence,” Lew Page explains.

But Darpa doesn’t expect the researchers to come up with a cat-like mind right away. First, they can come up with a “mouse” level brain, with only 10neurons, before they move up another two orders of magnitude, to ersatz tabby brains.

Ignorance Is Futile:

Begin irresistible satire:

Today’s news includes a supposed Obama assassination plot by 2 right-wing skinheads. The ‘plot’ included killing some 88 people, and beheading 14 of them. In ‘our’ crazy U.S. worldview, these must be terrorists, meaning there is a terrorist minority and therefore ‘we’ should bomb ‘ourselves’. This should also include others states such as Israel and wherever else extremist minorities within the dominant race can be found scattered loosely within the population.

The logic is simple, albeit insane. In fact, following the logic guiding U.S. foreign policy, we should bomb ourselves simply because there might be people that might conduct ‘terrorist’ attacks. There’s a vast score of the populace out there of Christian Zionists and ‘super-patriot’ racists who endorse a genocidal policy towards Muslims. There’s untold numbers of ultraconservative skinheads and others who might attack the local Black church house, as they’re fueled by a totalitarian ideology of hate. A bomb-wielding terrorist may lurk around the corner at your neighborhood abortion clinic. Environmentalist Democrats and Hippies could be spiking the trees in the local forest to dissuade lumberjacks with chainsaws. Some analysts estimate that 50% of the population could be bleeding heart Liberals. Last but not least, teenage high-schoolers might conspire a mass shooting at school, and the media and others indoctrinated into the all-threats-are-terrorists mindset might declare it terrorism.

Considering how BushCo. has been actively funding Islamic terrorists within Iran to overthrow their government, Bush and Cheney should, after issuing the full scale U.S. self-attack doctrine, of course, shoot themselves. If you look in the mirror while you do it it should make sense.

D.C. should be first on the list for U.S. aircraft carriers to launch their strikes. Aircraft carrier group commanders were unavailable for comment, as they’re all currently forward deployed ‘defending’ the U.S. mainland by patrolling the seas elsewhere around the globe. Jane’s Offense Quarterly suggested they could all meet and duke it out to the finish in the high seas, with the last ship standing getting the prize of retribution of launching full scale attacks on the domestic terrorists. A senior BushCo. official optimistically estimated that cluster bombings could result in 2 dead terrorists per housing project.

Then the military needs to attack its own installations. There’s no telling where the disparate shadowy terrorists might be hiding. The National Guard and domestic police forces will be working 24 hour shifts as they attack the citizenry, each other and themselves. A careful and comprehensive strategy must be drawn up to ensure that all of the potential terrorists are killed before their scorched-earth campaigns leave themselves dead and captured.

But what should you do while waiting for the Fed’s to street sweep and carpet bomb through your neighborhood? Immediately look outside in ones own bushes to be sure they’re not digging caves in your own backyard. Reinforce your doors and cover your windows with duct tape and tarps. Next set up surveillance cameras pointing out into your neighbors yards and into their windows. Build home made linesman’s phone receivers and climb your local telephone poles to gather intel on your local phones comms. Deploy 2 liter bombs in your own mailbox if you can’t find any solid leads on your neighbors. Since the U.S. government sponsors global terrorism, your own local mailman might be suspect, and they show up at your house. Prior reason aside, he might deliver an anthrax laced letter or mailbomb, which would obviously ‘connect’ him to terrorists. After you’ve covered all possible ends, take your own life, because one day you might become a terrorist too. Your reading of this might have you already on a terrorist watch list, so maybe you’ll get lucky and they’ll do it for you.

Perhaps first the death squads should come to my house with Raptor jets and Stealth Bombers overhead. After all, one mans terrorist is another mans freedom fighter. My writing of a satire article that talks about self-destruction including bombings and killings could clearly be considered unpatriotic. I can handle that, just so long as the Raptors shoot each other down and the Stealth Bombers crash into each other afterward.

