The boys and their toys: Drones R Us

A seldom acknowledged dimension of the U.S. military today is what the impish historian of technology David F. Noble used to call "the boys and their toys."  The logo above from the "Program Executive Office" of the "Unmanned Aviation and Stike Weapons" program shows the ghoulish fun that the guys are having with the latest collection of gadgets in their toybox -- the drone aircraft.  Yes, your tax dollars are paying to  produce menacing graphics of The Grim Reaper surrounded by the circular bureaucratic logo on what appears to be a Pentagon door or in a military Power Point display.

The idea that designing, building and using lethal weaponry is a kind of game is a common obsession in America today.  It is clearly on display, for example, in the "build a robot to smash other robots" competitions that are commonly used to attract middle school, high school and college students to careers in computer science and engineering.  The subtext is that killing and destruction are all part of the enjoyment that sophisticated technology involves.   To point out (as I sometimes do) that this approach is ultimately pathological and certainly not a great way to attract young people to lives as technical professionals is dismissed as "denying the kids their fun," and "rejecting the best way to recruit the next generation of engineers."  

In the interest of truth in advertising, my suggestion would be to include the Pentagon's stylish new grim reaper on advertisements for the next round of killer robot games we take to the country's school children.  They need to know what they're getting into.  (Perhaps they do already.)

The "Homeland Security" Boondoggle: $75 billion per year welfare for the rich

                              The boys and their high tech toys at a Homeland Security trade fair

While the poor, disabled, elderly, students, and ordinary working people are being clobbered by budget cuts at the federal, state and local levels, America's two exorbitantly costly gravy trains  --  The Pentagon and its twin brother, Homeland Security -- just roll on and on.

Details about the internal features of these Big Government juggernauts remain largely unreported, sheltered from public debate.  Year after year they float above scrutiny, cherished as the nation's citadels of fear.  It seems that our politicians and much of the citizenry would rather drive the country into bankruptcy than confront the irrational policies and staggering levels of waste these institutions involve. 

On rare occasion some in the press corps bother to ask: "How much are we paying for this stuff and what are we getting for it?"  Thus, an article in the LA Times recently surveyed the $75 billion per year spent on the projects (many of then patently absurd) called "Homeland Security."

"Large sums of Homeland Security money, critics complain, have been propelled by pork barrel politics into the backyards of the congressionally connected. Yet the spending has also acted as a cash-rich economic stimulus program for many states at a time when other industries are foundering.

"Utah is getting a $1.5-billion National Security Agency cyber-security center that will generate up to 10,000 jobs in the state. The Pentagon in July launched bidding for a $500-million U.S. Strategic Command headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, which likes to point out that former President George W. Bush flew here for shelter after the Sept. 11 attacks."

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Few people in public life want to talk about it -- much of the colossal budget for the Pentagon and Homeland Security amounts to welfare for the rich, e.g., lots of six figure salaries and lots of "research and development" on high tech toys.  When it comes to "addressing America's spiraling debt," welfare programs in this category are never "on the table."

Think of them as "entitlements."