The Long War, from UC Merced to Ukraine and beyond
Stirred by the warm breeze of utilitarianism, it is not surprising that technology is more in favor with people than science is. The age of great scientific discoveries had already been left behind before Einstein's time. However, modern man is increasingly inclined to seeing all his dreams come true during his lifetime. This causes him, when betting on his own future, to prostrate himself and expect wonders from technology through a 1000-power concave lens. In this way, technology has achieved startling and explosive developments in a rather short period of time, and this has resulted in innumerable benefits for mankind, which is anxious for quick success and instant rewards. However, we proudly term this technological progress, not realizing that at this time we have already consigned ourselves to a benighted technological age in which we have lost our hearts .
Technology today is becoming increasingly dazzling and uncontrollable. Bell Labs and Sony continue to put out novel toys, Bill Gates opens new "Windows" each year, and "Dolly," the cloned sheep, proves that mankind is now planning to take the place of God the Creator. The fearsome Russian-built SU-27 fighter has not been put to use on any battlefield, and already the SU-35 has emerged to strike a pose , but whether or not, once it has exhausted its time in the limelight, the SU-35 will be able to retire having rendered meritorious service is still a matter of considerable doubt. Technology is like "magic shoes" on the feet of mankind, and after the spring has been wound tightly by commercial interests, people can only dance along with the shoes, whirling rapidly in time to the beat that they set....All of this serves to again confirm that old saying: "all friendship is in flux; self-interest is the only constant." The kaleidoscope of war is turned by the hands of self-interest, presenting constantly shifting images to the observer. – Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, Unrestricted Warfare, (1999), p. 8.
In the war of fog that is upon us, from the neo-Cold War in the Ukraine to our own Merced, each has his part to play. The ubiquitous fiddlers in the State Department seek to establish the Khaganate of Nulands where once there was a Ukraine and the Russians hasten to reclaim what they can of the remnants unconquered yet by the neo-Nazis sponsored by US neocon putzim. Thus lurches onward the neo-Great Game in this “foul and pestilent congregation of vapors.”
Closer to home, there is a professor at UC Merced, Yang Quan Chen, who is designing drones, which military/industrial/academic flak calls “unmanned flying machines (UFM’s).” The media has adopted a “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” approach – reprinting flak releases stressing peaceful use – so the public is left clueless about what sort of military applications might be aimed for in these mechanical avians in our midst. It has to remind us of that other great boom to mankind hatched from the UC nest: nuclear bombs.
So, nothing new here. In fact, compared to the university’s sponsorship of the invention of nuclear weapons, this is the face of the kinder, gentler weapons of war.
The public has been left clueless about UC Merced from the beginning of its various planning stages. For example, the school’s first chancellor, Carole Tomlinson-Keasey, known as “The Cowgirl Chancellor” for her folksy lies to the Leglislature and imperial blue-and-gold fatbaby cowgirl boots, touted UC Merced as the ultimate friend to Hispanics in the San Joaquin Valley. The Cowgirl incessantly reminded us that the children of these Hispanics are reluctant to move away from home to go to college (ergo we had to have one here). She didn’t explain why it was that the parents and grandparents of these very same Hispanics had traveled and still do travel thousands of miles to and from Mexico across a hostile, militarized border infested with narcotraficantes and gringo nazis, often bringing their children with them.
A member of the Badlands Journal editorial board was recently discussing an article written by a Merced physician about robots in agriculture. Although the article focuses on harvesting and pruning robots, it also mentioned “avionetas no tripuladas” (little planes without crews) being used to drive cattle. We tried to think about that but most were tired from the day’s farmwork. One guy, conjuring up the ghost-riders theme, mused, “vaqueros mecanicos en el cielo?” (mechanical cowboys in the sky?) But mostly what people got out of the article, “Robots en la agricultura,” by Dr. Salvador Sandoval – what they were calculating behind weary faces--was the amount of farmwork that would be robotized out of existence.
Those who wear the imperial blue-and-gold are certainly not afraid of using farmworkers for politics and fundraising, lying to them, and frightening them. Many of the most important UC Merced trustees made their fortunes off the backs of farmworkers, not all of them with the proper paperwork. Both sides are used to it and expect nothing less. But it doesn’t matter at all this job-killing technology, designed by our ethically disadvantaged academic technologists, that has been inflicted on the working class of the US has caused immense pain and has been any less a form of terrorism than our new Homeland-armed -and-securitized police beating peaceful picketers.
A San Francisco Chronicle article last year contained the perception:
Chen has developed an unmanned aircraft that can detect soil moisture levels over several acres and relay that information to the farmer, who can then decide where to plant his crops and which fields to water. – Justin Berton, February 19, 2013.
