Archive for April, 2018

William Blake, Los Entering the Grave. Etching with pen, watercolour and gold, 1804-20. 220 x 160 mm. Yale Center for British Art, New Haven.

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The line between sports and war has always been uncomfortably thin. It’s a cliché of aristocratic military lore that Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton—but like many clichés, it contains more than a kernel of truth. In our frenetically digitized mass society, meanwhile, we casually understand that combat presented as harmless fun in the guise of sports, video games, and television probably goes a long way in softening the military’s image. But in plumbing the deeper nexus that connects our dizzying varieties of competitive leisure to the deadly serious business of combat, Lenoir and Caldwell do more than call out the clumsy PR initiatives of today’s Pentagon. While of course noting the crucial conflicts of interests in, say, the Pentagon’s notorious payoffs to the National Football League, Lenoir and Caldwell write that the real work of sanitizing Pentagon operations for public view resides in making the work of war seem mundane and familiar: “Routinizing war is important for a globalized capitalist empire,” they write, “and … implicit in this process is the understanding of war as a project with not only military but also ideological and political dimensions.” In particular, they observe, video games and television are indispensable to the challenge of “habituating civilians to perpetual war.” How this relationship between modern entertainment and war has developed over time and grown baroquely syncretized via the new economy of omni-digital gratification forms the fascinating nucleus of the book.

In stunningly short order, the Pentagon set about exploiting the obvious training implications offered by console gaming. In 1980 the Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) set about appropriating the Atari game Battlezone and repurposing it as a revolutionary new training system called Bradley Trainer. That program’s success next prompted the engineers at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to create the Simulator Network project (SIMNET, in Pentagon-ese). The breakthrough concept in SIMNET was to sidestep the costs of building physically realistic simulators—which had initially proved more expensive than the vehicles they were meant to simulate—by scaling the program to console users.

Here was one of the first self-conscious iterations of the military-entertainment complex—and Lenoir and Caldwell highlight the recruiting gains encoded in the innocuous-seeming logic of the Pentagon’s new virtual gaming platform. SIMNET operated on “selective functional fidelity rather than full physical fidelity”—i.e., experientially simulating a cockpit rather than recreating a cockpit replica. And that was just the first-order breakthrough: “The vehicle simulator was viewed as a tool for the training of crews as a military unit, thus emphasizing collective rather than individual training.”

By 1990, the nascent personal gaming industry was working on a revolving-door basis with the engineers at DARPA. Talent, money, and (especially) ideas now moved promiscuously back and forth between a growing industry hungry for the attention of consumers and a Pentagon looking for renewed purpose in the waning days of the Cold War.

The Great Simulation and Modern Memory
As this civilian-military synergy hardened into the post-Cold War status quo, simulator software morphed from a savvy bit of cost-saving hackery into a virtual raison d’être. Presiding over this shift was the recalibration of Pentagon strategy known as the “Revolution in Military Affairs.” The RMA, like the simulation boom, was partially a response to shrinking budgets—it was, however, much more than a cost-containment tactic. RMA—which incidentally was rooted in the Cold War speculations of Soviet strategists such as Nikolai Ograkov—was a reorientation of American military force away from the giant land wars of the past and toward ever greater reliance on high-tech gadgetry. Not only are key tech innovations such as precision-guided missiles and laser-targeting software cheaper than carpet bombing, they’re also less wantonly destructive of human life, making them an easy sell to political leaders and civilian supporters. The lead thinkers behind RMA promised to cut down on the massive numbers of casualties entailed in fully industrialized “total wars.” But in order to close the sale, Pentagon officials needed to direct their resources to the real-world prototypes for a new generation of virtually engineered and executed warfare.

The new doctrine found its ideal test lab in the First Gulf War. In that long-ago conflict, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster—now better known as President Trump’s obsequious (but now dispatched) National Security Advisor—deployed a new battery of sophisticated digital gadgetry to disable Soviet-built Iraqi tanks in what came to be known as the Battle of 73 Easting. It was such a resounding success, Lenoir and Caldwell tell us, that “[a] few days after the battle the military decided to capitalize on the Battle of 73 Easting to bolster future SIMNET training.” That’s right: in a prophetic sort of positive feedback loop, digitally enabled battle was now furnishing the raw material for digitally simulated military training. Data was gathered on the battle. Participants were interviewed. The 2nd Cavalry helped DARPA recreate the battle vehicle by vehicle. SIMNET eventually turned the Battle of 73 Easting training simulation into a sort of inverse Kobayashi Maru—the fictional Starfleet simulation notorious for being impossible to defeat—in which, despite a series of different programmed outcomes, it’s almost impossible to lose.

It was, in short, a model of digital-age vertical integration: exactly what the military wanted. And to speed along this happy synergy, the strictures governing DoD procurement policies were relaxed. Here, too, an adjustment to financial procedure concealed a much broader, and far-reaching, cultural shift. “The shift in procurement policy led to a loosening—even erasure—of the boundaries between military contractors and the commercial sector,” Lenoir and Caldwell write. “As a result, many important technologies in the area of networking, simulation, virtual reality, and AI moved from behind the walls of military secrecy into the commercial sector; and, even more important, technology began to flow freely from the commercial sector, particularly the game industry, into the military.”

