Wednesday, May 22, 2013

So That's What They Look Like: Behind the Scenes of WAMU's Metro Connection (NetSquared DC Meetup)

Yesterday, I popped into DC for NetSquared DC's monthly meetup, the subject of which was Behind the Scenes: Metro Connection.

Getting there, traffic on 17th St. by CFPB was just awful, and U Street is all torn up for repaving, so parking was tricky and I arrived about a half hour late. (I ended up over by the 9:30 Club, which I knew but didn't know was really close. I should go to U Street more often.)

About Metro Connection

For those who don't know, Metro Connection is a weekly radio newsmagazine focused on the DC region, broadcast live at 1pm on Fridays on WAMU. They do themed shows, along with recurring features like "Door to Door," which goes to two area neighborhoods each week, and a current series on dive bars, which is apparently very popular.

Terrible pic of Rebecca Sheir & Tara Boyle.
Rebecca Sheir and producer Tara Boyle -- the entire full-time staff of the show (the other staffers have other WAMU duties). 

Because the show's times are 1pm Friday (and 7am Saturday), only your full-time public radio listeners are likely to listen to the show live. I'm one of them, since I've been working from home. 

Reaching Beyond the On-Air Audience

To reach the rest of their audience, they also have a podcast, and the audio and stories are chunked up for the Web site. Producer Boyle said there had been an initial reluctance to post the text of the stories to the web site, because by reading the text instead of listening, you lose all the audio design.

They seem to have gotten over that reluctance, but while I understand the perspective and pride in creation, speaking for my own media consumption habits, I'll always choose the text over the audio... unless I'm already doing something else where I'm not reading -- washing dishes, making lunch, etc.

Radio is still great for multitasking -- unlike reading or video, you can be engaged with other tasks as you consume audio. (If you "watch" video without paying attention to the video, well, you're just consuming the audio, which if the video creators are using the medium to it's full extent, you're missing a lot.)

Other Nuggets

* It takes an ungodly amount of work to do a 3-4 minute segment. (I think it's 17 hours, though I could be wrong because apparently I had a conflicting modification in Evernote, which is how I was taking notes.)
Show host Rebecca Sheir

* Web producers are integrated into the newsroom, so they'll alert the news director to stories that pop up on social media, but most of their work is still translating content to the Web.

* NPR has recognized the importance of multimedia, and has shifted its branding to be simply "NPR", and not an abbreviation of National Public Radio (similar to what KFC did); they had considered changing to National Public Media, but people are still tied to the NPR name.

* Producer Boyle thinks that there's still a relatively safe audience of car commuters to listen to the live over-the-air broadcast, though didn't really speculate more about the future of radio.

* Field reporters get useable (though not ideal) audio from iPhones and their built-in mics.

* Other topics covered included the WAMU Public Insight Network (an in-house crowdsourcing/experts database); interactions with the audience on Twitter and Facebook; and suggestions for using mailing lists and means to let the audience know what's going on.

* The value of going into the field to interview guests; even if there's no distinctive audio from the site, guests are more at ease.
* A sneak peek to next week's show, the theme of which is "Secrets." While there will be obligatory look at PostSecret, their focus will be on submitters, and not the site's curator Frank Warren.

It was a very informative, though sparsely-attended event.

Two Jurisdictions Find My Car Photogenic

Why Is That SUV Sitting by the Side of the Interstate With Its Lights On?
Digital Photograph
2012, Prince George's County, Maryland
Courtesy of the State of Maryland
I was jarred from my post-Christmas reverie by two quick flashes by a work zone speed camera off I-95, serving as a not-so-subtle reminder of the return to non-holiday life.


Two Hours Should Be Plenty
Digital Screenshot
2013, Washington, DC
Courtesy of the District of Columbia
A statement on the "Penny-wise, pound-foolish" nature of local government spending. In this case, saving a dollar resulted in the loss of twenty-five.


