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THE HURT LOCKER: A New Kind of War Movie

The Review

Eric Randolph reviews Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, and notes a shift in film-making sensibilities from the war-as-heroics paradigm of earlier Hollywood, towards the everyman's war-as-hell model that has now lodged itself in Western cultural consciousness.


  • The Hurt Locker

    The Review

    Eric Randolph reviews Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, and notes a shift in film-making sensibilities from the war-as-heroics paradigm of earlier Hollywood, towards the everyman's war-as-hell model that has now lodged itself in Western cultural consciousness.


  • The Occidental Guerrilla

    Book Review

    Michael A. Innes reviews David Kilcullen's new book The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One. A timely and astute synthesis of experience, research and analysis, the author pinpoints the political shear between minority existential threats to US interests and the majority of the world's locally invested guerrillas who just want to be left alone.


  • Architecture & Biopolitics


    Berlin-based writer Daniel Miller's October 2008 interview with Swedish philosopher and SITE Magazine Editor-In-Chief Sven-Olov Wallenstein, on his new book Biopolitics and the Emergence of Modern Architecture (Princeton Architectural Press, 2009).


  • Wired For War


    The second symposium in CTlab's 2009 series, focused on Peter Singer's new book, Wired For War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century (Penguin Press: 2009), ran from 30 March to 2 April. Singer and half a dozen scholars from the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Austria debated the use and ethics of robots in war.


  • DEFCON 17

    Current Intelligence

    Tim Stevens reports back from the DEFCON 17 conference in Las Vegas: are hackers thinking meat isn't just meat anymore?



Nothing But Blue Skies

Mike's already mentioned it but Bruce Sterling is getting excited about architecture again, specifically in response to a recent BLDGBLOG post by Geoff Manaugh on Architects of the Near Future. Geoff writes:

Want to write a novel? A screenplay? An essay about landscape and climate change? Want to direct a music video? Start a blog? Architecture offers fuel – and amazing visuals – for all of these things.

The field becomes almost infinitely more exciting when you realize that architectural projects, by definition, entail the reimagination of how humans might inhabit the earth – how they organize themselves spatially and give shape to their everyday lives. Architecture is, within mere instants of discussing any idea or project, real or imagined, something with anthropological, economic, legal, libidinal, seismic, and even planetary implications.

In fact, if architecture can be viewed as the material alteration of the earth's surface, then it is not a stretch to say that architecture has astronomical consequences: it can alter the very shape of a planet. Little wonder, then, if we do decide to go in this direction, that there appears to be a growing cross-over of interests between architecture and science fiction...

Architecture has certainly provided plenty of fuel (and visuals) for this blog, as our continuing interest in the construction and experience of space clearly demonstrates. So it was with interest that I read, via Danger Room, about DARPA's new cyberwarfare initiative:

And today, as there are specialized test ranges for all types of radars and weapons, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has funded a new program called the National Cyber Range. So far they’ve awarded a six-month, paid proposal phase contract to a number of contractors.

“They’re going to build an environment where we can play around and begin looking at ‘anticipated’ problems,” Walleston says [Rance Walleston, director of BAE Systems’ Information Operations Initiative]. “What’s [sic] they’re saying is that we need the equivalent of a White Sands [Missile Range] for cyber war. We have bits and pieces of range all over the place, but nothing definitive. This will be [the premier] cyber range where you can bring all your tools and techniques and try them out in an environment that closely resembles the real world.”

Aside from the problems of modeling a global communications landscape in a laboratory, the choice of the word 'range' is what grabbed my attention. One of the first jobs I had after leaving college the first time around was at an old Ministry of Defence research establishment, which started out as a proving ground for Congreve's rockets. It went through many changes in its long history but they were still testing explosives there after WWII, despite the site's location within London's orbital motorway, the M25, and its proximity to one of London's more pleasant satellite towns.

Things continued to go boom! there well into the 1980s, and local residents' windows were occasionally blown out when a particular explosives mixing process went awry (unofficially, naturally). The MOD did of course try to mitigate for such events, constructing huge blast walls and other massive deflecting architecture. It was, and had been for nearly 200 years, both a manufactory and a testing range. The word 'range' implies, in this context, a significant expanse of physical space and associated infrastructure; 'range' also obviously denotes the effective shooting distance of a ballistic weapon.

Whilst one can understand that DARPA want to corral resources and expertise at a chosen location, a "cyber range" is a curiously anachronistic name for such a facility. How will it compare to the testing ranges of the past? Some clues, perhaps:

So what are the basic requirements for a cyber warfare range?

“We want to change cyber attack from an art to a science,” Walleston says. “You need [lots of] real estate, isolation and an infrastructure that can be attacked and that will record precisely the results. Isolation is a big deal because that’s the only way you can determine if some software agent you built works.

“It’s hard to know what you are actually going to get from a test in a laboratory against five computers when the capability you need has to function against five million computers,” he continues. “There’s nowhere to test that, so DARPA’s trying to put together a range with fidelity in many dimensions — such as the number and types of nodes and how they’re connected — so that you can accurately determine the effectiveness of some tool. The real trick will be how quickly you can upgrade the range to deal with changing threats.”

This 'isolation' seems to be the flaw in such an endeavour, whereas it would be an advantage for testing missiles and armaments. It's all well and good modelling networks and cyberthreats but the real test for any countermeasure is out in the real world, in the jungle of global cyberspace. A range of servers and mainframes might constitute an immensely powerful computational resource but it is unlikely to be able to satisfactorily simulate the environments in question. I wonder, perhaps unfairly, if the use of the term 'range' betrays a certain Cold War ethos at work. The idea of a 'cyber range' conjures up an image of white-coated cyberneticians experimenting on monkeys and microchips, rather than a 21st-century proving ground for information warfare.

I certainly look forward to seeing what this space will eventually look like, and hope that Simon Norfolk is allowed in to take photographs. Not that you'll be able to see much happening. No whizzbangs here, no clouds of smoke and dust. Unless the fuses blow, of course.

Update: Bruce Sterling's response to this news? "Oh brother"

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