The conduit was now so wide open that by 2004 we had such games as Full Spectrum Warrior, “a successful product of a collaboration among the military and game and film industries,” and America’s Army, in which SIMNET founder Jack Thorpe “saw … the same potential offered by Ender’s Battle School and envisioned a perfect military Battleplex providing a lifelong learning environment for combat decision leaders guided by proactive pedagogy and combat simulators.”


Scott Beauchamp, “War Games.The Baffler. No. 39, April 30, 2018.

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“Convicts In The Dungeon,” Kingston Daily Standard. April 30, 1912. Page 01.

Darkness Will Tame Their Refractory Spirits.

Terrible Din in ‘Pen’

Other Prisoners Were Locked Up In Their Cells and They Made ‘Rome Howl’ For Hours.

Languishing in the Penitentiary dungeon in pitch darkness, where no sound can be heard but the impatient steps of the convicts themselves, confined in each cell, now lie the five desperadoes, McNeil, Bonner, Brown, Kelly and Jones, who on Monday made such a sensational escape from the Portsmouth Penitentiary.

Before the County Court of General Sessions, which sits in June, convenes, it is expected that the desperate spirit of the most noted quintette of prisoners that have ever been confined at the big institution at one time will be completely broken. Assault and attempt to escape will be the charges on which the convicts will again face the judge and the men will stand virtually convicted as they were caught in the act and will probably have an addition of five years each added to their sentences.

Has Nothing To Say.
Warden Platt, when seen by The Standard reporter to-day, would make no statement for publication about the escape and subsequent recapture of his prize ‘cons.’ Evidence in the shape of an iron support, two feet in length, two inches in width, and a quarter of an inch thick – the weapon with which McNeil knocked out and miraculously escaped killing Guard Ross Davis, is on exhibition in the Warden’s office. The plan to make a break for freedom is thought to have been formed by the Meecum brothers, the dwarfed American ‘bad men’ who were convicted under the names of Jones and Kelly. This pair demonstrated the fact that they can converse with each other by telegraph signals tapped on the iron bars when in Toronto jail en route for Portsmouth, and McNeil is thought to have been the tool used by the brainy ones of the gang to make the initial effot towards the break for freedom.

Deceived The Gate Guard.
On releasing his fellow conspirators and in getting the uniforms from Guard Davis and the Penitentiary Doctor, the men were in a position to bluff Guard Rutherford on the big north gate which he swung open, thinking that the three men in the convict garb were being detailed for outside work under an able escort.

On getting outside the quintette of convicts raced across the street and up through the warden’s grounds from which position they made off in a body, taking a northwestern course which took them to the forty foot road where three were subsequently recaptured, the other two being caught later at the Cataraqui creek two miles from the penitentiary.

Offered No Resistance.
The men offered no resistance when the guards overtook them as they were unarmed, but had Bonner’s attempt to secure fire-arms at the Cummings homestead been successful the bloodshed by the desperadoes would undoubtedly have been much greater and more serious.

When the alarm was run shortly after the men had got through the gate the entire convict body were immediately locked up in their cells and the bedlam they raised, proving by the untoward occurrence that there was some part of the institution in trouble, has never before been heard in the history of the oldest official. The 496 prisoners raised a fearful row for hours and were only quieted when darkness fell.

Guard Davis Seriously Hurt.
Guard Ross Davis who was struck down by McNeil, suffered the severest injury, the iron bar striking him over the back of the head cutting a cash which required eight stitches to close and caused a slight concussion of the brain which it is not expected will result seriously. Gardener McCarthy and Guard Cummings escaped with slight injuries, which, however, will be very sore for some time to come. Guard Rutherford, who was temporarily alone on the gate is on duty this morning though his wrist is badly damaged from a blow from a baton and his head bears a lump which tells of contact with the same weapon.

‘Pen’ Short of Guards
The Penitentiary is short about ten guards and keepers and it is said that unless the force be added to immediately the fracas of Monday will be repeated by other desperadoes now confined which may easily result more seriously.

Warden Platt has made an official report and at present does not know whether officials will come from Ottawa to investigate or whether the evidence will be taken by himself and colleagues.

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“Three Years for Youth,” Toronto Globe. April 30, 1914. Page 08.

William Redsell Pleads Guilty of Housebreaking.

In the Police Court yesterday morning William Redsell was given a heavy sentence of three years in the Kingston Penitentiary. Redsell, who is only 17 years old, his two companions, Isaac Levine and Samuel Stein, both 13 years of age, were charged with housebreaking. Redsell pleaded guilty. His two companions were remanded for a week in the Shelter by the Juvenile Court Commissioner.

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1954 (2018)

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Sofia Bassi, Dust to dust. Oil on canvas, 1968. Source.  

