Saturday, April 29, 2006


[Image: Another photo from the Students Under Occupation Exhibit, this one by Essam Al-Rimawi of the Qalandia Checkpoint, Ramallah-Jerusalem, July 2005. "Education is the main foundation for building freedom and independence and as such is one of our strongest available tools to stand against the occupation. So, as students at Palestinian universities, we a have major role to play in the society. But we also face a lot of pressures and obstacles under the Israeli occupation, such as the checkpoints, closures and isolation. The Israeli occupation doesn’t want a well educated, intelligent Palestinian population to exist. It wants an underdeveloped Palestinian society to ensure the continued domination of the occupation."]

Rival Actions: at the border...

[Photograph by Alex Webb, Crossings: Photographs from the U.S.-Mexican border.]

So, the Senate has diverted 2 billion dollars in Iraq funds to beef up security along the U.S.-Mexico border. Do people really think terrorists are sneaking in that way? Haven’t they already proven far more sophisticated than that? How many terrorist suspects have they actually apprehended there? Instead of pouring billions into border-crosser hunting games, shouldn’t those billions go towards something more worth while? Like affordable housing, community-based Day Laborer programs, labor exploitation oversight enforcement, border urbanism infrastructure: sewage treatment facilities, environmental clean up initiatives in and around Tijuana?
Latino families are one of the fastest growing sectors of the homeless population in California, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of Latinos that populate California’s behemoth prison system. Meanwhile, 10 billion a month goes to Iraq, the Senate deliberates over an Immigration Bill and Border Security Act (which could turn millions of migrants into felons over night and yield a 2.2 billion dollar 700 mile border fence extension), and contingents on both sides are already taking action into their own hands.
May 1, is gearing up to be what has been dubbed by immigration rights advocates, as a day to “shut down all cities”; and perhaps could be a precursor to an even more massive display of immigration solidarity over Cinco de Mayo. From the article, the national boycott has the potential to be the biggest nation-wide protests since the 1960’s. And we need some epic social protest around here, these days, and to see just exactly how the American business machine will grind when the Mexican labor movement pulls out, if even for a day. American Agribusiness is feeling it.

[Image: Contractors and surveyors teaming up with the Munitemen on the border. CBS.]

The Minutemen (in all their self-proclaimed authority) are rallying clans to begin building a border fence between Mexico and the U.S. all on their own. That’s right. Frustrated by what they say is the government’s failure to secure the borders (and viewing recent migrant protests as some sort of hostile alien invasion instead of the democracy of political demonstration in action), they are coordinating a plan with private landowners along the border to repair gaping holes in the current fence portions there, as well as to begin building a new security fence “with or without the government’s help,” they say.

"We're going to show the federal government how easy it is to build these security fences, how inexpensively they can be built when built by private people and free enterprise," said Chris Simcox, President of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps (“MCDC”).
The Minuteman Civil Defense Corps. are descending on the Arizona-Mexico border with donated materials and tools. For one, do they really believe that their fence repairs are going to stop border-crossers, or help in any way to resolve the issue of immigration or terrorism? Secondly, should they plan to erect something more securitized than a mere fence (like sniper outposts, for instance) is it legal for citizens to just go and build something that is essentially a militarized structure? Now, of course they're entitled to build a fence on private property, but theoretically, should citizens have the right to establish military-style structures at will? Well, this article looks at the legality of civilian patrol groups in this country, which sort of exist as private citizens above any federal or state law that explicitly deals with enforcement powers. I haven't read it fully yet, but the fine line of where civilian groups are active volunteers protected under the constitution and where their volunteerism begins to interfer with law enforcement could be examined more carefully here.

[Image: Predator 3 UAV, Flight Global.]

Anyway, if you find yourself down there for whatever reason, watch out for falling drones. The Border Patrol apparently let one get away from them a few nights ago. Perhaps a sign that the situation is simply out of everyone's control, that's several million dollars that just crashed and burned into plume of dirt on a ranch somewhere. What a waste.
Also, see Subtopia's earlier coverage of militarizing the U.S.-Mexico border, and this border urbanism news round-up.

