Jul 08 2009

Snipers, Warriors & Hawks

Published by at 5:37 pm under Technology,Video

I slept really late this morning. It might have something to do with the two sleeping pills I took last night. Also the mental weariness brought on by the long (and continuing) wait to hear from SIT admissions, and the anxious inertia that’s engendered.

This morning’s horrible dreams are also infecting my thoughts and mood. Here’s the one I remember:

I was on a long and lethal whitewater trip during which my father was among those who drowned. I’d been the one to convince him to come along with me. I knew Mom would never let me go rafting again after I’d killed Dad.

Then I was on a ferry heading home, trying with frustration to gather my belongings which were strewn throughout the boat. People had hung a series of 8×10 photos of Dad on all the walls, in memoriam. They tried to claim the grieving for themselves, shutting me out.

Michael picked me up at the dock and dropped me a few blocks from my ex-husband’s house; my daughter had said I could stay the night there because he wasn’t in town. I dragged my heavy belongings for several Oakland blocks and let myself in. To my shock, his current wife and he were right there in the kitchen. They screamed at me to leave. I did, quickly, offering to give back the house key that I’d kept the twenty-five years since our divorce. —“No, keep it,” he said.

Again hauling my unwieldy duffel bags, I ended up at the Greenbrier, West Virginia airport. Seconds before takeoff, I climbed into the cargo area of a small plane with a few other people. I didn’t know its destination but it turned out to be a stunningly pretty tropical area renowned for its aquatic life. A small group of us clambered down dangerous, towering rock faces to a brilliant clear, blue ocean filled with perfectly visible sea creatures.

—“This is the ideal day to be here,” the local expert said. “The ocean is absolutely turbid, so you can see all the creatures in the water.”

—”But… doesn’t ‘turbid’ mean ‘murky’?” I asked.

—”No, it means ‘clear — transparent,'” she asserted.

Still struggling with luggage, I soon found myself elbowing my way through the narrow, crowded streets of a Chinatown. Someone had a radio on. —”Noah Adams has been murdered in a café in Chinatown… ”

I was shocked and deeply saddened, partly because he still hadn’t mailed me the book he’d promised me at the last radio conference. The murderer was still believed to be sneaking through the back alleys of Chinatown, looking for his next victim. At each bend in the road I feared running into him. An eyewitness told me the killer’s MO was to use a walker with high-caliber pistols welded onto the front…

I thought that the best use of my disturbed, post-dream mental state might be to catch up on world news, so I settled in front of news.google.com. To my dismay, within seconds I went careening out-of-control into the very pit of Michael Jacksonland, stumbling link by link deeper into the world of his children, his performance videos, his slimy doctors, his child molestation accusations, his sad story. I didn’t recognize myself in these actions. Believe me: I will never tell a soul in the world about my digression into such sensational sleaze.

By the time I’d finished, I was too tired to read the important stuff: about the strike in South Africa, violence in China, the G8 summit.

Allison, read just one worthy thing, I begged myself. So I started an article about US drone attacks in Afghanistan… Taliban leader hurt… second attack in 24 hours… pulverized a compound in South Waziristan… 16 dead…

What’s a drone? I wondered.


An hour of research later, this is what I knew:

  • Drones are Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). They come in a variety of styles, including the Raven mini, the Predator (above), the Reaper, the Suburb Warrior and the Global Hawk. To get an idea of what a Sniper looks like, imagine a flock of plastic, airborne suppositories bobbing above an urban skyline. Some drones shoot a missile called the Hellfire. Some are hand-launched. There have been 47 US drone strikes in Afghanistan in the last year-and-a-half.
  • Missions in Iraq and Afghanistan are controlled by pilots sitting in trailers at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas. Even though they’re nowhere near the war zone, the guys still wear full flight suits with wings and all. Flyboys hate piloting drones because they’d rather be in the air for real. Piloting a drone is a completely different skill: less complex, less interesting, less manly. Just as deadly, though.
  • In 2006, the Air Force was able to fly only 12 drones at a time. Now it’s 34, and this year they’re training more drone pilots (240) than fighter and bomber pilots (214). A page on the US Air Force Web site advertises, “Welcome to the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) pilot training program. Your mission will be to locate and destroy enemy targets.” But according to the June 2009 issue of Esquire, you’ll be destroying more than that. “Robots are clumsy killers,” the article notes; drones have killed at least 687 civilians in Pakistan.
  • There’s another kind of drone in development. It’s called an MAV (Micro Air Vehicle). An English version is the 28-inch Wasp. The Chicago Tribune quotes Air Force officials who describe tiny bird- and bug-sized metal creatures that “blend into the environment, peering around the blind turn of a mountain pass or peeking into a suspected insurgent hideout to gather intelligence more safely and with greater stealth.” I’m going to be afraid to go to the bathroom after this.
  • Finally, in closing I’d like to show you a video that I discovered and made a copy of with great difficulty. You might think it’s too creepy to be anything but Sci Fi, but it’s real. It was released by the US Air Force research lab in December of last year.

Get the Flash Player to see this content.

Maybe they can send a pack of these MAVs ducking through the streets of Chinatown, to track down a mass murderer with a walker. If a few civilians die in the process, is that too high a price to pay?

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