Saturday, June 24, 2006

Violent Architectures

Another event not to be missed, Violent Architectures: New Wars and Arab Cities. This coming Wednesday, June 28th, Eyal Weizman joins Derek Gregory at the ICA in London to explore Arab cities in the context of armed conflict, how the urban environment is being shaped by the military forces that operate within it. From the website, "The urban environment, they suggest, must be understood not simply as the backdrop to conflict, but as trapped in a complex feedback-based relation with the forces operating within it – be they a diverse local population, soldiers, guerrilla, media or humanitarian agents."

Weizman, was recently awarded the 2006–07 James Stirling Memorial Lectures on the City Competition for his proposal: Destruction by Design: Military Strategy as Urban Planning. I recently managed to catch him with with Teddy Cruz and Andrew Ross at The Political Equator event down along the border, and audio recorded the talks (though, trying to improve the quality, more on that later).

Anyway, check out Weizman's recent paper 'Lethal Theory': "The fact that most contemporary military operations are staged in cities suggests an urgent need to reflect on an emergent relationship between armed conflicts and the built environment. Contemporary urban warfare plays itself out within a constructed, real or imaginary architecture, and through the destruction, construction, reorganization, and subversion of space. As such, the urban environment is increasingly understood by military thinkers not simply as the backdrop for conflict, nor as its mere consequence, but as a dynamic field locked in a feedback-based relationship with the diverse forces operating within it – local populations, soldiers, guerrilla fighters, journalists and photographers, and humanitarian agents. This essay belongs to a larger investigation of the ways in which contemporary military theorists are conceptua l i z i n g the urban domain. What are the terms they are using to think about cities? What does the language employed by the military to describe the city to themselves (for example, at international conferences dealing with urban warfare) and to the general public (most often through the media) tell us about the relationship between organized violence and the production of space? What does this language tell us about the military as an institution? Not least important is the question of the role of theory in all these operations."

Gregory is a professor in the Department of Geography at the University of British Columbia, and wrote this book: The Colonial Present: Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq, in which he traces the history of British and American involvements in the Middle East up to a defining look at the 'War on Terror' as "a series of political and cultural responses that mapped a profoundly colonial perimeter of power." He was recently awarded the Founder‘s Medal of the Royal Geographical Society back in May for his research. Two other articles you should check out concerning the production of an 'imaginative geography' through Occupation and the U.S. military's brand of terrorist incarceration: Who's Responsible? Dangerous Geography, and Tortured Geography.

The talk should be great, and so, as usual, if you happen to make it, report back and give us some scoop.

(This event came to my attention via the always > Images via Eyal Weizman: 'Lethal Theory')

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Peripheral Milit_Urb 7


'The Cities of the Plain' by Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr.: During the second quarter of 2006, entire chunks of the world became, conspicuously, subjects of an accelerating and spreading pattern of collapse among leading and other governments. The most notable examples include the Blair government of the United Kingdom, the Chirac government of France, and the Bush-Cheney government in the United States. This global calamity is now spreading, most notably, throughout the rest of western and central Europe.
Violence aside, Baghdad is broken: Water runs only an hour a day, power is on for 4 hours, and sewage runs in the streets.
Running on empty: "Iraq's neighbors ought to do more to help," the president said after a day of discussion with his top national security advisers on Iraq's future. Mr. Bush said that nations around the world -- many of them outside the Middle East -- have pledged $13 billion for Iraq and "we expect our friends ... to honor those commitments."
Gridlock strikes DC: systems disruption is a low cost, high impact method of conducting strategic warfare (with dimensions of all three types of warfare: attrition, moral, and connectivity) against developed states. Global Guerillas explores this in context of Washington's traffic gridlock.
Private Military Firm Pitches Its Services in Darfur (NPR)
"Mad Max" vehicles in Iraq: "There's a soldier in Iraq who's been posting some crazy pictures of American SUVs and pickup trucks that have been modified by civilian security contractors for use as gun trucks. They're insane, in a 'Mad Max at the Wal-Mart parking lot' kind of way."
Rumsfeld's Roadmap to Propaganda: Secret Pentagon "roadmap" calls for "boundaries" between "information operations" abroad and at home but provides no actual limits as long as US doesn't "target" Americans. - National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 177
Report fuels spy plane theories: The UK knows more than it is saying about top secret American aircraft projects, recently declassified documents reveal.
Rumsfeld's War Games: "Mr. Rumsfeld has failed 360 degrees in the job. He is incompetent, Any military man who made the mistakes he has made, tactically and strategically, would be relieved on the spot." - retired Marine Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper.
US defence firm faces $283m bill: Manufacturer United Technologies will pay the US Department of Defense $283m (£152m) after a probe into its handing of contracts over 20 years.
No Icons, No Monuments Worth Protecting: New York has no national monuments or icons, according to the Department of Homeland Security form obtained by ABC News.
'Out of Proportion' Security Measures Damaging Nation's Capital: Plans for a massive new Pentagon-sized Homeland Security complex threaten to ruin one of the finest vistas in Washington, D.C.