Cities Made by War

[Fallujah, Occupation and Rule in Iraq]

A couple of weeks ago there was a discussion in NYC that I would loved to have atteneded: “Middle East Cities and War: Putting Iraq in Context,” with these wicked heads: Stephen Graham, Helga Tawil Souri, Adam Shatz, Zeynep Celik, and Oren Yifatchel.

So, what role does the geography of cities in the Mideast have in fomenting social change, democratic uprising, theocratic fortitude, fascist dictatorship, a U.S. brand military urbanism, or in just helping to author a good old fashioned run-on narrative of perpetual conflict? What skeletal imprints of ancient empire-building are evident in the modern transformation of these cities today? How are contemporary Arab cities becoming the future fossils of an 'empire urbanism'? Or, are they, perhaps, becoming the places of empire’s own self-destruction? What are cities like Fallujah, Najaf, Baghdad, Jerusalem, being turned into, coming to represent?
Well, I did find this little review in the Washington Square News.
In a previous post, I spouted something about the future downfall of ‘superpower’ (in a generic sense) coming partly at the behest of an “Achilles urbanism” (a subterranean, illicit, guerilla militarized, politically divided, global backlash landscape, or something...). Perhaps, echoing that notion, Yifatchel said while moderating the discussion, that “Cities are the Achille’s heel of the colonialist project”. By virtue of the constructs of the city, the image of the city, Zeynep Celik talked about how modern Baghdad has taken its cue from the Ottoman Empire in reacting to British colonial power that, not unlike American colonialism, Yifatchel described as “so convinced it’s right that it doesn’t know how to manage resistance.”
Shatz emphasized that as America's occupation continues to sink, groups like Hezbollah become more attractive to Arabs by creating its own social programming which "could serve as a shield for Iran’s nuclear activities from the U.S. and Israel.”
In a forthcoming article, Stephen Graham argues that Arab cities "have long been represented by Western powers as dark, exotic, labyrithine, and structureless places that need to be 'unveiled' for the production of 'order' through ostensibly superior scientific, planning and military technologies of the occupying West." Ultimatley, he talks about how these cities are being overwhelmingly constructed within 'war on terror' discourses as targets for U.S. military firepower.
At the conference, Graham iterated, “The ultimate nightmare of the U.S. military is [city warfare]. [...] The U.S. needs to be at a distance from its violence, and certain Arab cities that are interrupters of this fantasy of fighting from afar are the killjoy of the automated battlefield.” Sovereignty becomes software in a powerful way, Graham said, referring to (according to the article) the American military’s experiments with the use of robotics and other technologies to further distance soldiers from war.
Mike Davis has stated, “The battle of Fallujah, together with the conflict unfolding in Shia cities and Baghdad slums, are high-stakes tests, not just of U.S. policy in Iraq, but of Washington’s ability to dominate what Pentagon planners consider the ‘key battlespace of the future’ — the Third World city.”
So, what will these cities look like in 50 or 100 years? Will they further devolve into economic engines for imperialism, militarized slums, half preserved in ruins, perpetual conflict, urbicide, crumbled under the strategic weight of the Pentagon's networked battlespaces? Or, can the Third World help bring forth new models of an 'anti-imperialist urban regime', as this great article explores? Not just localized cities of resistance, or bunkers for an "urbanized insurgency", but post-imperial cities reinvented out of Empire in a new egalitarian form, beyond the inequal wealth distribution paradigm that cities have served through out history? What will the cities of a post-Empire landscape look like, how will they function, how will they be governed, and more interestingly, how will they emerge?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Three Ehxibits: on Walls & Political Divide

Where Lines Are Drawn by sean hemmerle

Through Hemmerle's photographs the political situations are remarkably tangible–the sad and complex stories embodied. In these solitary, forsaken landscapes the streets are often dead ends marked by a cul-de-sac, a massive and improbable wall bisecting the street and blocking our visual line, it is an alien presence which has grudgingly become accepted into its surroundings.

In each of these places Hemmerle's photos show the physical manifestation of ideological differences and the political desperation, that once deemed intractable, are made concrete and expressed through the architecture of walls and barriers. Through Hemmerle's photographs it becomes apparent that each place, while unique, shares a common malady. These are similar microcosms of societies at loggerheads, with temporary societal band-aids erected over larger cultural divides. By photographing international zones of contention he shows the landscape of discord, and the architecture erected for this specific division.