Thursday, May 09, 2013

Conventional Prompt Global Strike: Smiting Your Enemies From Afar

Take a nuclear-tipped ICBM, replace the nuke with a precision-guided conventional weapon, and you've essentially got the Prompt Global Strike (PGS) concept: The ability to smart-bomb a target anywhere on Earth in under an hour. (Or your next one's free.) What's not to like?

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site - 30
Like this, but not nuclear. (Trust us.) Image by Flickr user saul_t, used under Creative Commons license.

Turns out, more than a few things, as Amy F. Woolf, Nuclear Weapons Policy Specialist at the Congressional Research Service, lays out in the CRS Report, CRS-R41464: Conventional Prompt Global Strike and Long-Range Ballistic Missiles: Background and Issues (PDF, 46 pages).

"Prompt" Is Just Two Vowels From "Preempt"

It's kind of disturbing that the most important issues around PGS aren't even the ones about making Russia or China itchy because the US wants to build the capability and doctrine to lob formerly nuclear-capable ICBMs over the North Pole, on trajectories uncannily similar to, say, a nuclear first strike.1 ("Don't worry, we're not shooting *at* you -- you're in the way and we're just shooting over your head.")

There are some proposed fixes for this sort of thing, like altering launch profiles and using dedicated facilities for non-nuclear, land-based PGS launchers ("If I throw a punch with my right hand, I'm stabbing past your head; if I throw a punch with my left hand, I'm only punching past your head."), and advanced warning for third-party nations about PGS strikes in progress (made problematic by the promptness inherent to prompt global strike).

For my money, though, the more important problem with developing a Prompt Global Strike capability is the inevitability of its use.

Are You Sure You Want to Smite Evildoer? (Yes/No)

Think drone strikes, writ large: Prompt Global Strike gives policymakers the ability to destroy threats to America with the best (or worst) of both worlds: For imperialists, painless external military intervention and force projection, enabled by a guaranteed U.S.-casualty-free, zero-forward based footprint for the isolationists.

Let's say that (you think) you've assuaged the concerns of any nuclear-armed world powers you might be shooting over the heads of. In theory, you can now send a smart bomb from a missile silo in the continental US (or patrolling missile submarine) to any target in the world in under an hour.

It basically gives the US president a "smite" button:


Tempting, no? As time passed without using it, why shouldn't the threshold for use go down? If you had the capability to zap evildoers from afar, why wouldn't you use it?

Urge to Kill... Rising

Call it technological determinism, but the lowering of the threshold for the use of PGS capability seems inevitable.

Take the history of the Taser as an example. Originally, they were pitched strictly as less-lethal alternatives to deadly force: i.e., if you didn't have Taser capability, your only recourse was to shoot.

Now, of course, we see more and more examples of Tasers (and other less-lethal measures) used in non-deadly force situations, to gain compliance, shorten the length of an encounter, and in some cases, mete out punishment.

Again, if you have the capability, with relatively tame or abstract repercussions, why not use it?

(If you say, "Cost," you probably haven't been paying attention to the past... 70 years or so.)

Let's recap: With any Prompt Global Strike capability worth its name, you get:

* The ability to crush, kill, destroy from a distance
* No need for forward basing
* No need for boots on the ground (well, except for that pesky "intel" thing)
* No possibility of American lives lost
* Plus, it might give disgruntled Air Force missileers something to do.

Would you press that button?

Download the CRS Report, CRS-R41464: Conventional Prompt Global Strike and Long-Range Ballistic Missiles: Background and Issues (PDF, 46 pages).

1Earlier proponents of prompt global strike capability argued that PGS would make the world safer, by reducing the need for and number of nuclear weapons. Which, when, you think about it, is actually not at all that comforting: You're saying you have a weapon that has the capability to take on some targets that were previously given only to nuclear weapons, combined with the fact that this is something that is actually meant to be used. 

You don't really hear this argument any more.