And while we all untimely detonate in anti-terrorist fervor, other nations should do the same. Take Israel, there are Zionist Jews who call for genocidal extermination of all Muslims. Rumor has it that the U.K. is already killing IRA freedom fighters, but it may prove difficult for convince the Royal Family to self-assassinate. Many other nations will be easy, as apparently many Islamic and even Hindu nations are already engaged in self-termination.

Welcome to Crazy World, but the irony is that even without such extreme self-inflicted pre-emptive warfare actions, we’re already in it as is. If only we could figure out how to bomb fear itself, but the only real way to do that is outlined above.

See Also:
New Device Will Sense Through Concrete Walls

Wired Danger Room:

The Pentagon wants to be able to peer inside your apartment building — picking out where all the major rooms, stairways, and dens of evil-doers are.

The U.S. military is getting better and better at spotting its enemies, when they’re roaming around the streets. But once those foes duck into houses, they become a whole lot harder to spot. That’s why Darpa, the Defense Department’s way-out research arm, is looking to develop a suite of tools for “external sensing deep inside buildings.” The ultimate goal of this Harnessing Infrastructure for Building Reconnaissance (HIBR) project: “reverse the adversaries’ advantage of urban familiarity and sanctuary and provide U.S. Forces with complete above- and below-ground awareness.”

By the end of the project, Darpa wants a set of technologies that can see into a 10-story building with a two-level basement in a “high-density urban block” — and produce a kind of digital blueprint of the place. Using sensors mounted on backpacks, vehicles, or aircraft, the HIBR gear would, hopefully, be able to pick out every room, wall, stairway, and basement in the building — as well as all of the “electrical, plumbing, and installation systems.”

Darpa doesn’t come out and say it openly.  But it appears that the agency wants these HIBR gadgets to be able to track the people inside these buildings, as well. Why else would these sensors be required to “provide real-time updates” once U.S. troops enter the building? Perhaps there’s more about the people-spotting tech, in the “classified appendix” to HIBR’s request for proposals.

There are already a number of efforts underway, both military and civilian, to try to see inside buildings. The Army has a couple of hand-held gadgets that can spot people just on the other side of a wall. Some scientists claim that can even catch human breathing and heartbeats beyond a barrier.

Darpa’s Visibuilding program uses a kind of radar to scan structures. The problem isn’t sending the radio frequency (RF) energy in.  It’s “making sense of the data produced from all the reflected signals” that come back, Henry Kenyon wrote in a recent Signal magazine article. Besides processing data from the inside a structure, the system also must filter a large amount of RF propagation in the form of randomly reflected signals. Although radar technologies exist that can track people in adjacent rooms, it is much more difficult to map an entire building. “Going through one wall is not that bad, but a building is basically an RF hall of mirrors. You’ve got signals bouncing all over the place,” Darpa program manager Dr. Edward J. Baranoski says. Field trials are supposed to get underway this fall.

Ignorance Is Futile:

AGI is the equivalent of what many typically envision when talking about (human level or greater) “AI”. So to simply say ‘Google is funding AI’ means almost nothing. “AI” in itself means a wide range of everyday things such as the ‘computer’ player in video games going back to the beginning. But to factually say that Google is now publicly funding AGI is a far more profound statement.

Meet Novamente, and Dr. Ben Goertzel. Novamente’s mission statement is to have self modifying human level intelligence in roughly 2012. I’ve been well aware of the mad doctor and his activities (such as working for NIH and other government and military agencies (I have video of Ben stating this somewhere) for some time. I also took note of his recent OpenCog, an open source project to accelerate progress toward safe, beneficial artificial general intelligence. I haven’t the time to do huge writeups on everything happening in the world of AGI, although I have certainly given mention to Ben in many various writings.

