Week in Bureaucracy

by Alif Ibrahim & Julia Tompkins

published November 20, 2015

Cable Cabals 

In the early 1950s, as the Cold War began to chill, the US laid thousands of miles of cable along the ocean floor. Cables designed to safely and instantaneously shuttle telephone conversations, telex transmissions, photo telegrams, and slow-scan television between far-flung landmasses—coaxial cables in a biaxial world. One of the first of these cables stretched from the coast of Florida to that of Cuba. A tenuous connection—but one that can help us reimagine the machinations of the time. Kennedy’s frantic White House phone calls, reports that ballistic missiles had been reangled by a precise degree, as well as the codes that would command such weapons, all wired, all deeply connected, and all instantaneous. No, it wasn’t an era of glittering satellites floating in the any-space-whatever, or of moon missions guiding humans to some exotic rock, but rather one of galvanized copper, pressurized and submerged along the crust of our Earth. 

Well what can we say right now, at this exact moment? Russia has returned to our cables. This time with submarines and spy ships. Hovering just over the cords through which their presence was reported. And the fear now is less that the cables might be “hacked” like some roving satellite, and more focused on the possibility that they might be physically severed. Some large blade surreptitiously swooping down from the belly of a submarine and slicing these thin wires—instantly halting the instant communications on which the West’s economies, governments, and citizens are dependent. Moreover, what makes this all so terrifying to US military officials is where Russia could carry out such an attack.  Russian spy ships, like the 350 foot-long Yantar, are able to deploy droves of deep-water submersibles, capable of plunging miles below sea-level, reaching the deepest corners of the ocean, the most inaccessible places on Earth. An attack there could take days to just locate and weeks to fix. And so here we are, on the brink of the brink of an aggression. What can be safely said is that if something does happen, we’ll know about it instantly. –JM 


Slow Down, Speed Racer 

The traffic stop: car whizzes by, maybe it’s going ten, fifteen miles per hour over the speed limit. Maybe the driver is bumpin’ to “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me,” maybe daydreaming about the delicatessen lunch spread at the noon meeting, pondering stock options, rushing to pick the kids up from school. Fast moves, the zoomers, lead-foot on the gas, unstoppable. Slowing these bad girls and boys down, a task left in the hands of state troopers and local police, loyal men and women with their radar guns, just waiting for the perps to accelerate. 

Not every stop is for the speedy, we discovered this past week when Zandr Milewsk, a California police officer, pulled over a Google self-driving car in the town of Mountain View. Cruising behind the vehicle on his motorcycle, Milewsk noticed that the compact vehicle was clogging up the road, going 24 in a 35 mile per hour zone. On closer inspection, Milewsk observed that while there was someone behind the wheel, no one was actually driving the car. Unprepared to hand down road-rule over to autonomous machines, the officer pulled the vehicle aside. In what can only be described as a Google-driven journey to the future, Milewsk was forced to confront his first stop sans driver. Cue improv. Adapting quickly to the situation at hand, the officer proceeded to “educate the operators about impeding traffic,” in the words of the police department’s blog. 

Though Google has yet to receive a ticket on one of their self-driving vehicles, this is not the first traffic stop of this kind the cars have encountered. After the incident, Google posted: “we’ve capped the speed of our prototype vehicles at 25 mph for safety reasons,” with the aim of the cars appearing “friendly and approachable.” Oddly humanoid language for such a non-human machine. The cars have traveled over 1.2 million miles without a ticket, the company brags. However, in the event of undesirable road behavior, the car operator would receive the penalty. 

Human drivers get the short end of the stick here. Blamed for the error of our machines, forced to suffer the burdens of an irresponsible autonomous vehicle, all for what: a nap behind the wheel? Basket-weaving on the way to work? A quick game of online poker? Google may be making strides into a niche industry, but until my car makes my afternoon coffee and files my taxes, I’m keeping my hands at ten and two. –JT


Reptilia Paratus

Everyone in Indonesia knows that nobody is incorruptible, and that is certainly Budi Waseso’s opinion. Appointed in 2015, the 54 year old head of the country’s National Narcotics Agency is determined to eradicate the “Narcotic Mafia that are committing mass murder by poisoning our youth.” Indonesia has a very strict drug policy. Marijuana possession is punishable by a four year minimum prison sentence or a minimum fine of $90,000; trafficking often leads to the death penalty. 

A few weeks ago, Budi expressed his desire to build a prison island for death row prisoners incarcerated for drug-related offences. But Budi now has to ensure that these prisoners do not find ways to escape. And while his island may impede the more Shawshank-esque escapes, it does not insulate against bribery. 

Because while the streets are safe from pot smokers, corruption and extortion runs rampant. In 2011, Indonesia was reported to have lost $238.6 million through corruption, mostly in the form of embezzlement. Most people have either experienced it firsthand, or have known of an instance where a government official, be it a police officer or a governor, turned a blind eye when offered the correct sum of money.

After his announcement of the prison island, the only logical next step is to find the guards that will protect this island. And Budi has managed to find the incorruptible: crocodiles. 

“The crocodiles cannot be bribed,” he stated in an interview. “You can’t convince them to let the prisoner escape.” What sounded like a joke at first is slowly becoming reality, with Budi recently visiting a crocodile farm in Northern Sumatra. The man also has an international outlook­—he told Tempo, an Indonesian magazine, that he was looking at the Amazonian Piranha to reinforce his artillery, citing the freshwater omnivore’s incorruptibility as its most desirable quality. 

Indonesians, thankfully, are lucid enough to recognize the absurdity of his bond-villain plot. “[Budi] has indirectly admitted that he himself isn’t incorruptible like a crocodile,” quipped one sharp Facebook user. But the jury is still out on octopi. –AI