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“Desperate Stoney Mountain Convicts Got Away From Penitentiary,” Kingston Daily Standard. April 29, 1912. Page 01.

All Were Caught by the Guards Before They Had Gone Very Far.

Carried Out Their Promise That They Would Try to Make Their Escape Before Very Long.

Five desperadoes made a sensational escape from the Portsmouth Penitentiary this morning at eleven o’clock. Four of them were captured within an hour, and the fifth was captured about one o’clock.

The five who escaped were Arthur Bonner, Frank Jones, H. Kelly, George Brown and Vincent McNeil. The first four were the desperate quartette who were recently transferred from Stoney Mountain Penitentiary, McNeil was sentenced at Woodstock to five years for theft and has been in the penitentiary only about four months.

Attacked Officers
The quintette, who, being incorrigibles, were confined in the prison of isolation, about 11 o’clock this morning attacked Keeper Madden, Guard Davis, and Dr. Phelan, the penitentiary physician. Davis was severely beaten about the head. Overcoming the three men, the convicts bound and gagged them and took off their clothing. Two of the convicts put on the clothes of liberty. These were Bonner who rigged himself out in the keeper’s clothes, and Jones who donned Dr. Phelan’s suit, overcoat and hat.

The convicts taking the keys of the prison from Keeper Madden, unlocked the door, and raced across the yard to the north gate. Keeper Rutherford, who was outside the gate, saw the men approaching from the observation hole, but as the convict who was leading was in the guard’s clothes, he thought everything was all right and opened the gate.

The men rushed out, one of them hitting the keeper over the head with a ‘billy.’

The five dashed across the road to the warden’s grounds. They hit Guard McCarthy, who was on duty on the grounds, over the heads with a ‘billy.’ Scaling the rear wall, they took possession of a rig belonging to a farmer by the name of Reese. They soon came to the end of the road, and jumped out of the rig.

In the meantime, J. R. Foster who had been notified of the escape by a convict orderly, had the prison bell rung.

The Chase Begins.
Mounted Scout Patton saw the escaping men and gave chase. Brown ran into the prison quarry, where Instructor Beaupre nabbed ‘im.

Kelly headed towards Portsmouth where he was caught by Guard Clark in a barn.

Bonner, McNeil and Jones dropped out of sight for the time being. But a large number of officers were on the look out for them. Shortly after 12 o’clock the first two were seen on the Front road about one mile and a half from the penitentiary. When a party of guards called to them to stop they refused to obey, and the pursuers opened fire. In order to dodge the bullets the convicts jumped into the lake. The cold water took all fight out of them, and they surrendered. 

The last to be gathered in was Jones, one of the most desperate of the five. About one o’clock he was found hiding in a barn back of Union street, belonging to John Cummings. Mr. Cummings’ little girl saw Jones in the barn and asked him what he was doing there. He replied that he was looking for an escaped convict. The girl told her father, who informed the officers of the penitentiary. By the time they arrived he had escaped across the prison fields to the Strausbenzie property where he was located in a shed by Guard Driscoll.

When he was told to hold up his arms, he said:

‘I might as well give up, but seventeen years is an awful long time to do, and if I had anything to defend myself with I would give you a go for it.’

Attacked Officers.
Convict McNeil, who was let out of his cell to do some work in the corridor, suddenly attacked Guard Ross Davis. He secured his ‘billy’ and beat him fiercely over the head. Gaining possession of the guard’s keys, McNeil unlocked the cells of the four other convicts. The five then attacked Keeper Madden, who had been in another part of the building when Davis was assaulted. After taking off his clothes they locked him and Davis in a cell together.

Dr. Phelan shortly afterwards entered the ward and he was promptly seized, and his clothing removed. He was then locked in a cell.

All three were bound and gagged, before being placed in the cells.

The convicts then unlocked the prison with the keeper’s keys and began their wild dasy for liberty.

Guard Severely Injured.
Guard Davis is very severely injured about the head, and is now in the hospital.

Gate Keeper Rutherford and Guard McCarthy have sore heads as a result of being struck with a `billy` but their condition is not serious.

Keeper Madden and Dr. Phelan got off lightly.

Convicts To Be Tried.
The five convicts who attempted to excape will be tried in a court of law on the charge of escaping from the penitentiary. It is quite probable that their terms of imprisonment will be materially extended.

Portsmouth Excited.
Portsmouth was in a state of terror when it was heard that five desperate convicts had escaped. The citizens breathed a sigh of relief when they learned that all five had been captured. During the chase the small boy was much in evidence and materially assisted the guards in keeping track of the men.

Demanded A Gun.
During the break for liberty this morning, Convict Bonner, dressed in the uniform of a guard, entered a Portsmouth residence, and informing the lady of the house that some prisoners had escaped, and claiming to be unarmed, he demanded a gun, but was refused, as there were no firearms in the house.

Notified Ottawa.
The Department of Justice at Ottawa was immediately notified by telephone of the escape of the convicts, and their subsequent recapture.

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