More Hemmerle Work:
(Review by Thomas Micchelli) | THE TWIN TOWERS | The American War on Terror: Iraq | Secret Collaborators | What the Killers Saw


Students Under Occupation: Photographs from the Right to Education Photography Project

A group of student photographers from two Palestinian universities in the West Bank (Birzeit University near Ramallah and Al-Najah University in Nablus) came together to work on the Right to Education Photography Project. Their aim was to document student life and the obstruction of Palestinian education under military occupation, through the artistic expression of their own ideas and experiences.

As well as capturing the major obstacles to pursuing an education in occupied Palestine – obstacles that include routine harassment and arrests of students by Israeli soldiers and the daily struggle to reach school and university under a regime of military checkpoints - the photographers also reflected on some of the less visual aspects of student life under occupation. The photographs in this book touch on themes as diverse as isolation, poverty, resistance, absent classmates, military barriers, student prisoners and determination.


The Wall and the Checkpoints: Emily Jacir, Tareq al Ghoussein, Rula Halawani & Dana Erekat

Four artists interpret “the wall” and translate life across the many checkpoints throughout their occupied homeland – Palestine.

In the two-channel video installation "Crossing Surda (a record of going to and from work)," Emily Jacir offers perhaps the most recognizable interpretation of land divided up into physical boundaries, while In her installation "Where We Come From"; consisting of photos, related texts, and a DVD projection, the artist documents the wishes and the fate or status of people who are not allowed to cross the checkpoints, and then what she did in order to fulfill each wish.

In her series of photographs, Rula Halawani follows the construction of “the wall” which divided her road to work. In her images the skies are weighed down with fear and ugliness, but one can sense the artist’s promise to her homeland.

Tareq al Ghoussein’s images investigate barriers, land, longing and, ultimately, belonging, evoking the artist’s awareness as to how these inform, shape and define each other.

Dana Erekat’s photos capture with simplicity and depth how at a time when the occupied land’s Road Map is being redefined by walls, barriers, and destruction, the human body and mind adapt to these physical barriers: braving the threat of insanity by confinement and the threat of a soldier’s bullet, while waiting to cross.
(Review by Maureen Clare Murphy; Ica Wahbeh; Rula Halawani)

