Anticipating When Blackbirds Sing Chinese
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 7 Jul 2014
Conversion from Tweets to Songbites to Ensure Integrity of Communication
With thanks to the blackbird whose creative singing inspired and sustained the writing of this document.
Blackbirds are renowned for the imaginative quality and complex variety of their song, as well as their capacity for mimicry [extended sample]. Such song invites speculation on how information could be encoded into it. The brevity of each “verse”, as represented in sonograms, suggests that the song could be rendered visually by ideograms reminiscent of Chinese characters — given the great variety of those logograms and their aesthetic possibilities traditionally celebrated in calligraphy.
In a period of invasive surveillance in which the security of all electronic communications is under constant threat, a case was previously made for the use of carrier pigeons to bypass that threat (Circumventing Invasive Internet Surveillance with Carrier Pigeons: rewilding the endangered world wide web of avian migration pathways, 2013). That “technology” is dependent on the capacity of pigeons to transport messages physically. By contrast, the capacity of blackbirds to transport information through song offers other possibilities — as yet to be explored.
Any such consideration is reframed by the manner in which tonal modalities are especially appreciated within some languages and cultures — most notably Chinese. Tonal distinctions are a challenge for many others — especially in comparison with the subtle requirements of Chinese. The implications are significant with the progressive challenge of China for America, whether or not any conflict takes physical form. The conflict in cyberspace has already been extensively documented.
There are learnings to be derived from the history of the past World Wars in which particular significance was attached to the role of so-called code talkers (Code Talkers: use of the Native Indian tongue for secure communications). Advantage was derived from the unusual terminology and construction of various languages. The challenge has been recognized in the recent instigation by the US Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) of The Metaphor Program, a two-phase project designed to first develop automated techniques for recognizing, defining, and categorizing linguistic metaphors and then use that information to characterize differing cultural perspectives (Alexis C. Madrigal, Why Are Spy Researchers Building a ‘Metaphor Program’? The Atlantic Monthly, 25 May 2011; Tim Hornyak, U.S. spies want computers to analyze metaphors, CNET, 30 May 2011). Clearly a secondary objective is to determine the existence of strategic threats embedded in electronic communications.
The focus here on “blackbirds” offers a further twist to future possibilities in that the term is used as metaphorical jargon for so-called black helicopters. This reference became popular in the US militia movement and associated political groups in the 1990s as a symbol and warning sign of an alleged conspiratorial military takeover of the United States. A range of Blackbird aircraft has also been produced (Peter W. Merlin, Blackbird Facts, NASA). For example, the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird was an advanced, long-range, Mach 3+ strategic reconnaissance aircraft. Introduced in 1966, it constituted the pinnacle of the US military’s Cold War reconnaissance efforts. It was the fastest manned aircraft in the sky until it was retired in 1998.
The sense of “bird” has been extended to developments in drone technology, as with the original Lockheed D-21, a Mach 3+ reconnaissance drone. The envisaged Robot SR-72 is fast enough to encircle Earth in less than six hours (Iain Thomson, SR-71 Blackbird follow-up: a new terrifying Mach 6 spy-drone bomber, The Register, 1 November 2013). The existence of clandestine drone development has become evident (Chris Davies, RQ-180 drone leaks continue ahead of Mach 6 “Son of Blackbird”, SlashGear, 13 December 2013). Under development in China is the Chengdu J-20 fifth-generation stealth fighter expected to be operational in 2017-2019 (China to match US as only nations with 2 stealth fighters, WantChinaTimes, 5 April 2014).
What kind of “singing” was imagined as being associated with such blackbirds by their designers and enthusiasts — perhaps only unconsciously? Ironically the SR-71 carried an “HRB Singer” infrared camera, which ran during the entirety of a mission for route documentation, to respond to any accusations of overflight. HRB is now part of Raytheon Intelligence and Information Systems.
Recent Chinese interest in carrier pigeons has been noted (China’s army to train 10,000 new pigeon recruits, Metro, 3 March 2011; China’s Most Secret Weapon: the messenger pigeon, Time, 2 March 2011). There is therefore some probability that the “code talker” approach of the past will be recognized as a precedent for “code singing” — potentially enabled by blackbirds. Its wider incomprehensibility would then recall reference to variants of the phrase “its Chinese to us“. Relevant to this argument is the extent to which songbirds are appreciated and trained in China. As recently noted by Mary X Dennis (The Social Lives of Chinese Songbirds, Audubon Magazine, 6 January 2013), its not uncommon to hear a bird sing out the entire Chinese National Anthem.
Recognition has been accorded to a shift from Realpolitik to Noopolitik (David Ronfeldt and John Arquilla, The promise of Noöpolitik, First Monday, August, 2007). This will necessarily be accompanied by forms of memetic warfare to match the ongoing cyberwarfare. With this transition, the strategic Blackbirds of the future may well be defined in terms of memeplexes within the noosphere. The following argument explores the possibility that, whatever the form they take, they may well “sing Chinese” — operating “under the radar” of conventional communication processes thereby evading invasive security countermeasures.
In order to frame discussion of “under the memetic radar”, extensive use is in the following argument of the extensive post-modern exploration of the poem by Wallace Stevens (Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird).
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 7 Jul 2014.
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