Monday, April 20, 2015

Evolution in Media and Beyond

Brigitte found a fascinating article yesterday centered on the U.S. Ramstein Air Base in Germany—a place where she once worked before she and I ever met. The context today was Ramstein’s role in making drone warfare possible; the article is titled “Game of Drones” and appeared on April 17 in The Intercept (link).

The background on the publisher for starters. The Intercept is the first publication of a corporate entity called First Look Media. That corporation dates to October 2013—hence we might call it young. It was founded by Pierre Omidyar, the billionaire founder of e-Bay. He is just 47 himself and hence, in a context like this one, also quite young. He built the company around three editors famed for groundbreaking and generally liberal orientations: Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Jeremy Scahill.

Omidyar’s entry into the media by founding his own company is less visible than Jeff Bezos’ (Amazon) purchase of the Washington Post or Chris Hughes’ (co-founder of Face Book) majority investment in The New Republic. No doubt, now the pattern has been set, yet other Big Names in the e-World will also enter the media. The evolution here, in a way, follows the source of New Money; to get into the media has long been the crowning act of reaching that stage in success where becoming a Lord of Mass Communications is the last peak left to climb.

The story of Ramstein today, by contrast, illustrates societal/technological evolution on a grand scale: How to annihilate distance (and therefore time) by permitting drones to destroy targets from terminals at Creech Air Force Base in Clark County, NV using drones flying over Arabia, let us call it. The intermediate point of focus is Ramstein’s satellite relay station, itself served by a Galaxy-26 satellite that oversees most of the eastern hemisphere of the globe. The satellite serving as Ramstein’s eye-in-the-sky was first moved from a location above the U.S. to the one it now occupies in 2009.

Evolution keeps working in its mysterious ways. And just to imagine the money and effort to move a satellite halfway across the world boggles the mind—and never mind the vast labors and expenditures necessary to implement a military system the public is only vaguely aware of. Brigitte sighs, remembering her humble labors at Ramstein which, even in her days, was a center of the Cold War. How it has evolved….and how rapidly.

Back in 1948, when the occupying French forces began to build the first airbase at Ramstein, the town had a population of around eight thousand—and the place to see was the Catholic St. Nicholas Church, the tallest structure anywhere. Back then the feast of Corpus Christi was celebrated with a procession—and is still celebrated today. 

The evolution, therefore, is just 67 years old—even as the old still hangs in there. How long will all this last? I found the image of Ramstein’s St. Nikolaus church on a Wikipedia page showing another hundred or more airplanes taking off, landing, or making patterns in the sky. Progress is still going on and up, higher and higher. Someday, of course, this curve will peak and start going down again. I won’t be here then, but it will happen.

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