The Very Latest in Destroying Villages in Order to Save Them: The same week that American bombing killed dozens of civilians in Azizi village in the Panjwayi district of Afghanistan in an effort to root out Taliban fighters, and the U.S. military was rocked by accusations of war crimes, specifically the massacre of civilians in Haditha, Iraq at the hands of U.S. marines, news from the world of military contracting shows that everyone -- from top brass down to the corporations supplying the weaponry -- recognizes that the future of warfare is urban: Boeing has announced that they have just created a small bomb specifically designed for use in urban areas.
High End Military Housing: Lavarack Barracks Redevelopment (Architect Practice: Bligh Voller Nield)
U.S. Army Tries New Urbanism: New Urbanist design comes to the Villages at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Today, the military hopes more attractive neighborhoods will help recruit and retain soldiers, and create a stronger sense of community to support military families.
Saving the planet and ourselves: the way to global security
: The obsession of major world powers with terrorism is consuming resources that should be devoted to solving far more dangerous planetary threats, says John Sloboda of the Oxford Research Group.
High hopes for drone in LA skies: Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drone aircraft, are about to be launched for the first time by the police in Los Angeles.
Pentagon sets its sights on social networking websites: New Scientist has discovered that Pentagon's National Security Agency, which specialises in eavesdropping and code-breaking, is funding research into the mass harvesting of the information that people post about themselves on social networks.
Burma's confusion over capital: In the fourth of a series of articles from inside Burma, the BBC's Kate McGeown looks at how the government's abrupt decision to move its capital is affecting local people. (PICS)
Suicide Bomber Detection Unit: Suicide attacks have been a common tactic since armed conflict began, as has been the practice of targeting civilians rather than military personnel. But technology has now created a far more effective set of tools which enable one person, as a suicide bomber, to wreak enormous physical, psychological and financial carnage on the population.
U.S. Army awards US$396 million battlefield digitization contract: 2006 Information is power, and there is no greater need for the information to make good decisions than the ultimate adversarial, winner-takes-all scenerio of the battlefield. And there can be no greater testimonial to a product than yesterday’s announcement that the U.S. Army’s Force XXI Battle Command, Brigade and Below (FBCB2) program will invest US$396 million in an Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract with DRS Technologies to provide rugged Applique Computer Systems and peripheral equipment.
US: Halliburton sees earnings doubling in coming years: Oil field services company Halliburton Co. expects net income and earnings per share to double over the next three to five years, Chief Financial Officer Cris Gaut said today.
Army Corps Accepts 'Blame' For Katrina Levee Failures: In a 6,000-page report, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers accepted responsibility for design defects in the levee system that failed during Hurricane Katrina and led to the catastrophic flooding of New Orleans.
Army Engineers' Green Agenda: To sustain its mission and ensure its capability to project and support the forces, the Army must insulate itself from the economic and logistical energy-related problems coming in the near to mid future. This requires a transition to modern, secure, and efficient energy systems, and to building technologies that are safe and environmental friendly…
Badly omen for civil rights: Judge Juan Torruella, from the Boston Court of Appeals First Circuit, warned of the eventual establishment of concentration camps as a prelude of mass deportation of illegal immigrants. He also had harsh words for domestic spying and indefinite detentions in a speech delivered in Spanish to the Bar Association in Puerto Rico.