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Peripheral Milit_Urb 4


Monumental Security - On the newly redesigned Washington Monument grounds. Also see Pruned's earlier coverage.
Mysterious 'Forcefield' Tested on US Tanks
NASA to crash space probe into moon (WMMNA)
Vicksburg Harbor Project (Pruned)
A follow up on Pizza billionaire's Catholic haven
Memorial to Security: Gov. George E. Pataki's senior adviser for counterterrorism has concluded that the design for the memorial at ground zero leaves it vulnerable to a terrorist attack and has called on the architects to consider revising several critical aspects.
U.S. Army fights Iraqi 'insurgents' in Calif. desert: Fort Irwin is home to the U.S. Army's National Training Centre, covering almost 1,200 square miles (3,108 square km) in the Mojave Desert. The base serves as the last stop for tens of thousands of U.S. troops before they ship out to Iraq
In Iraq, a zone of hedonism and safety: In a city ever more constricted by religious fundamentalism and terror, the Hunting Club, and its older cousin, the Alwiya, have become islands of relative safety and hedonism. They are protected not only by high walls and guards but also by the selectivity of their membership lists, strictly vetted to keep out anyone who might be a threat.
Military factory now SoHo in Beijing: HALF a century ago it was a workshop churning out bullets and guns in the Chinese capital city. Now it has turned itself into an international community housing galleries, salons, art shops and cafes and it is even called a Chinese type of New York's SoHo.
A landscape that speaks of slaughter: The city, transformed from Ypres to its Flemish name of Ieper - a pleasant place with quiet, narrow streets behind the remains of Vauban's 17th-century fortifications - lives in a landscape scarred by centuries of conflict.
Azerbaijan: Famous Medieval Cemetery Vanishes: It has become one of the most bitterly divisive issues in the Caucasus – but up until now no one has been able to clear up the mystery surrounding the fate of the famous medieval Christian cemetery of Jugha in Azerbaijan.
Developer Tries to Lure Tenants to Crystal City: When the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, one of the largest tenants in Crystal City, decided to pull out and build its new headquarters in Alexandria, it left a large chunk of space that its landlord had to fill.
Rumsfeld OKs ambitious plan to fight terror, Strategy envisions big role for military, special forces units: Details of the plans are secret, but in general they envision a significantly expanded role for the military -- and in particular a growing force of elite Special Operations troops -- in continuous operations to combat terrorism outside of war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Developed over about three years by the Special Operations Command, or SOCOM, in Tampa, Fla., they reflect intensified Pentagon involvement in domains traditionally handled by the Central Intelligence Agency and State Department.
Worldwide Terror Attacks Exceed 10,000
U.S. in Iraq: Returning to the Scene of the Crime By Noam Chomsky: The American occupation in the context of war crimes
Militias roil Baghdad streets | US allies are behind the death squads and ethnic cleansing: Iraq's American overlords at last seem to have grasped the danger posed by their friends' militias. But it may be too late, says Jonathan Steele in Baghdad.
The Sunset of U.S. Empire Building:The Rise of a New Latin America by Michael Hogan: A century and a half of interventions, costly miscalculations, even outright invasions, did not do much to push Latin America away from its sometimes passive-aggressive, sometimes envious, but always dependent relationship with the United States. It took the generalized failure of neo-liberalism, coupled with four years of U.S. indifference to the region following the events of 9/11 and the unilateral megalomania of pre-emptive war, for Latin Americans to decide it was time to determine their own destiny.
Buried Truths: Debunking the nuclear “bunker buster”: Since the Cold War, the U.S defense community has become obsessed with the problem of bunkers and how to destroy them. The solution put forward has, of course, been expensive new weaponry. Soon after the attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush Administration made a push for new nuclear programs, the most conspicuous of which was the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP), designed to destroy deeply buried bunkers.
Iraq war the ideal Pentagon test track: In the testing laboratory that is the war in Iraq, an array of remarkable devices and technologies are making their debut in the real world of combat.
US businessman pleads guilty in Iraq corruption case
Shiite exodus from mixed towns: Thousands of Iraqis have fled their homes as a result of rising sectarian violence.
A Shopper’s Guide to Urban Catastrophe (BLDGBLOG)
Hurling Taj Mahals into the Sky (BLDGBLOG)

The Helicopter Archipelago (BLDGBLOG): For those of us trapped in a cultural desert, Archigram had another solution: the Instant City, flown in by hot-air balloon and helicopter and deposited anywhere in the world. The roofs, domes and canopies of a new metropolis could earn an official post-code in the blink of an eye.
There is no reason, however, to limit those helicopters to a role as mere delivery vehicles. The helicopters themselves could be liberated to form their own city – an airborne utopia, endlessly aloft, wandering through the planetary atmosphere. A helitopia, perhaps.
They could form, in other words, a helicopter archipelago, or flying island-chain, a brand new player in the sphere of geopolitics.


Faces in a crowd offer alternative to passwords
CCTV to spot individuals carrying concealed firearms (WMMNA)
Surveillance as Prozac: Cameras make people feel better. And all over the US, cities are watching over their citizens to help them feel more confident and assured.
NYPD Deploys First of 500 Security Cameras
Protest Banners in Shadow of Future CCTV Skyscraper
MSFT, YHOO to build data centers near NSA's in WA?
New Detectors Sniff Terrorists' Scents
Photographing Architecture is Not a Crime, Thomas Hawk vs. Building Security Episode 118
Watching the Detectives: The NYPD wants to take your picture—but beware of turning your lens on the cops
Follow up on Super Bowl Surveillance (earlier)
Disappeared in America / The VISIBLE Collective (Critical Spatial Practice)