For being what I consider a ‘government’ (or rather Technological Establishment) insider, I do give him props for being much more open and ‘honest’ about the AGI ordeal than many of his other contemporaries. In contrast, Ray Kurzweil tells us it’s coming but then tells us not for another 20 years give or take a few. The absurdness of Ray’s claims, assuming that AGI is possible of course, is that he basically sets the ‘date’ to be about the same time that commercially availible $1000 CPU’s match roughly human complexity in regards to transistors.

The DARPA insider that Ray is, he doesn’t like to discuss things like what if there were an AGI ‘Manhattan Project’, like Ben does. Aside from the aforementioned Novamente claims of their own AGI due-date, Ben has claimed in many videos and writings that all they need to solve the “Strong AI ‘Problem‘” to enable rapid AGI genesis is for there to be an AGI “Manhattan Project”. As I demonstrated in my recent ‘Google … God On Earth‘ article, such a project (Google + NASA + DARPA) exists. But one thing lacking from my recent ‘Google God’ analysis was outside funding by Google, but now that intel exists on my radar screen.

Google is listed as sponsor of the OpenCog project, specializing in financial support for OpenCog programmers via Google Summer of Code. And this isn’t Ben’s first noteworthy interaction with Google, either. Watch Ben’s ‘Google Tech Talk’, “Artificial General Intelligence: Now Is the Time“, from last October, on Google’s official Tech Talk Youtube channel.

In summary, this intel should put to rest some of the notions of Google not directly seeking AGI although their entire operation is merely ‘Narrow AI’ claims I’ve been seeing around.

New Scientist:

For all its sophistication and power, your brain is built from unreliable components – one neuron can successfully provoke a signal in another only 40% of the time.

This lack of efficiency frustrates neuroengineers trying to build networks of brain cells to interface with electronics or repair damaged nervous systems.

Our brains combine neurons into heavily connected groups to unite their 40% reliability into a much more reliable whole.

Now human engineers working with neurons in the lab have achieved the same trick: building reliable digital logic gates that perform like those inside electronics.

Built from scratch

Elisha Moses at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, and his students Ofer Feinerman and Assaf Rotem have developed a way to control the growth pattern of neurons to build reliable circuits that use neurons rather than wires.

The starting point is a glass plate coated with cell-repellent material. The desired circuit pattern is scratched into this coating and then coated with a cell-friendly adhesive. Unable to gain purchase on most of the plate, the cells are forced to grow in the scratched areas.

The scratched paths are thin enough to force the neurons to grow along them in one direction only, forming straight wire-like connections around the circuit.

Using this method the researchers built a device that acts like an AND logic gate, producing an output only when it receives two inputs.

Better together

The gate is made from a network of neurons in a square shape approximately 900 micrometres on a side. Three of the sides form a “horseshoe” 150-micrometres wide, and packed with neurons. On the fourth side an isolated neuron island is linked to the other sides by two thinner bridges (see image, top right).

Neurons send their wire-like extensions that carry signals – axons – across those narrow bridges to the neuron island.

When stimulated with a small dose of a drug, the neurons send signals around the circuit. An ion blocker is used in the centre of the horseshoe to electrically isolate one side from the other.

By changing the width of the bridges, the researchers are able to control how many axons link to the neuron island, and tune their device to behave like an AND gate.

The neurons on the island only produce an output after receiving signals through both of the thin bridges. Like a natural system, the device transcends the performance of individual neurons – achieving 95% reliability from a collection of 40% reliable components.

Brain interface

Rotem thinks that this provides a useful model for real brain function. “The existence of a threshold level for activation plays a central role in neuronal computation,” he says. In his logic gates and real brains alike, many neurons contribute to generate a signal strong enough to excite another group of neurons, he says.

Charles Stevens at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, is not so sure, pointing out that real brain “circuits” do not resemble logic gates.

But achieving reliable performance from lab-grown neurons is still impressive, he adds. “There is a sort of fascination with neural networks grown in culture, and this paper improves on the usual random networks,” he says.

Rotem says that brain-cell logic circuits could serve as intermediaries between computers and the nervous system. “It’s difficult to physically interface [neural prosthetics] with live neurons,” he says.