Slave City: Formerly known as the Call Centre, Slave City is an up-to-date concentration camp made out of the latest technology and with the newest management insights. The highly profitable Slave City (7 billion euro net profit per year) is provided with all necessary facilities to make sure that the inhabitants (called "participants") are as efficient as possible. Values, ethics, esthetics, morals, food, energy, economics, organization, management and market are turned upside-down, reformulated and designed into a town of 200.000 inhabitants.
Virtual border patrol: "Texas Gov. Rick Perry unveiled plans on Thursday to place hundreds of surveillance cameras along the Rio Grande and stream the images to the Internet so computer users everywhere can help patrol the U.S.-Mexico border."
The Cube, the CAVE and the TouchTable: Here are some übergadgetries that may facilitate the visualization and manipulation of complex data sets while simultaneously fostering more meaningful collaborations. That is, of course, if your office can afford their steep price tags and have the space in the studio to put them in.
Surveillance in Virtual Worlds: Many players are unaware of surveillance being conducted by game administrators, often justified as a means to enhance game play and control cheating. Players within some MMOs are also tracking and recording other player’s movements, and conversely, creating methods to protect the privacy of their own digital personas. The rise of surveillance (and counter-surveillance) techniques and technologies within these virtual worlds is an extension of the pervasive monitoring of individuals in real-world environments. Many real-world technologies (such as bugging, video recording and location tracking) are being reproduced in virtual worlds and can be classified as a form simulated surveillance.
Same war, different lenses: To create 'The War Tapes,' a filmmaker gave video cameras to soldiers in Iraq.
The Quiet Patron: The Most Amazing Art Space You Aren't Allowed Near Is Owned by the Federal Government and Patrolled by Homeland Security.
The Great No-ID Airport Challenge: Jim Harper left his hotel early Thursday at 5:30 a.m. to give himself more than two hours to clear security at San Francisco International Airport. It wasn't that he was worried the security line would be long, but because he accepted a dare from civil liberties rabble-rouser John Gilmore to test whether he could actually fly without showing identification.
High Cost of Prisons Not Paying Off, Report Finds: The U.S. spends more than any other nation -- $60 billion a year -- to house inmates, but sees little good as a result, a bipartisan panel says.
Beijing’s urban makeover: the ‘hutong’ destruction: The destruction of Beijing's "hutongs" in advance of the 2008 Olympics has many consequences for China's cultural heritage. Sean Gallagher photographs a swiftly disappearing history.
Defiant Gardens: Gardens of War extend beyond those of Victory. "Planted on hostile fronts" -- from Eastern Europe's ghettos to the Japanese-American internment camps of World War II, from the Western Front of WWI to the deserts of Iraq, people have turned to gardens as sources of comfort and "acts of defiance."
Walls and fences and ladders: Ranchers could build walls, of course. There could be a series of walls, each circumscribing a state-like entity (although tax-free zone) for which ladders function as visas. Immigrants could move into the US little by little, according to the system of scalable visas, working in one mini-state and then another once the ladder-visa rules change based on labor demand. They could open restaurants and an informal social services sector, restrained only by how efficiently ladder transport of goods functions.
Transformer Houses: In 1987, Canadian photographer Robin Collyer began documenting houses that aren't houses at all – they're architecturally-disguised electrical substations, complete with windows, blinds, and bourgeois landscaping.