Life after slums

Recently, I came across a post at Rob's watchful blog about an ambitous plan in the Philippines to build 700,000 homes in 7,000 villages by 2010, to help rid the nation of its slums. Sounded impressive. 60% of the population there considers itself to live in poverty, while a conservative estimate puts 17% of the total populace in an urban slum.
In general, the Philippino government has done more to wall off the shantytowns from public view than it has to truly address the problem. But in recent years, natural disasters like typhoons, flooding and fires have forced the visibility of national poverty back to the surface, while more and more each day go on to join millions of people inhabiting garbage dumps, dangerous flood zones, and cardboard shelters that could go up in flames as easily by an errant cigarette butt as a serious natural disaster.
Gawad Kalinga is an international NGO that started off as a local movement in the Philippines to abolish the slums. After rebuilding several communities following a ruthless rash of typhoons in 2000 and 2004, the organization has moved its model to various countries through out the region, and is being studied by the UN for its community-based model, which builds more than just shelter, but offers empowerment services like health and educational facilities, capital for community-based products, and uses sweat equity to help people rebuild villages for themselves.
I wrote a lengthier article on the topic which you can read now at Inhabitat. There are lots of other useful links to articles and studies included which should help shed more light on the subject of urban slums, and some inspiring work being done as a remedy. Check it out.

Friday, April 21, 2006

A Silo Full of Cash

On the same tip as Geoff's previous post about discovering secret Soviet submarine bases, "a team of thieves that broke into an abandoned missile silo not far from the Russian city of Kostroma in search of nonferrous metals was shocked to find the shaft packed with Soviet money bills", that apparently blew out all over the country side upon cracking open the good old misile silo lid. Mosnews has the story. (via)

Secret Soviet Submarine Base

[Image: Via Fun Mansion].

From Fun Mansion: "Until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 Balaklava was one of the most secret towns in Russia. 10km south east of Sevastopol on the Black Sea Coast, this small town was the home to a Nuclear Submarine Base."

[Images: All images via Fun Mansion].

"The base remained operational after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 until 1993 when the decommissioning process started and the warheads and low yield torpedos were removed. Then in 1996 the last Russian Submarine left the Base."
Apparently, there are now guided tours.

[Image: Via Fun Mansion].

(Originally spotted at Defense Tech; this post simultaneously published on BLDGBLOG; see also this LiveJournal blog – though it's in Russian).).

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

More Camouflage Jazzercise

There’s a conference this Saturday, April 22, that sounds pretty cool. "Camouflage: Art, Science and Popular Culture" brings together artists, scientists and scholars from different countries to explore “all aspects of camouflage, including artistic, military, scientific, natural, psychological, magical, fashion-related and ironic aspects of concealment and deception.” Sounds interesting and akin to Hirschhorn’s whacked installation.

From this review: “It is the first conference of its kind, founded and organized by camouflage expert Roy Behrens, professor of art at the University of Northern Iowa. He will present a chronology of camouflage from the 19th century to present day.”

Behrens: "I think it's a compelling subject. We live in a time when it is increasingly easy for people to be tricked and deceived. Camouflage is a visual medium we're not supposed to see. It deceives and tricks the eye and the mind. [...] Camouflage is about making the visible 'invisible.' The military used camouflage, as we know it now, to confuse and conceal ships and aircraft from observation, but it has been adapted in a vernacular way for other uses."

Get to the University of Northern Iowa early, show starts at 8:45.

[Images are from the book, Disruptive Pattern Material: An Encyclopedia Of Camouflage by Hardy Blechman] Also, on Subtopes: Hiding in perspective....

Monday, April 17, 2006

Fortress Baghdad

Well, not only is the U.S. building a new embassy in Baghdad (Can you say - permanent bases in Iraq?), described as a "fortress-like compound rising beside the Tigris River [that] will be the largest of its kind in the world, the size of Vatican City, with the population of a small town, its own defense force, self-contained power and water, and a precarious perch at the heart of Iraq's turbulent future," but, apparently much of the contracting and construction details are "as cloaked in secrecy as the ministate in Rome," according to this article.
Surprise, surprise.