Brain implants can allow the paralysed to control robot arms or learn to talk again, but suffer a drop-off in performance when scar tissue coats their electrodes. “An intermediate layer of in vitro neurons interfacing between man and machine could be advantageous,” he says.

Journal reference: Nature Physics, DOI: 10.1038/nphys1099

The Human Brain – With one hundred billion nerve cells, the complexity is mind-boggling. Learn more in our cutting edge special report.

Newsweek:When Congress passed a landmark electronic-spying bill last summer, the measure included a key provision that ordered the inspectors general of U.S. intelligence agencies to produce the first-ever public report on President Bush’s warrantless-surveillance program.

The report isn’t due until next July-long after Bush leaves office. But when the inspectors general recently submitted their first “interim” report to Congress under the measure, it wasn’t made public. Instead, the brief document, written by CIA inspector general John Helgerson, was marked classified-a move that has drawn a stiff protest from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes.

In an Oct. 10 letter, Reyes complained to Helgerson (who is coordinating the review by 16 different inspectors general) for submitting a secret interim report when Congress envisioned a document that could be shared with the public. The letter essentially said, “Here’s what the law says, please explain why you’re not following the law,” Courtney Littig, a spokeswoman for the House Intelligence Committee, tells NEWSWEEK.

Reyes’s letter also included a request that the inspectors general issue a “preservation order” preventing White House or intelligence community officials from removing or destroying documents relating to the warrantless-surveillance program. With barely three months left in the administration, Reyes wanted to make sure that “they don’t destroy anything before they walk out the door,” Littig says.

The dispute might not seem entirely unexpected. A veil of super secrecy has surrounded the program since President Bush, in the weeks after 9/11, directed the National Security Agency (NSA) to conduct surveillance of phone calls and e-mails of terror suspects inside the United States without judicial warrants. The little-noticed provision for a public inspectors-general report was crucial to gaining the support of some liberal Democrats—including Sen. Barack Obama—for last summer’s bill, which allowed a modified version of the program to continue.

At the time, Obama was attacked by liberal bloggers for reversing his position on one of the most controversial provisions in the bill: a section, strongly backed by the White House, that granted blanket immunity to telecommunications companies facing lawsuits for participating in what critics charged was an illegal program. But Obama pointed to the mandate for a public report as a reason he was finally prepared to back the measure—even though it would squash lawsuits that could have led to a public airing of the extent of warrantless spying conduct by the administration. “The Inspectors General report provides a real mechanism for accountability and should not be discounted,” Obama wrote in a statement posted on his Web site on July 3. “It will allow a close look at past misconduct without hurdles that would exist in federal court because of classification issues.”

Asked for comment, Michael Ortiz, a spokesman for Obama, said: “Senator Obama continues to believe that the public deserves to know that there is accountability and oversight of the surveillance program and urges that a nonclassified report from the IG be made available to Congress.” But a U.S. intelligence community official, who asked not to be identified, talking about sensitive matters, insisted there was no intent on the part of Helgerson or the other inspectors general to ignore the congressional requirement for a public report on the surveillance program. The official said the National Security Agency—which conducted the warrantless surveillance—was still reviewing the material in the interim report in an effort to see what can be declassified. “This is simply the first step. The review is not over by any means,” the official said.

Sources familiar with the interim report said there is nothing all that sensitive about it. The document merely outlines the “scope” of the review that the inspectors general plan to conduct in preparation for the final report due next July.

As for the demands for a preservation order, the official said: “Directives have been issued to preserve records relating to this surveillance program. But, as Congress is aware, intelligence community inspectors general have clearly defined authorities. Those authorities don’t, as a rule, extend to giving orders to the White House.”

Littig says the intelligence committee has no evidence that documents about the surveillance program were being destroyed. But, she adds that given the tangled history of the program—and the limited disclosure provided to Congress over the years—”we’ve learned to be very specific.”