W. Bank project breaks Israeli vow
: Israel has begun laying the foundations for a Jewish settlement deep in the West Bank — breaking a promise to Washington while strengthening its hold on a stretch of desert it wants to keep as it draws its final borders.
Realignment methods unlike Gaza: Disengagement architect predicts realignment will be very different - with no military operation. Evacuation-compensation law will lead to gradual desertion, 'until the supermarket will find it worthless to operate'
Olmert tests waters in London: He is trying to win international backing for a proposal by which - in the absence of a Palestinian partner - Israel will set de facto borders of its own making.
Olmert will crush Bethlehem without Negotiation: For the people of Bethlehem city, colonial strangulation - in the form of the settlements and their infrastructure – is only now really being implemented to the fullest.
Caterpillar Pressured Over "Weaponised Bulldozers": The parents of a U.S. peace activist who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer built by the global machinery giant Caterpillar confronted the company Wednesday for the first time and urged shareholders at its annual meeting to end sales of "weaponised bulldozers to Israel".
Israel Court Wants West Bank Barrier Moved: The Israeli Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Israel must move part of its barrier meant to keep Palestinian attackers out because it causes hardships to nearby West Bank residents.


FEMA's Flying Tuna Cans (The New Hurricane Season on the Mississippi Coast) By Chad Heeter
5,000 Public Housing Units in New Orleans Are to Be Razed: Federal housing officials announced on Wednesday that more than 5,000 public housing apartments for the poor were to be demolished here and replaced by developments for residents with a wider range of incomes.
FEMA Facing Class-Action Lawsuit Over Changes To Post-Katrina Housing Aid: Thousands of Katrina survivors scattered throughout the country may be about to lose their homes due to changes in FEMA funding.
Israeli prison is refuge for Sudanese: Standing behind bars and begging to tell of families murdered and homes destroyed, the Sudanese in Maasiyahu Prison are confronting their Israeli jailers with a quandary that taps deep into the trauma of the Holocaust.
More than 8,000 troops have deserted from the US military since the start of the Iraq war, the Pentagon has said. At least 200 of them are known to have crossed into Canada, hoping for asylum. Jonathan Charles reports from Toronto. (BBC Video)

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

'Military Omniscience'

Not too long ago, I wrote about the game-ification of war, where the military’s war machine becomes controlled more like a video game with semi-autonomous war bots patrolling the future battlespaces waiting to be guided by some steady hand game controller on the other side of the world. Kids snacking after school, taking over the world.
Anyway, taking that notion a step further – but in a frighteningly more real direction - Stephen Graham says, “War is about to change.” It will “progressively cease to be the foggy, confusing, equalising business it has been for centuries, in which the risks are always high. […] Instead, “it will become remote, semi-automatic and all-knowing, entailing less and less risk to American lives and taking place largely out of the sight of news cameras.” In this cover story for the New Statesmen, Graham warns us of a new state of remote controlled warfare where soon “US forces will be able to deal out death, not at the squeeze of a trigger or even the push of a button but with no human intervention whatsoever, as the “machines will be able to kill on their own initiative.”
Dubbed the "new Manhattan Project", “Hundreds of research projects are under way at American universities and defence companies, backed by billions of dollars” Graham notes, to turn what has been called ‘military omniscience’ into reality, where cities digitized in unparalleled scales are constantly scanned by increasingly sentient drones (via) capable of striking the hair on your nose, networked surveillance sensors that can see through concrete walls or match your images with others taken around the world, smart dust insurgent tracking, bots and bugs hotrodded for war, and a whole set of military commands made flesh by the pressed button of a toy-like handheld game controller. It all spells a new medium for a globalized warfare, or a war against the "global south", and is coming sooner than we may care to believe.
Check it out, fascinating article, and then be sure to chase it down with some older Subtopian hits afterwards.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Area 71