Badlands Journal editorial staff members wondered what this sentence might mean and decided that Mr. Berton and the Chronicle editors have not heard yet about our irrigation canals and wells over here, probab ly because San Francisco gets its water from Yosemite. Therefore we thought that the fine city journalists probably think we are still nomads down here, that our wandering flocks cannot smell water by themselves, or else are farms so dumb we can't tell -- without fabulous new technology -- when our orchards need water. It's a wonder humanity survived and fed itself so long without drones to find water.
We would feel more kindly toward these allegedly civilian little robots if they were called “unmanned and unarmed flying machines.” In the regime of President Barak “The Harvard Parser” Obama, you can never be to sure. His entire presidency is buried in fine print the size of fly specks.
In any event, since former Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano became president of the University of California, the public has not been bothered much – and not at all locally – with what is going on with the drone project at UC Merced. And one hears not the slightest squeak from any of the fully subsidized little darlings on campus or off. They and their silent ilk of UC students will be cursed by future generations of students who will be constantly surveyed by the peaceful little buzzers. Closer to home and to the present, how long will pot growers be able to grow behind high fences in this county before they are discovered by these mechanical blue jays. Pot Price Panic on Campus can only be a season away!
The ancients at Badlands weere so bemused by the complete silence about the development of weapons by any other name at UC Merced – even if UC has not at least openly been able to develop of level 4 biowarfare lab in this part of California – that we fell into a deep sleep and returned briefly to a place called “America” where everybody was arguing passionately and sometimes fighting about all kinds of issues, where politicians had to keep their ears to the ground, where money didn't control everything, and words like this could be heard, sung by people like Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Mahalia Jackson:
Gonna lay down my sword and shield
Down by the riverside
Ain’t gonna study war no more.
San Francisco Chronicle
East Bay at forefront of drone debate
If everything goes as planned, UC Merced Professor Yang Quan Chen will soon get a "drone license" from the federal government to help farmers monitor vast swaths of land from the air.
Chen has developed an unmanned aircraft that can detect soil moisture levels over several acres and relay that information to the farmer, who can then decide where to plant his crops and which fields to water.
Sounds harmless enough. But a lack of regulation governing who can launch an eye in the sky and for what purpose has privacy advocates worried about a slippery slope from soil to surveillance.
The issue has jumped to public attention in the East Bay, where the Alameda County Sheriff's Office wants to spend federal homeland security money to buy a drone that it says would be used for non-surveillance purposes.
Critics including the American Civil Liberties Union say there's nothing to stop law enforcement from changing the rules, and at least one member of the county Board of Supervisors wants the federal and state governments to pass laws regarding domestic use of drones before the sheriff gets the go-ahead.
In September 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration is scheduled to open the airways to robotic-aircraft users who have been certified under guidelines the agency is still drawing up. The agency estimates that as many as 10,000 commercial drones could be airborne by 2020.
The image of drone congestion overhead has civil liberties groups and some lawmakers worried the technology will outpace the law books, and that the devices, no matter how benevolent the intent, will be used to gather data for companies and conduct warrantless searches for police.
"The pace at which government reacts to developments in science and technology is often too slow," said state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima (Los Angeles County), who introduced a bill in December to regulate the aircraft in California. "Technology is deployed, and only later are the impacts to safety and privacy considered."
Lawmakers in at least 11 other states have drafted similar proposals.
Chen, who teaches in the school of engineering at UC Merced, is among 81 applicants affiliated with public universities and law enforcement agencies who are seeking special authorization to fly their aircraft now.
Chen said his dream is to bring "optimal growth and harvest to the Central Valley" through unmanned aircraft. But he cautioned that a license should come with responsibility.
"This should be for professionals," Chen said. "For well-trained people with well-defined missions, and with full awareness of privacy concerns."
As federal aviation regulators develop their certification process for drone operators, local legislators from Washington state to Virginia are showing a decidedly antidrone mentality.
Earlier this month, the City Council in Charlottesville, Va., passed what members billed as the nation's first antidrone legislation and ordered a two-year moratorium on unmanned aircraft. The author of the moratorium, John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute civil liberties organization in Charlottesville, said it was aimed at stopping local police from getting any ideas they could loft mobile cameras into the sky.
"I'm not antidrone," Whitehead said. "There are plenty of beneficial purposes to this technology. But it's a question of, 'One day, will police use them as a catch-all and use them to keep us in jail?' I think it could go that way."
Residents in Seattle agreed. Police there had purchased two drones, saying they planned to use them for search-and-rescue missions. But on Feb. 7, a day after a public hearing dominated by opponents, Mayor Mike McGinn ordered the aircraft returned.