What we do know, Charles Hanley tells us, is that "The embassy complex — 21 buildings on 104 acres, according to a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee report — is taking shape on riverside parkland in the fortified "Green Zone," just east of al-Samoud, a former palace of Saddam Hussein's, and across the road from the building where the ex-dictator is now on trial."
(See all those cranes?).
"Embassy Baghdad" Hanley says, "will dwarf new U.S. embassies elsewhere, projects that typically cover 10 acres. The embassy's 104 acres is six times larger than the United Nations compound in New York, and two-thirds the acreage of Washington's National Mall. Original cost estimates ranged over $1 billion."
6 construction contracts (that cannot be identified) are supposedly working on a classified portion of the embassy, and apparently 5 of them are American companies.
According to the same report, the compound "will have its own water wells, electricity plant and wastewaster-treatment facility, systems to allow 100 percent independence from city utilities." [...] "Security, overseen by U.S. Marines, will be extraordinary: setbacks and perimeter no-go areas that will be especially deep, structures reinforced to 2.5-times the standard, and five high-security entrances, plus an emergency entrance-exit."
And so, I wonder, what the Iraqi people are to think when they see all the work going into this thing, (or what they can see of it). (Or, what they will be able to see of it when it's done). Down with one ruling fortress and up with another. In fact, a new an improved one, right across the street from Saddam's courtroom itself. Who, in all of this, are they supposed to think is running their country?

Seeing Elsewhere

[This image is from an exhibit Seeing Elsewhere that investigates "the intricate role [that] visual culture plays within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, exploring the way images shape historical memory and influence our perception of events." Explosion was taken by Shirley Wegner in 2003.]

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Genealogy of the 'Car Bomb'

[Image: February 1, 1948 – The Palestine Post Car Bombing. Photo – Central Zionist Archives Photo Archives.]

While scores of American soldiers, Iraqi security forces, and Shiite neighborhoods are permanently stalked by ‘the road to martyrdom’ of an insidious traffic war that haunts them in the streets of Iraq, via anonymous vehicles everyday (where roughly 1,300 car bombs have exploded in the last couple of years), the 80 year evolution of this ‘poor man’s air force’, as Mike Davis calls it, has reached a new apex today as the global insurgents’ weapon of choice.

[Image: "'My Neck Is Thinner Than a Hair: A History of the Car Bomb' in the 1975-1991 Lebanese Wars" by The Atlas Group.]

The car bomb is now legitimately “comparable to airpower in its ability to knock out critical urban nodes and headquarters as well as terrorize the populations of entire cities,” he says, not to mention its effect “at destroying the moral credibility of a cause and alienating its mass base of support,” which is very similar to the way aerial bombardment campaigns have always functioned as a psychological weapon, demoralizing the enemy by having things hurled down at them from the sky.

[Image: "'My Neck Is Thinner Than a Hair: A History of the Car Bomb' in the 1975-1991 Lebanese Wars" by The Atlas Group.]

Thanks to the short history Davis so incisively documents in this two-part series for Mother Jones, the car bomb is both the perfect literal and symbolic tool of a counter-empire military landscape; he points out that they’re extraordinarily cheap, stealthy, easy to organize, “inherently indiscriminate”, and leaves little forensic trace of culpability. Ultimately, he writes, "The car bomb is an inherently fascist weapon."
What I find interesting, though, is that the car -- a long time symbol of American brand freedom, and today perhaps the crude object of an American dependence on foreign oil -- has become the harbinger of this violent message, and made it, as Charles Krauthammer has stated, “the nuclear weapon of guerrilla warfare."
The tale of how America's modern freedom horse became a new symbol for a global insurgency againt them, began with a horse-pulled cart packed with dynamite and iron slugs exploded outside the J.P.Morgan office headquarters in 1920. The vehicular weapon burst onto the scene as a device that was not only meant to kill, but also to get at the inner sanctums of capitalism in order to sabotage its financial ordering of the political structure. Since then, the car bomb has underwritten the geopolitical climate of terrorism around the world in what has now come to represent the ultimate “blowback” to American militarism.

[Image: A Kashmiri peers into the windshield of an exploded vehicle after a car bomb went off in Srinegar.]

Davis traces the windy-road lineage of the car bomb from its use by the Jews, Christians, Hindus, the Tamil Tigers, assorted anarchists, French colonizers in Algiers, the mafia, the IRA, the British in their attempts to defeat Hezbollah in Lebanon, and last but not least, the CIA, who, during the 80’s trained the mujahedin and gave them “malleable explosives to mount car-bomb and even camel-bomb attacks in Soviet-occupied cities. […] It was the greatest technology transfer of terrorist technique in history” says Davis. “There was no need for angry Islamists to take car-bomb extension courses from Hezbollah when they could matriculate in a CIA-supported urban-sabotage graduate program in Pakistan's frontier provinces.”

[Image: BATF summary table illustrating the size and range of effectiveness of car bombs by vehicle type. - Wikipedia.]

