Why Does the Pentagon Love Toasting You Like a Bagel So Much?

In a shopping channel-worthy video released late last month, an excited Lance Corporal Clayton Filipowicz sets off with a huge, goofy smile to "figure out what it takes to get toasted like a bagel," or, in other words, to test out the Pentagon's Active Denial System. The non-lethal weapon shoots out a ray of energy that causes a sensation described in the past as "as walking into an open oven" or "being blasted by a furnace." The "denial" in Active Denial System means preventing targets from remaining in a specific area, and is primarily meant to be used to disperse potentially hostile crowds. As the pain ray penetrates your skin 1/64 of an inch, it forces you to immediately jump out of its way, giving it the power to shift entire crowds where desired.

Recalled in 2010 after being deployed in Afghanistan for several weeks, the controversial technology might just be making a cautious comeback. 

Military experts say that the beam, the "Holy Grail of crowd control," has no long-term effects on the target's health. Lance Corporal Filipowicz who tested the blast said that as soon you get out of the heat, you feel fine, normal.  "I really like that about the system," he gushed in the video, which was posted to the Pentagon's Armed with Science blog. It was as if speaking about a new model of a tanning bed. 

Filipowicz is also a big fan of the small ("furreal, it is very, very cramped")  ADS control room that he tours on his video. For him, the "coolest thing about this little getup is the Atari-like joystick that they use to operate the system." Giggling, he points out that he would be qualified to operate the system because he is "preeetty good at Call of Duty," a popular shooter game, and that he would have to ask whether you could play split-screen.  

The Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center is developing a smaller, more efficient version of the original beam-emitting device --The Solid State Active Denial Technology. According to The Army Times, this time around, they are being extra-careful with the way they frame the technology. A project officer said that they were avoiding calling it a "pain ray," he also emphasized that the blast does not feel like being burned.

Tested in the first half of the 2000s the technology was faulty from the outset. It guzzled enormous amounts of fuel and its potency was compromised by unfavorable weather conditions such as rain or dust. Though targets largely came out unscathed from the testing, one accident where an airman got severely burnt by the ADS revealed some of the technology's crucial shortcomings.

But it was highly coveted by the Army as a crucial tool for dispersing crowds without using lethal force and was eventually deployed in Afghanistan in 2010. On the orders of General Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of the armed forces in Afghanistan, it was promptly shipped back to the U.S. after it became clear that an American weapon that "microwaves" crowds was perfect fodder for Taliban propaganda. Though it was never actually fired, reports would claim that Americans were giving Afghans cancer and making them sterile. If you really want to use medical terms, the U.S. military would probably describe it more as a "hot flash." That you can't bear for more than five seconds.


China's State Press Calls U.S. Exceptionalism a Museum Relic

Stop being a bully, and start respecting the rules of the global village. That's the takeaway from a Nov. 1 editorial in Communist Party mouthpiece The People's Daily, which castigates the United States in the wake of revelations that the NSA has tapped the phones of 35 foreign leaders, a development severe enough to prompt U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to aver the United States has gone "too far."

The editorial's tone and choice of metaphors is enough to make a U.S. policymaker blush -- or boil with anger. Called "The United States Also Must Respect the Village Contract," the piece is signed by Zhong Sheng, a pen name for the international desk of the People's Daily. The Chinese-language editorial warns that the recent NSA wiretapping revelations are a "political tsunami" that should prompt the United States to "truly awaken to a few things." In particular, the editorial argues, the concept of "exceptionalism" should "have already been relegated to the museum exhibits." With the "global village" becoming ever smaller, erstwhile bullies who "rely on force to snatch position in the village" are becoming "obsolete."

The editorial is full of advice that would likely strike U.S. policymakers as patronizing -- for example, the reminder that "turning a negative into a positive is a kind of wisdom." There's also the counsel that whether the current "sensitive period of transition" -- one leading, the editorial implies, to a world where the United States is no longer the most powerful country -- is "smooth" and "sufficiently speedy" depends "on the United States' character and ability." That does not imply, however, that "the United States can do whatever it wants, like a spoiled child." 

The People's Daily doesn't want readers to take their word for it. For evidence of its claims, the article relies instead on U.S. voices. These include President Obama's April 2009 statement, "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism," which the editorial takes to imply the United States was "not that special." The piece also cites Georgetown University law professor Rosa Brooks, who in an Aug. 29 FP article referred to the United States as "a wounded giant" that is "steadily weakening," still capable of hurting people when it "flail[s] around." The article expands on the metaphor: Those hurt by the giant "have become furious, and the 'wounded giant' suffers even more pain in the midst of this anger." (Brooks, in a phone interview, called the article's mention of her idea "fair enough.")

It's unlikely that U.S. policymakers will take this particular editorial to heart. For one, it doesn't contain much actionable advice. In Chinese, the village contract -- cungui minyue -- refers to a mode of governance sanctioned by the party and enshrined in Chinese law, hardly something the United States could follow even if it wanted to. It also appears the article has not been reproduced in English, even though publishing English-language barbs aimed across the Pacific is a frequent practice of Chinese state media. 

Instead, the editorial appears to be speaking to Chinese readers, not U.S. policymakers. With NSA revelations stirring up mistrust toward the United States even among staunch allies, Chinese state media may sense a ripe opportunity to tell its people something like: "Don't worry. We've got this governance thing figured out."  

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