"We have a lot of priority work ahead of us in regard to public safety and community building," McGinn said. "And this just wasn't a priority."
In Alameda County, Sheriff Greg Ahern pressed for his department to become the first law enforcement agency in the state to use the machines at a supervisors hearing Thursday. If he wins the board's approval, he would still need a permit from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Ahern promised to use the aircraft only for mission-specific cases, such as searching for a lost child or tracking down a fugitive in remote areas of the county.
"We want it now for the same reason people want an iPhone right now," Ahern said after the hearing, at which nearly all of the 40 people who spoke on the issue opposed the drone purchase. "It's the best technology out there. The technology is available to us, and it's a technology that could help save lives. Why wouldn't we use it?"
What might happen
But Supervisor Richard Valle said he would vote "no" on any proposal to purchase the devices before state or federal lawmakers regulate them, agreeing with critics who said a future sheriff may not make the same promises as Ahern.
"We may get a sheriff with a whole new frame of mind toward these things, but the tool will already be in the toolbox," Valle said. "It could escalate very quickly. Just because the technology is at our fingertips, I think that's the worst reason to make that decision."
Ahern, who has met with ACLU attorneys to try to draft guidelines both sides can live with, said law enforcement agencies around the state are watching to see what happens.
"Some would have given up if they faced this kind of conflict," he said. "But we believe in talking with people and working on it. That's why we want to make the best policy possible. We want something we can be proud of and others can follow."
San Francisco Chronicle
UC regents appoint Napolitano amid protest
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano became the first woman appointed to lead the University of California on Thursday during a sometimes raucous meeting of the UC regents in San Francisco where police arrested six immigrant rights protesters.
They were among dozens of demonstrators who contended that Napolitano was the wrong person to lead an institution with so many students from around the world.
The immigration issue cost her unanimous approval when student Regent Cinthia Flores refused to support her, echoing protesters' concerns that the record number of immigrants deported under her leadership "produced insurmountable barriers to higher education."
As Homeland Security secretary since 2009, Napolitano presided over the deportation of some 1.4 million immigrants living in the United States illegally. About 40 immigration activists and students staged a noon protest outside the regents meeting at UCSF Mission Bay, then urged the regents to reject the appointment.
Instead, the regents embraced Napolitano.
"We have in front of us a remarkable person of character who will exceed expectations," said Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, an ex-officio regent, who cited Napolitano's record of leadership and praised her endorsement of the federal policies that allow students brought illegally to this country as children to remain and study.
Regent Bonnie Reese, who served on the committee that recommended Napolitano, said several private university presidents had refused to consider the UC job because of the system's uncertain funding and the "challenges" of dealing with the public process.
"But this candidate was eager," she said of Napolitano. "She said this was a lifelong dream to come here."
Napolitano will become the 20th UC president when she takes office in late September. She'll earn an annual base salary of $570,000 that, apparently at her request, will be less than the $591,084 of outgoing President Mark Yudof. As homeland security secretary, Napolitano earns less than $200,000. She will also receive an $8,916 auto allowance and a lump sum of $142,500 for relocating to California, which must be paid back if she leaves within four years.
As Napolitano's pay package was read out - but before the regents took their vote - two protesters jumped over a rope and rushed the regents. They were quickly apprehended by UC police.
Other activists shouted, "Shame! Shame!" as the regents recessed the meeting and police declared an unlawful assembly. Dozens in the audience walked out, but four protesters remained, shouting, "Undocumented is not a crime - Napolitano, it's not your time!"
Six protesters were arrested, cited and released before the regents resumed their meeting.
Praise for candidate
Last week's announcement of Napolitano as the nominee brought praise from diverse groups of UC observers, including faculty members; university watchdogs like Robert Shireman, former undersecretary of education under President Obama; Gov. Jerry Brown; and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
In Arizona, Napolitano, a Democrat, was twice elected governor. She was the first female attorney general in that state, and was appointed U.S. attorney in Arizona by President Bill Clinton. Napolitano graduated in 1979 from Santa Clara University and earned a law degree from the University of Virginia. In 1991, she represented Anita Hill, who testified against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, alleging sexual harassment. Thomas was confirmed.
Supporters have called her an intellectual giant who has a talent for managing large and complex institutions.
UC has a budget of $24 billion - about 11 percent of it coming from the state - supporting 10 campuses, five medical centers and three federal laboratories.
Opponents say no
But on Thursday, opponents lined up to urge the regents to reject Napolitano.
As TV cameras rolled and cameras clicked, a UC Berkeley student told the regents she was an Indonesian immigrant living in the United States without documentation. She said her parents had been deported under Napolitano's watch and that she was spared because of federal policies implemented by Obama that mimic the Dream Act. But she said the secretary's support of that program was too little, too late.