“Behind a fence topped with razor wire just off U.S. Highway 71 is a bunker of a building that Wal-Mart considers so secret that it won't even let the county assessor inside without a nondisclosure agreement,” writes Max McCoy for the Joplin Globe.
In Jane, Missouri, a once quiet hillbilly town of 22,000, a 133,000-square-foot building has been innocuously tucked behind the construction of a new Wal-Mart Supercenter, which happens to be a convenient 15 miles from the store’s corporate headquarters across the state line in Bentonville, Arkansas.
McCoy says, “There is nothing about the building to give even a hint that Wal-Mart owns it.” Reading on, we find that this thing is something of a cross between an old Cold War dugout resurfaced for air, the secret space architecture of the NSA’s network of data mining enclaves, and, perhaps, a new precedent in the camouflage deployment of ex-urban corporate fortress building. Anyway…
“Despite the glimpses through the fence of manicured grass and carefully placed trees, the overall impression is that this is a secure site that could withstand just about anything.”
And he’s probably right.

“Earth is packed against the sides. The green roof (see Bird's Eye) - meant, perhaps, to blend into the surrounding Ozarks hills - bristles with dish antennas. On one of the heavy steel gates at the guardhouse is a notice that visitors must use the intercom for assistance.
When Wal-Mart constructed its primary data center at corporate headquarters in 1989, it wasn't much of a secret: It was the largest poured concrete structure in Arkansas at the time.”
But, the Bentonville data center is built on bedrock and has been designed to withstand most natural and man-made disasters. The biggest danger, however, according to the article, is the area's frequently violent thunderstorms. “[It] was designed with backup generators, fuel on site, and room and board for a skeleton crew in the event an emergency required an extended stay.”
Bill Ferguson, a founder of Askew Nixon Ferguson Architects in Memphis, Tenn, said his firm learned to design data centers by working with FedEx, which also is based in Memphis, and that the 1989 Wal-Mart data center was built “so that it could communicate via any means available - including copper wire, fiber optics and satellites.” And so, with all of this, as you might expect, comes a healthy dose of speculation as to just what this near-clandestine “data center” is being used for, exactly.
According to a 2004 New York Times article, Wal-Mart had enough storage capacity to contain twice the amount of all the data available on the Internet; or, roughly 460 terabytes of information.
From the article, “With 3,600 stores in the United States and roughly 100 million customers walking through the doors each week, Wal-Mart has access to information about a broad slice of America - from individual Social Security and driver's license numbers to geographic proclivities for Mallomars, or lipsticks, or jugs of antifreeze.”

[Image: Thomas Holmes, via Magical Urbanism.]

Adding to that, McCoy mentions how Wal-Mart allegedly solicited a video surveillance contractor to develop a system of “ways they could link video footage with customers paying for their purchases” that could be used to biometrically data track them, which would require an unprecedented amount of storage in order to create the kind of customer database they were seeking. Perhaps this hulking site was developed for such a purpose: the surveillance sublime of Wal-Mart consumerism?
Regardless, call it a data center or a new age corporate bunker, or even Wal-Mart’s own brand of ‘military urbanism’, whatever the building’s true purposes are still remain a mystery. Is Wal-Mart building a huge CCTV database of all its customers nationwide, if so, for what purpose exactly? Could there be any secret collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security? What’s so important that this building needs to be built to withstand today’s threat of colossal terrorism? Data is data, but can Wal-Mart really be trusted with your social security numbers, your buying habits, or an entire video dossier of your Wal-Mart-relative whereabouts?

(Thanks to Trevor for shooting this one my way!)

Evaporating Palestine

A Palestinian makes a shelter out of an old rusted truck after the Israeli Occupation destroyed 15 buildings in his neighborhood in the Jordan Valley over the course of a single day. Read more about the "permit system", the demolition campaigns, and how the IDF is refusing water trucks access to Palesinian refugees in the Valley.

carceral urbanism: a life in Ethiopia's sewers...

From the BBC: "Blink and you will miss the underground children in Ethiopia's capital city.