Davis cites Steve Coll from his book Ghost Wars who writes, "the vast training infrastructure” that the Americans helped to build “with the enormous budgets endorsed by NSDD-166 -- the specialized camps, the sabotage training manuals, the electronic bomb detonators, and so on -- would be referred to routinely in America as ‘terrorist infrastructure.'” And so, as seemingly with much of the legacy of U.S. military conquest, the Americans have essentially put into place the very pieces of the puzzle that have led to the asymmetric nature of today's conflict againt them which Davis describes as uniquely characteristic of the millennium.

[Image: Photo essay on Bagdhad Explosions outide the "Green Zone".]

Now, with car bomb attacks rising dramatically around the world (which are virtually impossible to defend against) not only does the urban space of these target zones become a vastly different playing field (where the Americans are found retreating into the medieval enclaves of the “green zone” guarded by huge blast walls and layers of concrete barrier), but the urban space of the West’s own cities now, too, become surreptitiously vulnerable. City planners don their military strategist uniforms to figure how to turn their precious gems of modern civilization into proto-militant urban fortresses which are, ironically enough, already infiltrated by the world’s most sophisticated road networks that seem to just be lying around in wait for the delivery of eventual car bomb attacks.

[Image: Photo essay on Bagdhad Explosions outide the "Green Zone".]

In a forthcoming article entitled 'Cities and the 'War on Terror', professor Stephen Graham indicts the production of a military urbanism as a “securitized ‘inside’ enclosing the urban places of the U.S. Empire’s ‘homeland,’ and an urbanizing ‘outside,’ where U.S. military power can preemptively attack places deemed sources of terrorist threat.” He argues that the Bush doctrine of the 'War on Terror' has constructed a "binary portrayal" of separate places, distant cities, "imaginative geographies" between the West and the untamed Arab world, (or, the sort of urban spatial equivalents of 'Us vs. Them') that are militarily treated together as a single “’integrated battlespace’ prone to rapid movements of ‘terrorist’ threats into the geographical and urban heartlands of U.S. power at any instant.”; a projected battlespace that re-images 'Homeland Cities' as a network of 'National Security Spaces.'

[Image: Z Backscatter Image Reveals Car Bomb]

Davis goes onto to discuss how police snipers in London have been rapidly replaced by a omnipotent watch over the streets with thousands of CCTV cameras, making the UK's capital the most surveilled space perhaps in the world. While this type of surveillance may help to identify and apprehend non-suicidal suspects, it doesn't do jack against car bombers. Fearnig Bagdhad may serve as a metaphor for our collective urban future, he concludes his article in part with this rather painfully obvious statement: “until some miracle technology emerges (and none is in sight) that allows authorities from a distance to "sniff" a molecule or two of explosive in a stream of rush-hour traffic, the car bombers will continue to commute to work.”

Anyway, Davis’ article is a precursor for a larger book he’s writing on the subject, and will also appear in another book due out next year, Indefensible Space: The Architecture of the National Insecurity State, edited by Michael Sorkin. So, keep your eyes peeled.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Of cities and security

Thanks to the Javinator for sending this one my way. Human Security > Cities is a website run by The Canadian Consortium on Human Security (CCHS), which is an academic-based network promoting policy-relevant research and analysis of the human impact of urban space beseiged by conflict, and asks some crucial questions. "Are cities exerting independent human security impacts on conflict prevention, terrorism, and peace support operations? Under what conditions do urban spaces generate tolerance rather than tensions, act as buffers instead of flashpoints?"
Instead of rambling myself, I will just let them do the talking.

"What is it about an urban environment that assures human security or makes its achievement more difficult, and how does it interface with human and state conflict?

With the shift from international to intra-state conflict since the 1960s, cities are playing a more significant role in patterns of conflict and in traditional themes of human security. These conflicts are characterized by the pre-eminence of small arms and the participation of irregular forces operating outside accepted humanitarian norms, making them at once more decentralized and less disciplined.

It is in this increasingly urbanized world that cities act simultaneously as organic centres of vibrant social and economic networks, engines of security and economic opportunity, and beacons for refugees. They are also home to one billion of slum-dwellers, and are the targets of terrorism and war. Undoubtedly, the central role of cities in modern life makes them key building blocks in ensuring freedom from fear. Human security in urban spaces is one of the key challenges—and opportunities—in the coming quarter century: will they be building blocks of peace or tumbling dominoes of conflict?"