"With the selection of Ms. Napolitano, I am afraid school is no longer a safe place for me," she said.
Over and over, protesters told similar stories.
A student named Bruno said he and his father were in the United States without documentation and were working to pay for Bruno's education when police arrested and deported his father.
"I didn't know that was the last time I was ever going to see my father again," he said. "This happened under the Napolitano regime."
UC Student Association President Raquel Morales presented a letter signed by nine former student association presidents expressing concerns about Napolitano.
Student Regent Flores refused to support her, and student Regent Designate Sadia Saifuddin, who won't have voting privileges for another year, said she would have opposed the appointment.
Protesters vowed that opposition would continue even if Napolitano were confirmed. Protester Alex Aldana, 26, who wore a sign around his neck that said "Undocumented," called her a terrorist before leaping over the barrier and being arrested.
After the vote
Napolitano did not enter the room until the regents had voted. Once confirmed, Napolitano told the regents her appointment was "a privilege and an honor."
"Let me acknowledge that I am not a traditional candidate for this position," she said. "I have not spent a career in academia. That said, I have spent 20 years in public service advocating for it."
Reporters later asked for her response to the protesters.
"I'd say to those students - documented or undocumented - that we welcome all students," Napolitano said. "We're in the business of education."
MESA'a unmanned planes could be game changers for many
Students are working to refine systems that deliver high-precision technology to a wider variety of users, including farms that could use the small planes to monitor crop growth, soil health, moisture levels and even deliver extra fertilizer to areas of fields that need special care.
It’s one more way UC Merced’s cutting-edge research will benefit society.
“This is not a dream – it’s very possible,” said School of Engineering Professor YangQuan Chen, who runs the MESA Lab. “We are finding ways to bring technology to the people who need it.”
Using unmanned aerial vehicles would allow a company or agency to monitor conditions that would take a person much more time and effort. The UAVs are small – they have wingspans from 3 feet to 10 feet – are far less expensive than hiring a human to do the work, are more able to access remote areas, can carry high-tech equipment like high-resolution cameras and sensors, and, as Chen said, “you don’t cry if a UAV crashes.”
In fact, crashes are inevitable.
The researchers just want to learn to get the maximum use from the UAVs before the inevitable happens.
Learning how to do that requires them to be creative. For example, the researchers want an inflatable pool for their lab so they can learn to land a UAV in water, collect samples and take off again.
They want a meat smoker not only to hold their monthly “Robotics and Ribs” gatherings where they will eat, talk about their work and hone their presentation skills, but fly UAVs over the smoker to learn to program them to detect the kinds of temperature fluctuations that signal natural gas leaks.
“It’s not just pure robotics, it’s an entire system to work with,” said lab Manager and Ph.D. student Brandon Stark.
The study is called mechatronics – the blend of mechanical engineering, electronics, computers and controls – and it’s becoming quite a draw on campus.
The MESA Lab started in August and has already attracted 13 undergraduates, two Ph.D. graduate students and three visiting scholars working on dozens of different research projects.
Lab leaders are working on research-funding agreements with different agencies and companies that want to use the technology these students are developing.
Chen wants to put mechatronics to work solving sustainability issues, as well, and he and his students work with UC Solar, one of their neighbors at the Castle Research Facility.
This spring, they are building one of Professor Roland Winston’s patented inventions, a heliotropic solar collection cell that would make solar collection more energy efficient and less expensive, and make it possible to have solar arrays in places it wasn’t before.
The design uses the collection cell to track the sun the way entire solar panels have done in the past. Having only one small moving mechanism means space and energy efficiency, and fewer moving parts that could break down.
Undergraduate student Grant McGregor said he joined the MESA Lab because he has always had a passion for robotics, and likes the idea of building and using the robots to solve real-life challenges.
He’s one of the students on a team that will travel to Maryland this summer for an international competition featuring student-designed unmanned aerial systems through The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI). Winners earn cash prizes the students can share. Chen’s teams at Utah State, where he worked before UC Merced, won the competition twice, so he’s certain his students here can do the same.
They’ve already won the first place award for “Click&Move® Motion and Automation Design Contest” for the virtual design of the heliotropic solar collector system and shared a $4,000 cash prize.
“That gave me real confidence in the students at UC Merced,” Chen said. “They are very dedicated, very highly motivated.”
Senior Public Information Representative
School of Engineering
Website MESA (mechatronics, embedded systems and automation) Lab
Unmanned aircraft systems
Applied fractional calculus
Ph.D., 1998 — Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
M.S., 1989 — Beijing Institute of Technology, China
B.S., 1985 — University of Science and Technology of Beijing, China
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