They live in tunnels, sewers and drainage holes, hidden beneath Addis Ababa's teeming streets.

They move from one makeshift shelter to the next, chased away by police or the rivers of water and refuse that flow when the rains come.

Growing up amidst the traffic, they learn to hustle at a young age seeking change or selling small items to drivers at traffic lights."

Saturday, June 03, 2006

An Equator of Borderzones

Sadly, more than likely -- and due to poor planning on my part (and I mean POOR.) -- I will not be able to zip down south to check out next weekend's transborder public event in San Diego and Tijuana: THE POLITICAL EQUATOR: URBANITIES OF LABOR AND SURVEILLANCE. What a bummer; it's a downright shame actually. Eyal Weizman and Teddy Cruz talking about an informal equator pieced together by a network of geopolitically tense borderzones, where globalization and labor come to a head in the form of security walls, signposted fencing, widespread slums, maquiladoras and colonias, Border Patrol outposts, detention facilities, military checkpoints and improvised sub_Base landscapes, surveillanced labor flows spanning from the Taiwanese waters to the Strait of Gibraltar, the West Bank to San Ysidro, Kashmir to Tijuana, Bangladesh to the frontiers of Kurdistan. Then, crossing into Mexico for a day to see my friend's documentary that he's spent the last five years producing, MAQUILOPOLIS. Missing this will hurt.

"These are only a few of the critical thresholds of a world in which the politics of density and labor are transforming not only the sites of conflict but also the centers of production and consumption, while unprecedented socio-cultural demographics rearrange flows of information and capital. The dramatic images emerging from the political equator are intensified by the current political climate in which terrorism and its opposite, fear, set the stage for current confrontations over immigration policy and the regulation of borders worldwide. The result is an urbanism born of surveillance and exclusion which casts these geographies of conflict as anticipatory scenarios of the 21st-century global metropolis, where the city will increasingly become the battleground in which control and transgression, formal and informal economies, legal and illegal occupations meet."

This has Subtopia written all over it, and I need to find a way to sneak down there. Needless to say, if anyone is headed down - don't miss this. And if you already planned on attending - report back. I'd love to hear your thoughts. Seriously, podcasts, tape recordings, whatever you end up with... Seriously. Let me know.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Security as status symbol

Polar Inertia, a Subtopian fav, has a great little photo stream of security huts, or "casitas"; those little "structures that are specifically built to house and provide shelter for the security guards that are ubiquitous in the wealthy neighborhoods (Lomas de Chapultepec) of Mexico City."

"These photographs depict the architectural/cultural dichotomy of having a 10 sq. ft structure in front of a 2000 sq. ft. mansion and where both serve the same function of a ‘house’."

Jeremy Clouser mentions the absence of zoning in Mexico City which makes for a hodge podge of oddly neighboring buildings, but, he says, "one thing that is uniform in these neighborhoods is the explicit displays of security; exemplified by 20 foot high walls, one-way mirrored glass, the security guards themselves, and the structures they inhabit."

Though, some look more like ornate porta-potties, or makeshift homeless shelters, or silly construction posts that never got broken down after their work was finished, not mentioned in the series is how many casitas exist on the corners and curbsides, how many jobs are actually provided, how much a security guard makes spending his life in what kind of amounts to an open-face prison cell. I remember when I was in San Jose, Costa Rica, a couple of years ago, I remarked on the intense security fences which encaged nearly every house in every middle class neighborhood in the capital (which gave the appearance of a high degree of crime in the area), and someone told me that it wasn't for the fear of crime or break-in's (San Jose is actually a pretty safe place), but the crazy household bars and garage cages were more so for pure status symbol, as if to suggest there was much value inside the house worthy of being robbed; a sort of psuedo-elitism in the form of an ugly and manacing military urbanism. Kind of equivalent, I suppose, to those little decorative Alarm Company signs that are so proudly placed in every suburban garden of America's middle class front yard.