They also feature a bi-lingual online publication, the Human Security Bulletin, which features different research on places like Columbia and Indonesia, and has an active newswire of ongoing conflicts as well. Their funded by the Human Security Program of the Foreign Affairs Canada (FAC), and even offer a Graduate Research Award. Look out!

The 'Long War' enters its capsule

Just playing catch up with a couple of articles.
Can you imagine what Manhattan would look like if a nuclear bomb exploded there? Well, just in case you can’t this article (which can be read in full here) paints a pretty graphic picture. While an electromagnetic pulse ripples roughly 4 kilometres and wipes out all of the electronics in that range, “the shock wave levels every building within a half-kilometre, killing everyone inside, and severely damages virtually all buildings for a kilometre in every direction."
Wow, talk about making "the unimaginable" imaginable. Then, "detonation temperatures of millions of degrees ignite a firestorm that rapidly engulfs the area, generating winds of 600 kilometres an hour.”
Walls of flame belched across the landscape at 375 miles an hour.

[Image: Remains of bombed tenements in Second Avenue in Radnor Park, March 1941.]

Ahh….scenes scorched into the American psyche since those epic imaginary days embalmed in the Cold War. Just when the atomic nightmare seemed to almost be reduced to the filmic rubble of a pale and redundant scene played out too many times in our heads, the nuclear complex goes and revs up its engines again full bore hyping tensions with Iran, and warning of foreboding new terrorist threats that could conceivably (the article tells us) drop “a 45-kilogram lump of weapons-grade uranium” onto another similar lump and “from a height of about 1.8 metres [could] produce a blast of 5 to 10 kilotons.” That's apparently a good 5 to 10 thousand tons of TNT.
This fear detonates from the concern that too much highly enriched uranium is floating around today from old and raided Soviet bunkers that could sooner or later end up in the wrong hands (many times over).

[Pokhran in Rajasthan, May 1974, NTI.]

With the now (what is almost) banal spectacularity of Hollywood effect, “The explosion scoops out a crater 20 metres across and 10 metres deep, sending thousands of tonnes of highly radioactive debris into the air as a cloud of dust."
It's Manhattan splattered into a searing post-urban aerosol of indiscriminate material and debris, whirling through -- wake after wake – an ignited atmospheric grinder; the metropolis as urban corpse set sail in a billion dismembered parts, grafted, confused, singed along the way like some biblical hail storm raining down the shrapnel concrete and steel bits of an entire city back down onto itself; an infernal image of civilization made leftover in a single flash.
The article goes on to describe a whole pharmaceutical dream of ingestible radiation countermeasures, alluding to perhaps another future classic apocalyptic flick where catatonic pill-popping zombie survivors wander tunnels and pace the contaminated wreckage in search of escape, buried loved ones, or perhaps something to eat.

Speaking of lost wreckage and something to nibble on, a couple of weeks ago New York City transit officials discovered an old Cold War fall out shelter (or, perhaps just a dusty storage unit?) holed up in the base structure of the Brooklyn Bridge, stocked with empty water drums, medical supplies and boxes of 44-year-old crackers with special survival instructions for eating them.

[Images: Inside the Brooklyn Bridge, a Whiff of the Cold War, John Marshall Mantel for The New York Times]

With all this renewed nuclear tension boiling up around the world, the discovery of this spat up little fossil is a silly archaeological trace of the eerie paranoia that governed the American psyche for decades while posturing with the Soviet Union, but also makes us wonder: has the Cold War really ended, or is it something that constantly lurks just below the surface, regurgitating itself up off the geopolitical backburner when it needs to, playing the earth for a hollow museum of nuclear urbanism inscrolled in synchronous economic timebelts perpetuated by run-on projections of post-future nuclear war? Today, the 'Long War' enters its capsule.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Kathmandu, Under Lockdown

[Images: Nepal's government put the capital, Kathmandu, under curfew for a third day, as protesters risked being shot while vowing defiance of King Gyanendra's rule. Three protesters have been killed already. Photos by AP. Read more in the BBC]